Week 15.22: Location apps

I’ve been a user of Foursquare, and then Swarm, for many years. Since November 2009, says my profile page. I know that I’m giving an advertising company too much information about my location, movements, and preferences. But there’s definitely a value exchange here. Without this “lifelog”, I couldn’t remember everywhere I’ve been, or the last time I was at such and such a place. And there have been occasions where I was able to, quite magically, summon the name of a great restaurant in another city and immediately see how it’s been doing since, so that I could recommend it to a friend.

I’ve been a fan of location-based apps and social networks since maybe 2006 or 2007, when I got my first Nokia that qualified as a smartphone. I especially recall an app named Brightkite that existed briefly. It allowed for serendipitous moments like going to a foreign country and seeing tips and reflections left around the city (maybe in your hotel!) by a friend who’d come the same way years before. Swarm still allows for this experience today, and it evokes a kind of love.

One day, Brightkite malfunctioned and read my GPS location as being in Tokyo, just for a moment. I think it allowed me to see people and their check-ins in the mistakenly assumed area, and so I interacted with some of them… giving them stars or a follow or whatever. One such stranger became part of my permanent friends’ list, and when I migrated to Foursquare, she ended up on my list there too. It’s now over a decade later, and we are still weirdly and peripherally aware of each other’s lives, on Swarm and Instagram, without ever having spoken. It’s a distanced closeness that could only happen with the internet. Once, when I happened to be visiting Tokyo on holiday, we were both checked in around the Ginza area at the same time. We may have crossed paths; I’ll never know.

Screenshot of the Superlocal app, taken off their website

This week, an app called Superlocal came to my attention via a crypto/web3 newsletter called Milk Road that’s worth subscribing to, if that’s your thing. Suoerlocal seems like an attempt to remake Swarm with a new revenue model. Like many web3 ventures, instead of selling your data to advertisers, it tries to support itself by being intrinsically financial: checking in and providing quality photos earns you tokens called LOCAL (which may someday have value), and being the mayor of a place doesn’t only earn you derision/respect, but also some LOCAL whenever people check in. How does money enter the ecosystem? Becoming the mayor of a place means minting an NFT for it. It’s currently in an early access phase, which also requires an NFT (or invite from a friend) to gain entry.

I have mixed feelings about all this, as I do with NFTs and web3 in general. We should definitely explore new business models and build services that don’t rely on users making a privacy compromise. If a small group of super engaged users can fund the experience on behalf of everyone, and be happy doing it, all the better. But at least in this iteration, we’re just trading one problem for another. For instance, holding a bunch of mayorship NFTs in your Ethereum wallet doxxes your location and behaviors too, and probably in a worse way because they’re public for anyone (instead of just Foursquare Inc. and a couple hundred of their favorite clients) to see. This stems from the poor privacy design of Ethereum, of course, but it’s now the biggest smart contract blockchain so what are gonna do? There are still so many things that need to be done differently for this technology to scale and be safe and easy enough for everyone to use. That means I don’t believe Superlocal is going to become ubiquitous any time soon, but hopefully we’ll all learn what and what not to do as they keep building.

Until then, I’ll still be checking in on Swarm.

PS: I’ve been told about the virtues of using Google Maps’ Timeline, which also lets you keep a log of your movements each day, but without the social and gamey elements. I tried it briefly, but it was less fun, and I’ve been quite successful so far in cutting all the Google out of my life. Yes, I’m aware my rules seem arbitrary and illogical.


Media activity:

