Neil Peart

AndyO Blog

Monday, December 28, 2009

Gifts you should have given - 2009

Now it's time for my annual "Gifts you should have given" list. Click to see previous lists. This year, I'm sticking mostly with items you can use around the house.

Shamwow! - OK, I finally gave some of these to my son for Christmas. He liked the idea of a towel that could magically soak up water like a vacuum. Plus it's made in Germany, so you know it's good.

iSlice - A cutting tool that won't cut you (as far as I can tell). It has a small zirconium oxide ceramic blade that barely sticks out of its housing -- but when you drag it across paper or plastic, it slices like a Ginsu knife. When you're done, you can stick it on your fridge because it's magnetic.

Mighty Putty - We broke one of the rungs on my sons' bunkbed ladder, and we fixed it with Mighty Putty. This stuff really does work. And, yes, I was skeptical.

Euro-Pro V1950 Shark VX3 Cordless Floor-and-Carpet Cleaner - This is a cordless vacuum that works almost as well as a full-size vacuum. Works well for hardwood floors, too.

Snuggie for Kids - We got one of these for our four-year-old, and (I'm not kidding) it's one of his favorite gifts. This one came with slippers, too. As much as these seem like a joke, the cashier told me they'd sold out of them several times at Bed Bath and Beyond.

Dyson DC24 Ball Vacuum Cleaner - If you want a serious vacuum, this is the gold standard. It's designed to be taken apart, so you can remove those frustrating clogs that shut down ordinary vacuums. Well worth the money (and they are expensive).

Turbo Snake - You know how it is; your sink always clogs at the worst possible time. But now you can work like the pros with this handy item.

Icy Bottle Sticks - Have you ever tried to put ice in your water or Gatorade bottle? I have, and it never fits. Well, someone finally figured out that ice can be any shape.


posted by AndyO @ 7:15 PM   1 comments links to this post

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Gifts you should have given - 2008

Even though I'm late (as usual), here are a few gifts to consider for that special someone (who could be you!).

Xbox 360 - I've had my Xbox 360 Elite for a year (this version includes an HDMI connector for HD TVs), and it still surprises me every day. The thing you need to realize about this system is it's much, much more than a game system. With an Xbox 360 you can:

  • Play Netflix "instant" movies from the Xbox interface with a "Gold membership" (about $50 per year) - Now the Xbox hooks up automatically to your Netflix "instant" queue. The quality is good, including HD versions of many movies and TV shows.
  • Rent movies right from your Xbox -- including HD versions.
  • Buy and play TV shows.
  • Turn the Xbox into a Windows Media Center, where you can access your videos and pictures from your PC.
  • Use Xbox Live to play against other Xbox players across the web (requires an Xbox Gold membership).
  • Future feature: Play Blu-ray movies. While rumors of an Xbox 360 Blu-ray drive have been rampant since the demise of HD-DVD, it appears this will soon be a reality. If this report is true, you should be able to buy an external Blu-ray drive for around $150, which is much less than most of the Blu-ray players out there.

Netflix - Rent movies from the Netflix website, and they arrive by envelope in your mailbox in about 2-3 days. But the real selling point with this service is the ability to stream movies on your computer on demand. In addition, as mentioned in my Xbox 360 recommendation, Netflix instant movies also play in the Xbox interface (requires an Xbox "Gold" membership) as well as many other Netflix enabled players.

Zune - While Apple iPod lovers will diss the Zune, there are many reasons why you should consider buying one of these devices:

  • The Zune Pass subscription music service allows you to download all the music you want. Why buy CDs when you can download and listen to everything you want for around $15.00 per month? Plus, you can use one Zune Pass with three Zune devices and three computers. Finally, you get to keep 10 songs per month with this subscription. What a deal.
  • Wireless sync - Set up your Zune to sync with a host computer, and all you need to do is turn on your Zune and it syncs automatically. This is especially great for Podcast subscriptions.
  • Audiobook support - Fire up that Audible account and start listening to books on your commute.
  • Video store - Buy and download TV shows and other available videos. These will also play through a Windows Media Center.
  • Podcasts - This has become one of my favorite features, as it's like a TiVo for radio. The NPR shows are especially great.
  • Games - While the games are a little difficult to play on the Zune, this is a nice feature to have for those times you're stuck in traffic or if the kids need something to do on a long drive.
  • Much improved Zune 3.0 software and solid Zune device hardware.

Logitech Harmony One Universal Remote - I've had several Logitech universal remotes, and this one seems to be the best so far. The touch screen is easy to use, and the design is much more ergonomic than any of the others I've used.

R2-D2 Fish Tank - I saw this at the local Petco with my kids, and they wanted one right away.

Star Trek Phaser II - I just bought one of these, and while it's no Master Replicas Lightsaber, it's a nice replica of my favorite Star Trek prop. Plus, the Phaser I (also known as a "hand phaser") detaches from the Phaser II body.pad I just noticed that this is "out of stock," and it probably will be for a while. If you see one of these available to buy, don't hesitate.

