Books and such

March 8, 2008

1491

Categories: Books and such

1491 book coverI recently finished reading 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles Mann. As implied by the title, Mann describes the rich and sophisticated civilizations that existed in the Americas before Columbus. Rather than the small bands of natives that lived in harmony with nature, the world Mann describes had cities that rivaled or even surpassed anything in Europe or Asia in population and development, people who reshaped entire ecosystems to suit their needs, and a refined understanding of technology and nature.

While I was mostly unaware of evidence of these things beyond the Mayan ruins and such, I was particularly interested by the areas Mann points out where the Indians (and he uses this word explicitly) optimized their solutions to problems differently than Europeans or Asians. For instance, rather than domesticate livestock like bison, the Indians in North America simply extended the range of the bison and optimized the forests to allow deer to flourish by regularly setting fires to prairies and the forest undergrowth. At one point, bison ranged as far as Maine and Georgia.

Another example of this difference is the Inka's use of fiber instead of steel or wood for tools. Andean cultures wove reed ships that were easily the size of Spanish caravelles, built rope suspension bridges, and made quilted cloth armor that was almost as strong as European armor at a fraction of the weight (the conquistadors switched from their breastplate and helmets to the Inkan armor.)

A third example I found interesting was the Norte Chico civilization in the Andes. They were unusual in the fact that they developed agriculture not for food like every other civilization in the world, but for cotton. The primary use for this cotton was to make fishing nets to harvest fish. There's almost no evidence of food crops at all.

Like Jared Diamond describes in Collapse and Guns, Germs, and Steel, Mann points to a few factors that brought these great civilizations down. Early contacts (even pre-Plymouth or pre-Cortez) introduced smallpox and other diseases that wiped out huge percentages of the populations. By the time the Pilgrims arrived, scores of Indian villages had already disappeared. In other cases, over-population and bad climactic conditions (usually drought) wiped out civilizations to the point where they were conquered and/or assimilated by their neighbors.

I thought the book was well-written and fascinating. It's great to see more light thrown on these incredible civilizations.

Posted March 8, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

January 1, 2008

Learning Chinese Via Podcast

Categories: Books and such

As I mentioned earlier, I've started listening to Chinese language learning podcasts to help me improve my language skills. I took a look at a few and decided that two really fit my weird needs pretty well (I'm pretty fluent speaking and listening, but my vocabulary isn't particularly modern or adult, having learned most of my Chinese at home.)

Chinese Lessons with Serge Melnyk
Serge MelnykIt's hard to believe that a guy named Serge Melnyk speaks Chinese well enough to teach Chinese, but our man Serge does. In fact, his Chinese is better than his English, which he speaks with a weird accent.

The thing I like best about Serge is that he covers real topics with mostly real language. One of the first lessons I evaluated was one on lining up in China (anyone who has visited China knows that queuing is a lost art in China) and included vocabulary on how to yell at the line cutters ("Are you blind? Can't you see there's a line here?"). Another recent lesson was on how to break up in Chinese ("...you're a great girl and I'm sure there's a better match for you somewhere.") I certainly didn't learn that at home or in Saturday morning Chinese classes growing up.

The podcasts are free; you can buy the transcripts and worksheets for added practice. My only real complaint is that Serge doesn't provide any pauses in the podcast for the listener to repeat the vocabulary or sentences.

iMandarinPod
Another good podcast for me is iMandarinPod. This podcast is put together by The Center of Chinese Educational Development in Tianjian in partnership with the College of Chinese Culture & Literature on Nankai University.

I picture all the instructors are students at Nankai University; they all sound young and are very sincere in their efforts. The lessons are a bit more traditional Communist Chinese text book (e.g. "The Great Wall" or "I want to learn to sing Beijing Opera") than Serge's lessons. Unlike Serge who explains the lessons in English, the iMandarinPod lessons are entirely in Chinese. They force me to really listen a lot more closely than Serge does, which is a good thing. They also are clearly native speakers and have the right cadence and sound; even though Serge's Chinese sounds excellent, you can still tell he's not a native speaker.

The biggest issue with iMandarinPod is that most of the site is in Chinese; since I don't read or write Chinese very well, it's tough for me to get around. However, since it doesn't really matter which lessons I download, this hasn't been horrible for me. These podcasts are free as well, although there's a link to donate. They also have downloadable learning guides once you register.

