Stuff I Like
I like a lot of stuff. Stuff that helps me get things done, stuff that I find entertaining, and just a bunch of stuff that's cool. I get asked what I use for this or that pretty often, so I decided to put together this page full of answers in a variety of categories. It details what I use for work, fun, and more. Check out the whole thing or the section(s) that interests you.
I have a somewhat elaborate home office setup because it doubles as a podcasting/project recording studio. While not the world's greatest environment for perfect sound, thanks to the un-padded walls and hardwood floors, it works well enough for me.
Let's start with the desk area.
CB2 Torino Desk: I've used IKEA tables for years and wanted something a bit sturdier. CB2 had a desk sale and the Torino not only looked good but slides open to easily help conceal your cables.
Tempur-Pedic TP8000 Task Chair: Although I'm a big fan of the Aeron and a few others, I found the TP8000 while picking up some supplies at Staples and really enjoyed it. While I don't know if I'd argue it's a better chair, it's definitely a great one for half the cost. The memory foam makes it extremely comfortable.
MacBook Pro 13" with Retina Display: While I don't use this computer at my desk, I spend a lot of time elsewhere and so my laptop is my primary machine. Apple's first attempt at a 13" laptop with a high-resolution display made for some pretty choppy graphics performance. The second iteration is fantastic and you get a great machine for $1,500. Since a comparable upgrade for the MacBook Air costs about the same, this is the 13" Mac laptop to get if you don't mind the extra weight and lower battery life.
Mac mini: I'd love to say I have a more powerful computer as my desktop, but I wanted a Mac, didn't want an iMac, and the hackintosh wasn't cooperating with my audio setup. Mac Pros were too expensive and out-of-date. The latest version is like a fancy Mac mini with fewer port options. So I bought a higher-end Mac mini, which is faster than you'd think, and upgraded it myself. With a fast SSD and some extra RAM, it gets things done fast despite its diminutive size.
Apple Bluetooth Keyboard and Magic Trackpad: The Mac mini doesn't come with a keyboard and mouse so you have to supply your own. I've always liked Apple's keyboards and preferred trackpads to mice. Apple does make the best trackpad on the market, in my opinion, so this was an easy decision. Logitech's alternative will save you money, but it just doesn't work as well.
DELL 27" IPS Monitor: Apple charges just under $1,000 for their 27" studio display. DELL uses the same panels and charges about two thirds of that price. It also seems to fit in more stylistically with my audio setup.
MOTU 4pre: Although not my audio interface of choice for the Mac, and not necessary if you don't need four powered mic preamps like I do, the best alternative (Apogee Quartet) costs almost $1,000 more. Steinberg recently announced the UR44 which may be better than the MOTU at a lower price, and Windows users will want to take advantage of that or the PreSonus AudioBox 44VSL. It also costs less and PreSonus tends to put a bit more effort into keeping its Windows drivers up-to-date. They've fallen behind on the Mac with the AudioBox line and really don't seem to have any interest in catching up.
AKG C535 EB Condenser Microphone: There are a lot of great mics out there you can buy for less than this one. That said, the C535 EB isn't terribly expensive and I really love it for vocals. It also features a tighter super-cardioid pattern so it won't pick up quite as much room noise as your average, standard cardioid microphone.
Samson Resolv SE5 Studio Monitors: Samson doesn't actually make the studio monitors I use anymore, but these are the most comparable models. They're inexpensive and sound great. But if I were buying new monitors today, I'd get the Yamaha HS80Ms. If you want to get a good idea of how any monitor sounds, head on over to your local guitar center. They often have models you can try out by plugging in your music player/smartphone and listening. Just bring uncompressed music, or you will definitely not hear the full effect.
Sennheiser HD558 Headphones: These are just a fantastic pair of headphones for a pretty reasonable price. I actually have the older 555s, but they don't make those anymore. These are the successors.
Yamaha P105B Keyboard Piano: The M-Audio keyboard works fine for inputting most instruments, but for realistic piano parts I use a keyboard piano that actually provides a realistic playing experience. Yamaha's P-series has always delivered that with a graded-hammer effect that makes each key press feel like a real piano. While there are better models out there, you won't find one this good for under $1,000. (I actually own a P80 but Yamaha "upgrades" these each year with a new number and hardly any changes.)
