Friday, February 28, 2003

a fistful of change, a bagful of books and an armful of music

A couple of trips to the public libraries {AFPL, Dekalb} in the sad bleak evening and I came away feeling loaded, lugging a bag splitting at the seams with books and music. I now have Midnight Movies (a delightful book by J Hoberman and Jonathan Rosenbaum on cult movies and underground classics), and my first Borges loan, Labyrinths: selected stories and other writings. I also got Joseph Heller's Closing Time (the sequel to Catch 22) for three quarters (which makes the public library the best place to hunt for cheap books).

And what do I listen to while I'm reading all this? Maybe Heart's Greatest Hits, or Ultimate Dizzy Gillespie, Rush's Vapor Trails, Are You Experienced (the most awesome debut album I've heard since Led Zeppelin), The best of New Riders of the Purple Sage, B B King Live in Japan, Requiem from the Branford Marsalis Quartet or The Sergio Mendes four sider.

If that wasn't enough, I got The Roots of Deep Purple: The Complete Episode Six and Paco de Lucia/John McLaughlin/Al Di Meola, a collaboration featuring three great acoustic guitarists from a branch of Wherehouse Music in Decatur that's closing down (that's another sign of a failing economy: a random store that looks fine decides to close down). I have to admit this about US businesses: they collapse gracefully.

more transitive purchases

As if the chain on Tuesday wasn't enough, it turns out that Overture is also going to acquire FAST, the backbone of AllTheWeb.
interacting with utility companies {aka d�j� me} {aka your call is important to us Part II: Your call continues to remain important, for a long long time}

So I try calling in about a refund cheque yet again (no medals for perseverance; only muzak). And the lady at the desk is again faced with a problem: human speech stream input does not comply with information in a formatted table visible on computer screen. Federal panic initiated. Sir, let me transfer you to {name suppressed only out of politeness} department.

Muzak. I sing along, since I know the song by now. Of course, cut it off and ask me to sing, and I'd be helpless.

You have reached the {previously suppressed name} department. Your call is important to you (we all know where that came from) If you know your party's extension, please enter it now (yeah, if I knew half of that, I'd be ruling the moon now) (without a pause) if not press 1 for a directory lookup ("I want to break free" is the first song that comes to mind) or please hold while we transfer you to an attendant

you guessed it. the muzak countdown. same song. same cadences. Wonder if Jeopardy has a muzak round...

you are being transferred to an automated answering service. However, the person at extension {suppressed for privacy} does not subscribe to this service. Call forwarding cannot be completed at this time. Redirecting you to main switchboard. One moment please ...

(Ring ring ring) Finally, a human voice. She's confused as well. And she (no! no!) transfers me to the {name previously suppressed out of politeness} department. Here we go again ...

regular expressions and irregular forms of life

"Irregular forms of life" means "programmers". Just in case you didn't make the connection (but then, how could you?). Every programmer with substantial experience beyond kiddy projects has encountered regular expressions: the best example of a necessary evil. Why evil? Well, for the inherent complexity (yes, yes, once you figure them out, they're "cool". But do you always have a lot of time to figure them out, without your boss, instructor, teaching assistant or time consciousness breathing down your neck?). Why necessary? Because the recommended approaches for dealing with the kind of documents that you need to process using regular expressions often possess quirks that render the clean elegant solutions useless (eg. "XML" documents that contain dozens of illegal characters essentially make an elegant XML parsing methodology look stupid). Despite their efficiency, regular expresions do not conform to a standard. There are accepted conventions (mostly derived from Perl) that create the notion of expected behaviour. Clearly, if there is no standard, you aren't being fair if you berate and curse the regular expression support of another language (like Java, with its recent inclusion of an unsatisfying regular expression package). If you have a Perl background, your frustration is understandable, but by means is it a justifiable reason to spend a lot of time tearing your hair, cursing Java and getting nothing done. Python supports Perl-style regular expressions and I like using them (especially some new nuggets in the 2.2 series), but I am sure hardcore Perl-ites will find cause for dissent. Give Python or even Java some credit. Although regular expressions are a strange addition to the OO world of Java.
So what does the Google/Blogger tie-up mean?

Well, besides a potential multicoloured version of Blogger, there's the official FAQ: "Google liked our logo. And we liked their food". And then "We will be making some changes in our product line. We've been working on a new version of Blogger for some time now that will be coming out soon". Hope that means they're moving away from Microsoft SQL Server and its ilk. It was scary enough to find out my friendly neighbourhood ATM had Shiloh (Microsoft SQL Server 2000) breathing inside it.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

public exposure ... and reality beats satire

A couple of weeks ago, newspapers carried reports about Chelsea Clinton being in the running for a high-paying job at McKinsey. Now they scream out loud that she didn't make it. Imagine a bulletin board outside your college recruting office that had your name, your department and your photograph and updates next to your entry about jobs you were applying for, the companies that rejected you and so on. Ugh!

Channel-switching yesterday evening got me to CBS and there standing at a podium with a never fading smirk on his face was my vegetated namesake, George W Bush making yet another brain-dead proclamation about Iraq and incumbent war. Applause followed statements that didn't seem (a) inspirational (b) funny (c) both of the above. Everything felt like a Saturday Night Live sketch spoofing the White House. It's strange when truth can chillingly work better than satire. Wonder what prevents people from just ousting him from office and getting someone sane there before the whole nation goes for a toss...

Related: The truth beyond the folly(age) of Dubya | The Saddam and Bush Show {links courtesy: Chris}

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

space truckin' ghati style

In the aftermath of the Columbia disaster the Maharashtra State Textbook Board (MSTB) has decided to incorporate the "inspiring" life of Kalpana Chawla in school textbooks across the state. Maybe this will come as welcome relief to those sick of having Shivaji and his history shoved down their throats.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

current reads

A pile of books beside my bed. I'm reading several books at one time. And it's not tough to maintain a separate context for each one. After all, how can I mix rants about Harvey Weinstein and Miramax {Movie Wars: How Hollywood And The Media Conspire To Limit What Films We Can See}, a disturbing tale of schizophrenia {Spider}, a sprawling book about the inventor of the "Spaghetti westerns" tinged with a la recherche du temps perdu and the history of Italian cinema {Sergio Leone: Something to do with Death}, pragmatic advice on programming in Java {Effective Java}, and an interesting study of Bollywood and the Indian filmgoer {The Dream Merchants of Bollywood}. And there are the letters from the people who love me and care for me (credit card companies, travel companies, car insurance companies, shopping centres, missing people).
the bard and I

Your means are very slender, and your waste is great

I would it were otherwise; I would my means were greater, and my waist slenderer.

{acknowlegements: Henry IV Pt II Act I and Orson Welles}
the resurgence of being lost

Yahoo made a deal with Inktomi. Google bought Blogger {post}. Now Overture is buying Altavista [press release]. Cynthia Webb explores the newest fad in town.

Dave Winer: "I never imagined we'd be competing with Google". He notes that Blogger is now being implemented in Java. I wonder how long that has been, since I remember some really unfortunate ASP/VBScript errors and then there was the day Blogger was hacked.

Monday, February 24, 2003

81/2 and full metal jacket: directorial visions

Fellini's movie about a director trying to make his next movie is as autobiographically liberating as it gets. Exploiting film technique to exorcize his own misgivings and apprehensions, Fellini offers a stylized narrative that blends time and space to linearize the three phases of the human psyche: the past, the present and the realm of fantasy, using the last as a mating ground for memories, current events and wishful thinking. Full of great framing and composition and some well-orchestrated complex ensemble satire, the film's only irksome aspect is the lack of dubbing synchronization. Apparently, the Italian film studios were spacious and had been around long before sound came to movies. This meant that they were not soundproof. Tearing them down or refurbishing them wasn't worth the money. This meant that all filming was done using a wild track and all dialogues were dubbed after the film was shot and edited. Fellini had a habit of using people who matched his desired characters perfectly (thus eliminating any need for real acting prowess). Hence, most of his actors weren't professionally equipped to deal with the sensitive complexities inevitable in a dubbing session. Pity. Put that aside, and you have a great spectacle. I'm glad I had a chance to catch it on the big screen at an NFAI screening a few years ago. While that print wasn't a great one, the cinema hall experience is worth it (in my case, an annual membership). The Criterion Collection DVD boasts a great restoration as well as a tri-layered scene-specific audio essay by film critic and Fellini friend Bachmann, Gideon & NYU professor of film Antonio Monda. In case you were curious, the title refers to the number of movies Fellini had directed up until that point: 6 features and 3 short (1/2) films. Do the math: that adds up to "eight and a half".

Watching a Stanley Kubrick movie, knowing it's a Stanley Kubrick work, is tough for me. It's the greatest measure of negative bias possible. I have never been able to understand the man. His penchant for "creative" excess motivated by a super-fine attention to (often aggravating) detail often fails to make it to his finished works. Full Metal Jacket is a movie of episodes, and I caught the first one and half of the second one yesterday. Everything is understated and a lot of the jokes were just destroyed by familiarity or occasionally by just bad delivery. But more opinions will have to wait till I've seen the whole thing.

Saturday, February 22, 2003

the quiet american: every cynic has an innocence to lose and every innocent is capable of terrible harm

Philip Noyce's version of The Quiet American beats the Mankiewicz 1958 version by 2 minutes and makes up for the original version's biggest faux pas, altering the ending of the book, thus diluting (and even perhaps destroying) the cynicism of Greene's novel. Philip Noyce shot two films back to back: this one and Rabbit Proof Fence, both finally out in the theatres, a week apart. Betrayal seems to be a key theme in Greene's novels (I haven't read any Greene, but all the adaptations I've seen -- The Third Man, The End of the Affair and this movie -- seem to support this observation). The film opens from the point of view (as we later understand) of Thomas Fowler (Michael Caine making another consummate performance seem effortless), a correspondent for the London Times stationed in '50s Saigon during the protracted French Indochina War, as we hear him talk about Vietnam. The next thing we see is the dead body of Alden Pyle (Fraser). The film then moves to a flashback, allowing us to understand how Fowler and Pyle met and the events that culminated in Pyle's death. The subdued uninvolved but very British brevity of Fowler's narration presages his admission of his role in Vietnam: "I don't get involved ... I just report what I see". The arrival of Alden Pyle (Fraser), the quiet american of the title, an idealistic enthusiastic American aid worker, threatens to change that. It also adds tension to Fowler's relationship with his young Vietnamese mistress Phuong. The inevitable love triangle is set up, but marked by Pyle respectfully deferring to Fowler in all fair play, only to receive Fowler's cynicism and underplayed vitriol. The military violence serves as an unfortunate backdrop to the conflict. The irony of the title is soon evident in manifold.

The murky marshy and disillusioned beauty of Saigon faithfully augments the themes of Greene's compact novel: the smudged line that often separates loyalty and rivalry in friendships, the bewildering complexity of romantic love, the insecurities wrought by encroaching old age and both the value and the blind treachery of political idealism {reference}. The stunning cinematography and the wonderful brooding score of Craig Armstrong (which features the cimbalom) serve Noyce's vision well. Brendan Fraser, despite his commercial fare easily dismissable as fluff, proves once again (as he did in Gods and Monsters) that he is great support for eloquent actors (Caine in this film, Ian McKellan in Gods and Monsters). And the film goes into my list of "effective uses of the F-word" for its solitary usage of it {last entry: Far From Heaven}

The film was planned for release in the autumn of 2001. It was shelved after 9/11 when Miramax president Harvey Weinstein decided that the time was not right to point out the United States was capable of heinous terrorist acts of its own. The film languished for a year before Caine bullied Weinstein to relent, winning it a screening at the Toronto Film Festival. The response to the screening prompted Miramax to release the movie in time for consideration for the Oscars. This new release, ironically, appears at the eve of another dubious war, making the film more topical than anyone working on it would have imagined.

