The Essential Blake Robinson Holiday Gift Guide

Certified thumbs up.

It’s been a fast year for me, but a year of learning. A move across the country, major life upheavals and all sorts of things in-between. What have I learned? Well, I’m just as jaded as ever. It takes more to impress me than should be reasonable and yet, once in awhile, products cross my path that make me do a comical double-take and sometimes find their way into that bin of stuff that I couldn’t possibly live without.

Listed below in no sane order are the things that dotted my radar this year.

Griffin Evolve Wireless Sound System


Price: $299

Yea, yea, big deal. An iPod dock with crappy wireless speakers, right? Wrong. So wrong. Griffin has here the coolest iPod dock to ever grace the face of this green planet. What makes this product so cool is the total badassery of the soundcube speakers. You can walk around the house with one cube on a shoulder blasting sound anywhere in your house. The distance is impressive. I’ve walked all over my apartment building with a speaker, much to the disdain of my neighbors, and sound maintains punchy in all but the most remote and desolate corners of the building (seriously someone should clean that area, it’s nasty).

It’s totally novel, but who the hell cares? It’s awesome. What’s more, is that it’s not limited to just your iPod. Griffin wisely included audio-in on the dock, so you can stream virtually anything to these wireless wonders. This morning, for instance, I had CNN babbling away while I made eggs in the kitchen and get this: my TV is on the other side of the apartment. Wireless, kids. It’s the future. Hopefully it doesn’t make us all sterile in some tragic “Children of Men” scenario.

The main problem here is that it costs $299. Coolness aside, that’s a nice chunk of money, but if you’re swimming in coins like Scrooge McDuck and happen to be in need of an iPod dock, then Evolve is your ticket.

The North Face


So this isn’t so much one direct recommendation as a testimonial to greatness. Hailing from the bowels of the South, New Orleans to be precise, I’m well acquainted with hot and wet. What I wasn’t familiar with was the cold, wet New York (why does anyone live here?) weather.

Enter The North Face. They saves lives. Particularly those of southerners transplanted into the north. The North Face is one of the last great American companies. In the spirit of old Sears, North Face jackets come with unconditional, lifetime warranties. If you decide to don’t like your jacket in three years, return it for a full-refund. Sure jackets cost upwards of $500, but while it rains, snows and sleets all around you, you’ll walk in the warm and dry embrace of your $500 jacket.

I opted for the Full Circle and I couldn’t be happier.

Sonicare Flexcare


Price: $180

Delivering an enamel rattling 40,000 SPM (that’s strokes per minute for the anti-dentites), the Flexcare is the manliest toothbrush alive (it’s not really alive). I’m a fan of electric toothbrushes for two very simple facts. I’m a tech nerd and thus believe everything should have a battery in it and because electric toothbrushes clean better.

The Flexcare is a major overhaul for Sonicare. All of the mechanics are now contained within the body and such the bursh heads no longer contain any moving parts. Like all current Sonicare brushes, it features several intensity settings, but the Flexcare expands on previous models by offering settings like massage, which actually feels more like a jack hammer, and various other operations.

The other major addition is a major one for those of us with misophobic tendencies. The Flexcare includes on its base station UV sterilization unit. After brushing, place your brush heads inside the container and turn the light on to kill all the baddies that might have spawned in your mouth. Sounds stupid I know, but consider this. When I was in college I once had Strep throat for about three weeks. It would get better and then come right back. I was dying.

Penicillin was great, but the infection always re-surged. And then we discovered a small oversight: I was using the same toothbrush. The doctor posited that I was reinfecting myself. Whatever I said, but followed his advice and trashed my toothbrush and used cheap ass $1 toothbrushes for the next week. The infection died and all was right in the world. UV sterilization would have (theoretically) zapped the bacteria and that prolonged infection would have been reduced to a more natural time frame.

Jack Spade Warren Street Bag


Price: $350

I’m a fan of backpacks, but NYC is a messenger bag city. It’s practical. They’re more compressible for functioning on subways, tight elevators, etc. My search was long. Not any bag would do, as I’m almost womanly in my appreciation of a good bag.

Jack Spade is a staple of the city. When I walked into their office showroom, shared with parent company Kate Spade, I was confronted by models doing, well I’m not really sure what they were doing, maybe just hanging out, but that’s not really relevant. The point is, it’s a world distant from our dweeby one.

I was placed in-front of a collection of baggage. Indecision. I get paralyzed in moments like these. On the spot. How does one decide? Will it be the right decision? Will I regret this the moment I walk out the door? And then one bag from the collection leaped out at me (not literally leaped, that’s not possible. Yes. I mean figuratively).

The Warren Street is a combination of old school style and new school functionality. Built from waxed canvas it’s impermeable to the elements, a necessity in the finicky NYC weather. It also features the versatility of a removable laptop sleeve. This thing goes with me everywhere and it has the distinction of being able to mesh with pretty much any situation. Casual or dressy, you can get away with this bag on your shoulder.

Xbox 360


Price: $350

It made my list last year, and this year it remains. It’s still the best console and it has the best games. Particularly a recent onslaught of titles like Bioshock, Halo 3, Mass Effect, Assassin’s Creed and Call of Duty 4 have made the 360, once again, the system to buy for your gamer this holiday season. And the new units even support HDMI.

