Cool Tools

Online figure drawing/Renting tools/Tunefind

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Online figure drawing
I live close to the Art Director’s Guild headquarters in Los Angeles, which has weekly evening figure drawing classes. My daughter and I go there occasionally, but I recently discovered a site called Line of Action that has a useful figure drawing practice system. It shows you a series of figure models posing for specified periods of time, just like a real figure drawing session. The hands-and-feet tool is especially useful (and challenging) for me. — MF

Renting Tools
Reminder: Your local Home Depot or other big box building store rents an amazing array of tools. Not just carpet shampooers, but carpet dryers, concrete cutting saws, pipe locators, ditch diggers, stump grinders, wallpaper removers, cherry pickers — all kinds of tools you will use only once in your life. Check out their selection. It’s a great way to try out a tool. My rule is if I want to rent a tool a second time, it’s worth buying. Last year I rented an electric power-washer. This year, I bought one. — KK

Figure out what song was playing
Whenever I’m watching TV and a song catches my ear, I often don’t have the chance to ask Siri what it is. Tunefind is great for that, because the next day I can just look up whatever show I was watching and listen to clips of all the songs that were played during that episode. Once I find the song, I can be redirected to listen on Spotify or search for the song on Youtube. — CD

Low-cost compact prism binoculars
I bought two of these handheld binoculars ($23) for an upcoming Rolling Stones concert my wife and I are going to. They are small and light enough that  I could put them in a daypack and not know they are there. The optics are excellent, especially for the price. — MF

Touring by bicycle
I’m a huge fan of bicycles as the ideal way to tour. You see more than in a car, but you cover more than walking. Inexpensive, too. The Adventure Cycling Association is dedicated to encouraging bike touring in the US and offers very detailed maps and guides for many routes, short and long – including those paths without cars. I used their fantastic maps to bicycle 2,000 miles from Vancouver to Mexico along the Pacific coast with minimal traffic, hills, and hurdles. Plus tons of other help for bike touring. — KK

A view for your cat
The best gift you can give your indoor cat is a great view and a comfy place to nap. I’ve owned both the original Kitty Cot ($50) and the less expensive version by Oster ($20), and they’re both great. The Kitty Cot offers more size options and the Oster Sunny Seat has a machine washable cover and can hold up to 50 pounds. Every time I witness my little furry Frida sleeping or lounging in her perch enjoying her view, I think about what a smart purchase this was. — CD

Cool Tools

Social mission Bollywood/Pyt/Sketch pad for all media

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Social mission Bollywood
Two notable Bollywood films give you that special dose of outlandish song, dance and rom-com drama that you expect with a Bollywood extravaganza, plus they advance a vital social cause. And they will give you deep insight into today’s India. Both films are about a maverick who takes it upon himself to undo an entrenched detrimental Indian custom. Interestingly, the same Bollywood super-star, Akshay Kumar, plays the protagonist in both films, which are based on true stories. Toilet: A Love Story is the movie version of a real guy who tried to put toilets in his home against the wishes of the village, and his wife is pressured to divorce him for this affront, and how this became a national campaign. Padman is the true story of a guy trying to get Indian village women to use sanitary pads instead of being quarantined outside during menstruation. He invents a way to make the pads cheaply, which he tests on himself. (!!!) His wife also divorces him. But all ends well in both films — it’s Bollywood! There is a third film, a straight documentary about the real Padman, called Period. End of Sentence. This won an Oscar this year for a documentary short. Quite inspirational. All three films can be streamed on Netflix with English subtitles. The first two are painless entryways into Bollywood. — KK

Danish word for stressful situations
“Pyt” is now in my vocabulary thanks to this Fast Company article. It doesn’t have an English translation, but Danes use it as an interjection to frustrations or mishaps. It means something like “Oh, well,” and is used as a reset button to accept the situation and refocus rather than react. I like it because it sounds like a cute short curse word. — CD

Sketch pad for all media
My art student daughter has been using these spiral-bound Canson Mix Media 7x10 drawing pads. I started buying them for myself, too. The heavy paper easily handles ink pens, watercolor, and Copic markers, and has a nice texture for pencils. A 60-sheet notebook is only $7. — MF

Use Dropbox within Gmail
If you use Dropbox, installing the Dropbox Chrome extension is a timesaver. I no longer have to search for files in subfolders to copy and paste share links. With the extension, I can access all my folders and recent files and attach them in a message without having to leave Gmail. If someone sends me a dropbox link, I can download it directly to my computer without being redirected to another window — all these saved clicks add up! — CD

