Wednesday, December 28, 2005


Leavenworth is an interesting tourist spot. Situated in the Cascade mountains close to the Stevens Pass ski resort, it is a Bavarian-themed village where everything from the local Starbucks to Bank of America have Bavarian/German-themed signs and architecture. The village is full of shops and restaurants with the same theme. Summer sees Bavarian-themed dances in the village square, and Winter sees elaborate lighting for Christmas with a full choir accompanying a town crier on a full-fledged "Lighting the Christmas Lights" ceremony.

So, what's with the Bavarian theme? Is it that a group of people moved here from Bavaria some generations back and decided to re-create their homeland here?

Actually, no. From the official history of the town...

"For more than thirty years, Leavenworth lived on the brink of extinction.

But in the early 1960’s, everything changed. In a last-chance effort to turn their precarious situation around, the leaders of the community decided to change Leavenworth’s appearance, hoping to bring tourism into the area. Using the beautiful backdrop of the surrounding Alpine hills to their advantage, the town agreed to remodel their hamlet in the form of a Bavarian village.

Hoping to create more than a mere facelift, the entire community rallied to create the illusion of Bavaria in the middle of Washington state. Besides the complete renovation of the downtown area, community members worked to begin a series of festivals. The Autumn Leaf Festival, Maifest and the extremely popular Christmas Lighting Ceremony were the first of many attractions Leavenworth offered to passers-by.

It worked. Since the change to a Bavarian motif, Leavenworth has become a pillar of the tourism industry in the Pacific Northwest. Today, more than a million tourists come to Leavenworth each year, each visitor finding their own individual love affair with the community. The story is a landmark case of the human spirit: Not only did the people of Leavenworth survive their most critical hour, but they endured."

I doff my hat to the ingenuity and chutzpah of the fine folks of this town. What amazes me is not just their spirit, but the fact that they are able to pull this off without having *any* historical links to the German province. While the food items and such may be authentic (as is the architecture), I did not find many things in the souvenir stores with serious German provenance. In a restaurant, a few friends interested in trying German beer found that they had only one variety in stock.

I think more than the place itself, the idea of such a place was more interesting. I must say there is something to this American spirit that so many people keep talking about. More than in rhetoric and jingoistic country songs, this is where the never-say-die spirit of the American settlers shows itself.

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted
One moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?

- Eminem, "Lose Yourself"

Monday, December 19, 2005

TOI RSS Goodness

Lalit IMed me about the re-layout of the TOI a few months back. The feature I gravitated to immediately was the RSS feeds section. I must say I'm impressed. Some of the things on my wishlist have been granted - a feed dedicated to columns, and one dedicated to the editorial page.

Some grouses remain which I hope will be addressed in future re-iterations.

1. The columnist section feed still does not indicate who the author is. For instance, I'd be interested in any article by Swaminathan Aiyar or Gurcharan Das. Jug Suraiya, occasionally. I still have to go through each article to see the author. The name of the author in the feed itself would be so much more useful and time-saving. That's the point of RSS, isn't it?

2. What is it with the multi-page layout? We scared of reading more than two paragraphs on a page now? Our attention-deficit-addled minds not capable of much more? It's time they give the reader a bit more respect. Clicking 'next' after reading so less text is irritating, as is the fact that even short articles have something like 5 pages dedicated to them.

3.Nice font color. I like the subdued grey used for the text. However, on-screen real estate shows exactly where the priorities of the newspaper lie. A total of less than 25% of the page layour is dedicated to actual newspaper text.

The RSS feed is a blessing. I haven't read the TOI for over a year. Didn't miss it a single bit. I did miss some of the columnists I enjoyed earlier - unless they were linked to by other blogs. This gives me a chance to keep up with the better editorials.

Some of the rest is pure drivel, but some choice is better than the joke that other Indian newspapers (except the Indian Express, which is slightly better) call 'websites'. No RSS feeds, no concept of permanent links, nonexistent cross-browser compliance.

I sometimes wonder about whether it is really worth it for a site to go into the effort of adding RSS to their site. It is likely to be a lot of expense for them to do it, and the number of readers added may not be huge. But Robert Scoble makes a point for RSS in his usual in-your-face style.

The surprising fact is that even though I work among early adopters in terms of technology, I know very few people who actually use RSS. The number of people who have tunnel vision in terms of the work they do is disturbingly high. I remember a conversation where someone didn't know what Wikipedia was, and I've had more than one conversation with people to explain to them what RSS is (and this is among tech professionals) .

But maybe it's also that I am nerdier than is good for me.

Friday, December 16, 2005

If you listen to people too much, your thoughts are colored by their perceptions.

Seattle is fairly notorious among non-Seattle vasis for being a rainy and depressing place. Right. This is my first winter here, and it isn’t half as bad as people say it is. Of course, there are the days when it is very cloudy and dull, and there is light, incessant rain. But that happens maybe 10 days out of 30 in a month. The rest of the time, it is tolerable (think of Pune in August, only much colder and with 4 PM sunsets).

However, the few days when the sun does come out (like it did most of last week, and part of yesterday), are the most gorgeous days of the year. There’s of course the cold, but the sight of the snow-covered Cascades (or the Olympics, depending on where you are and which direction you are looking) make for the most awe-inspiring sight.

I've never lived this close to tall mountains, and it gets a tad overwhelming at times. For some reason, turning on to 51st street during my morning drive, when I get this awesome view of the Cascades, U2's "Beautiful day" runs through my mind.

"See the world in green and blue
See China right in front of you
See the canyons broken by cloud
See the tuna fleets clearing the sea out
See the Bedouin fires at night
See the oil fields at first light
And see the bird with a leaf in her mouth
After the flood all the colors came out "

Yeah, it's a beautiful day.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Growing on a fungus

There's no escaping "Kajra re", is there? Two different music shows by amateur musical groups and a dandiya later, the results are in. Kajra re is a phenomenon. Even among en-aar-aai people who don't watch many Hindi films or are clued in to what the latest and greatest in Bollywood is.

Bunty to me is still a friend from back in COEP, and Babli was the nickname of a neighbor's daughter (yes, real people do have that nickname) but Kajra re has completely taken over. Infectious, catchy...words fail to describe the viral nature of the song. Gulzar's actually done a pretty good job with the lyrics as well.

So, sing it...

Mera chain vain sab ujra...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Kafi ho gaya yeh abhi!

I chanced upon this post which kind of epitomizes what is wrong with corporate America, and what is wrong with the attitude of 'bleeding-heart-liberals' (in Sumeet's words) all around.

The problems I have with this post:

1. Like complete idiots, the fine folks over at Starbucks decided to sue a mom-and-pop coffee store for a name sounding similar to theirs, though the logo is different, and it is legitimately based on the name of the proprietor. So much for the warm and fuzzy image they try to convey. Lawsuit-happy companies are making a mockery of copyright and other laws. Suing each other out of existence was never easier, was it? "Poor Sam Bucks" is all I can say.

2. This blogger says that "Starbucks has been known to enter into neighborhoods, and destroy mom and pop coffeeshops, all over the country. The coffee is priced at the higher end of the spectrum and at the end of the day, you get the same few flavours everywhere you go."

It's not like Starbucks points guns at people's heads asking them to drink their coffee. Standardized flavors, higher prices and yet higher sales? Where do I sign up for that business model?

So, they serve average coffee in a comforting yet bland ambience. Which means that they do a limited set of things and they do it well. They are pricey, but they are comforting to people who aren't up for a change in the coffee they drink anywhere in the US. I drink Starbucks fairly often - especially since it is the brew of choice in the company café, and it's present at most airports.

The funny thing is, I don't want to.

Nothing against the "corporate soul-sucking machine", but I like the ambience provided by local, non-chain coffee-shops a lot. Sometimes they are proprietor-owned, and many of these places have a quirky style all their own. The servers are hospitable in a non-sanitized, non-corporate kind of way with less plastic smiles. The coffee is different, and better most of the time.