Serge claims to be able to take learners from nothing to high fluency. I haven't listened to the earliest podcasts to see how well he handles people new to Chinese; the iMandarinPod stuff is definitely for advanced intermediates+.

Good luck!

Posted January 1, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

The Bacon Cookbook

The Bacon CookbookAs usual, we had a generous Christmas with lots of great presents. One gift that I thought was particularly appropriate given my long-lasting and well-known love for bacon was The Bacon Cookbook by James Villas, former food and wine editor of Town & Country Magazine and Bon Appetit's Food Writer of the Year 2004.

It's clear that Villas shares my love of bacon in all its forms. He starts by describing the different kinds of bacon from around the world and then dives through forty+ recipes, sorted by course; he even has a few bacon desserts like Canadian Bacon Maple Custard.

Each recipe has a short description that tells a personal story, explains a little history, or otherwise introduces the dish; I love when cookbooks do this vs. just listing a pile of recipes. Each introduction sells the dish with effusive praise, e.g. "...you simply can't serve a more delectable side dish" [Lima Bean and Bacon Casserole] or "One of America's most original and sensational breakfast or lunch dishes..." [California Hangtown Fry]. The photography in the book is very nice as well. More important, the recipes seem pretty well written and straightforward, with the possible exception of having to find these exotic types of bacon (although Villas does offer web resources for getting the different kinds of bacon.)

I admit, my mouth is watering right now as I flip through the book. I'm excited to start cooking out of it.

Posted January 1, 2008 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

October 20, 2007

The Confident Hope of a Miracle

Categories: Books and such

The Confident Hope of a MiracleAt John's recommendation, I read The Confident Hope of a Miracle by Neil Hanson recently. This book is a fascinating read about the "true story of the Spanish Armada." Before reading the book, I didn't know much beyond the fact the small English navy defeated the huge Spanish Armada due to smaller, faster ships. Hanson does a great job laying out the political and economic framework that lead up to the battles, the technology of the day, and the personalities of the players, intertwining these to show how they affected the outcome and ultimately, history.

While I learned many things in the book, a few tidbits stood out. First, almost no ships were sunk via direct engagement. I had always envisioned the Spanish fleet going down in flames as English ships raked them cannon fire. In reality, the crews and crown preferred to capture enemy vessels as prizes, so there was less incentive to simply sink enemy vessels; also, given the ships were made of a floating material, it was just plain hard to sink a ship. Most of the Spanish ships were damaged heavily and the lost to storms, mostly after the engagements as they circled back around Ireland trying to return to Spain after running up the English Channel and failing to land. (They couldn't return via the English Channel because of the prevailing winds; as a fleet their ships could not sail closer than 90 degrees to the wind.)

Another surprise was how ill-prepared England was. Elizabeth was frugal, to say the least, and did not keep a standing navy, relying instead of privateers. Moreover, she was hesitant to spend enough to outfit the fleet, so that the fleet was starving, even in sight of England, and didn't have enough powder or shot to continue the fight. In fact the English really only had sufficient powder because they had a lucky capture of a Spanish ship loaded with powder. The Spanish Armada was really defeated with Spanish powder. Even after the victory, Elizabeth kept her purse strings tight and didn't pay the crews. The crews were turned out, wounded, in their battle stained clothes and typically no prize money, left to beg or otherwise find their way home.

Finally, it was interesting to see how completely outclassed the Spanish ships were. The English vessels were "race built", sleek and low to the water; by contrast, the Spanish ships were castles at sea. The English ships could sail closer to the wind and were much faster, giving them the freedom to dictate the terms of battle. Furthermore, the English cannons had much longer range and were set on wheeled carts so they could be retracted after firing and reloaded quickly; the Spanish cannons were fixed and had to be reloaded from outside the ship. As a result, the English could sustain a much higher rate of fire (something like 3-5x I think); no English ships were lost to Spanish fire.

Hanson's writing is excellent and engrossing. The book provides great insights into this well-known, but little understood event. I highly recommend it.

Posted October 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

July 31, 2007

Happy Birthday Harry!

Categories: Books and such

Today is Harry Potter's birthday. His fictional birth date is 7/31/1980, so he'd be twenty-seven today. That would put him ten years past the end of book seven.

Posted July 31, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

July 21, 2007

End of the Line

Categories: Books and such

I just finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last Harry Potter book. As planned, I picked up my copy at the local QFC grocery store at 12:06am and was home reading it 12:12am. I finished this morning at 8:00. I did have a little trouble staying awake around 3-4, but I powered through.

