Journal #251 – Chilling rainy Sunday with life review

If I really have to list something useful that I did today, I can probably count them with one hand.

The first most useful thing was writing an blog entry about “Why I buy Apple products as a minimalist”, which I publish here and here.

The second most useful thing was me going for a quick 30 or so mins run at around 4.30pm and earlier in the day, I went and did twenty push-ups, split into two sets of ten.

The third most useful thing? For most people, I don’t think they will call it useful but for me, it’s probably is. I went to watch two more episodes of Dark on Netflix. I actually spent more effort to absorb in the scenes, looked at the expressions of the characters, their behaviors and actions, and start thinking about how I would create the show, scene or characters as a writer. It’s important to train yourself to think like a writer when you are consuming content produced by other people. To me, it is part and parcel of getting inspirations and understand how to get people to consume the content you create.

Other than that, I spent the other part of the day playing Sky Force: Reloaded on my iPhone and iPad Pro so that I can collect enough stars to upgrade my plane. That I definitely won’t call useful but it’s part of my desire to just chill.

I also went to get the Designed by Apple in California book out from the cabinet and start browsing through the pages. As I was browsing through, I spent some time understanding the designs and appreciating them all. It turns out I really found joy in going through the pictures and thinking about the story behind those designs. It’s so much easier to understand the context given that I have read Jony Ive’s biography and is still in the process of reading Steve Jobs’s biography. The process of going through the designs also got me feeling nostalgic as I started thinking about my days in secondary school when I was studying Design and Technology.

Thinking back, I do have some inclination for the design and technology subject in general. I understood the technical stuff rather easily but not so much of the society aspect or aesthetic. For my Singapore-Cambridge GCE Ordinary Level D&T project, the end product was average but I managed to score slightly above average compared to my peers because of my strength in the theory part and orthographic projection. One year earlier, I actually did very well for N-Level examination. If I remember correctly, I actually scored an ‘A’ due to the end product, theory and the drawings. It was actually a useful end product with a pretty good design.

So you see, when it comes to creating things, you will fumble and tumble from time to time. The only difference is how much effort you put and how much desire you have to achieve mastery and greatness.

Back then, I wasn’t sure if I could find a decent job if I went to do product design and I did find an inclination towards writing and interest in programming. So after my O-level examinations, I went with something that has practical uses given the economic situation and culture of Singapore. That was why I chose information technology for my Diploma and subsequently Computer Science for my degree.

Now if I were to do it all over again with what I know now, I will probably put in extra effort on my writing and have it run concurrently to my software development career so that I have more choices. But there is no point in regretting this because it’s a fact that I wasn’t mature or self-aware enough back then. So what I can do now is to forge a new path with the experiences and knowledge that I have gained. It’s never too late. I have already took the steps to improve my writing skills by applying and going for courses, keep writing, and learning from other writers.

So stop your bullshitting about being too old, feel tired or lazy studying, and complain about the fact that you are sick your current, meaningless job yet want to change career or do something more meaningful. Start creating the plan and taking the necessary actions or be quiet about your current life and apply gratitude.

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Apple AirPods Review (2 Weeks Later)

I have been using the AirPods for 2 weeks now. I brought it out with me on runs, when I go to work, when I watch movies and tv series on my MacBook and Apple TV.

So far, I have enjoyed using it though there were several times when the AirPods didn’t automatically pair and connect with my devices. Before I noticed it, I had already played music out from those device and they were blasting away from the inbuilt speakers, be it whether it’s the iPad Pro or iPhone 7 Plus that I have. It can get both annoying and embarrassing.

Other than that, the battery life is great and I hadn’t really found the need to charge that often. It’s something that I don’t have with the ATH-Sport4. I like the convenience and is definitely a good thing.

In terms of sound quality, it’s acceptable for me with its bass and mid-range reproduction. The music that I listens to have more bass and mid-range, so all good for me.

The lack of wires of any sort is both a good and bad thing. The lack of wires is good because it’s more convenient and I don’t have to worry about them getting entangle with people around me or things that I carry. It is also bad because there is nothing guaranteeing it remain secure on person and not flying off when it comes off my ears due to some kind of accident.

The AirPods are also comfortable to wear and my ears don’t feel stuffed or cramped. But that also meant that there isn’t any decent noise-cancellation. I generally hate to have to listen to environment sounds like trains chugging along, people talking or other people’s music. But that’s the kind of trade-off you have to live with. I do hope Apple release a better version of this AirPod with active noise cancellation. I believe the technology is already here for that.

