The best of 2019

It has been a couple years since I did a year-end roundup of books and film. This year was one of ups (finally travelled to India) and downs (lost my last living grandparent), of self-reflection (learning about leadership, going on retreat again), and of coming to decisions for closing out the decade and kicking off 2020 (more on that later). In between all those things, I was still able to watch and read some great media that I would like to share with you here.

51 Books

Since I wasn’t teaching this year, I thought I would try and hit a 50 book reading challenge this year. I made it, but just barely. Since I discovered some excellent podcasts my listening time for audiobooks was limited (73% of my books read were in audio). It was probably too frenetic of a pace since there are a few I don’t even remember.

However some had a lasting impact. In fiction, Sadie was the most engaging as an audiobook; I loved finally getting into the lore of the wuxia Condor Heroes; and Lincoln in the Bardo showed me that there is still new ground to break in novel-writing (tip: don’t listen to this one, read it in text it will make more sense).

In non-fic, Another Kyoto was a standout that inspired me to do some “walking and talking” while I am in Japan next year. The Culture Map was a useful business book (review forthcoming), and also in “business” I enjoyed Shoe Dog, which I think is best enjoyed in audio (and which I argue is not really a business book, but tells you a lot about the base mentality of some founders).

I just finished Ibram X. Kendi’s excellent How to Be An Anti-Racist, which I am processing and hope to write a little review of soon.

42 Films

Of the five I rated as 5-stars, only one film wasn’t a rewatch: Yasujiro Ozu’s 1953 masterpiece Tokyo Story. In fact 16 of the 42 films I logged were rewatches (lots of Harry Potter and Ghibli films with my kids. I was even able to see Totoro in the theater this year! So brilliant! ๐Ÿ˜ญ).

This year I subscribed to the Criterion Channel for a couple of months and was able to see some brilliant films such as Le Cercle Rouge (I loved Le Samouraรฏ), Chunking Express, The Hidden Fortress, and King Hu’s A Touch of Zen and Dragon Inn. That is a really great service.

This was the last year of watching MCU movies in the theatre (I have been waiting to get off that train for a while, but I am a completionist). Also the Skywalker saga came to an end, but I will likely continue seeing Star Wars films in the theatre. It is part of my heritage. ๐Ÿคทโ€


See previous entries:

Remembering through facsimile

This weekend I finally sat down to watch Shinkai Makotoโ€™s breakout anime hit of 2016 ใ€Œๅ›ใฎๅใฏใ€‚ใ€Your name.. It was an entertaining story with some nice twists, great voice acting, and some cute scenes.

In preparation for this film I watched two other Shinkai films in order to get more familiar with his work. First was his homemade work Voices of a Distant Star which was pretty trippy. Then I watched 5 Centimeters per Second, which, even though it is ten years old, feels like a predecessor to Your name. All three of these films deal with unrequited teenage love, mobile phones, and lense flares.

Setting that aside, what I really want to comment on is Shinkaiโ€™s depictions of Japan in his films, especially 5cm and Your name. (Voices was handmade by Shinkai on his Power Mac G4 in 2002, so the quality of visual is not as tight as the other two films). These two films are visually amazing… art imitates life with extremely detailed illustrations of the objects daily life. His camera work makes normal things seem foreign, since he can place the point-of-view in spots that only the sharpest animatorโ€™s pen can fit. It is beautiful.

Yet, it is cold. The lines are surgical. I get a very different feeling about Japan when I watch these films compared to when I watch Ghibli films. Pretty much every film Miyazaki and his crew produce makes my eyes fill up with the tears of nostalgia. I canโ€™t put my finger on it… they are so gentle. Even Kikiโ€™s Delivery Service and Howlโ€™s Moving Castle โ€” which arenโ€™t even set in Japan!

Does the lack of fidelity in Miyazaki’s work leave room for my own idealized notions of Japan to creep in? Whereas Shinkai’s photo-realistic facsimile keep any and all emotion at bay?

Or maybe it has to do with relationships. It could be because I didnโ€™t grow up in Japan as a lovesick 15 year old. Pubescent relationships are central to the three Shinkai films. Ghibli films on the other hand tend to focus more on inter-generational stories โ€” on families. Maybe that is why I identify more with them?

