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May, 2019

It’s June already and the school year is almost done. The weeks past by quickly if not the days. A lot of stuff happened this month in real life; but not a lot of blogging (well no movies at least).

The month revolved around our planned vacation. We knew we were going to go somewhere the week of Victoria Day, but it took a few months to figure out where. Finally we decided to take a cruise to the Bahamas from Orlando, and then bookend a couple of days there. We avoid Disney World theme parks this time because we’ve done them so many times in the past years, but it’s hard to avoid Disney (or theme parks) in general when you’re in Orlando. We did end up going to Seaworld for one day though, and caught a couple of their animal shows.

I didn’t do any traveling for work in May but the few weeks before vacation was still hectic. As Spring is critical real estate season, we wanted to make a quick change to make sure our house was on the market properly. So we had a week and a half of interviewing the right agent, deciding, and setting up the property again.

Weather is heating up in Toronto. Not as bad as it was in Florida and the Caribbean but it’s almost time for the AC to get started.

Pocket Queue 87

  • The Day the Dinosaurs Died
    Half of this article is very interesting, where they talk about what they think happened the day the asteroid that caused a mass extinction hit the earth. The other half, about the ins-and-outs of fossil hunting is not so interesting, but I’m willing to sit through more of it just to hear the crazy hypothesis.

    When DePalma took out the fossil, he found underneath it a tooth from a mosasaur, a giant carnivorous marine reptile. He wondered how a freshwater fish and a marine reptile could have ended up in the same place, on a riverbank at least several miles inland from the nearest sea. (At the time, a shallow body of water, called the Western Interior Seaway, ran from the proto-­Gulf of Mexico up through part of North America.) The next day, he found a two-foot-wide tail from another marine fish; it looked as if it had been violently ripped from the fish’s body. “If the fish is dead for any length of time, those tails decay and fall apart,” DePalma said. But this one was perfectly intact, “so I knew that it was transported at the time of death or around then.” Like the mosasaur tooth, it had somehow ended up miles inland from the sea of its origin. “When I found that, I thought, There’s no way, this can’t be right,” DePalma said. The discoveries hinted at an extraordinary conclusion that he wasn’t quite ready to accept. “I was ninety-eight per cent con­vinced at that point,” he said.

  • The most powerful person in Silicon Valley
    I’m skeptical at this headline. Maybe I don’t know enough about the VC world, but does one person who heads a massive fund really yield that much influence? How much can he shift the direction of all of these huge companies that he is funding?

    His big-money bets agitate the venture capitalists who have long inhabited the dry stretch of lowlands between San Francisco and San Jose, a place where any fund over $1 billion was head-turning as recently as three years ago. Turns out, nobody likes competing with a bottomless-pocketed behemoth. “Have you seen the movie Ghostbusters? It’s like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man tramping around,” one VC tells me before I visit SoftBank. Then he asks me to ask Misra the question everyone in town wants to know: Who is Son investing in next?

  • Heaven or Highwater
    From a schadenfreude again, I’m fascinated with Miami. This article has some interesting perspective on how global warming and flooding won’t affect Miami.

    Another agent came in to look at the apartment and joined our conversation. She was young. If indeed we are talking thirty years before Miami Beachpocolypse, the first realtor and I will very possibly be dead, or close to it, when the shit really hits the fan here, but this woman will still be relatively young. Still, she did not seem to be losing a great deal of sleep over sunny day flooding, sea level rise, any of it.

    “From what I understand,” she said as she took in a turn in the apartment, her heels clacking across the pale floors, “Everybody has done these, like, research, and they have these like—like…” she was back, posed behind the kitchen island, her pastel nails splayed out on the varnished counter top. “I can’t think of the word now.”

    “Studies?” said the first realtor helpfully.

    “Yeah,” the younger woman. She said she knew about a guy that had “paid for like, a study. And basically it said, we shouldn’t be concerned . . . because it’s being figured out, and we shouldn’t be concerned. Unless you have a family, and you’re planning on staying here.”

  • The Coming Obsolescence of Animal Meat
    Wow, another food science/tech article. I guess this is an up and coming industry – and it is something I’m curious about too. This one is about lab grown meat. Seems a bit far off still, and I’m not sure whether it will ever get up to the scale/efficiency of the old fashioned way.

