Things I Love

This page is dedicated to listing the items that I use on a daily or weekly basis, and that I would highly recommend based on having great experiences with them.  I’ve noted new items that, while I love right now, are still new and may fall off the list because of a bad experience.

I update this constantly as I find new things that I love, and that I can honestly say I’ve used to the point where I would highly recommend them, and even put my personal endorsement on them.

Last Updated: June 7th, 2017

Technology

Phone – I am known for having the newest phones as soon as they come out, and have at least 5 at any given time in some sort of usage. Right now, I love the iPhone X mainly because of the battery and screen size in such a small package.

I have smaller than average hands, and most flaghship phones that have good size screens and decent battery are the bigger “plus” models. I can’t hold them for very long at all without having major issues. The iPhone X is the first Apple device that has a screen the size of a larger phone, and battery life to match.

Computer – reluctantly, the new 2016 MacBook Pro 15″ with touch bar. Why reluctantly? My previous MacBook (2012) and this one look very similar, and there doesn’t seem to be much innovation in that 4 year gap. It still costs an arm and a leg, looks about the same, but now I have to buy stupid dongles for everything. On the positive side, I tested it side by side for a week with a fully loaded Microsoft Surface Pro with Performance Base (top of the line model) and the MacBook still smoked any PC I put against it (I tried a few others too) for video and photo editing, hands down.

Car Phone Mounts – Pro Clips USA – it’s essential to have your phone securely mounted in the car. I use Waze and music in the car constantly. Pro Clips are more expensive than many of the stuff you’ll find on Amazon, but they are well worth it. I have three different mounts that I can exchange between depending on what phone I’m carrying, and the base mount feels like it’s part of the car.  Super secure, well made, why use something that falls off or blocks your air vents.

Home Automation

SmartThings – I’ve written about this on the boat, but I started using it years ago at home for automation of various tasks.

Philips Hue – On the boat I’ve used various different types of LED lighting, but at home I rely on Philips for almost all normal lighting throughout the house. Since this product is primarily a 110VAC solution, it doesn’t lend itself well to the boat. However, after testing over 10 manufacturers for 5+ years, Philips is the only one with a quality control system, but in addition, has high quality white and RGB lights. Many of the other manufacturers have the same specs on paper, but are hard to control, or the quality of the light is absolutely abysmal. I have over 20 light strips and 10 bulbs throughout the house that are constantly changing and being used in different ways, many of which are driven by SmartThings automation.

Websites & Blogs

Ghost – I recently moved to a new CMS / Blog platform after years of using WordPress. The main reason for this was the amount of time I spent updating and maintaining the system, which WordPress is notorious for. In addition, the amount of security problems that I had with WordPress was staggering.

Ghost has none of those issues, and is designed around a publishing experience with a fantastic editor, speedy performance, and handlebars based templating system.

Hosting – I’ve tried 10’s of hosting companies, and recommend Linode as my go-to for Linux machines that might have high bandwidth requirements, or need to be on 24×7 at a low cost. Their performance is hard to beat even by Amazon or DigitalOcean, and their prices are fantastic.

AWS S3 runs sites like http://nileweather.com/ and http://fridayharboweather.com/ for pennies compared to other traditional hosting solutions. This only works well with static websites.

Photography/Videography

Camera – Sony RX10 MK3 – up until recently, I was a Nikon guy. I had several bodies, bags of lenses, and carried this all in a separate bag wherever I went. After getting tired of swapping things, and reading Ken Rockwell’s site on various camera reviews, I found this whole new area called bridge cameras. After a lot of research, including Ken’s review, I chose the Sony RX10 MK3. The menus are not easy, and there are some other small things, but the rest is truly amazing.  24-600mm in a single lens, single smaller package, fantastic image quality, stunning video.  All in one camera that can fit in my normal laptop bag, and go with me anywhere.

Software – I use Lightroom to manage my catalog, but I don’t love it. It’s the only solution that seems to work well and gets continual updates. For edits, I use Lightroom sometimes, but mostly I use Perfectly Clear and DxO Optics Pro.

Drone – DJI Phantom 4 Pro – I have had every DJI Phantom series they have made, and while their reputation for sales and service is terrible, their features are arguably the best that the market has to offer. I’ve used home built and less known brands including Yuneec and others, but DJI always has a better feature set and stability. The P4 Pro has a real shutter in the camera, and produces far superior photos and videos than any other drone I’ve flown. However, mine died recently while under autopilot. Most recently I got the Mavic Pro, the tiny new drone from DJI, and will be flying it over the next few months to see if this is my new favorite…

Music

I started playing piano at 3 years old – and have a great studio at home. There are a few things I love about my setup:

Maschine Studio – I am still new to this style of composing, but I do use the Maschine Studio to compose drumbeats and other percussion. I can see a lot of additional opportunities with it, but I haven’t used it to it’s fullest potential yet.

