Archive for February, 2009

26th February
2009
written by Tony
prince-of-persia

Grrr! Grrr?

What happened to us? I know that the prince and I have had our ups and downs over the years, but I still believed. He wasn’t good about returning calls and was always late for everything and what do yellow roses mean, anyway? But this, blatantly phoned-in, latest effort has me thinking that not even counseling can save us.

Ahem. I recently finished playing the latest installment of the Prince of Persia franchise, and since this game was released more than three months ago I’ll dispense with any pretense about this being a timely review or anything like that. Instead, I’ll create some talking points and assume that anyone who is interested in this game has already played it. I’ll also show my cards early in the game: I think that Prince of Persia 2: Warrior Within is one of the best games ever made. Ever. This latest installment continued what I consider a downward spiral of what could have been an excellent, potentially unmatched, franchise. First, the good. Then the bad. Then the why. (more…)
25th February
2009
written by Tony
The Silver is actually a little more lusterous than this and has the look of brushed titanium (it is all metal) rather than the cheap plastic this photo implies

The silver is actually a little more lusterous than this and has the look of brushed titanium (it is all metal) rather than the cheap plastic this photo implies

I’ve been looking for a suitable compact digital camera for a long time, in fact, I’ve been searching for one ever since I went digital in the first place. I have been a photographer for almost a decade now, and I love to shoot. When I finally went digital it was after a lot of research and experience with the various major brands. Four years later I’m still shooting my Canon 20D and see no reason to upgrade for a long time. The biggest drawback is the size of the camera. I love the image quality but I was immediately sick of dragging the big DSLR and its lenses around with me everywhere on the off chance that I might find something interesting to photograph. So I began a campaign to find the perfect point and shoot digital compact that compromised the least on image quality. I’ll admit that early on I was seduced by the slim, curvaceous ultra compact S9 from Nikon, a purchase I heavily regret. The image quality is abysmal and the lens is next to useless. So, as the new year broke I began to search again, in earnest. What I really wanted was something that would perform well in low light and had a good lens. This proved to be a remarkably small field of competitors. A note: I've peppered this article with some shots that I think are exemplary of unusually difficult lighting situations, and I think they give a good example of how flexible the camera is overall, as opposed to any considerations of presumed artistic merit (this is basically me saying I haven't had time to take really "artsy" shots yet, though the camera is one of the most fully featured point and shoots I have ever seen and is capable of doing really anything you want it to). Also, see the end of this article for a link to what I consider to be the best review (honest and thorough) out there concerning this camera. (more…)
24th February
2009
written by Steph
When it comes to "The Reader", don't let the reader be you!

When it comes to "The Reader", don't let the reader be you!

This movie season has been all about Kate Winslet, who starred in two films that were based on books.  Her appearance in The Reader had nothing to do with me picking up a copy (for 75 cents!) a while back, and by and large, it seems that the book community has been less interested in it than in the book that inspired her other film, Revolutionary Road.  Having read  The Reader, this is so much the better for people who like books.  I don’t care if Oprah selected this for her book club, I am going to tell you flat out that The Reader is a truly awful novel. (more…)
23rd February
2009
written by Steph
Doesn't this look like it's a creepy movie rather than cheery?

Doesn't this look like it's a creepy movie rather than cheery?

This weekend Tony & I went to see Coraline in 3D.  We hardly ever go out to see movies, since we have a Netflix account which means that movies come to us instead, but I figured that that extra third dimension might add something pretty cool to the movie-watching experience, so we got off our lazy butts and ventured out to the theater. [As an aside, I will mention that we did head out about 2 weeks ago to go see Slumdog Millionaire, but traffic was a beast near the mall AND then when we got there the theater was a complete zoo for reasons we could not understand.  Literally people were lining up outside of the theater in order to buy tickets.  But to what film?  Surely all those people couldn’t have been that into He’s Just Not That Into You, right?  Anyway, we stood in line for the automated box office for about 15 minutes, eating all of our blueberry yogurt covered raisins meant for the film in the process, after which point we still hadn’t purchased tickets and decided that we would just go home.  So essentially, we went to the movie theater and ate a box of candy but saw no movie.  Awesome.  Also, we have still not seen Slumdog, but I guess given that it just won the Oscar, we probably will now.] (more…)
21st February
2009
written by Steph