I have a quibble with the film. The use of a flashback is problematic. Unfortunately, this means we know how the love triangle is going to be resolved, and which character will die. This serves the allegories of the film, but the dramatic and romantic tension is diminished. That, however, does not discount this being a compelling tale of life, love, jealousy and betrayal.

Extract from Arthur Clough (1819-61)'s Dipsychus used in the film:

I drive through the street, and I care not a damn

The people they stare, and they ask who I am

And if I should chance to run over a cad

I can pay for the damage, if ever so bad


Noyce's 'American' finally realized

review of Greene's novel

Pox Americana

Friday, February 21, 2003

Filmfare Awards 2002

concluded in Indian time. The big winner was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's expensive nauseatingly opulent mainstream clichéd sobfest Devdas (Company would have been, IMHO, as a winner, a better indication of progress for the film industry, but then it's all about money). If I had to opine about every award, I'd be sued for hitting space limits on this web-hosting service. But for the record: the winners of the big four suck like a conglomerate of running vacuum cleaners.

As an aside, here's an update on yet another of Bollywood's claims to being different. {more musings on the anil kapoor movie}. My guess that it's a take on Training Day seems to be unfounded based on the plot according to Anurag Kashyap: My new film All Win Kalicharan produced by Tutu Sharma is amazing. The film stars Anil Kapoor and several stage artistes from Delhi. We have shown the markets crashing in 2008. In 2015, seven years later, everything goes haywire. There is no dividing line left between right and wrong or black and white. Everybody is corrupt and goes berserk. It is set in Hastinapur (formerly known as Delhi). The streets are full of magicians, belly dancers, trapeeze artistes and all kinds of people who offer momentary gratification.

It's Allwyn Kalicharan {added: Feb 26, 2003}

notables, trifles and commonalities

{Jaani Dushman: volume III}

There are several idioms of Bollywood cinema that recur in the film. Rather than peppering the inevitable detailed synopsis with redundant information, it is probably best to summarise them up front (or back, depending on how you view your action of scrolling down a page).

* The incongruity of songs in Bollywood narrative has been duly noted over several years. Of late, this has become a postmodern exercise, lacking, in a majority of cases, a sense of irony and satire. This film lives up to the conventional expectations one would have of a mainstream commercial Hindi film: songs appear out of nowhere (literally) and punctuate the linear[sic] narrative (already ridden with a large homomorphous flashback) with spatio-temporal discontinuity and improvisation. Dream sequences hop across continents and reality extends her arms to accomodate European streets as backdrops for the good old Hindi song that expresses clichéd love in a clichéd way with unimaginative dance steps and cross-pollinated clothing

* Sanity and caution compete as they are thrown to the lions (who chose to ignore them as well) when characters in the film don and shed motivation, characteristics, behavioural patterns and morphological profiles at every instance of every frame -- a faux priest who embelishes his inadequate English with a strong North Indian accent functions as the principal (perhaps) of a generic college, a watchman at a ladies hostel, a professor of parapsychology, a medium, an occult quack, and a medallion peddler (a la Gene Roddenberry)

Thursday, February 20, 2003

what counts more than the possession of things - [...] - is the remembrance of things, the memory of things

One of de Sica's last movies The Garden of the Finzi-Continis opens with some spectacular autumnal views of Ferrara, Italy in 1939. A winner of many accolades, this lyrical dreamy literary film explores anti-Semitism with a twist focusing on privileged Jewish citizens of Italy who hope to isolate themselves from the ugliness of the political climate. Interesting film, although it's literary baggage along with the impression I got that this was a "French film made in Italian" (fast dialogues, upper class manners) made it a rather stuffy experience. This Sony Pictures Classics remastered tale of the Holocaust comes close after The Pianist, which I caught on Sunday. Different films. Different experiences.

conjectures, claims and subtexts

{Jaani Dushman: volume II}

Despite being a badly made commercial mainstream Bollywood film sagging under the weight of clichés incorporated without a whiff of postmodernism, Jaani Dushman promises several interesting aspects worthy of study, which, sadly, merit little to no attention:

* The transcendental polysexuality manifested by the doomed lead pair of Kapil and Vasundhara/Divya, who can invade/occupy or morph into any known material form (e.g. fellow human beings; parrots; dude on a motorcycle; hawk) while their preferred physical forms are snakes

* The struggle for acceptance and domination by Kapil, the most inept ichhadhaari naag ever seen in the history of serpentine shapeshifters

* The fickle and vacillating aspects of friendship, camaraderie, love, betrayal and bad college education

* The ambiguity of identity and the multiplicity of human roles: For example, the unnamed father figure [he actually dresses up like a priest complete with cassock, goatee and cross and surrounds himself with pictures of different religious figures] who is seen as an authoritative entity, a professor of parapsychology, a medium, a wrestling bout judge, a master of the occult who has trouble making good decisions about when to put his abilities to appropriate use

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

blah blah blah blog blah blah blah internet

The Ultimately Publishable Computer Science Paper for the Latter '90s: A Tip for Authors is a great example that shows even academicians have a great sense of humour. This article appeared in the January 1997 issue of the Communications of the ACM. {link courtesy: Lakshmish}

3D studio: desi ishtyle

{Jaani Dushman: volume I}

What if Dev Anand decided to make a horror film? The answer is: Jaani Dushman, Raj Kumar Kohli's outrageous addition to his trilogy of abysmal offspring launchers. The offspring: Armaan Kohli, renamed Munish Kohli for this film (for tax purposes?). This is the most glorious accomplishment ever to come out of Bollywood and deserves every nibble of electronic blog space it gets. First off, some facts:

* This is probably the first Bollywood film ever to feature a muscular skeleton. Perhaps the fact that it's Manisha Koirala will serve as an explanation

* This movie has one of the highest values for the cherished metric that is "star actor cameos per inch of film"

* This is also a movie that relies on the supporting cast to elevate its state as well as the well-being of Munish Kohli, the "star" for whom the film serves as a launchpad (again)

* This is the first film to present surreal and expressionist interpretations of special effects from Hollywood blockbusters like The Matrix, Terminator 2 and Star Wars (the entire canon) within the confines of a bloated ill-spent budget accompanied by juvenile usage of cutting edge tools like 3D Studio Max, Alias Wavefront and Microsoft Powerpoint.

coming soon: a breakup of the elements that justify a place for this film in the history books.

