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Recommended Products and Services

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

  • 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. (For $220, it ought to be. The Paperwhite is a close second, though, for $80 less.) Since I bought mine, they came out with an even-more expensive Oasis model ($310), but after reviewing its specs, I’m still quite satisfied with the Voyage; I’d buy it again. 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.
  • Bedroom Clock. I asked Premium subscribers for their recommendation for a clock that had big-enough digits to be readable by blurry eyes, but not too bright (if it casts a shadow in a dark room, it’s too bright). I got scores of suggestions; the most-common was for a projector clock, which shines a dim time on the ceiling. Most pointed to this one from Oregon Scientific, which is set by the atomic clock radio signal. But the best suggestion was to find a clock I liked whether it was dim enough or not, and then use dimming tape, though the only one I found on Amazon (linked) is a $5 “add-on item” — you can only order it if you have $25 worth of other stuff in your shopping cart already. Checking at your local autoparts store (ask for tail light blackout tape) is probably a cheaper option.
  • 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.
  • 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 use the all-natural Stur — a lot of “water flavor enhancers” have awful chemicals in them, such as propylene glycol, artificial colors, and preservatives. Stur doesn’t.
  • Fitness Bands. 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 is 525 steps, it says: just over a quarter mile (I’m tall: I take big steps, and the office is surrounded by our private road and its driveway, giving me a walking path). 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. I use the Russian Registrator Viewer software to look at the recorded videos (dashcams are big in Russia to thwart crooked cops and scammers).
  • 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; I now favor Google Chrome.
  • 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, but I’m considering switching away from it again now that LogMeIn has bought them out: I find LMI’s business practices abhorrent. Switch to what? Maybe back to RoboForm, or maybe DashLane. The bottom line is, 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.

My Podcast

  • 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.

Miscellaneous….

  • 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), a sort-of Siri in a tube (high-quality speaker). 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!) Her specialty is helping you keep your energy up as you get more done each day so you’re vibrant and joyful, rather than exhausted, at the end of the day. She’s one of the secrets to my success, and she usually has client openings.

If I forgot to include something here that you remember from True, please do let me know.

Disclaimer

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 a commission if you click on the link and buy it from them after you click. -rc

7 Responses to Recommended Products and Services

  1. Kiteman, UK January 24, 2009 at 7:50 am #

    Can I recommend a website for this page?

    Well, no: as the introduction says, “unless specifically noted, I have bought all of these products or services myself” — I only write up things here that I have personally purchased or use. -rc

  2. Jeremy - Virginia June 9, 2009 at 8:32 am #

    “You absolutely must use good passwords…” but just what makes a good password? In our work as website hosts, we frequently run into clients who use one word or obvious combinations of words as passwords. This certainly makes it easy for them to remember passwords, but it also makes it easy for hackers to generate them with commonly used programs.

    We use, and suggest that our clients use, alphanumeric passwords with at least 8 characters including at least 2 numbers in the middle of the password and both caps and lower case alpha characters. That’s pretty standard advice in the industry, BTW.

    It’s a good start, but 8 characters is no longer enough: 12 is better. I also recommend including other characters in passwords, such as ^, &, _, -, etc. A good password manager allows you to specify what is used for passwords, and I include such characters in the lineup. It then gives me a random sample of it all to use as a password when I need one. -rc

  3. Geoff, Germantown MD July 1, 2016 at 9:24 am #

    Our company researched password managers that could be used on Palm Pilots, Blackberrys, and Windows Desktops some 20+ years ago. We’ve used all of the password managers that Google or Yahoo could serve, and also worked with their support to verify their sustainability.

    Our key priorities were: (yours may vary)

    * Does the job
    * Migrates to/from other managers so we are not locked in
    * Updates their software to accommodate new security threats
    * Support and feature feedback available

    We ended up with RoboForm Enterprise because they had the best policy management for administrator level control of user settings. Not even something we considered during our initial evaluation. Since then, lots of password managers have come and gone, with LastPass & RoboForm remaining at the top of the pile.
    No matter what you choose, the most important things to keep your passwords safe are:

    * 12 Character, Mixed Case, Numbers & Special Characters are essential.
    * Make sure your Virus Protection has a Browser component, advanced firewall protection, and keep it updated
    * Make sure your Operating System gets updated at least monthly for the latest security patches
    * Make sure you keep your password manager updated.
    (javascript plugin vulnerability from 2014 since been patched – http://devd.me/papers/pwdmgr-usenix14.pdf)

    “Someone figured out my password, now I have to rename my dog.” dogtime.com

    Your company evaluated password managers in 1996?! Roboform might have been the first, and was released in 1999; Lastpass didn’t appear until 2008. Your password parameters are good, though I’d consider 12 characters a minimum these days. -rc

  4. Bruce, British Columbia July 1, 2016 at 8:31 pm #

    How do you get the passwords transferred from one password manager to the other?

    Some will import from the other (once the master password is put in). Others can “see” what’s “typed” into login forms one by one. Worst case scenario is to manually transfer. I actually don’t remember what I had to do when going from Roboform to Lastpass. -rc

  5. Alex, Germany November 26, 2016 at 4:57 am #

    So what exactly is wrong with you Americans, to need a “water [flavor] enhancer” in order to drink water?? Is it so difficult to simply dunk 2-3 slices of apple, orange, cucumber or whatever in a water pitcher and let it sit for 30 minutes before drinking? Or brew a concentrated plant or fruit tea and take it with you? Or squeeze a lemon/orange into a bottle?

    I can’t fathom the logic of dripping something in the water in order to live “healthier” and intoxicate yourself with various food additives in the same time.

    In the strongly regulated Germany you can call “natural” any flavor extracted from a natural source; so if you extract vanilla flavor from wood sawdust (yes, it’s possible and regularly done), you can write “natural vanilla flavor” on the label. So I wonder what “all natural” actually means in the less strongly regulated US.

    Yes, it’s good to be skeptical about “natural” claims and carefully read ingredients lists. But what’s so scandalous about wanting something that tastes good? Do you never drink soda (terrible for you), tea, coffee, beer? If you get ALL of your hydration from plain water, good for you. But most people want some choices and flavor in their lives. Having more choices that aren’t terrible for your health is a good thing, not a bad thing. -rc

  6. Jeff, Georgia November 26, 2016 at 2:00 pm #

    Regarding “I don’t want my reading contaminated by advertising…” Both my Kindle and my Fire with Special Offers don’t show ads except when they are idle, and perhaps on the index page. There are no ads when you are actually reading (or viewing) content that I’ve seen.

    I understand that. Still, my bedroom is an ad-free zone for me. Don’t even read magazines there. So “Special Offers” (sponsored) Kindles are out. Your needs may be different. -rc

  7. Sigurd, from Cebu February 15, 2017 at 7:41 pm #

    Do you have another recommendation for dashcam viewing software? Symantec and Avast has flagged it, maybe erroneously, as malware.

    Also, I just found out that Vadim Kozlov, Registrator Viewer’s developer, died in a road accident August 2016. May he rest in peace. There’s no mention if development will continue or not.

    Well that’s not good news! Sorry to hear that. I researched it, and it appears he was killed in August 2015. I would guess that someone grabbed his code, added malware, and is distributing that, and with Kozlov being dead, he can’t do anything about it. I don’t have any suggestions at the moment, but I’ll be looking around. Thanks for letting me know. -rc

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This is True is located in Ridgway, Colorado, USA
Thought-Provoking Entertainment online since 1994