The Technium

99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice

I have another birthday, and another bunch of unsolicited advice. 


• That thing that made you weird as a kid could you make great as an adult — if you don’t lose it.

• If you have any doubt at all about being able to carry a load in one trip, do yourself a huge favor and make two trips.

• What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. At your funeral people will not recall what you did; they will only remember how you made them feel.

• Recipe for success: under-promise and over-deliver.

• It’s not an apology if it comes with an excuse. It is not a compliment if it comes with a request.

• Jesus, Superman, and Mother Teresa never made art. Only imperfect beings can make art because art begins in what is broken.

• If someone is trying to convince you it’s not a pyramid scheme, it’s a pyramid scheme.

• Learn how to tie a bowline knot. Practice in the dark. With one hand. For the rest of your life you’ll use this knot more times than you would ever believe.

• If something fails where you thought it would fail, that is not a failure.

• Be governed not by the tyranny of the urgent but by the elevation of the important.

• Leave a gate behind you the way you first found it.

• The greatest rewards come from working on something that nobody has a name for. If you possibly can, work where there are no words for what you do.

• A balcony or porch needs to be at least 6 feet (2m) deep or it won’t be used.

• Don’t create things to make money; make money so you can create things. The reward for good work is more work.

• In all things — except love — start with the exit strategy. Prepare for the ending. Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.

• Train employees well enough they could get another job, but treat them well enough so they never want to.

• Don’t aim to have others like you; aim to have them respect you.

• The foundation of maturity: Just because it's not your fault doesn't mean it's not your responsibility.

• A multitude of bad ideas is necessary for one good idea.

• Being wise means having more questions than answers.

• Compliment people behind their back. It’ll come back to you.

• Most overnight successes — in fact any significant successes — take at least 5 years. Budget your life accordingly.

• You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

• Assume anyone asking for your account information for any reason is guilty of scamming you, unless proven innocent. The way to prove innocence is to call them back, or login to your account using numbers or a website that you provide, not them. Don’t release any identifying information while they are contacting you via phone, message or email. You must control the channel.

• Sustained outrage makes you stupid.

• Be strict with yourself and forgiving of others. The reverse is hell for everyone.

• Your best response to an insult is "You're probably right." Often they are.

• The worst evils in history have always been committed by those who truly believed they were combating evil. Beware of combating evil.

• If you can avoid seeking approval of others, your power is limitless.

• When a child asks an endless string of “why?” questions, the smartest reply is, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

• To be wealthy, accumulate all those things that money can’t buy.

• Be the change you wish to see.

• When brainstorming, improvising, jamming with others, you’ll go much further and deeper if you build upon each contribution with a playful “yes — and” example instead of a deflating “no — but” reply.

• Work to become, not to acquire.

• Don’t loan money to a friend unless you are ready to make it a gift.

• On the way to a grand goal, celebrate the smallest victories as if each one were the final goal. No matter where it ends you are victorious.

• Calm is contagious.

• Even a foolish person can still be right about most things. Most conventional wisdom is true.

• Always cut away from yourself.

• Show me your calendar and I will tell you your priorities. Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you where you’re going.
When hitchhiking, look like the person you want to pick you up.

• Contemplating the weaknesses of others is easy; contemplating the weaknesses in yourself is hard, but it pays a much higher reward.

• Worth repeating: measure twice, cut once.

• Your passion in life should fit you exactly; but your purpose in life should exceed you. Work for something much larger than yourself.

• If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.

• When playing Monopoly, spend all you have to buy, barter, or trade for the Orange properties. Don’t bother with Utilities.

• If you borrow something, try to return it in better shape than you received it. Clean it, sharpen it, fill it up.

• Even in the tropics it gets colder at night than you think. Pack warmly.

• To quiet a crowd or a drunk, just whisper.

• Writing down one thing you are grateful for each day is the cheapest possible therapy ever.

• When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re usually right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.

• If you think you saw a mouse, you did. And, if there is one, there are more.

• Money is overrated. Truly new things rarely need an abundance of money. If that was so, billionaires would have a monopoly on inventing new things, and they don’t. Instead almost all breakthroughs are made by those who lack money, because they are forced to rely on their passion, persistence and ingenuity to figure out new ways. Being poor is an advantage in innovation.

• Ignore what others may be thinking of you, because they aren’t.

• Avoid hitting the snooze button. That’s just training you to oversleep.

• Always say less than necessary.

• You are given the gift of life in order to discover what your gift *in* life is. You will complete your mission when you figure out what your mission is. This is not a paradox. This is the way.

• Don’t treat people as bad as they are. Treat them as good as you are.

• It is much easier to change how you think by changing your behavior, than it is to change your behavior by changing how you think. Act out the change you seek.

• You can eat any dessert you want if you take only 3 bites.

• Each time you reach out to people, bring them a blessing; then they’ll be happy to see you when you bring them a problem.

• Bad things can happen fast, but almost all good things happen slowly.

• Don’t worry how or where you begin. As long as you keep moving, your success will be far from where you start.

• When you confront a stuck bolt or screw: righty tighty, lefty loosey.

• If you meet a jerk, overlook them. If you meet jerks everywhere everyday, look deeper into yourself.

• Dance with your hips.

• We are not bodies that temporarily have souls. We are souls that temporarily have bodies.

• You can reduce the annoyance of someone’s stupid belief by increasing your understanding of why they believe it.

• If your goal does not have a schedule, it is a dream.

• All the greatest gains in life — in wealth, relationships, or knowledge —come from the magic of compounding interest — amplifying small steady gains. All you need for abundance is to keep adding 1% more than you subtract on a regular basis.

• The greatest breakthroughs are missed because they look like hard work.

• People can’t remember more than 3 points from a speech.

• I have never met a person I admired who did not read more books than I did.

• The greatest teacher is called “doing”.

• Finite games are played to win or lose. Infinite games are played to keep the game going. Seek out infinite games because they yield infinite rewards.

• Everything is hard before it is easy. The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a stupid idea.

• A problem that can be solved with money is not really a problem.

• When you are stuck, sleep on it. Let your subconscious work for you.

• Your work will be endless, but your time is finite. You cannot limit the work so you must limit your time. Hours are the only thing you can manage.

• To succeed, get other people to pay you; to become wealthy, help other people to succeed.

• Children totally accept — and crave — family rules. “In our family we have a rule for X” is the only excuse a parent needs for setting a family policy. In fact, “I have a rule for X” is the only excuse you need for your own personal policies.

• All guns are loaded.

• Many backward steps are made by standing still.

• This is the best time ever to make something. None of the greatest, coolest creations 20 years from now have been invented yet. You are not late.

• No rain, no rainbow.

• Every person you meet knows an amazing lot about something you know virtually nothing about. Your job is to discover what it is, and it won’t be obvious.

• You don’t marry a person, you marry a family.

• Always give credit, take blame.

• Be frugal in all things, except in your passions splurge.

• When making something, always get a few extras — extra material, extra parts, extra space, extra finishes. The extras serve as backups for mistakes, reduce stress, and fill your inventory for the future. They are the cheapest insurance.

• Something does not need to be perfect to be wonderful. Especially weddings.

• Don't let your email inbox become your to-do list.

• The best way to untangle a knotty tangle is not to “untie” the knots, but to keep pulling the loops apart wider and wider. Just make the mess as big, loose and open as possible. As you open up the knots they will unravel themselves. Works on cords, strings, hoses, yarns, or electronic cables.

• Be a good ancestor. Do something a future generation will thank you for. A simple thing is to plant a tree.

• To combat an adversary, become their friend.

• Take one simple thing — almost anything — but take it extremely seriously, as if it was the only thing in the world, or maybe the entire world is in it — and by taking it seriously you’ll light up the sky.

• History teaches us that in 100 years from now some of the assumptions you believed will turn out to be wrong. A good question to ask yourself today is “What might I be wrong about?”

• Be nice to your children because they are going to choose your nursing home.

• Advice like these are not laws. They are like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.


For more see my previous 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice.

