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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Electronics

  • iPhone 6s Plus (unlocked, via Apple Upgrade Program, enclosed in this case, which hides the Apple logo nicely after a few weeks)
  • Nexus 5x (I recently owned an unlocked Alcatel OneTouch Idol 3, 5.5″, which was also quite good)
  • Retina Macbook Pro 13″ (many PC manufacturers are catching up, but this is still the best bang for one’s buck, in my opinion; particularly if you’re interested in producing rather than just consuming)
  • Kindle Paperwhite (best ebook reader available, which, to me, is a better enough reading experience to justify carrying an additional item, rather than just reading on my phone)
  • Anker Ultra-High Capacity Battery Pack (in my experience, this will completely recharge my iPhone 6s Plus to full capacity three or four times before needing to be recharged, itself, which is pretty rad)
  • Zolt laptop & USB charger (this thing is great — the bulkiest, most unwieldy thing in my bag for a long time was my laptop charger, and this can charge my laptop and two smaller devices but takes up less than half the space — it costs a little more, particularly since you have to buy the magsafe Apple attachment separately, and it may shut off if you overwork it, but the tradeoff is worth it for me)
  • Sony point-and-shoot camera with leather case (can shoot 4k video, takes nice stills, and has way better zoom than my phone can accomplish)
  • BASEQI microSD adapter (add extra hard drive space to your computer via the SD card slot) with Sony 128GB microSD card
  • WD 2TB external hard drive (small, subtle, brand has a good reputation for not dying as often as other brands; I recommend formatting the drive before use, though, because most of these things from any brand have cumbersome bloatware installed on arrival)
  • SanDisk super-tiny 128GB USB drive (a nice spare to have 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; tiny as hell, though, so be careful not to lose it)
  • HP Roar Mini Bluetooth Speaker (I was incredibly skeptical about bluetooth speakers, until HP sent me one of these. I didn’t think I’d use it, but the sound is actually way better than what my phone or laptop alone can muster, and the device itself looks lovely (could do without the HP logo on the front, but it’s fairly unobtrusive). I listen to podcasts, music, and background noise (see the ‘Noizio’ app, further down the page) through this speaker all the time)

Video Production

  • Sirui portable-but-full-size tripod (it’s remarkable how small this thing folds up, while still proving to be quite stable and steady when unfurled)
  • StudioPRO three-point portable lighting kit (a very basic lighting kit, containing a few umbrellas and a trio of bulbs and accompanying stands; a good place to start, though they’re certainly nothing fancy)
  • Savage portable backdrop kit (not as sturdy as a more expensive, bulkier model, but gets the job done; especially nice if you want to move it around at some point, as it’s quite light and doesn’t take up too much space when folded and bagged up)
  • Shure lav mic (a slightly higher-end clip-on mic that does a good job of capturing just one person’s voice, excluding most environmental sound)
  • Camalapse 4 (a small device that allows you to easily set up your phone or camera to capture nifty time-lapse videos or panoramas)
  • Shoulderpod S1 (a tripod stand, camera grip, and mini-tripod, all in one; I use this most frequently to hold my phone horizontally on my larger tripod, but it sometimes comes in handy as a filming grip, as well)

Podcasting

  • Rode Podcaster mic (which I use along with a Rode boom arm and shockmount; different people prefer different qualities in their mics, and I like this one because it does a great job of ignoring environmental sounds, and captures round, deep vocals)
  • Neewer pop filter (this is a brand that makes a lot of cheap, but typically not terrible, gadgets and equipment; this pop filter is solid, and though not the best on the market, the price is stellar for what you get)
  • Sony MDR 7506 studio headphones (many people recommended these to me when I told them I was starting a podcast, and I found out why: they accurately present what’s there, rather than boosting the sound that comes through them, like headphones oriented toward listening to music tend to do)

Accessories

  • Cocoon Grid-It (have been using different versions of this product over the years, and all have been wonderful; an excellent means of bringing order to your bag)
  • Gorillapod for smartphones (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 like to use, and want a small, horizontal phone-mount to use on it)
  • Hearos Earplugs (the best I’ve used; great sound-dampening, and you can use a pair of them for weeks before they start to get weird and need replacing)
  • Lewis N. Clark travel umbrella (I’ve been using this for half a year, and it still hasn’t inverted or broken — not bad, particularly because it’s so small and cheap)
  • workout band (I only use one, but it comes in a pack of five)
  • Cheap sunglasses (with glass so dark they won’t even know your name)
  • Aeropress coffee and espresso maker (my favorite means of producing coffee when I have the option; cheap, and makes a great cup of happiness)
  • FFF Architect Wallet (my current favorite wallet; not as small as others I’ve used, but the built-in space pen and notebook is a lovely touch, and the leather weathers nicely)

