Week 46.20

  • Time has felt a little broken this week, in that 11.11 feels like it happened long ago. In case you’re wondering, that’s Nov 11, or Singles Day, which is now an official shopping day in these parts after having been imported from China. We never really had a tradition of Black Friday sales, so this is it.
  • I bought several bottles of bourbon and yet another pair of headphones: the Sony WH1000XM4s, which, in further evidence of a fault in time’s mechanics, launched back in August at the list price of S$550 and was now purchased by yours truly for just S$385. That’s a full 30% off for a brand new product; perhaps a year ahead of when it would have normally been discounted to such levels. The Sony brand just doesn’t hold value like it used to.
  • I bought the Mark 1 model about four years ago, intrigued by its DSEE HX (Digital Sound Enhancement Engine) feature which claimed to upsample compressed music and restore “near Hi-Res Audio levels of fidelity”. Great headphones, but the Mark 4 promises a more comfortable design, the best noise canceling tech on the market, and DSEE Extreme which now has AI magic dust all over it. Was it a necessary purchase? No… but I love a good bargain.
  • The PS5 also launched this week, but I have no interest in replacing my PS4 Pro just yet. Apart from sentimental value (it was a farewell gift, bearing the signatures of my former colleagues), it’s small and discreet. The PS5 is decidedly not, and seems to be launching with no extraordinary games. Looking back, all my Microsoft and Sony console purchases only happened years into the cycle. Nintendo consoles, I buy the day they come out. I can’t say why.
  • Oh yeah and Apple announced the first Macs with their own silicon this week, exceeding everyone’s expectations of what the M1 chip does for performance and battery life. It was an exciting event to watch, until I remembered that there’s no place in my life anymore for a personal Mac.
  • Doesn’t this feel like it happened ages ago? How messed up was work this week for it to feel this way?
  • In the early days of lockdown and working from home this year, I was hooked on Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I and many others joked about it being like a virtual vacation in lieu of being able to go anywhere. And I think the little controllable/knowable world, gentle soundtrack, and sense of community amongst everyone playing at the same time created to a sense of calm, routine, and positivity that got me through that period with little fatigue or stress. And then after about 200 hours or something, I put it aside and didn’t return even after the Summer and Fall and Halloween updates launched.
  • Prompted by the fact that some friends have picked it up again, I think I could use a return to my island now. Hopefully there’ll be time for that this week. In other gaming news, I’ve graduated to that next level of Call of Duty Mobile addiction: buying a “Battle Pass” for USD$4.99. It’s completely unnecessary, but gives you cosmetic upgrades and more of a reason to play in the form of a ladder of rewards to unlock. Play enough, and you’ll earn enough currency to buy the next season’s Battle Pass without any real world money. It’s a trap? I’m bored? But I also want to understand the mobile gaming economy better?
I left the house exactly once this week, to see my parents and eat this lovely Japanese beef.

Backbone One unboxing

As mentioned yesterday, I’ve been waiting for the arrival of my Backbone One controller. It was dispatched at the end of October but took ages to leave the USPS, probably because they had some important envelopes to deliver at the same time. It arrived last night after about 10 days, and I’ve gotta say, first impressions are good.

It’s a good size and feels very nice in the hands, with my only concern being that the er… spine of it cuts directly across the lowest of the camera lenses on my iPhone 12 Pro, and it looks like the lens rests against that bit of plastic. I doubt it’ll cause any damage; those lens covers are sapphire crystal, but it looks a little odd. I’m not sure that it will fit an iPhone 12 Pro Max, but their site claims that it will.

It beggars belief that I could kill 16 people in CoD Mobile without dying once, but that’s just what happened the first time I snapped this thing on. It’s also transformed GRID Autosport from a game that I bought once and regretted immediately into something that feels truly console-like, and I don’t mean a Nintendo Switch. The graphics and haptics on this thing are way ahead of any racing game I’ve seen on that system.

Week 45.20

  • I’m writing this bit in advance. We are still awaiting a definitive result from the US election and yes, full acknowledgment of the absurdity and the “how is this even happening” of it all. I just read an emotional Joe Biden story on Twitter and it killed me. Someone also posted this chat conversation with her mom, a Trump supporter, and it’s truly depressing how easy it now seems to bamboozle people until they’re out of touch with reality. Hopefully by the time I post this, some semblance of the right outcome would have materialized.
  • Narrator: It has.
  • Maybe I’m feeling so emotional about it because I’ve just had a 9% alcohol Strong Zero clone from our local 7-Eleven, imported from Japan no less. It might be the same as their house brand chuhai drinks over there, sold here for much more money given that our alcohol tax is so high. The promotion price was two cans for S$11.
  • Check out this photo, taken with my iPhone 12 Pro. I didn’t have a black backdrop or any other kind of product photography apparatus. I discovered that you can simply do this with Portrait Mode and a kitchen countertop. Miraculous! The quality of the effect is much better than I recall it being before, so maybe this is something the new iPhones’ ISPs have enabled?
  • I’m still waiting on my Backbone One, which has been in the US Postal Service’s care for nearly 10 days now, with no indication of whether it’s even left the US yet. I get it, they’ve been busy, but I really want to kick more butt in Call of Duty Mobile.
  • For reasons unknown, I’ve been doing quite well in online CODM matches. My past experiences on console have been the same as any old guy’s: instant death at the hands of children. But for some reason I’m consistently ending games as the MVP and killing at a higher rate than others. Is it fake? Do they put you up against bots that look like real people? Or have I achieved some kind of middle-aged gamer renaissance?
  • The Playstation store is having one of those sales again, and I managed to pick up Shadow of the Tomb Raider — Definitive Edition for just S$20. It’s the third installment of the reboot trilogy, and I’ve been waiting for it to go on sale for ages. I think it first came out as an Xbox exclusive and didn’t come to PS4 until a year had passed. Alas, my plans to play it over the weekend failed.
  • Instead, I found a little time to speed through the endgame of Ghost of Tsushima, just to get the end of the story. A really pretty game, but I think I’m mostly tired of open-world action games. In terms of time over value extracted, I’d rather play a linear beat-em-up if the combat is going to be the main point of it. The rest of it is just getting from A to B, and exploration never felt that rewarding. An open-world game should let you feel like you live in it, and just chill or do nothing but in a meaningful way? Maybe that’s why Breath of the Wild felt so different and resonated with many people; just living and surviving in the outdoors was a complete game unto itself, separate from the narrative.
  • We watched Netflix’s popular new series The Queen’s Gambit over the weekend. I don’t like horror films so I missed her in The VVitch, but from the first moment I saw Anya Taylor-Joy’s wide-set eyes in M. Night Shyamalan’s Split, I’ve been wondering how everyone could just play it so cool while such a face exists in nature. I don’t know that the show could work with another actress; all its scenes of intense concentration and psychological battle hinge on her staring directly into the camera/your soul.

