My Favorite Things

A week or two before Thanksgiving I always end up getting the same email from family and friends — “what do you want for Christmas this year?” To which I generally reply with “I don’t know, I’ll try to come up with a list for you.”

I’m a terrible procrastinator and my girlfriend typically ends up having to give everyone suggestions on what gifts I would like each year — which I really appreciate. But this year, and every year before it, I go into the holidays determined to come up with a list of stuff I want. And, I always end up unsuccessful in my list making endeavor. Each year there’s less and less stuff I actually want. Especially since I’ve been so particular about the things I’ve wanted for so long that I can’t even ask for upgrades to things I already have, because I still have the one I want.

So I’ve decided to compile a list of the things I own and love, intermixed with a few things I want or always want more of, in hopes of helping someone out there get their family off their back or help someone get an idea of what to purchase for the geek in their life.

Electronics

Jawbone Jambox: I received one for my birthday this year and I use it even more often than I thought I would. I’ve tinkered around with various speakers for my iPhone and this is by far the best. The long battery life and the ability to use it wirelessly are among it’s best features. But, I also love the charming voice it uses to tell me it’s in “pairing mode” or what the current battery charge is.

Apple TV: I’ve been using the Apple TV since the first generation and it’s been the core of my media setup (which I will continue to write about soon) for just as long. An AirPlay receiver, a Netflix streamer, a YouTube viewer, and more content providers added often enough to say so. It really is the most elegant internet-connected media device I’ve ever had the opportunity to use. I’ve been pounding the Apple TV drum for years and don’t see any signs of stopping. It’s my favorite thing in the living room.

iTunes Gift Cards: If you’re not using an Apple device by now you’re probably doing something wrong. And, what better way to make use of that Apple device than by purchasing apps or media for it. Everyone can always use an iTunes Gift Card.

Twelve South Compass: I’ve had the Compass for years and it’s my favorite iPad stand. I’m sure other, more “hip” stands have been released since then, but the Compass is still my go to. It’s compact and has two different heights depending on how you’d like to use it (of which I regularly use both) and comes with a soft case for travel.

Tom Bihn Ristretto: I have the older version of the Ristretto for my 11-inch MacBook Air and I really love it. It’s compact, stylish, and spacious enough to carry all of my gadgets while traveling. The older version I had did have some issues because contents could fall out if the bag was ever turned upside down (even while snapped closed). But, the latest version of the bag prevents that from happening by including a zipper to contain items in the smaller compartment. It’s a little bit more expensive than a lot of other bags but there’s a lot to be said about the quality of the materials used and the good feeling from knowing that your bag was made in the US.

Apple EarPods: I know they aren’t cool-guy headphones that audiophiles want, but they fit my ears well and sound good enough to me. I really enjoy having the in-line controls and microphone and mine have even lived through a few trips in the washer and drier without skipping a beat. I keep my iPhones for two years before I get a new one but always have to replace the headphones after about one year of use. So, they usually end up on my wish list at some point during the year.

Apple Lightning Cables: I have dozens of iPad and iPhone chargers laying around the house but I only have two Lightning cables (the one that came with my iPhone 5s and the one that came with my girlfriend’s). The iPhone 5s’ battery life is incredibly good but I do find myself at times wishing I had a charger nearby that could actually charge my current iPhone, which usually results in heading into the bedroom to take the cable from the charger next to my bed. Which I later have to search for when I head to bed because I forgot where I left it. Having a few extra Lightning Cables in the house would come in handy.

Logitech Harmony One: I can’t imagine running my home theater setup without a universal remote. And, that’s a considerable statement coming from someone who typically watches all of his media with an Apple TV. But, a universal remote makes everything so much easier. Having to switch inputs on both an audio receiver and the television whenever you use a different device is just far too much fiddling around. Especially if I want the ability to hand a houseguest the remote and trust that they’ll be able to figure things out without the need to ask a bunch of questions. And, the Logitech Harmony line of remotes is by far the best universal remotes available. The Harmony One is the model I have but Logitech also makes other, cheaper models if you interested in going that route.

Apple Time Capsule: Let’s face it, backing up is important and no one does it. The Time Capsule makes it easy. Just turn on Time Machine and stop thinking about it. In the past there has been some question about the reliability of Time Capsules but I’ve had mine for years and never had a problem accessing a backup.

Kitchen and Home

Chicago Cutlery Knives: Everyone needs a good set of knives and my recommendation is Chicago Cutlery. Their relatively inexpensive, durable, well balanced, and sharp. There’s nothing like dicing an onion with a Chicago Cutlery knife. I almost always reach for their Santoku — its a great general purpose knife. So, if you’re just going to buy one I’d suggest their 7-inch Ashland Santoku knife.

Kitchen Aid Toaster Oven: It’s no Breville, but I’ve used this toaster oven for two years and it’s my favorite appliance in the kitchen. It’s much quicker at pre-heating than our full-sized oven and helps keep the heat in the kitchen down during the summer months. The reviews on Amazon aren’t overwhelmingly favorable but I’m not quite sure why. In terms of price compared to performance I think this toaster oven is on par or better than the vast majority of it’s competitors. I’m firmly opposed to the use of microwaves in kitchens — I think that they make food rubbery and unevenly cooked. And, the typical extra 15 minutes that it takes to cook is well worth the better tasting food that comes out of it. If I was to suggest one thing to purchase to upgrade your kitchen I would snap-suggest a toaster oven.

