Charitable Gift Giving

We surf the Web to find good products that help out a great cause.

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The Amazing Mamaroo – Infant Seat you Control with your Phone

September 6th, 2015 · Uncategorized

A few weeks before my little girl was born my wonderful co-workers splurged for me and got me a Mamaroo Bouncer. My coworkers had talked to me about it, saying that this was his go-to gift for new babies. I admittedly sort of rolled my eyes when he first told me about it, but after a few weeks of seeing it in action I’m convinced

Outwardly it looks like a standard infant seat and bouncer. The difference is that this device was made for the 21st century. Instead of having to push it yourself, you fire up an app on your iPhone or Android device and control it to gently move in one of six ways–gently flowing like a car ride, up and down like a kangaroo, side to side like a tree swing, gently rocking like your arms, and undulating like floating on the ocean.

Okay, I know what most of you are thinking. How lazy can you be? And isn’t this a little impersonal, wouldn’t it be better for baby if you can rock her in your arms? And so I thought until one night when baby first started to exhibit colicky symptoms. No amount of rocking or singing seemed to help.

Then I sat her up in the Mamaroo. Without even starting the motion she was out cold in a few minutes. There was something about the angle of the seat (which you can position to anywhere from lying down to sitting up) that helped her calm down; I’m guessing she hadn’t digested all her formula so sitting up was helping her. The seat with the infant insert made her feel snug, secure and warm. I’d been given the advice of sitting the baby up in her car seat for instances where she’s got the hiccups, gas, or reflux (or all three), but I found her car seat to be way too confining. Moving her to the Mamaroo was like giving her an upgrade from coach to business class.

As a newborn she didn’t really “get” the whole motion thing. She’d either be oblivious to it or act confused. But as she grows older I see that she’s starting to respond to it.

As with any baby accessory, this one doesn’t take the place of spending time with your baby and doing all you can to calm her down. But it’s a nice tool to have in your arsenal in those wee hours of the morning when your arms start to give out. The unit also plays white noise (heartbeat, ocean, fan, rain) which I think I find more soothing for myself than baby does. And you can also connect a cell phone or MP3 player to rock with the music.

One thing I didn’t realize until recently was that 4moms, the company that makes the Mamaroo, also does a ton of work with families in need, non-profits, and hospitals.

mamaroo-charityThey donate units to NICU and pediatric units of hospitals to help nurses calm their most fussy new arrivals. If you’ve witnessed a hospital nursery, you’ll notice that one fussy baby can start a chain reaction (sort of like one fussy adult can). They also donate units to qualified organizations running silent auctions and from time to time they’ll post on their blog about some of the organizations they help support.

This is the sort of product I love highlighting on this blog–one from an innovative company whose employees have passion for their product and for helping others.

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The Nazarene Fund for Expatriation of Persecuted Christians in the Middle East

September 3rd, 2015 · Disaster Relief

nazareneThe image you see to your left is the Arabic character ن, or “Nūn”. Normally it’d be a beautiful character in a beautiful alphabet, but its meaning has been perhaps forever tarnished by the way it’s been used in the wars of the Middle East. 

The character stands for “Nasara” or “Nazarenes”, a pejorative word used to refer to Christians. In the war, when ISIS fighters take over a city, they’ll go from house to house and spray paint this character on the homes of people they identify as Christian. Their ultimatum? Those who live in these houses have one of three choices–convert to their twisted interpretation of Islam, pay an exorbitant fine well beyond the ability of most people to pay, or face “death by the sword”. The result has been a mass exodus of Christians from these cities. The men who cannot or will not go are beheaded, some on the spot. Women are raped. Children are sold into slavery and unmentionable acts committed against them. And perhaps the worst crime of all? The US government not only will not speak out against these atrocities in the name of political correctness, in yet another example of its completely backward immigration laws, it will not even grant these people asylum.

The non-profit Mercury One has set up a fund with an aim of collecting money to place threatened Christian families in safe countries that will accept them and ensure they have enough to start new lives. While the number of families they can help is woefully small compared to the countless more who will need to suffer, they are the only charity I’ve seen so far that has any kind of tangible plan to tackle this problem.

Revisionist historians and the media like to position Christianity as a Western religion, and Islam as a Middle Eastern religion. And worse, since they apparently can’t look beyond labels, they tend to conflate the insane brand of Islam practiced by ISIS with the respectable and peaceful practice of Muslims here in the US. But the truth that Christianity was a Middle Eastern religion long before Islam came along or any Westerner heard of it. And some of these Christians who are being persecuted have worship traditions that date back to near the time of Christ.

