Hey reader, I hope you’re doing alright. I’ve had a pretty tough and unpleasant week, dealing with a personal crisis that I’m not particularly well equipped to handle, owing to… I don’t know, OCD? Control issues? Mild autism? Vestigial childhood hang ups?
Life comes at you fast: a couple of days ago I made a crack about how everyone seemed to be in therapy but me, and by the end of the week I was ready to seek professional help. In the grand scheme of things, the problem is/was minor; it just happened to stray into a zone beyond my tolerance — youngers would call it being triggered.
Talking to several people certainly helped: some who’ve been in a similar situation, others who I know have the same issue on occasion. Maybe I’ll embark on some longer plan of action to reduce my anxiety around this topic, but I’m doing better for the moment.
I mentioned Rosalynn Tay’s images at the Leica exhibition, A Celebration of Photography, last week. On Thursday we made it down again to hear her presentation about how she works. Amazingly, she only started taking photos eight years ago, when she decided to do it seriously and was recommended by a friend to walk into a Leica store and ask for an M camera with a 35mm Summilux as her first camera. I was stunned by the privilege, of course, imagine starting with an M and learning the craft on that. But nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, it shows real dedication to learning the physics and mechanics of photography!
She then admitted that she left the camera aside for the first two months, too intimidated to use it. Until she signed up for an introductory course offered by the store, which I used to find a strange service: why would new Leica buyers need to be taught photography basics? Surely all of them had already cut their teeth on lesser cameras and were now upgrading to the gold standard? And then I understood Leica’s customer base to be somewhat similar to any luxury performance brand. Not every Lambo buyer actually makes the most of them.
But not her, in any case. After that false start, she put in the time and curiosity and now has an incredible professional body of work to show for it.
Oh and we got this year’s Christmas tree! Some years we end up with trees that don’t smell particularly piney but this one has filled the place with a lovely scent already. Cubie seems to like chewing at its leaves so I’ve gotta watch out for that. One more worry on the pile.
Not a lot of music listening but I discovered dvsn’s new album Working On My Karma and it’s modern R&B I actually want to listen to for a second time. It’s on the OVO label if that helps convince you.
I didn’t buy any new gadgets on Black Friday but got quite a few Switch games on sale, including Persona 5 Royal. I never finished the original version on PS4, but perhaps I might now? (Who am I kidding)
My camera roll and expense tracker tell the story of a quiet week, mainly spent at home getting this cat to like me (I think it’s working) and not die by falling from the second floor or chewing electrical cables. She’s become more comfortable climbing up and down the stairs, and now joins us to watch TV in the living room without being forced.
Achievements yet to be unlocked: switching her to occasional dry food, giving her a bath, clipping her nails, trimming the fur around her butt, sitting still in my lap for more than a few seconds, and trusting her enough to be left roaming the house at night.
My Nintendo Switch profile tells the story of actually playing a game this week, completing Sifu at the Student difficulty level. I have not gotten the hang of parrying attacks and dodging combos, so I think my character was in his 40s when I beat the last boss. For those who haven’t seen it, it’s a cinematic martial arts game with a novel aging mechanic: each time your character dies, he/she is revived by a magic amulet that ages them by a year. So you can start the game in your 20s and finish as an old wizened kung-fu master in their 60s. Maybe even older! As you get older, your maximum health decreases but your attack strength increases, plus you unlock new skills along the way.
My Goodreads profile (you get the point by now) attests to my also finding the time to read again, finishing John Scalzi’s Kaiju Preservation Society which was a fun little side quest — it had seemingly been described by its author as a pop song, a necessary gift of levity to the world, written during Covid and referencing it (it’s not about Covid). That brings me to 12 books in 2022, short of my overly ambitious goal of 24. It’s like I forgot I was going back to work this year or something.
I spent more time in Mastodon this week as Twitter continued to burn. Musk’s comically shit handling of layoffs and code reviews that aren’t code reviews have been so absurd that there’s no more room for shows like Silicon Valley to parody it. Just like with The Onion and real news headlines these days. If science fiction imagines technological futures that we become compelled to realize, satire sends us towards irresistibly amusing hellscapes.
