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Stainless Steel Scraper/Chopper

27 March, by mark[ —]

Even though I’m an avid baker, I’d always thought bench scrapers were pointless until I was given one as a Christmas gift a few years back. I thought a knife or a spatula would be just as good as a scraper for most purposes. Since receiving one, however, the bench scraper has become a great multi-purpose tool in my kitchen. When I’m baking, I use it to lift and transfer pastry dough and divide cinnamon rolls. The inexpensive Norpro version I have includes a ruler on one side, which is handy to measure dough thickness. The bench scraper is also great for cleaning, though. I use it to scrape dough and other stuck-on detritus from my wooden countertop, and to remove any sort of burnt gunk from my cookie sheets. It is sharp, but not so sharp that it damages surfaces or leaves scrape marks. I’ve also used it as a pry bar on occasion. The Norpro scraper is under $6 on Amazon. For a stainless steel tool that lasts pretty much forever and has so many uses, this is a bargain.

-- Abbie Stillie

Norpro Stainless Steel Scraper/Chopper ($6)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Reader Favorite: Spyderco Bug Knife

26 March, by mark[ —]

The Spyderco Bug Knife was one of the best-selling items of 2015 – MF

I have carried this tiny knife for a few years, connected to a Photon Freedom micro light (another cool tool I heartily recommend over the oft recommended Microlight II) for the world’s smallest EDC (Every Day Carry) set. A knife and light combo will cover 95% of any odd daily task I encounter while working in an office and lab environment. This knife is the perfect size for professional office dress. It disappears in my pocket until I need it.

It is the smallest knife I have ever found and is just big enough for general scraping, tiny hole poking, and little thing slicing you need to do on a daily basis. It does not have a lock mechanism, but as long as you know that, you can use it in a way that will not cause it to close. It is stainless steel, so it is tough and corrosion resistant.

I recently lost my Bug knife and confirmed what I already knew: that I could not do without it for even a week. It costs only $12 on Amazon, so it is a bargain.

-- Mark Nordhaus

Spyderco Bug knife ($12)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

10 Minute Mail/Mint/Quotables

26 March, by claudia[ —]

Spam beater:
10 Minute Mail is a disposable email address. Just go to the website, and you are presented with a newly-minted email address that self-destructs after ten minutes. Here’s a sample address: l544960@mvrht.com. Use it when a web form requires an email address and you don’t want to end up on their list. From the FAQ: “If the website makes you verify the email address by sending you a link you have to click on, then you can read the email right here on www.10minutemail.com and click on the link.” — MF

We eat enough granola that we can’t keep up making our own. But most store-bought granola is way too sweet with sugar. And it’s expensive. For the past many years I’ve been gobbling up Bob’s Red Mill Honey Granola, bought in 4.5 pound bulk packages on Amazon. It is only mildly sweet using honey, and not expensive. We add our own nuts, raisins, etc. — KK

Money management:
I’m liking the new Mint much more than before. Now that it’s merged with Mint Bills, I can manage both bills and accounts in one place, and it was a lot easier to connect to all my accounts than before. Also, being able to view all my transactions in one place and categorize them permanently makes budgeting painless. — CD

I do most of my writing and editing in Google Docs. Sometimes, though, I am asked to edit a manuscript in Word. In those cases, I don’t really use Word because it is bloated and clunky. Instead, I use a free Word-compatible word processor called Bean (for OS X only). It’s snappy and the “full screen” view creates a distraction-free editing experience. — MF

Folding hack:
I thought I was a pro at folding clothes (thanks to my college days spent working at Gap), but recently came across this hack for folding North Face jackets in an Amazon review and was amazed at how compact this technique made my hoodie sweater. I rolled it into the size of softball and was able to carry it in my small crossbody bag. — CD


  • “I’ve always been very careful never to predict anything that has not already happened.” — Marshall McLuhan
  • “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.” — Dorothy Parker
  • “Decisions are made by those who show up.” — Jennifer Pahlka
  • “If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.” — Albert Einstein
  • “Not long ago what we have today was so implausible that nobody bothered to say it would never happen.“ — Marc Andreessen
  • “The first 90% of a project is a lot easier than the second 90%.” — Tim Sweeney
  • “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” — General Shinseki

Some quotes I’m finding guidance from. (I can’t vouch for the primacy of the sources.) — KK

Get the Recomendo weekly newsletter a week early by email.

