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Concussion

Concussion is the movie in which Will Smith plays a doctor who takes on the NFL in his quest to understand and socialize CTE (Concussion Traumatic Encephalopathy). It talks about his struggle from working in the morgue/being a new immigrant to the US to having his voice heard at one of the largest corporations in America. I watched this movie because I was interested in learning more about CTE and the NFL take on it, rather than hearing the story so I think I came in with different expectations.

I suppose I was more interested in seeing a documentary but ended up watching a movie with a plotline and character development. Due to this, I think my rating of 2 out of 5 stars is using the wrong lens. While I can see that Dr Omalu went through a lot in his life to do what he thought it was right, it was not engaging to me. I also think that the fact it glossed over a lot of the science/research and time it takes to do that while being rigorous is off-putting.

However, what this movie got me interested in is seeing the difference between the Hollywood story and what actually happened. Here’s the original GQ article on CTE.

April 2016

April was a non-typical month in many ways. First, I spent half of it away from home on two trips. The first was a multiple-family trip to Orlando to visit Disney World. We had 3 families and 6 kids in total under 4 so there was a lot of running around and crying at various points of the trip. We were there for a little over a week and visited all 4 of the Disney theme parks. Immediately the day after I came back, I was on another plan to Korea for a work trip. This one was short, only 4 nights, but I still had to spend a lot of time on the plane doing the cross-Pacific travel. Luckily, I had some buffer room at the beginning of the month and at the end of the month to be at home and have some normalcy.

The second reason that April was weird was that it was actually very cold. Unless it snows a lot in May, April will be the snowiest month this winter! The temperatures were under seasonal every day except the week that I was in Korea – there were even days, when we were in Orlando, where the high was below zero (thankfully, we were in +30°C…maybe that’s too hot though)!

I continued playing Star Trek Timelines this month and have a nice crew of max level characters now. I’m actually running out of things to do every day in that game because in building up my crew, I have a big stash of unused equipment so future characters don’t require too much grinding (until they are high level). This month also saw the release of Hearthstone’s Whispers of The Old Gods expansion and standard format. I opened about 25 packs so far and only have 1 legendary (+ the free C’Thun). C’Thun decks are pretty fun at the moment, but that might be a novelty factor.

The Good Dinosaur

The last movie that I watched on my flight to Korea was Pixar’s The Good Dinosaur. I’ve enjoyed most of Pixar’s films but I did not enjoy this one that much. I think the main reason was that it was a kids movie, and unlike previous Pixar movies, it did not have a lot of depth for adults.

What attracted my attention was the What If premise, whereby the meteor that caused the extinction of the dinosaurs missed earth. Dinosaurs began developing a civilized society and humans became scavengers – the little pet human in the movie is like a puppy. Beneath this role reversal is your typical coming of age story.

I didn’t really notice the animation until the end credits (mostly because I was paying attention to the movie), but the animation is really nice. The end credits look like live footage (at least on my airplane screen), with tough subject matter like water and leaves! But sadly, I don’t watch a movie just for the animation so the fact that the story didn’t appeal to me gives this a 2 out of 5 stars.

Spectre

A few months when I was flying to California, I took a look at the movies on the Air Canada inflight entertainment and saw two Bond films: Skyfall and Spectre. I hadn’t seen either but looking at the reviews, I figured that Skyfall would be more interesting. I didn’t get a catch to watch them on those flights, but my flight to Korea had Spectre so I was able to catch that one.

I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Maybe I just hadn’t seen a Bond movie in awhile, but the formula is enjoyable to watch. The plot was convoluted, and perhaps it would have made more sense if I had read up on Bond’s history, but there were enough explosions and fights to keep it interesting. However, this movie must have had one of the most low key car chases ever.

As the movie wore on and the villain was revealed, I felt that the movie started becoming a parody of itself – falling into tropes and clichés. The villain definitely had too much of a flair for the dramatic, and thus begat his downfall. The plot itself was also a little cheesy but that’s ok, because you watch a Bond film for the style, not the substance. Due to this, I liked this one and give it 4 out of 5 stars

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Although I’m not a Star Wars fan, this was the movie I was most interested in watching on my flight to Korea. It’s probably as close to a must-watch movie as there is nowadays. The good thing about not being a Star Wars fan is that it’s easy to avoid spoilers or knowing too much about the movie – the only thing I knew were the protagonists (thanks to some battery commercials on TV) and some mentions on my Facebook feed that it was like A New Hope.

I think the comparisons are pretty apt, the theme and basic plot line is the same thing. One way to think about it is that it is a reboot of the franchise for this generation in addition to being a continuation of the series for old timers. You don’t mess with a formula that works but existing fans will still enjoy it (while reboots like Batman were interesting, Spider-Man was not).

