Friday, December 31, 2010

tagline of the moment

While browsing through the mystery section of a used book store, I ended up at the section within M occupied by the works of John D. MacDonald. Quite a few titles, even though I knew next to nothing about them, were attractive simply because they were older editions and sported interesting covers. One such was A Bullet for Cinderella, a great title in itself, which sported the funniest tagline I have seen in a long long time: people who live in glass slippers shouldn't kick stones. I should have bought the book just for that tagline.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

transcriptional subterfuge

I was listening to Fresh Air last night on NPR and Terry Gross was running a retrospective of the most memorable interviews conducted this year. The pick for the night was a conversation with Jon Stewart. I couldn't listen to the entire segment, but in what I managed to relish, Jon Stewart explained how what they did on The Daily Show was analysis and not journalism:

We're just going off our own instinct of, 'What are the connections to this that make sense?' And this really is true: We don't fact-check ... look at context because of any journalistic criterion that has to be met; we do that because jokes don't work when they're lies.

I was so pleased to hear someone use criterion, the doomed singular form of criteria and correctly at that.

When I got to a computer with an Internet connection, I went online to read the transcript of the entire conversation and was shocked to see that the transcribed version at NPR was erroneous:

We're just going off our own instinct of, 'What are the connections to this that make sense?' And this really is true: We don't fact-check [and] look at context because of any journalistic criteria that has to be met; we do that because jokes don't work when they're lies.

Did you see that? Someone decided to (presumably) correct what Mr. Stewart had said and, in doing so, produced a version that is incorrect and does not do justice to Mr. Stewart's rather carefully correct usage. I have to admit that I didn't expect something like this from NPR.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

translational subterfuge

I was in the aisle dedicated to space heaters in Wal*Mart a few weeks ago examining the various items on the shelves. While reading the notes on the boxes, I noticed that quite a few of them (not all from the same manufacturer) seemed to be sport a rectangle of text and graphics titled "What type of heater do I need?" -- below this headline was a table telling you what kind of heaters offered different listed features. Each box had two such rectangles: one in English and the other in Spanish. The English version listed key benefits as "quick, even heat" for fan-forced heaters and "quick, powerful heat" for ceramic heaters. In the Spanish version, the same text calor rápido y uniforme was used for both. Surely there is a difference between "even" and "powerful."

Friday, December 24, 2010

7 weddings and no bard in sight

It's out! It's out! The first glimpse of Vishal Bhardwaj's next, 7 Khoon Maaf (no more doubts about the title now) is out. Go watch it first and come back I say!

Despite the familiarity of the fades and cuts, this is a trailer mercifully far removed from conventional Bollyfare. Although the song you hear doesn't hit the same high as the hit song in Kaminey's trailer, the accordion lends the proceedings an adequate old-fashioned exotic texture and charm. Rekha gets to let her voice run down yet another interesting channel and teams up with Usha Uthup after years (the last time we heard them together was on raajaa kii kahaanii in Godmother, again for Vishal). Other interesting elements include the combination of colours for the titles, the sumptuous colours, the number 7 appearing inside a coffin on one of the inter-titles, Annu Kapoor and a tip (surely?) to The Bride Wore Black (which isn't hard to either do or avoid, considering that it would fit well with the goings-on).

Who knew this time I am going to drink his blood? could sound like this?

elsewhere: JR does the honours at the Vishal Bhardwaj blog.

scribbles lying around

(being some random notes lying around waiting to be deleted)

Finally summoning the gumption to do so, I watched the trailer of Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Guzaarish. All I could think of at the end of the collection of frames that bore the undeniable brand of Bhansali was "The Prestige meets the sets and texture of Black with the fonted dreams of Saawariya.

Bollywood has a strong tradition of connotation that has been sadly ill documented and has not received enough academic attention. The names of iconic villains is the best example, but relatively less unsubtle examples come from the names of the principal characters and the supporting cast. The memory banks got a nudge when, during a conversation over the telephone, a friend noted that "a film starring Salman Khan, Urmila Matondkar and Shammi Kapoor (playing daadaajii)" was running on some cable channel. It was not so hard to guess the name of the film: Jaanam Samjha Karo, the inauspicious directorial début of Majrooh Sultanpuri's son Andaleeb Sultanpuri. How could one forget the musical bombs (the title song, I was made for loving you and love hua) that Anu Malik had conjured for the film at the height of his dabbling in Hinglish howlers? I went online to refresh my memory of the film and noticed the names of the characters Salman and Urmila played. Our hero's name was Rahul (last name unimportant) and our heroine's name was Chandni. Rahul means moon and Chandni means moonlight. Remember all the lyrics based on the you are the X I am your Y format (X = poet and Y = poetry or X = shamaa and Y = parawaanaa)?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

dinosaur in the new age

A: does X have a number to call you back?
B: this is my number
A: which is?
B: (tells A what the phone number is)

Until this, what surprised me most was how people in Atlanta assumed that you had a car. This had led to utterances like it's less than 20 minutes from here, which actually meant that you had to take one or more interstate highways -- the sprawl's closest approximation of as the crow flies -- and then drive (or cruise) along to a certain exit and then take a few turns to get to the location in question. To be fair to the sprawl, this assumption is not an ill-founded one, but I tended to respect people who directed you without this assumption (something as simple as If you took I-75N, it would take you about 20 minutes to get there made a big difference).

But now it was caller ID. In this new century dominated by cellphones and internet telephony, a POTS line might seem anachronistic, but is hardly surprising. So assuming that you had caller ID (which is not free and not part of basic service, although most consumers seem inclined to sign up for it either in order to suppress all those annoying telemarketing calls or because it seems like "just a few bucks more"). I also suspect that some people habituated to cellphones even forget that they might be calling a POTS line; they assume that it's another cellphone and cellphones have "free" caller ID. In any case, it's another assumption that I don't think is ill-founded, but there's clearly a better way of handling a request for a phone number. X can call me back at ###-###-#### isn't so hard, is it?

Saturday, December 11, 2010

slashtrek

There I was reading a post on Slashdot about Stephen Fry and the USB Sniffer Report and I scrolled to the bottom to take a look at the randomly generated quotation in the footer of the page. It was Whom computers would destroy, they must first drive mad. This is a clever variation of an ancient proverb those whom the gods destory they first make mad. Several variations of the original proverb exist and are attributed to various people, but my favourite riff on it is also how I learnt about the proverb in the first place: An episode from the third season of the original Star Trek titled Whom Gods Destroy. When I caught a rerun of the episode a few years ago, I noticed how similar it was to an episode from the first season Dagger of the Mind, which took its title from a soliloquy in William Shakespeare's Macbeth, which was staged in another Star Trek episode The Conscience of the King (which took its title from Shakespeare's Hamlet). At this point, the only digression that can prevent me from gambolling about the bardian field is how I was struck by the identical opening of two Sherlock Holmes tales The Resident Patient and The Adventure of the Cardboard Box. It was only years later that I read about the reasons behind this. Until then it was fodder for a Sherlock Holmes quiz.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

converting distance

If reports are to be believed, Anurag Kashyap's Paanch is all set to hit the marquee early next year. As with the rumours surrounding Vishal Bhardwaj's forthcoming projects and casting choices, we will have to wait until the first show of the first day to be sure that the film will no longer remain the most-watched unreleased film in the history of Indian cinema (at which point, one hopes that Gulzar's Libaas steps up for the crown). The hype may well be the film's undoing, but it will still be valuable for those who have been following Mr. Kashyap's persistent progress as a unique voice in Indian cinema.

Why the title? Well, 8 (that's, roughly speaking, the number of years it will be since the release was originally planned) kilometres are roughly 5 (the film's title) miles.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

devil in disguise

(the title was not meant to be a pun on the moview reviewed or the name of the reviewer, but it seems to work rather well as such)

It's Rediff time again. Our target is a review of Devil, a film written and co-produced by M. Night Shyamalan (he has the same initials as a certain political party, but that has no bearing here). Let's start with the simple typographical problems.

These days it might serve a movie well to keep that idea as far off the promotional frontline as possible: Try far away from instead of creating your own phrases.

Hell it might make for a fantastic twist ending to a film someday: consider adding an exclamation mark after Hell and capitalising i in it. It would be a better idea to refrain from imitating conversational speech heared in some American film.

Neither run time nor runtime works as a substitute for the more familiar running time.

It's clichéd note and not cliche note.

We conclude with a look at a comparison implied in the review between Devil and Phone Booth.

Plus, the plot -- five strangers are stuck in an elevator, one of them might actually be the Devil -- had severe potential to be as difficult to stay awake through as Phone Booth, that other movie that promised chills and thrills and served up neither during its short but long-seeming run time.

The "short but long-seeming run[sic] time" of Phone Booth was, according to IMDB, 81 minutes.

The reviewer then writes about Devil: The film has a short and sweet runtime. The running time of Devil is, according to IMDB, 80 minutes.

1 minute was all it took.

buy something you stupid consumer!

I accidentally added an item to my shopping cart while browsing through the results of a search on amazon.com. I made amends by clearing my shopping cart only to be rewarded with a page that seemed to try and philosophically appeal to my responsibility as a consumer. Here is what it said (I have taken the liberty of emphasising the most interesting bits):

Your Shopping Cart is empty.
Your Shopping Cart lives to serve. Give it purpose
--fill it with books, CDs, videos, DVDs, toys, electronics, and more.

