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Roger’s Favorites

This list is a combination of recommendations and reviews of products that I’ve tried and liked. Some of the products may be outdated, and some of them are now significantly cheaper than they were when I bought them. I put dollar values next to some product names, which reflect the current prices (monthly, for subscriptions). Everything on this page is my own opinion.

Audio

I use the Audioengine A2+ ($250) speakers at my desk. I wanted something small and accurate, without the bass boosts that some speakers have. The A2+ comes with 2 bookshelf speakers, one of which (left) contains the integrated DAC and amplifier. The speakers accept input either from a 3.5mm connector, from a pair of RCA audio connectors, or from USB. I found that using the USB input would make the speakers “pop” on initialization, so I opted to use the 3.5mm connector instead.

On the go, I prefer the Apple AirPods ($160) for their compact size, excellent signal strength, and tight integration with other Apple devices. You’ve probably already heard tons of praise for the AirPods, and I’d recommend them to anyone. I have a pair of the first generation ones.

I also own the Bose QuietComfort 35 ($350) wireless headphones. These headphones have active noise cancellation, which makes a huge difference on flights (which is the only time I use them, now that I have AirPods). The ear cups can get uncomfortably warm, but it’s not as bad as most other over-ear headphones. I have the original QC35s, but there’s also a newer version (”Series II”), which features an extra button that can trigger your smartphone assistant.

Cameras

I’m perfectly satisfied with the rear camera on my Apple iPhone 8, but for anything more serious, my usual camera is the Nikon D750 ($1300). I prefer the buttons and menu design of Nikon’s DSLRs over Canon’s. But there are also a bunch of new cool-looking mirrorless cameras from other companies that I haven’t tried yet. So, I suppose the D750 is my favorite only because it’s the camera that I already have.

I use two lenses with my D750: the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G ($210) for closer shots (food, portraits, street), and the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G ED ($520) for everything else. Both lenses are “prime” lenses, which means they have a fixed field of view and can’t zoom in or out. I really like lenses that are short/small/light, and I regularly find myself stopping down to f/2, even in broad daylight, to get a nice shallow depth of field. So naturally, I only have cheap prime lenses.

For indoor group portraits and food photos, I usually add my Nikon SB-700 AF Speedlight Flash ($330). Nikon’s TTL flash system is supposedly really good (although I haven’t tried anything else). The SB-700’s range of motion covers an entire hemisphere, and the flash bulb can be extended or retracted within the housing to control the spread of light. The flash can also be used as a commander for multiple other flashes, but I’ve never used that feature. I usually bounce my flash off the ceiling or a wall, depending on whether I want shadows in the photo. I think flash makes a big difference in places where you don’t already have great natural lighting, so getting a speedlight is definitely a worthwhile investment.

Clothing

My preferred blue shirt is the Old Navy Soft-Washed Crew-Neck Tee. I’ve tried blue shirts from Uniqlo, H&M, Kohl’s, and even Armani Exchange. Some of them are softer than the Old Navy shirt. But the color and thickness of the Old Navy shirt makes it my usual choice. Plus, they sell a “medium tall” size, which seems to fit me well.

My preferred sock is the Amazon Essentials Men’s Performance Cotton Cushioned Athletic Ankle Socks ($17). They’re durable, stretchy, don’t produce much lint, and most importantly, they’re always well stocked on Amazon.com. I’ve also tried black ankle socks from Champion, Nike, and Hanes, but the Amazon ones remain my favorite.

Computers

Currently, my main computer is the Mac mini (2018). I need my main computer to be a Mac, since I’ve built some of my productivity workflows around Mac-exclusive technology like Finder and AirDrop. I recently switched from a MacBook Pro (mid-2017 15”) to the Mac mini, since I rarely need a computer when I’m not at home anyway.

I use the Mac mini with my Dell Ultra HD 4K P2715Q 27-inch Monitor ($300). There are now newer versions of this product, but I bought mine several years ago and I haven’t felt the need to upgrade yet. There aren’t a lot of 5K displays on the market that cost less than $1000, and I don’t know if I’m ready for all the new high gamut and HDR stuff yet. For peripherals, I use the Magic Mouse 2 ($80) and the Happy Hacking Keyboard Professional2 ($240) with blank keycaps. I also own the Magic Keyboard ($100), the Magic Trackpad 2 ($130) and the Logitech MX Master ($75), but the Magic Trackpad felt uncomfortable ergonomically and the MX Master had lots of wireless signal issues (I live in a crowded apartment complex) that I never experienced with Apple wireless peripherals.

