Cool Tools

Drawing lamp/Eunoia/General Magic

We want to hear your recommendations! Tweet us @recomendo6.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cool Tools

Jane Metcalfe, Founder of NEO.LIFE

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

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

Show notes:

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

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

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

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

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

About Jane’s new book:

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


We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $390 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! If you would like to make a one-time donation, you can do so using this link:– MF

Cool Tools

Travel pillow/Library Extension/Remote working tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The Technium

Recent Readings, 13


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The case for a 100-year bond. Link.

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

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

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



Cool Tools

Flexbar Optical Punch Set

Show notes and transcript

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

Cool Tools

Switchable magnets/A Year in Space/The Noun Project

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


Switchable magnets
I’ve recently discovered magswitches.  These are magnets you can turn off and on. I use them in my workshop to hold down fences, stops, and featherboards. When they are turned on, you can’t move them. When off, they lift off instantly. They are non-electronic; the switch is an ingenious mechanical contraption hidden inside a very tiny case. You can buy fixtures with magswitches built in, or you can buy the switches to make your own devices. I found that even a single magswitch alone, such as the small MagJig 95 ($26), is a useful stop in the workshop because you can position it anywhere quickly on a metal surface and have it instantly hold. — KK

A Year in Space
I am a huge fan of spending big bucks to explore space scientifically. But I bet humans won’t settle (live long-term) on Mars, or the Moon, or in space willingly. To get a glimpse of why not, watch the Netflix mini-series, A Year in Space. This documentary follows two astronauts as they subject themselves to the harsh punishment of living off our planet. We’ll keep improving the process of space fitness, but this documentary is very sobering about the steep cost of doing without the things we get for “free” on this planet. — KK

Icons for everything
The Noun Project is a huge searchable database of icons you can use in PowerPoint slides, websites, signs, or for any project requiring symbols. As a test, I searched on the word “chicken” and got hundreds and hundreds of chicken related icons. Most of the icons are free under a Creative Commons license, and if you pay a small fee, you don’t have to credit the creator. — MF

Smart Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener
I wanted a way to open my garage door remotely, so I bought the Meross Smart Wi-Fi Garage Door Opener Remote ($30). It took just a few minutes to install and configure. Now I can open and close the door with my phone, and get an alert when someone else opens it. It also works with voice assistants. — MF

Easily remove hair out of vacuum brush
This LPT was a housekeeping game changer: Use a seam ripper to easily clean out hair tangled in a vacuum brush. My hair is long and everywhere and before I use to struggle with scissors to cut it out of the vacuum, but it turns out a seam ripper is the perfect tool for the job. — CD

Five quotes
Here are a few quotes that are helping me look at life differently. — CD

  • “The most courageous decision that you can make each day is to be in a good mood.” — Voltaire
  • “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.” — Rainer Maria Rilke
  • “A good marriage is one in which each spouse secretly thinks he or she got the better deal, and this is true also of our friendships.” — Anne Lamott
  • “Things usually happen around us, not to us.” — Unknown, found on Reddit
  • “We suffer more in imagination than in reality.” — Seneca
Cool Tools

Four Favorite Tools/World's cheapest destinations/Public Wi-Fi troubleshooting

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


300-page tool recommendation book
Kevin and Mark host a weekly podcast called Cool Tools. For more than 5 years now they have invited notable and creative people to talk about their favorite tools. This year, I took the transcripts from the best 150 episodes and pulled text, added images, and laid it all out in a 300-page book titled Four Favorite Tools. It is now available on Amazon in both color ($39.99) and B&W ($12.99) versions. Inside the book are hundreds and hundreds of recommendations for apps, gadgets, tools — but my recommendation is the book itself as a handbook for inspiration. — CD

World’s cheapest destinations
So much to see, so little money. Why not maximize your travel by getting the most per dollar? The World’s Cheapest Destinations will guide you to the best least expensive countries in the world, where a small budget will purchase you ten times the joy of a more expensive region. Part of my secret to travel is to visit these countries listed, which are usually the most interesting, too. Now in its 5th updated edition, this succinct guide is one of the best investments in life you can make. — KK

