My favourite things of 2015

Welcome to November. Yes, in case you hadn’t looked at a calendar today, we are almost at the end of 2015. Yikes.

In July, I looked at a few of my favourite things of the year through the halfway mark, now I’m updating mid-November should you have the need for a few ideas for Christmas gifts. These are some of my favourite things that helped me save time and money, brought a smile to my face or works so damn well that I have to share it with others.

I’ve included a few other things that I use professionally that helps me be more efficient. Hope they add some value to you too.

So without further adieu:

1PASSWORD

1Password is arguably the best password vault app. It provides seamless access to all your online account’s usernames and passwords, all safely secured with bank-grade encryption and your own unique master password. That’s right, you’ll only ever have to remember one password.

I cannot gush more on how much annoyance this app has removed from my digital life. It is simply the best app I have on my phone and the best $50 I’ve ever spent (other than maybe my monthly Hearthstone 40 card pack indulgence… If you play Hearthstone, do this at least once).

1Password together with the various browser extensions (Safari, Chrome, Firefox and Opera) is just magic. Couple that with Touch ID and you have the most intuitive and functional app currently available on any platform.

$50 once off

Dishwasher

Because dishwasher.

Most start at R3000 

NFL GamePass

The first streaming service on this list. For those of you outside of the USA, frustrated by the lack of coverage on your local pay TV provider, comes a damn fine solution from The League itself.

Watch games live on your Apple TV or iOS/Android device or, if you like sleep, download the full game (sans ads) or a condensed version to your iOS or Android device. Some games also feature Coaches Films which gives you an in-depth view on how plays are created within the strategies devised by the coaches.

There are three tiers available to suit your budget, it all depends on if you want to watch only one team, all the teams or all the teams plus the Playoffs and Super Bowl.

This is a must for anyone that loves the combat on the Gridiron.

Subscriptions start at $99 for one team (ex Playoffs and Super Bowl), $129 for all regular season games (ex Playoffs and Super Bowl) or $199 for the whole shebang

Buffer

I’ve used a few content sharing tools over the years. Buffer is by far the easiest to use of the lot.

Share instantly and easily to all the major social networks with a click of a button. Also includes scheduling for different accounts.

Buffer is free up to 3 accounts and then $102 a year billed annually for the Awesome Plan for up to 10 social media accounts. There is also a 7 day free trial for the Awesome Plan

Music streaming

Anyone remember WinAmp? Now that was a great tool to manage your ever-growing music collection.

iTunes, not so much. While iTunes helped usher in the music industries’ weaning from CD sales with a la carte digital downloads, managing this unwieldy library through less than stellar tools was a massive frustration. Batch renaming software, Gracenote, scripts for fetching album covers. Painful.

Enter the streaming services. Spotify, Apple Music, Rdio, Pandora, and this list will keep growing especially with Google launching a YouTube music streaming service later this year.

I’ve only used Apple Music and Spotify of the four mentioned. If you currently use Spotify, here’s a handy review to help you decide if you’re thinking of switching. It basically boils down to Apple Music being for those who don’t know what they want to listen to and Spotify for those who do.

If you hadn’t yet made the jump to music streaming, now’s a great time. Apple Music offers a 3-month free trial, Spotify has a free, ad-supported tier as well as a 14 day free trial on its premium tier so there’s no excuse to give it a go and have all your music with you all the time without breaking the bank or your storage space.

Apple Music and Spotify are $10 a month

UnoTelly

If you’re going to attempt to subscribe to some of the above music streaming services you might need UnoTelly.

UnoTelly makes these services that check your location think you’re in the USA. That unlocks all the goodies of music and TV streaming services like Spotify, Netflix, Hulu Plus etc. You’ll still need to pay the regular subscription fees for these streaming services on top of your UnoTelly subscription. No pirating here, thank you.

I just upgraded to the Gold Account which adds UnoVPN. Hello YouTube Red…

Cheap as chips and works like a charm. Enjoy. You’re welcome.

$35 dollars a year if you subscribe on an annual basis 

Car cup holder phone mount

Sticking things on the windscreen is fine, but they do kinda obstruct your view a little. Also, I already have a GoPro camera mounted to the windscreen because drivers in South Africa are terrible.

So this baby has really come in handy. Also one of the few mounts that comfortably and securely holds an iPhone 6+.

$15 at Amazon

Books: Armada An Ember in the Ashes

Armada is the next book by Ernest Cline, he of Ready Player One fame (read this one too if you haven’t), soon to be a feature film by Steven Spielberg. Armada carries on where RPO left off, not in terms of story, but a glorious shrine to nerds, geeks and gamers everywhere. Oh how I love it! I lost myself in this book from page one as Ernest captures what it is to be a gamer (which is nothing like Gamergate…). You’ll love the references to some of today’s greatest games and also the careful throwbacks to titles from decades past. Armada reads like a cross between War of the Worlds and Ender’s Game and is a raucous ride that might as well have started with Duke Nukem’s famous line, “It’s time to kick ass and chew gum, and I’m all outta gum”.

The other book that that consumed me for 2 days is newcomer Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the AshesThis book will kick you in the gut, plant a crunching knee to your nose and then laugh at you while you lay bleeding and gasping on the floor. It’s gutwrenching, nerve-wracking and fist-clenching from start to finish. Described as “An Ember in the Ashes could launch Sabaa Tahir into JK Rowling territory…It has the addictive quality of The Hunger Games combined with the fantasy of Harry Potter and the brutality of Game of Thrones.”—Public Radio International.

