Oishinbo: Vol. 2, Sake **** : Another great installment of the Oishinbo series. This one focuses on wine and sake as they interact with Japanese cuisine.
permalink | comments | technorati
Oishinbo: Vol. 2, Sake **** : Another great installment of the Oishinbo series. This one focuses on wine and sake as they interact with Japanese cuisine.
Oishinbo: Vol.1 Japanese Cuisine **** : I love this Japanese foodie series.
Hyperion ***** : All four books in this serious are "big" science fiction: society, government, military, time and space travel, religion; it covers it all! (I read these last year but forgot to review them until now.)
Room **** : Touching and creatively-written story of a mother and son's love for each other in a horrible situation.
Oishinbo: Fish, Sushi, & Sashimi ***** : Delightful story of Japanese food culture.
Player of Games ***** : Culture series, book 2. Even better than the first! About a master player in a game that determines who becomes emperor.
Consider Phlebas **** : Great space opera with thorough backstory a la David Brin's Uplift series.
Manga Guide to Calculus **** : Even if you already know Calculus, this is still very enjoyable. The entire series looks appealing!
Under the Dome ***** : Stephen King at his best, describing small-town America with a full cast of interesting characters.
Born to Run *** Compelling story of how humans were made for jogging. Documents the Tarahumara, a tribe of Mexican Indians who run ultramarathons almost barefoot. But extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof and, unfortunately, this book completely fails in providing references or sources for any of its claims. I found at least one glaring factual error: the author claims that humans are the only animal whose principal method of heat dissipation is sweating. Not true--horses sweat profusely! Serious mistakes such as these beg the question of how many other errors there are.
(Thanks to some detective work from Beeman, here are pictures from the race and a conversation with Caballo Blanco in which he expresses his displeasure with the book.)
Accidental Billionaires: The Founding of Facebook *** : The story is of questionable veracity, but it is quick and fun, albeit poorly written.
Handmaid's Tale ***** Dystopian feminist novel in which fertile women become the property of the state. Dark premise that is brilliantly executed with clean, elegant prose.
Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food *** : These are essentially the same theme, so I'm rating them together. A compelling history and exploration of the food industry that should convince most readers to change the way they eat. Unfortunately, it's preachy at times and maligns science unjustly, so I deducted one star from the rating.
Ecotopia **** : Thought-provoking "politics fiction". In the author's words, the book tries to convey "that there are real alternatives to our present corporatist, militarist, ultracompetitive, oil-obsessed course." One reviewer wrote, "it looks obvious--like the wheel", a prescient remark given that the book was written 35 years ago yet confronts issues that we still face today. It does have many flaws, but the story stays with you and is worthwhile reading for everybody!
Breaking Dawn *** : The last and best of the Twilight series.
Borders of Infinity **** : Continuation of story line from Vor Game.
Watchmen **** : Great graphic novel, beautiful illustrations and color, engaging plot. Definitely one of the stranger super hero stories out there. Much better than the movie!
Eclipse ** : Third Twilight book. The weakest and most poorly written of the series. But if you're reading the series, what choice do you have but to read this one as well?
I have to give a plug for Banana Republic's credit card: I accidentally incurred a late fee (we were on vacation and didn't get to it in time--so it was my fault). Called them up and they refunded it without any fight. Turns out that they allow one courtesy fee refund per year! I had heard that banks were being really tough with fees lately, glad it wasn't true in this case.
New Moon *** : Book 2 of Twilight Series. Enter the werewolf.
Love in the Time of Cholera **** : Probably the ultimate story of love in all its forms. A difficult read at times, but ultimately very rewarding.
Anathem ***** : Science "monks" sequester themselves from the rest of the world for 1, 10, 100, or 1000 years at a time so that they can solve interesting problems in peace. Takes place on another planet with a whole new vocabulary to learn and enjoy. Based loosely on the Clock of the Long Now.
Sourcery *** : Another Discworld novel. 'Nuff said.
Gai-jin *** : Part of James Clavell's "Asian Saga". Unfortunately, not nearly as good as his epic novel "Shogun". But still worthwhile if you've read the rest of the series or like historical fiction about Japan in the 19th century.
Sunshine *** : Makes me nostalgic for 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well filmed, but impossible physics and some ridiculous plot gyrations cost this movie a star.
Das Leben der Anderen ***** : Must-see movie about East Germany's secret police. I was originally turned on to this movie by an article in Wired, Piecing Together the Dark Legacy of East Germany's Secret Police.
Mort *** : Personification of Death in Discworld.
King of Kong ***** : Donkey Kong documentary. Watch out for those barrels!
Cod ***** : The cod is responsible for everything! I'm a sucker for fish and economics books like this.
Equal Rites **** : Making my way through the Discworld novels. You gotta love Granny Weatherwax!
I set up my first Linux KVM (kernel-based virtual machine) this week. It was a lot easier than I was expecting (using Ubuntu 8.04).
Using KVM for virtualization is nice because it uses a lot fewer system resources (RAM in particular) than hosted hypervisors such as VirtualBox or VMWare. Plus installation is quicker and easier. And performance is probably superior.
