Kevin C. Wong

April 2022

Spot Reviews 04/29/22

Food - Bibigo Rice Wrapper Potstickers (Beef, Pork, Vegetable) [+] These are rectangular dumplings (don't see them in the Bibigo site) that fry in about 5 minutes (2-1/2 on one side then flip). Fairly tasty. Five small dumplings are 260 calories.

Web Site - Google Translate [+] - So far this is my go to translator. Duck Duck Go has one but it's fairly poor.

Podcast - Coffee and Cleavage (2020) [/] (link NSFW) Models Lynne Marie and Shantal Monique bring you 10 to 20 minute weekly episodes covering different topics but mostly relationships, dating, sex. I kind of like their attitudes and the episodes are short enough that even for a boring topic it doesn't drag.

TV Show - Austin & Ally (2011) [+]

Austin & Ally was a Disney Channel sitcom. High schoolers Austin Moon (Ross Lynch) and Ally Dawson (Laura Marano) join forces as singer/songwriter to launch Austin's music career (though later one Ally also becomes a solo artist). Both have to juggle high school with fame with the help of their two friends Dez (Calum Worthy) and Trish (Raini Rodriguez), meanwhile falling in and out of love a couple of times.

The show has lots of poppy original music (some of it rather catchy). Lynch is a pretty good dancer and performer. Marano is harder to tell since Ally is the klutzy shy one. The chemistry is ok-ish and though both characters have other relationships in the first couple of seasons the last couple of seasons focuses on their on-again off-again dance.

It took a couple of season for me to get into the show. I think the first season Austin is a bit too self-centered but he gets better. The musical numbers are nice (a lot of them are shot like music videos). And eventually I got invested in the characters and at the end of the series it was nice to see all four succeed in their various endeavors.

So overall a good four-season series.

Apple Arcade - Shantae and the Seven Sirens (2019) [+]

Shantae and the Seven Sirens is an action platformer where you play Shantae, a half-genie visiting Paradise Island with her friends. She's here to perform a show with five other half-genies but when the others are kidnapped it's up to Shantae to find and rescue them and eventually save the island from the Empress Siren.

This is a controller-based side-view platform game. Your main weapon is a hair whip, short-ranged but can do a lot of damage. As you beat monsters you can collect monster cards that give you different modifiers (e.g. less expensive rocket attack or faster climbing speed) and you can equip three cards at a time.

Also as you rescue the other half-genies you gain powers. There are four dances to see invisible things, revive plants (and sometimes purify poisoned water), electrify (and activate machinery), earthquake (and move certain obstacles). I like that when you enter a section there is a hint of which dances are useful and when you find the hidden items and collect them you no longer see the hints.

You also gain transformations. Climb up walls as a lizard, tunnel into sand as a drill, swim underwater as a frog, multi-jump as an octopus. As usual with these games there are areas you can't get to until you gain and use a special dance or transformation and there is plenty of hidden stuff in the old areas to pick up when you get the right powers so you can be constantly backtracking.

Alternatively you can play straightforward and follow the map hint to the next section you need to go to. By the way, I like the auto map as it show you each section and indicates exits, shows you the towns, caves, dungeons and teleporters as you find them. Tells you where you are and where you need to go next.

I had a lot of fun playing this game. It played really smoothly on my iPad (iPad Pro I bought in 2017) with very occasional tearing. Bluetooth XBox controller had no lag and you do end up using most of the buttons though only one joystick/d-pad. It took me 100 hours to finish but I backtracked a lot trying to find everything and missed like one nugget (used to buy one-of-a-kind monster cards).

None of the bosses were extremely tough though some had trick you had to figure out to defeat them. I did use a walkthrough a few times when I got stuck but I think I could have figured the bosses out eventually (you often get a new power just before a boss so that new power is key to beating it).

This game is similar to Way of the Turtle but the frustration I had with that game is finding where to go next and navigating without a map (it has a general map that shows you which area you are in versus Shantae's room by room map). With a good auto map Way of the Turtle would be a good second-tier platformer: not as good story and no voice acting (I forgot to mention Shantae is voiced by my favorite voice actress Cristina Vee and there are other speaking parts; not a lot of voice audio overall -- usually a sentence or two in the middle of a long speech -- but nice nonetheless).

This is a very professional platformer game and shows that an iPad can be a great game machine.

Spot Reviews 04/22/22

Food - Trader Joe's Trader Potato Tots [+] It's tater tots (potato hashed and formed into pills) so hard to get wrong. Came out a bit under warmed so the instructions are a bit off. Still, tastes fine and good with ketchup+mayonnaisse.

Podcast - Bleav in 49ers (2019) [+] I've listened to the first 20 episodes (they started with the start of the 2019 season) and the last dozen or so episodes (2022 playoffs and offseason). Former 49ers DB Eric Davis and Rahshaun Haylock talk about the 49ers usually two episodes a week: preview and aftermath of each week's game. Haylock is more podcaster professional and Davis, although has done a lot of professional game commentating, brings more of the emotion and inside tips of a former NFL player on a championship team. And because of the latter it's more insightful than I expected and it's entertaining.

Movie - Monster Hunter (2020) [-] It's based on the video game franchise though I don't know closely. A US Army team in the Middle East gets lost in the desert and are transported to an alien desert world. Captain Natalie Artemis (Milla Jovovich) tries to keep her team alive as they are beset by huge monsters. Eventually she finds an ally in a nameless Hunter (Tony Jaa) and joins his monster hunting team in stopping a dragon guarding a portal back to Earth... It's mid-budget action movie that lacks in story and good characters. I guess maybe it relies too much on the audience knowing the back story already so it doesn't try to explain anything until 2/3rds of the way.

Movie - The Tragedy of Macbeth (2021) [+]

The Tragedy of Macbeth is Shakespeare's play on screen. It's not trying to be a story based on or an adaptation, it's the exact script spoken by the actors. It's in black and white and although there are sets everything is kept plain and bleak. There are special effects and sound effects but I think mostly just to keep it looking like everyone is acting on a series of sets.

The story is set in Scotland, I'd guess 10th to 14th centuries. After an important battle Macbeth (Denzel Washington) and Banquo (Bertie Carvel) come upon three witches (Kathryn Hunter) that Macbeth will soon be King of Scotland but it is Banquo's son who will rule after Macbeth. After King Duncan (Brendan Gleeson) names his son Malcolm (Harry Melling) as his heir Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (Frances McDormand) take matters into their own hand and have King Duncan assassinated while he and his entourage are visiting Macbeth.

Macbeth is made King but there are too many people who suspect him. Malcolm and Macduff (Corey Hawkins) flee to England and Ireland. Banquo of course overhead the prophecy and so he and his son Fleance (Lucas Barker). As Macbeth becomes more and more paranoid Lady Macbeth slowly goes insane while Malcolm and Macduff gather an army to depose Macbeth...

I've never seen the play before but I feel this is an excellent telling. You have to pay attention and listen to the words since back then it was more about the words than the acting. Shakespeare was a great writer and a lot of his play on words are rather genius. Cinematography and acting are perhaps rather plain but only so that the words stand out. Overall a great film.

Twitch Game - Stream Raiders [+]

Stream Raiders is a game built on top of Twitch. Much like Marbles on Stream, Stream Raiders is a game streamers can play on stream and have their viewers participate. Unlike Marbles this game requires a lot more thought from viewers.

This is a fantasy real-time combat game. Streamer chooses a mission (which belong to campaigns, dungeons and special events) and viewers (including the streamer) have 30 minutes to place units in one of the start areas. Each player can only place a unit once every five minutes and powerful units have a longer cool down (e.g. if it's 30 minutes you can only place one unit in the game, though you can spend in-app purchased meat to refresh a unit instantly).

Once battle starts it's all automatic. The streamer might have a spell or two they can cast during the battle but otherwise units move as a group and engage enemies. If you win you get a chest with some prizes and the streamer gets loot they can gift to whichever player they want.

Units get experience scrolls (one each time you place it, as prize or loot, or you can buy scrolls in the store). Unit types (not individual units, the type itself) level up all the way to 30 with milestone abilities every five or ten levels. Currently there are 20-odd unit types each with their own ability scores (HP, attack speed, range, damage, speed, what they attack) with melee, ranged, magic, explosive, ground, flying and other abilities.

It's kind of a fun low strategy game that's cooler because you're participating with a group of Twitch viewers and streamer.

Spot Reviews 04/15/22

Food - Trader Joe's Tofu Scramble with Soy Chorizo [+] It's kind of like tofu + vegetables + ground meat cooked together in a hash. Except chorizo instead of meat and the chorizo is a soy product. Kind of tastes like chorizo especially if you haven't had real chorizo in a while. Overall though it does taste good. One smallish serving, 370 calories, $4.

Movie - Soul Surfer (2011) [/] Teen Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is an up-and-coming competitive surfer but after a shark attack takes one of her arms she struggles to adjust and return to the sport she loves. It's a good family movie.

Apple Music -> Radio [-] Apple Music has a radio section with different channels that kind of feel like radio stations. I found '80s Radio with Huey Lewis, 36-hour long episodes of great music. Although Apple Music tells me the last episode I played (and only because it's in the recently played section, if I go to the page it doesn't tell me which episodes I've played to completion like what you'd get with Apple TV) there is no easy way to play the next episode. I have to search for the show, list all the episodes, click the episode I want to play. So cumbersome. And once the show is done it automatically replays.

Movie - Dune (2021) [+]

The new version of Frank Herbert's Dune is 2-1/2 hours and covers like the first half of the novel and it does it really well.

In the far future the Emperor reassigns Dune, the most valuable planet in the galaxy, to House Atreides. But it's a poison pill as it pits Atreides, the good guys aristocracy and a rallying point for the other independent houses, with House Harkonnen, the bad guys who brutally exploited Dune and who govern much like the Emperor.

In the middle of this galactic intrigue is Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), heir to House Atreides and potentially the Messiah wanted by the Bene Gesserit, a secretive sect with mind powers who have been for centuries trying to breed a Messiah. But perhaps not so wanted because Paul's mother, Lady Jessica (Rebecca Ferguson), went against her mentors and sired a boy instead of a girl.

Duke Leto (Oscar Isaac) moves House Atreides to Dune where they have to find a way to befriend the Fremen, a desert people who are much more numerous than estimated and who may be the greatest warriors in the galaxy (and when I was reading the novel I didn't equate the Fremen with the Arabic people who burst out of the Middle East to spread Islam from 732 to 1453 AD). But they don't have much time before House Harkonnen arrives and with the help of Imperial troops wipes out House Atreides.

Paul and Lady Jessica escape and must make contact with the Fremen to survive with Imperial troops hot on their trail...

Dune is kind of a slow movie because there is so much setup. It follows the novel from what I remember. Seems like it will be a five-hour story so it doesn't have to be rushed like the older Dune (1984). It's a movie that seems faithful to the novel and the large-scale galactic science fiction genre. And even though it's part one I didn't feel like "that's it?" when the credit started.

Three Apple Podcasts

Podcast - Rene Ritchie (2020) [/] Ritchie's YouTube is short reviews and longer weekly pieces and the podcast is the YT audio so often you might lose a bit lacking the visuals. Rene talks fast and is very on point which kind of means you have to pay attention but I'm more used to leisurely podcasts so this one is a bit too jarring. Still, seems like good info and reviews.

AppleInsider Podcast [/] AppleInsider, an Apple news site, has their own podcast with two hosts. News and reviews -- pretty much the same sort of content as the web site. A bit better than MacWorld in that they don't seem too negative though I wasn't really into the hosts' personalities.

MacWorld Podcast [-] I listened to a couple of recent episodes on the products announced in Apple's March Event (iPhone SE, Mac Studio and Studio Display). Positive spin on Apple Friday Night Baseball. Plusses and minuses on everything else and seemed to go out of their way to criticize (maybe trying for balanced reporting). Not really looking for a podcast that discourages me from buying Apple products.

Spot Reviews 04/08/22

TV Special - Doctor Who: Eve of the Daleks (2022) [/] A one-hour special, the first one after Dr Who's 13th season. The Doctor Jodie Whittaker) and her companions are trapped in a multi-story building used as a store-it complex where people rent rooms and store stuff. Meanwhile Daleks are hunting them and whenever they're killed the timeline resets but each reset starts closer and closer to midnight of New Year's Eve... After the mess of season 13 this was a nice self-contained one-shot with a neat mystery and character development.

Podcast - History on the Table (2019) [/] Matt Petersona nd Richard Trippeer talk about wargames. Discussions of games they've played. Usually review a wargame and then place it on their Every Wargame Ever ranking list. They love The Gamers games so that's a big plus though otherwise it's moderately interesting.

Food - Trader Joe's Southwest Salad [-] Lettuce, corn, black beans, cabbage, peppers, red onion, cotija cheese, chipotle ranch dressing. Dressing was kind of tasteless so the whole salad turned out bland.

Documentary - Lincoln's Dilemma (2022) [/]

Lincoln's Dilemma is a 4-episode, 4-hour Apple TV+ documentary series about Abraham Lincoln focusing on before and during the American Civil War. The new Republican Party was built to be anti-slavery yet Lincoln was publicly more of a moderate, concerned with keeping the Southern states in the Union. As the war began and progressed Lincoln was fairly conciliatory but more and more came to publicly support abolition (keeping in mind that several border states still in the Union had slavery).

The documentary goes a bit more behind the scenes. Lincoln was much more abolitionist in private yet had rather practical political aims. But he wasn't perfect in that he wanted to free the slaves and send them to Africa which would moot the issue of integrating African-Americans into predominantly white society. The documentary also examines Frederick Douglass, his writings and speeches about Lincoln, and his brief personal interactions with Lincoln.

We get several historians talking about the issues and half of them are African-American. We have voice-actor readings of Lincoln, Douglass, and other's speeches and writings. I really like that they included the whole Gettysburg Address (which is less than three minutes long).

It's not a gripping documentary but it's ok and presents a different view on Lincoln and abolition than the usual ACW histories.

Book - War Maid's Choice (2012) [/]

War Maid's Choice is the fourth novel of David Weber's War God series. It's a fantasy world where the main protagonist is Bahzell Bahnakson, a hradani, who ends up traveling the land doing good for his god, Tomanak the god of justice, while putting up with bigotry and fear since the hradani are treated as dangerous monsters, kind of like in D&D see an orc kill an orc mentality.

Bahzell starts out wandering with his best friend, Brandark a wannabe bard. He makes friends and becomes a champion of Tomanak and becomes the key to defeating the evil gods on his world.

In this book it's a few years later. A canal is being built that will connect the Dwarf lands to the Horse lands but will destabilize the politics of the Horse lands. All the ghouls in the moor have banded together and are determined to wipe out a combined allied army with Bahzell. Meanwhile The Dark sets up one of the Horse land barons to make a play for the throne and Bahzell's lady love Leeana is right in the middle of that.

If you like the previous books this is much the same. I like that the character arcs are progressing, especially Bahzell and Leeana, though Kaeritha from book 3 is barely in this book. It is a bit slow in the beginning and seems to end really quickly, like the big battle is bang bang bang and three major devils dead in a few pages.

I did want to read this book to see if Leeana and Bahzell become a couple which they did. Weber also resolved the big Horse lands conflict leaving the series at a good place to stop. Even though there is a fifth book I don't feel the need to read it like I did for this book.

Spot Reviews 04/01/22

Movie - The Suicide Squad (2021) [/] In the second Squad movie they are sent to a small island nation and end up fighting Starro. Bloodsport (Idris Elba) is the new leader and Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) continues to be a scene stealer. Pretty graphic with people exploding and body parts flying around, though I managed to watch and block most of the graphic violence. It's an ok film.

Food - Amy's Pad Thai [/] Five minute microwave and it comes out ok. Vegan dish and it tasted fine.

Accidental Tech Podcast (2013) [-] This podcast is about half Apple stuff and half other tech stuff and has three hosts, Marco Arment (iOS developer), John Siracusa (former Macintosh OS reviewer), and Casey Liss (some guy with a tech background). I tried three recent episodes. I guess my problem continues to be that no matter how good something is they have to find something to criticize even if it's hypotheticals.