Week 28.21:

  • This week was partially lost to the lasting side effects of my second vaccination. I spent several days feeling ill, fragile, and tired. There was a local case of a teenager who experienced cardiac arrest while exercising a week after his first dose. So when I had to move the couch a little on Wednesday and it caused my heart rate to spike again, I just elected not to exert myself at all afterwards.
  • I didn’t have any coffee for about four days, which might have made the headaches worse. I didn’t have any alcohol for seven. Probably the longest stretch since the pandemic began.
  • Felt like the perfect conditions to finally get started on a visual novel, so I’ve begun Root Film on the Switch. I played the (narratively unrelated) Root Letter years ago on the PS Vita, and it was a shoddy game. This one’s much better. It’s got great atmosphere and vibrant, lovely artwork, with almost all dialogue fully voiced.
  • Nintendo also announced a new Switch model that appears to address my main gripes with the original: the awful, dim screen and poor battery life. The latter was already “fixed” with the silent gen 2 upgrade over a year back, but now we’re talking OLED. I may be tempted when it finally gets here, provided the markup isn’t extreme.
  • We were meant to visit Gardens by the Bay for a walk and to see the Chihuly exhibition, but since I wasn’t feeling up to it, we settled for the new Fast and Furious movie instead; our first time in a cinema since you know when. Hey what do Apple and F9: The Fast Saga have in common? Most of the people we used to like are gone, a successful formula is followed all the way to the bank, and they’re just obsessed with magnets.
  • I’ve been coming up with lame standup routines in the shower. What do you call sexist jokes? Classical humor.
  • During the movie, the sole of my barely worn New Balance sneaker damn near came off. I had to hobble home to avoid it falling apart in public. I don’t get why shoes do that when you wear them a few times and then leave them in the cupboard for a couple of years. The glue disintegrates? Does that happen if they’re unsold in a store too? Anyway, managed to find a new pair of Nikes in my size on their official Lazada store, which used to be almost impossible. Feeling good about my future shoe needs.
  • Pushing our luck even further with the going out, we had dinner at an izakaya over the weekend which, as many others have noted, feels really weird now with the ruling that no music should be played in restaurants (to keep people from speaking loudly). It was… libraryesque. One more reason to choose outdoor seats.

Week 24.21

Went out just once for leisure purposes; we’re in partial lockdown after all. Saw an exhibition of Chinese ink paintings by Chinese-Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

After 35 hours of virtual oden eating and street thug harassment, I finally finished Judgment on the PS4 with most side cases solved. I usually don’t enjoy tonal inconsistency, but I can’t get enough of how the Yakuza games (I include this one) just jump from serious melodrama to comic absurdity. You can be searching a murder scene for clues but also follow the sound of mewing to find hidden cats for bonus points. Some PI cases have you spying on suspected criminals, while others have you hanging expensive lingerie up on your roof to bait a local panty thief (who uses a drone). I can’t wait to revisit these characters in the sequel later this September.

Also finished watching all 24 episodes of Steins;gate 0 at 1.25x speed. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more had I remembered the ending of the first series a bit better (it’s been a decade). So the ending of this was an anticlimax because I didn’t follow how the big problem was being solved — tying up time travel loose ends is more work than usual.

We finally saw our last remaining episode of Izakaya Bottakuri on Netflix. It’s a rather corny and harmless Japanese drama about two sisters who run a little izakaya they inherited from their parents. Most episodes involve a regular customer’s backstory and some closeups of food being fried. The one noteworthy thing about the show is how every episode has a character describe their beverage’s selling points in great detail: usually a domestic craft beer, or regional sake made with some special process. After the end credits, the lead actress comes back to hold up the bottle and talk about tonight’s alcohol selection. It’s blatant content marketing, but I am quite alright with the idea of a TV show bankrolled by booze companies!

I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s new film, Wrath of Man, which stars Jason Statham in the kind of badass role he’s perfected over god knows how many similar outings. But it’s probably one of his best. I appreciate what Ritchie brings to what would otherwise by a straightforward heist and revenge story: heaps of style and chronology jumping for the hell of it.

