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November, 2019

We bought a new car! Our old car was bought in 2007, so 12 years ago, and has over 200k KM on it. That’s actually not a lot considering there were many years during its lifetime where we didn’t drive it to work. Anyways, the transmission was dying so it was time for a new one.

It started snowing early in November this year. At least I thought it was early, but the news broadcast reminded me that it actually snowed in October last year. The first snow was just a sprinkling and melted during the day. But the week after that, we had a real storm with 15cm dumped on us. We had to hurry to rake all the leaves before they were covered by the snow! Then there was a week of warmish weather, and we are back to leaves being blown around in the wind with no snow at all on the ground.

I played a lot of Hearthstone with Battlegrounds being released. Actually I played it for about 2 weeks non-stop, then just kinda stopped as there was no more variety. I also started a new LEGO gatcha game, which may take the place of the Disney game I am playing (almost finished collecting everything worthwhile).

Pocket Queue 94

  • Meet the Chinatown Matchmaker Whose Memory Puts Your Dating Algorithm to Shame
    The title is hyperbole but the link is an interesting story of how human matchmaking is still alive and well nowadays in America.

    This mother, like many others, is motivated by the fear of wan hun, meaning “late marriage,” or “delayed marriage,” describing people who aren’t married by their early twenties. To avoid wan hun, parents come to Lee, hoping that she can find someone who’s able to meet all their requirements quickly. If too much time passes, they may lower their standards for height, age, or attractiveness of a match, sometimes even settling on the last requirement they’ll give up: wealth.

  • Living Full-Time in a Toyota Tacoma
    Not something I would do, but interesting to hear how you can convert a truck into a home.

    The fridge draws its power from a Goal Zero battery, which runs on three pliable 100-watt solar panels that are attached to the roof. On the left side of the fridge is my propane tank, sitting on its side, which can be turned on and off quickly. I can fill it from this position, too, so it never needs to be fully removed. On the right side of the fridge is the water jug, which is sufficient for about a week or so. This back-seat build took me two long days, with a good bit of help from my dad and friends.

  • Meet the Kim Kardashian of the 1890s
    A historical story (who knows the accuracy) of someone who cashed in on a scandel to fame and fortune.

    It wasn’t just the salacious nature of the entertainment that caused a sensation. The public was dying to know how the smart set partied when they thought no one was looking. As the trial got underway The New York Daily Tribune declared much of the testimony unprintable. The Sun had less scruples, printing full transcripts daily of the most interesting and outrageous testimony. The tale of Seeley’s dinner and Little Egypt’s dance made it far beyond New York with accounts printed in papers across the Unites States and even in Europe.

    Little Egypt was called to testify on the fourth day of the trial. As she entered the courtroom “[t]he degenerates sighed with disappointment,” reported The Sun. “In the place of the beautiful young woman they had conjured up in their minds, there appeared – but it wouldn’t be a proper thing to criticize the lady’s personal appearance; that is, the part of it for which she is not to blame.” The New York Journal estimated that four hundred spectators filled the courtroom to hear her story. She and her maid were the only women in the room. Days earlier two women “who looked old enough to know better,” according to The Sun, had tried to attend and were ultimately pressured to leave.

  • The Global Fertility Crash
    Birth rates are low on average, and Bloomberg asks four different women around the world why their society is not having more kids.

    “The first day back from the trip, I found the company put out a recruitment notice online with the same title and job description as mine. My health was unstable during my pregnancy, so I applied for sick leave. The company agreed, but then the human resources supervisor asked me to submit previous medical records for sick leaves, including those that I already took. I didn’t keep the records, as that was the first time they brought up such demands. Days later they sent an email informing me they would suspend my salary because I failed to provide the required documents.

    “By that time, I was roughly three months pregnant. It was so hard to believe a company that I worked so diligently for would treat me this way, so I filed an arbitration suit seeking compensation for my overtime work since joining the company. Right after that, the company shut me out, suspending my work email and removing me from a work communication group, but they never dismissed me officially. By the time I wanted to quit the job, human resources refused to proceed unless I agreed not to ‘claim any fees or hurt the company’s reputation.’ I refused, so they wouldn’t let me take my belongings and refused to issue a resignation certificate, a required document in China’s job market.

  • The Name Change Dilemma
    A story about the thoughtprocess for whether this writer should change her name or not upon marriage.

    When I call my mom now, I’m surprised to hear her say: “If I had to do it all again, I’d keep my name.” All the women in Tony’s family seem to have changed their names, including his little sister and his little brother’s wife. His best friends are planning their wedding and they have already arranged to switch their dog’s name. He was her dog first, but the pup is going to take his last name when his mother does. Apparently, that’s a thing.

    I respond to my own ambivalence by surveying my friends. The married ones have all kept their own names, except for my friend Kate. Kate is a writer, and she was also my first friend to have kids. Like our original plan, she uses her maiden name in her bylines and her married name in her professional life.

