My Favorite Things

I’m not a “recommend a product” kind of guy. I just don’t usually do it. If someone asks me what my opinion on something is, I’m happy to offer it, but I don’t usually offer unsolicited advice on products. I’m going to break that rule for a little bit today. There are a few products and services I discovered this year that I want to take a moment to share, specifically because I really, really like them. I think, increasingly, our culture has fallen into giving gift cards rather than gifts, and I think there’s something lost in the transaction. Maybe this will spark some gift ideas for you.

Tonx

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Image from Tonx.org

I drink coffee on a daily basis. Not so much because I need a caffein fix, but because I like having rituals and routines. Coffee is a morning ritual for me. Grinding the beans, boiling the water, stirring my french press, and then enjoying the cup that it produces may seem like a “hipstery” thing to do, but it’s more about slowing down and relying less on automation. I also think it produces a great cup of coffee, but the best way to get a good cup of coffee is to start with good, fresh roasted beans. Tonx is a subscription service that sends you fresh roasted beans every other week, and they’re great.

I’ve been a subscriber for just over a year, and have never had a bad bag from them. When I lived in a larger city, it was easy for me to fine locally roasted coffee, but now that I live in a smaller town Tonx fills in nicely. Packed in with each bag of beans is information about where they were sourced, and a note from the company. If you have a coffee lover in your life, a one month subscription could be a nice trial gift. I’ve never known a coffee lover to turn down good coffee.

Nest

My wife and I bought our first home a year and a half ago. Anyone who’s ever bought a house seems to know that once you’ve bought it, the work starts. Painting, remodeling, maintaining, and customizing are a constant. There’s always something to do. One of the first things I realized was how outdated and poorly designed our thermostat was. And our electric bill was outrageous!

ImageI’d heard about the nest on a couple of the tech blogs that I read, and I was interested in giving it a try. At the time I was also looking for a new electric company, and Reliant was offering the Nest as a special promotion for new subscribers. So I decided to give it a spin.

The Nest is a programable thermostat, but that’s selling it short. It’s really a self programing thermostat. For the first week of ownership, it watches how you set it during the day and makes note of your habits. At the end of that first week you find that it has built a schedule for you. It’s very easy to use. The metal band around the outside is a scroll wheel and the entire front surface is a button. It will turn itself to away when it notices your note home (and it does a great job of knowing when you aren’t home). It can be accessed remotely on most smartphones and any computer that is connected to the internet. It’s really just a great product, and I’ve only touched the surface of it’s features.

But the part I like most is the energy report it sends you each month. At the end of the month, you receive a report that tells you how much energy you used, what affected your usage, and some helpful tips on what you can change to improve it. We have managed to see a dramatic reduction in our overall electric bill in the last year, and I attribute most of that to a better managed heating and cooling system.

Gerber Shard

I have a dozen multitools. I’ve got a bike multitool for all the quick fixes that need to be made on a bike. I’ve got a Leatherman that I stick in a bag that goes with me almost everywhere. I have one in each of my toolboxes, and my camera bag. However, the one that goes with me everywhere is my tiny little Gerber Shard. It’s about the size of a key, can drive most phillips and standard screws, pull a nail, open a Imagebottle, strip and cut wire, work like a pry bar, open boxes, and do about a hundred other things pretty well. And it’s about $10. I use it (and I’m not even exaggerating) every day. because it’s always with me.

This is one of those things I wasn’t positive I’d really use, but the handy man/nerdy toy side of me really wanted it, so I put it on a Christmas list last year and someone actually bought it for me. I never suspected it would be my favorite gift!

Instapaper

Most people know Instapaper. Many people use Instapaper. Some people LOVE Instapaper. I’d be that last group. I have a long list of articles and blog posts that I really want to get around to reading someday, but I know that if I don’t have all of them in one place, they’ll never get read. Instapaper has a free aspect. You can send articles and blog posts to Instapaper using a free bookmarklet and account

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and read it anywhere that you have access to Instapaper in a clean and pleasant interface. Later or right at that moment. Anyone can use it without paying.

But the best way to use Instapaper is as a subscriber. It lets you take advantage of the API that many apps use for sending links to Instapaper, supports the developers, and is really handy for anyone who uses a Kindle since you can send articles directly to your Kindle with a special bookmark.  If you’ve been using Instapaper for free, or know a reader who hasn’t discovered the service yet, consider a subscription for yourself or as a gift.

As I said, I’m not usually a champion of anything in particular, but these are a few things I rally like, and I’d encourage you to look into them as gifts instead of giving gift cards. No condemnation for those of you who give gift cards, but these could be something a little more personal.

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