by Jules Older No, this isn't a rant about global warming. But it doesn't pretend not to notice that it’s getting hot in here. So, we start with two unrelated products that will help you thrive, or at least survive, as temperatures climb.
The obvious starting place is air conditioners. Summers are longer and hotter, even in Vermont. And forest fires pollute the air (Northern California is practically burning down). Folks who have never needed an AC may find they need one now.
But what if your office doesn't have a window, or one you can use for a unit to sit in? Think portable AC — yes, it’s a thing. And it works.
I've tested Honeywell’s MO08CESWK Compact Portable Air Conditioner, which sits on the floor, not the windowsill. It works. Cools, filters and dehumidifies. It’s reasonably (though not perfectly) quiet, takes up little space, rolls into the closet in winter, and costs under $400.
Three more things you should know about global warming:
1. No, it’s not a Chinese plot
2. It’s bringing ticks to previously cold regions, i.e. where you hike and camp and maybe work
3. Ticks give you Lyme disease.
FYI, in 2016, Vermont had the second highest rate of reported Lyme disease cases in the US. Today, We’re Number One!
Thus, it’s ever-more important to protect yourself when work or play takes you outdoors. That starts with long pants and long sleeves. But many resist the next level of protection, insect repellent, because most brands contain DEET. Though the vast majority of studies conclude that DEET is safe, it carries the stigmata of perceived toxicity.
For worriers, Proven is non-toxic and DEET-free. And in my tests, it worked. On multiple excursions into thick tick country, I applied it to myself and my hiking buddies; we all stayed tick-free, bite-free and sting-free.
Here's an earth-friendly product — actually, company. SodaStream has been making home-carbonation gizmos since, yes, 1903. Every time you spritz a bottle of fizzy water with one of their gizmos, you save the oceans from one more plastic bottle.
What's more, the company constantly improves its products. I've tested three generations of SodaStreams, and they just get better — sleeker, handier, easier to use. Their basic model, the Fizzi Classic, goes for about $73 on Amazon.
Speaking of Amazon, they're behind the brilliant, speech-activated Dot, better known as its activating word, “Alexa.” Now there are two Dots for sale, the 2nd and 3rd generations. (Actually, there's also a third, made for cars. But I haven't tested that one.)
So, which Dot should you buy?
No, the answer’s not, “The new one, dummy.” That is the answer if you use it primarily to listen to music; 3rd Gen has more bass and a richer sound. But if you're more likely to say, “Alexa, what's the news?” than “Alexa, play Celebrity,” go for 2nd Gen.
Its sharper sound is better for voice. Since I go for more news, weather and information than music, that's my choice.
Both models sell for the incredibly low price of $50 or less. If you wait for the Amazon sale, considerably less.
But wait, there's more! To my astonishment, a major player has come out with a competitor to Amazon’s Dot. It’s the Lenovo Smart Clock. I've been testing it and — again, to my astonishment — it’s a worthy competitor. Not only does it gently wake you up, put you to sleep with soft music, read the news, turn off the lights, turn on the vacuum cleaner, and just about everything Dot does so well, it’s a visual alarm clock as well. A rather handsome one.
The one area it falls behind is selection of music. Amazon and Apple pretty much own that field, but while the Smart Clock won't play a John Prine selection unless you sign up for a premium subscription, it does link you to a “John Prine station” filled with his and similar singers’ songs. $80 from Lenovo.
OK, now let’s look at three things that make life a little easier and cost less than a restaurant dinner.
For reasons I don't understand, I've had a hell of a time finding a decent headset for my landline. Some work only on mobile phones, some don't work at all. Now, I've found the best one yet, the Arama 3.5mm phone headset. Clarity? Check. Lightness? Check. Switchable from ear to ear? Check. Price? Check. About $30 on Amazon.
One of current life’s annoyances is opening things that come encased in tough plastic. It’s such an annoyance, Larry David did a schtick about it. Check out wrap rage on Wikipedia. Now, there's a solution — Slitit. Well worth the ten bucks.
If you're driving, one of the great inventions of our time is the car charger that plugs into the cigarette lighter. The Vano 3 Port USB Car Charger is fast, light, small and cheap. How cheap? $13.
Backpacks are another useful item. They spread the load to both sides of your bod, and they free your hands. But I only like ones that give you easy access to water and cellphone. Eagle Creek’s Wayfinder has both. Plus, a semi-secret pocket for valuables. Plus, a dedicated laptop compartment. Plus, a fleece-lined pocket for sunglasses. Plus, an outstanding guarantee. Wayfinders come in two sizes: 40 L and 20 L. Unless you need to carry a bowling ball and a watermelon, go for the 20. $79
Eagle Creek also makes my favorite kind of large travel bag, a wheeled duffel big enough to carry everything you need on a long trip. What’s more, the Gear Warrior 34” is made of PVC-free, repurposed plastic bottles. $319
OK, ready for your annual nag? If you're still not backing up your computer — and we know who you are — you should be. Too expensive, too bulky, too annoying? All those excuses are gone. WD’s My Passport Ultra costs less than $100 bucks, fits in your pocket, handles 2 terabytes of data (tech note: that's a whole lot), and, once it’s set up (which is dead easy), backs up automatically. So, what are you waiting for?
Finally, there's this. Every year I try to find a product that's so insane, I can't resist writing about it. This year, it found me. The press release read, “—a clothing line that replaces buttons with a powerful patented magnetic closure system completing eliminating the hassle of buttons and overpacking. Would you like to learn more about the must-have shirt for travelers?”
Well, hell yeah. MagnaReady sent me a sample. It’s well made, good looking, and closes with magnets, not buttons. Only three issues:
1. I have no idea how this relates to travel. Disability, yes. Overpacking? No.
2. As my contact at the airport said, “They’re going to love you at the security check-point.”
3. See the attached photo.
Jules Older’s latest ebook is TAKE ME HOME: How to Rent or Buy in a Hot Home Market.