Week 37.21

  • On Tuesday, I watched with some interest as El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as legal tender. There were videos online of people paying with Bitcoin Lightning at major brands like McDonalds and Starbucks; small purchases going through quickly and with virtually no fees. It seemed as good an experience as paying via GrabPay or PayLah or any of our local solutions, only with no intermediaries and using an alternative monetary system. How many years till we can do that anywhere, I wonder.
  • No new NFT purchases, but about a year ago we bought some art for the home and had them all framed. Because we never got around to putting nails in, they’ve sat against the walls until this week when we had someone come by with a power drill. It’s kinda weird to see them not leaning against the walls, to be honest.
  • Ricoh surprise-announced a new model in their GR series, which I love intensely. The GR IIIx is the first to not employ a 28mm (35mm equivalent) focal length: it’s 40mm instead, and I think it might just be the Goldilocks choice for any trip where you just bring one compact. Tight enough to get capture points of interest with some background blur, and still just wide enough for some landscapes. Or else there’s always your smartphone.
  • What I like best is that the new focal length gives my aging GR (first-gen APS-C model) a reason to keep existing. They don’t have to compete. I got it out of the drawer to take a few shots around the house and remembered how great it is to use in the process.
  • On Saturday, some friends came over for dinner and Howard brought his Oculus Quest 2 along for me to try out. I’ve lightly considered getting one as a couple of colleagues have it too, and during the 9.9 sale on Thursday the realization that a Quest 2 goes for the same price as a new Nintendo Switch OLED helped me to back down from buying one of the latter on Lazada. It turned out to be for the best, because I found that I can’t fit my glasses into the Quest 2 at all, and my large head doesn’t make things any easier. If I were to get one, I’d have to spring for a spectacle spacer and a bunch of other accessories.
  • Michael published his Weeknotes first, which reminded me that The Matrix Resurrections trailer dropped. Kim hadn’t seen any of the films, unbeknownst to me, so we watched the first two over the weekend. The first one still holds up, of course, but while I had no problems with Reloaded back in the day, I didn’t retain any strong memories of what the plot was about; just the spectacularly overblown fight scenes. Seeing it again now, especially with the help of subtitles, I think I finally got what it was going for. Not that it’ll redeem Revolutions for me, which I hated so much for not doing justice to the whole set up (I really bought into an online theory that Neo was an AI/human hybrid meant to bridge the two sides, which explained why Keanu was cast — he’s intentionally wooden!) But hey, maybe I’ll like it this time!

  • This tweet helped me to see that it does take longer than you’d think to disconnect from work/overwork. I thought I’d gotten to a good place in just a couple of weeks, but looking back, I’ve been giving myself a hard time about not being productive enough, not doing enough each week to learn new things, or start new hobbies, or have enough fun — and all of that is a psychological holdover from the rhythms of work/overwork. I don’t know if I can label what I feel/felt as burnout, so I’ve not used that term very much. But I did aim to take a break and be intently relaxed. It’s only now that I’m finally beginning to BE relaxed about it, as opposed to relaxing on demand. So that’s it for now. I didn’t do a whole lot. I may not do a whole lot next week. It should be fine.

Week 27.21

Mon, 28/6, 9:31 PM

Today’s the 28th day of my sabbatical, so I guess it qualifies as a full month now. It may be premature to declare, but guys, I’m sure I could do this for a year or two, no sweat. If I didn’t have a fixed period planned, I wouldn’t even be counting the days.

But since I am, it feels like the first phase is over. As occupied as I’ve felt, it’s only been the equivalent of lying about listlessly, eating empty calories, and falling asleep in the sun. There’s a feeling beginning to stir that I should be doing more. That a pen should be on paper, a sprite on screen, or a running shoe on pavement. Okay definitely not the last one.

Am I being too ambitious? Wasn’t the point to do nothing? I’d better let this creative despondency build up a little bit more just to be sure.

Tue, 29/6, 3:02 PM

My iPhone 12 Pro is less than a year old and its peak battery capacity has already dropped to just 90%. For comparison, my iPhone X still retained 97% after more than a year of service. I’m wondering if it’s because I almost exclusively charge wirelessly these days? In any case, I don’t seem to be alone in this.

7:15 PM

Have I always had such noticeable mood swings? Stupid question. If they were noticeable before, I’d have noticed them. Now I’m keenly aware of how I can go from low-energy miserable to happily fascinated and back again in one afternoon.

As the saying goes, “the devil makes work for idle thumbs”. I potted around my finances for a little bit and realized StashAway’s cash management offering performed abysmally in June against already low expectations, like 0.8% APR. For small amounts of emergency cash, I don’t see why one wouldn’t just employ stablecoins and yield farming to get closer to 10%. So that’s what I’ll focus on doing next.

