This post is delayed on account of the Lunar New Year weekend; hope you had a good one if you celebrate!
After two years of restrictions and fear (not to mention peace and quiet), we returned to the old chaos with a few family gatherings and house visits. Unfortunately, one of my favorite parts of the whole thing, a large reunion dinner on the Eve with some of our most senior relatives, was still off the table on account of their mounting health issues. I wonder if we’ll ever get a chance to see everyone on that side of the family all together again.
I brought my GR III out to capture some of these moments, and fortunately Ricoh released their previously mentioned new Diary Edition model just the day before, which meant the firmware update for older models to get their new Negative film-inspired “Image Control” mode was also released. After some experimentation, I’ve settled on these settings: Saturation +1, High Key +2, Contrast +1, Shadow Exposure -1. Am looking forward to using it for more everyday snaps in 2023.
While hanging around with some relatives in the afternoon of Day 1, a few of us downloaded the Dimensional personality test app and began answering its slew of profiling questions to compare our toxic traits, love languages, and all that. It co-opts a bunch of well-known existing frameworks like the MBTI and so on into one gigantic pile of traits. Does that constitute a unique and proprietary offering? I don’t know, but it’s fun enough and free. Be warned, completing all available questions can take over an hour.
Speaking of apps, my advance pick for 2023’s game of the year launched this week on Apple Arcade: Pocket Card Jockey Ride On. It’s a remake of the Nintendo 3DS eShop exclusive now fixed up with better graphics and subtle gameplay tweaks. If you never played the original, do yourself a favor and give it a try. It’s an addictive solitaire-based game; the main downside (for me) is it’s time-based and needs some concentration and so isn’t something you can play while in a noisy environment.
My Mastodon use has fallen off a little. I actually prefer Twitter’s algorithmic timeline to a chronological one because I tend to follow too many people to keep up, and need some help sifting out the “best” content from the rest. Mastodon is beginning to give me the uncomfortable feeling of a full inbox, but perhaps I should simply follow fewer people.
The general rule around here is to avoid talking about work — although it is usually such a big cost center for my time — but we had a new colleague relocate from Shanghai, and it was nice welcoming them to town and having a couple of impromptu beers on a weekday night.
Last episode, I mentioned seeing some Tezos NFT art at Singapore Art Week. Well I came across one of the pieces for sale (entitled D-909 Groove Arcade) and decided to go through the trouble of creating a Tezos wallet and getting some funds in so I could buy it. It’s one edition out of 167, and so was only like USD$20, but I’m super happy to have it. Can art be absolutely adorable and funky at the same time? Provably yes!
I also continued generating non-existent videogame screenshots using Midjourney, expanding the fictional timeline to include modern-day remakes of old games. I should spend more time pushing this idea further but so far I’ve only done it in spare moments or when I should really be doing something else.
Everything But The Girl is back after what feels like decades, and the video for their new single is an incredible piece of choreography and one-take execution. I could only think of the immense pressure on each person not to fuck up. Dimensional seems to concur, reporting that my main motivation is Security.
We kind of started planning our trip to Japan later this year, but there’s still a lot to figure out in terms of what to do, and where to spend our time. It seems a lot of the popular hotels and destinations are selling out fast, if not already sold out, because of the resumption of travel out of China. I’m going to use this as a test of two new collaboration features in iOS and macOS: shared Safari Tab Groups, and the new Freeform whiteboarding app. In theory this should allow us to gather links to interesting ideas and plot them out together across our devices over several days.
On Friday afternoon, I was excited to see an article saying that one of the best bowls of ramen I’ve ever had was finally coming to Singapore. In fact, it was their opening day, and we decided to just go down right after work to try and get a seat. After about 20 minutes of queuing (which was nothing compared to the maybe three hours we spent in line for the main restaurant in Tokyo), we got into Nakiryu at Plaza Singapura, and were sorely disappointed. For starters, their signature Szechuan-style Tan Tan/Dan Dan noodles were sold out. We ordered shio and shoyu ramen instead, and they were roundly mediocre. The service was also spotty and uncoordinated.
