Cool Tools


This is a cool 3-dimensional maze that is easy to get started and hard to finish. You need to steer a small metal ball along an ingenious obstacle course by rotating the clear plastic globe. There are 100 stations along the way, including some difficult topsy-turvy turns. All ages can get into it. We've found the puzzle to be extremely addictive to anyone who gets started. Because it's like a 3D video game without the electronics, the very physical nature of playing -- turning it this way and that -- is very satisfying. In addition, the maze is like a sculpture, the design of the route is geekily brilliant, and the elegance of the eternal return of the steel ball within the sphere is a stroke of genius. Perplexus has the glow of a work of art. It makes me happy just to pick it up.

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The Art of Game Design

This is by far the best guide ever written for designing games. All kinds of games, simple and traditional, but of course video games, too. This fat book is packed with practical, comprehensive, imaginative, deep, and broad lessons. Every page contained amazing insights for me. The more I read and re-read, the more important I ranked this work. I now view it as not just about designing games, but one of the best guides for designing anything that demands complex interaction. My 13-year-old son, who, like most 13-year-olds, dreams of designing games, has been devouring its 470 pages, telling me, "You've got to read this, Dad!" It's that kind of book: You begin to imagine your life as a game, and how you might tweak its design. Author Jesse Schell offers 100 "lenses" through which you can view your game, and each one is a useful maxim for any assignment.

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TheReviewIndex/Workflow music/Muscle map

Summarize Amazon reviews
TheReviewIndex finds recurring patterns in Amazon Reviews and then makes sense of it for you. It displays positive/negative ratings for things like “ease of use,” “quality,” “reliability,” and much more depending on the item. You can click through further to see snippets from user reviews pertaining to one particular aspect of the product. Right now the website only supports Electronics, Gadgets and Appliances. Worth bookmarking to make your shopping decisions a little easier. — CD

Workable flow music
When I am in the flow for work, headphones on, I like to put on any of the annual 2-hour tracks recorded by the DJ Tycho at Burning Man sunrise. Each set is upbeat, trancy, mellow. If you like this year’s Waypoint 2018 sunrise set, Tycho’s previous years are also available on his Soundcloud site. — KK

Muscle map
As a casual exerciser, I really appreciate this muscle chart from the DAREBEE website. It’s straightforward and I think, “hey, I can do that.” The website has other cool posters and printables to inspire you to workout. — CD

The best can opener
I bought the Kuhn Rikon can opener ($20) in 2011 and I still get excited every time I use it. It opens cans without leaving sharp edges. After opening hundreds of cans with it, it still never ceases to amaze me. — MF

End text formatting problems (OS X)
Here’s a beautiful life-changing tip for Mac users. Once you set these preferences, pasted text will be formatted like the destination, not the source. Why isn’t this the default setting? — MF

Geological modern art
Some of the best modern art on my walls are geological maps. These graphics are bright and cheerful while boasting scientific integrity. Geology from around the world can be used, but I favor geologically extreme places like this sample from Utah. For maximum of both art and science I highly recommend the Geologic Atlas of the Moon maps. Last printed in 1977, these Pop Art gems are now available as downloadable PDFs. (Crop and save as a jpeg.) I print mine on a 20 x 30 inch Costco poster board for $25. — KK

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Recomendo Announcement

Every week for the past two years we briefly recommend 6 things to our friends. Sometimes we suggest tools, but most items aren’t tools. Rather we recommend stuff such as our favorite places to visit, things to watch or listen to, favorite stuff to eat, as well as tips for work or home, and techniques we’ve learned, quotes we like to remember, and so on. We email these 6 brief reviews in a free newsletter called Recomendo, and by now this one-pager is sent out every Sunday morning to almost 20,000 subscribers. If you want to get a feel for what we recommend, all the back issues are available here.



