Week 51.21

  • The Christmas dinners have begun, with a large potlucky one yesterday at ours that was vegetarian but not at all lacking. Impossible!, you cry. Yes, we did have their meatballs. And already this afternoon we’ve eaten too much and had a gift of some sugary pastries arrive unexpectedly. This all follows swiftly after a five-course dinner on Friday night, the last in a trilogy of pandemic-struck celebrations for my sister-in-law’s no-longer-news wedding. I expect I still weigh the same regardless, having lost a significant amount of moisture to wearing a suit for photos in the middle of the day. I wonder if that’s what the stillsuits in Dune feel like: being rolled up in one of those hot towels they give you on Singapore Airlines flights.
  • After dinner, we played a new party game I discovered on the Apple TV (also available on Xbox and PlayStation). Jeopardy! PlayShow is a premium title, not to be confused with the various ad-ridden free mobile games released over the years, with insultingly easy multiple-choice questions. No, this is the real thing for everyone who’s ever watched a game show and answered aloud alongside the contestants. It’s that exact experience: streaming video of real Jeopardy! episodes, except you can buzz in and answer (using your voice!), and see how you stack up against the champs. S$14.98 gets you the base game with 10 episodes, and each additional pack is another S$14.98. Oof! Buyer beware… the game’s servers stalled halfway through our play test, so we had to move on to SongPop Party (Apple Arcade). Epilogue: I gave Jeopardy! another go the next morning and it worked fine.
  • I finished The Space Between Worlds which I was reading last week (five stars), and have moved on to Xiran Jay Zhao’s Iron Widow, a bonkers story about giant mechs fighting alien invaders, piloted by couples in a mind meld that usually kills the woman (twist: not this time!), set in a world/society inspired by Chinese history. It starts a little rough, but once you get into her style and some jarring cultural references, it goes hard.
  • The Goodreads Reading Challenge hangs around my neck like a large bird. Even after Iron Widow, I’ll be two books short of my modest 24-book target in a year where I really have little excuse. It seems unlikely I’ll be able to do it with just 11 days to go. Nevertheless, I plan to follow this up with Christina Sweeney-Baird’s The End of Men and Naomi Alderman’s The Power, to construct a sort of male-murdering fantasy trilogy.
  • Last week’s viewing of Babylon was anime disappointment, but I’m now watching a series on Netflix called Vivi: Fluorite Eye’s Song that more than makes up for it. It’s an unsung (sorry) masterpiece about a robot singer who receives a message from the future, and follows her on a 100-year quest to change the course of history and prevent a war between humans and AIs. It works because the art is beautiful with few compromises, the writing is sharp, and it isn’t afraid to skip large chunks of time abruptly to keep things moving.
  • Speaking of time, you don’t believe you could watch a 1-hour and 20-minute-long video on how Garfield has been transformed by internet fans, but give yourself some credit. Michael, my main inspiration for these weekly updates, often posts about the video essays he discovers, which is something I never thought would be for me, but welps the YouTube algorithm has a new thing for me now. We’ve all seen that Garfield minus Garfield project on Tumblr, but trust me, this goes way beyond that. You won’t believe the depth and quality of fan art and lore that’s out there.
  • I’ll leave you with an update on the Misery Men project. There are now 73 “artworks” published on OpenSea, and every so often I look at one of them and think the quotation marks could soon be dropped. Like, it’s not impossible to imagine a couple of them blown up and framed in a home somewhere. Maybe not a very nice home, it might be a caravan, but I think there’s something here.
  • If you chat with friends on Telegram and want to send them a sticker expressing a specific sort of sadness or disappointment, you may now add my Misery Men sticker pack for absolutely free. I’ll be updating it with the latest ones periodically.
What was on my plate last night. Photo taken with the newly updated FiLMiC Firstlight camera app on iOS, which has some lovely film-inspired filters.
Misery Man #72
Misery Man #73: one of my personal favorites.

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 26.21: A milestone

We’ve made it to the halfway point of 2021! And because I started in week 27 of 2020, that makes a year of posting weekly updates to this previously neglected blog. Has it been worth it? It will be. This morning I suddenly recalled how I used to have a TV card (it was a thing) installed in my PC back in uni, which allowed me to tune into trashy British programs over the air (I was bored in my dorm room because we didn’t have broadband, you see). It was just one of those memories so heavily buried that they seem unreal. So I went back and read some old blog posts from around that time. Instantly, that whole period came back, and there’s nothing like meeting your younger, better-in-some-ways self again via a journal entry. I recommend it.

This week in books: I finished Project Hail Mary which I was enjoying as of the last check in, and it held up all the way to the end. I’d like to recommend it to everyone, because I believe its sciencey bits are so accessibly written that anyone will get the general idea and stay locked into the story, whether or not they have some aversion to stories set in space or involving science and technology. These people exist; I’ve met them! It was also a welcome change in terms of style and pacing, having come off a Neal Stephenson where every page asks to be chewed slowly and thought about. In comparison, PHM is like sausage gravy through a straw.

