2016 Gift Guide

It is that time of year again, where I try to find you unique gifts that are sure to please.  I’m changing it up slightly this year.  I’m normally fairly gadget heavy (‘cuz I love gadgets), but it hasn’t been the year for gadgets that its been in the past.

Apple Stuff

I almost always recommend an Apple product.  I’m a huge Apple guy and their stuff is as great as ever, but I wouldn’t say they’ve released anything new that is a must have gift.  They’ve improved a lot of their stuff.  If you’re getting someone a phone, I still recommend the iPhone.  If you’re getting them a smart watch, I still love my Apple Watch.  Apple TV is great.  If you want to drop $1,800 on a new laptop for someone, the new MacBook Pros are fantastic.  Same for the new iPads.  I just don’t think they did anything in the typical gift price range to capture my imagination this year.  Maybe the AirPods, but they’re not out yet.

An Online Class

Learning something new is always fun and there are thousands of online classes available on almost any topic.  Recently I’ve discovered Udemy and I can easily recommend it.  Huge inventory of classes and reasonable prices.

Non-Gadgets

Hey, not everything needs to be connected to a battery.  I hear people of the opposite sex can be quite fun as well.

Breweries of the United States Map

p-brew4_imgb_1024x1024Pop Chart Lab – $125
Do you like beer?  Do you like maps?  Have you ever wanted to know exactly where all 4,000+ breweries are located?  Have I got the gift idea for you.

Nerf N-Strike Elite Rhino-Fire Blaster

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Amazon – $93.95
I love Nerf gear.  I started with their football when I was, like, really small and I’ve grown from there.  Nerf weaponry was a much needed improvement in Nerf world and I’m proud to say that at various times in my life I’ve owned a veritable armory of Nerf guns.  This is a most worthy addition.  2 alternating barrels with motorized blasting?  Check.  Removable tripod?  Check.  2 drums that hold 25 darts each? Check.  Fires up to 90 feet?!?  Check!  Whoever buys this for me, please spring for extra darts because I’m going to need them.

LifeStraw Personal Water Filter

header-lifestraw1-1400x589Amazon – $14.99
Clean water is kinda…important.  Most people in the US use LifeStraws for hiking or camping.  Most people in the developing world use them for basic survival.  Just dip your straw in any water and drink.  It will remove 99.9999% of waterborne bacteria.  That’s really cool.  So use it for hiking or camping and have a great time, but you’ll be really happy you have one if you’re stuck in the middle of a natural disaster.  Or the impending zombie apocalypse.  For $15, it makes for a great stocking stuffer.

Trtl Soft Neck Support Travel Pillow

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Amazon – $29.99
I’ve been searching for a travel pillow that will actually let me sleep (and sleep well) when I’m on a plane.  I’ve tried memory foam, buckwheat, inflatable, etc.  They just aren’t great.  I’m a pretty good sleeper and I always get some sleep, but never what I want.  Well, I’ve heard great things about this one and I’m really looking forward to trying it.

Food and Chef

I always like to throw a few food items in the mix and I think there are a couple of good ones here.  I’m not going to link to it again, but the best food book this year is the same as last year: The Food Lab by J. Kenji Lopez-Alt.  The only difference is that now I own it and can vouch for it.  So if you’re looking for a food/cook book, that’s the one to get.

Miracle-Gro AeroGarden Harvest Touch

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Amazon – $99.96
This looks so awesome.  A smart garden for growing indoors, year round.  You can grow up to 6 different plants at the same time.  They grow in water, not soil (hydroponics) and because everything is optimized, plants grow very fast and very well.  I’m envisioning basil for days!

And yes, before anyone comments, I know that most people probably use this for growing weed.

Cavarola Board

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Artisanal Pasta Tools – $74.95
Fresh pasta is the best!  Now you can put patterns on it.  I chose the Cavarola Board to display, but if you’re looking for very unique Italian kitchen gifts, this entire website is a gold mine.

Gadgets

And some things do need electricity to be awesome.  These are some of those things.

Nintendo NES Classic Edition

nes-classic-edition
Amazon – $225
I was never a big Ninendo kid (I started on Atari and moved on to Coleco and Sega), but this looks really cool.  It will really hit the nostalgia muscle hard with some people my age.    30 games built-in (no switching out cartridges!) including Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Pac-Man and much more.  As an added bonus, you’ll get to explain to your kids that, yes, this is what games used to look like.

JBL Flip 3 Splashproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker

flip-3_front_black_splash-1606x1606px_dvhamasterAmazon – $79.95

It is really nice to have a bluetooth speaker around.  Computers just don’t generate the volume or quality of a good speaker and let’s not even talk about cell phones.  A good bluetooth speaker will be used indoors and out and always gets the party started.  You’ll be surprised how often you use one once you have it.  This one allows up to 3 people to connect and take turns playing music.  It is splash proof.  And I’m told it sounds really good.

JBL Clip 2

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Amazon – $59.99
Want something even more portable?  Clip one of these on your keychain.

Boogie Board 8.5-Inch LCD Writing Tablet

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Amazon – $22.27
The modern way to leave passive aggressive notes for your family on your refrigerator.

Amazon Echo

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Amazon – $179.99
I’m getting deeper and deeper into the Amazon echo system.  It started with buying books and then everything else.  Then I signed up for Prime right before Christmas a couple years ago and it helped me avoid the malls during the Holidays.  For that, I will forever be grateful.  Earlier this year I got the echo.  Mainly because I work in ecommerce and I wanted to see how it worked for that.  It has been an amazing product.  We use it for music.  We use it to get answers to questions.  We use it to order stuff.  By far, the best use case is reordering things.  “Alexa, reorder protein powder.”  It looks up your order history and offers to reorder.  No computer, no phone.  Just your voice.  Very, very cool.

WowWee COJI The Coding Robot Toy

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Amazon – $36.79
The more kids are interested in STEM topics (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) the better it is for them and our country.  The best way to get them interested is to start early.  What better way than a robot that you can code?  One that you can code with emoji!  And for $36?  That’s a steal.

Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller

iro-yard
Amazon – $199.99
Water your lawn based on the actual weather in your area with full smart controls.  Total control from your smartphone and only use the water you actually need.  And it also connects to smart homes.  So you know that commercial where the dad uses Amazon echo to turn the sprinklers on his daughter’s boyfriend.  Well, this is how he did it.

Philips Wake-Up Light with Sunrise Simulation

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Amazon – $69.99
Some people have a hard time getting up in the morning.  I should know, I sleep right next to her 🙂  Despite all of our knowledge, we really don’t understand sleep as well as we probably should.  One thing that has been shown to be bad for us though is the snooze alarm.  Basically, it is a really bad way to be woken up.  A much better way is to be woken up by daylight.  This alarm basically tries to replicate that.  30 minutes before you’re scheduled to wake up, it gradually increases the light in your room.  By the time you are supposed to get up, the room is very well lit and it is much easier to wake up.

Smart 9V Battery for Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarms

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Amazon
– $32.99
This makes so much sense.  Smoke alarms suck.  Virtually every house in the world has a smoke alarm with a dead battery.  Now you can turn those old dumb smoke detectors, into smart, networked smoke detectors.  All for $33.  Now, you might not think of this a good Christmas present, but this is right up my alley.

R2-D2 Car Charger

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Thinkgeek.com – $29.99
It’s R2-D2 and it’s a car charger.  What else do you need?

Cobalt Valkyrie-X, Rose Gold Special Edition

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Niemen Marcus – $1,500,000
If anyone is still reading, this is what I really, really want for Christmas.  Santa, I’ve been really good this year.  This is a special edition and if I’m being honest with myself, I don’t really need this one.  The black one is available for under a mil, so I’d still be very happy with that.

Review of Last Year

 

 

 

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A Comprehensive Review of Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach

Overview
I’m the type of guy that likes a really in-depth review. When a new macOS comes out, I enjoy the 10 – 15 page coverage some tech blogs give going over every detail rather than the 1 page summary that you get from others. This is my attempt to give that type of review to a vacation property: Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach. Hopefully you’ll get some answers that you won’t get from other types of reviews. Hopefully at least one person who reads this finds it useful.

