Saturday, December 23, 2006

We the people...

These are words that many Indians will be familiar with. For those who are now, this are the first three words of the Indian Constitution (as it is of the US Constitution). This also happens to be the tagline of one of the decent movies with Shahrukh Khan -- "Swades."

But really that's hardly what I wanted to bore you with. If you ever doubt you are an Indian, there are some things that will give you a clue.

* Almost all Indians despise broccoli -- the (abominable) vegetable.
* Every other Indian knows who P.G. Wodehouse is, and if you know who Psmith is, you are almost definitely from India.
* All Indians have read Tintin, and many of them have even read Asterix. If you think you would have a good chance at "Who wants to be a millionaire" if the questions were all about Tintin -- I assure you, you must check your ancestory because you will find Indian blood there somewhere.
* If you have heard about Malgudi and you remember the fabulous Shankar Nag television serial on the book, you are decidedly an Indian, how much ever you may be ignoring it.

New Yorker recently had an article on R.K. Narayanan. I loved the article, because it was a pleasure to see an American magazine write about him. In India, I remember reading about him every once in a while in the Times of India.

My first experience with Malgudi was through the ever reliable Doordarshan in India -- the only television channel in the 80s. The other times were through occasional stories we had to read ("The Astrologer's Day" comes to mind) as a part of our school work. However as my interest in reading grew out of Alistair Macleans and Clive Cusslers, at some point I discovered R. K. Narayanan. His "Swami and Friends" remains one of my personal favorites ot this day. RKN had the singular ability to present several constrasting perspectives at the same time -- so much so that every thing he wrote felt real. Swami's experiences, somehow, never felt like fiction. His fears, his thoughts were incredibly genuine. Swamy to me in many ways was a more familiar answer to the other loveable character from literatur -- Tom Sawyer.

If you are ever looking for a literature from India written in English, I highly recommend you find yourself Swami and Friends by R.K. Narayanan. I also highly recommend the TV series Malgudi Days, but the DVD has only a small number of episodes. The episodes on Swamy's adventures are a lot more enjoyable, though.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

End of the year...

The year's ending with a blast! This Saturday I am off to New Zealand for two weeks, wife in tow. It's summer there -- which means no snowboarding, unfortunately. Nevertheless there are plans for surfing, scuba diving, rafting, "zorbing", kayaking, hiking and lots more! Needless to say I am hyper excited. :)

In case you are looking for a refresher course for Scuba diving in the bay area, I recommend the Wallins in San Carlos.

Rounding up some movies I saw recently... Volver is great, but it isn't the level of Almodovar's earlier movies. After so many people recommended The Departed, I finally saw it. Despite my low expectations, I didn't enjoy it that much. The cast does a splendid job though. Mark Wahlberg was a surprise. Dicaprio was good. Vera Farmiga reminded me too much of Sophie Marceau. The only thing that's different in the movie from the Hong Kong original is the ending, and I preferred the way the original ended. Casino Royale makes a good Bond movie. I like the humor, the mood and the lack of gizmos -- Bond becomes more Bond.

Among a little older movies, Syriana was very good. Eddie Izzard's Unrepeatable was good but it's from a time before he's mastered his art. I've found some of his early stuff online that's pretty good too. I'll post some of it here sometime.

Jambool continues to be my primary pre-occupation. The current version of the site -- however limited the interface -- continues to be stable and up. A new version's in the pipeline, but a couple months out.

Meanwhile, best wishes for Christmas and New Years to everyone.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cricket: Sreesanth Swinging His Bat..... Dhoom Machale?!

I was in splits watching this video. And they say cricket is a gentleman's game. It's about to change -- Sreesanth is here to make sure of that!

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Count your bullets

There are two kinds of guns in movies. The first kind have a finite number of bullets. Usually six. Sometimes more, but still finite. The second kind of guns have infinite bullets. They go on forever. Superguns, let's call them.

In India, everyone born after 1975 knows that revolvers have 6 bullets. This fact comes up in one of the most famous Hindi film dialogues ever. But then the 80s came. This was a time when directors had to choose one of the two: hero carries infinite guns, or hero's gun carries infinite bullets. Most chose the second. Some chose the first. Some chose both. So, every once in a while you will find yourself watching a Mithun Chakravorty or Jeetendra go about spewing bullets into the scenery faster than you munch on the popcorn. So much so that the Indian cinema ran out of bullets and there were practically no bullets in movies in all of the 90s. All the mushy lovers who had gone into hiding came out in this time of peace.

Occasionally, though, some movie would come out where they remind you that bullets and guns obey the simple laws of physics: specifically, a bullet takes volume and a gun has finite amounts of it. Russian roulette is usually a good way to bring this fact up. Like they did in Dhoom 2, the recent mindless junk -- the scene Ranjit refered to in the comments to the previous post.

Usually, the fact that there are limited bullets makes for some interesting climaxes. Do you remember Neo battling it out with Mr. Smith at the Subway station? They go flying at each other, bullets zooming past, till they are on the ground guns at each other's heads. "You're empty." "So are you." Finite space even when their minds, supposedly, control the world around them.

Die Hard is another case in point. This movie remains to day the best action movie ever. Nothing beats it. The hero runs out of just about everything and still comes out tops. The climax involves a gun with just one bullet for the bad guy, one bad guy and some tape.

Talking about guns that need refills, when I think of Pierce Brosnan in Bond movies, somehow I only remember him refilling guns, hardly ever shooting. The other Bonds seem to do the shooting, and he was left to refill the magazines.

One has to admit, working with the laws of Physics makes more interesting movies. What's the fun in watching a hero with superguns just mow everyone in their wake. Unless. Unless the hero you're watching happens to the whacky Steve Zissou, played by the always wonderful Bill Murray, in a movie that almost seems to match the whackiness of Michael Gondry's.

Do you know more scenes with superguns that are worth watching? Or the other way round -- guns that run out of bullets? Do tell.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Dhoom 2: A Review

I love motorcycles. That's why I went and watched this movie. That is the real reason and please do not ask me this question again.

Instead of a dull analysis of the movie, how about I walk you through the movie? Really -- scene by important scene, every dialogue (I remember all 5 of them). Ok, here goes.

Desert. Train. Queen. Wait. go back -- queen?? She looks like Hrithik Roshan's mother. Ah. Yes of course. Ok. Cut to long shot from sky. Sky diver. In funky clothes. Parachute. Robbery. Ridiculous stunts on moving train. Clap, clap. Song number 1, Hrithik's biceps dancing about. Women, close your mouths, please.

Lake. A run-down steamer. Looks like India. Loudmouth cop. Lands in trouble. Super cop shows up from under water. On a water scooter. Really. I-saw-it-with-my-own-eyes-so-believe-it-will-you? Scooter-diving-cop saves loudmouth cop. Audience regrets. They blow up some people. Audience shuts up.

Hot chick. Tight clothes. View: Neck down, waist up. From left. From right. Fires guns. Likes to makes holes in things. The best thing for a guy who ends up dying from her gun? Very precisely spaced holes on his torso. She walks. Hips swinging. Men drool -- on screen. "Inspector Bipasha, reporting, sir," she says. The older guy wipes off drool, stutters "Uh yeah, go sit in the room, put some handcuffs on, I need to visit the bathroom." She complies.

Everyone gets it on. Senior cop has pregnant wife. Seem to have junior cop for house clown. Senior cop gets it on with lady cop. Junior cop tries to. They use some mysterious robber for an excuse to get in a room and talk suggestively. Robbery happens. Another robbery happens. Lady cop resigns. "What no,Bipasha..?? what wil we look at" -- cry the audience. Enter Ms Rai. First scene, she's covered from head to toe. Don't worry -- not her eyes though. So she can walk, jump -- and most importantly, bat those pretty eyelids. Next scene, she takes the clothes off. Drool. Everywhere. Intermission. Theater needs to be cleaned.

Thank you for coming back. Theater's clean now. The movie? Eveyrone's partying in Rio. Carnival? Don't htey have the months wrong? Tsk, tsk. Can we just watch Bipasha in that bikini again? Hrithik's showing off. What's that? Someone's abs. Someone speaks. Oh, look, there's a face above the abs.

Eveyrone's partying. Looks like Abhishek's not invited. Sulks. Frowns. He's the only one clothed. He gets more facial hair. No saloons in Rio, I imagine. Only bikini wax shops.

Oh, the story. There's a robbery. A chase. You see a motorcyle. A helicopter that turns into two-bollywood-heroes-on-motorcycles. Cool invention, that. More sillyness ensues. Your head hurts from working so hard to make sense. Your eyes hurt -- from all the bulging muscles on the screen. You wish for some comic relief. How about Javed Jaffery bursting on to the screen with "Iggzaktly!" That would have been perfect.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

Some random stuff I've been watching...