I was a bit surprised at home dumbed down the dialogue and characters were at the beginning. Even though they are probably in their 20s, they acted like kids less than 10. Maybe that was a Disney influence, trying to spawn a generation of young fans. It got better as the action picked up though. I enjoyed watching it but I wasn’t enamoured with the mythos or the universe. There are too many different franchises and the Star Wars universe is just one more. I’m curious to see where the rest of the series goes but this movie by itself rates as a 3 out of 5 stars for me.

Pocket Queue 63

  • Inside China’s Memefacturing Factories, Where The Hottest New Gadgets Are Made
    We’ve been seeing a lot of hoverboards being ridden around so this article is timely. Not surprisingly, the hoverboards are made in China at factories that excel in agile development – they can quickly switch to producing the Next Cool Thing.

    Nearby, a bustling street hums with small restaurants and shops catering to Gaoke’s employees; above them rise identical two-story gray cement apartment blocks, balconies draped with laundry. Across from the the factory’s security gate, a small store stocks discontinued Gaoke products — televisions, rice cookers, English-language instruction cassette tapes — still in their original shrink-wrapping, to be sold at a discount to the factory’s workers. According to the shopkeeper, they’re a captive market and an easy way for Gaoke to get rid of dead stock.

  • For China’s upper middle class, driving for Uber is a cure for loneliness
    An interesting look at Uber in China that focuses on the drivers yes, and their motivation for driving; which turns out to be an excuse to socialize with their passengers. Not sure if this is just a few anecdotes or a real cultural thing – I don’t think people do this in North America.

    For example, he uses Uber to find tennis partners. Signing on Uber’s driver app right after he plays at a court, he is likely to pick up another player, he explained. In this way, he met a man from Portugal who works in the financial industry in Shanghai. They chatted during the ride, friended each other on WeChat, and met up for tennis. “His [tennis] skill is as good as mine,” Fu said, “but his English is even more terrible than mine.”

    He also intentionally picks up Uber passengers after he goes to a state-backed aerospace academy in Beijing to sell electronic components. He wants to know from the passengers coming from the academy “what products they are making,” he said. “I might get some opportunities.”

  • The Digital Dirt
    Whenever I read an article about a company, person or industry; the most interesting thing are the juicy/gossipy stories. That’s what makes this piece about the story behind TMZ so great, it’s basically stories about getting gossip stories. I might not read TMZ, but it’s interesting to read about stories they do, reject, and break.

    Twenty-four hours after the Bieber video came in, the newsroom learned that Levin had decided not to run the story. He did not destroy his copy of the video, however, and Bieber’s camp was aware that Levin could reverse his position and post it. Celebrity secrets are treated like commodities at TMZ, not unlike the way they were treated by J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. “The power of secret information was a gun that Hoover always kept loaded,” Tim Weiner* writes, in “Enemies,” a 2012 book about the bureau. A former writer for TMZ told me that, for Levin, there was more to gain by sitting on the clip, and earning Bieber’s good will, than by running it and ruining his career. (Older gossip publications followed this strategy as well. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the “dark genius” of William d’Alton Mann, the publisher of Town Topics, was his realization that “stories that came into his possession were perhaps worth more untold than told.” In the nineteen-fifties, Confidential gained access to the head of Columbia Studios by leveraging tapes of Rock Hudson that referred to his homosexuality.)

    In the months before TMZ obtained the video, its coverage of Bieber had often been antagonistic; it ran a post suggesting that he had hit a twelve-year-old boy during a game of laser tag. After Braun and Levin had their phone conversation, numerous flattering Bieber-related exclusives appeared on the site: a photograph of Bieber backstage during a commercial shoot; pictures of him getting a haircut; a video of him and his girlfriend Selena Gomez performing karaoke; a story about how he bought “every single flower” at a florist’s and sent the flowers to Gomez’s house; video from a trip that Bieber took to Liverpool; and others, including a report of him watching “Titanic” one night, with Gomez, inside an otherwise vacant Staples Center.

  • The Secret Lives of Tumblr Teens
    This is a bit of a rambling article about teens on Tumblr, why they use it, and how successful they’ve become. That is, until it all comes tumbling down (see what I did there??)

    “‘My best friend recommended it’ was one of my more major contributions,” Lilley said. He read from the post: “‘I lost 24 pounds in four weeks with minor exercise and no change in diet. Here’s how I did it: with this organic supplement’—that doesn’t sound good.” But “ ‘Here’s how I did it: with this organic supplement my best friend recommended’—just seemed to me more real-sounding and … just makes it seem like in the back of someone’s mind they could think, well, my best friend could have recommended this to me.”

    Exposely’s diet pill scheme got going in April 2014, and it worked—it worked like crazy. Trending.ly got almost 7 million views that month, and with the diet pill ads, they sometimes achieved a conversion rate near 10 percent. Once, across all their blogs, Exposely made $24,000 in a single day.

  • Is the Competitive Bridge World Rife with Cheaters?
    This is a fascinating article about how a whistleblower basically showed that a lot of top bridge teams are actually cheating their way to the top. It baffles me that the sport wouldn’t move to an (electronic) system where you can’t signal between players.

