Week 49.20

  • I’ve been numbering these entries with the week number, which I get from Fantastical, my calendar app. I just looked and saw this year is going to have 53 weeks, which sounds wrong, but they only number full Monday to Sunday weeks (or Sunday to Saturday, like I used to believe was the right way before I got a job), so it makes sense that it’s all not going to fit nicely in 52.
  • It seems many people can’t wait for 2020 to be over, as if next year will automatically be better or not the consequence of everything that happens up to December 31. I’m just going to assume that it’s all 2020 until further notice, similar to how when this started back in March and some thought it might be over in a couple of months, I imagined an end date no earlier than year’s end. If I possess any mental stability today, it’s probably due to setting extremely low expectations for normality.
  • My dad, who is very active, outdoorsy, adventurous and generally nothing like me in what we find fun, tolerable, or necessary, save for an interest in computers/gadgets, managed to hurt himself this week while Cycling In His Seventies. Thankfully, it was nothing life threatening, but it does mean he won’t be able to walk for a couple of months, or at least he absolutely should not be attempting to. Once that hurdle has been cleared, there may be other medical issues to address, but I am hopeful in general that no further drama need occur. He may, as usual, have other ideas.
  • I figured reading would be a good way to pass the time, so I set him up with the apps for accessing free ebook loans from the National Library, which is a truly awesome benefit that I’m happy to pay taxes in support of. My first recommendation was “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, which I started reading six weeks ago on Darrelle’s recommendation but have been neglecting.
  • I finally sat and finished it this week, and it’s a four-star treatise on the importance of following your interests, changing tracks, having side gigs, and being a cross-pollinator in your field of work. It opens with how Tiger Woods was essentially drilled from the age of two to be a super golfer, but the real GOAT is Roger Federer who only picked tennis up later in life after dallying with many other sports, which gave him the lateral skills and experience to become a more flexible and sustainable athlete.
  • My dad is given to telling stories from his past (honestly, they are very good) and shared one in response to Range. He started out as a marine engineer and continued working at shipyards for most of his career, and then switched over to the development of land vehicles at some point, which he called the best job he ever had. Without going into the details, he found problems at his place of employment that no one was solving, that were perfectly solvable using the methods and approaches he knew from working on ships. He brought them up to leadership and they were soon accepted and widely used practices in the organization.
  • This is exactly the sort of thing that Range is about: wicked problems that seem unsolvable from the POV of people who have specialized in one field that become trivial when you import common knowledge from another. Our education systems and siloed ways of working make these problems more pronounced than they should be. Many of the solutions we need already exist like a sacred crystal in a Final Fantasy game, split into four pieces and scattered throughout the world, waiting for a hero to unite them. In some corners of my work environment, this is grossly called “trapped value”. But it’s a book worth reading, and it’s a comfort to anyone who’s tried different jobs on for size and worries that it makes them less employable when it’s more likely to be the opposite.
  • At least I made more reading progress this week. After getting back into gear with Range, I finished Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter (3.5 stars: an action movie screenplay with some good ideas about multiverse travel) and Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key (3 stars: a collection of well-researched stories and cautionary tales to help you slow down and be more zen, held together by mediocre self-help book writing).
  • I am now heading for the trifecta of disappointing reads with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two, a book whose release I should have anticipated but was not expecting or anything. I kinda liked Ready Player One for living in the awful space between Sword Art Online’s anime SF fantasy and 80s geek pop culture, but his next book, Armada, was so shoddily written I couldn’t get into it. Let’s see if this one will get more than 2.5 stars.

