Week 15.22: Location apps

I’ve been a user of Foursquare, and then Swarm, for many years. Since November 2009, says my profile page. I know that I’m giving an advertising company too much information about my location, movements, and preferences. But there’s definitely a value exchange here. Without this “lifelog”, I couldn’t remember everywhere I’ve been, or the last time I was at such and such a place. And there have been occasions where I was able to, quite magically, summon the name of a great restaurant in another city and immediately see how it’s been doing since, so that I could recommend it to a friend.

I’ve been a fan of location-based apps and social networks since maybe 2006 or 2007, when I got my first Nokia that qualified as a smartphone. I especially recall an app named Brightkite that existed briefly. It allowed for serendipitous moments like going to a foreign country and seeing tips and reflections left around the city (maybe in your hotel!) by a friend who’d come the same way years before. Swarm still allows for this experience today, and it evokes a kind of love.

One day, Brightkite malfunctioned and read my GPS location as being in Tokyo, just for a moment. I think it allowed me to see people and their check-ins in the mistakenly assumed area, and so I interacted with some of them… giving them stars or a follow or whatever. One such stranger became part of my permanent friends’ list, and when I migrated to Foursquare, she ended up on my list there too. It’s now over a decade later, and we are still weirdly and peripherally aware of each other’s lives, on Swarm and Instagram, without ever having spoken. It’s a distanced closeness that could only happen with the internet. Once, when I happened to be visiting Tokyo on holiday, we were both checked in around the Ginza area at the same time. We may have crossed paths; I’ll never know.

Screenshot of the Superlocal app, taken off their website

This week, an app called Superlocal came to my attention via a crypto/web3 newsletter called Milk Road that’s worth subscribing to, if that’s your thing. Suoerlocal seems like an attempt to remake Swarm with a new revenue model. Like many web3 ventures, instead of selling your data to advertisers, it tries to support itself by being intrinsically financial: checking in and providing quality photos earns you tokens called LOCAL (which may someday have value), and being the mayor of a place doesn’t only earn you derision/respect, but also some LOCAL whenever people check in. How does money enter the ecosystem? Becoming the mayor of a place means minting an NFT for it. It’s currently in an early access phase, which also requires an NFT (or invite from a friend) to gain entry.

I have mixed feelings about all this, as I do with NFTs and web3 in general. We should definitely explore new business models and build services that don’t rely on users making a privacy compromise. If a small group of super engaged users can fund the experience on behalf of everyone, and be happy doing it, all the better. But at least in this iteration, we’re just trading one problem for another. For instance, holding a bunch of mayorship NFTs in your Ethereum wallet doxxes your location and behaviors too, and probably in a worse way because they’re public for anyone (instead of just Foursquare Inc. and a couple hundred of their favorite clients) to see. This stems from the poor privacy design of Ethereum, of course, but it’s now the biggest smart contract blockchain so what are gonna do? There are still so many things that need to be done differently for this technology to scale and be safe and easy enough for everyone to use. That means I don’t believe Superlocal is going to become ubiquitous any time soon, but hopefully we’ll all learn what and what not to do as they keep building.

Until then, I’ll still be checking in on Swarm.

PS: I’ve been told about the virtues of using Google Maps’ Timeline, which also lets you keep a log of your movements each day, but without the social and gamey elements. I tried it briefly, but it was less fun, and I’ve been quite successful so far in cutting all the Google out of my life. Yes, I’m aware my rules seem arbitrary and illogical.


Media activity:

  • Finally finished the book How To Do Nothing after about two months, which isn’t the positive review it appears to be. I found it such a joyless and obtuse slog that I fought myself every time I thought to pick it up and finish it. And because I have a dumb rule about not reading two books at the same time, that blockage has fucked up my Goodreads annual challenge for the year. A lot of catching up to do and I don’t think I will.
  • Started a new book anyway, Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief, which is billed as Oceans Eleven meets The Farewell.
  • Watched Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile. Dreadful. He’s done some work in the past that I truly loved, but this has little to recommend it. The art direction is slipshod, with CGI background compositing that looks straight out of the CD-ROM FMV games era, and the radioactive Armie Hammer is in one of the lead roles. Branagh’s Poirot is also mysteriously unlikable and inconsistent, with a couple of rude and temperamental outbursts that feel like if Superman suddenly gave someone on the street a middle finger.
  • Severance on Apple TV+ is not dreadful. Mild spoilers follow. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, and the first episode takes awhile to get going, but it’s really excellent. This despite veering a little close to corny with some scenes on the “severed floor”. The sinister, faux 70s megacorp with forced cheerfulness felt copped from the environmental storytelling of games like Portal, Fallout, and Bioshock, and maybe the Dharma Initiative out of Lost.
  • Now out on Apple Arcade is Gear.Club Stradale which was teased during their last online event, and I’m very much enjoying it with my Backbone One gamepad. The original Gear.Club was an okay free-to-play racer on iOS which was later released on the Nintendo Switch as a premium game (no in-app purchases). It also got a sequel on consoles, but I don’t know how that went. This new iteration is streamlined: it’s all set in Italy, and the UI lets you move quickly around the workshop and upgrade your cars without having to fiddle around in too many submenus. Instead of the usual giant catalog with tons of cars to swipe through, a small selection of up to three cars for sale, refreshed daily. This is a superior design for a game intended to be played in short bursts over a period of time. Ping me if you want to join my crew!

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 35.21

  • The week passed without much direction, pockets of time invested in various pursuits without any idea of their worth or contribution to a larger whole, psychologically enjoyable but with an undercurrent of guilt and worry. In other words, I’ve been a lousy bum.
  • The existence of a Gossip Girl reboot for today’s teens would make any Millennial feel old, but it… feels like it’s written by one of us? That’s not really a compliment. So while it’s trashy fun with scenes that would have been shocking on TV 20 years ago, the way it tries to incorporate current social media and cultural trends, and how it sounds while doing it, feels inauthentic. Haha, here I am complaining that Gossip Girl doesn’t feel real like it used to. I mostly spend every episode trying to figure out who each actor resembles most.
  • On Monday evening we took a walk in the neighborhood. By Tuesday afternoon, many of the homes we passed would have been flooded up their driveways. It was the single heaviest day of rainfall in any August ever, I believe the news said. It was a normal August’s entire month of rain in a single day. As apartment dwellers we were unaffected, but watched online videos of overflowing canals and mall basements in borderline horror. (It’s now the following Monday morning and we’ve got reports of flooding around the island once again.)
  • For much of the week, I was looking forward to Friday for the (re)release of Asphalt 8 on Apple Arcade, with all its in-app purchases removed and replaced with a more traditional “premium” progression model. The game is 8 years old now, but it looks just fine and is still being played and refined regularly — the free-to-play edition was updated last week, so it must be doing good numbers. As I said in a review I left on the App Store, this is a welcome return to Asphalt’s roots, as anyone who played its original incarnation back on the Nintendo DS (Wikipedia) would know. I paid $60 for it then, which was roughly a dollar per polygon.
  • It’s a testament to Gameloft Barcelona’s work (or my degeneracy as a gamer) that I can be literally sitting in front of a PS4 and Switch but spend hours playing a mobile racing game on my iPad instead.
  • The next Apple Arcade release I’m looking forward to is yet another Nintendo DS revival: Zookeeper World. If you haven’t had the pleasure of playing Zookeeper, it’s essentially an animal-themed Bejeweled with a sort of blocky pixel art aesthetic, cheap but lovably annoying tunes, and a multiplayer mode where you mess with your opponent’s vision. This was also a $60 game back in the day, and I remember playing it to death in university on my DS Phat. It was such a blast that several of my non-gamer housemates ended up buying DSes just to play Zookeeper!
  • At the week’s end, I hung out with some friends at a cafe all afternoon and discovered with the help of my HiCoffee app how it feels to exceed the recommended amount of caffeine in a day: pretty fucking awful. I had what felt like a coffee hangover the next morning and had to cut down to a single shot for the day.
  • Tech-wise, I spent time looking at NFTs and being tempted to do something stupid (pretty sure I won’t) and getting my feet wet in the Terra ecosystem. In particular the Anchor and Orion projects, which enable high interest rates for savings, of around 19.5% and 13.5% pa respectively. To use Anchor, you’ll have to set up a Terra wallet and deposit UST (their USD stablecoin), but Orion makes it easier by bridging your Ethereum stablecoins like DAI/USDT/USDC over to Anchor while still returning higher rates than anywhere else. I think they’re incredibly interesting and worth looking into if you’d like to experience something that sounds too good to be true but actually seems to work. This is not financial advice, of course.
  • Now if you’ll excuse me, Donda (Apple Music) just came out and needs listening to.

