Wednesday, July 31, 2002

Last day in Home Park

When is the update happening? Stay tuned.

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

How unlucky is spilling a 20oz paper cup of Coke

Monday, July 29, 2002

The toll of uncertainty

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Stage Two

Saturday, July 27, 2002

Moving out...

Moving out is one of the most tiresome/exciting things about living in America. The chore presents several interesting optimization issues too. Given a certain amount of junk (stuff/personal belongings with economical/sentimental value) how best can you fit them in a given number of boxes (of varying shapes and dimensions depending on your preference and resources). There's a problem for the optimizers. Technical overtures aside, moving also allows you to take stock of all the junk you were reluctant to throw away the first time you saw it.

Friday, July 26, 2002

Radio Gaga

Having an online music stream running as you work takes care of filling the silences that you are prone to notice every now and then as you break out of the 'work-at-hand' state of mind (NOTE: most of this applies to people at their desks. If you are on the move, you barely have time to latch on to anything in the atmosphere). It also creates avenues for discovering new/old bands. Sweet Emotion sent me making a note about catching up on Aerosmith with Toys in the Attic, Rocks and Pump. As is obvious from the links I have for each of these, I have a browser window open as I track the songs and the singers, especially if it's a song I've heard countless times before (note clichéd phrase there). Just nailed another radio staple: Rock n' Me by Steve Miller. The opening words are terribly ironic:

Well, I been lookin' real hard and I'm tryin' to find a job

But it just keeps gettin' tougher every day

Thanks Steve.

Thursday, July 25, 2002

A bushel of tech news and a pesto chicken sandwich

The highlight of today (apart from the slight dip in the DOW) was a pesto chicken sandwich with French bread at Jaqbo's (which incidentally is just a couple of blocks away from my house). This was my first time there: it's a favourite of Mandeep's. The spices blended to provide me an almost Indian flavour -- like several chicken curry preparations back home. There were enough interesting little bits of news today: America Online decided that to scale back efforts to make its "popular" instant messaging system work with rivals, saying the task has proven too difficult and expensive; In his own guarded way, Bill Gates acknowledged the damp squib that .NET turned out to be: "In some respects we're further ahead than we expected. In some respects we haven't made as much progress as we expected", he said. Please feel free to interpret that as you wish. The cherry on today's cake was the rather interesting photograph the New York Times captured of brand new Indian President A. P. J. Abdul Kalam, who was sworn in today. The photograph is a cross between the exorcist of the Ramsay brothers B-horror flicks and Rajnikant on a fitness trip. Now we know who could play the Prez in a restrained manner, when they decide (if ever) to do a biopic.
On the masochistic tendencies of bloated corporate software

Measuring a summer's day, I only finds it slips away to grey,

The hours, they bring me pain.

Tangerine/Led Zeppelin/Led Zeppelin III

For all its virtual merits, Oracle suffers from all the problems of a software product that takes on a life of its own -- and that makes it look like a very twisted version of Pinnochio. Consider the rather common operation of moving the contents of a database (or a set of tables) from a development to a production machine. Oracle does what every large complex infrastructure must do: provide copious general documentation (it's only missing the references to look like your average conference proceeding entry), provide simple examples (the kind that kiddies would play with, except that smart kiddies wouldn't be caught working with Oracle), provide a helpdesk (that makes money by putting you on hold, I'd presume, based on yet another popular business model that led to the downfall of the Rome that was the dotcom wave), ad nauseum.

After hacking away at unfriendly prompts without command history (note: Oracle decided to grace its users with a more friendly function-rich interface to the database too late in the cycle for it to catch on in a big way), I managed to get a nice dump of whatever I wanted from the development database. Importing was another bad trip: the only thing that eased my ulcers was a little article in Oracle Magazine that seemed to be written by someone with more heart than the average contributor to such rags. Log files told me where the process had barfed and on examination I discovered Oracle's entry in the nominees for Masochistic Software Feature of the Year. I must explain: this category accomodates things that are not supposed to happen when you use a software package: the program fails to read files that it generated a while ago, the program decides to quit on you without a by-your-leave (and this is when you are staring at the screen wondering what your next move in this Chess with IT Death will be), the program surreptitiously alters its internals so it can stonewall you out at will, the program refuses to let you connect to it using clients that it installed with (or without, in the case of Oracle) your permission. (As a sidenote, the Oracle client comes close to Microsoft Visual Studio as a contender for maximum hard-disk and physical memory appropriated by a software installation with little to no warning issued to the hapless user).

What was my problem? Well the dear little Oracle export utility had chosen to insert (quite randomly and in an ostentatiously friendly gesture) a carriage return to splice a column name containing an underscore. Too technical, I agree, but you get the general idea, right? What happens as a consequence? The import utility complained about an unknown column name (well, hello, you did this!) and refused to comply. It was rather unexpectedly nice of Oracle to provide me with ways to zero in on the culprit (or rather the clues). The only thing that kept me interested in this whole enterprise (staring at the screen as it stares back at you as the program performs its duties at leisure is not my idea of a vacation), by this point, was the Led Zeppelin half hour on Planet Rock. God bless them. Rants done. Back to the bunker!

