The Namesake

An interesting movie about the difficulty of adapting as an immigrant to America. It was moving at times, albeit somewhat predictable. The actors who played the mother and father were really quite good.

I haven't read the book on which this movie is based; from what I hear, the movie is quite different than the book. The movie was more about the family, and in particular, the mother; the book is probably more about the son (the "namesake"). I skimmed parts of the book in a bookstore, and I disliked how the director and screenwriter changed around the story. From the DVD special feature on the making of the movie, it was clear that the director had a very different vision of the story than the novel. She certainly did a good job of imposing her view on the story.

Enjoyable, but I would not recommend it highly.


We ate at a nice Italian restaurant called Ottimo for New Year's Eve. It was reasonably pricey, but pretty good food. I had Penne Arrabiatta, and boy was it spicy! The appetizer we ordered (an antipasto plate) was really good. High-quality food, but not cheap.

The Receptionist

The Receptionist was playing at the Manhattan Theatre Club, which is an organization that is devoted to helping young playwrights. The Receptionist is a very creepy play that is set in a strangely ambiguous, Kafka-esque world. The entire play revolves around one simple line, which I can't quite recall, and which would also give away the whole premise if I put it here; so I won't. The play occurs in two short acts: the total running time is about an hour. See it if you can!

My Architect

Louis Kahn was a fascinatingly weird character who produced some marvelous (as well as some remarkably ugly) architecture. This documentary was made by his illegitimate son, and is interesting, if you're into learning about people who are absolutely devoted to their art.

Sweeney Todd

Ah, what a violent concept. And, boy, can Johnny Depp do anything that he puts his mind to? The movie was disturbingly bloody: throats slashed left and right. It was way over the top, but also extremely well done. If you want to see a musical horror movie, this is the one to see!

Age of Rembrandt

We saw the exhibit of the Met's collection Dutch art. It wasn't that exciting: too much of the commentary had to do with the history of the acquisition, as opposed to the history of the art. Plus, I was coming down with some illness, so it was really hard to concentrate on art. But it's always fun to visit the Met!

The Devil in the White City

We had listened to this book on CD a while back, and I finally got around to actually reading the book (I miss a lot of details on CD). This beautifully written book is the tale of the 1893 Chicago World's Fair: it centers around the architects who got it built (led by Daniel Burnham, who also built the Flatiron Building in NYC), and the first known urban serial killer, who preyed upon women in Chicago during that time.

Did you know that Cracker Jack, Aunt Jemima's, the zipper, the Ferris wheel, and the electric dishwasher were all first introduced at that fair? The fair was also the first major demonstration of widespread use of AC electricity. I recommend this book highly.

China Road

Rob Gifford's wonderful book about China describes a trip he took across China. It's a wonderful read, and its clear that Gifford loves China and its people. The most fascinating thing that I learned was that China is more diverse than the government lets on. Gifford says that China today is analogous to the Roman Empire: a motley collection of peoples held together by force. (He also makes the humorous statement that "going out for Chinese food" is analogous to "going out for European food".) All in all, a definite must-read if you're interested in China!

Carnegie Hall Young Artists' Concerts

I went with some friends to hear a master class given by Emanuel Ax, Richard Stolzmann, and David Zinman on various Brahms sonatas. It was entertaining: the F-minor clarinet sonata performed by José Franch-Ballester (clarinet) and
Andrius Zlabys (piano) was great. The other performers were good, but not as well-prepared.

Gimme Kudos

This Chinese movie has English subtitles, which is one of the reasons we took it out of the library. It was an interesting, dark little movie; I was glad that we watched it (although it had enough scratches that we couldn't watch the very end). The movie deals with the conflict between societal pressures in the "old" Communist China, and the new modern China. It is pretty funny at times (my Chinese is good enough to appreciate that), but it isn't really a comedy. I give it a solid "thumbs-up".


Waitress is a charming film (which gains some resonance because this was the last film made by actor/writer/director Adrienne Shelly). Somewhat predictable, but filled with charming writing, beautiful pies, and a great cast. Keri Russell did a great job as the lead character. Nathan Fillion seems to pop up in a lot of movies these days (he was on Firefly); he's always fun to watch. Jeremy Sisto was great as the psycho, narcissistic husband; and Andy Griffith was charming as the grumpy old man.

Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko is an interesting cult thriller/science fiction/growing-up story. Lots of recognizable Hollywood stars: the lead actor is a young Jake Gyllenhaal. Creepy and mysterious, it's definitely worth watching!

Interesting fact mentioned in the movie: Donnie's teacher says that a linguist claimed that

Cellar door
is the most beautiful phrase in the English language: that person was Tolkien.

The Queen

No, not Freddy Mercury. Helen Mirren as Queen Elizabeth. A fine movie, if a bit dry and not very exciting. And also predictable, given that it is based on real historical events. Still worth seeing, though.

Sheet music

This online store, Sheet Music Plus, seems to be one of the better places to find/purchase classical sheet music.

Economics humor

The video presentation of this paper is pretty funny, and worth watching.

The author, Yoram Bauman, apparently has given up a tenure-track position teaching economics, and now is a standup comic. Or, as he puts it, a "standup economist". You can see some of his routines on the web, of course!

Rome Season 2

We reluctantly finished watching the end of HBO's TV series Rome. Such fine television; it's too bad that all of the really well-written stuff seems to only on HBO!

One If By Land, Two If By Sea

Michelin-rated restaurant. Excellent food! They are celebrating their 35th anniversary this year, and were giving away $35 gift certificates. So we thought it would be worth a visit. Set in a building that apparently was owned by Aaron Burr, the ambience was spectacular. Not-to-loud lounge music from a grand piano, excellent service, and some revolutionary-war-era decorations. And the food was simple and fine!


Mauritius by Theresa Rebeck played at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Great cast, including F. Murray Abraham and Bobby Canavale. The star of the production was Alison Pill. The writing was not the best, but the play had some wonderful moments. F. Murray Abraham's soliloquies were a delight, in particular. Overall, it was definitely worth seeing, and good entertainment. But profound it was not.


Subwayland by Randy Kennedy is a collection of articles about the NYC subway that apparently were originally published in the NY Times from 2001-2003. They feel a little dated, but still are fascinating stories about the culture that exists around, in, and about the subway system.

No Reservations

This movie was also showing on the flight home. It was a predictable romantic comedy, and was entertaining to the extent that Catherine Zeta-Jones is beautiful. Abigail Breslin (the little girl from Little Miss Sunshine) was cute, but the role wasn't that well written and developed. Oh well, it kept me awake on the plane, at least.

The Magnificent Seven

Interestingly, The Magnificent Seven was playing on the plane from London to JFK. This movie is one of my favorites, and so I had to watch it again. A magnificent soundtrack; fine cast; good script (adapted from Kurosawa's Seven Samurai); and stunning cinematography. One of the best westerns ever made!

Medici Money

Medici Money by Tim Parks is a fun book about the beginning and end of the Medici bank. It digresses marvelously into discussions about the origins of humanism; the interplay of art, money, and religion; the political situation in Italy; and lots of fascinating other tidbits. It's an entertaining read about an interesting period in time.

E.G. Bührle Collection

After taking a break, I wandered over to the E.G. Bührle Collection. This private collection was made open to the public after the owner passed away, and it resides in a lovely 3-floor house. He was a major industrialist/art collector, and the collection has some magnificent pieces in it. I wish I could have taken some photos! I was the first one in the door when they opened at 2PM local time, and the house was virtually empty for the entire 40 minutes that I was there. If I weren't exhausted after flying to Europe (and walking around Zurich), and if a whole busload of people hadn't entered around 2:30, I would have stayed a lot longer.


I got off the plane at 7:15AM (Zurich time), and need to stay up today until evening so that I can force myself onto a normal schedule in Europe. So, after checking into a hotel, I wandered around Zurich and found my way to the Kunsthaus. It's a pretty good museum. Two of the more memorable pieces were 2 large two-paneled paintings by Monet. I'll have to upload some pictures after I get back home.

