A Very Geeky Holiday Gift Guide

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If you are struggling to find that perfect yet unique gift for that geek in your life, I am here to help. Below is a wide variety of things from which to choose. All of the items below are things that I either own or would recommend for others.

Nintendo Switch

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At $299 (and that’s before you even buy a game for it) the Nintendo Switch is a very pricy gift. That being said, I’m not a huge gamer but this is a gaming system that I just recently bought for myself with my birthday cash. The ability to take the Switch on the go as a portable gaming system combined with its unique controller design and motion controls make it a blast to play. It’s also a great multi-player game system.

FFF Leather Products

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This pick is not tech in and of itself, but it makes an excellent companion for your technology. I reviewed the FFF Apple Watchband for GeekDad recently and is has become my all around favorite Apple Watch band. While I was at the FFF studio in Orlando picking up my watch band I couldn’t resist picking up one of their gorgeous leather iPhone cases as a birthday present for my sister. If you like really nice leather and appreciate hand-made products you should definitely check out FFF. They are running a site-wide 25% off sale right now. Just use the code “FFFreakingPutItOnYourListAlready” at checkout while the sale lasts.

Sphero

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A geeky holiday gift guide wouldn’t be complete without a Sphero product or two. I own the Sphero BB-8 droid and I can tell you that as a Star Wars geek it gives me so much geeky pleasure to be able to drive around my own BB-8 unit. This year Sphero has expanded the Star Wars robotic offerings and they now have the BB-9E (evil black BB unit from the new Star Wars movie) and everybody’s favorite R2-D2. Sphere also has a more entry level and budget friendly offering called the Sphero Mini. All of these Sphero products are a blast to play with, but the fun and utility doesn’t end there. No, these are not just toys. All of these Sphero units can be used with a variety of apps that teach you how to program and use the Sphero to help you learn these coding basics.

Cycling Tech Gear

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I reviewed a couple of really great cycling related products for GeekDad this year and these two items quickly became tech gear I didn’t want to ride without. The first item is the Coros LINX smart helmet that lets you listen to music via bone conduction while riding, all while being able to hear all of the ambient noise around you. The Coros also has crash detection built into the helmet, so that if the helmet senses a crash it will automatically notify your emergency contacts. The other cycling product I have been using for all of rides is the Cycliq Fly6 Rear Cycling Light & HD Bike Camera. Having an always on rear cycling light is a great way to keep you visible while riding and having video of your entire ride gives you a little extra piece of mind. I don’t leave for a bike ride without either of these products now.

Your Own Custom Email

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Even in 2017 there are still a lot of people out there that use the free email account that comes with their cable or internet data provider as their primary email. This is a bad idea on so many fronts. First off, these companies add on email as a cheap freebie and as a way to lock you into their company (because changing emails is a pain). Because these are “free” add-ons you get what you pay for. Cable company email services don’t tend to use IMAP, which means when you try and use them on both a home computer and a mobile device or two things start to go badly. So here is my recommendation. Go to Hover.com and buy your loved one their own domain name on the internet (something like “friendlyneighborhoodspiderman.com”). Ok, maybe something that is a little bit shorter and easier to spell out for people, but you get the idea. Once you have paid for your own domain name for as little as $20 a year you can add on an email service to that name. So let’s say you buy the domain “awesomesauce.com.” If you add email service to that domain you can make your email address something like “Bob@awesomesauce.com.” Best of all, you have complete control over your email and you are no longer tied to your crummy cable company. Between the paying the yearly fee for the domain name and the email service you are looking at less then $50 a year and you have professional email service you can count on, that is customized to you and isn’t tied to your cable/internet company. This is probably a gift best given as a “I’m going to buy this for you” and then let them pick out the name.

Harry’s Shave Plans

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Ok, this one is really not tech related but most geeks really appreciate no longer having to think about shaving supplies anymore. I have been using Harry’s for all of my shaving products for a couple of years now and everything I need just shows up at my door ever couple of months. What I really like about Harry’s is that they don’t try to upsell you something you don’t need. It only takes a few seconds to login to your online account configure your next delivery. If you use this link to sign up for a free trial and end up keeping the service both and I get a $5 credit.

Apple’s AirPods

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I wrote about my experiences with the AirPods and I absolutely love mine. If you know someone that owns Apple devices and like to listen to a lot of music, podcasts or even just spends a lot of time talking on the phone this is a must have. They “just work” and take all of the hassle out of headphones. Be careful where you buy these. In the U.S. you should only be paying $159 and I see that they are selling for upwards of $200 on Amazon. Apple has finally caught up to demand on these so they are relatively easy to find. If you buy them online from Apple they will ship in a just a few days.

