Alessandro Cuzzocrea

2023: Year in Review

Atmospheric black and white pencil sketch depicts a rustic teapot and a glass bottle – In progress work, final drawing of 2023

2023 went by so fast that I barely had time to catch my breath. Time to wrap up the year, highlighting some random stuff I found interesting to share.

Table of Contents

Tearful Heart

Screenshot of the Tearful Heart RPG game's page, featuring a pixel art main menu and a brief description of the game as a turn-based RPG set in a heartfelt, emotional story

I finally managed to release my new game, Tearful Heart, on on November 28, 2023.

I’ve been working on Tearful Heart for just over two years. The game was mostly complete, needing only music/sfx, some additional polish, and an intensive playtest to squash bugs. I believe I could have released it earlier in the year, but procrastination got the better of me.

So, to light a fire under me, I publicly announced on Mastodon on October 30, 2023, that I was determined to finish and release my game by the end of November 2023. I even pledged to delete my entire game project (including the git repo and backups) if I failed.

Screenshot of a Mastodon post by Alessandro Cuzzocrea, detailing their commitment to finish the RPG Tearful Heart by the end of November 2023, with the ultimatum of deleting the project if not completed. The post includes an image of the game's combat system

And guess what? It worked!

The last stretch wasn’t easy, as I had left all the tasks I’m not great at for the end, but I powered through. I stayed motivated by working every day and sharing my progress on Mastodon.

The result? I managed to release it before the deadline!

Receiving feedback on Tearful Heart was incredibly rewarding. One comment in particular stood out, truly making my day — perhaps even my year:

“[…] Art direction and thematic elements were superb. The game gave me feels at times.”

It feels incredible to be praised for something you know most players might overlook, but you still put your all into it because it’s an aspect of the game you love!

Scene from Tearful Heart showing two characters, Chipaul and Alex, in a cave with a glowing lantern and a minecart track

I’ll write a more in-depth blog post about Tearful Heart soon, but for now, all I can say is that it felt incredibly rewarding to finally get it out there.

GameDev: Next Steps for 2024

Now that I’m officially done with Tearful Heart, it’s time to focus on my next chapter in the wild world of game development!

Diving Deeper into Game Engines and Tools

RPG Maker has been a fantastic tool for jumping into RPG (role-playing game) creation without stressing too much over coding. But after releasing two RPGs with it, I’m ready to graduate to more advanced game engines.

I’ve had some experience with Unity in the past, but this time, I’m considering diving deep into Unreal Engine 5. I want to really get into it, do some small experiments, and understand it inside out before starting another RPG project.

I gave Unreal Engine 4 a shot a while back, but it just didn’t seem to vibe well with 2D game development. Paper2D, Unreal’s framework for 2D, was pretty basic, and from what I’ve read online, it looks like Epic really dropped the ball on it.

For my next RPG project, I’m aiming for a mix of 2D characters and 3D environments, so I’ll be playing around with Spine for 2D skeletal animations. So, finger crossed it works well with Unreal Engine 5.

It would be really cool to learn in public by documenting my journey with Unreal Engine 5 in some blog posts or something. This approach will not only reinforce my understanding but also keep things fresh and engaging.

Computer monitor showcasing the RPG Maker MV software interface, with an in-progress game level design. The desk setup includes a mechanical keyboard, a Wacom graphic tablet pen, a vertical mouse, and two acrylic stand figures of Nako Misaki
Crafting games with RPG Maker was loads of fun and a great learning experience, but now it’s time to switch gears and take on new gamedev tools

Leveling Up My Art Game

I absolutely love making art for my games.

That said, it’s pretty clear I need to step up my game in the art department.

I wouldn’t dare release another title with subpar visuals. Compelling graphics are crucial for catching players’ eyes – the last thing I want is for potential players to give my games a pass due to mediocre graphics. And in today’s world, slick GIFs and trailers are more important than ever.

I’m planning to switch from pixel art to a more hand-drawn or digitally painted style. While I really do love pixel art, it is extremely time-consuming and challenging to adapt to various resolutions.

I’ll primarily handle the art myself, but for key elements like the main character’s sprite and animations, I’m open to collaborating with a professional artist.

Oh, and I’m also determined to dive into animation and texture painting, areas where I currently feel weakest.

Colored pencil still life drawing by Alessandro Cuzzocrea. The drawing, displayed on a sketchpad, shows a realistic depiction of a white candle resting on top of two books with green and red covers. The artwork is placed on an easel, and the actual setup of the candle and books is visible beside it, allowing for a comparison between the drawn and real objects

Learning Game Design (For Real This Time)

Working on Tearful Heart revealed (again) the need to hone my game design skills. Winging it based on years of gaming experience just isn’t cutting it anymore.

