Do people like, still blog?

July 2014

We spent this month growing Jovian! We didn’t venture out much for the first two weeks, but started going out more frequently in the latter half of the month. Jovian seems to be growing bigger quickly. I don’t remember how quickly Apollo grew though so it’s difficult to compare.

Taking care of Jovian has been relatively straightforward (even with random poo explosions). We didn’t have to learn the ropes again, but we had to re-learn a lot of things that were forgotten. Here’s a somewhat recent picture (although all babies kind of look the same):

I had to travel down to NYC for work 2 weeks after Jovian was born, but that ended up being pretty uneventful both at home and at work (although the trip had some bumps).

Hopefully next month will be more exciting as we can start taking Jovian out more. Only two more months until he doesn’t just sleep and poo – can’t wait!

Minor Surgery on my Series9

I did some minor surgery on my laptop today to fix an annoying problem that I was having. Lately the left side of my trackpad hasn’t been working. It started first by not responding to clicks, so I trained myself to click a little further to the right. Then it started getting worse and I couldn’t drag over the bottom left corner of the trackpad. I also had to click even further to the right – and about a third of my left clicks ended up being registered as right clicks. That’s really annoying.

On the surface, it was pretty obvious what was wrong. The bottom right corner of the trackpad bulged over the case so it seemed as though the left side was permanently depressed (at least it couldn’t discriminate state transitions from unpressed to pressed). Originally I thought this was a manufacturing defect that had degraded due to wear-and-tear, but then I noticed that my laptop was a bit lopsided; it didn’t sit stable on the table. I realized that the right side of my laptop was thicker than the left.

Some research on the web revealed that I had a swollen battery. Apparently lithium-ion batteries can swell if they overheat, and I had a case of that. There were 2 remedies, you could either replace the battery or you could punch tiny holes in the battery to let the toxic gas out (it swells because there is a chemical reaction that changes some of the battery into a gas). The latter seemed kind of dangerous so I tried the first approach.

I ordered a new battery from HK, it cost about a hundred bucks. Surprisingly, it arrived in only a few days (with free shipping!). It was shipped via DHL as dangerous goods, unlike the other HK place I buy from. I had bookmarked this tutorial on how to change the battery, but honestly it was very straightforward. It was useful to see photos to know what to expect though.

The screws on the case were relatively easy to remove except for two of them right above the battery. By that time I had stripped my screwdriver so was using an eyeglass screwdriver (tough to get leverage). I think these two were extra tough because the battery was bulging on top of this area and causing a lot of resistance. Luckily I didn’t strip the screws and ended up taking them off once I found a longer screwdriver.

Unscrewing the battery was a similar experience. I got them all out except for the last screw. These screws were made of a softer material so I did strip the last screw and couldn’t take it off. I ended up just bending the old battery so that it snapped off the screw that was stuck on (and made the same mod on the new battery). Everything seems to work so far (laptop still works, case is flush, trackpad fixed itself and battery can charge). Not sure if my battery life will be affected with a non-OEM battery though.

Here’s what my battery looked like before surgery. You can see that there are 4 cells and the two closest cells are no longer flush. The closest cell is the most swollen and I think that’s because it’s the closest to the CPU (white sticker between battery and fan). It sure looks like it’s an overheating problem.

Hearthstone’s Curse of Naxxramas

I was eagerly awaiting Hearthstone’s first single player adventure, the Curse of Naxxramas because I was hoping that it would be a fun single player experience that I could play offline. Now that the expansion is finally out, I’m kind of disappointed.

While there is a loose structure of a plot, the expansion can really be summarized as follows:

  • 15 battles against new heroes and set decks, where you win a new card for each victory.
  • Class challenges where you use a set deck and hero, and fight another set deck/hero combo. You get another card for each victory
  • Heroic mode where you can win a new card back if you complete it

The first wing (of 5) was free so I tried it out. I got through the 3 battles and 2 class challenges pretty quickly (on the first try). I was disappointed that the single player was simply more straightforward card battles. Sure the new cards are fun to see (and possibly use), but there’s no real collecting aspect to the game (i.e., you can’t grind for anything new).