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Of course, it was also WWDC week. No new hardware products, but the curtain came back for iOS 15 and while there aren’t any big, must-have features to look forward to, some very nice quality of life upgrades all around. I’m especially looking forward to quicker on-device Siri, tags in Notes, and more intelligence in Photos. iPadOS could have gone further and pushed the new M1 chips with pro-level apps or even a goddamn calculator, but all we got were the long-awaited cleanup of the multitasking interaction model and free placement of last year’s widgets, plus everything else new on the iPhone side.

I may be remembering things wrong, but there wasn’t any news on the Apple TV apart from spatial audio support, and watchOS is just grinding out more of the same, expansion pack style, with new workout and mindful activity types.

Spatial audio is quite a big deal, though. I recently watched some Dolby Atmos enabled videos content on my new iPad with AirPods, and it really works. With the launch of Atmos music tracks on Apple Music this week, I spent some time listening to old and new tracks to put it through its paces. I tend to agree with everyone who’s observed that the rock music examples are generally terrible, and the effect works best on jazz and classical music — where even studio cuts usually strive to reproduce the context of a live performance. The new spatial remixes of vintage jazz records have more atmosphere and you can point around you to where each player seems to be seated. Perhaps it’s like colorizing old photos, gimmicky and impure to some, but bringing them closer in space and time nonetheless. I think the technology is a positive development.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 18.21

  • COVID cases have re-emerged in the community here, after many months of quiet, just a week after Bloomberg put Singapore at the top of a worldwide list of the safest cities to be right now. The main cluster is centered around a hospital where I believe a nurse was infected, and 27 linked cases have been discovered so far. The entire ward has been quarantined and thousands of patients in the hospital have been tested. Somehow, there are also cases at a secondary school, and I saw a headline about a spa technician being another one. So the scope of this will probably expand a little over the next week.
  • Already, the government has backtracked on its previous recommendations to have the majority of employees return to offices. We’re now being told to work from home where possible. It’s my opinion that this should simply be the default recommendation forevermore.
  • We tried watching more Runaways on Disney+ after last weekend, but it’s not sticking anymore. Its initial narrative energy, all nitrous borrowed from its subversive premise, has burnt out. Each episode is now a meandering, time-wasting YA cringefest. I think we’re going to quit it at this point in the middle of season 1.
  • I was in the mood for a dumb action movie over the weekend but had a lot of trouble finding one quickly on Netflix. I eventually settled on Bloodshot, which is a Universal Soldier-alike vehicle for Vin Diesel, who I remember starting out as a likable personality but by all accounts today is a horrible person/co-worker and something of a modern day Steven Seagal on the set. I made it maybe halfway through before quitting out of boredom.
  • If you’re looking for a recommendation: Without Remorse, starring Michael B. Jordan and out now on Amazon Prime Video, is not a shit film at all. In fact, it has fresh ideas that make for a couple of original-feeling set pieces.
  • Birdy has a new album out, which I discovered through this video for the single, Second Hand News. Apple Music’s liner notes says she had writer’s block after a breakup, and these new songs were shaken loose after she rediscovered Joni Mitchell’s “conversational songwriting”. I love it. It does feel a little Joni.

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Right after I published last week’s post with a picture of my new HEY.com t-shirt, the founders of the company released a controversial statement about how they wouldn’t allow “distracting” non-work discussions in the workplace anymore, which resulted in a PR shitshow and about 30% of their company publicly quitting on Twitter.

I haven’t looked deeply into the details, but some parts I skimmed suggested a toxic environment and leadership style mixed with the ever-inflamed issues of race and politics in the US. Who knows if they’ll get the message and rebuild their culture, but I’d be upset if it means I’ll have to change my email address again. The amount of mental time spent on that deliberation last year was enough for another decade. I really like the service so far and would subscribe for a second year.

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Not at all related to a toxic workplace is the small announcement I can now make that I’ll be taking some time off in a few weeks to enjoy a long-wished-for sabbatical. The Currently Reading/Playing/Watching aspects of these updates will probably expand. I can’t wait to start on my backlog of games and books.

As mentioned several times in the past few months, I’ve been feeling in need of a recharge and also interested in the concept of mini-retirements throughout life. Granted, I can’t travel in this current climate, but there’s still plenty of room to develop new interests, ideas, and directions. As I enter the second half (hopefully not third) of my so-called career, it seems like it’s worth taking a wider view of what other kinds of value can be extracted from the ever-diminishing energy and light of this short stay on Earth. Maybe I’ll get into finger painting?

