This post is delayed on account of the Lunar New Year weekend; hope you had a good one if you celebrate!
After two years of restrictions and fear (not to mention peace and quiet), we returned to the old chaos with a few family gatherings and house visits. Unfortunately, one of my favorite parts of the whole thing, a large reunion dinner on the Eve with some of our most senior relatives, was still off the table on account of their mounting health issues. I wonder if we’ll ever get a chance to see everyone on that side of the family all together again.
I brought my GR III out to capture some of these moments, and fortunately Ricoh released their previously mentioned new Diary Edition model just the day before, which meant the firmware update for older models to get their new Negative film-inspired “Image Control” mode was also released. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on these settings: Saturation +1, High Key +2, Contrast +1, Shadow Exposure -1. Am looking forward to using it for more everyday snaps in 2023.
While hanging around with some relatives in the afternoon of Day 1, a few of us downloaded the Dimensional personality test app and began answering its slew of profiling questions to compare our toxic traits, love languages, and all that. It co-opts a bunch of well-known existing frameworks like the MBTI and so on into one gigantic pile of traits. Does that constitute a unique and proprietary offering? I don’t know, but it’s fun enough and free. Be warned, completing all available questions can take over an hour.
Speaking of apps, my advance pick for 2023’s game of the year launched this week on Apple Arcade: Pocket Card Jockey Ride On. It’s a remake of the Nintendo 3DS eShop exclusive now fixed up with better graphics and subtle gameplay tweaks. If you never played the original, do yourself a favor and give it a try. It’s an addictive solitaire-based game; the main downside (for me) is it’s time-based and needs some concentration and so isn’t something you can play while in a noisy environment.
My Mastodon use has fallen off a little. I actually prefer Twitter’s algorithmic timeline to a chronological one because I tend to follow too many people to keep up, and need some help sifting out the “best” content from the rest. Mastodon is beginning to give me the uncomfortable feeling of a full inbox, but perhaps I should simply follow fewer people.
The general rule around here is to avoid talking about work — although it is usually such a big cost center for my time — but we had a new colleague relocate from Shanghai, and it was nice welcoming them to town and having a couple of impromptu beers on a weekday night.
Last episode, I mentioned seeing some Tezos NFT art at Singapore Art Week. Well I came across one of the pieces for sale (entitled D-909 Groove Arcade) and decided to go through the trouble of creating a Tezos wallet and getting some funds in so I could buy it. It’s one edition out of 167, and so was only like USD$20, but I’m super happy to have it. Can art be absolutely adorable and funky at the same time? Provably yes!
I also continued generating non-existent videogame screenshots using Midjourney, expanding the fictional timeline to include modern-day remakes of old games. I should spend more time pushing this idea further but so far I’ve only done it in spare moments or when I should really be doing something else.
Everything But The Girl is back after what feels like decades, and the video for their new single is an incredible piece of choreography and one-take execution. I could only think of the immense pressure on each person not to fuck up. Dimensional seems to concur, reporting that my main motivation is Security.
We had a funeral ceremony at work to say goodbye to the brand we all joined, which has now been subsumed into a larger new corporate brand. Everyone who could physically make it turned up and we ate pizzas, drank beers, and told stories about the last five years. We didn’t exactly put the fun in funeral but it was a thoughtful and appropriately introspective end.
I brought my new and underused Ricoh GR III along to document the moment. If I’d purchased the IIIx I originally wanted instead, I’m not sure it would have worked as well. 28mm and 24mp is a pretty good setup for capturing everything and then being able to crop in to interesting parts if needed. The only thing better would have been a 48mp Leica Q2.
