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April 2017

We started April by celebrating Katana’s full moon at our usual restaurant with family. Katana’s first month was uneventful but she seemed to be bigger than her brothers were at their full moon. She’s continued growing well through April and has been visiting parks and shops with the family.

I also went on my first work trip since Katana was born, going down to Dallas for a few nights. Dallas is pretty boring. I also went to a conference this month – FITC (Futurists, Innovators, Technologists, Creatives). This was mostly because 1) it was held in Toronto, and 2) work was the title sponsor so I was able to get a free ticket. It wasn’t the biggest conference I’ve ever been to, nor the smallest. The talks ranged from mediocre to interesting so overall it was pretty middle of the road. I did have to commute downtown for 2 days to attend though, so that was a retro experience.

The weather is nice now and we’ve been going biking (and park) every weekend. Apollo can ride by himself, although he still can’t use the brake properly and needs some motivation to ride without stopping (i.e., someone to chase). Jovian can spin his feet, but doesn’t have enough strength to really push himself on his tricycle yet. April also saw the beginning of a new set of extracurricular classes (for Apollo). This time it’s basketball, swimming and science classes.

I unpacked the patio furniture that was stored over the winter. Winter was not kind to it. Nor is the weather warm enough to really use it (it’s nice that it’s not winter – but not nice enough to sit around outdoors). Hopefully it will be near summer weather in May.

The Arrival

I would’ve passed on this movie as just another Hollywood sci-fi flick, except that a couple of months ago I saw the trailer to Blade Runner 2049. I’m looking forward to that sequel and when I was reading about it online, the fan reception was positive because Denis Villeneuve was directing.

The Arrival was also directed by Villeneuve and it was supposed to be moody and atmospheric. I think it was quite successful at that. Even though I saw it on the plane, the sound was spectacular, especially during the scenes with the aliens. The audio made the aliens seem scary, even though I knew this was not a scary movie (and the aliens themselves weren’t scary). I guess it might have been a bit of the audio, and a bit of the “unknown” factor.

This film navigated the fine balance between disbelief and realism. The idea of learning the alien’s language and time travel (paradox) is actually a bit farfetched; but it was believable enough in the context of the story. Overall the film was interesting and a four out of five stars from me.

Pocket Queue 74

  • Unexpected Consequences of Self Driving Cars
    An interesting post about the social changes that self driving cars may bring about. No, not the trolley problem, but other interesting ways that society might change when we have the convenience of automated drivers for our cars.

    People will jump out of their car at a Starbucks to run in and pick up their order knowingly leaving it not in a legal parking spot, perhaps blocking others, but knowing that it will take care of getting out of the way if some other car needs to move or get by. That will be fine in the case there is no such need, but in the case of need it will slow everything down just a little. And perhaps the owner will be able to set the tolerance on how uncomfortable things have to get before the car moves. Expect to see lots of annoyed people. And before long grocery store parking lots, especially in a storm, will just be a sea of cars improperly parked waiting for their owners.

  • It’s a living – Circus is a traveling city with its own economy
    A quick look at what it’s like living in a travelling circus, and what it brings to each town that it visits.

    Gibson describes the economic impact on Chattanooga: 40 of the 120 circus employees stay at a local hotel; 24 travel in RVs that are parked in a nearby field.

    Each day, truckloads of hay and produce are hauled to McKenzie Arena to feed the animals. The circus vet banned peanuts from the elephants’ diet for being too fatty but allows them an occasional loaf of unsliced bread or some marshmallows for treats. On performance days, a local caterer feeds the human employees, or they buy their meals in restaurants or grocery stores.

  • Queens of the Stoned Age
    An interesting take at selling weed in NYC where the runners are models. This story is almost unbelievable and no doubt has some hyperbole built in (I could see it happening at a small scale) so I would chalk it up as interesting fiction.

