OCZ Vertex 4
Buying an SSD is the best computer upgrade I've ever made. It's hard to overstate how much an SSD can improve your everyday computing experience. My computer was fast before I made the plunge and installed an OCZ Vertex 4 this summer, but I didn't realize how much my hard drive--a SATA 3 Western Digital Caviar Black, which is about as fast as you can get before stepping up to a 10,000 RPM drive--was holding me back. As my OS drive, the Western Digital was constantly making noise. With an SSD installed, the tower barely makes a sound.
A friend convinced me to buy the OCZ Vertex 4 after bragging about how fast it was. He was right--after a couple firmware patches, the Vertex 4 absolutely flies, and tops Anandtech's charts for write speeds. I love how quickly programs open and how fast games load, but the SSD has also changed how I use my computer. Windows boots so quickly, I don't mind shutting the system down every night and starting it up again in the morning.
With SSD prices falling to below $1 per gigabyte in 2012, I think it's the right time to buy in. Nathan recommends the Samsung 840, which is a bit cheaper than the OCZ Vertex 4 and faster on read speeds. At $180 - $210 for a 256 GB SSD, you can't go wrong with either choice.
I switched to an iPhone 5 from a two-year-old EVO 4G in September. I had two major reservations switching from Android to iOS: Losing Google Maps, and losing Google Music. Maps finally made its triumphant return to iOS in December, but Google Music doesn't seem like it'll get a dedicated iPhone app anytime soon. Since I spent weeks uploading my entire music library to Google's servers and was spoiled by the ability to stream any song I owned, I was determined to find a third-party alternative that would do the job.
The first app I tried was gMusic, and it was awful. Streaming was stuttery. Clean MP3s randomly popped and buzzed with annoying artifacts. The app regularly crashed and never seemed to download the songs I queued up for offline playback. So I tried out Melodies, and the experience has been dramatically better. There's a free, ad-supported version, but I paid a buck for the pro version. Melodies has a nice interface (it should be instantly familiar for anyone who uses Apple's default Music app), streams reliably, and makes it easy to save songs for offline playback.
I do have one complaint: Offline music is arranged in one big playlist, which isn't ideal if you prefer to listen to whole albums in the proper song order. I get around that problem by looking at the list, then switching to the album list and finding the album there. It takes an extra 30 seconds or so, which is a price I'm willing to pay to keep using Google Music.
For the last couple years my friends and I have been using Mumble for voice chat while playing PC games. We still use it regularly, even though we've kicked the League of Legends habit. When one of our group moved and lost his blazing fast Verizon FIOS connection, I offered to host our Murmur server, and DynDNS has been a big help there.
DynDNS lets you register a couple temporary hostnames and tie them to IP addresses. In this case, I registered my IP, set up a bit of port forwarding on my router and gave my friends the hostname for my server. They can connect to that without needing my IP address--it's easier to have a simple domain name than a 10 digit string. I have to confirm the hostname is active once a month or so, but DynDNS sends out a helpful email, and it only takes about two minutes to relist the hostname if I forget and let it expire.
Cards Against Humanity
If you're a Tested or Giant Bomb fan, you probably know all about this party game for horrible people. Nothing has produced more laughs for me in the entirety of 2012 than this game, and I think it's a must-own for anyone with a big group of friends to play with.
Three elements combine to make Cards Against Humanity fun and hilarious. First, there's the inherent humor and shock value of the cards themselves. Sometimes the phrasing of a card imbues it with humor value beyond the noun it's describing, like "BATMAN!" (note the exclamation point) or "Soup that is too hot." Others are sure-fire crowd pleasers thanks to pure obscenity. The second element is the near-infinite combinability of the cards, which keeps the game interesting, at least for me, even after there are no surprises left in the deck. Finally, there's the group you're playing with, and their willingness to be as raunchy as possible, laugh easily, and put some verve into their delivery.
Some people think Cards Against Humanity grows stale after a few games, but I think they're simply focusing too much on the shock value of the cards and not enough on the variety of combinations and the crowd playing the game. Like most social games, you get as much out of CAH as you put into it. And yeah, it helps if everyone is drinking.