Week 15.22: Location apps

I’ve been a user of Foursquare, and then Swarm, for many years. Since November 2009, says my profile page. I know that I’m giving an advertising company too much information about my location, movements, and preferences. But there’s definitely a value exchange here. Without this “lifelog”, I couldn’t remember everywhere I’ve been, or the last time I was at such and such a place. And there have been occasions where I was able to, quite magically, summon the name of a great restaurant in another city and immediately see how it’s been doing since, so that I could recommend it to a friend.

I’ve been a fan of location-based apps and social networks since maybe 2006 or 2007, when I got my first Nokia that qualified as a smartphone. I especially recall an app named Brightkite that existed briefly. It allowed for serendipitous moments like going to a foreign country and seeing tips and reflections left around the city (maybe in your hotel!) by a friend who’d come the same way years before. Swarm still allows for this experience today, and it evokes a kind of love.

One day, Brightkite malfunctioned and read my GPS location as being in Tokyo, just for a moment. I think it allowed me to see people and their check-ins in the mistakenly assumed area, and so I interacted with some of them… giving them stars or a follow or whatever. One such stranger became part of my permanent friends’ list, and when I migrated to Foursquare, she ended up on my list there too. It’s now over a decade later, and we are still weirdly and peripherally aware of each other’s lives, on Swarm and Instagram, without ever having spoken. It’s a distanced closeness that could only happen with the internet. Once, when I happened to be visiting Tokyo on holiday, we were both checked in around the Ginza area at the same time. We may have crossed paths; I’ll never know.

Screenshot of the Superlocal app, taken off their website

This week, an app called Superlocal came to my attention via a crypto/web3 newsletter called Milk Road that’s worth subscribing to, if that’s your thing. Suoerlocal seems like an attempt to remake Swarm with a new revenue model. Like many web3 ventures, instead of selling your data to advertisers, it tries to support itself by being intrinsically financial: checking in and providing quality photos earns you tokens called LOCAL (which may someday have value), and being the mayor of a place doesn’t only earn you derision/respect, but also some LOCAL whenever people check in. How does money enter the ecosystem? Becoming the mayor of a place means minting an NFT for it. It’s currently in an early access phase, which also requires an NFT (or invite from a friend) to gain entry.

I have mixed feelings about all this, as I do with NFTs and web3 in general. We should definitely explore new business models and build services that don’t rely on users making a privacy compromise. If a small group of super engaged users can fund the experience on behalf of everyone, and be happy doing it, all the better. But at least in this iteration, we’re just trading one problem for another. For instance, holding a bunch of mayorship NFTs in your Ethereum wallet doxxes your location and behaviors too, and probably in a worse way because they’re public for anyone (instead of just Foursquare Inc. and a couple hundred of their favorite clients) to see. This stems from the poor privacy design of Ethereum, of course, but it’s now the biggest smart contract blockchain so what are gonna do? There are still so many things that need to be done differently for this technology to scale and be safe and easy enough for everyone to use. That means I don’t believe Superlocal is going to become ubiquitous any time soon, but hopefully we’ll all learn what and what not to do as they keep building.

Until then, I’ll still be checking in on Swarm.

PS: I’ve been told about the virtues of using Google Maps’ Timeline, which also lets you keep a log of your movements each day, but without the social and gamey elements. I tried it briefly, but it was less fun, and I’ve been quite successful so far in cutting all the Google out of my life. Yes, I’m aware my rules seem arbitrary and illogical.


