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12/31/2009

2009 in Pictures

Why I've never thought of this idea is beyond me. Here's my 2009 in pictures! It was kind of fun going through all my albums and picking out some pictures to showcase (or not) my year!

Much better than bullet points! Here's the link if you prefer the album to the embedded slideshow.

Reviewing 2009...

I don't do new year resolutions. But I do do old year reviews. 2009, chronologically:
  • Worked case in Shanghai
  • Worked case in Hong Kong
  • Took Leave of Absence
  • Went to NYC
  • Took photography lessons
  • Learned to cook again (not heating up, cooking)
  • Visited Toronto
  • Bought laptop
  • Moved to bigger apartment
  • Took photography lessons
  • Learned a new dish
  • Visited Seattle
  • Visited Vancouver
  • Visited Boston (it's the summer... I travel when the weather is good... and when I have a case that I have to travel for)
  • Quit Bain
  • Bought engagement ring... ouch!
  • Proposal accepted at Grand Canyon... woo hoo!
  • Met in-laws at LA... woo... hoo?
  • Found wedding ceremony location
  • Found wedding reception location
  • Visited SF
  • Moved to smaller apartment
  • Took photography class x2
  • Musical
  • Attended first NFL game
  • Went to Beijing
  • Went back to Hong Kong
  • Started my own company
  • Completing my first client update (currently waiting for client to get off the phone)
Fruitful, I'd say. Looking forward to 2010.

12/25/2009

柱记之死 (The Death of Zhu Ji)

Merry Christmas from Hong Kong. I've been back for almost 2 weeks, and my blogging has been horrible. Here's my Christmas present - and a vow to blog more.

Saw GI Joe on the plane from Chicago and also Sherlock Holmes earlier today... but today I want to talk about 柱记之死.

For those of you who don't know, 柱记 is a congee restaurant that I grew up with in the Bonham Road area. When I was young, my family rarely went out to eat breakfast. When we did, it was always 柱记, a super hole in the wall congee place that set up shop on the street side, covered by a few metal sheets (铁皮) and supported by a few pieces of iron plates on the floor. It leaked from the ceiling, and you watch your step so you don't fall onto the streets. But, man, the congee was good. Alan and I always looked forward to the day our dad went out for breakfast, cus we knew the tasty congee and the fried dough (which you dip in the congee) would be near.

Eventually, 柱记 made enough money and morphed into a shop (I found out on a random visit during high school... I had to get used to it being in a real shop space!). The staff remained. The dad and mom took orders. There was the same congee cook. On busy days, the sons and daughters would help take orders. Besides the food, there was also the impeccable way of calculating the bill. Every bowl of congee was associated with a different color/size bowl. Same with fried dough and other appetizers. A metal plate was one piece of friend dough. A small flat plate meant two pieces. A bigger flat plate was for a more expensive bread. When you were done, they wandered over, took a look at your table, and yelled out the final bill. I've never heard a complaint before.

And then there was today. The name changed. The staff was no more. Replacing 柱记 was a place that had none of the familiarity and friendliness. The waitress was semi-deaf and couldn't remember our orders. She practically slammed the congee on the table. And she took about a minute to calculate the bill. WTF. Oh, and the quality of the food is down: the congee was too watery (not enough time spent on making it) and the fried dough was too crispy (too much oil).

Ah, the death of an icon for me. RIP, 柱记. You will be remembered. (And someone ought to start a competing congee place to get all the lost customers)

I'm moving on to a congee place that's a hole in the wall in Kennedy Town.

12/09/2009

The Scene at Hong Kong Airport

I never understood the urgency of getting off a plane. Crazy people making not-so-subtle grunts and sighs while they think another passenger is taking too much time to clear the aisle of luggage. Relax! You're here, and you'll be out in no time!

But such is the scene when every plane parks at the terminal. Everybody has their hands on the seat belt, and once "ding" happens, all jump up and rush to haul their bags onto the aisle and anxiously waits for the line to start moving. They want to say "get out of my way" but are restrained by the natural politeness of their Chineseness.

And then there's the mad dash to the immigration office. Old people and slow movers be damned, cus no one is getting in their way. Elbows fly on the conveyor belt and those who stop moving are given a stare down (from their back, but still).

Finally... which line to join. You quickly observe all eight lines. Avoid children. Avoid old people. Avoid the immigrant. You could stick another 10 traits of people who will hold up the line at immigration. Or follow this one: get the line with the most suits, cus they always know what they are doing. And another stare down from the back happens when a migrant worker slows down the line - actually, the whole line will collectively stare... maybe it's for the immigration officer.

Anyway, after all that hassle... it's 5 seconds at the immigration station, where I calmly put my finger print on a scanner and it says "Please Enter". 10 seconds got me to the baggage conveyor belt, where my overweight bags are already there. 2 minutes to load up and whisk pass customs. 30 minutes later, the airport express got me to Central station. 10 more minutes, a taxi brought me home comfortably. In less than an hour, I got from seat 34F to home.

So why all bumping and grinding at the airport? Well, because it's Hong Kong! Efficiency. Big city rudeness. At least the move from NY to HK improved one aspect of my life.

12/06/2009

Eff you, Great Firewall...!

It's freezing in Beijing. And I can't access Blogspot and Facebook. I'm not sure which is the worst.

I never understood the Great Firewall... whereby China just blocks certain websites as it pleases. Recently, they blocked Google because of "offensive material" appearing on their searches. Uh huh. Punish the messenger.

Eff you, Great Firewall! I can still post blog entries via emails and read blogs via Google Reader. Woohoo! But I'm off Facebook for a while. Woohoo!

(And let me try to attach a picture to see what it does)

12/05/2009

SuperFreaknenomics

Thanks to Google Offline, I can now draft emails on a long haul plane from US to China! That means I can also draft blog entries - yes, I'm aware I can do this on Word as well, but I just don't like Microsoft that much and would much prefer doing it through email. (Um, plus the China Firewall prevents me from accessing Blogspot) The only downside is that I can't reference other pages until I get a connection.

Just finished the Freakenomics sequel SuperFreakenomics. As far as sequel goes, this performs along the same lines: something new and refreshing, but overall not as good as the first one.

The book starts out with a bang (pardon the pun) with a discussion on prostitution, leading to a broad discussion of gender inequalities and some reasons behind it. Fascinating read, and not just because of the price of different sexual tricks and the story of one entrepreneur in the industry. I love, for example, the brief discussion on the discrepancies of male and female earnings, explained mostly by difference in average hours worked (women work less) and appetite for more earnings (men are more motivated to earn money - um, yeah, it's called capitalistic greed).

The following two chapters are a downer: one was a discussion on the value of data (duh) and how it can lead to terrorists (The Wire has taught me well: Follow the money, and you open all sorts of shit cans). Another was a discussion on whether humans are inherently good or bad with a slight dig towards popular beliefs and popular media. Pretty boring.

Then came the chapters that fired up people: seat belts and global warming. Obviously, they put these chapters at the end cus they knew it was going to be controversial:
  • Seat belts should be sufficient for older children and that the more expensive car seats are merely a money making machine that prey on parent's insecurities but doesn't help save the child more than a seat belt would.
  • There may not be a global warming.  Even if there was global warming, the solution is cheap and simple and only $250 million.
My thoughts on the seat belts: listen to the economists with no stakes (other than their own children) in the trade. It's the most impartial opinion you'll get and, hey, you can keep testing it to see if their are right with the initial test results. Naysayers need to look at the data more and stop being too emotional about the authors trying to kill their kids.

My thoughts on global cooling and geo-engineering: INTERESTING. I want to know more. And I think here is where SuperFreakenomics fail a bit. A lot of "INTERESTING", but not a whole lot of discussions on those points. I wish the book were (gasp) longer on these chapters. Perhaps the simple solution was too simple and just was tht short? I find that hard to believe. Anyway, the Chinese have always been about geo-engineering (Mao says 人定勝天, people can always triumph nature), clearing the skies of Beijing for the Olympics and the national holidays. Why didn't they consult their Chinese counterparts? Surely there's data to show effects and impacts?

Anyway, too short on things that matter, too much on topics that are more "hey, look at me!". Nonetheless, it was a refreshing read on the plane and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

12/03/2009

Last Hurrah

Well, if there was any doubt what I like most in life, my last few weeks in the US seems to have confirmed it.