To help, donate here. You can also buy this shirt and others like it to give as gifts, and proceeds will go to help the fund.


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Free PC Digital Copy of Hitman: Absolution with a $1 donation

August 30th, 2015 · Uncategorized

Interesting in getting a free PC game? To celebrate the launch of the upcoming movie Hitman and its associated video game, GameChanger Charity is collecting donations to help those with pediatric cancer.

Just visit and for as little as $1 you’ll get a Steam code for Hitman Absolution, a very highly reviewed game that retails for $20. You can donate more, of course.

Game Changer is a non-profit that helps children with life-threatening illnesses and their families with direct services to hospital patients and staff, financial support in the form of financial aid and scollect scholarships, and providing unique inspirational video game packages. They generate revenue from processing donated computer equipment and supplies, and hosting gaming events and then donate the funds to charity.

The charity was founded in 2007, by Jim Carol after witnessing the impact video games had on his son Taylor during a 5 year battle with Leukemia.

Help out a great cause and get a great game to boot.

free hitman absolution

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Hydroflask – Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle (24 hours cold, 12 hours hot)

August 20th, 2015 · Uncategorized

Seems that everywhere you turn these days people are giving you water bottles. I have about a dozen from various conferences, half a dozen from store openings, another half dozen from promotions, and even one from work (a cheap made-in-China bottle in lieu of a bonus last year).

More often than not these things are junk. When you think about it, they use the same plastic to make these “valuable” water bottles as they do to make the cups and containers you throw away every day. While I used to collect these thinking they’d be useful one day, nowadays more often than not I’ll just toss them.

There are two brands that I do trust, and which fall squarely into the “you get what you pay for” category. This first is Swell, which I wrote about a few years ago. The second, which I’ll write about today, is the Hydro Flask Insulated Stainless Steel Water Bottle. Both are double wall insulated metal bottles which unlike the bottle at work which will scald my hand if I put a tablespoon of boiling water in it, will be cool to the touch outside, keep the hot hot and the cool cool inside, and never ruin your clothes with condensation on the outside.

The Hydro Flash has a lifetime warranty and comes in nine colors. They’re great for hiking, the beach, the gym, road trips, and anywhere else you need to keep to keep things insulated for a long time. You’ll be the only one on the golf course with an ice cold beverage on the 18th hole and the only one on the ski trip with a steaming cup of soup 10 hours into your day.

Hydro Flask donates 5% back to a charity of your choice. Just go to their site, enter your serial number, select a charity, and 5% of the proceeds they got from your bottle will go to them. You can choose from Adopt-A-Classroom, the American Cancer Society, the American Red Cross, Charity: Water, Fair Trade USA, Habitat for Humanity, Kids in the Game, Leave No Trace, Special Olympics, the Surfrider Foundation, the United Way, and the World Wildlife Fund.


For what’s sure to be a very limited time, Amazon has reduced the price of the Hydro Flask from $36.99 to $29.49. Get on it quick!

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Wearable Philanthropy by The Fabric of Humanity

August 8th, 2015 · Uncategorized

Every now and then I like to highlight a startup that wants to focus on helping causes. While Kickstarter is filled with tons of new business ideas from people who want to get rich quick, it’s rare to see startups that use their innovation to help others.

While the concept of “fair trade” is very well established by now, The Fabric of Humanity goes beyond that idea and created something called “Wearable Philanthropy”, referring to a revolutionary way they empower not only the makers of their clothing, but their communities as well. 

The price tag will contain a URL and a QR code that brings you to a video of those who built your garment and their community in need. The actual number of dollars from your garment that will be donated to the community is displayed with full transparency. 

Customers will then vote on various projects in the community to impact the community. Contributions are added to a fund for a number of months. 

Already they’re working with communities in some of the hardest hit ares of the world, including a T-shirt from Tado Colombia (pictured) and Yak cardigans and purses from Mongolia (pictured). In addition, they also have products made in the US and Canada.


How can you help? The Fabric of Humanity has launched their Kickstarter campaign. You can help spread the word about this great opportunity not just to get a great deal on some high quality clothes, but also to get in on the ground floor of a fantastic idea. 

As with all Kickstarter campaigns there are perks for getting in early and pledging more.

 Here is the link to their Kickstarter!

