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Product Recommendations 2015

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.

Buy traditional 18-year balsamic vinegar

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.

Buy sweatpants that look like jeans, sweatpants that look like other types of jeans, sweatpants that look like dress pants, or sweatpants that look like khakis.

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.

Buy xylitol nasal spray

Hamilton CD

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, 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.

Buy the Hamilton CD

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)

Buy dental floss scythes

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.

Visit Nootropics Depot and Ceretropic.

Periscope Glasses

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.

Buy periscope glasses.

[EDIT: If that wasn’t enough for you there’s also a 2014 Product Recommendations post.]

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286 Responses to Product Recommendations 2015

  1. nope says:

    Parallel recommendation for women re the comfortable pants thing – if you’re not “up with the kids”, there are tons of jean-printed leggings and, somewhat less comfortably, jeggings that can replace your normal jeans if you hate how normal denim feels. If you go with jeggings, generally more elastane means “wears out faster but feels damn good in the meantime”.

  2. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I first learned about pajama jeans while reading Dumbing of Age. They seem potentially useful as something comfortable that you can wear at home while still being ready to answer the door or go to the corner store a semi-presentable state of dress at a moment’s notice, but the prices are insane (for me, at least; probably looks cheap enough for a man on a doctor’s salary).

    The dental floss thingies look interesting. Is that six packs of seventy-five each? As in, 6 x 75 = 450? Because getting a year+ of scythes for $20 sounds pretty good.

    • tcd says:

      Th dental floss scythes/picks are worth it. I started using them years ago when my dentist gave me a sample pack he got from a conference and asked me to let him know how they worked. You can get them with the standard wire-like floss (which I could not use since it felt like running fishing line between my teeth), or with a thicker band-strip floss (I have no problem with these).

    • jsmith says:

      They sell for about $2/100 at shoprite. They’re great, but Amazon, as it often is, charges ridiculous prices for some simple groceries occasionally.

    • von Kalifornen says:

      You can also find re-usable dental floss forks that you kinda tie a strip of dental floss to and wind it over the tines of the fork.

    • Outis says:

      I would not be able to respect a man who wore pajama jeans. At least have the courage of your convictions and wear sweatpants! Pajama jeans are for sloppy, worn out people who have just given up. It’s like getting a mobility scooter instead of losing weight and exercising. It’s only acceptable if you are old, American, and live out in the suburbs where we don’t have to see your sad spectacle.

      Now, I can entertain the notion that, as with mobility scooters, there are people whose use of pajama jeans is due to legitimate medical reasons. I can see that. I am quite particular about pants myself, and I know that jeans and slacks can be uncomfortable, while sweatpants never are.

      But Scott! You don’t have to give up your dignity and your membership in polite society! I’ll tell you a secret: 80% of pants discomfort is actually due to *underwear*. Yes, I know that your shitty underwear feels fine when you wear sweatpants, but they’re just masking the issue. Try new underwear before you give up. In my experience, you can’t go wrong with Sloggi briefs, though they’re hard to find in the US. And wash them on cold and dry on delicate, to maintain the elasticity.

    • Le Maistre Chat says:

      Those pajama jean khakis and slacks are cheap. As in, cheaply made. As someone tall and thin, I’ve basically been forced to buy the nicer pants that come unhemmed. Those things Scott linked to are more cheaply made than the $30 pre-hemmed khakis and slacks at JC Penney that I can’t wear.

    • RCF says:

      Another option that’s gained social acceptance is scrubs. You can dress down and look like a professional at the same time!

  3. LosLorenzo says:

    Nootropics Depot / Ceretropic billing. They could send an invoice with the delivery, or require you send them a check first. Obviously not ideal in terms of website conversion rates and user experience. Also requires greater trust. If they’re legit then user reviews will calm minds (and is a little more trust in the world a bad thing?).

    These are radical suggestions, I know. But legend says they do work as an alternative to Bitcoin.

  4. oligopsony says:

    What sketchy semi-legal chemicals are most likely to make me smart/least likely to kill me?

    • StreetNameDaffodil says:

      Armodafinil is pretty likely to make you smart and pretty unlikely to kill you.

      • Vox Imperatoris says:

        What is supposed to be the difference between armodafinil and modafinil?

        I have taken both. I can’t say I felt an extreme change in mood/motivation/whatever from either of them. They both worked very well at making me not feel sleepy.

        But I didn’t notice any significant difference in them. Besides the fact that armodafinil is a smaller pill for the same effect.

        • Watercressed says:

          Modafinil is chiral–like your hands, it can be either left or right. Only one is biologically active, but normal chemical synthesis produces both forms in equal amounts. Armodafinil (or R-modafinil) is purified so that it only has the active R- form of the drug.

        • amm says:

          Looks like they have similar effects but armodafinil has an 11 hour half life and “plain” modafinil is racemic so about half of it has a 4 hour half life and half of it has an 11 hour half life. From anecdotal reports (read: gwern) armodafinil feels “smoother”, which makes some sense.

          I get this from wikipedia which notes (on the modafinil page) that R-modafinil has an 11 hour half life, S-modafinil has a 4 hour half life. As for the difference in effects the armodafinil page notes that the R- and S- enantiomers have similar pharmacological action in animals.

    • nope says:

      Amphetamine is the best stimulant out there IMO, for side effects and normal effects, and I’ve tried a lot. It’s of course only legal if you’ve got a script, but that’s ridiculously easy. Also, none of these are going to make you smarter. That drug doesn’t yet exist, and I have a sneaking suspicion that when we finally are able to enhance cognitive capacity from baseline, it won’t be from a drug. Amphetamine *might* *maybe* improve your working memory, which a lot of people conflate with general intelligence (very high correlation, but definitely not the same thing), but probably only if your working memory is substantially worse than other people at a similar level of cognitive ability. The best thing these drugs do for you is wake you up if you’re tired and influence your emotions in all sorts of ways that are great for productivity (increasing confidence, decreasing future discounting, ramping up motivation and perseverance, improving task initiation, toning down any unwanted emotional distractions like sadness or excessive happiness).

      • Johnjohn says:

        > Also, none of these are going to make you smarter.

        Modafinil, caffeine, other stimulants makes me perform cognitive tasks faster (I did some, admittedly non-blind, testing to confirm this. Basic IQ test stuff). So in that sense, they’re definitely making me smarter (not permanently, but you know).

        It’s a little harder to say whether the increased clock rate allows me to solve problems I wouldn’t be able to solve given enough time without. Which is probably a more interesting definition of “smarter”.
        If it did, the boost I get from something like modafinil + caffeine seem to be in the area of ~5 iq points. So the amount of new problems within my grasp would probably be negligible. I have no idea how you’d measure something like that.

        • nope says:

          It will make you faster, sure, but it won’t increase your general cognitive ability (g), which is the sense in which I was using “smarter”. The speed gain doesn’t translate into an ability gain unless you have problems with working memory or processing speed, in which case it will bring you up to or close to the “healthy” level for your intelligence. However, it could affect untimed test scores if, for example, you had a lower level of motivation than optimal before the drugs or higher distractability. I’ve seen results in the range of 2/3rds of an SD (or about 10 points on WISC) increase with non-stimulant forms of motivation, like monetary rewards, so 5 points is not out of motivation’s realm of influence. The gain you’re talking about is unlikely to be very g-loaded (meaning “loads on general cognitive ability”), which could be seen if you had access to the data. Also, if you retook the same test, those 5 points were a training effect most likely.

          • Johnjohn says:

            It wasn’t the same test.
            I’m interested, do you have any information about which type of testing is used to measure g?

          • nope says:

            Well, all of them XD The thing about g is that it’s pretty much everywhere, to varying degrees. IQ tests are supposed to come the closest to measuring g perfectly, but the types of things calling themselves “IQ tests” are fairly diverse and some of them do a lot better than others. For instance, matrix reasoning tests are not nearly as g-loaded as verbal tests. Generally, the more items and categories of items on the test, the better a measure it is. More established, well-validated tests like Stanford Binet and WISC are going to get the closest. Unfortunately they have a rather low ceiling, as I think SB only goes up to +4 SD and I believe WISC is similar. There are some tests for ranges higher than that, but they’re of dubious validity and useless for 99.99% of people.

            Also, beware of treating scores as on a ratio scale, because they’re not. I assumed that when you said “5 points” you were referring to a 15 or 16 SD scale, but if that wasn’t the scale your tests used, then “5 points” could mean something completely different. It’s generally better to think in terms of your deviation rather than whatever number a test spit out at you, especially since it will help you avoid the common trap of thinking that the ability difference between a person with a 100 IQ and one with a 115 IQ is equivalent to the ability difference between the latter person and a person with a 130 IQ. Unintuitive, I know.

          • science says:

            It seems a rather odd complaint that a test is “only” usable up to 1 out of 30,000.

            That said, I don’t buy the scores even that high. The norm sample for SB5 was only 4,800 across all age groups.

  5. MartinW says:

    “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”.”

    There’s an alternative explanation, which is in fact given as the author’s preferred explanation in the linked article. Pepsi is sweeter than Coke, which gives it an advantage in tests where people are asked to take a few sips of each and say which one they prefer. But for many people it is too sweet to enjoy a whole glass of it.

    It’s like how if you were handing out different kinds of snacks, most people would probably take a cookie rather than a piece of steak, but if you then ask those same people what they want for dinner, they are more likely to want steak rather than a plate of cookies.

  6. Joyously says:

    On pants: I can not recommend stretch denim highly enough. Upsides: many times more comfortable than normal jeans, especially skinny jeans (curse be upon them). Downsides: they do not make your legs look luscious and shapely. In time, in fact, they stretch out and look a bit elephant-wrinkly. Also, in my case holes wear through the crotch after a few months of aggressive wearing. It’s okay–they’re pretty cheap so I just buy new ones. It is my same strategy for dress shoes–twenty dollar flats from PayLess that wear out relatively quickly but which don’t hurt my feet.

    • nope says:

      I’ve found that Payless is the store that reliably punishes my feet the most of any shoe store I’ve shopped at. I don’t know what sort of alternate reality Payless you’re shopping at, but if you’ve found $20 flats that haven’t rubbed the skin off your feet after an hour of wear, I’d like to live in whatever universe you call home.

    • RCF says:

      You do a lot of aggressive crotch wearing?

  7. Anon says:

    Seconding nasal spray.

    I feel like Scott did not emphasize this enough. (If you are already familiar with them, ignore this. I didn’t find out about them until adulthood, so I assume there exist others who are still unaware.) Nasal sprays are fucking magic. You know how sometimes your nose gets blocked when you’re sick? This thing will cause that to go away, in full, in ~2 minutes. It is one of the fastest-acting and most relief-bringing medical products I know of. They are very very cheap and do not cause either pain or hassle. You do not need to spend any more of your life with the experience of having a sickness-induced blocked nose.

    • Peter Scott says:

      Aaaargh, are you kidding me? All my time we have had the technology to clear up a horrific cold symptom, easily, and I had no idea until just now? If anybody needs me in the next few minutes, I will be over here giving Amazon some of my money immediately.

    • Neanderthal From Mordor says:

      Very true, but don’t forget that some nasal spray and nasal drop solutions can cause a sort of addiction if used too much.

      • Nah, the ephedrine ones got outlawed (at least in the EU).

        • Berna says:

          Some do contain Xylometazoline though, which can also be addictive. Don’t use it more than 3 days in a row.

          • I’d like to just mention this is an actual thing that happens, in case someone is in doubt.

            My boyfriend has a nasal spray addiction (because he wasn’t warned the first time he tried it). We do joke about it, but I do keep trying to get him to see a doctor about what he can do to reverse it. He’s tried to go cold turkey but that just isn’t working for him. Been like this for a few years now. Probably contributing to frequent headaches, which is just bringing his general quality of life down a lot.

    • Mary says:

      Furthermore — and this is the reason why my doctor insists on SALINE — saline sprays do not make you dependent on them,

      • Troy says:

        This is good to know. I’ve stayed away from nasal sprays because I’ve heard they’re addictive, and once you use them you can’t breathe without them. I’m glad that’s not the case with the one Scott’s recommending.