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

DOW-up! has Deep Impact

Not to be confused with the popular form of singing that originated in the late 40s, often a cappella with intricate harmonies and nonsense words. I am referring to the national sphygmomanometer aka the DOW. Went up 488.95 points (chalking up its biggest gain since October 1987). And on the other end, a big mile-wide asteroid has set its fond sights on Mother Earth and clocked a positive (meaning: you need to worry about this one) on the Palermo Scale. A possible scenario is a head-on with Earth on Friday, February 1, 2019. That leaves us about 17 years to do whatever we ever and never dreamt of doing. The asteroid has been named 2002 NT7, which must make Microsoft feel glad they switched naming conventions for the Windows OS (nay, desktop hog). Scientists, however, seem to quoting from the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Don't Panic, they say. Interestingly, the article features in the Technology section of Wired.

Related links: The History and Preservation of Doo-Wop
On the need and capabilities of managers

People in different professions (and especially IT) always grouse about how their managers seem to never make that connection so vital to the success of a project. Of course, good working code is important too so that your product can sell, but another important factor that goes into the making of a good product is how cohesive the team is. How much they know about each other, how comfortable they are, how open they can be. A team that lacks this bonding portends an Orwellian dystopia, where each member walks in every morning and begins yet another day in communal aloofness (helped greatly by a pair of good headphones and online/offline music streams).

A manager can help prevent (note: I said prevent not remedy) such situations. Curing such a scenario is something very few people can do well (and they can proudly claim the title of Good Manager). Prevention is relatively easy -- but you as a manager need to invest a lot of time and effort in making sure that each member of the team remains a part of the team, both in mind and body.

What's the most difficult thing to take care of? Never lose touch with the kind of stuff that you have your immediate juniors do... It's great if you are comfortable with the work at each level of command. Most managers fail when they succumb to the Law of Inverse Achievements (LIA): the higher you rise in the corporate echelons, the less technically sound you are prone to get. In the context of IT, this would mean that fresh graduates/programmers suddenly discover that their Technical Manager has nothing technical to boast about and relies on hot air and helium to mask the inadequacies. It doesn't take long to shatter this illusion and the result is a frustrated group of people who have just lost their valuable enthusiasm for a new job. In trying to widen the barrier between them and the group (as a consequence of succumbing to the LIA), managers also enjoy the growth of the hot air balloon we refer to as the ego. Now they cut a sorrier figure: that of a person who now not only knows much less than you do but also compensates by pushing you around and trying to tell you how to do what you do (in the wrong way, needless to say). The result: chaos. This is a syndrome that affects large organizations as well as growing companies.

The larger you grow, the more you tend to adopt a convenient hierarchy of control that is apparently in direct proportion to merit and experience. The skills to climb such ladders are of course legend for being anything but the requisites. This was one of the not-so-popular reasons for startups being popular. They betrayed a flat hierarchy (aah the contradiction in terms) of command and there was no way you could shoot your way out with a gun filled with blanks.

The path from being an ambitious startup to becoming a successful medium-to-large enterprise is the best time to be with a company. Sure there are risks, but this is the time you will learn a lot about what goes on at the peaks of the mountains of command that you have to negotiate in large corporations. Gives you enough fuel (if you are paying attention) to drive your way up there and show the world what a (hopefully good) manager can be.

Tuesday, July 23, 2002

Relief against a dropping DOW

As the DOW drops steadily (in geekspeak: forcing a lot of programs to recode their variables as 'signed long integers' instead of 'unsigned long integers'), it's time for some light relief. Here's a cool Google groups search result.

Sick of buzzwords? Buzzwhack demystifies them for you. A very sober example would be the definition of information architect: A hugely inventive and successful way in which librarians (and a host of other wannabes) have made themselves relevant to computers and the Internet. An information architect's job is to balance the needs of Web site sponsors, the users and the designers so that information is presented in a manner that makes all concerned happier -- and the architect richer. While on that subject, check out Thom Haller's perspective on being an Information Architect.

Monday, July 22, 2002

The Oracle of patience

I would like to welcome Oracle to the crowded room filled with software packages and systems that seem to derive revenues from support telling people how to use them (the software handles the task of making the user feel stupid and ill-qualified). The system offers several pretences of help: documentation (which you have to scour the online portal for), examples (the simple ones of course, NOT the ones you need!), and buzzwords to describe concepts (this last approach completely destroys any hope of you semantically arriving at the answer to your problems... think on the lines of choosing terms from film criticism to describe a rack-and-pinion assembly). After spending my time searching newsgroups (a wise alternative) and poring over official documentation (an unwise move, but I use my findings from the first alternative to verify those in this one), I succumbed to the dictates of functionality-prevails-over-form and worked in a hack to make sure the database server was up and running when the machine was rebooted. Note: I got my answer from the newsgroups and NOT from the official documentation (after all, how can you expect something like "If our carefully written semantically and syntactically script does not work, circumvent it completely and write your own from scratch" from corporate documentation). Great going. A wonderful business model at work:

1 Make a system horrendously complex. It must at least recreates the experience of having to read Perl you wrote yesterday. Of course, the sky is the limit for the final level of complexity.

