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The World Ends With You January 28, 2010

Posted by huymix in Games.
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What constitutes a Japanese RPG anyways and what does it matter to you. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of RPGs since I’ve only really played a handful. Of those that I’ve played I suppose half are considered Japanese and even from that group I have only finished 1. Notably Final Fantasy 3 on DS (which is the original FF3 that was released in Japan). It’s fair to say that of the RPGs I have played, I prefer the more action-oriented RPGs. I typically use DS games as commute fodder and The World Ends With You did a great job of entertaining me on endless commutes because:

  • The combat is very action-packed and varied. For the most part I controlled Neku (the main character on the touch screen) while I let the computer control my partner (either Shiki, Josh, or Beat). Between the 2 different characters and the many types of pin attacks, there is no shortage of combat variety. It’s not confusing as it is a relief to have so many choices.
  • Sound. Everyone has talked about the music and make no mistake I do like the music in this game (I did love both Ouendan 1 and 2 despite not knowing any Japanese). But in this game, it’s more than just the music that plays that is worthwhile. Sound is crucial because in an RPG you will inevitably listen to it for many hours. The sounds in the game stay fresh even after 20+ hours of hearing the same stuff over and over again.
  • Progression. I’ve said it once and I’ll say it many times. The progression mechanic is easily why games will hook me. The right thing The World Ends With You did was to offer multiple levels of progression. The character, and each pin will separately gain experience. In another twist, clothing and food options also allow for progression while adding in a dose of collection instinct as well.

There are a ton of mechanics in The World Ends With You that I could just keep listing off. IGN can handle all the micro-details. For those of you that either like action-y RPGs or have a killer commute you would like to blast through, then I can definitely recommend The World Ends With You.

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What the Dog Saw January 26, 2010

Posted by huymix in Books.
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I have read all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books: The Tipping Point; Blink; and Outliers. What the Dog Saw is different from those books because it is a collection of his previously published articles with a loose association to each other. To be fair I haven’t finished What the Dog Saw so I can’t say my score is based on a complete reading of his book. I have gotten about 300 pages out of 400 pages. If somehow the last 100 pages turns my opinion around I’ll edit and update this post. Otherwise, I think the following reasons for why What the Dog Saw is an F- stands:

  • Outdated. The problem with topical writing is that it does not normally stand very well against time. Some of these articles stretch into the 90’s. The value of the article at the time was that the context was current, accessible and understandable. The longer the time between reading and the occurrence of the events discussed, the more difficult it is to establish a meaningful connection. There is minimal attempt to reconnect the reader to the timeframe and because of that, the impact of the writing is (in some cases) significantly lost.
  • Article to article quality is too variable. The structure of the book makes it so you can read each chapter on its own. The problem is that some articles are either boring or badly outdated and there is no reason to continue reading the rest of the article. If I really wanted to, I could have cut maybe half of the articles out and had a much better time reading this book.
  • Does not offer a particular insight. The real draw to Gladwell’s other books is that he makes the leap from observation to conclusion/recommendation. He bothers to tell you about how we deal with risk and the fact that safety in some cases doesn’t actually improve but offers nothing. All you get is a “Published on whatever date” instead of something useful.

Malcolm Gladwell has a writing style that can draw a you in and make you finish his books. I enjoyed Outliers quite a bit and finished it cover-to-cover in a couple of days. I read Blink and Tipping Point as well and the combined time it took was about 2 weeks. I have had What the Dog Saw for 6 weeks and I’m only at page 300 out of 400. If you read his other books, and saw What the Dog Saw on the shelf just know that this book does not offer anywhere near the same quality of experience as his other books and maybe your money is better spent on some classics that do stand the test of time.

Sinfest January 21, 2010

Posted by huymix in Comedy.
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Keeping with the webcomic theme of the week, I present Sinfest! Part of my daily surfing habits has been to check Sinfest because:

  • I’ve grown attached to each of the characters over time. Some of the characters have really changed (especially Monique) and it’s nice to see the character evolution.
  • The characters can be anyone (God, Jesus, the Devil, some unknown Buddhist thingy, Devil boy, pig etc, etc.) and they are consistent with what you think they might do yet act with more character (if that makes any sense). Maybe an example helps, check the pig character out.
  • I just find the strips funny. Funny enough to warrant checking in on them daily for a minute. Seriously, it’s very light-hearted stuff that makes a crummy morning a bit less crummy.

