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Heel Taps / Shoe Tacks

23 March, by mark[ —]

Putting new heels on dress shoes is expensive, but an old trick is to use hard wearing taps that take the wear and can be easily replaced. I have used these successfully for the past few years and they really work. You can purchase in a variety of sizes. I only use the plastic ones but if you want to go really old school, you can buy metal taps.

Although the taps have some adhesive, you have to nail them to the heel or they will just peel off. In the past, my taps came with wire nails (uniform diameter shank) that were difficult to pound into a rubber heel. However, my most recent purchase (see above) actually came with old fashioned shoe tacks. These are cut nails with a sharp tip that easily bite into a rubber heel with a few hammer taps. (Cut nails are a whole topic for another post.) I usually wait to install these until the heel is a bit rounded down so that these approximately fill in the gap and leave my shoe level to the ground. We remove our shoes indoors but it is possible that the nail heads could damage a wooden floor if they protrude so caveat emptor.

Celestron Mini 8×21 Binoculars

22 March[ —]

I just bought four pair of some nifty Celestron 8x21s for an incredible $12 each! They are compact and very light weight. The eye relief is great, and while they ain’t Swarovskis, they do the job just fine. And best of all, I don’t worry about losing them or getting them scratched. My advice is to buy a bunch and keep them in every car, backpack, etc.

–Paul Saffo

I did just what Paul Saffo suggested. I got me a couple of these. They are small mini-binocs about 6 inches square — the size of your palm. They are as sharp as my other mid-price pairs, but much handier. I really like them. And for $12 (the current price is $18), they are unbeatable.



This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2003

Earlier comments from original review:

Submitted on 2008/12/29 at 9:02 pm
A couple of observations. First, the links above both lead to the same model but they both look much different from the picture above. Second, the price is now $17.90 (You Save $-2.95) at the links given. Love that negative savings. ;-) Try getting them directly from Celestron for $12.95:


Submitted on 2009/04/13 at 11:33 am
These are some of the nicest mini-binoculars I’ve used. The price is right – currently $16.99 from Celestron. They are very light weight, extremely compact, with decent optics. I recommend them for the trail since they are so light.

Submitted on 2008/11/22 at 7:13 am
KK: the link isn’t working. I went to the site and could only find the Celestron “Up Close” 8×21 for a similar price……. http://www.sh0rten.com/1wg0puaopft/

Registered User
Submitted on 2008/11/22 at 10:32 am

I’ve updated the link. Thanks for letting us know!

Steven Leckart
Editor, Cool Tools

Submitted on 2010/03/22 at 5:56 pm
I bought three pair of these based on these reviews. The binoculars are fine, but I wouldn’t recommend getting them from Celestron. They use Shopatron for fulfillment; my binoculars took nearly three weeks to reach me. Celestron isn’t at all helpful; once the order is placed you see a notice saying that the order cannot be changed or canceled. Two weeks later I was unable to find anyone who was willing to take responsibility for finding out what was going on with my order (“we don’t have anything to do with fulfillment”), and it was nearly another week before it finally showed up. ]

Garage Door Keyless Entry

22 March, by mark[ —]

If you have a motorized garage door opener, you may know the frustration of not being able to get in because you don’t have the remote handy. The keyless entry solves this problem by permanently mounting a remote with PIN pad near the entry. There are a wide range of models to match different systems but they all do basically the same thing. After you screw it to the door frame, you sync to the opener and program in a code. We find this incredibly convenient and it also makes it easy for the kids to take their bikes in and out to school.

Gerber Curve Multi-Tool

21 March, by mark[ —]

I’m a scientist, I don’t need to carry an EDC knife with a tactical blade and one handed spring assist opening. But a handy little (closed length: 2.25″) keychain knife with screwdrivers on it is a great tool to have. I have had my Gerber Curve multitool ($10) on my keychain for years. It has everything you need, a small blade, phillips and straight screwdrivers and a file. I have actually added one to my bike bag and my photo bag as it is just that handy.

Maker Update: Automatic Dice Spinner, Desktop CT Scanner, and Powering a Raspberry Pi From Lithium Iron Phosphate

21 March, by mark[ —]

This week on Maker Update, an automatic dice spinner, a desktop CT scanner, and powering your Raspberry Pi from lithium iron phosphate. This week’s Cool Tool is the Krink K-70 Permanent Ink Marker.

Shownotes here.

Stretch Wrap With Handle

20 March, by mark[ —]

Let’s talk about stretch wrap. $11 on Amazon got me 1,000 feet of this stuff — but what’s it good for? I’ll tell you what I use it for, and if you want to pick some up for yourself, using the link in the description helps support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

Stretch wrap is a non-adhesive plastic film that under tension will stick to itself. It comes in all different sizes. This roll is 5-inches wide and clear and comes with this built in cardboard handle.

What’s great about it in general is that it’s non-destructive — you can use it like tape to wrap things up, but it won’t leave behind any residue or pull anything up when you take it off.

You’ll often see moving companies use this to bundle up loose things that won’t fit in boxes, or secure furniture or drawers so things stay together.

I stole this tip from Jimmy Diresta’s video on tape tips, he uses stretch wrap for securing ratchet straps in his truck into a nice bundle. He also recommends it as a way to secure things in bubble wrap without resorting to packing tape. This way, if you mark where to pull to unwrap it, people can undo the packaging without having to slice into it and possibly damage the contents.

I picked this up specifically to organize the t-shirts my band sells at shows. I’ll fold big stacks of shirts grouped by size and wrap them with this so I can still see the size on the tag. I used to use rubber bands but they would leave marks or wrinkle the fabric — but this doesn’t.

