23 July 2021


Joe Szuecs, Founder of the Maker Music Festival

Cool Tools Show 288: Joe Szuecs

Our guest this week is Joe Szuecs, the founder of the Maker Music Festival. Joe is also the president of Chimera Arts maker space located in Sonoma County, California. Joe is a software developer, artist, musician and avid home cook. You can find Maker Music Festival on YouTube, and on Instagram @makermusicfest and on Twitter @makerfestival.

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Show notes:

Sonic Pi: code-based music creation and performance tool
One of the things I do is I’m a musician, I’m a guitar player, and I gig here and there locally and make music. Sonic Pi combines two things — me as a software developer and me as a musician. So now I’ve got this Ruby-based coding language that I can make music with. I wrote my own drum machine where I can enter in patterns. And so now I can use that as a backing. And then as a programmer, flowcharty kind of guy, there are these rules for chord progressions in music, and so I was able to sit there and write new kinds of songs. I wrote this application in Sonic Pi to just generate chord progressions, and then it would just play them. And I would just listen to them, and then I would say, “Ah, I kind of liked that passage.” So now you can pause it and then see what it did. And then I could take that and go from there as to actually compose music that I would record later. Also, it deals with samples really well. The Smithsonian released a whole library of samples. And it’s just got all this crazy old musics all from movies and things like that. And I used that to kind of play around with layering these sort of sample pieces over these chord progressions and so it’s a lot of fun to play with to create these sort of things.

Large format Chinese Laser Cutters on AliExpress — 100 watt, Ruida control, LightBurn software
In most Makerspaces laser cutters are kind of expensive, especially for high powered ones. But we bought this Chinese one a while back, and it’s big, it’s three foot by four feet. It does not have a model number or name. It’s AliExpress. You got to always do some research to find them. But the ones you want are ones that have a Ruida controller because then it’ll run LightBurn, which is the controlling software. We’ve run ours for at least five years. And we’ve got members who don’t know what they’re doing running them, and so it’s held up today. I think it’s just that they’re worth a serious look at if you’re a Makerspace or even for a personal user. And the ones that we have are 100 watt models, so they’re quite large for three foot by four foot cut area, but they’re also very fast. There are also smaller Chinese cutters called “K40″s. I think they’re like 500 bucks. So if you want to get into laser cutting and play around, go for it. Just do your research. There’s plenty of YouTube stuff. They change all the time, so that’s why it’s hard to say, “Buy this model.”

Inkscape is what I use to generate patterns. It’s free, which is nice, so you get into it and play around with it. It’s an Illustrator equivalent. The nice thing about it, one, it’s free. Secondly, I prefer how the interface works. I find it much easier to use, and it’s fast, much faster. It doesn’t have all the overhead of Illustrator. So I think if what you’re doing is mostly laser cutting and things like that, it’s a great way to go. And then for instance, with the Maker Music Festival, that whole interface, those are SVG files, all those buildings, right? Because SVG files can be manipulated by JavaScript. So basically, I was doing a number of projects before this where I was using JPEGs and overlaying things. And oh God, you have to tell them where to go and everything. Whereas with the SVG files, they’re Java scriptable. You can tell it that if they get clicked, something’s going to happen here, you can manipulate them and change them. So I used Inkscape to design that whole interface and do all of that.

Old Gibson “player” guitars
Years ago, I bought an old Gibson 1934 L4. It’s old, and so it’s pretty cool. The thing was that with mine, it was that the the sun had faded out the serial number. And so it knocked its value down quite a bit because now they can’t trace it. The other thing about the ’34 L4 was that it’s a working man’s guitar, nothing fancy, not very collectible. But it’s a great guitar, the finish, all checked and obvious sweat stained and the whole sort thing. They sound great. Get one that’s kind of beat up. Not cracked, make sure it’s in decent shape, but very playable. And then you can get it for about a $1000. And it’s just a cool looking guitar. It sounds great, and you don’t worry about it because it’s all beat up already.

About Maker Music Festival:
Recently, we had like 20 hours of live streaming, as well as a big push to get the site up with almost 300 projects on there. And that’s still there, and that’s still living. And so now we’re working on keeping that going. So monthly live events, as well as working on collaboration, collaborative things. I had a meeting this morning with Cynthia from Jack Trip, which is a live synchronization tool out of Stanford’s CCRMA. And so anyway, so we’re looking at collaboration and things like that. So there’s a bunch of stuff to do with the Makers Music Festival.


23 July 2021


Easy Fermenter Wide Mouth Mason Jar Lid Kit

Simplified fermenting in jars

Since April 2016 Amazon has been selling this lid-kit. I’ve used it to make hassle-free (no-“burping”) kimchi. Once fermenting is complete, these lids can be reused to make new batches and replaced by standard lids. (The latter can be air-sealed with the Food-Saver Wide-Mouth Jar Sealer reviewed on Cool Tools)

The kit contains:

  • Three lids utilizing a “waterless airlock valve technology [that] lets carbon escape. But also makes sure zero oxygen can enter.” Low-profile lids that “are a fraction of the size [i.e., height] of those clunky three-piece airlocks. This means we can store our jars almost anywhere a mason jar can fit.” This is a strong selling point to me. I put them in a kitchen cabinet, not on a countertop.
  • A “date setter [built into the rim] keeps track [of] when your ferment started so you always know when it’s almost complete.”
  • “An “integrated easy release tab” that allows a thumb-assist when unscrewing the lid.
  • An air extractor pump “to suck out the oxygen during the later stages of your ferments.” (E.G., after opening the lid for taste testing or eating partial contents.)
  • “A 30-page getting started guide, Fermenting recipe e-cookbook and access to our ask the experts’ forum”

It’s rated 4.8 stars on 657 Amazon reviews. I suggest not pumping out too much air after partially consuming the contents, lest it becomes a struggle to unscrew the lid after it’s been in the fridge. I suggest leaving a full inch of headspace and employing a weight to keep the contents from rising too much during fermentation, to keep brine from escaping through the valve. (But it only forms a little pool that can be rinsed away if it does.)

