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Android Games 31

I’ve had my eye on Layton Brothers Mystery Room for a long time because I enjoyed playing Professor Layton in the past. However, I stayed away from this game for a couple of reasons: 1) It was more of a detective game á la Phoenix Wright then a puzzle game and 2) It was a IAP game. I ended up trying it now because it was a game that didn’t require internet connection so I could play it on the plane. I played it on one of my flights the last few months and it basically lived up to what I thought. The gameplay was in Japanese (with requisite English errors), linear and not fun. In order to pass the mission, you have to do things in a certain order, or find some specific thing, which I find limiting and infuriating. Not surprisingly, I didn’t buy any of the IAP to unlock missions after the first 3 (one of which was a tutorial).

I came across Card Crawl while browsing Google Play and it is surprisingly good! It’s a solitaire card game where you attempt to exhaust the deck of your opponent. The rules are pretty straightforward but it involves some thinking to complete the game. If you’re good, you can get a high(er) score and compete against others on the leaderboard. The free part of the game seems to be good enough for casual play and the only criticism I have is that the UI is slow/laggy (too many loading screens).

Thinking about LEGO

Apollo is 4 years old now so we’ve started him on normal LEGO. In the past he has played with the baby LEGO (i.e., Duplo) and we’ve bought a couple of sets of that for him. Now that he’s on to normal-sized LEGO, I’ve looked at the sets to buy and am back at the position of wondering why LEGO has so many themed sets.

Now this isn’t a surprise – they’ve been like this for a long time. I just haven’t cared so it wasn’t on my mind. I guess it is better now that they sell “creative” sets which are just bricks of various colours that you can use to build whatever you want, but the majority of the Lego products will still build something specific without a lot of re-use for building other things.

What has dawned on me is that LEGO has positioned itself as the layman’s model building. I remember when I was younger, you could buy model kits to carefully build your own car. Then you apply the stickers and/or paint and you would have a replica of some real world (expensive) item. LEGO makes this super simple by having pre-built pieces that fit together easily, without a risk that you would screw up the entire model if you didn’t put a part on correctly. Once it is built, you can put it on your mantle to display or to marvel at it – you’re not supposed to take it apart and rebuild it.

In a way, it’s also become a lot like a puzzle. You follow the instructions to build something complicated. I suppose you could take it apart, store it, and rebuild it just like a puzzle. But from my perspective, and possibly my kid’s, it’s no fun to build something and then look at it forever. Creative kits are fun, but building models just isn’t that interesting.

The Godfather

I had seen this seminal classic in bits and pieces before, but I think this was the first time that I watched it completely in one sitting. I enjoyed it as a masterful story told with great pacing. You don’t see pacing like this in movies nowadays, where the main character are just wandering the wilderness without really advancing the plot. The main characters played by Brando, Pacino, Duvall were great but the other characters seemed like caricatures. In fact, I would argue that the plot isn’t very compelling but you watch the movie just to see those actors play their characters. I guess another reason would be to get a glimpse of how the top levels of the mafia work – but who knows if that is accurate or not.

I’m going to give the Godfather a 3 out of 5 star rating because while I was never bored while watching it, I just didn’t connect with it such that I would be fascinated about their world, or have a desire to watch the sequels.

September 2016

September was tough. Just like last September, we had to start a new routine as a new school year started. Apollo went to a new school with a new schedule (5 days a week this time) and Jovian continued his daycare routine from August (also 5 days a week). Both kids are gone 5 days a week because Pauline is back at work now which means there’s less flexibility in the time. We also have a number of weekday evening programs and weekend programs (weekend programs aren’t that big of a deal yet). The time compression is the largest hurdle to overcome and I don’t think we’re settled in a routine yet – every day feels different, which is what is making it tough.

To make matters worse, I was gone for a week in September on a trip to Korea – meaning we had to involve the grandparents for school pickup/drop off. Oh and to make matters worse x 2, Jovian was hospitalized for a couple of nights before my trip so even if we had some semblance of routine, that got completely blow up in the middle of the month. Hopefully we can settle down in October!

The weather got cold quickly, and it’s actually in this inconvenient state where it is too cold for fall jackets (i.e., windbreakers) in the morning (for the kids) but not cold enough to actually wear winter-ish jackets. The AC was still running in our house most of the month though, but we finally switched to windows by the end of the month. I have a feeling that we’re not going to have many days of window weather this fall.

Pocket Queue 70

  • I don’t think my situation will be exactly the same (since I don’t work “in” the Valley), but at some point I’ll end up with the same predicament. Everyone in tech will. So it’s interesting to hear stories about how older people are coping.

