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.

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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.

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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.

Dispo Day 1

You may have heard the buzz this week around the new beta version of Dispo, the app formerly known as David’s Disposable, as in Vine/YouTuber David Dobrik’s version of those camera apps that simulate the look (and sometimes also the experience of waiting for photos to develop) of disposable film cameras. David himself notoriously shoots his exciting life with tons of those cameras, so the app made sense as a spinoff business. It wasn’t the first of its kind on the App Store, and there were so many others with knockoff names like Huji (Fuji) and Gudak (Kodak). So while David’s fans probably used it, the first version of the app wasn’t thoughtfully designed or original enough to be an essential camera app. Now, the next version is being taken seriously with millions invested and a full-time team hired.

Side note: This reminds me that one of the first app ideas I had and sketched out in the early years of the iPhone was for something similar. Obviously I never had the guts to make it, which is the main gap between ideas and profit. I was thinking you could “buy” and load rolls of film into a camera (complete with having to thread the initial end bit onto a wind-up spool before shutting the door) and then send them off to the lab when you’d shot 36 or so images. And after an hour or a day had elapsed, you’d return to the app to see a yellow paper envelope slide across a store counter to you, and be able to tear it open to see your shots (and the included negatives). I remember feeling kinda bummed when the first camera app to do the enforced waiting time gimmick came out. It wasn’t as skeuomorphically cool. I think it was 1-Hour Photo by Nevercenter.

Anyway, Dispo 2.0 is currently in beta and I only just got in. My first batch of photos came out this morning at 9am (the predefined time for all photo deliveries), and they look fine. You get a lightly push processed, slightly cool-temperatured shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio. I don’t understand why it’s not 3:2 like normal 35mm film. The flash is on by default as a core part of the disposable aesthetic. All EXIF data is stripped out, including the actual time of capture.

There’s a lot to like here so far, but it’s also a little unusual as social apps go. The tutorial doesn’t cover some of its sharing features, so you have to figure them out. There are “rolls” that can be public or private, solo or with others. I suppose they are really “albums”. Before you shoot a scene, you may load multiple rolls in the camera that you would like to contribute the resulting photo to. Which breaks the metaphor of the film roll somewhat, because disposable cameras don’t normally shoot onto four rolls of film simultaneously (nor do they have replaceable film)! After a shot is developed, however, you can manually add it to any roll.

Each roll can only have 69 contributors, so the emphasis is on doing it with your friend group, but there’s no limit to how many members of the public can follow a roll and see it on their feeds. David Dobrik himself seems to be using rolls to capture short events, like throwaway albums, rather than as curated, ongoing thematic feeds like I see some others doing for their pet, food, or “good vibes” photography. Perhaps the idea is still being tuned, or maybe they’re fine with people using them however they like.

Beta testers are not supposed to share screenshots, so I won’t. But it’s an example of non-cookie cutter UX design that asks you to work a little to figure it out; Snapchat and at least one redesign of VSCO often get credited for attempting personality in a post-iOS 7 world. Outside of games, it seems it’s often camera/photo apps that still go for it.

On the other hand, Hipstamatic has devolved into such a confused and cluttered app that you have to really work to figure it out. No fun at all. I miss the old Hipstamatic, and Dispo looks like it might bring some of that magic back: you’re encouraged to shoot without chimping, frame loosely through a tiny viewfinder, and be happy with even the crappy shots.

It actually reminded me today that Hipstamatic once tried an app called DSPO, pretty similar in concept. You had virtual rolls of film that you’d have to shoot fully before developing, and you could invite friends to share a disposable camera in real time. Two people in two cities could shoot a roll of film together. I remember it crashed a lot for me, and it was a struggle to convince anyone to install it. So it failed. Good idea, wrong time and execution. At least amongst millennials and zoomers in the US now, Dispo seems to have avoided that trap: the TestFlight beta is fully subscribed.

Listening Remembering 2020

I considered not making one of these playlists this year, but someone said that traditions are most worth protecting when everything else has changed. My instinct with traditions is sometimes just to snap old things off and find something new to do. Maybe a couple of years of therapy will tell me why, but until then, I figured it was pretty low stakes to just make one.

And to my surprise (happens every time), it was an enjoyable exercise and I’m reasonably happy with the result, even though it contains some really basic hits and I probably left out a whole lot of other great stuff.

One thing I noticed as I was pulling in favorites I’d saved throughout the year: there was a tendency towards quiet or mid-tempo songs this time around. Probably a reflection of staying home amidst an apocalypse unfolding in slow motion. In trying to balance that out, I rediscovered a few songs I’d saved but never got back to, like the opening song Don’t Die. As usual, I tried to build in continuity of themes and good transitions, and there are a few intentional jokes in the sequencing of titles.

Edit: Looking back, I discovered many of these songs serendipitously outside of recommendation engines and so on. Apple Music does offer personalized weekly new music picks, but I tend to find new songs by tuning in to the Apple Music 1 live radio station (née Beats 1), or checking in on their curated genre playlists. Algorithms, don’t trust them.