2 Provide documentation that adds irrelevant terminology to describe the official constituents of this software goulash

3 Deploy 90% of your task force inserting random numbers accompanied by spurious high-brow technical words to construct a set of error messages and inject this into the system as garnish

As an aside: one of the components of this massive commercial data management undertaking is a listener. The term makes sense only to Oracle professionals within (we would hope) and without (we are glad) Oracle. To an average user, what can be more horrifying than a listener who refuses to listen to you?

Sunday, July 21, 2002

WRFG, a pleasant culinary surprise and hot sun beating down

I was back with Mrs. Pandit on the radio show {last post: two weeks ago} today and things were much better. The new section was, as always, nothing to sing home about (read all the puns you want) but the old section finally included a couple of good RD Burman songs: one from me Yeh Vaada Raha from the film of the same name (a song that has gained notoriety thanks to a remix accompanied by a very explicit video to match it!) and one from Mrs. Pandit, as a surprise for me, in the ghazal/bhajan section, Ae Sakhi Raadhikey from Jurmana. We also aired Chalo Ek Baar Phir Se from Gumraah, a Sahir/Ravi composition rendered by Mahendra Kapoor. This song was a favourite of Dad's and in fact the only thing I remember from this film is Sunil Dutt sitting at the piano (with Ashok Kumar and Mala Sinha looking on), as Dad tuned in to oldies shows on different cable channels. Interestingly, we got yet another RD Burman request: the ethereal Kya Yahi Pyaar Hai from Rocky. What makes it more interesting is that the new section included a song from the unbearable Na Tum Jaano Na Hum, which has the story revolving around this very song.

This was followed by an ambitious drive to a restaurant in Alpharetta called Ruchi. Why ambitious? Well the drive was about 45 minutes long, coupled with the fact that complete directions were not at our disposal. We got there sans mishap and just in time too (Sunday brunch buffets, as they called them, ended at 3pm and we got there at 2:30pm). The place was worth every mile of road we drove (not to mention the aggravating heat!). The owner of the place greeted us cordially. His countenance, the ambient music (which comprised songs from A. R. Rahman's Pudhiya Mugham) and Thiruda Thiruda and the buffet (which we opted for) confirmed the restaurant's claim to be a provider of South Indian cuisine. From memory here's what we had: sambhar, rasam, pakoras, rice, biryani rice, crisp fresh parathas, mixed vegetables, chana masala (cooked South-Indian-style), cabbage kootu, chicken 65 (this brings back memories of eating places back home that had numerical suffixes to dishes:), chicken curry, lamb curry. The accoutrements included pickle and pappadam (this alone got the buffet and the place bonus points. I have never seen a more authentic homely buffet). The salad section comprised the usual greens but there was also my favourite kind of salad: onions, tomatoes and green chillies in curd. Fruit salad and ice cream made up the dessert section. What more can one say but BURP. The service continued to be nice, polite and unobtrusive. We followed lunch with a little chat with the owner and got some more information about the place. It's just 3 months old (or young if you may) and although it could be a drive for a lot of people living in Atlanta, I'd strongly recommend this place. It's worth the drive.

An evening of sudden thunder claps and light rain brought down the temperature a bit, but it's still very much a Georgia summer.

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Qdoba, Borders and some music

Friday, July 19, 2002

Learning to fly ... a long long summary

Learning to fly ... a long long summary

Planet Rock announced 30 minutes of Floyd (which was a relief after listening to Bono and U2 belt out another complaint in their nouveau minimalist fashion --- words delivered out of swirls of inconsequential music with fervent wails). So I ran a search to get the lyrics to Learning to Fly off the Dave Gilmour vehicle A Momentary Lapse of Reason and found the longest summary I have ever seen accompanying a search result. Lest the revised results lose out this gem forever, here it is: Learning to Fly ... Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies Tongue-tied and twisted
Just an earth-bound misfit, I Ice is forming on the tips of my wings Unheeded warnings,
I thought I thought of everything No navigator to guide my way home Unladened,
empty and turned to stone A soul in tension that's learning to fly Condition grounded
but determined to try Can't keep my eyes from the circling skies Tongue-tied and
twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I Above the planet on a wing and a prayer,
My grubby halo, a vapour trail in the empty air, Across the clouds I see my shadow
fly Out of the corner of my watering eye A dream unthreatened by the morning light
Could blow this soul right through the roof of the night There's no sensation to
compare with this Suspended animation, A state of bliss Can't keep my eyes from
the circling skies Tongue-tied and twisted just an earth-bound misfit, I. There
is no hell. There is only France. -- Frank Zappa

and the site /music/pink-floyd/momentary-lapse-of-reason.learning-to-fly. Back to some more gems from the premier space rock band of all time.
Rediscovering network mayhem

Yesterday evening I rediscovered the joy of virtual genocide over the network with Quake 3 Arena from my favourite gaming company ID Software. My workstation was blessed with a NVIDIA RIVA TNT2 graphics card with 16 megs of RAM which assured wonderful graphics and gameplay too. Great weapons, wonderful maps with lots of eyecandy and dynamic elements, a cool cache of sounds, faithful music from Trent Reznor ... all in all, a rather rewarding/relieving albeit highly addictive experience. Be warned: guilty pleasures like this can eat into your time.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Name that Tune, or rather, who's the guy/gal belting it out?

