Browsing posts in: Best Purchases of…

Pocket — One of my best purchases of 2011

Pocket logo

Pocket, the tool I use for my digital consume-it-later file. Previously known as “Read It Later.”

Once known as “Read It Later,” Pocket, the save-content-for-later-consumption tool is my briefcase of reading and watching resources that has followed me for almost half a decade and through at least 20+ mobile and tablet devices. This scrappy and lean startup had me from the beginning with their advanced sharing and tagging tools, and they hustled hard against many similar competitors, including the (at the time) more cleanly-designed Instapaper, one of the darlings of the tech world helmed by the brilliant Marco Arment.

They’ve changed their subscription model, but the $4 (I can’t even remember what the cost was originally) to support them back when it was Read it Later was well worth the value it’s provided me. It’s not just reading, btw, they support and segment out video and photos too, so if you’re looking for something more visual, you can chow through those archives separately, as well as lots of tagging options for building your own workflow. (I’ll post more on my Pocket Pro-Tips soon…)

They now have a premium service for $4.99 a month with archival features, which I would pay for if I didn’t already have Pinboard with that support. (Or if they created my dream media eBook and Audio Book library tool. Or bought PocketCasts or incorporated podcasts and high-speed playback (I know I could probably cobble together an IFTTT for flowing podcasts into Pocket, but native implementation would be awesome), I’d pay for that to have one go-to place for all my ‘news-ish’ / long form / timely reading-listening-watching to do.

It appears they are moving to be more social-focused though, with their new public feed features (which is understandable, social is so hot right now… private digital library collections are so OVER). The new Pocket recommendation feature introduced in August has been pretty freaking fantastic surfacing things I’m deeply interested in but haven’t seen (which is a challenge as much as I read and track my interests) so I’m looking forward to seeing how this develops!


Amazon Prime — One of My Best Purchases of 2011 (and beyond)

Amazon Prime

One of my best purchases of 2011 was joining Amazon Prime. At first when they announced it the membership sounded too good to be true, paying just over $70 for a year of free, 2-day shipping on most of what Amazon carried? That would pay for itself in 3-4 purchases! And boy did it. It really changed my behavior and made me become an “Amazon-first” customer, frequently checking prices there before making local purchases. (Yes, I know it’s horrible. But the convenience is too addicting!)

It’s changed the world of shopping for me and now roughly 37% of my purchases are through Amazon (which I use the Smile Always plugin to help fund the EFF’s important work), 38% through Costco, and 25% through local stores.

Over the years, Amazon has continued to add more and more extras to Prime members and kept me year-over-year. Besides the two-day shipping and free returns, the most notable, newer benefits include:

Pro tip: The past few weeks Amazon has been HEAVILY touting “Amazon Prime Day” on July 15, 2015 (this week!) with ‘better deals than Black Friday,’ there’s still time to register if you want to give it a try.

Bonus Prime Pro-Tip: If you have a Prime account, you can share the 2-day shipping benefits with up to 4 friends/members of your household! I’m sure this feature will go away at some point once they get everyone hooked on Prime, but while it’s basically free to share, might as well do it.


Iceland travel pro tips (also one of my best purchases for 2014)

The Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik, Iceland towards the end of the 2015 solar eclipse (the timing was total dumb luck).

The Blue Lagoon outside of Reykjavik, Iceland towards the end of the 2015 solar eclipse (the timing was total dumb luck).

One of my best purchases of 2014 was a trip to Iceland with my brother (which we completed/traveled in 2015). It’d been a long while since we’d adventured together and besides the brother bonding, it was a fantastic expereince — Iceland is amazing. We did a 7-day trip from DC and it was the perfect amount of time to explore but not so much that we were bored. In fact, I’d love to go back again during a different period of the year because it seems like the country changes every three months with the seasons/sun. Here’s a handful of quick pro tips and things I wish someone had told me (or that I had listened to/prepared better ahead of time):

