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Week 9.21

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.

• 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 want more life, fucker”

• 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.

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 mystery visual novels 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.

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Weeklies

Week 7.21

  • 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.
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Weeklies

Week 4.21

  • It’s now been a year of living with the pandemic. I remember hearing about it and wondering how serious it could be; not having been around for SARS when it happened here, I had no frame of reference for how daily life could change with hand sanitizing, mask wearing, and all that. I certainly did not entertain that it could be even worse. By March, I think it was much clearer that this would not be over in a matter of months, and here we are.
  • I read some opinions that with the new strains emerging and the efficacy of current vaccines in question, it might easily be 2023 before developed countries are really free of it, while poorer countries may never get there. That may turn out to be overly pessimistic, but on the other hand I worry that without definitive information and leadership, people are only too happy to assume it’ll be okay instead of making drastic life-changing plans, like getting out of a tourism-dependent career, for instance.
  • I spent more time trying to improve my financial literacy by reading up on things like how to safely draw down on your investments in the unlikely event of retirement, and how it can be more valuable to reduce your monthly expenses than to invest in exactly the right things.
  • That prompted me to inspect what I’ve been spending on, and to think about why my monthly expenditure varies so wildly. But when I started to imagine giving up little things (starting with swapping Nespressos for tea bags), it started to feel a little miserly/miserable. If I’m going to be working hard, I want to push hot water through grounds in an aluminum pod goddammit! So the answer I came up with was… mindfulness. Instead of taking so many things for granted, I’m going to try and consciously enjoy them more.
  • Yeah the pods get recycled.
  • Bicep’s Apricots was on my list of top songs in 2020, and now the full album, Isles, is out. I wouldn’t normally sit through an entire LP of “electronic music” but this is a good one. Stream it on Apple Music, and you’ll see animated cover art. Paul McCartney’s McCartney III is the only other album I’ve seen with an animated cover, but many of Apple’s own playlists now have really expensive-looking animations.
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Weeklies

Week 1.21

  • Happy new year to you! We celebrated NYE by staying home and having all the food in the freezer that needed finishing. And then to make up for it, we went out the next day for a nice maki sushi and sake dinner at a place called Rappu where they don’t take reservations and you have to show up at 5:30pm before they open or end up waiting over an hour in line.
  • It’s the wet and cold “season” here now in Singapore, which usually only lasts a couple of weeks, not nearly long enough to enjoy the unusual daytime temperatures of 22º–25ºC — in the past, when one had to commute to work, it could be a pain in the ass for traffic, especially in areas that were prone to flooding (or ponding, as the government prefers to call the phenomenon on account of it not being enough to wash away people or property), but now it’s just wonderful if you’re going to stay indoors and read.
  • My annual vacation plans this week were postponed into January, so I’m looking forward to staying indoors and reading a whole lot next week. I’m currently in the middle of Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway and not very compelled to keep going. Maybe I’ll… walk away and find something else.
  • Just 5 days left to decide whether or not to return my AirPods Max. I notice less that they’re heavy and tight, so maybe they’ve opened up a bit or I’m just getting used to the pain. The larger soundstage and sub-bass emphasis definitely makes them more fun to listen to than the plain old AirPods Pro, and I think I’d be sad if I went back to the Sony WH1000XM4. But when I think about what I could do with the refund, and realize they cost about the same as a new iPad Air, I question how sad. That said, what I really want is the new A14X iPad Pro which won’t be out for a few months yet, so I may as well keep the headphones. Well played, Tim Apple.
  • Last week I mentioned listening to finance-related podcasts. That has now expanded to include YouTube videos and podcasts that get published as YouTube videos, so my algorithmic homepage is really a mess right now. Dogs! Game trailers! Camera reviews! Macroeconomics!
  • For a few weeks now, I’d stopped watching the news and was largely ignorant of how daily COVID numbers have been progressing elsewhere in the world. This week I started paying attention again and all the headlines still sound like they did six months ago! Highest ever numbers, new waves, new lockdowns, but everyone seems committed to pretending that economies will be fine in the end. I’m wondering when the markets will start showing it, and where concerned citizens should keep their money. Out of curiosity, I checked the latest batch of Singapore Savings Bonds today, and they’re offering an astoundingly low 0.9% average annual interest over 10 years. Two years ago, it was 2%.
  • I’ve been playing Need for Speed Hot Pursuit Remastered on the Nintendo Switch. The original game came out 10 years ago, and it was a much harder time to be alive, in that there was no rewind feature if you tackled the corner wrong, and bumping CPU-driven cars barely slowed them down, but getting bumped by them meant that you were fucked. As I drive down these subconsciously familiar tracks again and again and arrgggh again, I’m reminded that we early millennials have got the tenacity to be the greatest generation if we tried. Maybe not the reflexes anymore, nor the time to waste, but at least the dogged determination! In theory!
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Weeklies

