Cool Tools

Universe Splitter/Crystallized Lemon Packets/Best tool evaluator

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Quantum Decision Maker

If I can't make a decision on something I like to consult my Universe Splitter app ($1.99 iPhone, Android). I enter two possible paths of action and press the "Split Universe" button. It then reports back to me which universe I'm in and what action to take. It's fun and silly and like flipping a coin, except you're creating multiple universes. The app keeps track of all your past universe splits and has a running tally of estimated universes created. I'm up to 512. — CD

Crystallized Lemon Packets

A couple of weeks ago, my parents introduced me to True Lemon packets, which contain crystallized lemon juice that can be easily added to tea or water. The powder dissolves instantly, and taste even better than fresh lemon juice. I use it to enhance my drinking water and sprinkle a bit on cut strawberries and papaya to bring out their flavors. There are many other ways to use these handy packets. — MF

Best tool evaluator

There’s this guy  – Todd at Project Farm – who maniacally tests tools on his YouTube channel. He invents systematic ways to test multiple versions of popular tools, which he buys himself. His evaluations are measured rather than qualitative. At the end of the long tests he displays a table of each tool’s performance and in a sentence or two gives his comparative verdict. This year, Todd rounded up his top 10 tests for the past year (2022), and put them into one super video. It’s a handy tool evaluator, and a good way to see if you’d find his other reviews useful. — KK

Examples of deceptive design is a pattern library of deceptive design examples used on websites and app to trick you into buying or signing up for things. There is a Hall of Shame with about 400 examples from the most complained about companies. The whole purpose of which is to raise awareness. Here's an infographic of 12 different types of dark patterns sourced from the website. — CD

Creepy and cool AI-generated animations

I recently came across an intriguing Instagram channel featuring AI-generated animations that evoke the eerie changing portraits of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion. These Dorian Gray-style portraits transform from people into grotesque monsters, with creepy music in the background. — MF

Alternative histories

In addition to the pleasure of reading a rousing story, there is a special benefit in exploring alternative histories. You know, the ones that ask what if? What if the Nazis won? What if the Russians landed on the moon first? This question is both a great way to approach history, and a good skill for thinking about the future. The Sideways Awards for Alternative History on Wikipedia is a fantastic source that lists the best alternative history stories written for each of the past 30 years. — KK

Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Cool Tools

Keith Kelley, Integrated Technology Teacher

A Maine educator for more than 33 years, Keith Kelley is currently teaching Integrated Technology. Having taught Language Arts, Social Studies and serving as the School Librarian, he is now teaching IT at Nokomis Regional Middle School. His students make Robots, Skateboards, 3D print, and build Guitars. He earned his Bachelor's and Master's Degree in Education at UMaine. He has coached soccer, track and various tech camps. In his free time he enjoys riding around in his classic mustang with his wife and dogs.

0:00 - Intro
1:45 - Shop Fox hand pneumatic drum sander
6:41 - Milescraft Drillmate
10:50 - Wainlux Mini laser engraving machine
19:34 - Wood-Mizer L25 Portable Sawmill

To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.

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Adding Foot Switches to Your Shop Tools

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Send me a tip or tool recommendation.

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Adding Foot Switches to Your Shop Tools

Several years ago, I got a jeweler's flex-shaft rotary tool. It came with a foot switch and I instantly fell in love with it. Once you power a shop tool with a foot switch, you won't want to use anything else. In this video, Adam Savage installs a foot switch upgrade to his mini tabletop bandsaw. The switch is especially nice and addresses a problem I have with my rotary tool swutch. If I leave it plugged in, I can inadvertently step on the switch which sits off to the side of my main workbench. This switch has a toe-kick safety cover that prevents it from being engaged by accident. Adam doesn’t identify which foot switch he’s using, but it looks like a Linemaster. These are not cheap (at over $200 each), but he says you can often find them new or used on eBay for as much as half that price.

Building an Elevator for Your Shop

Like many makers, Wesley Treat has a loft in his shop. Such a space is great for storing materials, supplies, and equipment you rarely use, but getting stuff up and down from the space (usually via stairs or ladders) can be difficult, if not dangerous. Wesley solved this problem by building an electric-powered mini-elevator. I bet everybody with a shop loft is going to want one too after seeing this video.

Making a One-Handed Access Tool Wall

There are dozens of videos on building tool walls from lumber scraps, similar to this one. But Rex has some good ideas here that should be noted. For instance, all of his tool access is designed to be one-handed and most of the tools pull straight out rather than up and out. This way, you don’t take up valuable space on the wall.

Reading “Tools”

One of my all-time favorite DIY books is Tools and How to Use Them by Albert Jackson and David Day. I had a copy for years but donated it, along with a bunch of other maker/DIY books, to an artists maker/studio space when I moved to the west coast in 2021. After seeing it on a Digi-Key tweet a few weeks ago (where my tips book was also mention!), I realized how much I missed it. I ordered a used copy on Amazon for a whopping $2.98. I’ve decided to read it cover to cover to give myself a thorough education in common and not-so-common hand tools. Every few weeks, I will post an except here that I find particularly interesting, unusual, or informative. This week’s entry is the screw pitch gauge.

Things to Do with Sawdust

Woodworking creates sawdust. Lots of woodworking creates A LOT of sawdust. This waste material can be reused in a myriad of ways. Here are just some of them. If you have another use for sawdust, please share.

  1. Use it as a mulch in your garden: Sawdust can help retain moisture and prevent weed growth.
  2. Mix it with soil for composting: Sawdust can be used as a carbon source in composting, and it will break down slowly over time. Note: Sawdust can affect the pH levels of soil or compost. It’s important to monitor pH levels when using sawdust in these applications. When using it for composting, it should be mixed with other organic materials to ensure a proper balance of carbon and nitrogen.
  3. Create pathways in your garden: Sawdust can be used to create natural-looking pathway in your garden and help prevent muddy paths.
  4. Use it as a bedding material for animals: Sawdust can be used as a bedding for animals like chickens, rabbits, and goats.
  5. Use it as kindling for fires: Sawdust is highly flammable and can be used as kindling for fires.
  6. Mix it with wax to make fire starters: Sawdust can be mixed with wax to make fire starters that are easy to light.
  7. Use it to absorb spills: Sawdust can be used to absorb spills of oil, paint, or other liquids.
  8. Use it as a filler material in construction: Sawdust can be mixed with other materials like cement, clay, epoxy to create lightweight, durable building materials.
  9. Use it as a traction aid: Sawdust can be spread on slippery surfaces like icy sidewalks or driveways to provide traction.
  10. Mix it with birdseed: Sawdust can be mixed with birdseed to make it go further and provide a more natural habitat for birds.
  11. Use it as a cat litter alternative: Sawdust can be used as an alternative to commercial kitty litter, as it is highly absorbent and can be composted.
  12. As a mushroom substrate: Sawdust can be used for growing mushrooms.
  13. Make wood filler: Sawdust can be mixed with glue or epoxy to create a wood filler for filling in gaps or holes in wooden surfaces.

Caution: If the wood that the sawdust came from was treated with pesticides or chemicals, it could be harmful to use for things like animal bedding and garden mulch. It’s important to know the type of wood, how it’s been treated, and whether it is safe to use. Engineered woods like plywood, MDF, and particle board should be avoided for many of the above uses involving plants, animals, and composting.

