Saturday, December 29, 2007

Taare Zameen Par

Bachpan Ke Din Chaar
Na Aayenge Baar Baar
Jee Le Jee Le Mere Yaar
Jeb Khaali To Udhaar

Self-indulgent, visually creative and ultimately life-affirming, TZP emerges triumphant. The film can be accused of trying too hard. But it cannot be accused of not having heart.

Eschewing cliches of the visual, aural or histrionic variety, Aamir Khan in the director's chair unleashes a flawed but eminently likeable film. This is a smaller, more intimate film as compared to Lagaan (his debut as producer). Which only goes to prove that all the best storytellers need is a good yarn to spin.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

I read 'The Long Tail' a few weeks back.  Kind of late, I know, but I actually read the original seminal Wired magazine article by Chris Anderson when it came out in 2004 and still read the blog off and on.

The book rightly celebrates the growth of the niche and how people aren't bound by the Lowest Common Denominator anymore. Mass entertainment has been turned on its head by an increasingly high number of people happier to stick to their favorite niches and not bother about what is mainstream as much.

This is great for the personalized 'me-first' world we now inhabit. However, David Brooks, an iconoclast as always, asks a very relevant question in terms of music. This is true of music but will probably be equally true of any sort of art or public discourse in general:

"...the era of integration gave way to the era of fragmentation. There are now dozens of niche musical genres where there used to be this thing called rock. There are many bands that can fill 5,000-seat theaters, but there are almost no new groups with the broad following or longevity of the Rolling Stones, Springsteen or U2."

It's kind of difficult to disagree with him or the points he makes. As he says:

"We live in an age in which the technological and commercial momentum drives fragmentation. It’s going to be necessary to set up countervailing forces — institutions that span social, class and ethnic lines.

Music used to do this. Not so much anymore."

The truth is, there's no single cultural force left in this country that does this anymore. Sports is going strong, but the insular world of sports in the US means the cheering is local and parochial. I can't go to Pittsburgh and cheer for the Seahawks or to Boston and cheer for the Yankees.

This is great for the small creative guy who's trying to get a hundred CDs sold to break even, but a country which defined cultural flashpoints by events like Woodstock and Elvismania now struggles to find one cultural icon. This is also the tale of the Long Tail.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Notes on a musical journey (not mine though)

When you've been following a band from very early in its career, there's an odd sense of ownership you feel about it. Even though you don't know the artists personally, you still feel that because you heard them ply their trade from a time when it was (arguably) free of artifice. It's special to you because you 'knew'  them before most of the world did.

I've felt this way about Howie Day in the past and I definitely feel that way about Rodrigo y Gabriela now. I first heard Rodrigo y Gabriela on that fount of indie music in the Northwest, KEXP in July 2006. The track was a fabulous cover version of Stairway to Heaven. I, however, didn't pay the duo much attention.

In December '06, I heard an original by them (Tamacun, if you must know) on another radio station. I was instantly hooked. I bought their full-length debut album. It's called Rodrigo y Gabriela (duh).

Rodrigo and Gabriela make up the band. Just the two of them. They play acoustic guitars in what may be loosely called the flamenco style. But it's not really flamenco. Their playing is frenetic. But they churn out surprisingly good melodies. Genres? I'm not sure they ever learnt what that meant.

It's at times hard  to realize that it's just two people on acoustic guitars who are creating so much of a ruckus. Also, they use their guitar boxes as percussion pretty well. Figures, considering they got their start busking on the streets of Dublin. Their dueling styles makes it seem like they are doing a complicated dance, one leading with the other content to play second fiddle. Then they change it around.

The love affair with their music continued. Stairway to Heaven on MP3 was followed by Wish you Were Here that I saw on YouTube. Their original Diablo Rojo is on my playlist all the time. But that live show was ever-elusive.

I somehow learnt of their show in December '06 the day after it took place. In April, they played in Seattle again. I had sufficient notice, but the show got sold out while I was on vacation in India. They then played at Bumbershoot which I didn't go to. I watched as they played bigger venues, selling them out at higher and higher prices.

Then, this October, my chance came. On October 31st, Rodrigo y Gabriela played The Paramount, tickets costing almost thrice what they did last year in a venue that was at least two and a half times the capacity. The auditorium was packed, a sold-out show again.

Were they worth the interest? Absolutely. Dressed in their Halloween best, they took the hall (normally host to musicals and the like) by the scruff of its neck and gave it a thorough shaking. If you can believe it, in addition to a lighter-fueled Wish You Were Here and crowd favorite Stairway to Heaven, they did a version of Metallica's And Justice for all. All acoustic, with a small bit of distortion to help. It was un-effing-believable.

My love affair with them may end if their sophomore effort isn't great. But for now, let the guitars rule.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

On the 545 - II

The world looks different now. From the window of a bus. From the streets in downtown as I'm walking through them to transfer buses. On the short walk home from the bus stop. It's not a good or bad thing, it's just... different. But different is good. It gives you perspective.

On a clear day from the bus on Highway 99, you can see both Mount Rainier and the Olympics. Downtown looks pretty and buzzing during the day, but at street level on late evenings, all sorts of shady-looking people and hobos mill about, making you unconsciously draw your messenger bag (with old, wheezing company laptop) closer to yourself. The thought that exclusive restaurants are less than a block away from this place makes you wonder about inequities and how urban centers seem to emphasize them.

You realize how cold it actually is outside and are thankful for the extra layer you put on in the morning. You learn that Seattle isn't as bad a place for non-drivers as you thought it was.

You learn that letting go of the car for the commute has meant more self-discipline, but gives you a smidgen of control (rather, the feeling of it).

After all, reading/dozing/daydreaming on the bus with attendant cochlear damage is better than driving/twiddling thumbs/daydreaming with attendant gas bill and environmental damage.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Hold your noses

Pardon my mixed metaphors, but please hold your noses as the British press finishes slobbering over Lewis Hamilton.

Unlike CAR, I decided to wait till the dust died down to comment on the end of the Formula1 season. It was magical in many ways - a dream end-run for Raikkonen culminating in him winning the championship. The showing up of the smug rookie. Importantly, it was in so many ways a redemption of the talent of the perennial bridesmaid Kimi - in danger of adding more wins to his impressive and (then) championship-deprived kitty. And yes, I am on my way to being right.

All that is however in the past now. Raikkonen has his championship. Lewis Hamilton was and is the best-performing rookie F1 has seen in a while. And lest we forget, the BBC and the whole of the British press is there to remind of us that. Two weeks after the championship has ended, sample the BBC F1 page headlines as of 31st October, 10 days after the championship was over:

Hamilton 'may be negative for F1'

Motorsport boss Max Mosley says Lewis Hamilton could have a similarly negative effect on Formula One to Michael Schumacher if his success continues.

Please, comparisons with Schumacher? Schumacher nursed and built an ailing Ferrari team into a formidable racing unit. So did Alonso, once at Renault and again at McLaren. It'd be interesting to see where Hamilton will be if Alonso leaves McLaren. Or where Hamilton would be in a team that didn't have McLaren's capability in the first place. 

F1's new star - and it's not the champ

Lewis Hamilton has made a huge impact inside and outside F1

Hamilton's maiden season

How Lewis Hamilton came close to winning the F1 world title

But he didn't win it, right?

Hamilton a credit to the sport - Walker

Right. And Alonso and Hamilton will now do a Yeh Dosti... jig.

Inside Sport: Hamilton's debut season

In-depth interview: Lewis Hamilton

Oh, who actually won the championship, after changing cars, shifting to a different brand of tires and going to a different team? Add the fact that he was coming from behind and that he won the most number of races despite not finishing two races because of reliability, and you have:

Raikkonen the playboy king

F1's new champion is a maverick off the track and formidable on it

Riight. One article on a deserving new champion, with a qualifier on his personality off the track. Read the article: while balanced, it praises Hamilton so much. Ironic, considering it's a profile of the champion and not the rookie wannabe who almost was.

The rest of the British press, yes, but I expect better of  the Beeb. They have an 'international version' page there for a reason, innit?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Furry friends forever

In the spirit of equality, this dog - the guide dog of a human guest, gets his own guest tag. The tag reads "Joey Dog"

Sunday, October 14, 2007

This is cool

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic"
- Arthur C. Clarke

The magic for me is "I'm so impressed they thought of that too." I've blogged on this topic before, and I keep hitting it with my sexy unlocked Nokia 6300 I bought on my last trip to India.

The customization on the phone is to be seen to be believed. Then of course, there's the feature that blew me away - the phone has a timed 'silent' mode. So if I'm going to be in a meeting or in a film and I have an estimate on how long I need my phone off, I can time it to that. No more worrying about remembering to turn my phone on or missing phone calls, playing phone tag et al.

Then, I got this in email from a friend replying to an email I sent out:

While I've always been questioning about the Tablet PC, this is cool.

Edit: Fixed typo in Nokia model number. Thanks CAR.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Music wants to be free

Amazon recently launched its online MP3 store. What is notable about this store is that it sells MP3s. Not AACs that the iTunes store sells, not Windows Media Audio, but plain MP3s. What is even more remarkable is that these songs are not under any DRM.

Why is this significant, you ask? For the greater part of the past decade, music sold by the major labels in digital format has been under DRM. This means that after you buy the music, there's a lot of restrictions around how you can play your music. For instance, music I got from the iTunes store (courtesy a gift card last year) cannot play on my phone's music player. Music I got from MSN music won't play on an iPod or on my cool phone which doesn't license Windows Media DRM.

The reasons for this kludge are varied, including Apple's refusal to license its DRM for other music stores or players to use (cue "I hate monopolistic behavior" rant here). But the primary reason is that all four of the major record labels refused to license their music for digital distribution without copy protection.

I hated this restriction and I've avoided buying music online except from emusic which sells MP3s without any restrictions. I've moved this music around on three different desktops and a laptop, burned it to multiple CDs and played it on an iPod and two different phone music players. This kind of flexibility is not possible with DRM-ed music. Of course, the caveat is that this music is mostly from independent labels and not from major artistes.

Now, two of the four major labels allow DRM-free downloads prompting this move by Amazon. Apple's iTunes recently launched DRM-free downloads too, but they are AAC, which means that they may not necessarily play on the music player of my choice. MP3s are the most widely supported, so this new service definitely rocks.

The next step would be sale of lossless audio to be heard in full glory on hi-fi systems. The loss of fidelity in the music we listen to today as part of the iPod generation is a long post for a different day.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Go Kimi!

There's worse ways for the season to end.


On the heretical idea of Raikkonen in a Ferrari.

Has his time come? Or is there more waiting to be done?

Monday, September 24, 2007

Happiness is...

- Getting on the highway and driving for fifteen minutes only so that you can continue listening to that cool mixtape you just burned. Then coming back and sitting in the car till one more track finishes.

- Figuring that the rhythm you just learned fits one of your favorite songs of the moment, making it that much more fun to practise

Similar ones in the series - 1, 2

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Gratis! Libre!

A long, long time ago, even before the New York Times decided to do its 'Select' experiment where they walled off part of the newspaper behind a paid wall, I thought that ads would be a good way for them and for the Wall Street Journal to monetize their websites. I still think that there's value-addition that they could do and charge for. After all, Bloomberg made billions from that idea.

It's kind of self-evident now, but the proliferation of blogs, search engines and link-astic goodness has led to ad-served free content becoming more lucrative than paid content, especially for mass-market content.

The New York Times has finally seen the light. Their content is free again. Thomas Friedman, Maureen Dowd and my personal favorite, David Brooks will finally be freely accessible again. The New York Times has the potential to really be among the top news websites in the world with the quality of its reportage and analysis if it embraces the challenge fully. At least a beginning has been made.

Though I'd really appreciate it if they'd do away with the login altogether. Free as in beer is nice, free as in freedom is even better.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

This concert season is shaping up to be better than last year. Last year's highlight was watching Indian Ocean live for the first time, but not much else other than Joe Satriani. This season, we had the night of the double-bill and a freebie gala at Pike Place followed by a magical night of smooth jamming at The Gorge with Dave Matthews Band - with good friends along, it was one perfect end to the summer.

Topping off a good concert summer was a seductive performance by Brazilian Bossa Nova singer Bebel Gilberto at the Showbox this Monday.

Bebel Gilberto had all the moves on stage - the thigh-high boots, the sipping of wine in an exaggerated style and her husky voice reminding one of smoke-filled jazz clubs by the waterfront. However, the music and singing was top-notch. It's not for nothing she has such a following the world over, language barriers and all.

Backed by opening band Forro in the Dark on drums, flute, saxophone, multiple guitars and percussion, Bebel had the crowd swaying to the smooth sounds of Bossa Nova. The tunes alternated between jazzy seductive pieces (taking one to aforementioned smoke-filled locations) and cheery, festive tunes transporting one straight to the beaches of Brazil in the midst of summer.

AG and I got lucky, snagging free tickets courtesy a radio station giveaway. I had to scramble to get my pre-purchased tickets sold, but it was well worth it.*

* can say a free concert is always worth it. But time is of value too. And a bad concert is never worth it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Viva La Cartoon

As funny as Dilbert is, I find it sad at times. Especially because it seems to resonate so much. Do workplaces really become like that? Even companies that place their engineers (their Dilberts, so to speak) before the PHBs? Heck, the PHBs are all Dilberts who moved up the ranks. 

However, in the geek comic echelons, one comic that still cracks me up unconditionally has to be xkcd. A fine purveyor of geek culture, it yet retains perspective - on geeks having a life outside tech and yet geeking out, on being well-rounded individuals, having a love life (gasp!) et al.

Stand back, I know regular expressions

Stopping Time (isn't that sweet?)

And yes, obligatory Serenity reference: River Tam!

Monday, August 27, 2007

I'd resolved to not make this blog a diary of any sort. It's meant to encapsulate what I'm thinking, what my opinions are, a snapshot of who I am at any point of time - personal references (uncomfortable or otherwise) expunged.

However, there are events that are worth mentioning. Just because I like to show off :)

Pike Place Market celebrated its 100th year anniversary in style. Week-long celebrations culminated in the grand finale with an ensemble of Seattle-area musicians playing Seattle-area music, including the infectious Louie Louie and a rendering of Spoonman with Mr. Spoonman himself accompanying the proceedings. And before I forget, Pearl Jam's Stone Gossard and Mike McCready performed on stage. Mike McCready also performed Jimi Hendrix covering The Star-Spangled Banner.

Did I mention this was free?


AID Seattle had an 'India Quiz' this weekend. After doing a few BCQC  and inquizitive quizzes over lunch with friends, the real deal seemed exciting. K & I were registered as a team.

There was a high level of enthusiasm - attribute this to the lack of quizzing action since leaving college for most people here (I caught the quizzing bug later, I don't count). The elims questions were mostly well-set, with a notable few Malayalam Manorama questions (as Ramanand likes calling them) - including "What is the highest bridge in India called?".

20 questions, six finalists with twelve right answers each who had to be whittled down to five. The elimination asked us to write down the names of all Indian PMs since Independence. Gulzari Lal Nanda saved the day as we made it through smoothly.

The finals questions were similar - a good set of questions mixed in with clunkers like 'Tell me the exact date the Jallianwala Bagh massacre took place'. The AV round was interesting too - it included speeches by Swami Vivekananda and an audio recording of P Gopi Chand winning the All England open. Most annoying to me was my mistaking Shikari Shambhu for the Air India Maharaja.  

K & I won - giving credence to the credo Allah meherbaan to gadhaa pehelwaan. Our team was called 'Professors', an inside joke among us CRY volunteers here. I wanted to name us If you come today, but K refused.

All in all, a good experience - reminded me of the small number of quizzes I did attend while in college.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

And I love this because...

My drums instructor invited me this week to a class of blues music to watch some of the music school's advanced students jam together to late '60s blues. This was Clapton before Tears in Heaven, when Cream meant more than just the top off your milk.

There were multiple mic checks and excessive feedback with hissing. The mostly amateur musicians were working hard to get their act together on a weeknight after, in all likelihood, a long day at work.

