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My first blog, for the longest time, I could not find. But, despite naming it a very obscure reference to Radiohead’s liner notes from the song “Paranoid Android” on OK Computer, I tracked it down! AND I even remembered the password.

Unfortunately, the riddle of “7yuczhd2” has yet to be solved, and my blog is the top google search result.

edit: re-opened my old blog (formerly called: “Your Blood (Honey)”) and privated a lot of it—meanwhile imported both of my old blogs on livejournal “alloftheoptions” and the aforementioned. Hooray for combining the archives of my history.

 

EDIT EDIT: Just because this is the first internet trail that comes up on Google, I’m adding my current page and stickying this post. The previous entries are imported from tumblr, private journal entries, or miscellaneous posts that were on this blog prior to my switch to tumblr. Again, here’s the current page (this site is pretty much abandoned, proudly, but without deletion, like my previous blogs/journals/etc):

http://mudl.us

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Just listened to this weeks Fresh Air featuring Harold McGee. The podcast is chock-full Some really fascinating things about the science and chemistry of cooking. Some interesting points:

  • Salt actually helps the flavor of food by encouraging foods to release aromas.
  • Vegetables and thin fish are actually cooked in microwaves very efficiently, and if done well, more efficiently than cooking them on a stove.
  • (One of my favorite food anecdotes) MSG is meant to imitate the flavor the Japanese call Umami, which is sort of an aged salt flavor that usually is restricted to foods like expensive aged Parmesan cheeses. (It’s definately in the chips at Jimmy Johns).
  • -It’s actually better to put spice and herbs on when the dish is at serving temperature in terms of bringing out that flavor, instead of just letting the herbs and spices meld into the dish and cooking them for a long time.
  • The way that meat is cooked in Chinese restaurants, by cutting it into small pieces and cooking it at extremely hot temperatures in a Wok that cook the meat through within 15-17 seconds, is actually probably the best way to bring out the flavors of meat.

There are even more tips on the website and in the podcast, so check it out. You can also find the book by clicking here.

I recently saw The Social Network, and though I have not yet reviewed it, the first thing I noticed after the movie was the lack of a single likable character. The movie clearly isn’t factual, and perhaps it’s that lack of individual kindness that makes the movie so engrossing. Regardless, the movie made me realize that there are plenty of interesting stories that I know about certain advancements on the internet that will probably go largely unnoticed. So, today I’m going to life a story that I read recently about a tracker’s (for torrents) development. This tracker, as you’ll read in the story, currently supports 5 million peers. What that means to you is there are five and a half million (2% of the US population, or two thirds of the population of the largest US city: New York City) individuals sharing music together for free. This is a closed community, meaning that each member had to be invited, and participate by following a rather complicated set of rules. Pretty interesting setting for a story. I took out the name of the tracker, just for fun, and all the names used are aliases—so hopefully they’ll be somewhat anonymous. Here’s the story as a received it:

________ is a private tracker. Thus, the entire site, staff, and community all revolve around a common piece of software – the tracker backend. Complementing the site frontend, which you’re looking at now, the tracker itself handles connections between peers. 

With over five million peers, our tracker receives an average of 3,500 hits per second, although after a period of tracker downtime, load can spike up to past 12,000 hits per second. This means that, when your client announces, the tracker has 80 microseconds to search through its database of over 900,000 torrents and 5,000,000 peers, compute a response, and send it back to you. That’s a lot of stress on a piece of software! 

We anticipated this problem, of course, back before the site even started. That’s why we elected to use what was then the fastest private tracker backend in the world – XBTT. 

Lauded for its speed, XBTT handled the peers very well for the first few months of the site’s existence. We brought on a developer – asm – whose job was to tune it and modify it as needed, and he was able to do that just fine – for a few months. However, asm was reluctant to make any major changes. When we asked why, his response was that XBTT’s code was too weird, and that he was afraid he’d break something. 

A bit surprised, we lead site developers peered into the bowels of XBTT for the first time, and we found that he was correct. XBTT’s internal code worked fine in practice, but strange/outdated design decisions and the inclusion of thousands of lines of unnecessary code gave us worries about how well it would scale to a swarm of the size we had planned, as well as whether we’d be able to continue modifying it to our needs. 

So a plan was formed. We would create a tracker of our own. 

Late winter 2007

It made perfect sense. We were already replacing the outdated TBDev source with our own new Gazelle source, so why not replace XBTT with another piece of software as well? Make it fast, make the code pretty, give it a cool-sounding exotic animal name, and we’d be set. It couldn’t possibly take very long – trackers are very simple pieces of software, after all. The only problem was that XBTT had scared asm into hiding, the other developers were all php developers (php is a language that is fast to write and slow to run) and we wanted the tracker coded in C++ (slow to write, fast to run). The solution was thus to outsource. 

