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Weeklies

Week 38.20

  • I finally finished reading This Is How You Lose the Time War after grazing on it for over a month, and immediately wanted to start over and read it again. The writing is otherworldly and poetic; the playful subversion of the old back-and-forth-correspondence framing device ingenious. I am ecstatic that it exists, and floored by the achievement of its creation. Closer to the end, it does a few things that I’d say should be familiar to anyone who’s read a few stories about time travel, but this does not detract from the overall experience. It’s handled deftly and with no unnecessary emphasis.
  • Back in Week 30 I read two other books on time travel and I can safely say that TIHYLTTW is the best of them of all. Two of the three (I won’t say which) feature the idea of going very far back to the early days of the earth to hide out from other travelers, which is cool. I’m hungry for more innovation in the time travel story department, so let me know if you have any anime, films, or books to recommend.
  • Apple made a new iPad Air in the shape of the iPad Pro, as has been rumored for months. If they’d offered it at the old iPad Air price point of USD$499, I’d be choosing colors right now. But at $100 more, it’s close enough to the price of the iPad Pro that I’m considering just waiting till next year’s spring refresh to get one with an A14X and hopefully a mini-LED display.
  • No one’s going on vacation this year, but some hotels here have carefully reopened for staycations, and so I’m writing this week’s update from a lovely sea-facing spot on the island of Sentosa. We had a few rum cocktails last night, and there’s an arts and heritage tour later before dinner. It is sort of nice to have a change of scenery after all. I should get going now and make a serious try of taking a break.
  • Oh, and we decided to try making chess a regular pastime of ours. Does anyone play chess anymore? I remember seeing expensive chess computers in the glass showcases of department store toy sections as a kid. I coveted them… imagine an AI living inside the chess board that would play with you, any time and anywhere! Since they don’t have chess sets on loan here (maybe COVID-19 related), I found a free 3D version and we’ve played two games so far on my iPad. Those dedicated chess systems were so special once, and now they’re just an app.
  • (Later) I’ve come back to say that I learnt something on the hotel tour I’m sure I learnt back in school but forgot: Sentosa was previously known as Pulau Blakang Mati, which loosely translates from Malay to the “rear island of death”. It was so named because of how the Japanese took lots of people there to be executed during WWII, or malaria, or how pirates would use it as an ambush spot. Maybe all three. In the 1970s, the Singapore government decided to officially call it Sentosa, which supposedly means peace and tranquility. Today, it’s a holiday resort cluster with a Universal Studios and people getting drunk on beaches, which just goes to show… anything can be given a second chance with a strong rebrand.
Categories
Weeklies

Week 37.20

  • I bought into the rumors that Apple would launch the new Watches and iPads via press release on Tuesday. I don’t know why, in retrospect, because that makes no sense at all. Those product lines are way too important and making an event of streaming some video isn’t a high barrier for them. So now I await the September 15 “Times Flies” event with interest. I hope the new headphones get unveiled, because I’m ready for them.
  • I applied that unresolved retail intent to the so-called 9.9 (as in Sept 9) sales that happened on all the local platforms, buying way too much alcohol on Lazada. For future reference: Roku gin, Amaretto Adriatico, Bulleit bourbon, Don Julio Añejo tequila, plus vanilla and mole bitters.
  • Bitters are super useful, and I’d said the same before about flavored syrups in a previous post. However, I’ve since discovered the Monin brand products sold locally (and made in Malaysia) are utter crap compared to ones made in France. They’re so thin, weak, and synthetic as to be unusable, and I’d like to pour the bottle I have down the drain.
  • We binge-watched all 9 episodes of Little Voice, although that’s not a strong recommendation. It’s fairly uneven, and maybe a B or B- overall. For a show about a singer-songwriter’s journey, the songs did not work hard enough. I can’t recall a single one now. Which just reminded me of how sad it is that we’ve lost Adam Schlesinger to COVID. His work on films like That Thing You Do! and Music and Lyrics stand on their own.
  • One scene in the final episode featured The Way You Look Tonight, which suddenly reminded me of Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which of course, I then immediately had to re-watch. I think I saw it in theaters here in Singapore when it came out, loved it, bought the soundtrack on CD on my way home, and then got the DVD a couple of years later when I was in the UK. It was a bit of a commercial failure and no one else seems to have seen it, but I just loved it. If Shakespearean comedy mashed up with the Cole Porter songbook sounds like your thing, please see it.
  • And that led to wanting to see another musically oriented romantic comedy, so we decided to give Yesterday a chance despite the uneven ratings and my consistent distaste for Danny Boyle’s work. UGH! I tried really hard to give the central premise a pass, and was rooting for the film to square it with a gold-hearted core, and there were moments in the first half that I really liked, because of what they tried to say about the Beatles, but it really had nowhere to go and deflated into an unlikeable mess.
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Weeklies