Food: Vietnamese sandwich from Saigon Cafe, pho from Nha Trang, bo lah lut from Thai Son, sushi from Yasuda, pastrami sandwich from Katz, pie from Artichoke, burger and shake from Shake Shack, brunch from Clinton Street, steak from Del Frisco's, sloppy joe from Millburn Deli, oreo ice cream sandwich from Bandera, deep dish pizza from Borcino's, and my own cooking of 沙茶牛肉, 腐乳通菜, 糖醋排骨

Photography: all the food above, walking on the Brooklyn Bridge, hike in Harriman

Entertainment: In the Height (musical), MET, Knicks game, Jets game, Patriots game, This is It, 2012, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Book of Basketball, SuperFreakenomics, work out, Heroes, Flashforward, and other TV series

Work: slides on how to buy diamonds, slides on the online travel industry in China, and thoughts on marketing a country overseas

That about sums it up through empirical data, whereby I am pressed for time and I can only do the things I like most. Food, photography, and outdoors first, then sports and various senses stimulating entertainment (to different degrees)

12/01/2009

Sushi Yasuda

I just had one of the most satisfying meals I had in New York, courtesy of Sushi Yasuda. Thanks to a great recommendation from Rambling and Gambling after I complained of a not-so-perfect omakase meal from Sushi Yasuda (Website) couple months back, TF and I made a reservation at Yasuda's station to get the best. Hey, it's my last day in New York, I'm going all out.

The sushi, real quick:
  • The absolute best: Yasuda calls it the Custard Sushi, which is made of egg and yam. I have never heard of or had a sushi like this one. While it harbored many tastes and textures, it had a hint of sweetness that was the perfect followup to all the fish sushi. Yasuda explained that the Custard Sushi was rarely made in the US and that the ingredients all came from Japan (I think, it was loud). And that it had something to do with the year 1934. My god it was good. Next time I have it, I will write down what he said.
  • Maybe the best I've had: Uni, Tamago, Ebi
  • Great: Tako, Unagi, Otoro, Oyster
  • Good: Toro, Salmon
The station, however, was what amazed me.

Our seats were on the side of the sushi station so we had a good view of all the stations down the bar. Watching Yasuda work his magic is fascinating. He's the only chef with a bucket of seafood in front of him (all the other sushi chefs had their seafood in the bar window). He peers into the box, puts his hand in, picks and chooses, and takes a cut of fish out. With perfect precision and utmost concentration, he slices the fish and examines it for a split second. He puts the fish back into the bucket and starts handling the rice. He grabs a small bit of rice, and massages it into a sushi with both hands deliberately, and then quickly puts the fish on top, applies a small about of sauce, and then places it on your plate with a twist of his wrists.

You have to be there to appreciate it. His hands are lightning quick. They are always on the move, doing something to create the next best piece of sushi. Serving six customers continuously, he remembers every single piece he made. If you ask him a question, he will answer it with great detail on where the fish is from, how it was prepared, and what other ingredient is used.

In fact, he will tell you how to eat it: immediately, within 15 seconds of being served, with no sauce, so as to "have the perfect temperature for the fish and the rice to taste just right". Hence no pictures of food - I do apologize. The man seemed like a semi-sushi-Nazi about everything happening at his station. He wanted our experience to be perfect. I don't want to be yelled at. Can you blame him?

TF told me that in her last visit, Yasuda told her not to eat her sushi fish-side-down and that "nobody eats their pizza upside down". I looked it up and every where I go it says fish-side-down. I, however, did not have the guts to challenge the grand master, placing my sushi fish-side-up like a good little boy.

And "how do/should you eat your sushi?" is now the biggest question in my life. Do you go with popular wisdom with "fish-side-down" or with Yasuda's "rice-side-down"?

11/30/2009

2012

Well, 2012 and Fantastic Mr. Fox (review here) is not a 2-fer. It's just 4 "free" AMC tickets (2 from the This is It debacle).

Anyway, onto the movie 2012 (IMDB)... here's what we want from a disaster flick, a.k.a. Deep Impact 2 (Sorry, there was no disaster in the more entertaining Armageddon besides Ben Affleck's unfortunate acting):
  • Impossible disaster: check
  • Impossible solution: check
  • Urgency: check
  • Close to zero chance of success: check
  • Earthquakes that wipe out continents: check
  • Tsunamis about the height of the ocean: check
  • Rich assholes: check
  • Scheming politicians: check
  • Humorous crazy white dude: check
  • White kids in distraught: check
  • White parents in distraught: check
  • White folks running: check
  • White folks keep making impossible escapes: check
  • Pet needs to be saved: check
  • People dying: check
  • Minorities getting screwed: check
  • White and black hero: check
  • Black president: check
  • Tenuous relationships that need to be resolved through disaster because they just can't do that when times are normal: check
Actually... it has awesome special effects and that's all you need to know. It was entertaining and I love the Tibet solution. Some plot holes:
  • So UK cancels the London Olympics due to incoming disaster... and it's snowing in DC... right
  • US chief scientists asks "what's at 29,000 feet"? You don't know Mount Everest!? Besides, wouldn't Noah's Arc measure in metrics (meters) instead of feet?
  • Speaking of units, India use Celsius, not Fahrenheit
  • Danny Glover as a black president. Morgan Freeman should always be the black president (oh, and he will be in Invictus, movie I really look forward to)
It's dumb but entertaining. And 30 minutes too long. Sure, I'll recommend it.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I'm not sure what to make of Fantastic Mr. Fox (IMDB)...

It's a fun movie to sit through. It had great voices from great actors (Clooney, Streep, Murray, Dafoe - missing Weaver for the evil cider farmer tho... that would have been great). It had some great moments of humor. It had some good life lessons. It had pretty good animation. It had man vs. nature. It had passions in life vs. responsibilities. Basically, it had everything a good serious animated movie would have.

But... I just can't put the whole thing together and enjoy it as a movie for some reason. Maybe because I didn't know what to expect? Maybe I need to watch it again? I don't know.

Fun movie. I think I recommend it though. I think.

11/28/2009

Black Friday and the US Consumer Market

Interesting experience last night. TF learned that the Armani Exchange at Soho is opening at midnight to welcome Black Friday. When we got there at 1:30am or so, it was mostly empty... because the only sale was $50 off $150 purchase, and most of the store was selling at full price anyway. And none of the other stores in Soho were open for midnight madness. What a debacle.

We didn't buy a thing out of protest (and lack of good design), wandered in Soho for a few minutes, and went back home to continue the sleep. Oh, and we banned AE until next Thanksgiving.

This morning, right before I left home, a friend of mine from HK asked how the US consumer market is. Glad you asked. Here's what I've seen:
  • There were no crazy sales in Soho. Max was 50% at Esprit and 41% at Kenneth Cole. Most name brand stores carried a 25% discount across all items and that was it. (I miss outlet shopping, which probaby had steeper discounts)
  • There were no crazy crowds in Soho either. Most busy was American Eagle and their high school customers. Especially compared to last year, where TF said by 9am was madness at most stores
  • Bags observed on the street: 50% had bags... mostly of Armani Exchange, H&M, American Eagle, and Uniqlo variety
Which leads me to conclude:
  • Retailers are doing okay. They don't seem to have much excess inventory and they can live with the small discounts during Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas
  • Revenue is probably a small but positive growth from last year, but profits should be much better if the inventory was indeed well managed
  • Chinese factories are probalby suffering from fall off in orders in 2009... at least they can make stuff for they backyard; imagine the factories in Central America
Consumers were trained on 2008 to expect deep deep price cuts. TF, for example, is not happy with the little discounts, and didn't shop much. No worries, me thinks. Materialism will prevail in a capitalist society and they will be well trained by next Thanksgiving!

So... Retailers will be fine and consumers will slowly live the truth. Except for Armani Exchange, of course, who cost me 2 hours of sleep last night. Boo.

11/25/2009

Entertain thyself, continued (In the Heights)

On my last post, I really meant to include "In the Heights" but it slipped through the cracks. Guess that's the priority: sports, movie, musicals.

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After flirting briefly with TKTS, we decided to get our tickets from Plum, which actually offered better seats for the same price. Front mezzinine, front row for $80ish.

I liked the show overall. It depicts the local life of a bunch of immigrants from South America... which reminded me a bit of Rent (about a local group of yuppies).
  • Music: Good music with some rap and latino flare mixed in with regular musical songs. It was a venture into some new music on stage and I thought they did a marvelous job on it. Rap voice doesn't travel as well as sung voice, so it was sometimes drowned out by the orchestra music. There's also a bit of Spanish in the songs, tho they do a decent job of mixing in the translation in the dialouge. The next version would most definitely be much improved
  • Cast: Decent performances from the cast. The lead guy (Usnavi) was pretty good with his rap but lacked expression on stage. The other leads were decent - Benny was consistent through out and performed well; Nina shined in the first act but faded in the second act. Decent performances for the rest of the cast.
  • Story: Well, it's your standard musical story. Introduction to all (smartly done), tension builds, someone dies, and all is resolved at the end. I enjoyed the 2nd act much better than the 1st, which I thought was a bit noisy and chaotic with the story free-flowing towards nowhere... thankfully it all tightened up in the 2nd act
  • Set: The set was somewhat boring with little interaction...
I enjoy musicals... but haven't gone to much while in NYC. Just not a priority compared to others!

