Week 12.21

I cracked it. The exercise code. The problem with going for evening walks after a day’s work is getting ready, pulling shorts and socks on, wearing a mask, all that jazz. Then picking entertainment: a podcast, a new album. Then a route. Then knowing when to turn back.

What if you could start your walk instantly, end after 15 mins or two hours, entirely up to how you felt, and be in the shower immediately after? What if you could walk anywhere in the world while COVID rages, and that was the entertainment baked right in?

That’s what I’ve been doing this week. The secret is in the massive catalog of first-person, stabilized, commentary-free walking videos on YouTube. Pop one on and stand in front of a large TV, walk on the spot, and that’s it. I’ve wandered shopping malls and basement food halls in Japan, walked along canals at sunset, and taken rainy evening walks while staying dry. The novelty of the visual content keeps your eyes and mind busy, and you can walk as fast or as slow as you want, regardless of who’s in your way. It solves every friction point I had with going on a walk, just without the fresh air and vitamin D benefits, but hey I’m a digital native. It’s okay.

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We went out one night this weekend for a special dinner, the kind that blows a couple of days’ wages at one go. Coincidentally, while discussing what a possible first vacation after the apocalypse might be, the Park Hyatt Tokyo was mentioned, with the visual reference of that bar scene from Lost In Translation. Of course. Not 20 minutes later, the chef comes over to present a course and talks about how he came up with it while guest helming a menu at the Park Hyatt Tokyo years ago, staying in the same suite that Bill Murray did while he was filming the very same film. That’s life, isn’t it: undoubtedly a computer simulation.

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A couple of new albums out this week. I’m looking forward to hearing more of Grouplove’s This Is This, having heard one song already. SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS’ The Essence of Soil is another predictably energetic jazz jam session. I had it on in the background but will need to spend more time with it. Tricky has released an EP with four guest remixes of songs from his last album, Fall To Pieces. His collaborators seem to have observed that the Tricky of today doesn’t sound quite like he used to, and have tapped into the frenetic chaotic energy of his earlier days. It’s probably not for everyone. Another case of more listening needed, when I get the time.

As I type this, I’ve put on Lana Del Ray’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club and goddamn, the first track is already stupendously lovely.

Earlier today, I heard all of Justin Bieber’s new album, Justice, from start to finish on the living room speakers. Not that I was particularly excited and wanted to put it ahead of all the above, but our neighbor had started practicing Adele’s Rolling In The Deep on her karaoke machine, JUST THAT ONE SONG over and over for about half an hour. I figured some modern pop production would drown it out, but Justice has a lot of quiet, anemic songs in the first half. Quite disappointing, although it does have Holy (which I put on my Best of 2020 playlist) and the new song Peaches works quite well.

Finally, For My Friends from UK-based Jacob Banks is well worth checking out. Across 8 songs in 25 minutes, his sound manages to combine stunningly beautiful R&B stylings, vocoders, swirling organs, rootsy rock sounds, and big guitar reverbs.

Not new, but I came across Vapor (2013) by Yosi Horikawa in a forum thread about AirPods Max. It’s an excellent electronic album for pushing your headphones, full of intricate details, a wide spatial mix, and full-bodied beats.

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The Snyder Cut was watched. We got through the first 3.5 hours in one sitting, but had to go out for dinner before the epilogue. Between this excess and the hollowness of Wonder Woman 1984, I don’t think I will ever want to watch another DC superhero movie. Hmm, okay I’ll admit I’m a little bit curious about Robert Pattison as Batman.

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The uneasy intimacy of work in a pandemic year — How capitalism and the pandemic destroyed our work-life balance.

I read this article on Vox yesterday, and it not only accurately describes what I’m/we’re currently experiencing, but also offers some frames that I hadn’t considered. As someone who thinks they welcome any opportunity to socialize less and stay home more, I was acutely unequipped to sense the encroachment of work into my personal headspace, distracted by the larger movements of personal time’s visible signifiers (no commuting, attending meetings from home, working off mobile devices) increasing and normalizing.

For as long as it was transforming in novel ways, packaged as a liberation, and had momentum amidst all this chaos, who would question the idea of placing work at the center of life under such circumstances? Who blessed with good health would even see the opportunity to do so, until it became too late?

What we’re left with is a situation in which workers in knowledge professions find ourselves thinking of work at all times, obsessing over it, devoting ourselves to it, even in our most private and intimate settings, even when we say we want to be thinking of other things. What is this experience, Gregg asks, but the experience of being in love?

“Classic definitions of love see the beloved as ‘the only important thing’ in life, compared to which ‘everything else seems trivial’ … leading to ‘the sense that one is in touch with the source of all value,’” Gregg writes. “A significant number of participants in this study spoke about work using language very similar to these tenets.”

Conflating the effects of overwork with being in love is an interesting idea to me, except it happens even when you’re not in love with the work. From what I can see, some of my friends experienced the above symptoms during the pandemic, but without any of the euphoria associated with love. These work thoughts that fill our waking and dreaming hours do not, as the saying goes, live rent free in our heads. The rent is too damn low, but we are charging nonetheless.

So is it a fair takeaway that knowledge work, when taken to an extreme, is just people being paid to live through a simulation of love? I think there’s a name for that. People like to jokingly use it when explaining their what they do for a living, but I guess it might be truer than you think.

[Ancient lamentation music playing]

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.

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.

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.

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!

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).