It’s getting to be the end of 2021 - so it’s a good time to look through some of the things I bought over the year, and reflect on how they’ve turned out. Some of them have been rubbish of course, but there are a number of things that have turned out to be very useful, or to have brought me joy in some other way, and made them into a list in the hope somebody else will find it helpful.
Choosing what to buy is a hard problem - and nobody has the exact same criteria for their purchases as anybody else, but it’s still useful to hear how other people got on, and to see reviews in context. So just take this list as social proof - “it worked for me”.
I’ve tried to provide a Amazon US and UK link for the items that are sold there - these are affiliate links, so I will get a small cut if you buy something on Amazon after clicking one. However, due to Amazon’s monopoly pricing power, you’ll probably find the best price somewhere else local to you - the links are just there for your convenience.
Knipex Cobra 250mm Water Pump Pliers
These are a really excellent set of water pump pliers. They can substitute for (or improve on) at least three tools: pliers, an adjustable spanner and a pipe wrench. I’ve used these many more times than I had imagined I would when I got them, they really are a do-anything tool. The fit and finish is immaculate as you’d expect for something made by Knipex plus they have a great feel in the hand with an ergonomic textured handle, and the ultra-hard jaws grip on to anything. And they’re Project Farm approved too!
I do wish that these came in a left-handed variant, as the adjustment button is slightly uncomfortable to push when in your left hand. And I now need to get another in a smaller size that I can put on my electronics desk permanently - these big ones are spending more time out of the toolbox than in!
UT-210E AC/DC Clamp Multimeter
I needed a clamp multimeter for electronics work: the UT-210E does DC, and it has a great 1 mA resolution (other meters typically have 100mA, which is useless for electronics). It’s not terribly accurate, but it’s more than good enough once you zero it out, and it’s super cheap compared to others on the market. It’s so useful to be able to clamp on to a wire and quickly measure out the current without having to shut down the device, splice wires and restart like you do with a normal multimeter. This is a simple tool, but it does it’s job perfectly and I have had absolutely no problems with it.
The VoltCraft equivalent of this meter should be identical aside from the colour of the case, but it was more expensive at the time I bought mine so I ended up with the Uni-T brand.
Makita M4301 Jigsaw
Yes, it’s a red Makita! It’s heavy, brushed and corded. But it’s cheap, sturdy, and it works perfectly: it has variable speed control, a high quality plastic construction and proper rubber cord. It works about 100x as fast as a hand saw, so you’ll be saving time. And for the £35 I paid it’s a no-brainer if you don’t have a jigsaw already. It even came with one good quality blade so you’re ready to go from the start.
Mechanix FastFit Gloves
Versatile gloves that provide reasonable protection and excellent grip without taking away too much feel. They work touchscreens too. I bought a new pair this year - they last about a year for my light-duty use. They’re really easy to put on and take off but they stay fitted perfectly and allow good freedom of movement.
ZebraLight SC64c LE
For a torch (flashlight), this is perfection. It’s amazingly bright, wonderfully compact (barely larger than the 18650 battery it contains), runs seemingly forever on a charge, and it has an excellent belt-clip too.
Every detail of this is right: it’s got a high-CRI 4000K emitter for nice colours and versatile usage day or night, an intermediate-distance orange-peel reflector design for smooth spill and graduated light distribution, with some throw for when it’s needed. It’s got a electronic side-switch with simple UI: no turning on in your pocket, and always the right mode first try. I have owned a lot of torches, and this is the best.
It is expensive, and ZebraLight unfortunately has persistently poor stock levels and only sells within the US. That said, I now have two, just in case I lose this one and can’t get another immediately. And I say lose - there’s no chance of this breaking, it’s so well put together. Even the anodising is practically like new after a year of use.
Quntis 52cm Monitor Light Bar
My desk at home was always quite badly lit - with most of the light in the room coming from a pendant behind me, the desktop was in shadow without a desk lamp. As a result I’ve always had space on my desk taken up by a heavy desktop lamp base, and put up with uneven lighting.
Since I got the monitor light bar, it’s been completely transformed. I’ve got more space on the desk as the light bar just rests on top of the monitor, and the lighting is so much more even. Although adjustability is a little bit limited and you have to bring your own power supply, it’s still a good deal for usable desk lighting. I don’t use the sensor function, so can’t comment on how that works, and I also don’t know how this compares to the Benq version at twice the price, but I’m happy with this one so not inclined to find out.
DJI Osmo Pocket 2
This is a perfectly conceived product - basically the modern incarnation of the camcorder form factor. It’s so handy and easy to use - just point and shoot. And the results are impressive: the video is entirely competent 4K with reasonable bitrate, but the real joy is the stabilisation; it’s perfect - thanks to the gimbal there’s zero shake or roll. The focal length of the standard lens is just about right - I feel the FOV is too narrow just about as often as I feel it’s too wide. Of course there is an extra-wide angle attachment, but it’s certainly not essential.
