Recommendations

A Quick Note

Stuff will not fulfill you. If you are considering buying things to make yourself happy, try taking a step back and looking at yourself, your life, your relationships, first.

Ideally, our possessions augment what’s already there and add to an already wonderful life. Spending your valuable time, energy, and resources on things in an attempt to change bad to good will typically only result in less satisfaction and fewer resources available to spend on the truly important things.

That said, here are some products and services that I find add value to my life. I could go without any of them, but my day is a little better, my work a little easier, with them in it.

Please note that I’m biased toward 1. things that are portable and sturdy enough to survive my travel-heavy lifestyle, 2. things that don’t have exposed logos, and 3. things that are simple and made by companies I respect. Also, in my home, I prefer things that are simple and sturdy, with pleasant lines and minimal design, and I tend to opt for simple colors (white, black, dark browns, grays) over anything too bright or ostentatious.

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Devices

  • iPhone 7 Plus: For a long while I opted for cheaper, high-spec Android phones, but I’ve come to find that the iPhone, at least right now, fits better with how I like to integrate a smartphone into my lifestyle. When I buy, I like to get it unlocked, so I can change networks whenever I like, and I’ve been using the Upgrade Program as it aligns well with how I see the device, as more of a rental that I’m happy to pay for each month. I opt for the Plus model, with the highest possible hard drive, as the phone has become a workhorse for a lot of the tasks I do daily, with primarily writing and production work still relegated to my laptop. I’m currently using this leather case for my phone, though I like the aesthetics and concept behind these ultra-minimalist cases, and might try one, soon.
  • Nexus 5x: The traveler in me likes to have a backup phone, in part so I can keep tabs on what Android is up to, and in part because it allows me to hot-swap SIM cards when I travel.
  • Retina Macbook Pro 13″: I’ll be honest, I’ve been eyeballing a lot of PC laptops, of late. What has kept me from switching, though, has been the details that I’ve come to take for granted on the Macbook Pro. Namely, the clean design, the near-perfect touchpad, the comfortable keyboard, and the high-end screen. These are details that probably wouldn’t be deal-breakers if I were only using the laptop for writing, but because I do so much design and production work, truly add up to something important, and for which I’ve yet to find a solid replacement in the PC world. We’ll see. I’m currently skeptical of what’s been doing on the new models, but in the meantime I still love this laptop. I’m using a model from 2013, it’s a solid workhorse.
  • Kindle Paperwhite: This is by far the best ebook reader available, and to me provides a sufficiently high-quality reading experience to justify owning & carrying an additional device, rather than just reading on my phone.
  • Anker Ultra-High Capacity Battery Pack: In my experience, this little brick completely recharges my iPhone 7 Plus to full capacity three or four times before needing to be recharged, which is pretty rad. That said, I’ve increasingly found that I very seldom use it, as many buses and planes and trains have outlets available. It’s more of a piece-of-mind thing, for me.
  • Zolt laptop & USB charger: I was skeptical, but this little device is great. The bulkiest, most unwieldy thing in my bag for a long time was my laptop charger, and the Zolt can charge my laptop and two smaller devices, but takes up less than half the space than the laptop charger. It costs a bit more than a standard charger, particularly since you have to buy the magsafe Apple attachment separately. And it may shut off if you overwork it, as it’s more prone to overheating when overworked than a standard, bulky charger. But the tradeoff is worth it for me. All that said, this company does seem to be slow to adapt to new standards, and it doesn’t look like it has a USB-C cable available quite yet (which will be required if I opt to buy one of the newer Macbook Pros). Useful for what I’ve got now, but we’ll see how they manage in the future.
  • BASEQI microSD adapter: Here’s another piece of tech that might become worthless if I buy an updated Macbook Pro that lacks the microSD port. It basically allows you to expand the internal hard drive — I use a Sony 128GB microSD card, which adds a nice buffer, especially when I’m working with large audio and video files.
  • WD 2TB external hard drive: This little guy is small, subtle, and the brand has a good reputation for not dying as often as other brands (which isn’t saying much, frankly, but is still something). I recommend formatting the drive before use, though, because most of these things, from any brand, come loaded with cumbersome bloatware installed upon arrival. Best to clear all that ish out and organize it however you see fit.
  • SanDisk super-tiny 128GB USB drive: A nice spare USB drive to have on hand in case your laptop’s internal drive is full or you need to move a bunch of files from one USB-enabled device to another. It’s truly tiny as hell, though, so be careful not to lose it.
  • HP Roar Mini Bluetooth Speaker: I wasn’t sold on the idea of bluetooth speakers until HP sent me one of these. I didn’t really think I’d use it, but the sound is way better than what my phone or laptop alone can muster, it takes little effort to wirelessly connect to my phone, and the device itself looks lovely (the HP logo is fairly unobtrusive). I listen to podcasts, music, and background noise via this speaker all the time.
  • Moko phone stand: There are myriad and fancier stands out there, but this one is cheap, simple, and packs down flat. It weighs nothing and is sturdy enough to toss around without breaking anything. I use it to prop up my phone to watch videos and when I’m writing something long-form with my bluetooth keyboard.
  • Logitech Keys-To-Go wireless keyboard: After trying out several, I went with this wireless keyboard because 1. it’s tiny and light and travels well, but the keys are not little toy keys that are hard to adjust to after using a normal keyboard, 2. the battery lasts months before you have to charge it (but you can plug it in using any micro-USB cable you have on hand), and 3. it connects to PCs, Macs, Androids, and iOS devices with equal aplomb. I typically use it with my iPhone, but I’ve also used it with my Macbook Pro, when the computer itself is perched on a stand for better posture.

