This post is delayed on account of the Lunar New Year weekend; hope you had a good one if you celebrate!
After two years of restrictions and fear (not to mention peace and quiet), we returned to the old chaos with a few family gatherings and house visits. Unfortunately, one of my favorite parts of the whole thing, a large reunion dinner on the Eve with some of our most senior relatives, was still off the table on account of their mounting health issues. I wonder if we’ll ever get a chance to see everyone on that side of the family all together again.
I brought my GR III out to capture some of these moments, and fortunately Ricoh released their previously mentioned new Diary Edition model just the day before, which meant the firmware update for older models to get their new Negative film-inspired “Image Control” mode was also released. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on these settings: Saturation +1, High Key +2, Contrast +1, Shadow Exposure -1. Am looking forward to using it for more everyday snaps in 2023.
While hanging around with some relatives in the afternoon of Day 1, a few of us downloaded the Dimensional personality test app and began answering its slew of profiling questions to compare our toxic traits, love languages, and all that. It co-opts a bunch of well-known existing frameworks like the MBTI and so on into one gigantic pile of traits. Does that constitute a unique and proprietary offering? I don’t know, but it’s fun enough and free. Be warned, completing all available questions can take over an hour.
Speaking of apps, my advance pick for 2023’s game of the year launched this week on Apple Arcade: Pocket Card Jockey Ride On. It’s a remake of the Nintendo 3DS eShop exclusive now fixed up with better graphics and subtle gameplay tweaks. If you never played the original, do yourself a favor and give it a try. It’s an addictive solitaire-based game; the main downside (for me) is it’s time-based and needs some concentration and so isn’t something you can play while in a noisy environment.
My Mastodon use has fallen off a little. I actually prefer Twitter’s algorithmic timeline to a chronological one because I tend to follow too many people to keep up, and need some help sifting out the “best” content from the rest. Mastodon is beginning to give me the uncomfortable feeling of a full inbox, but perhaps I should simply follow fewer people.
The general rule around here is to avoid talking about work — although it is usually such a big cost center for my time — but we had a new colleague relocate from Shanghai, and it was nice welcoming them to town and having a couple of impromptu beers on a weekday night.
Last episode, I mentioned seeing some Tezos NFT art at Singapore Art Week. Well I came across one of the pieces for sale (entitled D-909 Groove Arcade) and decided to go through the trouble of creating a Tezos wallet and getting some funds in so I could buy it. It’s one edition out of 167, and so was only like USD$20, but I’m super happy to have it. Can art be absolutely adorable and funky at the same time? Provably yes!
I also continued generating non-existent videogame screenshots using Midjourney, expanding the fictional timeline to include modern-day remakes of old games. I should spend more time pushing this idea further but so far I’ve only done it in spare moments or when I should really be doing something else.
Everything But The Girl is back after what feels like decades, and the video for their new single is an incredible piece of choreography and one-take execution. I could only think of the immense pressure on each person not to fuck up. Dimensional seems to concur, reporting that my main motivation is Security.
We kind of started planning our trip to Japan later this year, but there’s still a lot to figure out in terms of what to do, and where to spend our time. It seems a lot of the popular hotels and destinations are selling out fast, if not already sold out, because of the resumption of travel out of China. I’m going to use this as a test of two new collaboration features in iOS and macOS: shared Safari Tab Groups, and the new Freeform whiteboarding app. In theory this should allow us to gather links to interesting ideas and plot them out together across our devices over several days.
On Friday afternoon, I was excited to see an article saying that one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had was finally coming to Singapore. In fact, it was their opening day, and we decided to just go down right after work to try and get a seat. After about 20 minutes of queuing (which was nothing compared to the maybe three hours we spent in line for the main restaurant in Tokyo), we got into Nakiryu at Plaza Singapura, and were sorely disappointed. For starters, their signature Szechuan-style Tan Tan/Dan Dan noodles were sold out. We ordered shio and shoyu ramen instead, and they were roundly mediocre. The service was also spotty and uncoordinated.
