Week 52.21

  • Merry Christmas to any readers! I had a good one with lots of eating, lots to be thankful for, and everyone fortunately safe and healthy. The Instax mini Evo camera I got as a present to myself proved useful on Christmas Day at dinner with my family. Although the quality is poor in low light, I got to leave behind little prints for the fridge door, and gave souvenirs to my aunt and uncle too. There was a sleepover, day drinking, and a kid stood on my shoes because she wanted to be walked on top of them. In all, I count about five events over the weekend. Pooped.
  • For other photo-worthy moments, I got a lot out of FiLMiC Firstlight, a camera app that I hadn’t touched in a couple of years and recently rediscovered. It has a lovely, warm, film-inspired filter called Leopold (based on Kodachrome, I think), and behaves unlike the HDR-happy iPhone camera of today. Images come out with heaps of contrast and deep blacks, and generally don’t need any correcting in post. On reflection, I should just set my iPhone Camera.app to use a “Rich/Warm” photographic style.
  • The Misery Men NFT collection is now up to #78, which was a Sad Santa. I held a giveaway and got 12 takers, so it was minted as a — I don’t know the right word for this — series of 12 editions? 12 prints? Anyway they were sent out on Christmas Day, and hopefully everyone who isn’t a bot is happy with them. I’m taking a break from the daily drops and will resume in the new year. There are already a few finished ones in the can, and some of them are pretty good by my standards.
Misery Man #78: Shackled to the wheels of capitalism for all eternity.
  • It was also the week of The Matrix Resurrections, which we saw in a regular Golden Village cinema after a gut-busting visit to Five Guys (my first one in this country). Dim screen, muffled audio, noisy patrons… it reminded me of why I no longer like going to theaters (Gold Class screenings are the exception, fixing all the above). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film despite having many of my expectations subverted. I’ll need to see it again properly, but I expect to still agree with my initial assignment of 4.5 stars. Side note: Cien and Peishan saw it the same evening in the same cineplex and hated it.
  • Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was also much enjoyed. It’s an insane directorial flex; every shot and sequence is beautiful and meticulously composed, existing just to indulge a particular sense of humor and beauty. Both films shine with the joy and energy of creators who have nothing left to prove, but where one is happy to keep iterating on a style even at the risk of self parody, the other reclaims its own fandom and fabric for self satisfaction. And I’m here for it, as the young ones say.
  • Once again, nearly no video games were played, but I picked up Steamworld Heist and Saints Row IV on sale for my Switch. The latter is probably a decade old now, but was irresistible at $2.79 USD, down 93% from its standard price.
  • Instead, I got more reading done and am closer to my Goodreads Reading Challenge target. Finished Iron Widow (3.5 stars at best) and The Power (a solid 4), both mentioned last week. It looks like I might make it, if I can finish The End of Men next week. Quick recap: all three books deal with the decline, displacement, and/or death (literally) of men due to overwhelming Qi force, mutant powers, and a gender-specific virus respectively. I’m also here for this as men probably have it coming.
  • One last thing. A year ago, I got a Backbone One controller for my iPhone and loved it. It made for a more console-like experience with many games, and it was more comfortable to use and more capable than a Nintendo Switch. So why did I buy another Switch this year? Let’s not answer that directly, but it may be no coincidence that I’ve been unable to use my Backbone since moving to the new iPhone: the larger camera bump isn’t compatible. The company then designed a simple adapter and provided the plans for 3D printing one on your own. Never having gotten around to convincing myself of a 3D printer’s utility in the home, I had to place an order for one of their officially manufactured ones, and have been waiting on it since September. It finally arrived this week and I’m happy. But if supply chain problems are gonna continue next year, perhaps getting a 3D printer isn’t such a bad idea!

