📖 The Nineties 

“It was in retrospect, a remarkably easy time to be alive. There were still nuclear weapons, but there was not going to be a nuclear war. The internet was coming, but reluctantly, and there was no reason to believe that it would be anything but awesome.”


Chuck Klosterman
The Nineties

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This book was awesome to read. A child of the nineties now has a book that accurately captures the feeling of that era. I found myself nodding at various sections, and then I laughed at having taken this book a little too seriously. But well, it is really nice to chuckle at the caricature of a person who absorbed too much of the 90s vibe – progressive but not too much; hopeful but not too optimistic. And oh, the days of being a nobody, with no pressure to be on brand, to even have a personal brand…

//

“The enforced ennui and alienation of Gen X had one social upside: Self-righteous outrage was not considered cool…. If you weren’t happy, the preferred stance was to simply shrug and accept that you were unhappy. Ambiguous disappointment wasn’t that bad.”

“No stories were viral. No celebrity was trending. The world was still big. The country was still vast. You could just be a little person, with your own little life and your own little thoughts. You didn’t have to have an opinion, and nobody cared if you did or did not. You could be alone on purpose, even in a crowd.”

Links from the past weeks

  • Map of the Middle Earth
    This is a useful reference when reading the books, especially for aging eyes. You can also choose to see paths taken by various parties.


  • Why You Should Stop ‘Gamifying’ Your Health and Fitness
    The part about streaks resonated with me. I hate it when apps insist you do something every single day. I am fine with trying to do something 5 days a week, but the unnecessary weight of 7 days a week just makes things too tiresome. That is why the Streaks app is good – you can set goals that make sense to you, e.g. 4 times a week, 8 times a month. Unfortunately, my streak with Duolingo has started and ended too many times.


  • Escher’s Rubik’s Cube.


  • Apparently it is a thing for you to watch the Fantastic Beasts and wonder what its target audience is.


  • I was wondering where the flu virus went, and some lineages may have become extinct.


  • In true Singaporean fashion, here is why Singaporeans need to understand war rhetoric. I have been loading the websites of Reuters and Guardian excessively, and also watching Deustche Welle on Youtube. I cannot believe that a full-scale invasion was embarked upon, and I could not believe that we are supposed to let sanctions take care of matters, while we all watched and hoped for a internal uprising. It is 2022, and we cannot do better, no.


📖 Empire of Pain

“The opioid crisis is, among other things, a parable about the awesome capability of private industry to subvert public institutions.”

Patrick Radden Keefe, Empire of Pain

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This reads like a thriller. The focus on the Sacklers humans involved make it very readable, and among others, the points made that stick out to me are: (1) the playbook for Librium in the 1960s – claiming that withdrawal is not a sign of dependence but intensification of the underlying condition, thus justifying a higher dose of Librium; abuse comes from using the drug in non-intended ways: blame the user, not the drug – was used for Oxycontin decades later. And it worked for the Sacklers again, for decades. (2) the timeline. Oxycontin came into the market in the early 90s, and it was only in 2018 that the more serious repercussions came in when the Massachusetts AG decided to personally name the Sacklers as defendants. The multi-district litigation eventually culminated in the Sacklers stepping down, and a settlement sum in 2021 from Purdue Pharma that exceeded $4b. But, and there is a but, Purdue Pharma had already pled guilty in 2008 for lesser offences (pertaining to how they marketed the drug) and yet, it continued to sell the drug and in the 2010s also entered various other markets.

The number of years this went on for is quite staggering. But investigation and litigation can take time, especially if a litigant manages to get a court order for documents to be sealed/ destroyed upon the resolution of a case. Richard Sackler’s deposition in a settled case was somehow unearthed, and reading a transcript may have less impact. Transcripts cannot convey tone or facial expressions. I was very amused to learn that John Oliver hired actors to play Sackler and read out the transcript.

