Week 24.21

Went out just once for leisure purposes; we’re in partial lockdown after all. Saw an exhibition of Chinese ink paintings by Chinese-Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

After 35 hours of virtual oden eating and street thug harassment, I finally finished Judgment on the PS4 with most side cases solved. I usually don’t enjoy tonal inconsistency, but I can’t get enough of how the Yakuza games (I include this one) just jump from serious melodrama to comic absurdity. You can be searching a murder scene for clues but also follow the sound of mewing to find hidden cats for bonus points. Some PI cases have you spying on suspected criminals, while others have you hanging expensive lingerie up on your roof to bait a local panty thief (who uses a drone). I can’t wait to revisit these characters in the sequel later this September.

Also finished watching all 24 episodes of Steins;gate 0 at 1.25x speed. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more had I remembered the ending of the first series a bit better (it’s been a decade). So the ending of this was an anticlimax because I didn’t follow how the big problem was being solved — tying up time travel loose ends is more work than usual.

We finally saw our last remaining episode of Izakaya Bottakuri on Netflix. It’s a rather corny and harmless Japanese drama about two sisters who run a little izakaya they inherited from their parents. Most episodes involve a regular customer’s backstory and some closeups of food being fried. The one noteworthy thing about the show is how every episode has a character describe their beverage’s selling points in great detail: usually a domestic craft beer, or regional sake made with some special process. After the end credits, the lead actress comes back to hold up the bottle and talk about tonight’s alcohol selection. It’s blatant content marketing, but I am quite alright with the idea of a TV show bankrolled by booze companies!

I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s new film, Wrath of Man, which stars Jason Statham in the kind of badass role he’s perfected over god knows how many similar outings. But it’s probably one of his best. I appreciate what Ritchie brings to what would otherwise by a straightforward heist and revenge story: heaps of style and chronology jumping for the hell of it.

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Of course, it was also WWDC week. No new hardware products, but the curtain came back for iOS 15 and while there aren’t any big, must-have features to look forward to, some very nice quality of life upgrades all around. I’m especially looking forward to quicker on-device Siri, tags in Notes, and more intelligence in Photos. iPadOS could have gone further and pushed the new M1 chips with pro-level apps or even a goddamn calculator, but all we got were the long-awaited cleanup of the multitasking interaction model and free placement of last year’s widgets, plus everything else new on the iPhone side.

I may be remembering things wrong, but there wasn’t any news on the Apple TV apart from spatial audio support, and watchOS is just grinding out more of the same, expansion pack style, with new workout and mindful activity types.

Spatial audio is quite a big deal, though. I recently watched some Dolby Atmos enabled videos content on my new iPad with AirPods, and it really works. With the launch of Atmos music tracks on Apple Music this week, I spent some time listening to old and new tracks to put it through its paces. I tend to agree with everyone who’s observed that the rock music examples are generally terrible, and the effect works best on jazz and classical music — where even studio cuts usually strive to reproduce the context of a live performance. The new spatial remixes of vintage jazz records have more atmosphere and you can point around you to where each player seems to be seated. Perhaps it’s like colorizing old photos, gimmicky and impure to some, but bringing them closer in space and time nonetheless. I think the technology is a positive development.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 23.21: Eternal Judgment, visiting the mall of westtown, and surviving a fridge failure

