Week 43.21

  • Apple unveiled their long-anticipated MacBook Pro redesign on Tuesday, and for once it wasn’t about thinner and sexier, but thicker and comfier. Pretty sure I saw a joke somewhere along the lines of “who among us isn’t thicker now”. I’m glad to see the reversion to more ports, MagSafe, and an integrated SD card reader, more because it shows the company is still willing to correct mistakes, but don’t actually want or need anything I saw — I’m happy not being a Pro and just puttering around doing casual normie shit on my Air.
  • Some people have waited a long time for the 3rd-generation AirPods, and while I’m a little annoyed the AirPod Pros have now been bested at battery life, not resuming music inappropriately when in a pocket, and charging via MagSafe (unless you buy a pair now and get the updating charging case), I understand they’re on their own development path and will someday get new features. Until then, there are attractive new Beats earbuds coming that look like they’ll fix my continuing fit issues with AirPods.
  • A couple of weeks ago I wrote that Covid cases here went nuclear, reaching up to 2,000/day. Well, in the days since we’ve become numb to numbers of about 3,500/day, and they’re not letting up. The majority of us have been vaccinated, so these cases would mostly be without much consequence (well, who can say? This Swedish report is worrying), but as long as it spreads widely and we have people who won’t get vaccinated, we seem unable to risk opening up further. So the authorities have extended restrictions for another month into November. It’s still dining out and movement for people in groups of two only.
  • I finished Journey Mode in Tetris Effect Connected for Switch, which I wasn’t able to do when I played it on the PS4. Maybe a matter of controllers, or luck. The multiplayer modes are novel, and I love the one where you team up with two other human players online to battle the AI, occasionally joining up your three individual playfields into one super-wide collaborative screen. When you pull off a win, it feels like a moment of miraculous teamwork with strangers; good natured, fun, and communicative.
  • I managed to complete last season’s Battle Pass in Call of Duty: Mobile, but just barely in time. For those who don’t play, that means I spent enough time grinding for in-game currency that I can enter the next season without paying real money. But fatigue is setting in. I don’t think I can do four consecutive tours of duty. Will probably drop out after this new Halloween-themed one is done.
  • Tricky released a new album with some friends under the banner of “Lonely Guest”, which is also the name of the album (Apple Music). It’s very high on my to-do list, but I’ve heard a bit and it doesn’t disappoint.
  • Verve/Impulse Records also released a live performance of A Love Supreme from Seattle, 1965. It’s not really mixed for headphones, sadly, so put this on your HomePod if you’re fortunate enough to have one, as they are STILL NOT AVAILABLE IN SINGAPORE DESPITE THIS WEEK’S ANNOUNCEMENT OF NEW ONES.
iPhone 13 Pro macro photo from a walk this week, film look via the Prequel app

Week 42.21

  • As a careful handler and frequent upgrader of iPhones — I joke that it’s one of my few excesses, and if I get hit by a bus, I don’t want one of my regrets to be that I’d spent the last 11 months tolerating the old model — buying AppleCare+ has been a waste of money. I pay for two years, only use one, and don’t actually use it because I never put a scratch on it.
  • This year, I discovered thanks to my friend and colleague Henry that Singapore has also implemented the ability for you to cancel your AppleCare+ plan at any time and get a pro-rated refund. In other words, pay only for what you need. This change happened a year or so ago in the US, but I assumed it wasn’t ever coming here (like the HomePods). So I was able to end my iPhone 12 Pro’s coverage with just a phone call.
  • Afterwards, I managed to sell my iPhone without having to deal with hagglers and trolls on Carousell (local eBay equivalent), or going around to used mobile phone stores and negotiating with them. Reebelo.com literally brings those merchants to you. You specify the condition of your phone/tablet, and get an instant quote from one of them. Set a date and time, and someone will come to your doorstep with cash (there’s still a bit of haggling as they will invariably find a scratch you never noticed before).
  • Last week I mentioned succumbing to a new “Nintendo Switch (OLED model)”, which, hand on heart, is its official name, which should tell you something about the migration process to expect. It is NOT an elegant or lovable user experience. There will be no plug-and-play on Christmas morning with Nintendo at the helm; I spent over an hour individually transferring each user profile over wirelessly (although they were already on the removable SD card), and then redownloading all the games over the internet (already on said SD card), and then manually downloading a separate app onto both systems just to transfer Animal Crossing’s saved data over (yup, SD card) because it’s just a special game don’t you know. Obviously I’ll draw a link to restoring a new iPhone from iCloud (the Switch actually has cloud backups of all save games!) and how comparatively easy that is.
  • The OLED screen is unbelievably, eye-searingly vibrant, and while it’s definitely an improvement over the muddiness of the original Switch’s screens, it will take some getting used to. It’s made by Samsung, and maybe having that knowledge is making my brain go “yes, the saturation does sort of remind me of using a Galaxy phone”.
  • I’ve been playing Tetris Effect: Connected, a game I already bought once for the PS4, but Tetris has such history as a handheld game (especially on Nintendo platforms), so it had to be done.
  • Despite all the wallet emptying or maybe because of it, I’ve really appreciated being funemployed this week.