To put something in your Shopping Cart, start by searching or browsing through any of our stores. When an item interests you, click the Add to Shopping Cart button.

corporate blah

I've realised that working in the corporate world with all its double-speak and triple-speak and politically correct specious verbiage can only weaken the foundation one might have established for the rules of language and clear communication. As countless sentences are created and uttered (or printed) to avoid implying the wrong thing about gender and race, about medical and physical conditions and about habits and to also comply with some unsaid need for obfuscation, we as listeners can only unconsciously pick up some of the phrases and words we hear and evolve into drones ourselves. One way I have found useful to slow this eventual decay of our ability to say exactly what we mean without being abstruse is to silently edit and correct the sentences you hear or read. I highly recommend Richard Lanham's books (Revising Prose and Revising Business Prose) as guides for this. Both books are infectious: once you understand his approach, you will likely find yourself correcting paragraphs without having to practise too much.

In the spirit of outrage, I leave you with a fresh example of oblique-speak I heard a few minutes ago:

the next few slides are going to focus in on high level details of ...: in was probably used incorrectly (after all, you cannot zoom in on a "zoom out" view of a map, unless you're explaining relative velocity to a classroom). Perhaps the speaker was a fan of the Paul Greengrass Unsteadicam technique where the camera gets you closer to the action but also sends items out of focus.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

face(tm)book

is coming soon if one is to believe that the USPTO has sent a notice of allowance to the firm for a trademark on Face(TM). While we wait for countenance to become a popular alternative, the comments on slashdot can help us laugh at this surreal travesty.

make it up as you go along

The line I need to do some green path testing leaped out (not literally, of course) at me from the morass of rich text at the tail of an email thread that had come my way. I had never heard of green path testing, so I asked Google. And I got nothing. Nada. Zilch. Like useful Indian Intellectual Property in IT. Void. You get the idea. Was this some new methodology invented in a secret dacha in Bengaluru? Or was this another example of a buzzphrase created by stringing together words from different columns of specious nouns? Right now, there's only one person who knows what that means and I do not really know if asking the writer of that sentence would be productive. There are enough buzzphrases in the test-o-sphere to keep one busy for months. Why bother with a neologism?

Friday, November 19, 2010

a rose by any other name

might just be a confused flower after all. Rational is such a funny name for that company acquired by IBM (another firm that thrived in large complex pieces of software). ClearCase is anything but. This brings us to Adobe Acrobat, which, like a baby, grew with each passing release. It's a young man now and a really well-fed one at that. 145 MB is a good reason to stop using acrobat as a name (elephants as trapeze artists work well as jokes in cartoons not as disk-churning memory-hogging DRM-crazy software applications) and move to a bland name like Adobe Reader. Ooh. Consider Foxit Reader as an alternative (if you already haven't). At 6.56 MB, it saves you some disk space and also does exactly what you want it to do: open PDFs. The next time you want a chihuahua, take a moment to wonder why you would choose an elephant instead.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

candy for the bibliophile

I love libraries and I love library book sales. I especially love the special deals that library book sales seem to have on the last day of these sales. One branch tells me that I can fill a conventional plastic grocery bag with as many books as I can and just pay $6 for it. It is probably a sign of the economic times that the price has now become $7. Another branch replaces the plastic bag with a strong paper bag that I buy first and then fill and walk out. These sales are monthly events, so it's easy to get addicted.

Another county library system has two sales in a year. Each sale ends with a Sunday special: a box of hardbacks for $10 and a box of paperbacks for $5. The hardbacks are all sold at one level and the paperbacks, videos, tapes, CDs and miscellaneous material are sold at a lower level. I must confess that I am addicted. It's nice to see the warehouse with long aisles of books and people walking along pulling boxes on carts or pushing them along the floor. I limit myself to a box -- going beyond that is usually impossible, because I have not, so far, found enough to justify a second big box. But there are others who seem to be on a mission.

People buy books for different reasons. There is the obvious reason of adding to one's personal collection. Some buy books to decorate fireplaces and similar spots in public places like restaurants, hotels and coffee shops. Such purchases tend to be dominated by large hardbacks. I have also seen someone use a portable device (a barcode scanner perhaps) to assist a seemingly endless waggle dance about the aisles building small stacks of books. I suspect that this person eventually sold these in retail or in bulk elsewhere. Some libraries have issued bans on such devices simply in response to the clutter caused as a consequence of the uncaring behaviour of such pricemongers. I really don't care about what people do with the books they buy, but I'd probably be upset if I lost a used book I would have cherished to a reseller's cold pile.

a few lines on collections thereof

(being some random scribbles on books read recently or quite a while ago)

Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book gets a grave makeover as Mowgli becomes Nobody (um, literally) and Neil Gaiman works his magic in The Graveyard Book. I also thought of Pip and Great Expectations a few times as I turned page after page, resisting the need to put the book down and go to sleep. Finishing this book made me feel better about never having been able to start reading American Gods for reasons quite inexplicable.

Hill Street Blues was on the shows comprising my long education on satellite television. Later, NYPD Blue took over the waves. Lingering memories might have been one of the reasons I enjoyed my introduction to Gotham Central, Ed Brubaker and Greg Rucka's police procedural comic book series set in Batman's hometown. Like Kurt Busiek's Astro City, the focus was on people living in a world dominated by a superhero of sorts, on people we otherwise saw as part of the texture of a narrative dominated by Batman and his crusade against crime and his inner demons. In Gotham Central, Batman, like Keyser Söze, looms large on the lives of people, but only appears occasionally while we follow the lives of a police force bursting with ambition, corruption, secrets and administrative frustration. I really wish the public library had all the volumes, but it looks like, as with Busiek's series, I will have to wait for a miracle.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

unnecessary and laced with errors

Where have you heard these songs before? is a recent addition to Rediff's ever-growing bucket of fatuous fluff. Karthik's simple and more informative portal eye-too-eff-ess makes such articles unnecessary, since they offer neither new information nor critical insight. Having established its ineligibility for a place in the sun, the article proceeds to hammer some fine nails in its coffin by tossing one error after another at the intelligent reader (are there any that read such pieces without their tongue lodged firmly in their cheek?). Here are some samples with my unsolicited editorial comments:

The chartbuster song Jab Koi Baat Bigad Jaye from the 1980 film Jurm (starring Vinod Khanna and Meenakshi Sheshadri) was directly copied from the English number 500 Miles. The Hindi song was composed by Anand-Milind.

500 Miles is sung by American folk singer-trio Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey and Mary Travers, popularly known as Peter, Paul and Mary. This song was part of their first album, recorded in 1962.

The music director for Jurm was Rajesh Roshan and not the pilfering sons of Chitragupt. is sung is grammatically incorrect and there should probably be a note that the PPM version of the song is a popular cover. Has the writer (or any of the staff) heard of Wikipedia?

Munni Badnaamwas not the first song that Jatin-Lalit copied. The hit song Koi Mil Gaya from 1998's Kuch Kuch Hota Hai was also a copy.

Evidently, the "known fact" (to use a phrase from the opening of the article) that the Pandit brothers have split and only Lalit Pandit (aka one of the brothers) was credited or responsible for Dabangg's big hit. If the writer of the Rediff article is trying to make a case for Brother Lalit being the instigator of all the Pandit-ian plagiarism, the writer is advised to try again and in a separate article devoted to the subject.

The glamorous Zeenat Aman sizzled in this song alongside Vijay Arora in Yaadon Ki Baraat (1973). The music was composed by R D Burman, and the lyrics are penned by Majrooh Sultanpuri.
The song, however, is copied from the title track of the film If It's
Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium
(1969). It was sung by folk singer Donovan.

The song was written by Donovan, but was sung by J. P. Rags.

There are also some common grammatical errors: writing comprising of instead of comprising (if you like of consider using the passive voice with is/was comprised of).

The band's name is Wham! and not the acronymous WHAM.

Yet another Anu Malik composition, Raja Ko Rani Se Pyar Hogaya was a copy of Speak Softly Love theme from The Godfather (1972).

The writer is clearly getting lazy and bored, given that this "slide" of the article does not mention the original composer Nino Rota and indulges in sloppiness with "Speak Softly Love theme" instead of something a little more articulate like "The Godfather theme, whose vocal version is known as Speak Softly Love." It would be too much to expect the writer to have informed us that Nino Rota had reused a cue he had composed for a 1958 film called Fortunella (obligatory Youtube link).

The Laawaris music was composed by Rajesh Roshan.

This is either more evidence of sloppy laziness (lazy sloppiness, if you please) or an attempt at making a joke.

charge me for making your life easier

Just when I thought that utility companies might have stopped doing silly things like charging you a fee for paying your bill on the phone (where, one could argue, you pay for the valuable time spent by the person at the other end of the line collecting sensitive information from you) or online (where, it looks like they are really trying to push the interchange fee -- and more? -- to you, dear consumer). Alas, even as you admire how simple things like online bill pay (the trademark, if any, belongs to the appropriate owner) have made it for you and the environment (no need to send printed bills in paper envelopes bearing either postage stamps or bar-coded information to that effect), there are corporate atavistically inclined faceless entities with professional dull portals who announce You will be charged a $3.00 convenience fee for processing and handling of your credit. XXXX does not profit from this fee. The fee enables Utility providers to offset handling costs to focus on green programs such as paperless billing. And this is after I had -- thinking I was doing a good thing -- signed up for paperless statements. It looks like they want to punish me for saving them the trouble of generating printouts of bills and of denying them the privilege of ripping open an envelope addressed to them bearing a cheque in their name. One must thank the capitalist heavens that they support online bill pay without any additional "convenience fee" (presumably for even deigning to honour a cheque that was generated by an automated system on behalf of a faceless consumer). I refuse to explore the irony of going green in autumn.

Friday, November 05, 2010

go west electronically

The form to renew your free subscription to Oracle Magazine (or Oracle Profit) continues to remain steadfast in its simplicity and desire to get the same information from you as if you were signing up for the first time instead of merely simply asking you whether you wanted to renew or not. One of the subtle nuggets comes in the dropdown where you (optionally) select your country. I will let the image do the rest of the talking.

come to america

Thursday, November 04, 2010

presidential support for unfortunate neologisms

In the wake of the Republican victory in the mid-term elections, President Obama delivered yet another press conference laced with those sentences that politicians are wont to create (and he delivers with the fervour of a French art movie). In the middle of all the boring blather of western promises (hey! I made a Cronenbergian pun), he achieved a new low by endorsing a word that was born out of the ignorance and laziness of English speakers and given credence by numerous speakers who could care less about the language they're so busy butchering. The word was resiliency and here is the extract from the official transcript:

I do believe there is hope for civility. I do believe there's hope for progress. And that's because I believe in the resiliency of a nation that's bounced back from much worse than what we're going through right now -- a nation that's overcome war and depression, that has been made more perfect in our struggle for individual rights and individual freedoms.

The word, Mr. President, is resilience and I am quite disappointed that you have given credence to abuse. Of course, you have more important things to worry about and we can also ignore the two occurrences of that obnoxious lipidinous concoction day-to-day basis.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

are you watching closely?

5 plus 2 makes 7; plus 8 makes 15; plus 4 makes 19; plus 9 makes 28; plus 1 makes 29. 29 is a prime number! 2 plus 9 makes 11. 11 is also a prime number! 1 plus 1 makes 2. ALSO a prime number! Google is your friend. 528491 is a prime number as well. That gives us a prime within a prime within a prime.

One of my favourite stories in childhood was the Greek myth about the slaying of the Minotaur by Theseus and there was the girl who loved him and gave him the yarn so that he could trace his way back out of the labyrinth, out of the maze. And her name was ...!

Oh wait! She got an Oscar for playing the real-life singer whose song's playing throughout the film!

Those stairs. Oh! The pawn. Or was it a bishop? Chess! Bobby Fischer! Um, Robert Fischer ... Bobby Fischer.

He has the same name as that serial burglar who befriended the guy who followed strangers ... hmmm.

Excuse me while I pinch myself. I must be dreaming.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

norcross or norse crossing?

Here's an example of the strangest things you can stumble upon: what appears to be a test entry at Career Builder. The job description contains a description of Ymir and the requirements are a description of Yggdrasil.. Both descriptions are available on the Internet on pages like this and that. Who is Chris Colley and what will happen if you call 770-349-2434?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

they will no longer be entertained

Michael Caine makes Harry Brown work. He takes it past the rather obvious comparisons to Death Wish and drives by Eastwood's Gran Torino. Every muscle on the face of this great actor speaks volumes about Harry, his life and his thoughts in a film that despite its measured slow pace and its disturbing canvas of a neighbourhood poisoned by vice ultimately ends up being a muddle. It isn't enough of an action flick feeding our guilty pleasure for vigilante fare and it only cursorily examines the sorry state of law and order. However, it succeeds as a drama with characters interpreted by a competent cast led by Caine. Caine towers above the rest, aided in some measure by the fact that the film is about his character. This isn't a film in the Batman/Nolan canon where Alfred scores in his few scenes. This is an urban western about a man driven to do things he had sacrificed years ago by a personal tragedy. Where Gran Torino had a man discovering his better side in the twilight of his life, Harry Brown gives us a man transformed by grief and loss to action that fails to offer either succour or someone to play chess with.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

thoughts

The total at the bottom of the scrolling list of purchases on my latest grocery bill was an oddity. A perfect integral value (the zeroes to the right of the decimal point meant nothing, obviously). I wonder what the odds are for such a thing happening (I remember only one other receipt ending up this way in the last year or so).

Tandoor on Powers Ferry Road in Marietta has been doing rather well over the last few years. First came the curtains on the inside. Then came the redesigned laminated menu cards instead of the scrawls on a couple of boards on the walls. The most recent additions are signs reserving a few spots in front of it outside and brand new tables and chairs inside. The food still serves your guilty pleasures -- the biryani, the haleem and the rolls with raita and onion juliennes, slices of lime and sprays of cilantro on the side.

Thanks to Pritam, Neeraj Shridhar has gone from being an interesting voice to a strong reason to skip the track.

If not for the silly suffix the revolution, Mehul Kumar might have been in the running for a record for making two Bollyflicks with the same name. So what if the new dung squadron is a sequel? The 90s flick Krantiveer got Nana Patekar a national award and established a new variation of the angry man -- he wasn't young, he wasn't clean shaven, but he was very very angry. The sequel is evidently an aural assault, but it also stomps new ground in the never-tiring field of English suffixes for Bollytitles. A Krantiveer is a revolutionary and not a revolution. Adding the suffix establishes a new pattern: hindi title describing a doer: english subtitle describing the action or what he/she hath wrought. Thus we should now expect Mrityudaata: The Carnage.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

linky blinky

Phillip Su's farewell post as he moves from Microsoft to Facebook makes for some nice reading: it's Palahniuk or Vonnegut (Hocus Pocus) in style, but aims only to present observations from experience. Some of these should be stuck up on walls of offices run by people who never read Peopleware and who might fail to see the humour in Dilbert because they see it not as satire but libel and slander:

Don't fear process. Fear bad people dictating process. Fear process trying to make up for bad people.

People who expect their manager to make their jobs fun and interesting won't get far.

It's also nice to see some acknowledgement of people who might not seem as ambitious as every half-baked code monkey who wants to rise to be a manager, because he is terrible at dealing with people:

I had a coworker in Money who, by the time I joined in 1998, had already been at Microsoft for 15 years and could probably buy the county I grew up in. He drove a beat-up Datsun and coded every day in his office as an individual contributor. There is no doubt in my mind that he knows what he loves.

I hope he finds greatness where he is going.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

adopted terror: orphan

The Colemans are a suffering family: their daughter Maxine is deaf, their last child was stillborn and Kate, the mother, is also a recovering alcoholic. John, the father, has his own problems, but mention of these only surfaces later in the film. An adopted child from hell is the last thing they need and exactly what they get. The film runs through its 3-act setup briskly. The gore stays faithful to the revised conventions of the genre (thanks to the advent and blossoming of torture porn) in being quite unsubtle, but is also unsettling. Isabella Fuhrman leads a set of great performances. Director Serra succeeds in making things creepy and interesting, while continuing to chug along to the inevitable third act featuring revelations, conflict, more gore, death and (mercifully) no wisecrack-laden ending. The only extra things on the DVD are some deleted scenes, including an alternative ending that owes a debt to Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard.

the fine print: pre-screened offers of credit

It's yet another letter from a faceless money-grabbing corporation offering me an exclusive (which really means that I am just one of many recipients) pre-selected (which means that my name was among the results parbroken by some proprietary software that is privileged to view obscure metrics maintained by three faceless entities ("Credit Reporting Agencies") to control your perceived economic worth ("Credit")) invitation (standard template with empty slots for the name and address of the recipient ("Me")).

One of the most entertaining parts is the Prescreen and Opt Out Notice, which is compliant with 16 CFR part 642 and looks like this:

You can choose to stop receiving "prescreened" offers of credit from this and other companies by calling toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) See PRE-SCREEN & OPT-OUT NOTICE on other side for more information about prescreen opt out

The actual notice it refers to looks like this:

If you do not want to receive prescreened offers of credit from this and other companies, call the consumer reporting agencies toll-free, at 1-888-567-8688, or write to: Trans Union LLC, Attn: Name Removal Option, P.O. Box 97328, Jackson, MS 39288-7328; Equifax Options, P.O. Box 740123, Atlanta, GA 30374-0123;or Experian Opt-Out, P.O. Box 919, Allen, TX 75013.

The important thing to remember is that "pre-approval" is an etymological weapon of confusion: it does not mean "all you have to do is say yes and you will get this exciting new credit card"; it actually means "say yes and we'll then really check your credit and might even reject your application, because we didn't really check carefully the first time." The consequence of a rejected application -- thanks to the Rube Goldberg-ian algorithms in place for this "Get punished without doing anything" setup can be a dark spot on your credit. Opt out or just hurl this thing into the shredder.

Read the finer print at the end of this exciting letter to learn about MCCs (Merchant Category Codes), which offer these credit companies another weapon to deny you "rewards"; take a look at the big fat disclaimer at the end:

The rewards program is managed in part by independent third parties, including a travel agency registered to do business in California (Reg. No. 2036509-50); Ohio (Reg. No. 87890286); Washington (6011237430) and other states, as required.

That travel agency is most likely Travel Leaders Group, LCC, which spun off from Carlson Travel Group in 2008.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

hay un amigo en mí

It could have ended up like The Godfather: Part III or the final edition in the Matrix saga. Instead, with Toy Story 3 Pixar delivers another heart-warming tale laced with excellent computer animation, in-jokes and thrills. If Toy Story 2 was a tribute to science fiction and fantasy films, the final(?) edition in the trilogy (yes, I know a trilogy has three parts, but that didn't stop Douglas Adams, did it?) tosses odes to thrillers, horror flicks, the western and the prison film. You can spend your time keeping up with the jokes in a simple narrative, relishing the plot twists, spotting the first(?) explicit nod to Satoshi Kon and Studio Ghibli, wondering if a lot of Timothy Dalton's work was left on the cutting floor, admiring the animation of hair and fur or just wondering how these people manage to pull off one success after another, while making it all so effortless. I regretted missing the 3D version of Up, but was sure I wanted the 2D version of this film. I regret missing the sound mix, however, but I am glad I caught this flick on the big screen. Despite what a lot of people are likely to say, there's a lot you miss when you watch Pixar's creations on the small screen (unless you have your own theatre). I wasn't as moved by the emotional elements of this film as in Wall-E or Finding Nemo, but I still enjoyed myself (although not as much as when I watched The Incredibles). Don't miss the end credits.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

bollygroaner

One of the many shards of "exciting" Bollywood news floating about notes that Akshay Kumar refused a Rs. 15 crore offer to star in Faltu (not to be confused with the already-made critically lauded Bengali film of the same name). The article cites problems with scheduling as the reason, we all know the real reason: अक्षय कुमार फालतू के पैसे नहीं लेता.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

error messages for developers

All its corporate weight and worth could not save Reliance from the blight of the generally terrible state of web pages in Indian portals. The portal for Reliance India Call is an eyesore. It looks like a song sequence from a bad Raj Kanwar film. Make that a song sequence from any Raj Kanwar film. Of course, the portal offers a "Contact us" link right next to the apostrophe abusing FAQ's on the right top corner. Click that to be taken to a form that asks you for a lot of required information and a description of your problem. There is a field called "Issue/Feedback Type" which offers a dropdown control to select values. Once you do that, the whole page blinks (or flashes, if you're downloading a lot of songs and movies while doing this or if you have a modest Internet connection) and the values in the dropdown for the field below called "Sub Type" are generated based on your selection. When you finally get to the "Description" and type out your woes and click "Submit" you are likely to see the popup below:

illegal

The only way you can find out what was "invalid" is to view the source of the page. Search for this error message and you will stumble upon the following line:

ctl00_ContentPlaceHolder1_regvDesc.validationexpression = "^[a-zA-Z0-9.\\s\\#\\-\\.\\,\\/\\(\\)]{1,1000}$";

Of course they expected you to do this and to know regular expressions rather well so that you could figure out that they did not want you to put a semi-colon in that field. How simple!

addendum [October 06, 2010]: Add double quotes to that list. I think Reliance should just support a tweet appender instead of the form and limit all submissions to short inarticulate bursts of alphanumeric vomit.

addendum [October 19, 2010]: add question marks to that list. At this point, I wonder if anyone really cares. Try complaining about network connectivity and be prepared to try and figure out what the correct for the phone number is. All you get as a hint is a popup telling you that the format is incorrect. If you get it right the first time, congratulations.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

itsby bitsy piecey

It's nice to know that your tax dollars are being put to such good use as to (soon) make it illegal for TV commercials to be louder than whatever it was you were watching before the commercial break.

The next stage in the slow and painful decay of the transit system in Atlanta is upon us. MARTA is celebrating with changes in its service. It's another greatest hits release: Bus schedules are changing, bus routes are being eliminated, some RideStores and restrooms are being closed, reduced customer service. MARTA's Facebook wall is a good place to see raw reactions along with fairly balanced responses from the staff at MARTA that have been cast to the wolves by their corporate bosses. Cobb County has decided to match the fares of MARTA (a tribute, no doubt, to "price matching") and will raise fares to $2 a ride. Gone are the days that you could use start on a CCT bus and use a transfer to get onto a MARTA bus and save a few cents. CCT has also eschewed all the euphemisms that MARTA chose and aims straight for your throat with the headline on their list of changes: fare increase service reductions and customer service changes.

most horrifying bollywood song of 2010

The licensed version of Elvis Presley's classic Jailhouse Rock in We Are Family by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (who were previously credited for usurping Roy Orbison's classic without the producers doing their bit with regard to copyright in Kal Ho Na Ho). I can't explain why I was revulsed the moment a tuneless female voice belted out the lyrics of dil khol ke let's rock (open heart surgery goes rock n' roll). I first thought this was Bhayaanak Bebo warbling away after tarnishing the Dev soundtrack years ago, but alas it wasn't. I couldn't go ahead and decided to listen to the songs of Shaapit instead.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

munch moment: siam square

On Windy Hill Road, in an innocuous little strip on the way to nothingness, is a little restaurant called Siam Square. The place is open for lunch only from Monday to Friday and all you get on the weekend is dinner (which might comply with a strong tradition of offering the same or slightly more of it for a higher price). Your best bet is lunch. You have to steal your attention from the interesting decor (black and white location photographs against a red wall; ornate mountings on another wall; the hanging wine glasses at the counter) to run through a lunch menu that fills a single side of a laminated sheet with a delicious colour scheme and is arranged in blocks. All main courses have the same price (minus extras), so it's easy to pick. If you, like I am, love having your tongue's resilience challenged, make sure you tell them that you want your dish cooked "Thai Hot" (this is usually the highest level of "hot" in most Thai restaurants and Siam Square is also one of the few to actually live up to it). If you're used to the curries from Kerala, try the Siam Square Special (also known as Mom's Special). It comes with a side of cucumber salad (diced cucumber and onion in white vinegar with a dash of sugar -- sample it at the end of your meal to heal your taste buds). If you want to try one of the standard offerings and indulge in a comparison with the wares from another restaurant, try the Green Curry. Don't forget to say "Thai Hot." If you're aiming for the sun, ask for hot sauce as well. You'll get a holder with four containers of dried peppercorns (recommended), peppercorn paste, soy sauce and a lighter clearer sauce with fragments and peppercorns.

At Thai restaurants, there's always the possibility that you'll ask for some more rice. You can often decide whether to keep a Thai restaurant on your list just based on how the serving staff treats your requests for extra rice (unlike Indian restaurants, rice in Thai and non-buffet Chinese restaurants is expected to be on the house). Siam Square tackles this problem in an interesting way: the bowl of rice is inverted atop your bowl. You can then mix the rice and the curry and never really ask for more rice. Smart and apt.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

01L2MDT

Ridley Scott's Body of Lies offers familiar tropes, familiar ideas and goings-on in a cinematic package that is engaging because of how it has been shot and cut together and because of the performances of the actors and actresses. There is no subtext in this product and I should not have been surprised that as soon as the end credits rolled with a Guns N' Roses song, I was thinking about something else already. The most entertaining (albeit unintentional, surely) bit of the film came from an abbreviation. The rest of it was well-edited exchanges of dialogue, a tour of several terror-infested parts of the world, a specious discourse in ideology, bureaucracy, jargon (Nitrate 37 slewing to all target ports now; IR 3.9, long wave 10.7, we're right on their six) and product placement (unsubtle Nokia cellphones, ubiquitous and more appropriate EMC data storage systems, the BlackBerry). I think I'll go back and watch Blade Runner again now.

signal-to-noise

Here's another email from some overpaid person who seems to want to appear responsive. It's got one line representing the content and that line is followed by a blank line, a line full of dashes and then the more verbose line "Sent using a mobile device with limited editing options, so please excuse typos"; This is someone who often has typos in emails sent using conventional devices not regarded as mobile -- laptops, for one, seem to be losing their status as "mobile"; the word has been hijacked by the BlackBerrys (or is it BlackBerries?) and iPhones of the corporate world. The disclaimer also seems to have been bowdlerised to remove all trace of the actual device being used. All this gives you 3 useless lines out of 4. This offers strong competition to those clueless one-liners followed by a 10-line email signature (HTML and a background image notwithstanding). Welcome the new cholesterol of the Internet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

robotrans

The poster for Robot represents another howler in what might prove to be a buffet. On the right are the famous technifictional specifications we've encountered on the CD sleeve before. No one can take a slogan like Man... Machine ... Mohobbhat seriously. What manner of astrologically misguided spelling is Mohobbhat? It shatters records set by the likes of David Dhawan's Yaraana. Why is there no mention of the cast at all on the poster, you ask? Neither Rajinikanth nor Madame Rai-Bachchan can draw in the crowds for a Hindi film. Simple.