Yet, it was magical. There was the thump of wood against leather ( a sound no drum machine can match), the throbbing of the bass and the crunching of the lead guitar. The players were all enthusiastic, learning from each other and their instructors, feeding off each other's energy, jamming to a beat all their own. Sunshine of your love bled into Strange Brew as I was transported.

Gigs long back from a time long ago swam before my eyes. Jaws (R.I.P.) at the end of East Street (those burgers...mmmm), those young and raw bands doing their covers of the classics as we sat on stone benches in the crisp night air. Singing along word-by-word to every band (and their dog) covering Summer of '69 or American Pie. The magical pyrotechnics of Parikrama as they added alaaps to Deep Purple and set the night alight with Floyd and Zeppelin. Yelling 'start the f*%&ing music' and band karo ye atyachar when bands didn't measure up. Learning that Cyrus Broacha wasn't just a scripted wise guy as he had an unruly crowd eating out of his hands in two minutes flat.

A blast from the past, completely worthwhile.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Different country, same sentiment

Of all the promises, is this one we could keep?

Of all of our dreams, is this one still out of reach?

                                                       U2 - "The hands that built America"

Happy 60th!

Der aaye, durust aaye.

Monday, August 13, 2007

All that you can't leave behind

Paul Graham writes about how people nowadays have too much stuff.

I agree most with his sentiment when he says :

"I've now stopped accumulating stuff. Except books—but books are different. Books are more like a fluid than individual objects. It's not especially inconvenient to own several thousand books, whereas if you owned several thousand random possessions you'd be a local celebrity. But except for books, I now actively avoid stuff. If I want to spend money on some kind of treat, I'll take services over goods any day."

I just bought another book last week ( Neil Gaiman's new novel Interworld ) and spent the weekend before that traveling (Mile-high city, rocks!) just because I felt it was the right thing to do in the middle of peak airfare season. Services over goods? Absolutely.

My move a few months back to a new apartment was a breeze (less possessions == less time packing and moving) yet I was nostalgic for the day I just filled my rental car with a few suitcases, boxes full of books and moved states to start a new job.

I somehow feel a move will never be so uneventful again.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Aao padhe, kuch paisa banaye

Valuing books is a difficult idea. What value do you place on that beautiful turn of phrase? On the sheer joy words bring you? On the amazing feeling you get when you spend a lazy Saturday afternoon savoring a bracing narrative?

If $9.75 spent on a 3 hour popcorn serving of swashbuckling pirates seems worthwhile, used books (over new)offer a killer value proposition. $8 spent on Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell  yielded hours of intriguing reading, the occasional chuckle and real joy.  Books for me win hands down. I'm very social as a person, so flying solo is probably the only major downside that I see with reading books.

The unfortunate challenge so far - business and investing books are a hard find in used bookstores. It seems like a sad thing to me that so many bibliophiles don't care so much for money or for the mechanics and hurly-burly of trade and commerce.

But maybe there is hope. Maybe I'm reading it wrong. Maybe it means that people of this tribe are loath to let go of good books on investing. Continuously referring to them, we book-lovers re-balance our portfolios, adjust our risk profiles and make sure we make even more money to buy even more books.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

On the 545

The energy meets you not like a tidal wave a la New York subways, but like the bracing surf at a nice beach.

You're over-caffeinated, trying to throw off the cobwebs of late-night web surfing and early morning alarm clocks. Your playlist is playing the electronica rhythm you hope will wake you up. You resolve to wake up half an hour earlier, so that you can get to work early and get more done in the day. Despite knowing that you will be scrambling the next time around too.

Your nose is buried in a book. Yet you raise the corner of your eye at every stop, looking for familiar faces. You're an island with your headphones and book, but the social animal in you still craves for that smile and acknowledgement of an acquaintance.

Others people-watch. Someone plays with his GameBoy, the animated pixels somehow eerily silent as he's turned the sound off. The bus has wi-fi, but not many people are plugged into their laptops. Maybe that's for the best.

Surprisingly, very few people read. You wonder what this world's come to when people can spend forty-five minutes mulling and gazing out of the window and yet not surrender themselves to the simple pleasure of a book.  Not even a magazine or a comic book, I ask?

Commuting by the bus brings many fresh insights. And too many questions.

Friday, July 20, 2007

A tale of two gigs

One, a storied band with fifteen years of solid live reputation behind them. Cult, as it were, yet growing in popularity.

The other, someone who just annihilated his past of lighting up stadiums worldwide with his power playing to go back to the basics: songwriting, an acoustic guitar and a harmonica.

The two juxtaposed uncomfortably (for me, that is). Conflicting schedules, a mad scramble from venue to venue, but mostly good timing. The ending part of the Indian Ocean concert was missed, but such sacrifices have to be made.

Highlights: An amazing new track Bhula Raha played by Indian Ocean. It appears on their new "live in concert" DVD. Plus, as always, amazing renditions of old favorites.

A rockalicious rendition of Guerilla Radio on guitar and harmonica by The Nightwatchman. He was preaching to the choir, sure, but who can resist singing along to:

"It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime,

what better place than here, what better time than now?"

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Guess who's back

Indian Ocean is back in Seattle on the 18th of July.

For those Seattle-area vasis who read my blog (yes, all two and three-quarters of you), you already know through other channels. If (surprise, surprise) you didn't know, the nitty-gritties are here.

Fab band, great venue, fun comes.

Other gigs on this leg of their US tour.

Previously: Indian Ocean in Seattle , Indian Ocean - an oasis of hope, More Indian Ocean

Monday, July 09, 2007

Notes on the dismal fall of a franchise aka Third time definitely unlucky

- MJ is back in red (love that, for the record) ! Why did she go to blonde hair in Spidey 2?