There are some limitations however. Most good reviews compare a product to other products. When the new iPhone comes out, reviewers compare it to phones from Google and others. Sadly, in this case, that isn’t possible because I’ve only stayed at this one property. And when driving down the major beach road here, it is obvious there are other beautiful properties here. For that, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own or listen to a professional reviewer who has the privilege of staying at more than one.

With all that out of the way, I love Sunset Beach. It is a beautiful property with attentive, friendly staff. Read on for the details.

Overall: 5 out of 5

The Location: 5
The Property: 5
The Rooms: 5
Staff / Service: 4
Restaurants: 4
All Inclusive: 3
The Spa: 5
Pools: 5
Gym: 4
Shops: 3
The Beach: 2
Transportation: 4

For the rest of this review I’ll use SB for Pueblo Bonito Sunset Beach.

The Location
Most of the resorts in Cabo are located on the Bay. This gives them a few advantages: they are walking distance from downtown, the beaches are swimmable and you feel like you’re more in the middle of the action.

SB is located on the southern most tip of Baja California and is on the other side of the ridge that separates the bay from the Pacific Ocean. This results in some trade offs. On the negative side, you’re about 15 minutes from downtown. The beaches are not swimmable because the currents are too strong.

However, the positives are really, really positive. If you want a beautiful view, this is your resort. SB is built into the side of a mountain and the buildings are all about 4 stories and staggered up the mountain. This means that every room as a beautiful view of the ocean.

Also, the resort is more secluded than other resorts. With resorts on the bay, basically all the properties have been developed and it is one hotel after another. With SB, there is no other resort on your immediate left or immediate right (PB Pacifica is down the beach on the right, but a decent distance away). I think this ends up feeling more peaceful and relaxing.

A note on maintenance: while the property is exceptionally well maintained, I’m not sure the building codes are up to American standards. You see little things like cracks in some walkway walls or a missing pool tile from time to time. Nothing that major and nothing to worry about, but I do notice it.

Score: 5 out of 5

The Clientele
SB seems to mainly attract couples and families. While I’m sure there are people from around the world there, I’ve mostly seen Americans and Mexicans. For families, there are lots of activities for kids including the Kids Club. Our kids are older, so we didn’t use that, but it seems this gives parents a break to be by themselves occasionally.

If I were young and single and hoping to party a lot, I’m not sure this would be the best resort. However, all of the action is a short bus ride away, so if you’re young and single and want to party, but want a quiet place to retreat to at times, then this would probably be a great option. Or if you just don’t want to get hit on while you’re at your resort.

The Property
The property is gorgeous. No qualifiers. No disclaimers. They’ve used high quality materials throughout. That includes the pools, restaurants, rooms, everywhere. You definitely get the feeling that you’re at a 5 star resort.

When you first approach the property, you go through an official front entrance with a guard or two. You then take a long, winding road (but not that bad; don’t worry about motion sickness or anything like that) and approach the main building through a big gate. You enter a courtyard with a big fountain in the center with the lobby on the right. This is also where the bell hops are located. There is a long covered patio with rocking chairs which is a great place to wait for taxis, shuttles to the airport, etc.

The main building with the lobby, concierge, the sales center, a bar, two restaurants, a general store and more is immaculately decorated. There are big chandeliers, paintings, statues, tapestries and more with ample seating in the middle. It is truly a great first impression. For a resort of this size, I expected the front desk to be a little bigger. It can get backed up there during main check-in and check-out times.

The landscaping is beautiful with plenty of palm trees, fresh flowers and other local fauna. No matter where you go, everything is well manicured. Every day we were there, there were gardeners tending to the property. If you look off the property to either the right or left, you see the natural habitat, which is a coastal desert with lots of rocks, cacti, etc. It is beautiful in its own right. When you look on the property itself, it has more of a tropical feel with lush plants, flowers, etc. With the water situation on the west coast of North America, I’m not sure how sustainable it is, but it is beautiful.

They also have a couple of interesting features in a flamingo habitat and a small aviary for some local birds. These are probably something that you won’t spend more than a couple of minutes looking at, but it is a nice touch.

Score: 5 out of 5

The Rooms
The rooms are outstanding. For starters, everything is very clean. The staff does a great job of cleaning everything and I’ve only walked into immaculate rooms. Even the smallest rooms (junior executive suites) have big beds, a dining room table with chairs, a chair, a kitchenette and private balcony with ocean views. The patio had two comfortable chairs and a table.

They all have tile floors, which I like sooooo much better than carpet. The rooms are well appointed with everything you need for your stay including the previously mentioned kitchenette.. I’m not sure how much cooking you’ll do while you’re there, but it is really nice to have a bigger than normal hotel refrigerator.

The bedding is great with night stands on either side. There are reading lights on both sides of the headboards and one alarm clock that has a lighting connected for charging iPhones (and a USB port for charging anything else). There is even a pillow menu that lets you choose between 4 types of pillows. We stayed with the default options and they were great.

The console that houses the TV also has 6 dresser drawers. That is in addition to his and hers closets that have 3 – 4 more drawers each in addition to space to hang clothes. I’m going to guess that the TV was either a 37″ or 42″ flat screen. There were probably about 30 channels available, but at least half of them were in Spanish. There were the main US channels (ABC, CBS, NBC & Fox), ESPN, Fox Sports, HBO and Cinemax. I think I remember USA Network, History Channel and a couple of others. Hopefully you’re not in Mexico to watch TV 🙂

I’m not sure if every room has a WiFi router mounted in the room, but ours did. The WiFI connection was strong. I think it was 802.11g rather than the newer .11n or .11ac, but that won’t be the limiting factor. That would be the internet connection itself. I measured the download and upload speeds via speedtest.net at roughly 1 Mbit up / 1 Mbit down. My 3G T-Mobile connection was actually faster. That said, it seemed to be able to handle everything no matter where I was in the resort and that included Facetime calls.

One complaint would be the overall lack of outlets and the ones that are there aren’t located very well.

The bathroom is a good size with a separate water closet with the toilet and a separate walk in shower. Like the rooms themselves, they are made from very nice materials and feel luxurious. There is no bathtub however and only one vanity, so you’re going to have to learn to share. My wife liked that they included a lighted makeup mirror and a blow dryer. The room also comes with a safe, iron and ironing board.

Overall, whatever they paid their interior designers was worth it.

Score: 5 out of 5

Staff / Service
I’m going to break this down into two sections: attitude/friendliness and speed/efficiency.

Attitude/Friendliness
My wife and I have no interacted with probably over 50 SB employees and they are all genuinely nice, caring people. They understand they are in the service industry and they’ve all been trained well. Everyone is helpful. Everyone will point you in the right direction or offer to make anything right. Simply put, we haven’t come across a single bad apple or malcontent. It adds so much to the vacation experience to know that the staff is there for you. I simply couldn’t be happier with that aspect of service.

Everyone tries to help with special requests, like avoiding certain foods or having your drinks made a particular way. This includes the concierge staff, waiters, bartenders, house cleaning, bell hops, the guys that drive the carts, everyone.

Score: 5 out of 5

Speed / Efficiency
While this never prevented us from having a good time, the first real fly in the ointment is service speed. And frankly, this was everywhere. It seems to take a long time to check-in or check-out. One person that was helping us blamed the computers and I have no reason not to believe them. In other cases, it can take a while for a waiter to greet you when you first sit down in a restaurant. Or to bring you your check at the pool. I get that you’re on vacation and don’t want to rush things, but this goes beyond that.

One exception to this is the kitchens. Once your food is ordered, it seems to come out in a timely manner.

I’m honestly not sure why this is the case, but one obvious, potential answer would be staffing, but I really don’t think that is the case. Everywhere you go there are tons of staff. And they all care once they are there. I also won’t say this is a deal breaker in any way. It is just something I noticed multiple times.