However, it isn't easy to find one open late. I sometimes like taking a book after dinner and sit in a corner of a coffee-shop, reading and observing people around. Sometimes, I'm with friends and we need to find a place to hang out and chat. (No, I'm not really into the pub scene all that much).

Slight problem: the only coffee shop open in my area after 8 PM is the local Starbucks (open till 11, drive-through is open 24/7). On Fridays and Saturdays, Victor's is, but they have a nice sign saying that people with laptops and such shouldn't linger for more than an hour in the case of it being crowded. Thanks for being so nice to your customers.

See, Starbucks is trying to serve a need. Your friendly neighborhood coffee shop will definitely get people coming in, but they need to figure out a way to differentiate themselves. Better and more varieties of coffee is one thing. Live music, like at Kiva Han in Pittsburgh or Victor's here is another. Craig Street Coffee in Pittsburgh IMO was the best. They had a great deli with amazing sandwiches, and you should have seen the rush there at lunch-time. The hot chocolate there was to die for.

Of course, longer hours for night-owls like me will help.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Lessons In Geography...

are obviously lost on the wonderful bunch of so-called administrators at the BCCI. Even your average fifth-grader could have told you that the North-Easterly winds which blow over the south of India this season of the year cause rains as they pick up moisture over the Bay of Bengal. Even though this isn’t as stupid as having a match in Mumbai in August, it comes close. After losing the final day of an exciting test against Australia (maybe the Final Frontier wouldn’t have fallen…sigh), and an ODI (which would have decided the series either way), it is time for another match in a nice ground to go (literally) down the drain. When will they learn…

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Silent Killer

In commemoration of World AIDS Day.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

XBox 360 And the Digital Hub

The Xbox 360 is out to much hype. Gamers the world over are probably drooling at the prospect of HD-resolution games, and the additional computational power providing for superior game processing, resulting in a better experience. (I’ve seen better performance in iterations of Halo – Halo 2 makes use of the Xbox’s architecture much better than the built-for-PC-ported-later first version).

Personally, though, the aspect of the Xbox 360 that has interested me most in the Media Center Extender (MCX) part of it. The Windows Media Center Edition (MCE) with the extender is a solution to a problem that’s been begging to be solved for a generation of PC-users now – how do you get content from your computer to your TV? The PC is a much richer source of content. With newer online on-demand services coming, and cable IMO not really up to scratch in terms of niche content (no cricket on US cable yet, for instance), the TV as a display device for your computer makes a lot of sense. The problem of course is moving the computer from the study/home office to the living room/den where the TV resides.

Custom solutions are nice, but with the Media Center providing great platform support for this, Microsoft can look to being an important part of the digital hub.

The key thing here is really advertising. There has to be better advertising of these features so that people know of the awesome capabilities a MCE with a MCX can provide. How neat is playing all your songs on your computer, streaming it through your speaker system and controlling all this via a remote, using the TV as the display? This while your computer is in the study, and you are in the den/hall. Add movies on demand, Apple’s video downloads, and (for us cricket fanatics) streaming video, and there is a new, compelling reason to spend on some really useful hardware - not just wow factor 'stuff'.

I feel this is an important part of the future of the company. If MSFT can play its cards right, that is.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Haribhau Poddar - Bhag Sahavva

It’s a relief. After the last Harry Potter which was like a dark cloud hanging over everything, the new book comes like a sliver of sunlight poking through on a particularly gloomy morning. The Order of the Phoenix was tinged with sadness all around – even Potter’s tête-à-têtes with Cho Chang were colored with gloominess and her mooning over a dead Cedric Diggory.

This book returns to the basics in the best way possible. The mundane troubles of school continue with diversions galore. Raging hormones, house pride and petulant women make this a better read than the two previous Potters. (Azkaban remains a personal favorite). Without giving too much away, the end came as a huge surprise to me, as I was expecting things to not quite happen the way they did. Of course, everyone knows that a key character is bumped off (I knew who the character was, too), but the way in which s/he dies was a bit of a surprise.

The denouement promises to be interesting, with Harry looking to take a fairly unconventional step. The slightly apocalyptic nature of his life means that it is unlikely for Harry to go back to living a normal life after he’s fulfilled his destiny. I’d still be surprised if the guesswork in some circles (that he dies) is correct. It would be too much, considering this is supposed to be children’s literature. But children’s literature has never been known to be squeamish (read: The Brothers Grimm).

I know people give me a strange look when I talk about reading and enjoying Harry Potter. The general perception among many people seems to be:

a) It’s for children.
b) Chicks read it.

Things like that never stopped me from enjoying a perfectly fun series of books to read. Creating a world out of words isn’t something that is easy, and Rowling IMO does a brilliant job of it.

I am still waiting for an opportune moment to start on Tolkien’s Omnibus trilogy, since the Magical World and Muggle-Land combined doesn’t hold a lumos-lit wand to the gargantuan place that is Middle Earth. (Obligatory Tarantino: “You know, I've always liked that word..."gargantuan"... so rarely have an opportunity to use it in a sentence”).

But, but, but, Potter still has nothing on Haroun Khalifa.

Previous Potter soundings-off here .

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Write on

Blogs have opened up this whole new world of writing.

You now have access to all sorts of writers. Amateurs. Professionals. Amateurs so good that they ought to be professionals, and people who should be banned for sullying the written word.

There are blogs that are so beautifully written that reading them is intimidating. “Will I ever write anything half as compelling?", you ask yourself. "Keeping at this isn’t making my writing any better. Should I just stop, and go back to mundane, unjournalled existence?”

Then there are blogs that stun you with their simplicity . (Unfortunately, he just stopped blogging). That ache to capture the simple moments of life which make it all worth the while is manifested only in the attempts of a chosen few. For the rest of us mortals, there is only amazement.

This accessibility of material and simplicity of prose is dangerous. It makes you think that with practice, you may actually write that well. Hope isn’t such a bad thing though. Neither is ambition. But delusion is.

Head down. Blog on. Always remember "de parvus grandis a cervus erit".* There may be hope for you yet.

*from small things arise great ones

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Dazed And Confused

Life kind of seems at a standstill for the past few days. The problem isn’t that there’s nothing going on. There’s too much going on. Kind of like a Karan Johar song where a million Farah Khan protégés are dancing in slow motion, and the hero/heroine/best friend are the only ones singing at a normal pace, life around me seems moving at a place slower than it ought to, while I am still frantically trying to keep up.

It might be the weather. There’s a nip in the air, reminding me of late December in India – especially the evenings. The days are much colder, and ‘dressing in layers’ never made more sense. There are less people outside, unlike in the summer where all of Seattle's famed 'outdoor' culture comes to the fore with people jogging, biking and walking their way, soaking up the weather.

Maybe it’s the impending holiday season, and the need for a vacation delayed longer than it should have been. (Ennui at work thankfully hasn’t been a problem, and there’s enough on my plate to keep me at it happily.)

Maybe it’s just a feeling that you aren’t in as much control over your life as you think you are. That all the things you do to seek cheap thrills and that rush of adrenalin, and all the things you do to shake your comfort zones aren’t working. That even after seeing a good chunk of life and interesting and weird times, there are things that still throw you off and confuse the hell out of you. That maybe you aren’t as smart as you thought you were. Especially about things you assumed came to you naturally.

To paraphrase Rushdie,

“There’s more to you Life,
Than meets the blinking eye”


There is an inner voice in all of us, that tells us things.It is a tiny little voice, which is much smarter than you think.

You realize that it's telling you things, that you choose to ignore because cold 'logic' dictates otherwise.

Do so at your own peril.

The problem is, it takes courage to listen to this voice and act on it, and not act on anything people say to you, or what convention says is the correct thing to do. Go ahead, listen to yourself very very carefully. The voice is right, and it will be your highest calling.