The official Ubuntu documentation on installing KVM was very useful. I followed it almost exactly. There is also a decent HowtoForge KVM tutorial. One tip is that you don't need to specify the "qemu:///system" in the virsh commands (e.g., "virsh list" or "virsh start ubuntu" work just fine on my system).
If you are running Linux, I highly recommend checking it out! It's very cool.
Light Fantastic **** : More Discworld goodness (second book in the series). Long live The Luggage!
We picked up an Evolve RoadRunner showerhead at Costco last weekend ($28). I love this product! You turn it on and it allows the cold water to run until the hot water starts to flow. Then it automatically shuts off the water flow until you pull the cord. Obviously this saves on energy costs by not running the hot water unnecessarily. But I also love that I can tell exactly when the shower is ready by listening for the water to stop.
I was a little skeptical about how well it would work. But after a week of use, I'm extremely satisfied with it. The ShowerStart feature works flawlessly. And it has a very strong pressure even though it's a low-flow showerhead. Highly recommended.
Twilight *** : In the world of books-for-teenagers-that-adults-read-too, first there was Harry Potter, then the Golden Compass, now there's Twilight. To be sure, Twilight is not forged from the same rich lode as its predecessors, but it's a decent enough modern vampire novel.
Pnin ***** : Wonderfully rich, sensuous, and complicated prose. Not the kind of book that can be read quickly, but the enjoyment is as much in the journey through the words as it is in unraveling the plot. My first Nabokov and definitely not my last.
The corn industry must be feeling the pressure from PBS's King Corn, Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, and such articles as High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Not So Sweet for the Planet from the Washington Post. Check out these hilarious commercials on why high-fructose corn syrup isn't bad for you: video 1, video 2.
4-Hour Work Week *** : I have a fundamental issue with this book's premise that you can simply farm out all of your labor, sit back, and profit. If everybody in the world had this approach, there wouldn't be anybody producing real work! Nevertheless, there are numerous productivity-enhancing recommendations offered that make this a worthwhile speed-read.
While developing Presto's Sidebar Clock and other Windows Vista sidebar gadgets, I've struggled with debugging. Numerous web sites say that you can use Visual Studio to debug errors, but, up until now, I've never been able to get it to work. And writing any non-trivial gadget really requires the use of a debugger.
I finally figured out that only the professional versions of Visual Studio will allow debugging. I installed a fresh copy of Visual Studio 2008 Professional from MSDN and I'm up and running. It was so easy to set up that I'm mad I didn't get it going sooner. Unfortunately, the documentation out there is pretty abysmal regarding this topic.
On a related note, DebugView is pretty handy for sidebar gadget development as well.
The Fountain **** : Awesomely inventive work with exquisite imagery. A bit hard to follow because of its three intertwined plot lines, but worth the hassle.
Warlock in Spite of Himself *** : More of the same from Escape Velocity author. Part of the Warlock series.
Earth Abides ***** : Another classic sci-fi novel that I somehow never read until now. A disease kills almost everybody on Earth and the survivors live off the remains of civilization. Epic and thought-provoking!
Amber Spyglass ***** : Outstanding conclusion to the Golden Compass series.
Escape Velocity *** : Political sci-fi set in a medieval context. A little trite in spots, but better than I expected!
Vor Game **** : Obviously part of a much larger series (which I haven't read), but good by itself. Socio-political emphasis.
The "Read Everything on My Bookshelf" Project: I had a voracious appetite for science fiction and fantasy novels when I was a teenager. I would head to the bookstore and buy books all the time, most of which ended up on my bookshelf, unread. As I have moved throughout the years, I've dutifully packed up and transported all of these books with me.
Now, decades later, as I seek to de-clutter my life and get rid of unnecessary possessions, I feel obligated to read them before getting rid of them. For years, these books sat in silence. Now their stories will be heard...
Where the Hell is Matt: Guy dances all around the world. Brought a big smile to my face. (Thanks Steve for the forward!)
The Illusionist **** : Is there room in the world for two prestidigitation movies that were released almost simultaneously? It appears so. While not as good as the Prestige, this movie is beautifully filmed, has great acting from Edward Norton, and is worthy in its own right.
Three Cups of Tea ***** Very important book that everybody needs to read. Guy gets lost after climbing K2. Pakistani village nurses him to health. He pledges to build them a school, starting life-long mission to build schools for girls in Pakistan and Afghanistan. By the end of the book, I was convinced that this is the only long-term solution to stopping terrorism.
Anchorman ** : A little too zany for me.
I picked up a Navigon 2100 GPS for $120 off of bensbargains.net last month. This is the least expensive GPS that I know of that will read the street names to you. Other low-cost models just say "turn right", "turn left", etc. Some online reviews said that the Navigon has a slow user interface, but I didn't think it was bad at all.
Two unique Navigon features are lifetime free map updates and an awesome highway interchange mode that makes it easy to determine which lane you should be in. It also has an excellent three-dimensional "reality view" which is extremely intuitive.
This unit pretty much does everything that I would want a GPS to do. Some more points of interest would be nice, but at this price point, I really can't complain! Highly recommended if you are in the market for a GPS unit for your car.
Update: Oops, my bad. Turns out the Navigon doesn't have free map updates after all. It does have free software updates, but probably most of the other GPS manufacturers offer that also.
