- The high point of the week was probably a celebratory meal at a fancy sushi place on Monday, an appointment that had to be booked two months in advance. I’d like to say the iPhone’s camera performed well on this occasion, but it did not. Specifically, when using the 3x telephoto in low light conditions and the phone decides to shoot with the wide lens and crop in instead, which happened every time I thought I was using the 3x lens. You might not notice it on screen at the time, but these are usually unusable when looking at them later. I still maintain 2x on previous iPhones was a more useful focal length, and when it did happen, a 2x digital zoom is nowhere as bad as a 3x one. So this makes third-party camera apps like Halide an unfortunate requirement rather than a nice-to-have affectation for “pros”.
- Finished reading Grace D. Li’s Portrait Of A Thief which I’d happily give 4 stars for the overall experience: a fun heist caper sprinkled with Chinese-American YA identity crises and politics. The entire cast is Asian; there’s not even a token white friend or anyone else of color that I can remember. That, along with the mechanics of the sophisticated art thievery by confessed amateurs, seems unreal? But perhaps it does feel that way sometimes being Chinese in America, I dunno. There’s apparently a Netflix series being developed around this, if it wasn’t canceled in the last few weeks along with so many other projects, and I’d love to see it at the very least match the production quality of One Of Us Is Lying, but of course To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before levels are welcome.
- Am now on A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles, an author I know nothing about, but the book came highly recommended at some point I no longer remember. Was afraid it would be the Paulo Coelho sort of 5-star book, but so far it’s very enjoyable. Looking it up on Wikipedia, it seems there is also a TV adaptation being developed, to star Kenneth Branagh. I can see this role being completely appropriate if he can resist hamming it up.
- While reading in bed late at night, it’s become a habit to put up webcams on the projector. And my absolute favorite now is this street-level livecam in Shinjuku that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago. It has ambient sounds unlike most cams, so it’s great for having on in the background like a window to another place. I feel like I know this area intimately now, the way people leave bars around 11pm to get the last trains, how the touts stand in the middle of the lane to pull people into their establishments, and (especially) the movements of the rats outside the ramen shop. It’s a Night Trap-like delight whenever I look up and catch a rat scurrying out at the exact time a woman walks by, triggering a scream.
- I also saw an altercation on camera one time, but partially obscured by a passing vehicle so I’ll never know how exactly it started. A man seemed to bump into a nerdy looking guy on a bike, but whether he started it or not, the nerd eventually became the aggressor and shoved the guy to the ground with such force he rolled over backwards. It was raining and he practically landed in a puddle. Then the nerd stood over him and menacingly grabbed his collar and said a few words before going off and cycling away. The victim just sheepishly got up and straightened his jacket, picked his phone off the ground where it landed a few feet away, and walked off. Plenty of people nearby, nobody intervened or wanted to stare.
- Vanillaware pulled off a pretty ambitious story with 13 Sentinels: Aegis Rim. My playthrough clocked in about 24 hours, but I just missed 100% completion because of some bonus objectives that weren’t met. I don’t want to think about it too much more, but perhaps there was just one too many twists for the story’s good. If anything needs a multimillion-dollar TV adaptation, this absurd mashup of The Matrix, Cloud Atlas, The Fountain, Pacific Rim, Evangelion, The Island, Battlestar Galactica, The Terminator, and maybe a dozen more SF classics, is begging for it.
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.
When staying up late at night in solitude, I’ve found it quite cozy to put global webcams from YouTube up on the projector. There was a tweet yesterday being derided up and down the internet where someone claimed Japan has no homeless people, drunks, giant rats, or litter. Later at 2am, I had a feed of Kabukicho up and saw a messy group stumbling into an all-night diner with a giant rat bounding down the street behind them. Perfection.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
If you’re lazing about/working/reading in front of a TV and want some music with visuals, Uniqlo’s series of LifeWear Music compilations is pretty good! I’m now watching the one set in a cafe and they’ve left mics on so you get little hints of conversation and movement in the mix.