- 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’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.
- 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.
October 19–25 2020:
The new iPhone 12 Pro does not disappoint, and I was foolish to think that I could skip this year. Well yes the camera is only a little bit better, I have no 5G networks to make use of, and the previous A13 processor was already so fast that the massive speed improvements here are imperceptible, but it all adds up. The size is just right, and the flat-sided form factor is nearly flawless (remove the camera bump and we’re there). I love that I can hold it lengthwise between thumb and forefinger with perfect stability — whose stupid idea was it to have rounded edges for the last six years?
Last night I tuned into a two-hour-long livestream about the process of developing and designing a book. It was part of Craig Mod’s Special Projects club (a sort of self-managed Patreon), and the subject was his recently released Kissa by Kissa — How to Walk Japan, Book One.
I managed to snag one of the first edition copies, and it was fascinating to be walked through it almost page-by-page by the person who put it together. We were a small group of live viewers, shadowy presences felt through a chat box, learning about unsung details and BTS production setbacks that makes me see my copy very differently. For instance, the book is not the physical size it was meant to be, but a binding challenge meant that it had to be done by hand and everything grew by about 2mm in one direction. Parts of it are perfect, and others are honest reflections of the process. I don’t think I’ve ever held a book and appreciated it as a design object this much until now. And while I’d still love to have one of the new and improved second-edition copies, supporting small projects through the ups and downs of the journey is what Kickstarter purchases are supposed to be about. 🤷♂️
Oh, and some friends came over and we got an adorable early Christmas house gift. I’d never heard of this Jellycat brand, but I am apparently in the minority. It needs a name, any suggestions?
I’ve been drinking too much and still sleeping too poorly. Nevermind! One recent addition to the liquor shelf has been Luxardo Maraschino, which you never really see for sale out in the open here; I got some online. It mostly opens up possibilities for all my ryes and bourbons.
In all likelihood, I’d encountered the Japanese rapper Awich before because her name rings a bell, but wasn’t into what she was doing at the time. Now she seems to have made a bit of a leap forward. Her new Partition EP slaps? Is that what we say now? I went back and compared it to some of her earlier stuff, and the production is way better and she’s got a great flow. Also the videos are intense.
- We had a wedding in the family this week, which was planned to be in the UK, before things got unusual, and so took place in the local Botanic Gardens instead. Permits were obtained, numbers were restricted, and everyone wore face masks for most of it, but apart from that it was very nice.
- I brought my D-Lux 7 along and got some workable shots. I love that it has that old Panasonic trick of natively changing aspect ratios from the sensor instead of cropping, for when you need a wider angle. The alternative was the CL with 18–55mm Vario-Elmar which would have been useless in the evening (f3.5 and no IBIS). But by the time we were having drinks on a rooftop, the only camera that could reliably see anything was the iPhone 11 with its Night Mode.
- The weather service says we’re in for storms and 22ºC nights in the days to come, which is highly unusual here in Singapore. Standing out in the fading sun at the wedding after 5pm was a rather sweaty affair, to say nothing of being out at noon. I think the average nighttime temperature must be around 28–30ºC, so I’m looking forward to seeing this.
- Segue to things I’ve seen: the Snowpiercer TV series on Netflix. Am not a fan of any Bong Joon-Ho film I’ve seen apart from Parasite, so have not been keen to put the film on my list, but am slightly curious now that I’m done with the TV adaptation. It was not a complete waste of time. Fully expecting to be hit over the head with Themes will make it easier to go in, I suppose.
- Better things I can actually recommend: John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, and Roy Scheider. It’s even on Singapore’s Netflix so it must be widely available everywhere else. I’ve seen snatches of this on random late-night TV screens over the years, but never the whole thing. They don’t make them like this anymore — it’s generous with scenes and shots that exist just for world and character building, and you’d never say it needed tightening.
- Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound (2020) starring Tom Hanks is worth whatever Apple TV paid for it. I read an interview where Hanks said he was upset that the film wouldn’t get a theatrical release because it needed to be seen on a big screen. We saw it last night with the lights down, virtual surround sound bar cranked up, LCD backlight at maximum, and it was a thrill. Don’t see this one on your iPad.
- Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 (2019) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a gem of a hijack movie on Amazon Prime Video that’s practically a play. I know a couple of aviation nuts who’d love its opening minutes, devoted to the pilot and co-pilot’s pre-flight routine of checking meters and flipping switches amidst small talk. It’s a rarely seen moment on screen, rendered with a lavish amount of mundane detail and realism that sets the tone for a film that takes place almost entirely in the cockpit.
