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May 2022 Retrospective

After nearly two months my funemployment is finally coming to an end and honestly I could not be more excited. I thought I was ready to start my own independent studio and build some of those ideas that have been rattling around in my brain for a decade. But in the end I realized that I still missed working with other people, especially those who I am able to learn from. So in June I start work at another publicly traded company with several thousand employees. Their engineering culture really impressed me and I am looking forward to personally seeing how large scale mobile development works outside of Uber.

But before that happened, Elsie and I finally got off our butts and took our first vacation in over three years!

The Good

Vacation in Los Angeles

The main reason we chose to visit LA was so we could see some of our very good friends. But as cool as they are I don't think they are going to want to entertain everyone who reads this blog. So how about I give you a list of cool places to visit instead?

  1. The Griffith Observatory is a must-see attraction. I highly recommend hiking to it through Griffith Park and make sure you get tickets to the planetarium show.
  2. The La Brea Tar Pits Museum has a shocking number of bones and fossils on display. I thought it was going to be a tiny little museum that we just blew through but we were there for hours.
  3. If you are an art fan The Getty Center will probably blow your mind. But even if you're not into art I highly recommend visiting because the campus ground are truly breathtaking. Plus, the views of the surrounding Brentwood and Bel-Air neighbourhoods (with their monstrous houses on the hills) are something to behold.
  4. Universal Studio Hollywood was a mixed bag. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Springfield, and Jurassic World were all fun areas to walk through just to appreciate the detail that went into their design. But the rides and experiences were usually subpar. That being said the Studio Tour was fantastic and made the visit completely worthwhile.

But if you are going to Los Angeles for the love of whatever god you believe in, stay away from the Santa Monica Pier. That was the most touristy crap we saw during our time in LA and it was not enjoyable in the slightest. Even walking beside the beach was pretty boring as well. I could see the beach possibly being fun if you wanted to suntan or go for a swim. But otherwise I'd say there are much better things to do with your time.

The other reason we chose to visit LA was because we knew the food was going to be out of this word and below is my list of recommendations

I would consider this first visit to Los Angeles a complete success because I immediately want to go back. There were still so many things to do and places to eat that I'm starting to think a trip to LA may become a yearly occurrence.

Slow Horses on Apple TV+

We went on a bit of an Apple TV+ kick this month and found three excellent shows. The first was Slow Horses, an adaption based on the book of the same name. It is about MI5 operatives who have been exiled for failing in their duties and reduced to pushing papers. Of course like any good spy show, some duplicity is afoot and shenanigans ensue.

The Big Conn on Apple TV+

I really don't want to say much about The Big Conn because I went into it blind and simply could not believe what I was seeing. If the idea of someone defrauding the US government for over half a billion dollars intrigues you then I recommend you watch The Big Conn because there is no way you're going to believe how this man pulled it off.

For All Mankind on Apple TV+

What if Russia landed on the moon first? That is the question that For All Mankind attempts to answer and after watching the first season I can say they did a really good job.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

Somewhere out there is a picture of me wearing a hand sewn Ghostbuster uniform with a plastic proton pack. I am telling you this so that when I say Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a fantastic film you understand the level of bias I am coming at this with. To this day I cannot hear the Ecto-1 siren without getting chills.

Citizen Sleeper

Citizen Sleeper is a perfect example of why Xbox Game Pass is so amazing. It is one of those games where even after hearing positive things it is still hard to throw down $20 for it on Steam. But when the price suddenly becomes free, and the game is "only" 8 hours, there is really no reason not to install it. If I bounce off in the first hour then I've only lost a bit of time. But in the case of Citizen Sleeper I got to discover an outstanding game

The Bad

Leafs lose Game 7 in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs…again

With this loss the Toronto Maple Leafs have lost eight consecutive playoff series going all the way back to 2004.

With this loss the Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest active drought between playoff series victories.

With this loss the Toronto Maple Leafs have lost ten consecutive games where they can eliminate their opponent.