This autumn we collected, filtered and organized 550 of the best recommendations and put them into a book, called naturally enough, Recomendo. The book is 95 jam-packed pages. We’ve categorized the recommendations, grouping like with like. Having all the workflow tips, or household suggestions, or workshop tools, or travel recommendations all in one place is super handy. There’s an index and subject guide. Many of the items have an illustration. To make up for the fact that a book can’t have links, we’ve added QR codes, so you can instantly get a link with your phone. Everyone who has picked the book up has found something cool for them on the first page and they keep turning the pages for more. I think it’s the happiest book I’ve ever worked on.

Recomendo is available now from Amazon, for $9.99, with two-day Prime shipping. We will have a PDF version later for international fans. I genuinely believe it will make a great inexpensive gift for most people. It’s what I’m giving to friends this year. Order one for yourself and see if you agree.

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The Book of Genesis Illustrated

As literature, the biblical book of Genesis has it all: sex, violence, angels, war, murder, heroes, incest, world-wide disasters, spooky mystery, and a timeless story. All it needed was illustrations by the comic genius R. Crumb and you'd have a underground manga hit. And that's what this book is. Crumb brilliantly did not alter or omit any words from the scriptural text, and even toned down his drawings to a PG-13 rating. But man, is this strong drink. It will burn your eyelashes. Like it must have done 2,000 years ago. Now you have absolutely no excuse not to read the first book of the Bible.

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Spider And Web/Cheap new tools/Better Reddit browsing

Mysterious text adventure
I used to love the old Infocom text adventure games. They were interactive stories where you affected the outcome by making decisions and doing things as you moved around a world described in words only. A friend told me about a free web-based text adventure called Spider And Web and I am enthralled by it.  I don’t want to say anything about the plot. Just give it a try. — MF

Cheap new tools
It is easy to mock the importer Harbor Freight for their insanely cheap Chinese-made tools, but in fact I’ve had great success with the tools I’ve bought from them. I may only use them a few times a year, and for that frequency their quality is more than sufficient, and their self-proclaimed “ridiculously low prices” are in fact a tremendous bargain. Over the years I’ve bought a welder, a larger sanding wheel, a buffer, and recently a new compound miter saw for less than $100. – KK

Customize your Reddit feeds
The Reddit app allows me to switch between accounts pretty easily, so I created a few different usernames to group subreddits by themes. It makes browsing less overwhelming when I can focus on one thing I’m trying to accomplish. I have an account for all the subreddits that make me laugh (CrazyIdeasAnimalsBeingJerksCrappyDesign), one for learning new things (explainlikeimfivewhatisthisthingtodayilearned), and one for inspiration (CraftsMiniworldsonegoodsentence). I actually have a total of five accounts, it’s almost getting out of control, but still this method keeps me sane. — CD

Sampling books
Several power users of the Kindle turned me on to a great tip: load up your Kindle, or phone, with free sample chapters of any and all books you are interested in. Read the sample (usually the first) chapter and then decide if you want to buy the book. In fact, don’t buy any book until you’ve read the sample chapter. The “Send free sample” button is under the “Buy Now” button on the book’s Amazon page. — KK

Prevent hand pain
I can’t handwrite for long periods of time without some discomfort. These pencil grips are designed for kids and adults with arthritis, but they help me out a lot too. I bought a 6-pack for $11. — CD

Ultralight kneeling cushion
This cushion ($8) protects my knees anytime I have to work on anything close to the floor or the ground. I’ve had it since 2011 and am grateful to have it every time I use it. — MF

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Forschner Victorinox Chef's Knife

A really great chef's knife is insanely sharp, yet retains its edge easily and feels well-balanced and welcoming in your hand. These days, a decent high-grade chef's knife can cost $100-$200. Several cooking publications, including Cook's Illustrated, recently tested a bargain $30 chef's knife that rated just about as good as the $100-plus knives. It's the Victorinox Chef's Knife; the one we use.

