Five Good Things VII: Feedly Takes Manhatten

lardladIt’s time for another edition of Five Good Things, a short list of things that are making me happy lately.

1. Feedly

Well the Google Readerpocalypse has come and gone, and I’ve moved my business over to Feedly.  Honestly?  I’m actually happer with it than I was with Google Reader.  It seems to have more options and scroll faster than Reader did, and I’m able to catch up on my blog reading a lot faster these days.

2. Thursday Next

My current reading is going through the Thursday Next series.  There are six novels, and I had only read the first four in paperback.  So I bought all six on my Kindle and am now on the fifth title.  These books never cease to amaze me with their absurd humor and incredible creativity.  If literary humor, time travel, demon battling, alternate worlds, and using the very format of the book itself as part of the story appeals, this is a must-read.

3. Parry Gripp

I didn’t realize that Parry Gripp, the “Monkey riding backwards on a pig” song guy had an entire album until lately, but he does and it is fantastic.  It’s 50 short and insanely catchy tunes that me and my kids now rock out to on a daily basis.  He’s got a couple other albums that I haven’t listened to yet, too.

4. Free R.C. Sproul crucial question ebook series

R.C. Sproul has long been one of my favorite reformed theologians.  He’s got this Columbo look/personality to him and a brilliant way of taking complex Christian doctrine and teaching it in a way that’s clear and concise.  He’s now offering his set of 14 Crucial Questions ebooks for free forever, and I’ve really been loving going through them.

5. The Simpsons Tapped Out

I know that there’s not a lot of respect out there for time-based management games.  And I know that EA is pure evil, eats kittens, and is still perplexed why people were upset about SimCity.  But… TSTO just hits a happy spot for me.  It’s a franchise I have fond feelings for, a gradual sense of progression, good humor, and a smattering of strategy.  While certain buildings are hidden behind pay walls, a good chunk of the game is completely free and you can go all the way through it without paying a dime.  I like that.

Five Good Things VI: Good Things Live!

oddI’m still getting settled in from my vacation last week, and as to be expected, I haven’t put in a lot of video game time lately.  That said, here are five good things that I’ve appreciated from my trip!

1. Room Service

I’m kind of the cook of the family, so I spend a lot of time making meals and feeding these four vagrants that have set up residence in this house.  I don’t mind it, but I’ll tell you, it was bliss to have one week where the world catered to my stomach instead.  The best part of this was ordering room service, which we did at least once a day.  I swear, it’s positively heady to know that you can pick up the phone and say, “Food!  Here!  Now!” and someone will bring you plates full of goodies.

Yes, I ordered an international cheese plate at 11:30 at night.  What of it?

2. Odd Thomas series

Dodge recommended that I check out the Odd Thomas book series, so I put a few of them on my Kindle for the trip.  Over the course of the week, I devoured all six books (a seventh is coming later this month) and found a new favorite.

I’ve never read Dean Koontz before, but I have to say that this at least was pretty darn good.  Odd Thomas is a likable fry cook who has learned to cope with the fact that he can see ghosts.  It sounds pretty been-there-done-that, but there’s a lot more to it than a latent Sixth Sense ripoff.  Odd doesn’t shy away from using his handful of supernatural gifts to help ghosts and people, although it puts him in terrible situations that get more and more gonzo as the series progresses.  At the core of each book is a mystery, and the highly moral Odd is usually pitted against pure evil in its many forms.  There’s some scifi, some horror, some thriller, plenty of adventure, and even a hefty dose of comedy (Odd’s first person perspective is often tongue-in-cheek).  Great stuff — check it out!

3. Thunderstorms

One of the nights on the cruise I was sitting on my balcony and got to watch a distant thunderstorm play out over the water.  It was really incredible, especially with nothing blocking the view.  Kind of looked like artillery constantly detonating in low-lying clouds.

4. Happy Endings

My wife and I brought the second season of Happy Endings to watch at night on the cruise.  I really didn’t expect much out of it at first, but this has turned into a pretty darn funny show.  The jokes come quick and smart, the characters are just weird enough to be interesting without being annoying, and I love how they’re not afraid to play out goofy situations.  My wife calls it her “new Friends,” which is something the show actually references (including “fat Joey”).

