My Chemical Romance

I heard My Chemical Romance sing their hit single Welcome to the Black Parade on Saturday Night Live a few months ago. I found myself intrigued by the song, and was reminded of it tonight when I heard it several times used in a commercial for something on TV (I can't remember for what, amusingly enough). I haven't actually listened to any "modern" rock for a long time (the last time was when my cousin and then roommate Jack was playing Nirvana in our apartment), but I may go out and buy this album.

Rules of the Game

We watched Rules of the Game, which is a translation of a play by Luigi Pirandelli, a Nobel prize-winner in Literature. Interesting play, and very well written.

Ardneh's Sword

I quickly skimmed through Ardneh's Sword, by Fred Saberhagen. This book is a 17-year-later sequel to
Empire of the East. I loved the latter when I read it as a teenager, but Ardneh's Sword was really bad. As far as I could tell, the only reason for its existence is to tie the Empire of the East universe to the universe of the Twelve Swords. I'm glad I took this book out of the library, and didn't actually buy it.

Wealth

Wealth is by Stuart E. Lucas (a descendant of the founder of the Carnation company). I've been reading this on and off for the last month; it is an interesting book. The author's family has a lot of money, and he talks about the challenges of managing it. The interesting parts for those of us with less money:

  • He advocates index investing for almost all investors.

  • He suggests viewing one's career as a form of investment that can be used to balance passive investing.

  • He views the government as a "silent partner" in one's investing. The government actually takes more of the burden when one realizes losses, and only shares in gains. This is an interesting view of capital-gains taxes.



He talks about some of the interesting challenges of raising children (especially in the context of a great deal of money). Some of the more generally applicable pieces of wisdom: "fair does not mean equal", and good parents try to help their children realize their own personalities.

The Devil Wears Prada

The Devil Wears Prada was pretty funny. Meryl Streep was brilliant! The movie was fairly predictable, of course.

Firefly

We watched some episodes of Firefly this week. It's a fun series; too bad Fox didn't have the vision to keep running it.

Fragile Things

Neil Gaiman's Fragile Things was a pretty good read. There were some stories I did not particularly like, but there were also some wonderful ones. "A Study in Emerald" was a pleasure to read (Sherlock Holmes meets Chthulhu), and it deserved the Locus Award that it received. "October in the Chair" also deserved its award; for some reason it reminded me of Zelazny, although not in any obvious way.

Reds

We watched Warren Beatty's Reds, which I had never seen before. Great movie! And it certainly has relevance today, after our government has dragged us into a war that many people thought was unnecessary.

Influence

Influence
by Robert Cialdini is an interesting book. It talks about how we are all subject to basic human psychological pressures. The wikipedia entry on Cialdini summarizes the result pretty well: here is my one-liner summary:

  • Reciprocation. Tactics used: unequal exchanges (free samples), rejection then retreat (propose an extreme position then retreat).

  • Commitment and consistency. Tactics used: induce a small commitment to a particular image (ask for help with some trivial task).

  • Social proof. Tactics used: create illusory consensus ("man-on-the-street" endosrements).

  • Liking. Tactics used: good-looking salespeople, compliments, mirroring, sell through friends (Amway).

  • Authority. Tactics used: false titles (ads from authority figures without expertise).

  • Scarcity. Tactics used: time pressure, create false competition.

Vegetarian food in Flushing, NY

We ate at a vegetarian restaurant called Happy Buddha. The food was reasonably good: I wouldn't call it great, but I was happy enough to eat it.

Mystery Men

Mystery Men was, predictably, one of the worst movies I have ever seen. I just had to watch it, even though I knew it would be bad. It's weird how we humans can be silly.

I used to think Ben Stiller was funny. Now I'm not so sure. Zoolander was another bad movie that I forced myself (and my wife) to watch a few years ago, and it wasn't particularly good.

Fear: we really need to fear the media and politicians

I've been slowly reading The Culture of Fear, by Barry Glassner, over the last month. It's a somewhat interesting book, but not interesting enough to read that carefully. Distilled into my philosophy: do not trust anyone who has a vested interest in getting you to listen to them. This applies to the media and to politicians. The media want you to watch their news shows/read their newspapers, and the only way to do that is to create a sense of urgency. Politicians want to get elected or re-elected, and the only way to do that is to convince people that there is a problem that they can fix: even if the problem is not a real problem.

Water and food

Some of the startling statistics about water in When the Rivers Run Dry, written by Fred Pearce:

  • 25 gallons to produce a portion of rice

  • 40 gallons for the bread in a sandwich

  • 130 gallons for a two-egg omelet or mixed salad

  • 265 gallons for a glass of milk

  • 400 gallons for ice cream

  • 530 gallons for a pork chop

  • 800 gallons for a hamburger

  • 320 gallons for a small steak

  • 50 cups for a teaspoon of sugar

  • 37 gallons for a cup of coffee

  • 66 gallons for a glass of wine/beer

  • 530 gallons for a brandy

  • 1200 gallons (assuming 50 gallons/bathtub) to grow 9 ounces of cotton



Pearce talks about the relative water consumption of various human activities:

  • drinking: 265 gallons (1 ton)/year

  • home use: 50-100 tons/year

  • food and clothing: 1500-2000 tons/year


That makes clear that the bottleneck is clearly food and clothing, and that becoming vegetarian might actually be the best way to conserve water.

While I was walking home last night, I came to the minor realization that if we treat the human-earth relationship as a complex system, then some resource will always be the bottleneck. Pearce's book implies that it as water; the more obvious candidate (from a public perspective) has been energy (oil).

Water conservation

I've been reading When the Rivers Run Dry. An utterly frightening book about how humanity has done a bang-up job of ruining many ecosystems, and how we are utterly dependent on water in ways that most of us do not comprehend.

An interview with Fred Pearce, the author, sums up most of the issues discussed in the book.

Safran

Safran
is a good restaurant in Chelsea. We had sole, a bouillabaise, and sauteed chive flowers. They had a good selection of vegetarian entrees, and the dessert we had (sorbet with a white chocolate covering) was quite tasty. Thumbs up!

Sichuan food

Grand Sichuan is our favorite Chinese restaurant in Manhattan. Very tasty stuff!

Jonathan Coulton

Code Monkey was on NPR this morning, as part of an interview with Jonathan Coulton. He recorded a song per week. Pretty amusing!

William Bernstein

The Intelligent Asset Allocator is another worthwhile book to read about how to allocate financial assets. As with all sensible books, it recommends:

  • Diversification

  • Regular rebalancing to a fixed allocation

Thesis writing

Apparently you can buy anything these days, even a thesis! What has the world come to....

Deadwood

Deadwood is an HBO series that we are watching on DVD. We saw the first episode a few nights ago, and it was quite good!

Mindset

Mindset, by Carol Dweck, is a fascinating book about how one perception's of human abilities strongly affects one's ability to perform. It agrees with some of the research that I've heard about with respect to minority students, where students who are reminded of the stereotypes of their race perform more like the stereotypes. It's kind of scary how easily we humans can be manipulated, even unconsciously by ourselves!

Hoop Dreams

Hoop Dreams is a fantastic documentary from the early 1990's about two boys growing up in Chicago who were very good basketball players, and their experiences in high school. It is very moving, and Roger Ebert even called it the best film of the 1990's.

Here is a Washington Post article that talks about the two protagonists in 2004.

Google Analytics

Google Analytics is pretty neat. I instrumented my blog and home page with it so that I can measure if there is any interest in reading it. Curiously, I'm getting a few hits a day! If you're one of those readers, welcome.

The Iraq Occupation

The Prince of the Marshes by Rory Stewart is an excellent read, and summarizes the differences between incompetent bureaucrats and relatively effective administrators. I loved the quotes from Machiavelli that introduced many of the chapters. This book was particularly good because it was written by a Brit: he has a far greater understanding of history than most of us Americans.

Too bad the Bush administration didn't understand (and maybe still doesn't understand) that effecting governmental change takes a skilled bureaucracy and not just propaganda.

revolution in string instruments

NY Times article on modern string instruments

Fascinating. I wonder what it would be like to play on one of these instruments?

