Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Great Quote

U2 frontman Bono at a Labor Party Conference a few months back:

"Excuse me if I appear a little nervous. I'm not used to appearing before crowds of less than 80,000."

"How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" - their new album is out today. USA Today calls it their best album ever. Tall claim that - beating "The Joshua Tree", or even "All That You Can't Leave Behind" is not going to be easy.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Top-down, bottom-up

I read We, the Media recently. The book is available at the website for free download.

This is an interesting and thought-provoking look at how new media is changing the equations on content and news.It talks of, among other things, the rise of of RSS news feeds, which allow you to have a greater say in the news you get, and its relevance to you. (similar to the push vs. pull case I made a few weeks back - it was probably before I read the book. Great minds do think alike.). Importantly, it talks of grassroots journalism, and the rise of blogs and things like the Wikipedia, online content that is driven from the bottom-up.

Adding to this theme, I now realize how easy and cheap it is for anyone to really get information out there today. Two technologies on the Internet make this cheap: the first is, of course, freely available blog sites like this one. The second one is BitTorrent. While most people associate it with downloading pirated movies, and software, it is turning out to be an amazingly effective tool for distributing content on low budgets. (I got my latest linux isos, and firefox downloads via bitTorrent - almost as fast, and a bit less server load for the orgs.)

Note: If you don't know about BitTorrent, do check the official FAQ. The protocol's darn impressive. According to some studies it accounts for one-third of the traffic on the Internet today

Imagine an incident like the Rodney King incident happening today. An ordinary person could get the word out, and if s/he has a digital video of it, it could be downloaded by millions without grief to his/her bandwidth bills, simply by posting a BitTorrent link online. With official media increasingly reluctant to take on the government in the US, especially on anything related to "security", this may be prove increasingly important in the future.

For an insight into how news-reporting is giving way to increasingly biased reporting, watch this interview footage from Outfoxed.

NOTE TO SELF: I am beginning to sound like a radical left-wing loonie here. But I 'd like to think I stand by facts, and I like my news like the beeb delivers it. Give me healthy skepticism over "You're with us, or you're with them".

Red, Blue and Purple

An increasingly fractured country?

The Republican and Democrat candidates this election looked increasingly similar on many policies including the war in Iraq and gay rights. However, most maps show the US in sharp relief, neatly dividing up the country into red and blue - with the interiors mostly red, and the north-east and the west blue (literally and figuratively, after the elections). But this link gives a very good insight. Using some neat map techniques, the US map has been transformed, so that population density and margins of victory are given importance too. And they used purple too.

The U.S. of A is nowhere as close to fractured as the mandate made it out to be.

In other news, Ramanand added me to his blogroll. The number of COEPians (even only among the ones I knew) blogging is pretty impressive. I'll get around to a list of blogs on the LHS of this page sometime soon. Maybe some stat counter too. (Ego trip? Maybe. What the heck)

And yes, South Park rules.

You will respect my authoritah.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The curse of the Bawa, and amending religions

An interesting article over at rediff. Talks about how the Parsis are dwindling in population. Having one good Parsi friend (from whom I have a lot of inside dope on the issue), this did make for a good read.

An important point (that at least I wasn't aware of) raised in this article is the difference between religion and ethnicity. Parsis are Zoroastrians, but all Zoroastrians are not Parsees. Complicated? Kind of. With these being synonymous in India (like Punjabis and Sikhism for most people south of the Vindhyas) , it's easy to make the mistake.

For those who come in late, Zoroastrianism is very rigid. Women who marry outside the religion, 'leave' the religion, and if men marry outside, the wife is never inducted into the religion. The children of a woman marrying outside can never take up the religion, though children of men can.

A non-Parsi is not allowed in fire-temples. This means that a woman marrying a Parsi will be effectively excluded from all religious rites involving her children, from the baptism to the funeral. Obviously, a woman married to a Parsee may not necessarily be very enthusiastic about allowing her children to take up a religion she won't be part of. There have been attempts to change this, but this has divided Parsi society right down the middle, with many people both for and against such reform. That there may not be much left to reform in a couple of generations is an entirely different issue.

This does make for a bigger philosophical question. Are religions rigid, strictly defined by the Holy Books as they stood maybe a few centuries ago, or can/should be they adopted to meet the needs of the time?

The whole gay marriage issue in the US, shifting social norms over the world, and a stronger awareness and assertion of women's rights make this question all the more relevant.