A few Amazon reviewers complained that the pump pooped out on them and that there was no plain and convenient way to get a new one. However, as of April 19, 2017, the Pump for fermenter jar alone can be bought on Amazon.


-- Roger Knights 07/23/21

22 July 2021


OXO Swivel Peeler

Superior vegetable peeler

It is hard to imagine how the traditional kitchen peeler could be substantially improved. Remarkably, the OXO Good Grips Peeler accomplishes this. Easier to use, vastly more comfortable for long stretches, sharper, and more productive. The OXO Peeler continues to win awards in test kitchens. A superior tool; worth the few extra dollars.

-- KK 07/22/21

21 July 2021


What’s in my desk? — Julie Sokolow

What’s in my ... ? issue #111

Julie Sokolow is the director of the new documentary Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story. The film profiles an activist who walked barefoot across America to protest climate change. She’s also the director of the feature documentaries Woman on Fire and Aspie Seeks Love. You can find her on Twitter @juliesokolow.


A few years ago, I splurged on a gorgeous bamboo sit/stand desk from UPLIFT. I like my 72” x 30” model because it comfortably fits two 27″ monitors and much more. Having this amount of desk space really helps with video editing! However, I’m embarrassed to say that I almost never use the desk’s standing function — although I aspire to get in the habit.

LaCie Rugged USB-C Drive ($110):
This lovely little backup drive is as fashionable as it is durable (it is supposedly drop, dust, and water resistant, though I’ve never put it to the test). The biggest perk for me is that it is both USB-C and USB 3.0 compatible. I seamlessly use it with both my old desktop and new laptop computers without needing any cumbersome adapter cables.

Picture Day Notecards ($18):
I have a drawer crammed full of assorted cards and these are some of my favorites. Each of the 20 cards features a different animal in a hilariously awkward school photo. All of the animals have unique names (e.g. – Ryan Raccoon, Katie Kitten, etc). Since they’re blank on the inside, I’ve used them as birthday cards, thank you cards, and everything in between.

Screen Mom Microfiber Cloths ($13, 4pk):
These are my favorite microfiber cloths for cleaning computer screens. They’re very large (15.75”x15.75”), which allows me to easily dampen one corner of the cloth with water and alternate between cleaning with the damp and dry ends. Also, I’ve found that these towels are unparalleled in their ability to render smudgy eyeglasses sparkling clean! They’re easy to wash and reuse as well.

Moleskine Weekly Planner ($23):
I’ve been using Moleskine planners for over a decade and I don’t think I’ll ever stop! This one is the perfect size at 5” by 8.25”, which is big enough to get all of my weekly goals down, but small enough to fit in almost any bag. Lastly, looking at warm, bright colors makes me happy (and there’s science behind that), which is why I picked this planner in “Bougainvillea Pink”.


21 July 2021


Picquic X-7 SixPac Plus Multi-bit Screwdriver

Best multiple-bit screwdriver

The Picquic Sixpac may be the last multi-bit screwdriver I’ll ever need to buy, but it wasn’t the first. I’ve gone through a dozen less successful attempts at this kind of tool, always losing at least half the bits in the first month or so of use. When I try to use the few bits I haven’t lost, they invariably fall out of the bit holder, which weakens over time.

The Picquic Sixpac fixes both problems. Each bit is stored in a separate compartment in the screwdriver handle. You remove the bit you need by pushing it out of the handle with the bit you are finished with. Since there’s no other easy way to get at the bit you need, you always put bits away as you finish with them. I’ve had mine for three years and it still has all its bits!

Additional features include a solid, spring-lock bit holder that holds as tightly now as it did the day I bought it and a stainless steel shank that has stood up to everything I’ve thrown at it. It comes with six bits: two flatheads, three Phillips heads, and one Torx T15. Other bits are available in Bitpacs from Picquic.

Picquic makes a variety of multi-bit drivers: picquic

-- James Home 07/21/21


img 07/20/21

Flat Pack Duck Tape

Compact emergency tape

thumb2 07/19/21

Remove Stripped Screws

Japanese Screw Removal Pliers

img 07/19/21

Lodge Bacon Press

Best way to cook perfect bacon

img 07/19/21

Book Freak #54: How to Take Smart Risks

Short pieces of advice from books

img 07/16/21

Sherry Huss, Co-founder of Maker Faire

Cool Tools Show 287: Sherry Huss

See all the reviews


img 08/4/13

How Buildings Learn

Making adaptable shelter

img 09/13/06

Butane Burner

Compact portable hot plate

img 11/27/08

Omega Juicer

Quiet, versatile juice extractor

img 12/31/04


Hole expander

See all the favorites



Cool Tools Show 288: Joe Szuecs

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 287: Sherry Huss

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 286: Marc Wade

Picks and shownotes

21 July 2021


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