Friday, February 26, 2010

Unworded - The new generation schooler's principle

I rebel and therefore I am                 (Snapped from my brother's kid's Tee-shirt)  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Didi Express

Here is what I observe(d), watching Mamata-di, our honourable railway minister, present her railway budget.

  • Most of the time, as Mamata is talking loudly, looking at her stack of papers, our other parliamentarians try to stand and out-shout her. But Didi, being Didi, steamrolls them with some of her counter-shouting.
  • Poor Meira Kumar! All that she was doing was to tell our unruly representatives, "Please don't shout, Please sit down", as if they were school kids and ready to obey.
  • Didi is flipping the budget pages left, right and center, pausing long at times and then starting to rattle off some train names and places, which with almost non existent intonation, sounds like a drone of a monologue.
  • Didi smirks and makes pointed gestures and even snapped at the other netas. ("See what I am offering", "Can't you understand what I am talking", "It'll take another 4 hours")
  • Lalu "the great", is shown at times, with his characteristic smile and shaking his head at times.
  • I can only imagine the cacaphonic "kaapi tea chaayae, kaapi kaapi" of railway platforms, as I see (saw) the budget being presented. I couldn't understand a lot of what Didi was talking, whether it was in English or in Hindi or a smattering of Bengali. She was like a chattering toy with faulty electronics which started and stopped on its own will.
  • It was a 'koththu parota' experience to see place names in Tamil Nadu being butchered by Didi.
Aside, why don't our parliamentarians embrace technology for this? Use PowerPoint presentations and talk only on the key points. Makes it easier. (There was a fake mail that floated around as excerpts from Nilekani's blog poking fun at the bureaucracy when Nandan Nilekani took over as the chair for the Unique Identification Authority of India project and when he supposedly wanted to present status to the parliament. That was fun)

Hopefully the budget is good for the train travellers out here.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Insurance is the subject matter of solicitation

Now that the financial year end approaches, the frequency of the insurance ads on radios and TVs seem to have ratcheted up. At least these days, the voice-overs are slow and clear in stating the unfanthomably complex and unclear blurb, "Insurance is the subject matter of solicitation. Please read the offer document carefully before subscribing (or accepting)". This voice-over part of the above statement used to be on steroids and would be fast forwarded at 5x the speed of the main ad, as if something that should not be heard is being said. Maybe ASCI/IRDA ruled on that and put an end to the 'garble' that it was. It used to be fun hearing those messages at various speeds from various providers including one who went on a 0.75x normal speed, maybe to poke fun at the speedsters.

And why is it that they need to use complex jargon? The meaning of ""Insurance is the subject matter of solicitation" as I understand is that insurance is not to be solicited by the provider, but initiated (solicited) by the customer from them after reading through the insurance offering. (Anyway, that is only in spirit and not followed anywhere AFAIK) Why can't the providers use a simple statement that conveys the meaning clearly?


Thursday, February 18, 2010

The memory rewind

There is a wonderful article from John Jordan in Forbes, titled "Do you remember your first e-mail address or Internet purchase?".

Reading the article pulled me back in time to old days and I could relate with almost everything that he talks of, having walked through them. The fall of the Berlin wall, the bombing of Iraq, the first cell phones a.k.a. the bricks, your first e-mail address(es), the first Web, the instant messaging, the first e-purchase, Windows 95, the first text message, search before Google, the tech stock empire, the first flat screen, the first online video, the last photo film, Facebook, going retro etc. Whew, what a list!

We just pass by events without realizing we are passing by history being made!

Thanks John for that amazing trip down the memory lane and recharging my nostalgian batteries.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The coffee cat

Nothing beats a South Indian 'degree filter coffee' early in the morning for salvation.

The aroma of the coffee powder, usually the peaberry variety, roasted and ground with a dash of powdered chicory root for increasing the brew strength kicks off the ritual of coffee drinking. [My fave brand is Cothas Coffee, with 85% coffee and 15% chicory. I love that taste of coffee powder in my mouth :-)] A slow drip gives the best potent brew for which the coffee powder needs to pressed to the filter to be packed dense and hot water poured in slowly and the filter capped. The decoction should look dark and viscous to knock you off. :-)

Image courtesy: Wikipedia
I love my coffee slightly dark, a tad bitter and not very hot. Señora drinks it piping hot and I get the stick, if her coffee isn't so. I sit with my coffee tumbler and dabarah after the mixing for froth and sipping it slowly for the taste to linger. I even like the taste of it when it goes cold. No black coffee for me, however.

I have nothing against tea drinkers, but I have been conditioned to drink tea in the evenings, if I do, rather than the mornings.

Cappuccino, Caffè Latte, Caffè Espresso, Caffè Macchiato, Mocha or any other coffee drink may be there, but the South Indian degree coffee rules!

My toast to all the coffee drinkers out there...

Monday, February 15, 2010

Monday Morning C&H + Dilbert

All copyrights for the "Calvin and Hobbes" strip acknowledged. © Bill Watterson, Gocomics

All copyrights for the "Dilbert" strip acknowledged. © Scott Adams

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Unworded - A sundown over the Pacific

Sunset over the Pacific at the San Gregorio State Beach, California

Friday, February 12, 2010

Russian fiction

I am not a littérateur or a very avid book reader, but somehow for me, the following authors wait to be read from Russian literature. I do not know whether I'll do it at all or how much I'll do it, but they are on my list. Hopefully some time, I buy and read at least a few of the unabridged ones, once I clear the ones that are "head of line blocking". (Ha Ha Ha, managed to sneak in a geek term into an absolutely unrelated post :-))

Leo TolstoyWar and Peace, Anna Karenina
Fyodor DostoyevskyCrime and Punishment, Brothers Karamazov
Vladimir NabokovLolita
Anton ChekovHis collection of short stories
Ivan TurgenevFathers and Sons

Maybe some articles in "The Hindu", a long time back, prodded me to cling on to, and remember some of these names and works, with an intent to read them somewhere, sometime. Slaved to random memories, with nuggets of information, useful or useless, lodged deep and they don't seem to fade away and peek out once in a while. This list is one.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Short Takes

A few short takes on movies that I saw in the recent past.

Inglourious Basterds
A war period movie from Quentin Tarantino. Expletives galore, gore (ripping the scalp of the killed soldiers, yuck) in a fictional story of a plot to execute Hitler and the top brass of the Nazi SS. Brad Pitt is the leader of the small American guerilla group that roams Nazi France and terrorizes the Nazi soldiers with their cold-blooded scalping. Brad's acting is good, but he is overshadowed by Christoph Waltz, who is terribly brilliant in his portrayal of Hans Landa, a SS colonel and to a fair extent by Mélanie Laurent, who portrays Shosanna, a Jew who escapes from Hans as her family is wiped out, and runs a cinema theater in Paris after changing her identity. The second half of the film is engrossing as two divergent plots to take down the Nazi top folks narrow down to the same destination for a climax. A good film, but not Tarantino's best. Inglorious, it wasn't.

Heartwarming tale of a retiree widower escaping his boring lonely life by tying his house with helium balloons and flying to South America to see Paradise Falls which he had wanted to visit with his wife long back. A inquisitive young boy joins as a stowaway in the floating house. Their adventure on landing some distance away from their destination and finding a long lost bird which is stalked for by a wayward scientist provide the comic and serious moments. Nice animation by Pixar adding a feather to its cap. For whatever it was, I loved the movie Cars, the most, of all the Pixar movies. Worth all the adventure, Up in the sky!

From Paris with love
Uh Oh! John Travolta has copy adichified Rajini's "Mottai Boss" get up in Sivaji. If you love the sound of bullets leaving their revolvers and automatics, this movie has lots of it including a few in slo-mo. Story is a worn out one, but carried off pretty well by John Travolta who is a CIA special agent operative, sent into Paris to put down a Pakistani drug cartel. In fact, he pulls the movie through with his wit and style. Jonathan Rhys Meyers is subdued and is double-crossed by his French girl-f(r)iend (Kasia Smutniak). There is a BP raising car chase through the streets of Paris for about 15 minutes. The lady who acts as the friend of Jon's girl-friend and comes maybe for less than 5 minutes looked pretty pretty (Amber Rose Revah). Other than the car chase and Travolta's antics, this movie doesn't have much redemption on it and there is no love lost in Paris!

Parent trap
The plot has been seen in many movies and in Indian movies as well (குழந்தையும் தெய்வமும் in தமிழ்). Twins are separated when young by their parents because of a divorce and they are raised far apart. During an international summer camp, the two serendipitously meet and switch places to meet their other parent whom they have never seen. How they get their parents together back as they find out that their father is about to re-marry one who is interested in his wealth forms the rest of the story. Lindsay Lohan is endearing as the twin kids and is charming with her antics. Parent trap, it isn't, but a kiddie trap for parents!

And in the pipeline, waiting for my eyes and ears over them are (some of them repeat views)
Shawshank Redemption, Godfather I-III, Star Wars I-VI, a few Akira Kurosawa classics, Bicycle Thief, Fight Club, Gladiator, Pulp Fiction, Kill Bill I and II, Se7en, Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, The Departed, Satyajit Ray's Apu trilogy and a few more. Hopefully I find time to see them.

mAd Nauseam

This is a lazy random rant.

Watching ads has become a pastime for me, the past 2.5 weeks. Sometimes I just blank out watching them. The ad passes through my eyes and ears, bypassing the brain and goes right out.

Unlike in India where the ads do not reference their competition by name, it is a cut-throat world here. Competitors are named explicitly and their products (also named) taken to task. In India, ASCI (Advertising Standards Council of India), the watchguard body of Indian advertising, does not seem to allow calling names. You can guess the product in question. E.g. the Complan and Horlicks health drink ads. I think for a very short time, one of them named the other, but withdrew the ad after complaints. You can see a list of decisions taken on questionable ads at Interesting read.

A recall of a few of the ads that I have been badgered with.
  • Mobile telephone service ads-Everybody wants a pie of the game. Verizon and AT&T are on an all-out war naming each others' network as bad either in terms of functionality, coverage etc showing US maps showing how bad the other's coverage is or giving away phones for free for long term contracts with them. Buy one phone-get three free, kind of.
  • Car insurance ads-Geico and AllState are always at loggerheads with Progressive throwing in more fuel into the fire. 15% or not, we don't ever worry much about motor insurance and liability. And funny that Geico uses a British accent in their radio ads.
  • Car ads-Mostly I see the GM car ads comparing with Toyota or Honda on how better they are with fuel efficiency, crash safety etc. The Toyota recall is having some of these folks active with ads. Make hay while the sun shines.
  • Lawyers and attorney agents-Have you heard of Mesothelioma? I learnt that it is a form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure from attorney houses and lawyers ad-ing on the TV. There are tons of ads these days stating, if you took this medicine or that medicine and if you suffer xyz ailment, that you may be eligible for settlement et al. There is one class 'helping' you to get around IRS (Internal Revenue Service, their Income Tax department) threats using legal restraints. Another states they will help you pay off your credit card loan with funds from Obama's stimulus program. For one, I think most of the attorneys here are like leeches, gnawing at you for their pound of flesh, no matter how much John Grisham glorifies them.
  • Vanity creams et al-Oh Man, Cindy Crawford comes around showing her serum collection used by the creme de la fashion. There are acne removal creams, blackspot reducers, sunscreens, anti-aging, anti-wrinkle, botox and lots of other chemical treatment on your face and body. And what is it with these folks' constant reference to Europe when they strut their stuff? Does it imply a European hangover with respect to fashion? Maybe!
  • Food ads-McDonalds, Burger King, Applebees and whatever. My burger is bigger and better than yours, 150 calorie meals, blah blah. Nation of junk foodies. :-) Not to mention pet food, pet medicine and vitamin supplements for the pets, leave alone the owners.
  • Health and Fitness-Drink this, drink that and tons of probably useless gym equipment bandied about on the Home Shopping Network to get you up to shape. Slimming pills, weight loss devices, fitness programs, you name it, they got it. And discounts, bazaar style. Call in the next 20 minutes and you'll get one absolutely free.
  • Others-Damn, there is even a gems and jewellery channel peddling 14k gold with all kinds of colored stones like the ones which we get from our gypsy folks (kuravan, kuraththi)
I am yet to see the famous Super Bowl (World Cup 'American football') ads. Almost 3 million dollars for a 30 second spot for each of the ads. Aside, I have no clue why these folks call it a World Cup. I don't think even Canada is included in the group.

