This post is delayed on account of the Lunar New Year weekend; hope you had a good one if you celebrate!
After two years of restrictions and fear (not to mention peace and quiet), we returned to the old chaos with a few family gatherings and house visits. Unfortunately, one of my favorite parts of the whole thing, a large reunion dinner on the Eve with some of our most senior relatives, was still off the table on account of their mounting health issues. I wonder if we’ll ever get a chance to see everyone on that side of the family all together again.
I brought my GR III out to capture some of these moments, and fortunately Ricoh released their previously mentioned new Diary Edition model just the day before, which meant the firmware update for older models to get their new Negative film-inspired “Image Control” mode was also released. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on these settings: Saturation +1, High Key +2, Contrast +1, Shadow Exposure -1. Am looking forward to using it for more everyday snaps in 2023.
While hanging around with some relatives in the afternoon of Day 1, a few of us downloaded the Dimensional personality test app and began answering its slew of profiling questions to compare our toxic traits, love languages, and all that. It co-opts a bunch of well-known existing frameworks like the MBTI and so on into one gigantic pile of traits. Does that constitute a unique and proprietary offering? I don’t know, but it’s fun enough and free. Be warned, completing all available questions can take over an hour.
Speaking of apps, my advance pick for 2023’s game of the year launched this week on Apple Arcade: Pocket Card Jockey Ride On. It’s a remake of the Nintendo 3DS eShop exclusive now fixed up with better graphics and subtle gameplay tweaks. If you never played the original, do yourself a favor and give it a try. It’s an addictive solitaire-based game; the main downside (for me) is it’s time-based and needs some concentration and so isn’t something you can play while in a noisy environment.
My Mastodon use has fallen off a little. I actually prefer Twitter’s algorithmic timeline to a chronological one because I tend to follow too many people to keep up, and need some help sifting out the “best” content from the rest. Mastodon is beginning to give me the uncomfortable feeling of a full inbox, but perhaps I should simply follow fewer people.
The general rule around here is to avoid talking about work — although it is usually such a big cost center for my time — but we had a new colleague relocate from Shanghai, and it was nice welcoming them to town and having a couple of impromptu beers on a weekday night.
Last episode, I mentioned seeing some Tezos NFT art at Singapore Art Week. Well I came across one of the pieces for sale (entitled D-909 Groove Arcade) and decided to go through the trouble of creating a Tezos wallet and getting some funds in so I could buy it. It’s one edition out of 167, and so was only like USD$20, but I’m super happy to have it. Can art be absolutely adorable and funky at the same time? Provably yes!
I also continued generating non-existent videogame screenshots using Midjourney, expanding the fictional timeline to include modern-day remakes of old games. I should spend more time pushing this idea further but so far I’ve only done it in spare moments or when I should really be doing something else.
Everything But The Girl is back after what feels like decades, and the video for their new single is an incredible piece of choreography and one-take execution. I could only think of the immense pressure on each person not to fuck up. Dimensional seems to concur, reporting that my main motivation is Security.
We kind of started planning our trip to Japan later this year, but there’s still a lot to figure out in terms of what to do, and where to spend our time. It seems a lot of the popular hotels and destinations are selling out fast, if not already sold out, because of the resumption of travel out of China. I’m going to use this as a test of two new collaboration features in iOS and macOS: shared Safari Tab Groups, and the new Freeform whiteboarding app. In theory this should allow us to gather links to interesting ideas and plot them out together across our devices over several days.
On Friday afternoon, I was excited to see an article saying that one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had was finally coming to Singapore. In fact, it was their opening day, and we decided to just go down right after work to try and get a seat. After about 20 minutes of queuing (which was nothing compared to the maybe three hours we spent in line for the main restaurant in Tokyo), we got into Nakiryu at Plaza Singapura, and were sorely disappointed. For starters, their signature Szechuan-style Tan Tan/Dan Dan noodles were sold out. We ordered shio and shoyu ramen instead, and they were roundly mediocre. The service was also spotty and uncoordinated.