After the Thin Man

After the Thin Man was quite entertaining. Netflix is an excellent way of getting a hold of these old movies!

Scooby Doo!

From Around NY


We went to see the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons the night before the parade. It was quite fun, and there must have been tens of thousands of people there! Scooby Dooby Doo!

The Thin Man

The Thin Man was recommended to us by my friend Sanjay. Excellent film! The dialogue had a modern feel, much like His Girl Friday. And as a bonus, it was set in New York City.

dessert

We walked by a fascinating dessert place: Rice to Riches. They serve rice puddings! It was quite crowded in the store. If we hadn't been so full from dinner in Chinatown, we would definitely have tried some of their pudding.

There is a limit of 500 rice puddings per customer.

Asia Society

We went to see an exhibit on the Liao Dynasty at the Asia Society Museum. Yet another museum with free admission on Friday nights in New York! An interesting exhibit, if somewhat small.

The Asia Society Museum also had an exhibit of modern Asian-American artists, which I found to be pretty uninteresting.

One amusing item: there was a piece by a Hong Kong artist named Wilson Shieh!

Zabar's

We finally made it to Zabar's. It was utterly packed; there's almost no room to wander around in there! Quite a selection of interesting food.

Little Manhattan

We watched the movie Little Manhattan. Pretty good story about childhood infatuation/love, told by a adult-voiced child.

squash

Here's a great web site with videos of squash matches. Fantastic playing!

Jonathan Strange

I tried to read the massive tome Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but it was just too dry. It is imaginative and fascinatingly detailed, but it just did not grab me.

Infernal Affairs

Infernal Affairs is the Hong Kong B movie upon which Martin Scorsese's new movie The Departed was based. We watched this tonight, and it was not that good: however, the ending was a better ending than that of The Departed.

Chamber music

Music at Marlboro played at the Met. Outstanding concert: the performance of Brahms' songs for mezzo, viola, and piano, was truly magnificent.

Lily Francis, violin
Miho Saegusa, violin
Eric Nowlin, viola
Katie Kadarauch, viola
Marcy Rosen, cello
Ieva Jokubaviciute, piano
Tamara Mumford, mezzo-soprano


Beethoven—Folk Songs for Voice, Violin, Cello, and Piano
Brahms—Zwei Gesänge, Opus 91 for Mezzosoprano, Viola, and Piano
Bartók—String Quartet No. 4
Mozart—String Quintet in D Major, K. 593

Tamara, Ieva, and Eric performed the Brahms. The rest of concert was quite impressive (the Bartok 4 was sparkling), but the Brahms is the performance that I will remember.

Narnia

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was a mildly entertaining movie. But it certainly was not that good a movie. Perhaps if I were as young as I was when I read the book, I would have enjoyed a great deal more.

Stephen Brust

I managed to read through Dzur. Overall, it is an entertaining book, but after waiting so many years for this series to continue, it was also somewhat of a disappointment. Too little payoff (too few questions answered), and too many questions added.

Vegetarianism

I managed to finish Peter Singer and Jim Mason's book The Way We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter while on an airplane to CA. It's a very disturbing book, and is a good followon to The Omnivore's Dilemma. I've been trying to shift my diet away from meat, and this book provides a lot of good reasons why I should try and continue.

Everything is Illuminated

Everything is Illuminated

This movie was pretty good! It had some wonderful moments, although it also felt very slow at points. It was weird to see Frodo, and the moment where he is given his grandfather's first wife's wedding ring was just too funny! I wouldn't have cast him in that role, just to avoid that moment of hilarity.

Fooled by Randomness

Fooled by Randomness, by Nassim Nicholas Taleb

I read through this book quickly. Interesting philsophically, but it rambles and doesn't get to any points, other than to attempt to impress the reader with the depth and breadth of the author's reading.

Bouchon Bakery

We went to the Bouchon Bakery, which has some great pastries. It is run by Thomas Keller, one of the most famous chefs in the US. Yummy!

International Center for Photography

The ICP had a show called Ecotopia. Friday nights are free, which is good, because the museum isn't that large. We spent an hour looking at the photos and videos, some of which were reasonably compelling.

