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 1.22

It’s another year, and the start of a new series of weekly notes to myself and anyone who might be eavesdropping. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but maybe I should change up how I do these. They could stand to drop some words or look a little sharper.

I sometimes end the year with a post about the music I enjoyed and a playlist of my favorite songs released over the year, as an indirect means of reflecting on what happened. I didn’t do that in 2021, because… well, despite having had a few months of rest, I just didn’t have the energy to do a good job of it.

Scrolling back in my Apple Music history, however, I made a mental selection of albums I remember enjoying enough to say I enjoyed them, and here they are in no particular order apart from the top spot. Any playlist I made would have involved one song from each of these anyway.

The Best (tied)

The Rest

Reissues


It was the week after Christmas… woof. A lot more eating amidst the tiredness that tends to follow so much social interaction. I spent my downtime trying to draw a little bit, which I wrote about in this post a couple of days ago.

I also slayed the dragon called the Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge, with a paltry-by-some-standards-but-still-alright-if-you-ask-me 24 books read. Like most challenges, it’s unfortunately turned into a stupid online performance metric that doesn’t reflect any actual value, with some people I see setting goals that go into the triple digits. Outside of a literature degree program, it seems a little much. I’ve set my 2022 goal to 24 books again, because I plan to get on some novels that are about as thick as three regular ones, so a simple count doesn’t really serve to quantify the effort or resultant thoughtfulness, if any.

Nintendo sent out their version of Spotify’s Unwrapped awhile back, and I was shocked to see my total gaming hours on the Switch quite low at only 71 hours. It was over 200 hours in 2020, mostly due to Animal Crossing New Horizons. To try and remedy that, I’ve bought a bunch of new games on sale but haven’t gotten around to any of them yet. Instead, I’ve been grinding NEO: The World Ends With You, which has been mentioned before as the sequel to a Nintendo DS game I loved.

Disco Elysium came by way of a tweet that recommended it. Pretty sure I glanced at it before but decided it wasn’t my thing. Couldn’t have been more wrong, going by the very strong first four hours I’ve experienced. I suppose it’s an RPG game like classic Fallout was, but your vault survivor is an alcoholic noir detective and there’s no combat at all. I picked it up for my Mac in the Steam sale; reviews of the Switch version warn of very long loading times.


Some friends brought their kids over and I helped take photographs. Pixelmator recently released a free update that adds iPhone support to their previously iPad-only Pixelmator Photo editor, in addition to some new tools. I wanted to see how it would do with the DNGs out of my CL.

After some experimenting, I am sad to report that their ML-powered Auto Enhance corrections tend toward overexposure, and when paired with the built-in presets, the results are almost always garishly colored with too much contrast. You always have to adjust the intensity of the recommended changes and disable auto white balance altogether, and after all that it just didn’t work for me with the portraits. I finally crawled back into the arms of Lightroom whose Auto mode is at least designed to recover details and provide a neutral starting point for edits.

I have to say though, for iPhone photos (HEIF/JPEG), Pixelmator Photo is not half bad, provided you tone things down as mentioned. Here’s an example I took on a walk earlier today. I’ll keep trying to use it because I like some of the UI changes they’ve made, but tbh if Darkroom ever adds a good Auto mode, it’d be my go-to editor for life.

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 26.21: A milestone

We’ve made it to the halfway point of 2021! And because I started in week 27 of 2020, that makes a year of posting weekly updates to this previously neglected blog. Has it been worth it? It will be. This morning I suddenly recalled how I used to have a TV card (it was a thing) installed in my PC back in uni, which allowed me to tune into trashy British programs over the air (I was bored in my dorm room because we didn’t have broadband, you see). It was just one of those memories so heavily buried that they seem unreal. So I went back and read some old blog posts from around that time. Instantly, that whole period came back, and there’s nothing like meeting your younger, better-in-some-ways self again via a journal entry. I recommend it.

This week in books: I finished Project Hail Mary which I was enjoying as of the last check in, and it held up all the way to the end. I’d like to recommend it to everyone, because I believe its sciencey bits are so accessibly written that anyone will get the general idea and stay locked into the story, whether or not they have some aversion to stories set in space or involving science and technology. These people exist; I’ve met them! It was also a welcome change in terms of style and pacing, having come off a Neal Stephenson where every page asks to be chewed slowly and thought about. In comparison, PHM is like sausage gravy through a straw.

I’ve mentioned before how playing video games is a often good way to pass time, whereas reading books is a good way to spend time. I was reminded of that this week as I poured a few more hours into Persona 5 Strikers, realizing all the way that I was not particularly enjoying the combat gameplay, barely enjoying the animated scenes and story (although I like the world and characters), and despising its barely concealed time-stretching mechanics. That is to say, the designers have contemptuously extended gameplay time without having to offer any value, so that you the player are told to go from Area A to Area B to talk to everyone you can find to get a password (a McGuffin) before returning to Area A. Completely unnecessary, and made more painful by how long loading times are on Nintendo Switch. My solution: the next game I play will be a visual novel.