Life Factory Water Bottle: I bring a water bottle with me to work everyday and this is the one I use. It does have a bit of a problem where some water will get around the edge of the bottle while traveling with the standard cap. But, Life Factory has released two new caps that should help eliminate that problem. I own one of the flip caps and have been considering one of the straw caps because drinking with a straw is so much better for your teeth when drinking things other than water.

SodaStream: This is the one item in this list that I do not own. But, if you’re a fan of Merlin Mann you know that you should probably own one. Who wouldn’t love home-carbonated water?

Any American Apparel Shirt: I’ve been a fan of American Apparel shirts for several years and they’re wonderful. More specifically their Tri-Blend t-shirts are the most comfortable shirts I’ve ever owned. They’re basically the only kind of shirt I want to wear for the rest of my life. If you’re looking for shirts with nifty designs I regularly feature shirts on Geek Tees that are printed on American Apparel.

Pens: I’ve carried a pen in my pocket every day of my life since I was 14-years-old. It’s a habit I picked up from my father that I continue to this day. I personally have been using the Zebra F-301 in blue for the past few years and have been more than happy with it. The ink refills last about 6-8 months for me and can be found for about $2 online.

Holstee Upcycled Wallet: For the past two and a half years I’ve been using the Upcycled Wallet by Holstee and it’s held up incredibly well (especially considering it’s made out of newspapers and plastic bags). It’s thin and holds exactly what I need — nothing more, nothing less. Which is what I looked for in a wallet. I didn’t want something that was unable to hold everything I needed but also didn’t want something that would encourage me to carry too much junk with me at all times. I wrote about my Holstee wallet on minimal wallet earlier this year and what I said then still holds true: “As long as I’m still able to purchase them, I don’t expect myself to want a different wallet ever again.”

Braun Cruzer Face: I hate shaving, I think most men do. It’s time consuming and the cost of shaving creams, razors, etc. add up over time. So, when I “shave” I typically just trim down to stubble, I think it looks better than clean shaven and takes me quite a bit less time in the morning (you don’t have to go quite so slow when your not running a blade across your face). I’ve used the Braun Cruzer Face as my go to shaver for nearly two years and haven’t found anything I dislike about it.

Board and Card Games

Ticket to Ride: One of my favorite board games. It’s easy to learn and fun to play. It has enough strategic depth to keep hardcore board gamers happy while still being easy enough to allow newcomers to enjoy the game as well. If you’re interested in dipping your toes into euro-style games I suggest starting with Ticket to Ride. And, with several expansions available I’m sure you’ll be playing Ticket to Ride for years to come.

A Good Deck of Cards: There’s nothing more versatile in the world of card and board games than a simple deck of cards. QueensRummy, and Spoons are a few of my favorites but there are countless games to play with a simple deck of cards.

Skip-Bo: This is one of my favorite games this year, and it’s a game that everyone knows how to play. But, did you know there are team rules? Your partner sits across from you and during your turn you can play cards from their discard piles or stack as if they were your cards. The winning team is the first to use all of the cards in both of their starting stacks. It’s incredibly fun and changes a lot of how you play (like deciding to discard a different card then you normally would in order to give your partner more options on their turn). Learning the team rules was really what made me want to start playing this game again, a game that we always had laying around but I was never excited about playing. Now, I want to play it all the time.

Sorry!: Another game that had a lot of life added to it by learning a new variation. Growing up the version of Sorry that we played simply involved flipping over the top card on your turn and doing whatever the card said. But, this past year I learned about playing Sorry with a five card hand and play in teams. Similar to Skip-Bo, playing on a team basically allows you to move your partner’s pawns as well as your own with the winners being the first team to get all of their pawn into each of their color’s home base. Because of the new variation that I learned this year, Sorry was probably my second most played game behind Skip-Bo. I even went out and purchased a Sorry board after midnight on the night I learned how to play the new variation. I didn’t even have any more time to play that night, but I couldn’t wait any longer to have a Sorry board at my house to play whenever I wanted to.

Dutch Blitz: The first time I played Dutch Blitz I was hooked. It’s like playing a game of Skip-Bo with up to three other players in which each player’s turn is happening at the same time. Saying that the game is fast paced is an understatement, it’s the quickest game I’ve ever played. Which is not to say that the games don’t last long — each round could last anywhere from 1-5 minutes — but the speed at which you have to flip through your wood pile, build on your post piles, and build on the table’s dutch piles is faster than any other game I’ve seen. You have to move quick to win and if you blink you’ll find yourself losing in a hurry. That might not sound like a raving endorsement but each round is exhilarating and leaves you wanting to play more. I’ve been playing Dutch Blitz for nearly ten years and I’m always up for a game.

Electronics, kitchen, home, board games, and card games. I’m not sure if I’ve ever had a gift on my wish list that didn’t fit into one of those categories. So, get shopping or find something to ask for from your friends and family.