18 November 2014

Post No Bills

Currently pushing: Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist. Yeah, Gay is having a moment right now -- she talks about that in her recent essay, “The Price of Black Ambition.” I’ve been reading Gay’s stuff for awhile, and I’m so excited she’s blowing up. Just Google around for her articles, there’s plenty, and you’ll want to quote so many things. Meanwhile, everyone should read Bad Feminist, everyone! You can start with the titular essay, "Bad Feminist (2012)."

About a year ago, I went to the Emoji Art and Design Show at the Eyebeam in Chelsea. I was only a dabber in emoji up to that point, but wanted to know more. Most of my emoji usage up to that fateful day was limited to sending spouting whale as my sign off, a way to end a text conversation. Basic stuff.

But a developer friend had been wondering how to get new emoji into smartphones -- specifically ethnic emoji -- and after some online research, I learned about the Unicode Consortium and their iron grip on what can become universal emoji. That killed that idea. Yeah, you can make your own emoji app and everything but it’s hard to get people to copy-paste things, or to flip around to special keyboards. Emoji making was not going to be in my future.

Enter: stickers.

Before coming to Taiwan, I had Line and WhatsApp but didn’t really use either. WhatsApp is profoundly ugly, and the UI is a mess so I still don’t use it. However, Line is now like my favorite app. Forget text messaging, being able to sticker everything is one thousand percent better than just using words alongside standard emoji. When we were young, George and I were obsessed with stickers. I mean, who wasn’t? We each had our special binder of stuff, and during our great garage cleanup of 2014 -- mandated by my mom -- we unearthed both of our collections. Puffy stickers, glittery stickers, scratch-and-sniff stickers, Snoopy stickers, rainbow stickers, everything was still right there. Well, fast forward a few decades and here we are, at the pinnacle of human evolution: digital stickers. And better yet, these stickers can be used as emotional shorthand and don't degrade over time. What’s not to like?

My first foray into digital stickers was this summer, via Facebook’s Messenger app. In fact, I specifically downloaded Messenger to sticker. A friend who was working at Facebook introduced us to the power of stickers and we spent the better part of an afternoon having sticker conversations. It was wonderful, and since then I've been pushing stickering on everyone, even going so far as to demand people download Messenger. "It'll change your life!" I said. I say that a lot but this time I really meant it. Here’s a nice primer on emoji and why they're wonderful: “Smile, You’re Speaking Emoji.” Same principles applies to stickers, there’s just more sticker options.

Once I found out you could skin your Line app, I was ready to buy all the stickers. All. The. Stickers. But I had to limit my purchases because you can’t spend all your money on stickers right? Maybe at seven years old but now I’m an adult and I know about fiscal responsibility and the dangers of impulse shopping. (Fact: Line takes in ten million in sticker revenue per month...) Thus I’ve limited myself to one sticker pack a week. And I'm staying within a narrow theme: Hello Kitty, Hangyodon, and then some animal stuff, preferably things you encounter in a forest like foxes or bears.

Also you have to think about sticker utility. A nice looking set is great but you must ask yourself, "When would would I use this?" before purchasing. That's practicality speaking. My greatest find so far has been Herbivore Trio, a collection featuring a chicken, a rabbit, and an elephant. They party together, they dress up like vampires, they puke rainbows, and they browse the Internet on iMacs. This personable threesome is just waiting to be tapped for all situations. My only quibble is that a chicken isn't technically an herbivore, but who’s counting?
Also, don’t overlook Line’s generic stickers, which are very expansive. Their animal collection is next level, as it includes a wide variety of birds, insects, and reptiles. And that doesn’t even include their amazing mammals collection, which have standouts like a meerkat, a pegasus, a corgi, many whales, a purple hippo, and even a Fennec fox. Bravo whoever is charge at Line, bravo! I hope you conquer America soon so when I return I don't ever have to just regular text message again.

06 November 2014

Up, Up With People

Listening to: Klassy, “Sweet Awakening.” Listening to the Bonita Applebaum sample made me queue up the Tribe documentary again. So good! Anyway, Klassy is a Filipino-American from Los Angeles and she’s super smooth. Plus she’s still in high school. Yeah, high school. (via @djphatrick)

So I guess Web 1.0 is back. I mean, so I hear. "The Great Web 1.0 Revival." Either way, I love it, because if that means more confessional-ish personal writing for me to read, I’m in. Susie got me an invite to Ello this past weekend, and then the Gizmodo article put me onto Tilde.Club, where quite a lot of the bloggers I used to read almost fifteen years ago have homes. (Has it really been so long? Yes, for people like bluishorange for example.) The site is aggressively ugly but I guess that’s the point. Anyway, in honor of the great web regression, a mini-blog roll of people I’ve been reading lately. Normally I would say a little blurb about them, but I think a sample post or two will be enough to draw you in, if you're into this type of blog. Which you should be.
And then there's Matt Kulesza, who is out to have coffee with all 1,088 of his Facebook friends. His project, 1000+ Coffees, is exactly the sort of thing I'm into. A long time ago, I had the thought to write little blurbs about all my friends, as character studies, but then that was shelved because you just can't write honest things about friends, otherwise you will soon be friendless. And then where would I be? Oh right, the Internet.

