Cool Tools

What's in my workshop? — Chris Askwith

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I have been a full time pipemaker for almost 12 years. My pipes are fully handmade using mostly traditional methods and materials in my home workshop and are sold around the world. — Chris Askwith

About the workshop

I use a lot of power tools in my pipemaking but all of the fine detail is done with hand tools, knives, files and sandpaper for the most part. I have tried having all my tools within hands reach as is commonly done by jewellers but found this crowded and encouraged me to get stuck in one position. I now keep most tools just out of reach so I regularly get up from my chair and take the opportunity to stretch and move around a bit, it seems to work well for me even if it is less efficient.

What's in the workshop

Gluing some sandpaper to a bit of wood is an age old trick for making sanding easier, especially for small, flat surfaces. These sandpaper handles or sticks however are so much better. A simple clamp holds the paper in place and it pulls the paper quite taught, it takes just seconds to change the grits (though I prefer to have one for each grit if possible) and the handles make sanding both easier and more comfortable thanks to the file style handle. Quite inexpensive too. Best used with cloth back abrasives I find.

The Shinto saw rasp is a fast and efficient way to remove material without clogging and leaving a smoother surface than a traditional rasp. It has a coarse side and a smoother side and I have found it effective on softwoods, hardwoods and many kinds of plastic and resin.

I have found the Click 2000 Puggy gloves to be the perfect compromise between dexterity and protection in a light duty work glove. They keep my hands warm, allow me to perform reasonably fine tasks, increase my grip and give me a reasonable level of protection against abrasion, scratches and dirt. I wear these pretty much all day in my shop and each pair lasts for several weeks and will handle a couple of cycles through the washing machine as well.

I’ve tried every style of safety glasses/googles over the years and they all have their pro’s and con’s but these from UCI are the best I have found. They are comfortable, fit my face well, give good visibility and seem to be pretty scratch resistant. The foam padding is easily removed if you need more ventilation. Most importantly for me I have found I like the included strap that can be used to hold them just snug to my face, safety glasses slipping forward is big annoyance and danger when using a power tool so this feature is essential for me but way more comfortable than elasticated goggled which are often too tight for long periods of working. Very reasonable price for the quality as well.

Cool Tools

See a Satellite/Nesting bowls/Secret Life of Components

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See a satellite tonight
A Google engineer made this cool website where you can track satellites that crawl across your neighborhood sky. It will give you times and names of the satellites that are coming your way and even show you how it’ll appear in the night sky with Google Street View. I’ve been setting alarms on my phone to go outside and look. Of course, it’s made me realize how much light pollution we have. Hopefully, you don’t have as much. — CD

Nesting bowls with airtight lids
Now that my wife and I are vaccinated, we’re enjoying backyard visits with friends. I bought this set of 6 nesting stainless steel bowls. They’re good for bringing food to a backyard barbecue. The largest one is 7 quarts — capacious enough for a large salad. The lids form a tight seal, too, which means they won’t fall off in the car ride over. — MF

Ultimate workshop course
The best course I’ve ever taken in workshop skills is a series of YouTube episodes by the British inventor Tim Hunkin. In his Secret Life of Components he goes through all he knows about the “components” you’d use to build something: glues, fasteners, hinges, bearings, switches, springs, etc., and he knows an awful lot. Every minute is crammed with the practical advice of a master craftsman gained over decades of experience. I’m wowed by how much I learned. — KK

Turn your smartphone into a Game Boy Camera
My daughter bought a vintage Game Boy Camera and thermal printer on eBay. It takes very low resolution photos that have a nostalgic charm. Recently I came across this web-based simulation of the Game Boy Camera. It’s fun to see what things look like in a two-color palette of blocky pixels. Here’s sample. — MF

How to wake up early advice
Here is a 5-step plan for waking up earlier and with more energy shared by u/FrankOppedijk on Reddit. The key advice I found is once you decide how many hours you need for sleep and develop your relaxing bedtime routine, you start by shifting your wake up time by 5 minutes each day, and you energize yourself using various techniques like natural bright light, drinking water, an activating breathing exercise like Bellows Breath, or quick heart-pumping exercise. I found it very encouraging. — CD

The stories of colors
“I love it when someone wakes me up to see what I was sleepwalking through. Adam Roger does that in this book. He showed me that the colors we see everywhere today are technologies we invented! Invented colors! Head explodes!” That’s the blurb I wrote for Roger’s new book Full Spectrum. Reproducing the colors of nature is not easy, yet despite being surrounded by manufactured colors in our modern lives, the story of these inventions are invisible. This is one of those books that opens up a world right in front of my nose. — KK

Cool Tools

Lawrence Lazare, Photographer

Our guest this week is Lawrence Lazare. After a 25-year career as an ecommerce product leader, Lawrence recently retired due to the loss of his central vision from a genetic eye disease. In his retirement, Lawrence is concentrating on his infrared landscape photography practice, as well as launching a podcast about maintaining a life-long creative practice.

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

Show notes:

Magnetic Spice Tins ($25, 12pc)
These are spice tins that I got before I lost my vision. But since I've lost my vision, they become even more valuable. They are round metallic spice tins that you stick to a sheet of thin steel that goes inside a cabinet. The idea is you open your cabinet door and there are all these spice tins facing out. So with these spice tins, what I did was hack them where they come with a label that goes over the center of the tin. I started using the old DYMO labels, with a white background with a high contrast black text on them. And then I keep them all alphabetical, so that in general, I kind of know if I'm looking for a specific spice, I'll know where it is. And the other thing that's been helpful is by removing the labels that come with them and using the DYMO labels is I can see a lot more of the color of what's inside there. I can still see many colors, so if I'm looking for paprika, I'll go look for the red tin. Like I said, I had these long before I lost my vision and they've been a lifesaver since I've lost my vision.

OrCam Read ($2,500)
Of all the tools that I've used since losing my vision, this is the most gee whiz one. This company OrCam has this little reader, that's the size of a Sharpie. And it has an internal computer, it has a laser pointer, a light and a camera. And what you do is you point it at something and it shines a laser pointer at it so that it tells you what it is you're looking at. And then it takes a photograph of what you're looking at, and within maybe under two seconds, it reads to you out loud whatever it just saw. So for instance, if I'm trying to read a recipe, which I really struggle with, I just point this at it and it will read me the whole page. But what makes it even more amazing is it's not internet connected at all, it's all self-contained. So for instance, if I was out in the woods, hiking and I come across a sign to tell you to go this direction and it gives you the name of the trail, and there's no internet connectivity, this thing would work. It awes me how accurate it is. I have another tool for people who just want to check out this technology, given that the OrCam Read is $2,500. There's an awesome tool from Microsoft called Seeing AI and that's free and it has a number of tools. The first one is text recognition, so when you turn it on, it immediately goes into camera mode and whatever it's pointed at, it will read the text, similar to the OrCam Read. It's not as accurate, and the challenge with it is you have to hold it totally still. But like I said, it's a free tool and it has other very cool things like a barcode scanner. So for instance, going to the grocery store for me is a nightmare. So what I can do is I would point this thing at the barcode and it would tell me what the product is. They also have a very cool tool in there that it will read the scene. For instance, if I pointed it at my wife and it said, "35 year old woman smiling with a pair of glasses." And my wife is not 35, and she was delighted by the fact that it said 35 year old woman. And you can point it at the room and it will say, "You're in a room with a table and a couple of chairs.” So this technology is really evolving in front of us.

Logickeyboard Large Print High Contrast Keyboard ($115)
This is a tool called the Logickeyboard. When I was still working, one of the things I really struggled with is I'm a Mac user and Mac products are notoriously beautifully designed, but can be a little low contrast. There's no way I can really read my keyboard on my computer anymore. Logickeyboard has a number of keyboards. I got the one that is high contrast, and all the keys are basically yellow. You can get black and white combinations, you can get different color combinations, I have a yellow keys with very large high contrast letters on them, and this has been a life saver for me. They make a lot of multimedia keyboards, like Adobe Premiere. And with those keyboards, they lay out all the macros on the keyboard. They probably put out 20 or more different keyboards for specialized purposes.

