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This Is Our Youth

On my recent trip to NYC, I saw Mamma Mia on Saturday night so I had another opportunity on Sunday night to see another theatre show. I had a couple of options but chose This Is Our Youth. I chose this one because it was on a limited engagement so I might not get another chance to see it again. Also, this rendition casted Michael Cera (of Juno, Scott Pilgrim fame) in one of the roles (Kieran Culkin – Scott Pilgram’s gay roommate is also in the play).

The plot is supposed to be about 3 wayward tweeners in 1982, which seemed mildly interesting to me. In the end, I think I would have probably enjoyed seeing something else more. It is a play (rather than a musical) and the amount of dialog that each character had is impressive (there’s only 3 people in the play). I had to sit a little too far away to really make out the characters’ expressions (which, when contrasted with my seat for Mamma Mia was a big difference). And although I understood the plot and the character portrayal; I was confused as to what the play was trying to convey to me. I did not understand the implication of the ending at all.

Pocket Queue 47

  • Billie Bob’s (Mis) Fortune
    Yet another story about a normal person who won the lottery, only to find his life going sour

    Gerstner says Bonner told her that he had finally hooked up Billy Bob with Stone Street. Bonner told her that Billie Bob would receive $2.25 million in cash in exchange for ten years’ worth of his share of the lottery winnings, worth more than $6 million gross. Gerstner says she immediately knew it was a very bad deal for Billie Bob. She was also concerned about the legality.

  • The Downsides Of Being a Dad
    An article that argues that maybe it doesn’t matter if you spend a lot of time with your kids

    I spoke with roughly a dozen experts and posed an identical scenario to each one. Say you have three fathers: one coaches his kid’s Little League team; one shows up to the games and cheers the kid on from the sidelines; and the other drops his kid off at practice. Is there any data to suggest that a kid’s long-term success is determined or even influenced by which type of father he has?

    And the answer, from each of the experts, was the same: nope, none, zero.

  • What Happens When You Enter the Witness Protection Program?
    I was expecting this article to have all sorts of Hollywood stories about criminals being whisked away, and having to live a new life; but no, the focus is mainly about the program itself rather than interesting plot twists

    The Witness Protection Program does face new challenges since its mob heyday and the period described in WITSEC (Shur retired in the 1990s). The first that most consider is the impact of the Internet. Even if it still seems ordinary for an adult in a small town not to use social networks, risk is amplified by the increasing number of digital traces our lives create. In addition, companies and organizations now have much higher expectations for finding a paper trail (or digital record) for any individual, making it harder to create a credible new identity.

  • Why Chinese patients are turning against their doctors.
    Usually when you read about problems in China, it’s about pollution or free speech. Here’s an interesting look at their medical system.

    I heard countless tales of overwork among Chinese doctors. A leading radiologist in Shanghai told me he’d heard that the record number of patients seen in a day is three hundred and fourteen. “That was at the Shanghai Children’s Hospital,” he said. “One doctor, 8 A.M. to 6 P.M., ten hours, two minutes per patient.” According to a study conducted in Shaanxi province, the average visit to a doctor’s office lasts seven minutes, and physicians spend only one and a half minutes of that time talking to the patient. As a result, patients tend to be pushy, crowding in doorways and entering without knocking. Joe Passanante, a doctor from Chicago who did a stint at Beijing United Family Hospital, told me that he was once performing CPR on a woman when the parents of a girl with a fever walked into the room. “Here I am pushing on a dead person’s chest, trying to revive her, and they’re asking me to see their daughter,” he recalled.

  • Why do we have blood types?
    Interesting article about the evolutionary reasons why we have blood types – and the pitfalls in our civilization before we realized the concept of blood types

    Landsteiner found that the clumping occurred only if he mixed certain people’s blood together. By working through all the combinations, he sorted his subjects into three groups. He gave them the entirely arbitrary names of A, B and C. (Later on C was renamed O, and a few years later other researchers discovered the AB group. By the middle of the 20th century the American researcher Philip Levine had discovered another way to categorise blood, based on whether it had the Rh blood factor. A plus or minus sign at the end of Landsteiner’s letters indicates whether a person has the factor or not.)

