Ruby posted a while ago about a poster portfolio that was, by her reckoning, one of the best things she'd bought in ages. That got me thinking -- what are the best things I've bought lately? I thought about it for a while (involuntarily), and came up with this list:
These little $6 cables have been massively convenient. One end of the cable plugs into a USB hub. The other end plugs into a device. The "device" end actually has three plugs daisy-chained together -- one for mini-USB, one for micro-USB, and one for iPhones -- so it will plug into pretty much any device I own. On top of that, the cable is retractable, so it takes up almost no space when I'm not using it. Compare this to the piles of cables I had to keep around before I bought these, and these might be my best purchase of the year.
CD-tray iPhone mount
This was the year I *finally* stopped using a TomTom for driving directions and switched over to using the Waze iPhone app. I made the switch because I installed a stand that lets me put my iPhone up on my dashboard. This particular model plugs into your car's CD tray, which you'll never use for anything, but which manufacturers still put there because your grandparents buy cars, too. Turn some screws and the mount locks in place. So far it's working perfectly.
I bought a Karma Hotspot I'm too lazy to figure out how to jailbreak my iPhone and too cheap to pay for iPhone tethering. (I can't even tell if it's available with my Sprint plan.) When you turn on this little box, it logs into a wireless network and turns into a WiFi hub that everyone can use. It's surprising how often this has come in handy for me, from doing consulting work in the middle of a park in Minnesota to providing an Internet connection for everyone at a marketing meeting when their router had failed. Really handy.
How did I ever get by without these? Oh, right, with awkward corded headphones, plus I had to dig my iPhone out of my pocket every time I wanted to pause or restart its audio. These headphones have a nice little raised "pause/play" button on the right can, along with forward/reverse and volume up/down buttons. It's meant that I've managed to listen to podcasts a lot more while puttering around the house, and that's made me happy.
Once I bought a glass desk, it made perfect sense to decorate it with LED lights. This is a long strip of LEDs that can be set to whatever color you like. (I have them set to slowly color-cycle.) They run along main lines of the desk, Tron-style, and sit under all the desk surfaces, shining up through the glass. When a man is tired of color-cycling desk lights, he is tired of life.
I don't know why footswitches make me happy. There's just something stupidly fun about turning on a light by stepping on a big red button. At this point, nearly everything in my study is attached to footswitches -- all the lamps, the desk's LED lights, the computer speakers, and the whole piano setup. It's also handy, since several of those items have on/off switches that are hard to reach. Plus, each footswitch has a little light on it, so when it's dark, it's easy to turn on a light.
In my bathroom, I was running into three problems: first, my sink was a mess, with junk all over the place; second, I often forgot to do things in the morning or evening -- which was a big deal if, say, I forgot to take my allergy meds and then drove an hour out of town; third, it was (slightly) annoying to keep straight which things I needed to do in the morning and which ones I needed to do in the evening. (As I get older and older, the routines get more and more elaborate.)
Now, this next part is probably only going to make sense to computer programmers.
So I bought three metal baskets for my bathroom. They sit in a row on a shelf next to my sink.
At the moment, the left basket has everything I need in the evening. The middle basket has everything I need in the morning. The right basket is empty. Like so:
Tonight, I'll take down the basket on the left ("evening") and plunk it on the sink, leaving two on the shelf:
Then I'll go through and use every item in the "evening" basket, and as I do so, I'll transfer the items into the empty one. So once I've transferred everything, I know that there's nothing left to do -- the baskets function like a checklist. After I'm done, I'm left with this on the shelf:
Finally, I put the now-empty basket on the end of the shelf, and slide everything over:
... and then I'll be all set to do the exact same thing in the morning: take down the basket on the left, transfer its contents to the empty basket, slide everything over. Problems solved!