There was a special exhibition of Felix Vallotton's work, which was interesting: I learned something!


There's only one thing good about being sick. Well, maybe not a whole thing, but half a thing: getting to watch stupid TV while recuperating. I watched an episode of Reaper, which is hilarious! Ray Wise as the devil; it's very reminiscent in a weird way of his role in Twin Peaks. But maybe I've been just reading too much about the new Twin Peaks DVD set that just came out...

Flags of Our Fathers

Flags of Our Fathers is a fine movie. Although this was the first of a pair of movies from Clint Eastwood, this was the second one that I saw. This movie makes a point of illustrating the different needs of individual soldiers, the army, the government, and the populace. Extremely well done, although I still think that Clint's westerns are his best work.

Funny Face

We watched Funny Face, with Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. It certainly had a "vintage" look! The star of the production was Kay Thompson, I'd have to say: she certainly had the best voice of the 3 primary actors.

This was not a great movie, but it was worth watching for the visuals. It is also amazing how exotic Paris must have been 50 years ago.

Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations

Knowledge and the Wealth of Nations by David Warsh is a fine read. It covers the history of economics from the point of view of interrelationship between economic growth and the advancement of knowledge. Apparently it was not until the early 1990's that the development of knowledge was explicitly modeled by economists as an important part of the real economy: prior to that, knowledge was outside of economic models (partially due to tractability of the models, I guess).

In any case, this book is an exciting intellectual tale of how economics developed; I recommend it highly.

Stephen Colbert on Meet The Press

MSNBC Video > > by date > page 1

Stephen Colbert for President! Yee ha!

Albus Dumbledore outed

Dumbledore is gay, 'Harry Potter' author reveals -

Wow, what news!

Buy a T-shirt.

Remember The Milk

Lifehacker had a post on Remember The Milk, a web-based application for managing tasks. It's pretty well-done!

Food psychology

I finished the book Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell. Fascinating book: the web page also has a link to his blog. I recommend this book highly. Some interesting factoids from the book:

  • Our bodies do not notice differences of 100 calories/day. So the easiest way to lose weight is to eat <100 calories less per day, and you'll lose 10 pounds in a year.

  • Easy-to-get food gets eaten. The easier, the more it is eaten.

Babette's Feast

Babette's Feast won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1987. I remember when it came out, but I never got around to seeing it until now. I don't think it's aged very well; although it was a nice movie to watch, the pacing didn't feel right, and it seemed all very predictable.

Michael Clayton

Michael Clayton is a fine movie: great writing and great actors. I have to agree with one of the reviewers of this movie on Rotten Tomatoes, though: it was entirely compelling to watch the movie, but it wasn't as satifsying after it ended. Maybe the ending was just a little too easy/happy/contrived. Despite that flaw, though, more movies should be this good.

Letters From Iwo Jima

Letters From Iwo Jima was a great movie: I almost wish I had seen it on a big screen, but the intimacy of a TV was almost acceptable, given the nature of the emotions on display. Definitely worth watching!

The Awful Truth

Cary Grant and Irene Dunne are great in The Awful Truth. I prefer His Girl Friday for sheer pleasure in dialogue (both in the writing and in the delivery). But this was still delightful in a different way: the subtlety was quite refreshing, given modern cinema.

The Phillips Collection


The Phillips Collection
is wonderful: the first modern art museum in America. It was free, too, since there were no special exhibitions and we went on a weekday! This Renoir (Luncheon of the Boating Party) is their most famous piece, and one of the docents explained some interesting things about it. I'll let you just admire it, though.
Posted by Picasa

Viggo rules

Eastern Promises was a fine movie and definitely worth watching. Viggo was great, and he works really well with David Cronenberg. I thought this was better than A History of Violence, but maybe that's because urban settings attract me more than farm country. For some reason I thought that Naomi Watts would play a larger role in the plot, but it felt like her character mostly existed to move the plot forward. Kind of like "Who killed Laura Palmer?" or "Who killed the Comedian?" (name those stories): secondary stories/plot devices that suck you in to the main story.

15 Minutes of Fame


Well, not really "fame". When we were walking around DC, this fellow asked us to take his picture, so I obliged. Since I took the picture, I thought it deserved to be published. Why not?
Posted by Picasa

National Museum of the American Indian

The National Museum of the American Indian is pretty cool architecturally. The exhibition of women's dresses didn't do it for me, though: I just am not that interested in female clothing.

National Gallery

We went to the National Gallery, which had some pretty impressive special exhibitions, as well a pretty good permanent collection. One of the notable pieces in their collection is the only Leonardo da Vinci work in the Americas, a portrait of Ginevra de' Benci.

This photo has some of the same enigmatic qualities as the Mona Lisa. The background is also vaguely reminiscent of that portrait, as well.

We saw the following exhibitions:

  • Desiderio da Settignano. Renaissance sculptor. Amazingly beautiful statues!

  • Joseph Mallord William Turner. This exhibition will be at the Met in summer 2008, so we'll get to see it twice. Amazing collection of a ton of paintings; I wish I could have taken some photos. I wish I knew how Turner made his oil paintings shimmer like watercolors.

  • Edward Hopper. This was a pretty large collection of Hopper's paintings, including the famous Nighthawks.

National Portrait Gallery

The National Portrait Gallery has some fascinating historical paintings. Three that I found particularly interesting, mostly because their names are so important in certain cities: John Jacob Astor, David Rittenhouse, John Singleton Copley. Can you tell who is who?

International Spy Museum

I decided to pony up $15 or so and go through Operation Spy at the International Spy Museum. It was mildly entertaining: more kid-oriented than I would have hoped, and given that the group I wound up in had only 2 kids, not as much as it would have been with either all adults or mostly kids. Amusing, though!

Red Dust

I finished Red Dust, by Ma Jian. The book is a memoir of the author's travels through rural China near the beginning of China's transformation to a modern economy. Very disjointed writing, without much obvious structure; nonetheless, I found it to be a fascinating read.

Same Time Next Year

Netflix is fun: it enabled us to watch the old Alan Alda/Ellen Burstyn film Same Time Next Year. The movie was based on a play, apparently. It was a bit overly sentimental, but it had some really good moments. Seeing the characters change over 25 years was pretty interesting, although the changes seemed exaggerated compared to "real life".

Evan Almighty

I got to watch Evan Almighty on my flight back to NY. Again, no sound, so I had to guess at the plot: which wasn't too hard. There were a few hilarious scenes; probably worth getting on DVD, but I'm glad I didn't pay to see this movie in the theater.

Trilogy flight

On a cross-country flight I got to watch (without sound, since I wasn't going to pay for bad movies) Spiderman 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Neither was particularly interesting except as a diversion from a long flight. Spiderman in particular seemed pretty bad: it was an utter mess of storytelling, and I couldn't even hear the sound! Or maybe the lack of sound made it obvious how bad the movie was...

The Pirates sequel was harder to follow without sound, but the basic storyline didn't really matter much anyway. Lots of crazy plotlines and backstabbing, with some over-the-top action sequences.


I quickly watched Jet Li's Fearless. Like most kung-fu movies, it was overly sentimental with a pretty predictable plot. Some good fighting, though! And apparently it is loosely historical in nature. I wouldn't have felt good paying $10 at the movie theater to watch it, but on DVD it wasn't too bad.

Justice League

I skimmed through the rather lame Justice League: Paradise Lost DVD. Some mildly entertaining video adaption of the comic, but it wasn't actually very good. They have really depowered Superman, and the annoying bickering between Green Lantern and Hawkgirl was kind of stupid. Oh well, I didn't actually expect much, but I was hopeful.

NYC drive-in

We walked by a fascinating little place: a 6-person drive-in theater (complete with convertible) called GrandOpening. Really interesting!

Mexican food in NYC

We ate at Mole, on the Lower East Side. Outstanding food! They had some "holiday" food to celebrate September 15, which is when Mexico began its revolution against the Spaniards in 1810. One dish was a Chiles en Nogado that was wonderful to eat. I wish I could remember the names of the other dishes. They made a guacamole at table-side that was excellent!