Force a public Wi-Fi login page to open
Here’s a problem I frequently encounter when I’m trying to use public Wi-Fi at the airport — the login page won’t load on my browser. This troubleshooting cheat sheet lists the different things you can try to get a Wi-Fi login page to open. In short, they are: 1) Turn off alternative DNS servers 2) Try to open the router’s default page 3) Open a non-HTTPS site in incognito 4) Restart your device 5) Create a new network location. One or more of these actions usually does the trick. — MF

Dictation transcription
Notes is the default built-in note taking app that syncs between Mac OS and iOS. The new thing for me is using it as a dictation device on my iPhone, since I am a lousy thumb typer. When I want to make a note, I depress the microphone icon near the space bar on the virtual keyboard in Notes and talk. My voice is transcribed into text with remarkable accuracy, even in noisy environments. Notes then syncs these written notes onto my laptop. — KK

Free, printable motivational poster
This is not like those cheesy, motivational posters you’ve seen. This is a collection of effective action plans to defeat procrastination. Every tip feels new and helpful and mind-opening. You can download your own poster to print out here. — CD

Save your knees
I bought this 11 x 18 inch Fiskars Ultralight Kneeling Cushion in 2011 for $8 and have used it hundreds of times since then. It has come in handy when repairing appliances, working on and washing cars, weeding, and any other activity that requires getting on my knees. More recently I bought these $7 Fiskars Ultralight Knee Pads,  which let me crawl around the backyard or garage without pain. —MF

Cool Tools

Four Favorite Tools

We asked 150 remarkable creators to rave about four of their favorite tools. Their fabulous picks range from small phone apps to industrial-scale machines. It’s the usual diversity of Cool Tools in book form made by the Cool Tools team. We originally asked the guests to share these tools on our weekly podcast show which has been running for 5 years. We started with the best 150 shows so far, and then we compressed their recommendations into a 300-page book. Each spread of the book contains a short bio, four (sometimes five) tool reviews, illustrated, and information on where to get each tool.

Regular readers will notice that all the material in the book has appeared here on these pages. What the book provides, that this website does not, is an easy way to serve all the personal reviews at once. The guests include makers and creators like Adam Savage, Tim Ferriss, Kari Byron, Jimmy DiResta, Simone Giertz, Grant Thompson, April Wilkerson, and Bob Clagett. It’s handy, fun to read, very up-to-date, and useful.

Four Favorite Tools comes in two editions: a full color edition and a less expensive B&W version. Either would make a really great holiday gift.

Cool Tools

myCharge RazorXtreme/News Items/Open Borders

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


Heavy duty power brick
The myCharge RazorXtreme ($100) is a portable charger with two USB A ports and a USB C port that charge small devices as well as laptops (20V, 45W). It’s bigger and heavier than typical portable chargers (almost 9-inches long and 1.3 lbs) but it keeps my family’s numerous electronics juiced all weekend when we are away from an AC power source. — MF

My best news source
I get a bunch of email newsletters but the only one I pay for is News Items. Every week day the one-person wizard behind News Items, John Ellis, delivers a dozen brief paragraphs of global news summarized from 75 uncommon sources, including many behind pay walls. New Items is much more global, more high level, and much more succinct (two pages at most) than any newspaper in the world. It’s $90 per year, and there is a free abbreviated version.  — KK

The economic benefits of mobility
Open Borders is a comic book written by an economist. It’s also a comic book about one of the most seriously radical ideas you may ever hear: that all countries, including the US, should have open borders, allowing anyone on the planet to live anywhere they want if they obey local laws. The book carefully runs through the reasons why this is good economically for countries like the US, counters all the obvious and non-obvious objections one by one, and then goes through compromises and partial solutions for those objections. All while keeping it light, fast, easy, fun, and crystal clear. While there are moral arguments, these are mostly economic arguments why open borders are a winner for all involved, especially the US. I am already giving copies of this book away.  — KK

Instructions on how to clean your laptop
After ruining a keyboard years ago, I took a long break from cleaning my laptop. Turns out I just needed someone to instruct me, like this article, on “How to Properly Clean Your Gross Laptop.” I had all the supplies at home: microfiber wipes, compressed air, cotton swabs and 90%-100% isopropyl alcohol. — CD

The exciting world of procedural generation
I recently came across a subreddit called r/proceduralgeneration. Here, you’ll see examples of amazing artwork, animated lifeforms, game environments, fantasy maps, and more, all created from algorithms (as opposed to being created directly by a human). If you doubt that software can produce beautiful and original art that surprises even the people who write the programs, this subreddit might change your mind. — MF