Even if it isn't, you'll never regret it. It is better to be proven wrong this way, than not to have acted on that hunch at all.

Abhayam. Asokam.

No fear. No regrets.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


Russell Peters is a name probably familiar to most NRIs in the US and Canada. For those who come in late, he is a Canadian desi stand-up comic who has gained quite a reputation among South and East Asians for his comedy routines, especially since they draw heavily on the immigrant experience. (Think of a desi Mencia). It's come to a point where some of his standard routines (circulated widely via peer-to-peer and otherwise) are now common lingo among Indians (and even East Asians) here.

For those in the know, "Be a Man!" Watch these videos, finally out in the public where junta can actually enjoy his comedy. Or "Somebody gonna getta hurt real bad...."

Video1 (the one that really made him) - RealVideo, some issues with watching in Firefox. 20 mins+.

There's a bunch more videos here... enjoy.

I was fortunate enough to catch his show last month at the Moore Theater in Seattle. Sold-out show. A crowd of yellow and brown faces (maybe 10 whites in the crowd). Pointed, occasionally below the belt jokes about Indians, Chinese, and everyone around. Laughter till my jaws hurt. Paisa vasool. The opening act was Daniel Nainan, who was pretty good too. But Russell Peters was something else.

For some reason, posting about it without offering a sampling of the videos seemed cruel. Now that the videos are easily available online, share the love. Forward these links to everyone you know.

On a tangential note, this is an excellent example of how word-of-mouth publicity due to bootlegs and free downloads can help build a star. I (and many other people I know) wouldn't have paid the money we did to see a comic on reputation. The videos sold me on watching this man.

Check here if you have a show in your area.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

The past two weeks

- Worked on making a collage for the local CRY chapter (where I volunteer) despite having no skills worth writing home about. It actually came out well, due to a couple of very creative types who did the hard work. Me? I just cut stuff.

- Played poker. Am proud that I wasn't the first one to lose all my chips. I also won one round since I had a pair. Considering this was only my third time and for the first time with serious players, I'm not too beat up about it. It was for charity, so no complaints. I still didn't buy more chips. There's only so much humiliation you mind bearing, even for charity.

- Attended a Celtic music concert. I wear my Tartan heritage proudly on my sleeve. But the bagpipe isn't exactly my (musical) weapon of choice. Lalit bullied me into it, though I ended up thanking him later. I enjoyed it tremendously. There was, in addition to the headlining Keith Highlander Pipe Band, an Irish folk music band An Tua with a flute, banjo and piano who were great. There was a solo piper who positively lit up the place with his playing. Add some Irish and Highland dances, and it made for a highly entertaining evening.

- After despairing over the past few months, India is back, and how! We didn't buy the series package this time, and I think all of us are now slightly scared of breaking the jinx. If India is winning without us watching, so it shall be.

- My new baby rocks. It is actually a couple of months old now- I finally got some decent memory to go with it. It is hard to believe, but I waited almost a year to buy a camera, though photography is something that I've been interested in for almost two years now.

Now I have to pick up the skills for me to be worthy of it. I'm not hopeless, but then this isn't your regular digital camera. It's not a SLR, but this will scale nicely with my ambitions. Today, non-automatic modes, tomorrow the world?

"May you live in interesting times" - Old Chinese Proverb

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Work News

The IE blog is carrying a post on a feature that I worked on testing. It hasn't been all fun and games, but the decompression work that has gone into WinInet should yield significant improvements for both programmers using it and for IE users. There has been some serious hard work put in for better HTTP spec compliance and performance improvements in this edition. It's amazing how a few months of work on something make you feel protective and proud.*

I've been dogfooding IE7 extensively, and I must say that it is shaping up pretty well. It is fairly ironic that as a rabid Firefox proponent, I should end up working with a team that works on a vital component of Internet Explorer. However, as I like to say, we are part of the solution, not the problem. Expect a rocking new version of Internet Explorer for XP (and a rocking IE in Vista) soon.

* No, I entertain healthy skepticism about a lot of things at my workplace. I am not on the official Kool-Aid. There are things that I love about this place and there are things that drive me up the wall. And yes, Microsoft is a client of my employer, just to make things completely clear.

Monday, October 31, 2005


P1000063, originally uploaded by ajayvb.

Is the air shedding a tear on the turning of seasons?
Or is it the leaves grieving over their last bit of glorious color before they turn a dark brown and wither away to nothingness?

An advantage, really?

It's always fun being the Devil's Advocate on things. If you question assumptions enough, you at least force a new way of thinking at times. It is not something that comes naturally, but something or the other keeps happening which may make you do it. I recommend it - helps you clean out the brain like nothing else.

An advantage that comes up when magazines and newspapers talk about outsourcing to India is that there is a 12-hour time difference, which makes handing off work easy. We work, they sleep. Vice versa. The cycle continues. The citi never sleeps.

After talking with different people who have some experience in this (outsourcer and outsourcee), I realized: what a load of bull.

See, the basic assumption is: work is seamless. You do some work here in the US, and then the work continues in India while you sleep. Only one problem: in programming, no one works on the same code at the same time. As in, if I start writing a function, it's not like someone in Bangalore is going to continue writing it after I shut shop and go home at night. Most of the time, whole modules are handed off to India, with requirement specs and all that blah.

And what if there is a doubt, or an unresolved issue? The person in India is working on something, and he has a problem at 2:30 PM. He shoots an email to , say, me, the person he's liaising with. It is 2:00 AM here (Pacific Standard Time), and I definitely am not checking my email till, say 9:00 AM when I get to office. I reply to him. He receives it, and it is 9:30 PM in India then. Unlike BPO companies, programmers work the same hours everywhere. No night-shift stuff there. So, he's gone home by then. If he has a niggling issue, there is another 24-hour turnover before the issue is resolved.

If it is too knotty an issue, it may involve me coming in early and him waiting till late to actually do a conference call and resolve the issue.

In fact, I know of people here on client projects from Indian companies who take calls late at night (say, 10 PM) at home or on company-provided cellphones, because it is a more earthly hour for his team in India to talk. That of course isn't necessarily possible all the time .

I am slightly confused: where is the value add in the 12-hour time difference for any programming company? Other advantages including the human capital angle and cost of course apply. But this twelve-hour lag advantage thing is bugging me now.

Maybe I am missing something. More experienced campaigners may pliss to explain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

A new era begins... I hope

I don't remember the last time I so fervently wished well for an Indian cricketer (Sachin, like everything else is an exception). Dravid begins his campaign on the hot seat of one of the most thankless jobs in India.

Dravid epitomizes every one of the qualities that I look up to in a sporting hero. He is hardworking, polite to a fault, and yet impossibly resilient ( He isn't aggressive? Tell me that if you think Eden Gardens 2001 and Adelaide 2003 isn't about being a goddamn d*#k and not getting out while scoring runs) . A team player to the core, he's played in positions 1-7 and as wicket-keeper in ODIs depending on the team's needs and contributed immensely to our short-lived stature as a good one-day team.

He definitely is the person I want to succeed, and succeed emphatically. Only by succeeding emphatically will he bring to an end this carping over whether he is a good captain.

That being said, it is too short a timeframe for him to succeed. In fact, I get the bad feeling that he is being set up for failure by the selectors. The good thing is that he seems to be seeing eye-to-eye with the coach, and they do seem to have some ideas. I hope they are the right ones for India.

Update: As I write this, India is on the rampage in the 1st ODI against Sri Lanka.

Go India!
Every generation brings its own fashion sensibilities to the fore. In the 50s it was sweaters and slacks for the rich and leather jackets and boots for the toughs. The 60s brought flower power - printed shirts, bell-bottoms, and the ubiquitous peace medallion. The seventies continued the bell-bottoms and tie-and-dye shirt revolution. The funny thing is, even though these fashions are a bit dated, seeing them on screen in old TV shows or movies doesn't really look all that funny to me.