  • Finally finished the book How To Do Nothing after about two months, which isn’t the positive review it appears to be. I found it such a joyless and obtuse slog that I fought myself every time I thought to pick it up and finish it. And because I have a dumb rule about not reading two books at the same time, that blockage has fucked up my Goodreads annual challenge for the year. A lot of catching up to do and I don’t think I will.
  • Started a new book anyway, Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief, which is billed as Oceans Eleven meets The Farewell.
  • Watched Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile. Dreadful. He’s done some work in the past that I truly loved, but this has little to recommend it. The art direction is slipshod, with CGI background compositing that looks straight out of the CD-ROM FMV games era, and the radioactive Armie Hammer is in one of the lead roles. Branagh’s Poirot is also mysteriously unlikable and inconsistent, with a couple of rude and temperamental outbursts that feel like if Superman suddenly gave someone on the street a middle finger.
  • Severance on Apple TV+ is not dreadful. Mild spoilers follow. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, and the first episode takes awhile to get going, but it’s really excellent. This despite veering a little close to corny with some scenes on the “severed floor”. The sinister, faux 70s megacorp with forced cheerfulness felt copped from the environmental storytelling of games like Portal, Fallout, and Bioshock, and maybe the Dharma Initiative out of Lost.
  • Now out on Apple Arcade is Gear.Club Stradale which was teased during their last online event, and I’m very much enjoying it with my Backbone One gamepad. The original Gear.Club was an okay free-to-play racer on iOS which was later released on the Nintendo Switch as a premium game (no in-app purchases). It also got a sequel on consoles, but I don’t know how that went. This new iteration is streamlined: it’s all set in Italy, and the UI lets you move quickly around the workshop and upgrade your cars without having to fiddle around in too many submenus. Instead of the usual giant catalog with tons of cars to swipe through, a small selection of up to three cars for sale, refreshed daily. This is a superior design for a game intended to be played in short bursts over a period of time. Ping me if you want to join my crew!

Week 52.21

  • Merry Christmas to any readers! I had a good one with lots of eating, lots to be thankful for, and everyone fortunately safe and healthy. The Instax mini Evo camera I got as a present to myself proved useful on Christmas Day at dinner with my family. Although the quality is poor in low light, I got to leave behind little prints for the fridge door, and gave souvenirs to my aunt and uncle too. There was a sleepover, day drinking, and a kid stood on my shoes because she wanted to be walked on top of them. In all, I count about five events over the weekend. Pooped.
  • For other photo-worthy moments, I got a lot out of FiLMiC Firstlight, a camera app that I hadn’t touched in a couple of years and recently rediscovered. It has a lovely, warm, film-inspired filter called Leopold (based on Kodachrome, I think), and behaves unlike the HDR-happy iPhone camera of today. Images come out with heaps of contrast and deep blacks, and generally don’t need any correcting in post. On reflection, I should just set my iPhone Camera.app to use a “Rich/Warm” photographic style.
  • The Misery Men NFT collection is now up to #78, which was a Sad Santa. I held a giveaway and got 12 takers, so it was minted as a — I don’t know the right word for this — series of 12 editions? 12 prints? Anyway they were sent out on Christmas Day, and hopefully everyone who isn’t a bot is happy with them. I’m taking a break from the daily drops and will resume in the new year. There are already a few finished ones in the can, and some of them are pretty good by my standards.
Misery Man #78: Shackled to the wheels of capitalism for all eternity.
  • It was also the week of The Matrix Resurrections, which we saw in a regular Golden Village cinema after a gut-busting visit to Five Guys (my first one in this country). Dim screen, muffled audio, noisy patrons… it reminded me of why I no longer like going to theaters (Gold Class screenings are the exception, fixing all the above). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the film despite having many of my expectations subverted. I’ll need to see it again properly, but I expect to still agree with my initial assignment of 4.5 stars. Side note: Cien and Peishan saw it the same evening in the same cineplex and hated it.
  • Wes Anderson’s The French Dispatch was also much enjoyed. It’s an insane directorial flex; every shot and sequence is beautiful and meticulously composed, existing just to indulge a particular sense of humor and beauty. Both films shine with the joy and energy of creators who have nothing left to prove, but where one is happy to keep iterating on a style even at the risk of self parody, the other reclaims its own fandom and fabric for self satisfaction. And I’m here for it, as the young ones say.
  • Once again, nearly no video games were played, but I picked up Steamworld Heist and Saints Row IV on sale for my Switch. The latter is probably a decade old now, but was irresistible at $2.79 USD, down 93% from its standard price.
  • Instead, I got more reading done and am closer to my Goodreads Reading Challenge target. Finished Iron Widow (3.5 stars at best) and The Power (a solid 4), both mentioned last week. It looks like I might make it, if I can finish The End of Men next week. Quick recap: all three books deal with the decline, displacement, and/or death (literally) of men due to overwhelming Qi force, mutant powers, and a gender-specific virus respectively. I’m also here for this as men probably have it coming.
  • One last thing. A year ago, I got a Backbone One controller for my iPhone and loved it. It made for a more console-like experience with many games, and it was more comfortable to use and more capable than a Nintendo Switch. So why did I buy another Switch this year? Let’s not answer that directly, but it may be no coincidence that I’ve been unable to use my Backbone since moving to the new iPhone: the larger camera bump isn’t compatible. The company then designed a simple adapter and provided the plans for 3D printing one on your own. Never having gotten around to convincing myself of a 3D printer’s utility in the home, I had to place an order for one of their officially manufactured ones, and have been waiting on it since September. It finally arrived this week and I’m happy. But if supply chain problems are gonna continue next year, perhaps getting a 3D printer isn’t such a bad idea!