I also have an Intel NUC ($280) with an i3-8109U, 32GiB of RAM ($130), and 1TiB of NVMe SSD storage ($170). I use this machine to compile/run my code, to manage infrastructure for RogerHub, and as a staging area for large uploads. The NUC is really tiny and it’s (probably) quite energy efficient. I’ve customized the fan profiles to make sure it’s silent most of the time. I like that the NUC gives me a consistent environment to do work, whether I’m using my Mac mini or my iPhone. Plus, it’s tucked away next to the rest of my networking equipment, so I can leave it running all day long.

Home Automation

I have 6 Philips Hue lights in my apartment, most of which are the non-color White Ambiance A19 60W Equivalent ($26) bulbs. The colorful lights are cool, but my lights are almost always that default yellow-ish color, and the White Ambiance bulbs are cheaper. If you’re new to Philips Hue, I’d recommend one of their starter kits, which comes with both a few bulbs and the Hue Bridge, which is required to connect the bulbs to HomeKit or voice assistants. Feel free to grab a couple of color bulbs, but don’t be surprised if the novelty wears off quickly. I use Philips Hue with Apple’s HomeKit and via the HTTP API that the Hue Bridge exposes. I have two in the kitchen and four in my bedroom. Philips Hue only makes up to 60W equivalent regular bulbs, so if you want brighter lights, then you’ll need to buy a multi-socket light fixture and multiple Hue lights to fill it with.

I also have a couple of Insteon Smart Plugs ($50). These plugs are really expensive compared to competitors. But they’re the only option I’ve found that (1) don’t cover up more than one socket, (2) support 3-pronged plugs, and (3) can be used without Internet connectivity. Plus, I think the Insteon Mini Remote ($45) looks way cooler than any of its competitors. It sports a minimalist compact design, without any ugly logos on the front, and it recharges with standard Micro USB chargers. I use the smart plugs to control my christmas tree and a desk lamp in my living room. Confusingly, Insteon sells two different “controllers” that connect Insteon devices to regular IP networks. One only supports HomeKit, and the other supports everything else (Alexa and Google Assistant). The HomeKit-only one has recently been discontinued, but Insteon is supposedly working on a new controller that’ll support all three. I’m still waiting for that new controller, so until then, I’ll just have to keep using my remote.

Office

My desk is the IKEA Thyge ($100). I like the desk for its simple underside (no sharp edges to bang your knees against) and its adjustable angled legs, which help stablize the desk on my uneven laminate floor. The desk is a bit small, but I’ve come up with a few workarounds. First, I swapped out my monitor’s base for an AmazonBasics Premium Single Monitor Arm Mount ($100). This clears up enough desk space to slide my laptop (clamshell mode) underneath/behind the monitor. Next, I put the big power bricks (laptop and speaker AC adapters) into a felt drawstring bag, which I hang off the desk using the monitor arm’s base. This clears up most of the space for things that actually need to be on my desk: a power strip, mouse, keyboard, and speakers.

Inexensive IKEA desks are great, but make sure to double check the surface materials before buying. The IKEA Thyge is made from particleboard covered in a layer of ABS plastic, which makes it fairly resistant to scrapes and dents (and also the occasional food spill). But many of IKEA’s inexpensive desks are covered in paint or paper, which make it really easy to accidentally leave discolored dents all over the surface.

My office chair is the Steelcase Gesture ($1000), which I used at work for more than a year before buying my own. It comes in a bunch of different colors and features customizable lumbar support and seat pan depth, which I’ve found really useful for sitting comfortably. I’ve tried a bunch of Herman Miller and Steelcase chairs while visiting offices around the world, and the Gesture remains my favorite. If you want one too, Steelcase has an annual sale around Cyber Monday every year, so it’s probably worthwhile waiting until then to save yourself a hundred bucks or so.

Online Services

Disclaimer: I work at Google.

I’m a big fan of online subscriptions and “freemium” services. I don’t want to invest a lot of time/effort into service, only to have it go out of business one day. Paying a subscription fee reassures me that the service will continue to exist, and it lets me demand support if I need it. Plus, pre-roll video ads are really annoying.

Most of my subscriptions are for video streaming. I’m subscribed to YouTube Premium ($12), since I don’t use an ad blocker and I watch a ton of YouTube. The YouTube Premium subscription fee not only covers the opportunity cost of not showing ads, but also a portion of the fee is supposedly distributed to creators, based on what I watch in a given month. I don’t know how exactly the numbers work out, but that sounds like a monetization model that I wish more people would support. I’m also subscribed to VRV Premium ($10) née Crunchyroll. In addition to the shows licensed to Crunchyroll, VRV also streams stuff from Rooster Teeth (like RWBY) and all those HIDIVE exclusives. I don’t really understand the relationship between VRV and Crunchyroll, but it seems like Crunchyroll as a streaming platform has basically been deprecated. I haven’t noticed any updates to the Crunchyroll web or mobile apps in years (aside from the Flash video snafu a few months ago), but the Crunchyroll brand is still actively being used on social media and hosting events, not to mention for licensing deals. In any case, VRV simulcasts most of the current season’s popular anime, so I’d recommend the premium subscription to anyone that follows seasonal anime.