Mamma Mia

I had a chance to be in NYC over a weekend so I took advantage of it and went to see some theatre. Usually if I’m in town for Sunday night, there’s no evening show or it’s early and I can’t make it in time to get rush tickets. This time I had a bit more time. My first pick was to see Once, but I was too late for their rush tickets. Then I tried my luck for the Wicked lottery – but didn’t get picked. Next I tried Mamma Mia for standing room tickets – they only sold those when the show was sold out, but I was feeling lucky for a warm Saturday night. I didn’t get standing room tickets, but they sold me a student rush ticket. It was “partial view (second row, and on an angle), but it wasn’t partial view for me (sure everything was on a slant, but I only noticed 2 times when I missed stuff – once because there was an ensemble member in front of me and another when they were purposely facing the other corner).

I actually didn’t remember that this musical was based entirely on ABBA songs until I sat down. I don’t mind though, although I’m not a huge ABBA fan, I enjoy their songs and I have a copy of ABBA Gold. In fact I think every song in Mamma Mia, except maybe 1, was from the disc (at least they sounded familiar to me). This gave the musical a leg up already, because I knew and liked the music. However, it was a drawback as well since the songs were sung by singers who didn’t sing as well as ABBA. One notable exception was the person who portrayed the Mom who had a distinctive singing voice in her own way (sounds like a country singer).

The songs were cleverly woven into the plot – actually the almost seem like they were written for the play (although we know otherwise) so that was actually pretty impressive. I’m pretty sure they changed some of the lyrics (probably in the verses), but I’m not a big enough ABBA fan to know. One thing I was disappointed with was the ending which, while the anticipated things happened, didn’t really go out with a bang. I guess that’s because ABBA never had any hits that were about happy times?

There was an encore of sorts, where they did a mini tribute band/dance party (Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen, Waterloo). That was good because it ended the night with high energy (something that the true ending didn’t do)

Pocket Queue 46

  • The life and death of a master of the universe
    The story of a successful, well-meaning (at least as portrayed by the article) entrepreneur who was pushed into depression and then suicide by activists against his social projects in Africa.

    Wrobel’s signature project as CEO of Sithe was the Bujagali hydroelectric project in Uganda. For years, the country’s economic development was crippled by a lack of widespread, reliable electricity and a dependence on trucked-in oil. The $900 million, 250-megawatt facility on the Nile River was funded by Sithe and public-sector partners, and launched commercially in August 2012. The dam boosted economic growth by nearly doubling the country’s electricity capacity and by providing renewable power at a price two-thirds lower than before, according to Sithe materials. Wrobel helped put together more than $20 million in social program funding to accompany the project, including investments in education, health, environmental resources and business development.

  • Burger King Is Run by Children
    Given the recent news about the Tim Hortons and BK merger, I figure I should jump to this article in my queue and read it. Basically, it says that BK is in the business of making money, and not so much about food.

    Wall Street has responded enthusiastically. Burger King went public again in June 2012 in an offering that put a $4.6 billion value on the company. As of early July, its market cap had risen to more than $9 billion. The doubters are in the minority now, and many in the investment community would like McDonald’s and Wendy’s to mimic the kids at Burger King. “These things are seemingly working at Burger King and causing questions to be asked about the strategy of others in fast food,” says David Palmer, an analyst who covers the restaurant industry for RBC Capital Markets (RY). “Like, why aren’t you doing what they’re doing?”

  • The Secret Life of an Obsessive Airbnb Host
    An interesting look at what it’s like to be an Airbnb host. I haven’t stayed with Airbnb myself yet, although I might try at some point in the future. I’m nowhere near considering being a host though.