Why didn’t I just use my iPhone and its new 48mp sensor? Firstly, I wanted to be intentional about it, and having a dedicated tool in hand prompts you to keep looking out for pictures. So I did end up taking more photos than anyone. Secondly, the vibes are not comparable. Comparing them with colleagues’s photos, the ones from iPhones are clear, sharp, and clinical. The Ricoh alternately underexposes, blows out highlights, focuses on the wrong thing, and occasionally white balances like daylight film when you’re indoors. These “choices” and limitations are beautiful, as is the rich detail from its large APS-C sensor; no neural network is filling in the blanks here. iPhones document things the way they happened; dumber cameras still somehow capture the way we’ll actually remember them. Or I’m just old and like things to look old too.
As I type this, we are watching Apple Music’s “live” stream of Billie Eilish performing at the O2 Arena. It’s been billed on the Browse page as a live performance (not inaccurate), but since it starts at 10am SGT (3am in the UK), this was clearly not going to be live in real time. So it turns out this is a pre-recorded concert film from the end of her tour, just now making its premiere on the service. It’s a good one though!
I mentioned before that we’ve been thinking of getting a cat. I also posted a photo of a ragdoll that a friend owns, whose home we’d visited as a sort of allergy test. I never really knew about cat breeds before this, but ragdolls seem lovely and are reportedly as chill and affectionate as they come. Things are escalating quickly: we submitted an inquiry to a breeder about the possibility of adopting one of their “retiring” adults, and this week had a call with them about the details.
But they don’t have any suitable retirees at the moment, only a kitten with a congenital physical anomaly — still in good health for the moment — which may develop into a problem requiring more care later in life. As people with no recent cat-owning experience, it’s not a decision we can make lightly.
My new iPhone 14 Pro arrived. This year’s Space Black is definitely the darkest shade of gray they’ve done in years. Fitting, because while Apple’s been calling their camera systems “pro” quality since the iPhone 11 Pro, it’s only with the ability to capture 48mp RAW files now that the label may finally be justified, and everyone knows a “pro” camera should be black and draw little attention to itself. Just look at Leica’s stealthy “-P” models without their red logo. So the 14 Pro looks the part, at least it did until I slapped a bright Succulent green case on it.
I took it out to a concert the same day it arrived — after a few snafus during set up and migration; probably related to the bugs already addressed in iOS 16.01. Low light performance seems improved as promised, and if it’s dark enough to call for Night Mode, those shots are taken more quickly than they were before. However, I’ve noticed some gritty artifacts when using the 3x lens in low light, possibly due to moving objects across several frames being merged. Ideally these would look like motion blur, but they have gross sharp outlines and very digital-looking noise. This is new, and I hope it’s an issue that will be fixed in software.
48mp ProRAW files are not snappy to edit, and VSCO doesn’t seem to like them at all. Load any RAW file in the app and all the filters come out looking wrong. I’ve been bouncing between RAW Power, Darkroom, and Pixelmator Photo, unable to decide which makes processing files least painful. But should one shoot in 48mp at all? The post-shot cropping latitude you get is fantastic, but at up to 90MB a file, I’ll probably use it sparingly, on occasions where it’s better to just grab a quick shot and make decisions later. But for everyday use, I’ve set mine up to save 12mp ProRAW files, and will simply try to get the composition right from the start with the new 2x “zoom” mode if needed (essentially an in-camera 12mp crop into the 48mp image).
Tyler Stalman and SuperSaf have good reviews of the cameras’ performance on their YouTube channels. I’m slightly annoyed by Stalman’s discovery that RAW files have a much more natural look than Apple’s default processing for JPEG/HEIF files. The amount of sharpening and clarity and HDR effect has been turned up with each passing year, and where iPhones were once known for taking true to life photos, they’re more social media-ready and Samsung-y today. And consequently these photos are not the neutral starting points for post-processing that they once were. On hindsight, it was inevitable. A lot of casual editing today is hitting an Auto-Enhance button or loading up an AI filter in Prequel, Meitu, or some app I haven’t heard of yet. Sitting down to process photos is now a “pro” thing, and pros presumably want to shoot and edit in RAW while they’re at it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
All in all, a nice upgrade to still photos this year. You get more separation and background blur in regular shots on the main camera because of the larger sensor. The new image processing engine also takes advantage of said larger sensor and gives impressive sharpness and detail when shooting in some specific instances. And the return of a 48mm 2x mode is very welcome, but then you don’t get the benefits of pixel binning in that mode so it’s a little worse for low light environments.