Mother/child relationship reading list
I was happy to find in last week’s Anne Friedman Weekly a crowdsourced syllabus of media depicting mother/child relationships. Which is a favorite subject of mine to explore, because the more I understand my personal relationship with my mother, the better I understand myself. Some of the books were already on my wishlist so I just went ahead and bought them, but now I have a whole new list of things to watch and read. You can check out all the other recommendations that didn’t make the syllabus here in a public google sheet. — CD

Cool Tools

SFO Museum/Science of Persuasion/Taste guides

SFO Museum
For years the San Francisco airport has been accumulating and displaying stellar modern art throughout its four terminals. They now call this ongoing collection the SFO Museum. Though thinly dispersed, IMHO it’s one of the better modern art museums today,. It is well worth going to their website to discover where the works are and what is showing. Most are in post-security areas, so it’s convenient if you have extra time once checked in, or are in transit. I’ve been seeking them out with great pleasure. — KK

How to persuade, distilled
A whole book (“Influence” by Robert Cialdini) on the key scientific principles of how to persuade people — get them to change their mind or behavior — has been expertly compressed into a 12 minute doodle video. It’s so compressed you might need to review The Science of Persuasion more than once. The principles work! — KK

Find your taste charts
Two images I find myself pulling up from time to time are 1) this chart of apple varieties lined up from most tart to most sweet, and 2) a visual guide to major types of wine grouped by flavor characteristics. I may never be able to articulate tasting aromas or textures, but at least I’ll be able to pick a delicious wine I’ll enjoy. — CD

Find the perfect pet bird
I’ve owned birds in the past, and I’m not in the market for one now, but my daughter showed me this fun quiz that matches you up with the perfect type of pet bird and points you to rescue centers near you so you can adopt one. The quiz result said my kind of bird is the lineolated parakeet, and I agree. — MF

Remember what you read
If you read books on Kindle or iBooks you should be using Readwise. I got turned on to Readwise by Recomendo readers Chris Galtenberg and Len Edgerly almost two years ago, and it’s become an integral part of how I read and retain the words and ideas that grab me. Every passage I highlight in my Kindle is auto-imported and sent back to me in a thrice-weekly email (you can choose the frequency and number of highlights you receive). This service is free for a trial period. I pay $4.99/per month for the upgraded version that allows you to import highlights from other sources, like Medium and Twitter. And I also have it synced to my Evernote account, so that anytime new highlights are imported, my Evernote is updated immediately. Using Readwise makes me want to read more and highlight more, I’ve even started inputing the highlighted passages from my favorite paper books. You can read a random selection of my highlights at: — CD

My favorite mayonnaise
I’ve been spoiled by Kewpie mayonnaise, made in Japan. No other mayo comes close. The secret is extra egg yolk and MSG. My kids and I squeeze it on everything (especially sweet potato chunks roasted in coconut oil). Kewpie also has a U.S. made version, but Amazon sells the real Japanese version. — MF

Cool Tools

Leave Me Alone/Ken Burns on Tim Ferriss/Really Good Questions

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

Fast email unsubscribe
I get signed up to a lot of email lists without my knowledge. I started using a service called Leave Me Alone to quickly unsubscribe to hundreds of them. Unlike other unsubscribe services this one makes money by charging a small fee instead of selling your data to advertisers. You can unsubscribe to 10 email lists for free to see how it works. — MF

A golden podcast hour
I’ve long been a fan of Ken Burns’ epic documentary series about American history, such as The Civil War, Jazz, Baseball, National Parks, The Vietnam War, and his most recent, Country Music. Each are essential watching. But listening to a deep interview of Ken Burns on Tim Ferriss’s podcast, my admiration for Burns increased two notches. In a short hour he managed to be informative, helpful, entertaining, romantic, creative, moving, wise, and spiritually enlightened — a Remarkable Being. It was one of the best hours I’ve spent. — KK

