Cool Tools

New US Train Route/Laptop Luggers/Better Short-term Apartment Rentals

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

New Train Route in North America

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a headline like that and it actually delivered: usually it means there are plans that might happen a decade from now. But on Friday, the new Brightline train from Orlando Airport to Miami will finally be running for real. It stops at West Palm Beach and Boca Raton too, or you could switch to local service for a stop and get to the Ft. Lauderdale or Miami airports. The next phase, which is still “someday,” will connect Orlando and Tampa. Watch future issues about new lines coming soon in Mexico too, ones the president already rode on for photo ops.

“Laptop Luggers” Profile

Deloitte report based on a survey conducted in March and April predicted a huge summer for international air travel (they were right) but had some interesting insights on "laptop luggers" who planned to work while they were away. Those bringing a laptop were wealthier (39% making $100K+), more confident about their finances, and planned to take an average of 3.8 trips over the summer. They're not stereotypical loners: "One in four will travel with 3–5 people, while over half of disconnectors are traveling with one other adult." (via Kevin Kelly)

Home Swaps for Working Travelers

Have you ever rented an Airbnb place that promised fast Wi-Fi, only to find you couldn’t get any work done because it was down or super slow? And that you had to work from a bed or sofa? Noad Exchange (an occasional Nomadico advertiser) is trying to change all that with a home exchange program just for working travelers. Every listing must have internet speeds of 20mbps or more and have a place to get work done. Once you join and list your own place, you only pay one credit per night plus the cleaning fee, making it far cheaper than renting through Airbnb or Booking as well. Use ALCENTRO as the promo code to get 3 additional credits when you sign up and if you feel like taking a flyer on an early-stage investment, they’ve got a funding round going too, with low minimums.

Digital Nomad Visa Realities

The hype about digital nomad visas seems to be dying down in the mainstream press as it becomes clear that some of these big announcements aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Some of the plans that are real have hidden tax implications or onerous paperwork requirements that don’t suit the self-employed. We’ve linked to a few round-up reports in the past, but this seems to be the best one for digital nomad visas you can apply for now and they’re laying out all the cons, not just the pros. Don’t forget that in these other countries that allow long-stay tourist visas, you may not need residency anyway if not moving there permanently.

Cool Tools

Maker’s Muse

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

– Send me a tip or tool recommendation.

Tell me a shop tale.

–Buy my books (Tips and Tales from the Workshop Vol. 1Vol. 2).

Advertise your product, service, newsletter, app, book, tool, or anything you’d like to share with GT&T readers.

Maker’s Muse

Coolest propane tank ever!

How PID Controllers Work

In your travels in the world of electronics, however casual, you have most likely encountered the term "PID controller." In this Digi-Key video, Shawn offers a crystal clear introduction to what PID (proportional, integral, derivative) is and the science of Control Theory behind it.

In the video, we use an example of a cruise control system in a car. We want to design a mechanism that can maintain a constant speed by controlling the position of the accelerator (gas pedal). PID controllers are a perfect fit for such a system. In fact, most modern cars use PID controllers for cruise control.

A simple, naive approach to designing such a controller is to adjust the process’s input signal based on the set point alone with no feedback. This is known as an “open-loop control system.” This may work in some cases, but most of the time, the output is dependent on other factors (such as road conditions and hill climbs for our cruise control system). As a result, we need to incorporate feedback into our controller.

A “closed-loop control system” measures the actual output of the process and compares it to the set point. The error is the difference between these two values, and it’s used as the input to the controller. The controller looks at that error and makes adjustments as needed to the process’s input.

Scissor Sharpening Basics

Confession time: I absolutely suck at tool maintenance. I avoid it like the plague. Every year, I tell myself that I want to get better, and every year, little changes. At least this year I told myself I would be better about cleaning the gardening/yard tools and have done OK with that. Part of this maintenance aversion means that I never sharpen anything. But, after watching this video, I decided to at least sharpen our scissors collection. In the video, James uses a cheap flat file and a diamond sharpening/whetstone to get the job done. Like James in the video, I have several pairs of lovely vintage scissors that need this kind of TLC. After the scissor sharpening, it should be on to the knives. Our kitchen knives are laughably dull. Do you share a similar aversion to sharpening and other forms of maintenance?

Looking at Hobby Brushes under a Microscope

In this Goobertown Hobbies video, Brent delves into some hobby science with his new digital microscope. Using it, he peers into a bunch of synthetic and natural bristle paint brushes, from the very cheap to the expensive, from the new to the very well used. The results are fascinating. Under the microscope, you can really see why natural bristle brushes are superior to synthetics, how the tension in their fibers helps in keeping the integrated, pointy shape of the brush. One of my favorite parts of the video was seeing his dirty old brushes under the scope before and after a thorough cleaning.

TOYS! Magnetic Project Mat

Via a Cool Tools “Tools of Possibility” newsletter, I was reminded of this wonderfully useful iFixIt magnetic parts mat for assembly/disassembly of electronics. Not only is it magnetized to keep all of your parts in place, it’s also a whiteboard so you can label everything and even take notes. You can also get one for half the price on Amazon.