On that same note, I have things in my workshop like grillecloth or corkboard, that tape or rubber bands tend to damage. Stretch wrap is a great way to safely bundle it up.

[Cool Tools has a YouTube channel with many more tool reviews]

Rechargeable Portable Battery Operated Fan

20 March, by mark[ —]

If you’ve ever battled over the thermostat setting, this fan will settle a lot of arguments. I have been using one of these small battery-operated fans for over a year, now, and it’s still going strong.
I experience hot spells several times a day, and this fan provides instant relief. It can be operated on batteries or with the included mini-USB cable, but it lasts long enough on one charge that I’ve rarely used it with the USB cable. Initially, the fan would last for over two weeks of daily use (several times a day, for five or more minutes at a time) on one charge. Even after over a year of daily use the 2000 mAh battery is still going strong, but now lasts for about a week of regular use on one charge.

The fan has three speed settings, but I generally use it on the middle setting. It’s reasonably quiet, for how much air it pushes. It folds up for storage, and it even has little hooks that can be used to attach it to the underside of an umbrella, though I’ve never used it that way. There are models available that come with rounded handles, but I find the flat-sided handle useful for propping the partly folded fan on a table so I can direct the cool breeze in my direction.

Amazon no longer lists the exact brand of fan that I initially purchased (iEGrow), but there are a number different models available, all in the $12 to $15 price range. I expect that they all perform about the same, and I recently purchased another model that came with an extra battery (for a few dollars more) so I can store enough juice to run the fan for several weeks of daily use without needing to recharge batteries.

One thing that is a bit odd, but not a problem for me, is that when the battery is very low, the fan does not turn off, but instead cycles between low and high setting when you press the switch. Charging probably takes several hours, I usually just charge it up overnight, and I’m good to go for another week or two. It is a bit difficult to see the indicator light to know when it’s fully charged, as the light is recessed inside the handle. I have been waiting for my first fan to die before I switch batteries, but although the battery has flagged a bit, it shows no sign of quitting, after being recharged dozens of times over the past fifteen months.

This fan gets so much use that I really don’t know how I got along without it.

Self-Healing Cutting Mat

19 March[ —]

You razor-cut things on this mat, and unlike other materials it won’t accumulate a field of cut marks to misguide your blade. The self-healing rubber keeps the surface uniformly smooth, clean, and firm. And protects your table. Get the largest one you have room for and can afford. A large mat also says: don’t pile stuff here.

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2003]

Lacrosse Felt Insoles

19 March, by mark[ —]

I’ve been using these insoles in most of my shoes for years. They’re meant as replacement insoles for Lacrosse work and rubber boots, but they work great in just about any type of shoe. I buy them in my regular shoe size, but they’re larger than most of the stock insoles. Using a stock insole as a pattern, I trace its outline onto the felt with a marker pen, and trim with scissors to fit. I find them more comfortable than most other insoles I’ve tried. They make my shoes feel like I’m wearing a comfortable pair of slippers. They help keep my feet warm in cold weather, and they’re also good when it’s warm, probably because they’re breathable and absorbent. They come in two different thicknesses, 6mm and 9mm. I use the 6mm in most of my shoes, but with some roomier boots I use the 9mm. These may not be appropriate for someone who needs arch support, as they’re just flat felt.

Mobile Justice/Daily/Long-term thinking

18 March, by Kevin Kelly[ —]

Mobile justice
If you spot police officers doing something wrong, you can record them with the free Mobile Justice app from the ACLU. It sends the video directly to an ACLU server so even if the police illegally confiscate your phone they won’t be able to delete the incriminating video. — MF

No-frills To-Do app
I like to blame my To-Do List apps if things don’t get done. I get annoyed with reminders, then turn off notifications, and eventually delete. Daily – Zen Planner’s super simplistic design is non-threatening and easy to use. I type up tasks and move them to either the Today or Soon screen. — CD

Two Rooms and a BoomLong-term thinking
To encourage me to take a long-term view I’m a regular at the Seminars for Long-term Thinking hosted by the Long Now Foundation (where I am a founding board member). The hour-long talks (plus 30 minute Q&A) happen once a month in San Francisco. The topics are surprisingly diverse, ranging from ancient history to speculative futures, from food to nuclear power, from Silicon Valley to the Silk Road — all with a slant to the next 10,000 years. Several hundred past talks are archived and available to the public as free podcasts. For those outside San Francisco, or disinclined to travel unnecessarily, a membership to the Long Now gives you access to a real-time streaming version of each talk; you can even ask questions live. (Next up, next week, Steven Pinker.) — KK

I played this social deception/deduction game with about a dozen other people on the JoCo Cruise a few weeks ago. If you’ve played Werewolf or Mafia you’ll be familiar with this kind of game. In Two Rooms and a Boom, the goal is for team red to blow up the president, and the goal of team blue is to stop them. Each game takes about 15 minutes and if you’re like me, you’ll end up playing multiple rounds until way past your bedtime. It’s addictive — MF

Best scheduler
The best way to schedule a meeting for a bunch of busy people is via Doodle, a free easy website. No need to sign up. Just lay out all possible time slots and let everyone else go to the site, and click the times that work for them. The site sorts out the best time/date. No email tag. Quick, painless, I’ve been using the site for years. — KK

Get rid of frizz and flyaways
My favorite quick-fix hair product is Bumble and Bumble Brilliantine. The product description says it’s unique and hard to define, and it’s true. I use it when I don’t have enough time to heat style my hair. I rub a dime-size amount between my palms and pat it through out my hair to smooth it out, create shine and get rid of flyaways. — CD

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