We made it! Another year (nearly!) complete. Go team!
The end of the year means many things — holidays, food, family, reflection, etc. Around these parts, it also means it’s time for the TechCrunch Favorite Things list.
Each year Team TechCrunch puts together a big list of the things that, when we look back over the last 12 months, stand out as being particularly great. As always, we don’t really restrict the definition of “thing”; maybe it’s a game that ate all your free time, or a gadget that helped you do your job, or a song that lived in your brain for weeks on end. Podcasts. People. Concepts. We’re deliberately very flexible with it, and it tends to result in an eclectic list of very good stuff.
Why do we do it? I’m… not sure! We started doing it one year and had fun, and it’s sort of just become a tradition. And if we don’t do it, people ask why. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Maybe it’ll inspire some last-minute gift ideas; maybe you’ll find something you want to look into for yourself. Whatever the case, enjoy!
When my four-year-old expressed an interest in video games, I wanted his first game to be something we could actively play together. A friend recommended Kirby and the Forgotten Land, and it’s honestly the perfect suggestion.
It’d be a fun enough game played solo — a solid, beautifully designed platformer. But for someone playing through with a kid, it’s a masterpiece. Player 1 is Kirby, Player 2 is “Bandana Waddle Dee.” My son always insists on being Kirby and… well, he’s four, so he wins. Fortunately the Player 2 role I’ve been perma-assigned never feels like a tacked-on sidekick; unlike Kirby, you can’t gobble up enemies to take on their powers, but you can kick butt in your own right all while subtly playing guardian angel/healer for Player 1 who doesn’t agree they need a health item and maybe a nap.
Despite playing for months now, we’ve yet to beat the last few levels. We keep playing through our favorites from the first half, instead — he has no interest in the game being “over,” and, honestly, I’m in no rush either.
Valve’s Steam Deck is less unobtainable than it once was, and thank the gaming gods for that. I picked one up a few months back and it’s single-handedly gotten me back into gaming, absolutely no exaggeration.
I’ve historically been a console guy for the ease and simplicity of the experience. I briefly went the PC gaming route and, while I’ll admit that it has its appeal, I’ve burned myself out spending hours reseating RAM, messing with drivers and trying to figure out which mods might be crashing my Skyrim install. The nice thing about the Steam Deck is, while it benefits from the wealth of PC gaming resources and tools out there — it’s a Linux-running machine, after all — there’s not much tinkering required to get it up and running out of the box. Sure, you can install mods, custom utilities and the like, but especially if most of your game library lives on Steam, the Deck will deftly handle the various necessary background management processes, delivering a flow that feels familiar to this longtime console gamers.
My one nag is compatibility. The Steam Deck’s compatibility layer for Windows games, Proton, does an exceptional job for the most part, but every so often I run into a fatal error that take eons to troubleshoot. (Recently, it was with Borderlands 3, which refused to launch despite my best efforts.) To Valve’s credit, Proton receives regular updates and Steam has a generous refund policy.
I’m late to this, but I picked up Michelle Zauner’s “Crying in H Mart” at a community bookstore in Boston recently and I’m thoroughly enjoying it. To pile on the praise, Zauner’s memoire is in equal parts wonderfully and tragically descriptive, relaying her experiences growing up as the daughter of a Korean immigrant mother who receives a terminal cancer diagnosis. Zauner walks us through life in small-town Eugene, Oregon, where her desire to escape from the isolating suburbs fueled her resentment and rebellion against her mother, and through young adulthood as Zauner tries to pick up the pieces before her mother passes.
It’s an emotional roller coaster to be sure, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t spotlight the ethereal-sounding dishes mentioned in each chapter. You see, Zauner and her mother were gastronomes — it’s one of the few passions that they shared in common — and Zauner doesn’t skimp on the depictions of Korean delicacies like jjamppong (spicy mixed-up seafood noodle soup), gyeranjjim (steamed eggs) and san-nakji (raw octopus). “Crying in H Mart” has inspired a few dinners in this household over the last several months, and I’m sure it will continue to for many years to come.