Lastly, there is an occasional issue where there are crackling noises as I was using it. I suspect it could be both software and physical. By physical, I mean there are interfering signal around me like someone else’s bluetooth or radio transmitting information. I don’t know whether it is technically feasible to mitigate that, especially if it is a physical limitation of wireless technology. We are technically surrounded by electromagnetic waves ranging from microwave to light and possibly x-ray. So that’s another thing to live with.

Overall, I truly believe in a wireless future as Apple touted when they introduced the AirPods. I finally have a good wireless earphones that I feel great about, is convenient for me to use, long battery life, and has good sounds. This accessory has shown that if a company actually cares about making the world best products, cares deeply about how a user will use a product, anything can be achieved.

AIR+ Smart Mask with Micro-Ventilator Review

To deal with air pollution like cigarette smokes and vehicle exhausts, I bought the AIR+ Smart Mask with Micro-Ventilator from Watsons.

The mask is made by Innosparks, an ST Engineering Open Lab and is certified N95.

The main mask comes in a pack of three for a price of $7.90.

The micro-ventilator cost $25.90 and is necessary for effective use of the mask.

I wore the mask out when I in a non air-conditioned area like outdoors and it was helpful in a way. It was able to filter out a vast majority of the smell from second-hand smoke and vehicle exhausts. I think it has also filtered out the bigger particles associated with second-hand smoke. Overall, I didn’t feel particularly sick from walking outside and breathing in the air.

But note that I said “vast majority”. That’s because my nose is so sensitive that I was able to smell certain residual smell especially if I walked past an area which had second-hand smoke lingering around. If I’m not wrong, it’s benzene cause it’s the same smell from poorly filtered car exhaust.

During my use, the ventilator is helpful to expel moist, carbon dioxide, and heat from the inside of the mask. Without the ventilator, it actually does get difficult to breathe and very uncomfortable. The area around your mouth would most probably be covered in sweat or water vapor. It’s actually very disgusting if you think about it. I think that’s the case when you use other type of N95 mask like those from 3M, which I have never used but can pretty much extrapolate from my experience with this.

So, if you are looking for a good mask to deal with the environmental aerial toxins and smell associated with living in a dense city and you have a very sensitive nose, this mask is a pretty good investment.

Apple AirPods Review (Second Day) – Running

I took the AirPods out for a run today to see how well it works.

For once, I actually felt good going for a run with earphones because there are no wires of any sort lingering around my shoulders or neck. My previous ATH-Sport4 Earphones has pretty stiff cables that tend to get in the way when I turn or tilt my head. With the AirPods, it felt freer.

While running, I tend to change the tracks when the music being played isn’t matching my mood or tempo at the moment in time. Since I wear the Apple Watch series 2 out during my runs, I do try to switch tracks from it but the whole process isn’t smooth. To switch track via the watch, I need to bring it into view, switch app to the music player, change track before switching back to the running app so that I know how far and my pacing.

With the ATH-Sport4, there is a fast forward button that doubles as the change track button, so I will reach up and change track from there. But the buttons are behind my ears due to the way I wear it and there is a need to hold the button for roughly three-seconds before the track is changed. It’s not very ideal but it’s better.

The AirPods improved on the whole experience of track change process. Since it relies on accelerometer to detect double tapping, the primary way of interaction with the AirPods, it’s faster. Secondly, it doesn’t feel awkward.

As I go further on my run, the AirPods didn’t feel perfect enough. Due to the shape of my ears, combined with the shock and vibration that went through your body as you run, they got pretty lose. The situation was made worse by sweat. Every decameters or so, I had to shove the AirPods back into my ears to prevent them from flying out.

External noise cancellation is practically non-existent and I could hear the sound of vehicles around me, people talking, etc. But I suppose it’s not that big of an issue.

I suppose I will give it a try a few more times before deciding if I want to go back to using the ATH-Sport4 for my runs.

Apple AirPods Review (First Day)

Ever since the AirPods was announced by Apple back in 2016, I always wanted it but wasn’t sure if it would fit my use cases. I know people have qualms about the design but I don’t. I have been using earphones from Audio-technica because of their decent balance between bass, mid, treble, and price. The earphones that I owned also have decent noise cancellation and doesn’t fall out of my ears. Due to the shape of my ears, most earphones do fall out if I swing or shake my head hard enough.

