Best of 2020

I reflected on the year using Pat Kua’s End of Year Retrospective Template. I won’t share all my results here, just a bit of a roundup below, but the questions from that document I really appreciated were:

  • What brought you joy this year?
  • What made you sad this year?
  • What are you grateful for this year?

These three questions sure help in building out goals for next year. If you are looking for a handy framework for reflection, I think Pat’s is a great place to start.

The Last Year

2020 was an extreme year for all. We moved to Japan during a pandemic and my wife lost her mother. My kids endured Japanese elementary school and we evacuated during a typhoon. There was lots to overcome (some of it still going on!). I am certainly grateful for the financial stability to do so. This foundation, and a stable family life, allows me to pursue my joy of reading, writing, and engaging with ideas. Looking at the numbers below you can see how much I put out into the world this year, a marked increase on years past. 2019 was a year of figuring what I wanted to do with my life, and 2020 was actually going out and doing it.

Being outside the rat race of corporate life also gave me more room to engage with art. I spent time assessing how writers put together words, rather than just examining their arguments (cue Bruce Lee’s “don’t think, feel!”). I discovered André Alexis and still think about This Is How You Lose the Time War. Books, film, music, performance, ceramics… even sunrises and sunsets, puffy clouds crossing the sky. Maybe recognizing beauty everywhere is a feature of getting older? This year I definitely spent more time appreciating skills and craft. Thinking about the day in and day out of a writer’s craft is probably what made reading How to Take Smart Notes was so radical for me.

Without setting out to do so, I gravitated towards stories about amazing people. I finally read The Autobiography of Malcolm X and watched Ghandi. I gave my daughter a copy of Greta’s book and read more on the Dalai Lama. Even fictional geniuses found their way into my media diet: The Queen’s Gambit inspired a Christmas chessboard (I was about their age when I got my first chessboard, I told myself).

In 2020, since leaving my job, I spent a lot more time with my kids watching them grow and trying to figure out their passions. We are all trying to find out own way. 2020 to me was one of searching and growth a amongst a seemingly chaotic and changing world.

The Numbers for 2020

🖋 40 blog posts

📰 7 pieces published elsewhere

📸 1962 photos and vids on Flickr

📹 13 videos posted to YouTube

🐦 1387+ tweets

📚 49 books read

🎞 45 films watched

The Last Decade

Ten years is a long time. I entered the decade a very different person than when I came out (who hasn’t?). I moved to Canada with Apple in 2010, and spent the next ten years working with startups and tech companies. I had a second child and built up a wonderful new network of friends and community in Kelowna.

Reflecting on this period one the thing I am happy about is all the self-reflection I did during that time. I grew a lot as a human, shifting my thinking on a lot of topics, and even took action by making changes to how I live my life (eg. downsizing, vegetarianism, anti-racism, technology ethics). At the same time, looking back I feel it was sort of a decade of loss. My Japanese language suffered and my knowledge of Japanese politics and history grew stale. That feeling might be due to recency bias. Since moving back to Japan in March I feel so left behind by all my friends who stayed here. No need to compare, I know, but I cannot help thinking I could have kept up a bit better. Now, well into middle age, I have a better sense of myself and what I find truly important. I will take this feeling into the next decade.

For now, goodbye 2020, goodbye 2010s. And goodbye to all you readers! I will see you bright and early next year. May you be happy, healthy, safe, and free-from suffering.


Previous Best Of’s and roundups

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! 😭).

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 Samouraï), 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. 🤷‍


See previous entries:

A quick end of year roundup

Last day of 2018. Only wrote 5 posts this year, but it was a big one for me since I took a big step up in my job and even took on a second job. Some highlights:

  • taught 2 semesters of Computer Science as a sessional instructor at University of British Columbia (Okanagan) 👨‍🎓
  • though I didn’t do a lot of writing, I did create over 600 slides for my lectures ✍️
  • paid off 2 of my 3 students loans (the final one will be done in the coming months) 💰
  • a magical trip to Hawaii (review) 🏝️
  • World Cup, which was brilliant, and motivated me to start tracking La Liga, in addition to my beloved Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League ⚽
  • read 50 books, including a lot about Asian history (not just Japan, but China, India, Tibet, Southeast Asia). Really taken an interest in what is happening on continental Asia these days. So interesting! 🌏
  • was even able to re-read a few books, which never happens ♻️
  • discovered Murakami Haruki (read 3 of his books) 📚
  • only watched 30 films (a third were rewatches). My all time favourite of the year: Bao 🥟

Now that my teaching is done, I plan on writing more in 2019. I haven’t set a goal yet, but likely the topic will be on Asia. Kinda think I might be going back to my Coming Anarchy roots. I will be in India next month, and Japan in the summer. So there will be at least 2 travelogues.

