Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Review: Spielberg's "War Of The Worlds"

The Spielberg film, while owing little to its source material, does something pretty effective with it - it transforms it into a film that pays homage both to the Golden Age of Science Fiction, and a moving post-9/11 look at society.

The fear psychosis prevalent in society is sparked by the strange occurrences, leading to an initial suspicion of "The Terrorists". Warning systems, designed for terrors of this world are rendered mute by other-wordly horrors. Panic-stricken mobs revert to their atavistic instincts. At least a few scenes pay direct homage to the all too real memories of that day not too long ago.

The film is told from the perspective of a common man, Ray, at odds with his son, a familiar motif in Spielberg films. The aliens, who have a strange taste for blood are towering and terrifying eminences that seek to exterminate humanity, yet true to one of the book's central theses, are felled by earth germs, perhaps an anti-colonial commentary by Wells.

The aliens arrive replete with death-rays that can dissolve humans in a flash, consume human blood by the gallon, and seem to have little purpose other than to wreak havoc. Ray protects his daughter from them as much as he can, but she is exposed to the terrors,

His son's need to prove himself to his father is fulfilled when Ray sees Robbie reach out to save some terrified stragglers. Ray is torn himself by feeling of guilt at perhaps not having done enough for the family. Human volition is driven by a desire to discriminate reality from the arbitrary. In the film, when the arbitrary becomes common-place, it takes herculean effort by Ray to steer a course of normality and protection.

Although he succeeds, in one of the biggest let-downs of the film-maker's art, the film has a Hollywood, or perhaps Bollywood ending - the hapless father and daughter are reunited with the son and his mother's family in Boston, who step out looking like they just completed an evening of gin rummy, and muffins.

Other plot-holes abound, but one shall cast a benign eye towards them and solidly appreciate the creative fictions portrayed. Tom Cruise puts in a stellar performance, inhabiting his role like few others can. Tim Robbins provides a somewhat disconcerting depiction of a infantryman/ambulance driver who is determined to fight against the foul invaders, yet loses his head in a critical moment, pun unintended. Spielberg provides numerous heart-stopping moments, interspersed with bits of comic relief that seem welcome in the claustrophobic mayhem.

The film is less than stellar, yet a better summer blockbuster than many, and replete with inside jokes, social commentary, and tributes to earlier Spielberg films. Probably more suited to an R-rating than the current PG-13, and deserving an alternate ending on the DVD - say, with father and daughter clutching each other wearily amidst the swirling dust and ruins of Boston, with toppled alien tripods and cheering townsfolk. Hah - fat chance!

Summerfest 2005 - The World's Largest Music Festival

Summerfest 2005 begins on the 30th of June on the shores of Lake Michigan right in downtown Milwaukee. Eleven days of music - spread across eleven stages, close to a million visitors. The best part - none of the ground stages need tickets, apart from the $12 entry fee to the overall festival.

Here is a brief list of some of the notable acts performing this year:
Summerfest lineup


I'm leaving out the 10th of July, but acts on the final day include James Taylor,Living Colour, Better Than Ezra and Pete Yorn. Apart from all this music, there will be tons of beer, people,weed smelly air, over 50 restaurants and fun stuff like soccer, basketball, walks by the lake, etc. (Summerfest for cheapskates
summerfest logo
Summerfest had its origins in the 1960s following Milwaukee Mayor Henry Maier's visit to Munich's Oktoberfest. Given that Milwaukee is the Brewcity of the United States, it is only fitting that Oktoberfest be the inspiration for this festival. The best bands have played here down the years - including Sly and the Family Stone, B.B. King, the Jackson Five, Jose Feliciano, Little Richard, Dionne Warwick, Edgar Winter, Arlo Guthrie, The Doors, Sammy Davis Jr., Blood, Sweat and Tears, Johnny Cash, James Taylor, Earth, Wind & Fire, Joan Baez, the Bee Gees, Tony Bennett, Kris Kristofferson, Steve Miller Band, America, Willie Nelson, Jackson Browne, Kenny Loggins, Chick Corea, Chubby Checker, Eddie Rabbit, Glen Campbell, Aretha Franklin, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Commodores, Santana, Rick Springfield, Donna Summer, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, R.E.M., Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Huey Lewis & The News, The Go-Go's, John Denver, New Edition, Bryan Adams, Survivor, Bon Jovi, Violent Femmes, Los Lobos, Run DMC, Jimmy Buffett, Paul Simon, Whitney Houston, Stevie Wonder, Paula Abdul, Smokey Robinson, Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Fleetwood Mac, Depeche Mode, Anita Baker, Bruce Hornsby, M.C. Hammer, B-52's, Whitney Houston, Michael Bolton, The Judds, Warrant, Bell Biv DeVoe, Pearl Jam, Janet Jackson, Clint Black, Boyz II Men, Dave Matthews Band, Sting, John Mellencamp, Metallica, Tina Turner, BoDeans, Lauryn Hill, Blues Traveler, Stone Temple Pilots, Shania Twain, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Paul Simon & Bob Dylan, Mary J. Blige, Counting Crows, R. Kelly



Summerfest's annual fireworks display, "The Big Bang," will take place on Thursday, June 30, at approximately 10:30pm, weather permitting. The annual downtown Milwaukee display will take place on Sunday, July 3 at approximately 9:30pm.

Some changes this year include credit card acceptance at the stalls, a Music Download Lounge, sponsored by MSN. So now you can go to a concert and then download the tunes from the MSN Music online music store. There is also the Kohl's Summerfest Rock Star Project - a competition to pick the best band from submissions.(Interactive map of Summerfest 2005)

I've attended Summerfest for the last two years, and like the Von Trapps, feel a twinge of regret that this will be my last summer in Milwaukee. The fest is a humongous experience, well worth its' appellation as "The World's Largest Music Festival".

