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Jason Bourne

I think I missed a few Bourne movies in the middle because this is the fourth one. In this one, Bourne takes a nod from Spectre and revisits his past – although now that I think about it, I think all of his movies have something to do with his past, and finding out who he is, and why he is an agent. Well, this one is no different and looks at the role his father played.

I get the plot and there are a lot of action scenes that push the Jason Bourne ahead, but nothing is new or overly different between this movie and any other action blockbuster. The exception might be an up and coming CIA analyst (well she is already pretty senior, unless you compare her to the director) who plays a political game for her own gain. She is the Julia Stiles 2.0 in the Bourne movies so I guess we will see more of her (although unlike Bond movies, these happen in sequential time order so at some point Bourne might just die of old age).

The comparisons to Bond are many, but I just don’t feel the excitement, style or mystique in the Bourne series as I do the Bond ones. This is just your average summer blockbuster, so a 3 out of 5 star rating.

Pocket Queue 72

  • The chilling stories behind Japan’s ‘evaporating people’
    I didn’t know about this, but now that I know, it’s not too surprising. There are certain people in Japan who, after suffering to much shame, ‘evaporate’. What that means is that they just disappear and go somewhere else (instead of committing suicide), leaving their family and friends to wonder where they are.

    Whatever shame motivates a Japanese citizen to vanish, it’s no less painful than the boomerang effect on their families — who, in turn, are so shamed by having a missing relative that they usually won’t report it to the police.

    Those families who do search turn to a private group called Support of Families of Missing People, which keeps all clients and details private. Its address is hard to find, and its headquarters consist of one small room with one desk and walls sooty with cigarette smoke.

    The organization is staffed with detectives — often with evaporations or suicides in their own family histories — who take on these cases pro bono. They average 300 cases a year, and their work is difficult: Unlike the United States, there is no national database for missing people in Japan. There are no documents or identifiers — such as our Social Security numbers — that can be used to track a person once they begin traveling within the country. It is against the law for police to access ATM transactions or financial records.

  • The Great A.I. Awakening
    The efficacy of Google Translate improved greatly since last November, and the reason behind it is that Google started using AI to power the translations. This article talks about why and how they did that, but most importantly, how the use of AI in this feed can affect AI in general

    In the 1980s, a robotics researcher at Carnegie Mellon pointed out that it was easy to get computers to do adult things but nearly impossible to get them to do things a 1-year-old could do, like hold a ball or identify a cat. By the 1990s, despite punishing advancements in computer chess, we still weren’t remotely close to artificial general intelligence.

    There has always been another vision for A.I. — a dissenting view — in which the computers would learn from the ground up (from data) rather than from the top down (from rules). This notion dates to the early 1940s, when it occurred to researchers that the best model for flexible automated intelligence was the brain itself. A brain, after all, is just a bunch of widgets, called neurons, that either pass along an electrical charge to their neighbors or don’t. What’s important are less the individual neurons themselves than the manifold connections among them. This structure, in its simplicity, has afforded the brain a wealth of adaptive advantages. The brain can operate in circumstances in which information is poor or missing; it can withstand significant damage without total loss of control; it can store a huge amount of knowledge in a very efficient way; it can isolate distinct patterns but retain the messiness necessary to handle ambiguity.

  • Meet the husbands who fly first class – while their wives travel in economy
    An almost incredulous article where various men and women justify why spouses travel in different classes of the plane.

    “We left home as a couple, checked in our luggage together and went hand-in-hand to departures. When we boarded the plane, we parted, saying: ‘I’ll see you when we get there.’ We had a lovely fortnight together in Barbados. John was especially attentive — perhaps he was a little guilty.”

    Since then, Michelle has preferred to travel as far away from her husband as possible. And John couldn’t be happier: “Do I feel guilty? Not at all! I get treated very well in business class. And if, one day, we can afford it then I’d love for the whole family to join me there.”

