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Camelcamelcamel/Travel tip/Gratefulness

23 April, by claudia[ —]

Cultural norms:
In most parts of the world business cards are still a cultural norm. I designed my business card in Photoshop, and every few years I update the info and send the file to PS Print online and they mail back a small box of 250 for $18. Easy, quick, cheap. — KK

Better phone calls:
Our house phone sounds awful and we get poor cell phone connectivity at home. But we have wi-fi and I’ve started using FaceTime Audio as much as possible to make phone calls. It works on any Apple hardware and the sound quality is crystal clear, even when using cellular data. — MF

This eBags toiletry bag is the perfect size to fit all essential travel toiletries plus a lot of my makeup. It has four compartments and stays pretty flat, so I can slip it into my large tote if I need to. My favorite feature is the hook for hanging which is great for hotels with little counter space. — CD

Lowest prices:
Prices on Amazon oscillate week to week far more than you might think. Paste an Amazon url into Camelcamelcamel.com to see the chart of an item’s price history. If you are not in a hurry, you can use the chart to set a plausible low target price and Camel will send you an alert and buy button when (if) it reaches that price. — KK

Travel tip:
On a recent trip to Tokyo, I brought along the Sea to Summit TravellingLight Day Pack ($33). It weighs 2.4 oz (my iPhone 6 Plus weighs 6.2 ounces) and zips up into a bundle smaller than my fist. But it holds 20 liters of stuff, and I used it every day to carry water, snacks, sweaters, an iPhone charger, a portable wi-fi, groceries, and things my wife and I bought while walking around. The material feels indestructible. — MF

Easy gratitude:
Gratefulness is the easiest way to practice gratitude. You don’t have to download an app or set a reminder to write in a diary. Just pick a time of day and you’ll get a text asking you what you are grateful for that day. At the end of the week, you’ll get an email of everything you text back. Reading the Public Gratitude Wall is a quick way to smile. — CD

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-- Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson

Ask Cool Tools Featured Question

22 April, by claudia[ —]

Tangle Tamer

21 April, by mark[ —]

My two daughters had long hair when they were young. Combing out the tangles after they’d taken a bath was a painful experience for everyone. My three-year-old ran when she saw me coming towards her with a brush and a bottle of spray detangler.

The pain ended when we started using this rechargable electric detangling brush. The motor makes the eight plastic protuberances oscillate at a high frequency. The brush goes through tangled hair like a hot knife through butter. Well, maybe not that quickly, but it is so much better than a comb or brush that there’s no comparison.

-- Mark Frauenfelder

Electric Detangling Brush ($20)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Fiskars Rotary Cutter

20 April, by mark[ —]

[Here’s a Cool Tools reader favorite from 2003. When Kevin reviewed it, it was $12. Fourteen years later, Amazon sells it for $7.67, as an add-on item. – MF]

Rotary cutters aren’t new tools. It’s just taken me a while to appreciate how great they are. The Fiskars 45mm Rotary Cutter replaces exactos for most heavy-duty cutting jobs in our household. It’s faster, surer, easier and therefore safer to use than razor blades. It will slice through paper, vinyl, cardboard, fabric, and foam board with ease and accuracy. I can only manage perfectly straight long cuts with a rotary cutter and straight edge. Cutting curves is buttery. Seamstresses can add pinking blades. The replaceable blade retracts when not in use; it can be side-switched for left-handers. When I think “cut” I reach for this tool.

-- KK

Fiskars 45mm Contour Rotary Cutter ($8)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon


20 April, by mark[ —]

I’ve moved most of my investment money into robo investors.

For the past several decades index funds have outperformed over 80 percent of actively managed funds. Index funds are cheap to run because they are simply a large group of representative stocks that an investor holds — there are no human pickers or human traders. Their yield is equivalent to the yield of “the market” so their financial performance is the market performance, but unlike actively managed funds, they have miniscule fees. If you are patient, inexpensive index funds will give the best total yield on average over the long term, taking into account their extremely low fees. Wise financial advisers have long recommended holding index funds as the best course for most people.

Now with the advent of artificial intelligence these plain unexciting index funds have become smarter and even more profitable. Some of the added value services that trained (and expensive) human advisors could do with funds, can now be done by machines, faster, better and cheaper. This so-called robo investing will automate such fancy operations as rebalancing portfolios in real time, reinvesting dividends at the ideal time, and optimizing tax-loss harvesting. These additional investment techniques, once only available to high net worth accounts, add a few points added yields and can now be applied to any account, including cheap index funds.