In an unfortunate incident, a racist flier sparked some concern, but local residents resolved to stand fast against hatred. In better news, some Milwaukee freeway exits will be opened in time for the fest - much of downtown has been under construction post the winter freeze

See you at Summerfest!

My Dell DJ LCD screen goes blank - the replacement

My Dell DJ has been a good, not great product. Since I got it (My previous review of the Dell DJ), I have switched between MusicMatch and Windows Media Player. This required an upgrade of the firmware to 2.11.04 with the PlaysForSure version, and cuts out usage of the MusicMatch Jukebox. The sound quality is good, but I began to have some problems with the LCD going blank.

The screen would go blank and fail to come on even after a soft reset (insert a pin or toothpick into the hole at the base). A couple of times, it would come back on, but the characters would be reveresed, or corrupted. When I tried to sync, it would show the sync image correctly.

I was able to continue using it only because I could mentally scroll through the menu to the "Play All Music Tracks" option, but it was more than frustrating. I called Dell, dreading the interminable wait times. The IVR system put me through the hoops before placing me in the Dell Axim (PDA) queue, although I entered the correct service tag. Good-bye.

I next tried the Chat support. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the software they use is from a company I was product manager with, way back when in the boom. The chat support was much better - after confirming the problem, and asking me to run a few tests, they created an RMA and told me they were shipping out a replacement.

The replacement arrived yesteday. I have to set up a pickup with Airborne and have the pick-up slip signed by the driver. I wanted to format the old Dell DJ before sending it back, but couldn't quite figure out how to access the menu on the device. Finally, I resorted to reloading an older version of the firmware, which flashed the memory.

I hope this one does not fail on me - it would be very disappointing.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

It's Quiz Time 2!


Quiz Time 2

Yr Host - Aaman Lamba





Another quiz - again along eclectic lines, including a few variations that are popular in quizzing circles.




The Questions - Stage I




1. Identify the questioner, and the responder.     
"Are you running for something?"
"No, sir, Mr. President. Are you?"


 



2.Identify the artist, whose paintings recently outsold Andy Warhol and Renoir


 



3.Hydrogen bombs were exploded on Teegeeack to solve their over-population problem by Xenu, before plugging in circuits for the survivors. What is this fantastical tale?
 



4.William Shakespeare incorrectly set Act 3, Scene 3 of The Winter's Tale in "________. A desert country near the sea." Which country?
 



5.In the near future, when TVs can't be shut off and ratings are all that matter, investigative reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) and his alter-ego battle to keep the "blank" generation informed. In the opener, Carter stumbles across his own network's cover-up of a sometimes deadly new form of TV advertising called "blipverts". Name the alter-ego
 



6.(This question is dedicated to Alan Dale). Identify the artist, whose paintings are shown below. He said his most important influence were the films of Luis Bunuel. He also drew inspiration from photographs (such as those of Eadweard Muybridge), the poems of T. S. Eliot, the plays of Aeschylus, and the chaos of his famous studio. About the studio, he remarked: "for me, chaos breeds images."













 



7. He made his first public appearance Jan. 17, 1929, in Elzie Segar's then 10-year-old comic strip, "Thimble Theatre" as a minor walk-on character. Name him.


8. This Brit Pop star is named after a character from Wim Wenders' 'Paris, Texas' and his 1999 album was 'The Man Who'. Who?
.


9. Dundrearies are long flowing side whiskers,named after Lord Dundreary who used to sport these moustaches in a 19th century play by Tom Taylor. Which play?.


10. He has a brother named 'Lore'.He has read all the Sherlock Holmes books.He has studied the violin, guitar,oboe and the flute.He has mastered ballroom dancing.He also plays poker, knows blackjack, and appreciates Gilbert & Sullivan operas. He also held the chair of Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge.Who?.


11. In 1998, during tough times, she started knitting. But she couldn't find a bag -- at a reasonable price -- to carry her yarn. So she made one herself.immediately, people started asking her to make bags for them and the idea just took off! And that's how she got into the business of making bags, after her more infamous bout of publicity. Who?.




To wrap up, The following is called a Stage 2 in quizzing circles. Six simple questions, connected by a common theme. Traditionally, each would be asked in order, and any team could interrupt the round by pressing their buzzer and taking a shot at the theme. Right answers early on got more points, and wrong answers were penalized. Try guessing the theme before looking at each answer.

Stage II


1. He is a recurring character in the Monkey Island series of computer games. His initial appearance was as a shady used boat salesman on Mêlée Island in The Secret of Monkey Island. Who?


2. Which Military base was closest to the ranch of William Ware "Mack" Brazel?


3. In J R R Tolkien's mythology, the Valar and the Maiar are modeled on which aspects of Christian cosmology?


4. Name Abraham Lincoln's pet dog, who could not accompany him to the White House, because it was afraid of loud noises.


5. This musical centers around a group of impoverished young artists and musicians struggling to survive in New York's Alphabet City neighborhood under the shadow of AIDS.Name it.


6. The name of this ancient place comes from the Phoenician for "New City". Name the city.


And the common theme is...



I hope y'all enjoyed this quiz - until next time. And do send in your questions if you'd like them used - mail me at aamanlamba gmail


Monday, June 27, 2005

Review: Howl's Moving Castle or Hauru no ugoku shiro

Hayao Miyazaki's eloquent anime fantasy is a paean to many genres. From it's hand-painted landscapes in the classical Japanese tradition to the fear/erotic hybrid of tales like "Beauty and the Beast", it tells a simple tale of a girl and a boy searching for identity in a world gone mad.

