Ethereality News & Weblog

December 27, 2015

2015 review, and 2016’s resolutions

SITE NEWS:

I keep saying I’ll update the Kitty Cat Diary more often, but it’s hard to find the time. I managed to do a huge update this time though, and from now on I’ll be using a new approach for future updates. Anyway, here’s the latest batch:

WEBLOG:

My little yearly tradition continues, where I review the year that’s ended and think about goals for the new year.

First, let’s look at what I wrote for 2015’s resolutions, and how I fared:

In 2015, I’m continuing the previous quest to keep my life simpler and focus on fewer things so I can get more done. At this point in my life, I think I’msha pretty much set in my ways and have a comfortable routine going, and I like how my life is now more than I ever did in the past. I just turned forty-two, and although I still feel that pressure to accomplish life’s goals (damn mid-life crisis), I’m trying to just enjoy myself more instead of feeling like a man on a mission who can’t afford to fail.

Writing – I know that statistically, the chances of anyone making a living as a novelist is very slim, and it’s really not healthy to obsess about it. I’ll just continue to write at a pace that is enjoyable to me, and whatever happens will just be a natural extension of my love for storytelling. I don’t ever want to turn into one of those writers who talks about nothing but word-count, how to write more books more quickly, and just generally sound like some factory manager than a writer who’s doing it for the love of storytelling.

With the new revelations I had about how to handle thematic explorations, I think 2015 is going to be a very good year, where I overcome the problems I faced with Promise and Undead Souls. I really enjoyed the world-building I did for Darkness Falls in 2014, and I feel a bit torn about whether to focus on finishing the novels I’ve been writing, or set them aside and just keep working on Darkness Falls. I doubt I’ll figure out what to do with Silent Storm anytime soon–I probably should have more discussions with fellow writers to figure out what the problem is with that story before I do anything more with it.

So in short, just keep writing and enjoy the process, instead of obsessing over anything not directly related to storytelling.

2015 turned out to be an unfruitful year for writing. Although I did get some writing done, as well as figured out the solution to some problems in plot, character arc, and thematic purpose, overall my time was taken up with other things most of the year. I did post a couple of very useful tips for fiction writers though:

Mapping out character and faction motivations and relationships with Excel

Hierarchy of conflicts in storytelling

Although I do feel guilty for not putting writing above all else in my life in 2015, part of me wonders whether it’s even a good idea to be so militant about it. I’m not writing for money or fame, and I’m not in a hurry to get published. I write for myself, and as long as I’m enjoying life overall, does it really matter if the joy I feel comes from writing or from other endeavors? But there’s still a shadow of that ambitious young man inside of me, so at some primal level I still feel like I need to push myself harder. But I’ve definitely learned to not stress out about it and let my love for writing be the only guide. Hopefully 2016 will be a more fruitful year for writing, now that all the big distractions in 2015 have been taken care of (or so it seems, for now. I’ll explain later).

Teaching – I’m taking a break for a bit in 2015, but I’ll continue to mentor my alumni students. I’m not sure when I’ll teach the next workshop, but I need to rest and give myself more time to write. Although my teaching doesn’t take up nearly as much time as a day-job, it can still be quite disruptive to my writing.

There are a few students who are going through a hard time in their artistic development, and I hope I can guide them well in 2015 so they can level up and overcome the obstacles that’s keeping them from moving forward as artists.

2015 was a pretty peaceful year in terms of teaching. I didn’t have any belligerent students in any of the workshops, and there weren’t any big problems in general. Most of the students who had a hard time with their artistic development or personal life improved significantly. I was able to talk some of them into seeking professional help for their depression and personality disorders, and the ones who couldn’t find jobs as artists did eventually find jobs or got gigs working on sizable projects.