Designing Games by Tynan Sylvester (the RimWorld dude) was an incredible read (seriously, check it out!), and I even began summarizing it on my digital garden earlier this year. I stalled after part 1, but maybe next year, I’ll pick it up again plus maybe some other game design books.

Studying game design is one thing, but practicing it is another. So, I’m thinking of maybe releasing a small game, like for web or mobile, in 2024 as a stretch goal. It’s a stretch goal with my packed schedule, but it’s definitely worth a shot.

A Kindle e-reader displaying the cover of Designing Games by Tynan Sylvester rests on a tray next to a plate of donuts, including a glazed and a churro, symbolizing a relaxing read with breakfast for game developers looking towards 2024

Art Exhibition

I had the chance to participate in a group art exhibition organized by the atelier I frequent. It was my first time showing my art in a gallery, and I was extremely excited!

Alessandro Cuzzocrea holding his graphite still life artwork at the atelier art exhibition

I primarily focus on graphite still life drawings, but for this exhibition, I wanted to try something new, so I experimented with color, using colored pencils specifically. I was hoping to grab people’s attention a bit more and also challenge myself.

The preparation process was intense, involving tons of planning and gathering photo references. Then came the actual drawing part. That’s when I hit a wall: working with colored pencils turned out to be way harder than I had anticipated. It was a classic case of the Dunning-Kruger effect – I totally underestimated how long it would take me to get good at this new medium.

In the end, I decided to exhibit one of my graphite still life drawings from earlier that year because I wasn’t satisfied with any of the colored pencil pieces I had created.

Graphite still life drawing titled 'Pumpkin in the Mirror' by Alessandro Cuzzocrea, displayed at an art exhibition

The exhibition itself was curated beautifully, and all the other artists were incredibly talented.

My graphite drawing didn’t really stand out next to the more eye-catching pieces there.

Art exhibition space with a wall dedicated to graphite drawings

But even though that kind of sucked, it was still a valuable learning experience. It showed me how art is a continuous journey of learning and growing, and how important it is to embrace challenges. This event has definitely inspired me to keep working on my art and improve my skills.

Blog Performance

A few years ago, I decided to remove Google Analytics from my blog.

Google Analytics feels cumbersome, and the idea of tracking my users doesn’t resonate with me, especially considering the need for intrusive cookie consent banners that detract from the user experience.

I do keep an eye on Google Search Console, however — a tool that provides various stats about Google Search, like the number of impressions and clicks my site receives. It’s not fully representative of all the traffic on my website, but it’s the best I can do using zero trackers and no tracking cookies.

Here’s some of the data for this year:

Screenshot of Google Search Console performance metrics showing total clicks, total impressions, average CTR (click-through rate), and average position for a website over the course of a year, with a line graph depicting fluctuations in clicks
Screenshot of Google Search Console impressions data showing a timeline from January to December with total impressions marked at 108K, alongside metrics for total clicks, average click-through rate (CTR), and average position
Screenshot of a Google Search Console report displaying a table of top queries leading to a website with corresponding clicks and impressions for each term, including various iterations related to Super Mario Bros. movie 1993
Screenshot showing a list of top pages from a website in Google Search Console with corresponding click and impression data, including a notable entry for a 'Super Mario Bros. 1993 movie review' page with a high number of impressions

My review of the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie turned out to be a decent hit. I kinda rode the new 2023 Super Mario Bros. Movie wave with that one. I published my review on April 2, 2023, and the new movie was released in the US on April 5, 2023 – that’s why there was a spike in impressions and clicks around April 8.

The significant spike in impressions between Nov 7 and Dec 9 remains somewhat puzzling. While Super Mario Bros. Wonder was released on October 20, 2023, it likely wasn’t the main driver, as the most frequent queries for my blog were related to the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie. A more plausible reason could be Google’s search core update in November 2023. Such updates often change how content is crawled and ranked, potentially causing the fluctuations in visibility that my blog experienced. However, this surge in impressions was temporary, returning to normal levels after December 9.

I’ve made a promise to myself to ramp up my writing next year. After all, one of the main reasons I started this blog was to practice writing and to better organize my thoughts.

Lately, I’ve started to experiment with GoatCounter, an open-source web analytics tool that focuses on privacy and doesn’t use cookies. Next year, this might give us a clearer picture of my blog’s performance compared to just using Google Search Console.

