Category Archives: Uncategorized

Amazon Fire 10 HD

Picked up one of these for $100 during the Black Friday weekend sale – I cracked the screen of my Xperia Tablet Z again,  and this costed less than the last time I had to replace the screen.  So far:

  • Side-loading the Play Store works well – most apps are pretty straightforward,  it is actually Google’s apps that are the least well-behaved.  I had to give up on Gmail and Inbox.
  • Performance is markedly improved over the Xperia Tablet.
  • Replacing the launcher makes it look and feel quite like a pretty ordinary Android tablet.
  • For some reason Amazon did away with the battery life graphs,  but maybe that’s because the battery is only okay.

My old tablet is not completely unusable – about a third of the display is non-responsive,  but it does auto-rotate so I just need to flip it to touch any specific part.  Currently it’s mainly a fancy bedside clock – right now it’s mainly on the Timely app’s clock mode.

Why I Compete and Other Thoughts about the Nature of Competing

One of the things I did at the Canadian Swing Championships was do a little competing. It’s been just over two years since I did my first competition at Lindy Bout,  and competitions are a bit,  or maybe even a lot different now.

At first, I was pulled into competing because it was yet another aspect of lindy hop I hadn’t done. A lot of things were new at that point,  and competing was one of those things teachers told you to do because it was good for your dancing. It’s a scary thing – right in the mind space of public performance – but a lot of it was blunted by signing up en masse with friends. It’s an odd space, when you’ve done a lot of the classes – thinking back, I probably thought of myself as both a novice – after all, I was definitely not as good as the teachers and I was in no way a pro – but also with the hubris of an intermediate-advanced dancer – after all, it felt like I could basically do a lot of the moves while social dancing. It’s about pushing yourself and growing as a dancer, but also secretly hoping that you luck out and have an awesome dance and win.

Thinking about things now, I feel I’m at a very different place in my dancing – older, wiser, more “advanced” – and yet I’m at a very similar place. I’m more than ever convinced that competing is one of the things you can do to improve your dancing.  In some sense,  I consider it a bit of an extension of why I think learning to dance fast is important – being forcing myself to dance at (what felt like) incredibly high speeds to the Jen Hodge All-Stars for a summer (and luckily having amazing friends willing to support this insanity) made medium tempo songs positively relaxed.  I remember having an epiphany – I was listening to a song, wondering who played this slow, mellow version of this famous song, when I realised this wasn’t a new version of the song – it was exactly that famous song,  but now it felt so incredibly relaxed and mellow. By learning to barely survive at extreme tempos,  I suddenly found myself with plenty of time to relax and reflect at lower speeds.

Competing is basically the same idea, but with a much broader range of restrictions. The necessity to do it while being watched and judged adds all sorts of extra stress, but ultimately the hope is to make social dancing, my real target, seem like a positively relaxed and blissful experience in comparison. I think it’s important to try to dance your best when you’re competing – actually,  I think one of the important stresses in competition is that you’re suddenly forcing yourself to do All The Best Things All The Time – and it also made me realise that there were some falsehoods I clung to. One was that getting the right feel was more important than looking good – it’s a bit of a trap to think that (at my level anyways) that you have to choose between the two.  It might be harder to have both, but looking and feeling decent is always achievable – and I know that I have a pretty far ways to go on that front.

Another thing that I realised, once winning is possible, is what does winning mean?  After all, I definitely believe in trying my best, trying to win – but what does it mean to actually win at most levels?  That you are the best of not the best?   If the contest could evaluate and identify you as the best in a particular level – isn’t the true reward for that revelation that you no longer fit in that particular level and should be higher?  Does that mean that all winners at anything but the highest level have basically proven that they are in the wrong level (or else does it mean that it was a fluke?) It makes for weird mind games – you kind of want to be in a low level competition to maximise your chances of winning,  but a higher level competition means that you will guarantee yourself better dances – but if it’s too high you’re instead pulling other people down.  In some sense the ideal competition pits people “of equal skill” against each other, but if they were really all that equal there wouldn’t be any point in the competition since they really the winner is the one who was luckiest?  And if people aren’t all equal in skill,  wouldn’t that mean that the person who “cheated” the most – or maybe was the least matching the level – is the winner?  Or maybe everyone needs to get a chance to win and then graduate to the next level?  But sadly that’s pretty infeasible,  as there are so many more people than winners – far too many competitions. I guess that’s why there are level exams for things like piano – a competition against yourself and a set of criteria,  rather than a guaranteed unequal playing field.