Cool Tools

Tab Snooze/Percussion massager/Radio Garden App

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Snooze browser tabs to read later
Tab Snooze is a free chrome extension that has replaced my Pocket subscription. I can save articles, videos or any webpage and schedule it to reopen as a browser tab whenever I want. Which works better for me because it was always too easy to forget the articles I saved in Pocket. — CD

Soothe sore muscles
I bought this $55 Actigun percussion massager after my neighbor raved about hers. Instead of just buzzing like most vibrating massagers, a percussion massager rapidly beats your muscles with a hard rubber ball (or other included attachment). It works wonders on my calves, which often get sore because I walk at least five miles every day on a treadmill desk. One day a couple of weeks ago I foolishly wore rubber sandals on the treadmill and my calves were so sore the next day I could hardly walk. A few minutes with this massager made them feel much better. — MF

Radio Garden App
In a past issue of Recomendo I recommended the Radio Garden website, which plays radio station feeds from all over the world. Reader Chris let me know that Radio Garden now has apps for Android and iOS. The functionality of the apps is the same as the website. Chris says,  “Basically it’s an interactive map of the world with indicators for thousands of radio stations. You click on one of the green dots and suddenly you’re listening to radio from that part of the world. The sound quality is remarkably good and there are a number of features to enhance the listening experience. I’ve spent hours listening to music from Africa, the Mideast, and Asia already. I must say it’s one of the coolest apps I’ve come across in quite some time. Check it out if you haven’t already.” — MF

Prescription dive mask
I wish I had realized years ago that you can get scuba masks with inexpensive prescription lenses. My wife needs heavy duty glasses, with severe -10 corrections, and was otherwise blind underwater. But she got a great simple diving mask with -10 lenses for $60. This Promate Slender Mask is available with Rx lenses from GetWetStore. Now she can snorkel with the rest of us. — KK

Hidden iPhone scanner
I recently realized my updated iOS has a scanner hidden within my Notes app. It works just as good as the paid subscription app I previously recommended. All you have to do is create a new note in your Notes app and above the keyboard you will find a row of icons, one of which is a camera icon. Select the camera icon and you’ll find the option to “Scan Documents.” Further instructions here. — CD

Best label maker
Two kinds of people in the world: those who put labels on things and those who don’t. I am a labeler. I’ve long had a Brother battery-powered portable labeler, but the new Brother PTD450 is even better because it can connect to my computer via USB, which I find much easier to use if I have a lot of labels to make. Just import the text. All Brothers use the same P-Touch family of waterproof tapes in multi-colors and widths. — KK

Cool Tools

Vanishing Asia Kickstarter


In a break from our regular programming, I’d like to tell you about something big I’ve been working on for 40 years. It’s not quite a cool tool, except in its capacity to substitute for expensive travel expeditions.

For the past 40 years I have been photographing the disappearing traditions of Asia. I’ve traveled to obscure festivals and into remote hamlets at the end of the road in 35 countries from Turkey in the west and Japan in the east, and everywhere in between. It was like traveling in a time machine in a century before everything was the same. In this old world of Asia, everything was different, and I’ve put all this wonder in one giant book.


I’ve captured those thousands of ways of being different in my project called Vanishing Asia. This book is 1,000 pages long and so oversized that I could not fit it on my lap so I had to divide it into 3 volumes. This 3-volume set contains 9,000 images (and 9,000 captions) and will take you on a trip few have seen. In fact, I can guarantee you that there is no book like this anywhere in the world. It’s an experience much like going back in time for an adventure of exploration, but from your home.

There is also a utility to this mammoth work. Our modern world runs on “thinking different", which is increasingly difficult to do when we are all connected together 24/7. This book, Vanishing Asia, is an aid to thinking different. In its thousand pages are thousands of alternative ways of doing things. To create a new graphic design, I would pay attention to the hand-painted street graphics in India. To design futuristic uniforms for a science fiction world, I would look to the classical fashions of Japanese monks. To invent a new one-person electric vehicle, I’d study the mini-carts on the streets of Indonesia. To fabricate a modern eco-friendly home interior, I’d investigate the wooden architecture of the Dong houses in China. To conjure up the coolest live performance spectacle, I’d watch the elephant processions of Kerala, India. These and many more examples of the new-New, thinly disguised as the old, are displayed in my book. I made this book to help transmit this ancient richness into the future. The abundance of textures, materials, designs, styles, rituals, colors, habits, motifs, and patterns is stunning, and available to all who dive into it.


This week I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of this massive 3-volume set. I am trying to maximize the number of readers, rather than maximizing revenue, so the Kickstarter offers a steep discount on the eventual retail price ($300) of the books. The Kickstarter rewards are constructed so that the best discounts are given to the earliest backers, with batches of rewards getting slightly less discounted as they are claimed. As of today 200 of the next-best discount of $220 are available but those may be sold out in a few more days.

More details of the book, and a video trailer I made are available on the Vanishing Asia Kickstarter page. I hope you will join me on this adventure and back the book.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Ariel Waldman

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Ariel Waldman is the chair of the council for NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. As PI, she led an expedition to Antarctica to film microscopic life under the ice. She is a National Geographic Explorer and received an honor from the Obama White House as a Champion of Change in citizen science. You can find Ariel on YouTube @


About the bag

Nordace Siena – Smart Backpack ($100)
This has been my go-to backpack for the last year. I like that it can expand significantly, but also collapse down to a slimmer profile when not filled up. Lots of different pockets, a water bottle holder, and two separate zippered sections have made it into the versatile bag I need. My only minor criticism is that I usually keep the shoulder straps on their tightest-possible length to get the backpack to fit me the way I want it to, but that might be specific to just me.

What's inside the bag

Muji Gel Ink Ball Point Pen, 0.38-mm, Black ($18, 10pc)
A trusty, precise pen that pairs perfectly with gridded notebooks. This is my most-used pen. It’s not for scribbling quickly, but instead for very thoughtful precision when you’re wanting to carefully map out ideas, drawings, or to-do lists. It also fits perfectly inside the ring-binding of the notebooks I use.

Maruman MNEMOSYNE Notebook, A4 size with a 5mm dot grid ($18)
I love Mnemosyne notebooks and I love dot-grids. I am working on a new book proposal and bought a couple of these to sketch out a couple of different concepts in. I find that getting a large notebook (~8x11") that is more cumbersome to carry around can sometimes help give you a needed push to actually use it instead of throwing it in a pocket “just in case.” In general, I find pen and paper better for brainstorming.

Portable Laptop Stand (out of stock, similar version, $16)
This is a super useful thing I have in my backpack at all times to keep me from injuring my neck due to poor ergonomics. Having a laptop stand that is super lightweight and unobtrusive always comes in handy. Anything you can do to keep your screen closer to eye level is always worth it.

ICZI 10 in 1 USB Type C Dongle ($48)
This is my “everything” dongle. So far, I’ve only needed it and nothing else to be able to plug everything into my MacBook Pro. There are a lot of similar dongles that don’t seem to include everything this one does. The full list is: 4x USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI port, a VGA port, an Ethernet port, a Type C PD 3.0 port, a SD Card Slot, and a Micro SD Slot. For some people, this would be overkill, but for me it’s perfect. In Antarctica, having an ethernet port is super useful; when giving lectures to classrooms, many still use VGA, and having the SD/Micro SD slots continue to be useful for all sorts of cameras. I want to know that if I just remember to bring a single dongle that I’m going to have everything I need.

Cool Tools

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

[caption id="attachment_37948" align="alignnone" width="600"]Get a grip! Get a grip![/caption]

YouTube woodworker, Colin Knecht, has a fantastic series of videos where he shares his top shop tips and tricks. While these are obviously directed at woodworkers, many of the tips are useful to makers of many stripes. His most recent video in the series is a prime example. There is one tip here about cleaning saw blades, but the cover things, like easily finding the center of a workpiece, trimming “acid brushes” to make them more efficient to use with PVA glue, and using non-skid shelf pads on your bench to hold items you’re working on for sanding and such – these are applicable to many situations.

Which Home Furnace Filter is the Best?

[caption id="attachment_37947" align="alignnone" width="600"]Filter finder. Filter finder.[/caption]

On the amazing Project FarmTodd wonders what the real performance characteristics and differences are between cheap furnace filters and the expensive ones. As always, he creates testing rigs and puts a whole pile of filters, from $1 to $50, to the test.

Tl;Dr: So which one won? It’s complicated. The thicker filters (2″ and 4″) performed better than the common 1″ filter size, but your furnace may not accommodate a larger size. The permanent, washable filter did not perform well. Nor did the cheap ones. Looks like you want to get the thickest filter your furnace will accommodate and one with the most pleats in the outer filter. Overall, 3M brand filters did really well, like the 6001085, and the 1900. (Obviously, you need to get the filter that is the correct dimensions for your furnace.)

