Recommended Books

Influence : The Psychology of Persuasion, by Robert B. Cialdini
This book is awesome. You must read it. It is by far the most enjoyable book I have read in many years. In fact, I liked it so much I just read it again.

The book describes the basic psychological factors that allow us to be influenced by others. For example, it describes the principle of scarcity, in which something in limited supply seems more desirable, and how salesmen can use this technique in subtle ways to increase the likelihood you will make a purchase. The book is loaded with interesting explanations and descriptions of numerous fascinating experiments and observations. As another example, did you know there is an increased frequency of airplane crashes following a widely publicized murder-suicide?

As an extra bonus, you'll learn how to identify and counteract the many tactics used by salesmen and others to influence your decision-making abilities in their favor. Similarly, an understanding of these techniques will allow you to use them for your own purposes, whether that's to build consensus on a group decision or to sell vacuum cleaners. I just can't say enough good things about this book. (Click here to see Amazon's entry for "The Psychology of Persuasion"

Neuromancer, by William Gibson (hardcover) or (paperback edition)
One of my favorite science fiction stories. Lots of fascinating characters and devices make it a great read. William Gibson sets the mood well and holds your interest throughout. The only book I have ever read straight through twice in a row. (Click here to see Amazon's entry hardcover or paperback )

Mandarin Chinese : A Functional Reference Grammar, by Sandra A. Thompson, Charles N. Li
If you're struggling to learn Chinese, this book can help. Whereas most Chinese language books seem to rely on memorization, this book provides basic rules of grammer that help you understand how sentences and words are assembled. Lots of examples and a direct writing style make this book readable, too. This certainly isn't a complete course in Chinese, but instead is a very useful companion to other learning materials. (Click here to see Amazon's entry)

Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card (paperback) or (budget paperback) or (Leather Bound Limited Edition!)
A really enjoyable sci-fi story about three smart siblings and a battle to save the Earth from aliens. It's a lot better than it sounds, even if you don't like kids. (Click here to see Amazon's entry paperback or budget paperback or Leather Bound Edition )
Followed by several sequels/continuations, including Speaker for the Dead which is almost as good as the first one. (Click here to see Amazon's entry)

Like a Hole in the Head
An amusing mystery novel involving a tough-girl used bookseller in Los Angeles who gets mixed up with a flaming dwarf, a cool assassin, and a variety of other interesting characters. It's a fun read, though definitely in the brain candy category.

Advanced Programming in the Unix Environment, by W. Richard Stevens
If you program in a Unix environment, you ought to have this book. It is chock full of descriptions and examples of everything from file I/O to process control to signals to networking. Covers many flavors of Unix. I use my copy regularly.

Windows 95 Secrets, by Brian Livingston (standard edition) or (GOLD edition)
I don't like Windows 95, but I do like this book. It makes the evil that is Windows palatable, by providing clear and detailed instructions for getting things to work the way they should. The CD included in the standard edition has lots of good Windows95 freeware and shareware, too. The GOLD edition has even more included goodies. (Click here to see Amazon's entry standard edition or GOLD edition )

Computer Architecture : A Quantitative Approach, by David A. Patterson, John L. Hennessy
If you're interested in computer architecture, this is the first book you should buy. Of course, you probably know that already. If not, well, now you do. Don't let the price scare you, it has lots of pages so it works out. (Click here to see Amazon's entry)

Table Tennis : Steps to Success
A detailed, thorough course in Table Tennis. Clearly describes how the game is played, covering everything from grip and posture up to advanced serves, returns, and strategy. It takes more than a book to make you a great player, of course, but combining this book with a partner and lots of practice is a pretty good start. (Click here to see Amazon's entry)

Siblings Without Rivalry : How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too
Another well regarded book by Adele Faber (Click here to see Amazon's entry)

A Confederacy of Dunces
The amusing story of an educated misfit and his extreme difficulty finding satisfactory employment. I can't say this novel is exactly laugh-out-loud funny, but it is consistently interesting and worth a look. (Click here to see Amazon's entry)

The Origins of Virtue : Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation
Ever wonder why people live in societies, whether or not there's such thing as altruism, or why atheists don't (usually) run around killing each other? Well, stop wondering and read this book. Matt Ridley presents a very readable and interesting overview of the ideas, theories, experiments, and results that seek to explain the genetic origins of social behavior. It may not answer all your questions, but it certainly makes you think. It also fits in nicely with another of my favorite books, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. So check out both and enjoy! (Click here to see Amazon's entry) and see if my impression is correct.

All I Need to Know About Filmmaking I Learned from the Toxic Avenger : The Shocking True Story of Troma Studios
Troma Studios has released a long list of very low-budget but profitable films, including the Toxic Avenger series. This book is their story, as told by Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman. Next to Influence, this is the book I most frequently recommend to others. It is full of amusing anecdotes, plus real advice for aspiring filmmakers. Even if you have no interest in making your own movies, I think you could find this book very entertaining. I should point out that Kaufman's humor in this book is similar to that of his movies, i.e. bordering on disgusting or offensive, so it's not for all tastes. Still, I can't remember another book that had me laughing out loud as frequently as this one.

