Week 37.21

  • On Tuesday, I watched with some interest as El Salvador became the first country to accept Bitcoin as legal tender. There were videos online of people paying with Bitcoin Lightning at major brands like McDonalds and Starbucks; small purchases going through quickly and with virtually no fees. It seemed as good an experience as paying via GrabPay or PayLah or any of our local solutions, only with no intermediaries and using an alternative monetary system. How many years till we can do that anywhere, I wonder.
  • No new NFT purchases, but about a year ago we bought some art for the home and had them all framed. Because we never got around to putting nails in, they’ve sat against the walls until this week when we had someone come by with a power drill. It’s kinda weird to see them not leaning against the walls, to be honest.
  • Ricoh surprise-announced a new model in their GR series, which I love intensely. The GR IIIx is the first to not employ a 28mm (35mm equivalent) focal length: it’s 40mm instead, and I think it might just be the Goldilocks choice for any trip where you just bring one compact. Tight enough to get capture points of interest with some background blur, and still just wide enough for some landscapes. Or else there’s always your smartphone.
  • What I like best is that the new focal length gives my aging GR (first-gen APS-C model) a reason to keep existing. They don’t have to compete. I got it out of the drawer to take a few shots around the house and remembered how great it is to use in the process.
  • On Saturday, some friends came over for dinner and Howard brought his Oculus Quest 2 along for me to try out. I’ve lightly considered getting one as a couple of colleagues have it too, and during the 9.9 sale on Thursday the realization that a Quest 2 goes for the same price as a new Nintendo Switch OLED helped me to back down from buying one of the latter on Lazada. It turned out to be for the best, because I found that I can’t fit my glasses into the Quest 2 at all, and my large head doesn’t make things any easier. If I were to get one, I’d have to spring for a spectacle spacer and a bunch of other accessories.
  • Michael published his Weeknotes first, which reminded me that The Matrix Resurrections trailer dropped. Kim hadn’t seen any of the films, unbeknownst to me, so we watched the first two over the weekend. The first one still holds up, of course, but while I had no problems with Reloaded back in the day, I didn’t retain any strong memories of what the plot was about; just the spectacularly overblown fight scenes. Seeing it again now, especially with the help of subtitles, I think I finally got what it was going for. Not that it’ll redeem Revolutions for me, which I hated so much for not doing justice to the whole set up (I really bought into an online theory that Neo was an AI/human hybrid meant to bridge the two sides, which explained why Keanu was cast — he’s intentionally wooden!) But hey, maybe I’ll like it this time!

  • This tweet helped me to see that it does take longer than you’d think to disconnect from work/overwork. I thought I’d gotten to a good place in just a couple of weeks, but looking back, I’ve been giving myself a hard time about not being productive enough, not doing enough each week to learn new things, or start new hobbies, or have enough fun — and all of that is a psychological holdover from the rhythms of work/overwork. I don’t know if I can label what I feel/felt as burnout, so I’ve not used that term very much. But I did aim to take a break and be intently relaxed. It’s only now that I’m finally beginning to BE relaxed about it, as opposed to relaxing on demand. So that’s it for now. I didn’t do a whole lot. I may not do a whole lot next week. It should be fine.

Week 32.21

  • Kim left quarantine and got the all clear this week, so I’m getting used to living with another human being in the house again. It mostly means that I can’t listen to the new albums out this week without carving out some time and sitting down with headphones on. I’m curious about the new Nas and how the Atmos mixes of Abbey Road and Sergeant Pepper’s have turned out.
  • The Tokyo Olympic Games have come to an end and this might be the most Olympics I’ve ever watched and the one I’ll remember best on account of the circumstances. I certainly don’t remember any of the earlier ones very well.
  • To acknowledge the occasion, I thought I’d read some Japanese lit again. This week I finished Breasts And Eggs, which was a bit depressing, and made the decision to immediately move on to Tokyo Ueno Station, which was also quite a miserable exertion, and coincidentally, written in protest of the 2020 games. Luckily, it only took another hour or so to get through.
  • I considered making it a trilogy of Japanese melancholy, but went for Firebreak by Nicole Kornher-Stace instead. I wanted some sci-fi or anything with a pace and high stakes conflict really. I’m now about 25% through it and my Kobo reckons it’ll take me another four hours to complete. It’s… not bad. A solid 3-star novel at the moment. It describes a familiar dystopian world where we’re all short of essential supplies, living in high-tech slums, plugged into VR for hours, with corporations ruling the world and waging war against each other. What it does differently is ask you to believe that streaming as a career is still viable for these broken future people, more viable really, and that corporately owned, scientifically engineered super soldiers can not only be celebrities with product endorsements and merch, but even their AI-controlled NPC avatars in the MMO game can. Getting a glimpse of them in the virtual world is as big a deal as in real life. That’s the part I’m struggling with instinctively, but I should know better. Let’s see how the next generation, who will undoubtedly be raised on virtual art, property, and goods, approaches this scenario.
  • Gaming wise, I’ve only been regularly playing Call Of Duty Mobile and a crappy ad-ridden game called Solitaire Cruise (I think). I just want a nautical themed solitaire game. Years ago, when I was in the military and had hours to kill each day and only a very weak administrative computer to do it with, I played a tiny Windows game called High Seas Solitaire like a form of meditation. It was a vehicle for banner ads from a company called Zapspot but I didn’t care. It had peaceful wave sounds and a few squawks from birds, and stacks of cards you had to clear, tripeaks style. I just want that back in my life but I’m not going to buy a PC to do it.
  • Over the weekend, we had occasion to eat a very rich delivery dinner from one of Singapore’s best restaurants, and put together a true crime marathon on Netflix. Sophie: A Murder in West Cork and Jeremy Epstein: Filthy Rich, both about horrible crimes committed against women, both unsettling and frustrating; effective arguments against ever going out or trusting other people again. My kind of television.

