Well, 2012 and Fantastic Mr. Fox (review here) is not a 2-fer. It's just 4 "free" AMC tickets (2 from the This is It debacle).

Anyway, onto the movie 2012 (IMDB)... here's what we want from a disaster flick, a.k.a. Deep Impact 2 (Sorry, there was no disaster in the more entertaining Armageddon besides Ben Affleck's unfortunate acting):
  • Impossible disaster: check
  • Impossible solution: check
  • Urgency: check
  • Close to zero chance of success: check
  • Earthquakes that wipe out continents: check
  • Tsunamis about the height of the ocean: check
  • Rich assholes: check
  • Scheming politicians: check
  • Humorous crazy white dude: check
  • White kids in distraught: check
  • White parents in distraught: check
  • White folks running: check
  • White folks keep making impossible escapes: check
  • Pet needs to be saved: check
  • People dying: check
  • Minorities getting screwed: check
  • White and black hero: check
  • Black president: check
  • Tenuous relationships that need to be resolved through disaster because they just can't do that when times are normal: check
Actually... it has awesome special effects and that's all you need to know. It was entertaining and I love the Tibet solution. Some plot holes:
  • So UK cancels the London Olympics due to incoming disaster... and it's snowing in DC... right
  • US chief scientists asks "what's at 29,000 feet"? You don't know Mount Everest!? Besides, wouldn't Noah's Arc measure in metrics (meters) instead of feet?
  • Speaking of units, India use Celsius, not Fahrenheit
  • Danny Glover as a black president. Morgan Freeman should always be the black president (oh, and he will be in Invictus, movie I really look forward to)
It's dumb but entertaining. And 30 minutes too long. Sure, I'll recommend it.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

I'm not sure what to make of Fantastic Mr. Fox (IMDB)...

It's a fun movie to sit through. It had great voices from great actors (Clooney, Streep, Murray, Dafoe - missing Weaver for the evil cider farmer tho... that would have been great). It had some great moments of humor. It had some good life lessons. It had pretty good animation. It had man vs. nature. It had passions in life vs. responsibilities. Basically, it had everything a good serious animated movie would have.

But... I just can't put the whole thing together and enjoy it as a movie for some reason. Maybe because I didn't know what to expect? Maybe I need to watch it again? I don't know.

Fun movie. I think I recommend it though. I think.


Black Friday and the US Consumer Market

Interesting experience last night. TF learned that the Armani Exchange at Soho is opening at midnight to welcome Black Friday. When we got there at 1:30am or so, it was mostly empty... because the only sale was $50 off $150 purchase, and most of the store was selling at full price anyway. And none of the other stores in Soho were open for midnight madness. What a debacle.

We didn't buy a thing out of protest (and lack of good design), wandered in Soho for a few minutes, and went back home to continue the sleep. Oh, and we banned AE until next Thanksgiving.

This morning, right before I left home, a friend of mine from HK asked how the US consumer market is. Glad you asked. Here's what I've seen:
  • There were no crazy sales in Soho. Max was 50% at Esprit and 41% at Kenneth Cole. Most name brand stores carried a 25% discount across all items and that was it. (I miss outlet shopping, which probaby had steeper discounts)
  • There were no crazy crowds in Soho either. Most busy was American Eagle and their high school customers. Especially compared to last year, where TF said by 9am was madness at most stores
  • Bags observed on the street: 50% had bags... mostly of Armani Exchange, H&M, American Eagle, and Uniqlo variety
Which leads me to conclude:
  • Retailers are doing okay. They don't seem to have much excess inventory and they can live with the small discounts during Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas
  • Revenue is probably a small but positive growth from last year, but profits should be much better if the inventory was indeed well managed
  • Chinese factories are probalby suffering from fall off in orders in 2009... at least they can make stuff for they backyard; imagine the factories in Central America
Consumers were trained on 2008 to expect deep deep price cuts. TF, for example, is not happy with the little discounts, and didn't shop much. No worries, me thinks. Materialism will prevail in a capitalist society and they will be well trained by next Thanksgiving!

So... Retailers will be fine and consumers will slowly live the truth. Except for Armani Exchange, of course, who cost me 2 hours of sleep last night. Boo.


Entertain thyself, continued (In the Heights)

On my last post, I really meant to include "In the Heights" but it slipped through the cracks. Guess that's the priority: sports, movie, musicals.