The Kite Runner

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini

I finished this book today while waiting for our car to get repaired. Quite a good read, with some very moving passages; I felt like weeping several times in the book. I recommend the book highly: the only weakness was near the end, when the events of a decade were telescoped down into a few dozen pages, and there was a little too much use of flashback.

The Departed

The Departed

What an excellent movie! Not sure what else to say: good writing and acting. Leonardo di Caprio was fun to watch, as was the rest of the fine cast.

The City of Falling Angels

The City of Falling Angels

Over vacation I listened to this book on tape. Fascinating story about Venice and a lot of fascinating Venetians.

Interesting art at the Met

From Around NY


We went to the Met today and saw some interesting exhibits. One was of art that passed through the art dealership of Vollard. Another interesting work in the exhibit of Chinese calligraphy was this piece. Can you read it? Hint: the plaque at the bottom of the photo tells you what it says.

Larry Swedroe

What Wall Street Doesn't Want You to Know,
Rational Investing in Irrational Times,
The Successful Investor Today.

Interesting books that I've been reading over the last few weeks, although they all effectively say the same thing.
A few points of note:
1. Swedroe indicates that one should not use bond funds. It is not clear if means that investors should avoid actively managed bond funds, or whether they should avoid all bond funds. One of the arguments that Swedroe makes is that you may lose principal value in a bond fund, but the academic literature indicates that principal doesn't matter: it is the income stream that it generates. In addition, rebalancing while holding individual bonds can be difficult while maintaining the desired maturity. Vanguard article on these issues.

2. Swedroe indicates that one should invest in short-term bonds (duration about 1 year). This may conflict with what David Swensen says about bonds, which is that one holds treasury bonds to protect against deflation/economic disasters. Short-term bonds do not provide as much protection against deflation as intermediate-term bonds.

Food

We ate the Hampton Chutney Company and Room 4 Dessert tonight. The Chutney Company has some interesting non-traditional dosas. We had one spiced potato dosa, which seemed authentic (at least to my palate), and one portobello mushroom dosa, which is certainly an interesting take. We enjoyed it a great deal.

Room 4 Dessert is a fascinating little dessert bar. Each dessert is over 10 dollars, and the one we had was a tiny little glass with coconut juice, black sesame gelato, and a raspberry mousse. Interesting, but a little too expensive to go frequently.

Mutual fund costs

Mutual fund real cost calculator

This calculator gives investors a great way of evaluating how efficient their mutual funds are. Most are not!

Climate change

An Inconvenient Truth

Al Gore's book is frightening: in particular, the pictures that show how much glaciers have receded in the last quarter-century. I remember going to Glacier National Park 10 years ago, and there seemed to be lots of snow; but certainly less than was shown in the pictures from the 1970's.

Outsiders

Outsiders, directed by Francis Ford Coppola

We watched this film over the weekend. Interesting movie, especially given all of the big-name movie stars that appeared in the film. Ming liked the movie better than I did, I think; I found it a little overly sentimental/melodramatic. Still, it was entertaining.

Tales of the City

Tales of the City

Since Ming likes San Francisco so much, I thought she would enjoy watching this series. We've been watching bits and pieces of the first DVD and finally finished it today. I read these books many years ago, and I have to admit that I don't remember any of the story.

Marriage


What Shamu taught me about a happy marriage


I read this article a while ago, and just heard an interview with the author on WNYC this morning on the Brian Lehrer show. Apparently this article is the most emailed article in the NY Times.

ETFs

ETF guide

This web site is pretty informative about how to use ETFs for investing. One problem I have with a lot of web sites that talk about ETFs is how it talks about tax loss harvesting every year. If I read these sites correctly, they suggest various ways to get around wash sale rules: it seems to me that anything that tries to maintain the same level of risk and still get around the tax code verges on being declared illegal by the IRS.

Corpse Bride

Corpse Bride

This film was short and entertaining, if a little predictable at the end. I was amused by all of the cinema references. I can only remember two:

  • Remains of the Day

  • Victor, Victoria

Bogle on capitalism

The Battle for the Soul of Capitalism

Interesting book about how corrupt corporations and the financial services industry have become. Bogle's thesis is that both corporations in general and the financial services industry in particular have stopped doing their fiduciary duty, and instead are exploiting their control (as managers) over money. Given the excesses of the last few years, it is hard to argue with him.

