Memes, Myths, and Machines

This is an addendum to the last weekly update (3.22).

As part of Singapore Art Week 2022, we visited The Culture Story on Sunday afternoon to see ZXEROKOOL’s first local exhibition entitled Memes, Myths and Machines. He’s done a new series of NFTs that were presented as large format prints, and we spoke briefly about how a new class of art buyers are excited by the flexibility of printing these pieces at whatever size suits their needs or residences, while retaining ownership certification through the NFTs in their wallets.

These were of course familiar arguments for the technology, but his anecdote about a previous exhibition in China and the concern of buyers there about the veracity of a limited run brought home the need for this control, held by the artist, limiting run size as intended. Personally I love that artists can continue to get a cut each time a work changes hands, which is an innovation I don’t think was feasible before smart contracts.

ZXEROKOOL explaining his work to a journalist

I had two favorites at the show: Meme-vangelion and The Garden of Internet Delights. The former is a mashup of Shiba Inu and Evangelion imagery, complete with the Spear of Longinus piercing the puppy’s heart. I left wanting to buy one of them, but by the time I got around to it the next day, some other fan had bought the last edition of The Garden of Internet Delights. No matter, Meme-vangelion isn’t a consolation prize. Though the whole collection plays with the visual vocabulary of the internet as many of us have experienced it over the last decade, I think this work stands alone in its astute selection of two icons that will surely stand the test of time?

Meme-vangelion

Week 3.22

Ladies and gentlemen, you are now hearing from an actual commercial artist, technically speaking. My Misery Men NFT project reached a new milestone: the sale of two works (#45 and #51) on OpenSea this week! 🍾🍾

I’ve been on a break from drawing them since Christmas, but have now resumed “production duties” and will be releasing more leading up to a pair of Lunar New Year ones in early February. One of the new releases is #79, which was fun/therapeutic to make by plonking down hundreds of dots with the Apple Pencil until all the space was filled up.

Misery Man #79

A little more on my amateur art endeavors. I’ve been trying to get a feel for digital watercolors in Procreate, but the results are anemic and frankly embarrassing. I’m happy to own that, so here’s an example. Safe to say this will not be my main medium, will stick to my day job (oh wait), maybe more of a words person, et cetera.

Caveats in Paint (Digital) #4: View of an office building (function assumed) seen on one of my walks (rarely undertaken), 2022.

Yesterday we took our littlest niece out for her animal-themed Christmas present: a visit to an art studio that has cats running around for inspiration and/or distraction. She whipped up a colorful, abstracted cat with acrylics in about 15 minutes and then spent the next two hours playing with real ones. I slapped paint around and ended up with this below. It’s… jarring to move from digital to physical. Not only do you not have Undo and Fill tools, but you have to plan your layers differently. Ugh!

Passing Time, acrylic on canvas, 2022.

Edit: We also visited an exhibition and bought some digital art. More in this follow-up post.

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A few years ago, I made a conscious effort to lose weight by eating better, and discovered that salads are not really horrible and can be quite satisfying as a lunch item. I think I ate salads nearly every day for about a year and lost 10% of my body weight.

It was helped along by an abundance of salad shops in my office area, both reasonably and luxuriously priced. Where we live now, there haven’t been any options, and making my own every day is kind of a last resort I’m saving for the late Elvis or Marlon Brando stage.

BUT! Last week I encountered a new salad vending machine in the neighborhood that isn’t bad/expensive at all. You choose a base and dressing, with the option to buy add-ones like chicken, smoked duck, eggs, and baked salmon. It’s from a company called Shake Salad, and stock is somehow replenished daily. It is ALRIGHT and I ate a salad for lunch four days in a row this week. I think the machine is here as a trial, so I want to be as hospitable as I can and prove the viability of keeping it around full time.

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Media activity:

