Sunday, December 17, 2006

Take my advice

I could spend hours and not be able to say it as well as Bobby McFerrin. So, without further ado:

Don't you feel better ? I do.

PS: Did you notice a cameo by someone famous ?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Simpsons + India = Make Laugh

The Borat-esque headline notwithstanding, it really is true. I just watched one of the funniest Simpsons episodes in one of the more recent seasons. Just the other day, I was thinking to myself that The Simpons seems to have lost its edge. This episode, entitled Kiss Kiss Bang Bangalore showed me !

Plot: Mr. Burns outsources all the jobs in the nuclear plant to Bangalore, India. Homer survives the layoff but has to move to India. I won't say that the portrayal of India is right on the money but it's definitely one of the funniest I have ever seen on American television. The episode also contains one of the best illustrated arguments for outsourcing set in Mo's Tavern.

Add in :
  1. A healthy dose of Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom
  2. A smidgen of Apocalypse Now
  3. A catchy Indian song from the 1970 Hindi movie Johnny Mera Naam (Lyrics in English and Hindi)
  4. The whole cast dancing (Go Smithers !)
and you have an all-around funny episode. Well done, Simpsons.

PS: For all of you who want to watch this episode on the web in its entirety, here's an encrypted word to the wise: There is constant motion in the world. In fact, I will go so far as to call it "daily motion". Enjoy !

Monday, October 23, 2006

Back With A Bang !

Kiran Desai is in the news again ! Nothing too big ... except she has won the 2006 Man Booker Prize !! I remember reading Kiran's first novel - Hullabaloo in the Guava Orchard - while I in my second year in college. In fact, I even remember where I read it. - during a bus ride from Delhi back to school in Chandigarh. I remember saying to myself, "Wow ! She is going to go places". After that, I never heard anything more about her, until now.

Kiran is not the first writer in her family. Far from it ! Her mother, Anita Desai, is more than accomplished writer. She has been shortlisted for the Booker herself 3 times. She was, until recently, a professor at the MIT Program in Writing and Humanistic Studies and was one of the two reasons for my *almost* abandoning 4 years of engineering instruction and switching to writing full-time (if you are one of the very few regular readers, you would know that the other reason is Salman Rushdie).

Anyway, I digress. Kiran won the coveted prize for her new novel The Inheritance of Loss (Oh, it's already in the mail !). Guess what Rushdie says about Kiran's latest ? "Kiran Desai is a terrific writer. This book richly fulfills the promise of her first." I am sure that feels good, Kiran ! As one of your earliest fans, I wish you many more of such feelings in the years to come ! Oh, and tell your mom she rocks !

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The thread grows stronger ...

For people who don't know me very well, the title of this post may not seem very significant. However, the subset of my family and close friends who read this blog will certainly be surprised, if not shocked. I am perhaps the most vocal critic of the drudgery that has been churned out in the last 5 years by the Bombay branch of largest movie industry in the world.

However, don't file this story under the tags "man" and "disaffected" yet. Sure, my faith in the venerable film institution only hangs by a very thin thread but it's a thread nonetheless. Each strand in this thread represents a movie that is NOT an aimless blob full of inane songs and dubious entertainment value.

Dor is another such movie, and a brilliant one at that. It has a very decent plot, an excellent assemblage of actors and brilliant direction by one of my favorite directors, Nagesh Kukunoor. And that's not all. It has something that I never thought a hindi movie made after the 1960s could ever have - cinematic metaphors. If you pay attention, you can find that every seemingly unrelated event in the movie has a metaphorical bond to the underlying story. I could talk about the various scenes here (and believe me, I want to !) but I would rather keep this post spoiler-free.

Of course, Dor is going to be a box-office failure. I am pretty much resigned to the fact that almost every movie I find stimulating is rejected outright by the Indian public. I don't want to get too much into the whole "masses vs. classes" debate except to say that all the masses seem to want are unfunny jokes, unhealthy vulgarity and unoriginal scripts. I know I probably come off as an arrogant snob here but I assure you, that is not my intent. There are plenty of movies that lie at the intersection.

With that disclaimer in mind, I wish Dor all the success in the world (I wish it was the official Indian entry to the upcoming Academy Awards, but I am also a big fan of the movie that was ultimately selected).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I return

I return to the blogosphere,
weary, yet undefeated.
I stayed away for my mind had only dark thoughts,
but I return cleansed, my exile completed.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

A Walk Down Memory Lane

For some reason, this morning was different than the others. At first, I could not figure out what it was - no matter how much I tried. It struck me when I reached the lab - I wanted to play Carmen Sandiego ! For those of you that don't know this game, there's always Wikipedia. Suffice it to say, this was one of the coolest games that I played on the old PC-XTs when I was over in my mother's office once in a while. Trying to catch thieves that stole the most interesting things (the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome was one) was pretty cool. I think that was the biggest motivation for me to show any interest in the otherwise (seemingly) dull world of geography. You see, the whole point of the game was to follow the thief's tracks around the world (hence the name - Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego ?) The clues were of a geographical nature and you, the gumshoe, had to figure out which country was next on the list.

So, now that I have given you a little introduction, let me outline the steps I had to take to find and run this game. The fact that complicated things a little bit was that my laptop is an Apple Powerbook G4. So, the first thing I had to do was to find a DOS emulator - which was pretty easy. DOSBox is an open-sourced and extremely efficient emulator that was available as a prepackaged binary for Mac OS X. Once that was installed, I searched for the actual game and found a deluxe version of the same somewhere in the google wild. Getting it up and running was extremely simple and within 5 minutes, I was hot on the heels of Carmen, as the screenshots below will tell you. Needless to say, work was set aside and time was wasted.

The DOSBox emulator in action

Where are you, Carmen ?

Getting my next case details on the videophone from the Chief !

Of course, my hankering for nostalgia did not stop there. I was looking at another list of oldies online and found that they had Turbo Pascal 5.5 listed !! I could not believe my eyes. This was the IDE (Integrated Development Environment) that I had grown up with and written my first programs in. There was no way I could pass that up ! So, 10 minutes later, there I was, writing a Pascal program and reveling in the warmth of one of the best structural programming languages around. Borland had added object orientation to the language with the release of this version of Turbo Pascal and that was where I got introduced to OOP. I had forgotten how cool Pascal used to be:

1) Parts of the original MacOS were written in Pascal and Motorola 68000 assembly language
2) The most frequent high-level language used for development in the early Mac community was Pascal.
3) In addition, the popular typesetting system TeX was written by Donald E. Knuth in WEB, a variant of Pascal designed for literate programming.

Without further ado, I reveal to you - the programming interface of my adolescence (I swear, I still remember the keyboard shortcuts !!)

Borland Turbo Pascal 5.5 running on DOSBOX

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Peace Of Wild Things

It's been a while since I have posted - I always thought that once I finished with the doctoral coursework, I would have a lot more time to post. However, it's been exactly the opposite - conference deadlines, research experiments and literature review for that in-the-distance dissertation has me completely swamped. Of course, I spend a lot of time listening to NPR(the podcasts while taking my daily constitutional and regular radio broadcasts when I get home from school) but that hardly counts, right ?

However, there are some events that you just can't pass up writing about. I am in Philadelphia this week (spending the spring break with my grandmother or as I call her - "Mummy"). I managed to catch an episode of ER this morning. This one was special because the word "favorite" kept coming up - my favorite episode of my favorite show with my favorite actor (Alan Alda) as the guest star, and last but certainly not the least, eponymous with one of my favorite poems - "The Peace of Wild Things" by Wendell Berry. The scene where Alda recites the (somewhat paraphrased and shortened) poem makes for brilliant television.

Here's the amazingly poignant poem in its entirety:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

I don't know about you but when I read this poem, I get this feeling of blissful serenity that's pretty hard to come by in today's world.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Justifiable Kowtowing ?

