Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Sean Williams

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Sean Williams is a multi-award-winning, #1 New York Times best-selling author of novels, short stories and poetry across diverse genres for people of all ages. His latest novel, Impossible Music, is an extended meditation on heavy metal, hearing loss, and hope. He teaches creative writing at Flinders University, Australia. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @adelaidesean.


About the bag
I like a bag that’s tough, secure, padded, and black, while at the same time lightweight and not too fussy. The Pacsafe Venturesafe 15L GII ($95) suits me perfectly. I like to arrange my own internal storage so I don’t need lots of pockets. The only fault I’ve ever encountered in the many I’ve owned occurred after a fellowship in Antarctica, when all the zip tags came unglued. Keyrings soon solved that problem.

Journal with Italian leather cover
The journal itself isn’t anything special (Spirax A5 200pp, AUD$4.50), but the leather cover it’s in was a present from my mother, who bought it in Florence, Italy. She can’t remember where she bought it, or how much it cost, but it was a thoughtful gift that has seen a lot of use. It fits perfectly into the laptop slot of my bag.

Bose QuietComfort 35 Wireless Headphones II ($349)
I’ve learned by necessity that I can write anywhere — provided I’m wearing a pair of noise cancelling headphones. These, the fourth I’ve owned, are my current favourite. Over-ear because the immersion is more complete. Wireless because I also like to wear them when I’m out walking, and I swing my arms a lot. Wires are a menace.

MUJI Double Zip Case ($24, ebay)
This simple and cheap Muji zip case goes with me everywhere. It’s small enough not to clog up my bag while at the same time roomy enough for nail clippers, emery boards, glasses cleaners, mints, various drugs I might need, and so on. The mesh comes in handy for things you might want to quickly double check you have, like adaptors for gadgets.

Unbranded water bottle
I always carry a bottle. Always. This one is unbranded, so I can’t identify it, but it’s just about perfect for me: simple, not too tall, and has a practical screw-off top. I’m not interested in fancy handles or slow-leak teats. Give me a wide neck for maximum fluid intake, and I’m happy. Hydro Homies unite!

The Technium

Recent Readings 14

The emergence of YouTube sites that provide virtual friendship, companionship, and cater to loneliness. Link.

The Economist interviewed an AI to ask it about the future of AI. It gave coherent answers. But they weren't what the AI thought. The answers it gave were what the AI thought the internet thought. Still, impressive. Link

Science has not destroyed religion. Link.

Important uncertainty: the untested legality of streaming video games, particularly for profit (see Twitch). Link.

Innovation and discoveries are becoming more expensive because the easy ones have already been found. Future innovations will cost more. Link

Pure Gibsonian future: Red state American farmers hacking their tractors with Ukrainian pirateware. Link

Universal translation by AI will increase global prosperity. When eBay improved its translation functions it increased their commerce by 11 percent. Imagine what prosperity will come from earbuds that give instant, free, real time language translation to all workers. Link.

Bill Gibson had some interesting things to say in this interview about his new book Agency.

"I have a nagging suspicion that evolution (a wholly random process, though too few of us understand that) has left most of us unable to grasp the idea of an actual apocalypse being possibly of several centuries’ duration. The jackpot began one or two hundred years ago, it seems to me. I myself can dimly recall a world before utterly ubiquitous injection-molded plastics. Toys were of metal, wood, rubber. Styrene was as exotic as Gore-tex, briefly. I’m yet to discover any record of a culture whose imagined apocalypse was a matter of centuries. I doubt anyone has ever stood out on a street corner wearing a sandwich board reading, “THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END IN A FEW HUNDRED YEARS.” Even before we became as aware as some of us now are of climate change, and of the fact that our species has inadvertently caused it, we seemed to be losing our sense of a capital-F Future. Few phrases were as common throughout the 20th century as “the 21st century,” yet how often do we see “the 22nd century”? Effectively, never."