Then of course there was the 80s. The clothes from that era for some reason look so egregiously bad now, that I wonder how sane people even found them fashionable back then. There were the weird hairstyles for men and women, polka-dots, those horrible baggy pants (the kind that M C Hammer kept wearing into the 90s). Then there were of course those oversize plastic sunglasses that covered up half your face.

I wonder what fashions of today will coming generations shake their heads at?

Saturday, October 22, 2005

My review of S E Hinton's "The Outsiders" on the Lit Blog.

Comments there, please.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Driving with Elan(tra)

While watching the Super Series, I learnt that the ICC Player of the Year was to get a Hyundai Elantra. I remember as a child the wonder that we all had, when Ravi Shastri won an Audi for becoming the Champion of Champions at the World Series in 1985.

Seeing an Audi on the street (a rare sight in India then, and even now, I'm sure), we'd go "Ooo, Ravi Shastri won an Audi". Things sure have come a long way since then

Audi -> Hyundai. hmm.. I'm not sure I like this journey.

Hyundai of course is big in India now - a huge seller of cars with SRK endorsing them. I'm sure they must have gotten a lot of leverage out of this. Boatloads of money made by the ICC?

The big question is, are either Kallis or Flintoff going to hold on to theirs? Their endorsement money will surely buy them fancier Italian or German models. Will the car have enough sentimental value for them to keep it, maybe for the missus to go down to the grocery store in? She could surely try the Quattroporte. Lots of trunk space in that, I hear.

I sure hope they do (hang on to their cars). Then there'll be only one degree of separation betwixt yours truly and Freddie and Jacques. You see, I drive an Elantra too. Oh, the horror.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Random Music Musings - Part Deux

Disappointed, I am. Indian Ocean, one of India's finest prog-rock-folk-fusion (for lack of a better word) genre-defying group is playing a set of select gigs in the US. Unfortunately, Seattle isn't part of the set, though LA, the Bay Area, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and New York City are.

If you haven't heard them yet, I recommend them highly. I've heard two albums now - Kandisa and Black Friday. They've impressed me highly with their virtuosity and skill at combining the flavor of Indian folk with the jam band sensibility of a Dave Mathews Band (or is it the Grateful Dead?) to create a collage of sound that is soothing, invigorating and mind-bending, often all of it simultaneously.

More details here. Check out their official website - a fairly creative site, even without the use of annoying flash animation.

If you're in the area, definitely check out their shows.


What is it with young rock stars and dying early? Of course, some of the great who died early including Jim Morrison (drug overdose), and Kurt Cobain (suicide) took their own lives figuratively and literally. But then there's John Lennon (assassinated) and of course, the subject of this ranting, Jeff Buckley.

Jeff Buckley is an alt-rock icon. The problem is, he is alt(ernative) enough that in spite of being really interested in rock/alternative music, I hadn't heard of him till some time last year. He is apparently an extremely influential artist, influencing the style of, among others, Chris Martin of Coldplay and Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

His debut CD Grace, (it turned out to be his only full CD released when he was alive) sizzles and crackles with enough verve to hit the spot immediately. I bought it a month back on a pure whim. On first listening, I realized that it was one of those CDs that I would grow to love. His voice has impressive range, and he is impossibly ambitious in the CD, with Zeppelin-esque guitar flourishes meeting his wailing voice to create absolute mayhem (and beauty). There's a certain melancholy that resonates through most of his work. As a review I saw states, it's almost as if he had an inkling of his early death. It's not without a sense of foreboding that I hear him sing "Eternal Life is now on my trail". It's tragic to die early, but for someone like him to, that too in such freak circumstances is heartbreaking.


I found this completely awesome resource online. (Via Indian Writing). Jaideep Verma or Jebbit,has archived some music columns from his previous writings for Tehelka and Gentleman magazine. Impressively knowledgeable about music, he's put together some great lists of artists and critiqued what in Indi-pop is worth listening to (hint: not much.)

The most interesting point he makes is the lack of iconic singer-songwriters in the Indian music culture. The all-pervasive influence of Bollywood has left the non-film world in a rut and except for a notable artist or two, there isn't much to crow about. He plays up Indian Ocean (rightly), plays down Euphoria (wrongly, IMO) and plays up Strings' Duur and Silk Route's Boondein, among other albums.

I hope Jebbit continues to post newer articles. Till he does, there's enough material and album names in there to keep me going for a long time.

Previous music musings.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Blogger Boos

I started blogging at the cusp of it taking off - mid 2004. It had already taken off in the tech and early adopter world, and six months into me blogging (three months into me being serious about it), it was the Word Of The Year for 2004. It felt nice to be part of a phenomenon, since I definitely wasn't part of the 2003 Word Of The Year 'Metrosexual'.

At the time, Blogger seemed sufficient, especially since it was the most well-known one, and everyone I knew seemed to be on it. That it was owned by Google meant that I hoped it would keep getting better all the time.

I must say I am disappointed. As I've blogged more, some of the other features of blogging that I'd love, most importantly, blog categories haven't been added to Blogger. I've already posted over 150 entries, and I'd love to be able to (natively) categorize these posts as I write them. I've mulled over hacking something with Technorati tags, et al, but I'm too lazy to do it.

Another very helpful thing would be stats. My site is not very widely read, but it's still nice to know that there are people out there who like to read what I write (heck, everyone needs a little ego-massaging now and then), and there's no way for me to know how many people subscribe to my feed, since the site meter only tags the site visitors.

Lalit's already canvassing me to move over to MSN Spaces. I don't want to yet, but a migration tool might make it tempting for me. There's already migration tools for blogger to wordpress (there might be stuff for typepad too, haven't checked).

In addition, things like better templates and ways to organize links (there's only so much HTML hacking you can put up with), plus an easier way to get photos on your blog (admit it, the hello! route is the pits).

Blogger was once the pioneer, boldly going where no blog tool had gone before. I wish they'd get back to those ways again.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Former COEP-and Electronics Department-mate Gaurav comes to grief over nothing. (Link via George's post)

As has been discussed at a million places online now, India as a country pays lip service to democracy and freedom of speech. You dare to question anything done by an influential organization (this IIPM seems to have a lot of clout), and you may get into trouble. It's kind of sad, but you have to hand it to Gaurav. It takes courage to go through with the decision he finally did.

More details on India Uncut.

Monday, October 10, 2005


It was long overdue. After recommendations from friends with exteremely divergent tastes in movies, I finally caught Ijaazat with a couple of friends a few weekends back.

Without being review-y, my impression of the film - outstanding. Naseeruddin Shah and Rekha shine as one would have expected them to. There is an easy onscreen relationship they share, making their husband-wife turn all the more believable. Naseeruddin Shah is particularly good - a full range of expressions on his mask-like face underlining a fine performance. Anuradha Patel as Maya is slightly disappointing - I found her demeanor more childish than I would have liked.

My conversational hindi is competent at best - that I speak reasonably well is more of a tribute to the fact that two of my room-mates in CMU were very good hindi speakers. However, my understanding of it is much better - kind of like my cricket.

Which leads me to the best part of the film - Gulzaar saab's writing and lyrics. The play on words and the man's mastery of the idiom is evident in gems like:

"Sab kuchh to wohin hai. Lekin kuch bhi to wohi nahi hai".

Translating it won't cut it all - let's leave it at that. Classics "Katra Katra" and "Mera Kuchh Saman" are songs that I've liked without 'getting' them the way I did when I saw the film. Some of RDB's finest works (IMO) have come in combination with Gulzarsaab and this is another fine example of that.

A great film, recommended to anyone who hasn't seen it yet.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

What, only 55?

