Now and then in True, I’ll recommend a web site or a product that I really like. They are not paid placements — I’m a consumer too, and I tend to research things so I get the “best” product for the money. Or maybe I’ll run across a particularly useful web site that I like and talk about it. In any case, if I truly like a product, I’ll often talk about it. (A listing of many past advertisers is on its own page if you’re looking for those.)
Invariably when that happens, for weeks (and sometimes months), I’ll get notes from readers saying “What was that site you talked about? I need it now.” So I thought I’d list the most popular, most useful ones here. This page won’t have my full write-ups about why I thought the product or site was great; it’s not meant as a review page, but more as a reminder to help readers find what I talked about earlier. As always, offsite links open in a new window. Some links are to my Amazon affiliate site, but they’re never for random products — unless specifically noted, I have bought all of these products or services myself. —RC
- Most Recent: The latest coffee craze is “cold-brewed.” Well, I’m a coffee fiend, but I’m after the flavor, not the caffeine, and none of the commercial cold-brews I’ve found are decaf. Awhile back I looked on Amazon, but found most of the home cold-brew makers were in the $50 range, made of plastic, or both: brewing something that’s naturally acidic in plastic didn’t sound like a smart idea to me, and the price seemed high for what’s essentially a pretty simple device. A few months ago I looked again, and found one that seemed great: it’s made of borosilicate (“pyrex”) glass and stainless steel. Even better: it was under $20. I ordered one, and the coffee is… incredible! Even with decaf, I get super rich flavor with the cold-brew advantage: the coffee is low in acid (which seems to be heightened when brewing with hot water, hence the preference for cold). They say to let it sit in the fridge brewing for 8-24 hours. Wrong: let it go for a minimum of 48 hours (sometimes I let it sit for 4-5 days — it just gets better and better). So much so we ordered four more of them to give as gifts …well, and to have an extra so one can brew while we’re drinking from the other. Yes, it’s that good, especially in summer, when we want iced coffee anyway. Highly recommended, and it’s on Amazon, here. Of course you get free shipping if you have “Prime” — if you don’t, just throw some coffee into your cart too. Use good coffee (I prefer this dark Costa Rican; grind whatever you use coarsely if you can). P.S.: it’s tall, so it may not fit on your fridge shelf. It probably will fit in the door, which is where we keep our two. Enjoy!
Older but Still Relevant Recommendations:
- Reading Devices: I spend enough time on a computer screen all day I don’t like to do my business or personal reading from the computer, even if I do have a nice screen. I find the “e-ink” displays to be much nicer to read from, especially in bed. I got the (then!) top-of-the-line Voyage model because I wanted reading to be an effortless joy — and it is. (But then, they improved the Paperwhite so much, including making it waterproof and at a lower price, that’s now what I recommend.) All can be had for $20 less if you don’t mind “special offers” (read: ads!) on the device. I don’t want my reading contaminated by advertising, so I was fine paying a little extra.
- Books. I found Outliers to be quite interesting, and the best so far of the books from Malcolm Gladwell (see my blog entry for more on this book.) I have very high standards for True, including the best grammar and punctuation I can do without hiring an editor. Lynn Truss agrees, and has “zero tolerance” for improper punctuation: her book Eats, Shoots and Leaves is essentially how I would have written a grammar book: with so much attitude that it became a New York Times best-seller. I used to covet Gary Larson’s The Complete Far Side — all the Far Side comics in two hard-cover volumes in a slip case — until a friend told me about the three-volume slip-covered set of The Complete Calvin and Hobbes for about the same price! I bought it instead: it’s all of the 3,160 C&H strips printed on 1,440 pages of high-quality paper, making the prints better than they’ve ever been in any newspaper. Of course, see my full review of the Chasing New Horizons book about the mission to Pluto: it’s awesome.
- I Did a Mini “Review” of a long-time advertiser’s product: Xero Shoes (a “minimalist” running sandal) …which led to a whiny protest unsubscribe! The review is here, and the Xero web site is here.
- Scanner. I asked a few people, including a guy I know who owns a business employing 75 people but has no filing cabinets, what is a good scanner to computerize receipts and such? The response was unanimous: the Fujitsu ScanSnap. It’s amazing: a contract and a check? Scans the differing page sizes without a hitch, scans fronts and backs at the same time, discards any blank pages, creates a PDF file, and then does an OCR (optical character recognition) pass on the file so that you can search within it. And it comes with all the software you need, too. The thing is so amazing that if you put a page in upside down, it will usually detect that and flip it around for you! And it detects the rare occasions when it misfeeds (e.g., pulls more than one page through at a time.) I’m completely blown away by it, and my bookkeeper just loves it, too, since I now know where everything is, and can email stuff to her easily. It’s a tad pricey ($470), but cheaper at Amazon ($420 as of this writing). This thing gets my highest recommendation.
- Consumables. Not drinking enough water because you don’t like the taste, or the added chlorine is awful? I first used the all-natural Stur — a lot of “water flavor enhancers” have questionable chemicals in them, such as propylene glycol, artificial colors, and preservatives. Stur doesn’t. But I actually gave that up and use the same thing that flavors La Croix water instead: simple “essential oils” — the concentrated aromatics from plants. I prefer peppermint; my wife favors lemon. You only need ONE drop for about a quart of water. Sweetener? Not needed at all.
- Fitness Watch. Writing is a sedentary lifestyle, so Kit decided to get us both “fitness” watches. Mostly, they measure “steps” you take during the day, which comes down to the movement of your arm. To get up from my desk and walk around the office driveway is 525 steps, it says: just over a quarter mile. Most of all, though, it just reminds me to move more, which is a good thing. We looked at a lot of different makes, including the Fitbit, but when I decided I wanted one that’s waterproof (so I don’t have to take it off to shower or swim), tracks how much sleep we get, and has a long battery life, we settled on Garmin’s Vivofit 2 ($60 at Amazon; battery life is one year, vs the several-days-then-recharge of many models). And now I know what Garmin is doing now that GPS navigation is built into smartphones….
- Audio. For portable music I simply use my smartphone — no separate device anymore. For ripping my 300 CDs to MP3 files I can no longer recommend CDex as it’s no longer open source and, I understand, now installs junkware. Some say Exact Audio Copy (free) does better at getting high-quality audio anyway, though I found it much harder to use.
- Computers. I stopped buying Dell due to my Dell Hell situation. (If you buy from Dell, be sure to read the lessons learned from my trials.) I switched to Lenovo and it was such a disaster, they actually gave me all my money back a year and a half later. I …yep… went back to Dell, paying careful heed to my previous lessons learned.
- Dashcam. After I was in a car crash (deer jumped in front of me), I wished I had a dashcam — a camera that records high-quality video through the windshield all the time. When the SD card fills up, it erases the oldest few minutes so that you always have the most-recent X hours recorded — how many hours depends on the size of SD card you use. Be sure to get one with GPS, which not only records your exact location but the exact time, and a polarizing filter (usually noted as “CPL” — Circularly Polarized Lens). Mine is from the Blackvue series, which is a nice tradeoff between cost and quality. This one’s better than my previous in that it uses a capacitor rather than a battery for backup, so it survives the heat of being in the windshield getting hot all the time. It has GPS, but doesn’t have a CPL.
- Gifts. I like giving flowers; we usually have an arrangement of fresh flowers in the house. When I want to send some, I use Flowers Fast, which is run by a friend of mine. Use the promo code TRUE to get a 10 percent discount extended to This is True’s readers. (I could use an affiliate link to pocket that 10 percent myself, but I’d rather you have it.)
- Network. What do I use for my home network? For stuff like this, I like to go with industry-standard, robust, field-proven hardware. That used to be Linksys before they cheaped out and (in my opinion) went way down hill. I now use Asus routers, which are easier to set up, can handle more (and faster) network traffic, and have been rock-solid.
- Software. I absolutely despise MS Word, so I write using Corel WordPerfect (and still love it). For plain text file editing I use an excellent shareware editor called TextPad, which puts NotePad and WordPad to absolute shame. I now use Thunderbird (free/open source) for email. Due to security issues I gave up on MS Internet Explorer; Google’s Chrome is better, but I worry about its privacy. I now favor Firefox.
- Security: You absolutely must use good passwords online: a simple word just won’t do, especially for anything financial — there’s just too much to lose. I switched from RoboForm to Lastpass to secure my passwords. I don’t even know what any of my online passwords are; only my password manager does. I only have to remember one password: the password manager’s. It does the rest.
- Hardware: The Zoom H6 6-channel recorder so I can easily record without a computer. (Alternative: the Zoom H5 4-channel recorder, which is cheaper but only does 4 channels — which is probably enough for most.)
- Audio-Technica’s AT2020 Cardioid Condenser Studio Microphones (which require special cables and either a mixer or a compatible recorder for them, like the above, or you can get the AT2020+ USB version that outputs directly to your computer),
- And Sony MDR7506 headphones so I can really hear the sound quality.
- Software — all of these are free/open source: “The” standard editing software is Audacity, which is hugely capable, and if you need it to do something else (e.g., sound gating), there are almost always plugins for it. Levelator is a must, and once you get the MP3 written out, EasyTAG allows you to put the informational “tags” within the file (title, author, copyright, etc.), as well as the “cover art” graphic.
- If you’ve ever had any thought of following in my footsteps and publishing an email newsletter, the place to go is AWeber. They have the best “deliverability” in the business for one simple reason: they don’t put up with anyone doing any sort of spamming. Seriously: they simply drop such customers. Prices are reasonable, and the quality of service is unbeatable. Be sure to read my site Emailified for the ins and outs of email lists.
- My weather station is a Davis Vantage Pro2 — wireless version. (The wireless is a few bucks more, but save yourself the trouble of trying to run wires from your roof into your house!) If you live at a high elevation, as I do, you have to pay attention to whether the weather station can handle it. The Davis can. More info on my setup.
- Yes, I have one and I love it: the Amazon Echo (aka Alexa). I get most of my music from Amazon already, and this just taps into my library (and an additional huge selection of music that comes free with their Prime service, which I also highly recommend).
- Support. My friend Leo runs a site called “Ask Leo“, which provides answers from a real computer geek for the tough questions you have about your computer. Windows is a particular specialty. Leo is the guy who I go to when I get stuck with a perplexing problem. He has an extensive archive of articles that answer the most-common questions. It’s well worth going there and searching if you have a perplexing problem.
- I mention my wife from time to time, and people ask what she does. For her Day Job, she’s a Certified High Performance Life Coach (how do you think I get so much done? I married her!) She helps you “Transform Your Life from Adequate to Excellent” — and is one of the secrets to my success.
If I forgot to include something here that you remember from True, please do let me know.
As noted above, unless I clearly say otherwise, I don’t recommend products on this page unless I use them myself. In no case of recommendations on this page have I been paid to say something nice about the service or product — I doubt any company would want to pay as much as I would charge if I didn’t actually like the product! And in no case was the product even provided to me for free for review, and I’ll say so if that ever happens. However, when I link to a place to buy the product, True will sometimes receive an “affiliate” commission if you click on the link and buy it from them after you click. -rc