Give Up? Gift Up

A few last-minute gift ideas you aren’t really thinking about. (But really, an excuse for us to look back at 2023 in Tedium.)

By Ernie Smith

Today in Tedium: So, it’s pretty funny that I’m writing the ninth edition of my last-minute-gift-guide-but-actually-really-a-year-in-review post, despite the fact that there are probably more efficient ways to highlight the content I wrote than suggesting you buy giant boxes of crushed up cookies. But I’ve been doing this long enough that a changeup is sometimes a good idea, and this year, I have one: In deference to Amazon’s tendency to get very angry about affiliate links in emails, and also because they don’t need your money, I’m going to link a bunch of stuff on other stores, such as the App Store, eBay, and I hope that this encourages a slightly more creative approach to your shopping, and I hope it means that I won’t get an angry email. (To be transparent, it supports the newsletter, too, by the way.) Anyway, let’s look back at the year in Tedium! — Ernie @ Tedium

Screenshot 2023 12 16 at 8 26 19 AM

This project led to a lot of interesting writing.

We started this year with a hefty list of bloggers throughout the history of the internet, with a lean on slightly more obscure names that perhaps haven’t gotten the attention of the John Grubers of the world. It should be noted, though, that Gruber, the mastermind of Daring Fireball, invented something that has made blogging a lot better, called Markdown, and Markdown makes it easy to do a lot of blogging. My favorite tool for this endeavor is iA Writer, which I wrote something about a couple of weeks ago. I think that’s a pretty good gift for anyone who writes words, and it’s extremely road-tested. You would not believe how many bad takes I’ve written in it. (Another option is Ulysses, which comes as a part of the SetApp bundle.)

Lands End Catalog

The perfect bit of content marketing to have on your mantle.

The magalog, which I wrote about in August, is such a fascinating predictor of the modern internet we have now, where publishing and marketing live so closely together that for many people, they’re indistinguishable. While I won’t say that every catalog ever released by Lands’ End is a work of art, I will say that there is absolutely a case that buying a copy of the Lands’ End Yachtsman’s Equipment Guide from the 1960s or early 1970s would absolutely be a brilliant way to offer a piece of retro cool to a loved one. A couple editions to check out: 1969 and 1971.


You, too, can develop a thriving drug trade.

Beepers have long been buried as a cultural artifact, but they nonetheless are great history, one that lends itself to some interesting discussions as we consider our own relationships with technology—my piece, back in June, leaned on how schools believed, basically by default, that they were only used for drug deals. The nice thing is, though, that beepers are so old at this point that you can get them for a dime a dozen on platforms like eBay. Maybe even less. Currently, this lot of 13 beepers is going for 99 cents plus shipping. Win this auction, split them up, then make them a stocking stuffer. Force your friends to carry around the past.

3 M Floppy Disk

An iconic 3M 5.25-inch floppy disk. (Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking of vintage objects with no modern practical value but plenty of kitsch value, there’s something that’s a lot of fun about old floppy disks, a topic I wrote a lot about this year. They’ve mostly lost modern-day currency other than being the save button in many applications, but are still prevalent on the used market. And the used market is a great place to pick some up. eBay has sealed 3M diskettes for miles. Also available: sealed containers of 3M reel-to-reel tape, which is called Scotch despite the fact that it’s high quality. My piece about 3M, from last month, was pretty fun to write. A sandpaper company sure got pretty far.

One of my favorite pieces of 2023 is the deep dive I did into MTV News, perhaps one of the best examples of monoculture being a good thing. (Usually, monoculture is bad.) It not only introduced us to bands, it gave us a broader, yet hipper perspective on the world around us. Of course it would eventually be killed when it could no longer be monetized. It’s worth pointing out that some of MTV’s greatest hosts have found non-television artistic niches since their time in MTV’s shadow. Kurt Loder has a collection of movie reviews; Tabitha Soren, now a fine artist, put together a photography book about the very athletes her husband, Michael Lewis, wrote about in Moneyball; and Allison Stewart, one of the few people to work for ABC, NBC, CBS, and NPR, wrote a book about junk a while back. If you have family members that miss the monoculture, remind them it never really went away.

