Monthly Archives: January 2015

Alex Verus Novels

This is going to be a review/summary of the first four Alex Verus novels, written by Benedict Jacka. This is one of my all-time favourite series and it’s the second time I’m reading it. I’ll probably read the whole thing again when book #5 Hidden is available in the public library. Book #6 Veiled is coming out this year in August and book #7 is already in the pipeline. I’m so excited!

WARNING: If you don’t want to read spoilers, stop reading this post now.

01 Alex Verus Novels

Still here? Cool. I wouldn’t know that you’d stay though, because I can’t see the future. But you know who can? The mage Alex Verus.

All the books are told from Alex’s point of view and revolves around his ability to see into the future. To him, knowledge is power, because it’s the only advantage he has over his enemies and, believe me, he has many. Enemies, I mean, not advantages. Most other mages have abilities that affect the physical world, such as elemental mages, so since precognition doesn’t, he’s considered by other mages to be weaker. To be honest, in a fair magical fight, he’d lose, but he doesn’t fight fairly. Seeing the future means he can predict and avoid attacks. Alex usually relies on surprise and trickery to win or escape battles, but he’s a pretty good martial artist himself.

I also find his little unusual skills quite amusing, like picking locks, throwing small objects accurately and navigation without sight. He finds the future in which he succeeds in his endeavours, then traces that future back to see exactly what he has to do in order to make it a reality. He’s also really good at sniffing out traps, but since he actually experiences the future as opposed to seeing it in third person, the way he finds the traps is by triggering them using his future sight. Many times, he experiences dying and it’s quite unnerving to say the least.

At least inanimate objects like locks and traps are easy to predict. As Alex often points out, divination breaks down when free will is involved. If a person genuinely hasn’t made a choice, the future is uncertain. He sees all the possible choices that they might make and the consequences of each choice. Conversation has too many permutations to efficiently predict anything and battle is even worse.

Alex describes the world’s population as a pyramid shape. The non-magical population (called normals) make up about 90% of the world. Sensitives make up the next 9%. These are people who have a bit of magic in them and can feel the presence of magic, but they can’t control it at all. The magic they have is so subtle that it passes off as the person just having good luck. Adepts make up about 0.9%. Adepts are like mages who can only cast one spell, and they’re treated as second-class citizens by most mages. Mages fill the remaining 0.1% and they can actually do proper magic, depending on their type of magic.

Alex’s friend Luna is not a mage, but she’s somewhere between a mage and an adept. She’s has a curse that, to Alex’s mage sight, looks like a silver aura around her. The curse deflects bad luck away from her and on to whoever or whatever is nearby. If a person gets too close to Luna, it’s fatal. It’s a terrible situation for her because it means she can’t get intimate with anyone and has to keep what few friends she has at arms reach. Ironically, the spell was used as protection from accidents a long time ago, before the mage world split into Light and Dark mages. The unusual thing about the curse is that it’s bound to Luna’s family line. The original recipient of the curse was a very distant ancestor of Luna’s (I forget who) who pissed off a witch. If that hadn’t happened, Luna would have been a normal.

There are constant hints at his dark past and, by piecing together the hints, a short story is told of his background. He escaped from a Dark mage called Richard Drakh a long time ago, but the people who are supposedly the “policemen” of the mage world (the council of Light mages) refused to help him for fear of incurring the wrath of said Dark mage. Shunned by the Light and hunted by the Dark mage, Alex is always watchful of the future to the point of paranoia, which is pretty much justified. He also mentions that Alex Verus isn’t his real name.

In the first book, Fated, Alex encounters this Dark mage named Morden. Morden is extremely powerful and has an apprentice named Onyx, who’s a Force mage. There’s one quote from Morden that I like very much: “Those who lack purpose are pawns to those who do not.”

Dark mages aren’t technically evil. Not all of them anyway. They follow the “True Way” which, as I understand it, means that you take what you want. If you can’t defend something, it wasn’t rightfully yours to begin with. Kinda like what Voldemort in the Harry Potter series said: “There is no good or evil. There is only power, and those too weak to seek it.”

I like the way Benedict Jacka builds the world and the characters. Fated was very much focused on Alex with Luna as sort of a sidekick. Alex’s allies include a wind elemental named Starbreeze and a giant spider named Arachne who weaves amazing outfits which are glamorous and often magically enhanced. He picked up a new ally, Sonder, who’s a time mage fresh out of training, but proves to be invaluable.

Book #2 Cursed shows Luna as a more important character, going from occasional item-bringer to Alex’s apprentice and learning to control her curse. Since the general world Alex lives in has been more or less established, there is a lot more effort put into showing specific details of the mage world. For example, imbued items, magical creatures and mage classes were mentioned in Fated but they’re described a lot more in Cursed. Also, a little bit of romance and jealousy is thrown in as Alex meets an alluring enchantress and Luna has a new male friend.