The Mexican *** : Better than I expected!
I was given a Trek Pro bicycle saddle bag as a gift about a year ago. This past weekend, the zipper on the bag broke. I emailed Trek customer support and was told that the warranty expires after a year and that I was out of luck!
Trek's bicycle warranties are great, but I'd recommend against buying any of their accessories due to this very poor warranty policy. Other companies (like SunLite Cycling Gear) have lifetime warranty on all of their products. Either that, or buy the Trek stuff at REI so you can return it when it breaks :)
Subtle Knife **** Sequel to the Golden Compass. Quantum mechanics (many-worlds theory) in a children's novel!
Color of Magic **** Quirky fun. First Discworld book. There are over 30 books in this series... eep!
Good Earth **** Simple yet enticing story of rural life in pre-revolutionary China.
Next *** : Great job by Nicholas Cage (as usual), fun action movie, strange ending.
Lost World *** : Jurassic Park Part 2. Standard Chrichton, well written, nothing extraordinary, good read.
Stranger Than Fiction *** : Great concept, but something didn't quite connect for me in this love story.
Golden Compass ***** : Well written, inventive, engaging, and bound to annoy a lot of people!
Ultraviolet ** : Nicely filmed scifi but cardboard plot. See Equilibrium instead.
Norton Fighter vs. Botlas - part one and part two. Great example of viral marketing from Norton... Definitely check out part two: "Akihabara nerd attack! Akihabara maid attack!" Priceless!!
Sushi Economy ***** : Fascinating tale of Japan, sushi, economics, global trade, and one of the world's most expensive and shortest-shelf-lived commodities, bluefin tuna.
A Thousand Splendid Suns ***** : Important book about the plight of women in Afghanistan before, during, and after the Taliban. Same excellent writing and style as the Kite Runner, but while that book had hope to balance its sadness, this book has much less and is thus that much grimmer.
The Quiet Earth * : Man wakes up, discovers he is the last human on earth. Starts out cool, bombs out pretty fast. I can't believe all of the people on IMDB who gave it a 7.1 average rating!
The Prestige ***** : Highly confusing but ultimately very rewarding film. Told in reverse, Memento-style. A second viewing is revealing and enjoyable.
The Chamber ** : Reads fine, Grisham is a competent writer, but no fireworks. Flawed by too many 180 degree shifts in character personality throughout the story.
Better ***** : From one of my favorite New Yorker authors, Atul Gawande. Excellent essays on health care, including malpractice, cystic fibrosis, obstetrics, third world health care, and more.
Stardust ***** : I loved the movie, and the book is even better! Beautiful, mellifluous writing and gorgeous accompanying illustrations. One of Neal Gaiman's best works.
Venus Prime 1 *** : Better than I expected and an enjoyable end to my sci-fi reading blitzkrieg while on vacation in Costa Rica.
To Sail Beyond the Sunset ** : Heinlein is either a genius provocateur or just a dirty old man. Either way, this book didn't take for me.
Revolt in 2100 *** : Classic Heinlein space opera pulp fiction. Overly simplistic and unrealistic solutions to social problems, but it's fun reading.
A Scanner Darkly ***** : Awesomely crazy movie. Could it have been filmed as anything but a cartoon?
Boondock Saints **** : Willem Dafoe shines in this zany retribution movie.
Man on Fire *** : Denzel does a nice job in this kidnap-thriller-whodunit based in Mexico City.
Last month, I had a debate with my friend J.S. about China's increasing role in polluting the world. For the purposes of this discussion, we focused solely on electric power consumption. Since most electric power is generated by coal plants, the consumption of electricity is directly proportional to greenhouse gas emissions. And regardless of your position on whether humans are responsible for the current greenhouse gas levels, hopefully we can all agree that we should try to reduce our emissions as much as possible so that we don't aggravate the problem.
My position is that the future of global pollution control lies solely in China and India. In order to fuel their economic ascendency, these countries are trashing the environment. A New York Times article entitled Pollution From Chinese Coal Casts a Global Shadow is over a year old but still provides a good summary of the situation.
J.S.'s position is that it's hypocritical to judge China and India when we in the United States are flagrant abusers of electricity. Further, we are tacitly implicated since our addiction to low-cost imports from China provides the demand that fuels their consumption.
Recent numbers on global electricity generation from the Energy Information Administration do support J.S.'s claim. In 2004, the United States produced 3.979 trillion kWh of energy for 303 million people, or 13,405 kWh annually per capita. Europe's population of 492 million people consumed 3.443 trillion kWh, or 7,089 kWh annually per capita. Which means that Europeans use about half the power of Americans per capita. And at 1,795 kWh annually per capita (2.080 trillion kWh for 1.320 billion people), China uses about one-seventh the power that the U.S. does per capita.
But none of this math really matters. In the US and Europe, both the population and manufacturing base are well established, stable, and slow-growing. This means that power consumption won't grow much either. And while it may be hypocritical to tell others that they need to curtail their power consumption while not following that same advice, it doesn't change the calculus. If China and India don't change their plans, then what the US and Europe do is irrelevant.