Score: 3 out of 5

All Inclusive
Now for the next fly in the ointment: the all-inclusive. It is exactly what they say it is: you pay one price and all your food and beverages (including alcohol) are covered. This includes all the restaurants at this property and 3 others, food and drinks by the pool, room service, everything. It also includes WiFi and access to the gym and spa.

Now there are some up-charges. La Frida requires a $30 per person up-charge. While the house alcohol is all recognizable brands, if you want something premium, that is an up-charge. One example of this is that Johny Walker Red Label is included, but if you want Black Label you have to pay. The Quivira Steakhouse is an extra $35 per person and Fellini’s at Pueblo Bonito Rose is a $15 up-charge.

Tips are included for some things, but at most restaurants and bars you are expected to tip. Which brings me to three points that call me to label the all-inclusive a fly in the ointment. 1) the price doesn’t appear to be fixed and it almost feels like a car negotiation. As owners, we’re supposed to get a discount on the all-inclusive. I have no faith that this actually happens. Even as owners, we’re quoted one price before we arrive, one when we get there, another if we take advantage of specials, etc. List price for non-owners is $140 per day (as of Oct 2016), but there is no way I’d pay more than $70-$80 per day per person based on my experiences and you can definitely do better than that. 2) even though “some tips are included” I felt like I was tipping the entire time I was there. Now, many moons ago I worked in the restaurant industry, so I’m more than comfortable tipping, but this felt excessive. I’d rather pay more for the all-inclusive and know that the staff is taken care of. 3) I heard a rumor from another owner that the house takes 50% of the tips that are billed to the room and the remainder is divided by the staff. I HATE THIS. This owner explained that she always tips in cash so the staff can keep all the money. Now, in fairness, I have no way of knowing this is true. For all I know, a staff member lied to her so that she would tip in cash and then not have to share with their co-workers, but now I’m thinking about this and I don’t want to think about this. Maybe this is happening, maybe it isn’t, but overall it left me with a slightly bad taste in my mouth.

Next, you have to sign for everything. I’ve stayed at other all-inclusive resorts in Mexico and if you have your wristband, they just give you your food and/or drinks. At SB, you’re basically starting a check for every transaction and you have to sign for it. I get that this gives them more control, but I believe the real reason is they want you to add a tip. Again, I’m fine with tipping and even enjoy rewarding someone for great service, but I feel like I signed 100 times during my 8 days there.

My preferred solution would be to charge me whatever you need to charge me so the staff can be paid fairly. Don’t ask for a room number if I’m just asking for a beer by the pool. I don’t know how this compares to other resorts and may just be my thoughts about all-inclusive plans in general.

Finally, one of the wonderful things about going to Cabo is that the town itself is awesome and filled with wonderful restaurants. Once you commit to the all-inclusive, you feel like you are double paying if you leave the property to eat, which is a terrible feeling. I think the all-inclusive has its place, but not at the expense of going into town and experiencing the real Mexican culture. It would be great if SB offered a drinks only all-inclusive or a breakfast and lunch all-inclusive that included the gym, spa and Wifi, but they don’t, so you have to choose.

Score: 3 out of 5

Restaurants / Food
My first general comment is that they do Mexican food very, very well. I had a Chili Relleno that was simply excellent. Once they get away from Mexican food though, its not quite as good. I’m not saying it is bad, but you’re not going to confuse their pasta for a great quality pasta at a good Italian restaurant. New Yorkers aren’t going to rave about their pizza. If you stay in their wheelhouse though, you will be quite happy.

My second general comment is that they do a terrible job of labeling dishes. I hate mushrooms for example, and I ordered something that didn’t have mushrooms listed, but had it in the dish. In another instance, I thought I was eating a vegetarian lentil stew, but found out it had meat in it. This happened constantly. If you have specific dietary requirements, you’re going to have to ask about almost everything. The good news was that the staff seemed to know the answers to most questions and was willing to help with any special requests.

Also, if you want to consistently eat healthy, it is harder at SB than it needs to be. There will certainly be something for you and you won’t go hungry, but your options are much more limited than someone who will eat anything. This is particularly true in the bars and at the pool. And good luck if you’re a strict vegetarian or especially if you’re a vegan. The lack of options and ambiguity in labeling will drive you crazy.

There are 7 restaurants on the property with more food options going in. Here is a quick snippet on all of them.

La Frida: this is the best restaurant. It is really good Mexican fine dining and definitely worth an up-charge over the rest of the restaurants. According to TripAdvisor, it is one of the top 15 places to eat in Cabo out of over 500 restaurants. They have a great wine list, but of course, that is an up-charge too. That seems fair to me because, hey, if you want a great wine at any restaurant, you’re going to have to pay for it. They have a good menu with excellent modern takes on classic Mexican dishes. They even come around occasionally with the Amuse Busch or a cordial. There was a pianist playing and overall the atmosphere was fantastic.

Tazuna: they just opened a Japanese & Sushi restaurant and we quite liked it. They have the usual assortment of rolls, appetizers, soups, tempura, etc. Two disappointments were the lack of saki and japanese beer, but overall the food was very good. This was probably our second favorite restaurant.

Zap Shen: a Chinese themed restaurant located by the spa. Overall, this was pretty good. Pretty standard Chinese food offerings with the highlights being the sauces.

La Nao: this is where the breakfast buffet is located (in addition to one at the Bistro) as well as the dinner buffet and it is right by the main pool. It is a great location. The buffet itself is just okay. There is certainly a good selection of food, but nothing that was truly inspired. The dinner buffet is a rotating them night with, for example, Friday’s being Caribbean night, Saturday’s BBQ, etc. On a lot of nights they also brought in local vendors selling their wares like a mini art market. What makes this great is they are not allowed to be pushy the way you experience some markets in Mexico.

The Bistro: located in the main lobby one floor down from the front desk. La Frida is also located here. The Bistro also has a breakfast buffet, which makes it more convenient for people located higher on the hill. I would describe this as their “base level” restaurant. It is certainly better than the food you get by the pools, but not as good as La Frida or the specialty restaurants. This is a great spot for a quick, tasty lunch.

Steakhouse at Quivira: we didn’t get over there to eat. You need to take a van over to the golf course and it was a $35 up-charge. Pictures looked beautiful and we’ll definitely try it next time.

Taqueria: Didn’t try it, but just because it was located on the other side of the resort from our room. Normally I love tacos, so I’ll give that one a go next time.

Manila Bar: located by the main pool and La Nao. It has indoor and outdoor seating and lots of TVs. If there is an American sporting event that you’d like to watch, this is the place to do it. The food is limited and just ok.

Sunrise Coffee. They have a transportation terminal that is where you go to catch the free shuttle to the other resorts, bus to Quivira, etc. There is a coffee shop on the patio here that makes lattes, cappuccinos, etc. They also make smoothies, have some ice cream and have some baked goods. Coming Soon: they are building some more food options in the main building of the transportation hub. They’ve said it will be done in Dec 2016, but they haven’t said what is going there. I would anticipate that Sunrise Coffee will move back inside and that there will be other food options. It looks like it is going to be some sort of food court. (Note: if anyone reads this review after it opens, I’d love to know what they put in.)

The pools: you can order a limited menu at any of the pools. I really enjoyed the nachos and most of the stuff looked pretty decent.

Room service: pretty much the same food you can get at The Bistro with an additional pizza menu that looks pretty good.

I think one glaring omission is a smoothie bar considering how hot Mexico gets. Sunrise coffee and a couple of the restaurants offer basic smoothies, but they are lackluster compared to what you would expect at a good smoothie bar. Hopefully they put one in at the new food court.

And finally, a note on the bartenders. I mentioned already that everyone is friendly and cares deeply, but I never came across a great bartender. Someone that would make you a signature drink or something out of the ordinary. They mainly just pour what you ask and make simple cocktails. Considering the rest of the resort is pretty high end, it would be great to have an upscale bar with high quality cocktails.

