I met Mavis and Cong for drinks one last time at 28HKS before they went on back to Tokyo. I may have mentioned before, but they emigrated just before the pandemic began and were only now able to come back for a visit. Several times this week it occurred to me just how much time has passed since this began, and it’s a very slippery concept.
I’ve been playing Wordle for 60 consecutive games now, and it’s become a hard habit to quit. The day often can’t proceed until I’ve cleared it. But now I’ve found Semantle and it’s a very different sort of game; one might not even be able to finish it daily. Instead of guessing a word by spelling, you throw out words until you find one semantically similar to the secret word, and then try to close the gap. I’m still trying to figure out how best to play.
Spider-Man No Way Home was finally seen, and while it was “fun”, it also felt “off”. The pacing was lumpy, awkward dialogue beats were passed off as comedy too many times, and some transitions/events were just lazy and illogical. That said, it’s the rare film where the actors playing teenagers really do pass for younger.
Emboldened by how The Weekend Away last week surpassed our expectations of a Netflix Original movie, we decided to watch Alyssa Milano in Brazen, (also based on a trashy novel) about a writer of trashy crime novels who has to solve her sister’s murder, and it was… just straight awful.
0xmusic is the only NFT project I’m interested in anymore, and I added a Serena to the collection this week. They just opened a beta that allows collectors to save MIDI files of the songs generated by their NFTs, so I tried that out. Importing the songs into GarageBand lets you swap out the default instruments and use higher quality virtual synthesizers. Pretty cool and lots of fun, despite my not having the skills to actually jam over them and make something new, but Rob took what I sent him and played some bass over it. I opened a Soundcloud account so I would have somewhere to save the experiments as I go.
Stromae was apparently a proper big deal in music a decade ago, but I somehow missed him completely. He’s back with his first new album in years (I think I linked a music video a few weeks ago): Multitude. I’ve been listening to this and a leaked version of Donda 2, which I’d previously sworn to ignore the existence of since it’s not being released like a normal person would release albums. So far, it’s an uneven mixtape which I would assume Kanye’s still working on.
(Next day addition) I’ve somehow fallen into the habit of watching Bloomberg TV over lunch and into the afternoons. This is something I would never have done before. I suspect as a side effect of following Twitter discussions of crypto markets, I’m now able to make a little sense of what they’re saying. It’s like reading a basic language handbook and then being able to pick out certain words when watching a foreign film. And obviously it’s a pretty eventful time in the world, so I’m really watching news about the war in the Ukraine, through the blurry lens of financial implications.
Probably nothing significant happened this week, apart from losing some money doing dumb trades. People seem to think all I do during my time off is play video games and watch TV, and for once this week that was actually kinda true.
Picked up Doom Classic on sale for the Switch, only $2.49 USD to relive one of the most impactful moments of my youth. I remember walking into the game store the week it came out and seeing people play through the first episode. It was like a glimpse into the future: dark atmospheric “3D” graphics far better than anything I’d seen, with incredible music synthesized through a Roland sound card (real sampled electric guitars!) — I couldn’t believe it. It was thrilling just to watch. When I asked how many floppies it came on, and I think the answer was two, my head exploded. Shareware? Two disks, not a CD-ROM? And it would run on my lowly 386-SX?! iD Software pulled off a moonshot that raised the bar for all games.
I made it through 4 of 10 episodes in Ace Attorney Chronicles. It’s probably the best (least annoying) game in the series I can recall. Mild spoilers follow. A large portion of the game covers the protagonist going to Victorian London, and there’s a fair amount of racism and xenophobia depicted. People calling you an untrustworthy Nipponese from a backwater Eastern land, and so on. What’s cool is that your party’s initial impressions upon arriving are so positive, so rose tinted about everything being wonderful and better there, that I thought I was in for an entire game of Japanese people romanticizing England to death (another trope), but then came the swift and surprising subversion. An hour later and your lawyer character starts questioning how superior the “world’s greatest legal system” really is.
Puzzle Quest 3 came out on mobile as a free-to-play game. I loved and played the hell out of the original on several platforms including the Nintendo DS, bugs and all. So I was ready to get sucked in again, but it’s hard to recapture that kind of charm, and the addition of in-app purchases and timers don’t help at all. I’ve leveled up my character to a point where I’m now caught between being too strong for easy missions and too weak for normal ones, and I’m not sure how to even grind upwards because the UI is inscrutable and I can’t see a way to replay previous story missions, which would help. Sad.