January 2008

Our first developer choice was a young developer called rootkit. Immensely intelligent, but perhaps not the greatest people person in the world, rootkit decided that he wanted to write the tracker in haskell instead. We weren’t too excited to have the tracker written in a weird language that no one understood, but he promised that it’d be fast so we let him go at it. We don’t think he ever wrote more than a hundred lines of it before he gave up and stepped down. 

While we searched for a new developer, WhatMan decided to try an experiment – to see if a php tracker could outperform XBTT. He hacked away for a weekend and created Lioness – a beautiful little tracker, no doubt one of the fastest php trackers ever made. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite fast enough for our needs – upon testing, the swarm crushed our poor webserver, and we were forced to go back to XBTT.

By this time, XBTT was barely able to keep up with the load. The timeouts had already started, and we did whatever we could, but in the end, the only thing that really helped was when we moved to our new (then) ridiculously oversized server in Canada. 

March – May 2008

Another developer had been found! The guy was smart, mature, well educated, fluent in C++, and seemingly very able. We told him what we needed, and he started coding. A month later, the new dev – lenrek – had created the first tracker to call itself Ocelot. 

lenrek’s ocelot looked promising. It was new, shiny, and multithreaded. We figured that our problems were solved, but when we tried it out, it exploded. It is still unclear exactly why, just that it happened. That ocelot was tweaked and some more tests were run, but we eventually gave up. lenrek’s ocelot was basically shelved, and attention turned, for the next year, back to making XBTT handle its load properly. 

Fortunately for us, lenrek stayed on as a developer – although his ocelot didn’t succeed, he’s responsible in a large part for making the site work as well as it does today. 

June 2009 – February 2010

In the next year of stagnation, ocelot was never quite forgotten, but working on it was never very motivating – especially with only one tracker dev. So we raised the XBTT announce interval from 30 minutes to 35, then to 40, then to 45. In the meantime, the idea of ocelot waited until we found someone to revitalize it. In June 2009, FZeroX found such a person – rconan. 

rconan was incredibly intelligent, and came up with a plan for what everyone was pretty sure was going to be the most awesome tracker ever. High performance event queues, hashmaps, all that cool stuff. We outsourced the project to him, he started coding, and initial progress was very rapid. 

Two hundred changes and additions to rconan’s new ocelot were made between the months of August and October. Before we knew it, the new ocelot was all but finished – 4,000 lines of divine C++ code, with just “a few” bugs and features left to code. And then, rconan’s real life started to get busier. 

A couple of changes were made in November, a couple in December, one in January, and a final flurry of activity took place in February. When we asked for progress updates, ocelot was still a few bugfixes and features away from being ready for production, but no changes were ever made after February. As none of our in-house developers had been closely following the development of the new ocelot, we were unable to take over, and simply hoped that rconan’s real-life obligations would clear up and he’d have the time to finish it. 

In the meantime, we had raised XBTT’s announce interval to the highest point we could justify – 47 minutes – and it was still timing out so often it became a joke. In April 2010, we gave it its own server and started load balancing multiple instances of it – starting out with 2 XBTTs, and then 3, and then 4. This gave us some breathing room, but not for long. 

April – May 2010

At one point, A9 and oorza were arguing about java performance. A9 had the brilliant idea of daring oorza to write a high performance tracker in java, and work began on shadowolf. oorza proclaimed shadowolf “almost completely done” on May 12th, save a few outstanding bugs. We checked in on his progress at the end of August, and he was rewriting the entire plugin architecture, and considering using hadoop to store peers. We’re unsure about shadowolf’s current status. 

August-September 2010

No updates had been made to ocelot in eight months, and rconan was nowhere to be found. The future of shadowolf was unclear. When a thread came up about ocelot in the forums, the staff were forced to admit that development on it had ceased, and that no update was liable to take place in the near future. It was a hard post to write, considering how the timeouts had become so bad that the joke wasn’t funny anymore. Users would sometimes have to wait hours for the tracker to let them download things, stats were being lost left and right, and we were out of hardware to throw at the problem. Something had to be done. 

Enter WhatMan. Having previously stayed out of the C++ tracker development arena due to a lack of confidence with his high-performance C++ coding skills, WhatMan was confused with as to why everyone wa
s creating 4000+ line of code behemoths when trackers are, in reality, extremely simple pieces of software. So he lifted some key design choices from rconan’s ocelot, created the rest of the design himself, and spent the last week of August hacking away at a brand new ocelot. 

