Friday, 30 September 2011

Friday Links 6


The Glasses picture quiz -


All round condemnation of terror attacks kills one terrorist -

Jobless for 10 years, JNU student insists US imperialism his biggest concern -


Poaching and Kaziranga -


Rickshaw pullers: Delhi vs Colorado -

Indian woman spends 16 months in Antarctica -

Women in India not allowed to work as make-up artists -


Judging photography competitions -

Landscape photography cheats -


Asia and the flight from marriage -


When you should and shouldn't use hyphens -


Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Movies Seen Recently - Sucker Punch, Marijuana Inc., The Real Face of Jesus, Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

Difficult to critique this film. It's repetitive yet not entirely boring. 

A story within a story within a story. One of the best opening sequences ever. Excellent music. A good set-up for the rest of the film, which meanders along, till that first breathtaking action sequence.

By the time the second one comes along, you know what to expect, you recognise the narrative pattern, and you're waiting too see how it's going to end, rather than wait through the story itself. Only a die hard action buff would really stay focused from this mid point in the film.

Not that the action sequences are second rate. They are among the best I've ever seen. But there's only so much slick action you can take, and since it's all imagination, there's not much emotional attachment to it anyhow.

Which ultimately brings the film down, until the very end. Excellent music, action, and special effects. Overall, an average watch.

A multi perspective documentary on the prevalence of marijuana in the US. Timepass.

A History Channel documentary on the shroud of Turin. Full of unexplored gaps and a little too much drama. I learnt nothing new.

A good introduction for someone new to the topic, perhaps.

From Morgan Spurlock, the same guy who gave us Super Size Me, this is a very entertaining documentary.

Spurlock travels to a number of countries with majority Muslim populations, and like the host of a travel show, points out interesting things around him. He also interviews people on the streets, his most common question being where he can find Osama.

What he learns is that most people in these countries are just like him, and there are larger problems to worry about than Osama, as finding him won't change anything.

This documentary isn't one of those informative intelligent ones. It's documentary making with an agenda. Of course, what documentary isn't? You don't really learn anything new, and are simply presented with a conclusion you knew all along.

But it's made well, the host is likable; the music, graphics & editing keep you engrossed in what's happening, and it's always nice to see normal people talk about something you're interested in, offering varying perspectives.


Friday, 23 September 2011

Friday Links 5




New company offers 'corporate libraries' -


Last surviving witness of Abraham Lincoln's assassination appearing on a 1956 US game show -


Check out this free online Science Journalism course -



Thursday, 22 September 2011

Movies Seen Recently - Elektra Luxx, Get Thrashed, Mad Max 2, The Science of Sex Appeal, World's Deadliest Animals, Madagascar 2

Avoid. A star cast couldn't save this film.

A good watch if you'd like to know about the history of, and major players in, thrash metal.

Surprisingly better than the first film, IMO. Extremely entertaining. Especially the long chase sequence at the end. No idea how many films this film influenced. Recommended.

The Science of Sex Appeal (2009)

A well-structured documentary, with apt demonstrations to educate viewers about the different factors involved in attraction. I like documentaries that are both educational and entertaining, and this is both. Recommended.

World's Deadliest Animals: Asia: Land of Extremes & Africa (2008)

Nat Geo documentaries. Kind of boring. Nothing new to learn. A few visuals of a selection of dangerous creatures, stitched together with some generic irritating commentary.

Nature documentary. Not bad. A bit dated. Good for kids.

Again, I'm surprised at how good some sequels can be. This one was quick, witty, and hilarious, matching if not exceeding the original. Excellent pop culture references, my favourites being the Gremlins and Statue of Liberty bits. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Robe - A Book & Movie Comparison

The 1942 book was always intended to be a religious discourse. The entire middle section is more a retelling of the gospels than an actual story, though it has a pretty structured narrative that make sense, when it's not busy being anti-semitic. The book is good in parts, but dishonest overall.

The 1953 movie, on the other hand, has historical inaccuracies (and not in a good way like in 300) & a narrative that is seriously flawed. Logic has been sacrificed for dramatic effect. Avoidable.


Friday, 16 September 2011

Friday Links 4



Check out this acoustic cover of 'Rolling in the Deep' by Siddharth Basrur - (For context, here's the original version by Adele -






5 iconic science images, and why they're wrong -



Is this creature caught in the Philippines, the largest crocodile ever? -

On the futility of attempting to count species -



Thursday, 15 September 2011

Conspicuous Security

Rewind to just after the November 2008 Mumbai attacks. I'd like to draw your attention to the comments section in the post that's linked below, and the bit about conspicuous security.

Fast forward to January 2011. I'm sharing a rickshaw with a British expat. As we pass through Pali Hill, Bandra, we see a silver Rolls Royce (or a Maybach, I can't be sure) pull out of a swank building at high speed. It's immediately tailed by a police jeep nearby, equally fast, and on perfect cue as they drive up the road, a black unmarked security vehicle follows. All very quick and professional looking.

My companion remarks how silly it all is, how conspicuous the target vehicle is, and how vulnerable the target, were it to be attacked. He remarks that discretion would be a better way to go about it, travelling in one or a few unmarked vehicles, anonymously, not drawing attention to yourself, like they do abroad. But I'm still not sure.

I've always thought that in India, flashy security works better than discreet security. Firstly, travelling in a convoy of unmarked security vehicles is going to garner attention one way or another. The only benefit is hiding your target. And that's not much of a benefit when your convoy is going to be stuck in slow moving traffic anyway, were it to be attacked.

Secondly, Mumbai isn't exactly the venue for high-profile assassinations or 'hits'. Professional terrorists were able to overcome a good deal of policemen in November 2008, but your everyday Indian businessman, politician, or celebrity is going to be targeted by people a little more rustic, like freelance mafia hitmen with pistols. These types are neither well trained, well organised, or high-tech. And easily deterred by an obvious show of force.

So it would appear that conspicuousness wins over discretion, right? Well, that's what I thought, but I suppose things are changing. Who's to say that a rich business or political rival isn't going to hire a professional (or professionals) to do what your lowly hitman can't? In which case, your flashy show of force will come to naught, much like the security in place at VT that November. And in a situation like this, anonymous travel in a convoy makes more sense.

The advent of more high earning, high profile targets, susceptible to attack by increasingly armed and organised individuals, means more discretion can only be a good thing. Flashy conspicuous security might work at present, most of the time, but in the long run, it has got to evolve.



Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Movies Seen Recently - Thor, Zeitgeist: The Movie, 500 Days of Summer, Stripper Academy

Thor (2011)

One of the better superhero movies made recently.

Kenneth Branagh lived up to expectations, delivering a film with an epic feel, tight editing, good VFX, decidedly good storytelling, infused with appropriate humour, and supported by a good cast.

A grand success for someone who's more used to making Shakespearean themed films. And Tom Hiddlestone as Loki is probably one of the best casting decisions made so far this year.

The film begins on a boring note, with abstract visualisations and news clips seemingly continuing forever.

Then comes 'Part 1 - The Greatest Story Ever Told', about the story of Jesus being a myth, derived from other religions. It seems like the film makers only selected facts that supported their theories and left out a number of other facts that constituted important evidence contradicting them.

'Part 2 - All the World's a Stage', discusses 9/11 being an inside job, but using only anecdotal evidence.

'Part 3 - Don't Mind the Men behind the Curtain', discusses how wars are instigated by a select few individuals only for economic gain, and that everything is leading to a one-world government.

The film does make factual references but they're few and far between and taken out of context. That, and the slick editing and music score, makes it seem misleading.

Bittersweet romantic drama. One of the better ones to come out of America recently. Doesn't resort to cuteness, cliches or over-the-top devices to gain attention.

Highly recommended.

Stripper Academy (2007)



Monday, 12 September 2011

Chain Mail

People tend to keep cursing spam email, which is fair.

The last thing you want to see when you go online and open your email inbox are messages about 6 month MBAs from dubious PO Box universities, penis enlargement pills, discounted medication, and links to porn/virus websites. So all the hate directed at spam email is well deserved.

And then there are chain emails, the ones with a pretty useless message and a note at the bottom asking you to forward the email to 10 other people within a time frame, lest something evil befall you and your family. Exasperated anger towards emails like these is well deserved too.