Maker’s Muse: Grandpa Amu

If you haven't seen Grampa Amu's channel, subscribe now. I get inspired every time I see a new video. In this episode, Grampa Amu is given an old, cherished cooking pot that's been used for so many years, a hole has been burned clean through the bottom. Using only the simplest of hand tools, he replaces the entire bottom of the pot with a metal pan. He manages to hammer the two items together with what at least looks like a leak-proof seal -- no soldering! It would’ve been helpful to see the pot in-use, and full of liquid to show that it doesn't leak.

Shop Talk

Last month, after I posted a video about Turning a Drill Press Into a Disc Sander, reader Chips ‘n Bits had a question.

“I have a question about the drill press as a disc sander. Would the friction and rotation of the disc put any lateral force on the quill? I ran into this issue (and gave a Makita drill driver about 1/8" of runout) by mixing something too-viscous with a mixing paddle. Drill presses are made of sturdier stuff, but they're not designed for lateral forces like routers/shapers. Hence: my question.”

Has anyone used a sanding disk on their press like this who wants to answer the question?

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Hitchhiking encouragement


This a website promoting hitchhiking. You didn’t used to need a website to hitchhike, only a thumb and pulse. I’ve spent a lot of time standing by the side of the road with my thumb out, and it led to some of the best days of my life. Times are different now.

What this site offers is mostly encouragement. Stories of other hitchhikers having a blast, reassurances that hitching is safe and legal, and suggestions about where in the world the natives are friendly to hitchers.

If you’ll hitch, I’ll pick you up. — KK

  • Isn't hitchhiking illegal in many areas? The short answer is: no.
  • Hitchhiking is not as popular in North America as it was 30 years ago, but it is still legal if one follows the laws of each state. Also, hitchhiking is still a viable mode of transportation in many other areas around the world, including Europe, parts of Asia, Africa, Australia, etc.
  • The most common law related to hitchhiking in the United States has been established in the Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC). It states:No person shall stand in a roadway for the purpose of soliciting a ride.What many people fail to realize is that a roadway is defined (in the same UVC) as:That portion of a highway improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the sidewalk, berm or shoulder even though such sidewalk, berm or shoulder is used by persons riding bicycles or other human powered vehicles.As you can see, the law only states that hitchhikers cannot stand in a driving lane (good idea, huh?), but they can stand on the shoulder or sidewalk of a road. A further code mentions that US States have the right to restrict pedestrians (i.e. hitchhikers) from entering certain highways (interstate routes, for example), but must post a sign if this is the case. What it all boils down to is this. Hitchhiking is not only possible in the US, but also legal. Many US States have adapted the above code to their own liking, though keeping a similar wording. You can research more about current hitchhiking-related laws in the digihitch USA section.
  • I held up a sign in Japanese: "Kaze o fuku mama, ki no mukoo mama," loosely translated to mean: "Wherever the wind blows, so too will my feelings take me." A folk singer I met thought it would be funny if I tried hitchhiking displaying this old song lyric. It was funny. So funny, in fact, people stopped their cars to take pictures of me, and then drove away.
  • I had been stuck at an entrance ramp for hours [in Belgium]. I was joined by a six foot five fellow hitchhiker carrying what looked like a body bag. A car stopped for us, and the woman inside hit the button to lower the passenger side window. She peered out of the opening at us. "Are you dangerous?" I shrugged my shoulders and said "Not me," turning to my fellow hitchhiker, "Are you?" "No." She let us into the car. She was a child psychologist, specializing in abnormal psychology, claiming she could tell by our body language during the response that we were, indeed safe.
  • During the past fifteen years I've hitchhiked through over a dozen countries, spending months at a time begging rides. Everyone from grandmothers to soccer hooligans have stopped for me. Rebels pick me up to bond with a fellow outlier of the system, while law and order types give rides to keep me from harm, or to make sure I cause none. I've been treated to steak dinners, been given free lodging, plenty of free advice and even some cash. I've slept in driver's mansions, in rest stops, and in road side culverts. I've traveled at 150mph with an executive in a new Mercedes across the German autobahn, and I've limped through the hills of central Japan in a sputtering Toyota van with a Japanese rhythm and blues band.

Best gateway to hostels


Hostels range in price but they are usually the cheapest lodging option in most cities. You can often find a bed in mega-cities for less than $20. A hostel has very little to do with youth, although there is still a network of official youth hostels, which anyone of any age can use. A hostel is simply a hotel where you sleep in a shared bedroom, or a dorm, instead of a private room. Shared facilities mean cheap digs. (The exception is South and Southeast Asia where private rooms are as cheap as hostels). Hostels also often have a shared kitchen which residents can use. This means hostels are very social places with lots of interaction between travelers.

Cool Tools previously reviewed the hostel booking site, but that site has fallen a bit behind the times after a change in ownership. Much better these days, with thousands of more hostels in their database, and a lot more friendly mojo, is Hostelz. It is the most complete and useable portal for global hostelling.

Started by a backpacker, the web site Hostelz list some 22,000 hostels and guest houses around the world. They encourage independent reviews by users and don’t censor negative reviews. In addition, they hire backpackers $7 to officially review hostels for the site. Hostelz graciously provides you with the complete contact and location information of each hostel so you can book a room yourself. But Hostelz also provides the option to book a room through them at the same price. Since they do not charge hostels to be listed, this booking option provides their only income, which so far is enough to keep the site going.

Hostels are a great, often overlooked resource, and Hostelz is your best bet for finding one. — KK

Cheapest homestays

Couchsurfing * Airbnb

I travel a lot. I hope to never book a hotel room again. I stay in people’s homes, arranged either by couchsurfing or Airbnb.

While I was traveling through Europe as a student I got tired of staying with other American travelers in hostels. I was looking for a more authentic and local experience so I began to stay in homes through Over the years I’ve stayed in about 25 homes. Once you sign up you can search for locations and hosts with similar philosophy, interests, and traveling tendencies. There is no payment for sleeping on whatever couch/bed/futon is provided. To show my gratitude I make it a rule to cook a meal for my hosts. I’ve also reciprocated the generosity by hosting couchsurfers in my homes. CS runs on trust, interests and positive reviews. Since there is no payment, the main reason to join is to meet like-minded people who have stories and camaraderie to share. As long as you have a detailed profile, you will attract and find people with similar interests. Being a female traveler has never been an issue since I normally travel with a friend, or I choose to stay with primarily female hosts. I have met some of my best travel companions and friends through CS. You can find couchsurfing all over the world now.

Now that I am working I can also use Airbnb. Airbnb offers an elegant interface and large database of ordinary to extraordinary places to stay all around the world, at a reasonable price. The service they offer is the curation of unique places, as well as increased security. Part of why some people will stay in an Airbnb and not a couch on CS is because Airbnb treats security as its primary financial and legal liability. Airbnb offers a 24-hour hotline, secure payment platform, identity verification, verified photographers and profile reviews. They also show whether you have mutual friends with the host, which makes me more inclined to stay with them. I’ve discovered some unbelievably beautiful and unique places that I otherwise would never have had access to at a price lower than a conventional hotel, almost by two or three fold ($50 vs. $100-150).

Both CouchSurfing and Airbnb offer “local experiences” and a more affordable way to travel. However, CS requires more of a commitment to engage with your host (share stories, eat a meal together) in exchange for free board vs. Airbnb, which requires payment yet is more luxurious and less personal. Think of it as the difference between getting a ride in a taxi (Airbnb), vs. from a rideshare (Couchsurf). In the cab you sit in the back and you don’t need to talk to the driver if you don’t want to, while the rideshare is more intimate so you sit up front and chat.