Week 48.20

  • One of the weakest weeks so far; it feels like nothing really happened.
  • But maybe that’s not entirely true. I went out on at least three occasions and met with several people to drink and catch up — in the same week where COVID cases have re-emerged in the community after about 15 days without a single one.
  • I also learnt about an impressive feature in PowerPoint: Zoom Summary Slides. It’s a sure sign you had a shit week if the first thing that comes to mind when you try to think of highlights is a Microsoft Office trick. I’m really looking forward to the Christmas break, whether it feels like Christmas this year or not.
  • OH I almost ordered a new M1 MacBook or iPad Air in a fit of irritation with new corporate security policies that prevent my work computer from connecting to any external storage (I just wanted to load a file onto my Kobo e-reader, come on). I calmed down and decided to keep waiting for the A14 iPad Pro.
  • A couple of loose thoughts: Thanksgiving reunions in the US are almost certainly going to lead to another surge in cases before the holidays. The result will be more fatalities, reduced spending, and a stock market wobble. If I were investing regularly, I might put that on hold and anticipate a corresponding rise in certain digital assets in the same period. But I’m not qualified to give any investment advice.
  • I haven’t had a really complex or immersive dream in awhile. While recalling some past ones in a discussion the other night, I was reminded of a dream phenomenon that makes no sense and started to wonder if it was a common experience.
  • It goes like this: you’re in a dream and start to hear a sound that makes sense in the context of the dream. Then you wake up, and realize the sound is actually happening in the real world, but something different. It’s the classic movie trope where someone is kissing their object of affection in a dream and awakens to their dog licking their face.
  • But how did your brain make perfect dream sense of the sound in real time? For instance, your alarm clock goes off near you, and in your dream you hear it as a school bell, but for what felt like the last hour, that school scenario had already been playing out in your head. Like you’re in a class that’s nearly ended, so it makes sense that the bell rang.
  • I can only see two explanations: the more impossible one being that your brain anticipated the alarm clock and set up the whole school dream in advance of it happening, and the other is that it hears the alarm clock, and then constructs the interpretation (school bell) and sells the illusion by retroactively creating the school scenario, and backdating your experience of forward-moving time, so that it feels like you were dreaming the school scenario all along. In other words, with the one indisputable marker being the alarm clock in real life, the school bell story can only be made up after the fact, but is so convincingly retconned that you remember living through the whole setup in an instant. I know it sounds like I’ve been smoking something, but if we can construct a reality around us that was always true, doesn’t it mean our subconscious minds already know what it feels like to exist outside of time?
  • ANYWAY, as a long-time skeptic of Korean television, I was surprised to enjoy season 1 of Stranger (on Netflix), a policewoman and prosecutor buddy format murder investigation show, and can now safely recommend it. Yes, some people still overact the hell out of their parts with dramatic glares, but at least it’s tonally consistent and the two leads are very good.
  • Here’s a song of the week pick although I only played it once: Awich’s totally straight, non-rap cover of Happy Xmas (War Is Over).

Week 47.20

  • Last episode, I promised a return to Animal Crossing this week. I did manage to keep my word, but just barely. Upon opening the front door to my house, my character jumped in shock at the sight of… cockroaches. At least Nintendo made them sorta cute. You have to chase them down and when you step on one, a little ghost cockroach rises up from the ground I shit you not. It’s a little hard getting back in the swing of things on the island, but it was nice and I think I’ll continue.
  • One of the bottles of bourbon I got last week is already on its last dregs. Has that joke been made before? It’s been about six years since his name came up on this blog, but Jussi came over for a chat and to suffer some untested drink combinations. There were no side effects or complaints, so we’ll have to try harder next time.
  • In 2017, I attended my company’s annual training/alignment/social conference, held in Berlin that year, and posted a short video of the experience. It’s now obviously impossible to do these in person, so they attempted a virtual event over two days. It was better than I expected, helped by the fact that Zoom now supports setting up many parallel “breakout rooms”, with a menu that lets people choose which they want to join. Just like a real conference, we were forced to think hard about which talk or workshop to attend, and weigh popular, oversubscribed events against smaller ones with niche topics but more chance of meaningful interaction. But unlike the old days, you can now access recordings of every event and watch them on your own time afterwards.
  • Does anyone remember the singer Katie Melua? One of her new songs popped up on a playlist and I struggled to place the name. Then I looked her up, and of course, she came out back when I was in university and would have been everywhere on TV and on the shelves at HMV (I spent a lot of time there). According to Wikipedia, she was the UK’s best-selling female artist in 2004–2005, and has a comet named after her. Just surprised me that I would completely forget her; I mean, I remember Peter Andre.
  • The 2020 Apple Music Awards were also announced, and four out of five recognitions went to hip-hop artists (Taylor Swift won Songwriter of the Year). I gave the Album of the Year a try: Roddy Ricch’s “Please excuse me for being antisocial”, but am unlikely to ever play it again. A lot of contemporary, trappy, woozy American hip-hop just doesn’t do it for me.
  • In contrast, I’ve been enjoying UK grime and drill, and discovered Dutchavelli’s Dutch from the 5th album on Apple Music’s great radio program, The Dotty Show.
  • My App of the Week has been Guitar Girl (iOS) — It’s an idle clicker where you follow a high schooler who livestreams herself playing the guitar in her free time. You can imagine the rest. Tapping equals likes, and you can add followers who will auto-tap when you’re not around. As her presence grows, a bunch of relationship stories unfold behind the scenes through text messages.