Unreal Fest Tokyo 2023

This year, I had the chance to attend Unreal Fest Tokyo 2023 at Bellesalle Akihabara, a neat convention center in the heart of Akihabara, Tokyo. Hosted by Epic Games Japan, the event took place on June 2nd and 3rd, becoming a hub for game developers interested in Unreal Engine. It featured two distinct themes: “Unreal Showcase” on the first day and “Indie Focus” on the second.

Entrance of Bellesalle Akihabara during Unreal Fest Tokyo 2023, with attendees in Unreal Engine shirts registering at event tables

The first day was packed with lectures about Unreal Engine, showcasing its versatile applications and advancements in fields such as game development, animation, and virtual production.

On the second day, the focus shifted to indie game development, providing a vibrant showcase for over 20 indie titles. This offered a fantastic opportunity for independent creators to display their work and engage with the game development community.

My schedule only permitted me to attend the “Indie Focus” day.

Upon entering, I was instantly greeted with fantastic freebies – a commemorative Unreal Engine 25th Anniversary T-shirt and a stylish Unreal Fest Tokyo tote bag.

The event spanned three floors: the second floor featured a large stage for presentations, the first floor hosted sponsor and indie booths, and the B1 floor housed additional indie booths and a mini-stage.

The main stage on the second floor brought together a variety of voices and ideas about the Unreal Engine. One manga artist really impressed me – he uses UE5 to create incredibly detailed cityscapes for his manga. The level of detail was simply astounding. Another session that caught my attention was by an archviz professional experimenting with Unreal Editor for Fortnite (UEFN) for architectural designs. It’s fascinating to see these unconventional applications. The indie developers’ panel was quite down-to-earth, discussing the real ups and downs of game development. Seeing artists using Blueprint to make their own games showed just how accessible game development has become.

Unreal Fest 2023 Tokyo conference stage on Day 2, focused on indie game development

Attending Unreal Fest was a great experience. Events like this really highlight the importance of networking with local developers and serve as powerful sources of motivation and inspiration.

For more details and event archives, check out Unreal Fest 2023 Tokyo’s website.

Indie Developers Conference 2023

Personal items from the Indie Developers Conference 2023 on a table, including a bowl of ramen, a conference lanyard, and a tote bag with the event's logo. Visible is a badge with the name Alessandro Cuzzocrea, identifying as a Game Developer & Indie Game Creator

Had a fantastic time at the Indie Developers Conference 2023, which took place in Shinbashi, Tokyo. The event, held in mid-December, offered a fresh perspective on both the Japanese and global indie gaming scenes.

Covering everything from game development techniques to marketing strategies and post-release support, the conference was an invaluable resource, offering unique insights and practical strategies specifically tailored for indie game developers.

Attendees at the Indie Developers Conference 2023 sitting in a presentation room, watching a slide projected on the screen ahead

I particularly enjoyed the sessions focused on the business and legal aspects of indie gaming. The firsthand insights into the challenges and successes of creating hit indie games were incredibly enlightening.

The informal atmosphere, especially in the networking area, encouraged more direct and meaningful conversations among participants, adding a lot to the overall experience.

Participants engaging in conversations in the networking area of the Indie Developers Conference 2023

This year was the inaugural edition of the conference. It’s exciting to hear that the organizers are already gearing up for next year’s event.

TechBookFest 14

TechBookFest, known as 技術書典 in Japanese, stands out as a unique community event in Japan, specifically designed for those passionate about writing their own technical books. This event is more than a marketplace for books – it’s a celebration of the journey and accomplishments in technical authorship, fostering a space where tech enthusiasts can connect and share knowledge.

Think something like Comike but exclusively focused on technology. That’s TechBookFest for you. Here, independent authors and groups, referred to as “circles,” come together to showcase and discuss their specialized tech books and fanzines, often covering niche topics.

TechBookFest 14 reception area. To the left, Mixi's company booth is visible with attendees engaging around it

My visit to TechBookFest 14 in Ikebukuro this May was an eye-opener. The diversity of topics on display was truly remarkable, highlighting the innovation and intelligence within the tech community. Major tech companies such as Mercari, Mixi, Wantedly, and others added to the event’s vibrancy with their booths.

It’s not just about showcasing work; the festival is also an excellent opportunity to connect with the local developer community and network. I imagine that creating and selling a short tech fanzine or manga at your own booth would be an incredibly cool experience!

TechBookFest 14 hall with attendees at booths, engaged in reading, talking, and exploring

Although TechBookFest 15 happened this November, I unfortunately couldn’t attend due to it coinciding with the Digital Games Expo 2023. Oh well, maybe next time!

The Super Mario Bros. Movie

I had the chance to see The Super Mario Bros. Movie at a special screening at TOHO Cinemas Roppongi Hills. The theater was all decked out with Mario decorations, including Toad-themed seats, and they even handed out complimentary Mario-themed plastic uchiwas to the audience. Just before the movie started, two people dressed as Mario and Luigi popped up, offering a fantastic photo op and really amping up the excitement for the movie.

Mario and Luigi from the Super Mario franchise standing in a theater lobby, with a backdrop promoting The Super Mario Bros. Movie. Mario is on the left, wearing his signature red hat and blue overalls, while Luigi is on the right, in green and blue attire. They appear to be posing for a photograph

Here are some random thoughts about the movie:

The movie doesn’t aim for grandeur or complexity. It’s a straightforward, decent watch, perfect for those seeking simple entertainment without lofty expectations.

Spanning from his earliest days to the present, the film is a vibrant homage to Mario’s legacy. It’s a fun journey for kids and a nostalgic trip down memory lane for their Millennial parents, sprinkled with familiar Mario and Nintendo references.

Large billboard featuring Princess Peach from the Super Mario series, surrounded by a multitude of colorful Toads, situated just outside TOHO Cinemas Roppongi Hills

The film’s length felt just right, neither dragging on nor feeling rushed.

The dialogue tended to be safe and a bit flat. It leaned towards a “millennial writing” style but stayed mostly inoffensive. Thankfully, it avoided the overused, mindless “Minions” humor often seen in other Illumination movies.

The CGI was decent, though it leaned towards realism more than I preferred. A more stylized art direction might have been better.

The arrangements of classic Mario tunes were a highlight for me, though some of the licensed music choices seemed a bit out of place.

Promotional display for The Super Mario Bros. Movie featuring a life-size model of Mario's red racing kart in front of a vibrant backdrop with characters Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Bowser racing in karts

Donkey Kong’s appearance in the movie seemed a bit random, almost like he was there just for the sake of it. Sure, Mario and DK have a bit of history, but it still felt like they could’ve given him a more solid reason to be there. On the flip side, I absolutely loved that Diddy Kong and Dixie Kong made appearances. Their inclusion was a delightful touch for fans familiar with the broader Donkey Kong Country universe.

TOHO Cinemas Roppongi Hills corridor inspired by Mario Kart's Rainbow Road, featuring a vibrantly lit floor in rainbow colors and walls adorned with Mario-themed icons such as stars, mushrooms, and question blocks

At the end of the day, the film was entertaining, and isn’t that what really counts? Adapting a video game into a movie is always challenging. Illumination films often receive criticism for playing it safe and being somewhat bland, yet they manage to produce highly entertaining content that resonates with audiences.

I’d rate The Super Mario Bros. Movie a solid 7/10. It’s a fun, light-hearted film that captures the essence of Mario, appealing to fans old and new alike.

Speaking of Mario movies, this year I also published a movie review of the 1993 Super Mario Bros. movie (yes, that one) on my blog to celebrate its 30th anniversary. It was tons of fun to research and write, so give it a read if you’re interested!

Tetris (2023)

Tetris 2023 on Apple TV+

Tetris, the movie, premiered on Apple TV+ in mid-March, and I had to check it out immediately.

The film delves into the story of Henk Rogers, a Dutch game developer, and his partnership with Nintendo to acquire the rights for Tetris. Originally created by Alexey Pajitnov in the Soviet Union in 1984, the game has quite a backstory. I remember reading about it ages ago in David Sheff’s book Game Over, and seeing that story adapted on screen was quite exciting.

The film stays true to the core events but takes its fair share of creative liberties. It captures the 80s vibe well and adds a dose of adventure to the business of licensing rights. However, the latter part of the movie introduces some typical Hollywood action, which felt a bit over the top.

The beginning of the film was a bit abrupt, like jumping into the middle of a story. While I appreciate the desire to get to the engaging parts quickly, a bit more context would have been nice.

The Game Boy scene was particularly evocative for me, rekindling fond memories of the legendary handheld. The portrayal of programming Super Mario Land in C and creating a Game Boy version of Tetris in just five minutes was a bit much, even by Hollywood standards. However, I didn’t really mind it – this exaggeration added to my overall enjoyment, blending humor with a layer of amusement and nostalgia.

One aspect the film captured well was the sense of a world before the internet. It portrayed a time when information spread slowly, in stark contrast to today’s instant digital age. This slower pace added unique tension to the film and made me appreciate the era when gaming news traveled at a leisurely pace.

