Hey reader, I hope you’re doing alright. I’ve had a pretty tough and unpleasant week, dealing with a personal crisis that I’m not particularly well equipped to handle, owing to… I don’t know, OCD? Control issues? Mild autism? Vestigial childhood hang ups?
Life comes at you fast: a couple of days ago I made a crack about how everyone seemed to be in therapy but me, and by the end of the week I was ready to seek professional help. In the grand scheme of things, the problem is/was minor; it just happened to stray into a zone beyond my tolerance — youngers would call it being triggered.
Talking to several people certainly helped: some who’ve been in a similar situation, others who I know have the same issue on occasion. Maybe I’ll embark on some longer plan of action to reduce my anxiety around this topic, but I’m doing better for the moment.
I mentioned Rosalynn Tay’s images at the Leica exhibition, A Celebration of Photography, last week. On Thursday we made it down again to hear her presentation about how she works. Amazingly, she only started taking photos eight years ago, when she decided to do it seriously and was recommended by a friend to walk into a Leica store and ask for an M camera with a 35mm Summilux as her first camera. I was stunned by the privilege, of course, imagine starting with an M and learning the craft on that. But nice work if you can get it, and if you get it, it shows real dedication to learning the physics and mechanics of photography!
She then admitted that she left the camera aside for the first two months, too intimidated to use it. Until she signed up for an introductory course offered by the store, which I used to find a strange service: why would new Leica buyers need to be taught photography basics? Surely all of them had already cut their teeth on lesser cameras and were now upgrading to the gold standard? And then I understood Leica’s customer base to be somewhat similar to any luxury performance brand. Not every Lambo buyer actually makes the most of them.
But not her, in any case. After that false start, she put in the time and curiosity and now has an incredible professional body of work to show for it.
Oh and we got this year’s Christmas tree! Some years we end up with trees that don’t smell particularly piney but this one has filled the place with a lovely scent already. Cubie seems to like chewing at its leaves so I’ve gotta watch out for that. One more worry on the pile.
Not a lot of music listening but I discovered dvsn’s new album Working On My Karma and it’s modern R&B I actually want to listen to for a second time. It’s on the OVO label if that helps convince you.
I didn’t buy any new gadgets on Black Friday but got quite a few Switch games on sale, including Persona 5 Royal. I never finished the original version on PS4, but perhaps I might now? (Who am I kidding)
Caturday: We picked up our new ragdoll kitten (Cubie “QB” Catbot aka QBasic aka Cubit 3000 aka Yung Cubes aka Cubie Gooding Jr.) and the trip home was a lot less dramatic than I had psyched myself up to expect. No vomiting, screeching, weaponized feces or anything of that sort. Upon getting her home though, things were a little ambiguous. Introducing a cat to a new environment is massively stressful for them somehow — they are my spirit animals, I guess — and she took hours to come out from hiding under the bed and armchair of our guest room.
When I fed her later in the evening, she seemed to be afraid that the food wasn’t really hers to have. She ate a little and watched my reactions. Thinking maybe she needed to be alone, I left the room for over half an hour and hoped she would finish it. But instead, it was barely touched at all. Before taking it away, I thought I’d give it one last try. Sitting on the floor at her level, I nudged the bowl forward with my knuckles and waited. And finally for some reason she realized that it was okay and wolfed it all down in a minute.
The framework for all this in my mind, every minute, is that I am a giant ape and she’s a wild feline, and all our interactions are going to be weird by nature. I’ve been talking to her in a range of different pitches (as in tones, not propositions, but I suppose also propositions!) to get her used to what I sound like, explaining the absurdity of our situation: that she was bred to take the money that this ape has earned by doing advanced ape cognition tasks in an office environment, and although the ape now owns her in the eyes of a legal system, she’s really the boss at this very moment so could she please come out from under the bed?