    The year was 2011 and Airbnb was far from a household word. Telling my mother that “I could sleep in the office once in a while to earn extra income” made the absurdity of my plan palpable. I had to run the idea past someone, and Mom is a black belt in reality checks.

    It didn’t surprise me that she couldn’t fathom why I would move out of my apartment for days on end because a stranger was paying me ninety dollars per night to sleep in my bed. To a woman who watches hours of crime dramas every day, the concept of Airbnb sounded harebrained. But I knew I wasn’t crazy — just desperate.

  • nterview with an Auschwitz Guard: ‘I Do Not Feel Like a Criminal’
    Interesting because of the history, and because I visited the site a few years back

    SPIEGEL: Did you see the corpses being burned?

    W.: The crematorium chimneys weren’t very tall. Depending on the wind direction, it stunk badly. And starting in 1944, the crematoria weren’t able to keep up. Next to them was a ditch, perhaps three or four meters across. A fire was burning in the trench day and night. Two men were always carrying straps that they used to pull them (Eds. note: the corpses) out of the gas chamber, removed the straps and threw them into the fire. If you were standing in the area, it was impossible to look away.

  • Jimmy Iovine: The Man With the Magic Ears
    A QA with Jimmy Iovine about his career. Pertinent due to Apple’s recent purchase of Beats, and because U2 has a new album (which Apple seems to be marketing)

    Rock has a real problem. All you hear every day is how not cool the record industry is. That’s going to have an effect on who gets into music. All you need is a new Bruce Springsteen deciding he’s going to work for Apple – or create his own. Look at the intensity and force that went into making Darkness. If Bruce ever had a fucking excuse not to do it, maybe he would have chosen not to. It’s the same thing you see when musicians get older. To make an album like [Pink Floyd's] The Wall or any of the great Stones albums – it’s painful to go to that dark place. When you have horses and a boat and friends in the South of France, kids who want your attention, it makes you not want to go to that place. You go there because you have to.

Always Taeyeon

I’m a fan of the singer Taeyeon (태연) from Girls’ Generation and on occasion I find myself on websites where her fans have posted photos that they’ve taken of her at airports, media events, etc. She actually has quite a following as it seems like there are several dedicated people who just (voluntarily) follow her around. I guess they are the equivalent of paparazzi but they seem nicer about it.

Anyways, instead of visiting all of those sites, or other fan sites on my computer, I wanted an experience on my phone similar to what I can do with Instagram; which is the ability to just open an app when I’m bored and scroll through photos. I decided to build one, and I called it Always Taeyeon

The concept of Always Taeyeon is a “firehose of HD photos, updated automatically”. Basically, I used public APIs to grab the latest high resolution photos, and then display them in the app. I also wanted to make a rich photographic experience. For example: everything is edge-to-edge, the are minimal distractions (a menu button appears when you scroll), and the menu is real-time blur of the photo you’re looking at.

The second thing I wanted to do was to use as little text as possible. My thinking was that the target audience wouldn’t actually be English speaking people, but people in Asia (Korean, Chinese, Japanese, etc). Unfortunately, it’s hard to get away from using some English. Here are some screens where I had to use English

For the first screen, I had to convey that you could swipe left for more photos. In English, it’s easy to explain; but I also added a little animation if you stay on the screen which would swipe 40% of the screen and then animate back. Hopefully users will get that hint! I also embedded photos into my notifications to help explain to the user that there are new photos.

The app is pretty small so far, but it’s something I’m interested in (and hopefully some people around the world are), so I might keep working on it for awhile (unlike some of my other apps)

Two Months Tradition

One of the reasons we went to the US over the Labour Day long weekend was to perform a tradition for Jovian that we started with Apollo, namely to celebrate their 2 months birthday by 1) Going to the US, and 2) Having 20 nuggets (for $5!). When we did this with Apollo, we took some photos so it follows that we should do the same for Jovian. And once we have photos of both kids, of course it would be natural to compare them!

