- In the tradition of former such updates, I’ll start with all the times I left the house this week.
- There was a work meeting that had to be done on site, and I took another afternoon off to get some artwork framed. We’ve been living here for two years now, and most of the walls are still bare because we never found large enough things we liked (and were too lazy). The living room wall is now about to get a furoshiki from the Spoon & Tamago store (see photo), which I’d initially wanted to pair with another, but after testing with an AR app, we decided against it. The glow-in-the-dark one will have to go somewhere else, or become a scarf.
- My family made a big deal about getting enough exercise, which I don’t, so I also took an evening walk and will try to get them in more often. Thanks, mom.
- Whilst visiting said parents, I also took the opportunity to test the Mavic Mini drone I got for my birthday, which has been practically unused since, apart from one stupid excursion that left the propellers scruffed and damaged. It was good to fly it in daylight this time, with my dad’s help (he’s flown remote planes and helicopters since I can remember), but the damaged props kept throwing up error messages about using too much power to compensate. So I gotta replace those before trying again.
- On the reading front, absolutely no progress on This Is How You Lose the Time War, which is stupendously great whenever I pick it up but I’m simultaneously afraid to see end, and also not really in the mood for it most days. Sometimes I just wanna chill and play games despite thinking they’re such a waste of time.
- Picked up Catherine: Full Body (the original unbodied version came out in 2011) for the Switch this week, and it’s an odd grungy block-sliding puzzle game with a dungeony aesthetic not like the Deception series, superglued to an adult-themed anime movie about a 32-year-old guy who’s losing his sanity to supernatural forces while being pressured to get married and have a family, or run away from it all with a mysterious girl who may be a figment of his imagination. One stage has you frantically Sokoban-ing blocks to outrun a giant demonic baby (with facial stitchings and cyborg augmentations) with a chainsaw where its arm should be. It’s from the director of the Persona games, and technologically speaking, is ample proof that the Switch could handle Persona 5. I demand this immediately.
- I’d like to know just how good the pandemic has been for Nespresso’s bottom line, because I am using my machine so much more these days and can’t be the only one. In our house, we probably go through a sleeve of 10 pods every two days. On account of running low and a new local promotion that gets you a pair of metal cups (that look like their pods) and a little Monin brand flavored syrup sampler, I ordered, and received the next day, 30 sleeves. That’s 300 cups of coffee.
- So the included syrups were blackcurrant (maybe more suited to tea?), white peach (not the weirdest iced coffee I’ve had, but uhh), and salted caramel (omg). The latter is the best, because now I’m making Starbucks-ish caramel macchiatos (but better!) at will, at home. But the most exciting application of these isn’t coffees, but cocktails! Salted caramel old fashioneds, trust me, do it. A dash of chocolate bitters along with angostura bitters works too.
- When we did our next Redmart grocery order, I put a full 700ml bottle of the salted caramel syrup in the cart. Would you believe this brand makes something like a hundred different flavors? I tweeted that I lost about an hour of my life browsing through them and reading the product descriptions with a mixture of recognition and relief — I know what it’s like to have to create endless copy variations few will ever see or appreciate, and I’m glad I’m not doing that at the moment.
- A typical Monin one features a few nods to the flavor and a hint of backstory, followed by serving suggestions (Lavender: “Inspired by the lavender fields of Southern France, aromatic and pretty in purple for lavishly hued speciality drinks like mocktails, cocktails, and more.”) But in some of them, it’s hilariously clear the copywriter had no idea what the flavor even is (Agave: “Made with premium ingredients, it is especially formulated to dissolve instantly with any hot or cold beverage, for fast convenient use with great taste.”) And every now and then, you catch them trying to have what little fun they can (Caribbean syrup: “Create ‘rumbustious’ coffees, non-alcoholic cocktails and dessert drinks with the nose of rum aged in oak barrels and the sweet rum taste to make any pirate proud!”)