It’s a pattern that the local franchisee Japan Food Holdings (who’ve done the same thing with Afuri and others) seems to be repeating: bring in a brand people are excited for, then do nothing to capture the original taste and quality. I suspect if you did a side-by-side comparison of the ramen from several of their brands, you’d find they’re just selling the same product under different names. Sadly, they’ve probably got the connections to get these deals and as long as the money flows in, the original companies don’t care how badly it’s done outside of Japan.
Singapore Art Week is back and we attended two events: SEA Focus and the creatively named Art SG. The former’s at Keppel Distripark where the Singapore Art Museum’s temporary spot is, and features a little NFT art corner sponsored by Tezos. In contrast to the other exhibits, I found the work in there refreshingly playful, modern, vibey.
At Art SG (a large and mostly serious gallery fair over two floors at Marina Bay Sands), I also found myself reacting more to the digital or digitally inspired work. There was a large print of a CloneX pfp, attributed to Murakami, mounted on a wall that I saw from across the hall and made a beeline towards. The Pace gallery (which I only happen to know because of their collaborations with Art Blocks) space featured teamLab’s NFT project, and a James Turrell projection. The teamLab one is cool: anyone can download and run the artwork (an app) on their PC or Mac. These are regarded as authentic and valid copies of the work. However, one can also own an NFT of the work (there are only 7), and these collectors can change the text seen in the art for everyone else. Oh, and they’re $200,000 each.
Elsewhere, I saw a work that was a white flag printed with a surrender message that I’d read before but didn’t know where. I googled the text but nothing came up. Later, I found a tweet from early 2022 referencing it: an on-chain exchange between two MEV… “searchers”? The tweets only have between a couple hundred and a couple thousand likes, so it’s probably not a widely known thing. But I definitely saw and remembered it from last year, which means I’ve spent too much time spectating in a very small fringe community. And my time spent appreciating generative art has definitely ruined traditional abstract art for me.
Speaking of which, I was excited to add an edition of The Field by Beer van Geer to my collection this week. It’s an interesting (animated) work in that all 369 pieces are different views of the same “territory”, starting at random points, zoom levels, and rendered with different palettes, but viewers of any section can move away from those starting points and explore. As I understand it, the field itself was created from noise data created by aggregating hundreds of images from the artist’s body of work, trying to derive a sort of pattern map or artistic fingerprint from their ouevre. Isn’t that so much more exciting than static paint on canvas??
Ricoh announced a new special edition of the GR III compact camera, called the “Diary Edition”. Yeah it sounds like one of those translated-from-Japanese names that sounds slightly awkward in English, but I like it. As a name, you can’t get much clearer about the concept of a camera that you’re meant to carry around to intentionally document everyday life, and it even comes with a new “negative film” look that will also come to older GR III models via a firmware update. Whether or not this behavior is one that users will actually embrace when they already have smartphones, I don’t know. I suspect not, outside for a few glorious weirdos. But the atmosphere and quality of these photos could hardly be more different than your smartphone snaps, unless you go the film route.
As a new colorway, I also love the look of the Diary Edition.
Here are a couple of photos I took with my GR III on the way to the art fair:
We watched a couple of spy TV shows, of which Jack Ryan’s season 2 was the undisputed best. We’ll start on season 3 soon.
Miyachi’s second album, Crows, is out. I heard it through once and it’s a bop. I don’t know what he’s rapping about but I’m sure it’s slightly problematic.
I finished Arcade Spirits but can’t recommend it if you’ve got many great games in your Switch backlog. To recap, it’s a Western visual novel about running a video game arcade. Some of the background art is basic and not very polished. I was struck several times by the thought that a game creator today could create far better generic bar/beach/arcade interior background art in seconds using AI. And they probably will/are already. So as an artifact of our pre-AI phase, Arcade Spirits stands out as a bit lacking in the production quality department.
Here’s a tweet showing a game prototype someone purportedly threw together using AI tools to create the graphics, icons, and voice acting!
Quite coincidentally, I started experimenting with Midjourney prompts on Monday trying to get the EGA/VGA PC game look of the Sierra games I played in the 80s and 90s. I found a good solution and started using it to visualize screenshots of #fictionalgames from the golden era of PC games, ones that never existed, or that might be made today with modern concepts.
Further COVID measures were lifted here this week: masks are no longer required indoors with the exception of medical facilities and public transport. I’m not sure this is entirely a good idea, but The Rest of the World apparently demands it so we’ll have to see what happens now.
Coincidentally, but so quickly that it can’t be related to the above, someone from work tested positive the day after they were at the office with a bunch of other people (I was home that day). That understandably got some worried and we made plans to work remotely for the rest of the week.
I was meant to meet Rob one final time before he went home to the UK, but then his whole family came down with something and we had to cancel. Thankfully, not Covid. Note to self: get a flu shot soon.
Kim left on Sunday for a work trip, which gave me time to try out Ooblets, a cozy new indie game on the Switch which has you moving to start a new life on an island called Oob (definite Harvest Moon and Animal Crossing influences here), but throws in cute creatures (the titular Ooblets), card-based dance battles, and a lovely low-poly pastel style that recalls Untitled Goose Game. So far so fun; it’s very light hearted and the busywork doesn’t feel like a chore yet.
The introductory price of $20 (down from $30) and their very nice FAQ sealed the deal for me:
Q. Will Ooblets be a phone app or free to play? No, it’s just a normal game you buy with money, like you might buy a vacuum cleaner or a kebab
Can I submit ooblet designs for you to use in the game? Unfortunately we can’t use any designs you send in due to intellectual property stuff we don’t really understand.
I also started playing Wolfenstein: The New Colossus which I also got on sale, and boy are the Switch and its Pro Controller not ideal for FPS games. It’s a quality production underneath, if overly violent and depressing, but the low detail and sluggish response time simulates having cataracts and about 30 extra years of age. When I found a YouTube clip recorded from the PC version, the quality difference was shocking.
The reading slump is over! I returned to Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves, which I started back in May (over three months ago!!) and made some very enjoyable progress. I’m now about halfway through and at the end of Act 2, where the book’s title is finally explained. Since I’ll have quite a bit of alone time next week, I hope to keep going and maybe catch up on my annual reading challenge. Stephenson’s books should really count as three each, at least.
I minted my first artwork from Art Blocks in quite some time: The Inner World by Dominikus appeals to the part of me that likes glitchy abstract pieces, especially with the pseudo-3D shading that appears in roughly of these. I might be mostly alone in my appreciation though, as only 88 out of 400 have found owners so far.
My MidJourney use this week was limited to playing with their new photorealism-centric beta model (–testp). I generated a ton of portrait photos trying to make someone who looked like me, with no success, but the improvements are stunning. Where we used to be afraid of how faces would ruin an otherwise beautiful image — almost all of them were distorted and unnatural — they are now really coherent.
I met up with Rob again to talk side projects, debate the existence of meaningful work, and see some free art at the National Gallery. The children’s biennale was on and offered the most impressive sight of the entire visit, a massive work called Head/Home by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan.
It’s a sprawling installation pieced together from cardboard houses and elements, many customized and signed by visiting children. There’s also an online component on the above-linked site, where you can pick a space to “move into”. I was immediately struck by its resemblance to the Bidonville NFT project I bought into a few weeks ago; the drab uniformity of the cardboard and the haphazard placement of everything atop everything else recalls the appearance of a slum, but like in Bidonville, it’s presented with childlike wonder instead of judgment.
In the pursuit of more creative escapes, Rob’s also committed to blogging again, supposedly inspired by this weekly update. He’s put out a banger of a post already. We also started a game of doodle/caption tennis, where he draws something and I write the caption, with neither of us knowing what the other is doing. So far we’re four for four, and the combinations have made a sort of sense! Might start a blog or an account somewhere to put them if this exercise has legs.
Otherwise it’s been a somewhat physically exhausting week: my injured legs have made getting around more tedious and painful than normal; good sleep has eluded me; I’ve had a higher-than-acceptable number of frustrating “conversations”; my introvert’s social savings account went into overdraft with the number of people I’ve met, talked to, had dinner with; and the weekend has not felt very restful at all.
I played zero video games but managed to read a fair bit more of Seveneves. I may yet finish it this year.
We watched Five Days At Memorial, the new Apple TV+ series set in a hospital during Hurricane Katrina, and it’s one of those stories you can’t believe took place in recent history. Not only for the scale of the tragedy and how comparatively little we (me, anyway) remember of it, but the failure of government to prepare for something they should have known about from past experiences? Scratch that. It’s not surprising at all.
There’s a bit where someone says, “this is supposed to happen in third-world countries, not here”, and it just made me wanna go “oh, honey. I’ve got news for you…” at the TV.
I came up with the name Man-Sized Vase for a band I might like to be in one day. Shortly after that, I saw a man-sized vase on the Raffles Hotel’s grounds.
MidJourney briefly enabled a new beta model, for like a day, which made all outputs more realistic. It was reportedly a combination of their engine with the newly open-sourced Stable Diffusion model. Before they closed it down for “improvements”, I managed to make this masterpiece of a golden retriever drooling an entire river in the Amazon rainforest.
I fell down. It happened walking right in the middle of the sidewalk, where someone had decided to place stone benches, a civic design decision made nowhere else in the entire country that I know of. I’d just been avoiding its siblings in the moment before, most of them brightly painted, but the one that got me was dark gray, and it was 9pm and dim, and I was looking at a giant mural to the side while talking about it with my companions. We’d been out all day to see art, ending up at the ongoing Singapore Night Festival.
I stubbed my right big toe first, I think. Then my right shin. Then I toppled over the bench, knees first, palms outstretched. Smashed both knees down onto the concrete sidewalk from seating height, and thankfully avoided a broken face with my hands. Everything still hurts now, the day after. Maybe I’ve fractured the toe. It doesn’t want to bend. I think I’ll be okay, but any sympathy is welcome.
I got up quite quickly and felt the burn, but was alright to keep going. My friends said, “sit down for a minute and catch a breath, you’re over 40 now. Take it easy. It’s too late for parkour.” This is good advice in general.
Earlier that day with Rob (he’s back in town again, hence I took some time off), we saw the strange work of Australian artist Patricia Piccinini at the ArtScience Museum: We Are Connected. I suppose you could describe them as grotesque, body horror explorations of biological variety, mostly in the form of human-animal chimeras. Kim found the exhibition for us, saying “It’s weird. I think you’d both like it.” For the record, she would have hated it.
Rob said they reminded him of the work of Ron Mueck, so afterwards we dropped his name into a MidJourney prompt and created something not too far from what we’d seen.
Later in the evening, we visited another exhibition of AI-generated art, pieces clearly composited from MidJourney outputs — scenes similar to what we’ve also created playing with these tools. What happens to art some day when viewers can engage, challenge, and remix on equal footing with artists? When execution counts for nothing, and only what you’re saying matters (RIP the massive teams of studio interns)? Will you walk into a gallery and see a textual prompt and seed number in a frame? Hmm… gimme a minute!
One of the better things from that afternoon: a crude 3D animation about viruses, played across seven screens, with a shot of a man licking an android’s eyeball.
This was at the Singapore Art Museum’s temporary outpost at Keppel Distripark. Which is a pretty stark middle-of-nowhere-feeling industrial space, interesting in itself. We saw an old sign that said “climb the stairs to the fifth floor for more artwork”, which turned out to be a cruel exaggeration on a very hot afternoon. There was but one lonely birdhouse-sized installation, a sort of wind-powered music box based on structures we’d already seen on the first floor. But the view sort of made up for it, and watching shipping containers being loaded onto trucks is not bad at all.
I finally leveled up my deca.art Decagon to L30. Left with nothing else to shoot for, I bought a basic one and started leveling it up too.
This week’s been a good reminder that you’ve gotta have fun/meaningful things going on a regular basis, otherwise you’ll be left talking about LEVELING UP AN NFT as the most exciting thing that happened outside of taking an afternoon off and getting injured.
Last week I mentioned the MusicHarbour app and started talking to Michael about music recommendation engines. He mentioned Apple Music’s “For You” playlists, and I realized I hadn’t used any of them in weeks, maybe months. Today I tried my New Music Mix and discovered the RZA has put out new stuff both as himself and his Bobby Digital persona. Two album/EPs, actually! Saturday Afternoon Kung Fu Theater with DJ Scratch, and RZA presents: Bobby Digital and the Pit of Snakes. I also wanted to correct my earlier opinion of King Princess’s Hold On Baby: it’s grown on me and I love it now. The same thing happened with her previous single Pain. It sounded absolutely crap the first time I heard it, and then it absolutely slapped. How does she do it?
After three weeks of watching little else (thanks, Covid) we finished all the Bosch in the world. That’s 7 seasons of the original series and one season of Bosch Legacy — wherein he’s retired from the LAPD and working as a PI. The vibes are off; it struggles to maintain the structure and entertainment value that came with Bosch having a partner and a team. They try to do something interesting with the idea that he no longer has the authority of the law behind him, but far from enough to sell the new concept within 10 episodes.
My speakers and headphones have played even more jazz than usual thanks to Bosch’s record collection featuring prominently on the show. Lots of Art Pepper and Wes Montgomery. Pity it’s an Amazon Prime Video series (and they still don’t have all the episodes available here for god knows what reason). If it were on Apple TV+, I’d bet there would be a great companion playlist on Apple Music.
Spiritfarer continues to be a cosy little time sink on the Switch. That’s about all I’ve played.
I bought Into The Breach for the Nintendo Switch about two years ago and haven’t started it up once. Always meant to get around to it, you know how it goes. It’s a turn-based strategy game featuring giant mechs fighting off an alien invasion in pixel art style. This week, it released on iPhone/iPad as a Netflix game — totally free to play for subscribers. I’m unable to decide which platform I would rather play it on.
Speaking of Netflix, we (okay, we started together but I was left to watch the remaining 75% myself) saw their latest big-budget mess: The Gray Man. It’s supposedly based on a book, but it must have been a comic book because the tone is completely off for a globetrotting spy/assassin caper. It suffers from the Marvelization (actually, is this also Joss Whedon’s fault) of entertainment, where everything is jokey and wacky and the stakes always feel low and the one-liners are channeling Ryan Reynolds freestyling at an open mic night (you’d be forgiven for being confused that it’s Ryan Gosling here). Depending on how much you’re forgiving of Marvel Tone, it’s either a 2 or 3-star film, but add another star because Ana de Armas is in it.
We went to see the National Museum’s exhibition OFF/ON: Everyday Technology That Changed Our Lives, 1970s – 2000s. It starts very strong, with a recreation of an office out of the 70s and 80s — the Olivettis and stationery and furniture brought me back to messing around at my mom’s workplace as a child. Overhearing conversations are absolutely part of the experience: someone encountering a typewriter and asking “how do you backspace on this thing?”; kids expressing surprise that we had ‘emojis’ for texting back then (they were emoticons :D); a zoomer pointing at a roll of developed film negatives and saying to his friends that “they’re like SD cards, in a way”.
Disappointments: Only one old camera on display, an Olympus Pen. I was really hoping to see a nice collection, and some more detail on film photography, because honestly the kids have no idea. And the section on Gaming was woefully underdeveloped, like it got none of the budget at all — featuring just ONE retro-inspired pachinko-style game developed for the exhibition. They could have had a few screens showing videos of old games, or put in a couple of MAME cabinets for people to play on. Maybe down to copyright issues, oh well.
I came across a generative art project that immediately got my attention: Bidonville, by Julien Labat. The title translates to “slum”, and each of the 512 pieces features a randomized, chaotic, yet organic layout for its little dwellings. As the artist’s notes say, it’s a thoroughly serious subject rendered with childlike naïveté. It’s moving. And by pressing E and W on their keyboard, the viewer can supply or cut off electricity and water to the community, and see their effects in the lights at night, and laundry being hung out to dry.
Speaking of moving, I forgot to mention last week that I came across this poem so moving it stopped me from speaking.