Tag Archives: review

New Indian in Rhinebeck

While we seem to have 2 (sometimes as many as 5) sushi restaurants in every town in Dutchess County, we’ve been really lacking on good Indian restaurants. Our favorite up until this week was Tanjore down in Fishkill. But this week we have a new winner.

Cinnamon is the name of the nearly reopened Indian restaurant in Rhinebeck. It’s actually a little south of town, in the location where we’ve seen a couple of different Indian places over the last decade. We hit it up Thursday night as Susan wanted to scout it for possible future catering. I decided to go vindaloo, which I don’t do that often any more, as my spice tolerance isn’t quite what it used to be. But it is a pretty good measure of spiciness.

Wow. The vindaloo was spot on, and definitely good and spicy. Everything we had there was great. I’m already excited to go back there for one of their buffets. If you like Indian, and live in the mid hudson valley, please go there. We need to keep good Indian places around like this one.

Book Review: The Disappearing Spoon

“It’s a book about the periodic table of elements” got me an odd look from my wife, when asked what I was reading on my kindle. Yes, I’m a geek.

But this isn’t the dry kind of chemistry book that you might imagine. This is a series of tales of history and intrigue. The author goes through the periodic table in chunks, where elements are similar, and tells the tales unique to those elements. There is a chapter on the elements that give rise to life, with another look at why Silicon based life is really fantasy. It’s followed up by a chapter called the poisoner’s corner, showing how one column in the periodic table is so hostile to life, and has been known to assassins for years.

There are tales about how one of the battles of WWI was fought in Colorado over a German owned mine for an element that only the German scientists had figured out that the previously thought useless element Molybdenum made an excellent hardening agent for steel. You’ll learn that once Aluminum was once more precious than Gold, and why the Brits insist on having another “i” in that word. And all throughout the book you are actually getting a feeling of what the periodic table really means, as the chapters are always written as clumps; be them columns in the table, or other logical groupings.

A really fun book, that I think anyone with a curiosity about the world will enjoy.

Book Review: Moby Duck

A couple weeks ago I went to a lecture by the author of Moby Duck, Donovan Hohn.  I was interested in this because of a story that I remember reading a few years ago. The story was about a flotilla of 1000 ghost rubber ducks, bleached by the sun, about to invade the coast of the UK.

That story turns out to have been false, part of the growing myth surrounding the Friendly Floatees. Much like the white whale, a figment of the collective imagination.

This book tells the story, as best can be reconstructed, of these toys. They weren’t made of rubber, and the ducks only accounted for 1/4 of the toys (lost in the creating of the myths were the turtles, frogs, and beavers).

The story is incredible. In an attempt to find the full lifecycle of these toys Hohn goes up and down the Alaskan coast looking for the toys cast upon the rugged north Pacific beaches. He goes to sea, many times, including joining scientific expeditions looking at the plastic content of the Pacific, meso scale currents in the North Atlantic, and crossing the North West Passage (now possible due to a rise of 5 degrees C at the poles) all exploring the possible tracks these toys could have taken. He even goes to China to find the birth place of these toys, and crosses the Pacific on a container ship not unlike the one the Floatees fell off of.

His style is very much like that of Bill Bryson, though his mind drifts and wanders in a really interesting way that gives you a sense of the drifting and wandering of these toys at sea. It’s an incredible lens to look at our Oceans, a largely unexplored part of our earth, the impact we are having on them, as well as the dangers that still lie out to sea.

Highly recommended.

The promise of Google TV

I got my Logitech Revue on Friday, and have had a day to play with it. It is clearly a work in progress, which will be accelerated greatly when the SDK drops for it early next year. The long review of the device will come later. There are some really neat hints of where this is headed though, best exemplified with this screen shot:

That is a search for House looking at the Series results. You are looking at Season 7 results (including items in the future) and next to each episode is whether the episode is available on your TV (i.e. DVR), the Web, of Paid (which currently corresponds to Netflix or Amazon on Demand).

Once you can hook into the content providers interface with the SDK, this becomes really interesting.

Review: Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky is one of those authors that I just can’t get enough of. After seeing a talk of his on TED a few years ago I got his first book, Here Comes Everybody, and loved it. When I found out he had another book out, I immediately ordered it on Amazon.