I actually enjoy the fact that the strip is called SinFest when if you think about what actually goes on in the strip, it’s pretty tame. Perhaps it’s irony, or it’s at least the Alanis version of irony. Either way, I say bookmark the site and give it a twirl.

Penny Arcade January 19, 2010

Posted by huymix in Videogames.
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Penny Arcade has been around for a very long time. Despite the internet being inundated with various webcomics (especially strips devoted to videogames), Penny Arcade has manage to stand out from the rest and really provide a common place visited by almost every gamer out there. The popularity of Penny Arcade is no accident and here’s why they have earned the following they have:

  • Calling out bullshit. The videogame industry seems to provide an endless source of bullshit that Penny Arcade will call out in a hilarious way. So, a lot of the time they will point out how ridiculous something is that is very Daily-Show-esque. Penny Arcade was looked at as a champion for gamers when Jack Thompson was at his most relevant. The best part of it is that they are not afraid to call out the bullshit of the gaming community itself, the very same people who comprise their audience.
  • Personality. Penny Arcade is technically a comic strip but I believe a lot of the value of the site is the actual written text accompanying each strip. While some, but not a lot of, attention is drawn to the reasons that comic was created, a lot of the text is devoted to more personal perspectives on their lives, and videogames and entirely other matters. Classic bait and draw, the comic brings you in the door, you stay for the personality.
  • Representatives of gamers. Annual events such as PAX and Child’s Play show that they are strongly gamer-centric. While there are tons of games media, Penny Arcade has almost become the “People’s Champ” of gaming. When stuff goes down, a lot of people look to the site to see what, if anything, Penny Arcade has to say about it.

While I put the above reasons for why I think Penny Arcade is popular, there is a much better reason than any of those 3 to support Penny Arcade. Child’s Play. A charity created by Penny Arcade that does much to improve the lives of those kids that are in hospitals. So if you had to choose how to support Penny Arcade, Child’s Play is the first way to go.

Woot Shirts January 14, 2010

Posted by huymix in Fashion.
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Woot! is a website that has a small-ish but rapidly growing community. One of the main features to the site is related to the t-shirts that they sell. Everyday you have browse a new t-shirt design.  I actually prefer going through them than shopping in a mall for the following reasons:

  • In Toronto, these shirts are more unique than even Threadless shirts (which play largely in the same consumer group). You can tell because they actually show y0u how many shirts were sold in different parts of the world. A lot of it is Seattle to San Francisco area and very little is bought in the East much less Canada. A cool t-shirt from Woot! is more likely to stand out because of its relative obscurity.
  • Shirts are entirely designed by the community (as far as I can tell). Especially for Friday, Saturday and Sunday the site runs a weekly derby. A theme is chosen and the T-shirts voted first, second and third go on sale on Friday to Sunday respectively. The community part is cool just because you really can see the spectrum of designs submitted.
  • Reckoning. A lot of the time a t-shirt will go on sale on say Threadless and will sell out for your size. Despite being a popular shirt, it might not be available for a while (if ever). The Woot! Reckoning system puts t-shirts up that have had their time as the daily shirt and keeps them available for sale until they stop selling. While it’s at a $5 premium over the original price at least its available and even then the total price for a shirt would only be $15.

I find the quality to be better than what a $10 price would suggest and have bought a couple of shirts from Woot! already. Have a browse, it’ll be quick and you might find something cool or fun that you like.