  • Finished Psycho-Pass 3 on Amazon Prime Video. Was not left as excited as I was with the first season a decade ago. Perhaps sign of maturity. Will eventually watch the three-part “movie” sequel to this series.
  • Marvel’s Eternals was an awful waste of time.
  • Still reading Plum Rains.
  • Finished NEO: The World Ends With You. Was not left as excited as I was with the original DS game 15~ years ago. Maybe down to its design, but it doesn’t feel like a full-priced console game. More like a portable/handheld game. Thanks to the Switch, those lines are now blurred. But it really has about a couple hours of content stretched to 30 hours thanks to repetitive battles and pin grinding. If there’s ever a sequel to this sequel, I’d like to see a real evolution of mechanics and storytelling.
  • Played more Disco Elysium on the Mac. This is hands down the most impressed I’ve been with a game in years. Now that it’s out for consoles, I hope everybody (except minors) gets a chance to play this. The atmosphere, world building, writing, and voiceover performances are best in class. It’s also very funny, despite the bleak subject matter, thanks to your detective’s absurdly broken moral compass. Once, I paused to tell my wife about a joke and couldn’t get it out for laughing every time I tried to start. I ended up in tears.
  • So I had to read up on the team behind it; the writing surpasses most novels I read last year, but I never saw the author’s name mentioned anywhere. His name is Robert Kurvitz, an Estonian writer, and the story of how it got made sounds amazing and documentary worthy. Kurvitz and his band mates came up with the world in 2005, and then wrote a novel set in it, which was published in 2013. When that failed to sell, he spent three years in alcoholic depression (much like the main character), and eventually emerged to found a video game company (with no game dev experience) to bring it to life again. They somehow managed to secure funding, hired a team, and created this insane, beautiful, sprawling adventure and won multiple awards in 2019. Instead of stopping there, they went back and polished it, recording every line of dialogue, and released the enhanced Final Cut version in 2021 for no extra cost. Recording sessions for the narrator’s voice took eight months (the performance by Lenval Brown is excellent).

Week 2.22

Most people attempt a “Dry January”, but I’ve taken that literally with my latest obsession. We inherited a Novita dehumidifier on Monday, and within hours it was sucking liters of water out of the air in our apartment. Living in Singapore, you take the constant 80–95% humidity as a given. I don’t know any Singaporeans who have dehumidifiers, and it’s always (anecdotally) the expats who seem to buy them.

If you get good airflow through your home, then mold probably isn’t an issue, but things still feel horribly moist all the time. Air-conditioning makes up for it, but I’ve found now that keeping humidity around or below 60% seems to make for a cooler feeling environment. A couple of days after, thoroughly sold on the concept, I bought another smaller De’Longhi unit for our bedroom in Lazada’s “Prosperity Sale”.

This has made going outdoors more disagreeable; the contrast now upon stepping out is akin to that moment when you disembark from your plane in Changi Airport after having been in a temperate climate, and it feels like being encased in a giant block of jello at 50% opacity.

I took two walks this week. The weather service promised a really cool month but nope, hot and humid as ever.

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Media consumption:

  • I read David R. Palmer’s Tracking, the published-decades-later sequel to Emergence, which I enjoyed many years ago. Earlier book followed adventures of 11-year-old genius named Candy who survives an apocalyptic event and learns she’s technically a mutant, for lack of a better word. Came out in 1984 and probably still a fun read, written as a collection of Candy’s own journal entries.
  • The new installment is sadly not as good, overburdened with many uninteresting technical details and intent on stretching the limits of credibility even for a story involving super-gifted humans. 2.5 stars, for fans of the first one only. Please don’t start here.
  • Still on a Matrix/Wachowski kick, decided to revisit Sense8 which I only saw a couple of episodes of and abandoned years ago. Am now caught up to where I was before. Expectations lowered, it’s okay? Dialogue is pretty much the first thing you think of, though. Perhaps developing mutant future-scrying powers of my own.
  • Continuing with Psycho–Pass 3 on Amazon Prime Video. Each episode is twice the length of a standard anime series’, and it’s hard to stay focused. Maybe because the pace is slow, the mysteries are tedious, and many of the original season’s logical flaws are still present. Although it tries to seem deep, this is still a style over substance show, I think.
  • Finished Dexter: New Blood this week with the season finale. 10 episodes was a good target length for this story arc, and I’m glad they wrapped things up pretty neatly. I don’t know that anybody needed a return to Dexter, but clearly it made You possible, and maybe one more future spin-off where we’ll root for a serial killer.
  • Still grinding my way through NEO: The World Ends With You. Am right at the end, and all the battling has gotten tedious. The game is little more than a combat engine with some limited exploration and loads of 2D illustrated conversation scenes. In my rush to finish it, I’ve probably ruined the fun for myself.
  • Wheel Of Fortune on the Switch was on sale for $8 USD. It’s really a bit of Ubisoftian crap, but fun to play with couch multiplayer as an alternative to trivia games where some people who don’t spend their lives learning useless factoids might feel disadvantaged.

Week 1.22

It’s another year, and the start of a new series of weekly notes to myself and anyone who might be eavesdropping. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but maybe I should change up how I do these. They could stand to drop some words or look a little sharper.