The National Library Service for the Blind and Print Disabled - Library of Congress
This is a service from the Library of Congress, it’s an audio book service for the blind. To get this service you have to get a doctor to fill out the form to qualify for it. It’s basically Audible for free for blind people. And they have a physical player that looks like an old cassette deck, that you plug a USB book into it. But I use the smartphone app and I have a library of hundreds of thousands of books that I can get for free. But the thing that makes it even cooler is the fact that they have audio magazines. The two magazines that I subscribe to are The New Yorker and Wired. And I guess Conde Nast has, has worked out a deal with them, so they have all their magazines there. So I can listen to an audio version of Wired, The New Yorker, and many different magazines will be read to me, which is just amazing. Because that was one of the hardest things about losing my vision, it's not only access to books, you can get books from Audible and lots of audio books services, but magazines was a real loss for me. So this was a real Godsend.

Lighthouse Extension for Chrome (Developer tool that provides accessibility score and recommendations to improve site accessibility)
Websites don't pay much attention to accessibility. For me, the challenge in looking at a website is contrast and font colors. Most websites are not necessarily conscious of the needs of people with disabilities. So there lots of plugins or Chrome Extensions for developers for websites. This one that I picked, the Lighthouse extension, the thing that's great about that is, in addition to SEO and mobile and basically the traditional thing of giving you a score card of how well your website does, this one has an accessibility score that will tell you, "You get a 93 out of a hundred and here's the things that you can correct." And it'll drill down into the DOM to tell you, "Here's the things you need to fix on your website to get a high accessibility score.”

Cool Tools

What's in my desk? — Frank H. Wu

I’m an educator and author who moved recently from San Francisco to Queens, New York. During the pandemic, the norm has been work-from-home. — Frank H. Wu


About the desk

Here is what is on my desk in the home office at my apartment in Queens. A good environment produces good work. The desk itself is about as simple as could be, with a “topper” my wife commissioned from a carpenter on Etsy, so as to bring the keyboard up to a good height or even to stand up with the second layer affixed. An inlay shows the silhouettes of our late dogs, Buster and Ding Ding, and our late bird, Little Walter (named for the blues musician). I’ve tried to limit my consumer spending to what is necessary as well as unique, which I am confident I will use regularly. These objects satisfy the test.

What's in the desk

Hyperdrive 18 port hub ($199). This accessory connects an Apple laptop to everything. It would be difficult to imagine more means to plug in than are offered here. For me, it drives two monitors, an external keyboard with old-school mechanical switches, a Yealink speaker for the Zoom conferences which fill the day, and Grado headphones for the music in the evenings, with a slot for digital camera memory cards (when I have time for my hobby of photography), not to mention serving as a pass through power adapter for the MacBook and allowing several other devices to recharge as well.

Rotring mechanical pencil ($28). I always wanted to be an architect when I was young. I loved mechanical pencils and real “lead holders,” but the Rotring was one of those fancy items I wouldn’t have been able to afford. Its industrial design is minimalist and the manufacturing is high-quality, for a tool that seems timeless and unbreakable. Each aspect is functional: a knurled grip on the hexagonal barrel, an indicator for the lead hardness, and a tiny eraser hidden under the cap.

National Brand lab notebook ($12). Although I rely on a computer all day, along with an iPhone and an iPad, I prefer the analog life of jotting down thoughts in ink on paper. The sheets in this hardbound volume are tinted green, which they claim is easier on the eyes; the texture is smooth, with enough thickness to avoid “bleed through” to the other side. I’m old enough to have attended college before laptop computers and the internet, much less smart phones, so there wasn’t a digital option. Afraid they would stop making this product, I bought a lifetime supply years ago, and I’m still working my way through the stack, at the rate of one notebook per year. Since I still consider myself a writer, I love that the pages are numbered.

Wiss scissors, titanium coated ($18). These are sharp and tough, good characteristics for anything and anyone. I wouldn’t have expected scissors to be heirlooms, but I have no doubt that when I shuffle off my mortal coil this purchase will still be around for somebody to grab. I have backup scissors in the belief that two are one and one is none, which are fluoride treated blunt tipped hospital shears, suitable for sanitizing in an autoclave.

Cool Tools

Aesthetics Wiki/Hiking snack/Best older iPad

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A wiki of Aesthetics
I’m fascinated by Aesthetics and the people who submerge themselves in these visually-appealing worlds like cottagecore, which is a romanticized interpretation of western agricultural life (Jonna Jinton has mastered this). This Aesthetics Wiki has all the links to everything you would ever need to know about aesthetics, including how to create your own beginning with a wardrobe, or how to go about blending aesthetics to create something new (I’m leaning towards vintage parisian plus surrealism). It is a fantastic rabbit hole. — CD

Hiking snack
My snack of choice while hiking is an RXBar protein bar. Made of egg whites, nuts and fruit and nothing else. They come in lots of yummy varieties but the only one I carry anymore is the chocolate raspberry, which I never tire of.  — KK

Best older iPad
[Update - the 8th generation is actually the latest version, and is available at Apple for $429] I wanted to give my daughter an iPad, but I doubted she needed the biggest, most powerful model, which costs as much as a MacBook Air. After poking around on Reddit, I found the consensus was to get an 8th generation iPad. Amazon has 128GB models for under $450. It works with the Apple Pencil and supports the smart keyboard, too. It’s all the iPad she needs for drawing and video streaming. — MF

Light-blocking eye mask
This $8 light-blocking eye mask is my go-to relaxation tool for long flights and drives and meditation and afternoon naps. It’s called a “Men’s Travel Comfort Eye Mask” but it’s one size fits all and has adjustable straps. What makes it better than other inexpensive eye masks is the ultra-soft ridge at the bottom of it that prevents any light from leaking in. This mask + noise-cancelling earbuds are the perfect tools for an at-home sensory-deprivation experience. — CD

Amazing triangle juggler
Seth Godin sent me a link to this YouTube video of juggler Michael Moschen, who bounces balls inside a giant wooden triangular structure. The balls make a pleasant percussive sound, and once Moschen gets going with multiple balls, the performance is spectacular. — MF

Constitutionally entertaining
One text has outsized influence on the US, and indirectly, on the world: The US Constitution. It is a nuanced article that benefits from scrutiny. I greatly enjoyed the Amazon special based on a Broadway show that documents Heidi Schreck’s deep and innovative exploration of this key document. What the Constitution Means to Me is entertaining, funny, sobering, dramatic, educational, clarifying, and enlightening. What more could you ask for from an hour and 44 minutes? — KK

Cool Tools

Nicole Harkin, Writer and Photographer

Our guest this week is Nicole Harkin. Nicole’s an award-winning writer and photographer based in Washington, D.C. Her first book, Tilting, A Memoir was released in 2017 and since then she’s been working on a true-life novel about her grandmother. In addition to writing, Nicole is also the founder of the DC Family Biking Facebook page.

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

Show notes:

Splinter Out
These are little sterilized metal pieces with a point. They are amazing for removing splitters, which is something of a crisis if you have children. Well for adults too. Splinters suck! What these do is amazing: they get the splinter out without hurting you. I have not interrogated the magic, but I carry these in my wallet now. About $15 for a 5 pack of 20 each.

AKS Design Studio Thermos
Before the pandemic a friend bought me this mug from my Amazon wishlist. I liked the color. This thing is amazing. I use it to keep water cool next to my bed. A full 24 hours later the thermos will still have ice in it. Every sip from this thing is a joy. It's double-walled and it won some award. It has a very large wide mouth. So I think you could use it for ramen, and it works for hot or for cold

Chatbooks for Instagram
My mother had all of our photo albums completed when she died. She worked on them consistently throughout our lives. I am not my mother. But I feel like I am accomplishing something similar. Every November, I go into Chat Books, re-link my Instagram account, download all of the photos from the year, and have them send me two printed books. I give one to my mother-in-law and keep the other. Since I have two boys, I assume at some point they will each have a set. The key to this system, is taking and posting photos to Instagram. I can also edit out photos from the album, if there is something that is not germain to the year. I paid $44 for two books.

Canon PIXMA Wireless MegaTank All-in-One Printer
These are Ink Jet printers and wireless. What I love about it is the tanks that are in the front of the printer. You can see how much ink is left! When I run out of ink, I will just take more ink and pour it into this receptacle so I can see how much is there and it is using ink much more slowly than the ones with the cartridges. I paid an extra $100 for this version with the tanks, but I can already tell, I'm ahead. Especially with virtual school, this has been a life changer.

About REACH:

With so much social injustice in the world, I was looking for some way to actually make a difference in people’s lives. I found REACH Incorporated, a literacy non-profit in DC where I volunteer in the summer teaching photography or podcasting.

