Mark Waid

I recently spent some time catching up with comics. Mark Waid has written some great stuff. Empire is a story about a supervillain who takes over the earth. Very dark stuff, but not as dark as Irredeemable, an ongoing series about a super-powered hero who doesn't have the emotional capacity to be a hero, and instead becomes a villain. Both are well worth reading!

Sherlock Holmes

What's Christmas without a nice action movie? Sherlock Holmes has an intricate plot, great actors, and fine entertainment value. Robert Downey, Jr. is always a pleasure to watch, and Jude Law was a great Dr. Watson. Rachel McAdams wasn't that compelling, unfortunately, but that's not that surprising given the imposing actors she had to work with. The mysterious Professor Moriarty was clearly held back for a sequel; hopefully next year---although I don't know how Robert Downey, Jr. has time for all of the movies he is involved with.

Prime Suspect

We watched Prime Suspect 2, part of Prime Suspect 4, and started Prime Suspect 3. Helen Mirren is fun to watch in this role, although the accents are a bit hard to parse.

Legend of the Seeker

This series is a guilty pleasure: the episodes that we happen upon fun are always fun to watch. The writing is mildly predictable, and the situations amusingly contrived. But it's always fun, especially since I grew up on Dungeons and Dragons.


Well, James Cameron's blockbuster 3D movie surprised me. As expected, the writing was predictable and (to be generous) the dialogue was not very interesting. A few jabs at Bush, and the story is a parable about evil corporations destroying a native civilization in search of profit (by mining the stupidly named "unobtainium", if I heard correctly!). Unexpectedly, the movie was compelling due to the 3D visuals. I agree with the NPR reviewer, who said that the 3D-ness blended in: for much of the movie I forgot that it was a 3D movie. Cameron did a great job of creating a reality on screen that sucks you in (despite the movie's weaknesses), and for that it was worth watching. As a side note, I was also amazed that Ming liked the movie more than I did.


Ming is now a citizen! The swearing-in was mildly bureaucratic: 153 new citizens from 53 countries were minted today in Manhattan. No cameras or cell phones were allowed in the federal courthouse, so we could not take any pictures.

The Royal Family

We saw the Manhattan Theatre Club's production of The Royal Family, a parody of the famous Barrymore family. Quite a fun production, with a lot of well-known character actors. They all got to ham it up quite a bit, and there is some sparkling dialogue. We saw the final performance, and the theater was quite full with "theater people". One of our friends saw Tommy Tune, for example.


I've been slowly reading this book in the mornings while on the subway going to the squash club. It was a difficult book to get into, mostly because I'm a little squeamish about dead bodies (which is what this book is about). But it is highly informative and entertaining: the author, Mary Roach, is pretty hilarious. Definitely worth reading, as long as you can stomach the topic.

Prime Suspect 1

We watched the first season of Prime Suspect. Much of the plot centered around the sexism in the British police force, and how Helen Mirren's character broke through the (non-glass) ceiling to run a murder investigation. A well-written and well-acted story, and there were all sorts of famous British actors: Tom Wilkinson, Zoe Wanamaker, Ralph Fiennes, to mention the most well-known.

Becoming Jane

James McAvoy and Anne Hathaway: a beautiful acting couple. This piece of historical fiction has lots of tiny touches that remind one of Jane Austen's works. I noticed the relationships of the story to Pride and Prejudice: the documentary on the DVD mentioned many more. An entertaining movie, if not very deep.

Prime Suspect 6

We watched the 6th season of Prime Suspect, a British procedural starring Helen Mirren. A younger competitor in her department is played by Ben Miles (who was in the BBC series Coupling, as well as the recent production of The Norman Conquests on Broadway). Why do the British make such high-quality TV?

Due South Season Three

We finally finished watching this series. It definitely jumped the shark somewhere during that season: still, it was an amusing cast of characters to watch. The ending was a bit disappointing, though.

New Moon

I went to see this movie (albeit reluctantly), since Thanksgiving is the natural time for vampires and werewolves. Unfortunately, my worst fears were realized: this movie is not worth watching. Overwrought teenaged angst, no plot: what more could you expect from a bad movie?

Matt Damon

I saw Matt Damon outside the Mandarin Oriental hotel near Columbus Circle. I was too lazy to get a photo on my cell phone, though.

Reilly, Ace of Spies

We watched this 4-CD series, which was a fascinating (semi-fictional) story of Sidney Reilly, the first international superspy. Well done, although it was weird to see Russians and Germans speak English with an English accent. Sam Neill played the ruthless Reilly with aplomb.