I sometimes end the year with a post about the music I enjoyed and a playlist of my favorite songs released over the year, as an indirect means of reflecting on what happened. I didn’t do that in 2021, because… well, despite having had a few months of rest, I just didn’t have the energy to do a good job of it.

Scrolling back in my Apple Music history, however, I made a mental selection of albums I remember enjoying enough to say I enjoyed them, and here they are in no particular order apart from the top spot. Any playlist I made would have involved one song from each of these anyway.

The Best (tied)

The Rest

Reissues


It was the week after Christmas… woof. A lot more eating amidst the tiredness that tends to follow so much social interaction. I spent my downtime trying to draw a little bit, which I wrote about in this post a couple of days ago.

I also slayed the dragon called the Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge, with a paltry-by-some-standards-but-still-alright-if-you-ask-me 24 books read. Like most challenges, it’s unfortunately turned into a stupid online performance metric that doesn’t reflect any actual value, with some people I see setting goals that go into the triple digits. Outside of a literature degree program, it seems a little much. I’ve set my 2022 goal to 24 books again, because I plan to get on some novels that are about as thick as three regular ones, so a simple count doesn’t really serve to quantify the effort or resultant thoughtfulness, if any.

Nintendo sent out their version of Spotify’s Unwrapped awhile back, and I was shocked to see my total gaming hours on the Switch quite low at only 71 hours. It was over 200 hours in 2020, mostly due to Animal Crossing New Horizons. To try and remedy that, I’ve bought a bunch of new games on sale but haven’t gotten around to any of them yet. Instead, I’ve been grinding NEO: The World Ends With You, which has been mentioned before as the sequel to a Nintendo DS game I loved.

Disco Elysium came by way of a tweet that recommended it. Pretty sure I glanced at it before but decided it wasn’t my thing. Couldn’t have been more wrong, going by the very strong first four hours I’ve experienced. I suppose it’s an RPG game like classic Fallout was, but your vault survivor is an alcoholic noir detective and there’s no combat at all. I picked it up for my Mac in the Steam sale; reviews of the Switch version warn of very long loading times.


Some friends brought their kids over and I helped take photographs. Pixelmator recently released a free update that adds iPhone support to their previously iPad-only Pixelmator Photo editor, in addition to some new tools. I wanted to see how it would do with the DNGs out of my CL.

After some experimenting, I am sad to report that their ML-powered Auto Enhance corrections tend toward overexposure, and when paired with the built-in presets, the results are almost always garishly colored with too much contrast. You always have to adjust the intensity of the recommended changes and disable auto white balance altogether, and after all that it just didn’t work for me with the portraits. I finally crawled back into the arms of Lightroom whose Auto mode is at least designed to recover details and provide a neutral starting point for edits.

I have to say though, for iPhone photos (HEIF/JPEG), Pixelmator Photo is not half bad, provided you tone things down as mentioned. Here’s an example I took on a walk earlier today. I’ll keep trying to use it because I like some of the UI changes they’ve made, but tbh if Darkroom ever adds a good Auto mode, it’d be my go-to editor for life.

Caveats in paint (digital)

While taking a break from my Misery Men series of profile pics, I’ve been trying to draw other things. Bear in mind that I’m in the process of learning to draw at all, through trial and error. Yes I could/should probably look up proper resources or watch a YouTube video on some basic techniques, but it’s kinda fun to just bumble my way through this?

It started with this living room scene with our Christmas tree that I included in the last weekly update.

Remembrance of a Christmas tree (the red rug is a fiction), 2021.

In doing it, I learnt how the “oil paint” brush works in Procreate for iPad (used it for the fire on the TV). I also attempted two things that seemed like professional ideas to me: starting with a rough pencil tracing to block out the space before inking/coloring, and trying to render light emanating from the TV onto the tree, the Nintendo Switch beside it, and some of the floor. I guess all drawing is deciding how much realism you can/want to trade off?

Hypothetical (thoroughly imagined) desktop of the artist (generously defined) based on resource allocation (time + money squandered), 2021.

The next day I started doodling a camera and decided to do this imaginary scene of a leather pad on a desk, with some objects that represent my hobbies and how I spend most of my free time. I wouldn’t say any single area took more effort than the other, but I figured out early on that everything would just be black and gray, and it seemed to work well.

The next day’s challenge was to draw a top-down view inspired by our bathroom sink, which I have plenty of time to stare at every day while brushing my teeth. I wanted to work from memory only, so again I started with a pencil outline to compose the space. Trying to do the marble texture on the counter was the hardest bit by far, and I still wasn’t happy with it after the first pass. You should see a widget above with a slider that lets you compare the sketch with the first draft.