Neverwhere

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman.

I read this over the weekend: overall, an entertaining book. He is a fun writer, and he loves to toss in allusions to old myths (most of which I probably did not catch). The ending of Neverwhere was satisfying, too, unlike that of American Gods.

The wonder of NYC

Overheard in NY

Here's a fun site, with lots of pithy quotes. These quotes show why NY is so much fun!

Boogie Nights

Boogie Nights

An entertaining movie filled with lots of great actors. The soundtrack was quite fun to listen to: reminded me a lot of my childhood. It's an odd coincidence that Mark Wahlberg has been in the last two movies I've watched on Netflix.

Financial Advice

Altruist Financial Advisors Reading Room

Here is a great source of financial advice. There are a bunch of dense readings to get through, but I learned some interesting points:

  • Tax-deferred investments should be weighted (or more precisely, deweighted) by the expected tax rate upon withdrawal.

  • It might actually be better to buy a bond mutual fund rather than individual bonds. The Admiral-class bond funds from Vanguard seem to have great pricing structure: their returns are within a few basis points of recently auctioned Treasury notes.

  • Keeping bonds in tax-deferred accounts is desirable, given that all income is taxed at normal rates. Of course, this is offset by the fact that real-estate investments distribute even more income as dividends.

  • Non-Vanguard ETFs may not be as tax-efficient as VIPERs. Redemptions of VIPER Creation Units enable Vanguard funds can purge portfolios of low-cost-basis stocks; redemptions of normal share classes enable them to realize capital losses. In addition, because Vanguard funds have held their stocks for a while, their dividend distributions all qualify for capital-gains treatment.

Why We're Fatter - Five reasons you haven't thought of. By Sydney Spiesel

Why We're Fatter - Five reasons you haven't thought of. By Sydney Spiesel

I don't know if I agree with this article, but it does raise some interesting questions about weight gain.

Four Brothers

Netflix: Four Brothers

I watched this movie last night. I found it quite entertaining---which doesn't mean it was great art, but that I enjoyed how over-the-top it was. The most amusing scene was when the main characters fought off a small army armed with automatic weapons.

The Clan Corporate


The Clan Corporate (The Merchant Princes, Part 3)


Charles Stross is an impressive writer in many ways, but the in-and-outs and twists-and-turns in this novel made me a little tired. I wound up skimming most of the book, which doesn't really resolve anything and leaves everything hanging for the next book. Satisfying in terms of plot, unsatisfying in terms of character development and ending.

The House of Morgan


The House of Morgan: An American Banking Dynasty and the Rise of Modern Finance


I decided to attempt this book after we visited the Morgan Library a while ago. I've been reading bits and pieces, and am as close to done as I'll ever get, I suspect. It is an impressive piece of scholarship, and has some very interesting stories about the parts of history that we never learn about "in school". It is also interesting to see how the Morgans will integral to the rise of modern financial institutions as well as modern finance.

V for Vendetta

V for Vendetta (2005)

Interesting movie; not nearly as good as Alan Moore's comic book, which is much more deeply political and a tighter story. I enjoyed parts of the movie, but overall it is was too predictable (and not just because I had read the comic book). In the comic book, V's destruction of the Finger, the Voice, the Eye, and the Ear were far more interesting to see.

I liked seeing Ben Miles, who was Patrick in the British TV series Coupling.

Flight pricing comparison

FareCompare.com

An interesting website: it looks like several startups are starting to play in this arena. Having historical data about airplane fares is bound to save consumers money and put downward pressure on airline stock prices.

Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street: Books: William Poundstone

Amazon.com: Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street: Books: William Poundstone

An entertaining book, in that it ties together organized crime, gambling, academic economics, information theory, and hedge funds. The writing felt a little light, though: there was a lot of name-dropping, with the presumed expectation that the reader has heard of everyone before. (Interestingly, the book mentions that "John Koonmen" managed to lose 1.4 billion dollars in his overleveraged hedge fund. I believe that I lived in the same dorm as John when I was in college.)

