A Few of My Favourite Things (of 2014)
You know, I’ve never understood why people consider “My Favourite Things” a Christmas song, and I certainly never get why people think The Sound of Music is a Christmas film (nothing says Christmas like fleeing Nazi occupied Austria).Any-hoo, be that as it may, it's probably why so many people post their “favourite things” lists near the end of the year; that and the fact that they are a great way to recommend products for people to buy for Christmas. I've never done one myself and figured, what the hell?
So here's a collection of some of my favourite things, things I use on a daily basis, things I couldn't live without, and things you couldn't go wrong with buying.
(Photo credit: Paula Bailey on Flickr)
Apple iPhone 6
Anyone who knows me knows that I'm an Apple "fanboy", but I'm also a realist. I don't buy a new phone every year, and I opt to be on the "tick" rather than "tock" cycle. I must admit that I was hesitant this year when Apple launched the iPhone 6. With it's bigger form factor, and departure from the blocky design style of the 4(S)/5(S)(C) I knew I was in for a world of adjustment. But it's been worth it. No, my phone has not bent, and I've actually grown accustomed to the larger form factor (even if I do think it's slightly too big). The new camera is fantastic, TouchID is absolutely brilliant, battery life is shockingly good, and perhaps my favourite thing of all is the fact that all of my most used apps fit on the home screen. Yes, that extra row of 4 icons really makes that much of a difference. Sure, it's expensive, but then again $900 for a computer is actually pretty cheap. And considering I use it more than any other piece of technology in my life I think it's worth it.
Price: $859 Unlocked at Apple Canada (Because 16 GB is way too small, and you absolutely should not purchase it)
Of course, the hardware is only part of what makes the iPhone so great. It's also the software. iOS 8 is easily the best release in iOS history having, introduced plenty of minor tweaks from the previous iterations, as well as powerful new under the hood features that make it more useful than ever. Plus it just looks so damn pretty. Android may be more "powerful" (and what does that even mean, really?) but I can't imagine ditching iOS anytime soon. So much so that if I had to choose I'd probably opt for non-Apple hardware running iOS rather than vice versa. And the software for iOS is second to none. Which brings me to...
I'll be honest with you, I have a terrible memory. Which is why Due is a God send. I use this app probably every day. You can easily set one off reminders, recurring alerts, and even quick timers. It's got a natural text parser meaning you can simply type "remind me to buy milk tomorrow at noon" and it knows what that means. And since it will remind you (read: nag you) every minute until you mark the reminder as done you'll hopefully actually do what it's telling you to do. Yes, there's the stock reminders app, but it stinks. Get this instead.
Price: $5 at The App Store
I've tried all the big Pod-catchers out there, and I've landed on Overcast as my favourite. Sure, there's a few little tweaks I'd love to see, but it's giving me the most consistent experience across the board, and well worth the "in app purchase" to unlock the extra features, and support an awesome developer.
Price: Free with In App Purchase at The App Store
As someone who relies on public transit I have to rely on other people in order to get from place to place, which also means I'm on their time. And since I don't live in Japan there's no real understanding of when exactly that time might be. Thankfully Transit makes knowing when the next streetcar, bus, or train is going to arrive quick and easy. And its new iOS 8 "Today" widget makes checking even easier than before - a quick glance and I'll know how much longer I'll be freezing my butt off.
Price: Free at The App Store
If you follow me on Instagram (you probably shouldn't by the way) you'e likely seen a photo (or 40) tagged #vscocam. This is because I do all my photo editing in VSCO Cam these days because, simply put, it's the best photo app for the iPhone. No, seriously. There's no reason to write anything else. Just go download it, and maybe buy some filters. But seriously, it's the best. If only I could set it as my default camera...
Price: Free with In App Purchases at The App Store
15" Retina MacBook Pro
Again, I'm an Apple fanboy and haven't owned or really even used a non-Apple computer in over 10 years. But that doesn't mean I'm biased; my first 15" MacBook Pro was one of the worst computers I've ever had the misfortune of using. So with that in mind I can safely say this is the greatest computer I've ever owned. Ever. Seriously. It's fast, it's light, has good battery life, and the screen is incredible. It's perfect for sitting on the couch browsing the web (or writing blogs), but also powerful enough to edit multi-stream 1080p video in Final Cut Pro X. In fact, Final Cut Pro runs faster and smoother on this machine than it does on our big souped up cheese-grater MacPros at the office. Sure, if you're just browsing the web it's overkill, especially when you consider you're paying a premium for the screen, but for anyone who needs a little more power than a MacBook Air can provide it's a no brainer. That said, you really don't need to go all out and max everything out like I did. My wallet still stings from that...
Price: Starting at $2,009 at Apple Canada.
