08 December 2022

Value Japan/Fast Lao Trains/Italy Incentives

Nomadico issue #29

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.

Value in Japan
Nomadico partner Kevin Kelly traveled to Japan soon after it reopened recently and says, “Everyone thinks Japan is expensive, but it is not really. And these days with a weak yen, it is definitely not. It might even be cheap for some.”  Most articles you’ll find about traveling there are pre-pandemic, but the blogger behind Never Ending Footsteps recently documented every 100 yen and ended up spending US$95 per day herself (after halving the shared accommodation with her boyfriend.) Not so painful for a 16-day itinerary with a lot of moving around.

High-speed Rail Comes to Laos
The Southeast Asian country of Laos has long been one that generated interesting stories about getting from A to B, but now they have high-speed rail. There’s some controversy about the Chinese involvement (and Lao debt) behind the project, but this is a major improvement for travelers who have dreamed of getting around Laos in a fast and reliable manner.

A U.S. Bank for Nomads
One point of friction for digital nomads is that they still need a real-world bank to process their money, usually in their home country. We’re watching the development of a new banking company called Sammy that promises to offer FDIC-insured U.S. bank accounts to digital nomads who are not American. So far it’s an “alert me when it’s available” sign-up list though.

Get Paid to Buy in Puglia
The trend of Italian towns paying people to move there keeps accelerating and the latest offer from Puglia looks especially attractive. You get 30K euro in a town where many houses are going for less than that, plus a bonus if you have a baby there. They supposedly have a million euros a year to hand out. Get Starlink internet set up from the start and it’s possible to keep working from there at high speed while being in a historic center going back centuries.


07 December 2022

What’s in my NOW? — Nabhan Islam

Issue #148

Nabhan Islam is a Medical Science Liaison (MSL) in the biopharmaceutical industry. When not behind his desk or traveling for conferences, you will find him hiking or visiting UNESCO sites according to a well-defined bucket list. His other interests include good design, ultralight gear, coffee, gin, sci-fi, video games, and cycling.

Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hoody
Years later, I’m still amazed by the performance and versatility offered by my Mountain Hardwear Ghost Whisperer Hoody. It offers enough warmth for a windy summit bid, making coffee on a crisp morning, or stargazing at 1am, but isn’t heavy, bulky, or restrictive. The wispy shell fabric is windproof and none the worse for wear despite carrying firewood and the occasional bushwhack. The warranty is solid too. The insert pin sheared off during my last hike, and Mountain Hardwear replaced the entire zipper free of charge. This is one of the first items I pack for any 3-season hike and I can’t imagine my outdoor life without it. Just an amazing piece of kit.

BiKASE Bottle Cage
I’m particularly adverse to the plasticky taste imparted by LDPE, but non-cycling water bottles don’t fit well in standard bottle cages. It was a ridiculous catch-22 situation until I discovered the BiKASE ABC bottle cage. ABC stands for Any Bottle Cage, which is made possible by an adjustable retention strap. Now I’m able to use my bottle of choice, a 710mL Nalgene with a capCAP. According to the specs, you can fit up to a 1L Nalgene or similar bottles from Hydro Flask, Yeti, etc. I have noticed the ratcheting mechanism has scratched my Tritan-based Nalgene, which doesn’t bother me, but it’s worth noting if you want to keep your bottle in pristine condition.

LG Portable Air Conditioner
The increasing frequency and severity of heat waves in North America has sharply demonstrated how important home A/C is going to be to our physical well-being for the foreseeable future. What makes this model unique is the use of a variable-speed compressor, which adjusts performance based on the ambient temperature. As a result, the compressor can run continuously (no more on-off cycling), and is much quieter and energy efficient than a standard A/C. Compared to baseline use, running the A/C all day during this summer’s heat waves (approximately 1 week/month) only incurred an extra $10/month in electricity (YMMV). Highly recommended.

SiriusXM subscription
My car includes a complementary SiriusXM subscription, but I didn’t really explore the channels until this summer while on road trips in areas without cellphone or FM reception. In addition to the refreshing lack of commercials, I truly enjoyed (re)discovering music from my grade school and university days, some of which I haven’t heard in years or even decades. There will still be a place in my heart for FM radio and iTunes (namely areas without satellite reception, go figure) but I’m definitely hooked.

