20 June 2024

E-bike Tours/Best Travel Sun Hats/Maya Train Report

Nomadico issue #109

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

E-bike Tours on the Rise

The Adventure Travel Trade Association polls tour operators each year to gauge the state of the industry and to spot trends. Turns out that electric bikes (e-bikes) for cycling are surging in popularity, especially in Europe. Culinary/gastronomy activities have also been consistently increasing over the past few years. On a more somber note, “Last Chance Travel” appears in the top motivations for adventure travel this year, again showing an awareness of the effects of climate change. And in case you wondered, the median price of an 8-day adventure tour is $2,813 per person. See the full study here.

Sun Hats Guaranteed for Life

I like to recommend companies that produce products made well enough that they can offer a lifetime warranty. Some (not all) of the Tilley Hats have this guarantee sewn in on the label. I just had them honor it with me. It involved a several-step process of sending them photos, getting approved, destroying my hat, then sending those photos with $20 for shipping. After that though, I got a brand new ventilated sun hat of my choice in the mail a week later. I’m getting older, so I think I’m more likely to lose this second Airflo one than wear it out in my lifetime. See the full selection here.

Riding the Maya Train in Mexico

A few months ago I boarded the new Mexican Maya Train in Palenque, Chiapas and rode it all the way to near the Cancun airport, overnighting in Campeche, Merida, and Valladolid on the way. I finally got the video footage organized and put my report together, so you can see the full Maya Train article here (with a video embed) or go straight to the YouTube video here. The train route is not fully finished yet: eventually it will reach past the current endpoint at Playa del Carmen and finish at Lake Bacalar and Chetumal, near Belize.

A Free Ticket to Bansko Nomad Fest

I ran into the nomadic blogger couple that runs RedWhiteAdventures.com when I was in Spain a couple of weeks ago after meeting them the past two years at the Bansko Nomad Fest. I’m not going this year but they are and they’re giving away a free ticket to the event (Starts June 23) to someone through their IG account. Details here.


18 June 2024

A Child of Books / Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy

Books That Belong On Paper Issue No. 19

Books That Belong On Paper first appeared on the web as Wink Books and was edited by Carla Sinclair. Sign up here to get the issues a week early in your inbox.


A Child of Books
by Oliver Jeffers, Sam Winston
2016, 40 pages, 10.4 x 0.4 x 10.6 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

This book is made up of words. Not just in the obvious way, but also in the illustrations: words from well-known children’s books form shapes, from monsters to clouds. The girl who narrates the book travels across books like Treasure Island and Alice in Wonderland, taking a nervous boy along for the ride. Hers is a world of books, she explains.

Every page here is a visual delight, to be savored by book lovers, typography nerds, or little ones who like pretty, pretty pictures.

– Christine Ro


Fascinating: The Life of Leonard Nimoy
by Richard Michelson, Edel Rodriguez (Illustrator)
Knopf Books for Young Readers
2016, 40 pages, 8.9 x 0.3 x 11.3 inches, Hardcover

Buy on Amazon

Anyone who remembers Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan can’t help but be at least a little choked up recalling the scene in which Spock sacrifices himself for his crew members. He regards Kirk with compassion before quietly delivering his epitaph, “I have been, and always will be, your friend. Live long and prosper.” Author Rich Michelson was fortunate enough to have his own friendship with Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy was a skilled photographer and Michelson was his gallerist, and from that professional relationship the two men became friends.

Fascinating takes a look at Nimoy’s life from his boyhood with his Jewish immigrant family on Boston’s West End, his move to Hollywood and his rise to stardom after claiming the iconic role that he would later eschew, only to embrace once more. The book is clearly a labor of love with the emphasis on love. Nimoy is portrayed here as an outsider with an expansive heart, whose boundless empathy for his friends, family and neighbors ultimately extended to his groundbreaking portrayal of Mr. Spock.

