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2018 in Review

Welp, another year in the books. Posting this a little late after recovering from a whirlwind trip through India and Asia in January—more about that later (i.e. probably in 2019’s review 😅)—but I’m certainly not gonna pass up the opportunity to celebrate what turned out to be a great year indeed. It’s insane to think that this decade is almost over, that I’ve been living in New York for so long etc. etc. but time don’t stop so let’s get on to the things! I’ll do a separate post for 2018’s Top Movie rankings but otherwise here are some of my favorite things from 2018:

Celebrating Anthony’s birthday at least three times in January, the treasure trove of science fiction artifacts in the Museum of Pop in Seattle, the croissants at Arsicault Bakery in Scott’s neighborhood in San Francisco, the single burrito I had at La Taqueria this year, Alex and Amy’s breakfast wedding in Pasadena, packing up the Crystal Lake house with my family, seeing “In the Heights” at Prairie Ridge, driving an actual bulldozer in Vegas at Kishan’s bachelor party, performing best man duties at Kishan and Elizabeth’s picturesque Sedona wedding, the legacy of Anthony Bourdain, my three-day solo retreat at Bard with an extra large pizza, the Far Rockaway beach trip with Ashleigh and Mackenzie and crew, any visit to Spicy Village and/or the Up Stairs Bar with Jing, every afternoon or evening spent at the beautiful new Domino Park, streaming play-throughs of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and the Overcooked! games with Ben, Key Bar drinks with Son, every Ghibli Fest or MoMA movie screening I made it to, Michael Swanwick asking for a round of memorial applause for Gardner Dozois at his KGB reading, the brief and wondrous life of trivia nights at Golden Years, our second straight year of Honey Deuce cocktails at the U.S. Open, seeing the column of science fiction authors’ autographs at Powell’s Books in Portland, attending the New York premieres of “Eighth Grade” and “Mid90s” with Jenny, any sandwich from Faicco’s, the surreal moment when I found myself doing tequila shots with a well-known author and a famous actress, dinners at Sushi Noz and Decoy with Felicia, any karaoke or movie night with the Stanford writer crew, any dive bar in the Lower East Side, new Thanksgiving traditions in Philadelphia with Val, Thomas, Clarissa and Max (including my first Escape Room experience), the incredible stagecraft and special effects of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” Christmas at Mom and Dad’s new SoCal house with Aunt Crystal,

Olivia Colman in “The Favourite,” Lana Condor in “To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before,” Steven Yuen in “Burning,” Zoey Deutch in “Set It Up,” Michelle Yeoh and Awkwafina in “Crazy Rich Asians,” Raffey Cassidy in “Vox Lux”, the power of croquettes in “Shoplifters”, Michael B. Jordan and nearly everything else about “Black Panther,” Carrie Mulligan in “Wild Life,” Ethan Hawke in “First Reformed,” Cynthia Erivo in “Bad Times at the El Royale,” Viola Davis in “Widows,” the score for “First Man,” the score for “Annihilation,” the first half hour of “Sorry to Bother You,” the helicopter crash finale in “Mission: Impossible Fallout,”

the “Metalhead” episode of “Black Mirror,” Brian Tyree Henry and Lakeith Stanfield and all of “Atlanta” season 2, Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh in “Killing Eve,” most of “The Haunting of Hill House,” the workman-like precision of “Better Call Saul,” the short episode lengths of Sam Esmail’s “Homecoming,” the “Diner Lobster” sketch from SNL, “Aggretsuko,”

“What it Means When a Man Falls From the Sky” by Lesley Nneka Arimah, “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel” by Alexander Chee, any story by Karen Joy Fowler, “Triumph of the City” by Edward Glaeser, “Thrill Me”
by Benjamin Percy, “Stories of Your Life and Others” by Ted Chiang, “The Gone World” by Tom Sweterlitsch, the short stories of Gene Wolfe, this piece on how to be an artist by Jerry Saltz,

“Delicate” by Taylor Swift, “God’s Plan” by Drake, “Lost in Japan” by Shawn Mendes, Childish Gambino’s “This is America” video, “Nobody” by Mitski, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by Tears for Fears (you know why), this Pomplamoose cover of “Make Me Feel,” “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande,

this episode of “The Daily” about North and South Korea, The Dave Chang Show, the Cast Royale podcast, every postgame show of the newly renamed Chicago Audible podcast, the Coin Talk podcast, the Robin Hood app, Swift and Node.js courses on Udemy, working afternoons at any Spacious location,

Tom Brady’s “Tom Vs. Time” series on Facebook Watch, Doug Pederson’s play calling and the Philly Special in Super Bowl LII, this Cubs walk-off grand slam, any Chicago Bears play with Khalil Mack on the field, jet sweeps with Taylor Gabriel and Tarik Cohen and any other crazy offensive formation, any pass not overthrown by Mitchell Trubisky, Club Dub, Matt Nagy, Matt Nagy, Matt Nagy.

Thoughts on the Bears vs. Eagles playoff game

It sucked.

Honestly it still hurts to think about. We certainly didn’t play our best but this season sure as shit didn’t deserve to end the way many feared it might: on a missed Cody Parkey field goal. I spent most of this season trying to give Parkey the benefit of the doubt but it was clear that our kicking game was one of our major weaknesses.

What’s crazy to me is that if Parkey had actually made the kick it would have been the ultimate redemption story. What’s crazy to me is that icing the kicker actually worked for once–Parkey nailed the initial kick he tried right after the Eagles’ planned timeout. What’s crazy to me is that on the real kick the ball hits the upright at exactly the right angle and speed to fall onto the crossbar, at exactly the right angle and speed to bounce backwards and not forwards. What’s crazy to me is that replay eventually showed an Eagles player might have barely tipped the ball on the way up, which (infuriatingly) makes it harder to know how much Parkey’s to blame. And the final kicker (sorry, had to do it): Robbie Gould was at the game, watching from the stands. You can’t make this stuff up.

There were ample missed opportunities for the Bears–the three red zone trips which resulted only in field goals, the failed two point conversion, the second-to-last 4th quarter offensive possession that netted negative yards, the short punt and defensive failures that enabled the Eagles’ game-winning touchdown drive–but somehow at the end we still had a chance. With the game on the line Trubisky actually delivered a game-winning field goal drive; we just didn’t get the field goal.

Never has the single-elimination format of the NFL playoffs felt more cruel (though come to think of it, that playoff loss to the Panthers in 2006 felt terrible too). Having such a fun, fantastic season end so abruptly was a real gut punch. I watched the entire game streaming on my phone early in the morning from Shanghai, which only made it all the more surreal–though maybe a bit more bearable. And next year will only be tougher: we won’t have Vic Fangio, we’ll be playing a first place schedule and every team will have better scouting on us.

The silver lining is that this actually does feel like the start of something. The Bears significantly outperformed expectations this year, and we’ve got plenty of young talent that should only get better. Arrow trending up!

It’s on, George

I hadn’t really considered the schedule when the season started but the Bears are actually matched up against George R.R. Martin’s Jets this week.  George has been lamenting the fact that his rookie QB is prone to turnovers, which will hopefully play right into the hands of a Bears defense that has been out of sorts in our past two losses.  Simply put we’ve forgotten how to tackle and gave up too many big plays on both defense and special teams that have cost us victories against the Dolphins and the Patriots.  Trubisky is still showing an uncomfortable tendency to be INACCURATE AF but what’s more concerning is he continues to throw right into coverages when we’re in the red zone; opposing defenses have dropped more passes than they’ve intercepted, meaning his stats should actually be worse.  And yet, the offense kept us in the game against the Pats despite our other two phases performing poorly.

Our division is way too tough this year to think that losing these past two games won’t hurt us but I guess there is consolation in the fact that we’ve been close in every contest.  I like the culture that Nagy seems to be building so let’s hope the tough losses end up making the team more resilient down the road.

Ok, the Bears have potential

So after our Bears barely eked out a victory in game 3 against the lowly Arizona Cardinals I was actually feeling pretty apprehensive about the rest of the season.  Instead of showing growth Trubisky had easily his worst game this year—numerous inaccurate throws, multiple turnovers, and worst of all a complete inability to read a defense and improvise when a play breaks down.

