How to Pick a Good Chinese Restaurant

I have been in a lot of cities and eaten a lot of Chinese food and a universal truth has emerged about how to pick’em well.


You are probably thinking that is ridiculous, how can a name, and a bad name at that, be a mark of quality?  Yet, empirical evidence suggests that it is.

For instance for many years the best Chinese restaurant in Las Vegas, a town with a vibrant Chinese restaurant scene, was titled Food Express (Chinese name was I believe something like Food Comes First).  It eventually declined in quality, but for awhile Food Express reigned supreme.

In Chicago, the best Chinese food comes from Go4Food (or as I call it, Gopher Food).  Reno had the Duck House.  Vegas also has a place called China Mama.

However, Madison has introduced a corollary to the above:


For instance, Fugu in Madison is named after the Japanese word for puffer fish, despite serving Chinese and having no puffer fish on the menu.  Similarly I recently went to a restaurant called Soga Shabu Shabu.  Here they do serve shabu shabu, a Japanese preparation, but the rest of the menu is Chinese.

So go out and eat with this new knowledge.


Liberal vs. Conservative Mindset

The first big article on Vox, Ezra Klein’s new journalism venture, was Klein elaborating on a study about how people project their biases onto data even if it is refuted by the data itself.  Giving people information actually makes them even more likely to hold to their views.  I believe he wrote about this same subject in Wonkblog years ago   I can’t find it though this article by Plumer mentions the result.

Krugman then commented that despite the fact that the study says liberals and conservatives are equally bad at projecting their beliefs on data, they are in fact different.  He cites climate change and Obamacare and 2012 presidential election as evidence that conservatives believe what they want to with no equivalent rejection of reality by liberals.  Of course, Krugman is just projecting his liberal bias onto history, right?  And of course I agree with him because I am also liberal! How can we possibly objectively address this question if we are all suspect?

I can’t answer that.  What I can ask is how did people arrive at the hardened ideological views that seem imperturbable by evidence?  And here is where I think the difference is.  I think we should do something about climate change because all the evidence suggests it is real and that it is disastrous.  I believe in gun control because I dislike people getting shot and it seems that gun control prevent firearms deaths in other countries that use it.  Universal healthcare is cheaper and covers more people than the American system of private insurers as proven by the multitude of countries with universal healthcare that is cheaper and covers everyone.

Now I am educated and have a lot of free time to read about these things, but a lot of people use affiliations to political parties, community organization, etc. to come to their views about things rather than hard data.  That’s why liberals have a small subset of people crazy about genetically modified foods and vaccines (though I think conservatives contribute members to these groups too), despite no evidence that either of these things are harmful.  But by and large the liberal establishment/elite/whatever you want to call it seems to arrive at empirically backed policies.  This follows because liberals want government to do things and more importantly do them well which requires some form of self-analysis.

Conservatives, on the other hand, believe, and I frame this in the most generous way possible and ascribing sincerity to what they say, that we should just leave people alone.  This view does not encourage an empirical mindset, but rather a destructive paradigm interested only in tearing down any attempt by society to impose a burden on an individual.  Facts are only useful if they agree with you.  You can see this by the fact that  Republicans would disagree with Obama if he said the sky was blue, but you never see Democrats engaging in the same degree of opposition.  Democrats are a positive party engaged in doing things, whereas modern Republicans are mostly defined by their opposition to Democrats.

Now once you have these views, however you acquired them, be it data or affiliation or some other reason, Kahan’s study comes into play.  We all use heuristics, smarter people probably even more than average.  So if you come at me and ask me if these results support gun control, I “know” that they do because previous studies or my friend have said so.  Furthermore, we also suffer from a confirmation bias that is particularly strong when it prevents cognitive dissonance about ourselves.  Essentially we discard or rationalize information that disagrees with who we think we are.  If climate change is wrong then I made a bad decision or was fooled by scientists or I picked the wrong political party.  But I am smart and clever and make good decisions, so there must be something wrong with data that disagrees with me.

Taken this way Kahan is really just repeating an already well studied effect (confirmation bias and belief perseverance in the face of inimical evidence) and maybe showing just how far we will go (even ignoring fairly easy math) to rationalize our beliefs.  It is how we come about those beliefs that is different.  Then again we run into the primacy effect, why should earlier data hold more weight, and I wonder how the human race manages to accomplish anything with all these irrational behaviors.

