Sunday, May 19, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 5 - Brilliant Twist


After the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones, a fair number of fans were upset with Daenerys's heel turn, after she laid waste to King's Landing.

My initial thought was, "I guess they could have done a little bit more to show her conversion".  Perhaps after Rhaegal died they could have spent a minute showing her depression.  Perhaps after Missandei's death there could have been a short seen between her and Grey Worm showing her sinking depression.  But I didn't think the turn of events was that terrible.

Many fans were far more upset about it, and as I thought about it, I realized that Daenerys's heel turn was far more obvious than I originally thought.  And the show did a great job at hiding it.

I want to concentrate on the following.

- Dany sacks Astapor, Yunkai, Meereen (S3 & 4)
- Dany had Drogon burn Kraznys alive (S3E3).
- Dany has the masters crucified (S4E4) (against the suggestion of Selmy).
- Dany feeds masters to her dragons (S5E5).
- Dany tells Tyrion she will lay waste to cities (S6E9) but Tyrion convinces her otherwise.

But the question is why did we not think Dany evil?  Despite all of the above, why is she "good"?  Why is Cersei "bad"?

Then it finally hits me, and I think it's wonderful storytelling in the end.

The reason is that all of the above are related to slave cities or slave masters.  Subconsciously, we don't view mountains of these actions as "evil" or "bad".  We subconsciously think of the actions as justified or "ok".

- Kraznys is a slave master and an asshole to boot, so we are happy to see him dead
- Crucifying the masters is A WAR CRIME. She has taken over Meereen, has taken prisoners, and doesn't elect to imprison them, doesn't elect to execute them quickly, but specifically chooses to crucify them.  But we don't seem that upset because they were slave owners.
- If she wants to burn down cities to the ground, we're sort of ok with that b/c it's slave cities.
- Are all innocents spared in Astapor, Yunkai, and Meereen?  I doubt it.  We just don't see the sacking of the city, unlike the sacking of Kings Landing.
- Did we forget that Dany decides to go to Astapor in the first place?  Apparently she had little qualms of even visiting such a city to inquire about purchasing slaves?

I suppose there's other subtleties as to why we consider Dany "good".  The fact that Dany was "poor" and had to bring herself up on her own is part of the tale.  The Game of Thrones tale naturally having our hearts and minds view her as "good", and somewhat ignoring mountains of evidence to the contrary.  This is in contrast to Cersei, who is trying to maintain her power.

Here's a few other evil things Dany did that I could remember:

- Dany has burns Mirri Maz Duur (S1E10) by her own hand.
- Dany burns khals and others alive by her own hand (S6E4).  This includes innocents.
- Dany locked up Xaro Xhoan Daxos and Doreah to die of starvation in a vault (S2E10).
- Dany executes Randyll & Dickon Tarly (S7E5).

How is locking up people in a vault that different than Cersei's imprisoning people in the dungeon?  Or how is the burning of the Khals that different than the destruction of the Sept of Baelor?  The execution of the Tarlys is again a war crime.

As I thought about the series further, I realized that Dany may have been equally evil to Cersei from the start.  However, minor subtleties in the story made her look like "good" vs "bad."  We can begin to look at some of her actions differently.

I actually began wondering, does she care about freeing slaves?  Or is freeing slaves simply a means to an end to raise an army?  If she really cared about the unsullied and their freedom, shouldn't she have them live a good remaining life?  Instead of having them sail across the sea to die, she could have just had them keep the peace in Meereen and she could rule there.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Dinner @ The Progress in San Francisco, CA

About 4 years ago I was able to try The Progress, the newly minted sister restaurant to State Bird Provisions.  The restaurant hadn't yet found its way, initially serving a 6 course, price-fixe, family style meal.

Nowadays, the restaurant serves a general a la carte menu, with almost everything to be served family style.  The updates eventually earned the restaurant a Michelin Star in 2017.

So we decided we wanted to check out the restaurant again.   The menu features several large platters that can be shared between 2-6 people, but we opted for more of the smaller dishes to try more food.  Here's what we got.

1) sturgeon caviar potato cloud

First up we got this tiny appetizer.  It's sized at about the size of an oyster course, so you'd want to order one per person.  There's potato foam on top, some crunchy fried potato bits below, and ultimately caviar on the bottom, which you can tell in the second picture.  My first taste reminded me a lot of french fries.  This dish was ok, not my favorite caviar course I've ever had.  I think the recollection of french fries didn't mix well with the caviar.

2) pig's head charcuterie - mandarin, fish sauce & serranos

Second up, we had what might have been my favorite course of the night.  While you mostly see the charcuterie on top, beneath was (what I believed to be) shaved fennel, mint, cilantro, and slices of serrano peppers (and possibly other herbs that I missed).  On top was a sprinkling of puffed rice.  Overall, just a wonderful mix of flavors, textures, and that occasional hit of heat from the peppers.  A part of me wondered if this could be made bigger, like in to a entree salad, but I think this was about the right size.  You couldn't really do more than this.

3) radishes from our farm - smoked paprika, green garlic umami sauce

To be honest, for $8 I felt this was sort of a rip off given the amount of food.  It's around maybe 7-8 small radishes.  The garlic aioli-ish sauce was good, but it just seemed like so little and I'm not sure the texture of the radishes really went well with the sauce.  Something crunchy in addition, perhaps some potato crisps or even deep fried radish, I think would have been much better.

4) half dozen little wing farm quail egg roti, salad greens & wagon wheel fondue

This roti dish is a pretty popular dish in the restaurant.  We saw tons of tables order it.  This may have been the other challenger for best course of the night.  In some ways it's really simple.  It's roti, with greens, eggs, and cheese.  The combo of flavors and textures was just delicious.  Like a much better version of a breakfast burrito (crispy/buttery roti instead of plain burrito wrap, soft cooked quail eggs instead of scrambled eggs, and mixed greens for contrast).  I told my +1, they should try and turn this into some upscale breakfast burrito to be served out of a food truck.  They'd sell out everyday.

5) squid ink noodles - oyster mushroom, tomato-kale dashi, & toasted sesame

I don't remember too much about this dish, other than the fact it was delicious.  The sauce was really good.

6) grilled monterey bay abalone - crushed prince of orange potatoes, ramps, and yuzu-seaweed butter

It may be hard to see the bits of abalone nestled in between chunks of potato in the above photo, but they're there.  There were 3 "biggish" chunks of abalone nestled in there.  The abalone was perhaps the most tender abalone I've ever had in my life, just delicious along with the citrus sauce.  I actually would have loved some bread to soak up the sauce from this dish, sort of like with clam juice from a clam bake.

7) wild alaskan halibut - green garlic, clams, and guanciale

So I actually didn't order this dish.  Some friends at another table did.  They were stuffed and told me they couldn't finish, so I went off to their table to try this dish as well.  You can see the halibut buried a bit beneath the beans and clams.  It was topped with a green garlic salsa-like spread, which may be hard to see in the photo as well.  Overall, pretty good dish, but not my favorite, as I'm not particularly a fan of "meatier" fishes.  I think I may have missed out on some of the salsa as the dish was being divided up amongst us.  I will say that I loved the beans in this dish.  They were fried and had a good crisp on the outside of them.

8) ricotta cake - blueberry-rose petal compote, black tea cream, candied almonds

So we had enough room to spare to grab some desserts and I had went with this ricotta cake.  I had never had ricotta cake and didn't know what to assume, I had wondered if it was going to be very "cheese-cake" like.  It wasn't, but it definitely was a bit "denser" than normal cake, which I liked.  I couldn't really taste too much of the ricotta though.  The blueberry compote was delicious and the candied almonds give some good crunch in each bite.  I really liked this dish.

9) josey baker quinoa doughnuts - ginger sugar, honey-creme fraiche ice cream, rhubarb

Similar to the ricotta cake above, I didn't know what to assume of quinoa doughnuts.  Once we got them, there was definitely a flavor difference, which I would describe as not-as-plain.  Overall good, but not the kind of the dessert I would order again.  I loved the ice cream in this dish, I think it was a great flavor and matched well with the rhubarb beneath it.