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After flirting briefly with TKTS, we decided to get our tickets from Plum, which actually offered better seats for the same price. Front mezzinine, front row for $80ish.

I liked the show overall. It depicts the local life of a bunch of immigrants from South America... which reminded me a bit of Rent (about a local group of yuppies).
  • Music: Good music with some rap and latino flare mixed in with regular musical songs. It was a venture into some new music on stage and I thought they did a marvelous job on it. Rap voice doesn't travel as well as sung voice, so it was sometimes drowned out by the orchestra music. There's also a bit of Spanish in the songs, tho they do a decent job of mixing in the translation in the dialouge. The next version would most definitely be much improved
  • Cast: Decent performances from the cast. The lead guy (Usnavi) was pretty good with his rap but lacked expression on stage. The other leads were decent - Benny was consistent through out and performed well; Nina shined in the first act but faded in the second act. Decent performances for the rest of the cast.
  • Story: Well, it's your standard musical story. Introduction to all (smartly done), tension builds, someone dies, and all is resolved at the end. I enjoyed the 2nd act much better than the 1st, which I thought was a bit noisy and chaotic with the story free-flowing towards nowhere... thankfully it all tightened up in the 2nd act
  • Set: The set was somewhat boring with little interaction...
I enjoy musicals... but haven't gone to much while in NYC. Just not a priority compared to others!


Entertaining thyself in NYC: the Knicks, the Movie, and the Jets

Thank god TF doesn't work at Evanston. Being in NYC with a lot of free time has been a huge blessing. I'm a lucky person, what can I say.

The Knicks

After the last Criagslist debacle trying to buy Cavs tickets, I tried again. Apparently the Warriors are a much easier ticket to score. I paid $60 per ticket (Face value $90) to a season ticket holder who couldn't wait to get rid of his tickets.

The game was a complete blah. The Knicks are a sorry team with no defense and no offense. Apparently Chris Duhon is not Steve Nash. Who saw that coming? Poor David Lee is stuck anchoring a non-existing defense and is being worked over on both ends. They've gotten Eddy Curry back and are surprisingly playing well with him. Oh, and there was a Darko sighting, which is always intriguing. I keep waiting for his up-side to show up.

The Warriors were more intriguing: superb offensive power with Ellis, Jackson, Morrow, and Moore (Mikki Moore, that is, just a joke of course), and Radolph. But no one to set up or direct the plays. So the whole game was a lot of Ellis and Jackson one-on-one, will Nellie pulling his hair out on the sidelines (quite funny when he storms into the court for a timeout). The Warriors have since dealt Captain Jack to relieve the backcourt clog and give Ellis the keys to the offense. They should become better.

Anyway, the game was boring at best and the Knicks lost by 20 something to the Warriors. Yay. Recommended for the great seats, but not for the experience!

The Movie

This is It (IMDB) at the 86th Street AMC... the experience was interesting.

First the theater: ghetto. The only reason we went there was cus 1. They were playing This is It at 7pm and 2. I was buying Jets tickets from a guy who lived around there but was only available at 9pm. Oh, and 3. We had an AMC pass. Anyway, the theater was small and smelling and the seats were squeaky and not well maintained. The crowd at the theater were the New Moon crowd - teenage girls who were screaming and OMGing all the time. Awful experience.

Then the movie: well. Ghetto as well. Despite a start time of 7:05, the previews didn't start till 7:15, and finally the movie started around 7:25... except that it was New Moon, to the great disgust of the audience (yeah, you wouldn't believe it, but they are decidedly different from the New Moon crowd). 10 minutes later, the manager came in to apologize and restart the movie. At 7:45, we finally got previews (previews again!?), and the movie started thereafter. One hour delay.

Now the real movie: This is It is basically the entire concert. They play every song in its final or close to final rehersal version. If you are an MJ fan, you basically see and imagine the concert right in front of your eyes. If not, like myself, then it's a bit of a drag for 2 hours (3 if you count the wait time we had). Nonetheless, it was a great portrait of MJ the artist meticulously preparing for his come back tour. The man was energized and prepared with a vision that none of the other artists saw. He basically knew exactly what he wanted and made all the others do it to his precise requirements.