Cool Tools

Drawing lamp/Eunoia/General Magic

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Drawing lamp
My daughter needed a lamp to light up her drawing board, so I bought this $15 CeSunlight LED clip-on lamp with a flexible neck. She can adjust the brightness and color temperature and to provide the ideal illumination for her work. — MF

A website of untranslatable words
I enjoy browsing this website of 500+ words that don’t translate, because I’m always intrigued by the concepts I had no idea existed, like “qarrtsiluni,” a North Alaskan Inupiatun word for sitting in the darkness, waiting for inspiration to strike you, or “ razbliuto,” a Russian word to describe the feeling for someone you used to love but no longer do, or “vellichor,” which I think may be made up but is a much needed word to address “the strange wistfulness of used bookstores.” It’s weird how once I learn a word for something I was hardly aware of before that I can instantly recall feeling it in the past. I would like to know the word for that. — CD

Failing, while being right
While failure is to be avoided, no teacher is as powerful. The tech startup General Magic failed big time, but it was also one of the most influential companies of all time that no one has heard of. Its all-star team of tech wizards invented the smartphone 15 years too early. General Magic is a fantastic documentary about the dilemma of dreaming big versus paying attention to reality. It’s now streaming on Amazon Prime ($0.99). — KK

Delightful Twitter feed
For my Twitter feed I like following people who surprise me, and ideally, delight me. (Outrage is exhausting.) No one reliably surprises me with delight as much as Kurt Kohlstedt, director of the 99% Invisible podcast. His Twitter feed delivers a steady stream of unexpected discoveries and insights. — KK

Excellent indie movies for free
My Los Angeles Library card entitles me to 8 free movies on Kanopy a month. Your local library probably has a similar Kanopy offering. It’s like Netflix for classic, foreign, documentary. and indie films. Visit the site to see what they have. — MF

Important life lessons thread
Julie Zhuo, Product Design VP at Facebook, asked “What’s your most important life lesson that you wish you learned ten years earlier?” and Twitter answered. My favorite replies were “Better understand your inner child issues so that your subconscious becomes conscious.” — @AmandaMGoetz, and “The grass is always greener because it’s been fertilised with bullsh*t. Enjoy what you have.” — @pTah_XV. Here’s the full thread. — CD

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Cool Tools

Jane Metcalfe, Founder of NEO.LIFE

Our guest this week is Jane Metcalfe. Jane is the founder of NEO.LIFE, a media and events company tracking how digital tools and an engineering mindset are transforming human biology. Prior to that, she made chocolate on a pier in San Francisco at TCHO Chocolate. Jane is probably best known as the cofounder of Wired Magazine. The Kickstarter campaign for her new book "Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species" is now live.

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Show notes:

Offi Mag Table ($249)
I love bent plywood! I also love magazines, so this bent plywood magazine holder/side table designed by Eric Pfieffer is a total winner. There is something just so satisfying about seeing a sweep of beautiful wood flow down into a curve and splash back up the other side. And that’s not all. The table makes a perfect companion to your LazyBoy recliner for Sunday afternoon reading delight. But, you can also turn it on its end and use it as a makeshift work surface, which is great when a colleague has to come be in the video conference but also wants desk space to take notes. It’s so good looking I used it this week on stage for an event we produced.

Souk Shopper Basket by Bohemia
I used to find shopping at farmers markets physically taxing mostly because I get excited and buy way more than I can carry, always. But also because once I had bags in both hands, I was constantly picking up and putting them down to taste something or fetch my wallet. Until I found the souk baskets by Bohemia. The big innovation is the length of the handle—it’s long enough to fit over your shoulder unlike literally every market basket I had ever seen before. And it’s not just any handle. It’s rolled leather covered so it doesn’t dig into your shoulder, and the colors make me so happy. I first bought them 15 years ago, but the wear and tear of feeding a family of four finally took its toll, so I just got a new one with a lovely raspberry colored handle. They sit flat on the ground, too, so no more chasing your satsumas down the aisle because your basket rolled over. They’re handwoven in Morocco from sustainably grown palm leaf. Innovation in a market basket, after all these centuries!