Health – I’ve been at healthy weight for over a year, and I’ve been very vigilant about breaking up my days with 20-minute intervals and getting up to move around, as well as rebounding everyday. I don’t eat nearly as much crap as I used to, and I don’t smoke, drink (including coffee), or have other habits negative to my health. The only thing I can now add is regular cardio exercise and weight training. I’d like to get into a routine with those in 2015, but I’ve failed so many times in the past with regular exercise that I wonder if it’s even possible. I’m just much more comfortable taxing my brain than my body–I guess it’s a personality thing. The problem is always that I feel like I already don’t have enough time in a day to get things done, but the general wisdom is if you don’t make time to exercise you’ll shorten your lifespan, and that means you are going to lose years of your life–years that could be spent on getting things done. So I guess “too busy” just isn’t enough of a good excuse.

I’m going to be more careful about exacerbating my gallstone attacks in 2015. Although sometimes it’s just beyond my control (didn’t eat anything that would trigger an attack), I think at least half of the attacks had something to do with what I ate. The frustrating thing is that there’s no real logic behind it most of the time, since the same food with the same quantity, at the same time of the day, may or may not trigger an attack. No matter what, I want to keep my gallbladder for as long as possible, so any efforts I can make to keep the attacks away will be important.

Although I didn’t really add cardio exercise to my routine, I did add pull-up’s (and other related ones like chin-up’s, hands close together, parallel bars) to my routine, as well as increased the duration and number of sets for the rebounding so I end up with 90 minutes total of rebounding a week, which in my mind, kind of satisfies the 90 minute minimum cardio exercise limit set by health organizations. Also, my rebounding isn’t just jumping up and down–I actually do some pretty difficult movements such as jumping splits, body twists, and various leg contortions, so I definitely get winded by the time I’m done with each of the five sets (at 2:40 each, spread out throughout the day). I do one when I wake up, one before lunch, one in the mid-afternoon, one before dinner, and one before my nightly shower.

My gallstone attacks fell to only eight in 2015, which is about half of the number in 2014, and they were all minor attacks too, so there’s definitely improvement. I wonder if I’ll ever have a year without a single attack.

Kitty Cat Diary – Although I do it for fun, I still feel bad when I have a pile of backlogged photos I haven’t processed and posted to the Kitty Cat Diary (more than anything, it’s the feeling that it’s been a tradition for me since 2001, and I shouldn’t neglect it). I’ll try to get caught up as much as possible in 2015, but I can’t make it a priority since it’s not supposed to be that important–especially when I have my writing to keep my busy.

2015 was another delirious year for Kitty Cat Diary. I shot so many photos just like the previous two years, but unfortunately, I again did not have the time to process and post them all. All those backlogged photos finally prompted me to rethink how I approach updating the Kitty Cat Diary, and I’ve come up with a new solution.

Basically, this is what I’ll do from now on: I’ll periodically go through the photos I’ve taken in the last few years (since the summer of 2013, which was when I started to fall behind on updates), and just pick whichever ones I feel like processing and posting for the new batch. I’ll then post them on the main landing page for Kitty Cat Diary, which will be “Latest Update,” and it’ll act as a “staging area” that makes it easy to see which new photos have been added. But they’ll also be added to the chronological timeline in the correct time slots too, and when the next batch shows up, it’ll take over the staging area and the previous batch will simply be part of the chronological timeline.

So, that’s how I fared in my 2015 resolutions.

I mentioned there were some significant distractions from my writing in 2015, and I’ll now explain what they were. (I really shouldn’t call them distractions, since they are all related to my other passions in life and also important to me.)

Switching camera systems – When the Sony a7RII was announced and then subsequently released and reviewed by all the photography/camera portals and magazines, it created a huge splash in the industry due to its innovative features and advancement in mirrorless performance. I was already looking into upgrading my Canon 5D Mark III because of its lack of video autofocus and being prone to high noise in shadows even at low ISO settings. I also thought maybe whatever I replace it with could also pull double duty and replace the Olympus E-M1 too, since its Micro Four-Thirds sensor can’t handle low-light too well. The a7RII on paper seemed to tick all the right boxes and I ended up selling off all of my Canon gear and switched to the Sony full-frame E-Mount system. You can read my review of the a7RII and see the photos I took with it here (as well as read about my exprience with the amazing but frustrating Pilotfly H1+, a 3-axis gimbal stabilizer for video shooting ): http://www.ethereality.info/ethereality_website/about_me/wordpress/?p=2518

