Sunday, February 14, 2010

reflections on being back in USA; + book & movie reviews

So, I'm sort of in the process of getting over jet lag; what that really means is that I'm going to bed around 11 or 12 at night and then sleeping to 9 or 10 in the morning and then proceeding to be tired and irritable the rest of the day.

Notes about being back in Bellevue (I guess I'm almost "local" now in that the 10 minute journey into Seattle proper seems like an arduous ordeal only to be undertaken for events of the utmost importance):

1. So, so so quiet.
2. No people anywhere; the handful of pedestrians at intersections are an annoyance.
3. There's ~2 or 3 buildings in some stage of construction here, which apparently is remarkable as it leads to a growing skyline over time. Compared to the hyper-growth in Shanghai, though, I keep thinking "Aww, look at the Americans pretending to build a's cute of them (of us?) to try."
4. Having my daily routine up-ended by jet lag and travel is nice in a way - it's good in that I can attempt to change/improve my daily life & try some new things.
5. Did a fair amount of cooking yesterday and that will probably continue today.
6. I ended up doing a lot more reading than I have in a long time during the past trip; and I hope to continue that trend.

Media reviews - again, I finished a few books and saw some films. So here are my thoughts:


1. Anathem, by Neal Stephenson - I'm a fan of Neal's work, and this book is interesting and different from his previous efforts (that I have read). It's more accessible, in that the entire story is told from the perspective of a single character, most of Neal's other works change perspectives every chapter, and as a result it's harder to get immersed. The book is less accessible in that it's (apparently) "speculative fiction" and Neal describes a planet much like earth but yet isn't earth and thus some almost familiar things require different names. It's annoying at first but as I read more it did not bother me later. Helpfully, there is a glossary at the back. Later on, sci-fi really comes into play as issues of time travel, quantum physics, and parallel universes come up quickly. Not a perfect book, but I enjoyed it quite a bit and do recommend it. 

2. Revolting Youth by CD Payne - I had read "Youth in Revolt" 5 or 6 years ago, and really liked it. Was very happy to see that the film adaptation finally came to pass...have not seen it yet but do intend to. I was aware that the series had continued, but this book was always out at the library; I ultimately paid for a copy at Barnes & Noble (note to self...if I ever cross the bridge I really, really should support independent bookstores). Anyway, the book is light, fun, and engrossing. 

3. Nudge by Thaler & Sunstein - Interesting ideas about how default choices/offerings in various systems can influence groups. Not exactly sure where I could apply these ideas in my life & work at present...but still found the book to be really interesting. 

4. The World is Flat - Just starting this; here are my impressions of the first chapter: "Some guy (the author) has read about globalization, then sees it firsthand. Is gobsmacked, decides to write a book about it." I'm not sure if there are additional revelations in store; as it is right now it is telling me that there is a lot of outsourcing happening in India and that this trend should continue. Additionally, outsourcing of manufacturing and call centers in China is also expected to continue. No shit? 

Thoughts on owning a Kindle or iPad for book reading purposes? Tempting, in that one can carry a library around in a single device. Also nice in that if one (as an American) was living in China or somewhere where a wide selection of English books was in short supply, this could potentially help. Lame in that one of the best things about books is that they are not subject to the "electronic devices" restrictions on take-off and landing in airplanes...but an e-reader would have those issues. Also lame in that you could invest in an "e-library" and you'd be subject to a lot of sharing restrictions - you can't give away ebooks that you've finished to your friends & family, like you can with a real book. Of concern with Amazon is if one decided to switch platforms (Kindle to iPad or whatever), your Amazon purchases would be useless on the new device.


1. Avatar - Did not have terribly high expectations for this movie (box office records aside), but decided to give it a shot to see what the fuss was about. Pleasantly surprised. Yes, perhaps the story is aimed at a 12-year old - but it's not a bad story at all (certainly little that would be objectionable to show a 12-year old, IMHO).

2. Year One - Michael Cera & Jack Black are both very funny actors, and the thought of them as a comedy team seems like a great idea. The trailer for this movie was also quite encouraging. However, the end result was pretty weak. I did not find myself laughing much at all. It was fun picking out the famous comedians in this (and there's someone famous in nearly every scene); however it's disappointing when you realize that despite their fame, no one ever has any really funny lines to deliver and most of the jokes are predictable and tired. I did watch the extra "deleted ending", which seemed superior to the film cut in nearly every way. Seems like this movie had potential, but someone messed it up bad (starting with the script...then the editing...)...I wanted to see the movie that the trailer led me to believe this was, not what it actually turned out to be.