Do you remember Paper by fiftythree, the sketching app that was at one point the very best digital ink engine on iPad? Actually, it kinda still is. I recently decided to use it again because Apple Notes and Freeform have really ugly lines, and Procreate is overkill for anything besides making art. I subscribed to Paper Pro (a very reasonable S$13/yr) which finally lets me sync my skeuomorphic notebooks across devices. I used to sketch scenes and take silly notes on vacations with it, and I’m doing it again now on my iPhone. Paper’s focused simplicity and lovely UI makes it possible, and enjoyable.
Someone remarked that maybe travel brings out the artist in me, to which I replied no, it’s probably more like “not working” makes me happier and more creative?
On the eve of our journey I was playing with the new v5 model in Midjourney (it’s incredible at photorealism) and had the idea of rendering soldiers jumping away from dramatic explosions, but the explosions are ramen. The final images reminded me of the award-baiting print campaigns I saw in my early career as a copywriter. It used to cost thousands of dollars and weeks of several creatives’ time to plan, photograph, and digitally edit these scenes. But here I was lying in bed with the idea of turning them into Pot Noodle ads, and would you know it? I was able to make every word and misaligned pixel of these on my phone in a matter of minutes. The world has changed so much.
We’re in Japan!
We got on the wrong train from the airport which cost us maybe an extra 15 minutes, and it was after midnight by the time we checked into the hotel. But on the street nearby, a cheap ramen restaurant open 24 hours on weekends. A bowl of tonkotsu ramen, a side of fried rice, and a mug of Kirin beer for S$10 — unbelievable value partly thanks to the depreciating yen 🥲
The next day was cold and rainy, and I met Michael for a coffee and long chat — our second ever meeting, and the first in eight whole years. 2015 oddly doesn’t seem that long ago. I think the cafe overcharged us. But at least we remembered to take a photo this time.
Maybe due to the lack of sleep, change of climate, and sudden increase in daily steps, my body rebelled in the evening with a fever that had me shivering under the covers. Obviously I was afraid it was Covid. I woke up feeling much better the next morning apart from a backache, so perhaps it’s just a mild flu. The Covid test came out negative, so I dragged myself out to visit Yodobashi Camera in Akihabara for old times’ sake and see what was new.
The camera section has shrunk down to half its former size, if not more. Side note: the Bic Camera in Ikebukuro has about eight floors of stuff, and no cameras. The Ricoh GR display in Yodobashi is about two feet wide, in their home country. The industry really looks to be in a sad state. And yet, several crowded shops devoted to old and analog cameras exist.
I had lunch at Coco Ichibanya and it was very good. How the Singaporean franchisee has managed to hold onto their business is astounding — they do such a bad job of it. One thing that’s changed is touchscreen ordering at each table. That, and plastic dividers between each patron, seem to be Covid-era innovations that have also made Japan more tourist friendly.
It’s only been a couple of days but something feels different about this visit. Maybe I prepared myself too well for never traveling again under Covid and now this feels like being woken in the middle of the night, disoriented. Maybe I no longer fantasize about moving out here and living a sleepwalking, alien life. Or maybe it’s the fact that many of the things I used to enjoy seeing and buying in Japan can now be found back home (more expensively, of course), or aren’t actually desirable anymore. Case in point: I saved at least an hour today bypassing the hundreds of headphones in electronic stores because between the AirPods Pro and Max, I don’t really need other headphones. Over the past ten years, the things I get excited about have dwindled and become software. Dedicated hardware toys like music instruments and Boogie Boards are just apps or features on an iPhone. They may still sell CDs here but I just stream the songs. Japanese games are plentiful (check out the Nintendo Switch aisles), but I can’t read them so… maybe in the next life. On one hand, less stuff and a neater, more minimal life. On the other, less shopping, silly delight, and souvenirs.
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.
Finally tested negative for Covid on Wednesday morning, a little more than a full week after testing positive. Despite that, it’s now four days later and I’m still feeling less well than usual. Mostly tired and unable to do very much in the way of physically normal life things, like walking around to eat and shop on a weekend, without feeling winded.
Thankfully my senses of smell and taste seem to have returned virtually 100% — maybe some things seem a teeny bit different, but overall nothing to really complain about. Crisis averted.