It’s a pattern that the local franchisee Japan Food Holdings (who’ve done the same thing with Afuri and others) seems to be repeating: bring in a brand people are excited for, then do nothing to capture the original taste and quality. I suspect if you did a side-by-side comparison of the ramen from several of their brands, you’d find they’re just selling the same product under different names. Sadly, they’ve probably got the connections to get these deals and as long as the money flows in, the original companies don’t care how badly it’s done outside of Japan.
Singapore Art Week is back and we attended two events: SEA Focus and the creatively named Art SG. The former’s at Keppel Distripark where the Singapore Art Museum’s temporary spot is, and features a little NFT art corner sponsored by Tezos. In contrast to the other exhibits, I found the work in there refreshingly playful, modern, vibey.
At Art SG (a large and mostly serious gallery fair over two floors at Marina Bay Sands), I also found myself reacting more to the digital or digitally inspired work. There was a large print of a CloneX pfp, attributed to Murakami, mounted on a wall that I saw from across the hall and made a beeline towards. The Pace gallery (which I only happen to know because of their collaborations with Art Blocks) space featured teamLab’s NFT project, and a James Turrell projection. The teamLab one is cool: anyone can download and run the artwork (an app) on their PC or Mac. These are regarded as authentic and valid copies of the work. However, one can also own an NFT of the work (there are only 7), and these collectors can change the text seen in the art for everyone else. Oh, and they’re $200,000 each.
Elsewhere, I saw a work that was a white flag printed with a surrender message that I’d read before but didn’t know where. I googled the text but nothing came up. Later, I found a tweet from early 2022 referencing it: an on-chain exchange between two MEV… “searchers”? The tweets only have between a couple hundred and a couple thousand likes, so it’s probably not a widely known thing. But I definitely saw and remembered it from last year, which means I’ve spent too much time spectating in a very small fringe community. And my time spent appreciating generative art has definitely ruined traditional abstract art for me.
Speaking of which, I was excited to add an edition of The Field by Beer van Geer to my collection this week. It’s an interesting (animated) work in that all 369 pieces are different views of the same “territory”, starting at random points, zoom levels, and rendered with different palettes, but viewers of any section can move away from those starting points and explore. As I understand it, the field itself was created from noise data created by aggregating hundreds of images from the artist’s body of work, trying to derive a sort of pattern map or artistic fingerprint from their ouevre. Isn’t that so much more exciting than static paint on canvas??
Ricoh announced a new special edition of the GR III compact camera, called the “Diary Edition”. Yeah it sounds like one of those translated-from-Japanese names that sounds slightly awkward in English, but I like it. As a name, you can’t get much clearer about the concept of a camera that you’re meant to carry around to intentionally document everyday life, and it even comes with a new “negative film” look that will also come to older GR III models via a firmware update. Whether or not this behavior is one that users will actually embrace when they already have smartphones, I don’t know. I suspect not, outside for a few glorious weirdos. But the atmosphere and quality of these photos could hardly be more different than your smartphone snaps, unless you go the film route.
As a new colorway, I also love the look of the Diary Edition.
Here are a couple of photos I took with my GR III on the way to the art fair:
We watched a couple of spy TV shows, of which Jack Ryan’s season 2 was the undisputed best. We’ll start on season 3 soon.
Miyachi’s second album, Crows, is out. I heard it through once and it’s a bop. I don’t know what he’s rapping about but I’m sure it’s slightly problematic.
I finished Arcade Spirits but can’t recommend it if you’ve got many great games in your Switch backlog. To recap, it’s a Western visual novel about running a video game arcade. Some of the background art is basic and not very polished. I was struck several times by the thought that a game creator today could create far better generic bar/beach/arcade interior background art in seconds using AI. And they probably will/are already. So as an artifact of our pre-AI phase, Arcade Spirits stands out as a bit lacking in the production quality department.
Here’s a tweet showing a game prototype someone purportedly threw together using AI tools to create the graphics, icons, and voice acting!
Quite coincidentally, I started experimenting with Midjourney prompts on Monday trying to get the EGA/VGA PC game look of the Sierra games I played in the 80s and 90s. I found a good solution and started using it to visualize screenshots of #fictionalgames from the golden era of PC games, ones that never existed, or that might be made today with modern concepts.
