Many post gift guides before Christmas, but I found myself unable to do so. I did think about it and write a few notes down. So, exactly one month after Christmas, I present the official Cruftbox Gift Guide!
Liberty Puzzles take the hobby to the next level, providing heirloom quality puzzles that look and feel like artwork. The term 'jigsaw' puzzle comes from the fact that early puzzles were cut from wood sheets by a jigsaw tool according to a pattern drawn on them. Liberty continued that tradition but uses a laser cutter to get the precision needed to cut what they call 'whimsy' pieces. Whismy pieces are puzzle pieces that are cut into a shape that is in line with the picture on the puzzle. Holiday images are made of holiday shapes. Japanese woodblock prints are made of Japanese icons and shapes. Liberty puts a huge amount of effort into creating a cohesive puzzle that doesn't use repeating standard shapes, instead using a unique set of shapes literally designed to accompany the puzzle image.
If you know someone that likes puzzles, they will love getting a Liberty Puzzle. They aren't cheap, but they are most definitely worth it.
Tonx is a subscription mail order coffee company. Met the founders, Tony & Nik in of all places, a coffee shop, when they were just getting started. They find and roast great coffees from all over the world and ship them directly to their subscribers. Personally, I love the lighter roasts with more flavor and notes than the heavy dark roasts you find at most chain coffee shops and beans you get at the super market. Tonx provides just this kind of coffee.
I love the delivery aspect of the business and the serendipity of not knowing exactly what you are going to get. In a world where people spend endless hours analyzing before purchases, it's fun to simply put yourself in the hands of an expert and try new thigns.
It's more spendy than the average bag of coffee, but I think it's worth it to get the quality. Just like wine or spirits, spending a little more for quality can be worth it and much more enjoyable.
You can give a gift subscription or subscribe for yourself. You can use my referral link if you want to try it for free.
Everyone should have a small pocketknife with them at all times. Be Prepared is not just the Boy Scout Motto, it's a good way to look at life.
I recommend the Victorinox Rambler. This knife doesn't have a single 'wasted' slot, filled with tools you'll use on a daily basis. Just a bit over two inches long, it has a perfect assortment of bits. The small blade and scissors are probably most useful. The bottle opener and file aren't used as much, but when they are needed, nothing else will suffice. They are nicely topped with small flathead and Phillips screwdriver heads. Rounded out with the traditional tweezers and toothpick, the Rambler is all function, no fluff. It's great on a key chain or in a purse to solve life's minor inconveniences.
See's Candy is a Los Angeles institution. The familiar black and white shops are scattered across the Southland and are a welcome sight to any Angeleno. Everyone has a favorite candy (mine is the Scotchmallow) and for most brings back memories of the free samples in the store. While See's has maintained a very traditional brand with uniforms, limited hours, and an emphasis on customer service, they have a great online store where you can get anything packaged and shipped. Besides ordering the standard boxes, you can also make a custom mix of just the chocolates that you think would be best.
Pretty much everyone loves a box of chocolate, and See's is the perfect mix of tradition, personalization, and wonderful tasting candy.
Kevin Kelly is an amazing polymath, having been involved in the Whole Earth Catalog, Wired Magazine, and writing one of my favorite books, What Technology Wants. In Cool Tools, he's taken the reviews he's gather in the last decade on his Cool Tools site, and actually printed them out into a gigantic catalog of, well, cool tools. Prefect for a coffee table or a bathroom read, the book is something that engages your mind in the possibilities of making new things and new ways of doing familiar things.
Today marks the anniversary of starting my weblog, Cruftbox. I've been blogging for 14 years now. Posting stories about my life actually started a little earlier, with this one about The Most Expensive Cup of Coffee back in 1997, but it wasn't until January 2000 that I got rolling with a real fervor and software to help.
Things have changed a wee bit since those heady days, just past the Y2K scare, when mobile phones were used for talking, the wail of a modem connecting was common, and Napster was a new idea.
I'll come right out and say it, personal weblogs, for the most part, are dead. [queue the furious responses] I can almost hear the keyboards typing in fury in response.
But it's true. Social software has replaced the role of weblogs in documenting and sharing an individual's life.
