I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

Gift/Product Recommendations That I’ve Actually Used For At Least A Year

Entire industries rely on trying to convince us that we need things that we really don’t, or that the things we have aren’t good enough and need to be upgraded.

The older I get and the more stuff I accumulate, the more I realize that most stuff, especially the crap on cool-stuff sites and gift guides, is wasted on me. (And probably you, too.) I simply don’t need it, and if I had it, there’s a good chance it would end up in the closet after a month.

Big cool-stuff sites need to make many posts per day to stay relevant and profitable, so they can’t be very discriminating or give long-term reviews based on actual experience — all they can say is that something looks cool, which usually results in a collection of expensive things that photograph well, not things you might actually buy and find useful.

Small sites can fall into a different unhelpfulness trap: it’s hard to provide meaningful comparisons if you’ve only had one or two of something. Saying that your camera is the best camera isn’t useful to me unless you’ve spent a meaningful amount of time using many similar cameras and can distinguish what makes different models suitable to different roles and priorities. (And full-time reviewers have a different problem: they usually don’t spend long periods with any products or report back after living with them for a while, since there’s little economic upside and they usually review too many products to make this practical.) So comparisons are hard.

The concept of a “best” product of any nontrivial complexity is a fallacy. Sites like The Wirecutter and The Sweethome get it right much of the time, but when faced with a complex category with multiple product subtypes and different customer needs, like humidifiers or headphones, they often make unfair comparisons or dismiss entire product classes prematurely. It’s not that they’re doing a bad job picking the “best” — it’s that many product categories are more complicated or diverse than simply having one “best”, or are so large that the “best” might be one of the hundreds of models that they didn’t even test.

All I can do is tell you what I’ve used, but in an effort to be most helpful, I’ve narrowed the scope further than most recommendation sites can: these are products that I personally bought or received as gifts at least a year ago, use regularly, and still enjoy and recommend.


I own almost every type of drip-coffee brewer. (I don’t know anything about espresso, except that most people are better off not trying to make it at home.)

Most brew methods aren’t worth the trouble, including the moka pot and the fancy Yama vacuum/siphon brewer. My favorites, in descending order:

Measuring and grinding:

I’ve never found a hand-crank travel grinder that was worth its cranking effort. It takes a lot of cranking to make one cup’s worth of a fine AeroPress grind. I think I’m better off just packing some good teabags (which I’ll get to in a minute) next time I travel, rather than trying to bring a ridiculous hand-crank coffee setup.

Beyond the scale, grinder, and brewer, I don’t use a lot of extra equipment:

And, of course, where you get the coffee beans matters quite a lot. I’d rather have great, freshly roasted beans from an automatic coffeemaker than old beans from an AeroPress. Coffee is best in the first week or so after roasting, so your best bet is either a mail-order roaster or, ideally, a local one.

I home-roast (another topic entirely), but before I did, I got great coffee from:

(Granted, I don’t use any of those regularly now, so they don’t quite belong on this list. I’ll just not make them bold, and hope you ignore the rule deviation.)


Specific food and drink picks beyond coffee:


The recent retail expansion of The Art Of Shaving stores has brought the idea of fancy shaving stuff much more mainstream, but I wasn’t impressed with their products when I tried them a few years ago. Geeks like me have been buying obscure double-edged (DE) safety razors, badger brushes, and thickly lathering creams and soaps for years from places like Classic Shaving that are almost all better than anything I’ve tried from The Art Of Shaving.

I have sensitive skin and shave in the shower, and this is what works best for me:

I’ve tried a lot of aftershaves, but most of them have too-strong smells that stick around all day, and very few are better for me than applying nothing at all. The least-bad one I’ve tried is the Taylor of Old Bond Street balm in “Shaving Shop” scent, but most days, I don’t apply anything. The Proraso/Fusion ProGlide combo is so good that I rarely need aftershave.


This is a huge category, but few products stand the test of time even for one year. And I don’t want to tell you the same things that every other gadget site is telling you to buy. Yeah, the iPad is great, but you know that already.

I’ve omitted any full-sized, closed headphones from the list this year. I’ve only worn them recently while recording podcasts — at most other times that I’m at my desk, I’m able to wear open headphones, so I use the much-better-sounding T90s. I’ve previously recommended the 280 Pro and 380 Pro (review), but I don’t use them anymore — I lost my 380s to a hard fall and I’ve since upgraded to The Wirecutter’s recommendation of the PSB M4U 1, which is significantly more comfortable than most closed headphones but not worth its cost. For general closed-headphone picks, most people (who don’t suggest the 280 Pro) recommend the MDR-7506 or ATH-M50, neither of which I’ve spent much time with.

Board Games

Now that Settlers of Catan has spread to your non-geek friends and family members and given them a taste for board games that require actual thought, you can introduce them to better ones. We’ve been subjecting our friends and family to geeky board games for years, and these are the ones that they’ve liked best and actually asked to play, in roughly descending order:

So there you have it. Coffee, kitchen, shaving, electronics, and board games. All you need.