Bad television: the reunion episode of Love Is Blind USA, all but two remaining episodes of Love Island Australia, and a trash new Netflix movie starring Leighton Meester, The Weekend Away. I have to admit I really enjoyed the latter, which appears to be based on a book which is probably found on shelves next to The Girl On The Train and other improbable, twist-filled paperback murder mysteries.
We finished The Afterparty on Apple TV+, a comedy murder mystery not unlike Only Murders In The Building, but without the thing I liked most about that one: nosy amateur sleuths. In The Afterparty, the police are doing the detecting, and everyone’s a suspect. Worth a watch because each episode emulates a different film genre and most of it works well.
I also finished season 1 of Foundation on Apple TV+ and daaammnn. I started watching it way back when the new Dune came out, and it looked distinctively “TV” against the scale and aesthetic of that film. It took a few episodes before I found the core of the show for me, and that core is actor Lee Pace in the nuanced role of the tyrannical galactic emperor. You cycle through all possible feelings for him over the story arc, and making that work sure isn’t easy. There are a bunch of other things that could be improved/decheesed, but I’m down for season 2 ASAP.
Saw Part 2 of jeen-yus, the Kanye documentary, which made me go back to playing The College Dropout again. Undeniably great and timeless. The documentary is also a priceless artifact, because how often do you get a camera following an artist over 20 years, from before they even make it big? Can’t wait to see the third and final part covering his journey into madness and arguably even further greatness at the same time.
The Beatles 1 compilation album of all their #1 hits received a full Dolby Atmos remixing at the hands of Giles Martin, son of George, and you can hear what that means using spatial audio on an Apple device with Apple Music. They went back to the original four-track tapes and separated the instruments, previously flattened together into a single mono channel, so you can now hear them with a fullness that can only be described as “live”, especially with dynamic head tracking enabled on AirPods/Beats Fit Pro. So I’ve been listening to some of that, slowly.
In William Gibson’s book, The Peripheral (soon to be an Amazon Prime Video series!), there are references to an epoch-making event that turned everything to shit, and it’s all quite vague so you don’t know at first whether it was a nuclear war or some natural catastrophe. Everyone calls it “The Jackpot”, and you soon figure out that it wasn’t one thing, but several bad situations improbably lining up and landing at the same time. Not necessarily on a single day but a longer period of months or years maybe — still short when zoomed out on the timeline. We might already be living in a Jackpot of our own, but if not… it sure felt like the final “7” rolled into view this week.
All the updates and gory details of the Ukrainian invasion shared in real time now seems completely expected, but the invasion itself wasn’t, and so probably airdropped several tokens of ANX(iety) to everyone’s wallets. Coincidentally, I started reading Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing, a series of essays about how to resist social media and its effects. She prescribes exposure to nature quite a few times, which just isn’t going to work for me in this climate. Back to Twitter, I guess.
Locally, our Covid numbers hit a new high with 26,000 cases in a single day. Medical services are stretched, and the government has taken the step of telling employers to just believe employees when they say they’ve got Covid and can’t come in, no medical certificates needed. Unsurprisingly, this was followed by reports of companies still insisting on them.
Perhaps stupidly, I went out more this week than I have in a long while. I know because the number of socks in my laundry load went back to pre-pandemic levels. First was to see a couple of friends who moved to Japan just before Covid and are only now able to leave for a visit back here. There was also a night out with too much expensive tequila that I don’t need to remember, but I got a cat photo out of it.
I also saw Rob a couple more times before he left, and we took his kids out to eat “the best chicken rice in Singapore” (it’s not Tian Tian at Maxwell — don’t get me started). I asked his eldest what he thought of being back, and “it’s hot” was inevitably said, but he also observed that “everyone likes to say ‘it’s freezing’ when it’s like 30º”.
Rob turned me onto Jonathan Richman’s song That Summer Feeling, during a conversation about songs that induce nostalgia. Pulp’s Disco 2000 was my pick for a song that made even young people overcome with the regrets of growing old.
We started on the new season of Young Wallander on Netflix, a title I will never tire of saying out loud. I remember almost nothing of the first season, but this is going well.
