Week 19.22

This was the first week in probably the entire time I’ve been doing these weekly updates (maybe a year and a half) where Monday came and I forgot to sit down and start drafting.

My sabbatical from work is coming to an end, and it’s quite likely that it’ll be hard to continue doing this in its current form once I have meetings to attend and less head space for frivolous introspection and mental health protection — what a concept! Ha ha! I will probably gather bullet points over the course of the week instead, or just write less, which may be a blessing anyway.

The wife-away season of 2022 has begun, as I said on my Instagram stories, but it’s too soon to say if I won’t die of malnutrition, lack of attention, insect infestation, sudden tumbles down the stairs, strokes, or other incidents — with no one to realize my demise until a week later, when one of these blog updates fails to materialize (and now I’ve gone ahead and pre-empted that they may be late; what a genius I am).

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What have I been doing? I started playing Spiritfarer on the Switch. It’s beautiful, it’s chill, I think it will break my heart eventually.

I met up with my closest cousin after probably four years without a proper conversation. Some of the blame must be shouldered by the times we live in, but some of it is mine as usual.

I went to an NFT meetup the other day on Howard’s invitation. It wasn’t nearly as awkward as I expected. I met a couple of good people who were clearly experts in their fields; the time investment and esoteric ecosystem knowledge just radiated from them. I also met some explorers like myself, who know enough from dabbling but are still bewildered by glimpses of the outer lands. Perhaps we don’t need to go there at all. But good to know there are guides.

I’ve been talking to the team behind a project I find fascinating and artistically sound. We might do something together. It feels right and effortless to be involved in something like this on my own time. Perhaps that’s how getting back to work will work out.

Sigrid has a new album out this week. I need to find the time to hear it.

I finished reading A Gentleman In Moscow, and found out that the television adaptation is being made for Apple TV+. That’s restored my faith in the project, because I know they won’t shortchange it. It’s funny how ATV launched with the promise of quality over quantity, and how we felt that wasn’t a real positioning. Fast forward to 2022 and the imminent collapse of Netflix subscriber numbers thanks to a perceivable decline in content quality, and Apple’s seal of assurance is suddenly valuable. Some of the best series I’ve seen this year have been on their service: WeCrashed, Slow Horses, Severance. Anyway, fantastic book, not schmaltzy and populist at all. 4.5 stars, I’d say.

See you all next week.

Week 16.22

Had a couple more opportunities to use Superlocal this week. I’m not sure it’ll stick as a habit because 1) it takes awhile to check in, because photos are mandatory, and 2) I only have one friend on at the moment; two others can’t get past the invite gate because of a bug that will only be fixed in the next update. The problem with network effects or lack thereof here is the team has (rightfully) designed an app where the noxious crypto stuff is optional, which also means no real revenue until it takes off, and by extension most users aren’t incentivized with imaginary money. So now they have to rush to build all the useful features that Swarm already has, like telling you how many coffee shops you’ve checked in to, or the last time you were here. Without which there’s little to drive user growth, and nobody wants to use a social network with no friends.

One time I met Peishan and we had vegetarian food and I really wanted the ability to rate the place (poor!) rather than just check in. Someone in the Superlocal Discord asked if they’re building a recommendations database or a general social network, and it’s a really good question. Swarm still works great for my needs despite being covered in cobwebs, though they could use some competition.

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My wife has a lot of work travel ahead this summer, which is disconcerting but it looks like we’ve collectively decided the situation out there is fine. Many people in Singapore are back to working in offices at least some days a week, and a good proportion of friends have holidays planned. Me, I’ll be staying home in my hermetically sealed pretend submarine while she’s out on the first leg next week. I’ve got snacks, bread in the freezer, and an armful of video games to get through before the end of my sabbatical.

When staying up late at night in solitude, I’ve found it quite cozy to put global webcams from YouTube up on the projector. There was a tweet yesterday being derided up and down the internet where someone claimed Japan has no homeless people, drunks, giant rats, or litter. Later at 2am, I had a feed of Kabukicho up and saw a messy group stumbling into an all-night diner with a giant rat bounding down the street behind them. Perfection.