Revisiting “The Kenny Rogers Rule”

In having done this newsletter for the past 5 years or so, I am frequently asked what are my top-most tips? What are the ones that stick, that “changed my life” (or at least my workflow). I was reminded a few nights ago of one tip that would be at the top of such a list: The Kenny Rogers Rule (as in “You've got to know when to hold 'em, Know when to fold 'em, Know when to walk away, Know when to run”). This is a name I came up with years ago for knowing when to take a break from a project that has turned to little but frustration. The other night, I was trying to put together a bed frame that was not cooperating. It was all the things we know all too well about modern flat-pack furniture: warpage, improperly-drilled holes, cheap hardware, confusing instructions. By the time I was down to the last two nuts and bolts, I was struggling, sweating profusely, and rung tight with curses and frustration. I decided to put the tools down and come back tomorrow. In the morning, rested and with a new dedication to getting this damn thing done, it took about ten minutes to finish (with nary a bead of sweat or profane utterance). A perennial lesson from Kenny to us all.

Shop Talk

It’s always interesting to see which posts are going to get the most response. It turns out (OK, no surprise, really) that everyone loves pasta and has something to say about it. I got the biggest response ever to the item I posted in the last issue about cooking spaghetti right in the sauce instead of in water.

Just a few examples:

Steven Roberts: Yes on the pasta in sauce... been doing this for years, both with fresh pasta from my extruder and dried stuff. Originally motivated by being on the sailboat and wanting to minimize fuel, steam generation, and water waste... but I came to like the effect of cooking something in flavor so it's not just a neutral substrate. Coupled with making pasta that contains herbs, it's another variable to play with that has a side benefit of resource management... but so much with creamier sauces unless you do the wine part first then add heavy cream near the end. I never turned it into a formula, but when I do that I just make the sauce more watery than usual, then adapt on the fly if I underestimated. (For some things, that differentiation between substrate and sauce has greater expressive value, and the equation is more about fuel and water resources. It's more of an addition to the toolkit than a standard protocol.)

Daniel Kim: It turns out that you can soak pasta in cold water to make it pliable. This can be stored in a bag in the refrigerator, and then put in to the sauce when you heat it up. (When I've tried cooking pasta in sauce, and have leftovers, the pasta gets too soft for me)

Amit Agrawal: Also, this trick thickens the pasta sauce from the starch in the pasta.

George Mokray: I save pasta water for other uses later.

P. Korm: Cooking the pasta in the sauce is a trick that Ralphy shows Jackie Jr. in season 3 of The Sopranos. Though, of course, it's not tomato sauce, it's "the gravy'.”

Matt Middleton: If you have a standalone pressure cooker (e.g. Instant Pot), you can do the same thing; you need about 16 oz of sauce, 16 oz of liquid (water, broth, wine, etc.), and 16 oz of pasta. Meatballs are optional, but recommended IMO; if using, add them first. Break long noodles and spread out so they don't clump too much, then dump sauce and liquid over everything. Set it for high pressure, and cooking time is about half whatever the box says; the linguine I usually use says 9 minutes, so I round down to 4. Quick release the pressure, and if yours has a Keep Warm setting, turn it off. When safe, open and use tongs to stir up the noodles. They might seem a little underdone, but that'll fix itself up quickly enough. My kiddos prefer the frozen box meatballs, so I use those, but you can class it up with your own fresh ones, saute onions & garlic before adding sauce, or any other technique you like to build up some extra flavor.

And someone even upped the ante by sending this link to frying your spaghetti!

Cool Tools

Book Freak 139: How to Tame Your Monkey Mind

Get Don't Feed the Monkey Mind

Don't Feed the Monkey Mind: How to Stop the Cycle of Anxiety, Fear, and Worry by Jennifer Shannon, explains that anxiety is generated by the "monkey mind," which perceives threats and sounds alarms to try to keep us safe. This can lead to an ongoing "anxiety cycle" where we feed the monkey mind by using avoidance and resistance strategies in response to anxiety, which confirms the perception of threat and maintains the anxiety.

The book identifies three common "monkey mindsets" that underlie anxiety:

  1. Intolerance of uncertainty: Believing we must be 100% certain of outcomes.
  2. Perfectionism: Believing we cannot make mistakes.
  3. Over-responsibility: Believing we are responsible for others' feelings.

To break the anxiety cycle, Shannon recommends replacing avoidance/resistance strategies with strategies that create new experiences to support an expanded mindset. She also encourages welcoming anxiety sensations and emotions rather than resisting them.

Here are four tips from the book:

Thank the monkey

When you get caught up in anxious, worrying thoughts, don't try to suppress or argue with them. Instead, just observe the thoughts and say "Thank you, monkey" to acknowledge them. This creates distance between you and the anxious thoughts.

Ask the monkey for more

When you feel anxious sensations or emotions, purposefully ask for more of them. Say things like, "Good, let me feel more numbness!" This shows your brain that you can handle the feelings.

Ignore the monkey

Practice making decisions according to your values rather than the monkey mind's focus on safety. For example, choosing an adventurous restaurant over your usual safe choice.