The problem with radio here is that they never tell you who just played that song (again!) with that catchy riff or that catchy bridge or that singalong chorus. Not knowing who just entertained me or ticked me off completely is something I am very uncomfortable with. So I train my ears sharp for the lyrics (hidden in all that musical soup) and jot down key phrases, hoping that I have them right. The next step is to paste these fragments into Google's (each fragment within double quotes to let Google know it's a phrase) search box and hit the Search button. Never fails. Some recent breakthroughs I have had are More than a Feeling by Boston and You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet by the Bachman-Turner Overdrive (aka B.T.O.) (they were also responsible for that other radio favourite, Takin' Care of Business).

Of course, it's not always Google that helps me out. While at Borders some time last month, I sampled another excellent compilation from Rhino Records, Greatest Hits from the Doobie Brothers. This is when I found the names of two songs (and the artistes, of course) that I had heard innumerable times on the radio: Listen to the Music and Long Train Runnin'. As an aside, I'd highly recommend this album: very very listenable, as is Boston.

Summer job blues, a lightweight Amazon and some interesting forecasts

My summer job at the College of Computing has me labelled as a Tech Temp (aka temporary employee at Georgia Tech). The job started off with a little project with MySQL and PHP and introduced me also to the kind of politics one would encounter in a multitier bureaucracy. Speaking from a platform-independent geeky point-of-view, they should all probably find their identities in classes or modules that comprise the J2EE framwork and become beans in an Enterprise Framework that implements numerous interfaces like ICanGetItDoneNowButWillActuallyTakeMyOwnSweetTime and MyHandsAreTiedAndTheyExpectMeToTypeCode. Aah, well. At least I learnt more about MySQL and PHP and met some more interesting people.

Since that project reached its completion, I have been spending more time with Enkia. Of course this got my bosses confused about my employee allegiances, but I guess it must be expected. So I spent today working on my summer job with new task assigned to me: delivering campus mail. This, to be honest, was the kind of work I had expected to do when I took the position. It's a great thing to take a break from the pretentiousness and false sense of power moments of coding lines of machine-readable code and do stuff that gets you back to reality and closer to your own kind.

It's been just a day since Amazon entered the web services arena {previous post} and Kokogiak Media has come out with Amazon Light. More about it here.

That campus runaround in the hot sun does wonders for visibility when you return to closed air-conditioned indoors. Everything appears dimly lit for a while and spots pepper your vision. Not to mention the drying sweat in the icky spots of your white T-shirt (aren't they supposed to be perfect for the summer?). A good time to have something great for lunch. It was time to try out the Classic Cuban sandwich from a nondescript little place on 14th and Atlantic. The barricades on the road made it a park to walk through with James for company, except the hot sun (beating down) didn't help matters much. Excellent sandwich in crisp bread. Highly recommended for revisitation.

A surreal twist to the day: F*d company's top blurb today is about rumours that Microsoft may buy Yahoo! in November 2002. Jeepers! Yahoo.NET I don't want. That's scary. One step closer to TWD for MSFT. Look out for a brand new slowed-down more insecure version of your favourite mail domain ... and a new integrated instant messaging program to boot. Shudder!!!

Music for the day: Thanks to Planet Rock. It's strange that Van Halen, a band driven by the amazing technique of guitarist Eddie Van Halen, actually turned superstars with Jump (off 1984, released on New Year's Day that year) driven by the synthesizer and not the blindingly fast licks of Eddie... Of course, we must not forget Eddie's famous appearance on MJ's 1983 hit Billie Jean.

Wednesday, July 17, 2002

Oldies from Thump

Taking pity yet again on my variegated taste in music, Sam lent me a 9-CD box set of oldies that he won at a bar a couple of weeks ago (talk about luck!). This is the Lowrider Oldies Chrome series from Thump Records. The only thing missing is a year for each of the tunes... Still, it's good listening, although the album covers are James Hadley Chase-esque in the thin strand that connects them to the contents of each CD!
Bulwer Lytton 2002 Winners

For those not in the know, the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest is a whimsical literary competition that challenges entrants to compose the opening sentence to the worst of all possible novels sponsored by the English Department at San Jose State University, running since 1982. The line that Edward George Bulwer-Lytton (EGBL), the Victorian writer after whom the contest is named, is most famous for is: It was a dark and stormy night, the opening line of Paul Clifford (a line oft-quoted by Snoopy in Peanuts). Triviamongers may note that EGBL came to public attention, in anonymity, in 1989 when his ancestral estate at Knebworth was chosen by Tim Burton as the setting for "stately Wayne Manor" in the movie Batman. The winners for this year seem to have earned their claim to infamy. enters the web services domain has entered the web services arena by launching their own version "to help stimulate Web service innovation".{yahoo! news}

Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Musical discussion II

Rick, Vijay and I met again yesterday to discuss and explore some more music. We started off with Sili Hawa Chhoo Gayi (from Libaas), which used the China Block or the Chinese Block. The next was the opening to the medley of Hum Kisise Kum Nahin (which was again indicative of the influence of jazz, big band and Isaac Hayes on R. D. Burman), the opening to Bachna Ae Haseeno from the same film and finally the opening to Lekar Hum Diwaana Dil from Yaadon Ki Baaraat (the sound of the guitar reminded Rick of the rolling Leslies that accompanied Hammonds, no longer found now. However, the Leslies are on a resurgence thanks to the use of the Hammond B3 by people like Medeski, Martin and Wood). We also listened to In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy, Pat Boone's sendoff on heavy metal with great band arrangements. {first week}

Monday, July 15, 2002

Back in Black

So I caught Men In Black 2 on Sunday with Chris at UA Midtown. We had three choices, especially since our original choice, Undercover Brother, was no longer playing: Late Marriage (serious foreign film), The Emperor's New Clothes (historical retake/comedy) and Men In Black 2. Chris wanted to watch a comedy. I wasn't in a 'historical' mood. Thus, the choice was clear.