Adding a subwoofer to my studio (Neumann KH 805) – Despite having ample acoustic treatment, there are still some peaks and nulls from room modes in my studio that needs to be flattened out with the help of room/speaker correction software (IK Multimedia ARC System 2), and generally speaking, you want any DSP correction you apply to be as subtle as possible so you don’t cause too much distortion. To fill in the nulls in the sub-bass region, I decided to finally bite the bullet and purchase a matching subwoofer for my Klein + Hummel O 300D studio monitors. The timing was perfect because Neumann (who bought Klein + Hummel, with Sennheiser as the parent company) had just released the new KH 805, which is a lower-cost version of the much more expensive KH 810, with the main difference of not having 7.1 surround bass management, which I don’t need anyway.

Subwoofer placement something that most knowledgeable audio professionals or audiophiles dread dealing with, because unless done well, it can create more problems than solve them. I had to do the famous “subwoofer crawl” for many hours to finally find the ideal spot with the most acceptable frequency response (using sound level meter and playing sinewave test tones at various frequency intervals).

With the subwoofer installed and additional correction performed by ARC System 2, I’m getting a fuller, richer sound than I did before. Without the sub, the O 300Ds can go down to about 35 Hz, and the sub extends the low frequency down to 18 Hz. It’s not that I need the extra sub-bass extension, because 35 Hz is plenty low enough for music, movies, or games. The point wasn’t to go lower, but to fill in the nulls and put less stress on the O 300D’s bass drivers, which will help open up the sound more.

I still have some more work to do to get the entire system sounding as neutral as possible without using any DSP correction. I’ve been in contact with someone at Neumann, and he’s been helping me rearrange my studio to get the most neutral sound possible. Hopefully I’ll have it all done in another few weeks.

Replacing a broken IEM (In-Ear Monitor) – My Westone W4 went through the washer and dryer and developed channel and frequency response imbalance problems, so I had to replace it. I don’t use IEMs that much–in fact I don’t use headphones much anymore in general because my lifestyle is very different now compared to when I was younger. Having a standalone house instead of living in apartments and working at home instead of at a studio/office with other people means that I can blast my awesome high-end reference studio monitors without any worry. Elena is extremely tolerant too, so the only time I need headphones is when she’s sleeping.

But I still do need a pair of IEMs for the times when I’m out and about and need something extremely small and portable. Waiting in the doctor’s office or standing in long lines are just a couple of examples when a pair of IEMs will make the wait more bearable.

So I did a lot of research into what’s currently on the market, and then proceeded to buy and test a bunch of different IEMs–ranging from ones that cost less than $100 but have gotten rave reviews in the head-fi community, to TOTL (Top-of-the-Line) flagship models that cost over a thousand dollars. After testing them, I returned or sold the ones that didn’t pass the grade, and kept the one that did. I always try to buy used from fellow head-fiers, so when reselling them, I usually don’t lose any money at all.

Surprisingly, the expensive models I tested such as JH Audio’s Angie, Noble Audio’s Kaiser K10U, and Westone’s W60, all had issues I couldn’t overlook. The mid-level ones like the 64 Audio’s U5 and Ultimate Ear’s UE900 were the worst of the bunch, sounding very bright and harsh in the sibilance region. The cheaper Hifiman RE-600 was the only one out of the bunch that didn’t have a significant sibilance peak in the 7 KHz region that hurt my ears, and since the even cheaper RE-400 (only $80) sounds almost identical except uses cheaper material, I ended up with the RE-400.

Of course that doesn’t mean the RE600/400 sound amazing, because they don’t. They are simply inoffensive sounding, but are kind of boring. They need a bit more sub-bass below 80 Hz (about 2.5 dB) to sound authoritative, and the entire region above 3 KHz needs to be boosted by about 5 dB (but with 5 and 8 KHz reduced by about -7dB or so for a smoother/flatter response). But once I dialed in those custom parametric EQ settings, I was able to turn the RE-600/400 into amazing sounding IEMs with very neutral/accurate frequency response. Not only that, the RE-600/400 series is also very tiny and extremely comfortable, so I can even sleep on my sides wearing them. (The Westones are very comfortable too, but all of their universal models sound too colored.)

