Two free or cheap alternatives to Adobe Illustrator

If you're a professional illustrator, podcaster, or filmmaker, a $53 a month subscription to Adobe Creative Cloud is a fair price to pay. But if you're just interested in having a good vector graphics application, you can probably get by using Inkscape (free) or Affinity Designer (one time cost $50). Inkscape even runs on Linux computers. This video runs through the key features of each application. Read the rest

New video series: Understanding Epresso

James Hoffmann, a coffee YouTuber, has a new series about espresso. In each episode, he discusses one of the variables involved in making espresso. The first episode covered "dose," or the amount of ground coffee used in making a cup. The most recent episode is about the water/coffee ratio, which should be measured by weight not volume. Read the rest

To find something you misplaced, imagine its feel and texture

If you misplace something, say a pair of headphones, think about its surface texture and the way it feels rather than what it looks like. This will help you remember where you last left it, says Jason Fischer, Ph.D., a cognitive neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins University’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences.

From Well and Good:

The study reached this conclusion by asking participants to identify items in a sea of clutter. Those who looked for a given object by remembering tactile traits—like hardness or softness—won at the impromptu game of I Spy about 20 percent faster than their counterparts who focused only on visual traits like color and shape. “What makes the finding particularly striking from a vision science standpoint is that simply knowing the latent physical properties of objects is enough to help guide your attention to them,” Dr. Fischer tells Medical Xpress. “It’s surprising because nearly all prior research in this area has focused on a host of visual properties that can facilitate search, but we find that what you know about objects can be as important as what you actually see.”

Image: Jumpstory/CC0 Read the rest

Freakonomics interviews Kevin Kelly about his "68 bits of unsolicited advice"

When my friend and Cool Tools partner Kevin Kelly turned 68 a few weeks ago, he posted an essay to his website titled "68 bit of unsolicited advice." (I posted it to Boing Boing.) Kevin's advice quickly went viral, and this week he was the guest on the Freakonomics podcast, where he talked about the list, among other things.

KELLY (reading from 68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice): Learn how to learn from those who disagree with you, or even offend you. See if you can find truth in what they believe.

DUBNER: So the value of doing this one seems obvious, especially in a moment where so many people are so quick to take offense, and to be offensive. Can you give me an example of where you’ve actually done this?

KELLY: There are parts of my books where I’ve written something, and somebody will say something very strong, about, “That’s dumb,” or it’s stupid, or wrong. And that’s pretty harsh. But my take is to say, “Let me see if there’s any truth to that.” Sometimes there’s not. Sometimes there may be some sliver of something. And what I’ve learned to do is to respond to that little sliver. To try to get underneath why they’re saying it and where is it they’re coming from. I don’t have to necessarily always agree with them or change it, but I have to pay attention to that signal. And so I’ve learned to treat these things as signals rather than as insults.

Read the rest

David Bowie on playing to the gallery

Advice from David Bowie for artists: "always remember that the reason that you initially started working was that there was something inside yourself that you've felt that if you could manifest it in some way you would understand more about yourself and how you coexist with the rest of society." [via @ThamKhaiMeng] Read the rest

On his 68th birthday, Kevin Kelly offers 68 bits of unsolicited advice

My friend and Cool Tools parter, Kevin Kelly, just turned 68. Happy Birthday, Kevin! To celebrate, he posted 68 pieces of advice. Kevin is one of the wisest people I know, and when he gives advice, I never dismiss it lightly. Here are the first 10:

Learn how to learn from those you disagree with, or even offend you. See if you can find the truth in what they believe. Being enthusiastic is worth 25 IQ points. Always demand a deadline. A deadline weeds out the extraneous and the ordinary. It prevents you from trying to make it perfect, so you have to make it different. Different is better. Don’t be afraid to ask a question that may sound stupid because 99% of the time everyone else is thinking of the same question and is too embarrassed to ask it. Being able to listen well is a superpower. While listening to someone you love keep asking them “Is there more?”, until there is no more. A worthy goal for a year is to learn enough about a subject so that you can’t believe how ignorant you were a year earlier. Gratitude will unlock all other virtues and is something you can get better at. Treating a person to a meal never fails, and is so easy to do. It’s powerful with old friends and a great way to make new friends. Don’t trust all-purpose glue. Reading to your children regularly will bond you together and kickstart their imaginations.

Read the other 58 here. Read the rest

How to get a refund on an app you don't like

If you purchased a smart phone app that doesn't meet your expectations, Popular Science has a guide for how to get your money back. The first thing to try is contacting Google or Apple and explaining why you want your money back. The last resort is complaining on Twitter. One thing not to do is give the app a one star review before you try to get your money back, or you will lose any leverage you might have.

Similarly, the terms and conditions on iTunes and the Google Play Store also include refund requests, although in the case of Apple’s store terms are rather opaque. You have to log in to the Report a Problem portal, find the app you have an issue with, request a refund selecting what you feel is a valid and appropriate reason, briefly explain why, and hope it gets approved by the inner-bureaucracy.

Google’s policies are a bit clearer, although hedged with ifs and maybes. Within 48 hours of purchasing an app you can request a refund from Google by logging into your Play Store account, going to Order History, selecting Request a Refund on the app you want to return, and explaining why. If you miss that 48-hour window, you have to contact the developers directly.

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash Read the rest

Man builds smartphone magnifier lens to remove a nasty splinter

YouTuber Chris Notap brushed his hand against his wood fence and got a splinter in his hand. To remove it he made a smartphone magnifier lens for two dollars and used a pair of tweezers to extract the foreign object. This video provides all the graphic details. The extraction portion of the video not for the faint of heart. Read the rest

Tips from a fellow who has been social distancing for 50 years

For 50 years, Billy Barr has been the only resident of Gothic, Colorado, an abandoned silver mining town. He's not a hermit though. According to NPR, Barr says he "occasionally interacts with skiers who pass through, he talks to his sister on the phone, and he works for the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory nearby, which gets flooded with scientists in the summer." Below are a few of Bill Barr's tips on social distancing. You should read the rest though because Barr is very funny. From NPR:

1. Keep track of something.

Each day, Barr tracks the weather for a number of groups including the Colorado Avalanche Information Center. He started measuring snow levels in the 1970s, mostly because he was bored [...]

2. Keep a routine.

Barr starts early. He wakes up around 3:30 a.m. or 4 a.m., and stays in bed until about 5 a.m.

"Up until a week or two ago, I would listen to the news every morning so that I could start every day either totally depressed or furious. That's always a good way to start the day," he said [...]

4. Embrace the grumpiness.

Sometimes, Barr said, it's kind of satisfying to be grumpy about something.

"Tips From Someone With Nearly 50 Years Of Social Distancing Experience" by Rae Ellen Bichell (NPR)

image: courtesy of Billy Barr Read the rest

Good tip for drawstring sweatpants

This looks like a good way to keep drawstrings from disappearing, as is their wont. Read the rest

NPR's no-nonsense guide to preparing your home for Covid-19

It's seems likely that Covid-19 will be a pandemic, maybe on the order of the 1918 Spanish Flu (listen to this podcast episode of The New York Times' The Daily for a persuasive argument as to why). It might be a good time to prepare your home for an outbreak. This NPR article, "A Guide: How To Prepare Your Home For Coronavirus," has good advice.

Here's a summary:

Make sure you have a supply of daily prescription medication on hand, as well as over-the-counter fever reducers. Have sufficient nonperishable foods to last your family for two weeks. Have soup, crackers, and Gatorade or Pedialyte on hand should anyone in the house get sick. Clean surfaces frequently with soap and water. Wear a mask if you get sick. Telecommute instead of going to an office, if possible. Have a plan in place for kids and older family members. Wash hands as soon as you enter your home. Cough into your elbow.

Image by tatianawillmann from Pixabay Read the rest

Here are a couple of ways of starting a fire in the wilderness using found materials

Washington College professor of archeology and anthropology Bill Schindler demonstrates some nifty fire-starting-from-scratch techniques. "Even though you may never find yourself in a survival situation," he tells Wired, "I firmly believe that learning and practicing these primitive skills are an essential part of connecting to your past, your environment, and everything it means to be human."

Image: YouTube Read the rest

Help your future self by imagining an invitation to a far-off event is tomorrow

I write a weekly newsletter with Claudia Dawson and Kevin Kelly, called Recomendo. In each issue we briefly recommend 6 things. Here's a great tip in the Jan 26, 2020 issue, which Kevin shared with me a few years back and has proven to be very useful in helping me make decisions about whether or not to accept invitations to events weeks or months away:

Immediacy filter One of the most useful bits of advice I ever got, came from the writer Anne Herbert who said that whenever she got an invitation to do something months away or even a week away, she asked herself whether she would accept the gig/meeting/task if it was tomorrow. The answer was often no. I use that immediacy trick all the time, and it has served me very well. — KK

By the way, Claudia, Kevin, and I recently published a book of the best of Recomendo, with 500 brief reviews of cool stuff.


  Read the rest

Seven top tips from makers so far this year

Here are seven of my favorite DIY/maker tips published this year in my weekly newsletter, Gareth's Tips, Tools, and Shop Tales.

Etching Metal with a 9v Battery Etching is easier than you think. Leah of See Jane Drill demonstrates how easy it is to etch a metal surface using little more than a 9v battery and wires, vinegar, salt, and Q-tips.

Finding the Thickness of a Wire Emory Kimbrough was one of the winners of my Tips book drawing in December. I asked contestants for one great tip. Emory sent me ten. And then, a few days later, he sent me another five – all publication-worthy. I’m excited to share them. Look for more Emory tips in the coming months. Here’s the first one:

If you need to find the thickness of a wire but don’t have a micrometer or calipers, wrap the wire around a dowel many times in a tight helix leaving no gaps between the coils. Now, just measure the width of, say, thirty coils with an ordinary ruler and divide by thirty. The more coils you wind, the more accurate your measurement. And even if you do use top-quality digital calipers, it’s even more accurate if you use this wind-and-divide method than if you measure a single thickness.

Organize Cables in Dollar Store Pencil Cases The column I’m currently working on for HackSpace magazine will cover workshop storage and organizing. As part of my research, I asked for relevant storage ideas on my Facebook page. My friend Jake Hildebrandt shared this idea. Read the rest

This deck of cards will help you to get to know yourself better

Know Yourself is a set of 60 cards to prompt you to examine your beliefs. Example card: “List five things that are important to you in your life. How much of your time do you give to each of these?” The back of each card offers advice to make sure you answer the questions in a useful way. You can use their cards on your own or with another person you feel close to. Be prepared to surprise yourself. These could be good prompts for people interested in keeping a journal or writing a memoir. Read the rest

An intriguing list of "little-known but obvious facts"

u/TikiTC asked on r/askreddit: "What’s a little-known but obvious fact that will immediately make all of us feel stupid?" Many of the 20,000+ replies are funny, useful, and fascinating. Here are a few:








Photo by Andre Mouton on Unsplash Read the rest

Re-key every lock in your home

Matt Haughey moved into a new home with a lot of deadbolts. Rather than carry around a jangling morning star of keys, he decided to re-key everything. It took less than a day.

I researched getting a locksmith to come out, but it would run hundreds of dollars in their time plus you can only re-key locks to a key made by the same manufacturer, and by my count we had at least three different brands of locks spread among all the doors. I could save money by bringing the locks to a locksmith’s store, replacing off brands with a single brand and re-installing myself, or I could teach myself how to rekey locks using a ~$100 set from amazon that takes a few hours of practice to master.

He replaced three of the locks so all could use the Kwikset Smart Key [Amazon] system, the hero of the piece -- about $100 all in. Read the rest

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