Archive for March, 2009

In Bruges

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

picture-1I just watched In Bruges (yes, saturday night at home, watching movies lol) through HBO on demand.  Its one of those movies you watch and are in something of a shock state after the ending, frantically googling to see if there is a sequel coming, or to see if there is some sort of news of any sort whatsoever – that’ll let you know what happened.  Starts out slow like a kettle warming up if you pour really cold water into it.  Then it starts to crackle and pop and it finishes with a dramatic release thats just unbelievably good.  Bottom line is – must see movie, very much the kind you write home about.

Funny thing is, I have a mixed sort of feeling about Colin Farrel – a friend of mine knows him personally, and he seems exactly like the kind of conflicted character that he plays in this movie.  But all that aside, even if you take this movie on an as-is basis, its very much worth watching.  And I’m not kidding about this, I’m writing this literally 2 minutes after I finished watching it.

There are definitely some quality lines in it, like:

“Two prostitutes and a racist dwarf – I’m going home”.

But thats not why the movie is good.  And honestly, I don’t even know why I’m writing this – you really have to see it to enjoy it in some sort of full capacity.  I recommend having at least two or three vodkas on the rocks ready – the last two you’ll need for the last 20 minutes of the film. And I’m not talking measured out shots of vodka on the rocks, I’m talking 4 ice cubes and a generous pour of your favorite “little water” in a sizeable glass.  The “cover” or “poster” image above doesn’t really do it justice, neither do the commercials I saw when it was in theaters.  But really, go and see it – download it, stream it, view it on demand, rent it, whatever – its a pretty damn good movie.

Breaking Bad

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

periodic-table-of-elements-chart-375-x-27-insI watched a portion of Episode 1 of Season 2 of Breaking Bad on AMC.  You may of course wonder what the Periodic Table of Elements is doing in this post.  Well – its a series about a 50-year-old high school Chemistry teacher with a newly pregnant wife, a disabled son and a brother-in-law who is a DEA agent.  Walter – a Chemistry-inclined, otherwise ordinary and fully functional member of society, finds out he has terminal, inoperable lung cancer, and that he has at most a couple years left to live even with chemotherapy.  He partners with a former Chemistry class student of his – Luis – and goes into the business of cooking crystal meth to sell it and provide for his family after his impending death.  In the first episode when Walter confronts Luis – who he flunked in Chem class back in the day, he says:

“You know the business, I know the chemistry. I’m thinking maybe you and I could partner up.”


Wolfram Alpha

Monday, March 9th, 2009

wolframalphaspikey-stillI just read Nova Spivack’s post about Wolfram Alpha on Twine.  It looks like Stephen Wolfram has been operating a stealth-mode company that has built a natural language question answer and computation engine.  It launches in May 2009. Its a system that can answer factual questions, using computation to generate some of the answers based on information it knows or can pull in.  Interesting concept, although not new as some of comments have pointed out.  True Knowledge is a company that has a working version of this already. And there’s the START Natural Languange Question Answering System which has been “on-line and continuously operating since 1993″.

google_gorilla03What’s interesting about Nova Spivack’s spin on the project is that he compares it directly to Google and how Google is a lookup engine whereas Wolfram is a computation engine.  I don’t think Google is behind the curve on this issue though – seems like they’re either waiting for somebody to solve this problem well and then they’re going to get gobbled (or googled) up and bought.  Or perhaps they have a system of their own that does this sort of stuff and they’ve just been waiting for the appropriate time to launch it – when their stock needs a big boost or something :) )  At this point Google is a company with almost infinite resources both computationally and financially.  There are very few companies that can be compared to them in a functional way.  What Google is doing is not competing in a very obvious way.  They’re competing in a very smart way – undoubtedly there are things being worked on at Google right now that are foundations for some very exciting applications – some of them could be monetizable, some of them may not be.  But what they’ve been revealing are tools that are molding the web into a better business platform for them and for everybody else.  Its hard to be mad at an 800 pound gorilla standing next to you in a crowded room passing out free drinks.  What I’d like to see is how Wolfram Alpha is going to monetize their business – are they going to run Google Ads or are they waiting for Google to buy them?