A few weeks ago while writing one of these posts, I referenced an article about the nature of work, and was slightly irritated by its very broad definition. It used “work” to encompass all labor, whether for the purposes of making a living or not. Contributions to society, to one’s family, towards your own interests and goals — all of it was called work. I preferred using the word to mean paid labor only, and thought it was quite a privileged stance to include all sorts of things one freely chooses to do. There are too many people toiling at their limits to stay fed and sheltered, dreaming of the day they can finally rest in the absence of work: retirement, the promised realm of reward.

However now that I’m on the precipice of free time, I can see a little dimly through that lens. For those with the opportunity to opt out of paid labor, even if only for a little while, a new terror appears in the form of questioning “am I relevant? Am I valuable?” Freed from our contracts, we want to fill the gaping hole in our calendars with Meaningful and Impactful activities. We want to do work in any form. If we’re raising a child, we tell everyone it’s “a full-time job”. If we’re volunteering out of passion at a non-profit organization, we say we’re finally “doing our lives’ work”.

I don’t disagree with this use of the word now. It’s not that we should label everything we do as work; it’s that all purposeful activity can fairly be called work. Anything that takes something out of you to produce an outcome is work, and we should all engage in it for as long as we can, even after we stop being traditionally employed. Your work can be about learning, teaching, or doing. It can find you producing or repairing, supporting or leading, communicating or meditating. It can be social or entirely solitary. Even when we take the time to rest, it’s in service of our work. Retirement might be the wrong state to aspire to, after all. It’s dying, becoming inert; all subtraction and invisibility.

In this tiredness, I so badly want to do nothing, but I’m also afraid I won’t let myself. Or that I shouldn’t. We’ll see what comes of it in the months to come.

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 10.21

  • Others may have been better informed, but I wasn’t expecting to ever see a sequel to Coming To America, a movie I watched many times as a kid (in censored form, I am now learning) and memorized a lot of lines from. But here one is, thanks to Amazon Prime Video. We rewatched the original and the sequel back to back, which was surreal because everyone’s aged for real. CGI and makeup in movies get you accustomed to a certain Oldbooth facsimile of aging, and what real life does to a face is just something different. Coming 2 America is more a fanservice celebration of the original than a new movie, and that’s fine. Its musical performances are very good, and I was very pleased with the final scene, I’ll say that much.
  • Went in to the office twice this week, which might be a new record. I’ll admit that collaborating in person can be a lot faster and less annoying. The audio compression and lag that Microsoft Teams introduces to speech feels unnatural; it also tends to cuts out whenever two people try to speak at the same time. Is it a side effect of noise canceling algorithms? Would it work better if everyone was on headphones? Successful, high bandwidth collaboration requires people being able to (sparingly) talk over each other at some point in time, I think.
  • I’ve mentioned being tired several times on this blog in the last few months, which must mean that I’ve done it countless times in real life. This year will be my 12th working without a break longer than a two-week vacation. I’ve noticed a lot of the people I follow talking about how exhausted and stressed they are, and I’m sure the feeling is going around. It’s probably a good idea to hit the brakes if/when you can. Pushing it for too long without stopping to learn and reboot only leads to working cynically, recycling old ideas, and chasing highs that are harder to come by until one day you’re suddenly out of touch and no use to anyone. I’ve wanted to go on a sabbatical for quite a while, and despite many reservations I think it’s the right move.
  • Inevitably, I’m wondering how much of my contentment is wound up in being useful to others. Even when I freelanced, I was ‘doing a good job’ regularly and acknowledged for it. Not doing anything at all, I might go crazy in a month. Or wind up even more upset?
  • To be fair, there was also quite a bit of social activity this week, which is a surefire way to wear me out. Either that or the attendant alcohol. I count four nights out and have the Dispo pictures to prove it.
  • Pete Yorn, who I’ve seen dismissed by some snobs but whose songs are carved into memory from my formative years, has a new covers album out called Pete Yorn Sings the Classics. These include Here Comes Your Man, More Than This, Lay Lady Lay, and Moon River. I’ve played it through once so far and am looking forward to hearing some of them again.

