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: March 17th, 2017

Technology

Phone – tie between the iPhone 7 and the Google Pixel. I have a bunch of Apple technology, which makes using the iPhone easy, and now that it’s water resistant, it makes it an easy choice when out and about. But the OS is dated and Apple’s approach to notifications is a joke.

The Google Pixel is a pure Android experience with lots of extra nice features. But the main selling point is the camera – it takes the best photos in pretty much all conditions hands-down.

I currently own the iPhone (various flavors), Google Pixel, OnePlus 3T, Google Nexus 5, Samsung Galaxy S7, and a few others I’ve probably forgotten.

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 MountsPro 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

WordPress – best blog software out there, although it’s a bit bloated and has grown over time. I’ve tried all of them out there – I have a close eye on Ghost and hope it grows in the next few years, as I may end up defecting there at some point because of it’s writer focus.

Hosting – I’ve tried 10’s of hosting companies, and have settled on three for very specific purposes. DigitalOcean is my go-to for Linux machines that might have high bandwidth requirements, or need to be on 24×7 at a low cost. AWS EC2 instances are my go-to for anything production level – I run VPN and monitoring servers there. AWS S3 runs sites like http://nileweather.com/ and http://fridayharboweather.com/ for pennies compared to other traditional hosters.

This site is run in WordPress on Pressidium, one of the best solutions I’ve found in a long time. Take a look at their technology stack – it provides redundancy and caching that I have not seen anywhere else, even Flywheel, WPEngine, and Pantheon. I had multiple outages with all of those other solutions because of their very limited architecture.

Theme/frameworkNewsPaper by TagDiv – I’ve tried a number of other frameworks out there, and basic themes as well. I always come back to Newspaper because of it’s sheer speed and massive configurability. The flexibility in how you can configure individual posts or pages is stunning, yet easy to use. I’ve been a faithful customer for 2+ years, which is saying a lot for a theme/framework, as many sites change constantly trying to find their way.

SecurityWordfence – one of the best out there to ensure your site is secure. Lots of options and scans and great support. Recommend the Pro option. With Pressidium (see Hosting above) you don’t need this.

Caching & SpeedCloudFlareW3 Total Cache & Nginx – all three of these work together to give the site amazing speed. You can configure all sorts of levels of caching and performance, and really have a lot of control of things. But at the end of the day, it’s just damn fast! With Pressidium (see Hosting above) you don’t need this.

Photography/Videography

CameraSony 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.

DroneDJI 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:

Yamaha Stage Piano CP-5 – I am a pianist at heart, and grew up on Yamaha. After a number of forays into Korg, Roland, and other workstations and digital pianos, I finally found the perfect board. The CP-5 weighs in at almost 100 pounds, the key action feels like any modern Yamaha, and the samples do as well. It’s about as close to a real piano as you could get. So beautiful!

MOTU UltraLite AVB – I’ve tried various bits from Apogee, Focusrite and more, and ended up settling on a MOTU UltraLite AVB. This little half rack unit can handle all of my inputs

Purpose built studio desk – after having a bunch of crappy solutions throughout the years, I finally found AZ Studio Solutions and the AZ-B Keyboard Studio Desk. After placing my order, they contacted me for exact measurements of my board, monitor, and other pieces, along with colors, and custom made my solution for me. 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.

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