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2017 in Review

Surprise, mafakkas! Despite having managed not to make a single post in 2017 I’m posting a year in review.

It goes without saying that 2017 was a roller coaster for everyone, which in my view makes it more important to highlight the good and meaningful. In addition to a wealth of personal lessons learned, 2017 was full of good stuff. I’ll update this list as more comes to me but here’s what I’ll remember most:

Moments:
Any and every time the movie club got together, wandering Savannah late at night with Honmun and Pauline, the total eclipse experience in North Carolina, watching Miyazaki movies with Felicia, any night I was able to sleep in rejuvenating suburban silence, hanging out with Chris and Honmun in New York, my first bike ride in the city, every dumpling, wonton, bowl of pho or baked good consumed in Flushing, the barbecue at Lewis Barbecue in Charleston, the barbecue at Charlie Vergos’ Rendezvous in Memphis, the hot chicken at Prince’s in Nashville, the cheese steak at Pat’s King of Steaks in Philly, every burrito consumed in the Bay Area, any seltzer water of any flavor anywhere, the mixed doubles and womens finals at the U.S. Open, the birthday dinner at Birds of a Feather, the rooftop view of the William Vale, jazz at St. Mazie, Game of Drones trivia nights, closing down the Hi-Fi Bar and Rosamunde, wandering the Presidio with Ben and Sofia, the ingenious experience design of “Then She Fell”, the family vacation in L.A., Halloween with the queen and reaper crew, Output/drink nights with Anthony B and the old coworkers, Flash Fiction Online and Daily Science Fiction, Isaac and Saeed getting their very own talk show on Buzzfeed, the launch of Jenny’s book, crawling Austin with Nicole and Karan, driving the U.S. highways and listening to “Train Dreams” with Karan on our epic 10-state road trip, our visit to Lexington, VA, streaming games with Ben, Traghaven Whiskey Pub and upstate hiking with Karan and Anthony, wandering Chicago and staying at The Gwen with Kishan, watching old Christmas party videos with Jordan, Scott and Rebecca, the backfield tandem of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, the improved play of Kyle Fuller and Vic Fangio’s defense, the strange Nikola Mirotic resurgence, Episode 6 of “Life is Strange”, Tiffany Hadish on SNL, Willem Dafoe in The “Florida Project”, Robin Wright in “Wonder Woman”, Cate Blanchett in “Thor: Ragnorak”, Laurie Metcalf in “Lady Bird”, Sally Hawkins in “The Shape of Water”, Daisy Ridley in “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”, the opening scene of “Baby Driver”, Lily James in “Baby Driver”, Gary Oldman in “Darkest Hour”, Saoirse Ronan, Saoirse Ronan, Saoirse Ronan.

Favorite movies seen:
Lady Bird, The Shape of Water, Get Out, Blade Runner: 2049, Spider-man: Homecoming, Beginners, Tokyo Story, Point Break, The Thin Blue Line, all Miyazakis watched

Favorite books read:
The Handmaid’s Tale, The Haunting of Hill House, The Demolished Man, Self-Help, Birds of America, Sour Heart, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, When Watched, Mastering Bitcoin, Brave New World, Understanding Exposure, The Everything Store

Favorite music:
“Fake Love” and “Get It Together” by Drake, pretty much all of Lorde’s “Melodrama” but in particular “Homemade Dynamite” and “Perfect Places”, “Los Ageless” and “New York” by St. Vincent

Favorite products:
Nintendo Switch, Canon G7 X, Nikon f/1.8G lens, Surface Pro 4, The Daily podcast, The Tim Ferriss Show podcast, Da Bears Brothers podcast, Calm, Things 3, Pocket Casts, Clash Royale, Hearthstone, mint chip Halo Top, coconut oil, Tesla Model X (not mine)

2015 in Review

My favorite product I bought last year was a dustbuster. No joke. And in a way, wasn’t the majority of 2015 about busting the dust of life? I wrote the most words, wrote the most code, took the most flights, took the most vacation and spent the most time in my hometown of my adult life. I went to Disneyland for the first time in two decades. I went to a feminist science fiction convention. I went to PAX in Seattle. I became an HBO subscriber. I went house-hunting in San Diego. I built a new computer in real life, and time machines in my writing life.