On September 1st, ocelot was ready for performance testing. We replaced one xbtt instance with it, and it scaled. So we replaced two, and it scaled. We tweaked it a bit, and then replaced the third and fourth instances, tweaked it a bit more, and replaced the load balancer. What four XBTT instances and a load balancer were failing to handle before, was now being handled by one, singlethreaded instance of the latest ocelot. 

Then we pushed it harder – we lowered the announce interval to 40 minutes, and then to 30, and it scaled. Then we lowered it to 20 minutes, and linux broke before ocelot did. It was beautiful. 

The dev team rejoiced, and banded together to add the remaining features and fix the remaining bugs. By September 3rd, ocelot was considered feature complete, and we let it run the entire swarm – one tracker for five million peers, at a 30 minute announce interval. 

September 2010 – Now
Since then, ocelot’s been purring along. It uses up 20%-30% of one CPU core, and 3GB of RAM – for comparison, our four XBTT instances used the same amount of RAM in total, and 50%-100% of a core each. It’s 1547 lines of code long in total, which will be open-sourced at some point. The dev team has added the occasional bugfix, and there may be some bugs yet to be discovered, but our tracker is now more stable than it’s been since we started. After over two and a half years, ocelot’s journey to creation is finally finished.

Here are a couple of links for you to learn more about him and his work.

Ted Talk from 2010.

Mandelbrot obituary in the Telegraph.

Why are fractals useful from The University of Oxford.

Colony collapse disorder, researched, solved! In a poetic way this news made me tear up, it’s been on my mind for years.

Since 2006, 20 to 40 percent of the bee colonies in the United States alone have suffered “colony collapse.” Suspected culprits ranged from pesticides to genetically modified food. Now, a unique partnership — of military scientists and entomologists — appears to have achieved a major breakthrough: identifying a new suspect, or two.

A fungus tag-teaming with a virus have apparently interacted to cause the problem, according to a paper by Army scientists in Maryland and bee experts in Montana in the online science journal PLoS One.

Via my friend Nellie: “This makes me excited for the world. Working together to save honeybees!! What can we work together on next? 😉 http://nyti.ms/bSsEq1

The Uses of Enchantment: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl

If Sturrock does not dwell on these interior darknesses, it may be in part because the life affords so much external drama. Interestingly, Dahl does not emerge as a particularly reflective individual: his puerile humor, his lively imagination, his rebellious zeal and his determination were all strongly at odds with any analytical bent. It’s no surprise that “Get on with it” was one of his favorite phrases.

Hidden Tigers

In the early 1990s, when Sony was still digesting Columbia Pictures and Japan was seen as an economic threat to the United States, I was urged by my father to learn to bow and wear a kimono, because we were all going to be working for Japanese companies one day. The cultural artifact of the moment was Michael Crichton’s borderline racist novel “Rising Sun,” which became a film starring Sean Connery and warned of Japanese corporate imperialism and the menace it posed to our way of life.

The business writer Eric J. Weiner offers a different sort of road map for a strangely parallel time in his dense and disturbing new book, “The Shadow Market: How a Group of Wealthy Nations and Powerful Investors Secretly Dominate the World.”

Alien Nation

“There have been as many plagues as wars in history,” notes the central character in Albert Camus’s novel “The Plague,” “yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.” The surprise is in the epidemic’s egalitarian choice of victims, in the unraveling of civic order and in the discovery that a just God may not be so just after all. This is why an epidemic makes such a great backdrop for a novel.

Birth Pangs

But in the decades since our children’s birth, results from research studies have suggested that we do not put fetal life so readily behind us. Rather, as Annie Murphy Paul writes in her informative and wise new book, “fetal origins research suggests that the lifestyle that influences the development of disease is often not only the one we follow as adults, but the one our mothers practiced when they were pregnant with us as well.” This hypothesis was initially put forth by David Barker, a British physician who in 1989 published data indicating that poor maternal nutrition put offspring at risk for heart disease decades later.

We

Theodore Rockwell, who served as technical director for the U.S. Navy’s nuclear-propulsion program in the 1950s and ’60s, shared a telling anecdote about his onetime boss, the famously irascible Adm. Hyman G. Rickover. “One time he caught me using the editorial we, as in ‘we will get back to you by… .’ ” Rockwell recalled in his memoir, “The Rickover Effect.” “He explained brusquely that only three types of individual were entitled to such usage: ‘The head of a sovereign state, a schizophrenic and a pregnant woman. Which are you, Rockwell?’ ”

Being Glenn Beck

In the middle of his analogy to me about his own personal crash and the country’s need to heal itself, Beck looked at his publicist with a flash of alarm about how I might construe what he was saying. “He is going to write a story that I believe the whole country is alcoholics,” he said. And then he went on to essentially compare his “Restoring Honor” pageant at the Lincoln Memorial to a large-scale A.A. meeting. “When I bottomed out, I couldn’t put it back together myself,” Beck told me. “I could do all the hard work. I could do the 12 steps. But I needed like-minded people around me.”

I Hate Everything!

“Everyone is essentially either sad, angry or afraid,” Mike, my best friend, said. We were sitting on the linoleum floor in my college dorm room. It was 1990. It was 3:45 in the morning. We were down to brass tacks.J

“I’m definitely sad, then,” I said.

“Well, I’m angry,” he said.

As a dutiful sad person, I felt instantly defeated. Anger seemed like something that lean, focused, going-places people had, especially men — rage and fury and indignation. Anger meant glory. Where depression would just mean shame and Dove Bars. How horrible to be essentially sad. Why couldn’t I be essentially angry?

Enter the Finnish video game Angry Birds. Angry Birds HD for iPad has finally filled my life with the wrath I’ve long aspired to.

Is Michelle Rhee’s Revolution Over?

Around the country, supporters of education reform — or at least of the test-scores-driven, tenure-busting, results-rewarding sort of reform epitomized by organizations like Teach for America and championed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan — gave a collective gasp of dismay last month when voters in a number of districts handed primary defeats to candidates closely associated with just this type of reform.

A Prison-Library Reunion

I stopped in the park and held out the money, two crisp $20 bills, plus a few singles, all folded up to seem like more. I was calm, but my hands were shaking. I looked at the ground and caught a glimpse of his weapon — not a gun, but a six-inch knife, barely concealed under a shredded sleeve. I sensed he was looking at me. He took the money, but didn’t move.

Why isn’t he leaving?

“Hey,” he said. There was a new tenor in his voice. “You work at the Bay?”My body tensed. It was true: my work was following me home.

Found in Translation

— I’ve come to understand that all literature is a product of translation. That is, translation is not merely a job assigned to a translator expert in a foreign language, but a long, complex and even profound series of transformations that involve the writer and reader as well. “Translation” as a human act is, like so many human acts, a far more complicated proposition than it may initially seem to be.

Film Version of Zuckerberg Divides Generations

“When you talk to people afterward, it was as if they were seeing two different films,” said Scott Rudin, one of the producers. “The older audiences see Zuckerberg as a tragic figure who comes out of the film with less of himself than when he went in, while young people see him as completely enhanced, a rock star, who did what he needed to do to protect the thing that he had created.”

The actual Facebook has been playing clumsy defense against the film, including having the real Mr. Zuckerberg pop out of nowhere on “Oprah” to donate $100 million to the schools of Newark, but my hunch is that the company doesn’t have much to worry about.

More States Allowing Guns in Bars and Restaurants

Freakonomics

Mr. Spurlock’s segment, “A Roshanda by Any Other Name,” is a facetious contemplation of baby names in the age of branding. Does a child’s name determine his or her adult destiny? The answer is, probably not, although the downward spiral of one girl unfortunately named Temptress might suggest otherwise. An opposite message is gleaned from the biographies of two boys, one named Winner, the other Loser. The segment addresses the widening gap between the names of white and black babies, which began with the black power movement in the late 1960s. It can barely contain its amusement at the many variations of the name Unique.

Arthur Penn, Director of ‘Bonnie and Clyde,’ Dies

“Arthur Penn brought the sensibility of ’60s European art films to American movies,” the writer-director Paul Schrader said. “He paved the way for the new generation of American directors who came out of film schools.”Many of the now-classic films of what was branded the “New American Cinema” of the 1970s — including “Taxi Driver,” directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Mr. Schrader, and “The Godfather,” directed by Francis Ford Coppola — would have been unthinkable without “Bonnie and Clyde” to point the way.

MacArthur Foundation Honors 23

“Obviously, I’m very grateful but I have a vague sense of not belonging,” Mr. Simon said in a telephone interview about his grant. He said past winners had done “tangible things to improve conditions.”

Still, storytellers can also make a difference, said Mr. Simon, who now splits his time between Baltimore and New Orleans. He expects the MacArthur imprimatur to help move the discussion of the ideas in his work from the “entertainment pages to the op-ed pages,” he said. “One overt argument that ‘The Wire’ was making is that the drug war is amoral and untenable,” Mr. Simon added.

Let Me In (2010)

Vampire romanticism is nothing new, of course. Millions of us, not just teenage girls, have followed the courtship of Bella Swan and Edward Cullen through every deep breath and smoldering glance. But the love story in “Let Me In,” between two 12-year-olds, one of them a blood-craving undead pixie named Abby, is both more intense and more innocent.