- Peter Parker is a nerd. Making him wear kajal, doing up his hair Goth-style, dressing him in black and making him jive doesn't make him any less nerdy. Maybe Tobey Maguire's the problem. Cheesiness abounds as baaaad man Parker is more laughable than cool. 

- Stan Lee makes a cameo in the film.

- I noticed that Peter Parker's landlord's name is Mr. Ditkovitch. Was that a tribute to Steve Ditko? hmm...

- The amnesiac Harry Osborn is a much more likeable character than a dopey Peter Parker. But then, the Goblin's snarling kills any sympathy you ever had for him.

- Did Sam Raimi just get a DVD set of '70s Amitabh blockbusters over Christmas that he decided to rehash? How bad can the ending get?

 If this is what happens to good comic book franchises even with directors unchanged, I hate to think of what the future holds.

The Dark Knight? (It's Christopher Nolan, so maybe there's hope...)

More Superman badness. (Superman Returns was Bryan Singer. Go figure.)

*shudder*  more Fantastic Four?

Monday, July 02, 2007

Lean on me

I remember reading a review of a music album a long time back where the music was described as having 'comfortable corners you could lean into'.

Like a favorite pair of jeans that you've broken in and have been wearing for a couple of years, the best songs are comfortable. When you've grown weary of musical explorations and journeys into the unknown, you return to the solace of the old familiars.

I have a habit of buying more music than I really have time to listen to, and more books than I'm ever going to read. The idea is that this situation is better than the reverse - having a lot of time but no books to read or music to listen to. However, in the interests of sanity, I stopped buying new music a month ago and began to consolidate my CD collection - sorting all the CDs I have, ripping them to my laptop to burn mix CDs and transfer to my phone (which doubles as my portable music player).

It's been a revelation. I stopped flitting from CD to CD, album to album looking for the next new sound to savor or new beat to jive to. I rediscovered old favorites not exactly forgotten, but maybe not paid enough attention to in recent times. With experience, the best songs grow more comfortable, old yet new. An album that definitely scored high in these ratings was U2's second Best of Album which showcased their work from Achtung Baby leading up to All That You Can't Leave Behind.

I'm listening to Beautiful Day for probably the 500th time. Somewhere, One and Electrical Storm strike a chord like they never did before. The Hands that Built America is still as beautiful as it ever was. And yes, Mysterious Ways still rocks my world.

Lifts my days, lights up my nights indeed.

Previously: on U2 .

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Much Gaiman this way comes...

While the world has been going ga-ga over Harry Potter's latest, I'm slightly cold to it all. Yes, I love the books, and will eventually get my grubby hands on a copy that someone else pre-ordered (I've read all of the first six, either borrowed or through the library), but what has me really excited right now is the amount of new material Neil Gaiman has in the works.

Neil Gaiman is exceptionally prolific and he has new material being published all the time. I use the term 'material' here loosely, since Gaiman writes novels, short stories, comic books, graphic novels and poems. He has film scripts and even translations in his repertoire - he translated Japanese master Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke into English.

Even by those standards, this year promises to be a bonanza for interested parties. As this article here states, there's a novel Interworld out on the 26th of June. There's also a collection of child-friendly poems and short fiction M is for Magic releasing on the same day. 

Add to that a film based on Stardust, an absolutely magical fantasy fairy-tale that hits the marquee in August, and the fact that my favorite Gaiman short story (written as a comic book series) Death: the High Cost of Living is being made into a film directed by the man himself, and you can see why I'm all worked up.

There's a production of Coraline in the works and other projects that his name is associated with. Strange fount of fable and myth that the man is, I anticipate much enjoyment.

 (via Slashdot)

Friday, June 15, 2007

You can't take the sky from me...

The inherent mess of contradictions that is human nature gets the full treatment in this rare gem, a truly entertaining and well-written TV series. Firefly, following a bunch of space cowboys in outer space, manages to keep you on edge enough to make this ride worthwhile.

The year is 2517. After a fight between the Alliance and the rebels, a bunch of ragtags called the Browncoats, the Alliance has won and the Browncoats have dispersed. Malcolm 'Mal' Reynolds, a sergeant in the rebel group is now the captain of Serenity, a spaceship that travels the outer fringes of the universe, picking up jobs and cargo to get by. They take on a few passengers on the way who stay on, a young doctor and a priest being among them. However, there's more to these passengers than meets the eye...

What marks Firefly different from other such series on TV is the confusion.

Mal (played with panache by Nathan Fillion) is a walking blob of conflicting emotions. A proud Browncoat who refuses to back down to the Alliance, he is loyal and protective towards his crew. While no illegal job is off-limits if it brings in the money, his sense of right and wrong still prevents him from taking on certain assignments. Jayne is a mercenary gopher, only one big payday away from betraying his crew and captain, yet he seems to put his skin on the line too often for us to pigeonhole him. The other characters are equally nuanced, and everyone has a past that they seem to be trying to escape.

The writing is clever and this fictional universe eschews standard film or television sci-fi stereotypes.  The decor is Wild West meets Star Wars, with a dash of Memoirs of a Geisha thrown in for good measure. In a world where the two remaining superpowers (USA and China) have merged to form the Alliance, the language of choice is English, though the local patois liberally uses Chinese, especially while swearing. The pacing is to die for, with wisecracks and shared light moments suddenly and unpredictably segueing into action set-pieces.  

