Recommended Products and Services

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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 the Coffee Bean Direct lineup; 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:

  • kindle paperwhite 300x158 - Recommended Products and ServicesReading 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 three soft-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, but cheaper at Amazon ($379 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 to the bottom of our driveway is 500 steps, it says: about 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 ($70 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 speed, and a polarizing filter (usually noted as “CPL” — Circularly Polarized Lens). My current fave is from Garmin, which is a nice tradeoff between cost and quality. It has GPS, but you’ll have to hunt around for a compatible 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 switched to Asus routers, which are easier to set up, can handle more (and faster) network traffic, and have been rock-solid. After that I went to actual commercial-grade hardware: Ubiquity’s Unifi line, but warning: it’s not only pricey, but it really needs a high level of geekiness to set up. If that’s not you, go for Asus.
  • Software. I absolutely despise MS Word, so I write using Corel WordPerfect (and still love it). Similarly, I prefer CorelDraw for graphics over Adobe. For plain text file editing I use an excellent editor called TextPad, which puts NotePad and WordPad to absolute shame, though their support is poor (I’m still waiting for a reply from a request a few years ago). I use Thunderbird (free/open source) for email. For browsers, Google’s Chrome is good, but I worry about its privacy. I now favor Firefox or even the Chrome version of Microsoft Edge — Tip: you can use Google Chrome extensions with Edge!
  • 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. Tip: they bug you to pay for it, but you don’t have to to use it.

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….

  • I Don’t Know why this computer utility is free, but I’m very grateful: I use it every day! It’s called Everything and it helps you to very quickly find files on your hard drive(s).
  • 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 (free when you’re sending to <500 people), and the quality of service is unbeatable.
  • 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.
  • Support. My friend Leo runs a site called “AskLeo!”, 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 coach who specializes in entrepreneurs (including those with ADD — 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.

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 an “affiliate” commission if you click on the link and buy it from them after you click. -rc

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11 Comments on “Recommended Products and Services

  1. 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

    Reply
  2. “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 a minimum and 16 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

    Reply
    • With LastPass I use passwords that are at least 30 characters long as long as the site will support that length. Sadly, many sites still enforce password “rules” (I call them restrictions) that limit the characters that may be used and/or the length.

      Reply
  3. 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

    Reply
  4. 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

    Reply
  5. 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

    Reply
  6. 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

    Reply
  7. 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 generic suggestions at the moment, but you “should” be able to trust any viewers that come with the dashcam you buy. Thanks for letting me know. -rc

    Reply
  8. With the pandemic, I was no longer getting my cold brewed coffee from a very well known Seattle based company’s café, so I got the brewer you recommended. It was so smooth that, unlike the café’s version, I didn’t need to add syrup to make it palatable. So I was cutting calories as well as cost. When I told a friend about it, he got one for himself and his daughter.

    I’ve been using 1Password as a password manager for several years now. It ended up becoming the first software I subscribed to, knowing that I would always want the latest version. It softened my stance against subscribing to software in general.

    Reply
  9. After finding out that Mozilla intends to monitor my activity, and block access to information that it feels is false or misleading, i decided to drop them as my primary browser. I am using Brave found at Brave.com and also based on chromium, so google extensions work with it. I find it better at protecting my privacy, but still allowing me to decide what sites to visit, without fear of censorship.

    Brave is on my list to check. Hadn’t heard that about Mozilla yet. I research all sorts of topics and sometimes document misinformation, so blocking would be an issue for me. -rc

    Reply
  10. Lastpass is imposing restrictions on the use of the free product. I used Lastpass because it was free and it synchronized across my portable devices and my desktop/laptop browsers. Starting on March 16, 2021 you will only be able to use the phone/tablet version or the desktop/laptop version and have the passwords synch unless you pay for the product. If you pay, then the passwords will synch between phone/tablet and desktop/laptop. I moved to BitWarden and it is so similar to Lastpass that there’s no learning curve, plus it imported all of my Lastpass data perfectly.

    In January 2021 in its first-ever password-protection program comparison, U.S. News & World Report selected Bitwarden as “Best Password Manager.” In February, with competitor LastPass changing its pay structure in March, CNET recommended Bitwarden as best free app for password synchronization across multiple devices, while Lifehacker recommended it as “the best password manager for most people.” (Wikipedia) The full-up version of Bitwarden is currently $10/year, $40/year for up to 6 “family” members. Lastpass is now $36/year, $48 for up to 6 “family” members. -rc

    Reply

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