Monday was the Hari Raya public holiday here, and while I worked through the remaining dregs of illness only from Tuesday to Friday, it felt like an awfully long week and I’m Le Tired. A very nice Peruvian dinner at the end of it all helped restore my HP a little bit, but it’s now Sunday evening and I’m still feeling short of a few days’ rest.
TV: Just more Bosch. We’re now nearing the end of Season 6, so there’s just one more to go before we can see what happens in Bosch Legacy, the new series that takes place after he leaves the LAPD and becomes a private investigator. I have very high expectations for it to go in weird new directions.
Games: Only had time to play a bit of Spiritfarer on the Switch, and two rounds of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, which was on sale. We only made it to the $32,000 mark, In theory, playing a round of a virtual game show together every night sounds like a nice little routine, so I’ll try and do that when I remember.
My only other entertainment has been more dicking around in Midjourney to try and come up with interesting images. I’ll drop some below maybe.
I’ve installed the iPadOS 16 Public Beta on my M1 iPad Pro, almost entirely to try Stage Manager out. Huh. It’s disabled by default, and when enabled, completely replaces the old system of multitasking: no more Split View and Slide Over apps. So the iPad now gives you two entirely different interaction models for getting work done across multiple apps. Along with iOS/iPadOS Safari now letting one choose between two different tab management UIs, this suggests we’re maybe dealing with a new Apple that doesn’t believe its job is to make hard decisions, but to “provide more choice” for a customer base that is now larger and more diverse than Steve’s Apple ever had to deal with. Or this is just a gradual phasing in, and if the data supports it (and when everyone moves to new hardware that supports Stage Manager), the legacy modes will be removed in a few years. Still, I expect this will need explaining to family members in the months to come.
I picked up Jordan B. Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life after coming across a few of his videos on YouTube. It’s a combination of anecdotes from his experience as a clinical psychologist, insights from his study of Christianity as a pillar of Western culture, and long-assed tangential stories and did-you-knows, the kind that only a supremely confident and self-interested extrovert can tell at a dinner party, padding it out for the sheer enjoyment of the storytelling process. 3 stars, I suppose.
Went out and saw Dune Part 1 in a plush cinema, where most of us were eating and drinking with masks off for the majority of the two hour and forty minute runtime. If I got Covid from this, would the movie have been worth it? No, of course not, but the length of the pause indicates the film’s score. This warrants a prolonged “Hmmm” at least. It’s something I’d happily watch again, and it didn’t feel long at all — I’d happily have sat through the next half right there.
Foundation comes to Apple TV+ next week as a series, and while I can’t recall a damned thing about the first book which I read as a teenager, I’m really looking forward to seeing Apple spend that iBegotten cash on some epic space shit instead of real-world dramas and comedies. Prior to seeing Dune, I was often mixing up the two franchises in conversation because I probably read them around the same time in my life, as one does.
Zookeeper World on Apple Arcade has not been as addictive as I’d hoped. Perhaps it’s the landscape orientation, or the UI for managing your zoo. Maybe I don’t want to manage a zoo at all. In what must be a data-driven programming decision, Friday saw the release of another match-3 game on Arcade, Temple Run: Puzzle Adventure. This one plays in portrait, more closely resembles Bejeweled’s proven gameplay and power-ups, and with a streamlined approach to story and progression. I find it much harder to put down as a result.
I “pre-ordered” World Flipper on my iPhone as soon as I heard about it, because it’s a F2P mobile gacha game with pinball as its gameplay mechanic. But I left it untouched and didn’t start playing until I saw this review pop up on Twitter. It’s a 2019 Japanese release from CyGames, which made Dragalia Lost with Nintendo, so it could be pretty good. I’ll put more time into it soon and find out if it’s the one for me.
I’ve spent the last week thinking about this comment made by a follower on Twitter and the dark energy that surrounds it: “Everyone is just waiting for the gacha made just for them.”
The gacha game that grabbed a lot of new people was 2020’s Breath of the Wild-esque Genshin Impact. The gacha game for me is, apparently, World Flipper, a pinball RPG that had its “global release” this week.
