Best, Better, Bestest — My Favorites of 2015

I’m 35 years old and I’m still making lists like this? Yes, yes I am.

The reason why is simple: I like reading about other people’s favorites — books, travel destinations, movies, music, apps, whatever — and these types of posts generally have high interest and engagement. Although I’m breaking the mold. No photos. Just text (3,000+ words). For the hardcore among us.

Note: All links below open in a new window so fill up those tabs! And Amazon links are referral links.

Books

Favorite non-fiction book I read in 2015:

Bad Science by Ben Goldacre

If I could give one book to every human on Earth and I had to choose it today this would be it.

With a caveat.

There were a couple glaring logical fallacies towards the end of the book that I’m surprised the author made considering what the book is about. The common Ad Hominem fallacy known as Guilt by Association along with a bit of a straw man were particularly grating. Goldacre says he is wary of GM (genetically modified) crops because, among other things, “If you really want to dig deeper, Monsanto is also very simply an unpleasant company (it made Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, for example).”

This book is nearly 10 years old so maybe Goldacre has updated his stance based on the evidence. You don’t decide to stop sleeping because at some point in time you had a nightmare. And you don’t disregard GM crops because of one company’s past. Additionally, Monsanto isn’t the only company doing GM work so using them as a straw man for GM is disingenuous. It’s also an old, tired, and incorrect argument constantly used by people on the left. If you think Monsanto is inherently evil you’ve spent too much time watching one-sided, misinformed, documentaries that agree with your regressive worldview.

Save for that misstep Bad Science is great. Read it if you care about anything at all.

Buy it here.

Favorite fiction:

The Martian by Andy Weir

I know, I know. I know. Really. I know. I’m rarely a fan of science fiction, but The Martian is as good as the hype. I haven’t seen the film yet, but I hear it’s also great and I’ll see it eventually.

Buy it here.

Wait, wait, wait, stop the presses! I just finished The Book Thief by Markus Zusak on Dec 31 and it is my new favorite fiction of the year. It made me cry too much. Get it here.

A few other books (of the 50+ I read this year) you might like:

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

I read most of this in a hotel room while waiting for my clothes to dry in Bologna, Italy. It’s too long for my regular taste (nearly 800 pages), but even so, it kept my attention. (Every time I left my hotel I’d get soaked with snowmelt and I only have one pair of shoes. So I spent a lot of time inside reading.)

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

I’m surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed science fiction this year. This one will be particularly fun for you if you’re a child of the 80s.

Dreams From Bunker Hill by John Fante

The fourth (and last) in the Arturo Bandini series. If I were you I’d start with Ask The Dust, though. If you’re a Bukowski fan then this series is a must read since Fante heavily influenced Bukowski. “Fante was my god.” – Charles Bukowski

An Illustrated Book of Bad Arguments by Ali Almossawi

Give this book to everybody along with the previously mentioned Bad Science. It’s free to read online, but I supported the cause and bought a copy.

Creating Change Through Humanism by Roy Speckhardt

Although I’ve been following the American Humanist Association (of which Mr Speckhardt is the Director) for years I’ve never considered myself a humanist. I always felt like it was a bit of a cop out. Or a cloak. Hiding behind the term atheism, which I prefer not to hide. But after reading this book (which I purchased after participating in this Reddit AMA with Mr Speckhardt) I guess I am a humanist atheist.

Creating Change Through Humanism is an account of the challenges that face non-believers in a world of believers, along with a historical breakdown of where humanism began and how it’s growing. More importantly it’s an account of how to create change through positive action. It’s not about proselytizing or deconverting, but about being out in the open and doing good things for the sake of doing good things. For humans, animals, the Earth and the universe alike. Hopefully all can appreciate that message whether they think atheists like me are amoral creatures who will burn in a fictional hell or not.

Music

Metric – Pagans In Vegas (spotify, amazon)

I briefly dated a girl about 10 years ago whose favorite band was Metric. And because of that I never listened to them. “Metric? Sounds like pretentious indie rock. No thanks.” Come to find out I love pretentious indie rock. Ha.

In September this album came up on Spotify’s new releases list, I hit play, and I’ve been obsessed with the band ever since. Emily Haines writes what I describe as perfectly relatable lyrics and the music is the type I wish I had the talent to compose. Next month when Spotify sends me my most listened to tracks of 2015 I’m going to guess the top 20 will be dominated by Metric.

Must listen track: Celebrate

Coheed and Cambria – The Color Before The Sun (spotify, amazon)

I saw Coheed live back in 2006 at UCF Arena in Orlando, FL. Although they were good live performers I was not a fan back then and only went because I got free tickets. It wasn’t until a couple years ago and I found their album Afterman (thanks, again, Spotify!) that I actually listened to their work. If you like stories — concept albums — with your music then this is a band you might like. The new album doesn’t follow the storyline of their other albums (it’s difficult to follow the whole story anyway since it encompasses other mediums than just music), but it’s still outstanding.

