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Dec 15 / Great Apes

Music of 2018

2018 was a really great year for music.  I had a hard time sorting out the order for a lot of these, but mostly I suspect people read these kinds of lists just to see how many albums they know show up, so maybe the order doesn’t actually matter.  Like most years I’m going to list my favourite 15 albums from the past year in ascending order.  I’ll include a link to one song I think you should check out if you’re not familiar with the band.  There’s a lot less metal this year than in most other recent years.  I don’t know if that’s because I missed out on a bunch of great metal albums or if there just wasn’t as much good heavy music this year, but whatever the reason this list tends more towards the indie rock end of my tastes.  But all the albums here are really good, or I wouldn’t suggest they’re worth your time.

All of these records are available on Bandcamp, both to purchase and to listen to in full even if you haven’t purchased them.  Bandcamp is much better for artists than other platforms (they only take a 10% cut of sales, whereas services like Spotify pay artists virtually nothing) and I think it’s better for listeners too, because you can usually listen to entire albums for free before deciding if you want to pay for them.  So I’m linking to Bandcamp for all of these albums, which means you can usually click through and listen to more music by that artists if your interest is piqued.

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Dec 27 / Great Apes

Music of 2017

When I sat down to put this list together I was impressed by just how much great music was released in 2017.  I’ve limited this list to 15 albums for the sake of brevity, but I easily could have listed more, and I’m sure there are even more good albums that I don’t know about yet.  I’m pretty bad at describing why I like this album or that album, so I’m just going to list them in order and embed a song from each record that I hope you’ll like.  Like most years this list does lean towards metal albums, especially near the top end, but I think there’s a pretty good variety of genres here, and a good mix of vocal and instrumental albums.  Enjoy!

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Dec 24 / Great Apes

Games of 2017

There were a lot of games released in 2017, so many that there are still probably 8-10 games that came out that I want to play that I haven’t gotten around to, and I probably never will get to some of them.  Thankfully, many of the games that I did play turned out to be quite good.

These days the toughest question I have to deal with when putting out this list is figuring out what exactly constitutes a game that was “released” in 2017.  On some level the days of going to a store and buying a disc or cartridge that contains the final version of a game is over.  This list includes one game that’s still in Early Access, another game that was in EA for a couple of years but finally saw its official “release” this summer, and a game that was released episodically throughout 2016 but wasn’t put together as a complete retail package until January.  Then there’s something like No Man’s Sky, which was so thoroughly changed through free DLC this year that it’s practically a new game.  I didn’t include it since it was already my #2 game last year, but it’s an interesting question.

One big difference between this year and most other years I’ve done this list is that this year there aren’t nearly as many indie games.  In previous years I’ve had games with small budgets but great ideas at or near the top of the list, with Game of the Year honours going to things like The Banner Saga or Papers, Please.  I couldn’t say why that is, but for whatever reason this year’s list is dominated by games from big publishers.

I make no claim to having an exhaustive list of the “best” games of 2017.  I counted about 25 games that I played enough of this year to form an opinion, but there are plenty more I haven’t played and would like to (I hear Yakuza 0 is a lot of fun), or games that I started and enjoyed but got distracted from before I could decide how much I liked them (like Thimbleweed Park).  So these are just the ten games I got the most enjoyment out of this year.

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Dec 18 / Great Apes

Screenshots of 2017

In recent years a growing number of games have included photo modes which let the player freeze the on-screen action and frame the perfect shot.  I’ve become quite enamoured of these photo modes, which is a bit strange given how little interest I have in real photography, but so it goes.  I can take dozens, sometimes even hundreds of photos in these games.  I figured it would be fun to share some of my favourites as the year draws down, so what follows is a few of the ones that I think are most interesting, taken from three games that released great photo modes this year – Assassin’s Creed: Origins, No Man’s Sky, and the game I took by far the most photos in, Horizon: Zero Dawn.

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Jan 2 / Great Apes

Books of 2016

I’ve already posted lists for my favourite games and albums released in 2016.  I don’t keep up with new book releases well enough to do a list of my favourite books released in the past year, but I do read about as many books as games I play or albums I listen to each year, so I like to do a year end round-up of what I’ve been reading around the same time I do my game and record lists.

For the previous couple of years I’ve done mini-reviews of every book I read, but it feels kind of tedious to write a few dozen reviews, and anyway I doubt more than a few people bother to read them all anyway.  So this year I’ve decided just to list the 10 most compelling things I read in 2016, with no distinction between fiction and non-fiction.  I hope you can find something you’ll enjoy.  (The list is arranged alphabetically.)

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Dec 27 / Great Apes

Music of 2016

I gave up a while ago on trying to explain what it is that I like about the music that I like.  I can tell you what lyrics I enjoy, or where to find a great guitar riff, but I don’t know how to describe music except to say that it’s good.  I’m reminded of something Ursula LeGuin wrote:

“The artist deals with what cannot be said in words.”

These 15 albums say a lot of things with music that can not be said with words.  I’ve embedded one song worth checking out from each album, though the ones on Bandcamp can be listened to in their entirety if you click through.  Hope you enjoy some of them.
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Dec 26 / Great Apes

Games of 2016

2016 was one of the best years for gaming that I can remember.  There were surprising indie success stories and big budget sequels that really delivered.  There were great strategy and sports games, fantastic RPGs, and, uh, whatever Stardew Valley is.

I’ve listed the 10 best games that I played this year, but there are a bunch I haven’t even gotten to that look or sound like they’re probably a lot of fun; Final Fantasy 15 is downloading on my Playstation 4 as I type this all up.

The one exception to this list is that I haven’t included any sports games because I find it hard to figure out how to rank an annual iteration of an essentially completed game.  Is this year’s version of NHL or Madden a “new” game if most of the code is recycled from previous editions?  If I did include sports games, FIFA 17 would definitely be on this list.  It’s probably the game I sunk the most hours into this year, and I’ve had a lot of fun with the standard career mode, as well as the really well-executed story mode called The Journey.

Anyway, here are some cool games.
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Aug 23 / Great Apes

The Joy of Discovery

I’m part of the first generation that really grew up with video games, I think.  I got an NES for Christmas when I was five years old, not too long after I first played Super Mario Bros. at a friend’s birthday party, so video games have been part of my life nearly as far back as my memories go.  I’ve owned something like a dozen consoles and handhelds over the past few decades, not to mention hundreds of games, so it’s easy to say that games have played a fairly central role in my life.

Among the hundreds of games that I’ve played, there are a handful – maybe 10, maybe 15 – that stand out in my mind because of a particular kind of impact they had on me.  These aren’t necessarily my favourite games.  What they are is games that provided me with an experience that felt really new and unique and powerful.  They’re games that have stuck with me primarily because there was an incredible feeling of discovery that went along with playing them, especially the very first time I picked up a controller and spent some time with them.
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Mar 21 / Great Apes

Reflections On Mythbusters

Mythbusters aired its final episode recently.  That seems to mark a good time to talk about why it was such a great show.

As I was watching the final episode of Mythbusters, I noticed that it hit me kind of hard.  That seemed weird to me.  Other shows I’ve really enjoyed have aired their final episodes in recent years (30 Rock and Parks and Recreation, for example), but I haven’t had much of an emotional reaction to their finales.  I think the main reason my reaction was different this time is that Mythbusters starred real people.  When a sitcom goes off the air, you’re not saying goodbye to Tina Fey or Amy Poehler, you’re saying goodbye to some fictional character who doesn’t exist outside the space of that show.  Those characters were always gone, in a sense, every time the show ended.

But the Mythbusters were real people, and because the show was on air for so long (13 years), viewers got to watch them age in something approaching real time.  Now that the show’s gone, we’re not saying goodbye to characters so much as we’ve witnessed the ending of a long chapter in the lives of real people.  Obviously I don’t actually know any of them on any meaningful level, but for some reason it still feels like leaving friends behind when you changed jobs or move to a new city or anything like that.  And because the people are real, the time they’ve given feels more real too.  They’re all 13 years older now than when the show debuted.  So am I.  And 13 years is a lot of your life to say goodbye to.

What made Mythbusters so good?  Part of the appeal was that it was a show about nerds; and I mean that it was really about them.  The Big Bang Theory gets talked about as a sign of the mainstreaming of nerd-dom, but it’s not really a show about nerds at all.  What it is is a show about laughing at stereotypes about nerds.  Mythbusters, on the other hand, wasn’t using the nerdiness of its hosts as a set-up to laugh at them, but as a cool thing to aspire to.  The Mythbusters were weird and quirky and smart and awesome.

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Mar 11 / Great Apes

The Social Cost Of Getting An Education

When I was growing up, the importance of getting a university education was strongly impressed upon me.  This wasn’t a family thing – I was, as far as I know, the first person in my family on either my mother or father’s side to get a degree.  But I was told, by family, educators, and the media that if I wanted to get a good job when I grew up, I should go to university.  At any rate, I finished high school with no real desire to do the kind of work that was available to me, so off to university I went.

It wound up being simpler and less expensive to move to the city I was attending school in rather than commuting, so that’s what I did.  After I finished my undergraduate degree, I decided I wanted to go to grad school, so I moved again.  After I finished my MA, my girlfriend at the time (who I’m still with) was about to start her PhD in another city, so I moved there with her.  I wasn’t getting very good work opportunities there, so I moved once more, to Ottawa, where I still reside a few years later.

While I got one more degree than many people do, I suspect my story sounds somewhat familiar to most people who have gone to university, and especially to anyone who has done graduate work.  You move around, get settled, then move around some more.  Hopefully at some point you find a place you can actually stay, or you just get tired of packing your stuff up and decide you’re sticking around whether the city is working or not.  Not only is this story pretty common, it’s what you’re told to expect.  If you can’t find work in one place, you’re supposed to go find work somewhere else.

People often talk about the career sacrifices they make for family; how they got offered a great job somewhere other than where they currently were, and how they held back their career because it didn’t work for the other member(s) of their family.  But we don’t really talk about a much more common trade-off, which is that we sacrifice our friendships and our social networks to advance our careers. read more…