In the meantime, enjoy another synopsis/review.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

your call is very important to us

This familiar line is followed by the finest muzak on the planet every time you attempt to get in touch with Customer Service[sic] about them screwing up. It's nice how they are oh-so prompt when you are the one who goofed, but have a strong defense system when it's their turn to own up.

Thank you for calling ... we'll be with you shortly

To put it mildly, I have been in negotiations with a utility company about a refund cheque they owed me for a service I terminated a long while ago. It all started with me discovering the catch in the system: your account is credited with the balance, and you actually have to call them them up and tell them that you would like a cheque instead of an account credit (especially if the account makes no sense any more). After that they decide to send you a cheque. This is a multistage process where each stage can fail arbitrarily and there is no notion of atomicity (peopl working with databases will get my drift here). This means that department A sends a cheque request to department B while checking off a flag in the system to the effect that your credit has been refunded. Department B screws up but department A never finds out. Meanwhile, seasons change, your patience grows thin and it's time to give them a call again (also a good time to check out the muzak top 10). It's the same drill. And since you've had a great time dealing with utility companies, you know (you just know) that they are going to screw up again. And again. And this in the US of A, much touted as the place to be (especially among Indians who cite the efficiency of utility services as a good reason to be here). Pah!

Let me take you down to another cesspool of customer service. This time it's the insurance company (and that's something everyone in the US of A must deal with). The atomicity paradox goes into play yet again and now I find out I wasn't covered for a certain period (despite all signs of the contrary) of time (read: months). This should make a lot of Americans go into shock and collapse. When they finally discover that Employee X (even they don't know who!) did not actually process my form, they call me back (nice touch there, confuse the oponent) to let me know I'm finally covered -- here comes the twist -- even in the past. Now time travel is scientifically impossible, but the insurance companies seem to have their own working version of it, right there in their offices. They are effectively going to (a) deny me benefits for the months I wasn't covered (no surprise there) and (b) bill me for those months (claiming that I was covered during that period, by simply putting an appropriate start date on the insurance card). Nice. Of course the representative is kind enough to let me know that I must promptly send them a letter requesting a new start date and thus prevent any back-billing. This I do at once (astounding myself with my efficiency). Now, a month later, I call back to find out what the happened, and I am told that they never received a letter. Clearly, my address and mailing protocol works only when (a) I have bills to pay (b) I get junk mail. Kafka-esque. Sadly.

Monday, February 17, 2003

Who wants to cook Aloo Gobi when you can bend a ball like Beckham?
Caught an advance screening of Bend It Like Beckham yesterday at AMC Phipps. Along with a mixed bag of people: the Indian diaspora (rather in a minority), and a multitude of Americans (a lot of whom seemed to have arrived thanks to notices in respective film clubs). The movie is a ball (no pun intended) of fun, and just like her chief influence Ken Loach, director Gurinder Chadha's jokes in Hindi/Punjabi got laughs from everyone, transcending linguistic and cultural barriers. The icing on the cake was a Q & A session with the director herself after the screening. I even got to pipe in a question of my own, about the influence of Ken Loach on her filmmaking. Her response: She admired him for his consistent integrity and vision spanning an impressively long and sturdy filmography. The other questions were predictably about the making of the film. The representative Indian diaspora question was a tad uncomfortable. It started off as a question about Indians being accepted in the mainstream in the US and the UK (peppered with a rather flat joke about Indians "not yet being Republican"). GC's response was interesting: she was sure that the UK mainstream had been more welcoming and accomodating than the US mainstream (thus thwarting the assumption of the question). She mentioned Tony Blair at which apna guest piped: but he's an American poodle. Rather gauche. Luckily, the brief bad taste was lost in a mood that continued to be informal and informative. For those interested, there's a repeat advance screening (minus the Q&A) on Feb 25. The film hits Atlanta in March 2003. Although the tidyness of the plot is predictable, the film's enthusiasm and earnest make it an irresistable delight. Great poster too. Tip: Fans of the irreverent TV series Goodness Gracious Me will see a few familiar faces.

Four Word Reviews
the symantecs of silence

After 9/11, there was a splurge of news reports pointing fingers at several people and organisations within the US government who "knew" about the event and failed to act upon the information to possibly prevent it. The Microsoft SQL Server Slammer worm presents another example. Security firm Symantec is boasting that it discovered the worm hours before the rapid propagation and delivered timely alerts (to select customers), enabling administrators to protect against the attack. Needless to say, security experts are furious.


Google just bought Pyra Labs, responsible for Blogger on Thursday last. {slashdot} {sixapart} {nytimes}

{Is Google too powerful?} [added: Feb 22, 2002]
a musical action-packed weekend

indian music. daabha. indian music. the carnival of the animals. dvorak. indian music. the pianist.

Saturday, February 15, 2003

writing los angeles is "a spanning anthology of writing about America's provocative city of dreams". Released a while ago, the book includes contributions from Simone de Beauvoir, Aldous Huxley, David Thomson, Jack Kerouac, Raymond Chandler, and Robert Towne, who reflects on the origins of his screenplay for the fine colour noir ode to the decadence of the city, Chinatown. I sampled the book (and especially this article) at Borders today. No plans or stimuli to buy the book (especially with the whopping price tag of $40), but it will make a good loan from the public library.

