Week 34.21: I keep looking at my mood ring (it says too much caffeine)

  • There’s a spot on the carpet where I like to sit most days while watching TV or using the iPad, and it’s gone flat from my lounging about. At the start of the week, I told myself I’d play the hell out of Neo: The World Ends With You, which I was once so excited for. I didn’t even start it up once. So I guess now’s not the time.
  • Tetris Beat on Apple Arcade (App Store) did come out, and my hopes were extremely high for a Tetris game set to music, dependent on players dropping tetrominos to the beat. Unfortunately it still needs some polish: there are sync and calibration issues for players transitioning between speakers and wireless headphones; UX gaps; and poor support for iPad and iPhone users with controllers. Even the basic touch and slide controls don’t feel just right. I’m hopeful that it’ll get better with updates.
  • I finished watching the new Evangelion movies with 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon A Time (Amazon Prime Video), which was easily the best of the series. I think it works and transcends its “flaws”, of which there still are plenty, because Anno finally found the will to contrast heaviness with a hint of joy and kindness. Afterwards, I sat through the credits in emotional shock, and immediately resumed my stillborn viewing of the original NGE series on Netflix. Still making my way through those.
  • Lorde’s new album, Solar Power (Apple Music), is finally out. I avoided hearing it for the first couple of days, afraid that it would let me down. Now on my fourth playthrough, and happy to report that I love it.
  • Also discovered this song from Asian American rapper Miyachi, which utilizes the Family Mart audioweapon jingle to great effect. Also check out his new single Chu-Hi (YouTube), about the joys of Japanese hard seltzers, and his street comedy (?) series, Konbini Confessions, which seems to be an elaborate promotion for the song.

  • For what feels like ages now, I’ve been reading Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace. This week I made it past the halfway mark. It’s alright but goes on for a bit longer than it needs to for such a thin storyline. It’s world building, I suppose, but this sort of caricaturized capitalist future where supersoldiers fighting an eternal corp vs. corp war are turned into marketable BTS-type idols that everyone loves and buys merch for, even after they die, doesn’t really need or stand up to this much exploration imho.
  • I drink coffee daily, and at night I think about waking up the next day so I can drink coffee again. This Friday’s App Store refresh highlighted an app called HiCoffee, which tracks your caffeine intake, visualizes how much is in your system at any time, and whether it’s at risk of disturbing your sleep. For those who remember Jawbone’s wearable UP trackers, they used to have a complementary app called UP Coffee that did something similar (The Verge). Despite my miserly ways, I happily unlocked the premium functions for S$10 just because it’s very nice work. There’s a host of iOS widgets and Apple Watch complications for displaying your caffeine levels, and the built-in coffee database has info for all of Nespresso’s pods, Starbucks’ drinks, McCafe, Dunkin, and many more.
  • As if to confirm my beliefs, the universe or its algorithms then delivered me this excellent Guardian article on caffeine and its effects on the body and society. It’s got some interesting bits, like the history of coffeehouses in the UK, and the insight that maybe the rituals of consuming caffeine lend an unconscious order to how we tackle our work throughout the day, ebbing and flowing between focused and creative work as it wears off.
  • Prompted by a friend’s reports of how well their investments in the Luna token were doing, I looked into the Terra ecosystem out of Korea and was impressed by its vision — insomuch as someone with little background in economics can certify a financial flywheel logical and brilliant. I don’t know what I don’t know, but it sure looks good to me.
  • The universe struck again and I found myself out to Korean BBQ the next day with some colleagues, where we drank a beer called Terra. Afterwards realized it was my first time eating out in more than a month: dining out was forbidden back in July, and then full vaccination became a prerequisite for entering restaurants, and Kim only recently got her certification. The initial moments were a little disorienting. As many have already observed, you can indeed forget how to sit across from a group of people and eat together. Thankfully, I didn’t know I missed it till now.

Week 33.21

Am not really in the mood to write a post this week and have been playing music and shuffling around the room for half an hour to avoid it. I say this as acknowledgement that it’s not always fun or easy to keep traditions up, but we often do anyway. Even if nobody cares whether we succeed or not. We’re simply accountable to our own past decisions and future retrospectives.