Twitter's best question threads
I limit my Twitter use to less than 5 minutes a day which doesn’t leave much time to browse and discover new things, so a newsletter I look forward to is “Really Good Questions” which links you to the best asked questions on Twitter and answer thread. An example of a really good question is Sam Altman’s “What advice seems obviously right, is relatively easy to follow, and is usually ignored?” I really liked @KristyT’s response: “The best way to produce good outcomes is dealing with reality the way it actually is versus what you want it to be.” This newsletter is a side project by Sharath Kuruganty so issues are infrequent, but here you can find the threads he’s collected so far. — CD

Find restaurants on Instagram
A helpful travel tip I received from a foodie friend was to find restaurants by searching hashtags on Instagram. This really comes in handy in places where Yelp recommendations are scarce. I was just traveling through Switzerland and searched for #Genevafood to find thousands of pictures of delicious looking food — most of them tagged with the location. This is great for me because I choose places based on Yelp food pics anyway. I clicked on the images that looked the best to me and then looked up the restaurant and its proximity. Searching hashtags also helped me find pages dedicated to local food. — CD

Erase wrinkles
My mother has a garment steamer (The PurSteam Elite, $70) and everyone in my family used it to get rid of the wrinkles in the clothes we packed into suitcases for my nephew’s wedding. The steam from the handheld wand made the wrinkles melt away. We immediately bought one for our house. — MF

Getting close to space launch
A destination that is a lot of trouble to reach, but one I found to be worth the effort, is the Cosmodrome, in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, the only place on the planet currently launching humans into space. This coming Tuesday, September 25, 2019, the Cosmodrome will send up the next three astronauts to the International Space Station. In between launches, regular tourists can get amazing access to the legendary launch facilities, and during launches you get to watch the liftoff way, way too close. Visits are organized by Baikonur Tours. (At home the NASA Live channel broadcasts the Cosmodrome launches live.) — KK

Cool Tools

Artbreeder/AirPod cleaning kit/Tally

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

Generating art
I’ve waited all my life for a tool that would create art for me. It’s here. Artbreeder is a website that breeds new visual images from existing images. Using deep learning (AI) algorithms it generates multiple photo-realistic “children” mutations of one image. You — the gardener — select one mutant you like and then breed further generations from its descendants. You can also crossbreed two different images. Very quickly, you can create infinite numbers of highly detailed album covers, logos, game characters, exotic landscapes. I find it fiendishly addictive. Wanna see the zoo of unearthly creatures I found/made? (Note: If Artbreeder is not out of beta use Ganbreeder, it’s predecessor.) — KK

Clean the earwax out of AirPods
It’s really hard to clean earwax from the speaker meshes in Apple AirPods and EarPods. I’ve assembled a kit of 3 tools to make the job easier. 1) OXO Good Grips Deep Clean Brush Set ($6) — use the smaller of the two brushes and the silicone wiper to loosen up and wipe out as much wax as you can; 2) Poster Putty ($3) — press this into the opening and it will pull out a surprising amount of residual gunk. Resist the temptation to press the putty too hard, or you’ll push the earwax through the mesh; 3) Handheld Illuminated Magnifier ($7) — this will help you make sure you’ve thoroughly cleaned the mesh openings. My AirPods now look great, not grungy.  — MF

Favorite iOS habit tracker
The only habit tracker that I have consistently used and enjoy using is Tally: The Anything Tracker (iOS only). You can color code and group habits by type, set targets, track by day, week, month or year and have them reset whenever you want. You can track 3 habits with the free version and upgrade for more. There are a lot of other features too, but what I like the most about it is the cool, colored grid view and that I am able to add notes for the tallies I make. I am trying to read at least 20 books per year and I use the notes to track titles. I’ve been using this app for almost a year now and I like being able to see the historical data — like of my miles hiked per month — because it motivates me to outdo myself. — CD

Inexpensive neck massager
My husband has suffered from chronic neck pain for a few years. He does posture exercises and uses a cervical pillow, but could not find a way to massage the pressure points that radiate pain up and down his neck. Then he found this cheap and wonderfully designed neck massager ($12) and can not stop touting its effectiveness. He loves it so much he even packed it and brought it on our current overseas trip. — CD

Translate this, always
I am finding the new Google Translate mobile app to be indispensable when traveling. About 100 languages are available, including Kazakh, Igbo, Maori, etc. About 60 of those languages can be downloaded to your phone so you can translate offline when your phone is off, not working in the country, or out of cell range. (Instructions here.) The offline translation is text only, but surprisingly smart enough for touring needs. Having a language downloaded offline (about 40MB) also seems to help when translation is online as well (like using your phone camera to read menus and signs.) It’s all free and one of the best bargains in the world. — KK

