Week 39.20

  • 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.

Week 37.20

  • I bought into the rumors that Apple would launch the new Watches and iPads via press release on Tuesday. I don’t know why, in retrospect, because that makes no sense at all. Those product lines are way too important and making an event of streaming some video isn’t a high barrier for them. So now I await the September 15 “Times Flies” event with interest. I hope the new headphones get unveiled, because I’m ready for them.
  • I applied that unresolved retail intent to the so-called 9.9 (as in Sept 9) sales that happened on all the local platforms, buying way too much alcohol on Lazada. For future reference: Roku gin, Amaretto Adriatico, Bulleit bourbon, Don Julio Añejo tequila, plus vanilla and mole bitters.
  • Bitters are super useful, and I’d said the same before about flavored syrups in a previous post. However, I’ve since discovered the Monin brand products sold locally (and made in Malaysia) are utter crap compared to ones made in France. They’re so thin, weak, and synthetic as to be unusable, and I’d like to pour the bottle I have down the drain.
  • We binge-watched all 9 episodes of Little Voice, although that’s not a strong recommendation. It’s fairly uneven, and maybe a B or B- overall. For a show about a singer-songwriter’s journey, the songs did not work hard enough. I can’t recall a single one now. Which just reminded me of how sad it is that we’ve lost Adam Schlesinger to COVID. His work on films like That Thing You Do! and Music and Lyrics stand on their own.
  • One scene in the final episode featured The Way You Look Tonight, which suddenly reminded me of Kenneth Branagh’s 2000 adaptation of Love’s Labour’s Lost, which of course, I then immediately had to re-watch. I think I saw it in theaters here in Singapore when it came out, loved it, bought the soundtrack on CD on my way home, and then got the DVD a couple of years later when I was in the UK. It was a bit of a commercial failure and no one else seems to have seen it, but I just loved it. If Shakespearean comedy mashed up with the Cole Porter songbook sounds like your thing, please see it.
  • And that led to wanting to see another musically oriented romantic comedy, so we decided to give Yesterday a chance despite the uneven ratings and my consistent distaste for Danny Boyle’s work. UGH! I tried really hard to give the central premise a pass, and was rooting for the film to square it with a gold-hearted core, and there were moments in the first half that I really liked, because of what they tried to say about the Beatles, but it really had nowhere to go and deflated into an unlikeable mess.

Week 36.20

August 31 – September 6, 2020

  • At the start of the week, Apple Music 1 (the radio station, née Beats 1) wasn’t working for me. I suspected it had something to do with the change in name and perhaps change of URL for the stream. It didn’t matter which device, Apple ID account, or internet connection I used, it was just down for a couple of days! I thought I’d be helpful and report it to Apple support, but that resulted in me spending an hour on live chat and the phone, being passed from the team to team, across several countries. Finally someone in Ireland was able to document the problem in their internal systems and let me go. It’s needlessly difficult. I said I didn’t need anyone calling me back or telling me when it was fixed, I just wanted them to log it. I should have just tweeted at them.
  • I had large double cheeseburgers with bacon and luncheon meat and fried onions for two meals this week. I can 100% tell that I’ve put on weight now. It’s on my face. A couple of friends have given up drinking and lost weight after a few months. It’s an effective method, but I don’t know what I’d do with all this misery if I tried it.
  • Necrobarista is a very different visual novel on Apple Arcade and Steam. It seems to try very hard to remind you that it’s set in Australia, with lots of “mate” usage, to the point where I thought it was made by Polish developers or something, and sounded inauthentic. Turns out it was made in Australia, so what do I know? Anyway what makes it different is that you don’t just click through dialogue quickly and see different character images pop up… each click through actually switches the whole scene and camera angle in a 3D space. A lot of work went into posing the characters and animating these short 1–3 second bursts. It’s much more cinematic than you’d be used to, and it makes you value each moment that much more. Unfortunately, the writing could be quite a bit better.
  • This week I watched quite a few videos by John Daub, who does this YouTube channel called Only In Japan (side note, but that linked channel is effectively a reboot after he sold his original channel). I’ve seen his stuff around for years, and he sometimes appears on those awkward, cheesy English language programs that NHK World puts out (don’t get me wrong, I actually like them for what they are, e.g. Peter Barakan’s long-running Japanology series, which just feels like a lovely artifact from the 90s even when the episodes are brand new). But I never really got into Daub’s style until he started doing livestreams. Back at the office, we used to tune into Twitch streams of people walking around various cities, eating things, checking out shops, and the virtual tourism was nice left in the background of a workday. Daub elevates that basic formula by being knowledgeable; a bit of a historian and tour guide, who also interacts with his community in the live chat. I’m now contemplating becoming a supporter on Patreon just because his walkabout videos feel slightly like being able to go on holiday during this pandemic. I shit you not, the other night I was walking in place in my living room as he went around Toyosu, like a sort of Brian Butterfield version of virtual reality.
  • For reasons I can’t remember, the Gregory Brothers’ viral auto-tune internet hit, Dead Giveaway, was stuck in my head for most of the week. As the words became more familiar, I was struck by how absolutely tragic they were. For those who don’t know the main line which was lifted from Charles Ramsey’s TV interview, it goes “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms… dead giveaway!” The way he says it in the original video, and the kind of nodding unsurprised reaction of everyone, just speaks to the awful world of normalized racism people like him/us are living in. Further “research” on YouTube led down a rabbit hole of other videos surrounding the horrible Ariel Castro kidnapping case… which I’ll spare you from.

Week 33.20

  • Thanks to a series of early mornings this week, I don’t think I’ve felt very rested, despite my quantified self apps saying I’ve spent about the same amount of time in bed as usual. One of the things that usually happens when I have an early morning call or meeting is that I don’t trust my alarms and dream all night that I’ve overslept, and keep waking up. This happens before flights as well, so I’m just really terrible at anything that starts before, oh, 9:30am?
  • Monday was a public holiday on account of National Day here, our 55th anniversary of independence. Having to work on a holiday doesn’t happen too often, but it did this time on account of a regional project, but I’m planning to take the day later this month and get a long weekend to catch up on some reading.
  • I only managed a few more chapters of This Is How You Lose the Time War this week, but they were exquisite chapters. I love when you can sense the author having a load of fun.
  • National Day is usually marked by a military parade and a quasi-musical show performed at a stadium, broadcast live on TV. This year, they rolled the tanks and hardware out on neighborhood streets across the country so everyone could have a look from their windows (were they aware this is not usually a welcome sight, or that some countries have a real problem with this now? I’ll never know), and the weird song and dance bits were just beamed from a stage somewhere. Watching this live is usually quite cringey, but I leave it on in the background every year just to feel a little connected.
  • On Thursday, I went back to the office for the first time in five months, to pick up some mail and stuff in my locker (a fistful of cables and adapters, my SNES Classic Mini, whisky, stationery). There was no one around except for security, but it’s being cleaned regularly and all the lights were on, so it was like visiting a museum exhibit of life before COVID-19; everything on my desk perfectly preserved just as I’d left it. It brought back memories of the day we left, not knowing at the time how long we’d be away but certainly not imagining it’d be five months either. As I left, it was hard not to imagine it being the last time ever.
  • After that, I met up with a few colleagues for a pre-arranged visit to one of our usual bars in the area, since we’re now allowed to meet in groups of five and take our masks off for the purposes of eating. Which was initially surreal to be doing again in person, but very nice for a change.
  • Probably contributing to my feeling worn out were a few more social events, all delightful but so unusual these days. At one, there was an interesting conversation about how the music industry works these days, given that the host currently works at a publisher. I said that I used to think about record labels a whole lot more in the old days of physical products where I could read liner notes. Then, labels acted as a layer of curation and were effectively brands that stood for certain tastes or movements. The move to digital definitely changed the commerce around music, but I think the loss of liner notes was an underappreciated strategic blunder. iTunes tried to offer digital booklets for awhile but the take-up was low, and so today I’d be surprised if kids could even name two major labels.
  • I think people who don’t consciously try to discover new music either still rely on radio or just tap on curated playlists from their streaming service of choice (probably Spotify, given that it has a free tier). Those who don’t regard music as just background noise probably remember and consciously choose their favorite playlists, which are now clearly brands in their own right, like RapCaviar. And given that there are so many of them, in different states of being maintained by their editors/algorithms, it kinda makes sense to not only share songs and albums with friends, but also playlists.
  • I don’t use Spotify anymore, but that’s a rant for another time. While writing this, I searched my own blog to see if I’d ever mentioned it, but found this instead on the then-rumored Beats acquisition by Apple. I thought they’d extend the iTunes brand to include streaming music, but they chose to start over. Around these parts, most people I know still don’t understand what the Apple Music offer is about, or how it relates to iTunes.
  • While working, I often just put Apple Music’s Pure Jazz radio station on, but sometimes I like the BEATstrumentals playlist, which is their version of ChilledCow’s lofi hip hop beats to study/relax to. One recent discovery is Pop Deluxe, a playlist which describes itself as featuring artists who are “left-of-center, under the radar … pop’s modern vanguard”. In other words: catchy stuff hip people don’t have to make excuses for liking.
  • Two weeks ago I was listening to The Sunset Tree as a sort of throwback album. This week it was Bleachers’ Gone Now. Big melodies, saxophones, heartfelt anthemic choruses… another all-time fave.

