I for one was excited when one of my favorite services went public this year. That means Pandora will be around for years to come!

pandora - music streaming service

Pandora is a music streaming services that takes your tastes into account and serves you music that fits your style and mood. You create your own radio station by specifying an artist or song ‘seed’. The service then serves you music in a similar style and/or genre.

But it goes further than that! As you listen, you can tivo-style, give music thumbs up and thumbs down. And you can add more ‘seed’ artists to your radio station. After a few days of listening, you have a service that will pump out your awesome music, 24×7.

As I work on the CheckedTwice product, I always listen to my Andrew’s Music Pandora station. I’ll end up coding for hours, because I have my jams.

Pandora’s service is a freemium model. The basic service is free, but ad supported. But they have a premium service with no ads and better sound quality. The premium service is called Pandora One, and it costs $36/year. For my family, that’s in the sweet spot for a gift price, and it lasts for a whole year!

Pandora has a great set up to give Pandora One as a gift. Check it out!

Red Cross Today and for the Holidays

Today, we all are either watching the news about Hurricane Sandy’s landing in the mid-Atlantic or are living in that devastation. We at CheckedTwice have a lot of family in the area that are safe and we pray your family’s are safe as well.  It’s amazing how quickly our lives can be interrupted or even irrevocably changed. We thought it fitting that for this Charity Tuesday, we showcase a charity that operates in those quickly changing times: the American Red Cross and the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent.

gift donation to red crossgift donation to red cross

If you’re reading this today, please consider going to their site, and making your own donation to the American Red Cross to help them get the east coast back to its normal loveable state.

If you’re looking for ideas down the road, a donation to the American Red Cross, the IFRC, or another specific red cross society can make a great gift, particularly if you can make it meaningful to the recipient.

Does the recipient have a connection to a particular area or country around the world? Make a donation to the specific agency on their behalf. Or if the recipient has lived through such a disaster, local organizations could also make for a very meaningful. You can find the recipient’s local organization, and donate directly to them.

In the meantime, stay safe everyone!

Sports Tickets!

I think dads are hard to shop for, in general.  I often struggle with ideas for gifts for my dad. When he wants something to support a hobby for example, he just buys it for himself. An experience gift can be a great thing for someone like this, because, by definition, they are typically something people don’t do. They are new or different experiences.

And one thing that a lot of fathers like is sports.

Play ball!

Getting a pair of tickets to a game can be a lot of fun. You can either get a pair of tickets and go with the recipient, or give them a pair of tickets and let them take another friend (particularly if you don’t live in the same place!)

The prices can vary widely though. Here in Houston, the hot ticket is for the Houston Texans, and even for the nosebleed seats, the tickets will cost you an arm and a leg. But there are typically other options out there. Baseball tends to be a bit cheaper, though that’s a bit out of season during the holiday season.

You can also save a lot of money and still get 97% of the fun if you go to a minor league game. Check out the six hockey minor leagues. Six in North America! You’re bound to have a team near you. And those games have twice the scrappiness and four times the heart of the typical NHL game.

You can also save some money if you find your tickets on StubHub, the online ticket exchange. There you can search by team and date. (For example, here are StubHub’s listings for the minor league hockey Connecticut Whale.)

Show your colors.

And to complete the package, why not look the part at the game with a bit of team gear. Jersey’s are awesome of course, but you’ll often have to pay a pretty penny for them. But often you can get a hat or a t-shirt for pretty cheap. Hopefully that’ll turn into a good reminder of the fun time y’all had at the game.

gift certificate for sports tickets

And who wouldn’t want to see dad in that hat?


Hurricane Sandy’s Impact on the Internets

An odd effect of the storm: CheckedTwice is getting a lot more hits and sign ups today.  I think having a good portion of the U.S. population cooped up inside has put more people online, looking for something they can do to be productive. Christmas is not that far away and holiday shopping is even closer. Even in the storm, they can get a little done.

Lots of extra traffic from North Carolina, Virginia, and New York.  It’ll be interesting to see if traffic dies down tomorrow with the expected power issues.

In the meantime, particularly over the evening, I want everybody to stay safe on the east coast. Get to a safe area with friends and family and maybe a little booze.

How to buy a Muddler

cocktail muddler

Ok, I have to admit it. This whole category is a bit of a selfish indulgence. I enjoy making a finely crafted cocktail nearly as much as I enjoy sipping them on my balcony in this fine Houston fall weather. Maybe you know someone like me? Handsome and cultured?

Well, if you do, count yourself as lucky… to have found such a great place to get gift ideas for that person! Each Friday we will showcase a bit of gear that will perfectly round out your aficionado’s personal bar program.

Muddle your cares away…

And we’re getting things started with a fun one. The muddler is a key tool for the bar used in cocktails from the classic Sazerac to the trendier Mojitos. You use to mix, mash, and blend solid ingredient with the liquors in the drink. For the Sazerac, you crunch up a sugar cube in the herbal bitters. For the Mojito, you mash the mint, releasing the flavor in the drink. The whole process looks fancy and that grinding those ingredients down in the bottom of a bar glass can be quite the stress reliever after a long work week.

But beware! There’s a couple tricks to getting good muddler.

First of all is size. The rule isn’t quite ‘the bigger, the better’ but it’s close. You want something that you’ll be able to fit in your hand comfortably over a pint sized bar glass. I’d stay away from anything shorter than ten inches or so.

