1. Microsoft Surface Book 2. It comes in two flavors, Large (13.5inch) and Supersize (15 inch).
Like Apple and their Macbook Pros, Microsoft decided to price it out of the reach of most people. In my opinion, it is worth it because of the versatility of popping off the screen and using as a tablet. Reading a journal articles is unmatched at 13.5 inch size.
The other feature is the 12 plus hours of battery life for both sizes although results may vary. The keyboard part has a second large battery and an NVIDIA graphics processor which makes short order of Fortnite Battle Royale. The storage options come steeply priced, but there is an SD slot -with a half height MicroSD adapter (link)and some fiddling with DiskManagement (link), you can trick the computer to thinking the SD card slot is onboard hard drive, so you can add 200-400gB for dumping pictures, media, and Dropbox onto it.
Low usage apps can also be installed onto this drive. The pen allows you create nice artwork -something that I have always needed for my blogging. And it plays nice with Apple -you can run iTunes (yes it sucks), and link iCloud to your calendar, photos, iPhone, and Mac desktop. The sweetspot is the Core i5 with 256gB SSD in the 13.5 inch version for about $1400, but if you can swing it, the Core i7 with a 1tB SSD and 15 inch screen (with listed 17hr battery life) is the way to go, but be prepared for sticker shock
2. Samsung Galaxy Note 8/9 Smartphone. I know, I have been a lifelong Apple user, but I wearied of the closed nature of the Apple ecosystem. Get a Note 8 and you can add as much memory as you need via the MicroSD slot (remember to change settings on your apps to make use of this). The AMOLED screens are gorgeous, the pen (pens are back!) lets you scratch down patients MRNs during phone calls and sign PDFs. Google services are great for a lot of things. Add a folding bluetooth keyboard and you have an ultraportable solution to avoiding the giant corporate laptop. The imminent release of the 9 should give you pause, but given the incremental changes under the hood, buy if you find a deal on the 8. The battery life is sufficient for all day use, plays nice with iTunes music, and takes some of the greatest phone pictures I have ever taken (below).
3. Bluetooth Keyboards -I know they are incredibly boring and utilitarian, but hear me out. There are two form factors that bear consideration. First, the folding keyboards that in combination with a large screen smartphone, give you 95% of the capabilities of a laptop, letting you travel with bare minimum of items. The EC Techology Folding Blue Tooth Keyboard (link) is smaller, and likely not suitable for people with giant paws, but for me, who used to write long form essays and papers on a Psion Series 5MX, this keyboard works well, particularly because it has the phone/tablet stand built into it.
For several months last year, TSA restricted travel to the US with anything bigger than a smartphone. My workaround then was digging up an old Palm Bluetooth keyboard, but the modern stuff is far better. The EC keyboard is sturdier, rechargeable, usable with multiple devices (the one above links to 3 devices). It isn’t backlit but you can find those that are.
The other kind of Bluetooth keyboard that I love are the ones that incorporate retro keys -there are several that have old typewriter keys and others that have the large IBM keys -these both share the clicky key mechanism that were lost when island type chiclet keyboards became the norm. While I love the Macbook, and tolerate the keys, for long typing, I need a real keyboard, and lately, I am willing to spend on mechanical keys.
Why do I like them? For focused writing, the chunky keys with a loud clickety clack sound is incredibly comforting -it sounds like intense work to spit out words on these keyboards. I recently purchased a Bastron Wireless Mechanical Keyboard (link) which looks and feels like an IBM Thinkpad keyboard circa 1995. It is backlit and has a groove for placing tablets and smartphones, although I use it as the center keyboard of my writing station between my laptop and a large second screen. It is backlit which is a plus. Most of you are familiar with the bluetooth keyboards that are like mechanical typewriter keyboards, but I think aside from the asthetics, they are generally very costly and I don’t feel compelled to get one. This Bastron Keyboard is a keeper at the 35 dollars on Amazon (a clearance price). Some people have a difficult time managing the wonky Bluetooth and therefore it gets a 3-ish rating. Just sit tight and follow the instructions and you will be fine. Mine came with a free Bluetooth mouse. I give it a 4 -taking off a point because it uses AA batteries.
4. Smartwatches. Sure, go ahead and get a fancy automatic watch, but be prepared to pay through the nose in maintenance and repair fees as when five to ten years out, you notice the watch not keeping time well.
The repair fees may actually come out to the same price as getting a new watch. The newer generation of smartwatches offer so many useful functions that they trump their general fugliness. The Apple Watch and the Samsung Gear 3 both hit the right pricepoint for not crying when the inevitable better and newer versions come out. My Gear 3 offers customizable faces and quick swapouts of bands to match my wardrobe. It tracks my activity and measures my heartbeat, and can record my runs. The battery is good for 3 days and recharges in about an hour wirelessly. Unlike the Apple watch, it is round.
5. A two week vacation in the middle of nowhere. All surgeons want out of a vacation is to be completely away from work and preferably with a stunning view. I suggest the following. A two week cruise with a private balcony and view of the ocean and never getting off the boat for excursions. A cabin/house rental off season -that means going to Vail or Aspen in the summer or Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons in the winter. Bring food for the apocalypse -Spam, pasta, rice, canned vegetables, oatmeal, powdered milk, sack of potatoes. The ultimate lonely vacation destinations are British microcolonies -the Falklands, the Hebrides, Prince Edward Island, Bermuda, Pitcairn. Unfortunately, they probably all have internet. Bring a couple bottles of whiskey and a box of cigars. Go shoot something with a local. Or spend two weeks on the transcontinental train across Russia from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok in a premier car.