11/24/2009

Entertaining thyself in NYC: the Knicks, the Movie, and the Jets

Thank god TF doesn't work at Evanston. Being in NYC with a lot of free time has been a huge blessing. I'm a lucky person, what can I say.

The Knicks

After the last Criagslist debacle trying to buy Cavs tickets, I tried again. Apparently the Warriors are a much easier ticket to score. I paid $60 per ticket (Face value $90) to a season ticket holder who couldn't wait to get rid of his tickets.

The game was a complete blah. The Knicks are a sorry team with no defense and no offense. Apparently Chris Duhon is not Steve Nash. Who saw that coming? Poor David Lee is stuck anchoring a non-existing defense and is being worked over on both ends. They've gotten Eddy Curry back and are surprisingly playing well with him. Oh, and there was a Darko sighting, which is always intriguing. I keep waiting for his up-side to show up.

The Warriors were more intriguing: superb offensive power with Ellis, Jackson, Morrow, and Moore (Mikki Moore, that is, just a joke of course), and Radolph. But no one to set up or direct the plays. So the whole game was a lot of Ellis and Jackson one-on-one, will Nellie pulling his hair out on the sidelines (quite funny when he storms into the court for a timeout). The Warriors have since dealt Captain Jack to relieve the backcourt clog and give Ellis the keys to the offense. They should become better.

Anyway, the game was boring at best and the Knicks lost by 20 something to the Warriors. Yay. Recommended for the great seats, but not for the experience!

The Movie

This is It (IMDB) at the 86th Street AMC... the experience was interesting.

First the theater: ghetto. The only reason we went there was cus 1. They were playing This is It at 7pm and 2. I was buying Jets tickets from a guy who lived around there but was only available at 9pm. Oh, and 3. We had an AMC pass. Anyway, the theater was small and smelling and the seats were squeaky and not well maintained. The crowd at the theater were the New Moon crowd - teenage girls who were screaming and OMGing all the time. Awful experience.

Then the movie: well. Ghetto as well. Despite a start time of 7:05, the previews didn't start till 7:15, and finally the movie started around 7:25... except that it was New Moon, to the great disgust of the audience (yeah, you wouldn't believe it, but they are decidedly different from the New Moon crowd). 10 minutes later, the manager came in to apologize and restart the movie. At 7:45, we finally got previews (previews again!?), and the movie started thereafter. One hour delay.

Now the real movie: This is It is basically the entire concert. They play every song in its final or close to final rehersal version. If you are an MJ fan, you basically see and imagine the concert right in front of your eyes. If not, like myself, then it's a bit of a drag for 2 hours (3 if you count the wait time we had). Nonetheless, it was a great portrait of MJ the artist meticulously preparing for his come back tour. The man was energized and prepared with a vision that none of the other artists saw. He basically knew exactly what he wanted and made all the others do it to his precise requirements.

I'm just sad that his concert never materialized. It would have been a great display of music and talent. And may all artists (Britney, especially you) and reality TV stars pay attention to how you can become a real entertainer! Movie recommended if you are an MJ fan. If you can swing one at an open theater where you can sing and scream and dance, even better!

The Jets

You may not believe this, but I have never been to a football game live. Ever. I've seen NBA, MLB, NHL, soccer, even college sports... but never an NFL game. My last weekend in NYC is the weekend of Thanksgiving, and luckily there are a lot of tickets avaialble at face value. Not that anyone would want to see the sorry Jets play the equally sorry Panthers. Anyway, I got tickets for field level, 15 yard line, row 7, so I'm super excited! (Just wondering if TF shares the same enthusiasm...)

11/18/2009

Bill Belichick's decision

When I saw it unravel on TV, I had two reactions:
  1. Speaking to myself: holy fuck, what the hell is he doing?
  2. Thinking to myself: that's a gutsy call... fuck Peyton Manning, we're going for it.
Wednesday after a Sunday, people are still talking about whether it is the right call or not. All the statisticians have came to Belichick's defense, while most sports personalities have been against.

I'm in the for-camp. I was chatting with my friend while the game was still going. Quickly throwing out these percentages on the top of my head:
  • Prob of converting 4th down: 50%
  • Prob of Colts scoring 7 from the 30 yard line: 90%
  • Prob of Colts scoring 7 for their own 30 yard line: 70%
So the Pats had a 55% of winning (50% + 50% * 10%) if they go for it. And 30% if they punted. So with the top of my head probabilities, Belichick was right. And that's not even adding the probability that the Colts score quickly, and Brady has the ball back to drive for a field goal in a minute.

Of course you can poke holes. The biggest argument that the anti-decision camp make is that you have to trust your defense to stop the Colts. Basically, they say the 70% is lower. Okay, let's examine: Peyton Manning just completed a 2 minute 80 yard touchdown drive (after a suspect pass interference call). He also has the 2 minute warning and a Colts timeout to use. If you're pegging his prob of success to be lower than 55%, I think you are greatly underestimating the QB. But hey, that's just me!

I think Steve Levitt says it best: it's a principle-agent problem with coaches. The probabilities are in the teams favor, but most coaches are adverse to taking risky decisions that are game changing.

11/17/2009

#16 Bill Simmons

Resume: 12 years, 8 quality, 8 All-Stars...

The case for Simmons as a Level 2 journalist is a long list:

He's the only journalist on the list to have a nickname, and that should count for something. He started posting his thoughts online as the Boston Sports Guy in 1997, when blog wasn't even a word yet. He's a pioneer of the "from a fan's point of view" style of writing. Biased and passionate, Simmons was unique among writers. His ability to reference pop culture was unparalleled. During his apex from 2002 to 2004, he routinely churned out a quality piece a week, sometimes two, and had readers checking his website every hour to see if a new article has popped up.

And then there's his contributions to fans: the immortal Ewing Theory, Level of Losing, the annual NBA Draft Diary, the Peyton Manning (among others) Face, in-game running diaries (since stolen by ESPN in-game chats), the Tyson/Artest Zone, the Annual NBA Trade Value column, the Atrocious GM Summit, Mailbags (actual emails from actual fans, baby!), Weekyl NFL picks (You know, if gambling were legal), Mount Rushmore of (Since stolen and popularized by other writers), and a fist fight with Isiah Thomas. As Simmons would always say, I made the last part up.

And those were only the ones that made it with fans (more on that later).

In only 12 years, he's already amassed millions of readers (some may even be fans, a rarity for sports journalists)... and counting. So why isn't the Boston Sports Guy ranked higher?

Well, you really have to put his career in perspective. From 1997 to 2001, Simmons wrote two to three columns a week on his own website. Sure, that's a lot of writing, but his readers were all die-hard Boston Red Sox/Celtics/Patriots/Bruins and wrestling fans. If you are evaluating him for the pyramid, you have to look at post 2001 numbers.

Did his rise as a sports columnist in 2001/2 coincide with the underdog New England Patriots winning the SuperBowl, with the Ewing Theory almost being changed to the Bledsoe Theory? You bet! What about the Red Sox, who were competitive enough to be an interesting topic to write and read about, but not enough to advance past the Yankees (in fact, the harder the Red Sox fell ('99, '01), the better the reaction of Simmon readers)? And then there's the Celtics, who were such an inept team even after they finally dropped the Rick "Larry Bird is not walking through that door, Kevin McHale is not walking through that door" Pitino. In 2001, they drafted Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown, and then Joe Forte (thanks, Red, ahead of Parker), then traded the only blue chip (Johnson). What about the Bruins... oh, who am I kidding, the Bruins did nothing to enhance Mr. Simmons' career.

Coincidences all in Simmons' favor? I say yes.

Speaking of coincidences, more things to put into perspective: his apex from 2002 to 2004 happened the same time where he moved to LA to work on Jimmy Kimmel's staff. Hollywood, where osmosis happens. Simmons benefited immensely from hanging out with other fellow writers much like players from the '86 Celtics benefited from the Bird/Walton osmosis.

