Week 15.22: Location apps

I’ve been a user of Foursquare, and then Swarm, for many years. Since November 2009, says my profile page. I know that I’m giving an advertising company too much information about my location, movements, and preferences. But there’s definitely a value exchange here. Without this “lifelog”, I couldn’t remember everywhere I’ve been, or the last time I was at such and such a place. And there have been occasions where I was able to, quite magically, summon the name of a great restaurant in another city and immediately see how it’s been doing since, so that I could recommend it to a friend.

I’ve been a fan of location-based apps and social networks since maybe 2006 or 2007, when I got my first Nokia that qualified as a smartphone. I especially recall an app named Brightkite that existed briefly. It allowed for serendipitous moments like going to a foreign country and seeing tips and reflections left around the city (maybe in your hotel!) by a friend who’d come the same way years before. Swarm still allows for this experience today, and it evokes a kind of love.

One day, Brightkite malfunctioned and read my GPS location as being in Tokyo, just for a moment. I think it allowed me to see people and their check-ins in the mistakenly assumed area, and so I interacted with some of them… giving them stars or a follow or whatever. One such stranger became part of my permanent friends’ list, and when I migrated to Foursquare, she ended up on my list there too. It’s now over a decade later, and we are still weirdly and peripherally aware of each other’s lives, on Swarm and Instagram, without ever having spoken. It’s a distanced closeness that could only happen with the internet. Once, when I happened to be visiting Tokyo on holiday, we were both checked in around the Ginza area at the same time. We may have crossed paths; I’ll never know.

Screenshot of the Superlocal app, taken off their website

This week, an app called Superlocal came to my attention via a crypto/web3 newsletter called Milk Road that’s worth subscribing to, if that’s your thing. Suoerlocal seems like an attempt to remake Swarm with a new revenue model. Like many web3 ventures, instead of selling your data to advertisers, it tries to support itself by being intrinsically financial: checking in and providing quality photos earns you tokens called LOCAL (which may someday have value), and being the mayor of a place doesn’t only earn you derision/respect, but also some LOCAL whenever people check in. How does money enter the ecosystem? Becoming the mayor of a place means minting an NFT for it. It’s currently in an early access phase, which also requires an NFT (or invite from a friend) to gain entry.

I have mixed feelings about all this, as I do with NFTs and web3 in general. We should definitely explore new business models and build services that don’t rely on users making a privacy compromise. If a small group of super engaged users can fund the experience on behalf of everyone, and be happy doing it, all the better. But at least in this iteration, we’re just trading one problem for another. For instance, holding a bunch of mayorship NFTs in your Ethereum wallet doxxes your location and behaviors too, and probably in a worse way because they’re public for anyone (instead of just Foursquare Inc. and a couple hundred of their favorite clients) to see. This stems from the poor privacy design of Ethereum, of course, but it’s now the biggest smart contract blockchain so what are gonna do? There are still so many things that need to be done differently for this technology to scale and be safe and easy enough for everyone to use. That means I don’t believe Superlocal is going to become ubiquitous any time soon, but hopefully we’ll all learn what and what not to do as they keep building.

Until then, I’ll still be checking in on Swarm.

PS: I’ve been told about the virtues of using Google Maps’ Timeline, which also lets you keep a log of your movements each day, but without the social and gamey elements. I tried it briefly, but it was less fun, and I’ve been quite successful so far in cutting all the Google out of my life. Yes, I’m aware my rules seem arbitrary and illogical.


Media activity:

