Tuesday, May 31, 2005

The Climate of Man

I recently read a three-prt article by Elizabeth Kolbert in New Yorker, called The Climate of Man. It is an extremely well written article that tries to make it manifest for the rest of us that we are dangerously close to a state of global warming that may be irreversible, and may result in very drastic effects on civilization in a very short time -- if not in our times, defintiely in the next generation's.

Here is an excerpt from the last part of the article, that highlights how the greenhouse effect has worsened considerably in the recent years.

In the seventeen-eighties, ice-core records show, carbon-dioxide levels stood at about two hundred and eighty parts per million. Give or take ten parts per million, this was the same level that they had been at two thousand years earlier, in the era of Julius Caesar, and two thousand years before that, at the time of Stonehenge, and two thousand years before that, at the founding of the first cities. When, subsequently, industrialization began to drive up CO2 levels, they rose gradually at first—it took more than a hundred and fifty years to get to three hundred and fifteen parts per million—and then much more rapidly. By the mid-nineteen-seventies, they had reached three hundred and thirty parts per million, and, by the mid-nineteen-nineties, three hundred and sixty parts per million. Just in the past decade, they have risen by as much—twenty parts per million—as they did during the previous ten thousand years of the Holocene.

The article also talks about two feedback effects in the warming of the earth that make it even worse. Here is another excerpt that explains the first of the two:

At one point, Perovich asked me to imagine that we were looking down at the earth from a spaceship above the North Pole. “It’s springtime, and the ice is covered with snow, and it’s really bright and white,” he said. “It reflects over eighty per cent of the incident sunlight. The albedo’s around 0.8, 0.9. Now, let’s suppose that we melt that ice away and we’re left with the ocean. The albedo of the ocean is less than 0.1; it’s like 0.07.

“Not only is the albedo of the snow-covered ice high; it’s the highest of anything we find on earth,” he went on. “And not only is the albedo of water low; it’s pretty much as low as anything you can find on earth. So what you’re doing is you’re replacing the best reflector with the worst reflector.” The more open water that’s exposed, the more solar energy goes into heating the ocean. The result is a positive feedback, similar to the one between thawing permafrost and carbon releases, only more direct. This so-called ice-albedo feedback is believed to be a major reason that the Arctic is warming so rapidly.

“As we melt that ice back, we can put more heat into the system, which means we can melt the ice back even more, which means we can put more heat into it, and, you see, it just kind of builds on itself,” Perovich said. “It takes a small nudge to the climate system and amplifies it into a big change.”

In the last part of the article, the author talks about the attitude of two different countries towards this issue. Both are developed nations, and their attitudes are the pola opposites of each other. Netherlands government, activists and people are concerned and are taking actions (such as "room for the river" project). The Bush government, on the other hand, refused to even join hands with the rest of the world on the Kyoto agreement and has its head buried in the sand. And this despite the fact that the US is the biggest contributor of the greenhouse gases.

I live in Bangalore, and I cannot ignore the pollution that envelops this city all the time. While it is easy to point to the US, I think it behooves the Indian government to be still more concerned about it. It is heartening to see the improvements in Delhi over the last three years. It is, today, a much cleaner, nicer city than what it was some years ago. It is apalling to see the attitude of people and government alike in Bangalore. I almost have nightmares imagining the continuous increase of people and traffic in this city, dreading a day when everything will come to a standstill.

Monday, May 30, 2005

Are you making a difference?

I ask myself this question sometimes. I am not sure about the answer.

I am 30 years old, and over the past many years I have met several people about whom I can answer this in the affirmative. I recently ran a 7km race in Bangalore for an organization called Dream A Dream. I didn't really go out of my way to find how I could run for a charity organization. A friend's fiance is currently in Bangalore working for this organization. She's taken a whole year out of whatever she otherwise does to spend it with this organization. She is from the US, hardly speaks the language and Bangalore is probably not her most favorite place to be. Yet, she is putting in an effort, and I do believe she is making a difference.