The Victorinox is a hybrid of a thin Japanese blade with a 15-degree edge (western knives have a 20-degree edge), but with the longer, broader blade of European knives. It is lightweight, nicely-balanced, and lethally-sharp. It has a comfortable, grippy handle that won't slip even when wet. There are five cooks in our household. This is the knife they all grab first. It may not be quite as super great as some of the other previously-reviewed chef's knives, but considering the price, it can't be beat.

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Elan Lee, Co-creator of Exploding Kittens

Our guest this week is Elan Lee. Elan is a professional game designer. He is a co-creator of Exploding Kittens, the most backed crowdfunded project in history. And before that, he was Chief Design Officer for Microsoft's Xbox.

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Show notes:

Blank Playing Cards ($6)
"I am a firm believer in that you just never know where the next great game idea is going to come from, but you can be pretty sure that if you don't at least record it and prototype it somehow, it's going to be gone forever. So what these are, it's literally just a deck of cards, blank on the front, blank on the back. I travel around with these things everywhere I go, and just a bunch of Sharpies. And the basic idea is, any rough idea I have, I used to take all this time to meticulously document them and outline it and figure out the rule sets. And what I figured out is it's so much easier and so much more effective to go straight to paper prototype. And this is the absolutely best tool to do so. If you have a card game idea, jot down a bunch of cards and quickly see if it works. If that game needs dice, figure out how many sides you want that die to have and pull out that many cards and start drawing numbers on the cards … They're great to create characters, they create inventory items. Literally any game competition imaginable can be created with these things. So I carry them around with me everywhere I go."

Don’t Shoot the Dog ($14)
"Don't Shoot the Dog isn't actually about dog training. It's about positive reinforcement, and the psychological aspects of shaping behaviors. And what it all really comes down to in game design is picking a core game mechanic that you want, and a way that you want those players to behave around that game mechanic, and just molding it, reinforcing it, shaping it as much as you possibly can. … I love this book. I recommend it to all new game designers, not to learn how to train dogs or horses or any of the other animals in there, but basically to learn how to model behavior and reinforce the kinds of things you want to see your players perform and make them feel great about interacting with you and those behaviors."

Retracting Box Cutter ($7)
"In my workshop, I mostly deal with paper. I mostly am building paper prototypes all day, every day. And involved with that is a whole lot of cutting paper. And I was just making a mess. I was cutting my clothes and cutting my body with these stupid box cutters, 'cause I'm not a very organized, careful person. What this thing is is so simple. It's just a handle, and when you squeeze the handle, a small blade comes out, allowing you to cut paper or cardboard or whatever it is that you need to cut, and when you let go, the handle, the blade, retracts into the handle, making it a perfectly safe thing. So as I cut, and then stuff the thing in my pocket, suddenly I don't have to worry about tearing holes in my clothes or fingers or anything else. …It's super light. It's all made of plastic. It's actually not the sturdiest of devices, not to say the one I have has ever broken. But it has needed some repairs from time to time. It's super lightweight, and because of the price point every time I open a new workshop anywhere, I immediately buy about 10 of these things."

Retractable Charging Cable ($13)
"It's a Lightning cable. It's actually also a mini USB cable. … I travel a ton, and the problem I have with all cable organization is I'm just too lazy to adhere to it. The cases and the straps and all the things that I need to keep my cables organized, I end up abandoning. …So this solves that problem for me. What it is is a small plastic case, maybe about the size of four quarters in a stack. And it has the front and back ends of the cable poking out of it. You pull them, and suddenly, you have a two-foot long ... in this case, iPhone cable. Pull them again, and they're spring-loaded, so they retract back into the case. And what this does is I travel around with four of these things, and whatever adapters I need, and then just a USB brick that plugs into the wall and has four ports. So when I set up in any hotel, I plug all of these things in. I can charge all of my devices overnight. And then the next day, when I need to pack up, I literally, one fist, grab everything out of the wall, yank on both ends, they all retract into a single, very neat pile. I drop those into a pocket in my backpack, and I'm done."

