I have often benefited from recommendations for Things I Didn't Know I Wanted.

Given that Less Wrong is a community of unusually intelligent, critical, and self-improvement-focused people, I suspect we can generate a pretty helpful thread of product recommendations — perhaps even a monthly thread of product recommendations.


  • Post one product your recommend per comment, so they can be discussed and voted on independently.
  • Provide a link for purchasing the product.
  • No books, movies, TV, games, or music. (These should go in other threads, like this one or this one.)
I'll post my own recommendations to the comments section, too.


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Vanguard 500 Index Fund

Index funds are the best way to invest in the stock market because they offer cheap diversification. Beware, however, sometimes funds labeled as index funds really aren't.

Any thoughts on getting globally diversified with index funds, and verifying said diversification? It's not trivial, since some index funds, especially international ones, are heavily biased towards one category of company. A "China fund" composed only of state-owned enterprises is not nearly as diversified as it could be.
Excellent question. The Vanguard 500 index fund buys each stock in proportion to its market capitalization, which gives you optimal diversification among these stocks. To the best of my knowledge there is no easy-to-follow mathematical formula for diversification across countries especially given exchange rate risks. Also, you probably shouldn't use passive investment vehicles (like index funds) for investing in corruption-ridden financial markets such as China's. But you probably should invest internationally and use the index approach when investing in stocks in rich countries. Although given the international nature of the 500 biggest U.S. companies (which the Vanguard 500 index fund consists of) you do get a lot of international diversification when you invest in it. If you are a relatively small U.S. investor it might not be worth it to invest in non-U.S. stocks, but I'm not sure about this.
Vanguard provides VGTSX (Total International), which attempts to invest in non-US markets in a balanced and diversified manner. I consider an international fund crucial to maintaining diversification, though many people feel it's too volatile. It was the only thing I found in all my reading where people had widely varying opinions with no true consensus, in which case you should go with your risk tolerance.
(Warning: contains a naive request for free advice. Feel free to ignore.) I may be "retiring" from the Canadian public service, with a bit of a cash buyout and (I assume) some of the money from my pension fund. Is this something I could consider?

Yes. Also, the longer you expect to live the more money you should put into stocks. Because of the relatively small size of the Canadian economy you shouldn't put too high a percentage of your assets into Canadian securities. All of your investments in the U.S. stock market should be through index funds.

Don't forget the tax consequences of your investments.

Vanguard invented the index fund philosophy; they have some of, if not the, lowest administration costs; and they are owned by their fund shareholders. I second the recommendation.
Thoughts on this compared to the Vanguard target date retirement funds?
When using a date fund, it's harder to attain your target asset allocation if you have any other retirement savings. I'm currently in VEMAX (emerging markets) and VTSAX (total stock market), along with Wilshire 5000 and EAFE (Europe-Australia-Far-East) from another account. I do the balancing myself with a simple one-page spreadsheet. (25% bonds, 75% stocks (35% international, 65% domestic)). All of my bonds are medium term US government securities. Date funds do the rebalancing for you, but they don't take into account your other holdings, nor your personal risk tolerance.
How frequently do you re-balance?
I alter the percentages mainly through new contributions, so it gets tweaked every month, though I do a buy/sell rebalance once a year.
Vanguard? It's all about the XSLV PowerShares S&P SmallCap Low Volatility Portfolio. Check out that performance.

E-book readers such as the Kindle

I use mine way more often than I originally expected. The low weight means I can have it in my bag by default. A lot of content is available in e-book format and it's easy to get onto the device. Reading lengthy articles on it makes me less likely to get distracted by links, email, etc.

The unexpected killer feature for me was that you can use it one-handedly. I've been carrying my sleeping daughter and reading at the same time for hours - that would have been impossible or at least prohibitively uncomfortable with a book.

Specific advice would be much appreciated. I live in a country where name-brand E-book readers are quite rare. I am aware of E-Book readers for quite some time, but I am unsure if I can justify buying one, because of a) non-existent electronic bookstore support. Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Sony and such doesn't work here officially. Will E-book reader provide enough value if I will only download books to it manually? I heard it doesn't handle pdf format well? b) uncertain reliability of the e-ink devices. My only experience with it is when my brother borrowed a PocketBook reader for a day and it broke, somehow. He never even took it out of its leather case. Looks like those e-ink screens are very fragile? Or, maybe that's only true for some? I was thinking of buying a Sony Reader, which had metal cases, but they changed for plastic in the latest generation. Any thoughts on this?
I loaded up almost a hundred books to my Kindle from Project Gutenberg. There are other free (legal) eBook locations such as Baen Free Library. For the $80 Kindle, that's likely worth it, even without accessing the vast illegal (in the US at least) sources. I agree they're definitely bad for PDF, text books, or anything else you'll want to flip back and forth; only good for sequential reading (novels and the like). They're very reliable and last a long time.

Dropbox (2gb for free, 50gb for $99/yr, 100gb for $199/yr)

Maybe this is too obvious to mention, but Dropbox rules.

Sync files between your computers and smartphone. Share photo albums and specific files with the public. Very easy to use. Way better for project management than emailing different versions of files back and forth a million times. Recover files you deleted weeks ago. Also see: 62 things you can do with Dropbox.

For those concerned about the security of storing your information online Spider Oak is a service worth considering. Their zero-knowledge policy ensure that—by design—they cannot access the data you store on their servers. Your data is encrypted on your computer and then sent to their servers (they don't have access to your private key). Benefits: * Securely store your data online, and have it sync between computers. * Allows you to select which folders to backup/sync. * Less expensive then Dropbox. Really great student rates. * Allows over 100 GB. This allows me to use it as an offsite backup for all my files (except video). Downsides: * Not as user friendly. UI needs some work. * Sharing options well behind Dropbox. * No apps/services integrate with it. * Upload process seems slower, though I haven't actually tested this. Given the downsides, I use Spider Oak for backup and sync exclusively while also using a free 2 GB Dropbox account to take advantage of all it's awesomeness.
I'm a hacker/computer security expert. I use DropBox for low sensitivity files (it sync's far faster, and has better integration) and SpiderOak for more sensitive data.
With Dropbox's announcement of new plans and pricing, two of the benefits I listed above for SpiderOak are no longer true. Pricing is now equal (not considering SpiderOak's student rates) and Dropbox has introduced 200 GB and 500 GB plans. Additionally using symlinks one can add any folder to their Dropbox (note I've done this on OS X, I can't speak to whether this is possible on Windows). That leaves SpiderOak with it's security benefits. However as this thread from the Dropbox forum details, there are many solution to this problem, one possibly coming from Dropbox itself! As such, I've made the switch back to Dropbox.
An alternate security solution is to encrypt sensitive files - I use a combination of Dropbox, Truecrypt, and KeePass for most things. There's still a few things that I keep local and encrypt, simply because they're especially sensitive.
Very true. You may find this thread on the Dropbox forums interesting.
Ironically, for me, paying for Dropbox is a really bad idea. One of my main uses for Dropbox is sharing files - copyrighted files, usually, especially with the Research page's various requests that I have fulfilled. Knocking out one Dropbox account knocks out all its files, so I want to spread files over as many Dropbox accounts as possible. Paying for extra space just increases the temptation to put a great many eggs in the one basket. (Of course, no actual problems have popped up over the past years I've shared files on Dropbox, so there's no point in having too many accounts; right now, I just shift Dropbox accounts every year or two. It is a real problem, though. My favorite Vocaloid music site, mikudb.com, recently saw its main uploaders' account on MediaFire disabled, which broke the availability of ~1300 albums.) EDIT: these days I don't use Dropbox as heavily as I used to, as I am more comfortable with hosting files on my own website: the bandwidth bills are not as bad as I feared, and experience has shown thus far that I don't need to worry about legal reprisals as long as I'm not dumb about it. I still split my uploads over 10 accounts, though, and rotate.
One method I use to share files quickly and anonymously is to use DropCanvas ( http://www.dropcanvas.com ). It has a simple interface, allows direct linking, and does not require signing up.
Why wouldn't you use actual version control software, like svn or git?
Probably because Luke isn't a programmer and many of the people he works with would get confused by actual version control. Too much version control just gets in the way for some purposes. Mind you the primary dropbox folder that he has shared with me (for LaTeX publishing stuff) actually contains a git repository which I use to share with the other publishing guys. I find that the extra complexity involved with git over dropbox is definitely worthwhile for things like working on templates but perhaps less useful for the routine stuff. Then for some use cases dropbox's (lack of) access control options just can't work for us.
This is Luke, he should teach them version control. Perhaps a simple system like svn would be better than git (but it requires a dedicated server...) The simple functionality alone - diff/merge tools, merge tracking, logs, tagging/branching, retrieving old revisions - is very empowering for any text-based collaboration. Programmers invented it, but that's no reason nonprogrammers shouldn't use it. I haven't used dropbox beyond a brief trial a year ago, but I seem to remember it has a primitive version tracking system built in. If it does, it's sure to be much worse than e.g. svn with a good gui like Tortoise. (Those who do not understand, are condemned to reinvent a poor copy...) People who use that, especially, should switch to a real VCS.
Git GUIs are considered harmful, but... they really make sense to non-programmers. This is probably the best way to introduce non-programmers; they can understand an app that does version control, but asking them to understand the terminal environment AND command line git might be too much.
Why are they considered harmful, more so than any GUI for a complex CLI program is harmful? Are there considerations specific to git here?
Git-specific consideration. GUIs tend to wrap up a bunch of low-level actions and abstract them; you can end up doing strange things.
Sounds more like a consideration specific to badly designed git GUIs :-) I've never used a git GUI, only the CLI. I imagine a simple GUI as being built along the lines of "someone doesn't like the CLI, or maybe someone is using Windows and has no cli, so let's wrap every cli git command in an exactly equivalent GUI command that just happens to run in a window and not in a terminal."
Oh, the problem is that concepts like "squash" and "fast-forward merge" and "remote ref" just don't make a lot of sense immediately.
Fine, but that problem shouldn't be somehow specific to the GUI and irrelevant to the CLI. The purpose of having a GUI isn't to teach people git or hide unfamiliar concepts, it's to make correct operations more convenient to people who for whatever reason don't want a CLI in their workflow.
You can get some 5.2GB free with dropbox - first they have a few small"quests" giving 0.2 extra. But then they also gave you up to 3GB more if you synced photos from mobile to dropbox (did this then removed the photos to get extra non-picture storage space).
And also referrals: you can get up to 500MB extra space for each person you get to sign up, with a limit of 16GB extra! (Speaking of which, if anyone wants to sign up to dropbox and is feeling generous, this is my referral link :) (I'm sure there are others who'd like a bit of extra space too.))
I was actually half-surprised Luke didn't use his own referral link.
This is the best roundup I found on cloud storage so far: http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/24/2954960/google-drive-dropbox-skydrive-sugarsync-cloud-storage-competition My opinion after experimenting with many of the aforementioned services? You can get potentially infinite storage using InSync and simultaneously managing as many Google Drive accounts as you like on the same computer. InSync's biggest problem is that once it finishes the beta stage, you will have to pay a one-time fee to continue using it. I think it is worth it given the infinite amount of space it offers. An alternative would be Dropbox. You start with only 2GB, which is too little, but there are many ways for you to get free space. You can invite friends, play Dropquests, upload camera pictures and participate in public beta testing. I now have 26 GB, all for free.
Recent competitor from Google: https://drive.google.com/start
Dropbox is currently more reliable. I've had Google Drive lose a file, fail to move a file from one folder to another, and crash multiple times on my Windows machine.
Google is cheaper per gigabyte, but in my opinion is not as convenient to use (yet).
Google drive terms of use are horrid for now.
From what I understand, this isn't actually the case. When Google Drive was first release there was a lot of buzz about it's terms, but this comparison with the terms of other similar services shows that there isn't much difference between any of the major online backup/sync service providers.
Note: Dropbox just doubled their storage at each price tier. (100GB for $99/yr, 200GB for $199/yr, 500GB for $499/yr)
I looked at both Dropbox and SugarSync for unattended backup purposes (5GB free for sugarsync vs 2GB for dropbox) and went with Sugarsync, because I did not want to think about copying stuff to my dropbox. Plus it already had an android client at the time I evaluated the options, so all my mobile data I care about would automagically appear on my desktop. The downside for Linux users is that it requires an alpha-quality add-on.
Back when I used SugarSync for lots of data, the client software kept crashing. It was also harder to setup.