Arish recently recommended House M.D. TV series. Netflix makes it easy to live a few years behind the world and catchup in a week -- so I am catching up to many seasons of this series. I am still on the fist season, and I've come to like it quite a bit. I think the reason Arish recommended it was that it has Hugh Laurie -- who made Wodehouse' Wooster come to life on screen. I like it -- to the extent that watching it sometimes made me want to become a doctor. It makes medicine seem more like puzzle solving than anything else.

I, of course, went to see Borat. When I saw the preview of the movie, it looked hilarious, but I was skeptical -- these things work well in half an hour sketches at more, but rarely have the lasting power to make a movie. Borat tries, but it's riding on marketing and hype. You have to hand it to Sacha Cohen though -- it's a performance worth applauding. The movie itself is ok -- he picks on the people worth picking on, and in many ways picks on the audience itself. But I still found it a tad boring -- thought it does have some very funny parts.

I've been meaning to watch The Departed. It's always a lot of fun to watch Jack Nicholson chew everyone else in bad boy roles like this one. But I haven't. Infernal Affairs was a damn good movie, and remakes, however well made, don't pack the same punch. Maybe, one of these days, I'll get around to it. Meanwhile, I do recommend Infernal Affairs -- the Hong Kong original that inspired it.

If you haven't seen the Gods must be crazy, you must. Both parts, I and II. Hilarious stuff.

Journey of Man is an interesting documentary. It traces genetic mutations to track human history all the way to 50,000 years ago when Man started to branch out of Africa and human race spread all over the world. Just for the science and the story alone, it's worth watching. But it does seem overstretched and seems to have missing pieces. It is also a promo vehicle for the presenter/scientist. Despite the flaws, it is a good story.

Tony Jaa might grow up to be the next Jackie Chan?

I've had a hard time finding something from Eddie Izzard as good as Dressed to Kill. But he was working solid magic in Definite Article -- something I saw recently. I am waiting for "Unrepeatable" to show up in the Netflix envelope one of these days...

In case you do not know, Almodovar's latest -- Volver -- should be out soon.

And so will be the new Bond flick, and the new Spiderman flick.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Murder by Death

The movie I am writing about this week is Murder By Death.

There are many reasons to watch this movie -- David Niven, Alec Guiness, Maggie Smith, Truman Capote, and the king of them all Peter Sellers. They all come together in this amazing comedy. Peter Sellers turns in a brilliant spoof of Charlie Chan -- his character in the movie is Wang -- and packs in a whole new, and even funnier, one liners that the Charlie Chan was synonymous with. And of course he delivers it without any prepositions. Take this: "Conversation like television on honeymoon -- unnecessary."

The movie itself is a spoof on several well known detective characters -- Poirot is Perriet, Columbo is Sam Diamond, Miss Marple is Miss Marbles, Charlie Chan is Sidney Wang, and so on. They all come together in a mansion, as guests of Lionel Twain, played by Truman Capote. The movie unfolds as a murder mystery -- or spoofs one. All these supposedly brilliant detective minds are supposed to solve the murder mystery to get a prize. Don't expect any brilliant detective work here -- just laughs.

Another cute one from the movie, this time by Sam Diamond -- "This all could mean just one thing.... and I don't know what that is!"

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Jambool is in (private) alpha.


A tale of two movies

The first movie is about a warrior who travels from the desert of Rajasthan to the snow of the Himachal, in a joueney to discover himself. The second, is a story of a woman who travels from Himachal's mountains to the sand dunes of Rajasthan to find someone else. So, in some ways, you can call this a Tale of two States.

The first movie is a patient, indulgent, raw-looking story of a "warrior" who gives up weapons, loses his son and finds some form of salvation. It's Asif Kapadia's The Warrior. Irfan Khan gives a splendid performance. The rest of the cast are non-actors, but the movie adds up quite well. It has a much more art-house feel to it -- it has subtle imagery that was lost on me initially.

The second movie is a little more popular cinema stuff -- though very different in its treatment than Bollywood stuff. It is Nagesh Kukunoor's Dor. The movie carries itself on some brilliant performances by its lead actors. The movie is shot very well -- it frames the sand dunes, the temples, the Himachal backdrop very well. It also has some really well etched characters -- at least the central characters. One can't say that Nagesh Kukunoor is a master of his craft, but he's getting better. His Hyderabad Blues seemed like a school project, his other movies in the middle didn't seem to break much ground either. But there were occasional flashes in the pan -- specifically Teen Deewarein and Iqbal.

Undoubtedly, he tries. Though he couldn't stop himself from giving Dor a crowd-pleaser of an ending. Nevertheless, it's good to see such cinema come out of India -- instead of the regular mush and dramas, or the remakes of Bachchan flicks of old.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Is it just me...?

Or does the hero of the new Don look like heroine of the old Don?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Christopher Walken

I pretty much like whatever this guy does. He was Zorin years ago in A View to a kill, and he was the headless horseman in the Sleepy Hollow, not so many years ago. I remember him in a zillion small cameo-like appearances in movies from Annie Hall to Wedding Crashers. Here is a link to a video on You Tube (gTube now?) -- it's a music video for "Weapon of Choice." Yeah, Walken and music video? And it's a solo performance too... Check it out.

It's not a new one, but something I remember every time I see him on screen.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Sorting things out

Here is a simple problem. One that I am sure many of us would have encountered when programming. You are given a set of objects -- say customer orders -- such that each object is a fairly complex collection of attributes. Customer Order definitely qualifies. Now that you have this collection, I want you to give it to me sorted by order date.

Simple enough, right? All you need to do is sort them. But wait, you don't want to _write_ a sorting algorithm, do you? Really, how many of us have actually written a sorting algorithm since we left school? And rightly so -- others have done it well, have put it in a library for you to use, have tested it, and have written books about how good their library is, so really there's no point in writing one yourself. So, coming back to customer orders, how do you go about sorting them?

If you do it in C++, you'll probably rely on STL or something similar to manage your collection. In order to make your collection sortable, you will have to make sure your objects are 'Comparable' and the comparison works on the order date field. Simple but probably not simple enough. If you are a Java programmer, you probably did something similar.

C actually did it a little better. In the sort function you could pass in a pointer to the comparison function that would be called for comparing two objects in the array being sorted. All you had to do was to write a function that returned the comparison result based on date.

The reason C is even better is that when you need to have several different ways to sort this array of objects, it starts to get onerous with the 'Comparable' approach. You probably would have to wrap each class into specific Comparable versions for each field. In C you would just write a small function for the new field, and use that.

In Ruby, however, if you want to sort an array of objects, all you need to do is write code that looks something like this:

orders.sort! { |a,b| (a.order_date <=> b.order_date) }

This just feels beautiful. Sort it on customer name, no problem. Just sort it with a different code block. One line of code. That's it. There are no complex design patterns to worry about, no layers of Objects. It is definitely similar to C, but far more elegant, and far simpler. I recall it took me a few tries to figure out the function pointer declaration.

This kind of stuff makes it much simpler to design lean API -- because despite being lean, it doesn't require a bunch of glue code to make it work for a particular application.

Minimality of code has many, many virtues. Not the least of which is that less code implies less bugs. And that has to just spell happiness for developers, project managers and consumers alike.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Official Jambool blog

The first post to the official Jambool blog is out. More to come.

The reference there is to a movie called Abre los Ojos. It was subsequently made into "Vanilla Sky" starring Tom Cruise.

The post also made references to sleep, and while on that I should mention the recently out "Science of Sleep." Parts of the movie stuck chords. Though the movie seems to lose its path towards the end, the first 4/5th of the movie is quite brilliant.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Waisa bhi hota hai, part II

It seems the Arshad Warsi has arrived. The first draft of Munnabhai was, it seems, just a means to get to Lage raho Munabhai. I've been a fan of Arshad Warsi for a while. It's unfortunate that it took out audiences a Munnabhai to warm up to him. Where other actors are known for their comic timing (Govinda in his heyday, and Bachchan in his prime are a few), no one can light a candle to Arshad.

But wait, what I really wanted to say was that you should go see this movie called Waisa bhi hota hai, part II. No, it's not a sequel. This movie starts with a prologue -- that lasts about 5 minutes -- and the rest of the movie is "part II." It is an extremely rare Indian movie. Why? If you've watched Japanese cinema, you'd have marveled at its ability to find engineer ridiculous coincidences and make it seem natural. And the ability for characters to constantly surprise you. Why, I often wondered, is this quirkiness that is so omnipresent in life, and so evident to the Japanese, Korean and Thai filmmakers (and of course on Mr Tarantino), is it lost on the Indians? But then, as the Maruti ad goes, the times -- they sure are a changing.

Check out this gem of a movie. It also features an absolutely delightful song -- "Allah ke bande" by Kailash Kher. And wait for the movie credits to roll in the end. In one take, the film makers thank Beat Kitano, Tarantino and several others of my favorite directors for inspiration! That's another rarity in India cinema. For one, it is a fairly orignal movie, not a rip-off (afaik). Second, it actually lists people who inspired them.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Movies of the week: Andaz Apna Apna and Main Hoon Na

I'm sure most people who read this blog would have seen Andaz Apna Apna. Probably more than once. So if I say I recommend this movie -- well, fat lot of use that is. But wait, it gets a little better.

You see, Andaz Apna Apna has apparently become a "cult" hit. I was trying to figure out what makes a movie a cult hit, and what I came up with was something that has limited appeal to the masses but over time builds credibility and popularity with a select following. AAA wasn't that big a hit when it first came out, but ever since then it has gained tremendously in popularity. So I guess it does qualify to be a cult hit.

I obviously do recommend this movie. It has its flaws, some slow parts that dragged a little bit -- they could have easily done away with a couple of songs -- but the movie is a laugh riot all through. But I recommend the movie for another reason. This movie is one of the rare Bollywood movies (the other one is the second movie in this post) that never takes itself too seriously. And it piles in quite a few homages and references to other movies.

For example, did you know that this movie's characters were loosely based on the characters from Archie comics? Aamir Khan is Reggie, Salman Khan is Archie, Raveena is Veronica and Karisma is Betty. Then, there are references to Aamir Khan's and Salman's movies. The twin brothers played by Paresh Rawal are Ram and Shyam -- a popular reference to the movie of yesteryears about twin brothers switching roles. Mehmood runs a studio called "Wah Wah Productions" -- something he was doing in a 60s movie Pyar Kiye Ja as well. Jagdeep plays "Soorma Bhopali" -- right out of Sholay. Shakti Kapoor is Gogo, the nephew of Mogambo -- Mogambo from Mr. India. There's a scene where the movie Sholay comes up in the dialogue, and Salman says yeah, he's seen it many times. Aamir retorts, yeah Salman's dad wrote it. Which, in fact, is true. Salim Khan (along with Javed Akhtar) did write Sholay.

The climax of the movie is one of the best half hour of Bollywood cinema. It is almost cartoonish in parts, and has a weird pelvis thrust "fight" sequence between Shakti Kapoor and Salman Khan. I haven't been able to figure out if it has any more subtle reference or meaning except maybe just a mojo war. In any case, if you ever need a dose of laughter, go get this movie.

I rarely ever recommend a Shahrukh Khan movie, but I thought the movie Main Hoon Na was a rare bird. I enjoyed this movie again primarily because it didn't take itself too seriously. In fact, it revelled in its pranks and subtle references and more. The movie has Naseeruddin Shah in a small role with a 20 year old past that haunts him -- and it is something right out of his 20 year old movie, Masoom. The movie takes off on Matrix, except that bullets are replaced by spit from Satish Shah's mouth as Shahrukh's character tries to dodge them. There's another sequence where Shahrukh drives a cycle rickshaw, chasing an SUV. The chase starts at a movie theater showing Sholay, and the cycle rickshaw, very cheekily, has "Basanti" (or was it Dhanno on the rickshaw, I can't remember) pasted on its back. The movie otherwise too unabshedly broke rules -- the sets would transform suddenly as a song kicks off -- and that makes it fun if you are ready to play along.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Movie Review

This is a movie review, and I've decided not to care about lack of credentials for movie journalism -- if there are really, anyway. You see, sometimes Bollywood comes out with movies that I truly despise (that I still watch a whole gamut is a sign of hope -- and there have been reasons). And I feel this uncontrollable urge to get it out of my system. A need for catharsis.

On to the movie. Bollywood put out another candy floss movie based in an American metropolitan, wrapped in designer clothes and soft-focus marketing stills. This movie is a dud. You see, when you watch a movie you are gradually led to a denouement, a climax. At this point, all questions get answered, and mysteries are solved, and it ties everything together. Good movies work because they handle this buildup and the eventual denouement well. This movie bumbles along, for most part builds up a confused mess, and when the time comes for final denouement, it falls with its face on a slab of cement -- there is blood splattered everywhere, and you wish you weren't there to witness it.

Starting with the first frame where Shahrukh Khan shows his arrogant, smirking face I wanted some character to slap him hard and wipe that stupid grin off his face. I wished Amitabh would do that for daring to think he could do a Don. When Shahrukh meets Rani Mukherjee, I think she came pretty close to doing the honour. When Shahrukh blurts out his affair with Abhishek's wife, I thought this is it! Bachchan Jr. is going to land him a sock. Nopes. Then Shahrukh's mom comes face to face with him, having caught him red handed. I think the slap got edited away, because it was hanging there in the air. And then, finally!, when Shahrukh tells his wife madam Zinta about the affair, she, amongst all the fine cast of this movie, has the pluck to deliver what it takes. She delivers a slap that I clapped hard at. I even shouted for an encore! This, for me, was the denouement of the movie. The climax. This is what the entire movie seemed to be building up to.

But alas, someone thought differently. According to the writers and directors of this movie, you get punished for adultery by spending 3 years alone. So the movie blunders on, till there are enough weddings and funerals, and till they've captured the fall, the winter , the summer through 20 different camera angles, and finally ends with the dumb and dumber couple walking off the Grand Central. It makes one wonder -- what a shallow, sheltered, deprived lives the writers and makers of this film would lead. You wouldn't notice if most of the cast was replaced by plastic cards.

The first half hour or so of the movie works -- primarily because of the chemistry between the Bachchan father and son duo. The rest of the movie is an exercise in sadism. The Chinese may have invented many different torture schemes, but we have them beat with Shahrukh Khan.

If someone is interested in more details of the movie, there are none -- or at least not any more than what you already don't know. Shahrukh Khan chews gum, limps, yells, smirks, frowns and thinks he is the super stud. And so thinks Rani Mukherjee, who happens to be married to Bachchan jr. Why is Rani Mukherjee smitten by the wimpy Khan? Because he is a loser with a limp and a smirk, who tells her what an idiot she is. So they do a Silsila thing, have a fling. The loser yells some more. The dumb girl cries and falls along. And yes, she makes it a point to clean the gardens and apartments of New York when you are not looking. They get caught, they admit their folly. Shahrukh Khan tells his wife over coffee -- I was hoping there would be hot coffee splashed on his face and then a slap, but madam Zinta (as she herself said) was too much of a man to do that. Rani Mukherjee probably tells her hubby in bed. Big noises ensue, furniture is broken -- the designer stuff in Rani's house, and Shahrukh's ugly face in Preity's. The guilty are thrown out. And then the director tries to make it a redemption saga. The real redepmtion was that Shahrukh's character walks off the screen to 15 days in jail(are there chains in New York trains?). 15 days won't cut it, but they'll do for a start.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Castro coincidence

I had picked up the latest issue of New Yorker as I left home yesterday to catch a flight. I usually start with the Fiction piece, but this time around I got off the block with the article on Cuba and Castro. And as I was leaving the plane I saw the news plastered on newspapers -- Castro steps down. Lucky for me, I had had a real good primer for the state of affairs in Cuba, and I knew who Raul Castro was, and so on.

The article is online here.

Talking about topical stuff, this Middle East buddy list from Slate was useful in trying to figure out who's on whose side. When the recent war started and Egypt and Saudi Arabia criticised Hezbollah, I was a bit confused. It's complicated.

Dave the funny guy with a funnier hat posted a yet funnier joke on Jibjab. Check it out!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

movie of the week.. Jakarta

This week another Korean movie gets the pick. I had picked up Jakarta because of its premise -- it seemed like an interesting thriller/heist movie. It turned out to be a lot more than that.

In the first 10-15 minutes of the movie, I was thinking that I had picked up an amaterurish production -- horribly acted, poor cinematography. The plot looked silly and simplistic. It didn't seem promising. To my pleasant surprise, however, the movie seemed to evolve. In 90 minutes, everything in the movie got increasingly better. The plot of the movie turned out to be quite a twisted one, where loyalties changed as we learnt more about both the present and the past of the bank robbery that the movie starts out with.

In most movies, as an audience, you figure out your loyalties with some characters, and wait as the directors predictably leads you to a tragic or satisfying end. This movie, however, doesn't make it that easy for you. And yet, its denouement is quite satisfying.

Unfortunately, I haven't seen this movie get mentioned in many places, and it may be hard to find its DVD in the States. I know Scarecrow in Seattle carries one, and Netflix doesn't. But if you can find it, enjoy!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006


Last week was pretty significant. For me, i.e.

Last week I incorporated my company -- Jambool, Inc.

It's one of the many small steps before I can start taking any step I can call big. What is Jambool about? It's about users, and trying to figure out how to help me, the user, make sense of the spread of content online. Vague enough, eh?

Movie of the week: Time and Tide

For a very long time when I thought of an action movie, the only movie that came to mind was Die Hard. It still remains one of the best action movies ever. However, ever since I saw this masterpiece from Tsui Hark, Die Hard moved to number two spot.

Time and Tide is a Hong Kong action movie, and packs some of the most incredible stunts and action sequences. The movie has two distict parts: the build up and the deliverance. And luckily, it is the latter that fills most of the movie. There isn't a lot to the plot of the build up, except that it sets up a tame looking character against a gang of dangerous looking (and sounding) assasins/killers/mafia/what-have-you, and lands all the characters in one of the tall congested apartment buildings in Hong Kong for a good part of an hour. The action is nicely scripted, and some of it just -- literally -- takes the breath away.

Movies of a generation

Every generation has a movie that sort of defines it. So it seems to me. When I look at those around me, I see people clinging to some movie or the other that they feel was "theirs." My view has a strong Indian bias, of course, and one has to admit that cinema is more entwined with people's lives in India than elsewhere. Where else would one find temples erected to celebrate film stars?

Coming back to generations, I thought I'll try and come up movies that probably some generation identifies as "theirs." These are more ruminations on my part, so if you have comments, please do share.

The first generation and the first movie that comes to mind, my mind, i.e., is the bell-bottom angst-ridden 70s and the era of teeny-bopper romance Bobby (the bell bottoms) and Zanjeer (the angst). Both these movies came out the same year (1973), and both started two parallel mainstream trends that sometimes met. With Bobby, Rishi Kapoor began a long career trying to romance women of varying age with a routine that more or less stayed the same over 20 years. Early on he tried to romance older women Simi Grewal (Karz) and Rakhee(Doosra Aadmi), and later on girls less than half his age.

Rishi Kapoor's antics notwithstanding, anyone with even the remotest of Indian connection will probably know the significance of the other movie of that year. Zanjeer brought to Indian cinema the persona of angry-young-man, with rage that was simmering just beneath the skin of the otherwise tall, charming police officer. The cause was much helped by the fact that this persona was played with endearing sincerity by Amitabh Bachchan. The rest, as they say, is stuff history is made of. From 1973 to today, no generation has grown up without being fed on his legend. And he still remains a tour de force.

It is small wonder then that a generation would identify themselves with Zanjeer. 1970s were pretty tumultous for India. We saw the corruption and Congress-led dirty politics at the worst, culminating in an emergency and total breakdown of the democratic system. The decade started with a war with Pakistan and ended with the Indian political system having gone through a complete upheaval and returning to its original state. And still, through all this, it was a time of bell-bottoms and rebellious love -- thanks to Bobby.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Le Bikini

The Bikini turns 60!

Bikini's impact on this world is phenomenal. They've helped sell everything from automobiles to zips. On our trip to Mexico, we noticed that every billboard, irrespective of what it was trying to sell, featured a bikini-clad model. I was wondering if there is anything we men wouldn't do if a hot babe in bikini asks us...

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Inspiration comes from all kinds of sources

Someone recently invented a submarine explorer that looks like a shark -- something right out of Tintin's Red Rackham Treasure. As it happens, that comic was indeed the inspiration for the contraption!

Srini just referred to an article about Tintin. Incidentally, just yesterday I was browsing the interesting store called Karikter, off of Union Square here in SF, and picked up a couple of small toy figures, including those of Tintin and Thompson & Thomson. Though Americans hardly know of Tintin but everyone else in the world does. And, yes, did you know Tintin's the only comic characters to be honoured by Dalai Lama for spreading awareness in the world about Tibet? Tintin in Tibet remains one of the reasons I find traveling, mountain climbing, Tibet, remote monasteries so alluring.

Tinin also makes a good way to connect with people from different parts of the world. I remember I was having dinner in a very international crowd -- German, French, Indian(myself), Dutch, Arab -- and I brought up Tintin. Everyone looked at me with blank stares. They hadn't heard of him. Strange. Snowy? No. Thompson and Thomson? No. It couldn't be happening, I thought. In a final attempt, at the risk of looking and feeling totally ridiculous, I started describing the two crazy detectives. The moustaches, the crazy antics, "with a 'p'"... "Dupond et Dupont!" cried the French guy. "Shultze and Shulze", goes the German. "Jansen and Janssen", went the Dutch!

International currency -- that's what Tintin is.

Monday, July 03, 2006

My geekiness of movies.. or maybe not..

When I sat down in the theater to watch Superman, and credits started appearing, I was surprised to see a name called 'Eva Marie Saint.' The image I had of her is from the Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest. So when the movie started in earnest, I was on the lookout for her. An old lady appeared first, and I wondered... Yes it is her, and lord, oh lord, she is wearing the same lipstick from North by Northwest!

I felt a little sheepish telling my wife as we walked out that I recognized the actress from the shade of her lipstick, especially since I'll be damned if I can recall my wife's shade of lipstick from any day.. But you have to grant that Eva is a woman in a different class, and that shade of lipstick is rather rare. Or maybe it was just that I was sitting in the fron row of an Imax theater. You can't miss much from there, can you?

When I read Lane's review I felt I was in good company -- there were others who felt more excited about Eva Marie Saint, and Kevin Spacey, in the movie than the Supe himself.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


I was reading Ranjit's post on how ridiculous HR was in one of his companies.

I thought I'll share an anecdote that was almost funny.

This happened in a small company of about 100 people in India, mostly engineers and about a handful of HR like people. There was an event being organized that kept getting postponed, and it wasn't clear why. So one day I popped around to the HR cube -- about 5 cubes away from mine -- and seeked to gain some higher knowledge. The conversation, honestly, went something like this.

HR-czar: "Oh. that.. uh.. yeah.. it needs budget planning and PR, and then approval from business, and then finance approval and budget sanctioning, and then only we can do this. It's a long process. It takes time."

I thought at this time that the governing overseas company must be really clamping down now on costs. But something else was bothering me.

Me: "What's PR?"

HR: "Purchase Request."

Me: "Who does that?"

HR: "X does."

I turn to X, "how long does it take?" expecting that this probably needs a lot of evaluation and planning, so maybe a few days.

X: "about 2 minutes. Shall I get it?" "Yeah, let's."

2 minutes later, with a PR in my hand. "Who gives the business approval?" I was getting the hang of it.

HR: (and she's begun to laugh by now.) "Y can."

I walk over to Y, in the next cube. Signed, no problem. I jump over to the HR cube again. "How does finance approve?"

HR: "Well... it's just Z." Z's sitting next to her. Finance signs.

There are some sheepish grins and blushes, but there is joy all around. We had a party to plan. You had to see the sudden rush of excitement in the HR cube.

Why is independent thought rare?

What is independent thought? Something that does not conform to eveyrthing else around. Something that sticks out.

Why is it rare? Is it? I think it is because there's very little I run into that I feel isn't exploring known territory. Every once in a while there will be someone who breaks the norm and a legion of followers wake up as though they were all really thinking the same thing and just did not say it. At times it is just admitting that the emperor has no clothes.

But as I wondered more I thought maybe there is a more inherent reason for someone to not have independent thought. Survival. From a pack of 100 zebras, the one that's most likely to get picked by the lion is the one that stands away from the crowd. The head that's going to roll is the one that sticks out.

I read an interesting book called Sync sometime back. It talked about how order emerged spontaneously in the world around us. It explores why a audience full of people end up clapping in rhythm without any external cue and why fireflies flash in sync with each other. The subject itself was fascinating for me. It even had insights that I was considering applying to a distributed system design I was working on then. But I don't recall the book actually explored survival as a possible reason for this tendency to be in sync get programmed into us -- it may have, I just don't recall it.

If everyone in a hall was clapping in sync, and you decided to clap out of sync, imagine the whole hall turning around and looking at the sore thumb in their midst.

If a bug-eater is on the lookout for bugs and sees a bunch of fireflies flashing in unison, it'll probably think they are the latest invention from mankind, or a UFO or something and flee for its life. But if there's a firefly in its midst flashing away at its own merry pace different than the others.. aha! Supper time!

We all have an innate urge to conform because we don't want to be a prey. And thus independent thought becomes rare.

Anthony Lane's review of Superman

Anthony Lane is hilarious. Check out his review of Superman Returns.

Here's a brief excerpt...

What these [crystals] are I never really gathered, but their potency is plain: just add water, and bang goes the power supply of the Eastern United States. Add more crystals to more water, and up from the seabed rises a fresh landmass, on which—if you are Luthor—you plan to build a whole new continent of your own devising. Picture my disappointment as I realized that, for all the pizzazz of “Superman Returns,” its global weapon of choice would not be terrorism, or nuclear piracy, or dirty bombs. It would be real estate. What does Warner Bros. have in mind for the next installment? Superman overhauls corporate pension plans? Luthor screws Medicare?

Fabulous stuff.

While on fabulous, there should have been an emperor fabulous, shouldn't there? "Hi, I'm emperor Fabulous!" "Oh yes, so you are!" (If you didn't _get_ it, it's time you met Senor Izzard.)

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Superman's back and more

I am no movie critic, and this isn't a movie review. When I heard Superman's coming back, I knew that if I waited too long it wasn't going to be fun. It is probably going to get trashed and then I'm not gonna watch it all that much. I hadn't expected it to really be great so I wanted to watch it before the deluge of reviews came out. And today the reviews of the movie are just like the hero himself -- wherever you look, there they are.