It’s a pattern that the local franchisee Japan Food Holdings (who’ve done the same thing with Afuri and others) seems to be repeating: bring in a brand people are excited for, then do nothing to capture the original taste and quality. I suspect if you did a side-by-side comparison of the ramen from several of their brands, you’d find they’re just selling the same product under different names. Sadly, they’ve probably got the connections to get these deals and as long as the money flows in, the original companies don’t care how badly it’s done outside of Japan.
Singapore Art Week is back and we attended two events: SEA Focus and the creatively named Art SG. The former’s at Keppel Distripark where the Singapore Art Museum’s temporary spot is, and features a little NFT art corner sponsored by Tezos. In contrast to the other exhibits, I found the work in there refreshingly playful, modern, vibey.
At Art SG (a large and mostly serious gallery fair over two floors at Marina Bay Sands), I also found myself reacting more to the digital or digitally inspired work. There was a large print of a CloneX pfp, attributed to Murakami, mounted on a wall that I saw from across the hall and made a beeline towards. The Pace gallery (which I only happen to know because of their collaborations with Art Blocks) space featured teamLab’s NFT project, and a James Turrell projection. The teamLab one is cool: anyone can download and run the artwork (an app) on their PC or Mac. These are regarded as authentic and valid copies of the work. However, one can also own an NFT of the work (there are only 7), and these collectors can change the text seen in the art for everyone else. Oh, and they’re $200,000 each.
Elsewhere, I saw a work that was a white flag printed with a surrender message that I’d read before but didn’t know where. I googled the text but nothing came up. Later, I found a tweet from early 2022 referencing it: an on-chain exchange between two MEV… “searchers”? The tweets only have between a couple hundred and a couple thousand likes, so it’s probably not a widely known thing. But I definitely saw and remembered it from last year, which means I’ve spent too much time spectating in a very small fringe community. And my time spent appreciating generative art has definitely ruined traditional abstract art for me.
Speaking of which, I was excited to add an edition of The Field by Beer van Geer to my collection this week. It’s an interesting (animated) work in that all 369 pieces are different views of the same “territory”, starting at random points, zoom levels, and rendered with different palettes, but viewers of any section can move away from those starting points and explore. As I understand it, the field itself was created from noise data created by aggregating hundreds of images from the artist’s body of work, trying to derive a sort of pattern map or artistic fingerprint from their ouevre. Isn’t that so much more exciting than static paint on canvas??
Ricoh announced a new special edition of the GR III compact camera, called the “Diary Edition”. Yeah it sounds like one of those translated-from-Japanese names that sounds slightly awkward in English, but I like it. As a name, you can’t get much clearer about the concept of a camera that you’re meant to carry around to intentionally document everyday life, and it even comes with a new “negative film” look that will also come to older GR III models via a firmware update. Whether or not this behavior is one that users will actually embrace when they already have smartphones, I don’t know. I suspect not, outside for a few glorious weirdos. But the atmosphere and quality of these photos could hardly be more different than your smartphone snaps, unless you go the film route.
As a new colorway, I also love the look of the Diary Edition.
Here are a couple of photos I took with my GR III on the way to the art fair:
We watched a couple of spy TV shows, of which Jack Ryan’s season 2 was the undisputed best. We’ll start on season 3 soon.
Miyachi’s second album, Crows, is out. I heard it through once and it’s a bop. I don’t know what he’s rapping about but I’m sure it’s slightly problematic.
I finished Arcade Spirits but can’t recommend it if you’ve got many great games in your Switch backlog. To recap, it’s a Western visual novel about running a video game arcade. Some of the background art is basic and not very polished. I was struck several times by the thought that a game creator today could create far better generic bar/beach/arcade interior background art in seconds using AI. And they probably will/are already. So as an artifact of our pre-AI phase, Arcade Spirits stands out as a bit lacking in the production quality department.
Here’s a tweet showing a game prototype someone purportedly threw together using AI tools to create the graphics, icons, and voice acting!
Quite coincidentally, I started experimenting with Midjourney prompts on Monday trying to get the EGA/VGA PC game look of the Sierra games I played in the 80s and 90s. I found a good solution and started using it to visualize screenshots of #fictionalgames from the golden era of PC games, ones that never existed, or that might be made today with modern concepts.
