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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

Being Omnipotent is No Fun

A game is no fun when you become omnipotent. Sure, it’s fun at first when you use a cheat code and can go rampaging without concern, but that gets dull after awhile (and maybe that only works when you’re killing things). I basically killed my interest in San Juan after I created Condado, especially playing my own game on Android. The problem was that in addition to game rules, I knew exactly how the AI worked (since I made it). It’s like watching a movie that you’ve seen many times before. I can’t get myself to pay attention to it anymore.

Last month, I’ve been playing Card Wars and the game (potentially) takes a lot of time. You can craft cards but you need to get loot for the materials. You can only get a maximum of 3 loot per game, and maximum 1 loot per round when you kill an opponent creature (and often times you get cash or nothing instead). Add to the fact that loot is random and you end up with a time sink to build a strong deck (i.e., multiple copies of certain cards). I even ended up writing a quick Android app to help the griding in Card Wars – Adventure Time.

I ended up getting about 40% through the game (50 out of 120 levels) and replying most of the levels to get 3 stars. Then I started poking around some more at the game files and figured out how to modify your card box – basically akin to cheating. I could give myself any card and as many copies of that card as I wanted. There was no need for me to grind for materials anymore.

But knowing this info, even if I didn’t use it, killed the game for me. I knew if I ever truly got stuck, I could just alter reality and give me a better deck for a rematch. Instead of trying to get/collect cards, the game transformed into building decks (with any possible card). The problem with that was that I was still so far from the end that if I were to build a deck, it would demolish the AI (which is unfortunate, and why limit myself to common cards if I could use Algebraic Rare cards in my deck?)

So now I’m grinding, but in a different way. Playing my way further into the game so I will actually have a challenge again. It’s no fun, but hopefully there will be some fun later.

July 2014

We spent this month growing Jovian! We didn’t venture out much for the first two weeks, but started going out more frequently in the latter half of the month. Jovian seems to be growing bigger quickly. I don’t remember how quickly Apollo grew though so it’s difficult to compare.

Taking care of Jovian has been relatively straightforward (even with random poo explosions). We didn’t have to learn the ropes again, but we had to re-learn a lot of things that were forgotten. Here’s a somewhat recent picture (although all babies kind of look the same):

I had to travel down to NYC for work 2 weeks after Jovian was born, but that ended up being pretty uneventful both at home and at work (although the trip had some bumps).

Hopefully next month will be more exciting as we can start taking Jovian out more. Only two more months until he doesn’t just sleep and poo – can’t wait!

Minor Surgery on my Series9

I did some minor surgery on my laptop today to fix an annoying problem that I was having. Lately the left side of my trackpad hasn’t been working. It started first by not responding to clicks, so I trained myself to click a little further to the right. Then it started getting worse and I couldn’t drag over the bottom left corner of the trackpad. I also had to click even further to the right – and about a third of my left clicks ended up being registered as right clicks. That’s really annoying.

On the surface, it was pretty obvious what was wrong. The bottom right corner of the trackpad bulged over the case so it seemed as though the left side was permanently depressed (at least it couldn’t discriminate state transitions from unpressed to pressed). Originally I thought this was a manufacturing defect that had degraded due to wear-and-tear, but then I noticed that my laptop was a bit lopsided; it didn’t sit stable on the table. I realized that the right side of my laptop was thicker than the left.

Some research on the web revealed that I had a swollen battery. Apparently lithium-ion batteries can swell if they overheat, and I had a case of that. There were 2 remedies, you could either replace the battery or you could punch tiny holes in the battery to let the toxic gas out (it swells because there is a chemical reaction that changes some of the battery into a gas). The latter seemed kind of dangerous so I tried the first approach.

I ordered a new battery from HK, it cost about a hundred bucks. Surprisingly, it arrived in only a few days (with free shipping!). It was shipped via DHL as dangerous goods, unlike the other HK place I buy from. I had bookmarked this tutorial on how to change the battery, but honestly it was very straightforward. It was useful to see photos to know what to expect though.

The screws on the case were relatively easy to remove except for two of them right above the battery. By that time I had stripped my screwdriver so was using an eyeglass screwdriver (tough to get leverage). I think these two were extra tough because the battery was bulging on top of this area and causing a lot of resistance. Luckily I didn’t strip the screws and ended up taking them off once I found a longer screwdriver.

Unscrewing the battery was a similar experience. I got them all out except for the last screw. These screws were made of a softer material so I did strip the last screw and couldn’t take it off. I ended up just bending the old battery so that it snapped off the screw that was stuck on (and made the same mod on the new battery). Everything seems to work so far (laptop still works, case is flush, trackpad fixed itself and battery can charge). Not sure if my battery life will be affected with a non-OEM battery though.

