Kevin C. Wong

Book - The Path Between the Seas (1977) [/]

The Path Between the Seas is a book about the building of the Panama Canal, written by historian David McCullough. It's split up into three parts:

The French effort (1870-1894) which sort of became a national effort and unfortunately failed due to severely underestimating the difficulties of building a sea-level canal, massively underfunded, and not being able to control Yellow Fever, Malaria, and other tropical diseases that decimated the workforce.

America secure the canal zone (1890-1904) where the US had two routes to decided on -- through Nicaragua or through Panama -- and the political machinations wherein Panama won, the Panamanians declared independence from Columbia and how the US cemented that independence.

America builds the canal (1904-1914) and it's mostly the first two or three years when the US took over the French constructions, obliterated Yellow Fever and Malaria, then decided to build a lock canal. The last chapter covers about 7 years and describes the locks and control mechanisms because by then everything else was kind of routine.

McCullough researched for several years, read official documents stored in France, the US and Panama; talked to people, mostly descendants of the major figures in the story or even people who were kids living in the canal zone when the US was building it. In this history McCullough writes about the people, the politics, the technical achievements and tries to put them in context for the time.

It's an interesting book and a fairly entertaining read.

Spot Reviews 05/28/21

Music - Olivia Rodrigo: Sour (2021) [/] - First listen impression is that it's too whispery and soft. Since this is a Disney Channel star pop album I expected more energy.

Progresso Chicken Barley Soup [/] Diced chicken and barley with peas and celery. Not one of the best tasting soups though a nice change from chicken noodle soup.

Progresso Chicken & Orzo with Lemon Soup [/] This one is better than Chicken Barley mostly because Orzo (a type of pasta) is tastier than barley. For both the chicken is not great and both soups could possibly be better with just chicken broth.

TV Show - Love, Death & Robots s1 (2019) [/]

Love, Death & Robots is an anthology science fiction series. Each short is a few minutes to max of 15 or so minutes and they're done by different production companies so there's a wide range between CGI, animation and real actors.

There's humor, suspense, a lot of shorts have a bit of nudity (and there is I think one short sex scene). Most stories have a setup then a twist reveal to end and I like those. All have good production values although sometimes the story is ho hum.

My favorite episodes from season 1 (season 2 was just released but I haven't watched it yet):

Three Robots - Three robots do a self-tour of devastated Earth making fun of the extinct humans and their goofy technology. The twist is when the robots discover what actually wiped out the humans.

Suits - Mech piloting farmers defend themselves from a massive bug attack. I like Mechs and these are kind of like BattleTech Dark Age work mechs with homemade weapons.

Lucky 13 - A rookie Marine pilot gets assigned the unlucky assault transport that killed its previous two crews. But for her and her cargo "13" becomes the steadfast ol' reliable that always brings everyone home safe. Except for the last mission...

Overall it's a good and fairly short series.

Food - Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza [+]

Trader Joe's Roasted Garlic & Pesto Pizza with Deep Fried Crust is really good. It's vegetarian with four cheese and tastes fine. The crust though comes out crispy and oily and delicious. It's a meal for one or I guess a snack for two and it's one of the best tasting Trader Joe's pizzas.

Spot Reviews 05/21/21

Waterfront Bistro Wild Alaskan Pink Salmon Fillets [-] This is the Safeway house brand frozen salmon fillets, family pack of eight 4-oz fillets for $13. It's cheap and considering it's frozen not that bad. But since I often get not-previously-frozen salmon in comparison this was really bad.

Documentary Series - The Last Dance (2020) [/] ESPN 10-episode hour series about the Chicago Bulls' 1997-98 season, the year they won their sixth championship. Each episode mixes what's happening that season with history of the Michael Jordan area, mostly focusing on MJ but sometimes one the team and one half episode on Scottie Pippen. For a sports documentary it's pretty good.

Twitch - MSLA Racing League [/] - Marbles on Stream Laps Association Racing League where teams of six compete in a weekly race (a couple hundred laps taking a couple of hours). Anyone can create a team and top three team finishers count their points to the team. This is hosted by MoS Twitch rep and he's fairly entertaining considering the racing itself is less interesting than watching NASCAR.

TV Show - The Code (2019) [+]

With a name like this I thought it was some sort of computer hacking conspiracy drama so I skipped reading the description. Turns out The Code is a Marine Corps JAG legal drama that lasted one half-season of 12 episodes.


  • Captain John Abraham (Luke Mitchell) - a defense attorney (and closest to a primary lead in the show)
  • Major Trey Ferry (Ato Essandoh) - Captain Abraham's partner and supervisor
  • Captain Maya Dobbins (Anna Wood) - a prosecuting attorney often assigned to the same case as Abraham and Ferry
  • Colonel Glenn Turnbull (Dana Delaney) - commander of the JAG department in Washington DC
  • 1st Lieutenant Harper Li (Phillipa Soo) - a rookie defense attorney sometimes paired up with Captain Abraham
  • Warrant Officer Rami Ahmadi (Raffi Barsoumian) - office administrative assistant who knows everything

It's an episodic show and varies as to format. A lot of times the attorneys go to the field to investigate and we get to see a wide variety of military locations. There is often some courtroom drama but some episodes don't have any as the case is solved before then.

There are the usual character subplots. There is a bit of a through line for Captain Abraham as his good friend is killed in an early episode, then Abraham falls for his friend's wife (and vice versa), and finally becomes a witness to her lawsuit against the Marine Corps which puts him at odds with the rest of the Corps and to be continued if show had been renewed.

Good characters, good military action, interesting stories. Too bad the show was cancelled.

Computer Game - Cosmic Express (2017) [+]

Cosmic Express is a puzzle alien train themed game. Each level is something like an 8 x 10 grid and a space can be empty or contain an object:

* Entrance - there is one entrance where your train comes in
* Exit - there is one, sometimes two, exists where your train must leave
* Obstacle - can't build on
* Passenger - need to pick these up
* Destination - need to deliver a passenger to the same colored destination
* Hole - teleportation hole that teleports to another hole

And probably more as I've only done about 80 levels.

You lay one continuous track from the entrance to an exit. Your train must eventually pick up every passenger and deliver each to their destination. It's usually something like two groups of different colored passengers which must be delivered to two groups of different colored destinations and your train can carry one to three passengers (depending on the level).

So there is a lot of winding around to make sure you pick up and drop off passengers in the right order and taking advantages of quirks (e.g. if two passengers try to board the same car at the same time then they bounce off each other). It's basically a 2D pathing game with hundreds of levels. Cute graphics and sounds and fairly easy UI since it's designed for mobile.

Spot Reviews 05/14/21

Chips Ahoy! Soft Chunky Original [-] Chocolate chip cookies. I'd forgotten how sweet these are. Too sugary for my taste. They are chewy but you have to keep the package sealed or they dry out.

TV Show - Flashpoint #1.01-1.05, s5 (2008) [/] I caught up on most of the Flashpoint episodes I missed (the first episode and all of season 5). It's sort of a more Canadian/more polite version of SWAT and the kind of show comfortable for CBS audiences. I'm glad I watched the whole series.

iOS Game - Don't Starve: Pocket Edition (2015) [/] You start on a randomly generated island with nothing. Collect stuff to build more stuff so you can collect stuff so you can build bigger stuff. Also keep yourself from starving or dying of illness. Meet island inhabitants who can help or hinder you. Apparently several strategies you can try. Not really my kind of game -- just too grindy and fidly -- but it's a good implementation.

Movie - Tron (1982) [+]

Tron is a classic Disney live-action movie set in the 1980's. Computer programmer and hacker Kevin Flynn (Jeff Bridges) has been trying to hack his way into his former company ENCOM to discover the hidden files that would prove ENCOM Senior VP Ed Dillinger (David Warner) stole Flynn's code and used it to get his first big promotion. Kevin receives unlikely allies in former girlfriend Dr Lora Baines (Cindy Morgan) and her current beau Alan Bradley (Bruce Boxleitner) who is a programmer at ENCOM who has developed a security program, Tron, and now Alan is shut out by the Master Control Program which practically runs ENCOM.

The three break into ENCOM and while Kevin borrows a lab computer he is shot by an experimental matter transforming laser which sends him into the electronic world of the ENCOM computer system. In the computer world programs are like people and Master Control Program (MCP) has taken over most of the digital world. Programs can either join MCP's army or be sent to the games where they fight until they die. Kevin is put in the games but quickly breaks out with his new friends Tron (Boxleitner) and Ram (Dan Shor).

During the various escape adventures Kevin and Ram are killed and Tron gamely goes it alone, enlisting his friend Yori (Morgan) to help him contact his user who has new instructions for him. Meanwhile Kevin did make it out and uses his user powers to bring back an old ship to life and head for where Tron was heading. Ram also made it out but dies soon after and Kevin gets a new friend, Bit, who is more like a pet and really does very little in the movie.

Kevin rejoins Tron and Yori and reveals he's a user. Tron has an upgraded disc and the three head to the center to put a stop to MCP once and for all...

The movie moves a lot faster than I remember and is also a lot less musical than I remember. Although it's fairly dated the computer world still has a certain cool look to it even though it has a lot of practical costumes and sets. There is a lot of computer animation and a lot of cgi stuff in the live action I don't think they were shooting in green screen.

It's a fairly nostalgic movie and nice to see it again.

iOS Game - Galaxy Trucker (2014) [/]

Galaxy Trucker is an iOS adaptation of the Galaxy Trucker board game. I haven't played the board game but the iOS version is very board game-like.

The objective of each game is to get cargo from A to B while competing with other players.

First you start configuring your ship. You have a ship outline. Module cards are set out on the table and everybody is picking modules simultaneously so you have to be quick. Get weapons, engines, shields, batteries, crew quarters and cargo modules. Each square module side has zero or one of three types of connectors and module connectors have to match up. Once someone finishes everyone else has 90 seconds to complete their ship.

Then you go on your run. Ships start out on a track with the first player to have finished building being the first ship on the track.

There are eight random events during the run. Could be a hazard, like a pirate attack or asteroid field. Could be an opportunity, like planets with cargo to pick up or an abandoned ship to explore. The first player gets first choice on the event. Some events only one player can do it and some events have multiple options and players choose in order. Doing an event takes time which can move your ship back.

Events with bad effects can do damage to your ship. You might be able to defend with a well placed laser (lasers fire straight) or with a shield (which protects two sides). Otherwise a module gets destroyed and if modules become disconnected from the core they become disabled.

Events seem to be fairly even between good and bad so even with bad luck you probably only lose three or four modules, which can pretty much wreck your ship.

In the finish you get money for cargo you deliver with bonuses for coming in first, second, etc. Subtract if you have destroyed modules to get a profit or loss.

I started the campaign which adds an area to explore. As you visit each planet you can talk to people and get cargo jobs and I suppose there is a plot to finish.

It's a polished app though I think I'd rather play the board game because then I can change the rules. I hate the ship build phase because of the time pressure so I'd change that to turn based (pick a tile and use it or put it back in the pool). Otherwise it's an entertaining game.

Spot Reviews 05/07/21

Movie - Riverworld (2010) [/] Based on Philip José Farmer's book series. After his death warcrimes journalist Matt Ellman (Tahmoh Penikett) wakes up on Riverworld, an artificial world 100 times bigger than Earth and covered by a single river. Here the dead are reborn and dying is a painful inconvenience. Ellman joins forces with writer Samuel Clemens (Mark Deklin) and samurai Tomoe Gozen (Jeananne Goossen) and race for the river's source because Richard Burton (Peter Wingfield) wants to destroy Riverworld which he sees as a giant laboratory prison... Sci Fi channel's second Riverworld pilot and at least this time it has a complete story whilst setting up a possible series that never came to be.

iOS App - CBS Sports App Scores & News [-] As the name says scores and news. You can also watch at least some programs without connecting to your cable/satellite TV provider. It does have an ad bar scores and news pages which makes for a scuffed UI. I downloaded it to watch the Super Bowl and I think I'll be deleting it now.

Progresso Lentil Soup [/] A little salty, a little too chunky. Still, I was in the mood for soup and this was quite adequate.

TV Show - 68 Whiskey (2020) [+]

68 Whiskey was an hour-long dramedy tv show that lasted one season of ten episodes. It's set at a US Army outpost in Afghanistan and the main characters are a helicopter medevac unit:

  • Sergeant Cooper Roback (Sam Keeley) - A medic and hustler trying to help out his friends but his schemes usually fail.
  • Sergeant Rosa Alvarez (Cristina Rodlo) - Another medic and very competent but due to be returned to the US and deported.
  • Staff Sergeant Mekhi Davis (Jeremy Tardy) - Cooper's best friend trying to save his parents from losing their home.

It is serious situations where the humor comes from the situations and banter from the characters. There's a season-long subplot having to do with the mercenaries also stationed at the base who work for a big corporation and have their own mysterious missions which turn out to be at side-purposes to winning the hearts and minds of the locals.

It seems fairly realistic in terms of the camp and the gear and such. I found it to be a pretty good military series but too bad it only lasted one season because it ends in a bit of a cliffhanger.

iOS Game - F1 Manager (2020) [/]

F1 Manager is a Formula 1 race car team management game using real drivers on real courses. I like that it's about building your car, training your drivers, and real-time race management.

You don't drive the two cars in your team but you can tell them when to pit stop (which is only for changing tires not for refueling), what tires to use (three types) and how fast to drive (three speeds). So each 10-minute race is about managing your pit stops (tires wear out fast) and knowing when to go all out (you always have a bit more fuel than you need to finish the game on standard speed) since you don't get extra points for finishing with extra fuel or tires.

On the down side this is a free-to-play game. There are loot boxes which take time to open or you can spend resources to open them faster. There are boosts which you can buy which gives it a bit more pay-to-win than usual. You can watch ads for in game currency. Also since it uses real F1 drivers all the included ones are male drivers (I don't know if there are any female F1 drivers).

All the racing also seems to be PvP (in a field of 20 cars, 2 will be your team and 2 will be the opponent's team). I'm more of a play vs computer person because once you get to a certain level losing constantly to tryhards gets depressing.

Overall a nice concept but free-to-play format is not for me. Maybe on desktop it's a better game.