My 2007: Feeds

2007 was the year I embraced Google Reader for feed reading. It’s ahead above my previous readers, in terms of organization and especially of mobile access. If I was making a site- or web-based-tools-of-the-year list, it would probably consist of only Google Reader and Twitter (with a shout out to the Scrabble application on Facebook, of course).

So feeds are important. Here are my favorites from the past year:

1. kottke.org
Jason Kottke posts links and terse commentary on a wide range of topics, almost always interesting. His is the first feed I check in the morning. And at lunch. And in the evening.

2. Coding Horror
I’m not including several good programming blogs on this list, because I have a separate blog for that sort of thing. But Jeff Atwood‘s blog is just too good to leave off. He consistently writes thoughtfully on many, many topics related to computers and computer programming: software design, interface design, hardware configuration, security issues, internet trends, even basic computer science concepts, explained simply and effectively. A must read for any software professional, and possibly often a good read for a non-developer.

3. The mental_floss Blogs
Reading mental_floss is like reading Wikipedia, but having somebody there to point at the interesting bits. One of the highlights is their “Morning Cup O’ Links,” which tends to point to couple of good articles, most every day.

4. What’s Alan Watching?
I’ve mentioned Alan Sepinwall here before. He likes almost all the TV shows I do, and writes interesting stuff about ‘em. Love the guy. Check him out in HBO’s recent retrospective of The Wire.

5. External Internal Monologue
Eric’s good for interesting commentary on almost any movie he sees, and tends to post amusing anecdotes in line with my sense of humor and pictures of cute little kids.

6. ShysterBall
The best baseball blog out there, and it’s written by a lawyer. How odd.

7. Read/Write Web
The signal-to-noise ratio on Read/Write is middling, but it might be the best place to keep informed about new and exciting web applications.

8. Brew Crew Ball
Jeff Sackman‘s Milwaukee Brewers blog seldom fails to have the most thoughtful commentary on Brewer-related news items.

9. FirstShowing.net
This is the only real movie news blog I read, and it’s where I tend to see trailers for the first time.

10. MLB Trade Rumors
It’s very helpful to have a single blog aggregating baseball trade and transaction news, especially in the first few months of the off-season, when I get frustrated at the lack of baseball, but there’s still a lot of activity in terms of free agency and potential trading. This feed could be replaced by adding about 50 others, but I certainly don’t want to do that. The distillation is nice.

My 2007: Songs

No commentary with these. Just a good old-fashioned list.

1. Ryan Adams: “Pearls on a String”
2. Ryan Adams: “Oh My God, Whatever, Etc.”
3. Kings of Leon: “Fans”
4. Feist: “1234″
5. Kings of Leon: “Ragoo”
6. Spoon: “Black Like Me”
7. Kings of Leon: “Knocked Up”
8. Dan Wilson: “Sugar”
9. Dan Wilson: “Easy Silence”
10. Ryan Adams: “Goodnight Rose”
11. Elvis Perkins: “While You Were Sleeping”
12. MIKA: “Grace Kelly”
13. Ryan Adams: “Two”
14. Wilco: “Hate It Here”
15. Rocky Votolato: “Before You Were Born”
16. Joe Purdy: “Good Days”
17. Feist: “Brandy Alexander”
18. The Arcade Fire: “Keep the Car Running”
19. Ryan Adams: “Follow the Lights”
20. Josh Ritter: “The Temptation of Adam”
21. Joe Purdy: “Isabel and the King”
22. Ryan Adams: “These Girls”
23. Rocky Votolato: “Whiskey Straight”
24. Radiohead: “Videotape”
25. The New Pornographers: “My Rights Versus Yours”
26. Okkervil River: “Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe”
27. Wilco: “What Light”
28. Iron & Wine: “The Devil Never Sleeps”
29. Andrew Bird: “Heretics”
30. Ryan Adams: “Everybody Knows”
31. Modest Mouse: “Missed the Boat”
32. Spoon: “The Underdog”
33. The White Stripes: “You Don’t Know What Love Is (You Just Do As You’re Told)”
34. The National: “Fake Empire”
35. Paolo Nutini: “These Streets”
36. Paolo Nutini: “Last Request”
37. Robert Plant & Alison Krauss: “Please Read The Letter”
38. The Shins: “Sea Legs”
39. Tegan and Sara: “Soil, Soil”

Again, I’ll refer you to Seeqpod if you want to hear any of this stuff.

My 2007: Albums

1. Ryan Adams: Easy Tiger
My initial reaction to Easy Tiger, an album I was very excited to get my hands on, was slight disappointment. “Pearls on a String” was awesome, but the rest was underwhelming. It sounded vanilla, and it sounded unlike Heartbreaker (which is what I always hope for from an Adams release). And “Halloweenhead” was just awful.

But time passed, and somewhere in there I fell for nearly every track. It’s becoming clear to me that Ryan Adams is my favorite musician by a wide margin, and it makes me very happy that he’s still young and energetic. There looks to be plenty more to come from the guy.