    The Green Angels average around 150 orders a day, which is about a fourth of what the busiest services handle. When a customer texts, it goes to one of the cell phones on the table in the living room. There’s a hierarchy: The phones with the pink covers are the lowest; they contain the numbers of the flakes, cheapskates, or people who live in Bed-Stuy. The purple phones contain the good, solid customers. Blue is for the VIPs. There are over a thousand customers on Honey’s master list.

    To place an order, a customer is supposed to text “Can we hang out?” and a runner is sent to his apartment. No calling, no other codes or requests. Delivery is guaranteed within an hour and a half. If the customer isn’t home, he gets a strike. Three strikes and he’s 86’d. If he yells at the runner, he’s 86’d immediately.

  • I Was a Proud Non-Breeder. Then I Changed My Mind.
    This article was piqued my interest because I was a parent so I wanted to understand why some women didn’t want to have children. It didn’t delve too deeply into that but I think it was written well so I was able to empathize with the parenting aspect of it.

    Perhaps it says something about my pre-baby life that a lot of my metaphors for new motherhood were drug-related. Those endless hours we spent in bed, alternately nursing, dozing, and staring, amazed, at each other, reminded me of the time I’d smoked opium in Thailand. (And the other time I’d smoked opium in Laos.) Lugging my son around on errands brought to mind the first few times I got stoned as a teenager, when doing normal things like going to school or the drugstore became complicated, strange, and full of misadventure. The oxytocin felt like MDMA.

    Why, I kept thinking, hadn’t anyone told me how great this was? It was a stupid thing to think, because in fact people tell you that all the time. In general, though, the way people describe having a baby is much like the way they describe marriage — as a sacrifice that’s worth it, as a rewarding challenge, as a step toward growing up. Nobody had told me it would be fun.

  • How the Internet Gave Mail-Order Brides the Power
    This is another article that is more interesting for the people story, rather than the technology of what the Internet has done. When I think of mail-order brides, I think of Russia, but this one is focused on Philipines. An interesting read, but I had hoped for more stories.

    Hans’s experience was far from unusual — in fact, the shift between online and offline power is one of the major dynamics at play in modern dating among foreigners and Filipinas. Before a man comes to the Philippines, the woman has the advantage, because only a fraction of Filipina women have the technological capability and English knowledge to meet men online. Video chat may seem like a rudimentary requirement, but it’s not trivial to set it up in remote parts of the Philippines, as women either have to pay for expensive computers or smartphones with fast internet connections and no bandwidth restrictions, or go to internet cafes, which are also cost-prohibitive. But the tables turn once the foreigner arrives in the country. The cost of technology is no longer an obstacle, and he suddenly has many more eligible women vying for his attention.

Star Trek Beyond

After I watched the latest Star Wars movie, I watched the latest Star Trek one! I’m much more of a Trekkie than a Star Wars fan so I was excited to see this.

My first thought was that this was the first time I watched a JJ Abrams Trek movie, and that the casting & dialogue of the bridge crew were pretty close to my expectation (especially McCoy, although he is a lot fatter). But then I realized that I must have watched the reboot at some point (I remember Kirk fighting in a bar) – turns out that I did almost 6 years ago! Wow, that was a long time ago (looks like I totally missed never heard about Star Trek Into Darkness).

The second thought I had was – wow, they destroyed the Enterprise in a movie again. It seems like they do that every movie! Up to that point, the movie was pretty interesting. I liked seeing how the Star Trek world was imagined vs the Star Wars world, particularly how the Starbase Yorktown was laid out. But after the crew ended up on the planet, the plot started going into lucky 777 mode just to push the story along. There was not a lot of rhyme or reason why things happened the way they did that killed the movie for me. I like my Star Trek stories to have a logical arc, and this is one movie that didn’t.

I had some expectations for this movie and since the plot was so outlandish in the second half, I’ll have to give Star Trek Beyond a two out of five.

Finding Dory

It took me a long, long time to watch this movie. I forget why I originally picked it, but I think it was on a flight from New York. The movie is 97 mins long so I only saw 2/3rd of it, but the next flight I took (I think it was in the same month) didn’t have it playing anymore! So I haven’t been able to finish watching it until this month. Fortunately, I had to ffwd to the spot were I stopped, and was able to get a refresher.

