I’ve been into writing “list” posts recently, so I thought a year-ending ‘Best of 2007′ post seemed appropriate. The following list are simply things that for no other reason, brought me joy over the past twelve months. You may be familiar with some of the items on the list, and others you may never even heard of. Either way, I promise you they are all worth checking out. If this post lets people know there is a better way to clean their toilet or helps you find new friends, then I can die a happy man. Well, that’s not really true, but at least it gave you a legitimate excuse to put off paying those online bills or jumping on the treadmill for another few minutes. I do what I can.
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When my wife handed me a brush and a bottle of Kaboom Bowl Blaster a few months back and told me to get scrubbing, I did so begrudgingly. See, our toilets were dirty. I mean really dirty. Now before you go getting that look on your face, I don’t mean dirty like that, I mean dirty from hard water stains. Living in the country means that we’re on well water out here and don’t have the luxury of being hooked up to city water supplies. Our water is full of compounds and minerals like sulfur dioxide, zinc and calcium and it plays endless havoc on all of our plumbing fixtures.
I’ve scrubbed our toilets before with everything from Soft Soap and Comet to CLR and huge amounts of elbow grease and nothing, nothing has ever gotten the hard water stains 100% gone. That is until Kaboom came along. I’m not exaggerating or earning kickbacks when I say that, with only a minimal amount of scrubbing, Kaboom banished these unsightly stains to the infomercial netherworld from which they came. I’m not one who falls for late night commercial pitches, but I swear that this stuff works. If you have not tried it, next time you head to the grocery store, check it out. Your significant other will thank you.
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Even before a single minute of the first episode aired on CBS, TV critics, child welfare workers and over-protective parents were all doing everything in their power to make sure Kid Nation failed. The audience disagreed however and this unassuming little show about 40 kids unleashed on a New Mexico ghost town became an instant family hit and gave kids and parents everywhere a reason to cheer.
Each week kids like Sophia, Anjay, Greg and yes, even Taylor, gave us new insight into how children think, their resourcefulness and how much respect they deserve. I’ve written about Kid Nation before and with good reason. The show single-handedly reaffirmed my faith in television. Kid Nation proved that a reality show could succeed without all the back-stabbing, elimination voting that made shows like Survivor and Big Brother household names. Producers smartly structured the series around rewards rather than punishments and the result was a breath of fresh air for all of us watching at home. I sincerely hope there is a second season of Kid Nation, but if you missed it the first time, you can wait for the DVDs or check out the free downloadable episodes available from the Kid Nation website.
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Super Mario Galaxy
I’ve only been playing Super Mario Galaxy for the Nintendo Wii for a short time. I can already say that it’s become my favorite video game of 2007, and that’s coming from a certifiable Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess freak.
It never ceases to amaze me how Nintendo can continually make video games feel original and fresh as Super Mario Galaxy does. The story is the usual “Save Peach from Bowser!” narrative that we’ve come to know and expect. Just about everything else feels new. Game mechanics, play style and some of the best music ever written for a video game, all combine into another fun and surprisingly addictive winner from Shigeru Miyamoto. SMG is another feather in the cap of the Wii platform that some incorrectly predicted would be trounced by both the PS3 and XBOX 360. A year after launch, the Wii platform is still in high demand, and Super Mario Galaxy has helped me rediscover my love of video games. To top it all off, Mario is set to mark his 30th anniversary in just a few years. Not bad for a plumber who couldn’t tell a monkey from a donkey.
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No Country for Old Men
No Country for Old Men is an odd tale that centers around a case of $2 million dollars that goes missing after a drug deal gone bad. Tommy Lee Jones plays Sheriff Ed Tom Bell, who, on the eve of his retirement, has the task of tracking down not only the money, but one of the scariest villains ever to hit the big screen. As is the case in most of the Coen brother’s films, location becomes an integral part of the story, so much so it’s almost like another character. The brother’s attention to detail and skill in building suspense, weaves a story that completely pulls us in and never lets go. The writing is sharp, the dialog is poetic and the cinematography is simply gorgeous. Take all of this, add mesmerizing performances from Javier Bardem as Anton Chigurh and Josh Brolin as Llewelyn Moss and you have yourself the best picture of 2007.