Bags

  • Everlane Weekender (have always loved the look of this bag, but was very skeptical about its design and sturdiness; after using it for a while under strenuous conditions, however, I’ve become far more assured of its durability and convenience)
  • S ZONE messenger-style day bag (didn’t expect much from an Amazon-based off-brand, but this little guy has proven to be quite attractive and quite rugged)
  • Rothko toiletry bag (a super-basic item, but this model has a feeling of quality about it, while most others I’ve used have failed to stand out in any way)

Toiletries

  • Osis Mess Up (clay-like hair product that works pretty well across many climates)

Notebooks/Pens/Pencils

  • Moleskine (I use these primarily as sketchbooks these days, but I’ll also jot notes in them from time-to-time; it’s worth noting, too, that they aren’t typically any better than similar options from other brands, they just have better marketing)
  • Volant (convenient pocket notebooks, which fit in my wallet)
  • Uniball Jetstream 101 (my current favorite pen; good lines, little chance of smearing
  • Sharpie Retractable (my current favorite marker; many of my book covers have been illustrated with a thin-tipped Sharpie, and this model is more ideal for travel than the capped variety)
  • Koh-I-Noor (a pencil brand I fell in love with back in illustration school, and although they’re somewhat hard to come by, I still enjoy their quality)

Clothing

  • Everlane (mainly for bags and basics, like button-down shirts, though I also own a hoodie and belt from them, both of which I quite like)
  • SuitSupply (I own a suit made and tailored by them, and it’s well-made and fits like a glove)
  • J.Crew (I tend to shop their clearance racks when I need something seasonal, like a heavy shirt, winter sweater, or warm socks)
  • Banana Republic (another brand that I don’t think I’d ever pay full-price for, but at 50% off, their coats and jackets can be good deals)
  • Levi’s (my go-tojeans: I wear 511s, and love that they’re basically ‘default’ jeans that are relatively inexpensive, fairly high-quality, and that it’s not the end of the world if I wear through them, as I tend to do)

Home

  • Zinus 12″ Memory Foam Mattress (I haven’t stocked up an apartment in about seven years, but I remember the last time I had to buy a bed — 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)
  • Zinus 10″ platform bed (I originally intended to have a simple platform under my mattress, or to go without, simply resting the mattress on the floor, but the simple design of this frame was appealing, so I bought it. It turned out to be a good choice — love the design, each to put together, and it’s become a minimal, core component of my bedroom that doesn’t stand out, but looks really wonderful)
  • 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, that wouldn’t shed like crazy, but would keep me warm during the Midwestern winters. This guy has done really well thus far, proving not to be upkeep-heavy like some down inserts, but also super fluffy and delightful)
  • AeroPress coffee maker (a long-time favorite of mine, and of people who know a lot more about coffee than I do — the guy who invented it is also quite a fascinating fellow)
  • Cold Brew coffee maker (as a lover of cold brew coffee, this has been one of my better overall quality of life purchases)
  • Toaster (I feel silly recommending a toaster, but I did quite a bit of research before buying this thing, and it hits the sweet-spot of ‘not too expensive’ and ‘truly high-quality’)
  • Pre-Seasoned Cast-Iron Combo Cooker (I will be forever thankful to my chef friend Marla from Paleo Porn for recommending this to me — so much more versatile than every other collection of cooking accouterment I’ve ever used)
  • Electric Kettle (this is another ‘I feel silly for recommending something like this’ product, but I think it looks beautiful on one’s countertop, 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 thing makes it better than I can, and with a lot less effort. I’ve also made homemade mac n’ cheese in it, so be warned that owning this appliance could be awesome in ways you didn’t predict)

Travel Services

  • AirBnB (my current favorite thing while taking short trips to pretty much anywhere in the world; you get a lot of the longer-term stay benefits, without the commitment — sign up via this link to get $35 Airbnb credit, if you like)
  • Uber (when I’m not walking or using mass-transit, I use Uber; it’s super-convenient and typically quite cheap — use this link to get $20 credit, if you want to give it a try)
  • World Nomads (I use these guys for travel insurance from time-to-time; reasonable prices, and they have a stellar reputation)
  • Google Flights (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 lacks is some smaller, local airlines, which should be checked through Kayak, or directly on the airline website)

Phone/Internet Services

  • Straight Talk (cheap, unlimited monthly, non-contract plans — uses AT&T’s network, so better than T-Mobile in places like Montana where AT&T’s coverage is much better)
  • T-Mobile (a little more expensive than Straight Talk, but amazing for their free roaming in something like 140 countries; incredibly useful on my recent trip around Europe)