Although it took a lot of time to research, test, and tweak the IEMs, it’s kind of nice that I was able to find what I wanted while spending only $80 instead of over a thousand dollars on ridiculous diminishing returns.

If you are an audio/headphone enthusiast, you might want to read my entire adventure to find a new pair of ideal IEMs in this head-fi thread: http://www.head-fi.org/t/785154/need-recommendations-for-most-neutral-accurate-yet-musical-and-enjoyable-iem-in-sub-1-000-range-going-over-is-okay-if-its-really-worth-it

Searching for an ideal 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid – As my current desktop computer develops more and more problems (constant crashing, DPC issues, hard drive problems) and my aging laptop struggling to keep up, I became so fed-up that I started looking into replacements. It seemed that a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid would be the ideal choice, since it’ll be able to replace both my desktop and laptop, as well as double as a tablet (for those times when I wish my Galaxy Note 3 had a bigger screen).

After doing a lot of researching and testing models at the local Best Buy, it was still impossible to choose, since each model had its own pros and cons. These are the ones I seriously considered: Surface Pro 4, Surface Book, HP Spectre X360, Lenovo Yoga 900, Toshiba Satellite Radius 12, Acer Aspire R13, Samsung Ativ Book 9 Spin, Vaio Canvas Z, and some Dell models.

Some of them didn’t have good enough stylus pens (or any at all), some didn’t have good enough displays (100% AdobeRGB and sRGB color gamut coverage for professional visual artists, at least 300+ nits of brightness), were a bit too heavy (heavier than 3 lbs.), or were ergonomically clunky. The only one that comes close is the Surface Pro 4, even though I’m not a fan of the kick-stand approach compared to having normal laptop keyboard that has the weight in the front, so it’s better for actually putting it on the lap.

I was almost ready to pull the trigger on the Surface Pro 4, but then when I looked into buying an NAS to house all of my hard drives, I was shocked by how expensive they were (diskless or no disk). For that price, I could easily just replace the problematic parts of my desktop computer and still had plenty of money left.

So I ended up doing a thorough troubleshooting (including going through the entire process of upgrading to Windows 10 and running into hardware incompatibility/driver issues, then reverting back to Windows 8.1), and finally found the two main culprits causing all the problems–the video card and a hard drive. Those two problems were so bad that even restoring Windows to a previous state became impossible as Windows couldn’t start due to the crashes corrupting Windows startup. I had to reinstall Windows 8.1 about six times in three days to finally pinpoint the problems (since after each install, Windows would crash and become corrupted).

I took the video card out and used the integrated graphics on my i5 2500k CPU, and the crashes stopped. Then I took out the hard drive that kept freezing my computer and crashing it whenever I was accessing a file on it. It’s from a problematic batch of hard drives I got years ago–all of them are either dead or acting up at this point. The graphics card is an old GeForce GTX 500 Ti, and I gave it a thorough cleaning that blew out lots of dust deep inside that regular quick cleanings with compressed air wasn’t able to reach. You really have to remove the card from the computer and then blow in all the nooks and crannies with compressed air to really clean it thoroughly. After cleaning, the graphics card stopping causing problems, and I’m no longer using that problematic hard drive. My desktop is finally running smooth again (though I’m staying with Windows 8.1 for now on my desktop, until Microsoft irons out all the kinks with Windows 10).

I did upgrade the laptop to Windows 10 (luckily no problems with drivers), and did some cleaning up and optimizing. It is now running decently, but a bit sluggish compared to today’s laptops. It can run Lightroom 6 and Photoshop CC 2015, but when applying edits and rendering filters it takes a long time. With my desktop finally running smooth again, I rarely have any need to use the laptop though, so there’s no pressing need to replace it anymore.

At the moment my craving for a 2-in-1 laptop/tablet hybrid has been curbed, especially that my current lifestyle really doesn’t require one. If I end up doing a lot more traveling in the future, I’ll definitely have to get one, but for now I’m okay with my 5-year old desktop (i5 2500k, 16 GB RAM) and laptop (Core2 Duo 2.4 GHz, 4 GB RAM).