Week 42.21

  • As a careful handler and frequent upgrader of iPhones — I joke that it’s one of my few excesses, and if I get hit by a bus, I don’t want one of my regrets to be that I’d spent the last 11 months tolerating the old model — buying AppleCare+ has been a waste of money. I pay for two years, only use one, and don’t actually use it because I never put a scratch on it.
  • This year, I discovered thanks to my friend and colleague Henry that Singapore has also implemented the ability for you to cancel your AppleCare+ plan at any time and get a pro-rated refund. In other words, pay only for what you need. This change happened a year or so ago in the US, but I assumed it wasn’t ever coming here (like the HomePods). So I was able to end my iPhone 12 Pro’s coverage with just a phone call.
  • Afterwards, I managed to sell my iPhone without having to deal with hagglers and trolls on Carousell (local eBay equivalent), or going around to used mobile phone stores and negotiating with them. Reebelo.com literally brings those merchants to you. You specify the condition of your phone/tablet, and get an instant quote from one of them. Set a date and time, and someone will come to your doorstep with cash (there’s still a bit of haggling as they will invariably find a scratch you never noticed before).
  • Last week I mentioned succumbing to a new “Nintendo Switch (OLED model)”, which, hand on heart, is its official name, which should tell you something about the migration process to expect. It is NOT an elegant or lovable user experience. There will be no plug-and-play on Christmas morning with Nintendo at the helm; I spent over an hour individually transferring each user profile over wirelessly (although they were already on the removable SD card), and then redownloading all the games over the internet (already on said SD card), and then manually downloading a separate app onto both systems just to transfer Animal Crossing’s saved data over (yup, SD card) because it’s just a special game don’t you know. Obviously I’ll draw a link to restoring a new iPhone from iCloud (the Switch actually has cloud backups of all save games!) and how comparatively easy that is.
  • The OLED screen is unbelievably, eye-searingly vibrant, and while it’s definitely an improvement over the muddiness of the original Switch’s screens, it will take some getting used to. It’s made by Samsung, and maybe having that knowledge is making my brain go “yes, the saturation does sort of remind me of using a Galaxy phone”.
  • I’ve been playing Tetris Effect: Connected, a game I already bought once for the PS4, but Tetris has such history as a handheld game (especially on Nintendo platforms), so it had to be done.
  • Despite all the wallet emptying or maybe because of it, I’ve really appreciated being funemployed this week.

  • TV-wise, we binged the new season of Love On The Spectrum on Netflix, a reality dating show following people with autism, started on the new season of You, a dark comedy-drama following a romantic serial killer, and continued watching Seinfeld, a period sitcom following a politically incorrect group of friends through romantic misadventures.
  • I’ve been slowly taking in Godzilla Singular Point, an anime series on Netflix that seems to be slowly making its way (reluctantly?) to a story that must have Godzilla in it at some point, driven by an interesting cast of human characters and one adorable AI assistant in cartoon dog form.
  • The new Super Deluxe remastered edition of The Beatles’ Let It Be is finally out, and it sounds pristine as one might expect. I don’t know what Beatles fanatics think of this album — do they think it’s patchy? Aren’t they all in some way? — but it might be one of my favorites.