Friday, February 14, 2003

the wrath of khan: an exercise in reuse and trends

Finished Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan yesterday night, twice if I may add: once as is, in the restored director's cut (released in 2002 along with the last TNG movie Nemesis) accompanied by very informative and entertaining text commentary by Michael Okuda; and the second time with commentary from director Nick Meyer. The idea for text commentary is pretty cool, if I may say so (for lack of anything more literary to say about it). This is widely regarded as the best of the Star Trek movies, and for its impact on the rest of the movies and the subsequent TV spinoffs, I must agree. The film is also an exercise in recycling:

* props from the abandoned Star Trek: Phase II project, the disastrous first movie, Conquest of Space, The Towering Inferno

* Heavy reuse of sets with marginal alterations: all the bridge scenes were filmed on the same set. Sets from the first Star Trek movie (parts from the Klingon bridge) reappear here.

The other cool aspects of the movie include:

* Rich literary references (thanks to Nick Meyer) like Moby Dick, Paradise Lost and King Lear (the inevitable Shakespearean element scattered across the Star Trek canon)

* The little cameo by composer James Horner, walking down a corridor

* Numerous firsts: The first (and only) time we see Kirk using a wristwatch; the first time we see a photon torpedo; the first time you see someone vacuuming a starship floor; the first time you see a "no smoking" sign (on the bridge); strong heritage of the navy in the protocol, dialogue, sets and costumes

more books ...

just popped over to AFPL and picked up Patrick McGrath's Spider (the basis for David Cronenberg's latest movie), and two tech tomes: one on PHP/MySQL and the other on J2EE. The weight of modularity and enterprise hype. And now, back to Sierra Mist and some Jamacian Kola Champagne.
taaza (fresh) writing

Being as I have been deprived of creative inspiration in domains other than software development for a long time now, I finally managed to finish a little something dedicated to 50% of the feline population of our house (namely, one of the two adorable [insert other suitable words from the world of mush] bundles of joy prancing about the carpet all day) that also contains scant elements of post-modernism and James Joyce. If you can't find them, don't worry. You are not alone. Here are my matutinal musings.
love in times square is out. And Dave Kehr of the NYTimes has a review out there, that strangely sidelines the film's flaws and recommends it: "those looking for a vacation from the irony and the cruelty that have invaded so much of American popular culture, this scruffy little Indian film is a delightful getaway". I'm getting sick of this American phenomenon of "discovering" foreign cultural representatives based on mostly sub-standard fare heavily marketed by capitalist studios (something that Jonathan Rosenbaum condemns artfully in his book Movie Wars, currently on my reading list). {link courtesy: Chris}

Related: The eternal romantic
my blog is a year old

It's been a year since I started my blog. February 13, 2002. Ash Wednesday (which will fall on March 05 this year). It's been a rather interesting year, both on this public solipsistic journey as well as off it. Made a lot of new friends. Re-established ties with some old friends. Helped make blogging infectious. Aur kya chahiye?.

sun memo was two years old ...

While confirming the authenticity of the internal memo that made it to the Internet last week, Sun Microsystems insists that (a) the memo is two years old (b) the problems it describes have been fixed. Scott McNealy is quoted to have said: "[Solaris] runs Java like the wind".
patented circumlocution

Legalspeak has always been a source of much travail and cognitive overload and hence an inevitable target for satire. Sometimes, you don't even need to change anything in what you read to come up with a gem. Think of these examples as excellent uncut diamonds. Like this patent for a Device for providing sanitary covers for toilet seats filed by Japanese inventors (one can argue for either the appropriateness or the irony of the example). The abstract reads:

A device provides a sanitary cover for a toilet seat when a toilet seat cover makes contact with a toilet seat as happens when the toilet seat cover is closed. The device includes a toilet seat cover which holds a plurality of toilet seat sanitary covers, and means for clamping a sanitary cover. The means for clamping are disposed at an end of the toilet seat and clamps a portion of a toilet seat sanitary cover when the toilet seat cover and the toilet seat make contact. The act of closing the toilet seat cover clamps a toilet seat sanitary cover kept inside the toilet seat cover and positions it on the toilet seat..

Thursday, February 13, 2003


Wednesday, February 12, 2003

news melange

to cover up for my lack of anything to say/post: gaming is good for you especially since RedHat has received federal security certification, and we all wonder if HTML's time is over and argue that schools should quit using Microsoft products (since they seem to be doing so for, apparently, the wrong reasons)... and then people like me read with keen interest when database pioneers ponder the future.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

california pizza kitchen and botany bay
oscar nominations are out. Miramax dominates (again?). And then there's Rob Marshall.


was what I was yesterday. After a rather low turnout on the monthly South Asian Writers Group meeting, First China Seafood Restaurant (they also serve other dishes too, just in case you don't care too much for sea food), right aside Boulangerie. Great portions. Consequently, I headed home with way too much good food in me, and a promise for some flatulence.

who but a Nazi would deny that Karl Marx was a German... because he was a Jew?

This and the fascination with clocks. Things that stand out along with some great camerawork in The Stranger, Orson Welles' most conventional film, made only to prove that he could also make a movie by the numbers, on schedule and without any "artistic" hangups. Although I had seen it two months ago on TCM, I welcomed the chance to catch this little studio product again, this time on DVD {sidenote: one thing that can be skipped completely is the rather frivolous sparse and inane commentary by Jeffrey Lyons -- clearly, he had very little to say}.

Monday, February 10, 2003

He said he looks silly in his tennis clothes

That's the last line of the last scene in the British version of Strangers on a train, which was on the flip side of the DVD I picked up a week ago. Spent most of the afternoon on Sunday piecing the differences between the British and American releases of the film (having different versions was something almost unheard of from Hitchcock, and despite this being a strong film there's evidence of uncertainty and improvisation here. He also had two different endings for Topaz, which was a much weaker film. And then there's the post-coda scene in Vertigo).

Highly recommended is the segment on special effects for A Beautiful Mind {reactions and review}. The other special features are really big-studio wishy-washy and so-so missable.

Saturday, February 08, 2003

no place for sholay in the archives

The National Film Archives of India (last heard losing precious rare negatives in a fire) does not have a copy of Sholay in the vault. For those not in the know, Sholay (despite its post-modern moments of pastiche) has been regarded as arguably the most influential film ever to come out of Bollywood (call it Hindi cinema's Citizen Kane if you will). What is worse, the NFAI has a copy of the box-office success Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (which achieved more at the box office than in the cinematic progression department), and this copy was acquired not from the producer, but from the lost property department of the Indian Railways. Truly India does not possess a culture of appreciating its rich cinematic heritage (my acerbic posts about recent trends in Bollywood filmmaking only reflect the continued disregard that the new generation of yuppie director wannabes have for our rich legacy in filmmaking).
Sun admits Java is impractical for software applications {courtesy: blogdex}

If an internal memo at Sun Microsystems is to be believed, there are rumbles within the home of Java, the most hyped/popular enterprise application development language around today: Sun's own engineers, while not discounting Java's benefits over C/C++ have concluded that its implementation on Solaris makes it difficult to deliver reliable applications. A key problem is the required Java Runtime Environment (JRE), which is larger on Solaris than comparable runtime environments when one considers the amount of memory dedicated to a specific program (according to the menu, the typical resident set required for a Java2 Hello World program is 9 megs, which, in one word, is ridiculous). According to a study in 2000, the Python runtime required was about 1.6 megs (Python was chosen for comparison because of the features it shares with Java: Object-Oriented, with support for web applications, serialization, internet connections and native interfaces). {abstract of study report | PDF}.
I open my eyes and I see nothing

These are the words that open Russian Ark, a Russian art house film that hit a few theatres in Atlanta this week, which will perhaps be more remembered for its staggering technical achievements than anything else. The piece de resistance is a single shot lasting 95 minutes while moving through 33 rooms in the world's largest museum, the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg (which also encompasses the Winter Palace). This would make it the longest Steadicam sequence ever shot. It is also the first uncompressed high definition film recorded on a portable hard-disk system rather than film or tape before being transferred to 35-millimeter. While the film looks wondrous and glorious (and coming from someone like me who has little to no knowledge of Russian history, no hypersensitivity to the finer cerebral aspects of art, that's the best you can get from the dress circle), its technical feats threaten to overwhelm its content. And the content here is nothing like Orson Welles' Touch of Evil (which opened with a daring long serpentine tracking crane and dolly shot and arguably more difficult to set up). It's something for the culturally inclined: complex aesthetic and theoretical historical commentary. I am reminded of Eisenstein's October, which also featured the Winter Palace. Eisenstein was known for his reliance on montage to convey impressions and narrative. This film seems to be a strong retort to this, eschewing montage completely in favour of one single long shot. I have always associated the emotion of claustrophobia with such experiments (like Alfred Hitchcock's Rope, a flawed but interesting experiment in long takes, limited only by the need to change film reels), and Russian Ark did make me feel uncomfortable at some points, but this was probably not a directorial intention. The langorous speech of the French Stranger/Guide was rather irritating, and most of the film seemed filled with the kind of pretentious throwaway intellectual human behaviour I had come to loathe on screen ever since my first movie in the US, Time Regained (my lack of appreciation for this movie of lovely visuals and time play may stem from my complete lack of interest in the works of Proust).

I also caught a poster for David Cronenberg's Cannes pleaser from 2002, Spider, on the walls of LeFont Garden Hills (where we caught this movie). This is cool. I'm looking forward to its release here in Atlanta, hoping to make it my first Cronenberg movie on the big screen.

Trivia tail note :All the music that you heard in Touch of Evil originated from sound sources within the film (radio transmissions, jukeboxes, player piano), and Welles is supposed to have been the first to use this type of soundtrack (although Hitchcock's Rear Window preceded this film by a few years). And the next time you watch Psycho, you'll probably catch some of the similarities.

stumped [previous post in thread]

a new music video directed by Mahesh Manjrekar featuring him along with his pals (Sanjay Dutt, Sunil Shetty, Salman Khan) and other celebrities and non-actors like Diya Mirza, Raveena Tandon, legends like Salim Khan, divas like Suneeta Rao, Sagarika, singers like Shaan and Sudesh Bhosle and an overweight Chiranjeevi and a blink-and-you'll-miss him Vyankatesh. the goal: to provide encouragement and support for the Indian Cricket team for the upcoming World Cup. A dull song with nothing special to redeem it, strictly by-the-numbers. Apparently, the song is also on the soundtrack of the forthcoming Raveena Tandon starrer of the same name. Grief is probably not the right word, but it's the first word that comes to mind.

More thanks to AVS, I caught a glimpse of the over-hyped and delayed Boney Kapoor production Khushi, and what stuck in memory after the clip was done was the ghostly (ghastly) Kareena Kapoor hamming away with Fardeen Khan (slumming away) with Amrish Puri doing another movie strictly for the salary against a background conspicuously dominated by a hoarding for Mirinda. Sadly, Bollywood's current releases (despite the trouble the industry is in) continue to comprise the same elements: filmed in the US or presenting dull specious imitations of NRI/PIO culture, revisionist tired cliched melodies accompanied by amateur cheap club rhythms churned out on the most expensive synthesizers they can afford, aggressive unsubtle plugging for corporate sponsors, star children totally devoid of any acting abilities, ... the list is endless. When will they ever learn?