Amazon Prime ($79/year)

How is Amazon making money on this??? I save way more than $79/year getting free two-day shipping (or $4 one-day shipping) with my Amazon Prime service. (You also get lots of free streaming for movies and TVs from Amazon, but I never use this.)

Free two-day shipping means I buy most things via Amazon — which is great, because most things I buy are cheapest on Amazon, anyway, and I hate entering my payment information into 40 different sites to get different products.

You get a free one-month trial. If you're a student, you get a free six-month trial.

How? Well, you kind of answered the question already! http://www.lukew.com/ff/entry.asp?1508

Amazon doesn't disclose details of the Prime program publicly but according to estimates Amazon Prime members:

Increase their purchases on Amazon from $400 a year to $900 a year after they join. (source) Spend 130% more than regular Amazon customers. (source) May be responsible for as much as 20% of Amazon's overall sales in the U.S. (source) 82% of Prime members buy on Amazon even if the item is less expensive somewhere else (source)

Wikipedia (free)

Wikipedia is a compendium of human knowledge, edited by anyone who cares to contribute. It has articles covering everything people might want to know about, including references to source material for further reading. Its goal is to become an authoritative encyclopedia.

Empty tissue boxes. Use them to prop up the back layer of paperback books on your double-stacked bookshelves. Now you can see most of the titles of the books in the back row. If you want to upgrade in style, get some 2-by-4s cut to the right length at your local hardware store.


Every inch of wall space is covered by a bookcase. Each bookcase has six shelves, going almost to the ceiling. Some bookshelves are stacked to the brim with hardback books: science, maths, history, and everything else. Other shelves have two layers of paperback science fiction, with the back layer of books propped up on old tissue boxes or lengths of wood, so that you can see the back layer of books above the books in front. And it still isn't enough.

My God...HPMOR is the world's most elaborate product placement ever.

I suspect that this recommendation will be redundant for many or most of LessWrong, but let it be repeated: buy a good basic multitool and keep it where you can easily find it. Better, buy a couple of them and keep them (say) in your car, in your desk at work, and at home.

Sometimes you need exactly the right tool for the job. However, for many simple tasks, and for any emergency, the simple tool immediately at hand is much more useful than the ideal tool which would take time and effort to retrieve.

What would you recommend? I have a Leatherman Squirt E4, which is never the right tool for the job, but always available, and complies with UK knife laws. I also have very good experiences with the Leatherman Wave, but don't carry it around as a matter of course for aforementioned knife-law reasons.
I understand some enthusiasts get very emphatic about this issue, but I can only speak to my own very limited experience. The tool immediately to my hand now is a Leatherman PST, easily about ten years old or more and still not showing many signs of age. As I understand it, it's the very basic original Leatherman model. It's paid for itself many times over in simple ready convenience and utility. I see there are some very fancy and complicated multitools around. I have no comment about those, as I've never used them. I would say that my comment was based only on my experience of often needing quick access to a variety of screwdrivers, or pliers, or a bottlecap opener, or wire cutters, or the knife. (I personally haven't used the file very much if at all.) I don't have any knowledge of UK knife laws, but the thought of them saddens me, because a knife as a basic tool is useful in so many, many ways. The number of times in which I've been imminently inclined to use my knife as a stabbing weapon in real life has been exactly nil (it wouldn't have been practical in any case -- the Leatherman is hardly a switchblade. For legal defensive purposes, you might be just as well off carrying a sharpened wooden pencil) but I've been happy to have the power to cut inanimate objects uncountable times.
I personally don't think UK knife laws are all that bad. You can carry a <= 3" blade, provided it folds. If it's non-folding, or if it's lockable, you count the full length. Most full-sized Leatherman blades are longer than this limit when unfolded and locked. (You can carry bigger blades than this, provided they're legitimate to your work/activities and/or they're stored sensibly. If you're a tradesman with a multitool on his belt you're exceedingly unlikely to have any trouble. If you're at a football match, possession of a knife would be treated a lot more seriously)
I'm a huge fan of the Leatherman Micra, as it's trivial to have it with basically all the time. I've been surprised with how efficient the screwdrivers manage to be, and at least for me, it covers everything I'd plausibly run in to while out and about (I have a separate one for doing electronics, that includes wire strippers and such, but I've never run in to a situation where I needed that one unexpectedly :)) The tweezers are a bit awkward, but I've used them to remove a number of splinters, so they definitely can do the job (I go barefoot, and having this thing around is wonderful for that alone...)
I'm also very fond of the Leatherman Micra.

In the vein of "Things I Didn't Know I Wanted": an iPhone. I didn't know I needed a smartphone until I got one. It has improved my life, in many small ways that I had trouble predicting. Example: I no longer have to plan anything when I'm leaving my apartment, because I know I can look up whatever I need using my phone.

2Paul Crowley11y
Totally agreed, you want a smartphone. Doesn't have to be the latest and greatest, either; my two year old HTC Desire continues to make me very happy.
I don't really understand what the selling point of the newer models is. I'm also quite happy with a HTC Desire (apart from the internal storage running out of app install space, had to install CyanogenMod just to patch over that), since it seems to do everything I want from a thing with that particular form factor and interface constraints. Basically, browse the web, write short messages, display reflowing text documents, run a scientific calculator and play video and audio. All of these seem to generally run without me thinking "I wish I had more processing power for this".
Not saying this is necessarily for you, but each time I've upgraded to an iphone with a faster processor I've been like "Shit this is way faster than the crap I was used to". App loading, web page loading, google maps running faster, etc. Maybe this won't be your experience, but it's easy to test by borrowing a newer version of your phone.
It costs several hundred dollars more than other smartphones, though. Except for battery life and status signalling, why is it better?
The iPhone brings the user substantially more joy when using the product, compared to other smartphones. When I say "joy" I also mean to indicate lack of frustration. The iPhone just works, and it works beautifully, in a way that other smartphones do not. Now, why do I recommend paying for joy? Because you will be using your smartphone for probably multiple hours a day, for several years, and if you're slightly happier every time you use it, that adds up.
Downvoted for wildly subjective assertions about comparative merits of smartphones. I personally have a Galaxy Nexus, and I much prefer the extra customisation and control I have over an Android system. It "just works beautifully", too. Feeling like I am in full control of a tiny, powerful computer in my pocket brings me a lot more joy than every time I've tried using an Iphone; where the lack of control made me feel like I was renting one of Apple's devices on a probationary period, rather than owning one myself. So this is really a matter of preference; let's not pretend that the Iphone is simply an unequivocally "more joyful" or "better working" user experience.
Well, joy is highly subjective, which kind-of pattern-matches the post facto rationalizations people use to defeat the buyer's remorse.
The iPhone in particular is very well-thought out. For example, they aren't including support for 4G LTE until they invent a new battery that will still last all day while connecting to 4G LTE. My friend just got a leading Android phone that has 4G LTE, but it runs out of battery after 6 hours.
I would recommend checking whether it is well-thought in the area you do care about. I was surprised to find out that you cannot easily save PDF from a webpage to reliably keep it on the phone forever; it will be subject to cache retention policy. There are more obvious limitations, of course. Nobody is free of mistakes, so check what is obviously important for you in the specific device you are going to use.
Really? If you were referring to the iPhone, my experience is this. PDF links open by default in the browser, which copy only exists as a temporary cache. However, the window includes an "Open in iBooks" button, and using it saves a permanent copy to iBooks. iBooks is an Apple app that comes with the phone. There's also an "Open in..." button letting you save it to any app that has indicated it is able to handle a PDF -- I also have GoodReader.
Yes, it was on iPhone (specifically iPhone 1) and the owner said that he is disappointed by the situation and knows no solution. Maybe Apple fixed this problem later among some others like copy-paste.
I started with the iPhone 4. So there's the solution to his problem: upgrade, and experience wonderful new worlds of just-worksness!
Unfortunately for Apple, I already own an n810, and my expectations of the device willing to work in a sane-from-my-POV way, not "just work somehow" are heightened well beyond anything an Apple product can ever provide. Clarification: I know, what I call sanity is a minority wish, and I am simply not using any devices that actively work against it. My original point was that it is not like excellence is the driving idea of iPhone; releasing right-hand-only iPhone4 has shown that not much has changed. Also, a device with a more-than-400MHz-CPU, more-than-128MB-RAM and more-than-1GB-storage that cannot run OpenOffice/LibreOffice without fighting what manufacturer did doesn't "just work".
Is this using Safari? The iCab mobile browser is a couple bucks, but infinitely more functional, including durable saving and adjustable ssd cache. There are also lots of good reader and filer apps.
As usual, there is an app for that. Dropbox, another product on this list, has an excellent iPhone app, which (among many other things) lets you save your PDF in permanent storage, and automatically sync to your computer with no extra effort. I've been disappointed in minor ways with my iPhone, but nothing was significant enough to withhold a very strong recommendation from me. (Android is another story. Android devices are still very useful, but the difference in quality of experience between an Android device and an iPhone is like night and day.)
There is quite a bit of variance in quality among Android devices. Personally, I would take a Samsung Galaxy Nexus over an Apple iPhone. I was pretty late on the smartphone bandwagon. The only reason I got it was to be able to use Anki on the go. Now I use about a dozen apps and get an enormous amount of value out of it.
Well, as for me, when I had a chance to hold iPhone for a few minutes, it lowered my perception of Apple from "high-quality, somewhat restrictive, expensive" to "overpriced, unpredictable quality". What their browser did with saving PDFs was one of the things. I do use a PDA, though - n810 from Nokia (custom GNU/Linux distribution by Nokia inside), I use bluetooth integration with two different (different operators) phones, in many things PDA helps a lot - but iPhone specifically striked me as an overall poor product. Given that Apple doesn't allow apps to fix every quirk, even "there is an app for that" doesn't help. Why would I want a device that doesn't run OpenOffice/LibreOffice?
Since OpenOffice has not been adapted and is poorly suited for touch screens, your mentioning it (twice) in a conversation about smartphones is more confusing than helpful. Also, the n810 (which you've mentioned twice) is part of a product line that was discontinued about 2 years ago and never sold in large quantities. (I know about OpenOffice and the n810 because I used Linux for my desktop platform for 17 years.) Would you please limit your comments from now on to information that can realistically be expected to be useful to the general reader rather than only to people who have already invested heavily in very unusual hardware or software choices? For example, the vast majority of LWers who will buy a smartphone will (for excellent reasons, particularly "network effects") buy one with a touch interface.
OpenOffice on touch-only device has two goals: first, check that you can actually get complex software (not really optimized for the platform) working without too much hassle; second, just view the files in non-trivial formats with minimal if any editing (well, sorting and searching are not too bad on medium-size devices). N810 is EOLed, but N9 lacks only keyboard. From the platform side of things it is quite close. I am not mentioning N810 in top-level comments (because you cannot obtain it with warranty) or first-level replies (because mentions there are seen as related recommendations) - I am only using this to explain my experience and what baseline I compare Apple products to. The post you are answering to is a reply to the claim that "iPhone just works" (which is true not for everyone's definition of "works"). On easily rootable Qwerty Android phones (there are some), you can get chroot + vncviewer + vnc server in chroot (and so, whatever software you need from Debian/ARM) without giving up "using Android phone" and access to the popular apps. I am not naming a specific Android Qwerty phone because I haven't compared currently available such phones to each other and don't currently use one. (I do know from experience that setting up the system that I described it not hard). As for network effects.. if you buy a product with network effect being a strong factor, you have found about it not from this post's comments.
Honestly, that's because PDF is not well-thought-out.
Choosing to use PDF to distribute text (or text-and-images) on the Web today does seem like a pretty silly idea. PDF favors exact reproduction of a paper-based layout over readability on the user's device; and that's the opposite of what's useful if you're trying to get a message across to many users. But, given that PDF is out there, it's pretty useful for a mobile device to be able to deal with it competently.
Sorry? The problem equally applies to HTML and to everything you can read online. Also, PDF is well thought-out as a format with specific purpose. If you want to know exactly an for sure what the reader will see, you could use PDF and succeed or use HTML and make the existing problems of Web worse.
I really wish I could agree with you, but I've read parts of the specification of the pdf file format. Perhaps the goal was well-thought-out, but certainly the format itself is not.
Ignoring the barrier to entry involved in competing with a de facto standard like .pdf, are there any viable alternatives available?
Do you mean that GPS navigation relieves you from the burden of planning your spatial transportation? Can you please provide other examples (ideally as many as you can) about how owning an iPhone have improved your life? As you can tell from my other comment, I'm currently very sceptical about such claims. My hypothesis is that most such claims are delusional; people are not aided by smartphones, justifying owning them as convenience while using them as entertainment and receiving additional stress and expense in the process. It would be a good occasion to be proven wrong.

