Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

[Review] Cool Tools

I am just old enough to have grown up with the Whole Earth Review/Co-Evolution Quarterly, although many of the copies I was rooting through at the libraries were already a few years old. Nonetheless, these tomes were deeply formative. I am fairly sure that is how I discovered Lloyd Kahn, Eric Sloan, and Zome tools.

This type of writing is sorely missing in today's tech-obsessed publishing world. Even hand-tool woodworkers are constantly clamoring over the newest redesign of an old standard rather than simply delving deep and discovering what in themselves can be improved or optimized.

The Whole Earth Review spirit, on the other hand, would often look backwards towards simpler tools and techniques while judiciously admitting newer innovations as well. A type of responsible futurism, perhaps it could be called. Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, Jay Baldwin, and others helped shape the ecotopian visions of a bright green future in the 1970s, and we need that type of vision now more than ever.

Kevin Kelly has kept the spirit alive in his Cool Tools weblog. It is essentially reviews, but they are not as worshippy as other tech/tool sites. They tend to be sober, dry, and straightforward. You will find that  there is a strong element of "good enough" rather than an obsession for the best. It is not uncommon to see reviews stating something like "don't get the premium one, the basic model is just fine and 1/3 the price".

I've subscribed to the Cool Tools newsletter since the beginning. In fact, it used to be called Recommendo. My desires for more and more "cool tools" have continued to fade, but I still scan it, looking for those lifetime quality tools and novel ways of handling problems like carrying plywood alone, cleaning up drywall dust, hacking open products sealed with special "security" bolts, etc.

It was pleasing to see, recently, that Cool Tools has been released in a large book format. Like the original Whole Earth Catalog, it needs to be seen in person to appreciate. It is like sitting with the old Sunday funnies, slowly poring over the colorful illustrations and finding surprises on every page.

It is mentioned here because there is a woodworking section, and several related tools throughout. Full disclaimer - I do have a review published in it and so received a contributor's copy, but I would have certainly purchased it for full price.

The book is also a terrific example of self-publishing. Kelly knew traditional publishing venues would not allow him the type of control he wanted, and so he skipped right over them, using freelancers as needed. He has a writeup on the process at his blog.

As consumerism continues to bother me more than ever, I felt some reluctance to even mention this grown-ups toy catalog. However, after sharing it with some equally cynical (ok, almost) family members who expressed pure delight, I figured I should share it with my public.