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Media activity:

  • Turning Red is a rather good Pixar film that dares to tread new ground (Toronto, and periods), and has so many great sight gag ideas. It feels like a story they had fun telling, and really wanted to tell, although I could have done without the overused meek Chinese dad archetype, true as it may be.
  • We also saw Drive My Car and WeCrashed, which are fun to mention in the same sentence. The former is a three-hour long film that uses the first 45 minutes as set up, and then the credits start showing. I loved the audacity. There’s a strange flatness to one character’s performance that was probably intentional or perhaps speaks to some nuance of Japanese culture, in any case that broke the spell for me. Overall, a solid four stars. For the latter, I don’t think Jared Leto will ever have a better-suited role, so he should just retire now please. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as always.
  • I’ve put Great Ace Attorney Chronicles aside for now; just couldn’t handle the wall of unfunny text anymore. Started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim now that it’s out on the Nintendo Switch. It’s… actually breathtaking. Loads of text to read here as well, but you hardly think about it because every movement and interaction is animated with a staggering amount of hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. I’ve never seen 2D characters in a game move with this much variety and complexity. The story is also building up to be a bonkers SF mashup that probably includes time travel, multiverses, memory downloads, giant mechs, kids being manipulated to pilot giant mechs, aliens, and whatever else you care to imagine.
  • A few weeks ago, I saw someone mention Spiritfarer on Twitter, calling it a very cozy game you can play on the Switch to relax, but also ugly cry sometimes because it goes to some deep places (you’re ferrying souls to the afterlife). I looked up reviews and decided it was a definite buy, but waited for a sale. That moment is now, my friends: it’s half-priced at $15 on the eShop for Easter.
  • Checked out loads of new music and recommendations this week. Kae Tempest’s The Line Is A Curve is a brilliant sort of spoken word/hip-hop. Banks released Serpentina which sort of describes its own sound, although Electro-Serpentina would have been better. Omar Apollo released Ivory, which is more produced and poppy that his last EP, Apolonio, which I still have to say I prefer. I discovered the work of Dijon through someone on the internet, and oh man, you must listen to Absolutely. Syd’s new album Broken Hearts Club is also pretty cool, but I’ll need to give it another go. And finally, LIA LIA is a German-Chinese artist from Berlin who’s just released a single, City Of Tears. I think it makes a good test track for a sound system’s sub-bass response.

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 14.22

We got used to wearing masks all the time. But then as of this week, they became no longer mandatory (I’m not using the word “necessary” yet because who knows) when outdoors. So when I finally left the house without a mask, and walked amongst other people still choosing to stay masked, it felt both weird and wrong. Did I get the date wrong? Was I the bad guy? Were they staring at me the way they would an anti-vaxxer or Covid denialist? It doesn’t help that no one seems sure what “outdoors” really means. Some think that includes elevators on the outside of buildings. What about an open-air food court where you’re talking to people, hovering over trays and cutlery?

I wondered if it was better to just keep wearing one anyway, for the anonymity benefits, but then remembered that people I hadn’t seen in many months were still recognizing me with a mask on. The deep state wants gait analysis systems everywhere for a reason oh god I’m one of them now aren’t I?


We had to run an errand near the Ghim Moh area and ended up eating at the hawker center there, which I haven’t been to in quite possibly a decade. Prior to going, we found YouTube video tours of the place, highlighting all the essential and famous stalls: selling braised/roast duck rice, chai tau kueh, satay beehoon, Hokkien mee, and wanton mee. But I can never resist the siren song of Tong Fong Fatt chicken rice, so that’s what I got.

All this to say I’ve been living in a tremendous bubble these past couple of years, and visiting a hawker center is now a novel experience. The last one was Amoy Street a couple months back when Rob was in town (I also ate Tong Fong Fatt, come to think of it), and that was the first in a long time.


A couple of weeks ago, we swapped out our Nespresso Essenza Mini machine for a Pixie model and I neglected to mention it because how absolutely boring do these updates need to be, really? Short on content this week, I bring it up because it’s turning out to be a markedly better experience and that annoys me. You see, all Nespresso machines are essentially the same from a brewing standpoint. They push the same amount of heat, water, and pressure through a pod. It doesn’t matter if you buy the basic model or the one that goes over $500. Milk frothing capabilities aside, all the differences are artificial.

The basic Essenza mini has a smaller water tank and trash bin, so you’re forced to fiddle with it and clean up daily. The Pixie increases both of those metrics, so using it incurs less mental load, which feels great! But holding more water (and adding some cosmetic metal parts, who cares) translates to a 42% price premium! Ridiculous, but we already knew that about the business model. Anyway I don’t want to be looking after a proper espresso machine so I’m still a happy customer, I just hate false upgrade trees.


Media activity:

  • Apple TV+ is hitting its stride. There’s suddenly now too much to see and too little time.
  • Coda won Best Picture at the Oscars this week, so I’ll need to watch that soon.
  • Pachinko is not bad at all, and getting great reviews in the local press. But I say this not having read the book.
  • WeCrashed continues to be quality despite the presence of Jared Leto, as mentioned before. The founders are presented as so out of control/out of touch with reality that I find myself physically cringing from embarrassment.
  • Suspicion has ended, and it wasn’t a strong finish. I’d put this lower in the queue if you haven’t seen it.
  • But the absolute best show I’ve seen on Apple TV+ in the past few months is Slow Horses. Do not miss this. It’s a British spy thriller starring Gary Oldman that quite perfectly balances being serious/thrilling and funny (not in a silly way, thankfully).
  • After finishing Top Boy, we learnt that there are two prior seasons on Channel 4 from back in 2011, and the Netflix-produced seasons are technically Seasons 3 and 4. The previous series (only 4 episodes each, in line with that worst of British traditions: the short season) are supposed to be on Netflix, renamed Top Boy: Summerhouse, which sounds like a bad reality dating show*. But only Season 2 has been added to the local library so far, with no signs of the first season yet.

* We’d probably watch it, to be honest.

Week 12.22

It’s probably time to admit I’ve gone too far with collecting 0xmusic NFTs and need to stop. It’s the euphoria of coming across something additive, with an actual concept, after feeling negative about all the crap out there. Even then, there has to be limits. This week I bought a couple more and spent some time fooling around in GarageBand just making sure I don’t have any latent music production talent. Almost sure now. Will do a couple more tracks next week before I call it. Here’s an earlier noodle, based on “Syn City”.

But hey if you like the band Blonde Redhead, you might be interested to know that the 0xmusic team was inspired by them in creating the style of the “Serena” series. On the anniversary of the album Misery Is A Butterfly, they airdropped a pair of professionally mixed songs to holders, and published this article on the band and their music.


We had lunch at a place called Lad & Co. (unsure, but likely unrelated to the other chip shop called Lad & Dad) where a large haddock and chips costs S$29. I had to text Rob and ask what a comparable serving costs in the UK these days, and as it turns out… about the same, upmarket! Although you can always find some for less in grubbier places. I don’t know why I was surprised by how much it’s risen in the last few years. Long gone are my student days of getting a takeaway cod and chips for £4.

On the way back, we heard a program on the radio about inflation. On top of rising electricity costs that affect everyone, restaurant operators are getting it on several fronts from ingredient supplies to labor shortages. The head of a charity was saying that in some hawker centers a single fishball now costs 80 cents. Even the humble Gardenia brand loaf is up from $2.40 to $2.60. I wouldn’t be shocked to see the cost of eating out go up 30% over the next year. This was topped off with a worrying factoid I’d never heard before: 15–20% of Singaporeans might be suffering from food insecurity.

Right after that, I happened upon the physical front page of the national newspaper (it’s been awhile) and guess what was on it? Tips on how to survive the rising costs of living. Well, at least it wasn’t as bad as Bloomberg’s take yesterday.


Media activity:

  • Got back into Billions where we stopped in Season 5, and have now finished that, ready to go into 6. I’ve never bothered to watch past the first episode of Succession, which people say has great writing. That pilot just showed awful rich people who weren’t any fun. The Billions team definitely has fun with their reprehensible characters, always grandstanding and speaking through cute references alternately aimed at Gen X and millennial audiences.
  • Also had a bit of a true crime spree on Netflix, finishing Bad Vegan over the weekend, plus an episode of Worst Roommate Ever. If you thought The Tinder Swindler had a crazy con going, this one exceeds it. Too easy to think these people are dumb and being told what they want to hear; more unpleasant to wonder what scams you’re falling for in your own life.
  • The first three episodes of WeCrashed on Apple TV+ exceeded my expectations, which were admittedly not high because of Jared Leto’s reputation. But he kinda nails his impression of Adam Neumann and his reality distortion field, a place somewhere between charismatic and cancerous that isn’t too dissimilar from all those other true crime/con shows.
  • Kim was busy, so I finally watched a film that she would absolutely have hated: Mandy, starring Nicolas Cage. Okay, I suspected I was going to hate it as well. It wasn’t as superb as some reviews made it out to be, but I enjoyed the progressive melting down (of both film logic and Nicolas Cage) after the central tragedy, ending in a surreal otherworld that perhaps goes on too long. 3/5 stars.
  • More contrarian film reactions: I enjoyed Don’t Look Up and didn’t think it was so heavy handed as to be off putting. I’d suspect that maybe I’ve lost all taste, but I didn’t love Spider-Man No Way Home last week, so that can’t be it.
  • Finished Episode 5 of Ace Attorney Chronicles. That means I’m done with the first of the two games in the collection. Undecided if I’ll keep going right now.
  • Listening to: Charli XCX’s new album Crash.

Week 8.22

1.
After posting about the 0xmusic project (NFTs that infinitely generate rule-based but non-repeating music) in last week’s post, I thought I’d start recording some of the output to concretize it for future reference. As Rob put it, the music is kinda “plonky”, but not half bad as BGM. So I recorded two ugly, short screen recordings of “DJ Drip” on its webpage onto YouTube, one of which was appended to the last post.