And then game 4 happened.  The Bears demolished the Buccaneers 48-10, producing the most deliriously amazing first half of a Bears game I have ever seen. This was the performance they needed, not only for the fans but for themselves—almost every play Nagy called was delightfully unstoppable, and for the first time our staunch defense got to wreak havoc with a healthy lead.

No, I’m not crazy enough to think that throwing six touchdowns against a pretty weak defense proves Mitch is the real thing.  But in terms of a positive signal and a confidence-building experience it doesn’t get much better.  If the offense can continue to improve and everyone stays healthy we actually have a chance of being one of the more complete teams in the league.

But there’s a lot more football to play, obviously.  There will be more ups and downs.  And yes I’m worried the early bye week this year might interrupt our momentum but boy does it feel good to go into a bye with a blowout win.

Football is back

Inspired by the fact that George R.R. Martin blogs about the Giants and Jets on a regular basis, I’m gonna try to post some regular thoughts on the Bears week to week.

Our beloved Chicago Bears had more hype than normal going into this season—the hiring of an aggressive young coach in Matt Nagy, a slew of free agent signings, a decent new draft class—and then they went for broke and traded for Khalil Mack, one of the premiere defensive players in the league.  Against my better judgment I found myself impossibly hyped for this past Sunday’s prime time opener against our archrivals the Packers.

Deep down I was still just praying for a close game—I knew the Bears were probably too inexperienced across the board to win such a tough opener on the road—but when we led 17-0 at halftime and Aaron Rodgers had sustained what looked like a season-ending injury I was ready to believe anything: we’d scored a touchdown on our opening drive, there were more offensive playmakers on the field wearing Bears uniforms than I can ever remember seeing and Nagy’s creative play-calling had me literally laughing out loud in delight at times.  Most incredibly, Khalil Mack looked like he was worth twice the steep price we’d paid for him.

And then, as everyone knows, the bottom fell out.  Rodgers came back in the most dramatic fashion possible (literally playing on one leg) and the Packers won the game 24-23.  It was excruciating to witness but there were so many missed opportunities to close out this game that I do feel like it just wasn’t meant to be.  The innovative play-calling disappeared and we got way too conservative on offense.  The Packers adjusted to our pass rush.  Trubisky thought he was a running back instead of a quarterback.  Our defense couldn’t tackle any receiver after a catch, or catch any ball thrown directly at them.

But ultimately it’s okay.  We were closer than anyone thought we’d be in our first game of the year.  We’re in such a tough division that even making the playoffs will be tough, so what matters this year is that the team gets better every week.  Yes, it stings extra that the way we lost only adds to the Packers’ and Rodgers’ legacy.  Yes, I’m worried about the depth of Nagy’s playbook and the lack of experience overall.  Yes, the jury’s still out on Trubisky as a franchise quarterback.   But there were also enough encouraging moments to think the potential is real.  Let’s see what happens next week against the Seahawks.


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,

Read More →

Video games – some data

I did a rare thing and got Madden 25 for the Xbox 360 the day it came out this year, seduced by the idea of finally becoming a pro Madden player while my real life Chicago Bears would reach the inevitable Super Bowl championship that awaited them.

Cut to 10 weeks into the season: the actual Chicago Bears are 5-4, having just handed the division over to the Lions (you’re welcome, Detroit), while my virtual Bears haven’t even made it out of preseason. Sigh.

Scale intentionally not shown

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.


My thoughts on the Bears-Packers game

The quintessential play — clutch from the perspective of either team

With the Super Bowl almost upon us it’s been nearly two weeks since the Bears lost 21-14 to the Packers in the NFC championship. Still, it was only recently that I was able to watch the rest of the game (the second half unfolded while I was on a plane heading home from Sundance).  Here are my notes from the game, which I feel compelled to write down before I can put this surprising (mostly in a good way) Bears season to rest:

1. As excruciating as it was and despite the few key plays this game ultimately came down to, it’s clear to me in hindsight that the Bears weren’t fated to win this one.  Jay Cutler just didn’t have it on a day they absolutely needed him to, and it’s entirely possible that had he stayed in they wouldn’t have pulled as close as they did (third stringer Caleb Hanie might’ve actually still ended up on the field).