- Last week I mentioned Apple Music and this week they began killing off the Beats brand, clumsily renaming the Beats 1 radio station “Apple Music 1”. They also launched two new live, DJed stations: Apple Music Hits and Apple Music Country. The former is supposedly dedicated to Top 40 music from the 80s, 90s, and 2000s. I’m glad they’re expanding the live stations. I don’t care for either of the two new ones, but that’s okay. It’s just the missed opportunity with the brand name that gets me. The Beats 1 station minus country music and old hits would be even MORE Beats than before. Which just means Apple isn’t interested in building out any more brand equity for Beats; they’d rather do some Highlander shit and lop its head off to transfer its street cred to Apple Music. Did that work when they killed iTunes? I complained about this to Michael, and we agreed that their product naming is just beige now that it’s “Apple [Noun]” for everything in the Cook era.
- I met a couple more of my colleagues in person this week, and I’ll be leaving the house for a justified meeting in the coming week. I’m up for more of the first, because we had a great chat till it was nearly midnight, but am not especially keen for the second to occur regularly just yet. Several friends have shared their companies’ plans to become permanent work-from-anywhere organizations. Provided it’s sustainable (there’s work to be done, culture doesn’t erode over time), I can see remote friendliness becoming a major make-or-break factor for recruitment and retention next year.
- This week in games I finished Neo Cab (worth it), started Next Stop Nowhere (promising, but I found a bug and will wait till they update), and purchased Burnout Paradise (now discounted to USD$35 on the Switch) for the second time in my life. The first was maybe 12 years ago for the XBox 360. I didn’t enjoy its open world structure much then, but I drove around for an hour yesterday and it felt good. Oh, and Otherworld Legends is a surprisingly good and free roguelike beat-em-up.
- Thanks to a series of early mornings this week, I don’t think I’ve felt very rested, despite my quantified self apps saying I’ve spent about the same amount of time in bed as usual. One of the things that usually happens when I have an early morning call or meeting is that I don’t trust my alarms and dream all night that I’ve overslept, and keep waking up. This happens before flights as well, so I’m just really terrible at anything that starts before, oh, 9:30am?
- Monday was a public holiday on account of National Day here, our 55th anniversary of independence. Having to work on a holiday doesn’t happen too often, but it did this time on account of a regional project, but I’m planning to take the day later this month and get a long weekend to catch up on some reading.
- I only managed a few more chapters of This Is How You Lose the Time War this week, but they were exquisite chapters. I love when you can sense the author having a load of fun.
- National Day is usually marked by a military parade and a quasi-musical show performed at a stadium, broadcast live on TV. This year, they rolled the tanks and hardware out on neighborhood streets across the country so everyone could have a look from their windows (were they aware this is not usually a welcome sight, or that some countries have a real problem with this now? I’ll never know), and the weird song and dance bits were just beamed from a stage somewhere. Watching this live is usually quite cringey, but I leave it on in the background every year just to feel a little connected.
- On Thursday, I went back to the office for the first time in five months, to pick up some mail and stuff in my locker (a fistful of cables and adapters, my SNES Classic Mini, whisky, stationery). There was no one around except for security, but it’s being cleaned regularly and all the lights were on, so it was like visiting a museum exhibit of life before COVID-19; everything on my desk perfectly preserved just as I’d left it. It brought back memories of the day we left, not knowing at the time how long we’d be away but certainly not imagining it’d be five months either. As I left, it was hard not to imagine it being the last time ever.
- After that, I met up with a few colleagues for a pre-arranged visit to one of our usual bars in the area, since we’re now allowed to meet in groups of five and take our masks off for the purposes of eating. Which was initially surreal to be doing again in person, but very nice for a change.
- Probably contributing to my feeling worn out were a few more social events, all delightful but so unusual these days. At one, there was an interesting conversation about how the music industry works these days, given that the host currently works at a publisher. I said that I used to think about record labels a whole lot more in the old days of physical products where I could read liner notes. Then, labels acted as a layer of curation and were effectively brands that stood for certain tastes or movements. The move to digital definitely changed the commerce around music, but I think the loss of liner notes was an underappreciated strategic blunder. iTunes tried to offer digital booklets for awhile but the take-up was low, and so today I’d be surprised if kids could even name two major labels.