  1. Really research and plan the time of the year you’re going to go — it changes massively every 3 months — from Northern Lights to puffins to daylight, roads / sections of the island closed due to Winter weather. We’d planned to try and arrive around an Equinox, when the Northern Lights are generally at their peak/most active, so we went from March 19-26 (March 20th being the Spring Equinox). We also just happened to be there during a solar eclipse (total dumb luck) which was awesome during the morning of our trip to the Blue Lagoon.
  2. Bring good hiking shoes. Seriously, there’s a lot of hiking to get to the awesome waterfalls.
  3. Bring a good rain coat. Waterfalls are water. There’s also a lot of weather changes, quickly.
  4. Bring warm clothes that you can layer. Seriously. It’s called ICEland for a reason.
  5. Bring a good camera — with a firm tripod. Especially if you really want to capture the Northern Lights. (This was my biggest mistake/regret on this trip.)
  6. Food and drinks in general are quite expensive (even for a DC resident), so plan accordingly. If you can bring in any booze or easily transportable munchies like nuts to cover a meal or something you can save a lot. It’s easily $10-20 per meal, even at the cheaper/less fancy places. If you can’t/won’t bring stuff, hit up the grocery store and explore some of the local cuisine and munchies. Do some picnic breakfasts and lunches and save your self a ton for a daily dinner out. (The restaurants and food is also not that exotic for the most part — mainly English/American/European, so it’s not like you’re missing much by eating a few meals of PB&J).
  7. Hit up the Airport duty-free and city-tax-free booze. My brother read something that recommended doing this and I kind of blew it off as an arrogant, experienced world traveler with a George Costanza stance on Duty-Free, but Iceland is drastically different. If you plan on drinking booze in Iceland, when you get off your plane I’d highly recommend picking something up at the airport duty free shop. (And if you plan on partying a bit while abroad, I might recommend on planning some vorspiel pre-partying in your plans because it’s expensive to drink out in Iceland.)
  8. Buy 6 months ahead of time or in the border seasons and you’ll save half a grand easily. Figure out in general when you want to go a while ahead of time and then watch the travel deal sites. We found a pretty excellent deal through Travelzoo that included air, hotel and two day trips for just over $100 a day each (contingent on double occupancy).
  9. Or do an Iceland Air stopover en route to Europe. Another trip planning option to consider is Iceland Air also offers an awesome option to do a ‘stopover’ in Iceland en route to one of their many European destinations. We were originally going to do that, but found this Travelzoo deal and went with that instead.
  10. Don’t worry about the language. Everyone speaks English (My brother was concerned about this). Sure, things have crazy Icelandic names but language is not a barrier at all.
  11. Check out Sad Cars if you’re going to rent and drive a car around (which you should do). They’re really cheap, super mellow and friendly and you can bring the car back with whatever gas you want (no need to fill it up or fill it to X point like many rental places). It’s kind of like if a Youth Hostel ran a car rental place. They’re not the newest cars, but the savings are worth it. We booked online ahead of time and also saved 15%!
  12. Try the rotten shark, dried fish, Skyr (yogurt), hot dogs with mayo and crunchy onions. It’s a thing. The shark is not as bad as you would think — it just smells bad.
  13. Most of their gas stations are prepay by credit card with no attendants or any help. It’s a little different than most places in the U.S. so make sure you have a credit card that is going to work abroad without issue because there’s no one there to help you most of the time.
  14. Fill up on gas when you can if you’re not going in a high season. Some of the gas stations are few and far between and very small/easily missed.
  15. Reykjavik can really be pretty thoroughly explored in about 48 hours. The museums are ok, but not all ‘must sees’. The most unique one is probably the Penis Museum, which is quirky enough to be worth the admission (the gift shop is reasonably priced too). Most of the other museums and galleries I could take or leave.
  16. Check out the flea market downtown for decently priced souvenirs, random interesting stuff and people watching. Everything is pretty expensive in Iceland (if I haven’t made the clear yet) and souvenirs are no different. If you really, really, really need some Iceland wool, the best price I found was at the Reykjavik Market.
  17. I recommend making your highest priority: Get a car and get out on the outer ring highways exploring Iceland. Stop frequently. We enjoyed that most, by far. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.