With a smartphone, I can:

  • Find restaurants and bars while out, of a much higher quality as compared to walking into random places
  • Discover what my friends are up to, without having to rely on them texting/calling me - Foursquare, Find My Friends, Facebook, Twitter.
  • Not write down addresses or directions
  • Not be bored while waiting for things
  • Not forget appointments
  • Never worry about getting lost
  • Read news / articles I wouldn't otherwise read (e.g., while on the toilet)
  • Take photos I wouldn't otherwise take (which create social experiences I wouldn't otherwise have) and get geotags/dates with those photos
  • Show off my photos to people while I'm out
  • Write things down when I don't have a notebook (and get geotags/dates with those notes using Evernote)
  • Take voice memos (and get geotags/dates with those memos)
  • Read urgent emails I would have missed until I got back to my desk
  • Listen to music at the gym
  • Pay with Square (an awesome experience. if you have an iPhone and live in San Francisco, go to Sightglass and do it once. It feels like the future.)
  • Reference Wikipedia and do Google searches in social contexts
  • Get alerted when people mention me or my business on Twitter
  • Check the stock ma
... (read more)
  • Read novels (my main use for smartphones, read 100+ by now)
  • Listen podcasts and audio books
  • Record home videos
  • Listen to radio (when you're curious to why the phone network is down, the electric grid has blacked out and there seem to be awfully many sirens going off outside)
  • Track routes and speeds of runs using GPS
  • Play emulated 16-bit console RPGs and strategy games that don't demand much control dexterity
  • Find out what constellations are currently in the sky where you point the phone
  • Read barcodes and QR-codes
  • Photograph signs and pictures and look them up with reverse image search
  • SSH shell connect to remote machines
  • Translate text (possibly OCR'd from photos) with Google Translate
  • Compass
  • Portable audio source for a home stereo system
  • Quickly scan book or article pages with the high-res camera
  • Kitchen timer
  • Smart alarm clock that wakes you up when you start moving around in your sleep close to your wakeup time
  • Spaced repetition drills on the bus
  • Remote control for the media center PC
  • Exercise timer for Tabata, HIIT etc.
  • USB drive, if you have a micro-USB adapter
  • Watch movies and TV-shows
  • Emulate an RPN scientific calculator
  • Flashlight using the camera flash LED
  • Share the mobile internet connection with a quick WiFi hotspot
I have Android: * Sleep duration data collection (Sleepbot) * Sleepiness forecast (Sleep watcher) * Google Drive (writing/spreadsheet) * White noise/nature sounds for going to sleep (Lightning bug) * Bed lamp (full screen light) * Notes (Catch) * Google Tasks integration (gtasks) * Calendar * Countdown and count up timer * Sudoku * Streaming audio (SomaFM) * Fitness improvement (100 Squats) * Camera/Photo manipulation (Painteresque/Vignette/Paper Camera) * Knitting pattern counter/row counter * Habit building reminder (Beeminder/Habit streak/FailLog/TaskLife) * Daily diary * Rain forecast for where I am (SkyMotion) * Shared grocery list * Current images of earth cloud cover and of the sun (Solaris) * Current wave height, temperature and other data covering the whole earth (Earth Now) * Dual-n-back * IRC client (Android IRC) * walk tracking (MyTracks) * Psychological first aid (The Tools) * Work timer (Pomodroido) * When should I call my family again (Nextcall)
I don't see what's wrong with owning it for entertainment, and I don't see where the stress comes from. Maybe it's more entertaining than useful to be able to go to wikipedia whenever I have an argument or want to settle a bet, but that doesn't mean it's not worthwhile.
Owning something for entertainment is only wrong (looks like irrational behavior for me) if one claims otherwise. Stress comes from having additional personal computer in possession, which one has to manage, charge, mentally track location of (e.g. not lose) and respond to. Granted, dumbphone also has the above properties (and I'm regularly thinking if it is wise to have a cellphone at all), but to a limited extent.
I am actively avoiding buying a smartphone because I wouldn't like to (descending priority): * spend my time fiddling with it * spend my mental energy fiddling with it * spend money on toys * charge a phone every day (my phone lasts a week) * be unable to read display at all times (my phone has very readable b/w display; shows time in large digits when idle) I currently have Nokia 1208, which retailed for €25. One might consider newer Nokia 1280 as an upgrade, which has FM radio with 3.5mm headphone jask and RRP of €20. Personally, I find 1208's build quality more appealing, and it's thinner as well and has different style keyboard, but this is a matter of taste, probably. What am I missing?

Textcelerator, a browser plugin that hacks your vision to make you read significantly faster. I made it because I really value being knowledgeable, and pre-existing speed reading software wasn't practical. I recently added Textcelerator for Sites, a version that can be embedded into blogs or other pages to enable speed-reading those pages without installing anything.

(Disclaimer: Payware with a free trial; I'm the author.)

Thanks -- I just tried it. I'm intrigued, and in general always interested in these kind of experiments. Did you base it on some existing research? I use auto-scroll when reading PDFs sometimes, to force-feed me. One of the advantages seems to be that the mind is put under some stress, and less likely to wander off. BTW, I found that some words go together naturally when reading (say, a book title), and it's a bit confusing when textcelerator splits them.
The rapid serial visual presentation technique is old and has lots of research; my modification to it (moving the words up and down) has only been tested by me and people who've tried the app, so nothing formal. The way words get grouped together is mostly determined by their physical size, but I might be able to put in a special case for capitalized proper nouns.
Texcelerator is nicely done! I use Spreed! http://www.spreeder.com/app.php for speed reading. It's free. The big hassle with using it, is the cut and paste.
Wow, brilliant idea! I've been doing some speedread-training and realised how much I could improve my speed. Your plugin is ingenius I must say! What you really should do to it improve though, is remove the "-" at the end of a sentence where a word is too long so the whole word is displayed together (shouldn't be too hard to fix?). At the moment this can make it quite hard to read some articles. You should also make it pause when it encounters a heading. Btw if you are looking for some help on devoloping it or promoting it, I might be able to help :)
Thanks! The hyphenation thing is trickier than it seems, since in general there's no easy we to distinguish a compound word which happened to fall at the end of the line, from a hyphenated word. This will be one of the things I focus on when adding PDF support, since PDFs tend to use hyphenation much more heavily. Most web pages don't use hyphenation at all; if there's one where it's particularly bad, send me the link and I'll see if there's a good workaround. I'm not looking for programming help, but publicity is always welcome. If you know people who would benefit from it, show them a demo and encourage them to install it. If you have a blog, you can put a Speed Read This button on it.
What's your take on this article? http://www.slate.com/articles/briefing/articles/2000/02/the_1000word_dash.html Personally, I suspect I mostly read at the rate I can comprehend stuff. In other words, I suspect thinking is the limiting factor in my reading, not the rate at which I can shove words through my eyes. Sure, in some cases you get popular nonfiction books that are so full of fluff that you're best off skimming them (comprehending only a hastily organized slice of the book), but I'd rather just find a denser resource like a summary of the book.
Did you actually try it? You might be surprised. I read the article you linked to at 950wpm (but my unassisted reading speed is only about 350wpm).
So did you have anything to say about the article? I just tried the demo. I guess it is plausible that word shoving speed is rate limiting, since I had a hard time shoving all the words through my eyes at 700 words per minute, which might improve through training. But I'm wary of using a tool that might hurt comprehension, which seems harder to measure. I remember reading that subvocalizing improves recall for instance, but I doubt you could learn that just by observing yourself. If you want to optimize your reading, making spaced repetition cards seems like the obvious thing. Why are you reading it if you don't want to remember it? Are you really confident that you remember any significant portion of the stuff you read on the Internet? Shouldn't we be optimizing for facts/habits/models acquired instead of words consumed?
It seemed wrong. It took the observation that most people read at about the same speed, stretched it way too far, and treated it as a given rather than as something to improve on. Then juxtaposed a probably-real example (JFK reading at 1200wpm) with an obviously-fake one (a person who claimed to read 17k wpm), in order to discredit the real example. Then it pulled a definition trick, redefining "reading quickly" as "skimming", and failing to notice that the distinction between reading and skimming is whether or not you skip things. The more subtle mistake was that it only acknowledged speed-reading software as a training method, rather than as a tool to use for ordinary reading. I don't blame the author for that, since at the time it was written the only tools available were too impractical to use all the time. But fixing that is the whole point of Textcelerator. Yes, one hour of studying a topic won't give as deep an understanding as two hours of studying that topic, no matter what reading techniques you use; and what we really care about is understanding gained. The thing is, time is usually a limiting factor, and if you're reading faster, then you can use the extra time to read something twice, or read it and reflect, or read it and make flashcards, or read it and also read some related material. Increasing speed by 2x (and that is the sort of speedup we're talking about) is not as good as spending twice as much time reading, but it's worth a hell of a lot. My own experience - and yes, this is hard to measure and therefore somewhat subjective - is that Textcelerator doesn't significantly reduce my comprehension until I get over 900wpm, but that when reading unaided, if I try to read that fast it degenerates into skimming and I retain very little.

Google Reader (free web service)

RSS feed reader with numerous features, including sharing to other services, starring of interesting articles, and folders for feed sorting. I use this far more than any other web application, as I'm constantly reading things from across the web, and Google Reader is the best way of aggregating all the new content from many websites into one place and presenting it in an easy-to-read list, along with knowing how many new articles are there today and not missing a thing. I even subscribe to individual feeds from LW, such as particular users I don't want to miss comments from.

Charmin Wet Wipes ($0.05 per wipe, Amazon 4.5 stars, 6 reviews)

For wiping in the bathroom. Much more pleasant than regular toilet paper as far as comfort and cleanliness. Note that some reviews of wet wipes result in pain or rashes due to allergic reactions. The Cottonelle dispenser works better and the wipes are a bit sturdier.

Argh, I really wish I'd remembered that you said this! On this recommendation I bought these wipes a few months ago and have been really enjoying them, and also I've been suffering from precisely such rashes and not knowing why until today when I finally found the right combination of search terms to describe the problem I was having (I was using "chafe" before). The insidious part is that the wipes were one of the two things that consistently relieved the pain, the other one being showering.
I've thought of getting the Toto toilet with integrated spray wash and dry. If I do, I will report back. Wet wipes, or good quality toilet paper. Cheap toilet paper is offensive.
I think I must be the only person who prefers cheap, terrible toilet paper. (It feels drier, which I care about more than most other axes along which toilet paper varies.)