A final word on cameras: the bump must not be allowed to grow any larger. As customers, we need to hold this line. It’s simply too much.
The Dynamic Island is very cool, but not something you really need to think about too often. Buyers expecting a fun new toy they can tap and fidget with a hundred times a day will be disappointed. For me, the notch was a non-issue; it just faded from notice in normal use. The Island is similarly invisible to me until it springs into use for some multitasking. At present, it’s only shown up when I was listening to music or doing some navigation in Apple Maps. The latter is especially nice (as a passenger), I can be texting with someone but still keep an eye on the next instruction, e.g. it shows an arrow saying to turn right in 2km. It’s an improvement that you get used to very quickly, and the animations are nowhere as distracting as critics wanted to believe. After a couple of days, it reveals itself to be the best kind of improvement: one you can simply take for granted while it quietly improves your life in the background.
The third and final major feature in this year’s iPhone is its always-on display. No, the new A16 chip doesn’t make the Top 3 for me. The A15 in last year’s iPhone 13 Pro was still zippy as hell, and the improvements here are somewhat minor. It’s testament to the A15’s power that Apple can reuse it for this year’s basic iPhone 14 and most people are just like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The always-on display gave me battery anxiety. I’d turned on the new/old battery percentage indicator in iOS 16’s Settings and was convinced that my available power was dropping faster than usual for a new phone. But hiding the percentage was probably one of the best unpopular things that Apple did with the introduction of the iPhone X. Nobody needs to see that number drop. I turned it off and stopped worrying for the time being. If you want to give it a break, just turn your phone face down on your desk (this doesn’t work on glass tables, FYI).
It’s certainly nice, but nowhere as necessary as an always-on display on a watch, because seeing the time and other info without overtly turning your wrist towards you is a real use case. Being able to glance over and see a weather update or the price of bitcoin without tapping my phone’s screen is alright. But maybe not 10% less battery life alright? I need my phone’s battery for playing games and calling cabs and other things my watch doesn’t have to worry about. Time will tell if it’s a keeper or a feature we all turn off and forget about.
I also replaced my Series 4 watch with a new Series 8, but apart from the always-on display and non-degraded battery life, there’s not a lot here to write home about for someone who isn’t into the athletic life. It’s just the most refined and capable version of a four-year-old design, and I expect it to last me for quite awhile. The Apple Watch Ultra is simply not for me, and it would take a radical redesign of the regular watch line to make the Series 8 feel obsolete (note: foreshadowing).
My last one was an Hermés model, and I’m really missing their classic analog watchface with the Cape Cod typeface (see below). There is simply nothing in the standard Apple Watch catalog of watchfaces that compares. If you want an elegant, full-screen analog face with attractive Arabic numerals and maybe just a date display, you’re shit out of luck.
One interesting thing that’s new this year, but is actually available to all Apple Watches from Series 4 and up, is advanced sleep stage tracking in watchOS 9. I’ve been using the Autosleep app to do the same thing for the last couple of years, but it’s always been a bit of a faith/novelty thing: there was just no way of knowing how accurate it really was.
One “local” artist I came away from Friday night’s showcase concert quite impressed with was Dru Chen, who played a couple of songs featuring some funky guitar work and a lovely musicality reminiscent of His Purpleness. I have nothing against people inspired by Prince. Everyone should be. Dru’s debut album is on Apple Music, so I’ll be listening to it some over the next week.
But for live music, it probably doesn’t get any better than this newly remastered 1985 show by Prince and The Revolution playing in Syracuse, now available in goddamn Dolby Atmos spatial audio. What an absolute treat to be transported right into the audience for this. I’ve only heard a few moments so far. It really calls for a fully charged pair of AirPods Max and a clear afternoon.
I fell down. It happened walking right in the middle of the sidewalk, where someone had decided to place stone benches, a civic design decision made nowhere else in the entire country that I know of. I’d just been avoiding its siblings in the moment before, most of them brightly painted, but the one that got me was dark gray, and it was 9pm and dim, and I was looking at a giant mural to the side while talking about it with my companions. We’d been out all day to see art, ending up at the ongoing Singapore Night Festival.
I stubbed my right big toe first, I think. Then my right shin. Then I toppled over the bench, knees first, palms outstretched. Smashed both knees down onto the concrete sidewalk from seating height, and thankfully avoided a broken face with my hands. Everything still hurts now, the day after. Maybe I’ve fractured the toe. It doesn’t want to bend. I think I’ll be okay, but any sympathy is welcome.
I got up quite quickly and felt the burn, but was alright to keep going. My friends said, “sit down for a minute and catch a breath, you’re over 40 now. Take it easy. It’s too late for parkour.” This is good advice in general.
Earlier that day with Rob (he’s back in town again, hence I took some time off), we saw the strange work of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini at the ArtScience Museum: We Are Connected. I suppose you could describe them as grotesque, body horror explorations of biological variety, mostly in the form of human-animal chimeras. Kim found the exhibition for us, saying “It’s weird. I think you’d both like it.” For the record, she would have hated it.
Rob said they reminded him of the work of Ron Mueck, so afterwards we dropped his name into a MidJourney prompt and created something not too far from what we’d seen.
Later in the evening, we visited another exhibition of AI-generated art, pieces clearly composited from MidJourney outputs — scenes similar to what we’ve also created playing with these tools. What happens to art some day when viewers can engage, challenge, and remix on equal footing with artists? When execution counts for nothing, and only what you’re saying matters (RIP the massive teams of studio interns)? Will you walk into a gallery and see a textual prompt and seed number in a frame? Hmm… gimme a minute!
One of the better things from that afternoon: a crude 3D animation about viruses, played across seven screens, with a shot of a man licking an android’s eyeball.
This was at the Singapore Art Museum’s temporary outpost at Keppel Distripark. Which is a pretty stark middle-of-nowhere-feeling industrial space, interesting in itself. We saw an old sign that said “climb the stairs to the fifth floor for more artwork”, which turned out to be a cruel exaggeration on a very hot afternoon. There was but one lonely birdhouse-sized installation, a sort of wind-powered music box based on structures we’d already seen on the first floor. But the view sort of made up for it, and watching shipping containers being loaded onto trucks is not bad at all.
I finally leveled up my deca.art Decagon to L30. Left with nothing else to shoot for, I bought a basic one and started leveling it up too.
This week’s been a good reminder that you’ve gotta have fun/meaningful things going on a regular basis, otherwise you’ll be left talking about LEVELING UP AN NFT as the most exciting thing that happened outside of taking an afternoon off and getting injured.
Last week I mentioned the MusicHarbour app and started talking to Michael about music recommendation engines. He mentioned Apple Music’s “For You” playlists, and I realized I hadn’t used any of them in weeks, maybe months. Today I tried my New Music Mix and discovered the RZA has put out new stuff both as himself and his Bobby Digital persona. Two album/EPs, actually! Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater with DJ Scratch, and RZA presents: Bobby Digital and the Pit of Snakes. I also wanted to correct my earlier opinion of King Princess’s Hold On Baby: it’s grown on me and I love it now. The same thing happened with her previous single Pain. It sounded absolutely crap the first time I heard it, and then it absolutely slapped. How does she do it?
Covid has finally made its way into our household. Kim is down with it, and given our proximity I decided it was impossible. She’s on Day 2 of the whole cough, sore throat, headaches package, while I’ve now started feeling the beginnings of it this afternoon too. So pretty sure I’ll be out of action this coming week.