  • Finally finished the book How To Do Nothing after about two months, which isn’t the positive review it appears to be. I found it such a joyless and obtuse slog that I fought myself every time I thought to pick it up and finish it. And because I have a dumb rule about not reading two books at the same time, that blockage has fucked up my Goodreads annual challenge for the year. A lot of catching up to do and I don’t think I will.
  • Started a new book anyway, Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief, which is billed as Oceans Eleven meets The Farewell.
  • Watched Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile. Dreadful. He’s done some work in the past that I truly loved, but this has little to recommend it. The art direction is slipshod, with CGI background compositing that looks straight out of the CD-ROM FMV games era, and the radioactive Armie Hammer is in one of the lead roles. Branagh’s Poirot is also mysteriously unlikable and inconsistent, with a couple of rude and temperamental outbursts that feel like if Superman suddenly gave someone on the street a middle finger.
  • Severance on Apple TV+ is not dreadful. Mild spoilers follow. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, and the first episode takes awhile to get going, but it’s really excellent. This despite veering a little close to corny with some scenes on the “severed floor”. The sinister, faux 70s megacorp with forced cheerfulness felt copped from the environmental storytelling of games like Portal, Fallout, and Bioshock, and maybe the Dharma Initiative out of Lost.
  • Now out on Apple Arcade is Gear.Club Stradale which was teased during their last online event, and I’m very much enjoying it with my Backbone One gamepad. The original Gear.Club was an okay free-to-play racer on iOS which was later released on the Nintendo Switch as a premium game (no in-app purchases). It also got a sequel on consoles, but I don’t know how that went. This new iteration is streamlined: it’s all set in Italy, and the UI lets you move quickly around the workshop and upgrade your cars without having to fiddle around in too many submenus. Instead of the usual giant catalog with tons of cars to swipe through, a small selection of up to three cars for sale, refreshed daily. This is a superior design for a game intended to be played in short bursts over a period of time. Ping me if you want to join my crew!

Week 14.22

We got used to wearing masks all the time. But then as of this week, they became no longer mandatory (I’m not using the word “necessary” yet because who knows) when outdoors. So when I finally left the house without a mask, and walked amongst other people still choosing to stay masked, it felt both weird and wrong. Did I get the date wrong? Was I the bad guy? Were they staring at me the way they would an anti-vaxxer or Covid denialist? It doesn’t help that no one seems sure what “outdoors” really means. Some think that includes elevators on the outside of buildings. What about an open-air food court where you’re talking to people, hovering over trays and cutlery?

I wondered if it was better to just keep wearing one anyway, for the anonymity benefits, but then remembered that people I hadn’t seen in many months were still recognizing me with a mask on. The deep state wants gait analysis systems everywhere for a reason oh god I’m one of them now aren’t I?


We had to run an errand near the Ghim Moh area and ended up eating at the hawker center there, which I haven’t been to in quite possibly a decade. Prior to going, we found YouTube video tours of the place, highlighting all the essential and famous stalls: selling braised/roast duck rice, chai tau kueh, satay beehoon, Hokkien mee, and wanton mee. But I can never resist the siren song of Tong Fong Fatt chicken rice, so that’s what I got.

All this to say I’ve been living in a tremendous bubble these past couple of years, and visiting a hawker center is now a novel experience. The last one was Amoy Street a couple months back when Rob was in town (I also ate Tong Fong Fatt, come to think of it), and that was the first in a long time.


A couple of weeks ago, we swapped out our Nespresso Essenza Mini machine for a Pixie model and I neglected to mention it because how absolutely boring do these updates need to be, really? Short on content this week, I bring it up because it’s turning out to be a markedly better experience and that annoys me. You see, all Nespresso machines are essentially the same from a brewing standpoint. They push the same amount of heat, water, and pressure through a pod. It doesn’t matter if you buy the basic model or the one that goes over $500. Milk frothing capabilities aside, all the differences are artificial.

The basic Essenza mini has a smaller water tank and trash bin, so you’re forced to fiddle with it and clean up daily. The Pixie increases both of those metrics, so using it incurs less mental load, which feels great! But holding more water (and adding some cosmetic metal parts, who cares) translates to a 42% price premium! Ridiculous, but we already knew that about the business model. Anyway I don’t want to be looking after a proper espresso machine so I’m still a happy customer, I just hate false upgrade trees.


Media activity:

  • Apple TV+ is hitting its stride. There’s suddenly now too much to see and too little time.
  • Coda won Best Picture at the Oscars this week, so I’ll need to watch that soon.
  • Pachinko is not bad at all, and getting great reviews in the local press. But I say this not having read the book.
  • WeCrashed continues to be quality despite the presence of Jared Leto, as mentioned before. The founders are presented as so out of control/out of touch with reality that I find myself physically cringing from embarrassment.
  • Suspicion has ended, and it wasn’t a strong finish. I’d put this lower in the queue if you haven’t seen it.
  • But the absolute best show I’ve seen on Apple TV+ in the past few months is Slow Horses. Do not miss this. It’s a British spy thriller starring Gary Oldman that quite perfectly balances being serious/thrilling and funny (not in a silly way, thankfully).
  • After finishing Top Boy, we learnt that there are two prior seasons on Channel 4 from back in 2011, and the Netflix-produced seasons are technically Seasons 3 and 4. The previous series (only 4 episodes each, in line with that worst of British traditions: the short season) are supposed to be on Netflix, renamed Top Boy: Summerhouse, which sounds like a bad reality dating show*. But only Season 2 has been added to the local library so far, with no signs of the first season yet.

* We’d probably watch it, to be honest.

Week 13.22

  • It’s a new pandemic record for me, leaving the house six times this week. Also the government announced further relaxations on the way. As of March 29, masks will no longer be required outdoors, and people can get together in groups of 10, up from 5. Most importantly for some, alcohol sales after 10:30pm will finally be okay again, so that hopefully means the end of taxi surge pricing around 10pm, and also longer hangouts I guess. It’s a weird rule that started very early on in this, and that I sort of appreciated as an older person who didn’t really want to stay out getting wasted past midnight anymore.
  • Two of those times were dinners to celebrate an occasion, which meant massive caloric intake. To balance it out, I’ve had a couple of lunches this week that were just peanut butter sandwiches. I haven’t had peanut butter outside of an ice cream flavor in years, which now seems like a waste of a life. It’s awesome!
  • We’ve been binge watching Top Boy on Netflix. It’s a UK gangland sort of thing, and extremely good (and I don’t normally go in for depressing inner-city stories about drugs and thugs). Like, at no point would it occur to you that it looks like British TV, if you know what I mean. But it sure sounds like it, and now I’m mentally adding “fam” and “bruv” to the end of every sentence I say.
  • It’s been about a month since I’ve properly read a book. Unless you count Ace Attorney Chronicles, and why wouldn’t you? It’s 99% reading slow-assed text crawling over a screen, accompanied by a handful of the same character animation loops on top of a smaller handful of backgrounds. I’ve started the second game now, but it’s beginning to wear me out. So I’ve started Mark of the Ninja, which is a 2D stealth platformer currently on sale for $4.99.
Paper money in a clear plastic sheath. It reads: The Government of the Straits Settlements promises to pay the bearer ten cents on demand at Singapore. Local currency for value received. 11th October 1919.
  • Speaking of money, dropping by to see my parents usually throws up more stuff I’m meant to help clear out or take a look at. This week we found some antique money from my granddad’s collection. Tarnished lumps of metal I’m told are ancient Chinese money. You can’t even call some of them coins because they’re… thick and rectangular? Might let them sit in some Coke for a bit and maybe they’ll come out shiny again. We also found this paper note for 10 cents, dated 1919. Singapore The Nation didn’t even exist yet, of course, so it was legal tender of the “Straits Settlements” government. I doubt it’s worth anything, but it might be a nice prop for kids studying local history. I think it would have added some color to my dull classes back in the day, when the idea of a chaotic “Before” felt hard to connect with modern reality.
  • I also found a bunch of old books that I’m thinking of giving away to the free community library in my building, the kind where you can take or leave anything you want. Except it doesn’t exist yet, so that’s another project I want to get going on in the next few weeks.

Week 12.22

It’s probably time to admit I’ve gone too far with collecting 0xmusic NFTs and need to stop. It’s the euphoria of coming across something additive, with an actual concept, after feeling negative about all the crap out there. Even then, there has to be limits. This week I bought a couple more and spent some time fooling around in GarageBand just making sure I don’t have any latent music production talent. Almost sure now. Will do a couple more tracks next week before I call it. Here’s an earlier noodle, based on “Syn City”.

But hey if you like the band Blonde Redhead, you might be interested to know that the 0xmusic team was inspired by them in creating the style of the “Serena” series. On the anniversary of the album Misery Is A Butterfly, they airdropped a pair of professionally mixed songs to holders, and published this article on the band and their music.


We had lunch at a place called Lad & Co. (unsure, but likely unrelated to the other chip shop called Lad & Dad) where a large haddock and chips costs S$29. I had to text Rob and ask what a comparable serving costs in the UK these days, and as it turns out… about the same, upmarket! Although you can always find some for less in grubbier places. I don’t know why I was surprised by how much it’s risen in the last few years. Long gone are my student days of getting a takeaway cod and chips for £4.

On the way back, we heard a program on the radio about inflation. On top of rising electricity costs that affect everyone, restaurant operators are getting it on several fronts from ingredient supplies to labor shortages. The head of a charity was saying that in some hawker centers a single fishball now costs 80 cents. Even the humble Gardenia brand loaf is up from $2.40 to $2.60. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the cost of eating out go up 30% over the next year. This was topped off with a worrying factoid I’d never heard before: 15–20% of Singaporeans might be suffering from food insecurity.

Right after that, I happened upon the physical front page of the national newspaper (it’s been awhile) and guess what was on it? Tips on how to survive the rising costs of living. Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as Bloomberg’s take yesterday.


Media activity:

  • Got back into Billions where we stopped in Season 5, and have now finished that, ready to go into 6. I’ve never bothered to watch past the first episode of Succession, which people say has great writing. That pilot just showed awful rich people who weren’t any fun. The Billions team definitely has fun with their reprehensible characters, always grandstanding and speaking through cute references alternately aimed at Gen X and millennial audiences.
  • Also had a bit of a true crime spree on Netflix, finishing Bad Vegan over the weekend, plus an episode of Worst Roommate Ever. If you thought The Tinder Swindler had a crazy con going, this one exceeds it. Too easy to think these people are dumb and being told what they want to hear; more unpleasant to wonder what scams you’re falling for in your own life.
  • The first three episodes of WeCrashed on Apple TV+ exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly not high because of Jared Leto’s reputation. But he kinda nails his impression of Adam Neumann and his reality distortion field, a place somewhere between charismatic and cancerous that isn’t too dissimilar from all those other true crime/con shows.
  • Kim was busy, so I finally watched a film that she would absolutely have hated: Mandy, starring Nicolas Cage. Okay, I suspected I was going to hate it as well. It wasn’t as superb as some reviews made it out to be, but I enjoyed the progressive melting down (of both film logic and Nicolas Cage) after the central tragedy, ending in a surreal otherworld that perhaps goes on too long. 3/5 stars.
  • More contrarian film reactions: I enjoyed Don’t Look Up and didn’t think it was so heavy handed as to be off putting. I’d suspect that maybe I’ve lost all taste, but I didn’t love Spider-Man No Way Home last week, so that can’t be it.
  • Finished Episode 5 of Ace Attorney Chronicles. That means I’m done with the first of the two games in the collection. Undecided if I’ll keep going right now.
  • Listening to: Charli XCX’s new album Crash.

Week 11.22

  • I met Mavis and Cong for drinks one last time at 28HKS before they went on back to Tokyo. I may have mentioned before, but they emigrated just before the pandemic began and were only now able to come back for a visit. Several times this week it occurred to me just how much time has passed since this began, and it’s a very slippery concept.
  • I’ve been playing Wordle for 60 consecutive games now, and it’s become a hard habit to quit. The day often can’t proceed until I’ve cleared it. But now I’ve found Semantle and it’s a very different sort of game; one might not even be able to finish it daily. Instead of guessing a word by spelling, you throw out words until you find one semantically similar to the secret word, and then try to close the gap. I’m still trying to figure out how best to play.
  • Spider-Man No Way Home was finally seen, and while it was “fun”, it also felt “off”. The pacing was lumpy, awkward dialogue beats were passed off as comedy too many times, and some transitions/events were just lazy and illogical. That said, it’s the rare film where the actors playing teenagers really do pass for younger.
  • Emboldened by how The Weekend Away last week surpassed our expectations of a Netflix Original movie, we decided to watch Alyssa Milano in Brazen, (also based on a trashy novel) about a writer of trashy crime novels who has to solve her sister’s murder, and it was… just straight awful.
  • 0xmusic is the only NFT project I’m interested in anymore, and I added a Serena to the collection this week. They just opened a beta that allows collectors to save MIDI files of the songs generated by their NFTs, so I tried that out. Importing the songs into GarageBand lets you swap out the default instruments and use higher quality virtual synthesizers. Pretty cool and lots of fun, despite my not having the skills to actually jam over them and make something new, but Rob took what I sent him and played some bass over it. I opened a Soundcloud account so I would have somewhere to save the experiments as I go.
  • Stromae was apparently a proper big deal in music a decade ago, but I somehow missed him completely. He’s back with his first new album in years (I think I linked a music video a few weeks ago): Multitude. I’ve been listening to this and a leaked version of Donda 2, which I’d previously sworn to ignore the existence of since it’s not being released like a normal person would release albums. So far, it’s an uneven mixtape which I would assume Kanye’s still working on.
  • (Next day addition) I’ve somehow fallen into the habit of watching Bloomberg TV over lunch and into the afternoons. This is something I would never have done before. I suspect as a side effect of following Twitter discussions of crypto markets, I’m now able to make a little sense of what they’re saying. It’s like reading a basic language handbook and then being able to pick out certain words when watching a foreign film. And obviously it’s a pretty eventful time in the world, so I’m really watching news about the war in the Ukraine, through the blurry lens of financial implications.