Production

  • Sirui portable tripod: It’s remarkable how small this thing becomes when folded up, while still proving to be quite stable and full-sized when unfurled. It’s also super-light, and I’ll sometimes toss it into my duffel bag while preparing for a trip and forget it’s there until I need it.
  • StudioPRO three-point portable lighting kit: This is a very basic lighting kit containing a few umbrellas, a trio of bulbs, and three stands. It’s not really a pro-level setup, but it’s a good place to start, and can be utilized alongside more expensive gear if and when you need it, so it’s not a sunk cost if you decide to upgrade.
  • Savage portable backdrop kit: This isn’t as sturdy as a more expensive, bulkier model, but gets the job done, and is especially nice if you want to move it around at some point. It’s quite light and doesn’t take up too much space when folded and bagged up — the heaviest, most cumbersome part of the kit is the massive roll of thick, seamless paper.
  • Shure lav mic: This is a prosumer-grade clip-on mic that does a good job of capturing just one person’s voice, while excluding most environmental sound. It still has a little trouble in extreme, windy conditions, but functions splendidly even in non-studio, indoor conditions.
  • Camalapse 4: This is a small, somewhat-gimmicky device that allows you to use your phone or camera to capture nifty time-lapse videos or panoramas. I’ve only used it a few times, but if you’re wanting to capture a 360-view of a location, or a panning timelapse of an event, it’s a tiny, cheap, solid option that seems to work better than a lot of the off-brand models.
  • Shoulderpod S1: This is a tripod stand, camera grip, and mini-tripod, all in one. I use it most frequently to securely hold my phone horizontally on my larger tripod, but it also comes in handy as a filming grip, when you’re recording long periods of horizontal video and don’t want your hand and wrist to be destroyed as a result.
  • Rode Podcaster mic: This is my main podcasting workhorse, and I use it alongside a Rode boom arm and shockmount. Different people prefer different properties in their mics, and I like this one because it does a great job of ignoring environmental sounds while capturing round, deep vocals. I also appreciate that it’s USB-powered, and consequently doesn’t require that I use a soundboard or other connective device to funnel the audio into my computer.
  • Neewer pop filter: This brand that makes a lot of cheap but functional gadgets and equipment, which usually out-perform their low-end, off-brand competitors. This pop filter is solid, and though not the sturdiest on the market, the price is stellar for what you get. I’m still using the first one I bought almost a year ago, and though I intend to replace it with something a bit higher-quality once it’s worn-out, it’s proven to provide a lot of bang for the buck.
  • Sony MDR 7506 studio headphones: These headphones come highly recommended for folks who’re producing non-music audio because they accurately present what’s there, rather than artificially boosting the sound that comes through them, like headphones oriented toward listening to music tend to do. You’ll hear the true bass, true flaws, true everything, which makes them a wonderful option when you’re editing a podcast or sound in a video, but less optimal when you’re rocking out to music.
  • Alesis V49: I wanted to both learn to play piano, and learn Logic Pro X with a midi-input device, and decided to purchase this keyboard after a fair amount of research. Having only 49-keys may be a deal-breaker for some, but it fit my initial ambitions, and desire to have something relatively portable. It also hits that sweet spot of not-too-expensive but high-end-enough to not be a toy. It also looks simple and clean, and plays quite well. Midi-keyboards are a great option if 1. you have a laptop to plug them into (there are no speakers in the device itself), 2. are looking to produce music, rather than just play it, and 3. are looking for something cheaper than a full-blown keyboard, but also much simpler and more compact.
  • Keyboard stand: I’ll be honest, this stand is way big for the keyboard I own. I wanted something sturdy, and it is absolutely that: no wobbles at all. And the ability to set the height essentially anywhere, rather than a short, medium, tall height is very nice. It also has enough space in the back (it’s meant to support a much larger, more full-functioned keyboard with speakers and such) that I was able to add a music stand, which is nice. Recommended, though I may end up getting something more concise in the future.
  • Music stand: This music stand attached to the keyboard stand, propping your music up above your keyboard. You have to remove one of the bumpers from the top of the stand to slide it on if you have a bulkier keyboard stand, like I do. But it does, in fact, fit, and is very sturdy and, despite being on the skinnier side, holds an opened music book without any trouble.
  • Keyboard bench: This bench came highly recommended, and is relatively inexpensive, to boot. Can confirm: very comfortable and sturdy.
  • Keyboard sustain pedal: This is a universal sustain pedal that should work with any keyboard you might buy. It’s solid and works well. It’s a few dollars more than the generic versions, but seems to be of a much higher quality.
  • Piano Learning for Adults book: I was heartened to find that there are several book courses for adults wanting to learn piano. The main difference is that it teaches at a slightly different pace and with adult language, rather than simple language meant for children. You also end up playing more blues and classical music, sooner, instead of sticking with jingles and kid-tunes for the entirety of the book. Especially when paired with some music theory courses from YouTube and Lynda, this is a fantastic resource.