Toronto Cyclists January 12, 2010

Posted by huymix in Politics, Sports.
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With a report that showed Toronto commute times doubling in the last 10 years, a lot of talk inevitably comes out that brings up: HOV lanes, more TTC subways/rapid transit/buses, and bike lanes. The last part comes from a relatively small, but highly vocal group of people and sometimes they have valid points. Unfortunately for Toronto cyclists, there are a few reasons why they are generally, and in the foreseeable future, dismissed by the public at large. While I can respect Toronto cyclists as people, there are a lot of reasons I dismiss them when they bring up bike lanes or other topics (generally all they talk about is bike lanes or that guy who stole a crap load of bikes):

  • All they ever talk about is bike lanes. They have the same problem that the Green Party had. The problem is that they are perceived to be a one-note group. So for the longest time the Green Party was a bit of a joke because all everyone thought the party platform was about the environment and not about other political issues. Toronto cyclists are perceived to be a broken record of “more bike lanes, more bike lanes, more bike lanes” and never really articulate anything else. That get’s played out very quick.
  • Attitude. Again I will draw a parallel here. Cyclists have the same problem as Prius drivers had (and many still have). If you cycle in to work everyday there is at least the perception (which may or may not be true) that you feel superior to those that drive. I’m not saying that everyone feels this way and that all cyclists do, but again the perception is out there for the group as a whole.
  • Cyclists play the victim card too much. Sympathy is a well that can go dry very quickly with the public (if there is any) and cyclists are too quick to dig for sympathy. What I mean is, a lot of representatives like to point out how dangerous it is to cycle in Toronto and how drivers are careless/rude/mean to cyclists which I’m sure is true. However, Toronto drivers are well aware of the dangerous and reckless cycling that goes on as well. When you see cyclists going ahead on a red or cycling between cars and sometimes hitting stuff any sympathy you have for cyclists quickly goes out the window.

At the end of the day, cyclists are a small but not insignificant group of commuters in Toronto. While bike lanes would probably help with improving cyclist safety, bike lanes will not solve the perception of Toronto cyclists. Anytime I hear someone is a cyclist I will generally reply with a “that’s good for you” but if anyone starts to moralize to me about how I should bike to work that’s when he or she will promptly be ignored.

Borderlands January 7, 2010

Posted by huymix in Videogames.
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With the recent slate of big title games this past Winter, Borderlands almost seems to be the unlikely darling of gamers. I have to preface this post by saying that I sank a lot of time (70+ hours) into Fallout and so you can tell that this sort of RPG/shooter post-apocalyptic system is already appealing to me. For those of you who don’t know, Borderlands is in 1st person perspective with 4 characters to choose from and you can play co-operatively with up to 3 other people (for a total of a 4 person party). If you liked Fallout OR you thought Fallout might interest you but got bored, you should play Borderlands because:

  • It does a great job of building incentive to level up and play the game. So the reason why Borderlands has its hooks so deep into me is because of the “well I’m only X amout of exp away from levelling up if I just play this one mission” incentive. This is the main reason why I keep playing it even though I finished playthrough 1 already.
  • Co-operative play. I only got started because a friend played with me for like 4 hours and found playing together really great. Whenever I get the chance I much prefer playing co-op rather than single player.
  • Art direction. The thing about Fallout and other games that push realism is that even impressive graphics still do not feel real. Borderlands does not try to be realistic since it pushes an elegant cell shaded look and the game is better off this way. I think realism is broken by having unrealistic elements in the game (like numbers flying off an enemy when you shoot them). Besides having gone with cell shading, character design has been pretty cool so far (I’m at level 39 out of 40).

I could go on and on about my ridiculous addiction to levelling up my character and shooting Badass enemies (Badass is the actual name) but at this point you ought to give this game a shot and stop reading this post. Put it this way, even after I finished my first playthrough after like 30 hours, I’m continuing with my character in a second playthrough to get him to level 50 with Assassin’s Creed 2 and Batman sitting on my desk completely unplayed. I have drunk the Borderlands Kool-Aid and must satisfy my need to get to level 50.