Pop-up emoji keyboard (Mac)
Here’s a tip for Mac users: Control + Command + Space reveals an emoji keyboard. My friend Glenn Fleishman added an extra tip: “If you type text in the little field, it shows both the literal characters in the preview, but also any matching text among Unicode, etc. And you can select a character, and it shows alternates that live among the Unicode jungle. — MF

Cool Tools

YNAB/Best bicycle bag/Self-care checklist

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

A home budget that makes sense to me
For years I’ve tried to keep a home budget, but it never seems to work. I end up spending more than I budgeted in some categories, less in others, and I don’t keep good track of what I’ve spent. When our Cool Tools podcast guest Lillian Karabaic recommended something called You Need a Budget (YNAB) a couple of months ago, I decided to give it a try. I’m glad I did. YNAB’s websites and mobile apps are excellent, as are the podcasts, videos, blog posts, and mailing lists they produce. It took me a while to wrap my head around the YNAB method, but now that I get it, I’m a true believer. For the first time in my adult life, I feel in control of my finances. — MF

Best bicycle tour bags
The best way to tour somewhere, IMHO, is via bicycle. E-bikes make that even easier these days. For overnight touring, you’ll need some bags (panniers). The blue-ribbon panniers are classic Ortlieb dry bags. Each is a roomy, rubberized single bag (no dividers or pockets) that seals off at the top to provide an absolutely waterproof container. Not cheap, but because of their simplicity they will last a lifetime. After 2,000 miles of use, I am very attached to mine, in bright yellow. — KK

Self-care checklist
It can be very hard to check in with yourself when you have anxiety or having a bad day. This is a very simple checklist for self-care that I found floating around Reddit. — CD

Mindful quotes
Five quotes that I’m minding right now — KK:
”The only interesting ideas are heresies” — Susan Sontag
“Technology is the reason we get old enough to complain about technology.” — Gary Kasparov
“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” — Dwight Eisenhower
“If my work is accepted, I must move on to the point where it is not.” — John Cage
“Remember, you can’t be stuck in traffic; you are the traffic.” — Kevin Slavin

Ergonomic Wireless Mouse
My Magic Mouse was giving me claw hand from the way I had to grip it and I needed to a find an alternative mouse, so I immediately googled Wirecutter’s tested picks and bought their upgrade pick of the Logitech MX Master Mouse ($70). Full disclosure: I thought I had purchased this from a list of the best vertical mouses. Even after it arrived and I began using it, I still mistakenly thought I was using a vertical mouse and that I had quickly overcome the steep learning curve that everyone talks about. By the time I realized that it was not a vertical mouse — just a very good ergonomic one — my claw hand was gone and I was happy with it, so I just kept it! My favorite thing about this mouse is I was able to customize the buttons and scroll wheels to do everything my Magic Mouse used to do. — CD

Cool drink for a hot summer
It’s been hot for the last couple of months here in Los Angeles and my family is guzzling the iced hibiscus flower tea I’ve been making. We go through a half gallon a day, and each glass costs about a penny. I make it with this one pound bag of Feel Good organic dried hibiscus flowers I bought for $15. I make it by putting two tablespoons of flowers into a half-gallon mason jar and fill it with boiling water. When it is cool enough I put the jar in the refrigerator. The ruby red liquid is pleasingly tart and satisfying. — MF

Cool Tools

The Listener/Best free stock photos/1619 Project

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

Best podcast episodes
The Listener is a meta-podcast. Each episode of the Listener presents great individual podcast episodes selected from all the other podcasts out there. I listen to it to hear the best podcast episodes on the internet as curated by the same folks who do the Browser; the best articles on the internet. No need to subscribe to hundreds of podcast channels. You’ll get the best full shows with original intros and ads, but you only subscribe to one uber podcast, The Listener. The variety and quality are awesome. — KK

Best free stock photos
Using an image or photo on a website or social media without permission of the copyright holder could turn out to be an expensive mistake. This YouTube video covers best practices for using other people’s images. The best part of the video is the list of five excellent free stock websites. Many of the images on these websites are in the public domain, which means you can use them without even crediting the creator. Here are the sites: https://unsplash.comhttps://pexels.comhttps://pixabay.com — MF