Yes, there are still people with personal weblogs out there, but for the most part they focus on a specific topic or issue the person is interested. A person's interest in a sport or fitness program, or their food adventures in eating out or cooking, or even facing illness or other tough circumstances are the kinds of things that is what makes up the fewer and fewer number of personal weblogs out there.
That said, it's not a bad thing. Change is inevitable and generally we forward in a better direction. Twitter, Facebook, and other modern sharing systems are fun.
I do worry that the ephemeral nature of social networks does lead to a tremendous amount for information being lost and unretrievable. Weblogs at least have a chance of staying up long enough to get indexed and maybe even backed up on archive.org.
Many weblogs exist today as adjunct to the main focus, which is social media and getting posts to go viral. They are not about having a conversation anymore. Here, I actually turned off comments because no one used them except spam robots. No one said a word when I did.
I spoke to my daughters about my weblog. They are 15 & 18, growing up immersed in the internet and connected as long as they can remember. I asked what they thought of Cruftbox. They said that it was neat, but that no one does this anymore. I asked what they considered their 'home' on the internet, where people coudl best get a view of who they are. One said her Tumblr site, another said Facebook. This it the foreseeable future. You can rage against if you want, but the coming of age generation sees personal weblogs as an anachronism.
Now we shouldn't take that to mean that people should stop blogging, simply as a sign that change is happening. Just as at one time, your .plan file and your usenet signature were important identifiers in a way that many can't comprehend today, weblogs are heading down the same path. New things continue to appear and allow your voice to be heard, weblogs are clearly not the only way.
So face up to the reality that most personal weblogs are run by tech saavy middle aged folks, slowly watching an era end. This is not something to be sad about, for new amazing things are coming. Think of it like the leaves of fall on the ground being the fertilizer for the flowers of spring.
Here are a few things from last year that probably should have made it to here.
I wrote a few things on Medium:
I took a photo of myself everyday in 2013 using the Everyday app and it converted them into this movie.
This is what a Thursday Group Ride looks like:
When I'm out riding my bicycle, I'm scanning the ground for anything that might be a hazard. As a result, I often spot things that are worth picking up. In my circle of friends, these items are referred to as 'groundscore'.
On a recent ride up near Dodger Stadium, I spied a pair of needlenose pliers, circled back and picked them up.
When I got home and took a closer look, they were a bit beat up, but would be great if I cleaned them up a bit.
They had a little rust and grease on them, and the rubber grips were a bit torn up.
I cut off the grips with a knife and washed the pliers in dish soap to get as much grease and dirt off as I could. Michele told me I had toss the scrubbie I used since it was now "unacceptable" for use on our food dishes.
To get the rust off, I decided to get a little help from chemistry. I placed the pliers in a glass dish with vinegar and let the acetic acid do it's thing.
Within minutes, the weak acid was attacking the rust and breaking it down. I left it in the vinegar for about two days.
After washing the pliers off from the vinegar bath, I went to work with steel wool to remove anything else that remained and generally polished up the pliers. I put a little WD-40 into the joint to make sure no water was lurking there.
Next step was putting on new grips. I decided to use Plasti Dip, which is a simple way to coat tools or anything with a rubberized coasting easily.
I strung up the pliers from above with enough room to put the Plasti Dip can under it and simply dipped the pliers handles into the can.
I put three coats on the handles, waiting about two hours between coats. I let it dry overnight before touching it.
Here is the final result. The look great IMHO. The grips aren't as rubbery as the original ones, but they still look and feel great.
In the future, my eyes will be peeled for new groundscore tools to refurbish!
Cruft Manor returned to our Halloween traditions and had our busiest year ever. We once again had plenty of full size candies, made a listing of costumes, and made a timelapse movie.
300 Full Size Candies, ready for the trick or treaters!
Our pumpkins looked great this year.
The outside of the house, with our terrifying Dalek guarding the door.
My daughter Mira, as a Kyoshi Warrior from Last Airbender with her boyfriend, Nick.
Best costume of the night: The boy as the Death Star!
Great couple costume of the House & Carl from Up.
Once again, I made a timelapse movie of handing out candy to the kids. Unfortunately, the GoPro camera stopped before the end when it ran out of batteries. I'll need to rig up a power supply in the future.
When people come to the door, I ask every person what they were dressed as and wrote down their answers. I am careful to ask what they are, accepting their answers rather than interpreting what I see.
Here are the top ten costumes for the last nine years compared.
Our biggest amount of visitors in recorded history of Cruft Manor. The same generic costumes like ninja, witch, and cat popped to the top again. A brand new entrant to the top 10 were the Monster High Doll costumes. These are very popular with the young ladies. Lots of homemade costumes for the older kids which is good to see. Since I speak with every trick or treater, I get time to really look at their costumes and talk about them. I'm never in a rush and want each kid to be able to take their time. They are often paralyzed with indecision when faced with the choice of full size candies.
Almost everyone had a costume this year, but we still ran into a few without costumes. We were prepared this year and had masks on hand to hand out. The costumeless only got a candy if they took a mask and put it on. People were kinda excited about this.
After giving out ~300 full size candies, we ran out a little after 9PM and closed up. A few kids came by as I was shutting down and they got microwave popcorn packets.
This year's complete costume list of 264 people:
3 50s Girl
1 80s Girl
1 80s Witch
1 Accident Victim
1 Airline Pilot
1 Apple Juice
1 Army Man
1 Ballerina Zombie Roadkill
1 Black & White Waldo
1 Black Swan
1 Bloody Mary
1 Boo (Monsters, Inc.)
2 Buzz Lightyear
1 Candy Corn
3 Captain America
1 Carl from Up
1 Carlos Beltran
1 CERT Person
1 Clark Kent
1 Clone Trooper
1 Construction Worker
1 Cookie Monster
1 Crash Test Dummy
1 Dark Alice
1 Doctor Zombie
1 Dodgers Fan
1 Easy E (in blackface)
1 Enderman - Minecraft
2 Evil Jester
1 Ezio of Assassin's Creed
2 Finn from Adventuretime
1 Fionna from Adventuretime
1 Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown
1 Green Lantern
1 Grillin & Chillin
2 Grim Reaper
1 Halo Soldier
1 Hobo Angel
1 Hockey Player
2 Iron Man
1 Iron Man III
1 Jack Skelington
2 Jake the Pirate
2 Jason Voorhees
1 Katara from Last Airbender
2 Killer Clown
1 Kyoshi Warrior from Last Airbender
1 Lightning McQueen
1 Mad Scientist
1 Master Chief (Halo)
1 Matrix Person
1 Michael Myers
1 Mickey Mouse
4 Minnie Mouse
1 Miss Captain America
7 Monster High Doll
1 Ninja Lord
1 Old Lady
1 Old Man
1 Pink Goth Pirate
1 Pink Power Ranger
1 Poker Cards
2 Power Ranger
1 Raggedy Ann
1 Red Queen
1 Rick from the Walking Dead
1 Roman Empress
1 Russian Soldier Alien
1 Sailor Venus
1 Saka from Last Airbender
1 Scary Clown
1 Singer Bumblebee
1 Skeleton Motorcycle Rider
1 Snow White
1 Storm Trooper
2 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle
1 Teenage Zombie
1 The Death Star
1 The Doctor (11th)
1 The Doctor (9th)
1 The House from Up
1 USC Student
1 Vietnam Soldier
1 Warrior's Girl
2 Wednesday Adams
1 Wonder Woman
1 X-Ray Patient Gone Wrong
1 Zombie Cheerleader
1 Zombie Skeleton
I tap my hand on The Gate, my ring connects, and the sound travels up the hillside.
Drinking from my bottle, I think about slowing down my heart, and look down the canyon, toward the city.
Cyclists find challenge in riding uphill. Sounds a little silly, but the tough work of riding up a steep hill is the goal for many in the quest to get better.
The Gate is at the end of a short route I've ridden over a hundred times. My friends and I call it Tour de Steve, in honor of our friend and coach, who loves to take people up it. Others know it as Paso Alto to Glen Oaks Dead End.
The route is about 2.5 miles at an average grade of ~5%. In cycling terms, it's challenging, but not insane. "A good training climb" is how most people view it. The different parts have names in my mind that only I know. In my mind there's the "veteran straight", the "quick down", the "hot bend", and "not quite corner".
I've ridden up in group, dragging new riders along, encouraging them upwards. I've ridden up when feeling full of energy and when my muscles are cramping. I've ridden up in the pouring rain, the blazing summer heat, enveloped in fog, and in the fading light of dusk. I've ridden up with my heart heavy from one of the inevitable gut punches that life can bring. I've ridden up after surgeries and broken bones.
Climbing up to the The Gate is part of many of my rides. It's how I measure myself. With all the technology someone can use, nothing is more revealing than how you actually feel while testing yourself.
I rarely ride up with others. It's a ride I do when alone. Sometimes for speed, sometimes as a warm-up to the rest of my day, sometimes simply to see if I'm healed enough make it. Sometimes it's simple to see if I can will myself to do something hard instead of taking the easy road home.
The point is to ride it, regardless how I'm feeling. To push myself, even though no one else cares or is even watching. The climb is just about me, no one else.
Everyone needs a Gate to reach. A way to see how you are doing, without comparing yourself to others, or caring what others think. In today's connected world, many are obsessed with sharing and comparing everything publicly. Looking at the relentless oversharing that make up much of our personal interactions, it seem to me that rarely do people have a private test. A truly personal way to check themselves.
In the end, it's about how you feel about yourself, and not about anyone else and what they do or think. Getting to this is perhaps the toughest climb of all.
A while ago, I got an email out of the blue.
Many years ago, I started the geekcalendar.com site on a whim with my co-workers Travis and Yoshi. We messed around with the idea for a few months and promptly got bored. And so it sat for years on end, taking up space on my server.
When I first got the email, I thought, "I'm gunna be rich! This guy is already offering me money. He must really want it."
And then I thought a bit more. And I remembered why this weblog is called Cruftbox and not Cruft.
Way back in 2001 when I decided I wanted a separate domain name for my weblog, different than my site using my last name as the URL. My first choice was cruft.com. I loved the word, ever since I heard it as a teen back in the early 80s. I quickly found that cruft.com, .net, and .org were all registered already by a guy named John Walker. There was nothing hosted at the domains, but he had them registered. John Walker is a smart guy and one of the founders of Autocad. I wrote him an email about the domain. We went back & forth a bit with him asking what I wanted to do with the domain and my explaination. In the end, he decided that he was saving it for "something important".
I was a bit crushed, but started riffing on alternate names like boxofcruft.com, crufty.com, cruftlike, and others before finally settling on cruftbox.com. I registered the name and went on with my life.
For the record, Mr. Walker still has done nothing with the 'important' domain names of cruft.com, .net, and .org. They have been parked with Network Solutions for over a dozen years now, evidently waiting for an important use to come along. His own blog, fourmilab.ch, is good and I do check in with it from time to time.
It was that remembrance that helped me decide to give the domain to Chris and not charge him a silly amount for it. Trying to be true to the the geek spirit, I sent him this reply.
I would have loved to have seen his face as he read the letter.
After a bit of back and forth on specifics, he sent me a package and I transferred the domain registration to him.
Here is what I received.
I am happy that everything turned out so well. The Oreos have been eaten, the book has been read, and Watto graces my desk.
Chris now has the geekcalendar.com site up and running and I'm proud to have helped a little bit make something where there used to be nothing. Go take a look, it's kinda neat.
So if you are someone sitting on a bunch of domain names, maybe instead of waiting for "something important" or a big payday to arrive, have some fun. Let go of the things you aren't using and help something new appear.
As the Golden Rule says, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Previous 10 entries...LA Marathon Crash Ride 2013 Mar 21, 2013
The Goal Feb 22, 2013
13 years of blogging - What's next Feb 13, 2013
Having a 'pro account' for life Jan 9, 2013
Specific things to do in 2013 Jan 1, 2013
Lessons learned from some downtime Dec 2, 2012
Halloween 2012 Nov 1, 2012
Refinishing a bicycle Oct 16, 2012
How to give someone a medal Oct 16, 2012
Eleven Years Sep 11, 2012