As 2012 wraps to a close and I'm surfing the web buying gifts for loved ones and friends, it's a reasonable time to look back on what my favorite things and parts of 2012 actually were. So, without further ado, here's a list of a few of my favorite things this year.
Cooking food at home
My wife is an excellent, adventurous and dedicated home cook, making everything from cheesecakes to gnocci to Vietnamese Bahn Mi sandwiches (both meat and veggie options!). She cooks often, and we often cook together. It reached a pinnacle this Thanksgiving when we worked together for three days to manufacture an elaborate mole sauce for a mole turkey on Thanksgiving. It was delicious and well worth the effort.
Eating well is a key aspect of our life together. We're lucky enough to live in one of the best food cities in the US, in one of its most food-centric cultures, and count some accomplished chefs as friends. In fact, where we live, incredible meals can be found on every block. But despite all that, it's simple home cooking that I've found to be the most rewarding aspect of food for me this year: making slow-cooked scrambled eggs for my sons before they head off to school in the mornings. Coming home at the end of a long day to discover that my wife has a mind-blowing new concoction to try out on us. The heart of our house is in our kitchen and eating in is just as thrilling as eating out.
When I was a kid, you didn't delve into remote control airplanes and their like unless you had a lot of money and time. You needed both to get good at either planes or the hellishly expensive helicopters, where a single crash could damage a part that cost hundreds of dollars to replace. But all that's changed over the past few years. Now you can't go through a mall without being chased by micro-helicopters being demo'd on the floor, and the larger models are becoming actually useful. For instance, for less than 700 bucks you can now purchase one of these and start shooting arials with your GoPro Hero 3 right out of the box.
And if you don't want to go through the trouble of flying a craft, this model flys ITSELF. That's right, with a payload that can accommodate two GoPro cameras and a pre-programmed flight path that you give it, it is truly an autonomous drone.
More amazing still, these flying craft can actually work together and fly in formation. I can't decide whether this is a good idea or not. It's definitely scary.
I for one welcome our new flying overlords.
Louie and Girls
I feel lucky to live in a time when television went from being a bastard stepchild of the entertainment industry, to being a fully mature artform in its own right. There's always been good TV and bad TV, but over the past decade important shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Battlestar Galactica, as well as comedies like Curb your Enthusiasm, and The Office (all versions) have redefined what television means to us in our culture. David Fincher noted that in television, as opposed to film, characters are depicted on such long arcs that they can contradict themselves, something the format of film is just to short to accommodate. The complex social commentary available to a format that can generate up to 23 hours of content per year has proven prodigious.
All of this, in my opinion, has reached it's zenith in the form of Louis CK's incredible show Louie, now in its third season, and Lena Dunham's inspiring Girls. Lena's character, Hannah, says in the Girls' pilot “I just may be the voice of my generation... or “a” voice, of “a” generation”. The incredible reality is that she might be right. Both shows are a half hour format. Both feel like something Woody Allen would have started his career doing if he'd gotten his start now. Stark, funny, often difficult narratives winding you through complex lives in 22 minute increments. Each episode of both shows feels like an important, lovely jewel of storytelling. Television has come of age.
I've been buying gifts from them for years, but as one of the best-known online maker's marketplaces, Etsy is truly one of my favorite places to shop. Period. Watch our podcast about it. I like that you're buying things from the people that made them. The lack of a middle man keeps the price down, of course, but there's a stronger, less obvious benefit.
You are often directly interacting with the maker of the thing you're buying. That engenders a community that can be hard to find in an age of big box stores. So not only are you getting a price break, but you're also reaching out and shaking hands with a future that isn't an isolated wasteland. I bought a kitchen knife forged from a Model A Ford leaf spring, with a handle hewn from the branch of a cherry tree that had fallen in the yard of the maker. With a good edge on this thing, it practically falls through a chicken. And it's got a story. What more could you ask?
Nate Silver and 538
My politics don't matter here. What matters is that facts can't be spun towards one reality or another. Or one political party over another. Nate Silver is the former sports oddsmaker turned political oddsmaker, who predicted the 2008 election with impressive accuracy and recently predicted the 2012 presidential election with a startling accuracy. He called the results in 49 out of 50 states.
All the while taking hits from the right for being biased for the left (in point of fact, post-election analysis shows his polling was actually skewed toward Romney +1%!), having flawed methodologies, being too gay, whatever mud they could sling at him. And quietly, he kept reporting his findings, as well as how he came to them, and in the end his facts triumphed over the reality distortion field of polemical media noise. Yay for facts.
I began the new year last year with a terrific present from my wife: A Fiat 500 Lounge Edition (not the Abarth). After a year of driving it, I'm a convert. It's a fantastic car. I owned a 2005 Cooper Mini for a few years so I think I've had a good comparison. The Fiat is quick, agile, handles well, and is fun to drive. More fun to drive than the Mini in this driver's humble opinion.
The Fiat isn't perfect. It's a tiny bit sluggish off the line and the lack of horsepower shows most clearly when trying to pass on the freeway. Its gas mileage is less than I'd hope for such a light, small car (about equivalent to the Mini). But these are small quibbles to me. The size of this thing is like having a superpower, especially in a city as parking challenged as San Francisco. I've lugged a ton of crap in it, beaten it up a bit, but my love for the 500 hasn't diminished a bit over the last year.
My twin boys, Thing One and Thing Two, are 13 years old now. It's crazy. They are hitting the teens with a vengeance. Everything you hear about teens is true: they can be surly, moody, and definitely smelly. They forget everything, they flout your rules, talk back, have secret lives, and can't stand being around you in public.
I knew I'd have to have a sex talk, but how many? How do you raise kids in an age when you can practically get porn on your microwave oven for chrissakes? (For the record I make them turn in all internet enabled devices every night in addition to enabling full parental controls on all of them.)
But how truly amazing it is to see the adult shape of your kids taking form in their awkward bodies. For the first time I'm seeing what kind of men they'll be, and it's an inspiring picture. They're both sweet-natured. They have excellent taste, wonderful adventurous palettes, and a hearty dark sense of humor. They're smart and curious and both are excellent musicians.
They drive me nuts. I love them. Both these statements are true at the same time.