Every week, Kevin Kelly, Claudia Dawson, and I send out our Recomendo newsletter. It's a lightweight rundown of six useful things. (Sign up here!) Here's this week's newsletter:
Five good crime books:
On the excellent Five Books website Author Simon Brett is interviewed about his five favorite crime novels. Three of his picks (A Kiss Before Dying, The Big Sleep, and The Talented Mr. Ripley) are among my favorites, so I added his other two picks to my wish list. — MF
I spent almost four hours lounging in this papasan float on the 4th of July and it’s now my favorite purchase of the year. Half my body stays in the water, so I’m able to stay cool while basking in the sun. The only drawback might be how easy it is to relax — time went by so fast, I got sunburned. — CD
You know about Song Exploder, yes? It’s this amazing podcast that takes one well-known song each week and explodes it into its component parts. The musicians who wrote and perform the song take it apart track by track, sometimes beat by beat, explaining what they were thinking as they created the pieces: what challenges and dead-end they met along the way, how the song changed as they worked on it, and why they like the final version. It’s the x-ray into music I always wanted. — KK
Free app finder:
Daily App Advice shows you which paid apps are currently being given away for free in the iTunes App Store. Read the rest
Our guest this week on the Cool Tools Show is Donald Bell. Donald runs a great website called Maker Project Lab, and he also hosts a weekly YouTube show called Maker Update, which collects interesting projects, news, tips, tools, and other stuff for the Maker community. He was a Projects Editor at Make magazine, and he spent eight years as a Senior Editor at CNET.
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Hakko FX-901 ($32)
"I've had inexpensive soldering irons for years now, but they've always been ones that plugged into a wall. I came across the Hakko when I was looking for a soldering iron I could buy multiples of to do a soldering workshop, and the idea of plugging in 30 soldering irons is like plugging in 30 hair dryers. It can become a nightmare if you really are trying to do it without tripping a breaker. …It’s become one of my new favorite things. It runs off of four AA batteries, and it heats up in about 30 seconds to a good soldering temperature for accomplishing just little PCB basic electronic projects, and it’s been great."
Manfrotto 143 Magic Arm Kit ($154)
"This one actually I learned about from Becky Stern, Make alumni. But before I started working at Make, when I was doing how-to projects for CNET, I was trying to figure out the easiest way to take those great shots of your work, like an overhead view of your workbench, while you're working on a project. Read the rest
Recomendo is a weekly email newsletter I do with Kevin Kelly and Claudia Dawson. We have 11,000 subscribers. Subscribe here! This week's recommendations:
In the last six months I’ve learned over 500 kanji characters and Japanese vocabulary words using WaniKani, a “spaced repetition system” flashcard website. The first 3 levels are free, after that you can pay by the year or buy a lifetime account. (Disclosure, my wife used to work at WaniKani’s parent company). — MF
My wife picked a small cubic zirconia synthetic diamond for her engagement ring. Because it is just one carat it looks like a diamond. Nobody can tell it is synthetic. Really. It cost $24. Real diamonds are a ripoff. — KK
I enjoy the occasional Joe Rogan rant, because he can be very enlightening. Thankfully, his video on Happiness is short and straightforward, and surprisingly uplifting. Personally, I struggle with “[Happiness is] not having all your ducks in a row on paper,” so this video is a good reminder. — CD
Near future must read:
The juiciest source I know for what’s new in the world of artificial intelligence, biotech, and the near future is the free weekly newsletter from Azeem Azhar called Exponential Review. His succinct list of links, annotated with his remarks and degree of confidence of its importance, are a telegraphic way to keep up easily and quickly. I’ve found more good stuff from him that no one else is pointing to. Read the rest
Jason Kottke asked his readers to tell him "what were the best web sites that they knew about that most people have never heard of." I've been going through his curated list of the top 56. My favorite so far is Pink Trombone, a human voice synthesizer. While playing it, I felt my own throat moving to match the cartoon throat. Freaky! Read the rest
The popular and highly-rated Anker SoundCore nano Bluetooth Speaker is on sale today at Amazon for $19, if you use code KINANK66. I used mine over the weekend to listen to an audiobook (The Handmaid's Tale) while painting my daughter's rooms. for the size, the sound quality is excellent. Read the rest
Recomendo is my weekly newsletter that gives you 6 brief personal recommendations of cool stuff. It has almost 10,000 subscribers. You can subscribe here.