    At ProMatch, a state-funded job counseling and networking program in Sunnyvale, Calif., Robert Withers advises his mostly middle-aged or older clients to cut anything on their résumés that’s more than 10 years old, to use a professional photographer for their LinkedIn headshots, and to hang out in the parking lots of places where they’ll be interviewing to see what the people there wear.

  • Is there a ceiling on what our brains can understand?
    I’ve wondered about this before and am on the side of the fence that thinks there is a ceiling. The genesis for my ideas is the Star Trek TNG episode where they encounter a 2D civilization – they couldn’t comprehend 3D. Could we ever comprehend something in 4D (and I don’t mean some trivial cases).

    Say we could create a group of chimps that could live for a million years, and we have the best human teachers spend the whole million years trying to teach the chimps to understand quantum mechanics well enough that they’d be able to, on their own, build a working particle accelerator. It wouldn’t happen. Not possible. A chimp brain is simply not capable of learning something of that complexity, because there’s a ceiling on what a chimp brain can understand.

  • Why Do Tourists Visit Ancient Ruins Everywhere Except the United States?
    I approached this article with an for finding interesting things to visit in the US (i.e., via road trip instead of flying) but this article seems to only suggest 2 places: Cahokia in St Louis and Chaco Canyon in New Mexico

    Cahokia is mysterious to historians because North America did not have writing systems, and Cahokia’s population disappeared suddenly and mysteriously in the late 1300s. By the time Europeans found the site, even Native Americans knew little about it.

    What we do know is that a village was razed in 1050 to rebuild Cahokia on a grid, with a grand plaza and ceremonial structures built on two hundred huge, earthen pyramids. The population increased so rapidly—Dr. Pauketat writes that walking from the edge of Cahokia’s territory to the city center would have taken two days at its peak—that Cahokia must have drawn thousands of immigrants inspired by its religion, culture, or politics.

  • Research suggests being lazy is a sign of high intelligence
    I’ve been using the Pocket Recommendation feed to find articles and end up with a lot of short scientific articles that have an interesting hypothesis but not much substance in the article (almost not worth spending the time to blog as I’m more interested in long reads). Here’s one example, although it has this mind twister:

    Researchers suggested the findings could lend weight to the idea that non-thinkers get bored more easily, so need to fill their time with physical activity.

    But the downside to being brainer – and lazier – warned Mr McElroy was the negative impact of a sedentary lifestyle.

  • Why Do Famous People Get Paid $250,000 to Give a Speech?
    A look at the speaking circuit, how it works, and how much money people make. It’s not that great of a gig even if you’re super famous. The story of Up In The Air comes to mind.

    “We’ve essentially had every former president since Ronald Reagan,” says Chuck Carr, the Vice President for Convention, Education & Training at the Institute of Scrap Recycling Industries (ISRI), “and most of the secretaries of state.” As a professional association, ISRI not only wants to sell tickets to its annual conference. It wants good attendance from recycling professionals so they benefit from the networking opportunities. And people like Stanley McChrystal and Bill Clinton help them do that.

Nobunaga Concerto

I found this Japanese movie under “New Releases” and misunderstood the summary and ended up watching it. What I thought I would be getting into was a movie where they pluck a teenager from our era and drop him into historical Japan, where he happens to be a doppelganger of a warlord who is attempting to unite Japan. I thought the movie would be about how he adapts to historical times and convinces rival warlords to his cause.

It turns out that Nobunaga Concerto is actually based on a manga and the above plot is completed in a summary in a quick 5 minute introduction to the premise. I suppose the movie is based on some of the later books in the manga. Anyways, it turns out that this movie is about how his fellow warlords plot to kill him. That was not nearly as interesting to me.

The movie played out like a live action manga. There were lots of weird exclamations and scenes where the character would make faces with ominous music in the background. Actually, it was a lot like a Bollywood movie in that respect. Both the premise and plot are a bit crazy and intended to be a light-hearted fantasy. I was my mistake to try and watch this movie, but it still doesn’t make it any better. Two out of five stars for this concerto.

Book Of Love (Finding Mr Right 2)

Korean Air has a small movie selection so I didn’t have a lot of things I was looking forward to watching. I read through basically all the movie descriptions and Book of Love was the 2nd best choice – that’s how bad the selection was!

Anyways, this movie is a Chinese film that tells 2 separate stories, and one meta-story. One story focuses on a addicted gambler/hostess in Macau who is in a perpetual borrow money/payback cycle and the other focuses on a real estate agent in LA trying to sell houses to overseas investors and astronaut moms. Of the two, the latter was much more interesting to me because who ever makes a movie about that?? The meta-story is that they are both single and come across a book called 84 Charing Cross which is about 2 people starting a relationship by writing letters. They start doing so and find that that is the solution to their own love problems.

I felt the meta-story was kind of weak. Until the end of the movie, it was used as a plot device to comment on each character’s love life, which occurred at the same time as their individual stories. There were too many primary stories that the watcher had to focus on and the meta-story lost since it wasn’t visualized. When the movie had time to focus on the meta-story, then it had some impact.

I felt the movie was messy because of this, but had a bunch of novel situations so I would give this a 3 out of 5 stars (but still would rather watch a summer action blockbuster instead of this one!)

Pocket Queue 69

  • These Aren’t Wireless Headphones
    A look at Apple’s new wireless earbuds – if you’re like me and don’t really pay a lot of attention to Apple news, then you might know the ins and outs about this new product. Seems like it covers a lot of interesting use cases, but I’m not prepared to drop significant money on something that is so easy to lose (and only supports Apple devices)

    One more simple feature holds perhaps the most telling clue to what Apple has in mind for the future. Tap the AirPods twice while they’re in your ear and you’ll wake Siri, much like how you wake Amazon’s Echo by saying “Alexa.” Suddenly you’ll find yourself conversing with an A.I.–powered voice assistant via a tiny earpiece in your ear.

  • Hillary Clinton’s ‘Invisible Guiding Hand’
    It was surprising when I found out that analytics was such a big factor in a transient event such as an election, but after thinking about it, it makes a lot of sense. The data and analysis that has been accumulated can be reused for subsequent campaigns. However, I think it might be a waste that all the infrastructure might have to be recreated if the people are all new each time (I assume that there is a lot of custom analysis).

    The breakdown of the buy in Texas, powered by Kriegel’s modeling, shows how Clinton’s TV ads budget hunted for delegates, not votes. Texas is the rare state that used state legislative districts to award delegates, and Clinton spent $1.2 million on broadcast and cable ads even as she won the state by 32 percentage points. Sanders spent $0. She spent more on ads in tiny Brownsville ($127,000) and Waco ($142,000), ranked as the 86th and 87th largest media markets in the country, as she did in Houston ($105,000), the 10th largest, according to ad data provided by a media tracker.

    It paid off: In Texas alone, Clinton netted 72 delegates more than Sanders — a margin that more than offset all the Sanders’ primary and caucus wins through March 1.

  • Why Are Babies So Dumb If Humans Are So Smart?
    An interesting hypothesis as to why, when Humans are born, they’re so useless compared to other animals.

    And in modern humans, a few pieces of evidence appear to suggest that smarter parents are more likely to have offspring that survive. In one limited sample—two hundred and twenty-two Serbian Roma women—maternal I.Q. and child mortality were negatively correlated (that is, higher I.Q. meant lower mortality), even controlling for education, age, and a number of other factors. In a larger sample of Californian parents, in 1978, years of education were linked to infant-mortality rates. Global epidemiological studies suggest a decrease in mortality that equals between seven and nine per cent for each year of a mother’s education.

  • We might live in a computer program, but it may not matter
    I just blogged a similar article on this topic a few weeks ago, but this subject is so fascinating that I can’t get enough of it!

    Quantum mechanics, the theory of the very small, has thrown up all sorts of odd things. For instance, both matter and energy seem to be granular. What’s more, there are limits to the resolution with which we can observe the Universe, and if we try to study anything smaller, things just look “fuzzy”.

    Smoot says these perplexing features of quantum physics are just what we would expect in a simulation. They are like the pixellation of a screen when you look too closely.

  • The new science of cute
    Not surprisingly, this article is mostly about Japan – the epicentre of cute. There’s cute though, and there’s fame. This article tries to tackle both.

    But for a mascot to be successful, being cute is not always enough. For every popular yuru-kyara, there are a hundred Harajuku Miccolos – a 5ft-tall yellow-and-brown bee, who I met standing on the pavement outside the Colombin bakery and cafe, celebrating Honey Bee Day with three hours of loitering in front of the cafe, greeting passers-by, or trying to. Most barely glanced in his direction and did not break stride, though some did come over and pose for a photo. There was no queue.

X-Men: Apocalypse

This was another film that I had no expectations about, but I was interested in seeing because I read so many X-Men comics when I was younger. I think there were a couple of X-Men movies that I missed but luckily this was like a reboot.

The movie was set in the 80s (whenever Return of the Jedi came out) and was quite charming because of it. No doubt it helps the movie appeal to target an older demographic with disposable income. One of the best parts in the movie was set to the Eurythmics’ Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These.

I liked the movie overall because there were a lot of characters, cameos and quirky things from the Marvel universe, but from a plot perspective I think it was very fragmented. There were a ton of characters introduced which meant the story wasn’t very deep or long. Apocalypse didn’t even get to do much aside from recruit, stand around and order his minions. Kind of a boring villain.

The were a lot of grand scenes a la Batman vs Superman, but overall I found the fights not very interesting. It was kind of like trying to punch through each other by unleashing your mutant powers all at once – the exception were the Nightcrawler fights.

Before writing this review, I was thinking of giving this movie 4 out of 5 stars because i really did enjoy it. But I think that I was just marvelled about the surroundings and didn’t pay too much attention to the story. I think I’ll give X-Men: Apocalypse 3 out of 5 stars.

Pocket Queue 68

  • They Promised Us Jet Packs. They Promised the Bosses Profit.
    A quick look at how Google X operates – did you know they get bonuses for purposely failing a project? In a way, it makes sense…

    The idea of celebrating failure is a Silicon Valley cliché, but Mr. Teller talks about it in the practical terms of a management consultant. Say you have a team of 20 people working on a project that is not going anywhere, he said in a recent interview. In a year those 20 people will be 30 people. The company has to pay their salaries and health insurance, and the team will inevitably hire a few consultants. Worse, they will have wasted a year.

    How much money could the company save if you could get them to cut bait a year earlier?

  • I have found a new way to watch TV, and it changes everything
    After hearing about this approach, I want to use it when I watch videos (is there a button that I can do toggle this on YouTube yet?). Although one area where this wouldn’t work is if you’re watching music videos (is almost half of the videos that I would watch).

    In the 1960s, a blind psychologist named Emerson Foulke began experimenting with this technique to accelerate speech. A professor at the University of Louisville, Foulke was frustrated with the slowness of recorded books for the blind, so he tried speeding them up. The sampling method proved surprisingly effective. In Foulke’s experiments, speech could be accelerated to 250-275 wpm without affecting people’s scores on a listening comprehension test.

    These limits were suspiciously close to the average college reading rate. Foulke suspected that beyond 300 wpm, deeper processes in the brain were getting overloaded. Experiments showed that at 300-400 wpm, individual words were still clear enough to understand; except at that rate, many listeners couldn’t keep up with rapid stream of words, likely because their short-term memories were overtaxed.

  • Everything we love to eat is a scam
    On the one hand, I suspect that the findings in this article are true (I’ve experienced a wide range of quality in salmon sushi), but as an avid food eater (which I hope you are too), it really sucks.

    Farmed Cambodian ponga poses as grouper, catfish, sole, flounder and cod. Wild-caught salmon is often farmed and pumped up with pink coloring to look fresher. Sometimes it’s actually trout.

    Ever wonder why it’s so hard to properly sear scallops? It’s because they’ve been soaked in water and chemicals to up their weight, so vendors can up the price. Even “dry” scallops contain 18 percent more water and chemicals.

  • The brilliant mechanics of Pokémon Go
    This Pokemon Go article is about how it is a great freemium game and some reasons why it is so addictive. Of course, now we have confirmation that it is a fad and doesn’t have dominant staying power.

    In Pokémon Go, there’s no feature that allows you to extend the life of your playing session by inviting or reaching out to friends. In fact, the social graph is almost non-existent in Pokémon Go. Instead, your in-game social graph is an extension of a supplemented version of your real-world social graph. A smartphone owner sees someone playing the game, becomes curious, downloads the game and plays it — both interacting with other players and inspiring curiosity in other potential new players. And the rest of the time you’re looking at screenshots of what’s happening in the game in your Facebook feed, or texting friends when you managed to catch that rare Pokémon.

  • How Chromebooks Are About to Totally Transform Laptop Design
    Just because Chromebooks run Android apps, doesn’t make it that attractive to me – I guess I’m not bought into the hype yet and I have a lot of use cases which seem like they will need local storage. Maybe if I wasn’t very OCD about my data I could live with one. In any case, here is a short history of the Chromebook and where we are right now.

    “The first people who bought Chromebooks were people who were computer folks,” he says. “They looked at the Chromebook and said, ‘This is not a real computer, it doesn’t have very many settings!’” They hated that you couldn’t find your files, or change the time setting. But why in the world, Sengupta argues, would any rational person want to manually change the time on their computer? It should just know. “The amount of work it took to eliminate all the settings,” he says, “so that you didn’t have to care and feed for your computer, was the thing that really made it successful.”