Travel

  • Cocoon Grid-It: I’ve used different models of this product over the years, some larger and with tablet-sized pockets, and some smaller, simpler, with just the elastic grid. All have been wonderful. This is a great way to bring order to an otherwise disorderly bag, especially if you have a lot of cables a little doodads to keep track of.
  • Gorillapod for smartphones: The main difference between this and other Gorillapods is that it comes with a smartphone-sized holder that screws onto the tripod mount. You can buy that little piece separately if you already have another tripod you’d prefer to use, though I find the Gorillapod to be a nice, just-in-case addition to my bag, as it collapses nicely and does well in numerous environments and scenarios.
  • Hearos Earplugs: These are by far the best earplugs I’ve used. They dampen sound well, and you can use a pair of them for weeks before they start to get weird and need replacing. They’re also quite cheap.
  • Lewis N. Clark travel umbrella: I’ve been using this umbrella for half a year, and it still hasn’t inverted or broken. Which seems like a low standard to achieve, but when it comes to small, cheap umbrellas that you won’t be totally gutted to see destroyed by wind or stolen by a stranger, basic survivability is a major plus.
  • Elastic workout band: These bands are a dime a dozen on Amazon, and though they’re fairly interchangeable, there does seem to be a minor quality difference, and some companies will replace them if they snap too soon. The first couple times I ordered them, I bought packs of five, because it was cheaper that way. But I found that the lower-strength bands didn’t serve any purpose, so now I order them one at a time, at the highest strength setting so that it lasts longer and provides a better workout. This thing allow you to perform a lot of quick little workouts, wherever you might find yourself. I use it alongside body weight-resistance exercises, like pushups and squats.
  • FFF Architect Wallet: This is my current wallet, and I’ve been carrying it for a few years now. It’s not as small as others I’ve used, but the built-in space pen and notebook is a useful touch, and the leather weathers nicely.
  • Everlane Weekender: I’ve always loved the look of this bag, but was very skeptical about its sturdiness and resiliency. After using it for a while under strenuous conditions, however, I’ve become far more assured of its durability and convenience, and even the European-style, shoulder-strapless carrying method. And I still love the look of it.
  • S ZONE messenger-style day bag: I didn’t expect much from an Amazon-based off-brand messenger bag, but this little guy has proven to be quite attractive and rugged, and it pairs well with the larger, duffel-style bag I usually carry alongside it.
  • Rothko toiletry bag: This is a super-basic item, but I’ve found this model to be of a slightly higher quality when compared to other inexpensive brands. You can invest in something fancier, of course, but if you’re looking for a toiletry bag that doesn’t stand out or clash with anything else, and does its job really well, this is a good option.
  • Osis Mess Up: This isn’t a travel-specific item, but there wasn’t really a better place to put it. This clay-like hair product works pretty well across many climates, and in my experience is a lot more versatile than gels and pomades, at least for my hair type.

Creative

  • Moleskine: I use my notebooks primarily as sketchbooks these days, but I’ll also jot notes in them from time-to-time. This is sacrilegious to say, but these aren’t actually much better than comparable off-brands, so if you can find something similar without the Moleskine logo at a lower price, you’ll still be in good shape.
  • Volant: These are convenient little pocket notebooks, which I love because they fit snugly in my wallet.
  • Uniball Jetstream 101: This is my current favorite pen, and I’ve tried many. For my purposes, I look for good, crisp lines, little chance of smearing (especially important for a lefty), and no bleeding on most standard paper stocks. I need to be able to jot notes, but also illustrate, and this does both quite well.
  • Sharpie Retractable: This is my current favorite marker, and I’ve used retractable Sharpies to illustrate many of my book covers. Standard Sharpies are fine, but this model is more ideal for travel than the capped variety, as there’s no cap to lose or fall off while its tucked amongst your things.
  • Koh-I-Noor: This is a pencil brand I fell in love with back in illustration school, and although they’re somewhat hard to come by in the US, much of the graphite illustration work I do is applied via one of these guys.

Clothing

  • Everlane: I have a lot of respect for this brand’s business model, philosophy, and aesthetics. Their bags and shirts are foundations for my wardrobe, but I also have a few others things from them, like a belt, some slacks, and a hoodie, which are similarly well made, simple, and not emblazoned with logos.
  • SuitSupply: I like their business model and philosophy, and though I don’t wear suits or suit jackets often these days, if I did, I would probably stock up with them instead of the alternatives. My only suit was designed and tailored by them, and it’s well-made, fits like a glove, and wasn’t crazy expensive.
  • Levi’s: If Everlane ever starts making jeans, this may change, but my current go-to jeans are Levi’s 511s. They fit perfectly, and if you get a simple color without a bunch of crazy textures applied to them, they go with everything. They’re also fairly inexpensive, of solid quality, and though I could do without the logo patch, it’s not over-the-top like some jean brands.

Home

  • Aeropress coffee and espresso maker: This is my favorite means of producing coffee when I have the option. It’s cheap, it makes a great cup of happiness, and it’s easy to use. The story of the guy who invented it is also kind of cool.
  • OXO Cold Brew Coffee Maker: This device brings me so much joy. It’s not really necessary, as you can make cold brew with just a vessel and some filters, but it makes the process so much simpler, and doesn’t look ugly on your countertop. If you’re hooked on cold brew, this will save you an immense amount of money, while also giving you more control over the process.
  • Zinus 12″ Memory Foam Mattress: I haven’t furnished an apartment in about seven years, but I remember the last time I had to buy a bed, and it was a torturous and crazy expensive experience. I’ve been fascinated by the recent shift toward online-purchased, shipped mattresses that are primarily memory foam and other packable materials, and yeah, wow, this is the best mattress I’ve ever slept on. I did some research before committing, and though you can find both cheaper and more expensive versions of the same general mattress, this brand does a good job of alleviating many of the cheaper-brand’s issues, without charging a crazy amount to make up for the marketing costs that are baked into the prices of the more expensive ones.
  • Zinus 10″ platform bed: I originally intended to have a simple platform under my mattress, or to go without, resting the mattress on the floor. But the simple design of this frame was appealing, and it turned out to be a good choice for my priorities. I love the design, it was easy to put together, and it’s become a minimal, foundational component of my bedroom in that doesn’t stand out, but it looks wonderful and is neutral enough that it kind of goes with everything.
  • Utopia Duvet Insert: I prefer duvets over comforters, as you can wash or replace the cover if you ever need to, while keeping the insert. I wanted something big and puffy, which wouldn’t shed like crazy, but which would also keep me warm during Midwestern winters. This insert has done really well thus far, proving not to be upkeep-heavy like a lot of down inserts can be, while remaining super fluffy and delightful. Very cozy.
  • Toaster: I feel a little silly recommending a toaster, but I did a bit of research before buying this thing, and it hits the sweet-spot of ‘not too expensive’ and ‘truly high-quality.’ It also looks nice compared to a lot of the weirdo toaster-beasts on the market today.
  • Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Combo Cooker: I will be forever thankful that my chef friend Marla from Paleo Porn recommended this to me. It’s so much more versatile than every other collection of cooking accouterment I’ve ever used, and though I cook every meal, I’ve never found myself lacking for the right pot or pan, because this thing does it all.
  • Electric Kettle: This kettle toes the line between ‘gets the job done without becoming complicated’ and ‘fancy, with all the bells and whistles.’ I think it looks beautiful on my countertop, it’s a pleasure to use, and it allows you to set specific temperatures for when you want to get snobby with your coffee.
  • Rice Cooker: I eat a lot of rice, and though I can make it on the stovetop, this cooker makes it better and faster. You can also make things like homemade mac n’ cheese in it, which is both a blessing and a curse.
  • Netgear Nighthawk AC1900 router: Most people won’t really notice the difference between routers, so long as they don’t go ultra-low-end. This guy has the best options for a non-expert prosumer like me, along with enough future-proofing that it won’t be a drag on my internet usage for many years.

