Recommendations, 7/12

This edition: labor-distracting racing games, tender email newsletters, flight-comforting books, nice Twitter apps.

Jonathan

Labor, as in the human birthing process, is kind of a squishy thing. By which I mean, it is not clearly delineated and adheres to no certain time-table. There is a lot of waiting around and mild cramping (my wife tells me). This cramping may or may not be pre-labor, false labor, or actual labor. No book will help you because the books say things like “with actual labor you may feel a shooting pain in your upper thighs or you may not.” At this point you may throw the book across the room (I bet it won’t be expecting that!) or you may not.

So what one needs during this liminal purgatory of waiting is to be distracted. Simple distractions work best which is why I have been playing a lot of Trackmania 2: Valley over the past two days. Trackmania is a multiplayer arcade racer and track editor that includes a hot-wheels-wet-dream of jumps, twists, and off-road shenanigans. The controls are the arrow buttons and that’s pretty much all you need to know. Join an online game via the easy interface (it’s popular in Europe, so you can brush up on your French while you play) and just drive. The simplicity of the system means you can race against up to 100 other players without lag. It’s fun, it’s simple, it’s addictive, and, best of all, it’s super distracting. I plan on racing until delivery. At that point, I guess I had better slow down and learn to swaddle.

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Kevin

I am regressing to the middle school version of myself and signing up for a lot of email newsletters. I recall fondly my Hotmail account, pushed to its five-megabyte limit by my unwillingness to delete old issues of the Pink Floyd newsletter I was subscribed to. A few recommendations:

This Game is a fantastic newsletter that highlights a different board game in each issue. I’m not a very serious tabletop game player, so I like that This Game is focused on accessible — and fairly inexpensive — titles, with some lovely, concise language about what makes each game unique and exciting. And of course, there’s an Amazon link in case your interest is piqued enough (I just bought Hanabi).

Filmmaker/McSweeney’s wunderkind Miranda July has a new project titled We Think Alone, commissioned as part of an exhibit at the Magasin 3 museum in Stockholm. Basically, it’s a twenty-week event that features forwarded emails from the sent folders of a variety of famous people, like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Lena Dunham, and Sheila Heti. Last week’s installment featured replies of “advice.” When Lena Dunham writes, “You did nothing wrong. He is NOT NICE.”, it makes you curious about the other side of the conversation, but divorced from context, there’s a new sense of universality applied to Dunham’s advice.

I’ve also replaced nearly every tech blog I read with The Brief‘s newsletter, which brilliantly summarizes important news (think “data breaches” and “the NSA” rather than “complaints about iOS7 icons”) with lots of sources to boot. The Brief is written by The Feature editor (and BB friend) Richard Dunlop-Walters, and it recently changed to an early-morning daily format, which has been perfect for my commute to work.

Last, I want to recommend Rusty Foster’s Love Letters to a Stranger. I feel like I can’t say too much about it, since part of the charm is its playful, opaque voice, but Foster’s secret fictions are likely to be the strangest, most delightful thing to arrive in your inbox every so often. Just sign up.

For what it’s worth, I still receive the Pink Floyd newsletter. They’re almost always about weird Roger Waters solo projects, but I can’t bring myself to unsubscribe.

Darryl

I finished Patrick Smith’s recent book, Cockpit Confidential: Everything You Need to Know About Air Travel the day that Asiana flight 214 crashed in San Francisco. I’d been reading several “tell-all” books including Waiter Rant and Heads in Beds lately, so I wasn’t sure whether this would be a lurid expose or just a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at a career path that, as a kid, I sometimes dreamed of.

Smith is obviously an expert airplane jockey, but he’s a pretty deft hand with the human psyche too. In between discussions of union rules (like why it’s often better to remain a first officer your whole career than make the bump to pilot) and the pervasive travel-weariness even among airline staff (he tells about one American stewardess who refused to leave her Toronto hotel, fearing “too much culture” — in Canada!), Smith wants to make three points: 1. that airplanes are well-built and extraordinarily redundant machines; 2. that airplane crews train extensively in order to both run a flight smoothly and make disasters as safe as possible; and 3. that it does not ever benefit the media to report on either of those things.

To be clear, it is a tragedy when people lose their lives in an airline accident, especially when negligence is to blame. But for semi-nervous flyers like me, it’s also important to get an insider’s opinion on safety and accidents to counterbalance the sheer hyperventilated force of some of the news stories out there about the newly discovered perils of flight.

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Nick

One of the problems with spending way too much time online is that you hear about new stuff so often that you can become numb to it. (I recognize the irony of pointing this out in a feature called “recommendations.”) As such, when Twitterrific 5 for iPhone debuted with fanfare last winter, I let it pass me by like so many other buzzy pieces of new software. That was a mistake.

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I decided to finally check it out when I heard that it foresaw many of the drastic changes in Apple’s stripped down iOS7. And if Twitterrific is indeed an indication of things to come, I can’t wait to have a whole OS of it on my phone. With this app, Iconfactory streamlined the idea of the Twitter client to its essence; letting text and white space carry the burden. This commitment to minimalism makes Twitter itself feel like its old simpler self, even after the functional bloat the service has seen over the years. But mostly, the app makes me excited to use my iPhone again. I’ve adored the device’s smooth scrolling since the day it came out, and I don’t think it’s ever felt as good as it does in Twitteriffic. After using it for a few weeks, I can’t see myself ever going back to the heavy, robotic UI of my old standby, Tweetbot. Hell, it almost makes me want to follow more than like 50 people just so I can use it more.