Waterproof Notepad ($9)
"This is one of my favorite things. This is a waterproof notepad. I don't know why it is, but all my good ideas show up in the shower. I'm sure there's all kinds of writing about why, but I don't know. All I know is, every day, I take a shower and that's where all my best ideas pop into my head. And for whatever weirdo reason, when I step out of the shower, like waking up after a really lucid dream, I've just forgotten everything. So my solution was, I found this great super cheap waterproof notepad. It attaches to the wall or tiles of your shower via suction cup, and it ships with a totally standard #2 pencil, that also attaches via suction cup. And it's waterproof. So the pages have a slight waxy coating to them that ... They're hydrophobic, but the pencil markings work perfectly. So I jot down all my ideas in the shower."

Also mentioned:

Exploding Kittens ($20)

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Radical Markets/Trim/Deal with difficult emotions

Alternative economic ideas
Crazy ideas sometimes become everyday and obvious. No book I’ve read has had more crazy economic ideas than Radical Markets by Eric Posner and Glen Weyl. Their ideas — which rethink the idea of property and taxes — are intriguing, and even if wrong, might be productively wrong. It is dense reading, but exhilarating. — KK

Hire a negotiator to lower your bills
Trim is an online service that negotiates with your phone, cable TV, and Internet providers to reduce your monthly bill by asking for a discount. Sure, I could do this myself, but I’m happy to pay someone else a 33% commission on the money they save me.  So far they’ve successfully reduced my annual bills by $543.24. — MF

How to deal with difficult emotions
Practicing mindfulness is easier said than done. This chart breaks it down into six easy steps to make sense of your difficult emotions. I find that visualizing my emotion as a little tangled mess that lives outside of my body makes it less likely I will react impulsively. — CD

Cooperative tabletop game
Most board games have a winner and a bunch of losers. But there are a number of games where users must work with each other to achieve a goal. One of the best is cooperative games is Forbidden Island ($18). The goal of this attractively designed card and token game is to recover four life-saving treasures from an island before it sinks into the ocean, drowning all the players. Achieving victory requires players to formulate plans, agree on strategies, and make sacrifices. — MF

Inspiring livelihood documentary
Shorebreak is a fast 60 minute doc on Amazon Prime about this surfer who found a special niche in photography. His thing is standing at the scary point where giant waves break onto the beach while he photographs whatever crazy surfers are in the wave, before he ducks under the pummeling mountain. The doc is well done, his photography is stunning. But what I love is the lesson of focus, enthusiasm, mastery, and foolish individualization. His relentless enthusiasm, going back to the shorebreak day after day to see if he could make something new again and again, has improbably earned him a living doing this. What a treat! — KK

Below are some enlightening things I’ve read lately. — CD

“Loneliness is a sign you are in desperate need of yourself.” — Rupi Kaur

“When you say something unkind, when you do something in retaliation, your anger increases. You make the other person suffer, and they try hard to say or do something back to make you suffer, and get relief from their suffering. That is how conflict escalates.” — Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger Within

“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” — Isaac Asimov

“The cost of a thing is the amount of what I will call life which is required to be exchanged for it, immediately or in the long run.” — Henry David Thoreau

“We’re all going to die, all of us, what a circus! That alone should make us love each other but it doesn’t. We are terrorized and flattened by trivialities, we are eaten up by nothing.” — Charles Bukowski

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Insider industry news
I’ve become of a fan of Inside newsletters. Once a day I get a brief summary of what’s been reported in a narrow specialized field, like AI, or VR, or Space, or Robotics. Succinct, select, in depth, and free. Inside also offers newsletters focused on each of the big tech companies, like Amazon or Google. And they now offer inside industry news on fashionable sectors like Cannabis or Beer. – KK

Fake follower audit
None of us have as many followers as we think we do. Up to half may be bots or shills. Every now and then I give myself a reality check by seeing how many fake followers I have on Twitter. I enter my twitter handle into SparkToro. Ouch, 21% are fake. — KK

