Week 14.22

We got used to wearing masks all the time. But then as of this week, they became no longer mandatory (I’m not using the word “necessary” yet because who knows) when outdoors. So when I finally left the house without a mask, and walked amongst other people still choosing to stay masked, it felt both weird and wrong. Did I get the date wrong? Was I the bad guy? Were they staring at me the way they would an anti-vaxxer or Covid denialist? It doesn’t help that no one seems sure what “outdoors” really means. Some think that includes elevators on the outside of buildings. What about an open-air food court where you’re talking to people, hovering over trays and cutlery?

I wondered if it was better to just keep wearing one anyway, for the anonymity benefits, but then remembered that people I hadn’t seen in many months were still recognizing me with a mask on. The deep state wants gait analysis systems everywhere for a reason oh god I’m one of them now aren’t I?


We had to run an errand near the Ghim Moh area and ended up eating at the hawker center there, which I haven’t been to in quite possibly a decade. Prior to going, we found YouTube video tours of the place, highlighting all the essential and famous stalls: selling braised/roast duck rice, chai tau kueh, satay beehoon, Hokkien mee, and wanton mee. But I can never resist the siren song of Tong Fong Fatt chicken rice, so that’s what I got.

All this to say I’ve been living in a tremendous bubble these past couple of years, and visiting a hawker center is now a novel experience. The last one was Amoy Street a couple months back when Rob was in town (I also ate Tong Fong Fatt, come to think of it), and that was the first in a long time.


A couple of weeks ago, we swapped out our Nespresso Essenza Mini machine for a Pixie model and I neglected to mention it because how absolutely boring do these updates need to be, really? Short on content this week, I bring it up because it’s turning out to be a markedly better experience and that annoys me. You see, all Nespresso machines are essentially the same from a brewing standpoint. They push the same amount of heat, water, and pressure through a pod. It doesn’t matter if you buy the basic model or the one that goes over $500. Milk frothing capabilities aside, all the differences are artificial.

The basic Essenza mini has a smaller water tank and trash bin, so you’re forced to fiddle with it and clean up daily. The Pixie increases both of those metrics, so using it incurs less mental load, which feels great! But holding more water (and adding some cosmetic metal parts, who cares) translates to a 42% price premium! Ridiculous, but we already knew that about the business model. Anyway I don’t want to be looking after a proper espresso machine so I’m still a happy customer, I just hate false upgrade trees.


Media activity:

  • Apple TV+ is hitting its stride. There’s suddenly now too much to see and too little time.
  • Coda won Best Picture at the Oscars this week, so I’ll need to watch that soon.
  • Pachinko is not bad at all, and getting great reviews in the local press. But I say this not having read the book.
  • WeCrashed continues to be quality despite the presence of Jared Leto, as mentioned before. The founders are presented as so out of control/out of touch with reality that I find myself physically cringing from embarrassment.
  • Suspicion has ended, and it wasn’t a strong finish. I’d put this lower in the queue if you haven’t seen it.
  • But the absolute best show I’ve seen on Apple TV+ in the past few months is Slow Horses. Do not miss this. It’s a British spy thriller starring Gary Oldman that quite perfectly balances being serious/thrilling and funny (not in a silly way, thankfully).
  • After finishing Top Boy, we learnt that there are two prior seasons on Channel 4 from back in 2011, and the Netflix-produced seasons are technically Seasons 3 and 4. The previous series (only 4 episodes each, in line with that worst of British traditions: the short season) are supposed to be on Netflix, renamed Top Boy: Summerhouse, which sounds like a bad reality dating show*. But only Season 2 has been added to the local library so far, with no signs of the first season yet.

* We’d probably watch it, to be honest.

Week 13.22

  • It’s a new pandemic record for me, leaving the house six times this week. Also the government announced further relaxations on the way. As of March 29, masks will no longer be required outdoors, and people can get together in groups of 10, up from 5. Most importantly for some, alcohol sales after 10:30pm will finally be okay again, so that hopefully means the end of taxi surge pricing around 10pm, and also longer hangouts I guess. It’s a weird rule that started very early on in this, and that I sort of appreciated as an older person who didn’t really want to stay out getting wasted past midnight anymore.
  • Two of those times were dinners to celebrate an occasion, which meant massive caloric intake. To balance it out, I’ve had a couple of lunches this week that were just peanut butter sandwiches. I haven’t had peanut butter outside of an ice cream flavor in years, which now seems like a waste of a life. It’s awesome!
  • We’ve been binge watching Top Boy on Netflix. It’s a UK gangland sort of thing, and extremely good (and I don’t normally go in for depressing inner-city stories about drugs and thugs). Like, at no point would it occur to you that it looks like British TV, if you know what I mean. But it sure sounds like it, and now I’m mentally adding “fam” and “bruv” to the end of every sentence I say.
  • It’s been about a month since I’ve properly read a book. Unless you count Ace Attorney Chronicles, and why wouldn’t you? It’s 99% reading slow-assed text crawling over a screen, accompanied by a handful of the same character animation loops on top of a smaller handful of backgrounds. I’ve started the second game now, but it’s beginning to wear me out. So I’ve started Mark of the Ninja, which is a 2D stealth platformer currently on sale for $4.99.
Paper money in a clear plastic sheath. It reads: The Government of the Straits Settlements promises to pay the bearer ten cents on demand at Singapore. Local currency for value received. 11th October 1919.
  • Speaking of money, dropping by to see my parents usually throws up more stuff I’m meant to help clear out or take a look at. This week we found some antique money from my granddad’s collection. Tarnished lumps of metal I’m told are ancient Chinese money. You can’t even call some of them coins because they’re… thick and rectangular? Might let them sit in some Coke for a bit and maybe they’ll come out shiny again. We also found this paper note for 10 cents, dated 1919. Singapore The Nation didn’t even exist yet, of course, so it was legal tender of the “Straits Settlements” government. I doubt it’s worth anything, but it might be a nice prop for kids studying local history. I think it would have added some color to my dull classes back in the day, when the idea of a chaotic “Before” felt hard to connect with modern reality.
  • I also found a bunch of old books that I’m thinking of giving away to the free community library in my building, the kind where you can take or leave anything you want. Except it doesn’t exist yet, so that’s another project I want to get going on in the next few weeks.

Week 9.22

In William Gibson’s book, The Peripheral (soon to be an Amazon Prime Video series!), there are references to an epoch-making event that turned everything to shit, and it’s all quite vague so you don’t know at first whether it was a nuclear war or some natural catastrophe. Everyone calls it “The Jackpot”, and you soon figure out that it wasn’t one thing, but several bad situations improbably lining up and landing at the same time. Not necessarily on a single day but a longer period of months or years maybe — still short when zoomed out on the timeline. We might already be living in a Jackpot of our own, but if not… it sure felt like the final “7” rolled into view this week.

All the updates and gory details of the Ukrainian invasion shared in real time now seems completely expected, but the invasion itself wasn’t, and so probably airdropped several tokens of ANX(iety) to everyone’s wallets. Coincidentally, I started reading Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, a series of essays about how to resist social media and its effects. She prescribes exposure to nature quite a few times, which just isn’t going to work for me in this climate. Back to Twitter, I guess.

Locally, our Covid numbers hit a new high with 26,000 cases in a single day. Medical services are stretched, and the government has taken the step of telling employers to just believe employees when they say they’ve got Covid and can’t come in, no medical certificates needed. Unsurprisingly, this was followed by reports of companies still insisting on them.

Perhaps stupidly, I went out more this week than I have in a long while. I know because the number of socks in my laundry load went back to pre-pandemic levels. First was to see a couple of friends who moved to Japan just before Covid and are only now able to leave for a visit back here. There was also a night out with too much expensive tequila that I don’t need to remember, but I got a cat photo out of it.

I also saw Rob a couple more times before he left, and we took his kids out to eat “the best chicken rice in Singapore” (it’s not Tian Tian at Maxwell — don’t get me started). I asked his eldest what he thought of being back, and “it’s hot” was inevitably said, but he also observed that “everyone likes to say ‘it’s freezing’ when it’s like 30º”.


Media activity:

  • Rob turned me onto Jonathan Richman’s song That Summer Feeling, during a conversation about songs that induce nostalgia. Pulp’s Disco 2000 was my pick for a song that made even young people overcome with the regrets of growing old.
  • We started on the new season of Young Wallander on Netflix, a title I will never tire of saying out loud. I remember almost nothing of the first season, but this is going well.
  • As an antidote to all the murdering and double-crossing in our weekly TV diet, we’ve also started on season 3 of Love Island Australia, which is exactly what you’d expect. Some highlights include a girl who doesn’t know anything about Western Australia because she’s not good at “geometry”, and a guy who tried to say something wasn’t in his wheelhouse, but used the word “jurisdiction”, which he tried to pronounce several times before giving up and going with “it’s not in my area”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve started playing Ace Attorney Chronicles, which takes two previously Japan-only installments for the 3DS and translates, remasters, and packages them as a single purchase for USD$40 (often on sale for USD$30).

Week 8.22

1.
After posting about the 0xmusic project (NFTs that infinitely generate rule-based but non-repeating music) in last week’s post, I thought I’d start recording some of the output to concretize it for future reference. As Rob put it, the music is kinda “plonky”, but not half bad as BGM. So I recorded two ugly, short screen recordings of “DJ Drip” on its webpage onto YouTube, one of which was appended to the last post.

After that, what’s a guy with free time to do but take it to the next level? I recorded a 60-minute length of “DJ Syn City” and set out to make one of those YouTube music videos, you know the kind, usually lofi or cafe jazz compilations with an illustrated scene on loop. How is it we don’t have a specific word for that sort of thing?

I wasn’t in the mood to find videos in my library that could loop well, so I used a photo I took in Akihabara back in 2018 and dumped a bunch of overlays on it with a bit of motion*, mixed it all together in iMovie, and voila! If I find a way to create more/better music, I’ll probably make a bunch of these.

*How? You’d be amazed what one can do with an iPhone and free apps these days.

2.
Covid hit closer to home this week with two cases in the family. All are vaccinated and coping okay with only flu-like symptoms so far. Anecdotally, it’s everywhere. Multiple colleagues and friends have already had it this the past month. The relaxed policies at present haven’t helped: even if you or someone in your household is infected, you can go out as soon as you test negative via ART self testing. And you don’t have to document or prove the result in any way; it’s an honor system. To make things worse, the tests don’t seem consistent. Some test negative at home and then positive at a clinic, and vice versa.

I was feeling fatigued/achey and worried that I’d gotten it after being briefly exposed, but three home tests this week said no, so I wondered if it was just my usual psychosomatic, hypochondriac imagination filling in the blanks. Just to be safe, I canceled every meeting during the week.

3.
When it was safe (7 days after contact), I made one exception to join Rob for a yakitori and beer hangout with old work buds who haven’t all been together in years. The food was quality, but damn if yakitori isn’t criminally overpriced in Singapore. It was probably triple what a comparable meal would cost in Japan.

It was afterwards while we were watching YouTube that I learnt from Jose that the extreme longboarder Josh Neuman passed away this month at the age of 22. You can’t help but imagine the worst… losing control and flying off a cliff, crashing headfirst into oncoming traffic… but no, he died in a plane crash.


Media activity:

  • Finished the 18th Jack Reacher book, Never Go Back. It’s definitely one of the better ones, with a cast of supporting characters and good momentum. I can see why they picked it for the second film with Tom Cruise in the role. They chopped a lot out though, and I didn’t recognize much of the plot in this. Which just makes it clearer to me how much better suited the Reacher novels are for TV: one book, one season.
  • We’ve been watching Apple TV+’s Suspicion and The Afterparty on a weekly basis. The former is a British production with Uma Thurman in a supporting role. It’s quite a slow burn, but I do want to know the answer to the central mystery of how these unconnected people could be connected to the crime they’re accused of. Hmm, that seems to be quite a common set-up, also seen in one of the other shows mentioned below.
  • Regrettably, a lot of bad TV this week. I half-watched all of Love Is Blind Brazil S1, and we are now caught up on both new seasons of the USA and Japanese editions, both slated to conclude by the end of this month. The episode template and overall season arc gets old; they’re essentially the same across all the shows. But the shows couldn’t be more different from a cultural standpoint. There’s no ass-grabbing on the Japanese one, for starters.
  • We’ve also started One Of Us Is Lying on Netflix, based on a YA novel that I’ve heard about but never got around to looking at. A handful of teens in high school are suspected of murder and everyone has motive. Every actor in it is at least a decade older than their character is supposed to be. They also wear t-shirts with generic slogans and designs that are hilariously meant to broadcast their wearers’ archetypes: cool geek, arty girl, anti-establishment outcast.
  • Best line so far: “If he hadn’t shown up, I’d be taking selfies with Jesus right now!”
  • Much better is the Kanye West documentary jeen-yuhs. It’s obviously a Kanye-approved version of history, but it’s hard to overstate the value of such a behind-the-scenes document. I mean, it was shot over 20 years, an entire career. You see him when he no one would take him seriously as a rapper. He’s out there taking meetings and kinda embarrassing himself trying to get heard. Everyone fronts in hip-hop, saying they’re going to be the greatest, the biggest, but there’s something about young Kanye’s hustle and confidence that suggests he really believed he would be where he is today.
  • Side note: Donda 2 is meant to launch tomorrow. When he announced he wasn’t going to release his album on streaming or digital, and only on his own $200 Stem Player device, I wrote it off. I said that I wouldn’t buy it, and the album was dead to me. It’s tremendously wasteful to create a dedicated piece of expensive plastic junk to play one album. I saw it as disrespectful to the fans, and egotistical even by Kanye’s standards. Since then I’ve learnt that the device can be updated with additional music, like an MP3 player (whether it will be is a different story). It’s still too costly and excludes many people, but perhaps it’s a novel experiment worth checking out. I’ve bought FM3 Buddha Machines before. I can feel my hold slipping.

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.