6. Blank sheet journal of high quality. Moleskine makes a nice one, but when I travel, I always drop in on local stationers and arts stores for unusual blank books to write in. The Japanese in their infinite wisdom offer a cheap but high quality bound notebook of blank paper that you can find in Japanese bric-brac stores that are cheap but wonderful.
I think that all surgeons need to keep notes on what makes their operations fail or work, and imagine what would make things better, but writing about your passions or scratching travel notes is great brain exercise. The bottom line is that an idea needs to be written down as much as a seed needs to be placed into soil.
7. Large capacity battery for recharging -I carry two of these Anker beasts (link). They will charge my Macbook and Surfacebook, and my smartphones multiple times. I can’t tell you how useful it is to not worry about low charges during travel. I bought mine 3 years ago and they are still going strong. They don’t need to be fancy, just incredibly reliable and able to recharge at the higher amperage required by tablets and computers. My MacBook will typically go from 25% to 100% on one of these power banks -nothing to sniff at when you want to write any where any time. Mine are 20100 mAh, but larger ones are available. They do get heavy and they must be on the carry on luggage.
8. Small bluetooth speaker. Not all operating rooms have good sound systems, but you don’t want to lug a huge speaker either. Most tablets will be sufficient for playing music at volume but without sufficient bass. You can play around with the acoustics by placing your smartphone or tablet in a large metal basin, but you want speakers if you want to hear the bottom half of your music, whether it be Vivaldi or Childish Gambino.
Harman/Kardon makes a supercompact speaker that also is an excellent speakerphone and in a pinch will recharge your phone (link). It’s is plenty loud and gives a nice balanced sound. If you want more bass, you want something like the Bang and Olufson of bluetooth speakers. Again, there are larger speakers, but I’m focusing on ones that will fit nicely in a laptop bag, and I’m happy with my Harman Kardon’s.
9. Giant E-Ink Tablet. Imagine reading journal articles in original A4 size. While it is possible to do this with a standard tablet, the screen will cause eye fatigue. Printing this out means carrying heavy paper copies that are easily lost.
You might remember that Amazon once had a Brobdingnagian Kindle -the Kindle DX, but has focused on ever smaller form factors. I had the DX and reading PDFs on it in normal size was a pleasure. Unfortunately, the DX was an early Kindle and not particularly fast nor high resolution. While it was excellent for its time, it has comparatively a muddy low resolution screen when compared to modern Kindles. So you would think in the effort to go paperless that modern hardware and software would combine with state of the art E-ink to create a great reader. Well, Sony put out the Sony DPT-RP1/B 13” Digital Paper, but based on feedback on Amazon, it is clear that Sony hasn’t shaken off their great handicap which is putting out great looking products with terrible names that fail in crucial fashion either in software or hardware. In this case, the proprietary software cuts the legs off this device. The Chinese on the other hand, have put out what appears to be an excellent 13-inch E-Ink tablet running Android (link), the Boox Max 2 and allowing for direct wired second monitor function. This is the sweet spot, but unfortunately is quite pricey. That said, if you really want to make your surgeon smile, this is the gadget. It has that modern high resolution E-ink screen that is close to paper linked to a touch screen and medium range Android hardware. The reviews say that it works well as a second monitor, but I would use it in combination with my bluetooth keyboard and IAWriter (link) to create a focused writing station.
10. Japanese massage chair. My father got one a couple of years back, and now whenever I visit him, I have to wake him up and shoo him out of this chair to get an intense deep tissue massage. The calf and forearm massage function is a must. When I get my forever house, a dark room with several large screens and this chair will be the core of this home. Put on golf or an animal documentary with Attenborough and you get the best nap of your life!
11. Audible.com Subscription. While commuting or long haul driving, catching up with the latest business managment book or historical non-fiction tome makes the 10 minute red lights in Abu Dhabi a pleasure. While there are free podcasts galore, audiobooks lets you get through the latest materials with minimal fuss. There are often free books with coupon codes from some podcasts. Suggested listening -Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman, 1453: Holy War for Constantinople and the Clash of Islam and the West by Roger Crowley, How to American: An Immigrant’s Guide to Disappointing Your Parents by Jimmy O. Yang, and Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.
12. Ichiran Ramen Instant Noodles. If you haven’t been, you need to go to Ichiran Ramen in Brooklyn, NY. There you will be seated in a single booth, solo with a small cryptic order slip. You choose the texture of your ramen -basically under or over al dente, the add ons like fish cake, seasoned egg, pork belly, and some sides and ring a bell. The roll up shades peak and a hand, no face, reaches in and gets your order. You wait about 5 minutes, and the shade opens and your ramen is placed in front of you. One slurp and you are transported to a kind of ramen induced rapture. It is that good. The noodles are great -they invested a serious amount of time to create a noodle factory out in Brooklyn, but it is the soup that brings you to your knees. The donkotsu broth is made from pork shoulder and bones and has character, depth, and a lingering finish that burnishes itself into your memories. You can’t eat at a normal table and get the same effect -hence the flavor concentration booths. As you walk out, you can purchase boxes of packaged instant Ichiran Ramen which cost as much as buying one fresh, but lets you enjoy the noodles and broth at home or far away like here in Abu Dhabi. You can buy them on Amazon (link) but it looks to be overstock. They opened a branch in Manhattan, but my kids say it wasn’t as good as in Brooklyn. I can’t imagine what it must be like at the original store in Japan, but I am planning an entire trip just to eat ramen.
This post is meant to be a review of items and satirical in presentation. It is not a demand for gifts or services in kind. Anything sent from anonymous sources will not be acknowledged. Please consider donations to your local charity -in Cleveland, the United Way offers services to the needs of the community. Surgeons are perfectly fine getting these things for themselves.