$30 Doorjam pullup bar - a few repetitions per week makes a big difference and take little time or energy. Better design than the old in-doorway bars. Should be prophylactic against hunched-forward computer posture, and helps me feel better in a way that volleyball and soccer don't. I used to gym-weightlift regularly but found it too demoralizing (to approach personal limits and then injure yourself is silly).

I've been thinking about one of those pullup bars, but I'm terrified at the idea of tearing the door frame off and having it and the steel frame come crashing down on top of me. Is this a valid concern?
Mine came with a thin metal shim that slid easily between the wall and doorjam that prevents the unloaded bar-anchor from shifting away from the wall+doorjam. Once the bar is weighted, there's no way that can happen anyway (the shim is really optional and you could improvise similarly with finishing nails). Worst case realistic scenario: (if you keep the area in a possible crash zone free of spikes and furniture corners) is that you bang up your knee a little. I'm assuming you're just doing pullups, of course.

Tasker (Android app)

Lets you automate many activities on an Android phone. You define a context based on various conditions (e.g. connected to a Wifi network, using certain cell towers, phone spatially oriented a certain way) and various actions to perform upon entering and exiting that context. You can set variables and condition upon them, there is flow control for actions, customisable home screen widgets and shortcuts, and many other neat functions.

Some examples of tasks I use / am pondering:

  • When my phone is on any of the cell towers around my house, it switches the wifi on (to connect to my home network)
  • When the phone connects to my home network, it sends a magic packet to my PC and turns it on - but only if I am getting home at a time when I'm likely to want to use the PC (varies depending on day). But it only does this if it has been disconnected for at least half an hour (in case the connection drops out momentarily overnight)
  • When my phone disconnects from my car's Bluetooth hands free kit, it waits two minutes and then switches the Bluetooth antenna off.
  • When my phone is connected to its charger and turned face-down overnight (how I leave it next to my bed), it engages
... (read more)
I've got tasker, but haven't successfully set it up to do anything. I find all of the layers of menus and terminology confusing and wonder why there isn't a configuration file I can edit by hand.
Yeah, the interface is usually the biggest complaint and I agree it's quite suboptimal. I guess the good bit is once you get something working you don't have to interact with it again until you want to change it. I haven't tried it myself, but I believe there is a way to write the contexts and tasks in XML files or something similar... you could look that up.
I haven't tried Tasker, but I used Llama for this same purpose, with excellent results. Here's a comparison of the two apps. As of July, 2012 both apps have the same rating on Google Play (4.7 stars).
Hmm, seems to be a few remarks on how Tasker is tricky to use. I haven't tried Llama, but I didn't find Tasker particularly difficult to get to grips with. Anyone with some programming experience should definitely find it easy enough. I just got the toggle button for call forwarding set up yesterday. Now a process that used to be annoyingly cumbersome and take 30 seconds every time I arrived at or left work is a breezy two-taps that leave me feeling satisfied with myself for having set it up.


I have been using AutoHotkey to do keyboard remapping for more than a year now. It has given me a very significant improvement in typing speed, but more importantly less strain in my fingers.

I do the following remappings:

  • V-->space
  • Space-->shift
  • CapsLock -->V (I never use CapsLock, so I don't remap anything to it)
  • F4--> Ctrl+S (save)
  • F5--> Ctrl+C (copy)
  • F6--> Ctrl+X (cut)
  • F7--> Ctrl+V (paste)
  • F9 --> Ctrl+Backspace (full word backspace)
  • BackSpace-->J
  • J-->BackSpace

I don't necessarily expect that everyone will find these remappings useful, but I expect that everyone could benefit from some remappings.

I don't care much about typing speed, but I find hitting wrong keys very annoying, so I simply pull off the keys I never use, like CapsLock and Insert. Works equally well on Mac, Windows and Linux, no special software required :)

I usually pull off the insert and "Windows" keys and most of the keys from the numpad, leaving enough for a second set of arrow keys and not much more.
Oh, I used to do that all the time. Those keys should be relabelled "fuck up whatever it is you were trying to write". Now that I'm a bit better at touch-typing, I don't do that any more, maybe I should (insert still is kinda annoying).
I made the entire numpad the boss key (show desktop). :-D
Wow. You must REALLY like surfing for your unauthorized entertainment!
I love PhraseExpress. It basically works like Word's autocorrect, but in all programs. I use it a lot to expand short abbreviations into long text, and to autocorrect typos (e.g. 'kr,.' is converted automatically into "Kind regards, My Name", and 'teh' to 'the'). I can use it to quickly enter symbols, too: typing 'kruis,.' for example, pops up a menu with different cross-like symbols: ☓, †, ✚, etc. (kruis is Dutch for cross). It can do more - like remapping keys - but these are the functions I use. You can use it to type diacritics too; I normally use the US International keyboard for that, but there is one annoying program I sometimes need to use where that doesn't always work. PE is free for non-commercial use.
I use AutoHotKey to type diacritics with my US keyboard.
2nd'd too. I also recommend looking into c't ActiveAid (http://www.heise.de/download/activaid.html). It's a AutoHotkey script collection by the German computer magazine c't, and contains many goodies. The linked page is in German, but the application supports English. I especially liked it for the excellent Multi-Monitor, Window-Placement, date/time/calendor, notetaking and screenshot support. Most of it is less important with Windows >= 7, but it's still helpful.
Seconded. When I was on Windows I used AutoHotKey like a boss.

Spotify Premium ($9.99/mo)

  • Unlimited streaming for a bajillion albums and tracks, without the ads.
  • Sync music wirelessly between your computer and your smartphone. (Better than gMusic and a few other services I tried this with.)
  • 320kbps if desired.
  • Tons of great community playlists you can browse and play with one click. Also some great apps to help you keep up with the latest music you'll love, for example those reviewed by Pitchfork or The Guardian, or those at the top of the charts.
  • All the standard stuff, e.g. Last.fm integration.

There is one annoying hitch, but I have a solution. For whatever reason, Spotify doesn't let you clear your play queue. (The world is mad, and all that.) The solution is simple: (1) Create a new playlist called 'Clear play queue', (2) add only this track (one second of silence) to that playlist, and (3) double-click the 'Clear play queue' playlist whenever you want to clear your play queue.

Spotify has no radio functionality on Android devices for some ungodly reason. It's a shame, because they have the best radio of any streaming music service I've yet to try (it gives me better recommendations than even Pandora). I think Spotify Premium is worth it despite that, but some may not. Edit August 9 2012: Spotify for Android now has the same radio as its mobile and PC varieties.
I'm actually really sad they don't have the same radio functonality on my computer as they just added to my iPhone. I agree the radio is awesome. Even if their recommendations weren't as good, the option to immediately add shit to your own "collection" is awesome. Infinite skips, also great.
It's also worth noting that spotify lets you easily import your own mp3s, so you don't have to worry about only having access to stuff on their servers, you can listen to a mixture of your own stuff and their stuff on both your computer and mobile device.
If you don't need mobile streaming (phone/tablet), you can go with the Unlimited service at half the price ($4.99/mo) for the same library and features to any computer. If you use Right-click, Queue, instead of double-click, you can delete items from the play queue.
The spotify queue can contain "implicit" and "explicit" items, and you can only remove explicit ones from your queue. (Unless you use the trick I specified above.)
No No No! AFAIK, most of Spotify's songs are NOT 320kbps. The M50s you claim to be using would be a huge waste if you listen to Spotify on them. I believe MOG is the only service guaranteed to provide 320kbps, so I recommend you switch to it instead.

Sugru - rapid, easy, cheap repair of small, broken things. Suguru is basically a hardening putty - it's malleable when opene, and dries to be hard and durable in about 24 hours. I've used it to repair broken axles on a cart, reassemble broken headphones, re-attach a handle to a hairbrush - minor, easy fixes which save me marginal time/money/anxiety/frustration on a day-to-day basis. There may be other, similar, cheaper products (some appear on the amazon search I just did), but I have not tested them.

Amazon link

Google Chrome (free web browser)

A web browser to replace Microsoft Internet Explorer, Apple Safari, or Mozilla Firefox. Provides bookmark, password, extension and tab syncing across systems, is very fast and standards compliant, has built-in Flash and PDF readers, silent auto-updates, has lots of new technology and is pushing forward the boundaries of web browsing while staying more secure than the competition. I use this application more than anything else installed on my systems. Based on the open source Chromium.

Adblock Plus: By preventing the display of ads, Adblock Plus makes browsing the web less taxing on both your computer and your sanity.
Catblock is even better!
Web Cache: When you meet 404 not found, you may find web cache with this extension.
Hover Zoom: Enlarge thumbnails on mouse over. Works on many sites (Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Reddit, Amazon, Tumblr, etc).
Correspondingly, Mozilla Firefox. Similar to Google Chrome/Chromium, and has many of the same features. Each of those two browsers will suit some people better than it suits others, e.g. I always have many many tabs open, and I find that having more than 10 tabs open in Chromium is hard to use (tabs get unreadably small) and eats all my memory, while Firefox is nicer on both of these aspects. (I'm sure other use-cases suit Chrome better.) (On that note, Firefox has had a bit of a reputation as a slow memory hog compared to Chrome, but that's no longer true.)
While the subject of browsers is being floated, does anyone have any good recommendations on how to sensibly achieve two or more concurrent sets of browser data on the same machine? I have multiple accounts on a few different sites (for generally benign reasons), and I manage this by having one set of logins/cookies/history on Chrome and one set on Firefox. It's a bit of an elaborate assignment problem, especially if I need to maintain three concurrent active accounts in one place. It would be extraordinarily helpful to have multiple instances of Chrome on one machine (like a Red Chrome, a Blue Chrome and a Green Chrome), which would allow me to keep them separate, but over a consistent environment.
Open the Google Chrome settings page, look for the heading 'Users' and click 'Add New User'. You can also use Google Chrome Canary, which will be an entirely separate installation of Chrome with its own independent directory.
Thank you.
Firefox has a concept of "profiles" too. (I don't know how effective they are, or if you can have multiple running at once.)
Flashblock equivalent: in Settings, click 'Show Advanced Settings', under Privacy, click 'Content Settings', scroll down to Plug-ins and select 'Click to play'
Thank you for posting this. I'm a long time Firefox user but lately I've been curious about Chrome. Your recommendation gives me the impetus to try it.

Boomerang for Gmail

Have emails return to your inbox at a specified day and time. Stop thinking about things until your past self decides you need to be thinking about them again. Keep a clean inbox. Want to reply to a letter but don't have time until after work? Boomerang it to tonight, and you'll get a reminder when it lands in your inbox and you have time to take care of it.

Free for the first 10/emails a month, $5/month for unlimited emails. I pay the $5 and it's very worth it.

I have been using this and love it. One of the things I use it for is to remind myself in the future to do a specific thing at a specific time (I have Gmail on my iPhone, so it pings me when I get the email), but in a way that's phrased as a request from a past self (e.g. "Hi future me, Do this thing! It'll be awesome! Cheers, past me") so it'll feel like I'm breaking a social commitment instead of just ignoring a reminder.
I added Boomerang based on your recommendation. I already use Mailbox for iPhone to schedule emails to reappear at some given time. I've used Boomerang primarily to delay the sending of an e-mail ("Send Later") and to schedule emails to reappear in my inbox if I don't get a reply. I find "Send Later" particularly useful, since it removes the rationalization that "I'll compose this e-mail later, since I can't send it out until later".
Great recommendation. I actually came back to this page with the specific purpose of recommending Boomerang, after trying it for a coupe of weeks on the basis of Qiaochu Yuan's endorsement, and I'm happy to see it already mentioned.