Here are some other things worth mentioning that’s not related to the resolutions.

Movies/Television – Three new TV shows I watched in 2015 I really enjoyed were Better Call Saul, Fargo (season one) and Rick and Morty.

Better Call Saul is one of the most compelling character studies I’ve ever seen on TV. It’s amazing to see the writers take an already established and beloved character from Breaking Bad and then give that character a whole new level of depth. In some ways, I think Better Call Saul is even better than Breaking Bad because it has more heart, and Saul as a lead character is a lot more interesting and likable than Walter White, because there’s an on-going tug-of-war between good and evil going on in the soul of Saul that we can all identify with, and that’s what makes him a more balanced anti-hero.

I loved how despite being so dark, Fargo was also full of heart. I also loved the character of Deputy Molly Solverson–she’s one of the best female characters I’ve seen in a long time. I loved the fact that she’s not some slender or buxom beauty, but a chubby and normal looking woman who’s got a beautiful personality that’s full of dry humor and wit, is exceedingly polite, full of kindness and love, but that lighter side contrasts with her dogged determination to do the right thing in the face of disapproving authority and mounting danger. Her sense of humor about her gunshot wound was some of the best moments on TV I’ve seen in a while. And oh the villains–WOW. BillyBob Thronton was brilliant as the terrifying hitman/con-man, Lorne Malvo, and Martin Freeman was so good as Lester Nygaard. That scene in the elevator when Lorne asks Lester, “Is this what you want?”–completely blew my mind.

Rick and Morty was just crazy irreverent fun that I think anyone who enjoys irreverent humor will get a kick out of. The absurd premise makes it all the more entertaining. If you like The Venture Bros., you’ll probably like this. It’s co-created by the same guy that created Community, so if you like that show, definitely check out Rick and Morty.

The on-going series I really love are all still going strong (Game of Thrones, The Americans, The Walking Dead). The series finale of Mad Men wasn’t all that satisfying, but I can’t think of any TV series that actually ended on a perfect note (except maybe Cheers and Friday Night Lights).

In terms of movies, the most compelling one of 2015 for me was Mad Max: Fury RoadThis is what I wrote about it after watching:

The entire movie is like a tightly choreographed dance of kinetic machine and flesh, perfectly performed, with a stunning creative vision that’s so visceral and startling. This is not your run-of-the-mill dumb and loud action movie–it is visual poetry with violence as its syntax, desperation as its cadence, and human being’s need for hope and redemption as its diction.

Those who bash this movie and say it’s just a dumb car chase movie with endless violence and very little dialogue–they really don’t understand the concept of saying so much with so little, or noticed the multiple fully realized character arcs, or have any appreciation for such a unique and complete creative vision.

Think about it–when was the last time overwhelming majority of critics went wild for a really dumb action movie and praised it as an amazing piece of art and entertainment? It just doesn’t happen. Mindless action movies with nothing profound to say (most of Michael Bay’s movies, for example) just don’t get near-universal praise from snobby film critics who love to trash big and loud action movies, yet this movie blew them away. They all noticed the artistic merit and the poetry in its storytelling and visual splendor. So if you “don’t get” this movie, then maybe you’re currently lacking the facility to understand and appreciate a transcendent piece of work by a master filmmaker.

Music – I enjoyed some of Devin Townsend‘s latest albums, with Z² – Sky Blue being the best of the bunch.

I can always count on Devin for catchy and impeccably produced melodic metal.

I discovered Snarky Puppy, a collective of top-notch fusion musicians playing together, and watched pretty much all of their live performance videos. It’s such a joy to watch a group of highly accomplished musicians get together and do their thing. Definitely some of the best fusion I’ve heard in a long time. Here are a few videos of their live performances:

I also discovered a killer Japanese hard rock/metal band called Band-Maid. These girls rock hard!

The best soundtrack I heard in 2015 would have to be Mad Max: Fury Road. I generally don’t care for the big bombastic percussion styled soundtracks from action movies, since they become monotonous and fatiguing after a while, but Junky XL‘s score for the movie took that formula and gave it some unique spins and it matches the visual of the movie so perfectly.