So what do we do about it? The NY Times article makes some suggestions. Subsidizing coal scrubbers and more efficient power plants in China and India is a good place to start. Nuclear power is an oft-overlooked but balanced solution that unfortunately will probably fall victim to politics. A tariff on imports from countries with poor energy generation practices would certainly be controversial. Certainly reducing our own per capita energy consumption in the US as a symbolic gesture wouldn't hurt.
But we do need to start the conversation... soon!
Two sweet Vim plugins: The NERD Commenter and xmledit.
Children of Men ** : Though-provoking and good filmography but slow, lacking too many details, and, ultimately, disappointing.
Collateral *** : Decent enough movie, but it's no "Leon". I just can't see an assassin even accepting a job like this.
911 In Plane Site * : Wish I could give it a lower score, but one star is the lowest in my system. What's most scary about this movie is its incredibly high IMDB rating.
Futurama is getting a fifth season. Oooooh yeah!
Last month's New Yorker had a great article by Elizabeth Kolbert on Canada's tar sands. Unfortunately the full article isn't available online, but the abstract of Unconventional Crude has a decent summary. If you can find the original, give it a read. Very enlightening. And potentially terrifying!
Mimic ** : Not Guillermo del Toro's best work.
8-Mile **** : Eminem's early days.
Derailed *** : Ransom movie with a twist, watchable if you can cope with highly unrealistic behavior.
The Good Shepherd ***** : Early history of the CIA. Complex, intense, thought provoking.
Butterfly Effect **** : Crazy movie, Donny Darko meets Memento.
The Holiday *** : Lots of big names in this light romance.
Constant Gardener **** : Corruption strikes in Africa once again. Stars guy from the English Patient.
Fast Food Nation **** : Fictionalized adaptation of the book. Lots of cameos. Good.
Borat ** : Disappointing. The original HBO series was so good!
Flowers for Algernon ***** : Another oldie-but-a-goodie that I had never read until now. Great soft scifi.
Harry Potter Book 7 *** : If you've made it this far in the series, then this is a must-read regardless of what any review says. But the joy was gone for me in this overly dark final installment. As one reviewer aptly put it, can you say "deus ex machina?"
The Last Kiss **** : Garden State Part II.
Scoop **** : Quirky Woody Allen movie with Scarlett Johansson.
Pan's Labyrinth ***** : Muy bien! Best movie I've seen in a long time. A great metaphor for Spain under Franco.
Saw III **** : Still dark and twisted, still strangely entertaining.
Flags of Our Fathers *** : A little disjointed and hard to follow; not as good as its partner movie, "Letters From Iwo Jima".
A Random Walk Down Wall Street ***** : Let's face it, investing books are not exactly page turners and you definitely don't want to read one when you're sleepy. Nevertheless, this is a must-read for anybody interested in maximizing their investments over the long haul (20+ years). Which should be everybody!
The book pretty much fortifies the investing axioms that I have been following for the past several years, but presents a ton of data to back up the claims, which are:
For persons under 40, the book recommends the following portfolio:
For persons between 40 and 50, it's basically the same as above, but move 10 percent from stocks to bonds.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time **** Innovative first-person novel about an autistic 15-year-old who attempts to solve the mystery of the neighbor's dog's death. Provides great insight into the curse and the blessing that is autism.
Late last year, I released Presto's Hard Drive Monitor, a Vista sidebar gadget that reports the remaining space on hard drives. It's been pretty successful at 30,000 downloads and counting. It initially supported four hard drives, which I thought would be enough. But the user demand for more drives was intense (the live.com page for the gadget shows some of the user coments).
It would have been easy to have just made the gadget box bigger and added more drives. But I wanted to do it more elegantly and have the gadget grow and shrink and only use as much space as necessary. (As a side note, all Vista gadgets have a minimum height of 57 pixels, and it's not possible to shrink them less than that.)
Not having seen many gadgets that automatically change size, my usual method of just looking at how somebody else did it wouldn't work. I had to figure it out for myself. After many hours of experimenting, I finally ended up doing it as follows:
First, I inserted a <g:background> tag into the main body of the gadget:
<g:background id="background" src="images/background-black3.png"/>
The background image background-black3.png needed some work as well. Initially, it had a shadow and transparent border around it, but this caused problems when the image was stretched. To work correctly using this method, the top and bottom of the background image must be opaque.
var heightInPixels = 100 document.body.style.height = heightInPixels background.style.height = heightInPixels
My actual code was a little more complicated in that it used the number of drives to figure out how high the gadget should be. But you get the idea. And you can download the actual gadget and look at the code if you want to learn more.
Clowngirl **** : Very nicely written novel by a Portland author, although it tries too hard at developing some sort of philosophical undertone (existentialism? condemnation of religion?) which never quite gelled for me.
On Dragonwings **** : This is actually three books bound into one: Dragonsdawn, Dragonseye, and Moreta. All part of the Dragonriders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey. An interesting blend of scifi and fantasy crossing nearly 2000 years.
While visiting with my relatives in Canada last month, my aunt turned me onto a book from her investing club entitled Get Rich With Options. Despite the unfortunate used-car-salesman-esque title, it was a surprisingly good read.
Here are the book's take-aways so you can get rich and profit. Of course, the usual investing disclaimers apply. If you go broke following this advice, don't blame me. If, on the other hand, you get rich... you can buy me lunch.
