- We had some massive storms this week, he said interestingly. And apart from a lunch out with my parents where my lack of dialect reading ability led to me confusing a fish noodle order with the beef noodles we really wanted, it’s been mostly a passive (media consumption) week outside of work.
- Oh, and I changed this blog’s theme, for those of you reading outside of the RSS feed.
- I read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has been on my Goodreads shelf since 2017. It took the better half of a day this long weekend, and I mostly could have done without it. Minor spoiler alert. I found it too derivative of many other post-apocalyptic survival stories, with the added belief-suspending flaw of having most characters improbably linked. There’s even a significant portion devoted to survivors camped in an airport, which reminded me too much of Douglas Coupland’s Player One which I read last year and also rated two stars to.
- As a palate cleanser, I’ve just started Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and I already have no fucking idea what I’ve gotten myself into. Which is to say I’m loving it.
- Apple Arcade took a big leap forward and this new content direction feels like the next step in Arcade’s evolution (or the last, if you’re cynical and think that Apple would retire something that wasn’t performing — they’d cancel a HomePod but would they cancel a service?)
- I spent about an hour with FANTASIAN, the new game from both the creator and composer of Final Fantasy, which is a huge coup for an Apple exclusive. It feels on brand as hell for them, so I don’t expect to see it through to the end (never have), although it’s quite beautiful. We also played SongPop Party for awhile, and it’s good fun. I’m also looking forward to trying the new Star Trek game, and Platinum’s World of Demons, which was cancelled in beta years ago and then secretly revived for Apple Arcade. Oh, and Taiko no Tatsujin! And CLAP HANZ GOLF! And The Oregon Trail remake! There’s just so much.
- While checking out one of the larger streaming service’s overseas catalog via ah… VPN, we discovered Gogglebox, a UK reality show where you watch people watching TV. It’s brilliant. On one hand, it condenses an entire week of British news, drama, and game show programming into an hour-long highlights reel of just the best bits. On the other, you get entertaining commentary from groups of friends and family sitting in their own living rooms — entertaining on account of their reactions (sarcasm, ignorance, delight, horror) and their individual relationships and stories which slowly become apparent to the viewer. It’s like the Terrace House panel, but for regular TV, and I can’t get enough.
- Two albums on rotation this week:
- The Shave Experiment EP by Q is falsetto-laden, lofi R&B with lots of electric guitar and analog effects, which is hit and miss for me most times; I can’t stand some Steve Lacey, but kinda liked Omar Apollo, etc. Q’s take on it seems to be right in the sweet spot for me.
- Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra defies categorization. It’s a somewhat-minimal piece of ambient or jazz music lasting 46 minutes, in 9 movements, centered around a saxophone, with occasional strings and other sounds, held together by one single gentle piano riff that just repeats throughout the whole thing like a mindworm.
It was a four-day work week but things were so hectic it didn’t feel like one at all. We took Monday off and went to check out Carne, the new-in-town burger joint that’s been getting the hype treatment on account of its ties to a three-Michelin-starred restaurant in France. Regretfully, it was only good and not great. Maybe because we had the new chimichurri burger exclusive to Singapore, which didn’t really leave the beef any room to impress. Maybe they’re still sorting out kinks. Maybe I’m a pleb. The disappointment reminded me of how everyone else loved Omakase Burger but I just couldn’t understand why. I’ll give them another chance many months from now.
Afterwards, with the afternoon wide open, we decided to visit the zoo and use our “Singapore ReDiscovers” vouchers — S$100 government stimulus checks aimed at boosting domestic tourism. It had been a long while since I last visited, and the layout resembled nothing in memory. We spent about three hours wandering about in very sunny, humid conditions, but it was a pretty relaxing change from the everyday (animal captivity notwithstanding). On reflection, it was also a welcome break from the usual weekday routine of staring at screens. Maybe that’s the role overseas holidays really played, back when they could be taken: looking at new things, in the absence of screens, when one would normally be at work. Do this more!
We ended the week getting a beer by the Singapore River, which was a lot quieter than it used to be. Brewerkz, for one, is doing a quarter of the business it would have on a Sunday evening in the past, if not less. Which was unexpected; many restaurants and bars in town look to be doing very well these days. Maybe the riverside area relied too much on expats, and some of them have gone home.