Befriend the monkey

Treat the monkey mind like an overprotective friend trying to keep you safe, rather than an enemy. Have compassion for its limited perspective.

Cool Tools

Landscape Visualization

Once a week we’ll send out a page from Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. The tools might be outdated or obsolete, and the links to them may or may not work. We present these vintage recommendations as is because the possibilities they inspire are new. Sign up here to get Tools for Possibilities a week early in your inbox.

Understanding big buildings

David Macaulay’s Visualizations

Few have mastered the big picture better than artist David Macaulay. When a kid wants to know about pyramids or castles introduce him/her to Macaulay’s books. Macaulay dissects the parts in kid-obsessive detail while keeping his eye on the whole. And he shows how it all grows in time. His uncanny ability to x-ray complex places makes him the master guide to the built world. Of all his books, Underground is his most revelatory. Even adults will find themselves studying each page of “the city underneath the city” in aha enlightenment. Oh, so THAT’S how it works! Macaulay revisited three of his early books — Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque — creating new even more amazing visualizations, and combined the books into one new book called Built to Last. It’s a short course on civilization for kids. — KK

Cool Tools

Airport Belts/Solar-powered Watches/Cubicle Rebellions

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

No-metal Belt for Airports

Co-founder Kevin Kelly and I both swear by no-metal belts for airport days and we also like the fact that these military-style webbed ones don't have holes either, so they fit precisely no matter what's going on with your waistline. I've been using the same one for five years and it looks like new. There's a stream of very similar ones on Amazon with Chinese names, but this brand has the highest ratings and you get two (of different colors) for under $20, with Prime shipping.

Tough Solar-powered Watch

Speaking of travel gear that holds up well, I've passed the 12-year mark on the watch I wear the most when traveling: My Casio solar-powered one with an altimeter. I've never replaced the battery because it recharges from sunlight. Even when it sits in a drawer for months though, it doesn't wear down because the display turns off to save power. Prices range from $35 to $350 and that vast range stems from how deep they can go in the water and what features they have, so if you don't care about underwater strength, the altimeter, or other features, then you can go with the low end at this page. Some have analog dials too.

The Return To Office Tug-of-war

Corporate efforts to get people to commute to cubicles again are not going well. Widespread employee satisfaction drops in surveys seem to be correlating closely with back-to-office demands. When dating app Grindr demanded that its workers return to the office, almost half of them said, "No thanks" and quit. At Amazon, efforts to drive workers back to the office have become a PR nightmare for the company and led to very public departures and protests. Meanwhile, remote companies are finding higher worker satisfaction, less turnover, and more diversity in their workforce. Remote work is a godsend for those who are trying to balance work demands with taking care of the kids, so why are "pro-family" leaders so hung up on butts in office seats? I believe the most obvious explanation is the most plausible: roughly half of commercial office space is sitting empty and a lot of powerful people own those buildings—or collect taxes from them.

Earth-friendly Toiletries in Europe

We tend to be North America-centric in this newsletter since that's where we and the biggest chunk of our readers are from, but here's one for the Europeans. Reader Mira replied to my earlier post about planet-friendly toiletry packaging with a recommendation for a Dutch company called Lekker. They make organic, sustainably packaged items like deodorant, lip balm, sunscreen, and soap. They ship all over Europe and in the Netherlands shipping is free with a minimum 35-euro spend.

The Technium

Weekly Links, 09/08/2023

The Technium

Weekly Links, 09/01/2023

  • I was just reminded that 15 years ago I wrote a short piece on a way to do Very Long Term Backups. Still seems the best way. Very Long-Term Backup

Cool Tools

100 pieces of advice/NEAT/Jury Duty

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100 pieces of advice

I love reading people’s collections of advice and have recommended many of them in Recomendo. Here’s a list called 100 Things I Know, by writer and artist Mari Andrew. 


  • If you’re in an argument that’s going in circles, suggest switching roles: “I make your point, and you make mine.” It helps with empathy, yes, but also brings humor and levity to a strained situation.
  • If you’re stuck in a place or situation you hate, see what you can do there for others. I learned this through experience: When I hated working at a law firm, I’d think of ways to brighten my co-workers’ days. When I hated living in [City Name Redacted], I signed up to teach ESL lessons.
  • If you never learned how to dance at parties/weddings/clubs, you can teach yourself by watching videos of Motown and girl groups of the 60s. The songs are slow and the moves are simple enough to follow along to. You’ll get the rhythm and the basics down, then it’s easy to start embellishing with your own style. I identify as a good dancer, and I learned everything I know from spending a summer watching live performances of The Supremes.

