08 December 2023
Show and Tell #394: Casper Kelly
Casper Kelly is a writer/director of weird TV and movies including the viral short Too Many Cooks and the 2023 horror movie Adult Swim Yule Log. His website is casperkelly.com and he’s on Twitter and Instagram @heycasperkelly.
To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.12/8/23
07 December 2023
Nomadico issue #81
A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.
Are You Backed up?
I am so dedicated to you dear readers that I am typing this at a chain hotel business center. My laptop suddenly won’t boot up and it is now sitting in a Costa Rican repair shop. I am praying to the computer gods, who are surely artificial beings, that I haven’t got a dead hard drive. I think I’m mostly okay if that happens because I back up photos from my camera to Amazon (a Prime benefit) and a lot of things are in the cloud these days via LastPass, Google, and Dropbox, but I haven’t backed up article documents and the like to my external hard drive for…not sure how long. Use this lesson as a reminder to back up often, preferably in more than one place!
The Onward Ticket Problem
I am in Costa Rica right now and for only the third time in my life, I got asked for an onward ticket before I could board the plane. This just ended up costing Volaris money because it wasn’t really required by immigration and I cancelled the refundable ticket I had to purchase as soon as I landed. If your airline doesn’t offer this though, there are services like OnwardTicket.com that will basically rent you an online ticket that goes to your e-mail or can be printed, then you’ve got your onward ticket to show when questioned. You will only be out $10 to $20 for the service.
Be Nice to Immigration Officers
While I did get a little testy with that airline gate agent since this was not my first time to Costa Rica without having a ticket out and they give you 180 days now anyway, I do always put on my best face and behavior forward for immigration officers. The latest reminder of why that’s important is the story of an American real estate investor who has been banned from the Philippines for life for causing a scene and supposedly writing profanity on his immigration form. Details are sketchy, but it’s a good reminder to remember who’s in charge and that you don’t get entry to the country without passing that gate. “According to the immigration bureau, it has excluded and blacklisted 44 foreign nationals it deemed ‘disrespectful’ in 2023.”
About that Live-aboard Cruise Ship…
Just because you read about something in 50 places and saw it 100 more times on social media doesn’t mean it’s actually going to happen. That cruise ship where you could buy a cabin and spend three years traveling the world? There was just one tiny detail they hadn’t worked out: they did not actually have a ship locked down and in their possession. So never mind, all you people who sold your condo and put everything in storage. Details here.12/7/23
06 December 2023
Surprising facts from Andy Clark's "The Experience Machine"
Imagine your brain as a master illusionist, constantly weaving the fabric of your reality from the threads of expectation and sensation — this is the premise of The Experience Machine by Andy Clark. He explains how our minds shape our perception of reality based on predictions and expectations, and examines various phenomena and theories in cognitive science, psychology, and neuroscience to argue that human experience is built from a combination of our own expectations and actual sensory input. Clark, a professor of cognitive philosophy, demonstrates through various examples how our brains constantly predict and process information, affecting our understanding and interaction with the world around us.
Three quotes from his book:
Transformative Potential of Psychedelics
“Psychedelics… may help relax the grip of our existing model of who we are, what we will do, and what is most meaningful in our life. We can then experience the world, ourselves, and others in new and liberating ways… Much of the distinctive experiential feel (the ‘phenomenology’) of psychedelics may be explained in this broad fashion.”
Your Body Keeps a Budget
Just as a financial budget tracks income and expenditure, a body budget tracks and anticipates the use and replenishment of key resources for maintaining bodily life and functioning. These resources include water, salt, and glucose. To renew them, we engage in familiar activities such as finding and consuming food and sleeping. Allostatic mechanisms are vital to this process.
If we feel thirsty, Barrett notes, we may take a drink of water. We immediately feel less thirsty, even though it will actually take the water around twenty minutes to reach the bloodstream and deliver the required effects. Yet the brain delivers the sensation of a “quenched thirst” right away. You (your body) can afford the wait since the sensation of thirst was activated in advance too. In other words, both the feeling of thirst and the feeling of having quenched your thirst each reflect anticipatory processing.
The Power of Honest Placebos
A fascinating range of cases involves the use of “honest placebos.” In these cases, potent predictions of relief can still be activated despite the person knowing perfectly well that there is no standard or clinically active ingredient present.Honest (or “open-label”) placebos have proven effective in cases ranging from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) to cancer-related fatigue. In one 2010 study, Harvard Professor of Medicine Ted Kaptchuk gave an honest placebo to eighty patients suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and found clinically significant improvements in 59 percent (against 35 percent in a control group), commenting in a later interview that “Not only did we make it absolutely clear that these pills had no active ingredient and were made from inert substances, but we actually had ‘placebo’ printed on the bottle…. We told the patients that they didn’t have to even believe in the placebo effect. Just take the pills.”12/6/23
04 December 2023
Tools for Possibilities: issue no. 63
Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.
A knife that will get through security
Several nerdy friends of mine who feel naked without their pocket knife have independently discovered that this handy mini-knife disguised as a key will both work in a pinch and — shhhhhh! –pass through airport security checks unnoticed. Here is a way to travel with a knife at the ready. Just bury them with your keys in your bag when you go through the machine!
I’ve had one, and when I bring my keys I have no trouble getting through security on international and domestic flights. I was surprised to find the other little gizmos incorporated into this miniature thing — particularly the Philips screwdriver — are just as useful. The edge of the knife is only an inch long but it is very sharp. (In theory, this blade is now legal on flights in the US.) — KK
This 1.6 oz. tool, manufactured by the makers of the Utili-Key, can fit on a key chain or in a coin purse, which is where I keep mine. I most often use it for tightening cutter/stripper, sheet shear and rule markings (bonus!) are all unbelievably useful at the frequent odd moments you need the right tool which is anywhere but near (particularly the pliers). I have yet to try to go through airport security with it, but the TSA says pliers/screwdrivers and “tools” less than 7 inches can be carried on. — Dale Simpson
Bargain pocket knife
I’ve gotten more recommendations for a particular pocket knife than any other tool. Knives are the original tool; everyone has one, and after 10,000 years there’s endless variety. They are intensely personal, too. I’ve seen and tried many of the suggested knives I’ve received, and I’ve published a few of the more well-proven ones.
So, after many trials, here is the one I actually carry: it’s a dollar plastic box cutter. There is no knife lighter weight, none cheaper, few as sharp, and not very many as quick. I can open it one handed in less than a second from the moment I reach for it. It is as fast as a sheath knife. Keeping its edge a razor is as easy as nicking off the tip. This plastic snap blade is as thin as a pen and so light that I carry in my pants pocket without even knowing it is there; no special holster needed, and it won’t wear the pocket out. It’s cheap enough that I hide one in all the clothes I ordinarily wear. I’m not afraid to lose it, and yes, I keep it away from airports.
The cheaper the version of the box cutter the better. You don’t want rugged metal ones, like those offered by respectable tool companies; they are bigger, heavier, costlier and no better. What you want is a cheap all-plastic made-in-China throw-away that should cost about a buck. Mine are day-glo orange for easy retrieval if I lay one down.
