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June 2015

This month, I think I was away from home more than I was here. The first 2 weeks were travelling in Europe with the kids. It took a lot of planning but it went pretty well. We visited some interesting stuff and nothing disasterous happened. Portugal was pretty nice, Spain I didn’t enjoy as much though.

Jovian turned one years old this month. He grew a lot (both physically and in our minds) while we were in Europe and he feels like a toddler now, and not a baby. We didn’t do a party but had a dinner with family. He also practiced his cake eating skills.

After coming back from Europe for a few days and catching up on things (i.e., laundry), I flew out to Silicon Valley for a week for work. Nothing exciting to report there as it was just work and no opportunity for play. And while it’s not part of June, we’re also flying out for a family reunion in the beginning of July so I’ve been flying and travelling a lot in the last few weeks.

I started paying more attention to hockey near the end of the month as well. The NHL awards happened, immediately followed by the draft. There was a lot of trade speculation surrounding the Leafs so that kept my attention. We had a nice pick too but it’ll be a couple of years before we see how that plays out.

Ender’s Game

I enjoyed this book and am glad I finally read it. Like some of the other novels I have read recently, it was engaging and I wanted to keep reading to find out what happened.

The plot is about a child, the human race, and how the child is trained to save the human race from an interstellar enemy. There is a movie version, and I saw a bit of the ending previously. Like most stories, the good guys win – but it was interesting to see how it got to that point. The majority of the book covers the time when Ender (the child) is going through primary school. Of course, instead of primary school with kids – it’s the military…with kids. The battle simulations that he played were fun to read.

The second half of the story, where he actually grows up and embarks on his mission in life was rather short. After the author spent all that time writing about Ender’s “childhood”, I thought there might be more about the actual war. It’s almost like he had a page limit and had to tell the story within the allocated length.

Although this was a fiction novel, I think it was really interesting how authority (and later Ender) engineered situations and brought out leadership capabilities in talented individuals. I’m sure it wouldn’t work in all situations (i.e., non military ones), but reading techniques with a story is definitely much more interesting than a self help book.

I also found it interesting that while the book was written in 1985 and is science fiction, the idea of the Internet and social networks were fairly accurate!

Time for Kessel To Run

In years past, I considered buying a Leafs jersey. The player I would have picked on the back would be Kessel, because I thought he would be a Leaf the longest – maybe not his entire career, but like Iginla, he would be on the team for a significant amount of time that his career would be identified as being with the Toronto Maple Leafs. When Kessel signed his 8-year contract extension, even amidst worries and criticisms about his defense and training regime, it seemed like this would happen.

Alas, I never bought a jersey, and that actually might be good news. Kessel is on the trading block, not because of his ability or his contract (which while large is worthy of his talents), but because his prime hockey years don’t align with Toronto’s rebuilding process.

I think our rebuild is important, overdue, and should be done right. Unfortunately it looks like Kessel’s career with Toronto might be a casualty. It’s sad, but hopefully we will get some picks & prospects for him. Let’s see what happens in the next week or so!

Gone Girl

I watched Gone Girl because it received Oscar press and indeed it is a pretty good movie; but, I have mixed feelings about it. It started off as a mystery movie and I was actually a bit shocked that it had such good press because the dialog in the flashback scene was over the top/too smooth. However the movie got better and better as it progressed (and the issues I had with the dialog finally made sense).

I wouldn’t say that the plot twists are crazy (like Sixth Sense), but there were many layers to this film that starts to mess with your understanding of the world that the characters reside in. In a way, it’s like Inception. It is an interesting look at society, and aside from the media angle, something I would want to read or watch more about. The ending is so jarring and unconventional that it almost begs for a sequel, although I bet a sequel wouldn’t really satisfy the audience.

This movie wasn’t as much of a mind warper as Inception or Memento, but it was the best movie I’ve seen in awhile. I give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Android Games 24

I bought The Firm on a whim because it was pretty cheap ($1 USD) and it seemed like it would be fun. Like Flappy Bird/Crossy Road, it’s an easy game to play but difficult to master – at least the difficulty starts ramping up pretty quickly. The concept however, is not as good as something like Ridiculous Fishing. I don’t think it was a bad purchase (especially with no IAP) but it’s not a game where I am itching to play.

Trexels is an official Star Trek game whose sole reason to exist seems to be so that you can collect the entire bridge crew of TOS or TNG. Like Happy Street, you collect resources and build buildings (rooms in your ship) in the hopes that they will aid you to get the premium currency (Dilithium). Once you have a large number of dilithium, you can buy one bridge crew. There are also away missions that attempt to give it some variety, but all missions play the same way (irrespective of the lame dialog) so the game is rather boring. I played it for a week, but even the appeal of playing a Star Trek game wears thing when are you’re doing is farming.

But Always

But Always is a tragic love story in Mandarin that is set in Beijing and New York City. It’s about a pair of people who have been close to each other for many short periods over a span of 30 years; from when they were in primary school til the present day. Their fates are intertwined even if they are together or apart on purpose or by chance.

I picked out this movie to watch on a flight back from SFO but ran out of time to finish it. Luckily, it is a popular selection under world cinema so I was able to finish it over my flight to Amsterdam.