The office has a lot more in it than just a desk and some audio equipment. I use the closet for storage, but also to house printers and scanners.
Brother HL-2270DW: How often do you really print in color? Unless you're printing photographs all the time, you probably don't need an inkjet. Buying a laser printer will not only cost you less money, but you'll probably replace the toner (~$50) less than once a year. I bought Brother's HL-2270 four years ago, before they started making it in black, and I've never had to replace the toner. I don't print a ton, of course, but if you don't either you're making a great investment. This thing cost me $200 and I thought it was a good deal. Now you can get it for $110. On top of just being an awesome, cheap printer, it features wireless and duplex printing. It's just really great.
Dymo LabelWriter Twin Turbo 450: Sometimes I need to print labels, sometimes I need to print stamps. This label printer holds both. It saves me trips to the post office, which I consider to be an invaluable service.
Doxie Go: When I started going paperless, I started with the Doxie Go. It's simple, it's effective, and you can take it with you anywhere because it runs on batteries (for approximately an hour of scanning). You can scan wirelessly if you add an Eye-Fi card and importing your scans to other applications is pretty easy with the included software. You can read about how I went paperless with it and Evernote here. (And by paperless, I mean in regards to paper I keep. Sometimes I have to print things, of course.)
Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500: While the Doxie is great for smaller amounts of paper, when you need some serious paper-scanning capabilities you want the iX500. Fujitsu has been really great about making it simple to go from paper to PDF with one push of a button. They've also partnered with Evernote to make this thing ridiculously compatible. If you're an Evernote fan and you've got some cash to spend on a high-end scanner, this is the way to go.
Galvanized QBO Steel Cube Storage Table: Honestly, this is an over-priced steel storage table. It's also awesome. Sometimes you buy things because they're cooler and more durable than the cheaper alternatives. I did that here, and it works great for all my printers and supplies.
ClosetMaid Cubeicals 12-Cube Storage Organizer: Although just a white grid of cubes, you can create an attractive storage area in your office (or really anywhere else—I have a smaller one in my bedroom) pretty easily with this thing. You just buy some fabric cubes to put in it in the color of your choice, leave open spaces for display areas, and you're done. You can order these online in a variety of places, but they sell them at Target if you don't feel like waiting.
Pee & Poo Stuffed Toys: Although meant as a potty-training supplement for Swedish children, I think it's awesome to have these as a decorative office item.
Universal Dock and Charging Station: It's cool, holds several cables, and isn't prohibitively expensive for a custom-made wooden item ($24). This comes from an Etsy seller who makes tons of awesome natural wood items.
I like TV and movies a lot, so I put a fair amount of effort into my home theater setup. It's by no means the best or most expensive, but it's a very good system on a budget. I didn't spend too much or have to fish wires through the walls. I can watch everything I want easily and play classic video games with a few clicks.
Hackintosh: The entire system runs from a custom-built hackintosh. I'll get into that build in a later section, but it's excessively powerful for a home theater PC (HTPC). I used to use it as my primary desktop workstation before the audio issues arose. Because I use Plex as media center software and Plex has great on-the-fly conversion and sync features for mobile devices, that extra power comes in handy. It makes quick work of video encoding and can multi-task with ease.
Epson V11H502020 PowerLite Home Cinema 3020e Projector: My projector definitely accounts for the most expensive part of my setup, except that I got a used one on Craigslist for a little over a third of the retail price. Lucky! This is a phenomenal projector. Aside from great color and picture quality, it's also very versatile due to a highly adjustable lens. You generally won't find that on cheaper projectors, and I needed something that would let me adjust the picture size significantly as I had to mount the projector about 20 feet from the screen. Not an ideal scenario, of course, but few projectors could handle the job without a high price tag. This one can and does.
Projector Screen: I'd recommend a screen except I use a pretty dull one. I don't even know where to buy it. If you want something cheap and comparable, try this. I don't have anything amazing enough to whole-heartedly recommend here, however.
