Monday, July 27, 2009

The Sibley Guide To Bird Life & Behavior (finished)

I just finished the National Audubon Society's The Sibley Guide to Bird Life & Behavior, illustrated by David Allen Sibley, edited by Chris Elphick, John B. Dunning, Jr., and David Allen Sibley. Well, I kind of finished it. I read this for a grad class. I finished part I and selected chapters from part II.

The book was essentially divided into two parts. PART I, the World of Birds, discussed birds in general. The topics were (1) Flight, Form and Function, (2) Origins, Evolution, and Classification, (3) Behavior, (4) Habitats and Distributions and (5) Populations and Conservation. PART II, Bird Families of North America, described Bird Families of North America, e.g. ducks, hawks, hummingbirds, etc.

Each chapter was written by different authors, experts in each respective bird discipline and species.

Within each chapter, the book was broken down into smaller sections. The chapters may be read in pieces to facilitate the interest of the reader.

The book was written in an academic and accessible style. You don't need to any any prior expertise in ornithology to be able to learn from this book.

Overall, if you have an interest in learning more about birds, I would highly recommend this book. It cultivated my interest. I even went bird watching one day...and liked it! I used to make fun of bird-watchers (because of my own ignorance) but I think that I am beginning to understand people's fascination with these beautiful creatures. This book is a great introduction to the world of ornithology. Good times.

And again, if you read this review, drop a comment or a 'like'. It encourages me. :)

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Bellini's Grill-A Restaurant Review

This is a review of the Bellini Grill, an Italian Restaurant in Center City. It is located on 220 S. 16th Street, walking distance from city hall and the Kimmel Center. Street parking is pretty hard to come by in this area so it is probably best to park at a garage. The price is about 15 to 20 dollars a dish.

Bellini is a BYO (and I love BYO's). But I came unprepared for this part of the meal. I know, I know. Shame on me. But I'll know better for the future.

The place was pretty quiet when we first got there. But as the evening continued and more people filled the restaurant, the conversation volume of the room was temperate for the whole evening.

The place is more on the fancy side. Unfortunately, I was wearing shorts and a polo shirt so only half of me was properly dressed. The atmosphere was nice, a semi-casual/fancy.

The service was great. Our dining needs were readily attended. But the waitress didn't smile so much, which was okay; I personally like smiling waitresses. In fact, if there was a category for non-smiling waitresses, she would have gotten the highest marks in that class.

Before any of our ordered food came, we were served bread and a semi-spicy dip. The bread was fresh Italian bread and the dip was very good.

We started with Caesar salad. Apparently, Caesar salads are pseudo-salads; they are not as healthy as regular salads. But they sure are delicious if you're into that sort of thing. Note: if you are a fan of protein foods like I am, you may want to skip the salad and head right into your main course.

The two dishes that were ordered were:
(1) Linguine Bolongese. If you look on the menu, there is no description of this dish. I suppose that this is because the name of the dish tells you everything you need to know. For example:
KYUNG: Excuse me, waitress. What kind of pasta is used in Linguine Bolongese?
WAITRESS: Linguine, sir.
KYUNG: Outstanding. Thank you.
The pasta was fresh and the dish was good. The pasta tended to be on the al dente side. The portions were very generous.
(2) Chicken Parmesana. This dish came with two cut generous cuts of Chicken Parmesana and a side of al dente linguine. It was good also.

We did not get any dessert. :(

Overall, the atmosphere was good (a little on the fancy side; don't wear shorts), the food was good (but not the best italian food i've ever had). The service was very good. I would eat here again. Maybe before an orchestra performance at the Kimmel or before a jazz show at Chris's. The location is great in facilitating a lot of center city activities. I moderately recommend Bellini's Grill. Nothing in the place was bad but nothing really caught my attention as outstanding either. Good times.

NOTE: If you read this, drop a comment or a "like". It encourages me. :) Spanks.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The New Testament Documents by F. F. Bruce (finished)

I just finished The New Testament Documents, Are They Reliable by F. F. Bruce.

Mark Dever recommended this book, along with Fundamentalism And The Word Of God by J. I. Packer and Christ And The Bible by John Wenham (Wenham's book is out of print but can be easily purchased second hand through amazon), in a message that he gave at New Attitude 2008. (Note: this message was outstanding and if you can find it on the Internet, I would highly recommend it.) Most books I read are due to recommendations and who better to take recommendations from than Mark Dever. I took a chance, bought these books, and began to read.

The New Testament Documents is an introduction to the historical study of the New Testament. The writing is easily accessible but academic; you do not need a linguistic or historic training to benefit from this book.

