Monday, October 31, 2005

Quiz Time 9

Quiz Time 9

Yr Host - Aaman Lamba

The Bangalore quiz scene in India seems to be going strong, from the emails I receive on quiz announcements from the Karnataka Quiz Association, my erstwhile quiz fraternity. And out of the blue, I received an email (and a call) from some old friends recently, who were classmates since second grade and the original members of our quiz team, Mustafa and the Fat Bottomed Girls. They are doing well, and validate, as it were, a certain theory of mine - quizzers do well, life-wise. We might be outre when it comes to knowing abtruse pieces of information, or interests outside the ordinary, but the faculties that go into being a good quizzer seem to help in the long run. 'Nuff said.

The answers have been added. Joan Hunt and Tiffany Leigh both scored 7 out of 10 - that's great. Thanks for playing and stay tuned

The Questions - Stage I

1. His experience of oppression in Turkey and the suppression of the Kurdish language inspired his 1988 play Mountain Language. He opposed the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. He called George W Bush a mass murderer and Tony Blair a 'deluded idiot', and defends Slobodan Milosevic and Fidel Castro. He appears in "The Tailor of Panama" and was nominated twice for an Oscar. He was in the news recently, though for another reason. Who?

2. Identify this person pic1

3. What five sporting activities make up the modern pentathlon, as practiced in the Olympic Games?

4."Monday burn Millay, Wednesday ____,Friday ______, burn 'em to ashes,
then burn the ashes. That's our official slogan."
Fill in the blanks and provide the source of these lines

5. This is the core of which famous molecule? pic1

6. Which two teams played the first international cricket match at St George's Club in 1844?

7. Fill in the blank with an actor's name - as an assist, I've provided his picture.pic1pic1

8. Fill in the blank for this verse, and name the poet:

Pretty boys, witty boys, You may sneer

At our disintegration.

Haughty boys, naughty boys,

Dear, dear, dear!

Swooning with affectation...

And as we are the reason

For the "Nineties" being _________,

We all wear a green carnation.

9. In the premiere episode of MTV's Punk'd, the host Ashton Kutcher convinced a star that the IRS was seizing the star's property and boarding up the doors and windows of his home for not paying his taxes. Who was this unfortunate star?

10. Name the only baseball player to have been killed in a Major League Baseball game and his team.

Send me questions, if you like at aamanlamba at

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Bomb Blasts in New Delhi

Three bombs went off today in crowded markets in New Delhi, killing at least 60 people. The city was in the midst of the Diwali celebrations, the largest annual festival in India.

The first explosion was in the Paharganj area outside a jewellery shop. The second, which claimed no fatalities was aboard a bus - passengers noticed a bag and informed the bus operator, who stopped the bus and threw the bag out before it exploded. The third explosion, which claimed the most lives, took place in the busy Sarojini Nagar shopping area.(Video report-BBC)

An offshoot of the Laskhar-e-Toiba, a charter member of the IIF (Islamic International Front) has claimed responsibility. The incidents took place the day after Al Quds Day, the last Friday in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Islamic Militants observe it to condemn the Israeli Occupation of Palestine and Jerusalem - Al Quds is the large mosque in Jerusalem, and the third holiest place in Islam. Numerous incidents are planned for this period and Osama's most recent video message was released on the same day last year.

A US State Department advisory had warned of heightened risk of such incidents earlier this week. New Delhi citizens are used to constant checks and occasional blasts since the Punjab crisis of the 1980s. Constant educational campaigns ask people to inform the police of any strange behavior or bags. These incidents will put a damper on celebrations of Diwali, as well as of Eid-ul-Fitr later next week.

Also in the region, a bomb blast blew up a gas pipeline near Sibi in the Balochistan province of Pakistan earlier today. The earthquake, which was naively hoped to ease miltiant activities, has not had such an effect(Ref: Quake impact on Jihadi terrorism. Recently, the Kashmir minster for education was assassinated at his residence. Earlier in the year, the subway blasts in London killed 55, and then there were the blasts in Bali on October 1,2005 which claimed 25 lives.

These attacks are perceived as more tactical than strategic, intended to assert the continuing ability of the IIF to strike where they please. The strong intelligence network in India, however, is already paying off, with over 22 arrests. These blasts may also be linked to the recent stand taken by India against nuclearization of Iran, in concert with the United States, at the IAEA.

