Monday, January 17, 2022

COVID-19: Helping Teens Cope

vlog

In case you are suffering a migraine, or your contact lenses are too strong, or you can’t find your reading glasses, or you just plain hate to read, I am offering this post as a vlog. You can even blindfold yourself and pretend it’s a podcast. On the other hand, if you can’t stand the sight of my face and/or are teaching somebody how to read, scroll past the video ... the entire text awaits. Don’t miss the artwork from my daughter Lindsay!

Introduction

Obviously the COVID-19 pandemic is a grind for everyone. It’s tempting to think teenagers have it easier since they’re invincible, invulnerable, and impervious to disease, or at least think they are—but actually, the pandemic could be especially hard on them. Why? It’s because they’re in the very flower of life as opposed to those of us who kind of gave up long ago and are just running out the clock.

If you’re a parent of a teen or young adult, perhaps this post will help you support your child. And if you’re not a parent, but have a taste for schadenfreude, you should read on, too.


The pitfalls of COVID for the young

According to this article, typical teens’ reactions to global crises like the pandemic include feeling “stressed or overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, worried or anxious, restless, agitated, … teary, sad, fatigued or tired,” and they could be “losing interest in usually enjoyable activities or finding it difficult to feel happy.” Unfortunately, these are also totally normal symptoms of being a teenager, so it’s really hard to tell how, or whether, the pandemic is affecting your teen or young adult.

Some problems are undeniable, of course. Outside of the anxiety and stress, there’s the simple matter of not getting to hang out with friends, or doing so with all kinds of restrictions. Resentment can develop when your kids’ friends have cooler, more permissive parents. On top of that, kids are understandably just sick of everything: the online schooling, the distancing, the masking, and the hand washing. Yes, we parents are sick of these things too, but at least we grasp that they’re actually important, since we don’t have delusions of invincibility.

So what is to be done? Articles like this one and this one recommend getting more exercise. This is a fine idea, except that a) it’s so eye-rolling-ly obvious, and b) the likelihood of its adoption is empirically low. According to this article a study has just found that only 1 in 10 teens is getting enough exercise right now, vs. the (already poor) figure of 16 percent who were exercising enough pre-pandemic.

Can parents help? Well, you could start by setting the right example. If you suit up and go running or biking, there’s a chance your kid will notice. Better yet, try taking an online Zumba class with your kid. That should help, I think … though I’ll admit I haven’t tried it. (I just mentioned it because I like the word “Zumba” and am hoping it’ll help this post show up in Google searches.) My wife and I did do an impromptu dance party today, which got our eighteen-year-old giggling quite a bit, while also introducing to her the novelty of actual rock music coming out of actual speakers instead of just earbuds. (I would explore this dance party concept even more, except that my wife made fun of my moves, and my kid gets gobs of exercise anyway.)

Self-care

As pointed out by this website, you should “teach self love,” starting with self-care. Unfortunately, the advice is given only via an infographic so there aren’t actual instructions, but I have a few suggestions. First off, it’s not enough to just advise self-care; you need to practice what you preach. I’m talking about that stupid COVID beard you’ve grown. It doesn’t make you hip, and there’s too much grey in it, and it lowers the effectiveness of your KN95 mask, for crying out loud. Shave it off already. And if you’re a mom, keep your legs shaved and make sure your daughter notices. (Note that leg-shaving can be a highly political matter; if you leave your legs hairy on purpose, point this out, and celebrate it. Tell your daughter, “I want my legs lush, like I’m a coed at UC Santa Cruz. And I always shampoo them when I shower.”)

Self-care isn’t limited to nice things we can do for our bodies; it’s also about the damaging behaviors we should avoid. Remind your teenager not to seek comfort in drugs or alcohol. According to the CDC, “These substances can weaken your body’s ability to fight infections, and increase the risk of certain complications associated with COVID-19.” Beyond that, it’s obviously harder to remember to wear a mask or socially distance when you’re totally tripping or drunk off your gourd.

You should also bear in mind that there’s more to self love than self-care. Self love can include a bit of good old fashioned vanity and/or self absorption. Maybe it’s time to finally give your kid that “DAMN I’M GOOD” bracelet your dad bought back in the ‘70s and passed down to you.

But don’t go overboard with self love! When people are suffering, there’s always the risk they’ll become insufferably self-absorbed. It’s important to try to remind them of the larger world around them and the unique problems others face. Start with the fiscal waste of the pandemic. If your child is in college, bemoan the already egregious cost of their tuition and dorm fees, which are basically being totally wasted. If your kid is in high school, talk about the heinous property taxes you pay to support that school, and how it’s all for naught because so little actual learning is happening. Explain how you’re being robbed blind on these KN95 masks, and how rising inflation, fueled by supply chain problems, could be the next great economic crisis. (In general you should try to work the phrase “supply chain” into conversation whenever possible, because it totally improves your cred.)

How to draw teens out about COVID

Where can teens and young adults go for advice, sympathy, or just someone to vent to? Certainly not their friends, to whom they have to present a brave, stoic front. And their teachers—overwhelmed with technical issues such as remote learning, COVID tests, and contact tracing—clearly don’t have time. Once again, the job falls to us parents, as if we asked for this. So the question becomes, how do we get our kids to open up?

Here’s one way: announce to your kid(s), “Let’s all sit down in the living room. Your father and I are creating for you a safe space to share your feelings while we listen without judgment.” It might take a moment or two before your kids open the floodgates, but as long as you just sit still, with your hands in your lap, gazing at your children with pure love and devotion spread across your face, they’ll launch right in before you can say “mindfulness training.”

Naw, I was just screwin’ with you. Of course that would never work. Let’s turn to the experts for suggestions. Dr. Lisa Damour, a psychologist and school counselor, advises here that you should “make space for relief and joy.” Sounds easier said than done, eh? I for one have no idea how such a thing could be accomplished. But remember, our kids are smarter than we think. Why not put it to them to figure this out? You can say to your son, “Brent … I know this pandemic is hard on you. You’re hurting, I get that. But the thing is: you need to make space for relief and joy.” Then just watch as he tries (or doesn’t even try) to keep a straight face. Smirking, giggling, or outright laughing at you isn’t exactly the same thing as joy, but it’s somewhat close. Obviously this is a short-lived pleasure, just a little burst, so follow it up with another: use the word “quaranteenagers” in a sentence. Then hit him with the one-two punch of “lean in” and “show up.” He’ll be in stitches.

It’s crucial to show your support by communicating with your children on their own terms. It’s tempting to hover over them dropping bits of advice here and there, like shaking bacon-bits on a salad, but remember, lots of modern kids are vegetarians, figuratively speaking. (Okay, that metaphor got kind of screwed up … sorry.) Suffice to say, words are not necessarily what our kids need. Gestures, behaviors, and actions “speak” louder. For example, my younger daughter doesn’t exactly gush when I meet her eye and say, as sympathetically and authentically as possible, “How are you doing?” But recently I bought her a totally sweet camera and she really responded well. I mean, she didn’t talk too much (other than to say thank you, having not been raised in a barn thank you very much), but weeks later, she spontaneously kissed my forehead. (I’ll confess I flubbed the moment, because as she approached I instinctively recoiled, but so long as I remain gainfully employed, I’ll surely have other opportunities like this.)

