Week 25.21: Spacing out

  • I noticed once again that my AirPods Max battery was draining faster than normal while not in use. Coupled with intermittent stuttering/connections issues, I decided to call it a hardware fault and contact Apple support for a replacement. One came via courier within two days and I am now listening problem free.
  • After several months of distracted 10-minute reading sessions, I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in one concerted go. I read Snow Crash in 2019, Cryptonomicon in 2020, and this makes three. I’d really like to just chain them and keep going but/because the density and brilliance of ideas in his work is staggering. If the stuff he was writing 15 years ago is just beginning to look like our future at present, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking about today. I could read one of his newer books and find out, but first, a break.
  • I decided to pick up Andy Weir’s new book, Project Hail Mary, after seeing some positive reviews, and it’s a return to the formula of a science-based, plausible, AND interesting life-threatening problem solved in the first person that worked so well in The Martian. I barely enjoyed his last book, Artemis, but I’m halfway through this now and can’t put it down. It’s about another guy in space, slightly adrift, needing to ‘science the shit out’ of a crisis.
  • I finished the Eizouken anime series on Netflix and can recommend it although it’s not so bingeable. It works well as an episode or two a week. What’s it about? A trio of high schoolers learning to produce anime. I thought it would be like Shirobako, but that one’s set in the real world of running a business, whereas this one is not grounded in reality and just works as a deconstruction cum demonstration of animation and filmmaking techniques you may not normally notice. It must have been so gratifying to work on this as an animation artist; it literally screams ‘appreciate me!’
  • Videogames: Played a bit more Persona 5 Strikers but am not really feeling it. It’s an example of the game getting in the way of the story. As a beat-em-up, it’s just not much fun especially after coming from Yakuza and Judgment. Started and finished Coffee Talk which is an indie game where you act as barista to a cast of cafe regulars and see their stories and relationships unfold. That’s it, you just make coffee and click through dialogue. A nice little afternoon killer. Went back to the Doom reboot on PS4 for a bit of mindless FPS action. That one’s an example of story getting in the way of the game.
  • Speaking of backstory in games, Mythic Quest’s second season is coming to an end on Apple TV+, and it’s a half-hour sitcom I’ve really enjoyed as a person who hates half-hour sitcoms. Both seasons play with a single flashback/world-building episode in the middle, which sounds like a bloody annoyance but the resulting achievement is art.
  • I also finished watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which looks like a lot of tight movie money but plays out like a lump of TV fat. It’s often corny and disrespectful of the viewer’s time. But it does raise the bar for action sequences and production design. I haven’t seen Loki yet, but if it doesn’t deliver then I may just burn through the rest of The Mandalorian in fast forward and cancel our Disney+ subscription.

Meta-sabbatical observation: This was the first week where I’ve felt the days start to blend together. When we went to meet some friends on Saturday evening and someone said they’d come from somewhere other than the office, I asked, “oh did you have the day off?” thinking it was Friday. That wasn’t the first time I’d lost track of time. Perhaps I need more milestones and structure for the weekdays. I’ve started a to-do list of things to get done or try out.

Week 24.21

Went out just once for leisure purposes; we’re in partial lockdown after all. Saw an exhibition of Chinese ink paintings by Chinese-Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

After 35 hours of virtual oden eating and street thug harassment, I finally finished Judgment on the PS4 with most side cases solved. I usually don’t enjoy tonal inconsistency, but I can’t get enough of how the Yakuza games (I include this one) just jump from serious melodrama to comic absurdity. You can be searching a murder scene for clues but also follow the sound of mewing to find hidden cats for bonus points. Some PI cases have you spying on suspected criminals, while others have you hanging expensive lingerie up on your roof to bait a local panty thief (who uses a drone). I can’t wait to revisit these characters in the sequel later this September.

Also finished watching all 24 episodes of Steins;gate 0 at 1.25x speed. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more had I remembered the ending of the first series a bit better (it’s been a decade). So the ending of this was an anticlimax because I didn’t follow how the big problem was being solved — tying up time travel loose ends is more work than usual.

We finally saw our last remaining episode of Izakaya Bottakuri on Netflix. It’s a rather corny and harmless Japanese drama about two sisters who run a little izakaya they inherited from their parents. Most episodes involve a regular customer’s backstory and some closeups of food being fried. The one noteworthy thing about the show is how every episode has a character describe their beverage’s selling points in great detail: usually a domestic craft beer, or regional sake made with some special process. After the end credits, the lead actress comes back to hold up the bottle and talk about tonight’s alcohol selection. It’s blatant content marketing, but I am quite alright with the idea of a TV show bankrolled by booze companies!

I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s new film, Wrath of Man, which stars Jason Statham in the kind of badass role he’s perfected over god knows how many similar outings. But it’s probably one of his best. I appreciate what Ritchie brings to what would otherwise by a straightforward heist and revenge story: heaps of style and chronology jumping for the hell of it.

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Of course, it was also WWDC week. No new hardware products, but the curtain came back for iOS 15 and while there aren’t any big, must-have features to look forward to, some very nice quality of life upgrades all around. I’m especially looking forward to quicker on-device Siri, tags in Notes, and more intelligence in Photos. iPadOS could have gone further and pushed the new M1 chips with pro-level apps or even a goddamn calculator, but all we got were the long-awaited cleanup of the multitasking interaction model and free placement of last year’s widgets, plus everything else new on the iPhone side.

I may be remembering things wrong, but there wasn’t any news on the Apple TV apart from spatial audio support, and watchOS is just grinding out more of the same, expansion pack style, with new workout and mindful activity types.

Spatial audio is quite a big deal, though. I recently watched some Dolby Atmos enabled videos content on my new iPad with AirPods, and it really works. With the launch of Atmos music tracks on Apple Music this week, I spent some time listening to old and new tracks to put it through its paces. I tend to agree with everyone who’s observed that the rock music examples are generally terrible, and the effect works best on jazz and classical music — where even studio cuts usually strive to reproduce the context of a live performance. The new spatial remixes of vintage jazz records have more atmosphere and you can point around you to where each player seems to be seated. Perhaps it’s like colorizing old photos, gimmicky and impure to some, but bringing them closer in space and time nonetheless. I think the technology is a positive development.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 23.21: Eternal Judgment, visiting the mall of westtown, and surviving a fridge failure

  • I returned to the office on Monday to get some things out of my locker (you know a jar of Branston pickle is old when it’s never been opened but manages to make the whole cupboard smell of it), which was my first time back in a couple of months now. With the “Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)” order still in effect, it was a ghost town.
  • The first half of the week was spent watching Steins;gate 0, the 2018 sequel to regular ol’ Steins;gate from 2011 — a SF anime series about degenerate outcasts in Akihabara who figure out a form of time travel and universe splitting. Most of this was done hunched over my 11” iPad Pro, which made me wish all over again that I’d sprung for the 13” model last month. I stopped midway through the 24 episodes and will probably finish them next week.
  • Everyone’s talking about Mare of Easttown, so we watched all seven episodes. I find stories set in small towns claustrophobic and hellish. Everyone is already miserable, and the murders only make it worse. The show is pretty good anyway, but I won’t be spending a minute thinking about it now that it’s over.
  • Playing Judgment on the PS4 consumed about 20 of the remaining hours and I don’t know if I’m even halfway through the story. It’s excellent fun, and well worth the S$22 it costs now. In the Yakuza series, you often visit hostess clubs and have to pick the right things to say to get the girls to like you. As a spin-off of that series, Judgment has a brilliant side-mission where you control one of the main character’s female associates, and have to go undercover as a hostess during an investigation. It works with you having to pick the right things to say to the men to get them to buy more bottles and open up.
  • Perhaps related to this video game binge: I had a violent dream where I was being attacked by a homeless person (this happens in Judgment a fair few times) and actually woke up kicking in real life, with an elevated heart rate. This has never happened before as far as I can remember!
  • I read another 20% of The Diamond Age, and wondered why I don’t spend all my time reading instead of playing repetitive open-world games. Maybe it’s the heat of the afternoon sun, maybe it’s the equivalent of going to a buffet when deathly hungry and stuffing your face with all the carby and unhealthy stuff first. I’ll chew slowly when I’m less starved.
  • Our refrigerator also stopped working mid-week, which was a great source of stress for 24 hours. Although I barely use the fridge at all most of the time, it seemed to cast an outsized pall over everything in my life. I was miserable at the thought of having to get a new one and deal with everything around it. Happily, it turned out to be a problem with the mains which was sorted out quickly.
  • When I used to have a regular commute, I would sometimes take a route that brought me to a nearby neighborhood mall with an MRT station attached. It’s nothing special, has a few clothing stores, a videogame store that isn’t cheaper than just buying digital, restaurants, and a library. Since Covid, I haven’t had any occasion to visit.
  • This week, I was sent a thoughtful gift which was delivered to some self-service lockers at the mall, so I took a trip down to see what I was missing. Hmm, that makes two locker visits this week. And two ghost town visits too, given how bereft of commercial activity most stores looked. I walked around for maybe 20 minutes, trying to find something I actually wanted. I don’t think most of these physical stores have any reason to exist now, sadly. Even if I wanted to buy any of it, apart from a new TV or fridge that would make sense to check out in person, I’d probably be better off online.