  • I returned to the office on Monday to get some things out of my locker (you know a jar of Branston pickle is old when it’s never been opened but manages to make the whole cupboard smell of it), which was my first time back in a couple of months now. With the “Phase 2 (Heightened Alert)” order still in effect, it was a ghost town.
  • The first half of the week was spent watching Steins;gate 0, the 2018 sequel to regular ol’ Steins;gate from 2011 — a SF anime series about degenerate outcasts in Akihabara who figure out a form of time travel and universe splitting. Most of this was done hunched over my 11” iPad Pro, which made me wish all over again that I’d sprung for the 13” model last month. I stopped midway through the 24 episodes and will probably finish them next week.
  • Everyone’s talking about Mare of Easttown, so we watched all seven episodes. I find stories set in small towns claustrophobic and hellish. Everyone is already miserable, and the murders only make it worse. The show is pretty good anyway, but I won’t be spending a minute thinking about it now that it’s over.
  • Playing Judgment on the PS4 consumed about 20 of the remaining hours and I don’t know if I’m even halfway through the story. It’s excellent fun, and well worth the S$22 it costs now. In the Yakuza series, you often visit hostess clubs and have to pick the right things to say to get the girls to like you. As a spin-off of that series, Judgment has a brilliant side-mission where you control one of the main character’s female associates, and have to go undercover as a hostess during an investigation. It works with you having to pick the right things to say to the men to get them to buy more bottles and open up.
  • Perhaps related to this video game binge: I had a violent dream where I was being attacked by a homeless person (this happens in Judgment a fair few times) and actually woke up kicking in real life, with an elevated heart rate. This has never happened before as far as I can remember!
  • I read another 20% of The Diamond Age, and wondered why I don’t spend all my time reading instead of playing repetitive open-world games. Maybe it’s the heat of the afternoon sun, maybe it’s the equivalent of going to a buffet when deathly hungry and stuffing your face with all the carby and unhealthy stuff first. I’ll chew slowly when I’m less starved.
  • Our refrigerator also stopped working mid-week, which was a great source of stress for 24 hours. Although I barely use the fridge at all most of the time, it seemed to cast an outsized pall over everything in my life. I was miserable at the thought of having to get a new one and deal with everything around it. Happily, it turned out to be a problem with the mains which was sorted out quickly.
  • When I used to have a regular commute, I would sometimes take a route that brought me to a nearby neighborhood mall with an MRT station attached. It’s nothing special, has a few clothing stores, a videogame store that isn’t cheaper than just buying digital, restaurants, and a library. Since Covid, I haven’t had any occasion to visit.
  • This week, I was sent a thoughtful gift which was delivered to some self-service lockers at the mall, so I took a trip down to see what I was missing. Hmm, that makes two locker visits this week. And two ghost town visits too, given how bereft of commercial activity most stores looked. I walked around for maybe 20 minutes, trying to find something I actually wanted. I don’t think most of these physical stores have any reason to exist now, sadly. Even if I wanted to buy any of it, apart from a new TV or fridge that would make sense to check out in person, I’d probably be better off online.

Week 22.21: The metagame is tying up loose ends that are other games

  • It was a good week in playing video games. I finished a bunch I’ve had in various states of completion, some for years. A much neater base (mentally) from which to start attacking the backlog of unplaced games in the weeks to come.
  • First up was Yakuza Kiwami (2016), a remake of the first Yakuza game on PS2, built ground-up in the same engine as Yakuza 0 (2015). I started this over a year ago, which sounds like a long time but when it comes to video games my memory just… saves them, and I was able to get right back into the story. Finishing this has put Yakuza 0 much lower in my queue… it’s just not as polished as Yakuza 6, whose Dragon Engine powers Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Judgment.
  • After finishing Kiwami, I immediately bought Yakuza Kiwami 2 on sale to be played later on. Since I got Judgment a few weeks ago, I decided to get right into it, and found that it’s hilariously a straight-up redeployment of all the Yakuza series’ assets into a “new” game by the same team. It’s set in the same part of Shinjuku, and all the shops and items are exactly the same. It feels great to be able to navigate by feel, and know the space. But yeah it looks tons better than it did in Kiwami 1.
  • The second game to be finished was The World Ends With You (TWEWY) which I mentioned awhile back. I’m now all set for the sequel in July. After that, I blazed through Shadow of the Tomb Raider which I bought last November in anticipation of having time to play around Christmas. I only got halfway through, and it was nice to finally put a pin in this reboot trilogy. IMO, the first game was great. I liked the isolated survival vibes of Lara being lost on a single island, outsmarting her captors. The next two games went for globetrotting and doubled down on supernatural elements. Impressive to play and look at, but not as “fun”.
  • On the Switch, I’ve returned to Persona 5 Strikers which was put aside two hours after being bought and started back in February. Also very satisfying, because I really hate the feeling of having stuff half done and lying all about.
  • Went out twice this week for evening walks. The second time was also to go somewhere and use up excess fuel in our car before sending it off to be scrapped this weekend. It’s reached the end of its legally usable lifespan, and so we’re required to turn it over. Instead of immediately going on the (used) market for another vehicle, we’re going to try and see how long we can do without one and use public transport instead. Our needs have changed now, and it’s also saving a lot of money.
  • I watched Zack Snyder’s Army of the Dead on Netflix, which I was led to believe would be the worst film of all time. Thanks perhaps to lowered expectations, plus my recent enduring of his 4-hour Justice League cut, it turned out to be a fine and gory use of time.
  • We continued watching season 1 of Servant on Apple TV+, which I expected would be mostly horror. Instead it’s only a little creepy and occasionally funny, with lots of effective mystery/question dangling to keep you trying to find out what the hell is going on. I stayed an M. Night Shyamalan fan even through those years his stock was falling, so I may be biased.
  • Speaking of holding things as they fall: the markets these few weeks, eh?
  • In COVID news, the cases have “stabilized”, which is a way of saying we’re still getting 20+ cases a day in the community but that number isn’t growing. The Prime Minister is set to address the nation live on Monday afternoon (tomorrow), so let’s see what that’s about.
  • Elsewhere, it’s looking a little bleaker. Cases are rising in some countries, Vietnam has discovered a new variant that is more transmissible, and I just read that the vaccines are less effective on women than on men. My wife is planning a visit to the UK soon for familial reasons, which is probably unwise today and hopefully does not become unwiser still.

