Do people like, still blog?

July 2018

Back when I was in public school, I always thought summers were pretty long! Then I went to University with their 4 month “summers” (sometimes Coop) and those were even longer. Well as an adult with kids in school, 2 months is definitely no longer long. I can’t believe we’re halfway through summer already.

We started off July with a trip to Rochester to make good use of our membership at the Strong museum. Then it was off to camp for the kids. Each boy was in a different camp every week so that’s 8 camps in the month! I also ended up in Korea for a week for work.

It was hot everywhere. Above 30°C in Korea, Rochester and Canada. We had a couple of cooler days in the month, but it has been a pretty hot summer around the world. We cooled off by going skating (skating camp for a week) and with our weekly lessons on Saturday. It’s strange and awkward to go from shorts to jackets.

So far this year, we’ve used the “front yard of our house” (e.g., the street) much more than the backyard. The kids are at an age where they want to ride bikes and run around, which doesn’t work well in our backyard. Fortunately, the shadows from our block cover most of the street in the late afternoon and evenings, so even with the hot temperatures, they are able to run around there.

Tomb Raider

I’m not sure why they chose to remake Tomb Raider. I think the Angelina Jolie version was pretty faithful to the video game, and the last one I saw came out in 2003 (15 years ago isn’t that long). I guess the reason was to capture and cash in on GenX nostalgia – is the game even relevant anymore?

Yet I watched it. I think the Tomb Raider games of yesteryear have been replaced with infinite runners, and there was a little of both in this movie. The premise is the same, rich English girl running around in exotic places (Asia – to make money on that side of the world, instead of South America or Africa), looking for stuff based on legendary rumors; but somehow with fewer guns and more fist fighting.

From the view of someone who was never deeply into the series, it seems like an OK movie (I would have missed most references). But the key question for me is, does this movie even need the Tomb Raider brand? It could have been the same adventure story without it. Anyways, 3 out of 5 stars on this enjoyable but meaningless romp.

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

Now that Infinity War is out, I guess it’s a little late but better than never to catch up on the Marvel/Avengers universe. The saving grace is that I still haven’t seen Infinity War yet (it hasn’t shown up on inflight entertainment yet). I missed Age of Ultron and have seen several movies after this in the timeline (Civil War, Spider-Man, Thor and Black Panther) which made reference to it. So I was interested to see what I missed.

I’m not sure if it’s because I knew what was going to happen in the future, or if I’m tired of Marvel movies, or if this one just wasn’t that great; but Age of Ultron felt very plain to me. It had the usual Marvel Movie Formula (comedic sidecracks, fights, Stan Lee cameo, etc) so if you like that stuff, you can’t complain; but it just wasn’t overly interesting. The Ultron character was also off-putting – I’m not sure if his personality is like that in the comics or they just wrote him to be so annoying for the movie.

In the end, it’s a necessary watch to move along in the universe (since it introduces Vision and Scarlet Witch), but it wasn’t that fun. Barely manages a 3 out of 5 stars.

Dunkirk

Dunkirk is an atmospheric film about 300,000 English soldiers in WWII, trying to retreat from Europe, to save their manpower to protect the U.K. They are marooned on the beaches of Dunkirk while the Germans continue pressing toward them (they don’t actually make much of an appearance but the threat is real).

Instead of focusing on all the troops, the story follows a few individuals. One soldier on the ground, trying to escape; an airmen, protecting the ships from German bombers; and a civilian whose boat has been commandeered by the Navy to assist rescue efforts. They each have their own perspective and their fates interwine as the plot advances.

This film is special because it paints the scene of desperation through sound and minimal dialogue. The English are sitting ducks on the beach and in their boats, and the effort to leave is slow. It doesn’t go into the why, but you know that there is urgency. Like many of his previous films; Christopher Nolan does a great job with the material.

After watching this, I read up about Dunkirk. The Hollywood version may be glorified but it is still a good look at history. This movie is 4 out of 5 stars.

Pacific Rim & Uprising

There were a bunch of other interesting movies on this flight but I chose to watch Pacific Rim first because I was able to combo this with Pacific Rim Uprising (the sequel). I remember when this movie came out and they said it was basically robots vs monsters. Well that is pretty much right!

Like all action movies, they tried to put some story, comedic and relationship fluff around it. It is admirable, but obviously not very good. What you come to watch is fighting mechs. And truthfully, mechs fight pretty slowly. You can’t do any Kung Fu hijinks so it is mostly clutching and punching. Yet, it is strangely fulfilling to watch giants beat down on each other while our society looks like ants. I guess this movie just lives out all those adventures we had as a kid.