As an antidote to all the murdering and double-crossing in our weekly TV diet, we’ve also started on season 3 of Love Island Australia, which is exactly what you’d expect. Some highlights include a girl who doesn’t know anything about Western Australia because she’s not good at “geometry”, and a guy who tried to say something wasn’t in his wheelhouse, but used the word “jurisdiction”, which he tried to pronounce several times before giving up and going with “it’s not in my area”.
On the Switch, I’ve started playing Ace Attorney Chronicles, which takes two previously Japan-only installments for the 3DS and translates, remasters, and packages them as a single purchase for USD$40 (often on sale for USD$30).
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.
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.
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.
Welcome back, it’s the last week of the year for people who love the moon. I decided to draw two Misery Men who look like a pair of oranges (which are traditionally exchanged as gifts during the Lunar New Year), and they are proactively numbered #87 and #88 (a famously lucky number in Chinese culture). Numbers 83–86 are done, but will be released later.
From an artistic standpoint, I think I learnt something new with the little tael hat on #88. The intention was to make it shiny and gold; I could see it in my head but wasn’t sure how to make it happen on the screen. In the end, trial and error got me close enough to be happy.
Last week, Michael linked to this two-hour video explaining why NFTs and Web3 are a scam at worst, and based on unstable premises at best. Since then I’ve encountered it more on Twitter and set aside the time to watch it. I think everyone touching the space should watch it, whether they’re involved out of personal interest in the tech/money/culture, or on behalf of clients who want to explore it. It covers a lot, but if I had to oversimplify my takeaways, I’d say that I mostly agree with his views — there are glaring flaws in the architecture of the prevailing networks today, enough to suggest a collapse or dystopian outcome if they grow to become infrastructure that the world depends on. I think there are many opportunities to be scammed out there, alongside a lot of space-wasting junk (content, apps, bots) that only exists because of the potential for asymmetrical upside. Maybe natural selection will sort it out and hone the landscape into a workable form, or it won’t. One place I don’t agree: he spends a little time at the start dismissing Bitcoin, but the rest of the video builds a case for why it’s something completely different from “crypto”.
People say Chinese New Year is generally a time of eating too much, which hasn’t been the case for me because I don’t particularly care for much of the seasonal food, except pineapple tarts. However, dinner on two consecutive days this week was Korean BBQ, as in loads of fatty pork belly, closer to a kilogram than not. We finally got a new smart scale after the old one died a few months ago, and it’s not something I want to confront right now.
Ironically, I got the new Beats Fit Pro, presumably so named because they 1) fit ears well and 2) are for fit people who work out. In brief, EarPods/AirPods have never fit me well and always feel on the verge of falling out, at least on my left side. But I haven’t gone back to other buds because of their Apple ecosystem convenience, audio features, and pocket-sized case.
The Beats Fit Pro fix the fit with wingtips that you know Apple would never put on AirPods (that would require acknowledging inconvenient truths about human anatomy), while offering every other benefit of the AirPods Pro. Okay, the case is a little bigger, but it’s manageable. They also have the latitude to sound more fun (whereas Apple would prefer being neutral, aspirationally audiophile) and come in several colors. After being acquired for the platform that would become Apple Music, it seemed at times like the Beats brand might not survive long under the master’s roof, but I’m glad it has.
Also, this “Behind The Design” video strikes me as one of the best product videos to come out of Apple lately. It simply starts with a strong problem statement and then shows you how they solved it. Then it’s just good music, pretty exploded 3D visuals, and shots of the headphones in use by above average looking people.
Went back to Hades on the Switch in lieu of starting a big new proper game. It’s good.
Watched The Puppet Master on Netflix, a 3-part documentary on an extraordinarily bold and psychotic conman who ruined some people’s lives in an unbelievable way. Worth watching just to remind yourself it can happen.
Started Den-noh Coil on Netflix, a landmark anime series from 2007 that I’d never heard of before. It has an art style that looks of its time, but the story and central technologies (AR/XR glasses on everyone creating a parallel world) could have been written for today. I’m only three episodes in, but I think I’m gonna love it.
The Beatles’ legendary rooftop performance, restored and featured in the Get Back series, has been released as its own album (Apple Music), mixed in spatial audio with Dolby Atmos. Just great on a new pair of headphones.