Category Archives: Geek

Taking flight

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This year’s annual post follows the proud tradition of 2010 & 2007 with a newly completed Project 366 album, a personal project I’d embarked on at the beginning of the year.

It’s generally been a good year, for which I’m really thankful. Here’re some areas I find myself really gaining momentum in this year…

Writing

I’d attempted to start blogging more regularly, and that worked for awhile, but eventually evolved into a greater focus on travel blogging, with some posts published on The MileLion. There was also that (short-lived) writing challenge I’d embarked on with some colleagues. I doubt I’ll ever become a master writer, but it’s nice to see myself working once more on a hobby I’d used to rather enjoy as a student.

Travel

Primarily because I managed to snag HHonors Diamond status for myself this year, but probably also because this vacation leave thing is rather new to me, I’ve been travelling a lot more this year. This will probably go down in the next few years as I lose the status and probably get saddled with more responsibilities, but I do rather enjoy the new experiences and chronicling them in blog format for future reminiscing.

Work

This might be blind optimism on my part, but I think I’ve done pretty well at my job this year. It helps to have a great positive working environment, but based on feedback it does seem that I have made noticeable contributions to my unit this year. Hopefully, this is real and doesn’t stop this year!

All in all, it’s been a good 2016 (on a personal level – I’m aware that as far as global affairs go, it’s not been all that great). Here’s hoping that things don’t lose too much steam in 2017!

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On wireless earphones

I was initially pretty annoyed by the disappearance of the 3.5mm earphone jack on the iPhone 7 (Plus), but was quite keen to upgrade due to the improved camera and overall speed so I decided to bite the bullet and do so anyway.

This effectively forced me to purchase a set of wireless earphones if I didn’t want to use the bundled lightning earphones. Thankfully, I was able to find a pretty cheap set of wireless earphones (US$18 including shipping) and decided to give wireless a go.


As it turns out, this is one of the times where I feel that Apple has made the right decision to steamroll user opinion and move ahead of the curve. I think wireless earphones are brilliant. It seems like a small thing (and I thought it would be), but the additional benefit of not having a long wire running from your phone to your head is really rather liberating, whether jogging with phone in hand or watching videos on a bus.

Disclaimer – I’m no audiophile, so I’m probably not noticing the compromised audio quality that wireless is supposed to introduce, but I’m guessing that the majority of consumers will hardly notice it, either!

I’m still less forgiving of their current fragmented adoption of USB-C and lightning, though – I’ve yet to be convinced that the current overall state of Apple product connectivity is the way to go!

Google Trips: A simple travel planner for the Gmail user

Earlier this week, the Google Trips app for Android and iOS was launched, promising to save hapless travellers from situations like finding a goat instead of accommodation where you expected your hotel to be.

As you might already know, I am a bit of a Google fan, so I was quite eager to see what travel assistance our Google overlords have to offer those of us who have willingly surrendered our data in exchange for free email (i.e. Gmail users).

I’ll let the official Google blog do the honours of listing all its advertised features, and will zoom straight to my general impressions of the app.

The Good

Automagically-populated trip info Things to do (For you) Day plans Food & Drink Saved places Saved place in Google Maps

  • Convenience – Google’s social contract with users is that we offer it our personal data so it can deliver more targeted ads to us, while it delivers us products and services that make our lives… better? This is where Google manages to deliver rather well – with access to my various reservation confirmation emails, Google Trips was automatically pre-populated with my trips (upcoming as well as past) when I launched it for the very first time!
  • Simple itinerary planning – I found the “Things to do” section pretty useful. There’s even a targeted ‘For you’ section that presumably makes use of your email and search history to surface places you might be interested in – Tsukiji Market appeared as the first item for me while looking at suggestions for my recent Tokyo trip, presumably because I’d searched for it while planning previously. The ‘Day Plans’ section also offers suggested itineraries with map locations, while the Food & Drinks section is, of course, indispensable to the average Singaporean traveller.
  • Google Maps integration – I particularly like the fact that places saved from within Google Trips are also starred in Maps, allowing for easy navigation later.
  • Extensive information – essentials such as transport (even on info such as bike rentals) and tipping culture are all covered, easily accessible within the app.
  • Offline access – the ability to pre-download and later access information when offline is a useful one, even though I usually get data roaming / local SIMs these days.