Whenever I watch cartoons now, I evaluate whether my kids can watch the movie. Finding Dory is definitely too scary for my young boys – Dory and baby Dory are put into too many situations which would be frightening. However, if you were young and watched Finding Nemo when it came out, I think you’d be the right age for this movie now (if not too old)! Otherwise I think you need to be over 7 to really watch it.

The story deals with Dory’s issue…namely her lack of short term memory. She goes on a mission to find her parents and discover her childhood. Along the way, she encounters a bunch of other marine animals who each have sort of significant mental or physical problem. Working together, the group overcomes their individual challenges and are stronger as a whole. That’s a decent moral message.

The other moral message in this movie seems to be to “take risks!”, even against the behest of your parents. I’m not sure this should be a blanket moral message though, and I thought Finding Nemo taught it better (sometimes you need to go out of your comfort zone).

I felt Finding Nemo was more enjoyable and fun, and Finding Dory had a lot more scary or challenging situations. That might leave your child in a unhappy state. But it’s no problem for an adult – this is a 3 out of 5 star movie.

Pocket Queue 73

  • Peter Thiel, Trump’s Tech Pal, Explains Himself
    Much of the tech industry is confused why Peter Thiel would back Trump. Here, he gives some concise (although not entirely descriptive) answers to some common questions. His responses are almost the antithesis of Trump in terms of being dramatic.

    He recalls that he went through a lot of “meta” debates about Mr. Trump in Silicon Valley. “One of my good friends said, ‘Peter, do you realize how crazy this is, how everybody thinks this is crazy?’ I was like: ‘Well, why am I wrong? What’s substantively wrong with this?’ And it all got referred back to ‘Everybody thinks Trump’s really crazy.’ So it’s like there’s a shortcut, which is: ‘I don’t need to explain it. It’s good enough that everybody thinks something. If everybody thinks this is crazy, I don’t even have to explain to you why it’s crazy. You should just change your mind.’”

  • India’s ‘Phone Romeos’ Look for Ms. Right via Wrong Numbers
    Interesting story about how India doesn’t use Tindr and that sort, but just dial (or hold on to) wrong numbers to try and meet potential mates.

    Umakanti Padhan, a moon-faced 16-year-old garment factory worker, tried to call her sister-in-law. She misdialed and found herself accidentally conversing with Bulu, a railway worker eight years her senior.

    She hung up, alarmed. At home, beginning at puberty, she had been prohibited from speaking with any adult man, including her brothers and cousins.

    Ten minutes later, Bulu called back and told her that he liked the sound of her voice. “When I hear your voice, it feels like someone of my own,” he said. “I feel like talking to you all the time.”

    So she agreed. Every night, she slipped out to the roof of her Bangalore workers’ hostel, where she shares a room with 11 other young women, and spoke to Bulu about mundane things: how their shifts went and what they had eaten that day.

    “He’s told me everything that ever happened to him from the time he was a kid,” she said. “I don’t know whether it is good or bad, but I trust him. I know he will not betray me.”

  • Would the Cavs Be Better off With Andrew Wiggins Over Kevin Love?
    This is my occasional dive into the world of basketball, with this particular article being of interest because the Raptors may play the Cavs in the playoffs, and Wiggins being a Canadian. Nothing startling in this – Cavs made a trade for Right Now vs Potential, but provides some background on the Cavs.

    Love was the guy in Minnesota, a post machine who could score and facilitate. Over the past three years, his primary role has been to space the floor, though he is occasionally force-fed post chances. He’s like a more talented Ryan Anderson — a better rebounder, interior scorer, and passer. Except, for the role Love plays and the money he gets paid (tied for 22nd most in the NBA), Cleveland could be getting more bang for its buck.

  • Why Bargain Travel Sites May No Longer Be Bargains
    The travel industry is cyclic and it looks like the advantage is back in the courts of brands instead of the aggregators. My own travel planning has started at hotel brands now too, although my flight planning hasn’t shifted yet.