Media activity:

  • Finally finished the book How To Do Nothing after about two months, which isn’t the positive review it appears to be. I found it such a joyless and obtuse slog that I fought myself every time I thought to pick it up and finish it. And because I have a dumb rule about not reading two books at the same time, that blockage has fucked up my Goodreads annual challenge for the year. A lot of catching up to do and I don’t think I will.
  • Started a new book anyway, Grace D. Li’s Portrait of a Thief, which is billed as Oceans Eleven meets The Farewell.
  • Watched Kenneth Branagh’s Death on the Nile. Dreadful. He’s done some work in the past that I truly loved, but this has little to recommend it. The art direction is slipshod, with CGI background compositing that looks straight out of the CD-ROM FMV games era, and the radioactive Armie Hammer is in one of the lead roles. Branagh’s Poirot is also mysteriously unlikable and inconsistent, with a couple of rude and temperamental outbursts that feel like if Superman suddenly gave someone on the street a middle finger.
  • Severance on Apple TV+ is not dreadful. Mild spoilers follow. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, and the first episode takes awhile to get going, but it’s really excellent. This despite veering a little close to corny with some scenes on the “severed floor”. The sinister, faux 70s megacorp with forced cheerfulness felt copped from the environmental storytelling of games like Portal, Fallout, and Bioshock, and maybe the Dharma Initiative out of Lost.
  • Now out on Apple Arcade is Gear.Club Stradale which was teased during their last online event, and I’m very much enjoying it with my Backbone One gamepad. The original Gear.Club was an okay free-to-play racer on iOS which was later released on the Nintendo Switch as a premium game (no in-app purchases). It also got a sequel on consoles, but I don’t know how that went. This new iteration is streamlined: it’s all set in Italy, and the UI lets you move quickly around the workshop and upgrade your cars without having to fiddle around in too many submenus. Instead of the usual giant catalog with tons of cars to swipe through, a small selection of up to three cars for sale, refreshed daily. This is a superior design for a game intended to be played in short bursts over a period of time. Ping me if you want to join my crew!

Week 8.22

1.
After posting about the 0xmusic project (NFTs that infinitely generate rule-based but non-repeating music) in last week’s post, I thought I’d start recording some of the output to concretize it for future reference. As Rob put it, the music is kinda “plonky”, but not half bad as BGM. So I recorded two ugly, short screen recordings of “DJ Drip” on its webpage onto YouTube, one of which was appended to the last post.

After that, what’s a guy with free time to do but take it to the next level? I recorded a 60-minute length of “DJ Syn City” and set out to make one of those YouTube music videos, you know the kind, usually lofi or cafe jazz compilations with an illustrated scene on loop. How is it we don’t have a specific word for that sort of thing?

I wasn’t in the mood to find videos in my library that could loop well, so I used a photo I took in Akihabara back in 2018 and dumped a bunch of overlays on it with a bit of motion*, mixed it all together in iMovie, and voila! If I find a way to create more/better music, I’ll probably make a bunch of these.

*How? You’d be amazed what one can do with an iPhone and free apps these days.

2.
Covid hit closer to home this week with two cases in the family. All are vaccinated and coping okay with only flu-like symptoms so far. Anecdotally, it’s everywhere. Multiple colleagues and friends have already had it this the past month. The relaxed policies at present haven’t helped: even if you or someone in your household is infected, you can go out as soon as you test negative via ART self testing. And you don’t have to document or prove the result in any way; it’s an honor system. To make things worse, the tests don’t seem consistent. Some test negative at home and then positive at a clinic, and vice versa.

I was feeling fatigued/achey and worried that I’d gotten it after being briefly exposed, but three home tests this week said no, so I wondered if it was just my usual psychosomatic, hypochondriac imagination filling in the blanks. Just to be safe, I canceled every meeting during the week.

3.
When it was safe (7 days after contact), I made one exception to join Rob for a yakitori and beer hangout with old work buds who haven’t all been together in years. The food was quality, but damn if yakitori isn’t criminally overpriced in Singapore. It was probably triple what a comparable meal would cost in Japan.

It was afterwards while we were watching YouTube that I learnt from Jose that the extreme longboarder Josh Neuman passed away this month at the age of 22. You can’t help but imagine the worst… losing control and flying off a cliff, crashing headfirst into oncoming traffic… but no, he died in a plane crash.


Media activity:

  • Finished the 18th Jack Reacher book, Never Go Back. It’s definitely one of the better ones, with a cast of supporting characters and good momentum. I can see why they picked it for the second film with Tom Cruise in the role. They chopped a lot out though, and I didn’t recognize much of the plot in this. Which just makes it clearer to me how much better suited the Reacher novels are for TV: one book, one season.
  • We’ve been watching Apple TV+’s Suspicion and The Afterparty on a weekly basis. The former is a British production with Uma Thurman in a supporting role. It’s quite a slow burn, but I do want to know the answer to the central mystery of how these unconnected people could be connected to the crime they’re accused of. Hmm, that seems to be quite a common set-up, also seen in one of the other shows mentioned below.
  • Regrettably, a lot of bad TV this week. I half-watched all of Love Is Blind Brazil S1, and we are now caught up on both new seasons of the USA and Japanese editions, both slated to conclude by the end of this month. The episode template and overall season arc gets old; they’re essentially the same across all the shows. But the shows couldn’t be more different from a cultural standpoint. There’s no ass-grabbing on the Japanese one, for starters.
  • We’ve also started One Of Us Is Lying on Netflix, based on a YA novel that I’ve heard about but never got around to looking at. A handful of teens in high school are suspected of murder and everyone has motive. Every actor in it is at least a decade older than their character is supposed to be. They also wear t-shirts with generic slogans and designs that are hilariously meant to broadcast their wearers’ archetypes: cool geek, arty girl, anti-establishment outcast.
  • Best line so far: “If he hadn’t shown up, I’d be taking selfies with Jesus right now!”
  • Much better is the Kanye West documentary jeen-yuhs. It’s obviously a Kanye-approved version of history, but it’s hard to overstate the value of such a behind-the-scenes document. I mean, it was shot over 20 years, an entire career. You see him when he no one would take him seriously as a rapper. He’s out there taking meetings and kinda embarrassing himself trying to get heard. Everyone fronts in hip-hop, saying they’re going to be the greatest, the biggest, but there’s something about young Kanye’s hustle and confidence that suggests he really believed he would be where he is today.
  • Side note: Donda 2 is meant to launch tomorrow. When he announced he wasn’t going to release his album on streaming or digital, and only on his own $200 Stem Player device, I wrote it off. I said that I wouldn’t buy it, and the album was dead to me. It’s tremendously wasteful to create a dedicated piece of expensive plastic junk to play one album. I saw it as disrespectful to the fans, and egotistical even by Kanye’s standards. Since then I’ve learnt that the device can be updated with additional music, like an MP3 player (whether it will be is a different story). It’s still too costly and excludes many people, but perhaps it’s a novel experiment worth checking out. I’ve bought FM3 Buddha Machines before. I can feel my hold slipping.

Week 7.22

Just three things this time.

1.
My friend Rob is back in town for a visit. We worked together at the last place and shared moments absurd and amusing. He went home for reasons, and didn’t have a chance to get back here until now. We had a drink or seven on Saturday and it was like seeing your friends at school after the holidays; seamless and yet we’ve gone through so much change. I could hardly believe it’s been five years.

2.
Our bedroom TV watching got a big upgrade from propped up iPad to projector. It’s not a best-in-class 4K one or anything, just a mini Anker Nebula Apollo the size of a UE Boom Bluetooth speaker. Its first task was Amazon Prime Video’s new Jack Reacher series, simply titled Reacher. As a reader of the pulpy action series (on my 18th book now), I was happy from the moment I saw the key art featuring a massive giant and not someone like Tom Cruise. I joked that casting is 80% of making a Reacher show, but they really did a good job with it. May many seasons follow.

