Saturday, November 19, 2005

Living in the Past - Network Analysis

I am sometimes accused of living in the past, of talking a lot about the college days and have been told 'Dude, those days will never come back.'. Heck I knowthat. That's why I talk about them. Or I'd be living them, right?

I learnt a lot of useless things in Manipal. Like how the Babcock and Wilcox Boiler works. I am glad to say that I don't remember how it works at all now. Clearly, those neurons have been put to better use. I learnt useful stuff too, which I have since forgotten. I could tell every production motorcycle in those days (and there were only a few back then) just by the engine note (my hostel room overlooked the street).

But something that has never been forgotten is Network Analysis.

Third sem was a lot of fun. Many visits to the beaches, many movies, many books(The Hitchhiker's Guide, most notably), many late night discussions, riding ra42s bicycle around the hostel corridor to see who could get the best time, listening to borrowed tapes on borrowed stereos. This was the semester of pinks' scooty, hikes in the country side and also Network analysis.

Network Analysis was a mass-ordi paper. Ordi basically means that you got < 35 out of 100 on that paper. You would have to take the paper again next year and it would show on record. Mass ordi paper means, well, lots of people got ordis in that paper. We knew all this going into the third semester.

Me and my buddy ra42 figured, hey, we know volts law (something about how i1r1=i2r2 or some such thing, I have forgotten). Everything else is going to be a derivation of that. I mean, how much more complicated could networks get, right?:-) So, well, almost everyone else is panicking. People are taking extra tuition, they are busting their butts studying and we are discussing concepts like 'What makes a joke funny?' (The answer btw is that most good jokes employ paradigm shifts to create humor. You think something is going to happen, but something else does.) . Much time was spent discussing Ayn Rand, The Importance of Having a Value System, Does God Exist?, Do God Need to Exist, The Hitchhiker's Guide, Yes Primeminister, The Relative Merits of Actresses, The Relative Merits (or the lack thereof) of our collegemates, Dire Straits, Doors, Pink Floyd etc etc, in no specific order. Just your basic college hostel education.

So, exam time rolls by, it's the night before the test. We figure we better do something about the test. The very air crackles with electricity and tension. Everyone is tensed, everyone is studying hard. You can practically smell the fear in the air. We trek up to Boxer's hostel room and ask him for help (we don't have notes, we barely know the syllabus). Boxer asks us a few questions. When we dont know the answers, he gives us a look reserved for condemned men, and says 'You guys have no chance tomorrow. This is what I am going to do. I will show you a few problems, learn them well and hope they show up in the test.' We studied most of the night that night.

The next morning, I awoke, showered, shaved, got to the exam hall. Right outside the hall, Sammy told me the solution to yet another problem. We all went in, wrote the test. Sammy's problem was there. Many of Boxer's problems were there. I passed, as did Ra42. We had survived!

Believe it or not, this is one of the biggest things I remember from my time in Manipal. It's not like cooler things didn't happen. Of course they did. But, for some reason, Network Analysis, like Wordsworth's Daffodils stands out in my Manipal memory. In a way it was not so good. It reinforced the general 'Chalta Hai' attitude.

Maybe if we had got a sharp rap at this juncture(like getting marks I really deserved:-)), I would have been a more serious guy, who filed his tax returns on time, who didn't wait till the last moment to get his car inspected, who booked tickets well in advance of his trips etc etc. But, well, it didn't happen, did it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

To Live (Huozhe)

This is a chinese movie by Yimou Zhang and stars You Ge and Li Gong.

The movie starts in early 1940s in China and spans a period of 20 years or so. It follows the life of Xu Fugui and his wife Xu Jiazhen. Fugui is a gambler and is steadily spending his family fortune by gambling it away. He ignores his pregnant wife and his daughter. Unable to take this, his wife leaves him. He loses his family's house and his father dies, unable to bear the insult. His wife returns to him and he starts rebuilding his life from scratch. The movie follows the life of their family though the period of some twenty years or so. The story is told in the backdrop of the great upheavals in China at that time : The communist revolution, Mao's Great Leap Forward etc. The film is also a commentary on the pressure on people to conform. Everyone is afraid to seem 'not revolutionary enough' or 'not communist enough' or 'too capitalist'.

The film manages to show all this without being terribly obvious about it. The focus is always on the Xu family and these epic events that happen around them are just the canvas on which the picture is drawn. So, we get a sense of how 'big' things affect 'little' people.

I was really impressed with the way the characters were portrayed. Li Gong is simply brilliant as Xu Jiazhen. She's just too beautiful and has an expressive face. You Ge has done a really nice role as Xu Fugui.

The script is poignant without being maudlin. It's not depressing throughout, even though depressing things happen. There are happy times and sad times, just like in any family. I really liked the lack of heavy handedness in the script. The feelings are expressed subtly and without overt melodrama. In that, the movie reminded me of Twilight Samurai. After a while, you really start identifying with all the characters.

In all, I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The movie has a real 'asian' feel to it.

I really wish that Indian moviemakers would make movies like this, instead of pumping out maudlin "family" melodramas like Baghban.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

The Rising - Mangal Pandey

Aamir Khan plays Mangal Pandey, who is one of the iconic figures in the First War of Independence (or the Sepoy Mutiny, if you prefer the British version). Very little is known of him.

British accounts of his actions indicate that he merely had a bad day at work. Apparently, he shot his officer, injured another and then tried to commit suicide. A plight that many present day officegoers afflicted with pointy-haired bosses no doubt identify with.

I don't think that this reading of history is correct. It ignores the societal conditions and the support that the rebellion got. These things don't happen in a vacuum. The East India company though its many actions had managed to rile up the population, the princes and the army. One of the proximate causes was that the new cartridges for the rifles was coated with the grease of pig and cow fat. Since the army consisted of high-caste hindus and muslims, this managed to offend both their sensibilities. Some officers

In any case, Mangal Pandey's actions were one of the earliest incidents of the War of 1857. The Army of Bengal of the British East India company revolted. Many princes joined the revolt. They managed to take over Delhi and installed Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal King, as the ruler. The British were initially taken aback by the sudden turn of events. They maanged to recover, and with the help of fresh regiments from Britain and other native regiments who had stayed loyal managed to ultimately roll back the tide. While it lasted, the war was a bloody and cruel affair. At the end of the War, the British government took over the direct rule of India from the East India Company.

The movie has tried to stay as close as possible to historic events. Not much is known of Mangal Pandey, so they have given him a back story. They have created a fictional character called William Gordon who is saved by Mangal in Afghanistan and becomes his friend. When the issue of greased cartridges comes up in Mangal's regiment, Gordon is told by his superiors that there is no animal fat in the cartridges and he announces that to his regiment. Mangal volunteers to fire the gun so that his friend will not lose face. Later, when it becomes clear that the cartridges did have animal fat on them, it creates a rift in their friendship.

I really liked the way that the character of William Gordon was developed and played. The easy camaraderie between him and Mangal(including a wrestling match at the akhara), his personal distrust of the company, his basic decency(he rescues a girl from sati) and his anguish at having unknowingly betrayed his friend are all portrayed very well.

Aamir Khan plays Mangal well. I really wish they had spent some more time developing his character rather than wasting time with two pointless songs. One was an 'item' number and another a 'holi' song. As it happens, one day Mangal is a sepoy in a regiment, and the next, he becomes a leader of the revolt chatting up Azimullah and Tatya Tope.

Azimullah is an interesting character. He was the prime minister to Nana Sahib, an Indian ruler. When the British East India company refused Nana Sahib succession under the Doctrine of Lapse, he sent Azimullah to Britain to plead his case. Azimullah was fluent in English and apparently something of a charmer. But he failed his mission. On the way back, he came via Constantinople and visited the site of the Crimean War. He observed that the British were not invincible and were currently taking a beating. He was one of the instigators of the War since he wanted to strike while the British were still recovering. Of course, none of this is shown in the movie, probably to save time to show the stupid Holi song.

Rani Mukherji plays Aamir Khan's love interest and is basically wasted in that role. I didn't think that love story was needed. I found the romance between William Gordon and Jwala (the girl he rescues) to be much more interesting.

The movie has played a lot of attention to recreating history and have largely succeeded. The period costumes and architecture look great. They have also used stories about the revolt intelligently (lower caste sweeper mocking soldiers for biting greased cartridges, prostitutes mocking soldiers for being slaves of the british, Gordon saying 'If you have a tradition of burning widows, I have a tradition of killing murderers'(this is a paraphrase of the quotes attributed to Lord Napier in the same context) ), if a little out of context. They have also taken liberties with the stories and characters, but I thought that was perfectly ok.

There are also interesting devices they have used to move the story along. Like there are these bunch of guys who hang around, smoke hookas and talk and they are used to tell us stuff like how the British have intrduced Telegraph. Gordon talks about how the East India Company is buying opium in India and selling it in China (which caused the Opium Wars, where the Indian sepys fought). The caste system prevalent at that time is shown as is an attempted Sati. These go a long way towards providing some depth for the movie.

In all, I liked the movie. They have basically made a historical movie while still abiding by the bollywood formula. I wish they had freed themselves of that adherence, but that's just me.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Fitness takes six minutes a week

http://edition.cnn.com/2005/HEALTH/06/06/sprint.training/

Of course, this is total nonsense. If six minutes a week was all it took to get fit, we could just devote one minute a day, six days a week to working out, and take Sunday off.

This report is a pretty good example of people taking research and interpreting the results really badly.

They have taken 16 people, 8 of whom have done nothing, and 8 of whom have worked out. Of the sixteen, the eight who worked out showed improvements over the eight who didn't. Well, we don't need research to show that any kind of working out is better than not working out at all.

The workout they are talking about is interval sprints, which by the way is a very good way of improving your stamina. When you do long bouts of cardio, your body adapts really quickly to the routines and you start getting diminishing returns both in terms of weight loss and also in terms of endurance gains. That is why you see many people in the gym running and biking on the machines and not seeming to get very far fitnes wise. Your body will sooner or later figure out the efficient way of doing these activities.

What happens in interval sprints is that you do short bursts (say 30 seconds) of the workout (biking/running/whatever) at very high intensity (hence sprint), and then recover by doing the same activity at a lower intensity. So, for instance, if you were to apply this to running, a typical routine would look like this
jog : 90 seconds
sprint : 30 seconds
jog : 90 seconds
sprint : 30 seconds
jog : 90 seconds
sprint : 30 seconds
jog : 90 seconds
sprint : 30 seconds

This whole workout woud total only 8 minutes but packs quite a punch. The sprints kill you, and the jogs ensure that you cannot just stop. This sort of workout really shocks your body and forces it to perform. This leads to positive improvements in your stamina and overall fitness.

Now, the researchers have had the subjects do four 30 second sprints followed by 4 minute recovery times. The writer of the article has added up the sprint times for each day (2 minutes), multiplied that by 3 (since they workout 3 times a week) and come up with the magic time of six minutes of working out per week.

But, when you do four 30-second sprints, with four minutes of recovery, in reality, you are working out for 18 minutes, and done 3 times a week, comes to 54 minutes per week, which is nine times the time that the article claims.

Mind you, I think that interval sprints are great to improve stamina and get fit. They are my preferred mode of cardio (when I do cardio, that is :-) ). I find that these sprints really challenge me and keep me from getting bored. After all, running on the treadmill for 25-30 minutes does get old fast.

But, I think that this article is grossly misleading in terms of what it promises. If you want to do interval training, you better be willing to devote more than six minutes a week for your fitness regimen.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Return of the Sith

I finally saw Return of the Sith. Saw it on an giant screen no less. I figured if I was getting shafted, I would get shafted big :-)

What people say is true. It's certainly better than The Phantom Menace and the Attack of the Clones. But those movies have set the bar so low that crossing it is no big deal.

Ok, so did I enjoy it? I rather enjoyed the action scenes. As long as no one was talking or was trying to justify their actions, the movie was cool. Some of the scenes were just brilliant. For instance, Yoda walks in a room, two arbit guys point some thingamajigs at him, Yoda carelessly waves his hand, slams them into the wall and they collapse in a heap. Cool scenes like this are few and far between, but they are there.

The plot is hopelessly riddled with holes. The Jedi are super-kickass-fighters, apparently, but they seem to die pretty tamely. Oh, some separatists have taken our chancellor prisoner. Ok, we will send two people to rescue him. How about sending a few more? Maybe they were too busy meditating or teaching Yoda grammar or something.

I found the conversion of Anakin into the dark side particularly unconvincing.

Join the Dark Side
No
Join the Dark Side
No
Join the Dark Side
Oh, ok.

C'mon!

The supposed reason that Anakin flirts with the dark side is to keep his babe from dying at childbirth.You can't tell me that a princess of a realm can't command enough resources to make sure that her pregnancy is safe. Yeah, we got light-sabers,faster-than-light-travel, battle cruisers, cool levitational tech, but, no, we still lose women tochild-birth. Oh, I am getting premonitions that my wife's going to die of childbirth, I would consult her ob-gyn specialist, not try to figure out how to revive her *after* she dies.

This is a pity because Anakin's conversion is the pivotal point of the whole movie. And it looks so weak thanks to the build-up (or the lack thereof). Having just had a hand in Mace Windu's death (hand, get it?), Anakin was pretty much screwed at that point. He could either surrender to the Jedi council, commit suicide or join Palpy at his little taking-over-the-galaxy scheme. The story was never built up to the point where his reasons for his actions were made clear.

If his joining the dark side was to protect Padme, then, why didn't he kill himself when he was told she was dead? Clearly, he must have felt that the Sith had something going for them, other than a nebulous promise to be able to create life. If they had built up the story properly, the viewers would have atleast felt that his conversion was genuine.

Would it have killed Georgie boy to have a few minutes where the Palpatine says 'this is why I think the Sith rock and the Jedi suck'? Clearly, that time was spent on showing some pointless CGI thingummy.

Oh, and the few times that people actually talk, you cringe. Especially the scenes where Anakin and Padme talk. Oh man! That sucked.

The pity of it all is that the prequels actually havea cool story arc. It's about how a republic is perverted into an empire by manufacturing a war. The senator has played his cards brilliantly,played both sides against each other, used the natural impatience that people have with the process of democracy to destroy democracy itself. Interesting story. There's no such backbone to the original series.

But, the execution of this story has been pathetic.

When you step back and look at it, you can see that this had what it took to be a true masterpiece. Pathetic screenplay, poor direction and acting has ensured that it will never happen. The devil is indeed in the details :-) Like, Psmith says so often.. For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are these, "It might have been."

Sunday, May 08, 2005

So, what's the point?

I have been thinking about fitness, weight-loss, eating right, and other matters allied to 'healthy living'. Ultimately, What's the point? What are we shooting for?

So, you go to the gym, workout hard, eat right. What the heck are you getting? So, you are stronger and fitter. Does it matter?

Physical capacity has no bearing on our lives. We move around in motorized vehicles(with power steering, power brakes and power windows where possible), have sedentary jobs and very few of us raft down the mighty Amazon on theweekends. No grizzlies to fight. No rampaging hordes of barbarians to keep from the door.

Clearly, we have no *real* need to be fit. Let us examine the usual reasons given for being fit.

It makes you feel better about yourself :
Does it really? Working out hurts. You sweat, you stink. Then,you go home all cramped up and tired. Your muscles hurt. Overwork and you get hurt. Run too much and your knees get injured. It's like some kind of weird masochistic ritual.

It is going to make you live longer:
Does that really matter? Let's say working out adds 10 years to your life. Is it going to let us live our 20s all overagain? No way. The ten years are going to be added to the *end* of our lives. From where I stand, it makes no difference if I die when I am 90 or when I am 100.I am going to be a tired, grouchy old man, with most of my friends dead and with irritating relatives to put up with.
What's more, after you cross a certain age, it is diseases that you can do nothing about that get you. So, even the living-longer claim is really dodgy.

It is going to let you do more:
That's not even true. Unless you are into solitary pastimes, your activities are going to be decided by your group of friends. By definition, then, you are only going to participate in things that the majority of your friends can participate in. So, in essence, there's no advantage to being fitter than average.

So, folks, we might as well go with the flow. Eat everything. Don't work out. Why bother.

Friday, April 08, 2005

India Vs. Australia Part 2

The Indian women's cricket team has just defeated New Zealand and made it to the finals of the Women's World Cup.
http://specials.rediff.com/cricket/2005/apr/08cric1.htm
Apparently, we were struggling at 38 for 2 in the 14th over till the captain Mithali Raj slammed an unbeaten 91 off 104 balls.
Our adversaries in the finals are the Aussies. Once more.

The last time India met Australia at a World Cup Final would of course be the 2003 (men's) World Cup when Australia thoroughly kicked our ass. They first slammed our bowling around the park (359 in 50 overs) and then proceeded on to a 129 run victory. It was traumatizing to watch, to say the least.

I hope the women's team avenges that defeat :-)

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Sunday River, the addendum

I was driving yesterday and thinking about the skiing trip to Sunday river. There's one thing I forgot to add to my blog.

So, Friday night, when we had finished our first day of skiing, we went out, had dinner. By now, it was snowing pretty heavily. As we came back to our condo, I found that there was a lot of snow on the parking lot and the parking lot had big open spaces. It was time to put the car into some spins..

Basically, what you do is to pick up some speed (not too much, maybe 5-10 mph), and then you turn the wheel and pull the handbrake. The car goes into a nice spin. You know, just like in the movies. Atleast that's the theory. Since the snow removes a lot of the friction, it can be pulled off at lower speeds.

When I told the folks what I planned to try, KD and LR said 'good luck' and left the car :-)

So, I found a empty section of the parking lot, and proceeded to put the theory to the test.
Well, it works. Nice, little spins (since I wasn't going to try high speeds). Fun feeling though. Exactly the kind of feeling you don't want in the highway :-)

Children, if you plan to try this at home, please, please, make sure that the parking lot (or wherever it is that you are trying this out), is empty. No other people nearby, no cars, no telephone poles, no nothing. Exercise your judgement. There's absolutely nothing you can do to control the car (except maybe drop the handbrake and try to regain control) once you are in the spin. Don't do anything stupid.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

Sunday River Skiing

I had not done much skiing before this year (three afternoons' worth, three years ago). I was always a little worried that my knees would get injured. Seeing people in casts at work every skiing season did little to change my opinion.

This season, my friends (KD, SD and LR) convinced me to try skiing again with the eloquent argument 'What are you, chicken?'. Of course, now they claim that they didn't say anything of that sort. Apparently, all they did was to point out that skiing was a fun outdoor activity that a guy like me would enjoy and that my fears of knee injury were misplaced. I guess recollections of events vary.

Suffice it to say that peer pressure is not always a bad thing.

I skied for the first time in Wachusett Mountain in Boston, spending about three hours on the beginner slope there. I hasten to add that I use the word skiing in the loosest of ways. All I remembered was that I was supposed to make a wedge as I came down. Towards the end of the day, I thought I was doing ok.

The second time was with KD, SD and LR at Mountain Creek. One look at my 'skiing' and they basically said 'Stay here on the beginner slope, work your technique' and that's what I did all day. The slopes on mountain creek look like Ranganathan Street on a busy Saturday evening. Just way too many people. It's great for practicing control, though :-)

Of course, I enjoyed it all so much that I put in an order for skis, boots and poles. Sports Authority had a 40% off sale on all these, and I figured I would make the money back in a few trips. So, when we went to Sunday River in Maine the next weekend, I was all ready with my gear.

Sunday River is a cool ski resort with six mountains with multiple beginner, intermediate and advanced slopes. We rented a slope-side condo and the price included lift tickets and lessons for two days. In all, it worked out to a pretty reasonable price. We made it there late Thursday night. The plan was to get up early on Friday and start skiing at 9:00 am.

As it happened (and it happens often), we got up at 9:00, started skiing at 11:00. Once we got on the slopes wanderlust gripped SD. He just wanted to ski every slope that he could. Of course, this enthusiasm was infectious. The way the trails are set up, you can go from hill to hill on long traverses. These don't have much of a slope. So, we'd do a green trail a couple of times, then, the next time up, get on one of the traverses, go to the next mountain, do the green trails there and so on. We started with the left-most hill (which was easiest) and worked our way right. Towards the end, of course, the greens were more challenging. The last two we did (Dream Maker and Lollapalooza) were the toughest green trails on the hill.