pTen dollar watch:
I wear a watch, not as expensive jewelry, but as a clock I find easier to inspect than a phone. I have four requirements for a watch: 1) Bold, easy to read numbers on an analog face. 2) Easy band. 3) Long battery. 4) Dirt cheap. The cheapest analog-faced wrist watch I’ve found is the Casio MQ24. It costs $10. I’ve worn most of the cheap ones (Swatch, Timex) and this one lasts the longest. (What usually gives out first on these cheapies is the winding stem for changing the time.) — Kevin Kelly
GUM Soft-Picks do a better job than toothpicks or floss for cleaning food and plaque from between my teeth. The soft green brush pushes out all the gunk without hurting. I buy the version that comes with the travel cases. — Mark Frauenfelder
Contacts without prescription:
I recently went to the optometrist and got a new prescription for contacts, but for the last 7+ years I’ve been ordering my contacts without one from 1-Save-On-Lens. I’ve never had an issue. I ended up buying my new contacts through the same site because it was cheaper than what my optometrist wanted to charge me. — Claudia Dawson
If you lose or forget to bring a cable, adapter or charger check with your hotel. Most hotels now have a drawer full of cables, adapters and chargers others have left behind, and probably have the one you are missing. Read the rest
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If the Found Footage Festival tour ever comes your way, I highly recommend you check it out. The two guys who host the events scour thrift stores and yard sales for the most obscure and awkward infomercials, public access shows, training tapes and home videos to showcase. I’ve been to four of their shows and I always laugh so hard it hurts. They currently have 8 volumes available on DVD. You can watch videos of some of their findings on the website. — CD
The US is basically the only country in the world not using metric. It’s not that hard to learn a rough sense of how many kilometers in a mile, or pounds in a kilo. But it is very hard to convert temperatures between Centigrade and Fahrenheit. The solution is to convert all your thermometers to Centigrade: on your phone, in or outside of your house, on websites. Have any digital device display only Celsius, so you can’t cheat. In about a year, you’ll have a reliable and native sense of what’s cool and warm in degrees C. This is supremely handy if you travel anywhere outside of the US. — KK
I feel like an idiot for not discovering OverDrive sooner. It’s a free mobile app that lets you check out ebooks, audiobooks, and videos from your local public library. To use it, you need a a library card from your town or county. Read the rest
I bought this illuminated multi-power LED head magnifier for $10 in 2013, and I have used it at least a 100 times. That's 10 cents per use. To use it, you put the band around your head and tighten it with the side knobs so it is snug. It's comfortable and great for soldering, eyeglass repair, art, lice inspection, and so many other things that require magnification. The LED is powered by two AAA cells (thankfully not coin-batteries) and I've only had to change them once (after leaving it on by mistake). I consider this an essential household tool. Read the rest
Second to the traditional Rider-Waite deck, my new favorite set of tarot cards is the Tao Oracle. It is the I-Ching, without the coin throwing, in beautifully-illustrated oversized cards. The guide book itself is a sacred text. I often just read random pages for quick, calming wisdom. — Claudia Lamar
Whenever I travel I google my destination at the Atlas Obscura website. It will yield dozens of very obscure, very offbeat attractions in the area. How else can you find a nearby museum of parasites, or trail of doll heads, or a restaurant of robots, underground tunnels, or a store for time travel? — Kevin Kelly
When you go to Recommend Me a Book you are presented with the first page of a novel, but you are not told the name of the book or the author. If you don’t like what you’ve read, click “Next Book.” If you do like it, click “Reveal Title & Author,” and buy it from Amazon. I wish it let you buy a book without finding out who wrote it, so it was a surprise when it arrived in the mail. — Mark Frauenfelder
Box wine is under-appreciated. I can get decent red wine in a collapsible bag/box so that I can drink just one glass daily (for medicinal purposes!) and have the full 3 liters never expire. Trader Joe's has a good Cabernet Sauvignon in a box. — KK
I used the Red Bike service when I was in Cincinnati last month. Read the rest
Cartoonist Danny Hellman did a lot of illustrations for Boing Boing when it was a zine in the 1990s. His Instagram feed reveals his fascination with European cemetery statuary (pictured above), and his photos reveal some striking examples. — Mark Frauenfelder
A science fiction novel I really liked is The Three-Body Problem. It is the first Chinese-written novel to win a Hugo award, and it is making waves in China and, in a new English translation, with the rest of the world. Complicated, deep, and seeped in a different view of China, it’s a masterpiece. — Kevin Kelly
I watched the new movie The Jungle Book all the way through without realizing that EVERYTHING in it, except the little boy, was a computer fabrication — a virtuality way beyond Avatar. Incredible. Hundreds of wild animals, hundred of species of plants, the rivers and jungles, were all computer generated and the whole movie “filmed” on a blue-screen stage in LA. It’s a good movie, but even better evidence of where virtual production — and all films — are headed. You can catch it now on Amazon. — KK
Google Trips is a brand new app (for iOS and Android) that scans my Gmail for travel and dining reservations to build an itinerary and offer things to do at your destination. It’s worked like a charm so far, identifying every upcoming trip I have planned. It even created summaries for past trips. — MF
Netflix just released the trailer for the new season of Black Mirror, which comes out Oct. Read the rest
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I just backed the Kickstarter campaign for a replica of the Voyager golden record sent into space that contained the music of Earth for aliens to listen to. The original golden disk was launched in 1977 and contains images, diagrams, and messages explaining humans. The modern replica is three translucent yellow vinyl LPs in an ornate slipcase and book. Very cool project. — Kevin Kelly
Wikipedia’s “Unusual articles” page has links to hundreds of eclectic and offbeat articles. Learn about the Korean invasion of Normandy, happy numbers, and the Phantom time hypothesis (it’s really 1719, not 2016 as we’ve been led to believe). I’d love this as a multi-volume hardbound illustrated set. — Mark Frauenfelder
I am addicted to TOWIE, a British reality show, but Hulu is very delayed on posting recently aired episodes, and the show website has a country block on their videos. Fortunately, Hola, the free VPN proxy service has never failed to bypass the block, so I can get my trashy reality show fix. — Claudia Lamar
We installed AI into our kitchen to get a glimpse of the future. Now we talk to Alexa, and ask it to do all kinds of things. “Alexa, what is on my calendar today?” “Alexa, add granola to my shopping list.” The cheapest way to do this is not with an Echo (size of wine bottle), if you already have speakers, but with the Echo Dot. Read the rest
I bought this illuminated handheld magnifier on Amazon for $3 (free shipping) last year and I use it a lot. It's a great splinter and lice checker. I've gotten my $3 of value from it just looking at tiny bugs and skin abnormalities. It has two built in LEDs and uses two AA batteries.
Read the rest
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Google Feud is a game that challenges you to guess the top ten Google autocompletes for a particular word or term. For instance, the game might prompt you with “my friend is addicted to” and you have to fill in the rest of the query. (FYI, the top ten autocompletes for this example are weed, her phone, drugs, coke, pills, drama, oxycodone, crack, anime, and alcohol.) — Mark Frauenfelder
Over the years, I’ve had to buy a variety of bras for different types of dresses and tops (racerback, backless, strapless, etc.), but the most useful purchase I’ve made has been Nippies. I’ve had these for a couple years now. They are washable, reusable and so comfortable I forget I have them on. — Claudia Lamar
Before buying something on Amazon, enter the URL for the product at fakespot.com. This free service will analyze how many shill reviewers have rated a product, and award a “Fakespot Grade” from A to F. A low grade doesn’t necessarily mean a product is bad, it just means you shouldn’t take the reviews and user ratings into consideration when making your decision to buy something. — MF
I’m trying out Splash, a cool free experimental photo search engine from 500Pixels. You sketch the rough contours of a photo you seek in color, and it will display two dozen images that “match” your sketch. Read the rest
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Books related to my new book The Inevitable that I have found useful:
Magic and Loss by Virginia Heffernan: Treats the digital world as a great work of art. The Master Algorithm by Pedro Domingos: Best book to date on artificial intelligence. Machines of Loving Grace by John Markoff: Best book to date on robots. Superforecasting by Philip Tetlock: Why predicting is hard and how to get better at it. Pogue’s Basics by David Pogue: Extremely practical tips for techno-literacy. — Kevin Kelly