I still don't understand the underlying controversy in academia over Kelly's criterion. It seems like a sensible betting strategy, but extremely dangerous to use in modeling one's retirement savings. As one nears retirement, the goal should be to preserve capital while not suffering from inflation, and Kelly's criterion certainly does not do that.

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

Good Night, and Good Luck. (2005)

An excellent movie that demonstrates how much influence one person can have. Overall, it felt a little detached (maybe because it was filmed in black and white), but still had some real intensity when the camera was on David Strathairn.

The Dark Tower Official Web Site

The Dark Tower Official Web Site

I read the first book in this series, and I guess I'm just getting old: I really didn't "get" it. I then started the second book in the series, and it bored me. Oh well.

Explaining TIPS

Morningstar.com - Don't Let Volatility Drive You Away from TIPS

Here is a useful article about TIPS, which explains a fair amount.

The Four Pillars of Investing : Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio: Books: William J. Bernstein

Amazon.com: The Four Pillars of Investing : Lessons for Building a Winning Portfolio: Books: William J. Bernstein

I've been reading through this book, and it's a fantastic explanation of why diversification and asset rebalancing is a powerful idea. I don't think I would choose a complicated mix of assets to diversify across, though; I like David Swensen's simple allocation much better.

Walk the Line (2005)

Walk the Line (2005)

Overall, an entertaining movie. Joaquin Phoenix put in a great performance: he did a fantastic job of capturing Johnny Cash's voice. Reese Witherspoon was delightful as always, but her voice was too pure to stand in for June Carter Cash's.

A Little History of the World: Books: E. H. Gombrich

Amazon.com: A Little History of the World: Books: E. H. Gombrich

I've been reading this book over the last few weeks. An entertaining, well-told history, if a little overly focused on European history. It is an interesting counterpoint to the American history I learned when I was growing up, which didn't cover much history outside of the U.S.

Hustle and Flow

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0410097/

We watched this movie on DVD last night. It was wonderful, and much better than Crash (in which Ludacris and Terrence Howard also appeared).

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert | Home

Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert | Home

Just finished this book, which is a fascinating tour of modern psychological research. It talks about the trustworthiness of human memory (it isn't), our ability to predict the future (it isn't good), and our understanding of our own emotional reactions (we don't have a good understanding). Much better than Blink than discussing what we know and what we don't know about ourselves.

Brothers of the Head

Brothers of the Head

I went to the NYC premiere of this movie. One of the directors is Louis Pepe, with whom I roomed in college. The movie was quite intense and disturbing, which is probably what they were trying to achieve.

Blink

Blink is one of the more popular books in the public imagination. I quickly read through it. Although entertaining, I just didn't find it to be that profound. The book is centered around anecdotes that demonstrate the following ideas:

  • Humans make a lot of decisions quickly.

  • Sometimes those decisions are very good.

  • Sometimes those decisions are very bad.



He doesn't discuss how we can distinguish between the good and bad decisions, though!

Po Bronson

Po Bronson's Books, Articles, Stories, Scripts, and Projects

Just finished "Why Do I Love These People?" It's a beautifully written book with some moving stories about ordinary people surviving ordinary (and yet extraordinary) difficulties in their lives. It makes me wonder if I could have dealt with all that they have been through.

Such a nightmare

Amazon.com: See No Evil: The True Story of a Ground Soldier in the CIA's War on Terrorism: Books: Robert Baer

Well. Our government is a bureacratic nightmare. Not too surprising, but frightening in its side effects. Does our government reflect society, or is it the other way around? I sure would hate to work in a bureaucracy like one that Baer decsribes.

The Botany of Desire

Amazon.com: The Botany of Desire: A Plant's-Eye View of the World: Books: Michael Pollan

Just finished this book, which was a fascinating read! Beautifully written, thoroughly researched---and it reminds me how central evolution is in understanding nature.

Oh no, our politicians are human!

CNN.com - Bush frustration sparks expletive - Jul 17, 2006

Bush said a swear word. Boy, how naughty. It is a sad state of affairs when "reputable" news organizations consider this news.