On the pop front, I discovered an audio professional (audio engineer, producer, songwriter, musician) who does K-Pop reviews from the perspective of an audio professional, and I was so happy. The K-Pop fandom is notorious for being quite shallow and clueless about music in general, only focusing on the imagery, and this guy is the only one on YouTube who’s doing informed K-Pop reaction/reviews that ignores all the visual flash and actually analyzes the music, and he definitely knows what the hell he’s talking about. All the other K-Pop reaction videos are just stating the obvious and don’t know anything about music or production techniques. I highly recommend the music lovers among you (especially if you make music too) to watch a few of his videos, because not only are they very entertaining, they are also very educational, as he breaks down each song’s production techniques and what makes them so awesome. Here are a couple of his videos:

There were so many excellent new releases in K-Pop that I don’t even know where to begin. Other than what MRJPOP covered in those two videos above, the Wonder Girls pulled off a stunning comeback in 2015 with the album Reboot, steeped in retro 80’s sound and visuals:

AND they did it as a band that played live too!

How many dance/pop idol groups have you seen that transformed into full-fledged musicians and turned into a band? I was never a fan of Wonder Girls–I never liked any of their songs nor thought they had much talent compared to their contemporaries. But this latest evolution has won me over for sure.

IU (one of my favorites) released Twenty-Three, a wonderfully upbeat song (and a mini-album), complete with a whimsical music-video that uses Alice-In-Wonderland inspired visual motifs as metaphors for her struggling transition from an innocent girl to a complex woman:

Rookie groups like Lovelyz, Oh My Girl, April, Gfriend all released very catchy songs. Closer from Oh My Girl was the standout song among the rookie groups, with its ethereal sound and fairytale visual concept:

A formidable young talent to keep an eye on is Shannon Williams, who’s half Korean and half Welsh. She’s got pretty amazing vocal chops and started training at a young age. The music-video for her single is silly fun, and showcases her youthful appeal very well:

Minah from Girl’s Day released a very nice single:

And Jun Hyoseong of Secret released a killer mini-album:

Other established groups like Kara, AOA, Apink, Crayon Pop, Nine Muses, Sistar, Girls’ Generation, etc. all had great new releases.

I particularly enjoyed Crayon Pop’s song FM, with its cool electronic vibe and a video filled to the brim with campy anime, live-action sci-fi, and video game nostalgia goodness:

I discovered Ben, a wonderful female singer with a unique voice. I love female voices that have a tinge of child-like expressiveness, and she’s got it, as well as wonderful technique. I like her singing in both upbeat songs and ballads, which isn’t usually the case since I find most singers do better in one over the other. Here are two songs that represent her voice well:

Someone that really blew me away in 2015 was Baek Yerin, the 18-year old who wrote and composed all the songs on this wonderfully expressive mini-album:

I have never been a fan of Boa, since her singing, hyperactive dancing, and RnB songs never appealed to me (the only exception being Amazing Kiss, and that was so many years ago). Her latest album, Kiss My Lips finally sounds like something I would enjoy listening to, with more nuances in the compositions. I particularly like the title track, Who Are You, and Fox:

As you probably noticed, I don’t pay attention to male K-Pop acts at all, since the male idols’ peacocking for their female target audience does nothing for me. I much prefer the Korean indie scene for male musical talents, where the musicians and songwriters rule. I didn’t come across any notable ones in 2015 though–it’s been just the females that dominated.

And speaking of the Korean indie scene, I discovered some musical artists I didn’t know about and really enjoyed. Azin‘s electronic pop sound is the kind of indie stuff I really like (I prefer electronic indie to the more ubiquitous folksy acoustic guitar stuff):

Neon Bunny is a musical artist whose stylistic transition from a more conventional pop/rock sound to a catchier sound ticked all the right boxes for me:

Park Gyu Ri of Kara fame released two tracks that are firmly in the indie side musically, and I always enjoy it when idols venture out beyond their commercialized mainstream pop bubble and try something a bit more adventurous:

Risso‘s mini-album,  Tra La La, was such good fun too:

One of my favorite songs and music-videos from the Korean indie music scene in 2015 is this one:

It is so simple, so low-budget, but it captures this amazing vibe, conveying the allure of carefree youth while following a young woman walking around the city.