In doing so, I decided that my original Mastodon identity (which used “brandon” as a user ID) wasn’t great for people looking to find me, so I’m now at @firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s kinda dumb that you can’t change your user ID; I’m not sure if it’s a result of Mastodon’s federated model, having to support legacy links and all that. So the only way was to create a new account on a new server and “migrate” over. The migration process does NOT move your old posts, only your followers. If you want to follow the same people you did before, it’s an extra manual step of exporting and importing the database via a .csv file, and it’s not mentioned as part of the migration flow. I found out myself, after I had already manually re-followed everyone.
This is what people mean when they say Mastodon’s a little rough around the edges, but what open source software isn’t anyway? As software, as a service, I like it a lot already. As a community, as a place where I can find the opinions and recommendations I want, it will take time. And the final, unmistakable collapse of Twitter. I don’t think a critical mass of people will choose to use both at the same time.
My Apple Music listening history shows that I’ve enjoyed Fred again..’s latest installment in his Actual Life series. They are sort of mixtapes, except I’m not sure people in electronic music use that term? Anyway, Actual Life 3 (January 1 — September 9 2022) is great stuff; try it on your commute.
It’s that time of the year again, but we’re getting some actually good Christmas projects. Brett Dennen has a Christmas EP! And Jesse Malin, another longtime favorite of mine, has also rerecorded two older songs to put out as a two-track single entitled Xmas, Etc. Alicia Keys’s Santa Baby looks promising, but I haven’t been in the mood yet. The holidays still feel so far away.
However, Kim decided it wasn’t worth me waiting another month to get the new AirPods Pro as a gift I already knew about (nor worth her hearing me talk about them for another month), so Christmas came early! They’re actually a big improvement: the XS tip fits my problematic ear quite well, everything sounds both clearer and more fun, and the ANC is way more comfortable. I’ve never had a problem with the “pressure” that turns some people off noise canceling, but it’s so absent here thanks to the redesigned acoustic vents that… they feel open? It’s like how Transparency mode makes it feel like there’s nothing in your ears, but with silence.
On Sunday afternoon we visited an exhibition organized by Leica Singapore at Gillman Barracks, featuring some extraordinary work including Nick Ut’s famous “Napalm Girl” shot from the Vietnam war. We had a chance to speak with Rosalynn Tay about her evocative travel photography which I really loved (if they were NFTs I would have bought them on sight) and will probably attend her talk next week. The exhibition is on until Nov 27, registration seems to be required.
Caturday: We picked up our new ragdoll kitten (Cubie “QB” Catbot aka QBasic aka Cubit 3000 aka Yung Cubes aka Cubie Gooding Jr.) and the trip home was a lot less dramatic than I had psyched myself up to expect. No vomiting, screeching, weaponized feces or anything of that sort. Upon getting her home though, things were a little ambiguous. Introducing a cat to a new environment is massively stressful for them somehow — they are my spirit animals, I guess — and she took hours to come out from hiding under the bed and armchair of our guest room.
When I fed her later in the evening, she seemed to be afraid that the food wasn’t really hers to have. She ate a little and watched my reactions. Thinking maybe she needed to be alone, I left the room for over half an hour and hoped she would finish it. But instead, it was barely touched at all. Before taking it away, I thought I’d give it one last try. Sitting on the floor at her level, I nudged the bowl forward with my knuckles and waited. And finally for some reason she realized that it was okay and wolfed it all down in a minute.
The framework for all this in my mind, every minute, is that I am a giant ape and she’s a wild feline, and all our interactions are going to be weird by nature. I’ve been talking to her in a range of different pitches (as in tones, not propositions, but I suppose also propositions!) to get her used to what I sound like, explaining the absurdity of our situation: that she was bred to take the money that this ape has earned by doing advanced ape cognition tasks in an office environment, and although the ape now owns her in the eyes of a legal system, she’s really the boss at this very moment so could she please come out from under the bed?
Yes I’ve watched some Jackson Galaxy videos and read a bunch of articles. Yet her mind is still absolutely illogical and knowing what her tail movements mean only confuses matters. Ape and cat conventions are not very compatible! Instead of smiling and staring, you have to blink At them slowly and obviously to show you’re being friendly! Absurd stuff.