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Portalball – A Surprisingly Great Baseball Game for iOS from Joe Girardi

July 7th, 2015 · Uncategorized

I’ve been a fan of computer baseball games for as long as I can remember. Back when I was a kid I spent hours with my Mattell Electronics Handheld baseball game. I then logged hours playing Hardball for the Apple //e, getting obsessed to the point where I’d even keep box scores of my games. Over the years I kept looking for the most realistic computer baseball games out there, culminating most recently in an under-appreciated game for the Wii called The Cages: Pro Style Batting Practice and every version of MLB The Show for the Playstation. What I liked most about the latter two is its “virtual reality” where it lets you feel like you’re in the game.

Most recently I heard of a new game for iOS called PORTALBALL – Jordan Edelson. When I heard the premise of the game I started to roll my eyes. In it, you’re a participant in an alien invasion of Earth, and you fight off the invaders with–what else–pitching, hitting, and fielding a baseball.

Shake premise aside, once I downloaded the game I really loved it, as it pushes the envelope on a lot of things. First of all, it uses your phone’s camera to enable “augmented reality” so that the background of the game screen is your actual surroundings, against which you bat, field, and pitch balls. As you turn your body, the scene turns with you.

Gameplay itself is simple. To throw a ball you flick it with your finger or thumb. To bat, you swipe forward and back. To catch, you position your phone to match the ball. In all cases you’ll see a bullseye that serves as a “radar” to show you where the next ball is coming from.

Here’s a screenshot of me throwing a baseball at my living room window. Don’t worry, no glass nor pedestrians were harmed in the taking of this screenshot!


You can play against others in cyberspace, or just practice on your own.

What’s really cool about this game is its co-creator: Joe Girardi. That’s right, the same Joe Girardi who was catcher for the Yankees and is now their manager. In addition to providing ideas for the gameplay, Girardi also provided his baseball expertise to make the experience as realistic as possible. For example, when you swing a bat it’s Girardi’s actual swing path that’s represented on the screen.

There are a number of bonus in-game purchases for things like a virtually signed Girardi ball. Proceeds will be donated to Catch 25, Girardi’s charity that helps people in economic hardship and crisis.

I won’t go as far as to say that Portalball is the greatest computer baseball game ever made, I can say it introduces some really innovative things with augmented reality that make it worth the download for any baseball fan, and in-game purchases go to support a really great cause.


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“Cheeky” Clothing to Support Papworth Trust

July 1st, 2015 · Poverty

Every now and then I like to feature a great charity from across the pond, and Papworth Trust in the UK is one of them. They offer support and care to those in greatest need, including the disabled, the elderly and their families and caregivers. Their goal is to help people of all ages like independently in their own homes and to find and hold jobs so they can support themselves. More about the charity at

They launched a Shopify site called Can Clothing where they sell products that go to help their  charitable efforts. What I love about these clothes is that they’re not just some generic promotional product imprinted with the organization’s logo, but they’re actually really fun clothes you want to wear and to dress your family in. Most of the clothes are related to cooking or gardening, and all of them appropriately enough come in a can that you can reuse.

Some of the humor (or should I say humour) is decidedly British. Here are some of the more popular choices:


soggy bottom onesie

In this case, “Soggy Bottom” is a reference to a British term used to describe the phenomenon when baking pies of the bottom of the crust being too moist.

ganaching buns apron


The I’m Ganaching My Buns apron.

weeds hoodie

And the motto of gentleman gardeners everywhere: that weeds are just plants in the wrong place.

Surf around their online catalog and chances are you’ll find something you love.



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Custom Tailored Suits that Give Back to Charity

June 24th, 2015 · Uncategorized

Sometimes it feels like the days of the old custom tailored suit is going the way of the passenger pigeon. While back in the day you could get a suit or sports coat that was perfectly adjusted to your exact size and proportions, today it seems like we’re all relegated to take what’s off the rack or get so-called “tailoring” from a department store employee. But real tailoring, of course, is as much as art as it is a science.

Privélege is a new online clothing company based in New York City that specializes in made-to-measure clothing. You first select from some very nice looking options for suits, tuxedos, sports coats, and trousers. Then, they walk you (and a friend or family member) through the specifics of how to measure yourself. Through the magic of modern technology you can submit your measurements and your garment will be customized specifically for you.

What’s very cool about this is that they’re not making alterations–they’re designing and constructing your clothing to your specifications. Here’s the Vanderbilt, a custom-made Italian suit (although the dude here should probably put on some socks if he doesn’t want to catch a cold).

custom made italian suit
Privélege gives back 10% of all net-profits from their custom suit line to charities supporting underprivileged communities in the city. Designers, Kingsley Duah and Mario Rijfkogel are leading the charge for “purpose-driven fashion for the stylish do-gooder.” Their motto is “Look Good. Feel Good. Do Good.”

