Interview with Scotty Allen, host of the Strange Parts Youtube channel

My Cool Tools podcast guest this week is Scotty Allen. Scotty is a nomadic engineer, entrepreneur, adventurer and storyteller who orbits around San Francisco and Shenzhen, China. He runs a YouTube channel Strange Parts, a travel adventure show for geeks where he goes on adventures ranging from building his own iPhone in China to trying to make a manhole cover in India.

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Show notes:

1080P HDMI digital camera video microscope ($299)

“So one of the things that I have gotten an outsized amount of value from over the past year has been this microscope that I bought here in the electronics markets in China. It's a no-brand-name microscope that I got from a little tiny microscope booth in the market, and it's really been this incredibly high-leverage tool for me, and I didn't realize how much I was missing out until I bought it. It's been really great for doing detail work. And I use it for really small soldering work on iPhones and related circuit boards … It's a binocular microscope. It's not super high magnification, but because it's binocular you get depth of field, and so you can really see well. So you can look through the microscope and work underneath it with tweezers or a soldering iron or other tools and in great depth see what you're doing."

" is an online tool that I use for collaborating on the videos I'm making. Read the rest

Great price on Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peeler

Buy 3 Kuhn Rikon Swiss Peelers for $6.69. Keep one and give the other 2 to friends. They'll love you forever. Once I started using this, I got rid of my other, inferior peelers. Read the rest

Baggage handler gives zero f*cks

This baggage handler looks like she's been at her job for a long time, effortlessly tossing luggage down the slide as if they were bags of marshmallows. Hopefully, marshmallows are what's in that luggage because anything else is likely to break. Read the rest

Martin Shkreli owes IRS $1.6 million

Martin Shkreli, the imprisoned pharmacy tycoon who skyrocketed the price of an HIV drug and enjoyed a short period of trollish infamy on social media, owes the IRS more than $1.6 million, according to a court filing.

ABC news reports, "If Shkreli cannot pay, the IRS wants a piece of his other forfeited assets, including an E-Trade brokerage account, a Picasso work and the rare Wu-Tang Clan album 'Once Upon a Time in Shaolin.'"

Image: By JStone/Shutterstock Read the rest

Study finds that sleeping in on the weekends is good for you

I sleep in late whenever I can, and have felt vaguely guilty about it because everything I've read about sleep says people are supposed to stick to a strict sleep schedule every day. That's not possible for me, because I often get up very early to catch a morning flight. Sleeping in on the weekends always feels great. Well, it turns out I should keeping following my instincts. You actually *can* catch up on sleep by sawing logs on the weekend.

From Shondaland:

Researchers at Stockholm University discovered that adults who logged up to five hours of sleep every night increased their risk of mortality. However, when people who only slept five hours a night during the week compensated by snoozing nine hours a night on the weekends, their risk of death did not increase.

To conduct the study — which was published in the Journal of Sleep Research —scientists looked at data on sleep habits collected from more than 43,000 people under 65 years old. Then, they studied death records taken 13 years after the initial data was obtained to determine if and how sleep habits impacted mortality. Of course, other factors like education, body mass index, and smoking can take years off your life, so they accounted for those, too. Their conclusion? "Long weekend sleep may compensate for short weekday sleep."

Image: By Alena Ozerova/Shutterstock Read the rest

Use this link to see what your Twitter feed looked like 10 years ago today

In February Xeni tweeted a history of the Twitter experience over the last 10 years or so:

Twitter was like good weed & an espresso

Then it was like crack

Then for a while PCP

Now I’d say we are in bath salts or krokodil territory

If you miss the good weed and espresso era of Twitter, use this link, which lets you see your twitter feed ten years ago.

Image: By PiXXart/Shutterstock Read the rest

Good deal on an Arduino clone starter kit

This Arduino clone starter kit, at $28.34 on Amazon, is a really good deal. Besides the Arduino Uno clone itself, it has a full size solderless breadboard, a servo motor, a power supply, a distance sensor, a DC motor, jumper wires, a 4-digit 7-segment display, a stepper motor, a joystick, transistors, resistors, and a lot more. It comes in a nice plastic carrying case, too. Read the rest

Do drones need sweaters? Plus: drone dating

Over at Make, Gareth Branwyn reported on his personal highlight of Maker Faire Bay Area last weekend -- a presentation by artist Danielle Baskin, who made sweaters for drones and then sent the drones on real Tinder dates. I saw the presentation too and was literally laughing for much of her talk.

Drone sweaters started out as a joke. As Danielle says, it’s so easy, if you have a fun, goofy idea, to quickly create a professional-looking website, put it up, and see where it takes you. She did that with Drone Sweaters and this joke started getting serious attention, and even interest from drone owners looking to buy sweaters. So, Danielle opened up shop for real. You can get a fashionable Danielle Baskin sweater for your drone for $89.

Danielle’s next foray into fun drone foolishness was creating Tinder dating profiles for her drone. Again, she didn’t know what to expect, but she started getting matches. Within a few weeks, the drone had gotten 200 Tinder matches. And the matches started flirting(?) with her drone. Some suitors wanted to go on actual dates, so Danielle set up a viewing blind so she could see the drone (without the date seeing her). A baby monitor, hidden beneath the drone, inside the sweater (see, that sweater is handy), allowed Danielle to hear the date and respond. She even sent out at FAQ before the dates informing the drone’s suitors of proper drone dating etiquette. At least one drone dater asked for a second date.