Services

  • AirBnB: My favorite thing to do when taking short trips to pretty much anywhere in the world is finding an Airbnb in the heart of things, and just walking around, seeing how the locals live. You can enjoy many of the benefits you usually have to stay longer to achieve, but without the commitment. Sign up via this link to get $40 Airbnb credit, if you’re keen to give it a try.
  • Lyft: Ride-sharing apps are great when you’re in an unfamiliar city; I used to use Uber, but have recently changed over to Lyft, based on what I’ve been reading about how Uber treats their employees.
  • World Nomads: I use these guys for travel insurance from time-to-time. They’re reasonably priced, responsive and they have a stellar reputation in the travel community.
  • Google Flights: This is my current favorite flight search service, which allows you to search prices from one place to anywhere in the world, or on a given route for months in advance, and a bunch of other clever things like that. The only thing it currently lacks is some smaller, local airlines, which you can check through Kayak, or directly on the airline website.
  • T-Mobile: For many years I used Straight Talk, which is a contract-free AT&T service reseller owned by Walmart. But T-Mobile recently added free roaming in something like 140 countries to their monthly service, which has proven to be indispensable and joy-inducing when I’m traveling outside the US.
  • Hostgator: After trying many, many different hosting services, I eventually transferred all my online infrastructure over to these guys, because they have reliable service and excellent customer service. If you use this link, you’ll get a huge discount on any services of theirs you might be interested in. I use the Reseller Plan, but they have cheaper and more expensive options, as well.
  • WordPress: This is my main blogging/website platform. It’s simple to use, complex enough to do just about anything you might want it to do, and is the CMS that a huge chunk of the internet is based upon.
  • Gmail: I’ve tried a lot of other offerings over the years, and continue to experiment with gimmicky email apps when they emerge, but Gmail remains my favorite by a mile. It’s simple but intuitive.
  • Amazon Prime: I love the hell out of Amazon Prime. It allows me to get the things I need when I need them, which means I can buy less, getting things right when they’re useful, rather than feeling the need to stockpile. It also has numerous other little bonuses, like a Netflix-competitor video-on-demand service, which are provided alongside the free two-day shipping. If you use this link, you’ll get a free 30-day trial of Prime.
  • Audible: I freakin’ love audiobooks, and the Audible app is a pleasure to use. If you want to give it a try, use this link to get a free 30-day trial and a free audiobook of your choice.
  • Hootsuite: I curate a lot of news and other information via social media, and I accomplish this via Hootsuite. This allows me to click a little button when I read something interesting and share-worthy, and I can have it go live immediately, at some specific point in the future, or I can add it to an ever-expanding queue of autoscheduled posts that are published when they’re estimated to have the most impact and eyeballs on them (and I can set the ceiling of how many posts per day are shared, and during which time frame). There are competitors for these functions, but I like the Hootsuite UI best, and I gladly pay (I think $6) for the pro version each month.
  • EmailOctopus: I still love Mailchimp’s overall look, convenience, and interface, but beyond a certain number of subscribers it simply isn’t worth the cost anymore. EmailOctopus requires more setup and is more hands-on when it comes to design and layout, but I enjoy using it, and it’s ridiculously inexpensive compared to all comparable options.
  • DropBox: This is my go-to for cloud storage and device syncing. It’s also my non-physical backup for everything, though it’s smart to have a physical backup or two of the important stuff, as well.
  • Google Photos: This serves as both my secondary image backup, and a as a kind of discovery service that helps me filter, organize, and meta-tag my photo library.
  • Scrivener: This program is probably the best-ever software for book writing and publishing. It’s a pleasure to use, and after a small learning curve, makes the process of authoring a million times simpler.
  • WeTransfer: A nice, simple service for sending awkward, huge files that’re too big for email. Google Drive accomplishes the same, these days, allowing you to embed a link to download a massive file within an email, but this is a good option if you’re avoiding Google products, or want something that doesn’t even require a sign up to use.
  • Spotify: This is my streaming music service of choice at the moment. I particularly like how playlists work, and their recommendations engine is solid. I’m always trying out alternatives, but Spotify is currently the best option, for me.
  • Private Internet Access: A simple, relatively inexpensive VPN for one’s computer & phone. I pay for it yearly, as I know I’ll use it any time I log onto public WiFi on my phone or laptop, which is frequently.
  • Transmit: A simple, beautiful FTP program. Reliable.
  • Skype: In the past I’ve used Skype more than I do today, paying for minutes and a custom phone number and the like. I still use it as my default video chat app, but I’ve found it to be increasingly less useful as a phone replacement service in an age where phones are less necessary, and other apps are more widely used.
  • TextWrangler: This is free development software from the same guy who makes Transmit. Good UI, simple but capable.
  • OpenEmu: If you have a Mac and love games, but don’t want to make video games a huge part of your life (or a big investment), OpenEmu is free and plays all the classic ROMs you can find. Bonus points if you pair it with a USB controller.
  • Gumroad: A great, non-Amazon, non-Google, non-Apple place to sell all kinds of products, particularly digital goods. Fees are low.
  • Cash.me: An easy way to send and request money.
  • Square: The best in-person sales platform, which allows you to accept and swipe credit cards on your phone.
  • Venmo: Great for in-person bill-dividing, or other cash-transmission tasks. Very often what I use to accept freelance payments and to buy things from other people I know, these days.