The following are the chapter names:
1. Does It Matter?--By the way, the answer to this question is 'yes'.
2. The New Testament Documents: Their Date And Attestations--i.e. what year was each book of the New Testament written? Who wrote each book? How close is the original text compared to our modern New Testament?
3. The Cannon Of The New Testament--i.e. how was inclusion of the cannon decided?
4. The Gospel--i.e. how were the books written? Who wrote what first? Why is the gospel according to John different from the other three gospels?
5. The Gospel Miracles--i.e. did the miracles happen? How did people during the time of Jesus interpret the miracles?
6. The Importance of Paul's Evidence--i.e. does Paul's writing agree with the gospels?
7. The Writings of Luke--This chapter elucidates Acts and describes Luke as a historian of exceptional ability and of the highest caliber.
8. More Archeological Evidence--This chapter describes the corresponding archeological evidence with the New Testament.
9. The Evidence Of Early Jewish Writing--i.e. What early Jewish writings mention Christ and the early church? How did the writings view Christ and the early church?
10. The Evidence Of Early Gentile Writing--i.e What early gentile writings mention Christ and the early church? How did the writings view Christ and the early church?

The book is short, about 125 pages.

It is written academically and Bruce writes eloquently. I was stirred by the serious scholarship of the material and its evenhanded and concise presentation.

Personally, I forget that writings exist about Christ and the early church outside of the Bible. I especially loved the last two chapters, which describe how the Jews and gentiles viewed Christ and the church. I was also affected by how early writings all attest Christ as a historical person. No writing denies the miracles.

This review is too long already--many apologies--so I am going to cut it off here.

Overall, I think that every person who wants to study the Bible, even in a cursory way, should read this book. It wasn't a fast read--you should read it slowly--but it was relatively easy. I highly recommend this book. F. F. Bruce, and those that precede him, has done all the work for us. In exchange for a few hours of our time, we can gain many, many hours (maybe years or even lifetimes) of research and scholarship of absolutely invaluable information. That's a bargain if I've ever heard of one.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Harry Potter And The Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling (finished)

I just finished Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K. Rowling.  Actually, I listened to it this time around.  I have it on audio book read by Jim Dale.

A young man, Harry Potter, who has struggled with feeling unremarkable his whole life, wakes up one day to discover that he has been invited to Hogwarts school of Wizardry.  There, he discovers that he is no ordinary boy, that he is the boy who lived, the boy who survived an attack from the most powerful dark wizard that the world has ever known.  And what is more remarkable is that he survived the attack and he survived when he was only an infant.  Nobody, including Harry, knows how this happened.  The book is about Harry's 1st year--of 6 total years--at Hogwarts school of magic and this book marks the beginning of his magic education and battles with Voldemort.

The book was well written.  I think that J. K. Rowling is a very talented writer.

The story was well paced.

Harry was very likable and you ended up rooting for him right from the start.

The cast of characters that Rowling created were outstanding: Ron, Hermione, Snape, Dumbledore, and McGonnagal to name a few.  Each character had their own personality and worldview.

I liked the mystery that she incorporates and the revelation (the a-ha moments) at the end of the book, when everything was explained.

The book seemed to have a little bit of everything; it was a mystery book, fantasy book and boarding school novel (in the Dickens tradition) all at the same time.  I felt like it was a balanced meal with respect to all the things that she incorporated and tried to balance.  I think she balanced these elements very well.

A note on Jim Dale's performance.  Jim Dale has to be the most talented audio book reader that I've ever heard.  He brought these characters to life, much better than the first Harry Potter movie.   Jim Dale's performance was truly outstanding!

I felt that the only weakness was that the beginning of the book was a little too silly.  I know that it is supposed to be a book for children but the manner in which the Dursley's tried to stop the letters from getting to Harry was too much for me.  But once he got to Diagon Alley, all was well.

Young people should read this with their parents (or rather, parents should read this with their children).  Harry ends up doing some questionable things--he always seems to be breaking rules to defeat Voldemort.  Parents should discuss Harry's choices with their kids and I think that this book provides a great discussion on the value of rules and why we have them.  I have a Harry Potter-Nietzchean Superman theory.  If you are curious about this, ask me about it the next time you see me (most likely, I already shared this with you).

Overall, I highly recommend the book.  It was very entertaining, even the second time around.  The book was well written (only the beginning was a little too silly).  The book was a great combination of a number of genres and I think that it was balanced well.  Good times.