Bose Companion 2 multimedia speaker system - Want some great stereo speakers for your home computer? These sound great, and there's no subwoofer needed to produce an amazing range of sound.

Bubble Calendar - Know someone who likes to pop bubble wrap? Get them one of these.

Bacon Salt - Over Thanksgiving this year, my brother-in-law Brian and I were talking obsessively about how great this product sounded. If I don't get some for Christmas, I'm ordering a package myself!

PowerSquid Surge 3000 Surge Protector, Black - This looks a little weird, but the idea is simple: Flexible outlets can handle more transformers than the usual powerstrips.


posted by AndyO @ 1:07 PM   0 comments links to this post

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Holiday gift recommendations - 2007

12/13 - Update: Added item 9.

Like everyone these days, I like to give my own Holiday gift recommendations. You can read my previous years recommendations here.

These recommendations will probably work best for someone who loves The Sharper Image or Brookstone, and also enjoys Sci-Fi movies. There are some practical gifts in here, too.

1. Zune Originals 8 GB ($199.00) and Zune Marketplace Subscription ($14.99 per month)

Last year I recommended the 2 GB iRiver Clix with the MTV Urge music service. Now that Urge is no more, and now that Microsoft has released Zune v2 with the smaller 4 GB and 8 GB form factor, my new recommendation is the 8 GB "original" model. The Zune Originals website actually let you customize the back of your Zune with art, text, or both.

Zune 8 GB black player Zune original art

The Zune Marketplace v2 is an improvement over v1, with a richer, lighter interface. Personally, I use the subscription service because I can download as much music as I want to my Zune for about the cost of one CD per month. Plus, you can use the subscription to listen to music on three computers.

Click here for Zune purchase options.

2. Dustbuster -- $49-59.00

The new Dustbusters are more powerful than their 1990 cousins. I plug mine in near the kitchen, and use it every day. Here are just a few uses that I've found:

  • Pick up after your kids eat (especially if they're in the 2-year-old range)
  • Pick up after your kids track dirt or sand in the house
  • Pick up the pile of dirt, dust bunnies, Legos, or other stuff after you've swept up.
  • Go after fruit flies, flies, or bees (you can even let the bees go after you vacuum them up).
  • Pick up after your kids' art projects (think: little pieces of paper, wax, glitter, plastic, etc.)
  • Vacuum out your car (the new Dustbuster is not as powerful as a Shop Vac, but it'll do the job. The battery lasts about 15 minutes on the lower setting).

3. U.S.S. Enterprise replica - Art Asylum and Master Replicas

I bought the Art Asylum Classic Enterprise after reading about it on Amazon.com and a few other online stores. The customer reviews convinced me to buy one.

What makes this model work is the attention to detail, like the numbers and graphics on the side of the hull, and the way the ship comes to life when you  press the bridge: the engines light up, and you get to hear authentic Star Trek sound effects, including dialogue from Captain James T. Kirk.

If you know a Star Trek fan, this is great gift for big and little kids. (I keep mine on my desk at work). However, If money is no object, then you probably want to get the Master Replicas U.S.S. Enterprise replica (only $1,499!).

4. ARTFX R2 and C3P0 figures - $149.00

These figures, which are imported from the Japanese company KOTOBUKIYA, are highly-detailed models of the famous Star Wars robots. There is some assembly required, but it's no more than snapping an arm or leg into place. 

This replica also sits on my desk, and I'm always noticing new details.

5. Force FX Lightsaber - Starting at $119 (Limited quantities!)

Now that Master Replicas was purchased by Corgi, a larger toy company with shareholders and profit margins to worry about, they aren't renewing their Star Wars license. This means that you won't be able to get the incredible Force FX Lightsaber for much longer. Note that many of the Force FX models are sold out.

I have the Darth Vader model, and it's one of the coolest "toys" I've ever bought. Whenever I fire it up, my kids go crazy. Well worth the $119.

6. Norelco Electric Shavers - Starting at $99.00

If you've never tried an electric shaver, you should. I own a Norelco 8170 XL model, and it's amazing. Instead of shaving at home, I shave on my way into work in the car (I'm in a lot of traffic). Sometimes people stare at me, but I don't care.

7. True-back

If you're one of those people who suffers from chronic back pain, the True-back device is something you should try. As you lie down on it, the track in the middle of the device actually puts your spine in traction, while at the same time stretching your back. When my back is bothering me, this is the first device I turn to.

8. ThinkGeek Wi-Fi detector shirt - $29.99

The idea of a shirt that lights up when it senses a Wi-Fi signal is novel to say the least. I wondered how they did it, but then I saw that it does use 3 AAA batteries.