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Saturday, October 29, 2005

Kwaidan - ghostly tales and good film-making

"Kwaidan" brings together a number of discrete, yet inter-related artistic traditions to produce a visually satisfying, emotionally rich, scary film. The Japanese film, which won honors at Cannes in 1965 does not seem dated in the least, despite building on tales by Lafcadio Hearn, the German-Irish immigrant writer, who moved to Japan from the United States in the 19th century, and embraced the culture of his second adopted country.

The film, directed by Masaki Kobayashi, contains four of the stories from the book, Kwaidan, which is available online, being in the public domain. The book was published in 1904, when the world was watching intently the escalating conflict between Russia and Japan. That conflict had the earmarks of the later World War, with an Eastern power, hitherto occluded by the rising powers of the West, flexing it's muscles with the help of modern Western technology.

The same ethos is expressed in the center-piece of the film, Hoichi the Earless, about a blind musician, a professional biwa-hoshi, known for his peerless recitations of the historical battles between the Genji and Heike samurai clans, which culminated in the destruction of the Heike in the twelfth century at the battle of Dan-no-ura, in the Straits of Shimonoseki.. This final battle saw a pitched fight between the two clans, with Genji archers breaking the Heike defense through the use of relatively modern archers, as well as a daring horseback ride down a steep cliff. The Heike were completely routed, unable to reach shore. The Rojo, or matron of the Royal Household leaped into the roiling seas with the infant Heike emperor. The film recreates this violent event through Kabuki - vividly depicting the horrors while highlighting the honor of the warriors. (It influenced the battle sequences in Conan the Barbarian)

The bloodshed reportedly left it's marks on the area, which features crabs named after the Heike, that have human faces on their backs. A Buddhist monastery was built there to the Amida Buddha, in whose name numerous samurai saw their doom, but that's another story. Hoichi makes his residence at this monastery, and one evening is summoned by a samurai to recite at his lord's court. His chanting is much appreciated, but little does he realize the true nature of this ghostly court.

The film, like the story, succeeds by drawing us in to the terrors of the dead commingling with the living. A yearning for fulfilment and a need for recognition make Hoichi unable to distinguish the reality. The priests of the temple strive to save him from the fell creatures, but make a critical error in their efforts.

The first and second stories in the film, "Black Hair" and "The Woman In The Show" are more personal in their horror. In "Black Hair", a samurai leaves his wife for reasons of personal ambition and striving away from poverty. Through his service to the lord, whose daughter he marries, he often thinks of his hard-working wife. He compares her to his new superficial bride, who can be transported into heights of bliss by the smell of fine silk. After a few years he gives up this languid life and returns to his hometown. His wife is still there, slaving away at her loom. He discovers his true love, but things have changed.

"The Woman In The Snow" or "Yuki-Onna" tells the tale of two wood-cutters caught in a blizzard one night. They stumble into a ferryman's hut to take shelter from the storm. A strange woman drifts in from the snow. The terrified younger wood-cutter watches her drain the blood from his father with a breath. She spares him for his youth, but warns him never to speak of her to anyone. Years later, he marries a beautiful woman he meets in the same woods, and has three children. He admires her beauty, but fails to notice that she never grows old. One night, he does look closely, and his discovery changes their relationship.

Both stories perhaps depict the neglected Japanese woman, one of history's silent sufferers. While the males went off to fight their futile wars, the woman were relegated to a role of weaving, artistic pursuits and housework. The samurai and the wood-cutter discover too late what they had ignored.

The final tale, "In a Cup of Tea", tells of a writer who keeps seeing a man's face in his cup of tea. The simplicity of this tale masks its innate complexity, and its horror is less obvious than the others.

The film combines fine story-telling with visually stunning sets and tonal music that sets the atmosphere, one of a winter's night, when a traveller might pause to tell a dark tale or two, then move on, into the night.

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Friday, October 28, 2005

Last Words before the Singularity

Download Complete - you can now disconnect from the Internet

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Strawberry CloseUp

Strawberry CloseUp
Originally uploaded by stevehs.