5. Coming Home

As good as any trip is, I love coming home.  I especially love it when my daughter runs up to the door, throws her arms out, and says, “Welcome home mom and dad, we made you a sign!”  It was our first time being away from all of the kids for more than a night, so we made it up to them by bringing out the sleeping bags and throwing a slumber party.

Five Good Things V: The Fivening

pixelIt’s been a little while, but here we are again with five decidedly good things to enjoy!

1. Video Games: Pixel Art

When 3D started making headway into video games in the PlayStation/N64 era, I was dismayed to see gorgeous sprites being replaced by blocky monstrosities.  Even today I consider some of the 16-bit era titles to be better-looking than some of what’s put out there.

That’s why I’m a huge fan of the resurgence of pixel art in video games, especially on mobile platforms.  It seems like games that use the old-school blockiness get a +1 for coolness alone — and they keep on coming.  Tiny Tower, Sword & Sorcery, Punch Quest, Pixel People, Knights of Pen & Paper, and even Realm of the Mad God are just wallowing in sprite goodness.  More, please!

2. Music: Amazon’s $5 soundtrack sale

I just saw this last night — Amazon MP3 is selling a bunch of great soundtracks (perhaps for the Oscars) for just $5.  There’s a ton of John Williams’ stuff on here, as well as Buffy and Angel’s soundtracks.  And how can I resist getting the 80’s Transformers album?  Ghostbusters?  X-Men: First Class?  Rocky II – IV?  I AM ONLY A MAN OF FLESH AND BLOOD!

3. Book: The Red Wolf Conspiracy

Already this fantasy title is on my “best read of 2013″ list, even though I’m only halfway through it.  It’s about an ancient and massive ship that goes on a mysterious journey fraught with many implications.  From animals that are “awakened” to assassins to 8-inch-high people to a semi-mad captain to a young boy who can magically interpret any language, there’s so much going on on this single ship that it’s never boring.  Seriously, every chapter’s been captivating so far.

4. TV: New Girl

I know it’s probably incredibly uncool to like this show, but you know what?  It makes me laugh, the guys in it are funnier than Zooey, and it’s one of the few sitcoms that my wife and I agree on and watch together.  Since I’ve had a falling out with Big Bang Theory, I’ve been looking for a couple good comedy series to fill the gap.  Guess this is one of them.

5. Toy: LEGO Millennium Falcon

My wife gave me the biggest LEGO kit I’ve ever gotten for Christmas, and putting together the Falcon took about four hours of work.  Was fun though, and it makes for a great addition to my Star Wars LEGO shelf at work.  There’s a lot of great little details in the ship, including smuggler’s compartments and the little chess table.

Five Good Things IV: Never Say Die

James Bond is like stinky cheese to me; a little goes a long way and keeps me from partaking again for a while.  Not that it’s all bad, mind you, but I just don’t need to gorge on it.  So Skyfall was okay, but it’s also reset my interest in the franchise for a few years at least.

But what is getting me excited these days?  Here are five things!  Good things!

1. Food: Turkey

Dang, but I love this delicious fowl.  Turkey deli slices just don’t do it, but I do eat a lot of turkey in my diet (turkey bacon rocks).  The absolute best is the Thanksgiving turkey, because then you get the chunks of turkey that go oh-so-well with mayo and cheese for day-after sandwiches.  Mmm.

2. Music: MMO soundtracks

Ever since starting my Jukebox Heroes column at Massively, I’ve been absolutely immersing myself in MMO music of all types.  I’m not just talking the one or two soundtracks everyone seems to know, but really obscure stuff that’s turning out to be great stuff.  I’m really looking forward to sharing some of these findings with you guys!