After that, what’s a guy with free time to do but take it to the next level? I recorded a 60-minute length of “DJ Syn City” and set out to make one of those YouTube music videos, you know the kind, usually lofi or cafe jazz compilations with an illustrated scene on loop. How is it we don’t have a specific word for that sort of thing?

I wasn’t in the mood to find videos in my library that could loop well, so I used a photo I took in Akihabara back in 2018 and dumped a bunch of overlays on it with a bit of motion*, mixed it all together in iMovie, and voila! If I find a way to create more/better music, I’ll probably make a bunch of these.

*How? You’d be amazed what one can do with an iPhone and free apps these days.

2.
Covid hit closer to home this week with two cases in the family. All are vaccinated and coping okay with only flu-like symptoms so far. Anecdotally, it’s everywhere. Multiple colleagues and friends have already had it this the past month. The relaxed policies at present haven’t helped: even if you or someone in your household is infected, you can go out as soon as you test negative via ART self testing. And you don’t have to document or prove the result in any way; it’s an honor system. To make things worse, the tests don’t seem consistent. Some test negative at home and then positive at a clinic, and vice versa.

I was feeling fatigued/achey and worried that I’d gotten it after being briefly exposed, but three home tests this week said no, so I wondered if it was just my usual psychosomatic, hypochondriac imagination filling in the blanks. Just to be safe, I canceled every meeting during the week.

3.
When it was safe (7 days after contact), I made one exception to join Rob for a yakitori and beer hangout with old work buds who haven’t all been together in years. The food was quality, but damn if yakitori isn’t criminally overpriced in Singapore. It was probably triple what a comparable meal would cost in Japan.

It was afterwards while we were watching YouTube that I learnt from Jose that the extreme longboarder Josh Neuman passed away this month at the age of 22. You can’t help but imagine the worst… losing control and flying off a cliff, crashing headfirst into oncoming traffic… but no, he died in a plane crash.


Media activity:

  • Finished the 18th Jack Reacher book, Never Go Back. It’s definitely one of the better ones, with a cast of supporting characters and good momentum. I can see why they picked it for the second film with Tom Cruise in the role. They chopped a lot out though, and I didn’t recognize much of the plot in this. Which just makes it clearer to me how much better suited the Reacher novels are for TV: one book, one season.
  • We’ve been watching Apple TV+’s Suspicion and The Afterparty on a weekly basis. The former is a British production with Uma Thurman in a supporting role. It’s quite a slow burn, but I do want to know the answer to the central mystery of how these unconnected people could be connected to the crime they’re accused of. Hmm, that seems to be quite a common set-up, also seen in one of the other shows mentioned below.
  • Regrettably, a lot of bad TV this week. I half-watched all of Love Is Blind Brazil S1, and we are now caught up on both new seasons of the USA and Japanese editions, both slated to conclude by the end of this month. The episode template and overall season arc gets old; they’re essentially the same across all the shows. But the shows couldn’t be more different from a cultural standpoint. There’s no ass-grabbing on the Japanese one, for starters.
  • We’ve also started One Of Us Is Lying on Netflix, based on a YA novel that I’ve heard about but never got around to looking at. A handful of teens in high school are suspected of murder and everyone has motive. Every actor in it is at least a decade older than their character is supposed to be. They also wear t-shirts with generic slogans and designs that are hilariously meant to broadcast their wearers’ archetypes: cool geek, arty girl, anti-establishment outcast.
  • Best line so far: “If he hadn’t shown up, I’d be taking selfies with Jesus right now!”
  • Much better is the Kanye West documentary jeen-yuhs. It’s obviously a Kanye-approved version of history, but it’s hard to overstate the value of such a behind-the-scenes document. I mean, it was shot over 20 years, an entire career. You see him when he no one would take him seriously as a rapper. He’s out there taking meetings and kinda embarrassing himself trying to get heard. Everyone fronts in hip-hop, saying they’re going to be the greatest, the biggest, but there’s something about young Kanye’s hustle and confidence that suggests he really believed he would be where he is today.
  • Side note: Donda 2 is meant to launch tomorrow. When he announced he wasn’t going to release his album on streaming or digital, and only on his own $200 Stem Player device, I wrote it off. I said that I wouldn’t buy it, and the album was dead to me. It’s tremendously wasteful to create a dedicated piece of expensive plastic junk to play one album. I saw it as disrespectful to the fans, and egotistical even by Kanye’s standards. Since then I’ve learnt that the device can be updated with additional music, like an MP3 player (whether it will be is a different story). It’s still too costly and excludes many people, but perhaps it’s a novel experiment worth checking out. I’ve bought FM3 Buddha Machines before. I can feel my hold slipping.