29 March 2020


Inspirobot/Hand Mirror/The Learning Playlist

Recomendo: issue no. 192

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Alien humor
In these dark times I need a little lightness, I need some humor, I need a bit of inspiration. I need Inspirobot. Inspirobot is an AI that generates inspirational quotes set on an inspirational photo — you know those posters. Because it is a dumb AI, it generates a lot of nonsense. But every fifth one is foolish in an unconventional way, which is the root of humor. It borders on profundity. Just keep clicking. — KK

Hand Mirror for online meetings
Hand Mirror is a one-click camera check (free, Mac only). If you are about to join a Zoom or other video meeting, just click the icon on your menu bar and make sure you look presentable before you go live. — MF

The best learning videos
YouTube is way underrated as an educational institution. You can learn literally anything, including how to do surgery. The challenge is the uneven quality of the average video. One solution is YouTube’s own channel called The Learning Playlist. YouTube hired experts to curate the best learning videos they could find on a particular subject, and make a playlist for it, all on one channel. I am a happy subscriber. It’s also a good place to begin a search for how to study for a test, to how to organize a community group, and so on. — KK

3M Scotch Tear By Hand Packaging Tape
3M Scotch Tear By Hand Packaging Tape looks like ordinary packaging tape. The difference is that you can tear off pieces by hand, instead of having to use scissors or the serrated edge on a dispenser. I started using it years ago and it’s worth the extra price in the safety (no more ripped finger skin) and convenience I gain. — MF

Relaxing deep stretch video
This deep stretch for hips YouTube video by Sara Beth Yoga is 20 minutes long, but flows so well and it’s easy to follow on my phone. It’s relaxing, rewarding and always helps me get rid of the tightness in my hips. — CD

Links to lists, ideas and advice
My inbox has an abundance of newsletters and emails with advice for the current situation, as does my newsfeed. I feel connected, grateful and overwhelmed. Here are the links I found most helpful and am happy to share:

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 03/29/20

27 March 2020


Erika Hall, Co-founder of Mule Design

Cool Tools Show 219: Erika Hall

Our guest this week is Erika Hall. Erika is the co-founder of Mule Design based in San Francisco and the author of Just Enough Research and Conversational Design. You can find her on Twitter @mulegirl.

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

Show notes:

3” x 5” Index Cards
I literally trail these behind me sometimes. When I travel to a workshop, or a conference, or a client meeting on an airplane, frequently I’m organizing my work and just spreading them all over the place, a little trail of cards. It’s just because they’re inexpensive, and you can find them everywhere. You can use them on horizontal surfaces. I think they’re better for collaboration with everybody gathering around a desk and you can organize them and reorganize them, and you can save them. You can do the weird Merlin Mann thing and bundle a bunch up with a little binder clip. I find that they’re fantastic for organizing complex thoughts because a lot of times I’m working on helping a client with a design system, or to organize some concepts, or to write a book or an article, and you can take notes on them and then you can save them, and carry them, and reorganize them, and constantly recombine them. They’re a lot sturdier than a Post-It note and you can hand them around.

PetSafe Happy Ride Pet Bicycle Trailer
My weird little dog, Rupert, is very important. And I really love to bike and I don’t have a car, that’s really how I get around, so when I do go into the studio I take Rupert with me and I take him in a bike trailer that attaches to the back of my bike. It is a dog specific bike trailer. But I have used it for other things. It’s really handy. Sometimes if I’m biking past Trader Joe’s on the way home, Rupert now knows if I stop at a store he’ll scoot over to the side because he’ll know that a bag is going in. There’s a sun roof kind of deal and I can pop the bag down in there with him, or if I have to run an errand and I want to get more groceries I can also put groceries and no dog in there.

Roxane magnet coffee filter holder /63
We have a nice drip coffee maker, a Technivorm Mocha Master, which if you like drip coffee, it makes the best coffee. But we keep it on our counter underneath our cabinets and our cabinets are metal. Because of the configuration of our kitchen there was no good place to keep the filters and every place we put them felt really disorganized and out of place. We’d have the filter bag, we’d keep a couple on the counter or we’d have it tucked away somewhere else. This was actually a situation that created a certain amount of angst of having one type of thing out of place with no home. A couple years ago I went to Japan for a conference and I was walking around, just going in the little stores, and I randomly walked into a little boutique that had clothing and a little jewelry, and a little accessories, and a few little home goods. Sitting there on the table was a piece of wood, and it was labeled magnetic coffee filter holder, like it was made for me. I freaked. I just lost it. I was like this solves this intensely, highly specific problem. It’s so elegant, it has no visible magnet. It looks like it’s just this hollow trapezoid shape. It’s perfectly designed for somebody who has a drip coffee maker, because it’s made to hold those cone shaped filters. Every day when I make coffee in the morning it brings me joy because the filters are very tidy right above the coffee maker in such a convenient place. I love it. It’s one of my most beloved objects.

Implementing Value Pricing by Ronald J. Baker
I’ve been in the services business a very, very long time and one of the things I work with clients on often is their pricing strategy. Generally, if you’re doing something online, you’re hoping to either make money if you’re a for-profit company or raise money if you’re a non-profit organization. There’s so much angst around “what do I charge people”, “how do I make sure that I make enough money to either support my mission or to make my organization profitable”. Designers are already so often low self-esteem and freaked out anyway and are so worried about what to charge clients. But it’s a good and functional thing in society if people charge an appropriate price for something so that other people pay it and then get something that’s valuable to them. Why I really like this book is that his model is to help get people away from the hourly model. If people are buying design services a lot of times they’ll say, “What do you charge per hour? What’s your rate?” That doesn’t make sense in a lot of cases like you’re valuing the wrong thing because, really, you don’t care how much somebody spends on something, you care about the outcome. But for whatever reason, it’s really uncomfortable to say as a designer I’m going to charge you $100,000 for an outcome. A lot of designers are so uncomfortable if they can’t back that up with detail about every single way they’re going to be spending their time. But that makes no sense because the client doesn’t benefit from you spending time, the client benefits from you achieving something. If you achieve something really valuable faster everybody’s happy. But if you’re charging hourly, you lose.

About Just Enough Research, Second Edition:
Way back in 2013, which now seems a millennium ago, I wrote a really short book about design research because I was in the position of trying to convince clients that research, like understanding the problem, was not an optional part of the world, that you need to not only understand your customers and how they live their lives, you need to understand your own business, which is the part that people forget about a lot to really be clear about what their goals, or capacity, or capabilities are. You need to understand the world in order to solve a problem that exists in the world. I wrote this little orange book and then people seemed to like it, and years passed, and I thought, oh well I should revise it so that people feel comfortable recommending a book that’s new again and go through the whole thing to make sure it’s really up to date. I added a chapter on surveys which I’d left out of the first version because I think surveys are really advanced and nobody should be running surveys who doesn’t have a master’s degree. But unfortunately, here’s a case where the tools are a problem because the tools for creating surveys are so easy to use now. It used to be it wasn’t that easy to just all of a sudden survey 1,000, 10,000 people. But now the tools are really good and that makes people think that running a survey is actually really easy, but designing a survey is really hard to do it right. I wrote a whole chapter going in-depth about the pitfalls and what to think about so that you don’t use a very easy tool to get some garbage data that will then lead you to make a really bad decision, which happens a lot.


26 March 2020

The Maker’s Muse

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #39

Got a tip to share? Tools to recommend? Shop tales to tell? Talk to me.


The Maker’s Muse

Cable wrapping with zip-ties, via @circuitmix on Instagram

Cable wrapping with zip-ties, via @circuitmix on Instagram

Stenciling on Corrugations

Let those corrugations get up close and personal

Let those corrugations get up close and personal

In a recent episode of Black Magic Craft, Jeremy builds a very cool cyberpunk diorama. In the video (at 12:42 ), he shares a nifty tip for anyone who paints stencils onto corrugated surfaces. To create some techie-Asian-looking graffiti, Jeremy cut out his stencil on the back (non-corrugated side) of a scrap piece of the same corrugated material he wanted to paint on. By mating the two corrugated sides (stencil and paint surface) you can spray your stencil with it tight against the paint surface to minimize overspray.

Sean Ragan on Nibblers

It ain't fast, but it works.

It ain’t fast, but it works.

In this Cool Tool video, Sean Ragan shows a few of the ways that most any maker can benefit from owning a nibbler tool. I actually don’t have one and have wanted to get one for years. I’m planning on buying the $13 model that Sean links to in the video’s description.

Open Source COVID-19 Medical Hardware FB Group
I’ve always felt as though the maker movement and open source hardware could do a world of good in addressing pressing global and local issues. Attention makers: That moment has arrived. For those who think they can offer their talents in developing solutions to medical hardware problems, there’s a new Facebook group, called Open Source COVID-19 Medical Hardware. It’s very inspiring to see people roll up their sleeves and pool their expertise in groups like this. Many more groups, dealing with logistics, software, data analysis, and more are rapidly popping up. Grab a bucket, folks. We’re going to be at this for a while.

Jewelry Clamps

Look to jeweler's tools for use in other types of close up, small-scale making.

Look to jeweler’s tools for use in other types of close up, small-scale making.

In this Adam Savage Favorite Tools video, he recommends looking at jewelry maker’s tools for things like clamps for small objects. In the video, he looks at a ring clamp, a hand vise, and an engraving ball clamp. I would also add to that a bench pin. This is a V-shaped protrusion that juts out from the edge of your workbench, allowing you to access angles on small workpieces that you can’t otherwise. Here’s a combo ring clamp and bench pin for under $19.

Learn to Solder

It's really this easy.

It’s really this easy.

At Make:, we used to tell people that two of the most essential maker skills are soldering and sewing. So many people are intimidated by soldering, but they shouldn’t be. This graphic, from Circuitmix on Instagram, pretty much tells you everything you need to know. This, a decent, hot iron, and some practice, and you’re good to go. If you need more guidance, there are tons of tutorials and videos online. Now, while we’re all shut-ins, is a great time to break down and acquire these skills if you don’t already have them.

Shop Talk: Homely Tools

My "homely tools" cart in my shop: toothpicks, safety pins, cotton swabs, binder clips, corks, bottle caps, and more.

My “homely tools” cart in my shop: toothpicks, safety pins, cotton swabs, binder clips, corks, bottle caps, and more.

I am a big fan of what I call “homely tools.” These are tools that are so plain, so pervasive, that we don’t even think about them when we talk tools – but they remain central to our making. These are things like toothpicks, safety pins, markers, basic house tools (slotted screwdriver, kitchen-drawer hammer), etc. What are some of your favorite homely tools? Please tell me a story about them. Send pictures.


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

25 March 2020

Repositionable Spray-on Glue

Krylon Easy-Tack Adhesive Spray

Tools (Recommended):
Krylon Easy-Tack Adhesive Spray


Hi, I’m Sean Michael Ragan, and you’re watching Cool Tools.

When I’m making a part, I usually print out a life-size paper template, stick it to the surface of the raw material, and then just drill and cut to the lines. It’s much easier to do all the design and layout work in a computer drawing program than on the physical part, and the 300 dots per inch resolution of your run-of-the-mill desktop printer provides more precision than I usually need.
I used to buy these stick-on mailing labels for that purpose, and for situations where I’m just cutting a new part out of raw stock these work great, because here it doesn’t matter much exactly how the template lines up relative to the existing edges of the material. But for situations where I’m modifying an existing component, like this lathe parting tool holder, the mailing label trick doesn’t work so well because if you don’t get the template lined up exactly right on the first attempt, it’s basically ruined. You have to scrape it off of there, print and cut a whole new template, and try again.

So lately I’ve been experimenting with using this spray-on repositionable adhesive instead. I just print the template onto normal printer paper, give it a few sprays of this stuff on the back and, because it’s repositionable, now I can kind of massage it into place without worrying about having to start all the way over if I make a mistake lining it up. Typically I’ll start in one corner, get it tacked down, then line up another corner along the best edge, tack that down, and then work my way across the piece from there. If you end up with wrinkles, again it’s straightforward to just peel a little bit off, straighten out the wrinkle, and smooth the paper template back down again.

The repositionability of this stuff is also helpful during the cutting process. Instead of having to cut intricate profiles with scissors, I can just spray adhesive onto the back of the template page exactly like it is when it comes off the printer, stick it down on my cutting board, cut it out with a razor or hobby knife, then lift it off and transfer it to my work.

I find I much prefer this method to the old way. So I’ll probably use up my old stock of mailing labels and just not replenish it, which is doubly nice both because that’s one less type of paper I have to keep in stock, and because I no longer have to bother with manually feeding a single sheet of special paper into the printer when I want to make a template.