Week 42.20

  • The annual iPhone announcement event was probably this week’s main event. As you know, it usually happens in September but the virus pushed it back. This year, we’re getting half the new iPhones (that’s two of them) released in October (next Friday) with the other half following in November. It’s anyone’s guess whether next year’s iPhones will release in September again or follow this new schedule. This makes a slight difference to annual upgraders like me: do we get a full year with the new phone or just 10 months? Because the resale price of an iPhone 12 is gonna drop when the 13 comes out, whenever that is.
  • I spent most of my free time this week contemplating which iPhone to go for this year, or if I should upgrade at all. I go through the same motions each year, and each year I buy a new one even if not particularly enthusiastic. It’s the only gadget I do this for; it became unfeasible long ago to buy every new iPad or Watch or whatever. It’s also the main way any of my family members upgrade their phones.
  • Apple made it a harder decision this year than it’s been in awhile, mostly because the 12 Pro Max’s camera is once again better than the regular 12 Pro’s. I was never happier than when the iPhone X came out: one size, take it or leave it. It may have been motivated by internal constraints, but it felt like the old Apple way of making hard decisions on behalf of its customers. Today we’ve got a ton of choice and I think it sucks. The decision this week came down to which compromise I was happier making: a worse camera or an even less portable phone than my current iPhone 11 Pro Max (provided I even go outdoors regularly in the next year)?
  • Pre-order Friday inched nearer, and I decided to trust my pre-Covid gut instead of reevaluating the role of the phone now that we’re home all the time. I’d long considered the 6.1” size to be optimal. Slightly bigger than the iPhone X’s 5.8” screen for jobs like photo editing and reading feeds, and more discreet and pocketable than the 6.5” XS Max/11 Pro Max. I just never bought an XR or plain old iPhone 11 in that size because they were LCD screens and lacked the telephoto camera. So my new phone is going to be a Pacific Blue 12 Pro!
  • Will I regret not getting that significantly bigger sensor? Perhaps, but I reckon being stuck with a 6.7” phone is its own special kind of regret. And I do have many dedicated cameras should the need arise, but no smaller phone I can suddenly call into service when going somewhere in anything but cargo pants.
  • LAST POINT: I’m really glad flat edges are back. I’ve hated the last six years of rounded edges since the iPhone 6. Flat edges just feel better and more secure, especially when held in landscape between fingertips for photo taking.
  • I’d really like to make this weekly update more than just barfing up unsponsored Apple mentions, but it’s tough. I could mention how I’ve been having recurring backaches every morning, but then I’d have to mention trying to correlate them with the quality of my sleep each night using my… Apple Watch and the Autosleep app.
  • In the spirit of spending all my money before Christmas, I was looking into a new TV. Something with 4K and HDR logos on the box at last. But I ended up putting it off since the new Apple TV box hasn’t been announced yet, and my current one only supports HD.
  • I tried to start playing a game on my Nintendo Switch earlier but eventually put it aside to get back into Genshin Impact on my… iPhone.
  • I’m typing this up while listening to Apple Music’s “Bruce Springsteen Essentials” playlist in anticipation of his new album and accompanying Apple TV+ documentary film, Letter to You, which comes out October 23. It’s playing on my living room’s Sonos One speaker, which I’d love to replace with a HomePod if only a certain company would release it for sale here.
  • The AirPods Pro fit my ears a lot better than regular AirPods ever did, but I still find it hard to get a good seal sometimes, or it doesn’t last. I took a chance on these AZLA “Xelastec” tips for about S$40, and they help a lot. They’re stickier and slowly conform to the shape of your ear canal, so they’ve really improved the experience so far.
  • I’m so far behind the shores of this moat I don’t know if I’ll ever be leaving.
  • K-pop rarely makes it into my headphones, but I appreciated Blackpink ever since their first music video for “Whistle”. The production values were incredible, for one, and they seemed different from the other groups. Since then, they’ve put out music with weird gibberish sounds I didn’t like (e.g. boombayah, rum-pa-pum-pa-pum-pa-pum, and the infamous ddu-ddu-ddu), and their pop formula started wearing a little thin for listening where I can’t understand a word. But the new Netflix documentary Light Up the Sky does a nice job of humanizing them, even if some parts where they break down are alarming and it seems like they might be trapped in a traumatizing loop of endless training and touring? I think it’s worth a watch.