Now that this game is comfortably seated among the all-time greats, it seems superfluous to sing its praises, but in a year full of great games this one truly stood out. Awe-inspiring and generous even with its faults, Elden Ring further cemented the potential for games to be truly original and inspired art.
Normally I affect the 19th-century western canon aspect, but for whatever reason this year (I was curious about the fan film “Astartes,” as I recall), I picked up a book from the Horus Heresy prequel series to the Warhammer 40K world, a fandom I’ve always disdained. Like a fool! It’s awesome and these books are awesome: tragic space operas with the confidence of decades of established lore. Impossible to find many in print but that’s why I have…
I have lots of e-readers but this one has become my standby for its great display, highly adjustable light, ease of customization and loading, and a clever folding case that does triple duty as protection, stand and ergonomic grip. I’ve probably read like 8,000 pages on this thing.
I’m really bad at tracking time and appointments and meetings, and I’ve tried lots of stuff. I just forget everything. What actually ended up working for me is this weekly paper desk calendar. It’s kind of prosaic, but it’s exactly the size and style I want, and turns out what I needed to get more organized during a very busy year. Plus when I tear off the page I can use the paper for shopping lists and stuff — no need to keep a memo pad around! Apparently this is what I value in life.
I was going to include the Kobo Libra 2 e-reader as my recommended piece of hardware, but alas my colleague Devin beat me to it — the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus was next on my list. I actually bought this during the initial lockdown as a replacement for a more basic Garmin watch, but I’ve realized most of its value over the past 12 months as I’ve started traveling again.
While my old entry-level Garmin Forerunner 35 was fine for tracking distance, pace and speed in my runs, the Garmin Fenix 5 Plus allows me to map out a route through the Garmin mobile app and send it to my watch, which then serves up turn-by-turn navigation to ensure I never get lost in unfamiliar territory.
On top of that, I can also download Spotify playlists to my wrist. This means I no longer have to carry a bulky smartphone around with me if I want to listen to podcasts or music. Garmin has a bunch of watches at various price-points with different features, but having directions, podcasts and music on my wrist has been a real game-changer.
I’m a big fan of history podcasts, and this was a phenomenal find for me this year.
The “We Didn’t Start the Fire” podcast takes the lyrics from the 1989 Billy Joel chart-topper of the same name, and turns each of the 100-plus historical people and events mentioned in the song into an individual episode that explores the subject matter in detail.
Sure, a history podcast beholden to the words of a single song written more than 30 years ago is somewhat arbitrary, but this is a good thing, as it leads us down paths that we otherwise might never venture down. It is incredibly varied, spanning everything from well-known public figures such as Richard Nixon and Joe DiMaggio, to movies, music, wars and even the polyester fibre known as Dacron.
The presenters also manage to nab an interview with Billy Joel himself for one of the episodes, where they get him to explain why he chose to include certain historical people and events in the song. Although the podcast includes input from subject-matter experts, the dynamics and “banter” between co-presenters Katie Puckrik and Tom Fordyce is what makes this all work. They’re often tasked with discussing dense and obscure topics, and they bring it all to life.
I find it hard to get into new music these days, pretty much always reverting to tunes roughly from the 1960s to early 2000s era. But Spoon rarely puts out a dud, and “Lucifer on the Sofa” was another superb album from the Texas rockers, mixing amazing melodies and hooks to create a fresh, original classic.
I hesitated on whether to include this, as it’s by no means an all-time classic, but it’s a really fantastic little song for many reasons. “Watermelon” is an original composition from the movie “Dinner in America,” which hit theatrical release this year (it’s worth a watch, btw).
The song was written in a day largely by Emily Skeggs, one of the main actors in the movie — up until that point, Skeggs had never written a song before. Watermelon is a chugging two-minute punk ditty that reminded me that songs don’t need huge production or instrument mastery — three basic chords, a melody and a simple repetitive drumbeat that Meg from the White Stripes could probably do in her sleep. It’s a real little earworm that has been whistled in my household for most of 2022.
