Favorites of 2023

December 22, 2023 — 7 minute read — neovim, books, music, movies

Inspired by Fogus’s series of end-of-year posts, here is a list of things that I discovered this year that I want to share with other people. Merry Christmas everyone!

Favorite Podcasts I Discovered

  • The Climate Denier’s Playbook — I’ve learned so much from this podcast, and laughed a lot too. It’s been a great running companion. I actually liked it so much after listening to the first 2 episodes that I briefly supported it on Patreon despite no Patreon benefits existing yet. I oughta do that again, because there are actually some bonus episodes out now. The first episode I listened to was “Electric Cars Will Save Us” and I’d recommend anyone listen to that. Spoiler alert: They won’t. We need much more systematic (and cultural, I’d say) changes than that for transportation to stop hurting the planet. Yay for bikes and walking! Let’s get our lawmakers to incentivize those instead.

Favorite Books I Read

  • Analog Photography: Reference Manual for Shooting Film — For an analog photography beginner like myself, this was a wonderful introduction to a lot of the basic ideas and mechanics behind analog photography. It may be pretty elementary stuff, but it’s presented in an engaging and simple way, and I loved reading it cover-to-cover, although I think it works well as a reference manual. What stuck with me the most was the idea that the common numbers in photography (e.g. ISO, shutter speed, etc.) are all designed as 2x or 0.5x the next steps, which helped me know much better how to experiment with those settings.
  • Anna Karenina — I probably don’t have anything meaningful I could add to the discourse about this book, but I will say that I was irresistibly drawn in by the deep characters and the compassionate way that Tolstoy approaches each one. It’s a fantastic novel. (I read the Pevear & Volokhonsky translation.)
  • Bury Me Standing — I’ve been interested in Romani culture and languages since I spent time as a missionary in Bulgaria, where I spent time with families that had Roma backgrounds but identified as Bulgarian (to the point of insisting to me that they usually didn’t speak Romani at home), as well as some deeply Romani people. Although most of them chose to use the word “gypsy” (or rather, its Bulgarian equivalent). This book was an excellent way to learn more about them, and much of it seemed to be true to what I saw, although I wonder how fairly the parts of it that I didn’t have experience with treat the Roma people. At any rate, I really enjoyed it.

You can see all of the books I read (or listened to) this year on Goodreads.

Favorite Movies I Discovered

  • Hit the Road — A beautiful, funny road trip movie with a delicate treatment of family relationships. The soundtrack is fun, the young child in the family is hilarious, and the long takes are gorgeous. I think I understand just a tiny bit better what it’s like to live in Iran.
  • About Time — I think this movie was done with its rom-com tropes about 45 minutes in and turned into something else. I’ve seen very few movies that deal with the deep love of good families and the value of “unremarkable” lives so beautifully. Like I say in the review I linked: I want to be a better person because of this movie.
  • Heat — My new favorite heist movie. So cool.

You can see all of the movies I watched this year on Letterboxd.

Favorite Music I Discovered

  • 卵 (Tamago) by betcover!! — Incredible Japanese jazz-rock which always has amazing piano parts, groovy rhythms, crunchy guitar effects, and commanding vocals. Draws me in every time, and makes work and homework so much better. The title track is especially good.
  • Everything So Far by Pinegrove — I’ve been listening to Pinegrove for a while now and technically listened to this compilation of their earlier stuff some in the past, but I really got into it this year when Need 2 got popular on Tik Tok. That song is sublime, perhaps now my favorite by them, but the entire album is full of great tracks. It’s inspired me to start practicing the guitar again, thanks to the official tabs the band releases.
  • Did you know that there’s a tunnel under Ocean Blvd by Lana Del Rey — I’ve been loving Lana’s recent stuff (since NFR!) but this is a step up. Plus, there’s a song called Grandfather please stand on the shoulders of my father while he’s deep-sea fishing in which she actually sings those words and it sounds fantastic.

You can see all of the music I listened to this year on Last.fm.

Favorite Video Games I Played

  • Disco Elysium is funny, engaging, deep, thought-provoking, and incredibly well-written. I’ve played games that claim to change the story based on the player’s actions before, but nothing makes it feel real like this game. Plus, it makes failure often a hilarious and rewarding experience. I adore this game. I think I’ll have a lot more to learn as I replay it.
  • Divinity: Original Sin II — Everyone else may be getting into Baldur’s Gate, but I started this a long time ago and figured I should probably complete it at some point. I haven’t done that, but ~50 hours in and I’m having a great time. The world-building and story are very well done, but I think I have the most fun with the combat. It’s deep, difficult, and rewarding.

Favorite Technologies I Discovered

  • fzf’s command-line keybindings — I think I’ve been using fzf (a fuzzy-finding tool) for a while now, but learned about its command line keybindings this year which have been incredibly useful. I used to edit or view files with a command like less $(fzf), but those characters are a bit of a pain to type and it didn’t save the file I looked up in my shell history. The CTRL-T keybinding, when configured, makes it a much nicer interface, so I instead type less , then press CTRL-T, find the file I want, and hit ENTER and I’ve got the command with the filename filled out. Shell history-friendly!
  • LunarVim has helped me find and use a bunch of cool plugins for NeoVim that I might not have used (or properly configured) otherwise, for features such as auto-complete, Treesitter, a fancy file explorer (with good hotkeys!), project management (which I find mostly useful for maintaining a consistent root directory), integrated terminals, indent guides, and code context. There are some issues with LunarVim and a decent chunk of configuration I had to change, so I might not keep it forever, but it’s been a great discovery tool at the very least.

Favorite Articles I Read

  • The Four Hobbies, and Apparent Expertise — Marc Brooker shows that each hobby can be split into four sub-hobbies: doing the hobby, doing stuff with the equipment used in the hobby, discussing the hobby, or discussing the equipment. I think I’ve way too often been guilty of being mostly in the discussing parts. I think I’ve spent more time looking at lenses I could by for my Zenit-E camera than actually taking pictures with it, and that’s pretty lame. I don’t think the meta-hobbies are actually a problem, but personally I want to be someone who is in the “doing the hobby” quadrant. I find that to be much more rewarding, but less automatic for me. This article has made me consider my own hobbies a lot more.
  • 95%-ile isn’t that good — An exploration of the idea that it’s probably easier to be in the top 5% of people who do some thing that it might seem, as long as you genuinely want to improve and seek opportunities to improve. Coaching is also explored as a very valuable tool. I think I would benefit from a more careful approach to improving my own skills, especially with outside feedback.

Favorite New Experience

  • Being a father. My daughter is now 9 months old and it’s been a rollercoaster: incredibly joyous, to equally difficult, back to joyous in very short periods of time. I love it, though, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s hard, though.