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)