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The Other Life Gift Guide

6 min

Our first-ever stab at an age-old genre.

I've never done a gift guide before! Probably because the Other Life remit has been so wide over the years, it was never clear to me what types of things it would make sense to recommend.

But now that Other Life has really been focusing and converging lately... On what we might call philosophies and technologies of personal sovereignty... This is the first Christmas where some beloved and useful objects in my own life feel coherently recommendable as gifts. So let's try it.

White Leotec AM/FM Radio

I don’t think I ever owned a radio in my entire adult life—until about three months ago.

Our nanny would bring over a little white radio when she'd come to watch the kid. My wife and I loved hearing it in the background of our home, so when that nanny moved on to other engagements we went looking for the same model.

Leotec AM/FM radio on our kitchen table

I actually thought it was pretty stylish—like maybe we discovered some interesting vintage radio model through our older nanny—but no, it's a bestseller on Amazon. Nonetheless, at only $20, it's one of our favorite purchases in the last year.

You see, podcasts are fun but podcast listening is strange and complicated. Not only do you and your loved ones listen to different podcasts, but if you like a podcast you generally want to hear and process it from beginning to end. Radio is different.

NPR is so generic and milquetoast that anyone can enjoy it as a moderately informative hum in the background, and nobody ever feels a need to rewind it. The irony is that podcasts are so targeted and stimulating that they demand complete attention in the moment (despite being an asynchronous medium), whereas radio is so never-ending and vanilla that multiple people can listen and still live together in the moment (despite being a synchronous medium).

White Leotec Am/FM radio


Wooden Book Stand

Pretty self-explanatory. If one does any kind of writing or creative work with any kind of reference to books, this is a must-own object. Here's my desk right now.

How else are you going to hold that thing open when you're typing?

I have this model on my office desk, which is only about $15 at the time of this writing.


Ledger Nano S Hardware Wallet

One of the simplest and cheapest hardware wallets on the market, from one of the most trusted brands. A hardware wallet stores your private keys representing your ownership of crypto-assets on various blockchains; the device is also simple infrastructure for managing and interacting with those assets. The Ledger Nano works with most popular blockchains. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, cryptocurrency is not stored within the hardware wallet itself (crypto-assets live on their blockchain).

Hardware wallets are generally understood to be more secure than software wallets just because they're an extra step removed from various software-based hacks.

All you have to secure and protect is one seed phrase (a list of 12 random words) and your Ledger Nano S will let you interact with the crypto-assets you own on different blockchains.

Centralized exchanges now regularly collapse and lose customer deposits, so owning a hardware wallet is pretty much table stakes for anyone with more than a dollar worth of crypto-assets: a nearly mandatory rite of passage for any technologically mature individual interested in the promise of decentralized property systems.

Ledger Nano S Hardware Wallet


Billfodl

This is a metal device to store and protect your private keys (e.g. the seed phrase associated with your Ledger, which itself can hold several private keys). The Billfodl is made of steel, so you can't lose your key due to a computer meltdown, and it can't be hacked digitally.

It's fireproof and waterproof so you can't lose your keys from the physical destruction of your home. And it's tamperproof in the sense that, if someone tampers with it, you will know (it comes with special stickers for this purpose). The main risk is that someone could break into your home and take it, or extort you for it, but hey—no security method is perfect.

Comes in a nice box, too, so it feels extra giftable.

Billfodl


Leuchtturm 1917: Dotted, A5, Hardcover

I'm not the type of guy who cares too much about notebooks, just like I think personal knowledge management is bullshit. Use whatever you like.

That said, I've used many notebooks over the years and this is the one I now order and re-order exclusively. Here's why.

If a notebook is too small, it's annoying to write in. If a notebook is too big, it's annoying to carry around. If a notebook is not ruled, it's hard to write orderly sentences. If a notebook is ruled, diagrams and other doodles feel jarring.

A5 sizing is the best balance of the size tradeoff, and dotted paper is the best balance of the ruling tradeoff. Hardcover is the only self-respecting choice. And finally, those two little ribbons really are useful.

Leuchtturm 1917: Dotted, A5, Hardcover


Bose QuietComfort Wireless Headphones

My beloved headphones

These are not the newest model, but they are my recommended model. This is arguably the single best technology purchase I've ever made, in terms of time happily enjoyed per dollar spent. I got these as a gift about 5 years ago. I've used them on a majority of days since then. The noise-canceling is good enough to turn any busy and chaotic space into a private, quiet kingdom. If I only used these in airports and nowhere else, they'd be worth the money. If you prefer not to listen to music when you work, you can put them on with no music; or play soft classical at a low volume in contexts where plain silence is weird.

I've tried newer competitors and I still prefer these. I've tried the Bose 700 (the newer version of these) but didn't like them enough to upgrade. I even bought the Sony WH-1000XM5 at one point, but I found them less comfortable so I returned them. The ear pads on my Bose QuietComfort wore down over several years, but they're easily and cheaply replaceable.

Anyone who likes calm, anyone who needs to hear oneself think, should own a decent pair of over-the-ear, noise-canceling headphones.

Bose QuietComfort Wireless Headphones


Independent Writing

Here are three things I've recently enjoyed, all of which strike me as particularly giftable (for slightly different types of people).

The Mars Review of Books edited by Noah Kumin

Return Magazine edited by James Poulos and Rob Mariani

The Things They Fancied by Molly Young


I hope this will actually help some of you find the right gift for someone.

If you want to also gift someone an Urbit planet, hit reply and let me know. I will give you an invite URL for each person you want to give one to. Urbit planets are cool gifts because, with the invite URL for each planet, you can also derive an image of the planet's custom sigil, the planet's name (e.g., ~sampel-planet), and other information that lends itself to interesting graphics, cards, envelopes, etc.

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