— MF

Easy ways to expend energy

I recently learned the concept of Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis (NEAT)  which refers to energy expended for everything we do that is not sleeping, eating or sports-like exercise. I’ve always been aware of it, I just never knew the name for it and since I’ve learned what NEAT is, I started finding opportunities to go out of my way to “move” more. This NPR article outlines the science behind it and all the benefits. It’s not a substitute for exercise but it is the most accessible and practical way to increase physical activity. Examples of NEAT includes using a standing desk, walking to work or parking far away from buildings, cleaning the house, or fidgeting while sitting down. — CD 

Real-life Truman Show

For laughs and for a sweet time watch a real-life Truman Show, the 8-part series Jury Duty on Amazon. Our unsuspecting hero is serving on a fake jury, where everyone else – judge, lawyers, witnesses, clerks and other jurors – are all actors.  Every one of the hundreds of people surrounding him are in on the fiction, except him. The level of deceit is epic. They conspire to keep comedic things happening every hour, but all the while our hero keeps doing the right things. He turns out to be a perfect juror, and as you go through the entire trial you also get a good lesson about the American jury system. The humor is honest, one surprise after another. — KK

Happy hotline 

PEPTOC HOTLINE is probably the cutest hotline to ever exist. It offers prerecorded life advice and pep talks from K-6th elementary school students from Healdsburg, California. The phone number is a local US number 707-8PEPTOC. Press number: 1 if you're frustrated, 2 for life advice, 4 for children laughing with delight and 6 for how awesome you look. My favorite advice I heard from a young student was: “If you’re feeling hurt just take a sip of water. If you’re feeling bad and deflated just go somewhere and do what you like best — it reinflates you.” I heard about this in the the Creative Mornings newsletter and am just passing on the cheer. — CD 

Always sharp pencils

It’s a small thing, but in my workshop and studio I use Paper Mate Sharpwriter mechanical pencils to mark and measure. They are cheap (35 cents), super lightweight, very finely precise, have a good eraser, and are forever sharp by simply rotating the end. They are cheap enough that I have them everywhere, and wouldn’t care if I lost one, but they are bright yellow and none of them have ever broken. I hear they are favored by students as well. — KK

Solid shelf

The Amazon Basics 5-Shelf Adjustable Heavy Duty Storage Shelving Unit was just what we needed to store kitchen appliances. It’s made from stainless steel, and plated with chrome, and is very sturdy. We just bought another one for our closet. Best of all, it was easy to assemble. — MF

Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Cool Tools

Building a "Fractal Chair" from a 1913 patent

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

– Send me a tip or tool recommendation.

Tell me a shop tale.

-Buy my books (Tips and Tales from the Workshop Vol. 1Vol. 2).

Advertise your product, service, newsletter, app, book, tool, or anything you’d like to share with GT&T readers.

Building a "Fractal Chair" from a 1913 patent

Several years ago, YouTuber Eric Tozzi of Hand Tool Rescue lit up the maker internet with his introduction and restoration of the "intimate contact vise," a rare 1913 vise for "obtaining intimate contact with, engaging, clamping bodies of any shape" [see Patent here]. Eric dubbed it the "fractal vise." Since then, dozens of makers have created 3D printable versions and versions made from various other materials. And these vises are now available for purchase via Alibaba and elsewhere. In this video, Eric reveals that the 1913 patent holder also submitted a patent for an…um intimate contact chair. So, of course, he needed to try and recreate one. Will it turn out to be the mother of all butt-pinchers? Tune in and find out.

Getting Your Electronics Projects Onto the Internet

In this video from Becky Stern for Digi-Key, she looks at the different options available for getting your microcontroller project connected to the internet. She runs through some of the different microcontrollers you can use (ESP8266, ESP32, Arduino, Particle, Pico), cool projects you can connect to (like Cheerlights), cloud services for visualizing sensor data, including Arduino CloudAdafruit IO, and ThingSpeak, and more. Connecting an electronics project you made to the Big Wide Muddy of the global internet carries a unique little thrill (beyond the project’s utility). If you’re new to the Internet of Things (IoT), this video is a great introduction to connecting your projects.

Making Carving Tools from Old Bandsaw Blades

Bumped into this on Instagram.

“Price: Low to High” is Your Friend

Several years ago, I ordered a set of 5 “premium” hobby sanding sticks for $14 on Amazon. I’ve used them for years and they’ve served me well, but the commonly-used sticks are now bereft of grit. I was about to order a new set when I decided to look and see what other product options were available in the sanding sticks category. I started by selecting “Price: Low to High.” I found a well-reviewed set of 20 sticks for $7.50 (that’s .38 instead of $2.80 per stick). I bought them and they’re great. Perfect for what I need (I use them for working with styrene) and for a lot less money. So, the next time you go to buy something on Amazon, don’t forget to organize your search low-to-high (and then choose the highest-rated, lowest-priced item that looks like it will serve your needs).

The Tool on Wire Strippers You May Not Know About

On See Jane Drill, contractor and DIY educator, Leah Bolden, points out a feature on most wire strippers that some makers may not know about. Right near the hinge of the tool are often found two (or more) bolt shears for common-size bolts (e.g. 6-32 and 8-32). Leah shows how to properly use these shears to remove the excess length but maintain the precious threads.

Shop Talk

Our friend Federico from wolfCatWorkshop sent in the following:

A couple of things I wanted to send your way:

  • I'm intrigued by this "hack" of putting a hooked blade on an oscillating tool. Seems really cool. Haven't tried it, but it’s been on my to-do list for a while.