Earlier today I had a chat with an old friend that I haven’t talked to in probably a decade. But we’ve known each other for… 25 years? Long enough that memory is less like a map and more like a stack of snapshots of road signs. But of course we live in the post-Facebook days, so I often see updates on Instagram or Twitter. Quite recently, I clicked on a link in one of her tweets. Then last week as I was going through my blog archive and saw her name come up, it seemed natural and easy to just reach out and say hi. Then she tells me she’s also seen my online activity lately, and even came by to read this blog. Huh.

Listen, I believe there are no coincidences when marketing algorithms are involved. Someone you know checking something out on a platform is quite likely to put it in your feed as well. As unintended consequences go, I’m really happy with this one. But if they can prime my antisocial brain to reconnect after years and years, you’d best believe they can make you buy that Cheesy Zinger Double Down meal from KFC.

Wed, 30/6, 6:19 PM

I’ve spent the last four hours playing Call of Duty Mobile and absolutely slaughtering what I hope were other players half my age. Two people checked in with me today and asked how things were going. I told them I was basically larping as the deadbeat, couch-dwelling boyfriend they probably had in college. I have FPS headache now, but god it feels good.

Fri, 2/7, 4:07 PM

I’ve done little else but Call of Duty since Wednesday and am now Level 80 in the game, which sounds like a big deal. Only now that I’ve hit this watershed achievement, the game is exposing me to other players up to Level 150. They keep moving the goalposts.

I’ve even ended up paying real Singapore Dollars for the current season’s (really just a month-long themed event) Battle Pass, which gives me all sorts of useless gear as I keep progressing. Other games’ in-app purchases give you collectible characters and items that impact gameplay. In Call of Duty Mobile, you get outfits and wacky paint jobs for your guns (!) that no player will ever see except if you shoot them in the face from two feet away. When I saw this before I got addicted, I thought skins for guns was the pinnacle of dumb. Now I’m Level 80 and won’t be caught dead with a plain black assault rifle.

Sat, 3/7, 5:48 PM

I’ve just been dosed with the second shot of the vaccine and am now waiting in the observation room. I don’t know if I’m imagining the slight lightheadedness.

Almost everyone I know has had side effects after the second dose, some quite vicious. I’m already expecting to spend the next two days in bed with a fever and headaches. I wonder if I can still play Call of Duty Mobile in that state.

When I did some quick maths to estimate how much I’m spending per day on this sabbatical, that is to say net outflow on housing and taxes and expenses not being offset by income, it was a slight shock. While I was always fine with the idea of effectively paying for this break, I hadn’t framed it as “pay $x daily to play Call of Duty Mobile”.

Epilogue

OOF. That second dose of Moderna hit hard. I wanted to post on Sunday but I couldn’t even bring myself to look at a screen all day. It started 9 hours after the shot with chills in the middle of the night. All day I had a high fever, headaches, an elevated heart rate of 110–120 bpm for about 18 hours, and all the delirious dreams that come with those. It was extremely stressful trying to sleep but being plunged into a maze of nonsensical images and incompletable tasks instead. At one point I woke up and tried to explain what I had been seeing, and it felt like I had brain damage because the words just weren’t available.

Week 26.21: A milestone

We’ve made it to the halfway point of 2021! And because I started in week 27 of 2020, that makes a year of posting weekly updates to this previously neglected blog. Has it been worth it? It will be. This morning I suddenly recalled how I used to have a TV card (it was a thing) installed in my PC back in uni, which allowed me to tune into trashy British programs over the air (I was bored in my dorm room because we didn’t have broadband, you see). It was just one of those memories so heavily buried that they seem unreal. So I went back and read some old blog posts from around that time. Instantly, that whole period came back, and there’s nothing like meeting your younger, better-in-some-ways self again via a journal entry. I recommend it.

This week in books: I finished Project Hail Mary which I was enjoying as of the last check in, and it held up all the way to the end. I’d like to recommend it to everyone, because I believe its sciencey bits are so accessibly written that anyone will get the general idea and stay locked into the story, whether or not they have some aversion to stories set in space or involving science and technology. These people exist; I’ve met them! It was also a welcome change in terms of style and pacing, having come off a Neal Stephenson where every page asks to be chewed slowly and thought about. In comparison, PHM is like sausage gravy through a straw.