Week 21.21: Partly immune, getting into the rhythm of rest, and asking What’s A Computer?

I got my first dose of the Moderna vaccine. Although most people say the side effects (fevers, full-body aches, headaches, oversleeping) are really only felt with the second dose, I was apprehensive. It turned out okay, kinda mild muscle ache on the one bicep and some tiredness that I can’t be sure isn’t just my normal sluggishness.

Step 1 of the vaccination process at a community center

Community infection cases have been on the rise. The new measures I mentioned last week have kicked in, so there’s no more dining out or meeting in groups, which is expected to bring numbers down in another week or two. Until then, this is how it looked this week.

Infections in the community:
Mon: 21
Tue: 27
Wed: 34
Thu: 27
Fri: 30
Sat: 22
Sun: 21

My vacation time started on Tuesday, so the four weekdays were mostly spent lazing about and looking at screens. I watched my money go up but mostly down. I continued checking my work email and following up on a few messages, out of habit. So this process of unwinding looks to take awhile; I don’t really feel like my break has properly begun.

I started journaling privately again, to have a record of how I’m spending my time. Perhaps these public posts will become shorter and more to the point over time as a result?

I got back to playing 2064: Read Only Memories on the Switch after a long time. My initial reaction to it was disappointment, mostly in the clunky non-touch UI and annoying voice acting, so I put it aside after half an hour and haven’t touched it in maybe a year? I figured I should get some mileage out of the purchase and tie up loose ends before playing other games. I finally finished it on the weekend. It’s better than I thought it’d be, but wouldn’t recommend you get it if you already have a healthy backlog of games to get through.

This week was also the release of the new iPad Pro models. My 11” in silver arrived Friday, and wow it’s a nice change from my last one. Face ID in concert with the Magic Keyboard makes me really glad I got this and not the iPad Air. You can just open it up, tap the space bar, and the thing unlocks and you’re in (like on a MacBook with Apple Watch).

Finally able to enjoy spatial audio with a screen bigger than my iPhone’s, I sat down to watch two episodes of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier on Disney+, and let me tell you, it actually justifies Apple’s use of the word “magic”. I can’t wait to hear the new Atmos mixes for albums on Apple Music. Yes, it made me kinda regret not getting the 13” model with the XDR screen. Maybe next time.

Speaking of Apple Music, Muji has put nearly all their BGM albums up for streaming. I bought a couple of them as CDs back in the day — you may recall their corrugated cardboard sleeves for sale on the shelves beside those wall-mounted CD players by Naoto Fukasawa. I tried looking these up years ago and was disappointed there was no way to get them digitally. Prayer answered.

In TV land, we found a way to watch the latest season of Gogglebox, which I still highly recommend to everyone. One of the episodes started to show the new season (#6) of Line of Duty, and we had to stop there because we hadn’t seen it yet. Netflix only has up to season 5 right now. One entire Sunday later, and we finished the whole season and are now completely done with the series.