When deciding which service I want to use, I always ask myself: Do I want surprise or security? CS always surprises me with interesting people and stories, while Airbnb offers local luxury at an affordable price. — Ting Kelly

Cool Tools

Asia Travel Prices/Proven Online Businesses/Flight Deals

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.

Travel Prices Spiking in Asia

We reported just a few weeks ago that Asia’s travel recovery was slower than the rest of the world, but that is changing fast as Chinese travelers—who weren’t able to go anywhere for nearly three years—are flooding back into the market. If you’re headed to a place where they’re returning, such as Bali, Bangkok, Phuket and Singapore, get ready for some sticker shock in hotel and flight prices.

Common Online Business Ventures

Before remote working for big companies became a thing, most digital nomads were self-employed, working online for themselves. There are probably 100+ ways to make a buck online, but this rundown of 20 online business ideas that actually work from Ahrefs is a solid list of what the majority of those people you see in international co-working spaces are doing. Just understand that most ventures take two or three years to reach solid income levels, so ideally you start one as a side hustle rather than quitting your job and going all-in.

Kevin Kelly’s Outlook

One of the Nomadico co-founders is the legendary futurist (and avid traveler) Kevin Kelly. Here's a terrific interview he did on Substack newsletter Noahopinion. They discuss the intersection of technology and the environment, the two sides of growth, potentially great future jobs, and the AI developments we'll be arguing about for the next 10 decades. "The relationship AIs will have with us will tend towards being partners, assistants, and pets, rather than gods. This first round of primitive AI agents like ChatGPT and Dalle are best thought of as universal interns."

Finding Cheap Flight Deals

Kevin recommends this 15-minute video from Drew Binsky on finding cheap flight deals every time you fly. I use a lot of these tips regularly but I found some sources I didn’t know about before that I’ll be trying out next time I’m booking. Just know that Scott’s Cheap Flights (US departures only) has changed its name to

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Subjective Effect Index/AI hotel reviews/Dream stream

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Descriptions of altered states

The Subjective Effect Index currently has 235 descriptions of sensory, cognitive and physical effects that may occur under the influence of psychedelics. There's also a really cool and appropriately trippy replications gallery that has artistic representations of hallucinatory effects. Whether you're trying to find a name for something you've experienced in a drug trip or just curious, this website is informative and invaluable. — CD

AI hotel reviews

Insteading of poring over dozens or hundreds of Tripadvisor reviews of a hotel, copy the Tripadvisor URL of the hotel into this website and it will generate a summary of the general sentiment of the hotel. You can select from different summary styles, like Personal Travel Advisor, Detail Orientated, Sarcastic, or Super Critical. — MF

Dream streaming

Claudia is too modest to mention it, but every night she records her dreams and uses the summary of her dream as a prompt to help an AI paint her daily dream. She calls it her Dream Stream on Instagram. I think this combination is a brilliant new genre, and a fabulous use of the new tools. Plus her summary dreams are sometimes profound. — KK

Soothing sound podcast

I usually listen to binaural beats as focus music, but lately I've preferred listening to the Slow Radio BBC podcast while I work. Each episode is an immersive soundscape of nature, animals and people. You can be transported to a fishing port in a foreign land or hear a choir singing in Harlem on a Sunday or listen to elephants wallowing in the mud in Zimbabwe. It is the sounds of life slowed down and it's incredibly soothing. — CD

Non-Tesla electric cars

EVs, like Teslas, are fantastic! But there are a lot of other electric cars besides Teslas. We love our small Chevy Bolt all electric. We’ve not been to a gas station for 5 years. (One unexpected benefit, no smog testing needed!) To give you an idea of the variety of EVs now available, Wired has a helpful roundup of 17 brand new EVs being introduced in 2023. The choices will continue to deepen. — KK

Japanese passenger train videos

If you want to experience Japanese overnight train rides without actually being there, the best way is to watch this YouTube channel. An anonymous creator produces 15-20 minute videos that showcase the amenities of sleeper trains in Japan. The videos provide an inside look at the lounge cars, dining cars, showers, snacks, and beds on board the trains. The creator has also produced a video that details the experience of staying in a $14 per night ninja and geisha themed capsule hotel in Osaka. — MF

Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Cool Tools


Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Best sewing skills guide

New Complete Guide to Sewing

When a struggling new fashion-designer needs to hone their sewing skills, Project Runway guru Tim Gunn steers them to this Reader’s Digest Guide to Sewing. It’s got the best, clearest, and most complete introduction to 95% of the sewing skills you’ll ever need. It’s practical and methodical in its instructions. Not as good as grandma, but anyone will be able to pick up stitches, cutting and machine use from it. -- KK

Easy threading needles

Spiral Eye Needles

These ingenious sewing needles can be threaded blindfolded. You pull the thread into a spiral from the side, and for the most part the thread will remain in the eye as you sew. That is not true for calyx eye needles (invented a hundred years ago) as a solution to the vexing problem of threading the eye. It’s as easy for the thread to slip out of the open slot at the end of the calyx needle as it is to slip in, and this wavering can fray the thread. The spiral eye needle doesn’t snag, but in my experience it will occasionally let the thread slip out. Expert sewers might find that annoying. It is dead simple to slip back on, and the thread is not frayed, so I can put up with that small inconvenience.

Spiral Eye needles are expensive: $5 each. However they should last a lifetime if you don’t lose track of them (they look very similar to regular sewing needles). What I really want is a side-threading sewing-machine needle. Schmetz makes some in limited sizes, but of a less ingenious design. -- KK

Cheapest portable sewing machine

Brother Sewing Machine

I own, use and occasionally drag around my Brother sewing machine. Like the previous version of this machine recommended in Cool Tools, it’s light, small, cheap and reliable. I use it for occasional household work and mostly to make repairs to uniforms and sew on patches. It can do ten stitches and that’s more than enough for me. Especially handy is the buttonholer. This little box, in combination with a beginner’s sewing book, can help you do everything that you can imagine short of embroidery. It has held up most admirably considering how much I use it. -- Angus mac Lir

Sag-B-Gone Jean Button

Larissa Holland of mmmcrafts came up with a good solution for people who don’t like belts or suspenders and also don’t like it when their jeans start to stretch and get saggy as the day goes on: a “sagb-gone” button! The no sew dungaree buttons are available on Amazon. -- Mark Frauenfelder

Superior textile cutter

Engel Hot Knife

The Engel Hot Knife is fantastic for cutting and sealing synthetic ropes and textiles in one hot cut. Particularly when making kites, bags, tents, or anything with textiles this is faster by a factor of 10 than scissors, more accurate, and also seals the edges against fraying. It has two blade types, one long and arced, great for fast large things, one pointed and small for detail work. The fact it has a work light directed at the blade is a tremendous detail only the German’s would have thought of including. I use it for other things as well, like sealing plastic bags and various plastic welding jobs. This is probably a misuse of the tool, but periodically I find that useful. I own two of these, and have owned them for 5+ years, and I love them. -- Saul GriffithPU

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Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Hold anything mount


I have been using this little vise since my interest in electronics was sparked by Make and Before I was just using the standard two-arm alligator-clip and magnifying glass holder from Xacto.