  • Silicon Valley’s Culture, Not Its Companies, Dominates in China
    This makes a lot of sense. Who wants to work a rigid and long schedule when you can just work flex hours?

    Last year, Facebook fired an enterprising Chinese employee who played to the unmet demand and charged one group of tourists $20 each to tour the campus and eat in the company’s cafeteria. Now, the only thing notable for tourists to see is its thumbs-up sign.

  • “Architecture saved my life”: Pablo Escobar’s son is a good architect now
    I like stories like these where there is a juxtaposition between lifestyles within two generations. In this case, the architect seems to be making a career for himself, although I don’t know how much of this is actually a puff piece.

    I believe that in a way my father was also an architect, he was very clever. He was just an architect for his own convenience. There was a Sunday my father took me to airplane fields and in the middle of the jungle, we were standing on the airfield and he asked me, “where is the airfield?” I couldn’t see it, and he said, “You are standing in it.” I couldn’t see it because I was looking at a house in the middle of the runway and there was no way the plane could land because it would crash against the house. He took a walkie-talkie and told one of his friends to move the house. It was on wheels. When the airplanes from the DEA (US Drug Enforcement Agency) were searching with satellites looking for hideouts, they couldn’t find anything because there was a house in the middle of what was a possible airfield. The planes can use it—just move the house.

Suicide Squad

I don’t know the backstory of Suicide Squad but I think this is required watching as DC continues to build up its movie universe to the Justice League movie. But after watching it, there doesn’t to be a big need for this movie.

It’s basically a self-contained movie similar to Guardians of the Galaxy where a rag tag band of shadowy figures save the world. There are some cameos from Batman and The Joker but its just to fill in the backstory. There are some character introductions and the after credits scene is important (for the universe) but I think those can be shared without tagging an entire movie along with it.

The plot is formulaic. Bad guys get together to help (read: are forced) the good guys, but the good guys suffer a setback and then bad guys develop a conscience and volunteer to beat the big bad guy. Its not boring but it is forgettable. I remember reading some press saying the atmosphere or music was great, but neither impressed me. This is a quite average three out of five stars.

シン ゴジラ (Shin Godzilla)

I have never watched any Godzilla movie and everything I know about Godzilla comes from Rampage. In fact, I would have ignored this film, because I was on an Air Canada Rouge flight (with no seat back screen), if not for just coming across a thread on this movie on Reddit as I was waiting for my flight to Vegas. It was actually interesting and not what I thought a Godzilla movie would be about.

Sure, you saw the beast and it laid waste to Tokyo, but that is really a side-bar and raison d’être for the underlying commentary – namely a satire about how politics and government operates. The film begins with Godzilla causing mass (but minimal, only flying cars and boats) destruction while the government paralyzes and sends orders up and down the chain of command. I enjoyed that various politicians would inject with comments on how decisions would affect their own political career or the economy.

Eventually the film settles down into more familiar territory where they actually have to get rid of Godzilla, and work with foreign governments to do so. That made the film weaker as the plot just kept being driven forward without a lot of rationale. The first half of the film gets a 4 out of 5 but the latter half only a 3. I’ll be generous and give it 4 out of 5 overall.

Android Games 34

Cardstone is a deck building and dungeon game, where you start with a basic deck and a hero (Warrior, Mage, Paladin or Vampire) and then build and improve your deck as you go through the dungeon. After each battle, you have the opportunity to swap one card in your deck with 4 random cards in your card pool. Through this you’ll strengthen your deck to fight stronger dungeon dwellers, but there gameplay is deep because the RNG prevents you from building the same deck every time (although you can make them thematically the same). It is a good premise and I played it daily for awhile. The problem is that the IAP scales really quick – the cost to buy new cards for your card pool with in-game currency grows exponentially. You’ll get a bunch of rare and legendary cards, and a few is better than 0, but the chances you’ll build a deck of strong cards is rare without spending.