Aluminum foil. Use a gluestick to put it over your bedroom windows. Now there is darkness, and you can sleep. This made a huge quality-of-life difference to me, and I felt very silly for not doing it 10 years earlier. (A sleep mask, which I previously used, was not nearly as good a solution.)


This probably occurs to most people, but to be explicit about the downsides:

  • signalling possible drug production
  • lack of sunlight, which can (1) serve as an optical alarm clock (2) improve mood (3) be aesthetically pleasing
  • I imagine that most implementations will not be aesthetically pleasing to most people
  • Likely to signal a lack of socialability to anyone who should have occasion to visit your bedroom - cowering from sunlight is among the most oft-cited "antisocial nerd" tropes.
Isn't this what curtains and shutters are for?
Yes, it's what they are for - but they are typically inferior alternatives for the specific goal of preventing light entry.

My parents visited Israel when I was a kid. My grandparents' apartment had Israeli air-raid-quality shutters which ACTUALLY blocked out all the light; they were wooden slats that rolled down and stacked themselves solidly over the outside of the window. You pulled on the cord and the light went out completely - that simple. I expect it helped on noise reduction too, though I wasn't checking then. Ever since, I've taken the lack of this simple, extremely useful feature on any other windows I've ever seen, as proof that the housing industry is dysfunctional.

In Italy, roller shutters that block all of the light (like this) are pretty much ubiquitous. (This is one of the few things where I think Italy is less retarded than the rest of the developed world. Now I've bought a sleeping mask and I'm going to use it the next time I go abroad.)
If you can choose, French shutters work miles better than roller shutters at blocking light.
I've seen steel shutters like that in Pisa. Some of them still had bullet marks. But not all of us need pitch darkness to sleep. My eyelids are the only shutters I need.
Some shade too I assume? I find I at least need to ensure that my eyelids aren't subject to direct sunlight for sleep to be realistic. This occurs sometimes in my room when the sun is at exactly the right point and the curtains aren't carefully aligned. If I am trying to go to sleep at that time I need to either lie on my side such that my head is facing away or cover my eyes with a pillow (or be very tired, or it could be overcast).
Listening to heavy metal in a brightly lit room will almost inevitably put me to sleep within 30 minutes. One of my friends only produces melatonin when exposed to sunlight or full-spectrum bulbs. Not everyone's body responds to "night = sleep, light = awake".
Wow. Really? Those are.... exceptional observations. Should I take them at face value or be confused?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Delayed_sleep_phase_disorder I can't say for sure whether things like full spectrum bulbs actually help us sleep, or if that's just psychosomatic, but there definitely exist people who naturally sleep during the day and wake up at night. Left to my own devices, I go to bed at dawn rather reliably, sleep ~8 hours, and wake up feeling incredibly rested. Any other sleep cycle tends to leave me feeling restless and tired, but I've learned to force myself to conform to "normal" society.
I hate windows facing south in bedrooms.
As a morning person, I prefer to rise with the sun in summer, and well before it in winter.
If the foil is visible from outside it signals behaviors that are widely disapproved of. To that end, it would be wise to put something between the foil and the glass, perhaps colored paper or arbitrary fragments of unwanted posters. Light may also come in around doors. In this case, a folded flap of duct tape with foil inside may be attached to the edge of the door on the swingward side and on the frame on the contra-swingward side. That may eliminate all light. Particularly thin (cheap) foil may get have small tears that let through points of light. A piece of duct tape will patch those. Blacking out windows is less beneficial than adapting to a conventional day/night cycle when possible. Natural light improves quality of life.
Well, yeah. The idea is that when you wake up, you leave the room with the foiled-over windows :)
“A conventional day/night cycle” (for certain values of “conventional” at least) during the summer involves waking up several hours after sunrise.
I've found tinfoil often lets through entirely too much sunlight (the thin cheap stuff, evidently). But I did do something similar with black card in one house. Now we use blackout curtains, so we can get light through the windows when we actually want it.
I second this recommendation. For the last 9 years, the room I sleep in gets pitch dark even in the middle of the day when I close the door and jam a towel or such under the door. (Makes naps much more restful.)
Wow! that is a great idea. Here I was using blackout cloth and nails... Edit: A friend of mine informs me that this is commonly used by meth labs...and may attract unwanted attention from authority figures?
That doesn't seem optimized for removal, but I also haven't used glue sticks for over a decade. I'd go with duct tape (or masking tape) instead.
Duct tape is a bad choice if one of the goals or requirements is not to leave adhesive residue. I know this from personal experience. A very thin layer of the stuff from glue sticks is probably what I would use because if some of it remains on the windows after foil removal, it seems the easiest to scrape off the glass with a one-sided razor blade. I have never actually used glue sticks for this purpose, though. Scotch Blue tape is usually the best choice if you want to make sure you can remove the tape and any adhesive residue even after the tape has been in use for years, but in this particular application there are two problems with Blue tape: (1) light will shine through the Blue tape and (2) direct sunlight is the one thing I have found that will over time render the blue tape hard to remove. I have used aluminum-foil tape for this purpose and can verify that it and its residue can be easily removed from glass (but not from the metal part of the window near glass) after years of service -- although you will need a razor blade. This tape usually comes in 2-inches-wide rolls for some reason and comes attached to wax paper that it has to be (carefully) separated from before you can use it.

Readability (free web service)

Turn any web article into archived text for later reading on any system you have Readability installed (clients for all major OSes and mobiles, including send-to-Kindle). It also reformats pages into plaintext for easier reading. Competitors: Instapaper, Pocket, and Safari's Reading List.

I use Instapaper in combination with Instachrome on Windows and iPaper on Android.

Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 ($35, Amazon 4 stars, 1,289 reviews)

Split keyboard with enlarged keys, the whole setup built for the proper hand and wrist position. I'm still getting used to it, as it's a big change from a more 'normal' keyboard, but I'm really liking it, and it feels like it's improved my typing speed above my normal 117 WPM, though I haven't tested yet.

I've used a Kinesis Advantage for 6 years now. Also an amazing keyboard for ergonomics.
Lots more ergonomics recommendations on LW here.
I use one of these also.
I want to second this. The Kinesis Advantage solved most of my RSI problems. It's not just that it's a split keyboard. It's things like having depressed keywells with each vertical row at a different height to match your fingers. Having control and alt under each thumb solved the "emacs pinky" problem for me.
I have this keyboard as well, and I love it. I've used a natural keyboard for many years now, but I still remember my first time. It took me about an hour to get used to it, and after that I was addicted. I hate using a flat keyboard now! One thing though: I've read that if you don't type with ten fingers, these keyboards don't do anything for you and may even be worse than a flat one.
The important thing about this one is that its Insert/etc. and arrow keys are in the proper arrangement: Insert/Home/PageUp on the top row, Delete/End/PageDown on the bottom row, and arrow keys in an inverted T. I refuse to use keyboards that don't do this. (An unopened Natural 4000 is currently sitting behind me; I'll upgrade when my Natural Pro wears out.)
How about mechanical keyboards?
I can recommend this keyboard. It uses Cherry Blue MX mechanical switches, which have a tactile and audible click a few millimetres above the bottom of the keyboard, allowing you to type without 'bottoming out' with a little practice. In general, hand injuries and trauma regarding typing are from two causes: bad hand angling and bottoming out - pressing the key with enough force to hit the bottom of the keyboard, which causes a slight jarring and can make long periods of typing uncomfortable.

ActiveInbox (free, or $25/year for Plus)

GTD for Gmail. The best Gmail productivity tool I've ever found.

To grok ActiveInbox, watch the video. Here are my favorite features:

  • Keep your inbox empty by doing one of the following to each email: (1) reply and archive, or (2) make it a task with just one click, which moves it to a different folder.
  • When composing a new email, click 'Waiting on' to flag that you're waiting for a response from the recipient. Later, you can check the emails for which you're waiting on a reply. This way I don't mess up projects beca
... (read more)
Note also that I only Facebook-gloat over screenshots of my Inbox Zero when all my ActiveInbox task folders are also empty. :)
If you use outlook, Outlook 2010 lets you (at least) duplicate these features.
Looks good. Installed!

Switching to the Dvorak keyboard cured my RSI.

On that note, Colemak is similarly optimised, but significantly easier to learn than Dvorak. (The website claims Colemak is more optimised with regards to things like bigrams and trigrams and pinky-to-index rolling, but it's not clear how much this is an actual improvement. The ease of learning is clearly much higher though)
How long did it take to unlearn qwerty?
Can't speak for Eliezer, but for me, I was able to use my computer for normal tasks (but slowly, and with lots of errors) after probably 5-7 hours of intensive practice, but the frustration did not subside until after the 2nd or 3rd week. This was in high school, though, so I'm not sure how long it would take an adult. That said, I haven't "unlearned" qwerty. I use Dvorak on my ergonomic work keyboard, and qwerty on every other keyboard. The different feel of the keyboards successfully triggers my brain to use the right layout, and I don't have any trouble switching between them (I don't even notice anymore that they're different layouts).
if you're German check out Neo-layout.org. Its much more awesome. For English speakers try Colemak. For all others check if there are optimized layouts for your language. Hopefully someone does an adaption of the NEO principles into other languages at some point. Its not that difficult to get into it.
I can vouch for Dvorak being better on the wrists.

Hearos Ultimate Softness foam earplugs Great protection (32NRR), super comfortable. Use these for sleeping.

The human ear has not previously been under selection pressure to accommodate extended periods of stoppage. Plugging up or cover ears for significant fractions of the day on a regular basis is out-of-spec use of the human body and may have consequences including infections and skin irritation. Just be careful and talk to a pediatrician before applying this solution to children.
The human ear has also not previously been under selection pressure to accommodate constant noise pollution. Not plugging up or covering the ears (or abandoning civilisation) is also out-of-spec use of the human body and has consequences including stress and damaged hearing. (Apply evolutionary reasoning consistently!)
On the contrary, whichever wildernesses most shaped our hearing were not silent places. The places people lived, that we know of, in the ice ages were quite wet. Rivers and even streams are constant sources of noise. There are issues of levels and likely specific frequencies, but complete silence puts the stoppered ear further from the conditions in which it formed as well. To disclose, I have worked in call centers for a cumulative decade and found that ear infections were more likely if I did not switch which ear was covered at least every week, when ear-covering headsets were the only option. I expect that stopping up ears overnight will have a similar consequence for at least a portion of the population. And so I advise caution. I do not find fault in that action.
I second the recommendation for Hearos after trying 3 other brands.
0Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
I use Leight (laser lite, uncorded): http://www.amazon.com/Howard-Leight-Laser-Earplugs-Cords/dp/B0007XJOLG/ref=sr_1_2?s=hi&ie=UTF8&qid=1341456079&sr=1-2&keywords=leight+laser+uncorded+200 These are definitely much cheaper, and I suspect feel softer, while offering the same alleged protection. Using a pair of earplugs every night is a huge quality of life difference.
For you personally or for everyone?
It probably will improve sleep quality, but I have yet to run A/B tests and measure it with my Zeo/Fitbit.
I'd be happy to give you a pair of Hearos next time I see you! I also have a few pairs of SilentEar reusable earplugs that I use for airplances or other times that I want to be able to easily insert/remove earplugs.


Free mind mapping software.

I want to know more about this.

Thermos Nissan Bottle ($22, Amazon 4.5 stars, 340 reviews)

Keeps hot drinks hot and cold drinks cold, has a few different sizes, can be operated with one hand, extremely easy to clean. I left coffee in it for over an hour and it was still too hot to drink. Can be tossed in a backpack or briefcase on the go.