Spring Rolls (Restaurant) January 5, 2010

Posted by huymix in Food.
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Spring Rolls has not been around for too long but has been gaining steam year over year. Billed as Pan-Asian cuisine, new restaurants seem to be popping up quite quickly and shows no sign of slowing down. My perspective has been formed particularly from the Yonge and Dundas location in the Atrium on Bay in Toronto. So my reasons for not recommending Spring Rolls may not apply to a different location. Having said that, my reasons for not recommending Spring Rolls are:

  • The service is very lacklustre. In almost every respect the service is at best mediocre. Slow turnaround times can sometimes be made up by great service. Since the service is normally not great, the slow turnaround is only exasperated.
  • The food is boring. I’m sorry if it seems wrong to you, because I do know some people who do love Spring Rolls, but I could care less for Spring Rolls food. The Yonge-Dundas area has a lot of better tasting “Pan-asian” restaurants very close by.
  • The food is a bad value proposition. If I tried to recommend a restaurant with boring food with much higher prices than other comparable restaurants in the area, you probably would tell me to take a hike. $5 for 2 spring rolls?? ridiculous.

I think some of my criticism stems from the fact that I’m used to more authentic “Pan-asian” cuisine. Spring Rolls does  appeal to a broader Canadian market which generally moves far from authentic. However, if you find yourself in the Yonge-Dundas area and in the mood for some Asian food, stay away from the packed Spring Rolls and head in any direction and you’ll find something better tasting food, service and prices.

JAN 2010 THINKERING: Top 10 Lists January 1, 2010

Posted by huymix in Monthly Thinkerings.
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The end of one year and the beginning of a new year always brings about “Top whatever Lists of the Year”. This year is particularly bad because a lot of people are saying the best of the decade. There is a pretty nerdy argument saying the decade does not end until the end of 2010 but that is really semantics.

These lists come in all sorts of flavours and for all sorts of things. I don’t need to run down the types of lists you can come across since chances are you have run into your fair share of them (it would also be an impossible task for me to completely categorize all the lists). Also, while I refer to Top 10 lists, this post is meant to cover Top 10 lists and their equivalents which includes lists of higher or lower numbers.

While I would like to say that I hate Top 10 lists (or there bigger or smaller equivalents) I am often curious as to the results of a Top 10 list. However, I feel it’s a bit of a cheap trick for media outlets to use a Top 10 list to draw an audience. The Top 10 list is a trick like how the evening news runs commercials that just say “How everyday household product X may  be LETHAL!!”. Top 10 lists are not quite that transparent of a trick but they are pretty darn close.

Anyways, there are some good reasons to avoid the temptation of checking out Top 10 lists (spoiler, my reasons are below).

Separated by arbitrary/irrelevant reasons

Top 10 lists are often separated annually. However, for most people annual categorization is meaningless. Exceptions are for things that occur on an annual basis (i.e. Christmas) and thus would be more useful. An example of a useful annual Top 10 would be say Christmas albums. If you’re interested in the best Christmas albums, a list like that would probably be pretty useful. For most other subjects, an annual basis is irrelevant to the consumer.

Take movies as an example of a possible Top 10 list. If it were a particularly bad year for movie quality and the bottom 5 were only a bit better than mediocre should the public just watch those movies? Probably not, because the consumer is not confined to movie releases in the year. Who cares if an awesome movie was released this year or last year or 40 years ago? A good movie is a good movie. I just had my first viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and despite its age (over 40 years old) its still awesome.

No added information

These lists do not help inform a decision as to whether to do something or not. Granted some Top 10 lists are not meant to aid consumers (an example being AdWeeks Top Commercials of the decade) but enough of them are for products/services that are aimed at consumers.

If someone told you they did something because it made #1 on some Top 10 list, you would probably raise your eyebrows at them. That’s because we know that the ranking has no real information and that in order for a consumer to be motivated to act we need some good reasons (good reasons often do not coincide with the most rational reasons).

Fuels squabbling

If you have ever been in a situation where you’re in the middle of 2 people who argue you know its a situation that is often awkward, boring and drawn out. Top 10 lists only add fuel to squabbling, in both real life and in our fake Internet lives. Very seldomly do you see civil discourse and that is a good enough reasons to avoid Top 10 lists.

Final Thinkerings

It’s in our nature to want to organize and make sense of our world. So when someone steps out there and offers an organized look at something we are not steeped in (say albums released in the year) its easy to go for it. Like I said, I am drawn to these lists just like anyone else but you have to remember that sometimes “The Top 10” is the sort of cheap trick that should not be rewarded.