I'm just sad that his concert never materialized. It would have been a great display of music and talent. And may all artists (Britney, especially you) and reality TV stars pay attention to how you can become a real entertainer! Movie recommended if you are an MJ fan. If you can swing one at an open theater where you can sing and scream and dance, even better!

The Jets

You may not believe this, but I have never been to a football game live. Ever. I've seen NBA, MLB, NHL, soccer, even college sports... but never an NFL game. My last weekend in NYC is the weekend of Thanksgiving, and luckily there are a lot of tickets avaialble at face value. Not that anyone would want to see the sorry Jets play the equally sorry Panthers. Anyway, I got tickets for field level, 15 yard line, row 7, so I'm super excited! (Just wondering if TF shares the same enthusiasm...)


Bill Belichick's decision

When I saw it unravel on TV, I had two reactions:
  1. Speaking to myself: holy fuck, what the hell is he doing?
  2. Thinking to myself: that's a gutsy call... fuck Peyton Manning, we're going for it.
Wednesday after a Sunday, people are still talking about whether it is the right call or not. All the statisticians have came to Belichick's defense, while most sports personalities have been against.

I'm in the for-camp. I was chatting with my friend while the game was still going. Quickly throwing out these percentages on the top of my head:
  • Prob of converting 4th down: 50%
  • Prob of Colts scoring 7 from the 30 yard line: 90%
  • Prob of Colts scoring 7 for their own 30 yard line: 70%
So the Pats had a 55% of winning (50% + 50% * 10%) if they go for it. And 30% if they punted. So with the top of my head probabilities, Belichick was right. And that's not even adding the probability that the Colts score quickly, and Brady has the ball back to drive for a field goal in a minute.

Of course you can poke holes. The biggest argument that the anti-decision camp make is that you have to trust your defense to stop the Colts. Basically, they say the 70% is lower. Okay, let's examine: Peyton Manning just completed a 2 minute 80 yard touchdown drive (after a suspect pass interference call). He also has the 2 minute warning and a Colts timeout to use. If you're pegging his prob of success to be lower than 55%, I think you are greatly underestimating the QB. But hey, that's just me!

I think Steve Levitt says it best: it's a principle-agent problem with coaches. The probabilities are in the teams favor, but most coaches are adverse to taking risky decisions that are game changing.


#16 Bill Simmons

Resume: 12 years, 8 quality, 8 All-Stars...

The case for Simmons as a Level 2 journalist is a long list:

He's the only journalist on the list to have a nickname, and that should count for something. He started posting his thoughts online as the Boston Sports Guy in 1997, when blog wasn't even a word yet. He's a pioneer of the "from a fan's point of view" style of writing. Biased and passionate, Simmons was unique among writers. His ability to reference pop culture was unparalleled. During his apex from 2002 to 2004, he routinely churned out a quality piece a week, sometimes two, and had readers checking his website every hour to see if a new article has popped up.

And then there's his contributions to fans: the immortal Ewing Theory, Level of Losing, the annual NBA Draft Diary, the Peyton Manning (among others) Face, in-game running diaries (since stolen by ESPN in-game chats), the Tyson/Artest Zone, the Annual NBA Trade Value column, the Atrocious GM Summit, Mailbags (actual emails from actual fans, baby!), Weekyl NFL picks (You know, if gambling were legal), Mount Rushmore of (Since stolen and popularized by other writers), and a fist fight with Isiah Thomas. As Simmons would always say, I made the last part up.

And those were only the ones that made it with fans (more on that later).

In only 12 years, he's already amassed millions of readers (some may even be fans, a rarity for sports journalists)... and counting. So why isn't the Boston Sports Guy ranked higher?

Well, you really have to put his career in perspective. From 1997 to 2001, Simmons wrote two to three columns a week on his own website. Sure, that's a lot of writing, but his readers were all die-hard Boston Red Sox/Celtics/Patriots/Bruins and wrestling fans. If you are evaluating him for the pyramid, you have to look at post 2001 numbers.

