Saturday, August 8, 2015

Soylent: Why I Like It but why I Cancelled my Subscription (with Soylent 2.0 update)

Let's get it out of the way, out of our system, and over with right now.

Soylent Green is people.

There we said it. Now we can move on.

For the uninitiated, Soylent is a staple food created by Robert Rhinehart and his team of scientists to be a cheap, easy to prepare, convenient, nutritionally complete meal. Theoretically, you could live off of the stuff but in practice, few people save for the extremely hardcore are actually trying to live completely off of 100% Soylent. Even its creator says Soylent makes up about 80% of his daily calories while he eats out the rest of the time. So for those of you who think Soylent is on a mission to eliminate normal food: chill out.

I tried out Soylent for a month as an experiment and I must say I was pleased with the results. Mainly that I didn't die as a result of drinking Soylent. I didn't lose weight or get sick at all. Despite all the whining from some journalists who tried it and didn't like the taste, I thought Soylent was quite enjoyable and even almost addictive... I couldn't wait for my next drink. When mixed well, the texture is smooth and almost milky with hints of oats/flour in the taste. "Liquid bread," I've heard it called. It was very convenient on gym days when I forgo lunch to play basketball and work out. When I get back to my desk, I just gulp down the Soylent and get right back to work. It also makes going out to lunch with coworkers in the SF Marina district more palatable since I can save money on lunch four days in the week and "splurge" on an outside meal every once in a while ($12 mediocore pho at Saiwalks, anyone?). On our roadtrip to Disneyland, I brought along a pitcher of Soylent, which I drank instead of having to rely on crappy highway fast food for my sustenance. 

As much as I like the idea of Soylent, though, I decided to cancel my subscription. The cost per meal is roughly $3, but at $70 a month for the smallest order you can make, it's still too expensive for me. I have no problems eating on <$1 for breakfast and lunch with cereal, oatmeal, and  bananas. Also, Soylent 1.5 (once opened) spoils too easily. The powder itself goes bad after a week of opening the container and once you add water, it's only good for 48 hours. This makes it somewhat less convenient for picking which meals to replace with Soylent since you have a time limit with each batch. There were times when my wife (who wasn't a fan of the taste and texture) wanted to eat out, meaning I would have to eat out too, while my already-prepared Soylent was about to spoil. Soylent 2.0 aims to solve the issue, with a shelf life of one year in liquid form that doesn't need to be refrigerated.. While I cancelled my powder subscription, I pre-ordered the bottled version of Soylent 2.0 and will give it a try (check back with me in October when Soylent 2.0 starts to ship).

Speaking of Soylent, I don't understand the vitriol and contempt directed at Soylent and its creator. Many internet articles are trying to paint Rob Rhinehart as a loon, a cult leader, a con man, an engineer-turned-mad-scientist who likes to play god. I mean just look at the titles of some of these articles that came out in the wake of Soylent 2.0's announcement:

This is unbiased "journalism" at its best. Oh wait, it's just news on the internet. Why should we expect internet news to be held to any kind of standard, or to have anything as ridiculous as unbiased reporting or journalistic integrity? Soylent tends to draw out strong reactions from people, with very few opinions landing in the middle. These food "journalists" are revolted to their very core about the idea of Soylent, and maybe with good reason: they'd be out of the job if people stopped eating food. Again though, Soylent isn't meant to eliminate normal food in our lives, but it brings up many interesting questions about nutrition and food. I believe it's short-sighted and maybe even selfish to believe that we can continue feeding the world with the current system we have in place and never have to change our eating habits at all. If we want to tackle tough questions like sustainability, removing animal cruelty from our "civilization," world hunger, or even space travel (what do you think we're going to eat out there, beef?), we need more people to step up and offer solutions. People are always coming up with interesting ideas out there for sustainable food. For example, what if we could make burgers out of stem cells or use insects as a main food source? Instead of immediately dismissing these new ideas as crazy talk, what if we tried to see it for what it is, what its benefits and weaknesses are, and how it can be improved? If we think about food and nutrition in a logical, rational manner, maybe we'd see that our current practices are unsustainable and that we need radical thinking to get out of the hole we've dug for ourselves (like our over-dependence on meat). Or you can go back to eating what you normally eat every day, not thinking about where it came from, whether it's sustainable, and not caring about the consequences of your diet or if future generations will be able to live the same way you do.