Listen on Apple Music | Spotify

  1. Don’t Die — NOBRO
  2. Shook Shook — Awich
  3. Cool With Me (feat. M1llionz) — Dutchavelli
  4. Inside Out — Grouplove
  5. Together — beabadoobee
  6. Mood (feat. iann dior) — 24kGoldn
  7. fuck, i luv my friends — renforshort
  8. you broke me first — Tate McRae
  9. PAIN — King Princess
  10. Say So (Japanese Version) — Rainych
  11. Laugh Now Cry Later (feat. Lil Durk) — Drake
  12. I Dunno (feat. Dutchavelli & Stormzy) — Tion Wayne
  13. Apricots — Bicep
  14. The Hill — Model Man
  15. People, I’ve been sad — Christine and the Queens
  16. Kids Again — Sam Smith
  17. Eugene — Arlo Parks
  18. Lover — G Flip
  19. Young Americans — Durand Jones & The Indications
  20. Lockdown — Anderson .Paak
  21. It’s Hard (feat. Email Sandé) — Giggs
  22. Show Me Love (feat. Miguel) — Alicia Keys
  23. snow jam — Rinne
  24. Holy (feat. Chance the Rapper) — Justin Bieber
  25. death bed (feat. beabadoobee) — Powfu
  26. Devil That I Know — Jacob Banks
  27. Believe — Anna of the North
  28. the 1 — Taylor Swift
  29. You’re Still the One — Okay Kaya
  30. Good News — Mac Miller

Comment section

Don’t Die — NOBRO
Not only a fun song with a great animated video, but an obvious message to open with? Don’t die!

Shook Shook — Awich
I don’t understand why someone whose husband died from being shot would make a song that appears to glorify gun violence, but it’s a banger.

Continue reading “Listening Remembering 2020”

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 44.20

  • Let’s get gadgets out of the way. The Backbone One is a USD$99 MFI controller and matchmaking/recording app to enable a more console-like gaming experience on iPhones. I saw a glowing review one evening before going to bed and signed up. I was 1,000~ on the waitlist then. Woke up to find the list had grown to 4,000~ people. It’s currently past 13,000. When your turn comes, you have 24 hours to make the purchase, and I think they’re releasing them in weekly batches of several thousand, so it’s not too late if you’re interested. I got in just before the weekend and mine is now with the USPS.
  • These clamp-on iPhone controller things are not new in any way, and I was never interested in any of them before (I mean, yuck), but the time seems right now. People say the Backbone’s hardware feels amazing, up there with Nintendo’s Joy-Cons. Add to that the large Apple Arcade library of games that support external controllers, the work Backbone’s done to create a socially enabled experience in their app, and the boom in online multiplayer mobile games like Fortnite (oops), Call of Duty Mobile, PUBG, and so on. I’m unusually excited to be getting one and can’t wait.
  • My AirPods Pro have been acting up, and this week Apple officially admitted to possible manufacturing defects with a replacement program. I took ’em down to the Jewel Changi Airport Apple Store to get replaced. Obviously I would have liked to visit Apple Marina Bay Sands but it’s booked solid to the point where you can’t even select it on the site. Huh. It’s just struck me that yes, both locations are iconic as you’d expect Apple Store locations to be, but they’re also just pretty amazing places in general? I’ll get to that later.
  • They only had replacements for one side, and I’ll be getting the other AirPod in the mail soon. One problem: I have to mail the broken AirPod back within 10 days or I’ll be charged something like S$130. A bit of a pain in the ass. Why can’t the courier who brings me the new one take the old one back while he’s here?
  • In any case, it was good to get out and see Jewel for the first time since the end of last year. It still amazes me how it doesn’t feel like anyone here is taking this pandemic seriously anymore when I go out and see people all walking close to each other and not washing their hands for 20 seconds in the bathrooms. Maybe they’ve all reached their limits and haven’t got any more patience for doing it right. That could explain the anti-lockdown protests going on in some parts of the world.
  • The new season of Somebody Feed Phil is out on Netflix, and Singapore is featured as one of the locations our hero visits to find out about the local food culture. We of course watched that episode first. And back to that comment earlier about pretty great places… he visits both the Marina Bay Sands and Jewel Changi Airport, because how could you not? And it takes these things to make me see from the outside in and realize these are spectacular places, period, and not just crowded spots downtown that surely aren’t that interesting to other people.
  • I have been and have also noticed others around me feeling sorta lousy (again). It was more pronounced in the first half of the week and probably stemmed from a lack of quality sleep. In addition to the usual migraines and backaches — that was me a couple of weeks back, but it’s gotten better on its own — there are more stories of anxiety and whatever the opposite of relaxed and content is.
  • We went to a cocktail bar over the weekend that works like a Japanese listening cafe: all vinyls, speaker cabinets, and a good eclectic selection of tunes.
  • I’m slowly getting over my dislike of K-Pop, and I think the new K/DA song has its hooks in me. I actually started playing League of Legends Wild Rift so now I know who the characters are at least.

Goodbye, 2016 MacBook Pro

In large companies, you measure time by project and work-based milestones, sure, but the mandatory password change pop-ups and automated ‘congratulations on your anniversary’ emails are also sure ways to know you’ve been around for awhile. One of the strongest signals of this sort is the New Laptop Ritual, which tends to happen once every three years, depending on the nature of the job and generosity (is this really the right word?) of your employer.

My laptop replacement was due at the beginning of the year, but I put it off because I was sick of lugging a 15” MBP around to external meetings, and thought it’d be a smarter idea to wait for the 13” refresh with the improved keyboard when it came out in the middle of the year. Andddd then the pandemic hit, and we started working from home. Without an external monitor, a 13” screen would be pretty difficult for a lot of what we do now (Miro) to mitigate the constraints of remote work.

For what it’s worth, I never had any trouble with the keyboard, and it’s been a pretty dependable machine… up until the last few weeks, when the bottom started becoming uneven from what’s probably a battery bulge (!), and so it rocks slightly whenever I try to type on it. If this were a personal machine, it’d now be out of AppleCare and getting it fixed for free at the Apple Store might not be a sure thing, potential fire hazard or not.

So I’ve put in an order for a new 16” MBP which I’ll be picking up tomorrow, and saying goodbye to this sticker collection — always the hardest part of moving on from a laptop or iPad.

When I started running out of space on the top, I moved to the bottom.