Sunday, December 31, 2006

Words

Say them. Feel the way the syllables form and curl around your tongue. Watch them turn cartwheels and somersaults across the arena of your imagination. Smell them. Taste them. Delight in the pure joy that comes from a metaphor well-used or a comment well-directed.
Dare stop the tears that well in your eyes when Steinbeck's characters hold their heads high in The Grapes of Wrath. Try suppressing that giggle as Bertie Wooster bumbles again, and sniff in contempt as Jeeves saves the day again. Gaze agape at the fount of fables that is Neil Gaiman.

Why stop at reading? Stand tall when you deliver that impeccably worded one-liner with a smirk on your lips. Cringe when someone uses the same three adjectives all the time to describe completely unrelated things. Distill some of what you read (nay, drink, imbibe) into something of your own.
Try and make them stand on their own feet. OK. Maybe you are ambitious. Try and make them do their own stunts.

Use them. Respect them as they are your best friends. And your worst enemies.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

EOY Blues, Windocalypse and a tune for the times

It's that time of the year again. December is when work begins to winds down in anticipation of Yuletide spirit and new beginnings. Colleagues and friends head out on holidays, and for the third successive winter, I stay put, albeit for happier reasons.

Going to grocery stores is hazardous, since hearing It's the most wonderful time or Let it snow one more time may cause that vein throbbing in my head to finally explode.

Of course, it's not all bad. Unexpected snow and lit-up skies in the early part of the month helped a bit. So did the sudden surge in the sheer amount of busy-ness at work which has left me with very little time to gripe. Add the Trans-Siberian Orchestra and a gourmet experience that had been on the agenda for a while, and this December is suddenly looking up. S.I.'s visit provided for much fun, and I survived Windocalypse 2006 fully unharmed. (A day of no showering doesn't count).

And, there are notable exceptions to the Christmas song rule. One of them is Sarah McLachlan's rendition of Joni Mitchell's River. Sarah's dreamy voice is the kind to launch a million ships.

She makes the beautifully written song stand on its own two feet, and I can almost see a frozen river someplace in the Midwest, with a frail, forlorn figure skating alone on it. The song isn't about the Christmas spirit. Far from it. That's why it's odd that it's a Christmas favorite, especially since it's been seemingly covered so many times. It sounds right, though.

 

 

Monday, December 11, 2006

The Windows Source Tree, and other insights

Joel Spolsky has good things to say about the Windows source-code tree.

(As always, I speak for myself and not for Microsoft)

There's always talk about how incredibly difficult managing such a hierarchical structure must be and how slowly changes propagate across branches and so on. It's not as bad as it looks because while there is process involved, the most important thing is the product. Important changes are fast-tracked to ensure everyone gets them earlier. Breaking changes (like, say a change to the XML library) are announced throughout the Windows team, making sure everyone calling into it has enough head-time to ensure they're compatible. Anything that'll affect the product quality, usability and development speed is prioritized across branches and source trees. Looking at it as a static, purely process-driven system run by PHBs does it (and the people who make it work) a disservice.

Of course, the system isn't perfect. It's an ongoing process, and we have to see how it can be improved on to make sure we do better and our ship cycles shorten.

Joel link via Ari's blog, who also points to some failings in the system.

Joel also criticizes the 'Shutdown' menu in Windows Vista. I agree grudgingly. On my laptop, the 'Sleep' option is darked out so I can't use it. Fast user switching is great if more than one persion is using the same machine (say, in a family) and some of the ideas Joel gives don't work with existing hardware, or with all of Microsoft's hardware vendors.  There's more to these options than meets the eye, and I wish someone on one of these teams would post an explanation which may help us understand these decisions better. I didn't find anything when I looked.

Monday, December 04, 2006

The Matrix has you

A cold, surprisingly dry winter's night. It's a lonely office complex building with dried leaves all around. The wind blows harder than it normally does, disturbing the leaves. They fly around causing small swirls, mini-typhoons all by themselves. The rustling is loud.

There's a lone figure walking out into this quiet storm. 

I can almost hear the subway train passing by. And a voice from left off-screen. "Mr. Anderson...".

Thursday, November 30, 2006

The cuppa that cheers

Seattle Metblogs, that lovely purveyor of all things Seattle, rhapsodizes over the drink that makes Seattle what it is. I'm happy to note that I've been to most of the Seattle places on the list, though a few still remain.

I'm getting to be a bit of a coffee snob, comparing my poison of choice across different branches of Starbucks, Tullys, Peets and the various fine establishments mentioned in this blog entry. Choice quote:

"If you have to ask why Seattleites love their coffee so much, you obviously haven't been here during the long, dank winter when it feels like the whole world is made of grey. A little liquid love goes a long way towards easing the daily doldrums."

Monday, November 27, 2006

Blog Alert - Passion for Cinema

George Thomas points to Passion For Cinema, a blog run by and for cinephiles. Anurag Kashyap, one of India's finest scriptwriters (Satya, Shool, Yuva) is blogging there and documenting the creation of his new film, No Smoking. One hopes he at least gets this film released - Paanch and Black Friday went down without a release.

He has a couple of great posts on the making of Satya - more in this series are expected in the future. 1 2

Satya IMO is one of the best films to come out of the Indian film industry in the past fifteen years, and I do not say this statement lightly. 

Anurag's posts point to the enigma that is Ram Gopal Verma, a creative process gone awry and how greatness seems to stem from chaos. Recommended reading if you're interested in Hindi films of any sort.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Movie Minutes

Flushed Away

The delightful whimsy of the creators of Wallace and Gromit (I still haven't seen the film, but I remember seeing a couple of shorts someplace) makes this very silly comedy work. It's a relief that the gratuitous pop-culture references which really killed Shark Tale for me don't surface here as often.

High points of the film:

- A group of slugs/leeches/what the hell were they? singing "Don't worry, be happy" and a couple of other cleverly picked songs.

- A French mercenary frog voiced by Jean Reno. His gang says "We surrender" at random times. They stop for five-hour lunches. And yes, they travel with a mime.

- Bill Nighy and Andy Serkis ('My precious' Gollum) as a pair of good 'fer nothing sidekicks.

Don - the chase begins

Farhan Akhtar doesn't disappoint in this slick re-visitation of the classic. SRK is surprisingly good, especially as the comic Vijay. His Don is as much respectful tribute as personal interpretation. Priyanka Chopra is competent and Boman Irani shows serious acting chops to complement his comic timing I've seen in various other places.

The soundtrack too is a good re-work, using the high points of the old and blending it smoothly with new refrains and  lyrics. The new title song and Raat Baki work well and the songs don't flag the pace of the film. The fight sequences are slick and except for a couple of sequences which are really arbitrary, they re-define Bollywood style for this generation.

Neatest touch: In Don's 'safe room', Edvard Munch's Scream is hanging on the wall. The painting itself was stolen in 2004 and recovered in August this year. Assuming they shot the film before that, it's a good painting for a man wanted in 11 nations to own.

As always, the blighted weather outside and a general lack of outdoor-sy things to do will meet the 'end of Oscar nomination' season and lots of movie viewings are in order. Still pending: Iraq in Fragments, Babel, The Prestige, The Departed and The Illusionist. Yes, I'm also looking forward to Casino Royale. The fun just began.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Useless Fact for the day...

Johnny Cash's hit single I walk the line turns fifty this year.

It's a weird coincidence, learning this fact last week after hearing a cover version of the song by Live more than ten times in three days. I can't help it. If a song's stuck in my head, I have to scratch that itch till I get the song out of my system. Recent candidates for this honor include Rage Against the Machine's Renegades of Funk and Sigur Ros' Saeglopur. But I digress.

While the original Johnny Cash version is in his trademark country-blues style, the Live cover is all seriousness with good use of the electric guitar. This (in my opinion) probably suits the song better than Johnny Cash's style. Heresy, I know, but that's just me.

The song however reveals the power of Johnny Cash's writing, wrapping so much feeling in words so simple. It's something Live (and a lot of songwriters for that matter) could do well to learn from.

It's your TV. Have it your way.

Earlier: XBox 360 and the digital hub

Now:  The XBox 360 to sell TV shows and films via downloads.

The XBox is primarily used by that elusive demographic - 18-34 year-old men. These people don't watch much TV,  don't subscribe to newspapers much and are likelier to surf the web or play games. It's not funny to see the amount of real-world socializing gamers do about playing online. (It's the hot workplace conversation topic - even in the land of the NFC Champions).