The Bad

Missing flight information Missing flight information even after updating in Inbox

  • Limited manual entry – the app is great when it works, but when it doesn’t… there’s nothing much you can do about it. I noticed that for some of my trips, there was some missing information – after fiddling for some time with the app, I’ve come to the conclusion that the only edits you can make are to the trip name, destinations and dates. That suffices for itinerary planning, but I was hoping that it could also be used as a quick reference for my reservation details so I can refer to things like flight details as required. The ability to key in details manually would help with that.
  • Troublesome manual entry – from what I understand, Google Trips evolved from the Trip Bundles feature within Inbox by Google – since they use the same data set, you can add/remove associated trip-related emails by accessing inbox.google.com, which is rather troublesome and hardly an ideal solution. What’s more, even after adding the correct relevant email, Google sometimes fails to recognise information, like a shared itinerary from SIA (I suspect the formatting differs from a typical booking).
  • No Google Flights integration – I find Google Flights to be an awesome resource for searching through airfares and even tracking prices. I think it’s a bit of a missed opportunity that Google Trips doesn’t integrate some of this functionality to allow users to look for cheap flights while building their itineraries!

The Ugly

Incorrectly ordered hotel stay in Trips Incorrectly identified year for hotel stay

  • Errors in automatic data recognition –  I have one particular trip scheduled for next year where the final hotel stay was listed incorrectly first. Puzzled, I took a look and realised that Google had somehow registered it as a 2016 stay, even though the reservation email clearly states that it is for 2017! I’m rather puzzled by this anomaly.
  • Inability to amend details – Limited data entry capability is bad, but when there’s no way to correct errors, I think it’s turned ugly. This is not limited to errors – sometimes, reservation details simply change (e.g. change in flight timings). Google sometimes captures and updates this data, but not always. Where it reflects outdated reservation information, there doesn’t seem to be any easy way to correct it.

Conclusion
All in all, the app feels more like a beta version than an actual polished product (i.e. typical Google). It has its strengths – I like being able to easily generate itineraries  – but its reliance on algorithms to extract reservation information can be really annoying.

On the other hand, I fully expect Google to eventually get its act together, so I’ll probably soldier on as an early adopter and use it for itinerary planning in the near future…

Going Pokemon

So Pokemon Go recently launched in Singapore (more specifically, the Southeast Asia region) and I’ve started getting into it.

  

Which doesn’t really surprise me too much, given that I quite enjoyed Niantic’s previous game, Ingress. It, too, required walking around and interacting with pre-identified landmarks in the real-world – though the main gaming mechanic involved quite a bit of PvP action (in the form of attacking portals controlled by the opposing team). Pokemon Go allows for less competitive play in that you can just do more PvE gaming by going around collecting Pokemon, which suits me just fine!

Aside from the thrill of collecting virtual monsters, there’s also added incentive to walk around outside…

I find it really interesting to observe the groups of people playing Pokemon Go – whether individuals, couples, family or friend groups. And while some people express disbelief and disdain at all these phone-wielding Pokemon trainers walking around, I think they forget that many of these urban couch potatoes (myself included) would probably be holed up at home pursuing less active forms of leisure, without the game.

On a personal note, I’ve almost doubled my daily walking distance since the game launched (though I expect it to eventually go down again) – the increased activity can’t be a bad thing, can it? ;)

Starred Eats

So there’s a Singaporean edition of the Michelin Guide now, and I can now go about saying that I’ve dined at x Michelin-starred restaurants (where x is a number greater than 1).

(The convoluted statement above is a result of my having visited the original Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong back in 2011, when it was still the world’s cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant – though its rapid expansion and franchising has admittedly made it a lot less special.)

That number has now quadrupled, and I can also boast of having visited a two-starred restaurant – huzzah! To be honest, I don’t even know of half of the restaurants on the list (not that big a foodie, I guess? Plus budget constraints); I’m surprised to have as many as I currently do! So, without further ado – presenting my (local) Michelin star trophy list:

1) The Song of India *

2) CUT *

3) L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon **

Does that make me a four-star Singaporean foodie (kinda like Germany and football)? Is my life mission now to collect more stars to add to the collection? I don’t really think so, but I am rather curious about all those other places I’ve never eaten at – will probably try some of them out sometime down the line…

Google Local Guides

So I’ve recently taken to submitting updates on Google Maps. This is a large part due to their Local Guides programme, which awards some perks in recognition of contributions. I’ve not really enjoyed said perks very much yet (the one that attracted me the most was the possibility of early access for new apps, but I’d missed one such opportunity as I hadn’t contributed sufficiently at that time), but it’s been pretty fun uploading stuff, especially since I’ve been cataloging some shots of places for my Project 366, anyway. 

What I’ve found especially motivating, actually, were these auto-generated mailers congratulating me on the popularity of my pictures. From what I can tell, the popularity is derived more from the popularity of the actual place and the scarcity of current pictures for the location, rather than the actual quality of the picture – for instance, my first photo to exceed 1000 views was an old one for the YUSU shop on the University of York campus, while the current high-scorer at 3000+ views is a picture of the Habit outlet we’d gone to on our recent trip to NYC.