The Panavise is much more stable, adjustable and appropriate for breadboard soldering. It has the little grooves on the arms that your board can slip right into and a nice heavy base which means it doesn't need to be attached to a table if you like to move where you work around a bit. I've built several kits and designs of my own using this little vise. I am comfortable knowing *before* I start any project that this is one problem I am not going to have to solve. -- David Van der Voort

Little lifters

Bench Cookies

I discovered Bench Cookies at the Rockler woodworking store more than a year ago. Billed as "work grippers," they have smooth plastic sides and textured rubber surfaces on top and bottom. You just place them under objects you're sanding, sawing or painting to hold the object in place. There's no clamping or screwing involved. They're amazing. Wood chips and dust have no effect - they do exactly what they're supposed to. So instead of rummaging for scraps of wood or an old book or two to prop up a project, I reach for bench cookies.

I took them to the print shop where I do intaglio printing. Inking and wiping a large copper or zinc plate on a glass table used to be a nightmare - bench cookies make it a breeze. They hold the plate in place and I can pick it up and turn it as I work, and since it's off the table I can wipe the edges, too. I don't think Rockler had any idea how useful they'd be in an art studio. Their great function and inexpensive price make them a perfect present for anyone that does any kind of project. Turns out Rockler's even made some nice black ones now for uses outside the workshop, like holding up your turntable, keeping it stable and providing vibration reduction. -- Jeff Woodbury

Quick jigs

Lego Baseplate Jigs

Because Lego blocks are machined to extremely high tolerances, you can use them for quick, cheap but very accurate jigs, perfect for gluing, squaring, molding, etc. Here is an example of how Jef Raskin, who taught me the trick, used them. He built up the exact jig positions by stacking bricks of various thicknesses. In the case shown below he built up a jig to square up wings on his radio control model airplanes. All you need is the large Lego baseplate glued to a heavy duty flat foundation. -- KK

Crafting assistant

Third Hand

The "Third Hand" is a low cost helper that has been an indispensable assistant for many of my projects in electronics. It holds circuit boards in place as you put in components, or if you need to solder delicate parts which require a steady hand (sometimes, more than two) it gives you a few more. It's also pretty tough to find someone to help you at 3am when most of the important work seems to happen. Two adjustable metal clips hold in your circuit boards (or whatever else) and a magnifying glass gives you a little zoom in action for the really tricky constructions. Perhaps I anthropomorphize useful things, but on an otherwise cold work bench, the Third Hand looks like a little robot pal with claws raised, always eager to help. -- Phillip Torrone

Quick-release clamping

Bessey Ratcheting Spring Clamps

A significant improvement to the original screw clamp, these ratcheting spring clamps feature quick releases similar to a vice grip. You can hold your project in place with one hand and attach the clamp with the other -- all with one squeeze of a trigger. Allows you to spend more time on your project and less time screwing around (...and around, and around).

We purchased two of the four-inch clamps at Lowe's about a year ago and use them a lot in our boat repairs. In the last month, they've come in handy on two projects: to hold an awkward-shaped piece of fiberglass in place while we trimmed it; and to clamp some teak to the workbench so that it could be sanded. We have also used them to attach a straightedge to 4x8 pieces of plywood to provide a cutting guide.

We don't normally take the clamps with us out to sea (or let any of our tools get wet for that matter) so they should hold up fine. The clamps are made out of heavy duty resin, so they should never rust; this also explains why they're so lightweight, especially compared to old-fashioned metal clamps. -- Nancy Roth

Adjustable woodworker's clamp

Bessey VarioClippix Spring Clamp

While I have a wide variety of woodworking clamps in my workshop, over the past year, this adjustable plastic clamp is the one I've found myself reaching for first. It has an adjustable arm that slides easily on a notched shaft and locks into position when pressure is applied, allowing me to quickly resize a 4" clamp for 1", 2", and 3" jobs. It is feather light with comfortable handles and a decent throat depth. The spring pressure is just right and the pivoting faces provide a firm but soft grip (other spring clamps have narrow pads that contact the surface, causing possible indents on softer wood, for instance). If you're a woodworker you already have plenty of clamps. I've been doing woodworking for almost 50 years and currently have four pipe clamps and about ten old traditional all-steel medium to large screw-type C-clamps. Most have either deep throats or an extra-wide opening. I also have a number of simple metal spring clamps in a variety of sizes. I seldom use them anymore. Since the VarioClippix clamps are adjustable, a single clamp replaces all the various-sized ones, which also reduces the clutter in my workspace. Ever since I spotted them in the Lee Valley catalog, these clamps have singlehandedly handled about 70 percent of my clamping requirements. -- David King

Cool Tools

Powerful Passports/Eternal Spring Locations/Best Electronics Value

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.

How Powerful Is Your Passport?

We love to see throwback websites that do one thing only and present the info in a way that’s easy to comprehend. That’s what you get with the PassportIndex site, where one click can tell you which countries you can get into easily with your passport. With a USA passport (tied with New Zealand in the power rankings) you can get into 173 countries without a visa. That’s one less than S. Korea and many developed EU countries. The king is now the UAE passport, which allows visa-free entry into 181 nations. Extend a warm welcome to anyone you see from any Middle Eastern or Horn of Africa country that’s been at war in the past few decades though: many of them have 45 options or less. - via Mark Frauenfelder

Cost Advantages of a Temperate Climate

I just paid my monthly electric bill in my Mexican highlands city at 6,500 feet and it was a fairly average one of $8 per month. Meanwhile, people living in Playa del Carmen or Puerto Vallarta can easily be on the hook for 20X that amount because of air conditioning costs that drive up the consumption-based price per KWH. We don’t need a closet full of coats, gloves, and boots, but it also rarely gets hot enough to get sweaty. You can find a climate like this throughout Latin America by hitting the right altitude, but popular places tagged as “eternal spring” include much of interior Mexico, Boquete (Panama), Medellin, the coffee region of Colombia, and the highland cities of Ecuador and Peru.

Yes, Hotel Prices are Higher

It’s not your imagination if hotel prices seem crazy high, especially in vacation spots. Out this week is a study from Digitrips showing that hotel prices across the globe are higher than they were in 2019 before the pandemic. The one exception is Asia, where most countries were slow to welcome back tourists and still haven’t fully recovered. Rates in Tokyo and Bangkok are down 20%. Prices in Europe are up 25% though and in the USA they’re up 33% compared to four years ago.

The Best Electronics Value for Travelers

When evaluating the function-to-price ratio of electronics, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better value than the Kindle Fire 8 tablet and e-reader, currently going for $59 at Amazon. (Not a typo!) You can read Kindle books, play games from the Google Play store, and watch videos downloaded from Netflix or Prime that are stored on your own micro SD card. If you have Prime, you’ve got a steady stream of free books, magazines, music, and more available every month. You have to charge it much more frequently than a dedicated Paperwhite e-reader, but it’s a small price to pay for this much functionality on the road.

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What's in my NOW? — Alex Giedt

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I'm a CA kid who is now splitting time between the SF Bay Area and Maine. By trade, I'm an analyst/marketer. I've never been cool but have been lucky to hang with cool people. I like to learn. — Alex Giedt


Buddha Machine
It is a small device (that looks like an old transistor radio). It plays meditative looping ambient music created by the Duo FM3. I have had this thing for years. They are a bit hard to find but they pop up on eBay. I use it when I'm focusing on work or creative pursuits.

SawStop Table Saw
I'm trying to spend more time making. A table saw is perhaps the most versatile tool one can have for woodworking. This one can detect blade contact with skin and shutdown instantly (within milliseconds) thus keeping your fingers attached to your hand.

