Week 20.22

A week of calamity for many participants in le monde de la cryptographie, as the Terra project unraveled at shocking speed, its two main tokens shedding over 99% of their value in a couple of days. I’m told that other tokens and the entire stock market also had a bad time, but I hardly noticed tbh. Everything looks good next to a raging gasoline fire.

I try not to mention (and certainly not encourage) any proper crypto stuff here, apart from talking about the technology or artistic merits of some NFTs, and this is why. Many people lost life-changing amounts of money this week, and some apparently took their own lives too. A couple of friends checked in to ask if I was affected and if I was okay, which was honestly sweet and appreciated. In short, I am/will be okay. I would be even better had I followed some basic risk management rules I knew well enough but chose to ignore. 🤷‍♂️

While on the subject… I discovered a bunch of new enefftee art of merit, that made me feel the urge to buy despite the screams, cries of doom, it’s-all-overs, etc. all around. Vice Motherboard reported that Neal Stephenson himself has purchased his first NFTs, which felt like a momentous occasion in SF history. He’s made interesting picks, with the series I liked best being Neophyte MMXXII by Sterling Crispin, which renders living simulations of plant growth in each artwork (disclosure: one now resides in my wallet too). I decided to send the VR-themed Misery Man #61 as an unsolicited gift to his address. As much as I’m fond of that one, if anyone deserves it, it’s surely the man who coined the term “metaverse”.

I also found myself attracted to Memories of Qilin by Emily Xie, which are generative paintings inspired by East Asian art. Both of the above are collections curated by Artblocks, the same platform that launched Fidenza by Tyler Hobbs, and exploring their site and Discord led me to Screens by Thomas Lin Pedersen, abstract pieces based on simulating screen printing techniques and featuring beautiful structural planes with swirling geometry that collide to suggest insane urban architecture and spatial depth. Ancient Courses of Fictional Rivers by Robert Hodgin visualizes the winding paths of rivers over time, and then the growth of human settlements on their banks. It’s beautiful art and a wonderful concept. Finally, Edifice by Ben Kovach also plays with the grids of imaginary cityscapes, generating the facades of impossible buildings. If I were rich I’d collect heaps of these.


Heyo three new creative outlets emerged!

1) Before Covid, I received a DJI Mavic Mini drone as a gift and then never got a chance to fly it properly. Those were the days when going outdoors unnecessarily was prohibited, and then even after the rules were relaxed, I was lazy and it didn’t happen (an example of how much time has passed: DJI just announced the Mavic Mini THREE). It’s been on my to-do list to start flying it during this time off, so that finally happened. My dad’s been into remote-controlled things his whole life, so he had the experience and interest in doing it with me. It was a fun afternoon, and I got some good photos from its pretty capable camera.

When your size is not size.

2) The Kabukicho webcam mentioned in previous weeks is still my background video feed of choice. I’ve decided to embark on a new project where I blow up this live scene onto a wall with my projector, watch it intently, and take photos (not screenshots) of interesting things happening. It’s street photography, but remotely!

Sure I’m restricted to just one angle, but for all purposes it’s a covid-era adaptation to not actually being there to document life on a seedy rat-infested street in a red-light district. And without the threat of being beaten up, as a bonus! The results are filtered through the mediation of space, codecs, optics, light; they look more pixel art than photos. But still street photography, one could argue! Sometimes you’ll see shadows cast by my body or items in my environment. It has layers of removal, but still ultimately real life in Shinjuku. I’ve just started, but already I’ve got a lady flashing her underwear to passers by, a man peeing against a wall after midnight, police stopping an altercation, people mugging for the camera…

3) It’s been five years since Rob and I had the opportunity to work together on something, but now something is coming together over the next few weeks, which should be fun. Albeit remotely and in two different time zones. I hope to be able to share more when it’s over.