And the drop off after 2004? Well, to put it simply, the Boston Sports Guy became the Sports Guy. He left Jimmy Kimmels show where his colleagues constantly challenged him to become better and then joined ESPN to work with the very people that he has always dispised - sports journalists who report in an unbiased way. Suddenly, there's self sensorship - Simmons lamented that "certain promises were not kept" by ESPN and that ESPN "won't let me be me" (cry me a river please), there's pod-casts, and, the worst, there're less columns. Isn't this Scott Templeton in The Wire where a news writer just wants to be on better media mediums such as radios and TVs? I'm not saying Simmons made anything up... but his aspiration is to eventually be in TV, even though he looks horrible on TV. Perhaps his role as executive producer for ESPN's 30 in 30 might finally reinvent his role with ESPN and propel him to a Level 1 guy.

When looking at Simmons' career, you also cannot ignore the fact that the entire period from 1997 to 2009 was where sports stopped being fun and started to commercialize. Sky rocketing ticket prices ($100 for Red Sox bleacher tickets!?) and unimaginable free agent signings (I don't even want to list examples here) turned the casual fan off. And many of them turned to the"from a fan's point of view" style of Bill Simmons, finding a comfort place where "someone still understood how they felt". Oh, and of course, there's this thing called the Internet that aided - understatement of the century - the popularizing of the Boston Sports Guy.

Those are all circumstantial, of course. Coincidences that, looking back, may or may not have been a valid reason for Simmon's rise to #16. I say yes, and that's that. But there are also these out-right failures: discontinued cartoon series on ESPN, incomplete all-time sports movie rankings, etc.

The biggest failure ever: losing to the Sports Gal twice in picking NFL games (and possibly many more March Madness brackets) over two seasons. Look, either you never compete with your wife or you beat her soundly. There's no middle ground here.

The second biggest failuer: openly lobbied for being the General Manager of the Milwaukee Bucks and then losing to John Hammond. Actually, maybe that was a joke. I'm not sure.

And hence his ranking at #16 and on the verge of being a level 1 guy. Quick footnote: I concede that he's career is on-going and may head for higher if he does return to his roots as a writer. Perhaps 30-in-30 will put him back on the map.

I once was a huge fan of the Boston Sports Guy. TF and I still use his definition (The toothbrush rule) to mark the date when she became my girlfriend. I used to check his website all the time to see if a new article was posted. Now? Well, in 2008, his article came behind Season 2 of Lost (see entry). That should be telling, right?

So, #16 it is for now. He can still write. I just hope it will be a column instead of more pod-casts and shows.

I will say this tho: trying to write a ranking profile for Bill Simmons made me appreciate his Book of Basketball that much more. Amazing book for NBA fans. Highly recommended - again.

11/14/2009

The Book of Basketball

I got the new Bill Simmon's "Book of Basketball" (Amazon) a week ago at a book signing. When I got to Borders for The Sports Guy to sign it, there was a ONE HOUR line. One hour! So instead of a personalized signed copy, I got signed copies only... and that's only because I was moving that day and the movers were knocking on the door

(My plan of quickly seeing the Sports Guy in person, snap a picture of him, have him sign the damn book, and back to the apartment to wait for movers fell through...)

It's actually a very thoughtfully written book so far. I loved "Now I Can Die in Peace", but "Book of Basketball" is much much better. The Sports Guy takes us through the history of basketball, several controversies, and then through a list of basketball players he deemed significant. I'm at p.620 now, and I am quite satisfied as an NBA fan.

Recommended? Of course! But only for NBA fans. It even inspired me to write a future blog entry (evil mind in works).

11/10/2009

Dilbert should be comic only

A month after buying the Dilbert book (yes, there's a book) for $1 at a garage sale, I abandoned the attempt at page 59. The Dilbert series are made to be comic strips and they ought to stay that way.

I guess comics are like powerpoint presentations. They have one message only and that message is explained in a condense/accurate/general way. You get into the details and explain it in all different ways, it's like going back to the word version of the powerpoint!

Not recommended.

11/08/2009

Why Craigslist Failed

So yesterday, I was trying to grab a pair of tickets to see LeBron James destroy the Knicks. There was a pretty good chance that 80% of his FGs would have been dunks with David Lee manning the middle. Since Stubhub is such a rip off, I resorted to Craigslist.
  • Asshole #1: after we agreed on $250 via email, he calls me and says it's $275. Then it's $300. I should have kept saying yes and backed off the deal at the end.
  • Asshole #2: after we agreed on $180 and a meeting time and place via phone call, he pulls a no-show/ no-call/ no-nothing on us... 30 minutes before the game!
Eventually, TF and I went to MSG and tried to scalp tickets. The first quarter was about done, and the scalpers are still looking for $150 each! Um, I think I'll watch it on TV. Anyway, turns out the first quarter was the best quarter, so we lucked out n a weird way.

But it did get me thinking on how Craigslist became what it is now. Craigslist used to be the place to go when you needed anything. It was the classifieds for the Internet generation, and it covered every aspect. Years ago in In Boston, I found a 1 month sub-lease, I found a temporary roommie, I even sold a Total Gym! In Chicago, I sold all my furniture, even the 230 pound TV! Good times. Now?
  • Instead of being the mecca for house listings, it's filled the real estate agents; the listings most people are looking for are buried under
  • In fact, you can say that about all the listings (except for garage sale) - tickets included... so many of them were ticket brokers
  • Meaning, you can't really find what you need on craigslist most of the time.
Did Craigslist just insist that they don't regulate the classifieds and let users run amok? Well, they did. Businesses took advantage of the free service and overwhelmed it. Plus everything is annonymous so people like asshole #1 and #2 are all over Craigslist. That's what happens when you offer a free and good product but don't hold people accountable.

A shame, really.

11/07/2009

Same picture

A verticle shot works even better... shame that I only realized this after posting my original one. Oh, and it's Thai Ice Tea from Won Dee Siam. Not a bad place for Thai food, but I've been spoiled in Asia.
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NYC Food...

I've eaten out a lot in NYC. Lots of pictures too. I feel bad that I haven't posted a lot of them. Here's one not for the food, but for the picture. All restaurnats and correspondng pictures will be posted at some point (hmmm... would that be like 50 pages then?)...

Anyway, I liked this picture.
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Two Downtown Conversations in New York

Conversation #1
Tourist: Hey, man, what's going on there? (Pointing at a parade two blocks away)
Josekin: (sigh) That's the parade for the Yankees
Tourist: Oh, wow, I love the Yankees. Thanks! (Happily trots over to the parade)
Josekin: (Shaking head - man, I hate the Yanks and their "fans")

Conversation #2
Food truck guy: Hey, Chinese man, you work around here?
Josekin: No, I live near here.
Food truck guy: Aw, damn, Chinese man rich!
Josekin: No, my fiance pays the rent.
Food truck guy: Really? High five!

Speaking of which, did you know LeBron James is a whining Yankee fan? How can he be a Yankee fan?

11/04/2009

Where the Wild Things Are

Okay, I've never read the books so I'm just a bit less appreciative of the movie.

Where the Wild Things Are (IMDB): this shouldn't be a movie for kids, despite the "lonely boy runs away from family and assumes position as king among some big headed wild things" plot. In fact, it's got a slightly depressing theme and is actually quite sophisticated in its message on how people conform (or not) to society. Or maybe I'm just over-analyzing it. Anyway, the movie was cute at times and boring at others. Ultimately, directors need to think about what they want to make: a movie adapting a children's book and for children, or a adult version of it. Mixing it just didn't work for either.

I do recommend the part where Douglas' arms were ripped off.

Not recommended for adults... nor for children.

10/31/2009

Fuck Windows

What can be worse than the BSOD in the modern world???? (Blue Screen of Death, duh!)

Try "Windowns cannot repair this computer automatically "

Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrgggggggggggggg. Mother fucking fuck fucking A! Pardon me for swearing.

Last night, I went to sleep thinking "Fuck Windows, I'm getting a Mac. Macs won't screw me like this"

Rescue mission underway now. Let's see how well Lenovo "Rescue and Recovery" does.

10/29/2009

Chasing foliage... chasing memories

I lived in CT, I lived in Boston, and now I am living temporarily in NYC. Always heard about chasing foliage, always wanted to go, never did. So when the chance came knocking on my door, I jumped at it.

Surprisingly, the chasing led me to Kent School, my high school in CT! I'm skipping all the other pictures and going straight to Kent.

Ivy hanging on the library
The following three are all on the Macedonia River


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The sad part is, at no point while at Kent did I notice the beauty of The Fall. When we drove by Kent, I noticed The Villager, Fife and Drum, Shanghai Chinese, Pizza Garden, Coffee Shop (all eating establishments, obviously)... I recognize some of the shops and B&Bs... all the commercial stuff. And yet I don't notice the simple, innocent, stunning Fall views. For two years, I had the front row seat: right outside the windows of Miller Hall were these exact amazing views.

