Kevin C. Wong

December 2021

Spot Reviews 12/31/21

49ers Rush Podcast with John Chapman (2017) [/] High school coach John Chapman talks about the 49ers using a film-based approach which complements The Better Rivals Podcast. While the latter is more focused on PFF stats John needs to see the film and puts less focus on raw PFF stats and for the most part he is more upbeat about how John Lynch and Kyle Shanahan run the organization (Better Rivals is much more everything should be focused on passing because expected value is much higher than with a running game). I find this an interesting podcast.

Anime - Eden (2021) [/] A four-episode half-hour anime on Netflix. In the distant future the Earth is recovering from ecological disaster and only robots are around running a farm. But when two robots discover a "dangerous" human baby they decide to hide her and raise her as their own... It's an ok story about movie-length

iOS Game - Democratic Socialism Simulator (2020) [/] Card-based scenarios game where each turn you get a card with something going on in your social democratic government then get a couple of choices for or against. Choices adjust your likability with various constituents (you can preview effects before making your choice and you can tap on each voter to see what they like and dislike). Choices also affect funding, people power and greenhouse gas emissions. Increase people power, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, don't go bankrupt and get re-elected so you have time to achieve your goals. It's a cute game.

Movie - Space Sweepers (2021) [+]

Space Sweepers is a Korean science fiction film (exclusively on Netflix) about the crew of a junk sweeping ship that finds a little girl on an abandoned derelict but when they try to turn her in for a reward it turns out she's the key to saving a dying Earth and UTS Corporation doesn't want her alive.

In this far future the Earth is polluted and slowly dying. UTS Corporation has these space habitats where the wealthy live but there is so much orbital junk that independent space sweepers ply the lanes catching junk before they hit something important. It reminds of a small Traveller setup: you have a small rundown ship getting by catching junk and turning it in for credits but fuel, taxes and living costs means most of the time you're barely making headway cutting down your debts.

Captain Jang (Kim Tae-ri) - Captain of the space sweeper Victory
Kim Tae-ho (Song Joong-ki) - Pilot of Victory who needs money to find his lost daughter
Tiger Park (Jun Seon-kyu) - Victory's rough and tumble engineer with a soft spot for kids
Bubs (Yoo Hae-jun) - Former battle-droid now Victory's harpooner (used to capture space junk)
Dorothy (Park Ye-rin) - humanoid robot found by Victory

So they find the kid and three factions want the kid: UTS, Black Fox (an eco-terrorist group), and the scientist who created her. But as the story evolves the NPCs continue to evolve. The robot girl is actually a real girl. The scientist is actually her father. Black Fox has a similar turn while UTS is revealed as a bit sinister early on so it's not a surprise they're actually the bad guys of the story.

The special effects are pretty good and better than I've seen before on Korean films. Considering the lowish budget it feels like a medium budget movie and the story and characters push it up to a surprisingly good film.

iOS App - CARROT Weather [/]

CARROT Weather is I think the first CARROT app produced. It's a weather app as you'd expect if you use other CARROT apps it adds a snarky computer that gives you trivia or says weird things.

For the weather stuff it gives you hourly temperature and precipitation indicator out to a week. Estimated precipitation, sunrise/sunset, phase of the moon, wind and visibility. There's a little animated picture of the current weather conditions. Every time you open the app CARROT tells you some fact or directive (for example, on Christmas Eve she said the James Webb telescope is actually a laser for shooting down Santa Claus).

There is a mission pane where you get a clue then have to find the location on a zoomable map. For example the second mission (for me) is "find the last surviving wonder of the ancient world". So I guess it's a bit of a game.

The app is free with ads. Premium is $5 per month or $20 per year and it unlocks weather map, getting weather data from additional sources and notifications. There is also Premium Ultra for $10 per month or $40 per year and you get tide data, lightning strikes and storm cell notifications. Premium also turns off the banner ad at the bottom of the app (though it's kind of entertaining as half the ads are humorous fictional ads).

CARROT Weather does fine as a weather app. The built-in Weather app seems to do about the same as Premium though CARROT Weather can give more information in Premium Ultra. Overall it's an ok app that has an unusual snarky robot theme and fits in with other CARROT apps.

Spot Reviews 12/24/21

Chimei Frozen Cabbage Bun [+] These are dim sum-sized buns made in Taiwan. Although frozen you pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes and they come out pretty good. The Frozen Cabbage Bun is vegetarian and you can't really tell. It does have a bit of an aftertaste.

Movie - Miss Sloane (2016) [/] Political drama about Madeline Sloane (Jessica Chastain), a high-powered lobbyist who quits her company to work for a small activist company trying to get a controversial gun bill passed in Congress. Sloane is up against both her former comrades and her new co-workers who are not used to the lengths Sloane will go to get a moderate Congressman to support the bill... It's a pretty good behind the scenes politics movie and Chastain is excellent but took me a long time to watch because it's a fairly intense film.

The Lost Bay Podcast (2021) [/] An interview podcast with indie RPG developers, one per episode. For the most part these are the really small indie developers, often publishing on and often with one or two small products released. We get their background and design process, what they've done and why they did it. Some interviews are interesting and some are boring so not necessarily a podcast I'd recommend.

Movie - Werewolves Within (2021) [+]

Werewolves Within is a comedy horror film based on a video game. In a remote American town just before a big snowstorm Finn (Sam Richardson) is the new park ranger who is very earnest and friendly and self-doubting. He quickly befriends the mail carrier Cecily (Milana Vayntrub), also new to town, and together they start investigating a murder.

But not just any sort of murder. Some creature clawed one of the townspeople to death and then destroyed all the various home gas generators. As a snowstorm forces everyone to bunker up at the local boarding house it seems that someone in town may be a werewolf perhaps trying to stop a deal that would allow a new oil pipeline through town.

Suspects are plentiful from the newcomers, including an activist scientist, to those for and against the pipeline, to the businessman who owns the oil company and even the mountain man loner living at the edge of town. As people die it's all Finn can do to keep everyone calm and keep them from killing each other while trying to find the werewolf...

It's a fairly well done film: good acting, cinematography and story. Fairly low budget and released during the pandemic so didn't do well at the box office. But I think it would have done fairly well on a normal year.

Apple Arcade - Tiny Crossword+ (2021) [/]

I was in the mood for a crossword puzzles game and Apple Arcade has Tiny Crossword+. As the name implies these are small crosswords, the smallest being about 10 clues and the largest less than 60. You traverse across countries and in each country the crosswords are a bit themed to that country though I didn't really notice. Most of the clues are fairly easy and there are a lot of repetitions (i.e. you'll see the same clues with the same answers). Some clues are pop culture or similar which sometimes I had a hard time with (e.g. clues about current celebrities or songs).

If you're just powering through the crossword it's easy to enter letters and it will automatically skip letters already in the crossword and go to the next clue. But even on my iPad it's a bit more cramped than I'd like because the keyboard takes up a lot of space. You can always the whole crossword but frequently not all the clues and have to scroll the clue section.

As I mentioned the puzzles are easy to moderate. What makes it easier is that the first clue you solve unlocks a few letters and there will be more letter unlocking after several clues so three or four for the largest puzzles. You can also turn on three helpers: see wrong letters, show a word, show five letters. Each puzzle is worth some amount of points but I'm not sure using the helpers docks you any points.

Overall it makes for a leisurely puzzle solving time. Maybe a bit too easy though -- I'm at the 490th puzzle and it's no harder then the first few puzzles. It's a good few hours of fun but lacks challenge.

Update (2024-01-19): This game was renamed to Crossword Explorer+. Continued my play for half an hour (getting to the 500th puzzle) and it's still the same game with the same sort of puzzles.

Spot Reviews 12/17/21

Movie - Battle: Los Angeles (2011) [/] When aliens invade Earth a Marine platoon is sent into Los Angeles to rescue survivors before a massive air strike destroys the invaders. Soon it's "I was retiring next week" Staff Sgt Michael Nantz (Aaron Eckhart) leading the remnants as they try to exfiltrate with a group of civilians meanwhile the rumor is that he let his last platoon get wiped out in Afghanistan... An ok film.

Podcast - The Talk Show (2007) [/] I quit listening a few years ago when it just seemed to be negative week after week. Restarted a few weeks ago listening to Jon Gruber's podcast. He usually has a guest and each show is usually mostly Apple topics though also tends to wander into entertainment and sports. It's worth listening for the Apple stuff.

iOS Game - Stellaris: Galaxy Command (2020) [-] This is very much like Star Trek Fleet Command. 4X game where you have a base, collect resource, build it up, build ships then explore the galaxy. MMO, time-based building, lots of IAP.

Movie - Black Widow (2021) [+]

Black Widow is a Marvel Cinematic Universe movie set after Captain America: Civil War. Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding from the world's authorities and becomes embroiled in her "sister" Yelena Belova's (Florence Pugh) plot of trying to break the Red Room, free the other Black Widows, and kill Red Room creator Dreykov (Ray Winstone). To do that they recruit their former "mom" and "dad" (all four were part of a deep cover spy cell in the USA) Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz) and Alexei Sostakov (David Harbour) aka Red Guardian...

It's a globe-trotting high-tech spy movie with no high-powered supers. A lot of humor as CMU films have. I wasn't expecting too much but it's a pretty good CMU movie. Saw it on my iPad and I didn't feel I missed a theater experience.

iOS App - CARROT Hunger (2015) [/]

CARROT Hunger is an iOS calorie counting app with a sarcastic computer AI.

It has the basics. You can enter food typing it in or barcode scan and it looks like it uses Nutritionix database so most everything is there. You can edit previous entries to make corrections. It gets your height and weight and recommends a daily calorie intake based on if you want to gain, maintain or lose weight. It ties into Health app which is kind of nice.

As you use the app there are two AIs making comments. The main AI makes a comment as you enter food and punishes you if you go over your daily limit. There is a trivia AI that gives you weird trivia when you look at your calorie history.

Shortcomings. It's an iPhone app so it both doesn't look great on iPad and on the UI is a bit cramped (many food entries are long so get cut off in history). There is no sync so you can't use it on multiple devices (I don't think you can use Health app as sync conduit). It is very active in the background -- I'm not sure if it's doing step tracking for some reason.

It's a free download and use. $4 to get rid of ads. $2 to unlock some shortcut features (which I don't use). You can also enable so that you can pay to not be punished and you can tip. I payed the $6 and I'm happy with it though it's not a best in class app.

Spot Reviews 12/10/21

All Star Barber Shop [+] Came here in the morning. I think only the owner is currently running the place. Door is left open and there's a good fan circulating air out. She keeps masked and is pretty friendly. Overall a good experience so I'll be coming back.

Movie - Fort Massacre (1958) [/] The US Cavalry survivors of an Indian ambush (which happened before the movie starts) are endangered as Sgt Vinson (Joel McCrea) now in command leads the patrol deeper into Indian territory in his quest for revenge... An ok cavalry movie and I like it.

Anime - Angel Beats! #1.01/1.02 (2010) [-] High schooler Yuzuru (Blake Shepard) wakes up and finds himself at a mysterious school where everyone is dead. He joins a resistance led by Yuri (Brittney Karbowski) and they're trying to overthrow whoever runs this place... Not really into the concept. The setup is an excuse to have the characters die in various ways since they come back alive.

Movie - Knives Out (2019) [+]

Knives Out is a mystery movie with a cast of cooky characters. Famous mystery novelist Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer) commits suicide after the family Christmas party. A week later the police are back because it may not have been a suicide and this time they have famed private investigator Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig) on the case, hired by an unknown client.

As he questions and talks to the various family members we get different view points of what happened that night and I like that it was easy for me to tell when there were inconsistencies between two stories which Blanc circles back on to get to the truth. Blanc recruits Thrombey's nurse/assistant Marta Cabrera (Ana de Armas) to help him because she has a hard time lying and throws up when she lies.

But it turns out Ana has a good idea of what really happened (from her view point, she also did not know many things) and to her mind she accidentally killed Thrombey. So Ana's plot line is helping out while covering her tracks and being very careful about what she's telling Blanc.

And of course there is another party out there, possibly the real killer, who wants Blanc to find out what Ana did and pin the murder on her...

I like the characters. I like that this is a bit more comedic than suspense/thriller. I like the mystery and clues are understandable to viewers. I like the plot twists. Overall it's a pretty darn good movie.

Mac Game Stores

Mac App Store [-] Apple put a lot of effort into making the iOS App Store a destination place with stories highlighting a game or genre and fairly good discoverability of new games and classics. None of that in the Mac App Store, though part of it is there is a lack of games (though I guess growing now that developers can port iOS games to Mac more easily). Still, you can't tell when games are for sale so prices seem rather high.

Epic Games Store [/] On the plus side one or two free games every Thursday. On the minus side not as many games as Steam and often they don't have the Mac version. I haven't really used the Epic Games Client other than trying to use it with CrossOver where it didn't work. Overall I feel it has a long way to go to catch up with Steam.

Steam [+] The biggest selection and if there is Mac version often has it. Lots of sales and with their key policy lots of other sites (including Humble Bundle) sell Steam games. Discoverability is fairly good and you can set preference to only show Mac games (though only in the list views, not main page promo section). Steam Client is good at installing but I don't like that many games need to have Client running for various features (or maybe Steam requires it).

GOG [+] Almost forgot GOG. A good selection of games and they have lots of old games (running on DOSBox and the like) which the other stores do not. Mac games selection is better than Epic and there's no DRM. You can download the installers and then install without GOG which I don't think you can do with any of the other stores. The store itself not as polished as Steam (and not overly busy like Steam) and although they have a client app for installing and keeping track of your games I've never had to use it.

Spot Reviews 12/03/21

Anime - Queen's Blade 2: The Evil Eye (2009) [/] The first Queen's Blade spent a lot of time introducing the various characters, had lots of combats, and didn't have much of a plot. QB2 continues right after QB1 and adds a plot and makes this series interesting. Turns out the whole tournament is run by the current queen in order to find potential rivals and eliminate them. Can the contestants figure this out and band together before it's too late?... I liked this better than season one because there's a real plot.

Podcast - Holly Randall Unfiltered (2017) [/] Holly Randall is an Adult Film photographer and director. This is an interview podcast where each week she has a guest, usually an AV actor/actress though sometimes more of a scholar or writer about something to do with sex. The interviews are varying topics not just AV industry stuff and I find it interesting without the weird radio talk show vibe of The Porn Director's Podcast.

Movie - Godzilla vs Kong (2021) [-] This is the fourth Monsterverse movie. I've seen Godzilla (2014) and Kong: Skull Island (2017) and I liked the latter. In GvK Apex corp wants to use Kong to find the Hollow Earth where there is a huge power source that will power their anti-Kajira killer. But once Kong is out of Skull Island he attracts Godzilla leading to a couple of big fights. Eventually though the two have to team up to defeat Apex's monster, Mecha Godzilla... Other than the monster fights this is an ok movie but the monster fights were not impressive. The monsters move too fast for my tastes.

TV Series - LA's Finest #1.01 - #1.06 (2019) [/]

LA's Finest (2019) was a television series on the Spectrum network and it lasted two 13-episode seasons. Apparently it's a spinoff of Bad Boys and it centers on LAPD detective Nancy McKenna (Jessica Alba) and her new partner detective Syd Burnett (Gabrielle Union). As they solve crimes they both have secrets which quickly collide and forces them to do various somewhat illegal activities.

It's a buddy cop movie as a tv show. Lots of stylish action and almost soap-opera twists. Lots of witty dialog and some touching moments. But after a few episodes it was all a bit too over-the-top for me. So maybe as really short five or six episode seasons would have been perfect. Still, it was entertaining for a bit.