As for me, I will continue to keep an eye on Soylent and other new food "technology" being developed. I'm all for cheap, nutritious, healthy food, and if the price of Soylent keeps going down, maybe one day Soylent or something inspired by Soylent can take a shot at alleviating the hunger problem in our world. We can dream, can't we? Go big or go home.

And now, my PROS and CONS summary of Soylent (1.5):

PRO: You save a lot of time by not having to prepare meals or go out and buy food
CON: All that time you saved and every waking moment of your life is spent thinking about Soylent, reading about Soylent, and blogging about Soylent

PRO: More time to work, exercise, goof off, or socialize during lunch
CON: Feel like a creeper for watching other people eat their lunch while you sip on Soylent

PRO: The taste and texture of Soylent 1.5 is great. I have no problems eating it without any extra flavoring, and the neutral taste means you won't get sick of it. Think of it like rice.. you don't ever get tired of it, despite it not having any taste on its own. I find blending a banana with a single serving of soylent tastes pretty good too
CON: My wife hates the taste and texture of Soylent

PRO: No changes to bowel movements or flatulence (no more than usual, I would say)
CON: I can't tell if I'm just used to the smell of my own fart now

PRO: Long shelf life if unopened
CON: Must eat within one week of opening the powder bag, and within 48 hours after mixing with water

PRO: Become the envy of all your geek friends
CON: Become shunned by all of your normal friends

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Great Asian Hope

Rarely, if ever, do we get the fairy tale, movie-like ending we want in real life. That was the case with Mayweather-Pacquiao. All the elements of a great sports film were there: the perfect villain: pompous, arrogant, and undefeated. An abusive, money-loving a-hole with pathetic sycophants (Bieber) who you wanted to see kicked off of his high perch (think Joffrey in Game of Thrones). 

Then you had the underdog, the kid from a humble background. Naive, but likeable. Goofy, but serious when it counted. If this were a movie, the final fight would've been explosive, back-and-forth, dramatic, with a surprising come-from-behind rally. The result in real life was somewhat more disappointing and the exact opposite. If you want dramatic boxing about an Asian boxer taking the world by storm, stick to the anime Hajime no Ippo

Mayweather even shed the villain routine and was actually gracious at the end when he knew the outcome was decided, leaving us with nowhere to direct our anger and disappointment. The entire fight brought about a slow realization that for whatever reason (Pacquiao thought he was winning, his injury during training, his age, or Mayweather's skill, or a combination of all of the above), Pacquiao wasn't going to pull out a miracle victory. Pacquiao is still one of the best and no one can take away what he's done over his career, but the stupid thing is that this is what people will remember of him: that he got knocked out by Marquez (in a match that he was winning until he got careless) and that Mayweather beat him in the most boring fight in the world... and that he probably won't get a rematch with either of them. 

Ever since I was a kid, I've rooted for Asian athletes in American sports. There aren't many. Remember Michael Chang? My parents loved him. Maybe there's something racist about Asians rooting for Asian athletes, but can you really blame us? Asian athletes are few and far between but it feels like when one does come along, there are lots of people who are happy to see them fail. The narrative I've taken away from my childhood is that Asians can't play sports. And there are people out there who are all to happy to reinforce this belief and tear down Asian athletes at the first chance they get. Take Yao Ming for example, who will unfortunately probably be best remembered for being blocked (fouled) by Nate Robinson. They'll remember Shaq's ching-chong comments. They won't remember the stretch of 25 games in 2006 after the All-Star break when he averaged 25.7 points and 11.6 rebounds per game. They won't remember any of his impressive playoff performances or that he had the potential to become an all-time great, had he not had so many foot injuries.

Remember Linsanity? Remember the detractors? The racial jokes? At the end of Linsanity, when they played the Miami Heat and Lebron James, he got outplayed by Norris Cole and Mario Chalmers all I can remember is a youtube video of a guy laughing and saying "See I told you he would get exposed for what he is." I was rooting for him to do well in Houston, hoping he would show up in the playoffs, but he disappeared in the Houston/OKC series, and many blame him for the loss against the Trailblazers the next year. While he's showing flashes of the Linsanity from time to time, he's disappeared in big games and he's never quite lived up to the high expectations we all had for him. He's still young though. Maybe he'll turn it around and become an All-Star. Maybe he'll still give us the storybook ending we desire.

Don't get me wrong, I don't believe the enmity for Asian athletes is as widespread as I make it seem. Jeremy Lin, Yao Ming, and Pacquiao are loved by adoring fans (as evidenced by the clearly pro-Pacquiao crowd at the fight against Mayweather and the booing of Mayweather afterwards). I don't believe that this is the last we'll see of Asian athletes in American sports, but only the beginning. 

One more thing I have to say: if you were rooting for Mayweather, who has been convicted of multiple counts of domestic abuse, what does that make you? What is wrong with you? Why would a decent human being root for a person like that? Maybe we shouldn't be looking to sports for role models, because the best athletes aren't necessarily the best human beings.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reuben and Carissa's Travel Tips

In my travels, there have been times where I felt like I was some sort of an Indiana Jones-type traveling expert. A trip where everything went smoothly, no one ripped us off, we had zero problems, and my Chinese companion Short-Round says to me in thickly-accented english: "I love you Indy!" One example was when we went to Korea, planned almost everything in advance and hit the jackpot by choosing to stay in love motels. But there were other times when things did not go so smoothly, like when we got pulled into a rickshaw-scam in Saigon. Luckily we survived and learned a bunch of lessons along the way, which I hope will be useful to you if you're taking a trip in the near future.
  • Do your homework
    • Learn about the place you're going to. This may seem obvious but you'll definitely enjoy the trip more and have a greater appreciation for the culture and places you visit if you take a little time to learn about it. You don't need to write a thesis or anything but at least read the wiki page. Speaking of wikis...
    • Read the wikitravel entry for the cities you're visiting. It gives very practical advice for visitors like how to get from the airport to the city and which modes of transportation are best for getting around. Even better: print out the pages or save them as pdf docs on your phone so you can access that info any time.
    • Reading about restaurants and attractions on Yelp, Google, Traveladvisor, etc is fine but be warned that people don't always give the most informative reviews and they're prone to exaggeration (This hotdog was the BEST meal I've ever had!!!1111!@$@$) Get help from locals if possible and eat where they eat. Listen to Anthony Bourdain's advice on how to eat well when traveling.
    • Learn some of the language. No, you don't need to become fluent, but learn a few phrases at the very least. In my opinion, not bothering to learn any of the language makes a tourist come across as rude. In America, we give people crap for not learning English so the least WE can do when traveling to other countries is to make an attempt at learning the language, no matter how small. There are great podcasts like to help you learn and pronounce the basic phrases like "thank you," "excuse me", and "I just crapped myself"
    • Learn what type of power outlets they use where you're traveling and get the right adapters beforehand. Go to  Just don't mistype it as buttplug. Trust me on that.
  • Hotels:
    • Try to book with hotels that have flexible cancellation policies long before your trip. That way, you'll have a hotel booked way in advance but can cancel it if you find something better.
    •, orbitz, agoda - I've used these to find cheap, conveniently located hotels and also earn a few rewards (discounts, free hotel nights) in the process
    • airbnb - Our experience with airbnb has been ok but it was almost as expensive as a hotel, minus the convenience and there's always the awkward feeling of sleeping in someone else's home. If you can find a place with a really good location or a penthouse suite though it might be worth it to splurge a little.
  • Money 
    • Get a credit card that works abroad (lots of countries are starting to use cards with microchips) and has no foreign transaction fees. The Chase Sapphire Preferred has a $95 annual fee, but it's waived for the first year (maximizing your credit cards rewards is a topic for another day, but there are whole websites devoted to the topic). If you want cards that don't have foreign transaction fees with no annual cost, check out CapitalOne Quicksilver or DiscoverIt. There are more listed here too. 
    • Tell your bank in advance that you're going abroad so they won't block your credit card when you start using it. Can't tell you how many freaking times this has happened to us.
    • Withdraw money from an ATM when you land at your destination for (most likely) the best exchange rate, and try not to use a money changers. If you're concerned about not having any local currency, just exchange a small amount first at the rip-off rate in your home country and exchange for the rest later. Hopefully you won't need to much cash anyway since you have a credit card with no transaction fees, right?
  • Beware of common scams, pickpocketers, and shady people. Be wary of everyone, actually.
  • Travel light. It's so much easier not having to wait for your check-in bags at the airport when you land, lugging them around until you get to your hotel or looking for a place to store them. This means leaving your laptop at home. Unless it's one of those ultra thin or tablet/laptop hybrids, or unless you're planning to type an essay on the road, it's probably best to just use your smartphone for all your computing needs.
  • Early flights might seem like a good idea to save time and possibly money when traveling but it's tough waking up to get to the airport at 4am for your 6am flight. You might also be paying more for transportation since public transport/shuttles might not be available that early and you'll need to pay for a taxi.
  • Make use of technology
    • Google maps will become your best friend on the road. However, it's still good to keep around an old-school paper map so that you won't draw unwanted attention to your iPhone666
    • Get T-Mobile if you like to travel abroad frequently because they have free international data plans and free international texting. Ultra useful and I can't recommend it enough. I was in Europe for a couple of months last year and I never needed to get a local sim card or local data plan the whole time. It's only 2g speed but it's good enough for most basic tasks like messaging, emailing, google maps, and hacking T-800s. Unless you plan to watch youtube videos all day while you're in another country. If changing mobile data plans isn't an option, just try to get a local sim card and make sure your phone is unlocked before traveling. I don't know how much local sim cards cost in Europe, but in South East Asia they're pretty cheap. If you can't get local data on your phone while roaming, just stick to using wifi and apps like whatsapp, viber, skype, google chat, imessage, etc.
    • Get an extra battery for your phone if you can or get a portable charger. there are some pretty good cheap ones on amazon. This one can charge your phone at least twice in one charge and only costs around $20. It's worth it and you don't want to waste any of your vacation looking for an outlet and waiting for your phone to charge.
    • If you have an old smartphone, instead of selling it, why not keep it around use it as a "decoy?"  Keep your real phone tucked safely away within your nether regions where the sun don't shine and use the decoy phone while walking around, checking maps, etc. Phone snatchers are a real thing.