-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Ask Cool Tools Featured Question

25 March, by claudia[ —]

evieb would like suggestions for the best way to carry two cell phones.

Foldable Step Stool

24 March, by mark[ —]

This foldable step stool is 11 inches high, and is only 1.5 inches thick when folded up. To unfold it, you simply set it down and it falls into place. To fold it, just grab it by the handle. Both operations are one-handed jobs. It’s got rubber dots on the top surface to prevent your feet from slipping.

It supports my weight (170 lbs) with no complaint (it’s rated at 300 lbs). It has replaced the non-folding plastic step stool that we used to keep in on the floor in the closet, giving us more room. Now my wife can access the top shelf on the closet.

-- Mark Frauenfelder

Greenco Super Strong Foldable Step Stool ($12)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Vitaquick Pressure Cooker

23 March, by mark[ —]

I remember when I was a kid my mom had a pressure cooker with a little piece of metal on top that would hiss and wiggle and make big spurts of steam. I do not miss all the theatrics with this modern pressure cooker. This Vitaquick Pressure Cooker is easy to use, easy to clean, and doesn’t feel like it’s going to blow my head off.

We bought the 6 liter model and decided it was too small for our use, so we bought the 8 liter model. We use it to make soup stocks and gravies, and rendering chicken, pork and other meats and vegetables to a hearty broth. Most of this goes into the freezer to be used later on other cooking recipes or just a nice bowl of hot bone broth on a cold San Francisco summer night.

-- Kent Barnes

Fissler FSSFIS5859 Vitaquick Pressure Cooker with Perforated Inset, 8.0 L, Stainless Steel ($269)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

LePen 10-Pack Colored Pen Set

22 March, by mark[ —]

As other left-handers will understand, pencil and most ink smears as I write, since I was taught to write with the paper tilted to the right. I could teach myself to write with the paper slanted in the the other direction, but it feels weird. Instead, I use Le Pen, which doesn’t smear. Le Pen is my choice because it has a a micro-fine plastic tip, but doesn’t seem as delicate as some. I can leave the lid off and it doesn’t dry out. As someone who occasionally suffers from carpal tunnel, I love that it requires very little pressure to write. Some pens just feel good to write with, and Le Pen is one of them. I bought Le Pen for work a couple years ago, and now I make sure to purchase more in every office supply run (because they disappear from my office, not because they break or run out of ink).

-- Abbie Stillie

Le Pen, 0.3 Millimeter point, Pen Set, 10 Pack, Multicolor ($12)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Crossbow Pistol

21 March, by mark[ —]

I bought this crossbow pistol because my family’s favorite character on The Walking Dead, Daryl Dixon, uses a crossbow to take out zombies, and we thought it would be fun for target practice. It was only about $25, and I didn’t expect it to be very powerful, but I was wrong. A bolt shot from this thing could kill someone. It easily penetrates plywood. I’m not sure if a bolt could go through someone’s skull, but it would definitely lodge itself in a leg, arm, abdomen, or neck.

If you buy this, give it the same respect you would a firearm. It’s not a toy, but it sure is fun. That said, I don’t think anyone under the age of 18 should use it without adult supervision. Also, be sure to check your local laws to make sure you are allowed to use it where you live.

It doesn’t require a lot of effort to cock it, but a smaller kid would not be able to figure out how to do it. The safety automatically engages when you cock it, thankfully. The crossbow comes with three aluminum (very sharp) bolts. You can buy a pack of 36 additional bolts for $12.

-- Mark Frauenfelder

Ace Martial Arts Supply Self Cocking Draw Fiberglass Body Crossbow Pistol Set, 80-Pound ($27)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Danielle Applestone, CEO of Other Machine Co.

