- 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!
As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been waiting for the arrival of my Backbone One controller. It was dispatched at the end of October but took ages to leave the USPS, probably because they had some important envelopes to deliver at the same time. It arrived last night after about 10 days, and I’ve gotta say, first impressions are good.
It’s a good size and feels very nice in the hands, with my only concern being that the er… spine of it cuts directly across the lowest of the camera lenses on my iPhone 12 Pro, and it looks like the lens rests against that bit of plastic. I doubt it’ll cause any damage; those lens covers are sapphire crystal, but it looks a little odd. I’m not sure that it will fit an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but their site claims that it will.
It beggars belief that I could kill 16 people in CoD Mobile without dying once, but that’s just what happened the first time I snapped this thing on. It’s also transformed GRID Autosport from a game that I bought once and regretted immediately into something that feels truly console-like, and I don’t mean a Nintendo Switch. The graphics and haptics on this thing are way ahead of any racing game I’ve seen on that system.
- I’m writing this bit in advance. We are still awaiting a definitive result from the US election and yes, full acknowledgment of the absurdity and the “how is this even happening” of it all. I just read an emotional Joe Biden story on Twitter and it killed me. Someone also posted this chat conversation with her mom, a Trump supporter, and it’s truly depressing how easy it now seems to bamboozle people until they’re out of touch with reality. Hopefully by the time I post this, some semblance of the right outcome would have materialized.
- Narrator: It has.
- Maybe I’m feeling so emotional about it because I’ve just had a 9% alcohol Strong Zero clone from our local 7-Eleven, imported from Japan no less. It might be the same as their house brand chuhai drinks over there, sold here for much more money given that our alcohol tax is so high. The promotion price was two cans for S$11.
- Check out this photo, taken with my iPhone 12 Pro. I didn’t have a black backdrop or any other kind of product photography apparatus. I discovered that you can simply do this with Portrait Mode and a kitchen countertop. Miraculous! The quality of the effect is much better than I recall it being before, so maybe this is something the new iPhones’ ISPs have enabled?
- I’m still waiting on my Backbone One, which has been in the US Postal Service’s care for nearly 10 days now, with no indication of whether it’s even left the US yet. I get it, they’ve been busy, but I really want to kick more butt in Call of Duty Mobile.
- For reasons unknown, I’ve been doing quite well in online CODM matches. My past experiences on console have been the same as any old guy’s: instant death at the hands of children. But for some reason I’m consistently ending games as the MVP and killing at a higher rate than others. Is it fake? Do they put you up against bots that look like real people? Or have I achieved some kind of middle-aged gamer renaissance?
- The Playstation store is having one of those sales again, and I managed to pick up Shadow of the Tomb Raider — Definitive Edition for just S$20. It’s the third installment of the reboot trilogy, and I’ve been waiting for it to go on sale for ages. I think it first came out as an Xbox exclusive and didn’t come to PS4 until a year had passed. Alas, my plans to play it over the weekend failed.
- Instead, I found a little time to speed through the endgame of Ghost of Tsushima, just to get the end of the story. A really pretty game, but I think I’m mostly tired of open-world action games. In terms of time over value extracted, I’d rather play a linear beat-em-up if the combat is going to be the main point of it. The rest of it is just getting from A to B, and exploration never felt that rewarding. An open-world game should let you feel like you live in it, and just chill or do nothing but in a meaningful way? Maybe that’s why Breath of the Wild felt so different and resonated with many people; just living and surviving in the outdoors was a complete game unto itself, separate from the narrative.
- We watched Netflix’s popular new series The Queen’s Gambit over the weekend. I don’t like horror films so I missed her in The VVitch, but from the first moment I saw Anya Taylor-Joy’s wide-set eyes in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, I’ve been wondering how everyone could just play it so cool while such a face exists in nature. I don’t know that the show could work with another actress; all its scenes of intense concentration and psychological battle hinge on her staring directly into the camera/your soul.
- At some point, it was or will be the annual Chinese mooncake festival. I love these although they are hundreds, if not thousands, of calories each. Probably owing to the salted duck egg yolks; I like the ones with a minimum of two in them. A colleague, who is very sadly leaving the company, makes them for fun (and extremely well at that) and took orders. Since they’re maybe a third the size of regular ones, I bought 40 and gave a few away, but the majority of them may end up in my ever-expanding gut.
- We went out to play a few rounds of mini-golf for said colleague’s farewell, and I narrowly won one game. It was my first time playing for real, but it sure felt familiar thanks to a lifetime of videogaming — most recently the excellent What The Golf? on Apple Arcade. Would I do it again? Sure, but maybe if/when they allow simultaneous golfing and drinking again (COVID, you know).
- In lieu of a new Apple Watch this year, I bought the new Braided Solo Loop band and it’s awfully comfortable but also quite overpriced. The build quality could be better: the lugs don’t fill the gap all the way to the edges of the watch, and for the price (it’s made of recycled yarn and silicon and sold for S$150, the same price as the leather bands) you’d expect them to be perfect.
- Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix? Nearly everyone I know has. It’s primarily a documentary about the ills that social networks have unleashed on our world, from digital addiction to the tainting of democracy — not a new story by any stretch, but one that inches closer to mainstream discourse with every effort such as this one. I can’t fault it, not even the cheesy dramatic segments interspersed between the interviews with lead product designers and co-founders that once worked at Twitter, Facebook, etc. See it and tell all your friends about it.
