Today in Tedium: If nothing else, Tedium is all about going all-in on things, and this year, we’re going all-in on the holidays, with so much holiday gusto that you will wonder whether we even covered prior holidays. But to kick things off, we gotta start somewhere, and that somewhere is with our annual gift guide, now in its fifth edition. For those relatively new to Tedium, it’s a combination look back/guide that offers actual things you can buy for people you don’t particularly like that much. (Or maybe you do like them! I don’t know your life!) Next week, we’re kicking off an even bigger holiday feature, which we’re calling the Twelve Things of Tedium, but to whet your appetite for all things Tedium, here are some stuffers for stockings. (And as a reminder, anything you buy here supports this newsletter, so fingers crossed you like some of the stuff we wrote this year.) May these gift ideas catch your fancy in just the right way! — Ernie @ Tedium
Today’s issue is sponsored by IVPN; more from them in a second. Also, our prior gift guides, if you feel like digging: 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018.
To start things off, my first post of 2019 might have been the most influential one of the year, for reasons good and possibly better. We kicked off the year with a big redesign as we moved over to Craft CMS, and to underline the point, I wrote a rant about the importance of blogging, despite the fact that blogging has seemingly gone out of style. (I hope it encouraged a person or two to get to writing!) Writing about writing is something that a writer does, but hopefully not to the point of hypergraphia. If you know someone who likes writing like I do, a Bullet Journal isn’t a half-bad idea.
In what is probably good news for a gift guide, we’ve had a decent amount of toy-related content in 2019, including a recent feature on the Netflix show The Toys That Made Us that is worth a definite fresh look. In that vein, one of my favorite pieces of 2019 was a bit from August about how a British censor had such strong opinions about nunchucks and ninjas that it led to the censorship of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s bizarre to think about the ways that censorship change things we know and love. Fortunately you can still get the toys, nunchaku and all, without a problem, along with Bruce Lee’s high point/swan song, Enter the Dragon.
In 2018, journalist Michael Wolff took the literary world by storm by getting a book about the Trump administration that leaned heavily on juicy details and questionable journalism. (He tried for a repeat in 2019, but the results weren’t quite as effective.) But it wasn’t the first time that he got the publishing world’s attention in a big way, and the circumstances were far different in the mid-’90s, when he published one of the first mass-market guides to the internet, NetGuide, then followed it up a few years later with a book about how the business that published that book totally failed. Good thing I’m around to remind everyone.
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Ah, milk crates. What can you say about them that hasn’t been said? Well, I have a few ideas, such as: Don’t steal them, and when you buy your own, make sure they’re not labeled with the name of a dairy company, because that could get you arrested—a phenomenon that I wrote about in March. It’s a lesson about what happens when you develop something that’s too useful.
We had a lot of big pieces throughout 2019, but perhaps our biggest, by Andrew Egan, involved the New York City Subway, which has an interesting quirk: It runs on OS/2, IBM’s also-ran operating system that lost out to Windows during the mid-’90s, but found homes in large enterprise settings like subway systems. If managing the information architecture New York subway sounds like an interesting career path for a loved one, may I suggest buying this book on The Art of OS/2 Warp Programming? They’re going to need it.
As you may or may not know about me, I tend to be fairly nerdy on Apple related things, but I prefer old Apple machines, along with machines that I’ve Hackintoshed. And that interest inspired a few pieces this year, starting with a cultural analysis of the Hackintosh scene, then, soon after, a piece about refreshing a $10 Mac Mini. For Motherboard, I wrote an insanely detailed guide about how to turn an HP Spectre x360 (specifically, this model) into an Apple-style machine with a touchscreen. And later in the year, I wrote about “Upgrade Arbitrage,” the concept of buying an old workstation and upgrading it to something equivalent to a modern machine. Nerd adventures were not hard to find on Tedium in 2019.
Do you have a friend who is really into fried chicken sandwiches? Turns out there are a lot of those people around this year, thanks to a whole phenomenon of fast food chains promoting their chicken sandwiches. If you find that amazing but want to really go above and beyond and show them that you support their tendency to eat fried chicken sandwiches, may I recommend buying them a commercial pressure fryer? Hear me out. It sounds like a wild thing to want to buy someone—the one Amazon sells costs $885.99 with free shipping—but it’s an important device, one that reshaped the fast food industry more than once. And who knows? Maybe they’ll be inspired to make their own chicken sandwich with the right pressure fryer at their disposal.
This year, Tedium saw a ton of great contributors who wrote some amazing pieces on a wide variety of things, including prior contributors David Buck, Karen Corday, Andrew Egan, and John Ohno, as well as new voices Mark Christian, Calvin Kasulke, and Yuri Litvinenko (who wrote three pieces!). And these writers, who you should all hire as freelancers for your own publications, weren’t afraid to shy away from tough or interesting topics. Andrew, for example, took a fresh eye to paramotoring, a sport he has covered in depth, when it resurfaced in a tragic incident that took the life of a well-known YouTuber; and Yuri, who is Russian, is writing extremely detailed pieces about vintage technology in a second language. The best laugh I got this year, though, was when David suggested we write a piece about Bubsy the Bobcat, a maligned video game icon, in Bubsy’s voice. Bubsy wasn’t our best contributor—I admittedly prefer the humans that come up with clever ideas I wouldn’t have come up with on my own—but he left a mark.
Finding obscure business phenomena and resurfacing them is one of my favorite tricks with Tedium, whether it’s the still-kicking Japanese phenomenon of record rentals, the guys who developed the world’s hold music, the company that promised an Electronic University for your Commodore 64, or the trend of making chlorophyll, the substance already in basically every plant you eat, the CBD of the 1950s. Perhaps my favorite of this nature, however, was the story about the remote St. Helena Island, which got its own airport a couple of years ago and is trying to convince people to visit. If you do decide to go, don’t forget to buy a travel guide.
I didn’t write about this, but my wife told me I had to put it into the gift guide, so here it is: A life-size Danny DeVito cutout that costs $69, a $30 discount from its regular price. When our doorbell starts ringing randomly for no particular reason, maybe Danny can go downstairs and check to confirm that nobody’s outside. He’d probably be more effective than a wireless doorbell, that’s for sure. (By the way: If you buy one of these and take a picture of yourself with it, I will put it into the newsletter and link wherever you tell me to, no questions asked. If you’re Danny DeVito and you do this, I will include a picture of it in every issue for a month.)
It’s weird to think that we’ve been doing this newsletter for half a decade already, but it’s increasingly surfacing new surprises along the way.
And new approaches. The basic idea of Tedium as a purely archival-based site has evolved over time, though our mission never has. We do hot takes sometimes, particularly in spots where our cultural history scrapes the modern day.
But I think even with all this evolution it’s pretty cool that the general mission of Tedium has yet to get away from us after all this time, and that’s a pretty awesome gift as we finish up 2019 and start roaring into 2020 in a big way.
This year I started doing something a bit odd as a part of my story-research routine: I started going to thrift stores on a regular basis. Clearly if someone has decided to throw something out its tedious, right? But it’s been intellectually eye-opening in a lot of fascinating ways, including from the perspective that it puts things in front of me that I haven’t thought about in a while.
In a way, though, it almost feels like I need an offline touch to help bolster my online inspirations. I started Tedium as an internet deep-dive thing, and it’s still that, but I think it’s becoming clear that it doesn’t have to start at the internet to criss-cross there.
We’ve learned a lot of cool tricks as we’ve gotten revved up on this thing and I look forward to figure out what we learn next. Until then, look forward to a bunch of holiday stuff starting next week—I promise it’ll be interesting!
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