I was remiss in reminding the world about Encryption Day, Oct 10th. It's the day to change all your passwords! You've never heard of Encryption Day, well maybe beacause I just made it up, and am still waiting for it to catch on... And speaking of useful things, Super Lum has been keeping me up on all things tech, and changed my life with this @@ shortcut as text expander lifehack. Forget eating right and exercising, this one change will actually make you a happier person. Promise.

One of the great mysteries of this year was trying to figure out why Tess Lynch left Grantland, and now we kinda sorta know why. The sad thing is, Emily Yoshida just left too, leading to the dissolution of the Girls in Hoodies podcast. Seriously, this is so sad because Tess, Emily, and Molly Lambert were the only all female pod hosts on Grantland and their chemistry was amazing -- second only to Jacoby and Juliet. I haven’t even listened to the Hoodies' finale because I’m saving it for a special day. A day when I can sit around and laugh and cry, and feel like my friends are leaving me. Yes, it's that serious.

And awhile ago, I ripped through all of Arthur Chu's articles on Daily Beast. He's the former Jeopardy champion that attracted a lot of haters because he "gamed" a game. Anyway, he's smart, interesting, and a new voice on the Asian-American scene, which we always need more of. Just read him.

28 October 2014

Awake, Always

Currently pushing: Celtics “We Are Young and Smart” T-shirt. There’s a lot of stuff I want to recommend but since tonight is the start of the NBA season, there’s no way I can’t highlight the future of the Boston Celtics: first round picks Marcus Smart and James Young. Sure, that may signal that Rajon Rondo is on his way out (please no, please no), and while I was stunned on draft day about the pickup of another point guard, I’ve come around to the idea that Smart’s defense and competitive spirit is exactly what Boston needs. Oh and yes, you can bet I drafted Smart in my fantasy league. While it may be another losing season ahead for the Celts, I’m excited for the new blood to jumpstart the rebuilding. Here's Smart and Young, wearing Smart and Young.
A few weeks ago I jaunted to New York for a wedding and the tail end of summer. Actually, summer was all the way over and fall jackets were on full display. It’s been awhile since I only spent a few days in New York so I tried to cram everything in. The second night, I sat around watching Got Soul practice for the wedding dance. Post-college, some of my friends still wanted to dance and so they started Got Soul for a few years. Now they re-rented their old practice room, and even I could feel the electric reunion energy. There probably aren’t a whole lot of wedding dances left in our futures, so this felt like one of the final rides.

Friday, before the wedding, I cruised up to The Whitney to take in the Jeff Koons exhibit. Basically I needed to go to hate-see it. I have strong anti feelings towards Koons work, but since it’s best to take something in before you totally reject it, I went. Verdict? Just like the Slate Cultural Gabfest said, I was impressed by the workmanship, if not necessarily Koons' vision. Some of the pieces, mostly made of aluminum, looked so much like other materials that it was almost impossible not to sneak a touch. I walked right by the inflatable Incredible Hulk organ before doubling back and realizing it was not plastic. My favorite piece of his ended up being this nude woman in a tub with the top half of her head chopped off. In person, the effect was jarring, and I couldn’t stop the mental disconnect and looking for the missing half. Overall, I was more excited about the Edward Hopper stuff tucked away upstairs. There weren’t many actual Hopper paintings but it was still a nice surprise.

The one thing I had to do in New York was watch Kenneth Lonergan’s play, This Is Our Youth. It stars Michael Cera, Kieran Culkin, and Tavi Gevinson. Cera may bring in the crowds but I was there to see Tavi. She was quietly brilliant in Enough Said last year and I thought she was just as great in her Broadway debut. There was a lot of young Michelle Williams in her performance, but without all the annoying Williams-ness. The Cort Theatre is small enough that almost any seat has a nice view, so go to the cheap seats and watch this thing. And then maybe queue up Lonergan’s You Can Count On Me, which back in 2000 vaulted Laura Linney high up on my "actors/actresses to must-see" list.

I also got the chance to swing by my friend's about-to-open restaurant in Williamsburg. Wait, actually, it's open now. Pam and Jose used to do a pop-up in the same space, but now they've completely remodeled and it's called Semilla (Spanish for "seed"). The food is vegetable forward and as you can see from this link, absolutely stunning. I was going to miss their opening but wanted to see how much the space had transformed, since they'd been working on it for months. Needless to say, the makeover was amazing, and the tiled bathroom has a fun window that lets you peer out into the kitchen.