The film was ephemerally satisfying, in parts. Very few new ideas in the sequel, which means if you were expecting more of the different kind in the sequel, you'd be disappointed. If you just wanted to see more of the regulars, you wouldn't be disappointed. If you wanted more jokes, you'd have to search for them. A lot of the jokes fall flat. The few good ones that survive are the dog jokes with Frank, the office dog in a new temporary role as J's partner (of course, after a point, even the canine humour lacks a-pee-l), Michael Jackson's cameo as himself vying for a position as Agent M (with a rather hilarious, and somewhat topical, reference to Alien Affirmative Action), the little universe K has in locker C18 ("be kind rewind", the national anthem rapidly changing allegiance, the little XXX bar in the back: howlarious), and the in-joke reference to Spielberg. The cheesy B-skiffy video tape is a great device to have. The end credits feature Mr. Smith doing another title song (this time it's The Black Suits Are Comin'). Everything else pretty much falls flat. The steatomammate Lara Flynn Boyle adds nothing as Serlena (her introduction is a mere plug for Victoria's Secret and the jokes are too tired and obvious to raise more than a generous smile). More ad plugs include Sprint PCS (if such a critical operation uses Sprint to stay in touch, I can only fear the worst for the world), Burger King and a duty-free liquor store. Interesting cameos include director Barry Sonnenfeld (the man of the house that K used to live in) and Rick Baker (an MIB immigration agent). The previews were lousy too ...

The best part of the evening at the movies was the little featurette The ChubbsChubbs are Coming that preceded the film. A rollicking take-off on Star Wars and the Gremlins, there's a nice sendoff on Aretha Franklin ('R.E.S.P.E.C.T'). Pity, the main feature didn't live up to this.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

Random Sunday musings

I'm getting to like the online stream on PlanetRock. At least there's not too much pretentious nonsense under the garb of Classic Rock. It's becoming increasingly clear that the most popular genres in art, film and music have their genesis in a post-analytic need to classify and never manage to be complete or authoritative or definitive. Some even have a safety valve definition which refers to a period in history as opposed to a style (e.g. funk, film noir). I seem to accept Paul Schrader's definition of film noir as a period in filmmaking that wrote the parameters of a style for future filmmakers to follow. Any modern works that used them (including the works of Alfred Hitchcock, the genre-blending Blade Runner and more recent works like Memento and the Coen Brothers' noir tribute The Man Who Wasn't There) can be classified as tributes to that age of filmmaking. Funk and even rock suffer from the same problem. As do the numerous sub-genres of rock. Then there's my own metric to differentiate between a blues song (in the 12-bar form, variations allowed) and a bluesy song.
Meadowdale Dinner

Yesterday evening I had an invitation to dinner at the Meadowdale residence of Prof. Ashwin Ram. I've had a whale of a summer working at his startup Enkia Corp. with James and Mandeep, who are probably finally smiling at seeing their names in e-print (they actually visit my blog on occasion and give me 'knowing' looks every now and then ... another issue to think about here: blogs and the loss of privacy!). Preetha was the gracious hostess and with adorable kids, a great Indian menu and The Dave Brubeck Quartet playing off a CD nothing could go wrong (except the weather of course: but the rain was great to look at). A nice pragmatic house without the clutter of pretentious decor and artifacts, their residence has the advantages of being close to town as well as overlooking a nice backyard that stretches on to a creek. Quite close to a dream house: all that I want and nothing more ... Time for Mick Jagger to step up and belt out You can't always get what you want ... (almost ironic that one of the CDs in their eclectic tasteful collection was the soundtrack of Lawrence Kasdan's The Big Chill)

Saturday, July 13, 2002

An interesting night, a gloomy morning, the lawnmower man, and puns at the corner bakery

I returned home to cook dinner and Harish was AWOL. The cheap white dusty answering machine gave me the answer: he was out to a friend's place for a "party" (why the quotes? read on). So I decided to pop in and visit Aranyak and Parikshit and their friend Obro, now at Princeton, and visiting for a week. Pre-dinner refreshments were OJ (for me) and OJ spiked with Malibu for the rest, as we sat and listened to Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grateful Dead and Bob Dylan. Dinner was a delicious combination of rice, sambhar (non-Indians: read spiced mixed vegetable gravy) and aloo ki sabji (non-Indians: read slightly spiced fried potatoes).

The drinking continued at Rocky Mountain Pizza Co. and I tagged along despite my abstinence just to catch the fun of watching people sink into the smashed state of mind. I wasn't disappointed and things stayed well within control too. No violence. The arguments were marked with long-drawn emotional sentences that would make sense only in a Dicksian universe.