To sum it up, Tetris serves as a heartfelt tribute to the simpler, yet profoundly impactful days of gaming. It’s definitely made me want to bust out my old NES (or Game Boy) and revisit the classic game.

For those interested in a more accurate depiction of the whole Tetris saga, the YouTube video The Story of Tetris – Gaming Historian is an excellent watch.

Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta 2023

A screenshot of the Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta 2023 homepage

I’ve decided to participate in the Final Fantasy V Four Job Fiesta (FJF) 2023, a unique gaming challenge that also doubles as a charity event. This isn’t my first experience with the Fiesta – I’ve done it a few times in the past, even once using a DDR dance pad!

For those unfamiliar, the FJF offers a unique way to experience Final Fantasy V. Players are challenged to complete the game with specific job restrictions, adding a fresh twist to the gameplay.

This year, I chose the “Team 375” run, a newly introduced option promising a well-rounded party for a more chill playthrough.

For this run, I played the FFV Pixel Remaster, which I found quite good. The addition of a convenient minimap, the ability to dash around even without a Thief in the party, and diagonal movements were all more than welcome quality of life improvements! The faster transitions in and out of battles were a noticeable improvement. Also, some OST arrangements, like ‘Battle on the Big Bridge,’ really slap hard. I’m usually a purist about original graphics, but the special effects in the FFV Pixel Remaster are generally well done.

A major highlight of the Fiesta for me is the suspense and excitement of unlocking new jobs:

  • Wind Crystal Job: Knight, which is always ridiculously OP in World 1.

  • Water Crystal Job: Time Mage, a delightful first in my Fiesta history.

  • Fire Crystal Job: Beastmaster, which made World 1 a breeze.

  • Earth Crystal Job: Chemist, another exciting first for me.

With this lineup, the first world was a walk in the park.

The rest of the run went relatively smoothly.

Shinryu didn’t stand a chance – a simple strategy involving Berserk, Blind, and Turtle Soup made the battle almost trivial.

Screenshot from Final Fantasy V after the player's party has triumphed over Shinryu, with characters Bartz, Krile, Faris, and Lenna

Omega was a different story. Omega’s high physical evasion rendered my Knight almost useless. The key to victory was abusing Chemist’s ‘Succubus Kiss’. My strategy boiled down to using ‘Succubus Kiss’ repeatedly, with a setup that included 4x !Mix, 4x Fire Ring, Haste, Dragon Kiss, and Turtle Soup. The battle lasted less than five minutes, thanks to ‘Succubus Kiss’ effectively countering the dreaded Wave Cannon.

Screenshot from Final Fantasy V capturing the moment after the player's party has defeated Omega, with characters Bartz, Krile, Faris, and Lenna

Having defeated Shinryu and Omega, I faced the final boss, Neo Exdeath. The fight was relatively easy, thanks to the significant damage inflicted by ‘Succubus Kiss’ and an HP pool high enough to withstand the damage.

Screenshot from Final Fantasy V Pixel Remaster displaying the player's party post-victory over the final boss, Neo Exdeath, with characters Bartz, Krile, Faris, and Lenna

This year’s FJF concluded with a Triple Crown (Exdeath, Shinryu, and Omega) achievement, a feat I’m quite proud of. My Regular Run 735 turned out to be a perfect mix, with Knight and Time Mage carrying the early game, Beastmaster the mid-game, and Chemist the late game.

Shoutout to Beastmaster – catching monsters was a bit of a challenge, yet the payoff was immense, especially when every party member had !catch equipped. This tactic could topple most bosses from the early to mid-game on the first turn.

Looking forward to next year, I’m considering adding a twist with some high-risk options, perhaps opting for something like ‘Fifth Job’ + ‘BERSERKER RISK’.

Super Mario Odyssey

Super Mario Odyssey was completely off my radar when it first released back in 2017. I initially dismissed it, partly because something about its graphics didn’t quite appeal to me, and also because I didn’t own a Nintendo Switch at the time. However, my interest spiked after seeing the new Mario movie in theaters, which led me to finally buy the game.

Now, having 100%’d it, I can confidently say it’s one of my all-time favorite Mario games. To me, it’s a masterpiece, standing tall as the true successor to the legendary Super Mario 64.

The gameplay in Super Mario Odyssey is phenomenal, with Mario’s movesets and the level design being standout features. The music, including both new compositions and classic Mario tunes reimagined, is exceptionally catchy and never fails to bring a smile to my face.