Automatic product comparisons
When researching a product online, type in the item in Google and then add “vs”. Google will auto-complete with the most popular, and highly rated, alternatives, and the top link will educate you quickly. Then “vs” autocomplete the new item and you’ll have a good sense of the field. — KK

Another use for Starbucks cards
(This tip comes from Recomendo reader Andy Kegel, who saw my tip about converting leftover foreign currency to Starbucks credit.) “More and more rebates come as prepaid credit/debit cards. It’s hard to find something for exactly the face amount, so I feel like I’m always gifting back part of the rebate via unspent residuals. So now I put the whole amount on a Starbucks card or similar and I can spend the entire face value.” — MF

Cool Tools

Everambient/Dutch Reach/Words to Time

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Never-ending ambient music
Everambient is a $2 iPhone app that plays algorithmically generated ambient music. I’ve been listening to it all day while I work. Check out samples here. — MF

Car and bike safety
Anyone can accidentally kill a bicyclist if you open your car door at the wrong time. Learn the “dutch reach” method (Holland is a serious bike country) to open your door mindfully and save a life. — KK

Convert words to time is a quick way to calculate how many minutes it would take to read a specific number of words out loud. I recently needed to fill up at least 8 minutes of talk time for an audio recording, so I started with this website and aimed for 1,250 words as I typed. — CD

Understanding technical papers
The best way I’ve found to understand a very technical or scientific paper is to search YouTube for someone to explain it. The ideal is to find a journal club report. Journal clubs are informal groups who share the task of explaining an interesting paper to each other. Each member rotates in picking a paper to explain to their peers. This is 100 times better than having the author explain it, because authors assume too much prior knowledge. It is better to have a newbie who just figured it out. If you are lucky, a journal club will video their reports and post. Search YouTube with the paper’s title or topic and add the term “journal club.” — KK

Most comfortable flip-flops
Sanuk Yoga Slings are made from recycled yoga mats and are unbelievably comfortable to walk around in. The thong sandals have stretchy fabric straps that you can pull around your ankle so that they never fall off. I gave a pair to my mother-in-law, who was born and raised in Hawaii and maybe the ultimate authority on flip-flops, and she loves them. — CD

Absorbent stone coasters
My wife bought this set of 6 cool-looking large white stone coasters with cork backings ($19). They have attractive black patterns that appear to be hand-painted. The stone is absorbent, so they soak up condensation. — MF

Cool Tools

Your Money: The Missing Manual

This is the best user-guide to personal finance I've found, and I've probably read them all. It is certainly the sanest and most level-headed. There are no get rich quick schemes here, just plenty of ways to get rich slowly. Indeed, Get Rich Slowly was the name of author's very popular personal finance blog, which led to this book. J.D. Roth takes the great investing advice of Andrew Tobias in The Only Investment Guide You'll Ever Need, and he summarizes the life-earning wisdom in the previously reviewed (and still recommended) book Five Rituals of Wealth and he includes the needed crystalization of priorities found in Your Money or Your Life, and financial motivations from Suze Orman and the Millionaire Next Door and then adds key insights and tips from hundreds of other lesser-known money gurus.

Basically, Roth has read every book and blog on money managing, investing, saving, and earning and digests and integrates all this hard-won knowledge into an amazing selection of smart, practical ideas for today. I could hardly turn a page without learning a solid investing tip or two, or a clever way to save a few hundred dollars, or an example of something I already knew, but was looking for a vivid way to teach my kids. I like the fact that Roth emphasizes the value of sharing whatever wealth you have, and keeps returning to the long view.

I would not call this an inspirational book (plenty of those on the shelves), nor even a memorable book like the ones mentioned above. Rather it is what is advertised: a day-to-day operating manual for your money. Specific details, sources, methods, tricks. Dip into it when you are stuck, check it before trying something new, re-read it when you think you know it all. I've done pretty well financially, and if you were to ask me my practical advice -- like what to do tomorrow -- I would simply give you this book. It's slow, but true.