Recommended DVDs

Das Boot: The Directors Cut
The story of a German U-Boat during WW2. Exciting and realistic, this one gets my vote for the best WW2 movie of all time. The version of Das Boot shown in theaters was excellent, but this disc contains significant additional footage and a fantastic new surround sound audio track. The video and audio quality are both extremely good. Couple that with a movie that stands on its own, and you have one of the best DVDs around.

The disc also features substantial extras, including a director's commentary and a short but interesting making-of featurette. For hard-core couch potatos, be warned the disc is a "flipper", meaning you'll have to get up at least once during its 209 minute running time to flip the disc. Personally, I'd be worried about anyone who didn't stand up at least once during that time.

Lady in White
"Lady In White" is the story of a boy who becomes involved in the mystery of a murdered girl. His involvement begins when he gets locked in the coat closet where she died, and he sees her ghost reliving the murder. This movie is something of a rarity, in the sense that it is quite scary and suspenseful without being gory. While I have no problem with gore (see Dead Alive below), it's always nice to see a movie that keeps you on the edge of your seat without using meat hooks or chainsaws.

This DVD has extras, including audio commentary and the short version of the film that was used to interest investors. It's produced by Elite, and shows their usual attention to quality and detail.

12 Monkeys
A fantastic sci-fi movie. Terry Gilliam pairs his trademark visual flare with an excellent script by David and Janet Peoples (who also wrote the excellent Blade Runner and Unforgiven ). It's the story of a prisoner (Bruce Willis) in the distant future who is sent back in time to the 1990s in an attempt to identify the cause of a deadly plague that has wiped out most of the human population and forced the survivors to live underground. This is definitely a movie that benefits from repeated viewing, so it's a film you'll want to own.

The DVD features a bunch of extra features, including a "making of" featurette and audio commentary by Terry Gilliam and producer Charles Raven.

Dark City
Another fantastic sci-fi movie. I'm not sure how I missed this movie when it played in theaters. This is real sci-fi, not just another buddy cop movie set in space. The main character awakens in a strange room with no memory of how he got there, after having apparently murdered a prostitute. He soon finds that he is being pursued by the police and by strange, powerful, black-clad beings brandishing knives. The DVD features TWO audio commentaries and a bunch of other extras, which push it way over the "must-have" line. Click here to see the Amazon page for Dark City

Dead Alive (aka Brain Dead)
Danger: this film is really gory. Gore is the point of the film, so if blood, vomit, or dismemberment offend you, stop reading now.

This one is in a class by itself. Well, at least until Bad Taste becomes available on DVD. The story is largely irrelevant, since the real goal of the movie is to show ridiculously graphic violence and ludicrous amounts of gore. It's all done to humorous levels, which makes this film enjoyable instead of sick. The story involves a rat monkey whose bite can turn people into flesh-eating zombies. When the monkey claims some victims in a small town, all Hell breaks loose.

I first saw this movie in a theater with my wife, much to her dismay. Trust me when I say this is not a date movie.

Video Essentials
The standard reference disc for setting up and maintaining your home theater system. The disc provides instructions and test signals to let you optimally adjust video and audio.
I have used this disc to adjust my television's brightness, contrast, and color settings. The process is pretty easy, and does help you get the best possible picture. I can't say that the post-adjustment image was dramatically superior to the pre-adjustment image, but I do think it looks better.

The Seventh Seal
The Criterion edition of Ingmar Bergman's classic. Need I say more? The disc includes a pretty impressive extra feature that demonstrates the restoration process. Criterion really did an amazing job.

Clint Eastwood's classic story of a less-than-glamorous Wild West. One of my favorite movies of all time, this DVD was one of the first showcases for the promise of DVD technology. There aren't a lot of extras, unfortunately, but the movie itself is so good it demands repeated viewings.

For a Few Dollars More
Part 2 of the classic Spaghetti Wester trilogy, starring the incomparable Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef. Preceeded by "Fistful Of Dollars" and followed by "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly".

Young Frankenstein
Mel Brook's classic spoof of the classic horror films gets the deluxe treatment from 20th Century Fox. The word on the street is that in addition to an excellent video and audio transfer, the extras on this disc (commentary and more) make it one of the best deals going.

While I'm generally no fan of romance movies, I love this one. Bogart is The Man. In addition to being chock full of quotable lines, Casablanca has a good story with lots of great characters. I have seen the film several times on television and video, and I'm really looking forward to seeing it again in full DVD quality. Also, the disc features a short "making of" documentary, which makes it an even better value.

Gone With the Wind
I saw this movie for the first time on this DVD, and it really is a great film. The DVD looks very good, and is well worth owning.

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