Best of 2017: Real stuff

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See all the 2017 roundups!

Welcome to the Real Stuff edition of my Best of 2017 series. Stuff you can hold, and anything that moves more than just bits and bytes around.


I didn’t get a new iPhone in 2017. I didn’t really get much Apple gear at all. But I did get into Alexa. I end up using both Siri and Alexa, but have really enjoyed the differences. I bought into the Amazon ecosystem enough to incorporate 3 Echo Dots and a Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote. I also got a Kindle Oasis, which is proving to be a huge step up from my Paperwhite.
By the way, I think Amazon’s payment plan is brilliant (or brilliantly devious). Split purchases of any of their hardware up into 4 or 5 payments with no fee or interest. That makes things like a new Kindle feel like impulse items. They’re not, but Amazon has always been insidiously good at that.
WizGear Universal Magnetic Dashboard Mount
I’d been excited about the Anker version of this phone mount for my car, but I just couldn’t get it to stay stuck to the curved dash of my Audi TT. The WizGear version stuck first time and has never fallen off. It wasn’t until after I’d finally gotten that to work that the Clear Mounts version for TTs was pointed out to me. So for anyone not driving a TT, WizGear, but for TT owners, Clear Mounts is the clear winner.
Audio-Technica ATR2500-USB Cardioid Condenser USB Microphone
I’ve developed a love for the mid-range USB mics. I own Yetis and Rodes and all kinds of things that cost way too much money. When I started podcasting at 5by5, Dan was kind enough to provide me with a Samson C01UPro, and it was honestly better than the Rode Podcaster I’d been using. And it was a $50 mic. I’ve tried others over the last few years, but always stuck with the Samson, at least for podcasting. The Audio-Technica ATR2500 may have changed my mind. For $70 it has a better response range with about the same timbre.
Yurbuds Earbud Covers
I got these after a recommendation on Systematic. They make Apple earbuds wearable for me. My ear canals have never done well with earbuds, but these little rubber add-ons made them stay in and be comfortable. Then I got AirPods…
EarBuddyz 2.0
This is the solution I found for the above issue on my AirPods. Because any skin you put over the pods has to be removed before they’ll fit in the charger, the less all-encompassing form factor of the EarBuddyz makes a lot of sense. They give you the “wing” style that I have on my favorite non-Apple earbuds.
Staples Arc Desktop Paper Punch
My partner got into the Arc notebook system. I find it intriguing, possibly exciting, but I swore off any system primarily based on paper a long time ago. Nonetheless, I get stupid happy about the customizability of it, and ended up getting a punch for it (and an Amazon Basics laminator) so we could play with custom productivity systems (and sweet covers).


Dragonfly Yoga Performance Pro Mat
I upgraded my yoga mat. The Dragonfly took a little breaking in, but it’s lighter to carry than my previous 100% rubber mat, better traction, and it’s not wearing out nearly as fast.
Tip: regularly has sales and BOGOs, worth watching if you’re in the market.
Circadian Optics Lumine Light Therapy Lamp
Minnesota winter has been a bit rough on my brain this year. I used to have a big SAD lamp, but I’ve moved a few times and it disappeared. I went looking for a replacement and was happy to find an array of small, LED-based full spectrum lights. If you get depressed when the days are short, these really do work.


MAIRICO Heavy Duty Kitchen Shears
Love these. But they’re scissors, so I feel like if I say they work really well and the extras like bottle opener and nut cracker work well without being obtrusive, you’ll know what I mean.
eForwish 304 Stainless Steel Kitchen Rail with 7 Hangers
I also did a ton of kitchen organization. I talked about some of it in The best cheap stuff in my kitchen, but I’ve added a bunch of hooks and pot racks out in the open to make better use of cabinet space. This little rail holds scissors, measuring spoons and cups, a bottle opener, and other miscellaneous stuff that I frequently need but don’t need lost in drawers.
iRSE Tea Infuser Bottle
If you drink tea, you’re probably familiar with tea thermoses. I only use glass ones, but I also only break glass ones. This one is pretty well protected and the thermal retention is excellent.
Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science
We had some friends over for dinner and got to talking about our favorite cookbooks. Jordan recommended Food Lab, and I have to thank him for that. It’s an amazing book for nerdy chefs.