Week 25.21: Spacing out

  • I noticed once again that my AirPods Max battery was draining faster than normal while not in use. Coupled with intermittent stuttering/connections issues, I decided to call it a hardware fault and contact Apple support for a replacement. One came via courier within two days and I am now listening problem free.
  • After several months of distracted 10-minute reading sessions, I finally finished Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age in one concerted go. I read Snow Crash in 2019, Cryptonomicon in 2020, and this makes three. I’d really like to just chain them and keep going but/because the density and brilliance of ideas in his work is staggering. If the stuff he was writing 15 years ago is just beginning to look like our future at present, I can’t imagine what he’s thinking about today. I could read one of his newer books and find out, but first, a break.
  • I decided to pick up Andy Weir’s new book, Project Hail Mary, after seeing some positive reviews, and it’s a return to the formula of a science-based, plausible, AND interesting life-threatening problem solved in the first person that worked so well in The Martian. I barely enjoyed his last book, Artemis, but I’m halfway through this now and can’t put it down. It’s about another guy in space, slightly adrift, needing to ‘science the shit out’ of a crisis.
  • I finished the Eizouken anime series on Netflix and can recommend it although it’s not so bingeable. It works well as an episode or two a week. What’s it about? A trio of high schoolers learning to produce anime. I thought it would be like Shirobako, but that one’s set in the real world of running a business, whereas this one is not grounded in reality and just works as a deconstruction cum demonstration of animation and filmmaking techniques you may not normally notice. It must have been so gratifying to work on this as an animation artist; it literally screams ‘appreciate me!’
  • Videogames: Played a bit more Persona 5 Strikers but am not really feeling it. It’s an example of the game getting in the way of the story. As a beat-em-up, it’s just not much fun especially after coming from Yakuza and Judgment. Started and finished Coffee Talk which is an indie game where you act as barista to a cast of cafe regulars and see their stories and relationships unfold. That’s it, you just make coffee and click through dialogue. A nice little afternoon killer. Went back to the Doom reboot on PS4 for a bit of mindless FPS action. That one’s an example of story getting in the way of the game.
  • Speaking of backstory in games, Mythic Quest’s second season is coming to an end on Apple TV+, and it’s a half-hour sitcom I’ve really enjoyed as a person who hates half-hour sitcoms. Both seasons play with a single flashback/world-building episode in the middle, which sounds like a bloody annoyance but the resulting achievement is art.
  • I also finished watching The Falcon and the Winter Soldier which looks like a lot of tight movie money but plays out like a lump of TV fat. It’s often corny and disrespectful of the viewer’s time. But it does raise the bar for action sequences and production design. I haven’t seen Loki yet, but if it doesn’t deliver then I may just burn through the rest of The Mandalorian in fast forward and cancel our Disney+ subscription.

Meta-sabbatical observation: This was the first week where I’ve felt the days start to blend together. When we went to meet some friends on Saturday evening and someone said they’d come from somewhere other than the office, I asked, “oh did you have the day off?” thinking it was Friday. That wasn’t the first time I’d lost track of time. Perhaps I need more milestones and structure for the weekdays. I’ve started a to-do list of things to get done or try out.

Week 24.21

Went out just once for leisure purposes; we’re in partial lockdown after all. Saw an exhibition of Chinese ink paintings by Chinese-Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

After 35 hours of virtual oden eating and street thug harassment, I finally finished Judgment on the PS4 with most side cases solved. I usually don’t enjoy tonal inconsistency, but I can’t get enough of how the Yakuza games (I include this one) just jump from serious melodrama to comic absurdity. You can be searching a murder scene for clues but also follow the sound of mewing to find hidden cats for bonus points. Some PI cases have you spying on suspected criminals, while others have you hanging expensive lingerie up on your roof to bait a local panty thief (who uses a drone). I can’t wait to revisit these characters in the sequel later this September.

Also finished watching all 24 episodes of Steins;gate 0 at 1.25x speed. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more had I remembered the ending of the first series a bit better (it’s been a decade). So the ending of this was an anticlimax because I didn’t follow how the big problem was being solved — tying up time travel loose ends is more work than usual.

We finally saw our last remaining episode of Izakaya Bottakuri on Netflix. It’s a rather corny and harmless Japanese drama about two sisters who run a little izakaya they inherited from their parents. Most episodes involve a regular customer’s backstory and some closeups of food being fried. The one noteworthy thing about the show is how every episode has a character describe their beverage’s selling points in great detail: usually a domestic craft beer, or regional sake made with some special process. After the end credits, the lead actress comes back to hold up the bottle and talk about tonight’s alcohol selection. It’s blatant content marketing, but I am quite alright with the idea of a TV show bankrolled by booze companies!

I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s new film, Wrath of Man, which stars Jason Statham in the kind of badass role he’s perfected over god knows how many similar outings. But it’s probably one of his best. I appreciate what Ritchie brings to what would otherwise by a straightforward heist and revenge story: heaps of style and chronology jumping for the hell of it.

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Of course, it was also WWDC week. No new hardware products, but the curtain came back for iOS 15 and while there aren’t any big, must-have features to look forward to, some very nice quality of life upgrades all around. I’m especially looking forward to quicker on-device Siri, tags in Notes, and more intelligence in Photos. iPadOS could have gone further and pushed the new M1 chips with pro-level apps or even a goddamn calculator, but all we got were the long-awaited cleanup of the multitasking interaction model and free placement of last year’s widgets, plus everything else new on the iPhone side.

I may be remembering things wrong, but there wasn’t any news on the Apple TV apart from spatial audio support, and watchOS is just grinding out more of the same, expansion pack style, with new workout and mindful activity types.

Spatial audio is quite a big deal, though. I recently watched some Dolby Atmos enabled videos content on my new iPad with AirPods, and it really works. With the launch of Atmos music tracks on Apple Music this week, I spent some time listening to old and new tracks to put it through its paces. I tend to agree with everyone who’s observed that the rock music examples are generally terrible, and the effect works best on jazz and classical music — where even studio cuts usually strive to reproduce the context of a live performance. The new spatial remixes of vintage jazz records have more atmosphere and you can point around you to where each player seems to be seated. Perhaps it’s like colorizing old photos, gimmicky and impure to some, but bringing them closer in space and time nonetheless. I think the technology is a positive development.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 22.21: The metagame is tying up loose ends that are other games

