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Rich Roat, Co-founder of House Industries

Our guest this week is Rich Roat. After picking up a degree in communication from the University of Delaware, Rich held a number of odd jobs such as communications associate for United Way of Delaware and service bureau/prepress house manager. He met Andy Cruz in 1991 and allowed his new friend to talk him into a series of ill-advised but fortunate career moves that led to the formation of Brand Design Co., Inc., and, subsequently House Industries. Rich initially tried to tame the chaos of Andy’s constantly shifting aesthetic sensibilities and obsessive attention to detail; thankfully, he has been largely unsuccessful. Rich is a co-author of House Industries: The Process is the Inspiration (Watson Guptill/Penguin Random House, 2017) with Andy Cruz and Ken Barber.

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Show notes:

Kraft Tape Dispenser ($460)
“Beats any tape gun. You just load it up, fill up the water reservoir and pull the lever. It even cuts it for you, to the length you specify with the lever pull. We’re always packing up of samples, gifts, and general goodies to send all over the world. Plus we have this online store too, so we need to ship that stuff too. If you don’t mind getting a skidload of the the tape, you can get your logo printed on it too. It sounds pretty mundane, but we always get great comments on it.”

French Paper Co.
“In the old days of graphic design, premium printing paper was a B to B thing and you had to buy the stuff through a print shop who had to buy it through their local distributor. When Andy and I first started House Industries, we were in Delaware and no Delaware distributors carried French, we posed as a print shop so we could order their paper direct from a Baltimore distributor and have it shipped to another printer, sort of like the CIA set up a shell corporation to buy titanium that they needed to build the SR71 blackbird from the Russians during the cold war. We were friends with fourth-generation owner Jerry French, but, at the time, it was verboten for paper mills to sell direct to designers. Still, Jerry would see that some “fell off a truck” every once in a while to fuel early House Industries font catalogs. Then the internet came along and fucked a bunch of shit up, but also eventually made it okay for French to sell direct to consumers. Anyway, about the paper itself: unbeatable color palette and delicious textures, mostly attributed to hero graphic designer Charles S. Anderson. Their swatch books are more valuable than a PMS chart and if you have a pernickety printer who doesn’t feel like doing a little sourcing, you just get out your credit card and order it yourself. French is also a really cool company, surviving as an independent mill in a time when most other such businesses are long gone. And they were generating their own hydroelectric power, recycling and being environmentally-friendly before those kind of things were cool, like almost 100 years ago.”

S & S
“These make it possible to break a full-sized 700C bike down into airline-checkable luggage. I’m a cycling nut, and I like my bike. When I travel, especially to bike-friendly places like most of Western Europe, Seattle, San Francisco, etc., I like to take my own bike along because it’s all dialed in, fits me perfectly and doesn’t make any strange noises. I just break it out of the box, assemble, and ride out of the front door of the airport. Seattle even has a bike assembly area for idiots like me.”

House Archive Boxes ($38, set of 3)
“Shameless self promotional plug here in addition to the other self-promotional plugs that you ask about below. We’re good ol’ American hoarders and we work in a building without much closet space, so we wanted somewhere we could dump all of the valuable junk that piles up on our desks that also looked cool when we stack them around the studio. We didn’t like any of the designs that were available, so we made our own. We even got a design patent for the box die.”

Son dynamo hub
“There are other dynamo hubs out there, but none quite as beautiful as this one. I ride my bike to and from work every day, and in the winter it’s often dark both ways. USB-powered LED lights are nice and all, but there’s something cool about being able to throw a leg over the bike and not having to worry about remembering to recharge. This may sound weird, but the hub also makes this great little vibration that gets slightly more pronounced when under load. I just keep my lights on all the time because I like the feeling of generating electricity when I’m riding.”



Maker Update: Spring-loaded Self-Striking Center Punch

This week on Maker Update, punch-activated flame throwers, interactive laser curtains, Massimo takes back Arduino, some time with a deluxe center punch, 3-color OLED screens, MagPi 60, and the Gemma M0.