    Fred Gitelman, of Bridge Base Online, unveiled a proposed anti-cheating device, an iPad-like tablet on which players manipulate virtual cards—an innovation that the game’s top players have so far resisted, since card feel is a critical part of their experience at the table. The adoption of such a device, however, seems inevitable in a game where the ease of cheating, and the financial inducements to do so, have dogged the professional game since its inception.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2015-2016

Well the Leafs’ season is almost over (3 games left?), although for many of the veterans and those that have been with the team for more than a year, it was done much earlier than now (JvR, Lupul, Hunwick, Kadri were all shut down due to injuries & etc). This year was meant to be a rebuilding year so nothing was expected of the team. At the same time, it was hard to get enthused about the team – I hardly watched any games, but I kept up to date with blogs.

The team saw some high profile trades before and during this season. The faces of the franchise, Kessel & Phaneuf are both gone. The trade deadline wasn’t as exciting as I had hoped, and we weren’t able to convert all of our one-year-contracts into picks; but it opened enough slots to give our prospects some try outs. I’m not sure how the Leaf’s management did it, but they somehow got around the post-trade deadline call up rules and had a ton of Marlies rotating in and out of the lineup. Did we really have that many injuries? Well as long as the NHL doesn’t slap the team on its wrist and cause them to lose a draft pick or two…

I’m not sure if the Leafs will get the 1st overall draft pick. It would be nice to draft Matthews as a franchise 1C but I hear the other picks are pretty promising too. We’ll see what happens – next year the expectations will be higher on the team. Maybe the kids will compete for a playoff spot!

Miitomo

I’ve been closely following Nintendo’s first smartphone “game” Miitomo and I was finally able to download and try it out last week. My interest stemmed from reading the initial description of it. It’s not really a game but a messaging app built around the concept of Miis. I remember creating myself as a Mii about 10 years ago, and they look just as cartoon-y now (although it’s neat you can generate a few versions from a photo). I was quite curious how Nintendo can make this a successful (and profitable) game.

After playing it for awhile, I can see that it may be successful. The target demographic seems to be female and/or young. It drives engagement by providing canned questions that can generate discussion (although in a way, that is also quite limiting to be forced into topics). Monetization is done via standard freemium means – you buy in-game currency which you exchange for clothes that outfit your character. There are a couple of very basic RNG games where you can win some unique clothing items. I can see how this app my appeal to Japanese people, but I don’t think it will be successful in North America (especially the male teen/young adult market).

The app itself also feels unnatural. It’s cross platform, but the UI is completely custom. It feels like a kid created the UI design (which may be on purpose) and feels unfinished (the look and constant appearance of loading indicators are driving me crazy). I hope this aspect improves in the future.

I might leave this app on my phone for awhile, but I’m not sure if it will get prolonged use (I say this about a lot of games and end up playing them for months though).

VR Experience

I’ve had a VR headset (Gear VR) for awhile now (a few weeks? a month?), but it turns out that I never blogged about it. I don’t use it all the time, but it’s still a neat piece of technology to play around with. First, I should say that I’m not very confident in VR being an entirely new industry at the level of mobile phone or a TV. I think VR is a niche that will succeed (very well) in a couple of targeted areas (like movies) but it will never reach a level of general usage. Maybe VR::TV == tablet::smartphone?

I haven’t tried a cardboard or Virtual Boy before. The closest thing I’ve tried to VR is one of those amusement park rides where you’re in an enclosed environment with TVs all around you. The initial experience with VR is pretty great, because you are immersed and you can turn your head around to look in 360° (can’t really walk around the environment). It was fun to look at photos, videos and even play some games.

However, once you get past the initial novel factor, there is not much to do. It’s a hassle to put on the headset (especially since I have to take the phone from charger into headset, and remove glasses) and there’s nothing compelling about using VR right now. It’s analogous to channel surfing – there are so many better and more engaging things to do nowadays. Some of the videos are great and take you to places you’ve never been to (or will ever go to) but there’s nothing that keeps you coming back. Same for games, there are a couple of fun arcade-type things (I haven’t paid $$ for any real game) but nothing that has enough of a story arc to keep me coming back.

I guess I’ll give this another year or two and see what the industry is like at that point.

March 2016

The old adage that March comes “In like a lion, and out like a lamb” wasn’t close to the truth this year. We had a snow storm right at the beginning of March, and another one in the middle (more of an ice storm rather than snow). There was one nice weekend, but otherwise the weather was cold – not spring-like at all. It started raining a lot towards the end of the month with seemingly more rain/snow combos in April. And to think, they predicted one of the earliest Springs on record this year!

I was supposed to fly down to NY this month for some meetings but that got moved a couple of times before being finally postponed indefinitely. I might end up flying for work in April instead now. I spent most of my time this month waiting for slow reveals of the new Hearthstone expansion (Whispers of the Old Gods) and levelling my characters in Star Trek Timelines. I finally got a gamepad for my Gear VR so games are (a little) more interesting. Although, nothing I would pick up and play because its fun.