Taken goes a whole new direction with the plot as it becomes more frustratingly mysterious and dark. Apprentices go missing and Alex has to find out why and how. In Cursed, you kinda know who the bad guys are, but Taken was more similar to Fated in that the final bad guy was hidden and there was an ultimate boss fight.

Finally, in Chosen we get to see Alex’s past and how it’s caught up with him. I’m quite happy to find Anne (a Life mage) and Variam (a Fire mage) are both added as Alex’s allies from the last book. Alex ultimately reveals his true nature and past to his friends and, while Luna, Variam and Arachne have accepted him, Sonder is quite distraught with what Alex has done and Anne can’t stand the ever increasing body count.

The only thing I can say I’m annoyed with is that Benedict Jacka has kept the romance theme tantalizingly close, but never quite allowed anything to develop. My personal wish is that Anne and Alex will become an item, and so will Luna and Sonder.

Wow it’s really hard to do a series review when there’s so much I want to say about each book. This is one of my all time favourites and I kinda hope it will be made into a good movie series. If the seventh book is the final book, I’m going to just buy the whole series and read it over and over.

-Jace

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Soylent is here!

It’s been seven months since I first ordered Soylent and it’s finally arrived, with a little help from my Aunt Katherine and Uncle Phillip, who stay in the US and helped me ship it over. The package actually came about two weeks ago, but I’ve been so busy that I hadn’t had time to open it until this morning.

This post will only show what came in the box, as well as some plans for it. I’ll do a full review and breakdown when I actually start to consume Soylent. So for now, enjoy the pictures!

01 Box
It was a lot bigger than I expected.

02 Box Opened
Contents of the box.

03 Soylent Boxes
The Soylent boxes.

Opened the small Soylent box first.

04 Small Box Contents
Contents of the small Soylent box – Pitcher and a measuring scoop

Opened the bigger Soylent box next.

05 Big Soylent Box Opened
Contents of the big Soylent box – Instruction manual and oil blends

06 Big Soylent Box Opened 2
Soylent packets below the oil blends

07 Big Soylent Box Contents
Big box contents all laid out – seven packets of Soylent powder, seven bottles of oil blend and the instruction manual.

At this point, I picked up the manual and read it. It wasn’t very long so I finished it quickly. I was quite tickled to see release notes, patch updates and a changelog, as if this was a software release in beta. Well, I guess it is in beta.

Anyway, I saw that the contents of the oil blend were changed. Now it comes from an algae instead of fish, so that means I can actually add it in. Previously, I’d already accepted the fact that I would just leave the oil blend out, since I didn’t want to risk an allergy attack. I’m allergic to fish.

08 Oil Blend (Front)
Oil blend bottle (Front)

09 Oil Blend (Back)
Oil blend bottle (Back)

10 Soylent Packet
Nutrition information on the Soylent packet.

Soylent is all fine and dandy, but I won’t be starting on it for now, so the thing I was most excited for was…

BUBBLEWRAP!!

11 OMG BUBBLE WRAP
EHRMERGERD BERBBLEWRERP

-Jace

Zoom Park Singapore

Last Sunday, I went to the Zoom Park Singapore with a couple of friends, Saphira and Mark. Saph had brought along another two guys, Das and Zhen Yi, so we had a party of five.

Before I organized this outing, I did quite a bit of research and analysis, which I’m going to share before I actually talk about my experience at Zoom Park.

There are currently three trampoline parks in Singapore: Zoom Park, Amped @ Katong and Amped @ Jurong. I actually read an article in the newspaper about trampoline parks, which prompted me to start the ball rolling by asking my friends and doing the research.

Side note: I have a love/hate relationship with organising events. I like the planning, the anticipation of the outing and seeing my friends, the search for the most economical deal etc. But I have been burnt in the past when I don’t plan meticulously enough and take into account Murphy’s Law. So now I stick to small things like this trampoline park trip.

I started research with Amped @ Katong, because it was the closest to me. I figured that if I liked it, I could go back on my own in future. I actually went to check it out the Tuesday before we went to Zoom Park, but I was quite disappointed. It was hard to find (turned out be on the second level, with the entrance at the back), it was small and was closed when I went, even though I went during the opening hours.

Anyway, details of the places.

Amped @ Katong
-$9/hr on Mondays to Thursdays
-$12/hr on Friday 10am-6pm
-$15/hr on Friday 6pm-10pm, Weekends and Public Holidays

The prices for Amped @ Jurong are exactly $1 more for each slot, because it’s fully air-conditioned.