    He’s right: The price control pendulum is swinging back toward the hoteliers. “It was really easy for the aggregators to gobble up all this business in the past because the hotels weren’t really paying any attention,” that West Coast CEO told me. But eventually, the aggregators cornered so much of the market that they jacked up their commissions high enough that everyone had to take notice. The CEO revealed that his hotels typically paid aggregators 20 percent commission—and in many cases even 30 percent.
    In past two or three years the hotel industry has been fighting the aggregators by offering deals that wiggle around the contracts they originally set with them. Let’s say, for example, your hotel chain has a set rate for a room. You enter in an agreement with an aggregator that says you won’t further discount the rate that is the “lowest price” a customer can find on the internet. But you can get around it by offering a potential guest an instant membership in your “loyalty” program. You can throw in additional “amenities” (parking, spa, and so on) that would normally cost extra and you would not be violating your agreements by undercutting the base price of the room. Tricky? You bet.

  • No, Trump isn’t the worst president ever
    While there is a lot of doom and gloom. Trump has a ways to go before becomeing the “worst president ever” (or even of the last century). Mostly the presidents in the 1800s and how they dealt with the pro-slave states made them horrible.

    In December 1860 — after the Electoral College affirmed Lincoln’s election — southern states started seceding. Belatedly, Buchanan briefly considered sending some reinforcements south, but he let his Secretary of War — John Floyd of Virginia — talk him out of it. A few days later, Floyd resigned to join his home state in secession and treason.

    Until he left office on March 4, 1861, Buchanan continued to appease the Rebels. In the end, he gave the Confederacy a four-month head start in the Civil War. He let the South seize federal forts, arsenals and naval vessels, which they soon used to wage war upon the very country he had solemnly sworn to protect.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

There was a great selection of movies this month on Air Canada flights. I didn’t have enough flight time to see them all so I had to prioritize, and Rogue One was top on my list. I actually thought about seeing this in theatres because Apollo is interested in Star Wars; however, we decided it was probably too violent and scary for him. I’m glad we didn’t because it is definitely too scary for him.

Rogue One is like a prequel to A New Hope, and you can actually watch them back-to-back:

"Rogue One" Spliced with "A New Hope" from Barre Fong on Vimeo.

The story follows a rag tag team of characters who have to steal the plans for the death star and deliver it to Princess Leia & R2D2. As a story, it’s quite predictable and uses common themes (including the RPG trope of the reluctant hero). However, it is fun and enjoyable to watch, and I didn’t notice the over-two-hours run time.

The cast of characters were interesting, without a traditional white male lead character. It’s refreshing to see the diversity in this and The Force Awakens, although it’s almost like the traditional white male is underrepresented (or maybe they are being subliminally portrayed as bad guys). Also K-2SO is the characer that Jar Jar should have been!

I’m curious how Rogue One will be thought of within the entire volume of Star Wars movies (now that Disney has the franchise, I can see it being more like James Bond than Indiana Jones). It was a fun and polished movie, but it’s just too cookie cutter for it to be more than 3 stars.

My Bluetooth Earbuds

I have a pair of IconX, which in theory are a great idea. A pair of earbuds only (no hardware to connect between the earbuds) that act as a bluetooth headset or an mp3 player. They’re kind of like the Apple AirPods, except they were available (and cheaper) before AirPods were released or announced.

I received my pair “for free” because I had some credit to spend as part of my employer’s year end gift. I was on the fence about spending it on this (+ some other stuff) because there were some negative reviews centered around:

  • Limited battery life: I think it was rated at 1-2 hours over BT and 3-4 hours on standalone
  • Mono sound on standalone: Some reviewers/users didn’t follow instructions and copy their music to both ear buds to enable stereo sound

In the end, I persisted and got the IconX.

I think the battery life limitation is fine, because you receive a case which doubles as a battery pack. You have to use the case anyways to store the earbuds (more on that later). The earbuds are supposed to last a few hours on standalone, which is more than enough for a commute.