The best tag I've seen going through the blog-world. No one's tagged me, but I'm reading a lot of tagged people. A challenge, it is. hmm...

Here goes nothing:

Springfield Blues

Was he a loser? He had a job, a great wife, and three kids. A house in middle-class America.

He wasn't so sure. He seemed to be lazy and not really rising at his job. His daughter made him feel dumb. His son was a brat. Yikes.

"Homer, the game's on TV".

"D'oh. I forgot."

Master Chief

He was in trouble. He was out of ammo.

He ran helter-skelter, avoiding open spaces. They'd be on to him - vultures, preying on his weakness. He was never the soldier, preferring the company of his books and music.

Bang! It was over.

He put his controller away. "Damn, you are good with that shotgun".

Embrace Her

The reports were here.

He wasn't giving up. Money was no object. He was a fighter, and fighter hamesha jeet ta hai. On the way back from the doctor, he stopped at the pharmacy. He saw her then. Black hair, sparkling lined eyes, the ankh. The ankh. He sagged. "It's time, isn't it?" She nodded.

Some extremely good ones:




* The last one's my favorite, but a bit obscure...this link may help.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Compliance, complacence

Much digital ink has been wasted on the atrocity that is the Times of India, and I really am not getting into that again. What is really getting to me over the past couple of days is the sheer incompetence of the website developers over at the other Indian newspapers. Bad layouts along with obviously clunky and non-compliant HTML make keeping up with any news in India a nightmare of Tolkien's middle-earth proportions.

I am on broadband at home, yet the number of time-outs on each page of the Express brings me to tears. (Note: This does not happen with other websites - at least not for every page I navigate to).

Staying on top of news and blogs with a voracious appetite has been greatly facilitated by RSS. However, India's top newspapers like the Hindustan Times and The Hindu provide no feeds. The ones the Express provides leave much to be desired. I really don't want to read Harish Dugh's opinions on anything. Could I have a single feed devoted to Shekhar Gupta, one to Harsha Bhogle, and one to Ashok Malik?. Maybe one for all columnists, which isn't too bad. Even the new upstarts, like the Mumbai Mirror are not much better, and the old suspect - Mid-Day is still so.

I'm not really in favor of New York Times' new policy of charging to read Dowd/Friedman et al, but there are other reasons for that. At least they are providing serious value for their online reader - all for the fair price of $50 annually (believe me, by middle-class US standards, it really isn't much money). Moreover, for the (30 second?) price of actually logging in even without paying, the amount of content available is pretty reasonable - and well laid-out.

The Indian digi-rags need to understand that Indians online are likelier to be educated, better-off and more likely to get interested in creative ads. Moreover there's all the NRI junta. For those of us exposed to slick US online ads, do they really expect us to click on the flashing 'remit money to india' banner? ('99 called, they want their annoying GIF banner ad back). The popups are another story - a tribute to Indian ingenuity, they manage to overcome even Firefox's pop-up blocker.* The only thing that keeps them out is the IE pop-up blocker's high setting, where you press Ctrl even for 'voluntary' popups.

Get some good website designers, clean out the crud. Get some nice CSS and better layouts and I'm sure there'll be some good coming out of it. Less is more.

*I am in the process of trying the AdBlock extension, so the jury's still out on that.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Are you 'in'?

'In' jokes are exactly that, a nudge, a wink and a hat tip in the direction of an influence or a favorite of some sort, that only people who are 'in' on it will understand. Literary allusions in movies that need explanation and context are part of the game. Sequels, of course enjoy using it a lot.

George Thomas has considerable fun with classic B-movie, Western and Eastern influences on Quentin Tarantino, displaying a depth and breadth of knowledge that boggles the mind. This means he probably enjoys QT and Robert Rodriguez movies ten times more than I do.

I don't claim to be an authority, but (slightly) offbeat music is where my mojo lies. I have the most fun watching movies where the soundtrack is likely to be important. (See Cameron Crowe, or watch any movie with John Cusack in creative control - Grosse Pointe Blank or High Fidelity). A moment of epiphany this weekend was watching Vanilla Sky. I picked up a few electronica tracks that I knew (including Thievery Corporation's lovely Indra), and songs from here and there, including U2, the Beach Boys and Radiohead. Nothing spectacular, just an interesting bunch of songs used as part of the soundtrack. I personally prefer that over the John Williams' soaring violins style of music, especially for contemporary romantic comedies/ dramas.

I digress. So, there is a scene in the movie where the starting guitar riff from Jeff Buckley's "Last Goodbye" plays.

The scene doesn't justify it. (No spoilers here). You don't expect a last goodbye riff at that point. (The lyrics of the song) So, here I am, wondering about appropriateness of songs vis á vis situations in the film.

However, the movie makes its way through ill-defined reality and well-defined dreams. Just as you lose track of what is real and what is not towards the end, the loose ends start pulling together. It is a farewell scene in the real world, just before the dreams (and nightmares) begin.

How dare I not trust Cameron Crowe?

On another note, the movie was interesting, but middling. Not compelling stuff. Nowhere close to Almost Famous, and definitely not a crowd-pleaser like Jerry Maguire. And, finally, an opposite number (Penelope Cruz) with whom Tom Cruise has palpable on-screen chemistry. I thought that that particular honor would be reserved for Dustin Hoffman forever.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

As I've made my way from being a greenhorn programmer (It's now around 8 years since I wrote my first C program, and more than 12 since my first BASIC program) to being reasonably competent, I find reading technology-specific programming books less useful. Unless I am doing work with some newfangled technology (or some oldfangled technology that's new to me), I've stopped reading books related to the latest C# fu, or .NET remoting, or managed sockets, or whatever is the newest buzzword in network programming. Books more generally related to programming per se, with insight into general, non-language-specific concepts seem more useful to me. Language and platform-specific books serve as great references, to be picked up when a task is to be accomplished at work(or elsewhere - but I am a mercenary coder right now :-))

I just started reading "The Practice of Programming" by Bob Kernighan and Rob Pike. So far, I've liked concepts put forth in the book related to the real-world practice of writing efficient yet readable and maintainable code. It talks about things like how much commenting in a program is important (my answer: go with what feels right - is fairly close to theirs). Another gem is how using funky operator combinations to do ten things in a single line of code is a bad idea. It will take the reader two hours to understand it, and a day to decode issues with it. The "if A ? A:B" format for a condition in C is as complex as a line of code should get.

I'm still reading the book, and it's been a fascinating one and a quarter chapters so far. Most of these things I've picked up over the course of time, with experience. Some are probably situations I haven't encountered, so knowing the scenario a priori isn't too bad.

Also on the list: The much-revered Art of Computer Programming by Donald Knuth.

While I'm at it, "Code Complete" and "Writing Secure Code" too. It shall all be done. One insight at a time.

Another area that I would like to explore is languages. Being an Electronics student in my undergraduate years and a networking/systems major in grad school, languages/compilers and the evolution of these concepts is an area I've never really explored. I've heard good things about The Design and Evolution of C++ which may be a reasonable place to start.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Good Will Quotes

Cleverly written films are always a pleasure. One of my favorites in this category is "Good Will Hunting." An eerily prescient monologue from the movie which came out in 1997.

Will, in an interview with the NSA:

Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll give it a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never had a problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Send in the marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number was called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some guy from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile my buddy from Southie realizes the only reason he was over there was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the skirmish to scare up oil prices so they could turn a quick buck. A cute little ancillary benefit for them but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And naturally they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what do I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. Why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

The secret life of the clergy

Ed Norton, as always, a prime pick. I tend to choose films by directors and not actors - Chris Nolan and Baz Luhrmann being directors whose complete (full-length film) works have been consumed, with Steven Spielberg and Cameron Crowe high on the list too. Ed Norton's an exception. Primal Fear, Fight Club and The 25th Hour later, Ed Norton's a guy whose films you watch, simply because he's chosen them.

