Creative Technologies’ founder and CEO Sim Wong Hoo suddenly passed away at the age of 67 this week, which was pretty big news locally. The Verge explained the significance of his career as creator of the Sound Blaster line of PC audio cards which put Singapore on the consumer tech map in the 1980s.

My first PC was their homegrown Cubic CT, basically an IBM-compatible XT 8086 system, with a CGA (Color Graphics Array: just four colors) graphics card, 5.25” floppy disk drive, and no hard drive. I’m pretty sure my dad drove down to Sim Lim Square or somewhere like that and picked it up in person. After a few years, we upgraded to a non-Creative made system based on the Intel 386SX chip (how that SX suffix haunted me, making me feel like I had an inferior machine! The DX was the model you wanted; the SX lacked the dedicated math co-processor, not that I ever really knew which programs made use of it).

Neither of these first two computers had proper audio capabilities, just the awful default “PC speaker”, as it was called back then. You could only get beeps and boops. One needed a dedicated audio card like an Adlib or Roland or Sound Blaster to hear proper music or sound clips. So every PC game I played had awful crude calculator music you wanted to turn off, but when I went over to play at my cousin Bryan’s house (he had a 286 with EGA graphics — 16 colors! — and a Sound Blaster), those very same games would have synthesized orchestral instruments and realistic sound effects. I wanted a Sound Blaster more than anything and wouldn’t have one until we upgraded to a Pentium system much later.

The best quality image I could find of my old MP3 player, from the PDF manual

Years before I got my first iPod and switched over to a Macintosh, my first MP3 player was a Creative-made device. The year was probably 1999 or 2000. I was looking to move on from the MiniDisc players I’d been using for years, and these new devices let you carry tons more music around without a folder full of discs in your backpack (this was really a thing we did). The model I chose was a Creative MuVo, a nondescript white plastic square with a tiny LCD screen and a soft joystick nub for control. It played WMA files as well as MP3s, which was a deciding factor for me as you could stuff more music in at an equivalent quality using the WMA format at the time. That little guy kept me company through two long years of mind-numbing administrative work during my national service.

Years later, after graduating and stumbling into my first proper full-time job, the very first task they gave me was writing video treatments for a Creative Technologies product demo DVD. Creative happened to be one of the agency’s longtime clients, and the viral video above was one of the things that happened under their watch before I joined. I remember my partner and I excitedly pitching a direction to our bosses only to be shot down and told to try again. Weeks later, after going out west to Creative’s offices and getting their feedback, it turned out we had gotten it right the first time. That was probably the end of my journey with the brand, although I was intrigued by their attempts to bring a new version of their X-Fi surround audio tech to market in recent years. I almost bought a pair of their headphones to try it, but now Apple’s spatial audio on AirPods has one-upped their approach by delivering a massive library of professionally mixed Dolby Atmos music instead of relying on fake surround processing on stereo tracks.

His death is a sad loss and I wonder what the company will do from here. Looking back on the various products I’ve owned or tried over the years, they offered unquestionable technical merit, above average build quality, and always great value for money.

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  • The new year got off to a gluttonous start with an impromptu visit to one of my favorite buffets, followed by Chinese hotpot, and then an all you can eat Korean BBQ (these were three consecutive days). Then I rested for a day before hitting Mexican cocktails and an izakaya with 1-liter highballs on Friday, and then rounding off the weekend with a burger from Blooie’s Roadhouse on Sunday.
  • Incidentally, that last meal was my first time at The Rail Mall, which most Singaporeans are probably familiar with, and which I used to pass on the bus daily during the aforementioned two years of national service but never stopped at. There were a few other interesting places we’ll probably be back for, like a craft beer taproom and an all you can eat wagyu yakiniku (so, like, probably tomorrow).
  • I got into the hottest beta program around: Ivory, the new Mastodon client from Tapbots. It builds on their work for Tweetbot, and it makes using Mastodon as a primary social media platform very enjoyable. I’ve checked Twitter a lot less this week as a result.
  • I finished my first playthrough of Citizen Sleeper on the Switch and will probably not be back for more until a little later. So many games! I’ve started on Arcade Spirits, a Western visual novel about working in a video game arcade. Not to be confused with Arcade Paradise which is a business sim that lets you run an arcade cum laundromat. If Spirits doesn’t pick up soon, I’ll probably abandon it for Kathy Rain or the Monkey Island sequel.
  • In need of a new book, I picked up Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs but it didn’t click. I cut my losses after about an hour.
  • King Princess’s Hold On Baby would probably have been my pick for Best Album of 2022, if I’d chosen an Album of the Year. I’ve played it through about four times this week and still can’t enough. As with quite a few things I really love, I kinda hated it at the start. I mean, I used to hate Macs and Korean food.
  • We did a deep clean of the fridge and freezer on Sunday. If you’re ever doing the same, Apple’s Cleaning The House playlist may help.

Here’s some AI art I made this week:


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