Software/Online Services

  • Hostgator (after using many, many different hosting services, I eventually transferred all my online infrastructure over to these guys, because they have incredibly reliable service, but also super-wonderful customer service, in case you have questions or quibbles — also, if you use this link, you’ll get a huge discount on any services you might be interested in, from a smaller, blog-centric hosting plan, to something larger, like the Reseller Plan, which is what I use)
  • WordPress (my main blogging/website platform; simple to use, complex enough to do just about anything you might want it to do)
  • Medium (a blogging social network, with a recommendation engine and everything else you might expect from a well-integrated social ecosystem; clean design and intuitive writing dashboard, as well)
  • Gmail (I’ve tried a lot of other offerings over the years, and Gmail remains my favorite by a mile)
  • Amazon Prime (I wasn’t sure quite where to file this one, but I love the hell out of Amazon Prime, as it allows me to get the things I need, pretty much when I need them, which allows me to buy less, because I don’t feel the need to hoard. If you use this link, you’ll get a free 30-day trial, if you’ve ever been curious what all you get with a Prime membership and are keen to give it a try)
  • EmailOctopus (I still love Mailchimp’s overall look, convenience, and interface, but past a certain number of subscribers it simply isn’t worth the cost anymore — EmailOctopus requires more setup and is a little more hands-on when it comes to designing, but I enjoy using it, and it’s ridiculously inexpensive compared to all comparable options)
  • DropBox (my go-to for cloud storage and device syncing; also my non-physical backup for everything)
  • Google Photos (secondary image backup, with better automation for filtering, organizing, etc)
  • Scrivener (probably the best-ever software for book writing and publishing; highly recommended)
  • WeTransfer (a nice, simple service for sending those awkward, huge files that’re too big for email)
  • Spotify (my streaming music service of choice at the moment; particularly like how playlists work, and their recommendations engine is solid)
  • Private Internet Access (a simple, relatively inexpensive VPN for one’s computer & phone)
  • Transmit (a simple, beautiful FTP program)
  • Skype (simple, easy, typically free video chat)
  • TextWrangler (simple, free development software, from the same person who makes Transmit)
  • TubeBuddy (I started using this recently to help better manage my YouTube videos and channel — useful for search engine optimization/keywords, better video stats, and automating a lot of the little tasks that can otherwise bog you down)
  • OpenEmu (for someone like me, who has a Mac and loves games but doesn’t want to make video game equipment a huge part of my life, OpenEmu is the gold-standard of game emulators — it’s also free)

iOS 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; it’s immensely calming — my current go-to mix is 20% intensity October Rain, 40% Thunderstorm, 38% Winter Wind, and 20% Sea Waves)
  • Amount Plus (best currency and measurement converter I’ve found)
  • World Clock Widget (my favorite app for time zones, as it has a splendid and simple widget)
  • Duet Display (I don’t use this often, but it’s nice to be able to turn my iPhone into a second laptop screen when I need to)
  • Kindle Reading App (I prefer to read on my Kindle Paperwhite, but this is a good backup when I’m in the middle of a book, sans Paperwhite, and want to pick up where I left off in the book I’m reading)
  • Don’t Starve: Pocket Edition (a bizarre and wonderful game)
  • 1Writer (my note-taking app of choice, syncs well with Dropbox)
  • Paper (for non-text notes and doodles)
  • Music Memos (great for recording audio snippets, and for tuning one’s guitar)
  • FiLMiC Pro (hands down the best pro-grade video recording app available)
  • ProCamera (downside is that this app doesn’t take Live Photos the way the default camera app does, but the upsides are myriad, as it allows for a lot more pro-level control)
  • Motion Stills (the absolute best way to export your Live Photos as gifs or videos — can’t believe Google built this instead of Apple)
  • Voice Record Pro 7 (what I use to record audio intended for publication, rather than just notes)
  • Overcast (my favorite podcast app)
  • Spotify (best collection of music and options for streaming it, in my opinion — worth the pro-plan if you spend a lot of time offline)
  • Quartz (quickly becoming one of my favorite news-skimming options)
  • Weather Underground (solid weather app with good UI)

Ecommerce

  • Gumroad (a great place to sell all kinds of products, particularly digital goods; low fees)
  • Cash.me (an easy way to send and request money)
  • Square (the best in-person sales platform, which allows you to accept credit cards from your phone)
  • Venmo (great for in-person bill-dividing, or other cash-transmission tasks)

Social Networks

Podcasts

  • 99% Invisible
  • Radiolab
  • The Weeds
  • The Economist Radio
  • Fugitive Waves
  • Gastropod
  • Hidden Brain
  • Love + Radio
  • The New Yorker Radio Hour
  • Note to Self
  • On the Media
  • Only Human
  • Open Source
  • Reveal
  • Surprisingly Awesome
  • Waking Up
  • Benjamin Walker’s Theory of Everything
  • Common Sense
  • Intelligence Squared US Debates
  • Invisibilia
  • The Memory Palace
  • The Minimalists
  • More Perfect
  • Reply All
  • Science VS
  • Revisionist History
  • Song Exploder
  • What’s the Point