Nerding Out Over Pencils

[caption id="attachment_37946" align="alignnone" width="600"]In search of the perfect pencil. In search of the perfect pencil.[/caption]

I got a big kick out of this Make Something video. In it, Dave Picciuto spends 13 minutes talking about some of his favorite pencils while constantly apologizing for spending so much time talking about his favorite pencils. Dave’s favorites (to date) are the Koh-i-Nor Mechanical Clutch Pencil (to keep in his pocket with his Field Notes notebook) and the Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencil for having many pencils around the shop.

The C-Thru Triangle

[caption id="attachment_37945" align="alignnone" width="600"]"Memories...misty watercolored memories..." "Memories...misty watercolored memories..."[/caption]

This video from Adam Savage tweaked my nostalgia circuits. Like him, I started my adult worklife as a graphic designer and some of the first tools I fell in love with where the rulers, triangles, mechanical pencils, and pens of that trade. Here, he celebrates a favorite of mine, too, the C-Thru brand (Westcott) gridded triangle. The grid on this thing is perfect for alignment and it has a metal edge so your razor knife doesn’t cut into the plastic. I think I still have mine around here somewhere.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Jessica Lahey

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Jessica Lahey is a writer and speaker who lives in the woods of Vermont. She writes about education, substance use disorder, and child welfare for various outlets including The Washington Post and the New York Times, and reviews books for Air Mail. She is the co-host of the #AmWriting podcast with bestselling authors Sarina Bowen and K.J. Dell’Antonia.

When the world is not in the midst of a pandemic, she spends about a third of her time on the road, speaking to parents, teachers, and kids about The Gift of Failure and The Addiction Inoculation. She always has a book in her bag, as she prefers paper to screens, but also adores audiobooks because she can read and knit at the same time.

About the bag

My bag is a black leather Hugo Boss, one I purchased off of Ebay years ago. It’s style number 50274573 and I’d buy a backup if I could. When this bag gives out, I’m going to be devastated, because it’s the perfect size. It fits my laptop, headphones, knitting, a book, and essential travel items, and despite hard wear, the handles have held up beautifully.

What’s inside the bag

Fillion (XL trifold) made by Lesha Shaver of Little Mountain Bindery with a Leuchtturm1917 B5 monthly calendar with journal tucked inside.
This is where the contents of my brain reside until I put them in a book, an article, or an episode of the #AmWriting podcast. I first spotted a Fillion at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art store and immediately ordered my own, with my initials embossed on the cover. My two best friends (also my podcast co-hosts) have identical Fillions and journals, and we keep track of our writing goals using stickers. The term “sticker” is our text thread shorthand for “I reached my writing goals today!” so there’s always a sheet or two of stickers in my Fillion as well.

Smythson of Bond Street currency case
I fell in love with this wallet when I read a New York Magazine piece, “What David Sedaris Can’t Travel Without.” I stalked the wallet, even went to Smythson’s New York City store and fondled it, but could not justify the price. I kept watch for it on Ebay and finally found a used one for much less and it’s become one of my very favorite things. It has four pockets, and I use them for money, business receipts, the Tile I use to keep track of it, and some business cards. I love this wallet so much and it keeps me organized when I’m traveling.

Whatever I’m knitting.
This happens to be a hat for my sister, but I’m a fan of smaller projects. Hats, socks, scarves, that kind of thing. I got my needles at a yard sale, but someday I want to get the Clover Takumi combo interchangeable circular knitting needles set. Someday.

A book.
I get a lot of advance copies for reviews and podcast interviews, but I try to purchase my books at my local independent booksellers, The Vermont Bookshop in Middlebury, the Crow Bookshop in Burlington, or Phoenix Books in Burlington. This book is The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell’Antonia, my friend, former New York Times editor, and #AmWriting podcast co-host. The Chicken Sisters is K.J.’s first novel and a recent Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick!

Cool Tools

Olight i3E/50 Years of Text Games/Apology tool

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Keychain flashlight
The Olight i3E is not the smallest keychain light. That is still the Photon, powered by a watch battery. But the Olight i3E is the smallest brightest light that runs on an easily available battery: the AAA. It’s the size of your pinky: 2 inches/6 cm long, and costs $10. One AAA will power it for years of occasional use, for when you need light more focused than a phone’s. (And I use a rechargeable AAA.) — KK

History of text games
I played a ton of text adventure games in the 1980s. (Check out the Infocom titles using’s early Mac emulator.) I’ve been reading about the origins of text games in a new newsletter called 50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed. In the first three issues he takes deep dives into The Oregon Trail (1971), ROCKET (1972) (aka Lunar Lander, which I wrote about in my newsletter, The Magnet), and Hunt the Wumpus (1973). Reed plans to eventually publish a book about text adventure games. — MF

Am I part of the problem?
I just discovered this interactive (and empathic) tool that will walk you through how to apologize. It also helps you understand the difference between intent and impact and the different ways you can make amends — direct, indirect or by example. It’s not designed to make you feel better about yourself, but instead is a useful practice in accountability. — CD

Stop-motion eye candy
I am a fan of Wes Anderson’s movies because of their visual style. In 2018 Anderson released Isle of Dogs, an epic stop-motion masterpiece. Because literally each frame has been designed and crafted in miniature, I think it’s his most visually stylistic movie yet. Every frame is perfect. But there is another reason to stream it now: the very peculiar story concerns a deadly urban pandemic derived from an animal, the spread of conspiracy theories, the denial of science, and a contested election. Feels like it was just made. — KK

Boost your happiness chemicals
Here’s a great list of 100+ hacks for boosting your “happiness chemicals” like dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and serotonin. The ones I’m most drawn to trying out are: Practicing a power-pose to boost physical and mental confidenceTaking a cold shower to boost adrenalineAnd sitting in the sun to boost mental health during the winter. My chocolate lab Pablo sits in the sun everyday, so he must be on to something. Pablo also does the best job of keeping my oxytocin levels high. — CD

Wireless Charging Pad
I got tired of buying Lightning cables, which break frequently so I decided to try a wireless charger pad for my iPhone 12 Mini (most newer phones can be charged wirelessly). It cost less than a lightning cable and now I just set my phone (or AirPod Pros) on it and it starts charging. I’ll never go back to cables. — MF

Cool Tools

Keto bread recipe/Slow TV Map/Ancient coins

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Fluffy low-carb bread
Here’s a super-simple recipe for ultra low carb, fluffy bread. I made a 1-minute video that shows how I make it, and the results. This is the almond flour I use. — MF

Slow TV Map
Recomendo reader Mark Jackson shared this wonderful Slow TV Map and said:

“If you haven’t heard of Slow TV before, it is a genre of long-form television originating from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s broadcast of an uninterrupted 7-hour train journey in 2009. Slow TV Map maps these types of videos on a map so you can discover virtual journeys in an interactive way. Most people use Slow TV as a screensaver, but it can also be used as a form of active meditation. I hope you enjoy!”