More travel tips:

Friday, February 27, 2015

What Color Is This Dress and the Six Stages that Follow

The latest internet "thing" going around is the debate about what color this dress is. Some say it's white with gold lace while others say it's blue with black lace (or some variation in between). There's an interesting article about it on wired ( and every other site out there discussing different theories for why people see the same image differently. I think the more interesting point is about how this issue draws out some extremely strong reactions from people.

Stage 1 Denial/Disbelief: 
You see the picture one way, wonder what all the debate is about and you can't believe or imagine how there are a number of (presumably stupid) people out there who could possibly see things differently. What you see is obviously the only sane possibility. You seek out other's opinions and cling to those who agree with you, while shunning/disbelieving/marginalizing those who disagree.

Stage 2: Acceptance
Whether it's by asking people around you, mounting evidence that there are even more people who don't agree with you, or finding out that someone close to you, whose opinion you respect and trust, sees a different color dress than you do, you are forced to recognize and admit that there are people out there who aren't stupid idiots who see things differently than you do.

Stage 3: Rationalization
The previous realization (acceptance) forces you to rationalize or explain away why others are seeing different colors. Maybe you're interpreting the colors incorrectly in your head. Maybe your monitor/screen is broken. Maybe it's the lighting conditions where you're viewing the image. Maybe you're looking at a manipulated or completely different image. Maybe it's your rods and cones that are messed up. Maybe you're colorblind or don't have the artistic background that I do. I asked everyone at my art school and we all believe that it's this color and since we're from an art school we're right and you're wrong. Or replace art school with visual effects studio. Maybe there's just something wrong with your vision. 

Stage 4: Searching for Answers
For more open-minded people, it becomes increasingly clear that your initial assumptions about the other side can't adequately explain how you're both seeing different colors. It's time to reach for the science. Open up the picture in photoshop and run some pixel analysis on RGB values, try pushing the white balance/saturation of the image, cut the image into pieces, read up on color theory, optical illusions, or search the net for alternative pictures of the same dress or any other explanations that can explain why this picture is ruining your friendships.

Stage 5: Enlightenment
For a chosen few of you, you have seen the dress as both blue/black and white/gold. Maybe you saw it as gold/white one day, and the next day the same picture was blue/black. For some of you the change happens more frequently (simply scrolling down the page then back up again). Because you have seen the image both ways, you have more empathy for each side and can understand why people are so passionate and fervent. You try to explain to people how you've seen both sides of the argument but instead of getting everyone to understand and get along in love and harmony, you become alienated and distrusted because of your dissenting views. But you still can't just flip a switch and see the dress color differently. If you were able to do that then you would have achieved...

Stage 6: God mode
You can see the image as both a blue/black dress and a white/gold dress and switch it at will. Maybe you can even see the dress as all four colors at the same time.You understand why this phenomenon is happening but you won't tell anyone else because you enjoy watching people writhe in agony as they try to figure out how to put the pieces of their shattered lives and relationships back together.