Microsoft and Sony (whenever the Playstation 3 launches) are going to be prime candidates for trying to convince this demographic to get TV shows and movies via their game consoles. HD downloads is what will drive this at first since there are no HD downloads available on any online stores as of now. Hi-Def DVD standards are still converging, so it makes more sense to just buy your HD content on the 'Net, especially since you are likely to keep your XBox for 3-4 years.

Add a Media Center PC to the equation and there's interesting twists on the whole experience, including recording HD cable and over-the-air shows using your TV tuner card to play back on your TV(s) in the house. Plus downloaded shows via your XBox in the hall can be played back on your bedroom TV.

The digital home entertainment world is converging. And we're still waiting on Apple's ITV.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Useful IE7 hacks

Internet Explorer mostly brought tears to my eyes not too long ago. IE6 was slow, and before XP SP2, really vulnerable. They worked hard to lock it down but the lack of tabs and any real utility made me look at Firefox and boy, did I love it.

However, Microsoft launched IE7 a few weeks back. It is a significant re-write and update of features for Internet Exploer on both XP and Vista. It is important, simply because even now, more than 85% of the market uses IE. A few quick notes:

- Tabbed browsing finally comes to the IE world! On Vista, you can drag and drop and re-order tabs. El Neato.

- A big plus for me is the ease of use with respect to RSS. My browser is my default RSS reader now and the ease with which I can import and export OPML lists makes it easy for me to use my favorite feeds across multiple machines. I prefer it over Sage and Live Bookmarks in FF personally, though YMMV.

- A couple of things about it to me are still annoying - the text search is still archaic. Come on, vi had inline text search, what, twenty years back?.

However, IE's add-on API set isn't too bad, and we have Core Services' Inline Search to our rescue. Quick to install, and easy to use. Sweet. A number of add-ons are listed here - http://www.ieaddons.com

- Also, while Wikipedia and the major search engines are all in the search providers that are available easily, I wish IMDB were as easily available.

This is solved by the nifty customize menue under 'Find more search providers' that Microsoft provides on their website, making it easy to add your own search providers. Providers I added include dictionary.com, IMDB and the local county library online database.

This is a feature that copies the Opera/FF world, but the last bit of customization makes it better than its predecessors. (I mean, would anyone really write a custom provider for my library? I'd do it myself, but that's besides the point. What would a newbie user do?)

Firefox has significant momentum behind it, but IE7 may be just about able to stem the bleeding of users away from IE. IE is still playing catch-up with Firefox in terms of end-user features, but at least there's a modicum of competition now.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

I heard it on the radio

When I was in India, I'd listen to the song "November Rain" by Guns n Roses and think "It doesn't rain here in November*."

The song is beautiful in a way only sad, epic songs can be. Axl Rose's rasping voice, the piano, the strings and Slash on the guitar put together a song that washed away so much pain in an eight-minute orgy of excess. The video is no less with a real story, back-story and loads of symbolism to go with it (more here). Then there was Slash blazing away on lead guitar, standing on top of a grand piano in his trademark wide-legged stance. 

It's pouring outside on a cold November Friday. The radio plays, aptly, "November Rain". I soak in the lyrics and the music and I think back to another beautiful song.

"Radio, what's new? Someone still loves you."

In other news:

KMTT, my favorite area radio station is crowned one of the five best in rock radio by Rolling Stone.

*At least it never did where I lived.

Friday, November 03, 2006

When it rains...

There's a saying in Marathi about a tree branch breaking exactly when you sit on it.

Two days after I complained about the unfair depiction of Seattle rain in many places, it rains cats and dogs and maybe a few orcas as well.

In other news:

I link to Ramanand's general review of Alexander McCall Smith's books. "The Number One Ladies Detective Agency" is exactly like the title sounds. It is droll, slightly quirky and thoroughly enjoyable. While he may not win a Booker, he wins the prize for most interesting book titles with gems like "The Kalahari Typing School for Men" and "Morality for Beautiful Girls".

The book's hard to dislike and the best part of the book is the fact that it paints a different picture of Africa - an Africa that is civilized and on the path to progress. Not the one in the media perennially in need of 'saving'. That by itself makes it worth the read.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween

There's something irresistibly adorable about a child all dressed up as an angel of some sort yelling 'trick-or-treat' and then 'thank you' (on a watchful parent's reminding).

As I watched my bag o' goodies deplete, I smiled indulgently. Even as work deadlines tick ominously around me, I turn around and say 'You're most welcome' to every one of those kids. After all, they livened up my workplace. They chased away my blues.

Work will wait. Halloween only comes once a year.

Elsewhere: Bhavna's office livened up last year.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Impressionable

I don't consider myself to be a big art aficionado. I enjoyed my trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York two years back. I still stand and look at a painting if it catches my attention. But the aesthetic value of a painting, for me, is Kala Akshar Bhains Barabar. That, of course has never stopped me from having an opinion or made me any less curious. A thing of beauty is a joy forever and all that, and I try to enjoy what I can.

However, I still think Impressionist paintings are something else. I don't understand what makes them what they are, but some of them (especially Monets) stand out and the style is immediately apparent. The blurry brush strokes and the out of focus visuals make for a slightly surreal effect.

Why Impressionism suddenly, you ask? I was making my way through a gift shop this weekend and a bunch of postcards caught my attention. What annoyed me about the postcards was the fact that they depicted Seattle as a place where it rains heavily enough for you to have to carry an umbrella around.*

However, the postcards reminded me of the Impressionist style**, and I noted the seller's website to go take a look at similar prints. A nice example here. Another one here.  

*I've never had use for an umbrella in the 18 months I've lived here. A light jacket suffices.

** I don't think these qualify as Impressionist, but they evoked a similar reaction.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Relevant News

I complained just over a year ago about Indian sites being really bad with RSS and general web compliance. The Times of India pleasantly surprised me today. After a downward spiral of over five years, they seem to have seen the light. While some of the frivolity on the front page exists, the content and ease of use is improving significantly for power users. They started slow, with RSS feeds for the front page and certain sections like sports and editorials. However, a RSS feed for a single columnist - on my wishlist forever, has been added. Awesome is too common a word to describe it. I can finally read Gurcharan Das and Swaminathan Aiyar linking off my RSS reader (IE7 rocks!) without knowing what Shah Rukh Khan did for Diwali.

Thank you, Times of India. There may be redemption for you yet.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Good Will Hunting

I like trying different genres of writing from time to time. Next on the agenda is a play (we are reading Cyrano de Bergerac in a book club I'm part of ). However, out of pure curiosity, I decided to try a screenplay.
I first remember skimming through the screenplay of Pulp Fiction in a bookshop a few years back. The words lept out at me in a way the dialog on screen didn't.
So, when a cursory search on the local library database indicated that the screenplay for a personal favorite, Good Will Hunting was 'on shelf' (versus having to put a hold on it and wait for it to be returned), I took it as a sign and picked it up then and there.

Film, needless to say, is a very visual medium and the screenplay reflects it. Physical descriptions of characters are more detailed, and there's scenery descriptions much more detailed than in a play. There are moving shots, descriptions of shots of the Boston skyline, the Charles River and so on. Since Good...is a spare film in terms of its setting (it's fully set in Boston), it's less so than, say, a Lord of the Rings would be.
The film narrates a short period in the life of Will Hunting, an orphan genius who works as a janitor in MIT. He is 'discovered' by a mathematics professor, and along the way, meets a psychologist - an equal to his genius and attitude. The film is very Hollywood and triumphant in some ways, celebrating 'smarts' over 'intellectualism' - as director Gus Van Sant puts it succinctly in the foreword.
But the dialog. Oh, the dialog. Crisp, quirky and celebrating the art of the repartee, it makes the film what it is. It is hard to imagine two young Hollywood actors writing this script. Especially not young actors whose names are Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. But they did, and they did well enough to win an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
I've seen the film and it's hard to imagine reading this and making a lot of it without seeing Robin Williams as Sean and Matt Damon as Will. That's the bane of reading a book adapted into a movie after watching the movie or reading a screenplay. It's difficult to immerse yourself and create a world of your own. The world-vision you have of it is slightly contaminated by what you've seen before.

But this has been an immensely enjoyable journey into the world of Will Hunting.

Skylar: Maybe we should go out for coffee sometime?

Will: Great, or maybe we could go somewhere and just eat a bunch of caramels.

Skylar: What?

Will: Come to think of it, it's just as arbitrary as drinking coffee.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Travel Musings

- Even as a reasonably tolerant traveler, the level of security checks is beginning to get to me.
Casualty: A deodorant forgotten in my carry-on bag. I'm sure security sees this Axe-wielding traveler as a threat to the virtue of the female populace on board the flight. Consider yourself warned.
- That quintessential American invention, the car cup-holder is better designed to hold grande or venti cups of coffee than tall ones. Tall coffee drinkers, ...erm...drinkers of tall cups of coffee struggle with dexterity to get a reasonable grip on the cuppa. All this while actually driving the darn car.

- You get used to a car and then driving a rental car becomes difficult. Then you get used to the rental and going back to your own car is a joy. The dexterity! The control! The acceleration! Korean cars rule! OK, the last one's a tad much, but my car's a Ferrari compared to the Ford Fusion dear Enterprise decided to foist on me.
- Roethlisberger is the leading jersey in Pittsburgh by miles, though central PA divided its loyalties equally with McNabb. Terrible towels are sold in rest stops too.
- Seattle feels like home more than ever. My favorite metropolis seemed more distant now and a tad easier to get lost in. The Emerald City seems friendlier now. Familiarity can breed love, too.

Friday, October 13, 2006

SoaP

There's cartoons and there's cartoons.

This one's jaw-dropping in terms of sheer topicality and timing.

http://www.time.com/time/cartoons/20060826/4.html

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Indian Ocean: An Oasis of hope

A slightly modified version of this article appeared in Hafta magazine last week.

A common problem with so-called "fusion" artists is that the fusion between the different aspects of music seems forced. This is true especially of wannabe popstars with art-house pretensions or one of the many emigrant/second-generation South Asians on the underground scene in the UK or USA. The best (Nitin Sawhney is one name that comes to mind) have definitely have made use of their hybrid upbringing and myriad influences, bringing something of that into the music they make . However, the worst of the 'fusion' genre generally involves an obligatory tabla or dhol beat interspersed with hip-hop rhythms and rap competing with Indian vocals.

At the other end of the spectrum is the one Indian band whose music brings the word "organic" to mind. Indian Ocean fuses together various elements of their influences and beliefs as musicians and human beings to create music that may be called 'fusion', but this fusion sounds natural and not forced.

Be it the dramatic segues on Bhor (on Jhini), or the Knopfleresque flourish of wizardry at the end of Khajuraho (on Kandisa), Indian Ocean has time and again shown why it is so difficult to pigeon-hole them as a band. Promiscuously absorbing influences from Indian folk, rock music and adding the improvisational sensibility of jazz, Indian Ocean creates a collage of sound that is uniquely Indian and contemporary.

Indian Ocean is a paradox in many ways. They've been around for 15 years, yet haven't had the kind of mainstream success that you'd expect. They have a cult following among certain sections of the population and yet, a large number of people haven't heard of them, leave alone heard their music.

They are Indian, yet they follow the American band model of incessant touring and live shows to build their popularity (versus the traditional music-video route, though they have had a music video for Jhini out). They perform songs that are political in tone (Ma Rewa - based on a traditional folk song, is about the river Narmada - a dam on this river is at the center of a controversy), yet refuse to be labeled a political band. Ironically, their biggest shot at mainstream attention - the soundtrack for Black Friday went down quietly since the movie itself ended up running only for a day in theatres before being pulled.

The band, however, soldiers on, going from strength to strength. They are on the road continuously, and are now on their fourth tour of the US, where people who've heard them back in college(or not) attend their concerts to be blown away by their live performances.

Still grounded and extremely down-to-earth, the band members are a revelation. They made the courageous decision to live off their music a few years after they started. Was it a hard decision to make? "When we decided to, it didn't seem like a big thing." says Susmit, the guitarist. "But then, as kids you do things that when you are grown up, you think about and say "I could have died doing that."" he says, and laughs.


Animated and well-read, the band members are livewires off-stage too. Effortlessly riffing off well-known Hindi and English film songs, satirizing everything from the humble coconut to George W Bush, they keep their hosts and us (the host's guests) in splits. For a group that just rocked a 500-strong crowd for two and a half hours, their spirits are high and their energy infectious - a requirement for the time spent away from family on tour. "The band is like family to each one, in some ways substituting for our real families back home, at least when we are on the road." says Asheem.

One can only hope that the effervescent spirit and passion that resulted in the formation and sustenance of Indian Ocean takes root in the hearts of more talented artists throughout the country. The purity of their music, their refusal to compromise on their beliefs and their success despite the odds is a beacon of hope for creative people who despair at the present state of Indian popular culture.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Days go by...

This photo's for Lalit.

The madness started two days back with P&G's gift in the mail.

Starting from midnight, with the cake my parents got and followed up by another one Lalit, Shailu and Vasanth got, it was special.
It ended with RK calling at 9:15 (Sir jee, shukriya) and Bunty SMSing at 10:00 PM . It's already the next day in India, so he says "I hope I'm not late :-(" . No Bunty,you're not.
Muchos Gracias. You rock my world.

And yes, those of you whom I barely know, and yet you left scraps for me on Orkut. Thanks for being so thoughtful. But really, get a life.

Monday, September 25, 2006

What a wonderful world...

Weapons prohibited sign


Seen in a public school in Seattle.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Screaming Masterpiece

On Sunday, I went to see 'Screaming Masterpiece', a documentary on the music of Iceland.

A staple of beautiful tunes mainly from Sigur Ros on my favorite radio stations made me very curious to know what made these Scandinavian nations click when it came to such ethereal music. I've read features about Reykjavik and how much of an amazing music scene the country has, and this seemed like a good chance to figure out what it's all about.

The soundtrack features Iceland biggies Bjork and Sigur Ros as well as more obscure artists like Mum, Mugison and Slowblow. The documentary wasn't very helpful in pointing out why their music is as good as it is, but one statement early on in the film made sense (I paraphrase) :

In a country of 300,000 people, an album selling even 200 copies may be considered successful. Since there isn't much money in this success, bands go out and do their own thing. Since the musicians don't have to kowtow to commercial interests, the music tends to be purer in intent which arguably translates to better quality.

As for the rest, a lot of stock shots of Iceland's majestic beauty are interspersed with the most eclectic samples of music and artists that can come out of a country 103,000 square metres in area with 300,000 people. Maybe, as some other interviewee says, the weather helps (which may explain the music scene in Seattle or Portland being as vibrant and creative as it is).

Also, technically Iceland isn't Scandinavia since they have a culture and history that is completely different from the Scandinavian nations.

A mostly entertaining 88 minutes on Sunday night was capped by a guy making a pass at one of two desi guys (yes, I and a friend) walking down a lonely road in Capitol Hill. I'm not sure either of us was very flattered ( even if it was a girl I didn't find attractive at all, I'd feel differently), but the whole incident was funny enough to laugh about. Maybe we should post a Stranger or Craigslist 'missed connection' ad to inform the guy that neither of us swings the other way and that he'd be better off looking elsewhere.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Dharam Sankats and supping with Lucifer

Formula1 took the most fun twist I've seen it take in the past few years. Michael Schumacher ensured that Formula1 was never dull, and the past few years have been intense - racing-wise or otherwise. As he hangs up his helmet and racing gloves, Kimi Raikkonen moves into the hot seat at Ferrari.

With Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya leaving, Kimi's a personal favorite among the drivers left in Formula1. Ice Man to Michael's Maverick*, the blue-eyed Finn has always impressed me for his coolness and the impressive results he nursed out of a pathetic McLaren (pathetic in terms of reliability, that is). I've rarely seen him make the kind of mistakes that took out the mercurial Montoya (another favorite, if only for the fact that I see a bit of my earlier devil-may-care attitude in him). Moving to Ferrari is a good move, especially since he doesn't have to contend with playing second fiddle to Schumacher, something that probably drove Barrichelo to tears.

The problem is with the fans. McLaren has its set of rabid fans (less than Ferrari surely, but lots), and at least a few of them are fans because they are the anti-Ferrari. Raikkonen is the anti-Schumi, the prodigy who made it to F1 on sheer talent and wins only on that basis. People supporting Raikkonen and McLaren found a happy union of their loyalties.