What I particularly love about Super Mario Odyssey is how it joyfully celebrates Mario’s and Nintendo’s history. The inclusion of various costumes, songs, and nods to other Nintendo properties like Nintendogs, adds layers of nostalgia and charm.

Never judge a book by its cover – I guess.

This year, I also played Super Mario Bros. Wonder and the Switch remake of Super Mario RPG – a game that has always been close to my heart. Unfortunately, due to a busy schedule, I had to put both on hold. I’m hopeful that next year I’ll have the chance to get back into both.

My MacBook Pro 2019 Became an Expensive Breakfast Tray

In early September 2023, my MacBook Pro 2019 met its demise. It refused to boot at all: the screen was lifeless, there was no boot sound or fan noise – absolutely nothing. Interestingly, the trackpad still seemed to receive power.

I braced myself for yet another repair, the fourth one for this laptop. However, this time, the catch was that my Apple Care had just expired.

Apple’s repair quote floored me: a staggering ¥81,000. I also reached out to a few third-party repair services, but their estimates weren’t much better, ranging from ¥60,000 to ¥70,000.

Deciding to take a DIY approach, I disassembled the laptop. Everything appeared fine inside. I attempted the classic ‘disconnect the battery’ trick, but to no avail. I suspect the issue is with the SMC chip, which is responsible for various low-level functions, as it might be fried, preventing the machine from booting correctly.

It’s astonishing that this laptop barely lasted four years. This is especially frustrating when compared to my old 2009 MacBook Pro, which is still running strong. The only issue I ever encountered with that older model was a faulty HDD ribbon, which I could thankfully replace myself.

In conclusion, my MacBook Pro 2019 has become a very expensive piece of e-waste. The combination of its unexpected breakdown and astronomical repair costs have made this experience particularly hard to swallow.

Xiaomi Red 9T: Death & Rebirth

As if my expensive laptop dying wasn’t enough – my Xiaomi Red 9T also decided to give up on me.

I’ve been using this phone for just over two years, and it’s been incredibly reliable—no glitches, no lag, just consistent, smooth performance. It felt too soon to be thinking about replacing it.

While searching for solutions, I stumbled upon a Reddit thread discussing potential fixes. The problem seemed to be a classic case of deadboot, a term I learned while digging into this problem. The general advice? Let the battery completely drain or disconnect it from the motherboard as a possible fix.

Feeling a bit adventurous, I decided to take a crack at fixing it myself. I opened up the phone, disconnected the battery, waited for five minutes, and then reconnected it. To my surprise, the phone powered up again!

Disassembled Xiaomi Red 9T smartphone on a Bokujou Monogatari cloth with its battery removed

However, my victory was short-lived. After trying to reboot it, the phone wouldn’t turn on, looking completely dead, mirroring the experiences shared in this Reddit thread: Redmi 9t and the Reboot of Death Issue (debunked).

Let’s be real – I can’t open the phone to disconnect the battery every time I want to turn my phone on. So, for now, my plan is to keep the phone running and avoid any reboots.

I’m just relieved I didn’t rush to buy a new phone and somehow managed to extend the life of my Xiaomi Red 9T, even if it’s just for a little while longer.

New Keyboard – NuPhy Halo75

Back in late 2019, I picked up the E-Yooso Z-88, a budget mechanical keyboard, for ¥3,899. It worked fine until it began to malfunction. Keys wouldn’t register or would register twice, starting with the ‘N’ key and gradually getting worse.

I had kept it in good shape, cleaning and maintaining it regularly. Yet, even after a thorough cleaning, the issues didn’t go away.

My next step was trying to replace the switches, but that turned out to be a tough task. The switches were really hard to remove. After struggling with them, I realized it was time for a new keyboard.

My E-Yooso Z-88 mechanical keyboard with its keycaps taken off, showing blue switches. Some switches popped out easily, but others were stubborn and hard to remove
Keycaps off my E-Yooso Z-88. A mix of easy pops and stubborn switches that didn’t want to come out

This led me to the NuPhy Halo75, equipped with NuPhy Rose Glacier Switches. More expensive at ¥23,826, its layout closely resembled that of my E-Yooso Z-88, and the positive reviews about its build quality convinced me to go for it.

Boxed NuPhy Halo75 mechanical keyboard featuring a prominent anime girl illustration on the back. The box also includes details on the keyboard layout and package contents, noting the design and engineering in Shenzhen and assembly in China
You just know it’s going to be good when there’s an anime girl on the box

Typing on the NuPhy Halo75 is quite satisfying. I’ve always liked the clicky Cherry MX Blue clones in my E-Yooso Z-88, but the NuPhy Halo75’s switches, while not as clicky, offer a smooth typing experience. I feel like I’m typing faster and more accurately with it – though I’m not sure if that’s just a placebo effect.

