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.