Every month at the AE offices, we choose our Pop Culture Picks. It could be an album, a band, a book, a movie, a TV show, a podcast, or anything else we enjoyed over the previous 30 days. Keep scrolling to find out what caught our attention this month!
In short: This science-based music service has actually helped me to find some focus in recent weeks. I highly recommend you give it a go, and, with a free trial, what is there to lose?
Lately, my already fragmented day has felt ultra-fragmented. Finding time to do deep thinking at work has been a challenge with weekly commutes to Vancouver, hiring new staff, developing new growth strategies, not to mention my giant personal list of things to do.
My friend Joe told me that Brain.fm uses science to determine what music will help you be more productive and focussed. For years I’ve listened to ambient streams from Soma.fm and figured it wouldn’t be much different. But hey, science wins once again.
I’ve noticed a significant improvement in my ability to focus and an increase in my output. I feel more efficient and I also feel more satisfied with my work once it’s completed. That is a double win!
If you need to really knuckle down and get some work done give Brain.fm a try with their five free sessions.
Moonlighter (Video Game)
TL;DR: Moonlighter is an Action RPG done in a pixel art style reminiscent of early console games (e.g. NES). You play Will, a shopkeeper by day and dungeon crawling hero by night.
My pick this month is a great video game that has been tying up my evenings of late – Moonlighter.
There are two sides to playing the game, both equally engaging. The first is the classic “rogue-lite” gameplay of fighting dungeon denizens as you make your way deeper down, collecting loot, and eventually battling the big boss of the dungeon. Second is running your shop in the village and selling the loot you acquire on your dungeon journeys.
The dungeon crawling is fun as you move from room to room, dodging and weaving and striking as you clear enemies. As loot drops, your bag fills up pretty quickly. You then need to start making some hard decisions.
Do you drop some items you think are of lesser value, replacing them with rarer finds as you continue to push further down where there are even more valuable goodies, or do you use your special trinket (costing some coin) to portal your way out back to the safety of your shop to sell your hard-earned wares? If you are too greedy, push too far and eventually fall at the hands (or tentacles, etc) of the enemies then you lose (almost) everything you just acquired. This “push your luck” element really adds a nice adrenaline boost to your dungeon adventure.
The shopkeeper aspect is also great. It is necessary to fund your adventures, but also a game in itself. In order to maximize profits, you need to use supply and demand to your advantage. The trick is to find that perfect price point by paying close attention to customer reactions!
As customers wander your shop, they bring their items to the counter. As shop keeper, you have to ring up the sale within a certain time- or lose the sale and the item! Furthermore, some shoplifters will prowl around looking to nab something and run, forcing you to tackle them to retrieve your goods.
All this creates a chaotic, vibrant shop scenario where you bustling around handling sales, stocking shelves, and keeping your eyes open for ne’er-do-wells looking to run out with an expensive goody.
Overall, it’s a great game. I love how easy it is to jump back in where you left off. Despite how casual it feels, there is a lot of depth within the game and play time required to advance. Available on a number of platforms, I highly recommend you give it a try!
Aladdin (2019) (Movie)
TL;DR: The new Aladdin is a fun and nostalgic recreation of the original that brightened my day.
This month I relived one of my favorite childhood movies – Aladdin! I grew up at exactly the right age for this generation of Disney classics (Aladdin, Lion King, Beauty and the Beast) to be a big part of my childhood. We had them all on VHS, meaning we watched them multiple times and would always sing along!
Now that I’ve grown up, I still have a soft spot for these wonderful movies. Last weekend I decided to see the new live-action Aladdin, and I went in with no expectations. It was awesome!!! The songs that were reenacted were very close to the original and were so much fun. I had a smile on my face the whole time and really loved those good ol’ feelings of nostalgia that came with it.
Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) was her old feisty self, but with an extra dimension added to her character. She is passionate about leading and connecting with the people of Agrabah- not just about finding her true love! ? Will Smith did a fantastic job of bringing personality to the Genie, while still honoring the original spirit of the character. Marwan Kenzari was the evil Jafar and his character felt as slimy as cartoon Jafar.
In terms of their choice for Aladdin, it was clear that there has never been a more perfect casting for a role. Mena Massoud was Aladdin incarnate, with the same playful and sweet demeanor. You just can’t help smile along with him.
Overall, this movie brought me great joy and I can’t wait to watch it again when it comes out on Netflix!
Catch 22 (TV Show)
TL;DR: An excellent interpretation of a classic book, no prior reading required.
As a big fan of the original book by Joseph Heller, I was hesitant to watch the latest Hollywood take on it. The book shows the pointlessness and absurdity of war (in this case World War 2) with a dark sense of humor that I wasn’t sure would convert well to a TV series.
Catch 22 centers around John Yossarian, a bombardier in WW2 based in Italy, and his constant and increasingly ridiculous attempts to avoid getting killed. His base is populated by an array of colorful characters (including Hugh Laurie as Major — de Coverley) who come and go, die or are captured in an increasingly satirical and absurdist depiction of warfare.