Mark Hecker, the founder, former social worker, and Harvard Grad, started REACH 12 years ago when he realized there was a gaping hole in literacy needs for high school kids in DC. 80 percent of DC public school kids are not reading on grade level when entering high school. In order to improve your literacy you have to read at the level where you currently are. So if you are a 9th grader reading at a 4th grade level, you need to read 4th grade books.

Mark’s insight and genius was starting a reading literacy program in the high school which has the high schoolers tutoring the elementary kids in reading. This is the definition of win/win. The high schoolers practice reading at their actual levels, the kids in elementary schools receive extra help, the high school tutors are paid for their time and thereby learn the soft job skills many are lacking.

If you are looking for a real organization working to make real change on the ground for real people, take a look at REACH.


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

The Technium

99 Additional Bits of Unsolicited Advice

I have another birthday, and another bunch of unsolicited advice. 


• That thing that made you weird as a kid could make you great as an adult — if you don’t lose it.

• If you have any doubt at all about being able to carry a load in one trip, do yourself a huge favor and make two trips.

• What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals. At your funeral people will not recall what you did; they will only remember how you made them feel.

• Recipe for success: under-promise and over-deliver.

• It’s not an apology if it comes with an excuse. It is not a compliment if it comes with a request.

• Jesus, Superman, and Mother Teresa never made art. Only imperfect beings can make art because art begins in what is broken.

• If someone is trying to convince you it’s not a pyramid scheme, it’s a pyramid scheme.

• Learn how to tie a bowline knot. Practice in the dark. With one hand. For the rest of your life you’ll use this knot more times than you would ever believe.

• If something fails where you thought it would fail, that is not a failure.

• Be governed not by the tyranny of the urgent but by the elevation of the important.

• Leave a gate behind you the way you first found it.

• The greatest rewards come from working on something that nobody has a name for. If you possibly can, work where there are no words for what you do.

• A balcony or porch needs to be at least 6 feet (2m) deep or it won’t be used.

• Don’t create things to make money; make money so you can create things. The reward for good work is more work.

• In all things — except love — start with the exit strategy. Prepare for the ending. Almost anything is easier to get into than out of.

• Train employees well enough they could get another job, but treat them well enough so they never want to.

• Don’t aim to have others like you; aim to have them respect you.

• The foundation of maturity: Just because it's not your fault doesn't mean it's not your responsibility.

• A multitude of bad ideas is necessary for one good idea.

• Being wise means having more questions than answers.

• Compliment people behind their back. It’ll come back to you.

• Most overnight successes — in fact any significant successes — take at least 5 years. Budget your life accordingly.

• You are only as young as the last time you changed your mind.

• Assume anyone asking for your account information for any reason is guilty of scamming you, unless proven innocent. The way to prove innocence is to call them back, or login to your account using numbers or a website that you provide, not them. Don’t release any identifying information while they are contacting you via phone, message or email. You must control the channel.

• Sustained outrage makes you stupid.

• Be strict with yourself and forgiving of others. The reverse is hell for everyone.

• Your best response to an insult is "You're probably right." Often they are.

• The worst evils in history have always been committed by those who truly believed they were combating evil. Beware of combating evil.

• If you can avoid seeking approval of others, your power is limitless.

• When a child asks an endless string of “why?” questions, the smartest reply is, “I don’t know, what do you think?”

• To be wealthy, accumulate all those things that money can’t buy.

• Be the change you wish to see.

• When brainstorming, improvising, jamming with others, you’ll go much further and deeper if you build upon each contribution with a playful “yes — and” example instead of a deflating “no — but” reply.

• Work to become, not to acquire.

• Don’t loan money to a friend unless you are ready to make it a gift.

• On the way to a grand goal, celebrate the smallest victories as if each one were the final goal. No matter where it ends you are victorious.

• Calm is contagious.

• Even a foolish person can still be right about most things. Most conventional wisdom is true.

• Always cut away from yourself.

• Show me your calendar and I will tell you your priorities. Tell me who your friends are, and I’ll tell you where you’re going.

• When hitchhiking, look like the person you want to pick you up.

• Contemplating the weaknesses of others is easy; contemplating the weaknesses in yourself is hard, but it pays a much higher reward.

• Worth repeating: measure twice, cut once.

• Your passion in life should fit you exactly; but your purpose in life should exceed you. Work for something much larger than yourself.

• If you can’t tell what you desperately need, it’s probably sleep.

• When playing Monopoly, spend all you have to buy, barter, or trade for the Orange properties. Don’t bother with Utilities.

• If you borrow something, try to return it in better shape than you received it. Clean it, sharpen it, fill it up.

• Even in the tropics it gets colder at night than you think. Pack warmly.

• To quiet a crowd or a drunk, just whisper.

• Writing down one thing you are grateful for each day is the cheapest possible therapy ever.

• When someone tells you something is wrong, they’re usually right. When someone tells you how to fix it, they’re usually wrong.

• If you think you saw a mouse, you did. And, if there is one, there are more.

• Money is overrated. Truly new things rarely need an abundance of money. If that was so, billionaires would have a monopoly on inventing new things, and they don’t. Instead almost all breakthroughs are made by those who lack money, because they are forced to rely on their passion, persistence and ingenuity to figure out new ways. Being poor is an advantage in innovation.

• Ignore what others may be thinking of you, because they aren’t.

• Avoid hitting the snooze button. That’s just training you to oversleep.

• Always say less than necessary.

• You are given the gift of life in order to discover what your gift *in* life is. You will complete your mission when you figure out what your mission is. This is not a paradox. This is the way.

• Don’t treat people as bad as they are. Treat them as good as you are.

• It is much easier to change how you think by changing your behavior, than it is to change your behavior by changing how you think. Act out the change you seek.

• You can eat any dessert you want if you take only 3 bites.

• Each time you reach out to people, bring them a blessing; then they’ll be happy to see you when you bring them a problem.

• Bad things can happen fast, but almost all good things happen slowly.

• Don’t worry how or where you begin. As long as you keep moving, your success will be far from where you start.

• When you confront a stuck bolt or screw: righty tighty, lefty loosey.

• If you meet a jerk, overlook them. If you meet jerks everywhere everyday, look deeper into yourself.

• Dance with your hips.

• We are not bodies that temporarily have souls. We are souls that temporarily have bodies.

• You can reduce the annoyance of someone’s stupid belief by increasing your understanding of why they believe it.

• If your goal does not have a schedule, it is a dream.

• All the greatest gains in life — in wealth, relationships, or knowledge —come from the magic of compounding interest — amplifying small steady gains. All you need for abundance is to keep adding 1% more than you subtract on a regular basis.

• The greatest breakthroughs are missed because they look like hard work.

• People can’t remember more than 3 points from a speech.

• I have never met a person I admired who did not read more books than I did.

• The greatest teacher is called “doing”.

• Finite games are played to win or lose. Infinite games are played to keep the game going. Seek out infinite games because they yield infinite rewards.

• Everything is hard before it is easy. The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a stupid idea.

• A problem that can be solved with money is not really a problem.

• When you are stuck, sleep on it. Let your subconscious work for you.

• Your work will be endless, but your time is finite. You cannot limit the work so you must limit your time. Hours are the only thing you can manage.

• To succeed, get other people to pay you; to become wealthy, help other people to succeed.

• Children totally accept — and crave — family rules. “In our family we have a rule for X” is the only excuse a parent needs for setting a family policy. In fact, “I have a rule for X” is the only excuse you need for your own personal policies.

• All guns are loaded.

• Many backward steps are made by standing still.

• This is the best time ever to make something. None of the greatest, coolest creations 20 years from now have been invented yet. You are not late.

• No rain, no rainbow.

• Every person you meet knows an amazing lot about something you know virtually nothing about. Your job is to discover what it is, and it won’t be obvious.

• You don’t marry a person, you marry a family.

• Always give credit, take blame.

• Be frugal in all things, except in your passions splurge.

• When making something, always get a few extras — extra material, extra parts, extra space, extra finishes. The extras serve as backups for mistakes, reduce stress, and fill your inventory for the future. They are the cheapest insurance.

• Something does not need to be perfect to be wonderful. Especially weddings.

• Don't let your email inbox become your to-do list.

• The best way to untangle a knotty tangle is not to “untie” the knots, but to keep pulling the loops apart wider and wider. Just make the mess as big, loose and open as possible. As you open up the knots they will unravel themselves. Works on cords, strings, hoses, yarns, or electronic cables.

• Be a good ancestor. Do something a future generation will thank you for. A simple thing is to plant a tree.

• To combat an adversary, become their friend.

