Favorite Thing Ever, Reborn!

Hey, the world is full of cool stuff!

I'll be honest, when I first saw things about Midnight Suns I was like “okay, sure, another Marvel game” and paid it no more attention.

Until I saw it was created by Firaxis. And was a turn-based tactics game. In other words, it's the next XCOM.

And I loooove XCOM. I love the first (new) XCOM. I love XCOM 2. I even love Chimera Squad. (We don't talk about Bruno The Bureau.)

I have seen people compare Midnight Suns to Fire Emblem and I can see that, but it's a Firaxis game! So I'm going to just dive into my review and what I love about the game.


I'm reviving a blog that used to be called “this is the best!” to more accurately reflect where it came from. I'm stealing a CSS sheet for now, from the fabulous Misty Notes, but I'll be writing my own CSS in the near future.

But I'm looking forward to bringing an embarassing amount of online love to things I, well, love.

Plex Wordmark

Seriously, I can't overstate this. Plex is everything these days, and the more you put into it the more you get out of it. Literally.

Most people think of Plex as an app you use to stream your movies to yourself. And it does that, quite well. Plex clients run on everything. So if you have a huge collection of movies then set up a Plex server and you've got your movies on every device you own. Or in your browser.

Of course there's also TV support, so if you've got DVDs of your favorite shows you can put those on Plex and as long as you name the files correctly it will do all the work of digging up metadata and making your shows look nice and happy in their new home, complete with episode summaries, auto-play of the next episode (or not...it's all configurable so it will work the way you want it), and all the usual bells and whistles.

Then they started in on music. And suddenly Plex is the best thing ever.

Plexamp Icon

Seriously, Plexamp. All your music, presented in a way that makes sense for music. Playlists are easy. “Radio stations” made entirely of your own music are easy. If you tag your music in the main Plex app you can get stations based around genere, decade, or “mood”, which is pretty much your own way to categorize your music. If you subscribe to Tidal you can integrate Tidal into Plex and it shows up like it was just part of your music library. Plexamp has become my favorite app. It works on my phone, tablet, computer, and has made my world far more musical.

And recently Plex added free (but ad-supported) live television . Meaning if you're tired of your own media you can watch something new and weird. My favorite channels thus far are just music videos. I can listen to music that someone else curated and occasionally check out the accompanying video if it's interesting. By the way, most videos from the 80's are hilariously bad. Even if you love the songs. Sure you could find these videos on YouTube, but now you don't have to. Just sit back and let them happen.

The cost of a lifetime Plex pass, which is their subscription service that pays for all this development work, is not much more than you'd pay for a year of any other streaming service, and gets you things like offline sync, so you can stash a bunch of movies or TV or music on your tablet, then watch it without a connection. I used this feature a tonwhen the world still included things like “travel”.

Plex has gone from the app I used to watch a few sitcoms on my iPad to being the heart of my media world, and is in use in one way or another all day every day.

Kind Words is barely a game. And that's a good thing.

A while ago I started thinking about the sort of game I would like my kids to play. Ideally I'd love for them to have a game that teaches empathy instead of conquest. It's fun to go around and blow up bad guys, but it's not a life skill. What if we could use the power of video games to teach people to see others in a more human way? What if we could create experiences that help us connect to each other?

Kind Words is that.

Here's the game:

You can choose to answer letters. These letters come from random people online. They are all just...life questions. You get seventeen short lines of text to give this random stranger some encouragement, advice, commiseration, whatever you like. The rule of the game is in the name: these are meant to be Kind Words. You send your letter and that's the last you'll hear from this person. There's no real payback, just the joy of sending happiness out into the world.

And, of course, you can also ask questions, or send your own letter out to be answered by random people. This is a surprisingly difficult thing to do. Even though there's no real way these people can trace anything back to you, it's still a moment of vulnerability. But if you can open up and accept that vulnerability the payback is immense. I wrote about a problem I'm having. It's nothing huge, because my life is good. But It's something that does keep me up at night.

Within a few minutes I had five letters from complete strangers telling me that I was doing okay, that things would get better, that people out there have faced similar problems and have made it through.

I went back to answer other people's questions, occasionally stopping to read the little happy thought paper airplanes that float through the game (also written by other people) and to write a few happy thoughts of my own to send out there. I got a few more notes of encouragement from my letter. And I realized something:

I'd been “playing” for about an hour, and I couldn't stop smiling.

