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Beaded Cable Tie

I came across beaded cable ties at my local hardware store, figuring maybe it was some common thing I just didn’t know about — and maybe it is — but I cannot find more than a single video about this stuff online. So I figure I can at least right that wrong here.

Think of this as a cross between a zip-tie and a velcro or hook & loop strap. It’s cheap and plastic like a ziptie, easy to reuse like velcro, but also kind of it’s own thing.

Let’s say you’ve got a cord to tie up. You wrap it around, thread it through the bottom hole, and then when you go back through the top hole you get a loop you can use to hang this up.

If you have multiple cords to bundle together, you can also use that second loop to wrap another cable.

Depending on the cord you’re wrapping, you could also wrap one notch just on the cord, and use the other notch for wrapping the entire bundle. This helps keep the wrap with the cord when you undo it.

If you have something big to wrap and need a longer cord, you can chain these together until you get the size you need. They also just sell bigger and smaller versions of these if you already know what kind of job you want them to handle.

Best of all, these come undone with just a little gentle encouragement. I feel they’re easier to undo than reusable zip ties, but not so easy you have worry about them falling apart.

Compared to a hook & loop strap, the hook and loop looks nicer and is more intuitive to manage — but they’re not cheap, you don’t really get the secure chaining feature, and you don’t get the built-in loop for hanging.

I’m not saying they’re perfect, but I’m glad to have them around, and they’re cheap.


UV Window Tint


Protect your skin from sun damage while driving

I spent a lot of my early working years outside, all day, mostly in the south. I didn’t worry much about the sun damaging my skin, so long as I avoided a sunburn. Now, however, my dermatologist tells me that was a mistake. Though she really doesn’t have to tell me that, it’s pretty obvious. And we all know about sunscreen, though I bet most of us who should use that stuff don’t — unless we’re going to the beach or something. What’s surprising is that the left side of my face is more affected than the rest of me. Driving around in North America gets the left of our faces much more sun than we realize. She tells me that they see this a lot.

So I’ve gotten some new 20% window film for my side windows of my vehicle. It’s an old SUV with the whole rear of the thing equipped with smoked glass; the tint guy tells me that’s not UV rated, so besides just attenuating sunshine I can’t say how much UV is blocked, but all densities of the film are rated at blocking 99% of the UV spectrum; that’s what’s right next to me now. A little night time adjustment, NBD. My tint guy tells me that the cheap purple tint that bubbles up (we’ve all seen that stuff?) does not do anything significant to block UV, and that stuff blows anyway. Anything better should show the UV rating in the product datasheet.

There are some UV films for homes that are otherwise clear. Dunno how well they work on curved vehicle windows. The law here in Colorado says window film “must allow more than 27% of light through”. (Mirror-style-tint is against the law on vehicles as well as just wrong anyway.) Check your laws, of course. And winter sun is lower, getting UV into the vehicle better. Consider that too. I wish I had been aware of this face-frying effect 30 years ago, it might have saved me trouble now. Oh, and wear a dang hat and use sunscreen if your skin belongs a lot further north…

— Wayne Ruffner



Home building/Cryptocurrency videos/Best of 2017


Recomendo: issue no. 77

Advice on building a home
Over many decades, homesteader Lloyd Kahn has built his three beautiful homes by hand, and is the author and publisher of books about building personal homes. Lloyd lives in a fire-prone part of California. He compiled a useful list of hints for people rebuilding homes after fires. The tips are so helpful they would be useful to anyone building a home anywhere. — KK

Free Princeton video series on cryptocurrencies
The Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency Technologies Online Course is a 13 hour video series from Princeton. After a very brief introductory video, they get right down to business with a video about hash functions that’s easy to understand. You can also download a companion textbook. — MF

Good podcasts
You’ve finished all the episodes of This American Life and Cool Tools. What podcasts should you listen to next? This is a curated list of great podcast episodes airing in 2017, mostly from podcasts you haven’t heard of, but should. — KK

Best stories of 2017
This chart of the 100 most engaging stories of last year is worth adding to your read list. The top story, My Family’s Slave, was a powerful personal account of being raised by a Filipina woman who the family kept as a slave for 56 years. It stayed with me for months. — CD

Online typing tutor
After decades of being a hunt-and-peck typist, I’m finally forcing myself to learn touch typing. After trying a bunch of different typing websites, I’ve settled on How To Type as my favorite. It’s not fancy, but the drills have helped me to become more accurate. — MF

Keep track of whose glass is whose
My mother-in-law had these metallic markers on hand during the holidays to keep track of whose glass is whose. We had a full house of more than 10 people staying overnight, so this was perfect for keeping track of our wine and water glasses, and coffee mugs. — CD

— Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson



LED Light Weight Magnifier with 5 Lenses


Wearable LED lit magnifying glasses

For this week’s Cool Tools video review, I’m going to show off these wearable magnifying glasses. These run around $14 on Amazon, and by using the link in the video description you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

I bought these a year ago looking for a way to get a better look at soldering up small stuff. They really are perfect for those times when you’re wiring or painting or glueing up something tiny and delicate. Plus there’s a little LED on the front that helps put a little extra light on things.

These come with an interchangeable set of lenses. The most powerful one gives you 3.5 times magnification and is the one I leave on all the time. I honestly wish these went up a little higher, as the lower lenses really don’t do much for me.

The lenses are plastic, so they can get scratched if you’re not careful, which I’m guilty of. On the upside, compared to glass these are lightweight and can be worn for long periods without hurting your face. The lens also flips up and down so you can kick in the magnification just when you need it.

But by far my favorite use for these is put these on and surprise people. They make you look so super nerdy. They should really file these things under birth control. They are quite possibly the unsexiest pair of glasses ever made.

— Donald Bell



The Thumb Thing


Book Manipulation Device

When I was a teenager I remember reading a science-fiction story which predicted that by the 21st century, information would be piped directly into the brain. In this story, a character encountered that most archaic object, an old-fashioned book, and felt appalled that people in the 20th century had been forced to endure so much physical discomfort, holding books and turning their pages manually — or trying to prevent the pages from turning if there was a breeze.

Well, here we are in 2006, and yet another science-fiction prediction has failed to pan out. While we’re waiting for wetware implants, we’ll just have to make do with a stopgap solution: A plastic thumb aid.

— KK



Jane Frauenfelder, techie teenager


Cool Tools Show 104: Jane Frauenfelder

We have hired professional editors to help create our weekly podcasts and video reviews. So far, Cool Tools listeners have pledged $362 a month. Please consider supporting us on Patreon. We have great rewards for people who contribute! – MF


Our guest this week is Jane Frauenfelder. Jane was born and raised in Southern California, she co-hosted a podcast called Apps For Kids for two and a half years, and now attends a robotics academy at her high school. In her off time, she designs video games and she aspires to be a video game designer when she’s older.



Subscribe to the Cool Tools Show on iTunes | RSS | Transcript | Download MP3 | See all the Cool Tools Show posts on a single page


Show notes:

“Quizlet is very, very popular among most, like middle and high school students, but it’s a way of studying. It’s a website online, and you just simply type in a bunch of terms as if they’re flashcards and then they have many different many ways that you can learn them through writing them down and they can generate quizzes themselves. They even have games you can play to memorize them. It’s just a wonderful way to memorize facts or terms or memorize anything for school. I used to use it for Spanish class all the time and history and English, and just everything.”

“I like doing game design, but sometimes I just want to do small projects, like I recently did a school project and it was a video game that I designed. Piskel is a website where you can design, kind of like GIFs of a pixel animation. It gives you a board and you can draw on it however you want and it’s all pixelized. That’s a great way to make pixel art and pixel sprites — a sprite is like the object in the game, the main character that you play, the images of the characters — which is kind of popular nowadays, it’s coming back, I feel like 8-bit games and things like that. I just find it really great because when I’m designing games I’m not like a huge artist, I can’t do like these elaborate character designs, and pixel art is able to be so simple.”

Copic markers ($63)
“I’m going to assume that the majority of artists that do fine art and drawing know about Copic’s, because they are very widely known since they’re just very incredible. They’re alcohol-based markers and they blend so wonderfully because they have hundreds of colors, and if you take similar colors you can blend them so nicely that it looks almost like paint. If you’re coloring something with these markers you can make it so that there’s no strokes. If you’re using a lot of water-based markers you’re going to get stroke lines and it’s kind of messy-looking, but Copic’s just glide so smoothly and they’re really great.”

Prusa 3D printer ($599)
“Compared to other 3D printers that I’ve seen, this one’s by far like the best personal 3D printer. It’s really easy to swap out the plastic, and it prints really well. It has an SD chip, which you can plug into your computer and then upload your files, and then you plug it straight into the Prusa and you just select it, because it has a little screen on the bottom, which is great. You select it and it will start printing, and it has different types of plastic that it can use, and it has a heated bed, which is great.”

Also mentioned:



Pancro Lens Cleaning Fluid


Nonstreaky Lens Cleaner

How do you keep a camera lens clean? You cover it with a filter. But how do you keep the filter clean?

I floundered for many years with streaky Kodak solutions and other goofy products, till I was referred to a mysterious product called Pancro by an extraordinary AC named David “AC Dave” Wendlinger. Pancro comes in industrial white bottles with a big sticker on the front, “PANCRO Professional Lens Cleaner Non-Streaking Non-Residue Non-Toxic Fast-Drying” (almost poetic).

Who knows what it is. But it works like magic. Now my lenses are spotless. This stuff cleans anything with glass; binoculars, telescopes, cameras, rearview mirrors. I carry a little bottle of it in my pocket for my eyeglasses. A pack of Rosco Lens Tissue goes well with it.

