My favorite things, 2014 online edition, or “Things on the internet that actually DIDN’T tick me off!”

I know that I complain/gripe/grouse (“grouse” is a word that doesn’t get used nearly often enough, don’t you think?) about the Internet enough that you couldn’t be blamed if you thought I was a seventy-something guy standing on the front porch in my bathrobe and slippers yelling YOU KIDS GET OFF MY LAWN! But I don’t do that, mainly because I don’t have a whole lot invested in the quality of our front lawn. (The back yard, on the other hand, looks pretty darn nice.)

Wait, I’ve gotten off track again. Where was I? Oh, right, grousing about the Internet. As much as I complain about it, particularly when it comes to social media, it occurs to me that there are actually quite a few things on the web that I enjoy and look forward to. And really, why not share those things, right?

Welcome to Nightvale. When I go to the gym or go running, I’m usually listening to podcasts. A few of my favorites are Game Night Guys, which is hosted by Brian and Curtis, two guys in Phoenix, Arizona who focus on one board game per episode and teach you how to play it; Pod Is My Copilot, which is three friends catching up on their lives and I know that sounds mundane, but it is so hilarious and so inappropriate, which is a huge part of its appeal; Four Courses, which is my friend Andy and his friend Kyle dishing about all things culinary and restaurant-based in the St. Louis area (and you may think well that can’t be much, and you’d be wrong—they know how to eat around here); and What Some Would Call Lies, which doesn’t update as often as it used to but is still well worth a listen. My favorite, though, is Welcome to Nightvale, the story of a desert town where things are not quite what you’d expect. It’s told through the guise of a community radio announcer named Cecil who keeps the community up to date on goings-on with the dog park (do not look at the hooded figures in the dog park; in fact, just don’t go in the dog park), the sheriff’s secret police (and their helicopters); Nightvale’s rivalry with neighboring community Desert Bluffs; and Cecil’s boyfriend, Carlos, who is a scientist (and scientists are always okay).

The Truth. Yes, another podcast. This is from Radiotopia, and each episode features a new story, usually around 10 or 20 minutes, and it’s like the radio plays from way back when (ask your grandparents what those were, kids), only they’re usually a little more twisted. The latest one, “Naughty or Nice,” is about an elf who works for Santa and has misgivings about the way things are run….

The #newf hashtag on Instagram. Careful readers will remember that up until August of 2013, my best friend had four feet and black fur. Dakota may have left the planet, but there are tons—somewhat literally—of lovable Newfoundlands to be found on Instagram. (I should know, I’m following most of them.)

Brain Pickings. A blog of curated articles from all over. Maria Popova gathers information about everything from science to creativity to spirituality—basically, everything that she thinks matters and/or is interesting. Right now there’s a post up detailing her 20 favorite articles from the past year, so that’s a good place to start.

Pocket. I tend to be easily distracted when it comes to browsing online, and Pocket is extremely helpful to me in keeping track of things I want to read (or at least think I want to read) but may not have time to read right now. You may say Well, that sounds a lot like plain old bookmarks and you’d be right—except that Pocket syncs all of my saved links between devices so I just have to fire it up to continue reading. Also, it saves the pages for offline browsing, so I don’t have to be connected to a network to read. You can also tag each link with keywords to group things that might have a common theme; when I was in grad school, I had tags for “thesis” and “climate change,” and now that I’m teaching I have tags for “young adult” and “short fiction” and “workshop,” that sort of thing.

Happy New Year, kids!