19 March 2019


Your Money: The Missing Manual

Essential money managing guide

This is the best user-guide to personal finance I’ve found, and I’ve probably read them all. It is certainly the sanest and most level-headed. There are no get rich quick schemes here, just plenty of ways to get rich slowly. Indeed, Get Rich Slowly was the name of author’s very popular personal finance blog, which led to this book. J.D. Roth takes the great investing advice of Andrew Tobias in The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, and he summarizes the life-earning wisdom in the previously reviewed (and still recommended) book Five Rituals of Wealth and he includes the needed crystalization of priorities found in Your Money or Your Life, and financial motivations from Suze Orman and the Millionaire Next Door and then adds key insights and tips from hundreds of other lesser-known money gurus.

Basically, Roth has read every book and blog on money managing, investing, saving, and earning and digests and integrates all this hard-won knowledge into an amazing selection of smart, practical ideas for today. I could hardly turn a page without learning a solid investing tip or two, or a clever way to save a few hundred dollars, or an example of something I already knew, but was looking for a vivid way to teach my kids. I like the fact that Roth emphasizes the value of sharing whatever wealth you have, and keeps returning to the long view.

I would not call this an inspirational book (plenty of those on the shelves), nor even a memorable book like the ones mentioned above. Rather it is what is advertised: a day-to-day operating manual for your money. Specific details, sources, methods, tricks. Dip into it when you are stuck, check it before trying something new, re-read it when you think you know it all. I’ve done pretty well financially, and if you were to ask me my practical advice — like what to do tomorrow — I would simply give you this book. It’s slow, but true.

-- KK 03/19/19


Because you earn pre-tax dollars but spend after-tax dollars, a penny saved is actually more than a penny earned. Depending on your tax bracket, you might have to earn $111 , $133, or even $150 to put $100 in your pocket. So if you re in the 25% tax bracket, saving $750 a year is like giving yourself a $1,000 raise!


Destroy Existing Debt
After you've stopped using credit and created an emergency fund, then go after your existing debt. Attack it with vigor, throw whatever you can at it. The best way to do this is to use a technique called the debt snowball, which lets you build and maintain debt-destroying momentum. Here's the basic method: Make a list of your debts in the order you want to destroy them. (You'll learn a couple of good ways to prioritize debts in a moment.) Set aside a certain amount of money to pay toward debts each month ($500, say). Make the minimum payment on all debts except the first one on your list. Throw every other penny at the first debt on the list. But here's the key to making the debt snowball work: After you've destroyed your first debt, you'll find you've freed up a bit of cash; because one of your debts is gone, you have one less monthly payment. You could take this money and use it for something else, but you re going to do something smarter: keep paying the same total amount, $500 in our example, toward the debt every month.


Destroying low-balance debt first
If you've tried following the highest-interest-rate-first advice and still struggle with debt, there's another way. In his book, The Total Money Makeover, Dave Ramsey advocates an approach to the debt snowball that tackles accounts with low balances first. (Ramsey didn't invent this method, but he's popularized it over the past decade.) With this version of the debt snowball, you ignore interest rates when determining the order in which you'll pay off your debts. All you look at is how much you owe, organizing the debts from smallest balance to largest balance.

That's not to say you shouldn't try this method: If it works for you, use it! But if you struggle, consider the next method, which is the one that helped me succeed. It might help you to have a visual representation of your debt-paying progress. Try this: take a piece of graph paper and block off squares to represent your debt. (You might use one square for every $ 100, say.) When you make a payment, mark off a square and give yourself a pat on the back. (If you re a geek, build yourself an Excel spreadsheet that does something similar.) These little progress reports are cheesy, but they can keep you on track.

This method may not be as quick as paying your high-interest debt first, but it provides tremendous psychological reinforcement. You get some quick wins checking creditors off your list that encourage you to keep at it. Dave Ramsey calls this behavior modification over math, and he's right: the most important thing when paying off your debts is to, well, pay off your debts; the order in which you do so is irrelevant. Critics of this approach argue that the math doesn't make sense, and they're right: If you use this method, you will pay more interest than if you had the discipline to pay off your debts based on interest rate. But humans are complex psychological creatures, not adding machines. We usually know what we ought to do, but that doesn't mean we always do it. If we were adding machines and always made the best choices, we wouldn't get into debt in the first place!




