Week 38.21

Media diet

  • 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.

Patrick Kleplek, Vice/Waypoint:

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.

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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.

Week 46.20

  • Time has felt a little broken this week, in that 11.11 feels like it happened long ago. In case you’re wondering, that’s Nov 11, or Singles Day, which is now an official shopping day in these parts after having been imported from China. We never really had a tradition of Black Friday sales, so this is it.
  • I bought several bottles of bourbon and yet another pair of headphones: the Sony WH1000XM4s, which, in further evidence of a fault in time’s mechanics, launched back in August at the list price of S$550 and was now purchased by yours truly for just S$385. That’s a full 30% off for a brand new product; perhaps a year ahead of when it would have normally been discounted to such levels. The Sony brand just doesn’t hold value like it used to.
  • I bought the Mark 1 model about four years ago, intrigued by its DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) feature which claimed to upsample compressed music and restore “near Hi-Res Audio levels of fidelity”. Great headphones, but the Mark 4 promises a more comfortable design, the best noise canceling tech on the market, and DSEE Extreme which now has AI magic dust all over it. Was it a necessary purchase? No… but I love a good bargain.
  • The PS5 also launched this week, but I have no interest in replacing my PS4 Pro just yet. Apart from sentimental value (it was a farewell gift, bearing the signatures of my former colleagues), it’s small and discreet. The PS5 is decidedly not, and seems to be launching with no extraordinary games. Looking back, all my Microsoft and Sony console purchases only happened years into the cycle. Nintendo consoles, I buy the day they come out. I can’t say why.
  • Oh yeah and Apple announced the first Macs with their own silicon this week, exceeding everyone’s expectations of what the M1 chip does for performance and battery life. It was an exciting event to watch, until I remembered that there’s no place in my life anymore for a personal Mac.
  • Doesn’t this feel like it happened ages ago? How messed up was work this week for it to feel this way?
  • In the early days of lockdown and working from home this year, I was hooked on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I and many others joked about it being like a virtual vacation in lieu of being able to go anywhere. And I think the little controllable/knowable world, gentle soundtrack, and sense of community amongst everyone playing at the same time created to a sense of calm, routine, and positivity that got me through that period with little fatigue or stress. And then after about 200 hours or something, I put it aside and didn’t return even after the Summer and Fall and Halloween updates launched.
  • Prompted by the fact that some friends have picked it up again, I think I could use a return to my island now. Hopefully there’ll be time for that this week. In other gaming news, I’ve graduated to that next level of Call of Duty Mobile addiction: buying a “Battle Pass” for USD$4.99. It’s completely unnecessary, but gives you cosmetic upgrades and more of a reason to play in the form of a ladder of rewards to unlock. Play enough, and you’ll earn enough currency to buy the next season’s Battle Pass without any real world money. It’s a trap? I’m bored? But I also want to understand the mobile gaming economy better?
I left the house exactly once this week, to see my parents and eat this lovely Japanese beef.

Goodbye, 2016 MacBook Pro

In large companies, you measure time by project and work-based milestones, sure, but the mandatory password change pop-ups and automated ‘congratulations on your anniversary’ emails are also sure ways to know you’ve been around for awhile. One of the strongest signals of this sort is the New Laptop Ritual, which tends to happen once every three years, depending on the nature of the job and generosity (is this really the right word?) of your employer.

My laptop replacement was due at the beginning of the year, but I put it off because I was sick of lugging a 15” MBP around to external meetings, and thought it’d be a smarter idea to wait for the 13” refresh with the improved keyboard when it came out in the middle of the year. Andddd then the pandemic hit, and we started working from home. Without an external monitor, a 13” screen would be pretty difficult for a lot of what we do now (Miro) to mitigate the constraints of remote work.

