Do people like, still blog?

Pocket Queue 56

  • I was an undercover Uber driver
    What is it really like to be an Uber driver? Doesn’t sound so luxurious or much different than a normal taxi driver…

    If there’s a $10 ride, $1 Uber will keep it, for insurance or safety or whatever they want to call it. [This dollar is technically called the “safe rides fee,” but yeah.] And then from $9, they will take 20 percent, that would be $1.80. So after, the driver will take home $7.20.

    If they cut the rate in half, the same ride is now $5. Just example, OK? So Uber takes $1, and then out of $4, Uber takes 80 cents, so the driver will make $3.20. And if the demand is double, then another driver will also make $3.20. So the total driver pay is $6.40 vs. $7.20 before, but customer paid same $10 — means Uber’s taking extra money.

  • Elon Musk’s Space Dream Almost Killed Tesla
    In the late 00s, Several of Elon Musk’s businesses including Tesla and SpaceX were on the brink…of bankruptcy. Here’s a look from the SpaceX angle before he found success.

    Currently, SpaceX sends up about one rocket a month, carrying satellites for companies and nations. The company can undercut its U.S. competitors—Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital Sciences—on price by a wide margin. It also offers U.S. customers a peace of mind that its rivals can’t. Where competitors rely on Russian and other foreign suppliers, SpaceX makes its machines from scratch in the U.S. Its $60 million per launch cost is much less than what Europe and Japan charge and trumps even the relative bargains offered by the Russians and Chinese, who have the added benefit of cheap labor and decades of government investment.

  • Poor Little Rich Women
    This excerpt from a new book about the wives of wealthy Upper East Side residents has a tantalizing tidbit about so-called “wife bonuses”. I bet the rest of the book is nowhere near as controversial, but this teaser does pique my interest to read it.

    And then there were the wife bonuses.

    I was thunderstruck when I heard mention of a “bonus” over coffee. Later I overheard someone who didn’t work say she would buy a table at an event once her bonus was set. A woman with a business degree but no job mentioned waiting for her “year-end” to shop for clothing. Further probing revealed that the annual wife bonus was not an uncommon practice in this tribe.

  • How Shrek went from the world’s biggest animated franchise to the internet’s creepiest meme
    I thought the first Shrek was pretty good but then it dropped off the radar for me. Who knew it has spawned a bunch of sequels and aged quite poorly? I guess at some point I’ll have to watch it again and see if the jokes are corny now and whether the references are all dated.

    Chris Farley’s Shrek centered on a teenaged ogre who wanted to be a knight, opposite a sarcastic princess voiced by Janeane Garofalo. But Myers wanted to make Shrek his own, insisting on a total script rewrite before he joined the project. After recording his Shrek in a version of his normal speaking voice, Myers was struck with inspiration: Shrek should have a Scottish accent. Per his wishes, all of his dialogue was re-recorded in the Scottish brogue — an 11th-hour change that multiple sources claim cost the project at least $4 million. (Myers disputes the figure.)

  • “What’s one thing you’ve learned at Harvard Business School that blew your mind?”
    I approached this article thinking it would be a dud but it was actually quite interesting, including this theory which I’ve seen applied by the Dragons on Dragon’s Den

    There are two primary types of pricing: Cost-Based and Value-Based. In Cost Based pricing, you figure out how much it costs you to provide a service. Then you add a mark up and use that price to sell to the customer.

    The idea behind value pricing is that there’s actually a much wider wedge between the two things:

    First, there’s the amount your Product costs to make.
    Then, there’s the amount your Product saves the other company (or how much more it allows them to sell — but basically the financial impact giving your product has).

    You should charge somewhere between those two points.

Android Games 23

I had Wayward Souls on my wish list for awhile because it was supposed to be a good one. Each level is randomly generated so you get a new experience each time. You basically try and go as far as you can in the dungeons (you only have one life, but can get powerups) and the further you get, the more you know of the story. You also accumulate gold which you can use to buy upgrades for your hero. As there is no IAP it’s just about grinding. I guess I’m not in the mindset for that right now because I wasn’t that entertained when I played it (but luckily it was an Amazon free app of the day).

Does Not Commute is a neat game with high production values. The concept is you have to help various residents go to work and other business in their cars. You help them out one at a time but the paths they drive overlay on top of each other as the game progresses. So if you drive one car wildly, it may come back to haunt you. The layering approach is novel but the problem was I just didn’t find the game that fun. There’s a bunch of back story and nice UI and what not, but since it wasn’t fun, I stopped after I tried it for 20 minutes.

Giant Boulder of Death is your typical IAP game but for some reason I find it hilariously fun. Perhaps it’s because it’s a tribute to Katamari where you have to roll over blocky sprites. In any case, it’s my go-to game for now; until I unlock everything or get bored of it.

