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Week 43.20

October 19–25 2020:

The new iPhone 12 Pro does not disappoint, and I was foolish to think that I could skip this year. Well yes the camera is only a little bit better, I have no 5G networks to make use of, and the previous A13 processor was already so fast that the massive speed improvements here are imperceptible, but it all adds up. The size is just right, and the flat-sided form factor is nearly flawless (remove the camera bump and we’re there). I love that I can hold it lengthwise between thumb and forefinger with perfect stability — whose stupid idea was it to have rounded edges for the last six years?

Last night I tuned into a two-hour-long livestream about the process of developing and designing a book. It was part of Craig Mod’s Special Projects club (a sort of self-managed Patreon), and the subject was his recently released Kissa by Kissa — How to Walk Japan, Book One.

I managed to snag one of the first edition copies, and it was fascinating to be walked through it almost page-by-page by the person who put it together. We were a small group of live viewers, shadowy presences felt through a chat box, learning about unsung details and BTS production setbacks that makes me see my copy very differently. For instance, the book is not the physical size it was meant to be, but a binding challenge meant that it had to be done by hand and everything grew by about 2mm in one direction. Parts of it are perfect, and others are honest reflections of the process. I don’t think I’ve ever held a book and appreciated it as a design object this much until now. And while I’d still love to have one of the new and improved second-edition copies, supporting small projects through the ups and downs of the journey is what Kickstarter purchases are supposed to be about. 🤷‍♂️


Oh, and some friends came over and we got an adorable early Christmas house gift. I’d never heard of this Jellycat brand, but I am apparently in the minority. It needs a name, any suggestions?

All the photos in this post were taken with the Sigma 30mm 1.4 DC DN lens I got back in August. I quite like it!


I’ve been drinking too much and still sleeping too poorly. Nevermind! One recent addition to the liquor shelf has been Luxardo Maraschino, which you never really see for sale out in the open here; I got some online. It mostly opens up possibilities for all my ryes and bourbons.


In all likelihood, I’d encountered the Japanese rapper Awich before because her name rings a bell, but wasn’t into what she was doing at the time. Now she seems to have made a bit of a leap forward. Her new Partition EP slaps? Is that what we say now? I went back and compared it to some of her earlier stuff, and the production is way better and she’s got a great flow. Also the videos are intense.

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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.
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Weeklies

Week 35.20

  • In the tradition of former such updates, I’ll start with all the times I left the house this week.
  • There was a work meeting that had to be done on site, and I took another afternoon off to get some artwork framed. We’ve been living here for two years now, and most of the walls are still bare because we never found large enough things we liked (and were too lazy). The living room wall is now about to get a furoshiki from the Spoon & Tamago store (see photo), which I’d initially wanted to pair with another, but after testing with an AR app, we decided against it. The glow-in-the-dark one will have to go somewhere else, or become a scarf.
  • My family made a big deal about getting enough exercise, which I don’t, so I also took an evening walk and will try to get them in more often. Thanks, mom.
  • Whilst visiting said parents, I also took the opportunity to test the Mavic Mini drone I got for my birthday, which has been practically unused since, apart from one stupid excursion that left the propellers scruffed and damaged. It was good to fly it in daylight this time, with my dad’s help (he’s flown remote planes and helicopters since I can remember), but the damaged props kept throwing up error messages about using too much power to compensate. So I gotta replace those before trying again.
  • On the reading front, absolutely no progress on This Is How You Lose the Time War, which is stupendously great whenever I pick it up but I’m simultaneously afraid to see end, and also not really in the mood for it most days. Sometimes I just wanna chill and play games despite thinking they’re such a waste of time.
  • Picked up Catherine: Full Body (the original unbodied version came out in 2011) for the Switch this week, and it’s an odd grungy block-sliding puzzle game with a dungeony aesthetic not like the Deception series, superglued to an adult-themed anime movie about a 32-year-old guy who’s losing his sanity to supernatural forces while being pressured to get married and have a family, or run away from it all with a mysterious girl who may be a figment of his imagination. One stage has you frantically Sokoban-ing blocks to outrun a giant demonic baby (with facial stitchings and cyborg augmentations) with a chainsaw where its arm should be. It’s from the director of the Persona games, and technologically speaking, is ample proof that the Switch could handle Persona 5. I demand this immediately.
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Weeklies