Komplete Kontrol 11 Ultimate – this is what makes the two above pieces of hardware all worth it. It is quite expensive, but provides you with studio quality samples and sounds for just about anything you could imagine. The pianos alone are stunning, and Una Corda is a work of art. I can’t rave enough about the sounds, the way you can control and build them, and the overall quality of the entire system. This plus the amazing keybed on the S88 is what makes this a sheer joy to play.

Focusrite Scarlett 18i8 (2nd Gen) – having a good audio interface is a must these days, and one that has a high quality of sound is also important to me. I have used Apogee and MOTU most over the last 6 years or so, but have been frustrated by their cost (Apogee) and complexity of software (MOTU) or general reliability. I have had several Focusrite products, and always been impressed with the sound quality, and the fact that they don’t require a lot of software or complex learning curves to use. This Scarlett 18i8 is dead simple to use, boots up in seconds, and has lots of nice twisty dials on the front that let you control things very quickly. While I appreciate and love the software approach that MOTU has taken, sometimes you just want to play, and don’t want to be distracted by web interfaces and patches.

Output Platform – after having a bunch of crappy solutions throughout the years, I finally found a production built desk from Output. It has better cable management than I have ever seen on a desk, holes in places for everything to pass through, and all sorts of other awesome features. Plus it is way sturdier than any other desk I have had. I absolutely love the desk, and spend hours at it every day.

Tools

Brady BMP-21 label maker – everyone should have a good label maker both on the boat and at home. This one is designed for scientific use, which makes it much better than the usual Brother and Dymo. On top of that, get the cloth label tape, and you will never have labels come off in an engine room or elsewhere in dirty conditions.

Fenix Tk45 Flashlight – a staple on the boat for 5+ years. Uses AA batteries and is super bright and adjustable. LED, so no worries about bulbs.

Thermapen thermometer – this is more of a kitchen tool than anything else. I have two – one at home and one on the boat – and rely on them for ensuring food safety when cooking pretty much anything. I’ve had one of them for over 10 years, and they are fantastic – instant read, amazingly accurate, and easy to use. Much better than any other thermometer out there.

Marine

I don’t put everything I use in here, as there are so many things I rely on while on the boat. The items below are the critical things I couldn’t live without.

Mantus lights – these little guys get used everywhere. Hung in the cockpit for extra light on warm summer nights, in the engine room in dark corners, at home when the power goes out. They have phenomenal staying power, adjustable light levels, and a rail mount clamp. I wrote a bit of a review on them here.

DeLorme inReach – I was a SPOT customer for years, but their product always lacked a few things, and really didn’t change much in the 7+ years I used them. The last 2 years I’ve been using the DeLorme inReach product, which not only allows for SOS and tracking, but custom text messages, maps, and tethering to an extent. I don’t just use it while on the boat – it’s been into the mountains with me and the drone, and all over the place. Sometimes I take it on business trips in case I get stuck in a strange city and need to communicate in the case of a disaster. It saved my life when I was trapped in the snow.

Navionics – on the iPad or Raymarine, the auto-routing and planning features of Navionics are a godsend to figure out “what if” moments – should we go inside or outside? What if we left later? Being able to have high quality charts and information on a phone or tablet with super fast zoom and planning is absolutely revolutionary in the last few years, and it’s become a staple in my planning tool box.

Coastal Explorer – Navionics is great for those “what if” moments, but when it comes to actually planning out your voyage, nothing replaces Coastal Explorer. I wrote about my first experiences back in 2007 (it’s been 10 years!) and still rely on it today. Hands down the user experience and ease of use is why it is my go-to today.

Linux + canboat + SignalK – somewhere on the boat there always needs to be a Linux machine running something to snarf data of the NMEA 2000 bus. It’s critical when working on things, and has solved many boat problems while out and about – being able to see what is going on at the network level has allowed this.

Fridge Optimizer – I wrote about this here and on Three Sheets Northwest and after a full year of use, it’s become one of my best friends. It saves tons of amp hours on the battery bank, and I have never had under or over cooled food and drinks since install.

Fashion/Clothing

Backpack – eBags Professional Slim Laptop Backpack**– I am a bag whore, I will freely admit it. I probably have 40 backpacks, bags, duffels, and more – seriously! The eBags backpack is about the perfect bag ever made. It has pockets for everything conceivable, perfect slots for laptop and iPad, a hard storage area in the bottom for power supplies. It has been my go-to bag for longer than any other in the last 10 years.

Grip6 Belts– seems like a weird thing to list here, but these things are amazing. You can adjust them to an exact fit throughout the entire day, and you can get them in a ton of colors and finishes. I have given up on normal belts.

Banana Republic non-iron dress shirts – these things are amazing! I have used them for 2+ years and some of the original ones are still looking almost new. The best part of them is that a few minutes in the dryer and they look like they have been dry cleaned. Many other products claim this, but BR’s non-iron shirts are simply amazing, and hold their quality look for lots of cycles.