Favourite Things of 2015

For my last post of 2015, I thought I’d summarise my favourite things of this year. In no particular order:

Movie – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

The movie that many people have been eagerly anticipating. I went in with high expectations and was not disappointed. If you go searching for them, you will find plenty of flaws with the movie’s plot, execution, its derivative nature, and so forth. However, you would also be missing the point. J.J. Abrams’ reboot packs a whole lot of pathos. It filled me with wonder. It made me feel. It was space operatic escapism at its best.

TV Show – Damages

I’m not a big TV-watcher, so this one basically wins by default. However, having recently binged on Season 1 with my wife, I think Damages deserves acclaim as a compelling legal thriller. The show follows the story of recent law graduate Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), who must navigate tricky legal, professional and personal waters as an associate at the law firm of Patty Hewes (Glenn Close). The characters are multidimensional and the plot twists relentlessly. As a former student of law I found the issues explored here—especially the nature of trust, ethical boundaries and what makes for an effective lawyer—to be engrossing, even if somewhat heavy-handed at times.

Album – 1989

Taylor Swift hooked me in with Shake It Off and I had to listen to the whole thing. I am extremely impressed with this album. Every song holds up on its own, even if it took a while for some of them to grow on me. 1989 makes me happy, and I’ve gone back to it again and again without any diminishment in joy.

Show – 1989 World Tour

Swift is the best entertainer in the world right now. It was a privilege to take part in the live spectacle.

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Book – Creativity, Inc.

Ed Catmull, President of Pixar and Walter Disney Animation Studios, wrote Creativity, Inc. to distill his experience on how to develop, nurture and sustain an organisation that produces top-notch creative work. As someone who is interested in the power of culture and psychology, this was a fascinating read.

Catmull has written an engaging and informative book on, as he put it, the noble endeavour of managing people. It also contains neat stories of how various Pixar films came to be, and also Catmull’s dealings with the irrepressible Steve Jobs.

Article – Unsustainable Liberalism

This article by Patrick J. Deneen was written in 2012 but I came across it recently. It is a long but worthwhile read on the contradictions of liberalism and how its unfettered growth leads to illiberalism. What I found most interesting is the idea that the contemporary Left and Right are both species of liberalism and are problematic in their own ways.

The Left wishes to carve out ever-more personal freedoms under the rubric of “if it doesn’t hurt anyone it should be permissible”, and using the power of the state to enforce them. The Right, as Deneen puts it, “embraces a market orthodoxy that places the choosing, autonomous individual at the center of its economic theory”, and seeks to expand the reach of the free-market in all human spheres. The result?

Both the left and the right effectively enact a pincer movement in which local associations and groups are engulfed by an expanding state and by the market, each moving toward singularity in each realm: one state and one market.

[The right] seeks to promote family values but denies that the market undermines many of the values that undergird family life. The left commends sexual liberation as the best avenue to achieve individual autonomy, while nonsensically condemning the immorality of a marketplace in which sex is the best sales pitch. The encompassing Leviathan daily attains more reality.

Fascinating stuff, and I hope to write more on this in the future.

App – Instapaper

I browse Twitter and the web daily to look for interesting stuff to read. Instapaper is invaluable in collecting them, synced across my devices and the browser, for later offline consumption. When my eyes could use a rest, there is also an option to speak the text. Neat.

Scientific Event – New Horizons Flyby of Pluto

On January 16, 2006, NASA launched the New Horizons probe on a mission to Pluto. After nine and a half years zipping through cold space, New Horizons flew past Pluto on July 14, 2015, forever transforming our image of the dwarf planet from a pixelated blob to breathtaking high resolution pictures. As with any good scientific endeavour, the data sent back so far raises as many questions as it answers about our understanding of this icy body.

Place – Château de Chenonceau

In the Loire Valley, on my honeymoon. A château over the water, surrounded by immaculate gardens. Magnificent.

 

Aesthetics Brah

Japanese aesthetics, that is. Whenever I post pictures I get a good response, so here we go again — this is a sample of photos that I took in beautiful Japan:

Seeing red — Hozomon Gate, Asakusa

Seeing red — Hozomon Gate, Asakusa

Lanterns galore — street food in Asakusa

Lanterns galore — street food in Asakusa

Calm of night — Asakusa

Calm of night — Asakusa

Seeing double — Tokyo Skytree at night

Seeing double — Tokyo Skytree at night

Maid in Akihabara — colourful signs in electric town

Maid in Akihabara — colourful signs in electric town

Street art — in the side streets of Harajuku

Street art — in the side streets of Harajuku

Spidey senses — in the streets of Harajuku

Spidey senses — in the streets of Harajuku

Rilakkuma madness — Kiddy Land, Harajuku

Rilakkuma madness — Kiddy Land, Harajuku

Splashes of colour — along Meiji Dori

Splashes of colour — along Meiji Dori

Warriors — outside a sumo stable in Ningyo-cho

Warriors — outside a sumo stable in Ningyo-cho

Path of gold — ginkgo leaves blanket the footway in the University of Tokyo

Path of gold — ginkgo leaves blanket the footway at the University of Tokyo

Lights, camera, action — revellers at Womb

Lights, camera, action — revellers at Womb

Swedish Ingenuity

I fell in love with cycling during my six months in Europe last year. It is practical, convenient, exhilarating and fun. A major difference between biking in Europe and in Australia is that in the latter, you are obligated to wear a helmet. While I’m not an expert and can’t say whether having a helmet makes riding safer, I can say for sure that it puts a dent on the prevalence of cycling.

One of the ways to Copehagenise a city is to implement a public bike sharing system. When the idea was floated in Sydney in the late 2000s, I was completely dismissive. Wouldn’t work. Rubbish idea. I’ve had a 180-degree shift in thinking after witnessing and experiencing such systems all across the continent — including London, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Oslo. While I have nothing but effusive praise for the idea, it really needs to be accompanied by an intentional plan. Bicycles must be integrated as part of the urban planning framework.

At least within the City of Sydney council area, this plan is slowly coming into fruition. However, the mandatory helmet laws will remain a huge drag on take-up of a bike sharing system. Who’s gonna have the foresight and the means to lug a helmet around everywhere?

So everything I’ve said up to this point has been a huge, waffly prologue to the point of this post. Enter the Swedes. Two enterprising women, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, have spent the past seven years coming up with something that just might revolutionise the way we think about bike helmets. They have invented the Hövding — an “invisible bike helmet”  that is a stylish collar with a sensor that deploys an airbag when the cyclist is in the middle of a fall. Here’s the full breakdown of how it works.

Pros: don’t have to awkwardly carry a helmet around everywhere; maintain safety while the head remains blessedly free; super freaking coolness.

Cons: won’t protect you from stuff that just bangs into your head; fashionable in winter but kind of awkward to wear in summer.

For the chic Scandinavians who hardly experience 20-degree temperatures over the year, the Hövding provides an additional layer of chic-y goodness. As a Sydneysider who would most likely be riding in T-shirt-shorts-and-thongs, it might be a little incongruous. Even so, full props to the two ladies for their wonderful invention. Those industrious Swedes never cease to amaze me. To the Danes: I know you invented the Lego. And to the Norwegians: I know you invented the oil. But come on guys, lift your game!

By the way, here is the Hövding in action: