Kevin C. Wong

Spot Reviews 01/29/21

Movie - Mission of Honor (2018) [/] A Polish film set during WW2's Battle of Britain and focusing on 303 Squadron made up of Polish fighter pilots who made it out after Germany conquered Poland. It covers the formation of the squadron, early training, and then being thrown into the battle. There's the usual cast of fighter pilot characters, a bar fight, romance with RAF WAAF, and lots of pilots dying in various ways. It's a low budget movie but the fighter combats are not too bad. Overall an interesting movie though not great.

Documentary - Fireball: Visitoers from Darker Worlds (2020) [-] A documentary on Apple TV+ about meteors and the effect they've had throughout history. Werner Herzog directs and narrates, traveling around the world to look at various impact sites and talking to local scientists (for the scientific explanations) and historians (for how it affected local culture and religion). I did not find this approach interesting. I guess I wanted more science, less about social effects.

Food - Pasta Roni Butter & Garlic [/] Sort of light on flavor which I guess means it doesn't overpower whatever you eat it with. I tend to eat Pasta Roni by itself and this one is perfectly fine solo but not my favorite.

Mini Series - The Queen's Gambit (2020) [+]

The Queen's Gambit is a Netflix 7-episode hour-long drama based on the book of the same name. It's set in 1950's and 1960's America and follows the rise of fictional woman chess player Elizabeth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). From living in an orphanage and being taught chess by the custodian Mr Shaibel (Bill Camp) to being adopted and pursuing her neophyte chess career with the support of her adopted mother Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller), being US co-champion and then champion by beating her chess rival Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), then finally facing and beating world champion Vasily Borgov (Marcin DorociƄski) as part of an invitational tournament.

This is a series that took the chess world by storm, being very popular with everyone. The chess games shown are taken from real games and the game playing environment and moods are fairly accurate from what people have said. There is a little bit of sexism but nowhere near as bad as I've heard. Acting is good and Taylor-Joy does a good job of portraying someone emotionally detached from everything except for when it comes to chess.

Pacing is a bit slow. The first three episodes I found a bit boring. Then it starts to pick up and gets really interesting until the end.

Overall one of the better Netflix series.

Web Site - [+] p3

Puzzles --> Puzzles. has 150k puzzles in various categories. You can go through the puzzles and get a hint if you need it. As you solve puzzles you get a rating. All puzzles have a target time and if you beat it you get more rating. Sometimes if I can't solve a puzzle quickly I grind it until I find the answer and get like 1 point which still beats getting puzzle wrong. There is also a graph of your progress and later you can see your stats and see what categories you need to work on.

Puzzles --> Puzzle Rush. Back when this feature came out this was the reason I got a paid account so I could play it more than once a day. This is basically doing puzzles but with a 3 or 5 minute timer. If the time runs out or if you get three strikes the game ends and you're trying to solve as many puzzles as you can (and there's a leader board). There is also a survival mode with no timer but still three strikes ends the game. It's a pretty addictive mode.

Puzzles --> Puzzle Battle. After the success of Puzzle Rush they came out with Puzzle Battle which is Puzzle Rush vs another player. You're both doing the same puzzles. You have a Puzzle Battle rating which goes up and down as you win and lose games.

Puzzles --> Daily Puzzle. Like a newspaper chess puzzle.

Puzzles --> Solo Chess. Chess pieces are set up on the board. Capture pieces until there is only one left but no piece may capture more than two times and the King (if any) must be the last one standing. I guess the aim is to practice capture combinations. There is no scoring and the challenge mode is either you finish it or not so it kind of lacks gamification.

Puzzles --> Chess Drills. Here you can choose a category and practice puzzles based on a theme.

I do the Puzzles and Puzzle Rush. I just did my first Puzzle Battles today. Overall I probably use this section the most.

Spot Reviews 01/22/21

Movie - The Courier (2019) [/] An elite package courier (Olga Kurylenko) ends up protecting a witness (Amit Shah) from a professional hit team stalking them through a multi-level underground parking garage. Little do the villains know she's a former Eastern Bloc special forces. It's an ok action movie and I like the location as it reminds me of a Splinter Cell level also set in an underground parking garage.

Rice-A-Roni Cilantro Lime [+] I do love cilantro rice and this version is not bad. A little subtle with the seasoning but if you follow the instructions it comes out good. Sometimes I use a pan where I cooked meat in and that flavoring overpowers the rice so I have to stop doing that.

iOS Browser Extension - Hush (2021) [+] A simple extension that blocks the "Accept All Cookies" privacy warning every website added after the EU passed a big privacy law. If you always ignore it then this extension is for you. All it does is hide that prompt -- if you turn it off and revisit the web site it'll ask you again. I also checked that Firefox Focus doesn't do this so does not overlap. There is also a macOS 11+ version.

Movie - Some Kind of Wonderful (1987) [+]

Some Kind of Wonderful is still one of my favorite teen romance movies. Keith (Eric Stoltz) is a high school art geek and his best friend Watts (Mary Stuart Masterson) is a tomboy punk drummer. He's always admired popular girl Amanda Jones (Lea Thompson) from afar and finally gets the courage to ask her out. It just so happens that she wants revenge on her boyfriend Hardy (Craig Sheffer) so she says yes.

The second half of the movie is this awkward romantic date that Keith has put so much money and effort putting together. This is where Keith and Amanda's views of each other collide. There are misconceptions but they learn there are good things about the other and maybe there's something there. But in the end Amanda realizes that Watts is the girl for Keith which leads to a nice ending.

I've seen this movie a few times and you do start noticing details in the dead space. Every shot tends to focus on one person who is doing something but it's the reaction of the other actor that gives the shot more meaning. I look forward to watching this film again in a couple of years.

Computer Game - Bomber Crew (2017) [/]

Bomber Crew is a cartoony WW2 bomber simulation game. In the base game (there are many DLCs) you have a Lancaster bomber with a 7-person British crew: Pilot, Bombardier, Engineer, Navigator, Radio, two Gunners. Each crew station has several functions and during a real-time mission you have to keep juggling among the crew to get them to do their tasks, though the only "click at the right time" task is bombing and photographing. All other tasks are more tagging a target or clicking a command and letting the crew do the appropriate task.

You get money and intelligence after each mission. Money to get more equipment and upgrade it. Intelligence unlocks new equipment (both the bomber and your crew have equipment). Crew gain experience and level up to improve their skills -- veteran crew can handle a secondary station which is a useful backup.

There is a main campaign of a fair number of missions. Each round you get a choice of missions and at certain points there is a required mission to move to the next phase of the campaign. There is also a challenge mode with special missions.

I played this game a little bit. Seems to play smoothly. I quickly discovered that I don't like the real-time nature of the game. Well, not so much the RT as that there is no way to pause the game. You can slow down time but that has a charge that runs out. I guess that makes it more realistic trying to handle multiple things especially a bombing run but I found it too much.

Strangely, I remember being able to do an RT bomber game with The Dam Busters but that had simple joystick controls and one-button to switch to each station. I just found it really hard to switch around the various Bomber Crew views and then issue orders. So a game that looks interesting but not for me.

Spot Reviews 01/15/21

Anime - Queen's Blade (2009) [/] This is a 12-episode half hour anime series based on the Queen's Blade combat books. Like the combat books there is a lot of T&A and upper body nudity (the last of which is not really in the combat books). On the good side it does give backgrounds of all the characters, which the combat books do not go into at all. The various plots are sort of tied together by Leina who appears in almost every episode though usually not as a central character. Still, it's not an interesting series because of all the characters and introducing them just takes too much screen time.

Computer Game - Deadly Days (2019) [-] A $12 roguelite zombie survival game. You control a group of characters and the main control is clicking on a spot to have the characters move there and clicking on a loot location to have one character loot it. Otherwise though the characters move and act randomly and behave more like a cloud of insects. Collect people, food, gears, and items and slowly improve your party to eventually get to the meat factory producing zombie-creating burgers. I found the game too fast-paced and lack of character control is pretty tilting.

Twitch - BotezLive - Blockchamps event (2020) [+] Blockchamps was a chess tournament where 8 Minecraft streamers competed for $25k in prizes. BotezLive hosted the event (you'll need to be a channel subscriber to watch the VOD or there will be an edited version on their YouTube channel) and I watched the whole thing, which ran 6 hours including many breaks. The participants were beginner chess players but very entertaining throughout and some pretty exciting games.

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 - [+] p2

Play --> Live Chess. 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. 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 rating but I guess that got abused, though I did use it myself to get from 1000 to 1300 elo.

Play --> Tournaments. 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).