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The only Blue Apron review you need to read: How three years of subscribing saved me time and money *Updated October 2016

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From Amateur Cook to Well-Fed Amateur Cook

***Update 3***

Hi there! Welcome to our site and Blue Apron review which you probably saw on Facebook. We’re all out of free week trials and since there are 30+ people on my list already and I’m unlikely to get more than a few free trials to give out a month, I’m now closing the list. However, Blue Apron customer service was nice enough to send over this link for $30 off your first order (which is 50% off for the two person kit). Enjoy!

***Update 2***

Ok, so this Blue Apron review may have gotten a bit more popular than we intended. We went from about double digit organic views to over a thousand views (5/16 update: 17,000+ and counting!) in the last three days. So as a result, I’m all out of free trials to give away.

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What I learned about my brain after I peered inside my skull

I get by with a little help from my friends

A few months ago, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs hospital in Philadelphia contacted me out of the blue and asked me if I wanted to participate in a study. I was in the middle of writing a paper so I wasn’t that interested at first. However, the pitch was that I would be helping them investigate some key health issues. I was an ideal candidate for them because I’m relatively healthy and had some “combat exposure” (no hero stuff here, just a few rockets and IEDs). I wound up volunteering for a fairly lengthy experiment that included two overnight sleep studies, an fMRI task, multiple blood draws, a battery of surveys, a task where you got intermittent shocks (you got to set the setting), and a two-week long experience sampling survey. I did get my brain scanned as part of this study and right around the time that my study as wrapping up, my friend Chris who is in the cognitive neuroscience side of our department (they look at brains and do “real” science) got his own brain 3D printed based on a scan. He told me that he could do the same for me if I got my MRI data from the VA. Man I was really excited. I filled out some paperwork at the VA to get my data released and a few days later I had a DVD in my hand that had scans of my brain.

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Structural MRI images of my brain and 3D model, image taken from 3D Slicer software

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How I got faster at bootstrapping (hint: my lab got me a Macbook Pro)

Maximizing Efficiency

I’m very lucky to be working in a psychology lab that has a lot of resources and leadership that wants you to succeed. Last last month I had the opportunity to trade-in my nearly four year old MacBook Air for a new retina 13” MacBook Pro. MacWorld UK did a fantastic write-up of what great features the new MBP has so I won’t repeat all that. I want to focus on what I did to personalize the computer and also how much of a change in efficiency I’ve felt since getting it.

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What I learned after four months with Amazon Echo (updated Nov 26 2015)

*Update (November 2015)

Many people have emailed me or asked me questions about the Amazon Echo since we wrote the original post back in May. The original post is also one of of the most popular on the blog! We thought it would be valuable to provide an update as the Echo continues to garner great reviews, such as Wired’s endorsement that the Echo is 2015’s “perfect lazy gift”.

I’m happy to report that we continue to be very pleased with the Echo’s performance. Amazon added Pandora integration and the voice commands grow ever more capable of understanding nuance. Say, for example, you’re at a family gathering and the kids are making a lot of noise. You can now say “Alexa, play music for kids” and the Echo will automatically start playing kids music.

Amazon is also expanding Echo’s capabilities through Alexa “Skills” (which can be found inside the Echo app) which appear to be widgets created to add functionality to Echo’s already impressive voice command category. You can now ask Alexa to check Bitcoin prices, calculate someone’s age by giving Alexa their birthday, get Fantasy Football News, generate a haiku, tell knock knock jokes, and a ton more (including getting stock prices, a feature some people have asked me about before). It appears that Amazon has released an Echo developer kit so that anyone can create and submit new features. That seems like a game changer to me: with the Echo gaining traction and its nascent ability to integrate smarthome features such as WeMo lights, the ever-expanding repertoire of capabilities is going to put the Echo in more and more homes. One of the differentiators of Apple’s closed-universe product line is the access to millions of apps that comes with staying inside the universe. If Amazon is able to follow suit with a capable in-home device, I can see them very quickly becoming a big player in the home automation world, perhaps unintentionally (at least, given the original focus and design of the Echo, which was to play music and enable purchase of products through Amazon).

*Original post follows

Alexa, write this blog post for me

In mid-January 2015 I was one of the lucky (or just very willing to have my privacy completely compromised all the time) few Amazon Prime members to get Amazon Echo. The day Echo was publicly announced, I signed up via the Amazon website, which is probably why I got it so early. Some good friends of ours are still waiting for one.