Changing historical perspective
Every American should read at least the introductory essay in the NYT’s 1619 Project, which documents the central role that slavery had in America’s rise. Entitled “Our democracy’s founding ideals were false when they were written. Black Americans have fought to make them true,” it is a strong, tight argument that inverted my own ideas. The whole 1619 package is a seminal work. — KK

You 2.0: Deep Work
This podcast episode of NPR’s Hidden Brain with Cal Newport, author of “Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success In A Distracted World,” reminded me how important it is to protect your brain from distractions and to create flows of deeply focused work. I find that on days when I schedule 4-5 hours of uninterrupted work, I accomplish a lot more within a short time span, and can use the rest of the time to respond to emails and get ahead of the week’s tasks. To combat interruptions, I find using a Pomodoro timer, and turning off email notifications in 30 minute batches works for me. I used to feel guilty for scheduling out every hour of my work day, like a robot, but ultimately scheduling in both deep work and time for distractions allows me to feel “finished” at the end of the workday, and to quickly unwind right when 5 o'clock hits. Cal Newport suggests having a shut-down phrase for when you’ve completed your schedule, something he was previously embarrassed of, but now embraces, like “Schedule shut-down complete.” I am totally stealing this and adding it to my workflow. — CD

Double-sided tape for your clothes
If I’m wearing a low-cut dress or a finicky blouse, this little tin of double-sided apparel tape (Hollywood Fashion Secrets Fashion Tape Tin, $8) always saves the day. I make sure I pack this in my luggage when I travel and in my purse if I dress up or go to weddings. — CD

Fast water kettle
In last week’s Recomendo I recommended the Bodum Brazil French Press Coffee Maker. To heat the water, I’m using a Cosori Electric Kettle ($30). It’s made from borosilicate glass and has a stainless steel bottom. No plastic touches the water. A half liter of room-temperature water starts to simmer in a minute, and comes to a full boil in under two minutes. It shuts off automatically. — MF

Cool Tools

Seek/Crisis Text Line/Travel Packing List

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


Identify nature app
There is utility and pleasure in being able to identify wild creatures and plants. But it’s a steep learning curve. The fastest way I found to learn is via the iOS app Seek, which will identify flowers, plants, fungi, animals, bugs instantly. It’s kind of magical. You point your phone at the specimen and it tells you the species about 95% of the time (in North America). The other 5% it can often identify the family. Someone called it Shazam for nature. The app is patient; you can keep asking it to ID the same thing you asked about before and it will will answer again with no judgement. Seek is free; it was developed by folks who did iNaturalist, an app that uses crowdsourcing to identify species, but Seek uses machine learning to render the ID instantly. I’ve been impressed by how well this magic works. Kids and teachers love it. It gives them a superpower to name everything around them.  — KK

Free confidential crisis line
If you’re in the United States and need someone to talk to you can text 741741 any hour of the day and be connected with a crisis counselor (For Canada text 686868, and for UK text 85258). My sister-in-law volunteers for the Crisis Text Line, and she said counselors go through continuous training and are always supervised by mental health professionals. I tested it out to make sure it works and the first text was automated, but I was connected with a live person in less than 2 minutes. I hope I don’t need it, but I’m relieved to know that it’s there. For more info check out their website: — CD

My travel packing list
Here’s the latest version of my travel packing list. It’s a PDF that can be edited in Adobe Illustrator (because I don’t expect anyone to pack the same things I do). As you can see, my list is broken down into sublists of different bags: charger bag, meds bag, tool bag, etc. I keep the stuff in these excellent Japanese mesh zipper bags . Now I don’t forget important things any more like I used to. I recommend that you make a similar packing list for yourself. — MF

Easiest way to make coffee
I’ve tried a great many different coffee makers, from a stovetop espresso machine to the Aeropress. But when I visited my parents last weekend and used their 12 oz Bodum Brazil French Press Coffee and Tea Maker ($15), I decided it was my favorite because it was so easy to use and clean, and it makes delicious coffee. I bought one for myself, and now everyone else in the family is using it to make coffee (and tea). — MF