I want to win, and I revel in all the successes – from just having awesome dances, meeting new people, pulling off something difficult For Real Under Stressful Conditions, making finals – but it’s also important that I unwind a bit afterwards and remember that strange effect where winning isn’t the true (only) goal,  but to truly reach my goal I have to treat winning as the goal.  And, not so secretly, all the kinds of winning are delicious icing to the cake of dancing better.  It reminds me a bit Pol Slattery’s stance in Ender’s Game (by Orson Scott Card):

And at the end of the battle, Slattery shook Ender’s hand and said, “I’m glad you won. If I ever beat you, Ender, I want to do it fair.”

“Use what they give you,” Ender said. “If you’ve ever got an advantage over the enemy, use it.”

“Oh, I did,” said Slattery. He grinned. “I’m only fair-minded before and after battles.”




Just got back from the Canadian Swing Championships. Tons and tons of great dancing – Gordon Webster is indeed pretty amazing live – plus a metric ton of competitions. Despite the name, it is perhaps as much a national event as Lindy Bout-that is to say, primarily a regional event, but attracts some internationals (mostly as visiting judges/instructors). Emphasis is definitely weighted towards Lindy hop, but there is representation of  west coast swing and rockabilly jive, and less surprisingly balboa.

There is a bit of crazy party reputation associated with it, which I’m…not so sure about – the environs are quite nice, while the event pass is a good but more expensive. The video footage is behind a pay wall – but only $5? Feels like they should have made them all free and let anyone film ($5 for a film license?) – I feel that there’s already so much video in the internet you’re actually competing for limited attention from other, higher profile events (and cat videos).  On the other hand, a whole whackload of international rockstar judges included Jon Tigert, Todd Yannacone, Sylvia Sykes, Pamela Gaižutytė, Nina Gilkenson, Bobby White, Kate Hedin…

Still – luckily some people with actual camera skills have obviously paid and started posing their videos – and there is a pretty crazy fast Canadian top tier final – check it out here:

Beef Brisket Rice Noodle

Turns out this isn’t just a random thing I like to combine – was at copa cafe and this was on the menu! Usually the closest I get is soup rice noodle with beef brisket, or beef brisket with rice rolls. Now I’m probably dangerously full on a bus…

Consuming vs Creating

I’m always caught at the crossroads between learning, reading, expanding my knowledge, vs the diametrically opposite desire to produce, create. Reminds me a bit of the boardgames I used to party a lot, where often there was the opposing need to build up infrastructure against scoring points. Without infrastructure, it was impossible to score any significant number of points, but spend all your time building and you’ll have no time to use the wonderful things you have wrought.
Real life isn’t so far off – I’m curious to learn more about everything – the Internet is wonderful for a voracious information found like me – but if all I do is consume this information, have I missed the chance to improve the world by contributing to it? After all, isn’t the while point of living to have an impact? Or maybe to have the biggest impact possible?
To make things muddier, I’m also by nature pretty passive. So is my inaction because I’m biding my time, or because I’m afraid. Or perhaps I’m afraid of being impulsive and stupid. But if you miss the chance to act, you’ll never be able to succeed. But this us balanced by the cost of failure. I have to take care to know when there is real cost to failure, and when it is just my pride.
I shouldn’t be so attached to my pride, given that I have so much of it.

Electronics vs. paper

Was giving the electronic boarding pass another go with my trip to montreal. Seemed like an ideal test case with free wifi at both airports. Went fine on the way over, but phone decided to hang just as I was crossing security on the Montreal side. Luckily it was pretty quiet and the security guard was understanding if a little unimpressed with the 5 minute reboot time. Still, might need a new/more reliable phone if I’m to trust it for a future run.

Mailbox Diving

Found an old backup of my e-mails.  If this is what I think it is,  it holds all the rest of my e-mails – the ones from The Time Before I Gave My Life to GMail (except for the data forever lost to a hard drive crash.  Rest in Peace, HP desktop of yore).  All the information from the time when I just started using these interwebs…

Kobo and Forgiveness

Putting down my impressions of the Kobo triggered some re-evaluation of exactly what my thoughts on the little device are – and the more I think about it,  the more the limitations and flaws of the device are apparent.