The subtext of the relationship is not sexuality, as it is in “Twilight” or “True Blood,” but rather the loneliness of children and their often unrecognized reservoirs of rage. Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her pal, a trembling, big-eyed boy named Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee), are fragile and quiet but also capable of horrifying violence.

As Henrich et al show, many phenomena we’ve assumed are universal probably aren’t: we can only really say they’re universal among Weird people, who make up 96% of subjects in behavioural science, or Americans, who make up 68%, and often only among US college students, who provide US researchers with a supply of guinea pigs. And the Weird, they say, “are particularly unusual compared with the rest of the species”.

also

This is more than a curiosity. In his book Crazy Like Us, Ethan Watters argues that American notions of mental illness are colonising the world, with a handful of diagnoses – depression, anorexia – squeezing out culturally specific ones. (Intriguingly, though, the Indonesian concept of “amok”, combining brooding with murderous rage, is listed in the US psychiatric bible, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.) It’s also a reminder that even if you are Weird, advice that’s been “experimentally proven” has been proven for only the average person, who doesn’t exist.

This column will change your life: Weirdness just got weirder. We’re all born Weird, but some are born more weird than others. in The Guardian

I love hearing etymological anecdotes. This has been floating around today:

he first documented case of “geek” dates all the way back to 1916.  At the time, the term was used to describe sideshow freaks in circuses.  Specifically, it was typically attributed to those circus performers who were known for doing crazy things like biting the heads of various small live animals or eating live insects and the like.  These performances were often called “geek shows”.  The word itself, “geek”, came from the word “geck”, which was originally a Low German word which meant someone who is a “fool/freak/simpleton”.

The first documented case of “nerd” was in Dr. Seuss’s If I Ran the Zoo, in 1950.  The specific text was: “a Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too”. It was just one year after the Dr. Seuss book, in 1951 in a Newsweek magazine article, that we find the first documented case of “nerd” being used similarly to how we use it today.  Specifically, they used it as being synonymous with someone who was a “drip” or a “square”.

It’s from this blog. But it reminded me how much I love the NPR radio show You Have a Way With Words. I remember during one show some up tight teacher called half sarcastically to prove that her black students were stupid, claiming that they used “axe” instead of “ask”. According to the hosts “axe” was actually a more common pronunciation at one time. I wish I had a link to that specific episode, but I don’t. Instead: Check out the shows site at waywordradio.com

In an effort to continue cataloging the movies I see each week I’ll be posting them in this format with the “movies” and “reviews” tags. Each post will feature this introduction and a brief review of each movie including several merits and faults. Each description will have a short prefix including the format in which I viewed the movie, which I hope will provide some context for understanding how I ended up watching the movie. “^” means worth watching. “*” means a favorite. On a rare occasion I may use “**” to donate a must see. If a movie passes the Bechdel Test, it will have an “&” sign.

Scott Pilgrim vs. The World *
(Glendale Mall AMC Theater Indianapolis)

Considering the type of hype the movie got, I’m not surprised it didn’t do amazingly at the box office. It’s just as confusing and nonsensical as a fighting video game, but somehow I don’t think this strays far from Edgar Wrights natural style. I mean you see that jump-cut style all the way back in Spaced, take the paintballing scene, for example—and it follows all the way through his work. Needless the say the video game graphical and thematic elements are certainly unique, thus the film will almost certainly gain a cult status. All in all, though, I’d say this is really only a must see for folks who grew up inside of nerdy (RPG, Strategy, Fighting) gaming cultures and communities (and that’s me).

The Wild Bunch *
(Netflix DVD by Mail)

I was on a Sam Peckinpah kick at the time of watching this American classic. He’s a really prolific director, and an interesting man, but I’ll focus on the film here. To me the film embodies a tradition of depicting the west that continues today in games like Red Dead Redemption. A tradition of darkness, alcoholism, hyper violence, and sexual abuse in a vast paradoxically homely and exotic wasteland. At times the wear and detail on mens faces in the film are almost Bressonian, introspective shots, that convey a entirely interior moral epic. During scenes like the Gatling gun abuse scene, by the Mexican militia group, make the film become a near lucid dream of violence and lawlessness. The train robbing sequence, the bank robbing sequence (at the beginning), and similar scenes make play out of the lack development and promise for wealth and progress—at the same time as being downright clever action sequences that Hollywood is always trying to replicate. Anyway, like I said, it’s a classic, you should probably see it if you like westerns.