3.
My first NFT purchase was from the Fang Gang collection back in September. Was it logical? Fair value? Probably not, but it was an interesting space and having some entry point is better than none. After some reflection, I’m now much less interested in randomized PFPs made from a handful of mix-and-match traits, so I’ve traded off my “Fangster” for a “DJ” from the 0xmusic project. Far more interesting, it’s a bit of code that composes an infinite stream of generative music, playable in a browser. Unlike most visual NFTs, it’s stored entirely on-chain and will persist as long as the network itself. Listening to a song that no one else will ever hear again, playing from a dynamic and eternal station woven into the internet, is one of the cooler art+tech experiences I’ve had.

Memes, Myths, and Machines

This is an addendum to the last weekly update (3.22).

As part of Singapore Art Week 2022, we visited The Culture Story on Sunday afternoon to see ZXEROKOOL’s first local exhibition entitled Memes, Myths and Machines. He’s done a new series of NFTs that were presented as large format prints, and we spoke briefly about how a new class of art buyers are excited by the flexibility of printing these pieces at whatever size suits their needs or residences, while retaining ownership certification through the NFTs in their wallets.

These were of course familiar arguments for the technology, but his anecdote about a previous exhibition in China and the concern of buyers there about the veracity of a limited run brought home the need for this control, held by the artist, limiting run size as intended. Personally I love that artists can continue to get a cut each time a work changes hands, which is an innovation I don’t think was feasible before smart contracts.

ZXEROKOOL explaining his work to a journalist

I had two favorites at the show: Meme-vangelion and The Garden of Internet Delights. The former is a mashup of Shiba Inu and Evangelion imagery, complete with the Spear of Longinus piercing the puppy’s heart. I left wanting to buy one of them, but by the time I got around to it the next day, some other fan had bought the last edition of The Garden of Internet Delights. No matter, Meme-vangelion isn’t a consolation prize. Though the whole collection plays with the visual vocabulary of the internet as many of us have experienced it over the last decade, I think this work stands alone in its astute selection of two icons that will surely stand the test of time?

Meme-vangelion

Week 46.21

  • We’re about six weeks from Christmas when it feels like it should be six months. This year’s time progression has been slippery; because I had clear point in the middle when I started to take time off work, it feels a little like two years in one, and yet much less. I’ll bet it’s the same for everyone buried under lots of work and not going out enough anyway, because a lack of New Stuff happening each day just makes them go by faster.
  • I read something somewhere about the mental health toll that working from home is taking on people, and of course someone quoted said the lack of human contact was bringing them down. Something in my head said, “well now you know how work felt for everyone who doesn’t love being surrounded by lots of people, but had to do it anyway for all of their lives”, but I’m sure that’s already been said. I land somewhere in the middle: I can do either infinitely and hate them equally.
  • I met Khairul for a coffee earlier in the week, for the first time in maybe a year. He’s been exploring new interests and possible personal projects during his time off. So it was great to talk with someone in virtually the same boat, and we both gave each other some homework to research and think about before the next chat. After that we took a short walk around Chinatown where my first-gen Ricoh GR got some use.
  • Speaking of projects, I was inspired by this Twitter thread of Venkatesh Rao’s wherein he goes down the web3 rabbit hole and ends up minting NFTs out of his old blog/newsletter artwork. What happened with me was initial dismissal, curiosity, then buying a couple of NFTs to see if I was wrong, before moving onto other topics (currently trying to grok DeFi 2.0 bonds) without considering that I could make some NFTs of my own, just for kicks. I hardly have the skills for it, but why should that stop me?
  • So now I think I‘ll do it, starting with a collection of these Misery Man doodles I started drawing by accident a couple of years ago, which became a joke signature/tag of sorts I’d leave on whiteboards around the office. I’ll probably draw a bunch of variations, maybe a hundred, and put them up on OpenSea soon.
Basic Misery Man
  • I spent a little time on Decentraland this week checking out the alternative metaverse. It’s rough by modern game standards, but it’s cool that anyone can create assets and straight plug them into what is essentially an MMO, or sell them on an open marketplace. I wandered downtown and saw buildings that companies had built as shrines to themselves, on plots of virtual land that they’d bought and now hold as NFTs. It’s early days because no one really knows what to do with them. One company recreated their org chart in the lobby as photos on shelves, and if you go upstairs to a cathedral-like space with glass and high ceilings, you can browse their website in a Jumbotron-sized window.
  • Speaking of giant things, KAWS’s Holiday artwork is now in Singapore as part of its world tour, albeit embroiled in some legal mess that means it can’t officially open to the public yet. That said, it’s still up, and it looks great (better?) from afar. I love the idea of a giant character chilling out in different cities, but it loses that magic for me the closer you get. We had the opportunity to visit before it was meant to open, and yeah if there was merch on sale, I’d say definitely go. If you’re just nearby on the Helix Bridge, that works too. I brought my D-Lux 7 out for that. The iPhone is great and all, but as I said to Joseph in a chat yesterday, everything is so crispy and bright and HDR these days, it’s a relief to shoot with a “real” camera based on aging technology now and then.
  • We’re watching Only Murders In The Building, a 10-episode series set in New York, with some strong Manhattan Murder Mystery wannabe vibes. Instead of Woody Allen, Alan Alda, and Diane Keaton, you get Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Selena Gomez. And oh, they’re making a podcast of their amateur murder investigation as they go. It doesn’t always feel consistent — there are some admittedly cool ideas choppily shoved in but they mess with the tone and pacing — but I’ll take what I can get because cozy, fun weekend viewing is rare these days.

