Cool Tools

Ask a Librarian/List of Useful Websites/Poetry zine

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.


Ask a Librarian
Library of Congress, the largest library in the world offers free research assistance by experts. I finally had an excuse to use their service and was blown away by how helpful they were. I had been reading History of the Conquest of Mexico written in 1890, and could not find any information for one of the cited sources which was written 300 years prior, so I submitted a request and — in less than 24 hours — I received a response from the Hispanic Division Reference Librarian who linked me to a digitized copy of the manuscript, and 5 other links to codices of Pre-Hispanic History that I would have never discovered otherwise. It’s such an invaluable resource. — CD

A Reddit list of “useful unknown websites”
This nearly endless Reddit list of useful websites you probably don’t know about is full of gems. Here are a few I discovered:

  • RSOE-EDIS is a live world map of emergencies. Icons represent fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, plane crashes, biological endemics, public safety incidents, animal attacks, and more.
  • Read Something Great is a curated database of “timeless” articles.
  • Flick Metrix is a list of the “top rated movies on Netflix, created by combing ratings from across the web.”
  • myNoise has links to a wide variety of tunable white noise generators, ambient sounds, tinnitus reducers, and other interesting audio effects. As I’m writing this, I’m listening to a soothing soundscape called Anamnesis.
  • Just the Recipe strips out everything from an online recipe besides the ingredients and instructions.

— MF

Poetry zine
Claudia (CD here) is too modest to recommend this herself, but she puts out a small poetry zine printed on paper that I enjoy. Phantom Kangaroo is 26 pages of illustrated “esoteric” poetry — celebrating the mystical, paranormal, and the ecstatic — contributed by a network of poets she has cultivated the past decade. Current issue (#25) is $13. — KK

Understanding crypto
Crypto is weird, perplexing, silly, revolutionary, overhyped, underhyped, a mania, thrilling, accelerating, and awash in huge oceans of money that make it very difficult to discern what is real and sustainable. I am reading The Generalist, a free website of long “briefs” written by one analyst, to parse what is happening, I still have a zillion questions about crypto, but I have gotten more clarity from here than anywhere else on this confounding subject. — KK

Tuna strainer
I have a smooth-edge can opener and I like it much more than an old-fashioned can opener. My wife complains when she uses it to open a can of tuna, though, because the diameter of the cut lid is too large to squeeze the water out of the can. So I bought this simple tuna strainer. It’s a metal cup with holes in it. Press down on the handles and you can squeeze as much liquid as you want from the can. — MF

Declaration of Enchantment
When I feel uninspired, I like to re-read this Declaration of Enchantment, written by Depth Psychologist Craig Chalquist. There are 15 articles — all outlining the importance of nurturing our imagination. Reading this invigorates my curiosity and infuses me with awe. Below is an excerpt from the Preamble. — CD

We can live a few weeks without food, a few days without water, and a few hours without shelter in an inhospitable clime, but we cannot live for even a moment without some movement of imagination in mind and body. To restrict its enlivening flow is to cripple the wellsprings of health, vitality, and sanity. Enchantment is a self-evident basic right. An assault on enchantment is an assault on the human spirit.

Cool Tools

Halloween Prop Making

Did you miss me? Sorry for the silent running. I was busy getting married and making the final move to California. Whew. Glad to finally be settling in.

I will now be returning to regular weekly newsletters, currently publishing on Friday. As always, if you have tips, tool recommendations, favorite maker jargon/slang, or feedback, please share with me.

Halloween Prop Making
Over at Wicked Makers, they created a fun outdoor Halloween display featuring a pirate skeleton fountain. The pirate, sitting in a rum barrel, guzzles wine for all eternity. How charming. There are lots of great tips on creating Halloween haunts in this video, like how to create aged plastic bone using wood stain and bending and posing a plastic skeleton with a heat gun.

For another fun and surprisingly easy Halloween project, check out this Make: video where Caleb demonstrates the popular method of creating skulls from plastic milk jugs using a heat gun and a Halloween skull as a mold.

Working with Wood Models
Via Make: comes this Eric Strebel video on making wooden models. In the video, Eric runs through the very basics of using hobby woods, like balsa and basswood, to create models (for whatever prototyping or other purpose). These days, when we think of prototyping, we tend to think of 3D printing, laser-cutting, and maybe styrene modeling, but wood is always an option, too.