The Thin Red Line **

This is the best war film I’ve ever seen. Until I saw this movie, I wasn’t that interested in war movies. It came out the same year as Saving Private Ryan, and it’s hard to beat the most sympathetic actor in Hollywood. I was once told that during the pre-production of Apollo 13, when the casting agency asked America who they least wanted to see die, they chose Tom Hanks. It’s hard to compete with that sentiment. But I digress. This is one four films that Terrance Malick has directed. Of the two I’ve seen (Badlands, and this), I think he’s probably one of the best film makers alive today, and certainly one of the most underrepresented. Two scenes have been really memorable for me. The first is simply the opening of the film, it was downright unexpected, and sort of timely if you ask me. It depicts a solider attempting to defect with some natives on an island and the mostly speechless relationships he’s involved in. It brought to mind ex-pat culture, something that I think is really overlooked in the media today. The second extremely memorable moment during the film comes at a typical point for war films, during battle scene. Towards the middle of the film many of the units have failed to advance up a hill covered with tall grass and with a bunker perched atop. They finally make it up the hill and in a extremely intense montage kill probably hundreds of Japanese soldiers using various methods. So much of the film is internal, there are plenty of voice-overs, but the voice-overs only reveal the strong emotions underneath the surface of war. Really, this film isn’t for soldiers and the middle-class. It’s for artists, by an artist.

Whip It! & *
(Netflix DVD by mail) 

Here’s Drew Barrymore’s film about a girl, played by Ellen Paige, who, driven by her desire to experience something beyond her small town minded beauty queen mother, decides to join a Roller Girl team despite being underage. She succeeds, and as a result of her recklessness must come to terms with the reality of what she’s become involved with. This isn’t an extreme tale, but it’s got everything that a movie like Youth in Revolt, except it’s for girls, and has the always fun and hilarious Kristen Wiig. It’s the feel good movie of the summer, and even inspired me to try to go to an actual Roller Derby here in Indianapolis if I can. It’s just a fun movie, and worth seeing on rental for sure.

The Brothers Bloom
(DVD Backup DivX) 

This is a pretty clever film about two con men brothers who’ve grown up together and must face the issues of co-dependency. It starts with a con in grade school where a bunch of kids pay to see this wandering wisp light. The film moves into a romance as the brother who must make a rich eccentric woman fall in love with him, actually falls in love, and as she begins to adventure with them, becomes part of a bigger and bigger con. Or is it. It’s pretty fun, but ultimately I couldn’t relate much to any of the characters. Except maybe bang bang, a speechless Japanese woman whose expertise is demolition. Needless to say, this isn’t a groundbreaking or even extremely notable film, but it certainly is enjoyable, and is extremely well conceived.

The Losers
(Netflix on XBox360)

This is a terrible movie. I also watched the movie “Expendables”, but I’m not going to review that either. Actually, the latter has a bit more justice existing simply because of all of the action stars. At least the first 10 minutes were entertaining simply because Jet Li and Sylvester Stallone are in the same picture. In the Losers, on the other hand, even from the beginning, when they save a bunch of small children in a small terrorist enclave town using a stolen school bus, you’re thinking: could this get any more cliche and terrible? The answer is yes, so don’t see it.

Archer: Season 1
(Hulu)

 I first heard about this show on an episode of Fresh Air that interviewed the creator, who also happened to be the creator of Sealab 2021. In that vein my expectations were pretty much on target. A lot of the themes and styles fo characterization on identical between the two shows. There’s the slut character, and the womanizer character, idiotic leader, etc. Part of the charm of the show comes from the successful repetition of the same joke. I wouldn’t suggest watching this show all in the one sitting (as I did pretty much), the jokes aren’t as funny, and it loses its repetitive comforting power.

Paris, Texas *
(Netflix DVD)

The first Wim Wender’s film I’ve seen will certainly not be the last. Wender’s seems to have e genuine fascination with the American west, but not the parts of it you may expect. A lot of imagery he makes beautiful seems almost mundane to us—I could imagine certain scenes of this film in a documentary context. The numerous highway scenes, outlooks over the L.A. sprawl, the way the peep show is presented, the hotel and downtown shots, are all ruminated on in an uncharacteristic way. A lot of images from the film stick because they seem so ‘normal’. His explorations of characterization are borderline quixotic in their interiorization and distance, the film is predicated on a man not talking for years, yet somehow by the end there is a great lukewarm wash of hope. Performances by Harry Dean Stanton and Quantum Leap’s Dean Stockwell are just plain fascinating. Stockwell, who plays the brother character in the film, is simultaneously a father, a brother, a friend, and almost a therapist style character. Stanton’s obsessive compulsive explorations, make him seem like a amnesia victim, a solider with post traumatic stress disorder, or an alien. Needless the say the film is entertaining, but it’s also something more rare that I can’t put my finger on.