Good 'ol prez

Bush’s best moment? Reeling in perch - Peculiar Postings - MSNBC.com

I was catching up on the news, and this quote is frightening and hilarious at the same time.

Airfare prediction

Airfare Prediction Technology Airfare Predictions- Farecast

Here's an interesting startup. Data mining to forecast price movement for airplane fares. I wish I could try NYC!

Government stupidity

Toyota's totally bizarre recall - Jul. 12, 2006

Boy, some bureaucracies sure can be stupid. I guess when I was younger I might have thought that sticking strictly to the rules could be a good idea, but this time it's certainly not.

Medical Malpractice

The Medical Malpractice Myth - Forget tort reform. The Democrats have a better diagnosis. By Ezra Klein

A fascinating article that claims that medical malpractice suits are not the problem with exploding health costs. It is a very plausible thesis; it would be great if I had the time to read the reports cited in this article.

Oil and America

Just finished a rather depressing book, Sleeping With the Devil. It is all about how corruption in Saudi Arabia and the US have fed each other for the last 50 years. It is unclear how much we could do about it, either.

Chihuly: Gardens and Glass

 

Ming and I went with my second cousin TK Chang to the NY Botanical Garden today. Some of Chihuly's work was stunning, although a few pieces were uninspiring at best. This piece, called Persian Chandelier, is remarkable. Posted by Picasa

I took photos of most of the pieces on display.

SCOTUS

Always fun to read about the Supreme Court: Swing for the Bleachers - The tug of war for the mind of Anthony Kennedy. By Dahlia Lithwick

Food, agriculture, and the planet

My friend Max Poletto recommended the book The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan. Ming has been listening to it on CD. I have it on reserve from the library and will read it soon too.

On a related note, Ming noticed that the AAA magazine had an article about the Stone Barns Center For Food & Agriculture, which is not far from New York City.

More bad arguments against net neutrality

Yet another specious argument against net neutrality: Dueling Fools Bear Rebuttal: Net Neutrality [Fool.com: Commentary] June 30, 2006. Alyce Lomax seems to think that the telecoms do not have a monopoly on internet access, whereas in reality I don't see any real competition.

On a slight (but related) tangent, prices are far higher in the US than in other countries, and the bandwidth in the US is not as good. Where I live there is effectively one provider of Internet service, Time-Warner Cable. I assume that they must deal with the telecoms to access the backbone.

More arguments about net neutrality

More bogus arguments about net neutrality, this time from a Motley Fool column: Dueling Fools Bear: Net Neutrality [Fool.com: Commentary] June 30, 2006. I don't understand why such commentators ignore the fact that consumers are already paying for their bandwidth. If the telecoms want to recoup future investments in infrastructure, they should charge the consumers, who should make decisions about whether they want to consume bandwidth.

Net neutrality

Here is one of the worst arguments against net neutrality that I have read. This author seems to think that telecoms should have the right to charge both end users of services and content providers. Apparently a telecom should have the "right" to "compete" with Microsoft by allowing it to use market control in the delivery business to gain a competitive edge in the content delivery business. Such a bogus argument is incredible.

More Action Philosophers!

Comic Book Resources - CBR News - The Comic Wire

A fun-to-read interview with the authors of Action Philosophers!

Yet more David Swensen

An NPR interview with David Swensen.

Superman Returns

Will Superman Fly? - The Hollywood buzz on Bryan Singer's blockbuster. By Kim Masters

We saw the movie last night at Kips Bay Theater, and it was quite entertaining. It felt a bit long-winded and drawn out at times. If it were a standalone movie I would have been more annoyed at the length, but since it is clearly a setup for sequels they needed to "reset" Superman's history.

Kate Bosworth was much better than Margot Kidder. Brandon Routh looks like a clone of Christopher Reeve! Kevin Spacey did a good job of echoing Gene Hackman's half-humorous interpretation of Lex Luthor, but he also did convey a greater sense of evil. I kept expecting Kal Penn to ask for some weed, though.

Real estate data

Zillow.com - Your Edge in Real Estate

Here's an interesting site. See how pricey Manhattan real estate is!