The Battle of Polytopia is free and has distilled Civilization down to its core elements, so it’s great if you’re looking to play Civ (assuming you’re OK with isomorphic graphics). The problem for me is that after playing it for a little while, I remembered why I don’t like Civ (troop management and battles). Plus, in this age of mobile games, playing Civ is just too long.

Sing!

Sing! is an animated musical by the makers of Despicable Me that is similar to American Idol – a bunch of rag tag normal folk who turn out to be great singers compete for a grand prize. The only difference is that this is a cartoon and it takes place in an animal city.

Sing! almost seems inspired by Zootopia because you again have the cultural hotpot of different animals living together in a single city. However, the execution is much poorer as there really isn’t a lot of interaction between the traits.

In fact, it’s a pretty poor imitation with a subpar, formulaic plot. Every character struggles through some challenges, which they eventually overcome (mostly because they are in a cartoon world). Then they sing and the entire world is happy!

We actually saw this in a movie theatre and picked this movie because Apollo was with us (it was the most appropriate one over Rogue One or Moana or Trolls). I enjoyed it because I liked music, but otherwise I think it would be pretty boring. I’ll give this a (barely) three out of five stars.

December 2016

I tried to make December simple by doing all the Christmas shopping beforehand, but it turned out that it wasn’t simple at all! This year, Christmas was on the weekend so school went right up to Friday beforehand – and I was scheduled to fly out to Korea for a work trip that week. I would return back home the day before Christmas Eve, but miss out on the last week where we have to hand out gifts to teachers & etc. That meant that I had one less week to prepare everything and had to make sure all the gifts were organized, and cards written (by the kids, which takes a lot longer).

Next, the weather was really cold (-10 every morning + wind chill) so it was a pain to actually get the kids to school (at least they weren’t allowed to play outside). There was also one week which started with a winter storm (10cm) that dropped on a Sunday night. The main roads were clear for rush hour, but not the side streets. Then on the Thursday of that week, there was a surprise blizzard (how does the weather forecast miss this stuff) that dropped another 10cm right before evening rush hour (at least I was able to pick up the kids). Finally there was supposed to be another 10cm on the weekend, but that only ended up being about 2cm. In any case that was a lot of snow to shovel and guarantees a White Christmas.

The week after that, a stomach virus started making the rounds. First Jovian got it, then 5 days later (long incubation!), I got it. Apollo followed a day after me, and then Pauline got it 2-3 days after him. That almost overlapped with Christmas! Both Jovian and Apollo stayed home or had to picked up earlier a couple of times which made the scheduling hectic. At least through all this, my Korea trip got cancelled/postponed, so I was able to take care of the kids.

When the holidays hit, it started getting warmer. We did our usual dinners and family stuff. It was actually pretty light because I took the week between Xmas and New Years off and there weren’t THAT many dinners, so we did a lot of cleaning up around the house. Did some minor Boxing Day shopping (online) and then welcomed in the new year at home.

2016 Year In Review

2016 is now over, yet whenever I see or write 2016, that number still has the “new year” feel to me. Usually that feeling only lasts a few months, but it feels really odd this year. I’m not stuck in 2015 though, seeing the year 2015 makes it feel like a while ago.


Late-night snack at the SLS Las Vegas in January

It’s not like 2016 was forgettable, there was a lot of stuff that happened. This was the year that…

  • Apollo started Junior Kindergarten (i.e., real school)
  • Traveled 4 times overseas for work
  • The Leafs got the #1 pick in the draft and picked their franchise 1C – Auston Matthews
  • Both kids are big into Paw Patrol and Lego/Duplo
  • Everyone had to re-adjust sleep and wake up schedules and figure out drop-off/pick-up routines – welcome to the next 15 years
  • Vacationed to Disney World, Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Sesame Place
  • Donald Trump got elected as the President of the US

Chinese New Year display at chinese school

One thing that did change this year was that I did a lot less development work. On the work side, my role has shifted and I’ve been spending more time on product/strategy/management and much less writing code. I probably only had a couple bursts of code writing this year, probably amounting to less than 2 months of the year. On the personal/hobby side, it was almost non-existent. I guess it was a combination of 1) nothing piqued my interest enough to build, 2) It’s too difficult to get mindshare even if you build something. I wonder if the dip in writing code is going to be a trend or just a blip this year?


Atop Twin Peaks in San Francisco in February

My work travel shifted this year. I rarely went to NYC (only twice, and in the same month) or Silicon Valley (only once). Instead, I went to Dallas once and Korea 4 times. The Asia trips eat up a lot of time (usually spend 2-3 days flying and 3 days at work) and I didn’t even gain status with an airline from it! I would have been fine with fewer trips overseas as it’s always to the same destination and you don’t get a lot of freedom when travelling for work. It was also difficult to organize the household when I’m travelling and Pauline’s back at work, so I want to do that less. At the same time, it’s almost at a point where the amount of travel will dictate my career path.


Sharing a book in Rochester

While I was travelling, one thing that kept coming up in my mind is that there a lot of parents with only a single child; and they are doting on them incessantly or being overwhelmed even as both parents handle a single child. Now that Jovian is older, I have more perspective with looking after two children at once. It’s another ballgame with more than one, but not because it is a lot of work. It’s a different experience for both the child and the parents when there is only a single child, the parents have more opportunity and ability to focus on them.


With Cars in Orlando

Both kids are older and more independent. Jovian has progressed to a point where he can play constructively with Apollo (instead of just pushing or taking things from him) and its heartening to see the brothers interact. While Jovian still takes advantage of Apollo, Apollo is genuinely willing to take care of Jovian. Both kids are now in school or daycare 5 days a week so they don’t spend a lot of time at home, and we’ve gotten used to doing dropoffs and pickups (welcome to the next 15 years).


Joking with Aladdin and Jasmine at Disney

Apollo is at a point where milestones are difficult to recognize and there are multiple tracks of learning between school, friends and family. He knows a little bit of math (no division), can struggle through reading (sight words and basic phonics) and is starting to draw recognizable scenes. We’ve spent less time with Jovian on the basics than we did with Apollo, but he seems to be doing OK – recognizes the alphabet, sings a lot of songs, and is a regular motormouth.


Having brunch with Winnie the Pooh & gang

This year, my life felt like a 80/20 scenario where 80% of the time, it’s driven by logistics around the kids. Then 20% of the time I’m travelling and it’s all about work. Now that the boys are older, I think they should be more independent and less clingy, but I feel the opposite is actually true.


Jovian’s happy that he has cake on his birthday

Since they are older, they are in less confined/controlled environments and can end up in more circumstances where they actively need our help (i.e., being sick, need to get to a program). One example of this is having to get them to school on time every day. A lot of time is spent figuring this out, and I don’t think it’s going to get any easier in the next couple of years.


Eating dinner with Cookie Monster and other Sesame Street friends

Star Trek Timelines was my go-to game for the entire year as it was on mobile and pushed my OCD buttons. I also spent time playing Blizzard games (Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm and even a little bit of WoW to complete a quest). I tried a variety of other mobile games and board games on mobile, but nothing else really stuck. I powered up the XBOX360 later in the year to introduce Apollo to some video games.


Down at the harbourfront

It is between spending time on all the little things associated to kids, and existing hobbies like games, that I felt like I didn’t pick up any new hobbies or new experiences. It’s not that I was bored, just that on the year end reflection, it’s hard to identify what was unique about this year. In the past, the unique thing(s) would be travel but this year’s travel was “on rails” (for work) or to destinations that were of interest to the kids. What defines a year will continue to shift in future years to be more kid-oriented, but perhaps this was the year where I have self-consciously hit the inflection point.


On top of the Thomson Hotel

We got together with friends less this year. One reason is because a lot of us have kids now and it’s difficult to do large gatherings or events because they have to be kid friendly and have enough room for friends, partners, kids, etc. That’s tough to organize. Then we have to take into account schedules. Not just whether someone is busy, but when their kids’ programs or naps begin and end. That means a lot less of going to a person’s house and even going out to eat.


