Happy 2024, everyone. How is your first month of the new year going? Personally, I have the feeling this year is headed in a bad direction. But, at least, I can hope to face it with a bit of optimism. Or resignation. It doesn’t matter. After all, in both cases, you end up thinking that you have nothing to lose.
My January started badly, as you can imagine. The flu I had in late December decided to strike me again, leaving me with a cough and a terrible sore throat for 10 days. This setback killed most of my good intentions. I only managed to regain a good rhythm during the last week.
This is a big difference with January 2023: this year, I haven’t set any expectations, and it’s not in a positive way. For this year, it would be great if I could reach the highs of the good days in 2023. It’s not that I believe I have nothing more to improve or nothing I’d like to do, make, wish for, or struggle for. It’s just that I feel somewhat empty. Everything seems to have been swallowed up by the background feeling of ‘meh.’ And the real problem is that I think it is not so bad after all.
Well, I didn’t plan to go into such a downward spiral. Especially since the second half of January has been kind of fun and interesting.
So, let’s begin.
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The Books I Read in 2023
As usual, January is the month I look back at my readings. This year, I completed a total of 35 books, with 19 being fiction and 16 non-fiction. You can find a review for each one of them in my article.
Apple’s Pettiness Overload
I wanted to write something about Apple’s petty and maliciously compliant reaction to the EU’s DMA, but there are already too many words. I don’t know if I am still bothered by it, I’ll write something in February.
“But in the meantime, I want to share a link to the very agreeable piece by Ian Betteridge. With Ian, I share a profound sense of disgust, so much so that it has made me reconsider my choices even on the still open platform: the Mac. Luckily, I was never really locked into the Apple ecosystem (90% of the software I use is a web app or cross-platform). However, I am planning to disengage from it more aggressively when the lifespan of my current equipment reaches its natural end, just in case.”
The role of the feudal lord is one that Apple is choosing to play because it makes more money that way.
To the on-point Betteridge’s I just want to add that the closeness of iOS is what enables Apple to consistently sell its customers to authoritarian regimes, and to provide laughable justifications for it. I repeat: Apple will sell your right if it becomes economically advantageous to do it. No tech company should have this power.
Around the World in 80 Games by Marcus du Sautoy (2023)
It was a fascinating book, brimming with board games, personal stories, and mathematics. I enjoyed it for the most part. Among the “bad” parts, I’d say that some games remained quite obscure. I would have appreciated a few more diagrams to better understand the progression of a game.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939)
The way I ended up reading this book is worth sharing. Four months ago, I was watching an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation titled The Big Goodbye (S01E12). It’s one of those quirky holodeck episodes. In the episode, Jean Luc Picard becomes obsessed with some old books about the story of an early 20th-century private investigator called Dixon Hill.
So I asked, “Are those books real?” It turns out that no, they are not real. However, they were inspired by some real books: the saga of a detective called Philip Marlowe, written by Raymond Chandler in the early 20th century.
Eager for some old-time hardboiled detective noir stories, I decided to take a look at the first novel: “The Big Sleep” (you can clearly see the reference in the title of the Star Trek episode).
My first impression was that it was a bit cliché. But then I realized that this is the book that initiated the cliché. “The Big Sleep” defined the genre.
I liked the book. It is more complex than I expected. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I were more fluent in early 1930s slang. It had been a long time since I needed to stop every once in a while to look in a dictionary to understand what they were talking about.
Reacher (Season 2)
All the great stories have a core “what if” question. For instance, in The Godfather, we can ask, “What if a reluctant heir to an aging crime family patriarch must take over and navigate the dangerous world of organized crime?” For Die Hard, we could ask, “What if an off-duty New York City police officer is trapped inside a building with a bunch of terrorists?”
For Reacher, I think the “what if?” question is straightforward: “What if a two-door wardrobe closet is as smart as Sherlock Holmes and way more violent?”
The first season of Reacher is one of my favorite non-philosophical good-vs-evil thrillers. Alan Ritchson really gave a new spin to the Reacher character. The series is fun, exciting, intense, interesting, and I love it.
Season two continues on the steps of Season 1. However, it left me more puzzled and confused with a worse taste in my mouth. I think two things hit me wrong.
First, Reacher is much more vengeful. The border between vengeance and justice is very thin, and this season really stretches the line. But this may be a personal opinion.