Yes I’ve watched some Jackson Galaxy videos and read a bunch of articles. Yet her mind is still absolutely illogical and knowing what her tail movements mean only confuses matters. Ape and cat conventions are not very compatible! Instead of smiling and staring, you have to blink At them slowly and obviously to show you’re being friendly! Absurd stuff.
Despite the initial distance and wariness, which absolutely everyone has prepared us for and that I’m prepared to endure for days, she has at least shown that she’s comfortable enough to pee and poop in the allocated box on the first night. Which in some cases does not happen in the first, second, and maybe even third days. I’ll repeat this fun fact: cats can hold their pee in for days.
Reprogramming my aversion to messes, bacteria, excrement, and other catty chaos is going to take much longer. Yes I signed up for it, somewhat consciously. Some will say that this is character growth, but as I was fact-checking a joke before I made it, I discovered that it may also be parasitic growth that I need. You know that cats carry a single-celled brain-altering thing that infects mice and humans, right? It’s like a fungus that makes you like cats, and nudges your behavior in ways that serves cats. Given that I might be brainwashed by my new boss, I thought I’d look it up again and was surprised that 1) it’s really real and 2) for some reason we’re not all talking about this all the time.
They say something like ONE-THIRD of all humans on Earth are already infected with this parasite, which creates permanent cysts in the brain that mess with dopamine production, essentially making its victims (cat owners) more uninhibited and likely to take risks (and also more likely to cause car crashes). It’s like that Jeff Bridges film, Fearless, where he survives a plane crash and comes out with a devil-may-care attitude to life, except you’d call this one Furless? Sorry.
Anyway this parasite actually helps cats by infecting mice, which then become emboldened to step out in front of cats and become their dinners. It also makes the smell of cat feces attractive, luring them out. Not a stretch to imagine it also causes anxiety-ridden humans to be emboldened enough to let cats into their homes, creating new routines that they don’t really have time and energy for (sample size: one). Nature is truly terrifying and ingenious.
In humans, the article linked above says that infection with toxoplasma gondii supposedly increases the likelihood of them quitting their jobs and becoming entrepreneurs, and amongst entrepreneurs, the ones who have been infected earn an average $6,000 more per year than the ones who have not. I’m surprised people aren’t microdosing this stuff in Silicon Valley.
For reasons I can’t recall, the subject of Enneagram personality tests came up again at work; the last time this happened was maybe three years ago with a different set of people. I sat down to do the test at Truity.com and found that I was still the same: a Type 5. (Later, I would be told that your basic type doesn’t really change throughout life, so that’s another 15 minutes I won’t be getting back.)
Your highest scoring category is the “Type” you are, and once you have your results from Truity, you can look up what it means for free over at this page by The Enneagram Institute instead of paying $29 to Truity.
It gets more fun when you have people or some form of team to compare your type to, and explore your compatibility. Do I believe this stuff? Well, it’s not as bad as astrology: you basically provide the behavioral inputs and they make some logical assumptions about your preferred approaches to situations and tell you where you might be self sabotaging or not collaborating properly. So yeah I do find it pretty interesting, but then I would… because I’m a Type 5.
I am quickly finding out that owning a cat can be expensive (and this is even before the cat has arrived). So far we have purchased a grooming brush, a more extreme grooming brush for shedding season, a pair of nail clippers, a litter box and accessories, a motorized drinking fountain (TIL cats have evolved to prefer fresh moving water instead of stale water, so a regular drinking bowl will not suffice), an assortment of toys, a cat carrier, a reusable lint roller for our couch and other surfaces, a scratching pad — with still more to come, e.g. an automated feeder, a bed, anti-parasite medication, probiotic supplements, and on and on.
In the name of research I joined a couple of subreddits devoted to cats, and soon found myself sucked into a web of paranoia and anxiety. One poster said their “mental health plummeted after adopting a cat”, not because of any feline misbehavior, but their own neuroses — feeling chained to the cat and a routine of feeding it, playing with it, and cleaning up after it, afraid to leave it alone and feeling guilty whenever they stayed out late. While not feeling as unstable as them yet (there was a mention of crying all the way to the vet’s), I can definitely see myself having a miniature form of that reaction.