What now? For techies, it's almost like Linus Torvalds working on Windows for Microsoft. They'd want to support Torvalds, but that would mean supporting Microsoft. Conflicted? Hell, yes.

Raikkonen's supping with the Devil Incarnate of F1, and I'm happy. My loyalties are towards driver skills, and I want Raikkonen to get a good car.

Schumacher and Raikkonen on the same Ferrari team would've been a darn fine sight to see, but two star drivers on a team do not a great team necessarily make ( case in point: McLaren early this season) and a strong team may elevate drivers and the team to really good levels (Williams-BMW with Schumacher Jr. and Montoya from the 2002-03 season). I only hope Raikkonen's luck turns, and he doesn't drag Ferrari down with his blighted fortune.

*Kimi's nickname is Ice Man, but Maverick's from Top Gun.

Monday, September 18, 2006

...Under Protest (Pine, Pike), take a right here!

Shailu writes of an interesting way to remember the streets in Downtown Seattle. "Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest" indeed.

Speaking of Gods, after reading Neil Gaiman's American Gods a few months back, Terry Pratchett's Small Gods is a good change of pace. Laugh-out-loud funny, thought-provoking and yet mostly silly, it's all in good fun. Somewhat like the Blandings series of P G Wodehouse books I read way back. I lean towards Blandings over Jeeves personally - it's a matter of personal taste, and there's something special about a prize pig being named "Empress of Blandings."

I think I'll name my pet dog Lemuel Gengulphus.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Random Music Musings IV - it's called what?!

There hasn't been a lack of ideas to post about, but fleshing ideas to thoughts and then to words has been tough. Music, an obsession at most times, is always easy to write about, so I am taking the easy way out right now :-)

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I chanced upon a documentary on the history of metal music on VH1. Pah. While it did a good job of introducing the genre to noobs, (I am slightly better than a newbie and some of the information on there was new to me), the pandering to the LCD was annoying. A section on rap-rock went through with a detailed intro about Anthrax's collaboration with Public Enemy, a few quotes from Fred Durst of Limp Bizkit and passing references to Korn and Linkin Park. What, no Rage Against the Machine? You've got to be kidding me.

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Goo Goo Dolls are touring in support of their new album. I liked them as the playful and dreamy pop-punk trio they originally were. Songs like "Slide", Dizzy", "Here is Gone" and "Big Machine" have always made for great listening. I love their cover of "Give a Little Bit" , and of course, their big hit "Iris" is something else. Somehow their mellowing down hasn't gone well with me. Johnny Rzeznik's voice is still great, but the new single on radio lacks that punch which made me like them in the first place.

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Bumbershoot was missed for the second year in succession as more interesting things were done outside the city. Ironic - the only long weekend* of the past two summers that I've been reasonably open ( the Independence Day weekend), there's nothing on in Seattle. Memorial Day has Northwest Folklife, and Labor Day has Bumbershoot, and I've been out of town all four times in the past two years. Such is life.It is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

---------------

As seen on TV! There's an advertisement for a compilation of alternative/pop/rock hits that's making the VH1 rounds right now - the collection consists of those odd favorites - songs that really caught your imagination when they were on radio/TV, but only fans probably bought the albums these were featured in. Classic examples include "Counting Blue Cars" by Dishwalla, "Lightning crashes" by Live and "Everything you want" by Vertical Horizon. The selection caught my eye immediately, as these were classic one-off songs - I'd not buy the album but the song itself interested me.

The compilation itself is called "Buzz Ballads". WTF? You put together a half-decent collection of songs, and then you call it something like that. It's the kind of name you'd not go near with a ten-foot barge pole. Since I know the song selection, I may still buy it, but naming a collection of songs "Buzz Ballads" is setting yourself up for failure.

Previously: I, II and III

Edit: Justified the formatting.

*This is partly because July 4th was a Monday last year and a Tuesday this year - making for long weekends. Next year it'll be a Wednesday, which means only the fireworks and nothing else.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Kaisa ajab yeh safar hai...


The promise of the open road. Fulfilled.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

For those songs that get stuck in the head.

Playlist - August 2006.

Alternating between moody introspection to all-out head-banging, with a dance-hall/lounge diversion along the way.

Zinda - Strings. Fine songwriting.

Everything you Want - Vertical Horizon. Damn the lyrics, the intro hook won't get out of my head.

Renegades of Funk - Rage Against the Machine. Tom Morello, we bow to thee.

Vicarious - Tool. Listen to believe in the power of music to move you.

Dizzy - Goo Goo Dolls.  "monochrome delirious"I like the metaphor.

Woh Lamhe - Jal. There's a riff in the middle that's Dave Gilmour/Pink Floyd's "Coming Back to Life" all over again. The Jal album version is better than the movie version IMO.

Falling(Quantic Mix) - Nitin Sawhney. This is a remix, one of two on "All Mixed Up".

Dancing at Sunset - Karsh Kale. Delicious mix of carnatic violin and electronica.

Saeglopur - Sigur Ros. What is it with the Scandinavians and fab ambient/electronic/ethereal music?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

...and why does everything have to be so f*#$ing hard?

"There is no such thing as a problem without a gift for you in its hands.You seek problems because you need their gifts."

 - from Richard Bach's "Illusions

Monday, August 28, 2006

Change is good...

I changed the layout of the blog since it wasn't rendering well on PocketPCs (Special thanks to Shailu) . I've been playing with the template code as well. Please leave comments if it won't render well on your browser. Browser name,version and monitor resolution information would be useful as well.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Blog, meet world

Somehow, my blogging and physical spaces have always had a disconnect. I've never really lived in the same area or frequently met many of the people who read my blog, and people around me haven't really read my blog much (they've never cared for that sort of thing, I guess). It's been changing over the past few months.

I re-use observations and insights that I've blogged about pretty often in regular conversation. It makes me look more well-read than I really am, since people don't realize that these are things I've given careful thought and time to. They (probably) assume this stuff is off the cuff.

However, I'm getting caught now - "I read that on your blog" is something I've heard a couple of times from a friend over the past few months. Another complained that he couldn't read my blog on his Pocket PC.

Yes, I'm pleased. I consider my blogging to be an important part of who I am (this was an exercise to try my writing skills, and I've realized I enjoy it a lot), and if people I consider good friends are taking the effort to visit my blog, that means a lot to me. The converse is also true - I am truly thankful for the acquaintances I've made and re-kindled over the Web since I started blogging. Some of these have spilled over to IM and email and have been rewarding to varying degrees.

In keeping with the fact that people blog for various reasons, I welcome a couple of new blogging friends (these are people I meet regularly in meatspace) - Brad and Shailu. Brad chronicles a very active lifestyle - hiking, sports and (here I hope to join him more often this winter) snowboarding. Shailu and I go back four years - the first time we met was at a CMU tradition - painting "The Fence" in the Indian tricolor on the eve of the 15th of August. Shailu's blog is kind of like mine -varied topics and life chronicles, though he is less into navel-gazing than I am.

Edit: Fixed grammatical errors and formatting.

Snarky. Very Snarky. But, oh so very true.

The blogerati's favorite whipping boy is back. K-Jo (man, I love that nick) makes his grand comeback with "the love that broke all relationships". KANK (the neatest film abbreviation I've heard in a while BTW) made its ways to theatres a few weeks back. Slick production values, great clothes ( makes even a very casual and nonchalant dresser like me stare agape) and overblown emotions come to set the box-office on fire.

So, what's new, you ask? What is new this time is the blogosphere (I never hated a word more). When K3G came out (the last time K-Jo directed a movie), there weren't that many bloggers. At least, there weren't very many who'd heard of K-Jo. The world has changed much since then, and it seems that "It's all about loving your parents" K-Jo (I can't get enough of that name. K-Jo. Has a certain ring to it) is the blogerati's b*&$% for the next few months or so.

Why, you ask? Ooooh, nothing succeeds like success. See, when Ed Wood made his films, he got anointed the worst film-maker of all time. But that was it. Of course, Tim Burton decided to make a film with Johnny Depp as him, and he gained a certain notoriety after that. But because his films were bad and they flopped, I'm sure that he has a small fan club somewhere. He is endearing because he is a failure. He tried something, was bad at it, and failed.