Michelson delivers a sensitive portrait of Nimoy as a struggling outsider, whether as a boy acclimating to his life in America and overcoming his first bout of stage fright or as an emerging actor discovering his voice. These experiences ultimately informed his portrayal of Spock, the alien whom everyone could relate to. Michelson’s book stands as a personal, open-hearted tribute to a man who has been, and always will be, our friend.

– Lee Hollman


17 June 2024

Strange Foods

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 91

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

The magazine for cooking nerds

Cook’s Illustrated

The technical aspects of cooking are usually overlooked. Kitchen gear is addressed by most publications, if at all, when it is fancy and untried. This paper magazine, however, tests equipment, gadgets, and recipes — new and old — in a relentless quest for the best kitchen stuff. Cook’s Illustrated is at liberty to be honest in their recommendations because they have no ads — no one to please but avid readers. The tests are amazingly thorough, and astoundingly informative. They examine everything from basic ingredients (sea salt, bread flour, olive oil) to high-end equipment (what is the best mixer?), as well as state-of-the-art in standard instruments like garlic presses, frying pans, oven thermometers, etc. I find their comparison methods to be more realistic and far more useful than Consumer Reports; and, of course, they evaluate far more items than CR ever would. They also obsessively taste-test popular recipes in hundreds of variations, and research the mysteries behind each ingredient. I learn tons each issue — about foodstuffs, about cooking, and about eating. Best of all, these folks make it very clear when a new tool or technique is not worth the trouble, and how you could manage with an old version. Unlike most magazines, back issues don’t age. You can also get online versions. And recently they’ve launched video and TV episodes. Their “Best of” compilations are well-used in our kitchens. — KK

What other people eat

Strange Foods

People (collectively) will eat anything. But one mans’ meat is another man’s ugh. This color-rich volume features the strangest (to us) foods served in the world. It highlights two global trends: a hunger for increasingly exotic foods, and the worrisome increase in hunting bush meat from endangered and rare animals – at crisis levels in parts of Africa and Asia. Nonetheless, the full variety of things-humans-eat, in all their strangeness, are captured in fine photography and readable history here. The author also provides sources and recipes for farm-raised exotic foods and meats. This guy, at least, has tried everything. — KK

  • When I tell people that I took the placenta home following the birth of my son and the next day served it as a pate, they generally (1) don’t believe me or (2) recoil in horror, calling me a cannibal. My wife was to return home the day following and my plan was to cook the placenta and make it into a pate to serve visitors who had been invited to meet the baby. When I asked, the doctor agreed in wonderment, but then didn’t know what to put it in for transport to the flat. Unlike restaurants, medical clinics don’t have Styrofoam “take-away” containers for leftover food.
  • Bird’s nest soup is one of the true culinary enigmas, a high-priced delicacy that is made from the nests of swifts, found in bat-filled caves in Southeast Asia. The nests are made of seaweed, twigs, moss, hair, and feathers glued together by the birds’ saliva and the spawn of small fish. Is this something you would pay up to US $300 a bowl for?Why so expensive? Well, first of all, it’s considered by many to be an aphrodisiac, a word – some say myth – that is driving many animal species to the edge of extinction. For centuries, Chinese have given their children the soup, believing it will help them grow. Others consume it to improve their complexion and defeat lung problems, or as an all-purpose tonic.
  • Two handfuls of rats that will either be eaten, or sold for one-and-a-half rupees each under a program set up by the Oxfam Trust and India’s Department of Science and Technology.

Outer limits of food

Bizarre Foods

I think we owe it to ourselves to explore the world’s cuisine and outer boundaries of food. You don’t have to like everything you try, but you should try everything. Humans somewhere will consume just about anything that moves, or is grown, so there is plenty of material. The balding fat chef, Andrew Zimmern, who is the host of this TV show goes on a quest to eat the weirdest, strangest, most bizarre foods in world. He’ll try anything twice, and then give his “review” of it. Strict vegetarians may want to avoid watching. Not only is any animal, insect, fish, invertebrate eaten, any part of it is gobbled down is as well. Better than several books on the subject, this series will make you rethink your food limits. It’s comparative foodology 101. All weird foods have a good story behind them, as revealed in these fun documentaries, which now comprise at least 75 episodes. If you can’t find endless repeats on his show on cable TV, there are collections on DVD. — KK


16 June 2024

Retro Recomendo: Alternative Search

Recomendo - issue #414

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Our subscriber base has grown so much since we first started seven years ago, that most of you have missed all our earliest recommendations. The best of these are still valid and useful, so we’re trying out something new — Retro Recomendo. Once every 6 weeks, we’ll send out a throwback issue of evergreen recommendations focused on one theme from the past 8 years.

Better Reddit search

Reddit is often a more reliable source of information than Google, especially for product reviews, restaurant recommendations, and how-to instructions. Unfortunately, Reddit’s native search engine is clunky and leaves a lot to be desired. I started using Giga, a site that returns relevant Reddit posts and summarizes them. I used it to find out how to cook chicken breasts so they don’t become tough and dry. — MF

Visual style replicator

The coolest thing I’ve seen in many years is Same Energy. This is a beta-version of a visual search machine. You give it an image and it returns more images that feel exactly like the one you started with. Some images may be the same subject, some may be the same lighting and coloring, or some have the same visual style. It works uncannily well. I can start with a piece of furniture, or a fabric design, or an album cover, or an Instagram travel photo, and I’ll get an endless mosaic of images with the same energy. Like Pinterest, I can select one of the offerings and then get more images similar to that one, and so on. Unlike Pinterest, I can also create a collection of images and use that to train an AI to find images that share qualities of the whole set. I find I could spend hours watching the endless results recreationally, like staring into ocean waves or a campfire. It’s also a brilliant design research tool, a stunning creative prompt, and a total inspiration. — KK

Find vintage clothing fast

Gem is a search engine for vintage and used clothing and jewelry. You can quickly search eBay, Etsy, Poshmark, TheRealReal, and more, and the results are displayed in a large gallery view with prices to save time. You can also set email alerts for hard-to-find items. — CD

Best used book finder

The best online source for used books is BookFinder. Its bare bones design is unchanged from 1997 and feels like a Craigslist for books. It’s an aggregated meta-search engine that simultaneously looks for a book on Amazon, Ebay, Abe, Alibris, Bibio, and 100,000 indie booksellers. It will find all copies available and arrange them by price, and supply the link for purchase from the source. (In other countries and languages it is known as JustBooks.) It reliably yields the least expensive option for a used book. — KK

Free Smithsonian images

If you need to use an image for your art, product, project, or any other reason, check out the Smithsonian’s vast collection of Open Access images available under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. I searched “cat,” and it returned over 7,000 images, and every one I looked at was terrific. — MF

Instantly search 2 million recipes

This search engine pulls from more than 2 million recipes that you can filter by ingredients. I’m not a step-by-step recipe follower, but this is great for discovering variations of a recipe and inspiration for ingredients I hadn’t thought of. I’m also impressed that it found two different recipes for my parent’s homeland dish: Sopa Tarasca — CD


14 June 2024

Gar’s Tips & Tools – Issue #179

Weekly-ish access to tools, techniques, and shop tales from the worlds of DIY

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

Restoring a 1914 Vacuum-Grinder-Buffer-Blower-Pulley(?)

I wrote about Hand Tool Rescue, one of my favorite maker channels, in the early days of this newsletter. If you weren’t around then and don’t know the channel, you should check it out. In it, Eric restores antique tools and machinery to near showroom quality. It’s mesmerizing watching him tear down rusty, crusty tools, often filled with cobwebs, insect parts, and rodent droppings. From there, he lovingly cleans, repairs, builds replacement parts, paints, and reassembles. It’s so gratifying to watch him put together the freshly painted parts and fire up the device for the first time in who knows how long. Each episode is also full of great tips on restoration and repair, like how to unfreeze old bolts, cleaning and sandblasting techniques, turning new knobs and handles on a lathe, lead testing, and more. In this episode, Eric restores a 1914 Bissell vacuum/grinder/buffer/blower/pulley. As he says, it’s the oddest combination of functions he’s ever seen. He also points out that, given the age of the tool, this was probably the first electric motor-powered device the owner ever had.

