- Last episode, I promised a return to Animal Crossing this week. I did manage to keep my word, but just barely. Upon opening the front door to my house, my character jumped in shock at the sight of… cockroaches. At least Nintendo made them sorta cute. You have to chase them down and when you step on one, a little ghost cockroach rises up from the ground I shit you not. It’s a little hard getting back in the swing of things on the island, but it was nice and I think I’ll continue.
- One of the bottles of bourbon I got last week is already on its last dregs. Has that joke been made before? It’s been about six years since his name came up on this blog, but Jussi came over for a chat and to suffer some untested drink combinations. There were no side effects or complaints, so we’ll have to try harder next time.
- In 2017, I attended my company’s annual training/alignment/social conference, held in Berlin that year, and posted a short video of the experience. It’s now obviously impossible to do these in person, so they attempted a virtual event over two days. It was better than I expected, helped by the fact that Zoom now supports setting up many parallel “breakout rooms”, with a menu that lets people choose which they want to join. Just like a real conference, we were forced to think hard about which talk or workshop to attend, and weigh popular, oversubscribed events against smaller ones with niche topics but more chance of meaningful interaction. But unlike the old days, you can now access recordings of every event and watch them on your own time afterwards.
- Does anyone remember the singer Katie Melua? One of her new songs popped up on a playlist and I struggled to place the name. Then I looked her up, and of course, she came out back when I was in university and would have been everywhere on TV and on the shelves at HMV (I spent a lot of time there). According to Wikipedia, she was the UK’s best-selling female artist in 2004–2005, and has a comet named after her. Just surprised me that I would completely forget her; I mean, I remember Peter Andre.
- The 2020 Apple Music Awards were also announced, and four out of five recognitions went to hip-hop artists (Taylor Swift won Songwriter of the Year). I gave the Album of the Year a try: Roddy Ricch’s “Please excuse me for being antisocial”, but am unlikely to ever play it again. A lot of contemporary, trappy, woozy American hip-hop just doesn’t do it for me.
- In contrast, I’ve been enjoying UK grime and drill, and discovered Dutchavelli’s Dutch from the 5th album on Apple Music’s great radio program, The Dotty Show.
- My App of the Week has been Guitar Girl (iOS) — It’s an idle clicker where you follow a high schooler who livestreams herself playing the guitar in her free time. You can imagine the rest. Tapping equals likes, and you can add followers who will auto-tap when you’re not around. As her presence grows, a bunch of relationship stories unfold behind the scenes through text messages.
October 19–25 2020:
The new iPhone 12 Pro does not disappoint, and I was foolish to think that I could skip this year. Well yes the camera is only a little bit better, I have no 5G networks to make use of, and the previous A13 processor was already so fast that the massive speed improvements here are imperceptible, but it all adds up. The size is just right, and the flat-sided form factor is nearly flawless (remove the camera bump and we’re there). I love that I can hold it lengthwise between thumb and forefinger with perfect stability — whose stupid idea was it to have rounded edges for the last six years?
Last night I tuned into a two-hour-long livestream about the process of developing and designing a book. It was part of Craig Mod’s Special Projects club (a sort of self-managed Patreon), and the subject was his recently released Kissa by Kissa — How to Walk Japan, Book One.
I managed to snag one of the first edition copies, and it was fascinating to be walked through it almost page-by-page by the person who put it together. We were a small group of live viewers, shadowy presences felt through a chat box, learning about unsung details and BTS production setbacks that makes me see my copy very differently. For instance, the book is not the physical size it was meant to be, but a binding challenge meant that it had to be done by hand and everything grew by about 2mm in one direction. Parts of it are perfect, and others are honest reflections of the process. I don’t think I’ve ever held a book and appreciated it as a design object this much until now. And while I’d still love to have one of the new and improved second-edition copies, supporting small projects through the ups and downs of the journey is what Kickstarter purchases are supposed to be about. 🤷♂️
Oh, and some friends came over and we got an adorable early Christmas house gift. I’d never heard of this Jellycat brand, but I am apparently in the minority. It needs a name, any suggestions?
I’ve been drinking too much and still sleeping too poorly. Nevermind! One recent addition to the liquor shelf has been Luxardo Maraschino, which you never really see for sale out in the open here; I got some online. It mostly opens up possibilities for all my ryes and bourbons.
In all likelihood, I’d encountered the Japanese rapper Awich before because her name rings a bell, but wasn’t into what she was doing at the time. Now she seems to have made a bit of a leap forward. Her new Partition EP slaps? Is that what we say now? I went back and compared it to some of her earlier stuff, and the production is way better and she’s got a great flow. Also the videos are intense.
- The annual iPhone announcement event was probably this week’s main event. As you know, it usually happens in September but the virus pushed it back. This year, we’re getting half the new iPhones (that’s two of them) released in October (next Friday) with the other half following in November. It’s anyone’s guess whether next year’s iPhones will release in September again or follow this new schedule. This makes a slight difference to annual upgraders like me: do we get a full year with the new phone or just 10 months? Because the resale price of an iPhone 12 is gonna drop when the 13 comes out, whenever that is.
- I spent most of my free time this week contemplating which iPhone to go for this year, or if I should upgrade at all. I go through the same motions each year, and each year I buy a new one even if not particularly enthusiastic. It’s the only gadget I do this for; it became unfeasible long ago to buy every new iPad or Watch or whatever. It’s also the main way any of my family members upgrade their phones.
- Apple made it a harder decision this year than it’s been in awhile, mostly because the 12 Pro Max’s camera is once again better than the regular 12 Pro’s. I was never happier than when the iPhone X came out: one size, take it or leave it. It may have been motivated by internal constraints, but it felt like the old Apple way of making hard decisions on behalf of its customers. Today we’ve got a ton of choice and I think it sucks. The decision this week came down to which compromise I was happier making: a worse camera or an even less portable phone than my current iPhone 11 Pro Max (provided I even go outdoors regularly in the next year)?
- Pre-order Friday inched nearer, and I decided to trust my pre-Covid gut instead of reevaluating the role of the phone now that we’re home all the time. I’d long considered the 6.1” size to be optimal. Slightly bigger than the iPhone X’s 5.8” screen for jobs like photo editing and reading feeds, and more discreet and pocketable than the 6.5” XS Max/11 Pro Max. I just never bought an XR or plain old iPhone 11 in that size because they were LCD screens and lacked the telephoto camera. So my new phone is going to be a Pacific Blue 12 Pro!
- Will I regret not getting that significantly bigger sensor? Perhaps, but I reckon being stuck with a 6.7” phone is its own special kind of regret. And I do have many dedicated cameras should the need arise, but no smaller phone I can suddenly call into service when going somewhere in anything but cargo pants.
- LAST POINT: I’m really glad flat edges are back. I’ve hated the last six years of rounded edges since the iPhone 6. Flat edges just feel better and more secure, especially when held in landscape between fingertips for photo taking.
- I’d really like to make this weekly update more than just barfing up unsponsored Apple mentions, but it’s tough. I could mention how I’ve been having recurring backaches every morning, but then I’d have to mention trying to correlate them with the quality of my sleep each night using my… Apple Watch and the Autosleep app.
- In the spirit of spending all my money before Christmas, I was looking into a new TV. Something with 4K and HDR logos on the box at last. But I ended up putting it off since the new Apple TV box hasn’t been announced yet, and my current one only supports HD.
- I tried to start playing a game on my Nintendo Switch earlier but eventually put it aside to get back into Genshin Impact on my… iPhone.
- I’m typing this up while listening to Apple Music’s “Bruce Springsteen Essentials” playlist in anticipation of his new album and accompanying Apple TV+ documentary film, Letter to You, which comes out October 23. It’s playing on my living room’s Sonos One speaker, which I’d love to replace with a HomePod if only a certain company would release it for sale here.
- The AirPods Pro fit my ears a lot better than regular AirPods ever did, but I still find it hard to get a good seal sometimes, or it doesn’t last. I took a chance on these AZLA “Xelastec” tips for about S$40, and they help a lot. They’re stickier and slowly conform to the shape of your ear canal, so they’ve really improved the experience so far.
- I’m so far behind the shores of this moat I don’t know if I’ll ever be leaving.
- K-pop rarely makes it into my headphones, but I appreciated Blackpink ever since their first music video for “Whistle”. The production values were incredible, for one, and they seemed different from the other groups. Since then, they’ve put out music with weird gibberish sounds I didn’t like (e.g. boombayah, rum-pa-pum-pa-pum-pa-pum, and the infamous ddu-ddu-ddu), and their pop formula started wearing a little thin for listening where I can’t understand a word. But the new Netflix documentary Light Up the Sky does a nice job of humanizing them, even if some parts where they break down are alarming and it seems like they might be trapped in a traumatizing loop of endless training and touring? I think it’s worth a watch.
- Some weeks don’t feel like very much at all, even if they kept you busy at time. Taking stock on a Sunday and realizing this is a bit like how your brain sorts experiences into Keep/Forget piles while you sleep, I think. Many things happened, few of them really mattered. Forward, onward.
- I’ve now twice experienced cocktail bars that are taking reservations and then telling you you’ve got between 90–120 mins before they turn your table over to the next group. This is definitely new to pandemic times and odd to me. If you’re sitting down at 8pm with some friends, you’re just getting started at 90 mins, and very likely to spend a lot more in the 90 minutes after that.
- I think it’s related to the current regulation that says they have to stop serving alcohol at 10:30pm. I thought restaurants had to stop serving in general, so we can all go home and drive the chances of spreading infections down just that little bit more, but no! They can keep on serving you food and dessert into the night; it’s just alcohol that has to stop at 10:30pm. Don’t get it. On the other hand, there’s a business opportunity here to just run very nice pop-up mocktail bars that feel like proper nice bars to have a chat, for people who are already well buzzed and ahead by the time 10:30 comes about.
- I just bought Cocktail Party, an iPhone cocktail recipe app that hooked me by having a generous attitude. I was searching for some info and came across their website, which has all the recipes out there in the open. If you want the convenience of an app, and the ability to enter what ingredients you have so they can tell you what drinks you might make next, you drop $4 USD. I did it without a second thought, which I RARELY do. I just really liked their business model and approach.
- I think this may be related to a certain emotional state I’m in after having watched all 10 episodes in the first season of Ted Lasso (Apple TV+). Everything about this show repelled me when I scrolled by it in the catalog: the fact that it’s an American comedy sitcom, that it involves football (soccer), the name that says nothing, his mustache, the promise of being a feel-good something. But @hondanhon rated it on Twitter a few days ago, calling it “a hundred thousand dollars of therapy that every person needs” and “a striking show for our time”. Now after bingeing the whole thing in a night and a morning, I concur. They’ve succeeded in crafting an uplifting show that doesn’t make you want to gag, around a positive hero who tries harder than anyone possibly could — but inspiringly so.
- I must mention the release of Gimme Some Truth, a new compilation of John Lennon’s “greatest hits” on the occasion of his 80th birthday. I spent the weekend playing it any time music was desired, and they simultaneously don’t make them like this anymore and didn’t back then either. The whole affair has been completely remixed and remastered from the original tapes, on all-analog equipment to boot. It sounds impeccable: so much cleaner than the recordings we already had, and some people will have the pleasure of playing Blu-Ray audio discs with Dolby Atmos. I don’t know why Apple Music doesn’t provide surround mixes of select albums that work with the new spatial audio feature of the AirPods Pro. Anyway, read about the album (JohnLennon.com) and give it a listen (Apple Music).
- This is the 14th consecutive week of doing this “new” regular blog update rhythm. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to keep going, although it’s getting harder to think of things worth mentioning since so much of what happens is now a thematic repeat. But I’ve decided to give myself a break. So what if I do the same things? So what if I’m negative? So what if this bores you/me/anyone? At least I’m still here.
- I tend to mention Apple Music a lot in these posts, and this week I noticed that my “New Music For You” playlist hasn’t updated in several weeks. It’s supposed to refresh every Friday, based on your listening habits. All the other algorithmic personalized playlists are fine. I guess as long as they find new ways to break things, I’ll mention them. Do I want to get on another hour-long support call to complain about this? Not really. I might spend more time with the music I’ve already discovered instead.
- One of my favorite songs of last year was Charli XCX’s White Mercedes, and it popped back in my head this week and stayed for days. I was even motivated to go on YouTube and look for interesting covers — there was just one: a rough take by Alec Primavera that shows what a strong ballad it is. I kinda want Ryan Adams to come out of exile and cover it.
- While we’re on YouTube, the Auralnauts team is still obsessed with making Star Wars videos, and this new one is pretty clever: it uses footage from the prequels and their spot-on overdubs to realize a story about Anakin and Obi-Wan on a weekend-long clubbing bender. Turning a giant Jedi battle scene into a glowstick rave is just inspired. Weekend at Obi’s.
- I watched the US presidential debates like everyone else, and all that noisy talking over each other just gave me anxiety like Uncut Gems. I then went on Twitter and saw other people making the same reference. Did Uncut Gems come out in 2020? I’m lost in time.
- I’ll come back to Apple for a second: it’s weird that no Western media seems to have gotten the new iPad Air for a hands-on demo; at least, I can’t find anything on YouTube. But a quick search shows that quite a few Chinese media/bloggers were invited to handle and shoot footage with the new devices, in what looks like an Apple Store. My guess is that the out-of-hand COVID situation in the US is preventing similar events, and they can’t mail the iPads to journalists until the products are ready to come out (lest the A14 chip be officially benchmarked before the iPhone 12 event). China being relatively safe at the moment has given them the First Look video advantage.
- I’ve been playing the new mobile game from the Chinese developer miHoYo (their tagline: Tech otakus save the world), previously known for the impressive looking but not-my-cup-of-tea anime action game, Honkai Impact. This new one is an open-world RPG called Genshin Impact, and it liberally borrows all the good bits of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while leaving out all the annoying parts like weapons that break after you use them too much. It’s a breakthrough in free-to-play game design, art direction, and mobile game engineering. Most F2P RPGs are absolutely awful and quite transparent about the fact that they’re not about fun or gameplay mechanics, just completionist character collecting gacha loops that whales get hooked onto. You can actually play Genshin Impact without thinking much about paying for anything, and there are no ads — those inclined to pay for rare items and characters can do that, but it’s not pushed in your face, nor does it seem necessary (at least several hours in, where I am).
- A late discovery: Okinawan brown sugar, or kokuto. I’m drinking an old fashioned right now that I threw together with vanilla bitters, Gentleman Jack, and a dash of dark syrup made with this complex, earthy, salty sweet stuff. I found a good article on the “Art of Eating” site, if sugar as a fancy healthy food sounds like your kinda thing.
- After watching S2E6 of Midnight Diner (the original series), I had the sudden urge to make a pot of Japanese cream stew, so that’s what we did for Sunday’s dinner. If you could go into a restaurant here and find that, I probably wouldn’t have; it’s one of those things you just have to do for yourself.
- At some point, it was or will be the annual Chinese mooncake festival. I love these although they are hundreds, if not thousands, of calories each. Probably owing to the salted duck egg yolks; I like the ones with a minimum of two in them. A colleague, who is very sadly leaving the company, makes them for fun (and extremely well at that) and took orders. Since they’re maybe a third the size of regular ones, I bought 40 and gave a few away, but the majority of them may end up in my ever-expanding gut.
- We went out to play a few rounds of mini-golf for said colleague’s farewell, and I narrowly won one game. It was my first time playing for real, but it sure felt familiar thanks to a lifetime of videogaming — most recently the excellent What The Golf? on Apple Arcade. Would I do it again? Sure, but maybe if/when they allow simultaneous golfing and drinking again (COVID, you know).
- In lieu of a new Apple Watch this year, I bought the new Braided Solo Loop band and it’s awfully comfortable but also quite overpriced. The build quality could be better: the lugs don’t fill the gap all the way to the edges of the watch, and for the price (it’s made of recycled yarn and silicon and sold for S$150, the same price as the leather bands) you’d expect them to be perfect.
- Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix? Nearly everyone I know has. It’s primarily a documentary about the ills that social networks have unleashed on our world, from digital addiction to the tainting of democracy — not a new story by any stretch, but one that inches closer to mainstream discourse with every effort such as this one. I can’t fault it, not even the cheesy dramatic segments interspersed between the interviews with lead product designers and co-founders that once worked at Twitter, Facebook, etc. See it and tell all your friends about it.
- One more Netflix recommendation from me: Criminal United Kingdom is back with a second season (just four episodes). If you haven’t seen Season One, you’re in for a great binge. I envy you your first time. Quickly, the concept is theatrical. Everything occurs within a police interrogation room with a one-way mirror, and its outside hallway. Each episode is a different case, but the cast of police officers is constant. Within these constraints, the stellar acting and writing become sheer entertainment.
- The Untitled Goose Game is one year old. It’s now on sale for the Nintendo Switch at USD$15, down from $20. It’s also been updated with a two-player co-op mode that I imagine is much better than playing it alone. I missed it a year ago, so we bought it this afternoon and played the entire thing from start to finish in one go. And my wife is not into games, let me tell you.
- New music? Prince’s Sign O’ The Times is out as a Super Deluxe reissue, fully remastered and expanded into an 8-hour, 96-track historical epic that attempts to capture the amazing stuff he was putting out at that early, very creative moment in his career. I’m gonna be listening to it for weeks, I think.