My first PC was their homegrown Cubic CT, basically an IBM-compatible XT 8086 system, with a CGA (Color Graphics Array: just four colors) graphics card, 5.25” floppy disk drive, and no hard drive. I’m pretty sure my dad drove down to Sim Lim Square or somewhere like that and picked it up in person. After a few years, we upgraded to a non-Creative made system based on the Intel 386SX chip (how that SX suffix haunted me, making me feel like I had an inferior machine! The DX was the model you wanted; the SX lacked the dedicated math co-processor, not that I ever really knew which programs made use of it).
Neither of these first two computers had proper audio capabilities, just the awful default “PC speaker”, as it was called back then. You could only get beeps and boops. One needed a dedicated audio card like an Adlib or Roland or Sound Blaster to hear proper music or sound clips. So every PC game I played had awful crude calculator music you wanted to turn off, but when I went over to play at my cousin Bryan’s house (he had a 286 with EGA graphics — 16 colors! — and a Sound Blaster), those very same games would have synthesized orchestral instruments and realistic sound effects. I wanted a Sound Blaster more than anything and wouldn’t have one until we upgraded to a Pentium system much later.
Years before I got my first iPod and switched over to a Macintosh, my first MP3 player was a Creative-made device. The year was probably 1999 or 2000. I was looking to move on from the MiniDisc players I’d been using for years, and these new devices let you carry tons more music around without a folder full of discs in your backpack (this was really a thing we did). The model I chose was a Creative MuVo, a nondescript white plastic square with a tiny LCD screen and a soft joystick nub for control. It played WMA files as well as MP3s, which was a deciding factor for me as you could stuff more music in at an equivalent quality using the WMA format at the time. That little guy kept me company through two long years of mind-numbing administrative work during my national service.
Years later, after graduating and stumbling into my first proper full-time job, the very first task they gave me was writing video treatments for a Creative Technologies product demo DVD. Creative happened to be one of the agency’s longtime clients, and the viral video above was one of the things that happened under their watch before I joined. I remember my partner and I excitedly pitching a direction to our bosses only to be shot down and told to try again. Weeks later, after going out west to Creative’s offices and getting their feedback, it turned out we had gotten it right the first time. That was probably the end of my journey with the brand, although I was intrigued by their attempts to bring a new version of their X-Fi surround audio tech to market in recent years. I almost bought a pair of their headphones to try it, but now Apple’s spatial audio on AirPods has one-upped their approach by delivering a massive library of professionally mixed Dolby Atmos music instead of relying on fake surround processing on stereo tracks.
His death is a sad loss and I wonder what the company will do from here. Looking back on the various products I’ve owned or tried over the years, they offered unquestionable technical merit, above average build quality, and always great value for money.
The new year got off to a gluttonous start with an impromptu visit to one of my favorite buffets, followed by Chinese hotpot, and then an all you can eat Korean BBQ (these were three consecutive days). Then I rested for a day before hitting Mexican cocktails and an izakaya with 1-liter highballs on Friday, and then rounding off the weekend with a burger from Blooie’s Roadhouse on Sunday.
Incidentally, that last meal was my first time at The Rail Mall, which most Singaporeans are probably familiar with, and which I used to pass on the bus daily during the aforementioned two years of national service but never stopped at. There were a few other interesting places we’ll probably be back for, like a craft beer taproom and an all you can eat wagyu yakiniku (so, like, probably tomorrow).
I got into the hottest beta program around: Ivory, the new Mastodon client from Tapbots. It builds on their work for Tweetbot, and it makes using Mastodon as a primary social media platform very enjoyable. I’ve checked Twitter a lot less this week as a result.
I finished my first playthrough of Citizen Sleeper on the Switch and will probably not be back for more until a little later. So many games! I’ve started on Arcade Spirits, a Western visual novel about working in a video game arcade. Not to be confused with Arcade Paradise which is a business sim that lets you run an arcade cum laundromat. If Spirits doesn’t pick up soon, I’ll probably abandon it for Kathy Rain or the Monkey Island sequel.