The best explanation I can come up with is that this particular image is colored/lit in such a way that your brain sees it and immediately comes up with a way to interpret it (either blue/black or white/gold). Once your brain interprets the color it is very, very difficult to even comprehend how the image could ever be seen the other way. For some people, something can trigger your brain to reset how you view the image and you may see it the other way. Just like the spinning dancer optical illusion below that's either spinning counter clockwise or clockwise, depending on how you view it. Some people can see it both ways or force their brains to interpret the dancer as spinning either way.

 I think this dress image is kinda like that, except with color instead of motion/animation. It's a kind of optical illusion that we probably haven't seen before (or is appearing in a context previously unseen). Whichever camp you fall under though, remember to open your mind and accept that there could be other possibilities or explanations other than "I'm right and something's wrong with you if you see things my way." And also remember that it's definitely, absolutely a blue and black dress, you crazy psychopaths.

Pretty convincing evidence that the dress in real life is black/blue:

First the original poster took this picture of herself in the dress

Second the dress makers don't sell a white/gold version currently, although they plan to if demand is high enough. Here's the link with the interview at the bottom of the page:

Here's the website with the original dress (no gold version):

Tuesday, November 26, 2013


Tahoe Will Never Break Your Heart from Reuben Uy on Vimeo.

 We went to Tahoe earlier this month and while there wasn't much snow and all of the ski resorts seemed to be closed, we made the most of it, as you can see from our video. We built a ghetto slide, built a tiny snowman (as anatomically correct as possible) and filmed our silly karaoke video in random places. The best part though was just hanging out with good friends, eating some good food and relaxing in a cabin in the woods.

Monday, October 21, 2013

X-Com: Enemy Unknown iOS Multiplayer Thoughts

I purchased X-Com: Enemy Unknown back in July when it first came out and despite devoting most of my review to complaints and wish-list items, I absolutely love the game and couldn't put it down for about two months. After finishing the single player campaign I stopped playing in order to put the pieces of my shattered life back together but now that the Multiplayer update has been released, it's sinking it's tendrils deep into my life once again. This is an app that's worth every penny. It's a full game with no DLC and it's almost as complete as the console or PC versions. If they release the Enemy Within expansion for iOS, I'm definitely buying that too. So Firaxis/2K, here's a message for you:

Asynchronous Multiplayer - How it works

Think Words with Friends + Aliens and plasma guns. Since the game is turn based you can move whenever you want within five days, go on living your life, and then when your opponent makes his/her move, you will be notified in iOS Gamecenter.

It reminds me of how my dad used to play old-school correspondence chess or fantasy sports through snail mail. Back before the days of the internet, he took part in what was probably the beginnings of online gaming and the first types of asynchronous multiplayer games. He was at the forefront of something big and didn't even realize it at the time. Or maybe he knew all along...

Even with today's technology, where you can play games in real-time with your opponents across the globe, I believe there's still a place for asynchronous multiplayer. With this form of multiplayer gaming, you can play several games at once just like Bobby Fischer without wasting large amounts of time (since you can play each turn in minutes then go back to whatever it is you like doing with your life). Asynchronous multiplayer isn't anything new to X-Com, however. Back in 1999 there was a version by Hasbro that had the same idea. It was like the correspondence chess, snail mail version of X-Com.


Please keep in mind that I don't claim to be an expert. I've only just started playing multiplayer on iOS where most players are probably new to the game while players on other platforms have been playing for well over a year now. These are just my observations and they seem to work against the current iOS multiplayer crowd but I don't guarantee that they'll work against elite/experienced players.

Point-counting - much like counting cards in Blackjack at the casino, you'll want to keep a rough tally in your head of how your opponent spent his points. For example, if you see a cyberdisc or another high-value unit at the beginning of the match, then subtract the value of the unit from 10,000: that's how many points he had left to spend on other units. Remember, on iOS, you can always exit the match and go to the "build squad" interface and see the value of units there. Eventually, you'll be able to estimate the value of your opponent's units without even having to look at a reference. Nerd.

Tip: Aim at an enemy unit and click the "?" button to see what abilities/items the unit has. This will help you get an even more accurate estimate of how much the unit cost.


The game creator gave a good overview of all the units in one of his early interviews about multiplayer (outdated unit costs though). Each one has strengths and weaknesses so take some time to learn the ins and outs of every unit. Don't stick to the same team every time.. try units and classes you wouldn't normally use. You may be surprised to find that every unit really does have a use. On that note...

