21 April 2019


Smartphone shortcuts/Laura Olin/Specialty pillows

Recomendo: issue no. 143

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Smartphone shortcuts
The ever-helpful David Pogue has a fantastic list of smartphone shortcuts I had no idea were possible. They save lots of taps. I programmed my phone to set up macros ( a series of steps into one step) initiated by a voice command, like “Hush Now” which silences your phone until you leave your current location.  — KK

Newsletter follow
Digital strategist Laura Olin has a newsletter with interesting miscellany that contains links to useful tips, thought-provoking quotations, and links to articles and videos. If you like Recomendo, you will like Laura’s newsletter. — MF

Wedge pillow for sleeping
When my sinuses are acting up, the thing that gives me the most relief is using a wedge pillow like this one. It keeps my head elevated and prevents post-nasal drip while I sleep. I always wake up better rested without a blocked nose or phlegm. Here’s an article that answers the question, “Do specialty pillows really work?”. — CD

Visual follow
A lovely stream to follow on Twitter: 100 views of Tokyo. Each vignette is drawn in a colorful manga style. (Should be an Instagram stream, but is not.) — KK

Push reel lawnmower
I have always used gasoline lawn mowers. I recently got a 5-blade push mower and am amazed at how smoothly it operates. It’s very easy to push, and the blades whir like a fan, neatly cutting the grass. It’s a pleasure to use. — MF

Conquering the to-do list
Two things have kept my to-do list on track lately. The first is this notebook previously recommended by Mark in issue 80. I bought 4 to stock up for the year. And the second is committing to the habit of asking myself the four questions from this Ted article. The most effectual being, “What’s the most important thing I can do today that would make tomorrow better?” and “Should I do this task now or can I do it later?” — CD

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 04/21/19

19 April 2019


Donald Bell, Maker Update

Cool Tools Show 171: Donald Bell

Our guest this week is Donald Bell. Donald creates tool review videos for Cool Tools. He also hosts a weekly YouTube show called Maker Update, which collects interesting projects, news, tips, and tools for the Maker community. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Flexible Silicone Neon-like LED Strip (How-to video) ($14)
It’s called Flexible Silicone Neon-like LED Strip. I’ve seen it in a few different places. The first place I came across it was on the Adafruit site, and they still have kind of the best selection of color options for this. It’s LED strip that takes 12 volts, which is a little unusual. It is the most realistically neon alternative I’ve come across. This really is geared towards people who want to make a neon-style sign or replacement signage without all the mess and hassles of really using glass neon tube. … You can bend it in half. It’s very flexible, you can cut it. Actually, John Park, who you’ve had on the show, he did a whole guide on using this stuff to make a neon-style sign in his workshop. His is cooler than mine. His will animate. He’s got like a thunderbolt going through a robot or something like that, and they kind of alternate. You can cut it to length, just like addressable LED strip, and to get exactly the length you want, or also to do, to bridge between different sections of it. It’s useful, it’s not cheap though. Adafruit has a meter of it for about 14 bucks. I’m also starting to see it now on Amazon. Actually. I just bought a batch of it today on Amazon to see if this other brand is going to be as nice a color as what Adafruit is able to provide. You can do all the same tricks you would do with a regular neon sign. You can duck it behind another color of the same style of strip, or you can black out sections. Or you can really use it the same way a sign maker would use neon, but it’s not delicate. It’s weatherproof. The way I found to mount mine, and I haven’t really seen anyone else do this before, but it was the first thing that occurred to me, was to get a piece of plywood and use a router to just route out a shape using like, maybe it’s like a quarter-inch routing bit, just like a flat bit, just to dig in enough of a groove that I could fit the LED strip into the shape that I put in with the router. Then run a cable out the back and plug it in.

Evil Mad Scientist WaterColorBot ($295) + Inkscape
The other thing I’ve been playing a lot with recently is the WaterColor Bot from Evil Mad Scientist. This is a CNC plotter that will draw out designs onto a piece of paper, but it can use a set of watercolors to make the drawings, which is a really unusual and funky and playful way to do it. I’ve been kind of playing around with plotter art recently, and there’s kind of upswell of a plotter art enthusiasts who are kind of getting together on Twitter and sharing their designs. I wanted to kind of join that, but I wanted to do it in an interesting way. This has been a fun device to start playing around with. They have software. There’s two different flavors of it. You can use the, kind of the really user-friendly software, which is called RoboPaint, which is a program that they developed that’s on GitHub and there’s a lot of support for. They’ve deliberately made that as kind of kid-friendly and classroom-friendly as possible. With that, you can load in a drawing and then you could have it automatically try to do its best guess at separating out the colors of your drawing. It will take solid elements of your drawing and apply like a hatch fill to it. It’s a little slow, or maybe my computer’s a little slow, but so it takes a little patience but the results have been always pretty fun to get at the end of the result. There’s a little unpredictability there, but as someone who’s just kind of getting started with it, even the worst drawing I make on this thing still has like a fun, childlike quality to it that I can’t be mad at. There’s also a set of Inkscape plugins that you can load up, and with that you can get pretty advanced with having different layers of an Inkscape SVG file, covered, different colors and different aspects of the design you want to print out. Inkscape is an open source, kind of like an Adobe Illustrator alternative, but it’s a pretty popular option for converting files and working with SVG type Vector files.

