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2012, A Year in My Pop-Culture Life

(In which I attempt to sum up my year via my favourite movie, book, podcast, game, TV series and album.)

django Django Unchained

That means we visit every plantation until we find her. And once the final Brittle brother lies dead in the dust, I am going to give you your freedom. And I’ll take you to rescue your wife.

Despite the title of this post, 2012 was really not a big year of cultural consumption for me, and this isn’t a Best Of 2012. Not only was I settling into a new post-academic career and new life with my awesome newish wife (we were married in 2011, so it still seems kind of new), but I spent literally months working and travelling in New Zealand. NZ is home to my favourite theatre (the Embassy Theatre in Wellington), but out in the sticks where we mostly were, it’s not great for getting caught up on the latest art-house flicks. Plus, the internet is terrible there. Everywhere. Always.

So there is a lot to get caught up on, including some movies I well might end up liking even more than Django Unchained — I’m really looking forward to seeing The Master, Zero Dark Thirty, Holy Motors, The Loneliest Planet and Wuthering Heights (yup!) — but I’m going to list this as my favourite movie of 2012 that I saw in 2012. How great is it to live in a world where Quentin Tarantino gets to make whatever movies he wants?

headgame Osh City Locke & Key

That’s it? ‘Damn, it smells like the fishsticks are burning and don’t do that with your head, Bode?’ What the fuck?

We moved into our current apartment, carved out of the main floor of an old inner-city Vancouver house, in late 2011, but it didn’t really feel like a home until we got back from New Zealand and made it our own this past summer. Now, I really dig it. One of my favourite ways to spend a Sunday afternoon is to sit in our big armchair by the window with a coffee (or sweet, sweet bourbon) and take a volume from the growing stacks of comics in the living room. I’ve been gradually catching up with classics like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Brubaker and Rucka’s Gotham Central, but the ongoing series I’ve been following most closely is Joe Hill’s ingenious, gorgeous and chilling Locke & Key, which reached new heights in 2012 as it heads toward a 2013 conclusion.

hypercritical-itunes.jpg Hypercritical

A weekly talk show ruminating on exactly what is wrong in the world of Apple and related technologies and businesses. Nothing is so perfect that it can’t be complained about.

While I started doing iOS development in 2011, this year was the one I feel I actually became an iOS Developer. And one of the things about being a dev in 2012 doing anything remotely related to Apple is I get to plow through a gazillion dev and tech podcasts. Some of them are technical, some are inspirational, some are just interesting. But my favourite tech podcast, the one that I would always listen to as soon as it was posted, and the one that more than any other was the soundtrack to my new career, was Hypercritical. John Siracusa has an amazing ability to take pretty much any subject in his wide area of interest, flip it upside down and show you how it works. And, more importantly, why it doesn’t work the way it should. Even if I’m not interested in the subject — or maybe especially if I’m not interested — it’s worth hearing Siracusa dig into it. For example, one of my favourites was #96, in which Siracusa spent an hour detailing microchip fabrication and followed it up with a dissection of geek-culture misogyny.

Unfortunately, Hypercritical wrapped up at the end of 2012 (though as a relative latecomer, I have a whole year or more of old episodes to get caught up on, including the legendary toaster review). It was great while it lasted, though, and it’s really affected the way I think about tech. I now sometimes find myself thinking about things through a Hypercritical filter: not so much “What Would Siracusa Do?”, but “What Would Siracusa Hate About This?”

ss_052d698926073e8d407a864f0e63a486af24ec0d.1920x1080FTL: Faster than Light

You find a number of ships fleeing from a small space station. You hail them, asking what’s wrong: “Help! We’re being overrun by some sort of giant alien spiders!”

1. Send the crew to help immediately! Giant alien spiders are no joke.

2. You can’t risk fighting some unknown alien on every backwater station you come across. You prepare to jump.

You know how I knew when I became a real iOS app developer? When I started thinking obsessively about ideas for new apps even while I was still working on existing ones. I’ve long had a vague idea that I would like to make a game, specifically a Roguelike, and toward the end of the year some of these ideas started to take shape in the form of an iPad game I’ve started tinkering with. (My love of Roguelikes could probably be the topic of a whole other blog post. In fact, it is.)

Whether FTL should be considered a Roguelike, a “Roguelike-like” or something else altogether is an ongoing and tiresome debate, but it definitely has the things I like: very deep tactical gameplay, fairly straightforward strategy, a high level of challenge and the kind of throat-in-mouth decision-making only permadeath can deliver. It’s a masterpiece, but alternately brilliant and maddening, which is why it’s been so good in helping me to think through my own game ideas. I don’t want to emulate FTL, I want to make a game that does the opposite of every FTL design decision I disagree with.


Hello, everybody. Um, hello. I mean, by everybody, I mean you guys. I mean everybody who’s here. Really, I shouldn’t say everybody because most people are not here. By a pretty huge majority, most people are not here. Most people are in China, actually.

Actually, that’s not true. Most people are dead.

I admire the hell out of Louis CK’s passion and work ethic and fact that he’d rather use the time he has in his career to work on interesting projects. As I get older it becomes increasingly apparent to me that if you are lucky enough to be even a little bit smart, a little bit creative and a little bit hard-working, you essentially have a limited number of “project slots” you can do in your lifetime. You can spend those slots trying to make money, or trying to get respect, or trying to do something that satisfies some creative itch. But there is a limit to your life, buddy, and each time you spend one, it’s gone, so spend them wisely. ‘Cause really, you only have maybe fifteen.

Seeing CK’s live show in Seattle was a real high point of 2012 for us, but I think I like his TV series even more than his stand-up. I love his cinematic instincts, and Louie gives him more space to unpack his philosophy, probably best seen in the hilarious and heartbreaking season finale. I’m totally in sync with Louis’ wry humanism, just way less smart, funny and articulate.

Another great thing is that Louis CK/Louie is something Janelle and I are both very down with. There are lots of things we both like, but usually it’s the case that one of us is a superfan and one is okay with it. We are both Louis CK superfans (Tarantino superfans, too, for that matter).

Primordial, The Gathering Wildernesscover

I sing a song of the tomb
Of the cold and heathen earth
With virgin voice to poisoned womb
I call to the shadowed kind
To men of myth, etched in stone
Whose songs are heard no more
The women of the barren lands
This is your time

So yeah, this has not been a huge year for exhaustively plumbing the depths of the annual cultural offerings. And maybe it’s just a testament to my approaching middle-age, but of the few new albums I listened to in 2012, none really stood out (though looking through my iTunes, I see did like songs from Bob Mould, Cloud Nothings, Sun Kil Moon, Cat Power, Frightened Rabbit, Shakleton, Japandroids, Four Tet, Dan Deacon and others, so I’m not completely out of the loop). But you know what? Sometimes you stumble onto things in the back catalog worth catching up with, like the Irish Black Metal band Primordial, who I had never heard of until they were namechecked by John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats. I listened to the first track off The Gathering Wilderness and it blew my mind. Exactly the kind of pagan-wizard blood-and-mud music I never even knew I needed in my life and now can’t live without. So this 2005 album is gonna have to be my album of 2012.