Some notes from the UK 🇬🇧✈️

  • For some reason, London looks better than we remember it. After some thought, it seems that this is because of (a) better design seen overall e.g. in signages, billboards and in how things work, e.g. transport, supermarkets; and (b) improved cleanliness.
  • Rental bikes come with phone mounts. That is such a kind thing to do for the consumer. [Our country’s rental bikes are not similarly equipped.]
  • We loved that we could be cashless almost all the way on our trip. This streak was broken briefly at Dover Cliffs, where we used cash to pay for the cab ride from the station to the cliffs.
  • Tips can be left by paywave – the shopkeepers rig up a machine on the wall on your way out. Tap to tip.
  • Express travel card on iOS is awesome – I just waved my iPhone for bus and train rides. No need to unlock phone or activate payment page. (For some reason, it didn’t work on my Apple watch. Mobile data sharing also doesn’t work overseas so I could not have used AW without my phone.)
  • The Avanti trains are terribly ventilated. The air was still, and the trains too wobbly. Only on English trains do we suffer travel sickness. Had to go to Boots to get Kwells. We missed the Japanese shinkansen – clean; comfortable; truly fast. (The trains run by other rail providers e.g. ThamesLink aren’t as bad in terms of ventilation.)
  • No. 10 Downing Street is referred to as “No 10” or “No10” in some papers. Very distracting.
  • We watched Single’s Inferno on our Netflix account via a Chromecast that the hotel TV came with.
  • That was a break from my reading material – Crying in H Mart; The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich; Lord of The Rings. [I seem to have become a person who reads several books at once.]
  • Managed to eat gelato in winter: 1) honeycomb; 2) honey & Japanese miso in Cambridge. It was 3°C and windy.
  • We received updates from the pet hotel at 7 or 8 am every morning. It’s nice to wake up to photos and videos of our cat.
  • The Collinson Assistance test clinic at St Pancras gave us our ART results in half an hour.

Links from the past weeks

Links from the past week

  • What the Forest Remembers, by Jennifer Egan
    A short fiction piece that bundles from the past to the present, and then into the future. The story moves along, and suddenly brings you elsewhere – I like the little surprise. An ode to the power of fiction.


  • What Really Happens When Workers Are Given a Flexible Hybrid Schedule?
    Interesting to read about different experiences / preferences. Reams (observations? predictions?) were written but I had thought it was too early to generalise, and by now, the consensus is flexibility because there are just too many different preferences/ needs/ seasons in life to cater for. I believe that a policy which recommends (and not mandate) 2 days in the office makes sense for now. I don’t believe that a fully remote workplace does well where the work requires some form of apprenticeship but insisting on too much face-time seems wrong too. Maybe when management of the workplace is fully under the province of millennials will we truly create a different order.


  • China’s Reform Generation Adapts to Life in the Middle Class
    Peter Hessler catches up with his former students. 20 years, and a few stories about those who had grown up in China’s countryside and entered teaching college in the 90s.


  • The Economist touches on why Apple is in the media game:
    “None of the markets is a big prize for the world’s most valuable firm. The entire global recorded music industry had sales of $22bn in 2020, less than Apple made just from selling iPads. In about a month Apple generates as much revenue as Netflix makes in a year.

    Apple’s renewed interest in media is best explained by the transformation in the company’s scale, which radically changes the calculation of which side-projects are worthwhile. … In 2021 Apple tv+’s estimated content budget represented 0.6% of company revenues.

    … Streaming subscriptions may not lock people in as strongly as iTunes purchases did, but Apple’s various services still sink “meat hooks” into customers, making them spend more time with their devices and making it a bit more inconvenient to leave Apple’s ecosystem.”


  • Here’s a very neat image showing the mean risk of infection in different mask-wearing combinations, where ‘inf’ or ‘i’ refers to what the infectious is wearing, and ‘sus’ or ‘s’ refers to what the counter-party/ susceptible person is wearing.



    The research article can be found here. The FFP2 masks this study mentions ought to be similar in standards to a N95 or KN95. (3M has a table comparing the various mask standards.)
    [h/t Derek Powazek]

📖 Reading – 2021

Books here are only listed if I’ve completed them; recommended titles are in bold.