What is definitely difficult to capture, and therein probably lies the genius of writer - producer Joss Whedon is the sense of camaraderie and esprit de corps the crew share. Mal, Jayne, the ship's engineer Kaylee, the doctor Simon and his mysterious sister River are the pick of a slew of well-etched characters. The chemistry between all these characters is palpable and defines the series.

Via: Rave reviews of Serenity, the official movie spinoff from Firefly that I caught in a rerun at the Egyptian theatre a few months back.

I must add, this was a midnight screening on Saturday night. The theater was almost full. The then year-old movie got a standing ovation.

The movie is enjoyable for the same reasons the show is. The black and white has dulled out to a very agreeable gray, and it's difficult to say that the villains are really so. The Alliance is well-meaning in the way censors are, and Joss Whedon clearly picks sides when in the movie Mal says "I like all seven" (sins, that is).

Special Mention:

The very apt original theme song - written and scored by Joss Whedon. That's where the title of this post comes from.

If this series is even half as good as the fans claim it is, why did it have only 14 episodes and why didn't it go into a second season? And why am I watching it on DVD?

Read this.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Fremont (the area in Seattle where I stay) has a statue of Lenin. The idea being that art should provoke. It may not necessarily be the most positive emotions, but that it evokes emotion is important.

"My paintings are not pretty, they're evocative." says an artist (in some random film I saw a while back on STAR Movies)

Dislike is acceptable. However, the best art, music or film shouldn't leave you indifferent.

I remember the first reactions when 'Kill Bill: Vol 1" was released. There were friends who loved it and friends who disliked it. However, QT, I'm sure would be most crushed by a comment I heard.

"I don't know what the big deal is."

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Whither Usability?

Man makes progress by leaps and bounds. Wonders never cease.

That HDTV I've been coveting has dropped prices by almost 30% over the past six months, meaning I can finally buy it without breaking the bank. Moore's law has been relentless in its march towards infinite processing power. Broadband has been increasing speeds for the same price for a while now.

Why then, can't we ever get the small things right? Is it because no one cares anymore? That's not true. If customers care and are irritated, it should matter, right?

Consider the case of packaging. Electronic goodies like say, audio cable or a USB thumb drive come packaged in this special packaging. You know what I'm talking about? The clear, hard plastic clamped on all sides with a hole on top for hanging in retail stores?

To put it mildly, it's a b%$tch to remove. I've been in grave danger of decapitating myself (OK, at least losing a thumb or two) while trying to open this packaging. Over the past four years, every single piece of thingamajig I've bought or have been gifted has followed the exact same story. Sharp knife, awkwardness, lots of cursing and even more frustration.

Another grouse is stickers. With the amount of R & D going into chemicals, I'm sure they'd have discovered better quality adhesive for price stickers. Why should I buy a CD and then spend fifteen minutes trying to clean the muck off the CD case? That's exactly what I do, especially with used CDs. For new CDs, the challenge is different. It involves the use of long nails or a sharp knife to get the plastic wrapping off.

And there's of course the quality of CD cases. Considering I'm actually spending money to buy CDs, versus downloading this music for free off the 'net, it'd be reasonable to expect the CD cases to be good enough. But they seem to crack at the slightest whim.

Even as I get off my soapbox, let me say that it's not all bad.

Assembling IKEA furniture is right up there when it comes to easy experiences. As was opening my l33t Dell desktop at work to put in the fancy new display card and extra hard drive.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Lost connections

The problem with social networking sites is not who's on them. Ramanand would disagree, but most people on my friend list are pretty considerate with their messaging and so on.
The problem is who's not on them. For every person on my network I kind of knew back in the various institutions I was part of (pun intended), there are an equal number of people I knew really well who are not on any of the networks I've been suckered into joining. I know digital junkies who read blogs will find it surprising, but there are people who disappear off the face of the online world. Inspite of being well-educated and computer savvy.
Close friends, especially from way back when the Internet was just pie-in-the-sky for us ordinary dehati Indians, have since shifted cities. Lost addresses, dropped correspondence and life have all taken a toll of these ties.
Talk with friends from then tends to gravitate towards "What is X up to nowadays?" with the answer invariably being "His parents shifted, and we lost touch. Last I heard..."
Bygones are bygones. The past is past. But friends are friends. The good kind are hard to come by.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Everything you want

Current Mood: serene*

Current Music: ' William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet' OST. Baz Luhrmann sounds eclectico

Feel like: tapdancing

A post just about two years ago, sums it up best.

Life beckons.

* this blogging style brought to you by innumerable LiveJournal writers. Works well for now as posts make their way through drafts and re-drafts.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

I'm pretty sure my blog is feeling neglected right now. The right navigation bar has a section 'posts worthy of your attention' with pretty much nothing noteworthy for five months. It's been a fallow few months creatively. It's not just my blog though.
I've been sucked up into a lot of activity and suddenly I realize that though I'm giving the usual things enough thought, my opinions, though well-formed are not expressed enough here. A number of books I read have simply gone back to the library or on my bookshelf with no reviews on here. Some amazing music has passed by with no mention here. (That was a deadline I just heard whistling by, now that you mention it).
However, resolutions have been made to change things around on this blog. After a long winter, spring is here. Summer too will be here soon.
To everything, there is a season....

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Been there, done that

The small things that you don't do because life sucks you into the routine are the ones that matter the most.

I know native Washington state residents who haven't been up the Space Needle. The same goes for the EMP, IMO a fabulous music experience anyone genuinely passionate about music should visit( not for the exhibits as much as for the 'experience' part of it). 