        • JadeNekotenshi says:

          As far as I know, that’s only really a problem due to ephedrine and rebound effects associated with oxymetazoline. I’m no doctor or med-chem engineer, but I wouldn’t assume anything like that would happen with saline or xylitol.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          I’m not a otolaryngologist and might not even be spelling that word right, but I agree with JadeNekotenshi.

        • ReluctantEngineer says:

          I’ve stayed away from nasal sprays because I’ve heard they’re addictive, and once you use them you can’t breathe without them.

          Oxymetazoline sprays (most common brand is Afrin) are fine as long as you don’t use them more than a few days in a row (beyond that you run a risk of encountering rebound effects). I use them when I get a cold and they are SUPER effective. Saline sprays do nothing for me, but I can always count on Afrin to punch my nasal passages open with a mighty chemical fist.

    • Shieldfoss says:


      Ok back the fun bus up a couple of feet:

      Nose Sprays cause addiction[1].

      Using Xylitol nose spray when necessary for relief purposes due to troubled breathing should be fine. Do NOT make a habit of using it regularly. If you experience troubled breathing regularly, get off the stuff and learn to breath through your mouth until your xylitol sensitivization goes away.

      [1] Not in the sense of hard drugs. Rather, in the sense that, much like caffeine, you can become used to a baseline after which the effect stops working so you must use more, and feel bad (in fact, worse than otherwise) if you do not use it.

      [EDIT: Hah, I see everybody else had my same instant “Wait I must warn them” response and so my post is mostly useless. However: Even xylitol-based nose sprays cause this same issue. I do not believe it has been shown in saline sprays, but I would be surprised if it isn’t present there as well.]

    • Marc Whipple says:

      Protip: If your nose starts bleeding every time you use it, you should probably stop for a while.

      No, seriously. OTOH, this may be a consequence of the fact that I was essentially addicted to NeoSynephrine when I was young. I’d be willing to bet I have some truly spectacular scarring. 🙁 You know the spray that is now illegal? I used to walk around with a bottle of drops of that stuff in my pocket*. I tell this to medical people now and they just look at me in horror.

      *It’s essentially the same stuff and the sprays even used to say that if you wanted drops, just turn the bottle upside down. But trust me, this was worse. But by God your nose was CLEAR. Miraculous stuff. Shame about the side effects.

    • Marc Whipple says:

      That being said and caveats aside – and they are important – I tend to agree with Dave Barry on this one:

      “I feel that nasal spray is a wondrous medical achievement, because it is supposed to relieve nasal congestion, and by Gadfrey, it relieves nasal congestion. What I’m saying is that it actually works, which is something you can say about very few other aspects of the medical establishment.”,3185221&hl=en

  8. Joyously says:

    On flossing: I too started flossing more when I switched to those scythes. I only started flossing *every day* when I got a water pick. I guess that’s not technically flossing. It’s “picking” or whatever. It is a mechanical device that shoots a stream of water between your teeth. My first visit to the dentist after acquiring it, the dental hygienist said in an approving tone, “Oh, you’ve been flossing.” I was very proud.

    • Dan Davis says:

      I do a water pick too. “Oral Irrigator”. I use it more than floss, and feel it cleans out the gums much better.

      I’ve got a bad pocket that I can *taste* when I flush it out if I haven’t been using the water pick much. Yuck. But the bad taste goes away in a few days of repeated picking.

      I use this one. It seems to go on sale half off regularly. Currently half off with a CYBERMONDAY coupon code.

    • alexp says:

      I was pretty sure dentists just say “you need to floss more” to everyone without even looking at their teeth. My girlfriend flosses twice a day and still gets “you need to floss more” from dentists.

      • foo says:

        I don’t floss at all and never get a “you need to floss more”. I’m not sure whether the dentist just doesn’t say this to anyone or whether I brush my teeth very well… ? Though I do take double the time for tooth-brushing as everyone else.

      • I used to get it all the time, started flossing, on one visit I got a “ok but here’s *how* you should be flossing” and now consistently get “you’ve been flossing, good work, keep it up”.

  9. How did Vox come up with 51 Hamilton burns without using “yeahhhhh, keep ranting,” (Hamilton, Cabinet Battle I) which suits virtually every candidate in the race, or “turn around, bend over, I’ll show you where my shoe fits”, which I’m surprised Donald Trump hasn’t already said?

  10. brightlinger says:

    Is that the right link for “trivial inconvenience”? It seems totally unrelated.

    • Vaniver says:

      I believe Smile goes to whatever charity the buyer has set up, and it’s the ref link that determines who gets the affiliate money.

  11. Anonymous says:

    > Italians put it on ice cream (really!) or drink it straight from the bottle (really!)

    Bullshit! Putting it on ice cream is unusual and many don’t like and I have never heard of anyone drinking balsamic vinegar for recreational purposes. Source: I am italian.

    • Anonymous says:

      I’m italian and never heard of either thing, but people around me tell me that yes you can put traditional vinegar on ice cream; nobody however thinks you can drink it straight.

      • Richard says:

        I drink it straight

        • Deiseach says:

          I drink ordinary vinegar straight! However, that does not mean I upend the bottle on my head and glug away, it means I drip a few drops at a time onto my tongue until I’ve had enough.

          I have tried balsamic vinegar and it definitely is different to the usual run of vinegar you get. I don’t know about using it in sweet dishes but definitely for savoury ones.

          Re: drinking vinegar, does anyone else get vinegar cravings or is that just me? Is there such a thing as an acetic acid deficiency?

          • Chalid says:

            I have a friend who gets severe indigestion (on the toilet for hours) if he eats certain meats *unless* he first drinks some vinegar, in which case he’s fine. So he’s obviously deficient in something that acetic acid helps with.

          • Mark Z. says:

            Chalid: He’s probably deficient in stomach acid. Should really get that checked out, as it can come with B12 deficiency and other problems.

    • Chalid says:

      I am not Italian, but my wife and I both drink it straight. On the rare occasions we have vanilla ice cream we may put balsamic on it too. Only higher-end traditional balsamic though.

      (“Drink it straight” in this case means “pour a small amount into a shot glass and then sip it for a few minutes.”)

      • King Marth says:

        I’ve started doing this for New Years while everyone else takes champagne, though I need to get a shotglass that is easier to lick clean. The standard method of consumption is still a dollop with some olive oil that you dip bread in, plus it’s great for glazes.

        I personally hate vinegar and most things derived from vinegar, salad dressing is right out. The majority of condiment balsamic vinegar is the delicious concentrated grape juice cut 50/50 with vinegar, which ruins it just as much as vinegar ruins anything else. Fortunately for me, a balsamic shop opened nearby and offered free tastings, and I got to taste what wine could be like if it wasn’t 9-15% alcohol. Unfortunately for me that shop has now closed, so it’ll be internet ordering from here on out once my stock runs dry.

        I wouldn’t mind trying balsamic that wasn’t 18-year aged, given that the 25-year balsamic from that shop tasted woody. The white balsamics were only 6-year, I think, and those were great; much sweeter, ideal for ice cream if mixing cream and fruit is palatable to you. I just haven’t found anyone willing to sell delicious reduced grape juice without either mixing it with vinegar or hiding it for an extra decade to increase the mystique.

  12. Echo says:

    Not going to dump a bunch of links for fear of triggering the poor spam filter, but here’s a few neat products.

    Fenix E11 (or similar) flashlight.
    Cheap, small, powerful, 1AA battery, waterproof and strong aluminum casing. I’ve used it every day for the past two years, and carry it everywhere. 10′ drop onto concrete just gave it a slight ding on the finish. Great for running, especially in the flashlight pocket of a belly band holster.
    You’d be amazed how often it helps to have a bit of light on hand.

    Huion H610 (or similar) drawing tablet.
    Wacom tablets are overpriced. A 6×10″ Huion tablet is 1/5 or less the price of an equivalent wacom, and only lacks tilt sensitivity. At that price, it’s worth having one just for general purposes, even if you’re not an artist.

    Pullup bar.
    Free. Just pick up a metal pipe and drill a hole in it. Don’t bother with the crappy Gold’s Gym junk. Do pullups every day. It’s the least you can do for your body if you don’t lift like you should.

    The flossy things are great. I always flossed religiously, but they were a great quality of life improvement.

    • Phil says:

      “Pullup bar.
      Free. Just pick up a metal pipe and drill a hole in it. Don’t bother with the crappy Gold’s Gym junk. Do pullups every day. It’s the least you can do for your body if you don’t lift like you should.”

      maybe I’m not being very smart, but I’m having trouble visualizing what you’re supposed to do with your metal pipe with a hole in it to turn it into a pullup bar, seems like at the very least I’d have to figure how to rig it up to something that can support approx 220lbs of weight without being ripped out of the wall/ceiling/wherever

      • LRS says:

        Yes, it seems like some important intermediate steps have been left as an exercise for the reader.

      • Echo says:

        I had a more complete guide written out, but figured “hey, these are self-selected smart people, right?”
        Any regular 2×4/8″ wall stud will hold your weight with a nail banged in.

        • Ydirbut says:

          How do you space it out from the wall so your knees don’t hit it when you do a pull up? Scrap wood?

        • estelendur says:

          So do you just put it sticking straight out from the wall like the poles in Prince of Persia, or [Ydirbut’s question]?

          • Nornagest says:

            I assume it goes something like this:

            – drill hole through the middle of the pipe on its short axis

            – drive a nail through that hole and into a wall stud

            But I have my doubts about both the durability and the ergonomics of this arrangement. The wall stud’s more than strong enough, but your average nail isn’t.

        • RCF says:

          They are also disproportionately Silicon Valley residents who can’t afford to buy a house at Bay Area prices and are likely renting from someone who wouldn’t appreciate a bunch of nails being driven into their walls.

          • Technically Not Anonymous says:

            Probably also disproportionately people who know little to nothing about construction, with us being a bunch of nerds and everything.

      • RCF says:

        There’s also the question of where there’s a bunch of metal pipes lying around that no one will care if you take. As well as the assumption that everyone has a drill capable of handling metal pipe.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      I have never needed a flashlight since smartphones started having flashes.

      The flash on the phone is more than bright enough for most uses like “I need to navigate some place in the dark”. Maybe it’s not sufficient for “Scully and Mulder need to catch the fluke man in the dark”, but overall I find it quite useful.

      I used the dental “scythes” for a while, but honestly I think regular floss is better. The floss on the “scythes” gets all loose and out of shape, at least if your teeth/fillings are very tight together like mine.

      • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

        If you do things in places where whipping a few hundred dollar piece of electronics out if you’re pocket is not practical or advisable, having a flashlight is useful.

        Also, if you want to be able see after turning the flashlight off and color discernment isn’t important, having a red flashlight helps.

        Also, if you frequently kill the battery on your phone, having a flashlight source with an independent power supply is useful.

        Also, if you want to confuse low flying airplanes in the fog when you lose your keys in the yard, having aa **powerful** flashlight is a must.

        • Marc Whipple says:

          I have an EternaLight. Nearly indestructible, waterproof, floats, highly variable, and you can use the strobe functions to mess with people. Also, it’s flat, so it won’t roll away, and it’s got a magnet on one side you can stick it to things with. I’m very fond of it.

          Oh, and it’s BRIGHT YELLOW. Which means it’s easy to find when there’s not much light. Black flashlights are very tacticool, but I’m not a NinjaCop.

        • RCF says:

          “Also, if you want to be able see after turning the flashlight off and color discernment isn’t important, having a red flashlight helps.”

          Here’s another way to deal with that problem: keep one of your eyes closed when you have the light on. For most purposes, one eye is enough.

      • Nornagest says:

        I have a flashlight app that works that way on my phone, but I still keep a Photon light on my keychain. I rarely need one LED’s worth of light for more than a few seconds (going down stairs in the dark, looking for something in a dark container, figuring out where the light switch is in an unfamiliar room), so it’s worth the ten bucks for me not to have to fumble through several screens every time.

        If I need light for longer than that, I probably need enough that the phone’s flash is inconveniently weak: for example, doing something outside after dark in a rural area. I have a SureFire flashlight similar to this one for situations like that.