The Brave One

I've been seeing ads for The Brave One recently. It looks like one of the WORST movies ever made. What really irks me about this movie is that it portrays a New York City out of the 1970's. New York City is one of the safest large cities in the country, if not the world. So why make a movie where it looks like there are frequent violent crimes? Someone really hates New York at Warner Brothers.

Organic food thoughts

I've been contemplating why organic, vegetarian food is a "better" choice. Reading Peter Singer's books really convinced me to eat less meat. The book To Buy Or Not To Buy Organic really bothered me, though: the implication of many books of its ilk is that any pesticides (and similar poisons) are bad, in any amount. However, we've been using pesticides pretty consistently throughout the 20th century, and not everyone gets weird diseases due to pesticides. It does seem like certain kinds of diseases seem more prevalent, but there is certainly no proven link between tiny doses of pesticides and diseases (like cancer) late in life. Now, that doesn't mean there isn't a link, but it makes me really uncomfortable when people argue that there must be a link. I think the real reason to avoid pesticides (when possible) is that they are typically linked to monoculture farming and environmental degradation.

Deadwood Season 3

Wow: the end of Deadwood. I think this some of the best TV I've ever seen; pretty comparable to Battlestar Galactica in quality. Great writing and acting, with some fascinating characters. I'm really disappointed that the series is over, but what can you do? Rumor has it that there will be a movie to wrap things up. Ian McShane is spectacular as Swearengen!

Howl's Moving Castle

I watched Howl's Moving Castle, which is a beautiful movie. I haven't read the book, so I can't evaluate the merits of the movie versus the book. However, I enjoyed the weirdness of Hayao Miyazaki. Quite entertaining, if odd and slightly predictable.

US Open

I figured that since I live in NYC, I should go see the US Open at least once. A friend was psyched to go as well, so we trudged out to Flushing Meadows for some quarterfinal matches at night. Fantastic stuff!

Venus Williams beat Jelena Jankovic in the first match, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4). It was a seesaw battle, and I really thought Jankovic would win. Venus was attacking, attacking, attacking, and was really sloppy: if she had been consistent she would have destroyed Jankovic. Venus missed lots of shots: low 1st-serve percentage and lots of unforced errors. She did dominate the 2nd set: she broke Jankovic in almost every one of her service games by being aggressive. Venus took control of the 3rd-set tiebreaker quickly, and the match ended pretty quickly.

The Federer-Roddick was riveting tennis, and really close: closer than the score of 7-6(5), 7-6(4), 6-2 would indicate. Roddick had the first break point chance of the match (erased) in the second set. No double faults in the entire match for either player! You had to feel bad for Roddick after the match: he played his heart out, and hit some amazing shots and serves: but Federer was just better...

Roddick serving to Federer

The ultimate pure food

We ate a vegan/organic/raw restaurant called Bonobo's Restaurant, just south of Madison Square Park. The food (particularly the coconut/bell pepper soup) was fantastic, although certainly it was not cheap. For the quality of the ingredients, though, it was understandable: certainly the preparation didn't involve any cooking!


Did you know that the plural of "opus" is "opera"? Ah, Latin.

Anyway, Opus is a wonderful play written by a Oberlin-trained violist who became a playwright instead of a musician. I thought it was wonderfully written, in a style that reflects how people talk in real life. A fine cast, and we were lucky enough to see it on closing night: there was a long wait list to get in!

Organic or not organic: that is the question

Whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous pesticides, or...well, a sad joke. Cindy Burke's book To Buy or Not To Buy Organic goes into why organic doesn't mean what it used to. Big agribusiness has started to co-opt the meaning of the term, and the overheads to certification are becoming onerous to small farmers. How sad. This book is good for telling you what non-organic foods definitely should be avoided, and which have low levels of toxins. Definitely worth a read, if a little extreme at times.

Dead Man's Chest

Pirates of the Caribbean #2 (Dead Man's Chest) was entertaining, if a horribly written film. Why does the Elizabeth character seem to be attracted to Jack Sparrow? Why do they all miss him when he is dead? Weird story, but if you don't pay attention to details the movie is a fun ride. I'm glad I didn't watch this in the theater, though!


War! What is it good for? Well, not quite "absolutely nothing". It was decent entertainment, but certainly not fine film. Very violent with a twist at the end that was apparently predictable; I didn't see it coming, but one of my friends did from the very beginning.

Comfort Diner

We grabbed dinner at the Comfort Diner, which is a pretty good place right near where we live. Pretty good quality food for the price, and I always love diner food anyway.


A friend lent me Sherman Alexie's new book Flight, which is a good read. Structurally, the book felt weird: it reminded me vaguely of If On a Winter's Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino, although of course the subjects and tone of this book are completely different. This book is about rage, impotence, and revenge, and the pain of being an Indian in modern America. Worth reading, and it's pretty short too.

Cuba Cafe

We had dinner at the Cuba Cafe in Chelsea. The web site is funny: it uses the term "Chelsea boys", which is a term that some of our friends explained to us last weekend.

In any case, the food was good, although a tad pricey for the number of calories. But I would go back; in fact, I think I was in this restaurant in 2005, so it seems to have survived pretty well.

Scott McCloud

I got to see a talk by Scott McCloud during his Making Comics Tour. He is an entertaining and intelligent writer of and about comics, and his presentation was extremely fun to watch. I was lucky to see him!


It's a good week for Belgian food, I guess. We went to another Belgian restaurant in NY called Resto. This time we had mussels, which were really quite tender. The food came really slowly, though; we had to complain to get our entrees. Pretty expensive place, but the real problem was that the place was too loud. Crowded, lots of people there for drinks, and a tin ceiling that reflected sound back down into the room. I doubt we'll go back, given our inability to have a conversation.


We had Belgian food at a restaurant in Chelsea called Markt. We didn't have mussels, though. Pretty good food, nice ambience (with big windows opening out onto 6th Avenue), and decent service. Reasonably priced, although not cheap.

Chelsea Art Museum

We wandered around Chelsea this afternoon in the hope of seeing some galleries. Unfortunately, it turns out that the galleries are not open on the weekends...

We were able to go into the Chelsea Art Museum, which was wonderful. Only $6, and they had some pretty interesting stuff. One artist, Federico Uribe, makes animals/jungle scenes out of Puma sneaker parts. Check out the museum's web site: it's pretty astonishing.

The other interesting exhibit was of Miwa Yanagi's photography. She has a pretty interesting way of viewing the world; some of it quite disturbing.


We watched Zodiac on DVD, spread over a couple of days. It's a brilliantly crafted movie by David Fincher, with lots of interesting/recognizable actors and a good script. Despite all that, it just wasn't that compelling. There were a few spooky scenes, since it is never clear which weirdo is the Zodiac killer. But all in all, it's a hard movie to really get into, because there is no resolution, and the main character (the author Robert Graysmith), isn't that interesting or likable: it is never clear why he gets so obsessed with the Zodiac killings.


We had dinner at a place called Kofoo (short for "Korean food"). Pretty inexpensive, and it's probably a good lunch place (it is right across the street from the Fashion Institute of Technology). However, as a dinner place it was kind of unsatisfying, even though the price was good.

Bella Napoli

We had dinner at a good neighborhood Italian restaurant called Bella Napoli. Excellent food, especially given the price: we had dinner for around 30 dollars. I'm sure we'll be going back there.

Bourne Ultimatum

I saw The Bourne Ultimatum on a weekday. I had tried to see it opening weekend, but it was sold out everywhere. Even on a Wednesday night, the theater was 90% full! The movie was a fun ride, and is wonderful entertainment. It certainly is going to continue raking in the money.


I quickly watched 300 on DVD. The comic (as I remember it) was kind of entertaining to read, but the feature film was just kind of boring. It was a much worse movie than Sin City, which at least didn't have any pretense of being anything other than fun. As a movie, the story took itself way too seriously.

New York Burger Company

We ate dinner at New York Burger Company. Good food, and pretty reasonably priced. We got a salad and a burger, and the salad was quite fresh. I'd go back.


I read the graphic novel Shenzhen: A Travelogue from China. Overall, an interesting (but somewhat depressing and non-enlightening) description of a Westerner's view of Shenzhen in the late 1990's. I'm not surprised that the author didn't enjoy being there, although apparently he did not try to learn much Chinese. Not rated highly, but was somewhat interesting.

Clark Brothers exhibit at the Met

We trekked over to the Met to see a special exhibit titled The Clark Brothers Collection. Overall, a fantastic collection of work; these brothers were fascinating people! Sterling Clark (the founder of the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, MA) amassed a huge collection of Renoirs, and some of the ones we missed in Williamstown we saw at the Met. A really worthwhile exhibit!


We had brunch at Mayrose, and although the food was good and reasonably priced, we had to wait forever for our food to come. It must have been at least 15 minutes, and the place was virtually empty! Highly non-recommended as a result.

Cafe Espanol

We ate in the Village at a Spanish restaurant named (appropriately enough) Cafe Espanol. Good tapas, and everyone seemed to be drinking sangria. We did not have any of the latter, though. The paella was quite good, as was the gazpacho. In addition, the prices were pretty good! We'll go back, I'm sure.

Rubin Museum

We went to the Rubin Museum of Art, which covers the broad category of Himalayan art. There was a special exhibit about the Dalai Lama, as well as Wutaishan (a holy Buddhist mountain/temple complex in China). There was quite a crowd of young people there; it seems to be pretty hip! The museum is small, but worth seeing; I would go back for other special exhibits, as the permanent collection does not seem very large.


We ate at Safran again. Good food, which is why we went back. I'd say that the only downside to this restaurant is that the lighting is extremely dim. My eyes aren't what they used to be!

Korean food

We tried a Korean place near Union Square called Dosirak. Pretty good food, although the portions were somewhat small. Prices were reasonable by NYC standards, but the portions were smaller than in Koreatown. The service was mediocre at best: the food came quickly, but I had to go to the counter to order and to pay. I'd recommend the food if you can put up with the other shortcomings.

Harry Potter ends

JK Rowling's Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was fun to read. I thought she did as well as I could have hoped in tying up loose ends, resolving story lines, and coming up with an intricate plot that just kept on going. It almost felt like the latest Die Hard movie: non-stop action (one Horcrux after another). I didn't know how Rowling would have them find and destroy all of the remaining Horcruxes, but somehow she managed to squeeze it all into one volume!

Economics for dummies

Naked Economics by Charles Wheelan is an entertaining explanation of economics for the lay person. I recommend it as a good starting place to read about the basic principles of economics.


We ate burgers at a place called "brgr" (no web site available). Pretty good burgers, but on the expensive side: $20 for the two of us. Great taste, and the burgers were not too large (which I consider a plus, not a minus). However, not cheap, and I almost certainly would never go at lunchtime: I bet it would be way too crowded.


We've had pizza a couple of times from Waldy's, which produces some tasty pizzas. Not too expensive, either: I recommend it highly.

Harry Potter

I've been skimming through the 5th and 6th books of the series (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), in preparation for reading the new book that is due out. I have my own pet theory as to how Voldemort will be killed: after having destroyed the Horcruxes, Voldemort will be destroyed and be forced to flee (or attempt to flee) into Harry's body. (I would guess that the scar will represent the last remnant of Voldemort's power.) However, Voldemort will not be able to abide the force of Harry's ability to love, and will have to let himself die. That's the only plausible theory for why Dumbledore thought Harry can defeat Voldemort with the power of his ability to love.

I also think that Snape will be the one to actually destroy Voldemort's new body: he is the only wizard powerful enough to do so. Harry doesn't have any real experience or power, and the only reason that he has defeated Voldemort several times is that he has always been underestimated by the bad guys.

Well, we'll see!

Antique Cafe

I ate last night at the Antique Cafe with one of my cousins. We both had burgers, which were really good. Unfortunately, it was kind of late, and they didn't have any coffee. For the price, the food was quite good, and the outdoor seating was quite pleasant. The indoor seating is a little noisy because of the music they pipe in.

In and Out

We watched the somewhat-old movie In and Out, which stars Kevin Kline. Lots of Hollywood stars participated in the film. I had hoped it would be a lot funnier, but unfortunately it was a really lame movie with a few good scenes and moments.

Empire Falls

We watched the HBO series Empire Falls. What an outstanding cast! Ed Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffmann, Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman, ... I loved the book, and I can understand why people didn't like the movie that much: it certainly was not as good as the book. But still, it was fun watching some great actors work together.

City Bakery

Yum; we had lunch at a restaurant called The City Bakery. Excellent food, although their web site is annoying. Apparently they are quite green, too, which is a bonus. Their prices are certainly not cheap, but the food quality is quite high! Definitely worth visiting.

Value vs. growth

An interesting article aboutmutual fund risk! The theory is that value companies are exposed to more risk of bankruptcy (no surprise there), which is more "dangerous" (presumably insufficiently compensated-for) than growth companies. So investors should not just invest in value companies (which is not too much of a surprise).

Tre Dici

We had a dinner at a small Italian restaurant called Tre Dici. Really good food, although both of us felt that the food was slightly salty. Then again, we've been eating less and less salt, so maybe the saltiness is normal for restaurant fare (it's certainly consistent with our experience that restaurants tend to oversalt their food). The service was OK, with some attitude. Overall, pretty good, but it's not a destination restaurant.


We wandered by L'Arte del Gelato in the West Village. Quite good, albeit a little pricey. For the quality, it was worth it, but I certainly wouldn't make eating here a habit!

More Yolato

We walked by a Yolato store near where we live. Pretty good dessert, and relatively nonfat.

Live Free Or Die Hard

Yippi-kay-yay! John McClane is back in Live Free Or Die Hard. It is definitely worth watching, and on a big screen. For summer entertainment, it is wonderful stuff, especially if you're a fan of the original Die Hard. Go out and see this movie; now!

It was fun to see Timothy Olyphant as the bad guy (he plays the sheriff in Deadwood) and Justin Long as the hacker kid (he is "Mac" on the Apple TV ads).


We splurged and went to Nobu for dinner. Outstanding food, and although it was quite pricey, it felt worth it. The only minor issues I had were:

  • the restaurant was too noisy: all the surfaces seemed to reflect sound

  • the service was OK, but not great for the price

Overall, worth a meal, though! Don't make a habit of it, or it will break your finances...

Idi Amin

We watched The Last King of Scotland. Forest Whitaker was outrageously good as Idi Amin: and the script really let him show off his ability to portrary the many sides of a charismatic megalomaniac. We were really confused (in a good way) by the movie, in that we thought that it sounded like a true story: it did a really good job of weaving real history into the plot.

Gillian Anderson looked nothing like her character in the X-Files! This movie is definitely worth watching, although there are some really hard-to-watch scenes.

Banana Leaf

We ate a South Indian restaurant called Banana Leaf. Not a lot of food for the money, but it was tasty. We had aloo chaat, which was very good; tandoori chicken, which was excellent, fish mouli, which was acceptable, and peshwari naan, which was very good. Overall, worth eating at!


We ate dinner at a Japanese restaurant called Hanami. Pretty good food: we had the tempura udon and a dinner box. Very good, although not superb; I would go back, given that the prices were pretty reasonable.


Economic markets, that is. John McMillan's book Reinventing the Bazaar covers a lot of the modern economic theory (albeit in a practical manner) about markets. I like his statement that "liberals" oppose the free market and some of the best ideas about how to help poor people, and "conservatives" love the free market so much that they love ideas that would destroy proper market functioning. McMillan keeps coming back to the idea that markets depend on proper government regulation in order to function best: his best example of this is the comparison between Russian shock therapy in the 1990's and China's unprecedented growth during the same time period.

I enjoyed his description of the Tsukiji fish auction in Japan, where $25M of fresh fish is auctioned every morning. My friend Mike Epstein has said that it is quite a sight!


We had lunch at a restaurant called Mayrose. Pretty good food: not top-of-the-line, but given their very reasonable prices, I'm not complaining. They served a good solid breakfast with a variety of choices on the menu; I'm sure we'll be going back.