2018 was big for me. It feels like a new beginning. Here’s to 2019! 🥂

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 →

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:

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 — 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 — maybe for the first time. Check out the post In between worlds — thoughts from a short trip to Japan.

Media

I logged 47 films and 55 books this year. Only 6 were by women authors… :-/ Hmmmm… 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 … 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 — 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:

The best of 2014

I logged 40 films and read 57 books in the year 2014. That is really 50 books when you remove the graphic novels, essays and lecture series. Considering my GoodReads Challenge this year was 45 books, I did well. Next year I am setting it to 50. Why not?

I did two reviews for the Literary Review of Canada this year (one to be published early 2015), which meant a lot of background reading and research. Plus, for a few months I attended a book club, which meant an extra book each month, but it wasn’t that difficult. Probably because of how I consume books: 72% of my read books were in audio format. Considering how many podcasts I listen to, that is a lot of media consumption through the ears.

The fiction to non-fic split was 28 to 22. Seems like a pretty good balance. Almost half and half.

8 books got 5 stars from me. Here is the quick list:

The first two, Origins and To Save Everything probably influenced me the most this year. I would also like to give special mention to The Circle (4 stars), which was problematic in execution, but sparked a lot of excellent conversation.

Politics was a big theme for me this year. I spent a lot of time thinking about how so much of our tech is about facilitating social interaction, and how social interaction is governed by politics. It has shifted my focus to thinking more about the underlying political infrastructure of our technology, instead of the technological infrastructure of our politics. The result so far has been a sidelining of technology per se, at least from my perspective. I am getting re-acquainted with political theory again. More on this in the future I’m sure.

Another highlight of the year was being introduced to the excellent Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin. I don’t know why I had never read them before, but I plan on reading more.

On film

12 of the 40 films I logged were watched with my kids. I only watched Frozen once, even though my kids could have logged it 40 times. Anyways, my top films of 2014 were:

I guess my theme in film this year was “captains”…? Or maybe, “U-S-A! U-S-A!”, which is funny because a lot of the books I read this year were much the opposite!


See previous entries:

The best of 2013

See last year’s roundup.

Besides work and family, I get enjoyment out of books and film. In terms of books, this year was a pretty serious one for me.

Goodreads Challenge 2013

I was able to acheive my Goodreads goal (again). It says 50, but if you minus off the graphic novels, coursework and essays it is more like 44. Considering my family was in Japan for a total of 13 weeks, I probably should have read more. I did spend quite a bit of time reading D&D and Shadowrun rulebooks… so… there’s that.

Looking back, my overall reading theme was “internet theory” — including cypherpunks, hackers, anonymous and the like. This trend started before the Snowden revelations, but picked up halfway through the year. Since reading Future Perfect last year, and thinking about information politics I have been diving deep into the internet and politics. I suspect that trend to continue in 2014.

The best book of 2013 I read was This Machine Kills Secrets. I highly recommend it. Furthermore I would recommend Coding Freedom: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Hacking if you want to learn more about the ethics of computing. From those two books you can go many directions. I listen to the Suprisingly Free podcast to get ideas.

Audio vs Text

Last year I set the goal of reading more books rather than listening to them. I wanted to push down the ratio of audiobooks from 75% to half. I almost achieved that:

  • Audio 25 = 56%
  • Text 12 = 27%
  • Both audio and text 7 = 16%

With Amazon’s new Whispersync technology and strategy of bundling of Audible and Kindle books, I have been getting both versions for books that I want to get through quickly but still need to take lots of annotations. I still would like to read more, but audio fits into my daily life better.

Next year’s goal

I set the goal of getting into “deeper” books last year. Althought I was able read some classics. like Crime and Punishment, I strayed quite a bit. I feel that grasping the “classics” properly requires me to read them, yet I read fiction mainly for relaxationa and entertainment, and thus tend to use the audio medium. In order to read more classics, I need to change my reading habits, and I am not sure if I am ready to do that. Interesting to think that the medium determines the “quality” of books I am reading.

Next year I will probably continue reading non-fic about internet politics. I would like to try to go back and re-read some books from the past, both non-fic and fic. That and I have a few series that I started this year that I can continue reading (Vorkosigan Saga, Oxford Time Travelers, Small Change, etc.) Plus I am looking forward to more Hawkeye and Saga! In all, I do not plan to be buying a ton of books in 2014.

A note about film

Last year I dedicated a whole post to film. This time I just thought I would note the highlights of the 47 films I saw. The following garnered 5 and 4.5 stars:

As you can see, I was catching up on some films from the past. As for new films, although I enjoyed the spectacle of The Desolation of Smaug, Gravity was probably the best film of the year from a critical perspective.

My year in film, 2012

I have done my annual book review for a number years now, but this year I thought I would do films too. Around this time last year I was introduced to a movie social network/tracking site that I really like: Letterboxd. Check out their cool 2012 Year in Review. If you want an invite, just ping me! I used it to track all 47 films I saw this year. That is not a lot of films by my standards, but with two kids I have little time for movies. When I do watch I tend to have to split a film up over a couple of viewings. However, it does mean I get to see a lot more animation, incuding my beloved Ghibli films.

This year, only 3 films garnered 5 stars:

  1. The Avengers
  2. My Neighbor Totoro
  3. Kiki’s Delivery Service

Avengers is obviously not a masterpiece example of l’art du cinéma, but it was so fun that I wanted to watch it immediately again (which I did) and listened to about 6 hours worth of podcasts about it. I am not a pro movie critic so there is no requirement for objectivity. I agree with one reviewer that this film just might be the Star Wars to today’s young generation. To give a little more balance, here are some of my favourite films that scored 4 and 4.5 stars:

Moonrise Kingdom scored high too, but only ranked fourth on my list of Favourite Wes Anderson Films.

As for film duds, I really only saw one (The Lorax) but I would have to say that Prometheus and Dark Knight Rises were probably the most disappointing of the year. Unlike the prevailing hipster opinion, I enjoyed The Hobbit quite a bit. There are still a number of films released this year that I have yet to see (Skyfall, Argo, Django Unchained just to name a few). They will have to wait.

My year in books, 2012

Goodreads Challenge 2012

This year was a good one for books. I originally set 2012’s goal to 30. I thought with a new baby on the way I wouldn’t have as much time for reading. On the contrary, there was lots of manual labour giving me more time to listen to audiobooks. Since I didn’t read any more George RR Martin books I was able to hit 30 books quite quickly. I upped my goal to 40 by the end of the first quarter of the year. Thanks to my information diet in September I cut way back on my podcast listening and other media consumption, allowing me to read even more. In total I read 51 books, though a few of those could be considered mere essays or pamphlets.

Looking back I see a few over-arching themes in my reading.

Of course there were the typical books about startups, the web, design and other work related things. Design is a Job was the standout. Cosmology is another of my common themes, though this year I read more about the politics involved (understandable considering my new side project Above Orbit). Classical sci-fi became an interest when I read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World culminating in my reading of Orwell’s 1984 for the first time. What an amazing book! I think this tied in well with my other theme of the year: thinking. Prodded by the contrarian biographer of George Orwell — Christopher Hitchens — and inspired by the pamphleteering of Steven Berlin Johnson, I tried to think deeper upon what I was reading.

The three books that influenced me most in 2012 are:

  1. The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption by Clay A. Johnson
  2. Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City by Brad Feld
  3. Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens

The first made me make time to think about the things important to me; the second made me consider improving my community; and the third made me consider improving my intellectual self.

A little on the “how” and next year

I often speak about how much I enjoy audiobooks. Compared to last year the ratio of read to listened to books became a bit more narrow:

  • 2010 → 22 of 32 = 69% audio
  • 2011 → 23 of 30 = 77% audio
  • 2012 → 38 of 51 = 75% audio

(NOTE: Both Brave New World and Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From I read and listened simultaneously in Audible and Kindle formats.)

Next year I will attempt to push audiobooks downwards to the 50% mark. I will focus on reading different books, deeper (something I want to discuss in a different post). Paper remains my bane, but the Kindle will serve me well as the ability to annotate without limit helps me to return to specific passages and notes, allowing me to write more extended reviews, something that I have been doing more of since my information diet. I think the quantity of books I will read must suffer somewhat, thus I am setting my Goodreads Reading Challenge goal to 40 books.

My year in books, 2011

In 2011 I challenged myself on Goodreads to read 40 books. I had read 32 in 2010, so I set a stretch goal. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to achieve it. That was understandable considering that I read The Name of the Wind, Wise Man’s Fear and the first 2 and half books from the Song of Ice and Fire series. I should get bonus points considering for those…

Most of the books I read I actually listen to. Audiobooks have been my main channel of consumption for the past few years (in 2010, 22 of 32 and in 2011, 23 of 30 were audiobooks). One of the previous year’s highlights, Steve Jobs, I read both with my Kindle and with the audiobook to get through it faster.

Last year I subscribed to a substantial number of new podcasts (and even started my own), which has taken from my audiobook listening time. One of those podcasts, the wonderful The Incomparable, was responsible for many of the books I picked up last year. I already have a healthy to-read stack for 2012 thanks to those guys.

In 2011 A Game of Thrones and The Lean Startup were my top books of the year. I was disappointed with The Dervish House. Excellent concept, beautiful writing, but it just lost me about three quarters through — I couldn’t finish it. I read a number of tech books this year. Most were great but I think Kevin Kelly’s What Technology Wants was the the most thought-provoking.

Next year I have set my challenge back down to 30. With a new baby on the way, and with a new company to start, I don’t think I will have as much time for reading. 30 will be a healthy stretch goal.