    [I actually included that in my Tips book (Volume 2). I’ve never tried it, either, but I trust Chris Notap to be a very reliable source of real, non-gimmicky tips. - Gareth]

  • I recently fell in love with the Workshop Companion YouTube channel, and I'm surprised I’d not found it before. His presentation is really clear and funny (in a good way) and the occasional appearance of the dog is super charming. Two videos that I loved were the bandsaw magic technique and "concealed hinges 101." The latter is a really good intro to those fancy hinges and made me want to incorporate them into a project of my own.
  • Also, this is a comment/plug as I made this video… I've been pondering about beginners learning CAD and an idea I came up with recently was using Ed Emberley's drawing books (from the 1970's!) to start getting familiar with the interface. I wonder how people jump from using a pencil on paper to using a mouse and a screen to make things. It's not necessarily a natural progression for a lot of us.

The Technium

Weekly Links, 08/18/2023

  • I am with David Brooks in believing moral character development is the most vital element in any civilization, and our current task. My book of advice concurs. His argument: How America Got Mean
  • A bold, radical, unproven idea: "gravity may be quantum entanglement in disguise". That would make all the particles in the universe a single unified quantum object. Rethinking reality: Is the entire universe a single quantum object?
  • 13 years ago I crowdsourced a list of the best magazine articles ever. Still a great list (but does not include anything written in the last 13 years). The Best Magazine Articles Ever

Cool Tools


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

Sturdy with tool compartment

Deep-Step Safety Ladder

Unlike conventional stepladders, the top step of this nifty aluminum stepladder is the most stable because of its extra size (100 square inches, the biggest of all the steps). It also makes tasks lickity-split efficient, especially with its thoughtful storage bin 11.5″W x 4.25″L x 1.25″, meaning no more lost nuts, etc. And if you’re changing light bulbs, for instance, you can leave the top open and place tons of stuff inside.

There are three, four, five and eight-step models. I bought the four-step version ($99) which weighs 9lbs, so it’s easy to lift with one hand and much lighter than my rickety old wooden ladder. It folds to 4.5″ wide, so storing it is easy. — Joseph Stirt

Compact multi-purpose ladder

Little Gorilla Ladder

The Little Gorilla is like the Little Giant Ladder sold on TV. Both are pretty nifty 4-in-1 ladders. You get: 1) Standard extendable A-frame ladder, 2) Adjustable for uneven terrain such as having one side on a stairway, 3) Flat extension ladder to lean against a wall, 4) Divided into two smaller A-frames which can support a scaffold or 2×12 plank between them.

The Little Giant is very expensive ($300 plus), while the Little Gorilla (different company) is much cheaper — $99 (I bought one recently on sale for $89). The Little Gorilla Ladder does all the Little Giant does but better. It is light weight — 29 pounds; anyone in normal physical condition can lift it. It is strong — 300 pound rated steps, stronger than most ladders. And it is small — when folded for storage, only 43 inches long. It fits easily in a car or in a closet. I can carry it around the house without bumping into walls or precious decorative objects.

Although it is advertised as a 13-foot multi-position ladder, the maximum length of the Little Gorilla is actually 11 feet. There are larger sizes of the Gorilla but they are bigger than I need, heavier and cost more. The Little Gorilla is best. — Jim Teter

This knock-off of the folding Little Giant Ladder is no longer produced. But the an identical knock-off (knock-off of a knock-off), at the same $99 price is now sold as the Costco World’s Greatest Ladder at Walmart. — KK

Heavy-duty, multi-purpose double stepladder

Werner Combination Step/Extension Ladder

This is the only big ladder I own. It works great as an extension ladder for painting, cleaning the gutters or reaching any of those high places. Like the Little Gorilla, it can be re-configured as a step ladder, so you can use it anywhere there is no wall to lean against. But like the previously-reviewed Green Bull Double Front Ladder, this ladder also has steps on both sides, allowing two painters to work at the same time (the max capacity is 375 lbs). The Werner definitely offers the best of both worlds. More expensive, yes. But surprisingly lightweight for a ladder this strong. I’ve had mine for more than 10 years with no sign of wear or tear. My dad is still using the one he bought in the ’70s. —Dan McCulley

Two-person stepladder

Green Bull Double Front Ladder

These ladders have steps on both sides, which really helps if you’re doing something where someone has to climb up and help you, like hanging fans or light fixtures. It has a higher rating (375 lbs) than most other heavy-duty commercial grade ladders. Its exceptional build quality and strength make it pretty much bullet proof. A friend introduced me to these after his painter had left one for him to repair some fallen gutters at his home three years ago. He loved it and bought one. I saw it, loved it and bought one and have been using it ever since. — Velemir Cicin

Folding, mini step-up

E-Z Foldz Turtle Stool

I have other step stools, but none so handy, sturdy, easy to use, and simple to store away as this small, plastic folding step stool. One lives in the narrow crack between my refrigerator and wall—it breaks down to less than two inches flat, but pops out easily to give me the extra nine inches I need to root around in the back of the top cupboards. Very sturdy: rated for 300 pounds. Reasonably lightweight: less than 2.5 pounds. And it has a nice handle when folded, so it’s great for use wherever, whenever. —Barbara Dace

We have a Turtle Stool in our kitchen which we use all the time. It’s quick to unfold, easy to store, lightweight, and incredibly strong and stable. A reader noted in the comments that the inventor of the stool also makes wooden versions, in difference sizes. No prices, but lots of choices and inspiration at his Tower Stool website.