Managing our own distress

This helpful article reminds us not to snap at our teens, pointing out that “this is good advice at any time, but it’s particularly important right now.” Well, this is a simple enough concept, but what about us parents … aren’t we totally stressed too? What if venting like this is necessary for our own coping?

It’s tempting to ignore this “don’t snap” advice as wildly unpractical, but actually, there is a way forward. If you have a cat, you can berate her as a proxy for your child. “Now Fluffy,” you can say, “you’re an absolute disgrace. I’ve seen you washing, which looks life self-care, but I know where that disgusting tongue has been. And I can smell your cat box from here. Ugh.” Fluffy couldn’t care less (unless you raise your voice, which could startle her). Best of all, you’ll feel terrible after admonishing that innocent creature, so you’ll give her all kinds of love, which makes you both feel better. (Well, okay, maybe it only makes you feel better, but still.)

Note: do not try this with your dog! As tempting as it is to say, “BAD Waldo! You are a VERY BAD DOG!” you simply mustn’t. Dogs are very sensitive. At least, I think they are … I’ve never had a dog. Anyway, if your pet happens to be canine, leave the poor animal alone. Go out and buy one of those Hasbro Ugly Dolls, or even a Yoda action figure or something, and just chew its freaking head off! Tell it how awful it is, how useless, how selfish, how lame. You’ll feel a lot better, and if you don’t, then alternately abuse and comfort the doll, in kind of a lather-rinse-repeat style. Or not. I actually have no idea how/if this would work. Forget I said anything. (Man this pandemic thing is hard!)

Confronting fear

Perhaps the biggest problem for teens isn’t how to wash their hands more effectively, or how to best maintain social distance, or how to tolerate the 0.5-second-long pin-prick of being vaccinated. The real issue is their fear. This kind of global crisis has never before happened in their lifetimes, and none of them ever paid attention in History class during that unit on the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918. (If my teachers even covered that, I sure as hell wasn’t awake.)

So you need to confront this fear thing head-on. Convey to your teenager that it’s okay to be scared. Note that teens don’t want to be preached to, so it’s important to let this sentiment seem like their idea. The best way to do this is reverse-psychology. Say to them, “Oh, are you scared? Can’t handle a little stay-at-home? Totally freaked out just because your little world got shaken up a bit? Oh, is that needle gonna hurt too bad?!” (Stop short of the old “Chicken! Braaawk-brak-brak-braaawk braawk!” bit because they won’t get the reference.) When your kids push back and say, “Hey, Dad, it’s a global pandemic, I have every right to feel afraid!” then you know they’ve become true believers, because this will be coming from them. (Just don’t ruin the moment by pointing out that “global pandemic” is technically redundant.)

The tech dilemma

Remember my comment earlier, about the problems that can arise when your kids’ parents are cooler and more permissive than you? Well, you should be careful when your draconian policies extend to the virtual world, with restrictions on your kids’ Internet use. Some experts, such as the authors of this article, are actually advising parents to lighten up on “tech time” restrictions. And yet, others (like this one) warn that too much social media, and too much COVID news, can really bring your kid down. Here’s one way forward: if your WiFi equipment is sophisticated enough, consider removing the time-of-day restrictions, but implement a DNS blacklist so that the only site your child can reach is albertnet. This blog is like 99% news-free and all the hateful comments are directed at me … so it’s a safe space on the Internet for your teen.

Surely some experts would find my solution extreme, and that’s fine … but why haven’t they addressed the increase in bullying and other insensitive behavior our kids can expect as their so-called friendships go virtual? It’s much harder to be sensitive online than in person … meaning the pandemic will just compound the problem. If you’re lucky, your kid will mention to you the anguish that is gradually building through this ongoing fusillade of small-scale abuse. This is the time to “be there” for your kid, to make sure he knows you’re on his side. Tell him, for example, “Really, Ricky posted that? Well you know what? He’s an asshole.”

What about videogames? I’ve heard they’re a great way to blow off steam. Should parents be worried about violence and other thematic content? Probably not, so long as their kids don’t actually play these games. I know almost nothing about them, but a little bit of research turned up a game called Boyfriend Dungeon, which (according to this Wikipedia article) is “a role-playing game mixed with a dating simulator, in which the potential romantic interests are generally male characters that can turn into weapons that can be used within dungeons,” with “stalking and emotional manipulation of the player-character.” With games like this, who needs a deadly virus?

Now, I’m probably not being totally fair here, since my knowledge of these games isn’t firsthand. A neighbor of mine was going through a divorce some years back, and I asked how his son (aged eight or so) was doing. My neighbor replied, “Oh, he’s got his [World of] Warcraft, he’ll be fine.” I am happy to report that this kid, who’s probably in high school now, hasn’t yet opened fire on anybody. So I suppose you should go ahead and allow gaming to be your child’s pandemic panacea if that seems to be their thing.

What if the pandemic is helping your kid?

Now, is it possible your child is feeling stress or guilt because the pandemic is going just fine, and in fact has its benefits for her? Of course! This article acknowledges that some kids may have “commitments they didn’t want to keep or some people (classmates, teachers, coaches) they didn’t want to see, so this crisis might actually bring some relief,” but assures us this doesn’t need to be seen as a problem, since “it’s also OK to be happy.” The article suggests you tell your kid, “There’s no right or wrong way to feel.” I actually disagree with this (for example, it’s wrong to feel compassion for anti-vaxxers, those fricking savages) but the overall idea is a good one. You can tell your kid, “Look, the reality is, your standard of living has always been higher than that of most of the world’s population; this country was built on slavery and the eradication of the native population; and all your clothing and electronics are made in overseas sweat shops by underpaid children with no benefits. So there’s ample precedent for you to come out just fine while others across the globe are suffering. Why worry about that now? Just be happy that you’re happy!” I’m sure she will feel much better.

Your teen has COVID … now what?

If your teen gets COVID, he or she is bound to feel pretty humiliated, given all the haranguing you did about staying safe, and all the resources available that he or she obviously failed to take advantage of. In this instance you need to take an honest look at how your teen is doing overall vs. yourself. If you’re in an even worse way, then it may be time to go ahead and rub it in, saying, “I told you so!” and “You should have listened!” and maybe even “You’re getting what you deserve!” This will of course be devastating for your child, but it’ll feel so good for you, it’s probably worth it. On the other hand, if your kid has been suffering even more than you, then his or her feelings come first and you need to do whatever is necessary to prevent guilt or shame from surfacing. “Whatever is necessary” basically means saying, with utter sincerity, “Hey, don’t feel bad—it happens to the best of us.” Now, “sincerity” in this case means you speak from experience. That’s right, it’s time to go get COVID. Head down to an indoor megachurch service, replete with a full choir, preferably in Houston, and don’t you dare wear a mask!

But seriously…

Okay, I had a little fun here, but you might be thinking, “Hey, this is no laughing matter.” I would politely disagree—to me, almost everything is a laughing matter—but I will concede that we should take this issue seriously. Perhaps this post at least has you thinking about how the pandemic affects your teen, and if nothing else I’ve linked to ten perfectly sincere and potentially helpful articles.

