03 December 2020


Over-the-Door Organizer

Make large numbers of small items easy to store and find

Living in a small mobile home taught me: when you run out of space, think vertical. These over-the-door multi-pockets are generally called “shoe organizers”; but though I have seven of them around the house, they’ve never held shoes. They make large numbers of small items easy to store, find, and grab when you need them.

Whatever you don’t want disappearing in the back of a drawer, closet or cupboard, put it in one of these; they’re cheap, fairly sturdy, and very versatile. In the bathroom: extra toiletries, meds, cleaning supplies, rolled (small) towels, and cleaning cloths; in the garage: aerosol cans, ball of twine, oil cans, pet leashes and collars, small wire spools, lengths of chain, bungees, and spare parts; one in my bedroom holds travel supplies (inflatable mattress, camera stuff, GPS clip, travel backpack, electronics cables, compact umbrella, rain poncho, sleep-sack, Bluetooth speaker); in the shed: small tools, chain-saw oil, instruction booklets for tools, sharpeners…you get the idea.

You can even make a can pantry behind a kitchen door with one of these. They’re also easily modified: in the craft room, I seam-ripped the bottoms out of the row of pockets above the last one, making those into retaining loops that hold many rolls of wrapping paper, with the bottom of the rolls held by the bottom pocket; the upper pockets hold bows and ribbons. Any long, skinny, annoying-to-store items (like dowels or lengths of tubing) could be organized in this way.

If you have lots of small, light items, the clear plastic versions make everything easy to see, but they won’t stand up to much abuse; after 5 years, the ones in my garage will need replacement soon. The mesh versions are more sturdy. Be sure to check your door dimensions before ordering; they come in different widths. They generally come with door hooks, which are often too wide for my doors; I cut small pieces of thin cardboard (the sort you find on the back of a notepad) and tape them together to make a shim, so the hook won’t tilt and keep the door from closing. If you’re running out of storage space, put your doors to work with a few of these!

-- Barbara Dace 12/3/20

02 December 2020


What’s in my bag? — George Mokray

What's in my bag? issue #78

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George Mokray is a lifelong independent scholar. For over a decade, he’s published a free weekly listing of Energy (and Other) Events around Cambridge, MA which covered what was happening in the community and among the local colleges and universities. He maintains other free listservs: City AgricultureZero Net Energy Buildings, and Geometry Links (on geometric math, science, technology, and art).


About the bag

I bought this second-hand backpack at a Goodwill or Salvation Army store in Providence, RI over a decade ago. It might have cost $10. The zipper sometimes comes undone but I use a half inch staple around the zipper at the top of the bag to keep it from completely popping open. So far, it works for me.

What’s inside the bag

I’ve carried a solar bike light on my backpack for about 20 years now. This one is the second of this model I’ve used. It cost about $10 online three or four years ago. It has a power out so it can be used with other devices and is the core of my idea that Solar IS Civil Defense.

I used recycled mesh bags instead of plastic bags at the grocery store or the farmers’ market. Currently, I find the 5 pounds of grapefruit bags from Trader Joe’s to be very good.

The case for my eating utensils originally included wooden utensils but I lost them and replaced them with fork, spoon, and chopsticks from my kitchen drawer.

I bought this plastic folding cup from an Army/Navy store long ago. When I break it out, people say, “Oh, I remember them from my Scouting days! Didn’t know they still made them.”

The tape measure was a gift from the street, I bought the monocular for a buck or two long, long ago, and the magnifying glass is a useful trinket from some convention or exhibit somewhere.

Currently, I am looking at why the US American civil rights movement never studies Gandhian or nonviolent economics and never incorporated swadeshi, local production, “the soul of satyagraha,” into their movements and I am searching for economists who are studying what happens when the cost of fuel goes away in a 100% renewably powered economy. Any leads will be much appreciated. — George

-- George Mokray 12/2/20

01 December 2020


Cheap Dremel Clone

Low price rotary tool

I’ve been using this Wen rotary tool for a few months and I’m really happy with it. It’s much cheaper than a Dremel tool and accepts Dremel bits, which I already have in abundance. If you don’t have any Dremel bits, no problem — it comes with a good starter assortment. The flexible shaft is an added bonus, because it gives you more control than holding the tool itself. It’s a great way to rough out the shape of wooden spoons I’ve been whittling:

-- Mark Frauenfelder 12/1/20

29 November 2020


Baller ToDo/Artificial trees/Portable back support

Recomendo: issue no. 228

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Visualize your to-do list
The “Urgent-Important” decision making matrix seems to be trending real hard (according to all the productivity posts I come across ), and it’s exactly that which inspired this task-mapping tool called Baller ToDo. It will help you visualize and figure out the stuff that really matters and most importantly, what you can put off. — CD

Portable back support
I read a Cool Tools review of the Nada Chair S’portbacker from several years ago, and since my back has been sore from sitting at my desk so much lately, I bought one a couple of weeks ago. Basically, it’s an adjustable strap that goes around your knees and lower back, which allows you to lean back without slouching. As the maker says, you wear the chair. My back soreness is gone, and I don’t get as drowsy while working when I wear it. It also allows me to sit cross-legged on the ground comfortably for the first time in my life. — MF

The microcosm made visual
Journey to the Microcosm is a YouTube channel that uses high quality microscopic video to explore lifeforms invisible to the naked eye. The narration includes interesting stories and histories, too. — MF

Artificial Christmas trees
We changed sides a few years ago. We went from being a live-Christmas-tree family to embracing a fake tree. Artificial trees have gotten so good looking, so inexpensive, and so easy to assemble, that we are now happy owners of a forever tree. And new ones get better each year. The most realistic trees come from National Christmas Tree Company; they are usually at the top of Wirecutter’s recommendations. The best ones have LED lights built in. We went with a budget, light-less 7.5ft tall Douglas Fir from National for $180. Once decked out with our own lights, and covered with ornaments, you can’t really distinguish it from a real tree. — KK

Motivational writing advice
I came across this encouraging Reddit post for all creatives: “Read this if you’re concerned your idea has been done before and you’re feeling unmotivated.” A reminder that “The idea doesn’t matter nearly as much as the execution does. No one will have your taste, your mind, your unique perspective on the matter.” — CD

Live human help
I shop online for 99% of the stuff I need. It’s magic when it works. On the very rare occasions when it doesn’t work, I want to talk to a human, preferably by voice. Since a live human is expensive, access to them is often hard to find. To get a working number to a live human for a retailer or manufacturer I go to GetHuman. It’s a free clearinghouse website. They have the best number, what prompts to hit, how long to wait, and they will facilitate callbacks if you want. — KK


27 November 2020


Julie Sokolow, Film Director

Cool Tools Show 254: Julie Sokolow

Our guest this week is Julie Sokolow. Julie 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 and Facebook and Instagram @julie.sokolow.

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

Show notes:

Transcendental Meditation + Catching the Big Fish + Transcendence
I’m a big fan of David Lynch and always sought to learn more about his creative process. I was so intrigued when he started to write about Transcendental Meditation. I read his book Catching the Big Fish, and followed it up with Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal’s book Transcendence. Both claimed that by meditating for 20 minutes twice a day, one could significantly improve one’s mental health and increase creativity. I learned TM about seven years ago and it’s helped me overcome anxieties that were holding me back. I love the sense of calm, confidence, and connectedness it gives me. I can’t think of a cooler tool than a mantra!

3’ by 2’ Cork Board ($25)
The first time I edited a feature-length documentary, I had no clue what I was doing. I felt completely overwhelmed by mountains of footage and no sense of how to organize it all. The end result was alright, but I needed a better system. For my second documentary, my producer got me a giant cork board and advised me to map out the story structure. Wow, what a help! I loved writing brief scene descriptions on notecards and rearranging the scenes on the cork board. It gave me a sense of control and a much-needed bird’s-eye view of the story I was trying to tell. I would recommend a massive cork board to anyone working on a big project. You have to break things down into manageable chunks (chapters, scenes, whatever). Also, standing at the cork board gets me away from the computer, even if it’s just for five minutes.

Timbuk2 Backpacks (varies)
I’m a city dweller and I tend to carry a backpack with me wherever I go. Back in the day, I used to buy flimsy bags that would fall apart in a year. Then, I discovered Timbuk2 backpacks, which are insanely durable. I’ve had the Spire for four years and it still looks brand new. It’s comfortable, waterproof, and has tons of pockets. I use it for lugging around anything from a 15 inch laptop to a bunch of groceries. Last year, I bought the lightweight and attractive Tuck Pack, which is perfect for the gym. The main compartment is spacious and easily houses sneakers plus a change of clothes. The water bottle pocket is perfect for a 20oz HydroFlask. I’m not using these bags as much during the pandemic, but I still like to preach the gospel of Timbuk2.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl ($9, paperback)
As many of us helplessly wait out the pandemic, it would be wise to read this inspiring book by Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He managed to derive meaning from the most intense and harrowing experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. He attributed his survival to his ability to find meaning and purpose, in spite of suffering. Frankl writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves.” Frankl used his experience to found logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy focused on helping people find meaning in their lives.

About Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story:
My latest film is about a writer and activist who decided to walk barefoot across the country in order to protest climate change. He managed to walk over 700 miles completely barefoot. He was filming himself the whole time, posting videos on YouTube. He’s a very funny and very inspiring kind of person who the New Yorker called a compulsive social media diarist, and likened him to Andy Kaufman. So he’s just a really wonderful character. And sadly, people might remember the news coverage when he died on this walk. So the film is also about that. There’s interviews with his friends and family to give a portrait of his life and the walk and also make meaning out of that situation. The film is out now on Amazon and iTunes.


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 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


27 November 2020


Seven years of Cool Tools Gift Guides

A compilation of our favorite gift suggestions

For the past seven years, we’ve released a series of holiday gift guides. The selections are, for the most part, timeless. Here they are:

2019 Gift Guide

2018 Gift Guide

2017 Gift Guide

2016 Gift Guide

2015 Gift Guide

2014 Gift Guide

2013 Gift Guide

-- Mark Frauenfelder 11/27/20


Clever idea for drawer slides. 11/26/20

Using Dowels as Drawer Slides

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales – Issue #70

img 11/26/20

What’s in my bag? — James Folta

What’s in my bag? issue #77

img 11/26/20

Pigma Micron PN Pen

A great pen for journal writing

img 11/24/20

Razor Tooth Pruning Saw

Best way to cut green wood

img 11/23/20

Scotch Tear-by-Hand Packaging Tape

Great tape for shipping boxes

See all the reviews




Cool Tools Show 254: Julie Sokolow

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 253: Duane Swierczynski

Picks and shownotes

Cool Tools Show 252: Daniel Schaeffer

Picks and shownotes

02 December 2020


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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.

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