Week 40.20

  • This is the 14th consecutive week of doing this “new” regular blog update rhythm. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to keep going, although it’s getting harder to think of things worth mentioning since so much of what happens is now a thematic repeat. But I’ve decided to give myself a break. So what if I do the same things? So what if I’m negative? So what if this bores you/me/anyone? At least I’m still here.
  • I tend to mention Apple Music a lot in these posts, and this week I noticed that my “New Music For You” playlist hasn’t updated in several weeks. It’s supposed to refresh every Friday, based on your listening habits. All the other algorithmic personalized playlists are fine. I guess as long as they find new ways to break things, I’ll mention them. Do I want to get on another hour-long support call to complain about this? Not really. I might spend more time with the music I’ve already discovered instead.
  • One of my favorite songs of last year was Charli XCX’s White Mercedes, and it popped back in my head this week and stayed for days. I was even motivated to go on YouTube and look for interesting covers — there was just one: a rough take by Alec Primavera that shows what a strong ballad it is. I kinda want Ryan Adams to come out of exile and cover it.
  • While we’re on YouTube, the Auralnauts team is still obsessed with making Star Wars videos, and this new one is pretty clever: it uses footage from the prequels and their spot-on overdubs to realize a story about Anakin and Obi-Wan on a weekend-long clubbing bender. Turning a giant Jedi battle scene into a glowstick rave is just inspired. Weekend at Obi’s.
  • I watched the US presidential debates like everyone else, and all that noisy talking over each other just gave me anxiety like Uncut Gems. I then went on Twitter and saw other people making the same reference. Did Uncut Gems come out in 2020? I’m lost in time.
  • I’ll come back to Apple for a second: it’s weird that no Western media seems to have gotten the new iPad Air for a hands-on demo; at least, I can’t find anything on YouTube. But a quick search shows that quite a few Chinese media/bloggers were invited to handle and shoot footage with the new devices, in what looks like an Apple Store. My guess is that the out-of-hand COVID situation in the US is preventing similar events, and they can’t mail the iPads to journalists until the products are ready to come out (lest the A14 chip be officially benchmarked before the iPhone 12 event). China being relatively safe at the moment has given them the First Look video advantage.
  • I’ve been playing the new mobile game from the Chinese developer miHoYo (their tagline: Tech otakus save the world), previously known for the impressive looking but not-my-cup-of-tea anime action game, Honkai Impact. This new one is an open-world RPG called Genshin Impact, and it liberally borrows all the good bits of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while leaving out all the annoying parts like weapons that break after you use them too much. It’s a breakthrough in free-to-play game design, art direction, and mobile game engineering. Most F2P RPGs are absolutely awful and quite transparent about the fact that they’re not about fun or gameplay mechanics, just completionist character collecting gacha loops that whales get hooked onto. You can actually play Genshin Impact without thinking much about paying for anything, and there are no ads — those inclined to pay for rare items and characters can do that, but it’s not pushed in your face, nor does it seem necessary (at least several hours in, where I am).
  • A late discovery: Okinawan brown sugar, or kokuto. I’m drinking an old fashioned right now that I threw together with vanilla bitters, Gentleman Jack, and a dash of dark syrup made with this complex, earthy, salty sweet stuff. I found a good article on the “Art of Eating” site, if sugar as a fancy healthy food sounds like your kinda thing.
  • After watching S2E6 of Midnight Diner (the original series), I had the sudden urge to make a pot of Japanese cream stew, so that’s what we did for Sunday’s dinner. If you could go into a restaurant here and find that, I probably wouldn’t have; it’s one of those things you just have to do for yourself.
Genshin Impact’s highest quality settings (iPhone 11 Pro Max)

Week 39.20

  • At some point, it was or will be the annual Chinese mooncake festival. I love these although they are hundreds, if not thousands, of calories each. Probably owing to the salted duck egg yolks; I like the ones with a minimum of two in them. A colleague, who is very sadly leaving the company, makes them for fun (and extremely well at that) and took orders. Since they’re maybe a third the size of regular ones, I bought 40 and gave a few away, but the majority of them may end up in my ever-expanding gut.
  • We went out to play a few rounds of mini-golf for said colleague’s farewell, and I narrowly won one game. It was my first time playing for real, but it sure felt familiar thanks to a lifetime of videogaming — most recently the excellent What The Golf? on Apple Arcade. Would I do it again? Sure, but maybe if/when they allow simultaneous golfing and drinking again (COVID, you know).
  • In lieu of a new Apple Watch this year, I bought the new Braided Solo Loop band and it’s awfully comfortable but also quite overpriced. The build quality could be better: the lugs don’t fill the gap all the way to the edges of the watch, and for the price (it’s made of recycled yarn and silicon and sold for S$150, the same price as the leather bands) you’d expect them to be perfect.
  • Have you seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix? Nearly everyone I know has. It’s primarily a documentary about the ills that social networks have unleashed on our world, from digital addiction to the tainting of democracy — not a new story by any stretch, but one that inches closer to mainstream discourse with every effort such as this one. I can’t fault it, not even the cheesy dramatic segments interspersed between the interviews with lead product designers and co-founders that once worked at Twitter, Facebook, etc. See it and tell all your friends about it.
  • One more Netflix recommendation from me: Criminal United Kingdom is back with a second season (just four episodes). If you haven’t seen Season One, you’re in for a great binge. I envy you your first time. Quickly, the concept is theatrical. Everything occurs within a police interrogation room with a one-way mirror, and its outside hallway. Each episode is a different case, but the cast of police officers is constant. Within these constraints, the stellar acting and writing become sheer entertainment.
  • The Untitled Goose Game is one year old. It’s now on sale for the Nintendo Switch at USD$15, down from $20. It’s also been updated with a two-player co-op mode that I imagine is much better than playing it alone. I missed it a year ago, so we bought it this afternoon and played the entire thing from start to finish in one go. And my wife is not into games, let me tell you.
  • New music? Prince’s Sign O’ The Times is out as a Super Deluxe reissue, fully remastered and expanded into an 8-hour, 96-track historical epic that attempts to capture the amazing stuff he was putting out at that early, very creative moment in his career. I’m gonna be listening to it for weeks, I think.