Anyway, I do notice now! I slowly examined the campus and took tons of pictures. And I look at the aforementioned results of capitalism and skipped them all.

While at the Shanghai Chinese Restaurant, the owner came out to greet me, telling me that I look familiar. Yeah right, sure. It's been 12 years! 10 minutes later, she runs out of her restaurant, and asks whether I had a brother who went to Kent. She does remember.

10/27/2009

Gladiator, Revisited

Re-watched Gladiator on TNT the other day. Actually, I only watched my favorite scene where the slaves worked together in their first coliseum fight. As I re-watched this scene, I realized that I couldn't understand anything that was said (all murmurs and shouts)... it was a simple action scene and I liked it. That's it.

How did this silly movie win Oscar awards is beyond me. This is like a MVP race gone wrong: how did Gladiator beat Traffic? Definitely Traffic got the biggest snub... then it's , Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon and Chocolat, apparently two foreign dis-favorites which were both more worthy than Gladiator. And then there's Erin Brocovich... probably the same as Gladiator.

What a debacle.

10/26/2009

Cirque du Freak

Saw a free pre-show thanks to our friend S&E and their American Express connections. If it weren't free, I wouldn't have watched it.

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant (IMDB) - to be fair, I had no expectations whatsoever. So with the low expectations, I went to the movies and my expectations were fulfilled. The main debate post-show was which was the worse movie: du Freak or Couples Retreat (review)? I think Couples Retreat was worse because in du Freak, I only felt bored for about an hour and I only shook my head five times. Not recommended. While the ending set up for a bunch of potential sequels, fans of the movie (mostly teenagers, I'm guessing?) will be disappointed. No way a sequel will be made. And may all other vampire movies rest in peace.

10/25/2009

Flashforward (TV)

They marketed the show as "from the creators of Lost".

They forgot the other tag line "for the dumbest audiences who watched Lost without trying to figure anything out".

Big disappointment with way too many predictable subplots. The premise had so much promise but the execution was piss poor. I haven't totally given up on the show yet, but each episode is slowly wearing me down... and we're only at episode 4.
  • Yup, some FBI regional director is playing basketball with the president
  • Yup, some senator was just made VP because president wanted funding for the FBI regional director
  • Yup, the same senator is going to be president in her (alleged) flashforward
My head hurts. Not recommended at all. Arg. I had hope before.

10/24/2009

Naming the Child - from Freakenomics

There's a lot of controversy surrounding their new book Superfreakenomics regarding environment and global warming.

No controversy on Steve's heartfelt piece about losing his child though. I think I want to buy the book.

Although I can't speak for my father, I can speak for myself (compared to my mom). I think the pain is secondary. It is the loss of memory that is the saddest part. On some random day, I would try very hard to remember what he looked like and what we did together. I remember some signature moments before 1996... like the time our sword fight broke the ceiling lamp and we decided together that we'd admit it at the same time... or the time where we locked our little brother outside a room (sorry, James, we still love you)... or the times where we played the computer games while one of us played look out for my parents... or the few basketball games where we played pick and roll to perfection... the details are murky, but the memories are there somewhat.

From 1996 to 2003, he and I rarely spent extended time together as I went to the US to study; he soon followed, but we were always in different cities. I remember his ever-changing hair - from crew cut to shaved head to long hippie. I remember calling him after a break up. I remember his surprised face when he won the physics award at graduation - he was probably snoozing when they announced his name. I remember visiting him at CMU... and that our pick and roll deteriorated and he blamed himself after the game (truth is I couldn't defend a bigger faster kid). But beyond those, I don't remember much.

The fading memory is double edged.

It hurts when you remember. The one thing I do remember clearly is how the day of July 23 2003 unfolded. Every single detail is still so vivid. My journey from Boston to Hong Kong seems to happen repeatedly in my memory.

It hurts more when you don't. How can I only remember his face when I go to his grave? How can I forget all the things we did together as teenagers? Sometimes I think it's because I'm not that good a brother back then (James once called me Big Bother). Other times I don't think anything... and try to remember.

10/17/2009

The Michael Lewis Effect - what's wrong with this picture:

A while ago, I read this great article by Micheal Lewis (of MoneyBall Fame) on the value of Shane Battier. I'm still skeptical of the points, but it's nonetheless a good attempt on trying to define some intangibles in basketball.

Then comes this poster:

Okay, so this is Kobe preparing to dunk, probably a reference to the Lakers' defending their title with their star player. Probably.

So, who are the other characters in the poster trying to chase him? In categories:
  • Good chance: KG (Celtics), Manu Ginobili (Spurs)
  • Distant maybe: Carmelo Anthony (Nuggets), Chris Paul (Hornets), Deron Williams (Jazz)
  • No way in hell: Baron Davis (Clippers)
  • Okay, they are there because they are cute: Bulls, Nuggets, Suns mascots
And then there are the two right in front of the rim:
  • Derrick Rose (Bulls) - okay, I can understand the Rookie of the Year being there...
  • Shane Battier (Rockets)!!!!!!????? That's the best person from the Rockets you can put on the poster? Not Yao? Not T-Mac? Not Luis Scola? Not Trevor Ariza?
Not sure how 2K sports designed their posters. Maybe Kobe called and demanded
  1. "you make sure you put Shane Battier trying to block me... make sure he has no lift whatsoever so it looks like I can dunk on his sorry ass.
  2. Put Denver at my feet - I had a bad experience there a few years back.
  3. Nobody from the Orlando Magic - they weren't worthy
  4. Put KG there, he was worthy - I need motivation to destroy him
  5. And I won't share the stage with LeBron. No, I won't accept it."

10/14/2009

Better Luck Tomorrow

I'm blogging from mid-air from LAX to JFK. Awesomeness. I think the best is still on-demand movies from Cathay, followed by JetBlue's live TV... inflight Internet would be the third best "let time fly by" toy tat helps everybody involved. (Including consultants who now will have to work on planes)

Anyway, I saw Better Luck Tomorrow (IMDB) with college buddy WL and his gf yesterday. I vaguely remember this movie from way before when it was a hit for a lot of Asian Americans as it depicted SoCal (TF's old stomping grounds by the way) Asian lives.

Not a bad movie, although I'm not sure how it is specific to Asian Americans vs. other ethnic groups. It seems like Lord of the Flies in SoCal, that's about it. Slightly recommended.

Quick note on John Cho, who plays the victim in Better Luck Tomorrow. He will forever be Harold. No other movie or show will convince me otherwise. I was watching him play an FBI agent in Flashforward, but I can't help but laugh when he tries to be serious. Funny how Kumar can be Van Wilder, doctor (on House), and terrorist (on one or two episodes of 24) but Harold gets molded.

10/13/2009

SF answers me

Yesterday I mentioned that SF transit sucks.

Today, SF answers with its finest.

10/12/2009

Public Transit in SFO

For a city that is well known for it's progressive liberalism, San Francisco sure has a lot of explaining to do when it comes to its public transportation - probably better described as "you're better off driving a crappy car with poor emission". Protecting the environment be damned.

The BART is basically the subway system that connects the different parts of the Bay Area. They charge an arm and a leg to use (NY subway rides are $2.50, and normal rides in SF cost around $5).

The Cal train is the commuter rail. They seem to be affordable for the most part but the number of trains are scarce. Today, for example, I found out at 10pm that the last Cal train left at 915pm.

And neither really gets you to your intended destination other than your office in downtown SF. Prepare another $2 for the bus ride over to your true destination.

All of this which roughly translates into "I need a car" or else it's going to cost both my money and my time. Shame on the Bay Area transit system!

10/11/2009

You lose some, you win some

Apparently, the HUGE disappointment of not winning the Olympics has not affected the every day life of Chicagoians despite columnists Jay Marrioti's claims. Move on with life, Chicago.

Obama seemed to have taken a beating for not delivering the Olympics to Chicago... and he's taking another beating for being rewarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The man can't win.

By the way, isn't the Nobel Peace Prize a direct result of Bush fucking it up in his previous term? I think so.

Funny movies...

Another 2-fer at a theater near Stanford... this time with 2-fer rookies WL and JK. They acted calmly and follow my instructions, narrowly escaping from a suspecting custodial worker... just kidding, nobody even checked our tickets in the front.