The film is based on the book by Diana Wynne Jones and directed by the very able Hayao Miyazaki, famed anime director. Voices are provided by Christian Bale (Howl), Lauren Bacall, and Billy Crystal, among others, in the English version. The very talented Takuya Kimura provides Howl's or Hauru's voice in the Japanese version. Although not quite in the same league as some of the director's other work, it still is visually rich, tells a good tale, and satisfies the heart, if not the mind.

The movie explores the tenuous connection between fantasy and reality, and what happens when the two combine.

The Wicked Witch curses a young girl with old age, a similar curse to that employed in Snow White - with all its terrifying psychosexual connotations. She is afflicted even before the curse with an absolute lack of self-esteem, for reasons that are not made clear, but one surmises have to do with her flibbertigibbet of a mother. Sophie sets out to find her wizard, who is afflicted by a curse as well, one that compels him to remain a child emotionally, unwilling to own up to his responsibilities. The storyline is rich and complex, although various loose ends remain, and the Hollywood-style ending does not produce the necessary catharsis.

Howl_JapanThe film is about responsibility - personal and social. At one point, Howl comments on seeing a flying battleship, and when asked whether it was the enemy's, that it does not matter in a futile war. He takes on his role as a protector of society only when he finds a connection with it, through Sophie. His need to keep moving, is counter-poised with his cumbersome castle, a monstrosity that would not be out of place in Gormenghast.

The film is a simple children's tale at one level, with it's flashes and bangs, it's flying ships, talking fireplaces, and it's hopeful ending. At another level, it is a strong anti-war film, a film that tries to define a new mythology, aided by borrowings from sources as diverse as the Wizard of Oz, Grimm's tales, and Alice in Wonderland. It fails at this effort, and even at it's anti-war message, perhaps because of the convoluted plot-line, and an inability to clearly define the enemy - be it Madame Suliman, Calcifer or the Witch of the Waste. The book is somewhat different from the film, and hard to compare really - the film embodies the director's vision, making it his own perspective.


One of the nicest bits related to viewing this film was our visit to one of the local independent theaters, the Landmark Oriental theater- this film is currently only in limited release in the United States, courtesy of Disney, who have committed to exposing Miyazaki's films to a larger audience. The Oriental is a venerated place, circa 1927, for many fine films, including a regular live showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show twice monthly at midnight. The screen is covered with curtain drops, and spooky, dimly lit Buddhas flank the seats. Audio is Dolby Digital, but there is little or no air-conditioning, the popcorn is cheap, and they give you a free CD with a combo. Every Friday and Saturday before the 7pm show in the main theatre, the lush sounds of the Kimball Theatre Pipe Organ introduce the film, just like the good old days. This pipe organ is the largest of its kind in a theatre in America, and the third largest in the world.

It could belong to a different time and world, much like this film.



Howl's Moving Castle/Diana Wynne Jones Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind Ost/Howl's Moving Castle Spirited Away Princess Mononoke

The Mega-bubble ahead?

Various commentators are discussing the potential mega-bubble the global economy seems to be in. Marketwatch has a poll on whether we are in a global megabubble, and advises a strategy of conservative or aggressive investing based on our scores. The poll is somewhat biased in definition, and selection of questions, and it is hard not to get a high score, and thereby assume one is in a mega-bubble.
The Megabubble Poll

1. Real estate bubble. Clues: Speculators driving prices. Lenders offer cheap money, short-term loans. Home-equity loans fund short-term spending. Fed chairman sees minimal froth.
2. Energy and oil bubble. Clues: Crude hits another record. Political turmoil in oil-producing nations. Consumers buy gas-guzzlers at record pace. GM, Ford in trouble.
3. Foreign-trade deficit. Clues: Monthly deficits top $50 billion. This year's deficit will beat 2004's $617 billion. Foreigners now own $2.5 trillion of America.
4. Federal-budget deficit. Clues: Federal debt now $7.8 trillion; add another $400 federal deficit this year.
5. Corporate pensions underfunded. Clues: Airlines, auto, other manufacturers heavily burdened, default to taxpayers.
6. Local government pensions deficits. Clues: A near $400 billion mess draining local taxpayer resources.
7. Weak U.S. dollar. Clues: Fear China and other foreign powers will replace dollar reserves. Warren Buffett now betting $20 billion on foreign-currency hedging.
8. Social Security deficit. Clues: No choice, cut benefits or raise taxes; politicians hate both, so it'll get worse.
9. Health-care costs. Clues: Burden shifting to employees. Costs above inflation. 43 million uninsured.
10. Medicare deficit. Clues: Going broke faster than Social Security. Prescription drug benefit added an unfunded $8.1 trillion. Long-term estimates over $36.6 trillion.
11. Personal-savings shortfall. Clues: We consume not save. National savings rate is zero, down from 8% two decades ago. Average household net worth less than $15,000, excluding home equity.
12. Consumer debt bubble. Clues: We're living beyond our means. Consumer debt at $2 trillion. At 13%, household interest as a percent of income is at all-time high. Personal bankruptcies rising.
13. War and defense deficit. Clues: Iraq and Afghanistan wars cost over $200 billion a year, $2 trillion a decade.
14. Homeland insecurity. Clues: Minimal legislation to protect ports and chemical plants. Federal budget even cut border patrol 90%. Vigilantes patrolling.
15. Class gap widening. Clues: Superrich and CEOs getting increasing share of wealth, ownership and tax cuts.
16. Congressional pork. Clues: Both parties act like teenage addicts on a spending spree with stolen credit cards. By not using the veto, the administration acts like a parent who needs Nanny 911.
17. International credibility. Clues: Image problems: Post-9/11 imperialism, WMDs, Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and more.
18. Junk mailings. Clues: Mail solicitations increasing for credit cards and hot stock newsletters.
19. New "Mad Money" cable show. Clues: Frantic, manic entertainment; 1990s irrational exuberance again.
20. Numerous key mini-bubbles. Environmental, resources, technology, educational, outsourcing, jobs, you pick!