Sectoids - Don't underestimate the lowly sectoid. They're weak and don't do much damage, but they're great scouts. At 400 points they're a bargain, especially when you're playing with the 10k point limit. Yes they're expendable but don't just throw them away: their real strength is their ability to suppress other units. Suppression decreases the suppressed unit's aim and trigger's a reaction shot from the sectoid if the suppressed unit tries to move. This allows your other units to move in for the kill. Another great thing about suppression with sectoids is that they can do it all night long, baby. Other units can use suppression but only sectoids (and sectoid commanders) can suppress with pistols (which have infinite ammo). You don't know how many times suppressing fire has saved my butt. I recommend having at least one or two sectoids on your squad if you can manage it, because sometimes they make the difference in a close match. Another interesting ability is mind-merge. I've never tried it though since killing the sectoid also kills the unit that's mind-merged with it. Too big a risk for not enough reward. It could be useful if you need that extra critical damage bonus on one of your units.

Tip: If you can beat someone with a squad of six sectoids, then that's probably the most humiliating thing you could ever do to another x-com player.

Counters: Mind-fray - any unit with mind-fray can and should insta-kill a visible sectoid with mind-fray. It's less risky than taking a low percentage shot which could leave your unit vulnerable if the sectoid is spotting for a squad-sight sniper.
Lightning reflexes - an assault unit with lightning reflexes doesn't have to worry about being suppressed since the lightning reflex ability forces the first reaction shot to always miss, negating the one of the sectoid's most useful abilities.
Mind control - While most players probably wouldn't waste a mind-control attempt on a sectoid, there are some situations where it may make sense to do so. For example, if you can see both an enemy sectoid and a stronger unit, but the strong unit's will is too high to attempt a psionic attack, you could mind control the sectoid then use it to suppress the stronger unit.


Humans are the most flexible units in the game. They're much more customizable than the alien units, although not as much as I would have liked. You can pick out the soldier's weapons, armor, and items to carry, you can pick their class and to a certain extent, the soldier's special abilities. Lots of players seem to like assault commandos and snipers, but here are some of the ones I enjoy using.

Smoke Jumpers - Cheap soldiers that are much more useful than rookies, due to their smoke grenade and higher accuracy. A group of smoke jumpers with a sectoid commander seems to be the squad of choice these days for a lot of good players. Individually they're no match for super soldiers, but a group of smoke jumpers can take out any other unit. It's also good to spread out your points so if one guy gets killed or lost to mind control, it's not as devastating to your chances to win.

Counters: ???

Medic - So far in multiplayer, support-class units are my bread and butter. Equip them with a light plasma rifle and a medkit, no armor and they costs only 1900 points. You get an economical, versatile unit that does decent damage and can heal/revive other units. I prefer medics to smokejumpers because of their higher accuracy (92% vs 80%), dense smoke grenades (+40 defense vs +20 defense), and higher health (9 vs 7). Dense smoke is especially powerful because it provides the same benefits as a Psi Guardian's telekinetic field. However, as mentioned above, smoke jumpers are 600 cheaper so you can put more of them on your team. A combination of medics and smoke jumpers is usually the foundation of a good squad.

Psi Guardian (3950 points) - This is a pretty cool unit that many people probably overlook due to their lack of offensive power. However, they're the cheapest human psionic unit (psionic assault or sniper units cost at least 5600 points and there's no psionic heavy variant), allowing you fill out the rest of your squad with stronger supporting units. Paired with a sectoid commander, you get both psionic offense and defense.
Most people probably don't realize that human psionic units aren't necessarily immune to psionic attacks. They only have 70 will, which is low compared to sectoid commanders (90), ethereals (120), and even muton berserkers (80). So unless you're using a mind shield or psi inspiration, there's still a reasonable chance the expensive psionic unit you've invested in and based your whole team around could be turned against you.

Juggernaut - a one man wrecking machine that's so expensive that you can only have a few other units to accompany him. Even with just a couple of sectoids, the juggernaut can wear down a bunch of opponents with the combined power of suppression, mayhem, and danger zone (watch out for ammo usage though) You should probably give him a mind shield or you're one successful mind-control away from game over, man.

Counter: assault soldier. using stim they're even more dangerous against the juggernaut, 
smoke jumpers - they're good against almost everything

Ghost Armor Soldier - I'm not fond of using the expensive ghost armor, but here's a tip: If you notice that you're being flanked (the shield next to your health turns yellow) and you don't see any enemies around, then there's probably someone with ghost armor sitting next to you. It's a bug in the game but it's nice that there's some way to detect ghost armor since there doesn't seem to be any other invisibility detectors in the game.