Score: 4 out of 5 (but seriously, go into town)

The Spa
My wife and I both spent one afternoon at the spa and it was pretty great. Like the rest of the property, the materials used are great: stone, tile, glass, etc. Like the rest of the property, it felt luxurious. I got the deep tissue message and it was…painful, but exactly what I wanted. Rosa really got in there with her elbows and twisted me around like a pretzel. I left feeling very refreshed.

My wife got some sort of citrus wrap thing that she really liked, but that I don’t understand. I’ll leave it at that.

I believe men and women have access to the same amenities, but obviously in different sections. This included some chaise lounges to relax on, a hot tub, an ice bath, a steam room and private showers. Everyone is given a locker and they provide a robe, a towel and slippers.

The spa isn’t cheap, but on par with prices from other resorts in the US. There are a few spa/massage options downtown that are considerably cheaper, but I didn’t try them so I can comment if they were worth the money.

All in all, a pretty great way to spend an afternoon.

Score: 5 out of 5

The Pools
The pools all have towel stands so you don’t have to bring towels down from the room. When you check-in, each person in your group is issued a towel card. When you go to the pool, give them a card and they give you a towel. When you’re done, give the towel back and they give you your card back.

I’m going to start this section in reverse order in the sense that some of the pools aren’t very special, but very nice. What I mean by that is they are all well appointed and have the same food and beverage options, but they are pools that you could find at any nice hotel. Mainly because they don’t have a view. What makes them useful is that they are in convenient locations so you don’t have to go to far to use them. If you want a quick soak, great, they are there for you. They also include hot tubs.

One of them is an adult only pool, which we found to be boring and a kid’s pool, which we avoided because we didn’t have any kids with us.

The Main Pool
The main pool is the biggest and it is located directly in front of the beach. And it is outstanding. It is huge. It has a swim up bar with bar seats and bar tables. It is two levels with an infinity look to it. It has a section with a pergola over it with more in water seating. There is access to the beach from this pool. They play good music at this pool. Overall, it is just a spectacular pool.

If you only went to this pool you’d be so happy, except…

The Sky Pool
Wow. Simply wow. I already told you this resort is built into the side of a mountain. What I haven’t told you is that at the absolute top of the property is the Sky Pool. The views are simply stunning. You have what I’m guessing is about a 270 degree view of the ocean and surrounding area with 180 degrees of that being ocean. You’re up high enough that you can see everything and it is breathtaking. Oh and stunning views of sunsets.

The pool itself is pretty great too. Two levels with the same infiniti feature. A hot tub up the stairs. Its own kitchen with a wood fired pizza oven. A swim up bar and they play the music loudest at this bar. It is the most fun and probably has the best food of any of the pools. There are plenty of chaise lounges, umbrellas and even covered cabanas facing the ocean.

And they have a pool party every Thursday from 5:00pm to 10:pm with a DJ and appetizers. I’d like to see the pool located anywhere in the world that is better than this one.

Score: 5 out of 5 (based purely on the Sky Pool and Main Pool)

The Gym
So you’re on vacation and you probably aren’t there to work out, but hey, maybe you are. If you are, the gym is very well appointed. Plenty of machines (treadmills, ellipticals, resistance, etc.) and free weights. They have classes every day that include yoga, Pilates, Crossfit and more. You might not be able to do every workout you do when you are at your local gym, but you can do most anything.

It is very well maintained, very clean, just like the rest of the property. They sell gatorade and other sports drinks here, but it is not part of the all-inclusive. This seems like such a small thing; you’d think they’d include that. They also have towels at the gym. I didn’t check for a locker room or showers, but it is adjacent to the spa, so you could always use those.

My biggest overall complaint is lack of space to do olympic or free lifting. While the gym is quite large, almost all of the space is taken up by machines.

Score: 4 out of 5

Shops
There are a few shops for your convenience. Let me just start by saying that almost nothing there was what you would consider a good value. These are convenience store pricing and then some. A quick rundown:

The Deli and Wine Shop: located in the main building, it offers a mini mart with a deli counter. You can get snacks, drinks, sandwiches, etc. If you want something for the kitchenette in your room, this is a great place to start. They also have a mini bakery or at least bakery items like bread, pastries and cakes. If someone in your party is celebrating a birthday while you’re there, this is the place to go. There is also a decent selection of wine and other alcohol.

The Gift Shop: tucked in the back in the courtyard by the spa, they have a small assortment of gift items and also doubles as the drug store. If you want pain killers, sun block, etc., this is a good place.

The Boutique: that isn’t the actual name, but located across the hall from the Deli, the boutique offers mainly women’s clothing items, with some men’s stuff.

The jewelry store: there is a silver store in the back of the courtyard by the entrance to the chapel. I have no idea if this place is any good, but my wife like the pieces, so there is that.

The mini deli: this is located by the main pool and La Nao restaurant. It is a combination of the gift shop and the deli. There is some food, some clothing (t-shirts, flip flops, hats, etc.) and some drug store stuff.

Score: 3 out of 5

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The Beach
Oh the beach. So great and so disappointing at the same time. First, the great stuff. It is beautiful. The sand is basically perfect. It is a very big beach and a lot of it is flat, so you can play volleyball, soccer or throw the football. There are cabanas and bathrooms so you don’t have to go all the way back up to the pool. There are chaise lounges.

Finally, one night we were there, there was a wedding party. The hotel dug a large circle into the sand, put cushions down and put a bon fire in the middle of the circle. They also brought a full bar down to the beach for the wedding party (about 10-15 people). This looked amazing. I don’t know if they do this for just anyone or if you have to get the wedding package, but I’m asking for it the next time I bring the whole family down.

So that seems great, right? What could the problem be? 1) the beach isn’t swimmable due to the currents. There are signs and the staff is constantly warning anyone that goes down to the beach to stay out of the water. This is such a shame because it looks so inviting. And 2) because the beach isn’t swimmable, hardly anyone goes down there. It is literally empty almost all of the time. I guess it can be nice to have some privacy, but I like to have a few people there enjoying themselves. The whole time we were there, we never thought of going there for these reasons.

Score: 2 out of 5 (it would be a 5 if it were swimmable and people went down there)

Transportation
There is an airport shuttle that costs $25 per person each way. We’ve never used it, but the times seem somewhat limited. If I read it correctly, there are 3 times per day each way that the shuttle runs. Compared to private transportation companies, it is much cheaper to take the shuttle if you are 1-3 people. Any more than that, it is probably better to take a private car as they will get you at the exact right time and you don’t have to wait on anyone else.

SB is built into the side of a hill, so you can imagine that constantly walking up and down the hills can be tiring. And you’re right, it can be. SB realized this and designed the property to be serviced by golf style carts. They have carts to take people places (they fit 7 people at a time). They have carts to deliver pizza. They have carts to restock restaurants. They have carts for house keeping. The whole property is constantly buzzing with golf carts. It kind of reminds me of the kids book, “The Busy World of Richard Scary.” Overall it is very cool and I’ve never seen another place like it.

Now, this all depends on it working and this case, working is defined as there being a cart available when you need one. There are a lot of carts and it works really, really well a vast majority of the time, but now always. The two biggest issues are big lines at the major choke points like the lobby or the main pool and the second is there just not being a cart and it feels like you wait too long. The carts are supposed to come by every stop at least every 5 minutes and they usually do. There are also house phones at all the stops so you can call and request a cart.

I can’t emphasize enough though that it works almost all the time and it is awesome. The breeze when you’re riding feels great and you invariably meet other people in the carts.

The other half of the transportation equation is the free shuttles to the other properties. This makes it really easy to use all the amenities available to you. The main benefit is the free shuttle that goes between SB and Rose because this gives you free access to downtown. The shuttle leaves every hour on the hour from 10:00am to 10:00pm and comes back every hour on the half hour from 10:30am to 10:30pm. The shuttles require reservations and there are limited spaces, especially for the first couple and last couple shuttles. If you’re going to go over to Rose or Blanco for dinner, make sure you have a reservation to get back.

It is a little disappointing that the last shuttle back is at 10:30pm, when Cabo is such a great late night city, especially on Friday and Saturday. If you stay later, you’re forced to take a taxi back and that can be slightly expensive. In general, SB doesn’t really go out of there way to help you go downtown. It seems they would prefer you stay on the property, which is a shame.

