• New, expanded edition of the Recomendo book

    Claudia Dawson, Mark Frauenfelder, and I have gathered 1,000 of our best recommendations featured from our free newsletter, Recomendo and arranged them into a 217-page book. Each recomendo is a brief rave about a cool tool, great thing to watch or listen to, place to visit, person to follow, or a fantastic tip. The range is even broader than the broad range of Cool Tools. We've organized the thousand of suggestions by subject and illustrated most of them. This book, Recomendo: The Expanded Edition, is a better way to search for past recommendations, browse for cool stuff you missed, or catch up if you are a new subscriber. It is twice the size of our first Recomendo book. This hefty paperback is available in two flavors: an inexpensive B&W version, and a pricier color version.

    Recomendo is available now from Amazon, for $12.99, with Prime shipping. (The color version is $29.99.) We will have a PDF version later for international fans. It has something for almost everyone and is a delightful inexpensive gift: brief, uncommon, and useful. It's the gift I'm giving to friends this year.

  • My new book, Recomendo, available as a searchable PDF

    The Cool Tools website focuses on handy, useful, proven tools. But a lot of great stuff that Mark and I come across are not really tools. We created the Recomendo email list for this purpose. Every Sunday we mail out 6 very brief recommendations of cool stuff: places we love, people to follow, great things to eat, good movies, fantastic podcasts, cool tips, short cuts, favorite items, and many other suggestions. This newsletter, Recomendo, is free and has over 21,000 subscribers. Sign up here.

    Last year we took the best of our first two years' recommendations and put them into about 100-page book. The book (available on Amazon here) is made to be browsed. You can flip through it in any order and most folks will find something of interest on every spread. It is an easy read.

    For the benefit of international fans, and for those who don't want paper books, we have created a digital version. It's a downloadable searchable PDF, in full color (the paper book is only B&W), weighs nothing, and is available instantly for only $1.99. We priced it so that anyone could afford it.

    If you do get one, let us know how you like this format. (We don't have plans for a Kindle version yet, but maybe in the future.)

  • Recomendo: A new book with 550 recommendations

    Every week for the past two years, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson, and I briefly recommend 6 things to our friends. Sometimes we suggest tools, but most items aren't tools. Rather we recommend stuff such as our favorite places to visit, things to watch or listen to, favorite stuff to eat, as well as tips for work or home, and techniques we've learned, quotes we like to remember, and so on. We email these 6 brief reviews in a free newsletter called Recomendo, and by now this one-pager is sent out every Sunday morning to almost 20,000 subscribers. If you want to get a feel for what we recommend, all the back issues are available here.

    This autumn we collected, filtered and organized 550 of the best recommendations and put them into a book, called naturally enough, Recomendo. The book is 95 jam-packed pages. We've categorized the recommendations, grouping like with like. Having all the workflow tips, or household suggestions, or workshop tools, or travel recommendations all in one place is super handy. There's an index and subject guide. Many of the items have an illustration. To make up for the fact that a book can't have links, we've added QR codes, so you can instantly get a link with your phone. Everyone who has picked the book up has found something cool for them on the first page and they keep turning the pages for more. I think it's the happiest book I've ever worked on.

    Recomendo is available now from Amazon. We will have a PDF version later for international fans. I genuinely believe it will make a great inexpensive gift for most people. It's what I'm giving to friends this year. Order one for yourself and see if you agree.

  • John Barlow: Mayor of the Internet

    Barlow (that's what most of his friends called him) flaunted his complexity. He advertised himself as a Republican Deadhead, as a cowboy hacker, a spiritual rationalist, a womanizing feminist, a technological hippy. He had a remarkable gift of conforming himself to the contours of whomever he was arguing with, so both sides could violently agree and civilly disagree. His full embrace of his own cognitive dissonance allowed him to craft outrageous statements and manifestos that he truly believed to be true and also knew were wholly fictional.

    It may be truer to say the most of what he wrote and said was less an attempt to nail reality as it was to reshape reality. He was an unashamed aspirationalist. In that regard, Barlow had much in common with many prophets, gurus, visionaries, magicians, innovators, charlatans, and politicians in that he placed greater emphasis on what could be rather than what is. And he believed, as those just mentioned do and most journalists and scientists don't, that you can create reality with your words.

