2014 in Review: Podcasts

"Headphones Cat" by Pete Prodoehl
“Headphones Cat” by Pete Prodoehl (cc licensed https://www.flickr.com/photos/raster/3889896822)

I listen to a lot of podcasts.  I’m planning to scale it back a bit, but here are the podcasts I listen to, divided up by how frequently I listen to them:

Exhaustively (I listen to every episode of these podcasts – they’re the first to get played):

  • Judge John Hodgman (weekly)
  • Jordan Jesse Go (weekly)
  • Wham Bam Pow (weekly)
  • International Waters (bi-weekly)
  • The Board Game Show (bi-monthly)

Thoroughly (I might miss an episode here or there, but I catch most of these):

  • Wait Wait … Don’t Tell me (weekly)
  • Ask Me Another (weekly)
  • Throwing Shade (weekly)
  • Sawbones (weekly)
  • Planet Money (weekly)
  • TL;DR (weekly)

Often (I listen to these regularly, but don’t worry or backtrack if I miss one):

  • On the Media (weekly)

As the Whim Takes Me (I look through the backlog of these and pick some occasionally, randomly):

  • The Memory Palace (monthly)
  • The Moth (weekly)
  • WTF with Marc Maron (weekly)

Nostalgically (Podcasts I used to listen to exhaustively that have slipped down my queue but I want to get back to):

  • This American Life (weekly)
  • RadioLab (weekly)

Aspirationally (Pocasts I like, I wish I listened to more often, so I keep them on the iPod):

  • Topics (weekly)
  • Welcome to Night Vale (weekly)

Without category (These podcasts were not easily put into one of the other categories)

  • Serial (I listened to all of these, but it’s on hiatus now)

New to the Family (I used this opportunity to add a few podcasts to the mix to see if I enjoy them.  Check back next year to see if these are still here.)

  • The Adventure Zone
  • Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin
  • Lady to Lady
  • Bullseye with Jesse Thorn
  • Reply All
  • Sklarbro Country
  • StartUp Podcast

2014 in Review: Comics

Here are the four (six) best comics I read this year, in no particular order:

Revival Vol 1 Revival, Volume 1-3 by Tim Seeley, Mike Norton, et al
A smart, interesting zombie comic in which the zombies are just people who have woken up (ala The Returned) but are also dead and, well, off in some way.  All three volumes so far are GREAT.
Mind mgmt Mind Mgmt, Volume 1: The Manager by Matt Kindt
A creepy SF tale about a government organization that trains people in mass control — not completely dissimilar from Lexicon, except in this comic it’s a supernatural power that the individuals are honing.  Also, cool indie art.
Fatale, vol 1 Fatale, Volume 1 by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
A Lovecraftian hard boiled tale with an intoxicating lady and terrible things hiding in the shadows.  Creepy and wonderful.
incognito Incognito: The Classified Edition by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
When a supervillain joins the witness protection program, he bums around like Henry Hill for a while, but then he starts using his superpowers to fight for good and things get all weird and wild.
The Lindburgh Child The Lindburgh Child by Rick Geary
Perhaps the best of his treasuries so far, this detailed account of the kidnapping and murder of the Lindburgh baby discusses both the crime and its aftermath, and helps us ask whether the man they caught and convicted was really the man who did the deed.

2014 in Review: Music

This is the hardest review post to write, as I often don’t pay strict attention to the music I ingest, even as I’m listening to it.  Nonetheless, here are some notes about music this year.

Pokey LaFarge
Pokey LaFarge by Bill Streeter (cc-licensed)

New albums (by month acquired):

  • The White Stripes, The White Stripes
  • Passenger, All the Little Lights
  • Katy Perry, Prism
  • Pete Seeger, American Favorite Ballads (five songs a month)
  • Jonathan Coulton, Code Monkey Save World
  • Cheap Trick, The Essential Cheap Trick
  • Greg Brown, Hymns to What is Left
  • fun., Aim and Ignite
  • The Langer’s Ball, Ships are Sailing
  • Missy Higgins, The Ol’ Razzle Dazzle
  • Reel Big Fish, Cheer Up!
  • Young Statues, Young Statues
  • Tim Minchin, Tim Minchin and the Heritage Orchestra
  • The Pogues, Hell’s Ditch
  • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, Are We Not Men? We Are Diva!
  • John Halloway, In Celebration: 25 Years of Naxos
  • Great Big Sea, Fortune’s Favour
  • Gaelic Storm, Chicken Boxer
  • The Wayfarers, Music from Around the World – Australia
  • Paul and Storm, Ball Pit
  • Tom Waits, Rain Dogs
  • Dropkick Murphys, Signed and Sealed in Blood
  • Primus, Pork Soda
  • J. Mascis, Tied to a Star
  • Garfunkel and Oates, Music Songs
  • Pokey LaFarge, Riverboat Soul
  • u2, Songs of Innocence
  • The Mountain Goats, The Coroner’s Gambit
  • The Real McKenzies, Off the Leash
  • Various collections and compilations