MSL Talk Podcast
This podcast is directly relevant to my line of work but likely quite esoteric to the general public. Nonetheless, you may find some topics relatable to other areas of the pharmaceutical industry or working for a large corporation in general. Tom has a pleasant personality and each episode is usually 30-40 minutes so it’s an easy listen during a commute or workout. Suggested episodes are #124 (story telling), #117 (core values), #95 (emotional intelligence), #93 (strengths-based psychology), and #80 (gratitude). Disclaimer: I have been a guest on the podcast but did not/do not receive any remuneration for my time or content.

Expanding on “Thank you”
Severe weather events, COVID-19, mass shootings, political acrimony, ongoing wars, the plight of refugees, inflation… the last few years have been arduous for everyone. I need to thank my friends, family, co-workers, and front-line workers more often for helping to shoulder the burden of life in this new normal. It’s amazing how expanding a rote “thank you” to “that was very helpful, thank you for your advice” or “thank you for helping, I really appreciate your effort” can really brighten someone’s day and in turn improves your mood. Try it!

What’s in your NOW?

We want to know what’s in your now — a list of 6 things that are significant to you now — 3 physical, 2 digital and 1 invisible. 

If you’re interested in contributing an issue, use this form to submit: https://forms.gle/Pf9BMuombeg1gCid9

If we run your submission in our newsletter and blog, we’ll paypal you $25.


06 December 2022

13 Great Tool Gift Ideas

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #140

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

Don’t forget about my Holiday Giveaway Challenge. I’m giving away a bundle of both my tips books (Vol. 1Vol. 2) and three of my favorite everyday tools: The Williams ratcheting screwdriver, the Canary cardboard cutter, and a plastic razor blade. To be eligible, all you need to do is convince three people to sign up for my newsletter (and then send me their email addresses). If you sign up 5 (or more), you get two entries in the drawing. Contest ends Midnight, Dec. 9. Sorry, but this contest is US-only!

13 Great Tool Gift Ideas
YouTuber Chris Notap offers up a baker’s dozen of tools he acquired in 2022 that he loves and highly recommends. He gives very thoughtful little reviews of each. Some of the highlights for me were the Fiskar Weed Puller (no bending down!), ThermoPro TP03 Digital Kitchen Thermometer (which we have and love), the DeWalt Oscillating Tool, the Kasa Smart Plug, the Wyze Indoor/Outdoor Video Camera, and the DeWalt Shop Vac. Everything on this list looks like a winner to me.
Gifts for Makers
One of the things I love about holiday gift exchanging is getting to ask your loved ones for things you might not normally think about buying for yourself. That’s the premise behind this video on A Glimpse Inside. Honestly, I was expecting less common, everyday tools, but the stuff on here is definitely things you might not think about or know about that would make great practical gifts. A couple of things he mentions that I think fall into that special “I wouldn’t likely buy this for myself” category are the Viewtainer storage system, the GRABBO electric vacuum cup lifter, and a benchtop tape dispenser.
Project Farm’s Best-Tested Tools of 2020
Here’s a round-up video from Todd at Project Farm of his top ten best-tested tools of 2022. There some great gift ideas here. Some standouts: Daytona Floor Jack (Harbor Freight), S-K Ratcheting Combination WrenchCraftsman Tap & Die Set, and the Ryobi Stapler.
42 Great Video Production, Desktop Productivity, and Design Tools
This Scott Yu-Jang video is an absolute treasure-trove of great gear that Scott uses in video production, desktop productivity, and art and design work. Amongst all of the high-tech gadgetry, I absolutely love the idea of using blank, white plastic hotel keycards as dry-erase post-it notes and for story boarding panels. You can also use dry-erase blank playing cards. Some other stand-outs: UGREEN Tablet Holder, the Visual TimerMagnetic Helping HandsDeburring Tool (for 3D printing), and Auto-Retracting Utility Knife.
Support This Newsletter, Buy My Merch
If you’re looking for great gift ideas for any maker on your shopping list, consider my two Amazon best-selling tips books (Volume 1Volume 2). They are filled with tips on things like cutting, gluing, fastening, painting, finishing, electronics, soldering, 3D printing, hobby tips, and much more. The books are designed to appeal to DIYers of all skill levels and interest areas.
Isn’t it time you gave yourself (or someone else) a little Artistic License? Years ago, I created these cards and they’ve been a hit for the holidays. Perfect stocking stuffer! They are $5 each or 5 for $20 (post paid). They come in a wax-sealed white envelope. The cards are credit card sized on thick, laminated card. If interested, email me and we can arrange payment and shipment. Foreign orders will require full postage.