So what did I think of the movie? I think it was great. Lot of fun. I think Kevin Spacey is my hero. The guy should go do Shakespeare or something. The movie is good entertainment. 3-D stuff is decent but you won't miss much if these weren't in 3-D. The movie has some tongue-in-cheek stuff, and some occasionaly subtlty that I enjoyed. Even without these, the movie is good entertainment.

There is this other superhero film I saw that was good, cheesy, mindless fun as well. Krrish. For people unaware of movies from India, this is a Bollywood attempt at a superhero born with powers from out of this world -- thanks to the alien who blessed his dad with powers in an earlier movie.

I recall a friend once telling me that you can judge the mental age of a country by the movies being made for them. We must all be gradually progressing towards infancy. Fifty years ago, the movies though we were mature adults, somewhere in our 30s or 40s -- what with silly themes about life, self-respect, politics, freedom, struggle and all that. Two decades ago we were all in our twenties -- action films, heroes that made us dream big and conquer the world. Ten years ago were were teenagers -- cheesy romances and juvenile jokes seemed to be the way. And now we enjoy our dose of Spiderman, X-men, Superman, Krrish, Batman -- and all with the glee of an eight-year old. What? There are bigger things to worry about than ogling at the pretty girl, and jumping up and about in my super-costume? Pfththth...

Monday, June 26, 2006

Movie of the week: Bubba Ho-Tep

My officemate at Amazon was once playing the third of the Evil Dead series (Army of Darkness) on his computer. I had only seen about the first 10-15 minutes, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to watch the rest of it. Then, sometime later, I saw Evil Dead 2 in a theater. And I became a fan of Bruce Campbell and this whole genre. I got me a copy of Army of Darkness DVD at some point. And I loved it this time.

Then I heard about Bubba Ho-Tep. This time I wasn't getting left out. I got me, and convinced some friends to join me as well, tickets to an early show. And I don't recall laughing that hard in a movie theater ever in my life. The movie has an ingenious premise, an out of this world (pun intended) plot and incredibly funny dialogues.

The premise: JFK and Elvis are actually alive and spending their lives in a senior residents home, somewhere in the south. And, JFK is black. The plot? There's an egyptian mummy on the loose sucking out souls of residents in this community. So it's up to the wheelchair-bound JFK and crutches-bound Elvis to save the world. The plot evolves gently, weaving through bug problems, egyptian graffiti in the toilet, cowboy boots and some ridiculous mummy-dialogue (with subtitles).

Let there more of Bruce Campbell!

Add penalty shoot out to Cricket test matches

While there is the exciting world cup matches being played out in Germany, Indians are busy dragging match after match with the West Indies to tame draws. This version of Cricket is unbelievably indulgent -- top players (and extremely well paid too) of two nations, half the globe from each other, meet in a stadium where thousands buy tickets to watch them play, and after five days of play it is announced that the match is a draw. No result. No winners to celebrate, and no losers who feel beat. How can this form of any game draw such popularity, money and fame?

I think they should add a penalty shoot-out version of cricket at the end of these five days. If there is no result at the end of five days, the players play a 5-over-a-piece game to decide a winner. And the buggers keep doing it till they get a result. If someone paid to watch you play, I think you should be spending a good part of the time entertaining them and not sipping tea in the pavilion.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

On the internet, no one knows you are a dog

Everyone's seen this popular New Yorker cartoon. Very often I get reminded of this, especially these days of the blog.

Speaking of New Yorker, it's a magazine that keeps serving excellent stories. And cartoons too. I remember that the Star Wars review in the New Yorker was better than the movie itself. How would you compile an online version of such a magazine? The attention span online, apparently, is much shorter. Instead of turning pages, you scroll down (or click a link). It just isn't the same.

But what of the generation that's growing up with the Internet. Will they have completely different set of skills? It's an old thought, though, already.

In the meanwhile, World Cup goes on -- no major surprises yet. Unless Ghana manages to do one up on Brazil. Beckham finally bent one like only he can to get England into the final eight. Italians and French made it to the last sixteen, and I am sure they must be glad they managed to get this far, given their performances. Among the quarterfinals, Gemrnay - Argentina will probably the most entertaining encounter.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Random musings

I was getting tired of working off of the laptop all the time -- however much I love my powerbook. Of late I've been churning out some serious amount of code, and I finally succumbed to the urge to buy a desktop.

I had seen a Mac mini in the Apple store, and it is quite an eye-catcher. It looked so, so... tidy. But I wasn't sold on buying the mini. When I decided I needed a desktop, I thought I'll check out the reviews on it. As I was browsing the reviews, I thought I noticed a pattern -- and that triggered a thought.

How do I know what someone's posted as a review on the Internet is an actual review by someone trying it out? Maybe the review I am reading is really a marketing ploy to make me go one way or the other. The pattern I had noticed was the negative reviews were all referring to very similar things, and had some similar ways of saying it (e.g., many reviewers said "I wanted to like it, I really tried"). I may be reading too much into the reviews I read. But I am positive that companies are using online reviews as marketing ploys.

Anyway, I ended up still buying the mini. I want a development platform, and something I can use for things other than just writing code as well. In other words, iTunes, iPhoto, etc. etc. -- all those cool things I can't live without any more.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Ghana is the new Cameroon?

Ghana went and beat the Czechs 2-0. And it was no fluke. Czechs just didn't know what hit them. Just when I was missing Cameroon, this team put life into the Cup. Go Ghana!

Ich bin ein berliner, or is it?

One fine day, my dear, dear friend Abir introduced me to Eddie Izzard. I have to say that after that I could barely enjoy any other stand up comedian. This guy just raised the level many times higher than others. And for this introduction alone, I will always be indebted to Abir -- who incidentally also introduced me to many other wonderful movies, including the Jeeves and Wooster TV series (another wonderful stuff from British Television).

The first time I watched the "Dress to Kill" show, I remember my sides were hurting so bad that I had to pause the DVD for some time. This guy takes on the ancient history, to Humbledink to Kennedy (who apparently made a huge error with his speech in Berlin) to England to current (then) politics and covers just about everything in the middle -- which includes Egypt, Switzerland, Hanging Gardens of Babylon among other things ;). I've seen this show several times over, and still put it on, have tried to show it to many (everyone?), and it still is as funny as ever. I just can't stop myself from laughing when he mimes a squirrel looking up from eating a nut (f***ing nuts, all the time), and wonders... did i leave the gas on?... No! I am a f***ing squirrel!

Go get this show. It's good for you.

On stand up comedians, I recently came across a South Asian dude who's apparently become a huge rage in the US and Canada -- Russell Peters. I checked out some of his videos on youtube, and I have to admit that this guy is very, very funny. His material seems somewhat limited though, but let's hope he keeps working on it. One of his shows is now on my netflix queue, and at the top too!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The World Cup

Many moons ago -- again around the time I moved to Seattle -- a Burmese/Nepalese movie came out, called The Cup. It was about a Buddhist monastery in India that serves as an asylum for Buddhist monks who escape from Tibet. No, that's not right -- the movie was about a young Buddhist monk who is crazy about soccer and desperately wants to watch the final. In a course of an hour or two, the movie quiety engaged me in this simple tale, with non-actors and the passion for soccer. The movie doesn't seem to be available on Netflix, but I've seen this in several good video rental stores. Highly recommended. And yes, the movie is based around the 98 world cup when France took the trophy home.

The world cup 2006 continues -- no major upsets so far. Among the teams I've watched so far, I loved the Czech Republic's performance. The US team was just no match for them. I think the Czechs have a serious shot at the Cup this year, despite all their injuries. Rosicky's goals were brilliant!

Among other teams, I thikn Brazil still looks ok -- their passing and skill is always there to see and applaud -- but they seemed to lack a desire to take it all the way. It may be just because of the team they were playing against and they definitely will have to up their game level against the likes of England, Czechs and their own group mates Japan and Australia.

I didn't see the French but they never were a team I would root for. Italians as usual seemed to falter as a team. Too many people wanting to do it all on their own as usual. Germans look ok, and so do England. Beckham was great in the game against Trinidad. But they seem to have problems in people like Crouch.

It's going to be a great second round. Brazil, England, Czechs, Germany, Mexico will all be there.

I miss the Cameroon and Turkey teams from the last world cup, though. Theirs were some of the most memorable games.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Dr McNinja!

This comic strip has quite a sense of humor!

Signal to Noise ratio

This post is a rant. It is about the noise I have to sift through online to find something I want -- or give up trying.

I was recently trying to find out more about distributed ruby. I have a book -- Dave Thomas' pragmatic programmers -- so I started there. This book, to begin with, runs out of its use in a very short period of time. Half of this book is a reference to the language where the description for methods is a one line sentence that repeats the method name in an English sentence with five more words around it. I remember writing comments like this in code, thinking the function name is self-explanatory. Heck, I wasn't writing a book. But Dave Thomas was. Anyway, it isn't a rant about this book.

