Kevin C. Wong

TV Series - Tehran s1 (2020) [/]

Tehran is an Israeli spy thriller tv show of eight episodes. Mossad agent Tamar (Niv Sultan) is sent into Tehran to sabotage a military computer network so that the Israeli Air Force can bomb a nuclear plant. Unfortunately the mission doesn't go as planned and Tamar ends up on the run while both Iran internal security investigator Faraz (Shaun Toub) and her contact search for her. Luckily Tamar's family is originally from Iran and she still has family and a secret contact which Mossad doesn't know about...

This show is aired in the USA on Apple TV+. It starts out pretty interesting but, kind of surprising since it's only eight hour-long episodes, the storyline kind of meanders and seems padded. A tight three or four episode arc would have been much more interesting. And season one also ends in a cliffhanger with Tamar still on her own in Tehran. I guess with the title of the show it has to be that way but it's a bit too soap opera for me so I won't be watching season two.

Web Site - Chess.com [+] p2

Play --> Live Chess. Chess.com supports many different settings for standard chess. You can select one of several time controls (default is 10 min per player, no increment) or define your own time control (all time controls are time + increment without second or third time controls after X number of moves like in classical chess). When you click Play you go into the pool and are paired with another player looking for the same time control. You can set the range of ELO you will play against and can challenge friends. When you play with a friend you can let the computer set a handicap: it will remove pieces from the stronger player.

Play supports these games:

  • Standard chess
  • Live960 - Fischer Random, where the back rank pieces are set up randomly (though mirrored with the other player) with some limits. There are 960 starting position combinations hence the name.
  • 3 Check - Winner is whomever checks the other King three times. Lots of sacrificing pieces just to get a check.
  • King of the Hill - Win is either checkmating the other King or getting your King to one of the four central squares.
  • Crazyhouse - Taken pieces can be put back on the board (instead of a regular move)
  • Bughouse - Two-player Crazyhouse. Your partner can use the pieces you take on their board.

Chess.com ratings are based on game type and, for standard chess, time control. Bullet is 1 to 3 minutes per player, Blitz is more than 3 to less than 10 minutes, Rapid is 10 minutes or longer. Time = starting time + 40 moves of increment.

Play --> Daily Chess. Here you can play correspondence chess games where it is one more per day (or multiple days). You are allowed to research your game (i.e. consult books) but not use a computer engine.

Play --> Computer. Play against a computer opponent. There are a few dozen of various skill levels or even adaptive (they play better or worse throughout the game to match your level). There are also personality bots: Beth Harmon (from The Queen's Gambit), chess streamers and top players. And you can just play against Stockfish at level 1 to 25.

The bots are not a realistic experience. They tend to play very well and make random blunders with more blunders at lower levels. The personality bots don't really play like their namesakes, though they are programmed with appropriate quips. You used to be able to play the bots for chess.com rating but I guess that got abused, though I did use it myself to get from 1000 to 1300 elo.

Play --> Tournaments. Chess.com has many automatic tournaments of different types throughout the day. A club can also run a tournament for its members or for anyone (and anyone can create a club). There are also special event tournaments: Title Tuesday for titled players, Arena Kings for anyone, and others.

Play --> Four Player Chess. For some reason this is set up as a separate application. 4PC is on an 8x8 board with 3x8 extensions on each side. Each extension has one player. You can play free-for-all in which case the winner is the one that scores the most points (piece value of piece taken and 20 points if you checkmate someone). In a team game the opposite side players are one the same team and the winner is to first checkmate.

Play --> Variants. In addition to the variants in Live Chess and Four Player Chess there are:

  • Fog of War - You can't see opponent's pieces unless you can attack them.
  • Atomic - When a piece is captured it explodes.
  • Horde - One side is just a lot of pawns.
  • Chaturanga - An old version of chess where the "queen" moves one space diagonally, "bishops" jump two squares diagonally, and pawns don't get their two-square move.
  • Giveaway - Give away all your pieves to win.
  • Blindfold - Neither side can see any pieces.
  • Capture Anything - You can capture your own pieces too.
  • Sideways Pawns - Pawns can move sideways too.
  • Torpedo - Pawns can always move one or two squares forward.
  • No Castling - Players can't castle.

And yeah, it's kind of bad UI to have different game types spread out in different menus.

(to be continued)

Spot Reviews 01/08/21

Trader Joe's Roasted Vegetables [/] These were ok. Potatoes, Zucchini/Squash. Onions, Bell Peppers with some roasting-type seasonings. Brussel Sprouts too but they didn't come out too well, a bit tough and bitter. It's hard to get Brussel Sprouts right, maybe if I had oven baked instead of microwaving.