Desk Pad/Gaming Mouse Mat ($11)
My gamer son scoffs at me for this, but I love it. It’s a huge mouse pad, about 32 x 15” originally designed for gamers, but re-imagined as office decor. Made from a durable, washable microfiber, It’s big enough so your wild mouse motions aren’t constrained by a small 4x6” mouse pad. You can put your keyboard, your phone, your car keys, and your cup of tea all on top of it. It’s waterproof, smooth and warm to the touch. I’ve been spending a lot of time on my computer at the dining room table lately, and this gives me confidence that I’m not scratching or watermarking its finish. Comes in assorted colors, too.

Nite-Ize Gear Ties ($21)
How did I manage without these? For years, I’ve been using velcro ties for my computer and phone cables, but when I came across these recently, that all changed. Suddenly velcro seems so 20th century! Made from flexible steel wire and covered with a non slip rubber coating, these gear ties will find their way into every room in your home. The 3” ones are perfect for headphone and charging cables; I use the 6” for computer cords; and the 12” for skis. Assorted colors, too. So much easier to wrangle than velcro that wants to stick to itself.

B12 Love vitamin injections
I’d heard of celebrities and CEOs using vitamin and nutrient injections and IV drips to cure hangovers before an important board meeting or performance. I’d also heard of chemo patients getting in-home drips before having to travel, and Burners to prep for the playa (or recover upon return). So when I got sick right before the holidays, I decided it was my turn to try it because lying in bed was simply not an option. The menu was extensive and took a lot of thought and consultation. I was sick, exhausted, dehydrated, and not sleeping well, so I ended up getting 2 “cocktails.” In my right cheek, I got the Ultimate Chillax ($65), which includes magnesium, B12, MIC, and taurine. That was to help calm my mind for sleep, which was working in overdrive on my work, Christmas, and packing lists. In my left cheek, I got the Kick Butt Travel Shot ($55), which has high doses of all the B vitamins in addition to “Extra Strength” B12 which they said would give me more energy, endurance, and stamina and help prepare me for international travel.The result was an excellent night of rest, and enough energy to get out of bed and actually work like a demon the next day. I started getting better from that moment on and was able to sail through the holidays, international travel, a week of skiing, and a week of convention intensity when I got back. B12 Love makes it really easy with more than a dozen locations around the Bay Area, including fixed location lounges and pop up hours in places like natural medicine clinics, spas, and skin care salons. You are treated by a licensed naturopathic doctor, trained naturopathic medical assistant, or registered nurse. I am normally skeptical of naturopathic remedies. They always sound good but the evidence is not always there. In this case, I figured I had nothing to lose and honestly believe it was helpful. Even if all I needed was the rehydration, it was worth it. Having access to this sort of treatment without having to convince your doctor or go to the emergency room feels so 21st century!

About Jane’s new book:

Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species
Neo.Life: 25 Visions for the Future of Our Species is a book about the future of human beings, as viewed by some of today's most creative minds working at the intersection of biology and technology. You'll find essays, interviews, fiction, and visual art that explore the powerful new tools and ideas redefining the frontiers of our biology. Think of it as a guide to your future self. We now have the means to transform ourselves and our species. This book captures today’s most daring, inventive, and thoughtful ideas as conceived by some of science’s biggest thinkers, entrepreneurs, writers, and artists. But it’s not a technical manuscript or a treatise on bioethics. Neo.Life is written in layman’s terms for people like you who care about our legacy and the world we’re building for our descendants. The Kickstarter campaign is now live and is 106% funded.


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:– MF

Cool Tools

Travel pillow/Library Extension/Remote working tips

Check out our paperback book Four Favorite Tools: Fantastic tools by 150 notable creators, available in both Color or B&W on Amazon.