One thought - as a contrarian, if enough people believe we are in a mega-bubble, is it time to buy?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Times of India certified largest newspaper in the World

The Audit Bureau of Circulation has certified the Times Of India as the world's largest selling broadsheet newspaper. This is ahead of No 2., the USA Today, and the Wall Street Journal.

Newspapers are still very popular in India, being a key source of news and information across the sizeable English-speaking population.

I used to write for the Times of India. More on that later.

Cool service - del.icio.us direc.tor

The del.icio.us direc.tor is an interesting application of AJAX - providing an alternative web-based UI for del.icio.us - any del.icio.us page, such as your set of tags can be browsed using the service. The method is described on the page - you need to bookmark the service and then once you are on a del.icio.us page, click the bookmarklet. The technology used is a combination of Javascript, xslt.
This project uses the only reliable loophole for executing foreign Javascript code: the bookmarklet bootloader. It works by inserting a <script> element directly into the DOM, which is then immediately executed by the browser. The injected Javascript wipes the existing del.icio.us page and replaces the entire body with the direc.tor UI. At the same time, direc.tor makes an XmlHTTPRequest to http://del.icio.us/api/posts/all to get the XML listing of the user's bookmarks, which is persisted through the lifetime of the direc.tor page. Because del.icio.us uses the standard HTTP basic authentication, the browser will automatically ask for credentials if it has not been established yet. Since the client is communicating directly with del.icio.us, those credentials never pass through this

director

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Google - Circa 1960

From del.icio.us, one chanced on this parody, Google, circa-1960
google_search


Which reminds me, how do I connect my del.icio.us posts with blogger, auto-post to blogger when I post to del.icio.us?

Quiz Time 2 - test

This is a test post for some quiz javascript I'm working on... The popup isn't displaying - any tips would be welcome



Thursday, June 23, 2005

Review: String Cheese Incident - One Step Closer

The String Cheese Incident are releasing a new album, "One Step Closer", due in stores and Amazon shipping queues on June 28th, 2005. Their last studio album was "Outside Inside" in 2003. In the interim, they have been on tour - releasing almost every concert on CD, Kyle Hollingsworth has released a new album, and the Friends of Cheese have grown considerably.

The new album is an introspective collection recorded in the hills of Colorado and produced by Malcolm Burn, who produced Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris, among others. He actually co-wrote and played on some of the tracks, enabling a catharsis among the band. For the first time, each member sang and contributed at least two songs. Other collaborators include Robert Hunter and Jim Lauderdale. The album is a build-up to their BIG Summer Classic 2005 tour and they will be playing in Milwaukee at Summerfest (YES!).

The album is a masterpiece in simplicity, minimalism, and rich, powerful lyrics. Listening to it, oftentimes, creates an upswell of emotion that threatens to overwhelm the silence in one's heart with a chorus of joy. It ably captures the recording process, which was not studio-driven, but a more back-to-the-roots, in-the-hills approach.

One of the finest things about the band is the individuality of the voices expressed by each of the band members. It is not often that individual excellence does not eclipse the rest of the band. The band, or perhaps Malcolm Burn, ably manages to allow all the players their time in the sun, without losing any of the consistency and tightness of a good album.

"Give Me The Love" sets the soundstage with a blend of castanets and gentle keyboard notes. It raises a plea for selfless love, for 'the love that knows, all the love there is'. Co-written by John Perry Barlow, Malcolm Burn and Michael Kang, it is a minimalist song, like many on the album.

The next song, "Sometimes A River", is replete with hooks, and wistful realism that life can change course mid-stream. I love the imagery of "You danced in my dream in a white dress/I watched from the top of the stairs/ I woke up looking to find you/But you were not there"

"Big Compromise" is provided by the guitarists Billy Nershi and Jim Lauderdale. Again, the piece is light on orchestration and baroque, relying on a simple melody and soft vocals. Sometimes, breaking up is 'the big compromise'. "There was this couple out on the street/One look could show they were feeling the heat/All I could think as the man turned away was/I wish I could give him the courage to say/You're right, you're right, it's time for the big compromise"

"Silence In Your Head" is balladry at its best. This is so good it puts Coldplay to shame. "The silence in your head/Is louder than a hurricane/The silence in your head/Will never let you go/With the rising of her chest/You feel the shallow breath/Will nothing be the same?/All you give is all you get". Kyle takes the reins, aided by Malcolm Burn in the writing.

"Drive" pumps up the tempo, and is a quintessential song of the road, or Pather Panchali, if you'll allow me the pun. A true collaborative effort, most of the band members chip in on the composition, along with guest work by John Perry Barlow. Kyle's keyboarding is similar to work on the early albums."Highway glimmered with morning dew/Reflected the rain in your eyes/The trees pass by like Van Gogh's brush/What were you leaving behind?"

"45th of November" with Kyle and Robert Hunter is a mystical look at the quantum ways of the future. The difficulty of fathoming the connections between cause and effect, here and there, 'the proper combinations' are explored, with the insight that 'we keep the faith of years/Or we blow the whole thing up in one good fight'

The title track, "One Step Closer", is scripted by the guitarist Billy Nershi. It is a romantic melody, on rediscovering a love not quite left behind, but that somehow slipped by in the slipstream of life. "We went down to the river's edge/And we walked along the sand/Laid down in its shadowy bed/The water rushed past our heads/I thought of something you said"

"Rainbow Serpent" modernizes the mythological benevolent Aboriginal protector being of Australia into a commentary on modern life, madness and delusion. The tempo is different here, with a measured beat pacing out the twists and turns of the song."All the while the rainbow serpent smiles/Watching all her children's final mile"

"Swampy Waters" has a true swamp-rock feel to it, coupled with a jazz beat. Somehow the pacing of the words in the middle section does not work, although the imagery is vivid and stark. One feels this is a deliberate effect. The later guitar build-up is impressive and textured. "Somewhere angels are frowning/I need a good dream, as good as it gets/Don't touch me, I'm still expanding/Just one more bullet for my Russian roulette"


The album wraps up with "Brand New Start" , a harmonica-driven sonnet on love regained, a new hope, signifying perhaps new directions for the band.