The worst offender is the second point: it is too much. Suspension of disbelief is a mandatory skill in any action-oriented movie, but the first season was able to never make me think, “what the heck?” This last season made me think “WTF” more than I liked, especially in the last episode. It was so unnecessarily exaggerated that I almost screamed at the screen.
Seriously. We don’t need that.
Rear Window (1954)
This year, I decided to watch many movies I had never seen from the years ending in 4. For example, movies released in the years 1934, 1954, 1984, 2004, and so on. I made a big checklist with 50 movies and decided to tackle it in January. You can actually follow along on my Letterboxd list.
Anyway. Given my bad start to the year, I skipped several weeks, and I am already late. But do not worry. I finally checked off the first movie from my bucket list: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
It is hard to say anything new and interesting about a staple of world cinematography. I loved the idea of telling stories by only looking inside apartment windows, something I find myself doing when I gaze out of my own windows. I enjoy imagining other people’s lives through the tiny slices accessible to me.
‘Rear Window’ is a masterpiece of scenography and camera framing, and it serves as a great example of intentionality. Every shot is captured as if the camera were in Jeff’s (James Stewart) apartment. Except for one. I’ll link to a wonderful review that really made me appreciate this beautiful particular.
The story sometimes slows down, but it always remains full of interesting details and sub-stories.
And Grace Kelly is a damn goddess. How were they able to shoot a scene where she climbs a window in a quasi-parkour movement, in high heels, and yet she looks so elegant and classy for the entire time?
The only real negative point is the ending when Jeff “stun-chains” a slow-moving salesman with camera flashes. It resembles a scene from a zombie movie, and it comes across as a bit cringe to modern eyes.
But hey, those were different times! It’s the reason I love old movies.
This is the first month in a while during which I’ve been back to listening to music with great pleasure. As you can see from the 5x5 collage, I’ve enjoyed a lot of interesting albums. Let’s take a look at some of them:
- Prince – Sign “☮︎” the Times. It is probably the best Prince album.
- Green Day – Saviors. It is not the best Green Day album, but at least it is not the worse.
- Sparks – Kimono My House. Sparks are great. Always nice and funny.
- Draconian – Under a Godless Veil. A great funeral-gothic-doom album.
- Hermit and the Recluse – Orpheus vs the Sirens. I am not used to hip-hop, and I didn’t expect a kinda-mythology-themed concept album.
- Then there is the new album from The Smile: Wall of Eyes.
of the albums I want to recommend this month is “False Light” (2022) by White Ward, a black metal band from Odesa that was originally formed in 2012. What I like about this album is the atmosphere blending into dark jazz (to give you an idea: the Twin Peaks soundtrack or a noir-movie theme), thanks to some very interesting use of a saxophone.
(Btw, I am stumbling in a lot of recent metal albums using a saxophone. Is this a new trend?)
This month, I completed Hogwarts: Legacy. I gifted it to my life partner (as she is currently experiencing a resurgence of her Harry Potter fandomness, thanks to some unofficial content). However, I will never stop exploring the possibility of trying out new games.
If a game like this had been released as an MMORPG during my early teenage years, I would have shit my pants. The game does an excellent job of replicating the magic (literally) from the books and movies. Hogwarts Castle truly feels like an old, mysterious, and magical place. Going around absorbing the “vibes” of that place is the best part of the game. It’s clear that a lot of care went into crafting the main areas.
The issue lies in the rest of the game, which feels somewhat overly simplistic and reminiscent of MMORPG-level game design. The map is too large and filled with random, uninteresting elements. Combat tends to be spammy (the final boss is a good fight, though). There are too many simple secrets scattered around the map, NPCs come across as rather lifeless, and many side quests really lack any bit of inspiration (although there are a three-four good ones). The story is not exceptional, but it’s not bad either.
It seems like the game is primarily aimed at people with limited experience in open-world games or at very young players. And, to be honest, it is a good commercial decision.
Nevertheless, it’s a solid game.
This month, I also started Bloodborne (yes, I’ve never played it even though I’m a huge fan of From Software) and decided to play Final Fantasy VI again. Let’s see if I can reach the end of either of them.
And so January it’s over. For some, it felt very long. For some other, it felt very short. To me, it felt a month: with 15 wasted days followed by 15 more interesting ones. And now that we go into the shortest month, it is really time to make the days count.
See you next month.