Week 46.20

  • Time has felt a little broken this week, in that 11.11 feels like it happened long ago. In case you’re wondering, that’s Nov 11, or Singles Day, which is now an official shopping day in these parts after having been imported from China. We never really had a tradition of Black Friday sales, so this is it.
  • I bought several bottles of bourbon and yet another pair of headphones: the Sony WH1000XM4s, which, in further evidence of a fault in time’s mechanics, launched back in August at the list price of S$550 and was now purchased by yours truly for just S$385. That’s a full 30% off for a brand new product; perhaps a year ahead of when it would have normally been discounted to such levels. The Sony brand just doesn’t hold value like it used to.
  • I bought the Mark 1 model about four years ago, intrigued by its DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) feature which claimed to upsample compressed music and restore “near Hi-Res Audio levels of fidelity”. Great headphones, but the Mark 4 promises a more comfortable design, the best noise canceling tech on the market, and DSEE Extreme which now has AI magic dust all over it. Was it a necessary purchase? No… but I love a good bargain.
  • The PS5 also launched this week, but I have no interest in replacing my PS4 Pro just yet. Apart from sentimental value (it was a farewell gift, bearing the signatures of my former colleagues), it’s small and discreet. The PS5 is decidedly not, and seems to be launching with no extraordinary games. Looking back, all my Microsoft and Sony console purchases only happened years into the cycle. Nintendo consoles, I buy the day they come out. I can’t say why.
  • Oh yeah and Apple announced the first Macs with their own silicon this week, exceeding everyone’s expectations of what the M1 chip does for performance and battery life. It was an exciting event to watch, until I remembered that there’s no place in my life anymore for a personal Mac.
  • Doesn’t this feel like it happened ages ago? How messed up was work this week for it to feel this way?
  • In the early days of lockdown and working from home this year, I was hooked on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I and many others joked about it being like a virtual vacation in lieu of being able to go anywhere. And I think the little controllable/knowable world, gentle soundtrack, and sense of community amongst everyone playing at the same time created to a sense of calm, routine, and positivity that got me through that period with little fatigue or stress. And then after about 200 hours or something, I put it aside and didn’t return even after the Summer and Fall and Halloween updates launched.
  • Prompted by the fact that some friends have picked it up again, I think I could use a return to my island now. Hopefully there’ll be time for that this week. In other gaming news, I’ve graduated to that next level of Call of Duty Mobile addiction: buying a “Battle Pass” for USD$4.99. It’s completely unnecessary, but gives you cosmetic upgrades and more of a reason to play in the form of a ladder of rewards to unlock. Play enough, and you’ll earn enough currency to buy the next season’s Battle Pass without any real world money. It’s a trap? I’m bored? But I also want to understand the mobile gaming economy better?
I left the house exactly once this week, to see my parents and eat this lovely Japanese beef.