Monday, September 20, 2010

raibot

Lines uttered by Aishwarya Rai in the trailers released for Robot:

खून कर दूंगी

he's (pause) unbelievable! he's (pause) like a superhero (with the Americanised "l" and rolled "r") (a tribute to William Shatner, no doubt).

अब मैं उनसे कभी नहीं मिलूंगी ... कहना(?)

i'm yours

hello! don't get any ideas

PS: Is that Anil Kapoor's voice for Rajinikanth? Sounds like Mr. Kapoor and it also makes sense given that he had starred in Shankar's first Hindi film, Nayak.

Monday, September 13, 2010

some pages turned over

The Futurist: The Life and Films of James Cameron: My favourite section of the book covered the making of The Abyss. The portions about Harlan Ellison and the whole Soldier/Terminator only add to the mystery of the truth. Being an Ellison fan, I'd be tempted to hurl invectives at Cameron and Co. for not acknowledging a debt to Ellison's short story and the fabulous opener to the second season of The Outer Limits. But I also liked The Terminator and, had I not been any wiser, I'd have been inclined to dismiss Ellison's claims (as Cameron is quoted to have done in this book). What really transpired will unfortunately never be known.

The Lost Symbol: Dan Brown lives up to his reputation of writing something that makes you turn the pages as fast as you can, as you attempt to restore the narrative thread disrupted by one belch of expository preening after another. There is enough abuse of details in the descriptions of different things to make you shudder at the thought of turning over a page, afraid of what form of literary torture awaits you. I must confess, however, that it is a relief to be able to run through a whole book without once feeling intellectually tugged: Dan Brown makes sure that you, dear reader, do not have to pause, for one teensy bit, to evaluate the goings-on.

Death of a Politician: My first Richard Condon novel was a hefty challenge. I was unable to find much more about the book or its background and I was not as familiar with the politics of the 60s and 70s to spot the real-life figures that Condon was eloquently taking potshots at. This did not make the novel any less engrossing. The device of interrogations and reports takes some getting used to (The Anderson Tapes by Lawrence Sanders uses tape transcripts was easier on my eyes and brain). I hope the other books I picked up at the library book sale don't disappoint me. I'll save The Manchurian Candidate till the end; after all, I've already seen the film.

Friday, September 10, 2010

the good times at sigma draconis VI

Brain and brain! What is brain? (Spock's Brain)

After ranting away about the amateur dross that comprised Robin Cook's writing in the 21st century, I decided to try and read the books that had made him famous all those years ago just to see how much nostalgia had clouded my memory. My first pick was Brain, which was also one of the first (or perhaps the first) of Robin Cook's books that I had read. Interestingly, the book still held up well. The exposition was controlled and Cook's writing seemed to be more demanding of the reader's attention than his recent work that requires as much attention as a Top 10 countdown on Zee TV. I also learnt about RNs, LPNs and ASNs; since Cook does not commit expository abuse by explaining what they stood for, I went online. After ASN.1, Autonomous System Numbers and Advance Shipping Notices, I now had Associate of Science in Nursing; After Licence Plate Numbers I got Licensed Practical Nurses. RNs are Registered Nurses, in case you were wondering. Time to go back to Coma.

While I might trust the doctor to remove a splinter or lance a boil, I do not believe he has the knowledge to restore a brain. (Spock's Brain)

Monday, September 06, 2010

i have no brain cells and i must scream

Hey you, sitting over there in that cubicle on some conference call with your overzealous brethren huddled back home in some air conditioned conference room! Try talking into the mouthpiece instead of spraying your voice bits generously across the floor. I understand that you've been brought up to believe that ISD connections were poor and people had to yell to get some sound over the wire, but it might be a revelation that things have improved since then.

Hey you, sitting at that table behind me in this coffee shop! It's a cellphone not a walkie talkie, you nitwit! Take it outside if you want to scream out loud. It's not a conversation unless I hear the other side as well (perhaps you can try the speakerphone on your cellphone and become a certifiable jerk).

Hey you, over there in the neighbouring cubicle arguing furiously on a silly something as if it were the latest problem to befuddle nuclear scientists all over the world! Have you heard of conference rooms? The office surely has one available just to serve your needs. The whiteboards are larger and you can just get on the nerves of a few others like yourself, who presumably understand your babble.

You are all welcome to upload your essence into the Doom continuum as zombiemen. I'd be glad to blow your electronic avatars to pixellated goop.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

daemon: neuromancer for the dan brown world

I just finished reading Daniel Suarez's Daemon, my first lead from Facebook, and I've had a great time reading it. The elements of an artificial intelligence growing in power and strength is not unfamiliar, if you've read William Gibson's Neuromancer. But Suarez's writing is not as complex and intricate in its argot as Gibson's classic (or for that matter, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess). The shower of technical jargon (which, combined with some of the elements in the plot is likely to leave someone less geeky out in the cold) is mixed with a reasonable level of exposition and it puts the ouevre of Dan Brown to shame without trying too hard. You are likely to find yourself turning the pages not because there's not much worthwhile on each page (as is the case with any tome in the Brownian canon) but because Suarez takes you from one narrative arc to another, keeping things suspenseful. The level of exposition is also less than that found in the novels of Michael Crichton, which I have enjoyed far more than Dan Brown's novels. The only problem I have with the exposition is that in some cases, it involves the reader directly instead of being presented to some character in the novel. Sections where this happens threaten to transport Suarez's entertaining fine novel into Brown territory. That is, however, a minor grouse, for an otherwise excellent début.

I'll be picking up a copy of the sequel Freedom from the local library soon and I hope it's just as much fun.

looped aphasia

Arguably, the quality of satellite television in India declined after the locals took over. It was disappointing to see channels dedicated to movies churning out junk that was anything but a full reeler. That it became harder to find a channel playing a long-forgotten flick after the land responsible for the making of the film replaced all goings-on with stercoraceous smegma was a form of irony that escaped the guano-brained executives.

One of the developments in the wake of the massacre of entertainment was the replacement of English flicks in the catalogue with versions dubbed into Hindi. Some of those chosen included the Jackie Chan films for Golden Harvest, which, originally in Cantonese, were released abroad (including India) dubbed into English. We now had a layered incongruity with Hindi sounds replacing English sounds while Jackie Chan's lips continued to mouth Cantonese.

An interesting variation was the case of South Indian flicks dubbed into Hindi. These poorly dubbed mind-numbing "entertainers" were christened using titles of existing Bollyhits along with a bonus suffix in English to comply with the de facto naming rule that was born near the end of the 20th century. This is why the Telugu movie Mass became Meri Jung: One Man Army. This also explains the curious case of a film named Arasatchi. Had it not been for financial hurdles, this would have been the first film starring Lara Dutta to hit the marquee (the unfortunate honour went to a case of bad eggs from the Bollyfold).

As was the norm, Ms. Dutta's Tamil voice was not her own. Years later, this film was one of the lucky several chosen to be treated to an inferior dubbing job. Inviting Ms. Dutta to try her hand at dubbing for herself in Hindi would have, unfortunately, cost the whole project a lot more. So they just had one of the people on the session call sheet to do the needful. One could only mourn the loss in translation. Again.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

boom boom roboduh

I still hadn't quite recovered from the lyrico-electronic assault of the soundtrack of Enthiran, when the soundtrack for the Hindi version Robot hit the airwaves. Swanand Kirkire takes up the rather thankless job of fitting words to tunes that had emerged as a blend with Tamil lyrics. To his credit he manages to toss in some interesting words to enliven the experience (but how does one explain the retention of the old Tamil word arima?), but he still cannot save this from being one really silly enterprise. I had hoped that they would use the correct pronunciation of robot, but alas, they chose the incorrect Indian one that rhymes with Bobo.

We choose, for the purposes of this post, to start from the beginning: the CD case. Vidcaps offer irrefutable evidence that Shankar has set new records in wasteful expenditure on lavish eyecandy. Despite the presence of A. R. Rahman at the helm of the proceedings, one of the sleeves bears the proud claim "Music made by humans." The gem that this post wishes to cast a floodlight upon the inlay card dedicated to providing some more information about the andro-humanoid (their term, not mine) Chiti (or Chitti, if you want to use the track Chitti Dance Sequence as a guide) and his creator Dr. Vasi (Tamil for Frankenstein Victor).

The section devoted to Chiti's anatomy/configuration (their label, not mine) is the produce of a local buzzword blender: speed one terra hz, memory one zeta byte, processor Pentium ultra core millenia V2, FHP 450 motor from Hirata, Japan. Hirata is presumably the place that produced the most fans of Muthu. A Terra[sic] (their spelling, not mine) Hertz is presumably a more down-to-earth measure of frequency than the Megas or Gigas. Zeta is presumably a typographical error (there are two Ts and it's one word -- zettabyte) or it's a tribute to Mrs. Michael Douglas. Thanks to the sloopy use of case, it's hard to determine which part of "ultra core millenia V2" is the code name for this strange stepchild of the Pentium. FHP might stand for Fractional Horsepower (after all, they can't make everything up). All in all, it's hard to believe that this is all that's needed to create a cybernetic clone of Super Star Rajinikanth (why clone? Well, the description says that Chiti can dance, sing and fight while being resistant to water and fire and boasting an appetite for electricity).

Chiti cannot lie they say. Expect to never see a scene where this creation is supine.

And to think it took only 10 years to make one.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

torn udders

Taran Adarsh's reviews always offer fodder for posts (a good thing when you want to toss out another post about something but are at a loss for words). Here are some nuggets from his recent reviews.

(from his review of Lafangey Parindey): Who would've ever thought Sarkar would do a 360 degree turn in his third film by calling it LAFANGEY PARINDEY, set it in a chawl and make his characters speak tapori lingo? (Adarsh presumably went to a school that taught radically different principles of geometry; that is the only way one can explain how a 360 degree turn can take you to a different place -- unless you are a certain bear of a certain colour who showed up for a Microsoft interview and was asked to tell the interviewer what his colour was).

(from his review of Aashayein): AASHAYEIN gets so bizarre and abstract that you feel anesthetized after a point (can someone who has been on the operating table explain this?)

(from his review of Once Upon A Time In Mumbaai): ONCE UPON A TIME IN MUMBAAI is not part of history, but it attempts to portray on celluloid tales that are now considered legendary, that continue to make news to this date. Of course, the disclaimer claims that it bears no resemblance to a particular person, but you can't help but draw parallels with real-life characters. It could be a coincidence, though! (could someone please help him make up his mind?)

vishal nuggets from a strange place

Khalid Mohamed's review of Antardwand over at PFC is one of the two posts at the portal dedicated to this National Award-winning film based on bridgegroom kidnapping in Bihar. The other post is a more personal one by Hansal Mehta dedicated to Sushil Rajpal, the director of this National Award winner. Hansal Mehta looks like Forrest Gump as he drops one destined-to-be-famous name after another in the post. The post also ends with more details about Jayate along with a short clip from the film. I had read about the film in my quest to find out more about Hansal Mehta after having loved Chhal and Dil Pe Mat Le Yaar!.

Our interest lies in Amrita, a short film he had made in 1995. It turns out that the music director was none other than Vishal Bhardwaj. Hansal Mehta offers nothing more except But that is another story, another fond relationship and maybe another emotional blog. One awaits that post eagerly.
[Cross-posted in a different fashion on the Vishal Bhardwaj blog]

Sunday, August 22, 2010

no english please: we indians are

One of the most innovative things the Indian Consulates in the USA did to celebrate the dawn and morn of 21st century was to convert the paper-driven process of requesting a new passport after your old one had expired to a web-based process that still resulted in dead trees, but arguably eased the pain you went through trying to get everything right. Unfortunately, the documentation to assist applicants appears to have been written and compiled by some really incompetent people. It seems like someone knew the right people in the right department of the consulate and got their nincompoop offspring or nephews/nieces the job. Consider the page offering guidelines on filling the form.
In order to appreciate the radical experiments with the case of letters and the font styles (how bolD!), you will need multiple passes over this page. I would recommend reading the text aloud and screaming when you encounter words that were typed with the caps lock key smashed into the keyboard.

Numerous are the textual pleasures to be found on this page. Let us start with the opening paragraph:

he system is designed to accept 'n' number of applications in one day. When the 'n' number of applications has been reached for the given day, the appointment date rolls over to another date.
The abusive phrase 'n' number is common in Indian English (and rife in the field of IT). This gives us some idea about the kind of person responsible for typing this text. Moreover, not telling us what the possible values of n are is a bold creative move.

Lines like The application is in a secured platform using HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer) used to indicate a secure HTTP connection are enough to tell you how much fun you could have interviewing this person for a technical position.

While completing the online application, please do not enter any special characters such as (,), (.) (/) or symbols such as (@), ($), etc is an example of the abuse of etc. by lazy writers. It has adorned -- nay, sullied -- numerous half-witted technical documents and several PowerPoint slides bleeding with text and bullets.

Even while you enter your 'Phone No.,' 'email address,' and 'mobile'[sic] number' details in the respective boxes, these are not captured in the print out. It is, therefore, necessary, more so for applicants availing of services by mail, that these details are handwritten on the first page to enable the Consulate contact them if need arises is, I am told by a recent applicant, a complete lie.

ON CONFIRMING THE APPOINTMENT, FOUR (4) PAGES WILL PRINT OUT. makes sure that you have both the numeral and its name and are not confused about this trivial matter.

Several sentences are best printed out on the little strips of paper one finds in fortune cookies: If you do it more than once, it affects the others..

The English combines the American and British flavours. How else does one explain color and dialogue box? Moreover, the American dialog box has become the de facto standard for the familiar widget, regardless of the flavour of English you are working with).

The intent behind the bubbles added to the screenshots is fair, but the result is a ghastly eyesore laced with more giggle-inducing flourishes. The label for the fields Visible Marks/Colour of Eyes/Height(cms)/Colour of Hair is you are the best judge of these details. It is nice that you are called upon to judge when only precise information is required.

The only benefit of this form is that it fixes the bug in the previous process because of which your address in the US of A was chosen as the permanent address on your new passport. I am sure a permanent address in the USA made perfect sense for an Indian passport to someone in the consulate.

I leave you with the last image on the page. The piece de resistance. As they say, a picture is worth all the words you can think of to describe it.

image courtesy: cgisf.org width=

PS: Guess what? You can even view the contents of the parent folder. Evidently, this site was set up before .htaccess was born.

the sequel: The other pages offering "guidance" are just as loaded. Consider the page dedicated to Supporting Document[sic]. It features both color and colour. There is also the multi-faceted gem If applying by mail, Photocopy of all supporting documents including Photo should be notarized and attached to the application. If original supporting documents are enclosed, there is no need of notarization. When the original passport is enclosed, there is no need to notarize photocopy. When was the last time you had to take a photocopy of a photograph? A note at the end features poetic abuse of ensure and also notches points for abusing etc. yet again: All mail applications submitted to the Consulate for consular services with a non-trackable return mailing envelope will be returned to the applicant without services. Please ensure to send a trackable return mailing envelope (e.g. Fedex, UPS, USPS, etc..) to ensure traceability of documents after dispatch..

Nearby on a page providing instructions for applications sent by mail ends with text that is best read with innovative pauses and emphatic vocals: The Consulate learns that some agents are claiming to have been appointed by the Consulate General of India and are misleading the public by claiming so. The Consulate informs all the applicants that no repeat no agents have been appointed by the Consulate and that the Consulate deals with members of the public directly.

thriller by the code

Jules Dassin's Brute Force is a fine entry in the noir canon and a shockingly brutal film, especially considering that it was released in 1947. The violence is especially unsettling thanks to what the production code let you show and what it didn't. The brutality is in full bloom during the climax, which also perhaps underscores the influence of the real Battle of Alcatraz more than anything else in the film. Each principal prisoner represents an archetype with a heart large enough to make you ignore the crime he is in for. In addition to being a bitter melodrama, the film also includes references to Nazi war camps: Hume Cronyn's character and performance are perhaps the most explicit hints of this. The Criterion DVD release, as with every release under the label, does justice to the film by presenting an excellent transfer and excellent special features to help you understand the context the film was made in and how it has survived over the years to become an important one. [May 31, 2009]

Friday, August 20, 2010

a multilayered tragedy for everyone involved

I had evidently not learnt well from my last exposure to the works of Robin Cook in the 21st century. In my defence, Critical was published before Intervention, so I could be excused for hoping that Dr. Cook still had some of the magic that adorned his his early books. It was a relief to find out that Critical was in fact a better book. Unfortunately, it still qualified as a poor effort when one considered books like Coma and Brain.

The novel finds Cook showing off his knowledge of medicine and medical procedures while following the rather familiar path of a thriller. To its credit it manages to toss in several different significant characters, who contribute to the crescendo to a climax of coincidences. The final chapter, unfortunately, takes us from the trappings of a cops-and-robbers series for television to a painful exercise in exposition through conversation (not unlike the scrawl at the end of those biopics telling us what happened to most of the principal characters). The epilogue makes things worse with a segue into a budding romance not unlike what one might expect from daytime soaps.

Despite serving well as a bestselling piece of pulp whose pages you could flip through without having to exercise your brain too much, the novel suffers from a poor editorial job. Anyone who lets a writer -- even a mainstream, bestselling one -- get away with using a word like guesstimation is a lazy slob who needs to find another job. Mercifully, the abuse of literally is limited (as if to make up for this, one finds the abuse blooming in Intervention).

One cannot deny the need for Cook to wax eloquent when it comes to the medical aspects of the story, since that is what defines his brand of fiction. One must, however, take issue to just how intelligent the writer assumes the reader to be. Consider the following extract:

Never once did he think about his knees and the effort expended by their various ligaments, which faithfully maintained the integrity of the joints despite the considerable stresses placed on them, and by the menisci, which cushioned the substantial pressure exerted by the distal ends of the femurs, or thighbones, on the tops of the tibias, or shinbones.

Let us choose to ignore the great disservice this long curvy sentence does to the full-stop. Let us also ignore how clumsily the writer has mixed exposition into an otherwise simple sentence. What is most annoying is how Cook pauses to explain what a femur is, he chooses to offer no such guidance for menisci. I know what a femur is, thank you very much. If you wanted to explain every medical term in that sentence, you should have explained menisci as well. I must also note that the generosity on display with this sentence is short-lived. After having realised, presumably, that several pages had been wasted in exposition instead of moving the plot forward, Cook and his editor(s) decided to let the medical jargon remain jargon, thus alienating the reader and allowing him/her to flip the pages even faster.

The reader is not the only one at the receiving end of condescension. Consider the following extract from a conversation between two doctors. Surely one would expect less exposition between two people when talking about matters germane to their occupation:

My guess is that it was a behind-the-scenes lobby competition, with the lobbyists from the AMA pitted against the lobbyists for the AHA, or American Hospital Association, and the FAH, or Federation of American Hospitals. I guess the doctors spent more money than the hospital admin groups.

Did I mention apostrophe abuse? How about inconsistent apostrophe abuse? Consider the following:

Laurie got along famously with all the PA's but particularly with Janice, who appreciated Laurie's recognition of her work. More than any of the MEs, Laurie was constantly coming to her and asking questions and valuing her opinion.

Physician assistants are, for reasons unknown, more special than medical exainers; based on other plural forms seen in the book, they seem to be more important than HMOs. Unfortunately, in the paperback edition, this superiority is asserted only page 396; until that point, the apostrophe was mercifully spared when PAs were mentioned.

Sloppy. Very sloppy.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

the red death

I'm sure I'm not the first or the last one to make digs about Oracle being a different kind of Red Scare. It's unfortunately no laughing matter when a lot of old content that used to be live at java.sun.com is no longer available even at the new scarlet apartments over at oracle.com. The most popular URL seems to be this one, which loudly screams Content removed before presenting you with a search box and a load of text at the bottom that's as friendly as a psychotic skunk:
Oracle is reviewing the Sun product roadmap and will provide guidance to customers in accordance with Oracle's standard product communication policies. Any resulting features and timing of release of such features as determined by Oracle's review of roadmaps, are at the sole discretion of Oracle. All product roadmap information, whether communicated by Sun Microsystems or by Oracle, does not represent a commitment to deliver any material, code, or functionality, and should not be relied upon in making purchasing decisions. It is intended for information purposes only, and may not be incorporated into any contract.

Whatever that means, a lot of my old bookmarks lead into nothingness. I hope it's not time to switch to tea.

you were only waiting for this moment to arise

[cross-posted on the Passion For Cinema blog]

I couldn't believe I was laughing to tears sitting in a cinema hall while watching a Hindi film. But there I was. My laughter went on when I realised that nobody else in the hall was laughing with me. There was Sumant Mastkar playing an old man whose last name was the same as the producer and co-screenwriter of the film, sitting in a wheelchair and offering some wisdom to the film's protagonist. But the words he spoke were written neither by Anurag Kashyap (the aforementioned producer) nor by Vikramaditya Motwane (the primary screenwriter making an outstanding directorial début), but by Jim Morrison.

But Udaan wasn't about inspired comic strokes. It wasn't a funny look at growing up. It was a well-written, well-acted, well-made story of a teenager grappling with the challenge of growing up in circumstances that were not as favourable as he would have liked them to be.

The film opens with four students in Simla sneaking out of the hostel to watch a skin flick. Cult director-producer Kanti Shah would hardly have imagined that his B-grade reeler Angoor would become as famous as it no doubt will thanks to this film. We are never introduced to our protagonist, until the moment in the principal's office the following day when the boys are expelled. We then follow Rohan Singh as he makes his way back to Jamshedpur to spend time with a tyrannical father given to bouts of violent anger and a step brother he never knew he had. Motwane takes elements ripe for high drama and lets them play out with sobriety and intelligence. Instead of making something for the stuffy art houses, he makes good use of Amit Trivedi's songs and background score (not including that wonderful cue for the first morning jog on the soundtrack CD is a criminal offence) while balancing them with sequences where silence reigns. In these sequences, Jameshedpur's industrial veneer that seemed to mirror his cold and stern father looked different and more idyllic as Rohan skipped college and penned poems and stories. I was reminded of Michelangelo Antonioni's L'Avventura, but any comparison would be unjust to either film -- Motwane is not striving for minimalist success; he's trying to tell a personal story while employing a variety of narrative devices -- if you thought he was trying to be anti-mainstream, all you have to do to crush that idea is consider the references of pop culture strewn across the film and how the lyrics of the songs that remain in the background complement the goings-on on screen.

One of the film's subtle rewards is in how it uses the city of Jamshedpur (what was the last film set in and shot in Jamshedpur?). The city is notable for its industrial heritage as well as its planning. Motwane resists the mainstream temptation of turning this film into an advertisement for tourists and instead offers an introduction to the organic elements of the city. When Rohan's father gives him a running tour, he is also introducing us to the various elements of the city. We see the city at night through Rohan's eyes. We see the factory as Rohan sees it and also, to a minor extent, as his father does. It is an admirable choice (reportedly a suggestion from Imtiaz Ali) that gives you the idea of a small town, without actually being a place too far removed from the modern world.

As if a strong turn by debutante Rajat Barmecha as Rohan Singh was not enough, we get a marvellous performance from the younger Aayan Boradia. Ram Kapoor (often sounding like Anurag Kashyap) makes a great foil for Rajat's burgeoning ambitions but it is Ronit Roy as the father who gives the film its spine. Motwane and Kashyap present him not as a dark villain, but as a complex product of the aspirations of his father, the burden of his responsibilities as the eldest son and his inability to change what he has become. He epitomises what Rohan and Arjun might become (or worse) if they continue to remain stifled by his unrelenting dictatorial care. I found myself sympathising with his plight, even though I sensed that both boys could do with some time outside his cage. Udaan is the unhurried patient exploration of their journey understanding each other and their father with a conclusion that is satisfying both in its essence and in its ode to the famous ending of Francois Truffaut's classic film that, interestingly enough, was also about a kid growing up.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

a taste of indianness

BIG Cinemas USA decided to do something special this year to celebrate Indian Independence. They decided to run something called Spirit of my Tirangaa: free movies screened all week from August 07, 2010 to August 15, 2010. All you had to do was go online to their site, "purchase" tickets (use a credit card and be charged $0.0) and then show up at the chosen theatre on the chosen date near the chosen time, present the same credit card and get your tickets.

Based on the calendar, the only thing I could manage was a screening of Dasavatharam at 1900. I really wish they had put Rock On in a weekend slot, but some accountant was surely in charge of this.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at BIG Cinemas Peachtree 8 (earlier Galaxy Funplex 8) was that they had a spelling mistaken on the marquee: it was Tere Ben Laden when it should have been Tere Bin Laden. The second thing I noticed was that there was no sign of any Spirit or any Tirangaa. It was just another evening in another upcoming desii ghetto (what with the Palace in the next block).

Saying the magic words at the concession stand and producing the right credit card got me the tickets and a survey form that the person at the stand requested be filled out before the movie. The survey included: which movie(s) did you watch as part of this free movie celebration? which was the last movie you saw at this theatre? The survey also asked you to tick the things that you thought the festival achieved for you (something about meeting other Indians and experiencing a sense of solidarity: left unticked; free movies: ticked).

The celebrations began after I started walking to the designated theatre. Number 5 was officially screening "Once upon a time in Mumbai"; unofficially, it was going to be the screening room for "Dasavatharam" (I am sure this and some other halls had been hijacked from the regular screening schedule to accommodate the Festival of Freedom). There was but a handful of people in the theatre. Not surprising, really. No, I don't think it was because why would you want to watch Dasavatharam even for free?. It's just that I don't think the Indian population in Atlanta and its 'burbs can hold a candle to other Indian-laden cities in the USA in such matters. But I digress. The air conditioning in this room was dead. The room was already warm and would surely get uncomfortable later. Some people were already joking that the air conditioning might cost extra since it was a free screening.

The first signs of the film were purely aural. All we heard was a background cue for the opening credits. Then silence. Someone in the projection room was trying hard to fix whatever had gone wrong. Some black and white footage -- despite being squished away in the right corner of the screen -- represented a sign of progress along with a background cue. Then silence. Finally, sound and picture united and we started getting title cards.

But something was wrong. The actor was right (Kamal Haasan) but the film was wrong. Indian!!?? That's the 10:30pm show people. Thankfully, a couple of people went out to notify the hapless people managing the place. Then, someone came back to tell us all that we had to move to theatre number 6 right across. This was when I was glad it was not a full house. We had a mini stampede from number 5 to number 6.

Number 6 was mercifully embellished with functional air conditioning. The loud end credits of Tere Bin Laden continued to roll by and the people in that show were surely surprised that so many Indians had arrived so early for the next screening. Then there was silence and a blank screen. More help arrived but it was helpless as well. It was unclear whether number 5 would be the screening hall with the correct film or number 6 would be the new location. The screen in number 5 flickered to life with sounds of a voice telling you about the Ayngaran strain of DVDs and then vanished to be replaced by a full spread of a screen from a Samsung Blu-Ray player. Number 6 remained blank. Eventually, Dasavatharam unrolled in number 6.