• Take one simple thing — almost anything — but take it extremely seriously, as if it was the only thing in the world, or maybe the entire world is in it — and by taking it seriously you’ll light up the sky.

• History teaches us that in 100 years from now some of the assumptions you believed will turn out to be wrong. A good question to ask yourself today is “What might I be wrong about?”

• Be nice to your children because they are going to choose your nursing home.

• Advice like these are not laws. They are like hats. If one doesn’t fit, try another.


For more see my previous 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice.

Translation in Italian.

Cool Tools

Tab Snooze/Percussion massager/Radio Garden App

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Snooze browser tabs to read later
Tab Snooze is a free chrome extension that has replaced my Pocket subscription. I can save articles, videos or any webpage and schedule it to reopen as a browser tab whenever I want. Which works better for me because it was always too easy to forget the articles I saved in Pocket. — CD

Soothe sore muscles
I bought this $55 Actigun percussion massager after my neighbor raved about hers. Instead of just buzzing like most vibrating massagers, a percussion massager rapidly beats your muscles with a hard rubber ball (or other included attachment). It works wonders on my calves, which often get sore because I walk at least five miles every day on a treadmill desk. One day a couple of weeks ago I foolishly wore rubber sandals on the treadmill and my calves were so sore the next day I could hardly walk. A few minutes with this massager made them feel much better. — MF

Radio Garden App
In a past issue of Recomendo I recommended the Radio Garden website, which plays radio station feeds from all over the world. Reader Chris let me know that Radio Garden now has apps for Android and iOS. The functionality of the apps is the same as the website. Chris says,  “Basically it’s an interactive map of the world with indicators for thousands of radio stations. You click on one of the green dots and suddenly you’re listening to radio from that part of the world. The sound quality is remarkably good and there are a number of features to enhance the listening experience. I’ve spent hours listening to music from Africa, the Mideast, and Asia already. I must say it’s one of the coolest apps I’ve come across in quite some time. Check it out if you haven’t already.” — MF

Prescription dive mask
I wish I had realized years ago that you can get scuba masks with inexpensive prescription lenses. My wife needs heavy duty glasses, with severe -10 corrections, and was otherwise blind underwater. But she got a great simple diving mask with -10 lenses for $60. This Promate Slender Mask is available with Rx lenses from GetWetStore. Now she can snorkel with the rest of us. — KK

Hidden iPhone scanner
I recently realized my updated iOS has a scanner hidden within my Notes app. It works just as good as the paid subscription app I previously recommended. All you have to do is create a new note in your Notes app and above the keyboard you will find a row of icons, one of which is a camera icon. Select the camera icon and you’ll find the option to “Scan Documents.” Further instructions here. — 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

Cool Tools

Vanishing Asia Kickstarter


In a break from our regular programming, I’d like to tell you about something big I’ve been working on for 40 years. It’s not quite a cool tool, except in its capacity to substitute for expensive travel expeditions.

For the past 40 years I have been photographing the disappearing traditions of Asia. I’ve traveled to obscure festivals and into remote hamlets at the end of the road in 35 countries from Turkey in the west and Japan in the east, and everywhere in between. It was like traveling in a time machine in a century before everything was the same. In this old world of Asia, everything was different, and I’ve put all this wonder in one giant book.


I’ve captured those thousands of ways of being different in my project called Vanishing Asia. This book is 1,000 pages long and so oversized that I could not fit it on my lap so I had to divide it into 3 volumes. This 3-volume set contains 9,000 images (and 9,000 captions) and will take you on a trip few have seen. In fact, I can guarantee you that there is no book like this anywhere in the world. It’s an experience much like going back in time for an adventure of exploration, but from your home.

There is also a utility to this mammoth work. Our modern world runs on “thinking different", which is increasingly difficult to do when we are all connected together 24/7. This book, Vanishing Asia, is an aid to thinking different. In its thousand pages are thousands of alternative ways of doing things. To create a new graphic design, I would pay attention to the hand-painted street graphics in India. To design futuristic uniforms for a science fiction world, I would look to the classical fashions of Japanese monks. To invent a new one-person electric vehicle, I’d study the mini-carts on the streets of Indonesia. To fabricate a modern eco-friendly home interior, I’d investigate the wooden architecture of the Dong houses in China. To conjure up the coolest live performance spectacle, I’d watch the elephant processions of Kerala, India. These and many more examples of the new-New, thinly disguised as the old, are displayed in my book. I made this book to help transmit this ancient richness into the future. The abundance of textures, materials, designs, styles, rituals, colors, habits, motifs, and patterns is stunning, and available to all who dive into it.


This week I launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the publication of this massive 3-volume set. I am trying to maximize the number of readers, rather than maximizing revenue, so the Kickstarter offers a steep discount on the eventual retail price ($300) of the books. The Kickstarter rewards are constructed so that the best discounts are given to the earliest backers, with batches of rewards getting slightly less discounted as they are claimed. As of today 200 of the next-best discount of $220 are available but those may be sold out in a few more days.

More details of the book, and a video trailer I made are available on the Vanishing Asia Kickstarter page. I hope you will join me on this adventure and back the book.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Ariel Waldman

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Ariel Waldman is the chair of the council for NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts program. As PI, she led an expedition to Antarctica to film microscopic life under the ice. She is a National Geographic Explorer and received an honor from the Obama White House as a Champion of Change in citizen science. You can find Ariel on YouTube @


About the bag

Nordace Siena – Smart Backpack ($100)
This has been my go-to backpack for the last year. I like that it can expand significantly, but also collapse down to a slimmer profile when not filled up. Lots of different pockets, a water bottle holder, and two separate zippered sections have made it into the versatile bag I need. My only minor criticism is that I usually keep the shoulder straps on their tightest-possible length to get the backpack to fit me the way I want it to, but that might be specific to just me.

What's inside the bag

Muji Gel Ink Ball Point Pen, 0.38-mm, Black ($18, 10pc)
A trusty, precise pen that pairs perfectly with gridded notebooks. This is my most-used pen. It’s not for scribbling quickly, but instead for very thoughtful precision when you’re wanting to carefully map out ideas, drawings, or to-do lists. It also fits perfectly inside the ring-binding of the notebooks I use.

Maruman MNEMOSYNE Notebook, A4 size with a 5mm dot grid ($18)
I love Mnemosyne notebooks and I love dot-grids. I am working on a new book proposal and bought a couple of these to sketch out a couple of different concepts in. I find that getting a large notebook (~8x11") that is more cumbersome to carry around can sometimes help give you a needed push to actually use it instead of throwing it in a pocket “just in case.” In general, I find pen and paper better for brainstorming.

Portable Laptop Stand (out of stock, similar version, $16)
This is a super useful thing I have in my backpack at all times to keep me from injuring my neck due to poor ergonomics. Having a laptop stand that is super lightweight and unobtrusive always comes in handy. Anything you can do to keep your screen closer to eye level is always worth it.

ICZI 10 in 1 USB Type C Dongle ($48)
This is my “everything” dongle. So far, I’ve only needed it and nothing else to be able to plug everything into my MacBook Pro. There are a lot of similar dongles that don’t seem to include everything this one does. The full list is: 4x USB 3.0 ports, a HDMI port, a VGA port, an Ethernet port, a Type C PD 3.0 port, a SD Card Slot, and a Micro SD Slot. For some people, this would be overkill, but for me it’s perfect. In Antarctica, having an ethernet port is super useful; when giving lectures to classrooms, many still use VGA, and having the SD/Micro SD slots continue to be useful for all sorts of cameras. I want to know that if I just remember to bring a single dongle that I’m going to have everything I need.

Cool Tools

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

Great Shop Tips from Colin Knecht

[caption id="attachment_37948" align="alignnone" width="600"]Get a grip! Get a grip![/caption]

YouTube woodworker, Colin Knecht, has a fantastic series of videos where he shares his top shop tips and tricks. While these are obviously directed at woodworkers, many of the tips are useful to makers of many stripes. His most recent video in the series is a prime example. There is one tip here about cleaning saw blades, but the cover things, like easily finding the center of a workpiece, trimming “acid brushes” to make them more efficient to use with PVA glue, and using non-skid shelf pads on your bench to hold items you’re working on for sanding and such – these are applicable to many situations.

Which Home Furnace Filter is the Best?

[caption id="attachment_37947" align="alignnone" width="600"]Filter finder. Filter finder.[/caption]

On the amazing Project FarmTodd wonders what the real performance characteristics and differences are between cheap furnace filters and the expensive ones. As always, he creates testing rigs and puts a whole pile of filters, from $1 to $50, to the test.

Tl;Dr: So which one won? It’s complicated. The thicker filters (2″ and 4″) performed better than the common 1″ filter size, but your furnace may not accommodate a larger size. The permanent, washable filter did not perform well. Nor did the cheap ones. Looks like you want to get the thickest filter your furnace will accommodate and one with the most pleats in the outer filter. Overall, 3M brand filters did really well, like the 6001085, and the 1900. (Obviously, you need to get the filter that is the correct dimensions for your furnace.)

Nerding Out Over Pencils

[caption id="attachment_37946" align="alignnone" width="600"]In search of the perfect pencil. In search of the perfect pencil.[/caption]

I got a big kick out of this Make Something video. In it, Dave Picciuto spends 13 minutes talking about some of his favorite pencils while constantly apologizing for spending so much time talking about his favorite pencils. Dave’s favorites (to date) are the Koh-i-Nor Mechanical Clutch Pencil (to keep in his pocket with his Field Notes notebook) and the Paper Mate SharpWriter Mechanical Pencil for having many pencils around the shop.

The C-Thru Triangle

[caption id="attachment_37945" align="alignnone" width="600"]"Memories...misty watercolored memories..." "Memories...misty watercolored memories..."[/caption]

This video from Adam Savage tweaked my nostalgia circuits. Like him, I started my adult worklife as a graphic designer and some of the first tools I fell in love with where the rulers, triangles, mechanical pencils, and pens of that trade. Here, he celebrates a favorite of mine, too, the C-Thru brand (Westcott) gridded triangle. The grid on this thing is perfect for alignment and it has a metal edge so your razor knife doesn’t cut into the plastic. I think I still have mine around here somewhere.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Jessica Lahey

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Jessica Lahey is a writer and speaker who lives in the woods of Vermont. She writes about education, substance use disorder, and child welfare for various outlets including The Washington Post and the New York Times, and reviews books for Air Mail. She is the co-host of the #AmWriting podcast with bestselling authors Sarina Bowen and K.J. Dell’Antonia.

When the world is not in the midst of a pandemic, she spends about a third of her time on the road, speaking to parents, teachers, and kids about The Gift of Failure and The Addiction Inoculation. She always has a book in her bag, as she prefers paper to screens, but also adores audiobooks because she can read and knit at the same time.

About the bag

My bag is a black leather Hugo Boss, one I purchased off of Ebay years ago. It’s style number 50274573 and I’d buy a backup if I could. When this bag gives out, I’m going to be devastated, because it’s the perfect size. It fits my laptop, headphones, knitting, a book, and essential travel items, and despite hard wear, the handles have held up beautifully.

What’s inside the bag

Fillion (XL trifold) made by Lesha Shaver of Little Mountain Bindery with a Leuchtturm1917 B5 monthly calendar with journal tucked inside.
This is where the contents of my brain reside until I put them in a book, an article, or an episode of the #AmWriting podcast. I first spotted a Fillion at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art store and immediately ordered my own, with my initials embossed on the cover. My two best friends (also my podcast co-hosts) have identical Fillions and journals, and we keep track of our writing goals using stickers. The term “sticker” is our text thread shorthand for “I reached my writing goals today!” so there’s always a sheet or two of stickers in my Fillion as well.

Smythson of Bond Street currency case
I fell in love with this wallet when I read a New York Magazine piece, “What David Sedaris Can’t Travel Without.” I stalked the wallet, even went to Smythson’s New York City store and fondled it, but could not justify the price. I kept watch for it on Ebay and finally found a used one for much less and it’s become one of my very favorite things. It has four pockets, and I use them for money, business receipts, the Tile I use to keep track of it, and some business cards. I love this wallet so much and it keeps me organized when I’m traveling.

Whatever I’m knitting.
This happens to be a hat for my sister, but I’m a fan of smaller projects. Hats, socks, scarves, that kind of thing. I got my needles at a yard sale, but someday I want to get the Clover Takumi combo interchangeable circular knitting needles set. Someday.

A book.
I get a lot of advance copies for reviews and podcast interviews, but I try to purchase my books at my local independent booksellers, The Vermont Bookshop in Middlebury, the Crow Bookshop in Burlington, or Phoenix Books in Burlington. This book is The Chicken Sisters by K.J. Dell’Antonia, my friend, former New York Times editor, and #AmWriting podcast co-host. The Chicken Sisters is K.J.’s first novel and a recent Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick!

Cool Tools

Olight i3E/50 Years of Text Games/Apology tool

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Keychain flashlight
The Olight i3E is not the smallest keychain light. That is still the Photon, powered by a watch battery. But the Olight i3E is the smallest brightest light that runs on an easily available battery: the AAA. It’s the size of your pinky: 2 inches/6 cm long, and costs $10. One AAA will power it for years of occasional use, for when you need light more focused than a phone’s. (And I use a rechargeable AAA.) — KK

History of text games
I played a ton of text adventure games in the 1980s. (Check out the Infocom titles using’s early Mac emulator.) I’ve been reading about the origins of text games in a new newsletter called 50 Years of Text Games, by Aaron A. Reed. In the first three issues he takes deep dives into The Oregon Trail (1971), ROCKET (1972) (aka Lunar Lander, which I wrote about in my newsletter, The Magnet), and Hunt the Wumpus (1973). Reed plans to eventually publish a book about text adventure games. — MF

Am I part of the problem?
I just discovered this interactive (and empathic) tool that will walk you through how to apologize. It also helps you understand the difference between intent and impact and the different ways you can make amends — direct, indirect or by example. It’s not designed to make you feel better about yourself, but instead is a useful practice in accountability. — CD

Stop-motion eye candy
I am a fan of Wes Anderson’s movies because of their visual style. In 2018 Anderson released Isle of Dogs, an epic stop-motion masterpiece. Because literally each frame has been designed and crafted in miniature, I think it’s his most visually stylistic movie yet. Every frame is perfect. But there is another reason to stream it now: the very peculiar story concerns a deadly urban pandemic derived from an animal, the spread of conspiracy theories, the denial of science, and a contested election. Feels like it was just made. — KK

Boost your happiness chemicals
Here’s a great list of 100+ hacks for boosting your “happiness chemicals” like dopamine, oxytocin, endorphins and serotonin. The ones I’m most drawn to trying out are: Practicing a power-pose to boost physical and mental confidenceTaking a cold shower to boost adrenalineAnd sitting in the sun to boost mental health during the winter. My chocolate lab Pablo sits in the sun everyday, so he must be on to something. Pablo also does the best job of keeping my oxytocin levels high. — CD

Wireless Charging Pad
I got tired of buying Lightning cables, which break frequently so I decided to try a wireless charger pad for my iPhone 12 Mini (most newer phones can be charged wirelessly). It cost less than a lightning cable and now I just set my phone (or AirPod Pros) on it and it starts charging. I’ll never go back to cables. — MF

Cool Tools

Keto bread recipe/Slow TV Map/Ancient coins

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Fluffy low-carb bread
Here’s a super-simple recipe for ultra low carb, fluffy bread. I made a 1-minute video that shows how I make it, and the results. This is the almond flour I use. — MF

Slow TV Map
Recomendo reader Mark Jackson shared this wonderful Slow TV Map and said:

“If you haven’t heard of Slow TV before, it is a genre of long-form television originating from the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation’s broadcast of an uninterrupted 7-hour train journey in 2009. Slow TV Map maps these types of videos on a map so you can discover virtual journeys in an interactive way. Most people use Slow TV as a screensaver, but it can also be used as a form of active meditation. I hope you enjoy!”