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Complete Miyazaki Film Collection – Studio Ghibli Blu-Ray Box Set: Get it with Amazon Smile

June 17th, 2015 · Amazon

I realize that I should just send Disney my bank information and let them withdraw money from my account at will. They are one of those rare companies which you give money to and beg them to take more of it. Just this past month I’ve given them money to see Inside Out and Avengers: Age of Ultron, purchased a Winnie the Pooh bassinet for the baby we’re expecting, purchased a Winnie the Pooh crib set. This doesn’t include the money I shoveled to them for a week in Disney World last year or the money I’ll be shoveling to them later this year to see Star Wars.

Something else I’ll be happily paying money for is this Amazon exclusive set of Hayao Miyazaki’s work on Blu-Ray, officially titled The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki. For those who don’t know Miyazaki’s films, he’s essentially to Japanese traditional animation what Walt Disney was to American traditional animation and what John Lasseter is to American computer animation. And like these two American icons, Miyazaki’s films, all hand-drawn animation, are amazing not just in their artistry but in their storytelling and heart as well.

miyazaki full bluray set

While the films produced at Miyazaki’s studio, Studio Ghibli, have always enjoyed enormous success in Japan, it’s only relatively recently that American audiences have been introduced to them. Disney only relatively recently acquired the rights to distribute the films through video and they’ve done an excellent job with them; the DVD and Blu-Ray transfers are excellent.

The set is being released in honor of Miyazaki’s announced retirement and contains his eleven feature films on Blu-Ray:

  • Lupin the Third: The Castle of Cagliostro from 1979, his first theatrical release
  • Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind from 1984
  • Castle in the Sky (Laputa) from 1986
  • My Neighbor Totoro from 1988
  • Kiki’s Delivery Service from 1989
  • Porco Rosso from 1992
  • Princess Mononoke from 1997
  • Spirited Away from 2001, Academy Award winner and the highest grossing film in Japan history
  • Howl’s Moving Castle from 2004
  • Ponyo from 2008
  • The Wind Rises from 2013

I’m someone who pounced on all the DVDs as they came out, and then again on all the Blu-Rays as they began to be released individually. You’d think I’d be upset at hearing that there’s a new box set that has most of the Blu-Rays I bought, but I’m surprisingly not all that upset. Aside from being a bargain at an announced retail price of $249.99 and a discounted pre-sale price of $224.99 (with Price Guarantee, so if the price goes up between now and November you’ll get it first and you’ll get it at the lowest price betwee no), there are a number of extras, including a 1972 television pilot called Yuki’s Sun directed, storyboarded and animated by Miyazaki, three episodes of a 1972 anime series called Little Samurai that he storyboarded, an uncut version of his retirement press conference, and a book called The Great Dichotomy: Looking at the Works of Hayao Miyazaki.

If there’s one pet peeve I have about the American transfers it’s the vocal talent. Specifically, Disney loaded up the voice actors with A-list and B-list celebrities, but too often when I listen to the American vocals it’s like fingerprints on a chalkboard. The child voice actors tend to be straight from the Disney Channel and lack any of the subtlety or grace of their Japanese counterparts. Even the celebrities, most of whom I admire, seem to overpower the elegance of the Japanese animation.

Luckily there’s an easy solution: when you watch these turn OFF the American vocal track and turn on the original Japanese one, with English subtitles. If your child isn’t old enough to read and keep up with the subtitles, he or she probably isn’t old enough for some of the adult themes in these movies anyway.

Be careful when shopping for these. Look on Amazon for a product specifically titled The Collected Works of Hayao Miyazaki (Amazon Exclusive) [Blu-ray] or click through this link. A lot of scammers are going to put up other listings hoping you’ll accidentally buy theirs instead of going through the official Amazon link. Go through this link and don’t forget by doing so you can have some of your purchase go to your favorite charity.

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Amazon Echo: Get it with Amazon Smile

June 14th, 2015 · Amazon

Within a week of each other I decided to splurge and get me a Roomba and an Amazon Echo. I, for one, welcome our new robot overlords. Back in the day you needed a team of Gatsby-esque servants to wait on you hand and foot. Now, I have a robot to sweep up after me, and a robot who’ll act as a personal assistant. All for the fraction of the price.

For those who don’t know, the Amazon Echo is a little cylindrical device you place in a convenient place in your home (ours is in our living room near the front door). You can talk to it and it’ll do things like play music for you, tell you the weather, tell you last night’s sports scores, tell you a stock quote, tell you the latest news, and so much more. It’s actually pretty cute and its speaker can pack a whollop of sound if you want it to (you can also tell it to speak louder or softer).

