Do you ever come across items that are so awesome, you wish everyone had them? Maybe I’m just weird, but I like to think about the cool products and devices that have improved my life, and how great it would be if others could benefit from them, too. Here’s my fantasy of generosity: if I were mega-rich—I’m talking Warren Buffett rich—I would buy these life-enhancing gifts for everyone, starting with all the people I know, everyone at USC, and branching out from there until the money was gone (I might save a few thousand for basic needs). Here’s what I would buy for you:
TiVo (or a DVR)
What was life like before TiVo? We could only watch shows when they aired, and had to suffer through commercials, rush to catch our favorite programs or games, and sometimes fight with friends or family over competing programming. If not for the ability to record television, I would miss more than half of USC football games due to conflicts with pee wee soccer. With TiVo, I record the games, avoid all media announcements, and see each moment of every game as if it were live, skipping commercials. Since I always have something good saved in my List, I never watch anything undesirable, and never have to fight over what to watch.
Personal Digital Assistants, a.k.a. smartphones (Blackberry, iPhone, Android, etc.), bring information and organizing power to people who may otherwise lack it. My Blackberry is a surrogate brain. It holds all my information, attaches to my body, gives me audible reminders for tasks and appointments, and is easily backed up to preserve data. With a good PDA, you get phone, internet, email, text, IM, social networking, computing, scheduling, music, audio books, digital sound recording, GPS/ mapping, camera, video, and many other functions, all in a compact and portable device. These are widely owned today, but when I think back to pre-smartphone days, I really appreciate how much my PDA does for me.
A Power Pepper Mill
Considering the magnitude of my gift list, I need some small ticket items. This one is less than $20, and although not life-changing, it’s a real kick to press a button for fresh-ground pepper.
People often react with jealousy when they learn I have a kayak. I never understood this, since I owned one even when I had very little money, drove a Nissan Sentra, and lived in a small apartment. Contrary to belief, they are durable, easy to maintain, portable, and affordable (especially pre-owned models). The sit-on-top versions do not require any training to use, and can be launched at almost any beach, marina, or lake. You can use them to surf, fish, snorkel, dive, watch birds, tour remote areas, or just paddle around. Kayaks are also a handy form of exercise if your body won’t support a rigorous cardio workout on foot. For safety reasons, you must know how to swim before I can give you this gift.
A Walking Station
When you cross a treadmill with a desk, you get a walking station. These used to be prohibitively expensive, but a company called TrekDesk revolutionized the concept, making a full-service work desk for about $500 that can pair with any treadmill. I am walking while writing this article, and will have walked more than three miles and burned over 400 calories by the time I finish, without breaking a sweat (okay, maybe a little) or taking any extra time out of my day for exercise. I can work at the computer, talk on the phone, and accomplish any task I would normally perform at my desk, all while walking 1.5 miles per hour at 4% incline. The walking station is good for my back, cardiovascular fitness, weight, and morale. Who wouldn’t love a gift that improves health and saves time?
A Ping-Pong Table
As a child growing up, my family had a ping-pong table, and despite having a cutting edge Atari gaming system, I spent far more time playing table tennis. It got me out of the house, kept me out of trouble, and provided surprisingly good exercise. Whenever I visit resorts with recreation rooms, the ping pong table is always the most crowded amenity. I notice that kids will ultimately abandon video games to wait their turn for a round of table tennis—exactly as I did. The best part about owning a table is that once you get good at ping pong, you never lose the ability, and can play competitively for years longer than other sports. My grandmother, a tournament champion in her 70’s, was my ping pong mentor. If you don’t have room for a table at home, you can always play at Lyon Center.
A Spanx (or Compression Shirt)
For the record, Spanx are not girdles, and sucking in layers of belly fat is not their main purpose (or at least not their only purpose). They’re just undergarments that absorb sweat and help your clothes fit more neatly. I had never heard of Spanx or even felt a need for one until my office acquired its walking station, which caused my shirts to get damp even at a slow pace in an air-conditioned room. I tried wearing compression undershirts for perspiration protection, and not only did they work great for that, but I also started to get compliments on my shirts—the same ones I had always worn. They just fit better. The high compression models also provide back support.
This is a big-ticket item that would sharply reduce my gift budget. Perhaps my gift would be a Segway rental (they rent for $60-$80 per hour). If you have never seen one in action, check out the movie Paul Blart: Mall Cop. Segways are so much fun, I still think about the time I rented one, for just 90 minutes, shared with two other people, two years ago.
Most people have never heard of my final life-changing gift. The Emwave is a USB-drive device made by Heartmath, Inc. that monitors heart rate variability, giving feedback every five seconds to help users learn to regulate their heart and breathing rates. Ultimately, the device helps people train their bodies to process stress more effectively, lowering their overall stress level, building resilience, improving mental focus, and enhancing emotional states. I improved my bowling average from 100-110 per game to 140-150 per game, with no coaching or practice, just using the Emwave. Besides the pepper mill and the Spanx, this is the next cheapest item on my gift list. But don’t buy one yet. Even if I don’t win the Power Ball Lotto, the Center for Work and Family life has Emwaves available for you to use at your convenience, and we will show you how to use them.
Sadly, I’m never going to have Warren Buffett money, and you can’t count on me to provide you with these cool, fun, life-enhancing gadgets. On the bright side, if I can acquire or make use of them, then so can most people, especially if they work or go to school at USC.