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Android Games 26

AdVenture Capitalist is an Android game but I’ve been playing it on PC (via Steam). It’s the same basic game as Cookie Clicker where you start off small (in this case a Lemonade business) and then scale up exponentially to…?? I guess take over the world because you’re a capitalist and you have tons of money rolling in. It’s less interactive than CC since you don’t have to click as much (you buy managers to do that) so it just kind of sits in the background while you try to add more zeros to your net worth.

I saw Avoid being promoted on Google Play so tried it out. Like Flappy Bird/Crossy Road, it’s a game that scales up in difficulty. Your main goal is to avoid your character being cut up by the saws that are bouncing around. Once you’re cut up 3 times, you lose. While avoiding the saws, you also have to collect coins, which you can then use to unlock new characters to cut up. It’s a mindless time killer for a little while, but not addictive. Also I found that it’s relatively easy to rack up a high score (but not coins) if you just sit in a corner. Since the saws are circular, their bounce patterns will generally avoid corners.

September 2015

This month started out very hot, with days at 40°C humidex. It basically ruined Labour Day weekend since it was too hot to spend time outside. After that, the temperature got more reasonable (mid 20s). A litle too cold to go outdoors after dinner, but still OK to go to the park midday. I also started the month in NY and visited our new office. I haven’t been to NY since March so it has been quite a while. I took this opportunity to catch up on my large Pocket queue, so there have been a lot of link posts this month.

September marks the start of a new school year and Apollo is now old enough to partake in this. He started pre-school and he’s been enrolled in a couple of programs that will last the entire year. We had to adjust to a new routine, but it seems OK for now. Some of his programs don’t start until October though so we’ll have to keep adjusting next month. This also means we get to spend more 1:1 time with Jovian when Apollo is gone. Jovian’s started saying words now, he probably has a vocabulary of about 10 words. He’s also a lot better at identifying specific words that we say.

Hearthstone was still the game of choice for this month. I’m back to the collecting aspect of the game so it’s just a gradual process to complete quests and get more packs. I downloaded a spreadsheet to help track my collection and I’m about 70% complete, although the remaining cards are the hard ones (epic, legendary) and may require crafting instead.

I also spent time this month working on improving my Always Taeyeon app. I started trying to regain my users that I lost communication with, when the app was suspended from Google Play – we’ll see how successful I am with that.

Rebuilding My Always Taeyeon Userbase

Building Always Taeyeon 2.0 was for my benefit, but I also wanted to distribute it to other users. This was going to be quite difficult after the app was removed from Google Play. Shortly after it was suspended, I tried distributing it on other app stores like GetJar and AndroidPit, but they rejected it with similar reasons as Google Play. With this new release, I figure I would try a new strategy (because otherwise I would have no strategy).

I know I was already disadvantaged because any user would have to install the APK directly (and enable unknown sources). So the first thing I did was make the latest version publicly available on a static URL. You can always download it at The link just forwards to a Google Drive file which I can keep up to date with the latest version. Step #1 accomplished – anyone can download my app.

The second disadvantage from being out of Google Play was that users wouldn’t get upgrade notifications when there is a new version. It might be tough to get everyone on 2.0, but if I release further versions, I don’t want to have to go through that pain again. I looked at services that can automatically send a push notification when you have a new version and even thought about using the Google Drive REST API to look at the last modified date as an update check. That would have been over-engineering. Instead, I just popped a simple JSON file on the server which my app can check; if there is a new update, a notification is raised in the app and clicking on it would go to the link above to download. This solution is actually better than Google Play, because a user might turn off upgrade notification in Google Play.

Finally, the hard part is getting all my existing Google Play users onto 2.0 and this new system. Luckily, I had built in a delivery system when I launched the app to ensure that I would have periodic (i.e., daily) photos. Instead of another Taeyeon photo, I can just add an image with my upgrade “advertisement” and hope that it reaches as many active users as I can. The advertisement was fun to make, here’s what it looks like:

Pocket Queue 60

  • Kay, Zales, and Marketing Diamonds to the Middle-Class Man
    The headline promises a bit more information than the article delivers, but this is an otherwise unknown look at how Signet (owns Zales, Peoples, other jewellers) runs its business.

    While Light told investors Signet was optimizing its e-comm experience, the company sees its sites as primarily as destinations for education and first impressions. Physical stores “will always be the most important element” of its strategy because, as Signet sees it, brick-and-mortar far outweighs digital in jewelry sales, even among young consumers.

    “What we find is the millennials who might buy from us online, they actually ship to a store to go see it, actively touch it,” says Zales CEO George Murray. “They’re not just buying everything online through mobile, no human contact, social media activity that’s going on. It is a very, very physical world.”

  • Amor Prohibido
    20 years after the death of Selena, a look at how her legacy is being preserved in her home town.

    When Fiesta de la Flor, the two-day Selena-themed festival held on April 17 and 18, was announced back in January, the Corpus Christi Convention and Visitors Bureau made it very, very clear that it had the approval of the family. The constant reminder, repeated by city officials in press releases and interviews, seemed like a nervous tic, like someone walking through a tough neighborhood invoking the name of the local mafia don. In the end, Mr. Quintanilla did nothing to prevent my access to the event. At the Fiesta itself I overheard a friendly official working a security line for Chris Perez, who was sitting for photos, assure a fan from New Jersey that the event was Quintanilla-blessed. The Jersey girl hadn’t even broached the subject.

  • Learning to Speak Lingerie
    This is an interesting article that links together Chinese people, Egypt and lingerie – three things that don’t belong together. Basically there are a couple of people who are making money by selling lingerie in conservative Egypt cities. That’s the teaser, but it later delves into societal reasons as to why Chinese people are making money and why Egyptians are not, which is arguably a more compelling read.

    While Lin and Chen were building their small lingerie empire, they noticed that there was a lot of garbage sitting in open piles around Asyut. They were not the first people to make this observation. But they were the first to respond by importing a polyethylene-terephthalate bottle-flake washing production line, which is manufactured in Jiangsu province, and which allows an entrepreneur to grind up plastic bottles, wash and dry the regrind at high temperatures, and sell it as recycled material.

    “I saw that it was just lying around, so I decided that I could recycle it and make money,” Lin told me. He and his wife had no experience in the industry, but in 2007 they established the first plastic-bottle recycling facility in Upper Egypt. Their plant is in a small industrial zone in the desert west of Asyut, where it currently employs thirty people and grinds up about four tons of plastic every day. Lin and Chen sell the processed material to Chinese people in Cairo, who use it to manufacture thread. This thread is then sold to entrepreneurs in the Egyptian garment industry, including a number of Chinese. It’s possible that a bottle tossed onto the side of the road in Asyut will pass through three stages of Chinese processing before returning to town in the form of lingerie, also to be sold by Chinese.

  • Dinner and Deception
    I enjoy reading about waiters and their work (one of my favourite blogs used to be The Big, Weird Business of Prom
    The business of prom dresses is apparently really big, even bigger than some retail chains! This is not a great article for indepth knowledge, but it shares a few nuggets.

    Families with a total household income above $50,000 will spend an average of $799 on prom, and that number increases as income decreases. Families with a total household income below $50,000 spend $1,109, and families with a total household income below $25,000 will spend $1,393. The poorer you are, the more likely you are to pony up for a fancy gown. The cost varies by region as well. Northeastern families spend the most ($1,169), while Midwestern families spend the least ($733). In most circumstances, a significant fraction of a teenage girl’s prom budget is likely dedicated to her dress.

Always Taeyeon 2.0!

I recently blogged about my Always Taeyeon app being suspended and removed from Google Play. I wanted closure because…I had begun working on it again! It was demoralizing to lose my existing user base, but this was actually an app that I used frequently on my phone (I am user zero) and so I had incentive to keep improving it.

I call this 2.0, not because it has a lot of new features; but because I rethought the app a bit. It’s actually slimmer than it was before. I wanted to focus on a stream of Taeyeon photos. In v1, I had a bunch of things like a menu that showed you where the photo was from, and plans for other parts of the app. I had started working on a “Favorites” section where you can save photos and then view them later. I also had an idea of unlockable icons. In any case, I killed all of that.

I was hesitant to do this before because I was thinking about monetizing the app if it was popular. My plan was to give you a page of favourite “slots” (i.e., 9) and then if you wanted to save more, you would have to purchase additional pages. The feature request I kept getting repeatedly (via Google Play comments and email) was to add some way to save the photos, so I know users would have used that; and the arbitrary limit of 9 might have caused people to pony up a few bucks.

For version 2.0, I decided to get rid of that and just let users save any photo to their gallery without limits. Honestly, I think that’s how users would want to use my app – browse through photos, save the ones you like best, and maybe set them as wallpaper or use them elsewhere. This makes the app super easy to use. You just swipe back and forth for new photos, and long press to save a photo. But it’s a significant enough change that I think it warrants a major version bump.

