A cool tool can be any book, gadget, software, video, map, hardware, material, or website that is tried and true. All reviews on this site are written by readers who have actually used the tool and others like it. Items can be either old or new as long as they are wonderful. We post things we like and ignore the rest. Suggestions for tools much better than what is recommended here are always wanted.
Identify rocks instantly This stone ID app called Rock Identifier (Google Play, iOS) works fast in scanning and identifying rocks, minerals, and crystals. It’s got an extensive database so you can compare your stones to other images, as well as learn its chemical and physical properties, locality, uses, etc. I use it as an encyclopedia to learn more about how to identify minerals and how to tell real from fake crystals or gemstones. There’s a 7-day free trial, but for me it’s worth the $29.99 yearly subscription. — CD
Alternative worlds I have a thing for alternative history or counterfactual stories. You know, what if X did not happen when it did, what would the world be like? These narratives require the longest possible view because the author must be in command of both the past and the future to pull it off. They require uncommon sideways, or lateral thinking. A “Sideways Award” is awarded every year for the best counterfactual book or short story. This Wikipedia list of Sideways Awards is a great way to explore these alternative timelines. — KK
Musical history of rock This fantastic podcast, A History of Rock in 500 Songs, does what it says: it traces the history of rock music in 500 songs. Start with the first episode, which looks at 1939’s “Flying Home” by the Benny Goodman Sextet. The most recent episode, numbered 152, is about 1967’s “For What It’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield. New episodes come out about once every two weeks. – MF
How to handle chronic over-talkers Writer and podcast producer Rose Eveleth has been interviewed on radio countless times, and she’s had to put up with interviewers who love to hear themselves talk and won’t let her speak. This article in Last Word on Nothing describes how she learned how to deal with chronic over-talkers. Her most important rule: “Start your sentence just before your partner has ended theirs. Do not wait for them to actually end their sentence. Do not let them pause and think ‘am I truly done?’ Because the answer is always no.” — MF
Popular products on Reddit Looria.com took all the most talked about “brand mentions” on Reddit — in posts and comments — and ran it through “sentiment analysis” to identify the emotional tone behind the mentions and determine what are the most popular products and then listed them by subreddit here. — CD
Large apple slicer We eat apples often enough that an apple slicer wins a spot in our kitchen. A good one will core and carve an apple into 8 to 12 slices in one swift motion. There are lots of brands, like OXO’s, that are good enough, but they can’t deal with the largest apples. The apple piecer you want is a Newness stainless steel one with a 4-inch diameter that is heavy duty enough to slice all apples (and pears and onions) forever. — KK