Random Passage

This mini-series is a beautiful adaption of a novel of the same name about the settling of Newfoundland. I don't think I can do it justice, other than to say that it is well worth watching. The main character, Mary Andrews, is fantastic; and it was good to see Colm Meaney in a non-Star Trek role as one of the other important characters.

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

A fascinating cast of characters inhabits this entertaining book about the world of rare book dealers and thieves. Well, one thief in particular. The author, Allison Hoover Bartlett, finds an interesting way to tell the story of John Gilkey, an obsessive book thief, but the insertion of her own commentary and self-reflection into the narrative ultimately are boring, as there is no real resolution to her own involvement in the story.

Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont

This radiant film about an elderly woman's accidental discovery of friendship with a genial young man is well worth watching. There isn't much more to say: it's a beautiful story about aging.


This fantastic book (a National Book Award finalist) by Atul Gawande about a surgeon's experiences in his residency is well worth reading. Hopefully you are able to cope with the descriptions of the cutting of human flesh: I found it painful to read at times (which is why I didn't become a physician). But it is refreshing to read Gawande's explanation about how he (and doctors in general) thinks about his profession. This book is more about surgery than his more recent book, Better.

How to Steal a Million

This Audrey Hepburn/Peter O'Toole romantic comedy is light-hearted and warm. Audrey Hepburn is stunningly beautiful, as in all of her movies. The documentary on the DVD about her life was also done well; I hadn't realized that she had spent so much energy in trying to help Africa.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Wow, two of my favorite actors: Robert Downey, Jr., and Val Kilmer. The movie is hilarious! Definitely worth watching, if you don't mind a little gratuitous violence. The self-referential plot is quite clever.

Mrs. Henderson Presents

An entertaining film that is based on a true story: a widow buys a music hall. She finds a manager who comes up with the idea of having naked women stand still, as if in a museum. Sounds trite, but it's a nice story with some fine actors (Judi Dench and Bob Hoskins). Definitely worth watching.

When Do We Eat?

This movie set around a sedar is pretty hilarious. The plot is crazy beyond belief, and full of zany one-liners and funny plot points. Deserves to have a cult following!

Finding Amanda

This cute movie was enjoyable and touching. Matthew Broderick displayed his usual lack of range and portrayed a clueless schlub; Brittany Snow was great as his prostitute niece. And Maura Tierney, who is always great fun to watch, played Broderick's long-suffering wife.

Poor People

I started this incredibly well-written book, but couldn't finish it, as it was too depressing. The author, William Vollmann, sure can write: but he writes about a topic that is guaranteed to make you sad: impoverished people across the world.


This movie is a beautiful coming-of-age story. The story opens and closes around a sweet-sixteen party (named Quinceañera), and in the middle explores the relationships in a religious Hispanic family riven by internal conflicts. Very enjoyable film.


This movie was a fun story about Barcelona in the early 1980's. Virulent anti-Americanism and stupid Americans make for plenty of humor; and the dialogue was snappy and well-written. Thumbs up!

The Long Goodbye

We watched this long movie over a couple of nights. Excellent movie, in the way all Altman movies are excellent: they tell great stories with interesting characters. Elliot Gould in his youth was fantastic as Philip Marlowe.

Brideshead Revisited

We decided to watch the "classic" British television serial (10 episodes) based on the novel. After just a few episodes, it was clear that the movie that we watched sucked, big time. The series is beautifully done, and is far more about the influence of religion (in particular, Catholicism) on the characters' lives. Definitely worth watching!

Microsoft Money replacement

Hey, now this is incredibly useful...a way to keep using MS Money after Microsoft is done supporting it...

This post has gotten a lot of hits, so let me clarify. The link takes you to a python script that you can adapt to download quotes into MS Money. You have to understand a little bit of programming (and Python, in particular) to be able to use it, unfortunately. If you have that knowledge, this is a great way to work around the end of MS Money.

Trader Joe's

Wow, a Trader Joe's within a few blocks of our apartment: that would be outrageously wonderful!


Since I enjoyed the movie Atonement (based on a novel by Ian McEwan), I thought I should read Amsterdam, which won the Booker Prize in 1998. The novel is beautifully written, but dark and verging on depressing in the way it portrays humanity. I hope Mr. McEwan has a more optimistic outlook on life than his novels depict! Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading this novel.


We watched the new TV show Eastwick, which is based on the novel by John Updike (which I haven't read). It was entertaining since one the stars is Paul Gross, who was in Slings and Arrows and Due South, two old series that we've watched in the last year. Nothing profound, and somewhat predictable (especially since I'm familiar with the basic plot), but amusing.