Notable songs:

  • Passenger, “The Wrong Direction”
  • Avicii, “Hey Brother”
  • fun. “Walking the Dog”
  • The Langer’s Ball, “The Titanic”
  • Missy Higgins, “Hello Hello”
  • Reel Big Fish, “A Little Doubt Goes a Long Way”
  • Bearcat, “The Nothing”
  • Tim Minchin, “Thank You God”
  • The Pogues, “Rain Street”
  • Me First and the Gimme Gimmes, “My Heart Will Go On”
  • The Taxpayers, “Medicines”
  • Great Big Sea, “Oh Yeah”
  • Gaelic Storm, “My Lucky Day”
  • Paul and Storm, “Write Like the Wind”
  • Tom Waits, “Big Black Mariah”
  • Dropkick Murphys, “Don’t Tear Us Apart”
  • Pokey LaFarge, “La La Blues”
  • The Real McKenzies, “Old Becomes New”

Most played:  “Thrift Shop” by Macklemore.  “I’m gonna take your grandpa’s style”  is still hilarious.

My Jam of the Year: “Don’t Let the Bastards Grind You Down” by The Toasters




2014 in Review: Films

I don’t keep track of movies quite as closely as other media that I view, but I do try to keep track.  Of the roughly 35 movies I watched this year, here are my top four:

The LEGO movie Captain America Winter Soldier Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy Edge of Tomorrow

The LEGO Movie
Far better than you could hope it would be, The LEGO movie perfectly captured both the pop-culture zeitgeist that the king of building toy sets has, and the spirit of the builder/explorer mentality encouraged by the blocks themselves.  Now if only it had been a bit more gender neutral and racially diverse, it would have been perfect.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
While the last Captain America movie was okay, this one had a legit and interesting plot, great set pieces, and a good role for more than one woman.  There was genuine camaraderie, and this film is the lynchpin of the next round of the MARVEL universe.  Very entertaining.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
This film captures the feeling of a 1970s spy thriller, with lots of quiet moments, people doing things with subtlety that should have significant consequences later, and dudes with wide ties.  Also, the delicate and taciturn acting Oldman does in this film should finally convince EVERYONE that he’s a great actor.
(see also: Spies and psychics (double movie review) )

Edge of Tomorrow
Hampered by a summer full of bombast and a stupid name, this was the best action movie you didn’t see last year.  Tom Cruise plays self-effacing well at the beginning (picture the character from Rainman in the military) and Emily Blunt is great. If only the ending had been slightly better, it would have been perfect.  I also like the way they’ve taken the tagline and basically re-titled the movie Live. Die. Repeat.

Here are a couple more I will call “memorable” because they’re likely to come up again in various ways for me, but I wouldn’t quite call them “top” movies:

Snowpiercer Deadgirl Big Hero 6

A ridiculous premise with excellent action set-pieces and cartoonishly wonderful over-acting, Snowpiercer is a love-it or hate-it movie.  Its ending is a bit weird (reminding me of The Matrix Reloaded), but you’ll be glad you saw it.  Probably.  Also, features the best fish-gutting sequence captured on film.  And all that axe-fighting!

A disturbing zombie movie I’d hesitate to recommend to anyone, Deadgirl is a haunting meditation on the depravity of human beings, particularly teenage boys.
(see also: The psychopathy of teenage boys: Deadgirl and Consent, entitlement, and zombies (Deadgirl, part 2) )

Big Hero 6
Full of love, pathos, learning, and excitement, Big Hero 6 follows the PIXAR formula almost too well.  It’s a great movie that you’ll be glad you saw.  My only complaint is that there’s not much you wouldn’t have expected from it by watching the trailer.  A great steak is still, most of the time, a steak.  PiXAR has, in the past, made movies that looked like they were going to be steak, but then turned out to be a surf-and-turf.