I’m revisiting the records of Duke Ellington and Lester Young, two musicians I had on heavy rotation in my teens and 20s and then hardly played in recent times. I started with pretty mellow late night jazz tastes and then found comfort in frenetic discordance. That seems like such a long time ago, and putting them on now has that retro-transportative quality you sometimes get with music or scents if you’re lucky. It’s also fantastic that I am able to hear them in much higher quality today than I did back when a pair of PC speakers was what I played everything on.
Oh, remember those integrated “mini hi-fis” you would buy at the department store? I just looked some up and they’re still a thing! Sony makes a few, ranging from garish LED-equipped ones they must think appeal to the teens who grew up on Michael Bay’s Transformers, to sleeker units that might be silver-painted plastic if they’re anything like what I grew up with. But hey, I’d be delighted if you can get a good sounding system at those prices. For about the same price as Sonos units, these support Bluetooth/AirPlay with the added benefit of CD/DVD playback that one of Sony’s copywriters has absolutely no illusions about.
I mostly read Saifedean Ammous’s The Bitcoin Standard in a day, with a bit of skimming. It’s a 10-chapter book that doesn’t get into Bitcoin until about Chapter 8, which is not the structure I would have chosen, but the long set-up is a pretty good primer on money and the history of gold as a currency.
Not having paid any attention during my economics classes (I failed), there were some ideas here I found interesting. Namely the connections between having a stable, global monetary standard and people having longer time horizons (or lower time preferences, as they’re called here) with which to approach their work and lives. He links the economic stability of the gold standard era to people investing in longer-term bets, which resulted in some of human history’s most significant advances in art and science, higher functioning family units, and even the preservation of world peace (up until WWI). It’s probably obvious to anyone who’s studied it, but I’d never considered the systemic effects of pegging a few currencies to a precious metal that way before.
I read a tweet that said it’s not working hard that causes burnout. Teams can apparently burn out working normal hours on things that don’t feel worthwhile. I wonder if there’s a leisure equivalent of burn out, when you realize your hobbies are a waste of time. What happens then?
- Thursday was my first day back at work, and after a decade now of fixed employment it occurred to me that I’ve lost the freelancer’s mindset that was once key to my mental peace. Namely the idea that I’m doing whatever this is just for awhile, to get a specific job done, free of attachment, and could reevaluate and stop anytime I wanted. You can obviously look at most forms of work that way (because it’s true), but what I probably liked was the centering and comforting reminder that I worked for and answered to no one but myself.
- A decade ago, though, I was pretty much a drifter who wasn’t saving enough so best not to over-romanticize those days. That said, somewhere in between could work. In one conversation this week, we discussed the idea of mini temporary retirements — why wait till 65 to have all the free time on your hands when you can start to have some of it at 35, 45, 55? You’d probably make better use of it, such as developing hobby projects or new skills that you could fold back into “real work” when you returned. Or maybe even finding a different way back altogether. Hard to do that when your brain is full of other people’s problems.
- With the three days I did have off, I managed to do more reading than last week. I finished all three available volumes of Andreas Antonopoulos’s The Internet of Money, which are admittedly slim compilations of talks he’s given on Bitcoin and Ethereum over the past 9 years or so. I can recommend them to anyone interested in why this technology might be important, beyond the fact that it’s digital money (what money isn’t these days), appreciating fast (people are gonna get ruined), and scary (it’s used to fund terrorism). He’s been likening it to the dawn of the internet in the 90s, where few people saw a fad instead of world-changing potential. He’s convincing when he says our concepts of money and banking are still stuck in the pre-internet era, centralized, and this stuff is going to enable greater freedom and opportunity on a global scale.
- After being only peripherally aware of advancements in the Dapp space, I started looking into things and found really cool projects from art galleries selling collectible one-of-a-kind digital pieces (yes that sounds crazy) to autonomous lending platforms. I’ll probably dip a toe into PoolTogether, which is a lottery where no one loses any money (apart from the currently hefty Ethereum gas fees). Participants buy tickets with their tokenized money, which gets lent out to earn interest, which forms the prize pool. At the end of every week, the accumulated prize money is given to one randomly selected ticket holder. The original money is never lost and can be withdrawn at any time. Pretty ingenious!