  • TV-wise, we binged the new season of Love On The Spectrum on Netflix, a reality dating show following people with autism, started on the new season of You, a dark comedy-drama following a romantic serial killer, and continued watching Seinfeld, a period sitcom following a politically incorrect group of friends through romantic misadventures.
  • I’ve been slowly taking in Godzilla Singular Point, an anime series on Netflix that seems to be slowly making its way (reluctantly?) to a story that must have Godzilla in it at some point, driven by an interesting cast of human characters and one adorable AI assistant in cartoon dog form.
  • The new Super Deluxe remastered edition of The Beatles’ Let It Be is finally out, and it sounds pristine as one might expect. I don’t know what Beatles fanatics think of this album — do they think it’s patchy? Aren’t they all in some way? — but it might be one of my favorites.

Week 40.21

  • The mooncake festival is over, but I finally got my hands on a bunch of double-salted-yolk ones, which are now being slowly savored out of the refrigerator on a daily basis. I haven’t weighed myself in several months and don’t want to.
  • I started reading David Mitchell’s Number9Dream and will probably take it in slowly over a couple of weeks. So far it’s intriguing, different, quite brilliant.
  • Like everyone else in the world, we saw the Squid Game series on Netflix. Most of it at 1.25x speed, because it’s unnecessarily slow moving at times, dragged out for god knows what reasons. It could have been done in fewer episodes, but that doesn’t help Netflix I suppose. Most of it was watched in the English dub, because we heard the subs aren’t entirely accurate and the dub script differs in places (so at least we get two incorrect signals to triangulate rather than just one), and also because the original performances are a little… whiny? I’ve seen takes proclaiming it the ‘most disturbing show ever’, going on about its hellish vision, saying it’s given people nightmares, and so on. I can’t understand why. There’s not much new in its rehashed survival contest/psychological horror tropes, and they even appear often in comics and anime. I remember being disturbed by videos of awful bum fights back in the early days of the internet. The real world is the most disturbing show ever.
  • Covid cases here exploded-ed-ed even further, nearly touching 3,000 cases a day at one point. Despite that, I went out a couple of times and had coffee with an old friend I mentioned here back in June. We hadn’t properly talked in about two decades, but have reconnected now thanks to Twitter and Telegram. She lives elsewhere but came back to town on some unexpected business, and I’m glad we had the chance to meet.
  • We also had a couple of friends over, and all of this irl activity hasn’t been as bad as I might have once felt. Don’t get me wrong, I still love being alone, but maybe not having to interact with people daily for work has recharged my social battery. But it’s still a broken one with <80% battery health, though. Don’t make me go to things. Especially if I have to dress up. <— Note to wife.
  • My iPhone 13 Pro arrived earlier than estimated, which prompted discussion of whether Apple and its delivery partners are deliberately underpromising and overdelivering, and whether they should stop this because it’s inconvenient for people who’ve made plans to be home on a certain date only to be suddenly told “it’s coming tomorrow”. It worked out fine for me this time. I am satisfied to have it, but haven’t had much occasion to test the new camera out much. More to come.
  • Inspired by a Twitter account I started following for its vibrant and vibey film photography, I made a preset in Darkroom that tries to get at the look: faded green shadows, soft magenta tones, lots of grain, and a steep ramp up into blown-out highlights. I also separately recreated the look of the “Positive Film” effect on my first-gen Ricoh GR, and I think I got quite close by shooting a color chart with both cameras for reference. Sadly, Darkroom removed the ability to share presets quite awhile back when they rebuilt the app, and we’re still waiting for that feature to be reintroduced.

