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Pocket Queue 51

  • My evil dad: Life as a serial killer’s daughter
    You always hear about serial killers in the news, but you don’t always hear about how their families cope with the fact that their loved one is in fact a serial killer. Here’s the story of a serial killer’s daughter.

    When I was 13, we were driving along the Columbia River, a beautiful wide river that separates Washington State and Oregon. We were just getting close to the Multnomah Falls area when my Dad announced: “I know how to kill someone and get away with it.” Then he just started to tell me how he would cut off the victim’s buttons, so that there wouldn’t be any fingerprints left, and he would wear cycling shoes that didn’t leave a distinctive print in the mud.

    At the time, I put this down to my father’s penchant for detective fiction, but years later I realised we had been driving through the area where he had disposed of Taunja Bennett’s body three years earlier. I think he wanted to relive it and enjoy the moment again. My dad felt compelled to share his crimes, as he did in the messages that he left at truck stops, or sent in letters to the media. They were always signed with a smiley face, leading the media to dub him the “Happy Face Killer”.

  • The Programmer’s Price
    An article about an agency that’s taking a Hollywood approach to programmers by being a programmer’s agent and helping them find work for the best pay possible.

    Solomon leaned back in his chair and flipped through a mental Rolodex of his clients. “I definitely have some ideas,” he said, after a minute. “The first person who comes to mind, he’s also a bioinformatician.” He rattled off a dazzling list of accomplishments: the developer does work for the Scripps Research Institute, in La Jolla, where he is attempting to attack complicated biological problems using crowdsourcing, and had created Twitter tools capable of influencing elections. Solomon thought that he might be interested in AuthorBee’s use of Twitter. “He knows the Twitter A.P.I. in his sleep.”

  • When Mommy and Daddy took the Toys Away
    Kids have a lot of toys today because consumer goods are so cheap. This article talks about a couple of parents who are trying to limit the amount of toys their kids have.

    Moreover, Becker says that the value of minimalism comes with the lifelong lessons they are able to teach through it. When his children become envious of another child who has a lot of toys, Becker and his wife try to help them “deal with that emotion as opposed to thinking that they’ll overcome it by getting more stuff.”

    “We don’t overcome envy in our lives by getting what another person has,” Becker says. “We overcome envy by being content with what we have and being grateful for what we have.”

  • The Cutthroat world of Elite Public Schools
    I think its a good idea but meritocratic public schools are coming under fire because poorer candidates are not being admitted as much as they should be (one reaspn being that you actually need to put in effort to apply)

    “The idea was that, if you wanted to provide an excellent, gifted, and talented education for public school students, one could do a better job of that if in large cities there were specialized schools that would bring academically talented students together,” said Kahlenberg, who opposes test-only admissions policies such as those in New York City. Secondly, selective-enrollment schools “are very sought after by upper-middle class people who might not consider using public schools if it weren’t for the selective-enrollment institutions. Essentially, it’s a way of ensuring greater participation from wealthier families who might otherwise move to the suburbs.”

  • The secret Hollywood procedure that has fooled us for years
    We know all about photoshopping magazine covers and so enhancing celebrities in movies is not a stretch. But this article has some juicy gossip about who might have had it done.

    A recent comedy hit featured a top actress in her 40s who required beauty work on every single shot she was in — some 600 total. With artists working around the clock, seven days a week, the beauty work alone took close to three months.

    The payoff? Nearly everything written about the film remarked at how fit and young the actress looked. No one suspected it was anything but good genes and clean livin’.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I had a little over 2.5 hours left after my first movie on my flight, so I decided to fill that by watching Captain America 2. I wouldn’t typically watch this movie, but there just wasn’t anything else worth watching. It wasn’t a bad movie and overall more enjoyable than In Bruges but as a comic book fan, I didn’t like it very much.

Black Widow is in it, but I think it could be any sidekick beside Cap and it would’ve sufficed (although I suppose there needed to be a female co-star). Falcon is in it, but I think he wasn’t that important either (assuming there could be another plot that doesn’t require flying). The Winter Solider is in it, but he wasn’t in it enough. The (comic) history of the Winter Solider would have been more interesting to focus on, especially his relationship with Steve Rogers; and while they dwelled on it for awhile, it was only one of several plotlines.