Backbone One unboxing

As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been waiting for the arrival of my Backbone One controller. It was dispatched at the end of October but took ages to leave the USPS, probably because they had some important envelopes to deliver at the same time. It arrived last night after about 10 days, and I’ve gotta say, first impressions are good.

It’s a good size and feels very nice in the hands, with my only concern being that the er… spine of it cuts directly across the lowest of the camera lenses on my iPhone 12 Pro, and it looks like the lens rests against that bit of plastic. I doubt it’ll cause any damage; those lens covers are sapphire crystal, but it looks a little odd. I’m not sure that it will fit an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but their site claims that it will.

It beggars belief that I could kill 16 people in CoD Mobile without dying once, but that’s just what happened the first time I snapped this thing on. It’s also transformed GRID Autosport from a game that I bought once and regretted immediately into something that feels truly console-like, and I don’t mean a Nintendo Switch. The graphics and haptics on this thing are way ahead of any racing game I’ve seen on that system.

Week 45.20

  • I’m writing this bit in advance. We are still awaiting a definitive result from the US election and yes, full acknowledgment of the absurdity and the “how is this even happening” of it all. I just read an emotional Joe Biden story on Twitter and it killed me. Someone also posted this chat conversation with her mom, a Trump supporter, and it’s truly depressing how easy it now seems to bamboozle people until they’re out of touch with reality. Hopefully by the time I post this, some semblance of the right outcome would have materialized.
  • Narrator: It has.
  • Maybe I’m feeling so emotional about it because I’ve just had a 9% alcohol Strong Zero clone from our local 7-Eleven, imported from Japan no less. It might be the same as their house brand chuhai drinks over there, sold here for much more money given that our alcohol tax is so high. The promotion price was two cans for S$11.
  • Check out this photo, taken with my iPhone 12 Pro. I didn’t have a black backdrop or any other kind of product photography apparatus. I discovered that you can simply do this with Portrait Mode and a kitchen countertop. Miraculous! The quality of the effect is much better than I recall it being before, so maybe this is something the new iPhones’ ISPs have enabled?
  • I’m still waiting on my Backbone One, which has been in the US Postal Service’s care for nearly 10 days now, with no indication of whether it’s even left the US yet. I get it, they’ve been busy, but I really want to kick more butt in Call of Duty Mobile.
  • For reasons unknown, I’ve been doing quite well in online CODM matches. My past experiences on console have been the same as any old guy’s: instant death at the hands of children. But for some reason I’m consistently ending games as the MVP and killing at a higher rate than others. Is it fake? Do they put you up against bots that look like real people? Or have I achieved some kind of middle-aged gamer renaissance?
  • The Playstation store is having one of those sales again, and I managed to pick up Shadow of the Tomb Raider — Definitive Edition for just S$20. It’s the third installment of the reboot trilogy, and I’ve been waiting for it to go on sale for ages. I think it first came out as an Xbox exclusive and didn’t come to PS4 until a year had passed. Alas, my plans to play it over the weekend failed.
  • Instead, I found a little time to speed through the endgame of Ghost of Tsushima, just to get the end of the story. A really pretty game, but I think I’m mostly tired of open-world action games. In terms of time over value extracted, I’d rather play a linear beat-em-up if the combat is going to be the main point of it. The rest of it is just getting from A to B, and exploration never felt that rewarding. An open-world game should let you feel like you live in it, and just chill or do nothing but in a meaningful way? Maybe that’s why Breath of the Wild felt so different and resonated with many people; just living and surviving in the outdoors was a complete game unto itself, separate from the narrative.
  • We watched Netflix’s popular new series The Queen’s Gambit over the weekend. I don’t like horror films so I missed her in The VVitch, but from the first moment I saw Anya Taylor-Joy’s wide-set eyes in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, I’ve been wondering how everyone could just play it so cool while such a face exists in nature. I don’t know that the show could work with another actress; all its scenes of intense concentration and psychological battle hinge on her staring directly into the camera/your soul.