Other bits:

  • It was Amazon’s Prime Day and I got us some bath towels and Buffalo Trace bourbon at ridiculous prices.
  • I don’t often play mobile gacha games, but a new one called Alchemy Stars stood out because of its line-drawing/color matching gameplay. It’s a little like Grindstone with an anime backdrop.
  • We started watching The World According to Jeff Goldblum on Disney+ and the first episode covered sneaker culture. I guess I knew people spent thousands on rare sneakers but I hadn’t really thought about the psychology of it; the rush of chasing, anticipating, and then unboxing something. They could easily be swapped out for any other scarce collectible like NFTs or Pokémon cards, or lootboxes that promise them.
  • I’ve always envied people who find the hobbies/obsessions just for them (damage to finances and relationships aside). I’ve never met a game I loved so much that I would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on buying its in-app purchases. Or shoes, bicycles, etc. I know people who do, though. They seem to buy almost thoughtlessly and without regret. Which is not at all like me with headphones and cameras. Those hurt long before and after the unboxing. I probably just have an opposite disorder of not allowing myself to fully anticipate and enjoy anything.
  • We went out to eat just once (it was enough) upon the lifting of lockdown restrictions this week. It was one of those all you can eat Korean barbecue places. We sprang for the better stuff, and we’re fatter people for it.
  • The last project I worked on has gone live in its first iteration, and it’s looking alright. Whenever I remember, I like to go look at user reviews to see if we improved anything for the better.
  • I spent most of Sunday afternoon watching live performances from the Later… with Jools Holland archives on YouTube.
  • A.G. Cook released a massive amount of material last year across two albums (7G and Apple), and I only just found out. Listening to those coincidentally put me in the mood for local singer Cayenne’s new solo EP, which is kinda PC Music-ish hyperpop.
  • That reminded me to look if Hannah Diamond had anything new, and so I found this brilliant music video from last September. The foundation of its 9-minute runtime is a screen recording of her photoshopping a self portrait.

Week 24.21

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.

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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.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 21.21: Partly immune, getting into the rhythm of rest, and asking What’s A Computer?

I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Although most people say the side effects (fevers, full-body aches, headaches, oversleeping) are really only felt with the second dose, I was apprehensive. It turned out okay, kinda mild muscle ache on the one bicep and some tiredness that I can’t be sure isn’t just my normal sluggishness.

Step 1 of the vaccination process at a community center

Community infection cases have been on the rise. The new measures I mentioned last week have kicked in, so there’s no more dining out or meeting in groups, which is expected to bring numbers down in another week or two. Until then, this is how it looked this week.

Infections in the community:
Mon: 21
Tue: 27
Wed: 34
Thu: 27
Fri: 30
Sat: 22
Sun: 21

My vacation time started on Tuesday, so the four weekdays were mostly spent lazing about and looking at screens. I watched my money go up but mostly down. I continued checking my work email and following up on a few messages, out of habit. So this process of unwinding looks to take awhile; I don’t really feel like my break has properly begun.

I started journaling privately again, to have a record of how I’m spending my time. Perhaps these public posts will become shorter and more to the point over time as a result?

I got back to playing 2064: Read Only Memories on the Switch after a long time. My initial reaction to it was disappointment, mostly in the clunky non-touch UI and annoying voice acting, so I put it aside after half an hour and haven’t touched it in maybe a year? I figured I should get some mileage out of the purchase and tie up loose ends before playing other games. I finally finished it on the weekend. It’s better than I thought it’d be, but wouldn’t recommend you get it if you already have a healthy backlog of games to get through.

This week was also the release of the new iPad Pro models. My 11” in silver arrived Friday, and wow it’s a nice change from my last one. Face ID in concert with the Magic Keyboard makes me really glad I got this and not the iPad Air. You can just open it up, tap the space bar, and the thing unlocks and you’re in (like on a MacBook with Apple Watch).

Finally able to enjoy spatial audio with a screen bigger than my iPhone’s, I sat down to watch two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and let me tell you, it actually justifies Apple’s use of the word “magic”. I can’t wait to hear the new Atmos mixes for albums on Apple Music. Yes, it made me kinda regret not getting the 13” model with the XDR screen. Maybe next time.

Speaking of Apple Music, Muji has put nearly all their BGM albums up for streaming. I bought a couple of them as CDs back in the day — you may recall their corrugated cardboard sleeves for sale on the shelves beside those wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa. I tried looking these up years ago and was disappointed there was no way to get them digitally. Prayer answered.

In TV land, we found a way to watch the latest season of Gogglebox, which I still highly recommend to everyone. One of the episodes started to show the new season (#6) of Line of Duty, and we had to stop there because we hadn’t seen it yet. Netflix only has up to season 5 right now. One entire Sunday later, and we finished the whole season and are now completely done with the series.