- Speaking of collectibles, we discovered that an old Beanie Baby that we’ve had lying around the house for ages might actually be a rare one worth hundreds of dollars. Or not. I don’t really want to find out because she’s perfect the way she is.
- Happy new year to you! We celebrated NYE by staying home and having all the food in the freezer that needed finishing. And then to make up for it, we went out the next day for a nice maki sushi and sake dinner at a place called Rappu where they don’t take reservations and you have to show up at 5:30pm before they open or end up waiting over an hour in line.
- It’s the wet and cold “season” here now in Singapore, which usually only lasts a couple of weeks, not nearly long enough to enjoy the unusual daytime temperatures of 22º–25ºC — in the past, when one had to commute to work, it could be a pain in the ass for traffic, especially in areas that were prone to flooding (or ponding, as the government prefers to call the phenomenon on account of it not being enough to wash away people or property), but now it’s just wonderful if you’re going to stay indoors and read.
- My annual vacation plans this week were postponed into January, so I’m looking forward to staying indoors and reading a whole lot next week. I’m currently in the middle of Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway and not very compelled to keep going. Maybe I’ll… walk away and find something else.
- Just 5 days left to decide whether or not to return my AirPods Max. I notice less that they’re heavy and tight, so maybe they’ve opened up a bit or I’m just getting used to the pain. The larger soundstage and sub-bass emphasis definitely makes them more fun to listen to than the plain old AirPods Pro, and I think I’d be sad if I went back to the Sony WH1000XM4. But when I think about what I could do with the refund, and realize they cost about the same as a new iPad Air, I question how sad. That said, what I really want is the new A14X iPad Pro which won’t be out for a few months yet, so I may as well keep the headphones. Well played, Tim Apple.
- Last week I mentioned listening to finance-related podcasts. That has now expanded to include YouTube videos and podcasts that get published as YouTube videos, so my algorithmic homepage is really a mess right now. Dogs! Game trailers! Camera reviews! Macroeconomics!
- For a few weeks now, I’d stopped watching the news and was largely ignorant of how daily COVID numbers have been progressing elsewhere in the world. This week I started paying attention again and all the headlines still sound like they did six months ago! Highest ever numbers, new waves, new lockdowns, but everyone seems committed to pretending that economies will be fine in the end. I’m wondering when the markets will start showing it, and where concerned citizens should keep their money. Out of curiosity, I checked the latest batch of Singapore Savings Bonds today, and they’re offering an astoundingly low 0.9% average annual interest over 10 years. Two years ago, it was 2%.
- I’ve been playing Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered on the Nintendo Switch. The original game came out 10 years ago, and it was a much harder time to be alive, in that there was no rewind feature if you tackled the corner wrong, and bumping CPU-driven cars barely slowed them down, but getting bumped by them meant that you were fucked. As I drive down these subconsciously familiar tracks again and again and arrgggh again, I’m reminded that we early millennials have got the tenacity to be the greatest generation if we tried. Maybe not the reflexes anymore, nor the time to waste, but at least the dogged determination! In theory!
- Christmas is just next week now, so there’s a little more meeting up and eating out going on than usual. Although I’m still in the habit of logging every single expense in an app, I’ve decided not to look too hard at December’s outflow this year. Come to think of it, this approach may explain some of the back-and-forth below about whether the AirPods Max are worth keeping or not. Look, you’ve been warned. Skip it if you don’t care about headphone purchases.
- We spent the weekend at a family staycation, which was another form of meeting up and eating out. Day drinking really doesn’t work for me. Have a glass of wine at lunch and it’s headaches and drowsiness somehow, but if I start after 6pm, everything’s good.
- It wasn’t all lazing about the hotel. We went out to the National Gallery’s new retrospective on the work of Singaporean artist Georgette Chen (1906–1993), a name I’d never heard before despite what appears to be a fair amount of exposure in recent years, according to the linked Wikipedia article. I should probably consume more local media.
- Earlier in the week, there was some meeting up and eating out with a couple of colleagues I hadn’t seen in awhile. As I learnt from Grace, you really haven’t got a chance with any bar and restaurant in town these days unless you make reservations, so that must be great for Chope and other similar booking platforms (assuming they’ve figured out workable business models). We wanted Korean BBQ but could only secure a spot at a 3.9-star Google reviewed place. It was a 3 at best, so I think there’s a need for some kind of review correction algorithm across multiple services. For example, I noticed on Foursquare (which has a much smaller user base) that users rating things in Singapore were pretty harsh, so you actually had to add to ratings to get an indicative score of quality. Google, with many more users, probably needs correcting down instead.