Chili con Carne

Chili con Carne

At the end of my last recipe post, I tantalizingly teased you with the promise of a chili recipe.  This is that recipe.  So far on this site I have focused for the most part on meals that you can fling together in a jiffy during the week.  After all, isn’t that how most of us are cooking most of the time?  However, one of my secret weapons for quick meals is perhaps the counter-intuitively named slow cooker.  I love this thing because it allows to me toss a bunch of things in a pot, forget about them, and then come back to a meal that is cooked and full of flavor.  It’s kind of like magic, or at the very least, having a little house elf to help you out in the kitchen.  I trot my slow cooker out about once a week, and its now my go-to appliance for making chili.  The thing about chili, in the end, is that the longer it cooks, the more complex and richer the flavors get, and that’s what makes a good chili.  Sure, you can get away with just simmering it on the stove for an hour or two, but how does that beat low & slow cooking for 8 hours?  Look at the numbers! OK, so the recipe I’m posting today was made with the aid of my slow cooker.  BUT I know that not all of you have one, so I will also tell you what to do if you’re going to go the traditional “pot on stove” method.  The slow cooker method is ostensibly easier since you just put everything together, making it a one step dish in the morning, but it’s not as though the other way is hard either.  Seriously though, look into getting a slow cooker, ok?  They aren’t just for making your grandmother’s casseroles or something bland and gluey, and I promise that they won’t burn your house down if you leave them unattended. Credit where credit is due, my chili recipe is inspired by Elise’s chili con carne recipe, though I must admit that I’ve never made it the way she does as my chili always has ground beef in it, and shockingly, never any bacon. (more…)
20th February
2009
written by Steph
If you're into this kind of thing and are planning to play along with this year's Tournament of Books, the official bracket has now been posted over at The Morning News, along with info on the esteemed judges who will be overseeing all of the matches.  Being such a non-sports person, I can only assume that the matches will proceed from the top of the bracket to the bottom (yes, I understand the bracket ultimately moves from left to right, but I know that they don't post the first round results simultaneously).  Based on last year's pacing, results from each bout were posted about once every three days, so I'm assuming they'll follow a similar schedule this year. Events kick off on March 6, presumably with the match-up between Roberto Bolaño's 2666 & Fae Myenne Ng's Steer Toward Rock (my review of which, you can view here).  Having not read the Bolaño (and with no possibility of reading it before March 6 in sight), and understanding that in this tournament, personal taste of the judge (and his/her idiosyncrasies) plays a huge role, my predicition is that Bolaño easily sweeps his first round.  Based on what I've heard, I think this one is a strong contender for the overall win, in part because of how The Savage Detectives lost last year, although the fact that it was unfinished at the time of the author's death may work against it.
19th February
2009
written by Steph
I don't normally use this blog to talk about my work - in fact, I often tend to specifically avoid talking about it, in part because the day-to-day rigors of a grad student don't exactly make for fun reading, but also because I like to keep that part of my life separate.  Sort of a "never the twain shall meet kind of deal"... only now, if you'll forgive me, I shall briefly allow for the twain to meet. For the past, oh, year and half, my advisor and I have been working on a project involving fMRI decoding methods (i.e., putting people in fMRI scanners and then trying to "read out"/categorize the subsequent brain activity as one of two things) and visual working memory (i.e., remembering what something looks like/visual information about an object even when it is no longer right in front of your face).  We've been trying to get this study published since August 2008, and it has finally come out!  This would be reason enough to celebrate, but to make the icing on the cake doubly sweet, not only am I first author on the study, but it wound up being published in the scientific journal, Nature (I say "wound up", as though it weren't a really exhausting and difficult process that involved huge amounts of works, and control experiments run and analyzed at the speed of light (all conducted by yours truly))!  For those of you in the scientific know, I need not elaborate, but for those of you who aren't: it's a big deal!  Nature is just about the best journal one can publish in (the alternative being, Science), so I'm really pleased. So far the article is just available online on Nature's website, but for those of you without institutional subscriptions to that magazine, only the abstract is available.  BUT, if you're interested, stories about the findings from our paper have been picked up by several popular press news sources, two of which you can read here and here (there are others, but I've avoided ones that fail to mention me (because I'm vain...), or ones that erroneously mention me, such as a slew of UK articles that have already conferred me my PhD (this is why you must always take what you read in the media with a grain of salt!)... and I've also not linked to any of the foreign language press).  I'm probably most excited about the second article, simply because I provided the bulk of the interview material for that one (as opposed to letting my advisor field the majority of the other interviews).  Lo and behold, I think I actually come across sounding quite smart.  Oh, and I must of course thank Tony for taking the lovely headshot of me that graces the first article! I will probably post once again when the article is printed in the physical print journal, but for now, I hope you'll excuse this small indulgence.  I suppose from now on, when Tony and I fight, I can no longer fall back on the old standard, "Well, I'm not a mind reader!"  😉 We now return you to your regular scheduled programming.
18th February
2009
written by Tony
Not the edition I read, but the best image I could find