I wasn’t expecting too much from Stranger Things’ fourth season, with so much creepiness already spent and resonant riffing on 80s nostalgia said and done (and with the kids, er, pretty grown up these days). But the show managed to keep my attention and serve up some cracking new characters, plus a spine-tingling moment or two (injecting a Kate Bush classic into the ears of Gen Z was truly a stroke of genius). No spoilers, but the ending was a little too exposition heavy for my tastes — but, on balance, the series still thrilled. Roll on the fifth and final season.
I’m still not sure what role the fediverse will play in shaping (reshaping?) how humans talk on the internet, but in a year when the world’s richest* manbaby paid an eye-watering fortune to purge Twitter of opinions he doesn’t like, I for one am glad that an alternative like Mastodon exists. One that, by design, is better able to resist capture by billionaires. As someone put it in a tweet (or was it a toot?): Protocols not products!
*On 2022’s plus side, Musk may no longer be the world’s richest human, but there is no doubt he is the Chief Twit.
Climb smarter, get stronger and — above all — avoid injurying yourself by doing dumb or just pointless stuff. That’s roughly the philosophy behind Hooper’s Beta, a dehyping YouTube channel by climber and physical therapist Jason Hooper, who takes a science-focused approach to furthering technique and defusing fitness fads — and typically ends up dispensing far more solid advice (like how to figure out if you have a rotator cuff injury or just a little shoulder impingment syndrome and which strength training exercises might help with that). He is also not afraid to do some slightly ill-advised things to his own body, like eating nothing but Huel for 30 days to find out if that’s good for a climber’s nutrition needs or (er) not, so you don’t have to…
“Music is back,” sings one of my favorite artists, Chilly Gonzales.
He’s talking about live music, which many of us missed dearly during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make up for it, I went to a ton of gigs this year — none of which are exactly relevant for TechCrunch, except for one: ABBA Voyage.
You may have heard that this show uses virtual avatars created by George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), but it is completely different to see them in person. I was wondering if it’d feel uncanny or unethical, but it doesn’t — probably because ABBA’s band members got their say, and introduce their younger, virtual selves in a playful way that also blends in very well with the rest of the show, which also features a live band. The residency has been extended to November 2023, so you still have time to go see it in person if you are in London at some point in the next few months.
Having put an AirTag into my suitcase eased my pain when it got lost in transit recently — the airline didn’t know where it was for days, but I did all along, and was able to retrieve it from a huge room full of lost items. As a frequent traveller, I know I will put one AirTag in each of my luggage items from now on. Spoiler alert to my family: Some of you will find one under the tree this year!
A few years ago, when people started talking about how iPads could replace their laptops, I scoffed. I tend to like my computers full-featured. Though I’ve continuously owned MacBooks of some kind since 2006, I’ve always maintained a desktop Mac as my daily driver, so I figured the iPad-as-laptop trend wasn’t for me. I tested the waters a few times over the years, but found the experience lacking. Then I bought a Magic Keyboard.
Yes, typing is obviously better with a real keyboard. But where the Magic Keyboard has really made a difference is almost everywhere else. I’ve been using a Mac almost daily for the last 22 years, long enough that my brain no longer registers when I’m using keyboard shortcuts — it just happens. To say that my previous iPad experiments were missing command-, well, everything would be an understatement. With the Magic Keyboard, though, I can copy, paste, select text, undo, compose messages, switch apps… you get the idea… all without having to touch the screen.
This year at Disrupt, I decided to redo the experiment, this time with an M1 iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard. I brought my MacBook Pro just in case. I shouldn’t have bothered.
I work from a small building in our back yard, which means that I run back and forth from the house quite often. This means slipping into, and out of flip-flops on a regular basis. Sadly, if the weather becomes even slightly inclement, such shoes are really not the jam. Enter Crocs. After seeing some Bloomberg reporter wearing pink Crocs, I decided to get a pair. So I did. In pink. And now I dash back and forth from the house with my feet better protected from mud and rain and snow and dog shit. Crocs are great. Embrace your ugly self! Wear what’s comfortable!
