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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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Books I read in 2015: some data

Not counting the reams of comics I was consuming for the first half of the year I read a total of 24 books in 2015. Data for prior years is incomplete but I would guess this approaches a personal record; it’s a decent benchmark but I think I can do better.

Still, I thought it would be interesting to crunch the numbers from a few different perspectives. Firstly I feel like I’ve been reading more books than ever electronically, so I was curious about the ratio of different format types in which I read these books. Here’s how it broke out:

2015 book formats
Actually pretty balanced between paper and eBook; I read more physical books than I remembered. Also my lifelong inability to make it through entire audio books continues.

Next, I was sure I read more fiction than nonfiction but I was curious in what percentages. I thought it’d be appropriate to distinguish novels from short story collections as well.
2015 book types

Turns out I was again surprisingly balanced.

Lastly I started noticing that most of my favorite short story writers are female, so I thought I’d just check what percentage of books I read were written by women versus men.
2015 all authors

Not quite as high as I’d thought, though limiting the set to just fiction authors brings us closer to 50%.
2015 fiction authors

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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New Yorker stories: “Collectors” by Daniel Alarcón (July 29, 2013 issue)

Of the last ten New Yorker stories I’ve read, Daniel Alarcón’s “Collectors” might be my favorite. It hums along at a good pace, has several well-observed moments and effectively sketches an environment (a dangerous prison in Peru) that is believably familiar yet unique. The story tracks the lives of two cell co-habitants in Collectors prison: Rogelio is a simple-minded mechanic brought in for drug trafficking, while Henry is a playwright imprisoned on charges of terrorism for a play he wrote. The pseudo-climax of the story (of course the hardcore prisoners end up staging a play) stretches believability, but it’s the postscript that helps put things in perspective and leaves you wondering about how at least one of the characters fares after.

My only real quibble: “Collectors” is excerpted from Alarcón’s upcoming novel “At Night We Walk in Circles”. It always bums me out a little to read excerpts; Jhumpa Lahiri’s excellent short “Brotherly Love” from a few weeks ago was similarly extracted from her new novel. Commercial interests aside I’ll admit that these are effective in getting me re-interested in these writers but I always take a moment to mourn the weekly slot that could have gone to an original short. Can’t we at least have these well-known writers promote their novels with original material — e.g. a prequel short story incorporating the novel’s characters, or new scenes involving secondary characters? Even deleted scenes might be interesting…

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.

Book review: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information

This was a racy cover for 1983
One of my current projects is reading the complete works of Edward Tufte, one of the giants in information design. For better or worse I’ve decided to read the books in order of original publication date, and although The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, 2nd edition was originally published in 1983 most of its principles are still easily applicable today.

One great thing about the book is that it immediately conveys Tufte’s strong sense of history, providing a solid foundation in understanding the evolution of infographics through the past couple centuries. Tufte’s writing is crisp and direct, supported by page layouts that are simple and approachable. Most of his historical examples are interesting (including Charles Joseph Munard’s famous infographic of Napoleon’s (death) March), and he gets some good ribbing in when he presents his statistical studies on the complexity of the infographics found in modern (for the 80’s) print publications. Surprisingly the New York Times gets a lashing, though as anyone who peruses the Times website these days knows they’ve now got a ridiculously crackerjack infographics team that could very well represent the publication’s future.

Here are the two key principles I took away from this first volume:

  • Data should never lie. This means being absolutely accurate in representing visual proportions and relationships in your graphics, as well as eliminating any possible confusion in presentation: clearly labeling your data, avoiding harsh coloring/shading patterns, etc.
  • Give your audience more credit. What this really boils down to is that Tufte places a premium on conveying information efficiently, condemning modern graphics for being overly simplistic and bloated “chartjunk.” He goes to great lengths to measure each graphic’s efficiency with two key ratios: the first is the ratio of ink used for data points vs. ink that doesn’t represent actual data, and the second is a measure of how many data points are presented per square inch or square centimeter. His metrics and analysis are endearingly thorough.

These principles are clearly just good user interaction design, though it’s surprising how often they still get violated (I’m looking at you, USA Today). Overall, the book is a brisk and fun read. It’s even inspired me to create some of my own personal infographics, though I suspect most of my ideas won’t pack in quite the data density that Tufte would approve of.

Regardless, I’m really looking forward to cracking open the later books in his oeuvre to see how his design sense (and page layouts) evolve throughout the next few decades. Up next: 1990’s Envisioning Information.