Leuchtturm Notebook with dot graph paper
Having notebooks around me is a requirement. I remember things better when I physically write them down. I also like to be able to jot down a random thought that is intruding upon what I'm doing so I can refocus without forgetting the random thought. These notebooks aren't the cheapest option but aren't that expensive. They come in a wide variety of colors and have nice paper. I use them continuously.


Evan Dahm’s Website
My favorite graphic novel is Rice Boy, Evan Dahm's fantastic world and wonderful characters. His website has all of his work, including his new stuff. I visit frequently.

Yotam Ottolenghi's Instagram Feed
I love his cookbooks. His IG feed is attainable aspiration. I have made many of his dishes found here. They are all delicious.


How am I wrong? I feel like overconfidence is our greatest threat. The idea of people staking a position and then thinking they are 100% correct no matter what, is truly bonkers to progress. I know I am wrong about something and I actively and continuously try to figure out how I'm wrong. As a marketer, this is pretty elemental to any success.

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Unsweet treat/Pace of Life/Background remover

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Unsweet treat

Instead of having something sweet after dinner every night, I’m eating a small bowl of chia seed pudding. I like its consistency and texture. Here’s a simple recipe. I use the Trader Joe’s brand of chia seeds and oat milk and I add cinnamon, vanilla extract, and roasted sesame seeds. — MF

Figure out your pace of life

I took this mini-quiz to find out if I'm living my life in the "fast lane." The quiz is based on research of how fast pedestrians walk along a 60-foot stretch of pavement in different cities, and how that affects pacing in other aspects of life. Turns out I am somewhere in the middle. I scored a 37. — CD

Background remover

Apple has a built-in "background remover" for images on Macs and iPhones. It’ll blank out backgrounds behind portraits, people and figures. Open a photo on a Mac in Preview, then > Tools > Remove Background. Bingo! You can also do it in the finder by right clicking on the image file, then >Quick Actions > Remove Background. The same trick works on photos on the iPhone. Just press your finger on the figure and you get the option to share a backgroundless version. Great for isolating products, making a headshot photo, or green-screening things to blend into a collage. Just 5 years ago this magic would be considered "AI." Maybe it is. (Let us know if there is built-in mode for windows/android.) — KK

Learn history visually

HistoryMaps uses interactive maps as a timeline so that as you read (and scroll) you can visualize where events in time took place. There’s also a Timelines Game that you can play, and according to the creator of the website there are hidden features and puzzles for added fun. — CD

A different kind of art

The Dutch painter Vemeer is in the news because the few paintings he did in his life are all being gathered into one exhibit. Many scholars contend that his paintings are anachronistically photo-realistic because he was using optical devices to help him paint, centuries before cameras. To prove this theory, a crazy inventor named Tim Jenison spent five years recreating Vermeer’s favorite room including replicating all the furniture, and then figured out a way Vermeer could have used two mirrors (one concave) to project the image. Tim then spent one year using optics to precisely recreate Vermeer’s painting stroke by stroke – even though he had never painted before. It’s an epic journey of ingenuity and utterly mad obsessiveness. The whole story is told in an amazing 2014 documentary Tim’s Vermeer. (On YouTube for free, or on paid streaming services.) — KK

Wikipedian curiosities

My friend Jean told me about The Cabinet of Wikipedian Curiosities, a web page of interesting bits, lists, and links culled from the open source encyclopedia. 


— MF

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Epoxy Tools Utility Mat

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Epoxy Tools Utility Mat

Keith Decent has come up with a really clever bit o’ kit for makers who pour a lot of casting resin. It’s a silicone work mat that goes beneath your pours. Any overspill flows into molds in the mat and any excess in your cup goes into the molds, too. The mat has molds for various scrappers, stirring sticks, painting stand-offs, plastic washers, and the like.

Adhesives for Mixed Media and Paper Art

In this Mixed Media Masters video, artist Spider Graham goes over many of the glues used for mixed media and paper-based art. He discusses glue sticksglue pensPVA gluesrubber cementglue dots, and spray adhesives. While a lot of it ultimately comes down to personal preference and working styles, there are best cases for certain products, like spray adhesives are great for covering large areas of material and glue dots for use on tissue paper which might otherwise wrinkle or tear. [H/t Sean W. Bohan]

Considerations for Setting Up a Small Home Workspace

In this “Ask Adam” segment, Adam Savage is asked what the considerations are in setting up a small hobby workspace. As usual, he has some smart takes, like deciding on what machine tools you need and then seeing how small you can get them (e.g. instead of getting a floor-standing drill press, you can get a benchtop press). He also says you probably don’t need as big of a workbench as you think you do and it definitively doesn’t need to be very deep (his are never more than 24″ of depth). He also cautions though that you need to make sure, especially in a small shop, that you have a good enough storage system for everything so that the benchtop doesn’t end up becoming a storage place (something I am terrible about!).

In the video, Adam also drops a great idea for a TV show. He says he’d love to see a show, like Kitchen Nightmares, where a well-known maker goes around visiting interesting, talented makers with terrible shops and works with them to do a makerspace makeover. He throws it out there because he doesn’t want to do it himself, he just wants to watch it. Me, too! Somebody, make this show!

Radio-Interconnected Fire Alarms

As I mentioned in the last newsletter, well-known maker, Andy Birkey, had a fire in his workshop that destroyed it completely. He’s now starting to dig out from the rubble to rebuild his work life. As you might imagine, in rebuilding, Andy is now a little preoccupied with fire safety going forward. In a recent Instagram Reel update on his shop rebuild (follow him as he reports on his progress), he recommends a fire and CO2 alarm system from X-Sense. It is an RF network of 6 detectors that talk to each other (with a network of up to 24 possible). If he'd had a couple of these in his shop and some in his house, they would’ve alerted him early to the fire and possibly saved some or all of his garage shop. These 6 detectors aren't cheap (currently $229 with coupon), but as he points out in the video, shops aren't cheap, either.

Take a Photo Inventory of Your Shop

Here’s another great tip from Andy Birkey. Get out your camera (do it today) and take (he recommends) 50 photos of everything in your workspace. Open up all of the cabinets and drawers, photograph as much of your stuff as possible. Store those photos in the Cloud. Go ahead and do it in your house, too. Then, set a calendar reminder for 6 months (a year?), and do the process over again. As he says, he would give anything to have done that in his shop. Such a photographic inventory would make an insurance claim clearly documented and that much more accurate.

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Getting Paid to Move/Stopovers/2023 Nomad Conferences

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.

The Remote Work Hotspot of… Tulsa?

How does it work out when a city actually pays remote workers to relocate there? Apparently quite well, even when it’s a place that normally would attract close to zero of them. Tulsa, Oklahoma (USA) paid qualified applicants $10,000 to move there and stick around. More than 2,000 people took them up on the offer. “The remote workers who moved to Tulsa have a higher standard of living than they had before, they’re engaged in their new community, and most plan to stay.”  Read the full Harvard Business Review article here.

Details on Spain’s Digital Nomad Visa

Spain’s digital nomad visa is now officially open for applications. Here are all the requirements for what you’d have to prove. Here are the main requirements though: a monthly income of 2X the minimum wage, a clean police record, health insurance, a university degree or three years of experience, and documentation showing your job can be done remotely.

Build an Airline Stopover Into Your Next Trip

Which airlines are offering a stopover program these days? I recently researched and posted an update here and while most are simply a “you won’t pay extra for your broken-up flight” offering, the ones from Turkey, Dubai, and Abu Dhabi throw in some enticing extras if you stick around. The other option is to create your own: fly into a city on a long-haul airline and out on a local budget airline, putting some nights in between the two. This works especially well if the last leg is a budget airline flight in a destination where there’s lots of local competition, such as in Southeast Asia, Europe, Mexico, or Colombia.