Protecting Yourself with Parallel CDs
With a CD, one of the biggest risks is that you'll need to pull your money out before it matures. When you do this, you pay a penalty. The site FiveCentNickel.com suggests that you can decrease this risk with parallel CDs: http://tinyurl.com/parallel-CDs. here's how it works: Let's say you have $5,000 you'd like to put into CDs. Instead of opening a single CD and putting that whole amount in it, you'd open multiple CDs, all with the same maturation date. You could open five CDs of $1,000 each, say, or open two with $1,000 and one with $3,000. This gives you a buffer in case you need to get at the moneyearly. If you need $500 for an emergency, for example, you can break just a single $1,000 CD. That way you don't pay a penalty on the rest of the money you have in CDs, and the penalty will be smaller than what you would have paid if you'd put the whole $5,000 in a single CD.


Pay Yourself First
If you're living paycheck to paycheck, saving may seem impossible. You have to pay for things like rent, a car payment, groceries, and maybe even student loans. You'd like to save, but at the end of the month, there's no money left to set aside. And that's the problem: Most people try to save something out of what s left over instead of saving first. One of the best ways to build wealth is to set aside a portion of your income for savings before you pay your bills, buy groceries, or do anything else with yourmoney. Here are three reasons to pay yourself first: It makes you the priority. You're telling yourself that you are more important than the electric company or the landlord. think of the money you put into savings as a down payment on your future. It encourages sound financial habits. Most people spend their money in the following order: bills, fun, savings. But if you bump savings to the front of that list, you can set money aside before you come up with reasons to spend it. That way, since the money is no longer in your checking account to tempt you, you end up spending less.


Targeted Savings Accounts
Most people work toward several financial goals at once, but keep their money clumped together in a single account. With that setup, it's easy to forget how much you've saved for each goal and to borrowmoney from one goal to pay for something else. In The Six-Day Financial Makeover (St. Martin's Press, 2006), Robert Pagliarini advocates targeted saving through what he calls purpose-driven investing: Purpose-Driven Investing [lets us think] of each of our goals as a separate basket. Each of our baskets represents a single goal with a clear purpose that we can see and grow. What does this mean in the real world? It means that we have a single investment account for every goal.

If you want to try targeted saving, ask your bank or credit union if you can give your accounts nicknames. My credit union let me name my new savings account Nintendo Wii when I decided to save for that goal. And my accounts at the online bank ING Direct are named for the things I'm saving for, as you can see in the following image:



Ramit Sethi popularized the concept of conscious spending in his book I Will Teach You to Be Rich (Workman Publishing, 2009). The idea is to spend with intent, deliberately deciding where to directyour money instead of spending impulsively. Sethi argues that it's okay to spend $5,000 a year on shoes if that spending is aligned with your goals and values and you've made a conscious choice to spend this way.


As a general rule, you shouldn't borrow money to buy things that are likely to decrease in value. That means you shouldn't buy your new plasma TV on credit next week, it'll be worth less than you paid for it. Nor should you go into debt to buy food, clothes, or computers. But many experts say that it's okay to take on reasonable debt to pay for a handful of things that are likely to increase in value. This good debt includes an affordable mortgage on your home, student loans to pay for education, and loans to start a new business. Car loans are borderline: they generally carry low interest rates, but as you well know, cars lose value the moment you drive them off the lot.

(This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2010 — editors)

18 March 2019



Stretches upper and lower back, shoulders, hamstrings, glutes, calves, and shins

I have chronic back pain and osteoporosis and use a CoreStretch ($75) (in conjunction with a Spine-Worx) to reduce spinal compression and decrease pain. I’ve used it for about 8 years and it seems to be working beautifully; I have much less pain and haven’t needed to visit a chiropractor since using it.

I’m a pharmacist and researched other options thoroughly before choosing this. An inversion table may be a superior device for stretching the spine…but it’s also huge, ugly, unwieldy, and expensive. This costs less than a chiro visit, and I can easily tuck it behind my bedroom door. I’m also not fond of that “full head” feeling you get with an inversion table when the blood pressure increases in the brain. This is just bending over; your cranial blood pressure is largely unaffected.