I opened last week’s update wishing for an Apple Music playlist that recreates detective Harry Bosch’s jazz music collection for those of us who’re okay with digital in place of vinyl. Well I’ve found one: BOSCH JAZZ by Bobby T. It’s 111 songs (nearly 12 hours), lovingly put together by an obvious fan — you know an amateur playlist is going to be good when they’ve bothered to make their own cover art.
There’s so much new music out, I’m going to need a commute again to get through it all. I’M KIDDING! I think I’d rather be unemployed. But Ryan Adams seems back to his old ways, just musically, one would hope, releasing a third album called FM available on his site now and on streaming soon. If you count Romeo & Juliet as a double album, then he’s put out four already this year. Also, King Princess with Hold On Baby, which I’ve heard through once and wasn’t entirely satisfied by. The first half of DOMi and JD BECK’s NOT TiGHT on Anderson .Paak’s new label, though, sounds amazing and entirely tight. Plus there’s new Perfume, Maggie Rogers, and Billie Eilish…
I saw somewhere recently that the use of ellipses, as in the punctuation mark above, is a boomer (not really, but just everyone who isn’t young) thing. It’s made me very self conscious lately.
Wednesday was my day off which I spent playing games and drone flying with my dad in a very pleasant return to the sabbatical era.
It never occurred to me 1) to call them reading slumps, but it’s a perfect name for this state of being all read out after going through too many books too fast; which happens to me annually, or 2) that it also happens to other people. I read the first third of Seveneves (enjoyed it fine) and then suddenly left it alone for weeks. No progress this week either.
Instead, I picked up Life Is Strange: True Colors for the Nintendo Switch on sale, having enjoyed the first series many years ago. True Colors is still episodically arranged, but released as a single installment. I’m about halfway through, and would recommend it as a light gaming experience (no skill required) with good writing and some actual emotional weight. It features an inclusion and diversity situation that seems unrealistic for the small town it’s set in (you play a Chinese American girl and get to determine her sexual orientation, you’re surrounded by people of color, mental health issues are discussed), but I love that they’re simply showing and not telling. Bear in mind the game looks a decade old on the Switch, so just get it on your platform of choice. I prioritized portability and a lower price.
End of Sunday update: I’ve just about finished the main game now. It felt shorter than I expected, but was still about 10 hours? I would have enjoyed a more epic and twisty mystery, but the point seems to be soaking in the quiet small town moments, music, and interactions with new friends. And feeling depressed. There are a few sucker punches in here.
Have also started on a new mobile gacha game, ALICE Fiction by Wonderplanet. Years ago, this company released another title that borrowed the aesthetic and some of the narrative set up of Mamoru Hosoda’s Summer Wars, recently mentioned here as one of my favorite anime films. Sadly, while they had the idea then, the execution in Crash Fever did not pay off. This time, they seem to have brought a much bigger budget and many more influences. The result is a more generic but probably quite crowd-pleasing anime-ish puzzle game. While there’s the old tiresome squad battle thing going on, it’s underpinned by a color-matching game mechanic that I don’t mind at all. In fact, this linear gem conveyor belt thing is definitely familiar. I may have encountered it before in some game on the Xbox360. Anyway, it looks great and is worth a look if you’re into any of this.
It’s worth mentioning that ALICE Fiction’s conceit, seen in the second App Store screenshot, is that it’s set in the metaverse. Not new, we’ve had this for ages, e.g. Sword Art Online and its many game adaptations. But I’ve been seeing an increase in mediocre open-world games that bill themselves as a/the metaverse, for obvious marketing and investor-attracting reasons. I expect this trend to accelerate, with hundreds of companies willing some faux-metaverse into existence, creating extreme confusion as to what it really means, so that by the time we actually have one it will (thankfully) be referred to as something else entirely.
Looking for a new show on Amazon Prime Video, we found Chloe, a co-production with the BBC with a premise that sounds like you’d struggle to get with it, but by god does it work somehow. In part thanks to Erin Doherty’s shapeshifting performance of a pathological shapeshifter, and in part due to deft direction that creates effective suspense. It’s not something to watch directly before trying to sleep.
