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Polar Bottle 24 oz. Insulated Water Bottle

I’ve been training for a sprint distance triathlon. Part of the training has been going on long bike rides. Staying hydrated during these rides, especially as the weather gets warmer, is very important. Rather than wastefully pick up a Poland Spring bottle for each ride as I’ve done in the past, I decided to invest in a proper water bottle.

I never gave much thought to a water bottle. I’ve collected a few free ones over the years from participating in century bike rides, but I never liked how they made the water taste plasticky. I prefer using my Sigg bottle, but its small size and twist-off cap make it less than ideal for drinking while riding.

At a bike shop near my apartment, I came across Polar Bottle. The one at the store was 24 oz. in size, which I thought was ideal for my needs. It’s also insulated with a lining around the bottle, which keeps the water colder. I didn’t really like any of the color options there, so I picked one up with a patriotic theme. It cost $11.99.

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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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Science on Swole: BCAAs (A skeptic’s guide to supplementation and training)

As the resident meathead in most of my friend circles, I’ve gotten more than a few questions about supplements. As a skeptic/sort of surgeon/sometime scientist, I’m going to explain my rationale.

The baseline rules:

  1. Primum non nocere – is the supplement going to kill me or make me poop myself? (I’m looking at you Jack3d and NO-Xplode)
  2. Efficiency – Is it cost/time beneficial versus anything else?
  3. Efficacy – Does it do what is advertised?

For the last few years I’ve been traveling to different locations in monthly blocks. Since carrying tubs of protein is space inefficient and often accompanied by some derisive bro-related remarks, I usually end up running to the local shop and grabbing something. My go to is Scivation’s Xtend BCAAs for drinking while I’m training.

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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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A Faster New Router for the Home: The Best $20 Spent in a While

For years, my wife Melanie and I suffered through slow Internet speeds. We cursed Time Warner and lamented that Verizon FiOS didn’t exist in our area. I sometimes had to switch over to my cellular data to watch YouTube videos because our Internet connection was so terrible.

Even after we got our new cable modem to replace the one we had for 8 years, there was no noticeable change in speed. We cursed Time Warner some more.

A couple months ago, I happened to be having lunch with a client whose company makes computer hardware. We had just finished working on a smart home security product website with him. He was part of a small team within a large corporation whose speciality was in routers. I asked him if router technology had evolved much in the past 5 or so years. I told him I had used the same router for the past decade. “Uh, yeah, there’s been some change in router technology since then,” he told me.

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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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Running with Flat Feet

I never got a dual citizenship (US and Taiwan) because I would’ve had to serve in the Taiwanese Army. At least that’s the reason my parents provided. Now I’m not so sure I would have been able to serve anyway because I have flat feet. My feet are so flat in fact that I feel the pain on long runs and walks. Now that I know this I’m not exactly sure how I survived running cross-country during high school. That being said, I’m training for a duathlon and two sprint triathlons this year even though running with flat feet can sometimes feel awful.

So to combat the lack of arches in my feet I followed a friend’s recommendation and got fitted for some running shoes. We went to the New York Running Company at Columbus Circle and went through a series of tests including a pressure sensor that indicated your shoe size, arch height, and how you distribute your weight on your feet. This leads to an insole recommendation and for me it recommended the aetrex L420 orthotics which provides boosted arch support. Next up the shoes.

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Probar Base Protein Bar

PROBAR BASE Protein Bars: Pretty Tasty Stuff

I saw that someone at work had a box of PROBAR BASE protein bars on his desk. I asked him about it and he told me that he liked the taste. The flavor was Cookie Dough. I hung around his desk for a tad bit longer hoping he would offer me a bar to try, but he said nothing, so I went back and looked it up on Amazon.

I’ve never been much of a protein bar eater. In fact, protein bars remind me of high school when the PowerBar was all the rage (remember 36-pack boxes from CostCo?). They were pretty nasty and I only ate them when I was deathly hungry before football or track practice.

PROBAR BASE protein bars appealed to me because they’re coated with chocolate. I’m a sucker for chocolate, and I was also in the market for something healthier than a Snickers bar. The other limitation for me was that I can’t eat almonds (I have oral allergy syndrome), which rules out a good number of healthy snack bars out there. PROBAR BASE does have traces of almonds, which makes my mouth a tad bit itchy, but after eating over a dozen bars, I don’t even feel it anymore. The 20 grams of protein that the bar proudly advertises on its packaging comes from soybeans.

I started off with a 4 Flavor Variety Pack from Amazon to see which flavors I would like best. It turned out that I liked Mint Chocolate, Brownie Crisp, and Peanut Butter Chocolate but rather disliked the Cookie Dough. I found the bars to be the tastiest protein bars I could remember. They’re on the sweet side (14-17 grams of sugar per bar, which I think is on the high end) and the texture is not too mealy or crumbly like other bars. At $31.99 for the 12-count variety pack, they’re a bit on the pricey side at $2.67 per bar, but I find myself enjoying it rather than seeing it as a fuel-only snack.

I do my toughest workout of the week on Mondays, so I make sure to eat a bar a couple hours before I go to the gym. I also pack a few bars with me whenever I go golfing. Rather than buying a pack of M&Ms from the cart girl, I find that a PROBAR does a good job in keeping my hunger in check. A couple of downsides:

  • The flax seeds get stuck in my teeth sometimes, so you might spot black flecks if I flash a smile.
  • The chocolate coating might melt a bit if you leave it in a warm place. I had a bar in my jersey pocket when I went for a long bike ride and the chocolate was starting to melt when I took it out to eat.

I’m game to try other protein bars, but I like that I’ve found one that appeals to my sweet tooth and gets the job done in giving me an energy boost.

In case it matters to you, the PROBAR BASE protein bar is non-GMO, organic, and gluten-free, as evidenced by this graphic on their website:

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 9.48.06 PM

Nutrition info and ingredients can be found at the PROBAR website.

Smuttynose Hayseed: A Simple Farmhouse Ale

I got home after a long day at work and wanted an easy-drinking beer. I went across the street to the corner bodega and browsed their beer selection– a Smuttynose Hayseed caught my eye.

I’ve always been a fan of Smuttynose, a New Hampshire based brewery. I’ve grown to dislike IPAs in recent years, but if I had to choose one, their Finestkind IPA would be near the top of my list. This past winter, I found myself repeatedly getting their Winter Ale, an amber ale that has fruity and spice-laden aromas.

Today, I came across Hayseed, which they describe as “a country table beer.” Whenever the weather gets a bit warmer in the springtime, a nice saison / farmhouse ale always gets me in a good mood. This one, with a low 3.8% ABV seemed like a good choice. I paid $2.25 for it. They ran out of quarters, so I was handed a bunch of dimes. All good.

I drank it while eating soba noodles and avocado. The beer was light, refreshing, and quickly gone.

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.


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!