In Search of Lost Tools of Yesteryear

For decades, when I was a graphic designer (and after), I had a tool on my desk. It was a simple wooden dowel with a corked pin on one end and an angled burnishing tool on the other. It was stored in a plastic tube with a red plastic stopper. I used it for old-school paste-up (for wax-backed galleys on blue-lined layout grids). It was used for burnishing down the galleys and the pin was used for picking the galley up for repositioning. I loved this homely little gizmo and used it constantly. A decade or so ago, I lost track of it. I recently decided to try buying a replacement. Now, I want to use it for picking up tiny pieces of Plasticard and paper for positioning and placing in scale modeling. This has turned into a quest. First, I had to figure out what it was called. It’s a vinyl burnishing tool used in vinyl sign-making and applying automotive tint films. Amazon shows an exact copy of the one I had (see image above), but what you get is a slightly different tool with a thicker dowel, longer needle, and a vinyl cap over the needle (no plastic tube, no cork). I tried the manufacturer (which also showed the above image). Same tool as Amazon arrived. I know it’s silly — this modern version works exactly like the old one. I could also easily make my own with a piece of dowel, a pin, and a tiny cork. But I don’t want to do that. I want the exact tool of my youth. If you happen to know where I can get the tool as pictured above, please let me know.

A Guided Tour of Wire Strippers

In this very clear, well-produced video, Nils of LRN2DIY runs through all of the common (and not so common) features found on electronics wire strippers. The video is not only a great tour of this indispensable tool and its many built-in functions, but Nils offers a lot of great tips on using the features as he shows them.

Learning the “Zip Tie” Knot

On the highly-recommended knot tying channel, First Class AmateurBrent shows how to tie two different knots (using paracord) that work like zip ties. The main knot he shows is a modified version of a Prusik hitch knot, common in climbing.

Tour Your Drawers

I’ve started doing a thing recently where, every few months, I will quickly tour the drawers and cabinets of my office-studio and garage shop to remind myself what I have and where it’s store (and what supplies and materials I may need to buy). What’s amazing is how frequently I still find something and think “Ah-ha, that’s where that is!”

Shop Talk

Readers offer their feedback, tips, tales, and tool recommendations.

Reader Rex Burkheimer responded to my thought piece on maker superpowers in the last issue:

Interesting post on your worldview as influenced by a maker’s mind. My story is similar I think. As a kid, I was disassembling broken mechanical items, repurposing the parts for something more interesting. Of course, there were model kits, microscopes, slot cars, bicycles. 

As an adult, I worked in the automotive aftermarket parts world — sales, marketing, and IT. I also owned several retail stores concurrently with my day job with an auto parts wholesaler. The problem-solving I learned in my youth helped me in subtle ways such as evaluating new products – disk brakes! – as they came out. When you understand the design of a sub-assembly part, you get a sense of the design quality and likely point or frequency of failure. This guided my decision-making in choosing stock items as well as product lines. Success in my work let me obtain more and better tools.

Along the way, my hobbies including building PCs from salvage back when XTs and ATs were pricey. I haunted the Tandy surplus store. I was also heavily involved in sports car racing, as driver, crew, track worker, car owner. That led to an interest in machine tools, until I realized I was spending more time and money on machine tools than cars. I spent the last couple decades rebuilding old manual lathes (36 at last count), milling machines, drill presses, metal shapers, power hacksaws etc. while the race cars more often sat idle or were rented out.

Currently retired, with a nice workshop fully equipped with all the tools and materials I would have killed for as a kid. As that shop is an hour away, I have most of the same machines at my home as well – lathe , mill, drill presses, 3D printer, welder. Lately, I am into older garden tractors. 