Best travel pillow
My 22-year-old daughter used this Ralthy inflatable travel pillow ($17) to snag 9 hours of uninterrupted sleep on a recent flight to Singapore. You set the pillow on your meal tray or your lap and lean forward into it, placing your head in the hole, like you would on a massage chair. I just bought another so I can use it on an upcoming flight to Japan. — MF

Library vs Amazon
Remember libraries, where content is free? Library Extension is a browser extension that will tell you whether a book you are looking at on an Amazon page is available in your local library. If it is you can click on the button to put a hold on the book, or find which branch has it. Very nicely done. Like libraries it’s free. Works on Chrome and Firefox. — KK

Work from home successfully
I work from home four days a week and what helps me be most productive is having a separate work space (not in a bedroom) with lots of natural light, getting dressed as if I’m going to the office, sticking to a 9-5 schedule, and giving myself short breaks every hour to walk around or cuddle with my dog. This article on How to Work From Home and Actually Get Stuff Done has a lot more suggestions for productivity. Eating lunch away from my desk is something I have to get better at, and one thing I hadn’t considered is to do some work before breakfast: “The usual recommendation is to start with a healthy breakfast, to fuel you for your busy day ahead. However, when you’re home all day, breakfast can be a drawn-out luxury, with reading, checking social media, and other distractions preventing you from getting started. Try diving into a quick work task, checking it off the list, and then sitting down to breakfast.” — CD

A better way to connect to stubborn airport WiFi
A while back I recommended some troubleshooting tips for forcing a public Wi-Fi login page to open. A Recomendo reader (“J.C.”) sent me a superior tip: just enter “” and the access point’s login page will load. On my last trip I used it at the airport and on the plane and it worked like a charm. — MF

Extend the life of your produce
My husband bought these Rubbermaid FreshWorks Containers ($27, set of 3), which prevents produce from spoiling by keeping excess moisture away, and for the first time ever, I was able to finish a bag of spinach without it going bad. Usually I have to throw out my spinach after a week or less, but this container kept it fresh for more than two weeks. It’s amazing! — CD

Cheaper car charging
Setting up a charger in your garage to charge an electric car is currently more complicated than it should be. This primer in Forbes by Brad Templeton is a good rundown on what to expect and how to do it the cheapest.  — KK


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The Technium

Recent Readings, 13


One of the best future scenarios of the next decade — 2020s —  by @fredwilson. It is hard to be not obvious and not implausible at the same time, but Fred is neither. It helps he is optimistic. "What Will Happen In The 2020s."

This is true: "To a degree still difficult for outsiders to absorb, China is preparing to shape the twenty-first century, much as the U.S. shaped the twentieth." From the must read article:

The question "why do the Chinese people like their current government?" is answered here with great intelligence, insight and empathy. I think this article is 100% correct from my personal experience of my extensive time in China. Link.

Deep fakes are getting better each day. Here is a holiday melody of one actor doing a series of impressions speaking, while the AI does an impression visually. Link.

It is a thing: Mukbang (mook bong) are live streaming videos of the host eating, often over-eating huge meals. It started in Korea and is now a sizable global phenom. Link.

Quibi is a $1 billion experiment in video streaming. Some if its ideas will work, many won't. We won't know which until it launches. Link. 

New trend: naming boys with action-words, like Charger, Trooper, Stryker. Great article about new styles in naming children. Link.

The case for a 100-year bond. Link.

Using state-of-the-art technology to add a glowing trace of a hockey puck on TV was a brilliant innovation that did not stick. Perhaps it was too early to be accepted, but it did change sports viewing. And perhaps the time is right to bring it, or something like it, back. The history of the glowing puck:

In response to highly overworked urban lives, some young Chinese are dropping out, almost becoming Chinese hippies. Here is a short video on early hippy pioneers.

Major change brewing: "Before long, most of our food will come neither from animals nor plants, but from unicellular life." Good summary anticipation. Link.  



Cool Tools

Flexbar Optical Punch Set

Show notes and transcript

Tools (Recommended):
Flexbar Optical Punch Set ($50 + Shipping)


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