I’ve used mine for five years, inside and outdoors, and it’s not showing any signs of age; I just hose it off on occasion. Really good to have on hand anywhere space is at a premium — apartments, boats, RV’s, etc. They’re also available in 6- and 12-inch heights, plus a two-step model (17 inches high), that folds to 4.5 inches (haven’t tried those models myself, though). The stools also come in a variety of colors. — KK

Cool Tools

Retro Recomendo: Office Supplies

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Our subscriber base has grown so much since we first started seven years ago, that most of you have missed all our earliest recommendations. The best of these are still valid and useful, so we’re trying out something new — Retro Recomendo. Once every 6 weeks, we’ll send out a throwback issue of evergreen recommendations focused on one theme from the past 7 years.

Multi-port Hub

In my experience, you can’t have too many usb ports at your desktop. I have an Anker 13-port USB hub mounted on my desk. I can charge several devices at once but most of the ports are for data comms with the many peripherals I have connected to my PC, such as headset, mic, label printer, wacom tablets, CD player, etc. I already have all 13 slots filled and next time would go for a 16 port hub. — KK

Re-usable Post-it Note

Probably the greatest invention since the Post-it Note are these 7x11 Post-it Dry Erase Sheets ($11, 3pk). They come ready to use, all you have to do is peel the liner and stick it somewhere. One sheet is small enough so that it’s not an eye-sore, and big enough so that it’s useful. I love it. — CD

Really big mousepad

On a recent episode of the Cool Tools podcast, our guest Jane Metcalfe recommended the BUBM Office Desk Pad, a 31-inch x 17-inch mouse mat. I have a desk with a glass top and didn’t like how the cool glass sucked heat from my arms and wrists, so I bought the mat and it turned out to be a great purchase. It feels like textured leather and looks nice. Best of all, it provides excellent insulation between my wrists and the glass. — MF

Favorite stapler

After watching 1999’s Office Space (directed by Silicon Valley creator Mike Judge), I wanted the red stapler belonging to the hapless cubicle worker. Soon after, Swingline started making a red model. I’ve had mine since 2008, use it daily, and it still looks new. — MF

Hide drawers underneath your desk

I’ve love my IKEA BEKANT motorized standing desk, my only complaint is it has no drawers. Luckily, I found these self-adhesive small hidden drawers that I was able to stick underneath the table to keep my favorite pens and sticky notes close by. To see how I install and use them check out this week’s Recomendo Short on YouTube. — CD

Best label maker

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

The Technium

Weekly Links, 08/04/2023

Cool Tools

Joe Richards,  Summer Camp Director

Joe Richards is a Summer Camp Director, Maker and thinker on the future of summer camps. Joe speaks on Creativity, Leadership, and Life. Joe has spoken across North America with a variety of youth, camping, and corporate organizations. Joe has been the Executive Director at Pearce Williams Summer Camp & Retreat Facility, in Fingal, Ontario, for 19 years – doing what needs to be done to make sure campers have the most amazing experience. You can find him on TikTok @campyoyojoe.

0:00 - Intro
0:48 - Picquic screwdriver
7:32 - UJK Parf Guide System Mark II
13:31 - Tool Box Drawer Organizer Bins
24:55 - Gridded Cutting Mat for workshop Table

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

Cool Tools

Street Smarts

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

Obscuring your identity

How to be Invisible

This a book about how to hide from people who want to find you, such as ex’s, disgruntled associates, opportunistic lawyers, private investigators, stalkers, the press, etc. Hiding means obscuring your identity. It is not about hiding from governments, because as Luna observes, “privacy” is a matter of economics; anyone can be found using enough money, which is what governments have. Luna classifies the 4 levels of obscurity one can achieve by assigning them 4 levels of money paid to find you. Level 1 is hundreds of dollars, Level 2 thousands, and Level 3 tens to hundreds of thousands. Level 4 is the government. The more it costs to find you, the harder you have to work to remain hidden.

This book reveals the many tricks one can do to hide your location, your assets, your identity, while still paying your taxes. Most of these tricks are legal, or at least in the gray zone of “not outright illegal.” (For instance, by supplying true but irrelevant facts, rather than stating something false.) There are many legitimate reasons for not wanting to be found by someone (spousal abuse, escaping revenge, identity theft, etc.) but I think the overriding one that motivates this book is the fear of having assets seized in a frivolous “deep pocket” law suit.

What is clear from this guide is the degree to which one has to disconnect from ordinary connections in order to achieve the higher levels of obscurity. Very few people will want to live with the constraints required to completely mask your true identity. Yet you are only as hidden as your weakest link, which could be one of a thousands everyday connections such as an old account, forgotten password, unexpected stop at a border, or an old friend. Higher levels of disappearing demand relentless attention, and in many ways privacy becomes a full-time obsession, as it has for the author.