Yamaha RX-V375 5.1 Channel 3D A/V Home Theater Receiver: This is a fantastic receiver at a very good price. It has four HDMI ports, plus several other hookups I don't even use. It allows direct connection for iPhones for music playback and an an auxiliary input for other devices. I could go on for awhile about the ridiculous number of features you get on this pretty much entry-level model. You get more with more expensive versions, but unless you need more ports and some other pretty specific options it won't be worth the cost. Plus, if you pick up a used one of these like I did, you'll save much more.
Energy 5.1 Take Classic Home Theater System: While this is by no means the best home theater surround sound speaker set you'll find, it's the best you'll find at this price point. I was very impressed by the audio quality produced by these tiny speakers. They're highly recommended all around the internet for good reason: they're exceptional for the price. Unless you're looking for something over $1,000, these are the ones to buy. (You will, of course, need some stands for them, too.)
OpenEmu: It's the best emulation software around and it's free. OpenEmu makes emulation super simple on the Mac, and good-looking on top of it. Get yourself some USB SNES and N64 controllers and enjoy some retro gaming. I also have other gaming platforms like the PS3, Xbox 360, and Wii U, but it seems silly to recommend those.
The Hackintosh Build
I like Macs, but the desktops Apple produces have a ton of limitations. While hackintoshes require a little more work, they're pretty easy to put together nowadays thanks to tonymacx86. If you want to make one, my hackintosh guide can walk you through the entire process. As for hardware, this is my current build of choice.
Corsair Carbide 500R Case: You can certainly find better looking cases than this one, but if you plan to keep your machine under your desk it doesn't really matter that this one has a fairly boring design. What does matter is that it has cable management features and is pretty easy to build in.
Corsair Enthusiast Series CP-9020039-NA650W 650W Modular Power Supply: Unless you're adding a ton of hard drives to this build, 650W should be more than enough power. On top of that, its a modular supply so you won't have any power cables you don't need inside your machine.
Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD5H Motherboard: A solid motherboard with room for expansion. It doesn't require a DSDT, which makes the build easier, and the price is pretty low for a system of this caliber.
Intel Core i7 4770K: Pretty much the fastest processor you can put in a hackintosh without sacrificing functionality.
EVGA GeForce GTX760 Graphics Card: A powerful GPU—just not the most powerful.
Samsung 840 Pro Series 256GB SSD: Because SSDs are awesome.
Western Digital 4TB Green Hard Drive: Because SSDs are small.
Corsair Vengeance PC3 12800 16GB (2x8GB) RAM: 8GB is enough for most things, but 16GB provides a lot of room for growth. I think 32GB is excessive, plus the motherboard in this build can accommodate more if you need it at a later point.
TP-LINK TL-WDN4800 Dual Band Wireless N900 PCI Express Card: If you need Wi-Fi, this card works natively with OS X.
I have a bit of a go bag obsession. I like to take things with me and do so easily. I've created both a modular system and a battery-powered bag, but I'm always testing new stuff. These are the best bags I've found so far.
Hazard 4 Tonto Concealed-Carry Mini-Messenger Bag: I think Army surplus bags are some of the best made bags you can get. Regardless of the size, they're innovative and fit a ton of stuff. Hazard 4 costs a little bit more than some of the other companies, but I've found the quality to be superior. The Tonto bag is fantastic and fits so much. If you need a bigger option, however, its bigger brother Kato will do the trick.
District Threads Canvas Field Bag: There's really nothing all that special about this bag. It's often used for custom printing by Etsy artists. I picked one up in Seattle for the hell of it and found that it is surprisingly accommodating for such a small bag. I've actually fit an iPad, 11" MacBook Air, a GRID-IT with tons of peripherals, a Nintendo 3DS, a Mac laptop power adapter, and more into this tiny bag. It was a tight fit, of course, but if you need a cheap, small-yet-roomy canvas bag, I haven't found one better than this.