Either way, I find it interesting that I donโ€™t have the same natsukashii (ๆ‡ใ‹ใ—ใ„) feeling watching Shinkaiโ€™s hyper-realistic Japan, even though it is much closer to my own experience of that place. I sure hope I am not falling for some sort of idyllic Ghibli Japan. It has already changed so much in the seven years since I left and if ever I move back to Japan, I would hate to be disappointed by my own remembrances.

Best of 2016

2016 has been a tumultuous year, for both the entire world and for me personally. I have categorized some of the best hits and big changes below into three categories: Life, Posts and Media.

Life

Death and rebirth

This year we had a cancer scare in my family which made me put community activity on hold for a few months while we waited for test results (maybe I should write a post about how we were totally failed by the Canadian medical system, and had to get this sorted out in Japan?). I had to leave ORCA, which was sad because I think they do important work. I stopped playing D&D. There were many serious talks.

However, two good things came out of this: first, it doesn’t look to be cancer. Second, it made me rethink my life. What they say about near-death experiences is true.

New job

After 4 years in startupland, 3 of which dealing with adtech, I finally moved on to a new, more stable (and less morally hazardous) work environment. My new company is in a massive growth phase, so I get to use a lot of my startup skills. The nice thing is they have lots of customers and resources and experienced executives, making it a much easier to execute.

Vegetarianism

On December 28th 2015, I decided to stop eating meat. A year has passed and I am still not eating it, and am pretty happy about the decision. I wrote about why at the 6 months mark โ†’

Travel

I had the opportunity to visit Texas for the first time, and learned a bit about that state’s history, and of America’s as a whole. My wife and I also took a getaway to the Sunshine Coast, where we could delve a little into BC’s aboriginal history.

This year we took two trips to Japan (I am still on one as I write this). Since we stay in Kyoto, the city of temples, I took both opportunities to explore Japanese Buddhism. Here are a couple of posts exploring the issue:

Public appearances

Early this year I did a couple of radio interviews: one on downsizing and one on Syrian refugees. I was on a public panel about transportation. Lastly, and totally randomly, I was on local TV news.

Posts

blog-posts-by-year-2009-2016

This year was a good one for blogging. I have 54 posts (including this one) for 2016, which is an uptick over recent years. Starting a newsletter to help people who do not use Twitter or RSS to help keep up gave me some more motivation to write, holding me accountable to a schedule. Also, I hit 500 posts this year since starting in early 2009. Lots of introspection about how my thinking has changed over the years here.

Standout posts for the year include:

Media

53 films

The Force Awakens (second viewing) was my first film of 2016. Rogue One (first viewing) was my last. Well, the first 45 mins of it anyways, since my (not quite) 5 year old got a little too scared and we had to leave. I am sure I will get another opportunity to see it.

In February and March I went on a tear and watched a bunch of Oscar-related films which was just about the deepest, non-Marvel non-superhero, non kids watching I did. Standout films include:

62 books

This year I set out to discover new podcasts and Great courses, so I originally set my Goodreads challenge low, to like 30 books. I was still reading a lot, so I kept having to up the challenge. But now when I look back, 20 of those 62 books were graphic novels (including the 8 volume series on the Buddha reviewed here), which means I actually didn’t hit my final goal of 45 books. Also, only 10 of those 42 books were in text form, making my audiobook ratio 76%, which is pretty high, even for me.

I read a lot on Syria, about Marxism and leftist politics, and a lot about Buddhism this year. It is a reflection of the ever-changing perspectives and interests of someone trying to live the examined life (or write the examined blog at least).

My standout books this year are as follows:

Quarterly review: FY16Q4

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Books

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Fight Club

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Weapons of Math Destruction: How Big Data Increases Inequality and Threatens Democracy

Not a lot of reviews this time round. I would like to plug two books that I thought were really great:

1) The Wicked + The Divine graphic novel. I blasted through the first two volumes. It is deep and beautiful.

2) Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. I picked this up because Michael Chabon referenced Chandler’s work in his excellent book The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, and wow was it great! I mean, besides all the sexism and stuff. Chandler’s similes are as hilarious as they are peculiarly specific, like seeing your father-in-law get roasted at a celebrity dinner by Dave Chappelle… I dunno, Chandler does it better. ยฏ_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ

Film

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The Hateful Eight

โ˜…ยฝโ˜†โ˜†โ˜† Suicide Squad

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Arrival

Quarterly review: FY16Q3

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Books

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Canticle

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† Zero K

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time, #1)

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† The Men Who Stare at Goats

Film

โ˜…โ˜…ยฝโ˜†โ˜† The Men Who Stare at Goats

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† The Good Dinosaur

I didn’t write a review, but I enjoyed Oliver Stone’s new film Snowden and also the Adam Curtis documentary The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom which you can see for free online at Thought Maybe.

Quarterly review: FY16Q2

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Books

This month I technically completed my 2016 Goodreads Challenge โ€” 16 books ahead of schedule. It is a little misleading, since of the 14 books I read this quarter 6 were graphic novels. This year I decided to try and read more comics at the long-time encouragement of The Incomparable, one of my all-time favourite podcasts. Hence why I set my Goodreads challenge so low. However, most of the graphic novels are on GR, so I am racking up points!

Also, I have been much better of making at least a note once I finish a book. Thus follows a list of everything I read this quarter, for probably the first time ever. Looking back, I would say that Debt, the First 5,000 Years is a must-read that I will recommend to everyone, and Alif the Unseen, though not perfect, certainly had me thinking and talking about it for days after reading it.

Graphic Novels

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Astonishing X-Men, Vol. 1: Gifted

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† Power Man and Iron Fist: The Comedy of Death

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Buddha, Vol. 1: Kapilavastu

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Batman: The Long Halloween

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Batman: The Killing Joke

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Superman: Earth One, Vol. 1

“Real” Books

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Debt: The First 5,000 Years

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† The Sword of Shannara

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Devil You Know

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The Grace of Kings

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Mindfulness in Plain English (my 500th Goodreads book!)

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Alif the Unseen

Film

Pretty light on film this quarter. I was catching up a lot on TV, and found that graphic novels (as seen above) became my go to evening entertainment when I didn’t have the bandwidth to read a tract on Buddhism or debt.

โ˜…โ˜…ยฝโ˜†โ˜† The Good, The Bad, The Weird

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…ยฝโ˜† Mission: Impossible โ€“ Rogue Nation

Quarterly review: FY16Q1

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Books

Two themes are pretty apparent: learning about the Syrian crisis and books about Buddhism and meditation, partially in preparation for my trip to Japan (somewhat rounded up in my post on Shinran). I would also highlight What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy, which we read for my book club last month and sparked a very lively discussion.

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Guided Mindfulness Meditation

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† The Amulet of Samarkand

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† The Great Courses: Great World Religions: Buddhism

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Mindfulness for Beginners

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† What’s Yours Is Mine: Against the Sharing Economy

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Buddha

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The Sparrow

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Syria’s Uprising and the Fracturing of the Levant

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† The Second Arab Awakening

Film

I watched 11 films in March alone, and went on kind of an Oscar jag in late February (I particularly enjoyed Spotlight and last year’s winner Birdman). With my family in Japan, I was home alone and had lots of time to catch up on films, and even got in some TV like The Man in the High Castle series which I enjoyed. Of course, the highlight at the beginning of the year was The Force Awakens, which I saw twice in theatres, the second time with my 6 year old daughter who loved her first experience at a movie theatre and her first 3D experience.

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Captain America: The First Avenger

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Citizenfour

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† Spectre

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† The Assassin

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Uyghurs: Prisoners of the Absurd

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Bridge of Spies

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…ยฝโ˜† Sicario

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Deadpool

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The Man from U.N.C.L.E.

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Are we a “hapa” family?

Family Portrait
Family portrait by MAUD.

In One Big Hapa Family Jeff Chiba Stearns investigates why there is such a high rate of interracial marriage (95%+) amongst Canadians of Japanese ethnic heritage (otherwise known as Nikkei). Through interviews with his family and other Nikkei in British Columbia, Chiba Stearns explores the historical experience of the Nikkei in Canada and issues surrounding multiethnic identity.

The DVD of this film was given to my wife and I at Christmas by a family friend who, with a slight grin on her face, commented simply: “You guys should watch this.”

She was right.

Sitting down to watch this, my wife and I laughed when we saw it was about growing up as a multiethnic kid in Kelowna! This is a constant topic of discussion in our household as we watch our multiethnic kids grow up here in Kelowna. My wife and I don’t identify as Hapa, but I am sure our kids will. Does this make us a Hapa family? Sorta? ยฏ_(ใƒ„)_/ยฏ Continue reading “Are we a “hapa” family?”

The best of 2015

This year was one of community, organizing and living better. After breaking down my current interests in a recent post, a pattern of community organizing and social activity is apparent. 2015 was a year of solidifying my thinking on social issues, especially those beyond tech, which has consumed me for the past few years.