The NuPhy Halo75 mechanical keyboard is showcased inside its box, with the Quick Guide visible on the left. The keyboard features a colorful layout with white, gray, and black keycaps, accented with a blue Esc key, yellow space bar, and red Enter key

The NuPhy Halo75 feels solid and premium. It’s heavier than the E-Yooso Z-88, giving it a stable feel on my desk. The RGB lighting adds a nice touch, and I really like the easy switch between wired and Bluetooth modes, as well as between Windows and Mac.

A side-by-side comparison of two mechanical keyboards, with the E-Yooso Z-88 on top featuring all black keycaps, and the NuPhy Halo75 on the bottom with white, black, gray, and colorful keycaps including a standout red Enter key
E-Yooso Z-88 (top) vs NuPhy Halo75 (bottom)

Initially, I had some issues with keys sticking, probably due to too much factory lubrication, but that sorted itself out after a while.

Illuminated NuPhy Halo75 mechanical keyboard with backlit keys in various colors, showcasing a vibrant RGB light display

Switching to the NuPhy Halo75 from the E-Yooso Z-88 has definitely improved my typing experience. However, I have to say, the E-Yooso Z-88 was also great value for its price.

Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC

Last year, I made a significant leap from my old iPhone 6s to the new iPhone 14 Pro — a huge upgrade, especially since the iPhone 6s came out about 8 years ago. But there was one huge drawback: no headphone jack.

I’d been intrigued by Bluetooth audio devices for quite some time. The idea of going wire-free really appealed to me, even though I wasn’t thrilled about having to manage the charge of yet another gadget. I had also been debating getting noise-canceling headphones but never quite decided on one. Sure, Apple offers a Lightning to 3.5 mm Headphone Jack Adapter, but this was a good chance to give wireless audio a shot.

So, I started exploring various options. High-end models like Sony’s WH-1000XM4, WH-1000XM5, and Apple’s AirPods Max looked promising, but they were way beyond my budget. I needed something more affordable for casual use.

After a bit of digging, I discovered the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC. These earbuds, equipped with Bluetooth 5.3 and noise-canceling features, are widely considered the best bang for your bucks, all priced reasonably at ¥12,990.

I finally took the plunge – purchasing my very first Bluetooth audio earbuds, the Anker Soundcore Liberty 4 NC.

The setup process was seamless. The Bluetooth connectivity is quick and reliable, seamlessly pairing with various devices — iPhone, Android, Mac, Windows, and even my LG TV. The companion app is pretty well done and makes changing settings and firmware updates a breeze.

iOS screenshot of the Anker Soundcore app displaying Liberty 4 NC wireless earbuds settings with options for Ambient Sound, Noise Cancellation, Transparency Mode, Manual Mode selection, Wind Noise Reduction toggle, Sound Effects customization, and Safe Volume feature

Audio quality and battery life are impressive, but for me, the killer feature is the noise canceling. Experiencing it for the first time was incredible. The world around me seemed quieter, with even the bustling sounds of everyday life noticeably toned down.

It made me wonder why I hadn’t invested in noise-canceling audio wearables sooner. In a world full of noise, noise-canceling is a godsend.

Although I typically prefer headphones for their comfort during extended use and often superior sound quality, the convenience and portability of modern earbuds are unbeatable.

DeArrow Saved My Life

I confess, I’ve been guilty of wasting way too much time online. Despite making strides in managing this habit, the allure of a captivating YouTube thumbnail and title often pulls me back into procrastination mode.

The YouTube algorithm, hell-bent on maximizing view time, keeps suggesting clickbait content and ads. This trend isn’t new, but it has definitely worsened over the last 4-5 years.

I know I should know better, but many YouTubers have mastered the art of clickbait, making their titles and thumbnails so tempting that it’s hard not to give in and watch.

Then, almost accidentally, I discovered DeArrow.

Screenshot of the DeArrow browser extension settings page with options to replace titles and thumbnails, use crowdsourced titles, and remove emojis

DeArrow is an open-source browser extension that allows the community to suggest more accurate titles and thumbnails for YouTube videos, tackling the widespread issue of sensationalism on the platform. This helps to weed out misleading elements like over-the-top thumbnails with exaggerated facial expressions, and clickbait titles.

The magic of DeArrow lies in its crowdsourced approach. Users submit and vote on alternative titles and thumbnails, offering a more genuine representation of the video’s content.