The action scenes with Captain were great, he fought like how you would expect him to fight; but I thought the action scenes got worse as the movie went along – but I guess an “enhanced” human could only do so much. Because I had low expectations and wasn’t keen on seeing it anyways, I’ll give this a 3 out of 5 stars; just like the first Captain America movie.

In Bruges

When I browsed through the movie list on the YYZ< ->SFO flight in December, the only other movie that caught my eye was one called In Bruges, which was about two hitman who were hanging out in Bruges after a hit. I’m not sure why I was attracted to it. Maybe I just wanted to see the city again after visiting there in 2010, or maybe I was curious what 2 hitman would do for a entire movie when they were stuck in Bruges.

The movie started slow and I feared that I would regret my choice (although they had me as a captive audience). As the film moved along, it got more interesting, but I don’t think I was ever fully engrossed in the movie. The plot is fairly surprising and put together well (in the Star Trek: TNG way where a side mention earlier in the plot makes more sense closer to the end). The humor is dark but enjoyable. I was going to rate the movie a 2 out of 5 but it actually grows a bit on you after you’ve watched it so I’ll give it a just barely 3 out of 5 stars.

UberX in Toronto

To get to the airport for my flight, I tried using uberX for the first time. Usually I don’t get a chance to use it because when I’m in Toronto I have a car to drive around, and when I’m in NYC I prefer to walk.

But I’ve taken Uber a couple of times so it’s not entirely a new experience. What struck me as new about this one was that it was a youngish (20s?), immigrant (I can tell by the English facility) driver with a new car. The plate started with BW so it must be new (I have only seen BV cars up until now).

For someone who is unskilled or not able to get a job in the workplace, this seems like a good foothold to make some money (although I don’t know how much money they actually make after Uber’s cut). You can start a corporation, expense your car lease, gas and smartphone expenses, make money AND get a new car to drive you or your family around when needed.

I’m not sure how long their work days are though – the trip from home to the airport only cost me $29 and that’s with the driver stopping for a few minutes to get gas!

Guardians of the Galaxy

Wow I haven’t watched a movie for a long time but I had a 6 hr flight to SFO so there was ample time to change that. I was surprised by the lack of selection as the last time I looked at the in flight entertainment was when flying overseas. The one movie I wanted to watch the most was Guardians of the Galaxy.

I wasn’t very familiar with the characters in this Marvel flick but knew of them because I had played the Android game recently. So that was pretty useful. A lot of them actually used their weapons/skills so it was enjoyable to see those in action.

I also had a chance to buy the soundtrack for 99¢ a few weeks ago but declined as I didn’t like the songs well enough. However, I think the music and soundtrack works well with the movie and listening it with headphones was probably beneficial

The movie was pretty fun and I think its ok even if you don’t know the characters. It’s a good mix of comedy and action. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars (but maybe it’s because I have low expectations)

Android Games 18

Trouserheart is a $3-$4 (although I got it free as Amazon’s app of the day) hack-and-slash in the vein of Castle Crashers, although it is nowhere as good. You go from room to room and kill a random assortment of baddies. There’s only a couple of different types of rooms and baddies, so while it is random, it’s not really different. You get gold with which you can upgrade your equipment, all in the name of retrieving your trousers back from whoever who stole them. It’s a bit mindless and I found myself playing it a bit. Then I realized the game was pretty boring, but was too close to the finish to quit. There’s only 10 levels/bosses which you can finish in an hour or two. It’s worth it if it was free.

I am not familiar with the franchise but I gave The Great Prank War an Amazon Freebie try because it seemed to have an interesting tower defense mechanic – you start off with a couple of heroes and as you destroy towers, you get to build your own tower in their place. Unfortunately the implementation wasn’t actually that fun as the path to success seemed to be mashing buttons/hero special powers. It’s definitely no Kingdom Rush.

I’ve been playing the beta version of Hacked which is a game where you try and hack. If you don’t know how to program, this will be hard; but if you do it could possibly be fun? I played the story a bit and at the beginning you build up known functions (such as abs, mod, etc) from first principles. That’s mildly fun because you would probably never do that in real life. However, as I played more, the game just ended up feeling like work.

