As a careful handler and frequent upgrader of iPhones — I joke that it’s one of my few excesses, and if I get hit by a bus, I don’t want one of my regrets to be that I’d spent the last 11 months tolerating the old model — buying AppleCare+ has been a waste of money. I pay for two years, only use one, and don’t actually use it because I never put a scratch on it.
This year, I discovered thanks to my friend and colleague Henry that Singapore has also implemented the ability for you to cancel your AppleCare+ plan at any time and get a pro-rated refund. In other words, pay only for what you need. This change happened a year or so ago in the US, but I assumed it wasn’t ever coming here (like the HomePods). So I was able to end my iPhone 12 Pro’s coverage with just a phone call.
Afterwards, I managed to sell my iPhone without having to deal with hagglers and trolls on Carousell (local eBay equivalent), or going around to used mobile phone stores and negotiating with them. Reebelo.com literally brings those merchants to you. You specify the condition of your phone/tablet, and get an instant quote from one of them. Set a date and time, and someone will come to your doorstep with cash (there’s still a bit of haggling as they will invariably find a scratch you never noticed before).
Last week I mentioned succumbing to a new “Nintendo Switch (OLED model)”, which, hand on heart, is its official name, which should tell you something about the migration process to expect. It is NOT an elegant or lovable user experience. There will be no plug-and-play on Christmas morning with Nintendo at the helm; I spent over an hour individually transferring each user profile over wirelessly (although they were already on the removable SD card), and then redownloading all the games over the internet (already on said SD card), and then manually downloading a separate app onto both systems just to transfer Animal Crossing’s saved data over (yup, SD card) because it’s just a special game don’t you know. Obviously I’ll draw a link to restoring a new iPhone from iCloud (the Switch actually has cloud backups of all save games!) and how comparatively easy that is.
The OLED screen is unbelievably, eye-searingly vibrant, and while it’s definitely an improvement over the muddiness of the original Switch’s screens, it will take some getting used to. It’s made by Samsung, and maybe having that knowledge is making my brain go “yes, the saturation does sort of remind me of using a Galaxy phone”.
I’ve been playing Tetris Effect: Connected, a game I already bought once for the PS4, but Tetris has such history as a handheld game (especially on Nintendo platforms), so it had to be done.
Despite all the wallet emptying or maybe because of it, I’ve really appreciated being funemployed this week.
TV-wise, we binged the new season of Love On The Spectrum on Netflix, a reality dating show following people with autism, started on the new season of You, a dark comedy-drama following a romantic serial killer, and continued watching Seinfeld, a period sitcom following a politically incorrect group of friends through romantic misadventures.
I’ve been slowly taking in Godzilla Singular Point, an anime series on Netflix that seems to be slowly making its way (reluctantly?) to a story that must have Godzilla in it at some point, driven by an interesting cast of human characters and one adorable AI assistant in cartoon dog form.
For the first time since it stopped being necessary to line up for hours outside a telco HQ or Apple Store to get one, New iPhone Day (Sep 24) came and went without a DHL employee appearing at my doorstep. Dear reader, I was late to the finish line this year and my unit only arrives in early October. I begin each day by wondering if I should do the right thing and cancel it. We know I won’t.
Adding weight to that argument is the fact that the iPhone 13 Pro has a camera bump so comically large that it interferes with accessories such as Apple’s own MagSafe Duo Charger, and my beloved Backbone One game controller. For the latter, the company has quickly designed a spacer/adapter, which customers can fabricate on their own. I’m hoping to be able to buy one since I don’t have access to a 3D printer. Even without accessories, the bump is enough to cause substantial see-sawing when the phone (with or without a case) is placed on a table and the corners are tapped. I know because my wife has her iPhone 13 Pro already and this power imbalance does not feel comfy.
I neglected to mention in a previous week’s post that we did get around to seeing The Matrix Revolutions, and it was just as disappointing as I’d recalled. My disappointment at the time was so strong that it effectively wiped all details from my memory (while I vividly remembered the first two). I think it can be blamed on an overall lack of fun, visual craft, and other core ingredients that made the first movies so loved: well-choreographed wire-fu, novel special effects, a mystery that we are made to care about seeing solved, and big action set pieces where incredible, iconic things happen — a bunch of flying tentacled robots drilling into an underground city doesn’t count.
I came across this still image from the film that looked like something right out of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and decided to google the two franchises together to see if there were any links. That’s when I found this cool “trailer” that someone made for Evangelion 3.0+1.0 (warning: lots of spoilery scenes used) cut to the music from the The Matrix Resurrections’ trailer. Damn, the new EVA looks so epic.
Unfortunately, this week’s viewing time was effectively squandered by the mysterious decision in our household to watch Love Island Australia, which is absolutely stupid and 30 episodes long. I think we’re into the final third now but I’ve long stopped paying it most of my attention, and use the time to rack up progress in the Temple Run match-3 game from Apple Arcade. Why melt your brain in only one way at a time?
We did see the first two episodes of the Foundation series on Apple TV+ though, and it looks very promising albeit still clearly a television thing. I can’t stop thinking about some of the gobsmackingly beautiful/chilling frames in the Dune film we saw last week, and I wish someone would make a TV show that strives to that level of abstraction and perfection.
I finished two books: Unity by Elly Bangs, and The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. Both are worth reading. Unity is a better dystopian SF adventure novel than Firebreak which I read recently — the comparison comes to mind because both contain a program to turn orphans into super soldiers — and blends some fun concepts like hive minds and body snatching, with a dash of Ted Chiang’s short story Understand. Meanwhile The Test is a very short novella you could read on a Sunday morning, and the less it’s described, the better.
I’m still a habitual Goodreads user, but signed up to check out its sexy new competitor, Literal.Club. It’s already a faster and nicer experience, but since it’s still in invite-only mode, lacks the friends and years of book review data that will keep Goodreads around as long as Amazon wills it. Add me at @sangsara if you’re on!
Oh, and thanks to the announcement of a new Kirby game coming next year on the Switch, I chanced upon the depths of the series’ dark and complex lore. At first, it seemed like a hoax: what, this cute and cuddly Nintendo thing for kids is actually a horrific end-of-times apocalyptic tale with gene splicing and satanic worship and the death of countless civilizations, except the protagonist is so innocent and pure that everything rendered through his eyes looks like how the games end up looking to us? That’s sort of the gist, and there are a bunch of explainer videos on YouTube. I won’t recommend the ones I’ve seen, as they’re kinda incomplete, but here’s a popular one I intend to watch soon.
Covid cases here have gone kinda nuclear, from a couple hundred a day just weeks ago to nearly two thousand cases yesterday. So we’re back to two-person groups (you can still eat out in a pair if you want; life’s not completely shut down) for the next month, and more working from home for those who still have jobs. Stay safe out there.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.