The Scarlet Pimpernel

Because we have been watching Brideshead Revisited (with the actor Anthony Andrews), we decided to watch another movie that he stars in: The Scarlet Pimpernel. Filmed a long time ago, when he and Jane Seymour were young. A corny and predictable plot, but entertaining (especially in how it makes fun of the French.


This film, which was nominated for many Oscars, was beautiful to watch. A bit depressing, but very well written and acted. I can see why it was so well-liked by the Academy: it's a "feel-bad" story about life and about story-telling itself. Highly recommended.

Prisoner of the State

I tried to read this book, which consists of Zhao Ziyang's notes about his life (and Tiananmen, in particular). Unfortunately, my knowledge of contemporary Chinese politics is fairly weak, and the notes were pretty dry analyses of what went wrong: nothing really gripping, other than the historical context. So eventually I gave up: the first book I haven't finished in a while.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Finally got around to watching this movie, which was quite entertaining. David Yates (who is apparently directing the last 4 of the Potter movies) did a good job of producing a film from a rather dense book. It's been several years since I read the book, and the book did a great job of hitting the book's highlights (and even throwing in some details without tedious explanation). Take that, Chris Columbus!

The High Line


We went to see the High Line park that opened this summer. It was quite crowded, but for most of its length the crowdedness was bearable. (At the current northern end that wasn't the case: it was too busy). Overall, a nice experience and pretty park: the elevated walk is quite nice!
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Had dinner at this Greek restaurant. Good food (and good-sized portions) at a very reasonable price. Highly recommended; I'd like to go back when it's not after a long work day; as it was, we were both very tired and didn't quite enjoy it as much as we should have.

Slumdog Millionaire

We finally got around to watching last year's winner of the Best Picture Oscar: and it was well worth it. The story was very well written, and the kids were really cute. The main plot sure made India look like a pretty corrupt place, though: it would be interesting to know if that was accurately done.

Slumdog Millionaire

We finally got around to watching last year's winner of the Best Picture Oscar: and it was well worth it. The story was very well written, and the kids were really cute. The main plot sure made India look like a pretty corrupt place, though: it would be interesting to know if that was accurately done.

Due South Season Three

We've been watching episodes of this season on and off (Netflix is great!). It's not as fun as the first two seasons: Callum Keith Rennie (who recently was on the Battlestar Galactica series as a Cylon) wasn't as entertaining as Benton Fraser's partner. Still, an interesting series to watch: I like seeing how Canadians portray American society.

Revolutionary Road

This novel is a beautifully written book about two depressingly useless people in the 1950's. I found the book hard to finish, as all of the primary characters are revoltingly unhappy with their lives. I wonder whether the movie was worth watching? DiCaprio and Winslet make a great cast.

I read this book mostly because of the relation to the TV show Mad Men (which is fantastically good). But even though the TV show's characters are in some ways just as unhappy as the characters in the book, it is far more palatable to watch their behavior and actions on a screen (vs. reading their innermost thoughts).

Charlie Wilson's War

A quite-funny and too-obviously-topical movie about the unintended consequences of the American covert intervention in the Afghan war. Tom Hanks really looked like the real Charlie Wilson!

Brideshead Revisited

We watched this film, which was gorgeously filmed but kind of dull. The reviews were not so good: apparently the TV serial from ITV is much better. Castle Howard sure looks nice, though!

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

I watched my first film on "Instant" Netflix. Pretty poor resolution, but it was fine for this movie. The movie itself was pretty hilarious, and very "NY" in its storyline. Very un-PC, though!

The Holiday

We watched this puff-piece (entertaining, though) on DVD. I loved seeing Eli Wallach (his tough-guy movies long behind him). The mention of Ennio Morricone's music was cute, too.

A Ship of the Line

I think I've read enough of the Hornblower series. The three I read (Beat to Quarters, A Ship of the Line, and Flying Colours) are pretty good, and capture the central part of Hornblower's (fictional) career. Entertaining stuff, even though Hornblower was a bit neurotic in his insecurities.

El Vez

An oddly decorated Mexican "diner" (at least in the decorative style) with great Mexican food! I really wanted to try their guacamole (they had seven! different kinds), but I wasn't hungry enough. I thought the tacos would be less of a meal, but I was still stuffed afterwards. And this restaurant is right across from Capogiro Gelateria: what more could one want?


Dinner at Tinto was quite a treat. Their tapas was excellent, and like everything in Philadelphia, the price was much more affordable than Manhattan!