Here Comes Everybody was largely a How book, exploring how people were using new forms of communication to accomplish things we never thought possible before. Cognitive Surplus is a Why book. Why, exactly, do we have Wikipedia? Why do we have Kiva? Why do we have Linux?

His proposition is because of we’ve got a cognitive surplus, which we’ve finally come to realize due to the new connectedness of the internet. The 20th century brought about a substantial amount of leisure time in the western world, but we were still very isolated. If you had a hobby, like model trains, odds were that very few people around you shared in that hobby, so you while you enjoyed it your basement or garage, it was something you often didn’t have kindred spirits to share with. Lacking this kind of reinforcement for hobbies, we filled that time with things that did give us a shared experience: Television.

The internet let us find kindred spirits and help us unlock our desire to create by finding new communities that don’t need to be within driving distance.

The book is a great romp through a set of stories about why certain communities have formed, and with bits of advice in energizing your own community. I highly recommend it to just about anyone, though I’d suggest reading Here Comes Everybody first if you haven’t yet.

Fish Custard and the year of Doctor Who

This year of Doctor Who has just been brilliant.  Upon rewatching the season, I’m pretty confident in stating that this has been the best year since the reboot, and that Matt Smith (should he decide to stick around for a bit) is going to become the new icon of what the Doctor is (this title is still currently held by Tom Baker).  Because I think everyone should be taken along on this ride, I’m not going to talk about anything past the first 15 minutes of the first episode.

Over the years I’ve found myself drawn to writers / actors that can use tempo as emotion, because there is a kind of power in it that nothing else delivers.  The canonical example of this is MASH.  Alan Alda would be chattering about at break neck speed about all manner of frivolity.  You would get into the rhythm and speed and be carried along for the ride.  And then, reality would hit, and he’d stop in an unexpected way in mid stride.  This created an emotional lurch, like when you’re on a boat and it comes to a stop on the docks.  Not many can pull this off in a natural way.  Aaron Sorkin is the current American king of this, as embodied in Sports Night.  And now with Steven Moffat in charge, and Matt Smith in the drivers seat, we get this in Doctor Who.

The keystone moment of all of this is the fish custard scene that opens up the season.  Having just crash landed in 9 year old Amelia Pond’s garden shed, he asks little Amelia to give him an Apple, as he’s having a craving (“I think I’m having a craving.  That’s new, I’ve never had cravings before.”).  The moment he takes a bite he spits it out, and we end up with a brilliant montage through much of what’s in Amelia’s refrigerator, each with a slapstick like ending.  He finally settles on fish sticks and custard.  And then we get this:

Young Amy: I’m not scared!
The Doctor: Course you’re not, you’re not scared of anything! Box falls out of the sky, man falls out of a box, man eats fish custard! And look at you… just sitting there. So you know what I think?
Young Amy: What?
The Doctor: … Must be a hell of a scary crack in your wall.

Timed and delivered perfectly.  And that sets the stage for the whole season.

So if you haven’t started watching Doctor Who yet, now is the time to start.  And do yourself a favor and make sure not to watch the “Next Time” bits at the end of the episodes.  They are now giving away far too much of the plot and ruining many of the surprises over the first half of each episode.  We stopped watching those half way through the season, and that was a great choice.

Review: Memories of the Future

I just finished Wil Wheaton’s Memories of the Future Volume 1, and hope that Wil get’s writting fast to get Vol 2 out there.  This book is just too damn fun.

The book is an episode by episode look at Star Trek The Next Generation, wherein Wil provides a 6 – 8 page synopsis of the episode in the way that the Mystery Science 3000 folks would do one.  It’s incredibly funny, and has lines like “well as long as we’re not advancing the plot, why don’t we do a pod race?”.  For anyone that watched ST:TNG growing up, this book is a really amusing look back, especially on all the uneveness of the first season.  Each episode also then has Wil’s favorite quote from it, the obligatory technobabble, and his personal memories of shooting the episode. 

Vol 1 covers up through Datalore (the first 1/2 of season 1), and is constantly making comments about the disaster which is Angel One.  I can’t wait for Vol 2 which is going to start us there take us to the end of season 1.

Wil is really an incredible writer, and his great sense of humor comes through in this book in spades.  After reading Just a Geek in the spring, I was happy to pick this book up.  Honestly, I found it hard to put down.  It’s just too damn funny.  If you had any opinion at all on ST:TNG (loved or hated), do yourself a favor and get this book.  You will not be disappointed.

