Week 1.22

It’s another year, and the start of a new series of weekly notes to myself and anyone who might be eavesdropping. I don’t believe in new year’s resolutions, but maybe I should change up how I do these. They could stand to drop some words or look a little sharper.

I sometimes end the year with a post about the music I enjoyed and a playlist of my favorite songs released over the year, as an indirect means of reflecting on what happened. I didn’t do that in 2021, because… well, despite having had a few months of rest, I just didn’t have the energy to do a good job of it.

Scrolling back in my Apple Music history, however, I made a mental selection of albums I remember enjoying enough to say I enjoyed them, and here they are in no particular order apart from the top spot. Any playlist I made would have involved one song from each of these anyway.

The Best (tied)

The Rest

Reissues


It was the week after Christmas… woof. A lot more eating amidst the tiredness that tends to follow so much social interaction. I spent my downtime trying to draw a little bit, which I wrote about in this post a couple of days ago.

I also slayed the dragon called the Goodreads Annual Reading Challenge, with a paltry-by-some-standards-but-still-alright-if-you-ask-me 24 books read. Like most challenges, it’s unfortunately turned into a stupid online performance metric that doesn’t reflect any actual value, with some people I see setting goals that go into the triple digits. Outside of a literature degree program, it seems a little much. I’ve set my 2022 goal to 24 books again, because I plan to get on some novels that are about as thick as three regular ones, so a simple count doesn’t really serve to quantify the effort or resultant thoughtfulness, if any.

Nintendo sent out their version of Spotify’s Unwrapped awhile back, and I was shocked to see my total gaming hours on the Switch quite low at only 71 hours. It was over 200 hours in 2020, mostly due to Animal Crossing New Horizons. To try and remedy that, I’ve bought a bunch of new games on sale but haven’t gotten around to any of them yet. Instead, I’ve been grinding NEO: The World Ends With You, which has been mentioned before as the sequel to a Nintendo DS game I loved.

Disco Elysium came by way of a tweet that recommended it. Pretty sure I glanced at it before but decided it wasn’t my thing. Couldn’t have been more wrong, going by the very strong first four hours I’ve experienced. I suppose it’s an RPG game like classic Fallout was, but your vault survivor is an alcoholic noir detective and there’s no combat at all. I picked it up for my Mac in the Steam sale; reviews of the Switch version warn of very long loading times.


Some friends brought their kids over and I helped take photographs. Pixelmator recently released a free update that adds iPhone support to their previously iPad-only Pixelmator Photo editor, in addition to some new tools. I wanted to see how it would do with the DNGs out of my CL.

After some experimenting, I am sad to report that their ML-powered Auto Enhance corrections tend toward overexposure, and when paired with the built-in presets, the results are almost always garishly colored with too much contrast. You always have to adjust the intensity of the recommended changes and disable auto white balance altogether, and after all that it just didn’t work for me with the portraits. I finally crawled back into the arms of Lightroom whose Auto mode is at least designed to recover details and provide a neutral starting point for edits.

I have to say though, for iPhone photos (HEIF/JPEG), Pixelmator Photo is not half bad, provided you tone things down as mentioned. Here’s an example I took on a walk earlier today. I’ll keep trying to use it because I like some of the UI changes they’ve made, but tbh if Darkroom ever adds a good Auto mode, it’d be my go-to editor for life.

Week 47.21

  • Went out for coffee and it turned into a night. Ended up with a hangover the next day, a thing which hasn’t happened in a while.
  • Messed up my YouTube feed by watching a couple of new micro-genres: Leica Q2 Monochrom reviews (I won’t buy one, I hope), “Day in the Life” videos of various people in Singapore (enlightening because, well, you just don’t know how others live until you see it), and Chinese street interviews in Tier 2/3 cities designed to teach the language but that are entertaining to me because, well, most of us just don’t know how Chinese people live.
  • Saw No Time To Die, and liked it a lot better than Spectre, although that’s not saying a lot. Like others have already observed, it sends Daniel Craig off while (for the first half) feeling like the first time he’s truly been in a classic Bond outing with glorious globetrotting, stylized set pieces, one-liners, and a new female co-star every 30 minutes. The villain’s entire plot is still nonsense if you think about it afterwards.
  • Got started on Netflix’s live-action Cowboy Bebop series. It’s kinda bad, but works better if you turn on the Japanese soundtrack. The dramatically OTT performances on it better complement the visual and tonal schizophrenia, which attempts exaggerated silliness and deadpan noir almost at the same time.
  • In case you didn’t know, Netflix also has a Japanese audio track for Seinfeld, and it’s surreal to try out. George is played like a timid, wheezing ojisan, and Elaine is a vainsexy mature woman.
  • I also saw the first episode of My Name and it was the rare Korean television show I could watch through without skipping ahead in frustration. It’s not above relying on revenge movie tropes, but moves quickly and the fight choreography is better than Cowboy Bebop’s.
  • Also got back into Animal Crossing New Horizons for the first time in a year — I found a pile of red leaves in my driveway from the last time, and hey it’s fall again now — there’s so much new, while the world feels soothingly familiar. Several friends have said that just hearing the game’s music instantly brings them back into the memory cocoon of playing it in mid-2020 amidst the chaos, and to me it’s an untouchable place we can visit any time. I’m glad so many of us had that one nice thing in common.