The Cincinnati Kid *
(IMCPL Library DVD)

In high school I watched the movie Rounders, then went to Goodwill with my friend Chris, bought a suit, and proceeded to have as many people over as possible for some Hold em’. We played with loose change, but it was still pretty fun. I don’t think I ever did very well. Had we been watching this movie, though, I’m not sure we would have still played. Something about Rounders leaves out the feeling that we got after about an hour that we’d been playing FOREVER. The final, three day long, one on one battle that is the end of The Cincinnati Kid really shows how excruciating gambling can be. The film is does a great job of depicting “the weight” and all that comes with it. We see the social pressure, litterally embodied by an audience of wealthy looking individuals who look to be at some form of civilized dog fight. We see the financial pressure, as individuals invested in the tournament try to use their monetary power to rig the game. We see the romantic pressure, as one woman takes sexual advantage in the situation. But also the psychological pressure, “You’re just not ready for me yet, kid.” This is my first Norman Jewison film, and I certainly hope it’s not my last.

The Burbs
(Netflix Watch-it-now on the Roku Media Player)

 I think I’ve seen bits and pieces of this on daytime cable throughout my life and never until now watched the whole thing. I discovered that it’s a really strange movie all the way through. There’s elements of horror, reminiscent of other cult 80s horror like Fright Night, elements of almost Mike Judge, a la Office Space, style domestic humor, and somehow there’s still room for ‘Mouth’ from Goonies to play a character who seems like he should be in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It’s not exactly Tom Hanks most trying role, but it’s a surprisingly fun and well sculpted movie—I can see why the play it on TV a lot.

My favorites from the New York Times. This last couple weeks have been pretty transitional, so I’ve been slow—you’ll probably need a NYT account (free) to view the archived articles.

Phys Ed: Can Exercise Make Kids Smarter?

Previous studies found that fitter kids generally scored better on such tests. And in this case, too, those children performed better on the tests. But the M.R.I.’s provided a clearer picture of how it might work. They showed that fit children had significantly larger basal ganglia, a key part of the brain that aids in maintaining attention and “executive control,” or the ability to coordinate actions and thoughts crisply. Since both groups of children had similar socioeconomic backgrounds, body mass index and other variables, the researchers concluded that being fit had enlarged that portion of their brains.

Documentary? Better Call It Performance Art

At least one element in the film was genuine, Mr. Affleck said. That was a snippet of a home movie that showed Mr. Phoenix and his very young siblings performing, Jackson Five style, on the streets of Los Angeles.

The rest, Mr. Affleck said, clearly requires a bit more understanding than he has allowed the viewers to date. “It is a hard movie to watch,” he said.

A Dictionary of the Near Future

DENARRATION The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

CLOUD BLINDNESS The inability of some people to see faces or shapes in clouds.

Take a Look at Him Now: Questions for Phil Collins

But now you’re divorced from her. Did I read somewhere that your divorce settlement was $50 million and, at the time, the largest paid by an entertainer in British history?

I think Paul McCartney’s was the largest.

Ditch Your Laptop, Dump Your Boyfriend

Chances are, if you are taking the time to read this advice, you already have the quality necessary to undertake the intellectual challenges of a college education — a seriousness of purpose.

Carrot Talk

In the study, children from the ages of 3 to 5 tasted five pairs of identical foodstuffs (including, as it happens, carrots). In each pair, one item was offered in plain, unmarked packaging — and the other was in McDonald’s packaging. The kids, on average, said they preferred the stuff they thought came from the fast-food chain, which of course is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. They thought McDonald’s fries tasted better with branded packaging than without it; they preferred milk in a McDonald’s cup to milk in a plain cup. This, the study noted, “was true even for carrots,” a food they are unlikely to have experienced at the fast-food chain.

The Empowerment Mystique

“Free to Be” was foremost about vanquishing gender stereotypes. By choosing girls to liberate from the tyranny of antimaterialism, Target implied that buying its wares was part of thevictory. That’s part of a trend I’ve noticed across a whole range of sectors over the last several months from big-box stores to high-end fashion to wireless-phone services to politics: all have discovered the sales potential in female pride.

Phys Ed: Looking at How Concussions When Young Influence Later Life

But when researchers looked at the electrical activity of the students’ brains, they found that the concussed athletes showed noticeably less activity in portions of the brain associated with attention. ‘‘They had suppressed attentional resources,’’ said Steven Broglio, a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois. He and his colleagues speculated that, as a result, the injured athletes most likely were devoting a greater percentage of their total mental reserves to each task than the uninjured athletes in order to achieve similar intellectual results. The effort wasn’t obvious. ‘‘These were high-performing college students,” Dr. Broglio said. ‘‘They were succeeding in school.’’