Week 48.20

  • One of the weakest weeks so far; it feels like nothing really happened.
  • But maybe that’s not entirely true. I went out on at least three occasions and met with several people to drink and catch up — in the same week where COVID cases have re-emerged in the community after about 15 days without a single one.
  • I also learnt about an impressive feature in PowerPoint: Zoom Summary Slides. It’s a sure sign you had a shit week if the first thing that comes to mind when you try to think of highlights is a Microsoft Office trick. I’m really looking forward to the Christmas break, whether it feels like Christmas this year or not.
  • OH I almost ordered a new M1 MacBook or iPad Air in a fit of irritation with new corporate security policies that prevent my work computer from connecting to any external storage (I just wanted to load a file onto my Kobo e-reader, come on). I calmed down and decided to keep waiting for the A14 iPad Pro.
  • A couple of loose thoughts: Thanksgiving reunions in the US are almost certainly going to lead to another surge in cases before the holidays. The result will be more fatalities, reduced spending, and a stock market wobble. If I were investing regularly, I might put that on hold and anticipate a corresponding rise in certain digital assets in the same period. But I’m not qualified to give any investment advice.
  • I haven’t had a really complex or immersive dream in awhile. While recalling some past ones in a discussion the other night, I was reminded of a dream phenomenon that makes no sense and started to wonder if it was a common experience.
  • It goes like this: you’re in a dream and start to hear a sound that makes sense in the context of the dream. Then you wake up, and realize the sound is actually happening in the real world, but something different. It’s the classic movie trope where someone is kissing their object of affection in a dream and awakens to their dog licking their face.
  • But how did your brain make perfect dream sense of the sound in real time? For instance, your alarm clock goes off near you, and in your dream you hear it as a school bell, but for what felt like the last hour, that school scenario had already been playing out in your head. Like you’re in a class that’s nearly ended, so it makes sense that the bell rang.
  • I can only see two explanations: the more impossible one being that your brain anticipated the alarm clock and set up the whole school dream in advance of it happening, and the other is that it hears the alarm clock, and then constructs the interpretation (school bell) and sells the illusion by retroactively creating the school scenario, and backdating your experience of forward-moving time, so that it feels like you were dreaming the school scenario all along. In other words, with the one indisputable marker being the alarm clock in real life, the school bell story can only be made up after the fact, but is so convincingly retconned that you remember living through the whole setup in an instant. I know it sounds like I’ve been smoking something, but if we can construct a reality around us that was always true, doesn’t it mean our subconscious minds already know what it feels like to exist outside of time?
  • ANYWAY, as a long-time skeptic of Korean television, I was surprised to enjoy season 1 of Stranger (on Netflix), a policewoman and prosecutor buddy format murder investigation show, and can now safely recommend it. Yes, some people still overact the hell out of their parts with dramatic glares, but at least it’s tonally consistent and the two leads are very good.
  • Here’s a song of the week pick although I only played it once: Awich’s totally straight, non-rap cover of Happy Xmas (War Is Over).

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Weeklies

Week 47.20

  • Last episode, I promised a return to Animal Crossing this week. I did manage to keep my word, but just barely. Upon opening the front door to my house, my character jumped in shock at the sight of… cockroaches. At least Nintendo made them sorta cute. You have to chase them down and when you step on one, a little ghost cockroach rises up from the ground I shit you not. It’s a little hard getting back in the swing of things on the island, but it was nice and I think I’ll continue.
  • One of the bottles of bourbon I got last week is already on its last dregs. Has that joke been made before? It’s been about six years since his name came up on this blog, but Jussi came over for a chat and to suffer some untested drink combinations. There were no side effects or complaints, so we’ll have to try harder next time.
  • In 2017, I attended my company’s annual training/alignment/social conference, held in Berlin that year, and posted a short video of the experience. It’s now obviously impossible to do these in person, so they attempted a virtual event over two days. It was better than I expected, helped by the fact that Zoom now supports setting up many parallel “breakout rooms”, with a menu that lets people choose which they want to join. Just like a real conference, we were forced to think hard about which talk or workshop to attend, and weigh popular, oversubscribed events against smaller ones with niche topics but more chance of meaningful interaction. But unlike the old days, you can now access recordings of every event and watch them on your own time afterwards.
  • Does anyone remember the singer Katie Melua? One of her new songs popped up on a playlist and I struggled to place the name. Then I looked her up, and of course, she came out back when I was in university and would have been everywhere on TV and on the shelves at HMV (I spent a lot of time there). According to Wikipedia, she was the UK’s best-selling female artist in 2004–2005, and has a comet named after her. Just surprised me that I would completely forget her; I mean, I remember Peter Andre.
  • The 2020 Apple Music Awards were also announced, and four out of five recognitions went to hip-hop artists (Taylor Swift won Songwriter of the Year). I gave the Album of the Year a try: Roddy Ricch’s “Please excuse me for being antisocial”, but am unlikely to ever play it again. A lot of contemporary, trappy, woozy American hip-hop just doesn’t do it for me.
  • In contrast, I’ve been enjoying UK grime and drill, and discovered Dutchavelli’s Dutch from the 5th album on Apple Music’s great radio program, The Dotty Show.
  • My App of the Week has been Guitar Girl (iOS) — It’s an idle clicker where you follow a high schooler who livestreams herself playing the guitar in her free time. You can imagine the rest. Tapping equals likes, and you can add followers who will auto-tap when you’re not around. As her presence grows, a bunch of relationship stories unfold behind the scenes through text messages.