A Shipping Tape Dispenser That Doesn't Stink?
As you might imagine, we just went through seemingly miles of packing tape in our move across country. Like a lot of folks, I abhor the crummy plastic dispensers and cheap tape that constantly tears (speaking of which, do not buy this tape – it was paper-thin and constantly tearing.) Via Cool Tools, I learned about the apparently decent (and cheap) tape/dispensers at Harbor Freight. I’ll try this product next.

Help People "Close Their Loops"
Working on complex projects (of any kind) is always challenging. Those challenges are quickly compounded as you check in with others on your team and they fail to respond in a timely and thorough fashion. Every one of these outstanding communications becomes an “open loop” that remains a worry/to-do list item until it’s responded to. You can do a huge favor to those along the project’s work chain by responding in a timely fashion and answering all questions asked.

Maker Slang
Mother color – I recently learned of a new (to me) painting technique, called mother color. This is when you pick a thematic color and add that color to every other color in a painting, miniature, model, etc. to create color harmony throughout the piece. Here’s a video detailing the technique.

Tear out (or chip out) – What happens when the grain of wood along an edge being cut cannot support itself and tears away along the cut. Methods of preventing tear out include using painter’s tape along the cut line and pre-scoring the line with a razor knife.

More on End-Grain Gluing
In the last issue, we included a link to a video on Patrick Sullivan’s YouTube channel where he tested the strength of end-grain gluing and found that such a bond can actually be quite strong (contrary to popular belief). This led to much misunderstanding of his findings, some useful discussion, and numerous response videos. Here’s a great video from James at Stumpy Nubs with further clarification of what Patrick actually tested and how people misunderstood his findings. As Patrick himself points out in the comments to Stumpy’s video:

Thanks for what I feel is a fair commentary on my video about end-grain glue. If viewers came away from the Glue Myths video with the idea that I am promoting end-grain joints, or that they should start making furniture out of 3" square blocks, then I failed to convey my thoughts clearly enough. I am trying to put together some objective, factual information about how glue works. My hope is that this information will be used as a tool by savvy woodworkers to design joinery that is strong enough to perform its intended purpose.

Comparing Deep Hole Pattern Markers
On the Cool Tools channel, our pal Donald Bell takes a look at three different deep hole pattern markers, the Pica, the FastCap, and the Dixon. I’ve been using FastCap markers for years now and love them, although I agree with Donald that the tip is a little wider than I’d like. He doesn’t declare a winner. Each makers has its strengths and drawbacks.

New Take on the Book Nook
Last issue, I included the term “book nook,” a popular form of crafting right now. These nooks are little book-themed dioramas that slot between books on a shelf. I saw this ad for a commercial book nook maker where all of the characters in the nooks “break plane,” 3D art that emerges from the nook, something I haven’t seen in homemade book nooks. Yet.

Shop Talk

Reader Marty Lindal writes:

“Another source for moving boxes: When evaluating moving companies, ask if they can provide free used boxes. I’ve moved locally with the same mover about 5 times and he always offers both new boxes for purchase or free used boxes and free tape and packing paper. As you know, these things add up. And he’ll pick up the boxes when you are done with them.”

Cool Tools

What's on my kitchen counter? — Seth Godin

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.

Seth Godin is a 20-time bestselling author, a blogger, an internet pioneer, and a teacher. Find out more at


My “space” is the counter where I cook dinner every night for family and friends. And as diets diverge and time gets short, there are a few go-to items that I keep coming back to.

This is a tiny portion of the huge pile of bottles and potions and substances I reach for, but here are some unsung or little known favorites.


Wild Mountain Cumin ($10) and Wild Icelandic Kelp ($10)
Two are fromBurlap and Barrel. It’s hard to imagine that their spices are so dramatically better, but they are. The way they treat their suppliers is what caught my eye, but the quality of what they sell is off the charts. The cumin in particular.

All-Purpose Seasoning ”Roasted Sake" ($17)
The amber liquid is my prized secret possession. I’m not even sure exactly what it’s called. It’s hard to find but totally worth looking for. Like soy sauce, but most definitely not. And it has no soy.

Al Wadi Pomegranate Molasses ($12)
The pomegranate molasses is a miracle. It doesn’t matter so much which one you grab, as far as I can tell. Try to find one that doesn’t have white sugar added.

Lao Gan Ma Spicy Chili Crisp ($20)
The chili crisp is becoming better known, but it’s an amazing cooking hack. it never ceases to blow people away.