Theta States

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009


Musically, I am more of a sponge than an explorer. My brother Konstantin actively searches for music because of his DJ habit/hobby. I on the other hand like to surround myself with people who know all about music and soak up their expertise by engaging in good conversation during good times (usually lubricated by good spirits – the kind you imbibe and the kind you have when you’re surrounded by good people). In any case, be mindful of the long preamble – I usually ramble on this long only when something profound is about to be said.

My friend Sunshine (she’s basically a walking encyclopedia of music) recommended I take a look at a website called Theta States. The conversation arrived at this particular junction because we were discussing the music of Atmosphere – by far my favorite band. Theta States is the website of a DJ called CPI, who Sunshine introduced to on the premise that she mixes Atmosphere tracks in her hip-hop DJ mixes. Now I’m hooked, CPI is like water for my sponge. I can’t help but soak up everything she mixes or talks about and enjoy it without a second thought.

She puts out a somewhat-weekly musical blog via her Facebook page which includes new releases she comes across. At this point I’ve been eating up these blog compilations right out of her hand, and highly recommend them if you’re not into the mass-market top 10/40/100 Billboard kind of material. In fact, to pass the time between her blog releases, I’ve started going through her blog archives (which may or may not be up at the moment – her website went down recently and is still being restored). I don’t know what I’m going to do with myself once I’m done listening to all the DJ mixes on her page and with the complete blog archives.

The catch-phrase / witty title of her website is “bedroom music for bedroom people”. Don’t dismiss it as sleepy though, her hip-hop mixes which include quite a bit of underground hip-hop goodness are intelligent, absolutely brilliant works of art. She even sprinkles all that intelligent hip-hop goodness with some spoken word. Basically she plays stuff that gives the genre a good name – poetry set to music.

Finally, if you’ve got any sense of humor at all, you’ll love the way she writes about music in her blog. She reminds me of my buddy Josh who is a writer good enough to melt the hearts of Rolling Stone execs, but uses his skills for good – not evil (Rolling Stone being the mass-market leader-of-the-pack it is nowadays). So if you don’t mind the fact that she’s Canadian, you better hop over to Theta States, and then on to her Facebook page. I highly recommend a 4-part hip-hop mix called “City Hearts Aimed Skyward”. Its 4+ hours of the best music for background listening during work, intelligent conversation and the kind of good times with good people I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. Go, get to it, click click click.


Monday, March 2nd, 2009

200px-aig_wordmarksvgI know if AIG goes out of business in one way or another (bankruptcy, getting burned to the ground by rioters, etc) – there will be tremendous repercussions for the US and possibly world economy.  But seriously, their stock market cap is $1.24 billion dollars (and this is after today’s jump in price after it was announced that they’re getting another $30 billion in Government aid).  I must be missing something about the structure of AIG’s stock – this market cap number has got to be missing a big chunk of whatever it is that makes up AIG’s mass.  I mean, their total loss for 2009 is somewhere in the ballpark of $90 billion dollars.  Even at their 52 week high of $51.47 a share – their market cap is somewhere in the ballpark of $138 billion.  And guess what, so far the government aid package has totalled $150 billion to them.

I know, I know – a trillion dollars in assets and almost that much in liabilities.  A big number minus another big number plus a stream of drops in the bucket in government aid equals a really bizzare stock valuation.  Thats why I titled this one AIG WTF!

Astronomers – if you’re tired of looking for dark matter in space, take a look over at AIG – they’ve got something that apparently has mass but cannot be seen or detected in any way whatsoever.  Bizzare, this is one of the reasons I am glad I’m an engineer.  Sometimes finance is less intuitive than quantum physics.