Even though he tries hard in this third edition, Luna is not keeping up to date with the digital world. Hiding is harder, but there are also new opportunities as well. However because Luna advises people to stay off social networks, he is not ahead of the curve. (These days if you don’t have a Facebook account full of friends, that is a sign you are fake.) A younger generation will have a harder time implementing these tactics, although the strategy remains the same.

I live my life in the complete opposite direction from what this book advocates, being as transparent and open as possible at all times. Life is too short, and openness has treated me well. Luna would call this naive, and it probably is. There are not many of his suggestions I will actually follow, because I am not battling an ex, not running from the press, not trying to hide assets from unscrupulous lawyers. But as the author notes, the time to enable privacy is before you need it.

Like many other tools, it’s good to know these options exists, even if you have no plans to use them now. Being aware of what possibilities we have for deep disguise and obsessive privacy is empowering. And of course, if you are trying to find someone, this book has all the tricks they may be using. I learned tons and consider it a bargain education. — KK

  • Level ThreeThis will almost certainly require a move from your present location. Both your home (or rental property) and you vehicles will be in the names of anonymous limited liability companies (LLCs). Your home address will now be hidden from all but your closest relatives and friends. It will no longer appear on your annual tax returns, or anywhere else. If you follow the directions in chapter 12, "E-mail and the Internet," your Internet/e-mail connections will be under cover and the black-hat boys and/or law firms may have to pay a PI some truly serious money to track you down. Are you worth that much to them? If not, sleep well.
  • I learned this one from a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) agent I met, while staying in a motel that was near a flooded area. Some years ago he bought a $98,995 motor home under another name, and did not license it. (He thus saved not only the license fees and road tax, but an $8,513.57 sales tax as well.) For $12 he got a fifteen-day permit to move it to a rural location in another state. From time to time he moves it, each time getting a temporary permit. Try to find out where this agent actually lives!
  • Watch For This Sneaky TrickSuppose a private investigator wants to hear you talking to your lawyer (or mistress, or whomever). He may place a conference call, recording every word. Here is how it works. The first call would go to you, and when you answer, the PI punches HOLD and then speed-dials your lawyer. you start saying, "Hello? Hello?" Then your lawyer comes on the line. He recognizes your voice. Each of you may then assume the other person placed the call, and start to chat!
  • Suppose you wish to send $25,000 from Vancouver, British Columbia, to a friend in Helsinki, Finland. You would hand $25,000 cash to a Vancouver money changer (Hawaladar) in Vancouver, and receive code words (or an agreed signal such as a secret handshake) and a contact address in Helsinki. No actual cash moves out of Canada. Instead, when your friend gives the code to the correspondent Hawaladar in Helsinki, he will receive the equivalent in euros (less a commission) from money that is already there. To review:There are no written documents. The exchanges are based on mutual trust (perhaps for that reason unpopular in the United States?).Only local currencies are used. Thus, if you are sending money from the UK to Mexico, you pay in pounds and the receiver in Mexico collects in pesos.This exchange cannot be traced because no money crosses a border.
  • Since the IRS treats one-member LLCs as sole proprietorships for tax purposes, there are no income tax consequences. If you use your LLC for a part-time business, for example, you will merely report earnings and expenses on Schedule C and submit it with your 1040 tax return. Repeat: The income - -if any -- is listed on your personal tax return. Nowhere on the tax form will the name of your limited liability company appear. As far as the IRS is concerned, your limited liability company is invisible."How can I prove I own the company," I'm often asked, "if my name doesn't appear anywhere?" If privacy is the goal, I recommend New Mexico LLCs because they do not show ownership in the Articles of Organization (which are a public record). The best way to prove ownership, then, is to have the original LLC documents coupled with an operating agreement.

How to survive jail

Behind Bars: Surviving Prison

Yes, you are a good person. But a relative or friend may not be so law-abiding. And stuff happens. Here is what to do if you are ever arrested (mostly what not to do) and what you can expect if put behind bars. Written by two professors of criminology; one was a former correctional officer, and the other served eleven years in federal custody, including maximum security. They know what they are talking about, and they dispense their straight dope with surprising clarity and uncommon elegance and wit. (One chapter is called “You’ve Got Jail!”). They’ve written a guidebook to a distant country and its alien customs and ways; may you never arrive there. You get street-smarts from inmates and wise counsel from the Man. I rank my books by how dog-eared they are; this one had nearly every page marked and underlined. This is one of the books you want to read before you need it. — KK

The first thing you need to remember [if arrested] is keep your mouth shut and do not discuss your arrest or case with anyone, police or fellow inmates.

Jailhouse holding tanks are usually bugged with hidden microphones and video cameras. This technology is only incidentally for your protection. Its primary function is to provide the judicial system with an opportunity to gather more incriminating evidence.

  • Whomever you call, never discuss your case on the phone. Any admission of guilt will be used against you in court. Let us repeat: Any admission of guilt will be used against you in court.The same warning applies to mail, both sent or received, which will be opened and copied by jail staff. Remember, you have no privacy in jail, and every word you say, phone call you make, or letter you write, can be used in court to make a case against you or drum up additional indictments against you or others.
  • In general, with few exceptions, attorneys want their money up front, in advance, or they leave you to throw yourself on the mercy of the court. The reasons are simple enough. If you are found guilty and sent to prison, you will be in no mood to pay your legal bill. Also, many of their clients are crooks who are not overly inclined toward scrupulous bill-paying in the first place. These facts lawyers know only too well, so they will exert great pressure on you to pay up front before your case is decided. You must resist their demands for large sums of money and only pay the attorney a portion of what they ask.Defense attorneys are like stockbrokers: They collect their fees and commissions on the amount of business they do, no matter whether their customers win or lose. As officers of the court, their first allegiance is to the legal system, even at the expense of their clients. Most lawyers who practice in criminal courts make a good living losing most of their cases, a fact that they rarely share with their clients.
  • You may think the 14th Amendment guarantees you due process, meaning bail, attorney, and a trial by peers. Unfortunately, after being locked up in the county jail, you discover that bail may be denied, lawyers are expensive, and few defendants ever get a trial. The fact is, most people plead guilty to a lesser or reduced charge simply because they get tired of being locked up in jail, their legal defense funds run out, and they fear the possible consequences of losing a trial.These are the cold, hard equations of crime and punishment. Most cases never go to trial. The attorney persuades the defendant (often after the lawyer has bled the patient dry of money for pre-trial hearings) not to go to trial, arguing that if they lose -- and they probably will -- they will be sentenced to the full extent of the law.Yes, you have a Constitutional right to a fair trial, but if you exercise that right and lose the case, the prosecution most likely will demand severe sentencing penalties, in return for your having made them take the case to trial.
  • Another possibility, rarely understood by first-time defendants, but well known to those with lengthier police records, is that once you plead guilty, which becomes public record and part of your police criminal justice dossier, you are more likely to be rearrested, and are easier to convict.
  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) is thought by convicts to operate a better system than most states. The prisons are cleaner, with more desirable food, and the prison staff is better educated, trained, and paid. It is fair to say that most prisoners would prefer to do federal time, day for day, as compared to state time.That said, federal prisoners are usually allowed fewer material possessions than state convicts. Individuals serving time in state prisons may have their own televisions, collections of books, music, clothes, and posters or pictures hung on their cell walls. Federal prison cells are more austere. These prisoners are restricted to only basic items, such as five books, toiletries, and a few changes of institutional clothes, no television. All of these possessions must be able to fit in one small locker.
  • You will find that every cellblock has "jailhouse lawyers" who will give you more truth than your attorney ever dared to share. (In case you were wondering, jailhouse lawyers are looked down upon by prison administrators, because they can file legal briefs for themselves and fellow inmates; it's not unusual for cons well versed in the law to find themselves transferred frequently.)

The Technium

Weekly Links, 07/28/2023

The Technium

Weekly Links, 07/21/2023

The Technium

Weekly Links, 07/14/2023

Cool Tools

Nomad Trends/Hidden Disabilities Sunflower/Attracting Remote Workers

A weekly newsletter with four quick bites, edited by Tim Leffel, author of A Better Life for Half the Price and The World’s Cheapest Destinations. See past editions here, where your like-minded friends can subscribe and join you.

The Evolving Nomad World

Welcome to all the new subscribers that joined us from Recomendo and greetings from the Bansko Nomad Fest in the mountains of Bulgaria. What has changed among the 700+ attendees since I came last year? More talk about AI and managing remote teams on the business side, more talk about community, subscription living, slow travel, life balance, and fitness on the personal side. And “finding the right base” is coming up a lot more often than “becoming a permanent traveler” Still popular: the 2-euro Bulgarian beers.

Subtle Help for Travelers With Disabilities

One of the speakers here was Ian from industry community Travel Massive, which I’ve been a member of for ages. In his talk on new travel trends he noted all the apps and programs that have sprung up for travelers who have mobility issues or health/mental hurdles that present challenges in moving around in public spaces. I especially liked the simplicity of the Hidden Disabilities Sunflower scheme, which allows people who want assistance to show they need it, but in a subtle way. It’s running in hundreds of airports, on transit systems, and in other gathering spaces.

Working in Asynchronous Teams

I currently have one team member traveling with me (my wife), two on another continent nine hours away, and a bunch of contractors and freelance contributors around the globe. So I put Running Remote on my reading list after seeing the author, Time Doctor CMO Liam Martin, on a panel presentation. In a world where remote work continues to expand—despite pushback from those fighting it to save commercial real estate—this looks like a great playbook for keeping everyone engaged without endless video calls.

Competing to Attract Remote Workers

One notable addition that stood out was how many destinations sent representatives to this nomad fest, ambassadors for their digital nomad visas. Sponsors included Malaysia, Croatia, Greece, and Tenerife (Spain’s Canary Islands) officially, but there were also other people closely involved in these efforts from the Balkans, Turkey, and beyond. Some nations are still figuring us out, asking for pay stubs or long-term freelance contracts from applicants that usually have neither, or hitting us up with the locals’ tax rates on a temporary visa, but “this is a very competitive market for attention” as one representative put it. Countries are starting to realize that they are being measured against each other on the attractiveness scale for those mobile foreigners who come in and spread a lot of outside money around.

The Technium

Weekly Links, 06/30/2023


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