On my recent trip to Seattle, I met up with Dave again. He had left Amazon sometime back, and told me he is about to start working with a non-profit microfinance company. Dave's a great guy and makes a huge difference in whatever he takes up. The organization he is working with, Unitus, is making inroads into alleviating poverty in different parts of the world. Microfinance is not something I was familiar with till Dave told me about it, but I've read about it a little since then. I like what they are doing and their strategy resonates with possibilities and hope.

When I went home to Chandigarh recently, I heard another story. My dad's friend's peon's son (a peon, for those not in the know, is the officeboy, the garcon, the guy who fetches glasses of water and does the running around so the babus in the office can chill in air conditioned offices) was doing very well in his high school studies. Once he graduated from class X, he wanted to prepare for competitive exams. My dad's friend figured out the best teachers in town, got him introduced and admitted to their tuitions, paid the fees and made sure the kid lacked no resources to prepare for the exams. I also found out that he runs a non-profit organization for such students (who are bright but lack resources), and there have been more such stories that I hadn't heard about so far.

I remember a dialogue in Casablanca. Rick congratulates Victor Lazlo on his work. Lazlo, trying to be modest, says "I try." Rick replies, as only Bogart can, "We all try. You succeed."

Bande a part

I recently joined a movie store in Bangalore. It's called Habitat and it's on Church Street. The store is pretty expensive to rent movies from -- it costs about Rs. 130 for a movie, the same amount I used to pay to the phenomenal Scarecrow store in Seattle. The good thing is that they have a pretty decent collection of movies I want to watch -- though a large selection of movies that I want to watch is missing as well.

In any case, ever since I joined I am back in almost a movie watching spree. I got a chance to catch up on Almodovar's The Flower of my secret -- and I did not like it as much as I liked his other movies. I am currently watching Bande à part. The primary reason I picked it up is that it is from Godard, but a very big reason I picked it up is also that Tarantino is such a huge fan of this movie. (His production company is called Band Apart.) For most part I find that French movies are kind of pretentious, so full of themselves and self-indulgent that they become boring. There are several exceptions of course. And I am mostly referring to more recent cinema here. Older French movies were a lot better. Cinema there, as pretty much everywhere else except for Korea and Japan, is in utter lack of creative juices.

Bande à part is in some respect quite an impressive movie so far. But it is not a very accessible movie. Maybe I'll write more about it once I am finished with it.

I also caught up on Coen brothers' Raising Arizona, and that was a hoot.

Friday, May 20, 2005

The morality tale called Star Wars

I just read the New Yorker review of Star Wars. I have yet not seen the movie, but I'd have written similar stuff (mine would lack the wit and the humor of the article, perhaps) about the rest of the Star Wars movies. I dislike all of the Star Wars, though I enjoyed the episode IV when I was a kid. Here is an excerpt from the review that I just loved.

The general opinion of “Revenge of the Sith” seems to be that it marks a distinct improvement on the last two episodes, “The Phantom Menace” and “Attack of the Clones.” True, but only in the same way that dying from natural causes is preferable to crucifixion.

We just put together the set of magazines to subscribe in the office, and New Yorker topped the list. Our office folks have also put together Kannada teaching lessons -- something I am sure are going to come in handy in Bangalore. Nannage ishta. (I hope I got that right! :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


I've been meaning to checkout what podcasting is all about for a month or so now. I finally got around to spending some quality time with my Mac and plugged in. I first downloaded iPodderX, subscribed to some feeds (Talk about films, one music feed, Berkeley groks talk show). iPodderX was somewhat of a disappointment. Nevertheless, I got the downloads into iTunes, downloaded them to my iPod, and using an iPod FM transmitter listened to it while I was driving to work. Sounds a bit geeky, and it felt that way too. There are definitely tools missing that will make it seamless for any user.

The podcasts I downloaded were pretty disappointing too. The conversation about films was barely audible. The rest was content I wasn't particularly interested in. So why did I download these? Because there was nothing that told me what the content was going to be like in any of the podcasts available online. No reviews, no ratings, no tags.

