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.

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.