Despite the initial distance and wariness, which absolutely everyone has prepared us for and that I’m prepared to endure for days, she has at least shown that she’s comfortable enough to pee and poop in the allocated box on the first night. Which in some cases does not happen in the first, second, and maybe even third days. I’ll repeat this fun fact: cats can hold their pee in for days.
Reprogramming my aversion to messes, bacteria, excrement, and other catty chaos is going to take much longer. Yes I signed up for it, somewhat consciously. Some will say that this is character growth, but as I was fact-checking a joke before I made it, I discovered that it may also be parasitic growth that I need. You know that cats carry a single-celled brain-altering thing that infects mice and humans, right? It’s like a fungus that makes you like cats, and nudges your behavior in ways that serves cats. Given that I might be brainwashed by my new boss, I thought I’d look it up again and was surprised that 1) it’s really real and 2) for some reason we’re not all talking about this all the time.
They say something like ONE-THIRD of all humans on Earth are already infected with this parasite, which creates permanent cysts in the brain that mess with dopamine production, essentially making its victims (cat owners) more uninhibited and likely to take risks (and also more likely to cause car crashes). It’s like that Jeff Bridges film, Fearless, where he survives a plane crash and comes out with a devil-may-care attitude to life, except you’d call this one Furless? Sorry.
Anyway this parasite actually helps cats by infecting mice, which then become emboldened to step out in front of cats and become their dinners. It also makes the smell of cat feces attractive, luring them out. Not a stretch to imagine it also causes anxiety-ridden humans to be emboldened enough to let cats into their homes, creating new routines that they don’t really have time and energy for (sample size: one). Nature is truly terrifying and ingenious.
In humans, the article linked above says that infection with toxoplasma gondii supposedly increases the likelihood of them quitting their jobs and becoming entrepreneurs, and amongst entrepreneurs, the ones who have been infected earn an average $6,000 more per year than the ones who have not. I’m surprised people aren’t microdosing this stuff in Silicon Valley.
For reasons I can’t recall, the subject of Enneagram personality tests came up again at work; the last time this happened was maybe three years ago with a different set of people. I sat down to do the test at Truity.com and found that I was still the same: a Type 5. (Later, I would be told that your basic type doesn’t really change throughout life, so that’s another 15 minutes I won’t be getting back.)
Your highest scoring category is the “Type” you are, and once you have your results from Truity, you can look up what it means for free over at this page by The Enneagram Institute instead of paying $29 to Truity.
It gets more fun when you have people or some form of team to compare your type to, and explore your compatibility. Do I believe this stuff? Well, it’s not as bad as astrology: you basically provide the behavioral inputs and they make some logical assumptions about your preferred approaches to situations and tell you where you might be self sabotaging or not collaborating properly. So yeah I do find it pretty interesting, but then I would… because I’m a Type 5.
I am quickly finding out that owning a cat can be expensive (and this is even before the cat has arrived). So far we have purchased a grooming brush, a more extreme grooming brush for shedding season, a pair of nail clippers, a litter box and accessories, a motorized drinking fountain (TIL cats have evolved to prefer fresh moving water instead of stale water, so a regular drinking bowl will not suffice), an assortment of toys, a cat carrier, a reusable lint roller for our couch and other surfaces, a scratching pad — with still more to come, e.g. an automated feeder, a bed, anti-parasite medication, probiotic supplements, and on and on.
In the name of research I joined a couple of subreddits devoted to cats, and soon found myself sucked into a web of paranoia and anxiety. One poster said their “mental health plummeted after adopting a cat”, not because of any feline misbehavior, but their own neuroses — feeling chained to the cat and a routine of feeding it, playing with it, and cleaning up after it, afraid to leave it alone and feeling guilty whenever they stayed out late. While not feeling as unstable as them yet (there was a mention of crying all the way to the vet’s), I can definitely see myself having a miniature form of that reaction.