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The Psychology of Money
Anxious People
The Midnight Library
Look Alive Out There
The Space Between Us
The Secrets Between Us
No Filter
Interior Chinatown
Bark
Goodbye Things
Klara and The Sun
26 Marathons
From The Belly of the Cat
The Happy Runner
Fashionopolis
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes
Boundless
Nomadland
Think Again
Running: Cheaper Than Therapy: A Celebration of Running
The Tyranny of Merit
Killing Commendatore
Kicksology
Lost Connections
Heaven
Anthro-vision
Simply Invest
The Anthropocene Reviewed
The Great Indoors
Did You Ever Have a Family?
Land of Big Numbers
At Home
Spy Family
The Practice of Not Thinking
Four Thousand Weeks
Practical Magic
The Book of Form and Emptiness
Up Close with Lee Kuan Yew
Blockchain Chicken Farm
How to Do Nothing

Total:
41 books: 16 fiction

📺 Some things I’ve watched – 2021

Pretend It’s A City
Bling Empire
Bridgerton
Tiong Bahru Social Club
Cecil Hotel
Call My Agent
Vincenzo
迷離夜
WeWork
WandaVision
Friends reruns
Handmaid’s Tale S4
The Practice rerun
Boston Legal
Shang Chi
The Big Leap
Grey’s Anatomy
Squid Game
Sing China
The Royal House of Windsor
Light the Night
Criminal Minds (SS 14 & 15)
Spiderman: No Way Home

I would recommend those in bold. Seems like nostalgia and crime rule this year.

📖 Snow Crash

“This Snow Crash thing—is it a virus, a drug, or a religion?”
Juanita shrugs. “What’s the difference?”

Neal Stephenson
Snow Crash

//

This book has never gotten on my radar. It is pretty cool that a book published in the early 90s speaks of augmented / virtual reality, a metaverse, and a virus pandemic that ties physical illness to a change in the brain structure. Is this caused by a virus, a drug or religion? Eerily relevant and still readable in 2021. The book abruptly speeds up towards the end, but overall, still a gripping book. Cyberpunk is quite a fun genre.

📖 How to Do Nothing

Repression is not silence, and is not “repression of dissent; nor does it rest on the enforcement of silence. On the contrary, it relies on the proliferation of chatter, the irrelevance of opinion and discourse, and on making thought, dissent and critique banal and ridiculous.”

Context collapse

“Spatial and temporal context both have to do with the neighboring entities around something that help define it. Context also helps establish the order of events. Obviously, the bits of information we’re assailed with on Twitter and Facebook feeds are missing both of these kinds of context.”

“In the last chapter, I try to imagine a utopian social network that could somehow hold all of this. I use the lens of the human bodily need for spatial and temporal context to understand the violence of “context collapse” online and propose a kind of “context collection” in its place. Understanding that meaningful ideas require incubation time and space, I look both to noncommercial decentralized networks and the continued importance of private communication and in-person meetings. I suggest that we withdraw our attention and use it instead to restore the biological and cultural ecosystems where we forge meaningful identities, both individual and collective.”

Jenny Odell
How to Do Nothing

//

The book meanders along in its own way, is not really trying to tell you how to do nothing, and instead examines how we have let the capitalist manager’s ideas of productivity taken over our attention. The book has somewhat of a misleading title or perhaps it is meant to attract attention. Odell does not mean for you to do nothing. Because if you withdraw entirely from society, you cannot make change or make things better for yourself. What Odell means by doing nothing is to disengage from attention economy, and engage in another framework e.g. speak to friends in person, engage in community, go take a walk and develop a sense of place. (She talks quite a lot about birds and birdwatching, which may or may not interest you.)

I especially appreciate the reminder that repression need not be by way of disallowing speech. Because living in this day and age, we know that by setting chatter atwitter, you can block discussion, create fatigue… It made me reconsider what I choose to read (Twitter, RSS, Reddit), and whether I have unwittingly withdrew too much. Perhaps this book started me back on keeping a blog.

📻 A note on Spotify

I’ve switched back to using Spotify. For the past two years, I was using Apple Music (AM). This was because I wanted to be able to play music on my Apple Watch (AW) while I went on my runs, without having to bring my phone out.

AM has the most beautiful app, and has most of the songs you may want to listen to. But among music apps (I loved Xiami too), AM is simply not good at discovery / recommendation.

If you had asked me, I wouldn’t have expected it to take two years for Apple and Spotify to sort out the AW functionality for music on-the-go. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I was checking for updates on this issue every few months.

PS. There is an iOS app called Songshift that one can use to transfer playlists between different services.