I should also note, I consider this one the best purchases of 2014 because it was an amazing experience, not only traveling to Iceland, but to travel with my brother, whom I haven’t travelled with in a while. It was fantastic to reconnect and spend time together tooling around the island, like we used to do in out teens taking road trips with friends all over the Midwest and even across the country once. Traveling solo is great, but traveling with someone you care about and connect with is even better.


Samsung 1 TB SSD hard drive one of the — One of My Best Purchases of 2014

Samsung SSD

In 2014, after many years of delaying, I took the plunge and switched out my mechanical hard drive for an SSD and will never buy another mechanical hard drive in my life. I went for one of the big ones too — a 1 TB Samsung SSD — so that I could travel with all my files on one computer (I still do external backups occasionally). There’s even a new “Pro” version with a 10 year warranty for those of you out there concerned about the longevity of this ‘new’ (not really anymore) technology.

This is definitely one of the greatest purchases of 2014 and has extended the live of my laptop at least another two-three years before I will probably have to upgrade. By that point, I suspect all most all computers will be running SSD drives. (After doing a bunch of computer shopping this past week for an upgrade for my mom, I found many companies are already switching over and the choice seems to be have an optical drive and traditional hard drive or an SSD-driven computer.

The major benefits:

  • Speed, by far, is the biggest benefit for everything involving memory or hard drive space
  • Productivity/efficiency (because of the speed)
  • Heat/weight/cooling are all supposed to be better, but I don’t notice
  • Cost is going down (still SSDs are much more than mechanical) but price has improved hugely over the past two years

Even if your budget only allows for a small hard drive or even one of the hybrid models, I highly, highly recommend getting in on this SSD party.


LastPass password manager & security tools — One of My Best Purchases of 2011

Lastpass

One of my best purchases of 2011 was buying a premium subscription to LastPass, a digital password management tool, and it has made my life much, much more secure, efficient and saved my sanity — especially with all the passwords I have to remember/save for personal life, work and all my side projects. I know there’s a lot of other options out there like the wildly popular 1Password, but I just dig the LastPass integration much better and haven’t looked back.

Here’s 5 reasons why LastPass rules:

  1. Their syncing across desktop and mobile devices is fantastic.
  2. The integration, granular control and auto-fillers for the desktop and Android are top notch and stay out of my way but enrich and speed up my experience.
  3. The thumb-print unlock feature on Apple is really excellent too — no more passwords ever! (Not really, but close.)
  4. Their security challenge is bad ass and incredibly helpful to assess if you have duplicates or unsecure passwords. And as we previously discussed, having rock solid passwords is one of the biggest ways to protect yourself from getting hacked.
  5. It’s a good deal — only $12 a year. ($1 a month!) I’m actually planning on buying and installing this for my mom as a gift to help protect her and make things more secure on her devices, and for only $12 a month it provides great piece of mind.

I almost want to call this a ‘Buy it for Life’ item, but the Internet decays so quickly who knows. :)


Costco Executive Membership & Amex Credit Card — One of My Best Purchases of 2010

Coscto True Earnings Amex Card

One of the best purchases of 2010 (and consistently year over year one of my most used) is my Costco Executive Membership and upgraded Amex Credit Card. This card/upgraded membership offers a lot of benefits but the top 5 reasons I enjoy it:

  • This card has become my go-to card for most purchases (even outside of Costco) because of it’s generous cash back benefits (and Amex is accepted just about everywhere — I thought it would have been tougher to find places to use it):

    Earn 3% cash back at US gas stations and on gasoline at Costco, up to $4,000 per year in purchases (then 1%), 2% cash back at US restaurants, 2% cash back on eligible travel purchases, including at Costco, and 1% cash back on other purchases, including at Costco.