Week 45.21

  • On Monday we had the day off, so it was off to IKEA for some shopping (reasonably crowded for a weekday) and then the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands (not very crowded) to check out two exhibitions. One was kinda video gamey, curated by Tetsuya Mizuguchi of Lumines and Rez fame, and the other was about Sound: artworks visualizing it, historical inventions, and novel ways of experiencing it.
  • The most powerful bit was probably at the end of the above mentioned Orchestral Maneuvers attraction. 40 loudspeakers, each one playing a discrete recording of a single vocalist, working together to literally surround you with a choral musical work. You know what stereo separation sounds like, and even what spatial audio with Dolby Atmos sounds like, but this was on another level for recorded sound. You could walk around and change the mix, as it were.
  • Thursday was another day off, with the Diwali/Deepavali public holiday here. We didn’t do anything of note apart from going out to eat way too much Chinese hotpot. I still think of our visit to Taiwan just before Covid-19 hit, and how we ate at this Wulao hotpot restaurant multiple times. If there was stomach space left at the end of a night after cocktails, Wulao. No plans for lunch the day after, Wulao. I’d previously never gotten into that sort of food before, so it was making up a lifetime of ignoring hot tofu skin, coagulated duck blood, and other things that don’t sound so nice when typed out.
  • We saw the new Apple TV+ movie, Finch, starring Tom Hanks. Two of the biggest films on the service star the same guy, which is slightly odd. Anyway, I enjoyed it just fine. They also did good work on the CGI because I often forgot that a certain element wasn’t actually there in real life. 3.5 stars.
  • Someone mentioned a mutual acquaintance had gotten a job at Facebook, and a quick look on LinkedIn indicated that they are hiring aggressively for the local office, which led to a discussion (okay maybe more of a rant on my part) about people who make the Faustian bargain of working there. Then I came across this piece in The Atlantic saying perhaps it’s time we regard the company as a hostile foreign power rather than just a corporation. Still, calls like these have been made for years, and I think the simple fact is that Facebook has reached a state of untouchability. Money breaks down enough resistance to ensure that they’ll always be able to hire; hell, we all have a price. I see little hope of them being dismantled by either customer outrage or legal process. We can only hope for an unforced error. May the Meta era push for ecosystem ownership be full of them.
  • Radiohead’s newly rereleased KID A MNESIA albums have been on rotation. It was an amazing period for their music, although I’d still have to give the crown to OK Computer. I remember having a copy of Amnesiac that came in a little red hardcover art book. I wonder where that went.