Back home, I used the second edition of The Java Programming Language to put me to sleep at 3 am. All week long I had been waking up at 7:30am and Saturday was no different. As I painfully struggled to return to sleep, the lawnmower man outside and a series of phone calls slashed my slumber to shreds. Finally I gave up trying and got ready for the dull dismal dark depressing weather outside. The saving grace of the rather dank unpleasant afternoon was a trip with Chris for a light lunch at the Corner Bakery café. I had a pecan chicken salad, whose coldness was a disadvantage. The salads were fresh though. The store abounds in puns: Everything you knead, and the tips cup was labelled thanks a latte. One pun too many. Still, I wouldn't hold that against them: at least the puns were interesting enough. The place was sparsely filled, probably because of the weather outside. After lunch we made a quick stop at the public library where I got two books and a couple of CDs:

Books: In my life: Encounters with the Beatles and That's blaxpoitation: Roots of the baadasssss/James Darius

CDs: The Best of Delaney and Bonnie/Delaney and Bonnie and South America (a collection of South American music)

Friday, July 12, 2002

Musical déjà ironia

It's Friday evening and (as may be expected from a simple sedentary soul like me) I'm still hacking away at Oracle's gift to humanity. Stored procedures and JDBC come close to providing the kind of walls you encounter when you deal with Microsoft Access (where the samples don't work and the help is an oxymoron). I had the online stream from Planet Rock to assuage my feelings and emotions. The playlist was almost a trip down memory lane when I sat at my desk on Friday evenings at PSPL wrapping things up or just sipping on coffee and catching up on e-reading, sifting through CDs to play (I had no sound card then and headphones were my escape): Tom Sawyer from Rush, Love Bites from Def Leppard, Black Dog from Led Zeppelin, Just One Life from Queen and Paranoid from Black Sabbath.

Incidentally, check out Deja Vu. They claim to recreate web history giving you an idea of how browsers have evolved over the years. Nice. Aah, Spirit of Radio from Rush is just over. Clapton is on now with his electric chorus-backed version of Running on Faith. Time to quit for the day. Happy weekend everyone.

Moment of irony

I'm sure all of us have moments in life where the most bizarre coincidences occur. The kind where the odds are too high. Well, I had one today morning. Was flipping through The Worst Rock-n-Roll Records of All Time, which I got last Sunday and had come to the page listing Don McLean and his 1971 overlong ode to the dead age of rock n' roll, American Pie. This song marked the day the music truly died. And guess what started off on the radio right on cue ... yup! Mr. McLean himself belting out his rambles, taking off on the death of Buddy Holly.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

Rarity for the month

Fans of music will agree with me that there is nothing to equal the pleasure of (a) discovering a lost forgotten musical gem that you have never heard (b) uncovering a song that you recall having heard before, but the quality of your memories may vary. I had a case of (b) a week or so ago and have been wallowing in the joy of repeated listening. The song in question is an Asha Bhosle solo for Salil Chowdhury in an artsy 'destined-to-crash-at-the-box-office' film called Trishagni (The Sandstorm) from 1988 (starring Pallavi Joshi, Alok Nath, Nitish Bhardwaj, Nana Patekar and directed by débutante Nabendu Ghosh). Aisa lage kahin door se is a wonderful Salil composition in jhaptaal (5/4), and undeservingly lost in the dust at the box office.

More movie trivia: The film won the National Award for Best First Film of a Director.

Related: previous post on jhaptaal

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

Rod Steiger is dead

Beefy and intense in his portrayals on screen, acclaimed actor Rod Steiger passed away on Tuesday, July 09, 2002 at the age of 78. I remember him for his Oscar-winning role in In the Heat of the Night and the miserably boring horror wannabe The Amityville Horror. I've also added The Pawnbroker and No Way To Treat A Lady to my growing list of movies that I need to catch someday. But who can forget him in his début as the elder brother of the method maestro Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan's masterpiece, On The Waterfront (known to Bollywood audiences as Ghulam).

{The Nando Times}{BBC News}

Blog popularity

My blog seems to suffer from a randomness and variety of short thoughts as opposed to long musings that other people key in. But that's me. I seem to have made the Indian Bloggers list. I also noticed that Satyen Kale, from IIT Bombay, a regular visitor at the Govt. College of Engg Boat Club Quiz Meets, has also started blogging thanks to Gaurav.

Tuesday, July 09, 2002

Jazzy Pancham all the way

As part of my independent study I work at Enkia, one of the burgeoning companies under the umbrella of the ATDC at Georgia Tech. Turns out jazz is a common favourite so we had Stan Getz/Bossa Nova and Dave Brubeck/On Time (a generous loan from Chris on Sunday, this album features the classics Take Five (5/4) and Blue Rondo à la Turk (9/8), as also Unsquare Dance (7/4) and 40 Days (10/8) running off my machine's CD player (turns out my machine also has a sub-woofer connected). I also whipped out the gift CD to let them listen to the rarities Maar dalega dard-e-jigar (Pati Patni, 1966) (the first Hindi film song to betray the use of the bossa nova) and Tum bhi meri jaan (Salaam Memsaab, 1979) (with its generous ode to jazz and old pop).

