Books Read in January

Photo by César Viteri

Here are a list of books that I’ve read in January. It was more than I thought I would make it through, but there are a few caveats, I’ll explain below.

I heard you like Star Wars

I’ve been on a Star Wars novel kick for almost a year now. I’m not sure why I’ve gone so deep into it, but I really like reading the content.

Recently, I’ve also started reading Star Wars comic books (mostly volumes/graphic novels). I haven’t read individual issues in a long time. I prefer reading the entire story arc in a single convenient location.

How and why so many?

There are a lot of books on the list. When I grabbed a number of them (for my Kindle) for free, I hadn’t realized that they were more short stories rather than novels. Smuggler’s Run…, High Noon…, The Crimson Corsair…, and Before the Awakening were all more like short stories. I still read through them and enjoyed them.

Why are you including comic books?

I dunno, why not. They aren’t individual issues, they are full length graphic novels. I don’t think I would include individual issues.

When I was growing up, I read tons of comic books. I used to spend days with my friends at the local comic book store. We would read them, trade them, talk about them. It was a big part of my childhood. So why not include them.

What are you reading now?

I currently have three books going. A Kindle book, audiobook and comic. I’m taking a short break from Star Wars content (other than the comic), but I expect that I’ll get back to them soon enough. You’ll just have to wait until next month to find out.

Most/Least favorites of the month?

My favorite book this month was Bloodline. It gave some nice insight on what happened in the Star Wars universe between the end of Empire’s End (post Return of the Jedi) and The Force Awakens.

My least favorite book this month was Brave New World. There were parts of the book that I really enjoyed, but there were a lot that I didn’t. The concept (a dystopian future) was interesting, but it just wasn’t my style or taste. I can’t quite put my finger on what exactly I didn’t enjoy, but there was something.

I’m still at it. Reading every day. I’m hoping that I can reach at least one of my 2018 goals.

Alexa vs Google

Photo by Kevin Bhagat

I got my wife a Google Home Mini for her birthday. She saw one on TV and liked the idea. We set it up and we (as a family) really enjoyed it.

Some of my wife’s friends have an Amazon Echo (Alexa) and they liked it. We wanted to see which was better. On Black Friday, we bought an Amazon Echo Dot.

The Google Home Mini was set up in our family room and the Amazon Echo Dot got set up in our kitchen. We started testing them both out to see which we liked better.

I actually wanted to like the Amazon Echo better. We have Amazon Prime (and hence Prime Music), so accessing the music library is already included in the price. But to make things fair, I subscribed to Google Play Music Unlimited.

A lot of the tests leading up to and over the Christmas break included asking Google and Alexa to play us Christmas music. We noticed that the Google Home Mini sounded much better than the Echo. Whenever we said “Hey Google/Alexa play Christmas music” Google would always play a better selection of Christmas music. Amazon kept playing Pentatonix for us. Google would play a wide variety of popular Christmas music.

Google Home was also much better at recognizing my mumbling and doing my bidding. I would often have to repeat requests with Alexa. At one point, I got frustrated with Alexa and said “Hey alexa, you suck” which she actually recognized and said she was sorry.

The kids loved trying out both of them. They would ask Alexa a question and immediately run into the other room and ask Google the same thing.

Our youngest loved playing games with Google Home. He’d ask Google to pick a number between 1 and 100. He’d ask her to make various animal noises. There was a point just before Christmas break where he asked her the summary of a book he was supposed to be reading.

I think you can see where I’m going with this. About midway through December, we gave up on Alexa. I bought two more Google Homes, one mini and a regular? We have them in several rooms on our first floor. The three devices are linked up and we can listen to music throughout the first floor.

So, where’s Siri (and Apple) in all of this? Currently MIA. Apple has announced a device like these called the HomePod. It was supposed to ship in December, but was delayed. This was the one I was waiting for. When it comes out, I would like to get one. I’m just worried about Siri. I really like Siri (mostly because I’m an Apple fanboy), but she/it can be extremely frustrating to use. If/When we do get a HomePod, I’m sure we’ll go through a similar test to what we did with Google Home and Alexa.

2017 Recap & 2018 Goals

Photo by Chinh Le Duc

2017 is over. I didn’t think it was a bad year. We had some great things happen and some terrible things happen. Overall, it wasn’t a bad year. It wasn’t my best year either. But it’s over now and we have 2018 to look forward to.