    I always thought of Barlow as the Mayor of the Internet. He saw very early that the internet was a political artifact that would require the same kind of idealism, compromise, and civics that prosperous and free societies needed. Nobody elected him, but if we did vote for a Mayor of the Internet, he would have won because everyone – no matter their stripe or color – thought of him as a good friend (and he was a good friend to thousands). I think he would have done a decent job as Mayor, rallying our better natures to make a better internet city on the hill.

    If there had been no Barlow, I believe the internet would still be hunting for its own identity, it would have far fewer heroes guarding fragile rights and responsibilities in this new realm, it would lack some of the most poetic descriptions of technology written, and we would not have had the rawhide character of Barlow, the free-spirit no one could domesticate, always ready with a satisfying turn of phrase to illuminate the horror and glories of our new world.

    One thing certain you can say about him: He out Barlow'd everyone to become singular and original. There was no one else like him. In the digital calculus of infinite possibilities, that is the highest form of success.

    Photo image: Kevin Kelly

  • The Playful Eye is a virtual feast of games and visual tricks gathered from around the world

    These vintage cards and old placards display optical illusions, visual witticisms, hidden images, rebuses, and artistic paradoxes from yesteryear. They were the equivalent of Gifs back then — eye candy worth sharing. Here they are gathered in a oversized paperback for your entertainment and amazement.

    The Playful Eye: An Album of Visual Delight

    by Julian Rothenstein, Mel Gooding

    Chronicle Books

    2000, 112 pages, 9.9 x 0.5 x 12.7 inches, Paperback

    $9 Buy on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

  • Ideal Boy, An: Charts from India

    Cheap visual charts were the main educational aid in Indian classrooms until recently. Meant to teach children good behavior, and to assist their reading skills, these inexpensive posters were plastered everywhere by local printers. They have a naive art aesthetic since the artists were unschooled themselves. Generally the charts follow a formula of filing in a grid with examples. Like comic books, their garish colors and simple forms have their own innocent charm. This book rounds up a hundred samples of what is now a rare folk art.

    Ideal Boy, An: Charts from India

    by Sirish Rao, V. Geetha, Gita Wolf (Editors)

    Dewi Lewis Publishing

    2001, 120 pages, 6.9 x 1.0 x 9.4 inches, Hardcover

    $7 Buy on Amazon

    See other cool books at Wink.

  • A catalog of Indian style and design

    Look, it's Indian design! Everyone has heard of Japanese and Scandinavian design, but few know that India also has a long history of design. It doesn't permeate the culture as deep as Japan or Scandinavia, but I know from living there that India does have a critical mass of distinctly unique objects. To help pin down the essentials of that style, this catalog of India design examples makes a case that there is a very functional design approach both in historic and modern India. This is the first book I know of that presents that style in one place.

    Sar: The Essence of Indian Design

    by Swapnaa Tamhane and Rashmi Varma

    Phaidon Press

    2016, 304 pages, 8.2 x 1.0 x 10.6 inches, Hardcover

    $52 Buy one on Amazon

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

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  • Cabinet of Natural Curiosities – A treasure trove of exquisite botanical images, copyright free

    Albertus Seba was a Dutch pharmacist working in the early 1700s who collected exotic plants and animals samples that may or may not have medicinal purposes. He crammed his Amsterdam shop with 700 jars of unusual specimens. He then commissioned a dozen artists to make engravings based on his collection, which were published in hand-colored volumes. This huge oversized reproduction by Taschen is the meta-collection of those volumes. It's a treasure trove of many thousands of exquisite botanical images, in large format, drawn with obsessive detail, in great diversity, copyright free. Perfect if you need a logo based on a squid, or a blue snake.