- Speaking of ratings, I said a couple of weeks ago that I was reading Ready Player Two and hoped it would at least turn out to be a 2.5-star book. Well I finally got around to finishing it, and nope. I don’t remember anything about the first book, only the experience of it, that I had fun and enjoyed some of the references because it was the first time I’d seen some of them mentioned in a long while. But it turns out that’s really what Ernest Cline wants to do: string together loads of “geeky” references and get congratulated for it. This second book reads like third-rate fan fiction and I couldn’t wait for it to be over.
- According to Goodreads, that completed my 2020 Reading Challenge. 30 books this year, which I probably haven’t done in over a decade. With any luck, I’ll be able to surpass that next year if the universe grants me lots of free time.
I got my pair a week ahead of their scheduled delivery date and it’s led to a lot of pointless pondering over the past few days. They sound really good. I did a couple of head-to-head comparisons and they’re the best pair of wireless headphones in my drawer. Everything older or cheaper doesn’t put up a fight in the sound quality department. Not any of the Sonys, Boses, Beats, or B&O Beoplays. I haven’t compared them to the Nurasound headphones yet, but I actually expect those to make a case for sticking around because they feel so physically different and immersive as a listening experience.
I’d love if they could just be The One, and help me declutter, but they fall short in a couple of areas outside of sound quality. The most minor of these is their goofy look with the mesh headband and rectangular cups. I got Space Gray and I don’t think I could be happy with any of the other colors if they got grubby or scratched up.
Comfort: They’re heavy as we knew, but it’s NOT been a big problem. What’s worse is they actually have more clamping force than I’d like. Granted, I have a larger than normal head and wear glasses, but can’t imagine being forced to wear these on an international flight. I once wore a pair of Bose QC35s for almost an entire 16-hour flight, and I’d do it again because although that older model doesn’t sound the best when you’re on the ground, they’re loose enough and the ANC is effective enough to make them perfect for in-flight use. The APMs just don’t work for that use case. I would say they’re actually too tight to even wear at home for more than a couple of hours, which is really sad.
Case/Portability: Everyone has complained about the design and construction of this enough and I have to agree. Their role in triggering the low-power mode complicates usability and their cheapening effect means we’d be happier if they’d left them out of the box completely. I’d much prefer if the headphones themselves could fold up. On that point, if you’ve got both arms fully extended and the cups are folded flat, there’s a point at the bottom-inner corner of each aluminum cup where they collide against each other. So if you wear them around your neck like that, it’s possible you’ll see scratches forming at that spot.
Build quality: Many reviewers have praised the APMs for their solid build quality, but to my touch, the metal earcups on mine have not been brushed/polished properly; I can feel the transition between smooth and rough patches when I run my fingers over them. It drives me kinda crazy that this is happening on a S$900 pair of headphones, even though I already know from first-hand experience over the past 16 years that first batches of Apple products out of the factory are likely to have some defects. Insert big sigh here.
Now, the competition. There really isn’t much to speak of if you want comparable sound quality in a wireless ANC headphone. I’d previously glanced at B&O’s new Beoplay H95 but their price tag was too high for what I thought was yet another mediocre product. My first pair of Beoplays was the first-generation wired H6, which was super comfortable but neutral and not much fun for some kinds of music, and everything since has not really been great. They made the headband smaller from the H7 onwards, so those don’t fit my head as well either.
In the wake of the AirPods Max launching, the H95 is now looking like the only real competitor. The online consensus is that Bang & Olufsen have finally nailed the sound quality and industrial design issues of their past, at greater cost to the consumer than before. They cost S$1300 compared to the $700 of the previous flagship H9 (third-generation).
Compared to the APMs, the H95s look better to some, are lighter, are more comfortable and sound even better (according to the forum folks on Head-Fi), have longer battery life, and fold up inside their included non-shitty metal carrying case. Arguments against them include less effective noise-cancellation, smaller earcups that may not fit everyone, no transparency mode, and none of that simplified wireless connectivity. Oh, and the fact that the brand is kind of struggling and so finding local repair options may not be possible in the long-term. It’s hard to fight formidable Apple’s retail and support network.
If I can’t justify keeping them around for short listening sessions only, then I’ll be returning the APMs for a refund and making do with what I already have. While they really sound terrific and have ruined a bunch of other headphones for me, solid audio engineering isn’t the whole package. An overemphasis on that is what people say* held the original HomePod back, but improving Siri to compete with Alexa and Google Assistant was arguably a much bigger hurdle than giving these a more comfortable fit and designing a better case.
Edit: I wore them the whole time while writing this week’s update, and on reflection, they sound so good that I’m hoping the band loosens up a bit or something so I can keep them.
* Who am I to say, when we can’t even buy HomePods in this neglected backwater that inexplicably has a spherical glass Apple Store?
- I’ve been numbering these entries with the week number, which I get from Fantastical, my calendar app. I just looked and saw this year is going to have 53 weeks, which sounds wrong, but they only number full Monday to Sunday weeks (or Sunday to Saturday, like I used to believe was the right way before I got a job), so it makes sense that it’s all not going to fit nicely in 52.
- It seems many people can’t wait for 2020 to be over, as if next year will automatically be better or not the consequence of everything that happens up to December 31. I’m just going to assume that it’s all 2020 until further notice, similar to how when this started back in March and some thought it might be over in a couple of months, I imagined an end date no earlier than year’s end. If I possess any mental stability today, it’s probably due to setting extremely low expectations for normality.
- My dad, who is very active, outdoorsy, adventurous and generally nothing like me in what we find fun, tolerable, or necessary, save for an interest in computers/gadgets, managed to hurt himself this week while Cycling In His Seventies. Thankfully, it was nothing life threatening, but it does mean he won’t be able to walk for a couple of months, or at least he absolutely should not be attempting to. Once that hurdle has been cleared, there may be other medical issues to address, but I am hopeful in general that no further drama need occur. He may, as usual, have other ideas.
- I figured reading would be a good way to pass the time, so I set him up with the apps for accessing free ebook loans from the National Library, which is a truly awesome benefit that I’m happy to pay taxes in support of. My first recommendation was “Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World”, which I started reading six weeks ago on Darrelle’s recommendation but have been neglecting.
- I finally sat and finished it this week, and it’s a four-star treatise on the importance of following your interests, changing tracks, having side gigs, and being a cross-pollinator in your field of work. It opens with how Tiger Woods was essentially drilled from the age of two to be a super golfer, but the real GOAT is Roger Federer who only picked tennis up later in life after dallying with many other sports, which gave him the lateral skills and experience to become a more flexible and sustainable athlete.
- My dad is given to telling stories from his past (honestly, they are very good) and shared one in response to Range. He started out as a marine engineer and continued working at shipyards for most of his career, and then switched over to the development of land vehicles at some point, which he called the best job he ever had. Without going into the details, he found problems at his place of employment that no one was solving, that were perfectly solvable using the methods and approaches he knew from working on ships. He brought them up to leadership and they were soon accepted and widely used practices in the organization.
- This is exactly the sort of thing that Range is about: wicked problems that seem unsolvable from the POV of people who have specialized in one field that become trivial when you import common knowledge from another. Our education systems and siloed ways of working make these problems more pronounced than they should be. Many of the solutions we need already exist like a sacred crystal in a Final Fantasy game, split into four pieces and scattered throughout the world, waiting for a hero to unite them. In some corners of my work environment, this is grossly called “trapped value”. But it’s a book worth reading, and it’s a comfort to anyone who’s tried different jobs on for size and worries that it makes them less employable when it’s more likely to be the opposite.
- At least I made more reading progress this week. After getting back into gear with Range, I finished Blake Crouch’s Dark Matter (3.5 stars: an action movie screenplay with some good ideas about multiverse travel) and Ryan Holiday’s Stillness is the Key (3 stars: a collection of well-researched stories and cautionary tales to help you slow down and be more zen, held together by mediocre self-help book writing).
- I am now heading for the trifecta of disappointing reads with Ernest Cline’s Ready Player Two, a book whose release I should have anticipated but was not expecting or anything. I kinda liked Ready Player One for living in the awful space between Sword Art Online’s anime SF fantasy and 80s geek pop culture, but his next book, Armada, was so shoddily written I couldn’t get into it. Let’s see if this one will get more than 2.5 stars.