Review: Quickie Jobsite Broom

As a man, the idea of buying a decent broom filled me with a billowing resentment, a lockjawed defiance at the very notion of replacing pointless labor with quality tools. I liked forcing results from a feeble polyester-fringed stick that would fold like a garden hose if pushed too hard.

When the last one broke, though, I was in a dreadful hurry and ended up grabbing the first one I saw under the false impression it was like $5.97. But it wasn't! It was $19.99. Twenty fucking dollars!

Even as I stormed from the checkout to the car, though, the weight of it in my hands began whispering to me. Seducing me. Talking to me about the dust it would move, the way it might put even the heaviest clods of muck in their place.

Within minutes of deployment on its first job (lawnmower clipping overflow) I was smitten. Something that once took minutes (shoveling my grass dust onto someone else's property) now took a fraction of the time. I immediately rushed to the back of the house to see if it could move the soggy little dunes of mud accreting on the edges of my crappy brick pathway. It did.

Lifting it to glint in the sunlight, I envisaged a science-fictional future wherein, firearms prohibited by the vast and sprawling mechanisms of a progressive world government, the last real men develop elaborate martial arts that turn everyday brooms, like this one, into brutally subversive instruments of self-defense and political self-determination. Read the rest

What I've been reading - recommended books

A few days ago Jason Kottke posted his media diet - a list of books and movies he's read and watched recenty. I found some interesting things on his list, which I made a note of. (I keep a running list of media to consume on Workflowy, the best task manager. If I meet you and we chat, chances are good I will pull out my phone and add something we talked about to my list.)

In the spirit of Kottke's media diet list, here are some books that I've read recently and recommend.

People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo -- and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up, by Richard Lloyd Parry. A true crime novel about the disappearence of a young British woman who worked as a hostess in Toyko's Roppongi nightclub district. Her body was found several months later. The most interesting part was the glimpse into Tokyo's criminal justice system, which is very different from the United States'. In Japan, getting a suspect to confess is an essential part of the process, and their legal system almost breaks down when a suspect refuses to confess.

11/22/63: A Novel, by Stephen King. This was my first Stephen King novel, and many people say it's his best work. It's about guy who finds a secret portal to 1958. He enters it through the back of a diner, and no matter how long he is in that past, when he re-enters the present, only a few minutes have elapsed. Read the rest

Podcast recommendation: Pod Save America

If you’re looking for the perfect combination of snark and insight to get you through the Trump administration, look no further than Pod Save America. Hosted by former Obama White House staffers Jon Favreau, Dan Pfeiffer, Tommy Vietor, and Jon Lovett, the twice-weekly podcast starts with a conversation about current political events and then moves on to interviews with politicians, analysts, and social justice advocates. One particularly strong recent episode featured an interview with Elizabeth Warren, who was funny and frank in her assessment of the Democratic Party.

Pod Save America is the flagship series for a larger network of political podcasts, which also includes Tommy Vietor’s foreign policy-focused Pod Save The World and DeRay McKesson’s activist-focused Pod Save The People. You can learn more on the Crooked Media website. Read the rest

GreenSavers are the best produce savers I've tried

After trying too many different options, I decided that GreenSavers [Amazon link] best met the twin goals of keeping veggies fresh while making the fridge navigable.

New Recomendo newsletter, Issue No. 1

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

What Should I Read Next? Suggestions based on books you enjoyed

What Should I Read Next? suggests books, similar to the algorithm used on sites like Netflix and Amazon based on your use patterns and ratings. Read the rest

The bug killing tool preferred by mosquito researchers

Meet The Executioner.

Earlier today, I got a tour of the mosquito breeding facility at North Carolina State University. Basically, it's a small room — about the size of my bathroom at home — where scientists breed and grow the mosquitoes they use in scientific research. The downside: Mosquito enclosures are somewhat less than foolproof. Which means the mosquito breeding facility has a significant number of loose mosquitoes. That's where The Executioner comes in. There were multiple Executioners in that one small room. Then entire time I was talking with the scientists, they were simultaneously swinging around these electrified tennis racquets to zap any mosquito that blundered into their personal space.

Personally, I consider this a hell of an endorsement for any bug killing tool. Read the rest

Narrative long reads that make climate change make sense

Anecdotes aren't data, but they do make data memorable. Alice Bell has a list of books that use storytelling and narrative to explain the often complicated science of climate change. One of the books on the list — Spencer Weart's The Discovery of Global Warming — is an oft-recommended favorite of mine. If for no other reason than the fact that I like to see how people react when I explain that we have known about the science behind climate change since the 19th century. And if it didn't work the way we think it does, then Earth would be a cold wasteland, like Mars. (Bonus, Weart and the Institute of Physics have a fantastic website that delves deeper into Weart's sources and can help you do your own research and answer follow-up questions.) Read the rest

Young science writers whose work you'll love

Looking for high-quality, smart reads on science? This Twitter list, put together by Scientific American's Khalil A. Cassimally will introduce you to lots of great, young science writers you might not have heard of previously. Some of the folks on the list whose awesomeness I can vouch for: freelancer David Manly, Smithsonian Magazine contributor Colin Schultz, blogger Hannah Waters, and Scientific American associate editor Ferris Jabr. Many new voices to discover! Read the rest

10 Great Science Books for Kids

I wrote earlier this month about how much I loved coffee table books as a kid, and a couple of people asked me about recommendations for science books that kids will love today. Smithsonian has a great list up right now: 10 books that cover everything from inventors, to failed experiments, to whales. Read the rest