Such a great way to virtually visit parts of the world you’ve always wanted explore. Here is a 1-hour long, Slow TV video of an 105-year old ship sailing the Denmark Coastline set to acoustic guitar. — CD

Ancient coin lessons
A fantastic history teaching tool is to give each student a 2,000-year old Roman or Greek coin to clean, study, and keep. Recovered old coins are abundant enough that a bag of uncleaned (and unidentified) ancient coins can be purchased for a few dollars per coin. Of course these coins won’t be high quality; they may be corroded or poorly crafted or well-worn down and indistinct, but they will be authentically old, and actually used as money. That is part of the lesson. Small lots of genuine ancient coins can be bought from reputable sources like Vcoin, where a lot of 20 diverse coins can be $45 (or bit more than $2 per coin). Cleaning them up and trying to identify them gets into their story. Ancient Coins for Education is a resource for educators using old coins, and Kevin’sCoins has tips for cleaning them. — KK

3D printer infographics
If you’re getting started in 3D printing, Billie Ruben’s infographic posters will save you time, money, and frustration. One poster shows how to design shapes that won’t collapse or slide off the plate mid-print. Another helps you select the right design software for your needs, and the third one is a simple (and essential) guide to bed leveling. I’ve been 3D printing stuff for 10 years and learned a lot from these guides. You can buy paper posters here. — MF

Find movies by writing out the synopsis
JustWatch has a cool way to discover new movies to watch. Just type up a synopsis for your ideal movie and you’ll be given a list of films with similar plotsTip: Press “enter” after you’ve finished typing and the recommendations will refresh. I made the mistake of pressing the “Ghostwrite a story for me” button which overrides whatever you’ve written with a random plot and related movies. — CD

Free Lynda classes
Tutorials on YouTube are near infinite in their variety — and quality. I’ve long paid for a subscription to which provides consistently very high quality tutorials for learning to use design and media software, and for learning how to program and code. The courses are methodical and reliable. I can get up to speed or earn advanced skills pretty quickly. I’ve been using them for learning video editing.  Recently Lynda was bought by LinkedIn, and renamed LinkedIn Learning. Their complete catalog of 15,000 courses are made available for free via public libraries in the US. Generally all you need is a library card account to gain access through your local library system. BTW, tons of Recomendo readers reminded me that many of the Great Courses (mentioned previously) are also available online for free via your local library. — KK

Cool Tools

Page Anchor/Great Courses/The Quarantini

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Elegant bookmark
I was coveting this Swedish anchor bookmark ($40) back when it was just a Kickstarter and this year I finally bought one for myself. The Page Anchor is made from 316L stainless steel and weighs about 8 ounces and has only one purpose — to hold a book open perfectly flat. The craftsmanship is so beautiful that it feels like owning a piece a jewelry. — CD

Great university courses
I’ve long been a huge fan of The Great Courses. These are the best university courses on all manner of diverse subjects, taught by the best university professors, recorded for home consumption. Years ago the courses started out as very expensive audio sets on cassette tape (I audited many courses while commuting), then migrated to CDs, then to audible files, and now are on video. All along, they were premium priced, if not a bit over-priced, but I found them to be worth it without exception. There’s a lot of history and science. I have enjoyed and benefited from too many courses to list, including a memorable one of 48 lectures on Ancient Egypt by Bob Brier, and another on appreciating classical music by Robert Greenberg. Now, yeah!, select courses are available free on Amazon Prime video. A search on Amazon will bring up all the current Great Courses. But to my frustration, courses will be free for limited times and then revert to paid episodes. For instance the really tremendous course on the Ancient Civilizations of North America is free now. It methodically describes the vast and sophisticated civilizations that existed in my backyard, which I was not taught about. But it will only be available until January 31, 2021, so watch now. (Or I could subscribe to the new Great Courses channel on Amazon for $8/month.) So far I’ve happy to watch the excellent ones that come up free each month. — KK

Colorful cocktail recipes
Since March of last year, my sister Wendy has been posting a creative cocktail recipe on her Instagram channel, The Quarantini. Even if you don’t drink alcohol it’s fun to see the unusual drinks she has concocted, like The Cure, which pays homage to the Covid-19 vaccine. Bottoms up! — MF

Searching by date
A really useful, but non-obvious, shortcut to search Google calendar for a particular date is simply to hit the letter G while on the calendar page. Instead of scrolling back month by month, you hit < g > and then enter the date you want. — KK

Instantly search 2 million recipes
This search engine pulls from more than 2 million recipes that you can filter by ingredients. I’m not a step-by-step recipe follower, but this is great for discovering variations of a recipe and inspiration for ingredients I hadn’t thought of. I’m also impressed that it found two different recipes for my parent’s homeland dish: Sopa Tarasca — CD

Tasty coffee additive
Someone recently made me a hot drink containing cinnamon, espresso, oat milk, and lion’s mane mushroom powder, and it was delicious. Now I make my own, using KOS Organic Lion’s Mane Powder. I use one included scoop of lion’s mane powder, one teaspoon of Ceylon cinnamon powder, a cup of hot oat milk, and a double shot of espresso. Then I whip with a stick blender. It’s a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. — MF

Cool Tools

Hole Center Measuring Attachment

Welcome to the first GTTST of 2021! I’m really looking forward to where we can take the newsletter this year and how I can best serve you. I’d love to hear from you. What would you like to see more of? Less of? Is there anything I’m not covering that I should? I see this publication as a conversation, so I’m always looking to hear your tips, stories, tool and supplier recommendations, and anything else related to making, inspiring creativity, and self-reliance.

Hole Center Measuring Attachment

[caption id="attachment_37705" align="alignnone" width="600"]Find your center, man. Find your center, man.[/caption]

On FacebookSean Ragan shared this Thingiverse file. It’s for printing adapters that go over the external jaws of a set of calipers to accurately measure the center of holes. In response to the post, Evil Mad ScientistLenore Edman pointed out that you can get the same result using this trick (which I’ve written about before): “You can get center-to-center measurements by measuring your hole’s diameter, zeroing out your calipers, then taking an outside-to-outside measurement. (Zeroing essentially subtracts the diameter of one hole.)” Sean Ragan responded: “I know that trick, but it’s not terribly accurate because you don’t get good indexing on the curved interior surfaces of the holes in either step, whereas turned, tapered caliper heads can be relied upon to be kinematically on-center in round holes with no wiggle room.”

Breadboard Basics and Tips

[caption id="attachment_37704" align="alignnone" width="600"]Neatness counts. Neatness counts.[/caption]

I love seeing the different working techniques of makers and their reasoning behind them. In this Ben Eater video, he runs through the ways he prototypes circuits on a solderless breadboard. He describes why he likes to keep it loose (using flexible jumper wires) when first testing out a circuit (to not let all of the fussy measuring and wire cutting get in the way of his creativity). And then he shows, once he’s decided on a circuit design, how he tightens things up with measuring, cutting, and installing neater wire hookups. Ben also describes why he doesn’t always use an auto-stripping wire cutter and how he accurately measures and cuts wire lengths using an old-school stripper. He also explains why he doesn’t use bending tools, preferring to let experience show him where to properly bend his leads. One great tip when cutting wires: Measure three breadboard tie-point holes beyond where you want to plug in your wire, cut there, and then strip the wire back by three holes. This will give you perfect wire length and perfect depth in the tie-point hole.

Noting Paint Colors Inside of Switch Plates

[caption id="attachment_37703" align="alignnone" width="600"]Message in a switch plate. Message in a switch plate.[/caption]

On the Acme Tools Instagram page, they shared this wonderful tip. To keep track of what paints were used in a room, list them on the backs of switch plates in that room

This reminded of a piece that Sean Ragan posted on Make: years ago about writing a time-capsule about your time in the house and pasting it on the back of a switch plate for future occupants to discover.

[caption id="attachment_37702" align="alignnone" width="600"]Every switchplate tells a story. Every switchplate tells a story.[/caption]

Story Board Templates

[caption id="attachment_37701" align="alignnone" width="600"]3D printed story-telling tools. 3D printed story-telling tools.[/caption]

Sophy Wong has a new video up where she shows her 3D printable storyboard and thumbnail templates and how to use them in a sketchbook. I wrote about these in the newsletter ages ago when Sophy first showed them on Twitter and have been looking forward to her making the files available and telling us more about how she uses them. Here is the project page on her website and the files on Thingiverse.

Adding Magnet Switches to the Savage Workbench Lights

[caption id="attachment_37700" align="alignnone" width="600"]You can never have too many lighting options. You can never have too many lighting options.[/caption]

The Adam Savage “One Day Build” that’s had the biggest impact on me was his project for building bendable LED workbench lights using video light panels and Loc-Line tubing (parts herehere, and here). I bought the parts immediately, built my own, and my workbench has never been the same. In this follow-up video, he shows how he used magswitches (magnets you can switch on and off) to add bench-wide mobility to his lights.


[caption id="attachment_37699" align="alignnone" width="600"]The iFixit Tech Toolkit The iFixit Tech Toolkit[/caption]

Certain tools are so beloved that, if you mention them to owners of said tool, they light up like a Christmas tree and can’t stop talking about how much they love it. Such is the case with the iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit. This kit has everything you might need for taking apart and repairing personal electronic devices, from a 64-piece bit driver set, to spudgers (tools for opening pressure-fit plastic components without causing damage), tweezers, a suction cup phone-screen remover, and a grounding strap. If you repair your own computers, game consoles, phones, and other consumer electronics, you want this kit (if you don’t already have it).