With DeArrow, I effortlessly skip over the clickbait, making it much easier to find content that’s genuinely interesting and well-produced.

Apple Music Replay 2023

Top Artists

An image displaying a music streaming app's summary of top artists listened to in Apple Music Replay'23, with a dark background transitioning to a golden hue at the bottom. The Apple Music logo is at the top right corner. The list shows '770 total artists' and details the top 5. At number 1 is 'Liella!' with 4,384 minutes, followed by 'Hinatazaka46' with 1,368 minutes, 'Nanaka Suwa' at 1,248 minutes, 'Aqours' with 1,227 minutes, and 'Sakurazaka46' at 965 minutes. Each artist is represented by a unique circular image next to their name and listened minutes
An image displaying a music streaming app's summary of top artists listened to in Apple Music Replay'23, with a dark background transitioning to a golden hue at the bottom. The Apple Music logo is at the top right corner. The list shows '770 total artists' and details artists ranked from 6 to 10. At number 6 is 'Kanon Shibuya (CV: Sayuri Date)' with 910 minutes, followed by 'Chika Takami (CV: Anju Inami)' with 807 minutes, 'Nogizaka46' with 747 minutes, 'Nako Misaki' with 733 minutes, and 'Keke Tang (CV: Liyuu)' at 710 minutes. Each artist is represented by a unique circular image next to their name and listened minutes
An image displaying a music streaming app's summary of top artists listened to in Apple Music Replay'23, with a dark background transitioning to a golden hue at the bottom. The Apple Music logo is at the top right corner. The list shows '770 total artists' and details artists ranked from 11 to 15. At number 11 is 'QU4RTZ' with 709 minutes, followed by 'Nijigasaki High School Idol Club' with 698 minutes, 'Hanamaru Kunikida (CV: Kanako Takatsuki)' with 694 minutes, 'Akari Kito' with 675 minutes, and 'Riko Sakurauchi (CV: Rikako Aida)' at 631 minutes. Each artist is represented by a unique circular image next to their name and listened minutes

Top Songs

An image displaying a music streaming app's summary of the top songs played in Apple Music Replay'23, with a dark background transitioning to a lighter shade at the bottom. The Apple Music logo is at the top right corner. The text 'Top Songs' and '2,439 total songs' is displayed at the top. The list details the top 5 songs: at number 1 is 'Kimi o Omou Hana' by Chisato Arashi (CV: Nako Misaki) with 151 plays, followed by 'Jump Into the New World' by Liella! with 121 plays, 'Sakurazuki' by Sakurazaka46 with 120 plays, 'Dancing Raspberry' by 5yncr5ie! with 115 plays, and 'Midnight Rhapsody' by Ren Hazuki (CV: Nagisa Aoyama) with 111 plays. Each song is represented by its album cover next to the title and play count
An image displaying a music streaming app's summary of top songs played in Apple Music Replay'23, with a dark background transitioning to a lighter shade towards the bottom. The Apple Music logo is in the top right corner. The screen shows 'Top Songs' and '2,439 total songs'. It lists songs ranked 6 to 10: at number 6 is 'PASTEL' by QU4RTZ with 100 plays, at number 7 is '常夏☆サンシャイン' by 澁谷かのん (CV:伊達さゆり)... with 99 plays, number 8 is 'A Little Love' by 5yncr5ie! with 97 plays, number 9 is 'The Blessing' by YOASOBI with 96 plays, and number 10 is 'Soratoreito' by Nako Misaki with 92 plays. Each song title is accompanied by the artist's name and the number of plays, along with an album cover image
An image displaying a music streaming app's summary of top songs played in Apple Music Replay'23, with a dark background that transitions to a lighter shade at the bottom. The Apple Music logo is in the top right corner. The screen shows 'Top Songs' and '2,439 total songs'. It lists songs ranked from 11 to 15: at number 11 is 'POWER SPOT!!' by DiverDiva with 91 plays, at number 12 is 'Genwaku Desire' by Ciel (CV: Nagisa Aoyama) with 89 plays, at number 13 is 'Kimiyo Kedakakuare' by Shiyui with 89 plays, at number 14 is 'More! Jump! More! (feat. 花里みのり, 桐谷遥, 桃井愛莉, 日野森雫 & 初音ミク)' by MORE MORE JUMP! with 87 plays, and at number 15 is 'Tsuki to Hoshi ga Odoru Midnight' by Hinatazaka46 with 86 plays. Each song title is accompanied by the artist's name and the number of plays, along with an album cover image