[It's been a while since I have posted anything new. What usually happens is that I start a story but never actually have the chance to finish it, what with the other few hundred things going on in my life. However, I didn't think I could put this particular story in the Drafts folder given my level of disappointment and curiosity.]

"Don't be evil" - a motto that Google claims forms the basis of their corporate policies and business practices. What compounds my disappointment is that I actually believed it until I read that Google has agreed to create new versions of its search and news-aggregation websites that will censor all results that the Chinese government deems to be objectionable. Here's what the head policy counsel at Google had to say, " will comply with local Chinese laws and regulations. In deciding how best to approach the Chinese --or any-- market, we must balance our commitments to satisfy the interest of users, expand access to information, and respond to local conditions."

Now, when I had read similar news stories about Microsoft engaging in similar reprehensible behavior, I was actually not that surprised. There were two reasons for that - (a) I believed that Google is still out there leading the charge against government censorship and intrusion, and (b) Microsoft, the company (I am not referring to Gates here), does not have a track record that attests to putting the benefits to the consumer above profits. I understand that - if they don't comply, they will lose millions, if not billions, by government regulation in the form of excessive regulation and non-compliance to drive out software piracy.

Google's stand seems to be that access to some information is better than no information at all. I am not sure how they expect that any reasonable person would stomach that. Isn't the logic simple ? In a country where the government already has control over most other media, the citizens would inevitably come to rely upon a service, such as Google, that can provide not only information but also a sense of connectedness to the rest of the world. If said service also kowtows to extremely unreasonable government demands, it is just a redundant source of government propaganda.

Let's try playing devil's advocate for a minute. Larry Page recently said that he has always wanted to change the world. I think he, along with co-founder Brin, has managed to make a significant difference in the dissemination of information. May be he actually believes that access to some information is better than no information. In that case, I will grant that he thinks a compromise is necessitated and that the company is still not violating their motto. However, just because you can't see the wrong doesn't make it right.

Strong words aside, I have an inkling of hope that Google will realize that sometimes taking a stand against an oppressive regime goes farther towards changing the world than pandering to their demands. I know other people share my feelings.

Google, Don't be evil.

Update: Here's an illustration of the censorship (a side by side comparison of and search results for the same query). If you want to try some queries yourself, change your browser language to Chinese so that your default google site becomes

Update 2: Google has finally spoken. They are not happy with the decision that they have had to make and they hope to be able to do away with the filtering one day. I appreciate the fact that Google felt it was important to provide a public explanation of their decision (unlike certain other companies that we know of). It indicates that they still believe they are responsible to the public at large, and not just a subset that holds Google's shares. I still don't agree with their decision but I am now willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

An iPod video after all ?

Looks like I might have to buy the drool-worthy iPod video after all. The main reason I was holding off is no longer officially a reason - video availability. Google just launched a video store as promised at CES 2006 [warning: flash intensive] and the cool things about it are that you can buy really cool shows such as CSI, I Love Lucy and an old time favorite, MacGyver, at about the same price point as the iTunes videos AND they now offer all of these videos pre-formatted for the iPod as well. Awesome !! I have to say I am much more impressed with Google's clean and simplified web-based interface. So I can now buy a video iPod and keep it stocked with lots of nice videos - both from iTunes and Google Video (which also has a collection of free videos like the ones catalogued here).

So that means I have to get rid of my 2.5 year old third generation 20GB iPod. Mike was interested in buying it off me but I told him I want to ask my sister first if she would like to take it off my hands. although I don't know why because she just got a brand spankin' new iPod Photo as a gift this past year ! Still, La Famiglia should always come first, no ?

Let's see what Steve has in store for all the mac geeks (including me, of course) tomorrow when he delivers the keynote at the Macworld Conference in San Francisco. Here's hoping that they have come up with a way to make an awesome product even ... er ... awesomer ?

[Update: Looks like Google's video store is being updated with more and more episodes as I type this post. Go Google !!]