How to Wrap Five Eggs is a real inspiration for both designer and maker

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

How to Wrap Five Eggs: Japanese Design in Traditional Packaging by Hideyuki Oka (author) and Michikazu Sakai (photographer) Harper & Row 1967, 203 pages, 10 x 11.6 x 1.2 inches (hardcover) From $35 Buy a copy on Amazon

This book is a museum of traditional packaging artifacts from Japan. Before the age of plastic, the Japanese perfected the art of packing consumables in incredibly ingenious ways. They excelled in using natural materials such as paper, straw, clay, and wood. Much of the packaging looks astonishingly modern, even though the form may be hundreds, if not thousands of years old. In fact, packages in Japan today often are wrapped in the same way. I recently received a gift from Japan that contained seven layers of boxes within boxes, wraps within wraps, each layer its own exquisite art, the packing at least equal to the cost and worth of the gift inside. There is a mesmerizing variety of packing collected during the last years of traditional Japan on display here. Each artifact is featured in stunning black and white photographs. It is a real inspiration for both designer and maker. Long out of print, this masterpiece of design was first published in 1967; used copies can be found today at rare book prices. It has also been republished in a modified paperback form, that contains some of the original content at a smaller scale. Read the rest

The most unusual and beautiful evolutionary tree maps from the last 200 years

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Trees of Life: A Visual History of Evolution by Theodore W. Pietsch Johns Hopkins University Press 2013, 376 pages, 8 x 10 x 1.1 inches (softcover) Starting at $22 Buy a copy on Amazon

The primary metaphor for visualizing evolution is as a tree. The trunk is the oldest ancestor species which branch off newer species, which branch further leaves of the newest species. Ever since Darwin, biologists have been drawing trees to attempt to capture the complexity of evolution in various domains. These evolutionary trees are not only scientifically useful, but works of art. Over the years, many approaches to the trees have been tried – some minimal, some ornate, some abstract. This tome collects the finest, most unusual, most beautiful evolutionary tree maps produced in the last 200 years. They not only inform biology, they are fantastic examples of great design.

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New Recomendo newsletter, Issue No. 1

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Beginning today, the editors of Cool Tools will be recommending 6 items in an extremely short email every week. Mark, myself, and Claudia — the entire staff of Cool Tools — will suggest good stuff we have personally used, consumed, or experienced. We’ll try to keep each recommendation light and fast. They won’t be definitive reviews; rather they’ll be quick recommendations. Going back again to our roots, we’ve named it Recomendo — which, believe it or not, was the name of Cool Tools before I renamed it.

If you want great tools, stay on (or sign onto) the Cool Tools newsletter. To get all the other kinds of things we encounter and enjoy sharing, sign up for Recomendo here. As usual, we don’t do anything with your info except send you short and sweet one-screen news once a week.

Here's the first issue of Recomendo:

DESTINATION: The world's coolest nature museum: The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, England (pictured above). It's a day trip from London. Take the 1-hour train to Oxford, then walk 15 minutes from the station to the museum, co-housed with the Oxford University Nature Museum. Enter into a lost world of curiosity. You are surrounded by three floors of artifacts collected over centuries by eccentric British explorers. Displays include shrunken heads, voodoo dolls, tomb relics, weird insects, ancient folk tools, dinosaurs skeletons, taxidermy galore, uncountable biological and mineralogical specimens, all stacked in glassy cabinets with typed cards and labels. It's supremely old-school and hugely satisfying. Read the rest

Shot in the '70s, North African Villages shows medieval villages unchanged by modernity

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North African Villages: Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia by Norman F. Carver Documan Pr Ltd 1989, 200 pages, 9 x 10.5 x 0.5 inches (softcover) $24 Buy a copy on Amazon

In the 1970s an architectural student drove a VW van around Italy, the Iberian peninsula, and northern Africa, recording the intact medieval villages still operating in their mountain areas. The hill towns at that time in Italy, Spain, Morocco and Tunisia kept a traditional way of building without architects, using indigenous materials, without straight streets, producing towns of uncommon attractiveness. The architect, Norman Carver, later self published a series of photo books documenting these remote villages which had not yet been interrupted with modernity. They looked, for most purposes, like they looked 1,000 years ago. All of Carter’s books are worthwhile, but my favorite is North African Villages. Here you get a portrait of not just the timeless architecture, but also a small glimpse of the lives that yielded that harmony of the built upon the born. It’s an ideal of organic design, that is, design that is accumulated over time. Read the rest