Add to that the cornucopia of diseases and mishaps that could threaten the life of our cat, and I’ve just bought myself a whole new world of things to worry about. Many of our house plants are also toxic to cats, and getting rid of them is starting to be a point of domestic disagreement. Cats are cute and companionable, they say, but no one mentions the conflict and debilitating despair.
We saw local band Sobs play live at the Esplanade on Friday, in an annex theater I didn’t even know existed on the premises, and this being Singapore of course it’s been named “The Annexe” — a word so vile my autocorrect tried twice to stop it happening. It was probably my first standing-only show since the pandemic began, and honestly plus a few more years on account of age.
But oh yes, Sobs were great! They played their new album, Air Guitar, which comes out digitally next Wednesday. The sound was, unfortunately, poor as is usual for the Esplanade: muddy, vocals obscured, keyboards absent; amateur hour. These artists deserve better, and I don’t know when they’ll do something about it. It’s honestly crossed my mind to switch careers to sound engineering and give it a go myself.
I tried taking some photos and video with my iPhone 14 Pro just to challenge it. The photos suffered from the same grainy artifacts around moving objects that I noticed before, where sharp but low-quality images are presumably getting stacked onto long exposure images of higher quality and lower noise. It’s an issue with the Photonic Engine process, probably, and maybe one that can be fixed in an update. I would rather have motion blur than such unevenness, but that’s subjective. The 4K video was surprisingly good: stable, clean, and bright even with the 3x lens.
I got some nice Twitter feedback from the devs on my Darkroom presets, and shared two more.
CPB: Short for Cross Process (Basic), a replica of the effect you get from the camera app Cross Process, a favorite of mine from the early days of the App Store by Nick Campbell. The app is still available for sale but is under new ownership now. This look is not subtle, with strong vignetting and center brightness, but a lovely blue/yellow bias that I suppose mimics cross-processed film (it’s been so long since I shot film I’ll take their word for it).
Clean Plate: A recipe designed to brighten up food photos and make them look a tad warmer and more appetizing. I use this often, sometimes it’s good enough on its own and sometimes it’s an appetizer.
There was a new Taylor Swift album this week in Midnights, and boy does it sound great. I’ve enjoyed only a single play through so far, but it struck me as having a very Jack Antonoff-y sound (or is it just the sound of American pop music today?) — if you close your eyes, you can mentally swap Taylor out and it becomes a new Bleachers record.
We saw the first two episodes of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime Video and it’s just about everything I hoped it would be. If you haven’t read the book yet, you may as well just go straight in without knowing anything. One cool thing Amazon’s done here is have a QR code (at least on the TV app) that takes you to a microsite with more info on the show’s characters, key locations, and technologies. A DVD booklet for a streaming generation. I expect it’ll get updated as new episodes come out weekly as well. Don’t read it until you’ve seen it!
We got a cat! Well, pretty close to it, more accurate to say that we have reserved a kitten from the breeder we were previously speaking with. The next few weeks will be spent buying essential equipment, clearing up some of the mess around the house that she might destroy, and then she should be with us by the end of the month.
Appearance wise, she is what’s known as a seal bicolor ragdoll, white with brown markings on her face and tail. I’ve discovered that this combination combines the most popular and most common traits in these cats, so in gachapon terms we’ve pulled a three-star kitten. Although you wouldn’t know she was a kitten from looking at her; several people who’ve seen photos have remarked “oh, so you’re not getting a kitten?” They grow up to become large cats, with females possibly reaching 6 kg and beyond.
We’re still thinking of a name (her dead name is Dewey) but already have a strong contender. In branding terms, this phase is what’s known as “writing the rationale after having found a name that sounds great but isn’t especially meaningful”. Aside: is it a bad idea to name your cat after a Microsoft product?
Darkroom (a photo editor I’ve used since it came out for iPhone — it now works as a universal app on iPad and Mac too) released their new update supporting the sharing of filters/presets. Early users of the app will remember that you could always share filters via a QR code, but this feature was removed a few years back when they switched to a new architecture. The way it works now is the preset’s details get uploaded to their server, generating a link that you can share. Anyone who clicks the link can see how your preset looks applied against four standard photos, and install the preset in their copy of Darkroom with a single click.