05 December 2022

Recumbent Bikes

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 11

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Supremely comfortable pedal-wheels
Sun USX Recumbent Tricycle, $1,300+

The Sun EZ-3 USX is a human-powered, recumbent, three-wheeled vehicle. It engages me in a way that the Segway did not. I am amazed this product, what some call a “bent trike,” is not better known.

The USX is the most comfortable human powered vehicle ever, more comfortable than many cars. It’s safe, practical, and affordable. I hate exercise but I find myself impatient to get my next chance to ride this thing.

Riding the USX is eerie, because it feels like relaxing on a perfect easy chair and performing aerobic exercise at once. You can go fast or slow, and both are wonderful. You can load the thing with 450 total pounds. You can pull carts. Some riders have decked out USX’s with iPod sound systems and other amenities. You can get rain roofs and car hitches.

There are some downsides. It’s heavy: 65 pounds. Going up hills is pleasant, but slower than on a bicycle. Some of the parts (bolts, screws, and bearings, in particular) are low-end and might need to be replaced sooner than you’d expect. It doesn’t come with some essential features, like rear view mirrors. (Mirrycle handlebar mirrors are the best after-market choice.) It’s hard to mount a front headlight.

Some other upsides: Unlike a lot of bent trikes, the USX folds for easy transportation. I put it inside the back of our SUV instead of on a rack. Another big plus: you sit high enough to be noticed by car drivers, though I also added a flag and extra lights to err on the side of caution. Although it looks wide, and encourages cars to give more room than is commanded by bicyclists, it is actually narrow enough to roll through a standard door. You can stand it up on end so it takes minimal room when parked. You can just stop and rest while going uphill – it has a parking brake.

There are lots of other bent trikes — dozens — but most are “performance-oriented” — made for athletes. Some of the athletic brands are Greenspeed, Catrike, and Windcheetah. I have tried some of them, and I think they are fun and interesting, but not what I want. They are expensive, very low slung (you’re practically on the ground while riding), and not so practical for non-athletes. What I want is something that’s super easy to get in and out of, that’s fun to sit on while standing still, that’s high up enough to be safe around cars, and that is fun to ride slow, while on the phone or catching up on treo email. I want something for life, not for sport, and there’s not much competition in this niche. There is another interesting comfort-oriented bent trike, the Hase Leupus, from Germany. The Leupus is lighter and made of higher-end parts, but is disproportionately more expensive. The seat isn’t as comfortable as the USX — though it does have better suspension. Hase also makes super light versions, including titanium models.

The USX is available online. If you buy online, know that Sun ships the USX without the parts well-tightened. If you can afford it, it makes more sense to buy retail from a good local bike shop for about $1,300. The service will be very much worth it! – Jaron Lanier
Front wheel drive recumbent bicycle
Cruzbike Freerider, $1,195

Although it takes time to master the ride, the Cruzbike’s a blast once you do get the hang of it. It’s a front-wheel drive bike, so it gives you the comfort and speed of a recumbent without the long, long chain. The lack of chain in the rear makes it a perfect complement to the Xtracycle free radical sport utility bike, which is specifically why I bought the Cruzbike. I have the stock 65 psi tires on my Freerider now, but I’m thinking of upgrading to disc brakes and 100 psi tires to make it even more of a cargo-hauling truck. (As much as possible, I try to avoid driving a car entirely.)

I first bought a recumbent in 2000, after testing several, and never looked back. I’ve ridden bikes like the EZ-1 and have four recumbents currently: a Rans Rocket (my first), a Rans tandem, a BikeE (for my wife) and the Cruzbike, which I bought last fall. The Cruzbike’s grip-shift handles the same as any other bike, and it takes hills pretty well for a ‘bent, albeit with the proviso that no ‘bent climbs as well as an upright because you can’t stand up on the pedals (a small price to pay for being able to ride for hours without feeling any pain and for having a pleasurable touring ride experience).

