Week 19.21

  • With more community cases of COVID again, Singapore went back into our second-mildest form of lockdown, stepping back from Phase 3 to Phase 2. This means groups dining out and meeting up are again restricted to 5 people at most, down from 8, and there are limits on how many homes you can visit in a day. Gyms are kinda sorta closed, depending on how strenuous the exercises you’ll be doing are. I think this is a weird compromise and inconsistency to keep people happy and unalarmed. Better to just close it all across the board.
  • We got this news on Tuesday while out as a group eating some very nice Korean BBQ (eating this has happened more frequently in recent times than in my whole life). Our in-person Friday breakfast plans at work were also canceled just to be safe, and it makes you wonder if things will get even worse and we’ll be back to Phase 1 (stay home unless absolutely necessary) at some point this year.
  • At the very least, because the new-old rules only went into effect on Saturday, our plans to attend a Vivaldi concert on Friday were unaffected. It was originally scheduled to be at the Marina Bay Sands, but the venue got moved at some point to the Arts House (the former Parliament office building), aaaand the email was unread in someone’s inbox which led to a mad last-minute dash in order to make it before doors closed.
  • On May 5th, Lazada had a 5.5 sale event, which had me scrolling around for at least an hour looking for a deal I actually wanted. I didn’t find one, but I did discover that small businesses have imported Apple’s HomePod mini (which isn’t officially on sale in Singapore at all, no one knows why) and are selling them online. I exaggerate; this wasn’t actually a surprise to me, and I’d long already taken the stance of a betrayed, aggrieved, and wronged Singaporean Apple evangelist, deciding that I would not crawl through the filth of the gray market to buy the damned things like I really wanted them. If Apple doesn’t want to sell them to me, FINE THEN.
  • It’s a different story when you’re on a store page looking at them with a big BUY button at the bottom. I ended up ordering two and they’re here now in my home, and they are quite marvelous. I’ve put one in our home office where a Sonos One unit used to be, and it absolutely compares in terms of sound quality for the small space. In the bedroom, it’s a huge usability upgrade from the Beolit speaker we had in there which took a full two minutes to boot up and connect to WiFi each time. Now I can call out “Hey Siri, play rain sounds” at midnight and get straight to peaceful sleep.
  • For the living room, though, I would love one of the original HomePods if they still made them. Even if you had like three or four in a larger space, I don’t think they put out the same power. But in a small room? These are half the size and half the price of the Sonos! If Apple can’t sell a load of these now, something has gone really wrong.
  • Videogames: I love the Yakuza games, and have been wanting to buy Judgment aka Judge Eyes, a sort of spiritual spin-off made by the same team. It’s just that the Asian PlayStation store is run in a weird Chinese-centric way that means the Chinese language version can go on sale a couple times a year, while the English version has stayed locked at full price since it came out. This week, I noticed it finally changed, just S$22! I got it immediately, and got excited about one more thing to do during my sabbatical.
  • Also this week… Sega revealed its sequel: Lost Judgment. That explains the price drop then. It looks great and comes out in September. I’m really going to have my hands full.
  • And to cap that all off, Nintendo also revealed Game Builder Garage for the Switch. If you wanted to learn how to make games, and actually create something on the same console you already play on, there’s been Dreams on the PS4. I’ve also been a bit intimidated by how complex and rich some people’s creations are on that, and it doesn’t look like something I’d master quickly. I have much higher hopes for what Nintendo has to offer. I expect it will be a gentle learning curve, and I look forward to making small, simple experiments that might eventually lead to the realization of a game idea I’ve had for a little while.
  • I really can’t wait to have more free time in June.