Okay, sure, Apple is bound to update this thing any day now, but my old second generation (read: 720p) AppleTV is still going strong, and I absolutely adore it. Be it for streaming music, watching Netflix, renting a movie, or using one of those other "apps" Apple keeps adding that nobody really uses, at just over a hundred bucks you get a lot of bang for your buck (and even more if you buy refurbished as I did). The remote is fucking stupid though.
Price: $109 at Apple Canada
iFlicks is how I get all my legally acquired HD MKV cat videos into iTunes for streaming to the Apple TV with proper meta-data. Drag and drop, push a button, and away you go. You can even set-up watch folders if you want to really automate your cat-video transcoding. It can either re-wrap files to an iTunes friendly format, or convert to any number of Apple related presets. It's awesome.
Price: $24.99 at The Mac App Store
I must admit, I find myself using iFlicks a little bit less frequently lately thanks to the incredible application that is Plex. A desktop app, mobile App, and media server, Plex makes your media consumption a painless and beautiful experience. You can even hack your AppleTV so it can access it (hopefully Apple will eventually introduce an App store, at which point it will be an instant purchase). They are even now on Xbox One which almost makes it worth getting an Xbox One... Simply put, if you download any media and want to watch it on a device other than the computer you downloaded on, you want Plex.
Price: Free for the media server, $$$ for the various mobile apps.
Admit it; you use the same password for just about every website you visit, and it's probably a something stupid like "password123". Or "sex". Well, as we learned this year that's a terrible idea and you really need to stop doing that (no, but seriously). Thankfully, 1Password makes that easy. In short; it can generate and store strong passwords for you that require you to simply remember one master password. This Sandwich video will explain better than I ever could. I've been using it for years and have paid for the upgrade whenever a new version comes out because it is literally one of the greatest applications ever made. And yes; it is cross platform (you you have absolutely no excuse not to use it).
Price: $50 for your computer, Free with In App Purchase for Mobile
Speaking of not doing things you should know better of; do you backup your computer? Really? Really? Take it from someone who's been burned on more than one occasion: it sucks. A lot. And in 2014 there's simply no excuse not to be backing up. Make it your new year resolution! It's a lot easier than going to the gym every day! And Backblaze makes it really easy. Unlimited online backup for $50 a year. That's a no brainer! And they really mean unlimited, unlike some companies (*cough*Mozy*cough*Carbonite*cough*). So, stop what you're doing, buy yourself an account and start backing up your stuff. I'll wait (actually I won't since that initial backup will take a long time)...
Price: $50 a year, per computer
If you're anything like me you take a lot of photos, but don't really do anything with them. I used to be really good about importing to iPhoto but since the iPhone has gone "wireless" I find myself doing so less and less. That's where Picturelife comes in. It automatically backs up your photos to the cloud; be it from your phone, or your computer. It's a perfect set it and forget it solution. And when you upgrade to one of their premium plans you can rest safely knowing that your entire photo library is safe in the cloud (I have photos from all the way back in 2007 backed up). But perhaps my favourite feature is the "Memories" it will send you every day, showing you photos you took that day in previous years. It's a great way to revisit all those photos you've taken over the years. It will maintain your album structures if you organize using an app like iPhoto or Aperture, and it has a pretty good duplication detector. It even uploads video so your baby's first steps will be safe in the cloud. If you're an avid photographer, or even just someone who takes photos every once and a while it's a must have.
Price: Free with premium accounts.
If you're one of the few people who don't yet have a Netflix subscription, you should definitely get on that. True, the Canadian movie library kind of sucks, but it's got lots of fascinating documentaries for you to absorb, not to mention plenty of great television shows for you to binge on (especially the Netflix Originals!), and if you can get access to the American library you'll have more content then you know what to do with (like, for example, the complete series of Frasier).
Price: $7.99 a month
Speaking of US Netflix, if you're looking for a way to access it Ad-Free Time can help you out. Granted it'll cost you $2 a month, but isn't it worth it to be able to watch every episode of Frasier ever made? If I'm being honest I'm a new subscriber to Ad-Free Time having used Unblock-Us for most of the year, but Ad-Free Time is cheaper and so far works just as well.
Price: $2 a month
The good news is that you no longer need a service like Ad-Free Time or Unblock-Us to access Spotify in Canada, because it's officially launched here and it's wonderful. Like Netflix but for music you have an almost unlimited amount of music at your fingertips, available to stream for free. But for the low price of $9.99 (plus tax) a month you get ad-free listening, high quality streaming, and full access of their mobile apps. For me, it's a no brainer. For others, you can probably get by with the free account (especially with the use of an app like Spotifree). But if you really dig music you definitely will want an account. Unless you're a Taylor Swift fan.
Price: $9.99 (plus tax) a month.