Is there a thermos that will keep my tea hot for 3 hours but let me drink from it without unscrewing something every time I want to take a sip? Does the Thermos Nissan Bottle do that?
I haven't tested it for 3 hours. The reviews state it can keep drinks hot 5+ hours. The spring-loaded top flips up by pushing a button, which is what allows it to be one-hand operable. A small metal latch locks the button when you don't want it to accidentally flip. Unscrewing is only done to fill or clean the container.
Was this a good purchase?
Well, it allowed me to learn that the real problem isn't lack of a good thermos but lack of a lifestyle for which such a thing makes sense. :) The thermos does indeed keep tea hot for 5+ hours.
Results of 3 hour test: I almost scalded my tongue on the tea, and it stayed hot over the 4th hour as I was drinking it.
I purchased the linked size and like it a bit more than any other thermos I've used. Thanks.

This is not a product recommendation, but a request - it looks to me like trampolines should be large amounts of fun. However, when I tried to look up risk statistics, I found lots of dire warnings and, of course, no numerical annual risk statistics at all, or any attempt to adjust for safer trampolines with surrounding safety netting. My one attempt to calculate risk statistics on my own output a 0.1% chance of an injury requiring hospitalization per year of trampoline use. That's probably more risk than somebody in my position should take on, even for... (read more)

I haven't used a trampoline since I was a teenager. My neighbors had round one that I would guess was 12-15' in diameter. There were numerous injuries that I can recall, the worst being a broken leg. All of the injuries that I recall were due to what I would consider (now) to be inappropriate use. We would play dodge ball where one or more people would be on the trampoline and people off of the trampoline would throw a ball at them. I chipped a tooth doing that. Sometimes we would put a lawn sprinkler underneath the trampoline if it was really hot. I believe that is how the broken leg occurred. We did many other less stupid but still somewhat risky things, too, like doing front and back flips and seeing how high we could jump. My point, though, is that if you do find any safety statistics take into account how they compare to how you would actually use it. Do the stats take into account the stupid things teenagers do on them?
5Eliezer Yudkowsky11y
If I can't do any flips on the trampoline, I'm not sure it's worth it. Another question is whether there's any simple neck-brace I can wear to avoid spinal injuries, which are the main thing I'm worried about. I'm okay with a 0.1% chance of pain, it's life-altering injuries (or more to the point, work-altering injuries) that I want to avoid.
I don't have any statistics handy, but once you learn flips from an instructor and practice about 1000 times carefully and under supervision over several sessions, it is a safe activity, because of the muscle memory taking over. Unless you make it unsafe by pushing your limits or jumping while impaired. Of course, there are always freak accidents like this, but the odds are at the noise level, such as being rear-ended hard when driving.
I once took a course, 30 hours, we jumped on a professional rectangular trampoline without vertical safety nets, supervised. I too was worried about spinal injuries. According to my teachers, most injuries do happen by jumping out of the bounds or impromper landing technique (taking the landing shock the spine by not angling hip/body correctly). With that said: Even without flips it was major Fun. Very fast learning curve (and I am a very slow learner with regards to complex coordinations), the freefalling... Also, flips are an advanced technique, we only attempted them by the end of the course; I felt quite safe by then from breaking my neck, I had learned to control the fall and the spinning. Please note that this risk assessment is based on me weighing 65kgs.
And yeah ... they ARE large amounts of fun.
I think the fun would wear off if I started using one every day -- I think most of the fun of trampolines is in doing something I don't usually do. YMMV.

Might I recommend StikK or Beeminder for goal commitment?

Bulletproof Coffee

Mold-free coffee+grass-fed butter+MCT oil. (You have to buy the ingredients separately.)

Gives me a feeling similar to when I take adderall.

Some coffee, butter, and oil gives you a similar feeling to amphetamines? I don't suppose you've blind-tested any of it?

I have no experience with Adderall, but when I tripled my fat intake, I did notice diminished mind-fog before I knew people claimed it had positive cognitive effects.

I have an entire travel set dedicated to BP coffee. Make sure you blend, and don't forget the MCT oil. 1) Hario MSS-1B Mini Mill Slim Coffee Grinder 2) MSR MugMate Coffee/Tea Filter 3) Cuisinart Smart Stick Blender 4) Lock and Lock 10.8 oz butter container 5) Blender Bottle 6) GoobTube - to hold MCT oil in
I've noticed blending makes a huge difference, but is it really neccesary to preheat the blender? I'm not even sure how I would do that conveniently.
I never preheat my blender (but note, I'm using a stick, immersible style blender) And the way to preheat would be to make extra hot water and dump it in the blender.
The official "bulletproof coffee" beans I received had no aroma and little taste. So although the idea is sound, I wouldn't recommend the beans themselves (perhaps I got an old batch, and I did feel fine after consuming). The guy selling/promoting is recommends traditionally wet-processed coffee beans in general. I found Peets "Ethiopian Fancy(Whole Bean)" mail order to be superior in taste and freshness. Their in-store beans are refreshed weekly. I wonder why not high quality cream or whole milk instead of butter. That said, I am tolerating the taste/feel of unsalted butter (+MCT) in my espresso, and the energy+satiety is nice.
For one thing, butter works ok for people like me who are lactose intolerant, whereas milk would not.
BP coffee is way better for me than other caffeine intake methods, and makes me not hungry as well as full of energy. It's just a shame that I hate coffee.
You know, you could just do butter tea... :)
I've switched to butter tea but it's not as obtainable on-the-go, and also has less caffeine.
I'm debating just using starbucks VIA packets, but Dave would probably claim those have higher risks of mold :/
That sounds disgusting to me. Is it a serious suggestion? :P
Totally serious. I do prefer coffee for mTOR impacts, particularily in combo with exercise/intermittent fasting, but tea has it's own set of benefits. Butter Tea

Against Malaria Foundation

According to GiveWell, the most effective charity on the planet. Save lives and increase your subjective well-being in one fell swoop. Charity is probably one of the more efficient means of converting money into utils and hedons at the same time.


If you live in a city: Zipcar (Disclosure: Promotional link - if you sign up through this, we both get a $25 credit)

Saves a lot of money and stress. I don't worry about registration or car insurance or gas prices or parking. When I need a car, I pay a pre-determined rate, and then stop worrying about it. Warm fuzzy bonus: Positive externalities in (less land allocated to parking)+(less traffic)+(fewer CO2 emissions).

I find it adorable that locations in which Zipcars are stored are labeled with the phrase "Zipcars live here".
I've been bike-only for 10 years, with the option to borrow a car from family a 20 minute bike ride away. I signed up for zipcar a year ago after I really wanted a car for something and the family spare wasn't available. In the year since then, I've looked into using the zipcar for things probably 5-10 times, and rejected it every time. I'm faced with a choice like: do I walk 10 minutes to the car, then borrow it for an hour for $10, then walk 10 minutes back, or just do the errand on a bike? Or, do I borrow the zipcar for a few hours (where the walking time doesn't matter as much), but it's $30? Nah, I'll do things some other way.
Walk-distance to car matters a great deal. I've got several locations within a 5 minutes walk from me, which considerably increases the value. Most of my use cases involve moving things that are inaccessible via public transit, moving things which would be unfeasible to move via public transit, or emergency transit when value(time)>>value(money).

J/FIT stability balls, for sitting-on - I tried a TKO, but it had a persistent smell that made me nauseous. I can't say yet that I use mine for hours at a time, but it's fun to bounce on now and then, and costs $25 at Amazon. I'm 5'11" and need a 75cm ball to balance properly.

ComfortTech Thinsulate micromink blanket ($84 king, $70 queen, $70 twin)

I will probably never buy a bulky comforter/duvet for myself ever again. This is lighter, easier to clean, just as warm, and so much softer. Girls love it.

There are probably lots of options in this space; this is just one that I personally own and love. I've also heard good things about the cutely (or grossly) named Vagisoft blanket.

ComfortTech: my gf actually dislikes it, but I think it's quite good. Thanks.


Wirecutter for product recommendations.

The site makes a single recommendation, then explains how they came to that conclusion, so you can decide if the same attributes are important to you. Mostly computers, but they're branching out into home goods too.

Their method seems to be largely reading many other product reviews, and synthesizing them so you don't have to.

Workflowy! I heard you like bullet lists. So, we made workflowy so you can have bullet lists in your bullet lists.

The ultimate bullet list software. It allows you to bring a sub-bullet to the top of a page. I find it's really nice when you're working on sub-bullet to just click on it and then the screen reorganizes so you can only see that particular sub-bullet and its sub-bullets. Has hashtags, mobile integration, collaboration, and 90% of your daily serving of Vitamin awesome!

I've used workflowy and liked it, but the lack of an android app made it not very useful. Now I see there is a couple of android apps, and will try it again.

Not exactly a product, but...put your directly mattress on the floor.

Does your bed every squeak or rattle when you move around? Does not happen if it's on the floor! Ever fall out of bed? Can't if it's on the floor. Want your bed to be bigger? Throw some pillows and blankets on the floor next to you and sprawl out to your heart's content. This is especially useful if your nocturnal co-pilot has a deeply rooted subconscious obsession with rolling on to your side of the bed.

In the morning, you can literally roll out of bed, and it feels kind of awesome.

Oh, y... (read more)

YMMV. Whenever I have had my mattress on the floor, (a) the dust at floor level drives my asthma batshit (b) it's harder to get out of bed in the morning (because I need to lift my centre of gravity higher), and I have enough trouble convincing myself to get up.
Depending on where you live, mold can become a problem.
I do this. It reclaims the space above the bed as everyday living space, the bed never wobbles, and it's generally just perfectly satisfactory. The one disadvantage is that it's harder to stand up off a mattress (or in my case a futon) that's directly on the floor than one that's higher up.
My experience is that it works very well, but I sometimes value the raw elevation (as David commented, it makes it easier to get out of bed in the morning). I also find that clutter on my floor is more annoying, so I clean more often, which has it's positives and negatives - in a small space it can be annoying since the clutter has no place to go. And, of course, dust/mold/spiders/cats are more annoying.
Aside from the lost storage space beneath the bed... there's the issue of company.

It's more fun when you don't have to worry about falling off the bed - it's more more amenable to extremely kinetic activities. This includes at least one double-blindfolded study.

You'd need to do more than blindfold me before I failed to notice that the bed is on the ground... And if you didn't mean that literally... my own studies show that a GOOD mattress works quite well for double-blindfold studies even with the height of a frame :)
Also, it is a good idea to try a thinner mattress. Thick mattress - on the bed or not - can acquire some deformations that can make you feel uncomfortable. Thin mattress on the floor just physically cannot deform in a way that you cannot fix by shaking at a bit. It is said to be good for your spine, too.

TaskRabbit. I kept expecting there to be something wrong with it. There just isn't. You set up a suitably-customizable task (I've used it to get groceries delivered and IKEA furniture assembled) and people bid on it trying to hit under your hidden maximum. You pay through the site after they do the job. Lovely bit of economy-flattening.