After my quick visit, I got on a trusty Citibike for one last ride, across the bridge to the Lower East Side, to meet Pam's identical twin -- and equally obsessed food person. She had just returned from a long bike ride and was parked at El Rey Coffee, ordering everything on and off menu, saying hello to friends and strangers alike. For a few hours, it was New York summer again.

The rest of the weekend was filled with some dancing, some puking (not by me), some singing, friend-family dinners, plenty of hanging out, and late night hotel lobby time. It stirred a bit of revival in my heart for New York after my quick exit in July. Still, I couldn't stay since Taiwan Part 2 beckoned and I had a fifteen hour flight to catch. Bye U.S., I'll be back!

07 October 2014

What's Real?

I'm a millionaire!...On the Hollywood Stock Exchange. I’d forgotten that I used to be on this quite a bit back when it started. The name sprung up while I was reading an article about whether or not this company called Fantex will be able to get movie stars to IPO -- similar to last year’s sports people IPOs. Curious, I logged onto hsx.com and took a look at my account. It's amazing this site is still around. I mean, what other services do I even use from 1999-2000? AOL Instant Messenger is about the only other one. Yes, I'm still on AIM, don't laugh.

Anyway, here’s my top ten of people I had major stock in: Scarlett Johansson, Ryan Gosling, Jessica Alba, Keira Knightley, Audrey Tautou, Claire Danes, Steve Buscemi, Hilary Swank, Natalie Portman, and Katie Holmes. Number eleven is Bryce Dallas Howard, whom I was sure was headed for stardom after Lady in the Water and The Village. I guess getting hitched to the M.Night Shyamalan supernova wasn't the best career move. Plus, Jessica Chastain came along and took BDH's looks lane.

"There can only be one!” That’s part of the theory as covered in July’s Grantland podcast about Rom-Com should-have-beens. One of Simmons/Morris/Litman's examples was Elisabeth Shue, who should have at least one classic rom-com to her name right? Sidenote: I just watched Cocktail for the first time a month ago and Elizabeth Shue, Elizabeth Shue!!! Also they said that Robin Wright could've been a rom-com champion, but she didn't want it.
By the way, after we watched What If a few weeks ago, I decided that I need to write a straight up rom-com. Not an indie one, or a mumbly one, or one with a supreme premise, although those are still on my to-do list. But a straight up Hollywood style rom-com with a happy ending and everything. Should be cake right? I was born for this.

Back to HSX. The five people I paid the most for were Sam Mendes ($168.81), Russell Crowe ($136.06), Bryan Singer ($120.95), The Rock ($117.08), and Natalie Portman ($114.72). I don't know what I was thinking. And the movie stars that have lost me the most money over the years? Keira Knightley, Monica Bellucci, Portman, Jennifer Connelly, and Johnny Depp. That’s basically a who’s who of my all-time celebrity Top Ten. I guess I should never invest in real stocks since I'm easily blinded by emotion and can't keep my feelings separate from my money. That and I'm not an actual millionaire.

There’s certainly room for a film-related fantasy game in my life -- I’m on Box Office Mojo way more than any non-industry person ought to be. But so far I can’t find a good one. I gave Summer Movie League a go this past summer, as well as a few other sites that use box office numbers for points, but either the website interfaces were lacking or the game rules were boring. The search continues...

Speaking of fantasy, my friend and I have been doing a bit of FanDuel's weekly football leagues. The fact that it’s real money is a bit scary, but we have hopes that one of our entries will actually come up big. With his King Midas-like gambling touch and my football knowledge, we'll soon be top of the charts. That's the theory anyway. It's been more fun than real fantasy football, that's for sure. This is what happens when you have Adrian Peterson and Ray Rice on your teams. Your fantasy season is over by the second week of September.

A lot of people are (rightfully) quitting football these days. And if it weren't for my long running leagues, I would probably do it too. The NFL represents just about everything I dislike about American culture. And really, fantasy MTV and GoT have brought me so much more joy recently. But who would I be without fantasy football? Would people even recognize me anymore? Would I even recognize myself? These are my existential questions. What are yours?

30 September 2014

我寫,我跳舞,我吃面

Currently pushing: Starbase Orion and Star Realms. In a shocker, during our entire twenty-five or so hours of flight time, I never even put on a movie. Half of our time was spent sleeping but the other half was spent staring at our iPhones, playing the two aforementioned iOS games. Star Realms is a space themed Ascension, which I played a lot of last year, and it's pretty comparable. But the real time suck is Starbase Orion, which is rightly lauded as the best 4x game (explore, expand, exploit, exterminate) on mobile. The hours just flew by as we lost ourselves in virtual battle.

