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The Illusionist

I like movies about magic but was hesitant to watch The Illusionist because I thought that it would pale in comparison to The Prestige, which I liked a lot. However, due to a lack of selection, I ended up watching it.

Magic films are inherently fun because there is the expectation that there is going to be a con – much in the same vein as Ocean’s 11 series. However, the setup is a bit different and more subtle because sleight of hand (sometimes at the macro level) is needed. In The Illusionist, the goal of the con is pretty obvious but for some reason I didn’t realize the con was happening while I watched it (it was obvious afterwards). I guess that’s the sign of an engaging story.

In fact the story is pretty straightforward, a love story between people of two castes, but Edward Norton’s character has a lot of mystery to it (after spending 15 years in the Orient). That helped me enjoy the movie a lot more, and while it is not near the quality of The Prestige, it’s a solid 3 out of 5 stars.

From Vegas To Macau III

I watched this movie because it is in the “God of Gamblers” franchise which I had enjoyed when I was a kid. Some quick researching seems to indicate that this is the 7th movie in the franchise (even though it has a 3 in the name). Since I wasn’t an avid follower of the series, I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t know or understand a lot of the backstory.

I was surprised that this movie is completely wack. It is no surprise that the gamblers have some sort of supernatural powers (i.e., they are super heroes and villains) but I was expecting something more in the vein of the swordplay in olden day Chinese films.

As an aside, on my flight to Korea, I also (re-)watched Hero. I wasn’t sure whether I had watched it completely or not even while I was watching it – some of it was familiar but I had to check after I got back and noticed that I blogged about it previously. The sword play there is unnatural and unreal but it feels like a choreographed dance between the opponents. Similarly, I expect the gamblers to channel some sort power to change cards on the table or whatnot.

Instead, the protagonists have completely crazy powers that make this movie more satirical than anything else. It’s not even a parody of action films like Austin Powers, it’s just completely made up. Maybe the plot is grounded in some sort of story if you watch the previous ones but watching this objectively is somewhat pointless.

I guess one redeeming feature is that the plot keeps moving (because who knows what crazy thing is going to happen next) so it’s not boring. However, it’s subpar even when compared to the plots of summer blockbusters. I’ll give this movie a 2 out of 5.

Stories We Tell

I remembered that Stories We Tell received press and hype at a previous TIFF and to be honest, that was the only reason why I chose to watch this movie/documentary. Well, that and the movie selection on the AC flight to Seoul was pretty lackluster.

This wasn’t my type of my film because it dealt with a “people-story” and wasn’t an easy-to-consume blockbuster, but I was pleasantly surprised that it captivated my attention and kept me engaged more than the other movies I watched on the same day. It is a documentary so I’m not going to be too careful about spoiling it – the film is about Sarah Polley’s discovery that she in fact had a different biological father than her siblings. More than half the film was devoted to describing her mother (died to cancer 20 years ago) and the vibrancy of her life; told through personal interviews with family and friends. Towards the end, there is a “twist” in that the message the movie wants to deliver is not just the story itself, but the idea that a memory of an event is different depending on who tells it.

While I see the intent (you’re kind of beaten over the head with it), I felt the argument is weak because the defining moment that we’re supposed to see that illustrates how everyone’s perspective is different is the foggy memory of who is actually Sarah’s dad. I don’t think it was controversial that Sarah had a different father, and it’s not like there were a lot of answers beyond speculation and guesses.

However, I found the actually story telling and look into Sarah Polley’s private life to be interesting and worthy enough to give this movie a 3 out of 5 stars.

Pocket Queue 67

  • Babies’ brains are wired to learn multiple languages at once
    I think most people know that learning multiple languages is beneficial for kids, but I was surprised how early it needs to be done.

    Between six and 12 months, infants who grow up in monolingual households become more specialized in the subset of sounds in their native language. In other words, they become “native language specialists.” And, by their first birthdays, monolingual infants begin to lose their ability to hear the differences between foreign language sounds.

  • Can Attachment Theory Explain All Our Relationships?
    To add upon the IQ/EQ discussion, this article posits that attachment theory can show and affect a person’s social skills. And these are mostly set by the parents when the child is very young.

    If the baby was upset during separation but sits still as a stone when her mother returns, it’s likely a sign of an insecure attachment. If the baby was relaxed when left alone and is nonplussed by reunion, that’s less significant. If the baby hightails it to her mother, then screeches mid-approach, indicating a change of heart, that’s a worrisome sign too.

    But the most important moment is Reunion No. 2, after the mother leaves again and returns again. If a baby who was upset during separation still does nothing to acknowledge her mother’s return, it’s a sign that the baby, at only a year old, has already come to expect her advances to be rebuffed. If the baby reaches out for love but isn’t able to settle down enough to receive it (or it’s not offered), that may reflect a relationship filled with mixed messages. And if the baby is wild with sadness then jumps like a monkey into the mother’s arms and immediately stops crying, the baby is categorized as secure, coming from a relationship in which she expects her needs to be met.

  • Marie Kondo and the Ruthless War on Stuff
    I’m very confused about this article. It almost seems satirical and from The Onion but it is also disconcertingly serious. Who knew that tidying up was such a big industry and that there were some many subscribers to this way of life.

    At Conference, I met women who organize basements. I met women who organize digital clutter. I met women who organize photos. I met women who categorized themselves as “solopreneurs,” which, what’s that now? I met a woman who organizes thoughts, and please don’t move onto the next sentence until you’ve truly absorbed that: I met a woman who charges $100 per hour for the organization of thoughts. I heard the word “detritus” pronounced three different ways. I met a woman in camouflage (though the invitation begged us to confine ourselves to our native business-casual), who carried a clipboard and called herself Major Mom, and instead of an organizer she calls herself a liberator, like in Falluja.

  • David Chang’s Unified Theory of Deliciousness
    I don’t understand cooking & food but this is an article I can relate to since it takes a scientific approach – David Chang of Momofuku fame talks about how tastes are ingrained in your memory and are reawakened by similar tasting foods

    But here’s the thing. When I taste that dish, I don’t taste Bolognese—I taste mapo tofu, a spicy, flavorful Chinese dish made with soft tofu, Szechuan peppers, and ground pork. I’ve had way more mapo tofu than I’ve had Bolognese, so that resonates more for me. I’d never seen a connection between Bolognese and mapo tofu before, but Joshua had inadvertently discovered this overlap between them. We hit the middle of a Venn diagram, creating something that incorporated enough elements of both mapo tofu and Bolognese that it could evoke both of them, while being neither one precisely.

  • The Top F2P Monetization Tricks and Chasing The Whale
    This one is a two-parter which I might have blogged before (I do remember reading about it before) on monetizing and the freemium model of mobile gaming. It’s already a few years out of date but the basic principles are still in use.

    Another novel way to use a progress gate is to make it look transparent, but to use it as the partition between the skill game and the money game. Candy Crush Saga employs this technique artfully. In that game there is a “river” that costs a very small amount of money to cross. The skill game comes before the river. A player may spend to cross the river, believing that the previous skill game was enjoyable (it was for me) and looking to pay to extend the skill game. No such guarantee is given of course, King just presents a river and does not tell you what is on the other side. The money game is on the other side, and as the first payment is always the hardest, those that cross the river are already prequalified as spenders.

Captain America: Civil War

When I read the comic series upon which this premise was based on, I was very impressed at the scenario and the questions it posed. However, I was not confident that this story arc would transfer well into a single movie, so wasn’t especially looking forward to watching it. Also, I missed Avengers 2 so that was no good either (where did Vision come from?).

There were some good parts that discussed the pros and cons of the human registration act (Sokovia Accords) but overall this was just a beat’em up fest. I liked and disliked the commercial for the Spider-man reboot. It was fun, but it felt forced (although he was in the comic story arc). For whatever reason, the Marvel movies just don’t appeal to me as much as the DCU ones right now. I’ll give this 2 out of 5 stars

The Lobster

This movie was classified under avant garde and caught my attention due to its weird scenario. The world this movie is set in is much like ours except that it is illegal to not be in love. If you are not in love (such as due to divorce or death), you are sent to a special type of hotel to find love. If you don’t meet someone in 45 days, you get transformed into an animal of your choosing – the main character chose a lobster, hence the movie name.

This movie started off really slow and I was thinking of cutting my losses and picking a new one. I kept watching as there wasn’t a strong movie selection this month. I think this movie is a caricature on how society finds love, and the pressures that people feel to find the one so they don’t get labelled as being bad goods. The problem is that the metaphors aren’t very clear and it is difficult to find the parallel to an absurd rule in the movie with our societal norms in real time.

Eventually the protagonist escapes from his 45-day deadline into the arms of “the loners” which as you might guess is the complete opposite of the hotel in which a band of refugees fight for survival with its own set of opposite rules (must not find love).

Aside from societal criticism, The Lobster also tries to shine light on the difference between love and having stuff in common (characteristics or children). It doesn’t really answer that question though (or maybe it is trying to say there is none). In any case, I think this movie is only half baked so I’ll give it a 2 out of 5 stars.

July 2016

We started off July on vacation. This year, I had Friday (Canada Day) and Monday (Independence Day) off so we went on a road trip for kid activities. We passed through Rochester to visit the Strong Museum again, Easton PA to goto the Crayola Experience and finally to Langhore PA to visit Sesame Place. The goal of the trip was to goto Sesame Place, which is like Disneyland for Sesame Street. We spent a full day there, which was sufficient to do all the non-water park stuff. If we wanted to do waterpark stuff, I think we could’ve stayed another day.

I had one work trip this month and it was to Dallas of all places. There’s a pretty big office there (~1000 people) and it was my first time visiting that office, Dallas or Texas. I only went for ~2 days but to be honest there wasn’t a lot of stuff to do there anyways. The weather was exceedingly hot (when I landed at 10PM it was still 32°C and daytime high was at 38-39°C – car thermostat hit 100°F) so I basically just went from car to office/hotel. I also went a week+bit after the shooting/killing of 5 Dallas police officers but didn’t notice a lot of effect from that (flags were half-staff). I ended up driving past the building where the shooter was cornered (still blocked off) and past the Kennedy sites (book depository and grassy knoll).

July was too hot to spend a lot of time outside, that means no parks or backyard play for the kids. In the middle of the month, Apollo started his summer camp so he didn’t get too antsy (plus at the beginning of the month there were a lot of new toys from our trips and Jovian’s birthday).

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

My flight down to Dallas didn’t have VOD on the chair in front of me (AA wanted you to use your own device) but my AC flight back did, so I waited until my return flight to watch Batman vs Superman. I wanted to see it but didn’t have high expectations with it being a DC film – Marvel (except the Spider-man franchise) is the gold standard even though I enjoyed the Nolan Batman trilogy. I also heard that the movie was a bit heavy-handed in the whole “Control of the Gods” theme.

I was pleasantly surprised and enjoyed the film a great deal – it’s at least four out of five stars. I think it was because the film was so dark. In Marvel films, the world is in despair but there is still hope and colour. In BvS, it’s like they took the feel of Gotham and applied it to the entire movie. The dystopia is inevitable so why don’t we begin acting like it.

I don’t have a good example but I also felt the plot gave the feeling of a mature world (like Ultimates vs Avengers). It was no-nonsense and trim. The fights and action were fast and crisp, just like superheroes would handle things. I didn’t feel the concept of the Gods were overblown – let’s be clear, the movie was about the three gods of the DC universe. I found Batman’s actions fitting because he is supposed to be paranoid! Luthor is supposed to scheme, Superman is supposed to do what is right, and well I guess we will see what WW does in the future (she’s more like Catwoman at the beginning than WW). I’m also glad they didn’t overemphasize Batman’s brooding or Superman’s boy scout personality.

This was an efficient and entertaining movie and I hope the future Justice League movies will be similar as I’d rather watch these than the Avengers.

Pocket Queue 66

  • This is what life would actually be like without processed food
    If you’re pedantic about not having any processed food, then this is what you’re going to get:

    The second and considerably more problematic consequence is that even the earliest form of food processing has probably contributed to obesity. When you process food, whether by cooking it or simply cutting it into smaller pieces, you tend to get more energy out of it relative to the energy expended processing and digesting it. So we now get more calories from the same amount of food than we used to, even though it’s no more satiating. Surely, Lieberman said, that helps explain why we’re eating so many more calories than we used to.

  • Handcuffed to Uber
    Here is a side you typically don’t hear about – early employees of Uber can’t leave the company because they can’t pay the tax on their options!

    In a completely hypothetical example, let’s say an early, top Uber engineer was given .5 percent of the company. Now let’s say this person was awarded options in 2011, when Uber raised $11 million in Series A funding at a reported $60 million valuation. His ownership stake at the time would have been $300,000. Yet today, that same stake (undiluted) would now be worth $300 million at Uber’s reported current post-money valuation of $60 billion. That’s a paper gain of $299,700,000.

  • A Bird’s-Eye View of Nature’s Hidden Order
    Fascinating introduction to the idea of hyperuniformity and how it appears in Nature. This is something you inherently know about, but haven’t ever formalized.

    Torquato and a colleague launched the study of hyperuniformity 13 years ago, describing it theoretically and identifying a simple yet surprising example: “You take marbles, you put them in a container, you shake them up until they jam,” Torquato said in his Princeton office this spring. “That system is hyperuniform.”

    The marbles fall into an arrangement, technically called the “maximally random jammed packing,” in which they fill 64 percent of space. (The rest is empty air.) This is less than in the densest possible arrangement of spheres — the lattice packing used to stack oranges in a crate, which fills 74 percent of space. But lattice packings aren’t always possible to achieve. You can’t easily shake a boxful of marbles into a crystalline arrangement.

  • After three weeks in China, it’s clear Beijing is Silicon Valley’s only true competitor
    I’m curious about how tech is run in China given the everything-goes business mindset and standard sweatshop conditions. Those sound like bad points for the industry, but I think that it actually means that they can compete better than western companies.

    In China, there is a company work culture at startups that’s called 9/9/6. It means that regular work hours for most employees are from 9 am to 9 pm, six days a week. If you thought Silicon Valley has intense work hours, think again.

    For founders and top executives, it’s often 9/11/6.5. That’s probably not very efficient and useful (who’s good as a leader when they’re always tired and don’t know their kids?) but totally common.

  • What Are the Odds We Are Living in a Computer Simulation?
    This is a very fascinating article about the idea that we really are in “The Matrix”. It’s fascinating because I’ve thought the idea to be really interesting ever since watching Men In Black when they zoomed out at the end and it turns out that our galaxy was just a marble in a box of some bigger being.

    Bostrom, in his original paper, envisioned a different possibility: if the computational cost of all these nested simulations is too high, he wrote, our simulators might simply click “quit.” The invention of simulation might be the end of the world.

Pokemon Go

While I was never a fan of Pokemon, I had to try playing Pokemon Go because it is the latest craze. On the surface, this game has plenty of stuff that will appeal to me: the location-based gameplay is interesting (and was the reason I tried out Ingress previously), AR is pretty cool, the UI is pretty slick, and I’m a sucker for collecting/levelling games. Plus, everyone who has a smartphone is playing it so why wouldn’t it be good?

Strangely, I played for a bit and it’s just not entertaining to me. The lack of interest/fandom in the Pokemon franchise really kills it for me (especially the levelling part – I’d much rather play a franchise I’m interested in, like Star Trek). I am not out enough to go to Poke-stops or Gyms (even though there are 2 that are 1 minute from my house), and it’s difficult to hunt Pokemon with two little kids on the loose. Without walking around to catch Pokemon, the game is actually incredibly shallow (I just catch Drowzees sitting at home).

I suspect that a lot of people that play will drop it in a few weeks and this will be just another fad like Miitomo and Clash Royale of recent history.