Cool Tools

Bad Blood/Free Solo/Sunday Soother

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Bad Blood
My wife and I tore through John Carreyrou’s Bad Blood. It’s the story of Theranos, the fraudulent Silicon Valley startup that promised to revolutionize health but instead perpetrated a potentially murderous scam. The founder surrounded herself with ultrarich powerful people who were blind to obvious warning signs because they were so enamored with the idea that they were going to make billions of dollars. This real-life tale beats any fictional corporate thriller. — MF

Maniacal performance
The fantastic documentary Free Solo deserves all praise it has received, including its recent Oscar. The film follows one guy’s attempt to climb the vertical face of Yosemite’s El Capitan without ropes. A single slip he dies. I could barely watch it, it was that crazy good. As the climber’s friend put it: this demands an Olympic gold medal performance, except here, if you don’t get the gold, you die. The film has suspense, drama, emotion, and explores maniacal obsession and perfection. Five stars. Now streamable. — KK

Sunday Soother
I love reading The Sunday Soother by Catherine Andrews — a newsletter about practical spirituality. Each week she shares her thoughts and processes for slowing down and creating more meaning in life, as well as articles, books, beauty products, recipes and more. It’s like getting an intimate letter from a friend. Each email is a tool for self-reflection. Her last two issues were dedicated to grief and ambiguous loss — which I learned is a particular type of loss that lacks a definition and closure. She solicited stories from her readers and here is what was shared.

Narwhal for Reddit
If you have an iPhone, Narwhal is the best app to access Reddit. It’s snappy, and highly customizable and much easier to use than Reddit’s own app. — MF

Happiness practices around the world
I’ve stumbled upon these ten little drawings of happiness practices all over the internet, and they still make me happy. I like learning untranslatable words that stretch the imagination. My favorite from this set is the idea of forest bathing. — CD

Smallest, cheapest flashlight
This ThorFire is the brightest, cheapest ($15), smallest, lightest LED flashlight that runs on a single AA (rechargeable) battery. Rugged, made of metal, it will stand up on its end. I have them everywhere. — KK

Cool Tools

Extreme street fashion/Mailist/Nespresso Aeroccino

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Extreme street fashion
Japanese youth have more fun with fashion than anyone. When I need a dose of pick-me-up, a bit of fresh thinking, or a smile, I head over to the Tokyo Fashion Tumblr, which features the latest eye-popping street-fashion finds on the streets of Tokyo. Never dull. — KK

Rediscover things you saved
I uploaded a copy of my Chrome bookmarks to Mailist, and now once a week I get an email newsletter with 10 random links to pages and sites I have saved. It has reunited me with travel ideas, things I want to buy, and useful online tools like this fabric calculator chart. I also use it as a way to clean house and delete bookmarks I no longer have use for. — CD

Fantastic frother
Lately, I’ve been drinking a lot of cold matcha lattes, and I’m using a terrific milk frother to make them: the Nespresso Aeroccino ($71). I pour in about 4 ounces of cold unsweetened almond milk and add a teaspoon of matcha powder, then press the button for 2 seconds (a quick press will automatically heat the milk, which my wife does for cappuccinos). In about 20 seconds, I have a delicious frothy latte. The frother is nearly silent and very easy to clean, because the stirrer is magnetic and pops right off the stem. — MF

Best wirestripper
The Vise-Grip self-adjusting wirestripper is the best wirestripper, period. It perfectly strips the insulation off of small wires for electronic projects, or large wires for running power. No muss, no fuss; it just works automatically. This hand tool fits kids, and pros. It’s the one I grab. This is not just my experience, but also the opinion of Donald Bell who tested 10 different wire strippers for Cool Tools. This is the wirestripper you want. — KK

Download full-size Instagram Pictures
[This recomendo has been removed  because it no longer works or is dead. — CD]

Travel tip for Starbucks people
Here’s a tip I haven’t tried yet, but it sounds like a great idea. When you’re leaving a foreign country and still have some of the local currency, take it to a Starbucks and load it onto a gift card. You can use the card later in the UK, USA, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and the Republic of Ireland. — MF

Cool Tools

Productivity trance/Ludwig/Photoshop tutorials

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Productivity trance
I discovered a number of years ago that playing one track of music in an endless loop helped me write the difficult first draft. Some writers and coders use white noise, but another group (I am one) prefer a single musical track in a loop. The kind of music varies by person (I use one specific Russian choir hymn); after a dozen loops the music disappears and what I get is a feeling of comfort, which helps me focus for hours while it repeats. Try it with your song. — KK

Search for example sentences
If I’m not confident with how I’ve used an expression, I will google the turn of phrase inside of quotation marks, and if I get Google Books results with similar examples then I know I’ve used it correctly. Lately, I’ve been using Ludwig for the same kind of phrase searches. I like that it gives me back example sentences from different sources like encyclopedias, news and science publications. — CD

Photoshop tutorials
My favorite way to learn new Photoshop techniques is by watching the Phlearn YouTube channel. I’ve learned how to remove objects, remove backgrounds, touch up skin, remove glare from eyeglasses, and my favorite: how to use the clone stamp tool. — MF

Graphic inspiration
I collect visual reference books to provoke me when I make things. I recently discovered the work of the prolific illustrator Charley Harper, who in part created the graphic look of the 1950s and 60s. His illustrations are witting, spiffy, and timeless. Many hundreds of his designs have been gathered into a nifty book called Charley Harper: An Illustrated Life (pictured above). It’s not nostalgia: I get at least 10 new ideas each time I open it. — KK

Good cordless driver
I finally upgraded my one-speed cordless driver with a variable speed drill driver ($35). Made by Tacklife it has adjustable torque, and speed is controlled by how much you pull the trigger. A built-in light turns on when you use it. I wish I would have bought this a long time ago. — MF

Alternative to an exercise ball seat
I bought this 13-inch balance disc ($14) to help reduce lower back pain. I use it for about 4 hours a day when I’m sitting at my desk. It keeps me from slumping forward and helps perfect my posture. — CD

Cool Tools

News from the Future/Brave New Work/Russian Doll

News from the Future
In addition to Recomendo, I also write a newsletter for Institute for the Future, called “News from the Future.” It comes out twice a week and each issue has four or five short news items that are signals of possible futures that await us. Subscribe here. — MF

New ways to work
I am not into management or business books, but this one is an exception: Brave New Work. It’s an intelligent and readable summary of the best practices (so far) in remaking what we used to call “work.” Aaron Dignan evaluates all the crazy ideas (open books, no bosses, etc.) to see which ones are effective in creating organizations that get us to do our best. He distills practical advice, too. — KK

Russian Doll on Netflix
In Russian Doll, a video game programmer finds herself in an endless loop of dying and repeating the same day. Each reboot requires her to dig deeper into her own existence, relationships, and trauma to figure out the purpose of the paranormal glitch and try to fix it. It is Groundhog Day meets Twilight Zone meets a life coaching session from hell. It’s great — I finished it in two days. — CD

Add Weather to your Google Calendar
I like using Google Calendar’s “month view” to plan my life, and I realized it would be helpful if I could see a weather forecast while I’m scheduling hikes and social outings. The easiest way I found to add a weather calendar was here. Now I have a two-week forecast always visible. — CD

Dark chocolate bars with cashew butter and vanilla bean
I bought these dark chocolate bars for my wife as a Christmas present, and now we’re hopelessly hooked. They’re a bit like peanut butter cups, but in bar form, and less sweet. A 4-pack runs $25, but if you order them via Amazon subscribe and save, it’ll cost you $21.25. — MF

Potent Quotes
Here are a few quotes that keep kicking me. — KK

“If you’re not ready to find exceptional things, you won’t discover them.” — Avi Loeb
“I don’t explain — I explore.” — Marshall McLuhan
“Everywhere I go I find a poet has been there before me.” — Sigmund Freud
“The genius is the one most like himself.” — Thelonious Monk
“There is only one difference between a madman and me. I am not mad.” —Salvador Dali

Cool Tools

Tommy Honton, Experience Designer

Our guest this week is Tommy Honton. Tommy is a Los Angeles-based experience designer who specializes in weaving interactivity and game mechanics into narrative storytelling. Across the United States, he’s produced interactive and immersive work for audience sizes ranging from 1 to 80,000. He’s also the co-creator and designer of the critically-acclaimed escape room Stash House and co-founder of the interactive exhibition Museum of Selfies. You can follow him on Twitter @angelalansburyd.

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:

Scheduling system: Using Trello with Google Calendar
I live and die by my calendar. I struggled to find a way to organize tasks by project and deadlines along with my daily agenda and personal schedule that could fit in one space on my phone and computer. I finally found my rhythm with Google Calendar integrated with Trello. All my projects are on Trello and every deadline or milestone now appears automatically on my calendar which makes it easy to manage and schedule my entire life in one spot.

Note taking systemUltra fine sharpie and Field Notes End Papers Edition
I take notes constantly. I prefer to keep everything digitally in the Google Drive ecosystem, but there’s something satisfying about using a good notebook and pen. Plus, in meetings, typing on a computer or phone can give off the appearance of being distracted or not paying attention. I prefer using ultra fine tip Sharpies as my typical writing tool in a durable notebook. I used to use pocket-sized Moleskines (they’re actually vegan which is important to me), but lately I’ve used Field Notes brand notebooks. My favorite is their End Papers version which is thinner and slimmer and fits in pockets very easily. Once I finish with a meeting, I always photograph the pages and mark them through so I know I have a digital copy. Then I’ll transcribe them or add notes in Google Keep which I’ll transfer over into a Google Doc sorted in Google Drive based on the project.