Week 18.21

  • COVID cases have re-emerged in the community here, after many months of quiet, just a week after Bloomberg put Singapore at the top of a worldwide list of the safest cities to be right now. The main cluster is centered around a hospital where I believe a nurse was infected, and 27 linked cases have been discovered so far. The entire ward has been quarantined and thousands of patients in the hospital have been tested. Somehow, there are also cases at a secondary school, and I saw a headline about a spa technician being another one. So the scope of this will probably expand a little over the next week.
  • Already, the government has backtracked on its previous recommendations to have the majority of employees return to offices. We’re now being told to work from home where possible. It’s my opinion that this should simply be the default recommendation forevermore.
  • We tried watching more Runaways on Disney+ after last weekend, but it’s not sticking anymore. Its initial narrative energy, all nitrous borrowed from its subversive premise, has burnt out. Each episode is now a meandering, time-wasting YA cringefest. I think we’re going to quit it at this point in the middle of season 1.
  • I was in the mood for a dumb action movie over the weekend but had a lot of trouble finding one quickly on Netflix. I eventually settled on Bloodshot, which is a Universal Soldier-alike vehicle for Vin Diesel, who I remember starting out as a likable personality but by all accounts today is a horrible person/co-worker and something of a modern day Steven Seagal on the set. I made it maybe halfway through before quitting out of boredom.
  • If you’re looking for a recommendation: Without Remorse, starring Michael B. Jordan and out now on Amazon Prime Video, is not a shit film at all. In fact, it has fresh ideas that make for a couple of original-feeling set pieces.
  • Birdy has a new album out, which I discovered through this video for the single, Second Hand News. Apple Music’s liner notes says she had writer’s block after a breakup, and these new songs were shaken loose after she rediscovered Joni Mitchell’s “conversational songwriting”. I love it. It does feel a little Joni.

===

Right after I published last week’s post with a picture of my new HEY.com t-shirt, the founders of the company released a controversial statement about how they wouldn’t allow “distracting” non-work discussions in the workplace anymore, which resulted in a PR shitshow and about 30% of their company publicly quitting on Twitter.

I haven’t looked deeply into the details, but some parts I skimmed suggested a toxic environment and leadership style mixed with the ever-inflamed issues of race and politics in the US. Who knows if they’ll get the message and rebuild their culture, but I’d be upset if it means I’ll have to change my email address again. The amount of mental time spent on that deliberation last year was enough for another decade. I really like the service so far and would subscribe for a second year.

===

Not at all related to a toxic workplace is the small announcement I can now make that I’ll be taking some time off in a few weeks to enjoy a long-wished-for sabbatical. The Currently Reading/Playing/Watching aspects of these updates will probably expand. I can’t wait to start on my backlog of games and books.

As mentioned several times in the past few months, I’ve been feeling in need of a recharge and also interested in the concept of mini-retirements throughout life. Granted, I can’t travel in this current climate, but there’s still plenty of room to develop new interests, ideas, and directions. As I enter the second half (hopefully not third) of my so-called career, it seems like it’s worth taking a wider view of what other kinds of value can be extracted from the ever-diminishing energy and light of this short stay on Earth. Maybe I’ll get into finger painting?

A few weeks ago while writing one of these posts, I referenced an article about the nature of work, and was slightly irritated by its very broad definition. It used “work” to encompass all labor, whether for the purposes of making a living or not. Contributions to society, to one’s family, towards your own interests and goals — all of it was called work. I preferred using the word to mean paid labor only, and thought it was quite a privileged stance to include all sorts of things one freely chooses to do. There are too many people toiling at their limits to stay fed and sheltered, dreaming of the day they can finally rest in the absence of work: retirement, the promised realm of reward.

However now that I’m on the precipice of free time, I can see a little dimly through that lens. For those with the opportunity to opt out of paid labor, even if only for a little while, a new terror appears in the form of questioning “am I relevant? Am I valuable?” Freed from our contracts, we want to fill the gaping hole in our calendars with Meaningful and Impactful activities. We want to do work in any form. If we’re raising a child, we tell everyone it’s “a full-time job”. If we’re volunteering out of passion at a non-profit organization, we say we’re finally “doing our lives’ work”.

I don’t disagree with this use of the word now. It’s not that we should label everything we do as work; it’s that all purposeful activity can fairly be called work. Anything that takes something out of you to produce an outcome is work, and we should all engage in it for as long as we can, even after we stop being traditionally employed. Your work can be about learning, teaching, or doing. It can find you producing or repairing, supporting or leading, communicating or meditating. It can be social or entirely solitary. Even when we take the time to rest, it’s in service of our work. Retirement might be the wrong state to aspire to, after all. It’s dying, becoming inert; all subtraction and invisibility.

In this tiredness, I so badly want to do nothing, but I’m also afraid I won’t let myself. Or that I shouldn’t. We’ll see what comes of it in the months to come.