Pocket Queue 50

  • How Palmer Luckey Created Oculus Rift
    It’s still early, but here’s a look behind the Oculus Rift and how it might change our media consumption

    From 2009 to 2012, while also taking college classes and working at the University of Southern California’s VR-focused Institute for Creative Technologies, Luckey poured countless hours into creating a working prototype from this core vision. He tinkered with different screens, mixed and matched parts from his collection of VR hardware, and refined the motion tracking equipment, which monitored the user’s head movements in real-time. Amazingly, considering the eventual value of his invention, Luckey was also posting detailed reports about his work to a 3-D gaming message board. The idea was sitting there for anyone to steal.

  • The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster
    I think Red Cross already has public perception that they don’t use their funds in a smart manner. But this article seems like it was written by a couple of bitter employees with a “unbiased” view.

    The problems with the Red Cross’ response to Isaac began even before the storm hit. About 460 mass care volunteer workers — 90 percent of the workers the organization dispatched to provide food and shelter for the storm overall — were stationed in Tampa ahead of landfall, Rieckenberg’s emails from the time say.

    The hundreds of volunteers in Tampa weren’t only there for the hurricane: The Republican National Convention was going on there and the Red Cross wanted a large presence, Rieckenberg says. The Red Cross typically deploys about 20 volunteers to such meetings.

    Emails from the time show Rieckenberg complained that Red Cross officials prevented disaster response leaders from moving volunteers out of Tampa even after forecasts showed that the hurricane wouldn’t hit the city.

  • Bash Mitzvahs!
    I enjoy peering through the looking glass at how rich people live, and this one is about 13 y/o Bar Mitzvahs.

    The solemnity and ritual of the bar mitzvahs themselves make the blowouts that may come afterward all the harder to understand. For example, the family of a girl who had her bas mitzvah at Park Avenue synagogue, who supplied the kiddush — the luncheon afterward — with centerpieces of canned matzoh balls and tuna for the homeless, threw their daughter a $150,000 black-tie reception at Tavern on the Green that same evening. It included a commissioned 60-foot-long mural depicting not the lives of the prophets but those of the Beatles, the bas mitzvah girl’s favorite band.

    The escort cards were gimmicks, like chattering teeth on the “When I’m 64” table. Guests who were seated at the “Yellow Submarine” table, on the other hand, were greeted with a tank full of live fish as the centerpiece. The “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” table was literally suspended from the ceiling by strands of rhinestone-encrusted rope. The bas mitzvah girl sang Beatles songs a cappella to the honorees at her candlelighting, and the evening culminated with a fireworks display that exploded from the center of each table.

  • The man with the golden blood
    This article talks about a couple of people who have rare blood and how that affects their lives.

    Over tea, he described the impact of his blood on his life. As a child he couldn’t go to summer camp because his parents feared he might have an accident. As an adult he takes reasonable precautions: he drives carefully and doesn’t travel to countries without modern hospitals. He keeps a card from the French National Immunohematology Reference Laboratory in Paris, confirming his Rhnull blood type, in his wallet in case he is ever hospitalised. But one thing that is in his blood – and that of almost everyone growing up in the shadow of the Alps – is skiing. Abstaining seems to have been an option he never even considered.

  • My Grandma the Poisoner
    A (true?) story about the author’s grandmother and how she seems to inadvertently poison everyone around her.

    My mother, when she moved back to Grandma’s for a brief time, had many pets—turtles, dogs, hamsters, cats—that successively took ill and died. And there was Joe, the ex-paratrooper who was Grandma’s last boyfriend. He got into the habit of blowing his pension checks in Atlantic City and mooching off Grandma until the next check arrived. Then he got a broken leg and we got all these hysterical calls from Grandma saying she was forced to wait on him hand and foot—and then he was dead.

November 2014

I ended up doing a lot of travelling to the US this month. I made a trip to California at the beginning of the month for a couple of days, then a day trip to New York a week later, and at the end of the month we went to Pennsylvannia/Buffalo for Black Friday shopping. It feels like I’m in a constant cycle of packing and unpacking now even though I don’t really travel for work.