Here’s what my battery looked like before surgery. You can see that there are 4 cells and the two closest cells are no longer flush. The closest cell is the most swollen and I think that’s because it’s the closest to the CPU (white sticker between battery and fan). It sure looks like it’s an overheating problem.

Hearthstone’s Curse of Naxxramas

I was eagerly awaiting Hearthstone’s first single player adventure, the Curse of Naxxramas because I was hoping that it would be a fun single player experience that I could play offline. Now that the expansion is finally out, I’m kind of disappointed.

While there is a loose structure of a plot, the expansion can really be summarized as follows:

  • 15 battles against new heroes and set decks, where you win a new card for each victory.
  • Class challenges where you use a set deck and hero, and fight another set deck/hero combo. You get another card for each victory
  • Heroic mode where you can win a new card back if you complete it

The first wing (of 5) was free so I tried it out. I got through the 3 battles and 2 class challenges pretty quickly (on the first try). I was disappointed that the single player was simply more straightforward card battles. Sure the new cards are fun to see (and possibly use), but there’s no real collecting aspect to the game (i.e., you can’t grind for anything new).

I had saved up in-game gold to potentially buy additional wings. It costs 700 gold, but if you want to spend real money you get a slight discount ($20 for remaining 4 wings). I had considered just buying the wings and using the gold on additional card packs; but I also realized that I would always get more gold to buy card packs. So I might as well spend it on wings. Now I’m conflicted. You’re basically paying 700 gold for 6 new cards (one of which is legendary). If you spent it on packs, you would get up to 35 new cards, with at least 7 of those rare or better (but possibly no legendaries).

It’s too bad that the single player experience just isn’t great enough that the decision is easy.

Lots of Mr. Mr.

Apollo loves watching Girls’ Generation dance to Mr. Mr. so I end up playing the video for him via YouTube. Luckily for Apollo, there are many, many versions of Mr. Mr. during the brief promotional period for the hit. Here are some official and fan links:

  1. Official MV
  2. Official dance practice
  3. M! Countdown 20140306
  4. KBS Music Bank 20140307
  5. Music Core 20140308
  6. Inkigayo 20140309
  7. SBS The Show 20140311
  8. M! Countdown 20140313
  9. Yu Huiyeol’s Sketchbook 20140314
  10. KBS Music Bank 20140314
  11. Music Core 20140315
  12. Inkigayo 20140316
  13. Show Champion 20140319
  14. Music Core 20140322
  15. Inkigayo 20140323
  16. KBS Music Bank 20140328
  17. Inkigayo 20140330
  18. SBS 20140615

I think the dancing & choreography is actually quite interesting and inventive. KPop groups are known for their synchronized dancing, but the videos actually depart from this idea and the camera work focuses on individuals. My favorite version is the dance practice version, because you can see how the members cycle around to enable the focusing.

Adventures in Flying Porter

Last July when I flew Porter to NYC for work, I had to stay an extra night in NJ because my departing flight was delayed for too long due to thunderstorms (and the early curfew at YTZ). Out of that trip I ended up with $150 in vouchers/credits which were expiring soon. So I used them on my most recent trip down for work (although somehow, only the $50 voucher worked).

Coincidentally, on the day I was going to depart NYC, I received an email saying that my 20:10 flight had been cancelled, again due to weather (thunderstorms/lightning) and that I had been moved to a flight on the next day. I didn’t really want to do that because Jovian is still pretty young and I wanted to get home. So I looked at my options for changing my flight.

Through Porter’s web portal, I wasn’t able to change to the 19:30 flight so I tried to call into their call centre to try my luck. It turned out that that flight had been cancelled too! The agent suggested that I try and switch to the flight before that, departing at 18:15. That was way to early for me because I couldn’t get to the airport by then! But then he told me that that flight was already more than an hour delayed (this was around noon).

Meanwhile I had looked at other options. I could book a flight out of another airport for around the same time. But in the end, I figured that if there was a weather delay affecting EWR, it would affect JFK or LGA as well. So I might as well try my luck with Porter (at least the 18:15 flight had a known delay). I went back onto the web portal to change my flight and…the web portal didn’t let me (always showed an error).

So I called into the call center again. After another 30 min wait, I was able to change onto that flight. And I thought all was good!

A little bit later in the afternoon, I checked my flights again and found out that the 18:15 flight had been delayed to past 10PM! I knew this was bad because it was luckly that that flight wouldn’t fly into YTZ due to curfew. I looked at the flight before that, scheduled for 16:00 and it was delayed until 20:35! I could definitely make it to the airport before then so I switched to that one. I was kind of worried that the flight would leave earlier than expected though (does that ever happen)?

In the end, I made the right choice. That flight left “on time”, after the 4h35m delay and I was able to make it home that night. The 18:15 flight ended up being completely cancelled and a co-worker who was flying out of another airport to upstate NY ended up staying an extra night.