- As sabbatical weeks go, this one was more social than most. I saw my parents for a bit, met long-time blog mentionee Cien for coffee and a photo walk, and had a marathon-length FaceTime catchup with my friend Tōbi who’s been back in Germany and out of touch since before the pandemic.
- Starting a podcast may have come up, an idea I’m not mad about, because who needs more audio content clogging up the internet (said as someone who almost never makes time for podcasts)? Still, there might be value in pursuing things that never will see the light of day, if only for the process itself.
- Last month at the 9.9 sale on Lazada and other local e-commerce platforms, I successfully avoided pre-ordering an OLED Switch. This month on 10.10, I succumbed and picked up a white one. I’m looking forward to using my Switch undocked, which I almost never do these days because of the awful screen quality. In reality I know this will only be an hour or two a month, at best.
- I really shouldn’t have, though, because I also fell victim to a sort of phishing scam this week and lost some money. It got me really down for a couple of days, beyond what the money called for, because I just blamed myself for being so stupid. The cure was just spending more money, in the end.
- We’ve been watching Seinfeld which is now on Netflix, sequentially and from the top. It holds up amazingly well, picture quality aside. Yeah some jokes and topics probably wouldn’t fly today on primetime TV, if such a thing even exists. But it’s a cozy show, with a great cast of characters, and perfect for evening just-one-more viewing.
- We also binged a French mystery drama called Gone For Good in an entire afternoon. It’s based on a novel of the same name by one Harlan Coben who seems to have bulk-sold his oeuvre to Netflix-owned studios in various countries; there are Harlan Coben shows from Spain, France, the UK, and the US if you go looking. It starts off well enough, with lots of puzzles and twists, but the resolution eventually relies on massive coincidences and unwinding all the complexity to reveal not quite enough in the middle. I suspect all of them might be like that, so I won’t see another unless told otherwise.
- The mooncake festival is over, but I finally got my hands on a bunch of double-salted-yolk ones, which are now being slowly savored out of the refrigerator on a daily basis. I haven’t weighed myself in several months and don’t want to.
- I started reading David Mitchell’s Number9Dream and will probably take it in slowly over a couple of weeks. So far it’s intriguing, different, quite brilliant.
- Like everyone else in the world, we saw the Squid Game series on Netflix. Most of it at 1.25x speed, because it’s unnecessarily slow moving at times, dragged out for god knows what reasons. It could have been done in fewer episodes, but that doesn’t help Netflix I suppose. Most of it was watched in the English dub, because we heard the subs aren’t entirely accurate and the dub script differs in places (so at least we get two incorrect signals to triangulate rather than just one), and also because the original performances are a little… whiny? I’ve seen takes proclaiming it the ‘most disturbing show ever’, going on about its hellish vision, saying it’s given people nightmares, and so on. I can’t understand why. There’s not much new in its rehashed survival contest/psychological horror tropes, and they even appear often in comics and anime. I remember being disturbed by videos of awful bum fights back in the early days of the internet. The real world is the most disturbing show ever.
- Covid cases here exploded-ed-ed even further, nearly touching 3,000 cases a day at one point. Despite that, I went out a couple of times and had coffee with an old friend I mentioned here back in June. We hadn’t properly talked in about two decades, but have reconnected now thanks to Twitter and Telegram. She lives elsewhere but came back to town on some unexpected business, and I’m glad we had the chance to meet.
- We also had a couple of friends over, and all of this irl activity hasn’t been as bad as I might have once felt. Don’t get me wrong, I still love being alone, but maybe not having to interact with people daily for work has recharged my social battery. But it’s still a broken one with <80% battery health, though. Don’t make me go to things. Especially if I have to dress up. <— Note to wife.
- My iPhone 13 Pro arrived earlier than estimated, which prompted discussion of whether Apple and its delivery partners are deliberately underpromising and overdelivering, and whether they should stop this because it’s inconvenient for people who’ve made plans to be home on a certain date only to be suddenly told “it’s coming tomorrow”. It worked out fine for me this time. I am satisfied to have it, but haven’t had much occasion to test the new camera out much. More to come.
- Inspired by a Twitter account I started following for its vibrant and vibey film photography, I made a preset in Darkroom that tries to get at the look: faded green shadows, soft magenta tones, lots of grain, and a steep ramp up into blown-out highlights. I also separately recreated the look of the “Positive Film” effect on my first-gen Ricoh GR, and I think I got quite close by shooting a color chart with both cameras for reference. Sadly, Darkroom removed the ability to share presets quite awhile back when they rebuilt the app, and we’re still waiting for that feature to be reintroduced.
- Kanye updated Donda with a few subtle changes, so I re-added the album to my Apple Music library and put it on several times over. I haven’t been playing it much since it came out, but the music has had time to sit in my subconscious and open up. Now after this booster shot, I’m beginning to see it’s a better album than I first gave it credit for. It might be my favorite of the year in a couple of months.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.