Priyems Lemon Pickle ($6)
And the last is fresh pickle, from Priyems. Again, the difference between this and the standard shelf-stable jarred stuff is astonishing.

Cool Tools

Lists of lists of lists/Squid Game/99 sober activities

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Bingeable suspense drama
It’s gory, with mindless cartoon violence, but it is also full of surprises, great drama, and the pleasures of the unexpected. My wife and I binged the entire first season in 5 days. It’s that good. I am speaking of the Korean thriller/drama/horror series, Squid Game, on Netflix. (You have the option of dubbed or subtitled. We went with dubbed.) — KK

List of lists of lists
We often recommend lists of things, but this is the first time we are recommending Wikipedia’s list of lists of lists. For example, one of the list items is a list of list of nicknames. And one of the list of nicknames is list of city nicknames in the United States, which has sublists categorized by state. My hometown of Boulder, Colorado has the nickname “The People’s Republic of Boulder.” What’s the nickname of your hometown? — MF

99 sober activities
This will be my third year participating in “Sober October.” The first year was really hard for me. Last year was easy. And this year, I was actually looking forward to it! I sleep better, exercise more and find myself with a lot more free time I didn’t know was possible. My favorite part of “Sober October” is socializing. I sometimes use a glass of wine to stave off social anxiety, but being fully present around friends benefits me emotionally, mentally and physically. Here are a list of 99 sober activities by The Good Trade that are productive and promote well-being. — CD

Zipper pull replacement
If you broke the pull off a zipper on a jacket or bag, try these replacement zipper pulls. They have a carabiner-like spring mechanism that makes it easy to attach them to the bridge. The only downside is that they are a little larger than a regular zipper, but that can actually be a plus if you use one on a piece of luggage. — MF

Look ahead with progress bars
Here is a fun way to look ahead: Progress. Creative coder Neal Agarwal, who creates fun digital experiences, made this page so you can visualize time remaining until the next minute, day, month, holiday, moon phase, or until the sun dies. — CD

Optimistic energy future
One of the reasons I am relentlessly optimistic is that our capacity for innovation is greater than we think. Inventor Saul Griffith lays out a very optimistic plan whereby we can accomplish half of our climate goals simply by electrifying everything. Instead of burning carbon, we can use solar, wind, water, and nuclear to make electrons. Electric vehicles, stoves, furnaces, motors — all currently doable — are far more efficient than oxidizing carbon and bring compounding benefits. Griffith explains all in this readable and comprehensive new book, Electrify: An Optimist’s Playbook for Our Clean Energy Future. It is an important vision because it is feasible. — KK

Cool Tools

Amber Case, 2021 Mozilla Fellow

Our guest this week is Amber Case. Amber studies the interaction between humans and computers and how technology is changing everyday life. Amber was named one of Inc. Magazine's 30 under 30, and Fast Company's Most Influential Women in Technology. She was named the National Geographic Emerging Explorer. She won the Claude Shannon Innovation Award from Bell Labs. She was the co-founder and CEO of Geoloqi, a location-based software company. Right now she's a 2021 Mozilla Fellow and she's working on the future of money, alternative business models for the web, and creator compensation. She's an advisor to Unlock Protocol and Puma Browser. You can follow her work on Medium and Twitter @caseorganic.

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

Show notes:

A light switch
The first tool is very straightforward. It is a light switch. And the reason why I like a light switch is because as a really small kid, it's something that my parents would lift me up to reach and I could turn on and off the light. And I think as a kid, it gave me a feeling of control over the universe. Let there be light and there was light. But really, it's interesting because the history of electricity is that you don't have to be an electrician to use a light switch. Even if you get home late at night, it's dark, you're in an unfamiliar place, you can kind of tap the wall and find a few various kinds of light switches. For me, it's kind of an example of a calm technology, something that's there when you need it. It doesn't draw attention to itself when you don't need it. The complexity is hidden behind the scenes and we really respect the electricity that's dangerous, but the user interface is straightforward so much that we don't care. And that invisible technology I think that's really crucial to kind of reexamine and revisit these mundane objects in our life and consider just how brilliant they are.

