Products I Like and Recommend

By Alex Beal
May 22, 2021

This is a list of products I like and recommend. This was inspired by similar lists by Rob Wiblin and Sam Bowman. There are many products I use and like, but I’ve only included items in this list if I feel like I have something interesting to say about them, or I believe they are unusual for some reason.

Meal Replacement Shakes (Huel) and Meal Deliveries (Purple Carrot)

Since the beginning of April, I’ve been experimenting with various meal replacement products like Soylent and Huel and also a meal delivery service called Purple Carrot. If you know me, that might surprise you, because I do enjoy cooking. The problem is that although I enjoy preparing the occasional special meal and trying out new recipes, I don’t enjoy the daily grind of shopping, cooking, and doing dishes. I’ve also been trying to track my calories and lose weight. Cooking makes this difficult, especially because I tend to cook by taste, only loosely following recipes.

So far I’ve adopted the following routine that works well for me:

How healthy is this? It’s probably less healthy than the healthiest possible diet but more healthy than what I would be eating otherwise. That last part is the important bit. At my current margin, I think it’s an improvement. It has also helped me with portion control and calorie counting and reduced my stress, all of which are good for my health.

Why did I choose Huel? I’ve only evaluated one other meal replacement, Soylent, and decided to go with Huel instead because the ingredient list was more recognizable. I don’t have strong evidence that this makes Huel healthier, but to give one example, I like that Huel uses oat flour for carbs rather than Soylent’s maltodextrin and isomaltulose. Huel also has more protein (29g vs 20g) and more flavors. On the other hand, Soylent is cheaper and smoother (Huel can be gritty, which I kind of like, but I’ve heard mixed reviews on this point).

Purple Carrot is a meal delivery service specializing in vegan meals. You can choose DIY meal kits like Blue Apron, or you can select from a rotating list of freshly prepared meals. I went with the prepared meals. They come in individual trays that I pop in the microwave and throw out when I’m done. No cleanup. I think they’re tasty, albeit occasionally under seasoned (that’s easily fixed). They’re expensive at around $10 per 400-600 calorie meal, but this is offset by how cheap Huel is. At the end of the day, it’s plausible that I’m saving money.

One last benefit of this arrangement is that almost all of my calories come from plants. I’ve been a vegetarian for years, but I’ve struggled to be vegan. I’m still not vegan, but I’m more vegan than I was before. Yay for marginal improvements. The exceptions are when I go out to restaurants (I’ll eat eggs and dairy) and snack on cheese. I haven’t done the calculations, but I hope this offsets some of the waste of shipping meals around and throwing out lots of plastic trays and cardboard.


Mattresses degrade over time. They’ll become less soft and indentations will start to form as the material becomes permanently compressed. Since this happens slowly, your sleep quality might degrade, but you might not think to blame it on your mattress. Or perhaps you’re like me and spent the first 30 years of your life sleeping on hand-me-down beds and never had the opportunity to select one that matches your taste.

Well, I bought a mattress and let me tell you: it’s great. I’ve had it for a couple of years now and it’s one product that has defied the hedonic treadmill. I get in bed each night and think to myself “Damn! This is a great mattress.” Somehow my new comfort level has not faded into the background.

So if you haven’t gotten a new mattress in a while, maybe you should! In terms of recommendations, my only advice is to go to a mattress store and try them out. Don’t buy an online mattress. There is enough variation among mattresses and individual tastes that it’s weird to expect one mattress to satisfy everyone or to think that you can predict which mattress you’ll like before trying it. I have some first-hand experience here. I bought an Amerisleep mattress which has a money-back guarantee. It was bad, so I got my money back. The next day a junk company (similar to 1-800-JUNK) came and took the mattress. I suspect the junk company delivered the nearly new mattress to a dump. I feel bad about this, so please learn from my mistake and make sure you try before you buy.

Text to speech

Modern text-to-speech technology has gotten really good. It’s good enough that sometimes it’s hard to tell that it’s not human. If you want to hear a sample, you can go play with Google’s text-to-speech service here.

Why am I so jazzed about this? Because it means I can consume text while doing the dishes, vacuuming, going for a walk, etc. Not only that, but with a bit of practice, I can do it at 2x speed, which makes it almost as fast, if not faster, than reading.

I’ve gotten so hooked on this technology that even when I’m reading, I will still use text-to-speech because I think both reading and listening simultaneously improves my focus and comprehension. This is especially helpful when I’m feeling tired or foggy.

So far, my favorite product for this is Microsoft’s Edge browser (hat tip to @finnhambly for this recommendation). It can read web pages in high-quality voices and highlights as it goes. There is an iOS version that works well, but I’ve heard that the Android version’s voices are worse. My only complaint is that it can’t read while the phone is locked, but it’s easy enough to leave the phone unlocked on the counter while I do chores.

Pocket, Voice Dream Reader, and iOS’s built-in screen reader also get honorable mentions, but many of these use last-generation text-to-speech technology so the voices don’t sound as natural.

I’ve also been happy to see that more and more news outlets have started to produce audio versions of their articles. The Economist uses real humans to do this. The Wall Street Journal has started using text-to-speech to do this. This makes subscriptions much more valuable because I’ll actually have time to consume them if they’re in audio form.


I was recently the victim of a hit-and-run. I was not injured and it was a pretty minor incident all things considered, but it left me with an $800 car repair bill. I managed to get the other driver’s license plate number, but when the police followed up, the other driver denied it, and there wasn’t enough damage to their car to prove it. I also did not get a good enough look at the driver to identify them.

Since then, I’ve installed a dashcam in my car. I suspect a recording of the incident would have gone a long way to get the other driver’s insurance to payout. With any luck, I’ll never get into another car accident, but if I do I’ll be ready. Other benefits include producing a positive externality. If a wreck ever happens in view of the camera, I can surrender the recording as evidence. I’ve also used it to review incidents when someone has honked at me to figure out what, if anything, I did wrong.

One possible risk is that if I ever do anything illegal with my car, there will be a recording of it. I’m not worried about this, though, because I’m a careful and defensive driver. Also, if I ever do cause a wreck, I hope I would do the right thing, and a recording of it might even act as a sort of commitment device to deter any temptation to lie during an emotional moment.

The dashcam was about $160 and was recommended to me by r/dashcams. It comes with a bunch of nice bells and whistles, like a rear camera and a GPS module that displays my current speed. That said, you don’t have to spend that much. There are many cheaper options (search Amazon), and I suspect any dashcam is better than no dashcam, so don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.

The installation itself was pretty easy. Most have the option of plugging into your cigarette lighter (do we still call it that?). You can also buy kits to wire it directly to your electrical system. One important tip is to be careful about not crossing the wires over your airbags. You don’t want an airbag deployment to turn the camera into a projectile. There are many videos on YouTube showing how to install them properly.