Since I don’t have to commute, I haven’t been using the IconX frequently, but lately I have had some opportunity to try them out. Sadly, every time I try to use them, I hit some sort of problem.

  1. I setup the earbuds in standalone mode and tried them out. I listened for about 10 minutes and then took them off as they kept playing the same song over and over! It turns out that you can’t organize your music in folders as it will only play music from the root folder (and I only had a single song there).
  2. I tried controlling my music, but the control mechanism (single, double, tripe clicks, and up/down swipes) is finicky. Either the tactile pickup is laggy or the timing is off. It just doesn’t feel natural to control it, and often I go to the next track when I try and pause/resume music
  3. I fixed my music and the next time I tried it out, there were no batteries. I guess that even though the earbuds are in the case, they are still on/consume battery. So standby mode basically drained the batteries and I couldn’t use them. I learned my lesson and now keep them on the charger until I need them.
  4. After charging the batteries, I used it again in standalone mode. It worked well for awhile, but then complained and ran out of batteries after half an hour! It turns out that even though they are operating in standalone mode; if your paired BT device is nearby, it will maintain an active connection to it. Whoops
  5. Next time, I removed the pairing from my phone and used the earbuds in standalone mode again. My phone kept popping up a message saying that the earbuds wanted to pair – every time you dismiss it, it comes back after a few seconds. It turns out that the earbuds will try and pair for 3 minutes after they are removed from the case. I don’ think there’s a fix for this so it’s just annoying
  6. Finally, I was able to use it for awhile, but then in some instances, the earbuds get out of sync and the audio is off by a few 100 microseconds! I guess there’s an easy fix – you just remove the earbud from your ear and put it back in.
  7. Oh and pause/resume doesn’t work correctly. After you resume playback, it always starts at the beginning of the song rather than where you stopped. That’s also annoying

I’m disappointed that there are a lot of fundamental problems that make this frustrating to use. It’s too bad, because I like the idea. I guess I will have to go back to carrying an mp3 player and wired headphones.

March 2017

March was exciting because we welcomed a new addition to our family – no not a pet or a new car, but a sister for our two boys! Katana was a little late but she was born healthy and everyone is happy. As you might expect, most of the month was spent taking care of our new baby and everyone getting used to her being around the house now. The brothers seemed to have adjusted well and we’re starting to get into a routine again.

Last month was warm and March was pretty warm to start. But Winter reared its ugly head for one more week – ironically during March Break – and everyone was back in snowboots and sweaters. By the end of the month though, the weather was solidly in the positives. There were even some long days of rain, so Spring is here!

No travel this month due to the baby being born so it was relatively calm. I also tried out a lot of games on mobile since, for a large part of the month, I was just holding Katana while she was asleep.

Android Games 37

Super Mario Run was much hyped release that I tried out after its exclusive on iOS finished. I didn’t like it very much and I don’t think the hype was deserved. It is kind of like Mario mixed with Angry Birds mixed with Miitomo. You play a Mario level (and it auto runs so you only need one hand) repeatedly so you can get a high(er) score and get all the special coins. You can then use your total coin total to outfit your little town. There’s a PvP part as well where you race another player’s ghost to see if you can get the most coins. I didn’t enjoy the game because 1) I don’t enjoy the repetitive nature and frustration of completing a level perfectly in order to “3 star” a level, 2) the PvP doesn’t interest me, 3) I’m too old for town personalization and showing it off to friends. I also don’t like the general UI design (I guess that is DeNA’s style). The game doesn’t get the $10 from me to unlock it (the free part is really just a trial).

Mechcom was a thrown-in in a Humble Bundle that I bought, but it excels as a bare-bones RTS game. The game is straightforward, but the controls are pretty tight, and it is well suited for play even on mobile phone. I haven’t played it much but it seems to satisfy any RTS itch I might have. There’s a sequel to this game, which I also received. I’m not sure I will like that as much though because it adds more bells and whistles. This isn’t a game that I want to be heavily invested into.