Find the shortest book on any subject is a search engine for books that estimates reading time to help you find the shortest book on any subject. It’s not flawless, but you can never have too many book search tools. — CD

Quick unsubscribing
I get signed up for a lot of newsletters and PR lists without my consent. I used to take the time to scroll down to the bottom of each email newsletter and click the unsubscribe link (if there was one), but now I just use Gmail’s “Block” to send them forevermore to my spam folder. — MF

Savory meat marinade
My favorite marinade for meat is easy to make and savory. The original recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen and exists behind a paywall so I can’t share it, but the Southwestern Marinade ingredient list here is the exact same. I keep a printed copy in my kitchen. — CD

Card magic DVD
I’ve been interested in card magic for the last five years or so. The best way to learn is not by books (which are confusing), but by videos (which make the sleights and handlings clear). A great video collection for beginner and intermediate card magicians is the 7-DVD set called Complete Card Magic ($25). Get this and start amazing people. – MF


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Freeze dried taxidermy/TSA-proof knife/Python Tutorials

Freeze dried taxidermy
Occasionally a small bird strikes one of our windows and dies. Rather than bury it, I freeze dry it. I insert the whole bird into a baggie with a pack of desiccant to keep it dry. The desiccant gel slowly absorbs the moisture in the bird even after it freezes. After a year it is fully dried, and can be kept on a shelf or display indefinitely with all its feathers. This works on birds the size of a sparrow or smaller. — KK

TSA-proof knife
After decades of using a Utili-key as my choice of a small knife to pass through airport security, I lost it in the woods. I replaced it with Victorinox SwissCard. This tool is a mini-Swiss Army knife flattened into a plastic holder the size of credit card but thicker. It has a tiny (1.5 inch) sharp blade, scissors, tweezers, a pen, toothpick, and a pin. You can carry it in your wallet or bag. Goes through security. There is a knock-off version which remarkably adds a magnifier, a light, and four screwdriver heads in the same size card for half the price at $9 — but you’ll need to sharpen the flimsy blade. — KK

Python Tutorials
One of the things I miss about the 1980s was writing programs for fun in BASIC. A couple of years ago I started playing around with Python. It’s easy to learn, and powerful enough to do anything I would want to automate. Christian Thompson’s YouTube channel has wonderful Python tutorials for beginners. Check out the one on how to program a Pong clone. — MF

Advice book on Audible
At the behest of my best friend, I finally downloaded the Audible version of Tiny Beautiful Things, advice on life and love from Cheryl Strayed’s column Dear Sugar. The book is a collection of the most heartbreaking and honest letters seeking help and the advice given. Strayed’s thought-out responses pull from her own life experiences dealing with her mother’s death, drug addiction, divorce, and now as a happily married wife and mother. They are beautiful written and incredibly moving. This book elicits empathy, laughter and at times, lots of tears. There were a few times I was literally sitting in traffic and sobbing listening to her stories. I highly recommend. — CD

Read books in new languages is an online tool that helps you learn languages by reading a book in a foreign language with your native language side-by-side. You can click on any sentence to hear it out loud. I’m not sure how helpful it is to learn an entirely new language, but it’s useful for me to read in Spanish from time to time to remind myself of how sentences are structured differently. Right now, I spend a little time each day working my way through Alice in Wonderland. — CD

Cheap DVD Reader
No one in my family of four has a CD or DVD drive in their computer. That’s a good thing, because we rarely need one. When we do (usually to rip a movie or copy photos or music), I pull out this $15 USB CD/DVD drive and plug it into a laptop. — MF



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Theo Gray's Mad Science

Theo Gray's Mad Science ($17) is a rare home-chemistry book where the advice of "don't try this at home" is, for once, appropriate. I usually complain about the scare mongering of home chemistry, but half of the experiments in this how-to book really are extremely dangerous. But the other half are pretty cool. There are no explicit step-by-step instructions given for any of the experiments, just guidelines of what to do. Gray, whose column appears in Popular Science, wants you to do some research and not just be a "script kiddie." Stunning photos of what to expect from each project help. My son and I have done a few of these and they do work. The prime lesson engendered by this book is the sense that the material world is far more accessible to hacking than first appears.