Utility Table

(Google Patents)

Speaking of monoculture, remember TV carts? I do! I wrote a lot about them in January in one of the most niche topics this newsletter has perhaps ever covered—the idea that we would cart around giant televisions on devices that were bound to tip over was extremely dark, but we did it for decades. (In some schools, we still do it.) Anyway, if you have a loved one in need of a cart to push around your heaviest audiovisual equipment, an AV cart can more than do the trick.

Twenty years ago, Apple created what may be the greatest commercial in their history—a clip featuring Yao Ming, a committed 12-inch PowerBook user, and Verne Troyer, who preferred the 17-inch model. It was a great commercial, one I mentioned in my piece about productivity in the sky back in March, which dates back further than you think. In honor of the work Yao and the late Troyer did in this deeply memorable commercial, I recommend buying the road warrior in your life an old Powerbook—a 17-inch edition, following Troyer’s led. (Yeah, yeah, the 12-incher works, too.) Sure, it’s not as light as a MacBook Air, but it’s way cooler.

Finding biographical information on the artist and musician Bryan Adams is harder than you might think, because Allmusic somewhat infamously has removed him from their archive, something I wrote about back in August. Which means that if you want to know more about the guy who wrote “Heaven,” your best option is to buy a book about him, a good idea for the Adult Contemporary fan in your life. (Side note: Like Tabitha Soren, Adams is now a talented photographer who has published works of his photography.)

Senior Baseball Cards

(via eBay)

Sometimes you swing and miss. This was kind of the point of my March piece on failed sports leagues, with one in particular taking center stage—the Senior Professional Baseball Association, which brought together old ballplayers and got them to play in Florida during the winter months. The league failed after just a season and a half because nobody was interested, but that lack of interest didn’t prevent the creation of trading cards, which you can get on eBay for the person in your life who loves baseball cards and forgotten sports. If you really want to show your passion for this league that ended more than three decades ago, you should know that signed cards can be had for like three bucks a piece, plus shipping. You know who could probably afford them? MKBHD, who is mentioned in the failed sports league piece for his ultimate frisbee play.

Mini PC

This is how some people start their empires. (Onur Binay/Unsplash)

Finally, our most popular piece of 2023—unless Weird HTML Hacks, our second-most-popular piece, gets a fourth wind—is most assuredly the piece I wrote on self-hosting back in March. (I learned this, by the way, through the analytics tool I use, Plausible.) I would like to revisit it at some point, as I think self-hosting has a lot of potential if you’re willing to put the work in. Now, self-hosting usually means not paying for software, but there’s still hardware to buy. I recommend two routes: Ryzen mini PCs, which are fairly upgradeable and can be had for $300 or less these days, and decommissioned desktops from old schools and offices. (I wrote about this general concept in 2019, though I’ll warn that my Xeon’s power supply went out of commission this year.) Both are all you need, and while ARM single-board computers are cool, the pricing picture has been so out of whack with ARM boards that you get more for your money with these approaches at this time.

This year has been a fascinating one from a Tedium standpoint. In a way, it’s the most dramatic set of changes the site has had in its history.

At the start of the year, I thought we were done with short-hit writing, which we had done with MidRange for a few years. But then my work situation changed, and I did a couple of experiments to try to switch things up, notably Lesser Tedium, an attempt to miniaturize old Tedium issues.

Some of the changes I hoped to work on didn’t pan out in part because of the unexpected work situation change, but the move away from MidRange did stick.

Landing on the shorter-issue approach to Tedium—where I write a couple smaller entries each week, along with a long one—has been a pretty good approach from an editorial standpoint, and it’s one I hope to keep going for a while.

I guess what I’m saying is, writing this newsletter is a gift, and I really appreciate that y’all let me fill your inbox with the weirdest junk and oddest stories I can find. I’ll keep at it.


Find this one an interesting read? Share it with a pal!

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.

Find me on: Website Twitter