Do people like, still blog?

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.

Android Games 21

I’ve been paying attention to Battleheart for awhile now, but didn’t buy it because I heard that the developer was no longer supporting the Android version. I was then, pleasantly surprised, when they released Battleheart Legacy for Android. I bought it even though it was pretty expensive ($5).

It had good reviews and in many ways the game is good. It’s a polished RPG with a build-your-own-hero-skills type approach. However, I think the plot is very loose and shallow, and it’s just an excuse to go to dungeons. Since I didn’t play the original, I’m not sure how to compare the combat, but at higher levels, it’s difficult because there’s too much action on screen and it’s hard to click the right thing. Maybe it’s better on tablets. I was hoping for a lot of replay value, but there isn’t enough story to make me play it multiple times (I don’t mind the grinding that much).

Magic Touch: Wizard for Hire is a fun little tablet game where you have to draw glyphs on your screen to pop balloons and protect your castle from evil robot/knight things. In the vein of Flappy Bird or Crossy Road, the game play is simple and fast. It’s pretty fun when you start playing, but I don’t see it having any staying power because it doesn’t have the same reward-addiction system that Crossy Road has.

February 2015

While February was short, it was also very winter-y. There were 2 big snow storms and the temperature was in general quite cold. Highs of -20°C to -25°C + wind chill on top were quite common. Family day long weekend was like that too, so we couldn’t really go outside. In addition to that, we had issues with our hot water heater; and that effected our furnace so we didn’t have heat for a day/night on that weekend. At least we were able to get by with space heaters, unlike the time we didn’t have electricity for almost a week in December 2013.

Jovian continues to grow, but he’s stuck in that phase where he is ready to crawl but hasn’t figured out how to do it yet. He’s gradually getting better – he can hold himself up on his hands now, and “move” by rolling around. However, he hasn’t figured out how to get on his knees. I remember it took Apollo forever to figure this out too. Jovian also has 2 baby bottom teeth now too!

I’m getting pretty tired of card games. I still start Solforge daily to get the rewards, but it’s no longer fun. I only play Hearthstone to get the new card backs every month. I’m ready to stop playing both of those now. I’ve also had battery problems with my Nexus 5 so didn’t play any games on mobile either (and have been carrying 2 phones around when I’m out).

I spent some time this month organizing the photos that I’ve scanned from my childhood. I think I’ve done most of what I can to organize the photos by month/year. Most of the remaining photos I can’t place. Hopefully I won’t have another one of these organizational projects next month (I did music in January).

Tearing Down The Leafs

It says something about the state of the Toronto Maple Leafs when its fanbase is extremely happy to trade players off the game day roster for futures, no-name prospects, and injured players that will never appear on the ice (but eat up $5M/yr). I think I’ve watched one game this entire season and don’t really care if the Leafs make the playoffs or not. I’d actually rather them lose all the remaining games and get a high draft pick. I have some interest in the March 2nd trade deadline to see what other players we can get rid off and I do infact hope that next year we can ice a team of draft picks!

If I Were To Buy A New Phone…

Since my N5 isn’t working well, I’ve considered buying a new phone. Strangely, there aren’t a lot of compelling choices. Here’s what I looked at:

  • Nexus 6 – It’s expensive ($750+tax+shipping in Canada) and I wasn’t enthusiastic about it when it was released (doesn’t seem to use its large size well). Also all the problems I have with my N5 would still exist on the N6 AND it would be more expensive to replace if there were issues.
  • Moto X 2014 – It’s pretty hard to get in the frequency band that I want (I have to buy it from Wind, but it seems like they are OOS in a lot of places). Also, it feels like I’m not improving on my N5 as the technology seems about the same.
  • OnePlus One – This is probably the best option as the screen is larger than the N5 (but not N6 size), it’s relatively open, and relatively cheap. Although with the exchange rate, the 64GB version would set me back $500CDN after shipping.
  • Random Chinese model – The first problem is that it won’t work with my carrier. The second is that I would lose all the benefits of being close to Google/AOSP and getting quick updates. I’m not sure I’m ready to give that up yet.

CODE2015

Last weekend was the yearly Canadian Open Data Experience hackathon and I spent some time to build an entry. For the longest time, I was considering not participating; mainly because the data sets are limiting and it’s difficult to think of any interesting or innovative ideas. But in the end, I ended up competing and I think I came up with a decent idea.

My app is called Concerns of my Community and its tagline is crowdsourcing government alerts that matter to you. The basic premise is that the government publishes lots of warnings and advisories that you should know about, but there’s no way you can keep up with all of them. By using social and geographic communities, these issues can be curated so ones that are relevant to you are brought to your attention. I had to pivot slightly from this idea, because it turns out that learning about issues would decrease your mental health rather than improve it (and the theme of the competition was healthy living). To fix this, I made sure that once you’re aware of an issue, the app gives you a combination of government and private sector information to act upon it.

I’m not sure whether I will publish it to Google Play and make it available to the public. Last year I was really gung-ho about this, but after seeing the outcome for a successful app like mine, I’m not sure it’s worth the effort to polish and promote it yet.

Source of My Nexus 5 Battery Issues

I’ve been curious about what’s been causing my Nexus 5’s battery to bulge. I’m pretty sure the immediate cause is because of overheating around the battery. Overheating from the CPU (due to running video conferencing for too long) caused my laptop’s battery to bulge and I think there’s some sort of chemical reaction in LION batteries around prolonged excessive heat. But what could have caused the overheating?

I do play some games on my cellphone, but I don’t think enough or for long enough periods to cause the overheating (certainly my battery would at least run out if I was playing for that long). The other hypothesis I have is that my phone could be running hot from trying to acquire location, but again that would have caused my battery to run out a lot faster than it would normally do under normal behaviour (and I would have noticed). My last theory is that using my QI chargers caused the problem. I think I recall my phone being hot while being wirelessly charged, and perhaps the prolonged exposure (charging overnight) caused the battery issue.

In any case, this is one time where I don’t like/agree with Google’s design principle of having non-removable batteries (I also would prefer microSD cards instead of cloud storage).