'''Sell slightly out-of-the-money covered calls on your long stock positions.''' This is the one that most people already know about. The vast majority of calls expire without being assigned, so most likely you will get to pocket the premium. If your stock does get called away, then you at least got to sell your stock for a decent price.
'''Buy deep-in-the-money calls instead of buying a long position in a stock.''' The call will track the stock's market value, which translates into a higher ROI if the stock rises and less risk if the stock drops.
'''Sell slightly out-of-the-money naked puts on a stock that you want to own.''' You don't care if the put gets executed (you were going to buy the stock anyway). And you get to pocket the premium and get the stock at a slightly lower price. Probably the only time it's safe to sell a naked put. Unfortunately, many brokers (including mine) do not allow selling of puts.
'''Option credit spreads.''' This one is not as straight forward as the other three. It requires a lot more research. With a bull put spread, you are assuming the stock will trend up, so you sell one put with a high strike price and buy another put with a lower strike price. With a bear call spread, you are assuming the stock will trend down, so you sell a call with a low strike price and buy another call with a higher strike price. In either case, the strategy is to limit your profit or loss and take advantage of the decay of time value. Investopedia elaborates.
Letters From Iwo Jima ***** : Beginning of the end of WWII from the Japanese point of view. An anti-war movie along the lines of "Das Boot"
Inside Man *** : Standard bank robbery flick.
Ginger Snaps *** : Teenage angst coming-of-age werewolf flick. Gritty.
Click *** : Adam Sandler does non-Christmas version of "A Christmas Carol".
My Super Ex-Girlfriend **** : This movie:Superman::Galaxy Quest:Star Trek.
Aeon Flux * : The original animated MTV series was delightful. This movie is an abomination.
Ginger Snaps 2 *** : Weird vampire/werewolf type movie!
Blood Diamond **** : Action packed, disturbing, and thought provoking. Great acting by DiCaprio. The implicit moral of the story: The Kimberly Process doesn't work and there's no way to prove that a diamond is conflict free. Better just not to buy diamonds at all!
Long Distance *** : Better than I expected. All the classic suspense tricks and an ending I didn't see coming!
Aladdin **** : Great voice acting and animation, solidly put together.
Adam and Eve * : Barely watchable, and even then only if you fast forward a lot.
Little Miss Sunshine *** : A road trip and beauty pageant heal a dysfunctional family. Crazy movie, fun, well acted.
United 93 **** : Tastefully filmed... and extremely sad.
Devil Wears Prada *** : Standard formula movie, but good acting and a nice soundtrack.
I have been buying up a storm lately, upgrading and retooling around the condo. It seems like FedEx or UPS is making almost daily stops over here! I thought I would share reviews for some of my more recent purchases:
Weber Q120 Grill: Uses LP. Perfect size for a condo deck. High quality grate, built-in starter. Can cook for up to four people.
Nintedo DS Lite: Aimee got me this for my birthday. I love it. Compact form factor, long battery life, fun games, touch screen, microphone, and a clamshell design that keeps everything protected when not in use. Favorite game so far: Big Brain Academy.
Antec P180B case: Great airflow, tons of space, well built. Expensive though; I would recommend the Sonata II instead (which I also own).
MSI GeForce 7600 video card: Fanless. Whisper quiet. Supports dual DVI monitors. Did I mention quiet? I'm never buying a graphics card with a fan again!
Brother HL2040 laser printer: Inexpensive, compact, fast. Vista and Linux support. Only downside is slight page curling.
I just got a letter from the power company saying that due to a recent court ruling, a monthly power credit that PGE customers used to receive is going away.
You may remember that I had complained a few months ago about no longer receiving that credit because I had switched to wind power. So while I feel bad for all of the other customers who are going to lose this credit, it looks like I'm not going to be affected by the rate increase. Woo hoo!
This rate increase on traditional power also makes the wind option a lot more appealing. Unfortunately for anybody who is now thinking that it might be a good idea to switch, it looks like they are no longer allowing new subscribers since they are already at capacity for their current wind farm. But they are working on two new wind farms to bring more capacity online. Looks like the virtuous cycle may be working...
The Hiding Place ***** : Inspirational autobiography of faith and forgiveness in Nazi-occupied Holland.
Third in a series, here is an update on the "atonement phase" of Aimee's and my carbon load:
We just received our most recent power bill. It reflects the switch to 100 percent wind power. While the actual cost per kilowatt-hour is not that much higher, it turns out that due to a deal that PGE has with the government, consumers who use regular electric power get a fairly sizable credit from PGE. This is to compensate for the fact that hydroelectric power comes from dams on the rivers, which are owned ultimately by the people. Unfortunately, if you switch to wind power, the power company doesn't think they should give you that credit any more. This resulted in the loss of about $10 of credits per month.
Getting to the math, the new 100 percent wind power rate is approximately 11.4 cents/kWh including all taxes and fees. The old regular power rate was 8.9 cents/kWh.
Multiplied by our annual usage of 11,074 kWh, that translates into an increase of $284 per year for using 100 percent wind power. A tad more than I wanted to spend, but a small price to pay to help the environment. And, as my friend Brent put it so perfectly in an earlier comment, "dollars prove priorities in a way that businesses understand. Every extra subscriber gets PGE closer to the next volume discount."