Downtown is fairly close to Rose and Blanco and it is a comfortable 10-12 minute walk. The area you walk through is totally safe even though it doesn’t completely look like it at first. In fact, you walk by a police station at about the half way point. We’ve never had any problems with this walk. And do yourself a favor and go downtown.

Score: 4 out of 5 (would be a 5 if they operated later and operated every 30 minutes)

The Concierge
Our experience with the concierge has been really good. Need a reservation for anything, either on site or offsite, they are there to help. Need help planning an activity such as zip lining, snorkeling or riding ATVs, they are there to help. They’ve always been knowledgeable and helpful and I recommend using them whenever possible. Last time I was there, there were 5 guys behind the counter and they were all eager to help.

Score: 5 out of 5

Other Stuff
Some random other stuff

Golf: I haven’t tried the Quivira golf course yet, but it looks really good. I heard one guy who golf’s a lot describe it as the best course he as ever played. It is a Jack Nicklaus designed course and if you’re into golf, looks to be one of the best courses in Cabo

Tennis: SB has two tennis courts and they look very well maintained. We didn’t play while we were there and I don’t know if they provide rackets and balls.

The Other Pueblo Bonito Properties
As a guest of SB, you get access to the other Pueblo Bonito Properties, which are Rose, Los Cabos (also called Blanco), Pacifica and Quivira golf course. We didn’t visit Pacifica (which I believe is adult only) or Quivira (definitely high on the list for next time). We have visited Rose and Blanco. Don’t go here for the pools. Why they are perfectly fine pools, the ones at SB are much better.

I would say there are four reasons to go here: 1) They have swimmable beaches and all the benefits that apply to SB apply here. 2) Access to additional restaurants. Our favorite is probably Cilantos over at Blanco, but Fellini’s Italian is good and there is sushi bar on the beach at Rose. 3) You simply want to meet some different people 4) They are a short walk to downtown. Overall, it is a very nice benefit to have access to these additional properties.

The Sales Pitch
From the moment you check-in at the front desk, they are going to try to get you to attend the time share sales pitch. In some of the restaurants they will approach the table to talk about the pitch. They will offer you a free breakfast or lunch. They will offer you credits towards activities (like the spa). And you will get all of these things, but you do have to sit through the pitch.

First, the food is just ordinary. It is not anything over an above what you would get at the restaurants, so I don’t see this as any kind of benefit, especially if you’re on the all-inclusive. If you want $100 (or more!) off a massage, then great.

Now for the pitch. The first thing they don’t mention is that this is an intimate one on one affair. You’re probably initially thinking this is a group presentation so you’ll be able to duck out when you want to leave or actually avoid the sales person. Nope. To start, you get a host. It will start with a personal tour and it is impressive, because the property is so impressive. You’ll be absolutely in love with the property at this point. You’ll start thinking, “hey, this place is pretty great and I would love to come here regularly.”

Then the host will bring you back to the salon and give your breakfast or lunch. And a drink if you want one. You’ll dine with your host and you will talk about anything other than buying at SB. Once you’re done eating, the salesman will make their first appearance and you’ll start to talk numbers.

The first number you’ll hear is for a ridiculous price, no matter what it is you’re willing to consider buying. So let’s say they want to sell you 100 or 150 points, which will get you 1 week per year in a junior suite. The first number will be like $75k for a one time payment and an annual maintenance fee of $1,000. This price will be good for 30 days. Then they’ll give you the price if you buy today. It will be significantly less, but there is almost no end to how much they will negotiate this number. If you buy today and pay cash, you can save another 5%. Mention another objection and they’ll knock $2k off. Before long they’re offering everything in the first package for like 80% off. Or more.

Then they’ll introduce the finance guy to you. He’ll explain the numbers to you and of course there is financing available. The rates aren’t good, but they’re not terrible. You can probably beat it with simply a good credit card. And then they’ll pressure you to close right there. If you say you want to think about it, they’ll start with, “that’s fine, but what is preventing you from purchasing right now?” They don’t want you to walk away. Every time you try to get up, the price goes down.

In general, they just use really good sales techniques. I don’t fault them for this at all and in fact, I respect them because they are good at it. I’m mentioning this because it will be high pressure sales and you should know that before you go in.

At the end of the day it was worth it to us as we decided to buy. In fact, after going back, we decided to upgrade. So it can definitely be worth it, but the process is tiring and its nearest equivalent is buying a car the old way. You have no idea if you’re getting a good deal or not. You have no idea if the guy next to you is paying $1k more or less. Or $5k more or less. Or even $10k more or less. It just doesn’t leaving you feeling reassured. You have to decide if the price they ultimately end up asking you is worth it to you.

I much prefer a system where there is a fixed price and everyone pays the same. It is kind of like the way Tesla does business versus the typical car dealer. You just feel way less dirty about the whole thing.

What building to request
There seem to be a lot of inquiries on various forums about which building to stay in. I don’t have a world of experience on this, but I have some general recommendations. Generally speaking, the closer you are to the beach, the better. The reason isn’t actually proximity to the beach, but rather you can walk on flat ground to get to the main pool, the main buffet, a gift shop, etc. Most of the action is down there. Also, if you are in the first row of buildings, there aren’t any other buildings in your way of the view. Now, no matter where you are, you’ll have a great view of the ocean, but they are even better down there. You’ll be closest to the tennis courts as well. Buildings #: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 36, 37, with 1, 2, 3 & 4 probably being best.

If you have kids, you’ll probably want to stay in buildings 17 or 18. They are closest to the kids pool and Kids Club. If you don’t bring kids, you’ll probably want to stay away from this area, unless you’re number one deciding factor is proximity to the taco bar.

If you want big sweeping views, stay up higher on the mountain. I’m told during whale watching season it is great to see the whales. Much better than being close to the beach, but I haven’t seen this for myself. Buildings #: 29, 30, 31 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46

If you’re main interest is the Sky Pool, it really doesn’t matter which building you stay in. You’re probably going to take the cart up there regardless because it is pretty steep.

I’ve never stayed or even visited the more hotel like structures which are buildings #: 19, 20, 21, 22, 23 and 24 and I don’t have an opinion on them.

The further west you stay, the newer the buildings. I think all the rooms are great, but it is something to consider if that is important. Bottom line, no matter where you stay, you’ll have a great room and access to everything. I believe building 46 is the newest building (as of Oct 2016). Not all of the buildings have all the room types or bed configurations (king vs. two queens).

Summary
It’s obvious I’m a pretty big fan of SB, but hopefully you’ll see I tried to be objective and point out where they have opportunities to improve. I’m thrilled with my purchase and look forward to going each and every year for many years.

The best parts of SB are the property and grounds, the quality of the rooms and the pools. The spa and gym are also excellent.

The biggest areas of improvement are speed of service, improving how the all-inclusive works and making the pricing more consistent and fair.

None of the weaknesses should be deal breakers for anyone. If you stay at SB, you’re going to have a great time at a beautiful resort in a wonderful city.  If anyone has any questions, I’m happy to try to answer them.

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2015 Christmas Gift Guide

I’ve been doing these gift guides for a few years now and I really believe this is the best one yet.  Most gift guides either explicitly tell you who they are targeting (“gifts for dad,” “gifts for pre-teen girls,” or “gifts for wannabe athletes with bum left knees”) or are so general as to not apply to anyone.  Mine in somewhere in the middle, but I also think that’s what makes it fun.  If I had to label it I’d say, “Gifts for people (mainly guys) who like to play games, snowboard and cook, are addicted to gadgets and still want a little whimsy in their Christmas.”  And while there are certainly some mainstream items on the list, I really like unique gifts, so hopefully I’ve got something on here for that tough to buy for person on your list.  Some of these things I already have, some I want and some I don’t really want, but I think they’re neat and I’ll try to note that when applicable.  Without further adieu…

Apple Stuff & Gadgets

Anyone that knows me knows that I love Apple Kit.  I’ve had everyone iPhone since the first one, have only worked on Macs going on 10 years now, etc.  Two more Apple products made their way into my life this year and their both easy recommendations.