Such a great way to virtually visit parts of the world you’ve always wanted explore. Here is a 1-hour long, Slow TV video of an 105-year old ship sailing the Denmark Coastline set to acoustic guitar. — CD

Ancient coin lessons
A fantastic history teaching tool is to give each student a 2,000-year old Roman or Greek coin to clean, study, and keep. Recovered old coins are abundant enough that a bag of uncleaned (and unidentified) ancient coins can be purchased for a few dollars per coin. Of course these coins won’t be high quality; they may be corroded or poorly crafted or well-worn down and indistinct, but they will be authentically old, and actually used as money. That is part of the lesson. Small lots of genuine ancient coins can be bought from reputable sources like Vcoin, where a lot of 20 diverse coins can be $45 (or bit more than $2 per coin). Cleaning them up and trying to identify them gets into their story. Ancient Coins for Education is a resource for educators using old coins, and Kevin’sCoins has tips for cleaning them. — KK

3D printer infographics
If you’re getting started in 3D printing, Billie Ruben’s infographic posters will save you time, money, and frustration. One poster shows how to design shapes that won’t collapse or slide off the plate mid-print. Another helps you select the right design software for your needs, and the third one is a simple (and essential) guide to bed leveling. I’ve been 3D printing stuff for 10 years and learned a lot from these guides. You can buy paper posters here. — MF

Find movies by writing out the synopsis
JustWatch has a cool way to discover new movies to watch. Just type up a synopsis for your ideal movie and you’ll be given a list of films with similar plotsTip: Press “enter” after you’ve finished typing and the recommendations will refresh. I made the mistake of pressing the “Ghostwrite a story for me” button which overrides whatever you’ve written with a random plot and related movies. — CD

Free Lynda classes
Tutorials on YouTube are near infinite in their variety — and quality. I’ve long paid for a subscription to which provides consistently very high quality tutorials for learning to use design and media software, and for learning how to program and code. The courses are methodical and reliable. I can get up to speed or earn advanced skills pretty quickly. I’ve been using them for learning video editing.  Recently Lynda was bought by LinkedIn, and renamed LinkedIn Learning. Their complete catalog of 15,000 courses are made available for free via public libraries in the US. Generally all you need is a library card account to gain access through your local library system. BTW, tons of Recomendo readers reminded me that many of the Great Courses (mentioned previously) are also available online for free via your local library. — KK

Cool Tools

Page Anchor/Great Courses/The Quarantini

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Elegant bookmark
I was coveting this Swedish anchor bookmark ($40) back when it was just a Kickstarter and this year I finally bought one for myself. The Page Anchor is made from 316L stainless steel and weighs about 8 ounces and has only one purpose — to hold a book open perfectly flat. The craftsmanship is so beautiful that it feels like owning a piece a jewelry. — CD

Great university courses
I’ve long been a huge fan of The Great Courses. These are the best university courses on all manner of diverse subjects, taught by the best university professors, recorded for home consumption. Years ago the courses started out as very expensive audio sets on cassette tape (I audited many courses while commuting), then migrated to CDs, then to audible files, and now are on video. All along, they were premium priced, if not a bit over-priced, but I found them to be worth it without exception. There’s a lot of history and science. I have enjoyed and benefited from too many courses to list, including a memorable one of 48 lectures on Ancient Egypt by Bob Brier, and another on appreciating classical music by Robert Greenberg. Now, yeah!, select courses are available free on Amazon Prime video. A search on Amazon will bring up all the current Great Courses. But to my frustration, courses will be free for limited times and then revert to paid episodes. For instance the really tremendous course on the Ancient Civilizations of North America is free now. It methodically describes the vast and sophisticated civilizations that existed in my backyard, which I was not taught about. But it will only be available until January 31, 2021, so watch now. (Or I could subscribe to the new Great Courses channel on Amazon for $8/month.) So far I’ve happy to watch the excellent ones that come up free each month. — KK

Colorful cocktail recipes
Since March of last year, my sister Wendy has been posting a creative cocktail recipe on her Instagram channel, The Quarantini. Even if you don’t drink alcohol it’s fun to see the unusual drinks she has concocted, like The Cure, which pays homage to the Covid-19 vaccine. Bottoms up! — MF

Searching by date
A really useful, but non-obvious, shortcut to search Google calendar for a particular date is simply to hit the letter G while on the calendar page. Instead of scrolling back month by month, you hit < g > and then enter the date you want. — KK

Instantly search 2 million recipes
This search engine pulls from more than 2 million recipes that you can filter by ingredients. I’m not a step-by-step recipe follower, but this is great for discovering variations of a recipe and inspiration for ingredients I hadn’t thought of. I’m also impressed that it found two different recipes for my parent’s homeland dish: Sopa Tarasca — CD

Tasty coffee additive
Someone recently made me a hot drink containing cinnamon, espresso, oat milk, and lion’s mane mushroom powder, and it was delicious. Now I make my own, using KOS Organic Lion’s Mane Powder. I use one included scoop of lion’s mane powder, one teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon powder, a cup of hot oat milk, and a double shot of espresso. Then I whip with a stick blender. It’s a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. — MF

Cool Tools

Hole Center Measuring Attachment

Welcome to the first GTTST of 2021! I’m really looking forward to where we can take the newsletter this year and how I can best serve you. I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to see more of? Less of? Is there anything I’m not covering that I should? I see this publication as a conversation, so I’m always looking to hear your tips, stories, tool and supplier recommendations, and anything else related to making, inspiring creativity, and self-reliance.

Hole Center Measuring Attachment

[caption id="attachment_37705" align="alignnone" width="600"]Find your center, man. Find your center, man.[/caption]

On FacebookSean Ragan shared this Thingiverse file. It’s for printing adapters that go over the external jaws of a set of calipers to accurately measure the center of holes. In response to the post, Evil Mad ScientistLenore Edman pointed out that you can get the same result using this trick (which I’ve written about before): “You can get center-to-center measurements by measuring your hole’s diameter, zeroing out your calipers, then taking an outside-to-outside measurement. (Zeroing essentially subtracts the diameter of one hole.)” Sean Ragan responded: “I know that trick, but it’s not terribly accurate because you don’t get good indexing on the curved interior surfaces of the holes in either step, whereas turned, tapered caliper heads can be relied upon to be kinematically on-center in round holes with no wiggle room.”

Breadboard Basics and Tips

[caption id="attachment_37704" align="alignnone" width="600"]Neatness counts. Neatness counts.[/caption]

I love seeing the different working techniques of makers and their reasoning behind them. In this Ben Eater video, he runs through the ways he prototypes circuits on a solderless breadboard. He describes why he likes to keep it loose (using flexible jumper wires) when first testing out a circuit (to not let all of the fussy measuring and wire cutting get in the way of his creativity). And then he shows, once he’s decided on a circuit design, how he tightens things up with measuring, cutting, and installing neater wire hookups. Ben also describes why he doesn’t always use an auto-stripping wire cutter and how he accurately measures and cuts wire lengths using an old-school stripper. He also explains why he doesn’t use bending tools, preferring to let experience show him where to properly bend his leads. One great tip when cutting wires: Measure three breadboard tie-point holes beyond where you want to plug in your wire, cut there, and then strip the wire back by three holes. This will give you perfect wire length and perfect depth in the tie-point hole.

Noting Paint Colors Inside of Switch Plates

[caption id="attachment_37703" align="alignnone" width="600"]Message in a switch plate. Message in a switch plate.[/caption]

On the Acme Tools Instagram page, they shared this wonderful tip. To keep track of what paints were used in a room, list them on the backs of switch plates in that room

This reminded of a piece that Sean Ragan posted on Make: years ago about writing a time-capsule about your time in the house and pasting it on the back of a switch plate for future occupants to discover.

[caption id="attachment_37702" align="alignnone" width="600"]Every switchplate tells a story. Every switchplate tells a story.[/caption]

Story Board Templates

[caption id="attachment_37701" align="alignnone" width="600"]3D printed story-telling tools. 3D printed story-telling tools.[/caption]

Sophy Wong has a new video up where she shows her 3D printable storyboard and thumbnail templates and how to use them in a sketchbook. I wrote about these in the newsletter ages ago when Sophy first showed them on Twitter and have been looking forward to her making the files available and telling us more about how she uses them. Here is the project page on her website and the files on Thingiverse.

Adding Magnet Switches to the Savage Workbench Lights

[caption id="attachment_37700" align="alignnone" width="600"]You can never have too many lighting options. You can never have too many lighting options.[/caption]

The Adam Savage “One Day Build” that’s had the biggest impact on me was his project for building bendable LED workbench lights using video light panels and Loc-Line tubing (parts herehere, and here). I bought the parts immediately, built my own, and my workbench has never been the same. In this follow-up video, he shows how he used magswitches (magnets you can switch on and off) to add bench-wide mobility to his lights.


[caption id="attachment_37699" align="alignnone" width="600"]The iFixit Tech Toolkit The iFixit Tech Toolkit[/caption]

Certain tools are so beloved that, if you mention them to owners of said tool, they light up like a Christmas tree and can’t stop talking about how much they love it. Such is the case with the iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit. This kit has everything you might need for taking apart and repairing personal electronic devices, from a 64-piece bit driver set, to spudgers (tools for opening pressure-fit plastic components without causing damage), tweezers, a suction cup phone-screen remover, and a grounding strap. If you repair your own computers, game consoles, phones, and other consumer electronics, you want this kit (if you don’t already have it).

