What are some good alternative gifts to bring to the host of a dinner party besides wine?

  • Beer
  • Champagne
  • High-end liquor, especially scotch
  • Flowers
  • Dessert / baked goods (e.g., high-end cupcakes, brownies, pies)
  • High-end corkscrew (Rabbit)
  • DVDs
  • Coffee table book
  • Chocolates / candy
  • Ice cream

What are some of the best resources for someone beginning to learn Japanese?

Textbooks:

  • There are many good beginner Japanese textbooks. Japanese for Busy People has been mentioned, and personally I used Genki (which was excellent).
  • There is also Tae Kim's Guide to Learning Japanese available free online (http://www.guidetojapanese.org/l…). For a beginner, this is probably the best grammar guide available anywhere.

Other Resources:

  • I found the japanesepod101.com beginner podcasts useful when I was starting. They are fun, and you need to start listening to as much Japanese as possible.
  • There are many blogs aimed at teaching Japanese. Google around and subscribe to the ones you like.

The single most important resource for learning Japanese is Anki (http://ankisrs.net/). The sooner you start using Anki, the faster you will improve. It is free, there is an iphone version, and the documentation on the Anki webpage explains how it works.

What are some examples of "brand experiences"?

An example I hear quite often is the Starbucks "brand experience."  Many people will tell you that they and others don't particularly care for Starbucks' coffee.  Instead, they are purchasing the brand experience.  The chain is well known for its trendy, eclectic feel and experience.  When people purchase the product or hang out in a Starbucks location, they are engaging the experience of the brand.  That brand experience has value to them.
 
This is a common example and I have to think the assessment is true for many people.  I on other hand actually do like Starbucks' coffee and don't care about the brand experience.  So, it's not true for everyone.

What are some of the best price-value men's suits brands?

If you're looking for off-the-rack suits, the semiannual Barney's Warehouse sale (currently going on in NYC) has some great brands — Zegna, Hickey Freeman, Armani, etc. — that are discounted to the $500 – $600 range.  The fit won't be quite as perfect as a bespoke suit, but most guys can find at least a couple suits that look pretty good on them, and the quality of the fabric is amazing.

What are some good automated online user info verification services?

There are many such services available from both large and small vendors. The one you use will depend on your specific needs. For example, here are a few of the many whom offer verification products:

LexisNexis:
http://www.lexisnexis.com/risk/s…

EVS:
http://www.electronicverificatio…

Complinet:
http://www.complinet.com/connect…

Integrity:
http://integrity.aristotle.com/

Trufina;
http://www.trufina.com/for_busin…

What are some reputable manufacturers of 1911 pattern handguns?

Springfield Armory is probably the best mid-range manufacturer of mil spec today.  You can get a good Springfield in the $600-1000 range.

Dan Wesson (owned by CZ-USA) is my favorite high end but not overpriced manufacturer.  These are $800-1200.

Kimber is popular, and maybe a step up from Springfield, but some of their quality control is inconsistent, and they use Metal Injection Molded parts vs. forged, which for some parts is kind of unacceptable.

There are high end 1911s which I like better (Les Baer, Wilson Combat, Ed Brown, Nighthawk, …) but these are $2000+.

You could probably find a decent older 1911 around $500 in the form of a Rock Island which has been gunsmithed; I'd check gunbroker.   I have a couple of Taurus stainless 1911s also, which for the price ($550) are pretty nice, but not in the same class as the Dan Wesson or better.

What are some good examples of movies that have helped to challenge gender or racial stereotypes?

Much Ado About Nothing (1993)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0107…

This movie featured Denzel Washington as Don Pedro, and set a precedent of incredible actors being cast for their acting ability not for their minority status. More like this, please.

http://www.imdb.com/media/rm1915…

What are good strategies for getting rid of a bad habit?

You framed your question in the right way. Having a strategy is key. I take a lot of personal development challenges, and I've formed amazing habits and got rid of bad ones. Here's the system I used. I call it the "Steps" Method.

People almost never succeed in breaking a bad habit. We often hear  stories about people who quit smoking or drinking only to get back to  their old ways and start the process all over again.

Being addicted to your bad habit, whatever it might be, can enslave you.
Chronic obsession with a bad habit can rob you from being present –  you’ll be preoccupied with the memory of your bad habit to the detriment  of being in the now. And if it becomes compulsive, it will begin to  harm your productivity and also affect your self-esteem and sense of  self-worth.

You essentially become a prisoner of your bad habit.

Read on.

(Reference:

  1. If you want to form a new *good* habit in 21 days, see this post.
  2. If you want to recover from “habit-relapse,” see this post.
  3. If you want to dig into “unconscious habits,” and fix them, see this post.
  4. If you want to find out when is the best time of the day to work on new habits, see this post.)

1. Why Breaking a Bad Habit is Hard?
Breaking bad habits, especially the deeply entrenched kind, is hard  because our brain has come to identify them as necessary means for  survival.

For example, if you’re addicted to nicotine, and you’ve been exposed  to it long enough to reinforce its pleasurable effects, your brain will,  at some point, come to see that stimulus as “normal” and even as a  necessary part of its proper functioning.
And whenever this stimulus is not available, your brain will react.  The stronger the addiction, the stronger and the more intense the  cravings are going to be. In fact, when you’re badly addicted to your  habit, your brain will send signals to your body and demand that  substance or behavior with the same intensity as it would when it comes  to your most fundamental biological needs like going to the bathroom,  drinking water and eating.

Your environmental “cues” also play an important part in reinforcing  bad habits. The items, places, and people that come with the habit  trigger the desire in you to engage in your habit. Understanding your  triggers and focusing on how to respond to them is a great step in the  right direction, but you should begin slowly.

2. Don’t Go Cold Turkey
The most common and the most ineffective way to break a bad habit is  to go cold turkey. The effects of completely eliminating a source of  pleasure and denying your brain access to it will create massive  resistance. You will experience intense cravings and you brain will  pretty much go nuts on you.

If you’re serious about breaking a habit, then you must take it slow.  You have to recognize that breaking bad habits is hard but if you don’t  make drastic changes, you can break a bad habit in a month or two.

3. Two Steps Forward, One Step Backwards Strategy
Day 1: The first day of this method starts with you  performing the bad habit as you usually would. Pay particular attention  to your triggers and to what extent they’re influencing your desire to  engage in the bad habit.
Day 2: You’re not allowed to perform the bad habit  on this day regardless of how intensely you think you need it. You must  abstain from it at all costs. Occupy yourself with other activities and  try to distract yourself from focusing on the pleasurable memory of the  habit and from the triggers.
Day 3: You must engage in the bad habit on this day  even if you feel you can go longer. This is an important part of the  process because we want to condition your brain to accept “loss” of the  stimulus. And as I mentioned earlier, if you go cold turkey and  eliminate a pleasure source indefinitely, you will experience intense  cravings and symptoms of “withdrawal”.
Days 4 and day 5: you’re not allowed to engage in  the habit on this day and, again, you should abstain from the habit at  all costs – but with the knowledge that you will be able to engage in it  the next day.
Day 6: You’re free to engage in the habit, but more importantly, you must engage with it even if you feel like you can go longer.
Days 7, 8, 9: Abstain.
Day 10: Must Engage.
Days 11, 12, 13, and 14: Abstain.
You see the pattern…

You will keep going through this process until you’re able to go for  seven full days without performing your bad habit. Once you’ve reached  that goal, you must practice your negative habit on the following day and only for that day. This is the first phase.

The second phase is a weekly phase. Now  that you’ve been able to go for a full week without the bad habit, you  now have to go for two weeks. And when you pass, you must engage in your  bad habit the day after.

After you’ve engaged in your habit for that day, it’s time to go for  three weeks. When you pass, you have to engage in your habit again… and  so and so forth until you’re able to go for 2 full months without the  habit.

Once you’re able to go for 2 full months without the habit, you’re  pretty much able to resist it without having to re-engage in it at any  point in the future. Your finally have power over your bad habit and  you’ve successfully conditioned your brain to live without it.

For an alternative approach, see my post on the Art of Changing Bad Habits.

4. Why it Works?
This process works because it allows you to effectively counter the  withdrawal symptoms that entice you to re-engage in the behavior. It  does that by slowly de-conditioning your brain to let go of the bad  stimulus.

Moreover, following this process phase by phase allows you to build a  string of successful attempts and allow you to gain more strength and  momentum. Doing so will empower you to keep going through the process  and to continue making consistent gradual progress. In fact, after  abstaining for 2 full weeks from the bad habit, re-engaging in it on the  day after won’t feel like much of a reward. You might even experience  unpleasant effects when you perform the bad habit. This is so because  the real reward has become the length of time you’ve been able to  abstain from the bad habit. The reward is not the bad habit itself  anymore.

This approach also works better because you won’t be putting up a  resistance against your bad habit. You’re not forcing your brain to  adapt to “no stimulus” overnight. You’re allowing your brain to grow out  your bad habit gradually and you’re assuring it that it will continue  to have access to the bad habit as long as it abstains for a short  period of time. By expecting the reward, the resistance to change will  decrease and that will help you get rid of that habit easier and faster.