Consumed media listTrakt integrated with Series Guide
I like keeping track of all forms of entertainment I consume, not only because I like data for some reason, but it’s been practical when I’m trying to remember a show or something I’ve listened to or want to make notes on it. For media, the service Trakt is fantastic and I have it integrated with the app Series Guide on my phone since Trakt doesn’t have a first-party app. I wish they kept track of books, Podcasts, etc, but they don’t, so I just have a Google Sheets page where I keep track of that stuff manually. And, me being me, I have a sheet for escape rooms, immersive productions, LARPs, and other stuff that I have to do manually as well.

ToolboxSugru, E6000 and Rustoleum multi-purpose clear paint
Creating tactile experiences means stuff is going to break, crack, tear, smear, etc. I’ve really learned to appreciate the magic of three things: Sugru which is a putty-like glue that cures into a hard rubber. E6000, a craft adhesive that bonds pretty much any material to any other material. And a good clear coat to protect or finish any surface to make it smooth and safe from UV damage, scratches, or peeling. I prefer Rustoleum brand’s clear paint version.

Also mentioned:

Stash House is a 90-minute escape room experience that plunges guests into the seedy underbelly of Los Angeles’ criminal underworld. Coming face-to-face with Ray Jones, notorious criminal kingpin, players must navigate Ray’s test or risk the consequences. It is ranked 15th by the most experienced players in the world.

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $400 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

AR glimpses/Tours by Locals/Google Calendar tricks

AR glimpses
I’ve been writing about the future of Augmented Reality (AR), where you can see virtual things in the real world. Two short video fantasies by Keiichi Matsuda are key illustrations of what could come. One is Hyper-Reality, a overly dense packed layer of information and ads, the other is Merger, a workplace that takes over. Neither are futures I want, but the technology design seems plausible. — KK

Tours by locals
When I want to find an expert to guide me around in a walking tour in a foreign city, I first look up a freelance local guide on Tours by Locals. Rates and experience vary. — KK

Good Google Calendar tricks
I use Google Calendar to schedule everything. Some of the tips in this PC Mag article were unknown to me, but I’m glad I found out about them. Particularly useful: “Find a Time That Works for Everyone,” and “Block Off Appointments.” — MF

Getting the Love You Want
I really enjoyed watching the Youtube episode of the Smart Couple Podcastfeaturing the authors of “Getting the Love You Want: A Guide for Couples.” Harville and Helen share insights on how relationships have evolved over the last few decades and give tips on how to be present with your partner and defuse disagreements. They are such a warm and personable couple that I kind of wish they had their own show I could watch regularly. An updated third edition of their bestselling book was released a couple weeks ago. — CD

Outdoor furniture protection
These Adirondack chair covers ($22) by Classic Accessories look really good and are made of heavyweight water repellant material. The fabric has handles sewn on so they’re really easy to pull off and put on furniture, which otherwise would be a big deterrent for me. They have a variety of covers to fit all kinds of outdoor furniture. — CD

Golden monkey tea for less
Ever since I tried Teavana’s Golden Monkey Tea a few years ago, no other tea can compare to its bold flavor. The problem is that 2 ounces cost $22. I’ve tried other, less expensive, brands of golden monkey tea to no avail, but finally found one that is as good as Teavana. It’s called Yunnan Golden Special by Tealyra and 4 ounces cost $15. — MF

Cool Tools

Spiral Eye Needles

These ingenious sewing needles can be threaded blindfolded. You pull the thread into a spiral from the side, and for the most part the thread will remain in the eye as you sew. That is not true for calyx eye needles (invented a hundred years ago) as a solution to the vexing problem of threading the eye. It's as easy for the thread to slip out of the open slot at the end of the calyx needle as it is to slip in, and this wavering can fray the thread. The spiral eye needle doesn't snag, but in my experience, it will occasionally let the thread slip out. Expert sewers might find that annoying. It is dead simple to slip back on, and the thread is not frayed, so I can put up with that small inconvenience.

Spiral Eye needles are expensive. However they should last a lifetime if you don't lose track of them (they look very similar to regular sewing needles).