Still, time moves on. I’ve only managed to post a Best Of list two out of the past four years so let’s not get too precious about it. Here are some of my favorite things I remember from the year that was 2015:

Charlize Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road, the soundtrack of It Follows, Bill Hader and LeBron James in Trainwreck, anything and everything Amy Schumer,

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2013 in Review

Time is becoming downright relentless. One minute you’re compiling your list of favorite things from 2012, polishing it off, thinking it might even look fashionably forward to release the thing a few weeks after 2013 has begun and before you know it suddenly it’s 2014. That’s right, kids, that best of 2012 post never got published.

So to nip this thing in the bud of 2014 I present to you my favorite things from 2013 (that I’ve remembered in the past 48 hours):

Literally everything about Spike Jonze’s Her, Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, Greta Gerwig in Frances Ha, Amy Adams in anything, anything put out by Annapurna Pictures, the lighting and music of Inside Llewyn Davis, those first two long takes that open Before Midnight,

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The last 13 New Yorker stories, blurbed

No, I haven’t stopped reading them, dear reader. I just got behind. And while every week is still hit or miss there’ve been enough enjoyable moments to make me believe this a worthwhile exercise. What I don’t want this to come across as is some form of judgment on each writer (though I suppose that may be impossible), think of these more as notes on what worked and didn’t work for me personally while encountering each of these stories.

“Victory” by Yu Hua (August 26, 2013 issue) — A cheating husband always presents a potentially interesting scenario. Unfortunately I found the language (translated from the Chinese) too cold and distant to foster much empathy.

“The Colonel’s Daughter” by Robert Coover (September 2, 2013 issue) — A group of revolutionaries gathers to plot a coup. Loved the tone and atmosphere of this piece, as the characters size each other up like suspects in a game of Clue.

“The Heron” by Dorthe Nors (September 8, 2013 issue) — I actually appreciate when authors have the conviction to make their short stories short. Unfortunately this one, about a narrator’s thoughts at a park, just didn’t have enough meat on the bone to stay with me.

“By Fire” by Tahar Ben Jelloun (September 16, 2013 issue) — An interesting portrait of the life of an Arab street seller that takes a sudden political turn. For me the ending felt a little too jarring and pointed, not quite earned.

“Bad Dreams” by Tessa Hadley (September 23, 2013 issue) — A young child has a bad dream in which she finds the details of one of her favorite books have changed. The premise seemed a bit indulgent to me, but the consequences of the dream and what it foreshadows for the parents felt like the hint of a great story to be.

“The Breeze” by Joshua Ferris (September 30, 2013 issue) — A New York couple plays out several hypothetical date-night scenarios as they live through modern relationship ennui. This story frustrated me. A great premise, great setups that cause you to reflect on your own life and relationships, exceptionally confusing execution.

“I’m the Meat, You’re the Knife” by Paul Theroux (October 7, 2013 issue) — A grown man goes back to visit the bedside of a dying childhood teacher. I really appreciated the oblique angle in which this story approaches its subject matter, showing that there are never easy answers (or straightforward consequences) to childhood horrors.

“Katania” by Lara Vapnyar (October 14, 2013 issue) — Two girls growing up in Soviet Russia compare dolls and dollhouses, and by extension their lives. Vapnyar does a great job of putting you in the shoes (and shoebox dollhouses) of these girls; the ending just didn’t work for me though, and seems to completely undercut the realism that comes before it.

“The Bear Came Over the Mountain” by Alice Munro (October 21, 2013 issue) — This reprint (first published December 27, 1999) felt more like a valedictory lap for both The New Yorker and Munro immediately following her Nobel prize. It’s probably unfair to even evaluate this story along with the others shown here because it’s so damn good; within the first page it was clear that Munro simply writes on a different level.