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 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.

Week 16.21

We had a series of strong storms this week. It’s bright out now as I type this, and yet I’m still hearing distant thunder. When they get going, these rumbles send deeply unsettling bass throughout the house, and the torrents of rain above make me imagine a hole opening up in our ceiling. They turn the mid-afternoon depressingly dark and they’ve been coinciding with conference calls, which makes me feel like I’m working at night. Because Singapore is so small, I often hear thunderclaps on a colleague’s end of the line just seconds before hearing it for real. Saturday was especially bad, with some streets kinda flooding with about a foot of water, which made me rethink going out to our dinner reservations.

However, the $70 penalty for no-shows was a great motivator. We had a good steak dinner at a restaurant that I, no joke, got served the day before in an Instagram ad. There’s a lot of junk being sold through Instagram ads, but fortunately this was a quality discovery. I did my homework via TripAdvisor and Google reviews, at least, and they have a 4.5-star average that I can corroborate on the basis of last night’s meal.

Come to think of it, there was a lot of eating out this week. On Tuesday night, spontaneously, we decided to go out for one quick drink at the neighborhood bar before dinner. This ended with a total shitfacing on soju and beer before 10pm. I haven’t had a hangover in a very long while, but Wednesday morning convinced me not to try that again.

Friday night, Kim made a leg of lamb for dinner with her parents. It roasted away for a good six hours, and because the doors weren’t closed, we had a delicious muttony and rosemaryish aroma in every room over the whole weekend. Which… might have subconsciously led us down the path of an over-the-top Korean BBQ on Sunday night. My birthday’s coming up, so I’ll blame all the weight gain on that.

We’re still watching Gogglebox most nights. One old lady, Shirley, is fond of saying “shitting hell” in reaction to things on TV, which cracks me up. She probably chose it as a less vulgar way of saying “fucking hell”, but because it’s such an unusual pairing, it sounds even more offensive.

Her husband remarked to her in one episode, “you’ve never had Indian food, have you?”, which blew my mind. She just wasn’t interested in trying it, or anything else exotic. She was also handed an avocado at one point, and had no idea what it was.

A couple of days later, I saw these tweets:

The linked article from the Guardian is about a farmer who’s had the same dinner every night for the last 10 years, and is totally fine with it. He says “I’m not interested in other food. I’ve never had Chinese, Indian, French food. Why change? I’ve already found the food I love.” And what’s this food, you ask? “Two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits at the end.”

I don’t have a problem with a couple of odd people being perfectly satisfied with their uniform dressing routines, or some others not having the sense of adventure that leads them to visit underdeveloped countries or dangerous natural environments on holiday. But celebrating a life where you don’t bother to try eating (just eating!) things that billions of other people have agreed are awesome; that’s kinda strange. It’s such a low risk/effort for high reward scenario.

That’s enough about food. I’ve been playing a lot of the new Star Trek: Legends mobile game, a story-driven strategy gacha game that has no in-app monetization as per the rules of Apple Arcade. If you’ve ever wondered how such a game would play out without the usual pay-to-win mechanics, they’ve still got timers and time-limited events, but you can earn all the currency you need by grinding, and the reward rates are generous. I can’t tell if I’ve had enough yet, but I may keep going to see where the story goes and hopefully unlock Picard and Data.

I read just one chapter of The Diamond Age this week, which is an utter embarrassment. Fortunately, I’m going to have some free time coming up soon, so my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge target of 24 books has no reason to worry.

I see Michael’s posted his weeknotes already, and recommended this 20-minute video on Portishead’s debut, Dummy. I’m still watching it, but it’s definitely worth your time if you know and love the album.