Week 22.21: The metagame is tying up loose ends that are other games

  • It was a good week in playing video games. I finished a bunch I’ve had in various states of completion, some for years. A much neater base (mentally) from which to start attacking the backlog of unplaced games in the weeks to come.
  • First up was Yakuza Kiwami (2016), a remake of the first Yakuza game on PS2, built ground-up in the same engine as Yakuza 0 (2015). I started this over a year ago, which sounds like a long time but when it comes to video games my memory just… saves them, and I was able to get right back into the story. Finishing this has put Yakuza 0 much lower in my queue… it’s just not as polished as Yakuza 6, whose Dragon Engine powers Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Judgment.
  • After finishing Kiwami, I immediately bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 on sale to be played later on. Since I got Judgment a few weeks ago, I decided to get right into it, and found that it’s hilariously a straight-up redeployment of all the Yakuza series’ assets into a “new” game by the same team. It’s set in the same part of Shinjuku, and all the shops and items are exactly the same. It feels great to be able to navigate by feel, and know the space. But yeah it looks tons better than it did in Kiwami 1.
  • The second game to be finished was The World Ends With You (TWEWY) which I mentioned awhile back. I’m now all set for the sequel in July. After that, I blazed through Shadow of the Tomb Raider which I bought last November in anticipation of having time to play around Christmas. I only got halfway through, and it was nice to finally put a pin in this reboot trilogy. IMO, the first game was great. I liked the isolated survival vibes of Lara being lost on a single island, outsmarting her captors. The next two games went for globetrotting and doubled down on supernatural elements. Impressive to play and look at, but not as “fun”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve returned to Persona 5 Strikers which was put aside two hours after being bought and started back in February. Also very satisfying, because I really hate the feeling of having stuff half done and lying all about.
  • Went out twice this week for evening walks. The second time was also to go somewhere and use up excess fuel in our car before sending it off to be scrapped this weekend. It’s reached the end of its legally usable lifespan, and so we’re required to turn it over. Instead of immediately going on the (used) market for another vehicle, we’re going to try and see how long we can do without one and use public transport instead. Our needs have changed now, and it’s also saving a lot of money.
  • I watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead on Netflix, which I was led to believe would be the worst film of all time. Thanks perhaps to lowered expectations, plus my recent enduring of his 4-hour Justice League cut, it turned out to be a fine and gory use of time.
  • We continued watching season 1 of Servant on Apple TV+, which I expected would be mostly horror. Instead it’s only a little creepy and occasionally funny, with lots of effective mystery/question dangling to keep you trying to find out what the hell is going on. I stayed an M. Night Shyamalan fan even through those years his stock was falling, so I may be biased.
  • Speaking of holding things as they fall: the markets these few weeks, eh?
  • In COVID news, the cases have “stabilized”, which is a way of saying we’re still getting 20+ cases a day in the community but that number isn’t growing. The Prime Minister is set to address the nation live on Monday afternoon (tomorrow), so let’s see what that’s about.
  • Elsewhere, it’s looking a little bleaker. Cases are rising in some countries, Vietnam has discovered a new variant that is more transmissible, and I just read that the vaccines are less effective on women than on men. My wife is planning a visit to the UK soon for familial reasons, which is probably unwise today and hopefully does not become unwiser still.

Week 21.21: Partly immune, getting into the rhythm of rest, and asking What’s A Computer?

I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Although most people say the side effects (fevers, full-body aches, headaches, oversleeping) are really only felt with the second dose, I was apprehensive. It turned out okay, kinda mild muscle ache on the one bicep and some tiredness that I can’t be sure isn’t just my normal sluggishness.

Step 1 of the vaccination process at a community center

Community infection cases have been on the rise. The new measures I mentioned last week have kicked in, so there’s no more dining out or meeting in groups, which is expected to bring numbers down in another week or two. Until then, this is how it looked this week.

Infections in the community:
Mon: 21
Tue: 27
Wed: 34
Thu: 27
Fri: 30
Sat: 22
Sun: 21

My vacation time started on Tuesday, so the four weekdays were mostly spent lazing about and looking at screens. I watched my money go up but mostly down. I continued checking my work email and following up on a few messages, out of habit. So this process of unwinding looks to take awhile; I don’t really feel like my break has properly begun.

I started journaling privately again, to have a record of how I’m spending my time. Perhaps these public posts will become shorter and more to the point over time as a result?

I got back to playing 2064: Read Only Memories on the Switch after a long time. My initial reaction to it was disappointment, mostly in the clunky non-touch UI and annoying voice acting, so I put it aside after half an hour and haven’t touched it in maybe a year? I figured I should get some mileage out of the purchase and tie up loose ends before playing other games. I finally finished it on the weekend. It’s better than I thought it’d be, but wouldn’t recommend you get it if you already have a healthy backlog of games to get through.

This week was also the release of the new iPad Pro models. My 11” in silver arrived Friday, and wow it’s a nice change from my last one. Face ID in concert with the Magic Keyboard makes me really glad I got this and not the iPad Air. You can just open it up, tap the space bar, and the thing unlocks and you’re in (like on a MacBook with Apple Watch).

Finally able to enjoy spatial audio with a screen bigger than my iPhone’s, I sat down to watch two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and let me tell you, it actually justifies Apple’s use of the word “magic”. I can’t wait to hear the new Atmos mixes for albums on Apple Music. Yes, it made me kinda regret not getting the 13” model with the XDR screen. Maybe next time.

Speaking of Apple Music, Muji has put nearly all their BGM albums up for streaming. I bought a couple of them as CDs back in the day — you may recall their corrugated cardboard sleeves for sale on the shelves beside those wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa. I tried looking these up years ago and was disappointed there was no way to get them digitally. Prayer answered.

In TV land, we found a way to watch the latest season of Gogglebox, which I still highly recommend to everyone. One of the episodes started to show the new season (#6) of Line of Duty, and we had to stop there because we hadn’t seen it yet. Netflix only has up to season 5 right now. One entire Sunday later, and we finished the whole season and are now completely done with the series.