The sparse clarity of the album is a refreshing change in an age of over-produced, electronic-rich monstrosities. The live concert tour also promises much fine music on the road. The album is packaged with a 30-minute DVD comprising recording out-takes, sessions, and bonding scenes set in the Colorado hills.

More fine reading at Blogcritics.org

One Step Closer/String Cheese Incident Never Odd or Even/Kyle Hollingsworth Untying the Not/String Cheese Incident Anchor Drops/Umphrey's McGee Outside Inside/String Cheese Incident October 30, 2004 Chicago, Il: On the Road/String Cheese Incident

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The AO/Technorati Open Media 100

Eric Olsen of Blogcritics has been named to the new list of "Open Media 100" by Always On/Technorati. This is a "power list of bloggers, social networkers, tool smiths, and investors leading the Open Media Revolution"

Recognition of this nature is rare, and it recognizes the true digerati of the new media revolution. As the announcement states, "...think of the Open Media 100 as the new, new establishment - people you may not know but probably should.".

The list is grouped into 5 categories, Pioneers, Trendsetters, Practitioners, Toolsmiths and Enablers. Other members of note, include Adam Curry, the folks at boingboing, Glenn Reynolds Brewster Kahle of the Internet Archive and Jimmy Wales of Wikipedia. A few old media groups are represented by the BBC, General Motors, and the New York Times.

The feature itself is an excerpt from the current issue of AlwaysOn's new quarterly print blogozine.


WTG folks! Congratulations - you have changed the world immeasurably and can be rightly called Leaders of the new Flat World.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Quiz Time


It's Quiz Time!


Yr Host - Aaman Lamba.





I have been a quizzer for many years. It has been a fulfilling and stimulating hobby. The quizzing fraternity in India is vibrant, and large. It is modeled mainly after British quizzing of the pub and Mastermind variety. Individuals band together to form a quiz team, usually of 4 members, and give themselves a name. Our team was called "Mustafa & the Fat-Bottomed Girls. Other teams I have known include "The Polyphonic Motets of Lassus", "Foucault's Chutney", "We Are Like This Wonly"."Corrosion of Conformity","Meta-Quizziks", and "Trans-dimensional Lesbian playwrights"


Various quizzing societies exist around the country - Calcutta, Bangalore and Chennai are some of the key quizzing centers, although fine quiz teams/societies operate in almost every town.(Write-up on the history of quizzing in India) Some quiz societies of note include the Quiz Foundation of India,the Karnataka Quiz Association and Derek O'Brien's crew in Calcutta. I have interacted, quizzed, drunk the night away with many of the august personae comprising these societies, and it has made one a better person.


Quizzing is done at various levels, from the 3rd grade upto college, and open quizzing. Corporate quizzes are quite popular. Quizzing is big business too, with a number of big-ticket, sponsored quizzes, such as the Economic Times Brand Equity quiz conducted by Derek O'Brien.


Quiz topics are very broad, ranging from rock to culture to ancient history to abstruse trivia about commonplace things. Researching was an art, fulfilled through discussions over beer, trawling through used bookstores and libraries in those pre-Google days. Being able to pull together the knowledge one has and present it on the spot in 30 seconds is an experience one cannot describe to the unitiated(British Quiz Association FAQ on quizzing) Most quizzers have their specialities, and a motley, eclectic collection of curiosities & complementary skillsmakes a good team


Perhaps the best way of getting a feel for quizzing of this sort is a quiz itself. Please find a few questions below. If there is interest, this can be made a regular feature. If there are sponsors, there can be prizes. Quiz on!







Questions


1. Which fictional character was the nanny of the Banks' children?>

 



2. Which country has two AK-47 assault rifles on its flag?

 



3. Which business tycoon once said "I don't think the Internet is going to change how people chew gum?"

 



4. Peter Merholz announced in early 1999 "I've decided to pronounce the word "______" as _____. What common term comes from this announcement ?



5. What is Alex Jamieson's claim to fame?



6. Name the new book by Cory Doctorow



7 I keep my exact age a secret, but I can say I am in my thirties and was born on February 14th. I had a privileged upbringing, never really knowing my mother, my father was a well respected archaeologist. Whilst at Gordonstown I excelled at athletics, later at a Swiss finishing school I developed a natural talent with firearms I followed in my father’s footsteps, coming to the world’s attention in 1996 when I was hired by Jacqueline Natla, head of Natla Industries, to recover a mysterious artefact rumoured to be in a Peru?



8.Who owns the Portland Trailblazers?



9. "Peace is a lie, there is only passion / Through passion, I gain strength / Through strength, I gain
power / Through power, I gain victory/ Through victory, my chains are broken/ The Force shall free
me." In popular culture/fiction, this is called "The ------- Code". What?



10. Jane Austen, in 1798 in 'Northanger Abbey', said about her protagonist Catherine. " It was not wonderful that Catherine, by nature had nothing heroic about her and should prefer cricket, __________, riding on horseback and running about the country at the age of 14". Fill in the blank



11. What sports Hall of Fame is located in Canton, Ohio?



12.The 100-m dash world record was broken recently. Name the sprinter, and the new record.