Little Green

As I write this update, I’m listening to Joni Mitchell’s Little Green at possibly too high a volume for 11 o’clock at night, but I have no idea how thick these walls are, so let’s find out. This unusually unneighborly behavior has been brought on by watching the new High Fidelity TV series (yes, based on that Nick Hornby book), starring Zoe Kravitz in the role played by John Cusack in the 2000 film, and look, the whole thing is sublime. Watch it, because it’ll remind you that you were once young and played your music loud. And that it’s been too damn long since you’ve heard Darondo’s Didn’t I.

This is also made possible by the fact that I’ve finally traded in our aging Asus router for a pair of Netgear Orbi mesh routers. Only 1.5 years after moving in. And so the internet is now flowing into a part of the house that I’d neglected before because what in the hell am I supposed to do in a room with no WiFi? This room is now going to be a place where I can sit in near darkness, streaming really warm sounds out of a cranky first-gen Beolit speaker, writing on my iPad, and drinking. Aww yes.

Speaking of Little Green…

I spent most of last year getting up to speed on personal finance basics at the ripe old age of a̷l̷m̷o̷s̷t̷ 4̷0̷. For most of my working life, money and investing was an essential resource that I never fully understood, and I was mostly happy to have it sit in that blind spot, content that simple saving would do alright “for now” and nervously assuming that the “for later” part would sort itself out in the end.

I put some blame on the false absolutes we were taught in school: kids are sorted into separate paths focusing on either sciences, economics, or the arts around 14, if I recall correctly, and it’s too easy to let that define you to yourself. I ended up with the thinking that money was for the money people. Of course, I accept the residual blame for hiding behind that lazy excuse all these years.

So when I read Ramit Sethi’s approachable book “I Will Teach You to be Rich” last month, I was relieved to find that I already knew the majority of its lessons. As he puts it, the best time for me to have started investing was 15 years ago; the second-best time is now. Another practice that made sense to me: setting up monthly financial check-ins as a family. Even if there’s no news to update each other about, it sets aside time to think and plan.

In any case, it certainly seems like personal finance is being discussed a lot more frequently in casual conversation today than it was when I was growing up, or even in the past 10 years, for that matter. Financial literacy has probably never been higher.

I attribute this to the rise of fintech startups, how many there are, and how visible their services are in our Instagram feeds. If you live in Singapore and haven’t seen a StashAway/Endowus/Syfe/Kristal ad, then I’ve got a referral code to offer you.

For the unfamiliar, these are all so-called roboadvisors, usually helping you to buy into a portfolio of ETFs based on your asset allocation preferences/risk appetite, while taking a sub-0.8% cut for management fees. It’s remarkably easy to get started once you’ve educated yourself and decided you want in — whereas back in my day, before online banking (let alone mobile banking), starting a trading account was an arcane art that required serious capital.

Based on what I’ve seen, the equivalent offerings from traditional banks (DBS, UOB, OCBC) are only playing catch-up, both in terms of fees and design. It would be fun to do some research on how the boundaries of trust have moved and what Singaporeans’ financial behaviors look like now. I used to wonder what the big deal was with the local licensing exercise around digital banks, but now that I think about it, there’s obviously blood in the water.

Listening (Remembering): 2019

Playlists here: Apple Music | Spotify

Dear reader, I had NOT realized that I skipped last year’s blog post for this. I did, however, make a playlist that I was personally very happy with. You can find it here (Apple Music only).

This year ended up being a much better one for music than I initially thought. As usual, this exercise kicked off from having to pick a single song to contribute to my office’s Best of the Year playlist which we send out to friends. The general feeling amongst us all was that there wasn’t much new music worth listening to, and there was a bit of moaning and sighing while trying to think of something.

But! When I went through my “Recently Added” album sort view one Apple Music, and looked at the various playlists I threw together over the year… a lot more happened this year than Billie Eilish: new albums from Chance the Rapper, Anderson.Paak, Beck (bleah), Shura, Leonard Cohen, Common, and Bruce Springsteen to name a handful. The worst part is that I’ve barely even sat down to listen to most of them.

Still, I found enough to make a playlist of the songs that I played repeatedly and that made me feel something. This then is my musical diary for the year. The recurring themes here are synths (yay!); melodies that veer deliciously close to other ones you’re sure you‘ve heard elsewhere, irritating like an itch that moves as you try to locate it; videogames; queer women; and nostalgia (mined from samples, covers, and posthumous releases).

Continue reading “Listening (Remembering): 2019”