I was slow to warm up to the show, but ultimately the producers – who include George Clooney (and who also appears in two episodes as Lieutenant Scheisskopf) – have done an excellent job. It takes a while for the show to build and for the absurdity to take hold (much as it does in the book) but once it hits full swing, the book’s unique comedy style is captured nicely.
Although a fan of the book myself, no prior knowledge is required to enjoy this series.
Kale (The Vegetable)
Long story short: Kale is awesome, you should eat it.
It’s spring-turning-into-summer here in beautiful Victoria, BC, and anyone with a garden or even a few pots on their patio can tell you that things are really growing.
Still, in my yard, the only thing quite ready for picking is green and leafy. To keep up with supply, I’ve had to get creative because salad can get boring after a while. Luckily, we have quite a variety of greens this year including arugula, butter lettuce, gai-lan, spinach, mustard, and, of course, kale.
Why of course kale? Well, it’s got to be the trendiest vegetable in the western world.
In the past few years, it has risen from the ground up, to true movie star status.
Farmers produced 60% more kale in 2012 compared to 2007, say Bloomberg Magazine. Prior to his spike, kale was merely a garnish for delis and buffet tables. But now you can get even the less common (and tastier) varieties at many supermarkets (lacinato/dino/black kale, red russian kale, purple kale…).
It’s hard to say exactly how kale made it big- there doesn’t appear to be anyone behind the movement. Though a PR agency did create this fake “American Kale Association” website, that may have generated a bit of buzz. My best guess is that kale found its way into the spotlight thanks to social media, celebrity endorsements, and its shocking nutritional panel.
When it comes down to it, kale is rather good for you. One cup of raw kale (67 grams) contains:
Vitamin A (206% of the DV), Vitamin K (684% of the DV), Vitamin C (134% of the DV), Calcium (9% of the DV), Potassium (9% of the DV), and Magnesium (6% of the DV).
It also contains significant amounts of iron, B vitamins, antioxidants, and other goodies! Further, since it’s really low in calories yet high in nutrients, it is ranked as one of the most nutrient-dense foods on the planet.
And now you can find kale in every form- chips, salad, juice, in skin cream, on t-shirts, tattoos, you name it.
While I wouldn’t recommend only eating kale, it’s a tasty addition to so many dishes. Pretty much anywhere you use spinach, you can sub it for kale. Minimalist Baker is a great food blog and a search for “kale” on their website comes up with many pages of delicious looking recipes (mhmmm creamy kale and spinach dip).
My favorite way to way to enjoy kale is in a smoothie. I always feel amazing after- great digestion & blood sugar levels- and I’ve come to crave the complex flavors.
Here is my go-to recipe:
1 fresh banana
1 frozen banana
1 handful of frozen mango or pineapple
1 orange, peeled & de-seeded if necessary (or ½ cup of orange juice)
1 tbs hemp hearts
As much kale (or other greens) you can fit in your blender- pack it down my friends
½ cup of water
Optional: a small chunk of ginger and turmeric
If you don’t have a high-speed blender, add the kale, fresh banana, orange, and water first, blend the crap out of it, and add the frozen stuff after. Add extra water as needed. Enjoy!
Recent studies find kale in the dirty dozen, so best to get your kale from your local farmer’s market. 😉
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (Book)
TL;DR: Shantaram is the (based on a true) story of an Australian convict who escapes prison and flees to Bombay, India in the 1980’s. After volunteering his first aid skills to serve the people of the slum he lived in, Linbaba (the protagonist) is taken into the high life of the Bombay mafia and all of the (mis)adventures that accompany it.
This month I’ve been re-reading my favorite novel, Shantaram. This 900-page epic has got it all; adventure, love, humor, mystery, suspense… You name it. Further, it was the inspiration for my own journey across India, and the accuracy to which it describes the country still rings true to this day.
The novel covers a wide variety of themes, my favorites being communication, compassion, and poverty. I resonate with Lin’s ability to quickly pick up on languages and I leveraged this skill during my travels through many countries. The “head-wiggle” is one of the notorious cultural phenomena that still is very apparent in many parts of India, and just as the book illustrates, understanding this form of communication is crucial to many social interactions.
Lin’s proclivity for criminality induces a perplexing state of cognitive dissonance within the reader. He is clearly a compassionate, empathetic, and overall good person, yet he makes his living through illegitimate means. We root for him, the anti-hero, and we justify his behavior by citing his good deeds and intentions. When he lands in trouble, we don’t scorn him for his actions, but instead flip the page, hoping he finds his way out.
The horrendous poverty that still plagues India to this day takes the spotlight for the first third of the book. The slums are described with such immaculate detail that the reader is pulled right into the middle of the chaos, engaged with every sense. The strong sense of community, tradition, respect, and honor within the slums draws empathy from the reader, and personally inspired me to donate to multiple charities involved with providing healthcare to the impoverished in India. You can find a cause that resonates with you at GiveIndia.org and 90% of your money is ensured to go directly to it.