07 August 2020


Jennifer Robbins, Designer

Cool Tools Show 238: Jennifer Robbins

Our guest this week is Jennifer Robbins. Jennifer is a designer who is best known for her work in web design. She has written thirteen books, including Learning Web Design, 5e (O’Reilly) and she co-founded the ARTIFACT Conference. Currently, she’s excited about the relaunch of “Cooking with Rockstars,” her pre-YouTube video podcast in which she interviews indie rockers about food. You can find her on Twitter @jenville.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

5 Year Diary by Tamara Shopsin ($25)
The first pick that I have is a little 5-year diary, designed by Tamara Shopsin. I just write down what happened at each day, who I talked to, and I usually end up recording what food I cooked because I’m big into cooking. I have a log for almost every year of my life. But this is the first time I’ve really gotten into a five-year journal and I love it. I love this one in particular because it’s just very simply designed, it’s very classic. It’s small, and there’s just enough room to write a couple of sentences. It’s very easy to maintain every single day because there’s no big commitment. And I’m four years into this book now, so it’s really starting to pay off because when I write down what happened, then I can look back and see what happened on that day, three years back. And for me that’s really fun. I think it plays to my natural bent toward nostalgia. I particularly like the clean and functional design of this journal. So many journals are over-designed.

Fiskars Titanium Rotary Cutter ($20)
I have really gotten into sewing lately. I’ve always sewn, but just straight-edged things like curtains or a comforter cover. But in the last year I’ve really gotten into sewing clothing and much more adventurous items. And it’s cool to be in my mid 50s, learning a whole new world of skills and tools and trying more and more challenging patterns. And then I discovered the Fiskars rotary cutter and you use it along with a straight edge and it’s a game changer. It completely just changed the way I work. I’m a fairly precise person, so just the ability to cut patterns really precisely and cut things exactly to precise inches, which is really more of a challenge to do with sheers where you’re lifting the fabric and it shifts around more. With this you’re pressing it down with a straight edge and just running that nice titanium blade along the edge of the straight edge and you get just perfect results. There are a number of other sewing tools I’ve recently discovered and delight in, such as a dedicated invisible-zipper foot, a thread snip, a seam gauge, and pattern weights, but the rotary cutters have had the biggest impact on my process.

Schaedler Precision Rules ($30)
I have had mine for 30 years. And if a ruler could be sexy, this one’s pretty sexy to me. It’s just what it sounds like. It’s a super precise ruler, and it’s printed on a very thin translucent plastic. I have a set of two of them, and the one I’m looking at now has inches along one edge down to one 64th of an inch. And it has metric down to half millimeters. And then there’s picas down the middle, for the first 12, every point is marked. I have another one that has picas along the edge. As a book designer, I am partial to the pica ruler, which has found steady use throughout my career.

Moped Crossbody Bag by Lug ($70)
I have been using the Moped bag as my “everyday” purse for at least 10 years. It’s just the right size–big enough to hold everything I need for a day (even a light sweater) but not so big that everything is swimming in it. But it’s the POCKETS that I love! So many pockets! There’s a back pocket that fits my iPad perfectly, a handy front pocket for my phone, and a side pocket that I use for glasses, a water bottle, or a compact umbrella. I have a whole system. They come in a lot of different fabrics, but I like the simple gray heather. And it’s not fancy. I have fancy or evening purses, but I’m not a purse person. People pay a lot of money for purses. I’m shocked. This one’s very affordable.

About Cooking with Rockstars:
Years ago, starting in 2002, I started doing video interviews with indie rock stars about food. It was called Cooking With Rockstars, and I had the site up from maybe 2002 to 2008. Then the site went offline and I just never came around to getting it started again. There was always something else to do and that was always lower priority. But recently, I was talking with Jeffrey Zeldman who works at Automattic and he gave me the assistance of a team at WordPress who built it for me and we revived it. So it’s back online. I’m able to rerelease all of the old videos. I have a whole bunch that were in the can that were never released. They’re old, but they’re newly released. And I might, after you can actually do things like visit people again, might do a few new interviews coming up. So I’m excited about that.