Tweets from 2014-12-21 to 2014-12-27

2014 in Review: Books

Top books I read in 2014 — Listed roughly in order of “favorite,” though this is not precise.

Fiction (click the image to read my review):

Southern Gods Southern Gods by James Horner Jacobs
A creepy, Lovecraftian tale buried in the Louisiana Bayou.  Startling and amazing.
The Girl with All the Gifts The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
Deeply heartfelt, strongly-imagined tale of the zombie apocalypse as seen through a little girl’s eyes.
Lexicon by Max Barry Lexicon by Max Barry
A science fiction novel about the manipulative power of language.  Of a piece with Snow Crash and Pontypool Changes Everything.(See “Hacking the Brain Stem” parts one, two, and three)
The Last Policeman The Last Policeman by Ben Winters
A murder mystery with a heavy dose of meditation on life and living in a world about to end.
The Grand Hotel by Scott Kenemore The Grand Hotel by Scott Kenemore
A ghost story anthology with an amusing wrap-around tale.  Little gems of the eerie in the old style of The Twilight Zone.

Non-fiction (click the image to read my review):

Flash Boys by Michael Lewis Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt by Michael Lewis
Almost as infuriating as The Big Short, except that the people at the heart of this story are trying to change the system, at least a bit.  It will make you wonder whether your IRA is really just a sucker’s bet, though.
League of Denial League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and the Battle for the Truth by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru
Almost as infuriating as Flash Boys, except the people at the heart of this story are trying to stop brain injuries rather than financial shenanigans.  A compelling book from the authors of Game of Shadows.
The Lindbergh Child The Lindbergh Child by Rick Geary
This long-form nonfiction comic about a murder case is a high point in Geary’s “Treasury of Murder” series, though they’re all pretty great. This one highlights the dubious case the government eventually brought to “close” the famous kidnapping.
Gulp by Mary Roach Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach
Another great book from excellent science writer Mary Roach.  This time, we explore all kinds of science about eating, digesting, and pooping.  Fantastic and disgusting (not necessarily in that order).
Dad Is Fat Dad is Fat by Jim Gaffigan
The soft-spoken and self-effacing comedian tells a lovely, heartfelt story about being the father of five in the modern era.  While I think it will work well for everyone, this book will resonate strongly with parents.

By way of comparison, here’s the full list of all fiction, non-fiction, and comics I read this year.

2014 in Review: Blog posts

A brief survey of the highlights of the blog this year.  It’s a bit truncated, as I went on a blogging hiatus from January until about August.

Favorite image:

This panel from Dr. Strange.

Dr Strange hides his spell

My favorite posts:

Favorite review:
My review of Juan of the Dead is pretty good, I think.

Also check out:
“Dispatches from the Age of Electracy,” a new series of posts I’ve been doing a couple times each month in which I reflect on issues large and small that seem, to me, to connect to the shifting nature of our society in the digital age.

May You Be Happy As Kittens

Here’s hoping your holidays are filled with warmth, visits with friends and family, and that you’re happy as kittens.

Merry Christmas - May You Be Happy As Kittens

The Steinmetz family set the bar for Christmas Cards pretty damn high

The Steinmetz family set the bar for Christmas Cards pretty damn high

Steinmetz Family Christmas Card, 1950 Steinmetz Family Christmas Card, 1942 Steinmetz Family Christmas Card, 1937 Steinmetz Family Christmas Card, 1936 Steinmetz Family Christmas Card, 1934

Comics Roundup: Shadowland – Moon Knight, Hawkeye, Lazarus

Shadowland: Moon Knight Hawkeye, Volume 1: My Life as a Weapon Lazarus, Vol 2

Shadowland: Moon Knight by Gregg Hurwitz and Bong Dazo
In what will be the last of my efforts to understand this odd character, I read Gregg Hurwitz’s short run on Moon Knight.  I pulled a rookie move and failed to research what “Shadowland” was, so inadvertently found myself reading a mini-series from the middle of a large cross-comic event.  It’s sort of like picking up LOST in the middle of season 3 for two or three episodes–difficult to follow or evaluate character motives and no context for the larger actions of the characters (like, why is Daredevil evil now?).  That said, the art in the series is fantastic, and Hurwitz makes great hay from the recurring theme of Moon Knight as haunted by the ghosts of gods and those he’s killed.

