Best of 2015
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Inspired by “Fogus’ yearly list of great things and people that I discovered, learned, read, met, etc.” - this is my own version of what were the best things I discovered in 2015.

Technical Books
  • Structured Analytic Techniques for Intelligence Analysis. Alas, I bought a copy but haven’t really started it, even if it has been sitting in my apartment for a bit now. The idea is to get better at analysing stuff - not necessarily (or only) in the sense of IT technical analysis. Part of a general (and I suppose natural) trend to be less involved with actual coding work.

Non-technical books

  • Rivers of London - yet another (but fresh and enjoyable) take on the Urban Fantasy genre. It gets bonus points because:
    • It is set in contemporary London (I have a soft spot for British authors)
    • The main character is a member of a minuscule “special branch” of Scotland Yard, a sort of middle ground between The Laundry and Dresden Files (and more enjoyable then either of those).
    • The growth of the characters (and their power level) is handled better than in most similar series.
  • Takeshi Kovacs novels. Three novels (I doubt more will follow). It is the most accomplished take on the idea of cybernoir, in my experience. Actually the first novel is the best both in getting the Noir part right (sex, violence, cynical main character which is still trying to make a difference in the world) in a not-too-implausible near-future (actually XXVI Century).
    The second and third novels are a bit weaker, and move to different planets and different themes, closer to Pulp than Noir.
  • Sixty-Four Chance Pieces: A Book of Changes. I found about this as a side effect of my growing interest for I-Ching. The books is made up of 64 short stories, one for each Hexagram in I-Ching. The author is amazingly erudite, and allegedly wrote this to alleviate his own fixation with I-Ching. I can only sum it up as follows: “as written by Borges but with a large dash of humor”.

Favorite non-book media and entertainment
  • Sherlock TV series. I don’t own a TV set and I usually go to a theatre to watch movies. In other words, I don’t really watch any kind of video at home. I did an exception for Sherlock because I got the idea it was good and also being short (each season is just three episodes, after all) it didn’t require a lot of investment in terms of time - this is why I refrain from going through TV series like Sopranos, Breaking Bad or whatever, even if they are surely excellent).
    I was totally overwhelmed - I didn’t even imagine TV could be so brilliantly good, actually. I liked the two recent Sherlock Holmes movies but this was really in another league.
  • Guardians of the Galaxy Honest-to-God space opera, does not require any particular knowledge of Marvel Universe (any version) and it is a refreshing break from the main super-heroic movies, frankly.
  • Mad Max: Fury Road I am not a big fan of action movies - I don’t want to sound snobbish: when I go to the movies I usually opt for something with a bit of action, but that, for me, means more 007 (Daniel Craig version) than Fast&Furious. Despite this, I really appreciated Fury Road. It is close to some ideal of Total Cinema Experience which transcends genre. It is a miracle how the whole epic manages to avoid bathos or silliness.


Gaming

  • Star Wars X-Wing 2015 had basically zero gaming activities for me: once more I bought some stuff online and read it casually (often just browsing without really doing a full reading). But this still deserves an entry because the whole line proved to be a great gift idea for my nephew. So if you know someone who is really into Star Wars, no matter if they are die-hard wargamers, try out the basic game, which comes with nifty X-Wing and TIE Fighter miniatures.

