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The Imitation Game

The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing and his work in breaking the Enigma machine that helped shorten WW2 for the Allies. It is also a movie with a sub-theme of being different – whether its autistic, non-military, female or gay. I watched it on my Air Canada flight from SFO -> YYZ (aside: I was originally scheduled to take AA with a stop in DFW, but bad weather caused AA to rebook me on a non-stop with Air Canada).

I didn’t really know the history and after watching it, I was somewhat curious about reading it on Wikipedia. But since I saw it on a flight, I moved on with my life. Curiosity, however, got the best of me and I later found this article that talked about the deviations from history – some are quite significant, but most of the broad strokes are correct.

Although this movie had a lot of Oscar buzz (and was one reason why I chose to watch it), I didn’t find it to be that great of a movie. I wasn’t bored, but I was also a captive audience. I guess I would rate The Imitation Game a 3 out of 5 stars.

2015 Playoffs: Round Never

Well the torturous regular season is over for the Maple Leafs and the playoffs have started. Usually, this means that I start blogging my predictions of each playoff series and compare how prescient I am.

Well this year, I decided that I won’t be doing this. I haven’t been following hockey this year due to the mess that is the Leafs (I expected this season to be horrible from the beginning) and any of my guesses would just be based on impressions of previous years’ results and rosters. I think that would especially be bad because there seems to be a changing of the guard going on – established teams like Boston, LA, Pittsburgh are floundering; and there are new up and comers (NYI, Winnipeg, Calgary??)

I’m excited that the Leafs cleared house and have to hire new scouts and head office. But the rebuild process is going to take a few years so I might have to wait before checking in on them again.

Pocket Queue 55

  • Should You Bring Your Unborn Baby to Work?
    It’s not so much a question of should you work with an unborn baby, but how much work is too much. The scientific data however, seems inconclusive.

    One possible explanation for the differing outcomes is this: contrasting social realities may affect how citizens of different countries respond to stressors. Denmark and other Nordic countries have legendary social safety nets, including laws that require employers to accommodate pregnant women by changing their duties or, if they can’t, allowing the women to go on leave. The absence of a relationship between maternal stress and preterm birth in Denmark, Danish scientists note, may really show that preventive measures are working, not that job strain never causes problems.

  • The Credit Card Obsessives Who Game the System—and Share Their Secrets Online
    A light story about the world of credit card bloggers and the lifestyles that they seem to live due to their livelihood.

    “My friends and I say, ‘Chase the fare, not the destination,’” admits Michael Rubiano, a tech consultant who’s been collecting credit card miles for 25 years and calls himself a points “junkie.” Ben Schlappig, the 24-year-old blogger behind One Mile at a Time, kickstarted his points obsession at the tender age of 14 by doing mileage runs, taking trips for the sole purpose of earning miles. He adds that “a large part of the community doesn’t actually like to travel, but they love gaming the system.”

  • The Hidden Effects of Cheap Oil
    We celebrate cheap gas prices, but there are going to be ripples around the world that we don’t really think about.

    The collapsing price of oil played a role in the recent rapprochement between Cuba and the United States. Venezuela’s economic crisis heightened the risk that Havana would no longer be able to count on the enormous subsidy it has enjoyed for more than a decade from Caracas. The Cuban regime was thus eager to find another source of economic support. It found one in America.

  • Inside the Mad, Mad World of TripAdvisor
    I think TripAdvisor is useful, but has the same issues as other review sites like Yelp and Amazon which this article calls out: It’s not always easy to put yourself in the shoes of a biased review, so you probably won’t have the same experience.

    Those reviews carry demonstrable weight. A study by Cornell University’s Center for Hospitality Research found that for every percentage point a hotel improves its online reputation, its “RevPAR” (revenue per available room) goes up by 1.4 percent; for every point its reputation improves on a five-point scale, a hotel can raise prices by 11 percent without seeing bookings fall off. This has been a boon for smaller, midpriced, independently owned hotels. “Twenty years ago, the brands owned the sense of quality,” says Bjorn Hanson, a professor at New York University’s Tisch Center for Hospitality and Tourism. “If I stayed at a big-name hotel, I knew what I was getting.” That sense of confidence in quality, argues Hanson, has been supplanted by TripAdvisor.

  • About Face
    The plastic surgery industry in South Korea is pretty well known, but this is still an interesting article into how it is done and the rationale of why people do it.

    “When you’re nineteen, all the girls get plastic surgery, so if you don’t do it, after a few years, your friends will all look better, but you will look like your unimproved you,” a college student who’d had a double-eyelid procedure told me. “We want to have surgeries while we are young so we can have our new faces for a long time,” another young woman said.

Pocket Queue 54

  • The Talking Cure
    There’s a gap between preschoolers of wealthier and poorer families and one city’s attempt to bridge this gap is by running a program to encourage parents from less affluent families to talk to their kids more.

    In 2005, a research foundation named LENA (for Language Environment Analysis) had developed a small digital device that could record for sixteen hours and recognize adult words, child vocalizations, and conversational turns. Such distinctions were important, because researchers had determined that merely overheard speech—a mother holding a child on her lap but talking on the phone, for instance—contributed less to language development. The LENA recorder could also distinguish between actual people speaking in a child’s earshot and sounds from TVs and other electronic devices; children under the age of two appear to learn language only from other humans. The device was about the size of an iPod, and it fit into the pocket of a specially designed vest or pair of overalls. (Children soon forgot about the devices, though they occasionally ended up in the toilet or in the dog’s bed.)

  • The Truth About Your Smile
    A couple of tips that your dentist may have not told you (or maybe you weren’t listening). Some seem a bit far fetched, but a couple seem to be consistent with what I hear. So maybe they are all true?

    Gum, mouthwash, and mints can’t address odor that ultimately comes from the stomach, but cloves (yes, the little sticks that you often put inside of potpourri and Jack-O-Lanterns) have been proven to kill odor-causing bacteria in the mouth—they don’t just mask it like gum or mouthwash or mints do. My family have all known about this and practiced it for years (my parents and I all carry around little tins filled with cloves instead of mints, and I think its because we love garlic-y hummus but we hate bad breath). I suck on one before important meetings and hot dates.

  • The Rich Man’s Dropout Club
    In 2010, Peter Thiel gave 24 people who haven’t graduated college $100,000 to skip it. Here’s how some of them turned out – TLDR: No major success stories yet. Although I think this argues for gap year(s) where young adults can pursue some non-academic experience.

    One fellow, John Marbach, left the program after his first year. One of the younger participants, he felt out of step with the others. “The Thiel Foundation said, ‘Oh, we’d be happy to introduce you to VCs and CEOs and coaches,’” he recalls. “But there was no, like, ‘Oh, we could introduce you to some normal friends.’” He returned to Wake Forest and will graduate this year.

  • The Rat Tribe of Beijing
    A couple of stories about people in Beijing who live underground in converted bunkers – the rooms are still tiny, but at least the rent is a bit cheaper. Oh yeah, it’s illegal of course.
  • This Michigan Farmer Made $4 Million Smuggling Rare Pez Containers into the U.S.
    No doubt there is some hyperbole here to make the story read better, but this is a rags to riches story fueled by OCD about collecting.

    Steve first noticed Pez while hawking cereal-box toys at the Kane County toy fair outside Chicago. The psychedelic colors and addictive collectibility of the dispensers immediately hooked him. “I learned that Canada got different stock straight from Pez factories in Europe,” he says. Weeks later he began making pilgrimages north to buy boxes of rare Merry Melody Maker dispensers (with built-in whistles) and Disney designs, for mere pennies. In Michigan, Joshua organized the stock and sold it to American collectors via mail order at up to $50 apiece. The Glews could finally afford clothes and food. Steve’s Dumpster-diving days were over.

March 2015

March seemed to promise some warmer weather and I guess it delivered to a certain extent compared to the average 10-below temperatures of the previous month. However, the day time temperatures still hovered around the freezing point so it was difficult to take the kids outside.

The most interesting news story for me this month was the crash of a germanwings flight into the French alps. Currently, it looks like the co-pilot locked the pilot out of the cockpit and calmly crashed the plane into the mountains killing all on board. There seems to be a lot of plane related events ever since Malaysia flight MH370 disappeared a year ago. The same week, an Air Canada jet crash landed in Halifax (everyone was safe fortunately).

Jovian finally learned how to crawl this month and is starting to motor around. He’s practicing standing but not able to get up on this own yet. Apollo is turning 2.5 y/o next month. We started using our Science Centre membership this month, I think we went 3 times and had plans to go a couple more but other things came up. That’s almost getting full value for the membership in a month!

I made 2 trips to the US this month, the first for work in NYC and the second was a short overnight trip to Buffalo for shopping. Jovian also passed his NEXUS interview so now our entire family has NEXUS membership again in case we need to use that.

Scarborough Diversity

Scarborough received some English-world press this month when food blogger Tyler Cowan (more well known in his alter ego as an Economist or as blogger on Marginal REVOLUTION) visited it and raved about the quality and diversity of its multicultural food.

You always hear that NYC is a melting pot of different cultures but I think Canadians know that Toronto is very similar even if it’s not that well known in the world. I went to the mall I grew up in in Scarborough this weekend and walked around for an hour or two. In that time, I saw a couple of mixed couples (one caucasian) and only group (pair) of caucasian people. The remaining visitors to the quite busy mall were Asian, Indian, African and other races. I’m sure that the demographic is a different downtown and maybe other neighborhoods in Toronto, but at least in Northeast Scarborough, you can tell where the renown of its food diversity is coming from.

Pocket Queue 53

  • Is the IKEA ethos comfy or creepy?
    A look at the cult-ure that is IKEA, and how it became successful.

    In 2007, BJURSTA, an extendable oak-veneer dining table, cost two hundred and ninety-nine dollars. Mindful of the recession and of rising wood prices, IKEA hollowed out the legs (which reduced the weight, making transport cheaper) and consolidated the manufacture of parts (bigger orders cost less). Customers appreciated that the table was lighter and less expensive. The more tables they bought, the more IKEA lowered the price. By 2011, BJURSTA cost a hundred and ninety-nine dollars.

  • The Aging of Abercrombie & Fitch
    In contrast, here’s the story of how Abercrombie & Fitch went from a success to an also-ran.

    Abercrombie & Fitch went public in 1996. It had about 125 stores, sales of $335 million, and profits of almost $25 million. Jeffries wrote a 29-page “Look Book” for the sales staff. Women weren’t allowed to wear makeup or colored nail polish. Most jewelry was forbidden. So were tattoos. Hair had to be natural and preferably long. Men couldn’t have beards or mustaches. The only greeting allowed was: “Hey, what’s going on?” Store managers spent one day a week at their local college campus recruiting kids with the right look. They started with the fraternities, sororities, and sports teams. Managers forwarded photos of potential employees to headquarters for approval.

  • Have a scientific problem? Steal an answer from nature
    I thought this article would talk about how we’re using nature as a muse to solve problems, but instead it just talked about how nature has solved its problems in the optimal way.

    Some of the most interesting examples of optimality in biology take the form of exquisitely sensitive and discriminating sensors. Our own eyes provide a surprising instance of this. We are all aware that our vision is not the best to be found in the animal kingdom. We can’t see in the dark like many of our pets, and we have nothing close to the acuity of a bird of prey. But inside our eyes, on our retinas, are photoreceptors that can detect individual photons. The quantum nature of light means that, for light in the visible (to us) spectrum, it is physically impossible for our photoreceptors to be any better.

  • Father, Son and the Double Helix
    The use of genetic testing is a burgeoning industry…in India….to determine if a son is legitimate or not. I guess it’s not that surprising that commercial application of the science is happening, and it makes a lot of sense in this case.

    The trickiest case of a child swap he has dealt with was also one that became a primetime sensation. “In the late 80s, I came to India from the US at the request of the Delhi Police, who were facing incredible pressure to solve a child swap case in Safdarjung Hospital that was all over the media,” he says. Five couples had had babies in the hospital on the same day, four of them had died, and the only one alive, a girl child, was being turned down by the supposed mother, who claimed she remembered feeding a male baby before it was taken from her by the staff for a clean- up. “This was double trouble. Where was her child, then, and who did the baby girl belong to? The police brought up the remaining four couples and I took all their DNA samples. But meanwhile, the police was in a hurry to close the publicised case so they brought a male baby found at a railway crossing and gave it to the mother saying that must be her missing son. Before I could present the results of the paternity and maternity tests, the mother had accepted the boy as her own, even persuading me to believe that the newborn’s nose was just like her husband’s.” Dr Mehra, how ever, carried on with the investigations and what emerged at the end of it was bewildering. “We dug up the remains of the four dead children. It turned out that the lady’s son was amongst the dead, and the baby girl belonged to one of four couples who had gone back to their village and observed every ritual of mourning for the dead child. The woman who had lost the son decided to keep the baby from the railway track and raise it as her own.”

  • Scorched Earth, 2200AD
    A somewhat disappointing article which teased to talk about how we would live in the climate changed Earth of next century, but only a few paragraphs are spent on that topic.

Android Games 22

SuperStar SMTown is a f2p rhythm game based on SM Entertainment’s (one of the big 3 music labels in Korea) musical artists. It’s only available in Korea (translated into English) but I was able to get a copy of the APK elsewhere on the Internet. It’s decent as a rhythm game, although a bit difficult – Easy is more like Normal, and Normal is Hard (can’t get anywhere on the first level of Hard…). There’s also an interesting card collecting/upgrading concept (which is one reason why the game is difficult) to increase replay value and to drive IAP sales. But what makes or breaks a rhythm game is the song selection and that’s where it gets interesting. All the songs are free and are the top hits from various SM artists. I started playing the game due to the SNSD-related songs, but the game has exposed me to a lot of hits from other artists (spoiler: most songs suck). This is actually a really clever strategy to gain more fans for some less popular groups, as they made the rules in the game such that you have to play all the songs (and songs from different artists) to succeed.

I download 80 Days as part of an Amazon freebie event and it has languished on my phone for several months. I finally got around to trying it and was pleasantly surprised with it. The premise is that you must travel around the world in 80 days (like the Jules Verne book) using technologies from (I suppose) the late 19th century, although there is mythology in the world so it’s not exactly history. There is no action in the game, but it plays out like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. You spend most of your time reading, but the gameplay is somewhat randomized (and there’s obviously many ways to circumnavigate the globe) so it’s actually quite captivating. The art and direction is also refreshing, so this is quite a good and interesting game to play.

USB Cables

One of my random Chinese purchases recently was a little device that measure how much current is being sent through a USB cable or being provided by a USB charger. What drove me to buy one of these? Curiosity!

I have a lot of USB chargers that I’ve accumulated from buying gadgets. I also bought many chargers independently because I wanted chargers with multiple ports, or chargers that provided higher current (random Chinese charger would provide 0.5A, but I wanted “tablet” level ones that provide 2A), or both! After a lot of experimentation to see which is better, I’ve settled on the Blackberry Blade chargers and have bought 6 of them. They don’t have a separate USB cord, but they consistently charge fast (rated at 1.8A). I don’t use any of my other wall chargers now.