Week 18.21

  • COVID cases have re-emerged in the community here, after many months of quiet, just a week after Bloomberg put Singapore at the top of a worldwide list of the safest cities to be right now. The main cluster is centered around a hospital where I believe a nurse was infected, and 27 linked cases have been discovered so far. The entire ward has been quarantined and thousands of patients in the hospital have been tested. Somehow, there are also cases at a secondary school, and I saw a headline about a spa technician being another one. So the scope of this will probably expand a little over the next week.
  • Already, the government has backtracked on its previous recommendations to have the majority of employees return to offices. We’re now being told to work from home where possible. It’s my opinion that this should simply be the default recommendation forevermore.
  • We tried watching more Runaways on Disney+ after last weekend, but it’s not sticking anymore. Its initial narrative energy, all nitrous borrowed from its subversive premise, has burnt out. Each episode is now a meandering, time-wasting YA cringefest. I think we’re going to quit it at this point in the middle of season 1.
  • I was in the mood for a dumb action movie over the weekend but had a lot of trouble finding one quickly on Netflix. I eventually settled on Bloodshot, which is a Universal Soldier-alike vehicle for Vin Diesel, who I remember starting out as a likable personality but by all accounts today is a horrible person/co-worker and something of a modern day Steven Seagal on the set. I made it maybe halfway through before quitting out of boredom.
  • If you’re looking for a recommendation: Without Remorse, starring Michael B. Jordan and out now on Amazon Prime Video, is not a shit film at all. In fact, it has fresh ideas that make for a couple of original-feeling set pieces.
  • Birdy has a new album out, which I discovered through this video for the single, Second Hand News. Apple Music’s liner notes says she had writer’s block after a breakup, and these new songs were shaken loose after she rediscovered Joni Mitchell’s “conversational songwriting”. I love it. It does feel a little Joni.

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Right after I published last week’s post with a picture of my new HEY.com t-shirt, the founders of the company released a controversial statement about how they wouldn’t allow “distracting” non-work discussions in the workplace anymore, which resulted in a PR shitshow and about 30% of their company publicly quitting on Twitter.

I haven’t looked deeply into the details, but some parts I skimmed suggested a toxic environment and leadership style mixed with the ever-inflamed issues of race and politics in the US. Who knows if they’ll get the message and rebuild their culture, but I’d be upset if it means I’ll have to change my email address again. The amount of mental time spent on that deliberation last year was enough for another decade. I really like the service so far and would subscribe for a second year.

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Not at all related to a toxic workplace is the small announcement I can now make that I’ll be taking some time off in a few weeks to enjoy a long-wished-for sabbatical. The Currently Reading/Playing/Watching aspects of these updates will probably expand. I can’t wait to start on my backlog of games and books.

As mentioned several times in the past few months, I’ve been feeling in need of a recharge and also interested in the concept of mini-retirements throughout life. Granted, I can’t travel in this current climate, but there’s still plenty of room to develop new interests, ideas, and directions. As I enter the second half (hopefully not third) of my so-called career, it seems like it’s worth taking a wider view of what other kinds of value can be extracted from the ever-diminishing energy and light of this short stay on Earth. Maybe I’ll get into finger painting?

A few weeks ago while writing one of these posts, I referenced an article about the nature of work, and was slightly irritated by its very broad definition. It used “work” to encompass all labor, whether for the purposes of making a living or not. Contributions to society, to one’s family, towards your own interests and goals — all of it was called work. I preferred using the word to mean paid labor only, and thought it was quite a privileged stance to include all sorts of things one freely chooses to do. There are too many people toiling at their limits to stay fed and sheltered, dreaming of the day they can finally rest in the absence of work: retirement, the promised realm of reward.

However now that I’m on the precipice of free time, I can see a little dimly through that lens. For those with the opportunity to opt out of paid labor, even if only for a little while, a new terror appears in the form of questioning “am I relevant? Am I valuable?” Freed from our contracts, we want to fill the gaping hole in our calendars with Meaningful and Impactful activities. We want to do work in any form. If we’re raising a child, we tell everyone it’s “a full-time job”. If we’re volunteering out of passion at a non-profit organization, we say we’re finally “doing our lives’ work”.