But to those of you who believe that chain mail is a recent phenomena, that came into being soon after the advent of the internet, I'd like to point out that some of us have been silent sufferers of it for far longer.

You see, before there was spam email, there was spam mail. That's right. Paper spam. In envelopes. Delivered to your doorstep.

You opened the envelope. You read the contents on a printed sheet of paper. Telling you how long that particular chain was. And how much more longer you could make it, by making copies and forwarding it to 10 other friends, and adding your name to the list included. How the Prince of Wales was part of the chain, and how you wouldn't want to piss him off by discontinuing the chain, in less direct but equally menacing words.

Into the trash bin those letters went. And nothing ever befell our family except less stress, and perhaps no calls from the Prince of Wales.


Saturday, 10 September 2011

Movies Seen: Moon, Sunshine

A couple of British Sc-fi films I saw last year but didn't really feel like writing about till now.

Moon (2009)

Gotta love Sam Rockwell. The man is a brilliant actor. Like Paul Giamatti, he's a pleasure to watch, in any film. And unlike his other films, where he plays supporting roles, this one is all him.

A man living and working alone on a lunar base discovers something 'unusual' about himself.

Though the film does derive some of its story from ideas seen in previous sci-fi ones, it comprises enough good storytelling and acting to keep you entertained.

Highly recommended.

Sunshine (2007)

Not among the best sci-fi films I've seen, but good enough. A vey entertaining watch.

A group of scientists on their way to detonate a bomb on the sun, find that things are going wrong.

The film seems separated into 2 halves, the first one being a drama, and the next one being a murder-suspense-action-thriller, which doesn't say much for narrative perfection, but Danny Boyle sure knows how to keep us viewers gripped.

That, and Cillian Murphy's performance, make this a very good film. Recommended.


Friday, 9 September 2011

Friday Links 3



Uncapped Pakistani youngster announces Test comeback -



This article combines 2 of my favourite subjects - comparative psychology & behavioural economics. When it comes to money, monkeys are irrational too -

Pop Culture




In defense of P.G Wodehouse -


Thursday, 8 September 2011

Mumbai Foods to Avoid

There are a few food options in this city I wouldn't revisit.

1. The mango milkshake at Lucky. Just tastes wrong.

2. The snacks at Ribbons and Balloons. Stick to the desserts.

3. The sizzlers at Gondola. They cost Rs.400+ each and I've had better for cheaper.

4. The rolls at Mini Punjab. Rs.140 for an average-sized average-tasting roll. Not value for money, compared to the more delicious, more substantial rolls, at Hanglas & Sigdi nearby.

5. The food at Mughal Sarai is good but avoid if you don't like a cheese overdose. 

6. Most food at Candies. Extremely overpriced. Rs.30 for a tiny chicken lollipop? You've got to be kidding! I can get better ones at Kalpana for Rs.12. Stick to the desserts.

7. The Bheja masala at Sarvi. I've had way better.

8. The onion rings at Harbour View, Colaba.

9. The chocolate milkshake at Badshah, Crawford market. Stick to the Falooda.

Expect additions.


Wednesday, 7 September 2011


[Something I wrote when I was around 14. The last time I ever tried writing poetry.]

For all the complications this life provides,
does man really understand the reality.

Does there exist invisible to our eye,
a truth behind the burden.

Do we understand the significance,
of each passing thought.

Do we fathom our feelings,
to reach a new level, another step,
towards a light which continues to be,
just out of reach.

Do we question why,
each move is made.

Does a person complicate a monotony,
does he try to make life,
an open field for peace or war,
or a wall which needs,
to be broken down.

As we lay on a platform,
do we face life,
as friend or foe.

As the mind, a sea of inequality,
as an exploitation of the will,
another dimension behind the curtain,
resembles the indirect force,
of a level being.

As an island, luscious or bare,
does thought provide an openness,
or fairness of discharge.

The thinkable surely lies,
on a parallel with a base of understanding.
As a life broken by strands,
of a complascent nature.


Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Movies Seen Recently: Howl's Moving Castle, Insidious, Hop, Simon Birch, Charlie Wilson's War, eXistenZ

Visually stunning. Right from the first frame. One of the best opening sequences ever. Sad that the narrative doesn't match up.