In the future you will own nothing and have access to everything

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In 1988 Kevin Kelly (my friend and business partner at Cool Tools) edited Signal, a book about “Communications Tools for the Information Age.” With articles about smart phones, artificial life, computer viruses, interactive literature, online databases, teleconferencing, image processing, and the “world information economy,” Signal was years ahead of its time. (In 1993 it served as the prototype for Wired, the magazine Kevin co-founded.) Signal changed the way readers thought about technology – we weren’t in a computer revolution – we were in a communications revolution. Kevin understood that people were co-evolving with technology, transforming the way we received, processed, and transmitted information, both as individuals and a society.

Kevin has never stopped thinking about the implications of the communications revolution. He co-founded the first Hackers Conference in 1984, was a founding board member of the WELL (an early online service launched in 1985) and in 1990 he launched the first virtual reality conference. His first book, Out of Control, about technology’s lifelike patterns and behavior, was called “essential reading for all executives,” by Forbes. His latest book, released in June, is called The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future. This clear-eyed guide explains the twelve inevitable, interrelated technological trends (including robotics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality) that are already disrupting every imaginable human activity, from the way we work, learn, and play, to the way we exist as a species. Kevin Kelly's The Inevitable is available from Amazon.

In this excerpt from The Inevitable, Kevin imagines a future were people own nothing but have access to everything-- Mark

In the coming 30 years the tendency toward the dematerialized, the decentralized, the simultaneous, the platform enabled, and the cloud will continue unabated. Read the rest

Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday

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Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday by Austin Radcliffe Universe 2016, 104 pages, 7.8 x 10 x 0.8 inches $17 Buy a copy on Amazon

Simply as advertised. Rows and rows of diverse things neatly organized. This process is often called knolling. The applied organizing logic varies: it can be by size, by color, by age; in rows, in grids, in fitted mosaics. The effect is always hypnotic. Seemingly meaningless collections gain intelligence and order which focuses attention on the parts. The book ranges wide and far in the type of things that are inspected. You will soon knoll your own.

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The Sartorialist – NYC stylish strangers happily caught by a candid camera

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The Sartorialist by Scott Schuman Penguin Books 2009, 512 pages, 5.2 x 7.4 x 1.6 inches (softcover) $19 Buy a copy on Amazon

Scott Schuman once worked in the fashion industry but found that the outfits that amateurs wore on the streets of New York City to be a lot more interesting than those from famous designers. He began photographing people on the street who caught his eye, and, with their permission, posted their images on his blog, The Sartorialist. His street photos had their own style, and soon fashion followers were happy to be caught by Schumans’s candid camera. Soon The Sartorialist blog became legendary in the fashion world. It was also the first of many photo blogs to feature street fashion – showcasing what people with a personal flair wore everyday. This brick of a book collects the best of The Sartorialist’s first 10 years of images. It works as a one-stop shop of hip clothing designs; it also works as a document of “what they wore” in 2010; and it also works as a cool gallery of contemporary fashion photography. It lacks the richness of the life stories in Humans of New York, but it gains something by focusing so obsessively on the design decisions of creative people. A second volume called The Sartorialist X, takes Schuman outside of New York to other cities of the world. Read the rest

Humans of New York - Photos of random strangers in NYC and their life stories

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See sample pages of Humans of New York at Wink.

Brendon Stanton started photographing random strangers in New York City in 2010. He treated each of them like a celebrity, portraying them in a classy portrait on the street. He then added a little bit of their life story in their own words. These mini-autobiographies were the secret sauce that transformed random snapshots of strangers into a remarkable series of portraits of real people that you could connect with. Brandon posted his photos-plus-bio on his blog, Humans of New York, which quickly went viral on social media until he had millions of followers. The 400 best of his portraits were fan-funded into this printed book.

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Street Craft: Yarnbombing, Guerilla Gardening, Light Tagging, Lace Graffiti and More

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

Beyond graffiti. The artists featured in Street Craft apply non-paint to the urban landscape. Instead of spray cans they use yarn, cloth, plastic, plants, and sculpture. This “street crafting” is full of surprises in ways that are original and brilliant, witty and profound. The craftsmanship is excellent. The concepts can be subversive, or uplifting. Think of it as public art without permission. The book is a glorious catalog of some of the best pieces which have appeared on streets of the world. No matter what you create, they’ll be some great ideas here.art Read the rest

Sharks and Dinosaurs – Pop-up books on steroids

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See sample pages from this book at Wink.

There are only five “pages” in each of these books despite their 3-inch thickness. That is because each page is stuffed with layers and layers of ingenious interacting bits of printed paper, which magically assemble themselves into an alternate reality when each page is opened. Yes, it is a pop-up book, but a pop-up raised to an exponential level. A pop-up on steroids, or acid. Pop-up as extreme sport. The engineering is astounding. As a page is opened a 3D apparition appears, often with its own narrative, first one part and then another. The resulting paper sculpture is the story made real. The textual story is minimal; all the action is in the structures. Kids love to see how they work. The only downside to these books that belong on paper is not letting children paws tear the mechanics. These two books feature all kinds of pre-historic dinosaurs, and sharks of all types. But the artist behind them, Robert Sabuda, has half a dozen other books with the same kind of extreme pop-up-ness.

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Sharks and Other Sea Monsters by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart Candlewick 2006, 12 pages, 7.8 x 9.9 x 2.1 inches $1 - $50 Buy a copy on Amazon

Encyclopedia Prehistorica: Dinosaurs by Robert Sabuda and Matthew Reinhart Candlewick 2005, 12 pages, 8 x 10 x 2.5 inches $24 Buy a copy on Amazon Read the rest

Some call Miyazaki's Nausicaa the greatest graphic novel ever

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Some call this the greatest graphic novel ever. I tend to agree. Written and drawn by a young Hayao Miyazaki between 1982 and 1994, his final Japanese manga reached 1,100 pages. The current English translation consists of an oversized 2-volume hardcover boxed set (or a smaller format 7 volume paperback set). The story takes place in a post-apocalyptic earth and is rife with concern for the environment as well as feral fantasy creatures. Miyazaki would later animate it into his first feature length film by the same name. The obsessive detail in each drawing sucks you into a complete immersion into his world. Like all Miyazaki creations, it is lyrical, uplifting yet slightly dark, with villains who have redeeming qualities, and vice versa. It’s suitable for young adults.

Nausicaä of the Valley of Wind Vol. 1 by Hayao Miyazaki VIZ Media 2004, 136 pages, 7.1 x 10.1 x 0.5 inches (paperback) $9 Buy one on Amazon

See sample pages from this book at Wink. Read the rest

40 Days in the Desert - timeless, eternal mythical tale by Moebius

When you are trying to imagine the details of an alternative world, try Moebius. Moebius (one of the pseudonyms for the French artist Jean Giraud) practically invented the now-common idea of a well worn future – that place far ahead that is gritty, patched up, organic, and old and new at the same time. Think Star Wars, cyberpunk, Blade Runner. Moebius is a fabulist. His strange drawings, designs and comics have shaped movies such as The Fifth Element and Alien, and influenced directors such as Fellini and Miyazaki. Moebius was a prolific artist, starring in his own series Heavy Metal, and appeared in many other publications, yet little of his work remains in print in English. Out of all Moebius’ (Giraud’s) work, I suggest this book, 40 Days in the Desert. Long out of print, and rare even when first published, this is an extended visual poem. The version of the book that I have is Japanese, but that is okay because there are no words in this story. It is timeless and eternal and other-worldly. With thin sure lines, this wordless sequence tells a mythical story in some alien place. There are about 100 drawings depicting surreal worlds with an ominous tension. Something is about to happen, or just happened, but you are not sure what. All you know is that you have never seen anything like this, and that maybe it is true. It makes me want to unleash my imagination.