More reading on the pandemic

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Saturday, January 8, 2022

The DUMB Approach to New Year’s Resolutions

Introduction

Well, it’s that time of year again, when people start sentences with “it’s that time of year again.” What’s worse, it’s the time for countless articles about New Year’s Resolutions, and why people fail at them, and how to finally get them right. As you can see, I’m just adding to the problem—but this post is different because I’m right, whereas all those other articles are wrong. So keep reading!


Why not SMART resolutions?

One of the most hackneyed mnemonics for setting the right resolutions is taken from preexisting theory about goal-setting (another quagmire of behavioral theory). We’re told to make our resolutions SMART: that is, specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. Even the New York Times published a New Year’s Resolution article on that theme, here. Now, to be fair, that article does go into some other stuff that is useful, like breaking bad habits down into cues, routines, rewards, and alternatives (for example, if the cue is you’re tired, and the routine is you light a cigarette, and the reward is you feel stimulated, the proposed change in behavior is, “Instead of smoking a cigarette, replace the stimulus with something else, like cocaine”). But all the stuff about SMART is so tired (the NYT cited it in another article here, for example), and it’s empirically ineffective. People have been touting SMART goals since 1981 and yet it’s still just this hypothetical notion of what behavioral framework people should adapt to. If it were that great an idea, its actual practice would be commonplace.

(Note: my fact-checker has just alerted me to a typo in the preceding paragraph. The NYT did not in fact recommend cocaine as a nicotine alternative. They recommended coffee. But it’s too late to go back and fix my error now. Also, my fact-checker has just pointed out that “hackneyed mnemonics” would be a good name for a rock band. Fair enough, but this guy is starting to bug me.)

So, where was I? Oh yeah: it’s bad enough how old and tired SMART is, but actually, I think most New Year’s Resolutions fail because they’re SMART. So I’m going to teach you how to succeed by making DUMB Resolutions.

DUMB? Am I kidding? No, for once I’m not. I believe the best New Year’s Resolutions are duplicate, unimpressive, mealy-mouthed, and best-effort. I shall explain.

Duplicate

This article in Forbes declares that the #1 “really bad” New Year’s Resolution is something you’ve failed at before. The writer snarks, “If you haven’t been able to keep a resolution before, what makes you think that things will be different this year?” To me, this is just defeatist thinking. Is that how life works—if you ever fail at something, you should just give up? I’m reminded of Homer Simpson’s advice to Bart (which I’ve repeated, albeit ironically, many times to my children), “If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.”

This “fail fast” notion is specifically refuted in another article, in the New York Times, which points out that many Resolutions fail because the new behaviors are difficult and have to be worked up to gradually. The writer advises, “No marathon runner ever steps up to the start line in a big race without putting in the training miles. He or she has been practicing for months, if not years. You should do the same with your New Year’s resolutions.” He recommends starting on your Resolutions in December, so that even if you stumble at first and your Resolution feels futile, January hasn’t even started yet so you won’t get discouraged.

Great point, but why limit yourself to starting a month in advance? If you spent the first three months of last year trying to implement a lifestyle change but abandoned it, you surely learned a lot in that time and there’s no harm making adjustments and trying again. I doubt many smokers have kicked the habit on their first try, but many have indeed kicked their habit eventually.

(Note: my fact-checker has just asserted that “duplicate” might not be exactly the right “D” word here, because a recycled-but-tweaked Resolution isn’t in fact an exact replica. He suggests the D should be for “derivative,” and though he has a point, you may be pleased to learn that I just whacked him and told him to shut up.)

Unimpressive

That’s right, I’m actually going to explain why impressive Resolutions are more likely to fail. Why? Well, the question to ask yourself is, why am I even doing this? If your goal is to be able to tout something, that Resolution will probably only last as long as the annual chatter about Resolutions. I read some article ages ago (and I tried to have my fact-checker go chase it down, but he’s not talking to me) which was really interesting: it asserted that boasting in advance can actually lower your chances of achieving something, if the approval of your peers is the main point. Why? It’s because, having enjoyed the accolades already, the person no longer has much motivation to actually do the thing.

I have seen this play out. I worked with a guy over twenty years ago who was, it must be said, kind of a douche. For example, he once called in sick so he could go skiing, instead of just using his vacation time like an honest person, and was found out because when he left his “cough-cough gosh I’m feeling too sick to come in today cough-cough” voicemail for his boss, he was calling from the ski lodge and accidently put the call on hold instead of hanging up, and instead of hold music they had a running ad for the various amenities of the resort. His boss played the voicemail for all of us in the lunchroom, following which another colleague called the guy’s cell phone and left a voicemail of his own: “Enjoy the slopes, dude!” with all of us laughing in the background. (No, that has nothing to do with bragging-in-advance; it’s just to convey this guy’s douchiness.)

So anyway, that spring the douche announced to the whole office that he was going to run some local marathon on such-and-such a date. Seems like a SMART goal, right? And then for the next two or three months I had to endure all his updates about how the training was going, etc., and everyone was really interested and supportive and impressed, which got old since the guy was such a douche. Finally, the day of the marathon came and went but I didn’t hear any updates. So I asked him about it and he said, “Oh, I didn’t end up running it. I got sick.” Where had I heard that before?

An unimpressive Resolution won’t lead you into this scenario, and besides, self-improvement should be private anyway, and its benefits should be their own reward, rather than anything you’d tout. For example, I could resolve to bore people less. You could never try to impress people by sharing this Resolution with them (i.e., admitting something lame about yourself), and isn’t that kind of the point? Instead, if I’m successful with this, people might gradually decide, “You know, I always thought that Dana guy was kind of a tool, I mean just totally boring, always blathering about stupid stuff like farting, or the spelling of “kindergartner,” or his frickin’ colonoscopy or whatever, but lately I find him a lot less annoying somehow … maybe he’s okay.”

Mealy-mouthed

Yes, I sincerely contend that your Resolutions should be mealy-mouthed—that is, I refute the idea that Resolutions should be specific and measurable. Consider this: the NYT article says, “If, for example, you want to stop biting your nails, take pictures of your nails over time so you can track your progress in how those nails grow back out.” Doesn’t this seem like exactly the kind of fussy and annoying task that would cause somebody to abandon this Resolution? You’d have to be really organized to achieve this, and I speak from experience. Last year I went to a dermatologist to have some moles looked at. She said they looked fine but need to be monitored to make sure they don’t change, so she took some photos of them as a benchmark and scheduled a follow-up exam six months out. Just because I’m a very thorough person, I asked her to snap photos with my phone as well, which she seemed slightly annoyed by, but nevertheless did. Well, I went in for my follow-up and she breezily confessed she’d lost the original photos. And this is a medical doctor! Who does this for a living! And melanoma is a matter of life and death! It’s a good thing I’m so organized I had my own photos with me for the follow-up … but of course this is a very rare thing (and I can see why you hate me for it). It’s just not practical to add a lot of extra accounting bullshit to a behavior change that’s already hard to make.