Catch the right train

From the Chart of the Day subscription list,

Quote of the Day
"If you board the wrong train, it is no use running along the corridor in the other direction." - Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Being able to sense impending change, or an inflection point is difficult, but necessary to stay ahead of the game. Andy Grove aptly warned

"Only The Paranoid Survive"

Doing this consistently is like being a Shaolin monk, methinks

Sometimes, like Dietrich himself, one must warn others they are on the wrong train. He stood up against Nazism and willingly paid the price.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

White Sox Win World Series

Baseball, that mutant stepchild of cricket, has a new legend - the Chicago White Sox have won the World Series after 88 years in the wilderness - against the Houston Astros

Methinks this would a great weekend to drive down to Chicago

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Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Flickr Prints Now Available

The much-rumored and avidly awaited Flickr Prints feature has been rolled out today. You can get 10 free prints, available at your local Target store (U.S. only)

When you're browsing your photos on Flickr, you'll see an "Order Prints" button. Printing access can be controlled at various levels of privacy, much like the public/private flag already available on your pictures. Prices are competitive - the somewhat unusually sized 4xD (4x5.33) prints are 0.20 cents, and 8x10 prints are $1.99. Interestingly, one can order prints on real U.S. stamps, via Zazzle, which reminds one of the unfortunate Delivery options are either via mail, or at the local Target store, interesting fulfilment synergy there - what's next - pick up/drop off your Netflix films at Walgreens?

Entertaining oddities enliven the ordering experience, from the unusual print sizes to the glossy-only Target delivery option (matte and glossy prints are available via POMS - Plain Old Mail Service). Mailing charges are high - $2.29 for 1-25 prints - but there is no pickup charge at Target. Flickr advises against certain print sizes based on your photo resolution.

Additional value-added services such as photo-books and posters are available via QOOP - the Singularity draws near. You can get archive sets of your photos on DVD from Englaze.

There are no APIs available to make you a better photographer, yet.

My flickr photos

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The Singularity Continuum

I have been helping bring about the Singularity. It has been masked with euphemisms like 'streamlined virtual enterprise workflow' and 'seamless plug-and-play SOA', but at the core of it all has been a focus on enabling systems to talk to each other without the need for human intervention, and facilitating their self-realization.

Now, in the early years of the Age of Information, we have already begun to take for granted systems that anticipate our thoughts, for example Google's ability to provide spelling corrections to our search queries, or Netflix's recommendations to my viewing list. Information Technology, that clumsy phrase, seems to be about bringing forth pervasive information, through technology. Consider the convenience with which we, as individuals can retrieve seemingly innocous documents describing virtually any aspect of human endeavor. What we do with the information, is, as it has always been, up to us, and there are those who would use it for fell purposes. Contrariwise, the general awareness of people seems to expand exponentially, and thereby arrive at new solutions to old problems, although, not as yet, to spam.

Consider too, what the implications of information everywhere are for the world at large. If there is one thing organized groups - governments, corporations, the Mafia - have realized over time, it is that information cannot be controlled. It may be stifled, or silenced, but somehow it permeates through the cracks of whatever barriers are placed in its way. Information has another characteristic - it's value is not easily computable - what is of interest to a railroading hobbyist may be balderdash to a flight attendant. Thus the same datum may be priceless and of little value - case in point: my portfolio.

Systems are even more insensate to value. A datum is a collection of bits, and one collection is little different from another to a bitcruncher. At the same time, systems seem to have a voracious hunger for bits, and we, as facilitators of the singularity, feed this hunger by collating and combining data, that is then regurgigated to the tool-users, via the devices of the tool-makers, as information.

The information cognoscenti, the digerati, the digital elite accrue their worth by the ability to plumb the burgeoning information continuum - the Age of Access is indistinguishable from the Age of Information in most respects. Information is now, as always, of two kinds - what you know, and where to find the information you do not.

My efforts, among others, are aimed at making it easier for information elements to band together in a seamless global flow, in effect, on their own, without human intervention. This is easier than it seems, for bits seek their own kind, relationships and patterns exist in the noosphere, and from the first printed type-set bit to the most recent torrent file hash, the continuum has evolved until all it takes is for us as humans to let go and realize that the Singularity has little to do with us, and is not the same as our own, which may be elsewhen.

The Singularity will not bring about a magical rearchitecting of the ways of the world. People will still drop dollars at the altars of lust. The great unwashed masses will persist in their humble scrabblings. The tragedy of the commons will worsen on the other side of thie new frontier. In the flat world, the death of distance does not mean the end of struggle. A machine with a soul is still a machine.

