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.

Week 15.21

Changing where you cut your hair is often a big deal; people will patronize the same place for years or even decades. When I started at my first job, I discovered a little salon in the same building which was very convenient — I see getting a trim as a bit of boring maintenance that can’t be avoided. It had seats for six to eight people at a time, but only one middle-aged proprietor who would actually cut hair — his wife assisted at the till and sometimes with washing and other procedures. Making conversation with the older ladies who came in for perms and dyes seemed to be part of her portfolio. So, it was effectively a small solo operation that had room to expand but no interest in doing it.

I continued to go there for years (close to a decade?!) even after I left the company, when going down after office hours became more inconvenient. As these things sometimes go, we had many conversations over the years and I learnt a bit about the couple’s lives, their family, and so on. It strikes me that these hair-related relationships are unique amongst the commercial/service interactions in our lives. You don’t know what your doctor got up to on vacation, say.

One evening in 2015, I went down to discover the store shut and called to find out if anything was up. Turns out they just decided to close early that day and do something else. Had I called to make an appointment, that could have been avoided, but I never did it because you were liable to turn up and find someone in the seat anyway, and you’d have to wait 45 minutes (he liked to take his time).

Betrayed, I walked the streets and came upon another place, which marked the beginning of another multi-year relationship. Another friend who still goes to the same place tried to guilt trip me about the switch, but I didn’t feel to blame at all because not staying open during opening hours effectively broke our contract.

The new place was a more regular sort of salon: multiple seats, multiple stylists. I walked in and was assigned someone who I had a good feeling about right away. This guy was younger, normally served much more stylish clientele than the likes of me, and on the whole it was a more modern and luxurious experience — someone would bring you coffee! One time, I went down without an appointment as was my custom and was served by another stylist. He did an awful job, and so I got into the habit of making appointments.

This worked out until COVID hit and we went into lockdown. After the first couple of months staying in, I bought a pair of clippers, watched a YouTube video, and tried trimming my own hair at home. I wasn’t going out, so what did I care if I made mistakes and got a lumpy haircut? I just didn’t want my ears to get warm so I was doing the back and sides with the comb attachment. When the rest of it got too long, lockdown was just easing up and I could get someone else to do it. But visiting the salon in town would be too much travel each way now that it wasn’t on the way home from work.

What I ended up doing was visiting the traditional men’s barbershop in my neighborhood, which cost $10 instead of $50, and was an experience virtually unchanged in 30 years. I used to be brought to similar places as a kid, just an uncomplicated, artless buzzing and a few quick snips. The fluorescent lighting, smell of talcum powder, cracked leather seats, explosive countertop clutter, disposable razor blades for the shaving of sideburns… it wasn’t the same as being served a coffee and having your head massaged, but it got the job done. Did it look very good? No, but neither did I anyway, and I was still mostly working from home and not going anywhere much.

That was the past 9 months or so. I wasn’t really satisfied with the idea of getting mediocre uneven haircuts from shaky hands for the rest of my life, but the money I was saving helped, and it was alright as long as I didn’t look in the mirror? Going back to a centrally located place for a haircut just seemed out of the question though, kinda like going back to an office five days a week is preposterous now.

So long story short-ish, this week I visited the barbershop on what must have been their day off, and so had the opportunity to try the other hair salon in the neighborhood, which I never had occasion to pass in the day when they’re open. I feel somewhat like how it felt back in 2015: like I’ve leapt forward and found the light. It was the first proper haircut I’ve gotten in the past year, in a clean, properly air-conditioned place, with professionals who know what they’re doing, and a price acceptably midway between downtown extravagance and the bare minimum. I think this may be the next chapter as long as we don’t move away.

===

In other exciting neighborhood discovery news, my weekday lunch options have increased. A struggling (not great) Korean stall in the nearby kopitiam closed down, and the space was taken over by a sort of Japanese joint offering cheap donburi like oyakodon, gyudon, and katsudon, with unhealthy but tasty mentaiko mayonnaise and cheese toppings to make up for whatever they lack in authenticity. This change apparently happened a couple of months ago, but I never noticed while walking by because their signboard design looks similar to the Korean one’s from afar.