40 Days in the Desert by Moebius Asukashin-Sha 2009, 152 pages, 6.5 x 10.5 x 0.8 inches $49 Buy one on Amazon Read the rest

This small intelligent orb guesses what object you are thinking of in 20 questions

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This tennis ball-size orb knows what you are thinking. Most of the time it will guess what you have in mind after asking you twenty yes/no questions. It is eerily smart, and slightly addictive. The toy is remarkable. Because it is so small, so autonomous, its intelligence is shocking to the unprepared. Most children can’t stump it, and if you stick to objects it will stump smart adults about 80% of the time with 20 questions and most of the time with an additional 5 questions. I love to watch people’s reactions when they think of a “hard” thing, and after a seemingly irrational set of questions you are convinced are dumb, the sly ball tells you what you had in mind. (For instance, it can correctly guess “flying squirrel” without asking “does it fly?”) People who play chess machines won’t be surprised, but just about everyone else will be tickled. It feels like the future. But right now, for fourteen bucks, you can get an amazing little artificial intelligence, about as smart as an insect — but an insect which specializes in guessing what object you are thinking of. And in that part of the brain, it’s smarter than you are.

See more photos at Wink Fun.

20Q Deluxe by Techno Source Ages 7 and up $14 Buy a copy on Amazon This link is for 20Q Deluxe, a newer version from the photos above Read the rest

Build curvy, complicated, organic structures with ZOOB

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Most of the really great construction sets are rectangular in shape, or they obey rigid angles. Lego, Kapla Blocks, Kinnex, or Zomeworks are fabulous kits that foster open-ended creativity. But they all tend toward very rectilinear structures. ZOOB is the first construction set I’ve seen that encourages organic, free-flowing builds. There are five basic ZOOB shapes centered on a ball-and-socket connection. When you click them together you have full 180-degree freedom in how the connection is oriented, leading to creations that are curvy, complicated, or ones that repeat like vertebrate in a spine, or carbons on a chain, or even amino acids on DNA. I was surprised by how sophisticated you could make the forms; you may need a bit of patience to get complex ones to fit perfectly (note to 8-year olds). In fact the force and precision needed to assemble pieces may be beyond toddlers, but school kids should have no problem. The plastic pieces are largish, unlike lego, so the finished forms can be quite hefty.

ZOOB Ages 6 and up, 125 pieces $20 Buy a copy on Amazon

See more photos at Wink Fun. Read the rest

Set – a pattern recognition competition

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Set is a simple card game in a class by itself. You get a deck of cards with colored symbols. These are laid out, face up. To play the game you need to organize the symbols into sets of three “un-alikes” — but they can be grouped in more ways than one. Many more ways. Everyone else is trying to group them into sets faster than you. This game exercises a unique part of your brain that few other activities do. Half math, half intuition, all concentration. It’s fun, loud, fast moving, and very challenging to do well, yet easy enough for small kids to join in.

See more photos at Wink Fun. Read the rest

Stream Machine water cannon - high pressure fun

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The genius of these Stream Machine water cannons is their simplicity. A single moving part — a big fat piston with handle grip — squeezes a wide stream of water down and out their large diameter tubes. Filling them you reverse, sucking in water via the same orifice. When loaded (takes about 2 seconds) they gush water at least 30 feet. Impossible to clog, and nearly unbreakable, both kids and adults can operate them around pools, lakes, rafts, canoes and boats. These are the regulation-issued weapons at our place.

See more photos at Wink Fun. Read the rest

Brock Magiscope is a rugged microscope for everyday use

The trouble with most optical equipment is that it won’t get used unless it is out of the case, opened up, and powered on. But if it is opened and lying around, it will get highly abused. I buy my cameras, spectacles, binocs, etc. assuming that they’ll be dropped and splattered, and they should hold up to this misuse. But until now I haven’t been able to find a microscope strong enough to do its job yet sturdy enough to be left on the kitchen table ready for inspections by toddlers and teenagers.

Now after several years of looking for an everyday microscope suitable for a busy family I found one: The Brock Magiscope #70 is exactly what I had wanted. It has a single-moving part that my 5-year-old son could handle. He could put a leaf in and focus it right. Rubber bands hold the slide. For light the scope uses a fat fiber optic bent pipe which channels ambient room light to the underside of the objective lens (no electricity). There is no fussing, no adjustments. The viewing field is amazingly bright and clear, good enough for high school work.

or smart phone to its eyepiece, and get pretty good microphotography shots. And best of all it is practically indestructible. The thing is simple and rugged as a hammer. In fact, it was built for the abuse of K-12 classrooms, which is probably as grating as a war. I know one educational sailing company that keeps several on its boat – probably the most challenging environment anywhere for optics. Read the rest

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