For what it’s worth, I never had any trouble with the keyboard, and it’s been a pretty dependable machine… up until the last few weeks, when the bottom started becoming uneven from what’s probably a battery bulge (!), and so it rocks slightly whenever I try to type on it. If this were a personal machine, it’d now be out of AppleCare and getting it fixed for free at the Apple Store might not be a sure thing, potential fire hazard or not.

So I’ve put in an order for a new 16” MBP which I’ll be picking up tomorrow, and saying goodbye to this sticker collection — always the hardest part of moving on from a laptop or iPad.

When I started running out of space on the top, I moved to the bottom.

Singapore Gets An Apple Store

Finally.

After years of waiting, Singapore got its own Apple Store on Orchard Road (where else?) in May of 2017.

I’ve been in the ecosystem for about 14 years now, and getting good sales service and support from third-party resellers has been consistently hard. Back when Funan the IT Mall was still around, there were a few small shops that knew what they were doing with Macs, but for the most part, the bigger chains gave people bad advice, installed RAM chips facing the wrong way, and stocked some pretty abysmal accessories at outrageous prices. Apple Retail have done all of the above on a bad day, too, I’m sure, but at least they’re held to higher standards.

The two-level store follows the recent round of store designs by Norman Foster, with lots of large indoor plants and round headphone stands on the far end. You get upstairs via a symmetrical pair of spiral staircases cut into cool stone walls on either side; no glass staircases or elevators here. I read in some press release that the materials are meant to echo the Apple Park campus’s design language, which I guess is … fine.

Processed with VSCO with kp8 preset

While it’s nice to have a place to buy devices and “feel part of a community” with the new Today At Apple events, I think the main benefit of having this here is going to be accessible, proper customer support in the city. I’ve been down to industrial parks way too many times to get my iPhone looked at in the past, and it’s not fun.


 

A word about my current setup, for future reference: I’ve not bought a new Mac in 7 years. The current iMac struggles along and is only used once every couple of months to do the things only a Mac can do for arbitrary reasons. I get most of my work done on a MacBook Pro supplied by the company, but for personal use, my iPhone and a couple of iPad Pros do everything I need or have time for. The 12.9” version gets a lot of use as a desk-bound typing machine and a bed-bound Netflix player, which is really underutilizing it, I know. The smaller one gets taken everywhere because of its size, and I’m hoping for it to replace the MBP for a lot of little things at work like note taking and task management. Who wants to bring a big laptop home every night anyway?

MacBooks updated, but even consumers should go Pro

Image: Apple.com

Apple has just updated their entry-level MacBook models to match the recent 13″ MacBook Pros in terms of speed, battery life, and graphics performance, whilst maintaining a fair-sounding USD$999 (SGD$1488) price point.

That money will get you a 2.4Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, a Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics processor with 256MB of memory, and a non-removable battery capacious enough to last 10 hours of typical use. That’s really the best feature here; five years ago you’d be happy to get three hours out of a low-end machine.

But if you upgrade a MacBook to have 4GB of RAM ($1648) and compare that to a 13″ MacBook Pro (with 4GB of RAM as standard, $1788), it looks like a much poorer deal. $1648 vs $1788, for a difference of $140.

Here’s what that $140 gets you:

  • A sturdier aluminium body that’s slimmer all around and just a bit lighter
  • The option of upgrading to a maximum of 8GB of RAM, instead of 4GB for the MacBook
  • An illuminated keyboard that dims in response to ambient lighting conditions
  • Firewire 800
  • An SD card slot
  • The appearance of not being a cheapskate/noob/student.
Jokes aside, I can’t see why it would be in anyone’s interest to buy this model over a MacBook Pro. Sure, mainstream consumers will appreciate the SD card support when dealing with digital cameras, and the metal body probably handles heat better, but the ability to install RAM past 4GB is the closer for me. If you buy your computers with the intention of using them up to the three-year mark and beyond, you’ll want that upgrade path in your future. A little extra memory in the later years can go a long way towards rejuvenating an old computer and preparing it for the demands of more advanced operating systems.