ESV Holy Bible by God (finished)

I do not judge the Holy Bible, the Holy Bible judges me.  :)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Harry Potter And The Half Blood Prince-A Movie Review

I just saw Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince in the theater tonight.  (I also can't sleep so this is a 2:30 am review).

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the 6th movie in a series of 8 movies (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the 7th book, will be split into two movies).  This movie is about Harry's junior year at Hogwarts.  Dumbledore takes a lot of initiative to hire a new potions teacher, Horace Slughorn.  Slughorn has some invaluable information about Voldemort that he is unwilling to share.  In the meantime, Harry finds a potions book filled with hand written notes in the margins by the Half-Blood Prince, a mysterious unknown person from Hogwart's past.  The book has valuable information that helps make better potions and it also hold spells that are very dangerous.  Harry must help Dumbledore obtain the secret from Slughorn.  In the meantime, Draco is chosen by Voldemort to carry out a task that may mean ruin for Dumbledore.

The pacing of the movie was very good; much of the tedium of the book was corrected in this movie.

The entire movie had a bluish-green tint to it that gave me a cold, uneasy feeling.  I think that the director did this to try to create a darker mood for the film.  I felt that he was successful in creating an appropriate mood for this story.

The actors, especially the ones who play Harry, Ron and Hermione, were very good.  They have grown up to be very fine actors.  Their charisma really caught and held my attention.

There was a good amount of comedy/jokes in the film.  It gave a good juxtaposition for the darkness and seriousness in this movie.

There was a lot of teen romance.  This may be the only weakness in the film for me.  The romance itself wasn't bad but there was just a little too much of it--but this is a minor point.

The special effects were outstanding.

I really liked Helena Bonham Carter's performance as Bellatrix Lestrange in this movie (she was in Fight Club and Hamlet with Mel Gibson).  She just seemed like an especially evil villain.

Snape was my favorite character in this story and in a lot of ways, throughout the entire series.  I think that Snape is a complex character.  It is not always clear why he does what he does and I like that aspect of him.  Alan Rickman did a great job portraying Snape.  NOTE: is it only me but every time I see Alan Rickman, I still see the villain from the first Die Hard movie in my head.

Unlike the other films (so I've been told) where you can watch the movie without having seen any of the previous installments, this movie assumes that you are familiar with all the previous movies/books.  There was very little introduction of character or story explanation.  I liked this aspect because I felt like the director respected me as a viewer and it helped with the pacing of the movie.  So one thing you may want to do before you see this film is watch the others (or read the books).

With respect to content, there was no overt sexuality (except an occasional snog) or profanity.  There were a few suspenseful scenes which may scare elementary age children.

Overall, a very good film.  I highly recommend it.  In my highly unqualified personal opinion, I think that film is good for anyone in junior high school or older.  The pacing of the movie and the quality of the directing, acting and effects were all very good.

Oh, make sure you turn off your cell phone at the beginning of the movie and if it rings, please don't answer and have a conversation on the phone as the movie is going on.  :)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult

I just read Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult with my esteemed colleague, MB.  

Nineteen Minutes was about a Columbine-like high school shooting and the aftermath.  The book was written non-chronologically; the book goes back and forth (alternating chapters) between present day and flash-back.

In the book, a 17 year old high school student, Peter Houghton, was bullied by "popular" students ever since he started school.  Josie Cormier used to his best friend as a kid but as she got older, she chose popularity over Peter.  After another bullying incident (one in which we don't find out about until the end of the book), Peter is driven over the edge and resorts to violence to resolve his bullying problem.

(1)  Jodi Picoult is a competent writer with respect to usage.

(2)  The beginning was compelling.

(1) The book was corny.  All the characters were caricatures.  I felt like I was seeing this world through the eyes of someone who has no idea how real people act or think.  Her picture of high school is horribly skewed; high school does not look like this. 

(2)  None of the characters were likable.  All the characters were selfish and flippant towards everyone.  I was confused about who I should root for.  Peter, the high school shooter?  Josie, the suicidal, selfish and self-righteous girl who kept her emotionally unstable mother at bay?  Alex, the insecure judge who was more concerned about other people liking her?  Patrick, the cop who gave egregiously inappropriate responses to people from the shooting?  

(3)  All the characters were essentially the same.  They struggled with the same insecurities and they viewed the world in essentially the same way.  The only characters that were different were the bullies and they were so two-dimensional that I could slice bread with them.

(4)  The pacing of the book was horrible.  It was good for the first 100 pages and then it dragged for the rest of the book.


(6)  There were loose ended plot points that she never picked up again.