===

Still reading The Diamond Age from last week, and have been grinding through about 200 levels of Tiny Crossword+ on Apple Arcade. The puzzles are exceedingly simple, and I’m hoping the boards will get larger and more difficult soon, or else I’ll start on something else.

Week 14.21

  • We had some massive storms this week, he said interestingly. And apart from a lunch out with my parents where my lack of dialect reading ability led to me confusing a fish noodle order with the beef noodles we really wanted, it’s been mostly a passive (media consumption) week outside of work.
  • Oh, and I changed this blog’s theme, for those of you reading outside of the RSS feed.
  • I read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has been on my Goodreads shelf since 2017. It took the better half of a day this long weekend, and I mostly could have done without it. Minor spoiler alert. I found it too derivative of many other post-apocalyptic survival stories, with the added belief-suspending flaw of having most characters improbably linked. There’s even a significant portion devoted to survivors camped in an airport, which reminded me too much of Douglas Coupland’s Player One which I read last year and also rated two stars to.
  • As a palate cleanser, I’ve just started Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and I already have no fucking idea what I’ve gotten myself into. Which is to say I’m loving it.
  • Apple Arcade took a big leap forward and this new content direction feels like the next step in Arcade’s evolution (or the last, if you’re cynical and think that Apple would retire something that wasn’t performing — they’d cancel a HomePod but would they cancel a service?)
  • I spent about an hour with FANTASIAN, the new game from both the creator and composer of Final Fantasy, which is a huge coup for an Apple exclusive. It feels on brand as hell for them, so I don’t expect to see it through to the end (never have), although it’s quite beautiful. We also played SongPop Party for awhile, and it’s good fun. I’m also looking forward to trying the new Star Trek game, and Platinum’s World of Demons, which was cancelled in beta years ago and then secretly revived for Apple Arcade. Oh, and Taiko no Tatsujin! And CLAP HANZ GOLF! And The Oregon Trail remake! There’s just so much.
  • While checking out one of the larger streaming service’s overseas catalog via ah… VPN, we discovered Gogglebox, a UK reality show where you watch people watching TV. It’s brilliant. On one hand, it condenses an entire week of British news, drama, and game show programming into an hour-long highlights reel of just the best bits. On the other, you get entertaining commentary from groups of friends and family sitting in their own living rooms — entertaining on account of their reactions (sarcasm, ignorance, delight, horror) and their individual relationships and stories which slowly become apparent to the viewer. It’s like the Terrace House panel, but for regular TV, and I can’t get enough.
  • Two albums on rotation this week:
  • The Shave Experiment EP by Q is falsetto-laden, lofi R&B with lots of electric guitar and analog effects, which is hit and miss for me most times; I can’t stand some Steve Lacey, but kinda liked Omar Apollo, etc. Q’s take on it seems to be right in the sweet spot for me.
  • Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra defies categorization. It’s a somewhat-minimal piece of ambient or jazz music lasting 46 minutes, in 9 movements, centered around a saxophone, with occasional strings and other sounds, held together by one single gentle piano riff that just repeats throughout the whole thing like a mindworm.