Week 17.21

  • This may have been the first time that an Apple event week coincided with my birthday week. Expectations of having a present to buy myself were high, but when it turned out that only the iPad Pro in 12.9” size would be getting the mini-LED display technology I’d been waiting for, and that the damned thing would cost me about S$3,000 in all (with AppleCare+, Pencil, and Magic Keyboard), I began to have second thoughts. After a little deliberation and rationalizing, I ordered myself last year’s iPad Air as a good enough substitute. Normally, you’d expect to receive it in a day or two, but perhaps because of Covid, its ETA was next week instead.
  • And then on the weekend, I started to doubt the wisdom of not buying the latest and greatest, because I knew it would grow to become a nagging dissatisfaction. It would only cost an additional S$360 to go from a 256GB WiFi iPad Air to a 256GB WiFi iPad Pro 11”. That money pays for (roughly in descending order of importance to me): a smoother and brighter ProMotion display; the M1 chip for more future-proof performance; Face ID; four speakers instead of two; LIDAR and additional cameras, including the new front-facing one with Center Stage; supposedly “studio-quality” microphones; and Thunderbolt/USB4 compatibility. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it? A pity about not having mini-LED on the 11”, but it’s clearly a better device regardless. So I’ve canceled the iPad Air and will have to wait at least another month for the Pro to go on sale.
  • The other nagging thought I had was that maybe some new features in iPadOS 15 this year will be exclusive to M1-bearing iPads. These iPads have 8/16GB of RAM for the first time (actually listed on Apple’s site!), which makes them the hardware equal of the M1 MacBooks. What if… developers of Mac apps could elect to publish quick iPad versions? I don’t have a Mac of my own anymore, and a way to occasionally manage and transfer files to hardware devices like my Kobo would be welcome, so any app interoperability would be amazing. What if you could run an iPad over two displays for double the multitasking? If any of this comes to pass but leaves the iPad Air out, I wouldn’t even be able to look at it, let alone use it for the next three years.
  • TL;DR: the iPad Air is great and more than enough to get stuff done, but if you want slightly nicer bits, you might want to pay more for the 11” Pro. And I’ve decided that I am the type of idiot who would wallow in eternal regret if he didn’t spring for the nice bits.
  • Because it’s a birthday month, the wanton overeating continued. Cake, pizza, cocktails, wagyu beef bourguignon, a lavish slab of kueh salat from a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a lovely bit of smoked pork collar at a wedding lunch I had the privilege to attend. Tonight, we’re going out for more Italian. There’s yakiniku scheduled in a few days. It’s irresponsible but no one has stepped in to stop me.
  • I’ve slowed down on Star Trek: Legends, mostly because it’s so bug ridden I think I’m better off waiting for another update before continuing.
  • I enjoyed some of Marvel’s Runaways comic series a few years back, but didn’t know it was turned into a TV show for Hulu. Three seasons of it are now available on our local Disney+ and it’s very bingeable, as we found out this weekend. The less you know going in, the better. Most synopses give away too much in the first sentence alone.
  • A few weeks ago, HEY.com started selling t-shirts with their logo on them. Knowing that they’re really ads for their service, they priced them low; apparently at cost. As an enthusiastic early adopter and current user, I had to get one. It finally arrived in Singapore on my birthday, which was a nice coincidence.

Week 16.21

We had a series of strong storms this week. It’s bright out now as I type this, and yet I’m still hearing distant thunder. When they get going, these rumbles send deeply unsettling bass throughout the house, and the torrents of rain above make me imagine a hole opening up in our ceiling. They turn the mid-afternoon depressingly dark and they’ve been coinciding with conference calls, which makes me feel like I’m working at night. Because Singapore is so small, I often hear thunderclaps on a colleague’s end of the line just seconds before hearing it for real. Saturday was especially bad, with some streets kinda flooding with about a foot of water, which made me rethink going out to our dinner reservations.

However, the $70 penalty for no-shows was a great motivator. We had a good steak dinner at a restaurant that I, no joke, got served the day before in an Instagram ad. There’s a lot of junk being sold through Instagram ads, but fortunately this was a quality discovery. I did my homework via TripAdvisor and Google reviews, at least, and they have a 4.5-star average that I can corroborate on the basis of last night’s meal.

Come to think of it, there was a lot of eating out this week. On Tuesday night, spontaneously, we decided to go out for one quick drink at the neighborhood bar before dinner. This ended with a total shitfacing on soju and beer before 10pm. I haven’t had a hangover in a very long while, but Wednesday morning convinced me not to try that again.

Friday night, Kim made a leg of lamb for dinner with her parents. It roasted away for a good six hours, and because the doors weren’t closed, we had a delicious muttony and rosemaryish aroma in every room over the whole weekend. Which… might have subconsciously led us down the path of an over-the-top Korean BBQ on Sunday night. My birthday’s coming up, so I’ll blame all the weight gain on that.

We’re still watching Gogglebox most nights. One old lady, Shirley, is fond of saying “shitting hell” in reaction to things on TV, which cracks me up. She probably chose it as a less vulgar way of saying “fucking hell”, but because it’s such an unusual pairing, it sounds even more offensive.