Week 36.20

August 31 – September 6, 2020

  • At the start of the week, Apple Music 1 (the radio station, née Beats 1) wasn’t working for me. I suspected it had something to do with the change in name and perhaps change of URL for the stream. It didn’t matter which device, Apple ID account, or internet connection I used, it was just down for a couple of days! I thought I’d be helpful and report it to Apple support, but that resulted in me spending an hour on live chat and the phone, being passed from the team to team, across several countries. Finally someone in Ireland was able to document the problem in their internal systems and let me go. It’s needlessly difficult. I said I didn’t need anyone calling me back or telling me when it was fixed, I just wanted them to log it. I should have just tweeted at them.
  • I had large double cheeseburgers with bacon and luncheon meat and fried onions for two meals this week. I can 100% tell that I’ve put on weight now. It’s on my face. A couple of friends have given up drinking and lost weight after a few months. It’s an effective method, but I don’t know what I’d do with all this misery if I tried it.
  • Necrobarista is a very different visual novel on Apple Arcade and Steam. It seems to try very hard to remind you that it’s set in Australia, with lots of “mate” usage, to the point where I thought it was made by Polish developers or something, and sounded inauthentic. Turns out it was made in Australia, so what do I know? Anyway what makes it different is that you don’t just click through dialogue quickly and see different character images pop up… each click through actually switches the whole scene and camera angle in a 3D space. A lot of work went into posing the characters and animating these short 1–3 second bursts. It’s much more cinematic than you’d be used to, and it makes you value each moment that much more. Unfortunately, the writing could be quite a bit better.
  • This week I watched quite a few videos by John Daub, who does this YouTube channel called Only In Japan (side note, but that linked channel is effectively a reboot after he sold his original channel). I’ve seen his stuff around for years, and he sometimes appears on those awkward, cheesy English language programs that NHK World puts out (don’t get me wrong, I actually like them for what they are, e.g. Peter Barakan’s long-running Japanology series, which just feels like a lovely artifact from the 90s even when the episodes are brand new). But I never really got into Daub’s style until he started doing livestreams. Back at the office, we used to tune into Twitch streams of people walking around various cities, eating things, checking out shops, and the virtual tourism was nice left in the background of a workday. Daub elevates that basic formula by being knowledgeable; a bit of a historian and tour guide, who also interacts with his community in the live chat. I’m now contemplating becoming a supporter on Patreon just because his walkabout videos feel slightly like being able to go on holiday during this pandemic. I shit you not, the other night I was walking in place in my living room as he went around Toyosu, like a sort of Brian Butterfield version of virtual reality.
  • For reasons I can’t remember, the Gregory Brothers’ viral auto-tune internet hit, Dead Giveaway, was stuck in my head for most of the week. As the words became more familiar, I was struck by how absolutely tragic they were. For those who don’t know the main line which was lifted from Charles Ramsey’s TV interview, it goes “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms… dead giveaway!” The way he says it in the original video, and the kind of nodding unsurprised reaction of everyone, just speaks to the awful world of normalized racism people like him/us are living in. Further “research” on YouTube led down a rabbit hole of other videos surrounding the horrible Ariel Castro kidnapping case… which I’ll spare you from.
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Weeklies

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.
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General

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.