If the US has painted itself red and blue over same-sex marriage and abortion, India too has a strong debate over the Uniform Civil Code and rights for women in poorer, less educated societies, both Hindu and Muslim. Ridiculous cases like this beg the question: is faith an artifact of our mind, or is it ordained from above, something that is 'there', strong, unassailable, unchangeable? I personally think the answer will vary with religion too. In fact, interpretations of religions themselves may give you different answers to this high-level question.

Arguments may never end, and what is sinful and 'out there' today is normal tomorrow, but these are questions that need to be addressed. The answers may not be to everyone's liking, but they're important.

Friday, November 12, 2004

Firefox 1.0

I could not let the day go by without my review of Firefox 1.0 , the much awaited browser from the Mozilla community. It is arguably the best project in terms of ease-of-use to come out of the open-source community.

The upgrade from 1.0 PR was tried in multiple ways - install over an existing version of 1.0 PR on my laptop, and upgrade using the 'check for upgrade" in the options menu for my desktop in office. Happy to say that both went off smoothly.Unhappy, however to say that googlebar did not port over as smoothly.

Quick notes:

1. First loading is slower than PR. Dunno why. Once loaded, is nice and snappy.

2. Multiple tabs open smoothly, even for 6-7 bookmarks using the "Open in Tab" feature. Neat for opening all mail accounts , or all news sites at one go.

3. Nifty small features - search for eBay and Creative Commons part of the standard search options. Added IMDB and AltaVista to the list myself.

4. Neatest feature new to 1.0 - can open links from external programs (say, mail client) in new tab in the same window instead of a new window. Perfect for me at work, when I have multiple emacs windows open, and would prefer only one browser window for all web-related work.

5. Still cannot subscribe to all RSS feeds. Less forgiving compared to regular RSS Readers.

6. Wish I could save passwords for things other than websites on the password manager. I need like a dozen passwords for the various applications/sites in use in my office. Many of them are IE-only, which makes it very inconvenient.

Overall verdict? Highly recommended. Security is of course a prime consideration (just found a couple of tracking crap on my computer last week - am positive it came from a streaming site which was IE-only. Permanently off my list now). It just sets new standards in ease of use.

Take back the Web.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Film-making in my opinion is composed of two important parts: the first is the art of telling a story, of making authentic characters, and of a logical progression which makes a movie fit together as a whole. The second part is the visual part - what kind of vision can the director
impart on the screen.

There are directors who have a sense of one without the other, and vice-versa.

George Lucas fits into this mould - a grand visionary with a bad sense of story. Star Wars pushed the right buttons for me visually, but did nothing for me in terms of the storyline. The good versus bad allegories were lost. I feel I am being unfair on the movie as I saw it on video and not on the big screen which may actually skew my opinion a bit.

But Spielberg fits the bill of the complete director. Seeing "Minority Report" a few months back reiterated that fact perfectly. Again, I saw this on DVD. The idea of the world in the future was simply fabulous. Intrusive, in-your-face advertising based on biometrics, and the ideas of public transportation, plus the way Tom Cruise and the other cops orchestrate the thought projections was simply impressive. In addition to the eye-candy, the story-telling was what it needed to be. It was tight, and kept you hooked. I haven't been on the edge of the seat for a movie since forever. But this movie had me rooting for Cruise and the Minority Reporter (Samantha Morton) till the end. Her being pre-scient adds to the fun. Check out the neat scene where she makes him release the balloons at the perfect moment, to fool their pursuers.

The movie which kind of re-inforced my two-pronged view of cinema was "A Beautiful Mind". Showing schizophrenia on screen is a tough thing to achieve. However, Ron Howard does an incredibly good job of it (He did win an Oscar for his effort, so I am in great company on that judgement). He manages to convey how newspapers and seeminly innocuous blobs of text have
special meaning for Nash through the use of light and special effects very ... well, effectively.

Looking forward to watching "The Incredibles" for more of the same. (the word incredible probably appears on my blog an incredibly high number of times)

I am a sucker for good animation. Pixar's never disappointed me, though Disney's had some serious lemons in the past few years. (Sinbad, for instance).

So, Mr. Incredible, Dash, Elastigirl and Violet (that shows you how many reviews I've read online), looking forward to meeting you.

Monday, November 08, 2004

Ray of light

"Ray" with flavor of the year Jamie Foxx in the eponymous role makes you laugh, cry and sing along. With an incendiary performance by Foxx, a set of songs from his early days peppering the soundtrack, and very good direction, this movie is easily among the best this year. Foxx is a shoo-in for an Academy nomination, and I won't be surprised if the director and screenplay pick up nominations/awards too.