Apple gear stuff
I’m writing this week’s update from a new MacBook Air and boy is it nice to have a full-sized keyboard again! The last Mac I bought was an 11″ MBA back around 2011, as a complement to my iMac at the time. Big mistake, trying to have two Macs; it hardly got any use and was eventually handed down to my mom.
Then I went down to zero Macs around 2017, my work laptop aside. It was with the advent of the Files.app on iOS and the sufficient stability of iCloud Photo Library that it became semi-feasible to use an iPad as one’s main computer. Now and then I still relied on my work laptop for a few tasks that you just can’t do on an iPad, e.g. updating firmware on external devices, using Calibre for managing a library of ebooks, web apps like Figma or Miro that don’t perform well in Mobile Safari.
Over the past couple of months, I started to think about getting the cheapest, most basic MacBook later this year or next for infrequent personal use. But it was not a priority or a pressing need — I really enjoyed living off an iPad, perhaps masochistically. Then an opportunity to get a good deal on the M1 MBA suddenly presented itself ahead of schedule (thanks, Robyn!), and I found myself saying okay before I could overthink it.
I understand that many reviews rate the M1 MacBook Air a great computer, but I haven’t read any of them because I’d “left the Mac world”. So I wasn’t really ready for how amazing this is, especially for a base model, which doesn’t feel compromised to meet a price target in any way. It feels more capable and responsive than the top-end 16″ Intel MacBook Pro I was using just months ago.
As a result, I find myself using it more each day than I’d planned. Theory: the device with the biggest screen mentally becomes your “main computer”. And the windowing UI of a Mac just makes it natural for you to sit down, get comfortable by getting every app and document open, and then watching hours disappear just goofing off. The iPad’s multitasking limitations kinda protect you from that by requiring conscious intent at every turn.
Of course, it was also the week in which the device with the second-smallest screen got updated, and in my opinion these new iPhones are meaningful updates. Certainly the XS was the slightest and maybe the worst value, and I got one that year even. But most years I go through this dance of setting out to resist upgrading — last year was an exception because I’d been waiting years for a return to flat edges — and then the FOMO increases hourly until pre-order day where I inevitably capitulate. The same happened this year (13 Pro in Silver), and I’m now resigned to just being that fool, that insufferable self-debater, that joke of a justifier, balancing insincere buyer’s remorse and tainted consumer delight in a joyless game of self denial. I should stop getting in my own way and just sell the kidney with a smile from next year on.
Don’t try this at home: Kim is away in the UK this week; not the most advisable travel idea. Cases there are rising sharply and I oop, I suppose the same could be said for Singapore. A couple of clusters have formed around illegal KTV operations (the comedy of that phrase!) and a fisheries port, which has led to fishmongers and wet markets across the country becoming danger zones. We had 88 local cases on Sunday, the highest since August last year. For the record, the UK had about 56,000 cases on Saturday alone. The mind boggles.
So until she gets back and clears the quarantine process 🤞, I’m on a sort of Sabbatical+, where I have more freedom to eat junk food and play games well into the night. I didn’t leave the house all weekend and it was the best.
I finished Root Film on the Switch, and while I still enjoyed it on the whole, it became needlessly convoluted and improbable in the final acts. Pick it up on sale maybe, but bear in mind it offers no challenge whatsoever. In any case, Root Film was always going to be the appetizer for the two games under Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club banner, which I’ll try to buy and play next.
Thanks to the NYT’s SF Summer reading list curated by Amal El-Mohtar, I discovered the joys of the CatNet series (just two books at the moment). Catfishing On CatNet is the first, essentially about teens hanging out in online chat rooms and getting pulled into an adventure, and it was so much fun that I blazed through it in about a day.
I then missed hanging out in chat rooms so much I decided to give Discord another try and joined a few servers. The quality of conversation in most was a step down from what I remember of IRC in the early days of the net. Then, spending time in chats was a main attraction, not an alleyway off the main boulevard of social media. So I was disappointed until I found a server dedicated to older people, a distasteful category I now find myself in. Ah! There, I found people speaking in complete sentences and actually communicating with one another. I may continue this.