This week for my Cool Tools review I’m going to show you a fancy automatic center hole punch, great for marking and starting drill holes in metal and wood. I’ve got an Amazon link for this in the show notes, and if you pick one up you help to support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

Here’s your typical brass handle center punch you can pick up for around $5. You push it into the material you want to drill and it makes a little divet for your drill to start in so it doesn’t wander around.

The trouble with these is that they get dull quick, and even out of the box they don’t leave much of a mark. I’ve also found that the round design just loves to roll off your workbench.

It got me wondering what a nice center punch would be like, so I did a little research and found this $30 option from Rennsteig. This is an all German-made tool. It has this nice, ergonomic handle that allows you to push down directly from the top. It also doesn’t roll all over the place, which I like.

The replaceable striking pin here is made from hardened tool steel with a Rockwell hardness rating of 58. The punch itself has a striking force of 60-130 Newtons. You can adjust the force by twisting the handle.

What this means, practically, is bigger, deeper marks in your material, and hopefully a substantially longer lasting pin — though you can order pin replacements for around $10 online.

Here’s the mark from a new $5 punch on the left, and the mark from the Rennsteig on the right. It’s a noticeable difference. Is it worth an extra $25? That really depends on how much you use it or how much these generic punches bother you.

Personally, I find it really satisfying to use and I’m glad I spent the extra for it. If you’re interested in picking one up too, using the Amazon link in the description helps me out, and the Cool Tools blog. And remember, you can find thousands of reader-recommended tools just like this at

— Donald Bell

Available from Amazon



: Libman 24″ Multi-Surface Heavy Duty Push Broom

I have a lot of outdoor areas to sweep: patios, walkways, sidewalks, and bits of an alley and a street gutter. I need to gather up leaves, pine needles, pine cones, “berries” from laurels, misc. junk, and light snow.

I kept two wooden brooms outdoors to do this, but they had problems. The wide one’s brush-head broke in half when I tossed it aside once, and its bristles gradually came out. The narrow one’s threads deteriorated and the thread-nub broke off in the socket. (I used a drill & a pair of slanting screws to attach the remainder of the pole to the other socket.)

The construction of this wide push-broom from Libman is very superior. It has a bank of bristles that is three inches deep, quite dense, and embedded in a tough-looking resin that in turn is part of the brush-head. The pole and its socket are polypropylene, a stable artificial material. The pole is a single piece that is hollow and doesn’t weigh much. It has reassuring side braces that are lacking in the competitive O-Cedar & Weiler models. It captures more debris in one sweep than my other brooms do in two. What it doesn’t get on the push stroke, it mostly gets on the pull stroke. It looks sharp, and presumably it won’t “weather” the way my other brooms have. Its bristles are recycled. It’s made in the U.S. And the price is right: only $27 (and free shipping).

But it’s not perfect for everyone, as Amazon reviewers have noted. It’s not meant for really rough surfaces. (Libman sells a $35 broom for that purpose.) It’s not meant to pick up fine sawdust as efficiently as brooms with softer bristles. It’s not meant to push a lot of heavy, wet snow (its pole is not thick and has snapped under such stress). And it isn’t as wide (and sturdy?) as Libman’s high-priced, 36-inch “commercial” model. It’s a compromise, but it hits my sweet spot.

Its Amazon rating is only 4 stars on 63 reviews. But many of the 4-star reviewers were enthusiastic in their comments — it may be that they felt shy about rating it higher because, as one of them said, “it is hard to love a broom [so] unless it pushed itself I could not give it 5 stars.”

— Roger Knights

Libman 24″ Multi-Surface Heavy Duty Push Broom ($27)

Available from Amazon



The Blue Songbird: A Tenderhearted and Lyrical Parable About Finding Your Voice and Coming Home to Yourself

A lovely Japanese-inspired meditation on what makes us who we are.