But even if measuring your progress isn’t hard to do, it’s a bad idea. Why? Well, for one thing, when your goals are specific and data-driven, that makes it easier to decide you’ve failed, when in fact you may have made some progress. For example, let’s say you’ve resolved to lose five pounds by February, and so you’ve cut out dessert, and cream in your coffee, and are eating out less, and meanwhile you’ve really increased your exercise. Then you step on the scale on February 1 and you’ve only lost three pounds. Despondent, you cry out, “It’s hopeless! Eating right and exercising don’t work!” and then you chalk up another failure, feel bad about yourself, and go back to your previous habits. And yet what if you’d actually (but unknowingly) lost five pounds of fat and added two pounds of muscle, thus improving your lean-to-fat ratio, which is more important than weight anyway? You just let specificity and measurability ruin a perfectly good health improvement trajectory!

That’s why mealy-mouthed goals are better. For example, you could resolve to eat more fruit—and gauge your performance via something vague, like thinking, “Hey, I was still a bit hungry after my main course and saw that bowl of fruit and actually grabbed an apple, I’m doing okay!” or, conversely, “Oh, crap, I just ate a bunch of chips when there’s a bowl of fruit right over there—next time I’m going for that.”

(My fact-checker, seeing an opening to deride me, has just pointed out that I myself keep detailed digital records of my bike ride data, which practice complies with the M in SMART. To this, I’d like to point out that the data about my rides is actually trivial. I’m not measurably fitter, based on average speed and the times I’m clocking on climbs, than I was a year ago, despite riding a whopping 87% more miles in 2021 than in 2020. So you can see how setting a specific goal, such as “improving fitness,” and measuring it using data, can be demoralizing as we age. A truly mealy-mouthed goal like “stay in shape” or “age well” is clearly better. Take that, fact-checker!)

Best-effort

The NYT confidently asserts, “There’s no single reason that most people fail to stick to their New Year’s resolutions.” This is false. There is a single reason: we fail because we assess. A college student could take a midterm and fill out the multiple-choice bubbles completely at random, but won’t get an F on the test unless somebody grades it. Grading exams is necessary for deciding who passes a class and ultimately gets a degree, but judgment is totally unnecessary where New Year’s Resolutions are concerned.

Instead, we should just consider our Resolutions best-effort. I can decide I’m going to try to eat more fruit and be less boring, and not worry about whether I can ever check these off as “done.” I mean, what if, in late December of this year, I look back and decide I nailed these? Does that mean I can stop now, and go back to eating chips and droning on about Simplex bike shifters or my vasectomy? No, that would undo the Resolution!

Meanwhile, if on March 31 I look back and realize that I haven’t had a bite of fruit in months, and that all winter I’ve been blathering nonstop about family shibboleths and high school wrestling, should I now just give up and conclude that my Resolutions weren’t good ones? Of course not. It’s never too late to try harder.

Finally, if I realize at this time next year that I’ve become truly carpophagous, and that everybody hangs on my every word, I can come up with new Resolutions (though without any fanfare or celebration that would suggest completion of the previous ones). On the other hand, if I’m as boring as ever, still prattling on about mirrorless cameras, epic bike rides, and the metric system, I’ll have my first duplicate/derivative Resolution identified for 2023 … and I already know it’ll be DUMB!

(A final note: my fact-checker, still sulking, has just announced that he’s found a factual error in this post but won’t tell me what it is. If you find anything, please let me know.)

Further reading

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Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 in Review - the Quiz

Introduction

As I close out 2021, I thought I’d give my readers a little quiz. You can consider this open-book (because after all, how could I police this anyway)? Or, for an extra challenge, try it without peeking. 

(Don’t worry, you don’t have to wait until next week for the answers … they’re right down at the bottom of the post.)


2021 in Review – the Quiz

1. The movie Wonder Woman 1984 sucked because:

a) Diana (Gal Godot) got all soft and mushy as soon the love interest, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) arrived; she stopped being badass and was mainly clingy and needy, pining for him (I know, bad pun, I couldn’t resist), which was distracting and annoying
b) Diana stubbornly refused to give up Steve, though this was necessary in order to save the world (according to the absurd logic of the so-called plot) and wasn’t until Steve sternly mansplained the whole thing to her that she fell in line, as if it takes a man to save the world, even when he’s not a superhero
c) It’s totally unrealistic that a woman as gorgeous as Diana would wait for forty years for her sweetheart to reappear rather than moving on, and it’d have been so much cooler if Steve had shown up suddenly in 1984 only for Diana to say, “Uh, sorry Steve … I’m actually in a relationship”
d) The female villain in the movie was meek, nice, and nerdy until she gained her powers, which consisted of being charming, beautiful, and strong, at which point she instantly became evil as well, as if the natural consequence of empowering women is that they become total bitches


2. Why is a low-sodium diet not necessarily for everyone?

a) Modern life has people working too much, exercising too little, eating a lot of crap, and then trying to undo the damage by eating less salt … nice try
b) When I surveyed my bike team, 17 of 23 responded that they don’t worry about limiting their salt intake, and yet we’re all very healthy
c) Added salt is not a major contributor to hypertension; the salt in processed foods is more often the culprit, and these are the foods we should all be avoiding anyway due to their trans fats, nitrates, refined flour, etc.
d) Sometimes a little salt goes a long way, like regular peanut butter that has only 6% of the recommended daily value, whereas low-sodium peanut butter is so disgusting I’d rather eat my scabs … and in fact I’d almost rather eat your scabs


3. Knowing what we now know about football, and looking back at the NFL’s lawsuit against M.I.A. for flipping off the camera during the halftime show, their lawsuit is absurd because…

a) These halftime shows are so lame, the scandals (like this one or Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction”) are really the only even slightly dramatic or exciting things fans ever get to see
b) Innocuous gestures like the flipping the bird are nothing compared to the domestic violence committed by football players, which the NFL happily tolerates as detailed here
c) The NFL has a long history of turning a blind eye to the rampant concussions suffered by their players and took great pains to block research into the problem, so they cannot claim any moral high ground
d) Football fans, being remarkably tolerant of all this, should totally be able to handle being flipped off


4. Primoz Roglic’s come-from-behind victory in Stage 7 of the Paris-Nice cycling stage race was actually kind of lame because…

a) Despite having already totally stomped all over his rivals for the GC, Roglic needlessly passed up Gino M├Ąder, a young pro who had launched a very brave breakaway and would have achieved his first-ever WorldTour victory if Roglic hadn’t cruelly nipped him at the line, thus crushing his dream
b) Roglic did this great big alpha-male victory salute as if this were the most impressive victory of his career when really it didn’t matter much, this being such a minor stage race for a rider like him
c) The way he punched the sky, it was just so tone-deaf, bringing to mind the smarty-pants kid in the classroom who’s constantly putting his hand up and, when the teacher ignores him, raises it higher, higher, higher, so his shoulder is raised, half his butt is lifting off the chair, and he’s going “Ooh, ooh, ooh” and can’t figure out why the teacher won’t call at him yet again
d) We’re all kind of tired of Roglic anyway