Fall & Hallowe’en in a single picture

We still see Apollo’s friends a bit, although not as much as before. Jovian doesn’t have his own circle of friends yet. Between these 2 group of friends, and our own adult friends, I was hoping to ensure that we have a meal with at least one family/set of friends every week. It wasn’t a new year’s resolution but just a general goal. I think I achieved this about half the time, but it’s difficult to juggle schedules and plan.


Skating at Nathan Phillips Square

At the end of the year, I had a couple of days to spend with Apollo because he was at home sick. Physically, he’s four – but when he is away from other kids, he looks older. And he’s at an age where he not only remembers what happens but why things are happening. I think the trend next year will continue to be focused on kids, and how to bring them up “in the right way”; but Apollo has sufficient life experience, communicative capability, and personal desires that he can see me as a role model and a friend, in addition to his parent. It makes our interactions more important and meaningful, and I hope that I can be more of a mentor than a parent to him.


Apollo loves Santa, but Jovian is still a little wary

Places I Stayed Overnight in 2016

This year I travelled to a bunch of different places for work, and did a bunch of road trips. Next year, I suspect the trips will be fewer:

  • Toronto, ON, Canada
  • Las Vegas, NV, USA
  • Grand Canyon Village, AZ, USA
  • Mountain View, CA, USA
  • Orlando, FL, USA
  • Seoul, South Korea
  • Rochester, NY, USA
  • Scranton, PA, USA
  • Langhorne, PA, USA
  • Dallas, TX, USA
  • Manhattan, NY, USA

Here’s the full list: 2006 (10), 2007 (8), 2008 (13), 2009 (10), 2010 (15), 2011 (18), 2012 (8), 2013 (10), 2014 (5), 2015 (14),

Top Music of 2016

This year’s music listening consisted of new music from artists that I enjoy, and a smattering of top KPop and western Top40. At home, I had my usual iTunes music and we used a custom Spotify playlist in the kitchen. In the car, I burned KPop CDs but started listening to a bit of radio towards the end of the year as I didn’t keep up with new KPop releases as much and the music started getting stale. I noticed and am glad that Top40 has shifted to be more house and jungle oriented rather than Hip Hop.

Here’s my list for the year:

  1. 태연 (Taeyeon) – 제주도의 푸른 밤 (The Blue Night of Jeju)

    The Blue Night of Jeju is a cover of, I guess, a classic Korean song (many other Korean artists have covers) and it’s my favorite song from this year for a number of reasons:

    1. It’s by my favorite singer
    2. It’s in the sweet spot of her register
    3. The song and this particular arrangement is catchy
    4. Taeyeon’s music doesn’t typically have guitars so this is unique

    The only problem I have is that I can’t find a place to buy it. I believe it’s only digital, and I have to sign up for a Korean service (melOn) to download it. I’m almost at a stage where I’m going to do that!

  2. 아이유 (IU) – 스물셋 (Twenty Three)

    Pulling an “Adele”, IU wrote a song about her age. I don’t understand it because it’s in Korean, but it’s got a catchy hook. I bought the rest of this album, and this is heads and shoulders above the rest of the tracks; mostly because it’s a pop song, rather than in the style of her more recent albums (i.e., Red Shoes)
  3. Charlie Puth and Selena Gomez – We Don’t Talk Anymore

    This song has a great hook (and not much else beyond that), but that’s enough to make it a great pop song. It’s funny that Selena Gomez collaborated on this song because in a way it’s a lot like her songs – the same words repeated over and over again.
  4. 태연 (Taeyeon) with Dean – Starlight

    Taeyeon’s solo singles are typically in the R&B or soft rock genre, which is not a type of music I enjoy too much. This song is typical of those genres, there is no strong melody or beat, nor is it super catchy or showcase her voice (in fact I feel it’s mostly Dean’s song). However, like Rain, it portrays a feeling and so the song grew on me. I like the video as well.
  5. 태연 (Taeyeon) – Why

    When I heard about the title track from Taeyeon’s second EP, I was a bit disappointed because I thought it would be in a similar vein to I. However, when the song finally came out, I was pleasantly surprised that it was pretty catchy – it’s a dance track rather than R&B. I think this would be the song that epitomizes 2016 summer for me.

    I didn’t like the original video for this song, but the dance version is great. The choreography reminds of Michael Jackson dancing!

    It’s tough to pick the better song between this and Starlight from Taeyeon’s second EP. I like Why more right now, but I think Starlight will have more longevity – hence the ranking.

  6. Calvin Harris ft Rihanna – This Is What You Came For

    This song is good almost entirely due to Rihanna’s scat-ing, which I find funny because when Rihanna started out, I thought she was a weak singer with a small range.
  7. Justin Bieber – Lose Yourself

    This is one of the first songs that I noticed that started having the stripped down approach to songwriting. It’s not really acoustic, just that there is not a lot of instrumentation and it is focused on singing. I think it has aged pretty well since I heard it in early 2016.
  8. 티파니 (Tiffany) – Once In A Lifetime

    Tiffany had her solo debut album this year, and while I didn’t like her two singles, I thought this track was the standout track. I’m not sure if it’s worth buying the entire album though.
  9. The Weeknd – I Feel It Coming

    This song is so new that there isn’t a music video or even a good audio-only version of this song on YouTube. I didn’t like the first Daft Punk x Weeknd collaboration that much (see below), but when I first heard this song, I knew it would be great. It just sounds like Daft Punk, and their cameo in the bridge is perfect. What I missed is that The Weeknd is doing his Michael Jackson imitation, but when the radio mentioned that, it clicked and made a lot of sense. Because it’s so new, I’m afraid that it might not have that much longevity, otherwise it would have ranked higher.
  10. Just Timberlake – Can’t Stop The Feeling!

    This is a happy song from a movie soundtrack – sounds like it’s repeating the success of Pharrel William’s Happy from 2013! Great pop song for this year, but I don’t think it’s going to have a lot of longevity.
  11. 세븐틴 (SEVENTEEN) and 에일리 (Ailee) – Q&A

    This is one of the only KPop songs which isn’t by artists that I like. In fact it almost doesn’t matter who sings it, the song is catchy and the singers are stepping over each other which makes it sound complex.
  12. 윤아 (Yoona) with 10cm – 덕수궁 돌담길의 봄 (Deoksugung Stonewall Walkway)

    This is a standard pop duet with a catchy hook. I think Yoona’s voice is under-rated (given that she is supposed to be the face of SNSD) but she’s trying to hard in this video.
  13. Bruno Mars – 24k Magic

    I guess Bruno is creating a new niche for himself now that hip hop & R&B are dying on top40. Instead of house or becoming a singer/songwriter, he’s continuing his Uptown Funk trend and becoming the leading funk singer of the ’10s. This song is really good when you first hear it, because every part of it is something different. But it falls off a cliff pretty quick once you hear it often. All the unique elements become regular.
  14. 태연 (Taeyeon) – Rain

    This song is an earworm for me but overall I didn’t enjoy it that much (again because it’s R&B/soft rock).
  15. The Weeknd ft Daft Punk – Star Boy

    The Weeknd and Daft Punk, two of my favorite musical artists collaborating on a track. This is going to be awesome! Well it turns out that it wasn’t that great. It’s not a turd, but the beat wasn’t as catchy as other Daft Punk tracks and The Weeknd doesn’t singing is not as melodic as it could be (although I noticed that most of The Weeknd’s singles don’t really involve singing like his early works).
  16. Selena Gomez – Hands To Myself

    I got Selena Gomez’ album for free last year as part of a Microsoft Groove promotion, but didn’t really listen to it (only listened to Same Old Love). Then I heard this song on the radio and added it to my playlist. The song is actually not noteworthy, except one line in the bridge that makes it worth it.