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Laura Cochrane, Content Strategist

Our guest this week is Laura Cochrane. Laura Cochrane is a content strategist living in Berkeley, California. She currently works at NEO.LIFE, a biotech publication. Before that, she was an editor at two different DIY project publications: MAKE magazine, where she worked alongside Mark, and Instructables. Her hobbies include rock climbing, drawing, dancing, and yoga.

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:

Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack
A couple years ago, before a trip to Europe, I was on the hunt for a new day backpack. The JanSport I had had since high school had holes in it. I wanted something with a clean, minimal design. It’s actually a challenge to find a backpack that doesn’t have a bunch of random zip compartments, pouches, folds, mesh details, and gratuitous textures added for seemingly no reason at all. So I was excited when I found the Tom Bihn Daylight Backpack. It’s got a simple rounded trapezoid shape with a single diagonal zip that provides access to the front pocket. I got it in this really nice French blue color that looks good with most everything I wear. It also shipped fast, and as I recall there was a handwritten note thanking me for my order. It’s made in Seattle, and the quality is solid. I’ve stuffed it until it’s quite full and the seams have held up for the past two years as I’ve used it as a work commuter backpack.

I’ve loved this website for a long time. It’s an online photo gallery born out of the era of peer-to-peer filesharing. It was started in 2004 when a musician named Rich Vogel was using a filesharing program to find music and instead stumbled on a folder of photos. It’s still getting updated periodically, though I’m not sure how often. The collection is thoughtfully curated, like an epic mix tape. Though I can’t always put my finger on why one photo works so well next to another that seems unrelated in every way. When I want to be reminded of how beautiful the imperfection of real life is, I go here. These photos are often the mistakes, the ones the photographer never intended. Some are blurry, poorly framed, or double exposed. People have been captured with weird expressions or unflattering angles, but that’s part of the appeal. They’re stills from the cutting room floor of life. I find humor, horror, love, and glory, in a way that feels rare.

Audio Dharma podcast
Audio Dharma is a regularly updated collection of all the talks and guided meditations given at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California. A massage therapist recommended it to me after a particularly emotional session a few years ago. I started out mostly listening to the guided meditations, but lately I’ve been more into listening to the talks. They work well for someone who is listening in short bursts, so I’ll put it on for my 15-minute work commutes in the morning and evening. In moments where I’m feeling particularly stressed or sad, these talks can have the effect of helping me change what feels like a less-than-ideal metaphorical posture: when I’m overly focused on the future or the past I have this sense of leaning forward, like my mind is two steps ahead of my body. Audio Dharma helps me realign to something closer to upright — a posture of gentle curiosity. My favorite talks are the ones where the teacher picks a simple human experience, like uncertainty, desire, grief, or generosity, and they explore it in a way that usually leaves me feeling like I have a new perspective on a very common human experience. Most of the podcasts or music I listen to feel like they fill my head with noise that requires additional processing or decompressing afterward, but this feels like the opposite. To use a computer analogy, Audio Dharma defragments my brain.

PocketDisc crocheted frisbee
I like throwing around a frisbee, but I enjoy it even more with my crocheted frisbee. I don’t remember how I came into possession of one of these, but I love it. The main things that make it awesome are that it never hurts if someone throws it at you hard, and it folds up and can fit easily in pockets, purses, and bags. Also: it flies quite well, it can be given as a gift to people of all ages, and it’s safer to use inside the house. When I’m feeling silly, I’ve been known to flip it inside out and wear it as a hat. The only places I wouldn’t recommend it are around dogs, because I imagine they would quickly chew it to shreds, and on beaches. On the beach, the lip of the disc picks up sand when it lands on the ground, and then the next time someone catches it next, the sand gets released into the catcher’s face. I’m sure I could brush up on my crocheting skills and make myself one from scratch, but I feel like these are a good deal, for the money. They also make great gifts.