Unfortunately, K-Jo isn't like that. He's wildly successful. He's a manipulative film-maker, and he's good at what he does. Considering all that and the fact that so much of his filmography is vacuous (Disclosure: I loved KHNH and not because SRK dies in the end), it's easy pickings, innit? Irrespective of how annoying Mitwaa can get after half-a-dozen listenings and how smug and irritating K-Jo is, what really gets our goat about him (and Himesh Reshammiya, for that matter) is the fact that we are in the minority. The majority of the people out there like them. We can congratulate ourselves on being the intellectual, Omkara-loving, Indian Ocean-listening cognoscenti, but we count zilch when it comes to what works.

Earlier: The anti-populism brigade 

Update: Masochism comes. I saw the film, cringing at the absolute lack of insight into human relations the man has. I'm not married (or attached, for that matter), but some parts of the film related to relationships, marriage and the like rang so false that I was hiding my face in embarrassment. I forgot that KHNH ( which I really liked) wasn't directed by K-Jo, and that I've never really liked a movie directed by him. Technically, Nikhil Advani brought something to KHNH which K-Jo fails to bring to this (or to any of his earlier editions of candy-floss FWIW). Where's the party tonight was It's the time to disco all over, and Mitwaa is only  redeemed by some reasonably good singing. Even indulgent shots of my favorite metropolis didn't redeem the overblown nature of it all. SRK is at his worst ( also see: Ram Jaane or Chaahat), proving once again why he's a director's actor (see: Kabhi Haan Kabhi Na, Swades and Yes Boss ) and Abhishek Bachchan is most definitely a chip off two old blocks. AB Sr gets the best lines and has the most fun. He even dies, which is something the movie should've done. Slowly and painfully.

But it's running to full houses all over. *Sigh*. Such is life.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Once in a blue moon...

My favorite actor in Hollywood decides he wants to act in a movie. The Illusionist is out to wide release this week. Review, no review or bad review, a viewing is in order. Soon.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

I came, I saw, I conquered...

From record sales, to sold out concerts
So muh'f*$%er if you want this encore
I need you to scream, 'til your lungs get sore

- Jay-Z "Encore"

Indian Ocean took over and rocked the bejesus out of a 500-strong audience yesterday night. Sore from all the dancing, hoarse from singing along and generally overwhelmed by the coolness of Rahul, Asheem, Susmit and Amit, I'm at a bit of a loss right now. More details will follow...

Indian Ocean - live in concert. Benefit for Child Relief and You, America.

August 11th, 2006 - Neumos, 925 E Pike St., Seattle, WA.

Setlist:

1. From the Ruins
2. Kya Maloom
3. Melancholic Ecstasy
4. Jhini
5. Leaving Home
6. Hille Re

BREAK

7. Bandeh
8. Bhor
9. New Song- As yet untitled from the soundtrack of the movie "Shoonya"
10. Boll Weevil
11. Maa Rewa
12. Kandisa
Encore - Kaun

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Naam hai Bond

The new James Bond movie is shaping up to be interesting in more ways than one. First was the unusual choice of Daniel Craig - he is blonde, has blue eyes and a rugged face probably more suited to a Bond villain side-kick than 007. He looks quite unlike the suave Brosnan or Roger Moore, but IMO he's closer to the iconic Sean Connery than any of the previous Bonds.

Then, there's the soundtrack. Bond theme songs have always had a unique sensibility - evolving from Shirley Bassey and Frank Sinatra to Duran Duran and Madonna. Interesting segues along the way included Sheryl Crow, Garbage and Tina Turner ( Goldeneye,  a personal favorite). The songs vary in style, but they retain a certain feel to them which makes them stand out. This time it's rock superstar Chris Cornell (he of Soundgarden and Audioslave fame) penning the lyrics and singing the title song to Casino Royale.

While Bond has always been about guns,babes and bombs, its significance as a cultural phenomenon cannot be underestimated. Every movie release from the Broccoli stable is an event, and the search for the new Bond occupied the news by itself. When this baby hits the marquee, add one more to the list of the curious who'll be there to catch the movie.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Aap ka Suroo(n)r

To Himesh

Sing, sing, sing through your nose
And wear a stupid cap
All the autos play your stuff
But you mostly sound like crap

by Sidin .

*Desperately trying to get annoying nasal sounds heard at local desi chaat joint out of head

Find your way to me

"kimi raikkonen rotten luck" - tell me about it. Hungaroring was no better.
"internet intermediary disintermediary" - ah, favorite topic, tech + econ.
"Shiny Ahuja biography" - HKA was great, but what next?
"opinion of becoming pm of india for one day" - WTF?
"proven world does revolve around me t shirt" - OK, I own up. I own this narcissistic tee. I blogged about it too.
"Life's song by SLB" WTF?
"hazaaron khwaishein aisi buy audio CD" - Do so, please.
"Dosas Uttappams" - aijo, what?! Not on my blog.
"I remember someone old once said to me that lies will lock you up with truth the only key.." - Missy Higgins, a spare Aussie with a beautiful voice
"mera chain vain sab ujra" - yay for Kajra re!
"ripping afterglow live" - DRM sucks, methinks. Don't try this at home. Sarah rules though.

These are selected Google search strings that lead people to yours truly's blog over the past few days.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

It's happening...

Finally, India's finest make it to the Pacific Northwest. Indian Ocean perform in Seattle on the 11th of August.

Proceeds go to support CRY.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Electrifying

Cricinfo's All Of Today's Yesteryears marks July 26th as an important date - the birth of Jonty Rhodes.

Jonty caught the imagination of a generation of cricket-lovers with that spectacular run-out in the '92 World Cup to dismiss Inzamam-ul-Haq. An interesting and little-known fact about him is that he had a chance to represent South Africa in hockey in the Olympics, which would have given him the rare distinction of representing his nation in two sports (he declined the selection to play cricket) . Also, he is epileptic, a fact that caused him to stop playing soccer as a kid (a hit to the head would have induced a fit). The present generation of cricket players definitely have been inspired by his antics at backward point since he was probably worth 20 runs before he even walked out to bat.

A request to hardcore cricket aficionados reading this: *Any* chance of obtaining an image of his extraordinary dismissal of Inzy? I remember a Sportstar centerfold poster from back then. Searching online so far has been futile.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The heat hits

Temperatures soar, tempers fray, sweat pours.
Has the Seattle summer ever been this bad before?
I shudder to think of what horrors await us.
Is this just an abberation, or is this development's curse?

Thursday, July 20, 2006

José- A Casa!

José + 10 is, simply put, beautiful.

As a friend remarked, all of us have played fantasy sports as kids in the neighborhood, where you take on the name of a famous player, while your opponent kid does the same. I remember avatars of Kapil Dev, Sunil Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Ravi Shastri (when he was still champion of champions and not the notorious slowpoke he became) and even Jansher and Jahangir Khan used as we duked it out. ( we had this variant of squash that we played with table-tennis gear and the porch wall).

To translate that into this ad is simply the coolest thing I've seen on TV advertising in a while. It manages to capture the effervescent spirit of futbol the world over. The clever juxtaposition of players from different eras, the music tracks used in the background and the impish José all add up to that rare ad - one meant for goosebumps and rushing blood.

Check here for a full look at the ad and translation.

Impossible is Nothing.

Hat Tip: Amit Varma

Monday, July 17, 2006

The Brits do it better

Pretty much the only TV I can tolerate is sitcoms. The best ones in India were on DD before the invasion from the skies - Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, Dekh Bhai Dekh...). Then of course there was STAR, and Dharma and Greg was a personal favorite (though people preferred F.R.I.E.N.D.S.).

Now, of course, Seinfeld rules. The "serial about nothing" never ceases to amaze me with its nuanced observations on the things that make us tick (and tick us off). My limited TV viewing has been restricted to these, along with my slacker animation favorites, The Simpsons and South Park.

The Beeb they say has a rich treasure trove of particularly good comedy serials. Ramanand keeps mentioning them, and I'm a bit envious of the Pune crowd for easy access to the British Library. (I could go on Netflix, I guess, but why I haven't yet is a long story for a different day). A chance viewing of Coupling at a friend's place this week only piqued the curiosity more.

I haven't laughed this much in a while. "Laughing till my insides hurt" took on a whole new meaning with this slightly off-color take on the love lives (or lack thereof) of a bunch of single friends. There were flashes of insight that made me cringe, and universal truths that had me nodding my head in agreement ( if only I could stop laughing...).

Highly recommended.

Note: For those of you with a high-end Comcast cable package, Coupling is available "On Demand" in the TV-> BBC America section.