Apps

  • Noizio: I’ve never been a fan of white noise generators, but this app allows you to mix your own custom background noise, using sliders to choose varying amounts of October Rain, Winter Wind, Campfire, Coffee House, an even Blue Whale sounds. I’ve found myself using this more and more, particularly when I’m reading. My current go-to mix is 20% intensity October Rain, 40% Thunderstorm, 38% Winter Wind, and 20% Sea Waves.
  • Amount Plus: The best currency and measurement converter I’ve found.
  • World Clock Widget: My favorite app for time zones, though I use it mostly for the widget.
  • FiLMiC Pro: Hands down the best pro-grade video recording app I’ve found.
  • ProCamera: Provides a lot more pro-level tools for your iPhone than the standard camera app.
  • Voice Record Pro 7: This is what I use to record audio intended for publication, but also notes I want to get down when I’m unable to look at my phone or type.
  • Overcast: My favorite podcast app, even better now that you can side-load your own audiobooks or podcasts to it, and very much worth the $10 a year to go pro and remove the ads.
  • Weather Underground: A solid weather app with good UI. Another app that’s free, but which I gladly pay the $3/year for to remove the ads. The widgets are especially useful, and the design is lovely.
  • Simplenote: This is the app I use to outline my podcast episodes and keep track of my shopping list. Simple, uses Markdown, syncs between computer and phone without having to think about it.
  • Fin: This is a simple, well-designed app for timing performances. It’s especially great for practicing talks, and has all the bells-and-whistles you might want, whether you’re using it privately beforehand, or have it up on stage or held by someone in the audience on the day you’re presenting.

Podcasts

News & Reads