The Blue Songbird: A Tenderhearted and Lyrical Parable About Finding Your Voice and Coming Home to Yourself

“This is the entire essence of life: Who are you? What are you?” young Tolstoy wrote in his diary. A generation later on the other side of the Atlantic, pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell wrote in hers as she contemplated the art of knowing what to do with one’s life: “To know what one ought to do is certainly the hardest thing in life. ‘Doing’ is comparatively easy.”

How we arrive at that secret and sacred knowledge is what Brooklyn-based artist Vern Kousky explores in The Blue Songbird (public library) — a lyrical and tenderhearted parable about finding one’s voice and coming home to oneself. With its soft watercolors and mellifluous prose composed of simple words, Kousky’s story emanates a Japanese aesthetic of thought and vision, where great truths are surfaced with great gentleness and simplicity.

We meet a a young blue songbird on a golden island, who listens to her sisters’ beautiful songs each morning. Unable to sing like they sing, she anguishes that there seem to be no songs for her in the world.

Her wise and loving mother counsels the blue songbird to “go and find a special song” that she alone can sing.

As though animated by Nietzsche’s proclamation that “no one can build you the bridge on which you, and only you, must cross the river of life,” the blue songbird sets out to cross land and sea in search of her singular song.

After tireless and courageous flight, she reaches a faraway land where she meets a long-necked crane and asks him whether he might know what song she should sing.

The crane, bereft of an answer, points her to the distant mountains perched at the horizon, home to “the wisest bird,” who might know.

She soars over the peaks and finds the wise old bird in the depths of a dark forest. But the owl hoots unknowing, and the blue songbird flies forth on her quest.

Across varied landscapes and foreign lands, the young seeker inquires all she meets whether they might know where her song resides, but no one has the answer.

Kousky writes:

One wintry day, she met a bird who looked a little bit mean and more than a little bit hungry. Even so the songbird bravely chirped:

“Please don’t eat me, Mr. Scary Bird. I just wondered if you’ve ever heard of a very special thing — a song that only I can sing.”

The scary-looking stranger, who turns out to be a kindly crow, finally offers the glimmer of an answer — he doesn’t have her song, but knows where she will find it: She must fly West as far as she can.

And so she does, across the sea, past lighthouses and storm clouds, against mighty winds, until she sees the warm glow of an island “like a jewel on the horizon,” beautiful music flowing from it.

Elated to have made it to her destination, the blue songbird feels a surge of new strength that carries her faster and faster toward the yellow land. But as she swoops down, she realizes that she has returned home.

Just as disappointment is swelling in her chest, she sees her mother and is overcome with the urge to tell her of the crane, and the owl, and the crow, and all the stories of her journey.

But as she opens her beak, what pours out is a song — a song of her very own, about what she had seen and experienced — a testament to Werner Herzog’s conviction that all original art “must have experience of life at its foundation.”

Complement The Blue Songbird with a Pulitzer-winning poet on the trouble with “finding yourself” and an astrophysicist’s enchanting real-life story about the Möbius strips that lead us back to ourselves, then revisit The Fox and the Star — a very different yet kindred-spirited illustrated fable of self-discovery and belonging.

Illustrations © Vern Kousky courtesy of Running Press Kids

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pukka: Word of the day for August 2, 2017

pukka , adj :
(originally South Asia) Genuine or authentic; hence of behaviour: correct, socially acceptable or proper.
Superior or of high quality; first-class.
(Britain, slang) Excellent, fantastic, great.
The Government of India Act 1858 (21 & 22 Victoria, chapter 106) received royal assent on this day in 1858, ushering in the period of British rule in India known as the British Raj. Please subscribe to me here on Youtube!


Momentum Atlas 38

I checked for watch reviews on Cool Tools, and most of the ones I found are of either very simple and cheap or bulky and complex ones. There were no nice but simple watches. So, this review.

The Atlas 38 Wristwatch by Momentum.

– It is quartz analog.

– The 38 refers to the case diameter in mm., not including the lugs. It is approximately the size of your dad’s Timex. It is not oversized, as is the current (or fading?) trend.

