Favorites of 2015

As we approach the end of the year, there is the inevitable deluge of "lists" - what's best, worst, funniest, most heartwarming, most overlooked, most over-rated. This is another one. Why am I making lists, especially when I know that a very small number of people will read what I put down?

Because for the most part these lists are for me. They will help me remember all of the things that inspired me, entertained me, or just held my attention in 2015.

I guess these lists aren't just pure selfish record keeping. We live in a world where we have access to almost all of the world's music on tiny computers we carry in our pockets. There are over 400 scripted TV shows airing annually. Podcasts have exploded. A  software engineer can self-publish a novel in 2011 and by 2015 that self-published novel is a movie that stars Matt Damon. You can watch a show on Amazon that investigates intergenerational legacies of social conceptions of gender, or you can watch a show about bartenders and servers in LA that work at a restaurant owned by a reality TV star. 

In our deluge of content, lists serve as a guide to how to meaningfully spend you time. In a day and age where there are so many options, lists may be more important than ever. 

TV is one example of how there is more content than we could ever consume -

The amount of time that the average American is spending on leisure activities is growing, but it is not keeping up with the pace of consumer choice. Hours spent on leisure activities have increased 5% since 2003, and time spent watching TV has gone up 9% (the equivalent of about one 30 minute show), the number of new shows has increased by 78% since 2009!

Based on American Time Use Survey Data

Based on American Time Use Survey Data

Based on American Time Use Survey Data

Based on American Time Use Survey Data

From FX Networks Research Team

From FX Networks Research Team

I hope these following lists help you spend some of your leisure time enjoyably in the new year. 

TV (11)


The second season of  Fargo really took a leap. The pacing, character development and composition was unlike anything I've ever seen on TV. 


Deutschland83 is an 8 episode German TV series that  immerses you in the heart of the Cold War in East and West Germany.

Show Me A Hero-  

David Simon is good at making television. 

Mr. Robot - 

Breaking rules and conventions of television writing at every turn. 

Narcos - 

Let's tell the whole story of Paolo Escobar and film it in Colombia with a lead actor who is Brazilian. 

You're The Worst - 

What if we did a comedy about severe depression? Somehow, it works.  

Blackish - 

This show just keeps getting better.   

Veep - 

The best form of political satire. 

The Honorable Woman - 

Such a great exploration of the complexity of Middle East politics. I know nothing about Middle East politics except that the issues are not simple.  

Transparent - 

Somehow the second season of Transparent is even more emotionally affecting than the first. 

Books (5)


This is the first novel in J.K. Rowlings new thriller / mystery series. It was an incredibly fun read and Cormoran Strike is one of those characters you can't get out of your head long after you've finished the book. 


This is another perfect summer read that lived up to expectations. It's both a fantastic thriller and a cutting exploration of the suburban American dream.

How Brand's Grow

Challenges conventional marketing wisdom, backed by evidence that really makes you think about what creates a successful brand. 

Ghettoside - Jill Leovy

Ghettoside is an book written by Jill Leovy - an ex LA Times crime beat reporter who was embedded within the LAPD Southeast division for 10 years. The book is part true crime, part sociology, and all parts enlightening. It helps all of us to understand a little better the complex relationship between communities and police forces. I loved reading this book, and if you know me or are reading this blog - you probably will to. 

The Cartel - Don Winslow

The Cartel is an extensive and soaring work of fiction that helps you understand the size, scale and scope of cartel activity.  

Podcasts (11)

Reply All- 

What started as a "podcast about the internet" has morphed into something much more. In the same way as the internet has permeated all aspects of our lives, Reply All covers an ever expanding range of topics - and it's always insightful and entertaining. 

Start Up- 

Start Up is a fascinating study of what it takes to get a business off the ground. And now, in season 3, Startup is beginning to investigate a whole new set of questions - what does it mean to build a profitable, responsible and ethical company in today's world? 

About Race- 

This podcast is a really smart yet approachable conversation about race in America. 

The Watch - 

After Grantland was shut down, Chris and Andy got a new podcast on Channel 33, Bill Simmon's new podcast network. Chris and Andy give smart and witty analysis of TV and Movies, with a warmth that only comes from decades of friendship. 

Hot Takedown - 

This podcast from 538 uses data to deflate hot takes. 

Radiolab - 

Incredible storytelling, with episodes that consistently makes me go "holy shit."

What's The Point - 

Another 538 Podcast that covers off on the role of data in our lives from different perspectives. 

99% Invisible - 

Roman Mars does a fantastic job of highlighting the influence of design on our everyday lives. 

Surprisingly Awesome - 

Adam McKay (the guy who just made the Big Short) and Adam Davidson (Planet Money) make a show that covers off on the hidden awesomeness of everyday items. It's really good. 

Intersection - 

Jamil Smith covers topics through a lens of intersectionality. Any of the ways we identify ourselves influence how we see the world, he breaks this influence down through great interviews.

Movies (3)

The Big Short - 

It's the fun parts of Wolf of Wall Street (before it gets depressing) and a Planet Money episode. Pretty much my dream.  

Sicario - 

An incredibly exciting movie that really makes you think about the reality and impact of the war on drugs in Mexico and Central America.

Spotlight - 

Makes you want to be an investigative journalist. Or at least it made me want to be an investigative journalist. 