The second rule only applies to wooden muddlers. Don’t buy a finished muddler! If you use one of those you’ll end up with varnish in your Sazerac. And no one likes varnish in their Sazerac. So stick to muddlers with unfinished wood. I recommend this muddler from Vic Firth or this muddler from Kegworks.

There are also a lot of stainless steal/plastic muddlers on the market that certainly meet both of the rules above. I’m a bit of a purist. I stick to the classics. But maybe y’all will know. Any good recommendations on synthetic muddlers?

Local WordPress Settings

WordPress Settings can be a bit of Mess

Our blog was a bit out of date, right?  So we wanted to bring the blog into the larger CheckedTwice fold with a customized look and feel. I brought the blog down to create a local dev environment. That way I could play with anything I wanted and I completely blew it up, that was ok. I’d keep my working copy online.

Then, the problems began.

There are a TON of non-obvious settings buried around wordpress. Next time I do this, I will do a clean install of wordpress, then point it back to my database at CheckedTwice. But even that wouldn’t have saved me from one issue:

wp-config.php needs to additional things defined when the URL is less obvious, I suppose:


(“” is the name I gave my local blog. You’d need to substitue whatever name you gave yours in, for example, apache’s httpd.conf)


How I learned to stop worrying and love the blog

I came to today sitting in the corner of my apartment, rocking myself gently as I stared at nothing.

This is what the constant optimization of Google Adwords has brought me to. I was running experiments constantly. Checking the performance constantly. Looking up quality scores constantly. And then, finally, the advice I had received from a good number of people finally made it through my thick skull.

Content is king.

Focus on content and the rest will follow. But what could I do, right? CheckedTwice is a product. It has its benefits–and they’re great!–but we’ve already covered that. What additional content can we bring to the table? What will people want to link to?

So I took my cue from the _huge_ number of HARO requests out there. People want new takes, fresh takes, on how to make the holidays better in every way. From the best gifts to the best way to mail those gifts, people want to know. We’ll be debuting several categories of posts presently.

But in the meantime, I’ve retreated from my corner, dusted myself off, stopped worrying, and started loving the blog.


7 Wonders

Each Thursday, we’re going to showcase one game that you’ll love… and the gift recipient will too! We like games that are easy to learn, hard to master, and all around engaging.

7 Wonders

And our first pick definitely meets all three requirements. 7 Wonders, published in 2010, is reasonably new to the board game scene, but it’s a great addition. You play as an ancient city civilization, building buildings (represented by cards) that contribute to your military, science, trade, and culture. If it sounds pretty epic, it is. But the epicness (epicosity?) doesn’t extend to learning to play.

You play your civilization through three ages, and in each age, you’ll play one card in each of six turns. That means in the course of the game, you’ll only need to make 18 choices. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be able to play a game, from setup to clean up, in less than 30 minutes. (Count on an hour for the first time you go through it. Then count on playing again immediately. Trust us.)

But even with the ease of play, there’s a lot to this game. You can play with 2-7 players, and each of the seven civilizations has different specialties. And beyond that, which civilizations are closest to you makes a big difference as well. Each time you play, the game feels different and your strategy will change.

7 Wonders is an all around great game and an all around great gift.

ESPN Insider

Many know ESPN as the home of Monday Night Football and Sportscenter, but they also have a great website at It has lots of entertaining content and information for the sports nut in your life. But on close inspection, you’ll notice that a lot of interesting content is actually behind a pay wall. They call this ESPN Insider.

Insider gets you access to trade rumors, in-depth analysis, and a ton of future-looking predictions and scenarios. If you know someone who loves sports a little too much, they’ll love ESPN Insider.

espn Insider - Last minute gift for the sports fan

Plus, your subscription gets you access to ESPN The Magazine. So if you can tear yourself from the screen for a few minutes, you’ll still have something to do.

Right now, they’re running a special for the holidays, so you can get 2 subscriptions for the price of 1. Maybe you can get one for yourself, too…?


Typically during the holiday season, we focus on those closest to us. And that’s not a bad thing. But it’s good to remember there are many outside our immediate spheres that could use some help.

What you might not think about is that these two focuses (or foci?) can be combined with some really thoughtful gifts. Each Tuesday, we’re going to suggest one such charitable gift that reaches out to others on behalf of those you love.

It’s always best to make these donations personal, and our first suggestion is certainly that.

Choose your own Charitable Adventure

According to their mission statement,’s mission is to “connect people through lending to alleviate poverty.” Kiva connects people with small business owners around the globe, but particularly in developing nations. You lend small amounts of money ($25) to those entrepreneurs, and they expand their business and make their lives and communities better. Then, surprisingly often at almost 99%, that entrepreneur pays you back.

kiva - crowdsourcing charity

I like to think of a Kiva loan as a donation that you’ll probably get to donate over and over.

So what’s great about giving a Kiva gift card? It’s great because the recipient then gets to pick exactly where and with whom they would like to invest/donate the money. They get to pick what they care about. And because they’ll probably get to invest that money over and over, it’s the warm fuzzy feeling gift that keeps on giving.

My nephew turned 10 this year and I gave him the first of his Kiva gift cards. I plan to continue to give him a $25 gift card each year for his birthday, so that by the time he goes off to college, he’ll have good bank of Kiva dollars to continue to invest over and over. And while he does it, he gets a little view of what life is like in developing countries, what it’s like to be a small business owner, and what it’s like to be an investor, all while building good habits about charitable giving.