I enjoyed the book and the closure it brings, but I confess, I'm a little sad that it's all over. I've been a big fan for years now and am feeling a bit of loss now.

Posted July 21, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

July 17, 2007

Harry Potter Countdown

Categories: Books and such

As I've mentioned before, I'm illogically crazy about the Harry Potter books, so it's no surprise that I'm excited about the arrival of book 7, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, this Saturday. I plan to do what I did with book 6 and pick up my copy at midnight from the local QFC grocery store (since they won't have a line for the book there) and binge read it immediately through the night.

I also enjoy reading the speculation about what will happen in the book. As usual, the theories are all over the place, but there seem to be a few twists this time. One guy claims to have broken into Bloomsbury's computers and stolen the manuscript. (Bloomsbury is the UK publisher of HP; I worked with them on Bookshelf and Encarta, incidentally.) The spoilers seemed reasonable, but the most credible leak I've seen is here. The text in the beginning has a bunch of random ideas, but there are a set of digital photos at the end that look like photos of each page of the last chapter of the book. It looks real and, having read it now, it seems legit to me. I won't give away what it says; follow it if you want.

Anyway, I can't wait. I'll be a wreck for most of Saturday, but it'll be worth it. It's been a fun ride reading all the books; the journey ends on Saturday.

[Update: Looks like the leak site I pointed to pulled down the photos of the pages of the book. Oh well.]

Posted July 17, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

March 19, 2007

Ideas for Running Tunes?

As my runs get longer, I'm getting bored of the music I'm listening to. Any ideas for upbeat songs to keep my mind occupied?

Posted March 19, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (8) | TrackBack (0)

February 20, 2007

Avatar: The Last Airbender

Categories: Books and such Kids

These past few days have passed in blur as sick Michael (6) and I watched a season and a half of Avatar: The Last Airbender (which, coincidentally, is the featured article on Wikipedia today - what are the odds?) As you know, we don't have TV (well, really, we don't have a TV signal), so we downloaded the show from Xbox Live and watched it via our Xbox 360. Pretty slick. Unfortunately, this left me dreaming about the characters last night in my feverish sweat. Ugh.

The show is actually pretty good and does a lot to be somewhat accurate in its use of Asian language (unlike cartoons I grew up with like Hong Kong Phooey); there are even little jokes and insider stuff in the Chinese they use for names, and the martial arts forms they use are distinct and pretty good.

That said, I couldn't let my life be destroyed by this cartoon, so today, I read the episode summaries for the rest of season 2 on Wikipedia. I feel much less compelled to power through the rest of the episodes now and feel some small measure of control coming back into my life. (Once again, Wikipedia proves the world is full of people with too much time, but I'm grateful...)

Still, it's a good show if your kids absolutely must watch something on TV. (Of course, you could just kill your TV...)

Posted February 20, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

February 6, 2007

I Hate Michelle

Categories: Books and such

My lovely wife has ruined my life. Again.

She's been watching 24 for some time now (she's on Season Four). Last night, I started watching with her. Now I'm sucked in and will have to see how it all plays out.

Of course, this is all her fault and is completely unrelated to my lack of will and discipline...

Posted February 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

January 30, 2007

The Change Function

Categories: Books and such

The Change FunctionI just finished reading The Change Function: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash and Burn. The author, Pip Coburn, used to run the technology group of UBS Investment Research.

Drawing from his experience, Coburn makes a pretty simple premise. The likelihood of success for a given technology is a function of the user crisis vs. the total perceived pain of adoption. Stated another way, for a technology (or any product or service really) to succeed, it must address some problem or crisis the customer knows they have and the customer must think the pain of the solution is less than the pain of the problem. Coburn asserts this is a user-centric way of viewing problems, and that this user-centric is the only way to succeed because the user/customer is ultimately in charge of his/her behavior and purchases.

This idea seems obvious when stated so clearly, yet it's not difficult to think of examples of failures in this way, even in the products I've developed. Coburn cites many examples of the supplier-centric view where some technologist has a cool idea that they think users will latch onto once the price is right or once the users "get it".

For instance, he points to the entertainment PC, like Microsoft's Media Center PC, as a supplier-centric invention that does not address a user crisis (e.g. "I need to have an all-in-one entertainment center on my TV") and fails to address the perceived pain of adoption ("You want me to put an expensive PC in my living room?! One more complicated thing to manage?!") Fortunately (for Microsoft), Coburn agrees that sometimes you need to (or can) create a user crisis or appeal to some deeper crisis (e.g. iPod appealing to the user desire to fit in and be cool vs. the need to carry an MP3 player), so maybe there's hope yet.

By way of counter example, he points to Netflix as a venture that found a good user crisis (hatred of late fees, limited in-store video selection, pain of returning videos) and a low perceived pain of adoption (log on, order, get stuff in the mail, drop it back in the mail.) As a long-time Netflix user, I'd have to agree.

I've found myself applying this pattern to our planning for future versions of IE. I've been asking everyone involved about what real crisis each feature is meant to address and how users will perceive the pain of adoption. While we've always tried to apply these ideas implicitly, it's already been helpful to apply them explicitly.

The book is an easy read with only a few key points and lots of good examples. I highly recommend it.

Posted January 30, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

December 22, 2006

The Big Oyster

The Big Oyster book coverI just finished The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell, another interesting food history book by Mark Kurlansky (author of Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World and Salt: A World History - I wrote about these books earlier).

The title is somewhat misleading. The book is really a history of New York from the perspective of oysters. It's a little hard to believe now, but New York City and the waters surrounding it were once incredibly productive fishing grounds and the richest oyster beds in the world. New Yorkers rich and poor ate obscene numbers of oysters and shipped barrels of fresh and pickled oysters across America and around the world.

Like Cod and Salt, The Big Oyster was an engaging read cover-to-cover. This one was a bit different, however, because the scope was so local. Where Salt was a really global and across world history and Cod spanned centuries and focused on trans-Atlantic trade, The Big Oyster was very localized to New York City and the time since colonization. As a result, the book was less epic but perhaps a little more intimate.

Aside from the oyster details, Kurlansky weaves in a bunch of New York history and lore, like how Wall Street got its name and a running history of Delmonico's Restaurant. I have only a passing knowledge of New York, so these bits were interesting and new to me.

Anyway, I really like Kurlansky's style. Since I've finished his food mini-histories, I think it's time to move onto some of his other books.

Posted December 22, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 20, 2006

Eragon the Movie: Yuck

Categories: Books and such

Eragon movie poster

The kids and I have enjoyed the book Eragon (and Eldest, the second book in the trilogy) as well as the books on tape for some time now. Yes, they're a bit derivative and the writing is pretentious, but they're good reads.

So, we were very excited when we saw that the movie version of Eragon was coming.

We shouldn't have been. I thought it was terrible. Even the kids thought it was bad. Andrew (9) said optimistically, "Well, it looked nice and it was so different from the book it was like watching a whole new story." Michelle just convulsed with laughter at how bad the movie was.

It did look nice. I also didn't mind the casting (although I'm not sure John Malkovich really fit my idea of Galbatorix). But the story raced along with no plot or character development. I had a hard time understanding why Eragon was doing what he was doing, and I've read the books. I also thought the dialog was just too cheesy. Maybe I just hate all movie adaptations. (Not true: I really liked the Lord of the Rings series, but I haven't read the books in 25+ years).

The only possible blessing is that they seem to have cut off so many parts of the story line that a movie version of Eldest seems unlikely. They didn't tee up any of the big elements that make up the second book. Thank goodness.

Posted December 20, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

January 16, 2006

How to read a book

Categories: Books and such

This may strike you as an odd post title and maybe a bit presumptuous, but let me explain. From 1995-1999 or so, I worked on a product called Microsoft Bookshelf, a CDROM title that contained 5-8 reference books, depending on the version and country we were publishing in. I worked on the team during a period of great expansion, when we launched several international versions of Bookshelf. As such, I had to help evaluate many reference books in a short time to determine what special features and difficulties the books might pose as we moved them online. I found the lessons I learned apply not only to reference books, but to many other non-fiction books and the occasional fiction title.

  1. Check the date. This may tell you a lot about how current the book is and may indicate the context in which the book was written.
  2. Look at the Table of Contents. This will give you a quick overview of the whole book.
  3. Flip through the opening pages. There are often explanatory chapters, essays, and other interesting material in the very beginning. In my old Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary, there is an explanation of how the entries are made up and a history of the English language essay. (These essays are often great reads, btw.)
  4. Look at the end pages. There is often additional reference content. In my dictionary, there are biographies and geographical place names (affectionately referred to as "bios and geos" and often used to pad out the entry count of a dictionary) and a small manual of style. Other works will have an index (good to see how it is arranged) and appendices (useful to see how extensive they are and how much the author is counting on you to read them to make sense of the chapters.)
  5. Finally, flip through the main body of the book now and get a sense for a typical bit of content -- an entry, a paragraph, etc. Check the tone (do you like the style?). Look for length and completeness of the text. Check out the number and quality of the illustrations. For reference works, you can check a few test articles to see how up-to-date the book is. For instance, in a dictionary, look for words that are relatively new like bird flu or instant message or that have new meanings like text as a verb. In an atlas or encyclopedia, look to see if the map of India has Mumbai or Bombay.

In just a few minutes, you can get a pretty complete picture of the book. I find that this approach helps me with non-fiction books that aren't reference as well; I have a better handle on what to expect and what resources the author has given me.

Anyway, try it out on your next read!

Posted January 16, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

January 7, 2006

A History of the World in 6 Glasses

Categories: Books and such

Cover of A History of the World in 6 GlassesI got a great book from my in-laws for Christmas this year that combines my interest in odd pivots on history with my passion for beer, wine, and whisky. It's called A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage.

The author chronicles how beer, wine, coffee, tea, spirits, and cola impacted world history. For instance, tea provided safer water by both requiring boiling of the water plus the antiseptic properties of tea itself; this allowed larger populations to grow safely with a minimized threat of dysentery. It, of course, also fueled trade between England and China, ultimately culminating in the Opium War and the wholesale pushing of drugs on the Chinese (since there was very little the Chinese wanted from the British aside from gold, silver, and opium in exchange for tea.) Tea also heavily impacted the history of America. Taxes on tea by the British (and efforts to stomp out weathy American tea smugglers) helped fuel the American independence movement including the infamous Boston Tea Party.

Among other things, I found it interesting that all of these were originally used for medicinal purposes. For instance, wine was used to clean wounds more effectively than water until relatively recently since it's free of pathogens and has natural antibacterial agents. And, of course, the story of Coca Cola's origins as patent-medicine are well-known.

Cover of The Devil's CupIt's also fascinating how a lot of attitudes and practices today are artifacts of old or even ancient customs. As an example, the black tea that was imported into England was often heavily adulterated by middle men to increase profits. The addition of milk and sugar helped conceal the off flavors, so that even today with pure teas available, the English still drink tea with milk and sugar. And, closer to my experience, the original symposia were wine drinking parties where people gathered to debate and discuss the topics of the day. Modern symposiums are still certainly drinking parties with some debate and discussion.

The topic of coffee's role in fueling the Enlightenment, the formation of such London companies as Lloyd's, and the rise of the French Revolution are touched on in this book as well. The role of coffee is covered even more deeply in The Devil's Cup : A History of the World According to Coffee by Stewart Lee Allen. This is a bit lighter book that I read last year but didn't get around to blogging about.

Anyway, A History of the World in 6 Glasses is a good read and worth enjoying with a cup of tea. Or beer, wine, whisky, coffee, or Coke.

Posted January 7, 2006 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

December 19, 2005

Postsecret

Postsecret janitor card

Postsecret is an amazing website that shows postcards people have sent in that have some personal secret. The cards can be quite artistic, and the secrets range from very personal and deep to funny but real to plain scary and horrible.

They only have a few cards on the site now. The archives are available in book form (which is beautifully done and a fun read/browse) as well as a travelling exhibit. A small gallery of old cards is also available here.

As a side note, I think it's neat when a blog makes the transition to the "real world" like this, but I hope the site doesn't become worthless like Belle de Jour did when she published her book Belle De Jour : Intimate Adventures of a London Call Girl. (Not safe for work, btw. Also, is it required that websites that move to book form take the title pattern, "[sitename]:[tagline]"? That's like the old Microsoft naming pattern "Microsoft [category name] for [platform name]". Lame.)

Anyway, it's worth a few minutes to check out. Anyone out there sent in a postcard?


PostSecret : Extraordinary Confessions from Ordinary Lives

Posted December 19, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 29, 2005

"Collapse" by Jared Diamond

Categories: Books and such

I just finished reading Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed, by Jared Diamond. As you may know, Diamond is the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel, one of my favorites.