Week 51.21

  • The Christmas dinners have begun, with a large potlucky one yesterday at ours that was vegetarian but not at all lacking. Impossible!, you cry. Yes, we did have their meatballs. And already this afternoon we’ve eaten too much and had a gift of some sugary pastries arrive unexpectedly. This all follows swiftly after a five-course dinner on Friday night, the last in a trilogy of pandemic-struck celebrations for my sister-in-law’s no-longer-news wedding. I expect I still weigh the same regardless, having lost a significant amount of moisture to wearing a suit for photos in the middle of the day. I wonder if that’s what the stillsuits in Dune feel like: being rolled up in one of those hot towels they give you on Singapore Airlines flights.
  • After dinner, we played a new party game I discovered on the Apple TV (also available on Xbox and PlayStation). Jeopardy! PlayShow is a premium title, not to be confused with the various ad-ridden free mobile games released over the years, with insultingly easy multiple-choice questions. No, this is the real thing for everyone who’s ever watched a game show and answered aloud alongside the contestants. It’s that exact experience: streaming video of real Jeopardy! episodes, except you can buzz in and answer (using your voice!), and see how you stack up against the champs. S$14.98 gets you the base game with 10 episodes, and each additional pack is another S$14.98. Oof! Buyer beware… the game’s servers stalled halfway through our play test, so we had to move on to SongPop Party (Apple Arcade). Epilogue: I gave Jeopardy! another go the next morning and it worked fine.
  • I finished The Space Between Worlds which I was reading last week (five stars), and have moved on to Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, a bonkers story about giant mechs fighting alien invaders, piloted by couples in a mind meld that usually kills the woman (twist: not this time!), set in a world/society inspired by Chinese history. It starts a little rough, but once you get into her style and some jarring cultural references, it goes hard.
  • The Goodreads Reading Challenge hangs around my neck like a large bird. Even after Iron Widow, I’ll be two books short of my modest 24-book target in a year where I really have little excuse. It seems unlikely I’ll be able to do it with just 11 days to go. Nevertheless, I plan to follow this up with Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men and Naomi Alderman’s The Power, to construct a sort of male-murdering fantasy trilogy.
  • Last week’s viewing of Babylon was anime disappointment, but I’m now watching a series on Netflix called Vivi: Fluorite Eye’s Song that more than makes up for it. It’s an unsung (sorry) masterpiece about a robot singer who receives a message from the future, and follows her on a 100-year quest to change the course of history and prevent a war between humans and AIs. It works because the art is beautiful with few compromises, the writing is sharp, and it isn’t afraid to skip large chunks of time abruptly to keep things moving.
  • Speaking of time, you don’t believe you could watch a 1-hour and 20-minute-long video on how Garfield has been transformed by internet fans, but give yourself some credit. Michael, my main inspiration for these weekly updates, often posts about the video essays he discovers, which is something I never thought would be for me, but welps the YouTube algorithm has a new thing for me now. We’ve all seen that Garfield minus Garfield project on Tumblr, but trust me, this goes way beyond that. You won’t believe the depth and quality of fan art and lore that’s out there.
  • I’ll leave you with an update on the Misery Men project. There are now 73 “artworks” published on OpenSea, and every so often I look at one of them and think the quotation marks could soon be dropped. Like, it’s not impossible to imagine a couple of them blown up and framed in a home somewhere. Maybe not a very nice home, it might be a caravan, but I think there’s something here.
  • If you chat with friends on Telegram and want to send them a sticker expressing a specific sort of sadness or disappointment, you may now add my Misery Men sticker pack for absolutely free. I’ll be updating it with the latest ones periodically.
What was on my plate last night. Photo taken with the newly updated FiLMiC Firstlight camera app on iOS, which has some lovely film-inspired filters.
Misery Man #72
Misery Man #73: one of my personal favorites.

Week 50.21

  • We made it through another 50 weeks of a pandemic year. It’s surprising to see the number; saying it aloud instantly recalls many things that happened and also a sense of regret for all that couldn’t. Time is often called the ultimate scarce asset, but I think being time rich is useless if one is energy poor.
  • Energy is the one thing I don’t have this very moment, having just received my booster dose yesterday. I went with Moderna for my first two and experienced some trippy and difficult side effects. The rumors are true: Pfizer isn’t as bad, but it’s not nothing. Much like me, my immune system is prone to overreacting. It also means I can’t do Ring Fit Adventure for the recommended two weeks, during the worst time of year to skip exercise.
  • Maybe I already mentioned our scent-challenged Christmas tree last week. Well, it finally got decorated and there are now gifts under it. As a gift to myself (that I’ve already started using), I got the new Fujifilm Instax mini Evo camera. It’s just launched locally and in Japan, with a North American debut planned for February. Like the various crappy toy cameras that were popular awhile back, the Harinezumi and such, it’s a low-quality digital camera meant for fun shots with a grainy/blurry, poorly exposed aesthetic. On top of that, it has an Instax printer built in, so you can chuck out giveaway photos at a party, funeral, or board meeting. It’s not Fujifilm’s first attempt at this, but it’s the first that isn’t ugly or burdened with some other gimmicks (the last one recorded accompanying sound clips you could play via a QR code on every photo).
  • Many years ago when Go Go Curry shut their local outlets, I was pretty bummed about it and was especially offended by the franchisee spinning up their own copycat brand where all the restaurants used to be. It was a pale imitation, with several gimmicks thrown in that were not to my liking, but made them popular nevertheless. I generally dislike when food is “adapted to local tastes”. Anyway, this week we were near one around dinner time and decided to give Monster Curry another go, since it’s been years and the sour memory needed updating. And… they were actually good? I was just in disbelief that they turned it around: better quality ingredients, properly fried katsu, no skimping on the curry. Credit where credit’s due.
  • We don’t often use our Amazon Prime Video subscription, given the smaller library here, but I went looking for interesting things and came across an exclusive anime series called Babylon. I ended up watching all 12 episodes of it despite the unevenness, hoping for a payoff and some answers. Nope. It ends abruptly without much of a satisfying conclusion to the big questions. Avoid unless they make a second season.
  • Not disappointing at all is Micaiah Johnson’s The Space Between Worlds, which I’m currently reading. The title and premise may make you think it’s a mediocre YA SF-lite adventure novel, but it refreshes ideas like traveling between parallel worlds, and utopian cities with all the have-nots living beyond the walls, and adds excellent writing around race/class/identity politics, spiritualism, and the lasting effects of violence.
  • Tons of new music got added to my library, but I haven’t had a chance to hear any of it. At the front of the line is Alicia Keys’ and Aimee Mann’s new albums.
I like that they tried to use the X series’ design language, but the actual product is very plasticky and the charging port is literally covered with a flap of soft PVC.
Under the right conditions, the Instax mini Evo can take pretty good shots!
Most suffer exposure metering issues like this white plate of improved curry (you can manually stop down but it’s fiddly).

