Hey reader, I hope you’re doing alright. I’ve had a pretty tough and unpleasant week, dealing with a personal crisis that I’m not particularly well equipped to handle, owing to… I don’t know, OCD? Control issues? Mild autism? Vestigial childhood hang ups?
Life comes at you fast: a couple of days ago I made a crack about how everyone seemed to be in therapy but me, and by the end of the week I was ready to seek professional help. In the grand scheme of things, the problem is/was minor; it just happened to stray into a zone beyond my tolerance — youngers would call it being triggered.
Talking to several people certainly helped: some who’ve been in a similar situation, others who I know have the same issue on occasion. Maybe I’ll embark on some longer plan of action to reduce my anxiety around this topic, but I’m doing better for the moment.
I mentioned Rosalynn Tay’s images at the Leica exhibition, A Celebration of Photography, last week. On Thursday we made it down again to hear her presentation about how she works. Amazingly, she only started taking photos eight years ago, when she decided to do it seriously and was recommended by a friend to walk into a Leica store and ask for an M camera with a 35mm Summilux as her first camera. I was stunned by the privilege, of course, imagine starting with an M and learning the craft on that. But nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, it shows real dedication to learning the physics and mechanics of photography!
She then admitted that she left the camera aside for the first two months, too intimidated to use it. Until she signed up for an introductory course offered by the store, which I used to find a strange service: why would new Leica buyers need to be taught photography basics? Surely all of them had already cut their teeth on lesser cameras and were now upgrading to the gold standard? And then I understood Leica’s customer base to be somewhat similar to any luxury performance brand. Not every Lambo buyer actually makes the most of them.
But not her, in any case. After that false start, she put in the time and curiosity and now has an incredible professional body of work to show for it.
Oh and we got this year’s Christmas tree! Some years we end up with trees that don’t smell particularly piney but this one has filled the place with a lovely scent already. Cubie seems to like chewing at its leaves so I’ve gotta watch out for that. One more worry on the pile.
Not a lot of music listening but I discovered dvsn’s new album Working On My Karma and it’s modern R&B I actually want to listen to for a second time. It’s on the OVO label if that helps convince you.
I didn’t buy any new gadgets on Black Friday but got quite a few Switch games on sale, including Persona 5 Royal. I never finished the original version on PS4, but perhaps I might now? (Who am I kidding)
My camera roll and expense tracker tell the story of a quiet week, mainly spent at home getting this cat to like me (I think it’s working) and not die by falling from the second floor or chewing electrical cables. She’s become more comfortable climbing up and down the stairs, and now joins us to watch TV in the living room without being forced.
Achievements yet to be unlocked: switching her to occasional dry food, giving her a bath, clipping her nails, trimming the fur around her butt, sitting still in my lap for more than a few seconds, and trusting her enough to be left roaming the house at night.
My Nintendo Switch profile tells the story of actually playing a game this week, completing Sifu at the Student difficulty level. I have not gotten the hang of parrying attacks and dodging combos, so I think my character was in his 40s when I beat the last boss. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a cinematic martial arts game with a novel aging mechanic: each time your character dies, he/she is revived by a magic amulet that ages them by a year. So you can start the game in your 20s and finish as an old wizened kung-fu master in their 60s. Maybe even older! As you get older, your maximum health decreases but your attack strength increases, plus you unlock new skills along the way.
My Goodreads profile (you get the point by now) attests to my also finding the time to read again, finishing John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society which was a fun little side quest — it had seemingly been described by its author as a pop song, a necessary gift of levity to the world, written during Covid and referencing it (it’s not about Covid). That brings me to 12 books in 2022, short of my overly ambitious goal of 24. It’s like I forgot I was going back to work this year or something.
I spent more time in Mastodon this week as Twitter continued to burn. Musk’s comically shit handling of layoffs and code reviews that aren’t code reviews have been so absurd that there’s no more room for shows like Silicon Valley to parody it. Just like with The Onion and real news headlines these days. If science fiction imagines technological futures that we become compelled to realize, satire sends us towards irresistibly amusing hellscapes.
In doing so, I decided that my original Mastodon identity (which used “brandon” as a user ID) wasn’t great for people looking to find me, so I’m now at @firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s kinda dumb that you can’t change your user ID; I’m not sure if it’s a result of Mastodon’s federated model, having to support legacy links and all that. So the only way was to create a new account on a new server and “migrate” over. The migration process does NOT move your old posts, only your followers. If you want to follow the same people you did before, it’s an extra manual step of exporting and importing the database via a .csv file, and it’s not mentioned as part of the migration flow. I found out myself, after I had already manually re-followed everyone.
This is what people mean when they say Mastodon’s a little rough around the edges, but what open source software isn’t anyway? As software, as a service, I like it a lot already. As a community, as a place where I can find the opinions and recommendations I want, it will take time. And the final, unmistakable collapse of Twitter. I don’t think a critical mass of people will choose to use both at the same time.