Hawkeye: My Life As a Weapon by Matt Fraction and various artists
This series of short stories (a couple one-shots, one two-issue arc) gives us some context for Matt Barton, the sharpest shooter of them all.  Fraction’s time-out-of-joint storytelling style works well, using in medias res to full effect.  The iconic art on the covers is the best part, and I found myself wishing to see these stories being told in that style — with a trippy, 1970s + schematic drawing style.  I would love to see an Ashley Wood Hawkeye comic, for example.

Lazarus, Vol 2: Lift by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark
In what’s proving to be a very compelling story about social inequality and environmental collapse, Rucka and Lark advance the story of Forever, the Carslyle family ‘Lazarus.’  We learn more of her back story, and we meet a couple new characters who give up everything for the lottery of the lift, a massive “American Idol”- type search for ideal people to serve the family, and thus be lifted out of “waste” status and into “service” to the family.  It’s a heartbreaking and stunning storyline, as we both want Forever to do her job well in protecting the family, but we can also see how the system is, well, pretty messed up.  Last–and perhaps best–the comic makes strong arguments about the present wealth gap without sinking to heavy-handed proselytizing.

Bud Bassette decorating underwater Christmas Tree

Regular readers know I post photos each Wednesday. I find these by searching the Flickr Commons for keywords related to the month in which I’m sending the photos. When I did a search for Christmas, however, I found too many great photos to pare it down to four. So I’ve decided December will also feature four Sunday photos as well. And here we are.

Bud Bassette decorating underwater Christmas Tree

Tweets from 2014-12-14 to 2014-12-20

The Uncommon Reader (review)

The Uncommon ReaderAn Uncommon Reader
by Alan Burnett

What happens when the Queen of England discovers that a mobile library visits Buckingham Palace regularly?  She checks out a book.  And so begins a tale of a dawning late-in-life love of literature for Britain’s highest royal.  As her Majesty becomes a more adept reader, the world around her opens up, becoming a more interesting place and simultaneously becoming less interesting to her — she’s always eager to abandon the otherwise boring events of the Queenly life in exchange for a good book.  Meanwhile, the people around her try to figure out what to do when the regent wants only to bury her nose in a book.

The Uncommon Reader is a cute little book, a nice tale for lovers of books and affection for the reading life.

Five Holiday songs I’m enjoying this year

Christmas music doesn’t have to be the same 25 songs over and over each year.  Each December, I buy new Holiday music for my playlist, I add two Santastic mashup albums, and I add holiday songs I’ve encountered throughout the year, and I listen to it during my work time.  Here are five songs I’m enjoying this year:

I’m also enjoying this VERY PROFANE Christmas song by Paul and Storm.

And of course, James Picard singing Let it Snow:


The Last Policeman

The Last PolicemanThe Last Policeman
by Ben H. Winters

Detective Hank Palace just wants to solve this murder.  But there are lots of things getting in the way: his colleagues and the coroner think it’s suicide, the mobile phone service is getting sketchy in his little Massachusetts town, the crime lab is backed up beyond belief, and other crimes are on the rise.  And a giant meteor is going to hit the Earth in six months.  This first novel in a trilogy wrestles with questions of ethics and philosophy at the end of the world, and weaves an interesting murder mystery on top of it.  A few thoughts:

  • Many of Palace’s usual tools for investigation have gone missing in the beginning of the end — the network support structure, many of his colleagues, and the state crime apparatus, to name a few.  In part, this provides the same environment that makes other writers return to the turn of the 20th century — one that lets the detective do the detecting, rather than relying on forensics and gizmos.
  • Motive has become the most difficult to parse out.  The victim surely had a reason to kill himself, as does everyone in this world.  But others also have much stronger motives for murder, since their ability to enjoy life is going to be quickly snuffed when a 6km rock smashes into the planet.
  • Most intriguingly, Winters gives Palace a convincing motivation to just keep going, despite it all.  He focuses on this one death, this solitary injustice in the midst of chaos, and follows it where it leads.

The Last Policeman isn’t a great mystery, but it is a great book.