2. Kings of Leon: Because of the Times
Because of the Times is for driving. Driving cross country. Driving home from the bars. Driving fast on the freeway with the windows down and a cigarette in your mouth.

Three tracks made me come back to this album again and again this year: “Knocked Up” (which pulled me in initially), “Ragoo” and “Fans.” But the rest is solid gold. The album has the kind of youthful energy that feels manic and relaxed at the same time.

I really regret not seeing these guys at Bonnaroo.

3. Spoon: Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I discovered Spoon back in 2003, when I was working out a lot and spending a lot of time by myself. Most days, I’d run a few miles with Semisonic’s Great Divide, then listen to Kill the Moonlight while doing my push-ups and sit-ups and showering the grime off. Moonlight drove. It pushed me to pound out those last few push-ups.

Eventually, I discovered Girls Can Tell, which sounded the first time like I’d heard it a hundred times. No complaints.

But then Spoon released Gimme Fiction. And I was like: WTF? Fiction, while not so different on the surface, just didn’t grab me. “I Turn My Camera On” was a great tune, but the rest of the album was flat, unmemorable, uninteresting. It still had the pulse of their previous stuff, but something was missing.

(Maybe it’s because I don’t work out much these days.)

So I’d sort of given up hope that Spoon was going to continue being one of my favorite bands. And I was disappointed that any opportunity I’d get to see them live would feature primarily songs I didn’t like. (However, I actually did see them live this year, at Bonnaroo, and that theory was proven wrong.)

When they released Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, I bought it, but I wasn’t that excited. And when I listened to it, I wasn’t surprised. It sounded like more of the same. But, of course, it grew on me. It found its way into my regular rotation, and now it’s among the first few albums I’ll put on while I’m working, trying to get down to business.

Not only that, but it caused me to reconsider Gimme Fiction and realize that, somewhere along the line, I grew to like most of that album, too. Spoon has fully regained my affections.

4. Rocky Votolato: The Brag and Cuss
The iTunes recommendation system thought I’d like Makers, by Rocky Votolato. It was so, so right. Makers is the kind of music I wish I could make. Rocky Votolato fits the sad-white-dude-with-an-acoustic-guitar profile that seems to call to me. His sense of melody is strong, and his production is straightforward.

The Brag and Cuss is the same sort of thing, and while it doesn’t have as many mix-worthy tracks as its predecessor, it’s a pleasant little album, all the way through.

5. Feist: The Reminder
Speaking of albums that are strong end to end, Feist’s new one is a pleasant surprise. Her previous album, Let It Die had some good singles, but the low points were low. Reminder has more stand-out tracks (“1234″ in particular), but it ups the ante by being hummable throughout.

6. Dan Wilson: Free Life
Dan Wilson, I knew you still had it in you.

I was a huge Semisonic fan, just as I was getting into music. And while my musical tastes have become a bit more mature, I am, as I mentioned earlier in this piece, still drawn to crisp production and strong melodies, and nobody does it better.

7. Wilco: Sky Blue Sky
After their deconstruction and experimentation on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, what was the logical next step for Wilco? Were they going to continue down that road or move back toward straightforward alternative country?

A Ghost Is Born didn’t quite answer that question. It kept some elements of YHF, but introduced periods of jammy solo guitar and repetitive nonsense. But the nonsense was usually followed by huge payoffs, rocking hard.

Ghost showed me Jeff Tweedy changing from being depressive to being content. There’s little joy in YHF. Only on “Heavy Metal Drummer” is there a sense of optimism, of pleasant reflection. Ghost‘s payoff jams embraced that feeling, and its lyrics sounded more and more like the work of a mature, confident adult. And Wilco’s live shows after Ghost were phenomenal. They had the same youthful energy that I praised so unreservedly in my notes on Because of the Times, above.

And then came Sky Blue Sky, which, to my mind, shows what’s essentially the completion of Tweedy’s maturation. It has more of the jammy interludes followed by monstrous high points, more lyrics with content and perspective, and while it’s not chock full of tracks I want to put on a mix tape, it’s a quality listen, even beyond the fact that it makes me happy to hear one of my heroes coming to terms with everything dark in his life.

8. The Arcade Fire: Neon Bible
I don’t have much new to say about Neon Bible. The critics loved it, and rightfully so. I liked it a lot for a while, but got sort of sick of it later in the year. Regardless, I recognize that it’s a good album, and I’ll be listening to it for years to come.

9. The National: Boxer
This is another challenging album, like their last one. None of The National’s songs makes you think you want to become a fan of The National. But their albums evoke a feeling that I can’t quite put into words. I suppose I’ll leave it at that.

10. Iron & Wine: The Shepherd’s Dog
More of the same from Iron & Wine, but that’s far from a bad thing. Sam Beam has released only one mind-blowingly good track (“The Trapeze Swinger”), but almost the entire rest of his output has been well above average. Shepherd’s Dog is no different.

11. Ryan Adams: Follow the Lights EP
On the strength of a few awesome tracks (“Follow the Lights” and “Blue Hotel”) and a few retreads, this EP was a pleasant surprise. Ryan Adams could fart on a snare drum and it might just be good.