My Apple Music listening history shows that I’ve enjoyed Fred again..’s latest installment in his Actual Life series. They are sort of mixtapes, except I’m not sure people in electronic music use that term? Anyway, Actual Life 3 (January 1 — September 9 2022) is great stuff; try it on your commute.
It’s that time of the year again, but we’re getting some actually good Christmas projects. Brett Dennen has a Christmas EP! And Jesse Malin, another longtime favorite of mine, has also rerecorded two older songs to put out as a two-track single entitled Xmas, Etc. Alicia Keys’s Santa Baby looks promising, but I haven’t been in the mood yet. The holidays still feel so far away.
However, Kim decided it wasn’t worth me waiting another month to get the new AirPods Pro as a gift I already knew about (nor worth her hearing me talk about them for another month), so Christmas came early! They’re actually a big improvement: the XS tip fits my problematic ear quite well, everything sounds both clearer and more fun, and the ANC is way more comfortable. I’ve never had a problem with the “pressure” that turns some people off noise canceling, but it’s so absent here thanks to the redesigned acoustic vents that… they feel open? It’s like how Transparency mode makes it feel like there’s nothing in your ears, but with silence.
On Sunday afternoon we visited an exhibition organized by Leica Singapore at Gillman Barracks, featuring some extraordinary work including Nick Ut’s famous “Napalm Girl” shot from the Vietnam war. We had a chance to speak with Rosalynn Tay about her evocative travel photography which I really loved (if they were NFTs I would have bought them on sight) and will probably attend her talk next week. The exhibition is on until Nov 27, registration seems to be required.
This one week with the new cat has felt like the longest week of my life. My brain cannot square the fact that it was only last weekend that we brought her home. I’ve aged significantly from worrying all the time!
I spoke too soon last Sunday when I said she was comfortable enough to use the toilet here. She went another three and a half days before pooping again — three and a half days in which I became obsessed with wondering why, and with when she would go again, during which I poked my head in to check the litter box, like, every hour.
I went and got some pumpkin to be boiled and pureed and mixed into her food for extra fiber; I made sure she was calm (I wasn’t); I think I even tried to talk her into it. Eventually it happened on its own, and my relief was as warm and palpable as the final product.
After being told that they have finicky gastrointestinal systems and raw/unprocessed food is best, I got her some 100% freeze dried salmon treats. That are literally chunks of recognizable salmon meat. You wouldn’t think a cat could turn down fish, but I found one. As I brought the uneaten treats to be flushed down the toilet, Asian parent as I am, I reminded her there were wild cats starving in sub-Saharan Africa.
Anyway it’s now Sunday and she hasn’t gone in three days — the cycle begins anew!
Speaking of cycles, this season of Crypto is jumping the shark. The news this week was the sudden collapse of FTX (the world’s second largest exchange after Binance), which was seemingly caused/engineered by Binance’s CEO, starting with a couple of tweets that caused a bank run that FTX was not prepared to cash. Then it turned out that FTX had secretly transferred billions of dollars of its customers’ funds to Alameda Research, its sister trading company, who lost it all on a series of gambles.
So FTX declared bankruptcy, its CEO Sam Bankman-Fried went from poster boy of the industry to most hated, dirty laundry about sex cults and drug addiction in the company got aired, and then on Saturday hundreds of millions of dollars started being transferred out of their accounts and liquidated on decentralized exchanges in a purported “hack” — surely a euphemism for insider theft. The great thing about on-chain finance is that this was visible to all, and unfolded live on Twitter and Etherscan.
Twitter, of course, is also going through an existential crisis. The last time this happened and we thought it might be time to leave was likely in 2017, because that’s when I set up a Mastodon account (that hasn’t been touched since). I can’t remember what happened then, possibly a post-Trump disinformation deluge or boycott? It sounds more serious this time, with the company falling apart thanks to the mismanagement and ego-driven strategy of you-know-who.
If that does happen, you should follow me at @email@example.com.
In gadget news, we’ve been using a handed-down Dyson v8 vacuum cleaner for the past few months. It’s a pretty good product but with the amount of fur we’re dealing with now, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we needed better.
So I was keen to get a new one at this year’s Singles Day sales on 11/11 but somehow their latest model, the v15, has been sold out for weeks even on Dyson’s own site. To compensate, there were pretty good bundles and deals for their last model, the v12, which is better in some ways than the v15 (lighter, has a proper on/off switch) and worse in ways I can deal with (smaller bin, slightly less suction).
It arrived on Sunday and while not in the same league as Apple, the unboxing and set up experience was pretty damned good for a household appliance. Everything was self-explanatory with minimal assembly. The laser “detection” module on the fluffy head makes cleaning up like a game: you see dust on the floor ahead literally light up, and sucking it up is so satisfying. They made housework fun.
All other 11.11 purchases in our household were also cat maintenance related; still no AirPods Pro for this big ape.
