I don’t watch car shows, but …

I watch Top Gear. This clip may tell you why:

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I was sorry to hear Richard Hammond had an accident in filming the show today – you can see in this video snippet that he’s a bit of a crazy man. In fact, they’re all crazy. Hope he recovers fully…

Realistic Food Sites

Reading The Age Good Food Guide, a Melbournian might get the idea that everyone’s out there munching on foie gras, quaffing chateau du maison, and quoting French phrases. Most of the foodie websites follow this trend, and discuss high cuisine as if it’s almost an everyday experience for the authors. Maybe it is, but what about the rest of us?

For me, a good brunch out can be the weekend highlight. I recently came across a site that reviews good breakfast spots around Melbourne. It’s fantastic! The pictures get me drooling, and I’ve discovered several new places that I’ve simply got to try.

A little while back, I was pointed towards a site that reviews the best chicken parmagiana in town. These are people who take great pride in their mission, and their rating methodology is extraordinarily detailed. But it doesn’t explain why their ratings show North Melbourne as the centre of the parma universe.

Finally, there’s someone out there who is helping us to choose our morning brew. This site reviews cups of coffee (and the occasional hot chocolate). How useful is that? I haven’t really gone through their back catalogue of reviews yet, but there looked like a couple of places I really should check out. It goes well with the breakfast site.

So, more of it, I say. Not everyone has the ability to dine at two-hat restaurants, but a good coffee is realistically available to everyone, and a good breakfast can make your day. This is what the Internet was invented for!

Economics’ Poster-Boy

I first heard about Steven D. Levitt on Triple J, when he was in the country promoting his book. Somehow I managed to miss reading it, despite most of my numerate friends raving about it. Finally I borrowed it (although the owner doesn’t know I’ve got it) and now I can rave about it myself.

Freakonomics

A book to warm the hearts of statistics lovers everywhere

Steven D. Levitt has co-written this non-fiction book with Stephen J. Dubner, which is probably a good thing, as Levitt is an academic and Dubner is a journalist. However, this book revolves around Levitt and is rather admiring of him, with Dubner in the background. The hero-worship is slightly disturbing until you realise that Dubner’s previous book was called Confessions of a Hero Worshipper.

But once you get over that, there are plenty of interesting facts to enjoy. Some of the best non-fiction books are just interesting facts strung together, and this is that type of book. You really do come away with a feeling of knowing more about the world, and this book should be very useful to anyone who’s a parent, a politician, or a crack cocaine dealer.

It’s also funny. With the new-found knowledge Levitt provides, it’s easy to laugh at the illuminating history of the KKK and at the kids who have really, really stupid names. (Luckily, I’ve got a boring name).

One thing I was expecting was more economics. It doesn’t really go into the process of the research behind the facts, and instead jumps straight to the conclusions. So, it’s really more about statistics than economics. True, Spackistics doesn’t have quite the same ring.

My rating: 4.0 stars
****

American satire is not dead

I saw the shorts and I heard the raves about it. It’s a satirical look at political lobbyists and the smoking industry in the United States, directed by an American, based on an American book. (The American director is Jason Reitman, son of Ivan, no less). My scepticism and curiosity evenly balanced, I went to the movies and saw …

Thank You for Smoking

Proof that evil industries have their fun side

The film begins by introducing us to the “evil” smoking-industry lobbyist, Nick Naylor (played excellently by Aaron Eckhart), who promptly faces off against a child with lung cancer on a TV talk-show. We know who ought to win, but it’s great fun to see it from the other side. Throughout the film, we barrack for our hero, while trying to ignore the moral conflict that this presents.

However, the film sneakily brings the moral conflict to the foreground, through Nick’s conversations with his family about his job. It’s a comedy with an intelligent side. Although, the fact it is a comedy allows you to laugh away the keen philosophical points without really dealing with them.

Perhaps this is the sort of movie that improves with a repeat viewing, when the farce is reduced to expose more of the irony. This means you can choose to enjoy it for the laughs or for the points it raises about the implications of a free society, the meaning of integrity, and the idea of safety. Good stuff!

My rating: 4.0 stars
****

I tried to follow the principles I’ve outlined here in writing this review. Hopefully, I’ve succeeded.

Life and Times of Google

I’ve been digging into the history of the dot-com boom recently and a colleague recommended this book to me. It sounded really interesting, so it wasn’t long before I’d got myself a copy …

The Search

An informative read, but sometimes too awestruck by Google

John Battelle has subtitled this book “How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture”, and if you accept that premise then you’ll probably enjoy reading it. Or maybe that’s a little harsh.

Battelle does a great job of digging into the history of the search engine battles in the mid-1990s, and how advertising took off online and then within search results. I already knew much of the historical material, but it may be an eye-opener for those who weren’t around or paying attention at the time.

He also provides a detailed account of the origins and evolution of Google, warts and all. Since it is quite the media darling at the moment, this was fascinating, particularly the comparisons with Yahoo!’s internal culture.

Towards the end, I was getting a bit irritated by the continual praising of Google’s innovations and claims that everything comes down to searching. However, if you take that with a pinch of salt, then it’s still a well-researched, well-written historical analysis of the web search industry.

My rating: 3.5 stars
***1/2

This review was written using a little hReview plugin that I wrote for WordPress. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can check out this page on the hReview microformat.

NZ Snow is good!


Self-portrait at Cardrona

Originally uploaded by 4ndrewScott.

So, there’s no snow in Victoria at the moment, but there is a fair bit over in New Zealand. We’ve just come back from a trip to Queenstown using Value Tours, and can recommend them.

We got to three different mountains: The Remarkables (reasonable snow but a bit small, so it didn’t take long to have skied everything of interest), Coronet Peak (lots of runs, comfy chairs on the lifts, good views, but very exposed, and all the snow was artificial), and Cardrona (a bit further away, but excellent snow, and good pizzas and noodles). There was a fourth, Treble Cone, that only Dan made it to, and it had more skiable area, catering more to the black-run types.

Now that we’re in Spring, the snow is getting a bit soft, and the cover is reducing. Good for boarding, apparently, but is a little too sticky for my taste. Speaking of taste.. the bananas were great. Can’t wait til we get them back in Victoria at a reasonable price.