ThinkGeek's Wi-Fi detector shirt

9. Finger Mouse Drum pad - $39.95

This one made it on the list of the Skymall "dumbest item of all time," but I think it's kind of cool. For those drummers (and non-drummers) who want to play at work, this looks like a good choice.

To see another list of tech products, go to:

29 Exceptional Products for Tech Lovers by PCWorld


posted by AndyO @ 11:47 PM   0 comments links to this post

Saturday, December 16, 2006

AndyO 2006 holiday gift recommendations

If you're still looking for holiday gifts--especially for that person who likes gadgets and electronics--here are a few recommendations. 

  1. Harmony 880 Remote Control $249.00 - This universal remote controls all your audio-visual components, including TVs, stereos, video games, DVD players and more. It plugs into your computer via USB. This device has taken me from three remotes to one. This model uses a lithium battery that can be recharged on a docking station. Logitech Harmony 880 Remote Control
  2. iRver CXW-2G Clix 2 GB Digital Music and Video Player, White with Urge Music Subscription - iRiver ClixThe matchbox-size iRiver Clix player holds 2 Gigabytes of music and has an intuitive design. You click the edges of the player to navigate, instead of using a button or wheel. The Urge Music Subscription has been one of the best investments I've ever made. Not only can I listen to the entire Urge catalog on multiple computers, but I can download these songs to my Clix. I've listened to more new music in the past five months than in the past three years.
  3. Palm Treo 700w smartphone - I bought this phone because I was tired of carrying around a cell phone, Pocket PC, and a laptop. The phone has literally changed my life. I have an Internet connection almost anywhere, via the broadband cell network. I have all my contacts in my pocket. I can read my work e-mail and Hotmail on Pocket Outlook. I can take 1.3 megapixel pictures. The thumb keyboard is a little clumsy, but it's better than using a stylus. 
  4. RokuSoundbridge M1001 - This handy device allows you to access your computer's music and picture fiRoku Soundbridgeles from any location in your house via a wireless connection (you need to set up a wireless network first). The Soundbridge also works with Windows Rights Management music services, like Urge. As long as you've downloaded the music files to your computer, you can listen to them through the Soundbridge.
  5. Soap Genie Automatic Soap & Lotion Dispenser - More and more bathrooms have motion sensors in the sinks, soap dispensers, and towel dispensers. Just put your hand under the Soap Genie, and it automatically dispenses soap. It even plays a little tune if you want it to (I shut that off almost immediately). The only problem I've had is the sensor sometimes gets stuck, dispensing ALL of the soap on the bathroom counter.
  6. Solar flickering lantern - At night, this lantern looks like three flickering candles. By day, the lantern recharges with solar panels. I'm thinking of buying another one.
  7. Shiatsu massaging pillow by Brookstone - I bought the first generation Brookstone shiatsu massager, and it's always the massager I turn to when I have muscle aches and pains. Well worth the investment.
  8. Princeton Tec Aurora Headlamp - Forgot about those book-reading lights; the Tech Aurora Headlamp is the best reading light I've ever owned. Plus you can take it on camping trips or dog walks.
  9. SanDisk 2 Gigabyte memory card - Memory has become so cheap in recent years. This card holds 2000 megabytes of data! This card fits in many digital cameras, PDAs, and other devices.
  10. Bacon of the Month Club - I heard about this on some radio show the other day. I guess this company sends you different kinds of bacon every month. The guy on the radio said it's the best gift he's ever received.


posted by AndyO @ 11:44 PM   0 comments links to this post

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Gifts you should have given

I meant to get this list posted before Christmas, but I just got too busy. It may help you if you received cash or if you see one of these products on sale in the next week.

  • Mater Replicas Force FX Lightsaber -- This is the real deal. If you've ever known someone who wanted their own Lightsaber, just like Darth, this is the present for him or her. I bought one of these this year, and it's one of the coolest things I've ever seen. ($99-$115.00)
  • Napoleon Dynamite talking action figure -- My brother has one of these in his kitchen. When he needs to make a decision, he just looks up at Napoleon (on top of the fridge) and says, "What would Napoleon say?" ($14.95)
  • Moon real estate -- You can actually buy real estate on the moon (since 1980, actually)! I'm buying some of this for my kids because, you know, they'll be living up there in 20 years. (Starting at just $29.99)
  • Monogrammed toilet paper -- I think having something like this in your bathroom shows that you're important. At the very least it's a good conversation piece. "I noticed the monogrammed TP in your bathroom. Did you get a raise?" ($17.95)
  • Twinkie-flavored lip balm -- The person who invented this one is really going after a niche mark. But that's how it all starts, baby. ($3.50)
  • Pooping reindeer -- I figured I needed to have just one of these gross-out gifts. (On sale now for only $2.49!)
  • 27 Piece Patriot Package -- Get this one for your Republican friends. They have the patriotic market cornered these days. (On sale for only $29.00!)


posted by AndyO @ 5:15 PM   0 comments links to this post