I don’t disagree with this use of the word now. It’s not that we should label everything we do as work; it’s that all purposeful activity can fairly be called work. Anything that takes something out of you to produce an outcome is work, and we should all engage in it for as long as we can, even after we stop being traditionally employed. Your work can be about learning, teaching, or doing. It can find you producing or repairing, supporting or leading, communicating or meditating. It can be social or entirely solitary. Even when we take the time to rest, it’s in service of our work. Retirement might be the wrong state to aspire to, after all. It’s dying, becoming inert; all subtraction and invisibility.

In this tiredness, I so badly want to do nothing, but I’m also afraid I won’t let myself. Or that I shouldn’t. We’ll see what comes of it in the months to come.

Week 17.21

  • This may have been the first time that an Apple event week coincided with my birthday week. Expectations of having a present to buy myself were high, but when it turned out that only the iPad Pro in 12.9” size would be getting the mini-LED display technology I’d been waiting for, and that the damned thing would cost me about S$3,000 in all (with AppleCare+, Pencil, and Magic Keyboard), I began to have second thoughts. After a little deliberation and rationalizing, I ordered myself last year’s iPad Air as a good enough substitute. Normally, you’d expect to receive it in a day or two, but perhaps because of Covid, its ETA was next week instead.
  • And then on the weekend, I started to doubt the wisdom of not buying the latest and greatest, because I knew it would grow to become a nagging dissatisfaction. It would only cost an additional S$360 to go from a 256GB WiFi iPad Air to a 256GB WiFi iPad Pro 11”. That money pays for (roughly in descending order of importance to me): a smoother and brighter ProMotion display; the M1 chip for more future-proof performance; Face ID; four speakers instead of two; LIDAR and additional cameras, including the new front-facing one with Center Stage; supposedly “studio-quality” microphones; and Thunderbolt/USB4 compatibility. Sounds like a good deal, doesn’t it? A pity about not having mini-LED on the 11”, but it’s clearly a better device regardless. So I’ve canceled the iPad Air and will have to wait at least another month for the Pro to go on sale.
  • The other nagging thought I had was that maybe some new features in iPadOS 15 this year will be exclusive to M1-bearing iPads. These iPads have 8/16GB of RAM for the first time (actually listed on Apple’s site!), which makes them the hardware equal of the M1 MacBooks. What if… developers of Mac apps could elect to publish quick iPad versions? I don’t have a Mac of my own anymore, and a way to occasionally manage and transfer files to hardware devices like my Kobo would be welcome, so any app interoperability would be amazing. What if you could run an iPad over two displays for double the multitasking? If any of this comes to pass but leaves the iPad Air out, I wouldn’t even be able to look at it, let alone use it for the next three years.
  • TL;DR: the iPad Air is great and more than enough to get stuff done, but if you want slightly nicer bits, you might want to pay more for the 11” Pro. And I’ve decided that I am the type of idiot who would wallow in eternal regret if he didn’t spring for the nice bits.
  • Because it’s a birthday month, the wanton overeating continued. Cake, pizza, cocktails, wagyu beef bourguignon, a lavish slab of kueh salat from a Michelin-starred restaurant, and a lovely bit of smoked pork collar at a wedding lunch I had the privilege to attend. Tonight, we’re going out for more Italian. There’s yakiniku scheduled in a few days. It’s irresponsible but no one has stepped in to stop me.
  • I’ve slowed down on Star Trek: Legends, mostly because it’s so bug ridden I think I’m better off waiting for another update before continuing.
  • I enjoyed some of Marvel’s Runaways comic series a few years back, but didn’t know it was turned into a TV show for Hulu. Three seasons of it are now available on our local Disney+ and it’s very bingeable, as we found out this weekend. The less you know going in, the better. Most synopses give away too much in the first sentence alone.
  • A few weeks ago, HEY.com started selling t-shirts with their logo on them. Knowing that they’re really ads for their service, they priced them low; apparently at cost. As an enthusiastic early adopter and current user, I had to get one. It finally arrived in Singapore on my birthday, which was a nice coincidence.