12. The White Stripes: Icky Thump
Another band I’d sort of given up on, The White Stripes are on their way, here, to a return to higher status. Icky Thump is far closer to what I expected of them after White Blood Cells and Elephant than Get Behind Me Satan was. I expect them to rock, to get stuck in my head, and to be fun, and Satan did none of those things to satisfaction. Icky Thump does.

13. Radiohead: In Rainbows
Good, but not great. I was a bit worried, but ended up pleased.

14. Okkervil River: The Stage Names
This album is about how pop culture doesn’t adequately reflect our lives. Love the concept. Like the music.

15. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah: Some Loud Thunder
Massively disappointing at first, but I learned to like several tracks.

16. Joe Purdy: Take My Blanket and Go
A huge improvement on the meandering mess of his previous album. Perhaps Joe Purdy is back on his way up.

17. Josh Ritter: The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter
This wasn’t what I wanted, but it’s hard to deny that it contains some keepers.

18. Andrew Bird: Armchair Apocrypha
Despite a grating live performance (which I attribute to the venue more than to Mr. Bird), Andrew Bird has improved on his previous work, both in terms of the quality of his melody and his consistency.

19. MIKA: Life in Cartoon Motion
Not normally my cup of tea, this album is a bit bubble-gum. But “Grace Kelly” is one of the best pop songs I’ve heard in a while. The rest of the album is

20. Travis: The Boy With No Name
Only on the strength of Eric’s recommendation did I listen to this. It’s very good.

21. Jens Lekman: Night Falls Over Kortelada
Swedish pop is strangely affecting.

22. Paolo Nutini: These Streets
Paolo Nutini sounds like Rod Stewart. That’s neither good nor bad. What’s good is many of the songs on this album.

23. Elvis Perkins: Ash Wednesday
Ash Wednesday makes the list mostly because of the awesomeness of “While You Were Sleeping.” I haven’t listened to the album enough to determine whether it should be higher on the list.

24. The Shins: Wincing The Night Away
Another let-down. It feels like the made-for-TV-movie version of The Shins. But even that is decent.

My 2007: Workspace

What you see here is what I saw almost every day in 2007 while I was working.

Note the dual-monitor setup. It’s awesome. I highly recommend it. Apparently we’ll be getting laptops in the near future, at which point I expect to move to a two-monitors-and-a-laptop-screen setup, essentially having three monitors. I’m thinkin’ you can’t have enough desktop space.

Also note the open window. The blinds were closed for most of the year, but have been open since late November. The sunlight has been nice.

This is a more complete view of my workspace, replete with robo-raptor and case of beer (from our beer exchange last week).

As you can see, I’m sort of messy.

George Bush’s Reign of Terror is (Almost) Over

I always get a bit sad in winter. Shitty weather, short days, frustrating holiday obligations, and no baseball. It’s so much harder to get out of bed in the morning.

But perhaps a bit less so this year. This year, it looks like I’m in for a captivating few months of presidential primaries.

What’s really interesting about these contests is that I’m so unsure of what to expect: I’m very curious whether one of Clinton, Obama or Edwards will drop out and where that person’s supporters will end up; I’m curious whether Ron (Fucking) Paul will have any real support; I’m curious which of the major Republican candidates will be recognized as the sleazebags they seem to me to be.

I expect, as the season plays out, to be surprised (hopefully pleasantly) and engaged. I plan to endorse a candidate at some point, but so far I’ve just been in input mode, watching, gathering data and such.

I just reviewed the schedule, and – holy shit – the Iowa caucus is on Jan. 3. That’s next Thursday. And many other states have moved their primaries up. There are several in January, and Super Tuesday, on Feb. 5, is going to include 22 states’ primaries. Yikes.

And, of course, the Wisconsin primaries are on Feb. 19. Be sure to vote.

If you want to read more about the 2008 U.S. Presidential Elections, check out Wikipedia’s wonderfully thorough entries.

Helvetica

I finally get to watch the movie, so I’m switching the some of the blog’s design elements over to Helvetica for a while. :)!

My 2007: Comics

This is a short list, because I only read one comic in 2007. Also, the parts of that comic that I read weren’t released in 2007. But it’s worth mentioning.

1. Powers
Written by Brian Michael Bendis, Powers exists in a universe in which super powers are relatively common and generally accepted as a fact of life by everyone. They’re even regulated. The story follows two non-powered detectives, fighting crime. It’s not phenomenal, but the first two stories (which were available online here, though that server looks to be down at the moment) held my interest enough that I finished them.

BEARD CRUMBS

I’m not sure I’ve mentioned it yet, but I’m a contributor to another blog, called BEARD CRUMBS. Its intent is to share interesting stuff related to design, music and comedy. (And beards.)

I’m probably not going to write here about many of my posts over there, so you’ll just have to start reading BEARD CRUMBS if you want to experience the full range of my internet-acquired awesomeness.