So it might seem that this little dongle is useless to me, but I actually spent a few hours doing tests on my USB cables. Like chargers, I have many from buying gadgets, and a lot of different colored/designed ones from Deal Extreme. Surprisingly, I have no USB cables that can carry more than 1A of current! That means all the money I spent on 2A chargers is useless! In fact, the majority of the cables I have suck. Here’s what I found:

  • Most Chinese cables (3ft) provide ~0.4A
  • Long cables provide significantly worse current. I think they are 3M long (so 9-10ft) and they provide only ~0.2A
  • Some Chinese cables basically provide NO current (0.02A?). Devices still seem to charge on them though
  • Some cables for devices that I didn’t buy from China also provide less than 0.5A. You don’t always get what you pay for
  • The better cables are from recent phones bought in North America. However, they still vary a lot from 0.8A – 1A
  • Short cables (~10cm) from China do pretty well. They get 1A
  • Apparently 28/24 gauge cables are better, but you can’t seem to buy them from China (or at least those specs aren’t advertised). I bought some from Monoprice and will have to run some tests when I get them to see whether they can carry 2A

Pocket Queue 52

  • How Facebook and Candy Crush Got You Hooked
    A short article about a theory on why we get hooked on things like games and using apps. A good surface look but some associated reading is needed to really dig into the topic.
  • What Happened When Marissa Mayer Tried to Be Steve Jobs
    After 2 years on the job as Yahoo!’s CEO, Marissa Mayer hasn’t really turned the ship around as she was meant to. This article takes a look at her changes – where she’s succeeded, and where she seems to be struggling.

    Mayer also had a habit of operating on her own time. Every Monday at 3 p.m. Pacific, she asked her direct reports to gather for a three-hour meeting. Mayer demanded all of her staff across the world join the call, so executives from New York, where it was 6 p.m., and Europe, where it was 11 p.m. or later, would dial in, too. Invariably, Mayer herself would be at least 45 minutes late; some calls were so delayed that Yahoo executives in Europe couldn’t hang up till after 3 a.m.

  • Whitewood under Siege
    A fascinating inside the world of…shipping pallets – you know, those things that you see in warehouse where goods are stacked on. There’s apparently a long battle between a couple of different business models/companies and possibly some technological revolutions in the future

    For more than half a century, pallet futurists have announced the next big thing, only to see the basic wooden variety remain the workhorse of global logistics. “Lots of people have tried to invent a better pallet,” Robert Bush, a professor at Virginia Tech affiliated with the school’s Center for Packaging and Unit Load Design, told me. “We see them almost every day at our testing lab. But it’s harder than people think. It’s surprisingly hard. It’s one of those things that people got pretty close to right the first time.”

  • Christmas Tree, Inc
    A somewhat bland, but informative article on how Christmas trees are “farmed” and how they end up in your millions of home across America.

    “We’ve seen [a bust] four times in the last 40 years. That’s how stupid we are,” Ken says. “Just as sure as we’re sitting here, we will overplant again, and there will be an over-harvest of Christmas trees in 2022.”

    But, as Ken noted optimistically, trees will be really expensive in 2016 — a six-foot Noble fir that cost $16.75 wholesale in 2013 might be as high as $22.

    And people will pay. The recession did not impact the demand for Christmas trees, for instance. Christmas trees are remarkably recession-proof. People will find that $40, even if it’s been a tough year.

  • Sneaking Into The Super Bowl — And Everything Else
    A story about sneaking into a bunch of sporting events like college football and the World Series. There’s also a teaser about sneaking into the Super Bowl, but you’ll need to buy his book (which doesn’t have a publisher yet) to read that… actually after reading the article, it’s not really that interesting.

    Cooper passed through the turnstile and turned left. Confidently, I strode through the same turnstile, my right hand reaching deep into my pocket, the ticket taker on my right. She paused ever so briefly, as if to convey that her elderly mind wasn’t processing why things were taking place out of order — that her monotonous task had been inexplicably altered in some way. I looked straight ahead and said nothing.