I was skeptical when I first heard of it. As much as Apple tried to make Siri into “my personal assistant”, most of the time she still gets things wrong. It’s the same with Google’s “OK, Google”. It seems that both companies have tried too hard to be all things to all people out of the gate and have fallen laughably short.

Worse, one of the fatal flaws of using your phone as a voice-responsive personal assistant is that in order for your phone to respond to commands like “Hey Siri” or “Okay Google” they need to be plugged in at all times or they’ll drain your battery.

Something I appreciate about Amazon Echo is that they sat back while Apple and Google stumbled over each other, learning from both their mistakes. For one thing, the Echo doesn’t pretend to be able to answer every single question known to man.

Instead, she’s programmed to answer only the most common questions. Here are some questions I recently asked her where she gave me a perfect answer.

  • Alexa, what temperature is it outside?
  • Alexa, what’s the weather tomorrow?
  • Alexa, what was the score of the Yankees game last night?
  • Alexa, what’s the latest news?
  • Alexa, how many ounces in a cup?
  • Alexa, play Pandora
  • Alexa, add milk to my shopping list
  • Alexa, add buy a new air conditioner to my to-do list

In case you’re wondering, “Alexa” is the name of a search engine company that started in 1996, two years before Google. If you’ve ever visited the Internet Wayback Machine Archive, you’ve seen Alexa in action. They never quite caught on as a mainstream search engine, but Amazon still acquired their technology in 1999 for $250 million in stock. If the creators of Alexa held on to their Amazon stock, their cut is worth over two billion dollars today.

While the technology press focuses on silly things like “does Siri, Google Now, or Alexa tell the funnier jokes”, for me it’s all about how well this personal assistant does the things I need. While I played with Siri and Google for a little while because they were interesting diversions, it’s Alexa that I find myself using more and more.

I took Alexa to the next level when I purchase a Belkin WeMo Light Switch and two Belkin WeMo Insight Switch. Specifically, I connected my dining room/foyer light to the light switch, and the living room light to an insight switch. Now, I could say commands like “Alexa, turn off the living room light”, “Alexa, turn on the dining room light”, or “Alexa, turn off all the lights”. It got a little bit of getting used to because the first time I’d do it she’d shut off all the lights and then a creepy “okay” would come out of the darkness. I wish there were a way to get her to stop saying that, but I’m finding out that’s just the way she is.

What’s really cool about pairing Echo and WeMo is that I can not only use Echo to give voice commands, I can also use the WeMo app to turn the lights on and off. Really handy if I’m coming home at night and want to turn the lights on from the car or if I’m in bed and forgot to turn off the living room light. Using IFTTT you can even set rules (turn on the lights if I’m within 5 miles of my house and the time is after sunset).

Once I got comfortable with Echo and WeMo controlling my lights the next thing I decided to do was to connect an air conditioner to WeMo. This gets a little tricky, as you need to find an AC that has manual controls where you can set it to power on when you plug it in (most units that are controlled by remote controls or buttons won’t work). Ironically, this meant shopping for a “retro” air conditioner that didn’t have timers, thermostats, or remotes.

I came across the Frigidaire 6,000 Btu Window Air Conditioner at Best Buy, who graciously price-matched it to $169.00 to match my local Home Depot. Unfortunately it looks like only 5000 and 6000 BTUs still come with manual controls so you’re out of luck controlling rooms larger than about 100-250 square feet with Echo and WeMo; you’ll probably need to splurge and go for something like the Quirky + GE Aros Smart Window Air Conditioner (or, since that’s getting such poor reviews, hold out for the next generation of connected air conditioners).

The one thing that makes me a little nervous about the WeMo are the reports that determined hackers can theoretically hack into your WeMo devices and start switching them on and off, even to the point of starting fires if you have devices like air conditioners attached. Belkin has released patches that ostensibly protect their devices from outside intruders, but they’ve been so tight-lipped that it’s really hard to tell if they’ve really cracked the problem. In fact, the first time I installed my Belkin Insight Switch to my living room light sure enough the light kept switching on and off randomly until I reset my router (it hasn’t happened since). Regardless of whether this was a bug or a hacker, had the same thing happened to an AC unattended, it could have been pretty dangerous. To at least partially protect me I’ve set an alert so that if the unit is shut on without my approval I’ll know about it.

So if you’ve been thinking about jumping into the world of “connected homes”, here’s a way you can do it for cheap–I did it all for under $500 much less, I think, than Jay Gatsby shelled out for his hired help. And of that $500, why not have a few bucks go to help a good cause through Amazon Smile?

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