Week 49.21

— It felt like a long week. Part of that might be related to binging the eight-hour entirety of The Beatles: Get Back in a matter of days. And then consuming more videos and articles to fill in the blanks. If you haven’t yet heard the yelps of appreciation for it online, it’s Peter Jackson’s four-year attempt at editing together a never-before-seen side of the band’s final album coming together, down from 60 hours of footage and 150 hours of audio. At the lowest level of why it works, watching talented people create something as ephemeral as pop music through messy collaboration is irresistible.

I won’t repeat too much of what’s already been said, except that it’s given me an even greater appreciation of them all, Paul in particular. When I look at him, I think about two things: one, he looks like my friend Christian when he had a beard, and two, it’s so hard to mentally connect the guy on screen (just 26 years old!) with the older Paul that I’ve always seen. I don’t know his solo material as well, but it’s probably safe to say he was at his best when playing off the boys. His enthusiasm for them giving it a proper go again suggests he knew it too at some level.

So my listening shelf now has on it:

— After two months of ADD-ed attempts to finish David Mitchell’s Number9dream, I finally did it. It’s a great book, but every time I tried I would get distracted by something else after a couple of pages. It led me to think that any time in the future I find myself stuck on a hazy and challenging book, I should simultaneously read something dead straight on the side, non-fiction like, just to keep the habit regular. But maybe I’m just coming out the end of a no-reading funk, the kind I seem to encounter every year.

Afterwards, I went for something totally different, Ben Mezrich’s follow-up to The Accidental Billionaires (which turned into the The Social Network film), titled Bitcoin Billionaires. I usually detest books that try to tell true stories narratively, pretending to know every character’s thoughts at critical moments, and boy does this one do that with a huge dollop of cheese on top. But… it’s an interesting story at its core, about how the Winklevoss twins got over losing to Zuckerberg and successfully invested in their next act. So I managed to read the whole thing in a day.

That was followed by My Korean Deli: Risking It All For A Convenience Store, which has been on my list for years because I just like convenience stores and stories set in them. Except this one isn’t really a Korean deli at all, although the author’s wife’s family is Korean. It’s just a dilapidated American corner store in Brooklyn, there are several tonal issues like borderline racism and lame jokes, and it’s quite whiny. The image of the American convenience store just depressed the hell out of me but I finished it anyway.

— I’d like to keep the book streak going, but I’ve played next to no video games lately. The only ones I’ve touched are two beautiful but ultimately shallow and unfun mobile gacha games, Figure Fantasy and Blue Archive. The former has a great idea: some people like to collect figurines, why not turn that into an AR game? They even made it look like several million dollars, but didn’t spend enough on the awful translation, so that was deleted quickly. The latter has a great English translation, but there was nothing in the core game (auto squad combat) to keep me, so that’s gone too.

— The release of Misery Men NFTs continues on OpenSea, and I’m still enjoying the somewhat meditative experience of drawing and coloring them in my spare time.

— Our Christmas tree arrived and was decorated after sitting naked and neglected for a few days. It’s a little short on the usual pine scent, despite being very green and flourishing, so either we’ve got the Covid or the trees have mutated as well.

— Covid numbers have been falling; we actually had a couple of days with cases under 1,000, which doesn’t sound like a huge achievement but can you believe it’s been two months since that happened? In the meantime, we’re just waiting on more Omicron deets like everyone else. Nevertheless, I went out a couple of times this week, either to drink Guinness or coffee.