06 August 2020

Adding a Sharper to Your Tape Measure

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #56

Adding a Sharper to Your Tape Measure



A few seconds into this Laura Kampf video (on building a simple folding table), I spotted this cool little “hack.” She attached a schoolbox pencil sharpener to the back of her tape measure for hands-free sharpening on the fly. Great idea!

Basic Molding and Casting

Making a molding box from Legos for casting small parts.

Making a molding box from Legos for casting small parts.

Creating quick casts and molding small parts is a lot easier than you might think. There are all sorts of products for making one- and two-part molds and different liquid plastics and resins you can use for casting. This video shows how you can quickly duplicate small parts using a simple, one-part silicone rubber mold and a polyurethane casting plastic. Also note the use of Lego bricks and plates to construct a mold box.

Tales Told by the Oldest Tools in the Shop

Wait, is that pink nail polish on your driver handle?

Wait, is that pink nail polish on your driver handle?

Shop tours are my jam. This tour, by a bored, house-bound Ben Heck, is a bit different than most as he focuses only on the oldest tools he owns and regularly uses. I love “shop tales” (see newsletter title above) and there are some great ones in here, like the origins of the above two screwdrivers. The worn-off pink on the top one is from nail polish Ben’s sister painted on there when they were kids. He’s had these drivers since childhood, uses them nearly every day. and says he would likely literally cry if he lost one of them.

Color-Coding Your Keys

It only takes a few seconds to color-code your keys.

It only takes a few seconds to color-code your keys.

For years, I’ve had a small square of cellophane tape on my house key so that I can easily ID it on the chain. R Andrew Doan posted this oldie but goodie to the Shop Hacks Facebook group. A little enamel paint and a couple of minutes and you can color-code your key set for easy identification. And they’ll look swanky, too!


My next favorite thing?

My next favorite thing?

Years ago, I got turned on to the Canary Cardboard Cutter via an early episode of Donald Bell’s Maker Update. I’ve bought at least a dozen of them since and given them away to family and friends. In a recent Izzy Swan video, he raved about this ceramic-blade cardboard cutter. I just ordered one. I’ll review it in a later edition.

Designing in Whimsy, Art, Humor, FUN!

Let the Good Lord judge the accuracy of your machine work.

Let the Good Lord judge the accuracy of your machine work.

I’ve been watching my way though Uri Tuchman’s YouTube channel. Uri is an artist, designer, inventor, and maker of all trades. One of the things I love most about his projects is that he always incorporates art, whimsy, and a sense of humor into his creations. He makes an optical center punch but carves it into the head of The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper. He turns a machinist’s test indicator into Michelangelo’s hand of God. He shapes a tiny hammer into a whale. In Uri’s world, tools have personality and make you smile as they go about their jobs. If you ask me, the world needs a lot more of this.

Maker’s Muse

I'm sure that was oddly satisfying. Spotted on the 2600 Magazine FB group.

I’m sure that was oddly satisfying. Spotted on the 2600 Magazine FB group.

Shop Talk

Reader Stephen Rudy writes: “I wanted to throw my 0.2 cents into the art cup arena. In my shop, we use inexpensive soup containers from the restaurant supply store for lots of things. They are the type Wonton soup usually comes in. They make great forms for making silicon molds in addition to the mixing and storage applications.


I’ve written about my friend Hans Gerhard Meier’s MakerMap before. He wrote to tell me that has now launched it to the world. If you have something maker-related to “see, buy, or meet,” consider adding it to the MakerMap.


(Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here. — editors)

06 August 2020


Lock & Lock Food Storage Containers

Containers in a variety of sizes use the same lid

[In a recent issue of our Recomendo newsletter, Kevin recommended Snapware Glasslock containers for leftover food storage. Cool Tools reader Todd Lappin emailed to tell us that he thinks Lock & Lock food storage containers are superior and explained why.– MF]

Both products have good lids that form strong, gasketed seals. But the Lock & Lock…
  • Is great in the refrigerator AND exceptionally good for travel or transport (such as bringing your lunch to work, picnics, potlucks, weekend trips, etc.)
  • Plastic, not glass, so can’t break and it’s much lighter
  • The lids have tabs for locking, not just a friction fit, for an even more positive, more foolproof seal
  • As a test, I have literally drop-kicked L&L containers containing wet, oily foods inside, resulting in no leakage whatsoever.
  • That latter confidence test is why L&L are the only food containers I will carry inside a backpack or carry-on bag. And yes, I usually bring one when I travel for inflight food en route and restaurant leftovers at the destination.
  • Again, my utterly baseless hypothesis is that all this comes down to a culturally unique use case: Lock & Lock is Korean, and Koreans routinely store and transport wet, fermented, yummy-but-pungent foods like kimchi. Plus it’s a place where lots of people bring their lunch to work. This necessitates great seals and reliability.
So that’s just basic mechanics. As a lifestyle bonus…
  • LocknLock also offers containers in a variety of sizes, many of which use the same lid. So in our house, we have lots of different containers with different capacities, but all our lids are the same size. MUCH easier to manage, store, and wrangle.
  • Likewise, that common size means they stack and store neatly and easily in the refrigerator. (See photo, with wet tofu storage at top left)
  • I’ve been using some of mine for 5+ years by now, and all of it still functions like new.  Well made!
-- Todd Lappin 08/6/20

05 August 2020


What’s in my bag? — Mike Streetz

What's in my bag? issue #61

Mike Streetz is a new dad, home automation aficionado, electronics tinkerer/maker, and IT Consultant by day. He hails from Sydney, Australia, and is currently based in Los Angeles with his wife and son. You can find him on Flicker and Twitter @O_P.


About the bag

Tactical Molle EDC Pouch ($11)
I like this because it’s big enough to fit my wallet, phone, keys, pen and notebook. I got the one that comes with straps because with that much stuff in it pulls down my pants. The cell phone pouches in the front and back are padded to protect the screen and it fits up to an iPhone XS Max. The placement of the straps isn’t the best and the one I got frequently flips upside down if it’s not weighted right, so be mindful of that and don’t leave the zips open.

What’s inside the bag

Sofirn SP31 v2.0 Tactical Flashlight ($37)
This thing is BRIGHT. It uses a standard 18650 battery and comes with a charger. It has multiple brightness settings, the low setting is really useful for not blinding yourself in the dark. It remembers the last setting it was on. I use it all the time for finding stuff I’ve dropped in the car, behind the couch or under a table. It’s so bright you can use it for finding a tiny screw you’ve dropped in a shag pile carpet by looking for the reflection.

Nite Ize INKA Key Chain Pen ($12)
Nite Ize bought Inka and these pens were really hard to find for a while but I’m glad they are back on Amazon because I’ve subsequently lost a Fisher Space bullet pen in the meantime. These use the space pen refills but due to the screw on cap, this pen is less likely to fall out of your bag. Also has a resistive touch screen pen cap on the other side, which are making a comeback in the days of COVID and nobody wanting to touch the ones on credit card machines. People are saying in the reviews they are not as good as the originals made by Inka, I haven’t had the new one long enough to say, but so far it seems good for the price, which is about half what the originals were.

Big Skinny Leather Hipster Wallet ($48)
This is the only wallet I’ve found which will hold all my cards, cash, and a tile slim without the massive bulge of most wallets. It looks huge but it fits in most pockets, and so far it’s lasted me over 5 years. The card slots can get loose after a few years, but just jam some business cards in there. They have an RFID blocking version now too.

RFID blocking car key case
These are the cheapest ones I could find on Amazon and they absolutely work. If your car is parked close enough to your house that you can unlock it from inside then you need these to protect from thieves that use range extenders to pretend to be your key. They can open the door to your car, steal everything in it, and in some cases even start the car and drive off. We put our keys in these as soon as we get out of the car now.

Other items in photos:

-- Mike Streetz 08/5/20

05 August 2020


Opinel No 10 Carbon Steel Folding Knife

Single blade knife with rotating lock

I have been carrying an Opinel #10 for more than 20 years as my everyday carry pocket knife. I have a ranch with draft horses, permaculture orchards, and have a business making ukuleles, and my #10 is used all day long. From cutting twine on hay bales, tree grafting, removing splinters from my hand to fine detail work making musical instruments… it does it all. I prefer the carbon blade for the fine edge it takes.

It also has a unique blade lock integrated into the handle that rotates to lock the blade open or closed. They have been making these knives in France since 1890 and in 1985 the Victoria and Albert Museum consecrated the Opinel knife one of the 100 best-designed objects in the world. I could not agree more!

When I purchased my first Opinel, I purchased a back up at the same time and to this day, the backup knife has remained in its packaging. I have never needed to replace my original. The beechwood handle has taken on a beautiful patina from the decades of use. I have never found an equal in function or beauty for an everyday carry pocket knife!

-- Clayton Jacobs 08/5/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2016 — editors)

04 August 2020


Book Freak #47: Make Good Use of Your Emotions

Short pieces of advice from books

Book Freak is a weekly newsletter with short pieces of advice from books. Subscribe here.

Sponsor message: As a Kindle reader, I’m constantly highlighting interesting passages from books. A few years ago I discovered Readwise, a service that automatically collects my highlights and sends me a random selection in a daily custom email. Readwise has many other features, too. Readwise is offering readers of Book Freak 60 days for free. If you’re a book freak and read ebooks, I’m pretty sure you’ll be glad you tried it. – Mark

Daniel Goleman was a science reporter for The New York Times, was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, and received the American Psychological Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for his media writing. Here’s advice from his book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.

Be aware of your emotions as they occur
“A belligerent samurai, an old Japanese tale goes, once challenged a Zen master to explain the concept of heaven and hell. The monk replied with scorn, ‘You’re nothing but a lout — I can’t waste my time with the likes of you!’

His very honor attacked, the samurai flew into a rage and, pulling his sword from its scabbard, yelled ‘I could kill you for your impertinence.’
‘That,’ the monk calmly replied, ‘is hell.’

Startled at seeing the truth in what the master pointed out about the fury that had him in its grip, the samurai calmed down, sheathed his sword, and bowed, thanking the monk for the insight.

‘And that,’ said the monk, ‘is heaven.’

The sudden awakening of the samurai to his own agitated state illustrates the crucial difference between being caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are being swept away by it. Socrates’s injunction ‘Know thyself’ speaks to the keystone of emotional intelligence: awareness of one’s own feelings as they occur.”

Lead by persuading people to work toward a common goal
“Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.”

Understand the value of sadness
“[Sadness] enforces a kind of reflective retreat from life’s busy pursuits, and leaves us in a suspended state to mourn the loss, mull over its meaning, and, finally, make the psychological adjustments and new plans that will allow our lives to continue.”

Understand that worrying isn’t magic
“The worry habit is reinforcing in the same sense that superstitions are. Since people worry about many things that have a very low probability of actually occurring — a loved one dying in a plane crash, going bankrupt, and the like —there is, to the primitive limbic brain at least, something magical about it. Like an amulet that wards off some anticipated evil, the worry psychologically gets the credit for preventing the danger it obsesses about.“

Book Freak is one of our five newsletters from Cool Tools Lab (our other four are the Cool Tools Newsletter, Recomendo, Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Talesand What’s in my bag?).



img 08/4/20

Kuhn Rikon Original Swiss Peeler

This peeler will save you a lot of time and skinned fingers

Thumbnail Template 08/3/20

Spring Tools Double Punch

Hammerless action ensures accuracy & precision

img 07/31/20

Stephen Dubner, Freakonomics

Cool Tools Show 237: Steven Dubner

Mixing up the right amount of resin is a trial no more. 07/30/20

Calculating How Much Epoxy You Need

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #55

See all the reviews


img 05/7/10

How To Cook Everything

Essential iPhone cook book

img 04/21/04


Perfect scalp razor

img 12/19/11


Still the best thermometer

img 10/28/08

Ready Meals

Emergency hot meals

img 01/6/10

Adobe Lightroom

Photo organizing, manipulating

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 238: Jennifer Robbins

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 237: Steven Dubner

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 236: Cooper Bates

Picks and shownotes

05 August 2020


Cool Tools is a web site which recommends the best/cheapest tools available. Tools are defined broadly as anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas. All reviews are positive raves written by real users. We don’t bother with negative reviews because our intent is to only offer the best.

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