    Cabinet of Natural Curiosities

    by Albertus Seba

    Taschen

    2011, 416 pages, 9.7 x 13.3 x 1.5 inches (hardcover)

    $32 Buy a copy on Amazon

  • Japanese Tattoos – Full of traditional and modern designs, characters and history in this photo-heavy book

    My skin doesn't have a single tattoo, but I am touched by the art in tattoos, particularly traditional ones. The Japanese have a long and deep affinity for skin paintings, and have devised a complex iconography for them. The Japanese were early to pioneer color in tattoos, and gave high regard for the full body tattoo, treating the whole torso as a canvas. They even went recursive, sometimes inking a large character that sported a full-body tattoo within the tattoo. This book is chock full of classic themes, characters, and designs, with plenty of notes on the historical significance of tattoo culture. Of course it's great inspiration for modern tattoos, but also for any other visual art.

    Japanese Tattoos: History, Culture, Design

    by Brian Ashcraft and Hori Benny

    Tuttle Publishing

    2016, 160 pages, 7.5 x 10 x 0.7 inches (softcover)

    $11 Buy a copy on Amazon

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

    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.

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

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    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.

  • 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. — KK

    EXPERIENCE: My family and I are obsessed with escape rooms. Twelve people are locked in a themed room (theater backstage, 1940s Hollywood private eye office, alchemist's laboratory, etc.) and given one hour to solve clues to get out. You'll quickly get over any shyness of strangers as you collaborate to beat the clock. There are escape rooms all over the world. I recommend Escape Room LA in downtown Los Angeles. — MF

    TIP: If you book a one-day round trip on Southwest, you won't be allowed to check in for the return flight until after you complete the first flight. This means you'll end up with the dreaded C boarding pass (which means a middle seat). I've learned from experience to book two one-way trips instead of a round trip (it costs the same). This allows me to check in to each flight exactly 24 hours before take-off. That way, I get an A or B boarding pass. (Extra tip: set your alarm 23 hours and 58 minutes before each flight so you can check as soon as Southwest allows it. The A and B passes go fast!) — MF

    THING: For some reason I frequently cut myself shaving when I travel. I've stopped trying to figure out why. I just bring along a pack of KutKit Styptic Swabs. They look like Q-Tips but have a glass ampoule of staunching liquid inside the straw that is released when you bend the tube like a light stick. It stops the bleeding instantly. — MF

    ENJOYMENT: The broadway hit Hamilton is worth attending in any mode. Current tickets are precious and rare, but anyone can download or purchase the musical soundtrack by the original cast. Its super popularity is not just hype: Hamilton is as great as any Shakespeare play. The lyrics are topical, timeless, profound, and linguistically witty. The entire 2.5 hour play is sung, so there are 46 songs, each one memorable. You may have heard that much of it is in rap, with different characters rapping in their own style. It's an incredible experience just in audio. I've lost track of how many times I've listened to it, but each time I derive more understanding of that period of American history, more appreciation of early American culture, and more heartbreak about the biography of a political icon. And you can sing along! If you eventually are able to get reasonably priced tickets to some version of the performance, my tip is to listen all the way through the album at least twice before you go. This play is so dense with layers, and so packed with powerful language, that your enjoyment will be multiplied by 10 each time you pre-listen. — KK

    TOOL: I'm a meditation-app junkie and have spent many dollars and downloads searching for the perfect one. I would recommend any app by Meditation Oasis. I use iSleep Easy (there is a free version) at night, which lets me create playlists of guided meditations and pair it up with either a background instrumental or nature sounds, with separate volume controls for each. My emergency go-to for quick and re-energizing naps is the 13-minute Deep Rest meditation, available on the Relax and Rest app. I usually start to doze off at around minute 10, but I come to feeling as if I had taken a super long nap, and without that awful groggy feeling. Individual apps range from $1.99-$5.99, but you can purchase bundles, which I suggest, because once you try one you'll definitely want the others. — CL

    Want to get our next Recomendo a week early in your inbox? Sign up for next Sunday newsletter here.

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

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    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.

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

    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.

    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. As long as the costs of communications and computation drop due to advances in technology, these trends are inevitable. They are the result of networks of communication expanding till they are global and ubiquitous, and as the networks deepen they gradually displace matter with intelligence. This grand shift will be true no matter where in the world (whether the United States, China, or Timbuktu) they take place. The underlying mathematics and physics remain. As we increase dematerialization, decentralization, simultaneity, platforms, and the cloud—as we increase all those at once, access will continue to displace ownership. For most things in daily life, accessing will trump owning.