We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $377 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF

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Can-Gun 1

Using your index finger to press and steer a can of spray paint gets old very quickly. If your paint job lasts more than a few minutes, you really should use a snap-on pistol grip($5). It saves your knuckle, keeps paint off your trigger finger, and gives you an easy way to guide the spray. For years I've used an earlier model of this grip (called simply Can-Gun), but that one was only operated with a single finger trigger. This new version uses your whole palm. It's comfortable, quick-on and off, and the only way to spray. I had a 5-can job on a chain-link fence and the Can-Gun made it kind of fun. Even for small spray paint jobs, I slip one of these on.

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Long conversations/Freewrite alternative/CloudConvert

Long conversations
A “long conversation” is a new format for a conference. Two speakers begin a conversation on stage. After 15 minutes one of the two speakers is replaced by a new speaker and the conversation continues, and every 15 minutes for the next 8 hours a speaker is swapped out. (Each speaker converses for 30 minutes.) The day is engaging, unpredictable, passionate, diverse, informative, and entertaining. It’s a format invented by Long Now Foundation that is worth stealing. For an example, here are highlights from a long conversation held at the Smithsonian. — KK

Cheap alternative to Freewrite
I’ve been coveting the Freewrite typewriter since the Kickstarter launched a few years back, but I can’t justify spending $500 on one. Thanks to this blogpost I discovered that the now discontinued Alphasmart Neo2 is a cheap alternative. I found one used on Amazon for $35 from a reputable seller who listed it in working condition and included the USB cord. I wasn’t sure if a distraction-free typewriter would actually help me write more, but the answer is yes, it does! — CD

Free file conversion
CloudConvert is a free conversion service that supports more than 200 file formats and you don’t have to download any software to use it. I mostly use it to convert Google WebP files into JPEGS so that the images are usable in WordPress and Adobe products. — CD

Bingeable British drama
Ever since the last season of Downton Abbey wrapped up, I’ve missed a good British historical drama. That itch has been satisfied by The Crown (on Netflix) a lovely, beautifully casted and acted drama about the life of the still living Queen of England. The series begins in the 1940s and runs till today. Remarkably, it’s far more entertaining than I would have thought. It has everything, including real drama, and actual history, and is more educational than most documentaries. With 20 episodes so far (and a 3rd season on the way), it is superbly bingeable. — KK

No show, no slip socks
I’ve tried a few different brands of low-cut “no show” socks and these are the lowest and best. They are super stretchy and they don’t slip off. Seven pairs cost $15. — MF

Download past Amazon purchases
As a freelancer, I need to keep track of office supplies and other items that are tax deductible. I buy almost everything on Amazon, and I recently learned that you can download your past purchases as spreadsheet files. This is going to save me a lot of time because I can filter out things like food, clothing, toys, etc. — MF



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Five quotables/Sleeping Dragon/WeCroak

Five quotables

These gems keep ringing in my head. — KK

Don’t be the best. Be the only. — Jerry Garcia

If you really want to learn how something works, try to change it. — Matt Mazur

For something to be beautiful it doesn’t have to be pretty. — Rei Kawakubo

If you find a path with no obstacles, it probably doesn’t lead anywhere. — Frank A. Clark

Eighty percent of success is showing up. — Woody Allen

Ambient music generator
Sleeping Dragon is a generative music application, available for free on Mac and Windows. You adjust sliders, and the software creates a unique piece of never-ending music. I listen to it while I work. If you don’t want to download the software, you can just listen to the calming sounds it generates on its website. — MF

Death reminder app
WeCroak (iOSAndroid) is a bit morbid but I love it. At random times throughout the day I get a notification banner that says “Don’t forget, you’re going to die,” with instructions to open the app for a quote. All the quotes are about dying. The app is inspired by Bhutanese culture where one is expected to think about death five times a day to achieve happiness. So far my favorite quote to contemplate is a question from Pema Chödrön: "Since death is certain, but the time of death is uncertain, what is the most important thing?” — CD