~

Rather than continue reading Firebreak this week, I looked into a few topics I’ve been feeling ignorant of: what’s going on with social tokens? What do people mean exactly when they say “metaverse”, since they can’t literally imagine it’s Snow Crash, (insert Princess Amidala face) right? And how exactly do NFTs and proprietary platforms fit into the theory of a unified metaverse? I’ve still got lots to learn about both, but I found this account of large European football clubs participating in Socios very surprising; I had no idea the tokenization of entertainment franchises was already a reality for some football fans, and it makes sense that this would be a much smoother gateway to digital assets for most people than cartoon animals trading for thousands millions of dollars. On the metaverse topic, I found this 9-part essay by Matthew Ball that was recommended by many to be an enjoyable and very helpful read.

Twitter updated their design language, changing the font I look at for hours each day. I think I’m already used to it. To the chagrin of many users on my timeline, they also flipped the logic behind displaying buttons as either filled or outlined. It personally didn’t bother me past the first 30 seconds.

I then had a brief conversation with some colleagues who build out design language systems for digital products. It occurred to me that teams today already have their hands full managing 2D screen-based designs, and the transition to an XR spatial future will probably explode the complexity of design systems as they are currently defined, and call for the further melding of multiple domains like branding, architecture, industrial/interface/interaction design, accessibility, visual communications. It might be an opportunity to tear up much of the bland, homogenous work we see now. I see this as a challenge for anyone recruiting to do design for enterprise/late-stage products. Who’d want to keep fiddling with round rects when the most interesting work is just around the corner?

~

Now that some Beatles’ remasters are available on Apple Music with Dolby Atmos, I listened to Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper’s on my AirPods Max. Never mind if it’s wrong; they sound so right. The spatial separation of each instrument helps you better appreciate what they did on those albums.

Amazon Prime Video somehow got worldwide rights for all four Rebuild of Evangelion films, including the newest installment which never got a chance to screen here. I’ve been eager to see it, but there’s just so much homework to do first. I wouldn’t call myself a fan, but I saw all three previous Rebuild films in cinemas starting in 2007. They are now just an ancient, jumbled mess in my memory. Online guides recommend watching the entire 26-episode TV series on Netflix first, followed by the original movie, and THEN the four new films which are do-overs (but also maybe part of a meta-textual narrative on repetition and iteration?!) I decided to jump straight into the new films first, and pick up with the series on Netflix where I left it midway later, maybe.

I’ve now seen the first three. What a depressing and senseless and infuriating but beautiful journey so far. One left to go, and it’s supposedly the best one. I’m lost half the bloody time. 3.0 in particular is a cautionary tale of what can go wrong if you don’t get crisis comms to survivors right, and they end up becoming your enemy. It’s PR training in pretentious anime clothes.

You can’t be watching sci-fi biomech bible allegories all the time, so I also saw two Liam Neeson action films this week: The Commuter and Non-Stop. The former is about an ex-cop who has to play a bit of sleuthing on a train, and the latter is about an ex-cop who has to stop murders on a plane. They’re both by director Jaume Collet-Sera (who’s just done Disney’s Jungle Cruise) and I find their existence fascinating. He’s done two other films with Neeson, Unknown and Run All Night and I don’t think life would be complete without seeing them too.

Week 32.21

  • Kim left quarantine and got the all clear this week, so I’m getting used to living with another human being in the house again. It mostly means that I can’t listen to the new albums out this week without carving out some time and sitting down with headphones on. I’m curious about the new Nas and how the Atmos mixes of Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper’s have turned out.
  • The Tokyo Olympic Games have come to an end and this might be the most Olympics I’ve ever watched and the one I’ll remember best on account of the circumstances. I certainly don’t remember any of the earlier ones very well.
  • To acknowledge the occasion, I thought I’d read some Japanese lit again. This week I finished Breasts And Eggs, which was a bit depressing, and made the decision to immediately move on to Tokyo Ueno Station, which was also quite a miserable exertion, and coincidentally, written in protest of the 2020 games. Luckily, it only took another hour or so to get through.
  • I considered making it a trilogy of Japanese melancholy, but went for Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace instead. I wanted some sci-fi or anything with a pace and high stakes conflict really. I’m now about 25% through it and my Kobo reckons it’ll take me another four hours to complete. It’s… not bad. A solid 3-star novel at the moment. It describes a familiar dystopian world where we’re all short of essential supplies, living in high-tech slums, plugged into VR for hours, with corporations ruling the world and waging war against each other. What it does differently is ask you to believe that streaming as a career is still viable for these broken future people, more viable really, and that corporately owned, scientifically engineered super soldiers can not only be celebrities with product endorsements and merch, but even their AI-controlled NPC avatars in the MMO game can. Getting a glimpse of them in the virtual world is as big a deal as in real life. That’s the part I’m struggling with instinctively, but I should know better. Let’s see how the next generation, who will undoubtedly be raised on virtual art, property, and goods, approaches this scenario.
  • Gaming wise, I’ve only been regularly playing Call Of Duty Mobile and a crappy ad-ridden game called Solitaire Cruise (I think). I just want a nautical themed solitaire game. Years ago, when I was in the military and had hours to kill each day and only a very weak administrative computer to do it with, I played a tiny Windows game called High Seas Solitaire like a form of meditation. It was a vehicle for banner ads from a company called Zapspot but I didn’t care. It had peaceful wave sounds and a few squawks from birds, and stacks of cards you had to clear, tripeaks style. I just want that back in my life but I’m not going to buy a PC to do it.
  • Over the weekend, we had occasion to eat a very rich delivery dinner from one of Singapore’s best restaurants, and put together a true crime marathon on Netflix. Sophie: A Murder in West Cork and Jeremy Epstein: Filthy Rich, both about horrible crimes committed against women, both unsettling and frustrating; effective arguments against ever going out or trusting other people again. My kind of television.

Week 31.21: Calling… you hear the calling

Let’s start with games; skip this if hating on games is part of your identity. I spent way too much time on Call of Duty Mobile this week. It’s the mobile game addiction I’ve always been searching for, but not the one I expected: all stupid guns and camo instead of illustrated gacha. The new season has started and I’ve already cleared half through the Battle Pass objectives which are meant to last all month.

A couple of weeks from now, there’s gonna be some sort of new undead/zombie survival game mode that I’m looking forward to. Call me old and an MMO noob, but games with timed events and “seasons” are fascinating. I’m used to being able to play any level or mode you want once you’ve bought it or it’s been released. But here, in Fortnite, and I’m sure many others, the principles of live broadcast TV have been co-opted to create time-limited community experiences. Is this how the metaverse works? 🤪 I’m into it though (while acknowledging Episodic Everything calls for a huge time commitment).

I don’t know who this might help, but do not go into Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club games with high expectations. I got Game #1 of 2, The Missing Heir, and was thoroughly disappointed. Specifically, I wrote down “what a crock of shit” in my notes. I ended up finishing it with the help of a walkthrough just to have it over with.

These are game designs from the late 80s, remade with all new graphics (honestly good), but the core gameplay and writing survived for this first-ever release outside of Japan. For historical reasons, I can see why they did it. But nobody really needs to click through obtuse dialogue and travel-to-location menus over and over until some new option gets unlocked, not in 2021. I would have preferred if they went for a linear visual novel with less interactivity. As things stand, it was a dated, painful experience and I’m glad I didn’t buy the two-game bundle.

In anticipation of playing NEO: The World Ends With You which just came out, I started watching the anime adaptation which covers the events of the first game. I wasn’t expecting much because other such series have suffered from cutting the story down too much, or low budgets, or the inability to translate an action-oriented game to a different format.

Wow, this one seems to be an exception. It’s all here, the stylish character designs, graffiti and hip-hop inspired art direction, and even new mixes from the soundtrack. The battle scenes are actually dynamic, three-dimensional, and inventive. It captures the excitement, look and feel, and atmosphere that the old Nintendo DS game implied and articulates it. If the new game is anything like this, I can’t wait to get started.

(The post title is a reference to this song from the original game.)