From there I tried to make something presentable out of it. In addition to adding dried toothpaste everywhere, I moved some objects around, added shadows, put a mirrored medicine cabinet above, and added an ambient glow and the reflection of its underside fluorescent tube to the marble countertop, which was smoothed out.

Here’s the final state of it:

Standing over (with an amateur’s understanding of perspective) bathroom sink with peripheral clutter (understated), 2021.

I know there are super impressive time-lapses out there of artists slapping incredible lighting effects onto proper scenes like their brains just know how to see light, but I’m just a little bit happy that I managed to figure this out myself as an amateur! Let me have it!

I may do some more, I don’t know when. But since I’ve enjoyed titling them with stage-whispered apologies and side comments, I’ll be calling this series Caveats In Paint (Digital) and that will be the name of my eventual exhibition to which you are all invited.

Week 52.21

  • Merry Christmas to any readers! I had a good one with lots of eating, lots to be thankful for, and everyone fortunately safe and healthy. The Instax mini Evo camera I got as a present to myself proved useful on Christmas Day at dinner with my family. Although the quality is poor in low light, I got to leave behind little prints for the fridge door, and gave souvenirs to my aunt and uncle too. There was a sleepover, day drinking, and a kid stood on my shoes because she wanted to be walked on top of them. In all, I count about five events over the weekend. Pooped.
  • For other photo-worthy moments, I got a lot out of FiLMiC Firstlight, a camera app that I hadn’t touched in a couple of years and recently rediscovered. It has a lovely, warm, film-inspired filter called Leopold (based on Kodachrome, I think), and behaves unlike the HDR-happy iPhone camera of today. Images come out with heaps of contrast and deep blacks, and generally don’t need any correcting in post. On reflection, I should just set my iPhone Camera.app to use a “Rich/Warm” photographic style.
  • The Misery Men NFT collection is now up to #78, which was a Sad Santa. I held a giveaway and got 12 takers, so it was minted as a — I don’t know the right word for this — series of 12 editions? 12 prints? Anyway they were sent out on Christmas Day, and hopefully everyone who isn’t a bot is happy with them. I’m taking a break from the daily drops and will resume in the new year. There are already a few finished ones in the can, and some of them are pretty good by my standards.
Misery Man #78: Shackled to the wheels of capitalism for all eternity.
  • It was also the week of The Matrix Resurrections, which we saw in a regular Golden Village cinema after a gut-busting visit to Five Guys (my first one in this country). Dim screen, muffled audio, noisy patrons… it reminded me of why I no longer like going to theaters (Gold Class screenings are the exception, fixing all the above). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film despite having many of my expectations subverted. I’ll need to see it again properly, but I expect to still agree with my initial assignment of 4.5 stars. Side note: Cien and Peishan saw it the same evening in the same cineplex and hated it.
  • Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was also much enjoyed. It’s an insane directorial flex; every shot and sequence is beautiful and meticulously composed, existing just to indulge a particular sense of humor and beauty. Both films shine with the joy and energy of creators who have nothing left to prove, but where one is happy to keep iterating on a style even at the risk of self parody, the other reclaims its own fandom and fabric for self satisfaction. And I’m here for it, as the young ones say.
  • Once again, nearly no video games were played, but I picked up Steamworld Heist and Saints Row IV on sale for my Switch. The latter is probably a decade old now, but was irresistible at $2.79 USD, down 93% from its standard price.
  • Instead, I got more reading done and am closer to my Goodreads Reading Challenge target. Finished Iron Widow (3.5 stars at best) and The Power (a solid 4), both mentioned last week. It looks like I might make it, if I can finish The End of Men next week. Quick recap: all three books deal with the decline, displacement, and/or death (literally) of men due to overwhelming Qi force, mutant powers, and a gender-specific virus respectively. I’m also here for this as men probably have it coming.
  • One last thing. A year ago, I got a Backbone One controller for my iPhone and loved it. It made for a more console-like experience with many games, and it was more comfortable to use and more capable than a Nintendo Switch. So why did I buy another Switch this year? Let’s not answer that directly, but it may be no coincidence that I’ve been unable to use my Backbone since moving to the new iPhone: the larger camera bump isn’t compatible. The company then designed a simple adapter and provided the plans for 3D printing one on your own. Never having gotten around to convincing myself of a 3D printer’s utility in the home, I had to place an order for one of their officially manufactured ones, and have been waiting on it since September. It finally arrived this week and I’m happy. But if supply chain problems are gonna continue next year, perhaps getting a 3D printer isn’t such a bad idea!