Upcoming Nomad Conferences

Want to try out a conference full of working travelers? There's one next week in Madeira, but assuming you'd like more time to plan, here are a few others in the first half of the year:

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Permission Slip/Magformers/Signs of healing

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Easy personal info opt-out

If you want companies to stop selling your personal information, install this app, called Permission Slip, from Consumer Reports. It automates the task of sending out email requests to companies that sell information it collects about you to data brokers. In minutes, the app sent out 18 requests on my behalf. The app’s data dashboard said it handled 54 emails and saved me 36 hours. — MF

Maker set for small kids

Construction toys – like Legos – are among the best toys because they are so open ended, infinite in form, satisfying and durable. But many construction sets need nimble fingers. Magnetized sets are better for younger kids because the magnets aid the building. The best magnetic construction toys for the youngest toddlers are Magformers, which are basically large outlines of shapes, whose holes make them super easy to grip, while the magnets ensure they will easily stick together. They are fun enough that older kids build with them too. Like Legos we keep adding to our set so that by now we have enough pieces to let several kids play at once. — KK

9 uncomfortable signs of healing

This animated psychology video outlines the process of healing — which can be very uncomfortable. Examples of healing include acknowledgement of painful emotions, expressing boundaries, and acceptance that healing is not a linear experience. Pain will continue to resurface, but eventually less often. I think it’s a lovely video and reminder that the path to growth is a balance of success and failure. — CD

Sit-up spatula

I recently purchased the Chopula spatula after reading Yitah Wu’s review about it on our website, Cool Tools. Yitah had praised its flexibility and unique shape, which makes it easier to flip and cut food in the pan. After trying it out for myself, I agree with Yitah’s assessment. The spatula's design allows me to easily maneuver food while cooking, and I appreciate the fact that I can set it down on the counter without the business end touching the surface. It has quickly become my go-to spatula. — MF

Dream interpreter AI

I’m a big proponent of learning to interpret your own dreams (and I like to write about it), but this Dream Interpreter AI is fun to play with. I’ve been feeding my dream accounts to it and I’ve noticed that it’s pretty good at translating the emotional tone in my writing. It mirrors back my feelings using different words, and that helps to give my dreams a new perspective. — CD

Understanding lactose tolerance

My favorite food science guru, Adam Ragusea, explains what science currently knows about lactose tolerance and lactose intolerance. It’s way more complicated than it appears, but given how prevalent lactose food is, you’ll want to watch/listen to this video/podcast on “Why some people can eat dairy and others can’t.” — KK

Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

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Alex Marcy, CEO of Corso Systems

Alex Marcy is the founder and CEO of Corso Systems, an integration engineering firm that specializes in manufacturing systems and prioritizes building a diverse team prepared to solve complex problems. You can find him on Twitter @alexmarcy.

0:00 - Intro
0:45 - Ignition Maker Edition
9:05 - Arduino Portenta Machine Control
15:16 - Watts Hot Water Recirculating Pump
19:00 - Scuddles waterproof blanket
21:52 - Corso Systems

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Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Flexible epoxy

3M Scotch-Weld 3532

This is as close to “bombproof” as I have found a glue to be. It seems to stick to just about anything, although 3M says it’s for metals and plastics. I have used it for gluing D-rings - and other things - into my whitewater canoes.

The rings have been able to hold me boiling through big rapids, often upside-down. For this application the glue joint needs to be flexible and waterproof...and this stuff hasn’t ever failed me. How it is different from epoxy: Fills gaps. Flexes under stress without giving away. Sticks to smooth plastics like PVC or vinyl. Seems a LOT stronger than epoxies. You’ll have to find this in a specialty store or order it over the web. Shelf life is 1 year. — Fen Sartorius

Mixes up epoxy

3M Scotch-Weld EPX Applicator

I always used to buy epoxy locally in disposable dispensers that are supposed to dispense equal ratios of the components. The dispensers never work that well: one side always starts to move first and then to get a reasonably equal mix I have to mix up a lot more than I need.

The 3M duo-pack adhesives are sold separately from the dispenser. Because the dispenser is not disposable, it can be a decently built tool, like a caulk gun for epoxy.

The way it works is that you slip on the adhesive cartridge. The applicator has a plunger that pushes up the adhesive cartridge. Think caulk gun. The epoxy comes in double tubes like a doubled tube of caulk. When an adhesive has a different mixing ratio the tubes in the cartridge have different diameters. And there is a different plunger that fits in the tube. The supported mixing ratios are 1:1, 1:2 and 1:10 because those are the ratios of adhesives available. When you buy the system you get the first two plungers, but the 1:10 plunger is sold separately as it is used only for DP-8005 and DP-8010, I think. Just like a caulk gun you can, but you need not remove the adhesive cartridge between uses. The gun stays clean. There is no need to clean it. (Unlike a caulk gun, the adhesive doesn’t leak out the back and get on the gun.)

In fact, if you’re not so worried about waste there’s even a further convenience: static mixing nozzles. These nozzles attach to the end of the epoxy tube and do all the mixing for you so that it really works like a caulk gun: what comes out is ready to use, completely mixed epoxy.

But even if you don’t use the somewhat wasteful mixing nozzles you can still use the gun to extrude the correct ratio mix of 3M adhesive products and then hand mix. I have been able to mix up just the amount of epoxy I need when with the old system I would have mixed ten times what I needed. (No exaggeration here.)

I first got this system because I was trying to glue zinc-plated magnets to polyethylene. I tried regular epoxy. It doesn’t stick well to either one of these materials. There are two adhesives that I think are of particular note in the 3M lineup.

The DP-190 (which I have only used a tiny bit) is supposed to stick to everything except the “low surface energy” plastics. I saw that it is recommended for use with the zinc-plated rare earth magnets (by the magnet sellers). The DP-8005 is designed to stick to low surface energy plastics. I got it for my application.

I also got a small mat made out of teflon because nothing is supposed to stick to that. This was great for repairs using epoxy. I repaired something and laid it on the teflon and it peeled right off after it was cured.

According to 3M, epoxy shelf life is less than a couple years, so you don’t want to buy a lifetime supply at any given time. The shelf life of DP-8005 is only 6 months. The shelf life of the Scotch-Weld Two Part Urethane is 1 year. — Adrian M.

McMaster-Carr sells a very similar product much cheaper, half the cost, for $23. It does not use 3M cartridges. I have had good experiences with Lord adhesives that this gun does use. — KK

Best source for magnets


I have been buying Neodymium Iron Boron (NIB) super magnets for years. Back then, Wondermagnets was the only source for hobbyists and they had quite a have changed. For the past five years, I have been ordering my magnets from “Mr. George the SuperMagnetMan,” unequivocally the best source today. His prices are the best on the net. His selection is vast: no one else has the stock he has or the variations in size of commonly available shapes. This is no exaggeration or hype. He’s got stuff you can’t get anywhere else and is constantly adding new items, like axially- and diametrically-magnetized NIB wedding rings and radially-magnetized ring magnets. He has magnets so large they are dangerous (fortunately he has put videos on YouTube that show you how to safely handle these monsters — with large leather welding gloves and a special wooden wedge and a 2×4!). He also sells magnetic hooks, pyramid shaped magnets, magnetic jewelry, teflon coated magnets, heart, star, and triangle magnets. You can even get powdered magnets that act like iron filings on steroids! You name it he’s got it. Most magnets are N45-N50 grade, the highest strength you can buy.