- 7500 got me looking for more quiet-but-intense films set at night or in relative darkness, because they’re perfect for watching in bed. I also quite enjoyed Into The Night, which makes me think maybe I just want more films set on planes? Anyway, this eventually led me to a subgenre of YouTube mood videos not unlike lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to, but a blend of rain sounds, faint jazz BGM, and cafe noises. Check this one out.
- I bought Ghost of Tsushima because I couldn’t resist a graphically gorgeous open-world game set in feudal Japan, Western gaze or not. One of my long-time wishes for the Assassin’s Creed series was for them to do a Japanese edition, but they arguably waited too long and now no one cares. This also marks the first time in at least six months that I’m turning my PS4 Pro on. The Switch can’t compete on looks, but not having to commit to significant time in front of the TV means a lot.
After not going on vacation or any breaks all year in 2019 (poor me, I know), I’m now coming off about three weeks of leave that began around Christmas. We spent some time in Taiwan, my first visit, and then I’ve been mostly chilling out on the couch absorbing a good measure of reading material, films both good and terrible, and games from the infinite backlog. I often dream of living out this life for an extended period — half a year at the very least, going past the point of crushing boredom and beyond, hoping to transcend such ideas and just tip over into blissfully inert hikkikomorish life — but now I think it’s unlikely to ever happen.
The closest I ever came was a period of freelancing over a decade ago, when I’d sometimes feel quite content with my modest bank account and calculate how it could be stretched for months if I just cut down on everything and went into a sort of social and nutritional hibernation. It was pre-Netflix, but I was living that life anyway, drowning in film and anime day and night. I think I did a much better job of being an employment refusenik then; I would probably freak out today if I was staring at a life of baked beans across the balance sheet. Deliveroo makes you soft.
So although I’ve not yet had enough of the leisurely, solitary life this time around, I think the inactivity has been getting to me. I’ve not done nothing, but this capitalist world has some part of me convinced otherwise because it’s creeping up in the unusual form of mini anxiety attacks: a sort of waking nightmare state in which I’m certain I’ve forgotten how to do things I took for granted when the momentum of routine life was behind them, “simple” things like leaving the house, speaking to other people, and remembering how to do my job.
I suppose I have a low-grade case of cabin fever. Or maybe just real fever. In the last couple of days I’ve found myself breaking out into a sweat apropos of nothing. Let’s see if I make it to the weekend.
I was told by several people to expect a Chinese version of Tokyo, which I disagree with although I can understand where they were coming from. Taipei’s restaurants, cocktail bars, convenience stores, etc. do take cues from their Japanese cousins, and there’s a non-coincidental reverence for the Japanese way there if I’m not mistaken. But it’s ultimately its own thing, and if Taiwan had a Merlion-like symbol, only more tangible and actually useful, it would be their night markets, frequented by both tourists and locals from what I saw. They’re not really for me — every 10 meters, I’d be hit by the smell of stinky tofu and it just ruined my appetite — but hey I get the appeal of the whole thing.
What did work for me was the hot pots. I’ve always been of the opinion that shabu-shabu is the one true hot pot, and couldn’t see the appeal of Hai Di Lao and its ilk in Singapore… but now after having been to Wulao in Taipei, I think I’m ready to accept that a Chinese incarnation of hot pot can be amazing.
I also took a bunch of photos with my neglected Fujifilm X100T, easily more than four years old now. It’s still a champ, and the lovely JPEG film simulations meant I could decide to spend very little time on edits and just let them do the work. Apart from the very slow autofocus, there’s a case to be made that no one really needs the new X100V iteration rumored to be launched next month. So I tell myself. The nice thing about being a naturally nervous freak having newer cameras and then bringing an older one out is how casual and carefree it lets me be. Bumps and scrapes don’t have to be big deals.
I only reached for the iPhone 11 Pro when it was dead dark (an f2 lens and APS-C sensor are still no match for Night Mode), raining (iPhones are better weather-sealed than almost any camera), or there wasn’t time to fumble the Fuji out of my bag (pocket beats shoulder strap). When you put it that way, the iPhone seems insanely hard to beat, but the Proper Camera was still noticeably better in many ways. In hard sunlight, my phones have always struggled with overexposure, with blown highlights and grittiness in the details even when you manually stop down. This year’s crop aren’t much of an improvement there, even with Smart HDR. So… here are some photos, most of them from the Fuji.