Week 41.21

  • As sabbatical weeks go, this one was more social than most. I saw my parents for a bit, met long-time blog mentionee Cien for coffee and a photo walk, and had a marathon-length FaceTime catchup with my friend Tōbi who’s been back in Germany and out of touch since before the pandemic.
  • Starting a podcast may have come up, an idea I’m not mad about, because who needs more audio content clogging up the internet (said as someone who almost never makes time for podcasts)? Still, there might be value in pursuing things that never will see the light of day, if only for the process itself.
  • Last month at the 9.9 sale on Lazada and other local e-commerce platforms, I successfully avoided pre-ordering an OLED Switch. This month on 10.10, I succumbed and picked up a white one. I’m looking forward to using my Switch undocked, which I almost never do these days because of the awful screen quality. In reality I know this will only be an hour or two a month, at best.
  • I really shouldn’t have, though, because I also fell victim to a sort of phishing scam this week and lost some money. It got me really down for a couple of days, beyond what the money called for, because I just blamed myself for being so stupid. The cure was just spending more money, in the end.
  • We’ve been watching Seinfeld which is now on Netflix, sequentially and from the top. It holds up amazingly well, picture quality aside. Yeah some jokes and topics probably wouldn’t fly today on primetime TV, if such a thing even exists. But it’s a cozy show, with a great cast of characters, and perfect for evening just-one-more viewing.
  • We also binged a French mystery drama called Gone For Good in an entire afternoon. It’s based on a novel of the same name by one Harlan Coben who seems to have bulk-sold his oeuvre to Netflix-owned studios in various countries; there are Harlan Coben shows from Spain, France, the UK, and the US if you go looking. It starts off well enough, with lots of puzzles and twists, but the resolution eventually relies on massive coincidences and unwinding all the complexity to reveal not quite enough in the middle. I suspect all of them might be like that, so I won’t see another unless told otherwise.

Week 40.21

  • The mooncake festival is over, but I finally got my hands on a bunch of double-salted-yolk ones, which are now being slowly savored out of the refrigerator on a daily basis. I haven’t weighed myself in several months and don’t want to.
  • I started reading David Mitchell’s Number9Dream and will probably take it in slowly over a couple of weeks. So far it’s intriguing, different, quite brilliant.
  • Like everyone else in the world, we saw the Squid Game series on Netflix. Most of it at 1.25x speed, because it’s unnecessarily slow moving at times, dragged out for god knows what reasons. It could have been done in fewer episodes, but that doesn’t help Netflix I suppose. Most of it was watched in the English dub, because we heard the subs aren’t entirely accurate and the dub script differs in places (so at least we get two incorrect signals to triangulate rather than just one), and also because the original performances are a little… whiny? I’ve seen takes proclaiming it the ‘most disturbing show ever’, going on about its hellish vision, saying it’s given people nightmares, and so on. I can’t understand why. There’s not much new in its rehashed survival contest/psychological horror tropes, and they even appear often in comics and anime. I remember being disturbed by videos of awful bum fights back in the early days of the internet. The real world is the most disturbing show ever.
  • Covid cases here exploded-ed-ed even further, nearly touching 3,000 cases a day at one point. Despite that, I went out a couple of times and had coffee with an old friend I mentioned here back in June. We hadn’t properly talked in about two decades, but have reconnected now thanks to Twitter and Telegram. She lives elsewhere but came back to town on some unexpected business, and I’m glad we had the chance to meet.
  • We also had a couple of friends over, and all of this irl activity hasn’t been as bad as I might have once felt. Don’t get me wrong, I still love being alone, but maybe not having to interact with people daily for work has recharged my social battery. But it’s still a broken one with <80% battery health, though. Don’t make me go to things. Especially if I have to dress up. <— Note to wife.
  • My iPhone 13 Pro arrived earlier than estimated, which prompted discussion of whether Apple and its delivery partners are deliberately underpromising and overdelivering, and whether they should stop this because it’s inconvenient for people who’ve made plans to be home on a certain date only to be suddenly told “it’s coming tomorrow”. It worked out fine for me this time. I am satisfied to have it, but haven’t had much occasion to test the new camera out much. More to come.
  • Inspired by a Twitter account I started following for its vibrant and vibey film photography, I made a preset in Darkroom that tries to get at the look: faded green shadows, soft magenta tones, lots of grain, and a steep ramp up into blown-out highlights. I also separately recreated the look of the “Positive Film” effect on my first-gen Ricoh GR, and I think I got quite close by shooting a color chart with both cameras for reference. Sadly, Darkroom removed the ability to share presets quite awhile back when they rebuilt the app, and we’re still waiting for that feature to be reintroduced.

Filter test, shot on iPhone 13 Pro
Filter test, shot on iPhone 12 Pro
  • Kanye updated Donda with a few subtle changes, so I re-added the album to my Apple Music library and put it on several times over. I haven’t been playing it much since it came out, but the music has had time to sit in my subconscious and open up. Now after this booster shot, I’m beginning to see it’s a better album than I first gave it credit for. It might be my favorite of the year in a couple of months.