We had a blast of winter this month around the middle too, which was surprising as snowfall typically doesn’t happen until the end of the month. The plows and sanders had to come out for a bit, and there was accumulation on the ground for a couple of days – until temperatures went up into the teens on the weekend to melt everything away. Buffalo wasn’t so lucky and they were hit with “5 feet of snow” in some parts. When we drove through Buffalo almost 2 weeks afterwards, there was still mountains of accumulation on the side of the road (even after several days in the teens)

I started working on a new app idea this month after my last app got pulled from the store by Google. I have a good idea for the product, but I don’t know if I want to do all the technical work to make it releasable. Maybe I will just release a prototype/technical preview to the store to see if it catches on.

Between Black Friday and buying online, I think we’re actually done all our Christmas shopping this year! That means the next month is just for relaxing right? Well we’ll see.

Pocket Queue 49

  • Chinatown’s Kitchen Network
    I though this was an interesting article about how the various Chinese restaurants in SmallTownUSA get cooks (because owners don’t want to slave in a kitchen forever). I don’t think a similar thing happens in Toronto, although I can’t really tell because I never see the cooks. However, the wait staff at a couple of Chinese restaurants that I frequent are consistent.

    Rain lives with five co-workers in a red brick town house that his boss owns, part of a woodsy development near the restaurant. The house is tidy; there are three floors covered with white carpeting, and each worker has been supplied with an identical cot, a desk, a chair, and a lamp. “Some bosses don’t take care of the houses,” Rain said. “If they’re renting the house, especially, they don’t care. The rooms will actually smell.” Every restaurant worker has a story of sleeping in a dank basement or being packed in a room with five other people. Many complain of living in a house that has no washing machine, and being forced to spend their day off scrubbing their grease-spattered T-shirts in a sink.

    Rain’s boss, in contrast, is fastidious. The house has a granite-countered kitchen, but he forbids the employees living there to use it; instead, a hot plate and a card table have been set up in the garage. Outside, the building is indistinguishable from the other town houses, aside from a tin can full of cigarette butts on the doorstep. The shades are kept drawn.

  • Why do people earn what they earn?
    A look at a couple of professions/industries and trends as to why some people in one job earn more than another.

    But the server-as-secret-weapon tells only part of the story. After sifting through lots of academic papers and speaking to economists, I came to think of the depressed pay for cooks relative to waiters as a sort of “dream penalty” at play.

    Spend a day asking middle schoolers what they want to be when they grow up and I guarantee you’ll never hear “waiter,” “actuary,” or “portfolio manager.” Instead, their dream jobs tend to reflect activities they participate in: the performing arts, writing, teaching, cooking, and sports. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that there are so many underpaid actors, reporters, teachers, cooks, and minor league baseball players out there.

  • Super-Intelligent Humans Are Coming
    A discussion about whether (or more correctly, how soon) we will see humans who have IQs of 1000! No discussion about how they will fit into society though, which I think is another problem.

    Each genetic variant slightly increases or decreases cognitive ability. Because it is determined by many small additive effects, cognitive ability is normally distributed, following the familiar bell-shaped curve, with more people in the middle than in the tails. A person with more than the average number of positive (IQ-increasing) variants will be above average in ability. The number of positive alleles above the population average required to raise the trait value by a standard deviation—that is, 15 points—is proportional to the square root of the number of variants, or about 100. In a nutshell, 100 or so additional positive variants could raise IQ by 15 points.

    Given that there are many thousands of potential positive variants, the implication is clear: If a human being could be engineered to have the positive version of each causal variant, they might exhibit cognitive ability which is roughly 100 standard deviations above average.

  • Detroit State of Mind
    What is it actually like to buy one of those really cheap houses in Detroit and work it back into a liveable state.

    Then we found the tall, red brick home standing just off a grand, tree-lined avenue, a house with (53!) new windows, a newish roof, and all the inner workings spared by the roving bands of scrappers that plague the city. We jumped. It had been on the market for a year and a half at $22,000. We got it for $17,000—three flats’ worth clocking in at some 4,000 square feet, with two fireplaces and a garage to boot. The bar and jukebox and pool table in the basement hinted at a past as a speakeasy, and the icebox delivery door in the back landing charmed me, as did the original built-in cabinets. Hardwood floors waited under the carpet, and a park grill set in concrete in the back yard under a pine tree promised cook-outs under the stars. Updating the plumbing and electric would just take a couple weeks, the contractor said.

