Charlie’s Gadgets Worth Getting Guide 2011

My personal tagline is “If it makes noises or moves electrons I dig it.” To that end I’m going to start a yearly tradition of writing up a set of Christmas gift recommendations. Here’s the inaugural edition.

Amazon Kindle

Amazon Kindle 3.JPGI purchased my first Kindle the day Amazon announced them in 2007. Since then the various models I have owned have been my favorite gadget. That’s right, of all the geek-toys I own (and I own a lot) the Kindel is my absolute favorite. I truly am in love.

At $79 for the lowest end model you simply can not go wrong. The new Kindle Fire is a great tablet at $200, although the initial software experience has disappointing quality. I hope Amazon quickly rectifies that with updates. 

True story:

My wife texts me and asks “Are you at home?”.  I respond, “No, why?”.  She’s at school for an event and nobody else is there but she can’t leave. So she’s sitting there alone with nothing to do. She wants me to go home, get her Kindle for her and bring it to her.  Instead I simply tell her “Just use the Kindle app on your phone. It will even go to the last page you were at automatically.” 

She was able to get some reading done and was really impressed. I find reading on a phones’ screen somewhat tiring compared to the great e-ink on the Kindle devices, but it sure is great that in a pinch you can read a chapter or two.

Escort Passport 9500ix Radar/Laser Detector

For the record: I don’t speed.

With that out of the way, a good radar/laser detector can be a great investment towards reducing the risk of your insurance going up from getting speeding tickets. I used to swear by the Valentine One radar detectors, but when I bought a new car last year I decided I wanted the latest technology.  I have the 9500ci permanently installed in my C63 and we own a 9500xi that we can move between the other cars.

One of the most annoying things about radar detectors is the false-positives: they are always beeping and chirping from “fake” signals such as door openers or permanently fixed speed signs.  The Escort Passport 9500ix family uses GPS technology along with crowd sourced data to “remember” where these fake signals are and suppress them.

These things are expensive, but if you consider how much your insurance rates will go up per year if you get a speeding ticket, well worth it.

Gear Wrench Flexible Combination Ratcheting Wrenches

Every mechanic should have a set of ratcheting wrenches. There are a lot of quality brands out there, but there is also a lot of crap. My dad taught me to only buy high-quality tools. So that’s what I do.

I have Gear Wrench Flexible Combination Ratcheting Wrenches in a bunch of sizes in both standard and metric. The little guys (e.g. 8mm) are simply amazing for working in tight spots on my 1978 Toyota FJ40 Land Cruiser.  The ratchet head on these wrenches is on a swivel which is really helpful. 

You can’t go wrong with these wrenches. Guys dig them.

Racor PHL-1R Pro HeavyLift Cable-Lifted Storage Rack

Need more room in your garage for junk? Have a removable hard-top for your 1978 Toyota FJ40 and want somewhere to store it in the summer?

Project "Roof Hoist"

I considered buying a bunch of pulleys and stuff at the hardware store and building something that I could use to hoist up and store the hard top for the FJ during the summer myself. I had it all designed.  Then I discovered the Racor PHL-1R Pro HeavyLift 4-by-4-Foot Cable-Lifted Storage Rack.  At about $126 it ended up costing FAR less than if I had bought all the parts myself, and it’s guaranteed to actually work (unlike some contraption I built).

This thing will hold 250 pounds. I think my hard top weighs more than that. And it hasn’t fallen yet. LOL.

Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 Flash Bracket

My strategy for taking good photographs is to take tons. Eventually I’ll get a good one.

But sometimes, better tools can help. A perfect example is getting your speedlight (flash) further away from the camera body.  To do this you need a flash bracket.

The Stroboframe Quick Flip 350 Flash Bracket is great for this. It’s only $35.

Karcher Pressure Washer T-Racer Wide Area Surface Cleaner

Power-washing the driveway in the spring is one of life’s little pleasures. Except when you live in the Pacific Northwest and you have to deal with the caked on grime that comes from all the evergreen trees and wet winters. Then it can be a chore.

This spring I discovered the Karcher 2.641-005.0 Pressure Washer T-Racer Wide Area Surface Cleaner T350.  Holy-smokes does this thing work well! A 12 hour job in previous years shrunk down to just several. I was skeptical but I am now a true believer.  This thing works as advertised and is well worth the $70. 

And it’s a total hoot to use.  It takes the high-pressure water from your power-washer and uses a rotating blade to create sorta helicopter effect.  The device rides on a cushion of water/air and requires hardly any effort to move around.  It eats away that PNW grime on your concrete or asphalt like crazy.

