Week 5.22

Welcome back, it’s the last week of the year for people who love the moon. I decided to draw two Misery Men who look like a pair of oranges (which are traditionally exchanged as gifts during the Lunar New Year), and they are proactively numbered #87 and #88 (a famously lucky number in Chinese culture). Numbers 83–86 are done, but will be released later.

From an artistic standpoint, I think I learnt something new with the little tael hat on #88. The intention was to make it shiny and gold; I could see it in my head but wasn’t sure how to make it happen on the screen. In the end, trial and error got me close enough to be happy.

Last week, Michael linked to this two-hour video explaining why NFTs and Web3 are a scam at worst, and based on unstable premises at best. Since then I’ve encountered it more on Twitter and set aside the time to watch it. I think everyone touching the space should watch it, whether they’re involved out of personal interest in the tech/money/culture, or on behalf of clients who want to explore it. It covers a lot, but if I had to oversimplify my takeaways, I’d say that I mostly agree with his views — there are glaring flaws in the architecture of the prevailing networks today, enough to suggest a collapse or dystopian outcome if they grow to become infrastructure that the world depends on. I think there are many opportunities to be scammed out there, alongside a lot of space-wasting junk (content, apps, bots) that only exists because of the potential for asymmetrical upside. Maybe natural selection will sort it out and hone the landscape into a workable form, or it won’t. One place I don’t agree: he spends a little time at the start dismissing Bitcoin, but the rest of the video builds a case for why it’s something completely different from “crypto”.


People say Chinese New Year is generally a time of eating too much, which hasn’t been the case for me because I don’t particularly care for much of the seasonal food, except pineapple tarts. However, dinner on two consecutive days this week was Korean BBQ, as in loads of fatty pork belly, closer to a kilogram than not. We finally got a new smart scale after the old one died a few months ago, and it’s not something I want to confront right now.

Ironically, I got the new Beats Fit Pro, presumably so named because they 1) fit ears well and 2) are for fit people who work out. In brief, EarPods/AirPods have never fit me well and always feel on the verge of falling out, at least on my left side. But I haven’t gone back to other buds because of their Apple ecosystem convenience, audio features, and pocket-sized case.

The Beats Fit Pro fix the fit with wingtips that you know Apple would never put on AirPods (that would require acknowledging inconvenient truths about human anatomy), while offering every other benefit of the AirPods Pro. Okay, the case is a little bigger, but it’s manageable. They also have the latitude to sound more fun (whereas Apple would prefer being neutral, aspirationally audiophile) and come in several colors. After being acquired for the platform that would become Apple Music, it seemed at times like the Beats brand might not survive long under the master’s roof, but I’m glad it has.

Also, this “Behind The Design” video strikes me as one of the best product videos to come out of Apple lately. It simply starts with a strong problem statement and then shows you how they solved it. Then it’s just good music, pretty exploded 3D visuals, and shots of the headphones in use by above average looking people.


Media activity:

  • Went back to Hades on the Switch in lieu of starting a big new proper game. It’s good.
  • Watched The Puppet Master on Netflix, a 3-part documentary on an extraordinarily bold and psychotic conman who ruined some people’s lives in an unbelievable way. Worth watching just to remind yourself it can happen.
  • Started Den-noh Coil on Netflix, a landmark anime series from 2007 that I’d never heard of before. It has an art style that looks of its time, but the story and central technologies (AR/XR glasses on everyone creating a parallel world) could have been written for today. I’m only three episodes in, but I think I’m gonna love it.
  • The Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance, restored and featured in the Get Back series, has been released as its own album (Apple Music), mixed in spatial audio with Dolby Atmos. Just great on a new pair of headphones.

Week 2.22

Most people attempt a “Dry January”, but I’ve taken that literally with my latest obsession. We inherited a Novita dehumidifier on Monday, and within hours it was sucking liters of water out of the air in our apartment. Living in Singapore, you take the constant 80–95% humidity as a given. I don’t know any Singaporeans who have dehumidifiers, and it’s always (anecdotally) the expats who seem to buy them.

If you get good airflow through your home, then mold probably isn’t an issue, but things still feel horribly moist all the time. Air-conditioning makes up for it, but I’ve found now that keeping humidity around or below 60% seems to make for a cooler feeling environment. A couple of days after, thoroughly sold on the concept, I bought another smaller De’Longhi unit for our bedroom in Lazada’s “Prosperity Sale”.

This has made going outdoors more disagreeable; the contrast now upon stepping out is akin to that moment when you disembark from your plane in Changi Airport after having been in a temperate climate, and it feels like being encased in a giant block of jello at 50% opacity.