For sci-fi and fantasy lovers, these 2 books are a must.

Armada and An Ember in the Ashes are available on iBooks for $12.99 and $19.99 respectively

Strikingly

Strikingly is a competitor to Squarespace, and yes, WordPress (sorry). They package easy-to-use tools such as blogging, media, forms and styling into a very intuitive interface to quickly put together a quality website, whether for personal or professional use.

Strikingly also includes a tool that imports data from your LinkedIn profile and builds a professional website based around your profile information. With a little time, I was able to do this with mine. I also rebuilt our company website in Strikingly, you can view it here.

Free for the LinkedIn tool and up to $16 a month billed annually for the Pro version

Hearthstone

I couldn’t resist. This game is amazing. I don’t want to use Internet speak again but, because Hearthstone.

If you haven’t played yet, now’s a very good time to jump in. A few months ago The Grand Tournament card expansion launched, shaking up the meta of the game quite a bit. TGT added 148 more cards to collect.

If you’re more into solo adventures, you’re in luck. The League of Explorers expansion launched 12 November letting you play through 4 more wings in a quest to find the Staff of Origination. This expansion also includes 45 more cards to unlock. Single player expansions released previously include Curse of Naxxramas and Blackrock Mountain.

Free to download and play. Card packs start at $2.99 for 2 packs. Expansion packs are $25 with the exception of League of Explorers which is $19.99

Vodafone Mobile WiFi R216-Z

What a handy little device. I know there are many of these mobile hotspot wi-fi devices that connect to cellular networks, but not all of them are created the same.

This little gem from Vodafone (or Vodacom) is easy to use, cheap as you can get and does everything it says on the box. This device allows for up to 5 wi-fi connections and connects to LTE (where available). Battery life is good for a whole day’s use.

Vodacom also has 2 handy apps to make sure you don’t run over your data cap and can manage your device. These are Vodafone Mobile WiFi and My Vodacom (the My Vodacom app also has a tablet version). Get both these.

Free on a Vodacom 2GB data contract. Contract is R159 per month.

HBO Now

If you decide to get yourself a UnoTelly subscription, go whole hog and get an Apple TV and an HBO Now subscription. Game of Thrones. GAME OF THRONES!

Oh, and True Detective. My fragile heart, these shows will be the end of me.

HBO Now is $15 a month and an Apple TV can be had for R999 at Takealot.com

X-Files and Star Trek: Next Generation

Okay so now I’m really geeking out. I recently started watching the X-Files again in anticipation of the new season coming to Netflix. The kind people at Netflix have also generously updated this 1993 classic to HD (at least the first 2 seasons) so you don’t have the letterbox effect.

While watching X-Files, which holds up very well by the way, I realised there were other shows from my youth I would love to rewatch as well. Captains log. Star date 1459.2. STNG launched in 1987 which means I would’ve missed the first few seasons (I would only have been 6 when it started airing). So onto the watch list that went.

A Netflix subscription will cost you $8 a month

Top Gear Magazine

Sidelining for a moment JC’s inexcusable actions, the TG Mag is my little bit of joy every month.

Smartly written by true petrolheads, TG Mag offers a look into the world of cars both affordable and well… not. Including columns by Clarkson himself, Hammond and Captain Slow as well as car prices and ratings for just about every model available in your local market, TG Mag is the one publication you’ll read cover-to-cover.

Get a digital copy of this manliest of mags at MySubs

ShowMax

Naspers recently launched their answer to Netflix’s impending launch (I use the word impending loosely, it’s probably 18 months away) in South Africa.

Not bad. Not bad at all. While ShowMax doesn’t have the breadth of library that its international brethren have, it is still a very good local option, priced at only R99 per month.

You’ll get some of the top shows here, including ones not on the other streaming services, I’m assuming a little bit of DStv clout comes to play here, which means you can still chat to your friends about who died in GoT.

Content is added regularly and the selection of movies, while not stellar, is good and a few classics are included here. Put it this way, if you are bored on a Friday night, ShowMax’s movies will keep you entertained. Just don’t bargain on any blockbusters.

The only complaint I have is that the streaming isn’t the best quality, referring not to the resolution of the content available, but the buffering and stutters that happen, even on my 10MB ADSL line. I’m sure they have engineers tinkering away at the encoding and delivery of the content, so it should improve over the coming months.

To access ShowMax you’ll have to do so over a browser or through iOS or Android devices. There is no app for the Apple TV as yet, but certain models of Samsung and LG TV’s do come preloaded with the app for added convenience.

ShowMax is R99 per month.

Things on my wishlist, if my wishlist was not based in reality at all:

  • Microsoft Surface Book
  • iPad Pro
  • Apple Watch
  • A ticket to Super Bowl 50
  • Free time to play Fallout 4, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate and Rise of the Tomb Raider
  • Watch Star Wars The Force Awakens at an IMAX
  • A dog
  • Immunity to pain so I can have a sleeve done
  • 2 more hours in a day

There we go. My favourite things of the year so far. Honourable mentions go to my Xbox One, my car, Canva, Mugg & Bean’s flapjack stack, the iPhone 6+, Feedly and the 8-0 New England Patriots.

I was hoping to add the Springboks to this list, but alas, we could not overcome the might of the All Blacks in our semi-final.

Awesome. Except for the Springboks.