        • Noumenon says:

          > not to have to fumble through several screens every time.

          I use SwipePad for Android, which means I can always launch my flashlight with one drag no matter what app I’m in. Combined with Gravity Screen so I don’t have to turn the phone on, and no lock screen, it’s really quite efficient. I have a lot of other shortcuts on there like camera, timer, and sending a text to my nephew’s mom.

          • Who wouldn't want to be anonymous says:

            Motorola phones have a thing where shaking the phone in different ways does stuff. You don’t need to look at the phone, or even get it all the way it if your pocket to turn the flashlight on.

      • Echo says:

        I had to change a tire on the dark the other day, and a phone would have gotten soaked or broken. Speaking of which, a phone wouldn’t have survived that 10′ drop onto concrete I mentioned.
        Power went out over the weekend, and wasting your cell phone charge on lighting up the room seems silly. No to mention needing a stronger light when you’re out checking for downed power lines.
        And when you’re running at night, it looks pretty stupid to have a cell phone out lighting up 2ft in front of you.

  13. My most easily recommended thing I own is my external backup battery. I have a giant white brick battery that’ll charge my phone three times over, but it’s heavy, and I wouldn’t want it in my backpack every day. But there’s this tiny little battery that will go comfortably in my pocket, and that I think absolutely nothing of leaving permanently in my backpack. It’ll charge my phone from empty to full, and it’ll charge my phone *fast* enough that I can actually start using my phone right away (many chargers put out such a weak stream of charge that at first my phone is liable to die again if I, say, start using the GPS). A+, would buy again.

    • meyerkev248 says:

      I’ve got 3 of those, and also this one.

      Exactly the same size as my Nexus 6p (except you know, thicker), and comes with a USB-C charging port for fast-charging. So if your phone fits in your pocket, so does your battery.

      /Mods, I am apparently way too dumb to figure out how to craft a smile link despite working for Amazon. You have my permission/request to fix that.
      //Last Christmas, my gift to everybody was one of those small ones.

    • On the subject of backup batteries:

      I got a backup battery from Lizone for recharging my and my daughter’s laptops on some very long flights, starting with one to China. Worked fine on that flight. On our way out of China it was confiscated, because China has a limit on total power of external batteries allowed on an airplane and it was well over it.

      I had asked Lizone in advance about problems boarding planes with their battery in China, having had a much smaller battery confiscated on an earlier trip–it didn’t have the capacity marked on it–and been told there would be no problem. Particularly irritating since Lizone is a Chinese company. They did, however, replace the battery when I pointed out what had happened. As long as you are not planning to fly anywhere which has limits, it’s a good product. But do check if you are thinking of getting a battery large enough to provide additional lifetime for a laptop.

      • Shieldfoss says:


        You know, I was discussing in class (this was years ago) that my laptop battery had an energy density similar to some hand grenades once you factored in the mass of the storage around it.

        I never know anybody would actually consider what consequences that would have if an engineer decided to get clever. I’d say “good on China” if I thought this was anything but security theater, but I expect that any clever engineer could get around this policy like it didn’t even exist.

        • RCF says:

          Approximate energy densities of various substances in MJ/L:

          Butter: 30
          Sugar: 15
          TNT: 4
          Lithium-ion battery: 2

          • John Schilling says:

            There’s something missing from those first two examples. Take a deep breath and think about it.

      • RCF says:

        I take it it has a specific charger? My understanding is that laptops can supply, but not receive, power through USB ports.

        • If you are asking about the external battery I described, it has connectors for both Mac (magsafe) and Windows laptops. And USB for recharging cell phones. A very nice gadget as long as you aren’t flying on airplanes that don’t allow it.

    • Good Burning Plastic says:

      Why the hell doesn’t Amazon allow me to filter external batteries by weight anyway?

    • Outis says:

      I don’t like that it’s metal. I prefer external batteries with plastic enclosures that don’t run the risk of scratching stuff in the pocket.

  14. I love the idea of not having to wear normal pants. Seriously though, why are there no pants with 34 inch inseam? So many places seem to only have 32 inch inseam or less.

    • JadeNekotenshi says:

      The world seems to have an aversion to people with long legs.

      Ha ha, only serious. Finding 34-36″ inseams in much of anything is a challenge. They exist, but are always sold out, or are only available in a very few styles. Drives me bananas. I feel bad for folks appreciably taller than me, who are likely forced to pay through the nose for nonstandard cuts. (I get why it works that way, but it’s *damnably* inconvenient!)

      • Nornagest says:

        I fall between 34 and 36. Used to wear 34 consistently, until I started wearing loafers and dress shoes more often and couldn’t get away with slightly-too-short pants that presented no problems when I was wearing Chucks or boots.

        I never had much trouble finding pants in 34. Levis come in that length and so do the main brands of khakis; they’re rarer than 32 or 30 but you can still find them in brick-and-mortar stores if you go to a big one. Dress pants are deliberately cut long and tailored to whatever you need. But 36? I literally walked into the biggest clothing store in San Francisco and asked them if they had anything in that length, and the answer was no.

        Nowadays I buy most of my pants online. I’m skeptical of sweat-jeans, though; I think the differences in drape and texture would be obvious even if the color was on point, and I doubt that’s perfect.

      • I have the opposite problem, being about 5′ 3″ tall. My solution, for many years, has been a mail order clothing source–Haband. Very inexpensive, and I find their pants to be of reasonable quality. They have a wide range of sizes. But checking their web page, inseams only go to 34″, so not an adequate solution to your problem.

      • I wonder what’s going on there– in many ways, tall people are treated better, but somehow, this doesn’t translate into long enough pants being commonly available.

        It seems like admiring tall people isn’t about tall people, it’s about a fantasy of tallness. Or something. Tall people (or just tall men? I”m not sure) get paid more, but actual care-taking (see also airplane seats) doesn’t happen.

        • brad says:

          Maybe it’s *because* they are disproportionately wealthy. So coach is terribly uncomfortable for tall men, but that’s because most of the tall men are up in business, first class, or in private jets. Similarly maybe it is only inexpensive pants that are unavailable in long inseams and once you start spending $400+ on a pair it is no longer an issue — and certainly not for bespoke.

          Eh, probably not. But a fun little theory.

        • Nornagest says:

          Admiration doesn’t always translate into care; advantage in one area doesn’t necessarily mean advantage in another. And this isn’t a situation like gay/straight, where one option is treated as the cultural norm because it really is a lot more common.

          The people designing cabin layouts at United Airlines might be more likely to date tall guys if they swing that way, but I’d expect them to be very aware of the real distribution of heights among their passengers. If maximizing their bottom line means screwing over some taller passengers, well, they don’t have to mention that during their next date.

        • Deiseach says:

          It’s the bell curve; airlines make money by filling their planes, which means packing in the passengers (ask Ryanair).

          According to the graph above, American men average at 5′ 10″ in height and American women at 5′ 5″. So they take the smallest size they can get away with as the average (I’m guessing it’s something like 5′ 8″) and cram more seats in that way. Since taller people are less common, they are not catered for (if you want leg room, you pay for the more expensive seats; if you can’t afford that, tough, you have to fit in as best you can).

          Same way as when you’re fat, most clothing stores/chain stores don’t carry the largest sizes or if they do, not much of a range: too expensive for the custom they get. They can sell more of the standard sizes so that’s what they give rack space.

    • Shieldfoss says:

      Maybe you need to gain waist size? I can find 40-34″ jeans easily. Maybe they’re hard to find in 34-34″ ?

      • Deiseach says:

        No, usually there’s a range of waist sizes, it’s the inseam length that is tough to get (short legs run in my family). My father and brother both take 29″ (I should say “took” in my father’s case) and it was tough to impossible to find trousers in that leg length. 30″ usually was the closest and meant my mother or I turned up the hem of the leg for him 🙂

        • The Anonymouse says:

          I’m with your folks on this one. I’m 6′ and 200lbs, while wearing a 36″ waist and 30″ inseam. Sometimes can get away with 32″ if I’m wearing boots.

          As a side note, my life improved when I realized (late) that fitness does not have to include bubbly little cardio bunnies telling me that running will change my life if I just stick with it and achieve some transcendental breakthrough that will make me love it and float along in some endorphin haze.1 Having a long torso and stubby legs made sure that never happened. So I lift, which I do find enjoyable enough to do 3+ times per week.

          As a side side note, if 36″x30″ pants are hard, my old size of 40″x30″ is harder. But I rest assured; people have told me that losing weight and keeping it off is scientifically impossible and all my willpower is a myth, so I will soon go back up to that size. Whew.2

          1 And if it’s not the annoying New Balance types, it’s the far-off echoes of my old team leader’s voice. “And the mess sergeant looked at me with a grin // Said ‘you want to be infantry you gotta be thin.'”
          2 It’s been some years, but I’m assured it’ll happen any day now. Especially since I enjoy more daily calories now than when I was chubby.

        • Haband routinely has 28″ inseams. But I doubt they ship to Ireland.

  15. Helldalgo says:

    I spent way too long wondering why fake nice plants have anything to do with your sensory issues.

    Sweatpants mess with MY sensory issues, so it’s flannel or denim for me.

  16. Scott, you could put up affiliate links to, fr, etc. for your non-US readership.

    SanDisk has 128GB flash drives now. If you don’t own a computer on your own, just an employer issued laptop, you can get one of these, install Steam and your games on it, the virtual machines for playing with Linux and Urbit and whatnot. Won’t fool the IT, but if the IT likes you they can pretend to not notice.

    Screw everything about the SeaGate PersonalCloud NAT we bought! It can download torrents but not through a proxy so it gets your ass caught, it has a media server but too slow to do actual conversion, you cannot properly control where backups go, you cannot delete aborted backups, you cannot ssh into it or otherwise get full admin rights, it is a total mess. Get a real NAT with ssh root access and all that. I never in my whole life saw such a half assed product in this price range. How hard would it be to offer ssh root access???

    Are there any products that help with stretching somehow, especially hamstrings and other parts of your hips and leg? Like a cream you rub in and then you can stretch it more, or something? I need to learn to be able to do splits, there is no progress in martial arts beyond a basic level without that. But my legs are extremely stone tight.

    Balsamic vinegar: I put Worcestershire sauce on/in scrambled eggs, chicken breast and so on and it works well. It too is a vinegar based product. of course the US version has 3x as much sugar, is anyone even surprised? Go for the original one… while we are at sauces, why the heck is the Oatmeal lionizing srirocha? I tried both the goose and rooster and it is just hot chili sauce with garlic, nothing to write home about, it has less complexity than e.g. tabasco.

    • nope says:

      >Are there any products that help with stretching somehow, especially hamstrings and other parts of your hips and leg?

      There are various stretching machines you can use at most gyms, but nothing like a topical cream. And you don’t need a stretching machine for splits anyhow.

      Here’s the easiest way possible for you to get more flexible legs: confine yourself to a bed for 1-2 months. If you’re not going to go full atrophy, then at least stop trying to make gains with any of the muscles you want more flexible. Also, never stretch cold muscles, do resistance stretching, stretch multiple times a day for 30 seconds to a minute holding each pose, etc etc etc

    • Vaniver says:

      Are there any products that help with stretching somehow, especially hamstrings and other parts of your hips and leg? Like a cream you rub in and then you can stretch it more, or something? I need to learn to be able to do splits, there is no progress in martial arts beyond a basic level without that. But my legs are extremely stone tight.

      Isn’t this one thing that massage rollers (or, you know, actual massages) are for?

      • Psmith says:

        Yep. Foam rollers and the like don’t work that well, although the quite expensive Rumble Roller works slightly better than the rest, IME; you can’t get the same kind of scrubbing/”cross-friction” motion with a foam roller that you can with a hand. On the other hand, vicious and painful actual massages seem to work pretty well for increasing ROM. In the US, I’d look for someone offering sports massage or Graston/ART, or better yet ask the people I lift with for a referral.

      • jooyous says:

        Rubber lacrosse ball?

        • I use a dog ball (tennis ball without hair) on my back, didn’t occur to me to try it on hamstrings. I thought it is against pain, not for range of movement. Thanks, Vaniver, jooyus, will try!