Man Behind the Microchip **** : Known as the "Father of the Silicon Valley", I always knew Robert Noyce commanded respect, but I never knew why. This excellent biography lists the many accomplishments of this amazing man. Required reading for anybody in the high-tech industry.
My earlier post on calculating carbon impact definitely spawned a lot of comments and follow-up conversations. These talks made me realize a few things.
First, I've decided that the online calculators that I linked to earlier are not really the best way to calculate carbon load. For example, they focus on the individual, whereas I now believe that one's entire family or household should be considered. For example, the heating and electric bill for my condo is really divided among two people. Further, my girlfriend doesn't own a car, so if we need to drive somewhere, it's in my car. These details are lost unless we consider the household and not the individual.
Second, it's so ridiculously easy to get the actual usage numbers for utilities that everyone should just calculate their actual carbon load rather than using the online estimators.
So, with these two things in mind, I used the following conversion factors to calculate our carbon impact (all information from carboncounter.org):
I then gathered my actual usage numbers as follows (all figures are for the trailing twelve months ended February 2007):
Using the above information, a formula for computing annual household carbon load using actual usage numbers is:
19.36(Car miles driven)/(Car MPG) + 1.3925(kWh electricity used) + 12.0593(therms natural gas used) + 0.968(Air miles flown)
Which, for us, translates to:
19.365000/27.5 + 1.392511074 + 12.0593139.7 + 0.96812354*2
For a grand total of 44,543 pounds of carbon dioxide for both me and Aimee (22,304 pounds each).
This concludes the assessment phase. Next up: Atonement phase :)
I have been a disciple of the religion of Vi for at least 15 years, but I still have much to learn: Best of VIM tips.
I took Wired magazine's Carbon Quiz today. According to the calculator, my carbon load is 21,198 pounds of carbon dioxide annually, thereby earning me a rank of "fair-weather ecofriend." (The Wired articles on The Resurrection of Al Gore and Rise of the Neo-Greens are also worthwhile reading.)
A big surprise was how little a difference recycling makes: Being a militant recycler only reduced my carbon impact a measly 1 percent! The thing that really killed me was air travel, which added almost 9,000 pounds.
I'm going to take the site's advice and atone for my sins by donating $100 to $200 for carbon credits. A bit of Googling uncovered this Oregon Environmental Council web site which has some suggested charities. The other thing I'm going to do is to switch over to one of the renewable power options available from the power company.
Small steps, yes... but it's a start!
The Number *** : How much money do you need before you can retire? According to this book, $2-20 million. Book starts out great, but gets tiresome about halfway through. Mandatory reading if you've never considered this subject before, otherwise there are probably better books out there.
Eon **** : Hard SF novel written during and heavily influenced by the Cold War. The politics seem dated now, and the writing is sometimes a little awkward, but overall thoroughly enjoyable.
Bridges at Toko-Ri **** : Short Michener novella about the Korean War. Doesn't delve into politics, but instead reads more like a "day in the life" of a naval aviator on a bombing run. Almost a little too short to be satisfying, but it's hard to complain given the minimal time investment to read it.
Elfstones of Shannara ** : Marginally better than "Sword of Shannara". Still mostly a LOTR clone. I suffered through this thing all the way to the end, hoping that it would magically redeem itself in the final pages, but it didn't. Maybe I'm just burned out on fantasy novels. If you really like fantasy and don't mind some storyline recycling, add another star.
I've been running Windows Vista for almost two months now and figured that it was time for a status update. I've already talked about what I like, here are some dislikes that have manifested with daily use:
The security restrictions are very annoying. Many common acts (installing programs, deleting files from flash drives, changing network settings) trigger annoying permission popups. Sometimes a single action can trigger up to three permission prompts! Often the prompts are ridiculous -- such as asking you first if it's ok to prompt you, and then once you click "yes", actually doing the real permission prompt. It's hard to imagine the average user liking this. I am very close to trying to figure out how to disable the popups completely.
The driver support is seriously lacking. Hopefully this will improve greatly by launch time, although it's hard to see it happening in time since there is so much work to do. Most hardware manufacturers don't appear to have any official Vista driver support. A few more have beta drivers. And I'm not talking about obscure companies here. I have two relatively recent video cards (one ATI, the other nVidia) that both had weird quirks under Vista. The most recent drivers from each company don't fix the problems. Luckily, (video drivers aside), the drivers that Microsoft provides with Vista seem to generally be decent, so if they work fine for you, then you won't have any problems.
The semi-transparent "Aero theme" is interesting eye candy at first, but after a while I just disabled it. Often it's a little too translucent, showing too much of the background apps. This makes it difficult at times to read the active window. Sometimes it's hard to even tell which window has the focus! And the borders in Aero mode are really fat and space consuming. If all this isn't bad enough, some applications are incompatible with Aero mode and running them will cause the screen to flicker several times as Vista switches to non-Aero mode to accommodate the app.