- One more Netflix recommendation from me: Criminal United Kingdom is back with a second season (just four episodes). If you haven’t seen Season One, you’re in for a great binge. I envy you your first time. Quickly, the concept is theatrical. Everything occurs within a police interrogation room with a one-way mirror, and its outside hallway. Each episode is a different case, but the cast of police officers is constant. Within these constraints, the stellar acting and writing become sheer entertainment.
- The Untitled Goose Game is one year old. It’s now on sale for the Nintendo Switch at USD$15, down from $20. It’s also been updated with a two-player co-op mode that I imagine is much better than playing it alone. I missed it a year ago, so we bought it this afternoon and played the entire thing from start to finish in one go. And my wife is not into games, let me tell you.
- New music? Prince’s Sign O’ The Times is out as a Super Deluxe reissue, fully remastered and expanded into an 8-hour, 96-track historical epic that attempts to capture the amazing stuff he was putting out at that early, very creative moment in his career. I’m gonna be listening to it for weeks, I think.
- We had a wedding in the family this week, which was planned to be in the UK, before things got unusual, and so took place in the local Botanic Gardens instead. Permits were obtained, numbers were restricted, and everyone wore face masks for most of it, but apart from that it was very nice.
- I brought my D-Lux 7 along and got some workable shots. I love that it has that old Panasonic trick of natively changing aspect ratios from the sensor instead of cropping, for when you need a wider angle. The alternative was the CL with 18–55mm Vario-Elmar which would have been useless in the evening (f3.5 and no IBIS). But by the time we were having drinks on a rooftop, the only camera that could reliably see anything was the iPhone 11 with its Night Mode.
- The weather service says we’re in for storms and 22ºC nights in the days to come, which is highly unusual here in Singapore. Standing out in the fading sun at the wedding after 5pm was a rather sweaty affair, to say nothing of being out at noon. I think the average nighttime temperature must be around 28–30ºC, so I’m looking forward to seeing this.
- Segue to things I’ve seen: the Snowpiercer TV series on Netflix. Am not a fan of any Bong Joon-Ho film I’ve seen apart from Parasite, so have not been keen to put the film on my list, but am slightly curious now that I’m done with the TV adaptation. It was not a complete waste of time. Fully expecting to be hit over the head with Themes will make it easier to go in, I suppose.
- Better things I can actually recommend: John Schlesinger’s Marathon Man (1976) starring Dustin Hoffman, Laurence Olivier, and Roy Scheider. It’s even on Singapore’s Netflix so it must be widely available everywhere else. I’ve seen snatches of this on random late-night TV screens over the years, but never the whole thing. They don’t make them like this anymore — it’s generous with scenes and shots that exist just for world and character building, and you’d never say it needed tightening.
- Aaron Schneider’s Greyhound (2020) starring Tom Hanks is worth whatever Apple TV paid for it. I read an interview where Hanks said he was upset that the film wouldn’t get a theatrical release because it needed to be seen on a big screen. We saw it last night with the lights down, virtual surround sound bar cranked up, LCD backlight at maximum, and it was a thrill. Don’t see this one on your iPad.
- Patrick Vollrath’s 7500 (2019) starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt is a gem of a hijack movie on Amazon Prime Video that’s practically a play. I know a couple of aviation nuts who’d love its opening minutes, devoted to the pilot and co-pilot’s pre-flight routine of checking meters and flipping switches amidst small talk. It’s a rarely seen moment on screen, rendered with a lavish amount of mundane detail and realism that sets the tone for a film that takes place almost entirely in the cockpit.
- 7500 got me looking for more quiet-but-intense films set at night or in relative darkness, because they’re perfect for watching in bed. I also quite enjoyed Into The Night, which makes me think maybe I just want more films set on planes? Anyway, this eventually led me to a subgenre of YouTube mood videos not unlike lofi hip hop radio – beats to relax/study to, but a blend of rain sounds, faint jazz BGM, and cafe noises. Check this one out.
- I bought Ghost of Tsushima because I couldn’t resist a graphically gorgeous open-world game set in feudal Japan, Western gaze or not. One of my long-time wishes for the Assassin’s Creed series was for them to do a Japanese edition, but they arguably waited too long and now no one cares. This also marks the first time in at least six months that I’m turning my PS4 Pro on. The Switch can’t compete on looks, but not having to commit to significant time in front of the TV means a lot.
It was with some dismay that I read Apple Arcade is looking to change up their curatorial strategy, and cancelled some games in the process. Hopefully the affected developers will be able to fund and continue their projects via Kickstarter or something.
What made the service so refreshing at the start was its dedication to art and quality, stickiness and engagement metrics be damned. You paid a subscription fee, and got access to a peaceful library of games that didn’t try to milk wallet-attached endorphins out of your brain. We got delightful little experiences like Assemble with Care and WHAT THE GOLF?, and I stuck around on the promise that we’d get a steady stream of those. Well, it seems that train has stopped because somebody upstairs wants more addictive games that will keep people subscribed past the free trial.
One example of what Apple wants, according to Bloomberg, is Grindstone. I personally love it; a fun pick-up-and-play puzzler, and an evergreen game you could easily be playing years from now. But not every game needs to be a Grindstone, and there’s only room for one or two Grindstones in my life at any time. These are games you use to soak up free time, go-to icons for when a moment appears while in line for something, or on the bus. There are plenty of them already on the App Store, so Apple Arcade should supply a breadth of other experiences.
I see the potential of Apple Arcade as analogous to the Apple TV+ strategy : quality over quantity, unique visions only. A change of course so soon comes across as a lack of courage. It’s a long game, so to speak. If people aren’t staying past the trial, maybe they’re not reaching enough of the right people who’ll be their early adopters. Even Airpods didn’t take off immediately.