– It is not thick. It is just under 10 mm thick, so it will slip easily under shirt cuffs.

– The case is warm gray, matte-finished titanium.

– The face is a bold, readable, simple “field watch” style, similar to a few models from Hamilton and Casio. No dive bezel, no split-lap dials, etc.

– The face is available in black with white numbers, olive green with white numbers, or white with black numbers. In all cases, the white areas are coated with “lume,” so they glow in the dark (pale green, though in ordinary light they look pure white.) Supposedly the white face one is particularly bright.

– The bands are available in leather, rubber, nylon fabric (in a variety of colors) and titanium links for somewhat more money.

– The crystal is available in sapphire for $40. It is slightly domed, for those who pay attention to those things.

– It has a date window at 3:00.

– The crown is screw-down, for added durability and water resistance. – And it is water-resistant to 100 meters

– (Momentum, formerly called St. Moritz, is a Canadian company known for high quality watches at reasonable prices. They are not well known because they aren’t carried by many retail outlets.) I have the black face model with sapphire crystal and rubber strap.

The good:

– The watch has a striking yet functional, restrained look, simultaneously traditional and modern, that works (in my opinion) for both formal and casual occasions. It looks serious but not ridiculously macho. I have received many compliments on it.

– It is easy to wear. The titanium case makes it lightweight, so that often I forget I am wearing it.

– It is readable at a glance, even without my glasses, even from an angle. It is much easier to read than any digital watch.

– It is the cheapest titanium/sapphire watch I have found, $175 list with the sapphire crystal.

– The sapphire crystal is basically scratchproof. I have had mine for six years, and the crystal looks brand new.

– The titanium case develops a burnish on the high spots, and perhaps a scratch here and there. On the medium gray metal, both add character (in my opinion).

– It is obviously not a cheap plastic watch, but neither is it ostentatiously expensive.

– The rubber strap is (to me) the most comfortable. It is light and flexible. There are no sharp corners or edges, unlike a metal band. It doesn’t absorb water like fabric, and it doesn’t eventually disintegrate or discolor like leather.

– Battery life is very good. Mine lasted six years. (The watchsmith remarked on the quality of the movement, but I don’t know what he was referring to.)

– It is quite durable. I have dropped it, banged it against things, worn it while using a sander and hammer drill, etc. and it keeps doing its job.

The bad:

– The rubber strap will eventually crack or tear slightly around the hole that you use most. A new strap is available for around $20, or you can get a Zulu or NATO strap for the full military look.

– It costs more than a $10 watch.

– It doesn’t give you the temperature, air pressure, compass direction, tide level, moon phase or any other information. Just the time and the date. I don’t miss those other things.

Conclusion: The Atlas is a simple, durable, easy to use, easy to wear, long-lasting, high-quality watch that looks serious, functional, and maybe even “masculine” without being ridiculous or ostentatious. Your significant other will not be embarrassed about it in any situation.

Alternatives: If people are interested, Momentum makes a number of alternatives worth mentioning.

Steelix ($99) – Cheaper but with a steel case, and (to me) a slightly less refined look

Atlas 32 ($135) – Smaller (the case is 32 mm wide.)

Cobalt ($235) – large, 48 mm case, black ion-plated titanium and a slightly different face for more money

Flatline ($185) – steel, with smaller numbers

Pathfinder III ($225) – smaller numbers, but analog alarm and a separate seconds dial.

Vortech ($285) – Big, GMT hand, plus an extra-loud alarm. (This is the one I lust after, though it might be too big for me. It looks like something a Swiss astronaut in 1970 would wear. Sqeeee!)

(They also make dive watches if you want to pretend to be a diver.)

— Karl Chwe

Momentum Men’s 1M-SP00B1 Atlas Titanium Watch with Black Band ($135)

Available from Amazon



Into the Chute of Time: Annie Dillard on the Stunning Otherworldliness of a Total Solar Eclipse

“What you see in a total eclipse is entirely different from what you know.”

