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 10.21

  • Others may have been better informed, but I wasn’t expecting to ever see a sequel to Coming To America, a movie I watched many times as a kid (in censored form, I am now learning) and memorized a lot of lines from. But here one is, thanks to Amazon Prime Video. We rewatched the original and the sequel back to back, which was surreal because everyone’s aged for real. CGI and makeup in movies get you accustomed to a certain Oldbooth facsimile of aging, and what real life does to a face is just something different. Coming 2 America is more a fanservice celebration of the original than a new movie, and that’s fine. Its musical performances are very good, and I was very pleased with the final scene, I’ll say that much.
  • Went in to the office twice this week, which might be a new record. I’ll admit that collaborating in person can be a lot faster and less annoying. The audio compression and lag that Microsoft Teams introduces to speech feels unnatural; it also tends to cuts out whenever two people try to speak at the same time. Is it a side effect of noise canceling algorithms? Would it work better if everyone was on headphones? Successful, high bandwidth collaboration requires people being able to (sparingly) talk over each other at some point in time, I think.
  • I’ve mentioned being tired several times on this blog in the last few months, which must mean that I’ve done it countless times in real life. This year will be my 12th working without a break longer than a two-week vacation. I’ve noticed a lot of the people I follow talking about how exhausted and stressed they are, and I’m sure the feeling is going around. It’s probably a good idea to hit the brakes if/when you can. Pushing it for too long without stopping to learn and reboot only leads to working cynically, recycling old ideas, and chasing highs that are harder to come by until one day you’re suddenly out of touch and no use to anyone. I’ve wanted to go on a sabbatical for quite a while, and despite many reservations I think it’s the right move.
  • Inevitably, I’m wondering how much of my contentment is wound up in being useful to others. Even when I freelanced, I was ‘doing a good job’ regularly and acknowledged for it. Not doing anything at all, I might go crazy in a month. Or wind up even more upset?
  • To be fair, there was also quite a bit of social activity this week, which is a surefire way to wear me out. Either that or the attendant alcohol. I count four nights out and have the Dispo pictures to prove it.
  • Pete Yorn, who I’ve seen dismissed by some snobs but whose songs are carved into memory from my formative years, has a new covers album out called Pete Yorn Sings the Classics. These include Here Comes Your Man, More Than This, Lay Lady Lay, and Moon River. I’ve played it through once so far and am looking forward to hearing some of them again.

Week 9.21

Hi again, we’re almost 9 weeks into the year which feels about right in terms of how long we’ve been at it, but not really when you consider net output. I’m still in a mental state of January. Unintentionally, this issue seems to have formed itself around the themes of nostalgia and work.

• For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been unable to get Debbie Gibson’s We Could Be Together (1989) out of my head. It can surface in the morning as I’m brushing my teeth or at any other time, like during a Zoom call. I said on Twitter that it might be down to how the song brings me back to a simpler time. It’s an escape hatch from the onslaught of today’s complexity and drudgery, straight into a corner of childhood memory where the days were long but full of possibility.

That brought me back to my old Tolerable 80s mix on Apple Music, which I’ll now try to update a little bit. Forgive the fact that some liberties are being taken: there’s at least one song from the late 70s and another from the early 90s.

While doing this, I discovered I’ve never heard Cyndi Lauper’s first album from 1984, She’s So Unusual in its entirety, just the hits like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Time After Time, and All Through The Night. It’s a pop debut with astounding, timeless songwriting. Her cover of Prince’s When You Were Mine, one of my all-time favorites, is crystal meth icing.

• I was absentmindedly reading the Substack newsletter bookbear express, by a random person named Ava that I follow on Twitter, when the album’s first track came on. In a neat coincidence, Cyndi sang “money, money changes everything” over her essay on work done out of love and how to square it with making a living. Around the same time, this article from Ness Labs about the fallacy of “work-life balance” arrived in my inbox. It argues that the definition of work can’t be limited to your day job, because things that take up time and energy, like caring for a loved one, can feel like work as much as life. If the lines are going to blur, then instead of chasing balance one should embrace that fate will deliver a rollercoaster of work and life extremes over time.