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You really have to hand it to Steven Colbert. One minute your one of Jon Stewart’s flunkies reporting from the green screen version of Iraq, and the next you’ve got Captain America’s shield hanging on your wall and an ice cream flavor named after you. Colbert’s meteoric rise hasn’t really come as a surprise to those of us who admired his hilarious nightly performances on The Daily Show, but I never would have guessed he had such a fantastic sweet tooth.
Ben & Jerry’s AmeriCone Dream ice cream features bits of waffle cone dipped in fudge, surrounded by a creamy, but conservative vanilla ice cream and swirls of all-American caramel. To top it all off, proceeds from Steven’s product go to The Stephen Colbert AmeriCone Dream Fund, which supports causes like aid to disadvantaged children, veterans, and the environment. About the only way it could get better would be if they managed to get the carton to make that shrieking bald eagle sound every time you opened it.
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I bet you thought the iPhone was going to be number one on my list didn’t you? Well guess again all-knowing swami! While it may not be my very favorite thing of 2007, it only lost out by a few ill-timed Mobile Safari crashes and a badly needed clipboard app. To say that my iPhone has improved my life might sound like the meaningless drivel of an Apple fanboy, but as someone famous once said “I cannot tell a lie.”
Before my iPhone, I never wanted to check my email on the go, or was able to effortlessly look up a destination in Google Maps after getting lost in some obscure corner of Greensboro. I can instantly add people and businesses to my phone’s address book with the press of a single button and browse my favorite websites just as they appear on my desktop computer. Before, I never could figure out how to use custom ring tones or have wallpapers I didn’t have to pay a monthly fee for. The iPhone opened the door to all of these small, but fun things for me.
Perhaps most important of all, it makes me feel good about carrying my phone all over the place. Before, my cell was just something I had to have in case I needed to call my wife or had an emergency. Now, I’m connected and able to look for information, tweet thoughts at random and have my iPod with me all the time. Anyone who tells you the iPhone is “just another cell phone” doesn’t have the first clue about what it represents or what its potential is. It changed the face of the cell phone industry for the better, forced cell carriers to “think different” about their business models and captured a big slice of the U.S. smartphone market in the process. Pretty good for a company that never made a cell phone before.
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Social Networking Service
When it comes to Twitter, people invariably seem to be divided into two groups. The first group, let’s call them the “Eloi”, embraces the free and fascinating microblogging service. They make friends, send tweets about what they are eating, make interesting observations and find people with similar online interests as themselves. They live in the daylight and take Twitter for what it is, a place to feel connected with those around them, enjoy the fruits of the digital age and generally co-exist with others in virtual harmony.
Then there are the Twitter “Morlocks” who shun the technology, lash out against it and write blog posts saying things like “what’s the point?”, and “who in their right mind would use this stupid thing?”. They have Twitter friend lists of anywhere between 2 and 5 people, never venture out of their cave and prefer to dine on the recycled entrails of Blogger.com or Facebook. Poor, lost souls.
I count myself firmly in the Eloi camp and my life is far better for it. Twitter has allowed me to stay in touch with dear friends from college that have long since moved away. Twitter gives me a sounding board to bounce ideas off peers, is a reliable source for general knowledge, and lets me stay on top of the latest breaking news from around the world. But perhaps more than anything, it allows me to connect with like-mined individuals. For example, watching the World Series in 2007 was an amazing experience thanks to Twitter. Fellow Red Sox fans were able to joke and share thoughts and feelings with each other like we were in the same room. I’ve also expanded my network of designer and developer friends significantly. I feel like I know many of these people first hand and I look forward to meeting them at MacWorld at some point in the future.
Twitter has given us a way of interacting that is new, unique and intimate. It provides a glimpse into the lives of people that, for one reason or another, you find interesting. In a world where we are all becoming more and more like those isolated, underground dwellers the Morlocks, Twitter lets in just a touch of the much-needed sunlight.