Friday, July 14, 2006

a + bi

Electronica is a genre of music most often heard in either nightclubs or in lounges. It's never really made the mainstream like rock-n-roll and hip-hop/rap eventually did. Even as it operates in the fringes, it is now increasingly mainstream - on movie soundtracks, advertisements, as background themes on TV shows, pretty much everywhere.

In an excellent review of the genre and some seminal albums, this writer says:

"Electronic music gets attacked as somehow less "real" than everything else — as if (1) the electricity that powers a guitar differs from the electricity pumped into a synthesizer, (2) hands holding drumsticks are unlike the hands used to trigger a drum-machine and, most crucially, (3) the sounds we hear as listeners owe their allure to the process by which they're made. "

Monday, July 10, 2006

Clarity

"The idea is to be someone, to rise and rise in every way possible. To be among people but to soar. I suppose there's always weed for that but it isn't really my scene."

A lovely piece by Rahul Bhatia (it's an old piece, and I wanted to link to it for a while). It's about the choices we face and the decisions we make.

Friday, June 30, 2006

WFH*

One of the benefits of all this broadband penetration and connectivity is the option of working from home. It is pretty convenient – I’ve been a bit off-color all week and the workload’s not getting any easier. Completely drained out by the evening, I head home, take a nap, get some food and log in after dinner and work till I’m too tired to (Unfortunately, not. I work till my work’s done).

I’d been pretty bad at this earlier, and I went through one job where I didn’t have remote access. Now that the convenience is back, I’ve learned some lessons that I’m applying well to this:

  1. Environment is everything: I don’t have a work table (my apartment’s too small to have one of a configuration I’d like). But my dining table, albeit small, is always uncluttered. Except during dinner, my laptop is always on it, ready to be powered on. Sitting upright in a work-like mode helps me get work done ( I could lounge in my papasan chair, but that’s reserved for reading blogs and the news) . My CD player’s right next to the table, so music’s always handy.
  2. Planning: If I leave work early in the evening with no concrete plan as to what I want to accomplish when working at night, I get nothing done. So I get the hard things where I’ll need advice or help from team-mates finished before I leave office. Home time is for flying solo.
  3. Tools: This is more technical. My job entails me physically re-booting machines often. "shutdown –f –r –t 0" is your friend. I also commandeer multiple boxen, and the right tools to do so matter. I have installed a neat console manager (internal company-use only, sorry) for managing multiple remote desktops on my primary machine. This means that whenever I have access to my primary machine, I can pretty much start working on all the machines I want to.

Till I get my health and my sanity back. Ciao.

*non-standard acronym for "Working From Home". Commonly used on IM clients to indicate to colleagues/friends that you're not in office but working from home.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Random Music Musings III - Reruns of the Floyd

I always wonder why, if a song that I've heard scores of times before (on CD/ tape) plays on radio, it makes me happy. There's a sudden sense of discovery associated with it, especially if the song is slightly off the beaten track. (needn't be, but it helps.) I feel the same way when a good song I know plays in the background of a movie. (Also see: Cameron Crowe). I also sing along to songs playing in restaurants while I'm supposed to be eating food, but that's just me.

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Book on the top of my "to-acquire" list:"Music Lust" by Nic Harcourt. KCRW impresario and break-giver to acts like Norah Jones and Coldplay, Harcourt lays out his favorite artistes and albums. The book is organized in an interesting manner using different themes. A theme includes "twins" because he is a father to twins. This book promises the world and more. With a title like that and his pedigree and taste, he can't go very wrong.


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Pink Floyd's "Dark Side of The Moon" rocks. And how! The more I listen, the more I learn why it is a seminal work. Sonically and lyrically, a masterpiece to top all masterpieces.

The superimposition with Wizard of Oz? Over-rated and over-hyped by conspiracy theorists. Some mind-altering substances may definitely have been part of the hype machine.

Watch the laser show at your closest laser dome though. Seattle and Pittsburgh (my two major US domiciles) both have laser domes attached to their science centers with shows based on DSOTM.

Previous music musings: I , II

Friday, June 23, 2006

You haven't lived till

you've...

1. Heard Eric Clapton/Blind Faith's "In the presence of the Lord" at full blast.
2. Tasted the tiramisu at Dilettante's
3. Taken a curve on a road at at least twice the rated limit.

More in this series on the way...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Stylusing

I’ve been looking with some interest and bemusement at the way the Tablet PC is evolving. The idea is to have an interface that is as human-friendly and intuitive as possible. The pen paradigm used in the Tablet makes a lot of sense in that way – for Gen X, brought up on pen and paper, the stylus works great to take quick notes. Good handwriting recognition software is already available, and any quirks in interpretation can be ironed out.

However, I (and many other people I know) fall in the category of people who can actually type faster than write. Growing up on computers (since age 10) has resulted in a comfort level with computers that grows more with every new generation of children entering schools. This is a set of people more comfortable not only with QWERTY keyboards, but also with the seriously limited keyboards of cellphones – where you have to press a key thrice to get to ‘C’ or to ‘F’.

There is obvious value in the stylus, of course. Diagramming is one obvious use. Doodling to get your creative juices flowing is another one that pops to mind.

I don't own one myself, but I'm curious to see ways in which using a Tablet may be better. One thing about good design is that you realize its power as you use it more and more. Case in point: GMail. Another case in point: The new Office 2007 Beta 2.

Unless I can get my hands on a Tablet to use for an extended period of time, I guess I really won't know either way.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Who wants to be a millionaire?

Dinner-time conversation with a friend got me thinking – very deeply. The topic was related to work/ compensation. He said( I paraphrase) - when I was a student just a while back, the prospect of earning this much money seemed great. I wondered what my friends (who were already working) did with the money they earned. Now that we’re here, it’s obviously not enough. Everyone wants more. But I’m not unhappy with what I’m earning. Bonuses, stocks, pay raise, it’s no big deal.

It was refreshing - a relief to hear someone with a real sense of perspective on what matters and what doesn’t. Work matters – doing it well is worship in some ways. Excelling and getting due credit for it isn’t a bad thing. I really believe that the satisfaction you get from a job well-done is pretty good motivation for keeping at it.

But there’s more to life. Money is a means, not an end. A German car for the love of driving is one thing, but a German car as a status symbol is completely something else ( there’s a reason I put the 3-series right next to the Camry and the Accord – it’s such a clichéd thing to own). So are ridiculous McMansions with space for 10 while being occupied by two people and a dog.

Money is over-rated I say. While I'm at it, for the record, I also say that I want a Bose sound system, an SLK and a condo overlooking the Sound.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Net neutrality

Two things that I have reasonably strong opinions on are colliding strongly in the net neutrality argument.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5063072.stm

First a bit of history.

Net neutrality means that the network service providers get no control over how data flows over their network. They are dumb carriers of whatever bits the end-points (us customers’ computers, servers, mobile devices) put on the network.

This is based on the classic End-to-End Arguments paper by Saltzer, Reed and Clark. (a personal favorite for its elegance, simplicity and the complete awesomeness of the idea).

To explain, a telephone network is a smart network where the intelligence is all in the network, while the end-points only work as originators and terminators. In the case of the Internet, it is the other way around - all the smartness is in the end-points, while the network only routes packets from point to point.

However, the network providers wish to change this. Pay more, get higher quality of service. The question is: can these providers be trusted?

My economic opinion is: let the market take care of itself. But, as a customer and a technology professional, I am very skeptical of the network providers playing it fair here. The network provider business is hardly a free market, with the entrenched telco and cable providers holding an unfair advantage over newer entrants. There is no way for a new upstart to come in and make a great business out of promising net neutrality. For many tech-unsavvy customers, this concept is unknown and they'll have the problem of having to choose between options they really don't know much about. Which is if they get a choice in the first place. The ridiculous amounts of money we pay for the joke we call broadband in the US bears testimony to a lot of things, including the fact that we don't really have a choice when it comes to our high-speed access.

This "smart network" leads us down a slippery slope. If the providers say that they can give better quality of service to certain kinds of traffic, this means that they can distinguish between traffic. Can these people then hide behind the common carrier argument for Peer-to-Peer traffic? They'll have to clamp down on illegal filesharing since they've just proved that they can know this kind of traffic. They may be loath to do this, because, admit it, it is one of the reasons many people get broadband in the first place.