The story focuses on Ray Charles' early years, from his losing his sight in early childhood, to his arrival on the vibrant Seattle and then New York music scene. It's an uncompromising and yet celebratory look at the genius (and the man behind the genius, warts and all). His fight with drugs and philandering as he rose to fame make up the bulk of the story.

Although a tad on the longer side, a non-linear narrative, with the use of flashbacks to show the loss of his sight, and his mother's tough-love upbringing, makes this film eminently watchable. If you don't have a thing for the blues or R&B, this might just make you interested enough in Charles' music as it uses his songs to great effect to enhance the narration. The ending to me was a tad reminiscient of "A Beautiful Mind". However, I'd say it was more of a nod to it, since like "A beautiful..." , it was a decision to focus the movie on the part of his life that was the most difficult.

An interesting sidelight was the executive at Atlantic Records who notices Ray's talent and nurtures it. I don't know if such scouts exist in the record industry anymore. Maybe they do, because we still have good music being made. But the amount of bad (or simply mediocre) music on the airwaves means that these people are few and far between. With the focus shifting from music to the bottomline, the big labels are on their way down musically.

Saturday, November 06, 2004


It's the only word one can use for India's victory in this match. All the grouses about the pitch are just whining. Like Durban or the WACA's "where's a lawn-mower when you need one" pitches allow matches to be played over 5 days.

Australians are too good a team to accuse of the sour grapes phenomenon.But they did miss Warne. Like we missed Harbhajan in the last game, and Pathan in the last two games. But one thing is affirming itself, that this test rivalry has been incredible over the past 3 years. Overshadowing the Ashes? hmm...that will have to wait till the next Ashes, since now Australia will have a new England to contend with.

Thursday, November 04, 2004


A set of interviews from a now-famous documentary about Fox News and its "unbiased" coverage of the news and government.

Link is here. Licensed under Creative Commons' Sampling Plus license

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Random observations on a New York weekend

Going to "the City" as everyone in a 100-mile radius of NYC refers to it, is always an interesting experience. The influence of the Big Apple on everything in the vicinity is evident from the banners at NJ Transit stations advertising Broadway shows and financial institutions.

Like the eager kid I used to be when going to Bombay(now Mumbai), there is a certain buzz of anticipation you feel as you approach the city. There is an effervescent spirit in New York City, that constantly reminds me of my nanihal, the city of dreams that Mumbai is. The City is (in my own words) a zoo, with the most interesting set of characters you will ever get to meet. Unlike the fairly sanitized interiors of the East Coast where two colors of skin abound (with a smattering of brown Indian software engineers and doctors), the city is a riot of colors, the quintessential melting point, where mainstream radio plays Punjabi MC with as much enthusiasm as punk rock.

The city prides itself on being culturally progressive.The kind of clothes most people wear is (in my opinion) a reflection of that. On weekdays, the dark, sober colors of corporate America seem to dominate especially in the business district. But venture out on friday evening and thereafter, and there is a distinctly eclectic blend of couture on display. People seem to pride on an a la carte approach to dressing , and on stamping their individual brand on what they wear. A refreshing change from sale-rack fashion for sure.

So, we did the usual and the unusual. An afternoon in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at Mughal miniatures, sacrophaguses (or is it sacrophagi?) and an amazing collection of Monets, Renoirs and Rodin sculptures. And dinner at a place in Greenwich village selling Kathi rolls, quite like those we used to eat in Pune. Apparently it gets so crowded with drunken patrons from nearby pubs/clubs at night, that the owner has a bouncer to keep a check on things after 11 PM.

Then, it was onto a club with a Bollywood style theme night. The guy collecting the entry fee was wearing an Indian cricket jersey . On it, he had pinned on a Vote John Kerry badge. Talk of interesting combinations.

However, the number of non-desis at a Bollywood theme party at a nightclub was surprising. The party itself was a true Bollywood one, with theDJ playing bona fide 70s and 80s hits and not the remix trash that clogs Indian airwaves today . Assuming that these (non-desi) people are here with Indian friends is taking the easy (and plausible ) way out. But this proved not to be completely true.

The night's bill:

Dinner bill for 3 in Greenwich village - ~$30 (for 3 people - cheap!)
Entry at the club - $12 ea.
Catching a cab to get home - $15.
Hearing an American PYT say on the phone " Bollywood was awesome"? Priceless.

Today, New York...tomorrow, the world? Muwaahhhaa( evil Bollywood villain laugh)