Shop Tale: They Almost Called Him Stubby

Newsletter reader (and general contractor) Jack B sent in this cautionary tale. It’s a fine example of what I call The Kenny Rogers Rule (knowing when to hold ‘em, fold 'em, and when to walk away from a project). If you have a shop tale to share, email me.

The weather had been terrible, one huge snowstorm after another. We were way behind on a four-plex build and that meant that even the general contractor (me) had to pitch in and work hard to finish.

Late into the night before Christmas, I was cutting OSB (oriented strand board) with a Skilsaw. I had two full sheets on sawhorses and was cutting along when it dawned on me that I might not have the blade set low enough. Without thinking, I reached under the OSB to see if I could feel the blade. In the fog of fatigue, feeling a spinning blade with my fingers made perfect sense. As luck would have it, I was only cutting through one of the sheets, so my fingers were safe. When I realized what I’d just done, I immediately stopped for the night. Being nicknamed “Stubby” for the rest of my life seemed too great of a price to pay.

Maker's Muse

Cool Tools

Auto Center Punch

A simple superior tool about the size of a stubby pencil that punches a tiny depression in metal. It's used to start a hole or mark a point. But unlike standard punches, which you need to hit with a hammer -- whose impact usually misaligns the spot you intended to punch -- this one gets its punch from a tiny internal spring that flexes as you press the tip down. You simply press the punch where you want a dent and there it is exactly. A classic.

-- KK

We in the rescue trade also use these pretty routinely to safely remove the glass in automobiles. They work particularly well on the glass in the side and rear windows and leave all of the little glass bits intact in the window frame until you gently remove them with gloved hands. The bits then go where you want (generally) and not on your patient. I assume that keeping one in your car would let you punch out your own windows in case of emergency. Just remember that it is key to use the device on the lower corner of a window or the glass can shatter and go everywhere.

-- J. James Bono

The Technium

Concluding our 25-year Bet


Twenty five years ago I made a bet in the pages of Wired. It was a bet whether the world would collapse by the year 2020. I made the bet at the end of an interview I conducted with author Kirk Sale, who had some notoriety for smashing computers with a sledge hammer in the tradition of the Luddites. He predicted the collapse of civilization in 25 years. I asked him if he was willing to bet on his vision of global collapse. (You can read the interview and original bet here in the article Interview with the Luddite.) We agreed to bet $1,000 on the state of the world in 2020. Sale was betting on a trinity of three global disasters; I was betting on progress. At the time we agree to let our mutual book editor, Bill Patrick, hold our checks. As 2020 rolled around, what I thought was an easy win, turned out to be not so obvious, so Kirk and I agreed to let Bill Patrick made the big decision at the very end of 2020. So last night, December 31, 2020, Bill Patrick made his decision. I am posting it below.

In the run-up to the end of the year, I wrote out my defense of why I thought I should win, which I sent to Bill Patrick as he was making his decision. Also, Steven Levy spoke to me and Kirk Sale and Patrick, and wrote up the story of the bet for Wired, which you can read here.


Subject: Big Decision
Date: Thursday, 31 December 2020
From: William Patrick
To: Kirk Sale, Kevin Kelly

Thank you gentlemen for entrusting this grave decision to me.

In deciding who wins, I find myself with no choice but to be an originalist, working closely from the words on the page, and the most significant are “not even close,” and “convergence.”

To deal with the former, it seems best to try to score the contest round by round:

Global Environmental Disaster

Environmental problems have far more to do with old school, industrial technology (slowly being retired) than with information technology (which may well be the only hope for a solution). Even so, with fires, floods, and rising seas displacing populations; bugs and diseases heading north, ice caps melting and polar bears with no place to go; as well as the worst hurricane season and the warmest year on record, it’s hard to dispute that we are at least “close to” global environmental disaster.

Round goes to Kirk

Economic Collapse

Not much contest here. Even with a pandemic, unemployment is a problem, but nowhere near a crisis—at least not in the closing days of 2020. (Stay tuned.) The Dow recently hit 30,000, and the leading currencies are cruising along. (Bitcoin, an entirely new form of currency unimaginable in 1995, is soaring—nearing $20,000 when I last checked.) So, Kirk’s dire prediction was way off.

Round goes to Kevin

War between rich and poor, both within and among nations.

This is a toughie. Kirk’s apocalyptic forecast is especially problematic when you factor in huge economic gains in China and India, driven in large part by tech. On the other hand, how heavily do you weigh economic unrest as a factor in spawning the terrorism that triggered “forever wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia? And the economic dislocation among blue collar workers that allowed Trump’s faux populism to win them over? Meanwhile, anger at police abuses has led to massive protests from the left and bloody riots in the U.S. and Europe. It’s hard to say that “the poor rising up in rebellion” accurately characterizes the current state of the world (especially with that rising middle class in Asia) but it’s also hard to say, when you consider the unrest in the Islamic world and Trump supporters waving automatic weapons, that we’re “nowhere close.”

Round is a toss-up, with an edge to Kirk.

Which brings us to the exact wording—including punctuation—of the phrase that pays: I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. The way this statement is constructed, Kirk must hit the trifecta to win, meaning that all three horses of his apocalypse must come through, i.e. the three must converge. Only one of his predictions was a winner; one came in neck and neck; and one was way back in the pack.

So, Kevin wins, but it’s a squeaker, and not much cause for celebration.

Let's hope for "progress" over the next 25 years that is less equivocal.

Best for 2021.



Why I believe I won the 2020 Bet

It’s clear to any impartial observer that the world as we know it has not ended, although it might be close. But it has been close for a while, and that is the thrust of Kirk Sale’s argument. Twenty five years ago, it looked to him like the civilizational infrastructure that we humans had built up over millennia was near a breaking point, and that it could not last another 25 years. It was breaking down, Sale believed, because technological civilization was incompatible with nature. Technology and civilization operated at an unnatural scale, unnatural speed, and in a manner that destroyed living systems. But, the living system of the planet was so much larger than humans and their inventions, and both were so much more dependent on this natural world -- although inventors refused to acknowledge this -- that the living planet would hit back, exert its rules, and the invented world manufactured by technologists would collapse and crumble. Sale was certain this failure had already started, and he was so certain enough of its inevitable demise that he was willing to bet $1,000 that the collapse would be in full swing within 25 years.

Sale might be right that we are on the edge of that collapse today, and that in the next 25 years, by 2045, it will be in full swing. But that is a different bet. The claim we are trying to resolve in December 2020 is -- as the bet states -- are we in the full collapse right now?

California and Australia probably had their worst fire seasons in history and they were certainly triggered by human activity, including global warming, poor fire management, and the relentless incursion of urban sprawl. Powerful hurricanes are more common. And the arctic and Antarctica ice is melting. Those are large scale phenomena. If by some magic they never got worse, would we call the current state, this minute, “continent-wide environmental disaster” ? If we were to take a snapshot of the lives of the 7 billion people walking the Earth today, most of whom live in urban areas, and whose lives have only been mildly affected by the fires, floods and melting ice, they are not acting like they are in a collapse. If this is a disaster, it is a weird disaster that is not evident to its 7 billion inhabitants. Sale might argue that they are all sleepwalking in a disaster field and that the real impact around them is about to happen, and that could be true but that is a different bet.

The strongest case for a global environment is the tiniest one: the Covid-19 virus. This has indeed affected almost everyone on the planet, and it has affected their behavior in significant ways. You could make a more than poetic argument that the virus pandemic is a response by the living natural world to the unnatural densities of modern human cities. You could say that such contagious diseases are nature pushing back, and that the lockdowns, curfews, border closings, not to mention millions of deaths due to the virus, are an evident and actual environmental disaster. In many senses, I agree. It is fair to take a broad view of the environment to include the viral world, and this virus has indeed made a global negative impact.

It has even had a global financial impact, putting a pause on local enterprises, eliminating millions of jobs, and disrupting global trade. But the most amazing attribute of the Covid-19 pandemic has been how little effect it has had on the world compared to what could have happened. Given both the lethality and contagiousness of this virus, and the density of urban life, it could have, and in the past, would have, caused far far more damage than it did. It did not because of the global response to it. At an unprecedented scale and speed, civilization built a response to the virus. Around the world, billions of people simultaneously changed their behavior, while continuing their work for the most part. An impressively large part of the economy can be run by fewer people than ever before. And in less than a year, scientists came up with remedies for the illness, including ones that can potentially eliminate it. Science came up with treatments to diminish its damage on those who did get it. We are not out of this woods yet, and we could have done 100 times better, but compared to the total disaster it could have been, this is a story of how well civilization is working, not of how it collapses.