With this loss the Toronto Maple Leafs have lost five consecutive deciding games, in five consecutive years. They are the first team in NHL/NBA/MLB history to accomplish this feat.

Read Daemon

Daemon is undoubtedly the worst book I have ever read. If a genie gave me one wish I would use it to remove Daemon, and its author, from existence.

This month I read Hardwired, a quintessential 80's cyberpunk novel. All of the technology is ludicrously out of date but also somehow still futuristic in its application. Nowadays, one of the funniest anachronisms of those cyberpunk novels is the absolute dearth of wireless communication. There had to be some good cyberpunk-esque novels written after cell phones and Wi-Fi became prevalent, and a quick google search for "the best" of these novels somehow lead me to Daemon.

Let me be very clear, there is absolutely nothing redeeming about Daemon. It was published in 2006 and feels more out of date than those 80s cyberpunk novels. Every technological advancement that the author thought would have happened by now is still barely in its infancy, e.g self-driving cars and augmented reality. And on the flip side, every piece of technology that he thought would remain stale has grown by leaps and bounds, e.g. pocket computers, hardened security practices, natural language processing. One of the funniest aspects of Daemon is how the author simply could not fathom that complex voice commands would be possible. Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant don't always understand what we're saying. But in Daemon the software that is somehow taking over every company on the planet can only understand the words "yes" and "no". The exact same conversation is repeated ad nauseam between some random character and the Daemon, where the software asks a question, the character responds with a basic sentence that indicates acceptance or denial, and the Daemon responds with please only say "yes" or "no". It is such a weird interaction when at the same time this software is supposedly orchestrating complex murder plots across the globe.

At this point some of you are probably thinking I am being too pedantic. That when this book was first released it was mind-blowing and I shouldn't fault someone for not predicting the iPhone. Fair enough. But the author's poor understanding of technology is not why Daemon is the worst book I have ever read. To explain why I am going to take you through the story arc of one of the protagonists.

We are introduced to a character who is in the middle of stealing peoples identities and selling them to the "Filipinos and Brazilians". Not sure why their ethnicities are explicitly called out as it has absolutely no affect on the story but whatever let's move on. After stealing these identities the protagonist heads to the underground rave that he is organizing. Apparently he is one of the most sought after rave promoters because he partners with drug cartels to peddle their wares at his raves. We also learn that at these raves our protagonist loves to use his power to secretly drug then sexually assault minors and stream it live on the Internet. All of this occurs within the first 15% of the novel. The author has used multiple chapters to drive home that this protagonist is an absolute douchebag. But just in case you weren't entirely sold, he then takes one of his colleagues from the identity theft side of his business ventures, and sends them to meet with the Filipinos who immediately kill the colleague. This causes our protagonist to go into hiding where everything I just described to you is never mentioned again. He then plays Call of Duty for 72 hours straight, screaming homophobic remarks at other players, and is eventually recruited to join forces with the Daemon by an artificial-intelligence modelled after a Nazi commander he has been fighting. The protagonist starts to call himself "Loki Stormbringer" and vows to become the highest level sorcerer possible, whatever the fuck that means. He proceeds to kill dozens (perhaps hundreds) of people until the book just kinda ends.

You may be wondering why I am referring to this character as the protagonist and that is because Loki becomes even more important in the sequel, Freedom™. The term "sequel" is applied very loosely here because the first book doesn't actually have an ending. You basically have to read the second book to get any sort of closure but I wasn't going to do that and just read the Wikipedia summary instead. Apparently Loki just keeps on killing because he enjoys it, and that attracts the attention of the A.I. Nazi commander who originally recruited him, so they partner up and keep on killing. Loki is eventually captured and has his fingers, eyes, and tongue removed. But thank god Loki partnered up with that Nazi commander who rescues him and provides him with cybernetic fingers, eyes, and speech module so now Loki is more powerful than ever. They go right back to murdering but the other followers of the Daemon have finally had enough and start downvoting Loki. That causes some sort of deus ex machina event to occur and Loki is demoted to level 10 which removes all of his powers. Now completely impotent, Loki breaks down emotionally but is comforted by all of those people who downvoted him. So in the end the identity stealing, rapist, murderer realizes that the real treasure is the friends he made along the way.