Week 34.20

  • I’d like to know just how good the pandemic has been for Nespresso’s bottom line, because I am using my machine so much more these days and can’t be the only one. In our house, we probably go through a sleeve of 10 pods every two days. On account of running low and a new local promotion that gets you a pair of metal cups (that look like their pods) and a little Monin brand flavored syrup sampler, I ordered, and received the next day, 30 sleeves. That’s 300 cups of coffee.
  • So the included syrups were blackcurrant (maybe more suited to tea?), white peach (not the weirdest iced coffee I’ve had, but uhh), and salted caramel (omg). The latter is the best, because now I’m making Starbucks-ish caramel macchiatos (but better!) at will, at home. But the most exciting application of these isn’t coffees, but cocktails! Salted caramel old fashioneds, trust me, do it. A dash of chocolate bitters along with angostura bitters works too.
  • When we did our next Redmart grocery order, I put a full 700ml bottle of the salted caramel syrup in the cart. Would you believe this brand makes something like a hundred different flavors? I tweeted that I lost about an hour of my life browsing through them and reading the product descriptions with a mixture of recognition and relief — I know what it’s like to have to create endless copy variations few will ever see or appreciate, and I’m glad I’m not doing that at the moment.
  • A typical Monin one features a few nods to the flavor and a hint of backstory, followed by serving suggestions (Lavender: “Inspired by the lavender fields of Southern France, aromatic and pretty in purple for lavishly hued speciality drinks like mocktails, cocktails, and more.”) But in some of them, it’s hilariously clear the copywriter had no idea what the flavor even is (Agave: “Made with premium ingredients, it is especially formulated to dissolve instantly with any hot or cold beverage, for fast convenient use with great taste.”) And every now and then, you catch them trying to have what little fun they can (Caribbean syrup: “Create ‘rumbustious’ coffees, non-alcoholic cocktails and dessert drinks with the nose of rum aged in oak barrels and the sweet rum taste to make any pirate proud!”)
  • Last week I mentioned Apple Music and this week they began killing off the Beats brand, clumsily renaming the Beats 1 radio station “Apple Music 1”. They also launched two new live, DJed stations: Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country. The former is supposedly dedicated to Top 40 music from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. I’m glad they’re expanding the live stations. I don’t care for either of the two new ones, but that’s okay. It’s just the missed opportunity with the brand name that gets me. The Beats 1 station minus country music and old hits would be even MORE Beats than before. Which just means Apple isn’t interested in building out any more brand equity for Beats; they’d rather do some Highlander shit and lop its head off to transfer its street cred to Apple Music. Did that work when they killed iTunes? I complained about this to Michael, and we agreed that their product naming is just beige now that it’s “Apple [Noun]” for everything in the Cook era.
  • I met a couple more of my colleagues in person this week, and I’ll be leaving the house for a justified meeting in the coming week. I’m up for more of the first, because we had a great chat till it was nearly midnight, but am not especially keen for the second to occur regularly just yet. Several friends have shared their companies’ plans to become permanent work-from-anywhere organizations. Provided it’s sustainable (there’s work to be done, culture doesn’t erode over time), I can see remote friendliness becoming a major make-or-break factor for recruitment and retention next year.
  • This week in games I finished Neo Cab (worth it), started Next Stop Nowhere (promising, but I found a bug and will wait till they update), and purchased Burnout Paradise (now discounted to USD$35 on the Switch) for the second time in my life. The first was maybe 12 years ago for the XBox 360. I didn’t enjoy its open world structure much then, but I drove around for an hour yesterday and it felt good. Oh, and Otherworld Legends is a surprisingly good and free roguelike beat-em-up.

Continue Apple Arcade? 9… 8… 7…

It was with some dismay that I read Apple Arcade is looking to change up their curatorial strategy, and cancelled some games in the process. Hopefully the affected developers will be able to fund and continue their projects via Kickstarter or something.

What made the service so refreshing at the start was its dedication to art and quality, stickiness and engagement metrics be damned. You paid a subscription fee, and got access to a peaceful library of games that didn’t try to milk wallet-attached endorphins out of your brain. We got delightful little experiences like Assemble with Care and WHAT THE GOLF?, and I stuck around on the promise that we’d get a steady stream of those. Well, it seems that train has stopped because somebody upstairs wants more addictive games that will keep people subscribed past the free trial.

One example of what Apple wants, according to Bloomberg, is Grindstone. I personally love it; a fun pick-up-and-play puzzler, and an evergreen game you could easily be playing years from now. But not every game needs to be a Grindstone, and there’s only room for one or two Grindstones in my life at any time. These are games you use to soak up free time, go-to icons for when a moment appears while in line for something, or on the bus. There are plenty of them already on the App Store, so Apple Arcade should supply a breadth of other experiences.

I see the potential of Apple Arcade as analogous to the Apple TV+ strategy : quality over quantity, unique visions only. A change of course so soon comes across as a lack of courage. It’s a long game, so to speak. If people aren’t staying past the trial, maybe they’re not reaching enough of the right people who’ll be their early adopters. Even Airpods didn’t take off immediately.