- I think people who don’t consciously try to discover new music either still rely on radio or just tap on curated playlists from their streaming service of choice (probably Spotify, given that it has a free tier). Those who don’t regard music as just background noise probably remember and consciously choose their favorite playlists, which are now clearly brands in their own right, like RapCaviar. And given that there are so many of them, in different states of being maintained by their editors/algorithms, it kinda makes sense to not only share songs and albums with friends, but also playlists.
- I don’t use Spotify anymore, but that’s a rant for another time. While writing this, I searched my own blog to see if I’d ever mentioned it, but found this instead on the then-rumored Beats acquisition by Apple. I thought they’d extend the iTunes brand to include streaming music, but they chose to start over. Around these parts, most people I know still don’t understand what the Apple Music offer is about, or how it relates to iTunes.
- While working, I often just put Apple Music’s Pure Jazz radio station on, but sometimes I like the BEATstrumentals playlist, which is their version of ChilledCow’s lofi hip hop beats to study/relax to. One recent discovery is Pop Deluxe, a playlist which describes itself as featuring artists who are “left-of-center, under the radar … pop’s modern vanguard”. In other words: catchy stuff hip people don’t have to make excuses for liking.
- Two weeks ago I was listening to The Sunset Tree as a sort of throwback album. This week it was Bleachers’ Gone Now. Big melodies, saxophones, heartfelt anthemic choruses… another all-time fave.
- A short entry this week, because it’s been largely uneventful outside of work. I returned on Monday and it was like being a kid on the first day back at school after vacation. Maybe you liked it; I didn’t.
- I think I’m finally beginning to tire of the new routine, several months after everyone else was complaining about being cooped up, not going out for anything, and working from home. The lockdown here ended over a month ago, and by all accounts, the streets are busy again and people are in malls, seeing films, and eating out (with masks, of course), but I haven’t been doing much of that at all. We had some friends over the other night and they asked how I managed through the 10 weeks of isolation. I said I was still doing it, and it’s been 20?
- But yeah, when I described the typical working day, it was depressingly simple. Just a short series of movements between rooms in the house, between laptop, coffee machine, dining table, and TV. It’s almost like being on a small space station or planetary outpost. This is not to say that I’d prefer being back at the office! But that life at least afforded some walking around lunchtime and a bit of ad hoc shopping.
- I finished Lee Child’s “A Wanted Man”, and it was a yawn. At this point, I am only invested in the series’ first-ever story arc, which began in book 14 or 15, where Reacher just wants to travel to Virginia to meet an army woman with a sexy voice. All the books between that and #18 are just him on the road, slowly heading to Virginia and getting caught up in implausible international arms/drugs/human trafficking intrigues. The next book is #18, where it finally happens. But I’m taking a break.
- We decided this weekend would be good for rewatching Denzel Washington films on Netflix, and made it through 2Guns and The Equalizer. I didn’t believe I’d ever paid to see a movie called 2Guns at all, and yet remembered enough of it to suggest that, yes, at some point in 2014 I’d bought tickets to go see a movie called 2Guns.
- I can’t decide if I miss going out to see films or not.
- It turns out earning interest on crypto isn’t a total scam (see Week 28.20). I got my first month’s payout, and it’s amazing that individual people can now play the role of financial institutions and profit from it, albeit without the chance of being bailed out by a government when it all goes wrong.
- I’m not sure how it happened, but I started hearing songs from The Mountain Goats’ The Sunset Tree in my head. This happened again and again, and now I’m listening to it. Maybe it’s connected to a point in my life (I think I was in university, and discovered it while a subscriber of the eMusic site — you paid a fixed monthly fee and could download a few albums worth of DRM-free MP3s, legally). Somehow, it’s become one of my favorite albums.
In my last update here, three long months ago, I’d just set up a new WiFi system with enough reach to connect our largely neglected study, which gave me a new place to hang out and play music too loudly.
Shortly thereafter, I decided the acoustics of that room were too boomy for the Beolit speaker I’d put in, and picked up a little Sonos which can be tuned to suit the space (it’s much better).
Shortly thereafter, a measure of hell broke loose everywhere, which I don’t need to explain. In the tiny window before nationwide lockdown was called, my wife and I decided to celebrate our anniversary with a staycation since getting away was impossible. We booked ourselves in for a weekend, visited the buffets, had cocktails in the lounge, and sat by the pool that first day reading more news and feeling something in the wind.
Literally overnight, we saw the hotel reconfigure their club lounge for social distancing, cutting the capacity in half. With not much else to do but eat canapés and drink while watching the news, I distinctly recall the numbers then: 380,000 infections worldwide. Yesterday, I saw that number in the news again, for global deaths.
According to the log my teammates have been keeping, we started working from home in the third week of March, later than our other colleagues not attached to client projects at the time. For that period of about a week, showing up at a reduced occupancy office building/mall was surreal, recalling Ling Ma’s novel Severance, where the protagonist keeps going to work at her Manhattan office long after the city stops working, and we were glad when the call was made to not take any more chances.
That move to make our home study more usable/livable/enjoyable just before this hit, which on hindsight was just down to luck and the High Fidelity TV series, was probably the most well-timed decision I’ll make all year. It’s given me a separate workspace from my wife who’s taken to occupying the living room’s solar-facing counter. Given that we’re both on calls a lot now, if I had to be nearby for WiFi purposes, I think there’d be trouble.
A lot of what we do with clients and their customers in the business of design used to happen in person. Speaking with people, watching them at work, communicating ideas — it takes a lot of channels to supply the necessary bandwidth, from spoken words and scribblings on a board to body language and moving things around in space. It’s also true for many other professions, and is probably why many fantasize that VR will be the long-term answer in the event that there won’t be a vaccine, if we agree that plexiglass shields in the office aren’t a solution for getting back to work.
We started working from home on a Wednesday and had to figure out how we’d start interviewing people the very next day; interviews that were originally planned to be in-person conversations. For a bunch of reasons, it wasn’t as easy as sending a Zoom meeting link. We ended up keeping those sessions simple and voice only; better to get the basics right and extract some good data than get fancy and fuck it all up.
Two months later, between us and other teams across the studio, I think we’re beginning to see how many of the old activities can be done virtually. The next step will be to devise new activities that aren’t constrained by assumptions about how work should be done. Maybe we’ll go back, maybe we won’t. One thing about remote work of this sort, technology constraints (including literacy) have a huge impact on who you can involve and co-create with. Almost anyone can pick up a pen or gesture at a thing. Now try to get them to manipulate content on a Miro or Mural board using an aging laptop. Now try to get them doing it in VR. What’s the equivalent of a Post-It note for virtual work: the simplest, most flexible atom of a tool for thinking aloud with anyone? Texting in a group chat?
Otherwise, I’ve done some of the usual quarantine things. I’ve tried cutting my own hair (bought some clippers for it). I’ve been making cold brew coffee (bought a Hario bottle for it). We made that dalgona coffee one time but it was foul (
already had turns out we actually bought the apocalypse-ready instant coffee for it). I’ve been making more cocktails and drinking IPAs at home instead of at the bar (bought the ingredients and ordered the cases, respectively). I’ve put on weight (bought a lot of takeout for it). I’ve been reading more (bought a Kobo reader for it). I’ve played upwards of 110 hours of Animal Crossing New Horizons (bought the game day one for it). Uh… having made that list, I am a little disgusted. Clearly, if life gives me lemons, I buy a juicer.
The national lockdown here in Singapore ends in name next Monday, but the cautious re-opening will surely take more than a couple of months. The first people to be allowed back into office buildings at first will be those who haven’t been able to do their jobs from home for legal or technical reasons, and I think it’ll be September before most white-collared types find out what their leaders think about ending the great WFH experiment vs. saving a ton on commercial rent.
Note: This post contains a couple of Amazon affiliate links, which I’m trying out… again? I have a vague memory of using them on a couple of my sites before.