Ultimately, I know these figures aren’t really all that meaningful – but it’s certainly rather motivational to receive quantitative data that these contributions are of use to people out there!

The Final Solution [Tales from Vault 103]

In the previous instalment of the Tales from Vault 103 series, I shared about how adorably cute the Fallout Shelter kids could be, spouting statements that hint at a seemingly universal human desire for freedom in the vast, open world.

Once they grow up, though, they lose their adorability and the mediocre offspring end up consuming scarce resources better kept for future gifted offspring. The game allows you to simply eject unwanted dwellers from your vault, but I suspect that after a few weeks focusing on training dwellers I was itching for something more dramatic.

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As it turns out, the solution to this problem came in the form of the exploration function.

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The game allows you to send dwellers out into the Wasteland on exploration missions to look for resources and to level up the dwellers. They tend to do better if properly equipped and/or trained with higher stats.

As it turns out, you can also send an unequipped Level 1 dweller out into the Wasteland to fend for themselves, which is what I proceeded to do with my newest mediocre dwellers.

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The game allows you to track the progress of each explorer, and here we see the grown-up Harry Young living his dream of sneaking out into the open and checking for signs of rain.

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Starting out practically naked (for gaming purposes), Harry manages to find a Junior Officer Uniform and give himself a slight boost to his stats during his expedition.

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As it turns out, though, that isn’t enough to survive for long in the harsh and cruel Wasteland.

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I’d decided that if any of them did find rare or legendary loot, which would have necessitated me recalling them to claim the goods, they would have earned them the right to reside in the vault despite their genetic inferiority. I’m not a monster! To date, though, none of the mediocre offspring have been able to find any such spoils in the Wasteland.

Since I’ve stopped playing the game, I guess they never will… and thus ends the grim, dystopian series of Tales from Vault 103.

Those darned kids [Tales from Vault 103]

In the previous instalment of the Tales from Vault 103 series, I discussed how the desire to set up an efficient system for repopulating the vault had resulted in a community of elites and commoners, a world where only the elites are deemed worthy of procreation – funnily enough, a gamer bent on min-maxing ends up making decisions rather similarly to a ruthless efficiency-driven dictator.

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Now, kids say the darnedest things, and regardless of their stats these children can usually be spotted mouthing off the funniest quotes. Take for instance Diana Wilson here, ruminating on the existence of mutant hamsters in the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland.

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Or little Donna King, wondering if there are any kids out in the Wasteland.

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This particular batch of kids included a precocious little Harry Young, who would ponder the meteorological conditions of the world above…

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…and even consider breaking the rules in order to find out.

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How adorable. How cute. I wonder what the future holds for them? We’ll find out in the next (and final) instalment of Tales from Vault 103.

Eugenics [Tales from Vault 103]

I’ve kinda stopped playing the game now, but towards the end I found that I’d (unintentionally) created a dystopian society in my little Fallout Shelter vault. I’ve already explained the basic premise of the game in my earlier post, but in order to to understand how this came to pass, some further explanation is probably required.

Essentially, one of the ways to populate your post-apocalyptic underground dwelling is by… breeding your existing dwellers. The quality of the offspring is loosely based on the stats of the parents (though chance still plays a big part), which is why I’d spent a large part of my playthrough training up and maximising the stats of some of my dwellers…

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…and then essentially using them as elite breeders.

So what happens to the other non-elite dwellers? Simply put, they don’t get to breed – they do their part producing food and water for the rest of the vault (though the elites do it better), but since the fully-trained elites have a better chance of producing superior offspring, I decided not to bother letting the unskilled repopulate.

And that is when I realised I had recreated the eugenics policies of 80s Singapore in my fictional post-apocalyptic environment.

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It’s not a perfect system. As you can see, even fully elite parents produce mediocre children – a waste of limited spots within the vault, if you ask me (meanwhile, the most gifted of this particular batch of kids comes in the form of a balding child by the name of Gregory King).

Still, it’s efficient. And kids aren’t all that bad – they consume half the resources and can be pretty fun to have around. The next instalment of Tales from Vault 103 explores the lighter side of kids in Fallout Shelter (whether gifted or not).

Underground sweat shops [Tales from Vault 103]


So I’ve been kinda addicted to Fallout Shelter of late – it’s basically a really simple game that revolves around building up your underground dwelling in a post-apocalyptic wasteland and managing its many denizens. Not a new game; but after Fallout 4 was released I got interested in the universe again.

And I know it’s politically incorrect to say this, this view of six pregnant ladies collaborating in the crafting of a weapon has me in stitches. Hee hee.