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.

===

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.

===

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.

===

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.

===

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.

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.

Week 5.21

  • It’s like the ants around here have gone crazy. I noticed them swarming in the kitchen one morning, carting off bits of a granola bar whose wrapper had a corner mysteriously torn off. Did they do it with their teeth? One colony cleansing later, I saw them reappear in another cupboard trying to get into a packet of dates. Wondering if there was something seasonal or lunar about this behavior, I asked some friends if they’d noticed anything similar lately and got “YES!” for an answer.
  • I joked that it was as if the ant leaders had announced that they weren’t going to make their food targets for the quarter, so everyone needed to get out there and collect goddammit!
  • Stonks. This week was noteworthy just because everyone now knows what a GameStop is, even though we don’t have any. I saw the headlines but didn’t poke into it until it was too late to get rich. Buut I bought a single overpriced share anyway, in solidarity with the people out to make predatory short-sellers suffer. I can’t even begin to guess if this is as big a deal as some make it out to be, or just a blip the system will painlessly absorb. I can’t intuit if it’s the beginning of a sea change in money, or just a January news story. My longstanding ignorance of market matters doesn’t help. But it is exciting to watch.
  • If it turns out to be a big deal though, many smart people seem to think it will accelerate adoption of decentralized finance platforms. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about getting my feet wet with PoolTogether, which was just buying lottery tickets with play money. This week I actually used Uniswap, and bought into an index fund governed by smart contracts. So… progress. Maybe next week I’ll quit my job and yield farm for a living.
  • It wouldn’t be an update without some Apple-related anecdote. My wife got one of the new iPad Airs for work purposes, and it’s nice enough that I actually questioned needing the next iPad Pro. Better screen technology and an A14X would be great, but if they raise the price for miniLED then I might just settle for an Air. My current iPad Pro, the one-off 10.5” model (2017), is such a weirdo. It’s like they had to cut a bunch of corners on it while waiting for the redesigned third-generation (2018). It doesn’t support spatial audio with AirPods, even though older devices like the iPhone 7 do. It’s got a white spot on the screen that I’ve seen others complain about. And graphically it’s so weak that most games seem to run in 480p.
  • Before bed each night, we started watching random YouTube videos of food being prepared, with no narration or music. Just street food kitchens and stalls in Korea and Taiwan frying up stuff at scale, with tons of oil. It’s beautiful, horrifying, and sleep inducing all at once.
  • As a result, I didn’t use my Netflix account until Sunday, when I started to watch Alice in Borderland, which is a truly not-bad Japanese live action series based on a manga. I recommend giving the first episode a go, just to see an impressive shot of Shibuya that will make you go “wait, what?!”. I’m up to Episode 3, which unfortunately goes into one of those time-wasting sequences where people scream/shout each other’s names for about three minutes. That’s still my number one pet peeve about Japanese shows. Nevertheless, I can recommend it on production values alone.
  • What a week for music, though. New albums from Rhye and Weezer, and the long-awaited debut albums from Arlo Parks and Celeste.
  • Through the serendipity of my personalized Apple Music radio station, I also discovered Instant Karma, an Amnesty International project from back in 2007 to “Save Dafur”. It’s 61(!) John Lennon covers by various artists, including R.E.M., Willie Nelson, The Cure, a-ha, Lenny Kravitz, and The Postal Service. Avril Lavigne even covers Imagine! I haven’t had the time for it all, but Regina Spektor’s version of Real Love might be my pick already.

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 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.