The Gift Of 2020

Sure, maybe this year was a bit of a stinker. But as our last-minute holiday guide shows, there’s still lots of strange crap you can buy people you barely know.

By Ernie Smith

Today in Tedium: It’s sure been one hell of a year, hasn’t it? The good news is that we’re less than two weeks away from the very end of this most distressing 366-day period. (Yes, there was a leap year this year, because we couldn’t minimize our 2020 impact.) But now is the time we look back on the horribly tedious stuff we wrote about this year, add some affiliate links, and call it a last-minute gift guide for people at the bottom of your list. We love and appreciate you sticking with us during a year when we got more exposed to information about airborne viruses than anyone outside of the CDC ever should. (And, just a quick reminder, anything you buy from these picks supports this newsletter, so I hope we weren’t on your naughty list this year.) So take a deep breath as we relive our year in Tedium. Cheers. — Ernie @ Tedium

Today’s issue is sponsored by Vinyl Moon—read on to get a discount!

Tweezer Dexterity Test

For the person in your life who seems to struggle with their grasp, we recommend taking a look at the O’Connor Tweezer Dexterity Test, a real standardized test of dexterity that was featured in our blowout feature about tweezers back in September. Six years ago, if you told me I would write the phrase “our blowout feature about tweezers” with complete sincerity, I would think you were totally pulling my chain, but the truth is I have slowly been pulling a chain all this time … using a tweezer.

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PS3 Fat Console Set

(Evan Amos/Wikimedia Commons)

Now, 2020 was a big year for fans of new video game consoles—with the latest versions of the Xbox and the PlayStation hitting physical shelves and grayed-out digital “sold out” buttons faster than you can say “Cyberpunk refund.” But this is Tedium—we’re not going to tell you to buy a new Playstation 5 (though we won’t stop you). Instead, we’re going to suggest that you buy a used PlayStation 3 for your favorite Linux nerd on eBay and give them a few links to YouTube videos telling them how they can hack Yellow Dog Linux onto it. Hey, it might be some extra work, but it’s more likely to show up before Christmas than a PineBook Pro.

There’s a reason for nearly everything if you dig in deeply enough, and that’s why there’s a reason for color bars, which drew a bit of attention for Tedium when we covered their evolution back in June. If you have a loved one that takes their color bars seriously, buy them this PopSocket that recreates the SMPTE color bars and show them that you get them—and if they’re willing to wait until after the holidays, buy them this shower curtain, featuring the Philips PM5544 test pattern used on PAL sets. Nothing like turning the morning shower into the dullest thing possible, I say.

Doors Infinite

If you have $1,600 lying around to purchase something for a loved one, you might be thinking … laptop. But I’d like to make a case that you should be the person who buys The Doors’ 12 disc Infinite Vinyl box set that is currently sitting on Amazon Prime as we speak. The reason for this is because your purchase will ensure you get the highest-quality masterings of “People Are Strange,” “L.A. Woman,” and “Hello, I Love You” that a regurgitant record industry can produce for a band that hasn’t been a going concern in its original form for roughly 50 years. (We don’t talk about the Morrison-free Other Voices and Full Circle, which don’t make an appearance here.) Infinite is an example of what the music industry does when it doubles down on superfans who are still willing to spend money on music.

Background Noise: White Noise Machine

The Dohm, the modern descendant of the original SleepMate white noise machine.

Speaking of noise, Tedium mainstay David Buck put a lot of thought into white noise machines back in April, at a time when we honestly needed machines to calm us down. Fortunately for those looking for some form of relaxation, there are so many options out there that you could probably send white noise makers to everyone you barely know and make it easier for them to sleep in the process.

Dim It Light Example

An example of what Dim It sheets apparently are able to do. (via the Dim It website)

Sometimes, the best points of inspiration for Tedium pieces come from the smallest of annoyances. And no smaller annoyance passed through my purview than the bright white light on the front of my television set, which led me back in July to understand the nature of blue light and why it often feels so much more intense in an LED than other colors do. Along the way, it taught me that you can put plastic dimming sheets on top of your blinking, flashing electronics to help dull the effect of bright LED lights, just in case you can’t get any sleep for some reason.

Mc Jordan BBQ

This is a real thing you can buy on eBay right now.

Our fast food chains have become extremely adept at making a lot of collectible stuff that you might want to get your hands on later—something that McDonald’s only seems to have properly figured out this year when it started collaborating with major pop stars on merchandising. I crossed paths with this topic in October as a result of my interest in McDonald’s plastic pumpkin pails in October, which has led me to suggest the ultimate gift for fans of Mickey D’s: The $9,500 jug of McJordan BBQ sauce, as used in a Chicagoland promotion of Michael Jordan nearly 30 years ago. It’s still on eBay!

Credit where credit’s due: Thanks to COVID-19, this year was a good year to get into the dongle life. With many people working full-time out of their homes for the first time in years, docking stations became more important than ever. Back in August I wrote a whole bunch of stuff about unusual dongles, most notably a USB-C to Magsafe connector I found on eBay that it took weeks to get delivered. (Mining the same territory was Yuri Litvinenko, who analyzed the many nonstandard chargers that were used in the days before Lightning and USB-C.) With the right dongles, you can connect literally everything you own together … somehow. And note: If your loved one is in the mood to invent their own dongle, as this guy did, you need to make sure they have enough Sugru moldable glue to help hold everything together.

0213 legere

Stuff did happen before the COVID-19 outbreak overwhelmed the conversation this year, and one of those things that happened was the merger between T-Mobile and Sprint, and the decision by slow cooker enthusiast John Legere to skedaddle from the company he helped to revive. Saddened that I would not get an opportunity to interview Legere about slow cookers, which he had helped to popularize on social media, I wrote something of an analysis of Legere’s unusual role in helping to revive the device’s fortunes—and the interesting gender politics that come with Legere’s embrace.

Carcass Band Photo

The death metal band Carcass, circa 1992. From left: Michael Amott, Jeff Walker, Ken Owen, Bill Steer.

And of course, this year brought together a whole bunch of Tedium contributors, who offered up pieces as diverse as David Buck’s ode to the NES Advantage, Karen Corday’s analysis of OK Soda as marketing trailblazer, Calvin Kasulke’s insights on whether basketball shoes could go indie, Andrew Egan’s no-name Canadian fakes, and Michael Bentley’s discussion of how awesome quiz bowl is. One particular standout I want to highlight is the work of Fahad Sperinck, who wrote an amazing piece about the challenges death metal musicians face with normalcy after the fact. (Now might be a good time to get into Carcass.) We had so much Tedium to go around this year—and I’m surprised we had room for it all.

This was a bad year, but I’ve learned that even the bad years can have their silver lining.

This was a year where tension was around every corner, reminding us that normalcy was a sick joke of sorts. Empty shelves of toilet paper. Social distancing. Masks. Hand sanitizer. Staying home 90 percent of the time. People losing their jobs and kind of stuck at the whims of a political system that is more concerned with fighting with itself than figuring out how to help all these out of work people.

And look, I won’t claim that we’re doing much of anything to solve it on our end, other than giving you a few minutes twice a week to focus on something else for a little while.

But as I wrote in April, having culture right now gives us some ability to survive and keep a semblance of normalcy when the moment offers anything but.

In the piece, I mentioned that the perfect song for the time was Bruce Cockburn’s “Lovers in a Dangerous Time,” a song filled with beauty amid tension. Nearly nine months later, it still is.

The beauty is still out there, even if the tension is everywhere.

I ended that piece then as I’ll end this one now: Got to kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight.

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Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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