I had saved up in-game gold to potentially buy additional wings. It costs 700 gold, but if you want to spend real money you get a slight discount ($20 for remaining 4 wings). I had considered just buying the wings and using the gold on additional card packs; but I also realized that I would always get more gold to buy card packs. So I might as well spend it on wings. Now I’m conflicted. You’re basically paying 700 gold for 6 new cards (one of which is legendary). If you spent it on packs, you would get up to 35 new cards, with at least 7 of those rare or better (but possibly no legendaries).

It’s too bad that the single player experience just isn’t great enough that the decision is easy.

Lots of Mr. Mr.

Apollo loves watching Girls’ Generation dance to Mr. Mr. so I end up playing the video for him via YouTube. Luckily for Apollo, there are many, many versions of Mr. Mr. during the brief promotional period for the hit. Here are some official and fan links:

  1. Official MV
  2. Official dance practice
  3. M! Countdown 20140306
  4. KBS Music Bank 20140307
  5. Music Core 20140308
  6. Inkigayo 20140309
  7. SBS The Show 20140311
  8. M! Countdown 20140313
  9. Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook 20140314
  10. KBS Music Bank 20140314
  11. Music Core 20140315
  12. Inkigayo 20140316
  13. Show Champion 20140319
  14. Music Core 20140322
  15. Inkigayo 20140323
  16. KBS Music Bank 20140328
  17. Inkigayo 20140330
  18. SBS 20140615

I think the dancing & choreography is actually quite interesting and inventive. KPop groups are known for their synchronized dancing, but the videos actually depart from this idea and the camera work focuses on individuals. My favorite version is the dance practice version, because you can see how the members cycle around to enable the focusing.

Adventures in Flying Porter

Last July when I flew Porter to NYC for work, I had to stay an extra night in NJ because my departing flight was delayed for too long due to thunderstorms (and the early curfew at YTZ). Out of that trip I ended up with $150 in vouchers/credits which were expiring soon. So I used them on my most recent trip down for work (although somehow, only the $50 voucher worked).

Coincidentally, on the day I was going to depart NYC, I received an email saying that my 20:10 flight had been cancelled, again due to weather (thunderstorms/lightning) and that I had been moved to a flight on the next day. I didn’t really want to do that because Jovian is still pretty young and I wanted to get home. So I looked at my options for changing my flight.

Through Porter’s web portal, I wasn’t able to change to the 19:30 flight so I tried to call into their call centre to try my luck. It turned out that that flight had been cancelled too! The agent suggested that I try and switch to the flight before that, departing at 18:15. That was way to early for me because I couldn’t get to the airport by then! But then he told me that that flight was already more than an hour delayed (this was around noon).

Meanwhile I had looked at other options. I could book a flight out of another airport for around the same time. But in the end, I figured that if there was a weather delay affecting EWR, it would affect JFK or LGA as well. So I might as well try my luck with Porter (at least the 18:15 flight had a known delay). I went back onto the web portal to change my flight and…the web portal didn’t let me (always showed an error).

So I called into the call center again. After another 30 min wait, I was able to change onto that flight. And I thought all was good!

A little bit later in the afternoon, I checked my flights again and found out that the 18:15 flight had been delayed to past 10PM! I knew this was bad because it was luckly that that flight wouldn’t fly into YTZ due to curfew. I looked at the flight before that, scheduled for 16:00 and it was delayed until 20:35! I could definitely make it to the airport before then so I switched to that one. I was kind of worried that the flight would leave earlier than expected though (does that ever happen)?

In the end, I made the right choice. That flight left “on time”, after the 4h35m delay and I was able to make it home that night. The 18:15 flight ended up being completely cancelled and a co-worker who was flying out of another airport to upstate NY ended up staying an extra night.

The Thieves

I first heard about The Thieves because it was supposed to be a Korean version of Ocean’s Eleven. That was back in 2012, and I sought it out then. Unfortunately the copy I found had subtitles in some other language and so it languished unwatched for a long time.

Until now…because lately I’ve had a lot of opportunity to sit on the sofa (holding a sleeping baby) so I finally found English subs and watched the movie. The similarities to Ocean’s Eleven are merely on the surface – sure it is an ensemble cast cooperating to perform a heist; but the characterization is quite different. Ocean’s Eleven is about glitz, glamour and a con. The Thieves has cons too, many cons. There are a lot of double crossing each other, even though their goal is the same heist.