So here they are:



To set up Jovian’s photos, we went to the exact same McDonalds as the first one, sat in the exact same seats, and as you can tell from some of the photos, there were a bunch of other things that were similar. The hardest thing to get similar was to get Jovian to act the same as Apollo. It’s hard telling a 2 month old to do something.

Then, to practice our Equal Opportunity Parenting, we let Apollo re-take his two month old photos! Of course, he had to wear the same clothes as before.



August 2014

August has come and gone. I blogged rather infrequently last month as it fell a couple of rungs (further) down my priority list. I had a couple of side projects going on. One was catching up on organizing photos of my kids. There are a lot of photos, and I’ve taken the philosophy that it’s better to have quality than quantity so it’s taken a long time. I’ve also been working on a niche Android app, which will probably not be of much interest to anyone that reads this blog, but it’s been interesting. I’ll blog more about that in September after I have some more analytics around it.

We spent more time outdoors this month now that Jovian is older. He still doesn’t get anything out of going out (he’s just accompanying us), but at least we can spend more time out of the house. We went a couple of places to pick vegetables/fruit. Apollo’s finally old enough to do those things, although I don’t think he really understands that they grow on plants.

I had a lot of cake this month as it was my birthday and we had two cakes to finish. We also made our first road trip to the US after Jovian was born on the Labour Day long weekend. It went fairly smooth, although we didn’t have much stuff to buy this time.

Pocket Queue 45

  • Never Forgetting a Face
    Photo recognition is become more and more common, and this article discusses some of the dangers.

    Dr. Atick sees convenience in these kinds of uses as well. But he provides a cautionary counterexample to make his case. Just a few months back, he heard about NameTag, an app that, according to its news release, was available in an early form to people trying out Google Glass. Users had only to glance at a stranger and NameTag would instantly return a match complete with that stranger’s name, occupation and public Facebook profile information. “We are basically allowing our fellow citizens to surveil us,” Dr. Atick told me on the trade-show floor.

  • Baseball’s Best Lobbyist
    A brief look at MLB super agent Scott Boras and his impact on the Washington Nationals

    Others simply refer to the Boras Effect. “What consistently happens is that there will be a rumor that Boras has a team that is going to give his player X amount of money, then everyone laughs,” says New York Times sportswriter Benjamin Hoffman. “And then someone signs that player for that much money.”

  • At the World Pun Championships, Victory Is Easier Said Than Punned
    I was expecting a great article full of funny puns, but unfortunately I was sorely disappointed. Looks like the competition is more about language agility (similar to spelling bees) than being actually funny.

    In 2000, Tiffany Wimberly won by dressing as RaPUNzel: “When I was a young CURL, a jealous queen LOCKed me in a tower. I was STRANDed … at my SPLIT’S END … truly a damsel in THESE TRESSES.”

  • The History of Mana: How an Austronesian Concept Became a Video Game Mechanic
    If you were ever interested in how the word “mana” came to represent the ability to cast spells, then this article is for you!

    Spell-casting units in Warcraft used a spell point mechanic, and their magical energy was measured by a green bar. What kind of magical energy was it? No one seems to be sure. Apparently the developers had never developed a backstory for their game deeper then “orcs and humans fight.” The reasons why were made up by one employee, who made up the backstory as he went along.

    Warcraft II, released in 1995, changed all that. Now there was a guy whose whole job was to create worlds for the game to take place in. In this game, mana was the official unit of magical energy and the bar that measured it had turned blue.

  • Pablo Escobar’s Private Prison Is Now Run by Monks for Senior Citizens
    When I read this title, I thought the story would be about some weird evolution of a private prison due to mellowing out of a drug cartel mastermind. Well no such thing. Pablo Escobar actually just left his prison, and *now* it’s a senior citizen home (no real story given).

