Cool Tools

Shop Cool Tools Scam

The site is a recent store on Shopify. They seem to advertise and sell cheap Chinese products like iPhone accessories via ads on Facebook. Their logo looks like this:


Within the last two days we have received two letters from very angry customers who googled “Cool Tools” and wrote to us with their complaints.

First letter:

I recently ordered an item from your website for 24 dollars. I have had a person come to my door asking for an additional £20 customs charge. I believe this is for your item order #CT2085598. I have refused to pay this as I was not made aware at the time of purchase that there would be a customs charge of nearly double the price of the item. I would like to cancel this item. Please arrange that for me. I have tried to contact you and read your refund policy online but the links are not open to contact you on my phone anyway. I believe you advertised this item on my Facebook page. Please refund my money and let me know you have received this email. I will report what happens on my page.

When we informed them it was not our website, they replied:

Well it may not be your website. It may have come through to me on an ad in Facebook. The point is I have ordered a product from your company which I have paid 24 dollars for and I was not made aware that there would be a customs charge of double this. How do I cancel this order and get a refund please ?

Second letter, responding to our claim that it was not our website and we don’t sell anything:

Am I to believe that Cool Tools web site actually thinks they have the Legal Right to take money out of my bank account & keep it under the pretense that they have actually fulfilled their end of an agreement to sell me a product when they never had any intention of delivering said product to me? You people have basically stolen $24.04 from me and are now trying to jibber jabber jaw some BULL SHIT about how you are entitled to keep it by saying you don’t “sell anything” other than advice. You have Got to be kidding me. Trust me when I say that unless I receive my product or my money back immediately, I will spend the rest of my life making Your Life MISERABLE. Don’t think I can do it. Ha! You people are the Scum of the Earth & I will be fully justified in that effort. Any Judge, Lawyer, or average person would agree with me and more than likely join me in the effort to see you brought to Justice. I best be hearing from you very soon or count on looking over your shoulder but never knowing when or what’s coming. ASSHOLES!!!!!

These aren’t the only complaints. Checking the web yields negative reviews on TrustPilot:

We’ve been reviewing cool tools for 15 years, pointing interested buyers to Amazon, but we don’t sell anything ourselves. But I can understand customer’s confusion. We have contacted and filed a trademark infringement report to Shopify, but I doubt they will do anything. To add to the confusion, I think these fraudulent sales are being done through Facebook ads, under the name Cool Tools. We have of course tried to contact the owners behind this, but like the ripped off customers, we get no response. This could get worse before it gets better.

In the meantime, don’t buy from a Cool Tools ad on Facebook. If you have been ripped off by Shop Cool Tools, please tell Shopify.

Cool Tools

Mr. McGroovy's Box Rivets

Cardboard is a wonderful building material. You can do far more with it than you might expect. Use it to make furniture, sculpture, models, and of course play structures. The common way to assemble projects with cardboard boxes is to slap pieces together with duct tape. But tape is clumsy, expensive, will unpeel outdoors in weather, looks clunky, and won't take paint. A cool alternative are these Kevlar-like rivets specially designed for box cardboard. One shape does both sides. The rivets sport a grippy ratchet that clinches them close, yet enables them to be reused. The large button gives them holding power and allows you to make joints that can swing, too. We've found that you need either two people working, or ape-long arms, to squeeze both sides of the rivet pairs. Also, they are really made for the double wall corrugated cardboard of the kind you find in large appliance boxes; on thin cardboard they aren't as prettily snug, but still will hold fine. A set of 100 (50 pairs) is enough for a small maze.

Cool Tools


Simple games are the best. Tangrams are an old puzzle based on a set of elemental shapes that can be arranged in thousands of different patterns. To recreate a given picture is challenging, yet not too daunting even for kids. Playing gently encourages lateral thinking. It exercises a geometrical logic, rather than words or numbers. The puzzles are almost like peanuts; you keep wanting just one more.

We use tangrams as an after dinner parlor game. Everyone gets a set and we compete to find the solution first. Since the shapes can be contained in one large square, you can easily cut your own version from cardboard or plastic (and we have). But I've found that this Tangoes model ($9) is precise, won't wear out, and crates up easily and tidily. Each Tangoes case contains two sets of tangrams (in two different colors) and a nifty set of puzzle pattern cards, all of which slide into a plastic case with instructions on the inside. It's a very nice package. We have several sets, to fill all the seats at a table.

Cool Tools

The Mind Map Book

Mind maps are a tool for thinking. Instead of arranging your ideas in a sequence -- as a list of words -- you draw them in an arboreal fashion, radiating out from one starting notion. Mind maps use pictures instead of words, radial branches instead of linear lists, starfish instead of ladders, and associations instead of priorities -- and as a result you think different. The visual trees you generate as you mindmap mirror the dendritic nature of our brain, and seem to flow more organically and (after practice) with less effort than the rigid discipline of making 1,2,3 textual notes.

They are easy to doodle. Anyone can make them. Kids and CEOs as well as creative types. I've come to employ this style of radial association in my own note taking and personal brainstorming. You don't need this book to do it, but the book will help you refine your style, and it will help you expend its use. The authors, who've been perfecting and evangelizing this technique for decades, offer advice on how to use mindmaps to teach, as a form of diary, and most importantly, as a group exercise, say in corporate brainstorming sessions.

There are software programs for mindmapping (which I have not tried), but for me the intensely kinetic mode of drawing ideas (if even on tiny scratch paper) is a great part of the technique's ability to produce new and different perspectives.

Cool Tools

Pentel Pocket Brush Pen

Leave it to the Japanese to create a brush pen. This pocketable pen has a super fine brush tip of actual bristles, perfect for tiny Kanji characters, or of course, doodling in your journal, or sketching in your Moleskine. While it's hugely popular with comic book folks and cartoonists, artists of all stripes have picked one up for their paper work. The feel is incredibly tactile and lovely. It works like a fountain pen, with replaceable rich ink cartridges. Once capped it doesn't leak as far as I can tell. (There's a moment of panic when you first assemble it since the instructions are 100% in Japanese, but just insert the ball-bearing end of the ink capsule into the tip.) You can purchase other color inks as well.

Cool Tools

Spray Adhesive

What magnificent stuff. Glues together thin layers of paper products such as cardboard, photographs, foam core, even light fabrics, firmly and evenly. Most of the time it's superior to rubber cement, white glue, tape or contact cement. Comes in various formulations. 3M's Spray Mount is most versatile. You can find archival versions, too.

Cool Tools

Making Comics

Magnificent! A work of genius. The best how-to manual ever published. I could keep piling on the superlatives because this book is simply a masterpiece. At one level, it is a comic book about how to make comics, and for that it is supreme; the best. It will walk you through every step of making a comic, including how to make them on the web, digitally, or in pen and ink. I've been working on a near-completed graphic novel, and every page has told me something important and spot on. With brilliant graphics, Scott McCloud combines the most profound insights from his two previous books, Understanding Comics and Reinventing Comics. But in this book he raises your understanding of graphic communication further by making every lesson utterly practical and useful for both novice and expert. I can't imagine anyone ever doing a comic manual better.

However, even if you are not planning on making a graphic novel, this book is a gold mine. McCloud's section on constructing facial expressions and emotions is astounding, and worth the price of the book alone. The clever way McCloud arrays human expressions in one chart reminds me of the first time I saw all the colors arranged in a color wheel; it's the same aha! The insights McCloud extracts from comics and presents so vividly here are useful to novelists, sociologists, film makers, artists, roboticists -- anyone interested in human expression. That's probably you.

Indeed, even if you have no interest in comics at all, this charming book will win a place in your life because ultimately it is about communication and stories -- and those are the foundations of all cultures. Making Comics teaches you the visual elements of stories. If I had to re-title it, I would call this book Making Visual Stories.

Finally, as an example of communication itself, this comic book has few peers. I read, review and use hundreds of how-to books every year. I can't think of any instructional manual in any subject that is clearer, more thorough, more honest, more user friendly than Making Comics.

As I said, it's a classic. You can expect to find marked-up copies on bookshelves (or on hard drives) a hundred years from now.