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      SanDisk has 128GB flash drives now. If you don’t own a computer on your own, just an employer issued laptop, you can get one of these, install Steam and your games on it, the virtual machines for playing with Linux and Urbit and whatnot. Won’t fool the IT, but if the IT likes you they can pretend to not notice.

      I have a SanDisk Cruzer Fit 32GB USB Flash Drive that I keep all my personal files on, except for some large files (such as movies) that I keep on a My Passport 1TB External Hard Drive (which is also where I keep my 32GB Drive’s periodic backups). It’s only got 5GB left, though, so it’s good to hear that there are bigger drives now, since I’ll need to upgrade eventually.

    • Heinzelotto says:

      I don’t know much about this, but it could serve as a starting point for further research and claims to be useful for your goals:

    • Iceman says:

      On the topic of NASs: This is significantly above the price range of that SeaGate one you mentioned, but I have nothing but nice things to say about the Freenas Mini. It’s a FreeBSD NAS, which means jails and ZFS snapshotting. ZFS snapshotting is the best incremental backup system I’ve ever used; being able to say:

      zfs send -iRv [last month’s snapshot] [this month’s snapshot] | zfs receive [my external hard drive]

      has made my incremental backups fairly reliable. I have two usb hard drives, one at home and one offsite, and once a month I sync from the live NAS to the offline backup drives. For redundancy, you can also specify to zfs how many copies of the file should be stored on a drive; for my backup drives, I have this set to 2. These external harddrives are essentially append only logs.

      Speaking of append only logs, this machine would be great for running Urbit on and this is probably the machine that I’ll eventually run my planet off of, since it’s the only machine I have that has ECC memory. I think it’s crazy that people are running data storage machines without it, and curse Intel for segmenting the market such that there aren’t any normal consumer chips that support it; just embeded and high end Xeons.

      • JadeNekotenshi says:

        The last time I checked, all AMD CPUs support ECC, not just Opterons. It’s only Intel doing this segmentation drek.

    • I’m using my company-provided laptop right now, I’ve got both Portal games and Psychonauts and an N64 emulator and Crypt of the Necrodancer and some other stuff probably. Do some companies care? Why?

      • Because if you as IT allow any fool to do anything with their work computer, you have to waste your time fighting malware. Allowing only non-fools local admin rights is technically sensible but “politically” can be difficult. We have this, but only tacitly, so better to separate this stuff. Besides, what happens if you are suddenly laid off? Better to have your own stuff on your own drive, it is fairly obvious to me.

  17. Winter Shaker says:

    While we’re recommending things that you skoosh up your nose, can I put in a good word for those ‘Cold and Flu Nasal Defence Spray’ things? I use Boots brand, which I’m not sure is available in the US, but I assume the name-brand Vicks equivalent is.

    They’re not a decongestant; they’re a virus-killing goo that is supposed to coat the lining of your nasal passage and trap and disable cold viruses that land there. Use either prophylactically (basically when you’ve been around enough people, or doing something contagious enough like a dance where you’re holding lots of different hands) or reactively in the early stages of feeling a cold coming on (but not so effective once it has properly gotten hold and spread down into your throat). Sample of one, I know, but I seem to have been getting colds a lot less since I started using them.

  18. ElGalambo says:

    These are the resources I seek recommendations from:

    N.B. This is not spam and I have no affiliation with any of these websites.

    • 27chaos says:

      Thanks, this was very helpful! My soon to be brother in law works construction, and I realized that buying some nice socks or gloves would be helpful for preventing injuries and discomfort when browsing through these links.

    • LCL says:

      That sweethome site is excellent, thanks for the link.

      Just tells you what specific product to buy in any category, without a lot of fussing over alternatives and customization to complicate the decision. Perfect for satisficers and people who know they have normal consumer preferences.

      As an aside, every time I go to a sandwich chain that offers 11,000 custom combinations of sandwich I wish someone would do the same. Just have a satisficer menu with a couple preselected combinations that some expert picked as the best ones. Would win my business for sure.

  19. Tibor says:

    Well, my dentist (technically, the dental hygienist in the same practice…) told me to use these:

    Interdental brushes are easier to use than the dental floss (once you learn how to use them) and actually cover more ground. it is basically like a very thin toothpick with brushes on it and after a while you get so used to it that you brush your teeth with it all the time (but once a day is really enough). It reduces the number of caries on the sides of the teeth (where the regular toothbrush does not reach) significantly and it is really good for your gums. In fact, when you start using it, your gums are likely to bleed a bit, because they are quite irritated from all the bacteria in between the teeth where you basically had not not brushed your teeth. But after some two weeks this stops and your gums are much healthier.

    You have to switch them pretty often though, because the brushes wear off and you are then left with just a piece of wire on a stick. It is also important to pick the right size (or sizes) for your teeth – it depends on how much space you have between your teeth. I can do with one size, although in two or three places a thinner brush would probably be a bit better. Also I find the bent ones much more comfortable and easier to use than the straight ones.

  20. Edward Scizorhands says:

    I’m middle-aged and married. I’m looking for good gifts for my wife so she doesn’t cry. She couldn’t think of what she wanted so it’s all on me.

    • Vaniver says:

      The primary thing the typical wife is looking for is evidence that you paid attention to her. How does she spend her time? What does she complain about? What makes her happy or sad?

      Just like seeking information through conversation and seeking intimacy through conversation are radically different things, improving lives through gift-giving and demonstrating intimacy through gift-giving are radically different things.

      For example, suppose you routinely take your wife out to dinner and pay (or you have shared finances so both of you are paying anyway). If you buy her a gift card to her favorite restaurant, you have not made her any richer or her life any better (just like a conversation in which nothing of importance is said), but you’ve demonstrated that you know which restaurant is her favorite restaurant (just like a conversation in which the unimportant things talked about are unimportant things she wants to talk about). This works in part because it’s a costly signal: if you pick the wrong restaurant, well, it’s obvious how much attention you’re paying.

      That is, it really is all on you: we can tell you things that women are more likely than men to like, or things that people like in general, but we can’t put the effort into knowing what makes your wife special (i.e. different from other women and people).

      • nope says:

        Oh my god, I’m copying your post verbatim to my SO who refuses to buy anyone, including me, gifts because he doesn’t see the point of “just exchanging money in an inefficient way”. Thanks for wording it better than I apparently could.

        • Vaniver says:

          Glad I could help!

          Also, book recommendation for you / your SO: You Just Don’t Understand by Deborah Tannen. It’s about as neutral a description of the masculine and feminine style of communication and interaction as you can find.

        • Shieldfoss says:


          I feel exactly the same as your SO just: OF COURSE I GIVE GIFTS! It’s ME that has the utility problem, not the receiver! That *I* don’t see the point doesn’t change the fact that it makes other people sad not to receive an expected gift.

          • The giving of gifts is a puzzle, since the obvious economic argument implies either that you shouldn’t do it at all or that you should do it as cash. When the real world fails to fit the implications of your theory, the proper response is not to assume the world gets it wrong but to try to figure out what your theoretical analysis is missing.

          • RCF says:

            @David Friedman:
            You are equivocating people not doing what one’s theory say they should do, and them not doing what one’s theory says they will do.

          • At least part of gift-giving is a gamble with a potentially high emotional pay-off. It’s a real, though low-probability, pleasure to get a gift right.

          • @RCF:

            The central assumption of economics is rationality–that people tend to take the actions that best achieve their objectives. So if giving gifts is a poor way of achieving the objectives people have, the theory predicts people won’t do it.

            They do do it. One could put that down to the equivalent of experimental error–“tend to” allows for the possibility of mistakes. But when you observe lots of people doing something consistently that is not a very plausible explanation. And it’s much more interesting to try to figure out a plausible reason why what they are doing makes sense–which is to say, a mistake in the initial analysis of why it doesn’t.

          • RCF says:

            I think there’s a difference between “assumes” and “predicts”. The Ideal Gas Law assumes that molecules have no volume. It doesn’t predict that. Economists are well aware that people are irrational. They may have particular models that take rationality as a simplifying assumption, but they don’t actually believe that people are irrational, just as people who do arbitrage-free pricing models don’t believe that arbitrage is impossible.

      • Very well put.

        We have stopped Xmas presents with the extended family exactly for this reason, we are not paying that much attention to each other, so it was just buying generic present sets, cigar cutter and wine opener set type of crap. We are wondering stopping presents with my wife too for this reason, currently it is already just small symbolic surprises, but usually useless stuff. There isn’t really anything we would particularly like, we don’t really have time, energy, patience left for actually liking stuff, and the needful stuff like pants gets bought when we need them, like the older pants tear or something, not at Xmas. But we are not at this point yet, still experimenting with generic small things, generic cute feminine thing for her like cute cat shaped post-it dispenser, generic masculine thing like pistol shaped cigarette lighter for me, but I think this will get old real soon now.

        Of course for the kid(s) we will keep up the tradition, I think that is the real point of Xmas presents anyway. It is mainly for children. I think everybody else gets presents only because we sort of like remembering our childhood. It is so much easier for children, you know what category of toys the child likes, and any random toys from that category work. A child who has 5 toy racecars and really likes them will never be unhappy with a 6th one. They are kind of predictable.

    • caryatis says:

      Things that you know she enjoys having but that she doesn’t buy for herself.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        If she wants something, she typically buys it.

        There is jewelry and chocolate, and I’ll get some of that, but it won’t be enough by itself.

        • 27chaos says:

          I am tempted to recommend you buy an absurd amount of chocolate, but this recommendation is probably not very trustworthy since it is not based on my experiences. But I would love to see what happens.

        • houseboatonstyx says:

          Some unusual variety of chocolate (or tea or cheese) might be good — or a variety pack of different unusual varieties.

          Fancy consumables are good, because they don’t make clutter (for long) and can be shunted to someone else if she really doesn’t want them.

          If it’s a type of thing you know she likes (eg chocolate), then you’re showing you understand her liking … and understand what variety will be new to her.

    • I am buying stuff like this:–Figure-Pop-up-Dispenser-CAT-330/dp/B00I4HV3TS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1449161222&sr=8-1&keywords=Post-it+Cat+Figure+Pop-up+Note+Dispenser

      This is just silly cheap crap, but cute, feminine, doesn’t look bad on a woman’s home desk, and the important stuff we buy when we need them, not for Xmas, in fact we are on the verge of stopping Xmas presents completely except for the children, we already did this with extended family. So it is just small things.

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        This is good. It does contribute to the long-term clutter problem, but I’ll take that over the short-term crying problem.

        (I realize my problem is that I am afraid that every gift will end in tears, because it happened once in the past. This is a problem on my part and I should talk about it with my therapist.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Does she like fragrances? Cooking? Does she do arts and crafts stuff? Jewellery? Clothing? Home improvements?

      What are your wife’s interests, or any notion of things she likes? At the worst, if you have a sister/she has a sister, you can ask her what to get. Things like fragrances are very personal, so it’s best to find out what she already likes and wears and buy the expensive version of that (and some go up to “How much for that tiny amount????” prices).

      Contrariwise, your missus might really like a good set of drill chucks. I am going to assume that since you’re married, you have some notion of what the other person living in your home does for fun.

      The biggest hint I can give is that it doesn’t have to be big and expensive, but it must have some individual touch related to her and what she likes (e.g. don’t buy crap in pink because “women like pink” unless you’re certain your wife likes pink. What’s her favourite colour? What colour is the dress or outfit she wears when she wants to look especially good?)

      Again, with jewellery – what stones or metals does she like? Generic “something in diamonds and gold” won’t do, even if it’s $$$$$$, if she prefers platinum and emeralds 🙂

      • Edward Scizorhands says:

        She does like crafts but insists that she’s all full of the stuff she needs.

        Thanks everyone for answering my INCREDIBLY vague question. I just suffer analysis paralysis here.

    • Darius says:

      This isn’t going to help much for this year, but I recommend keeping a ‘gift ideas’ list throughout the year. Whenever my wife expresses an interest in something but isn’t likely to buy it herself, or I notice a need that she has, or we watch a movie that she really enjoys, or whatever, it goes on the list. Then I’ve got at least a few things that I’m sure she will enjoy, plus it does a really good job of communicating that I’ve paid attention, because I have. It doesn’t require a lot of effort, get evernote on your phone, and discreetly make notes when a thought occurs.