A foot pedal
My second cool tool is inside the car and also on sewing machines and also on trash cans. It's the foot pedal. Foot pedal is something that we've forgotten about when we switched into the computer mouse, but Doug Englebart's early mouse actually did have a foot pedal so you could scroll down the screen. The foot pedal is so cool. Because it makes use of an extra appendage of our body. You can work with it without having to see it. It's kind of a peripheral tool. And for sewing machines, for social distance door opening, you can press something in, throw something in a trash and especially on a car. We use it all the time. We don't even think about it. And now gamers are starting to get it back with little pedals that they're having with their computers so that they can send responses to people funding them on any of these stream platforms. So I love the foot pedal because we all have feet and that's still a user interface.

Unlock Protocol
We're switching into super futuristic here. There is a small startup that I discovered called Unlock Protocol. And I met Julian who's the founder of it back in the IndieWeb days. So I don't know how much everybody knows about the IndieWeb, but the IndieWeb movement was something that was founded by me and Crystal Beasley and Aaron Perreki. And the idea was that unlike today, where you just post on other services and they keep your information, you would post on your own site and syndicate elsewhere. This would be this kind of going back to run a server in your closet and run your own website. So I was thinking, over time, we went very centralized and so to predict the future, sometimes you can just flip the axis. The future becomes decentralization. Right now, if you want to sponsor somebody online, you use Patreon and Patreon takes a cut. You might make your living on Patreon or eBay or OnlyFans for instance. And it's very hard. When I was researching as a Mozilla fellow, I was looking at the one of the error codes that was not filled out on the web, which is the 402 payment required error that said, "Reserve for future use." And I said, "Well, what is this? Why isn't there a good protocol for the web?" We got eBay and PayPal and Venmo, the zillion different ways to pay people, but there's a lot of intermediaries. So Unlock Protocol is a protocol that allows you to put a lock of content on your own site and have somebody unlock it with a credit card or crypto, and there's no intermediary. So even if the company goes out of business, you can still make a living off of sites that you run without all of that extra. You just go to the Unlock Protocol website and you can click on the app. And a lot of people are using MetaMask wallet as a kind of crypto wallet for the web. So you would just authenticate with your web wallet and then you could make a lock and either embed that onto your site, and have some sort of content get unlocked based on that. Or you could have a little miniature checkout page that could basically token gate a link. So let's say I have a Dropbox doc and I want people to pay a little bit of money for it. They could go through and pay. It's all live and it's been live and working since 2018. And so I'd say it's probably the earliest version of what we're going to see happen online in terms of kind of token gated communities and peer-to-peer payments and things like that.

Ableton software
The fourth tool is Ableton software. Ableton is a way of processing signals for audio and what it does, it's a digital audio workstation. But it's been around since 2001, 20 years ago, and it looks very similar to what it looked like in the past. And it's very interesting because it was built from homemade software. And I think when we look at music, we look at a lot of software and it's not always well built, but with audio, you have to do a good job because you're working with something invisible, like sound is invisible. When you visualize it, it's waves and all you're doing with signal process is changing the shape of the wave. And that changes the sound. And then changing more shapes so that when you play multiple sounds at the same time, they don't conflict with each other and then changing them more to give them a weird overtone or mood that you want to give them. You can record into it. You can arrange it. You can mix, you can master, you can cross fade, you can do whatever, but the reason why I like it is, when you open it up, it is horrifying looking to somebody who's never used it. It is the most utility-oriented thing. And then what happens is there's suddenly this aha moment after a couple months of using it. And then everything is exactly in the right shape and place. And it just feels like it matches your brain, everything you want to do. I think it's just a completely different world that you get into when you're working with pure aesthetics and moods and feelings. It doesn't have to be perfect just like a picture. It doesn't have to be perfect to convey an emotion and to express something that you can't say declaratively, you can't say in words. And I think for a lot of programmers who are used to being very articulate and declarative, approaching music from that kind of unknowing perspective is a mystery. And it's interesting and exciting. And I think Ableton is a fun way to approach it.

