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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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Podcast Review: This Week in Startups

This Week in Startups

The opening title card of Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid reads, “Most of what follows is true.”  The same could be said for the content of entrepreneur Jason Calacanis’s weekly video/audio podcast, This Week in Startups (or TWiST, as aggressively abbreviated throughout the show).  Calacanis’s contract with his audience is that he will always speak his mind, and he will usually (but not always) be right.

Based on the episodes I’ve seen thus far, it’s hard to disagree.  In this post-postmodern age of self promotion, where every individual is a self-branded social marketing expert (expert in the marketing of ME), a camera can be placed in front of anyone. The results are hit or miss.  TWiST succeeds primarily through its honesty: it’s clear that every opinion and anecdote the host provides is passionate, unrehearsed, and (as promised) usually insightful.  The show’s unvarnished production values lend to this authenticity — for a podcast that actually has sponsors and claims to run in the black, there’s a remarkably consistent lack of visible producing involved: transitions to phone callers, video and sound cues are nearly always muffed, and expletives are rarely edited out despite references to a human tape logger that exists solely for this purpose.  Where this comes in most unwieldy is in each show’s running length: sessions can range from a little over an hour to just over two and a half hours.  There’s something to admire in the sheer audacity of this fact, but on the whole one senses the same content could be delivered in half the time; sometimes less really is the same.

Episode 13 features many of the show’s recurring segments: there’s “Ask Jason,”  reminiscent of the lightning round on Jim Cramer’s “Mad Money” where entrepreneurs call in to get Calacanis’s thoughts on their ideas; an interview with a featured entrepreneur (in this case Matt Mickiewicz, founder of SitePoint and 99designs); a segment called “The News,” where again Calacanis provides his off-the-cuff reactions to tech news stories; “The Deadpool,” where recently destructed startups are announced; and “Homework,” which appears to be an audio bookclub/marketing segment for Audible.com.

Calacanis’s personality and his ability to tell an engaging story are clearly the driving force behind the show — tangents are prone to superfluous name-dropping or backdoor bragging, but they’re usually more entertaining than not, ranging from a hilarious gift for hyperbole (“An iPhone costs what now, seventy thousand dollars a month?”) to comically vicious vendettas (pity Jimmy Wales, who had the poor misfortune to launch a competing product to Calacanis’s own Mahalo).  Calacanis’s competitive East Coast personality is a surprisingly endearing love-hate proposition, though it’s hard to envision him occupying the same room as a Mark Cuban, one of his current investors.  (For a good proxy, check out Episode 14 for some fascinating repartee between Calacanis and none other than Michael Arrington.)

Overall, the show could use the general tightening up that comes with practice.  One hopes that Calacanis will eventually be able to quarterback the episodes to a more consistent length and content, both live and in the editing room.  Guest interviews can probably follow a more standard template — perhaps prototypical of this space, Matt Mickiewicz proves an amiable but somewhat reticent fellow, requiring Calacanis to shoulder most of the work.  The number of segments could also be cut or follow a rotating schedule.

Still, Calacanis’s heart is in the right place — his fierce desire to win, his belief in the middle class work ethic and his numerous marketing ploys to boost interest and traffic for himself and his sponsors — are all worthy of admiration.  There’s also a generosity of spirit that can’t be faked; even in his harsher criticisms of pitches (during a new “Shark Tank” segment, where callers literally pitch their startup ideas to get feedback) it’s clear that he’s willing to stay open-minded and encouraging.

There’s no telling how long this train ride will last, but This Week in Startups would do well to stay true to its core passion and truths — it offers a fascinating viewpoint on the current zeitgeist of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.