Yesterday, I browsed for other tools besides iPodderX. I downloaded iPodder 2.0. This was a much better tool. I downloaded a new set of podcasts and dumped the ones I had subscribed to earlier -- and I am probably never going to go back to them. My first downloads did not just show up in iTunes -- I had to explicitly add them. Since then I've tuned the settings for iPodder a little bit, and I expect this to work more seamlessly next time.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Made in India

I recently read that 20th Century Fox is going to remake Munnbhai MBBS in English. I found it quite amusing. When I first saw Munnabhai MBBS, it came across as a remake of a Hollywood movie -- Patch Adams. It was adapted to Indian tastes extremely well, and definitely added dollops of humour that was absent in the Hollywood film (which was more trying to potray a real life story than make a comedy). In any case, this game of Chinese Whispers amuses me. It reminded me of a joke I had heard when I was much younger -- where nations compete to create the thinnest wire made of steel; each nation continues to improve upon the previous one till it reaches India where we stamped it with "Made in India."

Every other movie I see in theaters is "inspired" by something I have seen earlier. My Bollywood-crazy cousin was in town last week and we checked out a couple of movies playing in theaters. "Main aisa hi hoon" -- a dull, manipulative tear-jerker of a movie -- was copied from I am Sam. Most of "Kya Kool hain hum" -- and all of the funny part -- is a rip-off from the incredibly funny Roberto Benigni movie Il Mostro. Originality be damned.

I recently picked up a coffee table book about Bollywood cinema, despite the fact that it had Aishwarya Rai on the cover. The book has a pretty good coverage of India cinema. I wish the cover featured the famous photo from Sholay (the two dudes on the motorcycle, one riding on the other's shoulder), or anything else that was a bit of a landmark in Indian cinema. Aishwarya Rai? The doll that can barely act and comes across as someone with no brains in her interviews? Is she the identifying face of Indian cinema?

By the way, I saw a photo of a much younger Prithvi Raj Kapoor. I think the guy was extremely dashing. All of his progeny sucked in the looks department compared to him.

Monday, May 02, 2005


I spent the last weekend in Pondicherry. It was no Goa, but I had been warned to not expect one. No surprises there. That said, it was a great weekend. After a long time I got to do a long drive (well, not so long maybe -- total of 300km in two days) on a decent road in India!

I flew Air Deccan down to Chennai. They gave me tickets at a reasonable price with just one day's notice. Air Deccan turned out to be a pretty decent experience though I have been told of horror stories from others. They are a new one in the family of inexpensie airlines around the world (Southwest being another; I've heard of similar ones in Europe).

We rented a car from Hertz and luckily we got to drive the car ourselves instead of being chauffered around. We headed out from Channai early morning and hit the East Coast Road in no time. Before we knew it, we were in Mamallapuram (aka Mahabalipuram). A short visit to the Five Rathas and the Shore temple and we were on our way again. In hindsight, the temples were quite fascinating. At first sight they seemed really "fresh," if you understand what I mean. I was told later that these temples were cleaned and somewhat touched up recently.

Pondicherry itself is a mix of any other town in south India and a sleepy, quaint French neighbourhood that is reminiscent of New Orleans. There is a visible influence of Aurobindo on the town. We stayed at one of the rest houses affiliated with the Ashram. We also paid visit to the ashram as well as the Auroville. Besides that, there was little to do there (or we found little to do). We did check out a couple of restaurants. Rendezvous was great. We also tried "The Club" -- it has apparently morphed into three restaurants, and we ate at the bistro. It was ok. The bakery "Hot Breads" was quite good -- and it was the only one open at 7 in the morning.

The best part of the trip probably was the drive from Chennai to Pondi and back. Great road, very little traffic and a decent scenery.

A post about creativity

I'm still reading through the article on Gaping void (it's a pretty old one, I just happened to be late to the party).

It's titled "How to be creative." The post is nicely written and though it may not come as a revelation, it does remind you of things you might have forgotten. I remember reading somewhere that one suceeds at doing what one enjoys most. I recall one of the professors at IIT Kanpur (whom I met exactly once, and that too because my dad was in town and pulled me along to meet this acquaintance of his) told me, "Enjoy what you do, and do what you enjoy!"