I don’t think it’s complicated. When someone says they want more work-life balance, it usually means their non-negotiable employment has crossed some boundary too many times, leading to a state of joylessness (Life-lessness). This isn’t a case where love is in the picture; people would bend and square the boundaries themselves if it was. Nor is it likely about being so in love with your work that finding time for life becomes a struggle. This is about people being squeezed. Being able to sustainably protect your boundaries is a privilege that comes from power. Seeking work-life balance means seeking leverage against external systems. At the end of the path is either profound love or liberating apathy.

“I want more life, fucker”

• I can’t remember when or how I started following Ava, but at some point I found a cluster of young tech people in California. When articles started coming out about a COVID exodus from San Francisco, I was already seeing it play out on my Twitter feed.

Finding and interacting with random people on the internet continues to be one the greatest perks of being alive at this point in history. A conversation yesterday (okay, more like one-sided lecture) with some kids born in the 1990s led to the discovery that they didn’t know what Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were. Feeling very old, I told them about growing up with computers that weren’t even networked. And when they finally were, how we would use modems sitting atop our PCs to phone other people’s PCs, and browse text-based UIs they’d set up for trading files and leaving messages for other guests. Because most BBS operations only had one phone number, a Friday night could be spent mostly trying all the ones you knew about until you found a line that wasn’t engaged.

They were proto-websites, built for one intimate visit at a time, and I have fond memories of the basic BBS I set up for friends to visit. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’d abandoned the local BBS scene for the absolute expanse of the internet, where you could chat with people in real time, anywhere in the world. I think it’s always good to reflect and take in the staggering perspective of what our simple brains have had to adapt to in one lifetime.

Maybe I should make a social networking site or app that replicates the BBS experience. Only 10 people allowed in at once? One person per city?

• The elder millennial story hour actually began when I realized that Jed McCaleb, creator of Ripple (XRP) and Stellar (XLM), also made eDonkey and Overnet, P2P file sharing networks that I used the hell out of in the early 2000s. “What’s eDonkey?”, John asked to my absolute shock. He was probably six years old while we were ripping, mixing, and burning. On hindsight, it makes total sense McCaleb moved in that direction. I think my exposure to Overnet’s decentralized network technology back then made it easier for me to grasp blockchain concepts years later.

• More Dispo photos were taken this week, practically on the daily. I have a short wishlist for feature improvements: 1) EXIF info embedded in each exported photo, 2) a 3:2 aspect ratio option to match actual 35mm disposable film photos because 16:9 is super weird, and 3) a fixed focus option that overrides autofocus and just locks to 3 meters or something, so it’s instant when you hit the shutter and some shots will be beautifully out-of-focus every now and then.

• On Wednesday, I left the house and met with some colleagues past and present that I hadn’t seen in awhile. We went to Vatos, a Korean-Mexican place that does margaritas with makgeolli, which are exactly as sweet as they sound. It was great to see them again, which got me thinking about the central role social tools like Telegram have in helping to maintain these connections. Can you believe that we’d once have to make voice calls to each of these people to organize a quick dinner hangout?

I’d like to add Dispo to that list of tools, because shooting a shared photo album is a new interaction that might help to keep people in touch although they’re apart. I’ve started a private roll with that group to experiment, but the uptake may be a little slow.

• I got just a disappointing 15 minutes of videogame time in this week. Looking at the Switch’s upcoming release calendar, I hope to have more free time in the middle of the year for Japanese mystery visual novels and the remastered Skyward Sword, a game I never allowed myself to get on the Wii on account of not having completed Twilight Princess.

• Disney+ launched and we signed up to have a look. The catalog is a little better than I expected because the local incarnation includes content from a company called Stars that I’ve always been vaguely aware of from their movie channels on the cable TV in hospitals. Stars brings the kind of older Hollywood films that Amazon Prime Video in the US seems to be good for, but that we don’t have here.

I woke up this morning and suddenly remembered the 1994 Alec Baldwin “superhero” film, The Shadow, based on a radio series from around the WWII era. I had to see it. It wasn’t on any service except the iTunes Store: $5 to rent and $15 to own. This kind of nonsense is why streaming services still can’t offer an experience as good as eDonkey once did.

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.

Week 6.21

  • Been feeling pretty crap, so it was good that we went out and got me some air this week. Early in the week we visited the Gardens By the Bay at night, to err… see some dahlias. Apparently they’re a thing appropriate to the Chinese New Year season. The iPhone 12 Pro’s night mode and ProRAW came in pretty handy.
  • Sunday was a day for some exhibitions. Somehow, I’d never been (or can’t remember having been) to the Gillman Barracks “art precinct” — don’t ask me what makes a precinct versus a district or development. In any case, old British-era army barracks turned into galleries.
  • Having been stuck at home or familiar places for most of the last few months, my cameras haven’t been getting much use. The Leica CL was selected for this particular excursion and boy is it a joy to use; mostly because I shoot in Program Mode and don’t have to fiddle very much.
  • I didn’t listen to music for many days. I got into Clubhouse thanks to a kind mutual named Brian Li on Twitter, and spent many hours just listening to people talk in various irritating ways that reminded me of being on conference calls. But at least now I can leave at will and pick the subject matter.
  • Most of my Clubhouse time has been spent in crypto-related rooms, and if you follow any of it, last week was a fairly interesting period. Various DeFi assets rose by a large factor, and then the week closed with Michael Saylor/Microstrategy’s annual World.Now conference which was aimed at helping other corporations ‘connect their balance sheets to the Bitcoin network’. Oh yeah, and Elon Musk toyed around with Dogecoin and lots of people bought it (it’s now technically the next week and Tesla just declared a $1.5bn investment which has sent the BTC price to $44,000).
  • A revelation: the more time I spend reading articles, watching YouTube videos, and listening to Clubhouse conversations about crypto, the more I understand what it’s like to be radicalized online. There’s a gradual envelopment into a new worldview that quickly becomes the default. And when you start to read something that argues the opposite, you want to close the window. Catchy phrases that embody the core philosophies spring forth in your head in response to triggers you hear (e.g. going to the moon, hardest money in the world, stack sats). You can’t imagine what it’d be like to not believe. Of course things will play out this way! How is it so many people can’t see the future when it’s right in front of them?

Week 2.21

  • “I’m looking forward to … reading a whole lot next week” — said everyone who ended up doing nothing of the sort. Hopefully I’ll get around to it in the first few days of next week while I’m still on vacation time.
  • You know how you try to avoid visiting the part of town where your office is on weekends and public holidays? It’s tainted ground; a place where neither levity nor leisure can survive within a kilometer’s radius of your desk until years after you move on; a commercial real estate Chernobyl invisibly blackened by exposure to Outlook and your own psychic stress. Well, I’ve got a leak of that sort in my upstairs study where I now work from home. I’ve found myself not wanting to even look at its door this week. It’s funny. Maybe I need to rent another place to live.
  • One thing we did manage to do: finish all available episodes of Billions! I love it, because the writing just loves to wallow in its own proud pen of audacious pretension. It’s the kind of show where dialog doesn’t strive to be realistic; it strives to be good.
  • Not even in the same country, let alone ballpark, but a lot of my week probably went to watching crypto price tickers as if they were live sports I actually cared about. It’s a fascinating hobby. As the numbers go up and down, it’s not unlike a ball being dribbled up and down a pitch, except sometimes there’s a goal and you’re not quite sure whether it benefits your team or the opponents.
  • It only took three months, but we finally visited Apple Marina Bay Sands, Singapore’s third Apple Store to not sell HomePods. As it was a weekday afternoon, there was practically no queue and we were in within minutes. It’s a lovely space, and probably better experienced on a less cloudy day, at night, and without COVID procautions. But these days I hardly see the need to buy these things in person anyway. They only had a few AirPods Max units out for testing (not sale, as they’re backordered everywhere), and that’s probably the only thing apart from watch bands that I might want to try in person first. Yes, you can return any online order within two weeks, but I think that’s pretty wasteful from a logistics and refurbishment perspective.
  • I decided to keep my AirPods Max after all. They are just too much of a joy to listen with. I saw the rumor about the cheaper and lighter “sport” version still being in play and perhaps releasing sometime this year, with plastic in place of metal. I think lighter is a feature that should cost more, not less, and if they really maintained the same audio quality in a cheaper AND lighter package, I’d be pretty mad. But I didn’t want to wait around for a product that may never come, so.