Suspension >> Always

Almost a year ago, I blogged about my Always Taeyeon app and how it was growing pretty well. Then I stopped blogging about it, why? Well there was a good reason. In November of last year, the app got suspended by Google Play and I stopped working on it. If I can’t get any new users, there wasn’t a lot of reward for putting more time into it.

Now, obviously I think the suspension was unwarranted, but that’s the typical position of the “guilty” party (whether it’s true or not is another matter). The rest of this blog is basically a rant on why I don’t think I should have been suspended; I’m not angry, but it’s for closure before moving on.

What my app did is basically displayed photos that were publicly accessible within an app. That was considered IP infringment. IANAL and in the back of my mind it was always quasi-legal (more on this later), but I don’t think it is infringement. Rather, I think of it as helping people be more efficient – you could access the same photos in a web browser. Web browsers wouldn’t get suspended from Google Play.

You may argue that a user has to explicitly perform some action to view the photos through a web browser (i.e., visit individual web pages). Then my argument to that would be that my app is basically a repackaging of a Twitter feed/Tumblr blog. I could RT or reblog a bunch of photos and that would be the same as my app. Is that legal (or quasi-legal)?

In any case, the process for appeal is tough and I’m sure under additional scrutiny, they would find other reasons to keep it suspended (or worse, ban my account). Given that the app was free with no means of generating revenue, it wasn’t worth the battle. It was easier to stop working on the app.

Pocket Queue 59

  • The Father of the Emoticon Chases His Great White Whale
    A look at the computer science professor who is famous because he invited :-). However, what he truly wants is to be known for is solving general AI.

    The fairy tale turns out to be an example of the role multiple viewpoints play in our understanding of reality — something that is extremely challenging for machines to grasp. To understand the story of the Three Little Pigs, one must comprehend what each of the characters knows. For a machine to replicate this understanding, it needs to recognize these individual sets of characters’ knowledge. It needs a single set to represent the pig’s knowledge of the world, another for the wolf’s, along with a representation of the mental state the wolf is trying to get the pig into — the deception. These contexts can be layered infinitely, and Fahlman is building a system that contains them.

  • The Really Big One
    If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you might be thankful that you don’t live in SF and have to worry about the danger of a huge earthquake – actually, that’s not true because you’re sitting on an even larger fault! This article has colorful descriptive language of what might potentially happen should a potential 9.0 earthquake hit.

    A grown man is knocked over by ankle-deep water moving at 6.7 miles an hour. The tsunami will be moving more than twice that fast when it arrives. Its height will vary with the contours of the coast, from twenty feet to more than a hundred feet. It will not look like a Hokusai-style wave, rising up from the surface of the sea and breaking from above. It will look like the whole ocean, elevated, overtaking land. Nor will it be made only of water—not once it reaches the shore. It will be a five-story deluge of pickup trucks and doorframes and cinder blocks and fishing boats and utility poles and everything else that once constituted the coastal towns of the Pacific Northwest.

  • Up in the Air: Meet the Man Who Flies Around the World for Free
    The story of a key member of FlyerTalk, how he got into the hobby of gaming frequent flyer programs, and a little bit about how he spends his life.

    Schlappig is giving me this economics lesson while he waits in the spa of the first-class Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse in JFK Airport in New York. He has been up all night, downing eight cups of coffee and typing blog posts the entire flight; he maintains a militant work regimen, blogging only on Eastern time, jet lag be damned. “I think he’s not a person who was meant to work from nine to five,” says his mother. “Now he probably works 18 hours a day.” Schlappig is chatting through a complimentary massage, enjoying the elbow in his back from a plump spa therapist and straining occasionally to sip his dry gin with crème de mûre. She chats him back, smiling, and asks how he’s been — Schlappig knows almost the entire staff here by name, and he schedules his globe-trots to make a pit stop here every few weeks.

  • Jennifer Pan’s Revenge
    I remember following this news story in detail because it was about an Asian family in Toronto. Now that the trial is over, there’s a lot more information about what happened – and this account is even written by someone who went to the same high school as Jennifer Pan and her boyfriend.

    Jennifer’s parents assumed their daughter was an A student; in truth, she earned mostly Bs—respectable for most kids but unacceptable in her strict household. So Jennifer continued to doctor her report cards throughout high school. She received early acceptance to Ryerson, but then failed calculus in her final year and wasn’t able to graduate. The university withdrew its offer. Desperate to keep her parents from digging into her high school records, she lied and said she’d be starting at Ryerson in the fall. She said her plan was to do two years of science, then transfer over to U of T’s pharmacology program, which was her father’s hope. Hann was delighted and bought her a laptop. Jennifer collected used biology and physics textbooks and bought school supplies. In September, she pretended to attend frosh week. When it came to tuition, she doctored papers stating she was receiving an OSAP loan and convinced her dad she’d won a $3,000 scholarship.

  • Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person
    The most interesting thing about this article is how it breaks down the one word “Privilege” into different types of privilege. The generalization is overused, so it’s more interesting to think of how a person or a group is privileged compared to society – not all privilege is the same.

    I, maybe more than most people, can completely understand why broke white folks get pissed when the word “privilege” is thrown around. As a child I was constantly discriminated against because of my poverty, and those wounds still run very deep. But luckily my college education introduced me to a more nuanced concept of privilege: the term “intersectionality.” The concept of intersectionality recognizes that people can be privileged in some ways and definitely not privileged in others. There are many different types of privilege, not just skin-color privilege, that impact the way people can move through the world or are discriminated against. These are all things you are born into, not things you earned, that afford you opportunities that others may not have.

Pocket Queue 58

  • The Cycle
    Jose Bautista explains what it’s like to grow up in the Dominican Republic and become a baseball star. Sure, the money is great – but they are still behind in life. And if you’re not lucky, you go back to your life in your 20s with a 6th grade education.

    At age 12 or 13, you’ll be recruited to play at one of the many baseball academies across the country. “Academy” makes it sound like a school. Most of them are more like baseball farms. Your family signs a piece of paper for consent and you’re pulled out of school to go train at sparse facilities in the middle of nowhere. They’re not regulated. They’re private institutions run by guys called “buscones” — part trainers, part agents. You sleep in these big empty rooms filled with bunk beds. You do two things: You play baseball and you sleep. There are no books, no computers, maybe one old TV. Before you’re a teenager, your education is over.

  • Blockbuster Anatomy: Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos on the Tulowitzki and Price Deals
    Light story about the Jays’ deadline deals. Their record now is even better than when the article was written!

    Anthopoulos, though, said that questions over his job status didn’t influence his decision to be so aggressive at the deadline.

    “I’m always focused on both short term and long term,” he said, citing the $3.9 million spent to sign 16-year-old Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and his refusal to give up dynamic (and injured) starter Marcus Stroman for more immediate help. “You do the job as if you own the team, and as if you’re going to be here forever, because that’s your responsibility.”

  • Elite Snipers 101
    Jonathan Quick talks about what it is like to face world-class talents aiming to score a goal on him, and how he’s able to prevent it.

    Most guys have a little tell. You look at where the puck is in relation to their feet, or the way they’re bending their knees to get ready to shoot, and you just know what’s going to happen before it happens. But the problem with Datsyuk is that he fools you with his intentions. He will be way out on the wall with his hands, feet, and eyes positioned for a cross-ice pass — and it’s the right decision. It’s what 99 percent of players will do in that situation. So you instantly start cheating your eyes over to where he’s going to pass. Next thing you know — what the hell? — the puck is behind you in the net. He shot it. Who shoots from there? Datsyuk shoots from there.

  • The Death of Cantonese?
    It starts with schools teaching in Mandarin (~70% of schools in HK already do this), and writing in Simplified Chinese. Although I’m actually more curious what

    The potential for the erosion of Cantonese is not without precedent. Shanghainese was once the dialect for the entire Yangtze region and, despite the fact it still has around 14 million speakers, the Central Government has actively been discouraging its use in schools since 1992. A 2012 survey by Shanghai’s Academy of Social Sciences found four in 10 school students in the city couldn’t speak Shanghainese at all.

  • The Mob’s IT department
    A story about how 2 IT professionals ended up ensnared in a gang’s operations to smuggle drugs into Europe. They’re still in front of a judge, but this article paints them as unwilling participants.

    He and Van De Moere discussed going to the police. They later explained they dismissed the idea out of fear. These were clearly men who didn’t resolve disagreements with the usual conference call or attorney’s letter. Calling the authorities would anger them more. They decided the prudent course was to let the whole bizarre incident go and hope Maertens never heard from them again.

Inside Out

I almost fit Pixar’s Inside Out onto my flight to NY (only 95 mins) and just missed the denouement and credits. I’ve read some people say that this is the best Pixar movie so far. While I don’t conclusively agree, I think it does take on an interesting topic for kids – they usually don’t watch movies that are introspective.