Later in the evening, Rick Burgess (my guitar instructor for the guitar options classes I have been taking at Tech for the last few semesters) was kind enough to humour me with a music exchange session. He brought along Joe Cocker's début album With a Little Help from My Friends. He used the first track off it, Feelin' Alright to illustrate the use of the jawbone of an ass (you can hear it just once in the first few seconds of the song). We then listened to the same two R. D. Burman tracks above. He noted carribean influences in the first song more than the bossa nova, which occurs as a mere trace. To strengthen my understanding he played me bits from the CD accompanying a book called Brazilian Music Workshop by Antonio Adolfo. We also listened to Cuba Caribe from Hemisphere records, a compilation of representative Cuban music.

John Frankenheimer passed away last Saturday. He was best known for the definitive exercise in paranoia, The Manchurian Candidate, based on Richard Condon's book that allegedly inspired the Kennedy assassination.

Monday, July 08, 2002

Altavista's attempt at clustering results

Altavista has launched a new search technology called Prisma, which helps searchers refine their searches. {press release} {source: ResearchBuzz}

Sunday, July 07, 2002

WRFG, lunch and a capella

After a good night's sleep I lumbered off to the radio station again today morning {ref: last week}. No Pancham gems this time on the show thanks to some generally bad time management and long boring new songs ... The only time I even got on the air this time was for a plug for Chalo Ek Baar from Gumraah, one of Dad's favourite songs --- I remember Sunil Dutt on the piano lipsynching to Mahendra Kapoor's voice, but that's about it.

Chris and I hadn't seen each other for over a week and so we had lunch at the Euclid Avenue Yacht Club {review by Wai Gen Yee, a fellow labmate} in Little Five Points. The sandwich with generous chunks of beek seeped in mesquite with sides of baked beans and homemade BBQ sauce was over-filling. We followed this up with some shopping at A Cappella Books across the street (this store abounds in a lot of beat literature and out-of-print books). I gave in to two purchases: Stairway to Heaven: Led Zeppelin Uncensored by Richard Cole (although what I have is not the updated 2002 edition) and The Worst Rock-n-Roll Records of All Time by Jimmy Guterman and Owen O'Donnell. The latter is really howlarious. We followed this up with a trip to school to check email. I even got Chris to listen to two of my recent acqusitions, thanks to Renu. then some time at Starbucks discussing music theory, notable trends in Hindi film music, postmodernism and magic realism.

I spent the latter part of the evening working on some SQL before returning home to surrender to music and reading. I had a miscellaneous compilation of 80s music (mostly Bappi Lahiri) thanks to Mrs. Pandit and the compilation I got last Thursday: Asli Naqli (Laxmikant-Pyarelal)/Itihaas (R. D. Burman).

Three Days in Tennessee

I spent my July 04, 2002 extended weekend camping in Tennessee in the Smoky Mountains. Here's a brief lowdown.

Thursday, July 04, 2002

The rental vehicle is a Subaru Outback and there are five of us from Atlanta. We began with some shopping for spices and such for cooking at the campsite. As a consequence of a search for some music tapes (yes, the vehicle didn't come with a CD player) for the drive, I uncovered a Singapore-made combo: Asli Naqli (Laxmikant-Pyarelal) / Itihaas(R. D. Burman). Yay! After stuffing ourselves with an Indian buffet at Mirch Masala, we headed out on the road. We reached Newport, TN rather late in the evening, but luckily after the showers had ended. Another shopping spree ensued at Wal*Mart for camping supplies and I also got a sleeping bag and a pair of sandals to boot. Once we made it to the campsite it was dark and we proceeded to set up the tents in the headlights of cars and a pair of flashlights (since we conveniently missed buying kerosene and firewood). The group grew to 12 now! Half of us went back to town to get the supplies and something to eat, while the rest of us stayed back to cook some chicken over coal. The process of drenching the meat in spices and constantly stoking the flames and flipping the chicken was a long one and beer bottles provided respite and fuel for the others to talk and laugh out loud. At 1 am there was still no sign of the others and we proceeded to devour the chicken (which I must say turned out rather well). Thanks to the ruckus, we received a courtesy visitor informing us that the camp turn-in hour was 11 pm and we had better tone it down to allow our neighbours to get some sleep. Soon the rest of the party returned and despite the warnings, there was more beer and louder conversations with discrete spurts of laughter. Fearing the worst, I packed the rest of the food into the cars and turned in. Of course, this was my first experience camping so I (as well as my other experienced colleagues) forgot to open the tent window. Consequently, it was uncomfortable sleeping at night, to add to other woes.

Friday, July 05, 2002

Wakey wakey at 0800. Half of us had driven out to get some hot showers. All we saw around the camp grounds were restrooms and I still don't know if they have showers. The rest of us had some black coffee to scare the rest of our sleep away. The park ranger dropped by with a cautionary note about yesterday, although he was happy to see that we had packed all the food in. The agenda for the day was some hiking. We drove to Cades Cove, which by the time we reached there, seemed a long way off from the campsite. The hike to Abrams Falls was great fun (2.5 each way). Of course by the time we made our way to the Visitor Centre we were drenched in sweat and thirsty. My group of four headed back to the campsite. We stopped off for hot showers. These were booths where the water was operated by inserting quarters. If you aren't very efficient on time, you could end up standing there covered in soap with the shower running dry. Dinner, in an effort to make good time, was at Waffle House (yes, that sounds very defeatist considering we were camping, but the uniformity of the American consumer landscape is all-encompassing). As a plus, we did see Gatlinburg, a city-sized version of Universal Studios, tailored as a theme tourist park. Everything about the camp and the landscape reminds me of Kerala. I made this clear to my companions, who are now all ready to beat me up for flogging the Southern horse one time too many.