5. As of April, 2021 (i.e., pre-Delta) variant) what generally had to be true for COVID-19 to be transmitted from one person to another?

a) The two people had to be in fairly close proximity to each other (within about six feet)
b) There had to be a lack of good air flow (e.g., the two had to be indoors without much ventilation)
c) The exposure had to be fairly prolonged (e.g., more than just a few minutes)
d) The people had to not be wearing masks


6. Which of the following is a totally legit Tom Swifty?

a) “Nice boobs!” Tom tittered
b) “Lousy dog doesn’t even have a pedigree,” Tom muttered
c) “Denmark is full of assholes,” Tom said disdainfully
d) “Oh dear, I can’t get it up,” Tom said softly


7. What was interesting about the post-race interviews at Stage 9 of the 2021 Giro d’Italia?

a) The ever-stoic stage winner Egan Bernal said, “It may look like I’m crying right now but those are just raindrops, or maybe snot”
b) Geoffrey Bouchard, who had gotten passed with only 400 meters to go after a daring solo breakaway, said, “I hear Bernal has been sleeping with my girl as well”
c) Bouchard said, “My dad just texted me, ‘You’ve always been a loser, son,’ so my disappointment is absolute and my pride irrevocably shattered”
d) Both interviews were embellished if not outright fabricated by a playful blogger


8. What was interesting about the post-race interview at Stage 9 of the 2021 Tour de France?

a) The interviewer said to winner Ben O’Connor, “You’re a little glassy-eyed … are you gonna start crying now, like a QuickStep guy?” and O’Connor replied, “I think I can avoid that … I’m able to control myself better [than when I crossed the line] and I’m not yelling ‘yay’ anymore”
b) When the interviewer said, “Walk us through that victory salute, where you clapped your hands like a little girl at a birthday party,” O’Connor replied, “I went into that victory salute completely unprepared—I wasn’t meant to be in the break, I screwed up, I didn’t know what to do, then I heard we had three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, one fish two fish red fish blue fish, it was a mad stage, conditions were atrocious”
c) O’Connor said, “At the end there, I had to not panic, and when you think you’re gonna win a stage you can freeze up, and … look at me, dammit, I am starting to cry”
d) It’s possible the entire transcript of the interview was fabricated out of thin air


9. It can be argued that the metric system is not actually superior to the imperial, aka US customary, system of measurement. How?

a) Celsius is inferior because the units are too large, and because its scale goes beyond the temperatures generally experienced by humans, such that part of the scale (38 to 100) is wasted, and to express very cold temperatures you have to go into negative numbers, which is awkward
b) There’s no arguing that 60 mph—that is, a mile a minute—is a really handy mnemonic, since it’s roughly the speed we drive on the highway, so a destination 300 miles away will take 300 minutes to reach; no such mnemonic exists in the metric system
c) The metric units of weight, kilograms, are too large to be precise, and since a majority of Americans would like to lose weight, the units are demoralizing because who wants to forgo snacks for a whole week and only get to say, “I boy, I lost a whole half-kilo!”?
d) Base-10 is overrated because it lacks sub-multiples, so it’s poorly suited to calculating quickly in your head via fractions, which is why we don’t have a base-10 system for measuring time


10. What is the key to making good guacamole?

a) Don’t put sour cream in it
b) Don’t mix it in a blender—just roughly hack it up so it’s nice and chunky
c) Don’t use inferior ingredients—the whole idea is that Mother Nature makes the guac great so long as you don’t screw it up
d) Don’t add peyote, even if the characters in Oscar Zeta Acosta’s Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo spiked their guacamole with it (and note that Acosta himself just said no)


11. This year’s Paris-Roubaix bike race was particularly fun to watch because…

a) It was raining so with all the wet cobblestones and the dirt turning to mud, it was slicker than snot and there were tons of crashes
b) Gianni Moscon, who is a total scumbag who’d been in the news a number of times for misbehavior ranging from racial slurs to deliberately crashing a rider to getting a tow from the team car to punching a rival to throwing a bike at another rider, was off the front solo for a good while before falling on his ass, which made the race feel like a morality play
c) Sonny Cobrelli celebrated his victory with the most over-the-top hysterics in the history of the sport, shaking his bike at the sky as if daring the gods to defy him, throwing himself on the ground and howling like an animal, “BAAAAAA-HOO-HOO-HOO! BAAAAAA-HA-HA-HA!” and generally carrying on like he’d completely lost his mind
d) Cobrelli, when chided by the post-race interviewer for having mud on his face, replied, “No, you’re mistaken, this is an oatmeal facial mask; you see, it’s important to rehydrate your skin after a tough race like that, and oatmeal is a humectant, which means it helps the skin retain any moisture added to it, and meanwhile, oatmeal has naturally occurring glycolic acid, which effectively exfoliates dead skin cells and speeds up cell turnover, so you’re left with softer skin, less visible pores, and a more glowing and dewy appearance”


12. Which of the below products, promoted as a gift during the 2021 holiday season, is mind-bogglingly lame?

a) The aromatherapy candle, “poured [by] skilled artisans in the USA using only premium and cleanest soy wax available,” and “ideal as an aromatherapy candle or relaxing candle for yoga, meditation, and stress relief” and, best of all, “decorated with a cute, fun, adorable, and always heart-warming message of assurance,” which says in giant bold letters on the label, “I’D SHANK A BITCH FOR YOU RIGHT IN THE KIDNEY”
b) The smartphone-controlled coffee mug that enables you to set the temperature of your coffee remotely and even to set up alerts in case your coffee is in another room, since it’s simply not practical to just throw your coffee in the microwave for 20 seconds if it cools off too much
c) The clock that shows the hours and minutes as math problems you have to solve, so that you have to stop, shift gears, waste valuable time calculating the hour and minute, and then spend more time trying to calm back down because you’re pissed off now about having had to do all this
d) The $995 Gucci shoe/slipper that is a leather dress shoe in the front and a fur-lined slipper in the back, like what Chewbacca would wear if he went to prom


The answers

Great job, you made it to the end! Let’s see how you did.

Guess what: all answers are correct, thus I congratulate you on a perfect quiz! You are clearly a very astute reader of albertnet, and I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog for the last twelve months. Come back next year and pay close attention, because some of my upcoming posts are gonna be on the test!

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Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

From the Archives - Bits & Bobs Volume I

Introduction

I’d say albertnet isn’t really a blog, per se, in the sense of a “web log” (i.e., diary or journal). I try to write essays, reports, or humor pieces that have a point other than simply documenting my life. (After all, who cares about my particular experience?). All this being said, I’m emboldened of late by recent published volumes of David Sedaris’ diaries, which people seem to like well enough, and by an account in The New Yorker of the upcoming publication of (part of) the journal of Claude Fredericks, a classics professor in the ‘50s whose output exceeded sixty-five thousand pages. Fredericks extols the virtue of on-the-ground immediate reporting of one’s experience; as the article explains, “A journal is a ‘living thing,’ he says; a novel is a ‘taxidermist’s replica.’”