Galaxy Diner

After theater we went to the Galaxy Diner for some dessert. Pretty good, although it's hard to screw up smoothies!

Grey Gardens

We saw Grey Gardens, the Tony-award winner about the relatives of Jackie O who lived in squalor in a huge mansion in the Hamptons. Although it had some outrageously funny lines, it made me tremendously uncomfortable: the two main characters were neurotic beyond belief (were it not for the fact that they were based on real people). The music was beautiful but not memorable, and the performances were fantastic. We definitely have to watch the documentary Grey Gardens, on which this musical is based!

Saigon 48

We ate dinner at a small semi-Vietnamese restaurant in the theater district, Saigon 48. Pretty reasonably priced, but its menu was more pan-Asian (we had pad thai and Singapore curry noodles). The food was (like most restaurants) overly salty and heavily weighted with meat.

Opera in the subway

We were riding the W train, and a young woman with a powerful voice came into our car and started singing an aria (too bad my opera knowledge is that strong). It was an impressive display of talent! It reminded me of an article about Joshua Bell in the Washington Post.

The Places in Between

I just read Rory Stewart's first book, The Places in Between. What a nut, although an admirable one. He actually walked across Afghanistan from west to east---during the winter, and soon after the fall of the Taliban. Mr. Stewart clearly has no real sense of fear, which was also evident in his second book, The Prince of the Marshes. The writing is not spectacular, but it does make for a compelling read.

Afghan food

While on a trip to Boston, I ate dinner at Helmand, a pretty good Afghan restaurant. The aushak was great, as was the mantwo. Definitely worth a visit, if you like Afghan food!

MIT food

While in Boston I had lunch at Mary Chung (warning: not much of a web site) with dessert at Toscanini's. I realized that I can't be objective about some of the restaurants I used to eat at all of the time: all that I can say
about Mary Chung's is that eating there brought back fond memories, even though they are in a different location than when I was an undergraduate at MIT.

The Paradox of Choice

I read through The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwarz. It talks about how we humans do poorly with too many choices, as we appear to be driven by regret or the anticipation of regret. For example, too many choices can lead to paralysis, possibly due to the fact that the sum of the opportunity costs goes up with the number of choices. Overall, this book covers a lot of the same material that is covered in Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert. The latter was more entertaining; the former more analytical. Of course, as both authors discuss, memories are hardly reliable, so I could be wrong in this comparison!

Central Park in the summer

Central Park is such a joyous place in the summer. Lots of people having fun, enjoying the sun; what else could one ask for?

More of The Bloodless Revolution

I took out The Bloodless Revolution by Tristam Stuart again from the library, and got over halfway through it before I had to return it again. It is a fascinating book; I never realized how much religious belief (in particular, about what Adam and Eve ate in the Garden of Eden) played such a large role in the history of vegetarianism. In addition, the encounter with Hinduism fed into the vegetarian arguments that occurred in the 17th century. All in all, a fantastic read about a period of history that I know very little about: it even sheds light on Isaac Newton and Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

The Astronaut Farmer

On a flight from CA to NY I watched Billy Bob Thornton in a movie called The Astronaut Farmer. I was torn: the movie was both enjoyable and utterly sentimental (in a bad way). In addition, it was totally implausible, and was a little too overtly political. Nonetheless, not a bad movie to watch on a plane. It had a pretty big-name cast---including Virginia Madsen, Bruce Willis, JK Simmons (JJ Jameson in the Spiderman movies)---as well as some lesser lights who were entertaining---Tim Blake Nelson, Bruce Dern, and Jon Gries.

The script would have been better if the story had been set in some a 1950's setting: in a modern-day setting, it was just too implausible.

Al Jazeera

There was an interesting interview on Fresh Air with Josh Rushing. Mr. Rushing was the Marine representative interviewed in the movie Control Room, which was about Al Jazeera's coverage of Iraq. After he left the Marines, he became a correspondent for Al Jazeera. Pretty cool!


I watched Breach on an airplane trip. It was pretty good: good cast, decent plot (even though it was highly predictable, especially since it was based on a real-life events). Certainly a good airplane movie: I'm not sure I would have paid money to see it in a theater, though.

Blood Diamond

Blood Diamond was an entertaining film: and boy, Leonardo DiCaprio was really good. He deserved the Oscar nomination that he got last year, although I actually liked the character he played in The Departed better.

Casino Royale

We watched the new Bond film that came out last year, Casino Royale. It was well-written and well-acted, mostly; the writing became pretty slow and meandering near the end, and as a result was somewhat predictable. After all, why have a long peaceful interlude in a Bond film? Very enjoyable to watch, though: Daniel Craig was excellent.

Vacation in Vermont

We're taking a hopefully well-deserved vacation in Western Massachusetts and Vermont for a few days. I'm using the Google "My Maps" feature to jot down notes about the trip as we go; of course, every hotel/B&B these days provides free WiFi, so this makes it easy! Follow our route here. We saw one outstanding museum on the first day: the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, MA.

Stranger Than Fiction

Stranger Than Fiction was an amusing movie, although not as funny as I thought it might be. But Will Farrell did a good job, and it was hilarious to see Dustin Hoffmann tell him that he had to die for the sake of Emma Thompson's book. Maggie Gyllenhaal was delightful!

Climate change

It's amusing how people are still denying the serious climate changes that are occurring across the world. The NY Times has an interesting article on how climate change is destroying a town in Alaska.


ABC's Lost had a 2-hour season finale that was outstanding. Lots of plot lines revealed, a big flip in story-telling, changes for everyone on the island, what more could one ask for? This season, Lost was the opposite of Heroes: Lost had a relatively slow, boring season with a fantastic finish, whereas Heroes had an interesting season (mostly because of the variety of characters they had to introduce) with a disappointing finish.

Bond investing

The Only Guide to a Winning Bond Strategy You'll Ever Need: The Way Smart Money Preserves Wealth Today by Larry Swedroe has a decent overview of the bond markets for lay investors. I skimmed through it quickly: it doesn't actually provide a real "strategy": just the information necessary to formulate a strategy. So the book could be considered a necessary but not sufficient condition towards developing a reasonable strategy for investing in bonds.


NBC's Heroes had one of the lamer season finales that I have seen in a while. Overall, the season was interesting, but I was severely disappointed by the finale. The writing was just lame: lots of loose ends tied up too quickly with poor justification.

Dim sum

We ate dim sum at a restaurant called Jing Fong, in Chinatown. It was very good quality (although not the very best dim sum we've ever had), and very well-priced. Highly recommended!


We watched Babel on DVD. Interesting film, although it was kind of depressing. I'm not sure why it got so much buzz last year.

Whitney at Altria

We went to see the Whitney Museum at Altria, which is a small (almost tiny) installation space near Grand Central Station. There was an exhibit of Matthew Brannon's art.

The Bloodless Revolution

I got through a few chapters of The Bloodless Revolution, which is a fascinating history of vegetarianism in Western European culture. Unfortunately, the book is quite dry and long, and I wasn't able to finish it before I had to return it to the library. I'll have to take it out again and continue reading...


We finished the first season of Rome. Great TV, although we've been watching it on DVD (via Netflix). So it almost feels like a bunch of short movies.

Monet @ Wildenstein

We saw an exhibition of Monet paintings at the Wildenstein Gallery at 64th Street. It was an astonishing collection of works that are mostly held privately. One startling work was a painting titled A Palm Tree in Bordighera. Overall, a must-see art event!


We went to Momofuku Ssam Bar, a very interesting Korean restaurant. Their signature dish is a ssam, which is a Korean burrito. Yummy food!

Age-Defying Fitness

I've been reading parts of Age-Defying Fitness, by Marilyn Moffat and Carole B. Lewis. It is an excellent book about staying physically fit and healthy while getting older. The book describes many low-impact exercises to improve balance, strength, flexibility, posture, and endurance.

Shake Shack

We had lunch at the Shake Shack, a venerable institution in Madison Square Park. I order a "Shroom Burger", which I assumed was a burger with mushrooms, but turned out to a vegetarian entree: grilled mushroom. Still, quite good!