Best practice for cleaning the lens/filter? First, hold the camera upside down with the front lens pointing down. Use a little blower with SOFT bristle brush to blow off any particles from the lens surface, particles which will fall off the lens aided by gravity. Put a few drops of Pancro on the Rosco lens tissue and softly polish the lens in a circular motion. Rotate use of the 4 corners and both sides of the tissue so that you always are using a clean part of the tissue to avoid grinding grime into the lens surface. Repeat upside down brush operation if necessary. Inspect with extremely bright flashlight pointed at angle to the element. Some people recommend a cloth instead of the Rosco paper, but I’ve found them too fussy to keep clean and free of abrasive particles. Canned air can work as well, but it can streak the lens if freon is accidentally sprayed when help upside down or sideways. And it can’t be checked in baggage legally.

Paul Lundahl (Creative Director/Partner, eMotion Studios)



Microlite Flip Waterbottle


Ultra lightweight water bottle

Like many others, I’ve been in pursuit of the “perfect” drink bottle for basically my entire adult life. Plastic, metal, glass, hybrids, they all have their pros and cons. No bottle is perfect.

About a year ago I needed to get new bottles for my kids to take to school and camping and wherever else we might end up going. Since I had kids in mind, I needed it to be durable (glass is out) and small enough for little hands to handle easily. I also needed them to not leak. Like, seriously, no leaking. At all. Ever. No. Leak.

In general, I’m not a big fan of bottles with straws. The straw is very difficult to clean and is the most vulnerable part of any bottle. Straws require replacement often in my experience. More generally, bottles where silicon/plastic pieces bend/pinch tend to fail often. Bottles designed with a straw in mind are also usually susceptible to some level of leaking. As you now know, we don’t like leaks here.

I found the Microlite Flip bottles from GSI Outdoors at REI. They are of a small enough diameter that my kids can hold onto them, they disassemble into manageable pieces for very thorough cleaning, and they’re durable enough to take wherever. The bottle is aluminum and the cap is plastic with fully removable silicone seals. The way the bottle cap disassembles is actually quite ingenious and I’d recommend going to a store just to try breaking the cap down into its parts. The spout comes away from the main cap and both silicon seals are removable. All nooks and crannies are accessible.

My kids like their bottles, there are enough colors so that their diversity can be expressed and they hold up well to abuse… well… mostly. One of the kids dropped the bottle while the cap was open and it landed precisely on the latching mechanism for the cap, which snapped off, so it would no longer stay shut at all. I was able to get the bottle replaced from the retailer without incident. I feel like that was a pretty lucky drop and the bottles have handled a variety of other drops with aplomb. It keeps contents at a consistent temperature pretty well. I haven’t tested heat/cold retention very well, but the reviews are positive on this aspect.

I’m sure it’s not perfect, but it’s certainly close enough for my family.

— Matthew Clark



Culinary Parchment Baking Cups

We’ve been using these parchment cups to bake muffins for a couple of months and they never cease to amaze. Each time I peel off the paper cup from my morning muffin I’m still impressed at how effortless this has become. These aren’t just “no stick”, they’re zero stick, which coincidentally is exactly what the manufacturer claims on the box…and they’re totally correct. I know these adjectives describing this product sounds like click-bait but, in this case, it is deserved. Interestingly, out of 285 reviews on Amazon, the product gets a solid 5-stars! How often does that happen? I mean it, the paper cup almost falls off, totally clean! You’ve got to try these.

— Chuck Davey

Standard Paper Cupcake Liners / Baking Cups, 120 ($6)

Available from Amazon



Round off wood edges

It’s time for another Cool Tools video review. This time around, I’m going to show you a tool recommended by Adam Savage on episode 57 of the Cool Tools podcast. The spokeshave is a tool that rounds off the edges of wood. Versions of this tool date back to prehistoric time. It’s essentially a kind of plane, with an adjustable carbon steel blade in the middle, and handles on the side.

By taking a roughly square length of wood and working your way around, you can make smooth, round dowels or rounded fittings for chairs, or wagon wheel spokes if you plan on doing any time traveling. They’re also popular for making canoes and paddles, and bows and arrows.

The spokeshave here is made by Kunz. It’s made from cast iron and has a nice old fashioned heft to it. The handle is surprisingly ergonomic, with places for your thumbs if you’re pushing it away from you, and a nice grip if you’re pulling it towards you. You guys can debate which method works best, but both worked fine in my limited time with the tool.

You’re not going to get the precision and uniformity you’d get with turning something on a lathe. But for shaping something round and freeform, the spokeshave gives you nice, fine control.

If you’re curious to pick up this exact same one, you can use the link in the description, which also helps out the Cool Tools blog and podcast. And you can see thousands of reader recommended tools just like this at

From the podcast:

“I was shocked at how easy it was to use a spoke shaver, at how well it took a square piece of wood and made it round in literally about 15 minutes. … Like the rule of knives. You cut on the pole. You place it on the corner and you adjust the angle of the wood with how you’re holding it and you pull back towards yourself and you can, with really impressive precision, peel off a lot of or little of the wood as you’re puling the spoke shaver towards you. … I was really surprised at how ergonomic it was, at how much fine motor control even a beginner like me had in making this two by four, or this one by one, a nice round dowel.” – Adam Savage