About Calm Technology:
I'm a Mozilla fellow, so I'm researching web economics. And part of what I'm studying is a little bit of that 402 payment required error about how can we make money work better online. A little bit of the origin of micropayments and where that came from in the 60s. And then also, that kind of goes along with Interledger and Unlock and all these different new technologies and protocols that are showing up. So that's part of the work, but I think the larger work is continuing to make strides in Calm Technology, which was a framework developed in the 90s at Xerox PARC, by John Seely Brown and Rich Gold. During my thesis on mobile phones in 2007, 2008, I stumbled upon this just very small research paper by these amazing thinkers. And it was written in a way that just seemed like it was written today. It's just timeless human technology universals. They say, the fourth era of computing is many devices will share a single person. And then in the beginning, many people shared one device. The maturity is when a device takes the least amount of attention and only when necessary, that you can embed information. I was just reading this and saying, oh my gosh, most of these people died before they saw, the ubiquitous computing era. And then a lot of what we think of as ubiquitous computing and smart objects has been built super poorly. And now as Freud would say in his book Civilization and Its Discontents, "We are marred by a future of ill fitting prosthetics." And how unfortunate that is because we could have these more harmonious systems around us that don't have to assume that we need certain things —where we still have agency. We have smarter humans instead of smarter objects. I was super inspired by that. So more recently, very large companies have been showing up and saying, "We have a mono in this market, and now we're stuck because people don't like our stuff, what do we do?" And doing little workshops and just trying to revive an era where at Xerox PARC, you could kind of make the future and then understand what problems the future might have, and then write about how these futures could be designed better, I suppose. So that's kind of the big work that gets applied to pretty much everything I do. And the companies that I advise and the future writing I'm going to work on. The easiest place to go is you could go to, which probably won't change very much because it's supposed to be around for 30 or 40 years and not go out of date, hopefully. And then you can go on my medium. I have about 50 articles detailing, various different applications of either web economics or Calm Tech.

Cool Tools

Silent mouse/The Diamond/A third place

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Silent mouse

I had a mouse that made a loud noise when I clicked it. It distracted  peopled I Zoomed with, so I replaced it with a Logitech M590 Silent Touch Mouse, which hardly makes a sound, yet has the same click feel as a regular mouse. — MF

Video Poem
The Diamond is a gem of a short 16-minute documentary. Utterly brilliant. People come to shift though the dirt in crater looking for rough diamonds, but what are they really hunting for? Bigger things. — KK

Find yourself a third place
I love the concept of a third place — a public space that is not your home or work that can offer respite from your daily routine. Examples of third spaces can be a bookstore, pub, cafe, or park. “Third places offer a neutral public space for a community to connect and establish bonds.” Wellness blogger Patricia Mou wrote a great 3-part series on third spaces where you can learn more about the definition of third spaces and the state of them in America today, as well as their future. This past year I’ve mostly had one space, but there is a library that just re-opened within 5 blocks of me that I hope to become more familiar with. — CD

Education in money
A free newsletter I find myself reading more than I thought would is Money Stuff by Matt Levine. I am not that interested in finance, debt structure, bond rates, macro-economics, or really money itself, but Levine makes it so easy and clear, I can’t help reading and learning. Here is a typical sentence: ”Your job, as an investment banker, is to become close to the people who possess giant piles of money, in the hopes that one day they will do giant deals with their giant piles of money and give you some of it.”  Money Stuff seems to arrive every weekday, and most days I read most of it, always learning. — KK

Easiest way to watercolor
It was always a painstaking process for me to color in between lines, and painting is too slow and methodical for my messy ways. I wish I had these Faber-Castell Watercolour Pencils when I was a kid. It’s the easiest way to watercolor paint — and the fastest! I just scribble in a little color here and there and use a water brush pen like this to transform the pigments into paint. I started with the 12 color set for around $20 and then upgraded myself to the 36 color set ($50) after I got more consistent with it. Maybe someday I’ll earn the 120-color set. — CD

Thousands of book covers
I love book cover design so it was a treat to discover Ivan Checkov’s Flicker gallery of book covers from the 1900s to the 1960s. Two of my favorites are the cover for The Monster Men (1913) by Edgar Rice Burroughs, illustrated by J. Allen St. John, and the cover for A Silver Spade (1950) by Louisa Revell, illustrated by Denis McLoughlin. (This review of A Silver Spade makes me want to read it). — MF

Cool Tools

What's in my WFH setup? — Juris Kristobans

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.

Juris Kristobans is the creator of Modern Different. Modern Different is a resource and newsletter that lets you discover modern and practical products that can improve your home environment and help you get a better quality of life.


It is my first work from home setup. I like to add and remove things often. I have removed every unnecessary object from my desk and left with a bare minimum to do the work. And I love my massive desk (180 x 90cm) even though I don’t have much stuff on the desk. When I do research, I have a ton of books and magazines on my desk. It’s nice to have plenty of space so I can keep every magazine open.