Diablo 3 Reaper of Souls Review

The opportunity to play with my sister got me to buy the expansion to Diablo 3 despite its high price tag and my lack of enthusiasm for the base game.  Patch 2.0 and the expansion are definitely massive improvements on the game I played two years ago, but it’s still just a step short from greatness.

The combat is still the best the genre has ever seen and the ability balance is better than it has ever been.  Some runes are still weak, but the emphasis on elemental damage in the expansion means that more of them have a chance to be utilized.  I think they have too many runes as it is.  There has to be something unique about each one or it just becomes about which one does the most damage and they haven’t succeeded with all of the runes.

I also like the ability to respec at a whim even if I have fond memories of planning out a build in Diablo 2.  In my old age I have really gotten tired of games that require me to spend a significant amount of time leveling before I can do something fun.  In Diablo 3 I don’t have to start a new character as a weakling and wait forty levels for him to be effective at my chosen build, it’s just a few clicks of a button.

I played some Path of Exile (not enough to give it a proper review), but I really don’t understand all the praise of its character building.  Most of the upgrades are small and passive and even some of the bigger nodes don’t change how you play the game.  Ironically is sounds like it hits the awkward spot where each individual upgrade is unnoticeable, but you will die hard at higher difficulties if you didn’t spec your points exactly right.  The worst of both worlds; unsatisfying talent upgrades and forced cookie cutter specs to survive.

Also not really fond of the skill gems and their leveling system and how it interacts with sockets.  Finally, the combat in D3 is miles ahead of PoE and that’s what really matters to me.

Now the biggest change to D3 is the removal of the Auction House and making legendaries Bind on Account, thus basically turning the game into forced self-find mode.  And here is where the problems start.  First, they confused a symptom for the disease by removing the AH.  The problem was their abominable loot system where finding upgrades for yourself was essentially impossible and where the best method to advancing was playing the AH.  Maybe that is how it would have to be with an AH, but I feel like their was a middle ground where the AH could stick around and not overwhelm actually playing the game.

Reaper of Souls added Adventure Mode.  Bounties are better than campaign mode for an endgame, but I really like Rifts.  Rifts have a lot of variability in monsters and lighting which keeps it fresh.  However, the Rift bosses are mostly damage sponges and too many levels are sparse with monsters making them a chore to navigate through.  “The monster density is too high,” said nobody ever.  That said, Blizzard keeps upping legendary drop rates in Rifts only and I think it is a bad idea to basically funnel people into exactly one game mode.

But now we are stuck with BoA.  This is fine but they have tuned the drop rates completely wrong for the type of game they have now.  The goal is that legendaries are build changing.  But the drop rates are so low that you will likely get bored playing before you ever see a legendary you need for a build drop.  This is exacerbated by the fact that most legendaries don’t have anything unique about them except for the ability to roll higher stats than rares.  So we have a pool of hundreds of legendaries, a smaller pool with legendary affixes and an even smaller one with effective legendary affixes.  Good luck finding what you want with a drop rate of in my experience (assuming you are just playing the game normally) of at most 1/hour.

But lets say the legendary you want does drop, the affix balance is so poor that it could end up being irrevocably bad.  For example, any slot that can roll Critical Hit or Critical Damage essentially has to have them or they can’t even compete with rares.  So it’s just RNG piled on RNG and yet the only interesting thing about the loot in Diablo 3 are the few legendaries with really unique abilities.  Compound that with the fact that getting very good rares in their new 4 primary affix system (with the help of the mystic) is not really that hard and you run up against a frustrating gear wall rather quickly.  Your basic stat progression has stalled and you are full of rage that you can’t try out that cool magic missile build you read on the forums because your legendary source didn’t roll right.  And don’t even get people started on the impossibility of completing the new class sets, let alone with good rolls.

Now Diablo 2 worked around this with trading and the fact that uniques were relatively static.  If you got a Shako it was pretty similar to every other Shako and always good.  D3 on the other hand has decided to not only make acquiring specific legendaries very rare, but not allow trading and make it so they can roll very poorly and end up useless, which might be more infuriating than never finding it.  Now upping the drop rates would be a good idea, but probably not enough.  You make legendaries too common and you lose the loot rush.  However, right now people are quitting in frustration, not because they are too geared, so it’s a good quick fix.

