Hello. I’m doing something a little bit different this year for my year-end wrap up post. I’m going all-in with recommendations this year, rather than releasing another boring post listing stuff I’ve created, sharing stats, and setting goals. Yawn.
This article documents a year’s worth of consumption. It’s a lot. I consumed a lot in 2018. But I also wrote a full-length play with my wife this year, so I’m not feeling that bad about my level of consumption. Only a little bad.
Some of the product links are affiliate links, meaning I’ll get a small amount of money if you make a purchase after clicking the link. If you like something and want to buy it, feel free to click the link to go directly to the product page. Or don’t. Just Googling it works, too. Whatever.
With that out of the way, here it is: an exhaustive list of my favorite things in 2018. Enjoy.
This was a good year of reading for me. According to my Goodreads account, I read 5,735 pages across 15 books, although that doesn’t take into account a few books that I started and never finished. The top two books I read this year would probably be Bad Blood by John Carreyrou and The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto. Both tell incredible true stories with a gripping narrative that reads like fiction.
After reading Conspiracy by Ryan Holiday (about the fall of Gawker at the hands of Peter Thiel) I decided to pick up Thiel’s Zero to One. It was an interesting (and short!) read. I found myself often agreeing with his premises, but strongly disagreeing with the conclusions he draws. It was interesting to finally take the time to get into his head a little bit, if only because most of his public behavior has had me absolutely baffled.
I also really enjoyed Stephen King’s Pet Sematary, which I hadn’t read until this year. Pick it up if you haven’t yet, because they’re releasing a movie remake next year. It’s an easy read.
Writing around the web
This seemed to be the year of the Oral History. It was a little overwhelming, given the sheer length of the average oral history article. Not all of them are worth reading, but I certainly had fun with the Oral History of the Double Dare Obstacle Course. Likewise, the Oral History of ‘Too Many Cooks’ was a fun read, but feel free to skip it of the original video wasn’t really your thing. They even made an oral history of Mary-Kate and Ashley’s “Gimme Pizza” this year, which either sounds amazing to you, or seems odd. It’s both.
When it comes to long-form journalism, there’s one story from The Atlantic that’s still on my mind: Why Are Young People Having So Little Sex? I don’t know why the article hit me like a gut punch, but it did. Likewise, the New York Times’ The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail was a heartbreaking profile of an NYC erotic masseuse’s tragic death, diving into both the sex work industry as it exists today, and the (possibly shady) circumstances surrounding her untimely end. While we’re on the topic of sex, The Cut explored how Larry Nassar got away with his crimes for so long by exposing the “medical practices” behind his “therapy.” It’s a good behind-the-headlines look, but also pretty disturbing. Read at your own risk.
After sex comes drugs, right? You’ve probably seen the headlines about El Chapo being on trial in Brooklyn, but it’s the story about how the kingpin was finally captured that’s truly compelling (a set of twins in Chicago worked their way to the top ranks of the international drug trade, only to flip at the very height of their success). Speaking of international drug trade, Ross Ulbricht — currently in jail for being the man behind the notorious Silk Road deep web blackmarket — presents a compelling alternate narrative to the plot that eventually ended with him in prison. It’s a great pairing to the popular book American Kingpin by Nick Bilton on the same topic.
Not all drugs are bad, however. I’ve had been taking a low 1mg dose of melatonin every night before bed after reading Gwern’s piece on the sleep supplement a few years ago. This year, I learned that even that one milligram was way too much. It’s all thanks to Scott Alexander’s Melatonin: Much More Than You Ever Wanted to Know. I’ve been getting my 0.03mg pills from Amazon for about $0.02 each. After reading Scott’s article, you may want to start, too.
I always like articles that help me Keep Up With The Cool Kids. Like the New York Times’ profile of Gwyneth Paltrow and her bizarre company Goop. Or The New Yorker’s look at Ice Poseidon, a guy who basically carries a camera with him at all times, live-streaming his entire life (which can get dangerous when viewers keep SWAT-ing you). And if you’re unfamiliar with the story of Anna Delvey (real name Anna Sorokin) and how she manipulated and conned her way in with the NYC media elite, you should read the article from The Cut before it becomes a Netflix series soon.
And finally, let’s end this section with something shorter and a lot more fun. I expected to quickly skim and discard Esquire’s article about the top cruise-ship performers, but the article pulled me in and had me smiling the entire time.
I’m always on the hunt for new products that I can easily work into my daily life and that will provide a significant amount of value. Here’s some of the physical products that I either got or used significantly this year, and that provided the highest returns.
I like my drinking water to be cold. Probably more so than most people. That’s why I’m absolutely in love with my 17oz S’well bottle. I like the texture of the Smokey Quartz bottle better than the smooth options, and I find the name-brand S’well bottles to keep cold drinks colder than cheaper alternatives. For warm drinks, I have a YETI mug which I like, but not as much as I liked the YETI lowball (which was sadly stolen from me last year).
I’ve got two items I love that fall into the EDC (Everyday Carry) category. Life has been so much better since moving all my keys onto a leather Orbitkey. Any my favorite holiday gift this year came from my wife, who got me this nifty rechargeable hand warmer. It works really well, although I do wish the battery lasted just a little bit longer.
This is also the year that I became a proud bidet convert. I just went with a cheap $22 bidet toilet seat attachment, not wanting to shell out the money for a super expensive model without trying it first. But now that I know I love it, I’m lusting after Wirecutter’s top pick: The Toto C200 Washlet.
Speaking of keeping things clean, I’ve been using the Quip electric toothbrush since 2015, and I can’t recommend it enough. They send you a new brush head and a fresh pack of toothpaste every few months, which is a perfect reminder to change things out. And the fact that it’s battery powered means that it doesn’t take up an outlet in the bathroom and that it’s perfect for travel.
If you enjoy board games and haven’t yet played Terraforming Mars, do yourself a favor and purchase it now. It’ll seem complicated at first (you may want to find a good YouTube video tutorial) but you’ll pick it up quickly, and then want to play it again and again. We played it a few dozen times this year, and every single game is different. There are so many different strategies to win.
On the digital gaming front, I’m still really enjoying my Nintendo Switch. If you’re new to the platform, definitely pick up Zelda — it really is as good as everyone says it is. I’ve also really been enjoying Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna the Golden Country, which is technically DLC for the original Xenoblade Chronicles 2, but plays more like a completely different (and more accessible) game. I know this recommendation is a bit old, but South Park: The Stick of Truth is available on the Switch now, and is a surprisingly good game. And make sure you play Stardew Valley, whether it’s on the Switch, or iOS, or a PC. Great game.
My wife worries that robots now outnumber organic beings in our apartment, and she’s not totally wrong. I’ve been slowly building up an army of electronics to do our bidding, and am pretty happy with the setup I’ve been able to put together this year.
For voice commands, we’ve got an original Amazon Echo in the living room, and a older Dot in the bedroom (but if you’re thinking about purchasing, I’d go with a newer Echo and Dot). These allow us to control various lights throughout the apartment (as well as our bedroom fan) using multiple TP-Link Mini WiFi Smartplugs. I also found an amazing deal on the Dyson Pure Cool Link Air Purifier last spring, which can also be voice controlled with Alexa.
Even though none of these devices are technically HomeKit enabled, I’m still able to connect everything to my iPhone seamlessly with HomeBridge, which I have running on a home server. Also running on that server is Plex, allowing me to effectively run my own Dannflix service. All the media files are stored on a years old 4-bay Synology NAS, which I can’t recommend enough. I’d pick up the DS418play and three or four 4TB WD Red drives if I were purchasing it today.
Unlike most other fellow millennials, we do still have a cable TV subscription. However, we’ve ditched the cable box in favor of an HDHomerun Prime, which allows us to access all our paid cable channels on any digital device. This means our Apple TV is the single source for all our TV viewing needs: live TV streams through the Channels app, plus Plex, Netlix, Hulu, HBO, etc are all right there. It’s great having a single tvOS for everything.
The final piece of our smarthome is for our two cats. After they destroyed several cheaper automatic feeders, I finally caved and purchased a Super Feeder Cat Food Dispenser. This was a few years ago now, and it’s still holding up strong. A couple summers ago, my wife and I won a free Nest Cam IQ, which we now have pointed at the cat feeder so we can make sure they’re getting fed. That’s a good use for it, right?
I’m a mobile app fiend, and my phone is filled with more apps than I can count. For calendaring, I’m a big fan of Fantastical, and Outlook for iOS is still the best email client for the iPhone. Personal Capital is a fantastic (and free) way to view and manage all your bank/investment accounts. For todo lists, I keep coming back to the simplicity of Clear. I think 1Password is the best password manager, and switched from Uber to Lyft and haven’t looked back. This year, I was finally sold on CARROT Weather, which also makes great widgets for the Apple Watch. I also still check Timehop every day, and my streak is now more than two years. If you use Reddit, skip the official app and download Apollo instead.
For quick games, I typically open Egg, Inc or Diamond Diaries (which I think is way better than Candy Crush). Monument Valley 2 is beautiful for when you want to have longer and more meditative gaming sessions. I downloaded Donut Country after it won Apple’s Game of the Year, and it was fun but I wish it was longer.
I’m still a Chrome user on my Mac, but mostly because I have it set up exactly how I like, and my muscle memory is strong. For plugins, I recommend uBlock Origin for adblocking and Quick Tabs for great tab management. I also love using The Camelizer to check the price history of items on Amazon, and I use it to get alerts when an item in my wishlist goes on sale.
I haven’t found an email client I like as much as the regular Gmail interface, so I use Mailplane to manage all my gmail accounts. Bartender 3 is a must for keeping my menu bar organized, since so many apps seem to want to use that space. I find Alfred better than Apple’s Spotlight for my needs. I use Sublime Text as my primary text editor, although I’m sure I’m not even scratching the surface of what that app can do.
For privacy, I use Little Snitch to monitor and set rules for all my computer’s network activity, and enable my PrivateInternetAccess VPN if I’m ever on an untrusted network.
I’ve found 2018 to be a pretty strong year for both SNL and Real Time with Bill Maher. I try to watch both each week, when new episodes are available. Barry was fun, but not necessarily what I would consider to be must-watch. In terms of light comedies that don’t require much brainpower, my wife and I have been enjoying Superstore, which I describe as “The Office, but optimized for product placements.” My unpopular opinion is to not waste your time with The Good Place past season one (we couldn’t make it through season two).
Back on HBO, both Succession and The Deuce are well worth the time. Especially Succession, which I feel didn’t get enough attention. Jumping over to Netflix, the documentary series Wild Wild Country is a must-watch, the re-boot of Queer Eye is great because it presents masculinity in such a positive way, and Dark Tourist (from the guy who made Tickled) is a really enjoyable show.
I haven’t had a chance to catch up with the most recent season of BoJack Horseman, but if any of the previous seasons are an indicator, it’s great. I’m saving the new episodes for when I have enough time to binge them. The first season of Big Mouth is fantastic (especially the first few episodes) but it loses some of the magic as it keeps going.
The biggest TV loss this year was the cancelling of The Last Man on Earth. I simply cannot understand how that show wasn’t more popular. Oh well, such is life.
I don’t really watch reality TV, but do love me some Survivor. The most recent season was fantastic. I’m going to finally create an audition video next year, so wish me luck.
One of my favorite movies that I saw this year was Brigsby Bear, which came out in 2017 but I finally got around to watching. The trailer intrigued me, and the actual movie pleasantly surprised me. I was incredibly uncomfortable during all of Eighth Grade, Bo Burnham’s directorial debut, which captured the awkwardness of youth in a painfully-honest way. Another top pick was Thoroughbreds, which reminded me a lot of Heavenly Creatures (in a good way).
I was actually kind of nervous to see Hereditary in theaters (because I’m a big wuss), but I’m glad I did. What a great and surprising horror film. I also really enjoyed Annihilation, but that’s not a surprise because you can always count on Alex Garland for a fresh and interesting story. While The House That Jack Built wasn’t quite as disturbing as I was expecting (especially compared to Antichrist), I am glad I saw it. What an ambitious ending for a Lars von Trier film, despite the film’s constant naval-gazing.
It was great to hear the full story behind The Dana Carvey Show in Too Funny to Fail: The Dana Carvey Show, which had me laughing out loud. The documentary Gilbert, about Gilbert Godfriend was both touching and irreverent (and worth watching, whatever your opinions on his act). Jeff Ross and Dave Attell got their own three-part Nexflix special called Bumping Mics, and they absolutely killed it. And I really liked Derren Brown’s The Push, a wild and crazy social experiment, but I guess I can see how it’s not for everyone.
In another attempt to Keep Up With The Cool Kids, I started watching more YouTube videos a couple of years ago. There’s actually some really great content being created there. I’ll admit to watching every new David Dobrick video (it doesn’t hurt that they’re only 4:20 minutes, so it’s not a huge commitment). He’s my vote for best creator of 2018.
Casey Neistat lost some of his juju this year, but I’ll still throw on an occasional new video of his. I enjoy Philip DeFranco‘s perspective on the news, and he keeps me up-to-date with any YouTube drama, which always find wildly fascinating. It’s fun to watch celebrities eat progressively spicy hot wings on First We Feast’s Hot Ones, but you should only throw on an episode if you’re actually interested in the interviewee.
For tech news and opinion, no one beats MKBHD. I’m not really a big video game person, but watching Videogamekunkey‘s short and entertaining videos makes me feel up-to-date on that whole world. If you like your comedy to be timely, relevant, and under 30 seconds, you’ll enjoy Ian Kung.
And I strongly believe that watching Bill Wurtz videos is better than doing acid. He’s the guy who made the epic history of the entire world, i guess, and I still have La de da de da de da de day oh stuck in my head.
That’s all, folks. Have a great 2019.
And if you think I got anything wrong, let me know in the comments.