“Samsa in Love” by Haruki Murakami (October 28, 2013 issue) — A cockroach awakens to find he is now Gregor Samsa. I count myself a huge Murakami fan, but even this (his first New Yorker story in a while) felt too Murakami-esque with not enough wrinkles to imply any kind of interesting growth. At what point should a writer be concerned about becoming a parody of himself?

“Weight Watchers” by Thomas McGuane (November 4, 2013 issue) — A construction worker helps his dad lose weight in order to reunite with his mom. This was one of my favorite stories from this group; its sheer joy of language shines through in the narrator’s colorful diction and idioms, and there’s a loopy world-weariness that seems honest and hard-won. I really need to read more from McGuane.

“Benji” by Chinelo Okparanta (November 11, 2013 issue) — A lonely rich man becomes involved with a married woman. I enjoyed the sly trickery this piece is constructed on; the existential question it ends with is food for thought as well.

“Find the Bad Guy” by Jeffrey Eugenides (November 18, 2013 issue) — A man approaches his old house and family, including his wife who has a restraining order against him. This was an incredibly fun read, with a main character who is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators but charms you anyway with his wit, hysterical voice and the exciting possibility that anything can happen in the next paragraph. I loved every minute.

Mad Men Power Rankings: Season 5, Episode 10 — “Christmas Waltz”

Should have known it was coming: a Lane Pryce feature episode. At least Don’s re-ascendancy seems complete. Bonus: having a Christmas episode in May isn’t nearly as odd as i thought it’d be.

10. Bert Cooper — Congrats, Bert! You made it into another episode. And you even got more screen time than Peggy.

9. Lane Pryce — It’s funny how you forget how much you don’t miss Lane Pryce until he turns up again. Why all the dramatic skulduggery for a character that matters so little?

8. Paul Kinsey — Never saw this coming. Hare Krishna’s one thing, but a Star Trek spec script!

7. Lakshmi Bennett — As conniving women go, kind of lukewarm. Still worth seeing Harry Crane get the time of his life though.

6. Harry Crane — Unclear whether Kinsey’s actually lucky to have him as a friend or not, but at least he gets the girl.

5. Megan Draper — Mostly on the periphery this time around, but good job calling Don out on his lack of enthusiasm for work. Plus: (post) modern theater!

4. Joan Harris — Seriously, with Don previously divorced, Roger divorcing again, Joan divorcing, Pete and even Harry falling off the wagon, is Mad Men actually a show about divorce? How many couples will make it to the end of this series intact?

3. Pete Campbell — Still not getting any love from his colleagues but at least he stays out of trouble this episode.

2. Roger Sterling — Love the Hawaiian shirt.

1. Don Draper — Nice handling of the Jaguar salesman, nice handholding of Joan at the bar, nice driving/stumbling home drunk and nice speech to the troops to close out this episode. Welcome back, Tiger.

Mad Men Power Rankings: Season 5, Episode 9 — “Dark Shadows”

The darkest, most cutthroat episode of the season thus far, with some good reversals. Welcome back to the rat race, folks. And how crackerjack is the modern-day zeitgeist timing on this episode, managing to air on the opening weekend of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows?

10. Henry Francis — Jeez, what does this man see in Betty? Props for somehow maintaining sanity.

9. Pete Campbell — Still fantasizing about Beth. Still hated by all the partners.

8. Bert Cooper — Another deus ex Cooper! Seriously, how much screen time is this guy contracted for?

7. Jane Sterling — Good job negotiating the new apartment, bad job negotiating Roger Sterling’s voraciousness.

6. Roger Sterling — Love to see that the old coyote’s still got some drive and ambition, even if he’s gotta leverage his wealth to stay relevant.

5. Michael Ginsberg — Gifted copywriter who knows ideas are a dime a dozen, and you gotta admire that gutsy confrontation with Don.