So I searched online. Naturally, I went to Google. My search for distributed ruby showed plenty of results. But the promise turned to anguish as I found that most of these results were identical pieces of text on different websites. And guess what, all of these were identical to the text for distributed ruby in Dave Thomas' book. What a stupid, inbred world. Evolution stopped somewhere, I felt. But this is not a rant about these posts.

If you search for something online, again at Google for most part, you will be told that Google found 10s and 10s and 10s (ad infinitum) results from many million times more of the number of pages online. Wow. Images and articles about Googles' server farms and file systems and armies of Phds and some people like me working away (or not) in Google immediately come to mind. But I seem to be digressing again. What I realize, looking at my results, very often these days, is that most of the results are blog posts or articles or rants (like this) that talk _about_ the stuff you are looking for, but themselves aren't the stuff you are looking for. It is even worse than that. Most of these articles -- and you only find this after you've read them -- don't really add anything to the ocean of knowledge. I don't mean it in a way that the ocean is too big and therefore their contribution too small -- no, most of these blogs are too happy to either just repeat what's out there, or make derive inane epiphanies -- their actual contribution to the world is not just insignificant, it is none. And yes, not to forget, they also give you a bunch of ads from Google (ahem, ignore the stuff on top of this page, please).

I think the reason people write blogs is to massage their inflated egos. I can't sidestep this accusation either -- I think this reason contributes to the existence of my blog. Not all blogs, I agree, but most exist for satisfying their authors' desire for attention. The reason I feel this way is that in most blogs, it is not the content that assumes importance but the author. It is always about the author. It is rarely about the content. There are a few blogs I follow for content, but even most of these haven't really evolved much since they first started. Most of the blogs I follow are of people I follow, and beause there are common interests, they often give me leads to things interesting to me. But I find that most blogs, in the guise of enlightening the world with their wisdom, are just an outlet for people craving for attention.

The result is that many blogs/people write about the same stuff. How many people have to write about their experiences with coding a new Ruby on Rails application that I _want_ to read? Aren't there enough blogs with similar content to yours that you can just do your stuff and not have to write about it? Sure you have views about how Google manages its storage, but you don't know anything about it, really, and unless you are going to add something that google hasn't already shared, or that others haven't already inferred, why do you have to write about it?

I think one of the reasons this problem exists is Google. They have this huge machinery where they can slurp any new content and make it accesible through this one search box. And this machinery is hungry for new content all the time. I recently watched this movie called The Corporation. It talks about companies and large corporations that take decisions for their own profitability and revenue, and in their wake leave behind problems that others have to deal with (envionmental issues being the most prominent ones). I think Google is doing something similar to the web. Because they have a solution for handling large volumes of content, and they have a candy call AdSense for people ready to write content, everyone is ready to contribute to the problem by providing more content. Behold the world of inane junk that surrounds us on the web.

Of course, Google is not evil. Their motto says so. They are anti-Microsoft. And Microsoft is evil. Heck, Microsoft charges people! What a supid, hundred-year-old idea that is. Who ever thought of paying for anything? Amazon ships stuff to you for free. Hey, they even give you discounts and don't charge sales tax. Google pays you money for writing junk and having a bunch of ads on your site -- or better still, they'll pay even if you don't write anything but just have ads on your site! And yes, the prices of adwords are increasing. More people want to advertise on your site. More money for you. It's a beautiful world. And an ugly web.

Enough ranting. I should really be spending this time working on what I am doing. But then writing this softens my craving for attention. And before I leave, here's a thought from the lovely, lovely movie Usual Suspects: "The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist."

P.S. I recently stopped giving forwarding links to Amazon for movies, and instead have them point to Netflix. I had an Amazon associate account, but I don't have a Netflix account (because it was a pain to set up, not because I don't like money, which I do). One reason is that a friend asked me to do that because it makes it simpler for him to act upon things I write. It made sense to me. Why would someone buy something because I liked it? But, if acting upon my writing was free for you -- like adding the movie in your Netflix queue is -- then you might. Or at least you are more likely to do that than buy it from Amazon. Hence the move.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Cinema of Sang-jin Kim

I "discovered" this director by picking up the comedy "Attack the Gas Station" on a whim from Scarecrow video. The movie, I thought, was a laugh riot. It had a group of actors who rob a gas station, and then, because they are bored, they rob the same gas station again. This time, one thing leads to another and they are holed up in the gas station for the entire night. The movie builds up to a very entertaining climax, and in the process packs in a lot of whimsical, quirky incidents.

I happened to "meet" the director at one of the Seattle Film Festivals -- he was there with his another incredibly funny movie -- Jailbreakers. All his movies, as I think many Korean movies do, have plenty of small, quirky sides to their characters. In Jailbreakers, one of the guys, when he breaks out of prison, sits on the ground, arms raised in sky, eyes closed -- reminiscent of Tim Robbins from Shwashank Redemption. Why does he do that? Because he always wanted to. The movies also pack in some bizarre situations, e.g., the jailbreakers looking for a way to break back into the jail that has cops under seige by the prison inmates. The movies don't try to explain away the quirkness of the characters -- they are there, and others have to deal with them. And I loved this about his movies.

His latest movie is out -- "Ghost in the House/Gwishini Sanda" -- but unfortunately it isn't available on Amazon or on Netflix -- so I ended up ordering it from some obscure online store. Meanwhile, if you are up for some entertaining, quirky cinema, you can rent two of his movies from Netflix. (Sang-Jin Kim on Netflix)

Friday, June 02, 2006

World Cup 2006!

Soccer world cup is a heck a lot more fun that Cricket, Wimbledon, Superbowl and World series all put together. The characters (and not just players) are so much more diverse, so much more action gets packed into a short time of play, and the energy on the field and the stadium is just electrifying. I can't wait for the world cup to start in another week!

I discovered today that the coffee shop next door is going to be opening shop early morning and will be showing hte matches on TV. They are rooting for Italy. I suspect it might be an England and Brazil showdown in the finals. Whatever happens, plenty of action is on the cards for next month!

Talking of action, I just saw X-Men 3 a few days back. I was a bit disappointed -- it seemed like a lot of buildup for.. nothing. Mystique used to light the screen in the earlier movies and here her role ends early. They give incredible powers and personality (two of them, in fact) to Jean, and for most part of the movie she just stands and stares in space while kids fight it out. Magneto seemed like a caricature of his earlier roles. Halle Barry should really do more stuff like Monster's Ball or James Bond. She seems almost out of place in this movie. But then everyone in the movie seemed a little confused about what they were doing.

Last night I saw this beautiful gem of a movie called "Mongolian Ping Pong." It's a story of a couple of kids in Mongolia who find a ping pong ball and don't know what it is. They think it is a glowing pearl at first, and then they discover that it is a Ping Pong ball -- the "national ball" of China. So they conclude that it must be a very important thing to the nation, and they must return it. It is never hilarious, but it always keeps you engaged with its charm. The innocence and childhood is packaged with phenomenal landscapes of Mongolian grasslands -- making it a very beautiful film to watch. This movie was a part of the San Francisco film fest, but I missed it then. Be warned -- the movie is slow and at no time is in any kind of rush to get anywhere and the majority of screen time is taken by three kids who do not seem to be professioanl actors. But the movie is a total charmer -- packed with a Mongolian shepherd with quixotic ambitions (including one to build a windmill -- made me wonder if there was a reference to Quixote), and the constant bewilderment on the part of kids who seem to be adept at everything else around them.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Pooja and I spent the memorial day weekend in Mexico -- Puerto Vallarta, to be precise. We stayed in La Cruz de Huanacaxtle -- a small town about 40 minutes of a drive to the north. The beaches in the area were fabulous -- especially those around Punta de Mita. The one beach we both loved was slightly to the north of Punta de Mita, hidden away from busy areas.

The town of Puerto Vallarta seemed like any other party town on the beach -- except that it had some Mexican flavor to it. There was one thing that captured my attention. When walking on the Malecon (the promenade) in the evening, I heard this periodic rumbling sound -- initially it sounded like a distant thunder, or some kind of disturbance in a neighbouring towns. Then I realized it was the sound of the water flowing back after a wave had crashed on to rocks. There is no beach for most part along the Malecon -- there are rocks and boulders that line the water. And when waves crash and water rolls off of these rocks back into the ocean, it makes this rumbling sound. I don't remember hearing this sound any other place. A random thought came to me then -- each of these sounds was made as rocks somewhat moved against each other due to the flow of the water. The force of the water and the position of the rocks is probably never same at any two times I hear the sounds -- and this means every time I hear the rumbling, it exists only then and is never repeated and is lost forever once it dies.

I wish we had more time to explore other parts of Mexico. The Mexico city itself, and more of the Aztec and Mayan remains. Some other time, maybe.

Some good documentaries

There are two movies I saw about a couple of years ago that were very impressive. Both of these were documentaries, and nature and environment featured as a common theme in the two.