Add to that the cornucopia of diseases and mishaps that could threaten the life of our cat, and I’ve just bought myself a whole new world of things to worry about. Many of our house plants are also toxic to cats, and getting rid of them is starting to be a point of domestic disagreement. Cats are cute and companionable, they say, but no one mentions the conflict and debilitating despair.
We saw local band Sobs play live at the Esplanade on Friday, in an annex theater I didn’t even know existed on the premises, and this being Singapore of course it’s been named “The Annexe” — a word so vile my autocorrect tried twice to stop it happening. It was probably my first standing-only show since the pandemic began, and honestly plus a few more years on account of age.
But oh yes, Sobs were great! They played their new album, Air Guitar, which comes out digitally next Wednesday. The sound was, unfortunately, poor as is usual for the Esplanade: muddy, vocals obscured, keyboards absent; amateur hour. These artists deserve better, and I don’t know when they’ll do something about it. It’s honestly crossed my mind to switch careers to sound engineering and give it a go myself.
I tried taking some photos and video with my iPhone 14 Pro just to challenge it. The photos suffered from the same grainy artifacts around moving objects that I noticed before, where sharp but low-quality images are presumably getting stacked onto long exposure images of higher quality and lower noise. It’s an issue with the Photonic Engine process, probably, and maybe one that can be fixed in an update. I would rather have motion blur than such unevenness, but that’s subjective. The 4K video was surprisingly good: stable, clean, and bright even with the 3x lens.
I got some nice Twitter feedback from the devs on my Darkroom presets, and shared two more.
CPB: Short for Cross Process (Basic), a replica of the effect you get from the camera app Cross Process, a favorite of mine from the early days of the App Store by Nick Campbell. The app is still available for sale but is under new ownership now. This look is not subtle, with strong vignetting and center brightness, but a lovely blue/yellow bias that I suppose mimics cross-processed film (it’s been so long since I shot film I’ll take their word for it).
Clean Plate: A recipe designed to brighten up food photos and make them look a tad warmer and more appetizing. I use this often, sometimes it’s good enough on its own and sometimes it’s an appetizer.
There was a new Taylor Swift album this week in Midnights, and boy does it sound great. I’ve enjoyed only a single play through so far, but it struck me as having a very Jack Antonoff-y sound (or is it just the sound of American pop music today?) — if you close your eyes, you can mentally swap Taylor out and it becomes a new Bleachers record.
We saw the first two episodes of The Peripheral on Amazon Prime Video and it’s just about everything I hoped it would be. If you haven’t read the book yet, you may as well just go straight in without knowing anything. One cool thing Amazon’s done here is have a QR code (at least on the TV app) that takes you to a microsite with more info on the show’s characters, key locations, and technologies. A DVD booklet for a streaming generation. I expect it’ll get updated as new episodes come out weekly as well. Don’t read it until you’ve seen it!
We had a funeral ceremony at work to say goodbye to the brand we all joined, which has now been subsumed into a larger new corporate brand. Everyone who could physically make it turned up and we ate pizzas, drank beers, and told stories about the last five years. We didn’t exactly put the fun in funeral but it was a thoughtful and appropriately introspective end.
I brought my new and underused Ricoh GR III along to document the moment. If I’d purchased the IIIx I originally wanted instead, I’m not sure it would have worked as well. 28mm and 24mp is a pretty good setup for capturing everything and then being able to crop in to interesting parts if needed. The only thing better would have been a 48mp Leica Q2.
Why didn’t I just use my iPhone and its new 48mp sensor? Firstly, I wanted to be intentional about it, and having a dedicated tool in hand prompts you to keep looking out for pictures. So I did end up taking more photos than anyone. Secondly, the vibes are not comparable. Comparing them with colleagues’s photos, the ones from iPhones are clear, sharp, and clinical. The Ricoh alternately underexposes, blows out highlights, focuses on the wrong thing, and occasionally white balances like daylight film when you’re indoors. These “choices” and limitations are beautiful, as is the rich detail from its large APS-C sensor; no neural network is filling in the blanks here. iPhones document things the way they happened; dumber cameras still somehow capture the way we’ll actually remember them. Or I’m just old and like things to look old too.
As I type this, we are watching Apple Music’s “live” stream of Billie Eilish performing at the O2 Arena. It’s been billed on the Browse page as a live performance (not inaccurate), but since it starts at 10am SGT (3am in the UK), this was clearly not going to be live in real time. So it turns out this is a pre-recorded concert film from the end of her tour, just now making its premiere on the service. It’s a good one though!
I mentioned before that we’ve been thinking of getting a cat. I also posted a photo of a ragdoll that a friend owns, whose home we’d visited as a sort of allergy test. I never really knew about cat breeds before this, but ragdolls seem lovely and are reportedly as chill and affectionate as they come. Things are escalating quickly: we submitted an inquiry to a breeder about the possibility of adopting one of their “retiring” adults, and this week had a call with them about the details.
But they don’t have any suitable retirees at the moment, only a kitten with a congenital physical anomaly — still in good health for the moment — which may develop into a problem requiring more care later in life. As people with no recent cat-owning experience, it’s not a decision we can make lightly.
I revisited some drawings I made awhile ago and deleted some, finished one, started doodling another. They’re pretty terrible but it keeps me feeling like I’m doing something on days where I’m objectively doing nothing else of value.
Splatoon 3 has been my only game on the Switch this week. I’m getting better at it, but the short multiplayer matches are kinda unsatisfying. Over too soon, and with a team of four randoms playing together without the benefit of voice chat, you never get that feeling of great teamwork. I guess I’ll need to go out and make some new friends in real life and convince them to buy Switches and play with me. None of my current ones seem interested.
Just on a whim, I installed Apex Legends Mobile and started playing it with my Backbone controller. It’s… not bad? But Battle Royale games simply take too long and there’s no simple deathmatch option, so I may be back to Call of Duty before too long now that I’ve got the shooter bug again.
Netflix Games has a new title called Lucky Luna from Snowman, the makers of Alto’s Adventure and Alto’s Odyssey. It’s kinda like Downwell + Celeste but casual and atmospheric rather than punishing and frustrating. I mention this because I played it a little while, but also we’ve been thinking about adopting a cat, and one named Luna popped up through a family contact around the same time, and I thought it was a nice coincidence (but not a sign).
There’s a new Death Cab album called Asphalt Meadows which I bet no one saw coming? I heard it through on my commute and it did nothing for me. Formless songs that don’t seem to be about anything interesting. The new Blackpink album has also been played a few times, and it has a couple of strong songs but mostly feels way overproduced while also lazy in places (the annoying “whipitwhipitwhipit” lyric + nursery rhyme melody line in Shut Down).
If you want more catchy songs that don’t try to say very much, the new Mura Masa album demon time is very good. Collaborator Channel Tres (who guests on the delightful track, hollaback bitch) also released a collection of musical NFTs with the lo-fi musician omgkirby this week on Opensea. I actually minted one, because what NFT slump??
The new AirPods Pro have obviously been on my mind as a serial Apple product collector, and as more reviews keep coming out saying how much better they sound, the fight just keeps getting harder, my friends. But with any luck, I’ll be able to make it to Christmas without them. I mean, I’m typing this while listening to music out of my bloody iPad Pro’s speakers and still having a good time, so I should be able to do it.
One of the things I aspire to, and that new AirPods Pro would help me achieve (of course), is to be a listener of podcasts. I just haven’t ever been able to turn this into a sustainable habit because when I have headphone time on the train or around the home, it’s music I want. But the news that Adnan Syed, the murder suspect subject of season 1 of the Serial podcast, was freed after his conviction was overturned brought my mind back to this goal. Someone told me the Serial team is going to cover the new developments.
I tried to listen to their second season back in the day, about some army guy or whatever, and just couldn’t get into it. Maybe because the life and times of some army guy or whatever doesn’t appeal at all. After Jose told me Season 3 was about observations on the criminal justice system after spending time in one courthouse for a year, I decided to give that a go. Episode 1 was good listening: a case where the victim of a bar fight ended up the only person arrested and put on trial.
On Sunday evening we went to see the Lee Kuan Yew musical now on at the Marina Bay Sands theater. It’s a simplistic reduction of an important man’s life, and there’s a lot to unpack. Why does this even exist, and in musical form? Alexander Hamilton had a couple hundred years to grow cold first; this first debuted in 2015, the same year LKY died. The poster bills it as “history, his story, our story”, but to what degree is it accurate? Is this really a historically sound account? Why does every actor sing in an affected British accent, even the ones who have exaggerated Singaporean accents when they’re speaking? Why are the songs so rough? Why is there literally only one woman in the cast of 21?
But hey on the positive side, it’s a super impressive production in technical terms, all hybrid video projections and moving stage pieces! Most of the dramatic parts are entertaining and the music is performed by a live band. It’s surprisingly affordable (from $50) and made for a good night out. I also ran into my friend Xin who I haven’t seen in years!
My new iPhone 14 Pro arrived. This year’s Space Black is definitely the darkest shade of gray they’ve done in years. Fitting, because while Apple’s been calling their camera systems “pro” quality since the iPhone 11 Pro, it’s only with the ability to capture 48mp RAW files now that the label may finally be justified, and everyone knows a “pro” camera should be black and draw little attention to itself. Just look at Leica’s stealthy “-P” models without their red logo. So the 14 Pro looks the part, at least it did until I slapped a bright Succulent green case on it.
I took it out to a concert the same day it arrived — after a few snafus during set up and migration; probably related to the bugs already addressed in iOS 16.01. Low light performance seems improved as promised, and if it’s dark enough to call for Night Mode, those shots are taken more quickly than they were before. However, I’ve noticed some gritty artifacts when using the 3x lens in low light, possibly due to moving objects across several frames being merged. Ideally these would look like motion blur, but they have gross sharp outlines and very digital-looking noise. This is new, and I hope it’s an issue that will be fixed in software.
48mp ProRAW files are not snappy to edit, and VSCO doesn’t seem to like them at all. Load any RAW file in the app and all the filters come out looking wrong. I’ve been bouncing between RAW Power, Darkroom, and Pixelmator Photo, unable to decide which makes processing files least painful. But should one shoot in 48mp at all? The post-shot cropping latitude you get is fantastic, but at up to 90MB a file, I’ll probably use it sparingly, on occasions where it’s better to just grab a quick shot and make decisions later. But for everyday use, I’ve set mine up to save 12mp ProRAW files, and will simply try to get the composition right from the start with the new 2x “zoom” mode if needed (essentially an in-camera 12mp crop into the 48mp image).
Tyler Stalman and SuperSaf have good reviews of the cameras’ performance on their YouTube channels. I’m slightly annoyed by Stalman’s discovery that RAW files have a much more natural look than Apple’s default processing for JPEG/HEIF files. The amount of sharpening and clarity and HDR effect has been turned up with each passing year, and where iPhones were once known for taking true to life photos, they’re more social media-ready and Samsung-y today. And consequently these photos are not the neutral starting points for post-processing that they once were. On hindsight, it was inevitable. A lot of casual editing today is hitting an Auto-Enhance button or loading up an AI filter in Prequel, Meitu, or some app I haven’t heard of yet. Sitting down to process photos is now a “pro” thing, and pros presumably want to shoot and edit in RAW while they’re at it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
All in all, a nice upgrade to still photos this year. You get more separation and background blur in regular shots on the main camera because of the larger sensor. The new image processing engine also takes advantage of said larger sensor and gives impressive sharpness and detail when shooting in some specific instances. And the return of a 48mm 2x mode is very welcome, but then you don’t get the benefits of pixel binning in that mode so it’s a little worse for low light environments.
A final word on cameras: the bump must not be allowed to grow any larger. As customers, we need to hold this line. It’s simply too much.
The Dynamic Island is very cool, but not something you really need to think about too often. Buyers expecting a fun new toy they can tap and fidget with a hundred times a day will be disappointed. For me, the notch was a non-issue; it just faded from notice in normal use. The Island is similarly invisible to me until it springs into use for some multitasking. At present, it’s only shown up when I was listening to music or doing some navigation in Apple Maps. The latter is especially nice (as a passenger), I can be texting with someone but still keep an eye on the next instruction, e.g. it shows an arrow saying to turn right in 2km. It’s an improvement that you get used to very quickly, and the animations are nowhere as distracting as critics wanted to believe. After a couple of days, it reveals itself to be the best kind of improvement: one you can simply take for granted while it quietly improves your life in the background.
The third and final major feature in this year’s iPhone is its always-on display. No, the new A16 chip doesn’t make the Top 3 for me. The A15 in last year’s iPhone 13 Pro was still zippy as hell, and the improvements here are somewhat minor. It’s testament to the A15’s power that Apple can reuse it for this year’s basic iPhone 14 and most people are just like ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
The always-on display gave me battery anxiety. I’d turned on the new/old battery percentage indicator in iOS 16’s Settings and was convinced that my available power was dropping faster than usual for a new phone. But hiding the percentage was probably one of the best unpopular things that Apple did with the introduction of the iPhone X. Nobody needs to see that number drop. I turned it off and stopped worrying for the time being. If you want to give it a break, just turn your phone face down on your desk (this doesn’t work on glass tables, FYI).
It’s certainly nice, but nowhere as necessary as an always-on display on a watch, because seeing the time and other info without overtly turning your wrist towards you is a real use case. Being able to glance over and see a weather update or the price of bitcoin without tapping my phone’s screen is alright. But maybe not 10% less battery life alright? I need my phone’s battery for playing games and calling cabs and other things my watch doesn’t have to worry about. Time will tell if it’s a keeper or a feature we all turn off and forget about.
I also replaced my Series 4 watch with a new Series 8, but apart from the always-on display and non-degraded battery life, there’s not a lot here to write home about for someone who isn’t into the athletic life. It’s just the most refined and capable version of a four-year-old design, and I expect it to last me for quite awhile. The Apple Watch Ultra is simply not for me, and it would take a radical redesign of the regular watch line to make the Series 8 feel obsolete (note: foreshadowing).
My last one was an Hermés model, and I’m really missing their classic analog watchface with the Cape Cod typeface (see below). There is simply nothing in the standard Apple Watch catalog of watchfaces that compares. If you want an elegant, full-screen analog face with attractive Arabic numerals and maybe just a date display, you’re shit out of luck.
One interesting thing that’s new this year, but is actually available to all Apple Watches from Series 4 and up, is advanced sleep stage tracking in watchOS 9. I’ve been using the Autosleep app to do the same thing for the last couple of years, but it’s always been a bit of a faith/novelty thing: there was just no way of knowing how accurate it really was.
One “local” artist I came away from Friday night’s showcase concert quite impressed with was Dru Chen, who played a couple of songs featuring some funky guitar work and a lovely musicality reminiscent of His Purpleness. I have nothing against people inspired by Prince. Everyone should be. Dru’s debut album is on Apple Music, so I’ll be listening to it some over the next week.
But for live music, it probably doesn’t get any better than this newly remastered 1985 show by Prince and The Revolution playing in Syracuse, now available in goddamn Dolby Atmos spatial audio. What an absolute treat to be transported right into the audience for this. I’ve only heard a few moments so far. It really calls for a fully charged pair of AirPods Max and a clear afternoon.