Exec. It's TaskRabbit on demand, no bidding, flat $25/hr plus expenses for whatever you need done. (Minimum 45 minutes)
My experience was meh at best. Taskrabbit wasn't available in DC until pretty recently, so I only used it for research tasks. One of them gave me what I needed in a convenient way but was sloppy about it (looked up things in DC but not equally close ones in Maryland, and didn't account for time zones when sending me calendar invitations, which I found out by showing up an hour late for an appointment). Others seemed like they didn't read the task description very closely, and looked for things satisfying their preferences, not my stated preferences (for example, I said I cared more about saving time than money, and they recommended a service done by students where the main draw is that it's cheap and supervised by experienced professionals). And one used Yelp to look stuff up and made phone calls that weren't answered, and gave up instead of sending emails or trying again or trying a different search method. So I spent some money, but didn't save much time or effort. Probably it's better for tasks like "Bring object X from point A to point B."
Yeah, I've mostly used it for "bring groceries to my house" and "assemble my furniture".
Those seem like they'd be harder to misunderstand, and less tempting to cut corners on.
UPDATE: "bring groceries to my house" is now a specialty of Instacart. "Assemble my furniture" turned out okay, though "put privacy film on my windows" didn't, nor did "mail a bunch of books for me." Oddly, "make me a Superintelligence costume" turned out well.
Thank you. I bookmarked this after this thread and just found occasion to use it (successfully); I was more inclined to try it on the recommendation of someone here.
Is is convenient, but it is too expensive for me. I wanted somebody to pick up cheeseboard for me and the cheapest anyone would do it for was $30-ish.
I think a lot of the price of any task is the coming-and-going, so it's better if you want a bunch of things grabbed/handled than if you just want one thing. We got our dining room table, eight chairs, sofa, bookshelf, and end table assembled for $88 (and that would have included the coffee table too if it hadn't turned out to be damaged when the rabbit opened the box so we had to get it exchanged).
See above recommendation of Exec

Udacity.com for learning. Sebastian is an awesome teacher, and makes good use of the (very well designed) platform. This Chronicle of Higher Education review gives a pretty good overview.

WaterPik water flosser. Flossing does more to improve oral health than brushing, but I had significant trouble keeping it up as a habit because it was awkward and required regularly replenishing a supply of floss. Water flossing appears to be about as beneficial as flossing with nylon but is far more convenient, and a tech you will use is better than one that you won't.

Etymotic ER-20 earplugs Use these so you can listen to music, go to clubs, ect, and still preserve your hearing. I've probably bought 15+ by now, and keep one in every bag/jacket I own.

Great idea. Also if you want to get a good estimate on how loud it should be before you wear the earplugs, try measuring the noise level using a sound meter. You should probably wear the earplugs if the noise level is more than 85 dBA.

Newegg (web store)

Newegg is a store for computer hardware and electronics, and is expanding into other areas. Extremely fast shipping, excellent customer service, good prices, extensive pictures and tech specs on every item, and a wonderful user rating system provide more info about a product than most sites. I look here first when looking for any product computer-related, except cables and adapters, which is what Monoprice is for.

Echoing the speedreading recommendations here I have some for consuming content at high speed in general.

Specifically educational Audio and Video content (this does not make much sense for enjoyment listening/watching *)

After some training I can easily listen to books at 3x (noting that professionally read books tend to be read on the slow side to start with). Watching video technical lectures at 2x.

There are several tools for this that I use. Audible app for iPhone (and probably Android) allows 3x in the most recent version.

For video I use AVideoHD on the... (read more)

I'm planning to try this way of making a standing desk. Only $22, plus a bar stool or something, because I don't think I can stand all day, especially in the beginning.

It works great. I mentioned wanting a standing desk to my boss when I started a month ago, a couple of other people expressed interest, and he bought four of them, including one to use himself. It sits on the desk that's built into my cubicle, my laptop sits on the shelf, and the monitor sits on top. The boss had to send someone to IKEA to get another four. We might need to get higher cubicle walls, though.
I've decided not to do it after all. The cat couldn't sit on my lap, and I love it when she does that.

This trigger point tutorial and the Trigger Point Therapy Workbook for chronic muscle pain, including RSI. Looks to me like a genuine case where mainstream medicine has not caught up with what alternative-ish therapies can explain and heal. This guy's site looks like an incredibly well-documented resource for all kinds of chronic pain.

Self massage is a great healing method. Yoga for maintaining and improving range of motion.
Five stretches for knitting pain relief-- myofascial massage. I don't knit, but these made my hands feel good and the comments about the stretches are enthusiastic.
I had bad RSI (wrists/shoulders) and back pain at various times in my late 20s. Physical therapy and other conventional treatments (thanks for the Vioxx scrip!) hardly helped. I'm still unsure why I got better, but resting and acting like an invalid for more than a few months is probably wrong.


CrashPlan for unattended sync or backup. Unlimited cloud storage for $50/year. I switched to CrashPlan from Mozy when the latter changed ownership and became unreliable and useless.

I also use crashplan - to back up my Windows Home Server.
I use Backblaze, also $50 per year unlimited. Very simple and straightforward, one machine.

High quality $12 drafting pencil

Given how much time so many people spend using pencils it's strange that few of us "invest" in high-end ones.

My usual rationale for not doing so is I am very likely to lose it before getting my value out of it. The last time I tried to invest in a pen, finding one that would securely hook onto a long dogtag chain attached to my personal schedule / notebook weighted a lot higher than quality.

Someone has downvoted each of the comments in this page - this strikes me as bizarre. Simple product recommendations saves heaps of research time.

I for one am glad that we now have Rational Product Recommendations.

For anyone who is not aware, the parent comment is definitely sarcasm.
I'll put it next to my rational romance, gift buying, book selection, wart removal and toothpaste.
Haters gonna hate.

I am sad that this thread fell by the wayside and that people are no longer actively throwing recommendations at it.

There was another like that some time in 2011, though I can't seem to find it. Anyway, the standard solution is to make it a monthly or bimonthly thread.

I have reactive hypoglycemia. I take cinnamon in capsules every morning. I have perceived improvement in my condition during the periods when I take cinnamon.

UnderArmour ColdGear Frosty: I hate being cold--these made it tolerable to go out biking in cold weather, and I also found myself wearing them as leggings under regular skirts when I was tired of a winter full of pants.

Now that I've been using 1Password for over a year (probably closer to two), it's become indispensable.

Although it's on the expensive side, I would say its worth every penny. 1Password can store all your passwords, as well as notes and other information like passport, bank account, credit card etcetera. It also has a password generator which I use every time I sign up to a new site/service. With 1Password on my phone, tablet, computer, and in my Dropbox, I have access to all my passwords and other important documents anywhere. They also make plugins for a... (read more)

I haven't tried 1Password, but can recommend LastPass unreservedly.

I haven't tried 1Password or KeePass, but I've used LastPass for something like a year now and it works well for me. Using a small set of passwords across all sites, especially given that easily a dozen websites I've used have been hacked, is just insane. I regret that I didn't start using some password manager long before hand.
I also consider a password manager essential. I use KeePass, which isn't quite as full featured, but is free/open source (FOSS) and has clients for everything except iOS.
Second the recommendation for KeePass - I've been using it for about a year now.
The password entry hot key is magic.
Just set it up; works great!

Airport Express ($99) + Airfoil ($25)

I listen to music and podcasts almost 24/7 while working from home. I even listen to ambient music while I'm sleeping, which is why Chuck Wild (Liquid Mind) tops my last.fm charts.

I've got some good speakers for that, because laptop speakers aren't great and I move around too much to use headphones or earbuds all the time. But I don't want my laptop chained to my speakers via audio cable!

Solution: Airport Express + Airfoil.

Airport Express is a tiny wifi hub. Just plug it in, connect it to your wifi network, and connect ... (read more)

I second this recommendation in general, though I have no experience with the specific tools. I have a pair of Sony S-air speakers that I have in different parts of the house that let me easily listen to my winamp playlist in the shower for example.


"To determine how you spend your time, TagTime literally randomly samples you. At random times it pops up and asks what you're doing *right at that moment." From the folks that created Beeminder (also recommended on this thread).

An electric toothbrush. Your teeth will feel cleaner, and apparently these toothbrushes have been "proven" to do a better job. I now dislike using the normal toothbrushes, eg when travelling.

I am currently using this one, bought for $49 not $199 on Groupon, cleans great and wireless recharging is great, but seems to have a design fault - I only managed to replace the head by wrecking the old one, will replace with a different brand.

Monitor arms. I've got http://www.ergotron.com/Products/tabid/65/PRDID/355/language/sv-SE/Default.aspx

Also, a good chair, desk, etc. Vital if you spend as much time in front of the computer as many here probably do.

Monitor arms are awesome. After using them for a while I abandoned the desk entirely and just bolted them to the wall, allowing me to add a couch to my room instead. Warning, this advice probably not viable if you actually use your desk for stuff other than putting monitors on.
Yea. I considered it, but I do tend to have LOTS of other stuff on my desk, incubating necessary input devices.

FancyHands Per task virtual assistant service - because outsourcing makes life easier ;)

Kindle 3G Keyboard E-book reader, but get this one for traveling - this provides backup internet access, practically worldwide. You MUST buy the older "keyboard" version for this. Also fantastic to read books on ;)

Why? Does the 3G on the touch version not work exactly the same way as the keyboard version?
Touch 3G is limited to stuff like Wikipedia and Amazon. (I have a Touch, and I like it, btw.) More general net access via Kindle Touch is only via wifi)

Nozbe is, succinctly, a Getting Things Done (GTD) implementation. The service synchronizes with Evernote, Dropbox and Google Calendar. It has all the core functionality you really need and restrains itself from being too complicated. You can synchronize between a PC or Mac application, an in-browser app, and iPhone and iPad and Android apps.

It's not free but it's very reasonable for what you get. I've been using it for a while, after a long series or attempting other solutions, and I strongly advocate it for anybody looking for an integrated "getting organized" solution.

People interested in Nozbe may want to also investigate Conqu, a similar app but with different design trade-offs. Various things that I find annoying or broken in Nozbe are not that way in Conqu, and vice versa, and the two have slightly different feature sets and UIs. (Notably: Conqu's app works almost exactly the same on all platforms (given a large enough screen), vs. Nozbe's many slightly different apps.) Conqu is also cheaper on an individual basis, and can be used for free in an unlimited fashion on any single device: you pay only if you want to be able to sync between devices and email yourself tasks.
I tried Nozbe and I liked it. I also tried ToodleDo, and I liked it even more. These are probably the top two to-do list apps our there.
Update: I have now largely abandoned ToodleDo in favor of Workflowy (also recommended here), and use it pretty much like Paul Christiano does (as described in My Workflow).

My family and I recently moved homes. We used the Pods company service, and were satisfied. Basically, they deliver a shipping container to your driveway, you load it, they put it on one of their trucks and deliver it to your new place, whereupon you unload it. For us, it was just the right balance between doing-it-yourself (cheaply) and paying someone else with a competitive advantage to do a service. Anyway, they showed up on time and did what they said they would do.

JVC HAFX1X Headphone, Xtreme-Xplosivs ($25, Amazon 4.5 stars, 364 reviews)

When I bought my $150 Audio-Technica ATH-M50 Professional Studio Monitor Headphones, I heard parts of my favorite music that I had never heard before. I spent the next several weeks re-listening to all my old favorites and discovering new nuances in the music. For audio quality, nothing beats a good pair of headphones. But headphones are bulky.

I had assumed that earbuds had terrible audio quality like the default ones that come with e.g. an ipod. Wrong. For someone like me without th... (read more)

head-fi.org indicates that Audio-Technica's ATH-M50, while excellent, are probably not quite as good sound-quality-wise as Ultrasone's HFI-580, which are also twenty bucks or so cheaper.
This is probably true, at the time I was recommending ATH-M50s to everyone I don't think the HFI-580s were so cheap.
Sennheiser RS 180 Lossless Digital Wireless Headphones (~$330) These things are so wonderful, I own two of them: one for my computer and one for my TV. I waited months for them to be released - before then, lossless wireless couldn't be bought for any amount of money. Their main attributes are: * Lossless digital - not analog, not lossy compressed digital (unfortunately, their input is analog - as far as I can tell, digital inputs can't be bought for money) * Open-ear - comfortable to wear for hours (warning: leaks sound if others are present in the room, not the best idea for cubicle headphones) * Sounds amazing (I am not an "audiophile" but I know quality when I hear it) * Powered by NiMH AAAs, recharged by contacts in the cradle so you don't have to take them out (I swapped the included batteries for low-self-discharge Eneloop brand batteries, which have higher capacity - it's been years and I haven't had to mess with them since) Aside from portability (they aren't), their only downside is that they appear to spam the 2.4 GHz spectrum fairly heavily; my iPhone and iPad have occasionally had trouble connecting to wifi while I'm wearing the headphones (I don't yet have a 5 GHz router for the iPad). This doesn't bother me because my computer and consoles are all connected via Ethernet cables (I had to string one 50-foot cable through my apartment, but it was worth it).
I second this recommendation. I've used Sennheiser RS120 Headphones for years and they've been amazing. They are (according to reviews) approximately similar, but at a ~$70 price point depending on where you get them instead of ~$330.
The major difference is that the 120s are analog (that's what "RF" means). On the other hand, at 900 MHz they won't interfere with 2.4 GHz wifi.
Koss KSC-75 Headphones ($15, Amazon 4 stars, 693 reviews) Very portable, very light, good bass, highly rated on head-fi.org, extremely cheap. I wear them instead of earbuds because I don't like things inside my ear, and the open air means I can still hear stuff around me, so they're even good for work. Very comfortable over long periods.
I can confirm that these are very good. They're $16 on Amazon right now.