Keeping the Faith was similarly recommended. Picking up the DVD, I realized that he's directed the movie as well. This gets better.

The premise is simple. Two guys. One girl. They've been friends forever. She left when they were in eighth grade and went to the other coast. Now she's back. She's beautiful, smart, the kind they both fall for.So, a love triangle, right?

Not completely. He's a priest. Catholic at that. His best friend's a Rabbi. She's not Jewish - complications all around. He wants to tell her. His friend already has. She likes him (the Rabbi, that is) as well. Problem: He cannot see her and continue his relationship with his mother or the Synagogue. Ah, the tangled webs we weave.

For me, the film was a revelation in some ways. It showed a couple of clergymen of two of America's most prominent religions as regular guys. They wear shades, play basketball, and yes, occasionally swear too. Seeing them out of their robes was a surprise by itself. (I don't know, imagining our batt-ru in a leather jacket doesn't quite gel).

They falter, as all humans do, and find the faith (in themselves and those around them) to carry on. The film is reasonably well written, offering all three - Ed Norton (the priest), Ben Stiller (the Rabbi) and Jenna Elfman enough to do. Ed Norton as always lives the role, something he did frighteningly well in Primal Fear. Ben Stiller is subtler than some of his more recent roles, showing he's capable of better, and Dharma fits the role to a T.

The whole love triangle thing gets a tad awkward at times, but nothing to kill the movie completely. Some laughs, some tears, a drunk scene, a showdown, a punch and all's well with the world again. I admit, I probably liked the film more than I should have and I'm rating it better than it deserves to be rated.

Everyone thinks his story is the one with a twist.

Edit: Fixed a typo

Friday, September 16, 2005

Binary Politics

This two-party thingy that the US has going is so boring. "You're with us, or you're against us" bumbles our dear Prez. The only problem is, for a mind more nuanced than W, there are more options in life, though not on the ballot paper.

Social dinner conversation:

Me: " If not for some things, there is a high likelihood of me being Republican."
(That I cannot vote is immaterial here. An Indian holding forth on politics/cricket is extremely common.)
A couple of wide-eyed looks around. These expressions are in jest, as I've committed the sin of actually coming out for this government, although I've done nothing of the sort.

Me, a few minutes later in the conversation:" Well, a better way to put it is that I'm socially liberal and fiscally conservative"

Someone: "Then you're libertarian".

Me: Um...

I hate tags of all sorts. My opinions on each issue are formed by the issue at hand and my dogmas (which I have very few of). Over the course of time, I've seen that my beliefs align with being libertarian, but I'd like to resist that tag, solely because I dislike it. There are people online calling themselves libertarian whose tone of writing I find condescending and superior. If being libertarian means being like them, I think I'll pass.

However, what is it with this binary mode of thinking? Why does everything have to come down to whether you like this head of state and his cohorts or not? Maybe you don't like some of what's going on. There are other things that they may be doing right(OK, I don't see anything myself). I thought politicians taking cheap shots during national crises was a bad thing. Seeing all the Democrats taking shots at this (admittedly bumbling) President makes me cringe. I mean, we know Global Warming's happening, but America responsible for the hurricane? Get a life.

Of course, the conservatives have done themselves a world of good by aligning with the evangelicals. God hath wrought this fury upon the devil worshippers indulging in the revelry of Mardi Gras in New Orleans. But, but, but, don't the Mardi Gras revelers leave on the next flight out, leaving the residents to their jazz and blues? Is spring break in Florida not equally wanton? And I'm sure Halloween in Boston isn't exactly kosher.

I'll make up my mind based on the facts. The problem is, biased media all around refuses to give me the facts to make up my mind. No wonder no one in the US trusts the press any more. Fair And Balanced indeed.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Web News Roundup

First impressions of Google Blog Search? *Yawn*. Wake me up when you remove the number of times I link to my own page, and give me some sort of authority/PageRank a la Technorati. Of course, it is 'Beta'. Like Peter Pan, Google software never seems to want to grow up. Of course, the software is normally top-notch, but the hiding behind the beta tag is something I find irritating. It's not like other companies stop adding features or working on their software after it goes out.

In other news, both Yahoo! and Hotmail have new spiffy interfaces coming out soon. The Yahoo! one is beta for the public now, and the Hotmail one seems to be in invite-only beta. All the DHTML and AJAX goodness is taking over the web - makes websurfing that much more interactive and fun now.

There are screenshots for Yahoo! email available. Looks suspiciously like Outlook/ Thunderbird and any other three-pane mail client interface. The GMail interface with conversations and labels is a major paradigm shift, though how many people are ready for the labels idea is an interesting question. I love it.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Lost love Haiku

Bright eyes and big lashes
Liquid pools alive with a sparkle
A forlorn hopelessness.

- A vain attempt at Haiku

Where's your loyalty, traitor?

The Tribbet test ? I am so failing it right now. Guess whom I am going ga-ga over, and whose fate I really don't seem to care about?
Mr. Blair, could I get a honorary (it'd be a honour for me, sir! Note the spelling as well) membership of your land? I'd like to take a break from being heartbroken all the time. At least for a while. Then I'll go back to griping about the Indian team.

I am kind of happy that I had some inkling of what a humdinger this series would turn out to be. Though I didn't guess outright that England would win, I was hoping for something like that. In fact, I actually thought Australia would win 2-1, especially after that last-gasp draw at Old Trafford. I was expecting the Aussies to reach into their bag of tricks and blow England out of the water by the fifth test.

An interesting thing would be a look at the stats. Harmison is probably among the underperformers this series, while Trescothick didn't really convert any of his starts into a well-deserved big score. It was Flintoff's series for sure. And Warne's. And, dare I say it, Ashley Giles'?

I'll just get done with singing "Jerusalem" (anyone have the words to that?). Then I'll return to "jeetega bhai jeetega".

Comment Spam

I was mildly surprised that Blogger didn't seem to have captchas for comments like they do for account creation. Luckily I realized today that they do and I enabled it. Weirder is the fact that they hadn't enabled it by default.

Here's how to do it.

If you haven't done it yet, do so ASAP. Almost everyone I know who uses Blogger seems to have been spammed at least once in the past fortnight.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

End of An Era?

Nice article by Harsha Bhogle on where Indian cricket stands right now. I was a supporter of keeping Ganguly as captain till as recently as the Pakistan series. The past two series show him as having serious issues in the head. If after so long in the game, he cannot counter the short ball on his body, his hard work(?) on his technique leaves a lot to be desired. The (lack of) improvement in his running between the wickets and fielding mean that there is an 'attitude problem' somewhere that needs fixing.

Further, the series in SL showed that Dravid has the chops to be captain. He showed a lot of aggression as captain, and did a great job of marshalling his resources. His batting didn't suffer all that much, and but for that ill-timed rush of blood by him in the final, we might well have held the trophy in our hands there.

It's time to move on. Ganguly's been a great captain, and he showed us some of our best times ( A world cup final, that magical pair of series against Australia and the win in Pakistan). But as he has suffered in form, the team has suffered due to his diffidence at the top of the order, and as captain.

Let him earn his way back into the team the hard way - by performing. Appoint Dravid as captain and get on with it. Our greatest player ever deserves a World Cup. It's the best gift this team can give the man who carried it for the better part of a decade.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

On HTML email

There is a whole set of people I have seen online and elsewhere who have this vague issue with HTML mail. They prefer sending plaintext mail to everyone.

For hardcore techies who still ssh into their boxen to check their email, this may be understandable. But for people using regular mail clients on GUI-based systems, this is nothing short of "ideological-bordering-on- stupid". There is a reason for email - communication. At the office, it is meant for getting work done.

So, if you use HTML mail for putting some highlight or emphasis in your email that will make your recipients' job of sifting through all their email easier, go ahead and do it.