Capogiro Gelateria

We spent a weekend in Philadelphia, and the highlight of the trip (for me, at least) was this wonderfully delicious gelato store. It was incredibly good gelato: probably the best I've had in the US.

Pride and Prejudice

I finally got around to reading this novel, and on my new iPhone, no less. It was odd reading on an electronic device, but I got used to it. I tended to skim while reading on the iPhone, but maybe not too much more than when I read a novel whose plot I know pretty well (from the many film adaptations that I have seen).

Boy, what a "talky" novel: there is minimal description, and lots of dialogue!

Mad Men Season Two

Wow, we got through the second season of Mad Men on DVD. Amazing TV! This is some of the best written, best acted TV that we have seen in the last few years: and that places it among some of our favorites such as Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, and Rome. The character of Dick Whitman/Don Draper is fascinating, and the ending of Season Two had some great storylines. A must-see TV show: it's almost worth subscribing to cable just to watch Season Three!


We had dinner (during Restaurant Week) at Periyali, this upscale Greek restaurant. Overall, very good food. We're not sure if we loved it, though, so it gets a "thumbs-up".

The Secret Life of Lobsters

This fascinating book covers many things about lobsters and humans: the economics/politics of lobster fishing and the ecology/societal habits/mating behavior of lobsters, as uncovered by scientists starting in the 1990's. A great story: and lobsters societies sure sound a lot like primate societies, in that they are dominated by alpha males.

The Norman Conquests

We saw "Table Manners", the "first" of the three plays in this intertwined trilogy. Hilarious, biting, and a dark commentary on relationships: this was a viciously funny play. It was fun to see Ben Miles (Patrick from the BBC TV show Coupling) in real life!


We had dinner prior to seeing a show (see my later post) at this excellent Japanese restaurant. The sushi was really well done, and the service was really good. The restaurant was almost empty, though: a sign of the times, I suppose. Several restaurants that we like have already closed in the last few months, such as Maroons and Ghenet.

The Lady Eve

Barbara Stanwyck was great in this old movie. Henry Fonda played his role decently as a mild-mannered buffoon. Entertaining stuff!

Due South Season Two

More TV watching on DVD. This show from the 1990's is charming, and some of the episodes were really fun to watch. The second season felt a little more up-and-down than the first season, though. My favorite episodes were the ones where Benton gets involved with his boss, Margaret Thatcher. Apparently Benton's dog (Diefenbaker) is named after a Canadian PM: fun naming choices!

Flying Colours

For light reading I read another of the Horatio Hornblower novels, Flying Colours. Much of the story takes place on land, which makes it an odd story for a naval genre. Nonetheless, an easy read, and quite entertaining.


This compelling book about medicine is definitely worth a read. The author is a surgeon in the Harvard system, and he talks about the difficulties in improving the medical profession: doctors' behavior, systematic organizational effects, litigiousness, etc. If you care about medicine in the US, you should read this book.

How To Be Alone

This collection of Jonathan Franzen's essays is worth reading. I greatly enjoyed his essay about the Chicago post office, and his willingness to dig deep into his own writing and motivations is fascinating to read. Some of his analysis of William Gaddis and other postmodern writing is pretty dry, although funny (in a weird sort of way).

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Hilarious! Watched it on DVD from Netflix, but you can just watch it on the web. Created by Joss Whedon for the Web during the writer's strike in 2008. Neil Patrick Harris is awesome!

Nobu 57

We ate here on our anniversary: good food, and an interesting menu, if mildly pricey. Overall, we enjoyed the dining; the restaurant was packed and a bit noisy, though. Although the food was good, though, it was not the best food we've had in NYC: the even pricier restaurants that we've been to are better (for example, Gramercy Park Tavern, Morimoto).


Wow, the 2009 men's final match was as good as last year's. 16-14 in the 5th set: incomparably good tennis!

Mr. and Mrs. Smith

Watched this movie on DVD: entertaining, if silly and unbelievable. Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie definitely had chemistry, unsurprisingly.


We have slowly watched the first season of Torchwood, which is set in the Doctor Who universe. The production values are not very high, but the writing is interesting. They vary from character exploration to horror stories (a la The Twilight Zone). Worth watching, if you're into science fiction.

Due South

We finished season 1 of Due South, a Canadian TV show from the mid-1990's. One of the stars of the show was Paul Gross, a Canadian who also starred in the later series Slings and Arrows. This show starts off as a farce, but the episodes get darker as the series progresses.

The Canadians must really love their mounties, and they have a very strange view of American society!