The screen refresh rate is slow.  Not only that,  the screen is unreliable – doesn’t always respond to taps, or maybe it does respond but doesn’t update the screen because if you tap again you’re ahead two pages!  That doesn’t count the times the software goes a bit haywire, and then the browsing starts going forward and backward seemingly at random, necessitating a  power-off/power-on cycle.  Browsing the store is nothing short of painful, and going backwards and forwards more than one or two pages at a time is decidedly awkward. I’ve never intentionally invoked the dictionary,  yet I’ve already got the achievement for looking up 10 words from all the times the screen touch decided I was trying to highlight and look up a word. (The life awards/achievements are pretty … weird?  silly? I guess they’re harmless, if useless)

It’s symmetric, so there’s no way to figure out which way to hold the device by looking or feeling most of the sides, except if you happen across the very slightly different power switch at the top.  The power switch is a slider,  which probably makes it difficult to accidentally press, but definitely not my favoured button style. The casing itself isn’t particularly attractive – I got a nicely coloured backing as part of my gift,  but the rubber frame around the front looks like it’ll need cleaning.  I have no idea if it’s possible, but a seamless/non-framed front would have been quite a bit more stylish.

And yet – I am now convinced e-readers are the future of reading. It is comfortable to read – maybe even more than a regular novel, since I can crank up the font. You can carry many, many books, all in the same amount of space.  And when you’re just reading continuously,  holding it in one hand,  tapping to flip to the next page,  it works.  

It works. I can carry an entire library, and I can read books, one-handed. It gets the most important features, and all the things – which I think are important things that they should fix – but in the end I would still recommend it since the important things work. I am now a believer in e-readers. They’re still expensive,  but I would still recommend it for anyone who likes reading.


Kobo Mini: Surprising New Toy

I was gifted a delightful little Kobo mini over the holidays.  At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of it – a touch less wide than a pocketbook, and almost an inch less tall, I worried it would be difficult to make work with me olde eyes. Turns out that was a non-issue – it was straightforward to enlarge the font size for reading.

The e-paper screen turns out to be quite comfortable to read. It does have an abysmally slow refresh rate, making anything moderately interactive painful – it’s technically possible to type with the onscreen keyboard,  or browse the store, or look up words while reading,  but all of these are pretty painful.  

Once you give up on using the device for anything but reading though, things go swimmingly.  The delay isn’t such a big deal when you’re just turning pages of the book when reading. Interestingly,  it seems to require a good solid press to register touch,  but it does allow interaction even with gloves on. It’s not perfect – it whatever little processor behind the scenes still seems a bit slow and overtaxed, and sometimes gets confused with flipping backwards vs forwards – but 95% of the time there’s no troubles.  Once you turn off wifi, the battery life is very good – a couple days reading a couple books brought it down to 60ish% is the furthest I’ve gone, and it’s always charged in a jiffy when I go to load more books.  

Actually,  that’s what true saving grace of the device – the screen is comfortable to read off of for substantial stretches,  and the one little device is all you need to carry.  I love being able to carry multiple books without having to deal with finding extra pockets for all of them.  Now I’ve got the opposite problem of before – rather than having to decide which book to carry and worrying about whether to take a spare if I’m nearly done,  I sometimes have to waffle over which book to start reading because they are all on the device!

Which reminds me – I’ve got an overdue paperback that is likely lost since it isn’t in my pockets…

Five minutes to awesome

Seems I’ve got a much shorter attention spanb than previously – but I think it’s for the best.  There is now so much media – games, tv shows, movies – that I need something to grab me quickly.  It’s the “five minutes to awesome” benchmark – do something incredible in the first five minutes to grab my attention.

It’s not that I can’t forgive a slow burn intro – but there had better be a good payoff.  But more and more I’m expecting something gripping at the beginning of a game.  I can remember the beginning of Mass Effect 3,  going from a rather calm start and then five minutes later it’s all gone down the drain – makes you want to be in the game, being the hero.  XCOM also sets things up well – after the brief intro sequence,  I welcomed the XCOM title screen (I actually like the cinematic effect of having the title appear when it’s done right – really hammers home that the game devs are serious about the story) right at the point where you become Commander of XCOM, off saving the world.

It’s almost odd when I think about it that so many games insist having you grind through ages of being a piddly sad subhuman…I don’t mind a big disparity in power levels between the start and end of the game, but if I’m getting too old to spend hours having trouble killing rats in cellars.