Week 5.22

Welcome back, it’s the last week of the year for people who love the moon. I decided to draw two Misery Men who look like a pair of oranges (which are traditionally exchanged as gifts during the Lunar New Year), and they are proactively numbered #87 and #88 (a famously lucky number in Chinese culture). Numbers 83–86 are done, but will be released later.

From an artistic standpoint, I think I learnt something new with the little tael hat on #88. The intention was to make it shiny and gold; I could see it in my head but wasn’t sure how to make it happen on the screen. In the end, trial and error got me close enough to be happy.

Last week, Michael linked to this two-hour video explaining why NFTs and Web3 are a scam at worst, and based on unstable premises at best. Since then I’ve encountered it more on Twitter and set aside the time to watch it. I think everyone touching the space should watch it, whether they’re involved out of personal interest in the tech/money/culture, or on behalf of clients who want to explore it. It covers a lot, but if I had to oversimplify my takeaways, I’d say that I mostly agree with his views — there are glaring flaws in the architecture of the prevailing networks today, enough to suggest a collapse or dystopian outcome if they grow to become infrastructure that the world depends on. I think there are many opportunities to be scammed out there, alongside a lot of space-wasting junk (content, apps, bots) that only exists because of the potential for asymmetrical upside. Maybe natural selection will sort it out and hone the landscape into a workable form, or it won’t. One place I don’t agree: he spends a little time at the start dismissing Bitcoin, but the rest of the video builds a case for why it’s something completely different from “crypto”.


People say Chinese New Year is generally a time of eating too much, which hasn’t been the case for me because I don’t particularly care for much of the seasonal food, except pineapple tarts. However, dinner on two consecutive days this week was Korean BBQ, as in loads of fatty pork belly, closer to a kilogram than not. We finally got a new smart scale after the old one died a few months ago, and it’s not something I want to confront right now.

Ironically, I got the new Beats Fit Pro, presumably so named because they 1) fit ears well and 2) are for fit people who work out. In brief, EarPods/AirPods have never fit me well and always feel on the verge of falling out, at least on my left side. But I haven’t gone back to other buds because of their Apple ecosystem convenience, audio features, and pocket-sized case.

The Beats Fit Pro fix the fit with wingtips that you know Apple would never put on AirPods (that would require acknowledging inconvenient truths about human anatomy), while offering every other benefit of the AirPods Pro. Okay, the case is a little bigger, but it’s manageable. They also have the latitude to sound more fun (whereas Apple would prefer being neutral, aspirationally audiophile) and come in several colors. After being acquired for the platform that would become Apple Music, it seemed at times like the Beats brand might not survive long under the master’s roof, but I’m glad it has.

Also, this “Behind The Design” video strikes me as one of the best product videos to come out of Apple lately. It simply starts with a strong problem statement and then shows you how they solved it. Then it’s just good music, pretty exploded 3D visuals, and shots of the headphones in use by above average looking people.


Media activity:

  • Went back to Hades on the Switch in lieu of starting a big new proper game. It’s good.
  • Watched The Puppet Master on Netflix, a 3-part documentary on an extraordinarily bold and psychotic conman who ruined some people’s lives in an unbelievable way. Worth watching just to remind yourself it can happen.
  • Started Den-noh Coil on Netflix, a landmark anime series from 2007 that I’d never heard of before. It has an art style that looks of its time, but the story and central technologies (AR/XR glasses on everyone creating a parallel world) could have been written for today. I’m only three episodes in, but I think I’m gonna love it.
  • The Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance, restored and featured in the Get Back series, has been released as its own album (Apple Music), mixed in spatial audio with Dolby Atmos. Just great on a new pair of headphones.

Week 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.

Beats Solo2 Headphones (Space Gray) Unboxing

I haven’t made a video in ages and wasn’t planning to, but my colleague Jose suggested today that since I was about to open my new headphones, we make an unboxing video of it. The coolest thing was that I was able to make the whole thing from start to publish without leaving my iPhone 6 Plus (okay, I looked for music while on my MacBook Pro).

The headphones themselves sound about as good as my Beats Studio 2 (2013), which is to say good enough for daily listening and most modern music types. But they’re nowhere near as comfortable as those, which along with the Beoplay H6, are my favorite pair of headphones to wear for hours at a time. Granted, those are both over-ears, and I guess that’s my personal preference. Still, the clamping force is significant, and is probably best for smaller, non-glasses-wearing heads.

Disappointingly for the price these go for, my pair also has a defective hinge on one side, so I’ll be returning these to Apple next week. These new colorways are interesting though. It reminds me of Nintendo putting out new shades on an old handheld before they launch the next generation. Here’s hoping we’ll see a new Jony-designed model in June alongside the new Beats Music service.

➟ The Beats Question

Apple’s Pursuit of Beats May Foretell a Shift
By BEN SISARIO, nytimes.com

If Apple makes a major marketing push for Beats’s subscription model — or, even better, if Apple integrates Beats into its ecosystem of online services and physical products — it could mean a big lift for streaming.

Apple entering the streaming music market (virtually overnight) with the clout and installed user base of iTunes would be massive, and it’s probably not an exaggeration to say Spotify’s days as currently structured would be numbered. Looks like we’re in for the next phase of music industry economics.

Since the rumor surfaced a couple of days ago, people have tried to rationalize why Apple would buy the headphone and services company. Some good theories and analyses of both brands have resulted; I think it’s fantastic to have lots of smart people simultaneously indulge in a thought exercise, the answers to which we will probably have in the near future.

My resistance to the idea has largely been because I’ve heard several pairs of Beats headphones myself, and haven’t been impressed. It’s not about being overpriced, but being bad experiences, functionally. A pair of BeoPlay H6 headphones at S$700 is subject to many of the same criticisms one might use against Beats: they’re too expensive, they’re made in China, the margins are criminally high, you’re paying for the brand, and so on — except the H6s really do deliver on the music experience. I suppose many Beats owners will say the same, but there are an awful lot of people with taste who disagree. Apple’s brand, to me, has always been on the opposite end of that spectrum. Perhaps this is an effort to change who we currently think of as their customers.

The Beats Music service, on the other hand, has been really impressive in my short time testing it out. There’s a feature called “The Sentence”, where you fill in a statement that defines the mood and situation you’re in, and Beats Music provides the appropriate soundtrack. I wish Spotify had something like it. I said in a tweet the other day that $3.2bn was the complacency tax of being asleep at the wheel of the world’s largest digital music store, and @craigmod noted that it was a rather low price to pay, in that case. Quite true.

The iTunes reluctance to play the streaming library game appears to be a legacy of Steve Jobs’s (and the senior executive team’s) approach to music as a tangible possession. He used to rationalize the download model by explaining how people prefer to own their music, and have collections, possibly informed by his own experiences with vinyls and CDs and so on. While it may have been true in the early days of the iTunes Store, I’ve observed even in my own listening habits as an older person that it’s no longer true. Collections matter, but song access is becoming ubiquitous and hence irrelevant. In a world where everyone pays $10/mo for music, we can build all the collections we want, without having to think about first buying a digital copy or worry about losing access. Why should you? It’s $10/mo for the rest of your life and everybody stays afloat and happy. Sold.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Beats Music became the backbone of a new iTunes Unlimited offering, and the headphones remained a standalone brand, sold prominently (as ever) in Apple retail locations.

[I first wrote this entry on my experimental blog about technological change, entitled T-Axis. I’ll be cross-posting stuff here for awhile.]