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Otherwise, lots more Olympics. If I just tune into some live event, that’ll be a couple of hours evaporated in mushy minded sloth. It’s too easy to have it on and kinda pay attention. Michael C. mentioned in his last weeknote that he’s a conscientious objector to the games on account of the public health hazard and incompetence surrounding Tokyo now. I’m not joining in solidarity, but since I’ve started watching them I’ve developed an opposition to certain events because they are just unnecessary suffering, especially in the Japanese summer heat.

Take weightlifting: why do we need to see men carry the equivalent of 10 fully packed travel suitcases above their heads? Someone lifted 226kg today. His knees were wobbling. I saw several bruised and swollen knees being iced, actually. Their elbows probably pop out all the time. It’ll be wheelchairs and discount vodka for many of them in their later years. Do we need this? Why isn’t Russian roulette at the Olympics then? I’m sure it’d be a hit.

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Did I do anything productive? Erm… I took some photos (without leaving the house)! We get some nice sunsets in my area, and while this example was far from the best, I decided to get a camera out and play with some RAW processing on my iPad. I got some shots over an hour and a half and made a collage.

Also got back to some 3D modeling in Dreams, but discovered my brain is currently not wired to do it very efficiently, so I’m in for some painful neural trench digging over the next few weeks.

Week 30.21

  • The Olympics are underway, and I watched as much of the opening ceremony as I could stand while playing Infinity Loop on my phone. The parade was tedious, but the game is a very satisfying cleaning-up of puzzle pieces, not unlike the satisfaction you get from performing a Tetris, but without the time pressure. I played it years ago and suddenly found my way back this week. I like it a lot as a chill way to pass time.
  • Tetris Beat has been announced for Apple Arcade: a new musically driven version of the game, which sounds to me as a fan of Lumines like the best thing ever. Unfortunately, in my initial excitement I misread that it was coming from Tetsuya Mizuguchi himself; it is not. Still, I have high hopes for it, especially since being on Arcade will mean we’ll get its monthly drop of new tracks/levels without IAPs or scummy mechanics.
  • The Wikipedia page about the Tetris Effect — how your brain starts to imagine fitting shapes together in real life after you’ve been playing too much — is worth a look. It happens for other games too. I remember when I picked up pool and would play for hours each week, I was seeing geometry and angles on everyday objects. Like, ‘if I hit that at this point here then it’ll go that way and land over there.’
  • I dropped back into Hades after months of having it sit on my Switch and gave it a real go. Wow, it truly deserves to have won Game of the Year at the Game Developer Choice Awards. For an unforgiving action game, it manages to frame your eventual death/defeat as such a natural thing, nothing to be upset about, that it feels not-stressful and kinda good for mental health.
  • Anyway, those other games. For someone who doesn’t really care for sports, I’ve watched more of the Olympics so far than expected. Gymnastics, archery, skateboarding, judo/taekwondo, and table tennis have been entertaining in particular. Our local broadcaster Mediacorp has 14(!) live channels in their meWATCH app, which I’ve got going on my Apple TV. It’s actually really good.
  • Since the games are in Tokyo, I figured I should read something Japanese. That’s currently Mieko Kawakami’s Breasts And Eggs, and although only a chapter in, I can say it’s been a welcome change from Klara And The Sun, which I finished awhile ago and found disappointing with nothing much new to say about artificial intelligence and a future where genetic editing blahblahblahGattaca.
  • I also read Chaos On CatNet, the follow up to Catfishing, and it was… sequelly. More action, new characters, bigger scope and higher stakes. As a result, I missed the coziness and quiet insular internet thrills of the first, but I can see why it went down this road. I’ll still read the next installment whenever it’s done.
  • Kanye’s new Donda album failed to materialize on schedule and no one is surprised. I haven’t bothered to watch recordings of the “listening party” event because I’m sure the tracks will change and I’d like to hear them properly the first time. Whenever it arrives, my AirPods Max and its new headphone stand that I impulse bought on Lazada will be ready.
  • I drew myself as a Peanuts character, following the instructions from this excellent Today At Apple video on YouTube.

Quick thoughts on Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack (2021)

This week, Apple released an iPhone power accessory that’s been anticipated since the release of the iPhone 12 series late last year. In recent years, they’ve put out “battery cases” shortly after new phones — you’ve probably seen them: rubbery phone cases with a hump on the back, often ridiculed. With the MagSafe infrastructure on the new phones, everyone’s been waiting for a battery pack (or power bank) that you can just slap on the back.

After some delay, it’s finally arrived for USD$99 or S$139 and only in white. Bit of a missed opportunity to add some pops of color there, like the MagSafe card wallets they make in yellow and blue leather. I think it’ll pair quite well with this Cloud Blue silicone case though.

On the price: Apple offers an intriguing spread of products at the $99 mark. You can get a HomePod mini in some countries, which is a great sounding smart speaker with serious processing power equivalent to an old iPhone. Or you could get a first-generation Pencil to use with most iPads still on sale. And least apparently worth the value is the braided solo loop, a strap for the Apple Watch made from recycled yarn. I think this battery pack sits squarely in the middle in terms of value.

The Good:

  • Slim (1.25cm) and lightweight as power banks go.
  • iPhone 12 Pro stays usable and comfortable enough to hold when in use (YMMV, my hands are large).
  • Starts charging your phone when attached; no buttons to mess with.
  • Integrates with iOS and foolproof to manage. Your iPhone will slowly draw power and keep temperatures low, stopping the recharge at 80% or 90% to preserve your battery’s lifespan.

The Bad:

  • Small capacity. Holds about as much power as an iPhone 12’s battery, but due to the inefficiencies of wireless charging, you can only expect it to impart an extra 50% or 60%, based on my experience so far. (Edit: I’ve tested it further and I think it may actually get you close to 80% of a full charge on an iPhone 12/12 Pro.)
  • It does its job pretty slowly, so while traveling and using your phone to take photos, it may make more sense to make a fast-charge pitstop from a regular wired power bank than to go about your day with this slab attached.
  • The pack can’t itself be charged wirelessly with a MagSafe charger or Qi pad. It may be technically possible since reverse charging from an iPhone works, but hasn’t been implemented.

My use case

I’m home most days, and if I were working I’d be doing that from a desk at home with MagSafe chargers, Qi chargers, USB-C to Lightning cables, and all sorts of equipment within reach. Why did I even buy this? Curiosity, boredom, and utter laziness to rise from the couch to plug my phone in as I drain it over the course of the day playing games and checking Twitter.

It’s worth mentioning that my 9-month-old iPhone 12 Pro currently has a battery health rating of 90%, which is abysmal. Most of the time, my iPhones rate about 97% after a full year of use. I don’t know what’s caused this one to degrade so rapidly: a manufacturing defect? My charging routine? My use of a wireless charging pad each night?

I wanted a way to conveniently extend the life of my iPhone so it can make it through a day without draining down past the 20% mark. When I do go out, I’m constantly worried about ending up with a flat battery. I need my iPhone to pay for things, take public transport, or get a cab at the end of a night. But I want to go out unencumbered, no bag, just pockets. With Apple Pay and other mobile payment platforms, I no longer carry a wallet most times.

Alternative solutions

As mentioned, one could use a regular power bank with a cable. They offer much larger capacities, are cheaper, and can charge faster (up to the 18W USB-C PD supported by iPhones). This does require carrying a bag or wearing cargo pants that have wires coming out of one pocket and going into another, though.

Or if a magnetic wireless solution is preferred, then there are again lower-cost alternatives from Anker, Hyper, Mophie, and many OEMs. These are usually half the price of Apple’s, slightly thicker and more unsightly, but offer a little more battery life. They also lack the OS integration and you have to start/stop charging with a button, although it’s easy to imagine future models hacking some iOS support the way fake Chinese AirPods are able to show up in the battery widget.

Personally, I think I’ll be keeping this for the peace of mind it gives when I leave the house empty-handed. It’s easy to carry separately in a jeans pocket, smaller than a phone or wallet, and has enough power to extend even a failing phone battery to last through a day and night of usage. It won’t get you through two days, but I don’t think that’s what it’s for. It’s a safety net, and a solution for lazy couch charging at home.