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General

iCloud Drive and Calibre compatibility

About 7 years ago, I wrote a post about how the ebook library management app Calibre can contribute to problems with Amazon Kindle e-readers: it basically screws their battery life. I detailed a workaround for it, and to this day, I still get visits to that page, so neither Calibre nor Amazon must have gotten around to fixing it.

At one point, I had a large orange chunk on the bar above dedicated to “Documents” that weren’t actually there.

I now have a suspicion that Calibre also causes problems with iCloud Drive, so I’m leaving this here for anyone it might affect. Some scenarios for the search engines below:

  • If you store your Calibre Library folder on iCloud Drive, and have noticed that your remaining space does not reflect the storage you’re using, this is for you.
  • If you have deleted files on iCloud Drive but find that the free space reported by iCloud.com or your device does not immediately update to reflect the deletion, or…
  • If you have removed everything on iCloud Drive but still find space allocated to “Documents” in the “Manage Storage” section of iCloud settings on your iPhone/iPad — in other words, if you expect to have free space, and have done everything including a check of the “Recently Deleted” area and emptied your Recycle Bin, but the amount of free space is still inaccurate, I know that feeling.

This seems to happen to a lot of people, perhaps for other reasons, but it happens. Skip ahead to “Is it you, Calibre?” if you just want my conclusion.

So here’s my experience. A couple of years ago, I had this issue, and had to call Apple Support. It took several calls to resolve, because they wanted me to sign out of iCloud on every device (not an insignificant hassle with multiple devices), and when that established that the issue was on their servers, it had to be escalated to Engineering, and the eventual fix was they wiped everything on my Drive and reset it. I had to backup all my files locally (requires a Mac!) first. I believe I still suffered some data loss.

After that, it was all good, but my confidence in iCloud Drive was shaken, and I didn’t want to use it as storage for anything important. Every year since then, they’ve made enhancements to iCloud Drive, and to the Files.app on iOS, which has made me slowly more willing to embrace it again as a cloud file system worthy of My Stuff.

And then this happened again. 13GB of space just wouldn’t come back after I’d deleted files. The files were gone, the space was not reclaimed. After putting it off for two weeks, I got on the phone with Apple again, and two calls later, they managed to “repair” my Drive using some standard tools they have (Engineering was not involved this time). So, a slightly better experience than before.

Is it you, Calibre?

I’ll say upfront that this is a hunch. I don’t have the strength anymore to experiment on my iCloud account and conclusively prove anything.

Both times this happened to my iCloud Drive, I was using it quite “normally”. Nothing fancy, except that my Calibre Library folder was on it, and I knew that the Calibre app was actively updating files on it whenever I added/removed ebooks. This last time, the problem appeared after I’d deleted a ton of files THROUGH Calibre, and as best I can recall, a similar situation took place years ago.

With the Amazon Kindle problem, there’s something about the way that Calibre writes files to the Kindle’s drive that causes it. In other words, Calibre (which is a sluggish cross-platform app that behaves in a very non-Maclike way) may have some non-standard ways of interacting with the OS and filesystem. I think the way that it writes/deletes files isn’t the same as if you manually dragged files around yourself via the Finder. It might be through some low-level UNIX operations, but this is where I’m out of my depth.

So it’s not a stretch to imagine that when you delete ebooks in Calibre, it deletes them from your drive in a way that may cause issues. Deletes them in a way that is invisible to iCloud, so it doesn’t know that the files are gone and it should give you the space back. On a local drive? It works fine, and that’s how it’s used by millions anyway. But on a weird aliased virtual cloud drive that Apple hacked together inside a folder called “Mobile Documents”? Maybe not fine!

Here’s what I’d suggest trying if you have this problem: move your Calibre Library off iCloud Drive. I’ve put mine on Dropbox and it seems fine. Do NOT put it on Google Drive. Call Apple, and have them repair or reset your drive. Some luck is required here, but they’re your only hope. Once you get your missing space back, don’t use Calibre with it again.

I’ll be here with crossed fingers too, waiting to see if this happens again.