Here was my 1995 on-the-fly summary of our bet: “So you have multinational global currency collapse, social friction and warfare both between the rich and the poor and within nations, and you have continent-wide environmental disasters causing death and great migrations of people. All by the year 2020, yes? … I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size.”

That is a bit vague, due to my attempt to encapsulate Sale’s just-shared idea on the spot. But luckily Sale spent a few minutes articulating the conditions that could be measured in detail. He was forecasting a convergence of three events, and I’d like to respond to each of three “metrics” he suggested in detail here.

Sale says: “The first [measurement] would be an economic collapse. The dollar would be worthless, the yen would be worthless, the mark would be worthless—the dislocation we saw in the Depression of 1930, magnified many times over.” Even after an unprecedented global pandemic, unemployment figures are not bad, and no where near Depression levels of 1930. The dollar is not worthless, nor the yen or mark, or Euro. In fact, in terms of the global financial market, stocks are at an all-time high. This prediction is as wrong as it could get.

Sale says: “A second would be the distention within various societies of the rich and the poor, in which the poor, who comprise, let's say, a fifth of society, are no longer content to be bought off with alcohol and television and drugs, and rises up in rebellion. And at the same time, there would be the same kind of distention within nations, in which the poor nations are no longer content to take the crumbs from our table, and rise up in either a military or some other form against the richer societies.” Let’s take the two parts one at a time. There is a measurable divergence of rich and poor in modern societies, with a few percent rich owning more than the rest of society altogether, but for some reason this fact has not led to rebellions, revolt, or armed uprisings at any scale. The imbalance of wealth is generally true around the world (and worst in the richest nations), while the absence of uprisings by the poor is generally true around the world, too. This may be because in most of the world, the poverty of the poorest has generally been reduced, even as the rich get much richer. So while the relative gap between the rich and poor grows, the poor around the world have gotten richer in their own eyes, and so they are not “rising up in rebellion.”

The following point -- predicting conflict between rich and poor nations -- also has not happened, probably for similar reasons. By and large, a middle class has emerged in most developing nations, and their poor have gotten less poor. Furthermore, the economic fate of any nation is more and more connected to other nations, via imports and exports, and going to war with wealthier nations doesn’t help your citizens. So, economic isolation is rightly seen as something to be avoided, and therefore there has been a refreshing diminishing of war between nations. It is clear Sale’s second metric failed to happen.

Sale says: “The third is accumulating environmental problems, such that Australia, for example, becomes unlivable because of the ozone hole there, and Africa, from the Sahara to South Africa, becomes unlivable because of new diseases that have been uncovered through deforestation. At any rate, environmental catastrophes on a significant scale.” Sale came close to being right with “new diseases” -- Covid-19 -- even though it is unlikely due to deforestation. (Covid is more likely due to Chinese propensity to gather, farm raise and sell wild animals in horrible conditions.) Yet, as I mentioned above, this could be seen as an environmental failure due to the pressures of urban life on the natural world. However, despite a bad fire season, Australia is not unlivable (at least according to the 23 million living there in 2020) and ditto for Africa. Both continents have experienced Covid-19 and neither are unlivable because of this new disease. Sales' last phrase is harder to judge: are there “environmental catastrophes on a significant scale”? We could talk about over-fishing in the ocean, and I’d agree that it is an environmental problem on a significant scale. Ice melting in the arctic regions is another. Whether these are recoverable problems or outright catastrophes -- Australia unlivable -- right now is something I’d debate. Being generous I’d agree that this prediction is half-true.

However the bet was the convergence of all three catastrophes, a trifecta of collapse, a multi-dimensional apocalypse. This did not happen. Sale might argue that it is all about to happen, and indeed it might. But that is a different bet. That is another 25-year bet. That bet would say that in the year 2045, the three collapses he outlined -- financial collapse, war between rich and poor, and an unlivable world due environmental catastrophes -- would be in full swing.

In my boldness at that moment, I said that none of Sale’s predictions would be close to what happens. "Close" is a poor choice of words for a bet. It is 100% arbitrary. If we had written out the bet I would not allowed its use. I felt we were betting on Sale's description of the convergent apocalypse and by "not close to it" I meant that no one would be confused or be perplexed by what they saw.

I don't think most people today would say we are close to the convergence of the three apocalypse. We may be closer (or at least further along) on the environmental axis, but I believe if you asked the average citizen on this planet about whether we are close to the three apocalypse today, this minute, they would say no. If you read them Sale's description and asked them to look around and judge whether that is what they saw, it does not look anything like the disasters that Sale specified. I would say it does look close to what he describes.

My optimism that we are not close to global disaster is not based on thinking we have fewer problems than we do. I see real harms in our world today, real big problems, especially global-scale problems. Rather, my optimism is based on our improving ability to devise solutions to them. The list of troubles in the future will certainly increase in the next 25 years -- and most of those troubles will be triggered by the technological solutions we make today -- but we are rapidly inventing and improving the tools and the means for seven billion humans to create a million ways to overcome them. That is what I am betting on. Kirk Sale lost the bet not because he misjudged our problems, but because he misjudged our capacity to deal with them.

I am so certain of our capacity to keep improving that I offer Kirk Sale a double-or-nothing bet. He may believe the problems he clearly sees will surely soon spin out of control. If they have not brought collapse in the last 25 years they certainly will in the next 25 years. I, on the other hand, believe we won’t be anywhere near collapse in 25 years. I am willing to bet $2,000 on that. I believe that we are in fact on the eve of a 25-year period of global progress and prosperity, the likes of which we have not seen before on this planet. In 25 years, poverty will be rare, and middle class lifestyle the norm. War between nations will also be rare. A bulk of our energy will be renewables, slowing down climate warming. Lifespans continue to lengthen. I’ll bet on it.


Kirk Sale did not take me up on the double or nothing offer.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Tywen Kelly

Tywen Kelly is a student of media ecology. He is taking the next year to write essays and make art in pursuit of researching how media and ecology intersect. At the end of the year he will award himself an MFA.


About the bag
The bag I use is the Peak Design Everyday Backpack v2 ($260). It is the 30 liter version. It is the perfect size for personal item when flying, but the smaller version at 20 liters is a better everyday carry.

What's inside the bag
Pocket Travelers Notebook ($12)
For my birthday this year my friend got me this refillable leather notebook cover which uses elastic bands to hold small notebooks inside. It can hold up to three at a time comfortably and still be small enough to stuff into my shirt’s breast pocket. The elastic band system means that I just throw my pen inside, whatever page I’m on, and have it clamped in place for easy packability. The leather is good quality and accretes a nice patina over time.

Stickers from Sticker Mule
Stickers are a great mini-gift to hand to friends when you meet up. I used Sticker Mule to print 50 of my small doodles onto a die-cut iridescent 2" x 2" sticker. I keep four or five in my wallet at all times to surprise friends with. I also use the stickers to label everything that is mine — camera equipment, notebooks, chargers, etc., such that it is not mixed with others’ kits.

Tech Pouch ($60)
The Peak Design Tech Pouch is an origami-inspired organizer that stores every gadget accessory you need to travel. It conveniently stores my many cables, earphones, SD card holder, power brick, USB sticks, pens, and my Kindle. The price is on the hefty side, but the quality material, dense stitching, thoughtful design, and the fact that now I don’t travel without it has made it a worthwhile investment.

Aputure AL-MC Video Light ($90)
If you’re a photographer or videographer on the go, this is the ideal travel light add-on. It’s small, cordless, lightweight, and adjustable from very dim to as bright as a thousand suns. The LEDs are also RGB, so you can paint a subject with any color light you please. It’s convenient to charge via USB-C and convenient to hand-hold or stick to a metal surface with it’s built-in magnetic back. If you have more than one of these lights you can control them all via a smartphone app. I find myself using this it as a rim or fill light on my photo and video shoots.