Did his rise as a sports columnist in 2001/2 coincide with the underdog New England Patriots winning the SuperBowl, with the Ewing Theory almost being changed to the Bledsoe Theory? You bet! What about the Red Sox, who were competitive enough to be an interesting topic to write and read about, but not enough to advance past the Yankees (in fact, the harder the Red Sox fell ('99, '01), the better the reaction of Simmon readers)? And then there's the Celtics, who were such an inept team even after they finally dropped the Rick "Larry Bird is not walking through that door, Kevin McHale is not walking through that door" Pitino. In 2001, they drafted Joe Johnson, Kedrick Brown, and then Joe Forte (thanks, Red, ahead of Parker), then traded the only blue chip (Johnson). What about the Bruins... oh, who am I kidding, the Bruins did nothing to enhance Mr. Simmons' career.

Coincidences all in Simmons' favor? I say yes.

Speaking of coincidences, more things to put into perspective: his apex from 2002 to 2004 happened the same time where he moved to LA to work on Jimmy Kimmel's staff. Hollywood, where osmosis happens. Simmons benefited immensely from hanging out with other fellow writers much like players from the '86 Celtics benefited from the Bird/Walton osmosis.

And the drop off after 2004? Well, to put it simply, the Boston Sports Guy became the Sports Guy. He left Jimmy Kimmels show where his colleagues constantly challenged him to become better and then joined ESPN to work with the very people that he has always dispised - sports journalists who report in an unbiased way. Suddenly, there's self sensorship - Simmons lamented that "certain promises were not kept" by ESPN and that ESPN "won't let me be me" (cry me a river please), there's pod-casts, and, the worst, there're less columns. Isn't this Scott Templeton in The Wire where a news writer just wants to be on better media mediums such as radios and TVs? I'm not saying Simmons made anything up... but his aspiration is to eventually be in TV, even though he looks horrible on TV. Perhaps his role as executive producer for ESPN's 30 in 30 might finally reinvent his role with ESPN and propel him to a Level 1 guy.

When looking at Simmons' career, you also cannot ignore the fact that the entire period from 1997 to 2009 was where sports stopped being fun and started to commercialize. Sky rocketing ticket prices ($100 for Red Sox bleacher tickets!?) and unimaginable free agent signings (I don't even want to list examples here) turned the casual fan off. And many of them turned to the"from a fan's point of view" style of Bill Simmons, finding a comfort place where "someone still understood how they felt". Oh, and of course, there's this thing called the Internet that aided - understatement of the century - the popularizing of the Boston Sports Guy.

Those are all circumstantial, of course. Coincidences that, looking back, may or may not have been a valid reason for Simmon's rise to #16. I say yes, and that's that. But there are also these out-right failures: discontinued cartoon series on ESPN, incomplete all-time sports movie rankings, etc.

The biggest failure ever: losing to the Sports Gal twice in picking NFL games (and possibly many more March Madness brackets) over two seasons. Look, either you never compete with your wife or you beat her soundly. There's no middle ground here.

The second biggest failuer: openly lobbied for being the General Manager of the Milwaukee Bucks and then losing to John Hammond. Actually, maybe that was a joke. I'm not sure.

And hence his ranking at #16 and on the verge of being a level 1 guy. Quick footnote: I concede that he's career is on-going and may head for higher if he does return to his roots as a writer. Perhaps 30-in-30 will put him back on the map.

I once was a huge fan of the Boston Sports Guy. TF and I still use his definition (The toothbrush rule) to mark the date when she became my girlfriend. I used to check his website all the time to see if a new article was posted. Now? Well, in 2008, his article came behind Season 2 of Lost (see entry). That should be telling, right?

So, #16 it is for now. He can still write. I just hope it will be a column instead of more pod-casts and shows.

I will say this tho: trying to write a ranking profile for Bill Simmons made me appreciate his Book of Basketball that much more. Amazing book for NBA fans. Highly recommended - again.


The Book of Basketball

I got the new Bill Simmon's "Book of Basketball" (Amazon) a week ago at a book signing. When I got to Borders for The Sports Guy to sign it, there was a ONE HOUR line. One hour! So instead of a personalized signed copy, I got signed copies only... and that's only because I was moving that day and the movers were knocking on the door

(My plan of quickly seeing the Sports Guy in person, snap a picture of him, have him sign the damn book, and back to the apartment to wait for movers fell through...)

It's actually a very thoughtfully written book so far. I loved "Now I Can Die in Peace", but "Book of Basketball" is much much better. The Sports Guy takes us through the history of basketball, several controversies, and then through a list of basketball players he deemed significant. I'm at p.620 now, and I am quite satisfied as an NBA fan.