Cool Tools

Sierra Stove

There I was, in driving rain, cooking breakfast under a tree over an intense, portable fire. Fresh coffee and scrambled eggs.

It was a Sierra Stove I got for $52. It's a mini-forge, forcing air into a small insulated chamber where a double handful of twigs (or dung or whatever) can heat water in a couple minutes---just a little longer than a butane stove, but with NO fuel or fuel containers to carry. One enthusiast hiked from Mexico to Canada cooking with one, claims Chip in The Compleat Walker IV. Chip himself now claims to camp largely solar--with backback solar charged batteries running his flashlights and his Sierra Stove.

The basic unit I got weighs 18 ounces and is clever and well-evolved. Accessory goodies can be found at the manufacturer's site. The newest item is a titanium version that weighs only 10 ounces, for $129.

I was impressed at how little fuel was needed, and how funky it could be. A switch offers high or low speed on the fan, driven by one AA battery. No igniter -- my Bic failed me in the rain, but a Lifeboat match and lil' firestarter saved the day. Unlike butane, the Sierra Stove does blacken your pots and pans, which is the main nuisance -- they go in Ziploc bags anyway though. All in all an impressive little rig.

We'll all want one when the economy collapses completely and we have to live homeless.

Cool Tools

Sharpie Twin-Tip

Sharpie markers are well-known for being indelible, particularly on plastic, glass and metal surfaces. Folks in labs, movie sets, and hospitals who need to mark things permanently use Sharpies. If the ink goes on, it won't come off. What's special here is that the other tip of these pens is an ultra-fine point Sharpie, fine enough to write like a ball-point pen - but permanently -- when you need to. The "industrial" version of Sharpie ink will even resist chemicals and scrubbing. Since more writing surfaces seem to be plastic-like, I find we use Sharpies all the time now.

Cool Tools

Cool Flow Respirator

I am convinced that the single most effective tool you can have on hand for an ABC disaster (Atomic, Biological, or Chemical) is a good face mask. The danger of nuclear radiation is primarily from fallout, which drifts as air-born particles. Same for many chemical spills; their poison also drifts on microscopic airborne droplets. And the biological toxins we most fear also travel in the air as particles. A face mask covering nose and mouth can reduce (not eliminate) the risk of inhaling these particles.

But face masks are useless unless worn, and are not worn (for long) if uncomfortable. I've been trying out various inexpensive masks that I could wear for many hours without going crazy. I found the Cool Max to be the only respirator I could keep on for long periods. The Cool Max [now called Cool Flow] are cheap N95 units (workshop, not surgical quality) that fold out and fit on the face with two elastic straps. The enlarged surface area eases breathing, and removes that suffocating sensation I usually get from wearing respirators. I could talk, drive, and work outside in the garden for hours without much discomfort. These masks are cheap enough that I have stocked a supply for our household (you'll need more than one).

Recently I attended a meeting for the world's avian flu experts and asked them how effective a face mask like Cool Max would be in an avian flu epidemic. (I had already learned that touching hands transmits more viruses between people than does sneezing; so it makes no sense to wear a mask without wearing gloves.) About half of the flu researchers believed a mask would not do anything at all (viruses are smaller than the filter pores), and the other half said that of course it would help since the viruses ride along on larger particles. When I asked them how many of them would personally have their families wear one in a flu pandemic, they almost all said they would. Although the efficacy of masks with viruses is unproven, there is no harm in using them, as long as you don't believe it guarantees anything.

My research came down to this: Better than hoarding Tamiflu, sequestering some face masks and disposable gloves is the cheapest, easiest and most productive thing you can do to prepare for a flu epidemic beforehand. Fancier, more sophisticated face masks would probably be more effective if you kept them clean and were willing to wear them. But I find it cumbersome to walk around with a gas mask. These Cool Max respirators will at least be worn for the durations needed, and will reduce your risk of inhaling ABC particles.

And, oh, they work really great keeping dust out, too!

Cool Tools

Tod E. Kurt, Co-founder of ThingM

Our guest this week is Tod E. Kurt. Tod runs ThingM, an IoT device studio in Pasadena. He is creator of the blink(1) USB notification light and BlinkM Smart LED. He co-founded CRASH Space, a Los Angeles hackerspace. He is the author of “Hacking Roomba” and long ago worked on cameras for Mars probes.

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Show notes:

Stickvise PCB Vise with Standard Nylon Jaws ($30)
“The main difference between this vise and other vises you might use to hold your work is that it maintains your work parallel to your desktop. And that's the other thing: it isn't attached to a surface. It just kind of sits on your desk. It's very small, and it's made for doing electronics work. But I've seen people use it for things like jewelry and other sort of small work where you're kind of on a desk and you need to have something that's held flat. And the reason why you need it to be held flat for electronics is because you don't want the parts to slide off as you're soldering them down. If you're doing surface mount work, it's just like things are just kind of sitting on top and then you have to solder them down."

Viltrox Super Slim LED Light Pane ($34)
"Anyone who has a work bench has had to try to solve the problem of how do you light up the space you're working in, and for me I've tried fluorescent light tubes, the standard long tubes. I've tried LED strip that I then stuck to a base and then had that. But they've all been a little fiddly, and it becomes hard to either adjust the brightness or adjust the color temperature, which I've really liked lately. A lot of lights now you can change if you want them to be a noon, like a bluish-white that you'd see during noonday, or a more orangey-yellow white, one you'd see during the evening. And now there's all these lights, all these LED-based lights out there, where you can have a knob to tune the color temperature. And this LED light panel, it's about maybe six inches on a side, and it's normally meant to be mounted on top of a camera for photography people to take pictures and to light their subject, but I found you can just mount it above your bench and it becomes a great task light.”

Koolertron 4.3" LCD Digital USB Microscope ($79)
"I stumbled across this little microscope, and it's perfect because it's super portable. I can just kind of drag it around wherever I need it, and I'll stick circuit boards that I'm looking at to see how the manufacturing of them went. When I'm soldering stuff, sometimes I'll stick the circuit board I'm working on underneath it to see it. And because it is fully-self-contained — it's a digital device, digital microscope, but it's got a screen built in, and the screen's good — I don't need a computer and have to look up at a computer all the time. I can just look at it. And so it's just brilliant."

Asus Chromebox2 ($170)
"Everyone's probably heard of Chromebooks. They're the little notebooks that run only Chrome, the browser. This is exactly that, but it looks kind of like a Mac mini. So you have to bring your own keyboard and mouse and screen to the game, but it's a lot cheaper. And so you plug in your mouse, keyboard — or as what I do, I've got a little combo mouse-keyboard thingy — and an old display, and suddenly you've got a working computer that's on the net. You can just log in with your Google account, and you've got a Chrome browser that just is on the net. You can watch YouTube. You can look at documentation. That's what I use it for. I have the schematics that I'm working against or maybe some educational videos that I'm following along with. I have that next to me. And because it's this little, tiny, cheap computer, I don't care if it gets a little dirty from being in the workshop.”

Also mentioned:

It’s a non-obtrusive notification light. You can hook it up to events on the Net you care about (“new mail”, “server down”, “it’s going to rain”).

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $342 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

Cool Tools

Nail Puller

A nail puller like the ones reviewed in Cool Tools earlier (here and here) is not the best. It will gouge a quite horrible crater in your material unless the nail is at the surface, or just the right size. With this one, on the other hand, I can extract a headless nail from more than a centimeter inside a beam. The wood was not unscratched of course, but since it was compressed rather than splintered, a bit of water can make it swell back up somewhat.

Cool Tools

Talin, Recovering game programmer

Our guest this week is Talin. Talin is a “recovering game programmer” whose career spans 25 years, stretching from the early years of personal computing to more recent games like Sim City 4 and The Sims 2. He’s also a writer, artist, cosplayer, musician and web developer.

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Show notes:

Inkscape SVG editor
"It's a editor for SVG files, Scalable Vector Graphics, which is a web standard. You know most images are made out of pixels, little square blocks, but vector images are made out of lines and points and geometric shapes. That means they can be scaled up and scaled down without any loss of quality. All the major browsers support them, so SVG's very efficient. Most websites use SVGs for their icons now, because SVG is a web standard, it can be embedded in the web page directly, without having to do a separate download, which you would have to do with an image. That makes for much fewer network connections, so it's very efficient. … It's one of the most polished and professional opensource apps out there. It's better than GIMP in many ways, in terms of its overall level of quality of the user interface.”