In comparison, Zoom Park is:
Mondays to Thursdays
-$14 for 1st hour or $26 for 1st two hours
-$7 for each additional half hour or $13 for each additional hour

Fridays to Sundays (and Public Holidays)
-$17 for 1st hour or $30 for 1st two hours
-$8 for each additional half hour or $15 for each additional hour

Facilities-wise, Zoom Park as a lot more cool stuff. Whereas Amped only has trampolines, Zoom Park has a rock climbing wall, a foam pit, high performance mats, a slam dunk court, two dodgeball courts, a main court and a tumble track. Shower facilities are available at Zoom Park and Amped @ Jurong, but not at Amped @ Katong.

So in conclusion, my recommendation would be to go to Zoom Park on a weekend for a two-hour period, since it’s the same price as Amped and has way more facilities. If you go on a weekday, then Amped @ Katong is better purely because the you save about 100% to 300% on weekdays than on weekends, which is better than the savings if you went to Zoom Park.

Right, on to the review of Zoom Park!

My expectation of Zoom Park was that it would be kind of like a pimped out warehouse. I’d imagined a large space, high ceiling and clear borders and walkways between the facilities, perhaps with queues snaking out from each one. As it turned out, it was pretty cramped, although it was relatively large. At least, it was bigger than Amped @ Katong.

When we arrived, we quickly filled out the waiver, registered and bought our grip socks. After we put our stuff in the free lockers (awesome!) we rushed in to the place, entering only slightly later than 4pm. We’d bought two hours (4-6pm), and we had some problems finding each other at Jurong East MRT, so I feared we would be late.

My friends and I headed into the main court and tumble tracks first. We had quite a bit of fun just jumping around and getting the feel of the trampolines by doing a few basic flips. I managed to do a few wall flips, a double back handspring and started getting the basics of a wall spin. I don’t really like the feel of a wall spin, but it looks so darn cool.

01 Main Court 1
This is the same Main Court as seen from two different angles, don’t think it’s so big!
02 Main Court 2

After just half an hour of jumping around my shirt was soaked with sweat. We decided to take a water break and since we bought the two-hour package, we were each entitled to a free bottle of water. So do remember to keep your receipt to claim your water.

03 Tumble Tracks
The tumble track where we spent a lot of our time racing each other and combining flip moves.

We rested for a couple of minutes, then hit the foam pit. There were three trampolines over the pit and the rock climbing wall was on the other side. See:
04 Rock Climbing Wall and Foam Pit

I didn’t really like this, partly because there were little kids and I kept having to wait for them to move a safe distance away before doing something big. Also, the trampoline didn’t feel as great as I thought it would. I ended up having more fun doing J-step gainers from between the trampolines, where it was a solid bar for me to launch myself off off. The rock climbing wall was also pretty meh.

So we moved on to the dodgeball courts. There were a lot of people, so we didn’t get to play when we first went there. The staff told us to come back at about 5.30pm, when the crowd disperses a little, so we headed back to the tumble tracks and main courts to play around some more.

Mark and I stopped by the slam dunk court, but we found it to be a lot harder than we thought it be. Also, the fun we got wasn’t worth the effort. It did show us how out of shape we were, though. XD Here’s what the court looks like:
05 Slam Dunk Court

The next stop was the high performance mats and, oh boy, were these high performance. The rebound was really strong and I had to control myself from jumping too high. It’s a lot harder to stop jumping on a trampoline when you’re so high and you can’t just land and roll on the trampoline, so it was a little scary for me.

06 High Performance Mats

I ended up trying to do the wall walks, where you keep landing on your back and try to walk up the wall to the top. I’ve seen it done before, but it’s so much harder than it looks. I probably looked like a fool who kept flopping on his back on the trampoline. Hmph.

When 5.30pm arrived, we decided to hang around the dodgeball area to see if we could get into the next game. The staff was right; the crowd had lessened and we didn’t wait two minutes before we were allowed to play. The balls we used were just foam balls, each about the size of a small watermelon. It was really hard to throw the balls and, while I didn’t get hit at all in the first game, I didn’t hit anyone else either.

07 Extreme Dodgeball Court

In the second game, as we raced to the center to grab our balls ammo, my left foot slipped and went into the crack of the trampoline. I scrambled back but my foot got twisted and I had to sit out the rest of the match. 😦

08 Ice Pack on Foot
The staff were nice enough to help me to the nearby bench and get me a pack of instant ice.

I rested for the rest of the session, before hobbling off at 6pm. I discovered a hole in my grip socks, so I threw them away. Looks like I jumped a lot more enthusiastically than the rest XD

09 Worn Out Sock

Before we left, we took a group photo with the Zoom Park logo.
10 Group Photo
Left to Right: Das, ZhenYi, Me, Saphira and Mark

Some Protips:
1) Wear contact lenses (if you’re visually challenged)
2) Wear ankle braces just in case
3) Don’t do anything stupid or try a new move until you only have 30mins left
4) Wear the grip socks!!
5) If you’re going into the foam pit, do a proper warm up. Your hip and groin muscles will kill you if you don’t.
6) Go with friends so they can block little kids from running into your path while you do a flip.

