18 November 2018


Alexa Blueprint/Photopea/Forever

Recomendo: issue no. 121

Alexa houseguest guide
You can program your Alexa with new skills. I just trained our Alexa to serve as a home guide for houseguests, babysitters, and petsitters. I used an Alexa Blueprint to create an audible guide for finding things, or giving instructions like “where are the bath towels?,“ “where does the trash go?” or “how to turn off the porch light?” Visitors just ask Alexa, after saying, “Alexa open the home guide.” — KK

Web-based photoshop clone
I recently discovered Photopea a free web-based image editor that closely mimics the look and feel of Photoshop. It even imports and exports .PSD files. Here’s a good introductory video. — MF

Quirky series about marriage and afterlife
I stumbled across Forever on Amazon Prime having never heard of it. The show stars Fred Armisen and Maya Rudolph as a married couple stuck in the same old routine who then die, only to reunite in the afterlife and pick up right where they left off. It’s so funny and unexpectedly romantic. There may or may not be a season 2. Fingers crossed there is, but even if not this 8-episode series feels complete and worth binge-watching. — CD

Best photobooks
Every year for the past decade I’ve made 2 or 3 commemorative photo books to mark an anniversary, or document a vacation. I’ve tried just about all the different brands and modes of making photobooks and keep coming back to Blurb. It’s not the cheapest, or most expensive; but it’s the highest quality and very versatile. You can make a Blurb photo book three ways: 1) Use a layout program like InDesign to custom design your book, exported as a PDF; 2) use the Blurb function built into Lightroom to handily use photos in your LR library, or 3) use Blurb’s own fancy app, Bookwright, which will let you grab off-the-shelf templates, or completely customize your own templates. This year so far, I’ve make a small 20-page book, and a huge 400-page book, and am working on another one. — KK

Make your pets talk
I heard about My Talking Pet App (iOS and Android) on the Cool Tools Podcast episode with Kari Byron. With just a photo, I can make my puppy and kitten say ridiculous things and then share those videos via text. Every pet owner needs this app. — CD

Ultra-thin wireless keyboard
I took the Logitech Keys-to-Go Ultra Portable Wireless Keyboard ($50) to used with my iPhone on a recent overnight trip, leaving my laptop at home. It worked beautifully. I was able to easily write email, Google docs, and text messages with the keyboard. — MF

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 11/18/18

16 November 2018


Cool Tools 2018 Holiday Gift Guide: Best Tools $10 or less

Best inexpensive gift tools

The editors of Cool Tools have curated a number of gift suggestions selected from the pages of Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities (which itself makes a great gift), and from the website. This week: tools for $10 or less.

“I’ve owned the earlier model of Panasonic’s nose hair and ear hair trimmer ($10) for over ten years, and it still works perfectly. I’ve never had the sharpen the blades.”– Mark Frauenfelder

“After losing two (expensive) Fisher Bullet Space Pens, I stumbled across their significantly less expensive Stowaway ($10). They’re small, available in three styles, with or without a clip on the cap, and with a stylus on the opposite end of the tip. Three colors, too: black, red and blue.” — Eric Rosenberg

“The Kuru Toga ($5) is a self-sharpening mechanical pencil that solves a problem that’s inherent with normal mechanical pencils. After just a couple of lines of writing with a typical mechanical pencil, the lead becomes a blunt irregular chisel shape, leading to clumsier and more smeary writing. Experienced pencil users try to counteract this by rotating their pencil every few words, a tactic that works very imperfectly.” — Jonathan Coupe

“The 2.5-inch Teeny Turner fits easily in a pocket; it’s made of aircraft alloy shank, has a magnetic bit holder and the included bits (Phillips 00, Phillips 0, Torx 5,6 & 8, Flat 2mm and 3mm) are generally smaller and much easier to change out than my Craftsman.” — Chris Jacobs

“I bought this cheap LED headlamp ($8) in 2015 and I use it a lot: walks at night, barbecuing, reading, fixing stuff, going under the crawl space and attic. It’s basically a flashlight that you don’t have to hold. It’s comfortable and lightweight enough that it doesn’t bother me when I wear it for extended periods. It’s got plenty of light on the brightest setting.” — Mark Frauenfelder