In need of a new book, I picked up Eugene Lim’s Dear Cyborgs but it didn’t click. I cut my losses after about an hour.
King Princess’s Hold On Baby would probably have been my pick for Best Album of 2022, if I’d chosen an Album of the Year. I’ve played it through about four times this week and still can’t enough. As with quite a few things I really love, I kinda hated it at the start. I mean, I used to hate Macs and Korean food.
We did a deep clean of the fridge and freezer on Sunday. If you’re ever doing the same, Apple’s Cleaning The House playlist may help.
So maybe 2022 was not the best year for many things: my mental health, the markets, avoiding Covid, Goodreads reading challenges, making more time for people, etc. and it ended on a fittingly crappy note as I realized that I’m too neurotic to be a pet owner either. But we have to be thankful for the things we do have, and I am. Here’s hoping 2023 turns things around some 🤞
I saw someone toot that their only New Year’s resolution every year is “Use your stickers”, and I liked that enough to try and actually adopt it as a resolution (I normally think they are dumb). In essence, stickers do nothing for no one when saved on a backing sheet; you should put them to use somewhere, and eat all those mince pies you’ve been hoarding while you’re at it. Use and enjoy your things while you can, mindfully.
My Hotels.com rewards were expiring and I was kinda planning to let them go unused. But they are stickers! So I redeemed them for a night’s stay at a boutique hotel in the Ann Siang/Amoy Street area, which gave us an opportunity to eat at Maxwell hawker center, visit a few cocktail bars (Native is excellent), and get away from things for a little while.
I spent more time playing Citizen Sleeper on the Switch and still recommend it. Minor spoiler: early on there is a sort of timer mechanic hanging over your head, that you can’t help but work towards negating as a main quest. It’s always there in the background of what you do, making you uncomfortable. Once you manage to clear it, though, the game becomes almost too leisurely. The issue is still there but your character can skill up enough that it’s not a threat, only a minor annoyance. I’m not finished yet, so maybe there’s more urgency around the corner.
My last book of the year was Gabrielle Zevin’s brilliant Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, which I finished in the final hour of 2022 (for a total of 13 books read). It’s so good, an easy five stars. I would give it six, even. In my world it would be mandatory reading for anyone born between 1975 and 1985, and strongly encouraged for the rest of you. Heartbreaking, beautiful, real, nostalgic, and ripe for TV adaptation.
We binged both seasons of The White Lotus at some point between this week and last. It’s the sort of show you can’t stop thinking about afterwards, but it’s also a little pretentious and heavy handed with its imagery (oh lord here comes another moonlit interstitial shot of waves).
Going through people’s best shows of ‘22 lists, I saw Hacks and Reservation Dogs being mentioned a lot and gave them a try. The latter’s first episode didn’t take, although I can see what they’re going for; it’s just too depressing. Whereas Hacks follows a proven buddy formula with laughs, and teases character development. It’s a nice change of pace from most of our recent serious viewing.
I tried making some city-specific illustrations in Midjourney and was surprised (again) by how good and coherent they can be. They’re not entirely accurate but the vibes aren’t off — Singapore is a time warp of golden era post-war colonial architecture and vehicle design, “exotic” southeast Asian street activity, and modern skyscrapers.
Hey y’all. I worked three days this week (was crazy, back to back calls during the Christmas season wha…?) and then felt good enough during the next two days of vacation time to sit down and make a year-in-review playlist again. For some reason I skipped this tradition last year — probably having too much fun in my time off? Previous installments here for reference: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020.
So if you’re on Apple Music, here’s L–R 2022, featuring cover art made with Midjourney, in a year dominated by generative AI improvements.
Quick liner notes:
I was happy to see Utada Hikaru returning with a new album, and such a good one at that. I went with Bad Mode as the featured song but there are many great cuts. Aside: we finished the First Love series on Netflix. It fumbled the ending after a pretty good buildup. The last three episodes should be deleted and replaced with a new take.