      Example: Last spring we were playing softball with some people from our church group. She has a baseball mitt, and repeatedly talked about how much she enjoyed playing. I have a mitt too, so I wrote ‘ball and bat’ on the list, she’ll love the gift and come this spring we’ll be able to go out and just hit some balls around for fun. Which will keep making her happy.

  21. Erebus says:

    There’s nothing “gray market” about selling investigational drug candidates like RAD-140 and SR-9009 to the general public. Even as research chemicals ostensibly “for laboratory and in vitro experimentation only,” the way they are being sold is blatantly illegal in a number of ways. A partial selection:

    1. Such products can only be sold to legitimate research institutions. (Ever wonder why Sigma-Aldrich works overtime to run background checks on its customers?) This is as per:
    …When records are not kept, and when these sorts of chemical products are sold to all comers without serious due diligence, a number of laws are broken. (Selling investigational new drugs, interstate transit of INDs, etc.) There’s a mountain of evidence on Reddit that shows that Ceretropic sells to end-users, and encourages the use of these products in humans, so there’s no ambiguity here.

    2. Sales of RAD-140 and Ostarine are possibly in violation of the Anabolic Steroid Control act of 2014. The act states that any substance derived from testosterone that “promotes muscle growth; or otherwise causes a pharmacological effect similar to that of testosterone” can be “considered an anabolic steroid for the purposes of the act.” This is an all-purpose bludgeon. As RAD-140 and Ostarine are AR ligands and can substitute for testosterone in a biochemical sense, one could feasibly argue that they are derived from testosterone.

    3. The patent issue is nothing to gloss over. Ceretropic are shamelessly, blatantly stealing the intellectual property of others & profiting thereby. RAD-140, for instance, is still featured in Radius’s pipeline. Ostarine is presently in two Phase II clinical trials. Both are very strongly patented & are the result of millions of dollars in R&D.

    Aside: If the folks at Ceretropic want to do legitimate research, and not just make new salt forms of ancient drugs (LOL!), they’re going to need to change the way they do business. As of right now, they have more in common with Barry Kidston of MPTP infamy than they have in common with legitimate research organizations. Also, if they don’t want to be pariahs, they’re going to need to start respecting the IP of other companies. (I find it funny that they’ve been “registering trademarks.”)

    My honest opinion is that they’re not going to be “disrupting” anybody. The only reason they’re not in jail is because they’ve been flying under the radar.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      All right. I’ll trust you on this.

      But (given that they have good lawyers and know the law), why do you think they go through so much trouble to comply with some things? For example, not listing useful information like dose on their pages, not allowing reviews because people might talk about consuming them, avoiding genuinely prescription-only things like modafinil, etc? Are they just trying not to dig themselves in any deeper?

      I am not a lawyer, but your “derived from testosterone” argument seems pretty bad. If I invent a drug that hits a receptor, can I sue anyone else who makes a drug that hits the same receptor for being “derivative”? Why doesn’t Eli Lilly sue anyone who makes anything serotonergic?

      Also, you mock “making new salt forms of ancient drugs”, but the fact is tianeptine is a mainstay antidepressant where it’s used, the very short half-life was a big downside of it, and needing overly frequent medication doses is a big barrier to medication compliance. Also, tianeptine’s really short half-life made it too variable and too much of an addiction risk. This change moves tianeptine from a second-tier to a first-tier antidepressant IMHO, and the fact that they did it and Servier didn’t means that either they’re really awesome or Servier has pathetically skewed incentives. Either way, more of this, please.

      • Erebus says:

        1. I have no idea. I think that they are probably confused; that they misunderstand the law. You don’t need a license to sell research chemicals, generally, but you do need to comply with certain regulations. The most important one is this: Research chemical supply companies must do as much as is reasonably possible in order to ascertain that their customers represent either businesses in relevant sectors or legitimate research facilities, for e.g. University labs.
        Also, compliant chemical supply companies don’t typically sell products in nasal spray bottles, don’t sell “sample packs”, and so on…

        2. Because Eli Lilly doesn’t have a live patent or claim on everything serotogenic?

        Anyway, of course you’re correct: Any claim that Ostarine is “derived from testosterone” is tenuous if not specious… I’m just not sure that I’d put it past federal prosecutors. Look at how broadly and uncharitably the DoJ interprets the word “fraud”. One could apply the same tortured logic to their interpretation of “derived.”

        3. First of all, it looks like Ceretropic did not invent or “come up with” Tianeptine sulfate. Janssen Biotech did:
        …And that patent is live, dating back to just 2008. So this is, again, a case of intellectual property theft and appropriation — not innovation or invention.

        Drug development is a complicated endeavor. Hit generation, even with high-throughput screening, is difficult and time-consuming, as separating the wheat from the chaff can be extremely challenging. Hit-to-lead generally requires a team of ten full-time chemists & tons of analytical work. Lead optimization is even more rigorous, and generally requires the production of thousands of new chemical entities. Even if they didn’t steal the idea, for these guys at Ceretropic to tack a sulfate salt onto an old drug from the 60’s and then go on to claim that they’re going to “disrupt the industry” is laughable.

        • Scott Alexander says:

          The disruption claim is me reading between the lines, not theirs.

          I don’t think their plan is to do typical pharma drug discovery. I think their plan is to take a zillion different chemicals that we kind of suspect probably work and figure out ways to deal with the regulatory and not-profitable-enough hurdles to having them actually available. Think about Uber – they didn’t discover a new form of flying car, they just found a way to unleash the fact that there are actually lots of people with cars who would love to drive people around but couldn’t.

          To give the obvious example, tianeptine definitely works, but was previously very hard to get in the US. Now they’re selling tianeptine (and a form of tianeptine better than anyone else’s!) in the US and hopefully some of the people who could benefit are buying. That’s an improvement to the system right there. The question is whether they can do something large-scale enough to matter without getting knocked down legally. I have no idea how that would happen, but they have impressed me thus far.

          • Erebus says:

            How is what they’re doing an improvement to the system? It’s easy to break the law to turn a quick buck; anybody can do it. Breaking the law, in itself, does not change the system — and legitimate research chemical companies are still forced to comply with its various rules and regulations. (Sigma-Aldrich, EMD Millipore, etc. are subject to regular FDA inspections and audits — even at their international sites.)

            I know that the current regulatory framework is messed up in more ways than we can count. But selling foreign and unapproved drugs to the general public, sometimes in finished dosage forms, and discussing their use openly on Reddit… well… there’s no loophole large enough for all that.

            If there’s a reason they haven’t yet been raided and prosecuted, it’s because they’re flying under the FDA/DoJ’s radar, and because they’re beneath the notice (and contempt) of the pharmaceutical companies they’re (utterly shamelessly) ripping off.

            (An Alexa rank of 257,382 would support the assumption that Ceretropic are evading notice simply due to the small size of their enterprise. If I were in their shoes, I’d do my damndest to keep it that way. It’s not a “grey market” that they’re operating in…)

            I believe that what they’re doing is good for certain consumers. I also believe that the some, but not all, of the laws they’re ignoring are bad laws. This doesn’t change the fact that their business model has no future.

          • Scott Alexander says:

            “Breaking the law, in itself, does not change the system.”

            Is that true? Uber seems to be a clear example of breaking the law changing the system – they broke vague unenforceable laws until they became big enough that people just had to deal with it.

            Canadian pharmacies are the same thing – I don’t know what percent of Americans (or poor Americans) get their drugs from a Canadian pharmacy, but it’s pretty clear that the government has made an explicit decision not to enforce the laws against them, and that this helps a lot.

            If they do something useful it will be partly by using loopholes, poorly-enforced things and gray areas to make themselves indispensable, and partly by using their gray market activities to fund other work that is within the law.

          • Erebus says:

            Which laws did Uber break? I was under the impression that they were, if anything, exploiting legitimate loopholes — and that, at least as far as I am aware, the only laws they might be in violation of are municipal regulations that relate to taxicab standards and licensing. I don’t know what Uber’s current legal status is, but I don’t think that they are in violation of any serious state or federal laws, nor do I think that Congress or the Senate would be quick to pass or modify any laws on Uber’s behalf.

            Personal imports from Canadian and other foreign pharmacies have been officially regulated since 1988. (“Pilot Guidance for Release of Mail Importations (7/20/88)”) It’s interesting that such regulations actually pre-date the mainstream adoption of the internet.

            The current guidance can be reviewed here. There’s another interesting document entitled “Information on Importation of Drugs Prepared by the Division of Import Operations and Policy, FDA” — but I’d rather not link to it, as I don’t want the spam filter to start eating my comments. The long and short of it is that as long as what you’re importing is a legitimate pharmaceutical product, is properly packaged and labelled, is less than a 3-month supply, and doesn’t constitute an unreasonable risk to your health, they will allow it. They will attempt to stop imports that don’t meet the above criteria. (What they don’t mention is that few packages are thoroughly inspected, so most non-compliant shipments get through despite their regulations.)

            It’s important to note that approved drugs manufactured in FDA-approved facilities are entirely legal to import from abroad. As the FDA is now a truly global regulatory agency, I am sure that more than a few Canadian, Japanese, and European drugs fall into this category.

            As for Ceretropic… I wouldn’t characterize their activities as “grey market.” That implies questionable legality. I don’t think that there is anything questionable about what they are currently doing. It’s simply a matter of lax enforcement. Frankly, I would find it astounding if they manage to evade prosecution for a few more years. The higher their profile, the longer their odds get. I just don’t see it ending well.

      • disappoint says:

        The only evidence I could find for the supposed superiority of tianeptine hemisulfate against the sodium salt is said patent application.
        In this application, however, the hemisulfate is only compared in vivo as retarded-release formulations against an immediate-release formulation of the sodium salt, so there is no evidence how the same retarded-release formulations of the sodium salt would fare in vivo.

        The patent application does include in vitro dissolution tests comparing retarded-release formulations of both the hemisulfate and sodium salt, showing a decent superiority of the hemisulfate for the purpose of retarded release, but this is irrelevant if you’re planning on consuming bulk powder.

  22. Technically Not Anonymous says:

    Modafinil is very appealing to me, but I’m still skeptical about the whole “buying controlled substances on the internet” thing. Is it really 100% safe?

    Alternately, how likely is it that I can get my psychiatrist to prescribe it for attention issues? It’s not like he’d see me as some random asshole looking for drugs; I’ve been seeing him for other issues for over a year. I’ve tried Adderall and Vyvanse in the past and they didn’t do much, so that may help my case.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Buying modafinil on the internet is definitely safe. It’s not like buying heroin on the Silk Road. (Though I certainly have no personal experience with the latter.)

      Modafinil is legal over-the-counter in places like India, so they typically ship it from India to you. It sometimes happens that the package is confiscated in customs, but this is rare—and many stores actually offer to give you a second order free if the first one is stolen in customs.

      To my knowledge, no one has ever gotten arrested by the DEA or anything as a result of having modafinil seized in customs.

      I haven’t checked out the sites Scott linked to see if they sell it / sell it cheaper, but Modafinilcat is definitely a very transparent, tech-savvy, and user-friendly website. It doesn’t have any of that “buying sketchy things on the internet” feel.

      • 27chaos says:

        Not sure if sarcastic parenthetical or genuine parenthetical. I suppose that’s how you like it.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          It’s intended genuinely. I looked at the Silk Road on Tor, but I never bought anything. No desire.

      • JE says:

        This depends on were you live. Here (Norway) everyone who knows anything about it says that getting caught in customs will get you prosecuted.

      • LCL says:

        I tried that site as Scott previously recommended it. It worked with no problem except that it was obviously posted from India, with packaging in (I guess) Hindi and foreign stampings on it, so anyone who sees it will be curious.

        Effects weren’t anything special though for me. Attempting to use it to reduce sleep needs resulted in good energy but muddled thinking. I previously had an Adderall prescription and found that superior for focus.