You know what’s good? Knowing what’s going on. You know what’s not good? Not knowing what is going on. But it’s also good to know what is going on behind the headlines and news stories. That’s where, I hope, TechCrunch+ can help out. Am I shamelessly plugging our work behind the paywall in what is otherwise a whimsical and fun post? Hell yes. Do I feel bad about it? Hell no. Because media isn’t cheap to build and our subscription services kicks maximum ass. Come check us out!
All of my picks for this list are tinged with recency bias: That is, at the time of writing, these are all things I have experienced in the last week. But maybe I just had a really good week in media, which is why I feel pretty confident and not too hyperbolic in saying that the YouTube channel Defunctland’s “Disney Channel’s Theme: A History Mystery” documentary is literally the best feature-length film I have watched this year.
Kevin Purjurer, the person behind Defunctland, makes elaborate, well-researched videos about theme parks gone wrong, yet somehow this hour-and-a-half-long documentary about a four-note Disney Channel jingle also serves as a bizarrely profound look into what makes good art and what duty memory serves in service of artists. I can’t spoil anything (yes, there are spoilers here), but just watch the whole thing and you’ll get what I mean. This is a work of genius. I am not doing a bit, I promise.
I Was a Teenage Exocolonist is a narrative life sim following your character, a teenage exocolonist, if you will. You were conceived during a 20-year space journey from Earth to a new planet that your fellow humans are attempting to colonize, and the game begins when you’re 10 years old and stepping out of the spaceship for the first time. You can choose how to live your life for the next 10 years as you and your friends contend with the fact that maybe it’s actually a bad thing to land on an alien planet and subjugate the creatures that were already there.
See any real-world parallells!?!?!? But what really sold this game for me is that it’s infinitely replayable — I spent the weekend in a manic fugue state (perhaps an exaggeration) playing this game over and over again in an attempt to get the “good” ending. But listen, there are SO MANY ENDINGS. You can be a horrible, fascist soldier! A criminal! A farmer! An astronaut! An engineer who accidentially enables genocide by not asking enough questions! You know, normal things that happen in our normal lives.
If you want a weird mashup of Hades, Undertale and Stardew Valley, this game is for you — but play at your own risk, because I have not been able to stop playing this game — to the point that it’s actually kind of concerning how it has consumed my life. But I just got a “good” ending after four tries, so I think I can calm down and like, clean my apartment now.
I went to the comedy live show of a Twitter meme account. Yes, that sentence is bizarre, but it gets even weirder the more you think about it, because how do you turn absurdist internet content into a real-life event that actually entertains people beyond just showing them memes on a projector?
Fortunately for us, Depths of Wikipedia creator Annie Rauwerda is a literal genius. The conceit of her meme pages/empire is that she goes down Wikipedia rabbit holes and finds really silly fun facts, like how the Pringles mascot Julius Pringle actually got his name because of a rogue Wikipedia edit that no one caught. I attended one of her shows last week not really knowing what to expect, and I came away watching a guy build a “Pringles ringle” onstage and a professional bagpipe musician exemplify his craft in front of a projector with a Wikipedia article, “List of nontraditional bagpipe usage.” She even got the Philadelphia chicken guy to act out the events of the 1904 Olympic men’s marathon, which… is quite the Wikipedia page to read.
I have never laughed so much at any sort of comedy event in my life.
You know how we all picked up random hobbies and habits during the early innings of COVID-19? Well, I landed myself a sweet tooth. And I’ve been trying to get rid of it — but also empower it — ever since.
My latest obsession is Hu Chocolate, an organic sweet that would make even the milk chocolate lovers among us into dark chocolate fans. I’ve tried a few flavors, but I stick by their Salty flavor. It’s the perfect little treat to end everyday and feels a little bit more luxurious than the average handful of chocolate chips.
Last year, I recommended Graffeo Coffee beans as a must-have for any java lover. I’m back again with another coffee suggestion: cardamom syrup. I like putting a splash of the Holy Kakow brand in my morning coffee, or a little extra if I want a sweet nightcap. It has stopped me from buying fancy lattes outside everyday, and it’s also just added the right amount of festiveness to my cup any time of the year.