Into the Chute of Time: Annie Dillard on the Stunning Otherworldliness of a Total Solar Eclipse

“A writer is someone who pays attention to the world — a writer is a professional observer,” Susan Sontag wrote in contemplating the project of literature. Often, the measure of a writer is the attentiveness with which they observe the subtlest dimensions of existence, those realms of experience imperceptible to the eye. Sometimes, it is the subtlety and nuance with which they capture the human dimensions of the most dramatic observable phenomena, the ones that arrest the eye and overwhelm the ordinary mind into a stunned silence.

A century after pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell penned her enchanting and rhetorically ingenious account of the Great Eclipse of the nineteenth century, Annie Dillard — another enchantress of observation, a supremely poetic observer of phenomenology inner and outer — captured the otherworldly experience of a total solar eclipse in a stunning essay originally published in her 1982 book Teaching a Stone to Talk, then included in her indispensable recent collection The Abundance: Narrative Essays Old and New (public library | IndieBound).

Diagram of a solar eclipse from a 13th-century illuminated manuscript. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

Dillard frames the inescapable cosmic drama of this divinely disorienting experience:

What you see in a total eclipse is entirely different from what you know. It is especially different for those of us whose grasp of astronomy is so frail that, given a flashlight, a grapefruit, two oranges, and fifteen years, we still could not figure out which way to set the clocks for daylight saving time. Usually it is a bit of a trick to keep your knowledge from blinding you. But during an eclipse it is easy. What you see is much more convincing than any wild-eyed theory you may know.

Recounting her own experience of viewing the total solar eclipse of March 26, 1979, she paints the eerie landscape of sight and sense:

The sky’s blue was deepening, but there was no darkness. The sun was a wide crescent, like a segment of tangerine. The wind freshened and blew steadily over the hill. The eastern hill across the highway grew dusky and sharp. The towns and orchards in the valley to the south were dissolving into the blue light. Only the thin band of river held a spot of sun.

Now the sky to the west deepened to indigo, a color never seen. A dark sky usually loses color. This was saturated, deep indigo, up in the air.

19th-century diagram of an eclipse. Artist unknown.

With an awed and terrified eye to what Maria Mitchell called “the un-sunlike sun,” Dillard shudders at the incomprehensible strangeness of it all:

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were now platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth. The hues were metallic; their finish was matte. The hillside was a nineteenth-century tinted photograph from which the tints had faded. All the people you see in the photograph, distinct and detailed as their faces look, are now dead. The sky was navy blue. My hands were silver. All the distant hills’ grasses were fine-spun metal which the wind laid down. I was watching a faded color print of a movie filmed in the Middle Ages; I was standing in it, by some mistake. I was standing in a movie of hillside grasses filmed in the Middle Ages. I missed my own century, the people I knew, and the real light of day.


Gary was light-years away, gesturing inside a circle of darkness, down the wrong end of the telescope. He smiled as if he saw me; the stringy crinkles around his eyes moved. The sight of him, familiar and wrong, was something I was remembering from centuries hence, from the other side of death: Yes, that is the way he used to look, when we were living. When it was our generation’s turn to be alive. I could not hear him; the wind was too loud. Behind him the sun was going. We had all started down a chute of time.

Total eclipse of the sun, observed July 29, 1878, at Creston, Wyoming Territory
One of Étienne Léopold Trouvelot’s groundbreaking astronomical drawings

All of nature, it seemed, partook in the strangeness with the same alarmed awe:

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching, a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That’s when the screams began. All at once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed.

Abruptly it was dark night, on the land and in the sky. In the night sky was a tiny ring of light. For the hole where the sun belongs is very small. Just a thin ring of light marked its place. There was no sound. The eyes dried, the arteries drained, the lungs hushed. There was no world… Our minds were light-years distant, forgetful of almost everything Only an extraordinary act of will could recall to us our former, living selves and our contexts in matter and time. We had, it seems, loved the planet and loved our lives, but could no longer remember the way of them. The light was wrong. In the sky was something that should not be there. In the black sky was a ring of light. It was a thin ring, an old, thin silver wedding band, an old, worn ring. It was an old wedding band in the sky, or a morsel of bone. There were stars. It was over.