What is to stop a provider from discriminating against independent service providers? If Comcast makes sure its video site runs superfast while Google Video runs, well, a tad slowly, on the Comcast network, Comcast makes a lot of money, while Google will be forced to pay money to Comcast (which will earn money for no reason but the fact that it is the only cable broadband provider in my area). Vonage has already complained in places of their service being sabotaged by service providers with their own VoIP offerings.

As I said, the devious mind can think of a number of ways in which this net non-neutrality is a bad thing. That being said, I'm still trying to figure out if free market economics, with technology may actually result in a positive outcome for this. Lets see where this leads.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Fortune is carrying a special section on team-work and what makes great teams click. The most fascinating article by far is the article on the peloton, the pack of cyclists that make up the bulk of the contingent doing the Tour dé France. It is a story evocative of the Godfather, omérta, and "all for one, one for all" semantics.


And if you thought Lance Armstrong was only about very low heart rates, the stamina of ten men and the mental toughness of a hundred, think again.

Check it out here.

Monday, June 05, 2006

The Tune in My Head

I'm amazed by how evocative music is for me personally. A couple of weekends back, a friend riding shotgun with me was rummaging through the pile of CDs in my car. He put in this CD compilation I'd burnt maybe a year and a half back. The title was "Assorted Mix".
Fat lot of help that title is. This was before I started labeling my CDs more seriously. I now have titles like "September '05" or "San Diego - Las Vegas road trip". That is much more helpful.
This compilation "Assorted Mix" is very random. It crosses genres (Eminem to Blondie to Linkin Park) and time-zones ( though the music's mostly from the '90s).
However, even as I was driving down WA-520 and I-5, there were times I'd see myself at different places in different states of mind. There I was, in my room in C-block, worrying over my word-lists on a lazy sunday afternoon, and probably wasting too much time chatting with Alhad. Then I was in grad school, sitting in a lab by myself, wrapping my head around some esoteric networking concept, thinking if Eminem meant me when he said "Success is my only motherf*$%ing option, failure's not". Linkin Park's "In the End" was another favorite in those maddening and frustrating times.
I've mellowed down since the times when only rock music was an outlet. I've been listening to a wide variety of music over the past year now - electronica, world music. I've taken a stab at trying listening to *gasp* Indian classical music (the gasp is because it's me doing this attempt).

Time to burn a few more mix CDs.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

One shot. One moment.

"One minute was enough, Tyler said, a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection."
-Chuck Palahniuk.

The quest for that minute continues. Raise the bar. Push harder. Make life hard for yourself. Harder than it really needs to be. Try to be everything you ever wanted to be. Then some more . And some more after that. Wear three different hats at a time. Juggle half-a-dozen balls while wearing them.

When you drop the ball, and all of this comes crashing down around you? Start over. Again.

One minute is enough, Tyler says.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Blurry

The past few weeks have gone by in a flurry of activity. There's only so many simultaneous demands on your time and mindshare that one can tolerate. I learn every year that this number is flexible and keeps on increasing.
Every such crunch time, I decide, "This is it. After this, it's all smooth sailing. I'll kick back and relax for a bit." Glutton for punishment that I am, that is never the case.
*Sigh*. This, too, shall pass...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

A Fortune cookie

I'd sounded off a while back on paid news sites, and how shifting to a different model of some sort would make more sense for them.

I'm no business expert, but the fine folks over at Time-Life (who bring us Fortune and Business 2.0) have seen the light. Let the link goodness begin.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Tragic irony is when you hear a prodigy call another phenomenon by the name of an icon. All three of whom died young.

Bravery is him then going on to sing a cover version of Yeh Jo Halka Halka Suroor Hai. In Urdu with only his guitar for accompaniment.

Genius is the fact that he actually pulls it off.

“Nusrat?– He’s My Elvis.” – Jeff Buckley, Live at Sin-e.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Word to Blog

So, Word in the new Office 2007 supports blog publishing. Being on an internal-only beta, I’ve decided to give this a shot.

Testing – 1,2,4 ..Mike leak ho raha hai kya?


 

Monday, May 08, 2006

A clean break

Clean breaks from the past are good. Bad habits are let go of, unpleasant memories left behind and an attempt is made to start anew. New places, new place of living, new job all afford this opportunities. I've made a few of these in the past year or so to varying degrees of success.

All this is fine and dandy. But it seems my laptop got the wrong signals. I meant excising bad habits, not my entire music collection, photographs and sundry other data that I may deem important a few years down the line. Efforts with partition tables, boot records and live CDs have all been pointless. My data is hosed and I've been condemned to digital hell.
Re-building a system, installing software. So much time wasted that could have been used more productively.
Moral of the Story: Always back up your data. Frequently. And frequently is not once a year.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

It's happening...

Roger Waters to play Seattle's Key Arena. It has been heard the entire Dark Side of the Moon is on the program.

So you thought you might like to,
Go to the show
To feel the warm thrill of confusion,
That space cadet glow...

In the interim, Joe Satriani's next week. There are no other acts that I'm super-keen on seeing this summer (except Dave Matthews Band). Sasquatch has some interesting acts lined up, but they are on different days, and I'm wary of driving all the way to watch just one act.
On the movie front though, things are definitely more interesting. X-Men III, M:I-3, Spiderman 3 and Superman are all hitting the marquee this summer. Fun comes.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Ideas, or the lack thereof

My site-meters gone crazy over the past few weeks. I wish I had a clue what was so interesting about my October 2005 Archives that people seem so attracted to it. October was one of the crazier months in my life in the past year (work and otherwise). But it was not the craziest. No sirree . Not by a stretch. Does the October archive have some special pixie dust that has given it all this page-views? I wish I had a clue. No, Technorati hasn't been very helpful either.
------

What is it with Pakistan and the mass production of:

1. Squash players?
2. Fast-Medium bowlers?
3. Good pop/rock bands?

First there was Junoon, then Strings redux, and now Jaal/Jal. I heard a cover of Woh Lamhe at a CRY fundraiser concert last week. I got the CD of the album from a friend this week and have been hooked. The same things about Strings that appeal to me make their appearance here. More rock-sy and less pop, surely. Definitely better lyrics, especially on Aadat, filched shamelessly on some Mahesh Bhatt production. So was Lamhe, I hear.
Musically, there is a lot of influence from rock bands, but the sound is original. I think the original singer Atif had a slightly better voice, but the new vocalist manages to do a good job. I recommend Aadat, Bikhra/Aadat, Woh Lamhe, Rangon Mein and Panchhi. There are low bitrate MP3s on the band site so check them out!
This CD's been playing in my car, at home and on my work headphones all day(and night) long.
Where are the good Indian pop/rock bands? I haven't heard any new ones in a while.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

A dash dashed

"Life's a journey, not a destination" , said Steve Tyler in Amazin'. After a rollercoaster ride with many gut-wrenching lows and a few really awesome highs, here I stand.
At the age 0f 26, I could say I'm not too unhappy with what I have. There are things that I wanted to do when I was 22. Less than 5 years later, a very important one has come to fruition.

Well, I blabber too much. Changes have occurred on the job front. To the outside world, these are cosmetic. For me, they matter. A lot.
The world's my oyster.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

There she goes...


P1000619, originally uploaded by ajayvb.

My baby. My city.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

American Gods

A review of Neil Gaiman's American Gods on the lit blog.

I'd say it's less of a review and more of a reaction to a reading of the book. If it makes some people curious about the book, mission accomplished.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Ubiquity

Where: Chicago O'Hare Airport. Concourse L.
When: An hour before departure. 15 minutes after check-in. 5 minutes into a realization of general fatigue after three days of catching up with friends and family.

So, there I am, looking for a shot of caffeine which might do me a world of good, prime me up for the wait for boarding and set me up for reading a book that has been middling so far. The Seattle-ite in me looks for the familiar - the same brand that comforts millions worldwide. From waking up in the morning to staying up at night - the long-tressed lady framed by a green circle is the oasis for this desert-trapped traveler.

Wait. Something's wrong. I've walked through the entire concourse. Passing my gate, down to the end, there's no sign of the place. Nor of any other place that would provide succour, except a sports bar that doesn't look like it serves my favorite poison. I pass a Hudson News, noticing that "The Da Vinci Code" is out in paperback. Mental note to buy the book later is made.