Finally, I have to talk about the mystic.  The mystic allows you to reroll one affix slot as many times as you want for increasing prices.  You get a choice of two random replacements.  This works fine for rares as it is not too expensive.  But legendary rings, for instance, cost 900k as a base to reroll once.  Most of this comes from the ridiculous cost of upgrading gems, but it quickly escalates beyond that.  It makes badly rolled legendaries an even worse problem.  However, the worst part is that it punishes the unlucky, which seems completely backward as the game is already a huge luckfest.  The costs really should stay flat for subsequent rerolls if they are going to stick with a random system in such a large pool of affixes.

As you can see a little easing up on how hard it is to progress your gear would go a long way.  Blizzard seems stuck in a mindset that they need to keep people playing forever, but a) they get no revenue from continued play as it is not free-to-play and there is no Real Money AH to take a cut from, b) people are going to quit in frustration under the current system and c)it is basically a single player game with no economy at this point, so who cares if people gear up quickly?  Blizzard on the other hand is still swinging the nerf bat hard despite all of the above points, suggesting they don’t understand the state of their own game.  So at this point I am once again hoping they will get a clue and fix the game, just like after the base game.  But they have come a long way already and I hope they get all the way there.

Marvel Movies, Post Avengers

People seem to like to split superhero movies into pre and post Avengers.  I wasn’t that enamored with the film so I am a bit skeptical of using it as the bifurcation point, but I will anyway.  That leaves us three sequels: Iron  Man 3, Thor 2, Captain America 2.  I am going to throw The Wolverine and Amazing Spider-man in here even though technically Fox and Sony still owns the rights to them.

My ordering:

  1. Thor 2
  2. Captain America 2
  3. Wolverine
  4. ASM
  5. Iron Man 3

Consensus seems to be brewing that CA2 is the best, but having just seen it I can’t agree.  That said, none of them have hit Iron Man levels of quality because of some rather obvious flaws that for whatever reason crop up near the end.

Thor 2 – Thor is probably my favorite character of the current Marvel movie lineup and I am a sucker for fantasy, so that probably taints my view.  However, I love the Thor/Loki relationship in this movie.  I feel like they kind of neutered Loki in the Avengers movie making him into something of a joke, but here he is back to his devious old self.  I also thought the death and consequences of Frigga’s death were very well done.

Now many have expressed disapproval of the comedy in the movie, thinking it out of place and slapstick.  For the most part I disagree, it’s a superhero movie and shouldn’t take itself too seriously as long as we don’t turn the villain/threat into a joke too.  That said, Kat Dennings’ character did get on my nerves occasionally rather than being unmitigated humor.

The problem with this movie is the ending.  Somehow, Thor and Jane find a portal from Svartalfheim to Earth.  Total plot contrivance.  Then, for whatever reason, Malekith has to unleash his plan for total darkness on Earth and an Earth scientist has the method for stopping him.  The battle between Thor and Malekith where they fly through portals into different realms was completely underutilized.  The nine realms have got to be full of completely ridiculous places to do battle and the movie just barely traverses them.

Then to kill Malekith, Thor just spears him and teleports him back to his homeland where he is crushed by his own ship.  A far better ending IMO would have been to have only Svartalfheim returned to total darkness since it is true that their realm has been corrupted by light.  Some of the plot points earlier suggested this is where they were going, but no all the evil elves must die I guess.

Anyway it was another Thor movie where the weakest parts were on Earth with Earth characters.

Captain America 2 – This was really well done with great action scenes and a plot that up until the end was really tight.  The Zola reveal and the revelation that Hydra had infiltrated SHIELD was all great stuff.  But why did they have to add the part where their new surveillance/precognition system is immediately used to kill a bunch of potential dissidents?  I mean what do they think the backlash of that will be except chaos (which they are trying to avoid) and a quick dismantlement of SHIELD?  I think they should have stuck to the NSA PRISM angle and just left it as a vast intelligence gathering operation where they take out key targets that their system identifies.  Not dissimilar to Deus Ex or Metal Gear Solid with a bit of Minority Report.