I personally receive all my work email in plaintext (there is an option in MS Outlook which allows you to do that). A nifty option appears on top of my message window, which allows me to see the email as HTML. For most emails, where formatting is just eyecandy, I get by with plaintext. But for inline answers to emails, color contrasts are extremely useful. Then of course, there's tables, which are great for some of the work we do.

Being ideological about tech issues is good. Being an ass about them for the sole reason of ideology is not. Standards were meant for making things easier for us. Not the other way around.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005


Rationalism is so 20th century. Dogma is it, man! Real men (and women) only base their arguments on half-baked theories and flashes of insight they get while sleeping (or maybe while watching the latest teen disappearance 12-hour marathon on TV). The scientific world, which
actually put in the effort to gain this knowledge is full of people who want to advance their theories at all costs.

Global warming. I mean, whoever gave these people devoting their life to the rational study of life and the earth the right to make statements that we infallible humans are screwing up this earth? I mean, Michael Crichton (he of Jurassic Park and Congo) knows better, right? If he says global warming is not happening it cannot be. We can of course neglect melting icecaps, later winters and not solid enough ice in Alaska, for it is probably an aberration, right?

And the horror! We are descendants of monkeys! Is that even possible? Of course, there has to be a better explanation, right?

To recycle an old tale, 20% of surveyed Americans believed the Earth revolves around the sun.

Science and rational, knowledge-based debating is for wimps. Saying "I don't know" and "I'm wrong" is infra dig.

I have seen the light. I now follow the religion of Pastafarianism. All hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster

*The New Yorker link via Ari's blog

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Howie Day Live

I finally went to a much-anticipated concert to watch Howie Day, live at The Showbox in downtown Seattle on the 9th of August. As mentioned earlier, an insanely hectic week meant that I was looking forward to the energy the concert would provide and I wasn't disappointed.

Opening act was Missy Higgins, apparently one of Australia's top singers right now. Amazing voice and great songwriting to complement the bare orchestration - just her on the piano(keyboard) and one guy on acoustic guitar. Her songs are now familiar to me, thanks to KCRW, and seeing her live was good fun. She was surprisingly down-to-earth, staying on to sign autographs and sell CDs with her crew. The crowd lapped it up, and her CDs sold briskly. Great numbers included 'Ten Days', 'Scar' , 'The Special Two' and 'All for Believing'. Her most beautiful verse?

I remember someone old once said to me:
"Lies will lock you up with truth the only key."

Howie Day has been touring with Anna Nalick, who was up next. Again, great voice, and interesting songs. Breathe (2AM) is her single doing the radio rounds right now, and she says it beautifully:

2 AM and I'm still awake, writing a song
If I get it all down on paper, its no longer
inside of me, threatening the life it belongs to
And I feel like I'm naked in front of the crowd
Cause these words are my diary, screaming out loud
And I know that you'll use them, however you want to

After the customary break, it was time for Howie Day himself. He started off with "Perfect Time of Day", a lovely, upbeat melody.

Since gaining fame, Howie has a full band and doesn't perform solo with only his set of pedals and delay and echo effects to burnish his singing and guitar playing. He did use them sparingly and to great effect this time though. However, all these years of touring has given his set a certain rigor. He is able to play a great set, yey maintain his spontaneity (his shows are generally different - he doesn't do exactly identical shows) and riff off the audience reaction. He did some great songs, including staples 'Ghosts', 'Sunday Morning Song' and 'Brace Yourself'. At least twice, he played the start of the Beatles' "Day Tripper", but he admitted that he and his band didn't know how to do the song, or they'd have done it.

Howie Day's strength IMO lies in the strong melodies he creates. There are people who like his songwriting, but I find it slightly (deliberately?) obscure, though enjoyable. His melodies are awesome though, and these are songs that you can hum or whistle along. They are also incredibly catchy, a fact proved by crowd favorite "Collide", the new song "Be There" and by the encore "Morning After". A great song was also the cover of Crowded House's "Don't Dream Its Over".

All in all, an evening worth remembering.

It's the perfect time of day
It's the last day of your life
Dont let it drift away
While your heart is still racing...

Links: Still waiting for a recording of the concert to go up on the Internet Archive, but there's some photos on this fan forum (you'll have to scroll down a bit). Cameras are normally not allowed, but people get away with it in the crowd and darkness.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Voice of Summer

Even as I wonder about my restlessness and where to channel all of it, there is a set of people who deserve this restlessness all the more, and will have a harder time of it all.

For them though, the possibilities are endless, for they haven't yet bound themselves in with career choices and raison d'êtres which include mundane points such as loan repayments or a life with no summer holidays. Life at that point seems at the cusp of change, as the article states perfectly: "Like migratory birds, the young can feel the end of something. Freedom is fading fast." Which again takes me back to one of my favorite songs:

"Kicking around on a piece of ground in your hometown,
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way"
- Pink Floyd, "Time"

And on a cautionary note,

"Time, time, time, see what's become of me
While I looked around
For my possibilities"
- Simon and Garfunkel "Hazy Shade of Winter"

Rock Show ASCII Art


Found at a completely random place online

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Why We Write

Bloggers write for different reasons. Some have ideas which need expressing. Some have a life worth sharing, and a number of people interested enough with whom they can share it. I have neither, but I have a desire to put things out there, which forces me to keep at it.

Some, though have the skill for it, which mere mortals like yours truly only aspire towards. A blog by someone with a genuine gift for words, poetry and ideas. The Girl In The Hat

(Link via various sources)

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

It's the perfect time of day
It's the last day of your life
Dont let it drift away
While your heart is still racing*

A restlessness possesses me
An urging to do something
To grab life by the scruff
Of its neck
And give it a shaking

Life cannot
And will not
wait forever
The iron is hot
The spirit is willing
As is the flesh
Make something of it
Or forever hold your peace

The unease of a hot summer night
Of wanting more
Than offered by this life
Of creating a new reality
A desire to be something
Larger than this mere body
Of transcending space and time
To be somewhere beyond consciousness
Where only thoughts bind you
And not limitations
Where the beyond is there for the taking

*4 Lines from Howie Day's "Perfect Time of Day"

Monday, August 15, 2005

Radio as it ought to be

A chance encounter lead me to KCRW, Santa Monica's public listener-supported radio streaming online.

KCRW has a program called "Morning Becomes Eclectic" . As the name suggests, it is an eclectic mix of music from different styles and ranges - electronica, punk, latin and more down-home varieties including folk and country make their appearance here. The key feature of this is that it is music chosen by the anchor Nic Harcourt. Nic Harcourt has gained some fame for having a good nose for music, having been the person to have given artistes of the level of Norah Jones, Dido, Radiohead, Coldplay and Jem their first major breaks on radio (for some of the Brit acts, their major North American break). His taste sure is eclectic, though he has a distinct empathy towards certain sounds (Most of his selections are what you would call easy-listening - no very hard rock or metal or hardcore hip-hop here). But these sounds are wide-ranging, making for interesting and engaging listening.

To top it all off, there is Nic himself. He is really good as an anchor -extremely knowledgeable about music (a major relief after hearing inane chatter on mainstream radio stations - I know more about many of the songs I listen to than the jockeys themselves). His interviewing style is pleasant without being ingratiating, and he asks good questions about the process of songwriting and music-making.

Listening to him on radio made me realize that this is what I want from my music radio programming - good variety of music and gyan about music - not some new reality series or Ashton Kutcher pulling a new joke on someone who's famous for being credited third on some vague TV show, but is considered a 'celebrity'.

The website has a section of performances by a number of great artistes -many of them not so well-known. Give it a spin. If you are interested in good, but not so well-known music, you won't be disappointed.

I recommend: Nikka Costa, Beck, Missy Higgins, Si Se, Jem.