Eat (5)

Olympia Provisions NW (PDX) - 

A favorite meal from Portland. Such a magical and beautiful shrine to cured meats :) 

Hola Arepa (MSP) - 

Arepas just may be the most perfect food. Still can't believe that this place is so close to our house in Minneapolis. Sneakily great cocktails too!

Bar La Grassa (MSP) - 

The Minneapolis stand-by that lives up to its reputation. Always great.  

Republique (LA) - 

Such a memorable meal in a beautiful space. 

Breads Bakery (NYC) - 

Get the chocolate Babka. And everything else. No really. 

Drink (7)

Bang Brewing - 

This small brewery off the beaten path in St. Paul is worth a trip.  

Fair State Brewing - 

They have mastered sours within a welcoming, non beer snobby atmosphere. 


The best beer event anywhere. So awesome that I got to go again this year!

Du Nord - 

Loved the enthusiasm on the distillery tour we took earlier in the year.   

Bruichladdich - 

Beyond the beautiful packaging the scotch is really quite tasty. Great for gift giving.  

Chapoutier Rose

One of my favorite memories of the year was sitting on the roof deck of a restaurant in Newport, RI and drinking Chapoutier rose with oysters :). If it sounds bougie that's because it was. Sorry I'm not sorry. 

Articles (8)

McDonalds Versus Shake Shack

Shake Shack, the popular burger chain that started in Brooklyn, recently filed for its IPO. Based on this filing, there have been lots of articles comparing the recent downturn of McDonalds to the potential growth of Shake Shack. While all of this talk was interesting (see the article for full background) - the tweet below was pretty fascinating.  Much of the explanation around the McDonalds downturn is focused on McDonalds' failure to brand itself effectively for "health conscious" Millenials.  While that may be true, there is also another story - The sheer size of the market opportunity for Shake Shack. Upscale fast casual restaurants with organic and natural ingredients are no longer "niche." 

The Future of Work in the Second Machine Age 

As we think about what the future holds for a place like Minneapolis, with an economy driven by both the creative class and large corporations, it's impossible not to wonder about how technology will impact the future of work. This write up about a debate between "Techno-Optimists" and "Techno-Pessimists" at the Brooking's institution was exciting for me as I feel like it articulated the relationship between knowledge work and technology with greater nuance. Techno-optimisits generally argue that technology will drive both increased productivity and higher wages. Techno-pessimists argue that technology will replace jobs without creating any wage growth. However, from looking at data around worker productivity a third position has emerged: 

market practices and public policies that favor managers over workers, and those who make their living by owning capital over those who make their living by earning wages. That choice lurks behind the decline in full employment as a priority in macroeconomic policymaking. It’s also behind a shift in the legal standards, mores, and incentives of corporate management in favor of the interests of owners over other stakeholders. That choice is also evident in the abandonment of long-term productive investment as a priority in public budgeting in favor of upper-income tax breaks and retirement programs for the elderly

Why Bill Simmons is So Important

For those of you who don't know, there was quite a few years of my life where all I wanted to do was be on ESPN. As an 11 year old, I had a book of SportsCenter catchphrases (R.I.P. Stuart Scott), and in 2005 I started reading Bill Simmons. Reading Bill introduced me to a type of writing that could be both personal and analytical, where biases were acknowledged and actually made you feel closer to author, while still respecting the analysis. 

Bill's tone and voice deserves more credit when we talk about the pre-history of blogging. 

I'm thankful for Bill, I'm thankful for Grantland and I wish him all the best (keep getting them checks Bill). 


DANAH BOYD - An old fogey's analysis of a teenager's view on social media

Every few months there is an insightful and well written account of how a teen (and therefore all other teen's in the world), use social media. This is the perfect response to these powerful and well written anecdotes that aren't necessarily representative of a larger population. It's also a good reminder that we need to work to combine these anecdotes and storytelling with better data to get real insight. 

Atlas of Upward Mobility

This is one of my favorite NYTimes interactive features they've ever produced . This study speaks to the formative impact of early childhood and how changing neighborhoods can impact lifetime outcomes. 

The conclusion does bring up an interesting point - How do we act on this information? Just moving a select few kids from poor neighborhoods into better ones won't solve our problems of inequality. And doesn't that just perpetuate the cycle of racial and class segregation in cities across America? 

In any case, it's exciting empirical evidence for those of us that believe in both equality of opportunity and more equality of outcomes. 

Tech nerds are smart but they can't seem to wrap their heads around politics - Vox

This Vox piece, by David Roberts, does a great job tackling the "quasi-libretarian anti-politics" of the tech nerd.  

Amazon and Achievement - Clay Parker Jones

Clay Parker Jones, who was interviewed and quoted in the New York Times piece about Amazon workplace culture, dissects the key themes he saw emerge from the story. One narrative that keeps bubbling up from these future of work discussions is whether we, as a society, want companies to create cultures that mimic pro sports teams. A culture that screams - you're the best at what you do, you're paid well, you sacrifice everything, and you're replaced within a few years. Is that culture we want our organizations to create?  

The Most Timeless Songs of All Time - Matthew Daniels

Matthew Daniels has created another cool project using spotify data. I'm excited to see what he does next. 

Music (200)

Daniel Prager