    “Isn’t it confusing to have two identities?” I asked her.

    “No, it’s actually kind of nice,” she said. “It’s almost like an easy way to keep two distinct parts of my life separate.”

Hearthstone Battlegrounds

Hearthstone announced a new mode of gameplay at Blizzconn this year called Battlegrounds. I’m glad they announced something new, because while dungeon runs are still challenging and good for time killing, it wasn’t novel or interesting – you can only go so crazy in the powerlevel of the treasures.

Battlegrounds is an autochess clone. From a business perspective, it makes sense for Hearthstone to add a mode that is the same as the game that they are losing players too. I’ve tried playing autochess before, but the learning curve investment was just to steep. However, I watched a bunch of people stream Battlegrounds (trying to get an early access drop for it) and it seems pretty straightforward. In fact, I’ve watched so much Battlegrounds that I feel bored with the mode already. I’ll see what happens when the mode is launched live today, maybe it is different when you’re actually playing.

Pocket Queue 93

  • ‘Taaaake onnn meee!’ The unkillable, oh-so-profitable afterlife of a-ha’s ’80s classic
    I love this song but I have to admit it is an amazing hook and classic video. But a-ha is also a victim of their own success.

    “What’s more interesting,” Daniel muses, “is the ‘philosophical’ revenue the song has generated. A-ha is still big all over the world. I saw them play an arena in Chile three years ago. If not for that song, they wouldn’t have sold any albums, and there’s no 30 years of touring. That one song has probably generated hundreds of millions of dollars.”

    The winding saga of “Take on Me” illustrates both the randomness of having a hit and the degree to which it requires timing and calculation. “‘Take on Me’ is a proven flop, three times over,” says Harket. “It’s also a proven hit. There’s a lot to learn from that.”

    At the peak of a-ha’s ambivalence toward “Take on Me” (Harket can’t recall precisely when), they stopped playing it live.

  • Masterpiece Theatre
    This is a story about a master forger of famous artists (e.g., Picasso). He’s been caught and has written his own book, so I guess this is an attempt at an unbiased view of his life. It is also an interesting perspective about the value of art and “originals”

    Jansen goes even further: If fakes are as good as the real thing, aren’t they worth celebrating? “When a musician reproduces a sonata of Bach, one applauds him. Me, I reproduce a sonata of Picasso and I am placed under arrest,” he lamented to the CBC in 2008.

  • The Death of Hollywood’s Middle Class
    A look at how the OTT video explosion has affected the people behind the scenes (writers & etc)

    “If I was on a [network show like] Community, I would have been paid as a series regular,” Becker says. “But they didn’t make me a series regular, they made me a recurring guest star and paid me a daily rate. If I’d been number five on an NBC show, I’d be making $30,000 a week, but I was making $980 a week [at Netflix]. By the time you pay out taxes, your manager, agent, and lawyer, I was walking away with like $200.”

  • A history of modern capitalism from the perspective of the straw.
    This article starts off strong linking America’s disposable-first culture with the straw, and explaining how plastic straws came to be. But it kind of tapers off without making a point

    While functionally, paper and plastic straws might have seemed the same, to the keen observer who is the narrator of Nicholson Baker’s dazzling 1988 novel, The Mezzanine, the plastic and paper straw were not interchangeable. Paper did not float. Plastic did: “How could the straw engineers have made so elementary a mistake, designing a straw that weighed less than the sugar-water in which it was intended to stand? Madness!”

    Baker’s narrator wonders why the big fast-food chains like McDonald’s didn’t pressure the straw engineers into fixing this weighting mistake. “[The chains] must have had whole departments dedicated to exacting concessions from Sweetheart and Marcal,” Baker writes.

    But there was a problem: lids, which had come into vogue. Plastic straws could push through the little + slits in the cap. Paper ones could not. The restaurant chains committed fully to plastic straws.

  • Facing unbearable heat, Qatar has begun to air-condition the outdoors
    Trying to air condition the outside sounds stupid, but that’s really what Qatar is trying to do. It’s kind of like putting lights outside at night so you can see where you are going.

    Recently, the luxury French department store Galeries Lafayette opened in a shopping mall that features stylish air-conditioning grates in the broad cobblestone walkways outside. Each of the vents, about 1 by 6 feet, has a decorative design. Many of them hug the outside of buildings, cooling off window shoppers looking at expensive fashions. Though nearly deserted in the heat, by 5 p.m. some people begin to emerge to sit outside places like Cafe Pouchkine.

October, 2019

October saw several events:

  • Apollo’s Birthday – we combined it with Thanksgiving at home this year
  • Election – we did advance voting and beat the rush
  • Started soccer classes – all three kids are going, although 1 hr is a bit long for Katana
  • Samsung Developer conference – I was down in San Jose for a couple of days
  • Hallowe’en – We did some stuff the Saturday before, the day of, and also went to Wonderland earlier in the month

Fall arrived this month. The leaves were a nice variety of colors throughout the month, and our backyard is pretty full of them now (gotta rake next month).

