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.
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!
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.
Hi again, we’re almost 9 weeks into the year which feels about right in terms of how long we’ve been at it, but not really when you consider net output. I’m still in a mental state of January. Unintentionally, this issue seems to have formed itself around the themes of nostalgia and work.
• For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been unable to get Debbie Gibson’s We Could Be Together (1989) out of my head. It can surface in the morning as I’m brushing my teeth or at any other time, like during a Zoom call. I said on Twitter that it might be down to how the song brings me back to a simpler time. It’s an escape hatch from the onslaught of today’s complexity and drudgery, straight into a corner of childhood memory where the days were long but full of possibility.
That brought me back to my old Tolerable 80s mix on Apple Music, which I’ll now try to update a little bit. Forgive the fact that some liberties are being taken: there’s at least one song from the late 70s and another from the early 90s.
While doing this, I discovered I’ve never heard Cyndi Lauper’s first album from 1984, She’s So Unusual in its entirety, just the hits like Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Time After Time, and All Through The Night. It’s a pop debut with astounding, timeless songwriting. Her cover of Prince’s When You Were Mine, one of my all-time favorites, is crystal meth icing.
EMPLOYERS: We care about your mental health.
EMPLOYEES: Does this mean we can get more PTO, hire more people to reduce our workload and work fewer hours?
EMPLOYERS: No. We meant here’s an email on mindfulness techniques and a coupon for a meditation app.
• I was absentmindedly reading the Substack newsletter bookbear express, by a random person named Ava that I follow on Twitter, when the album’s first track came on. In a neat coincidence, Cyndi sang “money, money changes everything” over her essay on work done out of love and how to square it with making a living. Around the same time, this article from Ness Labs about the fallacy of “work-life balance” arrived in my inbox. It argues that the definition of work can’t be limited to your day job, because things that take up time and energy, like caring for a loved one, can feel like work as much as life. If the lines are going to blur, then instead of chasing balance one should embrace that fate will deliver a rollercoaster of work and life extremes over time.
I don’t think it’s complicated. When someone says they want more work-life balance, it usually means their non-negotiable employment has crossed some boundary too many times, leading to a state of joylessness (Life-lessness). This isn’t a case where love is in the picture; people would bend and square the boundaries themselves if it was. Nor is it likely about being so in love with your work that finding time for life becomes a struggle. This is about people being squeezed. Being able to sustainably protect your boundaries is a privilege that comes from power. Seeking work-life balance means seeking leverage against external systems. At the end of the path is either profound love or liberating apathy.
• I can’t remember when or how I started following Ava, but at some point I found a cluster of young tech people in California. When articles started coming out about a COVID exodus from San Francisco, I was already seeing it play out on my Twitter feed.
Finding and interacting with random people on the internet continues to be one the greatest perks of being alive at this point in history. A conversation yesterday (okay, more like one-sided lecture) with some kids born in the 1990s led to the discovery that they didn’t know what Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) were. Feeling very old, I told them about growing up with computers that weren’t even networked. And when they finally were, how we would use modems sitting atop our PCs to phone other people’s PCs, and browse text-based UIs they’d set up for trading files and leaving messages for other guests. Because most BBS operations only had one phone number, a Friday night could be spent mostly trying all the ones you knew about until you found a line that wasn’t engaged.
Just explained BBSes to colleagues born in the 90s, who only know the internet. Looked up some of the hosting software we had. RemoteAccess was kinda beautiful! https://t.co/bOhCg3oa5r
They were proto-websites, built for one intimate visit at a time, and I have fond memories of the basic BBS I set up for friends to visit. Fast forward a couple of years, and I’d abandoned the local BBS scene for the absolute expanse of the internet, where you could chat with people in real time, anywhere in the world. I think it’s always good to reflect and take in the staggering perspective of what our simple brains have had to adapt to in one lifetime.
Maybe I should make a social networking site or app that replicates the BBS experience. Only 10 people allowed in at once? One person per city?
• The elder millennial story hour actually began when I realized that Jed McCaleb, creator of Ripple (XRP) and Stellar (XLM), also made eDonkey and Overnet, P2P file sharing networks that I used the hell out of in the early 2000s. “What’s eDonkey?”, John asked to my absolute shock. He was probably six years old while we were ripping, mixing, and burning. On hindsight, it makes total sense McCaleb moved in that direction. I think my exposure to Overnet’s decentralized network technology back then made it easier for me to grasp blockchain concepts years later.
• More Dispo photos were taken this week, practically on the daily. I have a short wishlist for feature improvements: 1) EXIF info embedded in each exported photo, 2) a 3:2 aspect ratio option to match actual 35mm disposable film photos because 16:9 is super weird, and 3) a fixed focus option that overrides autofocus and just locks to 3 meters or something, so it’s instant when you hit the shutter and some shots will be beautifully out-of-focus every now and then.
• On Wednesday, I left the house and met with some colleagues past and present that I hadn’t seen in awhile. We went to Vatos, a Korean-Mexican place that does margaritas with makgeolli, which are exactly as sweet as they sound. It was great to see them again, which got me thinking about the central role social tools like Telegram have in helping to maintain these connections. Can you believe that we’d once have to make voice calls to each of these people to organize a quick dinner hangout?
I’d like to add Dispo to that list of tools, because shooting a shared photo album is a new interaction that might help to keep people in touch although they’re apart. I’ve started a private roll with that group to experiment, but the uptake may be a little slow.
• I got just a disappointing 15 minutes of videogame time in this week. Looking at the Switch’s upcoming release calendar, I hope to have more free time in the middle of the year for Japanese mysteryvisualnovels and the remastered Skyward Sword, a game I never allowed myself to get on the Wii on account of not having completed Twilight Princess.
• Disney+ launched and we signed up to have a look. The catalog is a little better than I expected because the local incarnation includes content from a company called Stars that I’ve always been vaguely aware of from their movie channels on the cable TV in hospitals. Stars brings the kind of older Hollywood films that Amazon Prime Video in the US seems to be good for, but that we don’t have here.
I woke up this morning and suddenly remembered the 1994 Alec Baldwin “superhero” film, The Shadow, based on a radio series from around the WWII era. I had to see it. It wasn’t on any service except the iTunes Store: $5 to rent and $15 to own. This kind of nonsense is why streaming services still can’t offer an experience as good as eDonkey once did.
You may have heard the buzz this week around the new beta version of Dispo, the app formerly known as David’s Disposable, as in Vine/YouTuber David Dobrik’s version of those camera apps that simulate the look (and sometimes also the experience of waiting for photos to develop) of disposable film cameras. David himself notoriously shoots his exciting life with tons of those cameras, so the app made sense as a spinoff business. It wasn’t the first of its kind on the App Store, and there were so many others with knockoff names like Huji (Fuji) and Gudak (Kodak). So while David’s fans probably used it, the first version of the app wasn’t thoughtfully designed or original enough to be an essential camera app. Now, the next version is being taken seriously with millions invested and a full-time team hired.
Side note: This reminds me that one of the first app ideas I had and sketched out in the early years of the iPhone was for something similar. Obviously I never had the guts to make it, which is the main gap between ideas and profit. I was thinking you could “buy” and load rolls of film into a camera (complete with having to thread the initial end bit onto a wind-up spool before shutting the door) and then send them off to the lab when you’d shot 36 or so images. And after an hour or a day had elapsed, you’d return to the app to see a yellow paper envelope slide across a store counter to you, and be able to tear it open to see your shots (and the included negatives). I remember feeling kinda bummed when the first camera app to do the enforced waiting time gimmick came out. It wasn’t as skeuomorphically cool. I think it was 1-Hour Photo by Nevercenter.
Anyway, Dispo 2.0 is currently in beta and I only just got in. My first batch of photos came out this morning at 9am (the predefined time for all photo deliveries), and they look fine. You get a lightly push processed, slightly cool-temperatured shot in a 16:9 aspect ratio. I don’t understand why it’s not 3:2 like normal 35mm film. The flash is on by default as a core part of the disposable aesthetic. All EXIF data is stripped out, including the actual time of capture.
There’s a lot to like here so far, but it’s also a little unusual as social apps go. The tutorial doesn’t cover some of its sharing features, so you have to figure them out. There are “rolls” that can be public or private, solo or with others. I suppose they are really “albums”. Before you shoot a scene, you may load multiple rolls in the camera that you would like to contribute the resulting photo to. Which breaks the metaphor of the film roll somewhat, because disposable cameras don’t normally shoot onto four rolls of film simultaneously (nor do they have replaceable film)! After a shot is developed, however, you can manually add it to any roll.
Each roll can only have 69 contributors, so the emphasis is on doing it with your friend group, but there’s no limit to how many members of the public can follow a roll and see it on their feeds. David Dobrik himself seems to be using rolls to capture short events, like throwaway albums, rather than as curated, ongoing thematic feeds like I see some others doing for their pet, food, or “good vibes” photography. Perhaps the idea is still being tuned, or maybe they’re fine with people using them however they like.
Beta testers are not supposed to share screenshots, so I won’t. But it’s an example of non-cookie cutter UX design that asks you to work a little to figure it out; Snapchat and at least one redesign of VSCO often get credited for attempting personality in a post-iOS 7 world. Outside of games, it seems it’s often camera/photo apps that still go for it.
On the other hand, Hipstamatic has devolved into such a confused and cluttered app that you have to really work to figure it out. No fun at all. I miss the old Hipstamatic, and Dispo looks like it might bring some of that magic back: you’re encouraged to shoot without chimping, frame loosely through a tiny viewfinder, and be happy with even the crappy shots.
It actually reminded me today that Hipstamatic once tried an app called DSPO, pretty similar in concept. You had virtual rolls of film that you’d have to shoot fully before developing, and you could invite friends to share a disposable camera in real time. Two people in two cities could shoot a roll of film together. I remember it crashed a lot for me, and it was a struggle to convince anyone to install it. So it failed. Good idea, wrong time and execution. At least amongst millennials and zoomers in the US now, Dispo seems to have avoided that trap: the TestFlight beta is fully subscribed.
It was Chinese New Year this week. Some of us at work did a little side project for it in our spare time. We try to make little things we can send to our global sister studios in the network, sort of like greeting cards. For Christmas we made a playlist. This time, we made Choose Your Own Reunion at CNYdinner.com, a sort of game where you have to plan your family’s reunion dinner menu or face the wrath of a cute old Chinese grandma.
If you get to the end, you can access a credits screen showing the people involved. I wrote some of grandma’s nastier comments, but they volunteered and drew all the art, designed the screens, and built the damned thing all on their own time. They’re treasures.
In real life, it’s the first time in my memory there hasn’t been a Chinese New Year reunion dinner, save for those student years I was away. A year ago, we had our usual large family affair at a restaurant and mentioned the new virus that might be like another SARS. At the time, no one was saying you needed a mask unless you already felt ill and wanted to protect others. It was hard then to imagine an employer telling everyone not to come in. It was implausible that leisure travel could come to a standstill, or that buffet-style dining would be forbidden. Unthinkable that millions would die, although the numbers are hard to comprehend here where we’ve been relatively lucky.
As callous as it sounds, when things escalated with lockdowns and working from home in the following weeks and months, I was excited by the newness of the terror and change. I think that sustained my energy for many months while others became depressed and worn down by everything.
A year later, I think it’s finally catching up to me. I’m feeling like it’s time to slow down before I come to a complete stop not of my own accord. It would be much harder to get moving again from zero. I’m so tired these days. I think I need new terror, or wonder, or sleep.
I also got into the closed beta for Dispo 2.0, which I’ve been excited for since I heard it was being made. I’ll put my thoughts in a separate post, but you can follow me on there as “blee” if you want.
I came across this app a couple of weeks ago but can’t remember how, and since then it’s struck me as somewhat criminal that more people aren’t talking about it. So this is just a quick post to help you, my reader, discover a new app that brings realistic analog film simulation to your iPhone photos.
Sure, we already have VSCO, Rebelsauce, Faded, Afterlight, Litely, Priime… but there’s always room for one more if it does the job really well; the job being accurate reproduction of film characteristics. Then it’s a much shorter list. Mattebox (when it was for sale and updated) did a marvellous job of handling exposure adjustments in a very film-like way, VSCO Film in their desktop products are designed to emulate certain classic stocks, and a couple others like PicTapGo come from companies that also produce pro-grade Lightroom presets for a day job.
RNI Films falls into this general category easily. Their Lightroom presets are based on close study of classic films, they use real film grain scans and simulate old lenses with blurring, individual packs retail for $49 each (there are 5?), and online chatter from professionals indicate that their work is well-regarded as being competitive with and maybe even better than VSCO Film, now the biggest player thanks to the profile of their iOS app.
Unlike VSCOcam, which intentionally avoids naming its iPhone filters to match/cannibalize their more expensive Lightroom presets, RNI’s new app offers the same film simulations by name: Kodak Gold 200, Fuji Velvia 100, etc. I haven’t compared them, but I’ll guess that the iOS app produces results very close to the desktop product, at a fraction of the cost. Perhaps they have been tuned to the qualities of the iPhone’s camera for best results. At about $3 per in-app purchase pack, they are more expensive than those in most other filter apps on smartphones, but come on. In comparison to $49, we’re talking about a near giveaway.
I’ve been very pleased with the presets, and they look the way I expect them to. The app could use a few more features and a streamlined editing UX that allows for people who’d want to save versions, for example, but as of right now it gets the basics done about as well as the earlier generations of iPhone filter apps. Load > Stage 1 Edits > Stage 2 Edits > Save as new copy. It’s still faster at this workflow than VSCOcam! Hopefully the team at RNI are still iterating on it right now, although I sort of doubt it.