I’m subscribed to Netflix ($11), because everybody’s subscribed to Netflix. I rarely ever watch anything on Netflix, except Bojack Horseman and the occasional Netflix exclusive anime. But it’s unlikely I’ll ever unsubscribe, since my parents use it, and I like supporting their cord-cutting “revolution” against traditional cable TV.

Speaking of video streaming, I’m technically subscribed to Amazon Prime Video as part of Amazon Prime ($10). This is probably the most underpriced subscription service in existence when you consider everything you get with Prime. I use Amazon.com so much that the free shipping alone is worth $10 per month. But Amazon Prime Video is no slouch either, with exclusive anime like Houseki no Kuni and (until recently) Made in Abyss. Everyone should have Amazon Prime.

I have a handful of subscriptions for “productivity” apps, starting with Spotify Premium ($10) for music streaming. I first signed up for Spotify Premium in 2012. Since then, I’ve been subscribed on and off, occasionally trying competitors like Apple Music, Rdio, Play Music, and most recently, YouTube Music (which I already get for free with YouTube Premium). But I always come back to Spotify. I use Spotify primarily via the iOS app and the web app (I don’t like the desktop app, and the web app gives me flexibility to enhance it with Chrome extensions). I think all other music streaming apps are second-class in comparison to Spotify, just because Spotify occupies so much mindshare in the US music streaming market. Lots of things are prepared for Spotify first, and then everything else second. Spotify has had its fair share of technical problems (battery draining mobile apps, failed social features, service outages), but I think the company has demonstrated its commitment to improvement, no matter how long that may take.

I’m also subscribed to Reddit Premium ($2.5). The subscription isn’t really worth anything to me, but I figured I should pay, given how much time I spend on it goofing off doing research. I’ve been subscribed to Feedly Pro ($5.4) ever since Google Reader shut down. I don’t have a strong need for an RSS reader in this day and age, but who knows? Maybe blogging will start to catch on again this year.

My most important productivity subscription is probably Todoist Premium ($2.4). I’ve tried lots of “todo list” apps, but nothing comes close to Todoist in terms of its pleasant user interface and dedication to strong engineering. Unlike Google Keep, Todoist isn’t a note-taking app that “also works” as a todo list. In Todoist, task lists are first class citizens, and there are tons of little features (keyboard shortcuts, natural date interpretation, shorthand tags) that make it efficient and pleasantly surprising to jot down tasks quickly. Unlike Apple’s Reminders app, Todoist works on a huge number of platforms (there’s even a Firefox add-on), although some of them are just wrappers around the web interface. I personally use the iOS app and the web interface. I pay an annual subscription to try and make sure Todoist never goes out of business, but even if it does, Todoist offers daily CSV exports of your lists.

Rounding it off, I’m subscribed to the 100GB Google One plan ($2) for Google Photos and Gmail storage, as well as Google G Suite ($6), which I use for rogerhub.com email. All my photos are on Google Photos. I’ll probably need to upgrade to the 200GB or 1TB tier soon, but all the Google One plans are so cheap that it doesn’t make much of a difference. I used to run my own email server for RogerHub, but had lots of headaches with authenticating forwarded mail (SPF, in particular, fails to validate). It’s way simpler to let the experts that run Gmail handle it, especially now that ARC is a thing.

Skin Care

I had a lot of acne as a teenager. Even after the acne went away, my skin always felt dry and rough. So a few years ago, I decided to put some effort into researching skin care. My current skin care routine is a twice-a-day schedule: once after I shower in the morning (AM), and once before I go to sleep at night (PM). In broad steps, my AM routine is:

  1. water rinse
  2. oil cleanser
  3. foaming cleanser scrub
  4. water rinse
  5. toner
  6. serum
  7. cream
  8. SPF

And my PM routine is:

  1. water rinse
  2. toner
  3. serum
  4. AHA/BHA
  5. cream

I use the AmazonBasics Microfiber Cleaning Cloth ($0.5 each) as face towels. Since Amazon sells these so inexpensively, I can change them out every two weeks or so. Old cloths can be repurposed for wiping counters or floors (or discarded, if you’re traveling).

I do double cleaning (an oil-based cleanser, followed by a water-based cleanser) in the evening. My preferred oil cleanser is the Kosé Softymo Speedy Cleaning Oil ($10). It’s cheap and always in stock on Amazon. After rinsing my face, I massage in this oil with my fingertip, until any rough spots have come loose (sometimes, patting on an extra bit of water helps). Then, I dot my face with a glop of the The Face Shop Foaming Facial Cleanser ($7) and scrub it in with a moist MY Konjac Sponge ($10). Then, I rinse off everything with water and a face towel.

I’ve tried a couple of different toners, but my current favorite is the Klairs Supple Preparation Facial Toner ($16). It’s got a nice herbal smell and it’s a bit more viscous than most toners. I also use the Klairs Rich Moist Soothing Serum ($20) as an additional moisturizer, which is even more viscous and supposedly does a good job hydrating skin.

Some people use toners that contain AHA/BHA, but the Klairs toner doesn’t. I use the COSRX Natural BHA Skin Returning A-Sol ($12) to supplement the toner. It’s slightly more acidic, and it’s supposedly good at suppressing breakouts. I don’t know how to measure this without a control group, but I believe them. I’ve tried a few different exfoliating acids, but settled on this one for no particular reason. Since exfoliating acids make your skin more sensitive to sunlight, I only use this at night.

For SPF, I use the MISSHA Soft Finish Sun Milk ($13). This particular variant leaves a matte finish on your skin, which is kind of weird at first, but I’ve grown accustomed to. MISSHA also makes a version without the matte finish.

Finally, my most frequently skin care product is plain old hand lotion. My favorites are the Lubriderm Daily Moisture Lotion ($10) and the Aveeno Sheer Hydration Daily Moisturizing Lotion ($6). I have big bottles in my apartment and travel-sized bottles in my backpack and at work. I tend to wash my hands a lot, so my hands would be really dry without carrying one of these.

Storage

When it comes to computer storage, the 3 most important factors are throughput, latency, and capacity. Unfortunately, most storage devices only advertise the 3rd factor (i.e. capacity). Broadly speaking, storage devices tend to be used for one of 3 things, each of which has different priorities:

  • Internal computer storage (latency, capacity)
  • Media storage (throughput, capacity)
  • Archival storage (capacity, throughput)

I haven’t mentioned reliability here, because all storage devices are inherently unreliable (see my blog post about data integrity). So, the only storage devices I’d recommend are devices used for temporary data storage or for data transfer.

If you’re unlucky enough to be shopping for internal computer storage, then I’d recommend whatever device fits your system. Whether that’s SATA, mSATA, M.2, or maybe even PCIe? Samsung and Crucial both make cheap and reliable SSDs. If you’re looking for the best, the Samsung 970 Pro ($170) seems to be a popular option. Don’t bother buying an internal hard drive, unless you’re broke or you’re building a server. Even though they’re cheaper per byte, hard drives can actually be more expensive than SSDs in terms of dollars per IOPS or B/s of throughput.

When it comes to removable storage, I think SD cards satisfy most use cases. Of course, I use SD cards in my camera. But I also use them for sharing large files when network transfer isn’t an option (e.g. sneakernet). My preferred SD card is the SanDisk Extreme Pro SDXC UHS-I Memory Card ($23). It’s a cheap UHS-I card with a sturdy plastic housing, and it delivers respectable read and write throughput over 90MB/s.

For smaller devices, I’ve had good luck with the Samsung EVO MicroSDHC UHS-I Memory Card ($8). They’re incredibly inexpensive, and they come with a handy microSD to SD card adapter.

If you’re looking for more performance, UHS-II devices exist. But the second row of pins look like creepy teeth and most SD card readers don’t support the extra pins anyway. I haven’t purchased an external hard drive in years, and I’d only recommend them if you’re sure you understand the reliability/performance implications of a slow inexpensive disk of spinning rust. I’ve also never tried an external SSD, but if you’re looking for high-throughput external storage, why not consider a networked storage appliance instead?

Water Bottle

I have a 12oz blue Zojirushi Stainless Steel Mug. This is the same insulated water bottle that you see in all the Japanese home goods stores, and it certainly deserves it’s reputation. It’s great at keeping cold water cold. It’s easy to clean, and the cap mechanism is really satisfying to use.

Wi-Fi

I’m currently using MikroTik hAP AC RouterBoard ($115) as my router-switch-AP combination. I bought it primarily because it has a command-line interface designed for network engineering enthusiasts to play with. Setting up this router reaffirmed my understanding of how basic home router features like masquerading NAT can be broken down and implemented as smaller pieces. But for this reason, I wouldn’t really recommend MikroTik products to people who aren’t interested in network engineering.

For people with big houses, I think mesh Wi-Fi systems like Google Wifi ($100) are probably the best choice (disclaimer: I work here). You can also slap together an ad-hoc mesh of random routers and access points, but you might not get the proactive handoff or easy management features that a lot of modern mesh Wi-Fi systems are good at.

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Sun, 18 Aug 2019 01:47:00 GMT