(7)  There were too many teen issues addressed at the same time.

(8)  The list could go on but I don't want to think about this book anymore.

I do not recommend this book--not even just a little bit.  I think that the topic of school shootings is a pretty serious thing and the story seemed to say that the shooter was a victim and we should feel sorry for them.  And that makes me want to puke.  The writing usage was competent but almost every facet of the the story was horrible.

...and then I found two bucks.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Foundation And Empire by Isaac Asimov (finished)

I just finished Foundation and Empire by Isaac Asimov.

I was impressed by the first book, Foundation, so I was compelled to continue the series.  I am not reading it in the order that is recommended by the publishers (in chronology of the story).  I am reading it in order of when Asimov wrote the stories: Foundation, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation.  I don't plan to read further than the third book.

The book is a continuation of "What if the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire is set in space".  This book is divided into two separate stories; the first is about 100 pages long and the second is about 185 pages long.

The second story introduces the character of the Mule.  The Mule is a memorable character.  Unfortunately, I can't mention more about the Mule without spoiling the story.  Asimov handles the introduction and the development of the Mule very well.

I didn't notice this so much in the first book but I thought this a number of time in this second book.  The execution of Asimov's story telling is not very good.  It suffices to move the story forward but there were a number of confusing sentences and jarring transitions.

Regardless, Asimov's story and ideas (regardless of execution) are outstanding.  It seems to me that modern science fiction writers like to borrow from Asimov a lot (to put it kindly).  And it is no surprise because Asimov's vision of the future is original and compelling.

Overall, I highly recommend this book.  The writing is a little weak but sufficient.  The story (especially about the Mule) is outstanding.  Enjoy the book if you choose to read it.  Good times. :)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Umai Umai-A Restaurant Review

Last night I went to a small sushi place in the Fairmount district in Philadelphia near the Art Museum.  The place was called Umai Umai.  Here's what I thought of the place.

We had ordered the following:
1.  The checkerboard sashimi (starter)-this is essentially tuna, both red and white presented as a checkerboard in a spice red sauce.  it wasn't much food but i think the point of this was to pique the taste buds.  TASTE: good and visually very appealing.
2.  The traffic light roll (specialty roll)-it really looked like a traffic light: the top three rolls were topped with red caviar, the middle three with yellow caviar, the bottom three with green caviar.  This is essentially a spider roll with soft shell crab done their way.  TASTE: very good.  The green ones were pretty spicy.
3.  The spirited away roll (specialty roll)-this is tuna with shiitake and watercress: a beautiful triangular roll.  TASTE: very good. 
4.  The pingu (specialty roll)-kind of reminded me of potato skins that you would get from TGI Fridays.  I even thought that they had put bacon bits on top of what looked liked little potatoes.  It was crab inside a flash fried crunchy roll.  TASTE: very good.

NOTE: One specialty roll is probably enough food for dinner if you are moderately hungry.  Each specialty roll was about 9 to 10 pieces.

The food is unique.  I haven't had rolls like this anywhere before.

The service was outstanding.  The waitress was cordial and very knowledgeable about the menu.

The atmosphere was a little too dark but overall, pretty chill and relaxing (until more people came in and because the place is pretty small, it got loud).

It is a BYO.  I love BYOs.

The neighborhood is in residential fairmount so it felt pretty safe.  You should be good parking there.  And after dinner, you could walk around the art museum so that you could burn some of the calories that you've eaten.

We got lost.  This might not be so much of a Umai Umai weakness; it might be more of a Mr. Lee weakness.  But we found the place soon enough.

As the place got crowded, it got pretty loud.

The place is pretty small so don't go there with groups larger than 4 to 6 people.

Overall, the experience was very good.  I would highly recommend this place.  Craig LaBan has reviewed this place also if you want to check it out.

Good times.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (finished)

I just finished Outliers, The Story Of Success, by Malcolm Gladwell.

An outlier is (1) something that is situated away from or classed differently from a main or related body or (2) a statistical  observation  that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.  For example, let's say you ask 100 people to run a mile as fast as they can and you time them.  Some people will run the mile in 5 minutes or less; others will run the mile in 15 minutes or more.  But most people will run the mile in about 10 to 12 minutes.  The people that run the mile in less than 5 or more than 15 minutes are outliers; the statistical data that is outside the main distribution of the data.

Gladwell tries to explain why certain people are successful in life and other are not.

As a high school teacher, I would say that most of my students think that smart people succeed.  It's as simple as that.  But Gladwell says the data and research says otherwise; smart is not enough.  People who succeed are more a product of their environment and "luck" than on only their innate talent.