Some of the products I have ordered are the magnet powders, radially-magnetized ring magnet, various size sphere magnets, conical magnets, large rectangular magnets, cubes, and many others. Shipping charges are reasonable. Service is great. One time I ordered a bunch of stuff and never completely checked what I got. I went to use one of the magnets months later and found out it was the wrong size. He sent me the right size in the mail a few days after I emailed him.

Mr. George seems like a pretty cool dude, too. An electrical engineer, Mr. George develops magnet products himself and caters to other engineers, inventors, and hobbyists. He can have custom magnets made to order. He has also put up a series of educational videos on YouTube and has done a lot of work with kids. He has a saying, something like, “Give a kid a magnet and you have a friend for life.” -- Laral

A strong hold on brake fluid

Seal-All Adhesive & Sealant

Like other adhesives, this one can be used on metals, glass, wood and leather, but it is the only household product I have ever used that will withstand constant exposure to gasoline and/or brake fluid. J-B-WELD will work in some cases, but you have to thoroughly clean and dry the surface or it will fail. Seal-All will seal a leak in a master cylinder-reservoir (non-pressure side) even if you apply it over brake fluid that has already wept out onto the surface. I have also used it to seal an old Coleman fuel tank, and also a weeping fuel fitting on the bottom of a gasoline tank on my bike. This stuff is not what I would consider a toolbox item, but I ride my bike far from home on occasion, and this is one of the items I like to keep in the “just-in-case” bag. — Jackie Gregory

Squeezes tubes dry

Tube-Grip Dispensing Plier

This Tube-Grip easily squeeze tubes of adhesive, calk, sealant, etc. with more precision, less waste with better finished results than other methods. Learning curve is short for starting and stopping applications. Tubes are squeezed beginning from the tube’s bottom seam, and 96% use of product efficiency is claimed. Very thrifty.

Mechanical advantage is claimed to be ten times more than by hand whether gripping vs. pinching. Less fatigue, more control. Concentration on product flow is enhanced because less physical effort is used during application. Tube squeezers for toothpaste and art paint are a different category. Some calling projects are too small for standard tubes of calk, or are in confined areas where a large gun won’t fit.

Tent seam sealing with drippy sealer is controlled better with whole arm movements and a hand grip vs. finger squeezing. I’ve used this 2” dispensing plier for at least 5-years and would not consider many squeeze tube projects without it. A 2 1/2” model also exists. — David McKenzie

The Technium

Cringeworthy in the Future

The New York Times asked me (and others) to suggest some things our descendents might be embarrassed about in the future. Things we do now, that might make future generations cringe. Good question! My reply is this short list, which I may add to later as I think of them. Their full list was published here as Future Cringe on Jan 27, 2023.

Having your first name decided by your parents will be as unfashionable as having them pick who you marry.

Believing the amount you pay in taxes should be private.

Eating dead animals.

Not being able to have two spouses at once.

Fearing human clones. (They are serial twins.)

Wrapping food in plastic.

Thinking you needed permission to visit another country.

Getting off the summer from school.

Carrying a screen around in our pockets.

Imprisoning people for life.

Having daylight saving time, changing clocks twice a year.

Objecting to face recognition by machines.

Wanting to live in space.

Accepting bombs in war as OK.

Dying from cancer.

In the far future, we'll be embarrassed that people insisted to have their deceased bodies buried in the ground.

Cool Tools

Kern Kelly, STEAM Teacher

Starting his teaching career in New Zealand, Kern Kelley is the STEAM Teacher at RSU 19 in central Maine. He has provided support to educators for over two decades and has conducted professional development events across the globe. He advises a student produced technology support show for the Maine Dept. of Education found at He has brought his student presenters, the MLTI Student Leadership Ambassadors of Maine to numerous conferences around and authored the Google Apps Guidebook.

0:00 - Intro
1:56 - Nomatic traveler backpack
5:32 - Budi USB adapter
8:35 - Root iRobot coding tool
13:20 - Flashforge Finder 3 3D printer
22:04 - Student Leadership Ambassadors of Maine

To sign up to be a guest on the show, please fill out this form.

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Backyard Birds

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, but the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Intelligently designed bird feeder

Effort-Less Bird Feeder

The Effort-Less birdfeeder is a gravity-fed dispenser that is easy to fill and clean, holds a lot of seed, provides a second lower tray for spillage for birds that typically feed on the ground. It is elegant, durable, and allows large numbers of birds to feed peacefully for long periods of time. It has an effective squirrel guard and is free-standing on a hefty base.

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The quality and design of this simple birdfeeder stand out. The design is a total rethink of many traditional styles that obviates all of the problems with other feeders. The quality is in the myriad thoughtful details of materials, construction and presentation that make it perform perfectly.

All of the parts fit together exquisitely when one follows the extremely clear instructions. Assembly was actually fun and without stress.

We have numerous feeders and fountains for the birds. After introducing the Effort-Less, we have seen a sudden influx of numerous kinds of rare birds, sometimes in large flocks. Not sure if this is coincidence or an overlapping of factors. Nonetheless, the birds are surely making good use of the feeder. We have owned this from spring to the beginning of autumn and it has madenbirdwatching a great pleasure in our lives. – Erica Heftmann

Perfect hummingbird feeder

HummZinger Hummingbird Feeder

There exist a seemingly endless variety of hummingbird feeder designs, and over the years we’ve tried many only to encounter a variety of annoying shortcomings. However, we have finally discovered the perfect feeder: the Aspects HummZinger Hummingbird Feeder. We have been using 4 of these feeders for about 5 years, and are completely satisfied with their design.

Where we live, mold growing inside a hummingbird feeder is a constant problem. Most feeders are extremely difficult to clean due to their vacuum feeding system that requires a narrownecked food reservoir. The HummZinger feeder solves this problem by using a simple bowl reservoir, not a gravity feed. Thus, when you pop off the top you have a completely open container that couldn’t be easier to clean. Another problem is that ants would occasionally find one of our feeders. Once this happens the only solution is to move the feeder and hope they don’t find it in the new location, or add an ant trap, which are hard to find. The HummZinger feeder solves this problem by having an integrated ant trap. Just fill it with water, or let rain do it, and you’ll be ant free. A final problem we’ve experienced with some feeders is that rain water can easily run into the feeding holes, diluting the solution to the point where it no longer attracts the hummingbirds. The HummZinger feeders address this problem by having a raised flowerdesign around each feeding port that diverts much of the rain water. While this isn’t a complete solution, this feature definitely reduces the problem.

The feeders come in 8, 12, and 16 oz sizes, with 3, 4, and 6 feeding ports respectively. The feeders are constructed of an “unbreakable” polycarbonate and come with a lifetime guarantee. We use multiple feeders in the “Mini” 8 oz. size because we find that the eastern Ruby Throated hummingbirds don’t “play well with others”, and too many ports on a single feeder lead to excessive squabbling. However, in the western US, where I have seen swarms of hummers happily sharing a feeder, the 16 oz model may be a better choice.