Cheaper than insurance
Sometimes you can purchase a prescription drug yourself for less money than paying your insurance co-pay. And when you buy, drug prices vary wildly between retailers. Go to GoodRx website to find the cheapest source for a drug, including online pharmacies. They also supply coupons at steeply discounted prices, up to 80% off (their biz model).  It’s free, no account or personal info required. — KK

Easiest way to make a transparent png
I have Photoshop and I’ve taught myself multiple times how to make a transparent png, but then in a pinch I always forget. So now I just go to this website (Online PNG tools) to quickly convert images into transparent pngs. It’s so simple and fast and I don’t have to use any brain power. — CD

The Technium

Recent Readings, 12

An emerging alternative theory for chronic diseases such as Alzheimer's and diabetes (among others) is that the underlying cause is bacterial. If true, this is huge. Link.

Great TED talk on the 7 principles of building a livable city by Peter Calthorpe. Based on his experience doing urban planning in California and China. Link.

The superiority of knobs. The US navy is reverting back to physical throttles after sailors reject touch screen controls because they were too complex. Link.
Further steps toward a virtual movie studio. One step is a combined real and virtual model. Short video clip.

By trying to model oceans in detail, astronomers hope to simulate possible Earth-like planets capable of detectable life, and are concluding that oceans play a huge role in creating diverse life on Earth. It may be that other planets, with other oceans, may yield even life more diverse than on this planet. Link.

How to get really good -- world class -- at something. Don't just practice the flow. Try to fail in practice. More tips here.

In biology the Red Queen hypothesis is well known. I had not heard of the Black Queen hypothesis: organisms shed genes for functions adjacent organisms provide. Link.

Ghost-kitchens are virtual restaurants that are visible only as an app on a phone. The kitchen is not opened to the public, often hard to find, but serves food delivered via online sales. Uber Eats, Grubhub and other apps cater niche food prepared by hidden kitchens.

Cool Tools

Bahubali/Standard Ebooks/STORi drawer organizers

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

Epic Bollywood spectacle
If you have never seen a Bollywood movie, the action epic Bahubali is a great one to start. The plot revolves around a mythical demigod, Bahubali, who must reclaim his throne. This 2-movie 5-hour extravaganza is part Lord of the Rings saga, part kung-fu spectacle, part crazy soap opera, part Saturday morning cartoon, part LSD trip, and unlike anything you’ve seen. It is ridiculously corny, absurdly fictional, un-ironically campy, and immensely cinematic. It’s a lot of fun, all 5 hours of it. It streams on Netflix in 4 different languages. (The films are technically Tollywood, filmed in Telugu language, not Hindi.) The first movie, Bahubali: The Beginning has an English dub audio version, while the second movie, Bahubali: The Conclusion, has an English subtitle version. These films are the highest grossing films in India. Once seen, they cannot be unseen. — KK

Lovingly produced ebooks
Standard Ebooks is a labor of love. They take public domain texts (from Robert E. Howard to Bertrand Russell), scour them for typographical errors, add great cover art, and format them for Kindle and other ereaders. The online catalog is a pleasure to browse, with a synopsis for each book. Join the mailing list or subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on new books added to the catalog. — MF

Organize your deep drawers
I bought multiple sets of these STORi Clear Plastic Drawer Organizers to organize my makeup drawer. They come in different sizes and and can be arranged in multiple configurations to fit any drawer. They are completely transparent so even though they are stacked on top of each other, I know where everything is. There is no wasted space. — CD

Favorite water bottle
I bought the 32-ounce Takeya stainless steel water bottle last month to bring on hot summer day hiking, and it’s now my favorite. The vacuum insulation keeps the water cool for hours. It has a comfortable carrying handle, a drinking spout, and a wide-mouth lid for cleaning/drying. — MF

Listen to intimate couple’s therapy sessions
My favorite podcast is “Where Should We Begin? with Esther Perel.” I always find myself choked up with emotion while listening to these anonymous couples therapy sessions. Esther Perel is so professional and progressive and such a master at guiding couples toward the light. It’s both voyeuristic and enlightening. Season 1 and 2 are free to listen to in your podcast app, but Season 3 “The Arc of Love” was just released as an Audible exclusive. — CD

Good veggie burger
The plant-based vegetarian Impossible Whopper at Burger King is pretty good for fast-food. It tastes comparable to a beef Whopper, according to my memory. (I last ate mammals 15 years ago.) Now available in most BK outlets in the US, Impossible burgers can also be found at other burger joints like White Castle. — KK

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Dennis Nishi

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


Dennis Nishi is an Emmy-winning multimedia producer that currently works for public television and radio. He’s also a contributing writer to the Wall Street Journal and an editorial illustrator that has been published in The New Republic, the Washington Post and various other newspapers and magazines. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @dennisnishi.