A slight warning though, if you hope to spend time with the person you’re buying this for, you should probably rethink the purchase. They’ll likely forget about your existence while smoking terrorists in CoD4. It happens (I’m sorry).

Nvidia GeForce 8800GT


Probably one of the most cost effective video cards ever made. Available now in various models for under $300 at New Egg (go EVGA), the 8800GT features 16x PCI-E and 512MB of DDR3 memory and is capable of chewing up any game you feed it.

If you’ve been sniffing around for a new video card, this is the way to go. There are some better ones out (like the 8800 GTS 512), but none of them are priced so accordingly.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX100


Price: $400

The most amazing camera to ever find its way into my pocket. It has become an indispensible part of my life. Kind of like a third arm, but not creepy. This 12.2-megapixel beast features a 28mm wide-angle Leica lens making it capable of beautiful 16:9 shots. It’s picture quality is so good, that my Canon EOS-30D with EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS is starting to collect dust.

It also features a handy function alien to any other pocket camera I’ve used: Auto ISO. Low light is the bane of many digital cameras. Their poor little CMOSes simply can’t handle that variation. Not a problem here. The FX100 adjusts on the fly and takes consistently good pictures in low light situations WITHOUT ruining the ambience with an infurating flash.

All the other major features are here as well. The 3.6x zoom is OK, kind of lackluster for such a trendsetter, but one negative won’t hold this back. Image stabilization and yadda yadda. You get the point. Highly recommended for anyone in the market for a new camera but not looking for a prosumer solution.

Black & Decker VPX Products


Price: $30 – $100

Ole’ B&D decided to get into the new(ish) business of li-on powered devices. The result is its VPX line, and as a whole they equate to something that has made my life easier more times than I can count. The entire product line uses lithium ion cartridges and a standardized charger.

Products include the standard drills, including one high powered monster that uses two cartridges at a time, to flash lights and even a hand vac (also powered by two batteries). There are two sorts of value packs for $100. One comes with the drill and the screwdriver while the other includes the screwdriver, a flashlight and a cutsaw. I’d go with the first set as the cutsaw is kind of spastic (seriously, just get a handsaw). The rest of the line is aces though.

Logitech CORDED Wave Keyboard


Price: $50

I hold to the fact that cordless keyboards are stupid for desktop computers and if you’re using an HTPC you don’t want the Wave, you want something fancy looking. If you’re on a desktop, your keyboard search has come to an end.

Incorporating an innovative—wait for it—WAVE design, the Logitech Wave can save your puny and atrophied wrists from total annihilation. Available now from Amazon for about $50. Don’t try to get it at Best Buy, they only carry wireless desktops now. (Why do I HAVE to buy a mouse with my keyboard?!)

Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 or QuickCam Pro for Notebooks


Price: $100

First off, these are exactly the same camera, just one is for desktop and one is for notebook. That said, they’re awesome. Each incorporate a 2-megapixel sensor with an industry leading Carl Zeiss lens.

Having moved across the country from my family, I’ve been awkwardly video Skyping with my parents in the new high definition communicator. The system also includes a very intuitive autofocus and the RightLight 2, a setting that works some magic to make your workspace look healthy and not washed out.

Other Things of Note:


This looks a lot worse than it is. You won’t actually feel anything.

You’re blind. LASIK prices are dropping. Get it done. Soon you’ll be seeing like a normal human being rather than squinting from behind your giant glasses. You might even get laid, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy


Price: $10

It won the effing Pulitzer. The Coen brothers just made his previous novel, No Country for Old Men into one of the year’s best films. And he’s one of our greatest living authors. Read it and then move onto the rest of his stuff. It’s literary gold.

Leatherman Skeletool


Price: About $80 if it’s ever made available

One of my biggest disappointments of the year. Not because the product sucked (I have no idea), but because it never showed up. Originally slated for a holiday release, this seemingly bad ass Leatherman is now scheduled for a late January release. I want one now.

The L Train


Price: $2

Thanks for making my life easier by delivering me to to Manhattan in a timely manner. I know you get a lot of crap, but that’s only because people don’t understand you, but I do, and I want you to know that I love you. You’re my number one (train) and always will be. At least until I move somewhere else with, hopefully, better trains. Then I’ll forget about you faster than all those girls I dated in college (just kidding, I didn’t get any in college).

Snapple Asian Pear Green Tea


Price: $2.00

I’m completely and totally in the grips of this stuff. I can’t live without it. My local deli recently ran out for an entire week and I suffered major DTs. Sitting in my apartment with the shades down and talking to myself.

Here’s a fast fact: Snapple Fast Facts are the highest point of my day. Every day I open my Asian Pear and read the cap hungrily for some new useless bit of knowledge that I can drop learnedly during some late night drunken schmoozing. Conversely, when I get a repeat fast fact, I fly into a rage tantrum that is destructive to all things around me societies’ perception of me.

Johnnie Walker Black


Price: About $30</strong

And finally it all comes full circle, this has all been made possible by Jonnie Walker Black. Not that red label crap, that's for suckers. Real bloggers drink Johnnie Black.

End of story.