The movie happens at the critical point of childhood where they grow up to be a teenager. Riley, the main character has a cross-country move to compound her difficulties adjusting to this period and that gives ample opportunity for her emotions to take over.

I liked the idea of being in one’s mind and understanding actions. Unlike Osmosis Jones, Inside Out shows an angle to kids where they may not have developed a lot or understood about themselves yet. That’s much more useful than imagining your immune system. As an adult, I found the 5 characters a bit simplistic. I guess those are the core emotions. But when they were in the parents head, they probably have more refined roles/emotions that perform decisions.

Watching Inside Out leads to an interesting thought experiment to understand what drives ones own behavior. However, I didn’t think the movie was overly entertaining or funny – although it is a tear jerker at times. Three out of five stars from me.

Pocket Queue 57

  • The Secret History of Ultimate Marvel, the Experiment That Changed Superheroes Forever
    It’s been several years since I stopped reading comics, but when I did I devoured the Ultimate universe comics from Marvel. I didn’t know that it was winding down (not by choice) so this was news to me, and it is always interesting to hear some of the back story behind the genesis of the idea.

    The history of Ultimate Marvel is, in a way, a story about warring approaches to a reboot: Bendis’s and Millar’s. Bendis wanted to polish the old archetypes; Millar wanted to aggressively critique them. Bendis sought timeless stories; Millar craved biting contemporary political critique. Bendis was looking to inspire; Millar aimed to disquiet. As Bendis put it: “I’m writing about hope and he’s writing about nihilism, and I know he doesn’t always think he is, but he is. Constantly.”

  • In Flight
    An article that has been going around, written by a pilot, about what happens on a routine trip from London to Tokyo. There’s a lot of colorful English being used but beyond the high school english assignment, there are some interesting tidbits that you wouldn’t be aware of unless you were a pilot.

    INTAK is a waypoint. An airplane typically navigates through sky countries along a route composed of a few radio beacons and many waypoints. Waypoints are defined by coordinates or their bearing and distance from a beacon, and by a name, which typically takes the form of a five-letter capitalized word — EVUKI, JETSA, SABER — that’s pronounceable and distinct to controllers and pilots regardless of their first language. Waypoint names are the sky’s audible currency of place, atomized and distinct.

  • Viacom Is Having A Midlife Crisis
    Viacom used to be great, but the owner is not as involved anymore and it seems like it’s going downhill because of that. Of course, no one wants to admit that that is the reason…

    Dauman has taken an unusual tack when he’s spoken to analysts about Viacom’s recent performance. The lower ratings for its programming, he says, aren’t the result of the rising popularity of YouTube or poor creative choices at Viacom. Instead, the loss of viewers is an illusion, he says. The fans are there in growing numbers. They just aren’t being properly counted. According to Dauman, Nielsen’s ratings fail to account for the TV that people consume via apps on their smartphones, streaming devices such as Roku, desktop websites, or various video-on-demand services. “Inadequate measurement undermines innovation,” Dauman said during a recent earnings call, “and disproportionately impacts those leading programmers like us who effectively provide the multiplatform experiences that viewers demand.”

  • When One App Rules Them All: The Case of WeChat and Mobile in China
    A primer on how WeChat is different and why it’s successful in China. I tried using WeChat and Weibo in the past but since I can’t read Chinese, it was a non-starter for me. I guess I’ll have to wait until some company in the Western world brings over the idea.

    This focus on function over social has significant consequences for brands. Where brands must rely on static, one-size-fits all blasts in U.S. social networks — and users are confined to only liking, favoriting, commenting on, or sharing posts — WeChat shows us what’s possible when brands are offered more options for interacting with their users. For example, where Starbucks could post an offer for all users on its Facebook page, on WeChat, it could theoretically also allow a user to inquire after their gift card balance, place a favorite drink order, find the nearest store without having to specify intent, or receive a promotion tailored to drink preferences based on the weather in that city. Where a celebrity like Taylor Swift can share 140 characters about her upcoming concert on Twitter, on WeChat, she could send a concert discount code to users who purchased her album, or charge users a small fee for daily pre-recorded morning greetings (some celebrities in Asia actually already do this!).

  • How Canada’s economy went from boom to recession so fast
    Not surprisingly: lower resource demand and China.

    By the time the smoke cleared, nearly $3.2 trillion had been wiped off the Chinese stock market—or, about twice the value of India’s entire stock market value. Put another way: Greece’s total government debt—the cause of austerity measures, panicked bailout renegotiations, and even a referendum—is only $375 billion, or about one-10th the amount lost by Chinese stock traders.