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  • Cleaning up some of my old stuff over at my parents’, I found a couple of things worth keeping.
  • One, a pair of Olympus film cameras that I remember fondly. The XA and XA2 were marvels, much better compact point-and-shoots than anything else you’d find on eBay in the 90s and 2000s. It’s years later now, so I can finally confess that I once won first place in a Lomography photo walk contest using the XA2 instead of an LC-A (mine wasn’t working that day); they are distant cousins, I reasoned. They probably need a good cleaning out and restoration before being used again, but will make nice shelf objects in the meantime.
  • Two, souvenirs from the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka that we visited once, a decade ago. Still in the paper bags and plastic sleeves they came in, these pins, stickers, animation flipbooks, and music boxes may now find a place in our home. A drawer in our home, at least.
  • Three, a slim autographed volume of what I suppose you’d call juvenilia by now-published author Alexandra Kleeman, probably from my university days when I read her blog (technicolor.org) in awe and jealousy. I can’t remember how exactly I came into possession of it; perhaps it was offered in an early homerolled Kickstarter project. Googling its title, Matchbox Gods, turned up exactly zero hits, so I pinged her on Twitter with a photo (I live on it and yet the internet still amazes me) and got a response within the day. She said she only knows of one other person who still has a copy, so I’ll just record this info for future rummagers and closet cleaners coming online to find some context. I have nostalgia for how reading strangers’ blogs used to make us feel like we knew them a little through their thoughts, in a way you don’t get from Instagram or Twitter updates. I hope she’s having a great life.
  • Four, a couple of Game Boy Micros including one commemorative edition in Famicom red and gold. I tossed out many compact digital cameras because their batteries don’t work anymore, can’t be replaced, and their bodies weren’t particularly beautiful and worth keeping. The Game Boys still look great, so those can go somewhere.
  • Threw out all my iPods with some regret. Really anything with a battery that’s sealed or discontinued is pretty much useless today without extraordinary effort, unless used as display pieces. And my iPods were scratched up and haven’t held up, quite frankly. The whole white plastic phase of industrial design will not be looked back upon fondly by anyone. They were objects to be used and enjoyed in their time, but not any longer. AirPods aside, it’s nice to see most of our devices today being made with recyclable and longer-wearing materials that should look better a few decades from now.

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 20.21

  • Community Covid cases in Singapore continued to rise. We were getting over 20 a day for a bit, which prompted new soft lockdown measures. Although stores can remain open with fewer visitors at a time, dining out is now on hold. Restaurants will have to survive on takeout and deliveries. You can’t be out walking about in groups of three or more. Basically, we’re staying home again for the next month unless absolutely necessary.
  • This coincides with the start of my vacation time, but it’s alright because I wasn’t intending to do much outdoors for the time being anyway. There’s a long list of entertainment options to get through, so I just need to focus on the content and resist the stupid urge to buy a PS5 or new TV.
  • Back in the days of the Nintendo DS, I absolutely loved The World Ends With You (TWEWY), a rare action RPG that nailed combat, music, art direction, setting (Shibuya), and story. Just thinking about it invokes the sort of nostalgia normally reserved for long-gone places where I used to hang out. A sequel is coming out this July after 14 years! So I’m now replaying the original on my iPhone and watching the new anime series in anticipation.
  • I’ve mentioned before how open-world games set in real cities have become a proxy for being able to visit them during the pandemic. If I started playing TWEWY in 2007, then it was probably shortly after my first visit to Tokyo. Perhaps this played a part in how much I like being there. Well, I bought Judgment for the PS4 last week, and will be getting on that as soon as I give finishing Yakuza Kiwami another go next week. The Yakuza games are great for this sort of virtual tourism, replete with all the sounds you hear on the street, like the actual Don Quijote jingle for instance.
  • I discovered a new Apple Music feature by accident: since iOS 14.5 you can search/browse by record label. I got really excited about this, because it means you can look up, say, the entire Verve catalog of jazz classics. When I shared this with someone, they didn’t understand why someone would want to do that. Okay then.
  • Reading: still on The Diamond Age, if you can call 10 minutes a week active reading. Just not been in the mood.
  • Netflix: we watched the new Vox Explained series about Money, which is really about Money in America, which is really about how fucked up Money in America is. We all know about student loans (and the high cost of education), credit cards, scams and misleading ads, casinos, and lack of retirement savings, but I couldn’t see the scale at which these problems impact American society. We have them too, but there are thankfully some non-optional systems that help people save and insure themselves.