Week 36.20

August 31 – September 6, 2020

  • At the start of the week, Apple Music 1 (the radio station, née Beats 1) wasn’t working for me. I suspected it had something to do with the change in name and perhaps change of URL for the stream. It didn’t matter which device, Apple ID account, or internet connection I used, it was just down for a couple of days! I thought I’d be helpful and report it to Apple support, but that resulted in me spending an hour on live chat and the phone, being passed from the team to team, across several countries. Finally someone in Ireland was able to document the problem in their internal systems and let me go. It’s needlessly difficult. I said I didn’t need anyone calling me back or telling me when it was fixed, I just wanted them to log it. I should have just tweeted at them.
  • I had large double cheeseburgers with bacon and luncheon meat and fried onions for two meals this week. I can 100% tell that I’ve put on weight now. It’s on my face. A couple of friends have given up drinking and lost weight after a few months. It’s an effective method, but I don’t know what I’d do with all this misery if I tried it.
  • Necrobarista is a very different visual novel on Apple Arcade and Steam. It seems to try very hard to remind you that it’s set in Australia, with lots of “mate” usage, to the point where I thought it was made by Polish developers or something, and sounded inauthentic. Turns out it was made in Australia, so what do I know? Anyway what makes it different is that you don’t just click through dialogue quickly and see different character images pop up… each click through actually switches the whole scene and camera angle in a 3D space. A lot of work went into posing the characters and animating these short 1–3 second bursts. It’s much more cinematic than you’d be used to, and it makes you value each moment that much more. Unfortunately, the writing could be quite a bit better.
  • This week I watched quite a few videos by John Daub, who does this YouTube channel called Only In Japan (side note, but that linked channel is effectively a reboot after he sold his original channel). I’ve seen his stuff around for years, and he sometimes appears on those awkward, cheesy English language programs that NHK World puts out (don’t get me wrong, I actually like them for what they are, e.g. Peter Barakan’s long-running Japanology series, which just feels like a lovely artifact from the 90s even when the episodes are brand new). But I never really got into Daub’s style until he started doing livestreams. Back at the office, we used to tune into Twitch streams of people walking around various cities, eating things, checking out shops, and the virtual tourism was nice left in the background of a workday. Daub elevates that basic formula by being knowledgeable; a bit of a historian and tour guide, who also interacts with his community in the live chat. I’m now contemplating becoming a supporter on Patreon just because his walkabout videos feel slightly like being able to go on holiday during this pandemic. I shit you not, the other night I was walking in place in my living room as he went around Toyosu, like a sort of Brian Butterfield version of virtual reality.
  • For reasons I can’t remember, the Gregory Brothers’ viral auto-tune internet hit, Dead Giveaway, was stuck in my head for most of the week. As the words became more familiar, I was struck by how absolutely tragic they were. For those who don’t know the main line which was lifted from Charles Ramsey’s TV interview, it goes “I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms… dead giveaway!” The way he says it in the original video, and the kind of nodding unsurprised reaction of everyone, just speaks to the awful world of normalized racism people like him/us are living in. Further “research” on YouTube led down a rabbit hole of other videos surrounding the horrible Ariel Castro kidnapping case… which I’ll spare you from.