Demand for the product must be pretty high. Amazon initially offered the Echo for 50% off to Prime members ($100 for a retail $200 product) and now the price for members is $150. There is also a brisk secondary market for new and barely used Echos on Craiglist / Ebay going for or above sales price.

Is it worth it? Is it a life changer as the sort of weird Amazon commercial implies? (I mean really is the whole family going to yell stuff at this HAL2000 looking device?)

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How I Bought a Little Piece of Etsy

Tomorrow, Etsy (ETSY), the online arts and crafts outlet is going to IPO. When I hear IPOs I still think back to the dot-com boom-bust days. Knowing that IPOs could be quite unpredictable I mostly just watched the news about Etsy from afar. I didn’t even know that I could, as a retail investor, get in on the action. Recent IPOs by companies like SolarEdge (SEDG) and GoDaddy (GDDY) have raised lots of capital and made underwriters and company insiders very happy with the initial IPO bounce. To be honest, I don’t know if Etsy will do the same. I actually thought about writing this post tomorrow, after the IPO, in case the stock tanked, but that’s no fun right?

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What I don’t buy

It might seem a bit strange to kick-off this blog that is presumably about buying things with a post about the exact opposite. Well this post isn’t exactly about things that I don’t buy, but more about things that I don’t spend time buying. Because while time can be converted into money through labor or investment, money can’t be fully converted back to time since your personal stock is finite. All of which to say, saving time is a principle I follow and informs my life philosophy.

Amongst my friends I’m notorious for being a tech early adopter and buyer of all things gadgety. But I’m also known for being frugal and efficient, which probably allows me to get the latest government surveillance device in your house or the best Fitbit money can buy. Both Meredith (my better half) and I work (ok ok, you got me, I’m a grad student, but would you be convinced if I said I’m a really busy one?) and like most dual-income earners we really value the time we can spend together. So how do we do this?

Saving time by buying on your own terms

Multiple factors are converging to make it possible for you to run your life with just-in-time efficiency like a good ol’ fashioned Dell supply chain. There’s the major scramble for market share by established players in the goods delivery market, numerous on demand service providers funded by private equity, and of course, the ease of doing all of this on your phone or computer. Competition + flush with PE cash + technology = wins for consumers.

This allows us to “buy on our terms” in ways that are accessible to most people. We rarely wait in line unless we really want to (I think the last line we waited in was to see Furious 7! Vin Diesel voice: “one last ride”) or need to.

Ensuring you have what you need for your life

We’re able to ensure we have good healthy food for the week, snacks, and all of our household items (soap, shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, cat litter) without ever having to go to the store or mall (I can’t remember the last time we were in an actual mall). And all of these services are flexible enough to allow us to easily tweak them if we go out of town or if our plans change.

We rely on a combination of Amazon Subscribe and SaveBlue Apron (started by our high school classmate and valedictorian extrordinaire Matt Salzberg), Nature Box (co-founded by our high school classmate and snack master Ken Chen), and Fresh Direct to ensure our house runs smoothly. Each service has built-in automation so that you can put your supply chain on auto-pilot for the most part.

Downsides

Now, what are the downsides? First, we live in a city (Philadelphia) and having your boxes stolen off of your front porch is a regular occurrence if you leave them there for more than a few hours. So usually I try to schedule deliveries (UPS My Choice is a godsend) for times I’m home. This has been particularly difficult this semester with lab work, TA duties, classes, and meetings so I’ve tried stacking everything to be delivered on Mondays. Second, it usually takes six months to get a good idea of how much of one product you need. Amazon Subscribe and Save has been whittling down the products that they have in the program, which means some delivery schedule adjustment is necessary when your normal 12 toilet paper roll delivery is now 36 rolls. Third, sometimes things get left off of the delivery truck or the store runs out of it (Fresh Direct, I’m looking at you, although you’ve been much better than Peapod) and you don’t find out until it is too late. Then, you might actually have to go to the store to get stuff. But other than that, you can leave that part of your life on auto-pilot so that you can concentrate on the things and people that matter most to you.

What are your favorite time saving schemes? Put them in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you. And thanks for reading the first post of our blog!