“Vignette pour L’éclipse, sonnet d’Auguste Vacquerie” by Félix Bracquemond, 1869. The New York Public Library Digital Collections.

In a passage that embodies what biologist and trailblazing environmentalist Rachel Carson called “one of those experiences that gives an odd and hard-to-describe feeling, with so many overtones beyond the facts themselves,” Dillard writes:

I saw a circular piece of that sky appear, suddenly detached, blackened, and backlighted; from nowhere it came and overlapped the sun. It did not look like the moon. It was enormous and black. If I had not read that it was the moon, I could have seen the sight a hundred times and never once thought of the moon. (If, however, I had not read that it was the moon — if, like most of the world’s people throughout time, I had simply glanced up and seen this thing — then doubtless I would not have speculated much but, like Emperor Louis of Bavaria in 840, simply died of fright on the spot.) It did not look like a dragon, although it looked more like a dragon than the moon. It looked like a lens cover, or the lid of a pot. It materialized out of thin air — black, and flat, and sliding, outlined in flame.

Seeing this black body was like seeing a mushroom cloud. The meaning of the sight overwhelmed its fascination. It obliterated meaning itself… For what is significance? It is significance for people. No people; no significance. This is all I have to tell you.

In the deeps are the violence and terror of which psychology has warned us. But if you ride these monsters deeper down, if you drop with them farther over the world’s rim, you find what our sciences cannot locate or name, the substrate, the ocean or matrix or ether that buoys the rest, that gives goodness its power for good, and evil its power for evil, the unified field: our complex and inexplicable caring for each other, and for our life together here.

Indeed, the most powerful aspect of the experience is the way it unfirms the mind’s grip on meaning, on humanness, on reality itself — an eclipse, after all, is a visceral reminder of the vast cosmic scale of space and time, on which our own existence is but a speck, a blink, an ephemerality drunk on the self-defeating dream of permanence.

Dillard writes:

The mind wants to live forever, or to learn a very good reason why not. The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, even God. The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs over easy. The dear, stupid body is as easily satisfied as a spaniel. And, incredibly, the simple spaniel can lure the brawling mind to its dish. It is everlastingly funny that the proud, metaphysically ambitious, clamoring mind will hush if you give it an egg.

Further: While the mind reels in deep space, while the mind grieves or fears or exults, the workaday senses — in ignorance or idiocy, like so many computer terminals printing our market prices while the world blows up — still transcribe their little data and transmit them to the warehouse in the skull. Later, under the tranquilizing influence of fried eggs, the mind can sort through all of these data.

Of course, the very point is that the mind takes in something much greater than the sum total of data in the terror and transcendence of this cosmic spectacle. Even so, Dillard observes with a kind of nihilistic buoyancy, we calibrate to everything — our triumphant resilience to the most sundering tragedies and our tragic habituation to the most joyful stimuli stem from the same root. Joy and sorrow are equally transient. Even transcendence is transient. She writes:

We were born and bored at a stroke… Enough is enough. One turns at last even from glory itself with a sigh of relief. From the depths of mystery, and even from the heights of splendor, we bounce back and hurry for the latitudes of home.

Every single essay in The Abundance, which was among my 16 favorite books of 2016, packs such a cosmic punch of truth and beauty. Complement it with Dillard on the two ways of seeing, choosing presence over productivity, and reclaiming our capacity for joy and wonder, then revisit Maria Mitchell’s timeless tips on how to view a total solar eclipse.

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Kooba/Menu reader/Workshop tip

Getting good stuff on craigslist:
This brief, succinct blog post has great advice on how to find what you want (at least with used furniture) on Craigslist. For instance, don’t forget to search for common misspellings of your target. These tips match my experience in buying used tools on Craigslist. —  KK

Better book finder:
Kooba is a fun option for finding the next book on your reading list. Just type in a title you like and you’ll get an interactive graph of suggestions. You can keep adding book, remove any you don’t want or start clicking to create a deeper web of recommendations. — CD

Menu reader:
This $8 magnifier is the size of a credit card, and as thick as a stack of six quarters. The lens is 1.75″ square and there’s a smaller round lens in the corner. A button on the side turns on a bright LED. I’ve taken to carrying it in my pocket. It comes in especially handy for reading menus in dark restaurants. — MF

Workshop tip:
When mixing epoxies, resins, goops, paints, glues, I always need to dispose of the gunked up mixing container afterwards. I try to hoard used take-out containers and paper cups yet run out. By far the best solution is to use flexible silicone mixing bowls. Nothing sticks. Turn them inside out to clean, and use again and again. They come in all sizes. You need only one each size. Since I mostly use small amounts of epoxy, I use the smallest silicone cup I could find, Norpro Mini Pinch Cups. — KK

Become a mind reader:
A good practice in empathy I like is copying someone’s body language to get a glimpse of what they’re feeling. Sometimes taking notice is enough, but if you mimic a person’s posture or positioning you might be able to understand them better. — CD

DIY Cleaner Spray:
We’ve been making our own cleaner spray for years. It’s mainly water with rubbing alcohol, vinegar, and corn starch. It cuts right through grease, smells much better than commercial cleaners, and costs less than 50 cents a gallon. The recipe is called the “Alvin Corn Homemade Glass Cleaner” and is posted here. — MF

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— Kevin Kelly, Mark Frauenfelder, Claudia Dawson



Tweezerman hangnail clippers

Hangnails bother me so much that when I get one, I can’t think of anything else until I get rid of it. I will even bite it off if I am without clippers (this doesn’t work well and usually results in blood being drawn). The Tweezerman Power Hangnail Clipper is the ultimate hangnail clipper. It removes hangnails down to the nub without going too deep into the skin. They are sharp and easy to control.

— Mark Frauenfelder

Tweezerman Power Hangnail Clipper ($8)

Available from Amazon



Sir Thomas Browne on the Divine Heartbreak of Romantic Friendship

“United souls are not satisfied with embraces, but desire to be truly each other.”

Sir Thomas Browne on the Divine Heartbreak of Romantic Friendship

Navigating the various types of platonic relationships can be challenging enough. But few things are more existentially disorienting than trying to moor oneself within a relationship that floats back and forth across the porous boundary between the platonic and the erotic — one rooted in a deep friendship but magnetized with undeniable romantic intensity, like the relationships between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann in the nineteenth century and Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman in the twentieth.

But as beautiful and vitalizing as such more-than-friendships can be, they tend to be inevitably dampened by an undercurrent of disappointment, a quiet undulating heartache that comes from the disconnect between the enormity one or both persons long for and the lesser-than reality permitted by the other person’s nature or the circumstances of one or both of their lives.

Four centuries ago, the English polymath Sir Thomas Browne (October 19, 1605–October 19, 1682) captured the divine heartbreak of romantic friendship with enduring insight in a passage from his first literary work, Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician) (public library), penned the year of his thirtieth birthday.

Sir Thomas Browne by Jane Carlile

Browne, whose enchanting and lyrical writing inspired many of the Romantics, celebrates romantic friendship as a love that, in transcending regular friendship, approaches the divine:

I hope I do not break the fifth commandment, if I conceive I may love my friend before the nearest of my blood, even those to whom I owe the principles of life. I never yet cast a true affection on a woman; but I have loved my friend as I do virtue, my soul, my God. From hence, methinks, I do conceive how God loves man.

He then presents a taxonomy of the “three most mystical unions”:

1. two natures in one person; 2. three persons in one nature; 3. one soul in two bodies. For though indeed they be really divided, yet are they so united, as they seem but one, and make rather a duality in two distinct souls.

There are wonders in true affection; it is a body of enigmas, mysteries, and riddles, wherein two so become one, as they both become two.