The Singapore Writers Festival is back again and we went to see Ted Chiang speak at the Victoria Theatre on Sunday. It was a little strange, in that he basically delivered a (very entertaining) lecture on time travel in fiction and film, but it was the sort of thing you’d expect to hear from a guest lecturer at a university. I was grateful for the chance to hear it, of course, but I suppose my image of a writers’ festival is one of writers talking about their own work. But if what our beloved authors really want to do between books is travel the world and give lectures on their pet subjects, I’m down.
Caturday: We picked up our new ragdoll kitten (Cubie “QB” Catbot aka QBasic aka Cubit 3000 aka Yung Cubes aka Cubie Gooding Jr.) and the trip home was a lot less dramatic than I had psyched myself up to expect. No vomiting, screeching, weaponized feces or anything of that sort. Upon getting her home though, things were a little ambiguous. Introducing a cat to a new environment is massively stressful for them somehow — they are my spirit animals, I guess — and she took hours to come out from hiding under the bed and armchair of our guest room.
When I fed her later in the evening, she seemed to be afraid that the food wasn’t really hers to have. She ate a little and watched my reactions. Thinking maybe she needed to be alone, I left the room for over half an hour and hoped she would finish it. But instead, it was barely touched at all. Before taking it away, I thought I’d give it one last try. Sitting on the floor at her level, I nudged the bowl forward with my knuckles and waited. And finally for some reason she realized that it was okay and wolfed it all down in a minute.
The framework for all this in my mind, every minute, is that I am a giant ape and she’s a wild feline, and all our interactions are going to be weird by nature. I’ve been talking to her in a range of different pitches (as in tones, not propositions, but I suppose also propositions!) to get her used to what I sound like, explaining the absurdity of our situation: that she was bred to take the money that this ape has earned by doing advanced ape cognition tasks in an office environment, and although the ape now owns her in the eyes of a legal system, she’s really the boss at this very moment so could she please come out from under the bed?
Yes I’ve watched some Jackson Galaxy videos and read a bunch of articles. Yet her mind is still absolutely illogical and knowing what her tail movements mean only confuses matters. Ape and cat conventions are not very compatible! Instead of smiling and staring, you have to blink At them slowly and obviously to show you’re being friendly! Absurd stuff.
Despite the initial distance and wariness, which absolutely everyone has prepared us for and that I’m prepared to endure for days, she has at least shown that she’s comfortable enough to pee and poop in the allocated box on the first night. Which in some cases does not happen in the first, second, and maybe even third days. I’ll repeat this fun fact: cats can hold their pee in for days.
Reprogramming my aversion to messes, bacteria, excrement, and other catty chaos is going to take much longer. Yes I signed up for it, somewhat consciously. Some will say that this is character growth, but as I was fact-checking a joke before I made it, I discovered that it may also be parasitic growth that I need. You know that cats carry a single-celled brain-altering thing that infects mice and humans, right? It’s like a fungus that makes you like cats, and nudges your behavior in ways that serves cats. Given that I might be brainwashed by my new boss, I thought I’d look it up again and was surprised that 1) it’s really real and 2) for some reason we’re not all talking about this all the time.
They say something like ONE-THIRD of all humans on Earth are already infected with this parasite, which creates permanent cysts in the brain that mess with dopamine production, essentially making its victims (cat owners) more uninhibited and likely to take risks (and also more likely to cause car crashes). It’s like that Jeff Bridges film, Fearless, where he survives a plane crash and comes out with a devil-may-care attitude to life, except you’d call this one Furless? Sorry.
Anyway this parasite actually helps cats by infecting mice, which then become emboldened to step out in front of cats and become their dinners. It also makes the smell of cat feces attractive, luring them out. Not a stretch to imagine it also causes anxiety-ridden humans to be emboldened enough to let cats into their homes, creating new routines that they don’t really have time and energy for (sample size: one). Nature is truly terrifying and ingenious.
In humans, the article linked above says that infection with toxoplasma gondii supposedly increases the likelihood of them quitting their jobs and becoming entrepreneurs, and amongst entrepreneurs, the ones who have been infected earn an average $6,000 more per year than the ones who have not. I’m surprised people aren’t microdosing this stuff in Silicon Valley.
For reasons I can’t recall, the subject of Enneagram personality tests came up again at work; the last time this happened was maybe three years ago with a different set of people. I sat down to do the test at Truity.com and found that I was still the same: a Type 5. (Later, I would be told that your basic type doesn’t really change throughout life, so that’s another 15 minutes I won’t be getting back.)
Your highest scoring category is the “Type” you are, and once you have your results from Truity, you can look up what it means for free over at this page by The Enneagram Institute instead of paying $29 to Truity.
It gets more fun when you have people or some form of team to compare your type to, and explore your compatibility. Do I believe this stuff? Well, it’s not as bad as astrology: you basically provide the behavioral inputs and they make some logical assumptions about your preferred approaches to situations and tell you where you might be self sabotaging or not collaborating properly. So yeah I do find it pretty interesting, but then I would… because I’m a Type 5.