I took two walks this week. The weather service promised a really cool month but nope, hot and humid as ever.

———

Media consumption:

  • I read David R. Palmer’s Tracking, the published-decades-later sequel to Emergence, which I enjoyed many years ago. Earlier book followed adventures of 11-year-old genius named Candy who survives an apocalyptic event and learns she’s technically a mutant, for lack of a better word. Came out in 1984 and probably still a fun read, written as a collection of Candy’s own journal entries.
  • The new installment is sadly not as good, overburdened with many uninteresting technical details and intent on stretching the limits of credibility even for a story involving super-gifted humans. 2.5 stars, for fans of the first one only. Please don’t start here.
  • Still on a Matrix/Wachowski kick, decided to revisit Sense8 which I only saw a couple of episodes of and abandoned years ago. Am now caught up to where I was before. Expectations lowered, it’s okay? Dialogue is pretty much the first thing you think of, though. Perhaps developing mutant future-scrying powers of my own.
  • Continuing with Psycho–Pass 3 on Amazon Prime Video. Each episode is twice the length of a standard anime series’, and it’s hard to stay focused. Maybe because the pace is slow, the mysteries are tedious, and many of the original season’s logical flaws are still present. Although it tries to seem deep, this is still a style over substance show, I think.
  • Finished Dexter: New Blood this week with the season finale. 10 episodes was a good target length for this story arc, and I’m glad they wrapped things up pretty neatly. I don’t know that anybody needed a return to Dexter, but clearly it made You possible, and maybe one more future spin-off where we’ll root for a serial killer.
  • Still grinding my way through NEO: The World Ends With You. Am right at the end, and all the battling has gotten tedious. The game is little more than a combat engine with some limited exploration and loads of 2D illustrated conversation scenes. In my rush to finish it, I’ve probably ruined the fun for myself.
  • Wheel Of Fortune on the Switch was on sale for $8 USD. It’s really a bit of Ubisoftian crap, but fun to play with couch multiplayer as an alternative to trivia games where some people who don’t spend their lives learning useless factoids might feel disadvantaged.

Week 51.21

  • The Christmas dinners have begun, with a large potlucky one yesterday at ours that was vegetarian but not at all lacking. Impossible!, you cry. Yes, we did have their meatballs. And already this afternoon we’ve eaten too much and had a gift of some sugary pastries arrive unexpectedly. This all follows swiftly after a five-course dinner on Friday night, the last in a trilogy of pandemic-struck celebrations for my sister-in-law’s no-longer-news wedding. I expect I still weigh the same regardless, having lost a significant amount of moisture to wearing a suit for photos in the middle of the day. I wonder if that’s what the stillsuits in Dune feel like: being rolled up in one of those hot towels they give you on Singapore Airlines flights.
  • After dinner, we played a new party game I discovered on the Apple TV (also available on Xbox and PlayStation). Jeopardy! PlayShow is a premium title, not to be confused with the various ad-ridden free mobile games released over the years, with insultingly easy multiple-choice questions. No, this is the real thing for everyone who’s ever watched a game show and answered aloud alongside the contestants. It’s that exact experience: streaming video of real Jeopardy! episodes, except you can buzz in and answer (using your voice!), and see how you stack up against the champs. S$14.98 gets you the base game with 10 episodes, and each additional pack is another S$14.98. Oof! Buyer beware… the game’s servers stalled halfway through our play test, so we had to move on to SongPop Party (Apple Arcade). Epilogue: I gave Jeopardy! another go the next morning and it worked fine.
  • I finished The Space Between Worlds which I was reading last week (five stars), and have moved on to Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, a bonkers story about giant mechs fighting alien invaders, piloted by couples in a mind meld that usually kills the woman (twist: not this time!), set in a world/society inspired by Chinese history. It starts a little rough, but once you get into her style and some jarring cultural references, it goes hard.
  • The Goodreads Reading Challenge hangs around my neck like a large bird. Even after Iron Widow, I’ll be two books short of my modest 24-book target in a year where I really have little excuse. It seems unlikely I’ll be able to do it with just 11 days to go. Nevertheless, I plan to follow this up with Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men and Naomi Alderman’s The Power, to construct a sort of male-murdering fantasy trilogy.
  • Last week’s viewing of Babylon was anime disappointment, but I’m now watching a series on Netflix called Vivi: Fluorite Eye’s Song that more than makes up for it. It’s an unsung (sorry) masterpiece about a robot singer who receives a message from the future, and follows her on a 100-year quest to change the course of history and prevent a war between humans and AIs. It works because the art is beautiful with few compromises, the writing is sharp, and it isn’t afraid to skip large chunks of time abruptly to keep things moving.
  • Speaking of time, you don’t believe you could watch a 1-hour and 20-minute-long video on how Garfield has been transformed by internet fans, but give yourself some credit. Michael, my main inspiration for these weekly updates, often posts about the video essays he discovers, which is something I never thought would be for me, but welps the YouTube algorithm has a new thing for me now. We’ve all seen that Garfield minus Garfield project on Tumblr, but trust me, this goes way beyond that. You won’t believe the depth and quality of fan art and lore that’s out there.
  • I’ll leave you with an update on the Misery Men project. There are now 73 “artworks” published on OpenSea, and every so often I look at one of them and think the quotation marks could soon be dropped. Like, it’s not impossible to imagine a couple of them blown up and framed in a home somewhere. Maybe not a very nice home, it might be a caravan, but I think there’s something here.
  • If you chat with friends on Telegram and want to send them a sticker expressing a specific sort of sadness or disappointment, you may now add my Misery Men sticker pack for absolutely free. I’ll be updating it with the latest ones periodically.
What was on my plate last night. Photo taken with the newly updated FiLMiC Firstlight camera app on iOS, which has some lovely film-inspired filters.
Misery Man #72
Misery Man #73: one of my personal favorites.