It’s well built, and there really isn’t much that could go wrong with it. It still looks like new after years of use. It’s simple to use: sit down (I use the edge of my bed) and put the padded bar on your lap, tucked up next to your torso. Adjust the length of the handles so that your arms are comfortably stretched when you grasp them. Grab hold and gently lean forward; your whole spine will get a nice stretch. I usually stretch gently from one side to another, making a shallow “U” that’s only about a foot wide, trying to go just slightly deeper with each pass.

There is a whole range of suggested positions you can use to stretch different areas and muscle groups. I only use it for a minute or two, then move onto the Spine-Worx for a few minutes. This regimen works well, as evidenced by much less pain, and the fact that my spine has stopped shrinking (a potential problem with osteoporosis). When I use it, I generally have a pain-free day. Your mileage may vary, of course…but if you’re looking for a spinal stretcher that won’t break the bank, this is worth a try. If you’ve wondered whether an inversion table might help you, but haven’t got the room or money for one, you might give this a try!

-- Barbara Dace 03/18/19

17 March 2019


Bad Blood/Free Solo/Sunday Soother

Recomendo: issue no. 138

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Bad Blood
My wife and I tore through John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood. It’s the story of Theranos, the fraudulent Silicon Valley startup that promised to revolutionize health but instead perpetrated a potentially murderous scam. The founder surrounded herself with ultrarich powerful people who were blind to obvious warning signs because they were so enamored with the idea that they were going to make billions of dollars. This real-life tale beats any fictional corporate thriller. — MF

Maniacal performance
The fantastic documentary Free Solo deserves all praise it has received, including its recent Oscar. The film follows one guy’s attempt to climb the vertical face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes. A single slip he dies. I could barely watch it, it was that crazy good. As the climber’s friend put it: this demands an Olympic gold medal performance, except here, if you don’t get the gold, you die. The film has suspense, drama, emotion, and explores maniacal obsession and perfection. Five stars. Now streamable. — KK

Sunday Soother
I love reading The Sunday Soother by Catherine Andrews — a newsletter about practical spirituality. Each week she shares her thoughts and processes for slowing down and creating more meaning in life, as well as articles, books, beauty products, recipes and more. It’s like getting an intimate letter from a friend. Each email is a tool for self-reflection. Her last two issues were dedicated to grief and ambiguous loss — which I learned is a particular type of loss that lacks a definition and closure. She solicited stories from her readers and here is what was shared.

Narwhal for Reddit
If you have an iPhone, Narwhal is the best app to access Reddit. It’s snappy, and highly customizable and much easier to use than Reddit’s own app. — MF

Happiness practices around the world
I’ve stumbled upon these ten little drawings of happiness practices all over the internet, and they still make me happy. I like learning untranslatable words that stretch the imagination. My favorite from this set is the idea of forest bathing. — CD

Smallest, cheapest flashlight
This ThorFire is the brightest, cheapest ($15), smallest, lightest LED flashlight that runs on a single AA (rechargeable) battery. Rugged, made of metal, it will stand up on its end. I have them everywhere. — KK

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson 03/17/19

15 March 2019


Mark Stramaglia, Experimental Musician and Digital Artist

Cool Tools Show 166: Mark Stramaglia

Our guest this week is Mark Stramaglia. Mark is an experimental musician and digital artist. He creates games and audio software under the name Bludgeonsoft, and produces and performs music and art as Wizard Master and Operation Re-Information. His current project is Vilmonic, an artificial life, evolution, and genetics sandbox game and virtual world. Vilmonic is available now, on Steam and Itch.io.

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Show notes:

Chrome KURSK SNEAKER ($75)
I’ve had this one pair for probably over eight years. They’re only slightly looking worn. And they’re just the most durable, indestructible shoes I’ve ever owned. They’re made for cycling mostly, but these are the kind of the street pair … I have photos of the same pair from eight years ago, and they really don’t look very different. It’s military grade, nylon reinforced vulcanized rubber — who knows what this stuff is, but they’re not worn down. I rarely use the car, so I’m pretty much biking and walking. So, they do get a bunch of wear, but I’m mostly comparing them to other shoes I’ve had and there’s no comparison. They’re the best. They’re really practical. They’re completely stripped down, just utilitarian; so that’s a great look for me. I love that look.