At the age of 72, I actively seek out projects, as well has help other folks new to the machining hobby. The latter works both ways, as a high school kid help me figure out a problem with my 3D printer. There is always a project waiting for my attention. Currently refreshing a South Bend metal shaper. Life is good!

I enjoy your blog. 

Please Consider a Paid Subscription

Gar’s Tips & Tools is always free. But if you really like it and consider it truly useful to you, consider a paid subscription ($8/month). This keeps me in coffee and potato chips while I am working on this labor of love. If you really want to show your patronage, consider becoming a Hero of the Realm. I will send custom packages of goodies (books, tools, zines, and more) to all my Heroes.

Thanks to all those who have already subscribed. You are the Way Oil on my lathe.


13 June 2024

eSim Cards/Good Travel Pants/Airline Policy Changes

Nomadico issue #108

An eSim User Experience

Claudia from our sister newsletter Recomendo just got back from South America and sent this tip: I usually stay offline while traveling abroad and use my phone only when I’m connected to hotel WiFi. However, toward the end of my recent trip to Peru, I tested out the Airalo app and installed an eSIM on my phone. I bought the cheapest data package, which was $8 for 1GB or 7 days, whichever comes first, and it lasted me 4 days with no issues. I saved $40, which is what I would have paid Verizon for a daily travel pass. Airalo offers eSIMs for more than 200 countries and was surprisingly easy to install and delete.

Recommended Travel Pants

I’m always on the lookout for travel clothing that can also transition to attending meetings or going out to a restaurant without looking like I’m preparing for a safari or going fishing. On this recent trip, I wore items from Western Rise to a conference and out on excursions and they’re going onto my frequent packing list. I especially like the Diversion Pant slim version, which is stretchy and comfortable for a hike but looks good enough to be in front of a crowd or giving a presentation. They also make some nice merino wool shirts that are great for male travelers.

Good/Bad Airline Policy Changes

Frontier Airlines may be noticing its bottom-of-the-barrel reputation in surveys: it recently eliminated change fees for most classes, made its pricing much clearer, and extended its time to redeem credits. Details here. Reputational rival Spirit Air just raised its checked baggage maximum from 40 pounds to 50 and like Frontier, increased the voucher/credit use time limit from 90 days (really?) to a year. Usually beloved Southwest was the party pooper: it is raising its fees for early bird check-in and boarding.

30% Renewable Energy Worldwide

I’m always happy looking out a plane window when I see whole rooftops of warehouses or factories covered with solar panels. It turns out that a record-breaking 30% of the world’s electricity was produced by renewables last year as wind and solar power became more popular worldwide. We’re making progress…



img 09/13/11

Last Pass

All-in-one password management

img 09/27/13

Backyard Sugarin’

DIY sweets from trees

img 07/22/04

McMaster-Carr Online Catalog

The ultimate hardware store

img 08/15/12


Direct line to a warm body

img 12/20/10

Park Team Race Stand

Essential bike maintenance tool

img 01/1/09


Personal outsourcing

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Show and Tell #404: Adam Hill

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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.

One new tool is posted each weekday. Cool Tools does NOT sell anything. The site provides prices and convenient sources for readers to purchase items.

When Amazon.com is listed as a source (which it often is because of its prices and convenience) Cool Tools receives a fractional fee from Amazon if items are purchased at Amazon on that visit. Cool Tools also earns revenue from Google ads, although we have no foreknowledge nor much control of which ads will appear.

We recently posted a short history of Cool Tools which included current stats as of April 2008. This explains both the genesis of this site, and the tools we use to operate it.

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).

13898183_602421513250870_1391167760_oClaudia Dawson runs the Cool Tool website, posting items daily, maintaining software, measuring analytics, managing ads, and in general keeping the site alive. If you have a concern about the operation or status of this site contact her email is claudia {at} cool-tools.org.

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