  23. onyomi says:

    For some reason I find those flossing scythes to be totally unusable. They won’t fit between my teeth but with herculean effort.

    • Troy says:

      Our local grocery store chain carries several brands, and I find some to be better than others in this respect.

    • Fifey says:

      Flossing with string is a skill you can learn. It shouldn’t take you more than a few weeks and it will benefit you the rest of your life. Nowadays there are hundreds of Youtube videos for every skill like this.

  24. onyomi says:

    Wow, the “real” balsamic vinegar has really come down in price. Last time I bought some (several years ago), it was like $150/bottle.

    If you really, really like it but are poor, however, I did discover that if you boil down a bottle of “regular” balsamic vinegar with a bit of sugar it produces a syrup that tastes about 90% as good as the stuff with the special aura.

  25. Man, these periscope glasses have the potential to raise looking at your shoe in the elevator to a WHOLE new level.

  26. Scott H. says:


    I clicked on the Amazon affiliate link you provided, and it said that Amazon would donate 0.5% to the charitable organization of your choice — not 5%.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      Did you click on the one marked “through this portal”? It says in big letters at the top “How to earn a top charity 5% of your Amazon spending” and later “The commission will be around 5%, though it varies by product category. This is substantially better than the AmazonSmile scheme available in the US, which only gives 0.5% of the money you spend to charity.”

      If you click on my personal link, it gives 5% to me, but if you’re also using AmazonSmile it will still give 0.5% to charity too.

      • Scott H. says:

        No, I clicked on “my Amazon affiliate link”. The very first link in the post. I see what you are saying now.

  27. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    I have some recommendations of my own. The first is the Alcatel 382G “Big Easy” cellphone. I had a hell of a time finding a good phone without internet capabilities since most of the ones that exist are overpriced crap meant for seniors, but this little thing was absolutely perfect. Cheap, functional (includes FM radio and a flashlight, and charges with a standard micro-USB cable), and has a great battery life. It’s prepaid, and automatically doubles the amount of minutes purchased, which suits me perfectly; I just buy the Tracfone 1 Year of Service and 400 Minutes card once per year, which means that my cellphone bill runs at $8.30/month. Throw in a carrying case and you’re good to go!

    Further recommendations to be made in separate posts; don’t want to anger the spam filter.

  28. Chalid says:

    The main people I have trouble buying for is my parents. They have a simple lifestyle. They’re old enough that they don’t really adapt well to new things anymore, especially technology. And I live rather far away from them right now so I don’t see what’s going on in their day-to-day lives that could be easily improved.

    • Nornagest says:

      Buy them consumables, one or two tiers above what they’d buy for themselves. (Most likely this hasn’t changed much since your childhood.) If they drink wine, buy them wine. If they drink scotch, buy them scotch. It’s harder to do this for things that are not alcoholic beverages, because there’s less cultural acceptance of them as gifts and the price range is often smaller, but there are still options: think fancy jams, or soaps, or pickles. It just has to be something they’ll actually use and like, or you might as well get a fruit basket.

      If you’re a good cook, making any of these works even better. (Even soap — it’s surprisingly easy, although it needs to cure for a month.) It’s socially acceptable to gift just about anything as long as it’s homemade and won’t spoil in a week.

      • Chalid says:

        Good thought, but mainly they drink beer 🙂

        Currently thinking tickets to some sort of live performance/musical.

        • Nornagest says:

          There is such a thing as gift-quality beer, but they’ll probably balk at it if they don’t consider themselves beer snobs.

    • Murphy says:

      If they like reading then an nice e-ink ereader containing a copy of the entire Project Gutenberg archive might work. “hey guys, here’s a library”

    • Hanfeizi says:

      For the people who have everything or want nothing, I usually give a gift in their name to a cause that they seem likely to support, and usually something that has a meaningful mutual connection. When I lived in China, I “adopted” a Chinese teenager from Yunnan province and paid for her schooling in my parent’s name; they received letters from her once or twice a year. (This was only about $90 a year; schools in rural China are very cheap) This had a mutual connection as we’d gone to Yunnan on vacation and they spoke glowingly of the place, despite some of the grinding rural poverty that we witnessed.

      There are lots of creative opportunities for giving like this.

  29. R Flaum says:

    Couldn’t you just wear sweat pants under your normal pants? That’s what I used to do when I was a kid and it was cold out, in lieu of long underwear.

  30. Urstoff says:

    The Paperwhite is indeed amazing. I have no idea why Amazon developed the Kindle Voyage, though, because they’re doing a terrible job of product differentiation. The Voyage has capacitative buttons and…?

    *root post this is a reply to disappeared, but it was praising the Kindle Paperwhite

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      The Voyage looks better, has a flat surface instead of a bevel, and is slightly lighter. (It also has an automatic light sensor, but it’s pretty useless because you can’t customize what the settings are.)

      I guess it’s sort of like: what’s the difference between a cheap fountain pen and a fancy fountain pen? For all intents and purposes, they serve the same function. One is just slightly nicer to hold and look at.

      • Urstoff says:

        With the same ppi between the Paperwhite and the Voyage, the $80 difference between the two seems pretty huge for those minor features.

        It seems to me like e-reader technology has basically maxed out until they can figure out color (or animations). Maybe faster page turns (or faster units over all) is an incremental advance to look forward to.

        • Chalid says:

          I love my Paperwhite but I’d definitely like faster page turning. Also, search is terribly slow.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Like most technology products, there is also price discrimination going on.

          You want to have an expensive model for the people for whom price is no object. Even if it’s only slightly better, they’ll buy it anyway because the marginal value of their money is low enough to be worth it. (Hence: paying a huge amount more for an iPhone with more storage space.)

          It also makes your mid-range products seem like better deals for comparison. People want to balance quality and price, so it’s advantageous to set up both a lower-tier and a higher-tier model than what you expect to be your biggest seller.

          • Urstoff says:

            This is true, but with the costs of R&D, there’s got to be a hell of a price discrimination effect to justify rolling out a new technology product. Although maybe the Voyage is similar enough to the Paperwhite that it’s effectively like just adding more memory to a phone or tablet.

    • Hari Seldon says:

      You are overlooking how great those capacitative buttons are. Totally worth the extra $80 for me. You can find the perfect comfortable reading position and never have to move. You just lightly squeeze your thumb and the page turns. It sounds really stupid, but it is amazing if you like to read in bed before falling asleep.

  31. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    What the hell happened to my post about the Kindle Paperwhite? It was fine for a few minutes but then it disappeared.

    I thought we were cool, spam filter…

    • jaimeastorga2000 says:

      Okay, going to try this one more time…

      Everybody has heard about the Amazon Kindle Paperwhite, but I seriously cannot overemphasize how this thing is truly God’s gift to readers. The screen looks just like paper, refreshes instantly, has no ghostly afterimages, and can be read in any conditions from direct sunlight to pitch-black by adjusting the brightness setting. The battery life is absolutely amazing, and getting files into it is as simple as drag and drop while connected with a standard micro-USB cable. The only problem is that it doesn’t read EPUB or HTML, but KindleGen readily converts most files to MOBI (for those that resist KindleGen conversion, there is also Calibre). Also, the screen is too small to read normally-formatted PDF files, but K2pdfopt can fix that.

      • Anon. says:

        How does it compare to the Kobo models?

      • MondSemmel says:

        Have the Kindle Paperwhite, and agree with all that.

        Another use: If you dislike reading long blog posts or articles on the PC, you can use free services like’s to convert them into kindle files and have them sent directly to your ebook reader instead. Requires just a single button press in Firefox (via a plugin).

        The conversion process isn’t quite perfect – for instance, Readability’s messes up paragraphs that include “” characters – but I generally find it vastly preferable to reading on the PC.

        • jaimeastorga2000 says:

          The conversion process isn’t quite perfect – for instance, Readability’s messes up paragraphs that include “” characters – but I generally find it vastly preferable to reading on the PC.

          Try NEWSTOEBOOK or Web2FB2 (the latter produces EPUB files, but they can be converted to MOBI with one of the aforementioned programs).

      • tanagrabeast says:

        I bought my ~65ish mother a Kindle Paperwhite a couple years ago, and it is constantly mentioned as the gift she actually uses, all the time. Plus I made gift-giving easier for everyone else in the family because they can buy her books or Amazon credit.

      • Also with a ziplock bag (or a case, if you’re fancy) you can read in the shower.

        Also, also, any fic posted to Archive of Our Own can be downloaded as a MOBI file and sideloaded to your Kindle.

        I really hate to say this, but reading paper books has actually started to seem prohibitively inconvenient.

      • I got the older, non-backlighted version and an attachable lamp. Was cheaper and feels more book-like this way. Easier on the eyes if you get reflected light in your eyes, not direct light, I guess. I used Calibre to convert, but it often sucks with PDF, so I I will try K2pdfopt.

        Having said all that, the primary reason I needed it was that my wife was usually using our Samsung tablet. If we had two tablets, or if I was single, it would not have worth the investment, I would just have used FBreader, the Kindle app etc. and simply keep out of direct sunlight.

        We absolutely love the 8 inch Samsung tablet (ideal size for one handed use) and I was really surprised when Engadget or Lifehacker or whoever asked readers if they still use tablets. Why, we use it for everything, videocalling parents, listening to youtube music, having a recipe at hand while cooking, anything, as it is more comfortable from the couch than huddled over a laptop on the desk. We don’t take it out of the flat as it is wifi only, no SIM card, but it is absolutely amazing to be able to take a computer anywhere in the flat easily. It even plays the lullabies if our child has difficulties sleeping.

      • switchnode says:

        I wanted an e-reader for a while back when they were relatively new, but when I finally got a smartphone I just put Moon+ Reader Pro on it and have never looked back. I can pull all of my ebook files off my server wirelessly, read them without messing about with conversion (support open standards!), and edit the controls and display themes however I want (fuck yes, hardware button page-turning and dark gray on black for the middle of the night). It has everything, basically.

        I realize a lot of people think phone screens are too small to read on, but it doesn’t bother me at all, so the small size is actually a benefit—it’s more comfortable in my tiny hands, and a Kindle might fit in my backpack, but not in my pocket. I read everywhere, so it’s great not to have to carry multiple devices around. And no Amazon store means no remote controls.

  32. onyomi says:

    For those with more intense nasal congestion issues, my girlfriend has had good luck with this, which actually uses some pressure to squirt up your nose rather hard:

    She also mixes in some of this stuff, not to be confused with alcohol:

    For those with less serious issues and/or on a budget, I recommend a neti pot. But make sure to use water that has been previously boiled and/or the safety of which you are very confident of. Someone in my home state of Louisiana died from snorting some kind of brain-eating amoeba which apparently exists in some water supplies.

  33. Walter says:

    I nearly missed out on Hamilton. It is just so exactly what the media MUST praise, so very progressive. Vox is touting it to me every second day as a masterpiece to end all masterpieces, going on and on about the daring of the colorblind (meaning, black folks play white folks, never the reverse) casting. I was inclined to roll my eyes and give it a miss.

    The thing is, they were right this time. Hamilton is a triumph, and the fact that people I loathe are saying it is doesn’t make it less so.

    • Scott Alexander says:

      “Despite everyone who says Shakespeare is really good, Shakespeare really is really good” – H. L. Mencken

      • switchnode says:

        Robert Graves, actually.

        (Think the spam filter caught my previous comment.)

      • Phil Goetz says:

        With the caveat that Shakespeare isn’t as good as people say he is. The man wrote Twelfth Night, after all.

        Writing the Hamilton-Burr story as rap makes some sense; in 18th century politics it was more acceptable for people to put their hatred on display. But it makes more sense the farther you go back, into centuries where their equivalent of politicians more regularly killed each other. Martin Luther, the Medicis, or some medieval scholastic might make good subjects.

        The best artistic use of rap may be this guy:
        who began rewriting the Iliad as rap. He makes a good case that the culture of Homeric Greece was a perfect match to rap culture. It’s all about honor, which you get from bling, collecting and disrespecting women, and killing anybody who challenges you.