BIC 4-Color Ballpoint Pen ($6)
Everyone has used this and has them seen around, but I think they don’t get the props that they deserve and it’s the BIC 4-color ballpoint pens. This is great because it’s got the four colors in it, but really my main thing is that I love ballpoint pens. The difference between these and gel pens is that this oil-based ink is fairly viscous, and you can get a really amazing range of a texture and tone out of it by writing lightly or writing heavily. So they’re really great for drawing. There are two main uses that I have. One is I take my sketchbook all around Oakland and I bike around and I do these kind of a representational, or non-representational representational drawings. They’re just blind contour drawings, but not of people, they’re of places, and things, and textures to try to take my eyes off of what they would kind of land on and find the kind of least significant thing around, and then zoom in and do these drawings on them. These pens allow me to get so much kind of variation and texture and weight. Another cool thing is that if you draw hard with them, they really impress the paper. So, you get this kind of embossed look to your sketches, too, which I love, especially if you use heavier weight paper. It totally is retro, and if you look at these pens, these are like simple, completely utilitarian design. They’re really minimal and they’re beautiful.

Hemingway Editor
I was looking for something to simplify the technical explanations that I was doing for the complexities in the game, and this editor — their goal is to kind of simplify your writing as much as possible based on the styles and the concepts that Hemingway would use in his writing. I’ve found that you just put your text in the webpage, and it instantly highlights complex sentences, kind of unnecessary bulk. And it was great. I would kind of play it as a game almost and get my reading level is low as possible. It starts to change the character of your writing, which is not necessarily the best thing, but it’s really great. What I would do is, I would take these tech heavy explanations of how artificial life works, and genetics, and evolution, and natural selection- which are bulky and for a game where I want as broad an audience as possible. I really needed a way to simplify that. So this tool was indispensable. They have a web browser version and you can just go there and it’s free, and they have a downloadable version also for the desktop. It has more features and I haven’t gotten that yet. It’s 20 bucks. I’m planning to get it because I use it.

VMWare on macOS
I have this Mac laptop that I was able to get from work years ago and keep it, so it’s a pretty old Mac laptop, but Macs seem to run VMS, virtual machines really well. I’ve got VMware and so this is really using my Mac as a hypervisor, meaning that I’m using it to run my Mac OS, plus a bunch of virtual machines of different operating systems. That process is amazing for me. … I actually do most of my development in Linux. I’ve got this laptop that runs all three operating systems. My setup is normally KDE Neon Linux in one VM, and Windows 7 or 10 in the other. The great thing is, Mac OS allows you to use gestures. So I have four finger swipe set up so that I can just kind of slide back and forth between different spaces and I have a different OS on each space. The main desktop that I have is Mac OS; I have my browser running in there, and I have one version of my game running there. And then I just four finger swipe, and I’m instantly in Linux, and that’s where I do all of my coding. My coding apps are on there, my text editors, code editors and then I four finger swipe again and there, I’m in Windows. I can test the 64 bit version of the Windows app immediately. They’re all accessing the Mac hard drive. So, I have the same code base that I can access it. It’s pretty amazing. It’s a great way to develop for multiple platforms.

Also mentioned:

This game is called Vilmonic, and it’s an artificial life, a simulator and a virtual world. So the idea behind it was to create a world where you exist within it. There’s no God mode in this game. It’s just its own kind of biology and physics that you have to work with. This game is all interesting, because it’s all pixel arts. The pixel art in this game all has meaning. So the number of pixels on the screen and the color of the pixels all determine the life forms and how much nutrients or hydration they use, and how they’re going to exist within their environments. So all of it is generated. It’s all generative life forms based on genetic code for these creatures. You protect and breed generative pixel-art life forms whose genes, pixels, shape and color determine their physiology and behavior.

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $400 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link: https://paypal.me/cooltools.– MF


15 March 2019


Spine-Worx Back Realignment Device

Realign vertabrae to natural position

The Spine-Worx Back Realignment Device ($35) isn’t for everybody: if you have a slipped disc or other major back problem, definitely check with your doctor first, and it should not be used in cases of scoliosis. But for those of us with relatively undamaged spines — but enduring chronic back pain, nonetheless — it can be a godsend.

It’s basically a pair of padded ridges in the shape of the average spine, with a groove between them. You lie down on it, carefully laying your spine straight down in the groove…and relax. Bit by bit, over a few minutes, you’ll feel vertebrae shift into alignment. Over time, I’ve noticed this happens faster, and the shifts are smaller: I fit the curve better now, and my back hurts much less despite a job that involves standing on concrete for 8 hours.

