Monday, July 27, 2009

Let The Right One In

Creepy, vampire movie set in Stockholm, Sweeden. A young, awkward boy, the brunt of constant bullying by his classmates, finds a new friend in the girl who moves in next door. The only minor setback is that she's a reluctant but very real bloodsucker.

We watched a version that was dubbed in english, which was pretty annoying, but overall a freaky good movie. Well made.

Friday, July 24, 2009

How We Learn by Jonah Lehrer

This is a study of how we make decisions. Through interesting case studies and backed with a good deal of scientific and psychological research, and layman’s neurophysiology, Lehrer explains how different parts of our brain function when we’re presented with choices.

Using examples as varied as Tom Brady searching for an open receiver, focus group participants ranking spreadable jams, pilots landing malfunctioning airliners and professional poker players sniffing out bluffs, Lehrer explains how making the right decision involves a struggle between our rational and logical brains. The misconception is that using logical problem-solving always leads to better decisions. But Lehrer argues that depending on the type of decision, the number of factors involved, and the level of our experience, relying on our “emotional brain” is often more accurate. This is because we condition our brain and the dopamine levels in it to predict certain outcomes—in other words, we train our instincts to “sense” the right decision and can react much faster than our logical brain could.

Many people have rightly compared this book to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink. Both are about decision-making, but How We Decide is better supported and seems a little clearer in its thesis. Overall, a very enjoyable listen. David Colacci, who I recently listened to reading Wonderboys, does an excellent job here as well.

Sidetracked by Henning Mankel

This book starts with two seemingly unrelated but equally gruesome incidents. In one, Swedish inspector Kurt Wallander is called out to a farm to investigate a complaint of a trespasser in the crop fields. There, he finds a young, obviously frightened girl. But before he can talk to her, she douses herself in gasoline and lights herself on fire. Not far from there, a retired politician walks down to the beach from his home before turning in for bed. There, he is hatcheted in the back by what appears to him to be a dwarf.

This is the fifth book in Mankel’s series about a Swedish detective Kurt Wallander. I haven’t read any of the others, but it was easy to get a sense of Wallander’s character and I actually liked the allusions to the other stories without much explanation.

I don’t read a lot of crime fiction, but a friend recommended this book, and it held up well to James Patterson and other similar books that I have read. It’s fast-paced, smartly written and has plenty of twists and turns. Mankel deftly balances what he reveals and what he keeps a mystery, inserting just enough of the scenes where the crimes are committed to keep it suspenseful but not give too much away. It’s also not a perfectly plotted crime novel—it’s messy, with mistakes and dead ends, which gives it a more realistic feel. And Mankel adds pieces of dialogue and side plots about personal life to make him seem well-rounded without bogging down in it. Overall, a pretty enjoyable summer read.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Public Enemies by Michael Mann

When I saw Heat, another Michael Mann film, in the theater back in college, I was by myself and it was probably one of the best movie-going experiences I can remember. The theater was mostly empty, and the gunshots seemed to ricochet off the stadium seats around me. This time, I was in Chicago, where much of Public Enemies takes place, and again I was alone.

Is it fair to compare Public Enemies to Heat? They're both Michael Mann films about bank robbers, and they both make the case for the good in the bad guys and the bad in the good guys and how relationships are affected when men become obsessed with what they do.

So there, I guess I am comparing. But Heat, with its extra thirty minutes, is able to develop the characters much more fully. We get to see the home lives of the three main characters. In Public Enemies the relationships are a little more flat. Johnny Depp, who plays John Dillinger, and Christian Bale who plays Melvin Purvis, the FBI agent chasing him, both do a great job, as usual. But Dillinger's relationship with his girl isn't fully developed, and we don't know what Purvis is like at home. As such, this movie relies more on the shootouts and bank robberies to pull us through. And while nobody shoots bank robberies as well as Mann, and while I walked out of the theater thinking, "Man, I should get a tommy gun," I didn't care as much for the characters as I did in Heat.

As the plot goes, there are some good moments, most carried by Depp's ability show his inner conflict. My favorite was, toward the end, when he walks into the police department's "John Dillinger Unit" while all the cops are sitting around the radio listening to the Cubs-Yankees game. He strolls casually around the office, examining all the photos of him and the evidence from his case on the walls, realizing that of his gang, he's the last one left. Then, at the height of his bravado, he asks what the score of the game is. Aside from these moments, there are few surprises. After all, it's a true story and the end was known 80 years ago.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Move

It's been a long but very good five days. We have maybe 75% of our stuff unpacked. Some of it is set up temporarily until we get into the upstairs when the former owners move out in a few weeks.

Here are some pics of the move.

Dude, enjoying a last few moments at the old place.

Leaving the old house.

The new place.

The Dude and Walter christening the back yard.

The yard is pretty much a blank slate. I've been thinking about what I can do with it (without tripling the water bill).

The front yard, on the other hand, is fully landscaped. All I need to do there is get the automatic drip system working.

Inside before.

Inside after (kind of).

I love our charming little broom closet. Reminds me of Grandma's house.

We've been getting the hang of the narrow driveway. The real fun was when I pulled the moving van up it without thinking, then had to back it out. I only scraped the wall once.

Most of our rooms look like a tornado hit.

The kitchen is almost completely unpacked and set up.

Making the first meal in the new house.

Lots of new stuff, but we can still keep some of our routines.