As someone who enjoys making presets in Darkroom, I’ve got a few that I would like to share with other users. I went through a phase of copying film looks from other apps like VSCO and RNI Films, as a sort of pastime, as I found it quite a soothing and mindless activity to switch back-and-forth between two photos and gradually nudge them closer together by adjusting sliders. Someone should make a game around that mechanic!
This week’s update was written via voice dictation on my Mac — with a few minor corrections. And that’s with a sore throat, stuffed nose, and raspy voice! As far as I can tell it’s not Covid, just this drawn-out flu that’s been getting quite a few people. On that note, Covid cases are once again rising here in Singapore due to the new XBB variant.
I can’t wait to upgrade to Ventura, assuming that it will have the same voice dictation enhancements as iOS 16. I wonder if this post reads differently, stylistically, given that I am saying this out loud rather than typing it. Related to that, I am now reading the book Because Internet by Gretchen McCulloch (oh my God I can’t believe dictating that name out loud worked — I await the day this happens for Asian names). It’s about how language has been changed by the Internet and Internet culture (one of the things that involves is not capitalizing the word Internet, but macOS has seemingly not been informed).
What a good week it’s been for reading: I finished Adrian Tchaikovsky’s One Day All This Will Be Yours and went on to finish Blake Crouch’s Upgrade two days later. With this post-Seveneves sprint, I should be able to finish the year with a not-embarrassing 12 books or more.
I recommend both books by the way, the former being an unusual and fun time travel/time war story, and the latter another one of Crouch’s written-for-film-rights thrillers (his earlier novel, Dark Matter, is in production for Apple TV+). It is better than the film Limitless, but nowhere as great as Ted Chiang’s (dictation failed here) short story Understand. As you may already have guessed, the story is about a man whose genetic make up gets altered, giving him new abilities.
We had a funeral ceremony at work to say goodbye to the brand we all joined, which has now been subsumed into a larger new corporate brand. Everyone who could physically make it turned up and we ate pizzas, drank beers, and told stories about the last five years. We didn’t exactly put the fun in funeral but it was a thoughtful and appropriately introspective end.
I brought my new and underused Ricoh GR III along to document the moment. If I’d purchased the IIIx I originally wanted instead, I’m not sure it would have worked as well. 28mm and 24mp is a pretty good setup for capturing everything and then being able to crop in to interesting parts if needed. The only thing better would have been a 48mp Leica Q2.
Why didn’t I just use my iPhone and its new 48mp sensor? Firstly, I wanted to be intentional about it, and having a dedicated tool in hand prompts you to keep looking out for pictures. So I did end up taking more photos than anyone. Secondly, the vibes are not comparable. Comparing them with colleagues’s photos, the ones from iPhones are clear, sharp, and clinical. The Ricoh alternately underexposes, blows out highlights, focuses on the wrong thing, and occasionally white balances like daylight film when you’re indoors. These “choices” and limitations are beautiful, as is the rich detail from its large APS-C sensor; no neural network is filling in the blanks here. iPhones document things the way they happened; dumber cameras still somehow capture the way we’ll actually remember them. Or I’m just old and like things to look old too.
As I type this, we are watching Apple Music’s “live” stream of Billie Eilish performing at the O2 Arena. It’s been billed on the Browse page as a live performance (not inaccurate), but since it starts at 10am SGT (3am in the UK), this was clearly not going to be live in real time. So it turns out this is a pre-recorded concert film from the end of her tour, just now making its premiere on the service. It’s a good one though!
I mentioned before that we’ve been thinking of getting a cat. I also posted a photo of a ragdoll that a friend owns, whose home we’d visited as a sort of allergy test. I never really knew about cat breeds before this, but ragdolls seem lovely and are reportedly as chill and affectionate as they come. Things are escalating quickly: we submitted an inquiry to a breeder about the possibility of adopting one of their “retiring” adults, and this week had a call with them about the details.
But they don’t have any suitable retirees at the moment, only a kitten with a congenital physical anomaly — still in good health for the moment — which may develop into a problem requiring more care later in life. As people with no recent cat-owning experience, it’s not a decision we can make lightly.