Third on the list kind of dovetails with the WaterColorBot. It’s a site I just learned about last week called Turtletoy.net. It’s a repository of people’s shared kind of plotter illustration graphics. I think of it almost like a Thingiverse for plotter art. Like if you get a plotter, just like if you got a 3D printer, you go and plug it in your wall, and you get it warmed up and ready to go, you’re like, “Okay. Now what do I print?” You go to Thingiverse, and you could download a file and you could 3D print it, and you could get something going right off the bat. Turtletoy is kind of like that for plotters, and there’s, each of these like illustrations you can find on the site. You can click on it. You have both the illustration on the left, and then you have the code that generated the illustration on the right. You can go in and you can tweak the code. You can make the illustration a little bigger. You can make the algorithm that generates the art do something a little stranger. Then you can save the output as an SVG file that you can send over to pretty much any plotter, or also like a laser cutter or a vinyl cutter.

Kai Chan Cardboard Cutter ($10)
This one is kind of a call back to my obsession with these Canary style cardboard cutter knives. I may have talked about one last time I was on the show, but I’ve gone through a few of them. There’s the yellow-handled one. There’s a green-handled one that I found last year that’s retractable. Now recently, there’s this pink handled one that has a little nub of a knife that sticks out. Maybe about an inch out from the handle. About as much as you’d think like a utility knife would extend. It’s really just made to, I think, open up boxes. It’s just long enough that you can rip open a box. It’s the kind of knife that should, anytime someone signs up for Amazon Prime, this should come in your first package … It’s not sharp, you’re not going to stab anyone with this thing. It’s deliberately made to be a little blunt at the top so that you’re not cutting into the thing that’s in the box. The sides of this knife are serrated in this very fine way that just loves to go through packing tape or the paper-based Amazon type of packing tape. It can cut through cardboard really easily. I love grabbing this thing. When a box arrives at my doorstep, I know that I’ve got just the right little tool to kind of get through it, and make quick work of opening it up.

Also mentioned:

The home for all my stuff is MakerProjectLab.com. Through that, you can find the videos, the show notes, project links and the newsletter. The newsletter is really like the one-stop place where people can get the Maker Update information every week.

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $400 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF


19 April 2019


Seiko SKX007 Automatic Watch

Powers automatically with the movement of your arm

I have had this wristwatch ($248) for about two years. It self-winds (i.e. automatic), accepts nato straps, looks nice, is waterproof (to 200M as it is a true dive watch), and rugged. I haven’t broken it. The benefit of a mechanical watch is that it runs as long as you have it on your wrist as it self-winds. A mechanical watch is a great reminder of time. To me, time is important, it is all we have and we don’t know how much we have.

Not only does it look nice and allow me to keep track of my day, it serves as a reminder that “Time is tight.”

Mechanical wristwatches can be incredibly expensive. This one can be had for less than $250, sometimes under $200. It is known as one of the best value automatic watches on the market and a great introduction to horology. There are plenty of aftermarket modification pieces if you want to modify your watch into something more personal. The watch is widely available on Amazon and elsewhere on the internet and in brick and mortar stores.

-- Alex B Giedt 04/19/19

18 April 2019


Izumi Sweater Shaver

Clean shaven sweaters

I’ve been using the Izumi electric sweater shaver ($24) for almost two years and have found it to be by far the easiest and most effective way to remove lint from my sweaters and fleeces. It removes more lint than any brush I have tried and does so quickly and with little effort.

The shaver works like an electric hair shaver with a set of blades rotating behind a perforated metal foil. The cutting height is adjustable, with three settings, and the unit can be disassembled for easy cleaning. There are replacement parts available but those too are not cheap. The unit runs on two AA batteries (not included).

While I haven’t tried the previously reviewed Sweater Stone, it sounded like too much trouble and too similar to lint brushes I’ve tried in the past that haven’t worked well for me because they haven’t done a good job of removing heavy lint build-ups effectively, which is what I often have on my fleeces.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I find the sweater shaver fun to use. So much so that I have started working my way through my wife’s fleece collection as well.

-- Josh Simons 04/18/19

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2011 — editors)

17 April 2019


RIDGID Faucet and Sink Installer

Under-the-sink wrench

I’ve installed, removed and replaced quite a number of sinks in my day. Recently, I set out to replace the leaky faucet on my mother-in-law’s slop sink. The faucet was 22 years old and the plastic basin was glued to the wall and I just did not want to have to remove it. The supply line bolts were up inside the sink and rusted tight. A standard basin wrench was not going to do the job.

The Ridgid Faucet and Sink Installer ($30) is incredibly specific in a clever way. Its two removable and reversible ends have a combination of sizes and shapes to grip all the most common faucet nuts and supply line ends. Looking more like a flashlight than a basin wrench, the orange handle has a slit to fit around the supply lines, and a raised pattern for a good grip.

I’m convinced that this wrench, combined with plenty of WD40, saved me the ordeal of having to remove both the sink and the faucet.

-- Mark Dellamonte 04/17/19

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2011 — editors)

16 April 2019


Avantek White Noise Sound Machine

20 non-looping ambient sounds

I was recently given five white noise machines to review, one of which was the Avantek White Noise Sound Machine ($36). I’ve got to say that the Avantek is the one that impressed me the most. My husband is a light sleeper and he’s always had trouble sleeping through the night, while I have trouble getting to sleep in the first place.

We were traveling across Europe when I did the reviews, so I hoped that the white noise machine would mask the random noises coming from TVs and doors opening and closing in the night. I would use a fan for white noise before, which worked well for a while but would cause me to wake up cold in the winter months. I also tripped over the box a few times in the dark. So, I was happy and excited to get the chance to try something new.

My first impressions of the Avantek were good; the sound quality from the machine was rich and it sounded far better than anticipated. The machine is small but packs quite a punch in the volume department. I later discovered it has around 20 different sounds including nature sounds, birds, ocean waves, crickets, and general fan and white noises. There’s a lot to choose from. I thought I would prefer the sounds of rain, and the machine has two settings for rain; a more gentle rain or a hard surging rain with lots of volume variation. Then I discovered there was a hybrid sound that resembled the sound of soft rain in the distance coming through a window next to a quiet fan. This was the magic formula that I needed. I focused on the sound from the machine instead of all the things that I hadn’t gotten done at work. Before I knew it I opened my eyes and it was morning.

The white noise sounds are non-looping, so there are no breaks in sounds during use. Some machines have five- to ten-minute recordings that are broken by a silence or a click before replaying the sound. That’s not how the Avantek works. Instead, it plays the sound continuously with no indication that it has restarted a track.

There is a timer built into the Avantek, next to the speaker. From here you can choose a setting of 1, 2, or 4 hours. If you don’t set the time then the white noise machine will run until you turn it off. Since I would listen to it at night I just turned it off in the morning. The machine remembered the track setting and volume I used last, so I was able to just turn it back on to where I was the next night.

Nothing is perfect though, so what about this machine didn’t I like?

One thing is that I wish the volume settings were done with smaller increments. White noise is specific to the purpose and use after all. Though it is possible to make slight adjustments to the volume by changing the angle of the speaker.

I also wish that the manual listed all of the different noises. Instead, the machine has a track setting that lets you find the noise you want. I suppose that listing all the noises and making them easier to find would mean the unit cost more though.

Finally, the machine plays sonic repetitive “notes” under white noise. My husband comes from a musical background and was annoyed by this. I couldn’t tell it was there at all though and had no problem sleeping. If you don’t have a musical ear, you might not even notice it.

The Avantek comes equipped with a USB plug that can be plugged into an AC outlet. I reviewed the machine while traveling in Europe and had no problem using it with an adaptor (110-240v). That was great for me because I likely wouldn’t have been able to take it with me if I also had to take a heavy transformer. Please note that some machines do need a transformer! They can explode without them. (As happened to my poor defenseless tea making machine. A tragic loss I still mourn to this day.)

The machine has a modern design and it looked great on my nightstand. It doesn’t have an overly bright light that you need to tape over like other machines. The cord was plenty long enough to reach the high shelves on a bookshelf too.

The Bottom Line: My husband would sometimes wake up while using the machine, but he was able to fall back to sleep quickly without having to toss and turn. It helped me fall asleep faster and I noticed I had far more restful sleep. I’m definitely happy with the Avantek and would happily recommend it to others.

-- Hannah Edmonds 04/16/19


img 04/15/19

Nifty Kutter

Cutter uses safety razor blades

img 04/12/19


Clock parts for DIYers

img 04/12/19

Terri Schweitzer, Editor of Better Humans

Cool Tools Show 170: Terri Schweitzer

img 04/11/19

Clever Coffee Dripper

Combines the best features of French press and filter drip brewing

See all the reviews




Cool Tools Show 171: Donald Bell

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 170: Terri Schweitzer

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 169: Robert Stephens

Picks and shownotes

23 February 2017


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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13632766_602152159944472_101382480_oKevin Kelly started Cool Tools in 2000 as an email list, then as a blog since 2003. He edited all reviews through 2006. He writes the occasional review, oversees the design and editorial direction of this site, and made a book version of Cool Tools. If you have a question about the website in general his email is kk {at} kk.org.

13918651_603790483113973_1799207977_oMark Frauenfelder edits Cool Tools and develops editorial projects for Cool Tools Lab, LLC. If you’d like to submit a review, email him at editor {at} cool-tools.org (or use the Submit a Tool form).

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