Ponty Bistro

We had lunch here, which was excellent. An omelette and French toast: the latter was truly delicious!

Camerata Notturna

This orchestra is pretty talented: we went because one of my friends at work played a clarinet concerto with them. Another soloist played the Haydn cello concerto, with insanely hard cadenzas written by the principal cellist. The orchestra (and the soloists) played really well, and the conductor was fun to watch: he clearly enjoyed his work. The only quibble I had was that Beethoven's 7th Symphony was too loud for the small church we were in: by the end my ears were overloaded with the sheer weight of the sound. The smaller orchestras for the concerti were much more appropriate for the acoustic space of the church.

The end of the 70's?

Wow, Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson leave us on the same day. Michael Jackson's career of course spanned more than just the 70's, but I'll always think of these two as icons of that era.

Museum of Art and Design

This little museum is "pay as you like" on Thursday evenings: it's definitely worth visiting. They have a collection of interesting jewelry (sponsored by Tiffany, I believe). A current special exhibit of glass by Klaus Moje was really amazing: "painting with glass".

The New Kings of Nonfiction

This collection of non-fiction (not really "essays") edited by Ira Glass is a great read. A wide variety of authors (including current "hot" author on food, Michael Pollan) write about a fascinating array of topics, including Saddam Hussein, World War II, and British soccer hooligans.

Stolen Life

An excellent movie about modern Chinese society. Dark, and yet hopeful in many ways, it depicts a young woman's coming of age. Shot in video, it has a very intimate feel about it: and the setting of the story in flashback (with the main character's voiceover) works well.


We saw Up today: it isn't a perfect movie, but it was beautiful (and it made me cry at times). The introduction had almost no dialogue, and was a wonderful portrait of love. The primary story was an adventure story, and pretty predictable (but still enjoyable).

Much like Wall-E, the concept and the setup were brilliant. Also like Wall-E, the introduction was just brilliant storytelling: the rest was certainly funny, charming, and entertaining, but was not as brilliant. I had two nitpicks: one, the soundtrack was way too loud --- the dialogue was fine, but the music was annoyingly loud (and the choices of music were too schmaltzy at times). The second was that the primary story was a story about boys: there were female characters, but always in the background --- the primary "actors" were all male. I'm not sure why that bothered for this movie in particular; perhaps it was because the story was ostensibly driven so much by Carl's love for his wife. Was it just pure irony that the only other female character in the film was a bird named Kevin?

Bar Louis at the Hotel Fauchere

We went to the Poconos (I'll have to post pictures later) for a short vacation, and ate at this fine restaurant. We had a sausage plate, and then pasta for dinner. Great stuff, for such a small town (Milford, PA).

They had some cool photographs by the Hilton Brothers hanging in the dining area. They were dual portraits of a part of a horse (mostly one eye, but sometimes a hind leg) and a flower. Very fancy stuff.


An excellent restaurant near Bloomingdale's. Pretty generous portions, with a nice starter plate of meat and cheese, and some sweets at the end. We had two appetizers (mushrooms and artichokes, and gazpacho), and two entrees (pasta with clam sauce and pasta with mushrooms). Yum!

Slings and Arrows, Season 3

I'm very sad that we've finished watching the final season of this TV show. It was a dark, intense season, unlike the second season, which was a lot happier. Nonetheless, I still loved the season! I wish they could have continued the series (or filmed more episodes per season), just to get more to watch.

The Black Walnut Inn

We took a short vacation to Milford, PA (in the Poconos). This excellent bed and breakfast was affordable (but certainly not cheap). The rooms were small but comfy, the food tasty if not fancy. But the lodgings were very clean and elegantly decorated. Plus, we had the place virtually to ourselves: apparently before school ends for the year, very few people visit the Poconos.

We went horseback riding at their attached stables; they had some really beautiful horses to ride (not that we're very knowledgeable about horses!).

Pictures to come later...


We ate dinner at this relatively fancy Asian-fusion restaurant in Louisville. The food was really quite good! I'd recommend it highly.

Kung Fu Panda

While in a hotel I watched most of this movie over lunch. Entertaining, as Jack Black always is. Definitely worth watching, even though it's quite predictable. I loved hearing Ian McShane's voice as the villain!

Beat to Quarters

This book was mentioned as an interesting book from a management perspective. It indeed points out that good leaders are always conscious of the impact of their affect and their actions. Overall, though, a good yarn and an easy, entertaining read!