I’ve mentioned before how playing video games is a often good way to pass time, whereas reading books is a good way to spend time. I was reminded of that this week as I poured a few more hours into Persona 5 Strikers, realizing all the way that I was not particularly enjoying the combat gameplay, barely enjoying the animated scenes and story (although I like the world and characters), and despising its barely concealed time-stretching mechanics. That is to say, the designers have contemptuously extended gameplay time without having to offer any value, so that you the player are told to go from Area A to Area B to talk to everyone you can find to get a password (a McGuffin) before returning to Area A. Completely unnecessary, and made more painful by how long loading times are on Nintendo Switch. My solution: the next game I play will be a visual novel.

Other bits:

  • It was Amazon’s Prime Day and I got us some bath towels and Buffalo Trace bourbon at ridiculous prices.
  • I don’t often play mobile gacha games, but a new one called Alchemy Stars stood out because of its line-drawing/color matching gameplay. It’s a little like Grindstone with an anime backdrop.
  • We started watching The World According to Jeff Goldblum on Disney+ and the first episode covered sneaker culture. I guess I knew people spent thousands on rare sneakers but I hadn’t really thought about the psychology of it; the rush of chasing, anticipating, and then unboxing something. They could easily be swapped out for any other scarce collectible like NFTs or Pokémon cards, or lootboxes that promise them.
  • I’ve always envied people who find the hobbies/obsessions just for them (damage to finances and relationships aside). I’ve never met a game I loved so much that I would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on buying its in-app purchases. Or shoes, bicycles, etc. I know people who do, though. They seem to buy almost thoughtlessly and without regret. Which is not at all like me with headphones and cameras. Those hurt long before and after the unboxing. I probably just have an opposite disorder of not allowing myself to fully anticipate and enjoy anything.
  • We went out to eat just once (it was enough) upon the lifting of lockdown restrictions this week. It was one of those all you can eat Korean barbecue places. We sprang for the better stuff, and we’re fatter people for it.
  • The last project I worked on has gone live in its first iteration, and it’s looking alright. Whenever I remember, I like to go look at user reviews to see if we improved anything for the better.
  • I spent most of Sunday afternoon watching live performances from the Later… with Jools Holland archives on YouTube.
  • A.G. Cook released a massive amount of material last year across two albums (7G and Apple), and I only just found out. Listening to those coincidentally put me in the mood for local singer Cayenne’s new solo EP, which is kinda PC Music-ish hyperpop.
  • That reminded me to look if Hannah Diamond had anything new, and so I found this brilliant music video from last September. The foundation of its 9-minute runtime is a screen recording of her photoshopping a self portrait.

Week 22.21: The metagame is tying up loose ends that are other games

  • It was a good week in playing video games. I finished a bunch I’ve had in various states of completion, some for years. A much neater base (mentally) from which to start attacking the backlog of unplaced games in the weeks to come.
  • First up was Yakuza Kiwami (2016), a remake of the first Yakuza game on PS2, built ground-up in the same engine as Yakuza 0 (2015). I started this over a year ago, which sounds like a long time but when it comes to video games my memory just… saves them, and I was able to get right back into the story. Finishing this has put Yakuza 0 much lower in my queue… it’s just not as polished as Yakuza 6, whose Dragon Engine powers Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Judgment.
  • After finishing Kiwami, I immediately bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 on sale to be played later on. Since I got Judgment a few weeks ago, I decided to get right into it, and found that it’s hilariously a straight-up redeployment of all the Yakuza series’ assets into a “new” game by the same team. It’s set in the same part of Shinjuku, and all the shops and items are exactly the same. It feels great to be able to navigate by feel, and know the space. But yeah it looks tons better than it did in Kiwami 1.
  • The second game to be finished was The World Ends With You (TWEWY) which I mentioned awhile back. I’m now all set for the sequel in July. After that, I blazed through Shadow of the Tomb Raider which I bought last November in anticipation of having time to play around Christmas. I only got halfway through, and it was nice to finally put a pin in this reboot trilogy. IMO, the first game was great. I liked the isolated survival vibes of Lara being lost on a single island, outsmarting her captors. The next two games went for globetrotting and doubled down on supernatural elements. Impressive to play and look at, but not as “fun”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve returned to Persona 5 Strikers which was put aside two hours after being bought and started back in February. Also very satisfying, because I really hate the feeling of having stuff half done and lying all about.
  • Went out twice this week for evening walks. The second time was also to go somewhere and use up excess fuel in our car before sending it off to be scrapped this weekend. It’s reached the end of its legally usable lifespan, and so we’re required to turn it over. Instead of immediately going on the (used) market for another vehicle, we’re going to try and see how long we can do without one and use public transport instead. Our needs have changed now, and it’s also saving a lot of money.
  • I watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead on Netflix, which I was led to believe would be the worst film of all time. Thanks perhaps to lowered expectations, plus my recent enduring of his 4-hour Justice League cut, it turned out to be a fine and gory use of time.
  • We continued watching season 1 of Servant on Apple TV+, which I expected would be mostly horror. Instead it’s only a little creepy and occasionally funny, with lots of effective mystery/question dangling to keep you trying to find out what the hell is going on. I stayed an M. Night Shyamalan fan even through those years his stock was falling, so I may be biased.
  • Speaking of holding things as they fall: the markets these few weeks, eh?
  • In COVID news, the cases have “stabilized”, which is a way of saying we’re still getting 20+ cases a day in the community but that number isn’t growing. The Prime Minister is set to address the nation live on Monday afternoon (tomorrow), so let’s see what that’s about.
  • Elsewhere, it’s looking a little bleaker. Cases are rising in some countries, Vietnam has discovered a new variant that is more transmissible, and I just read that the vaccines are less effective on women than on men. My wife is planning a visit to the UK soon for familial reasons, which is probably unwise today and hopefully does not become unwiser still.

