Since 2003 I have offered holiday gift recommendations, and few random tips, in the form of Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide & Almanac. Past years have taken the form of a PDF file, suitable for printing, but that seems a bit out-of-date.
So this year, I’m saving some trees and bringing you this Uncle Mark made from 100% artisanally hand-crafted electrons. Fully bit-literate, digitally synergistic, and completely weightless (or perhaps “bits are heavy” – did I read that somewhere?). I hope you find this helpful.
Uncle Mark 2016 Gift Guide…
Best physical gadget: Victorinox Jetsetter 3 Pocket Knife, which is a TSA-friendly keychain gadget. Contrary to the name, there’s no pocket knife included; it’s just scissors, a bottle opener, toothpick, and tweezers. I’ve made it through airport security several times with this, though I have to explain to the TSA agent every time that it is indeed allowable, since there is no cutting blade included. Solves the problem of having the Swiss Army knife confiscated when you forget to take it off the keychain before air travel!
Best new iOS game: Downwell, a unique shootemup in which you shoot down (shootemdown?) as you fall down a well. Also, the shots come out of your boots. And there are stores in the well, where you can shop for upgrades. Sure, none of this makes sense, but the game just works. Reminiscent of Spelunky, mentioned below.
Best new Web game: Agar.io, a free game you can play in any Web browser. It’s simple: you pilot a colored circle that will eat smaller circles or be eaten by larger ones. Play for a few minutes and you’ll see how rich an experience comes out of such simple rules. Though you might want to check the “No names” box in Settings if you don’t like seeing the often objectionable names players choose. Great game. (There are mobile apps for Agar.io, but I think it’s best experienced on a computer screen, preferably with a mouse instead of a touchpad.)
• The Nintendo Wii U (shown at left) is best for families with young kids. Games like Mario Kart (included in this package) and Super Mario 3D World (which doesn’t require 3D) are consistently well-designed, clever, and fun for all ages. The only downside of this outstanding game system is its name: the Wii U is not similar to the Wii, that older Nintendo system with those motion-sensitive wands and the bowling and tennis games. The Wii U abandoned all that and went back to good old-fashioned joysticks and really well-designed games. Just note that you’ll only get Nintendo games here – the mainstream blockbuster games tend to be on the PS4 or Xbox One these days. On the other hand, only the Nintendo Wii has the new breakout hit Super Mario Maker, which allows you to build your own Mario level and play the creations of other players. Fantastic.
• The Sony PlayStation 4 (shown at left) is best for older kids and adult gamers. Apart from all the blockbuster games that the PS4 has access to, it also has downloadable access to indie games, which I tend to favor over the blockbusters anyway. Four I’d strongly recommend: TowerFall (archers with Mario Brothers-type physics), Spelunky (classic must-play roguelike), and the game that’s probably my favorite of the year, Rocket League (cars playing soccer – way more fun than it sounds). For a smaller treat, suitable for all ages, I’d also recommend Grow Home (cute robot explores upward, very clever). The PS4’s joysticks also have the best physical feel of any videogame system I’ve used in years – they’re pretty much perfect. (Oh, and as for the Xbox One, Microsoft’s video game console: good access to blockbuster games, but I still prefer the PS4 for the reasons above.)
Best everyday scanner: Canon LiDE 120 Scanner. Although I often scan documents by taking an iPhone photo, sometimes I need more accuracy. This inexpensive Canon (about $50) does a good job with photos and documents. Better yet, it’s powered through the USB cable, so there’s no need for yet another adapter plugged into the power strip.
Creative Good picks
Here are a few things that we’ve launched at Creative Good this year, each made with the hope of creating a good experience for you and others. How many have you tried out?
Our iPhone game: Brooklyn 1776. Fight as the Americans against the British, and their Hessian mercenaries, in this crucial early battle of the Revolutionary War. We’ve designed the game so that the historically-accurate strategy is the one that wins the game. Explore and learn! (Download for iPhone… Android version coming soon … more info here.)
Our to-do list: Good Todo. Get organized and achieve inbox zero with our Good Todo platform – via website, iPhone/iPad app, and Android app. Not many people know that it’s the first and oldest online to-do list system in the world, having just turned 10 years old. And still improving. Seriously, try it.
Our book, perfect for team and client gifts: Customers Included, the “must-read” book about customer experience. Full of stories about innovation and design, this is a brand-new 2nd edition, fully updated for 2015 with lots of new material. There’s also a Kindle version for all of five bucks. C’mon.
Our customer experience advisory work: If your team wants to include better customer insight in your innovation and strategy, bring Creative Good in to help. (Here’s a case study of a recent project.) Just drop us a line.
My personal visit to your team: I’m now giving “Customers Included” workshops and keynote talks, based on the new 2nd edition of the book. Your team will gain skills and inspiration to build better products by including customers: to find out more, see my speaking info or just get in touch.
How to break up with Gmail: Switch to FastMail for email. I switched from Gmail to FastMail a few months ago and have not regretted it for a second: the Web interface is much easier to use – have you noticed that Gmail has gotten more and more confusing? – and my private emails are now being stored with a company that doesn’t sell customers’ info for profit. (You have to pay a small monthly fee for a FastMail account.) Keep your Google account for access to Google Docs or whatever else you need it for, but I recommend moving away from Gmail.
How to break up with Google Search: Use DuckDuckGo, a search engine that doesn’t track your path through the Web (and gives results about as good as Google does). DuckDuckGo’s founder spoke at my Gel conference a couple of years ago – watch the video – he gives some surprising reasons why you might not want to be using Google for search.
How to defog the mirror after a shower: Turn on the hair dryer and aim it at the mirror. Within a few seconds you’ll have cleared just enough area to see your face. (Or does everyone know this trick already?)
How to solve email overload: Move the action-item emails to a to-do list (forwarding them to Good Todo is an easy way to do it), then archive or delete everything, and I mean everything, in the inbox, so that it’s totally empty. You’ll then work from your to-do list rather than the inbox, and you can always get back to your old emails that you archived. Details in Bit Literacy – this really does work.
..and some past entries that are still valid..
Shaving tip: I discovered awhile back that you can use conditioner as a replacement to shaving cream. That’s one less bottle of stuff to purchase, store, travel with, replace, and recycle.
Buying cables: If you have to buy a replacement USB cable, or an HDMI cable for a TV, don’t buy it from a retail store. The prices tend to be much lower at monoprice.com. I’ve bought there several times and have saved a lot.
The umbrella trick: Here’s how to ensure you always have an umbrella on hand when it’s raining. Buy two umbrellas, and keep one at home and the other at work or school. (Perhaps store another in the car.) Then grab an umbrella whenever it’s raining, and – this is the only hard part – remember to put the umbrella back in its place afterward.
And with that, I wish you a happy holiday and a wonderful 2016 full of good experiences!
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