2.  That being said, once I finally saw the way the injury unfolded there was a part of me that came down on the side of the critics who believe Cutler should’ve stayed in.  I’ve been watching him fairly closely these past two seasons and I know for a fact he’s a tough guy; no quarterback takes as many sacks or hits as Cutler does, and yet anytime this guy runs the ball he still dives headfirst.  The guy is durable, and doesn’t shy away from contact.  So why is it that when I saw him standing on the sideline I still couldn’t help but think, That dude looks like he can still play. I know I’ve seen Ben Roethlisberger (who, by the way, is actually playing in his THIRD Super Bowl) play on what looked like half a leg before, and this just didn’t sit well with me.  I still think most of the flak Cutler ‘s getting is probably undeserved, but man did that look incriminating.

3. The Bears defense was amazing.  Yes, they allowed those first two touchdown drives but if you’d have told anyone in Chicago that they’d hold Aaron Rodgers scoreless for two and a half quarters, we’d have considered this game a lock.  Urlacher and Briggs might be my favorite duo in all of sports after Jordan and Scottie — they were everywhere.  The defense didn’t score points but it did get their takeaways that literally took away points.

4. Bears coaches did make some glaring mistakes.  Punting instead of kicking a 48 yard field goal in the first half.  Having Todd Collins higher than Caleb Hanie on the depth chart.  Subbing in Hanie right before the end of the 3rd quarter which (due to some obscure rule I still don’t really understand) meant that they would be unable to use either Cutler or Collins for the rest of the game if Hanie got injured.  Burning that last timeout to call an end-around that netted negative yards and set up the final interception.  I still respect Lovie Smith as a coach, and he still makes downright non-intuitive decisions in key situations.  I don’t know how to reconcile this.

5. Let’s talk about key plays that determined the game.  Urlacher’s interception prevented Green Bay from scoring on a key drive, but Rodgers’ subsequent tackle of Urlacher prevented the Bears from scoring what would have been a key touchdown.  If Caleb Hanie sees B.J. Raji drop into coverage and avoids the pick six, the Bears aren’t down another touchdown.  Yet if Hanie doesn’t make a clutch touch pass to Earl Bennett later on in the game, one which you could argue even a healthy Cutler might not have made that day, the Bears don’t pull within 21-14.

6. Poor cornerback Tim Jennings was targeted mercilessly by Green Bay, drawing I believe two pass interference penalties which also affected the game at key moments.  Ultimately a good strategy for the Packers.

7. The final Bears drive is storybook, all except for the ending.  The Bears overcome an intentional grounding penalty, a fourth down and several ridiculously shaky throws by Hanie to somehow advance the ball deep into Green Bay territory.  Then they call that last timeout and the rest is history.

So there you have it.  The Bears definitely got several breaks this season, but they made the most of them and ultimately overachieved.  It’s kind of crushing that victories can’t be bought with the faith of an entire city, but it was great while it lasted.  I’m a little apprehensive about what the future holds — the defense is aging, and while the offense should get better with time it’s hard to argue they’ll ever catch up to a young Packers team that still has plenty more upside — but that is why they play the games.

Thank you, Chicago Bears, for a great season.

Killing it: The Chicago Blackhawks

More euphoric moments like these for Chicago, please

I could totally do that thing where I wax poetic about how great a hockey team the Blackhawks are: how they swept a very good San Jose Sharks team in the playoffs this year, how their ridiculously good young players are only going to get better, how this may be the start of an awesome sports dynasty

But the simple truth is I just don’t understand hockey. And yes, even with my home team winning the Stanley Cup for the first time in my lifetime, it still wasn’t enough to get me to sit down and watch a single game. Maybe someday. All I know is, not only did they win that obscenely large chalice but they did it in killing fashion.

So congrats to the Blackhawks and my beloved city of Chicago. You killed it. I admire your dominance from afar.