Lastly, I have been pulling my hair out trying to get an HP x5400 media center extender working with Vista without success. It finally dawned on me to check the web, whereupon I learned almost immediately that v1 media center extenders aren't supported by Vista! (As a side note, it would have been nice if Vista had given me some sort of message letting me know that the v1 extender was incompatible.) So the millions of people who currently have a v1 extender are getting shafted completely. This is a pretty serious backward incompatibility problem and would be a significant reason not to upgrade to Vista in my opinion, especially if you rely on one of these media extenders. See Jason Tang's blog, Chris Lanier's blog, or this Green Button thread for more information.
Trapped *** : Standard get-revenge-against-the-attackers-type plot.
Lake House *** : A fun movie, but don't get me started on all of the time travel paradox questions it raises!
Sword of Shannara * : Abandoned after 160 pages. I wanted to like this book, but couldn't get past the blatant Lord of the Rings rip-off. The bad writing also made it easy for my mind to wander. Read the reviews on Amazon, the one from Avant-Captain_Nemo pretty much sums it up!
Confessions of an Economic Hit Man *** : I don't know what to think of this book. At times is reads like conspiracy theory fiction. Other times, it certainly does seem like it explains much about the current geopolitical state of the world. Fact or fiction, a thought provoking read.
Superman Returns **** : Surprisingly good remake/extension.
The Break-Up ** : Good for passing some time, that's about it.
Space **** : Another worthy tome from Michener. Unlike his typical novels (which often span millennia), ''Space'' covers "only" 50 years :) I was impressed with the prescience displayed by the last 50 pages, in which Michener predicted almost 25 years ago the entire "intelligent design" morass our society faces today.
I downloaded and installed Vista RC2 a couple of days ago. First impressions below.
Things I really like about Vista
Things I don't like
More to come as I play around with it... hasn't crashed on me yet, which is a big plus :-)
Snakes on a Plane **** : Campy but good. Reminiscent of "Airplane!".
American Gods *** : Inventive and provoking... one of the more original books I've read recently, but not really a page-turner.
Thank You for Smoking ***** : A delightful satire and proof that creativity is not dead in Hollywood.
Day the Earth Stood Still ***** : One of the best scifi films ever made, over 55 years old and going strong! This is my third time watching it and I still love it.
Akeelah and the Bee **** : Aimee says it's predictable and trite (which is true), but it's still a great feel-good movie. Plus it stars Morpheus and Booger!
Da Vinci Code *** : Loved the book, but didn't like the movie as much. The two leads were not well cast at all. I wavered on two stars... if you've read the book, it's probably worth seeing, otherwise feel free to pass.
Triad *** : Finally read this book after 15+ years on my bookshelf. First contact sci-fi novel with a linguistic twist. Not bad, but disappointing ending.
Lance Armstrong's War *****: Extremely well written novel about Lance and the Tour de France. A must-read for anybody into cycling, otherwise maybe knock a star or two off.
X-Men 3 ****: Another great X-Men movie, lots of surprises (old favorites killed off, new mutants introduced), but sadly a very unfulfilling ending.
Prime ***: Decent comedy with several levels of interpretation, great acting by Meryl Streep.
Alfie *: Starts ok but goes downhill fast. No climax, no denouement. Very unsatisfying film.
Left Hand of Darkness *****: Outstanding novel full of rich social commentary and complex character development. I can't believe I waited so long before reading it!
Broken Flowers ***: If you liked ''Lost in the Translation'', you'll like this one.
Shrek 2 ***: Doesn't quite have the magic of the first one.
Ugly Americans ***: From the author of ''Bringing Down the House'', another fast-paced page-turner, this time about hedge fund traders in Tokyo. The story is entertaining but seems largely fictionalized, and after a while, the lack of fact-checking undermines the book's credibility: For example, the book incorrectly states that the Tokyo Tower is smaller than the Eiffel Tower, when in fact it is larger--the Amazon.com reviews cite many more examples.
China Study *** by Colin Campbell: Recommended by my friends Bruce and Karen, a thought provoking read that, in the end, fails to hold up to scientific scrutiny. I am giving it a three star rating because, despite its flawed conclusion, it is worth reading, if for no other reason than to fortify your knowledge of disease and nutrition.
The book's central premise is that diets with a large percentage of animal-based protein are conducive to cancer, heart disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many other diseases. The solution to avoid cancer and disease? Go vegan.
The author reaches this conclusion by using data from the China Study to compare the "affluent" diets of western countries (US and Europe) with those of poorer countries (China), which are primarily plant-based. The China Study was a large research effort conducted over twenty years in which the author was principally involved.
This is all well and good, but unfortunately, the book fails to establish causality between disease and diet. Epidemiology is a complex and difficult discipline, and if preventing disease were as easy as simply not eating animal protein, it stands to reason that medical science would have figured this out by now. Indeed, by his own admission, the author is an outcast from the conventional medical establishment, a fact that should raise alarms in the reader's head. Additionally, at times the book's tone takes on an almost religious fanaticism as the author rails against animal-based protein. By the final pages, it seems that Campbell's faith in the vegan lifestyle has tainted his view of the China Study data.
As some critical web sites detail, the China Study makes no statistically significant correlation whatsoever between diet and disease. (See Blog of Brad from an organic farmer, and Beyond Vegetarianism, a pro-vegetarian web site that disagrees with Campbell).