Week 33.20

  • Thanks to a series of early mornings this week, I don’t think I’ve felt very rested, despite my quantified self apps saying I’ve spent about the same amount of time in bed as usual. One of the things that usually happens when I have an early morning call or meeting is that I don’t trust my alarms and dream all night that I’ve overslept, and keep waking up. This happens before flights as well, so I’m just really terrible at anything that starts before, oh, 9:30am?
  • Monday was a public holiday on account of National Day here, our 55th anniversary of independence. Having to work on a holiday doesn’t happen too often, but it did this time on account of a regional project, but I’m planning to take the day later this month and get a long weekend to catch up on some reading.
  • I only managed a few more chapters of This Is How You Lose the Time War this week, but they were exquisite chapters. I love when you can sense the author having a load of fun.
  • National Day is usually marked by a military parade and a quasi-musical show performed at a stadium, broadcast live on TV. This year, they rolled the tanks and hardware out on neighborhood streets across the country so everyone could have a look from their windows (were they aware this is not usually a welcome sight, or that some countries have a real problem with this now? I’ll never know), and the weird song and dance bits were just beamed from a stage somewhere. Watching this live is usually quite cringey, but I leave it on in the background every year just to feel a little connected.
  • On Thursday, I went back to the office for the first time in five months, to pick up some mail and stuff in my locker (a fistful of cables and adapters, my SNES Classic Mini, whisky, stationery). There was no one around except for security, but it’s being cleaned regularly and all the lights were on, so it was like visiting a museum exhibit of life before COVID-19; everything on my desk perfectly preserved just as I’d left it. It brought back memories of the day we left, not knowing at the time how long we’d be away but certainly not imagining it’d be five months either. As I left, it was hard not to imagine it being the last time ever.
  • After that, I met up with a few colleagues for a pre-arranged visit to one of our usual bars in the area, since we’re now allowed to meet in groups of five and take our masks off for the purposes of eating. Which was initially surreal to be doing again in person, but very nice for a change.
  • Probably contributing to my feeling worn out were a few more social events, all delightful but so unusual these days. At one, there was an interesting conversation about how the music industry works these days, given that the host currently works at a publisher. I said that I used to think about record labels a whole lot more in the old days of physical products where I could read liner notes. Then, labels acted as a layer of curation and were effectively brands that stood for certain tastes or movements. The move to digital definitely changed the commerce around music, but I think the loss of liner notes was an underappreciated strategic blunder. iTunes tried to offer digital booklets for awhile but the take-up was low, and so today I’d be surprised if kids could even name two major labels.
  • I think people who don’t consciously try to discover new music either still rely on radio or just tap on curated playlists from their streaming service of choice (probably Spotify, given that it has a free tier). Those who don’t regard music as just background noise probably remember and consciously choose their favorite playlists, which are now clearly brands in their own right, like RapCaviar. And given that there are so many of them, in different states of being maintained by their editors/algorithms, it kinda makes sense to not only share songs and albums with friends, but also playlists.
  • I don’t use Spotify anymore, but that’s a rant for another time. While writing this, I searched my own blog to see if I’d ever mentioned it, but found this instead on the then-rumored Beats acquisition by Apple. I thought they’d extend the iTunes brand to include streaming music, but they chose to start over. Around these parts, most people I know still don’t understand what the Apple Music offer is about, or how it relates to iTunes.
  • While working, I often just put Apple Music’s Pure Jazz radio station on, but sometimes I like the BEATstrumentals playlist, which is their version of ChilledCow’s lofi hip hop beats to study/relax to. One recent discovery is Pop Deluxe, a playlist which describes itself as featuring artists who are “left-of-center, under the radar … pop’s modern vanguard”. In other words: catchy stuff hip people don’t have to make excuses for liking.
  • Two weeks ago I was listening to The Sunset Tree as a sort of throwback album. This week it was Bleachers’ Gone Now. Big melodies, saxophones, heartfelt anthemic choruses… another all-time fave.
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Weeklies

Week 31.20

  • A short entry this week, because it’s been largely uneventful outside of work. I returned on Monday and it was like being a kid on the first day back at school after vacation. Maybe you liked it; I didn’t.
  • I think I’m finally beginning to tire of the new routine, several months after everyone else was complaining about being cooped up, not going out for anything, and working from home. The lockdown here ended over a month ago, and by all accounts, the streets are busy again and people are in malls, seeing films, and eating out (with masks, of course), but I haven’t been doing much of that at all. We had some friends over the other night and they asked how I managed through the 10 weeks of isolation. I said I was still doing it, and it’s been 20?
  • But yeah, when I described the typical working day, it was depressingly simple. Just a short series of movements between rooms in the house, between laptop, coffee machine, dining table, and TV. It’s almost like being on a small space station or planetary outpost. This is not to say that I’d prefer being back at the office! But that life at least afforded some walking around lunchtime and a bit of ad hoc shopping.
  • I finished Lee Child’s “A Wanted Man”, and it was a yawn. At this point, I am only invested in the series’ first-ever story arc, which began in book 14 or 15, where Reacher just wants to travel to Virginia to meet an army woman with a sexy voice. All the books between that and #18 are just him on the road, slowly heading to Virginia and getting caught up in implausible international arms/drugs/human trafficking intrigues. The next book is #18, where it finally happens. But I’m taking a break.
  • We decided this weekend would be good for rewatching Denzel Washington films on Netflix, and made it through 2Guns and The Equalizer. I didn’t believe I’d ever paid to see a movie called 2Guns at all, and yet remembered enough of it to suggest that, yes, at some point in 2014 I’d bought tickets to go see a movie called 2Guns.
  • I can’t decide if I miss going out to see films or not.
  • It turns out earning interest on crypto isn’t a total scam (see Week 28.20). I got my first month’s payout, and it’s amazing that individual people can now play the role of financial institutions and profit from it, albeit without the chance of being bailed out by a government when it all goes wrong.
  • I’m not sure how it happened, but I started hearing songs from The Mountain Goats’ The Sunset Tree in my head. This happened again and again, and now I’m listening to it. Maybe it’s connected to a point in my life (I think I was in university, and discovered it while a subscriber of the eMusic site — you paid a fixed monthly fee and could download a few albums worth of DRM-free MP3s, legally). Somehow, it’s become one of my favorite albums.
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Weeklies

Week 30.20

  • I took most of the week off from work. It was vacation time scheduled to coincide with last week’s wedding, and I was expecting to be in the UK in the midst of summer. Maybe I would have had a crappy Carling and a Pot Noodle for old time’s sake.
  • Instead I spent about three whole days roaming the plains and beaches of 13th-century Japan in Ghost of Tsushima. It’s pretty much Red Dead Redemption meets Assassin’s Creed in a new setting. It’s been years since I sat down in front of the TV and played a game for hours until my hands felt stiff and the controller’s battery needed topping up. I’d normally consider that an achievement of leisure but it felt kind of empty. By the fourth day, I realized this and put it away to get some reading done instead.
  • Theory: video games are a great way to pass time quickly, but a lousy way to make use of treasured and valuable time. If I was in jail, I’d love to have my PS4. But if I’m using up the rest of my leave for the year, and want the hours to last and feel meaningful? A stack of books, no question. So much time just evaporates while you’re riding your horse from point A to B, or completing templated side quests to help someone find their lost sister or whatever. It’s not like watching a film; many moments are completely disposable. I still love the virtual tourism of exploring a new world (and maybe VR would make all the difference here), but maybe I did too much of it all at once.
  • As soon as I switched gears to reading, it’s like time slowed down, and the experiential resolution went past anything 4K or 8K graphics are capable of. The signal to noise ratio was just not comparable. So that’s my advice to all the other old lapsed gamers clearing vacation time in a pandemic: leave the game marathons to when you go on sabbatical. They’re just empty calories. One exception comes to mind: when I played 140 or so hours of Animal Crossing at the start of the lockdown, it didn’t feel wasted. Maybe because it was more “creative” and I was putting my own island together. In contrast, triple-A open-world games just feel like coloring books for adults?
  • I also visited friends who’ve moved back to Singapore and found themselves a lovely new apartment, and the night ended with everyone playing Overcooked 2 (admittedly my first time), which was so much fun that I came home and bought the first installment for my Switch. “Get the divorce papers ready”, they said. That’s definitely something games have over books.
  • Books finished this week: The Future of Another Timeline by Annalee Newitz, Recursion by Blake Crouch, Otaku: Japan’s Database Animals by Hiroki Azuma. Also almost done with yet another of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels: A Wanted Man (#17).
  • The first two above are thematically linked, and highly recommended. The first one builds a world where time travel just exists (and in a wonderfully weird and unexpected way), and the second finds a clever opening for approaching said time travel, but achieves an epic payoff that must surely have gotten it optioned for a film adaptation by now. After reading Recursion, I don’t have much anticipation left for Tenet because it’s not going to be in the same class. No way. I’ll probably follow them up next weekend with This Is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar.