Kevin C. Wong

Book - Creative Selection (2018) [+]

Creative Selection, by Ken Kocienda, describes his experience working at Apple from when he was one of the first three people working on Safari and WebKit through working on the initial iPhone keyboard. A lot of good anecdotes and stories about the work and the people and how they develop software. And meanwhile he structures it around the principles of why their software methodology, which is not really a methodology but more like principal ideals, works and ends with the five to seven principle ideals that he thinks are key to software development at Apple.

It's a very readable book and the stories are interesting. Not a long read even though it's about 250-odd pages it's not dense. Also a good amount of drawn art that goes with the text. Also a generally upbeat book with nice insights on Scott Forstall and Steve Jobs.

Spot Reviews 05/27/22

Apple Arcade - Projection: First Light (2019) [/] A puzzle game based on shadows. You're a shadow puppet girl wandering around a 2D world. You have a companion light (controlled with the right joystick) that is used to cast shadows and in this world shadows are solid objects so can be used to create platforms to jump on or as elevators. Starts to get a bit fiddly. Neat concept. Ok game.

Movie - Black Crab (2022) [/] Sometime in the future global warming has frozen Sweden causing unrest leading to civil war. Caroline Edh (Noomi Rapace), a civilian turned soldier, and a few other specialists are gathered for a special mission. They all have skating experience and they are to skate along a frozen river for a few days to a remote scientific outpost to deliver a special cargo. Edh has been told that her daughter, missing for several years, is at the outpost which helps her resolve when the squad realizes that the special cargo is a biological weapon that may end up ending the world... It's an ok Swedish film.

Podcast - 9to5Mac Happy Hour [-] 9to5Mac is an Apple news web site and this is their podcast. Listened to a couple of recent episodes and seems to be two British guys dumping on Apple. Might be that British humor that I don't understand.

Movie - The Batman (2022) [+]

The Batman is yet another reboot of Batman. It does start a bit more in media res. Batman (Robert Pattinson) has been operating for a bit now, long enough to have an ally in Gotham PD Lt James Gordon (Jeffrey Wright). The first masked villain develops, The Riddler (Paul Dano), striking from the shadows to murder the DA and other Gotham notables. Each time he leaves a clue leading Batman into the criminal underworld where he meets and makes a shaky alliance with Selina Kyle (Zoë Kravitz) who has her own revenge goals (and at this time everyone thinks Batman is more about darkness and vengeance so he is feared by both bad guys and good guys)...

This is a very dark version of Batman and Gotham. It's always night and raining in this film. Gotham is a city on the way down and Batman can only relay on his butler Alfred Pennyworth (Andy Serkis), Gordon and maybe Kyle. I do like that in the first half of the film he does more detective work than maybe all other Batman movies combined. I also like that Batman's origin story is more of an aside and alluded to -- I don't need to see it yet again.

It's a fairly long film, 2:45 hours. It's fairly slow paced with lots of tension and few action scenes building up to the big battle at the end. Although a good film and pretty well done, much like Joker (2019) it's a bit too heavy for me to ever see it again.

RPG Adventure - Escape from Fox Island (2018) [+]

Escape from Fox Island is a 9-page adventure for Bunnies & Burrows 3E. The PCs are captured by humans and dumped on Fox Island (the island on the north-east corner of the area map on page 216 of the rulebook) where all the wild rabbits are sent. To escape the island the PCs interact with the six warrens and their leaders in order to get human tools that will help them.

This is a small sandbox adventure that I had a lot of fun running. You get a description of the island; the predators (including six foxes); the six burrows and their leaders (including stats though no personality notes); six human artifacts (with rabbit-POV descriptions) and six ways they can be guarded; and various ways for the PCs to escape the island (swimming is not one of them due to sharks).

You randomly assign the artifacts to each warren, randomly assign how they are guarded, and randomly assign which leader wants which item. Set the PCs loose and let them go...

That's a bit too thin for me (it's a sandbox without hooks to give players reasons to go or do anything) and I guess the designer intended a GM to fill it out a bit. I used the excellent Non-Player Cards boxed set from Metal Weave Games to generate as an idea generator to assign personalities to each leader, what their warren does, and why the leader wants a particular item (my notes are here). That really helped in giving PCs direction on what to do and hooks on how to do it.

Of the four published B&B 3E adventures this one turned out second best. Fairy Ring of the Nibble Onions is best because it's a 3-act adventure and quite detailed. Escape from Fox Island is brief but sets up a nice sandbox which, if filled out some, can be quite fun and varied. Mound of Basking Vultures was short and uneventful but a quite different adventure than I'd expect. The Garden Raid was way too basic and should have been included in the main rulebook as an introductory adventure.

Spot Reviews 05/20/22

Apple Arcade - Possessions (2019) [/] A perspective puzzle game. Each level is a room mostly laid out but there are a few objects or pieces of objects floating. Rotate the room (360 degrees horizontally, up to almost 90 vertically up, maybe 45 degrees vertically down). Line up the floating objects to where they are supposed to be. Sometimes floating objects block one another so you have to them in the right sequence. There is a warm, hotter, hottest hint if you get the perspective close so it's not that hard. I went through the 30-odd main puzzles plus the 10-odd bonus puzzles (world monuments and these are harder since all the pieces are kind of the same) in a couple of hours so I guess this game is for pre-teens or so.

Anime - Cells at Work! #1.1 to #1.4 (2018) [/] An anime about anthropomorphized human cells doing their every day jobs and battling problems throughout the body. I watched the first four episodes and it has Erythrocyte (Cherami Leigh), a red blood cell, and Neutrophil (Billy Kametz), a white blood cell, as the regular characters. Each episode had different things attacking the body, such as a virus outbreak or a scrape letting in microbes, and spotlights different specialized cells that combat the problem, so it's a little bit educational. Not quite interesting enough to keep watching.

Apple Music - '80s Radio with Huey Lewis (2021) [+] Huey Lewis hosts an hour-long weekly Apple Music radio show. Each week is a different theme and I guess it's about a dozen songs (full songs without voice-overing into and out of a song) with a bit of an intro for each. It's good to reminisce since I grew up with 1980's pop music (and this is mostly pop music with the occasional episode covering other genres like country, alternative, and R&B). And since this a show all episodes are available to replay whenever.

TV Show - Cowboy Bebop (2021) [+]

Cowboy Bebop (2021) is a Netflix live action reboot of the classic anime series. Spike Spiegel (John Cho) and Jet Black (Mustafa Shakir) are a pair of interplanetary bounty hunters (or Cowboys). On Jet's ship, the Bebop, they go from one seedy city to another collecting bounties and barely keeping food in the cupboard. Later on they meet and eventually add Faye Valentine (Daniella Pineda) to the team and in the last couple of episodes fo the 10 episode drama Spiegel's secret comes out and he has to face his Syndicate past in former partner and now Syndicate head Vicious (Alex Hassell) and his wife, and Spike's former love, Julia (Elena Satine).

The episodes redo several of the better anime episodes but now as double-length 45 to 50 minute stories. This allows for a slower pace when needed and a bit more character moments. I recently watched the anime and those episodes are fast yet tell complete stories. Some reviewers thought the live action episodes were too slow but they seemed just fine to me and I was never bored.

The color palette and atmosphere is a bit darker with more night scenes, it seems. Combine with the dirty rundown places they visit and accompanying jazz music and you get this noir feel with electronics and space ships. The tech looks great and it helps that everything is supposed to be kind of run down.

Acting is quite good. Cho and Shakir embody their characters and have good chemistry. Pineda is an amazing Faye. You can't get Faye's look because that's an impossibly tall, thin, busty beauty with a skimpy costume. But Pineda has got the attitude down cold. Ein the dog is also there for much of the season with one episode showing off a bit of its back story. Radical Ed (Eden Perkins) makes a brief appearance just before the final episode end credits and would have been cool in a second season.

I like Spike's subplot. They kind of focused on that throughout the season with Jet and Faye getting less focus (though I loved the episode with Faye and her "mother"). Unlike the anime the live action also has one or two scenes per episode following Vicious and Julia as they get in trouble with the Syndicate heads and decide the way out is to take over the Syndicate. It makes for a better confrontation between Spike and Vicious and I like the noir backstabby ending. Also everybody survives for the next season.

Unfortunately Netflix cancelled the series. I guess season two would have been similar, with a season-long subplot while recycling other anime stories.

Overall I did love this series. It's definitely Cowboy Bebop and although borrows stories from the anime it changes them enough that they're still quite interesting. I don't think you need to watch the anime first and the live action stands on its own quite well.

Apple TV+ - Friday Night Baseball (2022) [+]

Apple got the rights to Friday Night Baseball and have been streaming it on Apple TV+. It is two games on Friday afternoon and evening in the US and I think available anywhere you can get Apple TV+. I've been watching all the games so it's been like 4 weeks.

Some of the technicals:

  • It's kind of non-intuitive to get to the FNB section. I have to go to Apple TV+ then browse down the main page and click on the FNB banner.
  • If you're watching it live there are no DVR features. So you can't skip back or if you came in late start from the beginning.
  • Shortly after a game is over you can watch the replay. It still has commercials but now you can skip forward and back or scan.
  • The next day you can see the games in the past games section. Unfortunately the banner titles include the scores so you have to be careful to scan just the teams and don't scan a bit down and see the scores. I think past games don't have commercials.

Now for the broadcasts themselves. There are two broadcasting team. The first one has varied more and I guess they're trying to get that team right. The second team I like better: Stephen Nelson (play-by-play), Katie Nolan (analyst), initially Hunter Pence (analyst) for two games and now a second former baseball player so not sure if that spot is supposed to rotate, and Heidi Watney (sideline reporter). Nelson keeps up the chatter. Nolan has done a lot of sports shows but is not baseball experienced so brings a newcomer's perspective. Then having a baseball player for behind the scenes thoughts is nice.

People have commented that the broadcast is very clean and I haven't really watched sports for a few years. But yes, there isn't a constantly on bottom info scroll with game scores and stats. The info comes in subtly, like good Closed Caption text then fades away. They do have analytics stats like % change this batter will get on base or get an RBI which, since I don't know how those numbers are generated, seems guess work.

A couple of Apple additions: There is a Siri question segment. There are walk-up songs for each batter and walk-up playlists you can listen to on Apple Music.

Included in the FNB package is a daily show and you can also watch classic baseball games. I have not watched the daily show because I don't want to watch a daily show (that's too much tv). There is a selection of classic games going back to 1977, about three a year so not really that many games. You get the teams, date, and short one-line summary about why the game is a classic (which means spoilers but otherwise how would you pick a game to watch).

Overall I'm pretty happy with Friday Night Baseball. A couple of games is not too much baseball and you can watch some classic games and daily news.

Spot Reviews 05/13/22

Apple Arcade - Rayman Mini (2019) [/] Sort of an endless runner and platformer theme in that Rayman is always running unless you run up against an obstacle and you need to time your jumps to get to certain areas. Tap to jump and tap to punch (or slide to punch down). Each level you're trying to collect 40 fireflies and three coins, sometimes a bit tricky to get and often because you only get one chance to make the right jump or maneuver to pick up a series of fireflies. Nice graphics and gameplay though not my style of game.

Ruprecht Peking-Style Half Duck [/] I'm guessing my sister got this from Costco. I had it frozen then defrosted and baked it in the oven for 20 minutes, so maybe not the ideal way to prepare it. It tasted ok and wasn't crispy. Good sauce and I guess the inside is stuffed with fillings. For an easy roast duck meal it's quite fine since making it fresh would be quite a bit of work.

Web Site - Recent Earthquakes in California and Nevada - from Southern California Earthquake Data Center this page shows you earthquakes in the last week with bigger squares being bigger quakes. You can click to zoom in and the drilldown page lists recent earthquakes with their magnitudes and locations. I've been referring to it for three decades, whenever I feel an earthquake and the data is up within a minute.

Movie - Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) [+]

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness has Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), Master of the Mystic Arts, trying to save a young America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez) from the clutches of a corrupted Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Chavez is the only multiversal traveller in the cosmos and Scarlet Witch wants that power in order to find a multiverse where she can be with her kids (imaginary kids in WandaVision but real kids in other multiverses).

With the additional power of the Darkhold the Scarlet Witch overpowers Strange and his allies. He and America flee through the multiverses to Earth-838 where they are held captive by the Illuminati, a group of heroes who guard against multiversal incursions. Meanwhile Scarlet Witch follows them by possessing the body of her alternate leading to a magnificent battle between herself and the Illuminati -- Professor X (Patrick Stewart), Captain Carter (Hayley Atwell), Captain Marvel (Lashana Lynch), Black Bolt (Anson Mount) and Mister Fantastic (John Krasinski).

After one more alternate universe it's Strange who has to inhabit a body in the main Earth in order to save America from Scarlet Witch...

This is a really cool movie. I like that Scarlet Witch follows from WandaVision where she ended with the Darkhold and we all know that nothing good ever comes from using the Darkhold (which apparently a lot of people didn't know but it's a comic book staple of the Darkhold). Also some stuff from What If... series, though not exactly, like Captain Carter and a Dr Strange that ended up destroying his universe.

Lots of action. A few scary parts. I learned later that Sam Raimi directed and wanted to do a more horror version of MCU. I like when Scarlet Witch is controlling Wanda-838 and staggering through steam tunnels after our heroes, like a fast unstoppable zombie. Also neat how they contrast Dr Strange who could try to change his past and fix his relationship with Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) with what happened when another Dr Strange tried it and with what Scarlet Witch is attempting to do.

I quite enjoyed this film.

Apple Arcade - Shinsekai Into the Depths (2019) [/]

Shinsekai Into the Depths is an underwater side-view exploration game where you play a survivor in an old diving suit, slowly going deeper and deeper as the world above freezes over.

The basic gameplay is explore the environment, find resources (by killing sea creatures or mining with your pickaxe), craft weapons and upgrades, and upgrade your suit so you can explore the next underwater layer.

Hit points is pretty much your air supply. You have an internal tank and can pick up five external tanks (and another five with an upgrade). When you take damage it comes off of your external tanks first so they get damaged and eventually are destroyed, reducing your air capacity. Air is also used to jet propel yourself around (reducing fall damage or going up a shaft). Luckily lots of air streams can be found emitting from the ground and every save point has an air stream.

It's a fairly chill game with few dangerous monsters. Mostly exploration and trying not to damage your suit much while keeping your air supply high. You have to hit levers to open doors and you find artifacts to examine including hand drawings trying to explain things to you (like what's coming up ahead or telling the plot). There is no dialogue other than help text, nor voice overs, and no real action music. Watery sounds and you moving around.

Nice graphics. I was playing with a controller and it's not extremely responsive though I suppose that matches being in an ill-fitting diving suit. But after an hour this game is a bit too chill for me so time to move on to another game.

Spot Reviews 05/06/22

Campbell's Cream of Mushroom condensed soup [+] My favorite canned soup but I don't use it as a soup; I use it as a sauce. Fry some meat, pour in some milk and a can of soup to make a medium-thick sauce then eat with rice or pasta. I've been using this since college and I got the idea from my dad.

Netflix Movie - Below Zero (2021) [/] Spanish film. In the dead of night on a lonely road in the middle of winter an armored prison transport vehicle is ambushed. Recent police officer transfer Martin (Javier Gutiérrez) is trapped in the prisoner compartment with about half a dozen dangerous convicts. While the attacker tries to break in Martin has to make sure the prisoners don't turn on him and the prisoner the attacker wants to murder... An ok film. I was expecting more of an "armored car trapped in under a frozen lake and the people have to stay alive" scenario but that scene was a few minutes.

Podcast - Candlestick Chronicles (2018) [/] Sacramento Bee reporter Chris Biderman and USA Today editor Kyle Madson talk about the 49ers several times per week. I've listened to the last six months of podcasts and they seem even-keeled and rational.

Movie - With a Kiss I Die (2018) [/]

With a Kiss I Die is an indie lesbian romance tragedy. On a small Greek island tourist Farryn (Paige Emerson) meets the mysterious Juliet (Ella Kewku). Turns out it's Juliet Capulet, who didn't die with Romeo and who is now a vampire. But she's a vampire who has lost her passion and is serving her vampire Father (Yorgos Kavgalakis) for the promise he'll resurrect Romeo.

Now that Farryn is in the picture Juliet starts to feel again but that means she might finally spurn her Father. The threat of her leaving forces Father and his children into a final confrontation with Juliet and Farryn with surprising consequences...

I like the concept. The location is beautiful. The acting is good enough and the things that are setup for the ending are pretty cool in the aftermath. But the story feels slow moving even though it's a 70-min film. I watched it and it was kind of interesting but not exciting. Maybe needs background music.

iOS Game - Shantae: Risky's Revenge (2011) [-]

Shantae: Risky's Revenge is a decade-old iOS port of a Nintendo DS game. You can get the full version free (no in-app purchase required) and I'm surprised it runs on my iPad (game was last updated four years ago and added 64-bit support).

You play Shantae, a half-genie with various magic and dance powers (which you buy or discover as the game progresses). You are trying to stop Risky the pirate from assembling three artifacts that will give her ultimate power and to do that you wander the island, explore dungeons and fight boss monsters.

This is a side-scrolling platform game. Sometimes you can travel into the screen or outwards so it's not quite only side-to-side navigation. There is also controller support though I found not everything can be done with a controller.

The play experience is kind of poor. The game runs slowly and controls are a bit laggy (not sure if it runs on top of an emulation layer). Graphics are very blocky (Nintendo DSi had 256 × 192 pixel screens). As I mentioned if you're using a controller you have to tap screen for certain actions, like selecting an item in your bag.

And maybe all of it wouldn't be so bad except I just finished playing Shantae and the Seven Sirens, a 3-year old iOS game that was made for iOS so controller works smoothly and graphics are great.

Overall I think playing Risky's Revenge would be more for nostalgia than entertainment.