Kevin C. Wong

July 2020

Spot Reviews 07/31/20

Netflix TV Show - Merry Happy Whatever s1 (2019) [-] A sitcom set in a Philadelphia suburbs. Emmy (Bridgit Mendler) visits home for Christmas holidays with boyfriend Matt (Brent Morin) in tow. There Matt finds his Los Angeles band guitarist slacker persona running into the brick wall of suburban Catholic middle-America ruled by Emmy's police officer father Don (Dennis Quaid). It's got jokes, a laugh track (or it seems like it has a laugh track), and vanilla-ish characters. It's a very unremarkable sitcom better suited for network television and it was cancelled after one 8-episode season.

Video Game - Fall Guys (2020) [+] Several streamers I watch have been playing Fall Guys today (Aug 04, release date). Sixty players go through six rounds of random levels (from a selection), each time the lowest performers are eliminated. The characters are floppy dudes who are hard to maneuver and fall down a lot. You can grab other players or push them. The levels are half obstacle courses and half team games. Seems pretty fun.

iOS App - Marbles on Stream Mobile (2018) [/] For the dedicated players this app allows you to buy skins and customize your marble. There are also some leaderboards and links to the Discord and Twitch. Unfortunately very few personal stats and I really wanted to see my race history and placements. It's a very bare bones app.

Movie - Greyhound (2020) [+]

Greyhound is a mid-budget movie based on CS Forester's "The Good Shepherd" and distributed on Apple TV+. The story is focused on "Greyhound", a WW2 United States destroyer commanded by Commander Krause (Tom Hanks). It and three other escorts are ferrying a convoy from the US to the UK during the Battle of the Atlantic. During the two days in the middle of the Atlantic where there is no air cover from the US or UK a pack of u-boats attack the convoy.

Greyhound and her mates are kept busy chasing, hunting and battling u-boats. The action is fairly intense and tactics seem realistic. There are only a few sets with everything outside Greyhound being CGI, though the CGI is well done and not jarring. It looks good enough that it would have looked good in a theatre (unlike the recent Midway which looks more like a direct-to-video movie). Overall it's worth watching.


Setapp is an app service for Mac. For $10 a month you get access to almost 200 applications (not games) on one computer (they also have team and family plans). It's curated so a lot of the apps are pretty good and none of them are trash.

I looked at the apps list and they're pretty nice.

ChronoSync Express - file synchronizer, also can do backups
Mosaic - window organizer (I use an earlier version, Window Tidy)
PDFpen - edit PDFs
RapidWeaver - web site designer
Capto - screen recorder

The above I use and there are other Setapps that do similar things so it's not like you'll use more than a handful of apps regularly. Still, I guess if you are new to Mac this is a good place to start.

Then again, unlike games, once you've been using an app for a year or two it's hard to just quit using it. For example, it's not like I can export my RapidWeaver website and import it to another website editor. Similarly for a finance app or many productivity apps. So once you're on Setapp you're kind of stuck there or you can quit and buy the apps you really used.

The other question is what happens when an app is removed from Setapp. I assume you can still use it if you have it installed but what if you want to reinstall? Probably can't.

I think in the end I'm so-so on the concept of an app service. Game service I can see since you play a game and then you're done with it and really can stop subscribing to a game service with little consequences. Same for video services. I'm not sure I'd ever subscribe to an app service like Setapp.

Spot Reviews 07/24/20

Dreyer's Fudge Tracks [/] I looked at the name and picture and thought vanilla ice cream with fudge. Then as I'm eating it I think the chocolate bits taste odd. Look at the package again and it has mini peanut butter cups. Not really to my taste. Oof.

Six Colors [/] A web site dedicated to Apple and tech news. It was included as one of the NetNewsWire default feeds and for the most part it's good. But the feed also includes member posts which are for members only and that's annoying. But aside from member posts and ads the rest of it is interesting.