Saturday, July 06, 2002

Sleep came easier this time and the key activity for the day was rafting on the Pigeon River with a guide from the 5 Rivers Adventure Company. The rapids were classes 2, 3 and 4. No mishaps for our boat and we even 'rode the waves' (getting the raft against the direction of the waves). Harish on the other hand wasn't so lucky. His companion on the other raft lost balance and took him down with him. No danger, but just a little comic event. His elbow aches now, though. I have a cool photograph as a memento of our journey on the river. After this, everyone parted company with promises to stay in touch and exchange information about expenses (a definite possibility) and photographs (a possibility). After an excellent Saturday Country-style bar buffet at Shoney's (cabbage beef soup, salad, meatballs, fried chicken, ham, corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, jelly, pudding, pineapple chunks) ...burp, we were on our way. As good luck would have it there were two RD Burman compilation tapes lying in the car: the first from HMV and the second from Polygram/MIL, a collection of songs that he had sung for his films. I also discovered how much the American propensity for air conditioning had tempered my system when I walked out of the car into an evening furnace of 95F. A shower made things better.

Things to take away from the splendid vacation

* Have your equipment ready

* Fewer is better

* Rafting rocks

Wednesday, July 03, 2002

Panchamrit and free food

So Panchamrit 4 {ref: previous post} is out. Go for it! Great song choices and delicious clues to cover the last, and unfortunate period of R. D. Burman's career (1985-1994). And to boot, I got some free shrimp fried rice and pepper steak for lunch.
Escaping to Bryant Park, but Staying Connected to the Web: Bryant Park in NYC is one of more than 70 wireless access sites in New York City and one of the first to formally span a city park. All you need is a wireless network card and a laptop to log on to the Web anywhere in the park! Pretty cool. Wonder if this portends any of the visions of ubiquitous computing with all its evils...

Tuesday, July 02, 2002

Smashits smashes R. D. Burman

I got some more time to tune in to the R. D. Burman stream on Smashitsyesterday and found another addition to the how could they do it list. {Yesterday it was crediting R. D. Burman for the music of Aradhana, scored by his father S. D. Burman. Of course, since there's such a hot debate on the percentile authorship of father and son on the score, this was a rather interesting pick}. Today, they credited Sachha Jhootha to R. D. Burman (the actual composers being Laxmikant Pyarelal, another bête noir for the Pancham camp). And now they're playing Koi jaaye to le aaye from Ghatak (which is the only song that R. D. Burman did not compose for the film! This one is by Anu Malik).

a kaiku

So, I coined this hybrid word a month or so ago as an example of the humour I indulge in (the one that invites both smiles and groans from my unfortunate friends). Here goes (in the style of Merriam-Webster Online)

Main Entry: kai-ku

Pronunciation: 'kI-(")kü

Function: noun

Inflected Form(s): plural kaiku

Etymology: Desi

Date: 2002
: an unnecessary, amateur, incongruous unrhymed verse form of personal origin based on the Japanese haiku form which comprises three lines containing usually 5, 7, and 5 syllables respectively; a kaiku need follow only the syllable count.

An example:
A house, a wife, car and dog

for everything else there's Mastercard

'Under God' Iconoclast Looks to Next Targets: (free registration required) Meet Mike Newdon. Atheist. Doting father. Crusader for the separation of church and state. Advocate for the unisex pronoun. {source: Chris. a topic close to his heart}

Monday, July 01, 2002

Getting rid of nasty pop-ups

For all you people out there who have web pages on free servers (geocities, tripod, angelfire, here's a page devoted to techniques for subverting these approaches. NOTE: Such actions may violate the terms of service, so be warned!!!.
R. D. Burman internet radio

Smashits Radio actually has an option for a stream devoted to the music of R. D. Burman (the range is of course limited by their content). This is still a good step forward. For those lazy ones out there:

Music for the day

A-sides by Soundgarden is a good exhibit of their Led Zeppelin/Black Sabbath influences. My favourite would be track number 7 (how aptly placed) Outshined, which has an interesting riff in 7/4. Track 14, Burden in my hand is in the CGCGGE tuning {more on different tunings}. Another CD was a loan: Sentimental Duets from films (EMI/CD PMLP 5147). For trivia buffs this has the song Aaja teri yaad aayee from Charas, which has Anand Bakshi singing along with Lata and Mohd. Rafi (yes, a good song to have played yesterday, but Lata's shrieking is unbearable). The song I really wanted this CD for was Zamane mein sabse purani, one of the better Lata-Amit Kumar duets, from the Kumar Gaurav flop Lovers (scored by R. D. Burman, needless to say). The taal is hindustani roopak (7/8) and the raag, if I am not wrong, is pahaadi (other songs in this raag: doob maroongi main from the Shiv-Hari scored Sahibaan).
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