2013 Gift Guide: stuff I’ve loved

A few weeks ago I started keeping track of a list of things I’ve fallen in love with over the last year or so, in hopes of putting them all together, and this is the result. In no particular order, these are all items that I’ve used and have impressed me, hopefully they’ll give you some gift ideas for other nerdy bike loving kickstarter backing people like me.

Etch Foursquare Maps

If you’ve used Foursquare extensively in NYC, SF, Chicago, or Portland, Etch will prepare a custom map of all your check-in history for those cities, letting you choose one spot to highlight, and print it all up on fine art poster paper. It requires a heavy 4sq user, probably more than 100 check-ins if not 200 or more before you get a cool map, but I was really impressed with the nice colors and art quality of the print when I bought one last summer. It’s a beautiful work of art based on casual use of a social app.

Dero Track Bike Rack

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I’m a huge bike nerd and storage of the whole family’s bikes has always been an issue in my garage. Before I found out about the Dero Racks on Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools, my garage was a mess, but everything is grand now. This bike rack basically turns your quiver of rides into a rack of clothing. As long as you stagger your bikes (handlebars up, then down, then up) you can fit 13 bicycles in a 8 foot wide space (ideally having 10-12 feet of height lets you store stuff below this too), and you just push bikes on the rolling hooks out of the way to remove one bike. Ordering this rack is a little weird since the company mostly works with building firms and city governments, but a quick phone call got a rack shipped to me in a week for about $350. Above is a shot of 8 bikes and two sets of wheels fitting in a space that used to hold just four or five bikes in my garage.

20×200

20×200 returned after nearly a year offline to offer up fine art at affordable prices. I’ve bought several items over the past few years and every one I’ve given as a gift is highly prized and prominently displayed by their new owners. Great stuff here that should appeal to anyone on your list.

The Athletic’s Socks

Awesome high quality cycling socks that can be worn off the bike, I really love the PDX Carpet socks and the LAX socks (get 2 sets of 3 if you want to be matchy-matchy).

Handleband

I backed this on Kickstarter and it’s now being sold in bike shops by Nite Ize. This fantastically useful removable iPhone mount for your bike stem is a perfect addition to any city bike. In unfamiliar terrain, I use Google Maps bike directions and this puts your phone where you can see and use it without being distracting. Even while riding around my house, I find it handy to track short trips on Strava and get texts and alerts from friends I might be riding to meet. This would be a killer addition to Citibikes in NYC, where I found it awkward to hold my phone while trying to find my way to stations and destinations in Manhattan.

Bluffworks Pants

Another Kickstarter I backed that is now selling to the public, these “adventure pants” really live up to the goals the designers set out. I have worn these pants in business meetings with a belt, shirt, and tie and also stood in a foot of mud mixed with snow in the same pants. They look really sharp, fit incredibly well, and are made of tough-as-nails fabric. My only wish is that they were warmer but I can just barely fit a thin layer of REI tights below them in Winter.

Nau Clothing

I own half a dozen things from Nau and I love every item I wear from them. They’re a tad pricy but they are built to last, fit really great, and look swell. I hate ordering expensive clothes online sight unseen but if you can find them in any local retailers I would suggest going that route to make sure the fit is just right for you.

Me Undies

Last year I tried out half a dozen or so high end underwear brands trying to find something I liked (even kickstarter backed a few). The stuff they sell at Me Undies fits great, is made some of the softest fabric I’ve ever worn, and came as close to perfect as anything I tested. They sell underwear in a weird way — you buy a first pair and then you “subscribe” to monthly deliveries of the same cut/size. I kept this up for about six months, getting 3 pairs a month in all sorts of wacky colors until I pretty much replaced all my old uncomfortable underwear before halting the subscription.

Grove iPhone cases

Another cool looking, well performing, but a tad expensive item I love is my Grove iPhone case. Made of softer bamboo wood, my case has taken a dozen tumbles to concrete floors without cracking, splitting, or shattering my phone screen. My plaid case was a conversation starter at almost any retail establishment I used my phone in — it was kind of amazing how often people asked where I got it.

Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools Book

I’ve read the site since it existed, bought loads of stuff mentioned in the past, but I still got a huge kick out of pouring through the pages of Kevin Kelly’s book version of his site. It’s mostly just a reprint of the best reviews from the last ten years of the site, but the huge format and layout reminds me of old 1980s Sears catalogs I’d obsess over for months leading up the Holidays as a young kid. There are loads of great things and tips inside you might have missed even if you’re an avid follower of the site.

Using a prepaid Koodo iPhone SIM in Canada (as a traveling American)

Note: This is a guide aimed at getting a fast, semi-cheap, data/voice/text plan for Americans with unlocked phones traveling in Canada and information is up-to-date as of November 2013.

Whenever I travel to another country, about a week before the trip I hit up the prepaid SIM travel wikia page for info on cheap options with the most bandwidth for my phone. Having a data connection is vital when traveling, especially for parents. It’s not just about getting Instagram sunsets at the beach, I need to be able to find my way back to the hotel with my daughter and connect with my wife whenever we are apart in a different country. Maps, Yelp, and Google have been indispensable while traveling and I can’t imagine being in a strange place without their help.

My Verizion phone plan in the US charges way too much for bandwidth in other countries, even when you pay the extra rates (which, last I checked start at $20/mo extra and bandwidth costs extra on top of that, sometimes totalling hundreds of dollars for less than 1Gb of data). Other countries often have “pay as you go” and “prepaid” SIM card options that are ridiculously cheap compared to almost anything in America (a Gb of data can cost as little as $10). The problem with public wikis is the information gets out of date (some pages of that wikia site haven’t been updated in years) and even recent round-ups like this one on iMore are already more than a year old with pricing that doesn’t reflect current rates. I’m going to describe the exact steps I took to get online.

First step: unlocked?

First you’ll need an unlocked American phone, so that means either a Android Nexus phone purchased from Google or a iPhone 5, 5c, or 5s on Verizon (earlier 4 and 4s models can be unlocked by Verizon but it’s a pain as I found out in early 2012). I’m not sure if Sprint or AT&T iPhones can be unlocked. I had a iPhone 5s for my trip to Toronto, and I also had my wife’s unlocked 4s.

Find a Koodo kiosk or shop

I browsed a bunch of information online and decided that Koodo (a Telus subsidiary) offered the most bang for the buck because 1Gb of data was only $30. They won’t ship SIMs, MicroSIMs, or NanoSIMs to the US, so as soon as I landed, I only had free WiFi at airports or hotels until I could find a shop. Luckily, there was a Koodo kiosk in a mall close to my hotel, which I walked to soon after arriving.

You’ll want to ask for a prepaid SIM, and you can take it home and set it all up yourself on a laptop, tablet, or even your phone, and you might even save some money (there was a $20 credit when I was setting things up). Instead, I got my necessary SIM cards (NanoSIM for the iPhone 5 and up, MicroSIMs for earlier models) and paid for the cheapest unlimited text plan ($15), 100 minutes of talk ($10), and 1Gb of data ($30). With tax, each SIM cost me about $60 Canadian and I was given a special code to apply to the cards during sign up. If I could have gotten the SIMs for free and finished setup at home, it would have been $20 cheaper for each phone.

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Activate the SIMs

I fired up my laptop and pointed it at https://activateprepaid.koodomobile.com/. You go through a signup process, and I was sure to pick the same options I already paid for. I applied my PIN from the sales receipt, and everything was complete. Armed with a paperclip from the hotel’s front desk, I opened the SIM door on my phone and slid the Koodo card in. In a few moments it was on the network and a quick test with WiFi turned off revealed that everything was working, and I had a new strange temporary Canadian phone number, which I stored on my wife’s phone (and vice versa) so we could contact each other. iMessage still uses the network, so texting between other iPhone users (including my wife) worked just as it used to.

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Enjoy!

The bandwidth was impressive for my short trip. In downtown Toronto, I found speeds of 10-15Mb downloads (and even uploads sometimes), faster than my hotel’s WiFi connection. You should monitor your bandwidth use at https://prepaidselfserve.koodomobile.com/ as I found myself using a couple hundred Mb of data each day (mostly Google Maps or looking up operating hours of museums and restaurants while uploading lots of photos along the way). For my short five day visit, a $60 1Gb plan worked out great and was much cheaper than the alternatives. I only ended up using 781Mb of data and made just one test phone call throughout my stay.

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I published a little photo gallery of the entire trip on the new Exposure site, featuring photos I took all on my iPhone while out and about.