Today in Tedium: We’re nearing the part of the holiday shopping season when it’s do or die time. If you didn’t do something already, you’re likely scrambling to figure out a Plan B, or maybe even a Plan Q. The gift, no matter the quality, needs to show up by, like, Friday to count as a decent gift for Christmas. Maybe you can swing Saturday—if UPS is willing to swing it for you. Fortunately for you, we’re here to help at Tedium. Read on for our holiday gift guide—which, secretly, is also a year in review. (That said, just an FYI, if you buy something using one of these links, even if not the gifts in question—and considering the stuff we picked, we get it—we get a cut.) Hopefully these gift ideas, intended for people you don’t really like, make you seem just a little less desperate. Don’t say we never helped you out. — Ernie @ Tedium
Editor’s note: In case you want to do any regifting, check out the versions of this guide from last year or the year before. Maybe you might find a gem (or a piece of junk).
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Today's issue is sponsored by Topic. (See yourself here?)
Perhaps the most interesting tale we told this year on Tedium was that of the birth, death, and revival of the Hydrox cookie, Oreo’s slightly older but less-respected cousin. It never got the appreciation it deserved for any number or reasons, including the fact that Oreo was always better at marketing, and it nearly died forever until a guy who is good at reviving old brands figured out he could resuscitate Hydrox. If you have a friend who grew up with Hydrox and misses them a whole bunch (possibly because they’re kosher, in which case you already kinda missed the boat), you could buy them a bunch of reconstituted cookies, but for outside-the-box gift-buyers, we recommend this 25-pound box of Hydrox cookie base cake—i.e., the very base elements of that reconstituted cookie. I promise you, it will be the most talked-about gift you can buy a loved one this year.
If you own a website in 2017, especially one that has an RSS feed, you’re probably making a terrible mistake: You’re likely still using Google FeedBurner, a service that was once one of the internet’s most important, but has eventually become Google’s zombie service, one that’s been so forgotten about that when I asked Google for a comment on my November story about the service, they stopped responding to my emails when I started asking actual questions. You don’t have to live that way—trust me, I was once like you, but then I switched to FeedPress, a for-pay RSS service, about a year ago, and I’ve never been happier. For the indie publisher or podcaster on your list, do them a favor and get them to switch from FeedBurner. They will be happier. And so will you, because they will never again complain about their RSS feed while you’re just trying to sit down and enjoy dinner at that nice little Japanese restaurant around the corner.
If there’s one thing we learned about cornhole this year, it’s that you don’t play it halfway. You take that sack of corn and you throw it with all you’ve got, in hopes that you’ll become the Michael Jordan of professional cornhole, like seven-time “King of Cornhole” Matt Guy, whose story always-game Tedium contributor Andrew Egan helpfully highlighted for the world. But let’s say you don’t have the room for a regulation size cornhole board set and buying weather-resistant cornhole bags seems like a weird choice for December. What do you do? Like one of Tedium’s lucky curated gift recipients learned this year, there is such a thing as tabletop cornhole. With coins!
One of the most important facts I learned about straws this year is how much former Entourage star Adrian Grenier hates them. Back in September, Grenier, the founder of the nonprofit Lonely Whale, convinced the city of Seattle—the hotbed of straw-lovin’ Starbucks, among other things—to quit plastic straws for the entire month of September. It was an effective strategy—and one that, maybe in its own small way, Tedium played a part in by highlighting how plastic straws became such a problem. Perhaps you, too, could play a small part by giving your friend metal straws to carry around everywhere, or a whole lot of biodegradable paper straws that won’t end up in the ocean.
Want the best possible mashed potatoes that money can buy? Odds are you probably don’t want instant mashed potatoes, but maybe you’ll love to read about instant mashed potatoes. However, for those out there who love to create mashed potatoes out of actual potatoes, they may really friggin’ love the idea of the a potato ricer, a dedicated kitchen component that is said to create amazing texture out of those potatoes you spent all that time mashing. This particular potato ricer, a well-regarded one, is said to minimize hand strain.