We got takeout from this excellent Persian restaurant. We were very pleased with the two dishes we had, a chicken in pomegranate sauce (fesenjen), and an eggplant stew. It's about a 5-10 minute walk from our apartment, which was pleasant given the nice weather we've been having!

Slings and Arrows, Season 2

I loved the first season of this Canadian show (only 6 episodes in each season, unfortunately). The second season is even better! The storylines feel tighter, and the mad life of the main character, Geoffrey Tennant, is just fun to watch. The over-the-top performances of some of the characters is just hilarious, too!

3 Women

This mysterous Robert Altman film is incredible to watch, although confusing as anything if you try to analyze it. My advice on the latter: don't. It feels like a weird precursor to Blue Velvet or any other of David Lynch's films.

Food Matters

Mark Bittman (who has a great blog in the NY Times on food) wrote a short book that summarizes succinctly what many other books/authors have been saying (the most famous of whom may be Michael Pollan): eat less meat and more fruits and vegetables. The book is filled with delicious-sounding recipes!

The Police Building

We walked by this interesting building tonight. It's quite a sight!

The Evolving World

This book is a detailed (and fairly tedious) exposition of how evolutionary biology ties into many aspects of modern life. I skimmed lots of it, given its dryness. There were some fascinating facts in the book, but overall it did not grab my attention.

Wave Hill

This beautiful little garden/park/grounds is a nice visit, although certainly out of the way. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, so I don't have any photos to post. The website is pretty accurate, though.

Slings and Arrows

We watched the first season of this excellent Canadian comedy about a small-town acting troupe. Rachel McAdams (who is in this year's "State of Play") was in it. No one else that we recognized, but the cast is great. Definitely worth watching!


This BBC series is very odd (as befits something written by Neil Gaiman). I hadn't realized until I read the wikipedia entry (linked above) that the series preceded the book of the same name. I preferred the book, although the series was fun to watch.


Well, the second-to-last season of Lost is over! One more left. The last episode of this previous season started to tie up story lines, with the mandatory cliffhanger (which became obvious as the episode wound to its close).

Who is that guy who killed Jacob? Hmm...

Star Trek

Wow, JJ Abrams and Star Trek. All in all, an excellent reboot of the series and some good storytelling. There were some bits of physical humor that seemed a little out of place (but were OK in retrospect), and a bit too much of a few characters running madly around the Enterprise. But certainly worth watching, especially if you're into Star Trek/science fiction.

Your Inner Fish

This excellent book about our relationship to fish (as expressed in DNA and physiological evidence) is a great, easy read. A great overview of how evolutionary theory (it's not "just" a "theory"), and how the evidence through fossils, DNA, embryology, and anatomical comparisons all line up.

State of Play

At the behest of my wise cousin Pauline, we got the BBC series State of Play (she posted a comment that the series was great, after I blogged about the new Russell Crowe movie). Indeed, it was great, and far better than the movie. The only downside to watching the series is that the movie preserved all of the essential plot elements, so that we didn't have that many surprises. Oh well, still a fantastically well-done TV serial!

How To Live

I don't remember where I heard about this book by Henry Alford, but it was an entertaining (if not very deep) book. The full title is: How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth). For some reason I thought it might have some nugget of profundity: instead, it was a funny history of the author's relationship with his mother (and some interviews he scored with various interesting contemporary figures).

I almost fell over laughing over some of his stories/quips, so all in all it was a worthwhile read.

State of Play

State of Play is a well-done political thriller. Russell Crowe did a really good job, as did Ben Affleck (mild surprise there); Helen Mirren was hilarious in her role as the chief editor. It kept our attention throughout, and it really does a good job of memorializing the classic newspaper. It's not clear from the screenplay whether they think that the greater threat to newspapers lies from their large corporate owners or the Internet.

Anyway, it was entertaining, which is all I expect these days. High art it was not.

Welcome to Your Brain

Written by two neuroscientists, this is an entertaining book about our knowledge of the brain. It was a little too cheerily written to hold my attention as a serious book, but it was still interesting.

One of the authors, Sam Wang, runs the web site Princeton Election Consortium, which had a lot of interesting stuff during the last election.


We ate dinner in Koreatown. This restaurant was bigger than it seemed from the outside, and there wasn't a huge line. But it was filled with Korean customers, and the food was prompt and quite good!

Morgan Library

The Morgan Library just opened an exhibition of their "latest" acquisitions (since 2004). Impressive stuff: definitely worth a visit, if you get a chance. The exhibition is open until October. Too bad they won't let visitors take photographs: they are the only major museum that has such restrictive rules.