The first one was Baraka. Baraka comprises several segments about people, nature, industry, religion to paint a fascinating collage. The film covers the entire planet, and captures some exquisite beauty from everywhere. I remember that the scene where chicken are put through a plant to be marked and packed off to a poultry farm put me off of any kind of meat for a while. The scenes are very effective in letting some hidden beautiful aspect of the picture evolve slowly without the help of a narrative. The film's music helps -- again effective in drawing the viewer in and keeping him engaged. (Rent from Netflix)

The second film is called Winged Migration. As I watched the movie, I thought it was impossible to have done what they did. Or at least extremely difficult. The film makers tracked birds as they migrated one season and then migrated back the next. And not just one flock or one kinds of birds -- birds from all over the planet. It is a fascinating movie again -- another one that captures the beauty of nature so well. I saw this movie at a theater, so I don't know if the DVD has features on making of the movie etc., but they would be a delight to watch. (Netflix rental)

Monday, April 10, 2006


I recently set up an account with textdrive and now have my own site there. The blog is moving to:

Over the past few weeks I have been working on a small user application. I am planning to have it go live tonight, or by tomorrow, depending on how deployment goes. So far, things have been very smooth with Textdrive, and with Ruby, Rails, MySql.

Friday, March 24, 2006

A movie a week: La Communidad

I chanced upon this movie in the fabulous Scarecrow movie store in Seattle. Scarecrow is responsible for helping me find so many of the movies that I couldn't otherwise. It is truly a remarkable store. Coming back to the movie of this week, La Communidad is a less famous Spanish movie, and I could not figure out why it is not more well known.

The movie is a dark comedy, a thriller that entertains you very well. The movie is about a huge sum of money that is supposedly hidden in an apartment, and since everyone in the building knows about it, they all want it. The greed of the people bind them together even though no one trusts anyone, and they rally to not let whoever takes the apartment have any of the cash. It reminded me quite a bit of the other incredible movie -- Delicatessen, a movie where a similar community in a building works together to harbour their secret.

La Communidad was very fresh, and it continued to surprise till the very end. I have a bias for dark comedies, for noirs, and this one very much comes close to being one of the best.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Dracula in Pakistan

Browsing the Virgin music store in the SF city the other day, I chanced upon this movie that I couldn't resist. It's called "The Living Corpse". The movie was a little bit disappointing -- it wasn't as campy as I had hoped it would be. Nevertheless, it was bad enough to have some value. The best was a scene where a female "evil spirit" breaks into a Latin dance to entice a man. The movie had value in just existing -- I don't think there's something quite like this from subcontinent's cinema, and definitely not in the 60s.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

A movie a week: Waking Ned Devine

I remember walking out of the theater feeling very happy after seeing Waking Ned Devine. The reason I am talking about this movie today is that I recently ready about a new Hindi movie release that has a storyline that seems suspiciously similar to this movie. The basic premise of the movie is a small Irish village trying to collect the prize on the winning lottery ticket -- when the actual winner dies (of the shock of having won a jackpot!).

All said, the movie is a very funny, heart-warming story told in the setting of a beautiful Irish village. The story starts with two old men finding out that someone in their small village has the winning lottery ticket. They don't know who, but they set out to find out who it is, and how to get a share of it. It turns out that the winner is an old man who dies at the shock of the win -- he is found dead smiling, holding the ticket, looking at the TV. From then on follows a fun ride -- featuring a naked old man racing on a motorcycle, a flying telephone booth and an on the spot improvised funeral speech -- as the old men try to outfox the government and the village in trying to pocket it all.

It isn't slapstick, as the Hindi remake seems to be. It carries a LOT of charm -- despite the fact that the average age of the cast is probably seventy five.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Coordinates update..

Pooja and I just landed in Palo Alto. It's her first day in the office with A9 today, and my first day at home. I just started looking around for deciding where to live, what car to buy and where to play squash. At least the last seems to have more than one decent option in the neighbourhood.

I just heard about Google buying out Upstartle. Interesting.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A movie a week

I had been thinking for a while about using this blog to write about movies that I like or hate. It'll give me a chance to at least update the blog once a week for that. :)

The movie this week is what I have always felt is probably one of the best movies I have ever experienced. To say that I just "watched" Ikiru would be wrong.

I watched Ikiru in the year 1999, I think. I had just moved to Seattle, to an apartment within walking distance from the fabulous Egyptian theatre there. Another theatre I used to frequent then was the Grand Illusion theater. This is where I got a chance to see some of the really memorable movies. One of them was the movie of this week, Kurosawa's Ikiru.

I could talk about the plot or the screenplay or the acting or direction, but that would really be pointless. It is one of the best works of Akira Kurosawa, and that in itself makes it one of the best movies ever made. It stars Takeshi Shimura in probably the most well known on-screen roles of his.

What I want to talk about are different aspects of the movie that really made it so dear to me. The first was the sheer impact of it. I've seen it in entirety only once, but ever since then its imagery comes back to me with a strong force. It makes you want to do something good with your life. The impact is probably accenuated by how the truth unfolds in the movie -- through impressions and anecdotes of people touched by an honest life.

One of the scenes that I felt was particularly interesting was when Takeshi Shimura is walking down the street, after learning about his illness. He is so lost in thoughts that he doesn't hear or see anything around him. And neither do we -- there is no sound. Then abruptly, he gets a jolt and gets out of the way of a truck -- and we hear noise of a busy street. The camera pans out from focusing on Shimura to take in a lot more around him. The result is very effective. These things are what make Kurosawa's movies a treat to watch.

The essence of the movie is about asking oneself -- what have you done with your life? I remember that a friend left his job, has been roaming the world and doing odd things, with the quest: How to live life. It's a question probably impossible to answer before having lived it -- and I don't thing anyone can answer this for you. Lots of people I talk to -- whether successful and rich professionals or young teenagers or older parents -- have been reading Paul Coelho's The Alchemist. Many of these actually express a desire to figure out how to live life. This of course implies that their current life isn't what they have in mind. All these people will have something to learn from Ikiru. It teaches a simple lesson about life much better than the Paul Coelhos and Richard Bachs of the world.

One of the things I did after watching this movie was to get the lyrics (translated in English) of the song that Takeshi Shimura sings in the movie. It is supposedly a much older song in Japan, and is used very effectively in the movie.

If you watch plenty of world cinema, you will slowly come to realize the impact of Kurosawa's movies on cinema everywhere. The best loved Hindi movie of all time, Sholay, is a remake (a most remarkable one at that) of a remake of Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Star Wars was inspired by Hidden Fortress. There are countless other such remakes. But you will also find scenes from Kurosawa's movies that seem to have inspired scenes in other movies. Watch Seven Samurai and then watch Lagaan. Scenes where Aamir Khan takes on the entire village to convince them to take on the British is very similar to the argument in the Japanese village over hiring Samurai to fight the dacoits.

Similar such inspirations from Ikiru show up in movies when you least expect them to. My love affair with Korean movies started with the great action movie Nowhere to Hide. The movie itself seemed to draw inspiration, albeit lightly, from a Kurosawa movie Nora Inu. In the middle of the movie one of the characters is sitting in a children's swing in a snow covered field, dwelling on a recent shoot out. The first thing you think when you see this scene is "Ikiru!"

Few movies have the power to make you want to do something with your life. Ikiru is one.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Moving on..

After about 6.5 years of working at my current company -- -- I will finally be saying goodbye. Looking back, I have to say that I had an amazing time here. But staying any longer would have just been complacency on my part.

There are so many friends, so many sweet memories that happened in this time.

Right now, I am in the middle of getting everything closed, packed and shipped back to the United States. It kind of feels strange -- the last one year in India has changed so much in my life in some ways. The time in India was very memorable, though I can't complain enough about the life (or the lack of it) in Bangalore.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Punjabi ghazals, anyone?

When someone mentions Punjabi music, most people probably think of Bhangra, Daler Manhdi, Malkit Singh an the like. Try this
for a change.

I picked up this album by Kiran Ahluwalia because I remember I had seen the album photo online somewhere, and remember that I had kind of thought about getting it sometime. I saw it when browsing in a store, and next thing I was listening to her amazing voice in my car. Her story of leaving her job to go find music is impressive too. But really, her voice, and her rendition of the ghazals, is something you get hooked on to easily.

The Lisp Way

My journey with Lisp continues. I had progressed to the second chapter of SICP, and now Ajit has swiped it from me. So I'll have to get another copy. (The book's a lot cheaper in the Indian edition -- Rs. 400, or about USD 9.)

I managed to find the Common Practical Lisp book in a store in Bay area. This one's a great read as well. I'm actually reading this stuff in flights, lord forbid.

It's getting to the extent where I have been thinking about past stuff I've done and how I could have done them that much better if I had picked Lisp to do them.

I couldn't find Peter Norvig's book I was looking for in stores anywhere, and I was in the US for a short visit and didn't have time to get it from Amazon. But I have plenty to work thorugh for now!

Monday, January 30, 2006

Physics of 15 Park Avenue

The title is a little misleading. I have little to offer on the physics of 15 Park Avenue. But I have some observations. For those not in the know, 15 Park Avenue is a new movie by Aparna Sen -- the director of the amazing Mr. and Mrs. Iyer.