It may be valuable to consider what is the Singularity really. There are, and have been numerous singularities in times past - from the Black Death to the opening of the West, from Mahmud of Ghazni's invasion to the Amsterdam Bourse. Most were localized disconnects with the status quo that nevertheless had far-ranging consequences. The Singularity, on the other hand, is sensed as a global coalescence of numerous singularities, an event horizon that changes us as humans - be it a merging of man and machine, or information and data. It is more than that, though.

Artificial Intelligence is supplanted by Information Awareness, the knowledge that information is of value in and of itself, and that all information is everyplace and everytime. Time and space become dimensions along which one could track the spread of memes, if one so chose. General relativity's postulates become the axioms of data transfer across the event horizon.

If that seems like so much piffle: consider this - breathes there the man with soul so dead, to borrow a phrase, who never to himself has said, I am, and then paused to marvel at his ability to do so. When machines, too, marvel at their ability to synthesize information from data, we will be past the event horizon of the Singularity.

Let be be finale of seem,
The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream

(Wallace Stevens)

Tech Tags:
The Singularity Is Near : When Humans Transcend Biology/Ray  Kurzweil Singularity Sky/Charles  Stross The Soul Of A New Machine/Tracy Kidder Mobility, Security and Web Services : Technologies and Service-oriented Architectures for a New Era of IT Solutions/Gerhard  Wiehler The Collected Poems of Wallace Stevens (Vintage)/Wallace Stevens Eastern Standard Tribe/Cory Doctorow

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Quiz Time 8

Quiz Time 8

Yr Host - Aaman Lamba

After a prolonged hiatus, induced by much slogging, not at the crease, but under a sort of skunkworks, the new edition of Quiz Time.

Note: No answers for now, but post your answers below, or email them to me. Winners will be announced soon. Enjoy!

The Questions - Stage I

1. His mother was Swiss, and his father Scottish. They were killed in a climbing accident near Chamonix after the Great War. He was brought up by his aunt, went to Eton, had to leave after some 'troubles with the maids, went to Fettes College, a brief stint at the Univ. of Geneva. He lied about his age to enter the Royal Navy, then entered his line of business after the War, which has taken him to many places, most recently, Korea. He was married once, and has one son. Who?

2. In parliamentary democracies, it is called a 'Loss of Supply'. When a Loss of Supply occurs, a prime minister is generally required to immediately resign or dissolve the parliament. Examples were the Australian Constitutional Crisis of 1975 and a similar instance in Ireland in 1982. What is the corollary in a presidential system, such as the United States, which does not, however, force new elections?

3. Identify the artistpic1

4. In the science-fiction multi-verse,Order 66 was recently passed, with grievous consequences. What was Order 66, and who gave it?

5. Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips is a restaurant chain in the Northeastern United States, renowned for their very British fish'n'chips. They were very successful in the 1970s, and then faced a crisis in 1981 with the 'cod wars' between Great Britain and Iceland, which led them to replace their codfish-based dishes with pollack. This was not well-received, and among other reasons, led to a decline in the fortunes of the chain, and mergers, bankruptcy and other crises. The chain is still around, currently being revitalized under new management. Question: Who is/was Arthur Treacher?

6.This is an album cover. Name the album/band pic2

7. In anime, who or what is a seiyu?

8. Andrew Farriss (guitar and keyboards), Tim Farriss (lead guitar), Jon Farriss (drums), Garry Gary Beers (bass), and Kirk Pengilly (saxophone and guitar). __________(lead vocals)
Fill in the blank with two names - different people:

9.Irish poet, and Nobel Laureate, Seamus Heaney, composed a poem "The Beacons of Bealtaine", which was released on May 1, 2004. The poem has lines,

The May Day hills were burning, far and near,
When our land's first footers beached boats in the creek
In uisce, fionn, strange words that soon grew clear;

So on a day when newcomers appear
Let it be a homecoming and let us speak
The unstrange word, as it behoves us here,

Move lips, move minds and make new meanings flare
Like ancient beacons signalling, peak to peak,
From middle sea to north sea, shining clear
As phoenix flame upon fionn uisce here.

What was the occasion for this poem? (As in, what was being celebrated?)

3. Which world figure is depicted on this statue?pic2

Send me questions, if you like at aamanlamba at

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader