The following is a post written by GPT-4 given a detailed brief by yours truly. The [H-AI] tag in the title declares this as human-supervised AI content.
In the tech world, it’s easy to get caught up in the latest and greatest. But sometimes, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at the innovations that brought us here. Today, I’m talking about the Nintendo 3DS and its 3D camera, a feature that seems to have found a spiritual successor in Apple’s newly announced Vision Pro headset.
The 3DS, launched in 2011, was a marvel of its time. It brought 3D gaming to the palms of our hands, no goofy glasses required. But the real kicker was its 3D camera. With two outer sensors capturing slightly different angles, it could take 3D photos and videos. It was a novelty, sure, but it was also a glimpse into the future.
The 3DS’s 3D camera was met with a mix of awe and skepticism. Some saw it as a gimmick, while others reveled in the new dimension it added to their photos and videos. Regardless of the reception, it was a bold move by Nintendo, a testament to their innovative spirit.
Fast forward to today, and we see Apple taking a page from Nintendo’s book with the Vision Pro. This VR headset lets you relive moments in dramatically higher resolution — a step up from the 3DS, but the core concept remains the same.
The 3DS may be discontinued, but its legacy lives on. It was a pioneer in 3D technology, a stepping stone to the immersive experiences we see today. As we anticipate the release of the Vision Pro next year, let’s not forget the devices that paved the way.
So here’s to the Nintendo 3DS, a trailblazer in its own right. And here’s to the Apple Vision Pro, a testament to how far we’ve come. The future of XR technology is bright, and I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next.
Six years after I booted up my Nintendo Switch for the first time and slotted in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’s cartridge, I finally took on the final boss this week and finished the game. Before you think this game is a monster (although it is), I effectively took a 5.5 year hiatus.
My first experience with the game was both exhilarating and overwhelming — here was a non-linear open-world adventure designed to be an exercise in self determinism. Yes, the princess has been locked in a bubble, literally waiting 100 years for you to wake up and save the kingdom, but that didn’t mean you had to hurry. You could decide to be a chef and spend time gathering rare ingredients and experimenting with recipes. You could examine every curious crevice of the natural landscape to discover the Korok seeds deviously placed by the designers, or climb foreboding mountains just for the hell of it (you’d probably find Korok seeds for your trouble).
This was a game that demanded longer play sessions — no dipping in for just five minutes — and frequent ones at that. You kind of had to remember what you were last doing and where you wanted to go next. So, faced with too much commitment and mental load, I started to distance myself from it and play other games instead.
If you’ve been following along in recent weeks, you’d know that the release of the sequel, Tears of the Kingdom, spurred me to try completing it once and for all. And it’s been quite the journey: I had to re-familiarize myself with the game’s laws of physics, Link’s complicated powers, and in the process discovered that I’d spent those first 40 hours or so essentially mucking around in just one corner of the world.
By last week, I’d finally uncovered the whole world’s layout, but with some places still unexplored and doubtlessly many secrets left to be found. I’d gotten good at fighting, and was told that I was ready for the final showdown with “Calamity Ganon”. Except… I wasn’t, not mentally.
So I spent this week’s game time mucking about and doing inconsequential side quests, like helping a group of arguing scientists collect evidence of giant monster skeletons using my digital camera (yes). And then, on Friday night, I said ‘fuck it’ fought my way to the center of the map, took the big baddie out, and saw the credits roll. It was an absolute anticlimax, partly because I was in a hurry and took a bunch of sneaky shortcuts to the final fight, instead of exploring the giant castle like I suppose I was meant to do.
So I guess the moral of the story is err… heh… it’s the journey, not the destination? And as I was telling Cien earlier that day, the game is designed so that it’s possible to start the game and simply walk a beeline straight to the final boss and kill him instantly, if you had the skills and weren’t interested in slowly unfolding the whole experience for yourself. So this implicit message was always present, and I’m glad I took the time this year to enjoy more of it.
Speaking of picking up old games again, I re-subscribed to the New York Times in order to play their crosswords. The last time I played a lot of them was when they released a Nintendo DS game back in 2007. In recent weeks, a group of people at work starting playing them collaboratively, and I found the experience fun enough to give it a shot. The current promotional price is just $20 USD for the first year of All Access membership ($90 afterwards).
With the installation of the NYT Games app, I’ve also got the main news app again, of course. It does a couple of things really well, namely it presents simple text and images beautifully with a handful of layout variations, and it has a personalized tab called “For You” that is finite and completable each day.
I didn’t realize how much I’d missed having a primary source of news in my life, with its own Home Screen button, but of course I’m prioritizing it only because I paid for it. I’m still enjoying Artifact, and I’ve just told it that I have an NYT sub now and it promises to prioritize it for me. Artifact has a real chance here of being the winning news aggregator.
It makes me upset how Apple Music’s personalized tab could be so much better, like an AI-compiled digest of what’s new in music that I’d be interested in. Fingers crossed for WWDC next week! (Disclaimer: I know nothing.)
Friday was Vesak Day here and a public holiday, so I spent the afternoon with Peishan and Cien visiting two cafes, and let me just say I am disappointed that we are allowing so many Instagrammable cafes to flourish. They’re all variations of the same bare concrete interior, tables and stools placed closely together, serviceable coffee + $20 and up full English breakfast plates template of an F&B business. We managed to land in two that offered differented value: Acoustics on Neil Road, which understands that bare concrete is a terrible environment to have conversations or listen to music in, so they invested in sound dampening wall panels and impressive looking speakers; and the Allpress pop-up cafe down the street on on 73 Duxton Road which, well, offers Allpress beans.
Back to AI, Jose pointed me at the Planet Money podcast which is currently producing a series of episodes about GPT. They’re using it to write and create a full actual episode, and documenting the process. Parts 1, 2, and 3 (the actual AI-produced episode). Listening to the first episode, I observed them going through the same cycle of revelations that I went through recently as I experimented with using AI to do elements of my own job. The initial curiosity and excitement, the sudden surprise at how good it is, the disbelief when it’s sometimes even better, and the slow acceptance of the chaos to come as you realize no one knows how this is gonna turn out. We live in interesting times.
I watched the finale of Ted Lasso’s third and possibly final season. Season 1 is everyone’s pick for the strongest arc, but I think Season 3 is right behind it now. Season 2 was disjointed and strange to me, so quite a distant third place.
I said of the episode in a group chat:
The Ted Lasso finale is one of the best I’ve ever seen. On brand, unashamed, fan servicing, heavy-handed symbolic closure with all the love in the world. 5 stars.
There’s a line in it about how absolute perfection is boring, and by being imperfect on its own terms, the final episode was effectively, truly perfect. They made some polarizing choices this year and didn’t give us what we wanted at times, but the last episode gives it all. It mirrors the beginning, it offers thematic and narrative closure, and it gives room for the satisfying character growth it nurtured to show itself off.
Their choice of song to play over the final minutes was spot on, obvious, schmaltzy, perfect. It might have been better if they’d used my favorite version featuring Fiona Apple, but what do I know.
A couple of weeks ago Michael pinged me to talk about Daft Punk, after I wrote about Random Access Memories, saying sheepishly that Discovery was probably his favorite album, as if RAM was a purer musical endeavor and Discovery was sonic candy for philistines. I was mostly surprised that anyone could fail to love RAM best, and admitted that I hadn’t heard Discovery in many years and hardly knew it well.
Then I saw this YouTube video by “Digging The Greats”, in which they break down the achievements in sampling that Discovery contains. Absolute magic. I keep telling myself to spend more time on shows like Song Exploder and Watch The Sound on Apple TV+ and This Is Pop, but I never seem to make the time. What I love about this 15-minute video is they don’t just play the samples and show you what Daft Punk did; they load them up and perform the melodies live on an MPC to show you how the band did it.
Then on Sunday night, the algorithms delivered me this endearingly old-fashioned 20-minute talk from Pearl Acoustics (they seem to make loudspeakers) in which their technical director, Harley Lovegrove, inducts RAM into his list of Great Recordings, and proceeds to discuss why he thinks the production and musicianship on it are noteworthy. He’s got a trained ear as you’d expect, and spends quite a bit of time talking about the incredible Giorgio by Moroder, pointing out things like how there are two different drummers on the track (I had no idea!). What makes it more fun is the fact that this is clearly not the kind of music he normally reviews — other Great Recordings include Jacqueline Du Pré’s Elgar Cello Concerto (this often moves me to tears on good headphones), and Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon. Anyway, loved this video and it helped me appreciate a favorite album even more.
A different sort of band, but I bought the 2023 Pride band for my Apple Watch. Rather than the heavy and vibrant rainbow bars of previous versions, this year’s design has a white base with scattered color pills. It looks like birthday cake sprinkles or confetti, which is a fun vibe you don’t see in any other official Apple Watch bands, almost like something Swatch would do.
And now, for this week’s conclusion, brought to you by GPT:
In wrapping up, there’s something uniquely human about picking up where we left off, be it a beloved video game, a trusted news source, or a favorite TV show. That’s the joy of life’s continuity, the pleasure in seeing where a journey takes us, especially when it’s one we didn’t quite finish the first time around. These past weeks, I’ve immersed myself in familiar worlds, marveled at the capabilities of AI, and watched characters grow, and it made me realize how we continuously strive for balance, exploration, and ultimately, an understanding of our own story. We may stumble, we may take detours, but isn’t that the beauty of life’s game?
It was one of those weeks where not an awful lot happened outside of work. I don’t talk about work here but let’s sort of circle it.
Reflections on AI
One thing I can say is that I started making a presentation deck about the use of generative AI and GPT in design, initially to share my findings so far but increasingly as an exercise in structuring my thoughts into anything at all useful.
A couple of things, on reflection: an AI assistant or collaborator poses significant risks for a lazy human in certain tasks since it tempts us to quickly accept its output without evaluating potential improvements. Assuming AI can do a job to 90% of a human’s rigor and quality, figuring out what the other 10% is without having done the same work yourself is quite the challenge. So the efficiency gains may not be as significant as you think, not until we figure out some smarter processes.
An example of what I mean: you can feed ChatGPT with notes from an interview conducted with a customer about their experiences and how a product fits into their lives. Supply enough interviews, and ChatGPT can do the work of summarizing them in aggregate, presenting key themes and areas worth looking into, like maybe everyone thinks the price is too high, but it’s because they don’t fully understand the value of what they’re buying.
It can create a bunch of frameworks to illustrate these findings, like personas and service blueprints. And it can even suggest solutions, like better marketing materials to explain this value to customers. The AI’s output might look pretty good, similar to what a team of human designers would (more slowly) produce, and a company might be tempted to make business decisions based on it. In fact, a team of human designers who haven’t read the interview notes themselves or thought deeply about it might also look at the AI’s work and say it’s good to go.
The level of confidence and finality inherent in these AI outputs is incredibly convincing. But if a human were to go through all the interviews, listening to the recordings perhaps, they might realize there was a missing element, a feeling subtly unsaid on the margins, that means some customers do see the extra quality, they just wish there was a cheaper version of the product that did less. Skimming through the finished research report crafted by the AI, you wouldn’t even begin to guess where in the sea of correct conclusions this exception could be hiding.
But there’s no question that this stuff is ready today to do some tasks like image editing, seen in Photoshop’s impressive beta release of a “Generative Fill” feature this week. I took a stock photo and doubled its height, and it was able to get the context of the scene and fill in the missing ceiling almost perfectly. That would have taken an experienced image compositor at least a few minutes, and anyone else way too much time. Just a couple of clicks now.
I also looked into what Adobe is building with its Sensei suite of AI marketing tools, and that dream of generating and sending personalized ads, as in a unique package of art and copy tailored to a single customer’s behavior, would seem to be already here. I’m not 100% sure how this works everywhere, but in the past, you’d still need copywriters and art people involved in the process after marketers had identified the “customer journeys” and content-goes-here templates. With the opportunities now being identified, advertising messages crafted, and email offers all sent with a single click by the same person, there’s hardly a crack in the door left for the traditional artists and copywriters to make their case. Yet, the quality is good enough to satisfy all but the most discerning of corporations.
What do you think about the current advancements in AI and their implications? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
(One more example: I asked ChatGPT to help suggest edits for this post, and it rewrote one of the above sentences to be better. I liked it, but on closer inspection, there was a glaring semantic error I had to fix myself. It also suggested the call to action above, to increase engagement. Talk to me!)
There seems to be yet another wave of Covid sweeping through the city, based on the fact that several people I know have come down with it, and every bus and train car I’ve been on this week had more people wearing masks, suggesting that they, too, know people who’ve come down with it.
Kim is going away for a couple of weeks, and I’m hoping she doesn’t run into it out there either; one of her colleagues caught it while traveling in the region a few days ago. I’m planning to stay home as much as I can during this time, and finishing as many video games as possible.
Not a ton of progress in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I’ve been playing consistently now for the past few weeks — a streak unmatched since the game first came out six years ago (I abandoned it out of fatigue shortly after that initial burst). I’ve now got all four Divine Beasts pointing at the castle and now just need to build up the nerve and arsenal to storm it and be done with this. I seem to be procrastinating instead, exploring areas in the massive world that I never checked out before.
The girl band I would say I’m rooting the most for in pop music, XG, performed at the Head in the Clouds festival in New York, and I watched some fancams of their set. The audio quality is terrible in all of them, so I won’t recommend starting there, but they are undeniably polished and tight as a group. Here are two musicvideos. I think I discovered them back in February, and at the time I said they’re gonna be monstrously huge this year. I stand by this.
If you watch the documentary series their label has put on YouTube, you’ll understand why they’re performing at this level: they’ve been physically and psychologically abused for the past six years of training, starting from when some of them were just 12. It’s horrendous to watch, but also probably par for the industry. While it’s good that someone decided to plainly put this footage out there, I’m not seeing much of a backlash, so it’s probably too late and already normalized. Some of the stuff their boss/producer says and does is straight up toxic emotional manipulation (he apparently came up as an idol himself so it’s like Ted Lasso says in the latest episode, hurt people hurt people).
Ted Lasso is almost done with its third season, one episode to go. I’m still liking it much better than season two, although it is sooo uneven and odd in its choices. You know the adage, “show, don’t tell”? It’s like the concept of season three is going against that conventional wisdom; a challenge the writing team decided to issue themselves: Can we take lots of scenes that people want to see (scenes of closure, catharsis, and vindication!) and make them happen off-camera and between episodes? And after doing that, can we still make people care through the strength of our set pieces and touching monologues? That’s the only explanation I have for what’s been going on. And to the team’s credit, it works some of the time. It’s not conventional TV, and maybe that’s the point.
Platonic, the new sitcommy show on Apple TV+, is much more conventional. It’s about a male and female pair of friends who are really just friends (so far), and a comparison to When Harry Met Sally is drawn in the very first episode. They had a fight and haven’t spoken in years, and then reconnect on the cusp of middle age, when it’s notoriously difficult to form new friendships, let alone platonic ones. I think the concept and set up are strong, but the execution is a little spotty. I’m not really into Seth Rogan’s work, and his character here feels exactly like what you’d expect from one of his characters, but by the end of episode 2 I think I’ll keep watching. The most jarring thing is Rose Byrne’s quasi-Australian accent which raises too many questions about how they met and got along in the past.
Speaking of actors whose strong accents shatter the suspension of disbelief, Arnold Fucking Schwarzenegger is back in a NETFLIX TV SERIES which sounds like a dreamy reboot of True Lies. The show is called FUBAR and it’s about a father and daughter who both secretly work for the CIA without knowing about each other’s involvement. I haven’t seen any of it yet, but I’m dying to.
It strikes me that in the future, one could give a crazy brief like the above to a generative AI system and start watching something like FUBAR within minutes.
My first music discovery of the week is Eternally Yours, a new Alphaville album that sees the band doing symphonic rearrangements of songs such as Big In Japan and Forever Young with a full orchestra. Yes, in Dolby Atmos spatial audio. This is a band that was formed 41 years ago and the lead singer’s voice is still incredible, iconic.
The second is Tears can be so soft, the new song by Christine and the Queens. It’s simple but surprisingly soulful, and sonically recalls Massive Attack’s best work.
I usually look through my camera roll to recall events as I start writing these posts. It’s telling me nothing much happened this week.
That’s not true; it’s just a lot of it was spent online. You might have noticed the excitement and fast pace of advancements in AI recently, and it seems I’m spending a correspondingly larger amount of time playing with, reading about, and discussing the impact of it on our work and lives. It’s enough to make one consider taking a gap quarter or year off work to focus on this stuff.
One catalyst was a colleague being invited to do an interview on what it means for design, and so we had a conversation about the trends beforehand. Unsurprisingly, the media is still thinking about both design and AI simplistically: will image generation mean fewer jobs for illustrators and that sort of thing. I find it hard to be optimistic in the short-term, in that AI is lighting a fire under our asses and it’s going to cause a lot of pain. But the potential for us as a discipline to evolve under pressure into something greater is undeniable.
It didn’t help that the next thing I saw was The AI Dilemma, a talk by the creators of the documentary, The Social Dilemma, wherein they say the problems unleashed on society by social media were just the prequel to what AI is on track to do if we don’t prepare. And let’s just admit we don’t have a great track record of preparing for things we know are going to hit us later. It’s about an hour long but I’d file it under essential viewing just for awareness of what’s building up.
The above talk was given at The Center for Humane Technology, and coincidentally this was the week we finally got a look at what Humane, the secretive product company founded by a load of ex-Apple designers and engineers, has been building and teasing.
I’ve been anticipating their debut for a long time and had a pretty good idea of the core concept from their leaked pitch deck and patents. Essentially, a device achieves AR by projecting a digital interface on the world around you the old-fashioned way, using rays of light pointed outwards, rather than on the inside of glasses. At some point along the way they started mentioning AI a lot, and it looks like the secret ingredient that turns a nothing-new wearable camera + laser projector into a real alternative to smartphones. In other words, an intelligent assistant that isn’t primarily screen based, so we can be less distracted from “real life”.
It’s probably best to withhold judgment until we see more at some sort of unveiling event, with more demos, a name, a price, a positioning. But it’s worth remembering that when the iPhone came out, it was a phone good enough to replace whatever you were using at the time. Humane’s device is said to be standalone and not an accessory to be paired with a smartphone. It’s also shown taking calls. The bar for replacing your telephone is now much higher after some 16 years of iPhones.
An intelligent assistant that let you do things quicker with less fiddling was always my hope for the Apple Watch from its very first version; that Siri would be the heart of the experience, and the UI wouldn’t be a mess of tiny app icons and widgets, but a flexible and dynamic stream of intelligently surfaced info and prompts. We all know Siri (as a catch-all brand/name for Apple AI) wasn’t up to the task at the time, but I keep hoping the day is right around the corner. Fingers crossed for the rumored watchOS revamp at WWDC this year.
There’s now also a rumor that iOS 17 will add a new journaling app, and my expectations are already very high. They say it’ll be private, but tap into on-device data like Health and your contacts and calendars. That goes beyond what Day One does. I’m imagining the ultimate lifelogging app that automatically records where you go, who you met, what you did, how tired you were, what music you were listening to, and your personal reflections, all in one searchable place. I’ve tried a bunch of these before, like Moves and Momento, but nothing lasted. If Apple does do this, I may finally be able to ditch Foursquare/Swarm, which I still reluctantly use to have a record of where I’ve been. Its social network aspect is nice but not essential since hardly anyone else uses it now.
I remember there was a Twitter-like app called Jaiku on Nokia smartphones over 15 years ago that had a feature where, using Bluetooth, it could tell if you met up with a fellow user, and post to your other friends about it. I was excited by it but had few friends and even fewer ones on Jaiku. Just like with AirTags and Find My, tapping into Apple’s giant user base could finally make this concept viable. As long as Apple isn’t trying to do a social network again.
Oh right, back to AI. What have I been doing? Some of it was playing games with ChatGPT, essentially asking it to be a dungeon master using the following superprompt (which I did not create btw!):
I want you to act like you are simulating a Multi-User Dungeon (MUD). Subsequent commands should be interpreted as being sent to the MUD. The MUD should allow me to navigate the world, interact with the world, observe the world, and interact with both NPCs and (simulated) player characters. I should be able to pick up objects, use objects, carry an inventory, and also say arbitrary things to any other players. You should simulate the occasional player character coming through, as though this was a person connected online. There should be a goal and a purpose to the MUD. The storyline of the MUD should be affected by my actions but can also progress on its own in between commands. I can also type “.” if I just want the simulated MUD to progress further without without any actions. The MUD should offer a list of commands that can be viewed via ‘help’. Before we begin, please just acknowledge you understand the request and then I will send one more message describing the environment for the MUD (the context, plot, character I am playing, etc.) After that, please respond by simulating the spawn-in event in the MUD for the player.
Try it! I even had success asking it (in a separate chat) to come up with novel scenarios for a SF text adventure game, which I then fed back into this prompt. I can’t emphasize enough how fun this is: you can take virtually any interesting, dramatic scenario and immediately play it out as an interactive story.
Here’s an example where I played the role of a time traveler who has to stop a future AI from destroying humanity by going back in time to prevent the invention of certain things, starting with the Great Pyramid of Giza, which will purportedly become a power source for the AI.
And here are a couple of new products made possible by GPT. There are so many, all asking for about $10/mo. Most won’t survive as this stuff becomes commoditized, but for the moment they are all amazing because these things weren’t possible before.
Tome: It’s a sort of PowerPoint that can create entire decks on its own from a short brief you give it. For example, ask for a sales deck and it’ll set up a working narrative arc over multiple slides, not filled with placeholder text and images mind you! But actually generate text and original pictures to fill every one of them. Of course, it will use common storytelling structures — the portfolio introduction I made as a test looked like 90% of the applications that we see, using very familiar language for describing one’s experience, design philosophy, values, skills. This is fine, of course. You can edit it, or use it for as long as “what went before” continues to have currency in this society. When quality is everywhere, quality becomes meaningless. Fire under buttocks.
Rationale AI: Describe a decision you’re trying to make, and it’ll tell you the pros and cons, or generate a SWOT analysis, or work out the causal chain of the path you’re on. For many people, this sort of reasoning is not hard to do, but perhaps it’s a game changer for those who can’t. For example, if you’re in an emotionally distressing situation and cool logic is evasive; it could help to show the bigger picture. I tested it with such a scenario and it gave some solid insights (be careful with advice from an AI, of course). But that this thing works at all is a marvel! “Should I become a full-time influencer?” is not a question a machine could have understood in the past, and certainly it could not have forecasted that failing down the road might put stress on your finances and lead to harmful self doubt and regret over quitting your job.
Summarize.tech: I found this by accident when someone shared a two-hour YouTube video essay in a group chat and everyone said “I ain’t got time for that”. I remarked that it sure would be great if an AI could watch that and write a tl;dr for us. And then I thought… surely that exists. And it does.
It was also my birthday, and I saw John Wick 4 and ate a lot of Taiwanese hot pot. Also binged all of the new Netflix show, The Diplomat, and it was actually good. Life’s alright when that happens.
Ugh, the post-holiday period is the worst. I’ve struggled through the week, and it was only a short four-day work week because of the Easter/Good Friday holiday. I’m in the mood for another break now, and thankfully we have a week in Australia later this year to look forward to.
I started off Monday with a client video call in which I got frustrated enough by my bad lighting situation (sitting in front of blinds — either too much light, too little, or visible horizontal shadows across my face) to finally do something about it. During my aimless ambles down the aisles of Japan’s electronic superstores, I saw many shelves dedicated to remote work equipment, presumably a big sales driver for them over Covid-19, and considered bringing a ring light home. I didn’t, but I found good looking ones on Shopee and ended up with a rectangular soft LED panel on a tabletop stand for just S$27! It does five color temperatures, but I’m sticking with Daylight, and overall it’s been an awesome purchase I should have made ages ago. And it arrived in 24 hours.
No surprises, but I’ve taken far fewer photos since returning. I still open Hipstamatic regularly just to keep my streak going, and it’s forced me to try and snap something every day. That said, I wonder if this habit, and the product’s reboot, will last. As I was discussing with Michael, they needed to put some momentum behind the launch and sustain it with updates and quality posts in the global pool. But from how it looked in their updates, the founders were (also) on holiday in Japan on launch week? Perhaps they were there to boost some community events, but I looked at the Japan-only photo feed regularly and I was one of the most prolific posters. Not a great sign. They just released an update this weekend, at least, with a new Uji-inspired lens and film.
A new fun thing to do with Midjourney emerged this week: a /describe command which takes a photo you upload and has the system describe it back to you in the form of Midjourney prompts, which you can then submit to generate a “broken telephone” remix of your original image.
If you think computer vision/image recognition has gotten scarily good recently, you’d be right. AI is part of this chain somewhere, and look no further than this Memecam web app which blew my mind last night. Snap a photo of something, and it recognizes what the image contains, and uses GPT to create a joke and final meme, Impact font and all. It actually writes jokes about anything, instantly. That AI-generated Seinfeld stream could technically become good, viable (if not wholly original) comedy in the near future.