While the feeling of the movie is strong (good or bad depending where the story is), the plot feels contrived – as if there are a couple of set pieces that the director wanted to film, but he wasn’t sure how to get the characters into place. Because of that, I’m going to give this film a 2 out of 5 stars.

My First Airbnb Experience

I’ve never used Airbnb until my recent trip to Spain, but decided to try it once to see what the hype was about. I booked an (entire) apartment in Seville for 2 nights, and while there was nothing wrong about the experience, using Airbnb just doesn’t seem suited for me.

The first thing that put me off is that it is kind of difficult to “check in”. Unlike a hotel, there is no desk so you have to call someone and have them meet you to pick up the key. Meaning you need a working cell phone and you might need to wait. That just complicates or delays things.

Second, you’re in someone’s home which may or may not have the amenities you expect. Sometimes there’s more stuff than a hotel, sometimes there’s less. It’s actually probably going to be a little bit of both. You can assume or you can ask, but there’s a lot you could potentially ask about.

I can see myself using Airbnb again if I wanted a one-of-a-kind experience that a hotel couldn’t offer, or if I’m traveling with a large group. And I can see how some people may enjoy the more personalized and host-driven experience that a spartan chain hotel; but I think for me I would prefer using hotels rather than Airbnb.

May 2015

I hardly blogged this month and I guess my reason is because I was busy with a lot of vacation planning for the summer. We didn’t have a vacation last year because Jovian was being born, and the year before that, we took Apollo to Asia. This year, we’re going to take both kids with us to Europe and it’s logistically difficult since this is the first time for us to try this sort of undertaking. Looking back, travelling with just one baby must have been a breeze! We’re heading over next month so we’ll see what happens.

We had one week of really hot (summer weather) but the rest of the month was fairly moderate Spring weather. I didn’t have Victoria Day holiday this month because I was working on a US schedule, but I had Memorial Day (the week after off). We didn’t go anywhere special, just a short day trip down to Niagara Falls. It was surprisingly busy, I guess a lot of Americans came over to take advantage of the 1:1.20 exchange rate.

We also have been planning to fix our backyard (i.e., remove grass and make it usable). That has been proving to be a challenge as we couldn’t decided between patio stones and decking. We finally embarked on the decking project at the end of this month though, so hopefully we can enjoy our backyard this summer! One side effect of this is that our backyard is mostly covered in dirt right now, so I’ve only had to cut the grass ones (hopefully that’s all for this year).

Google Photos Backup

At Google I/O, Google announced that their photo service is evolving yet again from Google+ Photos to just Google Photos. Although I’m still using Picasa Web Albums, this was of interest to me because now they claimed that you can store unlimited photos up to 16MP in resolution (I don’t have any 16MP+ cameras). Is this a solution to my photo organization prayer?

In the past year, I had already uploaded, backed up and trusted my music to Google Music. So it’s not a stretch that I would take advantage of free unlimited photo backup from Google right? Well after perusing the service, I don’t think I’m going to use it for three main reasons:

  1. It doesn’t save the original file – that defeats the ability for it to be a backup
  2. I don’t think the interface will scale – I have a lot of folders/albums (100s? 1000s?) so I think the one long feed UI will be problematic. I would rather have a more hierarchical view so I can sort them by year
  3. Photos are more personal than music – While your music collection speaks something about you, it’s not nearly as personal as photos of your friends, family and life. I’m not quite ready to share all of that with Google in a structured manner

While I was hopeful that Google Photos would be a saviour, looks like I have to keep waiting for the perfect service.

Vacation Planning Evolution

Now that we have young children, we don’t do nearly as much vacation planning as we used to (as in, we don’t take as many vacations; not that we fly by the seat of our pants). But when we do vacation planning, the approach is different. I guess you could call it maturity or maybe it’s just an evolution.

  1. Tag-a-longers: When you’re young and not independent yet (i.e., teenagers), you just follow along whever your parents or guide takes you.
  2. Beginning Travelers: Then you have some money and can decide where to go. You hit the guidebooks and visit the “Top 10″ sites of where ever you’re going.
  3. Lonely Planet phase: After you realize that tourist attractions are a bit of a farce (ok some are grand). You just want to wander and absorb the atmosphere. Try and avoid the tourist trap restaurants and seek out the authentic culture of the locale.
  4. Pack in as much in as possible: Turns out that places aren’t that different, or at least you can’t spend enough time in a place to discover its intricacies. So let’s just try and see as many different cities as we can. Shotgun approach will find something interesting! Hopefully.

And now, we’re in the next phase where we’ve seen most of the major travel destinations (Paris, Tokyo, etc), the remaining are too difficult/dangerous with kids, we’re not ready to do yet (i.e., Disney), or just not that interested in (Caribbean). The current philosophy is experience-based – what’s something cool or great that we can do and plan a vacation around that. It might even be something from your bucket list.

The experience forms the general structure, but it’s probably a couple of hours/full day type thing. It’s not an entire vacation, so to fill the rest we try and balance between must-see tourist attractions and finding things to do that are unique or distinctive about the region. The latter is the hard part because it’s not a matter of reading Lonely Planet; it has to be something that captures our imagination as well. That actually takes longer as it requires more research and planning to pull that off.

But I guess if you don’t travel as much anymore, it’s worth it!