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


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


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:


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.
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