Some of my favorite gadgets as of March 2014

It’s probably no surprise to you that I love gadgets. I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for a new shiny toy. Some of the gadgets I buy turn out to be underwhelming or less useful than I had hoped, but some quickly become indispensable. This is highly subjective of course, but it seems like more and more of the gadgets I have bought recently are good quality, very useful, and attractive. Am I getting better at picking them, or has the bar just generally been raised?

Here are a few of my current favorites!

Doxie One

I bought a Doxie One back in November 2012 when I decided I was going to get serious about going paperless. That quest is ongoing, but the Doxie has definitely made a difference! I use it to scan invoices, receipts, business cards, and even handouts from all the different media events I go to. Unlike old school scanners that need to be connected to your computer and have terrible software, the Doxie scans things to an SD card that you can then plug into the computer later. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes when you can separate those two tasks – scanning feels like less of a chore with the Doxie. The app it comes with is great too, letting you save scans as PDF, images, and other formats straight into OneNote, Dropbox, or wherever you like. Love it!

Logitech Wireless Headset H800

I spend a lot of time on calls for work, via Lync or Skype. I have lost count of the number of USB headsets I’ve had over the years. After the cable on my last one eventually deteriorated, I decided to go wireless. I settled on the Logitech Wireless Headset H800 and could not be happier. It’s sleek and light, produces great quality sound, and supports both a tiny USB dongle and bluetooth, which means I can use it with both my desktop and my mobile devices. The headset charges using a micro USB cable which is handy (because pretty much every other device uses the same cable). Battery life is not amazing, but is more than adequate.

Jabra SPEAK 410

I first used a Jabra SPEAK when I was hosting some meetings at Startup Edmonton. I loved it so much, I decided to go and buy one! When I’m with colleagues or simply don’t want to wear my headset, I’ll use the Jabra. It is absolutely fantastic. It’s small and highly portable, produces great sound, and I love the controls. Answer, hangup, mute, volume – all seamlessly work with Lync and Skype. No software necessary either, just plug it in and away you go!

Bose SoundLink Mini

Sharon and I wanted a small speaker for our condo so after looking around at various options, I eventually decided on the Bose SoundLink Mini. It’s a bluetooth speaker and is meant to be portable (though we just leave it on the dock all the time). It produces fantastic sound, so good that I’m now looking to replace my crappy desktop speakers because they sound so bad in comparison. I can pair my Surface and Sharon has paired her phone with the speaker, so either one of us can play music easily. It’s perfect for when we’re cooking or have guests over or just want to have some background tunes.

Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Wireless Keyboard K810

When I bought my Surface Pro, I decided to get the touch cover (the flat one without physical keys). It works great when I’m on the go, but at home I wanted a keyboard with actual keys to use. I decided on the Logitech Bluetooth Illuminated Keyboard K810. It’s pretty small and connects via bluetooth with the ability to switch between thee devices just by pressing one button. It’s also illuminated, and with a hand proximity sensor, it turns off the backlight to save power when your hands are not near it. Speaking of power, I don’t think I have ever had to charge it. Granted I don’t use it all the time, but still, the battery life is impressive.

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop

Last but not least is the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop. I wasn’t sure if I’d like the ergonomic keyboard and mouse, but this is absolutely the best combo I have ever owned. The mouse is surprisingly comfortable and uses real batteries (I’ve given up on so many mice because the rechargeable batteries all suck). The keyboard is the star though. It’s striking design looks great on my desk and it’s incredibly comfortable. You can see where my hands have rubbed against the cushioned palm rest, but still, it has held up well. My favorite part are the keys – they are more like laptop keys than traditional desktop keyboard keys, with less “throw”. I also love that it comes with a separate number pad, which I never use, meaning it doesn’t clutter up my desk.

I use The Wirecutter quite a bit for reviews, so check it out if you haven’t come across it already. I’m always looking for new gadgets, so who knows what I’ll be using in a year or two. Things are changing so quickly and for the better!

U of A Chancellor Linda Hughes on Community Engagement & Public Policy

Last night Sharon and I attended a talk with University of Alberta Chancellor Linda Hughes, part of the Edmonton Speaker Series created by the Edmonton Community Foundation, E4C, and the Edmonton Social Planning Council. Linda was the first female editor-in-chief of a Southam newspaper and was also its first female publisher (of the Edmonton Journal) so I was really interested in hearing her thoughts on community engagement given her experience in the media industry.

Linda started the evening by introducing A Joyful Noise Choir, a choir “for people who believe they cannot sing.” They performed three or four songs for us – it was a welcome surprise and a great way to start off!

A Joyful Noise Choir

After returning to the stage, Linda explained why she thought it would be a good idea to start with the choir. She said it was the perfect metaphor for what community is all about – individually, the choir members didn’t feel they could sing, they didn’t have a voice, but collectively, they sang beautifully. I couldn’t help but think of the wisdom of the crowd as she said this – the best crowds are those with great diversity, just like the choir (men, women, old, young, etc).

Linda spent most of her time talking about the importance of education, bombarding the audience with the same statistics that U of A President Dr. Indira Samarasekera shared during the EEDC Annual Luncheon last month. She started, however, by relating how disconnected from public policy she had to be while working at the Edmonton Journal. Unable to publicly support an issue, or make a donation to a party, or otherwise seem unbiased, Linda felt ill-prepared when she took on the role of Chair of the Mayor’s Committee to End Homelessness here in Edmonton. Obviously, she got the hang of it pretty quickly! She said that what she learned was that it’s not just about “being political” but rather about getting informed and pursing an issue you’re passionate about.

A little aside…as I’ve written here before, I have difficulty accepting the notion that journalists are unbiased. They’re human, and they have opinions and a bias – it’s natural. Why can’t we just accept that and move forward? It’s really only an issue if you read just a single opinion. If you think critically and seek out a number of viewpoints and opinions, like you should be doing, then you’re not going to be misinformed.

Linda transitioned from the “you need to be informed” train of thought into discussing the importance of education. She shared some of the experiences she’s had during her time as Chancellor at the U of A, as well as some of the great research that has come out of the university and had a positive impact on the community here and abroad. My favorite example was Acticoat, a bandage that uses silver to speed up healing and reduce the frequency with which bandages must be changed. Acticoat is the world’s first commercial medical application of nanotechnology, and it was created at the University of Alberta. Very cool.

Linda closed by imploring everyone in the audience to help make education the top public policy issue. She explained that education is the key to solving all of the other issues that we’re passionate about.

Though I was hoping for a little more on the media perspective, I enjoyed Linda’s talk! Next up in the series is Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who will be speaking in September.