Tag Archive | reviews

Fenix for Twitter – for Android! (A review/rave?)

EDIT April 2016: Unfortunately, this app is no longer being supported and has been removed from the Google Play store (source). I’m pretty bummed!


I’ve always been a little unsatisfied with the straight-up Twitter app for Android. It’s just little things that add up – promoted Tweets in my timeline, having to click through to see Instagram pics, only having the standard retweet function & no quoting, etc.. I switched to using Tweedle for a while, which was acceptable in fixing most of my issues. But it wasn’t quite doing the job. I had to click through for images, they didn’t appear in the timeline; there wasn’t any ‘notifications’ section for favs/follows/retweets, just a mentions tab; and the way it handled catching up on older tweets was frustrating (too much scrolling, trying to find my place, etc). Plus it just looked a little clunky.

I can’t remember why, but I recently started poking around again, Googling for decent Twitter for Android clients. Some more recent forum posts/tech blog roundups included Fenix, which is one I hadn’t seen mentioned the last time I did a search for a decent alternative to the default app. I was a little hesitant to dive in & pay $5ish for an app I hadn’t tried, but I’d read great things, features looked worthwhile, and the reviews on the Google Play store were pretty positive.

Fenix is terrific, and for someone who uses a Twitter client frequently it’s worth every cent. It’s absolutely better than the default app as well as any alternative app for Android that I’ve tried. Just off the top of my head, here’s some of the things that are making me super glad I am using it now:

  • Images in timeline, including Instagram and also support for GIFs now!
  • Ability to mute hashtags, users, etc.
  • The look is super clean and it’s an easy interface – I really like the way if you click a Tweet, it pops out to the side (and you can scroll up to see a conversation) while still keeping your timeline visible to the left.
  • There’s an ‘activity’ tab which shows you follows/faves/retweets, and a separate mentions tab, which I think makes keeping track of all notifications so much easier.
  • I’ve set it to refresh always while I’m on Wifi, but it also stays put at the last place I was in my timeline so I can scroll up through all the stuff I’ve missed. There’s also a little number at the top to show how many tweets are waiting to be read, and I can just tap that to scroll straight to the top without worrying about reading anything if I want!
  • There’s a simple press-and-hold to bring up options for each tweet (fav, retweet etc)
  • There’s a quote function as well as a regular retweet function!
  • You can swipe between the columns and everything flows and looks so nice and smooth. What I like also is the nice way it looks if you view someone’s profile – there’s a header & their icon while you’re at the top, and as you scroll down their profile their header/icon shrinks to be a little bar at the top. It’s not necessary but it looks sweeeeeet.
  • Easy access to lists and saved searches is great, and it may end up encouraging me to use those functions far more.
  • Customizing is made easy – you can pick and choose the screens/tabs you want, the notifications you want, etc.
  • Oh, and if you’re into stuff like having multiple tweet drafts, multiple accounts, that’s there too.
  • Best of all, no promoted tweets. Aaah.

I am so into it! I encourage you to check it out if you’re on Android and a frequent Tweeter!

Hot Docs reviews – Part #1

I’m seeing 4 films at this year’s festival (much lower than previous years!). Here’s my reviews of what I saw last weekend – and I have two more coming up this weekend.

Aaron Swartz - photo credit Hot Docs site.

Aaron Swartz – photo credit Hot Docs site.

The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz (website) 4.5/5 stars

Aaron Swartz’s death was huge news last year. I had never heard his name until that point, and reading around after the news broke I was surprised that I hadn’t – Swartz was an instrumental figure in internet circles and Hacktivism, and his influence was far and wide. This doco primes the viewer with a pretty decent look at his history – from a young age he was a bright and articulate kid, and became enthusiastic about programming during his childhood – which led to him taking part in major projects from his early teens (he was one of the authors of  RSS at 14! FOURTEEN.) His intelligence and natural abilities meant he enrolled in college early and it brought him into a world of budding possibilities for what could be created for the use of the internet. It was fascinating to see how much he’d taken part in during his very short life – co-creating Reddit,  Creative Commons licensing  and much more – in addition to becoming heavily involved in internet activism and a leader in the anti-SOPA movement.