Like some of Miyazaki's earlier works - Kiki's Delivery Service & My neighbour Totoro - this film is also made from the heart, which sounds good, but in reality, means that you never really know where the story is going.

On the other hand, my favourite Miyazaki films, his latter ones - Princess Mononoke & Spirited Away - apart from being near perfect, differ from the rest in that they establish concrete story lines within themselves.

In Princess Mononoke, because of the events in the beginning of the film, you know what the remainder is going to be about - redemption & finding your destiny.

It's the same for Spirited Away. Because of what happens at the start of the film, you know that in spite of all the visually arresting detailing scattered throughout the rest of the film, the real objective of the main character is getting her parents back. That's the back story, the invisible narrative, guiding events along, giving you a reason to keep watching, keeping you engrossed. It's your emotional anchor.

Not so for Howl's Moving Castle. It's by far the best technical film from Miyazaki yet, but at no point was I aware of what was motivating each of the film's characters to do what they did, and so couldn't really see a story.

In other words, anything goes. No matter what the characters do next, you just have to accept it. You're in a ship, Miyazaki is steering, and you have no idea what the destination is.

Which is disappointing, and reminiscent of Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. Till volume 8, it was like he was just making stuff up. Brief Lives (vol. 8) was the best in the series partly because you already had the previous volumes for context, and partly because it provided enough context within itself to stand alone as a complete story, without pulling magic rabbits out of a hat, something I like to call 'The Buffy Effect'.

'The Buffy Effect', something I coined after watching scenes from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series, refers to a narrative device where the storyteller reveals new rules as the story progresses, inducing emotional detachment from the story and characters.

Example - Imagine that the central character, in a T.V series about the supernatural, dies. You've had to watch 100 crappy episodes to get to this point. You're sad, but you have closure. But in the next episode, someone finds out about an old forgotten rule in a lost obscure magic book, that can bring him/her back to life. And so the story continues. That's the 'Buffy Effect'. Making new stuff up as you go along, to keep the story running. Sooner or later, the viewer loses interest.

Gaiman did it, the makers of 'Buffy...' did it, and so does Miyazaki.

You'd think that establishing a strong motivational base for the main character's actions for the rest of the film, or spending some time at the start of the film in setting up a story, would be important. Even the world's worst movies do this. 

Ridley Scott did this excellently in Gladiator (among the world's best movies) when he spent the first 5 minutes of the film in a bloody vicious beautiful battle scene, and the next 15 minutes in separate paired conversations between each of the films 4 main characters (Maximus-love interest, Maximus-rival, Maximus-father figure, father figure-love interest, father figure-rival, love interest-rival), establishing relationships, conflict & setting up a classic narrative based on the themes of revenge, love & duty, for the next 2 hours.

Another good example would be The Prestige, one of my favourite films, and one of the best films ever made. The themes - revenge and obsession - are brought out clearly through a narrative that establishes motivations for the character's behaviours at the start of the film.

The fact that these themes are reinforced throughout the film is only because the narrative is non-linear to begin with. It's easier to do this in a linear-narrative film like Gladiator, or Howl's Moving Castle.

But Miyazaki's having none of that. That's where his films differ.

So watch this film for the visual element. Don't expect a compact well-packaged story. Just enjoy the ride. And if you're watching the dubbed version by Pixar, pay attention to the voice-overs by an all-star cast.

Insidious (2011)

Horror film with a twist. I don't watch or enjoy many horror films, but if you like the genre, I guess this one is O.K.

Hop (2011)

Fun slick well-edited children's Easter film with very good music, cameos & voice-overs. 

Please note - For Children Only.

Simon Birch (1998)

Beautiful film. Excellent cast, story and narrative. Highly recommended.

Well scripted and edited. A good cast. A political film that's fun to watch. Highly recommended.

eXistenZ (1999)

A multiplayer virtual reality game within a game within a game, all within the players minds.

I wanted to like this film badly. I tried. And I failed. Just too slow and boring for my tastes. It made me feel like watching Inception again.


Friday, 2 September 2011

Friday Links 2


Public Service

A website that tells you if it's a dry day in Maharashtra -



The 10th US President born in 1790 has a living grandson -




The truth about cold water -


The Big Bang Theory team takes questions at Comic Con -