26 September 2021


River Runner/LingYourLanguage/List of spy books

Recomendo: issue no. 271

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Landscape virtual tour
This is so cool. River Runner is a virtual tour of the US that follows watersheds. On the website, pick a place in the contiguous US and then it will carry you along the creeks and rivers that flow from that place until you reach the ocean. You get a photo-realistic ariel view as if you were in a drone following the rivers and passing through towns and farms. For a fantastic and fantastically long (5,000 km) tour, start almost anywhere in Wyoming. These aren’t really a tour of rivers as much as a way to tour the greater landscape of a continent. — KK

Learn to recognize other languages
LingYourLanguage is a game of guessing the correct language after listening to a short audio clip. If you really want to challenge yourself, listen with your eyes closed before reading the multiple choice options. The audio clips are compiled by volunteers in an effort to share the world’s languages with a wider audience — read more about the project here. Listening to the world’s languages has a meditative quality to it and makes me feel more connected to the world itself. — CD

List of spy books
I bookmarked this page of Bert Hubert’s spy book (fiction and non-fiction) reviews, so I can read the books later. My favorite part of the page: “Do not read any Tom Clancy to learn about intelligence agencies. Do however read this CIA-authored spoof of The Hunt for Red October. I was specifically told that ‘you aren’t truly initiated into CIA until you think that The Hunt for Red October: The Untold Story is funny.’” — MF

Very lightweight travel umbrella
I was glad I kept this super-lightweight A.Brolly Tube umbrella in my backpack while I was in rainy New York last week. It was so light (3 ounces) and small (8-inches unopened) that I forgot about having it until I needed it. It uses carbon fiber instead of steel for the ribs. — MF

Dramatic houseplants
Some silly humor to add to your feed is the r/DramaticHouseplants subreddit. It’s just images of houseplants being dramatic, like this plant in a pig planter or this one. Both Fittonias. This sub is a great place to learn new plants! The time lapse videos are also beautiful to watch. — CD

What to watch
When I am wondering what’s new and good to watch on the streaming services, I go to the Variety magazine’s “what to watch” page, which is updated weekly. They cover new and recommended shows on the major streaming platforms. I can usually find one new one that interests me. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 09/26/21

24 September 2021


Jeff Yang, Cultural critic and author

Cool Tools Show 297: Jeff Yang

Our guest this week is Jeff Yang. Jeff is a cultural critic, author and futures thinker whose latest book RISE: A pop history of Asian America from the Nineties to Now, will come out from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in January 2022. He also co-hosts the podcast, They Call Us Bruce. You can find Jeff on Twitter @originalspin.

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

Show notes:

Authory is a site that automatically aggregates articles under your byline, including making them available in text form beyond firewalls. That’s magic for anyone who contributes to publications across a wide range of platforms. It doesn’t just gather them as links. It actually pulls together legible text, formatted versions of those articles, even when they’re behind firewalls. And it makes them available for you to make available on-demand to individuals or making even public for other people to read. I’m really quite happy with it.

Descript is an audio/video transcription tool that has saved months of my life. It’s still at “good enough” stage but it keeps being updated all the time. It has integrated editing that allows you to move blocks of audio or video around just by cutting and pasting the transcript. It basically transcribed things well enough that I could just scan through documents, identify quotes I wanted to drill down into, and then automatically listen to the underlying audio and correct them for the purposes of using those quotes, but it’s gotten better over time. You can use it to kind of do a very rough edit of stuff, especially if you’re trying to figure out kind of a narrative flow for something. And I found that to be really, really powerful as well.

Audacity is my go to audio editing platform, and my “yes open source can be awesome” example. There are a lot of great open source programs out there. A lot of them require a little bit more lift in terms of learning curve and interface. It’s not like Audacity is perfect, but literally, I picked it up and was using it in fairly complex fashion with a bunch of the audio clean-up and manipulation effects that they have built in. It’s actually, to me, more convenience and more intuitive in a lot of ways than GarageBand or other tools that I know that friends of mine use.

Brompton M3L Bike
My Brompton M3L bike is still the most brilliantly designed piece of kit I own. It’s the mobility version of the old Yakov Smirnoff style joke, “in America bike carries you, in Soviet Russia, you carry bike”—there are bikes with smaller folds but none that ride as well or fold as quickly. I have had three Bromptons in my life and a dozen other folding bikes. The brommie reigns supreme. It basically collapses almost like in a Z formation or something. It bends in the middle and then the back wheel flips under and the front wheel kind of clips to the back wheel. So you end up with a package, once you’ve put the handlebars down on top of the front wheel, that is almost the size of a wheel.

About the forthcoming book RISE: A pop history of Asian America from the Nineties to Now:
RISE is a pop history of last 30 years of Asian America. It actually happens to cover three decades in which I, Phil and Philip each kind of consecutively came of age — Me, the 1990s; Phil Yu the 2000s and Phil Wong the 2010s. We also covered three different types of kind of creative expression platforms. Then Phil created Angry Asian Man, which is even to this day, perhaps the best read Asian American news and culture blog, and then Philip Wong was one of the pioneers of Asian Americans on YouTube. So through those three lenses, and with all the different connections we have individually and collectively, we just did tons and tons of interviews, roped in tons of collaborators of a wide array of different backgrounds and heritages and identities. And we put together this 500 page document of these last 30 years.


24 September 2021



Easiest jar opener

The JarPop jar opener is the best five-dollar gizmo I’ve ever bought. It’s what I gave my mother for Christmas last year. It’s a beautifully simple bottle-cap-opener for lidded jars. It breaks the seal on a jar of applesauce (or anything else), and then the lid twists right off. I’m a little embarrassed how strongly I feel about it.