Hmmm... The rantosaurus rests here.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

A documentary on a documentary

I love watching documentaries. They keep me occupied no end. Especially, I love travelogues and historical ones. Was watching an episode of a documentary "Story of India" on PBS, a educational TV channel in the US. It was maybe on the lines of 'Discovery of India', the book by Jawaharlal Nehru, which was televised and telecast on DD sometime back as 'Discovery of India/Bharat, Ek Khoj', which I used to watch with awe and interest and the chants that started and concluded the episodes were so wonderful on the ears. (Starting chants of Bharat, Ek Khoj and Ending chants of Bharat, Ek Khoj)

The documentary started off with the silk route from China, the Kushanas and Kanishka, their ruler, probably the greatest ruler of northern India. It then moved to the spice route from the west (Greeks, Romans, Spain, Portugal) to lots of places on the west coast, which was famed for the spices, especially pepper, in exchange for our everlasting obsession from time immemorial, gold. Kerala is one of the key trading spots and they show how a big bowed ship is built with just wood and nails, in the backwaters, just the way it was done eons back. The topic moved to Buddhism in time of Kanishka which was a dominant religion at one time. It then goes searching for lost Stupas, of which one in Peshawar has been documented by the western travellers as having one of the largest ever known, but it doesn't exist now, with only a mound marking the place where it might have stood once. A brief vista into Samarkhand, in Uzbekistan which was the confluence of the east and west on the silk road. That scenery there is breathtaking.

Continuing on the spice route, the documentary moves to Madurai, famed for its temple and the trade in textiles that happened during that period, then to Thanjavur, for the big temple and the golden time of the Cholas with Raja Raja Chozhan (gee, they showed some clippings from the movie, 'Raja Raja Chozhan' enacted by Sivaji Ganesan). There is a dialogue with the Mahratta prince of Thanjavur. There is a short sequence about bronzes and how they are cast. Absolutely lovely and intricate moulds and into them are poured glowing hot melted bronze. The artisans use methods followed by their ancestors and do not use a metric scale for measurement even now. The landscape moves to Tiruvannamalai, where they show the Utsavar and the lighting of the Annamalai Deepam.

It was a nice weaving of historical facts with a good narrative.

That program was followed by another on an American moving around in Iran. There was a good discussion of the Shiite vs. Sunni conflict, the hatred towards America, the overthrowing of the Shah, the oil economy, key cities there, the universities in Iran, student culture and social morals there. They have some beautiful mosques there.

Oh! history and the documentaries. I can watch them forever, the travelogues, religious ones, doomsday conspiracies, nature and wildlife, art, sci-fiction and what not!!! It is a time that I feel as never wasted.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Monday Morning C&H + Dilbert

All copyrights for the "Calvin and Hobbes" strip acknowledged. © Bill Watterson, Gocomics 

All copyrights for the "Dilbert" strip acknowledged. © Scott Adams

Monday, February 01, 2010

Monday Morning C&H + Dilbert

All copyrights for the "Calvin and Hobbes" strip acknowledged. © Bill Watterson, Gocomics

All copyrights for the "Dilbert" strip acknowledged. © Scott Adams