We had dessert at a place called Yolato, at their location in the West Village. They make something that is a cross between frozen yogurt and gelato. It was quite good, but I still prefer "real" gelato.


We ate at Dani, 333 Hudson Street. Fantastic Italian food, and not exorbitantly priced (although certainly not cheap). We had the wild salmon special, which had 4 dishes prepared with different kinds of wild salmon. Wow, wild salmon is so much better than the farmed stuff!


We watched Volver, a film by Almodovar. He is surely obsessed by female relationships! Volver is a beautiful movie, and definitely worth watching. And who would have thought that Penelope Cruz could be so great?


We ate at a Korean vegetarian restaurant called Hangawi. Excellent food, although not cheap.

Kung Fu Hustle

I wasn't in a great mood last night, so I watched Kung Fu Hustle. I had seen it a while back, but it's still quite funny; it put me in a better mood. The first time I saw it was in Cantonese with English subtitles; this time I watched it with English dubbing and subtitles. Interestingly, the subtitles differed from the dubbing, and the dubbing was funnier: if the dubbing was a literal translation, the original had some very clever lines.

John McPhee: The Headmaster

I quickly read through John McPhee's book The Headmaster. Fascinating portrait of an old-zchool headmaster, Frank Boyden. I bet very few people like him exist anymore.

Most of the interesting parts of the book appeared in the John McPhee Reader, which is one reason this book was so quick to read. Although McPhee's writing is wonderfully elegant, I find his subjects (fascinating and quirky people) more compelling than the writing itself. Although maybe that is because his writing lets the quirkiness shine through...

Thank God You're Here

I caught a few minutes of the show Thank God You're Here, which was pretty funny. Of course, the concept was premiered in Australia, and NBC has just "borrowed" the idea for the show. How non-creative.

Justice denied?

The NY Times has an editorial that raises some disturbing follow-up questions to the problems going on at the DOJ. Apparently some of the non-fired US attorneys may have been pushing cases just for the sake of damaging Democratic candidates; very scary.

Bolivian Baroque

CBS Sunday Morning had an interesting piece about Bolivian Baroque. (The article is a bit older, but is the only link I could find.) Apparently the Indian cultures in Bolivia produced a large number of Baroque compositions (all anonymous) that were discovered several years ago by a priest. Fascinating!


I read an interesting article on variability The Most Dangerous Equation that was published in American Scientist. It discusses the fact that variability in measurement decreases with the square root of the sample size (which is pretty slow), and then gives examples of real-world implications of this fact. For example, Prof. Wainer discusses how small schools maybe come out "better" in most studies because their variability is higher: not only are they among the best schools, they are also among the worst.

Crazy money advice

Robert Kiyosaki has an interesting post here about money. Unfortunately, most of his "advice" doesn't make sense. And his math doesn't either: he estimates that $25000 in 40 years will be equivalent to $250 today. What kind of inflation rate gives a 100-fold decrease in purchasing power in 40 years? Even a 10-percent rate of inflation would only give a 45-fold decrease in purchasing power.

Protect yourself and reduce junk mail is a web site set up by the 3 credit bureaus that lets you permanently opt out of pre-approved credit offers. Highly recommended!

For reference, here is a useful fact sheet about how to get rid of paper junk mail.

And the blind shall see...

There's an interesting article about Matthew Dowd's public admission that George W. Bush's administrator is inept. It sure is hard for us humans to admit our mistakes, isn't it?

Gingrich: how sad

Newt Gingrich has done a great job of rehabilitating his image over the last few years (almost Nixonian). But now he comes out and shows his true colors...

Food problems

I've been reading an apocalyptic book titled The End of Food, by Thomas F. Pawlick. It opens with the most startling information, which is that the nutritional value of most foods has been dropping over the last half-century. The theory underlying this set of facts is that industrial production of food seeks to maximize production, which leads to examples such as overuse of fertilizers (which makes the soil less rich) and grain-fed cows (which leads to lower-quality beef).

Overall, the book presents some interesting information, but I found it a little too over the top. It is somewhat unsurprising that "mass-produced" food is low quality: it will always be the case that the highest-quality food costs much more than many people can afford. I agree with the author that it is very short-sighted of our civilization to misuse natural resources in the way that we do, but all of these implicit decisions are driven by increasing populations.

Future selves

NPR's Weekend Edition had a piece on, which is a site where you can leave messages for your future self. Fascinating idea!

Deadwood Season 2

We finished the second season of Deadwood. What a great series! All of the characters are fascinating, and almost all of them live in that ambiguous zone between good and evil. Powers Boothe's character (Cy Tolliver) is probably the only truly despicable character; it's interesting that he is playing an evil character on 24 this season as well.

Without having done a careful analysis, it feels like this season was mostly centered around Al Swearengen: the end of the season finishes with a shot of him. The first season felt like it was more about Seth Bullock.

Time Warner Center

We grabbed lunch at Bouchon Bakery. Excellent sandwiches, although pretty pricey. It's a good thing we don't get a chance to go there too often.

We then went shopping at Whole Foods. Always an experience, and usually hard on the checkbook...


We went to MOMA to see a few of the exhibitions. One of them was Comic Abstraction. A really funny work is called "Waiting for Jerry" by Juan Munoz: it consists of an small, dark, empty room with a backlit mouse hole: cartoon music is piped into the room.

We also saw through the Jeff Wall retrospective, and the exhibition on Armando Reveron. There were some fascinating paintings in each exhibition, although we weren't overwhelmed by anything in particular.

One of our favorite paintings at MOMA is Andrew Wyeth's "Christina's World":



Flushed , by W. Hodding Carter, is an amusing book. It talks a lot about the author's personal fascination/experiences with plumbing. The funniest anecdote was when Carter tried to manufacture his own lead pipes.

One minor note: this book would have been more interesting if there had been pictures of how different types of toilet work.


We watched a Chinese movie called Sunflower, which was set during the period 1976-1999 in Beijing. (1976 was the year that Chairman Mao died.) The primary plot driver is the conflict between a father and his son. The movie was well done, but kind of depressing and very predictable, and the ending was very unrealistic. I found the movie more interesting because it really demonstrates the economic, social, and physical changes that China has been through in the last 30 years.

Max Brenner

We stopped by Max Brenner, a chocolate store combined with a restaurant of some sort. (I didn't look at the menu.) Pretty good chocolate, but Vere produces higher-quality stuff.

Food Politics

I've slowly been reading Food Politics by Marion Nestle. It's a great analysis of how the food industry has an excessive influence on our government's food policies. The book is worth reading, if depressing. I've had to return it twice to the library already, because I couldn't finish it in 3 weeks; maybe next time I take it out I'll be able to finish it.


We watched Borat, which was both appallingly rude and ridiculously funny. The scenes in New York City were absolutely hilarious, especially on the 4-5-6 train. I didn't think it was as outstanding as some reviewers, but I'm glad I watched it. I can see why it is amazing comedy: "reality" comedy, I guess.

The extras on the DVD were almost funnier than the movie: in particular, the appearances that Borat made on Conan O'Brien and The Tonight Show.

no waste?

Zero waste
: can we achieve it? This article made me wonder how right some economists are that the market will solve problems. Maybe they are right, but the time scale could be wrong for certain kinds of problems.

For example, it could be that we need the doomsayers to move the population to act; they could be the impulse function in reaction to the recognition of a problem (say, global warming). In that metaphor, government and the media act as delay functions. The problem is that if the time needed to act is longer than the delay imposed by the delay function...

John McPhee

I've been reading the John McPhee Reader, which is a collection of excerpts from a variety of his works. He's a fascinating journalist, and I enjoyed reading his writing. It is very dense, though, and he uses technical jargon freely, without defining it (it's up to you to whether this is desirable).

I really enjoyed the excerpts from A Roomful of Hovings. Unfortunately, the NY Public Library doesn't have this book! Some of the other excerpts didn't grab me as much: in particular, I found the story about Monopoly from A Sense of Place fairly awkward in its structure.