So today, 25 November 2017, I decided to buy the AirPods and give it a try. I do have a wireless earphone from Audio-Technica and it’s the Ath-Sport4 model.

I bought that because I wanted a non-wired version that I can wear when I go for runs. I didn’t want the cables to dangle and interfere with my arm movements.

The Ath-Sport4 was a decent earphone for its price. The pain point that I have with it was the short battery life of three hours. I had to be very sure that I charged it full before I leave the house. I encountered a couple of times where my earphone ran out of battery while I was outside and couldn’t charge it. Not a very good experience for me.

The AirPods set me back by SG$238. Rather expensive but I suppose that’s the price that I pay for convenience. You see, I invest so much money into Apple because of their privacy stance, great products, the premium feel, and convenience. Due to the well optimize software and hardware and the tight integration, everything was as seamless as possible. It makes my life better. It reduces decision or mental fatigue.

Let me digress a bit.

Think about it. How often have your Windows PC and your myriad of devices gave you headaches because of difference in operating system, software support, connectivity, etc.?

Back to the review.

Let’s go with some pictures of the box and the actual device. I took this chance to practice taking photos of products.

Front of the box. The plastic wrapping is still on it.

Side of the box.

Back of the box.

Took off the plastic wrapping and unboxed it.

Removed the box containing the booklets and manuals reveal the actual device.

It look so much smaller than I thought and really does look like a dental floss box that I have. I love the minimalistic, white design.

I love how the top opens and snaps back. It felt so intuitive and remind me of those boxes carrying gums or sweets.

Taking it out of the box and opening the cap reveals two of the earphones. They do look kind of cute and fun, reminding me of some kind of sauropods emerging of their eggs.

Taking the earphones out, they look really weird but interesting. Fun in a way and the design is pretty minimalistic too. Love it.

So I took the earphones for a spin, pairing it with my iPhone 7 Plus and listening to some music.

I got to say, I actually like the bass and the mid-range. I don’t really listen to music with high treble and so I don’t think it will affect me that much. Generally, I like bass music.

I also paired it with my MacBook Pro and watched Netflix with it. It was decent but Netflix has this issue where the audio volume is actually softer when you are using the browser to watch shows.

The next few things I tried with the earphone was with iTunes and YouTube. So far I really love the sounds produced by the earphones.

There is another use case that I need to test and that’s running. I will update again once I test them out. For now, I don’t know whether they will fall out while I’m running. If they do, I may have to fall back to using the ATH-Sport4 when I go for runs and I won’t consider $238 that well-spent anymore.

Movie Review #1 – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

Please note that there may be some spoilers.

I went to watch Kingsman: The Golden Circle with my friends on Sept 23, 2017 at Shaw Lido. It came out in Singapore on the Sept 21. This is my quick review of the show.

Some background first. I watched the first movie, Kingsman: The Secret Service, when it came out in 2014. I loved the first show due to its over-the-top action sequence with the occasional comedic scenes. The funniest scenes were always when Samuel L. Jackson is on. In that movie, we saw Eggsy, portrayed by Taron Egerton, grew from an anti-social youth to become a respected young man capable of dishing out heavy punishment on the bad guys.

In Kingsman: The Golden Circle, we saw Eggsy as a mature agent, able to fight off his enemies with relative ease. And when he’s not fighting or on the job, he was able to maintain a cover of a young adult who has a girlfriend, hanging out with his friends in his house.

About quarter way of the show, we get to see the Kingsman wiped out except for a few survivors — Eggsy and Merlin were the only those survivors.

From then on, the movie was about the remaining Kingsmen working with Statesman, the American counterpart to stop the villain, Poppy Adams, portrayed by Julianne Moore. She’s pretty good at portraying her character’s eccentricities.

Elton John stars in the movie too as a captive and generally serve to replace Samuel L. Jackson in the sense that his scenes were rather funny.

The action scenes were like the first, over-the-top yet maintaining some sense of believability. It’s generally a fun movie. During certain parts of the show, the CGI was pretty obvious. I’m not sure if it was intentional or what. Generally CGI in most Hollywood shows have a certain polish till the point where you almost couldn’t tell the difference between real and fake.

I give the movie 4/5 stars.

Daily Journal – Jun 30, 2017

This is my 90th journal.