Home Depot Husky Small Parts Organizer
Hiding a lav mic underneath clothing can be tricky because clothing rubbing on the mic or cable can create noise. And different fabrics create more noise than others as does static and chest hair. I put all of my tools into a generic Home Depot parts box. It’s their in-house Husky brand with customizable compartments. The box works great for storing many different kinds of stickies used to adhere mics. I also keep fur to reduce wind noise, toupee tape and hypoallergenic medical tape if I need to attach the mic to skin. The “bullet” in the middle is to weight the cable when the lav is put down the front of shirts.

Fiskars Travel Folding Scissors ($6)
The foldable Fiskars kept in the parts box are used to cut customizable moleskin strips to create “rigs” that are used to conceal mics.

Set Shop Joe’s Sticky Stuff ($20)
The metal tin contains Joe’s Sticky Stuff which is field recording voodoo. This double-sided adhesive is a cross between tape and a glue that never hardens. It’s extremely sticky but doesn’t leave residue. And it’s very malleable so can be formed into whatever shape you need. It really does arrest the movement of clothing layers around a mic head and dampens rubbing noise. You can even wrap it around a lav mic head to create a simple under clothing rig.

Ape Case Large Trifold Wallet ($9)
The lav mic case is actually an Ape Case brand camera filter wallet. The yellow interior makes it easy to find what mic I need for whatever situation and the case is well padded for protection.

About the bag
I carry all of these items in a Think Tank small camera bag ($50). This is a company founded by editorial photographers so everything is designed for field use by professional photographers. It has a lot of compartments that make it easy to store and organize everything and it has belt loops so it can be worn like a fanny pack.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Glenn Fleishman

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

Glenn Fleishman is a tech journalist and print historian who writes breaking news from the 19th and 21st centuries. His most recent project is the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule, an edition of 100 small museums packed with genuine type and printing artifacts. You can find him on Twitter @GlennF.

GorillaPod ($20 and up)
I still use an original GorillaPod, even though many newer models exist, because the one I bought forever ago still has legs—literally and figuratively! With the legs comprising mostly pivot joints that can hold a fair amount of weight, the GorillaPod holds both my iPhone (with Glif adapter) or mirrorless camera and keeps it in the right position. That includes wrapping itself around a post or tree limb, when the need arises. I’m almost never in a position to carry a full-sized tripod, but want a tripod’s advantages.

Sony Noise-Cancelling Headphones ($30)
I know you can spend a fortune on noise-canceling headphones, but I wanted something compact and which folds into itself, but is cheap enough I won’t feel bad if they get damaged after jamming them into my bag and jostling them around. This Sony pair isn’t full-ear, but it meets all my needs and has lasted a whopping two years so far. Powered by a single AAA—a rechargeable lasts for more hours than I’ve managed to track—it dims airplane and café noise well enough to sleep or work.

ZMI 10,000mAh USB battery pack ($22)
This is my favorite USB battery pack for recharging a phone. It’s by far the best combination of size, weight, form, design, and recharge speed. It can fully recharge my iPhone 8 Plus a couple times or more from empty, and it charges quickly. I can never quite believe it holds the juice it does. It helps at the end of a long day when the phone’s power lags or when flying on planes without power jacks.

Studio Neat Glif ($28 by itself; $55 with grip and strap)
The Glif was the first iPhone tripod adapter, and the folks at Studio Neat took it to a new level with the revision, which uses a cleverly designed spring lock to work with any model smartphone. With three tripod screws, I can mount it any orientation that I need. It’s a great help to take stable iPhone shots while traveling or shoot a long video, and I can lift it up over my head with the handle to take shots or video above a crowd.

About the bag
It’s a Timbuk2. I don’t travel light and it’s one of their bigger messenger bags. I customized it with three shades blue and maybe paid $100 for it … a decade ago? You can barely tell that it’s been used, and it still meets my around-town and long-haul flying needs.


Archives - This site operates under a Creative Commons License.