On Friday I saw Ci’en, Peishan, and James at a cafe/restaurant that seems to be geared towards startups and remote workers. Just groups of four to five young people on long benches and round tables, hammering things out on PC laptops (weird) and playing mobile games on their breaks while ordering coffee and snacks. I sat there for six whole hours and everyone in my vicinity was there longer. Not a bad place to go hang out and work with your team, but I wonder how they turn a profit.

Week 47.21

  • Went out for coffee and it turned into a night. Ended up with a hangover the next day, a thing which hasn’t happened in a while.
  • Messed up my YouTube feed by watching a couple of new micro-genres: Leica Q2 Monochrom reviews (I won’t buy one, I hope), “Day in the Life” videos of various people in Singapore (enlightening because, well, you just don’t know how others live until you see it), and Chinese street interviews in Tier 2/3 cities designed to teach the language but that are entertaining to me because, well, most of us just don’t know how Chinese people live.
  • Saw No Time To Die, and liked it a lot better than Spectre, although that’s not saying a lot. Like others have already observed, it sends Daniel Craig off while (for the first half) feeling like the first time he’s truly been in a classic Bond outing with glorious globetrotting, stylized set pieces, one-liners, and a new female co-star every 30 minutes. The villain’s entire plot is still nonsense if you think about it afterwards.
  • Got started on Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop series. It’s kinda bad, but works better if you turn on the Japanese soundtrack. The dramatically OTT performances on it better complement the visual and tonal schizophrenia, which attempts exaggerated silliness and deadpan noir almost at the same time.
  • In case you didn’t know, Netflix also has a Japanese audio track for Seinfeld, and it’s surreal to try out. George is played like a timid, wheezing ojisan, and Elaine is a vainsexy mature woman.
  • I also saw the first episode of My Name and it was the rare Korean television show I could watch through without skipping ahead in frustration. It’s not above relying on revenge movie tropes, but moves quickly and the fight choreography is better than Cowboy Bebop’s.
  • Also got back into Animal Crossing New Horizons for the first time in a year — I found a pile of red leaves in my driveway from the last time, and hey it’s fall again now — there’s so much new, while the world feels soothingly familiar. Several friends have said that just hearing the game’s music instantly brings them back into the memory cocoon of playing it in mid-2020 amidst the chaos, and to me it’s an untouchable place we can visit any time. I’m glad so many of us had that one nice thing in common.

===

  • Cleaning up some of my old stuff over at my parents’, I found a couple of things worth keeping.
  • One, a pair of Olympus film cameras that I remember fondly. The XA and XA2 were marvels, much better compact point-and-shoots than anything else you’d find on eBay in the 90s and 2000s. It’s years later now, so I can finally confess that I once won first place in a Lomography photo walk contest using the XA2 instead of an LC-A (mine wasn’t working that day); they are distant cousins, I reasoned. They probably need a good cleaning out and restoration before being used again, but will make nice shelf objects in the meantime.
  • Two, souvenirs from the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka that we visited once, a decade ago. Still in the paper bags and plastic sleeves they came in, these pins, stickers, animation flipbooks, and music boxes may now find a place in our home. A drawer in our home, at least.
  • Three, a slim autographed volume of what I suppose you’d call juvenilia by now-published author Alexandra Kleeman, probably from my university days when I read her blog (technicolor.org) in awe and jealousy. I can’t remember how exactly I came into possession of it; perhaps it was offered in an early homerolled Kickstarter project. Googling its title, Matchbox Gods, turned up exactly zero hits, so I pinged her on Twitter with a photo (I live on it and yet the internet still amazes me) and got a response within the day. She said she only knows of one other person who still has a copy, so I’ll just record this info for future rummagers and closet cleaners coming online to find some context. I have nostalgia for how reading strangers’ blogs used to make us feel like we knew them a little through their thoughts, in a way you don’t get from Instagram or Twitter updates. I hope she’s having a great life.
  • Four, a couple of Game Boy Micros including one commemorative edition in Famicom red and gold. I tossed out many compact digital cameras because their batteries don’t work anymore, can’t be replaced, and their bodies weren’t particularly beautiful and worth keeping. The Game Boys still look great, so those can go somewhere.
  • Threw out all my iPods with some regret. Really anything with a battery that’s sealed or discontinued is pretty much useless today without extraordinary effort, unless used as display pieces. And my iPods were scratched up and haven’t held up, quite frankly. The whole white plastic phase of industrial design will not be looked back upon fondly by anyone. They were objects to be used and enjoyed in their time, but not any longer. AirPods aside, it’s nice to see most of our devices today being made with recyclable and longer-wearing materials that should look better a few decades from now.

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.