But Browne’s most poignant insight deals with the paradoxical nature of such intense connections. When we seek for another to be our everything, he suggests, we doom ourselves to continual despair and disappointment, because the most anyone can ever give us is still less-than-everything, which to the heart that longs for everything — for a complete merging of natures — feels like a sorrowing incompleteness next to nothing. He writes:

I love my friend before myself, and yet methinks I do not love him enough: some few months hence my multiplied affection will make me believe I have not loved him at all. When I am [apart] from him, I am dead till I be with him; when I am with him, I am not satisfied but would still be nearer him. United souls are not satisfied with embraces, but desire to be truly each other; which being impossible, their desires are infinite, and must proceed without a possibility of satisfaction.

And yet the redemption of this perennial dissatisfaction, Browne argues, is that by so intensely throwing ourselves into a love that can never be fully requited, we master the difficult art of unselfish love — a love we can then direct at anyone, free of expectation of return, perhaps more akin to the Ancient Greek notion of agape, which inspired Dr. King’s “experiment in love.” Browne puts it simply:

He that can love his friend with this noble ardor will, in a competent degree, affect all.

Complement with Van Gogh on unrequited love as fuel for creative work and David Whyte on reclaiming heartbreak, then revisit the stunning epistolary record of Kahlil Gibran’s rich and nuanced relationship with Mary Haskell.

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Ortlieb Dry Bags

[This is a Cool Tools Favorite from 2003 – MF]

The German company Ortlieb produce a range of waterproof items. These are excellent for use while trekking, motorcycling, bicycling, caving, canoeing, etc. I usually put clothing and sleeping bags in Ortlieb dry bags inside my rucksack. I am guaranteed that stuff will keep dry, and it makes it easier to organize the backpack.

I also have a larger Ortlieb bag which I use when I go on motorcycling trips. Useful stuff, and excellent quality/durability. They produce a range of items.

— Helge A. Gudmundsen

Ortlieb Dry Bags ($18 and up)

Available from Amazon



Pelican Progear Keychain Flashlight

There are quite a few key chain flashlight reviews on this site. And before I added another, I wanted to make sure I put this one to the test (although I wanted to put up a review of it the moment I saw it online as it has everything I’m looking for in my everyday carry flashlight). And, after a year of use, I feel even stronger about my recommendation for this light.

Here’s why:

– It fits on my key chain (a small, symmetrical tube). It can easily disconnect from the rest of my key chain, but not so easily that it falls off. The flashlight is connected to a split ring, and the split ring connects to a sturdy clip.It has just the right amount of play so it moves easily but doesn’t get in the way.

– It hasn’t tuned on unexpectedly. With some other key chain flashlights, the “on” switch gets activated accidently, and the battery runs out while illuminating the inside of your pocket. For this one, you twist the cap and the body closed to turn the flashlight on. I was a bit worried about the cap and the body separating. But, evidently, so was the designer. There are a LONG set of threads inside the barrel, and you really have to give it quite a few turns to separate them.

– There is only one mode. It’s on or it’s off. No low. No blink. Which is exactly the sort of “no fiddling” I want when I suddenly find myself in the dark, and am trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

– It’s small, light and durable. I’d forget about it, if it wasn’t so useful.

– It’s bright and has a good angle. For it’s size, it puts out a nice amount of light, and a not too wide or too narrow of a beam.

– The battery has lasted a long time. Been using it for most of a year, and the batteries are as good as the day I got it. (It did dim a few months ago but I took the batteries out and put them back in again, and good as new.)

– It comes in black. And the powder coating wears off in the most satisfying way. I like to think it looks like a prop out of a sci-fi movie now.

– It’s made by Pelican Case, who seem to know a thing or two about making durable, usable products.

– At around $10, it’s the right price for a piece of gear that my life could depend on, but if I happen to lose, they crying will be over the loss of a trusty piece of kit, not the loss of a small fortune. And believe me, this is something that I will replace with the same item immediately if it’s ever lost.

— Mark Krawczuk

Pelican Progear 1810C LED Keychain Flashlight ($10)

Available from Amazon