Cool Tools

2020 Happy List — Kevin

Rode Wireless Go
Recording great sound is the key to making good video. I get pleasure in the total plug-n-play goodness of a Rode Wireless Go. This pair of tiny devices allows me to record myself or someone else far from my camera while recording video in my camera, or phone. Without cables or wires. I clip one square on my camera, and the other square goes into the pocket, belt, or shirt of the person being recorded. Done. They can be 1 meter away or 80. It’s professional quality sound, and for this quality, the price is cheap.

Japanese Block Print
David Bull is an craftsman living in Tokyo, Japan who continues the ancient art of woodblock printing, or ukiyoe. Using handmade ink, handmade paper, handmade cherry blocks, and carving each meticulous cut by hand, Bull makes up to 20 separate color blocks for each print. This is not that unusual. But David Bull teamed up with an American artist who designs ukiyoe prints based on video game characters. They have produced a line of limited prints, hand pulled from these intensely carved wood blocks. They call their series Ukiyoe Heroes. You can watch Bull hand carving the heroes here. Given how much work goes into these, signed prints are not that expensive. I bought a copy of Infestation because I was awed by his work on the hair.

Cordless glue gun
A glue gun is the second tool you need after a sharp knife. You can do so many things with it. It’s just fun gluing almost anything to almost anything instantly. My delightful discovery this year is a way to make a glue gun even more fun: cutting the cord. A cordless glue gun is the cat’s meow, the bluebird of happiness, the apex of tinkering, playing and making stuff. Grab and glue. So far there is really only one model, the Surebonder Cordless, that you can fit whatever cordless tool battery you have with the right adapter.

Anatomical model
I love anatomical models because they make the miracle of our own bodies visible. I have a 3-foot (1m) visible person standing on my desk. It’s big but not that detailed. This year I found some smaller incredibly sculpted visible humans that are so accurate they are educational. These 12-inch (24cm) Mixed Dimension models are astoundingly detailed, thanks to state-of-the-art 3D printing. These models started as a Kickstarter project. I have three versions on my desk now: a transparent one showing innards, one showing all the muscles in insane detail, and one half skeleton and half skin. They are so lovely I’ve given them as gifts.

Balloon dog
In the visible vein of a visible person, why not a visible balloon dog? How can you not smile when you see this? This guy, who is about 8 inches tall and just as long, started out as a kit I assembled. Now it sits on my desk and keeps me from taking myself too seriously.

Prusa 3D Printer
Printing stuff in physical form from easily found files on the internets is a real joy. It’s kind of like a new superpower. I’ve been delighted with how many things have already been digitized and are available either for free and for cheap. I went with a Prusa MK3S printer kit. I am very happy with the printer but I don’t recommend the kit version because it took a week of my life to assemble. The hard part of 3d printing is mastering 3D software to create a new file to print, but so far I am having the most fun printing out existing files, with modest modifications.

Sees Candy
I’m no world expert, but See’s Candies are the best chocolate candies in northern California. They’ve been making them the same way forever. Warren Buffet, who is not easily impressed, bought the company. We’ve tried all the Sees varieties many times and the unanimous conclusion of our family and friends is that the Dark Chocolate Marzipans are the best. They hold up to repeated consumption. They are high on my happiness list.

Component Stamps
There is nothing like making your own social cards. Gratitude, sympathy, empathy, when written onto paper and with some effort delivered to the hands of another person says so much more than a text or email message. I delight in using component rubber stamps in making cards. These fancy rubber stamp kits supply me with design elements that can be easily recombined into pleasing images. Stamp Bug remixes insects, Stamp Garden generates botanical forms, and Stampville creates architectural forms. I also combine all three motifs for super designs. Comes with two tertiary color inks, for extra subtlety. And yes, kids love these.

Cool Tools

Cheap Fluke Digital Multimeter

Cheap Fluke Digital Multimeter

[caption id="attachment_37479" align="alignnone" width="600"]The 101 of reliable DMMs The 101 of reliable DMMs[/caption]

In this video, Adam Savage looks at digital multimeters (DMM). He talks about high-end models, like the Fluke 77, and a cheap starter Fluke, the 101, which is just over $40! I’ve had the Fluke 117 for years, and like Adam, have a lot of loyalty to the brand.

Truing Rough-Cut Lumber

[caption id="attachment_37478" align="alignnone" width="600"]Jimmy D droppin' the science. Jimmy D droppin' the science.[/caption]

In this interview on Jimmy’s YouTube channel, interviewer Adam Price asks Jimmy a bunch of questions about his process, from designing, to materials, to fastening and gluing, to hardware.

In the above drawing, Jimmy is showing how you can “true” an edge of a piece of rough-cut lumber. If you have a surface planer and a table saw, you can save money by buying rough-cut, he says. It’s cheaper because it comes unplaned, but it has no true (or “factory”) edge. After planing it down, you can add a true edge. You nail the rough-cut lumber to a piece of wood that does have a factory edge and feed the rough-cut through your table saw. In the above sketch, that’s the table saw’s fence on the far right, a piece of plywood with a factory edge against the fence, and the rough-cut lumber nailed to the plywood. That little hump upper-left is the saw blade. When done (and de-nailed) that resulting cut becomes your true edge. See this part of the video starting at 15:22.

Give the Gift of Restoration

[caption id="attachment_37477" align="alignnone" width="600"]The gift of referb The gift of referb[/caption]

The latest issue of HackSpace magazine (free PDF) has a piece I wrote on tool restoration. In it, I show off a simple tool I restored for my beloved Angela last Christmas. This is her art studio hammer. She bought it at a Goodwill store for $1.99. As you can see on the left, it was covered in paint, spackle, putty, adhesive, and the handle was split at the head. Shabby. I “borrowed” it from her and went to work on restoring it. It was a fun project to work on for a bit every night after dinner. The results are on the right. I included a photo of the before-hammer in the package. She loved it.

This is a great gift to give to someone. Take one of their old, exhausted tools, or buy one at a charity shop/garage sale, and restore it back to its original glory. Important Note: Make sure they’re OK with tool restoration before doing this. Some people freak out at the very idea of restoring old tools and tool boxes. They think the wear, gunk, and imperfections are what give the tool its story, its character (see the Japanese concept of “wabi-sabi”).

Turning Grocery Delivery Pouches into Mailers

[caption id="attachment_37476" align="alignnone" width="600"]An eBay purchase ready to mail out. An eBay purchase ready to mail out.[/caption]

I don’t know about you but I have a ton of these large foil bags used for Amazon food deliveries. I’ve started using them to mail out my books and merch I sell on eBay. I also cut them up and use them for packing inside of mailing boxes. You can easily cut them down to any size you need and assemble with shipping tape. They also look cool as a mailer.

Snakes on a Drain
As several people pointed out in response to my DIY Drano recipe, decloggers only act on the trap, not the rest of the pipe. For that, you need a snake. I have a snake, but it’s old and funky (it came with the house). I need a new one and want one with both manual and drill-powered capability. I’m looking at this one. If you have a snake that you think is a good buy, please recommend.

(De)merit Badges

[caption id="attachment_37474" align="alignnone" width="600"]Oops. Looks like someone released the magic smoke. Oops. Looks like someone released the magic smoke.[/caption]

There’s no shame in failure. That’s one of the greatest ideas driving the maker movement: creating a supportive environment where it is OK to fail; that making mistakes is part of the learning process, a feature not a bug. To celebrate this notion, the team is offering (de)merit badges so that you can wear your f-ups with pride. So far, they have a short-circuit badge (above), a measure once, cut twice badge, and an injured hand (de)merit sticker. They promise more in the future and are looking for suggestions.

Maker's Muse

[caption id="attachment_37473" align="alignnone" width="600"]"The street finds its own uses for things." -William Gibson. Pallet stairs. "The street finds its own uses for things." -William Gibson. Pallet stairs.[/caption]

Shop Talk
In response to my last newsletter’s piece on cleaning “hacks,” I immediately got an email from reader Megan M. She wrote: “Please do not clean your silver this way. It etches the surface, leading to more susceptibility to tarnishing and shortening its lifespan.” She thoughtfully provided this link to what looks like silver polishing best practices. Thanks, Megan!

May I Issue You an Artistic License?

[caption id="attachment_37472" align="alignnone" width="600"]Don't leave home without it. Don't leave home without it.[/caption]

If you’re looking for some gift ideas for the artists and makers on your holiday list, consider supporting my work here by buying some of my merch. I sell these Artistic License cards. They come in a wax-sealed envelope and are made of thick card stock with a durable finish. They are $5 each or 5 for $20 (postpaid in the US, foreign orders pay the extra postage). I have them ready to ship. Email me if interested.