Clearly the author has found religion, but until his theories are tested through double blind clinical trials, the establishment is wise to remain skeptical of the claims in this book.
Hawaii *****: Epic novel. When you finish a Michener novel, you feel like you've really accomplished something. A tremendous read for anyone interested in the Hawaiian islands. (Fittingly enough, I read this while on vacation in Maui.)
Marching Powder ****: True life story of an Englishman caught drug trafficking and sent to a Bovilian prison where inmates have to buy their own cells, have cable TV and kitchens, and make cocaine.
Cowboy del Amor (***): Interesting documentary about a man who finds Mexican wives for his gringo clients. A little bid sad.
V for Vendetta (*****): Wonderful filmography and brilliant acting from Portman and "V" (who remains masked the entire movie).
Bringing Down the House **** : MIT students take Vegas for millions. Fast-paced with big money, action, adrenaline--just like Sin City. I read this in a single reading on a flight from Boston to Denver.
Freakonomics **** : A University of Chicago economics professor analyzes statistics to challenge popular beliefs. Co-written by a newspaper/magazine author, and thus a bit light on the math and watered down for mainstream acceptance, but a thought stimulating read.
Some of the interesting topics discussed/proven in this book:
Once and Future Spy **: Conviluted spy thriller, only read because I was trapped on an airplane.
Hawaii's Humpback Whales **** : Well illustrated overview of humpback anatomy and behavior. Very informative.
Design of Everyday Things ***** : A bit dated, but still an outstanding book on user-oriented design. You will never look at the world the same way again.
Out *** : Four women kill a man and deal with the consequences in this Japanese thriller.
Siddhartha ***** : May we all find the ferryman within to guide us across the river.
Cat Who Placed Post Office *** : Cat with a sixth-sense for mail helps solve an aging missing person case.
Corpse Had a Familiar Face *** : Newspaper reporter with a big head talks about murder in Miami.
Harry Potter 6 ***** : Best Potter in a long time, the joy of the first novel is back!
Why Men Earn More **** : Women are underpaid (for the same work), right? I thought so too until I read this book. Written by a former officer of NOW.
Cat Who Played Brahms ** : Another in the series. Add a star if you liked the first one, otherwise just more of the same. But I'll probably read at least one more.
Cat Who Ate Danish Modern ** : Murder mystery with an interior design twist and a cat.
Balancing Your Family, Faith & Work * : Way too religious for me, although the first chapter is an interesting mini-autobiography of the author's life.
Essential X-Men, Vol. 1 **** : Great background reading on X-Men history (graphic novel).
Blink *** : Interesting collection of psychological studies, but maybe only for Gladwell fans.
Cat Who Could Read Backwards *** : The first in a really long series, already formulaic, but a fun read.
Hungry Ocean ***** : Fascinating glimpse into commercial fishing and the life of a woman swordfish boat captain.
The Truth About the Drug Companies ***** : Drugs are expensive, but drug companies have to spend lots of money to develop them, right? Not true, as this book explains in great detail. New York Review of Books review.
Fencing Master **** : Neat period mystery/thriller based in Madrid in the 18th/19th century.
Imperial Hubris **** : Well written overview of the issues of US involvement in the Middle East.
I have been a long time admirer of Malcom Gladwell from his numerous articles in New Yorker over the years, and I thoroughly enjoyed his book The Tipping Point, thus it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed this book as well. It certainly isn't comparable to "Tipping Point", and in particular it seems to lack a unifying theme to tie everything together, but it certainly is an enjoyable romp through assorted psychological studies that help to unravel our minds.
Some annoyances about the 6820:
Despite these shortcomings, I am overall pretty happy with the phone, but I am disappointed that Nokia dropped the ball on these minor points. The 6820 would be an incredible phone if not plagued by these nits.
This is the last year that I'm going to use regular TurboTax (the one that runs on Windows). Their interview process is way too cumbersome now (questions like "Did you own a farm?" or "Were you employed in the clergy?"). And it didn't transfer my data over from last year's return properly. Worse, TurboTax messed up my county income taxes and deducted them incorrectly from my state return, which would have cost me money (Multnomah County tax filers using TurboTax: Double check your Oregon Form 40... TurboTax probably messed it up if you itemize your deductions!).
Web-based services seem to be the way to go now. Or I may just use this awesome Excel-based 1040 form that I found. If you have pretty straightforward taxes (W2, 1099, itemized deductions, etc.), using this Excel spreadsheet lets you bypass all of those annoying interview questions and knock out your taxes quickly.
Kite Runner ***** : A dark coming of age story based in Afghanistan. Exceptional writing. Best book I read in 2004.
Winner, The ** : Good fiction for a trip or day at the beach... page turner, nothing too deep.
Who's Looking Out For You ** : Easy read, but O'Reilly's approach to complex issues is too simple.
Touching the Void **** : Great reading for any mountaineer. Perhaps the most outstanding survival story I have read.
Climbing Free by Lynn Hill **** : Good autobiography of the early days of Yosemite big wall climbing.
I just got off the phone with UPS and they said they were fine with taking international ground shipments from walk-in customers. Looks like FedEx just lost some business... which makes me sad, since I'm a shareholder :-(