I cannot believe I just spend the time writing that summary…

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

After watching Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness I don't think I care about the Marvel Cinematic Universe anymore. Every movie and TV show is so intertwined with one another that none of them seem to have coherent stand alone stories anymore. The MCU is becoming as hard to follow as Marvel comics already are.

Those first 10 years of the MCU were something special. Each film stood alone while trying to slowly weave together The Avengers and Thanos with the absolutely perfect crescendo in Avengers: Infinity War. Based on what I've seen so far of Phase Four of the MCU I don't think we're ever going to be able to replicate that feeling again.

Honourable Mentions

Read Shoe Dog

Shoe Dog is a memoir by Phil Knight that about the founding of Nike and the path to its IPO. It was a very hit-and-miss read for me because I was hoping for a memoir that was going to focus on the business side of Nike. But Phil Knight spends a considerable amount of time talking about his family and other personal relationships. I understand that he uses these stories as a way to showcase what motivates him but personally that was just something that never clicked with me. The most enjoyable parts were in the later half where Nike is dealing with corporate espionage, backstabbing, setting up manufacturing plants overseas, etc.

I still enjoyed the book and would recommend it but not that strongly. I originally thought this was going to be something that I would recommend to all entrepreneurs but in the end there isn't that much insight outside of "fake it until you make it" and "don't be afraid of being in debt".

Slay the Spire

I think it is safe to say that most people would consider Slay the Spire the grandparent of roguelike deck-building games and it is up there with FTL: Faster Than Light, Binding of Isaac, and Splunky in popularizing roguelike game mechanics. But until this month I had never played Slay the Spire and I suspect that is working against me.

Games like Hades and Monster Train are probably my favourite roguelikes of all time. Not only do they both provide ample ways to customize your abilities before you start a run. They also provide excellent ways to fight the randomness and create viable builds that are still fun to play even if they weren't what you originally intended.

Slay the Spire is both stale at the start of a run and then far too random as the run progresses. There are only four characters to choose from and while they technically all have unique decks, they contain the same attack / block cards, and the starting powers never change. If you want to make a certain build you're immediately at the whims of the game's randomness and there really is no way to fight it. I would say that the majority of the time I played Slay the Spire I was not enjoying myself because I was not able to attempt the type of run I wanted. And please don't confuse that with "I didn't get the exact cards I wanted to make an OP deck", I'm talking about "I wanted to play with poison" or "I wanted to focus on getting high block". I was never able to do this because Slay the Spire relies so much on randomness even inside things like shops or chests.

Compare this to Monster Train. When you choose your character you also choose your type of build. You are not forced to start with the exact same cards every time. Then when you're shown the map and asked to choose a path there is complete transparency at what mechanisms will affect your deck. There still is a level of randomness as to what exactly will be inside some of those mechanisms but for the most part you have a good understanding of how you are going to be able to improve your deck. In Slay the Spire you're essentially choosing between battle, shop, or random thing (which could still be a battle). In Monster Train you know that a battle is coming and instead you're choosing the path that will best prepare you for it. Maybe one time going to a shop and buying a new card is better than going to a smith and upgrading an existing one. Even with the level of randomness in the game I feel that I am much more in control of the outcome.

I played 20 hours of Slay the Spire, beat the game with the three "main" characters, and got the true ending with one of them. I tried to get true ending with the other two characters but kept getting screwed over by the randomness. After a few hours I asked myself "why am I still playing this?" and I didn't have a good answer.

The best thing I can say about Slay the Spire is that it made me want to play more Monster Train.

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