Steam Wishlists [+] You can view people's wish lists. When you buy a game if you say this is a gift it'll show your friends and highlight if any of them have the game wish listed. If your friend refuses the gift you get refunded.

Podcast - The GROGNARD Files (2015) [/] A podcast about classic role-playing games from the memories of a UK gaming group who played them heavily when they were young, stopped playing RPGs, then got back into RPGs. It's kind of meandering and sometimes their perspective is a little weird to me. I've listened to the first 15+ episodes and for now I'll keep listening or I might go look for a better old-school rpg podcast.

Movie - The Old Guard (2020) [+]

The Old Guard is a modern day action film. Andy (Charlize Theron) leads a small band of immortals who have been trying to do good through the centuries (doing good usually involving killing bad guys of course). But lately she's been having doubts that their work makes a difference since the world seems to be getting worse over time.

Unfortunately their latest mission is a trap that exposes their abilities. Now they have to stop big pharma CEO Steven Merrick (Harry Melling) and his hired mercenaries from capturing them and experimenting on them. Also, a new immortal is born and it's up to Andy and the others to bring her into the fold even though she may be unwilling...

It's a medium budget movie and it has good action scenes and special effects. It's good having a new immortal so she gets all the historical explanations. Theron is kick ass as always in action movies. The teams small unit tactics is pretty cool looking. There is a setup for a sequel and I never really like that. Maybe if it had been done as an after-end-of-credits surprise.

Anyway, I like the film.

Cisco DPC3008 Cable Modem [+]

My Cisco DPC3008 8x4 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem just died. It has a manufacturing date of 03/13 so I probably was using it for 7+ years and it gave very good performance the whole time (well, the last couple of years it was best to reboot it monthly otherwise it would get slowish and stay that way).

I'm replacing it with a 24x8 DOCSIS 3.0 modem which supports 600+ Mb per second. The DPC3008 I think was getting about 200 Mbps max (say a big file download from a speedy site) though it was usually half that (big file download from a big site and busy site like YouTube or Twitch). That seems right: 8 download channels vs 24 for the new modem.

DPC3008 was a model electronic appliance. Pug it in (there was like no setup) and don't worry about it for years.

Spot Reviews 01/01/21

Trader Joe's Cold Smoked Salmon Fleurettes with Creamy Filling [+] This was I think $10 for 12 pieces. It's just a strip of smoked salmon with a cream cheese-like filling and it's oily and good.

Movie - Project Christmas Wish (2020) [/] Hallmark Channel holiday romantic movie. Lucy (Amanda Schull) is the local town Christmas wishbringer but has her hands full when young Max (Averie Peters) asks for a Christmas with her father Lucas (Travis Van Winkle) like they used to have before mom passed away. But Lucas is not so keen to be the talk of the town... It's comfortable, predictable and has a good ending.

Peet's Coffee: Major Dickason's Blend [/] This is dark roast coffee and usually the one I buy because you can get it in a large pack (18 oz). To me it tastes like normal coffee and I drink it with milk (mind you I don't drink black coffee if I can help it).

Movie - The Midnight Sky (2020) [-]

The Midnight Sky is a science fiction drama set in 2049. After a global disaster effectively kills off humanity Dr Augustine Lofthouse (George Clooney) is left alone at an Arctic research base. Well, not so alone as a young girl, Iris (Caoilinn Springall), was accidentally left behind during the hurried evacuation. Takes a while but the two start to bond.

Meanwhile there is one space mission still active. The space ship Aether is on the way from Jupiter's moon K-23, a habitable planet discovered 30-odd years ago. Aether was sent to determine if it's suitable for habitation and it is and now the five crew are on their way back. But with Earth dead Dr Augustine wants to warn Aether. The communications antenna at his base is not strong enough so he and Iris need to journey 100 km to an automated station that has a more powerful antenna.

On the one hand Augustine and Iris brave the arctic terrain and bad air (whatever it was that killed off everyone is in the air and the contaminated air is working its way to the poles). Meanwhile the crew of Aether have a couple of emergencies to keep them occupied on the way back...

I'm kind of surprised I watched the whole 2-hour movie because it's a rather dull and slow-paced story.

***** SPOILERS *****

he drama seems manufactured. Augustine and Iris loses it's charm half way through the movie once I realize both characters have to die: Augustine is easy because he has terminal cancer and therefore Iris has to be a hallucination (which turns out true) otherwise it'd be a grim ending for her.