Media activity:

  • I’ve been reading Delta–V, the latest book by Daniel Suarez. It’s set in the near future, and concerns the first deep space expedition by a private company. They want to send a team of extreme adventurers and a few physically impressive scientists up to mine an asteroid for valuable materials, because it makes more sense to get building blocks from space to build stations and ships in space, than to fly it all up there from Earth. It’s good fun so far.
  • Big week for new music. I’m still making time to hear it all; certainly too early to share any proper thoughts.
  • The new Kendrick Lamar album, Mr. Morale & The Big Steppers. Such a huge deal, the entire top of the Browse tab in Apple Music was taken over by carousels and featured tiles for this one album.
  • Ryan Adams is back with a new double album, just weeks after releasing Chris, which was dedicated to his late brother. Now it’s time for Romeo & Juliet, billed as a summer heartbreak album of sorts, and much more accessible.
  • Them Yorke and Jonny Greenwood have a new band with another guy, but Pitchfork says it’s pretty much like a new Radiohead album, and that’s very high praise. The Smile — A Light for Attracting Attention.
  • Florence + the Machine — Dance Fever. Not sure what that title is about.
  • Oh No — OFFAIR: Dr. No’s Lost Beach. I haven’t heard an Oh No album in years, but good stuff.
  • Röyksopp — Profound Mysteries. I’ve never been a fan, but I played this once through and I’m keeping it in the library.
  • Finally, Jens Lekman has rereleased two of his seminal albums from the past under new names, with some tracks rearranged and rerecorded, apparently because they are meant to be living works and changing over time. He’s serious about this, because the previous versions are no longer for sale or streaming! I recommend listening to The Cherry Trees Are Still In Blossom (formerly known as Oh You’re So Silent, Jens), because it has more of the songs I love, including Black Cab, of which there are two new versions here. The other album is The Linden Trees Are Still In Blossom (formerly known as Night Falls Over Kortedala).
I actually saw Jens up close when he performed in Singapore wayyy back in Jan 2007!

Week 19.22

This was the first week in probably the entire time I’ve been doing these weekly updates (maybe a year and a half) where Monday came and I forgot to sit down and start drafting.

My sabbatical from work is coming to an end, and it’s quite likely that it’ll be hard to continue doing this in its current form once I have meetings to attend and less head space for frivolous introspection and mental health protection — what a concept! Ha ha! I will probably gather bullet points over the course of the week instead, or just write less, which may be a blessing anyway.

The wife-away season of 2022 has begun, as I said on my Instagram stories, but it’s too soon to say if I won’t die of malnutrition, lack of attention, insect infestation, sudden tumbles down the stairs, strokes, or other incidents — with no one to realize my demise until a week later, when one of these blog updates fails to materialize (and now I’ve gone ahead and pre-empted that they may be late; what a genius I am).

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What have I been doing? I started playing Spiritfarer on the Switch. It’s beautiful, it’s chill, I think it will break my heart eventually.

I met up with my closest cousin after probably four years without a proper conversation. Some of the blame must be shouldered by the times we live in, but some of it is mine as usual.

I went to an NFT meetup the other day on Howard’s invitation. It wasn’t nearly as awkward as I expected. I met a couple of good people who were clearly experts in their fields; the time investment and esoteric ecosystem knowledge just radiated from them. I also met some explorers like myself, who know enough from dabbling but are still bewildered by glimpses of the outer lands. Perhaps we don’t need to go there at all. But good to know there are guides.

I’ve been talking to the team behind a project I find fascinating and artistically sound. We might do something together. It feels right and effortless to be involved in something like this on my own time. Perhaps that’s how getting back to work will work out.

Sigrid has a new album out this week. I need to find the time to hear it.

I finished reading A Gentleman In Moscow, and found out that the television adaptation is being made for Apple TV+. That’s restored my faith in the project, because I know they won’t shortchange it. It’s funny how ATV launched with the promise of quality over quantity, and how we felt that wasn’t a real positioning. Fast forward to 2022 and the imminent collapse of Netflix subscriber numbers thanks to a perceivable decline in content quality, and Apple’s seal of assurance is suddenly valuable. Some of the best series I’ve seen this year have been on their service: WeCrashed, Slow Horses, Severance. Anyway, fantastic book, not schmaltzy and populist at all. 4.5 stars, I’d say.

See you all next week.

Week 16.22

Had a couple more opportunities to use Superlocal this week. I’m not sure it’ll stick as a habit because 1) it takes awhile to check in, because photos are mandatory, and 2) I only have one friend on at the moment; two others can’t get past the invite gate because of a bug that will only be fixed in the next update. The problem with network effects or lack thereof here is the team has (rightfully) designed an app where the noxious crypto stuff is optional, which also means no real revenue until it takes off, and by extension most users aren’t incentivized with imaginary money. So now they have to rush to build all the useful features that Swarm already has, like telling you how many coffee shops you’ve checked in to, or the last time you were here. Without which there’s little to drive user growth, and nobody wants to use a social network with no friends.

One time I met Peishan and we had vegetarian food and I really wanted the ability to rate the place (poor!) rather than just check in. Someone in the Superlocal Discord asked if they’re building a recommendations database or a general social network, and it’s a really good question. Swarm still works great for my needs despite being covered in cobwebs, though they could use some competition.

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My wife has a lot of work travel ahead this summer, which is disconcerting but it looks like we’ve collectively decided the situation out there is fine. Many people in Singapore are back to working in offices at least some days a week, and a good proportion of friends have holidays planned. Me, I’ll be staying home in my hermetically sealed pretend submarine while she’s out on the first leg next week. I’ve got snacks, bread in the freezer, and an armful of video games to get through before the end of my sabbatical.

When staying up late at night in solitude, I’ve found it quite cozy to put global webcams from YouTube up on the projector. There was a tweet yesterday being derided up and down the internet where someone claimed Japan has no homeless people, drunks, giant rats, or litter. Later at 2am, I had a feed of Kabukicho up and saw a messy group stumbling into an all-night diner with a giant rat bounding down the street behind them. Perfection.

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Media activity:

  • Turning Red is a rather good Pixar film that dares to tread new ground (Toronto, and periods), and has so many great sight gag ideas. It feels like a story they had fun telling, and really wanted to tell, although I could have done without the overused meek Chinese dad archetype, true as it may be.
  • We also saw Drive My Car and WeCrashed, which are fun to mention in the same sentence. The former is a three-hour long film that uses the first 45 minutes as set up, and then the credits start showing. I loved the audacity. There’s a strange flatness to one character’s performance that was probably intentional or perhaps speaks to some nuance of Japanese culture, in any case that broke the spell for me. Overall, a solid four stars. For the latter, I don’t think Jared Leto will ever have a better-suited role, so he should just retire now please. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as always.
  • I’ve put Great Ace Attorney Chronicles aside for now; just couldn’t handle the wall of unfunny text anymore. Started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim now that it’s out on the Nintendo Switch. It’s… actually breathtaking. Loads of text to read here as well, but you hardly think about it because every movement and interaction is animated with a staggering amount of hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. I’ve never seen 2D characters in a game move with this much variety and complexity. The story is also building up to be a bonkers SF mashup that probably includes time travel, multiverses, memory downloads, giant mechs, kids being manipulated to pilot giant mechs, aliens, and whatever else you care to imagine.
  • A few weeks ago, I saw someone mention Spiritfarer on Twitter, calling it a very cozy game you can play on the Switch to relax, but also ugly cry sometimes because it goes to some deep places (you’re ferrying souls to the afterlife). I looked up reviews and decided it was a definite buy, but waited for a sale. That moment is now, my friends: it’s half-priced at $15 on the eShop for Easter.
  • Checked out loads of new music and recommendations this week. Kae Tempest’s The Line Is A Curve is a brilliant sort of spoken word/hip-hop. Banks released Serpentina which sort of describes its own sound, although Electro-Serpentina would have been better. Omar Apollo released Ivory, which is more produced and poppy that his last EP, Apolonio, which I still have to say I prefer. I discovered the work of Dijon through someone on the internet, and oh man, you must listen to Absolutely. Syd’s new album Broken Hearts Club is also pretty cool, but I’ll need to give it another go. And finally, LIA LIA is a German-Chinese artist from Berlin who’s just released a single, City Of Tears. I think it makes a good test track for a sound system’s sub-bass response.

Week 11.22

  • I met Mavis and Cong for drinks one last time at 28HKS before they went on back to Tokyo. I may have mentioned before, but they emigrated just before the pandemic began and were only now able to come back for a visit. Several times this week it occurred to me just how much time has passed since this began, and it’s a very slippery concept.
  • I’ve been playing Wordle for 60 consecutive games now, and it’s become a hard habit to quit. The day often can’t proceed until I’ve cleared it. But now I’ve found Semantle and it’s a very different sort of game; one might not even be able to finish it daily. Instead of guessing a word by spelling, you throw out words until you find one semantically similar to the secret word, and then try to close the gap. I’m still trying to figure out how best to play.
  • Spider-Man No Way Home was finally seen, and while it was “fun”, it also felt “off”. The pacing was lumpy, awkward dialogue beats were passed off as comedy too many times, and some transitions/events were just lazy and illogical. That said, it’s the rare film where the actors playing teenagers really do pass for younger.
  • Emboldened by how The Weekend Away last week surpassed our expectations of a Netflix Original movie, we decided to watch Alyssa Milano in Brazen, (also based on a trashy novel) about a writer of trashy crime novels who has to solve her sister’s murder, and it was… just straight awful.
  • 0xmusic is the only NFT project I’m interested in anymore, and I added a Serena to the collection this week. They just opened a beta that allows collectors to save MIDI files of the songs generated by their NFTs, so I tried that out. Importing the songs into GarageBand lets you swap out the default instruments and use higher quality virtual synthesizers. Pretty cool and lots of fun, despite my not having the skills to actually jam over them and make something new, but Rob took what I sent him and played some bass over it. I opened a Soundcloud account so I would have somewhere to save the experiments as I go.
  • Stromae was apparently a proper big deal in music a decade ago, but I somehow missed him completely. He’s back with his first new album in years (I think I linked a music video a few weeks ago): Multitude. I’ve been listening to this and a leaked version of Donda 2, which I’d previously sworn to ignore the existence of since it’s not being released like a normal person would release albums. So far, it’s an uneven mixtape which I would assume Kanye’s still working on.
  • (Next day addition) I’ve somehow fallen into the habit of watching Bloomberg TV over lunch and into the afternoons. This is something I would never have done before. I suspect as a side effect of following Twitter discussions of crypto markets, I’m now able to make a little sense of what they’re saying. It’s like reading a basic language handbook and then being able to pick out certain words when watching a foreign film. And obviously it’s a pretty eventful time in the world, so I’m really watching news about the war in the Ukraine, through the blurry lens of financial implications.

Week 10.22: Stayin’ home, playin’ games

Probably nothing significant happened this week, apart from losing some money doing dumb trades. People seem to think all I do during my time off is play video games and watch TV, and for once this week that was actually kinda true.

Mood!

Media activity:

  • Picked up Doom Classic on sale for the Switch, only $2.49 USD to relive one of the most impactful moments of my youth. I remember walking into the game store the week it came out and seeing people play through the first episode. It was like a glimpse into the future: dark atmospheric “3D” graphics far better than anything I’d seen, with incredible music synthesized through a Roland sound card (real sampled electric guitars!) — I couldn’t believe it. It was thrilling just to watch. When I asked how many floppies it came on, and I think the answer was two, my head exploded. Shareware? Two disks, not a CD-ROM? And it would run on my lowly 386-SX?! iD Software pulled off a moonshot that raised the bar for all games.
  • I made it through 4 of 10 episodes in Ace Attorney Chronicles. It’s probably the best (least annoying) game in the series I can recall. Mild spoilers follow. A large portion of the game covers the protagonist going to Victorian London, and there’s a fair amount of racism and xenophobia depicted. People calling you an untrustworthy Nipponese from a backwater Eastern land, and so on. What’s cool is that your party’s initial impressions upon arriving are so positive, so rose tinted about everything being wonderful and better there, that I thought I was in for an entire game of Japanese people romanticizing England to death (another trope), but then came the swift and surprising subversion. An hour later and your lawyer character starts questioning how superior the “world’s greatest legal system” really is.
  • Puzzle Quest 3 came out on mobile as a free-to-play game. I loved and played the hell out of the original on several platforms including the Nintendo DS, bugs and all. So I was ready to get sucked in again, but it’s hard to recapture that kind of charm, and the addition of in-app purchases and timers don’t help at all. I’ve leveled up my character to a point where I’m now caught between being too strong for easy missions and too weak for normal ones, and I’m not sure how to even grind upwards because the UI is inscrutable and I can’t see a way to replay previous story missions, which would help. Sad.
  • Bad television: the reunion episode of Love Is Blind USA, all but two remaining episodes of Love Island Australia, and a trash new Netflix movie starring Leighton Meester, The Weekend Away. I have to admit I really enjoyed the latter, which appears to be based on a book which is probably found on shelves next to The Girl On The Train and other improbable, twist-filled paperback murder mysteries.
  • We finished The Afterparty on Apple TV+, a comedy murder mystery not unlike Only Murders In The Building, but without the thing I liked most about that one: nosy amateur sleuths. In The Afterparty, the police are doing the detecting, and everyone’s a suspect. Worth a watch because each episode emulates a different film genre and most of it works well.
  • I also finished season 1 of Foundation on Apple TV+ and daaammnn. I started watching it way back when the new Dune came out, and it looked distinctively “TV” against the scale and aesthetic of that film. It took a few episodes before I found the core of the show for me, and that core is actor Lee Pace in the nuanced role of the tyrannical galactic emperor. You cycle through all possible feelings for him over the story arc, and making that work sure isn’t easy. There are a bunch of other things that could be improved/decheesed, but I’m down for season 2 ASAP.
  • Saw Part 2 of jeen-yus, the Kanye documentary, which made me go back to playing The College Dropout again. Undeniably great and timeless. The documentary is also a priceless artifact, because how often do you get a camera following an artist over 20 years, from before they even make it big? Can’t wait to see the third and final part covering his journey into madness and arguably even further greatness at the same time.
  • The Beatles 1 compilation album of all their #1 hits received a full Dolby Atmos remixing at the hands of Giles Martin, son of George, and you can hear what that means using spatial audio on an Apple device with Apple Music. They went back to the original four-track tapes and separated the instruments, previously flattened together into a single mono channel, so you can now hear them with a fullness that can only be described as “live”, especially with dynamic head tracking enabled on AirPods/Beats Fit Pro. So I’ve been listening to some of that, slowly.