Shop Tale: They Almost Called Him Stubby

Newsletter reader (and general contractor) Jack B sent in this cautionary tale. It’s a fine example of what I call The Kenny Rogers Rule (knowing when to hold ‘em, fold 'em, and when to walk away from a project). If you have a shop tale to share, email me.

The weather had been terrible, one huge snowstorm after another. We were way behind on a four-plex build and that meant that even the general contractor (me) had to pitch in and work hard to finish.

Late into the night before Christmas, I was cutting OSB (oriented strand board) with a Skilsaw. I had two full sheets on sawhorses and was cutting along when it dawned on me that I might not have the blade set low enough. Without thinking, I reached under the OSB to see if I could feel the blade. In the fog of fatigue, feeling a spinning blade with my fingers made perfect sense. As luck would have it, I was only cutting through one of the sheets, so my fingers were safe. When I realized what I’d just done, I immediately stopped for the night. Being nicknamed “Stubby” for the rest of my life seemed too great of a price to pay.

Maker's Muse

Cool Tools

Auto Center Punch

A simple superior tool about the size of a stubby pencil that punches a tiny depression in metal. It's used to start a hole or mark a point. But unlike standard punches, which you need to hit with a hammer -- whose impact usually misaligns the spot you intended to punch -- this one gets its punch from a tiny internal spring that flexes as you press the tip down. You simply press the punch where you want a dent and there it is exactly. A classic.

-- KK

We in the rescue trade also use these pretty routinely to safely remove the glass in automobiles. They work particularly well on the glass in the side and rear windows and leave all of the little glass bits intact in the window frame until you gently remove them with gloved hands. The bits then go where you want (generally) and not on your patient. I assume that keeping one in your car would let you punch out your own windows in case of emergency. Just remember that it is key to use the device on the lower corner of a window or the glass can shatter and go everywhere.

-- J. James Bono

The Technium

Concluding our 25-year Bet


Twenty five years ago I made a bet in the pages of Wired. It was a bet whether the world would collapse by the year 2020. I made the bet at the end of an interview I conducted with author Kirk Sale, who had some notoriety for smashing computers with a sledge hammer in the tradition of the Luddites. He predicted the collapse of civilization in 25 years. I asked him if he was willing to bet on his vision of global collapse. (You can read the interview and original bet here in the article Interview with the Luddite.) We agreed to bet $1,000 on the state of the world in 2020. Sale was betting on a trinity of three global disasters; I was betting on progress. At the time we agree to let our mutual book editor, Bill Patrick, hold our checks. As 2020 rolled around, what I thought was an easy win, turned out to be not so obvious, so Kirk and I agreed to let Bill Patrick made the big decision at the very end of 2020. So last night, December 31, 2020, Bill Patrick made his decision. I am posting it below.

In the run-up to the end of the year, I wrote out my defense of why I thought I should win, which I sent to Bill Patrick as he was making his decision. Also, Steven Levy spoke to me and Kirk Sale and Patrick, and wrote up the story of the bet for Wired, which you can read here.


Subject: Big Decision
Date: Thursday, 31 December 2020
From: William Patrick
To: Kirk Sale, Kevin Kelly

Thank you gentlemen for entrusting this grave decision to me.

In deciding who wins, I find myself with no choice but to be an originalist, working closely from the words on the page, and the most significant are “not even close,” and “convergence.”

To deal with the former, it seems best to try to score the contest round by round:

Global Environmental Disaster

Environmental problems have far more to do with old school, industrial technology (slowly being retired) than with information technology (which may well be the only hope for a solution). Even so, with fires, floods, and rising seas displacing populations; bugs and diseases heading north, ice caps melting and polar bears with no place to go; as well as the worst hurricane season and the warmest year on record, it’s hard to dispute that we are at least “close to” global environmental disaster.

Round goes to Kirk

Economic Collapse

Not much contest here. Even with a pandemic, unemployment is a problem, but nowhere near a crisis—at least not in the closing days of 2020. (Stay tuned.) The Dow recently hit 30,000, and the leading currencies are cruising along. (Bitcoin, an entirely new form of currency unimaginable in 1995, is soaring—nearing $20,000 when I last checked.) So, Kirk’s dire prediction was way off.

Round goes to Kevin

War between rich and poor, both within and among nations.

This is a toughie. Kirk’s apocalyptic forecast is especially problematic when you factor in huge economic gains in China and India, driven in large part by tech. On the other hand, how heavily do you weigh economic unrest as a factor in spawning the terrorism that triggered “forever wars” in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Somalia? And the economic dislocation among blue collar workers that allowed Trump’s faux populism to win them over? Meanwhile, anger at police abuses has led to massive protests from the left and bloody riots in the U.S. and Europe. It’s hard to say that “the poor rising up in rebellion” accurately characterizes the current state of the world (especially with that rising middle class in Asia) but it’s also hard to say, when you consider the unrest in the Islamic world and Trump supporters waving automatic weapons, that we’re “nowhere close.”

Round is a toss-up, with an edge to Kirk.

Which brings us to the exact wording—including punctuation—of the phrase that pays: I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size. The way this statement is constructed, Kirk must hit the trifecta to win, meaning that all three horses of his apocalypse must come through, i.e. the three must converge. Only one of his predictions was a winner; one came in neck and neck; and one was way back in the pack.

So, Kevin wins, but it’s a squeaker, and not much cause for celebration.

Let's hope for "progress" over the next 25 years that is less equivocal.

Best for 2021.



Why I believe I won the 2020 Bet

It’s clear to any impartial observer that the world as we know it has not ended, although it might be close. But it has been close for a while, and that is the thrust of Kirk Sale’s argument. Twenty five years ago, it looked to him like the civilizational infrastructure that we humans had built up over millennia was near a breaking point, and that it could not last another 25 years. It was breaking down, Sale believed, because technological civilization was incompatible with nature. Technology and civilization operated at an unnatural scale, unnatural speed, and in a manner that destroyed living systems. But, the living system of the planet was so much larger than humans and their inventions, and both were so much more dependent on this natural world -- although inventors refused to acknowledge this -- that the living planet would hit back, exert its rules, and the invented world manufactured by technologists would collapse and crumble. Sale was certain this failure had already started, and he was so certain enough of its inevitable demise that he was willing to bet $1,000 that the collapse would be in full swing within 25 years.

Sale might be right that we are on the edge of that collapse today, and that in the next 25 years, by 2045, it will be in full swing. But that is a different bet. The claim we are trying to resolve in December 2020 is -- as the bet states -- are we in the full collapse right now?

California and Australia probably had their worst fire seasons in history and they were certainly triggered by human activity, including global warming, poor fire management, and the relentless incursion of urban sprawl. Powerful hurricanes are more common. And the arctic and Antarctica ice is melting. Those are large scale phenomena. If by some magic they never got worse, would we call the current state, this minute, “continent-wide environmental disaster” ? If we were to take a snapshot of the lives of the 7 billion people walking the Earth today, most of whom live in urban areas, and whose lives have only been mildly affected by the fires, floods and melting ice, they are not acting like they are in a collapse. If this is a disaster, it is a weird disaster that is not evident to its 7 billion inhabitants. Sale might argue that they are all sleepwalking in a disaster field and that the real impact around them is about to happen, and that could be true but that is a different bet.

The strongest case for a global environment is the tiniest one: the Covid-19 virus. This has indeed affected almost everyone on the planet, and it has affected their behavior in significant ways. You could make a more than poetic argument that the virus pandemic is a response by the living natural world to the unnatural densities of modern human cities. You could say that such contagious diseases are nature pushing back, and that the lockdowns, curfews, border closings, not to mention millions of deaths due to the virus, are an evident and actual environmental disaster. In many senses, I agree. It is fair to take a broad view of the environment to include the viral world, and this virus has indeed made a global negative impact.