On a similar note, an interview of Nic Harcourt on PBS Frontline, and a great special section on the state of the music industry today

Saturday, August 13, 2005

The Gym, Gigs and the Indian cricket fan's heartbreak

It's been a crazy two weeks. Features integrating upwards, downwards and laterally. Regressions and bugs hitting from left-field. To add to the hectic-ness of it all, I decided to start on a fitness regimen - a New Year resolution 7 months too late to come into action. Plus, there were five matches (go India! :-( ) to be seen in the wee hours of the night and two concerts to be attended (more on them later). By the end of it all in the middle of this week, I was happy to be standing. But rarely had I felt more alive. Adrenaline, caffeine and pure will carried me through.

That which does not kill you will only make you stronger
- Nietzsche .

Touché. Here's to more such insanity in the future.
I seem to be in a garrulous mood, so there might be a flurry of posts as I try to get things out of my head and into this blog. To start with, welcoming Abhishek aka Bunty to the weird, wonderful world of blogging. Abhishek starts over at Sidepod, and based on the first post seems destined towards nerd nirvana.

Me and Bunty go back a long way. We met on my first day in college, though we actually met in the hostel. He lived in the room next to mine, and I didn't meet him in college that day because he had slept through most of the day. It was a pattern repeated often, as he found the confines of a bed more inviting than that of a class. So did I, but I have a bad habit of being more goody-two shoes than I need to be. Fat lot of help that did me. A few more hours of relaxing never hurt anyone.

We did spend a lot of his waking hours hanging out doing nothing of note, which was the way all of our engineering years went. That we are gainfully employed is a tribute to ...what, I don't know.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


There is something about the t-shirts I wear that tend to draw reactions.

I used to wear a lot of smart-alec tees some time back. There was one that said "I see Dumb People" a la Haley Joel Osmont in "The Sixth Sense". And then there was the one which said "Scientific Theory Proven:The Universe Does Revolve Around Me". I've cut down on that, because I've found it harder to come by smart and funny t-shirts which aren't downright offensive and profane. It is hard to be smart, funny and clean.

However, it isn't these t-shirts that are causing the strange reactions. Those normally evoked a snicker, or at most "That is pretty rude" . This is more interesting.

Last month, I was wearing this t-shirt with a logo of a dragon twined over a surfboard. The guy at the local garage (where I was for an oil-change) was pretty impressed. This lead to a long conversation about how it would be a nice tattoo to get, where I bought the tee ,what kind of dragon it was (he actually knew - I forget the details) and so on.

Then I was wearing my Tantra 'Om' tee last week and the girl at the grocery checkout counter remarks - 'nice t-shirt'. Still signing my credit-card receipt, I absently answered 'thanks'. Then she says to the girl bagging the groceries 'I was thinking of getting a tattoo like that. Om, you know the universal sound. But I decided not to."

I was still digesting on this as I walked out with my groceries. A pattern is emerging here. Tattoos of patterns from tees I am wearing.hrm. I think I'll stick with the t-shirts.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's semi-auobiographical film is a good film. It captures a great slice of life growing up during the flower power days. The band, the groupies, touring, all captured through the unflinching, wonder-filled eyes of a teenager who is really too young to be there, but being talented and resourceful means that he probably sees and comprehends more than he should.

But this post isn't about the movie itself. The extra features of the film include an interview with director Cameron Crowe, one of the few directors around with a voracious appetite for music of all kinds, who actually chooses music for a film before he even begins shooting it. He talks of recording mix-tapes of music at a younger age. He would record mixtapes every month of songs he was listening to at that point of time. Occasionally, he would go back and listen to them, and they would give him a good idea of what he felt and what he was going through at that time.

As someone extremely passionate about music, it was something that struck home. So many songs, so many moods, so many memories. Almost everything you listen to has some association. The strains of Simon And Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Waters", which takes me back to C-203. Standing outside my room with my Walkman plugged into my ears, taking in the cool April night breeze - sometime around the mini-project madness phase. My short minutes of bliss before getting back to the insanity of journal-writing. The haunting lyrics of Pink Floyd's "Time"- I-420 , the restless Final Semester of Engineering. My computer in the corner of the room playing the song off a CD (I had a puny 2.1GB hard drive, and no space for more songs), and the realization of a phase in life at its end. Jon Bon Jovi's "Blaze of Glory" and Devendra's acoustic version of it on the I-block terrace - on the night before my 21st birthday.

Memories trapped in time. I wish I'd been smart like Cameron Crowe.

My usual practice of having a CD and book list on the sidebar is obviously insufficient. It would be great to actually burn mix CDs of music I am listening to. The snapshot in time idea sounds like one that would be nice to adopt.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Mark Knopfler Live

"And 'twas a ticket I was looking for
On Every Street"
- Shamelessly ripping off Dire Straits' On Every Street

A fortnight of trying for a ticket to Mark Knopfler's sold out show yielded no return. After resigning myself to missing out, a chance email on a company mailing list on Friday helped me strike gold. Singing praises to a kind-hearted person who sold a lone ticket to me at cost, I made my way to Chateau St. Michelle Winery's open-air amphitheater on Saturday night to catch the man live in concert.

Jimi Hendrix I believe has the official moniker of Guitar God. In the polytheistic religion of music, Jimmy Page, Eddie Van Halen, Joe Satriani et al have all been given this title at different places by different devotees. Like Hirak before me, I bow to Mark Knopfler, the finger- picking Sultan of Swing.

The setting was perfect. A bright, sunny day with nary a cloud in sight. Mount Rainier on the horizon. The sweat was dripping down my back as I made my way to sit down at a good location. Copious amounts of water was consumed, and restlessness set in as an attempt was made to pass the time.

The opening act was William Topley, who played a middling set of folk-country/rock numbers. Honestly, I was too pumped up in anticipation to really even listen with much interest. As the support crew set up the variety of guitars on a stand next to the stage, I enviously eyed the VIP pass holders who had a straight-up view of the stage. I managed to make my way through and find a place on the fringe, where I could stand within around 10 metres of the stage.

As the man himself made it on stage, I couldn't help but wonder that in his plain white shirt,jeans and glasses, he looked more like an avuncular professor of English than the virtuoso master who once set stadiums alight with his guitar. He launched into Why Aye Men, followed by the immediate crowd-pleaser Walk Of Life.

I'm a big Dire Straits fan, and haven't heard much of his solo work (barring Sailing to Philadelphia) . But the trademark plucking in What it is followed by the beautiful songwriting of Sailing to Philadelphia set the tone. Romeo and Juliet was followed by Sultans of Swing which brought the house down as expected. It was followed by a set of band introductions, and a set of songs from his solo albums (Bonaparte, followed by a couple I don't know). He showed off his slide guitar skills on one of them, and Bonaparte had some interesting Ukulele by his guitarist. Seeing him with his tea up on stage was funny, but it kind of set the tone for the concert, which was more like a relaxed summer event than a ba!!s-out rock show.

Then Boom Like That, his current single all over radio followed by Speedway at Nazareth. Then, of course, my personal favorite - Telegraph Road. Hearing that characteristic guitar riff at the beginning of the song was my Goosebump Moment Of the Day.

The encore included more Straits staples, Brothers in Arms, Money for Nothing and So Far Away From Me.

All in all, an evening worth remembering. Gripes as always - no Portobello Belle, no Twisting By the Pool or Down To The Waterline. No Private Investigations. Can't help it with a body of work as accomplished as that, I guess.

As a college-goer, I had two ambitions in life - to play the guitar like Mark Knopfler, and to dance like John Travolta. I am nowhere close to accomplishing any of them. But life is good. I saw a God in the flesh, and he looks like a quiet professor of English. Until he picks up the guitar , that is.

I'll try to get a setlist up, but it looks suspiciously identical to the one Hirak has here. I'm guessing there isn't much variation across shows. No cameras or recording was allowed (venue policy, more likely than not). The official website has info on concert downloads being available.