The host is an expert biologist who knows how to take you through some of the most insane wild animal attacks, and his two sidekicks bring a levity to the show that somehow really works. Best enjoyed on a car trip or flight or long run, but probably not something to have playing around kids or near dinner time.
I’m not a Star Wars diehard by any means, but this show was incredible and everyone should watch it — even if you’re not familiar with the source material.
I won’t spoil anything, but it’s a wild ride that shifts settings and tones often, always deftly, and delivers some really moving performances in the process. “Andor” treats its audience like they’re smart enough to handle subtlety and even some discomfort (think Black Mirror), and the payoff is well worth it. This was some really special, smart and surprisingly inspiring television and these stories will stick with me for a while.
There were tons of popular new shows this year, but none of them stuck with me as much as Hulu’s “The Bear” — a comedy-drama TV show that delights with incredible performances, cinematic storytelling and sharp writing. The show does a great job of creating an atmosphere that draws you in almost immediately. Although it can make you feel a little anxious at times, it’s filled with moments of beauty. I won’t spoil anything, but “The Bear” should definitely be your next binge show if you want something that is both funny and riveting.
In the summer, the great indiepop band My Favorite released new music for the first time in six years. The brainchild of Michael Grace Jr., “Tender Is the Nightshift: Part One” kicks off with an eight-minute dance track (“Dean’s 7th Dream”) that features Grace’s characteristic arch, despairing lyrics, delicately balancing chill synths and warm vocals. “Second Empire” (and its “instrumental dub” version) and other tracks round out this compelling EP. Dance away your sadness.
UA makes a lot of great audio gear, but their SD-1 dynamic vocal microphone might just be their best. Besides the super slick cream color, it’s a dead ringer for the venerated Shure SM7B — both in looks and in audio profile. It’s less expensive, though, and to my ear is better at eliminating any room or bg noise. One of the best deals in audio equipment period.
The WANDRD Roam lineup is a killer collection of slings, but the biggest is the 9L version. It has ample room to carry a mirrorless body, a long zoom lens and a fairly large prime as well, plus chargers and batteries. The real reason to buy WANDRD over other competing slings, however, is the neat trick it pulls off to make room for up to a 16-inch notebook: It has a double-zip back pocket with an expandable bottom to accomodate a laptop in one of its sleeves, safely and securely.
8BitDo’s latest Ultimate Controllers (there’s a BT version and a 2.4GHz only version) are as good or better than the first-party controllers they borrow the most from (that’s pretty much the Xbox controller and the Switch Pro controller, fwiw). These come with their own charging docks and customizable back grip buttons on top of everything else.
You know what’s better than going out to brunch? Making brunch at home. I love getting a waffle when I go out for brunch, but I always felt like the ones I made at home were subpar…. until the Breville Smart Waffle Maker Pro entered my life. I originally borrowed someone else’s and I loved it so much that I spent the next two months debating if I should purchase my own; $280 is a lot to spend, let alone on a waffle iron, but this was worth the money. Crisp, thick, fluffy waffles in the comfort of your home for you and all of your friends. You can thank me later.
If you’re in the market for a new emotional support water bottle, I highly suggest this one. It’s the perfect size to fit into the cup holder of your car, it has a lock top so it won’t spill if it’s in your bag and it’s easy to clean — yes, you need to clean your water bottles.
Stomp and Holler is back! If you’re a fan of the Lumineers, Vance Joy, Mumford & Sons or The Head and The Heart, I would recommend giving this album a spin.
Kahan entered the music scene with his debut album “Busyhead” in 2019. From there he released the “Cape Elizabeth” EP in 2020, which was his first project dipping his toes in the alt/indie genre, his sophomore album “I Was/ I Am” in 2021 and, most recently, his third album, “Stick Season.” Kahan’s lyricism, which has always been descriptive, reaches a new high as he takes us on the journey of feeling stuck while watching those from your past move on. The theme of nostalgia shows in “Homesick,” “Still,” and the title track, “Stick Season.” Kahan yearns for more — in life and in love — shown in tracks like “She Calls Me Back,” “Come Over” and “The View Between Villages.” If you’re looking for an album to blast as you drive through your hometown during the holidays — this is it.