    Yet only in a science fiction world would a person own nothing at all. Most people will own some things while accessing others; the mix will differ by person. Yet the extreme scenario of a person who accesses all without any ownership is worth exploring because it reveals the stark direction technology is headed. Here is how it works.

    I live in a complex. Like a lot of my friends, I choose to live in the complex because of the round-the-clock services I can get. The box in my apartment is refreshed four times a day. That means I can leave my refreshables (like clothes) there and have them replenished in a few hours. The complex also has its own Node where hourly packages come in via drones, robo vans, and robo bikes from the local processing center. I tell my device what I need and then it's in my box (at home or at work) within two hours, often sooner. The Node in the lobby also has an awesome 3-D printing fab that can print just about anything in metal, composite, and tissue. There's also a pretty good storage room full of appliances and tools. The other day I wanted a turkey fryer; there was one in my box from the Node's library in a hour. Of course, I don't need to clean it after I'm done; it just goes back into the box. When my friend was visiting, he decided he wanted to cut his own hair. There were hair clippers in the box in 30 minutes. I also subscribe to a camping gear outfit. Camping gear improves so fast each year, and I use it for only a few weeks or weekends, that I much prefer to get the latest, best, pristine gear in my box. Cameras and computers are the same way. They go obsolete so fast, I prefer to subscribe to the latest, greatest ones. Like a lot of my friends, I subscribe to most of my clothes too. It's a good deal. I can wear something different each day of the year if I want, and I just toss the clothes into the box at the end of the day. They are cleaned and redistributed, and often altered a bit to keep people guessing. They even have a great selection of vintage T-shirts that most other companies don't have. The few special smartshirts I own are chipped-tagged so they come back to me the next day cleaned and pressed.

    I subscribe to several food lines. I get fresh produce directly from a farmer nearby, and a line of hot ready-to-eat meals at the door. The Node knows my schedule, my location on my commute, my preferences, so it's really accurate in timing the delivery. When I want to cook myself, I can get any ingredient or special dish I need. My complex has an arrangement so all the ongoing food and cleaning replenishables appear a day before they are needed in the refrig or cupboard. If I was flush with cash, I'd rent a premium flat, but I got a great deal on my place in the complex because they rent it out anytime I am not there. It's fine with me since when I return it's cleaner than I leave it.

    I have never owned any music, movies, games, books, art, or realie worlds. I just subscribe to Universal Stuff. The arty pictures on my wall keep changing so I don't take them for granted. I use a special online service that prepares my walls from my collection on Pinterest. My parents subscribe to a museum service that lends them actual historical works of art in rotation, but that is out of my range. These days I am trying out 3-D sculptures that reconfigure themselves each month so you keep noticing them. Even the toys I had as a kid growing up were from Universal. My mom used to say, "You only play with them for a few months—why own them?" So every couple of months they would go into the box and new toys would show up.

    Universal is so smart I usually don't have to wait more than 30 seconds for my ride, even during surges. The car just appears because it knows my schedule and can deduce my plans from my texts, calendar, and calls. I'm trying to save money, so sometimes I'll double or triple up with others on the way to work. There is plenty of bandwidth so we can all screen. For exercise, I subscribe to several gyms and a bicycle service. I get an up-to-date bike, tuned and cleaned and ready at my departure point. For long-haul travel I like these new personal hover drones. They are hard to get when you need them right now since they are so new, but so much more convenient than commercial jets. As long as I travel to complexes in other cities that have reciprocal services, I don't need to pack very much since I can get everything—the same things I normally use—from the local Nodes.

    My father sometimes asks me if I feel untethered and irresponsible not owning anything. I tell him I feel the opposite: I feel a deep connection to the primeval. I feel like an ancient hunter-gatherer who owns nothing as he wends his way through the complexities of nature, conjuring up a tool just in time for its use and then leaving it behind as he moves on. It is the farmer who needs a barn for his accumulation. The digital native is free to race ahead and explore the unknown. Accessing rather than owning keeps me agile and fresh, ready for whatever is next.

  • Things Organized Neatly: The Art of Arranging the Everyday

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    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.

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

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    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.