I’m a big Welcome to Night Vale fan, a community news podcast about a fictional town plagued by paranormal and spooky events. Besides listening to the podcast, I prioritized my Facebook feed to see their absurd status updates first. They always make me smile. Example: “Scientists discover a new species of spider on the back of your shirt. ‘Oh wow. It’s crazy big. Good luck,’ their press release reads.” — Claudia Lamar
When it comes to airplane food, I agree with Anthony Bourdain: it’s better to go hungry. But I don’t like going hungry so I pack snacks with me. One of my favorites is the Graze Bar. It’s a tasty, chewy stick of grass fed beef containing no sugar, gluten, or MSG. — Mark Frauenfelder
Hopper is a smartphone app that predicts when airfare to a desired destination will be the cheapest. Read the rest
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A Global Entry pass is a true bargain if you do any international travel. You don’t need to wait in line for immigration at reentry to the US. But it also serves as validation for the TSA Pre-check short-cut for security screening at most major US airports. Much shorter lines. To get in the program requires an appointment to get fingerprinted and $100 every five years. Well worth it. — Kevin Kelly
Before I take a flight, I toss a few Dark Chocolate Nuts & Sea Salt Kind bars into my travel bag. The crunchy bars are gluten free and have just 5g of sugar. The perfect snack for plane or hotel room. — Mark Frauenfelder
If you’re in Northern California and have yet to visit Amador County, I could not recommend it more. The county is steeped in Gold Rush history and offers 40+ wineries, romantic B&Bs and historical small towns, all within a short drive of one another. Side note: I was once the Lifestyles Editor for the county newspaper, which might make me a bit biased, but I also have enjoyed enough time there to know it makes for a magical getaway. — Claudia Lamar
The Library of America publishes high-quality hardbound books with multiple novels per volume. I’m reading Ross Macdonald: Three Novels of the Early 1960s, which contains three excellent novels about fictional Los Angeles detective Lew Archer. Read the rest
Here's the new Recomendo newsletter, which has recommendations for six cool things, selected by Kevin Kelly, Claudia Lamar, and me.
I’ve had a lot of fun in the past few days playing with a new iOS app that creates a mosaic of video, still images, and sound, and into which you can also paste code to create animations and actions. They are cool post-gif loops. You then share and follow others who are creating. Still in beta, it’s called Universe. Follow me! — KK
Last year I started using a Salux Japanese Nylon washcloth (reviewed on Cool Tools), and I won’t ever go back. No other product has made me feel this clean before. It exfoliates, but it’s not as rough as some gloves or loofahs I have tried, and I use the one labeled “super hard.” — CL
A series I am binging on is Silicon Valley. I know all these people and every detail of their lives and situations is pitch perfect right on. The producers get the tiniest details exactly right, from the technology to the mannerisms, as well as their bigger narrative. I haven’t laughed so much is ages. At the same time, it’s a remarkably fantastic advanced class in what technology companies are *really* like; whether you want to work in one, or start one: watch this series. — KK
Reddit’s Futurology subreddit features news stories that point to our future. “New antibiotic found in human nose.” “Singapore Scientists Grow Mini Human Brains.” “Should a human-pig chimera be treated as a person?” I visit it daily. Read the rest
Every week Kevin Kelly, Claudia Lamar and I send out a newsletter of six things we personally recommend. Want to get the next Recomendo newsletter a week early in your inbox? Sign up for the Sunday newsletter here
HACK: I hacked up a death countdown clock to show me how many days I have left to live. I went to the actuarial tables for life expectancy to determine how old a typical person my age will live to, and then input that date into the Date Countdown website. It shows me that I have an estimated 6,300 days to live. Each day that small sum really focuses me. (BTW, your longevity increases over time because of science, so every few years you need to adjust your due date.) — KK
CONSUMABLES: Powder City sells bulk powder nutrients for a fraction of the cost of pills. I buy L-Theanine, which I take when I drink tea and coffee to keep me from feeling jittery. I have also tried Phenibut HCL, a tranquilizer developed by Russia in the 1960s for their astronaut program. It works for insomnia, but I stopped because I don’t want to get addicted. They also sell lots of nootropics (aka “smart drugs”), which I have not tried. To use these powders, you’ll need a sensitive scale, like this one. — MF
APP: I needed to make a cartoon thumbnail portrait of myself so I used a free app for iOS and Android to render my photo into artwork. Read the rest