Hockey season started and the Leafs are pretty mediocre. I started playing a gatcha hockey game, but it wasn’t very deep so stopped that as well.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Another Godzilla movie, I thought I had seen the previous ones, but a quick read on Wikipedia indicated I hadn’t. Anyways, no prior knowledge was needed. Godzilla: King Of The Monsters is about big giant monsters fighting (kind of like the Pacific Rim series).

In this one, all of the old Titans are awakened but it turns out their leader is an alien. It is up to Godzilla to fix the problem. Humans are confused, but eventually they realize Godzilla is on their side. For once, the bad guy story is interesting and complex; although ultimately the true villain is Godzilla’s nemesis rather than humans.

Like the previous movie I saw, the ending of this seemed to be setting up for continuation of the series, seemingly King Kong vs Godzilla. Unfortunately only a three out of five stars film.

Kingdom

Kingdom is a movie about historic China, but the strange thing is that it is a Japanese movie. They speak Japanese thoughout the movie, and all the actors are Japanese. I’m used to historical films from China so I was curious what the Japanese take will be like , and also why they would make a movie about Chinese history without mentioning Japan at all.

The story is set in the Qin dynasty, and is about two slave boys who dream of being the greatest general in the world. They spend their time swordfighting after they’ve done their chores, and eventually become quite proficient. A chance encounter causes (only) one of them to enter the royal court, but his death causes the other to go on the journey that this movie is about.

Apparently, the story is from a manga, so a lot of the fighting and rhythm of the action feels like it came out of a comic (e.g., it is not real at all). And I had a real feeling that this movie was a setup for a video game/movie series. Each of the generals and other main characters felt like they were being introduced; and each had a single, unique ultimate move. There are factions, each with different attributes, and a grand quest to set out on. I’ve never read about the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” series, and I’ll do that later when I have more time; but I can’t help but wonder whether this is the first chapter of that.

There was a distinct non-Chinese flavour about the movie, but it was enjoyable and I want to see more in this style, within the same universe. Four out of five stars.

Spider-Man: Far From Home

Last Spider-Man movie in the MCU! Well, we shall see. Far From Home happens after Endgame and it starts off with some reflection on the events (no real spoilers though, I think this movie may have come out before Endgame?). In any case, there are no more Avengers and Spider-man is one of the higher profile heroes left.

But this movie feels like a teenage movie. It follows Peter Parker on a high school trip to Europe. In practice, it is a lot better written and appropriate for adults than Detective Pikachu. I am not even biased towards Spider-Man like I am the X-Men. The first half of the movie was pretty good and fun. In fact, it felt like it was parodying itself. Nick Fury was delivering canned lines and everyone was riffing off that. The circumstances around the school trip was ridiculous. But I thought all of this was in good taste.

It started getting a bit slow after the plot twist but still enjoyable. Strangely, I think the biggest appeal of this movie is the development of the characters and relationships; the action is just eye candy. Also, I felt it was a bit forced to visit so many European cities. But nonetheless I think this was a quality movie, four out of five stars.

Air Canada

Living in Canada, I think we’re pretty lucky to take Air Canada. Recently I had to fly on United metal and the experience is not great.

First, I was a bit confused by how their inflight entertainment system worked. They have a partnership with DIRECTV and everything was organized into channels rather than a VOD service. If you missed the start of a movie, well it’s like catching a movie playing on TV. Not having the control to watch when you want seems backwards in this day and age.

The flight attendants also seem different. They say the same courtesy words but there’s a hint of haughty attitude. AC agents are not all great, but they seem to be more laid back.

AC also spends money in a better way in their lounge. I don’t drink but I notice the magazines. AC has a wide selection of Canadian magazines that you can take with you. The United lounge only has copies of their own magazine.

Also, the AC Signature Lounge dining service at YYZ is amazing. I’ve never been to a Polaris lounge but the Signature Lounge seems without peer at least in North America.

Detective Pikachu

I don’t have a strong desire to see Detective Pikachu but I thought it would be interesting to leverage all the knowledge I learned from my kids in understanding this movie. Even from the previews, it was amazing to see Pokemon in the real world! Also, unlike Dark Phoenix, the CG was done well and made it feel like the Pokemon belonged in the world (maybe we’re just used to what they look like).

Much like Zootopia, the best thing about this movie is how they created the world. I like the idea where all the animals have been replaced by pokemon (although the balance is wrong as you don’t see that many animals in the city normally). And this idea isn’t a stretch because we live in the world of Pokemon Go where pokemon coexist in the world as long as you look through a screen.

The story itself is not that great. I had a little bit of struggle trying to decide whether the film is for kids, or adults who were kids when pokemon came out. I guess the right audience is a young teen. I hope this movie spawns a series where we can explore the world more, but hope that future movies are written for older audiences. Four out of five stars due to establishing the world and the promise of seeing more pokemon in movies