I saw this movie a few weeks ago, and we weren't prepared for the grim mood of the movie. Nevertheless, we came away impressed with the movie. Before you read any further, there are spoilers below -- so if you haven't seen the movie, you might be better off not reading ahead.

From the very beginning of the movie, it seems to have a thread running about questioning reality, and there is also a thread that keeps mentioning quantum physics. Shabana Azmi is a quantum physics professor. She befriends a neurologist who is treating her sister -- played incredibly by Konkona Sen -- of schizophrenia. Together the doctor and the sister have conversations about what is real and what is not. The movie ends where you are left wondering what it was all about -- and it kind of ties these odd ends about quantum physics and reality and alternate worlds, though still leaves a lot of questions.

The other interesting aspect about the movie was how all the characters revolved around Mithi the schizophrenic. Everyone brought their perspective -- the educated sister treats her like a project and a responsibility, the old mother just looks on helplessly, the maid treats her like a pain she has to endure, the deserting lover looks at her with guilt and seeks redemption in trying to help her.

In one of the conversations in the movie, they discuss a sadhu who "hears voices in his head." The mother is an instant believer who thinks this can happen. The scientists are all non-believers and think he is a charlatan. The doctor brings his perspective -- maybe the sadhu is schizophrenic? And this ties the conversation with Mithi, who talks and lives in a world different than the one others around her are living in.


I saw Rang De Basanti last night -- another patriotic themed film by Aamir Khan. It was many times better than the damp affair called Mangal Pandey, of course. The movie had its flaws but I thought the movie was quite well done.

Teaching myself Lisp

Whenever I can make some time these days, I try and make progress with learning Lisp. To begin with, I started with a refresher on Lambda. I remembered some of the lambda calculus stuff, but not a whole lot. Google search pointed me to Wikipedia entries, so that's where I went.

Next I searched for some basic tutorials on Lisp that could get me started. This is the one I ended up using:
Once I was through with this tutorial, I started looking for good books. I found the Common Lisp: The Language book online. I've now downloaded it on my powerbook (which is running for hours on battery now!)

I always felt I could learn better if I had programming problems to work through. They make you wade through some basic concepts that elude you when you are simply reading tutorials etc. After I looked around a bit, I picked up the class assignments from a course at Georgia Tech (where I actually had spent 2 years, without taking this course -- what a waste!): Class CS 2360.

I am almost done with the second assingment now. They weren't very tough, but I couldn't stop myself from smiling when I solved some simple problems like swapping the first and the fourth elements of a list, or implementing simple set operations.

I also bought a copy of Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs. It's been a great read so far -- I am still in the first chapter.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Of soundtracks, Korean movies and Indian copies...

I saw the Sajay Dutt starrer, Zinda, this weekend. I thought the movie was a far superior product than what one would have expected. I think it's also largely due to the ability of the lead actors being able to carry off their roles. There were all kinds of goofs and letdowns, but nevertheless this is a good product from Bollywood.
One of the funny goofs was when a guy whose both hands have been cut off is asked where the girl is, points using what must have been his third hand, "upstairs."

Now, one of the reasons, I am sure, this movie appeals to me is that it is remake of the Korean movie Oldboy. I have a weak spot for Korean and Thai movies, and I end up watching a lot of junk from them just because I want to not miss out on a rare gem somehow. That's how I got to see Attack the Gas Station, Jakarta, The Eye, One Missed Call and so many other very good movies (imho). In any case, Zinda did a good job with the production though they could have easily done with someone better than the leading ladies they actually hired -- one thinks of Shilpa Shetty.

One or two movies every couple of months seem to have really good soundtracks. Bluffmaster did it with its hip hop tracks a month or so ago, and now Zinda with its tracks by Strings. Pakistani bands seem to be the flavor du jour, and fully deserved too. Jal, Fuzon, Strings -- all these guys rock!


I met Ranjit for lunch a couple of days back, and naturally there were plenty of geeky things to talk about. He had made references to Lisp related blogs recently, and conversation steered towards functional programming and like for a bit.

About a year and a half ago, when I started working on a brand new product, the nature of the product naturally lent itself to be implemented in a functional programming langauage -- or so I believe. Unfortunately I can't talk about it in detail, but I was very excited that I might get to tinker in Lisp or ML once again. But it wasn't to be. This time, however, I am a little bit more determined to just work in Lisp for fun, if nothing else.

This led to an exercise of installing CLISP on my powerbook. I have Panther (10.3), and the majority of my pain in getting CLISP installed was in finding how to get the Xcode developer tools installed. It turned out that the whole thing was incredibly simple once you knew where to install from. In any case, as of this morning, I have CLISP on my laptop, and I feel like child again, eager to get back home from work and play!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Bringing the powerbook battery back to life

For some time now, the battery on my 12-inch powerbook had been behaving erratically. I noticed it first some 4 months ago, when the battery went from 100% charge to dead in about 10 minutes. Initially I thought the battery must be close to dying (it has been close to two years of usage). Last week, I decided to at least tamper with it a little bit. With only a little bit of internet research, I figured that the problem is probably related to the memory problem, and I found two ways people have fixed similar problems. I narrowed down the possible things I could try to fix the laptop to these two: boot up open firmware, and try to reset nvram; and try and completely discharge and recharge the battery a few times.

I didn't know how to boot up in open firmware, and this place had some good information to get me started. Other people had written about how they had fixed battery problems in open firmware too.

Once my powerbook was in open firmware, i reset-nvram, and reset-all -- resulting in the latop restarting. There didn't seem to be any effect. The battery was still draining pretty quickly.

Then I started the process of draining the battery completely. In order to do this quickly, I downloaded BatteryAmnesia, but it didn't work -- it kept reporting that the AC adapter is connected when it wasn't. It probably did its best and there was a problem with the battery I needed to fix, but I was a little disappointed with the software -- as a programmer myself, I expect programs to work when users use them.

So I began the process of letting the battery drain off completely, and then recharging it again. After a couple of these sessions I noticed that the powerbook would start reporting only 1% charge left after about 20 minutes of work, but then would stay on for another hour or so at that level. In some ways, the problem was fixed -- my battery was lasting much longer now than it was earlier.

After a few more sessions of fully draining the battery and recharging it, the battery seems much healthier. It is charging and draining at a much lower rate -- which does seem to indicate a "memory problem" as the root cause.

Kumarakom and Allepey

A couple of weeks ago Pooja and I went to Kerala. We planned it at a very short notice, but we managed to still get to do what we wanted to -- which was a day at a lakeside resort in Kumarakom, and a houseboat cruise. We were initially trying to book it online, but decided to go through a travel agent, in the hope of getting better rates. It turned out the buggers charged us the rates we saw online, and added their own margins on top of it. I've seen the same thing now with just about everything in India -- flights, hotels, holiday packages. Probably the best rates you want are already available online now.

I wholly recommend Kerala visit to everyone -- it is indeed a place out of this world. Sitting by the water in Kumarakom in the evening was probably one of most pleasant memories in India. The day and night in the houseboat was great as well. We travelled from Kumarakom to Allepey, but I believe most of the cruises are from Allepey to Kollam.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


We went to Hampi on the new years' weekend. It was a very quiet new years, but great nevertheless. The city of Hampi was a part of the old Vijayanagar empire till the 15th century, when it was brought to ruins by invaders. This was the first time I saw preserved ruins of a whole city. Cities like Delhi, Udaipur, Mysore, Hyderabad have their own (and even longer) history, but there are layers of cultures that have hidden, or completely erased what existed centuries ago. In most of these cities you can still see the more magnificient pieces of architecture -- the palaces, the forts -- but in Hampi you can look over what used to be an entire city, complete with markets, temples, festival grounds, drainage and drinking water aqua ducts and more.

The city has boundary walls that have gates to come in and go out -- large enough that elephants used to come in years ago, and buses make it through easily now. The moment you enter Hampi, you immediately feel as though you've been transported to a different time. On barren rocks you see beauty in the form of architecture of old everywhere. I found it fascinating to see what seemed like resting places for trekkers in several places -- in the middle of what seemed like nowhere.

The most majestic and impressive of the temples was defintiely the Vithala temple. This temple has "musical" pillars. It is difficult to describe but there are actually different instruments that you can hear when you play on different pillars. Besides this, the Queen's bath was interesting -- one of the times when the good old phrase comes to mind: "It's good to be King!"

We stayed across the river, and getting there by car was quite an adventure. The village across the river from Hampi is now just a row of guest houses and garden restaurants, all catering to mostly foreigners and hippies. Nevertheless, it was not very expensive. I recommend though that you stay in Hampi, preferrably in a guest house or in the Hotel Mayur Bhuvaneshvari that's run by the Karnataka government. You have to take a boat to go across the river, and it stops running at 8pm, and doesn't start till 6am. We were planning to leave Hampi very early morning on Monday, to get back to work in Bangalore, and had to drive some 40 km on very bad roads to get across.