When was the last time you could say that about a game? I felt genuinely happy. It feels good to help lift other people's burdens, even if you don't know them at all. It feels good to go into a place where everyone is focused on being kind to one another. This game feels. good.

So I'm formally inviting you to send out some letters. Let others give you some encouragement, and try your hand at encouraging others as well. If there's one thing we need, heading into 2020, it's more Kind Words.

I'm not exactly going out on a limb by proclaiming the merits of Baba Yetu, Christopher Tin's award-winning masterpiece. Since its release as the “title screen” track for Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Baba Yetu has garnered praise from all corners.

Which is wonderful. Tin is a wonderful and accomplished composer, and this could rightfully be considered his masterpiece in the oldest sense of the word: this is the work that grants him the status as a master. But what does that mean to you and me? Here's why this song gets a post:

It feels amazing.

Listen to it again. How can you not be moved by this music? If you speak Swahili you understand the lyrics, the rest of us had to read the Wikipedia article to learn that the song is a translation of the Lord's Prayer from the New Testament.

But no matter who you are there is power in this music. There is simplicity as it starts, swelling into grace and optimism and grandeur that includes all of humanity in its sweep. This song hasn't aged in the thirteen years since its release, nor will it. Like all the true classics, Baba Yetu will be relevant and fresh forever, like Moonlight Sonata or Kind of Blue. This is music for the ages.

CleanShot icon

I've always been a fan of the Unix “One Thing Well “ mentality: Apps should do one thing, and they should do it as best they can. So I keep an eye out for apps that live that mandate. It's so satisfying to find something that does what it's supposed to do and does it without making a fuss.

So I'm here to tell you about one I just discovered: CleanShot.

CleanShot is a capture tool. Intended to act as a stand-in for Mac OS's built-in screen capture capabilities, it improves them in small but impactful ways.

As the name implies, CleanShot cleans up your desktop for you, so that when you take a screenshot it doesn't reflect the actual messy state of your desktop. By default it hides desktop icons, but if you want it can also replace your desktop wallpaper. When you take a single-window screenshot it places your window serenely on a background of your choice, centered and un-cluttered by anything else you actually had open when you took the screenshot.

it's the difference between this:

and this:

I didn't actually close any windows between the two, CleanShot just hid them.

I realize this is a tiny little one thing well, but the presentation makes all the difference sometimes. This is a nice little tool to add to your belt.

I remember when I started playing this game. Someone at work asked what everyone was playing these days and I spoke up first.

“Oh man, I found the best game, you guys. It's called Stardew Valley and you can grow crops and get better and better sprinklers to take care of your crops, and you can make friends in town...and you...can go...fishing...why are you all looking at me like that?”

Okay, so it's not a gamer's game. You don't really “win” at Stardew Valley. Except, lemme tell you, you so do.

Stardew Valley is a few years old now, and on just about every platform. I should know, because I've bought four copies of it. (Steam, GOG, Switch, and iPad, in that order). I played it for a great many hours when it came out, three years ago (or thereabouts). And now that it's on iPad I'm playing it again.

It's like going home. I know all the people in Pelican Town, I already love their personalities and eccentricities. The Stardew Valley Soundtrack is incredible, perfectly suited to the action in the game, and beautiful enough that I listen to it fairly frequently even when I'm not playing. The art style is simple, inviting, and effective, and the writing is subtle and nuanced. The fact that the entire thing was put together by one person is utterly amazing.

The iPad version had some work done by others to port it to iOS, but they've kept the game essentially unchanged, just adapted for touch controls. And I find that I like the touch controls best. It's simple and intuitive to just tap where you want the farmer to do whatever it is you're trying to do.

If you haven't already picked up this gem of a game do yourself a favor and do so now. If you have, go dive back into Pelican Town. It's worth the visit.

I've been a huge fan of Wondermark for, wow, it must be a decade or more now. David Malki ! (that's how he writes it, so that's how I write it) has honed his craft of taking old woodcut illustrations and bringing them to life in amazingly modern ways.

And recently he's started one of his incredibly rare story arcs. All tied together around the improbable phrase “check out my sick elephant”. I've found it incredibly amusing and kinda refreshing to see an through-line in what has always been a one-off type of comic.

Anyway, this:

I'm so happy we live in a world that has things like this in it.

It makes me happy that we live in a world where things like this make total sense, given that you're part of a select group of webcomic fans.

If you haven't already, go check out #Wondermark. You'll be glad you did.

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