Besides winning a victory over Bell Mobility and getting a nice letter from prime ministerial hopeful Tom Mulcair, here are some highlights from 2015:

Posts

Early in the year my writing performance was strong but it tapered off towards the end. Disappointing, and understandable that my most memorable posts were from the first part of the year.

In January I did a Kelowna news media audit. Thanks to this post I was able to interview insiders in the industry here, and learned a lot about the attempt Kelowna.com made to unseat Castanet… and why it failed. The post even generated an invitation to talk on CBC Radio. Later there were communications with UBCO to host a panel discussion between journos and academics to talk about media and transparency with the public, but that went nowhere. Nobody else seems to want to tackle this problem.

In March the LRC published my review of Kitten Clone. That is my second piece with them, and it was a lot of fun working with their editor.

I really enjoyed my second trip to the annual LinuxFest Northwest in April. My first experience was good, but this one had a lot of political events that I found very interesting. See More than computers โ€” A recap of LinuxFest Northwest 2015.

For summer holidays we visited Japan, which made me think deeply about the sense of belonging that I have been building up in Canada โ€” maybe for the first time. Check out the post In between worlds โ€” thoughts from a short trip to Japan.

Media

I logged 47 films and 55 books this year. Only 6 were by women authorsโ€ฆ :-/ Hmmmmโ€ฆ Of the 55, 42 were audiobooks. This is out of balance compared to years before. One reason is that I have been “reading” Infinite Jest โ€ฆ for 6 months. The “Infinite Summer” has certainly run long, but I am back on the horse and hopefully can finish in the next quarter. My GoodReads Challenge this year was 110%. Next year I will probably tone this down a little and listen to more Great Courses from The Teaching Company and history/education podcasts.

Books and film consumption by year, 2010 to 2015
Books and film consumption by year, 2010 to 2015

Probably the most influential book I read this year was Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century. I read it early in the year and it guided a lot of my subsequent reading. Highly thought-provoking and highly recommended. For fiction, The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin was a breakout book. It was my first foray into Chinese science fiction, and hard sci-fi at that โ€” super mind-bendy. I look forward to the rest of the series.

For film, I would be remiss not to mention Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Maybe not the most technical film, but I still can’t stop thinking about it. I now know how real pop-culture fans feel about their respective fandoms. Going again this week. The Martian was another impressive film. I only saw it once in the theatre, but will watch it again as soon as I can get it in my house. I finally watched 2013’s Her (just yesterday in fact) and it blew me away. Finally, The Lego Movie and Big Hero 6 were the winners in Family Film this year.

Those are fun, blockbuster-type movie “experiences”, but for more hard-hitting media I consumed this year there are a few standouts: All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, a documentary series from 2011 was very influential; as was Under the Dome, a documentary on China’s disastrous environmental record (see my full review here). The first few episodes of the summer television series Mr Robot had some great social commentary on tech. Even though the series was very enjoyable, it was a little disappointing that they did not more deeply explore the show’s early critiques.

Upcoming in 2016

Next year will see more learning/media focus on the Syrian refugee crisis as I work more with ORCA. There is also a fun secret project that will be done during Q1 (expect a post then). In the spring there is another trip to Japan planned, and in the summer a second wedding (my wife and I are renewing our vows for our tenth wedding anniversary). 2016 will also be a breakout year for my company. So, lots of positive stuff coming up.


See previous entries:

Quarterly review: FY15Q4

Each quarter I do a quick roundup of the book and film reviews that I do on Goodreads and Letterboxd. These reviews are too short and too off-the-cuff to be included with the more in depth reviews I do on this site. Below are the highlights of the quarter.

Two trends you may detect are “Syria” and “Star Wars”.

Books

I have been doing better at making sure I write a few notes for each book I read on GoodReads. Some of these “off-the-cuff” reviews are pretty long.

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The Egg

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† And Yet…: Essays

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Broken Homes

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜†โ˜† Syria and the Assad Family: The History Behind Bashar al-Assad’s Rise to Power and the Civil War

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Star Wars Battlefront: Twilight Company

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜†โ˜† Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Pawn of Prophecy

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… The Three-Body Problem

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Failure is not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond

Film

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Her

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Ex Machina

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜… Star Wars: The Force Awakens

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜† Inside Out

โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…โ˜…ยฝ The Martian