“This is the tool kit ($8) I reach for first whenever I need to take apart some piece of consumer electronics. It has a handle, a shaft extender, tweezers, and 42 different driver bits, including ones for torx, hex, flathead, cross, triangle, star, and circle screws.” — MF

“Natural peanut butter is delicious, but the initial stirring causes a mess. The minute you put in a spatula, the oil on top overflows everywhere. Instead, try this stirrer integrated into a screw-on lid ($10). With a few quick turns, the peanut butter is completely mixed with zero spillage.” — Sessalee Hensley

“Simple games are the best. Tangrams are an old puzzle based on a set of elemental shapes that can be arranged in thousands of different patterns. To recreate a given picture is challenging, yet not too daunting even for kids. Playing gently encourages lateral thinking. It exercises a geometrical logic, rather than words or numbers. The puzzles are almost like peanuts; you keep wanting just one more.” — KK

“Leave it to the Japanese to create a brush pen. This pocketable brush pen with 2 refills ($8) has a super fine brush tip of actual bristles, perfect for tiny Kanji characters, or of course, doodling in your journal, or sketching in your Moleskine.” — KK

“This yellow plastic caliper ($8) is lightweight, reasonably durable (I lose it before it wears out) and pocket-friendly (only 4 inches long). I use it frequently during house or auto repairs to ensure the right size replacement part (such as nuts and bolts, or o-rings and sealing washers) comes home with me from the store or junkyard. I find this easier, quicker, and more accurate in many cases than using a small rule.” — Ken Johnson

Want more? Check out our 2017 Gift Guide picks, as well as our 2016 Gift Guide, 2015 Gift Guide, 2014 Gift Guide and our 2103 Gift Guide


16 November 2018


Artful Sentences

Samples of great writing, examined

Artful Sentences has increased my understanding as to how syntax creates and conveys meaning. Virginia Tufte guides the reader through more than a thousand sentences she’s culled from some of the best writing of the 20th and 21st centuries. Her commentaries highlight the (easily overlooked) contribution of syntax to the expressive success of a well-crafted sentence.

This book is unlike any other on writing I’ve seen. It is not about basic rules. It is not a standardized style guide to be used as a reference manual. Artful Sentences is divided up into 14 chapters; each chapter covers a different concept related to syntax. Tufte provides her analysis first and then follows with an example. Sometimes she quotes an entire paragraph to demonstrate the impact the chosen sentence has within its original context.

Don’t let dry chapter titles such as “Short Sentences,” “Noun Phrases,” “Prepositions,” etc., deter you; the content is highly academic and at times dense, but it’s a pleasurable read in proper doses. I prefer to explore Artful Sentences in short spurts. The sample sentences often catch my attention first and then I dig in to see what Tufte says about them. (You can also use the index to choose a favorite author and then search out his/her quotes.) I process what I’ve read and return to the book at a later time — opening it up to any one of its 14 chapters and starting again. Reading Tufte’s book gives me the immediate pleasure of saying, “Damn, that’s a good sentence!” often followed by, “Now how do I create one of my own?” The experience is similar to learning about visual art or playing music.

-- Scott Singer 11/16/18


Noun Phrases
Below, a sentence with parallelism best suited to a speech is composed of six kernel clauses, each with a noun phrase in the direct object slot. In five of the clauses, the parallelism and the repetition of the key concept they conserve emphasize the treasures being conserved in those direct objects:

These farmers produce valuable goods, of course; but they also conserve soil, they conserve water, they conserve wildlife, they conserve open space, they conserve scenery.
Wendell Berry, Citizenship Papers, 170

Syntactic Symbolism
Another repetition of prepositional phrases, here artfully doubled, divides a sentence’s spaces into spaces into spaces. This helps to imitate and dramatize an effective simile emphasized by its syntax as a fragment:

Space is all one space and thought is all one thought, but my mind divides its spaces into spaces into spaces and thoughts into thoughts into thoughts. Like a large condominium. Occasionally I think about the one Space and the one Thought, but usually I don’t. Usually I think about my condominium.
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol, 143

Left-Branching Sentences
In many successful left-branching sentences, there is a temporal or logical development of the expressed idea that invites the delayed disclosure of the left-branching arrangement. The material that concludes the sentence makes an almost inevitable point:

The afternoon after the night at the tavern, while O's were being taken out of books and out of signs, so that the cw jumped over the mn, and the dish ran away with the spn, and the clockshop became a clckshp, the toymaker a tymaker, Black issued new searching orders.
James Thurber, The Wonderful O, 9-10

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2007 — editors)

15 November 2018


Contigo Autoseal Mug

Leak-free, insulated mug

Far and away the best travel mug I’ve used is the Contigo Autoseal Stainless Steel Mug ($17). The Autoseal mechanism is the most leak-proof design I’ve found; it seals automatically when you’re not actively drinking from it, so there’s no worry about knocking it over with the top open. This is the only mug I’ll use around my computers now.

