Cool Tools

Kevin Kelly coined the term Cool Tools broadly to mean anything that can be useful. This includes hand tools, machines, books, software, gadgets, websites, maps, and even ideas.(1)The Cool Tools website is a more modern and digital version of the Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog might have the best motto ever — Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish which Steve Jobs quote in his famous Stanford Commencement Address. Here is my list of technology and non-technology tools and hacks that can make your life better.

Technology Tools

  • A couple of versions ago, iOS added a Trackpad mode that lets you more easily move the cursor around a text field
  • Fakespot lets you understand whether an Amazon product is packed with fake reviews. It’s great for understanding which “5 Star” Chinese startups are really making quality products
  • This app lets you set the colors on the top of a couple of NYC skyscrapers. Talk about mixed reality!
  • My Fitbit Alta HR is an awesome alarm clock. It’s nice to be woken up by a vibration rather than a sound and it’s personal so I can get up without waking up Abigail. Also, it automatically tracks if I wake up in the middle of the night (somewhat useful) and tracks different sleep modes (unclear how useful this is). Either way, there’s some pretty cool graphs of my sleep pattern
  • For ages, I’ve been trying to figure out how to effectively archive my computer using iCloud. I finally figured it out. I create a folder called “Backups” in my iCloud drive on my PC. Then I create another folder inside the Backups folder to organize my files. Once the files are copied to iCloud, I can click on “Remove Download.” This removes the file from my computer but keeps it on the cloud.
  • I used to use Speedtest.net to see how “good” my internet connection was. But with Zoom, I need to focus more on latency and packet loss so I’ve been using this Packet Loss Test. (Added 9/2020)
  • Google Books lets you search for specific phrases within a book. I found this very helpful when trying to pinpoint an idea that was “somewhere in this book.” (Added 11/2020)
  • Your iPhone has a universal sleep timer. While apps like Audible include their own sleep timers, you can set a sleep timer for anything: YouTube, Netflix, Music, etc. Just go to “Clock,” set a timer, and instead of playing a sound, click “Stop Playing.” I found this especially useful when I tell my kids they can only watch 5 minutes of Jimmy Kimmel at breakfast. (Added 12/2020)
  • I used the job search CRM JibberJobber last year. It’s a simple tool that helped me manage, companies, jobs, notes, and follow-ups. They also did a great job with onboarding emails.

Non-Technology Tools

Tools for Life Hacking (From 2016)

  • Memory Hacking. It’s not as hard to build up a great memory as you would think. For a narrative of how a reporter became the US Memory Champion, read Moonwalking with Einstein. If you want to go deeper into memory building, check out The Memory Book by Harry Lorayne.
  • Mood Hacking. At my kids’ school, they are taught Emotional Intelligence skills using RULER, an Emotional Intelligence program from Yale. We never had this education when I was a kid so I was excited when the creator of RULER wrote a book on the topic. They also have a Mood Meter app where you can track your emotions. I found it helpful to track my emotions throughout the day. I found it mind blowing to use the app to understand how my kids are feeling.
  • Priority Hacking. Marshall Goldsmith’s key insight from Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts is that we react to our environment far more than we’d like to admit. He found it beneficial to plant reminders each day to keep us on track. I’ve been using Way of Life to remind me of the things I need to focus on and what I want to be better at.
  • Rain Hacking. Dark Sky is a “Hyperlocal” weather app. It basically tells you if it will be raining in your exact location within the next hour. It’s most useful in the middle of a rainstorm when you don’t have an umbrella. The app can tell you “Is it worth it to make a run for it or wait 5 minutes?”
  • Reality Hacking. While I enjoy daily meditation to calm my mind, it’s amazing when you mix meditation and the real world. Just walking down the street doing this Walking Meditation you can see the world in a whole new way. I listen to the audiobook of On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz and focus on various different perspectives of the world from different experts. And there’s nothing as tasty as eating a ShackBurger from Shake Shack while doing the eating meditation from Headspace.
  • Tools for Life Hacking. Cool Tools is a great site to learn about new and useful tools. I wrote a review of the OXO Sink Strainer a few years ago that became one of their top sellers of the year.

Tools For Meditation (From 2016)

Life Hacking (Meditation). By far the best way to hack your life is through meditation. Over the last few years I’ve found Meditation and Mindfulness as one of the keys to maintaining stability and happiness:

  • Headspace. The is my favorite and I use it everyday. The Silicon Valley version of meditation. Overall it does a great job of providing slightly different meditations that all structure around the same techniques. You can try it for 10 days to get a good feeling of how it all works.
  • Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation — The first 12 or so lectures on Mindfulness from the Great Courses is the best introduction to mindfulness that I’ve seen. After lecture 12 it gets a bit too Zen for me. Get it for to get for $15 with an Audible membership.
  • Stop, Breathe &Think is a nice little app that has a number of different meditations (like Headspace) and also does some good “Mood Check ins” to suggest medications. I tend to use it when I want a quick meditation on a specific topic like gratitude or a quick walking meditation but not something I use everyday.
  • AM Yoga by Rodney Yee is a great Yoga series for waking up. It’s the most effective way of transitioning from sleep to the day.
  • On Looking by Alexandra Horowitz is a wonderful escape into mindfulness — especially if you listen to it on Audiobook while walking around a city. When the author talks about signage or how a blind person walks down the street it’s quite a surreal experience to focus on those specific items.
  • Meditation Oasis. This company has a number of very interesting apps. My favorite ones are Walking Meditation and Sleep Meditation.
  • One Moment Meditation. It’s a bit silly and corny but the overall point is helpful. Meditate for a minute in the middle of the day and you’ll feel better. And there’s helpfully a free app called OMM that helps you do it.
  • The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep. Bedtime meditation for children. I have this on audiobook and the kids listen to it each night.

Footnotes

1 The Cool Tools website is a more modern and digital version of the Whole Earth Catalog. The Whole Earth Catalog might have the best motto ever — Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish which Steve Jobs quote in his famous Stanford Commencement Address.