  • It was a good week in playing video games. I finished a bunch I’ve had in various states of completion, some for years. A much neater base (mentally) from which to start attacking the backlog of unplaced games in the weeks to come.
  • First up was Yakuza Kiwami (2016), a remake of the first Yakuza game on PS2, built ground-up in the same engine as Yakuza 0 (2015). I started this over a year ago, which sounds like a long time but when it comes to video games my memory just… saves them, and I was able to get right back into the story. Finishing this has put Yakuza 0 much lower in my queue… it’s just not as polished as Yakuza 6, whose Dragon Engine powers Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Judgment.
  • After finishing Kiwami, I immediately bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 on sale to be played later on. Since I got Judgment a few weeks ago, I decided to get right into it, and found that it’s hilariously a straight-up redeployment of all the Yakuza series’ assets into a “new” game by the same team. It’s set in the same part of Shinjuku, and all the shops and items are exactly the same. It feels great to be able to navigate by feel, and know the space. But yeah it looks tons better than it did in Kiwami 1.
  • The second game to be finished was The World Ends With You (TWEWY) which I mentioned awhile back. I’m now all set for the sequel in July. After that, I blazed through Shadow of the Tomb Raider which I bought last November in anticipation of having time to play around Christmas. I only got halfway through, and it was nice to finally put a pin in this reboot trilogy. IMO, the first game was great. I liked the isolated survival vibes of Lara being lost on a single island, outsmarting her captors. The next two games went for globetrotting and doubled down on supernatural elements. Impressive to play and look at, but not as “fun”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve returned to Persona 5 Strikers which was put aside two hours after being bought and started back in February. Also very satisfying, because I really hate the feeling of having stuff half done and lying all about.
  • Went out twice this week for evening walks. The second time was also to go somewhere and use up excess fuel in our car before sending it off to be scrapped this weekend. It’s reached the end of its legally usable lifespan, and so we’re required to turn it over. Instead of immediately going on the (used) market for another vehicle, we’re going to try and see how long we can do without one and use public transport instead. Our needs have changed now, and it’s also saving a lot of money.
  • I watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead on Netflix, which I was led to believe would be the worst film of all time. Thanks perhaps to lowered expectations, plus my recent enduring of his 4-hour Justice League cut, it turned out to be a fine and gory use of time.
  • We continued watching season 1 of Servant on Apple TV+, which I expected would be mostly horror. Instead it’s only a little creepy and occasionally funny, with lots of effective mystery/question dangling to keep you trying to find out what the hell is going on. I stayed an M. Night Shyamalan fan even through those years his stock was falling, so I may be biased.
  • Speaking of holding things as they fall: the markets these few weeks, eh?
  • In COVID news, the cases have “stabilized”, which is a way of saying we’re still getting 20+ cases a day in the community but that number isn’t growing. The Prime Minister is set to address the nation live on Monday afternoon (tomorrow), so let’s see what that’s about.
  • Elsewhere, it’s looking a little bleaker. Cases are rising in some countries, Vietnam has discovered a new variant that is more transmissible, and I just read that the vaccines are less effective on women than on men. My wife is planning a visit to the UK soon for familial reasons, which is probably unwise today and hopefully does not become unwiser still.

Week 21.21: Partly immune, getting into the rhythm of rest, and asking What’s A Computer?

I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Although most people say the side effects (fevers, full-body aches, headaches, oversleeping) are really only felt with the second dose, I was apprehensive. It turned out okay, kinda mild muscle ache on the one bicep and some tiredness that I can’t be sure isn’t just my normal sluggishness.

Step 1 of the vaccination process at a community center

Community infection cases have been on the rise. The new measures I mentioned last week have kicked in, so there’s no more dining out or meeting in groups, which is expected to bring numbers down in another week or two. Until then, this is how it looked this week.

Infections in the community:
Mon: 21
Tue: 27
Wed: 34
Thu: 27
Fri: 30
Sat: 22
Sun: 21

My vacation time started on Tuesday, so the four weekdays were mostly spent lazing about and looking at screens. I watched my money go up but mostly down. I continued checking my work email and following up on a few messages, out of habit. So this process of unwinding looks to take awhile; I don’t really feel like my break has properly begun.

I started journaling privately again, to have a record of how I’m spending my time. Perhaps these public posts will become shorter and more to the point over time as a result?

I got back to playing 2064: Read Only Memories on the Switch after a long time. My initial reaction to it was disappointment, mostly in the clunky non-touch UI and annoying voice acting, so I put it aside after half an hour and haven’t touched it in maybe a year? I figured I should get some mileage out of the purchase and tie up loose ends before playing other games. I finally finished it on the weekend. It’s better than I thought it’d be, but wouldn’t recommend you get it if you already have a healthy backlog of games to get through.

This week was also the release of the new iPad Pro models. My 11” in silver arrived Friday, and wow it’s a nice change from my last one. Face ID in concert with the Magic Keyboard makes me really glad I got this and not the iPad Air. You can just open it up, tap the space bar, and the thing unlocks and you’re in (like on a MacBook with Apple Watch).

Finally able to enjoy spatial audio with a screen bigger than my iPhone’s, I sat down to watch two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and let me tell you, it actually justifies Apple’s use of the word “magic”. I can’t wait to hear the new Atmos mixes for albums on Apple Music. Yes, it made me kinda regret not getting the 13” model with the XDR screen. Maybe next time.

Speaking of Apple Music, Muji has put nearly all their BGM albums up for streaming. I bought a couple of them as CDs back in the day — you may recall their corrugated cardboard sleeves for sale on the shelves beside those wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa. I tried looking these up years ago and was disappointed there was no way to get them digitally. Prayer answered.

In TV land, we found a way to watch the latest season of Gogglebox, which I still highly recommend to everyone. One of the episodes started to show the new season (#6) of Line of Duty, and we had to stop there because we hadn’t seen it yet. Netflix only has up to season 5 right now. One entire Sunday later, and we finished the whole season and are now completely done with the series.