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 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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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, 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.