I saw Black Widow and felt it unnecessary and stupid. I’m kinda over Marvel the way I’m over Star Wars, except the first episode of Loki on Disney+ worked well with the pairing of Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson — I thought I’d be annoyed by his usual mannerisms but it’s actually been a long time and we’re in a pandemic, so you do your thing Owen, we’re here for it.
Installed iPadOS 15 Public Beta 3 on my main iPad. Haven’t run into any issues yet, and I’m relieved at finally being able to customize my home screens with only the icons and widgets I want, leaving everything else in the App Library. You can also have two of the same app icons up as well, so I have Photos on my first Home Screen but also on the page I’ve dedicated to photo editing apps a few swipes away. It’s the little things!
A feeling of being useless, sitting around consuming all the time without making anything, has been fermenting and I’ve consciously allowed it. Over the weekend, I made it my mission to begin prototyping a game I’ve had in mind for awhile, let’s give it a code name… Feline Fiddler? Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage was going to be where I’d learn the basics and try to start, but upon investigation, you have to use its built-in asset library, and if you can’t find what you need in there, too bad. So I ultimately went with Dreams on the PS4, and oh boy, is it a stupendously powerful tool for 3D modeling, animation, and visualization.
On Saturday, I started playing the demo game project that comes as part of it, Art’s Dream, which showcases what you can do with it. And then started doing a few tutorials. By Sunday afternoon, I was able to assemble something close to the scene I had in my head using models others have built and shared on the platform, light it, and walk around in it with a character. And it’s all achievable on a PS4! I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be something like this on iPads, apart from the App Store rules. Maybe Roblox is something like this? I should check it out…
I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Although most people say the side effects (fevers, full-body aches, headaches, oversleeping) are really only felt with the second dose, I was apprehensive. It turned out okay, kinda mild muscle ache on the one bicep and some tiredness that I can’t be sure isn’t just my normal sluggishness.
Community infection cases have been on the rise. The new measures I mentioned last week have kicked in, so there’s no more dining out or meeting in groups, which is expected to bring numbers down in another week or two. Until then, this is how it looked this week.
Infections in the community: Mon: 21 Tue: 27 Wed: 34 Thu: 27 Fri: 30 Sat: 22 Sun: 21
My vacation time started on Tuesday, so the four weekdays were mostly spent lazing about and looking at screens. I watched my money go up but mostly down. I continued checking my work email and following up on a few messages, out of habit. So this process of unwinding looks to take awhile; I don’t really feel like my break has properly begun.
I started journaling privately again, to have a record of how I’m spending my time. Perhaps these public posts will become shorter and more to the point over time as a result?
I got back to playing 2064: Read Only Memories on the Switch after a long time. My initial reaction to it was disappointment, mostly in the clunky non-touch UI and annoying voice acting, so I put it aside after half an hour and haven’t touched it in maybe a year? I figured I should get some mileage out of the purchase and tie up loose ends before playing other games. I finally finished it on the weekend. It’s better than I thought it’d be, but wouldn’t recommend you get it if you already have a healthy backlog of games to get through.
This week was also the release of the new iPad Pro models. My 11” in silver arrived Friday, and wow it’s a nice change from my last one. Face ID in concert with the Magic Keyboard makes me really glad I got this and not the iPad Air. You can just open it up, tap the space bar, and the thing unlocks and you’re in (like on a MacBook with Apple Watch).
Finally able to enjoy spatial audio with a screen bigger than my iPhone’s, I sat down to watch two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and let me tell you, it actually justifies Apple’s use of the word “magic”. I can’t wait to hear the new Atmos mixes for albums on Apple Music. Yes, it made me kinda regret not getting the 13” model with the XDR screen. Maybe next time.
Speaking of Apple Music, Muji has put nearly all their BGM albums up for streaming. I bought a couple of them as CDs back in the day — you may recall their corrugated cardboard sleeves for sale on the shelves beside those wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa. I tried looking these up years ago and was disappointed there was no way to get them digitally. Prayer answered.
In TV land, we found a way to watch the latest season of Gogglebox, which I still highly recommend to everyone. One of the episodes started to show the new season (#6) of Line of Duty, and we had to stop there because we hadn’t seen it yet. Netflix only has up to season 5 right now. One entire Sunday later, and we finished the whole season and are now completely done with the series.