Week 9.22

In William Gibson’s book, The Peripheral (soon to be an Amazon Prime Video series!), there are references to an epoch-making event that turned everything to shit, and it’s all quite vague so you don’t know at first whether it was a nuclear war or some natural catastrophe. Everyone calls it “The Jackpot”, and you soon figure out that it wasn’t one thing, but several bad situations improbably lining up and landing at the same time. Not necessarily on a single day but a longer period of months or years maybe — still short when zoomed out on the timeline. We might already be living in a Jackpot of our own, but if not… it sure felt like the final “7” rolled into view this week.

All the updates and gory details of the Ukrainian invasion shared in real time now seems completely expected, but the invasion itself wasn’t, and so probably airdropped several tokens of ANX(iety) to everyone’s wallets. Coincidentally, I started reading Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, a series of essays about how to resist social media and its effects. She prescribes exposure to nature quite a few times, which just isn’t going to work for me in this climate. Back to Twitter, I guess.

Locally, our Covid numbers hit a new high with 26,000 cases in a single day. Medical services are stretched, and the government has taken the step of telling employers to just believe employees when they say they’ve got Covid and can’t come in, no medical certificates needed. Unsurprisingly, this was followed by reports of companies still insisting on them.

Perhaps stupidly, I went out more this week than I have in a long while. I know because the number of socks in my laundry load went back to pre-pandemic levels. First was to see a couple of friends who moved to Japan just before Covid and are only now able to leave for a visit back here. There was also a night out with too much expensive tequila that I don’t need to remember, but I got a cat photo out of it.

I also saw Rob a couple more times before he left, and we took his kids out to eat “the best chicken rice in Singapore” (it’s not Tian Tian at Maxwell — don’t get me started). I asked his eldest what he thought of being back, and “it’s hot” was inevitably said, but he also observed that “everyone likes to say ‘it’s freezing’ when it’s like 30º”.


Media activity:

  • Rob turned me onto Jonathan Richman’s song That Summer Feeling, during a conversation about songs that induce nostalgia. Pulp’s Disco 2000 was my pick for a song that made even young people overcome with the regrets of growing old.
  • We started on the new season of Young Wallander on Netflix, a title I will never tire of saying out loud. I remember almost nothing of the first season, but this is going well.
  • As an antidote to all the murdering and double-crossing in our weekly TV diet, we’ve also started on season 3 of Love Island Australia, which is exactly what you’d expect. Some highlights include a girl who doesn’t know anything about Western Australia because she’s not good at “geometry”, and a guy who tried to say something wasn’t in his wheelhouse, but used the word “jurisdiction”, which he tried to pronounce several times before giving up and going with “it’s not in my area”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve started playing Ace Attorney Chronicles, which takes two previously Japan-only installments for the 3DS and translates, remasters, and packages them as a single purchase for USD$40 (often on sale for USD$30).