Counter: if they go invisible on you try to move your guys behind cover and set up a net of overlapping overwatch. Hopefully you have more units so you can overwhelm him with numbers once he reveals himself. 
If you know where the soldier is, you can chuck a grenade on them.

Squad-sight snipers - squad sight snipers are deadly, especially if they're packing a plasma sniper rifle (PSR).

Counter: try to suppress and swarm with multiple units. throw smoke grenades like crazy and don't leave guys exposed (even in cover at the edge of a corner). If they can see you, you're probably dead.


Thin-Man - Another fragile unit but has some cool abilities that make them worth your attention. First, they can jump up onto roofs and high places without a ladder. Two, their poison ability limits aim and mobility, so this, combined with some suppressing fire from a Sectoid will make it very difficult for your opponent to hit you. Watch out for psionic units.

Counters: Psionics can easily and reliably kill a thin-man with mind-fray
medkits (any soldier carrying a medkit is immune to poison)

Drone - Really weak. Like weaker than Sectoids. If you want a cheap scout go with the Sectoid. So what good is a Drone? Well, it can repair the Cyberdisc from a pretty long range! They also explode like grenades on command.

Counter: users of the light plasma rifle should have no problem picking off  drones.

Floater/Heavy Floaters - I really like their launch ability which can move the floater to any point on the map. Something I like to do is wait until I can get an idea of where most of the enemy squad is, then launch my floater(s) somewhere behind them out of sight. With my other soldiers I keep the enemy occupied or press the attack until the floaters can flank them. My biggest problem with floaters though is their low accuracy. They make up for it though with advanced plasma weapons and a grenade for the heavy floater.

Counters: Mind control. Suppression.

Chrysalid - An interesting addition to your squad since it can create zombies when it kills a human soldier. However, it's pretty risky and they can easily be killed with plasma weapons. Make sure you keep the chrysalids out of sight and have other long range units to weaken your targets first before moving in for the kill.

Counters: chitin plating, plasma weapons, high health units.

Muton, Muton Elite - Honestly, Mutons seem like decent units except for the fact that they're extremely susceptible to mind control. Most squads seem to have at least one sectoid commander so it's a big risk to lose 1/3 of your squad to the other team (Mutons are too expensive to have more than 2 or 3 on your squad, which also reduces the effectiveness of the muton "blood call" ability). Watch out for sectoids who will try to suppress you. You might need to use your grenade in that case or just risk taking the plasma pistol damage (not a big deal for the elite variety but a regular muton only has 8 health).

Counter: Mind Control, snipers, suppression

Sectoid Commander - It seems like this guy's is playing for everybody's team these days. It's probably because they the cheapest psionic unit available at only 3200 points. In fact, the Sectoid commanders are used so much that 300 for a mind-shield suddenly seems like a good idea.

Counters: Psi-guardian, mind-shields, and....Berserker. Yup, I once faced a guy who used 3 sectoid commanders but easily slaughtered of his sectoid commanders with my Berserker and medics, even after he mind-controlled one of my guys.

Berserkers - I've didn't think these guys had any use nor had I seen anyone use Berserkers in an actual game before. They're expensive and vulnerable to flying units. However, they have decent will (so it's sectoid commanders will think twice before attempting to mind-control them), high health, deal heavy melee damage and--best of all--they can BUST THROUGH WALLS!! On any of the maps with buildings I wish I could see the looks on the faces of my opponents as I smash down a wall, punch their guy in the face and scream, "OHHH YEAHHHHH!!!" 

Seriously though, I don't know if top players even bother with Berserkers but it's fun to use them every once in a while. The bullrush ability is kinda wonky so I would experiment with it first before trying it in ranked matches.

Counters: air/elevated units, pick off from a distance with multiple units 

Cyberdisc - This unit is expensive and in some circumstances can be easily countered by snipers or being swarmed by multiple weaker units. That being said, I've seen some interesting strategies with Cyberdiscs. One strategy is to have a squad with one cyberdisc and a bunch of drones. Since the drones can repair the cyberdisc from a fairly long range, your Cyberdisc can pretty much run amok while your opponent has the conundrum of having to try to kill your Cyberdisc in one turn or trying to pick off all of your drones first.

Counter: plasma weapons, heavy with heat ammo

Ethereal - Currently they're 10,500 so you can't even use them in multiplayer ranked matches. If you can convince someone to play a 20,000 point match though, I recommend getting one ethereal.