13. Name the four hurricanes that struck the Carribean and Florida last year (2004).



14. His name is Arabic for The Demon's Head. He also shares his name with a star, and a programming language. He can replenish his aged, injured, or dead body with a bath in a Lazarus Pit, and has a dedicated group of followers. His goal is to cleanse the world and society. Who?



15. What is the Enigma of Kryptos (Hint: Dan Brown)?





Monday, June 20, 2005

Cricket - Bangladesh Defeats Australia

Bangladesh, the lowest-ranked team in international cricket, pulled off the improbable by defeating world champions and top-ranked Australia on Saturday at Cardiff, England as part of the triangular series with England. In 107 one-day games, Bangladesh had only beaten top teams twice (India and Pakistan) and never Australia. The Aussies were 500-1 on to win on Saturday with one British bookmaker.

The capital of Bangladesh, Dhaka, erupted in a frenzy of celebrations and enthusiasm. Hundreds of residents poured out of their homes, banging pots and pans, and students at the capital’s university staged a victory parade in the campus.

Mohammed Ashraful struck a century from exactly 100 balls after exiting first ball in the opening match against England, and was the Man of the Match. “To score a century against Australia was a dream but I was bitterly disappointed to get out, he said.”

Over in Australia, mourning and humiliation were the order of the day. "It’s my worst loss as captain,” Ricky Ponting, the Australian captain said. “It’s probably one of the biggest upsets in the history of the game.

“I wouldn’t call it complacency. I don’t think anyone was not prepared. We have to work out what happened, it’s a bad start to the series but it’s not that bad yet.
Cardiff

Earlier in the NatWest 2005 series, England thrashed then by 10 wickets on Thursday, getting Ashraful out on the opening ball of the match.

In this match, Australia chose to bat first, considered a bad choice on a difficult pitch which improves through the day. They scored 249-5, not a bad score. Bangladesh was able to pass the total in 49 overs, just one over short of the 50 over match. (Complete Bangladesh-Australia scorecard)

British newspapers termed Australia's performance "Roo-bish" and said the team was in "Kanga-ruins". Australian papers were not more kind, calling it the "worst defeat" and asking readers to "Hold everything and please believe what you are about to read no matter how far-fetched it may at first appear," At least one commentator was snide, noting, "Bangladesh does not have a bowler quick enough to rough up anyone over the age of 10, yet found five bowlers too lively for the Aussie top order."

Bangla Tigers

Bangladeshi fans are compiling lists like "Top 10 Excuses to stay home and not go to work on Tuesday June 21?"

Also, the Bangladeshi Tigers have been seeing ghosts in their hotel room

Cricket Explained/Mark Stevens Cricket's Strangest Matches: Extraordinary but True Stories from 150 Years of Cricket/Andrew Ward Sachin : The Story of the World's Greatest Batsman/Gulu  Ezekiel A Century of Cricket Jokes/Bill Stott Legends of Cricket: Profiles of the Game's 25 Greatest (New Speciality Titles)/Geoff Armstrong Bodyline Autopsy: The Full Story of the Most Sensational Test Cricket Series: England V Australia 1932-3/David Frith

Book-Tagged

I got book-tagged by Arun Simha, over at Bhrigu's question. Arun and I are old quiz familiars. Quizzing is a worthy topic for subsequent blogging, methinks. I was a nationally ranked quizzer, and our team "Mustafa & the Fat-Bottomed Girls" did pretty well. (Here's a quiz we won at the Karnataka Quiz Association)

Total number of Books I own: I have been reading and collecting books since I was a kid. I'd say I have well over 1000 back in India. The alt.binaries.e-books newsgroups have provided e-versions of tons more recently.


Last book I bought: My Amazon history tells me it was "Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold" by C S Lewis - a retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche. Joining Amazon Prime has made my book purchasing experience almost effortless. One is buying more single books than one did earlier.

Last Book I Read: At any given time, I am reading 4-5 books. I am currently plowing through an absorbing look at Money Laundering called "The Washing Machine: How Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Soils Us". I just finished "Esau" by Philip Kerr, a speculative look at the Yeti.

Five Books That Mean a Lot to Me:

Truly difficult, but here goes:

  • The Adventures, and novels of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

  • The Lord Of The Rings - J R R Tolkien

  • The Mahabharata - the Indian Epic

  • Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

  • The Terry Pratchett "Discworld" novels


Tag five people and have them do this on their blogs:

Heh

  1. swingingpuss

  2. Temple Stark

  3. Kamat of Kamat's Anthoblogy

  4. Dr Pat

  5. Cory Doctorow - fine writer



Tag on!

The Washing Machine: How Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing Soils Us/Nick Kochan Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold/C.S. Lewis ESAU/Philip Kerr The Lord of the Rings (50th Anniversary Edition)/J.R.R. Tolkien The Mahabharata : A Shortened Modern Prose Version of the Indian Epic/R. K. Narayan Midnight's Children/Salman Rushdie Going Postal: A Novel of Discworld/Terry Pratchett The Complete Sherlock Holmes/Arthur Conan Doyle

Carnival of the Capitalists citation

The always interesting "Carnival of the Capitalists" has seen fit to include my piece on Reliance Industries' split in this week's report

Many other fine posts at the Carnival - come ye and all

A few: "What do the 4P's mean in a digital era?"

An interesting thought: "writing real-life case studies in blogs"

Nice satire on Steve Jobs

Censored Atom Bomb reports resurface

George Weller, correspondent for the Chicago Daily News, was the first foreign reporter to enter Nagasaki following the US atom bomb attack on the city on August 9th, 1945. He wrote a series of articles and submitted them to Gen. Douglas MacArthur's office. The articles never found their way into print - until now.