Black & Decker MAX Gyro Screwdriver
I have to start the home section off with this one. It’s my favorite thing I found all year. I used my dad’s while we were working on my car and had to find one. It’s a cordless screwdriver that takes any standard bit. You put it in place and then as you turn your hand it starts screwing in the direction you turned, speeding up the further you turn. It gets enough speed to drill wood with a drill bit on it, not that I’d recommend replacing your power drill with it. You have to try it while standing on a ladder trying to screw something into a joist that you had to wrap your arm around to truly understand how great that is.
Note: This version isn’t currently available, but you can find it if you look around. Amazon says it’s been replace with this, but that doesn’t appear to be a gyro at all…
Snow Joe iON18SB Ion Cordless Single Stage Brushless Snow Blower
I was without a snowblower in the 2016-2017 winter. This is Minnesota. But I survived, as most Minnesotans do. I missed having one, though, so before the first snow this winter I bought this little cordless electric one. I felt like it was a risk, winter here can be rough on even heavy-duty snowblowers, but thus far this little moster has impressed the youbetcha out of me.
The battery can be put right back on the charger after a run, and can just stay there with automatic float charging, keeping it topped up but not wearing it down. The single stage thrower jams up a little when things are slushy, but it’s easy to knock out. The overall torque of the brush is just fine, and the machine itself is lightweight and quiet.
Lightweight isn’t always great, and admittedly I miss two things about my last snowblower: it was heavy enough to really scrape the driveway — not leaving a thin layer of smushed snow that would definitely turn into ice — and it was self-propelled. The Snow Joe is me-propelled, which can be less than helpful when things are uphill and slippery. But for the price, it’s getting the job done and I’m quite happy with the purchase.
Pillips Filament LED bulbs
2017 was a year of experimentation in LED lighting for me. I’ve been using a variety of relatively expensive, very bright bulbs in a lot of places, but I’m a big fan of the right lumens and color for the right application. Up until pretty recently, the options just weren’t great if you wanted 2300–2700K lighting.
The filament LEDs in general are awesome, but I’ve learned that the Phillips ones are worth the little extra cash. They don’t just burn out after a couple months, negating any hopes you had of reducing overall cost by buying more expensive but lower-energy bulbs. They also handle dimming better than most other brands I tried.
Cosmos 2 Inch Wide Heavy Webbing Strap and Heavy Duty Side Release Buckles
Kind of a random thing, but if you ever need to strap something, this combo is pretty awesome. Not for car tie downs or fastening to a dolly, but for anything from a backpack to a child restraint, the webbing is smooth and shiny but grips well against these clips. (Yes, I had to try a few different clips to find ones that worked well for most of my applications.)
GafferPower Premium Grade Gaffer Tape
For less permanent strapping, Gaffer tape is amazing. I’d almost forgotten about it, though I worked theater set crew at the University of Minnesota for a semester and it was basically currency there. Forget about duct tape for anything other than ducts.
VELCRO Brand One Wrap Thin Ties
While we’re strapping, these are the greatest cable management tools I’ve found. And a 30-pack of them is about $10.


I decided that snowed-in evenings this winter were going to be more than movies and card games. So I bought a bunch of tabletop games. All playable by firelight after the power goes out. I’ve found I have a pretty short attention span, especially with two-player games, so my favorites have been ones that are 30-minute-or-less playtimes.

Exploding Kittens
Fun with two people, a riot with three or more. Fast play, maddeningly changing rules (but not as crazy as Fluxx), and a very simple objective: don’t explode.
If you like word association games at all, this one is great fun. Works best with four players but you can play a version for two.
At first glance it looks like Go (if you’re like me and have never actually played Go) mixed with checkers, but it’s a really interesting take on the checkers-type strategy games. Two players, 10–30m playtime.
Another maddening two-player game. A bunch of pieces with four different traits, and you have to line up four that share one of those traits. The real catch, though, is that you get to choose what piece your opponent plays, just not where they place it. As if keeping every possible combination on the board in mind isn’t hard enough, you have to strategize backwards.

Ok, that’s it for “real stuff.” I think. Just a couple more lists to go…

See all the 2017 roundups!