Now, ideally, for a skier like me(i.e. novice with no clue), the best thing to do is to go across the slope, left to right, then, turn, come back right to left and so on. This traversing of the slope ensures that regardless of the slope, you never pick up too much speed. Of course, you start in a wedge, but the longer your traverses are, the wedge disappears and your skis start getting parallel. That's the first step to developing the proper skiing technique, apparently.

As I got more exhausted, all I was doing was pretty much going down straight, picking up lots of speed, and wedging like crazy in an attempt to slow down. Of course, I thought I was still traversing. Exhaustion can do that sort of thing to your mind. Ideally, I should have stayed on a simple beginner slope and worked my technique. But I was having so much fun hopping the hills with the rest of the gang that I just went with the flow.

Lollapalooza was a harsh mistress, to quote SD, with steep icy sections. And, coming down Lollapalooza, I had a mighty fall. I lost one ski, briefly attempted one-legged skiing and finished with a face plant on the snow. I had landed in one of the icier sections and I could barely get up because my ski boots kept slipping out from under me. Putting my skis back on was an adventure all unto itself. LR stayed with me the whole time, helping me get my things together, and making sure I got back on my skis. I owe her one.

At long last, we were done for the day and did a few long traverses (Kansas, Lower Lazy River, Road Runner) to get back to the condo. I was beat. I was tired, I was hungry. A brief digression on the hunger part...

KD, SD and LR believe in ascetic skiing. They neither eat nor drink when they ski. They look down upon anyone who is weak enough to succumb to the temptations of the flesh while on the slopes :-). No doubt this pleases the Skiing Gods who then bestow their blessings. I have no clue how they manage it. Me, I finished off my ration of four granola bars and an apple and an entire bottle of water in the course of the five hours of skiing.

After we got back, I spent some time in the jacuzzi, which really relaxed my aching muscles. We then went out and had a big, nice dinner. Oh yeah, by this time, it had started snowing too. We chilled out after the dinner, listening to some music, indulging in some pleasant conversation, mostly about how cool the day's skiing had been and how great the next day's skiing was going to be. There were brief digressions on 80s Hindi movies, Rock and Roll and other assorted trivia. It had been a great day and every one felt really good. Nothing like a hard physical workout, followed by a hot jacuzzi and lots of good food to put one in a mellow mood :-)

The next day, we woke up to find that there had been nearly a foot of snow overnight, and we just couldn't wait to start skiing. I was quite pleased with Friday's skiing, so I figured that I would just ski for four hours or so and just chill out at the restaurant the rest of the time.

When we hit the slopes, we were surprised by the quality of the snow. Fresh Powder! The feeling was just great. Of course, it was continuously snowing (sometimes at 2 inches an hour) for the whole day. The snow kept many people off the roads and hence the slopes presumably. So, the resort wasn't as crowded as it might have been on a Saturday.

The heavy snow also meant that the skiing conditions were way different than the first day. For one, the snow slowed me down to such an extent that I felt confident enough to try a fairly easy Intermediate slope. More on the snow a little later.

In the meanwhile, LR lost her way, and managed to run a black diamond. So, KD and SD decided to run that black diamond with her one more time. While these folks were playing with the Blacks and the Blues, I decided to go check out my favorite traverse, the Three Mile. It was a fairly long run, and I met the rest of the gang at South Base.

Here, I discovered that I had a free lesson as part of the package and decided to take it. I was dead-tired by this point and figured that a nice quiet lesson would be a good way of topping the trip off. Well, as it happened, the lesson involved us doing Dream Maker two more times and a fairly steep Intermediate slope called Escapade. While my plans of an easy, chilled out afternoon were shot to bits, the lesson really helped. Deadly Dave, our instructor, had us focusing on specific things. I picked up a couple of concepts (making sure that the head stayed level, dealing with bumps etc) that really helped me. After the lesson, I ran Dream Maker a couple more times, just to make sure I had absorbed the lesson well.

Well, remember how I had planned on a easy half-day of skiing? By the time all this was done, and I was making my way back to the condo (another run of long traverses across the mountains), it was 4:00 pm. I had skied the entire day. My muscles were burning . We packed up, and drove to Boston to some hot Thai food on Madurai Avenue. The drive in the snow (it snowed non-stop) was fairly uneventful but for a skid while merging into 95 near Boston. Heh, suffice it to say that what's fun on the slopes is not fun on the road.

Boston, well, was Boston. Friends, Food, the usual bit.

In all, this trip was fantastic. Just the first day was paisa vasool. I really enjoyed the quiet runs with very few people to share the hill with.

The second day just blew my mind. The heavy snow muffled every sound, and on the lesser used trails, all you could hear was the snow falling. I stopped at many places to just enjoy the quiet(like Robert Frost stopping by the woods on a snowy afternoon :-) ). Skiing in that deep fresh snow was such a great feeling, though. All you hear is the whisper of the skis on the snow. More a swish than the usual crunch. Oh, and the deep snow 'gives' so much, it is almost like you are weightless. Like you are swimming. Or flying even. Like water on glass. Man, it was such a great feeling, I still feel good thinking about it! Even the times I fell, it felt like falling on a giant white bed.

I think I am spoiled for life :-) I doubt if I will ever be lucky enough to get snow like that again..

Anyway, that's how it all came out. I know this is a pretty long winded post, but hey, I had to get it all in :-)

If you made it this far, people, take my word for it, if you get a chance, try skiing. It's great, cool and awesome. If you are worried about injuries, well, as long as your bindings are set right, you won't have problems. If you live in a place that gets snow, well, there's no better way to pass the otherwise dreary winter months. Heh, Good luck then, and more powder to you :-)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

The Parable of the Procrastinator

Long ago, in a kingdom far-far away..

There was this guy who was going to be executed. The reasons aren't important.
Before being executed, he says 'I would like to speak to the king, I have important news for him.'
So, they take him to the king and the king asks him what is this important news.
He says 'King, give me one year and I will teach your horse to fly.'
The king is intrigued and gives him one year's time.

The prisoner's buddy asks him 'Hey, you have no clue how to make a horse fly, why did you tell him that?'
The prisoner says 'Friend, many things can happen in a year. I might die, the king might die, and for all you know, the horse might fly!'.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Johnny Sokko and the Giant Robot

When I was in fifth standard (and that was a long time ago), there was this really cool Japanese series on Doordarshan called Giant Robot (Actually, the series was called Johnny Sokko and his amazing Flying Robot but, when you are nine years old, these details don't matter).

It was all about this kid called Johnny Sokko who has this huge Robot. He would flip open his watch and speak to the robot and the robot would pretty much do anything he asked. The Robot was huge (like multi-story building huge).

Johnny belonged to organization called Unicorn. Their job was to fight this evil monster-king-thingy from outerspace who has a whole bunch of monsters at his beck and call. Every week, he would send one of these monsters up against the city. The monsters would break a couple of buildings, terrorize the neighborhood, Unicorn would be alerted and Johnny Sokko, his buddy and the Giant Robot would land up, defeat the monster, and peace would reign until the next week.

The Robot, could fly, thanks to the rocket booster in its back. He had a pretty impressive arsenal of weaponry. Missiles that would pop out of his fingers, heat rays from his eyes and so on and so forth. He would also, if the circumstance warranted, engage the monster in hand-to-hand (or tentacle, as the case may be) combat. Each monster would have a specific strong-point (cool rhino like horns, tentacles, heat-ray) and would mess up Giant Robot. Then of course, Giant Robot would gain the upper-hand (and/or Johnny would figure out what to do to defeat the monster).

I thought it was the coolest thing. I would be deeply upset if I couldn't watch it. Of course, my buddies and I would discuss each episode to its minutest detail. The Giant Robot would do a series of calisthenics before he could access his weaponry (right hand to chest, left hand to chest, and out come the heat rays!). We of course had that stuff memorized. When you are nine years old, these details matter. Then the series got over.

Fast-forward six years... I was in twelfth grade. They were showing Giant Robot again on Doordarshan. I made sure I watched it. And, man!, was it disappointing. The special effects sucked, the buildings were so clearly made out of cardboard, the monsters were badly animated rubber puppets, it was badly dubbed and the stroyline sucked. I could not believe that it was the same series that had so captivated me long ago. The next day, at school, a friend of mine said 'I can't believe I used to cry if I missed watching this serial.'.