It’s a fun movie, and 3 out of 5 stars in my book. The main issue I had is that a lot of the scenarios which cause an event to happen just doesn’t make sense (for example, how would they not know that the double agent is a double agent. They were never under deep cover so their identity would have been known). For some reason, there were just many instances that didn’t pass the Willingful Suspension of Disbelief test. Also it doesn’t have that nice feeling in Ocean’s Eleven when all the pieces of the heist falls smoothly into place.

However, it was fun to see the different Asian cultures appear in the same movie. They spoke Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and Japanese in the same movie! I think this movie was better than the other high profile Korean movie I watched

June 2014

The World Cup took place this month. I don’t follow football so I just watched it with casual interest when I had CBC on. I think the most interesting thing was that Spain, England and Portugal were eliminated so early in the tournament. Sucks to be those countries as I guess the restaurant and bar industry took a hit.

It was pretty mild for most of the month, but started getting really hot at the end. The one day that it was really hot though was when I went up to Ottawa. The high was supposed to only be 22-23°C, but it was tough walking around the city in the smog.

We spent June waiting for the arrival of this little guy, Apollo’s younger brother. There wasn’t a lot to do though, as we already had a lot of boy stuff due to Apollo (actually most of the stuff to do was to get Apollo’s baby stuff from storage and set it back up). Finally, Jovian arrived; but it’s going to be a good 3 months before he can really interact with us.

Card Wars – Adventure Time

I’m still playing Hearthstone, but one thing that I dislike about it is that it is very slow in terms of the collectible part of the game. It’s very slow to grind to get new cards – there is opportunity to do it, but beyond a certain limit each day is incredibly difficult. So I’ve been looking around for an additional collectible card game (I think Hearthstone will be around for a long time, so it’s worthwhile to keep collecting it).

The game that most caught my eye was one based off the Adventure Wars franchise called Card Wars. I don’t watch the show but it had a lot of downloads and seem pretty popular. I was wary though, because it cost $4USD to buy AND reviews said that it had a lot of freemium features. Fortunately for me, Amazon had a promotion recently and it was offered for free, so I was able to try it out.

The card game itself is not bad, it has some mechanics that are similar to Hearthstone, and some ones that are different. The best part for me is that it (looks like at least) there is a long quest campaign from which I can collect cards (although it still requires active connection to the Internet).

The freemium mechanics don’t really affect my experience that much. There is a heart system that limits how long you can play. Each game takes at least one heart, and they regenerate one every 15 minutes (and fully if you beat a boss). You start with 5 but as you proceed through quests, you get more. This is fine for me because I’m no longer a little kid playing the same game for hours on end. I have yet to run out of hearts!

Then there is a premium currency (gems) which you can use to buy chests that can give you rare cards. I just ignore those. Finally, you are limited to only 50 cards in your “card box” and you have to pay gems to expand your box (1 gem for 5 spaces). This would probably affect me the most since I want to collect cards. You can get rid of cards by selling or crafting them, but there are different factions so you probably need to store multiple decks at once. I guess the good thing is that the price for expansion is pretty cheap. After a few days of playing, I had 11 gems so that could double my card box if needed.

There are a couple of bad things about the game though. The first, most worrisome thing, is that there is no way to save your progress across devices. While you have an account ID, I haven’t found any way you can sign in to your existing account. So if you lose your phone or it gets wiped, you’ve lost all the cards you collected. Maybe Titanium Backup will help with this though. The game itself is also buggy. It doesn’t feel polished at all, and sometimes the things that get unlocked don’t occur at the right time (you have to re-enter a section).

So far, I think the game is positive (especially because it was free) and worth some time investment. That might change when Hearthstone comes to Android/non-tablet and they release their single player campaign.

Android Games 15

I think the Broken Sword series is supposed to be well known (at least it sold a few hundred thousand copies on Google Play for $7! each), and I got the Director’s Cut as part of that Humble Bundle. I like the idea of the game in theory, it’s a detective/puzzle/adventure game much like Yesterday or Silent Age but with more dialogue; so it plays like a movie. The problem is that the plot and dialogue is written like a bad movie! The triggers to advance the plot are also sometimes really arcane, something that wouldn’t logically follow – so I end up using hints to figure out what to do next.

That Humble Bundle just keeps on giving because I played yet another game from it. Organ Trail is a mix of Oregon Trail with zombies. Oregon Trail was fun when I was in school, but there are so many different games now. Even adding zombies and retro nostalgia cannot keep my attention on it.

Patrick Kane’s Hockey Classic is a decently good game of hockey for Android. It’s similar to the older NHL games (although the characters are more realistic than NHL94) and certainly doesn’t come close to EA Sports, but since there’s no EA Sports NHL for Android, then this is the best so far. Aside from Patrick Kane, they don’t have a license so they have a lot of jerseys in the right colors (but wrong design) and players only have a number. Of course, if you’re a fan; you can figure out who is who. There’s no line changing or any of that complexity so your first line stars are on the ice all the time. My biggest gripe is that the control system seems a bit loose. It might be because I have to play on touchscreen instead of a controller though.

Pocket Queue 44

  • The Burden of Being Messi
    It’s World Cup time, so that means more stories about Messi (previously: a visit to his hometown). Nothing too new here, but a reminder that we’re all waiting for him to succeed.

    “There’s less room for forgiveness for Messi,” Sottile said. They’ve built the team around him, all hopes are pinned on him and yet nobody outside his teammates has his back. Leading your team to a World Cup championship is hard enough to do in a team game, even when everybody in your country loves you. The bar for Messi is so high — it’s not just if Argentina wins, but how — that it’s basically impossible for him to meet it.

  • The Trouble With IBM
    I was still at IBM when Palmisano introduced the Roadmap 2015 plan, and thought it was really aggressive. Now that we’re a little closer to it and more details have come out how IBM is doing, I think it is a good idea that I left when I did.

    That phrase, financial engineering, is a catchall used by critics for the variety of ways IBM has made earnings per share go up even as revenue goes down. The spectrum of maneuvers starts with common practices like dividend increases and share buybacks, and extends to more esoteric tactics like designating major costs as “extraordinary” and devising ways to pay lower tax rates. The most transparent companies present their performance according to generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP. IBM’s 2009 annual report didn’t use the phrase “non-GAAP” at all; the 2013 report used it 125 times.

  • Stairway to Heaven: The Song Remains Pretty Similar
    Is Stairway to Heaven a rip-off? It seems pretty likely. I didn’t know that Led Zeppelin had many other songs that were rip-offs though!

    Ultimately, the legal test isn’t what experts say. Under U.S. law, the standard a jury or judge would apply is whether the song in question sounds like a copy to an ordinary lay listener. To get an idea in this case, I conducted an informal poll of passersby on Los Angeles’s Venice Beach and Hermosa Beach, playing clips from Taurus and asking what song it sounded like. Of the 58 people surveyed, 18 named Stairway to Heaven, without being given any song titles to pick from. It was the only song anyone mentioned by name, with the exception of one young man who recognized it as Taurus.

  • Meet the godfather of wearables
    Title says it all – he’s led the field for awhile, and the lead on Google Glass was one of his students
  • Guys and Dolls: Veteran Toy Designer Wrestles With the Industry’s Gender Divide
    This article starts slow, but then goes into some interesting thoughts about how toys are being made now (especially for girls)

    So we came up with this line of girls’ accessories—they weren’t dolls—based on solving mysteries or going on adventures on your bike and solving puzzles and reading maps and finding hidden things. We came up with this whole campaign, the graphics and color combinations and everything. But the marketing people looked at this and they said, “We can’t sell these,” and we said, “Why?” And they said, “Because little girls can’t read.” And we said, “Well of course girls can read, they go to school.” And they said, “No, no, no. The little girls that we would be selling this to aren’t old enough to read,” meaning 5-year-olds.

    We were designing these toys for 10-year-olds, and it was such an eye-opener that they wouldn’t even consider marketing this type of toy to a 10-year-old. I was crushed to realize that we’re limiting a whole lot of play by only selling toys to girls who are so young that they can’t read. Any kind of feature that involves reading, whether it’s instructions or a special little book or anything like that, isn’t very marketable.