Must listen track: You Got Spirit, Kid

The White Buffalo – Love and the Death of Damnation (spotify, amazon)

Possibly my favorite musician of the past few years. Every album is listenable through and through. This new one continued that trend. I’m such a fanboy I’ve done a couple bad covers of The White Buffalo songs on youtube (1, 2). Sorry you had to hear that. (Note to self: Add voice lessons to the bucket list.)

Must listen track: Modern Times

Film

Montage of Heck

I wouldn’t recommend this for anybody except Nirvana fans. It’s well done and surprisingly — considering Kurt Cobain killed himself over 20 years ago — reveals new insights into the man.

That’s the only film I watched in theatres, and I don’t recall any new standouts that I watched elsewhere. I’ve seen a bunch of movies via Amazon Prime, but there’s no watch history that I can look back on. So I’ll share one of my favorite movies that I didn’t see in 2015: Once. (Related to Once: We’re going to see Glen Hansard live in February! The last time I saw him was in the top 5 live shows I’ve been to in my life. He is outstanding.)

Apps

I use the following almost daily.

Player.fm

This is the type of app that I wish I could pay for because I want it to prosper. Just let us all send you $10 or something, man!

It is the best Android podcast listening app. Bonus: you can also listen to your subscriptions through a web browser on other devices.

Here is my public Player.fm profile.

TunnelBear (referral link)

If you’re looking for an easy to use and effective VPN then TunnelBear is it. Particularly useful if you travel. I pay for the Grizzly (yearly) plan.

Bonus: if you’re from the US, travel internationally, and want to still use Amazon Prime Video then this is your ticket since Prime Video won’t work without a US-based IP address.

Spotify

I’ve been a paying member since they launched a few years ago. On the one hand Spotify is great because it has saved me a lot of money since I’m grandfathered into the old $5/month plan and I rarely buy music anymore. (I used to spend a few hundred dollars per year on music.) On the other hand, Spotify is probably hurting independent artists whose fans don’t buy albums anymore and that’s not good. So I still buy music that friends release and I’ll buy something if it’s unpopular and amazing, just to support art. (Alan Gogoll comes to mind.)

That said, Amazon Prime Music has stepped up its game and I’m about ready to quit Spotify altogether. I find more value in the $99/year I spend on Amazon Prime (12 book borrows per year, 12 indie book downloads per year, large selection of music/movies) than the $60/year I spend on Spotify and I can only see Amazon doing better in the coming years. (Do I have to disclose that I own AMZN here? OK, disclosed.) When their apps first came out they weren’t very good. It was difficult to find newly added albums, for example. But recently they’ve gotten much better. And I can download songs to my phone for listening offline, which I can’t do with my particular Spotify plan. If you’re worried that Amazon Prime Music “only” has 1 million+ songs and Spotify (and its ilk) allegedly has 30 million+ don’t be. Most of what you listen to is probably on Amazon Prime (they even have T.Swift!) and Spotify (they don’t have T.Swift!) has even stated that many of their tracks have never been listened to. If you need a new release that Amazon Prime doesn’t have — they can be slower with new releases — you can just spend the $10, own it, and still save in the long run.

A note on these music apps: I realize there are free ways to download music and also free apps (like Spotify free). But I don’t want to steal from artists and I don’t want to listen to advertising if I can help it.

Update a few days after posting this: I canceled Spotify!

Cinch

Simple window resizing. It’s more useful than it seems.

Telegram

I like this much better than Whatsapp. Too bad almost everybody I know is on Whatsapp and almost nobody I know uses Telegram except my wife. I much prefer chatting via computer than phone and Telegram lets you send/receive messages across all devices. e.g. My wife can message me from her phone to my computer, and vice versa.

Telegram has recently gotten a bad rep because of their amazing encryption and use amongst Islamists to organize terrorist attacks. I don’t think that should scare you off, but do what you will.

YouTubers

Not surprisingly, they’re mostly woodworkers or makers.

Bonus non-woodworker: Thunderf00t, even though he spends too much time talking about modern western feminism and how detrimental, misguided, and misinformed it is. His science experiments and pseudoscience debunking videos are great, but if I never see anything anywhere about professional video game complainers again it will be too soon. He does a lot of fun experiments, but I particularly like when he dissects the science or lack thereof in popular culture. Such as this: The stupidity that just won’t die! Super Cycleways and other snake oil.