ResMed AirSense CPAP machine
"I suffered from sleep apnea, like many people do, and I didn't know this until about 20 years ago and somebody told me, "Hey, by the way, do you know that you choke when you're sleeping?" Sleep apnea is essentially an extreme form of snoring, where your nasal passages get blocked up and you start to choke. ...This has all kinds of negative effects. It means you're tired all the time. You don't get enough sleep, and also because you're at a reduced oxygen level, it has other health impacts. So they recommended that I get a CPAP machine. CPAP stands for Continuous Positive Air Pressure. It's kind of like a miniature iron lung. It's basically a little mask that fits over your face and provides a gentle air pressure to inflate your nasal tissues, so that you get a clear airflow. It takes a little getting used to at first, but now that I've been using it for 10 years, I don't think I could sleep without it. Well, I can but it's actually more comfortable now, to be able to breathe freely when I'm lying down like that. … I've tried a couple ones, and the thing is, is that every one I get is better than the last, because the technology keeps improving. The machine I've got right now is about a year old. It's a ResMed AirSense. It's actually a BiPAP machine. Which means that it actually senses. It's got a computer system that senses that you're breathing, and that adjusts the pressure for your inhale and exhale, so that it's actually easier. You don't have to breathe against the pressure as you're breathing out."

Forbidden Desert Board Game
"First of all, I really like cooperative board games. I find winning is not that interesting. I like collaboration and cooperation. The thing I love about cooperative board games is that every turn becomes this kind of creative brainstorming session. … Forbidden Desert, it's a very interesting cooperative game. It has an interesting play mechanic, where the board is changing its configuration as you're playing. The desert consists of a bunch of tiles, and as you, each turn there's a new storm card that comes up, and it moves the storm around. Every time the storm moves, it shifts the tiles, and so as you're playing it's like you're playing on shifting sands. The goal of the game is you're working together to find all of the hidden pieces of the lost airship, so that you can escape the desert before you run out of water, because every time a sun-beats-down card comes up, you all lose one unit worth of water, and if you run out of water the game ends."

The Captain is Dead Board Game
"This is a great one. The Captain is Dead is kind of a parody of classic Star Trek. The basic premise is that you are all crewmen on a star-ship where the captain has died, and you're being attacked by aliens, and all these things are going wrong. Each crewman has a different role. There's a dozen different crewmen you can choose from, and usually have four or five players, each with a different role. It's like, the doctor, and the hologram, and the alien. There's even one that's called crewman, which wears a red shirt, and every time he dies he respawns on the bridge as a new character. Every turn there's a new disaster that you have to cope with, like the systems are going down, or you have a weird anomaly that's changing the crew behavior. A lot of it is trading resources. It's like, I'll have three engineering skill cards, and I'll use the communication system to give you three of my engineering skills so that next turn you can fix the warp core, and then you can use the teleporter to move me over to the armory so I can attack the aliens. It's a very challenging game.”

Also mentioned:

Wil Wheaton's TableTop

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $331 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Elements of Typographic Style

For a long while I've been looking for an expert who could guide me through the complex world of typography. I didn't need another artsy typographical design book. I wanted a reliable friend who could introduce me to the philosophy of type and then also practically guide me through the jungle of fonts to ones that work best. Mr. Bringhurst is that guru. Under his apprentice I understood for the first time how to architecturally shape a page with text, as if I were building a house. I figured out when to kern, or not. Now I find myself drawn back to his study every time I need to craft a book, a webpage, or format a report. The wisdom and experience in this book is astounding. It's for anyone who makes words visible. That's all of us. The book is regularly updated. Blessings on Bringhurst.

Cool Tools

Bob Clagett, Maker

Our guest this week is Bob Clagett. Bob loves making stuff. He loves showing other people how he works to hopefully inspire them and empower them to make whatever is that they're passionate about.

