My New Favorite Things

Here’s my first annual list of great things that were new to me in 2013 – and also Arsenal. They are in no particular order. There were other great things. I forgot them.

  • Theater Is EvilMusic – Amanda Palmer’s crowd-sourced album. Honestly, I can’t remember whether I started listening last fall or after the first of the year. It was only later that I discovered she had an album of ukelele covers of Radiohead songs.
  • Judge John HodgmanPodcast – Podcasts are on my short list of things poised to get much bigger. This is one of the best.
  • Flophouse PodcastPodcast – One of the few things that makes me laugh out loud involuntarily, even with headphones and even if I’m around other people and should be quiet. Not safe for work, family, or anywhere really. Let’s just say it’s totally unsafe.
  • Anything with John Siracusa – A cheat, but John is awesome, so ...
  • The WirecutterWebsite – Now see, I’m sure I was first turned on to this site in 2012, but I don’t remember using it much until this year. Anyway, this is the review site for me. It just tells you flat out what it thinks is the best product in a given category. The best TV, the best projector, the best wireless router, the best juicer, the best standing desk, the best remote, you get the idea. They recently launched The Sweethome, which is the same concept but for home supplies.
  • Upstream Color – Movie – Unbelievably great film. Immediately earned a place next to Shutter Island. Just watch it on iTunes or Netflix. There are many interesting articles on the film, but do yourself a favor and see it before reading anything.
  • LeviathanMovie – The best depiction of the otherworldliness of our world I’ve seen in awhile. (I guess Gravity, which was amazing for some of the same reasons, should be mentioned here.) It is, at least in form, a documentary set on board several New England commercial fishing vessels. It is so disorienting that I felt like I was seeing this human activity from the perspective of a non-human. Like seeing ourselves as we really are, for the first time. Worth seeing on a large screen but not easy viewing.
  • Yeezus (asterisk) – Music – Asterisk because, well, I just don’t completely understand it. If it means what I think it means, it’s outrageously great. If it means what it says, not so much. Let’s be clear though: the sonic achievement here is undeniable. I pretty much agree with most of Lou Reed’s review, which is how I was first turned on to it. As Reed wrote: “There are moments of supreme beauty and greatness on this record, and then some of it is the same old shit.” But there’s more to it than that. I Am a God, in particular, suggests toward its end at an understanding that the hormonally driven understanding of life, living as the sequelae of the sexual urge, leads inevitably to a profound terror. But if the work as a whole doesn’t rise above its literal content – sex, money, power, women as units of currency in a world of lizard-brained men – it’s hard for me to enjoy it. And yet, it’s terrific, even if it’s not more than profane dadaism.
  • AmokMusic – It’s Thom Yorke doing new and interesting things, so obviously.
  • Max Richter’s re-composition of Vivaldi’s Four SeasonsMusic – Beautiful. Even if you don’t like Vivaldi, do yourself the favor of listening to the first fifteen minutes. Here’s a live performance.
  • Kerbal Space ProgramVideogame – Now here is something new. It’s a videogame in which you assemble rockets and explore a solar system. But not in a fake videogame way – no, using real orbital mechanics. You’ll learn what delta-v is, when you should burn at periapsis. You’ll feel elated at mastering a lunar mission and landing your little Kerbal astronaut(s) on another world. You’ll find unexpected joy in orbital rendezvous and refueling. You’ll grasp immediately the untold promise of educating kids (and ourselves!) with the next iteration of knowledge container, the escape of our worldly understanding from thinly sliced bits of amalgamated tree residue.
  • Blood MeridianBook – Kind of a cheat, because I’m in the middle of it now. I’ve never read Cormack McCarthy. But I was profoundly affected on seeing The Road. I watched it alone in my dark basement, and all I wanted to do after finishing was to go into the sunshine and hug my son. (Amazon link, but I’m not taking an affiliate cut.)
  • Arsenal – Sporting Franchise – A serious cheat, because I’ve been a fan since way back in ... 2009? Better late than never.
  • GlassboardApp and Web Service – Also not new to me in 2013. But I first put it into real use earlier this year. This app is like a private Facebook, with status updates, comments, and file sharing. You can make a board and invite others. You all see everything on the board, but no one else does. Great idea, and I hope they weather the transition in ownership, on which I hope to hear news soon.
  • Ok, one bit of self-promotion ... ok, maybe two – though I get nothing tangible for either. This book, to which I contributed a chapter I actually like (maybe I’m the only one), is now on sale from Cambridge University Press and should go on sale at Amazon soon (where you can even now look inside and see my opening pages). Who among us is uninterested in a $100 book about the public-private distinction in law? No one!
  • And, finally, an interesting Facebook discussion led to an idea that led to an article that led to a collaboration that led to this piece on gun protests in Slate, authored by the inestimably generous Dahlia Lithwick and me.

That’s all I remember. I’m sure there was much, much more. A friend reminded me today that I used to make mix tapes in middle school. So, I’ll leave it with a playlist I made.