-Jace

Ingress Part Four – Bragging Rights

This post is more of a follow up on my progress on Ingress rather than a direct continuation from the previous three parts here, here and here.

So since the last update I’ve become more and more involved with Ingress. I joined the Enlightened East community and carried out two Operations (called Ops) with them. It was actually pretty fun, doing military style operations in the middle of the night, taking screenshots of our achievements as proof.

Anyway, before I can brag, Ingress does have a couple a new things: a New Shield, New Badges and Missions!

New Shield
The new shield is called an AXA Shield. It’s very rare, gives 70 shielding and is able to make a portal immune to virus attacks. Not really excited about this.

New Badges
Apparently, too many portals have been submitted so there’s a severe backlog. Niantic isn’t accepting anymore portal submissions from 1st Jan 2015 until further notice, so this means that the Seer badge won’t be available for a while. Portals submitted before 1st Jan 2015 will still be considered, so if you’re lucky, some of your submissions might be accepted.

So due to one badge effectively being taken away, three new badges have surfaced that will count toward leveling up:
– Trekker. Tracks your walking distance
– Engineer. Counts how many mods you’ve deployed.
– SpecOps. Counts how many unique missions you’ve done. (See Missions below)

Missions
Ah Missions. This is what I want to talk about. Missions are individual jobs, but have no reward but a badge to show that you’ve completed the mission. Each mission consists of a set of instructions to complete, sometimes in sequence and sometimes in any order you choose. Usually it’s hacking certain portals, but it can also be as simple as visiting a waypoint or as hard as capturing or upgrading a portal, installing a mod, creating links or fields and even answering puzzles using the clues they provide.

Missions are quite fun for me on several levels. First, this catered to my naturally individualistic tendencies; I could complete the missions alone, without having to rely on help from anyone else. Missions were also objective based as opposed to maintenance based. i.e. I had to go out and accomplish a goal, rather than wait for something to happen and react to it.

Going out to complete a specific mission felt better than just going out to take portals and create fields. To me, I felt that there was more of a sense of achievement from completing the missions than creating links and fields just to work towards the badges to level up. Right now, I’m Level 10 and I’ve already got enough AP to move on to the next level, but I’m lacking one Gold badge (I need six Silver and four Gold badges in addition to six million AP).

As of now, I’ve completed a total of 16 unique missions. I wasn’t aiming to get a Gold badge for anything in particular, but doing missions naturally works towards the rest of the badges. Right now, after yesterday morning’s 11km walk, I’m just 27 unique hacks away from leveling up!

01 Explorer Medal

Yesterday morning, after I booked out from camp, I went for a walk down towards Still Road, with the intention of completing two missions in the area. Along the way, I discovered three more missions which I did on the spot, but didn’t complete one of the original missions I wanted to do because the Singapore Food Trail #2 mission really took a long time. This is my whole route on Runtastic:

02 Overall Route and Details

Yeah that’s right, 11km in three hours, with my backpack full of stuff. Okay sure it wasn’t the ten pack items for route march, but still it was quite tiring. My shift was at 2am and I hadn’t slept since then.

Here’s an expanded picture with the location of the missions I did.
03 Overall Route

Each letter represents the place where I completed the mission, except for D1 and D2. Those represent the start and end points of the fourth mission I did, which was the first mission I’d intended to do. I hadn’t realised that the portals would be so far from one another.

Anyway, the missions I did at point A, B and C were the Tour of Ubi Tech Park, Lor Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Visit and Uniquely Singapore 12/18 – Paya Lebar. Nothing particularly interesting, just hacking portals in any order.

04 Tour of Ubi Tech Park

05 Lor Koo Chye Sheng Hong Temple Visit

06 Uniquely Singapore 12-18 - Paya Lebar

I initially thought all the portals were within a kilometer of each other at most, because they all had about the same distance from where I was standing. Usually, in the missions I’ve done, the portals were beside one another, or perhaps just further down the road, but at least it was in the same direction. This mission had portals in several directions, but I saw them all as about the same distance from me. I feel more than a little foolish, but hey, I completed it.

07 Singapore Food Trial #2
No, I didn’t eat with the mission, although I did demolish a 1.5L bottle of HTwoO.

Look back at the path I took. D1 was my start point and D2 my end point. See, A, B and C were all clustered missions, but this really was a food trail. Ah well, it was good anyway. I hit so many new portals. I think just a couple missions more and I should be able to level up.

-Jace