    For Finless Foods, a major hurdle is texture. It aims to make cultured bluefin tuna, which in animal form glistens like raspberry jam and springs back like a wet sponge. “I will not say we’ve fully solved that problem, because I’d be totally lying,” Selden said. The few journalists who have tasted the product were served a carp croquette that one reporter described as having “a pleasant aftertaste of the sea, though not fish as such.” Selden is looking into 3-D printing as a potential path to creating a sashimi-like simulacrum.

  • The professor who beat roulette
    Quick little story from the 60s about a professor who was able to game the system and win a bunch of money from casinos. Nothing illegal in here, just noticing some patterns. However, given that roulette is not a predictable game, I bet it wasn’t a rocketship to his prize money.

    European roulette wheels offered better odds than American wheels: They had 37 slots instead of 38, reducing the casino’s edge over the player from 5.26% to 2.7%. And, as Jarecki would discover, they were just his type of machine — old, janky, and full of physical defects.

    With his wife, Carol, he scouted dozens of wheels at casinos around Europe, from Monte Carlo (Monaco), to Divonne-les-Bains (France), to Baden-Baden (Germany). The pair recruited a team of 8 “clockers” who posted up at these venues, sometimes recording as many as 20,000 spins over a month-long period.

    Then, in 1964, he made his first strike.

    After establishing which wheels were biased, he secured a £25,000 loan from a Swiss financier and spent 6 months candidly exacting his strategy. By the end of the run, he’d netted £625,000 (roughly $6,700,000 today).

X-Men: Days Of Future Past

For once, I watched a movie when I wasn’t on a plane. Well X-Men: Days of Future Past was actually available on my recent flights, but I knew that I had it in my digital library so saved it for later. Also, it made sense to watch it after I watched First Class, as it was a sequel to it.

This movie built upon the interesting cast of the previous film, featured Wolverine as a protagonist in a non-traditional role (he hardly fought in this film – wow character development), pulled in an ensemble cast that included the “original X-Men films” portrayals (Patrick Stewart, Ian McKellen, Halle Berry) and had time travel. That was a lot of things going for it. The script was also not bad and thoughtful, especially how it maintained continuity between the different time periods of the X-Men movie universe. I guess my only criticism is that the flashback generation of actors for Professor X/Magneto don’t look like the older set. I’m also curious whether the portrayal of Mystique from the very first X-Men movie fit the character that was created by these two films.

The post-credits scene also foreshadowed Apocalypse, which reminded me that I had already watched it (after I re-read the synopsis)! The only scene I remember from that one is the one with Quicksilver running through the X-Mansion. I also learned that the next movie is coming out in a few months (Phoenix) and that it will be the last one as X-Men are being absorbed into the MCU. Too bad!

In any case, Days Of Future Past is an enjoyable view – three out of five stars.

April, 2018

April ended up being pretty busy. I was in Korea for a week (with a detour through Vancouver to see my cousin), then had another short trip out to California at the end of the month. The week in the middle was Easter (which I no longer get a statutory holiday for due to political correctness) so the kids were out for a 4 day weekend (didn’t go out of town).

Snow has finally melted, although my mindset is still that it is cold (weather is in the teens, and in the thirties when I was in California). Our backyard is finally visible though, and there’s a lot of clean up to do. Jovian ended up having 3 straight weekends of birthday parties this month!

Deadpool 2

I really didn’t want to watch Deadpool 2 and have been avoiding it for several months. But I’ve been travelling on a few longer flights and have watched everything else that I wanted to (save for long epics like The Hobbit and Oscar-nominated dramas that I’m not in the mood for), so Deadpool 2 it was.

I just plain do not like the style of Deadpool. The wise cracking, breaking the fourth wall, potty jokes, sound of Ryan Reynold’s voice etc. There was a lot of it at the start of the film, but thankfully it died down as they had to get through the plot in a reasonable amount of time. Cable showed up – the character is cool and it looked relatively like how you would expect him to. However, I didn’t like his portrayal (to grim and depressing) although he makes a good foil to Deadpool. There were a bunch of other supporting characters – most are forgettable except Domino.