April 2015

For one of the weeks in April, I was down in Mountain View for work, and made a side trip to Santa Cruz. The trip kind of messed up my schedule as there was a bunch of stuff I had to do but lost 1.5 weekends due to travelling.

One of the things we focused on this month was to better equip Apollo’s room. The last upgrade he got to his room was a mattress on the floor that he had been sleeping on in order to learn to sleep by himself – that was more than a year ago! We finished assembling his room now. We bought a bunk bed that are setup as 2 twin beds (for Jovian later). We bought a second mattress for the second twin bed, and enough bedding for everyone. We bought a small couch so we can read to the kids in their room and storage so we could organize and store most of their toys in their room (instead of scattered around the living room). I think the room is pretty set aside from a table to draw/play on.

April started out really rainy, which is great because it’s supposed to be rainy. The weather was pretty warm to – before I went down to the Bay Area for work, I looked at the weather and the temperatures were going to be the same for Toronto and San Francisco (although in actuality SF went up to 27°C at the end of the week). Then, the next week there were flurries during the day in Toronto (at least there was no accumulation). Some nights were below freezing though. The last week of April was decidedly Spring though, no looking back now hopefully!

Posting Photos on My Blog

In my previous post about Santa Cruz I was debating whether I should include some of my photos from my outing. Obviously adding the photos would have made the post nicer, but it would require more effort. In the end I decided I didn’t want to.

Thinking about it a bit more, I wondered if it’s because I was lazy or there was another reason? Maybe I just didn’t care enough about my blog now to put in the effort? Or my audience is so small that it wouldn’t make an impact? I think the latter is perhaps on the right path. Nowadays everyone uses Facebook, Instagram, Twitter that if you want to share photos you’d just put it there. Why bother putting it on a blog?

So I’d stick with that reason. But that leads to the question, why even blog?

Bay Area Side Trip: Santa Cruz

Last week, I was in Silicon Valley for work. Our offices there moved from San Jose to a new building in Mountain View and it was my first time at that location – the building/campus is pretty nice! However, the general lifestyle is still the same so that was rather boring. One day, I decided to drive around after work but after the sun went down (i.e., 8pm) there wasn’t a lot I could do/see because the area doesn’t believe in street lights.

I wasn’t happy with that so I went back to the hotel to see what else I could do after work. Looking at the map, I was surprised that Santa Cruz was actually quite close! The next day, I was able to make it out of work early (5:30) and made the drive down. Even with San Jose rush hour traffic, I was able to get there in about 1h20m.

Once you get out of the San Jose area, there’s a really interesting drive up and down over mountains, trees on both sides, lots of S-turns throughout, and a relatively high speed (50+ mph speed limit). I don’t think you can actually go at the posted speed limit for some parts. It was almost worth it to go just for that drive!

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Santa Cruz as I had to make it back to my hotel that night. I checked out a beach, walked along the wharf and had dinner there. Foursquare didn’t have a strong opinion so I chose Stagnaro Brothers which seemed ok.

There weren’t a lot of tourists there at that time, but I had some difficulty finding parking. There was a lot of metered parking, which was $1.50/hr. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there and didn’t have that much change. You could also pay online, but after I downloaded the app, signed up for an account and attached my PayPal account – it turns out that at that location I could only pay by Visa/Mastercard…!!! Instead of doing that I decided to drive around some more. Most of the parking was paid under that scheme, but I found a large lot near the Boardwalk where you get a ticket and pay after. Luckily, after dinner when I was leaving, it seemed like they were offering free parking so I didn’t have to pay at all!

Big Hero 6

Unlike The Imitation Game, I had wanted to see Big Hero 6 for a long time – ever since I heard that the visuals were a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. But I was hesitant to see it on my flight because I had a copy at home that I hadn’t watched yet – so should I bother watching it on a small screen? I decided that I might as well since my copy at home has been unwatched for awhile.

Aside from the little nugget above, I didn’t know much about the film. But it was interesting right off the bat – the premise is there is a prepubescent hotshot who has his eyes opened about how cool tech is being researched at a nearby technical school (cartoon equivalent of Berkley or Stanford). I liked how Disney basically wove in Silicon Valley (but being a cartoon, they could make up a lot of technology).

Following that is your basic superhero group story, fighting against a super villain. One good thing is that because there’s no backstory/fandom, they could build a group from scratch (it doesn’t help them avoid clichés though). Given that the movie is for kids or pre-teens, I’m not too bothered about that.

I’m going to give Big Hero 6 5 stars out of 5! That might be a little overrated but I’m fine with it. It’s a kids movie so I don’t expect a lot aside from it being fun – and it was. There were actually quite a number of funny parts that appeal to adults/comic book nerds and having a cool mash up city definitely helps its score here.

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.