Read the rest

Here are the Dungeon and Dragons stat sheets for famous cartoon characters

In the early 1990s Dragon magazine published AD&D stats for various cartoon characters. Bugs Bunny is a 15th-level illusionist with a chaotic good alignment. Popeye is Lawful Neutral and he is either a 9th-level fighter or an 18-level fighter. Rocky and Bullwinkle are an inseparable pair of fighters, with Rocky providing the brains and Bullwinkle providing the brawn. Read the rest

How to make a Battlezone type movie using Adobe After Effects

I taught myself After Effects a couple of years ago so I could make this Blockchain explainer video. From the perspective of my limited skillset, I was blown away by what filmmaker Stu Maschwitz was able to do entirely within After Effects: a short film called Tank, that pays homage to the classic Atari arcade game from 1980, Battlezone. Above, the film. Below, how he made it.

Read the rest

Explaining the flashed face distortion effect

Steve Mould offers a couple of explanations for the flashed face distortion effect. I've seen this before and it's very strange. When you put pictures of two different people side-by-side and flash several pairs, the faces look like gross caricatures. By way of explaining it, he also presents a couple of other cool visual effects. Read the rest

Epic Bill Gates e-mail rant from 2003

In 2003 Bill Gates tried to download Microsoft Movie Maker from His confusing, frustrating, futile experience prompted him to write a terrifically scorching email to the managers in charge of the project. It starts off pretty mild, with just a hint of the brutally funny sarcasm to come. ("I typed in movie maker. Nothing. So I gave up and sent mail to Amir saying – where is this Moviemaker download? Does it exist? So they told me that using the download page to download something was not something they anticipated.") It gets better from there.

The best way to experience Bill's rant is by listening to Dave Ross of KIRO-AM/710 in Seattle give a dramatic reading:

And if you read the finger-pointing, ass-covering, wheel-spinning internal email conversation between the people Bill flamed, you will understand why the product sucked so hard.

Hey, Bill, welcome to the Windows user experience! It reminds me of what I still have to go though every time I try to connect my kid's Windows machine to a new hotspot. Read the rest

How do pinball machine solenoids work?

Solenoids are common electromechanical devices. They're used in pinball machines to make the ball shoot away when they hit a bumper. If you've ever have the opportunity to touch an energized pinball bumper, you will immediately gain an appreciation for its explosive power.

In this video, famous hardware hacker Jeri Ellsworth takes apart a pinball machine solenoid to show how it works.

[via Hackaday]

Image: Youtube screenshot Read the rest

Beloved Kura Toga mechanical pencil on sale for $4.90

Available as an add-on item on Amazon, this Kuru Toga pencil has a cool feature that rotates the lead incrementally every time you press it down on paper. That way, the tip stays nicely rounded. Here's a video of the spring-loaded clutch mechanism in action:

The pencil also has a metal sleeve that protects the lead, sliding into the pencil as the lead gets shorter. The sleeve retracts completely so you can lug it in a bag without having to worry about it getting bent or breaking off. Read the rest

US consulate worker in China injured by mysterious sonic attack

Remember when 15 US government workers in Cuba got sick from some kind of unknown "sonic attack" a couple of years ago? Well, today it was reported that a US consulate staffer in China was the victim of a “medically similar” attack.

Via Reuters:

The worker was sent to the United States for further evaluation. “The clinical findings of this evaluation matched mild traumatic brain injury (MTBI),” the embassy said.

The State Department was taking the incident very seriously and working to determine the cause and impact, the embassy said. [U.S. Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo said that medical teams were heading to Guangzhou to investigate the incident.

The State Department added the Chinese government told the embassy it is also investigating and taking appropriate measures.

“We cannot at this time connect it with what happened in Havana, but we are investigating all possibilities,” a U.S. embassy official told Reuters.

Read the rest

Boring company makes "the world's most boring billboard" and promises to keep it up for 12 years

Sioo:x Wood Protection is a boring company. That doesn't mean its products aren't important. It's just hard to jump up and down with glee over wood protection. Nevertheless, the "world's most boring billboard" that Sioo:x installed in Malmö, Sweden is pretty cool. It's a triple sided outdoor display made of wood that's been treated with preservative. The billboard will remain outdoors for 12 years as a way to demonstrate the effectiveness of Sioo:x's treatment against long term exposure to the harsh environmental insults handed out by Sweden's unforgiving weather. Read the rest

Andy Warhol's Interview magazine shuts down after 49 years

In 1969 Andy Warhol and John Wilcock launched Interview, "The Crystal Ball of Pop." True to its name, the magazine ran interviews of artists, actors, musicians, and celebrities.

From The New York Times:

Ezra Marcus, an associate editor at the magazine, said by email that the staff was notified in an all-hands meeting earlier in the morning that Interview, which was founded in 1969, was closing and filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.

Phone calls to Brant Publications, which acquired Interview magazine in 1989, two years after Andy Warhol died, went unanswered.

With its striking style, Interview had long wielded outsize influence in the industry, inspiring the look and feel of many other publications. But questions about the magazine’s fortunes have lingered for years, as it faced ever-thinning ranks and churned through staff.

Read the rest

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