2017 Goals

I made a number of goals in 2017. I achieved a few of them, but not all.

Half Marathon

My first goal was to enter and compete in a half marathon. I entered into the marathon (paid the entrance fee), but I never competed.

I was training and preparing for this. I was out running several times a week for a few months. But, despite being a year out from my last surgery, I was still having some pain while running longer distances. The last thing I want to do is re-injure anything and need further treatment. Instead of risking that, I abandoned this goal. I didn’t want to, I really enjoy(ed) running. I think I’ll try running a few 5ks before jumping back into a half marathon.

Technical Blog Posts

I managed to make a number of semi-technical blogs posts. One one was overly technical, but I think I got close enough with the others to call this a win.

I posted a rather lengthy post about how to use Charles Proxy for app development and testing. This actually turned into a talk I did last year (to satisfy another goal).

I also started a new series about data synchronization. It’s still a very slow work in progress, but I’m still chipping away at it. Life gets in the way (as always). But I’m determined to make more progress.

Present Something

I presented my Charles Proxy session at a joint iOS/Android meet up during Philly Tech Week last May. I’m not very good with presentations, so I am happy that I went through with this. The presentation went well and I think everyone appreciated it (and maybe even liked it).

My slides from that presentation are available here.

Release a New App

While I didn’t personally release a new app. My company worked on and released a brand new app. We released Boomerang - Best Cartoons last year. It’s a really cool app with a lot of awesome cartoons.

I’m not really sure if this is a win or not. While I didn’t release a new app personally, I did professionally.

2018 Goals

Now that I’ve taken a look back, it’s time to look forward. I haven’t put a lot of thought into what I want to accomplish in 2018. But I do have some personal goals I would like to accomplish.

Run a 5k (or two)

This goes directly to my 2017 goal. While I don’t feel like I could complete a full half marathon, I think I could do reasonably well in a 5k. Baby steps…

Read 20 Books

In 2017, I read 14 books. I enjoy reading. But I don’t do it as often as I want to.

To help accomplish this, I have purchased a new Kindle Paperwhite. Why the Paperwhite? Because it’s only a reading device. I won’t get Facebook or Twitter notifications. It’s just for reading, it’ll keep me focused. It’s also easy enough to carry with me. Ok, so why not the Oasis? Because the Oasis was over $100 more and if I decide that I hate this device, I won’t feel so bad. And if I love the Kindle Paperwhite, I can always upgrade to the Oasis when the next revision comes out.

I’ve also started (re)subscribing to Audible. I love taking walks (sometimes 2-3 times a day) and why not listen to a great book while out for a walk? I used to be a huge audiobook listener. Time to get back into things.

More Blog Posts

I like writing. I’m not very good at it. But I want to get better. I think the best way to do this is to read and write more.

Last year I had a goal of writing more technical blog posts. This year it’s more of anything goes. I would still like about five technical blog posts, but if I limit myself to those, I’ll never write anything.

I’m hoping to write a new blog post every two weeks. This is the first of those posts. I hope a post every two weeks is a reasonable amount. I just hope I don’t post stupid posts just to say I made it.

Present Something (again)

This one is just like last year. I hate presenting things. I need to force myself to do it. I think this has been a goal for myself for the last few years.

The only way to get better at it is to do it. I would really like to present at a conference sometime, but again… Baby steps…

Wish Me Luck

I hope to reach all of my goals. But I guess only time will tell. Wish me luck.

MacBook Pro

Over the Summer I bought a new Mac. This is the first new Mac I’ve bought since 2010. I was overdue.

I bought a 13” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and Touch ID. I wanted more memory than what came stock and it wasn’t available in store when I ordered it. I had to wait three weeks for the laptop to be built and shipped.

Prior to buying this laptop, I waited for a new laptop for a few years. I was going to get one when the retina displays came out, but held back. Then I was going to get one last Fall when the Touch Bar models came out. But I waited again. When they announced the latest model (with Kaby Lake), I decided it was time.

For more than a year now prior to getting this new MacBook Pro, I had been using an iPad Pro (9.7”) as my primary device. It was perfect for everything except doing iOS development.

My previous laptops have been a bit of an overkill. I always went with the 15” model, fully maxed out. I had even used my last laptop to play (or try) games on. It had a 512MB video card in it (which was a lot at the time). But it turns out that my PC desktop is perfect for games like that.

My old laptop is still alive and kicking. My wife has been using it for over a year now. In about 2012, I had replaced the slow spinner drive with an SSD. It was like getting a whole new laptop.

So far I have been really happy with the new laptop. Previously, I have always had 15” laptops. The smaller screen and form factor is nice and fits on my lap when programming in the living room. I love the color (space gray) of the laptop. I’m not 100% sold on USB-C for power (MagSafe was awesome), but I’m getting used to it.

I am a little worried about the keyboard though. There have been a number of reports about how bad the keyboards are (and having them fixed because of dust). I did buy the extended Apple Care warranty, so I hope that covers this nonsense. But if this ever comes up, I’ll deal with it.

Like I’ve said, so far I’ve been really happy with things. All in all, I’m glad that I waited. I’m not sure I’ll wait 7 years for the next laptop, but we’ll see.

Video Games and Gaming

Photo by Ugur Akdemir

I’ve been playing video games for a long time. I can still remember when we got a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). My brothers and I played Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda on it for hours.

Since then, I’ve turned into a fancy adult. Or at least I tell myself that. We’ve usually had all of the gaming systems in the house. But lately, my gaming habits have been changing a bit. Instead of sitting at a console or computer for a bit every day, I play a lot on my phone or iPad Pro.

I would love to spend more time playing console and PC games. But I’ll usually take what I can get.

I spend most of my time playing one of two games. I either play Hearthstone or Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes. Lately, I’ve also been playing a little World of Warcraft (again) here and there, but I usually play a little bit every year.


Hearthstone is a great game. I started playing shortly after the game launched. What is it? It’s a Trading Card Game (like Magic the Gathering and others). You collect cards and build decks to use against other players.

The game came out in April 2014. Originally, I had played a few times here and there, but never really got into it. My oldest was playing it much more than I was and got me into it around September of 2015. After then, I’ve been playing much more.

I used to play it quite a bit when I worked in Philadelphia and had to commute in every day. I had also written multiple blog posts about Hearthstone in general and beating the various adventures on hardcore. I still play this game quite a bit. But I don’t play it as much as I did when commuting into the city every day. Lately, I’ve been playing just enough to get the monthly card back rewards.

I preferred the adventures to playing against other people. I’ve always preferred solo adventures to multiplayer. Earlier this year, the Hearthstone team announced that they wouldn’t be doing strict adventures anymore. Instead, they would be integrated into the card expansions. This bums me out a bit, but at least there will be some sort of adventures to come. The latest expansion ( Knights of the Frozen Throne ) has an adventure component, but I haven’t done it yet. When I do, I’ll probably post the decks I used to get through the adventure.

If you haven’t tried this game out, give it a shot.

Star Wars Galaxy of Heroes

Galaxy of Heroes is something that I got into just before a surgery in late 2015. I started playing a few days before I went into the hospital and have played just about every day since. It’s a game where you collect Star Wars characters and send them into battle against other characters.

This game came out in November of 2015 and I must have started playing it a few days after release. But since then I’ve been playing it every day.

Since the game originally came out, they’ve added quite a bit to the game. Guilds, raids and plenty of new content. It’s actually a deeper game than it first appears. There’s quite a bit of strategy in the teams you form to battle against other teams. I didn’t realize that for a long time, but since I have, I’ve been doing much better in the game.

I’m in a guild and we play pretty competitively. We’ve managed to do well in the guild areas of the games. Both raids and now Territory Battles. Doing well in the guild has allowed me to collect to level up some of my favorite characters from Star Wars.

My favorite part of the game is collecting characters from the movies and TV shows. I have my favorites.

Recently though, some of the changes in the game feel more like a money grab than anything else. There have been some “panic farms” where you’re forced to quickly level up and gear characters (you don’t typically use) in order to complete events for Legendary characters. I think this is to cater to the “whales” (those who spend a lot of money on the game). I hope they cool it a bit with this, or I may need to take a break from the game.

Don’t get me wrong. I really enjoy the game, even with some of the recent decisions by the game maker. This is another free game if you want to try it out. But beware, they love players who aren’t afraid to put money into the game.


I wish that I had more time to play games. But family (and work) come first. But being able to play these mobile games allows me to get a little bit of a gaming time in here and there.