Hey, two quick moments of consumer ecstasy I need to share!
We’ve got the HomePods in Singapore at long last. I don’t know what took Apple so long, but you can now officially buy them here, and the prices are slightly lower than I would have expected, at S$139 and S$429 for the mini and full-sized second-generation HomePods respectively. My Sonos speakers are now unplugged and we are a fully Siri-ed home. I’d previously bought two minis for the office and bedroom off the gray market, and those are now joined by two large ones in the living and dining areas. Reader, they sound glorious. It’s a rich, tangible, and emotionally satisfying experience for your favorite music. There was a point in time where Apple loved the word “magical” and used it liberally. Even for mundane things like keyboards that worked reliably. But these, these are kinda magical.
Nespresso launched a new kind of pod locally, one designed to approximate “filter-style” coffee, which in my mind is basically a pour over. They’ve been out for a few months in limited European markets, it seems, but still not widely available. They have a new design where you peel off a sticker to reveal an in-set dot grid which the liquid passes through — the foil is not punctured as a a result. You’re meant to press both the Lungo and Espresso buttons in sequence, resulting in a 150ml extraction, which they call a Gran Lungo. Lol. Anyway, it tastes pretty good. The longer cup is thinner and more delicate than if you used a regular pod to do an Americano or long black, with hardly any crema. This innovation allows for floral and fruity roasts to come through, if you like that sort of thing. I..I..I think it also results in more caffeine.
Boss coffee is now natively available in Singapore! Used to be you’d find imported cans in Don Don Donki (the local name for Don Quijote) and some other Japanese supermarkets, but it looks like Suntory is properly trying to bring “The No. 1 Ready To Drink Coffee Brand in Japan” to Singapore now. But I remain unconvinced these stubby plastic bottles and generic labels are the way. The little cans and their designs are iconic, and better for the environment since they can be recycled.
Last week I mentioned buying black tees from FamilyMart, and then got into a few brief discussions about fashion/luxury apparel this week, wherein I reflected that while I’m happy to pay high prices for technology and things crafted out of metal, I can’t feel that way about fabrics and leather. They wear down, so why not just embrace their replacement and buy cost-effective, expendable products from basic brands? Then the Twitter algorithm put a bit of trivia in front of me that the plain white tees worn by Carmy in The Bear got attention from viewers who wanted to buy them, and that they were actually pretty expensive ones made by Japanese brand, Whitesville.
So… if you know me, you may know where this is going. Yup, this is the guy who loved PCs, hated Macs, and now has a house full of Apple products. To be clear, I wasn’t suddenly curious about the idea of buying ostentatious Veblen t-shirts with designer logos, just… better ones that would hold up longer and not look as cheap. So I now have an order of basic black tees coming in from Mr Porter that cost 5x what I normally pay for them. Gulp. I’ll work out if this actually makes sense and let you know.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie is a fun trip in IMAX. We enjoyed it, and I’m looking forward to finally playing Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury and New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe (I have to look up these names every single time) on my Switch soon.
We traveled from Kobe to Hiroshima via Shinkansen, then went back to Tokyo for a few days until a red eye flight back to Singapore on Saturday. As with most holidays, it didn’t feel long enough; I could have used another week. But I’m thoroughly pooped from all the walking and general lack of sleep. It was wonderful to see Japan again after five years, and our chat with the old taxi driver who spoke English with us on the way to Haneda Airport indicated that Japan might almost be as happy to have us tourists back. I fantasize about dropping in for another week within the next year, but who knows how long it’ll be again.
Hiroshima felt very different from Kobe, partly because of its terrible history, and the gravity of it which pulls every experience towards a discussion about peace, awareness, and suffering. It has quite a few museums, and they all inevitably address the atomic bomb in some way. I had bad dreams each night. I’m not normally one to believe in this sort of thing, but there is so much death there and so recently, that my first thought was “bad vibes”.
While we were there, though, the sakura bloomed fully across the city and it was beautiful to see.
We visited a Picasso exhibition at the Hiroshima Museum of Art (beautiful building, galleries were a bit dingy though in the basement), and also lots of art and exhibitions dedicated to remembering the atomic bomb at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). We didn’t have energy or syllables left for the Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum. MOCA was wonderful though, newly renovated after two and a half years and opened for less than two weeks when we visited.