Week 10.22: Stayin’ home, playin’ games

Probably nothing significant happened this week, apart from losing some money doing dumb trades. People seem to think all I do during my time off is play video games and watch TV, and for once this week that was actually kinda true.

Mood!

Media activity:

  • Picked up Doom Classic on sale for the Switch, only $2.49 USD to relive one of the most impactful moments of my youth. I remember walking into the game store the week it came out and seeing people play through the first episode. It was like a glimpse into the future: dark atmospheric “3D” graphics far better than anything I’d seen, with incredible music synthesized through a Roland sound card (real sampled electric guitars!) — I couldn’t believe it. It was thrilling just to watch. When I asked how many floppies it came on, and I think the answer was two, my head exploded. Shareware? Two disks, not a CD-ROM? And it would run on my lowly 386-SX?! iD Software pulled off a moonshot that raised the bar for all games.
  • I made it through 4 of 10 episodes in Ace Attorney Chronicles. It’s probably the best (least annoying) game in the series I can recall. Mild spoilers follow. A large portion of the game covers the protagonist going to Victorian London, and there’s a fair amount of racism and xenophobia depicted. People calling you an untrustworthy Nipponese from a backwater Eastern land, and so on. What’s cool is that your party’s initial impressions upon arriving are so positive, so rose tinted about everything being wonderful and better there, that I thought I was in for an entire game of Japanese people romanticizing England to death (another trope), but then came the swift and surprising subversion. An hour later and your lawyer character starts questioning how superior the “world’s greatest legal system” really is.
  • Puzzle Quest 3 came out on mobile as a free-to-play game. I loved and played the hell out of the original on several platforms including the Nintendo DS, bugs and all. So I was ready to get sucked in again, but it’s hard to recapture that kind of charm, and the addition of in-app purchases and timers don’t help at all. I’ve leveled up my character to a point where I’m now caught between being too strong for easy missions and too weak for normal ones, and I’m not sure how to even grind upwards because the UI is inscrutable and I can’t see a way to replay previous story missions, which would help. Sad.
  • Bad television: the reunion episode of Love Is Blind USA, all but two remaining episodes of Love Island Australia, and a trash new Netflix movie starring Leighton Meester, The Weekend Away. I have to admit I really enjoyed the latter, which appears to be based on a book which is probably found on shelves next to The Girl On The Train and other improbable, twist-filled paperback murder mysteries.
  • We finished The Afterparty on Apple TV+, a comedy murder mystery not unlike Only Murders In The Building, but without the thing I liked most about that one: nosy amateur sleuths. In The Afterparty, the police are doing the detecting, and everyone’s a suspect. Worth a watch because each episode emulates a different film genre and most of it works well.
  • I also finished season 1 of Foundation on Apple TV+ and daaammnn. I started watching it way back when the new Dune came out, and it looked distinctively “TV” against the scale and aesthetic of that film. It took a few episodes before I found the core of the show for me, and that core is actor Lee Pace in the nuanced role of the tyrannical galactic emperor. You cycle through all possible feelings for him over the story arc, and making that work sure isn’t easy. There are a bunch of other things that could be improved/decheesed, but I’m down for season 2 ASAP.
  • Saw Part 2 of jeen-yus, the Kanye documentary, which made me go back to playing The College Dropout again. Undeniably great and timeless. The documentary is also a priceless artifact, because how often do you get a camera following an artist over 20 years, from before they even make it big? Can’t wait to see the third and final part covering his journey into madness and arguably even further greatness at the same time.
  • The Beatles 1 compilation album of all their #1 hits received a full Dolby Atmos remixing at the hands of Giles Martin, son of George, and you can hear what that means using spatial audio on an Apple device with Apple Music. They went back to the original four-track tapes and separated the instruments, previously flattened together into a single mono channel, so you can now hear them with a fullness that can only be described as “live”, especially with dynamic head tracking enabled on AirPods/Beats Fit Pro. So I’ve been listening to some of that, slowly.