In the age of tiny computers that can do anything, it’s somewhat refreshing to use a tiny computer that can do almost nothing. There was a company that came out of the Apple II era that was masterful at this—Franklin Electronics, a one-time clone-maker that was nearly sued out of existence by Apple, only to successfully pivot to making spell-checking tools and translation tools. Sure, a 99-cent app on the App Store can probably beat either of these devices any day of the week, but there’s something punk rock about taking basic functionality and dumbing it down to a single, dedicated device. It seems so primitive.
We’re still a couple months out from Shrove Tuesday, the British holiday in which people eat pancakes and douse them with juice from plastic lemons. Americans might know the holiday better as Fat Tuesday, but nonetheless, it’s a big deal in Britain. I wrote a piece noting the complicated state of trademark affairs around the plastic lemon, and if you’d like to ensure a friend of yours has a constant reminder of this case, you could always give them this water bottle with a built-in lemon squeezer. Might as well, uh, infuse it into their memory for some reason.
One of the better parts of my year was when I was introduced to Tedium contributor David “Salty Asparagus” Buck, whose taste in music and passion for offbeat musical heroes has helped define a new direction for Tedium—as an outpost for the Dr. Demento crowd, an under-appreciated part of our cultural conversation that only seems to get discussed, somewhat unfairly, in the context of Weird Al. Since Buck started writing for Tedium, he’s shared great stories about R. Stevie Moore, Larry “Wild Man” Fischer, and Wesley Willis. Each of these men have great documentaries out about their lives or documentaries in the works—including 2003’s The Daddy of Rock’N’Roll, a doc on Willis. If you know an adventurous music fan, you would do well to introduce them to a few Songs in the Key of Z.
This coming week is a particularly good week if you’re a fan of cinema that has spent time in the public domain. As I wrote back in October, a gaping hole in copyright law that existed for nearly 70 years that created situations where slight errors on title screens could force films into the public domain, and rules on renewal meant that anyone who failed to manually renew a copyright would see their works fall into the public domain. The crapstavaganza Santa Claus Conquers the Martians is a seasonally appropriate example of the former, while It’s a Wonderful Life was at one point (before the Supreme Court got involved) a key example of the latter. Celebrate the holiday by buying your loved ones crappily dubbed versions of these Christmas classics, and talk over them the whole time, explaining the ins and outs of pre-1976 copyright law. Think of it as MST3K in sedative form.
And finally, speaking of TV, this year has been kind of a weird one for both television and the internet from a structural standpoint. The future of TV is up in the air due to a bevy of new regulatory standards, passed weeks before the repeal of net neutrality, that are still in their formative states. Disney’s recent purchase of Fox is destined to make streaming stuff more confusing. Today, I saw the craziest thing: A set-top box designed to control all your other set-top boxes and act as something along the lines of a traffic cop. It kind of reminds me in a way of what Steve Wozniak was doing in the 1980s with his universal remote controls. Suffice it to say, a head-scratcher of a holiday gift would be a really expensive remote control that’s more trouble than it’s worth. You know, like this one. If that seems a bit over-the-top, you could always buy ‘em a TV-B-Gone.
Giving gifts is an imperfect task. We return billions of dollars worth of gifts yearly, often because they don’t make sense for the recipient. We overshoot the goal because we’re trying to be thoughtful.
A 2014 Washington Post piece on this topic made the case that because we’re so thoughtful we just make the gifts worse.
University of Cincinnati assistant professor Mary Steffel put it like this: "Gift givers tend to focus on what people are like instead of what people actually would like. And it's most pronounced when they're shopping for people they are close to."
What if, instead of buying stuff that we think our loved ones want, we chose by random? Or perhaps by algorithm? It’d create some dissonance, perhaps even drive a laugh or two. And it would beat what we’re currently doing.
So in case you wonder why I send a gift guide filled with such bizarre suggestions, it’s this: Our holidays need more dissonance.
For maximum dissonance, I recommend the 25-pound box of cookie crumbles. Who knows—maybe that’s what your distant, slightly confused loved one actually wants.
P.S.: I wrote about this on the site but I wanted to bring it up here—a personal thank you to Marcin Wichary, who put a 60-year old book on the Internet Archive because I wrote about it. Officially the high water-mark of gift-giving so far this year.