I’ve mentioned before how playing video games is a often good way to pass time, whereas reading books is a good way to spend time. I was reminded of that this week as I poured a few more hours into Persona 5 Strikers, realizing all the way that I was not particularly enjoying the combat gameplay, barely enjoying the animated scenes and story (although I like the world and characters), and despising its barely concealed time-stretching mechanics. That is to say, the designers have contemptuously extended gameplay time without having to offer any value, so that you the player are told to go from Area A to Area B to talk to everyone you can find to get a password (a McGuffin) before returning to Area A. Completely unnecessary, and made more painful by how long loading times are on Nintendo Switch. My solution: the next game I play will be a visual novel.

Other bits:

  • It was Amazon’s Prime Day and I got us some bath towels and Buffalo Trace bourbon at ridiculous prices.
  • I don’t often play mobile gacha games, but a new one called Alchemy Stars stood out because of its line-drawing/color matching gameplay. It’s a little like Grindstone with an anime backdrop.
  • We started watching The World According to Jeff Goldblum on Disney+ and the first episode covered sneaker culture. I guess I knew people spent thousands on rare sneakers but I hadn’t really thought about the psychology of it; the rush of chasing, anticipating, and then unboxing something. They could easily be swapped out for any other scarce collectible like NFTs or Pokémon cards, or lootboxes that promise them.
  • I’ve always envied people who find the hobbies/obsessions just for them (damage to finances and relationships aside). I’ve never met a game I loved so much that I would spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on buying its in-app purchases. Or shoes, bicycles, etc. I know people who do, though. They seem to buy almost thoughtlessly and without regret. Which is not at all like me with headphones and cameras. Those hurt long before and after the unboxing. I probably just have an opposite disorder of not allowing myself to fully anticipate and enjoy anything.
  • We went out to eat just once (it was enough) upon the lifting of lockdown restrictions this week. It was one of those all you can eat Korean barbecue places. We sprang for the better stuff, and we’re fatter people for it.
  • The last project I worked on has gone live in its first iteration, and it’s looking alright. Whenever I remember, I like to go look at user reviews to see if we improved anything for the better.
  • I spent most of Sunday afternoon watching live performances from the Later… with Jools Holland archives on YouTube.
  • A.G. Cook released a massive amount of material last year across two albums (7G and Apple), and I only just found out. Listening to those coincidentally put me in the mood for local singer Cayenne’s new solo EP, which is kinda PC Music-ish hyperpop.
  • That reminded me to look if Hannah Diamond had anything new, and so I found this brilliant music video from last September. The foundation of its 9-minute runtime is a screen recording of her photoshopping a self portrait.

Week 12.21

I cracked it. The exercise code. The problem with going for evening walks after a day’s work is getting ready, pulling shorts and socks on, wearing a mask, all that jazz. Then picking entertainment: a podcast, a new album. Then a route. Then knowing when to turn back.

What if you could start your walk instantly, end after 15 mins or two hours, entirely up to how you felt, and be in the shower immediately after? What if you could walk anywhere in the world while COVID rages, and that was the entertainment baked right in?

That’s what I’ve been doing this week. The secret is in the massive catalog of first-person, stabilized, commentary-free walking videos on YouTube. Pop one on and stand in front of a large TV, walk on the spot, and that’s it. I’ve wandered shopping malls and basement food halls in Japan, walked along canals at sunset, and taken rainy evening walks while staying dry. The novelty of the visual content keeps your eyes and mind busy, and you can walk as fast or as slow as you want, regardless of who’s in your way. It solves every friction point I had with going on a walk, just without the fresh air and vitamin D benefits, but hey I’m a digital native. It’s okay.

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We went out one night this weekend for a special dinner, the kind that blows a couple of days’ wages at one go. Coincidentally, while discussing what a possible first vacation after the apocalypse might be, the Park Hyatt Tokyo was mentioned, with the visual reference of that bar scene from Lost In Translation. Of course. Not 20 minutes later, the chef comes over to present a course and talks about how he came up with it while guest helming a menu at the Park Hyatt Tokyo years ago, staying in the same suite that Bill Murray did while he was filming the very same film. That’s life, isn’t it: undoubtedly a computer simulation.

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A couple of new albums out this week. I’m looking forward to hearing more of Grouplove’s This Is This, having heard one song already. SOIL & “PIMP” SESSIONS’ The Essence of Soil is another predictably energetic jazz jam session. I had it on in the background but will need to spend more time with it. Tricky has released an EP with four guest remixes of songs from his last album, Fall To Pieces. His collaborators seem to have observed that the Tricky of today doesn’t sound quite like he used to, and have tapped into the frenetic chaotic energy of his earlier days. It’s probably not for everyone. Another case of more listening needed, when I get the time.

