Do people like, still blog?

Hearthstone

Blizzard has a new game out, and it’s free-to-play (well it’s a freemium) game. It’s called Hearthstone and it’s actually something I want to play because:

  • It’s based on the Warcraft universe
  • It’s a card game similar to Magic: The Gathering

I’ve wanted to play a Magic-type game for awhile. I tried the various official Magic electronic versions but the main problem with all of them is that you couldn’t make a custom deck. That defeats the originality and creativity in the game!

Hearthstone has the ability to make custom decks, but the difficulty is that you have to play a lot (i.e., grind) or pay for a lot of the cards that you would want to use. I guess I can live with that for awhile, but I might not have enough patience or willingness to spend money to build my collection of cards.

Other than that, the game mechanics is pretty good. It has original rules, but it’s not too far from what you would expect from a card game. Luck plays a role, but having a balanced deck is the most important thing. I’ve played some online, and have lost a lot. Half because I played poorly (bad decisions) and half because my opponents have a larger (and better) card collection from which to build their deck from. There is an offline/practice mode but the NPCs are either too easy or too hard (another reason to spend money to build a better deck).

Overall the game suffers from being a freemium game, but has the Blizzard lore and polish. It’s an easy game to pick up for 15 minutes, and not too heavy on your system. It runs on tablets, but needs a constant network connection. Worth a try!

2014 Playoffs: Round 1

The Leafs didn’t make the playoffs, and I’m glad. I wish they had tanked even more and gotten a better draft pick, but I think where they landed is still better than losing in the first round.

This year’s playoff scheme is complicated, and I haven’t really followed all the discussions about who plays who when your position is this or that. But here’s what I think about the matchups

East

  1. Boston over Detroit – Too many injuries on Detroit, and Boston is superior
  2. Pittsburgh over Columbus – Pittsburgh has the better team, I guess Bobrovsky could stand on his head though
  3. Montreal over Tampa Bay – Montreal has better coaching and should upset
  4. Rangers over Philly – This one will be tight, but King Lundqvist should be the deciding factor

West

  1. Minnesota over Colorado – I think Colorado is too young still
  2. St Louis over Chicago – This one will be a tough series, I think STL is better now though
  3. Anaheim over Dallas – Just my feeling
  4. LA over SJ – Usually SJ gets bad luck in the playoffs, but I suppose they could be lucky this year. Doubt it though.

Pocket Queue 40

  • Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so…
    Ray Kurzweil is a new Director of Engineering at Google whose mission is to “bring natural language understanding to Google”. But he thinks that robots will pass the Turing test by 2023 so is that all he is doing there?

    Peter Norvig, Google’s research director, said recently that the company employs “less than 50% but certainly more than 5%” of the world’s leading experts on machine learning. And that was before it bought DeepMind which, it should be noted, agreed to the deal with the proviso that Google set up an ethics board to look at the question of what machine learning will actually mean when it’s in the hands of what has become the most powerful company on the planet. Of what machine learning might look like when the machines have learned to make their own decisions. Or gained, what we humans call, “consciousness”.

  • My Life and Times in Chinese TV
    What it it like working as a Western-educated intern at a state-run TV station in China? Surprisingly dull

    In the SMG car that she told to drop me off at the subway, before returning to the office to file her tapes, Zhang Xian explained that what we had just shot would not appear on ICS for a few weeks—until long after Burn the Floor had left the country. The point was not to inform viewers about a specific cultural event that they could attend, but to record that such an event had happened, and let the ICS audience participate in two to two and a half minutes of its afterglow.

  • Street Fighter: The Movie — What went wrong
    This article looks at why the first Street Fighter movie was so horrible. But it reads like a fluff piece. The director did no wrong, but it was a combination of stakeholders, schedule, poorly behaving actors, and luck that did it in. I’m not so sure about that. Also the writing was pretty bad and given that the director was also the writer, I’m not sure he should get a pass at it.
  • The Flight of the Birdman: Flappy Bird Creator Dong Nguyen Speaks Out
    A quick look at the person who made Flappy Bird.

    As news hit of how much money Nguyen was making, his face appeared in the Vietnamese papers and on TV, which was how his mom and dad first learned their son had made the game. The local paparazzi soon besieged his parents’ house, and he couldn’t go out unnoticed. While this might seem a small price to pay for such fame and fortune, for Nguyen the attention felt suffocating. “It is something I never want,” he tweeted. “Please give me peace.”

  • How clones, fear, sanitisation and free-to-play soured Apple’s iOS gaming revolution
    The mobile game industry sucks, basically because of clones and freemium games. Here’s some more indepth analysis into that

    Lovell puts this kind of risk aversion down to “creative fear”. “A lot of my clients are starting with an endless runner simply because they want to learn the free-to-play business in a known genre,” he says. “Think of it like a journeyman wood maker who had to do some basic pieces in order to understand his craft.”

Navel Gazing

Now that it’s been about two weeks since the CODE grand finale, I figure it’s about time to catch up on the press releases and see where I made it into the press. Of course, as I was not the winner and only runner-up my limelight is limited, but there were a few spots.

I was of course in the official government press release and the data.gc.ca blog about the winners. XMG Studios, one of the sponsors of the event, also put out their own press release.

I made it into the University of Waterloo daily bulletin both before the finale and in the recap of the finale.

There were also a couple of new stories that basically re-wrote the government press releases with some official pictures from Facebook. Here’s one from Betakit and one from the Ontario Centers of Excellence and another from TechVibes.

I also did an interview (before they announced the winners) at the grand finale with CTV, and CTV did some reporting of the actual event and winners. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find that online; maybe it never aired! Too bad.

Multi-User Android Tablet

I bought a cheap 7″ Android tablet recently (don’t worry, it’s not a Chinese one so I won’t throw it away). I was waiting for a Nexus 7 (1st gen) refurb to hit the $100 mark so I could get one as a test/development device, but then Dell had a sale on its Venue 7 for $119 so I got that instead. It’s not terrible, but it’s not as snappy as my Nexus 4 (or Nexus 5). Also I still have an issue where I don’t how to use a tablet for personal use, but that’s another story.

What was neat about a new tablet was that I had a chance to try out Android’s multi-user support. In theory it sounds great when you need to share 1 device in your family, but does it truly work that way? Well the first problem I faced was that it wasn’t enabled in the OS version that shipped with the device (4.2.x). I had to upgrade to 4.3 before that feature was enabled (bad on the part of Dell).

Once I enabled it, it was a disappointment. The apps that are installed are not shared between users, so you would need to install something like Facebook twice. The size of the apps add up. I know that the SD card is different for each user, so any data downloaded by an app is not shared either. If multiple users want to play a game that is a couple of GB? They’ll each have to download the app and the resource files! At least this tablet has expandable storage.

Then I tried restricted profiles. This seems like a great idea to setup a child with a kid-friendly device. You would disable access to the important apps and let them read books or play kid games. I bought a bunch of children books in the past when they were on sale for this very purpose. Now, I was very disappointed to find that while you can give a restricted profile access to some of the apps on your account; if those apps need a license check (whether through Google Play or Amazon app store), they won’t work. That pretty much invalidates most of my kid apps and books.

So the multi-user support sounded great in theory, but I think I’ll stick to having a single user on the tablet now.

Pitching A Healthier Commute

Last Friday, I had the lucky opportunity to participate in the CODE Hackathon grand finale because A Healthier Commute was one of the top 15 apps that came out of that competition. This was going to be tough because I’m not good at public speaking and now I had to present to a bunch of important people.

I spent the week before perfecting my pitch. It had to be under 4 minutes and included one of my recent videos so really, I only had 2:45. I wrote up my pitch, practiced it, realized it went over time and cut cut cut. I really do think that from initial conception to delivery, I practiced it 100 times.

So with everything prepared, then came the day to actually do it. The organizers gave everyone an opportunity to do a dry run a few hours before the actual event which I took advantage of. I arrived and quickly realized that my slides and screenshots were messed up because I had designed for 16:9 but the display was 4:3. That sucked, but I had a few seconds to fix up some of the text.

My dry run went alright, but I was a little over time. Next was the hard part – the long wait before actually speaking. There was about a 2 hour wait, and there’s nothing much that I could do during that time (I didn’t think I needed to practice anymore). The teams before me delivered error-free pitches (at least I couldn’t tell) and then it was my turn. To tell you the truth, I went on auto-pilot and relied on my practicing. I don’t remember what I actually did, except I know that I screwed up in (at least) 2 places: 1) I forgot to say one line (but it was repetition/support) and 2) I forgot to advance the animations on my slide until near the end (wasn’t too bad, but wanted to give audience more time to read). I might have screwed up in other places but I really can’t remember so I’ll have to wait to watch a tape.

I had several people come up to me afterwards and say that I had the best pitch that night! (although I’m not sure if it’s true or whether they were buttering me up for something else). Of course the highlight was coming in second place, but getting a photo with Robert Herjavic was also really great:

I’ve seen him a lot on Dragon’s Den and he is a celebrity. One more photo to add to my with-celebrities album!

March 2014

March was a long month and a lot of things happened. At the beginning of the month, I spent 48 hours competing in a hackathon using Canadian Open Data (more on that later). Then I went down to NY for work during March Break. Surprisingly, the weather was exceedingly nice. It went up to 18°C (as my phone reported)! Then I had to fly back later that night and the next day there was a big snowstorm in Toronto. The weather was still pretty crazy but it settled into a cool Spring weather by the end of the month (still less than 10°C)

The big (at least most interesting to me) news story of the month was the Malaysia Airlines plane that went “missing”. How, in this technologically connected world, do you “lose” a plane is beyond me. It’s been almost an entire month and they’ve only narrowed their search down to a particular area of the Indian Ocean. They still don’t know the motive (if any) or the reason why the plane was diverted and ended up there. I suppose they will have a better idea once they’ve located the plane, but that doesn’t seem like it will happen soon!

In addition to the actual hackathon, I spent a lot of time this month actually improving A Healthier Commute. On the code side, I’ve been prototyping how I can track driving trips and have been somewhat successful (under optimal conditions). There’s also been a lot of work on the product side, mainly because I was one of the finalist for the event. I had to produce a bunch of videos, prepare a presentation and a bunch of other paperwork-type things. Then, I had to practice the presentation a lot (I figure I did it maybe 100 times from initial conception, through the tweaks, until I actually pitched it). It’s almost like another job!

But, it’s been fun. Mostly because I don’t really do this that often and there is a guaranteed audience (to hear my presentation at least) so it’s not like I’m doing all of this into a vacuum and just posting about it on my blog. In any case, the pitch went relatively successful and I ended up placing second in the competition. So not only was it exciting and interesting, it was rewarding!

Threes

I heard about Threes earlier this month and it was the new puzzle game darling on mobile. But it was for iOS (and a paid app) so while I had some desire to try it, it wasn’t that strong. Later this month it appeared on Android. It still cost money ($1.99, being 33.3% off) so I was still not really willing to pay for it.

Fortunately, there are a lot of free(mium) clones around. I tried one called Fives which has the same mechanics but different numbers. I played it for a couple of days. It started slow, but eventually I learned more of the patterns and it started getting more interesting and challenging. While I might start some puzzle games like these, I tend to give up after awhile because it requires too much thinking. But I think this game concept is a good combination of quick rewards and not-too-tough patterns. Kind of like Sudoku.

After a point, I decided that I might as well spend the $2 on the official game instead of paying money to remove ads on a clone. I had some credit in my Google account anyways. While the mechanics are the same, I think Threes is a much better game. The details and design are important and you can tell that there is a lot of polish in Threes to improve those. In fact, they wrote a very long and detailed blog about how much time they spent on the design.

After playing the game some more, I think it’s both a game which you can spend a lot of time thinking about, but also one that you can play quickly. I enjoy playing it quickly because I don’t want to stress out about it, and only really start thinking when my board is full (or 1 or 2 spots open). The early stages of the game seems kind of a bore to me as I’m just moving pieces around until my board is full. But if you were serious, I think you would spend a lot of time setting up your board from the beginning and then maintaining that setup as you continue.

A Healthier Commute Videos

I’ve always marveled how startups and Kickstarter campaigns can come up with great videos about their products. I just don’t have the video chops or the tools to make videos like that! Unfortunately, I had the opportunity to make a couple of videos for A Healthier Commute as part of the things I need to do for the CODE Hackathon.

It was very difficult and a big pain. Making a video is harder than making the app, especially because I am nowhere near happy with the outcome. Here’s my first video:

I feel I have good branding and slides, but everything else is tough. It’s tough to control the phone and talk at the same time. It’s tough to get your message down in the minimum amount of time. And it’s tough just to assemble the video together.

Certainly I wasn’t happy with this video, but at least I had something to pass this gate.

Next, I was asked to produce a 15 second video. Not only is that not a lot of time at all, there was a collection of information that must be in the video. Here’s what I came up with:

I think this video is better than the first one. I spent more time thinking about my message and how to cut it down so it’s more concise and direct. 15 seconds isn’t a lot of time, it’s half a TV commercial! But this video still took about 4 hours to make.

Then I started working on version 2 of my teaser/about video. Here’s the result:

Each video is better than the last, and for this one I had spent a lot more time thinking about the positioning and how to convincingly present my argument. I’m happy with the message. However, I’m still not happy with the video itself. I actually wanted to do a bunch of different animations for my slides, but I just don’t have the tools to do it (I don’t have Powerpoint/Keynote either!). I suppose if I had a slick presentation I could do a screencast and then record it; but ideally I’d want some software where all the images are objects that I can animate around (sounds like some Adobe product).

It’s important to be a designer (or have a designer hat) when building. I’m better at graphics now. But with the advent of YouTube, it’s important to have video skills, and I have neither that or the right tools!

Better GG

I’ve complained in the past that even though Girls’ Generation is a huge KPop group, they seem to get low quality songs. I complained about their previous big single I Got A Boy as being a bit weird and Hip-Hop style rather than Pop (which is true). But that track won the 2013 Video of the Year from YouTube so I guess they proved me wrong. Although I still think that that single deviates from their core fan base; I suppose they have aspirations to be a group famous worldwide (instead of just Asia) so that could explain their song decision.

The lead single from their “4th mini album” is different. Mr. Mr. is a pop track and has a catchy hook. But there is a breakdown near the end which has a North American dance beat. Maybe it’ll be their cross over hit?

Another single I like (although this is from a Japanese release awhile back) is Beep Beep. It has a neat video, but for some reason I can never find a correct version online (either the video is cut off or the video extends beyond the song as if the music was added on after the fact). Here’s a live version