        • arbitrary_greay says:

          It never fails to amuse me that the opening to the Verdi’s opera Rigoletto (Duke falls in lust with a girl he saw in church) matches the scenario for David Guetta ft. Akon’s Sexy Bitch. (Akon falls in lust with a girl he saw in church)

        • Susebron says:

          Oh my God. I never realized how much I wanted a rap version of the story of Martin Luther.

    • Nornagest says:

      I think the colorblind casting thing makes sense here on practical grounds. It’s a rap musical, Broadway’s a small world, and there are probably a lot more talented black rappers within that world than white rappers — rap is a specialized skill, and it’s not the kind of skill you can pick up in six months if you feel like it. (Just ask my college roommate.)

      Still haven’t listened to it, but it’s probably only a matter of time before I get sucked in.

      • Scott Alexander says:

        I thought I heard that the creator specified that all the American characters should be played by black (or other minority) actors in order to symbolize to a modern audience how the British thought that Americans were uncultured rabble, ie Americans saying they could go on their own and form a great nation was met with the same kind of skepticism as people today might view the idea that minorities might go on their own and form a great nation.

        Still doesn’t explain why Lafayette is black, though.

        • Yeah, it’s explicitly not colorblind casting, you can find the original casting call and it specifies non-white for almost everyone and white for George.

        • Susebron says:

          I haven’t read up that much on it, but I know that Jefferson and Lafayette are played by the same person, and it looks to me very much like their parts were written to be played by the same person. They both require a high level of rap skill, they’re never onstage at the same time, and one comes back from France when the other goes away to France. It makes sense for Jefferson not to be white, for the reasons you mentioned, so that automatically spills over to Lafayette if they have the same actor.

          (Of course, if he really wanted to convey the idea that people view the Americans as uncultured rabble, it would make more sense for them to all be using triplet flows over trap beats. But that would run the risk of the audience seeing them as uncultured, and also make it a lot harder to understand the lyrics, so it makes sense that he wouldn’t go that far.)

      • RCF says:

        I think the point is that black people playing white characters is “daring”, while white people playing black characters is “blackface”.

        • Nornagest says:

          I think “whitewashing” is the usual word for the latter kind of situation, if no one’s trying to make the actor look anything other than white? I usually hear “blackface” either for literal white actors in black makeup, or situations that someone thinks are equivalent to it, i.e. white people drawing from historically black art forms.

  34. jaimeastorga2000 says:

    Okay, last one. I have hated iPods ever since I made the mistake of buying a 2nd Gen Nano, which could only receive music through some arcane process involving iTunes and a ritual called “syncing”, did not use a standard USB cable, and did not have navigation by folder, so I looked for alternatives. By far the best were the Sansa Clip and its sucessor, the Sansa Clip+, which were rated the No. 1 products of 2008 and 2009 by Anything But iPod, respectively. I have owned both, and they were amazing devices; cheap, simple, and effective, with standard cables, long battery life, and a drag and drop based approach; no extra software needed. Unfortunately, they have been discontinued, and remaining stock is selling at a serious markup. The current model appears to be the Sansa Clip Jam, which I have not tried, but which based on reviews seems comparable to its predecessors, if perhaps a little worse.

    • Urstoff says:

      I had one of these and loved it until Spotify became a thing. Now there’s no reason to even buy digital media; everything is available through inexpensive streaming services.

    • Montfort says:

      I purchased a clip+ after discontinuation at a slightly lower markup than amazon currently shows for me.

      One of the major advantages of the clip+, to my mind, was that it has a stable rockbox version. Though the project is not exactly a bustling hub of activity now, it does a great job of replacing the inexplicably terrible UIs some manufacturers put on their devices. Sansas, though, are not the worst offenders on that dimension, and I’d recommend them stock, too.

    • Anon says:

      Seconded. I too had both – I misplaced one for a while and bought a new one, since it was, at the time, $25 – and they’ve recently stopped working. I went to buy another (or, really, went into the market expecting there to be substantially superior products, seven years later) and was surprised to find that not only is there nothing better, there isn’t even anything *as good*! The combination of “small”, “cheap”, “>6 hours battery life”, and “does not require external software” is nowhere to be found.

      That said, guess I’ll get a Jam and see how it goes. It’s Sandisk, mind; not under the Sansa brand.

    • arbitrary_greay says:

      I currently use a SanDisk Clip Sport. 8GB model, supplement with 16GB microSDHC. No complaints.

    • Jeremy says:

      Definitely second the Sansa Clip and Sansa Clip+ recommendations, as well as repeating that the clip jam/clip sport are the newer versions that many people are not happy with. In addition to supporting the compatible-with-anything “it’s just a USB drive” synchronization, they support patent-free formats (ogg vorbis and FLAC), and rockbox supports them well (both features are missing from the clip jam, and rockbox is missing from the clip sport).

  35. jseliger says:

    Fake Nice Pants

    If you’re looking for real nice pants that also aren’t jeans but look good, try Outlier’s Slim Dungarees. They aren’t cheap but they do look and feel good.

    • David Godel says:

      I really like their Chinos. They (and the climbers and OGs) are made of magic stretchy material that feels to me better than sweat pants (no fuzz brushing against your leg, not baggy), and are passable as dress pants. The Slim Dungarees, while effective for their purpose (indestructible daily wear), they’re not nearly as comfortable, and definitely look like “weird internet clothing” up close (they’re kinda shiny synthetic) – better than jeans but not worth the price if that’s all you need them for.

      The Chinos are made of magic though and totally worth it IMO

  36. coffeespoons says:

    I think one of the best things about being female is that I can always wear dresses (with optional leggings) instead of uncomfortable trousers/skirts. I started wearing dresses a few years ago and have never gone back. They are attractive, flattering and super comfortable!

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      Without meaning to dispute anyone’s experiences (everyone’s different), I find the “pants are uncomfortable” thing simply bizarre.

      When I’m not dressing up, I usually wear Carhartt pants, which are cotton pants that I suppose one would classify as a “canvas dungaree”. (This is the kind I have, both in black and in tan.) They are relatively thick, durable pants suitable for physical labor, but I have never found them uncomfortable.

      For work (at an office), I wear either cotton khakis, wool slacks, or synthetic slacks. I have never found them uncomfortable. In general, I don’t think dress clothing (ties, collars, etc.) is uncomfortable at all, if it actually fits. The only thing I dislike is the time it takes to put them on (and for wool to have them dry cleaned), compared to just wearing a polo shirt and the canvas pants I mentioned above. Shoes are often uncomfortable for me precisely because I have very small feet and have a hard time finding inexpensive dress shoes that fit.

      Even when I sleep, I wear pajama pants that I don’t find uncomfortable at all. And they aren’t even “sweatpants” as I think of them: all stretchy and heavy. Just very loose-fitting, soft cotton pants. They are certainly more comfortable for sleeping than regular pants (mainly because it prevents you from lying on a hard seam or something), but for lounging around the house I am equally comfortable in both.

      On the other hand, I have never liked or really worn jeans. I don’t particularly like how they look, and they are on the more uncomfortable side.

      • onyomi says:

        “In general, I don’t think dress clothing (ties, collars, etc.) is uncomfortable at all, if it actually fits. The only thing I dislike is the time it takes to put them on (and for wool to have them dry cleaned), compared to just wearing a polo shirt and the canvas pants I mentioned above.”

        I do think men’s formal wear gets a bit of a bum rap. A well-fitting suit and tie can be as comfortable or more comfortable than a lot of other everyday clothes. I think the biggest problem people have, really, is the extra time putting them on. I also wonder if, because many of us are now unaccustomed to wearing nice clothes on a daily basis, that we feel awkward and weird when we do wear them, like we have to be extra careful not to mess them up or something.

        That said, I am someone who experiences a strong need not to be wearing “serious,” “outside” clothes as soon as I come home. I can’t just come home from work and continue to hang out in my work clothes for hours as some people do. I feel as if I can’t truly relax until I change into something softer and more casual, like sweatpants and a t-shirt. This may be as much about the psychological transition from work to home it signals as the actual feeling of the clothes.

        • John Schilling says:

          Another issue with men’s formalwear is that most “men” are first introduced to it as children, when their parents dress them up for church/wedding/funeral/whatever. Meaning likely as not a hand-me-down or a suit that should have replaced six months and two inches ago but wasn’t. Applied by someone who probably cares more about how you look than how you feel, and certainly has more feedback as to how you look than how you feel. And who more likely than not is the wrong gender to have ever worn men’s formalwear herself.

          All of which is going to bias the process towards ill-fitting, too-small clothes fastened too tight, giving the impression that men’s formalwear is inherently uncomfortable and constricting.

          Though as you say it’s to be replaced by (looks down, yep) sweatpants and T-shirt when you get home.

          • CatCube says:

            If your tie is choking you, you have the wrong collar size on your shirt.

          • Winter Shaker says:

            And if you’re only wearing it to church, wedding and funerals as a child, you’re presumably going to end up with a strong psychological association between formalwear and having to sit through really tedious things that the adults have to force you into (unless you’re lucky enough to get to go to atypically non-boring churches, weddings or funerals I suppose), which won’t help either.

      • In my opinion, the uncomfortable part is that having to take care not to sit anywhere where it could tear or even if it is dry cleaning only then not even on dirty surfaces. One moves thus a bit too cautiously around in a suit, while in jeans just sits anywhere, stairs etc. The uncomfortable part is this restrained behavior.

      • Alexander Stanislaw says:

        Not being sarcastic, have you tried wearing a dress? You can’t know if they are more comfortable or not unless you’ve tried. (And no I have not, so I don’t know if they are more comfortable or not).

      • Bugmaster says:

        I can personally endorse these pants:

        Don’t let the silly “tactical” label fool you; these pants are comfortable, full of pockets, and reasonably water-resistant (though they lose much of their water resistance after a few rounds in the washing machine). They do have that weird canvas loop on the side for no good reason (am I supposed to holster some sort of a weapon there or something ?), but it never gets in my way.

        • Nornagest says:

          The canvas loop is, or at least was, to clip carabiners and protection (as in climbing gear, not weapons) to; 5.11 got its start as a mountaineering brand.

          They are pretty good pants, though. You can get better-looking and more comfortable pants for cheaper if you’re only planning to wear them casually, but you could do a lot worse as hiking or shop clothes.

  37. LCL says:

    I don’t know how to do Scott’s affiliate links and am wary of the spam filter so I’ll just give product names for copy paste.

    ExOfficio Men’s Give-N-Go Boxer Brief
    It was actually a shock to realize that underwear can be substantially better than other underwear. I saw it as a mostly generic category before; I preferred some kinds but there wasn’t really much difference. Yet these are really substantially better than all other underwear I had worn over the decades. They’re expensive ($20-22 usually if you’ll take an unpopular color; lowest I ever saw was $15) and the reviews talk mostly about buying one or two pairs for travel. But I am a grown man and if I want to spend $150 on lots of pairs of lovely underwear then that’s what I’ll do (and did).

    Digestive Advantage Probiotic Capsules: 50 Count Once Daily Supplement
    I’m lactose intolerant and used to have to take lactase caplets with any moderate quantity of dairy (small quantity I can digest OK). And that didn’t always work. These help and I no longer carry the lactase caplets. It’s still not a good idea for me to chug a quart of milk or eat the whole tub of ice cream, but anything I could previously eat with (unreliable) lactase caplets I can now (reliably) eat without them. The company makes a “lactose intolerance” version of these but it’s just less bacteria with some lactase added. You want the normal version.

    As an additional public service announcement – it took me until my mid-20s to realize I am lactose intolerant, and I suspect many people never realize it. The problem was not knowing what’s normal. So: normal is that your poop should be solids. Pretty much every time. If it is frequently anything other than solids consider that there may be a problem and investigate. I wish someone had convinced me of this sooner.

    Sole Unisex Dean Karnazes Signature Edition Insole
    In the same way I hadn’t realized my underwear was uncomfortable, I hadn’t realized my shoes were uncomfortable either. Until I moved, started walking a few miles a day, and got foot pain and cramps. These insoles fixed the cramps, and also fixed the moderate discomfort I thought was just part of wearing shoes all day. I hadn’t known that could be fixed.