Books – In 2015 I read the entire The Three Body Problem trilogy (in Chinese, not English translation), by Liu Cixin. The first book of the trilogy won the Hugo Award for best novel, and was nominated for a Nebula Award for best novel. The English translation for the first two books are currently available, and the third book is being translated. Although Liu isn’t particularly good with characters, he has a wild imagination that’s grounded by his computer engineering expertise. There were a lot of mind-blowing ideas and scenes in the series, and all were explained in detail with believable science. There’s also a lot of politics and sociology woven into the plot, exploring how the world’s governments and societies would react to first contact with aliens and an impending invasion. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes hard sci-fi and first contact/alien invasion premises.

I also finished reading the entire Silo series by Hugh Howey. I had read Wool years ago when it was first published, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to read the rest of the series. But I decided to give the Shift books a shot to see where it went (and part of the reason I decided to read on was because there weren’t any synopses of the plot online, so if I wanted to find out what happens, I’d have to read the books). Shift turned out to be interesting enough that I continued with Dust. I have mixed feelings about the series and its conclusion, but overall I think it’s good enough to recommend, especially if you like post-apocalyptic premises involving underground silos (all you Fallout fans out there).

As for non-fiction, I read The Philosophy Book, which covers all the significant philosophical ideas and philosophers throughout human history. I went into it hoping it would inspire some ideas to strengthen the thematic explorations of the the novels I’ve been writing, but overall I was disappointed by the conclusion I reached, which was that philosophy’s largely irrelevant in this day and age due to science taking over what philosophy initially tried to do. Today, all the different sciences (natural sciences, formal sciences, social sciences, applied sciences), pretty much does a better job than philosophy to explain our world and guide our lives.

I had started reading Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari, but I took a break because I was in more of a mood for some fiction. I’ll probably finish it in 2016.

I guess that wraps up the 2015 review.

Now the 2016 resolutions. It’s going to look very similar to what I wrote for 2015’s resolutions, because my life’s a pretty comfortable routine at this point and I relish this stability after all the chaos in the earlier periods of my life.

Writing – Not much to say except to continue writing for the love of it, and try not to get stressed out over anything that’s not directly related to my love for writing. I don’t want to think about business and productivity aspects at all as that does nothing but make writing less enjoyable. When I think back on my life, everything I tried to do because I was motivated by money did not turn out well, or I was never happy doing them for that main reason. I don’t ever want my love for writing to end up like that. There are much better and easier ways to make money than writing fiction, and I don’t really hold any hope that my writing will turn into a lucrative career at some point, so I’ll just write because I want to, not because I have to.

Teaching – I hope my students in 2016 will all be delightful, and there will be no belligerent troublemakers that ruin the experience for others. I’m got it all down to a science at this point, having taught the Becoming a Better Artist workshop for a few years, running it almost back-to-back with very few breaks. After having taught students of all ages from all around the world from different countries and cultures, my instinct for sensing what a student needs in his/her artistic development and personal growth is very sharp. Unfortunately, sometimes the stubborn ones refuse to listen because they aren’t willing to put in the hard-work and learn to become more disciplined, wanting only instant gratification instead of willing to pay their dues and push themselves. But those who do listen to me and take my advice to heart always see significant progress in their artistic development. Hopefully, in 2016 I can persuade as many students to follow my advice as possible.

Health – My health continued to improve in 2015, and if everything continues as planned, I should see more improvement in 2016. With the new rebounding plan that adds up to 90 minutes of cardio exercise a week and the pull-ups/chin-ups (I’ll probably add other calisthenics workouts), I should be in even better shape by the end of 2016.

My gallstone attacks in 2015 was half of what I had in 2014, and hopefully 2016 will be even better.

Feels a bit like déjà vu, right? I did say it’s going to be very similar to 2015’s resolutions.

So it looks like my quest to simplify my life continues, and it’s kind of gratifying to see the list of things on my new year’s resolutions get shorter and shorter every year. It means whatever it is I’ve been doing to simplify my life is actually working.

 

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