Week 14.21

  • We had some massive storms this week, he said interestingly. And apart from a lunch out with my parents where my lack of dialect reading ability led to me confusing a fish noodle order with the beef noodles we really wanted, it’s been mostly a passive (media consumption) week outside of work.
  • Oh, and I changed this blog’s theme, for those of you reading outside of the RSS feed.
  • I read Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, which has been on my Goodreads shelf since 2017. It took the better half of a day this long weekend, and I mostly could have done without it. Minor spoiler alert. I found it too derivative of many other post-apocalyptic survival stories, with the added belief-suspending flaw of having most characters improbably linked. There’s even a significant portion devoted to survivors camped in an airport, which reminded me too much of Douglas Coupland’s Player One which I read last year and also rated two stars to.
  • As a palate cleanser, I’ve just started Neal Stephenson’s The Diamond Age and I already have no fucking idea what I’ve gotten myself into. Which is to say I’m loving it.
  • Apple Arcade took a big leap forward and this new content direction feels like the next step in Arcade’s evolution (or the last, if you’re cynical and think that Apple would retire something that wasn’t performing — they’d cancel a HomePod but would they cancel a service?)
  • I spent about an hour with FANTASIAN, the new game from both the creator and composer of Final Fantasy, which is a huge coup for an Apple exclusive. It feels on brand as hell for them, so I don’t expect to see it through to the end (never have), although it’s quite beautiful. We also played SongPop Party for awhile, and it’s good fun. I’m also looking forward to trying the new Star Trek game, and Platinum’s World of Demons, which was cancelled in beta years ago and then secretly revived for Apple Arcade. Oh, and Taiko no Tatsujin! And CLAP HANZ GOLF! And The Oregon Trail remake! There’s just so much.
  • While checking out one of the larger streaming service’s overseas catalog via ah… VPN, we discovered Gogglebox, a UK reality show where you watch people watching TV. It’s brilliant. On one hand, it condenses an entire week of British news, drama, and game show programming into an hour-long highlights reel of just the best bits. On the other, you get entertaining commentary from groups of friends and family sitting in their own living rooms — entertaining on account of their reactions (sarcasm, ignorance, delight, horror) and their individual relationships and stories which slowly become apparent to the viewer. It’s like the Terrace House panel, but for regular TV, and I can’t get enough.
  • Two albums on rotation this week:
  • The Shave Experiment EP by Q is falsetto-laden, lofi R&B with lots of electric guitar and analog effects, which is hit and miss for me most times; I can’t stand some Steve Lacey, but kinda liked Omar Apollo, etc. Q’s take on it seems to be right in the sweet spot for me.
  • Promises by Floating Points, Pharoah Sanders, and the London Symphony Orchestra defies categorization. It’s a somewhat-minimal piece of ambient or jazz music lasting 46 minutes, in 9 movements, centered around a saxophone, with occasional strings and other sounds, held together by one single gentle piano riff that just repeats throughout the whole thing like a mindworm.

Week 8.21

  • I was sold on an LED bulb future where they all last for years and don’t need regular replacement. That’s not been the case for quite a few of the fixtures in our apartment. This week, a new kind of bulb gave out, and I went on Lazada to get more. Thanks to the shittiness of their search engine, some bulbs with a different connector type got mixed in with the right ones I asked for, and I missed it because the Philips box designs for both are nearly identical. Their search is inexcusably bad. How can an item that doesn’t contain one of my two keywords appear on the first page of results? So now I have $25 of bulbs that useless to me, and their return policy doesn’t allow for “user error”.
  • The feeling of being depressed continues. I went on two walks after work this week because it supposedly helps to get some air and exercise. The second one helped tremendously because it ended at a new craft beer bar in our neighborhood. They’re not at the rock bottom prices of TAP, but few places can do that. Afterwards, a double cheeseburger and fries. Self-care is hard on the arteries.
  • Mogwai have a new album out. I’ve ignored them this whole time but gave it a try after seeing some praise on Twitter. Have also been listening to the very chill debut album from Pink Sweat$. I can recommend both and won’t be deleting them from my library.
  • An old episode of Begin Japanology (NHK) on YouTube taught me a couple of things I didn’t know about conveyor belt sushi. For instance, eating raw salmon was not historically a thing in Japan because locally caught salmon had parasites and had to be cooked before eating. When safer Norwegian salmon became available, it was conveyor belt sushi joints that started selling it first. The traditional joints followed later.
  • As the weekend drew down into nothingness, I became adamant that I should check the “Play videogames” box. I got Persona 5 Strikers on the Switch, paying an extra $10 for the Digital Deluxe edition which is available now unlike the regular edition which comes out Tuesday. Hell of a sales tactic, that. So far so good. It’s an interesting blend of turn-based RPG battle decisions with real-time musou battles, with the likeable characters and story-driven interludes of the original. Walking around the environments, I can see no technical reason why Persona 5 can’t run on the Switch. I’d bet on it being released by next year.
  • Found on Twitter, an epic NYC A-train sax battle from like six years ago. This version cuts together angles of the impromptu event from multiple cellphone videographers.