Artemis by Andy Weir

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If you love technology and science fiction as much as I do, then this book is an easy pick. Andy Weir is the author of the book ‘The Martian,’ which was also a blockbuster movie. If you liked ‘The Martian’ you will love Weir’s latest novel Artemis which just came out a few weeks ago. This one is on my wish list. You can get it in several formats:

Clay Images

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My last post here on 1WaySwim was about my favorite small artist company called Clay Images. Clay Images makes handmade clay sculptures of dragons and wizards in the form of oil lamps, incense burners all kinds of other functional objects. I have accumulated quite the collection since my first dragon oil lamp 19 years ago. If you are looking for something really unique and whimsical look no further than Clay Images. But act fast, they have some limited stock but any special orders will need to made soon before they do their last kiln firing in early December.

Clay Images: Small Business Saturday

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I wanted to share a little bit about one of my favorite small businesses of all time, since it is small business Saturday after all. What is small business Saturday you ask? It was started back in 2010 by Federal Express:

“ Shop Small is about more than just shopping at small businesses. ... It's an annual shopping tradition dedicated to supporting small businesses and celebrating communities across the country. Founded by American Express in 2010, Small Business Saturday is celebrated every year on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.”

So in honor of small business Saturday I am going to share with you my absolute favorite small businesses…Clay Images. Clay Images is a very small company, which consists of a husband and wife team (Melissa and Jim Hogenson):

”Our fertile imaginations and hard-working hands have created a unique line of friendly dragons in stoneware clay. Though each is a fine sculpture on its own, they also all have a function - oil lamps, incense burners, and drinking vessels. We sell our wares from our home, through the internet, at art fairs around the U.S.A., and at the Kansas City and Arizona Renaissance Festivals.”

I first encountered the amazing works of Clay Images at the local art fair in Wichita, Kansas (before I moved away from home). I immediately fell in love with their dragon sculptures and it wasn’t long before I had one of my very own. I got my first Clay Images oil lamp for my birthday, but it wasn’t just any birthday. My first child was born the day before my 23rd birthday, and when we finally got to take our new daughter home from the hospital and I got to open my birthday presents (and lets be honest its REALLY hard to beat the present I got at the hospital). It was this on this day I received my very first Clay Images oil lamp. My daughter just turned 19 last month and is in her first semester of college now.

The little dragon oil lamp that started it all...

The little dragon oil lamp that started it all...

It turns out this awesome little dragon was just the beginning of a collection of functional art from Clay Images. I mean heck, if you are going to spend perfectly good money on a new bed side lamp or a new drink ware set why not get something you really enjoy and support some amazing local artists all at the same time. So over the last 19 years that is exactly what we have done. We have either purchased or received as gifts everything from toothbrush holders, to hot chocolate drink sets, to wind chimes, to wall sconces. And that even goes without mentioning all the oil lamps and incense burners. Oh, and did I forget the fish tank castle? Rather than list everything here I walked around our house and took pictures of all of our Clay Images functional art and below is a gallery of most (but not all) of our Clay Images collection. So if you are looking for a great gift for someone on your list this Christmas and you want to honor the tradition of small business Saturday, why not check out Clay Images. I checked with them today (Friday) and they do have some limited stock of items and plan to do one more kiln firing in December to accommodate special orders. So if you want something in time for the holidays you need to act fast!

My iPhone X Thoughts So Far

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I’ve had the iPhone X for 2 full weeks now so I figured it was time to share my initial thoughts. Even after spending 2-weeks with the device I really haven’t had enough time to fully use the phone in all situations, so this really is just my initial thoughts. I think people need to live with the phone for a few months before they can fully understand how well the iPhone X will work for them.

The iPhone X Positives:

  • FaceID works extremely well. If you have any doubts about moving from TouchID to FaceID you shouldn’t.
  • The phone is extremely fast. Switching from app to app especially with the new app switcher gesture (once you get used to it) is lightning fast.
  • Speaking of gestures, the lack of a home button is NOT an issue. Swiping up from the bottom of the screen become muscle memory faster than I thought possible. So much so that when I use my work iPhone 6s now using the home button seems very awkward.
  • The screen is really nice. Contrast and colors are jaw-dropping and having an edge to edge screen feels like walking around in the future.
  • The notch. The hype around the notch has been comical if it wasn’t so pathetic. The notch (the portion of the screen that isn’t a screen because it houses the FaceID sensors and front-facing camera) is not an issue. I don’t notice the notch. In fact, the only time I do notice it is when I am using an app that hasn’t been updated to take advantage of the larger iPhone X screen. People just like to complain, especially when it come to Apple. The notch really does blend into the background over time.
  • The notch brings in one feature which I really love. When on a phone call the call status bar is now a very small box in one of the horns next to the notch instead of taking up the entire width of the screen. Why is this so nice? Many apps didn’t deal well with the phone call status bar and the UIs would not work right. Now that the status bar is a small status box in one of the horns there is no interference with apps. I am on the phone for a lot of long work calls so being able to use other apps while on a call without having to worry about crappy UI issues is really nice.
  • Being able to use FaceID to authenticate 3rd party apps like 1Password has been nothing short of “magical.” I can’t wait until Apple starts integrating FaceID into iPads and Macs.
  • Screen size and device size is perfect. I am coming from an iPhone 7 Plus, so having about the same size screen with the device size being about the size of a regular sized iPhone feels like cheating. People coming from a Plus sized phone will be happy with the screen and people coming from a regular iPhone will get all the advantages of a bigger screen without having to carry a bigger iPhone.

The iPhone X Negatives:

  • It is small and slippery. I came from an iPhone 7 Plus that I carried around without a case. The iPhone X without a case is much more prone to slipping out of my hands or even out of my pockets because it is so much smaller. As much as I love carrying around an iPhone without a case it just isn’t practical with the iPhone X. At least for now I am using a case.
  • FaceID doesn’t work when my iPhone X is sitting on my car dash holder. I have to lean in so I can close enough for FaceID to see me to unlock my iPhone. Normally I just play a playlist or a podcast so I don’t have to interact with my iPhone at all, but when I do it is a bit of an inconvenience.
  • Battery life seems to be a lit less than with my iPhone 7 Plus. On heavy travel days I actually come really close to running out of juice by the time I get to my hotel. This never happened with my iPhone 7 Plus. Not a huge deal since these are pretty extreme cases and I carry a battery backup with me.
  • Doing a hard reset of your iPhone now takes a very complicated set of button pushes. This is going to cause a lot of confusion for people for quite some time because it is not something you have to do very often but when you do need to do it YOU NEED TO DO IT because it is the only thing that can get your iPhone working again.
  • Apps that have not been updated for the larger screen and notch of the iPhone X are really annoying. Once you get used to the larger iPhone X screen you get spoiled and apps that don’t take advantage of it look pretty bad and out dated.
  • By default the iPhone X screen dims and goes to sleep (locks) after 30 seconds. This is way too fast when using the phone to do things like read off and type in long passwords or make coffee from the AeroPress app. It is set this way to protect the screen from burn in, which is possibility with the OLED screen. I bumped the screen sleep time up to 60-seconds, which is much more reasonable.
  • Unlike the previous iPhone 6 Plus and 7 Plus you can’t turn your iPhone 10 and get the dock to work in a vertical mode while holding the phone in landscape. Why? Because with FaceID the iPhone must be in the portrait orientation to work so Apple didn’t want to encourage people to use the phone in an orientation that wouldn’t work with FaceID (things like in-app authentication).
  • It’s expensive! This is not a phone for someone on a tight budget. I even wrote an article about this and how Apple has essentially convinced people to pay them to be beta testers. It’s actually quite genius.

Problems I Encountered After Using iOS 11 Data Migration:

  • Apple Music playlists were empty (and here’s how to fix that)
  • My saved articles in Pocket were there but I couldn’t read them (had to delete Pocket and re-sync)
  • My VPN service (encrypt.me) on my iPhone freaked out and stalled the progress of my restore (had to delete and re-install)
  • Airmail (my 3rd party email client) needed me to generate new app specific passwords for my email account
  • Many of my Apps needed me to login to them after migration. It was some and not all, that was strange thing.

All-in-all I got through the transition and I’ve been really happy with my iPhone X. I was expecting it to be a new product with some growing pains and it has been. But it has also been a joy to use the new FaceID technology, making security on your iPhone virtually invisible to me as user. The new form factor and new screen technology has been great and even though my iPhone 7 was only a year old it was still a decent bump up in processing speed.

That Interstellar Asteroid is Probably Pretty Strange Looking

An artist's impression of Oumuamua. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

An artist's impression of Oumuamua. Credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser

Reading a story like this linked article and learning that literally tons of the objects have been passing through our solar system without notice, we just now got the technology to detect them is beyond fascinating!

Linked Article: https://www.universetoday.com/137944/interstellar-asteroid-probably-pretty-strange-looking/

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