3. iPhone Game: Knights of Pen and Paper

This is such a cool and addicting little RPG that isn’t quite like anything I’ve ever seen.  It’s not just a standard RPG where you have a party that goes on quests, beats encounters, loots gold, and so on, but it’s presented as a group of contemporary roleplayers sitting at a table where a GM is describing the scene and setting up the quests.  While the grammar is sometimes horrible, the humor is great and the game’s quite enjoyable to play.

4. Season: Christmas

The past few years I’ve been a little blah about the Christmas season in general, but this year I’m extremely excited about it.  I think that’s due in part to my kids becoming an age where they can start to understand what’s going on and get excited about it themselves.  I’m planning to go all-out with decorating, for starters, and am planning a few new traditions for the family to enjoy this year.  Also, I’m totally okay with listening to the Christmas music station while I’m driving.

5. TV: Andy Richter Controls the Universe

I’m rediscovering this almost-forgotten cult classic sitcom from the early 2000s.  It’s not the funniest thing I’ve ever watched, but the tale of five co-workers and friends who get into some pretty weird situations is definitely watchable.  There are so many good lines in it, and I can see how this was a spiritual predecessor to some of my other favorites, such as Arrested Development and Better Off Ted.

Five Good Things III: The Dream Warriors

It’s Monday.  I’m sick.  And the baby has us in a seven-day-plus holding pattern right now as we wait for the labor to go full-force, which has caused no end to disruptions in our lives.  So let’s talk about five good things, shall we?

1. Driving: AV jacks in cars

Both our new and previous van had one of the greatest features ever: a small hole.  That hole allows me to plug my iPhone into the stereo system, and I love it to death.  No more fiddling with custom CDs, horrible radio tuners that never work, or other workarounds — now I can just jump in, plug in, and listen to my incredibly bizarre playlist.  I was trying to calculate the odds that one other person on this planet has the same collection of songs that I do, and I feel confident that it’s zero.  Except for you.  You and I share a special bond, we do.

2. Book: Pines

I’m on a hot streak when it comes to gripping books lately, and the most recent I finished (well, second most recent) was Pines by Blake Crouch.  Pines is kind of blowing up the Amazon charts right now, and for good reason.  It’s tense, inventive, and wrecks your mind in all sorts of good ways.

I don’t want to spoil it, because it’s one of those kind of books, but it’s more or less the story of a Secret Service agent who wakes up after an accident in a very creepy town out West.  Everyone’s seemingly against him, and he can’t quite seem to escape.  Figuring out what’s going on is what’ll keep you flipping through it.

3. TV: Fall DVD season

Oh, how I love the fall, because that’s when all of the shows that I’ve patiently waited to see finally come out on DVD.  We don’t watch TV, so this is the time where I catch up on the previous year.  I’m drowning in seasons of Community, Big Bang Theory, Parks and Rec, The Office, Warehouse 13, and so much more.  It’s bliss.

4. Seasonal: Halloween decorations

Halloween’s my favorite holiday, especially how people and stores get all into decorations.  The mix of creepy and goofy fun appeals to the child in me and makes me happy that the leaves are falling.  Plus, homeowners who go all out and do their entire yard up in spooky decorations always get a full-stop from me when I’m driving.

5. Food: Gyro meat

Detroit is rolling in Greek restaurants and diners, which means that I don’t have to go far for a gyro.  Recently I’ve discovered how much I crave this type of meat, especially on salads.

 

Five Good Things II: The Return

Usually when the fall hits, I’m marinating in all sorts of stress and duldrums, what with the increase of work and the end of summer bliss.  That doesn’t feel like the case this year, however; I get to meet my son any day now, I’m losing weight, I’ve got so many great games to play, and I have broken out of a mental routine that I didn’t even know I was in.  As a result, I’m appreciating more the good things in life — and here are five more of them.

1. Music: Bastion soundtrack

Video game soundtracks should never sound this good.  It’s, like, a statistical improbability.  But here we have Bastion’s OST, the score to the hit indie title, and it is luxurious.  It’s not new, and I’ve even listened to some of it before, but the other night I went and bought the whole thing as a thank you to my ears.  It’s just a rich score full of trippy Western beats, soulful dirges, and emotional journeys.  Give it a listen!