Lima's Taste

We seem to have been eating out a lot recently. We went to Lima's Taste, a Peruvian restaurant in the West Village. The ceviche was great (I'm tempted to say outstanding, but I'm afraid I don't have the experience to be an accurate judge of that), but the fried yucca was apparently not so good. Then again, who likes fried yucca? The food was reasonably priced.

Talk Radio

We saw Talk Radio with Liev Schreiber in the starring role. It was the last day that the show was in previews. Liev was fantastic, although there were a few weak moments in the first few minutes of the play.

Hurricanes and NYC

Here's a web site worth looking at if you live in New York City: the city's hurricance preparedness map.


We ate at Pongsri, a Thai restaurant at 165 W 23rd Street. Pretty good Thai food, although we've tended to avoid Thai food for the past few years. Very good service, above average food, average pricing.

Billy's Bakery

Grabbed some dessert at Billy's Bakery last night; it was pretty tasty! Apparently it is pretty well known; I (being a relatively new New Yorker) just learned about it.

Grand Sichuan, redux

I went to the 9th Avenue location for Grand Sichuan. Great food, as always, and very spicy! Good service, and pretty inexpensive for the quality and quantity of food.

Undercover Economist

I read through the Undercover Economist, which is a wonderfully written exposition of why capitalism works: because, as the author says, it reveals "the truth". Overall, I enjoyed it, but I think it is too optimistic about how economics can solve all of our problems:
  • It is all well and good to say that externality pricing reduces the effects of the externality, but how politically easy is it to impose such prices? As we've seen in NY, it is extremely difficult.
  • The book claims that as the standard of living in China has increase, that large-particle pollution has gone down. That may be true, but when I was just in China I felt like the pollution was stifling.
  • The book claims that there is correlation/causation between protectionist policies and intensive farming. I'm not sure I believe that, and the book did not provide a compelling argument as to why that might be the case.

Liars and crooks

This is an interesting interview with two financial crooks. There are lessons to be learned.

49 Up

We watched 49 Up, the latest movie in the series that started with 7 Up. We skipped some of the movies in the middle; I feel like we should go back and watch them. These movies are fantastic pictures of human lives; I just feel sad that some of the characters have declined to participate as they get older. I can understand that each of them would want his/her privacy, but having one's life and thoughts recorded for posterity on film is a great honor.

Purity of Blood

I quickly read through the sequel to Captain Alatriste, Purity of Blood. Overall, I thought that the book is a better book to read on vacation than in my somewhat limited free time. I also thought that the first book was better, since the lack of plot development, the extended descriptions, and the slow pace seemed better suited to the first book in a series.

I did enjoy the depth of portrayal of 17th-century Spain, although I am not in a position the historical accuracy of the extended ruminations on Spain's downfall. However, for fiction I tend to prefer books with more interesting plots or with better character development. Well, I guess you can't expect everything from a novel.


We finished watching the first season of HBO's Deadwood. It is really well done, and quite a pleasure to watch. The casting and writing is quite a pleasure; the characters are all quite interesting and multidimensional.

Inside China

We saw an interesting show on TV called Inside China. The episode we saw talked about a photographer visiting Beijing, and about the 798 building, which is an artists' colony in Beijing.

John Singer Sargent

We literally ran across a show of Sargent's works in Venice at Adelson Galleries called Sargent's Venice. (As we were leaving the Met, we just happened to walk by this gallery.) They had some wonderful watercolors and oils (I was more impressed by the watercolors), most of which came from private collections.

Met talk: Italian Renaissance and the Kremlin

William Brumfield gave a talk at the Met about the influence of Italian Renaissance architects on the construction of the Kremlin. It was quite entertaining, and we learned about the history of Moscow.

The West invades China

Materialism invades China! Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that capitalism has won...


What could be less Western than Ikea?


And look at this: the shopping channel in China, which is selling toy pigs (2007 is the Year of the Pig)!


I finished Veronica, by Mary Gaitskill, on the plane back from China. It is a searing novel, although it ends happily. Its intensity reminded me of The Things They Carried (which is another novel that I read while traveling). I don't know how Ms. Gaitskill accomplished it, but the novel switches back and forth between times seamlessly: there are only a few places where a paragraph's point in time is ambiguous.

Terra cotta soldiers

While in Xi'an, we visited the famous terra-cotta soldiers that were created for the Qin emperor's tomb. Amazing! It was a little disappointing when we learned that all of the items had been reassembled and refired; for some reason I thought that they had been carefully dug out of the ground.

Lucky numbers

Can you tell that this elevator panel is in China? The 13th floor is missing, as is traditional in Western buildings. Note that 4, 14, and 24 are also missing. The number 4 is unlucky because it sounds like the Chinese character for "dead".

Beijing/Los Angeles

After spending some time in Beijing, I decided that LA and BJ should be sister cities. They share many important characteristics of modern cities: traffic, sprawl, and smog. The first two are linked, of course, and contribute significantly to the third.
One noticeable change in China since the first time I went (in 2001) is that the number of cars has increased dramatically. In 2001, bicycles still outnumbered cars in Beijing. In 2007, cars vastly outnumber bicycles.

How different is China?

This shot was taken out of a window in the same building as the Red Gate Gallery. Can you tell that it is in China? I can't.

Red Gate Gallery

I visited a modern art gallery called the Red Gate Gallery. It is next to the Ming City Wall Site Park, inside the building shown in the picture. My favorite painting in the gallery was the one below, Silk Road by Zheng Xuewu.

Chairman Mao

Inside the same building as the Red Gate Gallery were some interesting historical items that depict various periods in Beijing's history. This calligraphy is a wonderful piece of work, and demonstrates the power of Chairman Mao's personality. Too bad I can't read Chinese!

Ming City Wall Site Park

This photo is of a pretty little city park that contains the last remnants of the Beijing city wall. Chairman Mao ordered the entire wall torn down, and this is the last remaining piece, unfortunately; otherwise, it would be a wonderful tourist attraction today! Note the Marriott's odd architecture in the background.


While on vacation in China, I read Turing, by Christos Papadimitriou. The author is a computer science professor at Berkeley (whose theory textbooks are widely used), and this book is really a novel for programmers. Overall, it was an interesting read: it does a good job of explaining the many levels of software and hardware that comprise a computer system. As a novel, I was not so convinced: it tried to hard to be learned, the love story was unconvincing, and the basic mystery of how the Turing AI was created was not discussed.

Vere Chocolate

I bought some chocolate from Vere for Valentine's Day (before leaving for China, of course). They manufacture some wonderful chocolates: not too sweet, like most standard chocolates!

Captain Alatriste

I finished reading Captain Alatriste, by Arturo Perez-Reverte, while on vacation. It was an enjoyable and fast read: very reminiscent of Dumas' novels about the Three Musketeers. I would have like to have read this book in the original Spanish (if I could read Spanish, that is).
Highly recommended light reading!

Animal Liberation

I finished Animal Liberation, by Peter Singer while on a plane to China. The book presents a compelling argument as to why we should not eat animals. Although it is not the primary reason I am eating more vegetarian, it certainly lends philosophical support. I have found it difficult to entirely give up meat, especially when we were on vacation in China. I suppose that the primary reason for this is that our society has evolved to use meat as a means of displaying wealth, since meat used to be relatively rare. As a result, large celebratory meals often have a fair amount of meat. Since we were in China for Chinese New Year, we had several such meals!

Emotional Intelligence

I've been reading parts of Daniel Goleman's book Emotional Intelligence.
Wikipedia has an interesting discussion about this topic. Overall, it talks about a lot of commonsense stuff, but maybe that's easy to see in hindsight. Some of the claims in the book about how society was deteriorating seem completely overblown: the book implies that a lack of emotional intelligence was responsible for many societal ills.


We saw Company, which is a great musical. It should win lots of awards! Each member of the cast sings and plays at least one instrument, modulo the lead and one other character. The music and songs were good (some were memorable), but they weren't extraordinary. Some of the actors were amazing, though. The singer who played the lead role (Bobby), Raul Esparza, has a wonderful voice. The singer who played the oldest female role (Joanne), Barbara Walsh, was simply stunning.