Filter test, shot on iPhone 13 Pro
Filter test, shot on iPhone 12 Pro
  • Kanye updated Donda with a few subtle changes, so I re-added the album to my Apple Music library and put it on several times over. I haven’t been playing it much since it came out, but the music has had time to sit in my subconscious and open up. Now after this booster shot, I’m beginning to see it’s a better album than I first gave it credit for. It might be my favorite of the year in a couple of months.

Week 39.21

  • For the first time since it stopped being necessary to line up for hours outside a telco HQ or Apple Store to get one, New iPhone Day (Sep 24) came and went without a DHL employee appearing at my doorstep. Dear reader, I was late to the finish line this year and my unit only arrives in early October. I begin each day by wondering if I should do the right thing and cancel it. We know I won’t.
  • Adding weight to that argument is the fact that the iPhone 13 Pro has a camera bump so comically large that it interferes with accessories such as Apple’s own MagSafe Duo Charger, and my beloved Backbone One game controller. For the latter, the company has quickly designed a spacer/adapter, which customers can fabricate on their own. I’m hoping to be able to buy one since I don’t have access to a 3D printer. Even without accessories, the bump is enough to cause substantial see-sawing when the phone (with or without a case) is placed on a table and the corners are tapped. I know because my wife has her iPhone 13 Pro already and this power imbalance does not feel comfy.
  • I neglected to mention in a previous week’s post that we did get around to seeing The Matrix Revolutions, and it was just as disappointing as I’d recalled. My disappointment at the time was so strong that it effectively wiped all details from my memory (while I vividly remembered the first two). I think it can be blamed on an overall lack of fun, visual craft, and other core ingredients that made the first movies so loved: well-choreographed wire-fu, novel special effects, a mystery that we are made to care about seeing solved, and big action set pieces where incredible, iconic things happen — a bunch of flying tentacled robots drilling into an underground city doesn’t count.
  • I came across this still image from the film that looked like something right out of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and decided to google the two franchises together to see if there were any links. That’s when I found this cool “trailer” that someone made for Evangelion 3.0+1.0 (warning: lots of spoilery scenes used) cut to the music from the The Matrix Resurrections’ trailer. Damn, the new EVA looks so epic.

  • Unfortunately, this week’s viewing time was effectively squandered by the mysterious decision in our household to watch Love Island Australia, which is absolutely stupid and 30 episodes long. I think we’re into the final third now but I’ve long stopped paying it most of my attention, and use the time to rack up progress in the Temple Run match-3 game from Apple Arcade. Why melt your brain in only one way at a time?
  • We did see the first two episodes of the Foundation series on Apple TV+ though, and it looks very promising albeit still clearly a television thing. I can’t stop thinking about some of the gobsmackingly beautiful/chilling frames in the Dune film we saw last week, and I wish someone would make a TV show that strives to that level of abstraction and perfection.
  • I finished two books: Unity by Elly Bangs, and The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. Both are worth reading. Unity is a better dystopian SF adventure novel than Firebreak which I read recently — the comparison comes to mind because both contain a program to turn orphans into super soldiers — and blends some fun concepts like hive minds and body snatching, with a dash of Ted Chiang’s short story Understand. Meanwhile The Test is a very short novella you could read on a Sunday morning, and the less it’s described, the better.
  • I’m still a habitual Goodreads user, but signed up to check out its sexy new competitor, Literal.Club. It’s already a faster and nicer experience, but since it’s still in invite-only mode, lacks the friends and years of book review data that will keep Goodreads around as long as Amazon wills it. Add me at @sangsara if you’re on!
  • Oh, and thanks to the announcement of a new Kirby game coming next year on the Switch, I chanced upon the depths of the series’ dark and complex lore. At first, it seemed like a hoax: what, this cute and cuddly Nintendo thing for kids is actually a horrific end-of-times apocalyptic tale with gene splicing and satanic worship and the death of countless civilizations, except the protagonist is so innocent and pure that everything rendered through his eyes looks like how the games end up looking to us? That’s sort of the gist, and there are a bunch of explainer videos on YouTube. I won’t recommend the ones I’ve seen, as they’re kinda incomplete, but here’s a popular one I intend to watch soon.

  • Covid cases here have gone kinda nuclear, from a couple hundred a day just weeks ago to nearly two thousand cases yesterday. So we’re back to two-person groups (you can still eat out in a pair if you want; life’s not completely shut down) for the next month, and more working from home for those who still have jobs. Stay safe out there.