Protect your credit reports from the government

GovTrack: H.R. 3997: Financial Data Protection Act of 2006

This bill is a horrible misnomer. It is not going to help consumers as much as Congress claims it will. US PIRG has a good analysis.

Rain rain rain

History : Weather Underground

We've had 7.67 inches of rain in June 2006. The average is 3.7 inches, so we're doing well (if "well" means soggy...).

More David Swensen

How David Swensen beats the market

Here is a Canadian newspaper article about David Swensen.

More Philosophy

Amazon.com: Books Search Results: Tsai Chih Chung

Some more excellent comics on philosophy/history (Chinese philosophy, to be more specific) have been written by Tsai Chih Chung and translated by Brian Bruya.

Action Philosophers!

Action Philosophers! is one of the best recent intellectual comic books I've seen recently. It's definitely worth a read for those of us who feel embarrassed walking into/out of a comic book store because we're about 25 years older than the target demographic.

Portuguese Tapas in NYC

We had dinner with Pauline at Tintol

155 West 46th Street, New York, NY 10036

The restaurant is between 6th and 7th. Excellent Portuguese food!

As an aside, I formatted this post like this to try and force Google's AutoLink feature on the Google Toolbar to recognize the address. Interestingly enough, when I used "46 Street", AutoLink would not recognize the address.

Picasa Web Albums

I tried Picasa Web Albums for the first time. My album is publicly viewable. It's a pretty good organizer, although I'm not sure if I prefer blogging my photos or putting them all in an album. I guess they are complementary ways of organizing your photographic life.

The Met

We went with Pauline to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What a museum! Posted by Picasa

Financial advice

One of the best books I've read about individual investment strategies recently is David Swensen's Unconventional Success: A Fundamental Approach to Personal Investment. Swensen runs Yale's money, and he has an outstanding performance record. There are several points of interest:
  1. He explains why the mutual fund industry is generally not a great place to invest, because of the many costs involved: trading costs, management costs, and tax costs.
  2. He implies that diversification away from common stocks might be a good thing. Many advisors suggest a 60-70% allocation to stocks, but Swensen gives a "sample" allocation as having around 50% stocks, broken into 30% US, 15% developed foreign markets, and 5% emerging foreign markets.
  3. He states that diversification towards real estate (REITs) and bonds is a good thing. His sample allocation has 20% in real state, 15% in Treasuries, and 15% in TIPS.
  4. He states that municipal bonds and corporate bonds are not useful assets for diversification.
WBUR has an interview with him online.

The Morgan Library

My cousin Pauline came to visit, and Ming and I went with her to the Morgan Library and Museum last night. It is free on Friday nights, and since we only live 5 minutes away, we plan on going again! We saw some outstanding exhibits. Ming really liked the Mesopotamian seals; we wondered if my cousin Jack (who did his PhD on that era) had gotten a chance to see them.

I was amazed at some of the drawings they had, as well as some of the musical manuscripts that they had on display. Unfortunately, we weren't allowed to see the performance hall. Here is an article and picture of the Morgan Library and Museum's hall from the NY Times.

Pauline has her own blog, so I'm sure she will have interesting things to say about her visit.
Jack has a blog too, so maybe I can search his blog about what he has seen in NYC.

Broadway shows

Our friends John and Becky Carter came to visit from Salt Lake City. We saw two shows with them, Avenue Q and The Producers. Outstanding stuff: I had almost forgotten how much fun musicals on Broadway could be!

(Re)-starting a blog

I decided to restart my blogging, to see if it would be a useful thing to do.

I also decided to clean up my web pages (which are still at the University of Utah) and start over with Google Page Creator.

http://wilson.hsieh.googlepages.com

The earlier posts in this blog contain photos from a trip that Ming and I took in February 2005. The photos are from Beijing, China and Hong Kong.

Apple Store

It's the new Apple Store on Fifth Avenue! Geek heaven, I guess. It's a slick eye-catching building, although there's nothing I really want to buy there. I went by this building the night it opened (Ming was on call); there was an hour-long wait, so I didn't bother going in. We walked by the next day. Posted by Picasa