A Japanese newspaper, the Japanese newspaper Manichi Shimbum has begun serializing George Weller's articles from 1945, also available in English on their website. Some excerpts:
The railroad station, destroyed except for the platforms is already operating. Normally it is sort of a gate to the destroyed part of the Urakame valley. In parallel north and south lines? here the Urakame river, Mitsubishi plants on both sides, the railroad line and the main road from town. For two miles stretches a line of congested steel and some concrete factories with the residential district "across the tracks. The atomic bomb landed between and totally destroyed both with half (illegible) living persons in them. The known dead-number 20,000 police tell me they estimate about 4,000 remain to be found.

The reason the deaths were so high -- the wounded being about twice as many according to Japanese official figures -- was twofold:

1. Mitsubishi air raid shelters were totally inadequate and the civilian shelters remote and limited.

2. That the Japanese air warning system was a total failure.


He goes on to explain the placement of an Allied prison camp and multiple armament factories nearby. Later, he describes Japanese expectations from him as a journalist

Showing them to you, as the first American outsider to reach Nagasaki since the surrender, your propaganda-conscious official guide looks meaningfully in your face and wants to knew: "What do you think?"

What this question means is: do you intend saying that America did something inhuman in loosing this weapon against Japan? That is what we want you to write.


He describes in graphic detail Disease X, the strange wasting disease that affected the indirect victims of the bomb.
The atomic bomb's peculiar "disease," uncured because it is untreated and untreated because it is not diagnosed, is still snatching away lives here.

Men, woman and children with no outward marks of injury are dying daily in hospitals, some after having walked around three or four weeks thinking they have escaped.

The doctors here have every modern medicament, but candidly confessed in talking to the writer - the first Allied observer to Nagasaki since the surrender - that the answer to the malady is beyond them. Their patients, though their skin is whole, are all passing away under their eyes


Political commentary is absent from the pieces. George Weller was a noted journalist of the time, having won a Pulitzer prize in 1943, and been through much of the American fighting in Europe, even being captured by the Gestapo.

The articles have been authorized by his son, Anthony Weller, a novelist, who plans to publish the entire set of articles as a book. He says his father was furious at the censorship, feeling that it denied the public's right to know.

The Nagasaki bomb killed more than 70,000 people instantly, with ten thousands dying later from effects of the radioactive fallout.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Batman Begins - thoughts and reviews

The new Batman Begins film seems to be causing much fine creative outpouring. I especially like "Dark Knight Of The Soul" at huffingtonpost.com, with copious links

Things we-- and Bruce Wayne-- learn during Batman Begins:

Terrorists want to spread fear and panic: that's the point of terrorism, not a side-effect. Terrorists love it when the fear and panic they cause make the target society do stupid things.

The worst weapons modern terrorists can use are the ones they'd like to steal from us.

Large numbers of riot police almost always mean that local or national government has already done something wrong.

If you listen to scientists, support basic research, and plan for public health emergencies now, you might prevent widespread death and destruction later.

Americans love enormous armored cars. (At least, they used to.)

Terrorists hate big cities.


Blogcritics.org has a roundup of 'Batman Begins" reviews on the site. It looks like it has done $71 million so far.

Rottentomatoes collates press reviews, and an 82% tomatometer rating for "Batman Begins"

Blogcritics' Editors' Picks

The Blogcritics Editors have their editors' picks up for the week

The plethora of fine writing over at blogcritics makes this a difficult task, I know.

A couple of my personal favorites from last week:

How The Homosexuals Saved Civilization - swingingpuss

The Punk Rock Mid-Life continues - Wally Bangs

Star Wars - Revenge Of The Sith - review" - Temple Stark

The Moon, Mars and Law Enforcement - Bennett Dawson

Spin Magazine's Rock Lexicon

Spin Magazine has a list, albeit brief, of some niche musical genres, and interesting definitions for them. Some excerpts:

DISCO METAL: This is up-tempo, semiheavy guitar rock that someone (usually a stripper) could feasibly dance to.

RAWK: This is how people who start bands in order to meet porn stars spell rock. It is also applied to long-haired guitar players who can’t play solos.

PROG: There was a time when “progressive rock” was easy to define, and everybody knew who played it—Jethro Tull, ELP, Yes, and other peculiar, bombastic men who owned an inordinate number of Moog synthesizers during the mid-1970s. ... However, just about anything qualifies as prog in 2005. An artist can be referred to as “kind of proggy” if he or she does at least two of the following things: writes long songs, writes songs with solos, writes songs about mythical creatures, writes songs that girls hate, grows a beard, consistently declines interview requests, mentions Dream Theater as an influence, claims to be working on a double album, claims to be working on a rock opera, claims to have already released a rock opera, appears to be making heavy metal for people who don’t like heavy metal, refuses to appear in his or her own videos, makes trippy music without the use of drugs, uses laser technology in any capacity, knows who Dream Theater is.


I know who Dream Theater is:)

Reliance Industries splits - Brothers At Arms

The $23-billion Reliance Industries, representing 4% of India's economy will be split between the brothers Anil and Mukesh Ambani, heirs to the sprawling industrial behemoth created by their father, Dhirubhai Ambani.

Some background may be in order for those unfamiliar with the conglomerate. It operates in the fields of petrochemicals, telecom, textiles, oils, and finance. It is India's largest private sector company, and has the most shareholders of any company in the world. It is also the only Indian private company in the Fortune 500, and the first to float ADRs in the US market. It operates some of the world's largest oil refineries, and their telecom company purchased FLAG Telecom, with 50,000 kilometers of undersea fiber-optic cable. Net profit last year was over one billion dollars, revenues of $23 billion, and market cap estimated at $20 billion.