I don’t really want to talk about work today. So I will skip that. Instead, I will focus on reviewing ramen.

My friend opened a ramen stall at Yue Hua Foodcourt at 108 Depot Road. The stall is called Tsubame Ramen. You can check out the Facebook page here.

As this is a store in a food court where the highest costing ramen is around SG$6, I’m not expecting restaurant standard.

For a start, the broth is especially important in a bowl of ramen and then follow by the noodles.

I ordered the King Shoyu Ramen, which is one of the signature dish. Here it is.

Being a Shoyu Ramen, I’m expecting the broth to carry a salty taste. It delivered but not to the point where you need to gulp down tons of water. But it’s still pretty salty (I mean if I can taste it, it’s pretty salty), therefore it is not for everyone.

As explained by my friend, it cost money to make a thick broth that’s rich in flavour. So she tried to find a decent balance between cost and quality. I applaud her effort. 4/5 for the broth.

Next is the noodle. At the start, the noodle is rather tough to chew. Considering that I have some issue with my jaw caused by previous d wisdom tooth extraction, I had some rather difficult time. However, after a while soaking in the broth, the noodle softened. Only then, I find it enjoyable. My friend explained to me that because the noodle can become extremely soft when left in the broth for too long and if she cook it any longer. Therefore, she only cooked it for a few seconds. It is to ensure the quality for people ordering ramen to go and don’t eat it immediately. 4/5 for the noodle.

For SG$6, there are four pieces of braised pork belly that is well cooked. However, as I’m someone who prefer a stronger tasting braised pork belly, I didn’t find it exceptional. I personally prefer the braised pork belly from Menya Sanji Ramen located at Orchid Hotel along 1 Trans Link. But then, Menya Sanji Ramen cost up to $15 including GST. So 3.5/5 for the pork bellies. The lava egg was a good attempt but for that kind of price, you can’t really complain. 3.5/5 for the lava egg.

If you do live around Depot Road or if you are in the area, do pay Tsubame Ramen a visit.

Here I conclude my journal for today.

Ogon Designs’s Stockholm V2 Smart Wallet Review

My original leather-based wallet was falling apart after one year.

So last Sunday, which is the 4th of June 2017, I decided that it was time for me to get a new one. This time, I wanted a more minimalistic, hard wallet. In a leather wallet, my cards tend to end up bent, which I dislike. In addition, with the increased use of contactless cards, preventing RFID scanning is important. I don’t want the possibility of having money deducted from my card without me knowing, although in Singapore, it is pretty safe.

But it does pay to be safe than sorry.

I went looking around online and found a company, Ogon Designs, which makes aluminium wallets. After browsing their catalogue, I found what I want and took an immediate liking to the Stockholm V2 Smart Wallet.

According to the company, the wallet itself is designed and made in France, which I thought is interesting, especially the latter. Most products these days are made in China and tend to be of a lower quality. Generally, I would prefer products that are made in their country of origin or in countries where the culture is such that the people is attentive to details and perfection. So without considering further, I ordered it from the website. It cost me about SG$137 and that included the DHL Express shipping fee.

The wallet arrived in Singapore on Friday, 9 June 2017, in a small brown box. Opening up the box revealed the wallet itself sitting in the middle of bubble wrap and white foam.

Here you can see the wallet itself encased in a clear case wrapped in plastic. I supposed the plastic case is to protect the aluminium body from scratches and dents.

Once you take the wallet out, it felt solid and compact in your hands. I love the black finish with the grooves along the front and back. The wallet is small enough that it actually fit in the palm of my hand. For an aluminium wallet, it felt light too, comparable to the leather wallet that I used.

Opening up the wallet revealed a small booklet with the OGON title in one of the slot. The interior was well-made and didn’t felt cheap in any sense.

Once you take the booklet out, you can see the wallet allows you to put up to six cards, which is fine by me as I don’t really have that many cards.

Although the wallet allows you to put cash in it, it wasn’t very feasible, especially in Singapore due to the use of polymer banknotes. It’s hard to fold those notes and if you have a lot of those, you will have a hard time closing the wallet. However, with Singapore moving towards being a cashless society, I supposed it is fine for me. Besides, I also rely more on my cards to make payment. Cash are only used at food stores in Singapore which still rely heavily on cash. Side Note: I’m personally not very happy with that.

But if you do need a bigger wallet to hold your cash and cards, then I suggest you get the Big Stockholm Wallet.