I had a terrible experience with the Oxo mug. It was impossible to clean due to the enclosed design of the lid, and eventually accumulated way too much gunk inside for me to be comfortable using it. The lid on Contigo’s mug is fairly open and easy to clean, and the entire thing is dishwasher safe, though they also sell a model with a colored body that isn’t. They sell replacement lids for $7 if you have a problem, but I’ve been using four of them for over a year in heavy rotation with no issues.

Contigo also makes plastic smaller containers for kids and larger water bottles (both of which are BPA-free) with the same Autoseal design.

-- Adam Fields 11/15/18

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2009 — editors)

14 November 2018


Kinco Ski Gloves

Insulated hand protection

Look on the hands of the person wrangling chairs or patrolling at your local ski hill. You’ll probably see an old-school insulated leather glove made by workwear supplier Kinco. Now, there are slightly warmer and more dexterous technical gloves out there made specifically for skiing, but would you change your oil or weld with $100 Hestra Army gloves? I haven’t found a more durable, warm, or better value work glove than Kinco’s ($20) for the cold and snow.

The pair I have so far has lasted through four years of welding, skiing, snow shoveling and carpentry. They’ve been drenched in motor oil, covered in antifreeze, and nearly frozen solid in an ice storm while I was skiing. My hands have stayed happy.

The most care they require is a coat or two of Sno-Seal every season. Unlike synthetic gloves, they aren’t fazed by heat and flame. I’ve found that the Kinco 901 gloves paired with some cheap silk liners is enough to keep my hands warm until it gets below 5F or so.

–Jon Braun

I’ve never used their ski gloves, but Kinco insulated pigskin gloves with the knit cuff are staples at our farm. Pigskin is durable and most importantly dries soft after getting wet, whereas cowhide gloves can become useless after getting wet as they dry stiff. The knit cuffs are important if you work with chainsaws or hay, etc., as they keep debris from getting in and permanently clogging the fingers of the glove.

We go through a few pairs a year, but that’s because we use them hard. I often get them at Gempler’s for about 15 bucks. The uninsulated styles are good for working in warm weather, but often I use the insulated ones even in summer as they damp vibrations from power tools pretty well. They are widely available elsewhere but often stores only stock the large size which are too big for my hands. Gempler’s was a subject of Cool Tools a long while back and is a great source for workwear and general outdoor/light industrial tools and supplies.



13 November 2018


Storus Smart Money Clip

Wallet-free cash & card carry

I’ve been using Storus’ simple wallet/money clip ($20) for four years now, and highly recommend it. It’s just enough wallet to qualify as one, but no more: light, simple, minimalist. The money clip is great, and the other side can hold five credit cards. The cards are wedged in there — the channel gets narrower as the card slides in. I carry my ID facing out, plus four credit cards. It’s a bit tight like that, but it works. As few as one or two cards still works fine, though, and they won’t slide out.

— Luke Kanies

I have used the smart money clip for six years. No more wallet, just the five cards I use all the time, and a little bit of cash if someone doesn’t want to take my MasterCard. It keeps my pockets free, and I have never seen anything else like it.

— Jeremy Sluyters



img 11/12/18

Knirps X1 Umbrella

Ultracompact rain shield

img 11/11/18

Moby Wrap

Distributed weight baby-wearing

img 11/10/18


Dry lens cleaner

img 11/9/18

Jeri Ellsworth, CEO at Tilt Five

Cool Tools Show 148: Jeri Ellsworth

img 11/9/18

Klean Kanteen

Stainless steel water bottles

See all the reviews




Cool Tools Show 148: Jeri Ellsworth

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 147: Elan Lee

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 146: April Wilkerson

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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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 cl {at} kk.org.