  • I usually earn at least $500 cash back per year between the Costco Executive rebate and the Amex purchase rebate. This easily pays for the $110 membership fee, and a few months of Costco shopping.
  • Costco’s store selection is pretty excellent and offers high-quality products for exceptional deals, especially for home owners. Many of their ‘Kirkland’ brand products are white-labeled top shelf brands. Sure, buying a gallon of mayo isn’t always practical, so not everything works out, but overall I’ve been extremely pleased with the experience and when possible split bulk purchases with friends and family to make things a little more reasonable.
  • Their return policy is exceptional, if you’re not satisfied with a product they’ll take it back or replace it, almost anytime, no questions asked. And many large purchases like tires and electronics get extended warranties and benefits for free. (A friend from Florida’s parents TV bought at Costco died after 5 years and they took it back for a full refund, no questions asked.)
  • They take good care of their people. They build culture from promoting within the company. And stockholders, too. (I don’t currently own stock  in Costco, but I am strongly considering when their current high settles down.)

It’s a win, win, win and an exceptional company I love supporting.

 


Best purchases of 2013: First generation Nexus 7 tablet 32 GB

google-nexus-7

In 2013, I was preparing for a bucket list dream trip: Backpacking around Asia for 6 weeks. Back before I took this epic journey, I needed to figure out how to manage my technology effectively and didn’t want to lug around a full computer but have the ability to do ‘most’ of my computer related tasks. After much searching, I ended up settling on a Google Nexus 7 with 32 GB on storage that I found (oddly) on sale for cheaper than directly through Google at a GameStop across the street from my house.

While it’s getting a couple years old (which is decades in the mobile timeline) it still is my one of my favorite tablets for many of the reasons I outlined here on Journerdism. I’m still finding great value in the device, even to this day since it’s a Google Nexus device (which I almost exclusively buy for personal devices), so I get updates and the latest OS software when it’s available (I’m on Lollipop now), not when some provider or hardware manufacturer determines.

The hardware especially is the part that makes me appreciate this device. The size is just perfect for fitting in my hands and the backing is sticky enough that I feel very comfortable holding it even in bumpy situations. It’s light and feel lighter than the iPad Mini Retina (a close runner up). The difference in visuals and processing power is starting to make the iPad more of my go-to for more intensive work, but I still find myself snagging the Nexus 7 for a lot of my consumption driven activities, especially reading books and digging through RSS, social media and other aggregation tools. It’s still delivering great value and at under half the price if iPad minis at that time (and still now) I’m definitely getting great value out of it.


Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Truck – One of My Best Purchases of 2011

The amazing Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Cart with 1,000 lb. capacity!

The amazing Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Cart with 1,000 lb. capacity!

2011-2012 was a year of big moves for me. I wrapped up my Fellowship at Mizzou and moved from Columbia, MO back to St. Louis to take on a role as Director of Mobile News for Lee Enterprises corporate. Then a year later I moved to DC for my gig at the BBG — first moving into a temporary sublet with a friend for the summer and then at the end of the summer moving into my newly-purchased house. Throughout this intense moving period one of the best purchases, nay investments, I made was a Cosco 3-in-1 Hand Truck at Costco for about $80. (Yes, it’s a Cosco product at Costco, but they’re not the same company. And yes, if you have a Costco membership, definitely buy this there, it’s currently retailing for $181 on Amazon.)

This marvel of machinery has paid for itself multiple times over and helped me complete amazing feats like moving a full-size, fold-out couch, by myself to the 9th floor sublet apartment. It can support up to 1,000 pounds, has three modes from two wheeled dolly, to 4 wheeled supportive dolly, to full 4 wheel cart. It’s all aluminum, tall (unlike some of the dollies you can rent from Uhaul) and has solid tires that won’t pop.

I’m kind of ridiculously a fanatic about this dolly and have lent it out to four sets of friends for moving (DC people move a lot) and each of them have confessed that they thought I was being ridiculous, but in fact they were convinced of the Cosco’s awesomeness. I highly recommend it if you plan on moving several times over a period (and have the space) because it will pay for itself compared to the $20 a time rental charges for Uhaul dollies, plus it’s a much higher quality and easier to use tool.


Welcome to Kaizen Will

Kai Zen - "Good Change" in Japanese

Kai Zen – “Good Change” in Japanese

Welcome to Kaizen Will, a new site about living a life of continuous improvement.

I have to thank my parents for my curious thirst for knowledge and constantly improving nature; they were both teachers whom with modest means, medium salaries and resources constantly strove for excellence, balancing frugality with finding a high quality of life and sought constant improvement and education to achieve this.

Throughout my life those values have influenced my journey. When I finished my Masters degree at Northwestern University, I made a promise to myself that school was not over; I was just beginning my voyage of continuous, lifelong learning and improvement.

I couldn’t have envisioned how massive, rapid and constant change came (and still comes) to the media and technology industry. But embracing kaizen helps you face that challenge. It translates to “continuous improvement” or “good change.”

This constant thirst for knowledge was channeled into into Journerdism.com (one of the early leading online media blogs), more than a decade of attending, speaking, leading and organizing workshops and training for the rapidly evolving media.

This practice also crosses over to my professional life. While at The Palm Beach Post, working as Interactive Projects Editor, a brilliant colleague, W. Mark Hartnett pointed me to the revolutionary business and management book, The Toyota Way, which discusses the practice of kaizen.

As I advanced in my career through project management and leadership positions, this principle continued to become a reoccurring theme in my life. From Jim Collins’ book Good To Great to getting certified as a scrum master building products with Agile processes — the same kaizen concept has been reinforced again and again in different forms and with different names.

This year I decided I wanted to get back on the horse and start creating some content and sharing my experiences and advice with the world. I wrestled with a lot of concepts for how to tackle my focus, but kept coming back to kaizen. How to change and evolve to get better and better and better. To go from having a good life, a good family, a good relationship to a great–the greatest life.

Will synonyms

And since I’m Will Sullivan, “Kaizen Will” seemed to fit perfectly.

The attitude.

The resolve.

The passion.

The discipline to create a life of continuous improvement.

Let’s start the journey and see where it takes us. :)

To start off, I believe I’ll focus on these Kaizen Will categories and topics (subject to change/grow/shrink as the blog evolves):

  • Management & Leadership – Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate to have some amazing mentors and bosses and a couple some terrible bosses — and I’ve learned immensely from both, as well as extensive study on how to develop as a manager and leader in the modern tech and media business and entrepreneurship world. I’ll share best practices, advice, lessons learned and things “I wish someone had told me” so that you can improve yourself.
  • Money & Personal Finance – Being fiscally responsible, frugal and smart about your spending, saving and investing helps give you the resources to enjoy time, stuff and share with people, so I’ll share what I’ve learned to help you get this in line.
  • People & Relationships – People are the most important part of my life. From inspirational mentors, family, friends to speakers, authors or even characters in fiction, our humanity and relationships are what helps humans to survive and thrive. Growing from a socially-awkward, introverted teenage nerd up to a professional executive has had it’s growing pains and plenty of bruises and bumps along the way. I’ll share what I’ve learned to help others on my journey, as well as stories about people who have been inspirational.
  • Travel & Adventures – Travel and finding adventures ‘exploring the infinite abyss’ is a huge part of my life. From finding quirky local secret spots to backpacking across Asia alone, I love exploring new cultures, places and perspectives. I’ll share some of my best practices and pro tips here.
  • Recommended Gear, Books & Stuff – I was raised rather frugally and to appreciate a Spartan, non-consumerist life, relish libraries and shared resources, so this definitely isn’t a shopping blog or anything, but also to appreciate and take care of the things you do purchase.
    • Best Purchases of … – The past few years I’ve really relished a few purchases that have changed or enhanced my life. These might not be indestructible “Buy It For Life” items, but they’ve really been great purchases that have added a lot of value for me.
    • Buy It For Life – Gear that will last your entire life (or close to it) that you can give to your grand kids (largely inspired by the BIFL Sub-Reddit I’m a huge fan of).
    • Treat Yo SelfLike Tom and Donna on Parks and Rec said, sometimes you gotta treat yo self. This is once-in-a-blue-moon stuff to splurge on that I’ve found worthwhile. They might not be ‘buy it for life’ or the best purchases, ever, but they were worth it on special occasions.

Welcome to Kaizen Will.

Let’s all get better together.