Kevin Kelly is a cool guy. That’s an understatement.
Back in the dawn of cool, he traveled across much of Asia as an indie photojournalist, returned home to the U.S. and went on a 5,000-mile bike ride, and then launched all sorts of collaborative projects before that was a thing. Kelly was editor/publisher for Whole Earth Review, a groundbreaking database of tutorials, hacks, and open-ended ideas. Twenty years ago, he co-founded Wired, where he’s now Senior Maverick. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, authored What Technology Wants (which envisions technology as a natural system), and was one of the futurists Steven Spielberg consulted for the film Minority Report.
I could go on with his cool cred, but let’s focus on a specific project of his: Cool Tools: A Catalog of Possibilities. This giant book shares user-generated reviews of gadgets, hardware, materials, videos, podcasts, books, maps, and other goodies out there identified as the best, the cheapest, or the only gizmos available to do the job. These reviews are curated from the last decade of content from the Cool Tools site, which is itself an online where-did-the-time-go vacuum. The book’s 1,500-plus mini-reviews are accompanied by QR codes for everything from the best baby bib to the best satellite phone. Just flipping through the book’s outlandishly comprehensive sections is an experience. It’s fascinating to see how much is out there enabling us to make things, figure out things, and do things better. Here’s a tiny sample:
- Sage is an open-source mathematics software system for numerical and symbolic math, graphs, statistics, and much more. It’s a free alternative to commercial systems for scientists, mathematicians, engineers, business folks, hobbyists, and anyone else who uses math.
- The Geek Atlas: 128 Places Where Science and Technology Come Alive recommends offbeat science-y destinations. These include tours of working systems such as a dam turbine, a solar furnace, a nuclear power plant, and the Golden Ball in Taipei—a skyscraper with a 660-ton pendulum to prevent the building from swaying in severe weather.
- The Wirecutter offers meta-reviews of the best technology products from electronics to car gear to outdoor necessities. The Sweethome is a companion site for kitchen, nursery, garden, home office, and other around-the-home products.
- Work Your Way Around the World is a massively researched guide that covers paperwork, visas, and deets shared by people who are doing what you dream of doing.
- Specialty Bottle is your source for all sorts of containers including glass jars, tins, and corked bottles at extremely low prices. Added bonus—they maintain an enticing Pinterest page with DIY projects using their containers.
- Lexel Caulk is more than caulk. It sticks nearly anything to anything else and dries clear as glass.
- Stream Machine water cannon can slurp up water from a pool or lake in seconds and shoot it from 30 to 70 feet. Buy it to clean your boat or pool deck; you know you’ll use it for water fights.
- Keen sandals are perfect for travel as well as everyday wear, with great grip for an active lifestyle. They are made of leather and textile with rubber soles, microbe shield lining, and quick-dry technology.
- The Science of Good Cooking is from America’s Test Kitchen. There are other books about the science behind cooking, but this book distills them into 50 easy-to-apply principles, each illustrated by recipes. Every principle is tested by the geeky chefs of Cook’s Illustrated, making this a necessary handbook to guide every kitchen adventure.
- Carson Lighted MagniGrip are LED-lit fine point tweezers with 4.5x magnification, handy for hobbies, splinter removal, and other precision tasks.
Laura Grace Weldon is the author of a poetry collection titled Tending as well as Free Range Learning, a handbook of natural learning. She lives on a small farm with her family where she's working on her new project, Subversive Cooking.com. and blogging optimistically.