Recommended? Of course! But only for NBA fans. It even inspired me to write a future blog entry (evil mind in works).


Dilbert should be comic only

A month after buying the Dilbert book (yes, there's a book) for $1 at a garage sale, I abandoned the attempt at page 59. The Dilbert series are made to be comic strips and they ought to stay that way.

I guess comics are like powerpoint presentations. They have one message only and that message is explained in a condense/accurate/general way. You get into the details and explain it in all different ways, it's like going back to the word version of the powerpoint!

Not recommended.


Why Craigslist Failed

So yesterday, I was trying to grab a pair of tickets to see LeBron James destroy the Knicks. There was a pretty good chance that 80% of his FGs would have been dunks with David Lee manning the middle. Since Stubhub is such a rip off, I resorted to Craigslist.
  • Asshole #1: after we agreed on $250 via email, he calls me and says it's $275. Then it's $300. I should have kept saying yes and backed off the deal at the end.
  • Asshole #2: after we agreed on $180 and a meeting time and place via phone call, he pulls a no-show/ no-call/ no-nothing on us... 30 minutes before the game!
Eventually, TF and I went to MSG and tried to scalp tickets. The first quarter was about done, and the scalpers are still looking for $150 each! Um, I think I'll watch it on TV. Anyway, turns out the first quarter was the best quarter, so we lucked out n a weird way.

But it did get me thinking on how Craigslist became what it is now. Craigslist used to be the place to go when you needed anything. It was the classifieds for the Internet generation, and it covered every aspect. Years ago in In Boston, I found a 1 month sub-lease, I found a temporary roommie, I even sold a Total Gym! In Chicago, I sold all my furniture, even the 230 pound TV! Good times. Now?
  • Instead of being the mecca for house listings, it's filled the real estate agents; the listings most people are looking for are buried under
  • In fact, you can say that about all the listings (except for garage sale) - tickets included... so many of them were ticket brokers
  • Meaning, you can't really find what you need on craigslist most of the time.
Did Craigslist just insist that they don't regulate the classifieds and let users run amok? Well, they did. Businesses took advantage of the free service and overwhelmed it. Plus everything is annonymous so people like asshole #1 and #2 are all over Craigslist. That's what happens when you offer a free and good product but don't hold people accountable.

A shame, really.


Same picture

A verticle shot works even better... shame that I only realized this after posting my original one. Oh, and it's Thai Ice Tea from Won Dee Siam. Not a bad place for Thai food, but I've been spoiled in Asia.
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NYC Food...

I've eaten out a lot in NYC. Lots of pictures too. I feel bad that I haven't posted a lot of them. Here's one not for the food, but for the picture. All restaurnats and correspondng pictures will be posted at some point (hmmm... would that be like 50 pages then?)...

Anyway, I liked this picture.
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Two Downtown Conversations in New York

Conversation #1
Tourist: Hey, man, what's going on there? (Pointing at a parade two blocks away)
Josekin: (sigh) That's the parade for the Yankees
Tourist: Oh, wow, I love the Yankees. Thanks! (Happily trots over to the parade)
Josekin: (Shaking head - man, I hate the Yanks and their "fans")

Conversation #2
Food truck guy: Hey, Chinese man, you work around here?
Josekin: No, I live near here.
Food truck guy: Aw, damn, Chinese man rich!
Josekin: No, my fiance pays the rent.
Food truck guy: Really? High five!

Speaking of which, did you know LeBron James is a whining Yankee fan? How can he be a Yankee fan?


Where the Wild Things Are

Okay, I've never read the books so I'm just a bit less appreciative of the movie.

Where the Wild Things Are (IMDB): this shouldn't be a movie for kids, despite the "lonely boy runs away from family and assumes position as king among some big headed wild things" plot. In fact, it's got a slightly depressing theme and is actually quite sophisticated in its message on how people conform (or not) to society. Or maybe I'm just over-analyzing it. Anyway, the movie was cute at times and boring at others. Ultimately, directors need to think about what they want to make: a movie adapting a children's book and for children, or a adult version of it. Mixing it just didn't work for either.

I do recommend the part where Douglas' arms were ripped off.

Not recommended for adults... nor for children.