10) state bird peanut milk, muscovado syrup

Finally, we got some of this peanut milk complimentary b/c there was a slowdown in the orders earlier in the evening.  It's something that's normally $3 per shot but they gave us two of them.  I'm not a huge fan of peanut flavor, so this wasn't my favorite, but it wasn't too bad either.  It is quite rich, so I wouldn't order one for myself in the future.  Perhaps one to share would be doable.

Overall I felt it was a good meal at The Progress.  Similar to other dining experiences at "gourmet casual" restaurants, there are some hits and misses.  I'm hoping sometime in the future I can go with a bigger group and get one of the family style platters to share.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Cloud Streaming Video Games

Not so long ago Google announced a new cloud streaming video game service called Stadia.  Instead of consumers purchasing a console (i.e. like a Xbox or Playstation) all games would be streamed from Google's cloud infrastructure.

Sony already has such a service called Playstation Now and Microsoft has announced a future one called Xcloud.

Lots of people are speculating about whether Google's gaming platform can be a console killer, but what I found so interesting is that no one seems to be talking about Google's #1 problem, and that's games.

Any first party exclusives produced by Sony, Microsoft, or Nintendo will have zero chance of going onto Google's platform.  This includes huge titles like Halo, Zelda, God of War, etc.

One presumes that any AAA third party titles (lets take as an example the Grand Theft Auto series) that will be on Stadia will presumably be on all the other platforms it currently has, such as PC, Playstation, and Xbox.

So what buy in does a consumer have to actually play games on Stadia?

1) Google has to create it's killer game.

It has started a gaming division to produce first party titles for their platform, but it's anyone's guess if they will be able to create that truly ground breaking title.  Microsoft hit the jackpot with the original Xbox and Halo, but who knows if Google will be able to do the same.

2) Pricing.

This is where I think Google can actually make a difference.  Google can compete on pricing and undercut their competitors in one of two ways:

A) Offer a cheaper subscription service.

In the beginning I think this is going to be an absolute requirement.  As of this writing, Playstation and Xbox's subscription services have around 700 & 100 games respectively.  These of course come from both company's vast library of titles.  A casual glance shows that Xbox includes titles like Minecraft and Playstation has games from the God of War series.  Google will likely not have a library anywhere near as good from the start, so they will have to undercut these other services.

B) Amortize the cost of a console over many games.

If consumers don't have to purchase a console to play games, this makes games net cheaper, as the savings from the lack of a console can make games net cheaper.  Google has yet to announce the price of their game controller, but we can safely assume it is much cheaper than a console.

For me personally, I never actually keep games.  I buy them and then sell them after I beat the game.  So I spiritually "rent" games.  So a subscription service from Google would be more than welcome way for me to "rent" the games I want to play.  But that latter part is the kicker, it has to be something I want to play.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Baseball Musings One Month In

A few interesting little statistical nuggets I've noticed after 1 month into the year.

1) Miguel Cabrera

Through the month of April, Cabrera has one home run (which he hit on April 26th, pretty late) and .359 slugging percentage.  Eek!  Not looking good for someone owed $124 million after this season.

2) Chris Davis second half of April

Chris Davis had a horrible start to the year, leading to a record breaking streak of hitless at bats.  However, since he broke that streak, he's actually been good.

First 12 games: .000/.132/.000
Next 11 games: .343/.378/.686

He hasn't played everyday, so it's possible they're only putting him in for good matchups.  But maybe he can turn this around.

3) Mike Trout's Strikeout Rate

The rest of baseball should be scared.  Strikeouts are perhaps Trout's one  weakness, and it appears he's learning to deal with it better.  Trout's struck out about 21.5% of his plate appearances before 2019.  His best year was 2017 when he struck out about 17.7% of his plate appearances.  This year, it's down to 11.8% of his plate appearances.  Oh and his walk rate?   Up to 24.4%.