As I type this, I’ve put on Lana Del Ray’s Chemtrails Over The Country Club and goddamn, the first track is already stupendously lovely.

Earlier today, I heard all of Justin Bieber’s new album, Justice, from start to finish on the living room speakers. Not that I was particularly excited and wanted to put it ahead of all the above, but our neighbor had started practicing Adele’s Rolling In The Deep on her karaoke machine, JUST THAT ONE SONG over and over for about half an hour. I figured some modern pop production would drown it out, but Justice has a lot of quiet, anemic songs in the first half. Quite disappointing, although it does have Holy (which I put on my Best of 2020 playlist) and the new song Peaches works quite well.

Finally, For My Friends from UK-based Jacob Banks is well worth checking out. Across 8 songs in 25 minutes, his sound manages to combine stunningly beautiful R&B stylings, vocoders, swirling organs, rootsy rock sounds, and big guitar reverbs.

Not new, but I came across Vapor (2013) by Yosi Horikawa in a forum thread about AirPods Max. It’s an excellent electronic album for pushing your headphones, full of intricate details, a wide spatial mix, and full-bodied beats.

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The Snyder Cut was watched. We got through the first 3.5 hours in one sitting, but had to go out for dinner before the epilogue. Between this excess and the hollowness of Wonder Woman 1984, I don’t think I will ever want to watch another DC superhero movie. Hmm, okay I’ll admit I’m a little bit curious about Robert Pattison as Batman.

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The uneasy intimacy of work in a pandemic year — How capitalism and the pandemic destroyed our work-life balance.

I read this article on Vox yesterday, and it not only accurately describes what I’m/we’re currently experiencing, but also offers some frames that I hadn’t considered. As someone who thinks they welcome any opportunity to socialize less and stay home more, I was acutely unequipped to sense the encroachment of work into my personal headspace, distracted by the larger movements of personal time’s visible signifiers (no commuting, attending meetings from home, working off mobile devices) increasing and normalizing.

For as long as it was transforming in novel ways, packaged as a liberation, and had momentum amidst all this chaos, who would question the idea of placing work at the center of life under such circumstances? Who blessed with good health would even see the opportunity to do so, until it became too late?

What we’re left with is a situation in which workers in knowledge professions find ourselves thinking of work at all times, obsessing over it, devoting ourselves to it, even in our most private and intimate settings, even when we say we want to be thinking of other things. What is this experience, Gregg asks, but the experience of being in love?

“Classic definitions of love see the beloved as ‘the only important thing’ in life, compared to which ‘everything else seems trivial’ … leading to ‘the sense that one is in touch with the source of all value,’” Gregg writes. “A significant number of participants in this study spoke about work using language very similar to these tenets.”

Conflating the effects of overwork with being in love is an interesting idea to me, except it happens even when you’re not in love with the work. From what I can see, some of my friends experienced the above symptoms during the pandemic, but without any of the euphoria associated with love. These work thoughts that fill our waking and dreaming hours do not, as the saying goes, live rent free in our heads. The rent is too damn low, but we are charging nonetheless.

So is it a fair takeaway that knowledge work, when taken to an extreme, is just people being paid to live through a simulation of love? I think there’s a name for that. People like to jokingly use it when explaining their what they do for a living, but I guess it might be truer than you think.

[Ancient lamentation music playing]

Week 11.21

  • We put the Disney+ account to use this weekend by trying out a bunch of TV series that we’ll probably never resume, including The Orville (surprisingly high production values, but not very funny and a little time-wastey) and Empire (starting with the first season from 2015 is rough, it feels dated already). I also gave in and decided to give the Mandalorian a go. At least it looks expensive AND new.
  • Did I mention that we’ve started watching a derivative medical drama on Netflix called New Amsterdam? It started as mindless background TV, but its relentless (and satisfying) crisis-drama-relief formula exposes the gaps in pacing and focus that “better shows” have. Having spent most of her life watching series like this has given Kim the ability to call out all the plot points before they happen, whereas I’m still surprised by most of them. It’s seriously spooky, and I recommend her if any screenwriters need a consult.
  • Nothing’s too small to mention, so I’ll say that 7-Eleven Singapore has created a chicken katsudon onigiri which is a monstrosity I suppose, but it’s also quite good and the first onigiri they’ve made that’s good enough. It’s one of those round ones, topped with a NOT-OVERCOOKED layer of fried egg and onion, with a chunk of fried chicken in the middle.
  • The week was nothing to write home about. I went for one long evening walk that produced a couple of photos worth keeping. I had a little time for a triumphant return to Call of Duty Mobile. I heard the new songs from Utada Hikaru and Rosé and they didn’t knock me out. But thanks to the YouTube algorithm, I discovered a CALCULATOR COVER of Utada’s “One Last Kiss”, and the creator’s channel is full of them. When tech companies talk about unlocking human potential and ingenuity, I hope this is the sort of thing they mean because it’s awesome.