    There are a lot of varieties of these (and the Superfeet insoles which are reputedly equally good) so you probably don’t want to order the first pair on the internet. Go to a store that sells them (I went to REI), have them measure your feet, and try some out. After you pick one that way you can buy them subsequently on the net.

    Swingline Stapler, Optima 40, Compact, Low Force, 40 Sheets
    And to continue the theme – a stapler is a stapler, right? Some may be more reliable or a bit more attractive but basically all passable members of the category are relatively similar and on the same level. It’s hardly likely that one specific stapler will be substantially better than all other staplers. Yet this one is. It staples thick stacks of paper (I’ve done up to 40) completely smoothly with almost no pressure, and has yet to jam or need a second try. And it’s actually smaller than regular staplers too. How can this be so much better than every other member of its class?

    • Vaniver says:

      it took me until my mid-20s to realize I am lactose intolerant, and I suspect many people never realize it.

      The other thing to broadcast here is that lactose intolerance develops over time. I drank a glass of milk with every meal just fine when I was in high school, but my lactose production stopped at about 21. If I hadn’t been dating someone at the time who complained about the smell, I’m not sure when I would have figured it out.

      • Ydirbut says:

        Yeah, I used to drink milk all the time, but after spending two years in a foreign country where they don’t drink milk, I can’t do it anymore without getting gassy. Fortunately, lactase pills work pretty well for me.

  38. Dan T. says:

    I’m frequently encountering those floss scythes discarded on sidewalks, streets, gutters, parking lots, and the like, presumably by people who combine great concern for their own personal hygiene with lack of concern for the environment.

  39. Shieldfoss says:

    While we are on recommendations:

    If you are buying a smartphone, get:

    *Apple phone (Currently: iPhone brand)
    *Google phone (Currently: Nexus brand)
    *Microsoft phone (Currently: Lumia brand)

    Do not get
    *Any phone where updates are managed by a separate company, e.g. a Samsung phone (Currently: Galaxy brand)

    This is for security purposes. When security-related bugs are discovered in Android, Google pushes the fix to all google phones. Samsung does NOT push to all Samsung phones, and those they DO push the update to, they push late (because they have to get the fix from Google first, after which they have to Samsung it up to fit the rest of their customizations)

    An especially egregious example of this came from Motorola Moto E 2015 which was marketed on a guaranteed upgrade scheme and, indeed, they DID give one OS upgrade. One. Which was the total number of upgrades promised in the small print.

    • switchnode says:

      Fuck the cloud, root your phone.

    • roystgnr says:

      Do Google phones have open source baseband processor firmware, or an MMU or MPU protecting application memory from the baseband processor?

      Not a rhetorical question – I’m honestly afraid that the only safe current smartphone security strategy is “don’t give the phone access to anything which needs securing”, and I’d be happy if it was safe to change that.

    • On the other hand, only the current high end Samsung phones support the Samsung gear VR headset, which is a not terribly expensive (about $100) mass market VR system. I’ve just started playing around with it, but my impression so far is that it’s very neat.

      • Neurno says:

        Or go for the phone-brand-impartial Wearlity Sky…. I’m pretty excited to get mine. It will be quite an improvement from Google Cardboard.

  40. Louis says:

    Is there nowhere safe from Christmas?

    • Winter Shaker says:

      Hey, there wouldn’t be a War On Christmas if Christmas wasn’t threatening to devour us all 🙂

      • DES3264 says:

        I would just like to remind my fellow anti-Christmas combatants, now that the Christmas forces have violated the Treaty of Decorations by Decorating before Thanksgiving, the Treaty permits us to retaliate by means including, but not limited to, the drunken singing of “I have a little dreidel”. Hopefully, both sides will soon return to a more reasonable armistice.

  41. roystgnr says:

    Can anyone recommend other gourmet food items that would work well as Christmas gifts? Inspired by the balsamic vinegar suggestion, I’ve brainstormed cheeses, oils, truffles (both literal and metaphorical), tapenades… Or if refrigeration and shelf life aren’t a problem (I don’t know yet whether it will be convenient to deliver the gift in person on Christmas): smoked fish/meat, flavored butters, exotic fruits, a wider selection of cheeses, shellfish. Allergies aren’t a concern but alcohol is out.

    • brad says:

      There’s a lot of things that have the name truffle in them, that aren’t truffles. I’d stay away from them. And actual truffles themselves are highly seasonal and don’t have a tremendously long shelf life. That said, December has the enviable distinction of being in both white and black truffle seasons. If they are in your price range and the recipient is a gourmand they make a princely gift.

      As for additions to your list, you can add coffee beans, tea, exotic sea salt, and single-origin chocolate.

    • Chalid says:

      Truffle salt is delicious and can give a nice strong truffle flavor, and is cheap enough that you won’t feel guilty just putting it into your scrambled eggs every morning.

    • I’m fond of gjetost cheese, don’t know how many other people would agree.

  42. Phil Goetz says:

    One of the last paragraphs of the Coke/Pepsi taste-test article says,

    “But taste tests consist of relatively modest sips, and Americans don’t drink tiny sips of soda. We drink whole cans of soda. We drink 20-ounce bottles. We drink Big Gulps at 7-Eleven. We drink sodas so large that Michael Bloomberg wants to make them illegal. Serious soda drinkers consume multiple servings per day, every day of the week. And while we want something sweet, we don’t necessarily want that kind of long-term relationship with something too sweet.”

    I think I’ve heard that if you do full-bottle taste tests, Coke wins.

    • Vox Imperatoris says:

      As a Pepsi man, I like the fact that it is sweeter. More importantly, it has a fruitier flavor I like, as opposed to Coke’s leafy flavor. I like Pepsi both in sips and in any other context where I have a choice.

      Moreover, I’m not sure how you could really do a blind comparison of Coke and Pepsi. I know what Coke tastes like. I know what Pepsi tastes like. So any kind of preexisting prejudice in favor of Pepsi (maybe I do subconsciously think it is the “taste of the new generation” and of innovation over hidebound tradition or whatever) I have will just be confirmed when I identify it. It’s not “Hmm, what is this mystery drink—I like it!” It’s “This is Pepsi—I like it.”

      I admit, I have never had anyone administer a blind comparison of Coke and Pepsi to me. But I really don’t think it would be hard to tell them apart. Now if you threw in a bunch of competitors like RC Cola, Thums Up, and so on, it would start getting confusing. But that’s not the format of the test.

      • RollyPollyStreet says:

        Funny, I always found coke to be fruitier and pepsi leafy.

        My experience was when I started drinking a lot of soft drinks for a period (I have since reduced it)things like pepsi and dr pepper (which used to be my favorite soft drink) that have a great initial taste started becoming less appealing as they didn’t stand up to large consumption quite as much as coke.

        • Vox Imperatoris says:

          Well, they all start becoming less appealing over time. In particular, I like Dr. Pepper, but my satisfaction with it drops like a stone. For instance, if I buy a 12-pack, I’m sick of it by the time I finish it in a week or two.

          But I can’t say Coke holds up any better. I absolutely hated how my college (like most American colleges, actually) had some kind of monopoly deal with Coke so that the vending machines, grocery store, and dining hall stocked only Coke products. I found Cherry Coke to be the best option in that situation.

          However, I’ll grant that Coke is far superior for making alcoholic drinks, for whatever reason.

  43. RCF says:

    “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.”

    As long as you don’t mind engaging in kinda-illegal activity.

  44. Can anyone recommend a tabletop game? (silly question, of course they can..)

    • DES3264 says:

      I’ve been having a lot of fun with Evolution. You try to assemble animal species with a variety of traits. They then interact with each other and try to grab the most food, eat each other, and reprdouce fastest. It’s a lot of fun thinking about all the combinations you can form, and imitating various real world animals, and there doesn’t seem to be a dominant strategy. Also, the production values are great.

      Complexity is a bit above the Carcasonne/Cataan level, but not at all what I’d consider complex for people who are used to table top gaming. Plays in an hour. Takes 2-6 players, but I don’t like it so well for 2 and I haven’t tried 6 yet. For 3-5, it works great.

    • Dr Dealgood says:

      Supposedly there’s an SSC pen and paper game, Dungeons and Discourse, but it’s not clear that it was made to be played rather than as a very long gag.

      Also recently discovered an odd Japanese RPG, pardon the redundancy, about the players building a kingdom inside of a giant dungeon and being incredibly anime. It’s called Meikyuu Kingdom or Make You Kingdom, and some fa/tg/uys translated it into English a while back. It may or may not also have had an official English release. Link here.

    • Izaak Weiss says:

      I really enjoy Ticket To Ride (as do most of my non-board game loving friends, including my parents!), and that’s probably my top recommendation for board games.

      I also really enjoy Agricola, but it’s far more complicated and intricate.

      • Vaniver says:

        Ticket to Ride is an excellent game with both some strategic depth and casual appeal.

        I typically recommend Stone Age over Agricola. It’s basically the casual version of Agricola, with similar but slightly simpler mechanics, an emphasis on specialization instead of generalization (in Agricola you get the most points by having produced everything by the end of the game, and are penalized for ignoring things; not so in Stone Age), and the equivalent of the cards Agricola gives out at the start of the game are bought by ‘auction’ during the game.

    • XerxesPraelor says:

      What sort of games are you interested in?

      Go is IMO the best abstract strategy game.

      Android: Netrunner is one of the best “evolving” games, but it’s takes a lot of investment (both time and a little bit of money)

      Dominion is a nice relatively easy card game to play that also has a lot of deep strategy once you get better. (it gets amazing once you have expansions)

      Twilight Struggle is a cold-war 2 player board game that is very thematic and also very strategic.

      If you want a more casual game, Innovation is a technology-based card game that has crazy things happen every game.

      Race for the Galaxy is a standard relatively quick game with a moderate amount of strategy (still plenty to keep you busy).

      I don’t know much about RPGs, so no advice there, sorry.

      • Vaniver says:

        I’m not a fan of the asymmetric nature of Twilight Struggle, especially because in my experience it tries to mimic the early dominance of the USSR / communism sweeping the world and then the US steadily outgrowing them.

        But it is probably the best cold war game out there, where you spend all your time trying to out-influence your opponent.

        Race for the Galaxy is very good; I prefer it with 2 players to 3 or 4. I don’t think the expansions add much value, and be warned that it will take ~4 playthroughs until you know enough about what cards are available to make good decisions. But playthroughs are fast, so that’s not much loss.

    • zz says:

      Wil Wheton hosts an internet show called Tabletop, where he plays well-regarded tabletop games*. I both enjoy watching it and appreciate the bit where you can see a lot of gameplay before getting the game. My personal favorite is Dixit. Munchkin is also always a good time, especially if you play it holidaytime with the holiday expansions.

      *Because it’s a web show played by people of highly varying skill levels, there’s criteria games have to meet, meaning that Tabletop isn’t a comprehensive survey of tabletop games: games can’t go too long, or be too complex, and they have to have a fair amount of luck to them so noobs are trounced by very experienced players.

  45. Luke Somers says:

    I cannot stand the scythes and do fine with the string, but if you’re the other way around, go for it.

  46. Tyler says:

    The floss scythes are supposedly disposable but reusable if you rinse them, just like a toothbrush. One lasts me about 6 months.

  47. Matthew says:

    My recommendation:

    Gradual light/birdsong alarm clocks like this one really do make it easier to get up in the morning.

    (The actual model I have is this one, but it is discontinued.)

  48. sinuswhat says:

    Long time sinus sufferer here.

    I’ve been using saline rinses for a long time with pretty good effects.
    In the past I have been prescribed Flonase to use on a daily basis for several months.

    Afrin is the nasal spray that people do get “addicted” to in the sense that they have sinus problems if they don’t take it. Bad problem, I’ve never ran into that.

    I am now taking Xlear on Scott’s recommendation! I wonder if he has any other advice on how to deal with this, because really not much is working for me.

  49. AstraSequi says:

    Is it just me, or is Ceretropic selling 0.9% sodium chloride, AKA salt water, at $5.25 for 30mL? Even with high purity, that should be very cheap. Back of the envelope calculation: 30mL is worth 19 cents.