Midjourney upgraded their algorithms and the new V3 system creates even more impressive images than before. I’ve been playing with creating food photos lately, trying to make unlikely pairings such as Spam slices sprinkled with 24K gold flakes. Also a series on Conscientious Consumption, where you are bludgeoned over the head with symbols of the environmental and moral costs of what you’re eating.
Oh, I’ve also been using the VSCO app’s fairly new Dodge & Burn brush feature and loving it. Fairly mad that in this day and age of touchscreens, all the other popular photo editing apps don’t let you just reach out and light pixels. Instead, we have radial/linear masks in Darkroom, and other clunky controls. VSCO has been flirting with the bottom of the barrel lately (Hipstamatic firmly owning said bottom), but the addition of this one classic tool has helped its chances of survival significantly.
A quiet few days, in which I was mostly left to my own devices (namely iPhone, MacBook Air, Nintendo Switch) on account of a traveling wife. Owing to her absence and one particular event to be celebrated, I had a massive number of calories in the form of curry rice, duck ramen, pasta, pizza, Indian takeout, cocktails, and then more cocktails.
It’s all media activity this week:
If you edit photos on your iPhone or iPad at all, you’ll know the Darkroom app. I think I even wrote some primitive thoughts on it way back when it first came out. Let me see… here we go, from seven years ago (ugh). They moved to a subscription model awhile back, as all good apps are fated to, but I’ve been grandfathered into a legacy license all this time on account of old in-app purchases.
Their latest major update is the first with features that require having a subscription, namely a set of very handy AI-powered masks. I mean the kind that automatically selects segments of the image, not animated face filters or anything like that. To be fair, other apps like Polarr have already had this, and Snapseed has always had a method for making very intuitive selective adjustments via touch gestures. But Darkroom has them now, and they are implemented logically and quite well. So with a few taps, you can select the background in a photo to darken it and allow subjects to stand out, or cast light on faces in shadow, and so on.
I played around with it and was quite happy to subscribe, because I don’t actually want to use Polarr (cumbersome UI, too many features I don’t use, no P3 color space support) or Snapseed (just about completely abandoned by Google, surprise!) as my main photo editors. Darkroom, VSCO, and Pixelmator Photo are now all I need when iOS’s built-in tools aren’t enough.
I went back to play Disco Elysium and was shocked to see my last save game dated back in mid-January; where did the time go? Fortunately, it was easy to get back into, and I eventually finished my (first) playthrough the next day — a total of about 25 hours. My thoughts from before still stand: it’s a magnificent achievement in writing, voice acting, ludonarrative design, whatever. Good jokes. A great cast of characters. If Baldur’s Gate was a noir-inspired political-philosophical tragicomedy.
13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim has also been hard to put down. I think I’ve got a handle on what’s really going on in its bizarre Greatest Tropes of SF story, but since I’m only halfway through, there are probably a few more twists ahead. Beautiful art direction, like raster art from a world where 64-bit consoles never made the move to 3D.
Saw The Batman in a single sitting. Like most citizens of Earth, I’m mostly tired of this franchise but I found the first third or so quite enthralling because Robert Pattinson’s brooding emo version is like an odd mashup of Robin/Nightwing and Batman. The vulnerability and inexperience he portrays does do something different. As an attempt to cast the Batman into a realistic world like our own, it surpasses all of Nolan’s soulless movies, because here you truly observe the weirdness of a man in a rubber suit moving through the city, talking to cops, fighting in nightclubs — he’s just a cosplayer with a death wish. When a cop spits the word “freak” at him, it makes more sense than ever before.
Unfortunately, the second half of the film lets itself down, and by the time you get to the scene where Bruce uses a spray can to draw a giant but very basic mind-map on the floor of his own apartment, something a child could have done mentally, it’s too late. It ends unintentionally funny and a bit cringey.
We also saw Everything Everywhere All At Once and I don’t have much to say except it’s possibly perfect. When I went to log it in Letterboxd, I couldn’t do any less than 5 stars. And this is coming from someone who’s not really a fan of Michelle Yeoh’s recent work either. But she’s perfect, as is the whole cast, every frame, all of it. It’s more film than should fit under a single banner. It’s also an unexpectedly sincere and authentic expression of how family works for much of the modern Chinese diaspora. It’s worth supporting with your depreciating dollars.
Had a couple more opportunities to use Superlocal this week. I’m not sure it’ll stick as a habit because 1) it takes awhile to check in, because photos are mandatory, and 2) I only have one friend on at the moment; two others can’t get past the invite gate because of a bug that will only be fixed in the next update. The problem with network effects or lack thereof here is the team has (rightfully) designed an app where the noxious crypto stuff is optional, which also means no real revenue until it takes off, and by extension most users aren’t incentivized with imaginary money. So now they have to rush to build all the useful features that Swarm already has, like telling you how many coffee shops you’ve checked in to, or the last time you were here. Without which there’s little to drive user growth, and nobody wants to use a social network with no friends.
One time I met Peishan and we had vegetarian food and I really wanted the ability to rate the place (poor!) rather than just check in. Someone in the Superlocal Discord asked if they’re building a recommendations database or a general social network, and it’s a really good question. Swarm still works great for my needs despite being covered in cobwebs, though they could use some competition.
My wife has a lot of work travel ahead this summer, which is disconcerting but it looks like we’ve collectively decided the situation out there is fine. Many people in Singapore are back to working in offices at least some days a week, and a good proportion of friends have holidays planned. Me, I’ll be staying home in my hermetically sealed pretend submarine while she’s out on the first leg next week. I’ve got snacks, bread in the freezer, and an armful of video games to get through before the end of my sabbatical.
Turning Red is a rather good Pixar film that dares to tread new ground (Toronto, and periods), and has so many great sight gag ideas. It feels like a story they had fun telling, and really wanted to tell, although I could have done without the overused meek Chinese dad archetype, true as it may be.
We also saw Drive My Car and WeCrashed, which are fun to mention in the same sentence. The former is a three-hour long film that uses the first 45 minutes as set up, and then the credits start showing. I loved the audacity. There’s a strange flatness to one character’s performance that was probably intentional or perhaps speaks to some nuance of Japanese culture, in any case that broke the spell for me. Overall, a solid four stars. For the latter, I don’t think Jared Leto will ever have a better-suited role, so he should just retire now please. Anne Hathaway is brilliant as always.
I’ve put Great Ace Attorney Chronicles aside for now; just couldn’t handle the wall of unfunny text anymore. Started 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim now that it’s out on the Nintendo Switch. It’s… actually breathtaking. Loads of text to read here as well, but you hardly think about it because every movement and interaction is animated with a staggering amount of hand-drawn sprites and backgrounds. I’ve never seen 2D characters in a game move with this much variety and complexity. The story is also building up to be a bonkers SF mashup that probably includes time travel, multiverses, memory downloads, giant mechs, kids being manipulated to pilot giant mechs, aliens, and whatever else you care to imagine.
A few weeks ago, I saw someone mention Spiritfarer on Twitter, calling it a very cozy game you can play on the Switch to relax, but also ugly cry sometimes because it goes to some deep places (you’re ferrying souls to the afterlife). I looked up reviews and decided it was a definite buy, but waited for a sale. That moment is now, my friends: it’s half-priced at $15 on the eShop for Easter.
Checked out loads of new music and recommendations this week. Kae Tempest’s The Line Is A Curve is a brilliant sort of spoken word/hip-hop. Banks released Serpentina which sort of describes its own sound, although Electro-Serpentina would have been better. Omar Apollo released Ivory, which is more produced and poppy that his last EP, Apolonio, which I still have to say I prefer. I discovered the work of Dijon through someone on the internet, and oh man, you must listen to Absolutely. Syd’s new album Broken Hearts Club is also pretty cool, but I’ll need to give it another go. And finally, LIA LIA is a German-Chinese artist from Berlin who’s just released a single, City Of Tears. I think it makes a good test track for a sound system’s sub-bass response.
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.