Apple Watch

Apple.com – starting at $349w38ss-mbbl-sel-201509_GEO_US
This is an easy one to recommend and it looks like it is going to be one of the top gifts of the year.  I’ve never regularly worn a watch, but I’ve been wearing my Apple Watch Sport since launch day.  It has two killer features: notifications and fitness.  Notifications are great because you can get them at a glance, which is both faster and more convenient that using your phone.  The fitness features are the real killer app though.  I’m obsessed with closing the activity rings every day and this has to be good for my health.  The direct messages with other Apple Watch wearers is pretty cool too.

Apple TV

Apple.com – starting at $149apple-tv-4-topic
I’ve only had the new Apple TV for about 2 weeks, but it is so much better than the old Apple TV and I liked the old Apple TV.  Again, it has two killer features: Siri and Apps.  Siri is remarkably good.  Just like on the iPhone, it is very accurate, rarely making a mistake transcribing what I said.  And continuing a search is great, like “show me James Bond films” and then “just the ones with Sean Connery.”  There still aren’t a lot of apps, but just the potential is exciting and I’ve found a few that are very entertaining.  It will be interesting to see what developers do with it.  The new remote is also a big improvement.

DxO ONE 20.2MP Digital Connected Camera for iPhone and iPad

Amazon – $599DxO-ONE-camera-for-smartphones
The iPhone has a pretty damn good camera.  While it is not DSLR quality, it takes very good pictures, but sometimes you want or need more.  And you don’t want to carry a full 2nd camera around with you.  That is where the DxO comes in.  It is a camera attachment for your iPhone that adds a much more powerful camera, including a 20 megapixel camera, better lowlight performance and more.  If you know someone that takes a ton of pictures with their phone and wants to be more serious about their photography, this might be the gift for them.

Toys & Games

I don’t really play with (non-gadget) toys or video games any more, so something has to be really spectacular to catch my eye in this regard.  I found two things this year.

Sphero BB-8

Amazon – $150bb8-charger-1_grande
It is a radio controlled Star Wars droid from the new movie.  ‘Nuff said.

Starwars Battlefront

Amazon – $59154507-L-LO
There are a few new video games out including the latest installments of FIFA, Call of Duty and Fallout and I’m sure there are gamers that will want those more, but Battlefront looks absolutely epic and the reviews seem to back it up.  This is the must have video game of the year and not just for Star Wars fans.

Snow

I always have a recommendation or two for those who like to glide down mountains on powdery white stuff.  This year, just one.

Demon 2015 Complete Tune Kit With Wax

Amazon – $70
Everything you need to tune your own equipment.  Sure you could just pay $20 once or twice per season and have a professional do it, but where is the fun in that?  Plus sometimes you just want to do things yourself.

Kitchen & Bar

Earlier this year I was trying to figure out why I enjoy cooking so much.  The obvious thing is, like most people, I love to eat good meals or have a great drink, but it is definitely more than that for me.  I enjoy the entire process.  I enjoy picking out the recipes, going to the store or even better, the farmer’s market.  I enjoy all the food prep and I enjoy the look on everyone’s face when (if) they enjoy it.  But mainly I like shutting my brain off for a couple of hours and not thinking about anything other than avoiding chopping my finger off.  And the final piece is there are a lot of tech / gadgets that make everything even better and more fun.

Anova Culinary Bluetooth Precision Cooker

Amazon – $175b5dd641e-0364-40b7-98bb-2c95c860d755.jpeg._CB303826455_
This is the one kitchen gadget that I don’t have and that I really want this year.  There are a lot of famous chefs that are singing the praises of sous vide cooking and I want to try it.  The idea is you cook everything is sealed plastic bags in precisely heated water.  This apparently cooks everything perfectly evenly.  So instead of a steak that is more well on the outside and progressively more rare on the inside, you can cook the entire steak the same way, to the same temperature.  You can always add sear marks when it is over.  Throw in the fact that it connects to your smartphone and gives you notifications about the status of your meals and, well, you’ve got me.  I want to try.

Vitamix

Costco – about $400
I’m sure you can get it some place besides Costco, but that is where I found mine.  Let me say that it has been a revelation.  You think you’re buying a blender, but you’re buying so much more and I think it is safe to say that it is used at least once per day in my house right now and most days more than that.  Smoothies, soups or even wet chopping vegetables, it is basically up to any task.

Kitchenaid 7-Quart Pro Line Stand Mixer

Amazon – $550
I’ve wanted one of these for a long time, but as my wife points out, I don’t bake all that often.  That being said, I want to make my own bread and pasta and this is the champ.  I’m not sure when, but I will own this.

Miito

mitto.com – €189 (for pre-order)miito-water-boiling-without-kettle-600x315-c
Yes, that price is in Euro.  This is simply an induction kettle, used simply for heating water.  So you’re probably asking yourself why in the world you need to spend €189 for a kettle when there are stove top ones to be had for $5.  First, I’m a sucker for great design and this has that in spades.  It works by using induction to heat a metal rod that you place in the liquid.  This has two big advantages: 1) you only heat the amount of water that you need, and 2) you can heat it to the exact temperature you want it, rather than the old way of heating it up until it boils and then waiting for it to cool down.  It is extravagant, it is over the top, it costs way too much money for what it does and I want one.

Hot and Cold Soapstone Bowls

Another slightly over the top purchase, but again, very cool design.  You heat up or freeze the stone portions of the bowl to keep soup hot or ice cream cold while you indulge.  The wood bowls insulate you from the temperature of the bowls.  Should I get one set or two?

The Corkcicle Ice Whiskey Wedge

Corkcicle.com – $18Whiskey-Wedge-by-Corkcicle-5-600x420
If you want a whiskey on the rocks, you’re probably going to have whiskey and water before not too long.  A couple of years ago they came up with the perfectly spherical ice cubes that were meant to address that.  Now they have the Whiskey Wedge.

OXO On 12 Cup Coffee Maker & Brewing System

Amazon – $299
For the coffee snob in your life.  I don’t drink coffee, so that’s not me, but for people who enjoy a cup o’ joe, this thing is supposedly the bees knees.

Aeropress Coffee Maker

Huckleberry – $30
Another coffee gift, but this time for espresso lovers, especially those that love to travel, but complain about the coffee they get at the hotel, airport, Starbucks…

Toaster Grilled Cheese Bags

Have someone lazy in your life or perhaps that lives in a dorm room?  Wait, those aren’t mutually exclusive.  Anyways, two pieces of bread and a couple slices of cheese, put them in the special sleeve and thrown in the toaster.  2 minutes later you have grilled cheese.  Where was this 25 years ago?

Bin 8 Multi Kitchen Tool

Amazon – $11gody
Know someone with a small kitchen, but still wants to pull off amazing dinners?  They really need great tools that don’t take up a lot of space.  How about 8 tools in one that stores in the shape of a wine bottle?

Books

I like to read, but this year I only have food and beverage related books to recommend.  Go figure.  And I don’t own any of them.  Yet.

The Food Lab

Amazon – $28
I really enjoy the science behind cooking.  You know, really understanding what is going on when I’m preparing my food.  This is the best new book of the year on that topic.

Drinking The Devil’s Acre

Amazon – $18
A drinking history tour of San Francisco?  Sign me up!

Larousse Book of Bread

Amazon – $27
Hey, I got use that stand mixer I’m going to get for something.  I need to make Viennese Chocolate Bread.  I don’t know why, but I need to.

Clubs

Sometimes the best gifts aren’t the gifts you get once, but rather the gifts that you get all year.  These are the types of gifts that you can get the person that has everything and here are two ideas for you.

Club W (Wine Club)

clubw.com – $50 per month for as many months as you want to give.
Everyone loves wine.  Ok, most everyone loves wine.  And unlike a lot of clubs, the recipient gets to choose which bottles they get every month, so you don’t have to worry about them receiving wine they don’t like.

Bespoke Post

Bespoke.com – starts at $55 per month
For guys who want a box of awesome every month.  The boxes are different each month, sometimes containing style products, food or kitchen stuff, life gear, cocktail related items, etc.

Random, Fun Stuff

Here is the whimsy part.  Some stuff that is a little different, a little out of the ordinary.  The stuff you won’t find at the mall.  The stuff that will make them love you forever (and by forever, I mean at least the end of the day).

Coolest Cooler

Coolest.com – $499Coolest-Sized
So I supported this product when it was being crowdfunded and waited two years for it to arrive, but let’s just say that I’m more than pleased.  It is a cooler.  With wheels that make it easy to take places.  With blue tooth speakers so you can jam at the beach or wherever.  With built-in plates, knives and cutting board.  With a built-in bottle opener.  With a battery that charges your gadgets.  With LED lighting so you can see inside when it is dark.  And a blender.  That’s right.  It has a built-in, freaking blender.  So cool.

Epiphone Les Paul Special II Electric Guitar Player Pack

Amazon – $199
The chances are, you know someone who wants to learn to play the guitar.  Because playing the guitar is awesome.  I wish I played the guitar.  This set comes with a Les Paul electric guitar, amp, cables, tuner, etc. plus downloadable lessons.

Cardboard iPad TV Stand

Because watching a show on your iPad isn’t good enough.  You need to watch it on your iPad made to look like a vintage television set.

Scratch Map Globe

A 3D world map that changes color when you scratch it so you can check off all of the places you’ve been or where you’d like to go.  For the aspirational traveler in your life.

Bellroy slim wallet

Bellroy.com – starts at about $80
I’ve fully joined the slim wallet movement.  I’ve cut down on the number of cards I carry with me at all times and basically don’t carry cash anymore (or put another way, I’m married with three children so I don’t have any cash).  These wallets are perfect for carrying just what you need.  Everyone can use a new wallet.  Except for me, because I already have one of these.

Custom Chuck Taylor All-Stars

Converse.com – $75
Everyone loves old school Chuck Taylor All Stars.  Everyone loves them more when they’re customized.  I have a pair of UCLA All Stars and they are simply awesome.

Dinosaur Bone + Amber Single (Damascus)

Huckleberry – $90
Every self respecting man has a pocket knife.  In my case, I own a Swiss Army knife.  This knife makes an entirely different statement.  If I can’t have Valyrian Steel, then Damascus Steel sounds like the next best thing.  Plus it has real dinosaur bone in the hilt.  How awesome is that?  I’ve always known that I need to own a piece of dinosaur.

The Ultimate Beard Haircare Pack

Every guy is growing a beard now-a-days, so they may as well take care of it.

Attmu Outdoor Survival Paracord Bracelet with Fire Starter Scraper Whistle Kits, Set of 2

Amazon – $9
My last gift arguably prepares the guy in your life for the situation he dreams about most.  Every guy is convinced that one day he’ll find himself in a James Bond or MacGyver situation and every guys knows he’ll be up to the challenge.  It does help if you have some tools on your person and this just might do the trick.  With a built-in flint fire starter, scraper and whistle and a bracelet that can be undone to reveal 30 feet of rope, they just might pull it off.
I hope this helps you find a gift for someone that you may not have otherwise found.  Merry Christmas!

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The Saturday Links for 8/15/15

I’m going to make some slow cooked, 10 hour black bean soup today, so wish me luck. Today’s links:

  • I’m all for hearing both sides of an argument and hear is an argument from law enforcement arguing that strong encryption is dangerous: NY Times Editorial.  Here is why they are wrong: 1) Tech companies are offering encryption because they’re customers have demanded it AFTER our government behaved badly, 2) You can’t regulate or ban math and encryption is simply math, 3) Law enforcement seems to think they should have access to anything new that comes along.  Or put another way, their authority and/or access always grows, but never shrinks.  If we invent a device that can record our thoughts (think mental diary), should they have access to that too?  No law enforcement person ever stands up to argue for less access. 4) Any backdoor into encryption makes the entire system weaker by definition and allows bad actors like repressive regimes or pissed of spouses to have a chance to go where they shouldn’t be able to go.  For more on this, read this excellent piece: The rise of the new Crypto War.
  • I’m a believer is business and have no problem with big businesses.  In fact, one of the biggest in the world and largest in terms of worth (Apple) is one of my favorites.  However it is stories like this that give you pause.  DuPont and the Chemistry of Deception.  My question is this: not one person involved, and it seems like there were many, had a conscious and chose to blow this whistle?  This potentially effected the healths of thousands of people and there wasn’t one person?
  • This human interest piece includes references to math and UCLA, so you know I’m going to be interested.  The Singular Mind of Terry Tao.  If you enjoy stories about geniuses (that word gets thrown around a lot, but Terry Tao is a rare talent), you’ll enjoy this.
  • Having grown up in an airline family, this story interested me greatly.  When I was a kid and flying for free, you could make a flight 80+% of the time because planes weren’t as full then as they are today.  Well clearly things have changed.  More Than a Million People Are Getting Free Flights—and They Hate It.
  • As someone who got married young by today’s standards, I find studies like this interesting.  Bad News: Waiting Too Long to Get Married May Increase Your Risk of Divorce.
  • This is for Seinfeld fans, like me.  For a Show About Nothing, Seinfeld Changed a Lot Over Its Nine-Year Run.
  • To say getting our education system right is important is an understatement.  Educating children relies tremendously on good teachers and there are good teachers and bad teachers.  How do you measure them?  It turns out that this has always been a difficult question to answer.  We’ve always tried to do this with data and numbers rather than by subjective evaluation, but teachers and their unions have always resisted this.  This is a fairly balanced article talking about research into measuring teachers.  The Science Of Grading Teachers Gets High Marks.
  • I’m a big proponent of legalizing drugs because 1) people should be able to do whatever they want with their own bodies as long as it doesn’t harm others, 2) prohibition never works (for evidence of this, research anything that has ever been prohibited) and 3) we end up incarcerating way too many people for non-violent drug crimes which results in ruining their lives and costing tax payers an exorbitant sum.  After one year of legalized marijuana, the state of Washington has released their tax revenues from its sale.  Washington state gets $65 million in first-year taxes from marijuana.
  • I know first hand the irrational cost of higher education in this country having gone through college and graduate school myself and now having a son in his senior year of a private four year college.  This is a separate topic, but this is clearly one instance where it would be better to live in Europe.  One of the biggest problems facing graduates and their parents is the soaring cost of school and the resulting debt.  And it is bad even if you got to a great, reputable school.  It is a tragedy when the school doesn’t improve your job prospects like what happens at a lot of for profit schools.  And it should be no surprise that these for profit schools end up on a list of schools that contribute the most to total student debt.  These 20 schools are responsible for a fifth of all graduate school debt. Now there are some really good schools on this list, but there are also all the schools that are part of the education industrial complex.  And then there is USC which is neither for profit, nor a good school 🙂
  • Want to learn more about the dark web (like Silk Road) and the inefficiency of allowing pharmaceutical companies to charge different prices to different countries? Great, you’ll love this piece: Why I Had to Buy My Wife’s Inhaler on the Dark Web.

Song of the week: Born under a Bad Sign performed by Gary Clark Jr and John Maher.  This is from the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony when they inducted Albert King.  A classic blues song with ridiculous guitars.

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Getting in Shape: Gadgets & Apps

The Gadgets

I don’t know if shoes can be called a gadget, but they are so advanced that they kind of are.  I don’t recall ever owning a pair of running shoes.  I’ve alway run in soccer shoes like the Adidas Samba.  And I generally wrecked my feet every time I did this so I invested in a pair of Adidas Glide Boost shoes and let’s just say they’re a revelation.  They’re so comfortable that I’m wearing them at work.