Tools
  • Leap I was not very satisfied with existing solutions to archive and index my pictures, so I decided to roll out my own “implementation”. For this, I needed a robust and easy/quick tagging system, and Leap was the best I could find (keep in mind I am on OSX).
  • Magic Plan this is a bit of an odd choice to include here, because it is an extremely niche product and it is very improbable that you need it on a constant basis. But if you do need something like this, it is pretty hard to beat. It is basically an iPhone based mapping tool for interiors. By pointing the camera to specific point (connection line between ceiling and wall, for example) it can quickly map a room, or an entire apartment, or a whole building, just by walking around and repeating some easy step in each area. The application will create a map as soon as you complete a room, so that by the end of your “walk-through” you have all mapped out. You can also add furniture, add power outlets and other appliances. While accuracy is not always 100% correct you can easily supplement it by measuring with tape or anything else, the map is editable and quickly updated.
    I used it when I had to move to a new apartment, and another friend came up with the same idea when she had to move, too. We both agree that it is really easy and makes a pretty boring activity look like play.
  • Tesa Powerstrips Tesa managed to make strong double-sided adesive tapes that can easily be removed without leaving a mess afterwards. They come in different formats and with a bit of inventiveness you can find plenty of uses all over your house.
  • Moves another iPhone app - it uses GPS to constantly monitor your position, and the various motion sensors to find out if you are walking, riding a bike or using a different vehicle. At the end of the day you have a geo-time map of your activities, and you can quickly annotate it with names of the places you have been, or log any other physical activity you did. You can also export data to GPX or other formats/apps (so it can be used to geotag photos, for examples). It works well enough and does not take a big dent in your battery, but take in account that it has been acquired by Facebook, so if you treasure your privacy this could be a concern (it still works without a Facebook account, though).
  • Powershell this was a sort of last-minute discovery. Earlier in 2015 I was considering studying it a bit: I tend to prefer Perl for scripting, but I was somehow tempted to find something more Windows-centric (especially because I have to deal with large quantities of Excel/CSV files lately).
    The idea was put on hold until the very last week 2015 when I was forced to cobble together something that could invoke a SOAP-based web service.
    Powershell literally saved my day, especially because I still have zero experience with it… I just googled for a solution and then quickly adapted to my specific problem.


Calligraphy/Art
  • Versacolor Pigment Inkpad Cube pretty handy if you happen to have small Hankos. And if you don't care about sticking to traditional colours you can choose among plenty of different inks, too.
  • Kazuaki (Kaz) Tanahashi I had my first meeting with Kaz by accident (a 3-days seminar in Hamburg) - but I was so impressed that when I got news of a second seminar in Berlin I immediately enrolled. I even bought and read one of his books even if I must admit that I was definitely not in its target audience.
  • Chinese Calligraphy: Standard Script for Beginners I found a copy of this booklet while visiting the MAO museum in Turin. It provides a concise but complete introduction to the basics of Shodo. Of course it will not replace any real teacher, but I found it nice enough to give it out as a gift when I had my ShoDo seminar for my fellow aikidokas.
  • "Makulatur" paper: a nice tip from Juju, my Shodo teacher in Berlin - "Makulatur" is a term describing rolls of recycled paper - used in building renovation (not sure if it is glued to walls before applying wallpaper, or as a base for specific painting jobs). It is therefore quite inexpensive, and the paper has a nice texture that works well with ink and brush.
    It is also very thick so you can usually write on both side. This is ideal for seminars or other situations where you expect to use a lot of practice paper.

Martial Arts
  • Daito Ryu Seminar I think that most Aikidokas share at least a superficial curiosity towards what is considered the technical foundation of Aikido. Of course in these days you can easily check out videos on Youtube, but nothing really compares to actual hands-on experience.
    It was definitely interesting, even if you cannot really expect to "learn" anything over a few hours. I was very impressed by the technical complexity of even the most basic technique, and also by the kindness and warmth by Kondo sensei and his followers.

Dining and Shopping

  • RizRaz (Copenaghen) Vegetarian-friendly restaurant in Copenaghen, it is actually like a micro-franchise with 2 restaurants in the city plus catering and delivery service.
  • CREAS (Copenaghen) This is the “boutique” of Viking, a Danish stationery and arts supplies brand.
  • Uniqlo (Berlin) Outside of office hours I wear casual, and Uniqlo store in Berlin is filled to the brim with the kind of stuff I like.
  • Ars Japonica (Hamburg) A small and cozy shop for Japanese traditional items, including a well stocked section dedicated to ShoDo.

Places
  • Copenaghen I actually visited it twice, this year. The first was just a weekend trip in April, thanks to special Dbahn offer making this very convenient from Rostock.
    The second was to attend Progress EMEA Challenge 2015 in November. I had already visited it in the past, but it was more than 10 years ago, and I was happy to get back there. The city itself is really nice (like all the rest of Denmark, in my experience).
  • Alghero Sardinia, along with Sicily, was one of the few Italian regions I never really touched before. I finally took care of it for my birthday, but unfortunately I had to cut my visit there short in order to get back to Berlin for Kondo Sensei seminar (see the martial arts sections).
    Therefore I didn't really had time too see much apart from the city proper. Maybe I will manage to get a better look in 2016.
  • Lubeck Despite being quite close to Rostock, I never been there since moving to Germany full time. It was just a one-day trip, because my free days are always counted, but this is another place that definitely deserves a second visit.