Lewis N. Clark Urban Gear Canvas Messenger Bag: If the District Threads bag isn't for you, this one might work as a better alternative. If you have a 13" laptop, you can fit it in here. It also has more compartments and a comfortable shoulder strap. It's relatively cheap, too.
Incase CL58056 Point and Shoot Field Bag: If you need a bag for your point-and-shoot or mirrorless camera, plus a tablet and a few other items, this is a good option. It's small, comfortable, and modestly stylish. That said, the strap is kind of weird and it's hard to figure out how to wear the bag. Some people find this frustrating. I don't mind it much.
Incase CL55470 Campus Compact Backpack: An incredibly accommodating yet compact backpack that comes in multiple styles. It's also pretty cheap for an Incase bag ($50). The downsides: the shoulder straps aren't padded (so you don't want to overload the pack) and it doesn't feature dual zippers. Some people don't mind having just one zipper on the main compartment, but I find it more difficult to access the bag when there's only one. Because all other Incase backpacks have two, in my experience, this seems like a silly cost-cutting measure. Still, it's my favorite backpack they make and one of the best in general.
Tenba Messenger: Hands down, the best laptop camera bag you can get. It's waterproof on the bottom, water-resistant on the top, has pockets for everything, you can remove sections of the bag you don't need, and it's remarkable comfortable thanks to a great shoulder strap. I could go on and on about how wonderful this bag is. The main downside? It's kind of ugly. You just can't buy it in a color that makes it look great. It could be amazing with a few minor design tweaks and some decent color options, but Tenba hasn't updated this thing in half a decade so don't hold your breath.
UNDFIND One Bag: A stylish messenger that comes in multiple sizes to fit your laptop. It's made for photographers and has a wonderful padded compartment to house your DSLR. It also offers interchangeable flaps so you can create a modular system and quickly swap out the tools that you need. I still prefer the Tenba Messenger in terms of utility, but this is a much more stylish option.
I don't consider a lot of software essential, though I do happen to love a few choice apps. These may not be perfect for you, but they make my life better so I thought I ought to include them.
Adobe Photoshop: While I can't recommend getting a subscription, buying a copy of Photoshop CS6 isn't a bad idea. It's still wonderfully powerful, great software. Of course, if you don't want to spend nearly $700 on outdated software and have a Mac, I highly recommend picking up a copy of Pixelmator instead.
Evernote: Although it has its issues, Evernote makes it really easy to save all sorts of information into a giant set of notebooks and find it pretty quickly on virtually any device. It's hard not to like that.
Dropbox: The best way to sync files. Dropbox is amazing, and a vital resource.
Screenflow: Amazing Mac screencasting software and a great simple video editor, too.
Moment: A little micro-app that sits in your Mac's menu bar and makes it easy to update your Facebook status, check notifications, and—more importantly for me—upload photos.
ScreenSharingMenulet: The missing link in OS X's screen sharing feature set.
I love video games. I don't spend enough time playing them. I work too much and play too little, I think, but I do find time here and there. There are a few games I love.
Radiant Historia (Nintendo DS): The best JRPG I've played in years. It's not perfect, but it's really fun and has a great strategy-based battle system. A lot of people missed this one. Go back and play it.
Pokémon X/Y (Nintendo 3DS): My first Pokémon game, but I am already obsessed.
Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo 3DS): I haven't played through all of the Fire Emblem games, but I have played a few. This might be my favorite so far.
Broken Age (Windows/OS X): I've never loved point-and-click adventure games, but this one is very charming. I've just started but I really like it so far.
Earthbound/Mother Series: Another classic, but you'll likely have to emulate this one. Mother 3, which was fan-translated and never released in the US, is my favorite of the series. I'm hopeful Mother 4, the fan game, will be great, too.
Tetris Attack (SNES): Closer to Bejeweled than Tetris, this is a very fun multiplayer puzzle game where you match up colored blocks in order to do damage to your opponent. It's fun all by yourself, too.
Sword & Sworcery EP (Multiple Platforms): An indie game classic.
FEZ (Multiple Platforms): While its creator is a little nuts, this game is a blast.
Dots (iOS): A simple, elegant puzzle game with great design and quick gameplay.