Collapse is a similarly fascinating read, with case studies of why certain civilizations like the Mayans, Easter Islanders, and Greenland Norse failed while others like the Inuit, Icelanders, and Tikopians managed to survive under similar conditions. He creates a five-point framework for considering how a successful a society might be in a given environment:


  • Environmental damage caused by the population. This is really a combination of the resiliance of the environment and the practices of the people. For instance, the topsoil in Greenland is very thin so it blows away very easily. Also, in Greenland, trees and plants grow very slowly, so recovery from harvesting is slow.

  • Climate change. Historically, this has been the result of natural events like volcanic eruptions, changes in the tilt of the earth, and natural cycles. Clearly, today, the effects may be manmade. In either case, growing seasons and hunting may shift causing reduced crop yield, ice may form blocking shipping, or ingrained habits may no longer be effective in the new conditions.

  • Hostile neighbors. It's unclear whether warfare was sufficient to cause the collapse of societies, but certainly societies weakened by other factors became vulnerable to final collapse via fighting with neighbors. Also, fighting would reduce the resources and focus available for more productive activities.

  • Decreased support by friendly neighbors. Societies heavily dependent on trade are vulnerable to weakening when trading partners become weak or unavailable for whatever reason. This could be things like essential trade goods (e.g. oil for the US) or cultural ties (Australia's cultural ties to England.)

  • Society's responses to problems. In some cases societies acted decisively in the face of impending disasters and staved off collapse; Japan's management of their near deforestation is one example. In other cases, the society ignored or failed to see the coming disasters and did not act; Easter Island is a classic example of the failure to prevent deforestation and the resultant societal collapse.

  • His claim is that it's overly simplistic to assign one of these factors as the sole reason a society might fail (i.e. the Roman Empire did not fall strictly because of hostile neighbors.) His case studies show how the various factors then came into play and contributed to a collapse or were mitigated to prevent collapse.

    Perhaps more interesting than the more historical cases were the more modern ones. I especially found the study of Haiti vs. the Dominican Republic interesting. Here are two countries sharing the same island. While they have had some differences in their history (for instance, Haiti was colonized by the French, the Dominican Republic by the Spanish) and geography (Haiti is drier and more mountainous than the DR) they have much in common. Nonetheless, Haiti is a disaster in human, political, environmental, and economic terms while the Domincan Republic is much better off (although it has it's share of problems). This one case study really highlights how the factors came into play in a reasonably apples-to-apples comparison.

    I found it impossible to read this book without continually applying the lessons from the past to our modern day situation of global warming, depleted natural resources, global conflict, global trade dependence, and short-term political problem solving. While the learnings in the book provide the basis for solutions, I did not leave the book with a optimism about our future on our current track. I did feel more compelled to take action to prevent the collapse our society and hopefully leave something good for my kids and their kids.

    If you liked Guns, Germs, and Steel or enjoy this kind of scholarly discourse, you'll really enjoy Collapse. I highly recommend it.

    Posted November 29, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

November 18, 2005

The Goblet of Fire

Categories: Books and such

This morning, I saw a preview showing of the new Harry Potter movie, The Goblet of Fire. I've blogged before about my love of the HP franchise and my views of the movies. I thought this was the best of the HP movies so far, but I still didn't like it nearly as much as the books. I did think that the cuts from the book were better this time as was the handling of the backstory.

I must admit that I'm not a fan of most of the new cast, with the exception of Miranda Richardson as Rita Skeeter. (It's too bad the character wasn't very prominent in the movie.) Cedric, Crouch, Crouch Jr, Karkaroff, and Maxime were OK too. Cl

Posted November 18, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

November 5, 2005

Chicken Little and Serenity

Categories: Books and such

cl_animate01_1.gifI don't see a lot of movies in theaters (mostly for time reasons), so it was a bit unusual this week that I saw two.

This evening we took the boys to see Chicken Little. This was a very fun movie that we all enjoyed. The boys are both finally old enough to enjoy movies in theaters; for a while, they both found theaters too stimulating -- too loud and the screen was too big. Anyway, it was a cute movie with Shrek-like use of parent-era pop music. I think the family was a little embarassed as I sang along...

Earlier in the week, Michelle and I saw Serenity. This is the movie version of the cult-favorite TV show Firefly. We had never seen the TV show, but we both really enjoyed this movie as well. It's a well-done sci-fi flick with a good premise and enough pace and tension to keep you on your toes. In particular, River, played by Summer Glau, is appropriately creepy and strange. The movie would have made more sense if I knew the backstory and characters better; this is one of the limitations of setting a TV show to film. I did do a little retroactive homework online to learn about the show, which cleared up a lot. I might need to see it again now.