Cool Tools Smith/Vietnam War

A beginner’s guide to online security
This website is a clear guide for staying safe online. There’s no fluff or marketing, just the straight dope on how to use a password manager, create a strong device passcode, use two-factor authentication, set up a mobile carrier PIN, and much more. — MF

Fond follower
Someone I started following on Twitter who I enjoy is Noah Smith as @Noahpinion. Wide range of interests, topical but unexpected opinions, likes to hunt for data and evidence. — KK

Vietnam War masterpiece
I’m late in getting to Ken Burn’s masterpiece The Vietnam War, a 10-part documentary streaming on Netflix. But OMG, it is electrifying. Even though I lived through that war, I apparently knew nothing about it. It would have been easy (and cheap) to stir up a continuous thread of outrage, but instead this monumental work stirs up a continuous thread of clarity and insights: “Oh, so that is why they did that!.” This should be mandatory viewing for all citizens of the US and Vietnam. — KK

Foam roller alternative
I bought this orthopedic Stretch Mate more than five years ago and I still use it weekly to stretch out my back and alleviate soreness. For me, this works better than a foam roller because my clothing and hair don’t get caught up in it. It’s stiff and plastic, and not a one size fits all solution, but I recommend it if you’re not a fan of rollers and want to try something else. There’s an option to add on a padded cover which I have yet to try but ordered this week. Note: The Stretch Mate is $40 today without the pad, I paid $22 for it back in 2013. — CD

Power thesaurus
I keep this crowdsourced thesaurus bookmarked. It’s easier to navigate than and the fastest way to find the word I want to use. — CD

Wide angle LED headlamp
This battery-powered headlamp ($15) has a bunch of LEDs spread across the front so it throws a very wide beam. I used it recently to bring trash cans in at night and it was much better than a flashlight or traditional headlamp because I could see everything in front of me without having to turn my head.  — MF

Cool Tools

Searchable Recomendo/Stoop/ifyouhigh

Searchable Recomendo
We made a searchable, inexpensive version of our Recomendo book. This PDF (in glorious full-color!) is only $1.99, and available internationally. Download, browse, and search through 550 great recommendations. — KK

Newsletter App
I’ve been using the Stoop app to discover and read new newsletters. It’s great to have them all in one place where I can let them pile up and read when I have the time. I’m really enjoying the Clearer Thinking newsletter, which offers tools for better decision-making. You can also find Recomendo on there! — CD

If You High (and even if you aren't)
The ifyouhigh Instagram account has 3.4 million followers, but I recently stumbled on it and am hooked. It’s an endless scroll of strange and beautiful short videos of natural phenomena, machinery in motion, slo-mo, time-lapse, art, and other “Whoa dude!” moments that you don’t need to be high to appreciate. (Photo of Moonlit fog waves at Mount Tam above) — MF

Typeset in the Future
I’m spending hours studying this coffee-table book celebrating the typography and design used in science fiction movies. What do we see on screens “in the future”? More broadly, this dense picture book, Typeset in the Future, is a roundabout way to examine where the interface design of technology is headed. — KK

The Alien Exercise
In Jen Sincero’s book, You Are a Badass, she describes the Alien Exercise for rebooting yourself and getting some clarity. Imagine you are an alien and you’ve just landed on Earth — into your body and life. Take notice of all the connections, opportunities, skills, possessions and people who love you and can help you. What would you do and how would you feel? I think this is great for brainstorming projects, ideas and new ways to enjoy your day-to-day life. — CD

Cheapest Lightning Cables
Lightning charging cables are expensive and seem to fray quickly. Micro USB cables, on the other hand, are dirt cheap and seem to last forever. I bought a 10-pack of adapters that convert a Micro USB plug into a Lighting plug. The price for all 10 was $7, about half the price of a single Lightning Cable. I tested them, and there were no duds in the pack. — MF

Cool Tools

Digital Recomendo

The Cool Tools website focuses on handy, useful, proven tools. But a lot of great stuff that Mark and I come across are not really tools. We created the Recomendo email list for this purpose. Every Sunday we mail out 6 very brief recommendations of cool stuff: places we love, people to follow, great things to eat, good movies, fantastic podcasts, cool tips, short cuts, favorite items, and many other suggestions. This newsletter, Recomendo, is free and has over 20,000 subscribers. Sign up here.

Last year we took the best of our first two years' recommendations and put them into about 100-page book. The book (available on Amazon here) is made to be browsed. You can flip through it in any order and most folks will find something of interest on every spread. It is an easy read.

For the benefit of international fans, and for those who don't want paper books, we have created a digital version. It's a downloadable searchable PDF, in full color (the paper book is only B&W), weighs nothing, and is available instantly for only $1.99. We priced it so that anyone could afford it.

If you do get one, let us know how you like this format. (We don't have plans for a Kindle version yet, but maybe in the future.)

Cool Tools

Dual scale tape measures/Gmail tips/Papier

Dual scale tape measures
In my ongoing campaign to make myself literate in metric (used everywhere in the world except the US), as much as possible I try to measure only in metric. I got a Komelon dual scale measuring tape (both metric and inches on one side) and after a month or so, I can think in metric. I really like Komelon measuring tapes because they are inexpensive but high quality. They have four in different sizes in dual scale from 3.5m/12ft for only $5, to a 9m/30ft for $8.50. The 9-meter one is big in the hand but an incredible bargain; however their 5-meter is probably a good size for general use.  — KK

Gmail tips
Gizmodo has a useful article on several ways to improve your Gmail experience. One example: my address is I can sign up for newsletters by using and then filter the email to a “newsletter” label. —  MF

Take notes in your browser
My current favorite chrome extension for optimizing a new tab is Papier. It’s just one single note page. This is perfect for taking quick notes without minimizing or closing your browser. Everything you type autosaves and syncs to Chrome. You can create lists with checkboxes, and there are even a few formatting and style options available. But I feel the simpler, the better. Right now I have saved a few lines to a poem I am working on, so that every time I open a new tab I’m reminded to stay inspired. — CD

Ocean-friendly sunscreen
Many sunscreens contain ingredients harmful to coral reefs. Hawaii announced a ban on sunscreens containing oxybenzone or octinoxate, which goes into effect in 2021. Our family switched to zinc oxide sunscreen, which doesn’t hurt coral reefs. We like Thinksport SPF 50+($10.25 per tube). — MF

Quickly access delete account pages
I began the year with a purging of accounts I no longer use like Facebook, Snapchat and LinkedIn. This Consumer Reports article has direct links to Delete Account pages for the major platforms. It spared me the hassle of  navigating through settings in search of a delete button. — CD

Best podcast episodes
I’ve been using these two lists of the “best podcast episodes from 2018,“ one from Vulture (10 picks), and one from IndieWire (50 picks), to listen to some great individual shows and to discover new podcasts to potentially subscribe to. — KK



Check out our new Recomendo book! 550 of the best recommendations from the past two years.

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Best Maker YouTube Channels/Temi/Listen Notes

Check out our new Recomendo book! 550 of the best recommendations from the past two years.

Best Maker YouTube Channels
Most of my discretionary media time is spent watching YouTube. I derive immense pleasure in finding out how things work and how to make and repair things. Over several years of watching all kinds of video, lousy and great, I’ve collected a bunch of channels for dependable high-quality content. In a long post on our blog Cool Tools, I review the top 30 YouTube informational channels that I subscribe to. (#1 on my list is Cody’s Lab.) — KK

Automatic transcripts
When doing interviews, I like to have a transcript of the conversation. This is useful for fans of podcasts, and for journalism. The best transcripts are done by humans, but I can get very cheap, very fast transcripts that are 90-95% accurate done by AI. (Depends on quality of recording and accents.) Temi will give me a transcript for 10 cents per minute of audio ($6/hr), delivered in about an hour turn-around. The Word doc or PDF output will have time stamps on it, making it easy to go back to find the actual audio for correction if needed. The Temi transcript is accurate enough to find key passages; with one listen-through I can quickly clean it up for public consumption. — KK

Podcast search engine
One way to find new podcasts is a website called Listen Notes — a search engine for almost all podcasts around the world. You can search for topics or a specific person and find related episodes. Or set alerts for keyword mentions. I’m not a daily podcast listener but every once in a while I’ll want to hear what people are saying about a certain news story or random topic on my mind, and in those cases Listen Notes is very useful. — CD

Respirator subscription
Anytime I go into the attic or near dust of any kind, I put on one of these 3M Cool Flow respirator masks. They are comfortable and they really help me from having a sneezing fit. My daughter uses them for her art projects. Amazon sells a 10 pack for $15, but I use Amazon’s Subscribe and Save and get a 10 pack sent to me every six months for $14. — MF

Easy background removal
This new website became an instant hit, and for good reason. Just upload any photo of a person, animal, or things, and it will erase everything in the background, replacing them with transparent pixels. It even works well when the person in the foreground has wispy or curly hair. — MF

Death quotes
A while back I recommended WeCroak. These are a few of my favorite quotes from the death reminder app.

