My top 12 gadgets, apps, and nerdy finds of 2012

Posted: 3rd January 2013 by Seth Killey in Nerdy Stuff

*** Most of this stuff has been around well before 2012, but it was new(ish) to me in 2012 ***

1) Roku – I simply cannot state how much I’ve been impressed with this device.  Even if I owned a smart TV, Xbox, Playstation, etc I would still find room in my collection for my Roku.  Extremely good value, flexible, and constantly evolving with new channels, and 3rd party developers finding new ways to innovate on this platform.  For a long time I debated on building my own HTPC, but this thing was such a good value, uses so little electricity, and is remarkably responsive for such limited hardware.

2) Netflix – Ok, I’m a little late to the Netflix party.  I also wasn’t around for the gnashing of teeth when Netflix split out the DVD and streaming subscription into two separate plans.  All I know is this is a tremendous value even if the movie selection is somewhat limited.

3) Plex – This was the most recent addition to the list.  In the past I’ve used TVersity as a networked media center server, but I was looking for something that could be streamed thru my handy Roku and found Plex to be an excellent addition.  It does all that you would expect from a typical media center app where you can stream downloaded movies, TV shows, music, and pictures, but it also has a very impressive selection of channels that can be added.  For instance, I can stream NBC, CBS, ABC, PBS, NPR podcasts, among many other selections on the Plex channel on my Roku which will likely mean Hulu Plus will be cancelled.

4) NComputing L300 – I’ve rolled out thin clients to a couple departments at work and I’ve found investing in a thin client device is well worth a few extra dollars versus re-purposing old computers.  Their back-end management software is solid and should be improving further with a web management interface.  The devices run quiet, use very little power, and have been rock-solid.  Easy to mange, easy to deploy, and heck of a lot cheaper than full VDI with session based virtualization.

5) Amazon Prime / Instant Video – We got Amazon Prime simply because some of our subscribe and save options paid for Prime by itself.  Free 2 day shipping is a definite nice bonus and the instant video available (again via Roku) make this a home run.  There are few companies I love more than Amazon…except when AWS goes down and takes Netflix with it 🙁

6) Hyper-V – I’ve went all in with Hyper-V as my server virtualization platform and it has turned out really well for me.  To be clear, I’ve never experienced some of the feature rich options available with VMware because it’s hard to justify the licensing costs when Hyper-V provides so much for free.  All I know is Hyper-V does everything I need and licensing is free (and doubly inexpensive because I get server licenses donated to our non-profit).

7) Spotify – It took little bit for me to warm up to Spotify because I kind of liked how Pandora would introduce me to new music with little effort.  Now Spotify has its radio feature + the ability to activity seek and play a specific artist or song so its my player of choice for music.  I don’t even feel the need to pay for a subscription because the ads seem somewhat infrequent for a free service.

8) New Balance GPS watch – This is not necessarily a recommendation of New Balance over other options, but just having a GPS watch in general has really enhanced my trail runs by keeping track of my miles and pace.  Especially when exploring new trails it’s reassuring to know how many miles you’ve logged without panicking about how far “lost” I am.

9) Portable Apps – I love this website http://portableapps.com/apps.  I hate junking my registry up and having a ****storm of applications firing up as soon as my computer turns on so portable apps can be a real resource saver.  Plus, having portable web browsers and access to older browser versions has saved my bacon a number of times especially when accessing web interfaces to networking gear with outdated firmware.  Not to mention it’s a pretty good list to explore to discover new and useful apps.  I think I’ve been using this for over a year, but it keeps getting better.

10) PassMark – I use this website http://www.cpubenchmark.net/index.php any time I’m purchasing new computer hardware.  Great resource for seeing benchmark results from various processors, video cards, hard drives, and RAM.  Especially with processor speeds, cores, etc making it difficult to identify the “sweet spot” for value and performance.

11) LinuxLive USB Creator – I think I burned about 2 weeks trying out various Linux distros by using this handy tool found at http://www.linuxliveusb.com/.  It can be downloaded as a portable app and then used to install Linux to a USB stick.  Then you just change your boot order to a USB stick and away you go without burning a disk.

12) Susestudio.com – Speaking of cool Linux tools, if I would have went the route of using a custom thin client OS, I would have settled on using this website I think.  I wrote a couple posts on this already, but it allows you to hand pick packages for a custom / striped down version of OpenSuse to be deployed via USB stick for a diskless thin client.