OK, thank you for watching. As always, you’ll find affiliate links in the description field down below the video. If you’ve seen something here you like, please do check those out, as well as our blog and our podcast over at cool-tools.org. We’ll see you next time.

-- Sean Michael Ragan 03/25/20

(Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews — editors)

25 March 2020


What’s in my bag? — Zora O’Neill

What's in my bag? issue #42

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Zora O’Neill is a guidebook writer and the author of the travel memoir All Strangers Are Kin: Adventures in Arabic and the Arab World, which won the SATW Lowell Thomas Award for Best Travel Book of 2016. She is on Twitter at @zora and Instagram @zoraoneill.


About the bag
About six years ago I got sick of the noise of my rolly bag and switched to the Tom Bihn Western Flyer, a convertible backpack. It holds nearly as much as a rollaboard, but it’s small enough to fit under the seat in on the plane (where I can use it as a footrest). I almost always have it in backpack mode, but if I do check it, I can tuck the straps away, so they don’t get caught on anything. The fabric is super-tough, and the internal divisions are well designed; I also use packing cubes.

What’s inside the bag
Laundry kit
A generic rubber drain stopper is key for doing laundry on the road. I keep one pocket of my bag always packed with this, some chunks of solid laundry soap and a coiled elastic laundry line. (My coworkers gave me the laundry line as a going-away-from-job gift in 2000, and I still have it!)

This is my second SteriPen — better than the first, because it’s rechargeable. I have used it for years and years. It zaps microbes with ultraviolet light, and it just feels like a miracle to be able to “make” water anywhere I am, instead of making that late-night run to the nearest shop for a plastic bottle. The only drawback is that it can look a bit like a sex toy in airport X-rays, and has a couple of times gotten me a bit more scrutiny than deserved.

Delfonics Rollbahn notebook
Delfonics Rollbahn notebooks are the best: elastic to keep it closed, pockets in the back, good-quality paper, and spiral-bound, so it opens flat. Unfortunately, the tall, skinny format doesn’t seem to be available in the US, but the B6 ones are good as well. (The bag behind the notebook is from HEMA, the Dutch chain that’s excellent for practical, sturdy items of all kinds.)

Buff Lightweight Merino Wool
The Buff merino gaiter is a relatively new addition to my routine, but I wish I’d had it years ago! It’s pretty lightweight wool, warm but also great for using as a face mask on the plane, to keep yourself from getting dehydrated, which also helps with jet lag.

Hammam Bath Bowl
Years ago, I stayed at budget hotel in Turkey with a crappy showerhead as well as a hammam-style bath: just a tap, a bucket and a bowl. The latter option was infinitely superior: lukewarm water is fine when it’s splashed where you want it, rather than trickling onto your head. So now if I’m going somewhere I might encounter low-pressure showers, I always pack my own hammam bowl. This one is lightweight aluminum, about 7.5 inches wide and 2 inches deep, from a museum in Lebanon, but any similar format will work — look in dollar stores for plastic, or for cheap stainless pet-food bowls. Or, heck, get an actual one from Turkey. Bonus: good for protecting small fragile items.

-- Zora O'Neill 03/25/20

23 March 2020


Love Glove

Cats love this fur brush

With three cats in the house, fur gets all over our furniture and clothes. I didn’t want to make a dozen Monkey Couch Guardians, so I bought a Love Glove to attack the problem at its source – on the cats.

The Love Glove looks like an oven mitt. The palm side is covered with rubber nubs. To use it, you simply pet your cat. The loose fur comes off and sticks to the glove. It’s easy to peel off. My cats go into throes of ecstasy when I use the Love Glove on them. They even get excited just seeing me approach them with the glove on my hand.

I have collected a lot of fur so far. My younger daughter is saving it because she wants to use it to make the projects in Crafting with Cat Hair: Cute Handicrafts to Make with Your Cat.




-- Mark Frauenfelder 03/23/20

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2013 — editors)


img 03/20/20

Cory Doctorow, Science Fiction Author

Cool Tools Show 218: Cory Doctorow


Smithsonian Open Access Project

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #38

img 03/17/20

Shave Well Fog Free Shaving Mirror

Low price, foolproof shower mirror is small enough to travel with

See all the reviews




Cool Tools Show 219: Erika Hall

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 218: Cory Doctorow

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 217: Olga Khazan

Picks and shownotes

25 March 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.

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.

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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.