Not the edition I read, but the best image I could find

Steph picked this book up on a whim during one of our many famous book gathering expeditions at McKay’s recently, and I was immediately interested. I’ve read some of the Russian classics and thought it would be interesting to read something billed as the forefather of great Russian prose and fiction. It is also, for many reasons, worth noting that this particular translation was penned by none other than Vladimir Nabokov himself. This enhanced my interest in the volume even more, as I know that Nabokov was an eminent scholar who taught himself perfect English, so the translation would not only be accurate but would contain more of the essence of the original intent and linguistic subtleties inherent in such a complex language as Russian. (more…)
17th February
2009
written by Steph
Aloha!

Aloha!

What is there to say about this movie?  If you’ve seen the commercials for the film, you pretty much know what it’s about.  Seth Rogen plays Dale Denton, a good-natured stoner who witnesses a murder early on in the film and then spends the rest of the movie on the run with his pot-dealer cum friend, Saul, from the guy who did the killing.  The twist?  The murderer is one of the city’s two big pot producers and he is able to trace one tossed roach back to Dale, who he knows witnessed his wayward ways with a gun. By and large, this is your average stoner comedy, but done in the vein of most of Judd Apatow’s recent blockbusters (Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, etc.,), which I think elevates it slightly.  It can be lewd and crude, but it can also be hella funny.  I personally got a kick out of the insane scenarios (and the myriad of pitiful fights) that hapless Dale and Saul found themselves in, and I wouldn’t exactly categorize this as lowest common denominator funny either.  It ain’t highbrow, but you don’t have to be a fratboy or a stoner yourself to giggle along with some of the outlandishness that occurs here. Also of note, although Rogan plays a solid straightman, James Franco really shines as Saul, giving a pitch-perfect performance of comically tragic guy who has turned to dealing pot so that his Bubby can live in a good-quality retirement home.  Whereas Rogen gives pretty much you what you’d expect given his other films, Franco does something pretty interesting here given his CV. What more can I say?  It’s a fun movie that doesn’t require much thinking.  If you’ve seen and enjoyed other Apatow films or other stoner comedies, then you’ll probably enjoy this one too. Rating: 3.5 out of 5
16th February
2009
written by Steph
This isn't the edition I read, although my cover was nearly about as ugly!

This isn't the edition I read, although my cover was about nearly as ugly!

Some of you may have heard of Barbara Pym, but more likely than not, many of you probably haven’t.  This would be in keeping with the fact that she was once named by two separate individuals on the Times Literary Supplement as the most underrated writer of the 20th century (this was back in 1977, when she was still alive and writing, though had spent many of those years in obscurity and incapable of getting her works published).  Often called the Jane Austen of her day for her biting social criticism and wry humor, I felt it was about time for me to get familiar with Ms. Pym.  After all, I’ve previously revealed that even a haphazard comparison to Austen is generally enough to pique my interest. (more…)
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