Her husband remarked to her in one episode, “you’ve never had Indian food, have you?”, which blew my mind. She just wasn’t interested in trying it, or anything else exotic. She was also handed an avocado at one point, and had no idea what it was.

A couple of days later, I saw these tweets:

The linked article from the Guardian is about a farmer who’s had the same dinner every night for the last 10 years, and is totally fine with it. He says “I’m not interested in other food. I’ve never had Chinese, Indian, French food. Why change? I’ve already found the food I love.” And what’s this food, you ask? “Two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits at the end.”

I don’t have a problem with a couple of odd people being perfectly satisfied with their uniform dressing routines, or some others not having the sense of adventure that leads them to visit underdeveloped countries or dangerous natural environments on holiday. But celebrating a life where you don’t bother to try eating (just eating!) things that billions of other people have agreed are awesome; that’s kinda strange. It’s such a low risk/effort for high reward scenario.

That’s enough about food. I’ve been playing a lot of the new Star Trek: Legends mobile game, a story-driven strategy gacha game that has no in-app monetization as per the rules of Apple Arcade. If you’ve ever wondered how such a game would play out without the usual pay-to-win mechanics, they’ve still got timers and time-limited events, but you can earn all the currency you need by grinding, and the reward rates are generous. I can’t tell if I’ve had enough yet, but I may keep going to see where the story goes and hopefully unlock Picard and Data.

I read just one chapter of The Diamond Age this week, which is an utter embarrassment. Fortunately, I’m going to have some free time coming up soon, so my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge target of 24 books has no reason to worry.

I see Michael’s posted his weeknotes already, and recommended this 20-minute video on Portishead’s debut, Dummy. I’m still watching it, but it’s definitely worth your time if you know and love the album.

Week 15.21

Changing where you cut your hair is often a big deal; people will patronize the same place for years or even decades. When I started at my first job, I discovered a little salon in the same building which was very convenient — I see getting a trim as a bit of boring maintenance that can’t be avoided. It had seats for six to eight people at a time, but only one middle-aged proprietor who would actually cut hair — his wife assisted at the till and sometimes with washing and other procedures. Making conversation with the older ladies who came in for perms and dyes seemed to be part of her portfolio. So, it was effectively a small solo operation that had room to expand but no interest in doing it.

I continued to go there for years (close to a decade?!) even after I left the company, when going down after office hours became more inconvenient. As these things sometimes go, we had many conversations over the years and I learnt a bit about the couple’s lives, their family, and so on. It strikes me that these hair-related relationships are unique amongst the commercial/service interactions in our lives. You don’t know what your doctor got up to on vacation, say.

One evening in 2015, I went down to discover the store shut and called to find out if anything was up. Turns out they just decided to close early that day and do something else. Had I called to make an appointment, that could have been avoided, but I never did it because you were liable to turn up and find someone in the seat anyway, and you’d have to wait 45 minutes (he liked to take his time).

Betrayed, I walked the streets and came upon another place, which marked the beginning of another multi-year relationship. Another friend who still goes to the same place tried to guilt trip me about the switch, but I didn’t feel to blame at all because not staying open during opening hours effectively broke our contract.

The new place was a more regular sort of salon: multiple seats, multiple stylists. I walked in and was assigned someone who I had a good feeling about right away. This guy was younger, normally served much more stylish clientele than the likes of me, and on the whole it was a more modern and luxurious experience — someone would bring you coffee! One time, I went down without an appointment as was my custom and was served by another stylist. He did an awful job, and so I got into the habit of making appointments.

This worked out until COVID hit and we went into lockdown. After the first couple of months staying in, I bought a pair of clippers, watched a YouTube video, and tried trimming my own hair at home. I wasn’t going out, so what did I care if I made mistakes and got a lumpy haircut? I just didn’t want my ears to get warm so I was doing the back and sides with the comb attachment. When the rest of it got too long, lockdown was just easing up and I could get someone else to do it. But visiting the salon in town would be too much travel each way now that it wasn’t on the way home from work.

What I ended up doing was visiting the traditional men’s barbershop in my neighborhood, which cost $10 instead of $50, and was an experience virtually unchanged in 30 years. I used to be brought to similar places as a kid, just an uncomplicated, artless buzzing and a few quick snips. The fluorescent lighting, smell of talcum powder, cracked leather seats, explosive countertop clutter, disposable razor blades for the shaving of sideburns… it wasn’t the same as being served a coffee and having your head massaged, but it got the job done. Did it look very good? No, but neither did I anyway, and I was still mostly working from home and not going anywhere much.

That was the past 9 months or so. I wasn’t really satisfied with the idea of getting mediocre uneven haircuts from shaky hands for the rest of my life, but the money I was saving helped, and it was alright as long as I didn’t look in the mirror? Going back to a centrally located place for a haircut just seemed out of the question though, kinda like going back to an office five days a week is preposterous now.

So long story short-ish, this week I visited the barbershop on what must have been their day off, and so had the opportunity to try the other hair salon in the neighborhood, which I never had occasion to pass in the day when they’re open. I feel somewhat like how it felt back in 2015: like I’ve leapt forward and found the light. It was the first proper haircut I’ve gotten in the past year, in a clean, properly air-conditioned place, with professionals who know what they’re doing, and a price acceptably midway between downtown extravagance and the bare minimum. I think this may be the next chapter as long as we don’t move away.

===

In other exciting neighborhood discovery news, my weekday lunch options have increased. A struggling (not great) Korean stall in the nearby kopitiam closed down, and the space was taken over by a sort of Japanese joint offering cheap donburi like oyakodon, gyudon, and katsudon, with unhealthy but tasty mentaiko mayonnaise and cheese toppings to make up for whatever they lack in authenticity. This change apparently happened a couple of months ago, but I never noticed while walking by because their signboard design looks similar to the Korean one’s from afar.

===

Still reading The Diamond Age from last week, and have been grinding through about 200 levels of Tiny Crossword+ on Apple Arcade. The puzzles are exceedingly simple, and I’m hoping the boards will get larger and more difficult soon, or else I’ll start on something else.

Week 14.21

  • We had some massive storms this week, he said interestingly. And apart from a lunch out with my parents where my lack of dialect reading ability led to me confusing a fish noodle order with the beef noodles we really wanted, it’s been mostly a passive (media consumption) week outside of work.
  • Oh, and I changed this blog’s theme, for those of you reading outside of the RSS feed.
  • I read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has been on my Goodreads shelf since 2017. It took the better half of a day this long weekend, and I mostly could have done without it. Minor spoiler alert. I found it too derivative of many other post-apocalyptic survival stories, with the added belief-suspending flaw of having most characters improbably linked. There’s even a significant portion devoted to survivors camped in an airport, which reminded me too much of Douglas Coupland’s Player One which I read last year and also rated two stars to.
  • As a palate cleanser, I’ve just started Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and I already have no fucking idea what I’ve gotten myself into. Which is to say I’m loving it.
  • Apple Arcade took a big leap forward and this new content direction feels like the next step in Arcade’s evolution (or the last, if you’re cynical and think that Apple would retire something that wasn’t performing — they’d cancel a HomePod but would they cancel a service?)
  • I spent about an hour with FANTASIAN, the new game from both the creator and composer of Final Fantasy, which is a huge coup for an Apple exclusive. It feels on brand as hell for them, so I don’t expect to see it through to the end (never have), although it’s quite beautiful. We also played SongPop Party for awhile, and it’s good fun. I’m also looking forward to trying the new Star Trek game, and Platinum’s World of Demons, which was cancelled in beta years ago and then secretly revived for Apple Arcade. Oh, and Taiko no Tatsujin! And CLAP HANZ GOLF! And The Oregon Trail remake! There’s just so much.
  • While checking out one of the larger streaming service’s overseas catalog via ah… VPN, we discovered Gogglebox, a UK reality show where you watch people watching TV. It’s brilliant. On one hand, it condenses an entire week of British news, drama, and game show programming into an hour-long highlights reel of just the best bits. On the other, you get entertaining commentary from groups of friends and family sitting in their own living rooms — entertaining on account of their reactions (sarcasm, ignorance, delight, horror) and their individual relationships and stories which slowly become apparent to the viewer. It’s like the Terrace House panel, but for regular TV, and I can’t get enough.
  • Two albums on rotation this week:
  • The Shave Experiment EP by Q is falsetto-laden, lofi R&B with lots of electric guitar and analog effects, which is hit and miss for me most times; I can’t stand some Steve Lacey, but kinda liked Omar Apollo, etc. Q’s take on it seems to be right in the sweet spot for me.
  • Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra defies categorization. It’s a somewhat-minimal piece of ambient or jazz music lasting 46 minutes, in 9 movements, centered around a saxophone, with occasional strings and other sounds, held together by one single gentle piano riff that just repeats throughout the whole thing like a mindworm.