A Long December

Uptime report

The Dec–Jan self-examination train just keeps rolling, which, for someone who usually sniffs at those sad people religiously making New Year’s resolutions, is a very strange development indeed. I don’t think this has anything to do with my turning 40 next year, I mean, it can’t… because I only just realized that fact right now. Oh shit?

Whenever I somehow have the time or feel inspired to reflect on how things are going, they usually boil down to the same few things I should be doing:

  • Reading more often, and more widely, than just 5 non-fiction titles a year plus the occasional junk SF
  • Writing regularly, if only to put aside time to think
  • Watching less junk, especially when I haven’t even seen The Essentials (I haven’t seen Schindler’s List, but I’ve watched 240 episodes of Terrace House)
  • Not wasting time on video games that are just repetitive endorphin loops
  • Having fewer possessions to lose in a fire, getting more comfortable with the idea of being mobile (decluttering the house, relying more on digital content, living in the cloud, etc.)
  • Contradictorily, keeping a few superfluous physical things around purely for the hell of them: a short stack of interesting but commercially doomed magazines, a well-built camera, buttery soft notebooks that deserve better than my handwriting, the Game Boy I never had.

I haven’t done my research by asking anyone else yet, but I’m sure these are universal in that most people will agree their time–activity distribution in daily life is incorrectly optimized for quality. Whenever I daydream about being retired, it’s mostly the things above that I see myself getting right first, binging on my book backlog for weeks before contemplating the trip around the world or whatever.

Why is it so hard to spend our valuable and limited time on things that are more Criterion Collection than Netflix? Okay, you might want a balance, but surely that’s like 90:10 or 80:20. Random idea: if the reason is because modern life and the 9-to-5 takes so much out of you, maybe we should wake up early and watch a good film each morning before going to work? I might actually try that.

Linkey Likey

The enduring allure of retro tech

Speaking of cameras and Game Boys, there’s a cottage industry springing up around the repair and upkeep of devices that, by modern standards, have no right to be hanging around this long. Did you know you can get a Walkman repaired and still actually buy a DVD in some parts of the USA? I haven’t seen either of those things around these parts in quite awhile.

I’m all for it, but it’s quite a lot to process when I already find it odd that Apple still operates the iTunes STORE alongside Apple Music, Apple TV+, Netflix, etc. I’d love to see the sales graphs across geographies to see where people are still trying to “own” their digital media — and how that maps against demographics, aging populations, and so on. Probably safe to assume that physical media sales are just a totally different animal and consumer group even further removed from that.

This reminds me of articles from yeeearrrs back when streaming services were looming, all warning of the massive energy and ecological cost they implied versus the plain ol’ manufacturing, distribution, and playing of CDs. I don’t know if even green-leaning Apple is interested in doing something about it, because subscription services are kind of The Strategy these days. It’s only going to get worse for us down here on the equator before it gets better (colder).

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How Much Would You Pay for a Nonexistent Dress?

Could this gaming app change the way we shop?

I came across this pair of stories about apps/services offering “nonexistent” fashion for your IRL self (Photoshopped onto a portrait you send in) or avatars (trying on 3D models of real clothes and accessories in a proprietary [what!] app), and within days of each other no less.

What I don’t get is whether everyone has collective amnesia around virtual goods and brands in the mainstream? Because how do you explain that I was on Tencent’s Chinese instant messaging app QQ in 2002, with a penguin avatar that wore sweaters you could buy for the Chinese equivalent of a US dollar? Or that I lost many friends to World of Warcraft in the next few years, many of them selling their leveled-up characters off on eBay? Maybe they put some of that money towards buying hats in Team Fortress 2. Red Bull and Adidas and all the automobile brands have been advertising and licensing themselves in the gaming space forever. Is this just about being able to buy virtual Gucci and Off-White shit?

The question isn’t “will anyone pay for virtual goods”, but “what does it mean that we’re now starting to virtually put them on ourselves?” — primitive Photoshopping today, invisibly through AR lenses tomorrow? Imagine a parallel fashion industry that deals entirely in virtual fashion for the real world. You’d make statements by pairing real and virtual clothes; flick the glasses on and off to see how your date flexes a pair of Hermès sneakers in the metaverse but keeps it simple IRL with New Balances. Maybe you could just leave the house naked someday and no one would notice.

Listening (Remembering): 2019

Playlists here: Apple Music | Spotify

Dear reader, I had NOT realized that I skipped last year’s blog post for this. I did, however, make a playlist that I was personally very happy with. You can find it here (Apple Music only).

This year ended up being a much better one for music than I initially thought. As usual, this exercise kicked off from having to pick a single song to contribute to my office’s Best of the Year playlist which we send out to friends. The general feeling amongst us all was that there wasn’t much new music worth listening to, and there was a bit of moaning and sighing while trying to think of something.

But! When I went through my “Recently Added” album sort view one Apple Music, and looked at the various playlists I threw together over the year… a lot more happened this year than Billie Eilish: new albums from Chance the Rapper, Anderson.Paak, Beck (bleah), Shura, Leonard Cohen, Common, and Bruce Springsteen to name a handful. The worst part is that I’ve barely even sat down to listen to most of them.

Still, I found enough to make a playlist of the songs that I played repeatedly and that made me feel something. This then is my musical diary for the year. The recurring themes here are synths (yay!); melodies that veer deliciously close to other ones you’re sure you‘ve heard elsewhere, irritating like an itch that moves as you try to locate it; videogames; queer women; and nostalgia (mined from samples, covers, and posthumous releases).

Continue reading “Listening (Remembering): 2019”

Imma keep it moving like it hasn’t happened

Uptime report

It’s midnight and I’m up thinking about best-of-year lists and trend forecasts and whether it’s more productive for us to grade a year by the quality of its events (“what do you mean no beloved musician died?”), or to just come out and grade freelance bloggers and thought leaders on their ability to wring meaning and get hits out of random, time-bound raw material. Well, really I’m awake here waiting for my wife to get home because the end of the year is also a time for working too hard to meet deadlines*.

* In some geographies and industries.

2019 has been pretty dismal for side projects, finding new obsessions, practicing photography, and writing anything for the hell of it, although the fact that I’m on here again might be an indicator of improvement. I’ve also just tonight confirmed an order with a printing company to put some awful! simplistic! doodles of mine on physical items that I might give away or try to break even on at a flea market someday — I guess that counts as making something?

At the day job, in terms of seeing similar organizational challenges play out in totally different industries, it’s been a jackpot. I definitely get to work on more interesting problems these days, and I am reminded that this is what was on the other side of the glass when my view was confined to advertising years ago. My parents still think I work in advertising, I think. The problems are interesting but in that “may you live in interesting times” kind of way. While the solutions can be estimated in board rotations, expectations of change are (understandably) timed in internships.

A recurring theme this and every year is dealing with a sort of design debt: either paying or preventing the high price of not properly addressing flaws or missing data the first time around, deferring the clean-up or more thoughtful work to some future version of yourself or your team, without realizing how the laws of compounding interest also apply to… well, everything. In the rush to launch X by the close of Y, you’re really just writing some consultancy a fat check to be cashed five years later, one the finance guys don’t see coming.

I guess what’s different now is the focus is usually on a part of the problem, but increasingly there are opportunities to get at the root. More work to be done in this space next year, infinitely more to learn and improve on, can’t hug every cat, etc.

On my metaphorical iPod

Janelle Monáe’s new song, That’s Enough, from the Lady and the Tramp live-action remake’s soundtrack of all things, is giving me the chills. She’s saying things with the quality of her voice I didn’t know she could.

If you watched Netflix’s surprisingly good and very Appley/Beatsy reality tv rap contest Rhythm and Flow (such a missed opportunity for the Beats brand and for Apple it might have been an acceptable apology for Carpool Karaoke), you will most certainly remember Old Man Saxon, an impressive performer whose creativity and talent go far beyond the gimmick of his dapper appearance.

Well he’s got a new mini album out today, The Peacock Honey. I recommend it along with his last EP, Goldman Sax (at first listen, I think that was better produced). I hope he blows up next year. I’ll link a music video from the last release that really impressed me below.

While we’re on the topic of music, I started a tradition at work back in December of 2017 where we would compile a playlist of our favorite songs each year and send them out as a sort of Christmas card to all the other global offices. We’d also make an email card, a microsite, and other fun stuff like a Christmas chatbot (ironically!) or sketches of each other to go with it. But the music was always the point.

This year, we’re going to try broadening that out exponentially to include Best Of picks for film, games, books… it’s in progress and I don’t know how well it’s going to work out. But it’s more exciting than just doing the same thing again for the sake of tradition, which is what I was afraid we would end up doing this time around. I’ll link it when we do it, if I can.

Janelle Monáe’s new song:

https://music.apple.com/sg/album/thats-enough-from-lady-and-the-tramp/1489003167?i=1489003168

Old Man Saxon:

https://music.apple.com/sg/album/the-peacock-honey/1488526372