Pacific Rim Uprising is a little better, I guess the first was a success so there was more money. Even from the start, the script and dialogue were noticeably better (although still cliche). Instead of focusing merely on mech vs creature, they mixed it up a bit and did some mech vs mech! How creative. The fighting was still pretty lame, no matter how much the pilots were jostled in their cockpits. They also had various other little Easter eggs for Otaku (Gundam statue, mega-boss).

These movies are ones that I think you only need to see once. I give the original a 2 out of 5 and Uprising a 3 out of 5.

June 2018

June was another awkward month where lots of random things happened. This is mainly because the school year is ending and schedules are no longer static. What’s worse is that Jovian and Apollo’s schools end at different times, with Jovian ending around the middle of the month, and Apollo’s going to the end. Jovian is also switching schools so he had a graduation ceremony.

Classes & programs were also ending, or have ended already – there was yet another graduation ceremony for Chinese school (everyone graduated to the next level), so the weekends were also not structured. We did make it out to a Jr. Jays Blue Jays game one Saturday, before the summer weekends get filled up.

Summer started this month, but right at the turnover, the weather was pretty cool. The weather heated up at the end of the month though, and its pretty much unbearable. I didn’t travel this month but we all made a trip out to Ottawa for a couple of days for Hermione’s graduation. I also started playing a new game (Disney Heroes) as the ones that I was playing (STT and Hearthstone) were getting stale.

Disney Heroes: Battle Mode

Disney Heroes is almost exactly the same game as Star Trek Timelines except it’s featuring Disney heroes. I didn’t pick the game because I liked Disney, but because I had heard good things about the game and it seemed time to try something new (I always knew that Star Wars: Galaxy Of Heroes was a similar game, but that universe never appealed to me enough to try it).

The game has only been out 2 months (another factor in starting it) but surprisingly, it is already a more full-featured and polished game than STT is after 2.5 years. I wouldn’t be surprised if STT is just poorly designed, but it looks like Battle Mode has put thought into the IAP, ramping and balance (or they copied other successful games in this genre).

Like most of these games, the first couple of days is intense with a lot of gameplay. I expect that to level out as I get into a rhythm of what needs to be done at what time. However, the fact that it is a lot more fun than STT (even at the beginning) is promising.

While I will continue to play STT (e.g., keep up my collection); my goal is to play Battle Mode as a pure F2P and slowly build up my hero roster here. Let’s see if that plan continues!

Game Maintenance

I’ve been playing Star Trek Timelines for almost 2 and a half years now, and spent about $200 on the game (sunk cost). I still enjoy it from a collection/completist POV, and play through it every day because of that. The game itself isn’t very fun, but it strikes a balance between the collection and other aspects that other games couldn’t achieve for me (looking at Pokemon Go).

Because I’ve been playing for so long, I am at a point where progress is minimal. I don’t have a complete collection, but I have a large collection that one could reasonable achieve without being a whale on the game. The gameplay every day is more maintenance than anything else, continuing to climb really tall mountains.

In a way, it’s a lot like Hearthstone, where there is a continual maintenance to complete quests -> farm gold -> save for expansions. Farming is easy, especially because you can complete quests by playing “friends”. However, it ends up being a drag because the rewards are minimal compared to the effort required.

I actually pulled back on Hearthstone this month. I stopped trying to maximize my quest/gold farming and maybe I will just focus on getting the season card back for the next little while (I did the same thing when the Goblin vs Gnomes expansion came out). I’m also trying to compress my STT gameplay into shorter bursts because I picked up a new game to play now – Disney Heroes: Battle Mode.

Pocket Queue 81

  • ‘I was a teacher for 17 years, but I couldn’t read or write’
    What’s it like to not know how to read? And to live the lie for most of your life? While becoming a professional in a field that requires reading? That’s an interesting story and this article shares the highlights from it.

    In one exam the professor put four questions on the board. I was sitting at the back of the room, near the window, behind the older students.

    I had my blue book and I painstakingly copied the four questions off the board. I didn’t know what those questions said.

    I had arranged for a friend of mine to be outside the window. He was probably the smartest kid in school, but he was also shy and he’d asked me to fix him up with a girl by the name of Mary who he wanted to go to the spring formal dance with.

    I passed my blue book out the window to him and he answered the questions for me.

    I had another blue exam book underneath my shirt and I took it out and pretended I was writing in it.

    I was praying that my friend was going to be able to get my book back to me and that he was going to get the right answers.

  • The Man Who Cracked the Lottery
    This story is about someone who was able to cheat the lottery system, but did so in a semi-intelligent manner to hide his tracks for a number of years.

    Three months after the winning ticket was announced, the lottery issued another public reminder. Another followed at six months and again at nine months, each time warning that winners had one year to claim their money. “I was convinced it would never be claimed,” says Mary Neubauer, the Iowa Lottery’s vice president of external relations. Since 1999, she had dealt with around 200 people who had won more than $1 million; she’d never seen a winning million-dollar ticket go unclaimed. “And then comes Nov. 9, 2011.”

