17 Jan 2019
I read, watch, listen to, play, and use a ton of different things. And if you’ve kept up with my blogging, you’ll have noticed that I pick out a few of my favorites to recommend each month. However, there have been some more long term changes that I’ve implemented over the course of last year that deserve their own distinctive shout outs. Thus, the first inaugural Michael’s Yearly Recommendations post! Enjoy.
I normally think of my body as a burdensome sack of meat that I have to take care of in order to have some way to interact with a computer. (Okay, that’s an exaggeration. But only slightly.) Bri got me started on salsa dancing last January, and it’s been really interesting and fun to take part in an activity where I actually have to make full use of my body. Figuring out muscle isolations and learning new moves every week is challenging, but it’s a distinct skill that uses a totally separate part of my brain than everything else I do. It’s been a fun date activity, a fun thing to do with friends (and a good way to make new ones), and a nice break from otherwise sitting at my desk all day.
Once again, I’ve been trying to change the way I think about my body (see above). But that doesn’t mean I’m about to go spend 3 hours at the gym every single night. Exercising with kettlebells has been an ultra efficient way to condition, strengthen, and take care of my body in as little amount of time as possible. Even if I’ve had a busy day and only have 5 minutes to spend working out, I still feel like I can get a bunch done just by doing 50 kettlebell swings. The main 2 exercises I do (swings and Turkish get-ups) work out most of the major muscles in the body, and if done properly, they also specifically help correct the posture issues that arise from sitting at a desk all day. Kettlebells are relatively cheap and don’t take up much space, making them perfect for a home gym. (Note: I recommended a kettlebell back in September, but I’ve since updated my recommendation to this one.)
We needed to replace the tires on our car, and while researching options, I found that Costco offers high quality, name brand tires for the lowest price around – even after factoring in the cost of signing up for a Costco membership. So, we signed up for a membership but didn’t particularly plan on buying much else other than the tires. (Some years ago we got a Sam’s Club membership in a similar situation and rarely used it.) But as it turns out, Costco is awesome. Everything in the store is high quality, the prices are very good, the limited selection helps me avoid the paradox of choice, and I prefer buying in bulk anyway.
Linux (on my work computer)
I’ve done almost all of my coding in the past 8 years on Macs, but partway through 2018, I decided to switch back to working on Linux. I get wayyy more bang for my buck in terms of performance, and my desktop that cost half the price of my MacBook is 2-10x faster for many of my daily workloads. I’ve also been able to customize things to get the operating system out of my way at almost all times (there are no animations and no window chrome anywhere; when I’m in my editor, every pixel on my screen is dedicated to my code). And especially for game development, there’s much better tooling available on Linux than there is on a Mac. It was kind of a pain to set up, there’s definitely some things about it that are a little janky, and I certainly wouldn’t recommend it for non-software development use. (I still use my Macbook for all of my personal computing. In fact, it’s been nice to have my work computer and my goofing off computer be separate, because I can’t get as easily distracted during my work day.)
For a long time, I’ve been a bit of a smart home skeptic. Most smart home devices are expensive, buggy, insecure, and overall not worth the hassle. But as of last year, it seems like (at least in many categories), there are relatively mature offerings from reputable brands, and they’re regularly put on sale at significant discount. So, I picked up a few smart home devices that have made my life a little more convenient. See specific recommendations below. (I didn’t pay anything near full price for any of these; definitely wait for a solid deal on anything smart home related.)
Ecovacs Deebot Robotic Vacuum Cleaner: Before this year, we had a really crappy, hand-me-down vacuum cleaner that didn’t do much other than put lines on the carpet. Since we were going to buy a new vacuum cleaner anyway, we figured why not get a robot vacuum that does the work for you? We’ve been happy with this guy doing the majority of the cleaning, and supplement with a small handheld vac for occasional spills or tricky to get corners. (If I was looking to buy a new one today, I’d grab whatever model Wirecutter recommends.)
Nest Thermostat E: The Nest has learned our schedule in a somewhat creepy, but mostly amazing way. It automatically lowers the heat at night when we go to sleep, and it pre-warms the apartment right before we get out of bed in the morning. When both Bri and I are away from home, it turns off the A/C or heat, saving us money without us having to think about it. It’s a nice way to be at a comfortable temperature without constantly having to fiddle with knobs. (As an added bonus, Austin offers $110 in rebates if you install a smart thermostat, and many other cities have similar programs.)
Hue White Ambiance Smart Bulbs: Continuing the automation theme, our lights are now on a timer - they come on when the sun sets, and they get progressively oranger and dimmer throughout the night (helping with the brain’s natural sleep-wake cycle). Then they turn off automatically at 1am so that if I’m still up reading, I realize it’s late and that I need to get my dumb butt to bed. On overcast or rainy mornings, I crank them up to a bright, blue-ish white, helping my body trigger its natural “awake and alert” response and making the day feel less gloomy.
Echo Dot: This is probably my least recommended item on the smart home list, but it still gets a shout out. It’s another way to control all of the above items, and it’s also nice for setting timers and playing music. Most importantly, it’s good as a form of entertainment if you want to hear your wife get in verbal fights with a robot on a regular basis.