Zombieland (IMDB) - I wasn't sure what to expect from this movie, but it turned out to be a really funny movie. I couldn't stop laughing when grandma's face was knocked to the tarmac because she didn't wear her seat belt, when a dude was being mauled while doing a #2, when Bill Murray was being Bill Murray (you'll see, don't want to spoil the fun for you), or when Woody Harrelson was shooting on the roller coaster (classic, by the way). Um, yes, it was gory and disgusting when it came to the zombies, but still recommended if you don't mind the red. By the way, since when did zombies run instead of limp towards their victims? I couldn't figure that out.

Couples Retreat (IMDB) - much like the Surrogates (Verdict: Willis is done. Not recommended), this one is also not recommended. Vince Vaughn is still funny - he was a writer for the movie as well - but he needs something fresh to get his career going again. And there was an odd Jean Reno sighting - ah the days of Leon and Ronin. He might be done too... Anyway, not recommended.

10/07/2009

DeeCee FreeBee

The one thing I love about DC is that everything is free. If you can get a place to stay, the city can be explored for days without sweating too much cash. And find a place to stay I did.

I've been to DC twice... several things I'd recommend:
  • Jefferson Memorial at night... it's more quiet than Lincoln Memorial, and the Tidal Basin is quite pretty
  • Lincoln Memorial in the early morning where you can beat the crowd; ditto with any location on the Mall! All the memorials were nice and quiet in the morning.
  • The Mall at night
  • FDR Memorial is nicely tucked inside some woods and on the side of the Tidal Basin
  • I liked the National Gallery and Portrait and I don't think anyone should miss the gallery for presidents; the other museums are really up to your own preference
  • Apparently many miss the National Archives where you can see Constitution and the Declaration of Independence (and Bill of Rights too...)
One note: the food in The Mall is awful. You need to head a bit North to get decent food choices. Like Chipotle and Pot Belly. Yeah, it was that bad.

Overrated:
  • Washington Monument... the outside is fine... you don't really need to go up and see DC through think and dirty glasses. Want proof?
  • The Library at The Capitol... yes, it's pretty, but you can only see if from afar, and no photography allowed (who still uses a library for research anyway??)

10/03/2009

Olympic bids...

Well, ESPN just spent ten minutes to describe the "fall-outs" from Chicago's ouster in the first round of voting for the 2016 Olympic games. Here's what an ESPN reporter had to say:
  • "there's a lot of backroom dealings... been some issues between the US Olympic Committee and the International Committee... it's a huge disappointment... it (Obamas) really didn't matter... it's a defeat for The President and he hasn't suffered much defeat in his career..."
And of course we have the great American free press, courtesy of sports columnist Jay Mariotti:
  • "affects the legacy of The President... and Mayor Daley... Chicago is the 2nd city with an inferiority complex... it hurts a lot... I don't think the city is going to get over it for quite some time..."
What a bunch of BULLSHIT! I'll tell you why Rio deserves to host the Olympics:
  1. "Thousands of people stood in bewildered silence in downtown Chicago on Friday after the International Olympic Committee eliminated the city from the race for the 2016 Summer Olympics in the first round of voting.
  2. "Nearly 50,000 people cheered in celebration when Rio was announced as host, jumping and shouting in a Carnival-like party on Copacabana beach."
Look, they had 50,000 people hoping for a nod of approval. 50,000! Do you know what happens if 50,000 filled Michigan Ave? They become a major annoyance to the locals, that's what.

Want more evidence?
  • After IOC President Jacques Rogge announced the winner, Brazilian football legend Pele was reduced to tears.
  • Think Chicago basketball legend Michael Jordan is in tears? I think not.
It's really quite simple. Brazilians, much like the Chinese years ago, wanted the Olympics more. It was a matter of national pride, and that's that. South America has never hosted an Olympic event. Brazil is already committed to hosting the World Cup in 2014.

Instead of bickering over Obama's lack of influence and faults on the voting system, how about a loud applause to Rio de Jeneiro? ESPN, how about that, a little sunlight for Rio? Please?

10/01/2009

The Wire with TF

I'm blogging from about 40,000 feet over somewhere in Nevada/Arizona. Pretty cool, I'd say. Internet on flights will be a regular thing soon with extended battery lives.

Anyway, I've been watching Season 4 of The Wire with TF lately. I think she's enjoying it. And I'm definitely enjoying it, especially with her reactions during the show. For example, she always gets tensed up when people are walking in the dark alley.
  • "Oh shit, something is going to happen, right?"
  • "Is he going to be shot?"
  • "I'm scared"
Of the people whom she thinks are going to die all the time: Bodie and Carcetti. Whenever a car drives up to Bodie's corner for a re-up, TF instinctively thinks machine guns are going to come blazing out. I'm not sure why she thinks Carcetti is going to die all the time... but obviously she's been movie trained and regular TV trained.
  • "No, hon, nobody is going to shoot the mayor-to-be when he walks out his home"
  • "They are just kids hanging out... nobody is shooting at them"
  • "I told you this was realistic... there's no drama... and nobody is gong to shoot at the police"

Favorite pictures from Grand Canyon

Well, since Picasa idiotically insists that I can only upload four pictures at a same time, I succumb to the technology and painstakinglypicked out four.

I'm not sure if these four are my favorite, but they are up there for various reasons.

Our first sunset from East Canyon. Loved the light and shadows in this picture. The sun was to the right, so I wanted to go away from it a little bit and capture some of the rays and the changing colors:


Our first sunrise from Yaki Point. It's not a good spot for pictures because the sun doesn't really shine on any nice looking rocks after it rises. I framed the sunrise within a tree for this one:

Grand Canyon pictures have to have the Canyon, right? I'm not sure which one is the best, but I do like this one with changing depth, color, and shadows. There's a bit of distortion, but I can't go through all the pictures and pick - I'll end up picking 10 more or so.

The moon... I've always tried to take a picture of the moon with no success. Finally I realized that I have to do it during day time when the sun gives some light to the moon and it looks kind of faint and not overwhelming.

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9/28/2009

Lucky dumbass

Today, TF and I went to Bubby's (Yelp) in Tribeca for brunch. When we arrived, a nasty sign was hung outside: "Sorry for the inconvenience, cash only today".

Citibank was nearby:
  • First machine: wrong password
  • Second machine: wrong password
  • Third machine: wrong password
Frustrated, I went back to the restaurant. We then learned from the hostess that there's an ATM in the family market across the street. Excellent:
  • I asked for $60... but only $20 came out! WTF!?
  • Receipt comes out: it says $0 were dispensed
  • As I put my failing card back in the wallet... oh, that's my CREDIT CARD!?
So I stuck my debit card in and got $60... plus the $20 that someone left in the ATM. The lesson, as usual: I might be a dumbass, but I'm a lucky dumbass!

9/27/2009

Glad I paid for (500) days of summer; Glad I didn't pay for Surrogates

Did another 2-fer today at Union Square theater, and it wasn't even my idea. Since TF (then still PNGF) got away with a 2-fer a month ago, she is no longer panicky about breaking some rules here and there. After we saw (500) Days of Summer, she actually suggested that we go see The Informant... except that the theater was playing Surrogates. Anyway, on to the movies:

(500) Days of Summer (IMDB) - cute little independent romantic comedy. I think the director wanted us to guess why "this isn't a love story" as the narrator tells us at the beginning despite showing a wedding ring and the two main characters on a bench together...
  • Maybe they called off the wedding right after?
  • Maybe she changed her mind again?
  • Maybe she was just helping friend pick the ring?
But, uh, no, I wasn't thinking that at all during the movie. I was just enjoying the little things the two were enjoying together. Nothing fancy. Just living life together and getting to know each other.

And the ending? I thought it was quite nice and very believable. I especially like how it took him 2 weeks to forget the 500 days. That's how it should be. There's a lot more to life (Are you listening, CT?) than just one person... except, uh, you, TF. =) Recommended for a light comedy.

Surrogates (IMDB): I have to admit... even I warned myself that it was going to be a dumb movie judging from the incomprehensible previews. Oh the low expectations were crushed. It was dumber than dumb - stupid really. Since I want to spare you the pain: scientist who invented device where humans use perfect robots to live lives regrets and tried to kill off those robots and the 99% of humans who use them. Bruce Willis investigates and tries to stop him using his real body rather than the robot one. He succeeds in saving all the humans... but will he save the robots too... all he has to do is press ABORT on a computer than links to the world. Uh huh. Yeah yeah. Not recommended. Willis is done. We had good times in Die Hard, didn't we? Allow me to repeat: NOT recommended. At least I didn't pay for it!

9/26/2009

Concert series

Before I came to the USA about 15 years ago, I've never been to a concert in my life. Then I experienced Metallica in the brand new Gillette Stadium back in 2002. There were a bunch of opening band, none of which I remember... except for Linkin Park, who were back then already electrifying. Since then, I've been a concert virgin...

... that is, until I met TF. She's a music fanatic who can name all 2000 songs on her iPod (now a Zune... Boo, I was told) within 5 seconds of the opening music. Song name, band name, album name. As they say, the rest is history:
  • My Chemical Romance - where we hung with a bunch of 15 year olds and their parents in the pit (we stood with the parents... I don't think they enjoyed the music as much as we did)
  • Peter Bjorn and John at Webster Hall - a friend bailed at the last moment so I backed up. Location acoustics sucked, but the band was good despite me knowing exactly one song. Du-du-du-du-du-du-du
  • Band of Horses at Carnegie Hall - by far the best acoustics (duh!) among all locations. TF put a bunch of their songs on my iPod a month before and I didn't know that was them until I heard the live music. I'm lukewarm with their style but the music hall more than made up for it. (The before-concert meal at Carnegie Deli, on the other hand, was downright disappointing)
  • Green Day at MSG - great atmosphere as the band got the MSG audience going for a solid two hours. We're probably a bit older than the average fan, but it was good music nonetheless. The guy next to me stunk tho - arrrrrrrrrg
  • Coldplay (along with Silversun Pickups and Echo and the Bunnyman) in All Points West - where mud happens. The outdoor place was soaked and it was nasty. The live performance was absolutely amazing - both music and energy level were great
Coldplay - the band came so near but we didn't want to move in due to the mud
  • Pet Shop Boys at Hammerstein Ballroom (Thanks, TF) - it was a good place. I knew most of the songs and the crowd was quite fun as well. I'm still a bit confused with the dancing dolls (don't ask)
Dancing buildings... these four, uh, dancers were always in action doing something silly

  • Snow Patrol at Beacon - finally, a concert where I knew most of the songs! The acoustics were okay - a bit uneven with the treble, me thinks. The band had good music but I thought the performance was so-so. We also sat the whole way, which is nice in some regards but also an indication of how the energy level was. I liked it though.
  • U2 at Giants Stadium - TF and I have been looking forward to this. They sold out Giants Stadium (capacity of 82,000!) for a day and immediately added a second day. Amazing. Anyway, U2 did not disappoint - they rocked the place and I am suffering from a sore throat now.
U2 during Unknown Caller
Only one problem... the eye sore in front of us:

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I commented that "when it's all said and done, Coldplay might be a better band than U2," which immediately drew ire from TF. Well, actually, I think in the current world of improving technology and digital music, it will be much easier for Coldplay to further develop their music... and eventually might exceed U2.

9/23/2009

Managing photographs

Since I learned how to use Adobe Lightroom, I've been MUCH MORE efficient in handling my photographs. (Sorry, I didn't know how else to emphasize that)

It's not as convenient as Picasa, but LR gives you excellent control over how you move them along the assembly line:
  • Picking which photos: especially with digital photogrpahy, this becomes infinitely important. Quick star ratings, color coding, and flagging puts LR waaaaaaay ahead
  • Cropping: the fact that you can create copies of a picture and then crop it different ways to compare and contrast is great...
  • Editing and finishing touches: It isn't as powerful as Photoshop, but the key functions are there and the add-ons are headed towards that direction. LR will soon be the photoshop for photographers only
Overall, it just makes going through 1000 pictures from the Grand Canyon much easier (Albums for GC and Sedona).

However, TF doesn't like LR quite that much because it's slower (I think its her computer) and not as user-friendly (not many automatic things compared to Picasa). I finally gave up and had her using Picasa again. And then Picasa came up with 3.5 yesterday.

I'm testing it out right now and boy is it a powerful photo software. If it has some sort of rating and filtering mechanism, I think it'll be a preferred software for the most amateur photographers. Among the functions:
  • Face recognition and auto-synch with your Gmail address book
  • Auto-synch if you upload those pictures
  • Geo tagging
  • One touch editing
Good software. But with some glitches:
  • It tagged Statue of Liberty and Mona Lisa
  • It suggested that my former manager was me
  • It suggested that a fomer colleague is TF (She's not amused)
  • It suggested that some 50 pictures of various old men were my college buddy PF (ha!)

9/21/2009

Movies - Inglorious Bastards... and, uh, The Break Up

Inglorious Bastards (IMDB) - Interesting movie by Tarantino about Nazi hunting parties. Many parts of the movie are taken straight out of the Kill Bill movies, all the way down to the music.

Several scenes I thought were worth going over again.
  • In the first 20 minutes: Jew hunter Nazi Hans Landa (more on him later) vs. "we're in the Nazi killing business, and business is booming" Aldo Raine
Both are ruthless in their missions. Both are very good at their jobs. Both are slightly crazy - as in they've thrown away human decency because that's what the job requires. Tarantino does the same thing as he did in Kill Bill. You start off being very angry at the Nazis at their cruelty... then you laugh and agree with the same cruelty Brat Pitt and crew exhibit. Who's right? Who's wrong?
  • At the end of the movie: Nazi soldier turned star actor Fredrick Zoller vs. The Bear Jew Donny Donowitz - both slaughtering their targets
The Nazi (German??) sniper is doing his job by shooting all who run at his direction. While watching his own premier, he is disgusted with the brutality of all the killings. Meanwhile, Allied soldiers have their machine guns and shoot at anything that's moving (and then some that aren't) - yeah, they're mostly Nazi high command... and their innocent significant others.
  • Surviving Jewish turned French theater owner Shosanna Dreyfus vs... well, no one in particular.
Well, on one hand, you sympathize with Shosanna and her quest for revenge... and on the other hand, you quiver in her madness at the end of the premier.
  • Hans Landa vs. German actreee Bridget von Hammersmark
Didn't they both want the same thing? An opportunity to survive the inevitable fall of the Nazis. Both found an opportunity drop in their laps (von Hammersmark from learning about the change in theater and her access to it; Landa from learning about von Hammersmark's plans) and used it. Landa, in particular, is stone cold in calculating what he could do with the information that he's picked up with a shoe.

I read somewhere Landa was one of the all-time villains played on screen. I agree. The man is pure evil yet there's something to be admired in the way he approaches his job. Amazing job by the German actor Christoph Waltz. Even TF (PNGF's new name) was impressed!

Recommended... it's a little bit off beat some times, and I definitely didn't enjoy it as much as I did Kill Bill

(Oh, and yeah, we watched The Break Up together as our first movie since engagement. Needless to say, I don't recommend the movie. The ending, however, was a nice touch.)

9/18/2009

War of Necessity, War of Choice by Richard Haas

Is reading a signed copy of a book on the NY subway a good idea? Me thinks not. Luckily, nothing bad happened and the book now sits back on the bookcase in pristine condition.

Phew.

The book is a great account of the first Iraq War and an okay account of the second one. For that reason, the first half of the book is basically a good text book on how the government works in light of an imminent war. How decisions were made, why they were made, and their consequences. Great details into the personalities involved as well. Basically, Haas argues that it was a war of necessity as the tolerance of Iraq's invasion of Kuwait would have cause havoc in US Middle East (oil) interests and, on a grander scale, in world order and how states ought to behave.

However, the second half of the book drops off significantly. Haas himself was not involved in the decision process, so his views are limited at best. In fact, the book becomes his 80 page op-ed piece. I think his opinions are genuine and fair, but they are nonetheless opinions. Haas argues that the second Iraq war was a war of choice, one that the US could have easily avoided but chose not to. (Tell me something I don't know)

Overall, I think the book was a satisfying account of decision making in a history text book way. Slightly recommended.

9/16/2009

Reporting...

BBC top news story: UN condemns "war crimes" in Gaza

CNN? Garrido story... followed by Yale student, Baghdad's safety zone under fire, Obama defends auto bailout, student stabbed at Florida school, Patrick Swayze death...

And of course this sensational piece about Jessica Simpson's dog being snatched away by a coyote. Is this even reporting? I think reporter Michael Park simply put three tweeter messages together to make front page on CNN...?

9/14/2009

Ready? Engage!


Well... I have lots of things to blog about... but Answer First is this: I'm engaged! PNGF is now PNF! (Okay, I need a new nick name for her)

Other things that I ought to blog about but haven't had time to:
  • Renewed website at www.josekin.net; www.josekin.com remains hijacked by some Japanese website hosting service who wouldn't reply to my emails.
  • My trip to DC
  • My trip to Grand Canyon
  • How to buy diamonds (four weeks of research!)
  • All the food I've had (two excellent value French restaurants in nyc, heavenly donuts, ice cream in Scottsdale, secret restaurant in Grand Canyon, etc)
But yes, first things first, I'm engaged!