Portal 2 [+] I've been watching Alexandra Botez play this on BotezLive. It's mostly an FPS puzzle game where your gun can make two portals that connect which allows you to teleport/move things around obstacles and redirect weapon fire. Trick is that portals can only be made on white walls of the facility you are trapped in. I have both Portal 1 and 2 (although they're both 32-bit games) and maybe I'll try to play 1.

iOS App - Firefox Focus [+]

I have not used any ad blockers on iOS since I do almost all browsing on Mac. On Mac I use Ghostery Lite ($free, content and tracker blocking) and StopTheMadness ($2, javascript modifier and privacy). Lately one site that I use, AyumiLove, has so many overlay ads (left side, bottom, right side) that it covers up all the content on my iPhone SE. So I went looking for an iOS ad blocker.

You can't sell pure ad blockers on the App Store. Everything has to be an app and all apps have to be somewhat functional standalone. So what I see is that ad blockers are apps that can function as web browsers and have an extension you can turn on in System Preferences > Safari > Content Blockers.

First I looked at Ghostery Privacy Browser but it doesn't have a Safari extension and I don't want to use a new browser. Similarly DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser is just a browser with no Safari Extension. And then there are a bunch of no-name ad blockers which I find hard to trust.

Eventually I found Firefox Focus which is published by Mozilla, is a standalone browser, and has a Safari extension. I installed it, turned it on, and so far Safari seems fine with a lot less ads. It doesn't have to be perfect and I do trust Mozilla so this is the best solution I've found.

macOS Safari Privacy Extensions

StopTheMadness ($2) - This is a Safari extension (can also be used on Brave, Firefox, Chrome and Edge) that is mostly to stop various Javascript techniques to click jack or limit your experience. So things like preventing you from copying web page text, or when you click a link it also sends data to an analytics site. Also stops video auto play which is why I bought this extension in the first place.

Some web sites it kind of messes up though you can white list the sites. Problem is if you have multiple extensions it can be hard which one is breaking a web site.

Ghostery Lite (free) - Ghostery I've been using for years and Lite is the version they distribute on the Mac App Store (and Lite has enough functionality for me, I forget what it lacks compared to Ghostery). Ghostery Lite is an ad blocker and tracker blocker. Block lists update daily. Has limited configuration compared to Ghostery -- you can select categories to block and can white list sites.

Both together do make my web browsing a lot nicer. Not perfect but at least they're easy to use and free/cheap.

Spot Reviews 07/17/20

Movie - The Assignment (2016) [-] After mad doctor Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver) changes hit man Frank Kitchen (Michelle Rodriguez) into a woman Frank goes on a revenge spree trying to track down Dr Jane. I watched the first half hour, it was boring, I lost interest.

Blog - Becky Hansmeyer [/] One of the NetNewsWire default feeds. Becky is an independent iOS developer and mostly writes about her experiences being a Swift developer. Somewhat interesting perspective from a small developer.

Twitch - GreenXEggs [/] An example of a small hobby streamer. She is a fan of Anna_Chess and JoeBruin which is how I know about her. Streams a variety of games. Has not figured out her schtick, or what would make her channel more interesting to viewers. Though probably she doesn't care about growth right now.

Anime - Girls und Panzer (2012) [/]

Girls und Panzer is a 12-episode half hour anime.

Miho Nishizumi (Meg McDonald) arrives at Ooarai Girls High School and is immediately recruited into the newly revived Tankery class, where girls operate WW2 vintage tanks in contests against each other and other schools. Since she's from an esteemed Tankery family school president Anzu Kadotani (Rozie Curtis) appoints Miho as squadron leader when Ooarai's team enters the annual Tankery high school tournament. Miho battles through her insecurities and her classmates' inexperience to lead her team to the championship battle...

It's a bit of an alternate world where girls' academies are hosted on decommissioned but functioning aircraft carriers and tank combat uses real rounds but nobody is seriously injured. Ooarai HS eventually fields eight different tanks from various nationalities. They face schools who are themed after various countries and their tanks: Britain (an exhibition match), Italy (the only match that is not shown on screen), United States, Russia and finally Germany.

The matches take place over two episodes and each match is quite different with a variety of tactics used. The tanks have some amount of detail and the combat is video gamey -- realistic statistics but with video game results.

I was a bit disappointed with the series. There are a lot of characters -- the Ooarai team alone is about 8 tanks x 4 crew = 32 people and each of the opposing teams has a couple of notable characters. You just don't get any deep character development in 12 episodes even for Miho, the main character. So at the end where in other series I'd be sad saying goodby this time I was "eh".

iOS PDF Apps

Apple Books app in Catalina uses iCloud to store PDFs, which I guess is fine for mostly text PDFs but anything with graphics, like comic books, you quickly eat through the 5 GB you get for free. Upgrading to 50 GB for $12 per year is one solution and I'd be able to keep sort of my current reading list available. But that means using Internet bandwidth to upload the files and download them to my iPad and I'm kind of tight on that. So it was off to look at third party iPad PDF readers...

Documents by Readdle [/] It's more designed to be a PDF editor. Shows PDFs in continuous 1-page scroll which I find inconvenient. Clumsy to add and access bookmarks. Clumsy to go to a page. Free with PDF editing a $50 add-on (and considering the editing UI elements are always present this app is not suitable as a PDF viewer-only).

Adobe Acrobat Reader for PDF [/] Not a bad PDF viewer, you can do single page or continuous page and accessing go-to-page and bookmarks is easy. But you can't create bookmarks, a feature in Android.

Kybook 3 Ebook Reader (2019) [+] Third time's the charm. Reader view without a bunch of always-present editing controls like the above two have. Supports 2-page spreads in landscape. You can add bookmarks with a tap (and actually it does have control buttons but they're very tiny which keeps them out of the way but hard to tap). Has a bunch of organizing and other features some of which use the subscription ($15 per year).

So for now I'll use Kybook 3. Apple Books is still my preferred reader on iPad -- Apple is great at UI and feel even if their apps don't have every feature (but then again leaving out unnecessary features is part of great UI). I think once I get Sonic fiber Internet I'll upgrade my iCloud and go back to Apple Books.


Wed Jul 15 - Annoyingly Kybook 3 does not do 2-page spreads correctly. A PDF is like a book so page 1 is the cover and pages 2-3 are the first 2-page spread. Kybook 3 does not know that and when I'm reading a comic book with lots of 2-page spreads they are displayed incorrectly and it's amazingly annoying. I also found that I had epub versions of some of the PDFs and epub are significantly smaller (I think they made a mistake and put really high-res images in the PDF version).

So I'm going back to Apple Books and if I keep it to 1 GB at at time that's a fair amount of comics book material. Apple Books is still useless as your books storage and organizer since it's dependent in iCloud, but I guess Apple Books is not that great at organizing in any case so storing a thousand books would be a nightmare of using Apple Books limited organization capabilities.

Spot Reviews 07/10/20

Apple Podcasts app [-] I'm seriously trying to use it but syncing from Mac to my devices sucks. It's hard to get it to sync all episodes -- on one device some episodes are missing and on the other device other episodes are missing. Also no playlist support in the Mac App and on iOS you can only add to the virtual currently playing list.

Twitch - AkaNemsko (2020) [+] WGM Qiyu Zhou is a new streamer and her channel just celebrated it's first month-aversary, while having over 1000 subscribers. She built up a following being a guest partner at BotezLive, doing commentaries on and doing collaborations for PogChamps. It's pretty remarkable growth. Her channel is Chess, League of Legends and Valorant; though she also did a run through of Detroit Become Human. Disclosure: I am a moderator in her channel.

San Mateo Public Library, Main Library [+] San Mateo City operates three libraries. I've only been to the main one which is a few minutes walk from my place. It's three stories, fairly large, very clean and well maintained building. Really a nice place to hang out, read a book or magazine or study (they have small reading rooms and I often see students studying). They have programs for kids and adults, a used books section where sales go to maintain the library. Underground parking is fairly large. Overall an excellent city library.

Movie - Midway (1976) [+] and Midway (2019) [/]

Midway (1976) is kind of a classic old school WW2 film. It starts with the Doolittle Raid then concentrates on the intelligence gathering and preparation for the Battle of Midway. The last half of the movie is the battle itself with the various air squadrons searching and attacking the Japanese carriers -- the movie is mostly from the American point of view. The film ends right at the end of the battle.

Midway (2019) is a big budget theatrical film on the same topic. It starts with Pearl Harbor, spends a lot more time on characters, covers the Battle of Midway in about 30 minutes, and ends when the American carriers return to Pearl Harbor.

Some comparisons:

2019 has a lot of average movie-CGI so it does look a bit off. Compared to the first movie which used real vintage airplanes (though recycled footage it's still real airplanes, 2019 you can see multiple air squadrons in the air) and actual archival footage from WW2.
The Battle of Midway is given short shrift. You don't get a sense of the battle like you do in the 1976 film. On the other hand you get a bit more of the strategic factors in the 2019 film. I also liked that 2019 had a submarine, USS Nautilus, taking a part which it probably did historically but was unknown in 1976.
The 2019 ending credits shows what happened historically for each character, which I do like. This points to the fact that 1976 has a fictional major character, his son and a Japanese internment detainee plot line.

Overall I do prefer the 1976 version.

D&D Monster Cards [/]

Gale Force Nine publishes official D&D reference cards. I have a set with magic items and several sets for various spell lists. I have two sets for monsters, one for Challenge 0-5 and one for Challenge 6-16. Unlike other sets, many monsters require a lot of information so most cards are double-width. As usual each card has a picture in front and statistics in back. The cards are sturdy and have glossy fronts and backs. Monsters with variants tend to have variant cards (i.e. there is a card for young white dragon).

I haven't used the monster cards but I'd imagine in an adventure I'd take out the cards for monsters that appear so I have them handy without having perhaps multiple monster manuals around. Maybe in a card folder (like what I see Magic the Gathering players use) so they're not all spread out or in a pile that can be knocked over. I was also thinking of using it in Pendragon as a random monster generator, picking a random card and then making up a corresponding monster.

Sadly, with COVID-19 and less face-to-face gaming a product like this seems less useful. I guess as a GM I could still have it around but if we're doing remote gaming then having a PDF with the select monsters may be more useful (especially since I use three monitors so have the extra screen space).

Still, I think a useful add-on to a D&D campaign.

Spot Reviews 07/03/20

Comic Book - Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 05 (2010) [/] This collects the Judge Dredd serials from 2000 AD (a British comic book of short stories) issues 208-270. It's ok though the humor takes some getting used to.

TV Show - Stargirl #101-106 (2020) [/] Teenager Courtney (Brec Bassinger) becomes fledging super-heroine Stargirl and with the reluctant help of her stepfather Pat "Stripesey" Dugan (Luke Wilson) recruits her high-school friends to form a new Justice Society of America to battle the Injustice Society of America and the villains who killer her father... High school super-heroes are not really my thing, mostly because high schoolers can be really annoying.

Safeway Dutch Apple Pie [/] You know, I think this is actually cherry pie because the innards are red and cherry tasting rather than apple tasting. This is a big pie with a crumb topping that has oats. It's good though I guess I prefer a regular cherry pie. Dutch topping might not be my thing.

Movie - Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019) [/]

The Rise of Skywalker is the last of the classic 9-movie series that George Lucas envisioned back in the 1970's. The three trilogies cover three generations: the rise of Darth Vader and the Empire; Luke and Leia and the Rebel Alliance; Rey and Kylo Ren and the First Order.

By this last movie Rey (Daisy Ridley) is an accomplished Jedi with formidable powers (especially considering what Luke Skywalker was showing in Return of the Jedi, a bit of power creep there). Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) find the Big Boss who offers him a newly restored Empire in return for Rey.

Once again it's a planet hopping adventure as Rey and friends look for clues to find the Sith homeworld while Kylo Ren and his forces chase them. Really nice vistas that you don't appreciate on an iPad. Lots of fighting and action and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) having a small but significant role.

The ending is suitably epic and I really like the last little bit with Rey to end the series.

Overall, there is nothing like being a teenager watching episodes 4-6 in theaters. I suppose being that age and watching these current movies would have the same impact. For me it's nice to see the arcs of my favorite OG characters like Luke, Leia, Chewbacca and C-3PO.