I bet it will only last 3-4 seasons due the plastic construction, but I still think it’s totally worth it.

Lowepro Pro Roller X200 Rolling Camera Bag

Over the years, I’ve collected a fair amount of camera gear. I have a fantastic backpack style bag that’s water-proof from Lowepro (the DryZone 100) that has served me well, but for longer adventures I wanted something that could hold ALL of my gear.

Based on online reviews I took a chance and bought the Lowepro Pro Roller X200 Rolling Camera Bag.  Great decision.

I traveled to Israel this spring and wanted a full compliment of lenses & flashes. I also wanted to be able to carry everything on and with my bad back something with wheels was essential. The X200 really worked well.

It also doubles as a great place to STORE all that camera gear in the closet at home. Highly recommended.

Lisle Oil Lift Drain – 8 Gallons

I change the oil in our cars myself. I’m lucky enough to have a lift in my garage and I needed something that would catch the oil from underneath. While this contraption is pretty expensive at $97 it really works well and is of high enough quality that I know it will last forever.

The Lisle 11102 Oil Lift Drain works as advertised and worthwhile if you can get your cars up in the air to work underneath them.

Eye-Fi Wireless Flash memory Card

I was skeptical when the Eye-Fi concept first came out a few years ago. I couldn’t believe that they could get a full WiFi radio stack and flash memory in a SD card and I didn’t think it would actually work in most cameras.

I was wrong.

We now have various models of the Eye-Fi Wireless Flash memory Card in all of our digital cameras. We no longer need to plug our cameras in into our PCs to download pictures.  Simply bring the camera into the house and the photos automatically get pulled off the camera to your PC. In our case I have the Eye-Fi software setup to store the photos on my Windows Home Server. 

In my Nikon D7000, which has two SD slots, I have an 8GB Eye-Fi Pro X2 card in one slot and a 32GB standard SD card in the other.  I have the camera write JPG to the Eye-Fi and RAW to the standard card.  This way, for most of the photos I take, I have the quicker to manipulate JPG files automatically ready. If there’s a particularly good photo I want to use RAW with I do the manual process of offloading them from the camera.

Windows Phone

I wrote in my diatribe/review of the Samsung Galaxy S II Android phone:

A typical non-geek consumer would be absolutely-fraking-crazy to pick an Android phone over a Windows Phone. Windows Phone is vastly more refined, cohesive, and easy to use. Period.

To that end, I would be remiss if my gadget guide didn’t include Windows Phone. It’s now available on almost all carriers and there are tons of devices to choose from.  My personal Windows Phone is last year’s Samsung Focus on AT&T.  I love it. The updated model is known as the Samsung Focus S 4G and is generally improved with things like a front facing camera. If you are on AT&T you can’t go wrong with this phone.



I hope you enjoyed this. If I get enough positive feedback I’ll do it again next year…


  1. jamesashley says:

    Eye-Fi is a great item on this list.  Had no idea.

  2. @WirelessLife says:

    Windows Phone will take an exciting leap forward in 2012. Like Android before it, adoption was slow and steady this year. Next year will begin Microsoft’s fledgling operating system’s journey upward passing the bend of the hockey stick. The promise of Windows 8 will hearld a new era of the preception of mobility from that which is a device to seamless access and manipulation of user generated data interacted with from any connected Microsoft offering extended throughout the cloud. I look forward to reading your gadget report again in 2012.

  3. Sundeep says:

    For Pacific North West cold weather the perfect gadget to add is this pair of gloves from North Face  They keep you warm and let you operate your touch screen devices and at $40 a really good investment

  4. Ac says:

    Eye Fi is awesome. I just didn’t see that coming. Must get one next year so the photos jump onto my WHS. Where is your C63 page 🙂

  5. westex74 says:

    I second the Windows Phone. I had a Samsung Focus and recently upgraded to Mango on a Focus S. Just an awesome experience. Well done, MSFT.

  6. Shira Abel says:

    For the record – I do speed. Like an absolute maniac if I’m driving a car with any power whatsoever. And that’s why I drive a car with an engine smaller than most scooters. Cause if I get something bigger than a 1.0 engine under my foot…
    We all deal with speeding in different ways. Mine is also more environmentally friendly – cause that 1.0 engine gets great gas mileage.

  7. Peter says:

    Fantastic gadget guide.  Thank you, Charlie!  I look forward to giving the Karcher pressure washer a try.

  8. Steven Zahl says:

    The Market does not want the WINDOWS Phone 7.

  9. Hey Charlie! How’s the overhead storage for the FJ-40 roof holding up over all this time? Are you still using it? Has it broken yet? LMK!

Debate this topic with me:

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.