Other than it being butt-ugly I can’t think of why I would want one fancier. I use this one at least 5 times a day, and its quick handiness gives me pleasure each time. — KK
I have two friends who’ve been carrying these slim, multi-tools for a few years now and swear by them. I’ve only used the mini-screwdriver and bottle opener, but those functions alone seem worth it. It’s stainless steel and will add some weight to your load, but no more than the average metal beverage pop-top. Why junk up your keychain when you can slip another “card” into your wallet? Added bonus: can opener, straight edge, knife edge, et al. — Steven Leckart
Cheap, disposable blades
A modern replacement for the classic pen knife, this pocketknife has a thin, 1.5-inch, razor-sharp blade that cuts boxes, cord, tape and tough plastic wrap without effort. Half the charm is its disposability: It costs about as much as a can of soda, so if you get to the airport and have forgotten it’s in your pocket, ditching it is trauma-free. I’ve found the handle grip to be excellent. The slipjoint blade stays in position open or closed. The slim, short design packs a lot of cutting power into a package with about half the volume of a pack of gum. A functional design with aesthetics worthy of MOMA. Derma-Safe also produce a hacksaw version they say will cut through metal as well as wood, which I’ve not tried. — Jonathan Coupe
Keychain cash stash
The Cash Can is a small brass tube just big enough for a rolled-up bill. The tube can’t be opened unless you remove it from your key ring. It’s as easy to remove from the keyring as your keys are. It’s also unobtrusive — the whole thing is shorter than most of my keys. Even though I live in a city with an ATM on every block, I’m big on always having a spare $20 bill at hand. I’ve usually got one stashed in my car and another in my gear bag, and a third tucked into my wallet. The advantages of the Cash Can are its workmanship and stealthiness — unless they read this review, few people are going to know what’s inside the brass tube. It just looks like a key fob. Plus, if I lose my wallet, at least I’ve got the cash attached to my keys. — Mike Everett-Lane12/4/23
03 December 2023
Recomendo - issue #386
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The Viewtainer is a cleverly designed storage container made from clear plastic. It lets you easily see the contents, while the squeeze-to-open top makes accessing the contents convenient. Just apply light pressure to the tube’s sides and the slitted rubber top pops open, allowing you to easily insert or remove small items. It’s perfect for organizing craft supplies, dog treats, and hardware like screws or nails. I use one to collect sea glass when we go to the beach. — MF
Best guide to tools
The best book about tools – the tools you can buy today – is this new illustrated tome by Theo Gray, called Tools: A visual exploration. It is comprehensive (covers hundreds of examples from hand tools to elaborate power tools), detailed, very graphic (clear photos for each thing), and witty. Most importantly, this overview of all tools is based on Gray’s 40 years of using all these tools to make an astonishing range of things. As a maker, I found his expertise and recommendations essential. I also read the book as a catalog of possibilities; each tool unfamiliar to me opened up possible new directions of making. Gray also made a free website with pictures of the tools without any text. — KK
View a Sunset at virtually any time of the day with Sunset.funwebsite.fun. This website will connect you to livestreams and webcams all over the world and tell you how many minutes have passed before or after sunset. It’s fascinating to look at this in the morning as my day is just beginning. I feel connected to far-off parts of the Earth. — CD
How CAPTCHAs work
This three-minute video explains how those annoying “I’m not a robot” reCAPTCHA checkbox tests work. It turns out the checkbox itself is not the test at all, but rather it’s your mouse movements and browsing history that give away your humanity. The video is full of surprising facts about these “completely automated public Turing tests.” For instance, I learned spammers pay workers as as little as $1.00 per thousand tests to solve CAPTCHAs. — MF
Clothes line tightener
We still have an outdoor clothes line, in addition to our dryer, to take advantage of solar energy. Over time a rope line will sag. This clever, inexpensive device, a $7 Clothesline Tightener, will cinch your line taut with a hard pull. It’s affixed to the end of the line. It won’t work with thin wire lines, only rope lines. – KK
Moon Phase phone apps
I have two lunar calendars and I use them both. MOON is on Apple only ($11/yr) and I love it because it displays a huge moon widget on my home screen. The moon is animated to depict its illumination percentage and the stars will play music for you if you shake and tap them. It’s fun. My other app and the one I can wholeheartedly recommend because it’s free is My Moon Phase (available on iOS and Android). It’s one of few apps I have set to allow notifications and it provides more specific information about the moon like its distance from Earth and moonrise and moonset times. Sadly, no widget. — CD12/3/23
01 December 2023
Show and Tell #393: Marc Payne
Marc Payne is an IT specialist working for the Federal Government. My passion is flipping items via thrift stores, yard sales and retail arbitrage on Ebay and Amazon. You can find Marc on Twitter @houseofpayne.
To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.12/1/23
Nomadico issue #80
Key Ideas from David Eagleman’s “Livewired” on Neural Plasticity and Adaptation
Weekly-ish access to tools, techniques, and shop tales from the worlds of DIY
COOL TOOLS SHOW PODCAST
WHAT'S IN MY BAG?
22 November 2023
ABOUT COOL TOOLS
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.