Logo-free baseball cap
In my never-ending quest to wear clothes without logos, I found a great source of logo-less baseball caps (better than the discontinued Daiso hats). These hefty Falari caps are $9 and come in a refreshing variety of 34 solid colors. Mine are canary yellow. — KK

An honest book about motherhood
The Female Assumption is a raw and honest look at becoming a mother and the pressures on women to reproduce. I couldn’t put it down. Mother of 3, Melanie Holmes interviewed mothers from all over to accurately portray what happens behind the curtain of motherhood. She also includes the stories of women who have consciously chosen to not be mothers. This book is a well-balanced pros and cons list for either path, and a reminder that whatever you decide for yourself is the right choice. Every young woman should read this. — CD

Magnetic phone mount for cars
I’ve tried many different phone mounts, and this magnetic one ($7) is the best. It’s a rubberized magnet that attaches to a car vent. It comes with a metallic sticker to attach to the back of your phone. When I get in my car, I just hold the phone against the magnetic surface and the phone snaps against it. It is much more convenient than other phone mounts that use spring-loaded clips. — MF


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Recently Paul Saffo and Stewart Brand were raving about the Buff, the all-in-one garment. I am picky and a minimalist when it comes to clothing, but the Buff, in addition to being a shape-shifter, also weighs almost nothing, so I thought I should try it. It's pretty neat, now part of my pack. -- KK

Here is what Paul Saffo wrote:

Y'all probably have known about Buff forever, but in case not, this thing is way cool. Described as "the original multi-functional Seamless Wear", it is a stretchy microfiber tube that can be a neckerchief/neck-scarf, headband, wristband, foulard, bandit-mask, hand-warmer, balaclava and more. I mostly use it as a neck-scarf when biking, and on hikes when it turns cool. Because it is microfiber, it has great thermal and wicking properties -- and it is a great glasses-cleaner.

Stewart Brand adds:

Do see their online movies of the ways to rig a Buff.

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Oblique Strategies

How to get unstuck. Pick a card at random and either 1) do what it says or 2) let it lead you to another idea. It's amazingly effective. This handsomely boxed stack of cards was created by the lateral genius Brian Eno and good friend Pete Schmidt in 1975 to get themselves and other musicians unstuck in the studio. It's been through four updated editions since.

I use this tool in any design situation to think differently. In life I've found it more productive than throwing the I-Ching or staring at the wall.

This fifth printed edition on heavy silky stock will pop your rut.

More than you wanted to know about Oblique Strategies in its various editions and forms, plus links to digital versions are available at this amazingly complete fan site: Oblique Strategies

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The Shape of Life

This 8-part (4 DVD set) series is a National Science Foundation/PBS production that is the most taxonomic of any presentation I've seen. The Shape of Life addresses the 8 major categories of animal life -- phylum by phylum. Starts with sponges, heads toward round worms, and so on. You get the full diverse view of life -- all intelligently organized around a taxonomic framework (without the vocabulary), and expertly illustrated with great (mostly undersea) BBC-type footage. Despite the wonderful nature photography, the creators work really hard to convey the innovations offered by each phylum, and it works. This series cured me of a rather vague notion of animal diversity, despite my work at All Species. I'd love to ingest the same mind-opening treatment for the plant world, as well as the other 3 kingdoms.

[New DVD sets are available on Amazon for as little as $12, including shipping - MF]

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The Klutz Book of Knots

You can triumph in 99% of life's challenges knowing how to tie 6 basic knots -- which is probably 4 more knots than you currently know. The thing about knots is that a few will do if you really own them. Forget about those 300 ingenious knots sailors use, and for now master the few versatile ties taught in this cleverly engineered book. I own most of the knot books, and this is the best one for learning the ropes. It's for klutzes.

Volunteer to teach a boy/girl scout troop using this book; you'll learn fast.


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