Week 50.21

  • We made it through another 50 weeks of a pandemic year. It’s surprising to see the number; saying it aloud instantly recalls many things that happened and also a sense of regret for all that couldn’t. Time is often called the ultimate scarce asset, but I think being time rich is useless if one is energy poor.
  • Energy is the one thing I don’t have this very moment, having just received my booster dose yesterday. I went with Moderna for my first two and experienced some trippy and difficult side effects. The rumors are true: Pfizer isn’t as bad, but it’s not nothing. Much like me, my immune system is prone to overreacting. It also means I can’t do Ring Fit Adventure for the recommended two weeks, during the worst time of year to skip exercise.
  • Maybe I already mentioned our scent-challenged Christmas tree last week. Well, it finally got decorated and there are now gifts under it. As a gift to myself (that I’ve already started using), I got the new Fujifilm Instax mini Evo camera. It’s just launched locally and in Japan, with a North American debut planned for February. Like the various crappy toy cameras that were popular awhile back, the Harinezumi and such, it’s a low-quality digital camera meant for fun shots with a grainy/blurry, poorly exposed aesthetic. On top of that, it has an Instax printer built in, so you can chuck out giveaway photos at a party, funeral, or board meeting. It’s not Fujifilm’s first attempt at this, but it’s the first that isn’t ugly or burdened with some other gimmicks (the last one recorded accompanying sound clips you could play via a QR code on every photo).
  • Many years ago when Go Go Curry shut their local outlets, I was pretty bummed about it and was especially offended by the franchisee spinning up their own copycat brand where all the restaurants used to be. It was a pale imitation, with several gimmicks thrown in that were not to my liking, but made them popular nevertheless. I generally dislike when food is “adapted to local tastes”. Anyway, this week we were near one around dinner time and decided to give Monster Curry another go, since it’s been years and the sour memory needed updating. And… they were actually good? I was just in disbelief that they turned it around: better quality ingredients, properly fried katsu, no skimping on the curry. Credit where credit’s due.
  • We don’t often use our Amazon Prime Video subscription, given the smaller library here, but I went looking for interesting things and came across an exclusive anime series called Babylon. I ended up watching all 12 episodes of it despite the unevenness, hoping for a payoff and some answers. Nope. It ends abruptly without much of a satisfying conclusion to the big questions. Avoid unless they make a second season.
  • Not disappointing at all is Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds, which I’m currently reading. The title and premise may make you think it’s a mediocre YA SF-lite adventure novel, but it refreshes ideas like traveling between parallel worlds, and utopian cities with all the have-nots living beyond the walls, and adds excellent writing around race/class/identity politics, spiritualism, and the lasting effects of violence.
  • Tons of new music got added to my library, but I haven’t had a chance to hear any of it. At the front of the line is Alicia Keys’ and Aimee Mann’s new albums.
I like that they tried to use the X series’ design language, but the actual product is very plasticky and the charging port is literally covered with a flap of soft PVC.
Under the right conditions, the Instax mini Evo can take pretty good shots!
Most suffer exposure metering issues like this white plate of improved curry (you can manually stop down but it’s fiddly).

Week 42.21

  • 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.
  • The new Super Deluxe remastered edition of The Beatles’ Let It Be is finally out, and it sounds pristine as one might expect. I don’t know what Beatles fanatics think of this album — do they think it’s patchy? Aren’t they all in some way? — but it might be one of my favorites.

Week 39.21

  • 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.