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Show notes:

AirTable + IFTTT
"So Airtable is, like it was mentioned before, it's kind of an online spreadsheet. And that's one way that people use it. But the thing that makes it different for me and the way that I use it is more of a relational database. I come from a software background, so when you're programming you often have a database of tables, and those tables need to relate to each other. … The way that I use that in my business is I have what looks like a spreadsheet that is my project schedule, and then I have a separate one that is project ideas that I come up with all the time and I just dump into this big list, and I use IFTTT for that. … IFTTT is about taking multiple online services of all different types and connecting them together. So if something happens on one, it can cause something to happen on another. And I use that with Airtable. The IFTTT app, I've got a little thing set up where I can open an app on my phone that's just a text field and a button, and that's all it is. And if I type in a project idea, and I hit that button, it disappears. It's gone. But in the background it's sending that to Airtable. It's putting in my list of project ideas, and it just keeps it there, and then I don't have to remember it anymore, but I also don't lose it."

Nest Hello
"The Hello is a doorbell, which seems, for the price it sounds so unrealistic to actually get, because it's several hundred dollars. But it's an HD camera built into a tiny little doorbell, and it's the same technology that they have in their security cameras … It's small and kind of modern-looking and it hooks right up to the normal hookup for a doorbell. So you don't have to really do anything special to get this in to place. And it's got some really cool features. It's very new, so I think some of the features that will be the coolest have yet to be added. But when you get it hooked up and someone walks up to your door, you get a notification on your phone or device or whatever that shows you video of the person who's walked up to the door. And you can press a button onscreen, and you can talk to them remotely through the doorbell. It's got some kind of canned responses that you can just press a button and this voice will say, "Just leave the package by the door," there's a few things like that. But one of the coolest things, I think, about it is that they've got some facial recognition stuff built in to it. So once it starts to take pictures, it gets this video of the people that come up to your door, and it keeps a log of all these pictures of the people."

ISOtunes Bluetooth Headphones
“They have basically the same features as far as listening that every other headphone in the world. But they have an interesting phone insert on them that you roll it up and you kind of heat it with your finger, between your thumb and your finger, and it squishes it down. And then when you put it in your ear it expands and completely fills the ear canal. So it cuts out basically all the noise that can come in. And the guy that works with me is maybe 10 feet from me right now, and I've yelled at the top of my voice his name to try to get his attention with these things in, and it completely blocks it out. But one of the things that I think is even color about them is that they have a, I can't remember exactly what they call it, but it's like a consistent noise level suppression. So if there's a noise in the background, like if you had a saw running that was kind of the same noise the whole time or like a lawn mower or something, it can actively cut that sound out. So you can take a phone call while you're on a riding lawn mower, and the person on the other end doesn't really even know that there's a mower running. They just hear when your voice spikes and things like that. That's the part that they hear. And I have not heard of any other Bluetooth headphone that does that."

Prusa i3 MK3 3D printer
"I've had several different 3D printers. I use them a lot for my projects. And I'm in a position where a lot of companies will send me things, and I get to try out really expensive things that I wouldn't ever justified buying myself. But I have a lot of people who ask me about a good first printer. And I think the problem with that question is a lot of people are looking for a good first cheap printer. And what you actually want is a good printer, not a cheap printer, because cheap printers that don't work very well are gonna make you hate 3D printing and think that it doesn't work. And so when I've looked at a bunch of different ones from the perspective of cost and functionality and tried to find something in the middle, and I got the Prusa I3 Mark 2 a couple of years ago when it came out, and it was fantastic. It was like $699 for a printer that worked almost perfectly every single time right out of the box. You didn't have to do anything to it, and it was a great printer, I was really happy with it. And then they announced this Mark 3, which is an upgraded version of the same thing. But they added all these features that just make it awesome. It's now one of my favorite printers just because of its features. And then when you look at the price compared to a lot of other printers, it's very, very reasonably priced for what you're getting out of it. … It’s got a panic thing built in to it. So if it loses power, it has a little bit of a battery or capacitor in it somewhere that if it senses power dropping it will write the state of the print to some sort of a memory. And then when power is reapplied it'll ask you, "Do you want to continue to print?" And you hit yes, and then it re-homes the print head, just goes over to the corner, and then comes right back and starts printing. It's amazing. I'm sure there are other printers that do that, but I've never seen one, and it works great."