The movie wasn’t boring (so does it really deserve a two?), yet it is as meaningless as Ant Man or some of the Thor movies. I think it’s a two out of five for being just a time filler.

X-Men: First Class

When I started watching this movie, I thought I had seen it before because it started with the scene of Magneto being taken from his parents at a Nazi death camp. However, it turned out to be a replay of, I suppose the very first X-Men film, but leads to a completely different story arch rather than a re-telling of the origin story.

X-Men: First Class focuses on the first group of mutants. However, it is not the Cyclops/Jean Grey group but X-Force (Havok, Banshee) vs Hellfire Club (Emma Frost, Sebastian Shaw) with Magneto and Professor X mixed in. Those characters are actually pretty interesting and more compelling to me than a big Avengers team-up. Maybe I just like mutants more.

Mystique and the rest of the younger mutants could help make this a kids/teenager movie, but the portrayal of Professor X and Magneto were so great that I didn’t care. While it’s still your typical blockbuster comic movie, I had a lot of fun with this one. Three out of five stars.

Bodyguards and Assassins

This movie takes place at the turn of the 20th century in Hong Kong as Dr Sun Yat Sen is meeting with several important individuals from inner China to plan the uprising that overthrows the Qing dynasty. Since I don’t know my Chinese history, I will just have to assume that those are real events at the right time. The movie tells about China’s attempt to assassinate him (hence the assassins, although it’s more like an army) and a local organization of rag-tag individuals that end up being his bodyguard. In the end, the powerful and resourceful arm of the Emperor kills all the rebels, so this plays out a lot like Rogue One.

Bodyguards and Assassins is very over the top. Gratuitous blood and over embellished fighting. It kept my interest because of the how the movie portrays turn-of-the-century Hong Kong, as the East meets the West. Again, who knows whether it is accurate or not. If you expect a cliché HK movie with two-line character sketches then it is a run-of-the-mill three out of five stars movie.

Pocket Queue 86

  • Let Children Get Bored Again
    An article about parenting that I connect with a lot – just give your kids time to do nothing!

    Because things happen when you’re bored. Some of the most boring jobs I’ve had were also the most creative. Working at an import factory after school, I pasted photos of ugly Peruvian sweaters onto sales sheets. My hands became encrusted with glue as the sweaters blurred into a clumpy sameness. For some reason, everything smelled like molasses. My mind had no choice but to drift into an elaborate fantasy realm. It’s when you are bored that stories set in. Checking out groceries at the supermarket, I invented narratives around people’s purchases. The man buying eggplant and a six-pack of Bud at 9 p.m.: Which was the must-get item and which the impulse purchase? How did my former fifth-grade teacher feel about my observing her weekly purchase of Nutter Butters?

  • When Kodak Accidentally Discovered A-Bomb Testing
    An unexpected side effect of the atom bomb was that it ruined a special type of film for Kodak customers. Kodak went to investigate and discovered that something interesting was happening…

    While he was studying the Indiana samples, Webb got word that a particular production run of strawboard from a plant in Tama, Iowa was also contaminated and fogging the Kodak film it carried. While Tama was 450 miles from Vincennes, there were striking similarities. The two production runs of strawboard had been completed within a month of each other. Tama’s radioactive spots also failed the radium test, meaning the cause was something else. Most telling, however, was that both mills sat next to rivers, with Vincennes on the Wabash River and the Iowa River cutting through Tama.

  • Meet the Exclusive Service Bringing Lunch to NYC’s Chinese Workforce
    Not surprised this is happening given the cost of meals in NYC. Even “fast food” is pretty expensive and is probably of the same flavor that Chinese people want. Glad to see that even though I’m not well versed in the Chinese community, I can find out what the Chinese are doing.

    Most of the food is available for between $10 and $20, portioned for solo diners and with diverse offerings. On one day in early February, workers near 111 Wall St. got options from Midtown’s HK Kitchen and Kung Fu Kitchen. The former presented some 40 menu items to choose from while the latter had about 20. On the same day, customers near the Columbia Medical Center, where many Chinese students work and live, received food from Tang Gong Zhu, a Flushing-based spicy hot pot place.