Brookstone Napform sleep mask Best sleep mask I've found, soft, you can fully open your eyes while wearing this.

Netflix ($8/m streaming, $8/m DVD-to-door)

Internet streaming movies and TV, including many back-seasons of popular shows, and absolutely no advertising. It also has one of the most advanced recommendation engines for finding new media. Can ship DVDs to your door with free return shipping if they don't have an item available for streaming (starting at $8 extra a month). Serves me much better than a cable subscription.


For those who like using native email applications (like Apple Mail etc.) but are frustrated that they don't integrate well with Gmail, Sparrow for Mac and iPhone (an iPad version is currently in development) is something you should definitely check out (they have a Lite version on both platforms). Sparrow provides the best Gmail experience in a native app I have found. The UI is very clean and well thought out. Another nice touch is it's Facebook and Gravatar integration (for contact pictures) and Dropbox integration.

All in all, it's a pleasure to use.

What's a "gmail experience"? Gmail exposes both pop3 and IMAP (and iCal for Google Calendar), any MUA (mail user agent) can work with it and provide any experience it wants.
Gmail provides many “non-stnadard” features like labels, starred, priority inbox, conversation threads, all mail etcetera, that aren't part of the IMAP standard. That's what I mean by “Gmail experience.” This may be true, but Sparrow is the only client I have found that provides the experience I want: Gmail in a native app. In my experience some clients do some things well (e.g. Mail seems to have conversation threads working really well) and there are tricks to getting other feature to work (like create a smart folder that looks for all flagged messages, which would be the equivalent of Starred). However, with Sparrow you just provide your Gmail credentials and everything just works.

NeoFinder ($40, but the trial version will probably do what you want, for free)

I spent months trying to find a program that would keep an updated index of the files on my two (very large) NAS drives so I could search them as quickly as I search with Google. I tried almost a dozen programs and Mac hacks, and none of them worked even though several of them should have worked in theory. And then I found NeoFinder, and it worked perfectly. Now I can finally search my NAS drives without waiting 30 minutes for each search to finish.

Hopefully I have now saved at ... (read more)

For windows, I use X1 Desktop search.
I use 'Everything', but it crashes so often. Will look into X1 Desktop search.

Suction cup phone windshield holder

If you use your iPhone for music in the car this thing is indispensable. I've used 4 different car mounts and this has been the most convenient to attach and change positions of, as well as the one to go the longest without breaking. The bendy arm makes customizing where it is super easy. The gripper isn't precisely engineered to fit the shape of my phone like some others are but this means that it works a lot better with cases and should theoretically work better with various kinds of phones, and still grips in a perfec... (read more)

Mine broke after about a year, as did the other one I tried before. I'm going to try the Wirecutter's recommended one next.
12/17/2010 is when I ordered it from Newegg, for reference. It's still going strong with no sign of suction cup failure. Though the gripper appears to be slightly misaligned these days.


If you have the time and money it's a great way for most people (although about 25% of people don't respond to the treatment) to increase their human capital and mitigate conditions such as depression and ADHD. You need to find a local provider and it would be dangerous to buy the equipment yourself and do it on your own.

It might not work to do it on your own (EEGs are hard to hook up to yourself), but it's not physically dangerous to do your own EEG neurofeedback. There are several companies selling consumer level EEG headsets.
Neurofeedback changes your brain waves and (as I'm sure you would agree) not all changes are improvements. A change that might make one person more focused could cause another to become highly anxious.
As we see with stimulant use.
True, but there are far more meaningfully different ways to administer neurofeedback than stimulants. Given a decision to take Addreall, for example, it would be trivial for someone of average intelligence to look at Wikipedia and figure out a good dose. In contrast, after deciding to do neurofeedback, how you should do it is extremely complex.

Uber.com (hassle-free taxi service)

I'm in a big city, and I need a taxi. So first I have to find the number of a taxi company. Then I have to call and talk to somebody who barely speaks English and repeat the pickup address to them 5 times. When they arrive, they call me back, and then I cram into a cab without enough room for my long legs. When we arrive at my destination, I have to calculate the tip and then dig out some cash or wait for a credit card to process.

Uber.com skips all that hassle. If I were to forget how taxi companies do work and just imagi... (read more)

Uber just announced hybrid cars rather than town cars, with pricing basically identical to normal SF taxis. Should be great once it gets into wide release, right now it's not actually available.
In most places I think it's unnecessarily costly for the small added value. But in SF, I'm really not sure how else you're supposed to get a cab without budgeting a half-hour on top of your travel time to flag one down.
Pricing information for San Fransisco. Uber is running a "refer a friend" promotion. If you're interested in using Uber, make sure they know Luke referred you. According to the website, he'll get $10 per referral.
Note that pricing varies by city; you linked to SF pricing. I just updated my link to uber.com above so that it includes my referral code; thanks for pointing that out.
Ah, quite right. Updated my post to reflect that. You're welcome.


A great time management tool.

YNAB (You Need A Budget)

Great tool for implementing a zero-based budgeting system (also known as an "envelope system"), meaning every dollar of income is assigned to an expense category. Categories can (and should) include annual or longer-term expenses, so that you have cash on hand when foreseeable future expenses crop up. The system as a whole is great for giving you confidence in your spending choices, as well as helping you stay on track when you overspend. I find this type of budgeting ideal, though some may find it a little too demandin... (read more)

Angie's List - www.angieslist.com - for local business and service recommendations.

If you can't find it by Googling, they might still have several reviews on Angie's List. This helped me avoid a nightmare contractor when getting my kitchen redone. Paid for itself hundredfold with that first recommendation alone.

They only take reviews from paying members, which means the risk of spam or sock puppet reviews is slightly lower than the free review sites like Yelp. And they actively encourage members to review business/services they've used/patronized, which means that you don't just see the disgruntled ones.


I recommend the Brookstone i-need® Soothing Foot Massager ($200 USD) as a cure for plantar faciitis. This is actually cheaper than custom orthotics (per year) and cortisone shots (and works better). My first model broke after about 6 months, but it was still under warranty and I got a replacement unit without any problems. The value I get from walking and running pain-free (and without periodic "repairs") completely dwarfs the TCO.

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I'm rather fond of wearing hiking boots. Although I originally bought them for actual hiking (I was in the Boy Scouts), I eventually got into the habit of wearing them as ordinary shoes. They're insulated, waterproof, and add to my height more than regular shoes do.

Downside: Hiking boots tend to be more expensive than ordinary shoes.

(Sorry for the lack of link.)

Gorillapod. Works great, helps me take awesome pictures.

A reading light. It's battery-powered and can clamp onto things. I find it useful for reading in bed, especially when travelling.

Microsoft Security Essentials (free antivirus)

Windows antivirus straight from Microsoft. Back in the day, Norton was the best, but it became slower and slower, and is now one of the primary causes of computer instability and slowness. I then used free services like AVG until they started being far more pushy and annoying. I stopped using AV altogether until Microsoft came out with MSE. It's extremely lightweight, as I've never noticed it slowing my system down, and it provides as good or better virus protection than the competition as shown in independent reviews.

Apparently, Norton is no longer slow and MSE no longer offers effective protection: http://www.av-test.org/en/tests/home-user/marapr-2012/ You can also check out av-comparatives.org for further antivirus tests but it doesn't test Norton nor MSE. I am not going to make any recommendations. Just regularly read the latest reports from av-test.org and av-comparatives.org and use the product that consistently produces good protection.
All virus protection is about the same. All the researchers talk to each other. The difference is in the engines and the irritation factor of using the thing.
Seconded. I used to use Avast, when I set up my new PC I asked a friend which antivirus to use, and he suggested MSE. I thought he was kidding. But it turns out Microsoft actually have a pretty excellent antivirus solution here. It is totally nonintrusive - I'm less aware of it than any of the other ones I have used (Avast, AVG, Norton) and it just quietly does its thing. Recommended.

Visual Understanding Environment

It is free software, with compiled Java binaries ready for download (somehow, not many people like to compile Java source code - neither do I).

I tried various mindmapping tools, but they didn't work quite as I would like. VUE works way better for how I want to use mindmapping.

You can draw arbitrary graphs, not only trees. You can label edges and even draw edges from an edge to another edge. Default rapid prototyping is optimised for drawing trees with a few extra internal edges.

It saves to reasonable XML. I invested some cod... (read more)

Question: Does it allow you to generate new layouts with the same nodes? Being able to write a new node wherever I want, connect it to related nodes, and then let the program figure out how to place it all is one feature of yEd that I can't quite do without. There might be other diagram program that let you do that, but I haven't found it yet. Granted, I haven't been looking long.
You can rearange nodes at will, you can select some nodes and ask VUE to rearrange them, you can select one node and ask to rearrange all the rest with this node as root of the rearrangement. Note that VUE takes into account the order of edge creation when rearranging nodes; if you want it to change the order in which edges go out of some node, you may have to recreate these edges or use some other functionality for this that I haven't yet found

Happy Hacking Professional 2

For anyone who has ever argued over mechanical-switch and buckling-spring keyboards, made the hard choice between vi and Emacs, or manually reassigned a capslock key to control: this is for you.

For something with "hacking" in the name, lacking a numpad, arrow keys, and home/end/etc. is conspicuous. I use those very often in my nerdly pursuits. I'm quite fond of my Das Keyboard.
Is there any advantage to a keyboard with no labels on the keys besides showing off?

Mine made me learn where all the wacky symbols used in programming languages are, like {. If there's a key on your keyboard that you didn't learn when you first learned to touch type, but you now use, a blank keyboard will force you to learn to type it without looking at your keyboard.

The showing off is probably more important though.

It levels the playing field for those who use non-standard layouts.
A keyboard is, for many of us, the single highest-bandwidth tool we have. Even people who've learned to touch-type will find they learned 80% or so of touch-typing.
There are some people who can't learn to touch-type until they're forced to (by removing the labels, or other ham-fisted method). For those people, a das-keyboard or a can of spray paint will be a good investment, because their typing speed and accuracy will go up.

Shea Moisture Soap, Body Wash and Baby Ointment.

It has a soft, natural, a little bit nutty smell. It contains Shea Butter, which is an emollient. The soap comes in several different scents, including Lavender.

Shea Moisture Soap

Shea Moisture Baby Ointment This is not a lotion, it's much greasier than that. Nice on your skin in a dry climate.

Shea Moisture Body Wash

Available online from Walgreens.


Anki : A program that makes remembering things easy. It syncs between mobile devices and your computer, too, and there are a number of LessWrong-related Anki decks already available for download.

A recommendation with no link or description? Anki: A program that makes remembering things easy. It syncs between mobile devices and your computer, too, and there are a number of LessWrong-related Anki decks already available for download.
And it's been discussed quite a bit before. :)