Week 39.21

  • For the first time since it stopped being necessary to line up for hours outside a telco HQ or Apple Store to get one, New iPhone Day (Sep 24) came and went without a DHL employee appearing at my doorstep. Dear reader, I was late to the finish line this year and my unit only arrives in early October. I begin each day by wondering if I should do the right thing and cancel it. We know I won’t.
  • Adding weight to that argument is the fact that the iPhone 13 Pro has a camera bump so comically large that it interferes with accessories such as Apple’s own MagSafe Duo Charger, and my beloved Backbone One game controller. For the latter, the company has quickly designed a spacer/adapter, which customers can fabricate on their own. I’m hoping to be able to buy one since I don’t have access to a 3D printer. Even without accessories, the bump is enough to cause substantial see-sawing when the phone (with or without a case) is placed on a table and the corners are tapped. I know because my wife has her iPhone 13 Pro already and this power imbalance does not feel comfy.
  • I neglected to mention in a previous week’s post that we did get around to seeing The Matrix Revolutions, and it was just as disappointing as I’d recalled. My disappointment at the time was so strong that it effectively wiped all details from my memory (while I vividly remembered the first two). I think it can be blamed on an overall lack of fun, visual craft, and other core ingredients that made the first movies so loved: well-choreographed wire-fu, novel special effects, a mystery that we are made to care about seeing solved, and big action set pieces where incredible, iconic things happen — a bunch of flying tentacled robots drilling into an underground city doesn’t count.
  • I came across this still image from the film that looked like something right out of Neon Genesis Evangelion, and decided to google the two franchises together to see if there were any links. That’s when I found this cool “trailer” that someone made for Evangelion 3.0+1.0 (warning: lots of spoilery scenes used) cut to the music from the The Matrix Resurrections’ trailer. Damn, the new EVA looks so epic.

  • Unfortunately, this week’s viewing time was effectively squandered by the mysterious decision in our household to watch Love Island Australia, which is absolutely stupid and 30 episodes long. I think we’re into the final third now but I’ve long stopped paying it most of my attention, and use the time to rack up progress in the Temple Run match-3 game from Apple Arcade. Why melt your brain in only one way at a time?
  • We did see the first two episodes of the Foundation series on Apple TV+ though, and it looks very promising albeit still clearly a television thing. I can’t stop thinking about some of the gobsmackingly beautiful/chilling frames in the Dune film we saw last week, and I wish someone would make a TV show that strives to that level of abstraction and perfection.
  • I finished two books: Unity by Elly Bangs, and The Test by Sylvain Neuvel. Both are worth reading. Unity is a better dystopian SF adventure novel than Firebreak which I read recently — the comparison comes to mind because both contain a program to turn orphans into super soldiers — and blends some fun concepts like hive minds and body snatching, with a dash of Ted Chiang’s short story Understand. Meanwhile The Test is a very short novella you could read on a Sunday morning, and the less it’s described, the better.
  • I’m still a habitual Goodreads user, but signed up to check out its sexy new competitor, Literal.Club. It’s already a faster and nicer experience, but since it’s still in invite-only mode, lacks the friends and years of book review data that will keep Goodreads around as long as Amazon wills it. Add me at @sangsara if you’re on!
  • Oh, and thanks to the announcement of a new Kirby game coming next year on the Switch, I chanced upon the depths of the series’ dark and complex lore. At first, it seemed like a hoax: what, this cute and cuddly Nintendo thing for kids is actually a horrific end-of-times apocalyptic tale with gene splicing and satanic worship and the death of countless civilizations, except the protagonist is so innocent and pure that everything rendered through his eyes looks like how the games end up looking to us? That’s sort of the gist, and there are a bunch of explainer videos on YouTube. I won’t recommend the ones I’ve seen, as they’re kinda incomplete, but here’s a popular one I intend to watch soon.

  • Covid cases here have gone kinda nuclear, from a couple hundred a day just weeks ago to nearly two thousand cases yesterday. So we’re back to two-person groups (you can still eat out in a pair if you want; life’s not completely shut down) for the next month, and more working from home for those who still have jobs. Stay safe out there.