“The only thing that isn’t worthless: to live this life out truthfully and rightly. And be patient with those who don’t.” — Marcus Aurelius
“We waste our energy and exhaust ourselves with the insistence that life be otherwise.” — Frank Ostaseski

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” — George Eliot

“At some point in life the world’s beauty becomes enough. You don’t need to photograph, paint or even remember it. It is enough.” — Toni Morrison

“The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” — Vladimir Nabokov

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Aaron Lammer, Longform Co-founder

Our guest this week is Aaron Lammer. Aaron is the co-host of the Longform Podcast, which has interviewed non-fiction writers weekly for over half a decade. He has been writing songs with the music project Francis and the Lights since college and lives in Brooklyn.

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:

Audio Hijack Mac Application (Free Trial or $59 License)
Audio Hijack is like a router for audio inside your computer. You can record just about about any application’s audio output, or just record the system audio itself. If I want to grab some audio from a Youtube video I’ll just hit record and then hit play. It makes audio — not just what you have as files but any audio you can even play — available with a copy paste workflow.

Dyson V7 Cordless Vacuum Cleaner ($241)
I bought this vacuum last year and it’s the first consumer product since the iPhone that I’ve felt was so essential that I’d pay basically whatever they asked for it. Also, it wall mounts very securely in a way that I wished everything I hang up daily just clipped into place.

Apple TV ($180)
I use Airplay constantly. It really appeals to me as a technology and Apple TV is at the center of my living room. I’ve maintained a big stash of mp3s and movies for a long period of my life and have gone through a gazillion ways of playing them back, Apple TV is where I landed. I also like the app Beamer for sending movies to Apple TV. I’ve been sending my Apple TV sound to my Airpods recently after my family goes to sleep.

iFixIt Essential Electronics Toolkit ($20)
I was going to list this little synthesizer I have called the OP-1 but they’re not selling them right, so when mine broke I had to open it up and put in a replacement headphone jack. I bought this little toolkit from iFixIt that had the part and a handful of tools, the most useful of which is the “spudger.” I’ve ended up using this kit several times since then, including repairing a Minidisc player last week in order to get one audio file off a decade old Minidisc.

Also mentioned:

Coin Talk podcast
Come ride the crypto rollercoaster with hosts Aaron Lammer and Jay Kang (and guests) as they laugh their way through the week in Bitcoin and beyond.

Stoner podcast
A podcast where creative people talk about their experiences with marijuana.

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $394 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

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The 100 Best Business Books of All Time

There are ten thousand business books published each year and way over a hundred thousand in print. Most business books are worthless drivel, some are a good article fluffed out into a thin book, and maybe 100 out of those hundred thousand are worth reading. Out of those 100 best, only 10 might have something to say to you.

But how to find those few? Jack Covert and Todd Sattersten, two guys who sell biz books, seem to have read all of the ones in print, and they have done the world a favor by selecting the 100 best business books ever, and then packing summaries of them all into one meta-book. If all you want is their list, you can go to their website and check it out.

But their book is much better than a simple list, and their list is better than most. The two have reviewed, abstracted, and compared all the best 100 in the context of thousands of similar books, unlike say your average Amazon reviewer who may have only read one other business book in his or her life. You get context instead of content. Reading Covert and Sattersten's summaries of these classics is often better than reading the book itself, and the review is always useful in pointing you to the few books or authors you might actually want to read in full.

In addition to including the expected gems like Good to Great, The Effective Executive, and Purple Cow, the 100 Best list also includes many lesser-known titles, some of them oldies-but-goodies, like Up the Organization, The Innovator's Dilemma, and Flow. Not everything is new in business; the wisdom of the past is often surprisingly relevant.

Finally, this book itself is one of the best business books, and can be read alone as a pretty good education in business in its broadest sense, even if you don't read any of the references.

A couple of caveats. One, the authors has included one of my books (Out of Control) in their list, which tickles me greatly but might have warped my perspective. Two, they sell business books (at 800CeoRead) and so their book can be seen as a sales tool. On the other hand, the authors have great incentive to sell and include only the best, and so their list is pretty persuasive. Three, in a slip of bad design each of the 100 books featured on their website does not appear with the review as found in their book, but is featured with the standard publisher verbiage; the author's fantastic summaries and analysis are only found in their printed book. (They sell books, see?)

All in all, this is a great business resource at a modest price. If you took their list and read all 100 books you'd get a better MBA than any university would give you, at a fraction of the cost.

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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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