20 March, by claudia[ —]

Our guest this week is Danielle Applestone. Danielle is a material scientist, co-founder and CEO of Other Machine Co., the leading manufacturer of high-precision desktop CNC milling machines. Formerly, Danielle ran a DARPA project to develop digital design software and manufacturing tools for the classroom. Danielle’s team took that technology and launched Other Machine Co. in 2013.

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Show notes:

Monarch Instrument Examiner 1000 ($1,200)
“I came across this electronic stethoscope as part of our manufacturing process. We would get motors from a manufacturer that looked balanced and met a spec, but once we put the whole machine together, sometimes a machine would have a lot of vibration and we didn’t know how to quantify that vibration or to know what was good or what was bad. … There’s a lot of intuition when you’re putting something complicated together like “Well, it feels right,” or “It doesn’t feel right.” That’s really hard to do so we found this amazing thing, which cut a ton of time out of our manufacturing process and now we have beautiful graphs of everything. We know exactly what things vibrate and which ones don’t. You can use it on musical instruments. It’s an amazing tool. Once you have one you realize how much you needed one in your life.”

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Bicycle inner tubes with holes in them
“I came across bicycle inner tubes with holes in them through a friend who had made a sail boat that was attached only with these bicycle inner tubes —it was a catamaran. The reason why they’re so important is they are waterproof, they stretch, and you don’t have to tie them in knots, so you can latch things together really quickly and then undo them, and make a new configuration. … They’re used a little bit like a bungee cord, but bungee cords are really expensive and you have to make do with the hooks whereas if you take a long inner tube that has a hole in it — you’re not going to use it anyway — slice it up into strips. It’s like a variable length bungee cord, but it also doesn’t have the hooks so you can just wrap it around itself and tuck it under and it’ll stay put.”

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The Encyclopedia of Country Living ($20)
“This is a great tool. This is so comprehensive for every little thing. I moved out into Kentucky and lived on 1200 acres for a while and didn’t have much. It was the go-to for, “Okay, we need to build a shanty for chickens. We need to learn how to clean a chicken.” It has everything, like “How to bury your own dead.” … The thing that’s magic about this book is it has the right level of detail, just enough to get yourself in trouble. … It’s just enough to get you going and then you can kind of DIY the rest. I still use it. The pages are all rained on, and moldy, and whatever, but it’s well loved.”

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X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer
“Yeah, well we just went from just about the lowest tech to the highest tech thing I’ve ever laid my hands on. … What’s great about this tool is it’s super useful for telling what’s on the surface of materials. I used to be a material scientist and I worked on lithium ion batteries. The surface is where all the action is. There’s not a lot of techniques out there that are nondestructive. Usually, if you invent a material, you have a sample, you have to crush it up or put it on a slide, you have to do something to it that mixes the surface in with the bulk. Sometimes, you don’t want that. … The X-ray Photoelectron Spectrometer is amazing because you can just put a sample in and it’s nondestructive …. How it works is you take a beam of x-ray, so you shoot photons at the surface of your material and those photons have enough energy to pick off electrons. A photon goes in, ejects an electron, and then there’s a collector that collects that electron and measures the kinetic energy, measures how fast it was moving. Then, if you know the energy of your x-ray going in, and the energy of that electron that you caught, you can just subtract and figure out how tightly bound was that electron to my surface. What’s cool about that is if you know how tightly a molecule was hanging onto it’s electron, you can tell what that molecule was. Whether it was a sulfur dioxide, or sulfur monoxide, the electrons that are swimming around those molecules will be held differently depending on what those molecules are. … The place that I used one was at the University of Texas at Austin. They’re quite common, but they’re usually at universities, or national labs … They’re millions of dollars.”

Chop2Pot Foldable Plastic Cutting Board

20 March, by mark[ —]

Chop2Pot is a cutting board that folds in thirds so once you’re done cutting the thing you fold up the wings and make a chute so the food slides into your bowl without falling off.

This recommendation is from our Cool Tools Show episode with David Pogue.

-- David Pogue

Chop2Pot Foldable Plastic Cutting Board ($10)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

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