Time Is Money

Maybe I’m the only one who still sees time-shifting as all upside — working your own hours, reading a news story two weeks late, watching TV and movies only on disk, DVR or download. Time-shifting is the enemy of advertising, after all; it may also be the enemy of communal experience.

The Ethicist: Father Exposure

Here’s the key question: Would your acquaintance want to know about the affair? Some children crave a deep understanding of their late parents; some cling to an idealized version. If your acquaintance is among the former, give him the letter. If not, or if you are simply unsure, consign it to the flames. Or frame it on your bedroom wall as a reminder of the labyrinthine recesses of the human heart.

Kafka’s Last Trial

During his lifetime, Franz Kafka burned an estimated 90 percent of his work. After his death at age 41, in 1924, a letter was discovered in his desk in Prague, addressed to his friend Max Brod. “Dearest Max,” it began. “My last request: Everything I leave behind me … in the way of diaries, manuscripts, letters (my own and others’), sketches and so on, to be burned unread.”

A New Kind of Cineaste

Over the past quarter century or so, Assayas has emerged as a mainstay of what might be called the middle generation of post-New Wave French auteurs — filmmakers who still labor in the shadow of a heroic band of ancient young rebels, many of whom have shown remarkable, even maddening longevity. Erich Rohmer and Claude Chabrol, part of the groups that burst out of Cahiers in the late 1950s and early ’60s, died this year, at 89 and 80. Jacques Rivette, Agnès Varda and Alain Resnais are all still around, in their 80s, as is Jean-Luc Godard, perpetual imp and inscrutable sage of le cinéma français, who may or may not show up to collect an honorary Oscar in November.

They Did What?

“All the self- examination in the world isn’t going to help anyone bent on self-deception,” she writes, “which is no doubt true of any of us at least some of the time.”

When Life Gets in the Way of Art

But beyond issues of personal betrayal, the news raised much more difficult and fundamental questions — ones central to photography and documentary work but to the history of art and popular culture as well — about artistic intent, about the assumptions and expectations of the viewing public and about the relationship between artists and their work.

The Temporary Vegetarian: Roasted Mushrooms With Goat Cheese and Grits

A Teenager Flying Over a Cuckoo’s Nest

WHEN thinking of the directors Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden, light comedy may not be the first thing to come to mind. The team’s first movie, “Half Nelson,” examined the life of a drug-addicted schoolteacher, while the follow-up, “Sugar,” tracked the trials of a Dominican baseball player who joins a minor-league team in Iowa. But the filmmakers have a message for audiences: They do have a sense of humor. And they love John Hughes.

Enter the Void (2009)

More specifically, “Enter the Void” is the latest from the never uninteresting, sometimes exasperating Mr. Noé, whose films, like “Irrevérsible” (2002), skew toward provocations, filled with flashes of genius and irredeemable nonsense. The title of “Enter the Void,” which sounds like both a dare and a fun-house attraction, makes sense in a work about death and other hard times, but it also expresses Mr. Noé’s bad-boy, punk attitude, which can be hard to take seriously. His insistence on representing ugly extremes (incest, rape, murder) can be especially wearisome, coming across as weak bids to shock his audience (épater la bourgeoisie, as the French poets once said), which, already expecting (perhaps eagerly) a Gaspar Noé freakout, is unlikely to have its world genuinely rocked. But bring it on, Gaspar!

Sunday Book Review: Fairer Deal

Reich insists instead that American consumers, and particularly the middle class, have been buying too little. For years, the United States has consumed more than it has produced; the excess demand has sucked in products from abroad, which is why the nation has run a trade deficit. The idea that the economy has suffered from a lack of demand is, shall we say, eccentric. But Reich declares repeatedly that the stagnation of middle-class buying power has been a drag on growth. “If earnings are inadequate,” he asserts, “an economy produces more goods and services than its people are capable of purchasing.” If that sentence described the American condition in the 1990s and the period leading up to the crash, Reich’s predicted excess output would have gone abroad and the United States would have run a trade surplus.

Festivals Grow Up, Even as Screens Grow Small

It may be that the Toronto International Film Festival has emerged as one of the biggest, most influential festivals in the world specifically because it learned how to bridge that art-cinema world and those conglomerate-owned movie studios we nostalgically refer to as Hollywood. (Other factors doubtless have played a role, including support from the Canadian government and the festival’s location: it’s an easy flight for New York journalists.) To judge from the Lightbox, this balancing act has paid off nicely. It remains to be seen whether the Lightbox, like the new film complex at Lincoln Center, can fill its theaters year-round with viewers who are as eager to dig into cinema’s past as they are to take part in its uncertain future.