Not to say this is perfect: it’s expensive, the menu system is painful until you get your muscle memory, and you have to install an app on your smartphone to ‘activate’ the device before you use it for the first time: you need to phone home to DJI’s mothership at least once. And the case is an infuriating missed opportunity - it’s essential for protection of the fragile gimbal head, but rather than doubling as a useful handle or tripod mount (it doesn’t come with one by default!), while you’re shooting you have to shove it in your pocket where it just takes up space.
kwmobile Matte Screen Protector for 13” MBP
Unfortunately I’m forced to use a MBP for my job. Although Apple’s design choices are in general awful, the glossy screen on MacBooks is particularly so: you get terrible glare, and when the laptop is closed, the screen touches the keyboard transferring a grease-print of your keys onto the coating, leaving discoloured patches. This matte film fixes both issues, reducing glare considerably and also increasing the cleaning interval for the screen - I used to clean it twice a week, and now I only have to clean twice a month!
You do lose a little bit of brightness, but it’s not very noticeable, and a tiny bit of sharpness (although this actually improves the image IMO). These tradeoffs are perfectly fine, however, because the film makes the laptop usable when it wouldn’t be otherwise. Why this is not the default from the factory I don’t know!
BASE12 Laptop Stand
I’ve had several laptop stands before, but this was recommended to me in the summer and I can confirm that it’s the best one so far. It holds the laptop up nice and high (or lower, if you want) and it’s sturdy. And when you’re done it folds up very neatly to a small package for transport. On the downsides: it’s not beautiful (although the branding is tasteful - no giant ugly logos), and the feet are slightly slippery so it is unsuitable for sloped desks.
Durgod Taurus K320 Mechanical Keyboard
I’ve been a mechanical keyboard user for quite a few years - I’ve had several of the cheap chinese keyboards with blue switches. I decided to upgrade this year due to WFHing more often, and it was a choice between the Durgod K320 and the Keychron K8: I needed a nice full-size TKL keyboard with UK layout and brown switches.
I ended up with the Durgod because it was in stock at the time, but it’s an excellent keyboard - sturdy construction, high quality PBT keycaps (with no misprints!), and well lubricated original MX brown switches. The cable is Type-C and detachable so can be replaced, or switched for a Type-A if desired. I was so pleased with mine that I bought another one for the office.
Stainless Steel Garlic Press
A garlic press is an essential tool in the kitchen. In go cloves of garlic, skin on, and out comes perfect crushed garlic straight into the pan - no tedious peeling or chopping. I’m probably using 5x as much garlic now I have the press, and my food is better for it.
Sadly most garlic presses on the market are terrible. They are either made of cheap thin steel that doesn’t stand up to the simple task of crushing a clove of garlic, or they are made of cast zinc. Cast zinc has no place in the kitchen - it is weak, brittle and corrodes easily and as a result harbours dirt and grime. Plus, it can’t be washed in the dishwasher so cleanup is an extra step at the end of every meal.
Luckily this press is made of solid, polished stainless steel. There’s lots of leverage for stubborn cloves, and you can be confident it won’t fall apart. When you scrape the crushed garlic off the grate with a spoon, the skins simply pop loose, ready to reload. And when you’re done it can just be dumped in the dishwasher (turned inside out) ready to wash up perfectly for next time. I expect mine will last for many years to come, and I have given several of these presses out as gifts.
Metal Dustpan and Brush
Why were plastic brushpans invented in the first place? This metal one is perfect: no plastic to warp in the sun and no annoying rubber seal to wear out after a year. Simple.
Powerball Wrist Gyroscope
This allows you to work out your forearm while you have fun at your desk, with the simultaneous benefit of annoying all the people around you with a loud whining noise. Once you get the hang of it, this is surprisingly fun and easy to use, and it really gets the blood pumping into your hands if they’re a bit cold. Yes, it’s cheap and plasticy, but it’s also cheap!
Nikon Aculon 8x42 Binoculars
My old binoculars broke, so I had to buy a new set. These may be from the budget range and of an unfashionable porro prism design, but the optical performance is leaps and bounds ahead of my old vintage set (made in Japan). The image is bright, sharp and colourful, plus you can use them with glasses on and the field of view is wider than the more popular roof prism design. If you’re still using vintage binoculars, think about an upgrade to a modern equivalent, you may be surprised!
Midwest Tungsten 1kg Cube
Yes, it’s a meme. And yes, I now have several more dents in my desk than I did last year. But The Cube is also a really fun object to hold, to pick up and play with. And there’s no way the wind is going to blow papers off my desk now I have it to weigh them down! And when you sell an NFT for a million dollars, you too can be the owner of The Cube ;) You’ll need that million too, as the price now seems to be about 3x what I paid for mine!
These are the things I bought that turned out to be a bad idea in retrospect.
Duronic Spice Grinder
This is bulky, impractical and loud. And it smells like it’s going to catch on fire every time I use it. I switched to a mortar and pestle instead - much nicer!
Compatible Earcups for Sony WH1000-XM3
The original Sony earcups are made of memory foam and do a very impressive job blocking out sound leakage. These are not made of memory foam, and as a result they do a terrible job blocking out sound, making them completely pointless unless there’s no other option. Unfortunately there is no other option, as Sony seemingly doesn’t make spare earcups available to replace mine that have fallen apart. Bad Sony!
Noris Digital EMR Marker
I wanted a new marker for my Remarkable Tablet - I thought I would try the Staedlter Noris one, because it looks cool and it has a rubber as well. Well I returned it pretty much immediately: it’s a plasticy piece of junk and it rattles as you write, and it misses half the strokes you put down when the remarkable one gets them all. Plus the tip is way too soft and slippery: it feels like you’re writing on plastic, not paper. I’m happy with the ReMarkable one even though it will set you back twice the price.
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