Elgato Key Light Air ($110)
I thought it is ok to use a table lamp (or nothing) for Zoom and Skype calls, but Key Light Air has been instrumental. Lights are compact and easy to pack away if I don’t need them. I also like that I can easily adjust the height, brightness, and change color range. And they keep cool for a very long time, allowing me to work without breaking a sweat.


Casio TQ-140-1EF Wake Up Timer Alarm Clock ($14)
I bought this Casio clock as the second alarm if my phone wouldn’t wake me up on time. I keep it on my desk. When the alarm goes off, I must get out of the bed and walk to the other room to turn it off. And during the day it is helpful because I don’t have to reach for my phone to see the time. It is super loud and will wake me (and neighbors) up within seconds. It has a silent mechanism. I am not a big fan of the sound tik, tak, tik, tak … Fun Fact! My phone has never failed me.


Oak Monitor Stand (DIY)
I spent far too much time looking at monitor stands. It’s hard to get a beautiful monitor stand, and the biggest issue for me is that they are too low. I am pretty tall, and I noticed that my posture wasn’t great because I have to look down. Inspiration came from Jeff Sheldon (google: Jeff Sheldon monitor stand), and Dad made it for me. It is a combination of Ikea legs, a slab of oak, and matte varnish.


Hightide Marbled Desk Tray ($18)
There is a specific place on my desk for everything. Always! I keep all small things like pens, scissors, sharpies, and post-it notes in this tray. It is convenient because it has the right size, and it lets me organize everything nicely. And Hightide is a Japanese company. That’s a bonus.

Cool Tools

What's in my insect photography bag? — Mark W. Moffett

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.


I am a tropical biologist and explorer known for my studies of animal social life, and especially the behavior of ants, and I’m acclaimed as well as an insect photographer. Because I often work in remote places, I need to cram any and all tools I might need into a bag that I keep on my back day after day.

Pictured are the small items that I carry to watch ants and other insects —tools I describe below starting at the left and proceeding clockwise:

1. A small mirror to follow ants moving under objects within the leaf litter — surprising how often this helps. I have tracked ants many yards over periods of hours with this mirror, an insane job.

2. A vial of sugar water dyed red to keep track of which ants are which (the ones that turn cherry red belong to my colony, hooray!).

3. One of the vials of 70-80% ethyl alcohol I carry for preserving insect specimens.

4. A vial of dilute honey and a vial cooking oil, used as baits to assess what tasty diet my ants prefer and then to follow the ant workers back to their nest.

5. 20X loupe (magnifier) on a silver chain that I wear around my neck when I need it often.

6. Face mask made from blue cords and the sleeve of an old yellow t-shirt that I should perhaps replace with a mask against Covid — this I put on to avoid disturbing insects (breathing on certain kinds of ants can make them very angry!).

7. Strong twine that can be employed, for example, to tie back any vines that get in the way of my access to a study subject so that I don’t need to cut down any annoying plants.

8. Orange flagging tape to mark the location of an ant nest or some other study subject.

9. Sometimes I see something big! This is a small monoscope with a carabiner to attach it to one flank of the camera bag, which I use to quickly identify a distant subject like a bird before I pull out the 100-400 mm lens from my bag should I decide to study it further, or to take its picture.

10. A featherweight forceps, which allows me to pick up an insect without hurting it (though I’m fearless about using my fingers — ouch!).

11. A black-stoppered aspirator, used to suck bugs into a small plastic container to examine later.

12. A Swiss army knife with all the fixin’s (though I’ve grown cautious about bringing one on trips because before arriving at the airport I often forget to move it over from my camera bag into a check-in bag, and so airport security officials have looked at me crossly and confiscated several).

13. A cheap compass because the one in a phone or GPS can fail in dense forests ( #$%!!! Where am I???).

14. Extension arms that I adjust to position one or two camera flashes exactly where I want them to give my small subjects the best beauty treatment. (Notice the red tape I’ve put around one arm, which makes this device harder to miss should I put it down in the leaf litter — I stick a bit of this bright colored tape to every small item of camera gear I own, such as my lens caps.) This is the only piece of actual camera gear from my bag that I show here. But, FYI: For insect photography I carry a 60 mm Canon macro lens, a 1-5X Canon macro lens, three 25 mm extension tubes and a Canon macro twin light (ring lights flatten the subject and should be avoided unless you’re photographing postage stamps).

Cool Tools

Best video shorts/4 levels of reading/Easy eggs

Sign up here to get Recomendo a week early in your inbox.