I re-trace my steps to the mouth of the spoke, wondering if Howard Schulz missed a trick somewhere. Is is possible that a whole concourse with 12 gates does not have a Starbucks? How could this happen? What happened to the Starbucks Coffee Company I knew in NYC, the one where I could cross a street to go from one of those to another? What is this world coming to, if you cannot have a cup of not-so-great (but not-too-bad) latte while waiting for your flight, which incidentally is now 20 minutes late?

Ah. There it is. Some construction work obscured my view, causing me to not notice the place the first time around. Sanity is restored. Caffeine shot (only my 3rd of the week,mind you. I'm no junkie. Maybe I'm still in denial) is ingested. With renewed vigor , the trials of Elizabeth and Darcy are returned to. As another acquaintance would've said - "Starbucks is everywhere. I'm going home and buying a few shares right away."

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Young faces - unscarred by that rampaging beast called time. The young lean bodies sustained on bad mess food, unfattened yet by junk food and too much coffee.
Importantly, the easy smiles. Enthusiasm all over - the comfort of being with friends you can let your hair down with. Where mundane considerations like life, jobs and a career still seemed far away. Where a tough life meant things that were laughably smaller in comparison. Where fights were over things so ridiculously petty that they seemed like life-and-death back then.

Yes, an accidental viewing of old college photos brings back a flood of memories. The word, I believe, is "evocative". It's amazing how much can change in 6-7 years.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Doing nothing...

never felt so good.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Hold that place

I'm sure I'm not the only person reading more than one book at a time. This kind of attention division to females would cause me being labelled a casanova. If I were a kid, I'd more likely than not be put on Ritalin.

All this book-philia leads to problems. I found this really nice used-book place while driving through Redmond. On a lazy saturday afternoon, I decided to check it out. The next thing I know, I am walking out with three books, $15 lighter in my wallet(you should buy used books - great for your pocketbook) . I found a few more books there, but common sense prevailed, and I decided that scaling my ambitions wouldn't be such a bad thing.

The books were:

1. The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
2. October Sky - based on Saket's glowing review and a movie viewing three years back.
3. Effective C++ by Scott Myers

The challenge here is keeping track of page numbers. If it's a book or two, remembering page numbers is easy. But when you get to a level of insanity like mine (sometimes I read four books at a time), you tend to use bookmarks.

I started out with random pieces of paper - library checkout slips, receipts, but now I have a full-fledged new interest - bookmarks. Not of the del.icio.us variety but the colored, laminated paper variety.

I have an interesting collection now:

1. A purchased one from the Museum of Flight called "Celestial Fireworks". This is the only one I've actually purchased.
2. A CRY brochure that came in the mail.
3. A promotion for a Shakespeare production in Pittsburgh. (Picked up at the Craig Street Coffee House over two years back)
4. A thick card with the year's top books (picked up at the local library).
5. An advertisement for a new production of The Little Prince. (Picked up at the local Starbucks)
6. A promotion for the Princeton Review. Better SAT/GRE/GMAT scores guaranteed!

It's becoming a bit of a hobby now. Except for the first one, which I actually bought, the others are all picked up for free. The most hilarious one I remember seeing was by the HCI (Human-Computer Interaction Institute) in CMU. They had one which said something to the effect - "User Studies show that using this bookmarks helps improve memory of current page numbers among subjects." I'd love to get my hands on that now.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Questions. Answers. Life.

Self-belief, like self-doubt feeds on itself. When everything's going well, the small things you do wrong are glossed over and looked at as aberrations. When things are not going well, every small move you make is analyzed with excruciating detail.

What if I hadn't done this in that particular way? What if that had fallen in place the way I'd expected it to? What if...(No. Not the Coldplay song.)

Maybe it wouldn't have been such a waste of effort. (It never is a waste, incidentally. You always learn). Life would have been different today, wouldn't it?.

Especially when you get this feeling of déjà vu, you can't just say "Ah, there's a glitch in the Matrix" and move on.

If you are scared of making the same mistakes again and doing something completely stupid, you will. You never learnt your lessons, did you? (When they were handing out sanity, you were sleeping at the back of the class).

Maybe you won't, but you will never know unless you take that giant leap of faith. Maybe things will go the way you would like them to. Maybe they won't. Maybe you don't even know how you'd like things to go.

Maybe I worry too much.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Landmarks et al

"The ability to be patient is rare and praiseworthy for it means a player is willing to let a moment pass aware that he can own the next."

My favorite cricket journalist - Harsha Bhogle on my favorite cricketer, Rahul Dravid on my favorite (and IMO under-rated) virtue here.

India's main man hits a landmark 100 tests. Cricinfo has a good section on him.

On a personal note:

The 17th of March is a defining day in yours truly's life. It redefined the way people look at me, and this embarrasses, infuriates and pleases me in equal measures. The 'pleases' part has gone down in recent years as this mortal tries to find something that he really wants to go on his epitaph.

Monday, March 13, 2006

On Strings' Dhaani

One quality that I admire in music is integrity. There are times when the music may only be average, the lyrics though not pedestrian may only be above average, but what lifts an album is the honesty that shines through. An artist trying really hard to make something worthwhile very rarely bombs completely, and it is tough not to appreciate that effort. In an era where pocketbooks and not talent determines what albums are made and who gets the big contracts, being true to your craft is increasingly an anachronism in mainstream music - be it rock, pop, Bollywood or the genre derisively called Indi-pop.

Notable exceptions abound, and one of my favorites in the past season has to be Strings. Strings will be remembered fondly by early MTV veterans as the young Pakistani band who crooned Sar Kiye Yeh Pahar on some scraggly mountain-top outside Lahore or Karachi. The silken-voiced Bilal and the clowning guitarist Faisal re-grouped many years later to give us the U2-esque Duur - one of the best pop/rock singles to come out of the pop-rock firmament in the sub-continent.

I haven't heard the album Duur in a while, but a chance listening to Dhaani left me wanting more. The CD was duly purchased.

As I said earlier, a certain lack of guile permeating through the album makes it very attractive for me. The duo don't seem out to try any manipulation. None of the songs except Hai Koi.. have any kind of annoying DJ rapping nonsense or arbitrary English choruses having no relation to any of the lyrics. This is an album by a duo intent on doing their own thing and they pull it off very well.

The more serious songs have Faisal's heaver, classical-style voice adding a touch of gravitas to the proceedings. Dhaani, Najaane Kyun, and Kahani Mohabbat Ki fit well in this mould. The other songs in the album including the playful Sohniyae and the pensive Mera Bichhra Yaar benefit from Bilal's lighter touch, and Chhaye Chhaye is a lovely combination of their singing styles, playing off their distinctively different voices.

There are two notable collaborations on the album - Bolo bolo with Hariharan which left me cold for some reason, while Pal with Sagarika, which was part of the Channel V Jammin' series suffers from a "Duur" hangover - though the violin and Sagarika's dreamy vocals still make it eminently listenable.

The album ends on a bit of a limp note with both Jadoo and Hai Koi Hum Jaisa (apparently the Pakistan World Cup theme song) failing to impress.

The songwriting doesn't quite take off, but except for the last song, it's never abysmally bad. The Urdu makes it arguably sound better than it deserves to, but some of the songs - notably Kahani Mohabbat Ki and Najaane Kyon do stand by themselves as reasonably good pieces of song-writing.

All in all, it is a good advertisement for non-Bollywood Hindi music. It's Indi-pop (or rather Pak-pop, if there's such a term) as it should be. As I understand it, Strings have enjoyed success either side of the border, and deservedly so.

Update: At the Indian store here yesterday, I saw Najaane Kyon interspersed with Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst mooning over each other. Turns out the track was on the Spiderman 2 soundtrack when the movie was dubbed in Hindi. The visuals and the song were so jarringly incongruous that it threw me off for a while.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Biding his time

There's only so much head-shaking you can do in sympathy for Kimi Raikkonen. The man seems to have the most rotten luck ever in Formula1 racing. What still impresses me about him is how much he accomplishes in spite of that. Unlike Juan Pablo Montoya (I am a big fan, BTW) who has this habit of messing up and wasting that incredible talent, Raikkonen almost always suffers because of mechanical failures through no fault of his own.

So, let me go out on a limb and make a prediction. In some time (not so soon, maybe a year or two), his luck will turn around. His car will be reliable and then there'll be no looking back. When he finally hangs up his helmet, he'll have beaten most or all of Schumacher's racing records. He does have age on his side.