It’s Christmas shopping season, and so time for the annual reminder that if you want to support this blog you can shop through my Amazon affiliate link (also on sidebar) and I’ll get ~5% of whatever you spend at no extra cost to you.
If that doesn’t appeal to you, you can also shop through this portal and give ~5% of whatever you spend to one of GiveWell’s top recommended charities.
In order to get you started, here are some recommendations for products I really liked over the past year. I’m not affiliated with any of these and don’t get anything from endorsing them besides the Amazon fee. I talk about some health care products, but they’re all out of my field and best thought of a the opinion of an informed consumer, not as official medical endorsements.
Traditional 18-Year Balsamic Vinegar
A big part of people’s enjoyment of food is placebo. For example, people in blind taste tests prefer Pepsi to Coke, but people in unblinded taste tests prefer Coke to Pepsi because of the Coke “mystique”. Likewise, people will rate wine as better-tasting if they are falsely told it is more expensive. I expect this effect is bigger in people (like me) with relatively dull palates and overactive imaginations. We could capitalize on this by finding some food that sounds magical, amazing, and precious, and expecting it to have a taste that matches.
That food is balsamic vinegar. Not the fake stuff you get for $4.99 at the supermarket. The real version, which is usually called something like “traditional 18-year balsamic vinegar” and whose manufacture involves about the same number of complicated restrictions and obscure types of wood as building the Ark of the Covenant.
It’s not just that the grapes have to be from a particular species and grown in a particular Italian soil. It’s that they then have to be aged through a process in which the vinegar is constantly transferred, untransferred, and retransferred among series of successively smaller barrels of oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, mulberry, and acacia a bunch of times for eighteen years, so that each wood can “add its flavor” to precisely the right degree. How long it must spend in each cask is so complicated that people need high-level mathematics just to figure out how old any specific sample of vinegar is. See for example Guidici & Rinaldi 2007, A Theoretical Model To Predict The Age Of Traditional Balsamic Vinegar. The paper finally concludes that “there is a finite limit for the age of balsamic vinegar” – which I guess is reassuring.
So how does it actually taste?
Kind of like a mixture of grapes, oak, chestnut, cherry, juniper, mulberry, and acacia It tastes really interesting. Definitely not like normal vinegar. Not really like normal anything. Italians put it on ice cream (really!) or drink it straight from the bottle (really!) I can’t promise it’s not just the placebo effect, and honestly it probably is, but it’s certainly a more interesting the placebo effect than just buying an expensive wine or eating at a fancy French restaurant.
Fake Nice Pants
I have some sensory issues which make me find normal pants annoying; I prefer to wear sweatpants whenever I can. But this isn’t always compatible with appearing as a normal productive member of society, so sometimes I am forced to wear uncomfortable blue jeans or dress pants or whatever.
Luckily now there are are now sweatpants that look like jeans, khakis, dress pants, etc. I won’t say they’ll fool a careful examination, but hopefully nobody is carefully examining your pants, plus even if people notice they might feel awkward calling you out on it.
Xylitol Nasal Spray
Xylitol nasal spray is for nasal congestion and allergies. It’s not too different from saline sprays, but it’s a little gentler on the body and also has mild antibacterial properties. Also, I hadn’t even realized how well saline sprays worked until recently.
I’ve informally recommended this to a couple of patients with nasal and sinus issues and have received mostly good reports from them too.
The new Broadway musical Hamilton is really good. If you don’t believe me, believe mainstream media sources like 538, Vox, Breitbart, Vox again, the New York Times, Vox a third time, the LA Times, and one more Vox. Also all of Tumblr.
It’s a musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton set to rap, but you will like it even if you do not like rap or early American history. You can listen to the whole soundtrack for free on YouTube, follow along with the heavily annotated lyrics on genius.com, and finally you’ll want to have the CD so you can force your friends and family to listen.
If nothing else, this will help you understand the in-jokes on social media.
Dental Floss Scythes
Like everyone else in the world, my dentist told me to floss more but I never listened. Dealing with that weird little box of string was just too much of a trivial inconvenience.
I recently learned about dental floss scythes (probably they have a less interesting official name). These are little plastic things that kind of pre-arrange the dental floss for you. Now I am actually flossing every day. Well, most days. Some days. The point is, I’m flossing. Yes, I’m a bad person contributing to disposable waste culture, but at least I’m healthy.
(Now some people say flossing might not prevent heart attacks as was previously believed, but it’s probably still a good idea)
Nootropics Depot and Ceretropic
Not a product so much as a company. Nootropics Depot and Ceretropic are two online nootropics stores. They’re both owned by the same guy but have different branding: Nootropics Depot has nice gentle all-natural stuff, Ceretropic has new high-tech research chemicals.
There are lots of online nootropics stores, but these are far and away the best. I say this after lurking on r/nootropics for a long time, where users are very vocal about their experiences with different companies and mostly agree with my assessment. The guy who runs these stores also hangs out on r/nootropics, where he shares his encyclopaedic knowledge of everything and helps people who have gotten themselves in trouble. There are worse ways to spend a day than just reading through his entire posting history, but his commentary on my article Iron Curtain Of Psychopharmacology is a good specific example. He is legit and so are his sites.
Experimenting with nootropics is fundamentally a risky endeavor. You are using experimental psychoactive chemicals that haven’t been rigorously tested for safety or efficacy. Nootropics Depot and Ceretropic don’t change any of that. But they do ensure you are not doing anything stupider than the stupid thing you think you are doing. They are very careful about having purity-tested, un-degraded chemicals and making sure you are getting what is advertised on the bottle. They try to have the gold standard version of everything – for example, if they’re selling an herbal extract, it will be the same by composition, subspecies, etc as the version used in whichever studies have most clearly suggested safety and efficacy for the herb. They avoid at least some of the sketchiest diet-pill-stimulant-amphetamine-analogs you can find on some other sites. And they have excellent customer service and if for some reason your nootropics don’t arrive or get confiscated by customs they will work it out for you.
The other reason I like this company is that it does seem to have a long-term plan to build up a power base from which to try to ‘disrupt’ the pharmaceutical industry in the way we often talk about here. That’s obviously crazy ambitious, but they’ve already done some impressive things, like come up with a longer-lasting version of tianeptine. From a chemistry point of view that may not be super hard, but since tianeptine is a prescription drug in most of Europe it means they’ve improved pretty substantially upon a real pharmaceutical company’s project. They seem to be gradually getting labs and researchers, so I’m optimistic.
Oh, and if some of you crypto geniuses want to do a mitzvah, find an easy way for them to charge people non-Bitcoin money without credit card companies backstabbing them every few months because they get cold feet and decide nootropics are too weird.
In case the nootropics don’t work well enough for you and you still have human experiences like “sleep” and “tiredness”, you may be interested in periscope glasses. They let you lie down supine in bed and still read without having to hold your book in an awkward position.
[EDIT: If that wasn’t enough for you there’s also a 2014 Product Recommendations post.]