-- David McIntosh 09/24/21

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 — editors)

23 September 2021

A Beginner’s Guide to Stepper Motors

Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales - Issue #99

If you’ve noticed a slight interruption in delivery of this newsletter, I am in the process of moving. For the next few weeks, newsletters will come out as I’m able and have enough decent content. I should be back in the full swing of things by mid-October. Please bear with me.

A Beginner’s Guide to Stepper Motors
Most of us who at least dabble in DIY electronics know about DC motors and servomotors. But the world of stepper motors can seem intimidating and overly complicated. If they are for you, check out this excellent beginner’s guide by engineer and educator, Jeremy Fielding.

Five Useful Shop Tips
On the YouTube channel, A Glimpse Inside, Chris offers such tips as using a paper towel inside of a piece of sandpaper to sand a complex profile, using a wooden sponge handle as an impromptu dowel, and creating a popsicle “story stick” for marking hole spacing that you need to transfer (such as hanging chargers or other devices that have keyhole slots for screws on the back).

Glue Myth Busted! End-to-End Gluing is STRONG!
In this fascinating video on Patrick Sullivan’s YouTube channel, he proves through scientific testing that, popular to common belief, gluing wood end-grain to end-grain does not create a weaker bond. In fact, it is actually stronger than a side-to-side or side-to-end bond – by 2 or 3 times! I’m looking forward to future installments of this Glue Myths series.

22 Tips for Using TinkerCAD
True confession: I thoroughly stink in all CAD software. It is one of those skillsets that is perpetually on my maker education to-do list. In this piece by our pal, Donald Bell, he runs through a series of excellent tips that can help me… er… you work faster, better, smarter.

Measuring Tape Refresher
Many of the measuring tape tips found in this article you may already know. Most of them I have covered in Make:my tips book, and in this newsletter. But this piece is a good deep introduction to measuring tape features and some great tips on things like using a tape by yourself, using one as a compass, and other handy tricks. Do you know, for instance, why there are black diamonds on many tapes every 19.2″?
On most tape measures, you’ll see a small diamond every 19.2″.

If you want to achieve equal spacing for 5 framing members within a 8’ span (some carpenters like to put five trusses per 8 feet, so the sheathing over the framing is stiffer), these are handy markings: 8 feet = 96 inches, so that if you want to place 5 studs equally distanced apart, you will place them every 19.2″.

3D Doodling with Trash Bashing
In this 30-minute video, Bill of the Bill Making Stuff YouTube channel, shows many of the tricks of the trade for scratch-building/trash bashing models, for tabletop gaming, or just for fun. Bill is the master of the BeadBot (robot models made from crafting beads). In the video, he introduces the concept of Doodlebots, where you start off with little-to-no idea what type of model you’re going to make and you just improvise as you go. Over the course of the video, he shows assembly techniques, gluing, the various parts you can get from scavenged trash, the magic of Greeble, weathering, and lots more.

Maker Slang
If you run across any tech terms, jargon, or slang related to making, please share.

Maker Christmas – That Christmas morning-like feeling you get every morning that you enter your shop/work area and look at the results of your previous day’s labors – at least when you’re really happy with what you did.

Handyma’am -We hired someone recently to repair some old metal bi-fold doors on a closet. The woman who came to do the work described herself on her card as a handyma’am. We thought maybe she’d come up with it, but it turns out to be a growing term for female repair people.

Book Nook – A bookshelf diorama built inside of an insert that slides onto a bookcase. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror characters/scenes from books are popular book nook subjects.

More on Moving
As I’ve mentioned probably too many times, we’re in the process of moving. If you haven’t done so in a while, you might be shocked (as I was) at how expensive moving boxes and supplies are. Three short wardrobe boxes? $40. One large mirror/art box (and we have a lot of art)? $25. One little perk when ordering boxes is that the boxes that all these boxes come in are additional usable and free boxes. Also: Did you know that ULINE will send you free samples of moving boxes (and lots of their other products) and those boxes also come inside of big, usable boxes.


23 September 2021


Mobile Plug Inverter

Portable household current

You plug this solid-state inverter into your car’s lighter socket and power whatever 110 volt AC appliance you want, 75 watts max. No need for special DC gadgets. It’s made for recharging cell phones and other batteries, but I’ve used it for my scanner and my printer while on the road. Also, I’ve run a small black-and-white TV set, and more importantly, my baby’s bottle heater (I admit is a small one). You can power almost anything that doesn’t use large resistance like hairdryers, waffle makers, bread toasters, small ovens. I haven’t tried a coffee maker yet.

The same company offers an assorted line of automobile inverters with more output power (200 watts on up). This is the smallest one.

-- Juan J Gil 09/23/21

(This Cool Tools Favorite from 2004 is no longer available, but this Bestek inverter is a highly-rated substitute. — editors)


img 09/22/21

What’s in my desk? — Kevin Kelly

What’s in my … ? issue #120

img 09/22/21

PlastX Clear Plastic Cleaner and Polish

Removes cloudiness, yellowing, oxidation, and fine scratches in clear plastics

img 09/17/21

Mack Reed, Technologist

Cool Tools Show 296: Mack Reed

img 09/17/21

OXO Kitchen Peeler

Superior vegetable peeler

See all the reviews


img 10/21/11

The Wirecutter

Meta-review site for gadgets

img 08/9/07

Fiskars Post Hole Digger

Best post hole digger

img 10/12/18

Knipex Pliers Wrench

Rapid, safe, strong pliers wrench

img 12/31/04


Hole expander

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 297: Jeff Yang

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 296: Mack Reed

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 295: Jim Louderback

Picks and shownotes

22 September 2021


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.