After a few minutes, you *carefully* arch your back a bit and roll off the Spine-Worx, and lay curled on your stomach for a couple of minutes. This gives the vertebrae time to settle into their new positions before you start putting weight on them again. This step can be a bit tricky; in the beginning, I found it helpful to have a chair or something nearby to help pull myself over while minimizing pressure on my spine.

I use this after exercising, then stretching my spine with a CoreStretch tool (sort of a poor man’s inversion table) since I have osteoporosis and spine compression is a potential problem. Spine-Worx is the last step in my exercise regimen.

I’ve had this for 8 years now, and it’s made a big difference; I haven’t felt the need to visit a chiropractor since I started using it. In the beginning, I could only tolerate it for a minute or two, but I got used to it pretty quickly. Now, I usually stay on it for about 5 minutes, plus the 2 minute resting period. The manufacturer recommends not using it for longer than 15 minutes twice a day. This item might not be returnable, as it’s a medical device (items that come in contact with your body are often unreturnable); if you find it’s not for you and you can’t return it, consider selling it on eBay. But it’s cheaper than a visit to the chiropractor, so it’s worth giving it a try!

-- Barbara Dace 03/15/19

14 March 2019


Nesco Food Dehydrator

Affordable dehydrator

The Nesco Food Dehydrator ($60) is a simple, affordable, and well-built tool for drying foods quickly and thoroughly. Though not an every-day-use item for most people, it becomes absolutely essential when it is needed.

I recently went on a weekend trip hunting for morels and returned with far more than I could eat. Luckily, this dehydrator made short work of the excess. The stackable trays easily fit 60 whole small morels and many of the larger ones which I’d cut in half. Altogether, I fit about three pounds of mushrooms in fivetrays.

Nesco FD-75PR 700-Watt Food Dehydrator-2.jpeg

Like the previously reviewed Excalibur Food Dehydrator, the Nesco model has a temperature control, fan, and heating unit. The Nesco’s heating unit is built into the top (cheaper models heat bottom-up) that sits atop the stack of trays and blows air through a central column allowing for better distribution and airflow throughout.

I used a temperature of 110F when drying morels, and left them to dry over night for about 8 hours. Since any moisture can lead to a ruined batch, I made sure to let them dry out for a little longer than necessary. They were perfectly dried the next morning, and ready for storage in an airtight container.
Nesco FD-75PR 700-Watt Food Dehydrator-1.jpeg

While I have mainly used this model for mushrooms, the large trays and variable temperature dial (95-160F) allows for a wide range of dried foods to be made. This particular model is also expandable to 12 trays if you need to dry a truly astonishing amount of food.

The Nesco, when compared with the Excalibur, has the benefit of being nearly $125 dollars cheaper combined with a smaller (though expandable) footprint, a relatively-quiet fan, and similarly adjustable temperature.

— Oliver Hulland

I have experience with both the Excalibur and the more recently-reviewed Nesco, a smaller and less expensive dehydrator. The Excalibur is a superior product if you are a heavy user and tend to be drying large batches of produce at once. It has quite a bit more capacity due to the design (no center hole and square racks make a big difference). The horizontal airflow system does dry large batches more uniformly. Although you can add racks to the Nesco, it dries less efficiently, and once you add in the cost of extra racks you are approaching the same price as the Excalibur.

Having said that, the price on the Nesco has really dropped and the top-down heater/blower is a nice upgrade over the older bottom-fan models. Heck, you could almost get three of them for the same price as an Excalibur, although that would take up a lot of storage space and use more energy to power 3 units.

— JC

-- Oliver Hulland 03/14/19

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


img 03/13/19

ChomChom Roller Pet Hair Remover

Remove pet hair easily from couches, beds, comforters, blankets and more

img 03/8/19

Bonnie Burton, Pop Culture Author

Cool Tools Show 165: Bonnie Burton

img 03/8/19

Seat Belt Extender

Comfort for big people

See all the reviews


img 01/25/19

Fantastic Ice Scraper

Cheap and great brass ice scraper

img 12/19/11


Still the best thermometer

img 07/28/17

Ortlieb Dry Bags

Heavy-duty waterproof bags

img 12/11/03

Beyond Backpacking

Super ultra lightweight camping

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 166: Mark Stramaglia

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 165: Bonnie Burton

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 164: George Dyson

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.

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 cl {at} kk.org.