The nice thing about lists like this one:

is that they're small things that can genuinely make your day (or week, for that matter).

The nicer thing about this list is the fact that I've done most of them.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Ahh...for those old times' sakes

Summer of '69. Bryan Adams. Hostel rooms. Late nights. Chai at Shivajinagar station. Submissions.

A special shout-out to AC,AP,Bunty,DSD,GA,VS and VD for those rocking nights (and bleary-eyed days)...

Friday, April 27, 2007

India Diaries - III

Not knowing when to stop

I'm not defending the King of Nasal Overtures, the one-and-only Himesh Reshammiya. But I wonder how much of the hatred the man invokes is a function of overload.

One can't escape him. His songs are everywhere and on everything - TV, radio, Bajaj motorcycle ads. Kids sing Himesh songs on Anupam Kher's excessively cute " Say na something to Anupam Uncle."

In an ideal universe, he would know when to quit. He wouldn't have the hubris to actually think his voice is worth anything. He'd recognize that there are better singers he can use for some of his admittedly hook-sy songs. (Try listening to jhalak dikhla ja more than twice and I challenge you - it'll be stuck in your head for the day).

But then, the market does rule, doesn't it? T-Series just came out with a six-CD collection featuring 'The One and Only Himesh Reshammiya'. An autographed cap free to boot. And the amazing thing is, there'll be people buying it. Just like people paid $25 to go see Himesh in concert here.

But the most fun part of this trip was driving my mother nuts with my renditions of 'tera suroor'. And of course, Shaka Laka Boom Boom ( SB2, for those who come in late). I link to Ramanand and George's fun investigations into this one for the ages.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

India Diaries - II

All in Bad Taste

- There's only one word to describe the news channels in India. Pulp. Watching Zee News, NDTV and any of the other N channels cover the World Cup, Bob Woolmer's death or anything else for that matter reminded me of the  rags you could buy for a buck on railway stations in Bhopal or New Delhi. Lurid and sensationalist too.

Wait, I thought I was talking about news channels, not the Times of India.

Aaj ki match ka villain kaun - a) Sachin b) Dravid c) Sehwag. Apne jawaab 8284 par SMS karein....

- The only redeeming program on TV for me was the one Barkha Dutt moderates. Unfortunately, it is geared towards a sound-bite friendly speaker and not for any sort of nuanced debates. Even before someone gets a word in edge-wise, she's moved on to someone else.

- What I was probably happiest about apropos news coverage was that I flew out before the Ash-Shek marriage. The Hurley-Nair alliance has left its scars, and the Rai-Bachchan merger would have meant even worse.

'Prateeksha' has been painted a shade of muave that Rai chose herself from Asian Paints' Color World, where you can choose from millions of colors to match your choice. (that's your surrogate advertising right there. The TOI just made a few cool millions).

But seriously, that adds one more pair (Baby B - Rani) to the list of pairs with obvious  chemistry that went on to off-screen alliances with people they don't gel as well with on-screen. Famous examples in the past include Big B - Rekha and Kajol-SRK.

Maybe that's two more pairs, if you have a sense of humor and count Ash- Hrithik in D:2.

Monday, April 16, 2007

India Diaries - I

Playing Catch-Up

- Flying now means lots of movies. A bad year in terms of buzz-movie viewing was over-compensated on a 11+11-hour splurge between Seattle and Seoul-Incheon, both ways.

- The Departed was over-rated - best film of the year, really? 

- The Prestige, under-so (best movie of the year for me. JR - I complete my Chris Nolan filmography including The Following :-))  

- Happy Feet was light on it's feet, dark around the edges and better than everything Disney's put out in the past 10 years. The sucker for the underdog story that I am, Rocky Balboa rocked my world. Stallone as director still packs a punch, and Rocky is as endearing as he ever was.

- DiCaprio has really matured as an actor and I think I can finally forgive him for The Man in the Iron Mask. Especially in The Departed, though Blood Diamond wasn't too bad. I don't know about the accent he had in the film though.

- Even without really expecting much, Babel and Pan's Labyrinth were both underwhelming. I liked Pan's... more, and Babel was just too self-important for my taste. What's the f*%$ing point? is my question. Was it an attempt to make the movie festival-friendly? Maybe my tastes don't coincide with the NPR crowd,  but I actually didn't meet anyone who liked Babel either side of the Pacific.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Back, I am

A vacation extended and time away from the computer resulted in a very long hiatus for this blog. I'm back, for anyone still interested.

Loads of observations and insights on a chaotic trip to India coming your way soon...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Being counted when it counts

Cricinfo has a great article here .

Bloody-mindedness is more important than mere skills and talent. I think Rahul Dravid has it. Dhoni exhibits it from time to time, and Dinesh Karthik's looking veryyy promising. Stick-to-it-iveness is a quality that is often unnoticed and mostly under-appreciated.

If you can do it when the chips are down, the world is yours to conquer.

Edit: corrected the Karthik from Murali to Dinesh

Thursday, February 22, 2007


Audioslave, a personal favorite in the modern/alternative rock genre is splitting.

It's sad and kinda maddening. It took me a while to start liking a band in the present set enough to buy their albums. In the last six months, I've heard and liked quite a few tracks off Audioslave's debut release "Audioslave"and their second record "Out of Exile." Now they go and split up.

Well, it was a good run while it lasted.