It has even had a global financial impact, putting a pause on local enterprises, eliminating millions of jobs, and disrupting global trade. But the most amazing attribute of the Covid-19 pandemic has been how little effect it has had on the world compared to what could have happened. Given both the lethality and contagiousness of this virus, and the density of urban life, it could have, and in the past, would have, caused far far more damage than it did. It did not because of the global response to it. At an unprecedented scale and speed, civilization built a response to the virus. Around the world, billions of people simultaneously changed their behavior, while continuing their work for the most part. An impressively large part of the economy can be run by fewer people than ever before. And in less than a year, scientists came up with remedies for the illness, including ones that can potentially eliminate it. Science came up with treatments to diminish its damage on those who did get it. We are not out of this woods yet, and we could have done 100 times better, but compared to the total disaster it could have been, this is a story of how well civilization is working, not of how it collapses.

Here was my 1995 on-the-fly summary of our bet: “So you have multinational global currency collapse, social friction and warfare both between the rich and the poor and within nations, and you have continent-wide environmental disasters causing death and great migrations of people. All by the year 2020, yes? … I bet you US$1,000 that in the year 2020, we're not even close to the kind of disaster you describe—a convergence of three disasters: global currency collapse, significant warfare between rich and poor, and environmental disasters of some significant size.”

That is a bit vague, due to my attempt to encapsulate Sale’s just-shared idea on the spot. But luckily Sale spent a few minutes articulating the conditions that could be measured in detail. He was forecasting a convergence of three events, and I’d like to respond to each of three “metrics” he suggested in detail here.

Sale says: “The first [measurement] would be an economic collapse. The dollar would be worthless, the yen would be worthless, the mark would be worthless—the dislocation we saw in the Depression of 1930, magnified many times over.” Even after an unprecedented global pandemic, unemployment figures are not bad, and no where near Depression levels of 1930. The dollar is not worthless, nor the yen or mark, or Euro. In fact, in terms of the global financial market, stocks are at an all-time high. This prediction is as wrong as it could get.

Sale says: “A second would be the distention within various societies of the rich and the poor, in which the poor, who comprise, let's say, a fifth of society, are no longer content to be bought off with alcohol and television and drugs, and rises up in rebellion. And at the same time, there would be the same kind of distention within nations, in which the poor nations are no longer content to take the crumbs from our table, and rise up in either a military or some other form against the richer societies.” Let’s take the two parts one at a time. There is a measurable divergence of rich and poor in modern societies, with a few percent rich owning more than the rest of society altogether, but for some reason this fact has not led to rebellions, revolt, or armed uprisings at any scale. The imbalance of wealth is generally true around the world (and worst in the richest nations), while the absence of uprisings by the poor is generally true around the world, too. This may be because in most of the world, the poverty of the poorest has generally been reduced, even as the rich get much richer. So while the relative gap between the rich and poor grows, the poor around the world have gotten richer in their own eyes, and so they are not “rising up in rebellion.”

The following point -- predicting conflict between rich and poor nations -- also has not happened, probably for similar reasons. By and large, a middle class has emerged in most developing nations, and their poor have gotten less poor. Furthermore, the economic fate of any nation is more and more connected to other nations, via imports and exports, and going to war with wealthier nations doesn’t help your citizens. So, economic isolation is rightly seen as something to be avoided, and therefore there has been a refreshing diminishing of war between nations. It is clear Sale’s second metric failed to happen.

Sale says: “The third is accumulating environmental problems, such that Australia, for example, becomes unlivable because of the ozone hole there, and Africa, from the Sahara to South Africa, becomes unlivable because of new diseases that have been uncovered through deforestation. At any rate, environmental catastrophes on a significant scale.” Sale came close to being right with “new diseases” -- Covid-19 -- even though it is unlikely due to deforestation. (Covid is more likely due to Chinese propensity to gather, farm raise and sell wild animals in horrible conditions.) Yet, as I mentioned above, this could be seen as an environmental failure due to the pressures of urban life on the natural world. However, despite a bad fire season, Australia is not unlivable (at least according to the 23 million living there in 2020) and ditto for Africa. Both continents have experienced Covid-19 and neither are unlivable because of this new disease. Sales' last phrase is harder to judge: are there “environmental catastrophes on a significant scale”? We could talk about over-fishing in the ocean, and I’d agree that it is an environmental problem on a significant scale. Ice melting in the arctic regions is another. Whether these are recoverable problems or outright catastrophes -- Australia unlivable -- right now is something I’d debate. Being generous I’d agree that this prediction is half-true.

However the bet was the convergence of all three catastrophes, a trifecta of collapse, a multi-dimensional apocalypse. This did not happen. Sale might argue that it is all about to happen, and indeed it might. But that is a different bet. That is another 25-year bet. That bet would say that in the year 2045, the three collapses he outlined -- financial collapse, war between rich and poor, and an unlivable world due environmental catastrophes -- would be in full swing.

In my boldness at that moment, I said that none of Sale’s predictions would be close to what happens. "Close" is a poor choice of words for a bet. It is 100% arbitrary. If we had written out the bet I would not allowed its use. I felt we were betting on Sale's description of the convergent apocalypse and by "not close to it" I meant that no one would be confused or be perplexed by what they saw.

I don't think most people today would say we are close to the convergence of the three apocalypse. We may be closer (or at least further along) on the environmental axis, but I believe if you asked the average citizen on this planet about whether we are close to the three apocalypse today, this minute, they would say no. If you read them Sale's description and asked them to look around and judge whether that is what they saw, it does not look anything like the disasters that Sale specified. I would say it does look close to what he describes.

My optimism that we are not close to global disaster is not based on thinking we have fewer problems than we do. I see real harms in our world today, real big problems, especially global-scale problems. Rather, my optimism is based on our improving ability to devise solutions to them. The list of troubles in the future will certainly increase in the next 25 years -- and most of those troubles will be triggered by the technological solutions we make today -- but we are rapidly inventing and improving the tools and the means for seven billion humans to create a million ways to overcome them. That is what I am betting on. Kirk Sale lost the bet not because he misjudged our problems, but because he misjudged our capacity to deal with them.

I am so certain of our capacity to keep improving that I offer Kirk Sale a double-or-nothing bet. He may believe the problems he clearly sees will surely soon spin out of control. If they have not brought collapse in the last 25 years they certainly will in the next 25 years. I, on the other hand, believe we won’t be anywhere near collapse in 25 years. I am willing to bet $2,000 on that. I believe that we are in fact on the eve of a 25-year period of global progress and prosperity, the likes of which we have not seen before on this planet. In 25 years, poverty will be rare, and middle class lifestyle the norm. War between nations will also be rare. A bulk of our energy will be renewables, slowing down climate warming. Lifespans continue to lengthen. I’ll bet on it.


Kirk Sale did not take me up on the double or nothing offer.

Cool Tools

What's in my bag? — Tywen Kelly

Tywen Kelly is a student of media ecology. He is taking the next year to write essays and make art in pursuit of researching how media and ecology intersect. At the end of the year he will award himself an MFA.


About the bag
The bag I use is the Peak Design Everyday Backpack v2 ($260). It is the 30 liter version. It is the perfect size for personal item when flying, but the smaller version at 20 liters is a better everyday carry.

What's inside the bag
Pocket Travelers Notebook ($12)
For my birthday this year my friend got me this refillable leather notebook cover which uses elastic bands to hold small notebooks inside. It can hold up to three at a time comfortably and still be small enough to stuff into my shirt’s breast pocket. The elastic band system means that I just throw my pen inside, whatever page I’m on, and have it clamped in place for easy packability. The leather is good quality and accretes a nice patina over time.

Stickers from Sticker Mule
Stickers are a great mini-gift to hand to friends when you meet up. I used Sticker Mule to print 50 of my small doodles onto a die-cut iridescent 2" x 2" sticker. I keep four or five in my wallet at all times to surprise friends with. I also use the stickers to label everything that is mine — camera equipment, notebooks, chargers, etc., such that it is not mixed with others’ kits.

Tech Pouch ($60)
The Peak Design Tech Pouch is an origami-inspired organizer that stores every gadget accessory you need to travel. It conveniently stores my many cables, earphones, SD card holder, power brick, USB sticks, pens, and my Kindle. The price is on the hefty side, but the quality material, dense stitching, thoughtful design, and the fact that now I don’t travel without it has made it a worthwhile investment.

Aputure AL-MC Video Light ($90)
If you’re a photographer or videographer on the go, this is the ideal travel light add-on. It’s small, cordless, lightweight, and adjustable from very dim to as bright as a thousand suns. The LEDs are also RGB, so you can paint a subject with any color light you please. It’s convenient to charge via USB-C and convenient to hand-hold or stick to a metal surface with it’s built-in magnetic back. If you have more than one of these lights you can control them all via a smartphone app. I find myself using this it as a rim or fill light on my photo and video shoots.


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