Nutrition information

Here's a useful table that summarizes how much information various restaurant chains provide online about their meals. Very interesting: I wouldn't have thought, for example, that Chipotle would do such a poor job.

Pan's Labyrinth

We watched Pan's Labyrinth, which was a beautiful film. I still can't figure out whether it was more of a fairy tale or more of a war movie. Of course, we Americans can't relate to the Spanish Civil War in the same way that Spaniards would, so such speculation is probably fruitless.


We watched some episodes of Rome. Interesting TV and full of political intrigue. The actor who plays Julius Caesar did not demonstrate the charisma that I would expect from Caesar; otherwise, I really enjoyed the show.

Personality strengths

Now, Discover Your Strengths is an interesting book about personality types---more accurately, personality strengths. It makes an interesting claim that everyone should focus on building their careers around their strengths, not on fixing their weaknesses. They have an online questionnaire that evaluates the top 5 strengths out of their universe of 34. Mine were:

  1. Learner

  2. Deliberative

  3. Responsibility

  4. Restorative

  5. Activator

I'm still mulling this over to see if this classification describes me well.


I watched An Inconvenient Truth, which was pretty good. But I thought the book was better, because I didn't have to listen to so many self-congratulatory platitudes. Interesting series of suggestions at the end, but I was annoyed that it encouraged the use of biofuels, which seem like an utter waste of resources.

The suggestion that Lake Chad has been destroyed because of global warming seems to be untrue, based on some of the reading that I have done.

Gore should have suggested that we eat less meat, buy fewer processed foods, and buy less stuff. The former consumes a great deal of energy (unless it is grass-fed), and I bet food processing does too. Finally, capitalism itself (more accurately, consumption for the sake of consumption) is responsible for a lot of the energy we consume, because all of the environmental damage is externalized. My conclusion is:

Consume less stuff. Consume less food. Consume less energy.


Well, another season of 24 has started. It literally started with a bang (a nuclear explosion). But it's degenerated into some really non-interesting stuff. Family squabbles for Jack (who barely appeared on-screen in yesterday's episode), political maneuverings in the bunkered White House, just not very good. Prison Break has been much more fun, if you want to watch complicated plots about the Presidency. Watching Jack Bauer torture his brother just isn't that fun.


My cousin Jack just pointed me at a post that he made about pesticides in food. Here's the link to the site, which rates which produce has more pesticides. Watch our for apples!

Another game

Yet another hilarious game, Oil God. It's made by Persuasive Games, the same company that made Bacteria Salad.


Here's an interesting idea that probably works reasonably well in NYC: freecycling. It's like Craigslist, but giving used stuff away.

Amusing game

An article in the NY Times mentioned the game Bacteria Salad, which is hilarious (if not a very interesting game).

Michael Pollan article

Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore's Dilemma, has an article
in this week's NY Times magazine. Well worth reading, even though its recommendations overlap with almost all of the other reading I've been doing about food. I love the opening sentences:

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.

Silly food labels

We had some oatmeal this morning, and the box says "Helps reduce cholesterol". What a ridiculous claim: if you eat foods without cholesterol, then your cholesterol levels will go down. So every non-meat product could have that exact same label.


One of the organizations I learned about in What To Eat is Consumer Lab. They evaluate vitamin supplements; this is a valuable service, since no government agency regulates supplement makers. Most of the large corporations that manufacture supplements seem to be OK, but some of the smaller ones may produce supplements without all of the vitamins listed on the label. Even worse, some of the supplements may be contaminated with elements such as lead.

What To Eat

I finally got through What To Eat, an encyclopedic book about food: its marketing, health effects, and some about its environmental effects. Interestingly, the author also lives in NYC, so she talks about various groceries, delis, and restaurants here. More later...


We've been watching all of the episodes of Firefly, and finally got around to the movie Serenity. The movie was kind of predictable in certain ways, but was fun to watch. I enjoyed the episodes a bit more than the feature film, because the episodes focused more on the characters. But it was interesting to see the film deal with some of the politics in the 'verse of Serenity.

The Met

From Around NY

Busy museum day. We went to the Met and saw two exhibits:

Both of them were amazing!


We saw the Design Life Now exhibit at Cooper-Hewitt. Cooper-Hewitt is in a lovely building, and the exhibit had all sorts of interesting stuff. There were some novel designs for prescription drug bottles from Target (which is a sponsor of the Design Museum) that were really done well. There was even an exhibit on Google!

More garbage

Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage is also a documentary; you can see it on Google Video.


Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage by Heather Rogers is a fascinating book about how the costs of capitalism have been externalized as waste.

She gave an interesting interview that is worth reading.


The Looming Tower is a fascinating book that describes the rise of militant Islam and al-Qaeda. It is frightening how the FBI and CIA bureaucracies rendered each other useless in the runup to 9/11. It is also amazing how well-educated the members of al-Qaeda are: alienation is a powerful force.

Lawrence Wright wrote a New Yorker article this is worth a read.


We took a quick trip to MOMA, and saw a few exhibits: the retrospective on Brice Marden's work, Manet and the Execution of Maximilian, and OMA in Beijing. I must be too practical or just uneducated, but Marden's work was just not that interesting. Some of his later work is beautiful, but his earlier work did not move me. Manet's paintings were fascinating, but I also didn't find the subject matter that compelling. The OMA exhibit (which is about the construction of the China Central Television complex) was really interesting, though. I guess that I am just more interested in how art interacts the real world, rather than just abstraction for the sake of abstraction.


I just found about the Seafood Choices Alliance, which publishes the Fish List: a list of fishes that we should or should not eat, based on environmental and health concerns.

Match Point

We watched Match Point, Woody Allen's latest film. I thought Crimes and Misdemeanors was a far more interesting film. This film seemed a lot shallower, and not as interesting. It was not a boring or bad film, just not great.

My first reaction after seeing this film: is Woody Allen working on some guilt because he killed someone? Why has he made two films about murder and guilt?

The Voysey Inheritance

We saw the Atlantic Theater Company's production of The Voysey Inheritance. The play has been adapted by David Mamet; it would be interesting to know what he changed in the play. The production was really enjoyable, in an intimate theater with a luscious set. It was definitely worth seeing!


We are thinking of visiting Xi'an (formerly Chang'an) in China. During the Tang Dynasty (8th century AD), Chang'an had a population of 2 million people!


We walked by Pinkberry, a fancy dessert place in Koreatown. It looked very sleek and modern: as far as we could tell, it was a fancy frozen-yogurt place.

Electronics recycling

Lower East Side Ecology Center
and Con Edison sponsor a recycling event every year in Union Square. Time to finally get rid of that old computer!

Money mistakes

I skimmed through Why Smart People Make Big Money Mistakes & How To Correct Them, by Gary Belsky and Thomas Gilovich. It's an interesting book about behavioral economics, and how some common irrationalities that we all exhibit can affect our behavior with money. Some of the issues:

  • We tend to keep separate mental accounts for our money; don't let these mental accounts affect your spending patterns.

  • Losses affect us more than gains hurt us, so we get more reckless in trying to avoid losses.

  • Sunk costs do not matter.

  • We are affected by how issues are framed: reframe issues so that you see them both as gains and losses.

  • Don't ignore small numbers, such as mutual-fund fees.

  • We tend to anchor on irrelevant information, and we treat events that are likely to be the result of change as non-random; don't pay attention to such irrelevant information.

  • Don't be overconfident about your abilities if you have little training.

  • Avoid "confirmation bias", which is our tendency to treat information as though it confirms our decisions.

  • Don't follow the herd.

  • Avoid too much information. Information can cause us to act emotionally.

Little Miss Sunshine

Little Miss Sunshine was a disturbing movie that had some outrageous laughs in it: I almost died at the very end (which I will not give away). It is definitely worth watching!

Happy New Year

And NY gets a new governor, Eliot Spitzer. His inaugural address is nice; let's hope he can achieve some of his goals!