We thought the most impressive works were some photographs by Irving Penn and Diane Arbus. There were some fantastic portraits of Pablo Picasso, Georgia O'Keefe, and T.S. Eliot.


John Bogle founded the Vanguard mutual fund company, and has made his life into a battle against entrenched interests. "Enough." is his latest broadside against the financial industry, although it also contains diatribes against the deterioration of America's moral fiber. An entertaining read, although not as to-the-point as his other books. He's got quite an ego, and it shines through brightly in this book; and certainly he admits it.

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

Barbara Kingsolver's is a wonderful read. She has a lyrical way with words and a wonderful sense of humor. This book was recommended back in January by a friend (an Australian CS professor): it describes how Kingsolver and her family spent a year eating only local food. She describes the whole year of growing vegetables, raising chickens and turkeys, canning and preserving foods.

Her husband and elder daughter added sidebars through the book, with information about organic/local foods and recipes. All in all, this book is one worth reading: it will make you hungry!

New Yeah Shanghai Deluxe

We ate dinner in Chinatown, at this excellent little restaurant. Excellent dumplings, and the shredded chicken and jellyfish was great. Well worth it, although not that cheap.

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

After watching interviews with Edward James Olmos, I decided we had to rewatch Blade Runner. The final cut is a beautiful remastering of the film. We're coming up on 2019, though, and Los Angeles still doesn't look like it does in the movie!

Please Vote For Me

This entertaining documentary about a class election in China is really cute. Vicious politics at work among 9-10 year-olds!

Death at a Funeral

A British farce about a funeral. Extremely funny and well-written, albeit over the top and predictable. Still, got a few belly laughs out of this movie!

Talent is Overrated

Hard work; hard, focused work. That's the secret to success, perhaps unsurprisingly. Mixing anecdotes with some summaries of research studies, this book covers the subject of expertise, and what makes expertise. At least a decade worth of "practice", according to the experts. Grueling, and yet unsurprising.

Ocean's Thirteen

All in all, a fun movie. Amusing little inside jokes all over the place, tongue-in-cheek script, and some interesting surprises in the plot. Worth a watch if you want some entertainment.


I saw the movie (whose web page I refuse to link to); as expected, it sucked. Impressive visuals, but the directing was weak: almost every sequence in the film corresponded to a panel in the original comic. Lack of imagination in translating the comic to a film, which showed in his previous film 300. Oh well, it reminded me that I should reread the comic some time!


This Vanity Fair article about the financial meltdown in Iceland is fascinating. Definitely an interesting read, both for the historical perspective and the stories of what is happening in Iceland right now.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona

An interesting Woody Allen film. I'm not sure why Penelope Cruz deserved an Oscar for her performance: she was far better in Volver. Still, this movie was well written with a clever set of twists. Javier Bardem looked good: certainly a far cry from his role in No Country for Old Men!

Battlestar Galactica ends

Well, one of the great TV series has ended. I watched the last episode on, since I don't have cable television. A satisfying ending, if a bit mysterious. I'm going to have to go back and slowly rewatch all 5 seasons someday: the writing was just incredible!


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Neat: it's a Java applet that generates a word picture from a web page/blog/RSS feed. Here's one for my blog.

The Last Days of Old Beijing

A colleague at work recommended this book, and it's definitely worth a read. The author, Michael Meyer, spent two years living in a Beijing hutong. The book is a historical record of a rapidly changing Beijing; it's a history of Beijing's changes over the centuries; it's a commentary on living in tightly knit communities; it's a nostalgic look at old ways of living. The sad part of the book is how it depicts the ways in communities are uprooted for the sake of progress; the uplifting part is the way in which the people in those communities survive and endure the changes.

One of the most interesting bits of commentary comes from a Chinese intellectual, Feng Jicai, who wants to preserve the old ways of living: "Average people, unlike intellectuals, have no interest in preserving traditional and immaterial heritage, because they do not understand the values of it." Possibly accurate, highly elitist, and it reflects the fact that poor people don't want to stay poor. The conflict inherent in that statement echoes the author's feelings about China.

This book's topic reminds me of another book I just finished, "Gang Leader for a Day". Both books are written by middle-class Americans who spend time in marginalized communities, and who illustrate how those communities are vibrant and full of life.

Battlestar Galactica

Vacation is a wonderful thing (especially since we don't have cable at home), as is Hulu. (Have you seen Alec Baldwin's ad for Hulu, which first showed during the Super Bowl? It is hilarious.) I've caught up on the last season of Battlestar Galactica this vacation: what amazing storytelling! I can't wait for tonight's episode.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

A beautiful film, but I suspect that the book is far better. I was impressed by the subject's tenaciousness in writing a book, despite his loss of almost all of his motor skills. The film puts me at a loss for words, which says something, I suppose.