Swartz moved from creating products to working on creating positive experiences; for everyone to be able to use the internet and access information freely. He was dogged in his pursuit of this, and unfortunately it contributed to his demise – but by no fault of his own. He created a script that could access the journal archive JSTOR and download articles – he set up a computer at MIT to do this, and was found out and arrested for it. Mind you, there was no sensitive/non-public information stolen, he was not seeking to profit from this – he just wanted the information to be free. The charges brought against him and the surveillance by the FBI wore him down. Eventually after charges were revised to include many felonies and he faced 35 years in prison, he took his own life.

This documentary really set up his story in a powerful way – it would be hard to doubt that, despite his idiosyncrasies and personal difficulties at times, he was well loved by those he interacted with. Colleagues, friends, lovers – everyone admired his spirit and the work he did. (I encourage you to read what Lawrence Lessig and Cory Doctorow wrote about him after his death.) Everyone knew that all Swartz wanted was to make the world a better and fairer place. It was heartwrenching to see overblown and malicious criminal charges – undisputed by MIT (their calling for charges to be lessened or dropped could have ended everything) – bring someone who was so bright with such potential down into such a dark place. It was an emotional documentary at the end, but also overall a fascinating look into Swartz’s life. The interviews and clips used were edited together expertly to tell his story with a very passionate tone; my only gripe is that it could have been more tightly edited to bring it down to 1.5 hours or less. I hope that those he influenced can take up his work and fight for the causes he was working for. I encourage everyone who is interested in technology, the internet and the freedom of information to see this documentary.

Henrietta Lacks

Henrietta Lacks – photo credit Hot Docs

The Way of All Flesh 3 / 5 stars

If you aren’t familiar with the story of Henrietta Lacks, I would encourage you to try and track this doco down – it may be online somewhere, as it was made in 1997, and it’s just under an hour long. (I hadn’t realized it was part of a retrospective when I got my ticket, but it was still very interesting!). Putting aside the age of the interviews and quality of the film, the information presented was very interesting. Henrietta Lacks died in hospital in 1951 – before her death, cancerous cells were removed from her cervix and cultivated in a lab (without her family’s knowledge or permission). This cell line became known as HeLa and have been used in labs for cell biology ever since. The way her cells transformed knowledge about cell biology and cancer was instrumental – but certainly the ethics behind how they were procured were not sound; this doc also briefly covers racial issues tied to the use of her cells without permission. Her family was finally notified and Henrietta received recognition, but far too late. A very interesting case of medical ethics – one would wonder what turn medical history might have taken had her cells not be sampled and kept alive to this day. Ultimately, I wish this documentary had delved deeper – but I suppose the timing of interviews etc in the late 90s was right considering when the cells were taken and when the research was taking place.

The Gathering of Friends game convention 2014 – Part #3! The final weekend!

And now my final wrap-up of games I played at this year’s Gathering of Friends. (Part 1 & 2 here). If you’d like to give my list thumbs/comments on BGG, please head over here! I may post about some general stuff later, if I feel there’s enough to fill another post!

Trading in the Mediterranean: The above doesn’t show final artwork or content. Not long after I arrived, I managed to find myself at a table with my friend Sean, learning this game from Ryan Sturm, one of its co-creators! A terrific combination of card trading and tableau building – and although I didn’t do spectacularly well, I thoroughly enjoyed the game. It was a fairly easy game to learn, and after one round the 5 of us were rocketing through and having a great time trading resources, and also making bargains/threats thanks to some of the powers from our civilization card tableaus. I like having a 5 player game with complexity that doesn’t run longer than about 90 minutes. I love what Ryan & Geoff (Engelstein) have put together, and hope it can find a publisher soon.

EvolutionNorth Star were demo-ing their upcoming Kickstarter title Evolution & I sat down on my second weekend to give it a try. It’s quite a different pace for North Star, but I found it quite interesting. 

Starting the game with a blank species slate, you play the game to build up that species with traits, and add new ones to your tableau. All players add to a communal food bank at the start of each turn, and then as the turn plays out you try and make sure all your species can be fed & survive, their population thrives, and that they aren’t eaten by ‘carnivore’-type species. Of course, if you are a ‘carnivore’-type species, during the feeding round you try to pick off some population from other players’ species. It can be quite the balancing act! It played fairly smoothly after the rules instruction, and once they clarify some of the writing in their rules/cards then I think this will be a solid game for folks looking for something light. Honestly, I’ll sit down to play animal games any time – I’m not sure this will be a purchase for me, though.

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New Haven from @@rnrgames is great! #gof2014 #boardgames

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New HavenI had no idea about this game going in, but was pleasantly surprised with the play of it. I sat down with pals Tanya, Rich & Janna to play and had a great time. Players share a resource board, which they build up during the game by placing tiles strategically to collect an optimum amount of resources on each of their turns (bordering your tile with similar resources bumps up the amount). The number of resources are indicated on a track, and spent immediately to place numbered tiles on your own player mat in order to try and fill up rows and columns for completion points.

The neat thing I like is that if you don’t spend all of your resources, you then go around the board clockwise to see if anyone else can use them – sure, it benefits them – but ultimately it means if all of them area zeroed out, you’ll be able to draw more of the numbered tiles at the end of your turn (one for each fully exhausted resource). This lets you have more choice each round on what you can play on your own mat. A nice light game with a balance of strategy, luck & player interaction. Lovely!

My finished castle in Castles of Mad King Ludwig - room tiles laid out in a floor plan.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig – my finished castle!

Castles of Mad King Ludwig: Above images are prototype print-ups, and not the final version of the game, coming from Bezier later this year. (Above the photo is a little time-lapse of my castle being built over the course of a game). I got to sit down to a couple of plays of this upcoming Bezier title, and thoroughly enjoyed both. The aim of the game is to build up your castle with a variety of rooms to maximise your points by the end of the game. Each room type has a straight up points reward for building it, but there are also bonus/negative points depending on where you place it in relation to other types of rooms in your castle. You then get points when you complete a type of room (closing in all of its entrances), which vary from type to type. This brings a lot of balancing in to what will benefit you during the game – it can be tough if the tiles you need aren’t coming out, though! There’s also “master builder” end-game goals that will score you points (like most of one type of room, most entrances still open, etc.)

One aspect of the game I thought interesting was how the start player is able to organize the room tiles at the start of the round in order of price preference – and they get paid by the other players for what they purchase, and get the final chance in a round to buy. This means there’s some player interaction where there otherwise wouldn’t be, and adds some difficulty as far as money & what you can afford when it comes your turn to purchase. This pushed all my fun buttons. I am itching to get the released version of this game! It’ll be out at Essen, so hopefully not too long after here in North America.


The Concept board, made up of a lot of different icons depicting things, colours, shapes, categories, plus a player piece.

Concept, in action

ConceptI played a few rounds of this at the end of Friday night, and it was terrifically fun! (My favourite thing was sitting down and being asked if I knew how to play the game, and zinging “Well, I understand the basic CONCEPT!” *wink*). A party game of guessing – but instead of a charades type scenario, you have a board of icons/symbols/shapes/colours etc to use to explain the ‘concept’ of what you’re trying to get the other players to guess. (Chosen from a card with some easy/medium/hard things listed.)

You are working with the person next to you, so you’re never quite floundering on your own – but it can definitely lead to floundering with your partner, as there can be no discussion between you while you’re throwing stuff out onto the board. Players guessing can ask questions as they’re figuring stuff out, but you can only answer yes/no – it makes it hard, but not impossible to progress with better information for them. This will be a definite buy when I can get my hands on it – what a unique and fun party game!

Two Rooms & a BoomI played a round of this social deduction game and was kinda flummoxed by it. I was a basic member of the red team, so there was really not a lot for me to do. Plus, the president and bomber both started in the other room – so there wasn’t much we could do! I think had I tried it again I’d have found some fun & depth to it after trying different roles, etc. Alas, I will have to wait for another chance to play it here in Toronto and see what it can do.

The Whacky Wit board, which is like the pacman game layout with wooden pellets, a wooden pacman and wooden ghosts.

Whacky Wit!!

Whacky WitThis is basically Pacman the game, and it’s very aesthetically pleasing to play. If money were no object, I would own this game. Like, NOW. One player is ‘Pacman’ figure, who’s trying to roll a dice and get around the board nomming pellets (ie. pushing down wooden pegs). The other player is all of the ghosts, rolling to get around the board and catch ‘Pacman’! It’s the BEST THING!! Especially seeing as I won with the Ghosties. 

The Black Fleet board (islands on an ocean) with ships

Black Fleet

Black FleetI played a few rounds of this and was pretty impressed with it! Playing movement cards, you maneuver your pirate/merchant ships around the board to collect goods, or bury them as treasure. You also get to move the navy ships to mess with the other players – but you must watch out for them doing the same to you!  Beautiful art & pieces. I really do want to give this a proper try, as Adam played a whole game earlier in the con and raved about it.

The Istanbul board with tiles, gems, and wooden player pieces laid out

Our game of Istanbul

IstanbulThis was a lot of fun to play! I sat down late Saturday evening with Adam, Kris, Max & Tim to give this one a try. The board is made up of large cards, so can have a variable format (nice for replayability). The idea is you take your ‘Merchant’ and stack of ‘apprentices’ and move either one or two spots and drop off an apprentice. You then perform the action/get the benefit from that location. It’s a delicate balance of getting around making sure you don’t abandon your apprentices and can’t pick them up, yet making sure you’re doing all of the things you need to do to get ahead in points.  It’s a nice simple game that is enjoyable to play, as you move about amassing resources, cashing in for money and points. I’d need to try this again to see if there’s a runaway leader type problem, because it seemed that way in our game.. but Max probably just schooled us 😀

The Camel Up board, dice rolling pyramind and wooden camel pieces set up to play.

The camels, ready to race!

Camel UpDelightful stacking wooden camels are moving around a racing track, and you’re trying to bet on them to make points during/at the end of the game. The camels move by a die roll – resulting in a 1, 2 or 3. The dice are kept in this lovely pyramid structure, and released one at a time.  Players can also lay down tiles on the track to set back or advance camels one space as they move. Camels stack, and this can sometimes really affect the order in which they end up at the end of each round. A game of probabilities and guesstimating, with a super cute theme and a lot of fun. Possibly even more fun when not delirious with tired.  One recommendation: do not play this at 1am when you really should be in bed. Otherwise, it’s a lot of silly fun.

The Lancaster board, depicting a not-to-scale England with towns marked, each place having a different kind of in-game benefit.


LancasterA favourite of mine. We were hoping to get a game in before the Can’t Stop tournament on Sunday – we didn’t finish, and when we finally came back to do so, it was being packed up to go home with its owner! It reminds me I really need to play it more at home, though – such an interesting mix of worker placement and bonus/resource management, plus the voting on laws for during-game bonuses. This game should be more popular among Euro gamers!

My Just in Time puzzle mat - a shape in which I have tried to fit my pieces to leave larger numbers uncovered.

Just in Time puzzle game

Just In TimeA quick puzzle game not unlike FITS or BITS with a bit of Blokus thrown in. I sat with William, Adam & Daryl to play.

With a pool of Tetris-y shapes to choose from, each round goes a little lik this: decide on a player mat, which everyone puts in front of them. Select a card that matches its level and flip it over – it’ll have the shapes listed you need to pull out of your pool. You then go ahead and madly try to fit these shapes onto your player mat and not cover up too many of the points. Puzzly! We didn’t worry about scoring too much, we just had some fun. A great filler, but I wouldn’t have it on my shelf.

The concordia board, with map, pieces and tiles laid out during the game.

Playing Concordia

ConcordiaMy last game of the con (except for a very quick round of One Night Ultimate Werewolf), I played with Tim, Kris, Daryl & Adam. (Jake the Dog guest starring.) This is a crunchy game, especially with 5 players – and especially when not all 5 players know the game. The time did bloat out because of this, but I wouldn’t hesitate to try the game again anyhow.

I really enjoyed the interesting mix of hand-building and working that together with the map & gaining resources/currency. There was a fine balance there that I tried to get, yet failed. I think had I been paying more attention to the end game card bonus scoring then I might have fared better. Another reason to give it another shot – I often struggle in the first game of something this crunchy because it’s hard to optimise what I’m not familiar with.

So, that’s it! Over the course of 2 weekends, I played 32 unique titles, many of which were new to me, and will be new to the market soon. I played a few multiples of games (Sushi Go, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Coconuts, etc) but it was great to cycle through some cool stuff. And I didn’t even get close to trying a lot of the stuff I wanted to, like Walled City: Londonderry, Glass Road, Bruxelles, etc. GOSH. I have some catching up to do.

Kick-Ass 2: The Disappointening.

Back when Kick-Ass came out, I saw a preview screening here in Toronto, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Great action, comic-level violence, wonderful characters and a dark sense of humour. It was exciting and enthralling!

When I watched Kick-Ass 2 last Friday, I enjoyed it while it was happening – and even when I came out I felt “Oh yeah, that was great! So much fun!” But it faded quickly. And then I went back and watched Kick-Ass.

As I watched, I realized Kick-Ass 2 was pretty much unnecessary. It didn’t cover any new ground in the “we’re all vigilante superheroes”/”we’re persecuted due to being superheroes” that stuff like Watchmen & the X-Men haven’t already done (and well). The humour was flat and didn’t have the same tone as the original. Overall the tone was different and even the characters felt flat – you didn’t get to spend enough time with them like you did in the first movie.

I get that it’s scripted and directed by a different team – and that’s usually where sequels find their downfall – but beyond how half-baked the writing and directing ended up being, I still honestly feel we didn’t need a Kick-Ass sequel if it was going to be this one. I’m bummed, because I enjoyed the original so much!

Yes, Spiderman 3 & X-Men 3 were fairly unnecessary as well.. but I still felt like some of the tone & character was there. Maybe because in general a lot of recent superhero sequels/prequels have been enjoyable to me, I expected too much. I’d say if you really loved Kick-Ass, just don’t bother with KA2.

Upstream Color – a review of sorts

Many years ago I had Primer recommended to me, which turned out to be an amazing and strange indie time travel film by Shane Carruth. I was browsing Netflix this weekend as I was home, bored & needed a break from bingeing on Justified (OLYPHANT) & saw Upstream Color* which I was curious about and clicked through to. When I saw Shane Carruth’s name attached as writer/director, I was in. (Well, I double checked the rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and then I was in. I can’t make a movie decision on my own anymore.)

Do not expect to understand everything when the end credits roll. Be pulled along with this film as it rolls out, don’t search for a clear meaning. It’s completely ethereal and metaphorical, largely experimental, and it looks lush & beautiful to wrap up the whole package. As I was watching, I was pretty lost – but I went with it, because I had some of that feeling when i’d watched Primer. Rather, I got a sense of things. How cruel the world can be, how you can struggle to find meaning, how it’s hard to trust people and make connections, what it means to work something out when you have nothing to go on.

The lead characters, Kris & Jeff, are drawn to each other in a way they don’t understand. They try to negotiate their feelings, their relationship, and also find where they stand in their lives – but they’re not the core focus of the movie like a regular romantic drama. It’s strange, but also nice – the movie’s about so much more than them, but needs them to ultimately show what it’s getting at. You might not understand what it’s getting at 100% – I certainly didn’t – but if you’re game to dive into some rich experimental cinema then it’s worth a shot! And while you’re at it, check out Primer too.

* Man, it’s hard to not type colour.