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that I’m publishing here choice snippets from old letters to my brothers, which I think can give the reader a flavor of the era during which I wrote them. These bits and bobs should be better than diary excerpts because at least I wrote them with an audience in mind, so I had incentive to make them good. This post comprises a handful, in chronological order; others will follow in these pages periodically. I’ve provided, for each snippet, the locale I was writing from.

January 26, 1989 – Isla Vista

My roommate S— came home today telling me that Joe, the owner (and sole employee) of MicroPro, where I bought my computer, was busted on a felony computer piracy charge. Joe was S—’s roommate here last year. S—was bummed about the news, of course, but also seemed a bit titillated. I myself was kind of worried, not so much for Joe, but for myself if anything goes wrong with the computer I just bought. S— tried all evening to call Joe, giving me the impression they were best buds or something. “He must be in jail!” S— ultimately concluded. But finally the phone rang and I picked up. Sure enough, it was Joe. I asked, “So, how’s everything going?” He said, “Oh, okay I guess.” I asked, “Are you calling for S—?” He said, “No, I actually called for you. This girl left a message for you on my machine. Her name’s Lisa. Let me give you her number.”

Now, as you can well imagine, I was pretty confused. A presumed felon, who we’d thought might be in jail, had instead called me to relay a message from some random girl. I took down the phone number and was about to ring off when Joe said, “By the way, I think I fixed your WordStar 4.0 program. It should work now. I’ll bring it by tomorrow.” By this time, Scott was practically ripping the phone away from me, bewildered and perhaps hurt that the big shot criminal hadn’t asked for him. I told Joe, “S— wants to talk to you. Should I put him on?” Joe replied, “Uh, well, I guess so.” (I reckon he gets as sick of S— as I do.) They talked for about thirty seconds, S— offering to give the judge a character reference.

You’re probably wondering about the girl by now. Gosh, this sounds like a spy thriller, doesn’t it? The elusive computer hacker, the nosy roommate, the mystery girl, and the microfilm (okay, MicroPro). Turns out when Joe moved out of this apartment last summer, he took the phone number with him—but somehow it’s listed as my number in the student directory. (I didn’t even know I was listed!) The girl, Lisa, is in my French class. I guess I’m flattered she reached out to me, because it’s not like I’m her boyfriend or anything (though I’ve been trying to insinuate myself into the role). She called because her cat got run over on Wednesday, so she was too distraught to come to class, and she needed the homework assignment for tomorrow. She’s had a run of bad luck lately: over the weekend, she fell asleep driving and crashed her car into a ditch, sustaining a minor concussion. I guess these are the perils of college life.


October 6, 1989 – Isla Vista

You know how you always wish you could get one of your bike crashes on videotape? Well, I did. I was cruising around on my mountain bike and reached this big concrete boat ramp that goes down to the beach. (I assume the ramp reaches the water at high tide.) There was a guy standing at the top filming with a little VHS camera, and I asked if it was cool for me to ride down. He said yeah, so I went down at top speed and then locked up the rear wheel and did all these sweet fishtails (showing off for the camera, I confess). What I didn’t realize was that there was like a foot drop-off at the end. But I figured no big deal, I still had plenty of speed, so I jumped off it and made a perfect landing, rear wheel first. Thing was, once the front wheel landed it bogged down in the sand and I was flipped right over the bars. I landed in tons of sand, and tucked and rolled, so it didn’t hurt at all. Like twenty people were out there sunbathing and they all cheered as I leapt to my feet and put my hands up in a victory salute. I wonder how many times the guy with the camera will watch that footage, laughing his ass off.

August 17, 1990 - Oakland

It’s kind of a trip living in Oakland. I mean, this place is huge. I’ve never lived in a big city before, but so far I like it. That said, sometimes the complexity of it all can be intimidating. Here’s an example. A couple of friends and I went to this Thai restaurant, and ordered this big fancy soup. It’s served in a ring shaped bowl, which has this chimney deal that comes up through the middle of the ring. A flame at the bottom of the chimney is supposed to keep the soup hot. Our waitress struggled to light it. Not that the chimney was the problem; she just had no idea now to strike a paper match. She was trying to squeeze the head of the match between the striking surface and the folded over book, and I half expected her to catch the whole book on fire, or inadvertently fling a burning match at me. She finally got the match lit, dropped it in the chimney of the bowl, looked at it with an air of uncertainty, and walked off. Remembering a waiter who failed to successfully light my flaming baked Alaska a few years back, I was pretty sure it hadn’t lit. I looked down the chimney of the bowl to see. Never, never do this. To my horror, it ignited very suddenly and the ensuing fireball completely engulfed my face for a split second before I pulled my head away. The bright blue flame extended a good six inches past the top of the chimney!

I could smell burning hair. Fortunately there were mirrors on the wall and I ran over to survey the damage. Sure enough, my eyebrows had been singed. It really doesn’t look very good. At least I don’t have the shoulder-length hair I was sporting last summer. If I did, I’m sure it would have caught fire and I would have burned to death, right there in the restaurant. I can envision my last dying moments: my life flashes before my eyes as the hapless waitress fumbles stupidly with the fire extinguisher, eventually giving it up and returning, with a shrug, to the kitchen.

I wasn’t very pleased with the whole situation, so I dipped the tablecloth in the flame and very quickly the entire table was on fire. We were out the door and running down the sidewalk when the massive explosion hurled us to the concrete. (Okay, I’ve exaggerated quite a bit about my response, but the part about my eyebrows is 100% true.) I’m going to have to be more careful until I’m accustomed to the sophisticated cuisine of the big city.

November 19, 1991 - Berkeley

So help me God, I’m going to make this the best letter I’ve ever written. This is my goal. It has been stated. Were it possible, I would get you a few sandwiches to munch on while you’re reading. Anything to make this a special time for you. I would do that for you. I would.

Jesus, Geoff. Just think of all the letters I’ve written, always just writing along, knowing that I’m not being graded, you won’t send it back with all the errors circled, little arrows to show where I left out something I should have put in, no general comments like “Little or no relevant material. See me.” No, it’s a simple job, I just write for a change, nothing to get stressed out about. But who says that’s good enough? Things are gonna change. You’re my brother, after all, and you deserve at least as much hard work as a stupid TA who’s paid to write tetchy little comments like “watch your pronouns” in my margins. (Why should I watch my pronouns? Are they misbehaving? Do I need to take them outside?)

Ah, but I also have selfish reasons for wanting to write well. I want to be a great writer someday. No matter what I write, it is nothing more than a stepping stone towards this goal. Writing this letter, or indeed anything, is just a chance to polish my style into the one which will propel me to fame, fortune, and maybe a gig on “Hollywood Squares” or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” So I must confess that through all my correspondence I have only been using you. And that’s not right. This is your letter, not an exhibition of the literary machine I am trying to build: a machine that so far requires eighty tons of coal, a tanker truck of natural gas, twelve gallons of premium unleaded and eight D-cells just to produce passels of pointless pages of trite, trifling text. It’s a machine you would expect the military to build. Tons of money, marginal promise, dubious worth to future generations. All unacceptable. So I’m going to double down and improve my letters. They will henceforth be of the highest quality I can muster.