Alright, here with Taiwan part two -- part one here -- even though we’ve been back for a few weeks already. We left Taipei in a rush, after packing in a ton of activities the last few days. Actually, who am I kidding. Basically once we discovered mango ice, my friend became obsessed and we ate it twice a day until we left. And then went straight to Tea Station when we got back to San Diego, for a C+ approximation. The great mango hunt basically took up our last few days. No joke.

While we can’t rightly call ourselves mango ice connoisseurs yet, we did hit up the famed Ice Monster, as well as its sister store, Smoothie House. Actually, “sister store” is a misnomer as Smoothie House was opened up after the husband and wife owners of Ice Monster had an acrimonious divorce. Mango drama! One morning we took the wrong train and ended up in Da-an District after being there the previous night.
SCENE: Yongkang Street, 9am
J: “What do you want to eat?”
F: “Should we just get mango ice for breakfast?”
J: “Yes."
This blog is not about food so I’ll leave that to the experts. But let me highlight this one beef noodle shop. It’s called, well, I have no idea. George and AMR had told me about this killer beef noodle spot by my mom’s apartment but none of them knew how to get there. By sheer serendipity, my friend and I happened to find it on Day 2 of our trip.

This dude was banging out beef noodle soups, Jiro-style, from this tiny storefront and after a moment’s hesitation to determine if it was too hot out for soup, we sat and downed our first bowl of the trip. I didn’t realize it would be the best place we would find, or that this was the exact place George and AMR had talked about. My mom grew up a few blocks away from the shop and she said that her mom had always loved it. Since I literally went back there four or five more times, I got friendly with the owner and he told me that he’s in his thirty-ninth year there. I hope to be there for the magic fortieth. [Update: A Taiwan-based friend found the spot, lucky you.]

Our last few nights, we got to explore a bit more of the city. Ximending for one, the Shibuya/Harajuku of Taipei. I got a few eyebrow raises when I relayed my excitement for the place, since apparently only young people go crawling through that area. I, of course, was intrigued to see what the youth of Taiwan looked like and off we went. As advertised, Ximending was full of people half my age and it was a bit much, like Times Square-lite. Still, I’ll be back to explore more since we were only there for an hour or so. Much of that time was spent trying to convince my friend to buy a pair of Chucks -- he only ever wears work shoes. Pro tip: Chucks go with everything! Another pro tip: The egg tarts at KFC are as great as advertised. Stunning right? In the end, my friend decided that he couldn’t do the shoes, much to my exasperation.

We spent our last night in Taiwan at a karaoke place. As it should be.

Okay, I’m gonna bang out some Taiwanese related media I’d been ingesting pre and post-trip. The Raw and Cooked is a German helmed movie about Taiwan’s culinary culture, with a focus on its growing environmental movement. The trip made me remember Daniel Zarazua’s (successfully funded) Kickstarter for Taiwan is My Home: Stories of the Black and Latino Diaspora, which should be dropping soon. And did I talk about how half of Lucy was set in Taiwan already? Director Luc Besson had visited Taiwan while promoting for The Fifth Element and he talks about the decision to start Lucy there, in this video.

I haven’t had a chance to see Au Revoir Taipei yet, but I really want to. The story is about a heartbroken boy who cooks noodles by day and learns French by night in order to chase after his ex-girlfriend in Paris. The "unfurls over the course of one night" structure is right up my alley. I've already been told the movie is no Before Sunrise, but that's okay, nothing ever really is.

Sidenote: I also noticed that Rajon Rondo was inexplicably popular in Taiwan. I saw more Rondo jerseys than anyone else’s, even Jeremy Lin’s. And this one newly opened coffee shop, Campus Cafe, featured a Michigan plaque, a Rondo jersey, and a Kevin Garnett Brooklyn jersey as main wall decorations. I thought maybe my fan doppelganger had been in Taiwan this entire time. Hello future friend, I'm already excited for us to watch sports together. What's your Line?

Also, I just finished watching High Tech, Low Life, a documentary about Chinese citizen journalists Zola and Zhang Shihe. My former roommate, who works at POV, recommended it and I’m glad she did. It’ll make an interesting supplement to all the Hong Kong stories you’re currently reading.

Lastly, my friend Weiko recently made a Chinese-language romantic comedy set in Taiwan, 100 Days (真愛100天), and while I keep missing U.S. screenings of it, you should try to catch it when you can! The title is in reference to a Buddhist belief that when a parent passes away before their son/daughter is married, that child has one hundred days to get hitched or else the parent’s soul will linger on. Talk about pressure. The script is partly based on Weiko’s own experiences, responding to his mother's death a few years ago. Here's the trailer.