Counter; mind shield, psi guardian, assault commando, plasma rifle sniper


scope - cheap way to boost the aim of a unit but it's more cost effective to just equip a light plasma rifle. Use this if you need extra accuracy from your heavy or a soldier carrying a standard plasma rifle. add this to a smoke jumper and they're as accurate as medics.

nano-vest - at only 2 extra health, just go for the chitin plating for only a 100 points more.

Stims - high level players seem to enjoy stims and assault soldiers. I haven't tried it too much but you need to be prepared for it. Either mind control the assault soldier or swarm them with multiple units (you didn't spend all your money on one super unit, did you?). Or just run away until the stim wears off.

Grenade/Alien Grenade - this one is tough. I usually don't buy grenades because for 900 I could buy two sectoids with 100 left over and grenades only do 3-5 damage per unit in the affected area. Most good players know not to bunch up their units in tight groups to deter grenade tossing. Personally I prefer to use grenades that come with alien units as a package, like mutons, heavy floaters, or sectoid commanders.

Medkit - makes you immune to poison just by holding it and provides some extra health. In the hands of a medic, you can use the medkit three times and even revive critically wounded human units.

Mind Shield - get them if you have a unit you don't want to risk losing to mind control.

Chitin Plating - poor man's body armor. It's good protection against nutty people like me who like the Berserker.

Gripes / Wish list

Things missing from multiplayer:
  • SHIVs
  • Outsiders
  • Sectopods
  • blaster launchers
  • arc thrower (stun gun)
  • random matches with higher point limits
  • other types of multiplayer modes
  • more than 2 players
  • observation mode
  • more customization for human classes, alien loudouts
  • ability to pick up teammates or enemies items/weapons
  • improved stats (like win/loss, for example). iOS gamecenter could be a lot better

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Outlet Shopping

A while back, I put my cheapness to semi-good use and wrote an article about my personal experience trying to save money in San Francisco: a city that just sucks the money straight out of your wallet and into the hands of hippies and meth addicts.

Yesterday we went down to the premium outlet shops in Gilroy to do some shopping and I think we've stumbled upon a decent strategy to get some good deals. Hold on to your butts.

1. Don't go to the outlets unless you're looking for something. If you don't need anything but go to the outlets then you'll just end up spending money on stuff you don't really need. It doesn't have to be specific but it can be something like "Hey, I need new pants because I've worn out the back and my buttcheeks are peeking through the gaping holes in my jeans."

2. Once you've decided what you want to buy, check the web for sales or special discounts. For example, people over 50 years of age get a 10% discount on Tuesdays at the Gilroy outlet. The coupons from the shopping guide at one of the info centers usually have great coupons too.

3. Almost every store we went to offered $5 off of your purchase just for subscribing to their SMS advertisements. You can do it once per phone, so if you're in a group and want to use this discount more than once, just ask to use someone's phone who doesn't need the discount from that particular store. Some may object to giving away your phone number away but you can always unsubscribe or block the incoming texts and they probably know everything about you already anyway.

4. Combine as many discounts as you can. For us, we found that it was better not to buy everything from one store. By store-hopping and seeking out the best deals at the places that had coupons, we were able to combine that with the $5 off discount and get quality goods for a fraction of the cost.

Here's an example. We were looking for a shirt and we ended up in the Nautica store. 
There was a Nautica Polo that was originally $44.50, but the in-store promotion was 50% off. We also had a coupon from the back of the Gilroy Outlet Shopping Guide which took an addition 40% off of one item. Lastly, we used the $5 discount by subscribing to Nautica text messages to get another $5 off. In total, we paid under $10.

Original Retail Price (or so they say): $44.50
In store promotion -  50% off = $44*0.5 = $22.25
Gilroy Shopping Guide Ad - 40% off one item = $22.25 * 0.6 = $13.35
$5 off for subscribing to text message ads = $13.35 - $5 = $8.35 before sales tax

Another example: 
Calvin Klein jeans - 
Original Retail Price: $40.00
In store discount 50% off - $40.00 * 0.5 = $20.00
They took off another 40% for some unknown reason but hey I'm not complaining - $20.00 * 0.6 = $12.00
$5 off for text message subscription = $12.00 - $5 = $7 before sales tax

So you can easily get some awesome bargains from the outlet stores if you're able to combine as many discounts as you can. Plus, if you're using a rewards card you can save an additional 1% or more on your purchase through your cashback or rewards points or whatever. Gas was a little bit cheaper out there too, ate some nice garlic fries at the food court, and got to spend some quality time with my wife, so it was well worth the trip.