At the risk of sounding like a hipster I was into vinyl long before it was cool. Actually, if I'm being accurate, it was long after it was cool, but long before it was cool again. Point is, I've been listening to music on vinyl since I was a little kid, and got my first turntable when I was, like, three, so don't call me a hipster... Now, we can debate the merits of vinyl vs. digital until we're blue in the face, but for me there's nothing that quite compares to a beautifully pressed, perfectly mastered vinyl (especially these days, since many modern releases tend not to be brickwalled when mastered for vinyl). Especially if that song happens to be Billie Jean on the US first pressing of Thriller. This all being said, I can't really recommend you purchase my turntable since it's a vintage table from the 70s, that's undergone various upgrades over the years, and is fed into a fairly expensive sound system that I got second hand. Unfortunately it's on it's last legs (or rather I'm too lazy to figure out how to fix it) and will likely be replacing it in the coming months with U-Turn Orbit. While I can't speak to it's quality yet, once I get it I'll be sure to keep you posted. As for what you should be spinning, a few of my favourite releases include: John Mayer's Continuum, Jamie Cullum's The Pursuit, Michael Jackson's Thriller (Original US First Pressing), and because "'tis the season", the Charlie Brown Christmas soundtrack and Diana Krall's Christmas Songs.
Price: $2 at a garage sale, but it would have cost a couple hundred back in the day.
Pioneer SP-BS22-LR Bookshelf Speakers
When I upgraded my sound system I also figured it was time to buy some big-boy speakers. These guys get great reviews, even from annoying audiophile types which means they must be really good. And you honestly can't beat the price. You can go down the rabbit hole really quickly with audio gear so just take my advice and get these things.
Price: $149.99 at Amazon.ca (which is amazing since when I ordered mine Amazon.ca didn't carry them and had to order them from Amazon.com to a US address)
PerfecTemp Electric Kettle
I received this variable temperature kettle for Christmas a few years back and absolutely adore it. The fact that it has auto shut-off and is cordless would be enough for most, but for me it's the various preset temperatures that make it a favourite. If you're an avid tea drinker you know that certain teas should be brewed at a certain temperature, and while I'm not sure how accurate the kettle actually is it does a good enough job that I'd recommend it.
DavidsTea Saigon Chai
Speaking of tea, this is my go to, absolute favourite tea. I drink it every single day (unless I'm out of it) and order it in bulk (like, 250g at a time bulk). I'm a big fan of DavidsTea in general, but if I had to pick just one of their teas to consume for the rest of my life it'd be this.
Price: Starting at $8.50 for 50g
A few years back I swore off Pop (or Soda for you Americans) during the week and started drinking Perrier instead. This quickly became quite expensive, and so I said I wanted a SodaStream. My girlfriend was convinced that this was another one of those things I claimed I wanted but would never use. Despite this she bought me one for Christmas, and to her amazement I used it. Every. Single. Day. Mind you, I don't make my own Coca Cola or anything with it, just fresh, pure, super bubbly water. But isn't that enough? And it's a hell of a lot cheaper than buying Perrier every day. There's a variety of models out there but I find the basic version does the job just fine. Just pump 'til it farts 4 times.
Price: $69.99 at Amazon.ca
Speaking of gifts from my girlfriend, last year she surprised me with the Mini Jambox which I had thrown on my Christmas list because I knew I wanted a bluetooth speaker and thought the Jamboxes looked cool. Turns out it's actually an awesome little device that I use almost every day. It is my go to speaker for listening to podcasts while cooking dinner, or for playing music on our drives to the cottage in the Jeep that only has a CD player. It has great battery life (I charge it once every couple months), and while it could be a little louder (especially for when we're in the car) the sound quality is remarkable.
Price: $149.99 at Amazon.ca
Fossil Decker Chronograph
In recent years I've become a bit of a watch nut, even if I can only afford watches from Fossil... Another gift from my girlfriend, she gave me this watch for our anniversary, and of all the watches I own it's probably my favourite. The size is perfect, the design is bold and classic. It feels great, it looks great, and it does it's job perfectly (although the glow in the dark paint kind of sucks). Fossil retired it a while back, but brought it back this year in a variety of colours. Sadly, they didn't opt to bring back the 38mm version I own, but rather a larger 44mm version (the 2010 edition came in 38mm and 42mm), but that's probably fine for most people, unless you have dainty lady wrists like me.
Bond 50 Blu-ray Boxset
If you are like me you probably love James Bond (and if you don't you can show yourself out). This is the ultimate Bond lovers gift. Every film, hours upon hours of special features. I've had it for over a year and barely scratched the surface. It also randomly goes on sale on Amazon and you can sometimes pick it up for less than a hundred bucks (true story; a week after I bought it it was on sale for like $90 and I was pissed). I've got lots of Blu-ray boxsets but this is probably the best of them all.
Price: $109.99 at Amazon.ca (as of this writing, but that could change at any time...)
So there you have it. A collection of some of my favourite things; things I love, and use every single day. Anybody on your gift list would be happy with just about anything on this list, at least if they have great taste like we do.
Happy Christmas, and happy shopping!