I discovered Stromae this year (I somehow missed the 2009 club mega hit Alors on danse) and what a singular talent he is. With his knack for melodies, writing (albeit translated for me) and intricate beats, and a great singing voice, he deserves to be so much bigger.
There was much to be thankful for in hip-hop, with new material from Black Thought, Kendrick, the RZA, Anderson .Paak, Stormzy!? If only Donda 2 were a real album on real channels, I would have included a track but oh well Ye does Ye.
Drake and 21 Savage stepped on a Daft Punk classic with Circo Loco but I can’t hate it. Another contender that didn’t make the list was DJ Khaled’s Staying Alive also with Drake, but if you’re gonna rip off a song at least sample it too.
Local band Sobs did an incredible cover of Gwen Stefani’s Cool which I thought rivaled the original in deserving to exist. I heard them play it live in October at the Esplanade too.
I cheated a little with the inclusion of Jens Lekman’s Black Cab but hey it’s a new recording! He’s deleted the originals and reworked a couple of albums (I still have the old MP3s thankfully). The song is one of my eternal favorites, firmly planted in the mental territory of my mid-20s.
I sorta finished two games this week and started on a new one.
Robotics;Notes was a real letdown of a visual novel: lots of filler writing to trudge through, and an opaque system of affecting outcomes. I won’t explain, but it’s basically impossible to play out the different paths without a walkthrough. For fans only. I abandoned it after completing the first ending.
Indie darling Unpacking was a lot more fun, despite being literally a simulation of unpacking boxes after moving homes. It was satisfying to see how much narrative they managed to suggest just by having you handle a person’s belongings over a couple of decades.
On Jose’s suggestion, I picked up Citizen Sleeper for the Switch (currently on 30% sale for the holidays) and was blown away by how immersive a text-driven RPG game can actually feel in 2022. It’s a sci-fi story set on a space station, if that helps you decide any.
Related to gaming and growing up empowered and inspired by games, I started reading Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow after encountering a passionate mention of it in Dan Hon’s newsletter, and so far so great. If you grew up in the 80s and feel that games shaped your experience of the world, put it on your list.
I later discovered that it won Goodreads’ user-voted best fiction work of the year award, which is astounding because no one else has mentioned it to me?!
We had good Christmas Eve, Day, and Evening meals in various family configurations over the weekend with no accidents or cooking disasters, apart from several items of food getting forgotten in the fridge (beef brisket, gingerbread houses, etc.), which were probably signs of excessive ambition and unnecessary procurement anyway. I’m deathly full and ready to skip a few meals in the coming week (spoiler: we’ve got a staycation planned on Monday and it involves eating out).
Twitter’s devolution continues and this John Gruber summary of the week’s palm-on-face events should be enough to convince you that maybe it really will become unusable this time, and you should rethink your continued engagement with Elon/SpaceKaren/Elmo’s platform and find somewhere else to be.
It was a tradition in the early years to assemble the team at work for a Christmas dinner and festive activities, but COVID and various organizational obstacles meant that it hadn’t happened in recent years (I wasn’t around last year either). It wasn’t looking good this time, especially since all the people who’re good at planning anything weren’t around, but at the last minute we managed to make something happen on Wednesday, albeit not Christmassy at all in theme or cuisine, and it was good to have at least tried. Perhaps a proper event will happen next year, if enough stars align.
There were two more oversized seasonal dinners with friends and family this week, one vegetarian — if that helps with the health aspect. Okay, but the other was a buffet, so maybe not. We also stayed up to watch the admittedly quite exciting World Cup final on Sunday: the only match of this entire problematic and odd tournament that I saw. Blog archives reveal I was once quite into watching football World Cups, though. And in a case of history repeating from 2006 to the present (related: still haven’t finished Netflix’s First Love), the week ahead looks to also be a very busy one at work.
Honesty warning: I had another very hard week as a cat owner and am reflecting on whether this is something I can/want to do for the rest of her life. If you’re also a struggling germaphobe/anxiety nexus considering a pet, I recommend you think really hard about your own limits and expectations, along with your partner. I don’t expect others to understand but at the risk of sounding dramatic, it sometimes feels like my life is about to fall apart.