Anyway, I had forgotten how enjoyable it is to see a film in a theater instead of on my laptop or TV. I'll have to start going more often. I will, however, not give Michael anymore Skittles; his hands were purple by the end of the movie somehow. Yuck.

Posted November 5, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 23, 2005

Interesting Harry Potter speculation

Categories: Books and such

I think this write-up speculating about some of the mysteries in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is pretty good and convincing. Time will tell, I guess.

(Warning, the post has spoilers.)

Posted July 23, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

July 16, 2005

Mischief Managed

Categories: Books and such

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood PrinceI finished it. The new Harry Potter book. I bought it at 12:03am at a local QFC (a grocery store -- I figured it would be less crowded than traditional bookstores). I came home, pulled an all-nighter, and finished around 6:35am.

I won't spoil the ending, but I will say much of the speculation on the web has been correct. There are a few shocks plus some expected resolutions. All-in-all, pretty good. Better than some of the others (like 2).

I should go to bed now, but we need to get ready for Andrew's eighth bday party later this morning. Hm, fifteen crazy eight year old boys and me on no sleep. This will be interesting.

Posted July 16, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

July 15, 2005

I can't wait for Harry Potter 6

Categories: Books and such

I'm a huge Harry Potter fan. I'm not one of those dads who hides behind his kids' love of the books. I expect to get my copy at midnight and pull an all-nighter reading it Saturday at launch. Hope it's good.

In the meantime, here's a link to some very good fan fiction -- Albus Dumbledore's death written the style of various authors. It's a Guardian (UK newspaper) contest. Some are great.

Thanks to Boing Boing for the link

Posted July 15, 2005 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

June 14, 2004

Harry Potter should go back to Azkaban

Categories: Books and such

As many of you know, I love the Harry Potter series. Love it. Love the books, love the books-on-tape (Jim Dale is amazing), love all the rumors and musings about plots to come.

Too bad I hate the movies. It's especially too bad that I really hated the latest installation, The Prisoner of Azkaban. This was probably the best book so far and the worst movie (OK, maybe the first one was worse.) I know there's a lot of detail in the books that can't possibly be in the movie, but I thought the movie went so fast and was cut so poorly that the story didn't make sense.

I've heard that people who did not read the book liked the movie. That may be true. I've tended to dislike movies of books I've read in general, so this might not be a fair assessment, but boy was Azkaban a stinker.

Did it make sense to you?

Posted June 14, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (1)

May 23, 2004

Vacation Reading

Categories: Books and such

While we were in Hawaii, I had the opportunity to make a dent in my reading list and finished off three very good books.

The Professor and the MadmanThe first was The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester. This is the story the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary and is centered around two men -- the chief editor and one of the primary contributors (who happens to be in an insane asylum.) This book was of particular interest to me since I worked on Microsoft Bookshelf (rest in peace) and the Encarta World English Dictionary. Aside from the interesting tale of the two men, it was interesting to me to see how we still fundamentally use the same techniques to create dictionaries today (albeit with much more technological assistance). Of course, it took the editors of the OED seventy years to create their first edition and less than five to create ours (admittedly the OED is a bit more comprehensive.)

Cod by Mark Kurlansky
The second was Cod by Mark Kurlansky. This is the same author who brought us Salt. It's a great read describing the key role of cod in history and how it helped drive exploration, trade, and ultimately history. It's also a very sobering story of the devestation man has caused. I'm hugely concerned about the virtual extinction of entire fisheries including cod, so despite the tantalizing cod recipes from throughout history scattered throughout the book, I'll have to pass on eating cod or salt cod. (Note, I think Salt was the more interesting book, although both are definitely worth reading.)

Pirate Hunter by Richard ZacksFinally, I read Pirate Hunter: The True Story of Captain Kidd by Richard Zacks. I didn't know much about Captain Kidd beyond the legends and Hollywood versions. Zacks paints a very different picture, one of a man who tried to do right and was left to hang (literally) by some of the richest men in American and England including the King of England. Aside from the compelling biography of Kidd, the book does a great job describing life in the 17th/18th centuries on board ships, in the seedier parts of town, in war, and in prisons (I'm very glad to be living in the 21st century.)

More than anything I was glad to get a chance to read something besides email and web pages for a while. I love reading and will try to keep reading for fun on top of my other commitments.

Posted May 23, 2004 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)