It’s probably evidence of a new wave of a new variant (BA 2.75?), because several people we know have also come down with it, including about three others at work. I may have passed it to more while I was in the office this week, unfortunately.
We had an electrical scare in the house when a light tripped the power. I wasn’t home when it happened, but Kim forced the circuit back on and the LED bulb exploded. After consulting with an electrician, it seems it was a failure in the track light’s transformer, which apparently happens. He was nonplussed about it and said we just had to buy a new one and put it back on the rail. I’m not really comfortable with the idea that QA in the lighting industry is so poor that this happens and we can dismiss it.
After only having access to Dall-e Mini like a pleb for weeks, I finally got access to Midjourney thanks to new friend and good guy Hunn who had a spare invite. You won’t believe how much of my week has been taken up by messing around and trying to get a feel for its prompts. I said in an Instagram post that I’m now 100% certain that these tools are going to be a part of creative work everywhere. No doubt in my mind.
If last week was long and exhausting then the trend is only accelerating. This week involved a lot of extroversion, conversations, and digging deep for social energy. But there’s change here: talking too much used to wipe me out. Now it can feel worthwhile. Sometimes I even wander into the “need to shut up and listen” zone. Part of this is getting old — people might let you, but it doesn’t mean you should.
I spent some time with a visiting colleague of sorts, and got to talking about how I spent the last year (rest, goofing off, learning random things), and takeaways from this entire period of work and personal growth since joining the company. It’s no wonder I’m tired; I barely recognize who I used to be five years ago. Things that were hard then are easier now, which reminds me of this “NLP” phrase that used to be in the Pzizz sleep app: let things that are easy… be easy. Is it cringe motivational shit? I think a lot of people could learn from it.
Last week I tried to buy a Ricoh GR IIIx and my order got canceled because of supply issues. This week I took my Ricoh first-gen GR out for a bit and decided I’d rather stick to a 28mm field of view and crop if needed, so I’ve ordered a regular ol’ GR III instead. Thanks to Shopee’s June 25th sale, I managed to get a better price than what I found in Funan’s camera stores. Let’s see if it manages to be delivered.
Painfully aware I haven’t played any games recently. The creator of Downwell made a new mobile action game for Netflix, called Poinpy. I’ve only spent 10 minutes on it. It’s much friendlier and cartoony looking, but you can still definitely draw parallels with Downwell.
If you’re a child of the 80s and 90s, you may remember playing Westwood Studios’ point-and-click game adaptation of Blade Runner, which was hailed as a groundbreaking experience. I hadn’t even watched the film at that age, so the game was just weird to me, but it still looked like nothing else owing to its voxel rendering and motion captured actors. It’s now been remastered and released on the Nintendo Switch for just $10 USD, so I’m planning to give it another go.
After seeing some Twitter chatter about Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brief but remarkable impersonation of Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible 3, we watched it again from my iTunes library and… it’s not the movie I recall. Something about its oversaturated colors and tight framing makes the film feel much older than it is, and nowhere as thrilling as I think it was in the theaters. Ah well. At least now I have this line stuck in my head ready to be repeated all day.
Netflix has a new (bad) reality TV show called Snowflake Mountain where a bunch of spoiled young people living off their parents get told they’re going to be on a show set on a luxurious resort, but then they get dropped into a wilderness survival experience. It’s so bad we watched all 8 episodes in one go on Saturday. It’s enjoyable mainly because some of them do grow up and become more mature, but I wonder what the producers would have done if all of them remained insufferable and selfish. That said, the brainwashing playbook is well established! Throw them into adversity to break their spirits, add a little kindness and positive reinforcement to bring them back in, then keep them on their toes throughout.
There’s a fair bit of hip-hop in my library, but Logic’s work is a blind spot. His new album Vinyl Days came up in Apple Music’s New Releases list and I’ve been enjoying its classic production throughout the week.