Mobile or Console, the Name of the Game is the Same

Playing Oceanhorn on the new Apple TV, with a Bluetooth game controller like the SteelSeries Nimbus, feels distinctly like a traditional console gaming experience. It’s been compared to a modern Zelda title, and if you’re in the mood to explore, its large world lends itself to leaning back on the couch for a good hour or more.

What’s interesting is that you can pick up your iPhone later and continue your savegame synced over iCloud, at which point its modified-for-touch controls and mini quest structure actually turn it into a modern mobile gaming experience.

What might be undersold by a simple bullet point — “Cloud Saves” — is really significant: one game that can be played in very different contexts, made possible by having the same OS in your pocket and living room (and car, one day). It’s probably the future of gaming.

Much like how we now commonly design for the web, going mobile-first in gaming makes sense for companies looking to the players to come. That means not making the mobile bit just a simplified companion app with minigames connecting back to the “proper” console version. The level of control complexity and engagement can and should scale to the device, all within the same game.

Geometry Wars 3

Many of the guidelines for apps on the new Apple TV force developers to adapt the experience to the available controller. Geometry Wars goes from a dual-analog stick shooter on a regular gamepad to an auto-shooter when on Siri Remote, where the player only has to steer. You get what fits, but never less than the whole story.

The experience of seamlessly jumping from a phone to a 60” TV reminds me of how it felt to play the first iPhone games. I remember Crash Bandicoot, in particular, as a sign of things to come. You could get games like it on the Nintendo DS, but they weren’t downloaded over Wi-Fi in seconds, for mere dollars, or paid for electronically. It made the portable gaming systems of 2008 feel dated. And as Apple added more power, multitasking, social features, and cloud saves to iOS, the iPhone overtook them completely.

Games on the new Apple TV have more than a whiff of that to them. Even if the platform doesn’t come to dominate gaming a decade from now, I believe the winner will work and feel like it.

In a sea of diminished companies out-innovated from changes they didn’t see coming, it’s gratifying to think that Nintendo may have played their cards right with the upcoming NX. It’s rumored to be a home console with a detachable mobile device, playing games that also work with smartphones and networks from its rivals. God knows how they’ll do it, but that describes the right shape to survive: experiences designed to shift context, open to different forms of interaction (hey, even VR), ready to fill varied slices of time, long or short, in a busy user’s day.

Playing Yakuza 3, Six Years Late

I recently got a second-hand PS3 and have been buying up all the games I’d heard about for years but never had access to. Final Fantasy XIII, Heavy Rain, The Last of Us, MGS4, etc.

Yakuza 3 & 4 weren’t on the list for some reason, but when used copies appeared at Qisahn.com, I had a quick look and decided I needed them. It’s kind of a no-brainier, both being set in a virtual open world Tokyo and all. I had a pretty great time running around in the virtual Akihabara of Akiba’s Trip 2 on the PS Vita.

So far, it’s an even more faithful recreation of the atmosphere, albeit without much in the way of atmospheric sounds. They’ve retained a lot of the real world brands and shopfronts, unlike most anime (see screenshot above), and every street feels like it was modeled on a real place. One opening bit takes place on a rooftop that reminded me of the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower, with a vast open view of the city by night below, never mind that the game recreated it with a large repeating texture; it felt right!

A couple of tweets so far:

(And there’s golf with a politician. Let’s not forget about the full-fledged golf simulator built in. I’m hoping for pachinko to show up at some point.)