It feels great to glide through the world with your head in a normal, comfortable position, at a comfortable height, instead of craning to see traffic. I find I’m faster because you are more aerodynamic than on an upright. Thus, it also takes less work to maintain the same speed. Even with the Xtracycle, the Cruzbike feels amazingly light. – John Gear
Inexpensive recumbent bicycle
EZ-1 SX Recumbent, $899

I recommend the cheap recumbent, EZ-1, designed by the makers of the classy Tour Easy touring recumbent. I ride a BikeE recumbent myself, but they went out of business. My bro has an EZ-1. They’re not the lightest, fastest, or coolest recumbent, but they have the ergonomics of a $1500 bike and are a blast to ride. They start at $900. The EZ-1 is a comfortable workhorse that lets you stay in the saddle for a *long* time. – Mark Crane
Lightweight tri-wheel bent
Greenspeed Trike, $2,390+

Although I’ve known about recumbents for years, until recently I had a prejudice against them. Whenever I observed middle- aged riders of two-wheeled recumbents obviously just getting started on regular daily exercise, they seemed unstable when starting to pedal from a dead stop. That led me to trying out a three-wheel tadpole trike, which allows you to remain in a stable, ready-to-ride position. Tadpoles have the two wheels in the front, one in back. Deltas have the two wheels in the back. After just two minutes riding a trike, I was addicted.

The Greenspeed sits closer to the ground and is much lighter than most delta trikes — my GT3 weighs 37.5 lbs compared to the 65 lbs. of the previously- reviewed Sun USX. Unlike deltas, the tadpole provides a greater sense of the same freedom, speed and agility that people are used to on good upright bikes. My GT3 is much faster and infinitely more sporty and maneuverable than a delta. If deltas are sedans; tadpoles are the sport coupes. Sitting with one’s head upright enables you to enjoy your surroundings much more than on regular cycles. This is true of all recumbents, but for me, there’s something especially thrilling about a tadpole. Though all tadpoles whip around like human-powered go-carts, the Greenspeed has 16-inch wheels rather than 20-inch ones on most tadpoles. Thus, it has a much tighter turning radius and even more responsive steering. It’s also really fun to move along at a good clip that close to the ground.

It’s worth noting that if you’re older and/ or fairly overweight, the Greenspeed can be harder to get in and out of than other tadpoles (again, it’s lower to the ground).

Greenspeeds aren’t the cheapest tadpoles. Sun now makes fairly inexpensive tadpoles and that entry-level Catrike is a real deal. The new Greenspeed GT1 is more affordable than the GT3, but obviously the higher price brings with it better components and a noticeable difference in performance that I value.

Throughout my 20’s and early 30’s I was an avid distance cyclist; indeed, one of the most life-affirming events in my life was touring cross country in 1978. That said, I always had discomfort in my neck, crotch and butt and developed some knee problems. Finally, in my late 30’s I started to have back problems that became stenosis and sciatica. I had to quit cycling.

Until I discovered bent rides and the GT3, I thought I’d never ride again. Like many people my age (I’m 54), I have battled my weight. Having a significant gut makes riding traditional bikes that are meant to be quick, not feasible. Since starting to ride my GT3, I’ve lost 30 lbs and have been able to make good progress on a new routine of sensible eating that suits my body and age better. The machine motivates me greatly. During the summer, I rode nearly every day, ten to thirty miles. I’ve joined a gym to continue conditioning through the Minnesota winter before I begin bike touring again next year. – Curtis Wenzel

04 December 2022

Palette/Ultralight running shoes/Futurepedia

Recomendo: issue no. 334

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

Free photo colorizer
I use Palette to colorize my old black and white photos into fresh color ones. It’s a free webpage that uses AI. I tested it by feeding it black and white versions of color images I had and it is remarkably accurate. And even when it is not 100% precise, it will produce very pleasing images you can save. Instantly. For free. I’m going through my scrapbook now, updating grey ones to energetic colors, sometimes using Palette’s bright filter options. — KK