Also mentioned:

Making Time by Bob Clagett

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $346 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Michael Borys, Interactive Design Director

Our guest this week is Michael Borys. He is a designer who creates experiences for the entertainment industry. He is currently the Vice President of Interaction and Game Design at 42 Entertainment, a Magician Member of The Magic Castle and his immersive magic show is called The 49 Boxes — which is not to be missed.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

The Book of Codes
“It is a treasure trove of every single type of language that is used for encryption from the dawn of man to now. Of course, you've got braille and Morse and things like that. There's even Klingon. It sort of teaches your brain to look at the world differently and see language in everything. For example, the way that binary works, as you know, it's all ones and zeroes, and binary isn't just on-off like that. It can be birds sitting on a fence, and if a bird has his wings up that could be a one, and if he's got his wings down it can be a zero ... Even a hem of a dress, if it has stitching that changes from time to time, you can embed information even with stitching that way. ... I'm looking at Page 19, for example. It gives you versions of how information was decoded in the hems in garments during times of war, for example. And so across enemy lines ... This is called steganography, by the way, the hiding of information. Soldiers were given information that were kept in their jackets. And so when they would go across enemy lines, if they were captured their capturers wouldn't know that they actually had this information, but if they did get to where they needed to go the information could then be parsed, and that could win a war or lose a war. … hundreds and hundreds of these different ways of thinking that just become part of your rote memory, and so it makes you, as you travel, as you work, as you meet people and see things in a curio shop, you'll realize that information is being hidden everywhere without anybody knowing it. It's exciting, actually."

The Puzzle Keyring ($30)
"I wish I had this at every room escape that I tried to solve, because it'd be a tool to both to make puzzles, think about things differently, and to solve things really quickly. It's great. … It is a plastic-coated booklet, so you can dump it in water, and it'd still be fine. Unrippable, and it's on a metal keyring so that you can have it on your keys if you wanted to during the event. It's too bulky to have it with you every day of your life, but, boy, is it convenient. It's durable, and it's very, very useful.”

BLACK+DECKER Impact Screwdriver ($60)
“Because my show travels, all my tools have to travel, and a lot of times I don't have time to be delicate with the stuff that I have. This particular Black & Decker drill, I've charged it one time in two years, and darn it, it is great. Whenever I need it, it is ready. It had a light at the head of it. It seems unbreakable. I have a few different ones because I have a couple different sets of screws on many boxes that I have to undo and do during the show. This thing has been a lifesaver. You're probably expecting, well, specialized tools, but this is the best drill I've ever had in my life. It was like 70 bucks, but again, it has fallen 20 feet to the ground and it's never shattered, and it's just always been there for me."

Mag Hand Workstation
"That is the greatest for me because what this is is a platform that has magnetic trays — and it's heavy, which is good — that I can keep the tiniest screws in and the tiniest washers, and because I'm always working with these tiny boxes and building things and making things tighter than what they probably were designed for, things fly all of the place, and how many times have you lost eyeglass screws? This thing, I can tip it upside down and all my screws and washers stay in one spot. I've knocked it on the ground and things have been fine. And there are also these posable arms with clips on the end of them, so if I'm ever painting something or I'm staining something that's delicate, I don't have the stain or the paint on my hands, because this thing will hold very objects in place for me so I won't have to worry about that. It's great. It's a multipurpose thing that keeps me sane.”

Also mentioned:

Hidden Codes & Grand Designs

Locked by Jim Kleefeld


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $346 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Mushrooms Demystified

Veterans of wild mushrooming quickly graduate to author David Arora's masterpiece, Mushrooms Demystified, which is the undisputed bible of mushroom knowledge in North America. Where All That the Rain Promises and More... is breezy and succinct, Demystified is encyclopedic and exhaustive. You take Rains out to the mushrooms in the woods; you bring the mysterious ones back to the heavy Demystified tome at your kitchen table.