Update (March 13, 2016): I’ve unsubscribed from Thunderf00t. There have been far too many non-science videos and it’s annoying to consistently see negative videos in my feed.

Podcasts

  • StarTalk Radio – Still my favorite. If you’re not a fan of Neil deGrasse Tyson yet let’s never hang out. Just kidding. We can still hang out. If by hang out you mean listen to StarTalk Radio and not speak to each other.
  • The Skeptics’ Guide To The Universe – Steven Novella is one of my favorite bloggers and I’m not sure how he also has time to do this podcast and work as a clinical neurologist. For some reason I didn’t start listening to the Skeptics’ Guide regularly until this year even though it is precisely the kind of echo chamber I sometimes need in a world full of pseudoscience and in-your-face religiosity.

Blogs

Science:

  • Neurologica – Dr. Novella is a masterful communicator, but he writes so often that it’s difficult to choose a favorite. So I’m going to go with a recent essay: We Need Both Science and Critical Thinking. Related: I’ve listened to Your Deceptive Mind about 5 times now.
  • Sam Harris – He gets too involved with defending himself against people who hate him (thereby promoting them since he usually has the bigger platform), but he’s a great writer and orator when he’s on the offensive. The Fireplace Delusion is one of my favorite pieces. Update (March 13, 2016): I’ve unsubscribed from Sam’s podcast and newsletter. The pettiness and sarcasm has become unbearable. Case in point: The Best Podcast Ever. The title of a podcast he didn’t want to post because he didn’t like the interviewee. It’s something I would expect from a 15 year old. Anyway, I’ll still read his books (and maybe some articles if they happen to make their way to me somehow) because he is a great writer, but I’ve unsubscribed from his stuff.

Finance:

The blogs below are all what I would call intelligent-aggressive personal finance for the layman. Meaning, you don’t need to be special or hold a high paying job, but you have to be intelligent enough to understand basic economic principles and get aggressive about your finances.

Thanks to these blogs (along with Mr Money Mustache, Go Curry CrackerFinancial Samurai, and Mad Fiendist) for teaching me I did nearly everything wrong in my 20s. I now feel both better and worse about wasting hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars as an adult. This includes a massive chunk given to charities and people, which I would’ve been better off saving/investing and giving away in 30-40 years when it’d be really significant. Building wealth first and then giving it all away when it can make an impact is much more exciting to me now. (In my defense, I’ve already given away more than most people probably will in their lifetimes so I don’t feel bad about holding back on charitable giving nowadays. FFRF and Wikipedia will likely continue to get my cash, though.)

Miscellaneous

  • Jesus & Mo – This cartoon is spot on week after week. I support it with a small monthly donation on Patreon.
  • Life of Norman – My wife and I are big fans of Norman and his cat Norman. He’s a nice guy who’s maybe a little too proper and sometimes things don’t work out for him. But sometimes they do. Anybody can write a Norman story and the community will let you know if it’s good.
  • French press – We bought a cheap french press at Tesco and I’m surprised at how often we use it. Once per day, maybe more. And we now rarely waste time or money on coffee outside of the home. Of course, now I leave home even less than before. Win some lose some. (Also, I’m usually more a tea drinker than a coffee drinker, but I’ve grown to enjoy coffee over the past few years.)
  • Vegetable bouillon – Making vegetable broth is time consuming and I don’t like making it. But I love soup. These things are difficult to reconcile. Vegetable bouillon is the solution that I refused for years because of a misinformed opinion that it’s “unhealthy.” You know what’s actually unhealthy? Almost anything else in comparison to a cube of bouillon. A couple bags of various frozen veggies, a can or two of beans or a chunk of tofu (diced), water, cayenne pepper and a bouillon. Bring to a boil and eat. Tasty, simple, healthy. Difficult to top that.

And that does it for 2015. Thanks for reading. If you’ve made your own favorites of 2015 list share it in the comments.

3 Responses to Best, Better, Bestest — My Favorites of 2015

  1. Rdio and Mailbox were two of my favorite things :(

    I am interested in checking out those youtube channels. It is interesting to see YT and Podcasts becoming what blogs (like yours) were back in ~2009. I also enjoy the CinemaSins/Everything Wrong With channel.

    Lastly, I may be in the minority, but I really enjoy the Apple Watch :)

    • Thanks for the recs, Jeremy. I downloaded Mailbox quite some time ago, never used it, and uninstalled it not too long ago. Sorry it’s being shut down. :/ Never used Rdio, but I guess I can’t check it out now. haha.

      re: blogs. Yeah, I still read a lot of blogs, but YT channels have definitely displaced a lot of content consumption.

      re: Apple Watch. I’ve heard lots of good things although I won’t be getting one any time soon. :)

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