Ultralight trail running shoes + foam insoles
After a couple of years of walking five miles a day on my treadmill desk, my knees and feet were starting to feel worse for wear. I read Craig Mod’s recommendation for TSLA lightweight trail running shoes with a wide toebox and high-quality insoles and bought them. A month later, I’m pleasantly surprised that my knee and feet pain is gone. I just bought a second pair in another color because I don’t want to wear any other shoe. — MF

AI tools directory
Futurepedia.io is a great way to keep up with all the AI tools as they’re released and currently available in categories like Image, Text, Writing, Video, Design, etc. New tools are added daily and you can sort by New, Popular and Verified. There’s almost 1,000 tools listed as of now. — CD

Kevin’s wish list
I made my holiday gift wish list for Cool Tools. This year instead of selecting the best tools we discovered in the past 12 months, we are listing cool stuff we desire. So contrary to our usual process, we have no idea if what we wish for is actually any good. My wish list is here. If you have opinions about what I am wishing for, add them in the comments. — KK

Definitive list of good and bad apples
A highly opinionated ranked list of different apple varieties. I enthusiastically agreed with AppleRanking’s opinion of some apples (e.g., Red Delicious: “coffee grinds in a leather glove”) and shaking my fist in objection at others (e.g., Fuji: “the taste of used sponge water and the consistency of the dirty leftovers it cleaned”). How does your favorite apple rank here? — MF

Snippets of wisdom
A collection of quotes I’ve come across in the last few months that I’m still thinking about. — CD

  • Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. — Daniel Burnham
  • Patience is not passive, on the contrary, it is concentrated strength. ― Bruce Lee 
  • To attract something that you want, become as joyful as you think that thing would make you. — Martha Beck
  • Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. — Chinese proverb
  • If we could see the whole truth of any situation, our only response would be one of compassion.” — Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche

Kevin KellyMark FrauenfelderClaudia Dawson


03 December 2022

2022 “I wish” List – Marks’s picks

8 things on my holiday wishlist

This year we are doing something different for our holiday gift lists. Instead of carefully selecting some of the best tools and gifts that we own and can personally recommend, this time we are carefully listing things we don’t have but would like to get. This is a wish list. We’ve searched for uncommon gifts that seem wonderful, although contrary to the usual policy of this site, we don’t actually have any personal experience with the items on this list. If you do, leave some comments. — Editors

Here’s what Mark Frauenfelder would like for the holidays.

OP-1 Synthesizer by Teenage Engineering
I’ve been dreaming about this $1300 synthesizer (top left) ever since it came out about seven years ago. It’s tiny, but feature-packed (synth, drums, recording, mixer, EQ, effects). One person I know has written entire movie scores with it. Watch this demo on YouTube.

Leica D-LUX 7 4K Compact Camera
My iPhone 12 Mini is my camera, but if I had $1400 to spare, I’d buy the Leica D-LUX 7 (top right). I don’t know enough about photography to explain what makes it a great camera. I just like the way it looks, and I like the photos my professional photographer friends take with it.

RTX 3090 Graphics Card
I’m fascinated by AI art generators like MidJourney and Stable Diffusion. I would like to be able to run Stable Diffusion locally on my computer, but that requires a graphics card to do the heavy number crunching required. The RTX 3090 (bottom left) at about $1,500, would be great. For now, I’ll just keep using Google Colab credits and rely on cloud computing.

Apple Watch Ultra
I have a perfectly good Apple Watch Series 3, but since this is a wish list, I might as well add the $800 Apple Watch Ultra (bottom right) It has an appealingly chunky design, a larger display, and a much longer battery life than the one I own.




Dan Goods, Visual Strategist at NASA

Show and Tell #342: Dan Goods


Force Conversion Calculators

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #139


Velcro & Cords

Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 10

See all the reviews


img 07/22/04

McMaster-Carr Online Catalog

The ultimate hardware store

img 07/21/11

Zenni Optical

Best cheap eyeglasses

img 08/1/14

Mann Lake Beekeeping Starter Kit

Cheapest way to start bees

img 07/28/17

Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

img 12/31/04


Hole expander

See all the favorites



Show and Tell #342: Dan Goods

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #341: Will Smith

Picks and shownotes

Show and Tell #340: Robert Stephens (Part 2)

Picks and shownotes

07 December 2022


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.

© 2022