2. TV: Warehouse 13

My wife and I were starving for a new show to watch together, and after some Netflix perusing, we gave this a try.  Lo and behold, it was not only great for the two of us (a less gory X-Files/Fringe), but suddenly it seemed like everyone I knew was watching it too.  It follows the adventures of two reassigned Secret Service agents who collect “artifacts” for a giant mysterious warehouse that holds some of the greatest inventions and secrets of the world.  I particularly like the interplay between the two main characters as sort of adopted brother and sister, and the humor is welcome.

3. Game: City of Heroes nostalgia

Make no mistake, City of Heroes closing is a Bad Thing, and does not belong on this list.  But there’s been an interesting side-effect to it, in that it’s bringing out all manner of nostalgia from current and former players.  I’m experiencing it too, and really love reading everyone’s thoughts on it.  Shared experiences is a big part of the MMO community, and it’s good to be reminded that not only the most recent games are the important ones.

4. Food: Frozen blueberries

As part of my low-carb diet, I’ve got few options for dessert.  My go-to sweet these days are frozen blueberries, which totally kick the butt of regular blueberries.  First of all, they don’t mold, so there’s that.  Second, the freezing makes them super-sweet, kind of like little slushies.  I love feeling them melt in my mouth.

5. Playtime: Making tents out of blankets

You know what’s great about having kids?  It’s a terrific excuse to act like a kid yourself, especially when you play with them.  My kids LOVE blanket tents and forts, so much so that if I just put a blanket over my head, they’ll wiggle inside cooing “Ooh tent! tent!”

So I’ve been making lots of elaborate blanket tents these days, sometimes utilizing furniture and a collapsible tunnel we have.  Keeps ‘em busy, and then they get to destroy it and it’s all good.

Five Good Things

Every once in a while I feel the need… the need for speed!  And to blather on about something that’s either caught my eye or entertained me outside of MMOs and movies.  So for that, I’m booting up a semi-recurring feature called Five Good Things.  There are these things, see?  Five of them.  And they are, indeed, good.

1.  Music: Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game soundtrack

Seeing as how Scott Pilgrim is a console title, I haven’t played it, but I am fond of the movie and comic book.  This soundtrack came recommended from a few different sources, but I’ve delayed picking it up until recently.  Wish I got it sooner, because it’s right up my alley — pure retro 8/16-bit music with a modern kick.  This makes absolutely great travel music or something to listen to during a marathon of anything.

I guess it’s by the group Anamanaguchi, but I’ve never heard of them before.  I’ll definitely be checking out their stuff now.  Give it a listen!  I’m serious, this is incredible stuff.

2. Website: The Nicest Place on the Internet

ArenaNet’s Rubi Bayer passed this along, and while it’s not new, it did make me smile a lot.  Basically, it’s just people recording themselves giving you (the camera) a hug with sincere emotion.  Or I think it’s sincere.

3. TV Show: Black Books

A while back I put out a call on Twitter for offbeat sitcoms, and this was one of the ones tossed back.  It’s a BBC programme (I spelt it all Englishy like!) from the early 2000s, just 18 episodes total, about a surly book shop owner, his recent hire, and best friend next door.  There’s a lot of hilarious beats, facial gestures, and wonderfully quotable lines.  Great stuff.

4. Book: The Wind Through the Keyhole

I finally, finally got around to reading Stephen King’s latest entry in my beloved Dark Tower series.  It’s a shorter novel that he’s sandwiching between the fourth and fifth books in the series, and while it’s not necessary to read for the larger story, it’s great to get another glimpse into this world.

Basically, Wind Through the Keyhole is a story nestled inside a story nestled inside a story.  It takes place when the ka-tet is holed up during a storm, and Roland tells them a tale that centers around a fairy tale he once heard.  In a way, his story is a sequel to the events of Roland’s story in Wizard and Glass, and it helps show a little more of his transition from youth to gunslinger.

5. Hygiene: Bubble baths

Have you taken one recently?  You totally should.  It’s not just for little kids!