  • What if Age Is Nothing but a Mind-Set?
    One idea in the scientific community is that you age because you think & believe you are old. There have been some experiments done, but is it true or not?

    She recruited a number of healthy test subjects and gave them the mission to make themselves unwell. The subjects watched videos of people coughing and sneezing. There were tissues around and those in the experimental group were encouraged to act as if they had a cold. No deception was involved: The subjects weren’t misled, for example, into thinking they were being put into a germ chamber or anything like that. This was explicitly a test to see if they could voluntarily change their immune systems in measurable ways.

    In the study, which is ongoing, 40 percent of the experimental group reported cold symptoms following the experiment, while 10 percent of those in control group did. Buoyed, Langer ordered further analysis, looking for more concrete proof that they actually caught colds by testing their saliva for the IgA antibody, a sign of elevated immune-system response. In February, the results came in. All of the experimental subjects who had reported cold symptoms showed high levels of the IgA antibody.

Pocket Queue 48

  • How to Get Into an Ivy League College—Guaranteed
    I have no problems with the business model that this guy uses, although I agree it’s an arms race. I think most people get caught up on the fact that it’s “guaranteed”. It’s not really guaranteed. The agreement is that if it doesn’t happen, you’ll get (some or all) of your money back.

    Ma says his biggest loss over the years was a $250,000 refund he sent back to the parents in China of a kid rejected by seven Ivies in 2011. “I way overshot,” he says. (Still, that girl ended up attending Cornell, which wasn’t among the eight colleges the family agreed to guarantee. “The mother wasn’t happy with Cornell, can you believe it?” Ma says.)

  • Escape from Microsoft Word
    Some funny examples of why Microsoft Word is difficult to understand (if you ever had to use it for long documents, you might agree)

    A friend at Microsoft, speaking not for attribution, solved the mystery. Word, it seems, obeys the following rule: when a “style” is applied to text that is more than 50 percent “direct-formatted” (like the italics I applied to the magazine titles), then the “style” removes the direct formatting. So The New York Review of Books (with the three-letter month May) lost its italics. When less than 50 percent of the text is “direct-formatted,” as in the example with The New Yorker (with the nine-letter month September), the direct-formatting is retained.

  • How the Shinkansen bullet train made Tokyo into the monster it is today
    The largest effect of the bullet train seems to be that it made most of Japan one giant metropolis with the name of Tokyo.

    In the early 1990s, a new Shinkansen was built to connect Tokyo to Nagano, host of the 1998 Winter Olympics. The train ran along a similar route as the Shinetsu Honsen, one of the most romanticised railroads in Japan, beloved of train buffs the world over for its amazing scenery – but also considered redundant by operators JR East because, as with almost all rural train lines in Japan, it lost money. There were only two profitable stations on the line – Nagano and the resort community of Karuizawa – and both would be served by the new Shinkansen. A large portion of the Shinetsu Honsen closed down; local residents who relied on it had to use cars or buses.

  • Why We Keep Playing the Lottery
    Some ideas as to why people keep playing the lottery even though it’s almost impossible to win

    Selling the lottery dream is possible because, paradoxically, the probabilities of winning are so infinitesimal they become irrelevant. Our brains didn’t evolve to calculate complex odds. In our evolutionary past, the ability to distinguish between a region with a 1 percent or 10 percent chance of being attacked by a predator wouldn’t have offered much of an advantage. An intuitive and coarse method of categorization, such as “doesn’t happen,” “happen sometimes,” “happens most of time,” “always happens,” would have sufficed, explains Jane L. Risen, an associate professor of Behavioral Science at the University of Chicago, Booth School of Business, who studies decision-making. Despite our advances in reason and mathematics, she says, we still often rely on crude calculations to make decisions, especially quick decisions like buying a lottery ticket.

  • Rental America: Why the poor pay $4,150 for a $1,500 sofa
    Similar to how the lottery preys on poor people; new business models are springing up to keep poor people in debt

    By the next day, the Abbotts had a remade living room, two companion pieces, both of the same blended material, 17 percent leather. The love seat and sofa retailed, together, for about $1,500. Abbott would pay for hers over two years, though she still had paying the option to pay monthly or weekly. The total price if paid weekly: $4,158.