    It’s a boon for lovers of homey Chinese food in Midtown and FiDi, but it’s also been widely welcomed by restaurants. The new, captive audience means far more sales for the restaurants. Erbo Sun, the owner of Tang Gong Zhu, says that his restaurant does four to five YBB orders a week, with 60 to 70 orders on average per day. Since partnering with YBB to deliver beyond Flushing a year ago, the number of delivery orders has tripled.

  • America’s Professional Elite: Wealthy, Successful and Miserable
    This article resonates with me, especially every year after I attend CES. I lament the amount of money that is spent on things that are so frivolous.

    And finally, workers want to feel that their labors are meaningful. “You don’t have to be curing cancer,” says Barry Schwartz, a visiting professor of management at the University of California, Berkeley. We want to feel that we’re making the world better, even if it’s as small a matter as helping a shopper find the right product at the grocery store. “You can be a salesperson, or a toll collector, but if you see your goal as solving people’s problems, then each day presents 100 opportunities to improve someone’s life, and your satisfaction increases dramatically,” Schwartz says.

  • Stepping Into the Uncanny, Unsettling World of Shen Yun
    I’m glad that someone, somewhere out there, has decided to see Shen Yun and explain what it is. I haven’t seen it and don’t plan to see it (I saw a lot of Chinese arts when I was a kid), but at least now my curiosity has been satisfied.

    Aside from the organ harvesting, the homophobia, the anti-evolution ballad, and the Karl Marx apparition, the thing I found most odd about my Shen Yun experience in Houston was the hosts’ explanation of Chinese classical dance. This art form seemed to resemble both ballet and gymnastics, they said, but, they explained, ballet and gymnastics had in fact borrowed the traditional techniques of Chinese classical dance. The dancers were showcasing a tradition that was thousands of years old, they went on—a tradition that had been single-handedly rejuvenated by Shen Yun. It was impossible to see a show like this in China, because of the Communist regime, they told us.

    In February, I called up Emily Wilcox, a professor of Chinese studies at the University of Michigan and the author of the book “Revolutionary Bodies: Chinese Dance and the Socialist Legacy.” “I studied Chinese classical dance at the Beijing Dance Academy for a year and a half,” she said, “and, a few weeks after I came back to Michigan, a group promoting Shen Yun came up to me at the mall, handed me a flyer, and gave me the whole spiel about how Chinese dance is banned in China. It was hilarious to me, and so ridiculous, and, in a way, it inspired me to write this history in my book.”

Ralph Breaks The Internet

Unlike Bumblebee, Wreck-It-Ralph 2 actually succeeds at being a (pre-)teen movie without being boring. While, the theme of the movie is pretty kiddy (friendship), the gags and cameos, as well as seeing the brands from the real Internet being represented in the movie keeps the movie interesting (the retro aspect of the game characters is pretty much the same as the first movie). I also liked how they represented online behavior too (like popups and popup blockers). There was enough random stuff but not too much of it – kinda of like how Ready Player One had just enough cameos.

The whole sub-plot with Disney princesses was fun, although the song sucked (perhaps on purpose). But really, as an adult, you’re not going to get a lot out of this movie aside from a few quick laughs. Three out of five stars.

Bumblebee

In contrast to the other two stellar movies I just saw (Into The Spider-Verse and Burning), the story of Bumblebee felt dumbed down. Even from the first scene where they were fighting on Cybertron, I already had a ton of questions around how things would work (how did Optimus Prime get off the planet, and why was Bumblebee a Corvette already?). The characters and “comedy” didn’t help, nor did the unrealistic transformation of robots (although not any different than previous movies). In today’s media world, where there are such a better quality of scripts, I just expect higher quality.

The credits showed that Spielberg had a hand in this movie. That explained why the movie was so “kid” focused (well actually more teen oriented). I’m not sure kids these days would go out of their way to see a Transformers movie when there are so many other brands available for them to consume. And there were definitely attempts to target older viewers with a ton of 80s throwbacks (fashion, music).

This film just felt lost. While watching it, I was left wondering why I decided to watch a movie about awkward teen moments. And if I wanted to watch robots fighting, I should have just watched Pacific Rim again. Two out of five for yet another forgettable Transformers film.