Week 20.21

  • Community Covid cases in Singapore continued to rise. We were getting over 20 a day for a bit, which prompted new soft lockdown measures. Although stores can remain open with fewer visitors at a time, dining out is now on hold. Restaurants will have to survive on takeout and deliveries. You can’t be out walking about in groups of three or more. Basically, we’re staying home again for the next month unless absolutely necessary.
  • This coincides with the start of my vacation time, but it’s alright because I wasn’t intending to do much outdoors for the time being anyway. There’s a long list of entertainment options to get through, so I just need to focus on the content and resist the stupid urge to buy a PS5 or new TV.
  • Back in the days of the Nintendo DS, I absolutely loved The World Ends With You (TWEWY), a rare action RPG that nailed combat, music, art direction, setting (Shibuya), and story. Just thinking about it invokes the sort of nostalgia normally reserved for long-gone places where I used to hang out. A sequel is coming out this July after 14 years! So I’m now replaying the original on my iPhone and watching the new anime series in anticipation.
  • I’ve mentioned before how open-world games set in real cities have become a proxy for being able to visit them during the pandemic. If I started playing TWEWY in 2007, then it was probably shortly after my first visit to Tokyo. Perhaps this played a part in how much I like being there. Well, I bought Judgment for the PS4 last week, and will be getting on that as soon as I give finishing Yakuza Kiwami another go next week. The Yakuza games are great for this sort of virtual tourism, replete with all the sounds you hear on the street, like the actual Don Quijote jingle for instance.
  • I discovered a new Apple Music feature by accident: since iOS 14.5 you can search/browse by record label. I got really excited about this, because it means you can look up, say, the entire Verve catalog of jazz classics. When I shared this with someone, they didn’t understand why someone would want to do that. Okay then.
  • Reading: still on The Diamond Age, if you can call 10 minutes a week active reading. Just not been in the mood.
  • Netflix: we watched the new Vox Explained series about Money, which is really about Money in America, which is really about how fucked up Money in America is. We all know about student loans (and the high cost of education), credit cards, scams and misleading ads, casinos, and lack of retirement savings, but I couldn’t see the scale at which these problems impact American society. We have them too, but there are thankfully some non-optional systems that help people save and insure themselves.

Week 18.21

  • COVID cases have re-emerged in the community here, after many months of quiet, just a week after Bloomberg put Singapore at the top of a worldwide list of the safest cities to be right now. The main cluster is centered around a hospital where I believe a nurse was infected, and 27 linked cases have been discovered so far. The entire ward has been quarantined and thousands of patients in the hospital have been tested. Somehow, there are also cases at a secondary school, and I saw a headline about a spa technician being another one. So the scope of this will probably expand a little over the next week.
  • Already, the government has backtracked on its previous recommendations to have the majority of employees return to offices. We’re now being told to work from home where possible. It’s my opinion that this should simply be the default recommendation forevermore.
  • We tried watching more Runaways on Disney+ after last weekend, but it’s not sticking anymore. Its initial narrative energy, all nitrous borrowed from its subversive premise, has burnt out. Each episode is now a meandering, time-wasting YA cringefest. I think we’re going to quit it at this point in the middle of season 1.
  • I was in the mood for a dumb action movie over the weekend but had a lot of trouble finding one quickly on Netflix. I eventually settled on Bloodshot, which is a Universal Soldier-alike vehicle for Vin Diesel, who I remember starting out as a likable personality but by all accounts today is a horrible person/co-worker and something of a modern day Steven Seagal on the set. I made it maybe halfway through before quitting out of boredom.
  • If you’re looking for a recommendation: Without Remorse, starring Michael B. Jordan and out now on Amazon Prime Video, is not a shit film at all. In fact, it has fresh ideas that make for a couple of original-feeling set pieces.
  • Birdy has a new album out, which I discovered through this video for the single, Second Hand News. Apple Music’s liner notes says she had writer’s block after a breakup, and these new songs were shaken loose after she rediscovered Joni Mitchell’s “conversational songwriting”. I love it. It does feel a little Joni.

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Right after I published last week’s post with a picture of my new HEY.com t-shirt, the founders of the company released a controversial statement about how they wouldn’t allow “distracting” non-work discussions in the workplace anymore, which resulted in a PR shitshow and about 30% of their company publicly quitting on Twitter.

I haven’t looked deeply into the details, but some parts I skimmed suggested a toxic environment and leadership style mixed with the ever-inflamed issues of race and politics in the US. Who knows if they’ll get the message and rebuild their culture, but I’d be upset if it means I’ll have to change my email address again. The amount of mental time spent on that deliberation last year was enough for another decade. I really like the service so far and would subscribe for a second year.

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Not at all related to a toxic workplace is the small announcement I can now make that I’ll be taking some time off in a few weeks to enjoy a long-wished-for sabbatical. The Currently Reading/Playing/Watching aspects of these updates will probably expand. I can’t wait to start on my backlog of games and books.

As mentioned several times in the past few months, I’ve been feeling in need of a recharge and also interested in the concept of mini-retirements throughout life. Granted, I can’t travel in this current climate, but there’s still plenty of room to develop new interests, ideas, and directions. As I enter the second half (hopefully not third) of my so-called career, it seems like it’s worth taking a wider view of what other kinds of value can be extracted from the ever-diminishing energy and light of this short stay on Earth. Maybe I’ll get into finger painting?

A few weeks ago while writing one of these posts, I referenced an article about the nature of work, and was slightly irritated by its very broad definition. It used “work” to encompass all labor, whether for the purposes of making a living or not. Contributions to society, to one’s family, towards your own interests and goals — all of it was called work. I preferred using the word to mean paid labor only, and thought it was quite a privileged stance to include all sorts of things one freely chooses to do. There are too many people toiling at their limits to stay fed and sheltered, dreaming of the day they can finally rest in the absence of work: retirement, the promised realm of reward.

However now that I’m on the precipice of free time, I can see a little dimly through that lens. For those with the opportunity to opt out of paid labor, even if only for a little while, a new terror appears in the form of questioning “am I relevant? Am I valuable?” Freed from our contracts, we want to fill the gaping hole in our calendars with Meaningful and Impactful activities. We want to do work in any form. If we’re raising a child, we tell everyone it’s “a full-time job”. If we’re volunteering out of passion at a non-profit organization, we say we’re finally “doing our lives’ work”.

I don’t disagree with this use of the word now. It’s not that we should label everything we do as work; it’s that all purposeful activity can fairly be called work. Anything that takes something out of you to produce an outcome is work, and we should all engage in it for as long as we can, even after we stop being traditionally employed. Your work can be about learning, teaching, or doing. It can find you producing or repairing, supporting or leading, communicating or meditating. It can be social or entirely solitary. Even when we take the time to rest, it’s in service of our work. Retirement might be the wrong state to aspire to, after all. It’s dying, becoming inert; all subtraction and invisibility.

In this tiredness, I so badly want to do nothing, but I’m also afraid I won’t let myself. Or that I shouldn’t. We’ll see what comes of it in the months to come.

Week 16.21

We had a series of strong storms this week. It’s bright out now as I type this, and yet I’m still hearing distant thunder. When they get going, these rumbles send deeply unsettling bass throughout the house, and the torrents of rain above make me imagine a hole opening up in our ceiling. They turn the mid-afternoon depressingly dark and they’ve been coinciding with conference calls, which makes me feel like I’m working at night. Because Singapore is so small, I often hear thunderclaps on a colleague’s end of the line just seconds before hearing it for real. Saturday was especially bad, with some streets kinda flooding with about a foot of water, which made me rethink going out to our dinner reservations.

However, the $70 penalty for no-shows was a great motivator. We had a good steak dinner at a restaurant that I, no joke, got served the day before in an Instagram ad. There’s a lot of junk being sold through Instagram ads, but fortunately this was a quality discovery. I did my homework via TripAdvisor and Google reviews, at least, and they have a 4.5-star average that I can corroborate on the basis of last night’s meal.

Come to think of it, there was a lot of eating out this week. On Tuesday night, spontaneously, we decided to go out for one quick drink at the neighborhood bar before dinner. This ended with a total shitfacing on soju and beer before 10pm. I haven’t had a hangover in a very long while, but Wednesday morning convinced me not to try that again.

Friday night, Kim made a leg of lamb for dinner with her parents. It roasted away for a good six hours, and because the doors weren’t closed, we had a delicious muttony and rosemaryish aroma in every room over the whole weekend. Which… might have subconsciously led us down the path of an over-the-top Korean BBQ on Sunday night. My birthday’s coming up, so I’ll blame all the weight gain on that.

We’re still watching Gogglebox most nights. One old lady, Shirley, is fond of saying “shitting hell” in reaction to things on TV, which cracks me up. She probably chose it as a less vulgar way of saying “fucking hell”, but because it’s such an unusual pairing, it sounds even more offensive.

Her husband remarked to her in one episode, “you’ve never had Indian food, have you?”, which blew my mind. She just wasn’t interested in trying it, or anything else exotic. She was also handed an avocado at one point, and had no idea what it was.

A couple of days later, I saw these tweets:

The linked article from the Guardian is about a farmer who’s had the same dinner every night for the last 10 years, and is totally fine with it. He says “I’m not interested in other food. I’ve never had Chinese, Indian, French food. Why change? I’ve already found the food I love.” And what’s this food, you ask? “Two pieces of fish, one big onion, an egg, baked beans and a few biscuits at the end.”

I don’t have a problem with a couple of odd people being perfectly satisfied with their uniform dressing routines, or some others not having the sense of adventure that leads them to visit underdeveloped countries or dangerous natural environments on holiday. But celebrating a life where you don’t bother to try eating (just eating!) things that billions of other people have agreed are awesome; that’s kinda strange. It’s such a low risk/effort for high reward scenario.

That’s enough about food. I’ve been playing a lot of the new Star Trek: Legends mobile game, a story-driven strategy gacha game that has no in-app monetization as per the rules of Apple Arcade. If you’ve ever wondered how such a game would play out without the usual pay-to-win mechanics, they’ve still got timers and time-limited events, but you can earn all the currency you need by grinding, and the reward rates are generous. I can’t tell if I’ve had enough yet, but I may keep going to see where the story goes and hopefully unlock Picard and Data.

I read just one chapter of The Diamond Age this week, which is an utter embarrassment. Fortunately, I’m going to have some free time coming up soon, so my Goodreads 2021 Reading Challenge target of 24 books has no reason to worry.

I see Michael’s posted his weeknotes already, and recommended this 20-minute video on Portishead’s debut, Dummy. I’m still watching it, but it’s definitely worth your time if you know and love the album.

Week 11.21

  • We put the Disney+ account to use this weekend by trying out a bunch of TV series that we’ll probably never resume, including The Orville (surprisingly high production values, but not very funny and a little time-wastey) and Empire (starting with the first season from 2015 is rough, it feels dated already). I also gave in and decided to give the Mandalorian a go. At least it looks expensive AND new.
  • Did I mention that we’ve started watching a derivative medical drama on Netflix called New Amsterdam? It started as mindless background TV, but its relentless (and satisfying) crisis-drama-relief formula exposes the gaps in pacing and focus that “better shows” have. Having spent most of her life watching series like this has given Kim the ability to call out all the plot points before they happen, whereas I’m still surprised by most of them. It’s seriously spooky, and I recommend her if any screenwriters need a consult.
  • Nothing’s too small to mention, so I’ll say that 7-Eleven Singapore has created a chicken katsudon onigiri which is a monstrosity I suppose, but it’s also quite good and the first onigiri they’ve made that’s good enough. It’s one of those round ones, topped with a NOT-OVERCOOKED layer of fried egg and onion, with a chunk of fried chicken in the middle.
  • The week was nothing to write home about. I went for one long evening walk that produced a couple of photos worth keeping. I had a little time for a triumphant return to Call of Duty Mobile. I heard the new songs from Utada Hikaru and Rosé and they didn’t knock me out. But thanks to the YouTube algorithm, I discovered a CALCULATOR COVER of Utada’s “One Last Kiss”, and the creator’s channel is full of them. When tech companies talk about unlocking human potential and ingenuity, I hope this is the sort of thing they mean because it’s awesome.

Week 48.20

  • One of the weakest weeks so far; it feels like nothing really happened.
  • But maybe that’s not entirely true. I went out on at least three occasions and met with several people to drink and catch up — in the same week where COVID cases have re-emerged in the community after about 15 days without a single one.
  • I also learnt about an impressive feature in PowerPoint: Zoom Summary Slides. It’s a sure sign you had a shit week if the first thing that comes to mind when you try to think of highlights is a Microsoft Office trick. I’m really looking forward to the Christmas break, whether it feels like Christmas this year or not.
  • OH I almost ordered a new M1 MacBook or iPad Air in a fit of irritation with new corporate security policies that prevent my work computer from connecting to any external storage (I just wanted to load a file onto my Kobo e-reader, come on). I calmed down and decided to keep waiting for the A14 iPad Pro.
  • A couple of loose thoughts: Thanksgiving reunions in the US are almost certainly going to lead to another surge in cases before the holidays. The result will be more fatalities, reduced spending, and a stock market wobble. If I were investing regularly, I might put that on hold and anticipate a corresponding rise in certain digital assets in the same period. But I’m not qualified to give any investment advice.
  • I haven’t had a really complex or immersive dream in awhile. While recalling some past ones in a discussion the other night, I was reminded of a dream phenomenon that makes no sense and started to wonder if it was a common experience.
  • It goes like this: you’re in a dream and start to hear a sound that makes sense in the context of the dream. Then you wake up, and realize the sound is actually happening in the real world, but something different. It’s the classic movie trope where someone is kissing their object of affection in a dream and awakens to their dog licking their face.
  • But how did your brain make perfect dream sense of the sound in real time? For instance, your alarm clock goes off near you, and in your dream you hear it as a school bell, but for what felt like the last hour, that school scenario had already been playing out in your head. Like you’re in a class that’s nearly ended, so it makes sense that the bell rang.
  • I can only see two explanations: the more impossible one being that your brain anticipated the alarm clock and set up the whole school dream in advance of it happening, and the other is that it hears the alarm clock, and then constructs the interpretation (school bell) and sells the illusion by retroactively creating the school scenario, and backdating your experience of forward-moving time, so that it feels like you were dreaming the school scenario all along. In other words, with the one indisputable marker being the alarm clock in real life, the school bell story can only be made up after the fact, but is so convincingly retconned that you remember living through the whole setup in an instant. I know it sounds like I’ve been smoking something, but if we can construct a reality around us that was always true, doesn’t it mean our subconscious minds already know what it feels like to exist outside of time?
  • ANYWAY, as a long-time skeptic of Korean television, I was surprised to enjoy season 1 of Stranger (on Netflix), a policewoman and prosecutor buddy format murder investigation show, and can now safely recommend it. Yes, some people still overact the hell out of their parts with dramatic glares, but at least it’s tonally consistent and the two leads are very good.
  • Here’s a song of the week pick although I only played it once: Awich’s totally straight, non-rap cover of Happy Xmas (War Is Over).

➟ Brian Regan: The Epitome of Hyperbole [Netflix]

➟ Brian Regan: The Epitome of Hyperbole [Netflix]

Really great, profanity-free stand-up comedy. He brings a lot more energy to the stage than Jim Gaffigan, whose shows we also watched a couple of nights ago. They’re both great acts and worth looking up, but Regan’s older material is rock solid, while you can jump straight to Gaffigan’s newer stuff and not miss much.