Heimlich Maneuver

Well, I got to perform the Heimlich maneuver today in a restaurant. There was a commotion at a neighboring table, with someone yelling for a doctor. The victim was not able to speak or cough, and I asked the person holding him if he could do the Heimlich maneuver. He either didn't know or didn't understand my question, because he said "yes" and handed off the victim to me. So I gave him one instance of the maneuver, and he started to be able to talk. It worked!

Afterwards, I was shocked that no one at his table seemed to know the Heimlich; either that, or they were all panicking. Read up on your basic safety information...

Lord Jim

Peter O'Toole as an uptight British seaman. This movie feels very dated, given the cinematography, treatment of the "native" peoples, and the heavy makeup on O'Toole. Not a fantastic movie, but still enjoyable to watch.

Gang Leader For a Day

The author of "Gang Leader For a Day" first came to prominence in Freakonomics. This book describes how Sudhir Venkatesh spent his graduate-school career hanging out in a poor black community in Chicago: in particular, learning about the operations of a drug gang. It is an entertaining read, but ultimately not very illuminating.

The Rest is Noise

I've been reading this wonderful book for the last 2 months or so, and finally finished it on a plane to Florida. The liner notes describe it well: it is a history of the 20th century as seen through the lens of "classical" music. Alex Ross clearly has a deep knowledge of music (not just classical): I learned a lot about the interplay between jazz, classical music, and pop/rock. It was interesting to learn that the Who's song "Baba O'Riley" was titled after a minimalist composer, for example.

This was a beautiful, illuminating read; Ross deserved the MacArthur award that he received for writing it. If you like music, you should love this book.

Man On Wire

Wow, I can see why this was nominated for an Oscar in 2008. Beautiful film, and capturing the Mission-Impossible-like caper was done extremely well.


Pretty inexpensive, fast, and good Japanese food. A little hard to get to, given that it's in between two subway stops. But worth a visit: there's a little cluster of Japanese groceries/delis/restaurants here.

The Man Who Killed His Brother

Good plane-ride fare, although I read this mostly in the airport. Typical Donaldson intensity; worth reading if you like intense mysteries.

The Prisoner

Well, this post is really about Patrick McGoohan, who created and starred in The Prisoner. He passed away last week, which was sad. Cult classic that is a must-watch!


We ventured up to the Upper West Side for a few hours and had dinner at this Greek restaurant. Really good food, and a lot of it, with a nice ambiance and at pretty reasonable prices. Definitely worth going to!

The Wire: Season 5

We finished watching the final season of HBO's fantastic series "The Wire". Outstanding storytelling, incisive social commentary, depressing morality play: it has it all. I used to think that Battlestar Galactica was the best TV I've ever seen, but The Wire is better. If you read my blog, you must watch this series!

The Man Who Tried to Get Away

I quickly read this mystery novel by one of my favorite sci-fi/fantasy authors, Stephen R. Donaldson. He's best known for his books about Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever. I like his writing, although it's intensely psychological and deals with extremely screwed-up protagonists: but protagonists who find their strengths in their faults.


This book, about how choices should be "architected" because of how people behave like humans and not economic engines, is interesting. Too bad too much of the book is devoted to justifying the authors' philosophy (which they call "libertarian paternalism"). Otherwise, it's a decent book in the constellation of books that talk about the intersection of psychology and economics.

The Essential Difference

This book by Simon Baron-Cohen (yes, he is the brother of Sasha Baron-Cohen!) talks about a lot of research that examines the differences between men and women. Simplistically, he characterizes men as (on average) better at systemizing, and women as better at empathy. Highly believable, and he quotes a lot of relevant research. Interesting...

Body Language

This book was an interesting read, and I wish I had read it earlier in my life. Oh well! It tells you how to interpret/understand your own body's and other people's bodies' signals.

First, Break All The Rules

This book is a fascinating compilation of the lessons learned by Gallup when they interviewed great managers. If I were to characterize the lessons implied by its 12 employee concerns, they are: treat everyone as individuals.

Read the book if you're a manager. It's extremely good.

The Lucifer Effect

The Lucifer Effect is a compelling story about The Stanford Prison Experiment, as well as how its conclusions relate to what happened at Abu Gharib. Scary stuff.

Watch the clip of Zimbardo's interview with Stephen Colbert. Entertaining, if sort of beside the point of the book.