Maybe a running account of my latest exploits isn’t the right approach. Perhaps I need to look back over my past, determine the most salient events, and recount them as vividly as possible, while framing them in the context of why they were so formative. I’ll try that out. Here goes:

That summer ended childhood. I hoped there would be work in San Luis Obispo, my new home [during my gap year before college]. Every day is the same: I collect the paper and move swiftly through it, starting with the comics. Charlie Brown is about to get laid for the first time. Nancy finally put a good one over on Sluggo and they say he’ll never walk right again. Garfield has slumped over on the fence, killed by a clock thrown at him. Now, on to the Classified Ads: unspecified work for Ernie Ball under the title “day laborer.” A data entry job in Grover City, a fifteen mile commute for $5 an hour. Dishwasher at Sizzler. Well, so much for that. What else is here? A letter to the editor insists that for all Sarah Riordon’s trouble at the free throw line, she is a valuable asset to the Mission College Prep team. Front page: REAGAN SAYS “EVERYTHING’S JUST PEACHY.” Yeah, now if he could just solve unemployment, starting with mine. I head down Foothill to Spirit Cycle Works. Jay, the obese head mechanic, is sitting on a stool popping plastic bubble wrap in the vise. Garrett is cussing about a bottom bracket adjustment he can’t get right. You’re reaming a seat tub, violently, viciously, a tyrannical grin on your face as you subvert the soft metal to your will. I would take a job here for two bucks an hour, just to work with you. But Spirit isn’t hiring.

It was fun hanging out with you for that year, but I couldn’t ever act excited about it, nor can I reminisce fondly about it now. Maybe it’s because I was un- and under-employed and needed to act cynical. I wonder if you saw through my cool front. (I never did.) But was this front my own idea, or was I unconsciously mimicking your own tough guy act? The thing is, you veer between hard-boiled and almost cloyingly nostalgic. Which one is the real you? Let’s admit it, you yourself are, and have long been, a hard dude to try to figure out. And “figure out” implies that there is an answer, which there is not. There is no solution in the back of the textbook for Geoff Albert. He just is. You just is. We just is.


August 18, 1992 - Berkeley

Let me tell you a little story about my roommate A—’s brother, Robert (I think it is). He’s been couch surfing here for weeks, and even stocked the kitchen with all his own food. He had the cheek to label it all so we won’t steal any. His stash consists mainly of hot dogs, cold cuts, Oreos, white bread, and milk. This guy has no idea how to cook. He prepares a hot dog by putting it, raw, on a slice of bread and microwaving it for thirty seconds (just until the bread’s hot).

Well, one night A— had cooked himself a meal (some weird South American thing) and offered his brother his leftovers. Robert hemmed and hawed, as if put off by the notion of secondhand food, or perhaps by the cuisine being outside his norm, and finally asked us what nearby restaurants delivered. He wasn’t interested in pizza so I suggested a few takeout places within cycling distance. “The bike is kind of what I wanted to avoid,” he said, peering down forlornly at his big belly, which sagged down below his belt. Okay, so no leftovers, no pizza, and nothing beyond walking distance. For a guy who doesn’t even have a place to live, he sure does seem picky.

Finally I thought of a barbecue place like four blocks away. A— explained how to get there, but I guess Robert wasn’t satisfied with the directions so he asked us for a map, which my other roommate eventually produced. After studying the route a while, Robert finally embarked on his daring solo mission. Well, like half an hour later he came back empty-handed, looking totally grief-stricken. Apparently a street hoodlum spotted an easy mark and grabbed the bag of food right out of Robert’s hands! Poor dude was too upset at this point to go buy more, and settled for a couple more hot dogs.

Is there any moral to this story? Yeah: don’t be a dork.

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Email me here. For a complete index of albertnet posts, click here.

Monday, December 13, 2021

2021 Online Holiday Gift Guide

Introduction

Well, as the pandemic drags on for another holiday season, it kind of makes sense to do our gift shopping online. But where do we start? This year I consulted a number of gift guides in magazines, which are super helpful except the magazine is getting paid  by the manufacturer, so they tend not to mention any gotchas about these products. My blog is different: I’ll steer you toward some great gift ideas, but I’ll also point out any landmines I happen to see. So here is the 2021 collection … happy gifting!

Heartwarming message candle – $20.99

Here is a nice candle you can give as a gift. And it’s not just nice; according to the manufacturer, it is “hand poured [by] skilled artisans in the USA using only premium and cleanest soy wax available,” and is “ideal as an aromatherapy candle or relaxing candle for yoga, meditation, and stress relief.” And best of all, it is “decorated with a cute, fun, adorable, and always heart-warming message of assurance.”


One word of caution, though: the recipient of this gift needs to be a person who feels that violence against women is funny. And since the burn time of the candle is 45-55 hours, you’ll want to consider whether or not the joke is likely to get old.

Long distance touch bracelet – $108

It took me a moment to understand what these touch bracelets are for. The idea is, if you’re separated from your significant other for long periods, you can use these to stay in touch. Just “download the app that connects the set and tap your bracelet to send a Bond Touch™ to your loved one. Theirs will light up and vibrate, so they'll know you're thinking about them.”


You might be thinking, “Why wouldn’t I just send a text?” Well, what if you can’t think of anything to say? That’s the beauty of these … you just tap it every so often, mindlessly. And if you’re too busy to tap (for example, if you’re on a business trip) you could have a colleague, your personal assistant, or just about anybody tap it periodically. And if you get distracted and totally forget to send Bond Touches™? No problem—just blame the technology!

Shiitake mushroom log kit – $30

This mushroom log kit is perfect to give as a gift because if it proves defective and doesn’t produce any mushrooms, that’s not your problem. It’s based on kind of a far-fetched idea: the manufacturers “salvage recently felled trees and plant organic spores inside” and then you soak your log, keep it in a dark, damp place, and in six weeks you’re a grower! Myself, I never liked the dirt-like taste of shiitakes (my brother calls them “shitcakes”) but imagine how magical it would be if this actually worked.


A disclaimer: just about all the reviews I’ve read complain that nothing ever grows. It’s kind of heartbreaking how long people have stuck it out waiting: “more than a year,” “over 18+ months,” “17 months,” “almost a year.” That’s a mighty long time to have a damp log sitting around your house. But remember: you’re giving this away, so you can just give, forget, and move on!

Smartphone controlled coffee mug – $130

You know, coffee is one of life’s simple pleasures. I do a basic pour-over, and I grind my beans with an antique hand-cranked mill my daughter gave me.  Generally I drink the coffee over a period of about five minutes as I read the paper, so it doesn’t cool off, though occasionally I abandon it and then have to chuck it in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds. Well, obviously this system isn’t good enough for a lot of modern types. Enter the Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug. This is utterly sophisticated and in fact is controlled by an app on your phone!


You can dial in whatever temperature suits you (for example, you might go a little cooler if you have a canker sore in your mouth, or a little hotter if you’re adding milk instead of a smaller quantity of cream), and you can do customized presets (though I’m not sure why), and can even receive notifications. That way, if your coffee is in another room and suddenly hits that magic temperature, it’ll summon you and you can go fetch it. (Why would your coffee be in the other room? Well, I don’t know … maybe you run a lab or something?) This electronic mug/coaster is really impressive … I mean, coffee has always been satisfying, but imagine the sense of utter fulfillment you’ll get every time you successfully complete a firmware update.