I liked the idea and backstory of Robert Redford’s character, but he doesn’t deliver it with enough force or presence.  But I feel like that was the primary failing everywhere.  There seemed to be a distinct lack of emotion.  Fury’s longtime friend betrays him?  Is he furious?  Not really.  They want to take down SHIELD, his life’s undertaking, and he kind of looks around and accepts it.  The Bucky reveal Cap takes in stride, nevermind that his old friend he though had perished is back as an amnesiac cyborg killer.  Even the scene with Cap and dementia-laden Peggy should have been far more touching than it ended up being, even though all the words seemed fitting.

Finally, Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow is still pretty weak.  Natasha is as old as Cap (at least in the comics, though it sounded like they changed that in the movies) and a hardened killer that worked for the Soviets and Johansson portrays none of that.  Instead they mostly insinuate a romance between her character and Cap.  Also I feel the female characters should beef up for these roles like the male characters.  Seems a bit sexist and it stretches credulity that tiny Johansson can hold her own in martial combat.

Once again, I should stress that the fight scenes are pretty amazing.  In particular, Nick Fury’s escape is up there with the great car chase sequences and the street battle with Winter Soldier is equally invigorating.

Overall an improvement over the first Captain America.

Wolverine – I liked this movie a lot, my favorite superhero film of 2013.  The plot of a guy trying to steal Wolverine’s regeneration to save his life is obvious, but effective and setting it in Japanese culture worked.  At this point Hugh Jackman could play Wolverine in his sleep, he is just that good at it.  Also he looks freaking ripped for 45, just saying.

The movie itself has a more subdued feeling than the over-the-top action seemingly required by the genre since Avengers.  Up until the end it might have passed off as not even a superhero film, but a kind of pulp noir film what with all the hiding out in seedy hotels and such.  Which is not to say the action scenes aren’t there and that they are not amazing.  They are, in particular the one on top of a bullet train is really good.

What mars the movie is mostly the ending.  Why did they use Viper in all her cheesiness?  Such a dumb character and really ruined the vibe of the whole movie.  Then there is Logan just walking into a village full of ninja when another character bypasses them easily to get to the villain’s base of operations.

Other than that, I really enjoyed it.

ASM – I admit to liking this much more than Spider-man with Toby Maguire.  However, seeing his origin story AGAIN after such a short time really made the entire movie uneventful.  We all know Uncle Ben is going to die and comic readers know that Captain Stacy will kick the bucket too.  So competently done, but nothing really exceptional.  Sadly trailers for second film don’t give me a lot of hope that the sequel will be better.

Iron Man 3 – I am really sad that this series kept going downhill as Downey as Iron Man is pitch perfect.  It suffers from Men in Black 2 syndrome where the main characters never take their situation seriously which undermines the effectiveness of the villain.  Also making the Mandarin and Ben Kingsley into a joke was really awful.  The actual villains are much worse than a potential Mandarin, their motivations and goals nonsensical.  Lets set up a puppet villain to draw attention to our activities!  Lets steal Iron Man’s wife so he fixes our drug, nevermind that his expertise is in other areas!  Lets attack the President so we can control the VP, nobody will suspect a thing!  You feel like the entire movie could have been avoided by corporate negotiations.

The only reason to see this is to bask in the gloriousness that is Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man, otherwise it is something of a mess.  I even found the action scenes a bit inert.

Open World vs. Living World

Recently I sampled a bit of AssCreed 4 and Farcry 3.  Both are made by Ubisoft who seem to have found a formula for making “open world” games.  If you have been living under a rock in the real open world, open world game are all the rage ever since I would say GTA3.  There are even racing games like Burnout Paradise that try to work the concept into the game.  However, in my estimation the entire idea is a complete failure and the name a complete misnomer.

Take the two games I mentioned in the first sentence of this post.  They have completely different settings yet somehow the structure is exactly the same.  There is a world you can traverse, but for the most part it is just empty space between waypoints on your map.  The game would not be fundamentally different if you could just double click on a waypoint and jump into the task rather than having to travel there yourself.  It would actually be an improvement in my book since I really got tired of the mundanity of travel in a bland gameworld.