The Omnivore’s Dilemma

I just finished listening to the audio book of the Omnivore’s Dilemma, which was great, but I’ll get to that after a brief digression. 

I’ve been listening to a decent number of audio books over the past few years, but until now I’d never heard the same reader in 2 books of different genres.  In addition to being an excellent reader for this book, Scott Brick also read the most recent Dune books.  So I was mildly distracted through the first couple of discs waiting for the words “kwisatch haderack” to come out of his mouth.  I guess given the epic nature of this book, it was appropriate, but a little jarring at first. 🙂

The Omnivore’s Dilemma is Michael Pollan’s big food treatise, which starts with a simple premise: trace the path of 4 meals produced in different ways from grown raw ingredients to the final meal to be eaten.  As he states in the intro, it was originally going to be 3 meals: industrial, organic, and self supplied (for lack of a better term), but as he started investigating the organic industry, he realized there were really 2 camps there, the industrial organic and local organic.  While the local food movement was still young in 2002, it was there, and presumably his book helped further it dramatically over the years.

There is so much in this book that is fascinating.  The entire first section of the book, the industrial meal, dives into the absolute reliance of our modern food supply on cheap corn.    How we got to having all this cheap corn, and the effect it has on the rest of the food chain is pretty amazing.  The average american gets > 50% of his/her callories from corn.  Either directly processed, or through meet that was fed cheap corn.  Because industrial grown corn requires artificial fertilizer (which is petroleum based) you can calculate the gallons of oil required for a pound of corn, and even a pound of beef.

The industrial organic and local organic sections show a rich history of where the organic movement started, and where it’s ended up after scaling up to global levels.  The juxtiposition of the two is amazing, and the exploration of ways to produce meat outside of the industrial system is quite compelling.  You’ll learn more about the biology of many farm animals and grasses than you ever thought you would, and will be better for it.

Lastly Pollan addresses his final meal, where he is determined to grow, hunt, or gather every element of it.  He makes an incredibly elaborate meal, including bread with air captured yeast, so he’s really pushing the limits as to what you can do in full hunter gatherer mode, and the results are impressive.

I would highly recommend this book to everyone.  The writing style is great, and what you’ll learn along the way is invaluable to understanding many things.  Why high fructose corn syrup is in everything?  Why America is continuously going through food fads while the rest of the world is not?  And why we spend so much of our energy on figuring out what to eat?  Which is, of course, the Omnivore’s Dilemma.

A Short History of Nearly Everything

I’ve been listening to Bill Bryson’s “A Short History of Nearly Everything” for the last couple of weeks, and this book is amazing.  Bill Bryson, most known for various humorous travel books, turned his eyes on the history and progression of science.  It’s a journey about what we know about the universe across many disciplines (astronomy, physics, chemistry, biology, geology), and how we came to know that information.  The narrative is very compelling, and often similar in style to James Burke’s Connections (so if you loved that, you’ll love this.)

He uses big questions to drive the narrative.  The first of which is something that seemed like a simple question, “what is the age of the earth?”.  It’s somewhat surprising to realize that our current answer of 4.5 Billion years wasn’t figured out until the 1950s, and that that discovery was intertwined with the discovery of a massive cover up in the lead production industry on the health effects of lead, and would lead to the banning of the substance for fuel and paint. 

You get to see how the chains of science build upon one another, where a new better answer is made based on what came before, and how over time our methods continue to refine themselves.  The stories on the feuds in the dinosaur hunting communities are incredible.  It also goes to show that individuals shape history much more than they are often given credit for.  This is even more true in the fields of science, where a new discovery or insight often opens up massive new industries or fields of study.  None of modern gene sequencing and DNA analysis would be possible had not a curious researcher decided to take samples from Yellowstone’s hot springs and on a lark see if anything was alive in the boiling sulfuric waters.  This is even more amazing given that conventional wisdom at the time assured that no life was possible there.  Decades later we discovered that one of those microbes has a curious ability to crank out DNA copies, thus opening up the modern science of genetics.

I can’t say enough good things about this book.  It is a perfect, digestible, approach to science literacy.  Your understanding of the universe will be greatly enhanced in the process, and you’ll never quite look at a lump of dirt, a wispy cloud, or the night sky again.