Friday, February 07, 2003

yet another mexican restaurant

not quite. but taqueria nayarit on Boulevard has some fine food and great prices, despite the rundown daunting neighbourhood it seems housed in. I tried out their Cuban sandwich (so I could have something to compare the marvel available at Kool Korners Grocery). Very filling and tasty, especially the cheese that acquired some great taste thanks to the mix of the other ingredients. Chips and salsa on the side, needless to say. The television and the jukebox churned out latino entertainment that seemed to bear a very strong resemblance to conventional Indian tele-soaps and mushy melodies respectively.

They'll talk to ya and talk to ya and talk to ya about individual freedom. But they see a free individual, it's gonna scare 'em

Caught the remastered version of Easy Rider on DVD yesterday, and the film is as (perhaps more) glorious as the first time I caught it in a film class. Being mostly a film about the times, trials, tribulations and political ideologies of the 60s, the film does seem to sag in portions, but all in being very faithful to the decade it stands as a testament for. At the highest level, this is a film about a journey of discovery, a bike movie with two friends heading out to make it big, with the sexual revolution of Mardi Gras and money from a drug deal to settle down in Florida. The fatalistic voyage in reverse (from west to east, instead of 'go west') also works as a western (Wyatt [Earp] and Billy[the Kid] on their bikes [horses] passing through Monument Valley) and as a parable about religion and self (the film is peppered with references and allusions). All this is accompanied by a great soundtrack that underscores the "true to life" performances from the leads (including Dennis Hopper's patent-pending hippie take and a pre-cliche Jack Nicholson) and some innovative editing (jump cuts that serve to foreshadow events of the future). The DVD also has commentary by Dennis Hopper and Shaking the Cage, an enlightening documentary of reminiscences about a movie that got made purely out of intention and chance, rather than informed calculation.

the royal tenenbaums: understated composition

the first thing I thought of when I got The Royal Tenenbaums from the public library was Paul Thomas Anderson. Sadly, they aren't related. Why sadly? Well, because of several reasons. One, this DVD set (part of The Criterion Collection, normally associated with classics) is packaged just like P T Anderson's Boogie Nights (which I caught last year). Two, both display the trademark signs of a new generation of smart postmodern filmmakers who are a little too aware of their craft and its past, and seem bent on making cerebral movies which ostensibly appear mainstream (trying to emulate Hitchcock, who, in my humble opinion, was the only director who effectively married cinematic style and technique with populist taste to produce a stunning ouevre of enduring masterpieces). Despite all the attention lavished on these "brothers", I don't really want to start the confetti and hosannas yet. My reactions to The Royal Tenenbaums seem to collide with Roger Ebert's effusive outpourings. Stephanie Zacharek
observes that "Wes Anderson is more interested in his own precocity than he is in his characters". I am inclined to agree. While (especially) Gene Hackman and Anjelica Houston turn in great performances, the story and the characters are overwhelmed by, and surrender to, the film's extreme understated tone and all we have is a large collection of wonderfully framed and composed moments that never quite make it above the surface (to wit: Wes Anderson apparently has been raising the number of people he sends underwater, with 3 being the number for this film. On the subject of 3: that vignette has several hints to the number -- the book chapter that it represents, the number of sardines that Richie feeds Mordecai and the book that Richie is reading ["Three Plays" by his sister Margot]). While the deadpan tone works for some of the moments in the film, it overstays its welcome and becomes, just like the intended setting, a nothing device in a film set in a "nowhere in particular". As for the post-modern nods, in addition to that numerological bit before, there's also the opening of the film with narration and an introduction of the characters (Alec Baldwin) which recalls Orson Welles' butchered classic The Magnificent Ambersons, the comic book look of the whole film, directorial trademarks so early on in one's career (which include the underwater motif, the use of favourite actors -- Kumar Pallana for Wes Anderson, while P T Anderson had his own coterie)... usw. Clever filmmaking, but the soul's taken a vacation. Despite the great little nuggets in the film, it's still a collection of jokes what don't amuse you, but give you a hard whack on the head, demanding attention. This is the new generation of filmmaking: conscious control of creative output at every level, accidents of pure genius are no longer welcome on the shooting lot.
first round: bappi

Happy Lahiri. That's what Bappi is these days. He won round one of the Kaliyon ka Chaman case. aka the Truth Hurts dilemma. And I have to steal this image off the article. It just rocks:
bappi lahiri cartoon

Thursday, February 06, 2003

a handful of music and nostalgia

it's been drizzling all day. add to that the rather strange setup of lights failing to hit the white walls in the office, and you have portends of a dungeon. respect the importance of a window at work and keep it holy, i say! a visit to the nicely located Decatur branch of the Dekalb County Library got me some solace. I've got the special Godfather DVD collection back to catch up on all the stuff I missed out on last time because I had to return the item. I also got the special 2-DVD edition of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, arguably the best of all the Star Trek movies. And it's widescreen. Just the special features were enough to trigger fond memories of mornings/afternoons/evenings/nights spent before the tube digesting even scientifically incorrect bit of entertainment the original series managed to dish out. And then there are four CDs: Straight Up/Little Charlie and the Nightcats (west-coast barroom blues, but mostly just for the song I Can't Speak No Spanish (No Hablo Espanol)), Greatest Hits/Stevie Ray Vaughn & Double Trouble, Greatest Hits II (great catch what?!) and Greatest Hits/The Searchers arguably the best best-of for this band, and predictably another great compilation from Rhino. Not to forget two extremely readable books: Religions of Star Trek and Movie Wars, Jonathan Rosenbaum's intelligent yet overlong vicious reactions to the big-studio practices that are ruining American film culture.