Then there are the tasks themselves.  One game is in New World Caribbean and the other takes place in modern times on a jungle infested island and yet in both I go hunting for particular animal parts to make myself equipment upgrades.  In both I climb towers to unveil new parts of the map and in both there are fortresses/outposts that I can assault.  The only difference is the combat with AssCreed’s being its typical atrocious self (why they haven’t upgraded it since the first game is a mystery to me) and Farcry being a fairly mediocre shooter.  Oh and the storylines are equally nonsensical.

So I ask, what is so open about this?  I have a similar complaint about every MMO since WoW (other than EVE I guess).  They aren’t massive or open, they are a collection of IMO mostly boring tasks the devs have bequeathed unto you.  It seems you give people the facade of an open world and a basic upgrade/leveling system and they spooge in their pants.  I, however, see through the veil and the carrot on a stick of leveling is not quite as addictive as it once was.  Your game has to be legitimately fun to play and AC4, FC3, Red Dead Redemption, GTA4, Skyrim, etc. have been boring me to tears for awhile now despite all the acclaim.

In my view, the problem is that what I really want is not an open world.  Screw open worlds with nothing interesting to do in them.  I want a living world.  GTA3 was great because of this.  Watching the citizens and police react to your actions was completely novel.  Gangs shooting at you and their allegiance changing as you completed the story was amazing at the time.  But this isn’t enough now.  We need a world that is not just sitting there waiting for you to do stuff.  I mean the best part of FC3 was taking outposts since they required a mix of stealth and combat.  However, the enemy never attempts to take it back.  Meanwhile Jagged Alliance 2 back in 1999 had enemy forces that upgraded and retaliated as the game progressed.  You actually had to train militia to defend your holdings.

Some of the planned features in Everquest Next sound like it is more player-driven and dynamic and I hope it pans out.  EVE Online sounds amazing, but I never have the balls to give it a spin.  Other than these two, I can’t think of any examples of games eschewing the open world formula and trying to make it a living world.  Yet that is the future, because people have to get tired of hunting animals for pack upgrades, right? Right?


While I have been working on various brownie recipes, I made a detour into babkas.  First up was Bread’s, which has been heralded as the best babka in New York, i.e. babka capital of the world.  If this is the actual recipe it’s a bit disappointing coming out with more of a roll-like texture, both in the dough and the shaping.

Next I went with Wise Son’s deli and made enough dough for two loaves and added a bit more sugar.  The first loaf I was using left over chocolate from first babka (and the first one still had too much chocolate) and even added a bit of nutella, but it still needed more filling.  I did a croissant roll out and then typical babka twist, folding the ends under the babka.  I also tried the streussel in the above recipe but it turned out to floury for my taste and I am not really sold on streussel with babkas even though it seems to be a thing.2014-04-04 22.54.05


Then my wife came over for the weekend and we used the other half of the dough I had frozen.  This was going to be the epic babka we always wanted to make.  Our lofty goal was to replicate the Zucker bakery babka.  I think we cracked the code and got pretty damn close.  Also I am pretty sure ours has a better ratio of chocolate to bread.  Some babkas are chocolate delivery vehicles (most of the commercial ones like Green’s) and other are more like bread with some chocolate in there (Zucker’s).  I think ours hits the sweetspot between the two.  Take a look:

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Here is the “secret”.   Most babkas use actual unmelted chocolate, but it’s impossible to roll out this way, so I melted it all in a saucepan first or made it completely with cocoa powder.  Now roll out your dough of choice into a square and lay on half of chocolate paste.  Fold up like a croissant, pinch openings closed.  Roll out again, this time into a rectangle (or if you are brave maybe try another croissant roll-out).  Put rest of chocolate paste down.  Roll up long edge ala traditional babka, pinch edges.  Now flatten and widen and your roll until it is wide enough for three braids.  Cut three long braids.

2014-04-06 10.08.23

Braid your dough such that the layered edge showing chocolate and dough is flaring up

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We didn’t do middle part correctly, but you can see it on the ends.  Now fold the ends under and place in loaf pan and bake.

It’s not very time consuming to make.  Dough is like a 15 minutes process, let it sit for a day and then you do the above process.  Then you bake for a little over an hour or until about 185 degrees interior temperature.  The result is beautiful and pretty tasty.