    A man named Philip Johnston, a lawyer from Quebec, called the Iowa Lottery and gave Neubauer the correct 15-digit serial number on the winning Hot Lotto ticket. Neubauer asked his age — in his 60s, he said — and what he was wearing when he purchased the ticket. His description, a sports coat and gray flannel dress pants, did not match the QuikTrip video. Then, in a subsequent call, the man admitted he had “fibbed”; he said he was helping a client claim the ticket so the client wouldn’t be identified.

    This was against the Iowa Lottery rules, which require the identities of winners to be public. Johnston floated the possibility of withdrawing his claim. Neubauer was suspicious: The winner’s anonymity was worth $16.5 million?

  • The Promise of Vaping and the Rise of Juul
    A fascinating look at the teen sub-culture of vaping, especially the brand Juul. Since I’m too old, I guess I will only find out about this stuff by reading it second hand.

    I talked to a sixteen-year-old girl in Westchester County, whom I’ll call Leslie, to keep her from narcing on her classmates. Juuls caught on at her school last summer, she said. Upperclassmen bought them, underclassmen tried them at parties, and suddenly people were Juuling in the cafeteria, charging Juuls on their laptops, and filling their Instagram and Snapchat feeds with Juuling videos and GIFs. “Dealers will announce on Snapchat that they’ve bought a hundred of them, and they’ll write the price, the date, and the meeting place for kids to show up with cash,” Leslie said. She described her classmates Juuling in locker rooms, and on the trail behind the school—where people also drink and smoke weed—and in the quad, if they’re ballsy. “But the biggest spots are the bathrooms,” she said. “There are so many people Juuling sometimes that all the varieties of flavors just get morphed into one big vape. Some days I’m just, like, why do you need to do this at 11 A.M.?”

  • Japan’s Rent-a-Family Industry
    This article starts by talking about people who need to rent family, but it really touches upon how people form connections.

    Ishii says that, two or three times a year, he stages entire fake weddings. The cost is around five million yen (around forty-seven thousand dollars). In some cases, the bride invites real co-workers, friends, and family members. In others, everyone is an actor except the bride and her parents. The rental best man gives a speech, often bringing the rental guests to tears. When Ishii plays the groom, he experiences complicated emotions. A fake wedding, he says, is just as much work to organize as a real one, and he and the client plan together for months. Invariably, Ishii says, “I start to fall for her.” When it comes to the kiss, some brides prefer to fake it—they touch cheeks so it looks like they’re kissing—but others opt for the real thing. Ishii tries to pretend he’s acting in a movie, but often, he says, “I feel like I’m really getting married to this woman.”

  • How Anna Delvey Tricked New York
    The story about Anna Delvey’s con, which is more fascinating than your average con because it seemed to affect many well placed and rich individuals in New York. Strangely, her downfall was not that she got too greedy (e.g., wanting money), but because she became too aspirational building her foundation (which might have been a proxy to greed).

    If Aby Rosen, the son of Holocaust survivors, could come to New York and fill skyscrapers full of art, if the Kardashians could build a billion-dollar empire out of literally nothing, if a movie star like Dakota Johnson could sculpt her ass so that it becomes the anchor of a major franchise, why couldn’t Anna Delvey? During the course of my reporting, people kept asking: Why this girl? She wasn’t superhot, they pointed out, or super-charming; she wasn’t even very nice. How did she manage to convince an enormous amount of cool, successful people that she was something she clearly was not?

War For The Planet Of The Apes

This was a movie with no expectations that I watched while the kids were beside me. I picked it because I had seen most of the movies on the flight and I was always interested in the world planet where the apes ruled – although not so interested that I saw all the movies in this franchise (I’m pretty sure I’ve seen at least one of the remakes, but I can’t find a blog for it).

Reading the title and preview, I expected War for the Planet of the Apes to be a full-out war between the apes and mankind. The movie started off with a guerilla campaign by the humans against the apes (although the humans were subsequently slaughtered). That seemed like the movie I chose to watch. But then, it started going on a different, and surprising track.

In fact, this movie was not about an all-out-war. The apes’ numbers weren’t huge (they had a healthy number, but it was more like a refugee camp than an army) and the humans was a single battalion under a leader that was more cult than colonel. The movie actually spent a lot of time showing scenes of family – I don’t know if the scenes were more believable because they were trying to humanize the chimps (if it were real humans acting the scenes, they may be corny), or if they were actually effective. The movie also introduced an idea that a mutated Simian Flu virus was changing humans into primates – a role reversal of what the apes have become.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that this movie was not simply a slaughter fest. It’s not good enough to get four stars, but I thought it was better than 3 out of 5 stars.