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.

===

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.

===

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.

Week 20.21

  • Community Covid cases in Singapore continued to rise. We were getting over 20 a day for a bit, which prompted new soft lockdown measures. Although stores can remain open with fewer visitors at a time, dining out is now on hold. Restaurants will have to survive on takeout and deliveries. You can’t be out walking about in groups of three or more. Basically, we’re staying home again for the next month unless absolutely necessary.
  • This coincides with the start of my vacation time, but it’s alright because I wasn’t intending to do much outdoors for the time being anyway. There’s a long list of entertainment options to get through, so I just need to focus on the content and resist the stupid urge to buy a PS5 or new TV.
  • Back in the days of the Nintendo DS, I absolutely loved The World Ends With You (TWEWY), a rare action RPG that nailed combat, music, art direction, setting (Shibuya), and story. Just thinking about it invokes the sort of nostalgia normally reserved for long-gone places where I used to hang out. A sequel is coming out this July after 14 years! So I’m now replaying the original on my iPhone and watching the new anime series in anticipation.
  • I’ve mentioned before how open-world games set in real cities have become a proxy for being able to visit them during the pandemic. If I started playing TWEWY in 2007, then it was probably shortly after my first visit to Tokyo. Perhaps this played a part in how much I like being there. Well, I bought Judgment for the PS4 last week, and will be getting on that as soon as I give finishing Yakuza Kiwami another go next week. The Yakuza games are great for this sort of virtual tourism, replete with all the sounds you hear on the street, like the actual Don Quijote jingle for instance.
  • I discovered a new Apple Music feature by accident: since iOS 14.5 you can search/browse by record label. I got really excited about this, because it means you can look up, say, the entire Verve catalog of jazz classics. When I shared this with someone, they didn’t understand why someone would want to do that. Okay then.
  • Reading: still on The Diamond Age, if you can call 10 minutes a week active reading. Just not been in the mood.
  • Netflix: we watched the new Vox Explained series about Money, which is really about Money in America, which is really about how fucked up Money in America is. We all know about student loans (and the high cost of education), credit cards, scams and misleading ads, casinos, and lack of retirement savings, but I couldn’t see the scale at which these problems impact American society. We have them too, but there are thankfully some non-optional systems that help people save and insure themselves.

Week 19.21

  • With more community cases of COVID again, Singapore went back into our second-mildest form of lockdown, stepping back from Phase 3 to Phase 2. This means groups dining out and meeting up are again restricted to 5 people at most, down from 8, and there are limits on how many homes you can visit in a day. Gyms are kinda sorta closed, depending on how strenuous the exercises you’ll be doing are. I think this is a weird compromise and inconsistency to keep people happy and unalarmed. Better to just close it all across the board.
  • We got this news on Tuesday while out as a group eating some very nice Korean BBQ (eating this has happened more frequently in recent times than in my whole life). Our in-person Friday breakfast plans at work were also canceled just to be safe, and it makes you wonder if things will get even worse and we’ll be back to Phase 1 (stay home unless absolutely necessary) at some point this year.
  • At the very least, because the new-old rules only went into effect on Saturday, our plans to attend a Vivaldi concert on Friday were unaffected. It was originally scheduled to be at the Marina Bay Sands, but the venue got moved at some point to the Arts House (the former Parliament office building), aaaand the email was unread in someone’s inbox which led to a mad last-minute dash in order to make it before doors closed.
  • On May 5th, Lazada had a 5.5 sale event, which had me scrolling around for at least an hour looking for a deal I actually wanted. I didn’t find one, but I did discover that small businesses have imported Apple’s HomePod mini (which isn’t officially on sale in Singapore at all, no one knows why) and are selling them online. I exaggerate; this wasn’t actually a surprise to me, and I’d long already taken the stance of a betrayed, aggrieved, and wronged Singaporean Apple evangelist, deciding that I would not crawl through the filth of the gray market to buy the damned things like I really wanted them. If Apple doesn’t want to sell them to me, FINE THEN.
  • It’s a different story when you’re on a store page looking at them with a big BUY button at the bottom. I ended up ordering two and they’re here now in my home, and they are quite marvelous. I’ve put one in our home office where a Sonos One unit used to be, and it absolutely compares in terms of sound quality for the small space. In the bedroom, it’s a huge usability upgrade from the Beolit speaker we had in there which took a full two minutes to boot up and connect to WiFi each time. Now I can call out “Hey Siri, play rain sounds” at midnight and get straight to peaceful sleep.
  • For the living room, though, I would love one of the original HomePods if they still made them. Even if you had like three or four in a larger space, I don’t think they put out the same power. But in a small room? These are half the size and half the price of the Sonos! If Apple can’t sell a load of these now, something has gone really wrong.
  • Videogames: I love the Yakuza games, and have been wanting to buy Judgment aka Judge Eyes, a sort of spiritual spin-off made by the same team. It’s just that the Asian PlayStation store is run in a weird Chinese-centric way that means the Chinese language version can go on sale a couple times a year, while the English version has stayed locked at full price since it came out. This week, I noticed it finally changed, just S$22! I got it immediately, and got excited about one more thing to do during my sabbatical.
  • Also this week… Sega revealed its sequel: Lost Judgment. That explains the price drop then. It looks great and comes out in September. I’m really going to have my hands full.
  • And to cap that all off, Nintendo also revealed Game Builder Garage for the Switch. If you wanted to learn how to make games, and actually create something on the same console you already play on, there’s been Dreams on the PS4. I’ve also been a bit intimidated by how complex and rich some people’s creations are on that, and it doesn’t look like something I’d master quickly. I have much higher hopes for what Nintendo has to offer. I expect it will be a gentle learning curve, and I look forward to making small, simple experiments that might eventually lead to the realization of a game idea I’ve had for a little while.
  • I really can’t wait to have more free time in June.