The science kind of drove me nuts. Undiscovered habitable planet close to Jupiter. Aether is huge with so much empty internal space for just five people. The amount of time that seems to pass at the base before Augustine decides to go out and meanwhile the base (which had dozens of people requiring multiple large helicopters to take out) seems fully powered with no problems. In the end only two people, a couple, head back to K-23 and that does not seem viable to continue the human race.

Web Site - Chess.com [+] p1

Chess.com is the chess site I use and no matter how bad it might be I'd still use it because most Twitch chess streamers I watch are on chess.com and most titled chess players play on chess.com and chess.com has the largest player base (over lichess.org and chess24.com).

But luckily it's a pretty good chess site. Since it is global you can find opponents at any time day or night. Games run well (it's an html chess client running on your browser communicating with the chess.com servers) though since its client side html it can lag in fast games (but most beginners won't see that as they'll be playing longer games). A good computer and good internet connection are important.

We'll review by going through the sections.

Home



  • Messages - a rudimentary email system and you also get notifications here. On your main email you'll often just get an email that says you have a message on chess.com and a link to go view the message. I don't particularly like that it's this disjoint.
  • Stats - you have statistics for the various game modes. You can drill down to specific games and replay or analyze them, even your first games (a move record of a chess game takes very little data). You can do queries to help you find specific games and even find games by opening played.
  • Awards - they have game-ification badges for various site achievements like playing your first game or playing a game with a specific opening. I'm not really into these.
  • Profile - a profile that other's see, including a notes section where people can post notes to you. Besides setting your and location you have a blank section where you can put whatever you want (using a rich text editor) and I've seen people put several pages of info about themselves.
  • Membership - free membership you can play games and do some analysis, puzzles and learning courses. Gold ($30/year), Platinum ($50/year) and Diamond ($100/year) memberships unlock more and more features. I did free for a few months then moved to Diamond. Some chess streamers hold tournaments with 1-month membership prizes. There is also a 7-day free trial.
  • Theme - you can change the theme of your chessboard or customize among a selection of boards and pieces. You can't upload your own board or pieces.
  • Settings - there are actually a lot of settings though the defaults work fine. But it's not a super-customizable site.

(to be continued)

Spot Reviews 12/25/20

Trader Joe's Grass Fed Beef Sirloin Roast [/] This comes in a box net weight about a pound. It's sealed but no tray so if you want to heat it in the oven you need to provide a tray (I re-used one from one of the other Trader Joe's meat packages). Comes out pretty good and not dry. It's pre-sliced a bit thin though not quite all the way sometimes. Overall seems worth $11.

Rice-A-Roni Buffalo Chicken [/] This is rice, no vermicelli. "Rice, cayenne red pepper and chicken broth..." It's very mild and not at all spicy to me though it still tastes good.

macOS Utility - Soundflower 2.0b2 [/] This is a MIDI extension that allows you to create an input sound source out of one or more output sound sources. The end result is that you can output the sound from a computer game to the input of Garageband and record it. Rogue Amoeba's Loopback is a professional version of this function but that is $100 and Soundflower is free (open source).

Movie - Work It (2020) [/]

In Work It, high school over-achiever Quinn (Sabrina Carpenter) has her Duke dreams dashed unless she can make it on her school's award-winning dance team. When she fails that she convinces her friend Jasmine (Liza Koshy) to quit the dance team to start their own team based on other teens with dance abilities but not dancers: goth Raven (Bianca Asilo), soccer goalie Chris (Neil Robles), mix-tape god DJ (Nathaniel Scarlette), karate student Robby (Tyler Hutchings) and Indian dancer Priya (Indiana Mehta).

Quinn even gets former school choreographer Jake (Jordan Fisher) to agree to help them if they make it past qualifiers. Not easy because the team is raw and no matter how much Quinn tries she's an indifferent dancer. But the team makes it to the main competition and the close working relationship allows romance to develop between Quinn and Jake. Everything could be ruined though when Quinn's grades fall, her mom (Michelle Buteau) finds out and forbids Quinn from dancing...

This is neither a very original film nor all that unpredictable. I like the dance team -- the characters don't get much screen time but they're distinct and their dance styles are also distinct. I'm not sure Carpenter is a dancer so Quinn's dancing is very natural or more likely Carpenter is good enough to make it look like Quinn is always a beat off from the rest of the team. There are two or three dance numbers which are done well though this is not a musical.

Overall it's a dance-themed comfort film that doesn't push boundaries and relies on Carpenter to carry the load which she does well.