4. Betty Draper — Am I crazy in thinking the fat suit might actually be helping January Jones’s acting? As questionable as the Weight Watchers storyline is, it actually had me starting to feel sympathy…and then the writers remind us about that emotional childishness.

3. Don Draper — The edge is back, but why? All he needs to focus is to not have Megan in the office? Ok actually that does make a lot of sense.

2. Megan Draper — Barely outwits Betty, yet ultimately shows that the new Draper couple is an upgrade in emotional stability. Teaching Sally how to cry on command feels almost like Palpatine getting ahold of Anakin.

1. Sally Draper — Totally manipulated by Betty, totally holds her own against Megan, and nearly treated like an adult by Dad. Plus suddenly doing well in school? This character could seriously go anywhere; do we smell a Mad Women spinoff starring Sally Draper in the 70’s???

2011 in Review

You didn’t think I’d skip tradition, did you?

I’ll say this, 2011: you taught me a lot. And while the natural inclination is to shower you with nostalgic encomiums, the more truthful answer is that you were a fairly uneven year filled with highs and lows both visceral and numbing. There is, not for the first time, possibly too much to think about, but here are a few of my favorite things from the year that was 2011:

Anything written by David Foster Wallace, “Steve Jobs” by Walter Isaacson, “Bossypants” by Tina Fey, “Hard Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World” by Haruki Murakami, “100 Bullets”, “Batman: Year One”, the idea and spiritual philosophy behind Grantland, the first hour of Super 8, the cinematic styling and evocative soundtrack of Drive, Kristen Wiig in Bridesmaids, Michael Fassbender in X-Men: First Class, Rose Byrne and Emma Stone in anything, the “Life’s a Happy Song” number from The Muppets, “Upular” by Pogo, “So Insane” by Discovery, “Brand New Shoes” by She & Him, the entire Foster the People album, my iPhone 4S, my work iPad 2, my 3rd generation Kindle, Apple TV, any coconut water I found anywhere, Philz coffee, the Blue Bottle bar at work, Mister Lew’s Win Win Bar, the bookshare at the gym of the Opera Plaza, the magazine rack at Books Inc., the super rolls at Them Ky, brunch at Brenda’s, any macaroon served by anyone anywhere, any Off the Grid or Underground Market I made it to, Derrick Rose’s Adidas commercial, the relentless Tom Thibodeau, the new and improved Jay Cutler, the ingenious storytelling mechanics of “How I Met Your Mother”, the midseason 2 finale of “The Walking Dead”, “Lie to Me”, “Archer”, the killer supporting cast of “Parks & Recreation”, season 4 of “The Wire”, Zooey Deschanel in “New Girl”, Melissa McCarthy on “Saturday Night Live”, “Game of Thrones” nights at the former house of Brad and Ben and Motts, all Netflix streaming apps, Time magazine for iPad, the redesigned UI of Path, Comic Zeal, Kindle for iPad and iPhone, Plants vs. Zombies, Jetpack Joyride, the gorgeous production values of Castleville, Final Fantasy VII on PSP, Dragonvale, the vastly improved controls for Mass Effect 2, Mark pushing the button to open the NASDAQ on the day of the IPO, the Frank Lloyd Wright tour in Chicago w/Mom and Dad, biking along the Embarcadero with Caryn, New Year’s dinner courtesy of Seeyew and Ashley, the Super Bowl party at the Potrero house with a stunning number of rabid Packers fans, Cubs vs. Giants at the company suite, Red Door Cafe w/Ben and Steven, the single trivia night I attended, the Gun Store in Las Vegas, the Asian party house at Sundance, conversations in the car with Emilio, conversations with Kishan in San Francisco, random startup parties with Anthony, watching plays written by or starring friends or friends of friends, shooting zombies and Smuggler’s Cove runs with Ben, pizzas with Caryn, drinks with Liz, comics talk with Chris and Stephen, anticipating the baked good every morning in the cafeteria at work, any time I went snowboarding, Mars Bar with the team at work, Rebecca’s Christmas party, Cathy’s birthday dinner, Thanksgiving II at Sallie and Danielle’s, Henry and Melissa’s first dance at their wedding, launching my first iOS game, reuniting with Curtis and Vee on the dance floor of the holiday party, the incredibly long summer-in-the-fall-in-San-Francisco, the mild winter in Chicago, falling asleep at night listening to Steve Jobs interviews and speeches, the brief and wondrous life of Steve Jobs.