9/03/2009

Thoughts from US Open

Oh, so you don't really need tickets to go see the US Open! You can walk right up to the outer courts and watch them play right in front of you (and the rest of the crowd). I stood maybe 20 feet away from the gorgeous Daniela Hantuchova as she served. Alas, dinner was waiting, so no pictures were taken. Oh well. Hm... maybe tomorrow I can head to Flushing again!

We watched Roger Federer and Serena Williams destroy their opponents. While Serena simply overpowered her weaker opponent, Federer won with precision and strategy. Allow me to describe one of the plays:
  • Federer was forced to his backhand side by opponent's two handed top spin backhand. Slice return. Slice return. Slice return. Slice return.
  • Opponent's return slightly shallower than before. Federer jumps over it with a top spin return
  • Opponent caught off guard by the sudden change in speed. Bad return. Federer jumps again with a forehand winner to the opposite corner
Just beautiful defensive tennis followed by a quick change in pace, gear, power, and momentum to win a point.

9/02/2009

Food you shouldn't miss

Just a few picture and places to share...

Calamari at Cookshop - one of the best I've had in years
Chocolate caramel cake at Eleven Madison Park - exquisite chocolate cake with a caramel crust; sorry I didn't take a better picture.
Pork skewers from Yakitori Totto - awesome yakitori all around, though I was a bit disappointed at the chicken knee
French Toast from Fivestar - don't miss the Churros either since the dough taste similar to the french toast
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8/25/2009

Lots of movies... Ugly Truth, District 9, and Milk

You know it's been a while since I did a 2-fer at the theaters. With ticket prices hovering at $12.50, PNGF and I finally had time to do a 2-fer at the Union Square Regal theater. They've been eating our wallet for months, so I feel very good about it. The movies chosen? Ugly Truth and District 9. And I was a bit sad that we paid to see Ugly Truth and didn't give the brilliant District 9 its deserved money. (Note: PNGF panicked when some theater people came to clear the place for cleaning due to our 2-fer activity... and I remembered the awesome way I had developed to catch people like myself... anyway...)

I also finally watched Milk on DVD. Here goes.

Ugly Truth

Let's start with the romantic comedy. Um... as far as I can remember, everything was kind of funny but totally cliche. Yup, it's a romantic comedy. Sure, I'll recommend it if you are watching it with your gf. At least afterwards you can make fun of each other for 2 hours.

District 9

When I saw the previews, this seemed to be a sci-fi movie with scary aliens jumping around. I had no desire to see it. Then I read somewhere that it had a racial overtone to it. I was sold immediately. DAMN, the first 30 minutes of the movie completely blew me away with its documentary style of filming as well as the vague and cryptic reference to what was about to happen. The rest of the movie proceeded fairly predictably with enough special effects and moral lessons to keep me interested.

Our hero starts off as an officer responsible for evicting alients (against their will of course) due to the inability for both aliens and humans to live together. While polite, he clearly has no intention to let aliens stay. When one of the aliens questions the legality, our hero says "this one is a bit smarter, let me handle it." Yup... in the end, poor people always gets screwed (or killed). Anyway, our hero slowly turns into an alien, and through that process, slowly realizes he cannot go back even though he is human. Other humans immediately turn their back on "something" that is only partially different. The only place to turn was to his now best friend: aliens. Anyway, besides this discussion, there's also the usual angle at gangs taking control of the alien slums, govt agents looking for ways to operate alien weaponry, mass fugitives with no place to go (Ironically, in South Africa!), etc.

Overall, I thought it was an amazing "discussion" on how people discriminate against things that they don't know about - in this case, aliens - and act accordingly. Yeah, so it was a dark movie. And also highly recommended.

Milk

I remember when I watched The Wrestler, I commented that I really needed to see how Sean Penn was a better actor in Milk. I think it's a close toss up... with Mickey Rourke coming on top in my opinion. Penn probably got the nod because of the topic of the movie. Anyway, the movie was phenomenal all around even though I know what was going to happen. It's a great depiction of a movement driven by pure passion... not politics, not money, just passion. And eerily similar to the lessons of District 9. Also highly recommended.

8/22/2009

Advertising

A while ago, I saw this billboard in Times Square and complimented HP on a job well done by cross advertising with Vivienne Tam.



Yesterday, I saw another cross advertising by HP on TV. It was one of those many Microsoft Windows "You find it, you keep it" commercials where a regular person goes shopping for a PC and finds one under $1,000. This one features a nice young lady named Megan. The next commercial is where Megan talks with her friend via her newly bought PC, saying how cool it is to see herself on TV. The PC? An HP of course.

Very smart and effective, me thinks.
Here's one way not to split a bill board. The sharpest tongue, huh?

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8/20/2009

Food images from Boston

Disclaimer: when I was in Boston, I wasn't really looking for good food. I was looking for restaurants that bring back memories. So... advanced apologies if you are looking for a restaurant guide. (More pictures here)

How could I not go to Bartley's when I am in Harvard Square. I considered High-rise and Darwin's as well, but finally couldn't resist greasy burgers (Charlie's has even more greasier ones). Anyway, this you see is the Tom Werner, i.e. bacon cheddar (looks like Swiss... but it's cheddar) burger. I got it medium rare. Burger was disappointing as expected - Bartley's quality has dropped throughout the years. Closer to medium than medium rare, the burger was only slightly warm and the meat quality was merely average. The vanilla frappe, however, was very very good: smooth yet heavy in flavor.

Ah, Bartley's, I can never escape. I remember driving around Harvard Square for almost an hour looking for parking so we can go eat at Bartley's. Good times.

I can't believe this was my first time to Parish Cafe. Awesome place. They basically take good sandwich recipes from around Boston and adopt it with the original restaurant's permission. This is The Summer Shack (from the restaurant The Summer Shack), a very yummy fried cod sandwich. Light batter, fresh fish, crisp bun. Yum. Definitely coming back to this establishment.

Spicy Fried Chicken from Cafe Mami. For those of you unfamiliar, Cafe Mami is in Porter Exchange and has been the cafeteria for every single Asian student at Tufts University. And the Spicy Fried Chicken is what I got for about half the time (the other half is usually Spicy Beef Bowl and some sort of steak burger dish). The chicken is still good but a bit too big now. They need to get back to smaller chicken pieces with more tender meat. The sauce is a simple combination of mayo and thai chilly sauce, but oh the combo is so good. Cafe Mami, maybe the restaurant that I've been to the most times in my life.

I've raved about Oiishi many times. This time we went to the South End establishment, and it was a complete disaster. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. Judge with words, not with pictures:

An interesting make of the Tamago, this one passes


Black Miso was pretty bad... no flavor, not very warm
The bad black miso was one-downed by the tempura rock shrimp. Wasn't fresh and almost cold.

Unintentional side effects...

One of the unintentional side effects of watching The Wire: I can't stand watching Cold Case, CSI, NYPD, NCSI, Bones, Law & Order, etc... Apparently, I've been brainwashed to think that The Wire is the most realistic portrayal of police work. Anything less would be dissatisfying.

Dang it!

Now... should I hit the play button for The Wire Season 4 Episode 1?

8/17/2009

Aquavit on Iron Chef

Last night, we caught Iron Chef America on the Food Network. And it's Chef Samuelson from Aquavit. You may recall that my experiences at Aquavit were horrendous last time, so I was quite eager to see how Chef Samuelson would do against the immortal Bobby Flay.

Well, Chef Samuelson scored a 16 out of 30 on tastes. (Flay scored a 27)

Why am I not surprised?

(By the way, why are they called Chef ABC? Are they going to call me Consultant Josekin?)

8/14/2009

Employing Michael Vick

So, ESPN is reporting that talk shows in Philly is blasting the Eagles for employing ex-dog-fighting-financer Michael Vick. Meanwhile, the SportsNation survey says that 60% of people think it is a good move by the Eagles.

So, why the vast difference? I think it goes like this:
  1. Vick should still be a great quarterback
  2. Alas, Vick also has some serious moral problems
  3. I love my team; it should be a stand-up team that don't deal with immoral stuff
  4. My team should not employ Vick
  5. Other teams have lesser standards
  6. They can employ Vick
Personally, I think it's wrong for the NFL to further discipline Vick (potentially reinstated by week 6 if the commissioner so pleases) after the court systems already has. Man has wronged and was punished. Seriously punished. Give him a second chance so he can turn around his life. Would you rather see him end up like Maurice Clarett?

I'm excited for Vick and Philadelphia.

(Apparently, so is the president of some animal loving place: says it's a good thing that Vick is heading to Philadelphia because Philly is a city with a big dog-fighting problem. "it is a big boast for us" - I'm shaking my head)