The only potential fault I can see with these feeders is that even the 16 oz model has much less capacity than many gravity-feed brands, which means that they must be refilled more often. We don’t find this a problem because by the time one of our feeders is empty it is also in need of a cleaning to avoid mold. – Dave King

Best bird attractions

The Backyard Birdfeeder’s Bible

Of the many backyard birdfeeding books on my shelf, this one is my favorite. Serious birders treat it as the best too. It introduced me to some neat tricks – using dried dog food as substitute feed, making suet holders from slab wood, planting small patches of grain as attractors. – KK

Feeds birds, not squirrels

Brome Squirrel Buster Bird Feeder

During the summer, the yard may have held flowers and been bathed in bright sunshine, but the winter can be cold, dark and barren without birds to fly around and liven things up. Wild birds are lively and colorful, and the seed you supply will keep them around and help sustain them through the winter. They are endlessly fascinating to watch and hear, and they really don’t eat very much.

Squirrels, on the other hand eat quite a bit. You don’t need to feed them, but if they can get to your bird feeder, they’ll empty it in no time at all.

Here’s where the Brome Squirrel Buster Plus comes in. The endless battle of wits between Bird Feeding Man and Squirrel is won most of the time by Squirrel. You will start off grossly underestimating the squirrel’s athleticism and sheer persistence. They can jump, and hang, and climb better than you can ever imagine. Happily, the human’s superior intelligence is manifested by many models of “squirrel-proof” bird feeders.

The best of which, especially for the price, is the Brome, made by a company in Canada. Birds, having evolved to be light for ease of flying, perch on the bottom and eat at will. Squirrels, being larger and heavier, weigh the bottom down and close off the openings (thus keeping them from just trying to shake the food out). The quality is high, the pressure is adjustable (to keep out starlings, grackles and other possibly large, unwanted birds) and all the parts are replaceable. It also has a lifetime warranty against squirrel damage. Your bird seed supply will take a long time to run out – the feeder has a large, 3 quart capacity and there will be no thievery. – Matthew Perks

Automatic bird bath filler


I sent one of these to a friend who lives in Tasmania. She has a wonderful assortment of southern hemispherical birds that she likes to feed and provide water for, but she travels on a regular basis, and the birds empty the bath in a day. She tried various home-brew ideas for automatically filling the bird bath, but none really did the trick for her. Also, this one’s the most aesthetically pleasing I could find, as the reservoir sits separate from the bird bath.

I sent her the KozyFill, she set it all up, fine-tuned the height of the various tubes, and voila! She’s got a yard full of happy Eastern rosellas, wattle birds, the occasional cockatoo, and other sundry birds of the Antipodes. Watching the birds beats TV any morning: you’ve got drama, conflict and humor in dazzling color right outside the bedroom window. – Rick Turner

Plans for a homemade automatic bird bath purger-filler by James M. Clark here. –Elon Schoenholz

Cool Tools

Fantastic Round-Up of Hobby Tips for 2022

Gareth’s Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales is published by Cool Tools Lab. To receive the newsletter a week early, sign up here.

Fantastic Round-Up of Hobby Tips for 2022

52 Minitaures has a really useful round-up of tips and tools for tabletop gaming and other types of hobby modeling. Tips include things like using soda/beer can tin as a modeling material, mixing Green Stuff and Milliput, 50/50, to get a more easily workable epoxy putty, keeping the tip on a super glue bottle from drying out by simply not screwing the cap on tight (what!?), using large make-up brushes in modeling for things like drybrushing and weathering, using Pigma Micron pens to add eyeballs to miniatures (something I’ve been doing for years), 3D printing tips, and lots, lots more.

Are High Output Tool Batteries Worth the Extra Dough?

Todd at Project Farm was curious to know if tool batteries sold as “high output” (said to have 50% more power and run cooler) actually live up to their claims and are worth the extra money. Watch the video for more, but bottom line, the answer is No. Todd comes to the conclusion that, unless you’re working in extremely cold conditions, there isn’t enough of a performance increase to justify the added cost.

Reader’s Favorite Tools of 2022

Here are a couple of newsletter readers sharing some of the more memorable tools they employed last year.

Michael Keaton:

“Hanging stuff on drywall can be a real pain.  Those little plastic screw inserts fail if there’s any weight to what you’re hanging.  Other options are molly bolts or toggle bolts.  I’ve always had good luck with toggle bolts (metal ones), but they don’t fit all situations, like when you need a screw head standing out to hang something on. 

Molly bolts  are great, but if the base against the drywall wall starts turning when you turn the screw to expand it, you’re hosed, which seems to happen to me more often than not. 

“The solution is a Molly Bolt Setting Tool like this one on Amazon.  You unscrew the screw a little bit, hook on the tool under the head, squeeze the handle, and it pulls the screw away from the head, expanding the wings to hold the molly bolt in place.  At $15 or so, it it is very handy to have around. 

“In your ‘My Favorite Newsletter Tips of 2022,’ you showed the iFixit electronics driver set.  I’m a fan of Wiha tools and their 65 Piece Micro-Bit Ratchet Set if great.  Comes in a metal box and includes bit driver, extension and rachet.   Can be pricey at around $100, but well worth it.”

My ol’ pal Stefan Jones writes:

”I saw your recommendation for Carhartt work shirts. They make a line of ventilated, sweat-wicking summer shirts that rock. Multiple pockets with Velcro or zippers. Good variety of colors, too. It looks like the specific Force line I have 2 - 3 of is discontinued. This looks very similar to the three-pocket version that is my favorite.

And here is my favorite tool of 2022:

wrote about this in issue #128. It’s Mike Taylor’s hardware kit for 1-2-3 blocks. It allows you to connect blocks in whatever configuration you desire with all of the hardware below the surface. The $11 kit comes with 6 hex-head screws, sized for 1", 2", and 3" attachment, 4 threaded through-hole dowels, a hex key, and a slotted driver head – all housed in a handy little plastic box.

More on the Williams Ratcheting Screw Driver

Paul Cryan writes:

”The cavity in the Williams screwdriver is fairly vast. It doesn’t give me much heartache to break up an inexpensive set of miscellaneous bits from Harbor Freight to fill it. Tonight, I experimented with Williams handle stuffing and found that it can easily hold 6 additional handy bits (hollow hex M2, M2.5, M3, M4; hollow Torx M8, M10) from the HF set to keep the 5 bits it comes with (PH1, PH2, 2 flathead, T15) company. Lots to choose from, and although the screwdriver gets a bit heavier, it rattles less! I was able to stuff even more in there and keep it rattling at all, but that seemed silly after I’d tried it a few times.

Bonus tip: What to do if your ratcheting screwdriver bit is almost long enough to reach the screw inside a recess, but can’t quite reach it because the magnetic bit-holding neck of the screwdriver is too wide? Pop a nylon M3 hex nut (like the type used for mounting electronics) into the ratcheting screwdriver’s open end, slide in the bit you need until it magnetically holds, and VOILA you can get a couple mm further in. If you’ve got a Williams screwdriver, go ahead a toss a few of the nylon hex nuts into the handle cavity so they’re there when you need them!”

Maker Slang

Slang, jargon, and technical terms for the many realms of making things

Hand cramps — Another name for aviation snips (This Old Tony).

Slap chop — A speed painting technique for miniatures where you prime the model black, drybrush it light gray from the top-down, followed by a dusting drybrush of white on edges. Then, you paint your main colors with Citadel Contrast, Army Painter Speed Paint, or other one-coat paint product.

The Big Orange Store - Aka Home Depot (aka Home Despot).

Don’t Forget: Unclassifieds

Do you have a product, service, tool, newsletter, app, book, or anything else you’d like to share with your fellow Gar’s Tips & Tools readers? Consider taking out an unclassified ad here, which will run at the bottom of each issue. Get the word out on what you’re doing and support this publication at the same time. Click here for more details.


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