My only complaint with this product is that the app doesn’t appear to offer very robust analytics. I’d like to see temperature performance, tracked via charts and exportable CSV files, along with real-time and historical client data on the apps interfacing with the mug, and ideally an event log just to make sure everything is humming along smoothly.

Bourbon nosing expansion kit – $79

This handy assortment of aromatic extracts enables the bourbon aficionado to develop a huge new vocabulary of annoying scent terms so he can bloviate even more excessively than he does already, and take even more pride in his inflated sense of epicurean sophistication.


This product pays off in two ways. First, during the sniffing phase your spirits-loving man may be too busy to talk, giving you some much-needed respite. Second, when he has finished his education and starts pontificating at vast length about the hints of rose, plum, and graham cracker in his Parker’s Heritage 27 Year 2nd Edition bourbon, somebody is bound to finally lose patience and tell him to shut up, following which he’ll pout for days. More peace and quiet for you!

Illegal soap – $10

This Duke Cannon soap may seem like good clean fun, but it’s also kind of badass:


To be honest, I’m not sure where legality or even cutting of wood comes into play, because the pine in this soap is just a scent. But if the recipient of this gift gets off on people breaking the law in pursuit of luxury bath products, you won’t find a better gift anywhere.

Brain sensing headband – $200

So-called mental health experts (like these ones) have long advocated for disconnecting from all our tech and spending time offline, to try to relax. Well, that touchy-feely crap might be good enough for some people, but perhaps you know someone who prefers a more data-driven approach to mindfulness and downtime. For that type of digital maven, technology saves the day once again, in the form of the MUSE 2 Brain Sensing Headband. It measures your brain activity, heart rate, body movements, and breathing and gives you feedback through headphones (sold separately) and your Muse smartphone app. What could be more relaxing than downloading the app, upgrading it, syncing the phone with the headband, and then being told, though the app’s sounds, whether or not you’re relaxing properly?


But that’s not all! Maybe you had a good meditation session yesterday, but what if today your performance declined? That’s where the robust analytics come in. Look at all these stats … they’re like Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for your relaxation! You could totally paste these into PowerPoint slides for your guru, your sensei, your therapist, or your significant other to review.


I suppose I should mention that there’s no real explanation of how exactly this device works, and that a number of users gave less than favorable reviews. For example, one one-star review states, “I can only assume that the positive reviews have come from people who want this thing to work rather than any kind of basis in reality. The EEG was showing I was calm as a cucumber when I was wide eyed or thinking as hard as I can about the most stressful things in life. The heart rate sensor was about 30bpm out from my actual heart rate. The soundscapes are clunky, distracting and annoying.”

Albert Clock – $400

Remember when your brother bought your kids that incredibly loud and irksome electronic toy? Well, here’s your chance to get him back, with the most annoying clock ever made: it’s the exclusive Albert Clock. Feast your eyes on its diabolical face:


When do people check the time? It’s when they’re concerned about having enough of it, and the distance between that minute hand and the top of the hour can be reassuring. But the owner of this clock will have to stop, shift gears, waste valuable time calculating the hour and minute, and then spend more time trying to calm back down because he’s pissed off now about having had to do that. But he can’t complain to you about it, because that would set you up to say, “Surely a little simple arithmetic isn’t too much for you? I’d have thought you’d welcome the challenge.” It’s really the perfect revenge gift.

Art-themed enamel pin – $10

Here is a nice pin you can give to any friend or loved one who enjoys wearing pins.


Ah, but it’s more than just nice: it’s compelling. What’s with the nonstandard spelling of “guarantee”? And who is LB? Well, the lucky recipient of this pin, if she’s done her homework, can talk all about Louise Bourgeois, the eccentric French painter on whose work this pin is based. Of course, wearing this pin will mean answering the inevitable question, “‘Art guarantees sanity’ … is that even true?” It will also beg the follow-up question, “What about van Gough?” The best comeback to that? The pin-wearer can say dryly, “Actually, Bourgeois spent decades in therapy.” So, yeah ... this isn’t just a nice pin … it’s all ironic and provocative, too.

Stained picnic blanket – $150

Is this picnic blanket a manufacturer’s second? Nope, it’s meant to look like a painter spilled on it, or it went through the wash with your wife’s weird new Thai fisherman pants that always bleed on everything. Its stained/ruined look is what makes it artsy and sophisticated!


The only problem with this blanket is that the recipient might think you got it at a garage sale, or Goodwill, or that it’s a remnant from a fabric store. So you’ll have to somehow convey that it cost you 150 bucks, so your friend or loved one doesn’t use it in the garage, or get rid of it, etc.

Gorilla night light – $11

Maybe you’re that cool aunt or uncle that always needs to give the interesting, cool gift … and yet you don’t want to be edgy or anything, if your niece or nephew is very young. What, then, could be niftier—and at the same time cozier—than a gorilla-shaped nightlight?


Look how relaxed that kid is! (Full disclosure: that picture looks obviously photoshopped, but you get the idea.)

Of course, this nightlight is also remote controlled so using it will really make the kid really advanced and technical. And perhaps he or she will stare at it for long periods, wondering if all gorillas have Popeye-like forearms, and why this one has grid-covered body hair.


Bitcoin gewgaw

A certain type of blowhard just loves to blather about cryptocurrency. This is easy to do, since so many people know almost nothing about it while having the nagging sense that they should. Wouldn’t it be great if you could help your mansplaining friend lead people to this topic? Well, in that vein, what could be a more thoughtful gift than this non-fungible trinket, symbolic of a Bitcoin?


Now, I suppose this could backfire: what if the recipient loves its good looks and wants to display it, but isn’t actually comfortable talking about cryptocurrency? Well, then, as a separate gift, print out this blog post on the topic, which explains everything he’ll need to know to talk about Bitcoin long enough to exhaust anyone’s patience.

Gucci slipper-shoes – $995

And now it’s time to talk about the perfect gift: something utterly useful, but also fun, and decadent, and sophisticated, and—most important of all—is a product that your loved one never even knew existed. You’ll knock ‘em dead with the amazing Gucci dress shoe/slipper . Check these bad boys out.


I know what you’re thinking: “Am I fucking hallucinating?! Are those really a dress shoe in the front, and fur-lined flip-flops in the back? Like if Chewbacca went to prom?!” Yes. That’s exactly what they are.


Now, I’ll freely acknowledge that giving these as a gift does involve some risk, and not just because they cost almost a grand. Your recipient will need to ask himself, “Could I pull these off?” If he doubts himself, that’s when you lay this photo on him: because if this dude here can rock these slipper-shoes with aplomb, anybody can.


Take the plunge and buy them. You’ll thank/think me later.

A gift for the blogger?

I’ll bet I know just what you’re thinking: what gift should I get for Dana, as a reward for his tireless blogging all year? Aw, shucks … you don’t have to get me anything! But if you feel you must, just send me a nice card with some cash in it. I’m kind of sentimental that way.

Other albertnet holiday posts

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