After a couple of Chinese New Year-related family activities in the first half of week, I took the remaining days off work. I’d hoped for it to feel long and restful, and to basically do nothing except play games and plug into new music and movies, but as you’ll know things rarely work out that way. I took way more time off work last year to do that and it still didn’t feel like enough.
We did some research for our trip to Japan later this year, and got hotel bookings in at last — everything is selling out fast, and you may get stuck with small smoking rooms or extravagantly expensive suites if you don’t hurry. Currently, the plan is to spend about a week in Tokyo followed by Kobe and Hiroshima, two places we’ve never been. Next, we’ll have to think about restaurant reservations, although it’s likely too late for anything super fancy or exclusive, if we even wanted that. If you have any recommendations for things to do or eat in those cities, please drop me a note on Mastodon, email, comments, whatever!
On food, I’ve eaten pretty well and badly this week. After chancing upon a new Chinese docuseries on Netflix (The Hot Life) about various regional hot pot cultures across China, I got the yearnings and we went and spent too much at the irritatingly named Beauty In The Pot, which I suppose is my second-favorite local Chinese hot pot chain. I’m no connoisseur but I’ve been to the Cou Cou at Jewel Changi Airport exactly once and it was the best I’ve had (small sample size, current definitive experience = Wu Lao in Taipei, where they infinitely refill the tofu in your steaming vessel for no charge). Oh yeah, there were also two big beef-centered meals of yakiniku and Texas-style barbecue. And a visit to Shake Shack which gave me my first taste of their local exclusive “Pandan Shake”, only like five years after they opened here and introduced it.
We also spent a day with two of our nieces and a nephew, taking them out to McDonald’s and then back to ours for videogames. I did a fresh reset of an old iPad (the last generation of 9.7” iPad Pros, which feels pretty sluggish now just scrolling around in iPadOS 16), filling it up with kid-friendly games from Apple Arcade like Sneaky Sasquatch, Fruit Ninja, Sonic Racing, Cooking Mama. I think they could easily have played on it until the battery died.
We also got on the Switch a bit, where I discovered Mario Battle Strikers is pretty hard at normal difficulty for a 9-year-old (and anyone on their team), and that Untitled Goose Game truly is a masterpiece of game design. The quirky concept just sucks everyone in, and it builds on the brilliant insight that mischief is a universal language.
On my own, I played and completed Death Come True on the Switch, although it’s also available on iOS. It’s a Japanese FMV game (that’s Full Motion Video for you kids who didn’t live through the CD-ROM era) where you watch what is essentially a Japanese network TV drama production and make a few choices that influence what happens next. The plot involves murder, amnesia, and some SF elements. It came out two or three years ago and has been on my to-do list since. I can recommend it if any of the above sounds good to you, whenever it’s on sale.
Another game crossed off my very long list is Kathy Rain: The Director’s Cut, which too is also on iOS. It’s a point-and-click adventure game in the style of Lucasarts and Sierra titles from the 90s. The artwork is on point, but I can’t say I enjoyed the whole experience. The story goes in a direction that didn’t work for me, and requires too much suspension of disbelief. Pity, I really wanted to like a detective mystery starring a motorcycle-riding woman in a leather jacket.
At some point, I will get onto the latest installments of two other classic point-and-click adventure series that are now also on the Switch (with modern graphics): Leisure Suit Larry and Monkey Island.
I also gave Borderlands 2 a go for the second time (I played it briefly on the Mac many years ago) but it didn’t take after a few hours. Between it and Doom Eternal, I was beginning to think I can’t play FPS games on the Switch; something just doesn’t feel right, even after tweaking the controller sensitivity. Is it the low framerate? Input lag? Maybe I hate the Switch’s Pro Controller? I can play these sorts of games fine on my PS4 and elsewhere, but moving and aiming feels so off here. But then I installed Crysis Remastered and it doesn’t seem so bad! Will give it a few more hours.
Since I wasn’t in the middle of a book but didn’t have the energy to choose a “proper” one, I started on the next Jack Reacher installment, Personal (#19), and it was as easy as falling back into bed after brushing your teeth. Pulp fiction, it’s how you meet your Goodreads goals.
We saw two films this week, Arbitrage (2012) and Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022). I’d say they were 3.5 and 4 stars respectively. The former feels a little like David Finch’s The Game in datedness, despite being much newer. Perhaps it’s because the hedge fund guys are old and not finance bros, and Richard Gere keeps conspicuously thumbing his at his BlackBerry? No one in his rich circle uses an iPhone in 2012! The latter is a sumptuous fantasy with the kind of precision and quirkiness that you’d expect from George Miller, but it doesn’t leave enough of an imprint to be a classic.
Shrinking on Apple TV+ came out, and is very much worth watching. It’s apparently Harrison Ford’s first television role, and although he plays the same grumpy old man type he’s inhabited for the last few decades, he’s not phoning it in like his recent films work. You get the sense he cares here and there’s some nicely played emotional depth.
Ivory came out of beta, and everyone says it’s probably the best Mastodon mobile app out there, so give it a try. It’s built on the solid bones of the now-retired Tweetbot for Twitter, and Tapbots have been making fluid and beautiful apps since the early days of the App Store.
I’m also beta testing another classic app I won’t name that is experimenting with a new feature: they’re adding an Instagram-like social network feed to what was previously a standalone camera app. I believe it’s something they actually tried before but it didn’t take off then, and I’m not sure why it would now. Which is a pity because the core app is getting slicker and more usable, but this network is probably something they need to prove value to investors?
There’s clearly a movement or at a least growing interest in decentralized, federated social networking models over the centralized ones of the past, as Mastodon’s rise is showing. And now some people are attempting to build the next Instagram using the same open ActivityPub protocol that powers Mastodon. Pixelfed is one I’ve seen, and is also in beta now. I joined its TestFlight through the site above, and you probably can too.
I got stuck at the stage of picking the server I wanted to join for quite awhile. That, to me, is the big UX challenge federated networks face in gaining mainstream adoption. Choosing the right local server for your account is hard. Will it go down someday and lose all your posts? Will unacceptable behavior on the part of its operators someday cause you to be cut off from the wider network? I don’t know how we make this more approachable for more people.
And then I start to wonder if these experiments will ever be successful in overthrowing Instagram. After all, cloning Instagram the app is doable, but building a user base as large as Instagram’s? Oof. Maybe we can fool Elon into buying it. Anyway metrics like engagement and MAU should probably be allowed to fall aside, as people seek more intimate networks (Path was too early, plus another one named Bondee was in the news this week) and products find other ways to pay for themselves. Would you use a photo-sharing network that had less to look at, and fewer (but more important) eyes seeing your posts? Hmm, maybe! I mean, I’m updating this site and you’re reading it.
I took one photo worth sharing this week as I was crossing a street in the Keong Saik area, after meeting some friends back in town for Chinese New Year. I saw the scene and fished my iPhone out of my pocket and fumbled with the camera left-swipe gesture that never seems to work when you need it, and just grabbed the wide shot (12mp HEIC) while moving.
Later, I cropped it, increased the resolution using Pixelmator Photo’s AI-assisted upsampling feature, and edited it for color and emphasis with VSCO and Darkroom. It would have been less trouble and probably less processed looking if I’d shot a 48mp RAW file, but it turned out okay. Between the improved sensor, ISP, and the A16’s Neural Engine, this year’s model was able to get a shot that I don’t think was possible on an iPhone just a couple of years ago.
Since you made it to the end, you deserve these Midjourney images of the The Golden Girls playing in a jazz band.