Somewhat of an off-topic post here, as I discuss some of my favorite and least favorite things money can buy. I started out wanting to give a shout-out to those products and companies that provide a great product or service, the things that just do what they’re supposed to do, do it reliably, and do it well. Then I figured it would also be a good excuse to rant a bit about those things that just annoy the heck out of you.
Mac Mini: I’ve been a Mac user for many years, and I find their computers far more reliable, easy to use, and virus free than the alternatives. (Note I do not necessarily feel the same way about all Apple products and iDevices, I’m talking about Mac computers specifically.) Nowadays, even low-end computers are fast enough for 95%+ of consumers; unless you’re doing high-end video editing work or playing the latest games, even the $599 Mac Mini is enough for email, Internet, Photoshop, word processing, etc. And, at that price, I get a new one (with the latest operating system and Apple iLife software) every few years. Mine never crashes, takes less than 30 seconds to start up, and does what I need it to do without spending hours constantly trying to fix it.
Readability and Instapaper: I’ll combine these two must-have Internet services. Readability is a “bookmarklet,” a little piece of code you save as a browser bookmark and that takes annoyingly-formatted articles that are split into 4 pages (I’m looking at you, Gatorsports.com) and formats them into a single, easy-to-read, black-text-on-white page, removing annoying side columns and flashing ads. Instapaper does something similar, gleaning the text of an online article and saving it into an archive for you to read later (or transfer to your Kindle).
Kindle 3: Regular readers of this blog knew this would be on the list (to be honest, it’s what prompted the idea for this blog post). The more I use the Kindle 3, the more I like it — actually, can’t live without it. It’s light and easy to carry and use, and the new e-Ink Pearl screen is very easy on the eyes, far better than the Kindle 2’s screen. The additional software improvements (like fitting more text on a page) are the icing on the cake. As a fiction reading device, it has no equal.
Corvette Z06: Ten years ago, when I was working as a lawyer at a big law firm, I splurged and bought my first new car, a 2001 Corvette Z06. I’m still driving it today, and it’s as fun to drive now as the day I bought it. This car is a precision-crafted machine that was built for a specific purpose and truly excels at that purpose. For under $50K (at the time), it blows away cars that cost double and triple the price. It’s also surprisingly practical, handling two cross-country trips with luggage, getting 28 mpg on the highway, and it hasn’t had any mechanical issues to speak of. Yes, tires are pricey, but well worth it for how this car accelerates, brakes, and handles. One note: if you’re looking for a chick magnet, look elsewhere — girls seem to be more impressed by cars that cost more but sport a fraction of the performance (*cough* Porsche Boxster *cough*), and it mainly impresses 18-year-old guys (who can actually tell a Z06 from a regular Corvette). But that doesn’t bother me, I bought it to drive, not impress, and I’ve never been disappointed.
Net 10 Wireless: Sure, it’s not “cool,” but I only pay $15 a month for my cellphone, which is less than most people pay just for their texting surcharge. Yeah, I only get 200 minutes (I don’t talk on the phone that much, and they roll over), and I can’t play Angry Birds (boo hoo), but I get great reception, never drop a call, and the battery on my non-smartphone lasts a week while my friends’ phones can’t make it through a day.
ING Direct: Very simple, convenient, no-fee, high-interest-paying online checking and savings accounts. It does exactly what it’s supposed to, pays a good rate, and makes it very easy to automate payments and transfers and handle my banking online.
Honorable Mention: Costco, for cheap prices, $1.50 hot dog & drink meals, and a very generous return policy. CreateSpace, for simple and affordable print book publishing.
Airlines in general, and American Airlines in particular: Airlines have just gotten so bad at customer service it’s a sad joke. I remember when it was kinda fun to fly, people treated you well, and they gave you playing cards and little wings — and I’m not that old. Now, you’re herded like cattle, charged for baggage (so everyone tries to cram all their stuff aboard), not fed, and squeezed into rows that I swear they make 1 cm smaller every year, figuring we won’t notice. But that’s the only explanation, since I stopped growing a while ago. They’re all pretty bad, but a special shout-out to American, who not only doesn’t have Wi-Fi or LCD screens on the seatbacks, they still have CRT TVs hanging down, like it’s 1972. And not only do they not feed you, but I was just on an 8-hour American flight and they didn’t so much as give us peanuts. On the plus side, most of my flights lately have been on time. And Hawaiian is the best of the bad domestic airlines.
iTunes: As much as I love my Mac, iTunes is the single biggest abomination of software I’ve ever seen (and I’ve used Microsoft Word, so that’s really saying something). First of all, who decided I wanted one program to manage my music library, organize e-books, watch movies, sync apps and music and movies and everything else with iPods and iPads, perform endless app and iOS updates, and be the only conduit to the App Store and iTunes Music Store? And does iTunes really have to launch (which takes way too long, now that it’s 10 programs in 1) every time I click a link to read about some app in my web browser? Oh, and syncing never seems to work right, every movie is in the wrong format and half my songs aren’t authorized for this iPod or whatever. The latest sync froze the movie player on my wife’s iPad for her 10-hour plane trip. Ugh.
AT&T Wireless: I don’t even have AT&T, but their cell phone service is so bad, I know which of my friends has it by how often they drop calls when I talk to them. Well, sure, they have the worst service, but at least they’re by far the most expensive wireless carrier. Wait, what? Oh yeah, that iPhone (with 2-year AT&T contract) didn’t only cost you $200.
Car Dealerships: OK, this is an oldie, but they’re breaking out some new tricks. Pretty much every dealer tries to slip in some sort of “dealer fee” or “dealer prep” or “ADM” (additional dealer markup) after you’ve negotiated the price of the car. And since people caught on to “rust coating,” now they have mandatory overpriced VIN etching in the windows (who needs that?), and — are you sitting down for this one? — “Nitro fill,” which means, yes, they’re actually charging you $100 to put air in your tires.
Dis-Honorable Mention: Red Lobster, because the commercials look so good and I get suckered into going back once every 10 years for some truly awful food — never again. Telephone Customer Service, outsourced to the lowest bidder and keeping you on hold for an hour, for just about every company ever. HSN & QVC, for ripping people off so badly; they should be ashamed. Cable companies, which is why I don’t have cable anymore. Movie theaters, who have the nerve to show commercials but expect me to pay $12-$15 for a movie. And commercials in general, isn’t it enough already? When we get back from a 5-minute commercial break just to see the announcer standing on a court with a Gatorade logo inside Staples Center which is plastered with Geico ads, and the announcer unconvincingly plugs the latest smartphone while telling us to watch the Allstate replay, brought to you by Coke — “obnoxious” doesn’t begin to cover it.