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Mosquito Netting

I hate mosquitoes. Serious gut-tightening allergic aversion. One bite at night and I am awake for hours, and I'll itch for days. They'll always find me, too. I've learned to ignore what natives say; there are mosquitoes around, and they do bite. When I travel in any remotely warm place, I pack my own mosquito netting. It weighs only a few ounces and can scrunch up small. It's cheap, and lasts forever. I'm still using one I bought 30 years ago for $2. I like the boxy four-cornered variety to fit over a bed or sleeping bag. I tie a 6-foot long string to each corner; that usually enables me to attach the string somewhere to keep the net elevated at night. I tie it to trees if I am camping without a tent.

I haven't figured out why more people don't pack their own. Mine has saved my life more than once. Mostly by allowing me to sleep soundly, but also because with it I avoid mosquito-borne diseases in areas they are common. Studies have shown that sleeping in a net is more effective at preventing malaria than taking prophylactic drugs. I insist my family use netting while we travel in the heat overseas. A quick search led me to Coleman as the least expensive source for a one-person camp-style box net.

There are new self-supporting varieties of mosquito netting, which would be useful where there is little outside support but lots of mosquitoes (tundra, everglades). They are more expensive, but still lightweight. I haven't tried these. Let me know if you do.

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Koichi, Tofugu

Our guest this week is Koichi. Koichi started Tofugu, a blog to help people get to Japan and have a good time once they get there, and WaniKani, a kanji learning program that uses mnemonics, SRS, and some morally ambiguous addiction strategies to teach you around 2,000 kanji and 6,000 Japanese vocabulary words up to 10x faster.

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Show notes:

“Magic is kind of a concierge service. When they first started, I think their whole thing was like, 'We can do anything,' and then they had examples like renting you a helicopter or helping you meet a celebrity or things like that, things that I don't think anyone would actually do. … I use them for less magical things, things like going through data and pulling things out, or even just making reservations at restaurants, really just all the time consuming things that I don't want to do. I send it to them, and they have a bunch of people and I believe they're all college graduates and it used to be everyone was in the U.S. ... they just get things done very quickly and then I come back and it's done. It's magic, I guess, in that sense."

"Airtable is something we adopted at work, and then I started adopting it in my regular life. I had a lot of spreadsheets before in Google Drive … But I didn't understand any of the math parts of it, so I just make pretty spreadsheets with colors in them and stuff like that. I was more interested in the text ... Airtable is, I guess the quick way to pitch it is it's spreadsheets minus most of the complicated math. You can still add stuff together and do other simple math things, but it's a lot more tailored towards, of course, text and also things like images. You can upload images to cells and audio, different kind of files. It's a lot more about that side of spreadsheets, the things that everyone tries to use spreadsheets for."

Cornell Notes system
"The Cornell notes-taking system, it's just like if you're in a class or you're reading a book and you just need to take notes ... the way it's set up is you have two columns … one column on the left side is a little bit shorter and it's supposed to be kind of a keyword, or what the topic is. For example, if we're just using it to take notes on the tools that I talked about before, maybe the left side would just be Magic or Airtable. It's just something to help you trigger a memory. Then, on the right side, you'd put in the information about it, like, 'Magic is a 24/7 text message-based concierge service that lets you do blah, blah, blah, blah.' You have these two columns, one that's the trigger and one that's the thing that you want to remember. Then, at the very bottom, they have you put the summary, which is just kind of the basic theme of whatever that page is. That's assuming you're doing it by hand. It would be like Cool Tools Podcast would be the summary, and maybe something about what the podcast is about and why you're doing it. ... It's a little bit like flash cards, but it's all in your notebook. You can set it up on your computer too with tables. … You can just use that to help memorize things, because it triggers your memory and it forces you to recall something, which is really important, rather than just reading your notes over and over again and making yourself pull it out of your brain. It's going to be the thing that helps you remember, and then this style of note-taking method, it really caters to that and helps you to memorize or remember whatever you want to remember. Even if it's not really formal memorization of raw data, it's just like reviewing notes, it'll help you to remember things longer and just things keep organized pretty well too."


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $369 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


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