    With the Vice Minster of Justice now a hostage, Gen. Pardo’s 4th brigade had little choice but to strike. All hell broke loose. Mendoza managed to escape amid the frenzy. A sergeant from the Directorate General of Prisons, Mina Olmedo, was shot and killed, and eleven other guards were badly injured. At some point during the madness, the most famous prison inmate in the world and nine of his henchmen simply walked out the back door, past a few guards, into the thick woodland of Mont Catedral.

Guardians of the Galaxy: TUW

I saw this game on Google Play based on the recent movie and was surprised that it cost $5! After reading a couple of reviews, it seemed to be a good premium game with no in-app purchases. That was promising, and the fact that it had a comic book license was pretty good too. After a few weeks, it dropped in price to $3 and I spent some Amazon Coins on the game.

Sadly, the gameplay is pretty poor. You control up to four heroes, and attempt to kill waves of attackers. Usually the attackers come in groups of one or two, so given that you have four heros, it’s not tough work. And to make it even easier, your heroes have special abilities which you can activate by pressing buttons at the top of the screen. Rather than being difficult, it is a bit like finger spaghetti trying to move your heroes around the screen, target enemies and cast spells.

That’s not good nor fun, so I found a cheap way to win. Leave 3 of your heroes sitting aimlessly, stack one range unit with as much damage as possible, and then one-hit-kill all your enemies. This works pretty much the entire game until the difficulty ramps up suddenly. At that point, since you haven’t invested any time in learning the game (and why would you if there is such a cheap hack), it gets entirely too difficult. Of course I found another hack. There’s one power which is basically invincibility. You can pretty much keep casting that, alternating with juggles to kill anyone (including the final boss),

So I was fooled by a couple of good reviews, and this game actually sucks. I wouldn’t play it if it was free. It’s also disappointing that apparently the gameplay is the same as Battlehearts, which is a game that I eventually did want to play. I guess I will pass on that one too now.

The worse part is that there are still a lot of bugs. Here’s a couple:

  • There’s a “star” concept to each level where you can replay each level and earn up to 3 “stars”. The only criteria seems to be that you have to win the level. That’s great, except your second and third star don’t unlock after you beat the level the second (or third time). They seem to unlock on some weird schedule
  • Loading Screens Everywhere
  • Arena mode is supposed to be more fun than the story. Except the game lags every few seconds when playing Arena. Makes it hard to respond, move units or attack with the lag. It’s especially weird since the game is offline
  • There are achievements to move things along, except they are dumb. “Defeat 7 of this type of unit”. Once you’re done that one, you get another one that is “Defeat 5 of that same type of unit”.
  • the XP meter at the end of levels is set to increment at a constant pace. On the earlier levels, this takes a few seconds. On the later levels, it takes a few minutes. And there’s no way to speed this up

Snowpiercer

Of all the movies that I haven’t watched yet but I might have some interest in watching, strangely I decided to watch Snowpiercer. It’s not even really famous or a blockbuster. In fact, I just heard about it on a whim on the internet. It’s about a dystopian future where the world is completely frozen over and the remenants of humanity survive on a perpetually moving train. It’s kind of a strange situation which begs the question, why does humanity have to survive on a train? Couldn’t they just settle in a cave/facility near the equator instead of constantly moving around the world?

In any case, the tail section people go on their mission to take the engine, fight some battles & overcomes some challenges. I supposed I wasn’t so interested in the plot as I was the setting. Beyond the superficial, I don’t think it makes a lot of sense how the train could be self sustaining. That is kind of disappointing to me because the sci-fi element of the film is that humanity is locked in this train, so if that is not rational, then the premise is kind of broken.

I think there are a lot, or could be a lot of themes in this movie that talk about how our current society keeps some individuals down and they have to go through their own battles to reach the engine of their train. But the message is kind of muddled in amidst the action. Stylistically, the movie is pretty good. However, I just didn’t enjoy it as well as I thought I might. Grudgingly, I’ll give Snowpiercer 3 out of 5 stars.

Oh by the way, the director of Snowpiercer, Bong Joon-ho also directed The Host which I watched in 2007