Did you know Picasso created a series dedicated to the horrors of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima? No? What are these then, AI-generated photos from Midjourney v5?
After many years of being a Go Go Curry fan curious about Champion’s Curry, the Kanazawa-style curry franchise that Go Go supposedly ripped off down to the signature yellow, I finally got a taste of it. And… it was sadly disappointing. It’s soundly beaten by Go Go’s richer flavor and dedication to excess — there’s no preset that comes with the works. On this trip, if I had to rank curries, Hinoya might come first, followed by Coco Ichibanya, closely followed by Go Go in third and Champion’s in last place.
I saw a Japanese toothpaste ad of some sort that demonstrated people brushing their teeth in a curious way: holding their brushes like pens or chopsticks. Is that how everyone does it? I’ve never seen it. Perhaps it’s time for a new Japanese Wisdom Fad to go global: the secret art of teeth cleaning. Anyway I tried it out for a laugh and was surprised by the ergonomic improvement! Holding the toothbrush in pen grip means your elbow stays close to the body rather than sticking out, and your forearm is perpendicular to the ground. This gives you more power in the up-down motion by moving your entire arm rather than your wrist. Combine that with the added directional precision from being able to move your fingers, and it feels easier to do those small away-from-the-gumline strokes you’re meant to do, versus holding in an overhand grip.
You may remember that I became quite fond of watching a live street webcam in Shinjuku about a year ago, leaving it up on the bedroom projector as a sort of video wallpaper or magic window into another world while I read or did other things. Well, we finally got to stand on that very street and see ourselves on the screen! With tourism back, the street is much busier than it was a year ago, uncomfortably so, but now I finally know what the inside of the ramen restaurant looks like, and confirmed my suspicions that there’s a gap under the steps of the KBBQ place where the rats probably hang out. We waved at the camera and tooks a couple of photos from a street-level POV. What’s great was that there were many other people obviously there to see the cameras too… my weird little Kabukicho webcam community!
I ended up not finding very much to buy in terms of electronic souvenirs. I don’t need another camera or headphones, as mentioned a couple of weeks back, and I couldn’t even bring myself to buy a phone case that I don’t need and that will be obsolete in half a year when the iPhone 15 comes out. I did however get a little $12 plastic robot at Don Quijote that plays their unforgettable jingle with the push of a button. It’s going to get a lot of use in my home, I think.
Wait that’s not correct, we got a portable massage gun called an Exagun Hyper from the Doctor Air brand. Not an insignificant factor in this decision was the advertising campaign featuring Ryoko Yonekura, also known as Doctor-X in the TV series of the same name. She was clearly hired for that reference alone and seems to relish it. I’m kinda sure they even pronounce Doctor Air with the same flourish that “Doctor-X” is usually delivered with.
If anyone in Singapore is wondering why Netflix removed the first six seasons of Doctor-X and now only has Season 7, it may be a licensing issue with Amazon. Seasons 1–5 are now on Prime Video locally, so you have a chance to catch up and hopefully Season 6 will turn up someday. Be warned though, this is not strictly speaking good TV. It’s a cheesy, overly dramatic manga-style live action show about a doctor with miraculous surgery skills and no social ones. Like House but turned up even further.
I also got some tees and socks from FamilyMart, because I’m always on the lookout for good black t-shirts and their white/green/blue brand socks were an internet sensation a year or so ago. Oh, and some sake straight from their Kobe breweries. That’s about it for physical souvenirs.
What I have brought back intangibly, though, is a renewed enthusiasm for gaming on mobile and the Nintendo Switch — I didn’t bring my Switch along and now I’m dying to play through my backlog. It’s hard to explain but the media and cultural environment there for gamers is immersive. You see giant ads for Splatoon 3 in the subway. Billboards and TV spots for mobile games like Dislyte and Genshin Impact. Late night shows on TV where people play trading card games. Most of these games aren’t even Japanese in origin, but they’re part of the landscape and it’s encouraging? Inspiring? To feel your hobby validated as a visible part of society. Nearly none of that is the case in Singapore, the irl city.
A selection of (sakura-centric) photos from this week follows. Please rotate your iPhone to landscape because WordPress’s masonry layout somehow doesn’t work on narrow screens!