There are a couple of Silicon Valley startups running multi-billion dollar index funds enhanced with AI, such as Betterment and Wealthfront. I’ve been using Wealthfront, one the leaders, because of its easy interface. It’s performance success is directly coupled with the market ups and downs (like most index funds), but its AI algorithms add a few more percentage points gain overall, which compound over years, can be significant.

As this method is proven by these startups, you can expect the bigger established investment firms to start offering similar AI-enhanced services. For the time being Wealthfront is out-innovating the established firms, giving me better returns with very little added risk (within the equities market).

-- KK


Aluminum Flashing Tape

19 April, by mark[ —]

A gutter repair and a windy storm exposed a leak problem between an aluminum patio roof and the house’s facia board. There was a quarter-inch gap between the two. Even the best caulking isn’t going to reliably fill that as the metal roof expands and contracts with weather. Enter aluminum flashing tape, which features an outside layer of aluminum/polymer that’s ready for weather, and an inside layer of rubberized asphalt adhesive. It can be molded to adhere to the corrugations of a patio roof, or whatever (mobile homes and automobiles are mentioned in comments on the products).

Application tip: if you want to adhere to an uneven surface, start at one end, work the tape into the grooves, and unroll as you go.




-- Larry Hamel

Cofair Products QR625 6″ X 25′ Aluminium Quick Roof Tape ($22)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Maker Update: Sun Powered CNC

19 April, by mark[ —]

This week on Maker Update, an all natural laser engraver, a fume-free portable workstation, a tool recommendation from Adam Savage (Knipex High Leverage Cutters), 3D printed Lego tape, and a collection of vintage Mac software you can use in your browser. Read the show notes here.

-- Donald Bell

Simone Giertz, Robot Maker and YouTuber

17 April, by cooltools[ —]

Our guest this week is Simone Giertz. Simone is a Swedish native who now resides in San Francisco. Millions of people come to watch her build shitty robots on YouTube and she recently launched her own astronaut training program to get herself into space. Simone’s videos have been featured on The Ellen Show, The Late Show, Mashable, Business Insider, Wired, Conan O’Brien, and more. Whilst most recently joining master builder Adam Savage’s tested team.

Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page

Show notes:

Dremel 4200 ($114)
“I started building stuff about 3 years and I’m rediscovering everything that people have known for a long time. … Dremel tool kind of goes in the line of that … it blew my mind because I do a lot of aluminum fabrications. I make parts out of aluminum frames or customized parts that I already have and for that it’s freakin’ great because it’s like having your own arm do it but at a much higher RPM. It’s like a little pen. It’s just such an accessible tool. You’re just sitting there and you’re cutting. It has the tiniest little cutter blades and it’s just nice. … It’s a super versatile tool and it takes up no space.”

Original Prusa i3 MK2S kit ($699)
“I am definitely not an authority in 3D printing. I am a total 3D printing novice. I think in some way that gives me a bit of authority to speak on this because I’ve used a fair amount of 3D printers and I’m always like, ‘I have no freaking idea what’s going on.’ … The Prusa has, from the start, worked brilliantly. It’s a really open design. … It looks like a very maker printer because you can definitely tinker with it without having to take some big casing off. … This is the first 3D printer that has worked well enough to me to actually use it on a regular basis.”

Glowforge laser cutter($2995)
“One of many unique features that it has is that you have a view. It’s all in the browse. You just go on your printer’s domain or you log into your account and there you have the bed view of your printer. You can see the material and that’s where you upload and place the designs. You can also scan stuff on it. You can draw something on the material and it scans it and then it can etch it or rasterize it. It’s really an improvement of the work flow.”

Shaper Origin ($1699)
“This is a great tool. I’m not sponsored. They did let me take home their beta version and try it out. It’s a handheld milling machine. Basically you load an SVG on it — a file. Your design. …Just like a CNC machine but it’s handheld. … Then it auto corrects your path. It shows you where to move out. … You could be making the map of the United States on your wall in your bedroom and just hold it up on the wall. I think it’s just such a … it’s super cool and it works. I’ve just tried their beta version. I haven’t tried the final version but I’m really impressed with the capabilities of the beta version. It’s just worked really. really great. … You can do a cut halfway through and then take a break for a couple of weeks and then get back to it and keep on doing it and it knows where it laid out all the parts.”

Hitachi KNT50AB Air Compressor ($229)
“The virtues of an air compressor. Where do I start? Most of all, building robots and tinkering with electronics used to be my hobby and then it became my job. I had to find a new hobby. I’ve been doing a lot of wood working in my free time. I do it at home. I have a little workbench in the garden. I’ve always covered in sawdust. Just being able to blow off my tools before I bring them into my bedroom is amazing.”

Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick 12-Inch Covered Ultimate Pan

17 April, by mark[ —]

I’ve gone through a number of non-stick pans over the years, and they all had one thing in common: eventually, they stopped being non-stick. They’d peel, or scratch, or eventually just morph into a plain old pan as the coating failed. But this Anolon pan looks like it might last the rest of my life.

If I could only have one pan, this would be the one: the most versatile one I own. After 6 years of heavy usage, the non-stick coating is still perfect, showing no signs of wear and seems just as slippery as the day it came off the factory floor; my morning egg-over-easy still slips off easily.

According to the manufacturer, the coating will stand up to metal utensils (I’ve generally played it safe and used nylon, silicone, or wooden spoons and spatulas). The heat distribution is rapid and even, much better than cast iron — it’s solid anodized aluminum, one of the most practical, lightweight, inexpensive, and efficient material for stovetop pans. The pan is also PFOE-free.

The shape of the pan is very adaptable: it looks like a wok-type pan, so it’s great for stir-fry, but also work well for anything you’d use a skillet for (omelets, sauté, pan-frying, simmering, etc.), as well as being deep enough to use for most other stove-top tasks: boiling, deep-frying, soup simmering, pasta boiling, etc. It will hold about 4 quarts of liquid.

Many high-end pans have an metal handle, which can create a burn hazard; the Anolon’s silicone handle stays cool on the stovetop, and is oven safe up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

The pan comes with a close-fitting tempered glass lid with a silicone handle, so you can keep an eye on things easily. It’s pretty sturdy; I’ve dropped it a few times but it hasn’t been damaged.

It’s not dishwasher safe, but it’s very easy to clean; you just have to avoid abrasive scrubbers and cleansers. If anything gets burnt on, try boiling a mixture of three parts water and one part vinegar in the pan over medium heat for 10 minutes; let it stand until cool, then wash as usual with warm, soapy water and a soft nylon brush. If you’re looking to replace a tired old T-Fal, or are short on kitchen space and need one pan to do the work of several, this pan would be a good choice!

-- Barbara Dace

Anolon Advanced Hard Anodized Nonstick 12-Inch Covered Ultimate Pan ($50)

International Amazon link

Available from Amazon

Nest/V for Wiki/Order of Books

16 April, by claudia[ —]

I just purchased our fourth Nest smoke and carbon monoxide alarm for our home. As our old Home Depot smoke alarms go kaput one by one, I have replaced them with the more expensive, but superior, Nest. They seem to last longer, are smarter, less annoying, and are networked via wifi. In theory (no actual disasters yet), each Nest will broadcast a concern it detects to all the others, so a fire in my downstairs home office would be announced in a message by the Nest in our living room. It also sends alerts to my phone if I am away. — KK

Time/money saver:
Living in SF and lack of parking makes me avoid grocery shopping. I buy in bulk and use grocery delivery services when I can, but there are minimum purchases for free delivery and sometimes the prices are marked up. Greatist has researched-backed tips for more efficient in-store shopping. Planning the week’s dinners and committing to a list has helped me minimize unnecessary trips. Listening to music and avoiding all other aisles are helpful. — CD

Reading tool:
Amazon does a poor job of presenting book series in order. I wanted the chronological order of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels. The website Order of Books had it, along with many other book series. — MF

I’m totally hooked on S-Town, an amazing 6-hour audio documentary from the folks that brought you the hit podcast Serial. Although it starts out like Serial, S-Town takes off as a deep dive into another America most listeners like me have never experienced. Plenty of plot twists amid a parade of local character and colors: Southern Gothic, redneck, Trump country blues. But at its heart it’s a story of one person’s attempt to make sense of his life. — KK

Wikipedia tool:
V for Wikipedia recreates the childhood joy of getting lost in my old Encyclopedia set. One subject would inspire me to look up another and I’d end up flipping back and forth between pages and indexes for hours. Now I can use my iPhone and seamlessly jump to the next subject with a quick tap. Honestly, this app is so easy and enjoyable to use — totally worth the $4.99. — CD

I like my black tea to have a robust flavor, so I use a lot of it in each cup I make. This organic Darjeeling tea from Vahdam fits the bill. It smells wonderful and is very tasty. A 14.4 ounce bag costs $28. They say one bag makes 200+ cups, but I probably only get 100 cups out of it. Still a good deal! — MF


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