For example, he says that Jewish people are successful today in the united states, not in spite of the hardships and the prejudices that they encountered in the early part of the 1900s but because of it.

I found this interesting (page 231).  Gladwell writes that asians generally have a lower IQ than their western counterparts, which is surprising because Asians tend to dominate the world of mathematics.  What does this mean?  It means that Asians are dominant in mathematics, not because of their IQ (which is lower) but in spite of it.  He essentially says it's more about hard work than anything else.  The argument is pretty convincing.

If you are a teacher, I would highly recommend this book.  If Gladwell's conclusions are true, it could change your philosophy of education, such as the idea of summer break being a much need thing for students.  According to Gladwell, summer break is a terrible thing with respect to education.  Read it to find out why.

Overall, I thought the book was very well written and interesting.  I would highly recommend this book, especially to people in the education field.  Gladwell has an easy and clear way of communicating and it is fun to read.  At one point in my reading, I was reading by a street light as I was hanging out with friends because I didn't want to put it down.  Good times.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Heroes Season 2 (finished)

I just finished Heroes Season 2 on DVD.

I loved Season 1 of Heroes.  I thought it was a masterpiece.  Naturally, I looked forward to Season 2.

In the interim, as I was waiting for Season 2 to come out on DVD, I heard a lot of negative talk about how Season 2 was really bad.  I hesitated to watch it because of this.

Recently, because I had the time to indulge my DVD watching, I borrow Season 2.  I liked it.  I really did.  It wasn't as good as Season 1 but it certainly wasn't terrible like the Amazon people were saying.


The story with Peter Petrelli was engaging.  I liked his relationship with the sister of the Irish thug.  And I liked his surprise at the discovery of his own powers.

Kristen Bell, playing Elle Bishop was done really well.  Note, I do have to admit, I loved Veronica Mars.  My affinity for Veronica Mars may be partially responsible for my proclivity to Elle Bishop.  I thought that it was interesting that deep down inside, she was just a little girl who wanted her daddy's love and approval.

The Haitian is just cool.  I love his character.  I love his silence.  What is he thinking?  Do I like him because he's a mystery and I'm a sucker for mystery?  I don't know.  

The nightmare man was initially a strength but turned out to be a anti-climatic.  He was initially portrayed as some kind of horrible monster but as the story progressed and he was developed as a character, he character turned out pedestrian.  Also, he was too easily defeated.  How did he get into that room?  (Yeah, I know Matt brought him there, but how was he able to if his father was so powerful)  And he's stuck in that room because of his psychological inability to move past that part of his life for some reason.  Ultimately, a weak resolution to this character's arc.

The entire story of Maya Herrera was weak.  Initially, I was interested but it just didn't hold my attention.  To make her story line worse, it was coupled with the story of Sylar.  Sylar was a brilliantly frightening character in the first season.  In the second season, instead of pushing his character forward or giving him something new, the writers recycle Sylar, an insipid, hackneyed version of him.  In my opinion, they should have killed him off at the end of the first season.

I'm going to include Adam's story in the weakness section.  In the beginning of season two, his story is engaging and I liked his transformation from a drunk to a almost hero with the help of Hiro.  But, this part was weak, Adam becomes a meglomaniac monster because essentially, he catches a girl that he barely knows kissing a guy that he doesn't know too well either.  And I didn't like how naive Peter Petrelli was in trusting Adam.

The foolishness of Claire Bennett in her new high school, I found irritating.  And I didn't like the budding romance between her and flying boy.  Although, I did like how the Dad's love for his daughter (a good thing) turned into something irrational and almost psychotic in trying to ensure her safety and future.

I found that I could enjoy the story much more by just fast forwarding the story portions that I found to be uninteresting.  One of the benefits of watching a TV show on DVD is that you don't have to let the TV dictate to you how fast you have to watch it.  For example, by the middle of Season 2, every time Maya or Sylar showed up on the TV screen, I just fast forwarded.  NOTE:  I watched this season essentially in one sitting from 10 pm to about 4:00 am.  Around 6 hours.  11 episodes at 40 minutes a piece should be around 7 and a half hours.  I fast forwarded about 90 minutes of the show.

Overall, I liked season 2.  At times the show was very engaging; at times it was just plain stupid.  Watch the show with a remote, fast forward anything that you don't find interesting AND don't expect the masterpiece that Season 1 was.  Keeping these things in mind, I think that you'll enjoy Season 2 of Heroes.