Best video shorts
Short videos are an emerging art form. With the advent of phone cameras and free editing software they are within reach of almost any maker. One of my favorite seats to see the best art video shorts is to go to the Vimeo Staff Picks. They go through an ocean of new creations and curate the best video shorts. — KK

Four different ways to read books
The Curious Reader has a great outline of the 4 different reading levels and sub-types pulled from “How to Read a Book.” The first level being Elementary Reading — where the main question of reading is “What does the sentence say?” Level two is Inspectional — where you ask, “What is the book/article about?” This is how I read most news articles and blog posts. Level three is Analytical — when you want to really understand the topic by asking questions and chewing and digesting it. The fourth level of reading is my favorite: Syntopic Reading. This is where you read multiple books on the same subject and compare and contrast the ideas. Each reading level serves a different purpose, so it’s helpful to ask yourself before reading, “What do I want out of this book or article?” — CD

Easy boiled eggs
The easiest way I know to boil eggs is with an Instant Pot pressure cooker. Put one cup of water into the pot, add 1-6 eggs (use a steamer basket if you have one), and cook using low pressure for 3 minutes. Let the pressure subside without releasing the valve. You’ll have perfectly boiled eggs. — MF

Saline nasal spray
I stopped using a neti pot to irrigate my sinuses with salt water because of the risk of infection. I switched to pressurized aerosol saline mist, called Simply Saline by Arm & Hammer. It’s sterile and convenient. It never fails to get rid of my phantosmia whenever it flares up. — MF

Extended flame
The most useable flame lighter I have is a Bic Reach. This design takes your usual Bic flick lighter, and outfits it with an extended 1.5” (35mm) pipe that ignites the flame away from your thumb. I find those long butane lighters with a two-button safety switch to be both fussy and unreliable, but a regular Bic can’t reach where I want the flame, so this Bic Reach is just perfect for lighting candles, fireplaces, camp stoves, etc., reliably on the first try. It’s probably not what you’d carry everyday in your pocket, but perfect in the utility drawer. — KK

Ways people improved their quality of life
“What improved your quality of life so much, you wish you did it sooner?” was asked by u/colorfulsoul_ on Reddit and the thread is worth scanning for ideas to adopt. Someone suggested placing your phone on permanent “Do not Disturb” only allowing calls from “Contacts” — which would save me from a lot of spammers. Other life improving tips were: breathing exercises, buying a good kitchen knife, separate blankets in beds for couples, and buying a cart that will carry all your groceries from your car to inside in one trip. — CD

Cool Tools

What's in my plastic bin? — Mark Frauenfelder

Sign up here to get What’s in my bag? a week early in your inbox.


Mark Frauenfelder is the co-founder of BoingBoing, and the founding editor of Make magazine. He is a research director at Institute of the Future, and the author (and illustrator) of seven books. Every week he shares useful tips and recommendations of things that interest him, like interviews, recipes, quotations, and more, in his newsletter The Magnet.


For one reason or another a bunch of random stuff has ended up in this smallish plastic bin I keep in my closet. Every time I look at it I’m surprised by what I find in it.


When I was an engineer at Memorex in the mid-1980s, a coworker gave me a photocopy of a self-published booklet by Timothy Leary called Starseed: Transmitted from Folsom prison. I haven’t read it in 35 years, but it had something to do with Comet Kohoutek and how it was going to either destroy all life on the planet or lift human consciousness to a higher level. (You can read a scan at the Internet Archive)


I got this little plastic tool kit from the amazing Tokyu Hands department store in Tokyo. I think the plastic is made of some kind of composite material because it feels very hard, and I’ll bet it would really work as a tool kit. But I like the way it looks attached to the mold sprues so I keep it intact.


I picked up this nose hair removal kit from a store in Tokyo called Village Vanguard. It comes with little plastic beads that you put in the microwave and heat until soft, then attach a plastic wands to it and stick up your nose. When the plastic cools down you pull it out and your nose hair is stuck to it like a nightmarish lollipop. I tried it and it hurt a lot. When I posted about it on Boing Boing people told me it’s a good way to get a nasal infection, and having an infection in your nose is really bad because it’s close to your brain. I’m not going to use it again. I use a nose hair trimmer instead.


My daughter bought this little plastic statuette in Chiang Mai, Thailand for me. It served as the inspiration for a project I’ve been working on for a year and a half. I’m drawing 4900 little creatures in a notebook. Here’s a video of my progress.


Archives - This site operates under a Creative Commons License.