Rage Against the Machine (75% of RATM became Audioslave, and they're going back) is re-uniting, though I personally preferred the introspective Chris Cornell over the perpetually angry Zack DeLaRocha.
A good thing is that this means there'll be more to listen to from Tom Morello ( lead guitarist) . I sometimes hope he goes solo or teams up with some other artists to expand his horizons. He is one guitarist for the ages.
Recommended Listening:
From Audioslave
"Show me how to live"
"Like a stone"
From Out of Exile
"Your time has come"

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Want to see:

Black Friday
The Prestige (it's been out forever, I know *sigh*)
Guru (let me judge for myself if it's good or not)


Some time to breathe ( is it 2 AM or 2PM? Is it friday yet? Can I sleep in this weekend?)

Desperately looking forward to:

That vacation

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Whither safety?

After this, it'd be really galling of the Aussies or the Poms to protest about safety conditions in the sub-continent or Africa.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

There's a sickening, grinding noise.

"Did you see the Super bowl yesterday?"

"No. When was it? Maybe that was why traffic was so low when I was driving yesterday!"

More scraping noises. Clinking, as enamel meets steel. There's some unnerving cracking noise thrown in for good measure.

"We're almost done here. You doing OK there?"

I raise my hand, though obviously I'm not. There's intense irritation. A visceral urge to get up and walk away. 'Discomfort' doesn't quite cut it. My hair's on end, fingers curled up into fists. Nothing really scares me, but it doesn't take much to raise my hackles.

Suddenly, I'm less wise.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Life is good

The simple moments that make me happy.

- Not waking up late on a saturday morning. The weekend then seems so full of possibilities.

- Sunlight gleaming off my car after it comes out of the car wash.

- That aroma of coffee as I walk into a coffeeshop

- Speaking of coffee, the Mochas they serve at the drive-thru on Dexter Avenue.

- That stolen moment of clarity in the midst of this muddle. (Don't ask me what that means, it only comes to me occasionally)

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Music Lust

Previously, book lust or something similar

There are places you do not venture into unless you know no buyer's remorse.

For fashionistas, it may be the mall (for some friends, it's a shoe store). For bookworms, it's the really great bookstore (yes, I succumb to that, but I think the library helps a bit there).

For me, it's a Used CD store. The last trip just to check one out in my area saw me walking out with four CDs, lighter in the pocket. With a song on my lips.

When you find that CD that you've heard of a lot of times but never heard, and it's up for sale at the all-too-tempting price of 60% off brand-new retail, it's hard to pass. Acquisitions on this trip:

Sarah McLachlan - Solace - "Building a Mystery" and "Sweet Surrender" among others.

Soundgarden - A-sides. The best of the grunge movement. The Seattle sound, as it was. "Feel the rhythm with your bones."

Gypsy Kings - The Best of . I've got a thing for flamenco, spanish guitar et al going now. Rodrigo y Gabriela started it, and it won't get out of my head now.

Dire Straits - Money for Nothing . I've already plopped down Rs. 100 for the cassette a few years back, and 125 for one of "Sultans of Swing -The Very Best of Dire Straits." I went to see Mark Knopfler perform ($70) and blew $30 on a t-shirt at the show. But seeing Knopfler do "Telegraph Road" and "Sultans of Swing" live? Priceless.

Monday, January 22, 2007

"Change is inevitable.
Growth isn't."

- seen on a bumper sticker.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The quest

CAR, this one's for you. And for you, DQ.

I don't claim to have any answers. This post may be too academic and even unrelated to what is going on in your lives. But I hope it offers some food for thought.

I read David Brooks' delightful social commentary/satire book "Bobos in Paradise" a couple of weeks back. Bobos is 'BOurgeois BOhemians' and describes today's elite - people who have gotten their wealth from their intellect. This class is different from the wealthy classes (the Bourgeois) and the intellectuals (the Bohemians) of the past. Back then, money was inherited, and intellect didn't bring in any. Today, the number of smart people raking in money is high, and has resulted in the formation of an elite which still struggles to retain bohemian values and reconcile it with an increasingly bourgeois lifestyle.

Expounding on bobo behavior, Brooks pokes fun at bobo behavior in various spheres of social life - consumption, work, play and how bobos bring their unique world view into all this.
However, the most illuminating passages of the book come up when he talks about bobo views on beliefs and their spirituality:

"These people talk about tradition, roots and community, but they are just paying lip service to these virtues. When push comes to shove, they always choose personal choice over other commitments. They move out of communities when a better job comes along. They abandon traditions and rules they find tiresome. They divorce when their marriages become unpleasant. They leave their company when they get bored. ...

... And this is self defeating, because at the end of all this movement and freedom and self-exploration, they find they have nothing deep and lasting to hold on to."

It's something I've wondered about in the past too. As we increasingly try to fit in an individualist society, are we losing track of what matters? Do we as a generation have anything to ground us, or are so many of us increasingly adrift?

I personally see quarter-life crisis as a first, early manifestation of these questions. You are at a point where you are trying to define meaning for your life, away from the insane goal-oriented pressure of college and grad school. Once you settle into a job, meeting career goals becomes your day job and you need to make a life outside of it. Answers are not easy to come by. Finding something to latch on to is a challenge. Religion may cut it for some people, while not for others. Being an immigrant probably makes it harder as your life is even more individual than you probably prefer it to be.

Of course I don't have all the answers, but I've found the simple things that make my life work better. I can still see how CAR's post defined what I felt a couple of years back really well. I can't say the same anymore.

Maybe there's something about adding those candles to your birthday cake. Maybe it's just that I discovered a greater willingness to push for and find something that would give me clarity.

Maybe I'm clueless and have no idea about what I'm talking about :-).