Week 38.21

Media diet

  • I picked up Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life after coming across a few of his videos on YouTube. It’s a combination of anecdotes from his experience as a clinical psychologist, insights from his study of Christianity as a pillar of Western culture, and long-assed tangential stories and did-you-knows, the kind that only a supremely confident and self-interested extrovert can tell at a dinner party, padding it out for the sheer enjoyment of the storytelling process. 3 stars, I suppose.
  • Went out and saw Dune Part 1 in a plush cinema, where most of us were eating and drinking with masks off for the majority of the two hour and forty minute runtime. If I got Covid from this, would the movie have been worth it? No, of course not, but the length of the pause indicates the film’s score. This warrants a prolonged “Hmmm” at least. It’s something I’d happily watch again, and it didn’t feel long at all — I’d happily have sat through the next half right there.
  • Foundation comes to Apple TV+ next week as a series, and while I can’t recall a damned thing about the first book which I read as a teenager, I’m really looking forward to seeing Apple spend that iBegotten cash on some epic space shit instead of real-world dramas and comedies. Prior to seeing Dune, I was often mixing up the two franchises in conversation because I probably read them around the same time in my life, as one does.
  • Zookeeper World on Apple Arcade has not been as addictive as I’d hoped. Perhaps it’s the landscape orientation, or the UI for managing your zoo. Maybe I don’t want to manage a zoo at all. In what must be a data-driven programming decision, Friday saw the release of another match-3 game on Arcade, Temple Run: Puzzle Adventure. This one plays in portrait, more closely resembles Bejeweled’s proven gameplay and power-ups, and with a streamlined approach to story and progression. I find it much harder to put down as a result.
  • I “pre-ordered” World Flipper on my iPhone as soon as I heard about it, because it’s a F2P mobile gacha game with pinball as its gameplay mechanic. But I left it untouched and didn’t start playing until I saw this review pop up on Twitter. It’s a 2019 Japanese release from CyGames, which made Dragalia Lost with Nintendo, so it could be pretty good. I’ll put more time into it soon and find out if it’s the one for me.

Patrick Kleplek, Vice/Waypoint:

I’ve spent the last week thinking about this comment made by a follower on Twitter and the dark energy that surrounds it: “Everyone is just waiting for the gacha made just for them.”

The gacha game that grabbed a lot of new people was 2020’s Breath of the Wild-esque Genshin Impact. The gacha game for me is, apparently, World Flipper, a pinball RPG that had its “global release” this week.

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Apple gear stuff

I’m writing this week’s update from a new MacBook Air and boy is it nice to have a full-sized keyboard again! The last Mac I bought was an 11″ MBA back around 2011, as a complement to my iMac at the time. Big mistake, trying to have two Macs; it hardly got any use and was eventually handed down to my mom.

Then I went down to zero Macs around 2017, my work laptop aside. It was with the advent of the Files.app on iOS and the sufficient stability of iCloud Photo Library that it became semi-feasible to use an iPad as one’s main computer. Now and then I still relied on my work laptop for a few tasks that you just can’t do on an iPad, e.g. updating firmware on external devices, using Calibre for managing a library of ebooks, web apps like Figma or Miro that don’t perform well in Mobile Safari.

Over the past couple of months, I started to think about getting the cheapest, most basic MacBook later this year or next for infrequent personal use. But it was not a priority or a pressing need — I really enjoyed living off an iPad, perhaps masochistically. Then an opportunity to get a good deal on the M1 MBA suddenly presented itself ahead of schedule (thanks, Robyn!), and I found myself saying okay before I could overthink it.

I understand that many reviews rate the M1 MacBook Air a great computer, but I haven’t read any of them because I’d “left the Mac world”. So I wasn’t really ready for how amazing this is, especially for a base model, which doesn’t feel compromised to meet a price target in any way. It feels more capable and responsive than the top-end 16″ Intel MacBook Pro I was using just months ago.

As a result, I find myself using it more each day than I’d planned. Theory: the device with the biggest screen mentally becomes your “main computer”. And the windowing UI of a Mac just makes it natural for you to sit down, get comfortable by getting every app and document open, and then watching hours disappear just goofing off. The iPad’s multitasking limitations kinda protect you from that by requiring conscious intent at every turn.

Of course, it was also the week in which the device with the second-smallest screen got updated, and in my opinion these new iPhones are meaningful updates. Certainly the XS was the slightest and maybe the worst value, and I got one that year even. But most years I go through this dance of setting out to resist upgrading — last year was an exception because I’d been waiting years for a return to flat edges — and then the FOMO increases hourly until pre-order day where I inevitably capitulate. The same happened this year (13 Pro in Silver), and I’m now resigned to just being that fool, that insufferable self-debater, that joke of a justifier, balancing insincere buyer’s remorse and tainted consumer delight in a joyless game of self denial. I should stop getting in my own way and just sell the kidney with a smile from next year on.

Quick thoughts on Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack (2021)

This week, Apple released an iPhone power accessory that’s been anticipated since the release of the iPhone 12 series late last year. In recent years, they’ve put out “battery cases” shortly after new phones — you’ve probably seen them: rubbery phone cases with a hump on the back, often ridiculed. With the MagSafe infrastructure on the new phones, everyone’s been waiting for a battery pack (or power bank) that you can just slap on the back.

After some delay, it’s finally arrived for USD$99 or S$139 and only in white. Bit of a missed opportunity to add some pops of color there, like the MagSafe card wallets they make in yellow and blue leather. I think it’ll pair quite well with this Cloud Blue silicone case though.

On the price: Apple offers an intriguing spread of products at the $99 mark. You can get a HomePod mini in some countries, which is a great sounding smart speaker with serious processing power equivalent to an old iPhone. Or you could get a first-generation Pencil to use with most iPads still on sale. And least apparently worth the value is the braided solo loop, a strap for the Apple Watch made from recycled yarn. I think this battery pack sits squarely in the middle in terms of value.

The Good:

  • Slim (1.25cm) and lightweight as power banks go.
  • iPhone 12 Pro stays usable and comfortable enough to hold when in use (YMMV, my hands are large).
  • Starts charging your phone when attached; no buttons to mess with.
  • Integrates with iOS and foolproof to manage. Your iPhone will slowly draw power and keep temperatures low, stopping the recharge at 80% or 90% to preserve your battery’s lifespan.

The Bad:

  • Small capacity. Holds about as much power as an iPhone 12’s battery, but due to the inefficiencies of wireless charging, you can only expect it to impart an extra 50% or 60%, based on my experience so far. (Edit: I’ve tested it further and I think it may actually get you close to 80% of a full charge on an iPhone 12/12 Pro.)
  • It does its job pretty slowly, so while traveling and using your phone to take photos, it may make more sense to make a fast-charge pitstop from a regular wired power bank than to go about your day with this slab attached.
  • The pack can’t itself be charged wirelessly with a MagSafe charger or Qi pad. It may be technically possible since reverse charging from an iPhone works, but hasn’t been implemented.

My use case

I’m home most days, and if I were working I’d be doing that from a desk at home with MagSafe chargers, Qi chargers, USB-C to Lightning cables, and all sorts of equipment within reach. Why did I even buy this? Curiosity, boredom, and utter laziness to rise from the couch to plug my phone in as I drain it over the course of the day playing games and checking Twitter.

It’s worth mentioning that my 9-month-old iPhone 12 Pro currently has a battery health rating of 90%, which is abysmal. Most of the time, my iPhones rate about 97% after a full year of use. I don’t know what’s caused this one to degrade so rapidly: a manufacturing defect? My charging routine? My use of a wireless charging pad each night?

I wanted a way to conveniently extend the life of my iPhone so it can make it through a day without draining down past the 20% mark. When I do go out, I’m constantly worried about ending up with a flat battery. I need my iPhone to pay for things, take public transport, or get a cab at the end of a night. But I want to go out unencumbered, no bag, just pockets. With Apple Pay and other mobile payment platforms, I no longer carry a wallet most times.

Alternative solutions

As mentioned, one could use a regular power bank with a cable. They offer much larger capacities, are cheaper, and can charge faster (up to the 18W USB-C PD supported by iPhones). This does require carrying a bag or wearing cargo pants that have wires coming out of one pocket and going into another, though.

Or if a magnetic wireless solution is preferred, then there are again lower-cost alternatives from Anker, Hyper, Mophie, and many OEMs. These are usually half the price of Apple’s, slightly thicker and more unsightly, but offer a little more battery life. They also lack the OS integration and you have to start/stop charging with a button, although it’s easy to imagine future models hacking some iOS support the way fake Chinese AirPods are able to show up in the battery widget.

Personally, I think I’ll be keeping this for the peace of mind it gives when I leave the house empty-handed. It’s easy to carry separately in a jeans pocket, smaller than a phone or wallet, and has enough power to extend even a failing phone battery to last through a day and night of usage. It won’t get you through two days, but I don’t think that’s what it’s for. It’s a safety net, and a solution for lazy couch charging at home.