Also consider buying my book, Tips and Tales from the Workshop.

[caption id="attachment_37471" align="alignnone" width="600"]Crack the sweal, release the muse lurking inside. Crack the sweal, release the muse lurking inside.[/caption]

Cool Tools

Mathematical art/Gmail snooze options/Brainstorming tool

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Mathematical art
I have a soft spot for curiosities — unusual artifacts, either born or made. In fact, I have a whole wall of them in my studio. I recently added some weird mathematical shapes that could only exist because either they were grown biologically, or 3D printed. These lightweight nylon 3D artifacts are created by mathematician Henry Segerman, and sold in his Shapeways Shop. They are stunning, with bold, simple complexity, like the shells of creatures from alien planets. For art, they are reasonably priced. — KK

Change your default snooze times in Gmail
Snoozing” is a Gmail feature that helps me hide and postpone emails until I am emotionally ready to handle them. Unfortunately, the default snooze time in Gmail is 6PM which is long after I want to be checking work emails. I only recently discovered how to change the default snooze times (No. 5 on this list) which is go to Google Keep > click on the “gear” icon in the upper-right corner > select “Settings” > and under “Reminder Defaults” you’ll find the times that affect Gmail snoozing. — CD

Idea generator
My daughter told me about director Harmony Korine’s brainstorming tool, which he demonstrates in this video. It’s loose, unstructured, and irrational, which may turn some people off, but my daughter gave me examples of how she’s used it with excellent results and I’m impressed. — MF

Remote parlor game
A really fun parlor game you can play with friends and family at a distance is Among Us. It’s a bluff and deceit game like Werewolf or Mafia. The fun of the game is the cascading social ramifications of bluffing, being fooled, not being fooled, detective work, psy-ops, acting, being found out, persuading, leading, and getting surprised. The game runs on mobile phones ($0, or $2 for ad free) or Windows PC (everyone does NOT need to be on the same kind of device), and usually the group gathers in parallel on Zoom or Discord to chat during the game. There is some degree of coordination needed to perform mindless busy work tasks in the game, but otherwise no fast twitching is needed to really enjoy this social game. I think of it as playing Werewolf remotely. — KK

My sketches on stuff
Lately I’ve been posting photos of my sketchbook drawings of monsters, robots, space creatures, and contraptions on my Instagram feed, and people have asked if I could put them on various products. So I started a store on Society6, which has clocks, water bottles, bath mats, tables, notepads, stickers, and so on. Check it out here. — MF

Recomendo storefront
If you’re looking for gift ideas, check out our Recomendo storefront. Here you’ll find the books, tools or products that we’ve recommended in our newsletter (if they are available on Amazon). Other Cool Tools Lab storefronts that you can check out are the items shared in the weekly What’s in My Bag? newsletter or the four favorite tools shared by guests on the Cool Tools Show podcast. — CD

Cool Tools

Julie Sokolow, Film Director

Our guest this week is Julie Sokolow. Julie is the director of the new documentary Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story. The film profiles an activist who walked barefoot across America to protest climate change. She’s also the director of the feature documentaries Woman on Fire and Aspie Seeks Love. You can find her on Twitter @juliesokolow and Facebook and Instagram @julie.sokolow.

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Show notes:

Transcendental Meditation + Catching the Big Fish + Transcendence
I’m a big fan of David Lynch and always sought to learn more about his creative process. I was so intrigued when he started to write about Transcendental Meditation. I read his book Catching the Big Fish, and followed it up with Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal’s book Transcendence. Both claimed that by meditating for 20 minutes twice a day, one could significantly improve one’s mental health and increase creativity. I learned TM about seven years ago and it’s helped me overcome anxieties that were holding me back. I love the sense of calm, confidence, and connectedness it gives me. I can’t think of a cooler tool than a mantra!

3’ by 2’ Cork Board ($25)
The first time I edited a feature-length documentary, I had no clue what I was doing. I felt completely overwhelmed by mountains of footage and no sense of how to organize it all. The end result was alright, but I needed a better system. For my second documentary, my producer got me a giant cork board and advised me to map out the story structure. Wow, what a help! I loved writing brief scene descriptions on notecards and rearranging the scenes on the cork board. It gave me a sense of control and a much-needed bird’s-eye view of the story I was trying to tell. I would recommend a massive cork board to anyone working on a big project. You have to break things down into manageable chunks (chapters, scenes, whatever). Also, standing at the cork board gets me away from the computer, even if it’s just for five minutes.

Timbuk2 Backpacks (varies)
I’m a city dweller and I tend to carry a backpack with me wherever I go. Back in the day, I used to buy flimsy bags that would fall apart in a year. Then, I discovered Timbuk2 backpacks, which are insanely durable. I’ve had the Spire for four years and it still looks brand new. It’s comfortable, waterproof, and has tons of pockets. I use it for lugging around anything from a 15 inch laptop to a bunch of groceries. Last year, I bought the lightweight and attractive Tuck Pack, which is perfect for the gym. The main compartment is spacious and easily houses sneakers plus a change of clothes. The water bottle pocket is perfect for a 20oz HydroFlask. I’m not using these bags as much during the pandemic, but I still like to preach the gospel of Timbuk2.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl ($9, paperback)
As many of us helplessly wait out the pandemic, it would be wise to read this inspiring book by Viktor E. Frankl, an Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor. He managed to derive meaning from the most intense and harrowing experience as a prisoner in Auschwitz. He attributed his survival to his ability to find meaning and purpose, in spite of suffering. Frankl writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation…we are challenged to change ourselves.” Frankl used his experience to found logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy focused on helping people find meaning in their lives.

About Barefoot: The Mark Baumer Story:
My latest film is about a writer and activist who decided to walk barefoot across the country in order to protest climate change. He managed to walk over 700 miles completely barefoot. He was filming himself the whole time, posting videos on YouTube. He's a very funny and very inspiring kind of person who the New Yorker called a compulsive social media diarist, and likened him to Andy Kaufman. So he's just a really wonderful character. And sadly, people might remember the news coverage when he died on this walk. So the film is also about that. There's interviews with his friends and family to give a portrait of his life and the walk and also make meaning out of that situation. The film is out now on Amazon and iTunes.


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

Calm zooming/ bowls

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Calm zooming
Unexpectedly, you can decrease the fatigue of zooming all day if you don’t see your own image on the screen all day. The easiest way to hide your self picture in Zoom is to hover over or right-click your image until a blue square appears in the upper right corner. Click on the 3 white dots, and in the dropdown menu, click on “Hide Self View”. Once it was gone I noticed the absence of an irritant I had not been aware of before. Zooming is calmer. — KK

Visual search engine for kids is an illustrated, large-font search engine designed specifically for kids . It’s powered by Google Safe Search so only family-friendly results are returned. If any “bad” words are entered you get an “Oops, try again!” I tried to break it by searching for whatever “adult” words I could think of. “Death” told me to try again, “Dying” directed me to a Death facts for kids page, which is interesting. I don’t have a kid, but if I did this would be their homepage. — CD

Colorful bowls
I’m a fan of colorful plates, cups, and bowls, so when I saw this set of six porcelain bowls last month on Amazon I bought them without first checking the size. (A rookie mistake!) Fortunately, they aren’t the size of thimbles. In fact, they’re bigger than I expected, which is a bonus, as I’m a hearty eater. — MF

Font identifier
Every now and then I come across some text whose style I find attractive and I wonder what font they are using. I grab a shot of it and slip it into the “What the Font” website which usually can (90% of the time) identify the font. I don’t know if there is a better identifier but this free one works for me.  — KK

DIY Spice Chart
I came across this cool visual guide to making your own spice blends on Reddit. It made me realize I should be utilizing my coriander more often. — CD

How to remove stuck cups
In a recent issue of my Magnet newsletter, I asked readers to help me separate two coffee cups that somehow got stuck together. (It’s the second-to-last item in the newsletter.)  Almost all of the hundreds of suggestions I received involved cooling the small cup and heating the big one to allow thermal expansion to do its work, but that didn’t help. Can Recomendo readers come up with a solution? Send email to: — MF


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