You know, sometimes, growing up just sucks.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Manmadan

Long ago, when we were kids, this guy called T.Rajendar used to make Tamil movies. He was (and continues to be) a short, extremely hairy guy. People used to love him. I never could understand why. I guess it is one of those things like Visu movies.

Visu was this guy who used to make really involved family dramas which usually involved daughters-in-law being really evil to parents-in-law(and/or vice versa). Severely boring for most of us kids, but our parents loved that stuff. Here's one guy's take on Visu. http://www.pha.jhu.edu/~sundar/tp/visu.html . I consider Visu movies to be the direct forebears of the TV serials with names like 'Marumagal'(daughter-in-law), 'Amma'(mother), 'Pakkathu Veetu Mangatha'(Mangatha the neighbour) etc and hold him personally responsible for the subsequent loss in our society's collective IQ. But, I digress.

Back to T.Rajendar. I really don't remember what the movies were about. He used to act, direct, sing songs, compose the music, do the camera work, work the clapper, get a cup of cutting chai for the heroine and do everything else that goes into making the movies. His big thing was alliterative dialogues. He would say stuff like 'Neenga vanthirunthinga Five, Ippo Ungalukku ellam Good Bye' before beating up the (five) henchmen of the heroine's father/brother/other evil male relative. And the audience would all cheer.

There was a time when he ruled the roost in the Tamil Nadu movie industry. That is not saying much. Ramarajan too ruled the roost once. But, that is a topic for another day.. Suffice it to say.. de gustibus et coloribus non disputandum est, or in English 'There aint no accounting for taste'.

T.Rajendar's son, Silambarasan (who used to act in his dad's movies under the nom-de-guerre of Chimpu) is now all grown up and this movie is his first in the leading role.

First, the story. The hero is Manmadan, a serial killer who preys upon 'loose' women. Apparently, he hangs out at bars, discos, coffee shops, Book shops and other such places. He chooses his victim, seduces her (to confirm her general lack of morals, presumably) and proceeds to kill her. The heroine is a 'nice' girl who falls in love with the hero. She sees him with one of the victims, reports him to the cops. Hero tells the cops a story about having a deranged twin who is doing all the killings. Story checks out, cops release him, heroine apologizes, Hero ditches her and in a last tete-a-tete with the audience tells us that it was indeed he that was doing the killings to avenge the death of his deranged twin brother who committed suicide because a babe ditched him.

Now, this is not a bad story. The movie, on the other hand, is quite bad. Silambarasan labors under the misapprehension that he is some kind of real actor. This finds expression in long, pointless monologues. He thinks he is showing major emotion. He comes off looking like a petulant kid who has had his lollipop taken from him. The fact that the story calls for the serial killer target women is used as an excuse for extremely loud song-and-dance sequences that involve skimpily dressed starlets. Needless to state, S fancies himself a dancer too(I think he is taking this competition-with-father thing a bit too far).

The movie is pretty unbelievable, starting from the way he disposes of the bodies, the way the cops buy his story and pretty much everything else. I found the bits with the victims to be particularly juvenile.
A sample sequence goes like this
Victim 'I am wearing revealing clothes, so I am clearly cheating on my boyfriend.'.
Serial Killer 'I knew it, you fox you'
V 'I find you unbearably attractive.'
SK 'All righty, I am going to take you to a remote area and kill you. Oh, wait, we haven't had a song in the last five minutes, so we will first dance to a bad song and then I will kill you.'
V 'Whatever'

Audience 'Err, what?'

The dialogue is cliched, the songs are boring, the acting is sub-par and the movie pretty much sucks all around. I guess that means this movie is going to become a hit and we are going to be subjected to more of Silambarasan in the future.

There was exactly five minutes of entertainment for me in the movie, and that was the song En Aasai Mythiliye. I must confess I rather enjoyed the song.

I got roped into watching this movie on the night show during my latest trip to India. Two of my cousins are terribly in love with the movie (De gustibus etc etc) and they dragged three more of us to watch the movie. Suffice it to say that the three of us will probably never let them forget it.