Next, I already mentioned my Apple gear earlier.  I’m using my Apple Watch and I’m taking the time to calibrate it correctly.  It is nice to have heart rate, calories burned, distance covered, elapsed time and more on my wrist while I’m running.  The iPhone is great because it has GPS, Music and can run apps that work a lot better than just using the Apple Watch apps.  The only thing I don’t like about running with an iPhone is it swinging back in forth in my pocket, so I also got a cheap arm band.

Finally, I’ve invested in a pair of Jabra Sport Pulse headphones.  They’re supposed to be one of the best fitting headphones on the market, which is great, but I bought them because they are purpose built for fitness.  They’re bluetooth, so no wires need to be connected to the phone.  I hate running with wired headphones because it seems like at least twice during every running session I tug on the wires accidentally and the headphone comes out.  Bluetooth also means I can connect them to my watch.  Next, they have a pulse oximeter built in, so it gives me another heart rate monitor.

Apps
Jabra Sport.  This app has a lot of potential and I’m looking forward to putting it through the paces.  It has also the basics you would expect in a running app in that it will track your heart rate, distance, calories, route (via GPS), etc. But it also has a few other functions which are great.  The first one that I’ve been playing with is a heart rate zoning training program.  It pulls your heart rate off the headphones and then gives you spoken instructions like, “speed up (or slow down) to reach your target zone.”  This should make it a lot easier to reach your goals.  It also has other great functions like Target Pace, Interval Training (where you can program your own intervals) and Cross-Training.  The last one is very cool.  You can program it to walk you through a gym session, like 3 reps of 10 pushups, 3 reps of 10 sit-ups, and it will tell you (via spoken prompts in your headphones) what your next exercise is and what to do.  Very handy.  I’m going to do a more in depth review of this once I’ve used it more.

Apple Workout & Activity Tracker.  These are built in and unlike running or fitness apps, they monitor my movement all day long, which is very useful.  They visualize that data in three circles, move (calories), Excersise (time spent moving) and Stand (you’re supposed to stand for at least 1 minute in 12 different hours during the day).  When you have a health monitor on during all your waking hours and that monitor has a heart rate monitor, you learn a lot of interesting things.  More on that in another post.

Strava. I used Strava before and it is very good, so I may give it a go again, although due to the tight pairing with the headphones, I’m more interested in using the Jabra Sport app.

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I’m Getting in Shape…the Geek Way

There’s the old joke, “I’m already in shape.  Round is a shape,” but I don’t want to get in shape because of how I look.  I need to get in shape because I tried to run three miles miles on Saturday and I had to stop for a walking break about half way.   I’ve been an athlete since I was 5 years old.  In my mind I’m an athlete.  I’ve always been an athlete and I’ll always been an athlete.  Therefore I’m able to do athletic things whenever I want, however I want.  Well the that jog tells a different story.  A depressing story.
I still play soccer 2-3 times per week and I’m noticing that I can’t last as long as I’d like.  I walk more than I should.  I don’t play as much defense.  I get into situations where I see something in my mind that I think I should be able to do easily and I’m a step slow.  And to be clear, it is not a speed thing or a quickness thing, but rather an energy thing or a I’m too tired thing.  More damning is I’m not as in shape as I was even a few years ago so it’s not an old man thing either.
To understand where I’m going, I think it helps to understand where I’ve been.  Let’s be clear, I have never been a good distance runner or someone you would hold up as the epitome of cardiovascular performance.  So what did my cardiovascular peak look like?  Well, I look back to specific moment in time.  When I was 19 years old, I had a soccer coach that made the entire team run 3 miles in some time.  Now, I honestly don’t remember the exact time, but it was somewhere between 18 and 21 minutes.  So either 6 minute or 7 minute miles.  The fact that I can’t remember the time perhaps points to other issues 🙂 but what I clearly remember was the coach counting down the last 10 seconds and I was still about 50 yards away from the finish line.  Whoever didn’t make it across in time had to do a 5 mile beach run the next morning at 7:00am.  I really didn’t want to do that and so I pushed and made it with about a second or two to spare.  Maybe that’s not much, but I can’t remember a time when I was in better shape than that.
And I get that we deteriorate over time.  I’m not looking to relive my glory days, whatever those were, but I can be better than what I am now.  I’m going to be better than I am now.  So I did what I lot of people probably do: just started running.  Not like Forest Gump or anything, but targeting three miles and that is when I discovered I couldn’t even go two miles at a decent pace without stopping.  My plan was to keep running three miles every day, or at least every day where I didn’t have a soccer game, until I could.  I would then increase my pace rather than my distance until I could consistently run 8 minute miles.  Once I could run 8 minute miles, I would revisit my plan.
I did this for a few days and then it occurred to me, why am I designing my own running plan when I have no training or education in this and there is this thing called the Internet?  After doing less than ten minutes of research it became immediately apparent that I was doing it wrong and, in fact, dangerously.  But let’s start with the research.
It started with this article:
Which in turn led me to these NYT Well Blog articles:
In case you’re not clicking through, here is the TL:DR; version: it is really important to understand your personal heart rate performance, your goals and the target zones that will allow you to achieve your goals.
The longer version is this: start by calculating your maximum heart rate.  The complicated way to do this is to pay for an advanced treadmill test with a exercise physiologist.  This easy way is: 220 – your age.  I chose the easy way for now.  I’m 44, so my maximum heart rate (MHR) is 176 beats per minute (BPM).  No exercise I do should cause my heart to beat faster than that.  (Note: there are some athletes where this doesn’t apply.  Professional, olympic and college athletes, etc. may have good reasons to exceed this rule of thumb and can do so safely.  Sadly, I’m none of these).
I’m using the Heart Rate Reserve method to determine my optimal workout plan, so the next step is to figure out my resting heart rate (RHR).  I’ll go over in another article how I figured this out, but my resting heart rate is 52 BPM.  My heart rate reserve is MHR – RHR or 176 – 52 = 124.
The final step is figuring out what you want to accomplish.  Depending on who you read, there are different zones that will accomplish different things.  Something like this:
  • 60% to 70%: recovery or fat burning zone
  • 70% to 80%: aerobic zone, i.e. increase your heart’s ability to transport and utilize oxygen
  • 80% to 90%: anaerobic zone, i.e. work on your body’s ability to deal with lactic acid.  This is good for people interested in running really long distances or increasing their speed.
  • 90% to 100%: speciality zone for elite athletes
As I already mentioned my initial goal is to increase my stamina and general heart health, so my training goals should be to stay in the aerobic zone as much as possible.  To do this, you take your HRR and multiply by the lower and upper bounds of your zone and add back your resting heart rate.  My calculation looks like this:
  • Lower zone: (124 * 70%) + 52 = 138.8
  • Upper zone: (124 * 80%) + 52 = 151.2
Now there are other methods to calculate what my proper training zone should be, but they are all going to come out to something roughly similar.  Because the numbers are so dependent on my MHR, it may be worthwhile to do the more in depth testing at some point in the future, but for now this will suffice.
The final thing was to go back and look at how I had done to date.  I bought an Apple Watch when it first came out  so I’ve had heart rate tracking on me for the past couple of months at all times other than when I sleep. Conveniently it syncs all of its data to the Health App on iOS, but this is also where the first giant red flag appeared.  In my initial jogging sessions where I was just trying trying to get through three miles I generated some alarming numbers.  I routinely exceeded my training zone max of 152 BPM and on three instances, I exceeded my MHR, hitting as high as 180 BPM.  This is simply dangerous and unacceptable.
The bottom line is this: I need to do things correctly.  And think this is actually the first major problem a lot of people face.  I see over and over in business that everyone thinks they know an answer based on experience and gut instinct and then after looking at some data, we realize we were all wrong.  This has crept over to my fitness mind.  So my final resolution is not: I’m going to get into shape.  My final resolution is: I’m going to get in shape the right way.
I led off this post saying I was going to take a geek approach to this.  That means data and gadgets and I’ll cover those in my next post.

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The Saturday Links for 6/27/15

I haven’t posted links in a couple of weeks, so I have more than a few articles for you.

Song of the week: Joel Jorgensen from Angels doing an acoustic cover of Maroon 5’s She Will be Loved.

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