Nostalgia is definitely in the air. JR just started a reminiscence on AIT's best-loved export, the Gen. B C Joshi Memorial Quiz.

columbia/space truckin'

The US media continues to transport the recent space shuttle tragedy from shock, to grief, to reactions, to diluted overkill, to (not yet, but coming soon) parody and satire. An interesting (I use the word with great care, mind you) aspect was the musical connection the mission. To be precise, the Deep Purple connection. Moved by Deep Purple at her first-ever rock concert, Kalpana Chawla chose 20 CDs to carry aboard the STS-107 mission, including "Machine Head" and "Purpendicular", both selected because they had aviation/space-related songs ("Space Truckin'" and "The Aviator", respectively). Also carried on the flight are CDs by several Indian musicians including Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Hariprasad Chaurasia, and Ravi Shankar among others, Midori, Thelonius Monk, Steve Vai (for the rock and roll Hindu prayer on "Ultra Zone"), and Blackmore's Night. Also included is Rainbow's "Down to Earth", selected for Don Airey since there are not yet any DP Mk.8 releases. She also requested that Shadow of the Moon (Blackmore's Night) be played for the wake up music on board the space shuttle flight. She took a copy of Shadow of the Moon with her. All of these CDs were to be sent to the respective artists after the mission with certificates of flight.

Related Links

Blackmore's Night Curiosities

Space Truckin'/STS-107

Blackmore's Night | Reviews {scroll down to the end to see the blurb for Shadow of the Moon}

Wednesday, February 05, 2003

the magic of american marketing

I got a letter from Progressive Auto Insurance yesterday "thanking me for being a responsible driver" (and to save me "up to $400 in the process"). This is encouraging, considering I don't drive (which means I don't have a car, and hence car insurance). Of course, mathematically that makes me a really responsible driver. The envelope flap also had a rather cute message: "Dear Postman, We know your feet are tired from all that walking, but please deliver this letter promptly to the address indicated. What's inside is pretty cool)". Now postmen are rather prompt with junk mail, but are quite careless on important mail. I've missed bills and refund cheques in the past, forcing me to interact (ugh!) with customer service (aka: a lengthy introduction to muzak | aka: interaction with the longest chain of people you'd want to murder in person). This reminds me of the couple of occasions when some random American Driving Club signed me up as a member, charging my credit card in the process and forcing me to interact ... (you know the rest). Then there these technical magazines with high subscription rates, that seem to send you free issues without asking you to pay (cool, but scary).

Tuesday, February 04, 2003

a philosophical take on progressive rock is what Avant Rock (another haul from AFPL) promises to be. Bill Martin is first and foremost a writer of philosophical ideas. He has brought this intellectual baggage to the musical domain to produce other interesting books, but this will my first taste of his writing. The first couple of chapters are full of those references to authors and important thinkers of the domain of philosophy and classical music that I fail to understand (and hence appreciate). But there's the interesting notion of materialism, which has encouraged me to press on. Keep an open mind, I say.

The public library is also a place to find reading treasures ... for cheap. I picked up my first Clive Barker book The Inhuman Condition for 2 quarters and a brand-new hardbound edition of AntiPatterns for 4. A good deal methinks, which helped cloud the obvious irritation at the undergoing construction at the nearby train station.

governing dynamics

So close to The Cabinet of Dr Caligari I caught A Beautiful Mind yesterday evening. There's a common theme of loss of contact with reality, but only this and nothing more. The biggest grouse I had was that the public library (where I picked this DVD as well as The Royal Tenenbaums and Strangers on a Train) has also gone the BlockBuster way of reinventing the horror of full screen versions of movies, unfaithful to their original widescreen vision. More and more consumers who don't give two bits to filmic authenticity and intention are purchasing DVD players and the nightmare begins all over again (history does indeed repeat itself). Despite its trappings of a "made for Oscar" film, A Beautiful Mind is a very engaging film. This despite my constant uncomplimentary vision of director Ron Howard as the actor from Eat My Dust. The beautiful talented Jennifer Connelly offers able support to the over-criticised Russell Crowe in a role that deserved more from the writing department. John Nash's story is one of many uplifting stories of human struggle and achievement and there are undoubtedly numerous complexities that would have been interesting to tackle but would fail to fly in the domain of the big studio big-budget mass audience market which this film is made for. Don't get me wrong. This is a far far better film than most other Oscar-fests that abound in sentimental tripe and scenic pornography (with post-modern Max Steiner-esque floods of string sections). The device used to give the audience an idea of Nash's schizophrenia is an old one ... even recent viewers of The Sixth Sense can see it coming a mile away, but it gives Ed Harris' excellent performance an added edge of dread and menace. Especially fulfilling is the car chase sequence which (if you are paying attention to the detail instead of the movie) is executed (with good accompaniment from James Horner) as a dream sequence, where the horror of the action is underplayed by the expected shock and surprise of Nash at the goings-on about him. None of the other elements (the sub-dermal access code, the drop zone, the encounters with William Parcher) are played for their gothic undertones. They function to bring the audience over into Nash's (beautiful) mind, which is what the film is about. I liked the scenes like the inevitable pen ceremony in the tea room and Nash's acceptance speech at the Nobel (didn't someone notice it's spelt Nobel and not Noble?!), which could have succumbed to the lure of saccharine sentimentality and Kleenex breaks, but continue to float on Ron Howard's determination to make the best film he could in the thankless constrained mainstream genre that it would be slotted in.

My only grouse is that everyone else but Nash who is a significant supporting entity in his saga (including his wife Alicia) fades into the scenery as a prop for the most part without enough multi-dimensional treatment that would have made this film more satisfying beyond its evident aspects.

As an aside, my liking this film is probably a good sign. It's about time we got back to enjoying movies instead of seeking subcutaneous meanings to understand and elucidate. The simple things are often the toughest things to do.

Monday, February 03, 2003

music ... and movies

pastoral nocture ducks better off dead the simpsons risqué the man with the movie camera a tutorial on modernism

Saturday, February 01, 2003

friday night - saturday night

the cabinet of dr caligari ocean's 11 (in full screen ... bah!)
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