Since this was a free screening, the management of this BIG Cinemas franchise probably did not consider issuing an apology to the audience with free passes for a visit in future. Or was it because this theatre, like the old Galaxy Cinema on Jimmy Carter Boulevard, subscribed to the desii ethic: no matter how shoddy your theatre and management are, the Indians crazy for their Bollyfix (or Kollyfix or Tollyfix) will flock to hurl their dollars at you. Even if your projector goes tipsy. Even if the seats have seen better days. They will also keep their cellphones with their annoying ringtones on and at the highest possible volume during the screening and also quite often conduct telephonic conversations during the film. Happy Independence Day people. You can talk the desii out of desiland but you can't take the desii-ness out of him/her. It's too BIG to handle.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

preview potshots

Lafangey Parindey: You can be sure that nobody's going to believe that the man behind Parineeta and Laaga Chunari Mein Daag is the director of this mix of action, romance and high concept (biker dude named One Shot Nandu falls for a roller-skating blind dancer named Pinky Palkar). The fonts and the use of white and yellow are familiar, but someone has to help me with remembering where I've seen them before (yes, I thought of the remake of Gone in 60 Seconds, but I think there's something much closer). Someone named Gopi Puthran (the next Vijay Krishna Acharya?) is responsible for the story, screenplay and dialogues like the poor Vishal Bhardwaj ripoff that opens the trailer (दर्द और मर्द में द और म का फर्क होता है; द और म बोले तो दम) and the poor female rejoinder with Deepika Padukone attempting some poor Bambaiya (जो दिमाग से खिसकेला रहता है वोइच life में ऊपर जाता है: someone please bring Anthony Gonsalves back!). When Piyush Mishra appears (as the villain of the piece, surely), he takes his relatively simpler lines and growls them out with delightful smoldering menace. It's a pity that such moments are drowned by scenes that are hardly exciting and dumb intertitles that present the essential story in a nutshell (he is wild ... she is blind ... he was born to fight ... she was born to fly ... they were destined to meet ...he will teach her how to see ... she will teach him how to love ... but love (cut) comes at a (cut) price). After Badmaash Company and Lafangey Parindey, it's only a matter of time before the marquee is hit by the likes of Paaji Angaarey, Mawali Enterprises and Leechad Titliyaan.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

the loud unsubtle woes of identity

Mahesh Manjrekar's Astitva is loaded with too many Bollywood clichés, too much bad staging and hammy performances putting banshees to shame to be convincing or competent enough. A simple premise of the effect of an extra-marital affair on the family could have interpreted effectively with a judicious choice of dialogue, staging and music. Manjrekar unfortunately employs elements that might work better in Marathi mainstream theatre but not in the world of edited film. Employing the familiar Bollywood trope of non-diegetic songs only makes matters worse. The result is an overlong exercise in loud drama and unsubtle quietude that might appeal only to the popcorn-chewing hoi polloi, who might welcome the break from incongruous breaks into foreign lands for a session of tush-and-armpit aerobics.

The film opens with Mohnish Behl struggling to look competent as an old man (with an ill-fitting wig and obvious gratuitous makeup) as a song in a 7-beat cycle assaults the speakers. Things move from Hubli to Pune two years later and things unfold through a combination of domestic detective work, flashbacks laced with songs owing a debt to puriyaa dhanashrii and to.Dii. You can barely stomach a chuckle when a person named Malhar (Mohnish Behl) breaks into a rain song. Tabu and Sachin Khedekar wrestle with the dross about them and the piffle dialogue sheets handled to them, but cannot save this enterprise. Smita Jaykar and Ravindra Mankani (who, with the goatee, does a better job as a Willem Dafoe lookalike). Namrata Shirodkar in a "very special appearance" (मैं computer science की graduate हूँ; फिलहाल एक computer firm में काम करती हूँ) cannot do much in the sea of dulled senses. Instead of writing to exploit the audio-visual medium and to create some sense of dramatic tension, Manjrekar chooses to write "shocking" dialogue (when was the last time you heard someone talk about the crimson curse?) and background music that refuses to yield a moment of intelligent silence.

The result of all this and a misplaced vertigo zoom is an exercise that is as subtle as a blunt hammer underscored by the misery in the department of subtitles (adultery and debauchery become synonyms; there's something called "French leave"; and Tabu's character becomes a "wanton whore"). The cherry on this cake of compost is the unskippable content on the DVD: be prepared to sit through an unskippable ad for indiaplaza.com followed by unskippable ads for Zee Movies and Zee Gold. Every commercial dodo wants to assert its own identity before you get the real deal. [september 16, 2009]

Friday, August 06, 2010

the moon rises on the ocean

Indian Ocean's first release (still forthcoming) after the loss of Asheem also bears the longest of all their titles. 16/330 Khajoor Road is named for the band's Bron-Yr-Aur and the band is releasing its seven songs (which include bulaa rahaa, which they had composed for the still-to-hit-the-marquee Shoonya and a Bengali song bondhu, both of which have been part of their concert playlists) one by one, in each passing month online over at their portal. At the end of it all, the band plans to release a double CD: the second disc will contain alternative versions and recordings of rehearsals. This cool idea is apparently doing well so far, after the first song Chand went online last month. This was a song penned by Sanjeev Sharma that they had recorded for an Anurag Kashyap short called Pramod Bhai 23; the short was part of the anthology Mumbai Cutting, which a privileged few have been able to catch it at IFFLA in 2008 or later at the 10th Osian Film Festival. It has since joined the list of films stuck in release hell (Sudhir Mishra's Tera Kya Hoga Johnny, Nagesh Kukunoor's Aashayein, Anurag Kashyap's Paanch, Gulzar's Libaas). Oh well. Rue no more. Sit back and enjoy the unique sound of Indian Ocean.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

RED: the rediff english dictionary

red(iff)undant nounery: the habit of adding extra nouns without adding any meaning (usually to reveal either the writer's lack of familiarity with English writing or the writer's desire to add to the long list of India's contributions to the English language)

Her filmography lists include Om Shanti Om, I Hate Love Storys and now Sonam Kapoor's Aisha.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

my own hocus pocus

(with due apologies to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.)

Finding a free copy of Crime and Punishment at the public library does not serve as an example of any form of irony.

Aamir Khan's performance as Rehan before the interval in Fanaa (yes, that movie) can be best understood as a dark parody of his character Dil Nawaaz in 1947: Earth

नाम मेरा Mango Dolly from Quick Gun Murugun is a delightful take on the club crooner's ditty that mixes Hindi and Tamil, but it's crowning moment is when Geeta John says eDitiTTa po, which, in Malayalam, means take it away. The smile of understanding makes you feel good about knowing more than one language.

What would happen if Aruna Irani married Brooke Shields? She would become Aruna Shields

3 Idiots is not a film about Kaalia and his ill-fated colleagues who met their untimely end at the hands of the Project Leader from Hell, Gabbar Hari Singh.

Incidentally, has anyone ever written a book about the fabulous advertising campaign by Sylvester da Cunha at ASP for Amul?

Has anyone written a term paper about Chetan Bhagat being the Dan Brown of Indian-English writing in India? Or, if you wanted to be jingoistically dense, about Dan Brown being the Chetan Bhagat of bestseller dross? Both write competently and churn out vacuous tombs of papyrii laced with hieroglyphics that would even make a desii IT code churner feel like Bertrand Russell. If someone now decides to write it, please don't forget that you read it here first. Coming Soon: a Robert Ludlum novel written by the Bhagat-Brown combine titled The Brown Ultimatum.

bappidas

I didn't know Kalpana Iyer had been a winner of the Miss India title. Having discovered this, I decided to check her filmography out. All my memories of Madame Iyer were of her as a vamp in hits churned out by Bappi Lahiri (hari Om hari in Pyaara Dushman and rambhaa ho in Armaan). Her filmography did not yield any surprises, however; there was no phase of roles indicating a desire to try some serious acting and snag an award or two. But I stumbled upon Manokaamnaa. I knew Bappi's songs for the film, but I had no idea that Madame Iyer had starred in this Raj Kiran flick. Predictably, the video for my favourite song on the soundtrack was up on Youtube. As with most of the songs for Bollywood films, what goings-on on screen added naught to my favourable impressions of the song. I, however, realised that in addition to sounding like himself, Bappi also seemed to be doing an impersonation of Yesudas. What the song would have sounded like if Yesudas had sung it is unfortunately a matter of speculation.

Friday, July 30, 2010

kashyap and koechlin return

Despite numerous notes about Bombay Velvet and an adaptation of Doga, the newest finished film of Anurag Kashyap turns out to be The Girl in Yellow Boots announced in October last year. Thanks to a new note over at PFC, we now have a trailer for the film (warning: NSFW) from TIFF 2010 in September. It's also going to be screened at the Venice Film Festival (also in September) along with Mani Ratnam's unwitting tribute to Tropic Thunder, Raavan. Ratnam's being honoured at the festival because he is, among other things, One of the great innovators in contemporary Indian cinema, he helped introduce the auteur concept to contemporary Bollywood. Jeez. Bollywood? They got their woods mixed up again. Auteur? You have got to be kidding me. Oh! Wait! They said contemporary. Never mind.

On a more optimistic note, Dennis Hopper's The Last Movie (still unavailable on DVD) is also on the list at Venice.

 
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