新年快乐!

2010 in Review

Yes, it’s been a while dear readers.  But no year would be complete without the traditional End of Year list to put it all in perspective.  Here are some of my favorite things from the fantastic, serendipitous year known as 2010:

Coke Zero, Season 4 of Mad Men, the anticipation of finding out what the signature sandwich at work was each day, any sandwich served by anyone anywhere, The Walking Dead, the brief and wondrous life of Caprica, the performances of Andrew Garfield & Rooney Mara & Justin Timberlake in The Social Network, the rich dialogue of True Grit, the team dinner in Vegas, any work party that I remember the ending of, the soundtrack of Inception, the extremely detailed and thought-out universe of Mass Effect, “Lisztomania” by Phoenix, “Horchata” by Vampire Weekend, “I’ll Try Anything Once” by The Strokes, Lady Gaga’s music video for “Telephone”, Ryan’s Prison for Bitches fanzine, Owl City, Betty White hosting Saturday Night Live, Sunday dinners with the roommates and assorted guests, whiskeys, old fashioneds, Blue Moons, any Chicago Bears offensive play that did not result in a Jay Culter sack or fumble or concussion, any play in which Devin Hester touched a football, Jim Harbaugh, Andrew Luck, the World Champion San Francisco Giants, Derrick Rose, the company suite at AT&T Park, EverNote, Foursquare, 750 Words, Flipboard, Instagr.am, Legacy of a Thousand Suns, the art and science of game design, Cityville, Sid Meier’s GDC keynote, Will Wright’s ridiculous GDC presentation, Julius Peppers, Michael Vick, my iPad 3G, Kanye’s Twitter account, Fashion for Writers, Signal vs. Noise, Olivia Wilde in Tron, staying up all night in New York for a get-together of three generations of my friends, drinks with Nita, Parkside drinks with coworkers, Connecticut Yankee drinks with roommates, the psychedelic Playa at night at Burning Man, the last 30 seconds of Black Swan, the last 10 minutes of Lost, the last four minutes of the USA vs. Algeria World Cup game, the animated sequence from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, lying on the beach all day without a care in the world in Tahoe, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu’s “Write the Future” commercial for Nike, Pop Chips, beers by the lake on the Wisconsin campus, beers by the lake in Eric’s hometown, Katanaya ramen, Perogi SF, Rebecca’s Christmas party, Breathless with Princess in NYC, deep sea fishing with Eric and Les and Eddy in San Diego, Thanksgiving dinner at Sallie and Danielle’s, Snow Crash, the first eight volumes of Fables, the first three volumes of 100 Bullets, the first two volumes of Blackjack, tennis sessions with Anthony and Clint, partying with Mitch at a GDC party, Alice’s birthday party, A Moveable Feast, Scotch Club at work, the Daily reunion with Jennie in SF, early morning phone calls with sis, the Wisconsin band at Whazzmaster’s wedding reception, the Cubs game with Dad & Wil, Seeyew being able to go to the Rose Bowl.

Thank you, 2010.

List – Top 5 Desert References

I’m headed to Black Rock City for the weekend.  It sounds like something out of a videogame but for the uninitiated (a group to which I suppose I still belong) it means I’m going to Burning Man.  It also means subsisting in the open Nevada desert for more than a couple days.  In honor of these terrifying conditions, I present to you a list of my Top 5 Desert Pop Culture References that I will take with me to BRC:

5. The English Patient — An epically long and (curiously) epically lauded movie about some dude who gets his face burned off in the desert.  Overall I remember feeling pretty lukewarm about this movie — didn’t love it as much as the critics, didn’t detest it as much as Elaine Benes — but the sheer length of time it took to watch burned lasting images of desert sandstorms and Kristin Scott Thomas into my mind forever.

4. “El Viaje Misterioso de Nuestro Jomer (The Mysterious Voyage of Homer)”, The Simpsons — In this classic episode Homer finds himself hallucinating in the desert after eating a lethal pepper at a chili cook-off.  This may have genuinely been my first clue to comprehending the subversive potential of mind-altering substances; personally I’m thinking heatstroke might have the same effect.

3. Star Wars — Who could forget the desert planet of Tatooine, with its Jawas, Sand People and double sunsets?  Given the propensity for kooky costumes at Burning Man, I fully expect every camp to look something like Mos Eisley.

2. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas — Thompson’s classic travelogue of Vegas and the surrounding Nevada desert, ostensibly reported entirely from an altered state of mind.  I think it’s going to be pretty difficult not to channel Thompson’s prose (or Johnny Depp’s narration) during all the madness I expect to see this weekend.

1. Frank Herbert’s Dune — I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished this book.  But from the bits that I read last year I understood quite viscerally what it meant to be on a desert planet where any exposure to the elements could spell immediate death.  People going outside on Arrakis have to wear special suits just to harvest their sweat, for Pete’s sake.  And let’s not get started about the giant sand worms.  Here’s hoping BRC isn’t anything at all like Arrakis, but if it is, I feel a little more prepared for it.

I feel certain I’ve missed some other glaringly obvious ones (Wrath of Khan was #6 if you’re curious, though I don’t even remember if there truly was a desert), but that’s all I’ve got right now.  Did I mention that at night the desert is supposed to turn to Hoth-like temperatures?

See you on the other side

I’m headed to Black Rock City for the weekend.  It sounds like something out of a videogame but for the uninitiated (a group in which I suppose I should still count myself) it means I’m going to Burning Man.  It also means subsisting in the open Nevada desert for more than a couple days.  In honor of these terrifying conditions, I present to you a list of my Top 5 Desert Pop Culture References that I will take with me to BRC:
5. The English Patient – An epically long and (curiously) epically lauded movie involving some dude who gets his face burned off in the desert.  Overall I remember feeling pretty lukewarm about this movie – didn’t love it as much as the critics, didn’t detest it as much as Elaine Bettis – but the sheer length of time it took to watch burned lasting images of desert sandstorms and Kristin Scott Thomas into my mind forever.
4. The Simpsons – In this classic episode Homer finds himself hallucinating in the desert after eating a lethal pepper at a chili cook-off.  This may have genuinely been my first clue to comprehending the subversive potential of mind-altering substances; personally I’m thinking heatstroke might have the same effect.
3. Star Wars – Who could forget the desert planet of Tatooine, with its Jawas, Sandmen and double sunsets?  Given the propensity for kooky costumes at Burning Man, I fully expect every camp to look something like Mos Eisley.
2. Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – H.S.’s classic travelogue of Vegas and the surrounding Nevada desert, ostensibly reported entirely from an altered state of mind.  I think it’s going to be pretty difficult not to channel Thompson’s prose (or Johnny Depp’s narration) during all the madness I expect to see this weekend.
1. Frank Herbert’s Dune – I have to confess that I haven’t actually finished this book.  But from the bits that I did read last year I understood quite viscerally what it meant to be on a desert planet where any exposure to the elements could spell immediate death.  People going outside have to wear special suits just to harvest their sweat, for Pete’s sake.  And let’s not get started about the giant sand worms.  Here’s hoping BRC isn’t anything at all like XXX, but if it is, I feel a little more prepared for it.
I feel certain I’ve missed some other glaringly obvious ones (Wrath of Khan was #6 if you’re curious, though I don’t even remember if there truly was a desert), but that’s all I’ve got right now.  See you on the other side