The founder, Dhirubhai Ambani, structured the company with a number of holding companies, and sub-divisions, over 300 inter-connected organizations. He died in 2002, leaving a murky succession plan. His two sons, Mukesh, a hard-driving engineer, and Anil, seen as a dynamic business-oriented individual, assumed the reins, but signs of a split were visible early on, with Anil a no-show at the IPO of Reliance Infocomm. Mukesh was named the Chairman and Chief Managing Director. Anil filed his papers for the Indian parliament's upper house in 2004, but faced objections from Mukesh's camp.

Ambanis
Anil and Mukesh Ambani


In late 2004, Mukesh admitted to "ownership issues", roiling the Indian markets. Six directors resigned from the board when he declared in an e-mail that he, or rather hsi role as CMD, was the final authority. The Anil refused to sign off on the balance sheet of the corporation, and objected to share transfers between the companies. On Jan 23, 2005, Anil sent a 500-page note to the board declaring a 'lack of transparency' in the operations. The Securities and Exchange Board of India puts the company under the microscope, but takes no action. Deals like the awarding of 30,000,000 shares to a friend of Mukesh at Rs.1/share, worth $100,000,000 are brought into question.

The widow of Dhirubhai Ambani, Kokilaben, stepped in and declared that the two brothers must resolve their differences or split the company by July 6th, the 3rd death anniversary of their father. She announced the details of the split first, even before the Board's announcement, on Saturday.

'I have today amicably resolved the issues between my two sons, Mukesh and Anil, keeping in mind the proud legacy of my husband, Dhirubhai Ambani,' said their widowed mother, Kokilaben, whose husband built the empire from scratch." I am confident both Mukesh and Anil will resolutely uphold the values of their father and work towards protecting and enhancing value for over three million shareholders of the Reliance Group'

The details will take some time to emerge, but elder brother Mukesh will keep control of the flagship Reliance Industries, in the oil, gas and petrochemicals space, and worth about 70-80% of the empire. Younger brother Anil gets control of Reliance Energy, one of India's biggest power utility firms, Reliance Infocomm, market leader in the country's booming telecoms sector, and Reliance Capital, the group's finance arm.

Anil, who is married to one of India's best and most beautiful actresses of the 1970s, Tina Munim, has announced plans to aggressively grow his companies. He aims to transform Reliance Capital, with interests in leasing and infrastructure investment and mutual funds, into a full-spectrum financial services powerhouse. He said Reliance Capital would also move into banking when regulations permitted. Reliance Energy plans to set up a $11 billion coal-based, 12,000-megawatt power plant in the eastern state of Orissa and a 3,740-megawatt gas-based plant in Uttar Pradesh. There are also plans to emulate Wal-Mart in the retailing sector.

The two daughters will each get 5% of the empire, and the mother and brothers share about 30% each. The share price has risen about 12% this month, and should hit the roof now that the uncertainty is resolved.

The Times of India, quoting an unnamed source, reported on Sunday that the stakes in the three companies would be transferred to an Anil Ambani-controlled special purpose vehicle, in which Reliance Industries shareholders would be given shares. The Economic Times said Mukesh would swap his stake in the vehicle for Anil's stake in Reliance Industries, with Mukesh paying 100 billion rupees ($2.3 billion) to settle the balance. The Times of India said the brothers had agreed to a 10-year non-compete clause, and said both can use the Reliance brand.

Various industrialists have hailed the arrangement, and stressed the importance of succesion planning in large enterprises, especially those which are family-run.

Also at blogcritics.org

Google News notices my Batman Begins post

Google News seems to have liked my previous post, "Batman Begins and the Hegelian Dialectic", from blogcritics - blogcritics is a Google News source, and it is nice to see this on the front page

gnews_batman

Batman Begins and The Hegelian Dialectic

Bruce Wayne's inability to resist the forces surrounding him, driving him inevitably to don the mantle of the Dark Knight is expounded skilfully in the new film "Batman Begins". The film is an exposition of the Hegelian Dialectic, which frames social growth as a progression in which each successive movement or action emerges as a solution to the contradictions of the previous movement, before itself falling prey to it's own contradictions. In short, this can be termed "action-reaction-solution".

The League Of Shadows appear as masterful manipulators of world events, as well as human lives. Although some of their claims are a little hard to stomach, such as the masterminding of the fictitious Depression (out of place in the timeline of our universe), let us assume that these are valid in the fictiverse where they are set. Thus, the timeline of the film has them create an economic depression with the objective of social upheaval, and an overall cleansing of society, and then when the society they are trying to 'fix' reforms itself, as an indirect result of the charitable acts of Bruce Wayne's father, the League retreats to plot physical destruction of Gotham, hoping thereby to build anew.

They train Bruce Wayne with the hope of molding him to their interests. His basic ethos is too strong, however, to submit - primarily as a result of the nurture provided by his substitute father, Alfred. He is influenced to the extent of being able to control his deepest fears, and resolves to make a difference to society.

Bruce is caught up in two currents, one intensely personal, and another affecting Gotham. His need to prove himself to the memory of his father, and show, through his actions, that his father was not a coward in failing to protect the family, are contrasted with his desire to cleanse society of it's evils and excesses. The two streams intertwine, until he learns in the end that his father's courage was in standing up against the darkness, and helping others stand fast.

The film itself is predictable in its story arc - the bad guys are foiled, he embraces his destiny, and becomes the defender of Gotham. Yet within this simplistic tale lies great depth, and insightful social commentary. Bruce Wayne questions the historical materialism that drives his fellow oligarchs, and through his actions proves himself better than them. This is a tale too, of the inability for sons to fathom their fathers' hearts. That is a different dialectic, however, and perhaps not apposite for Father's Day.

Superlative acting by Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine & Liam Neeson complement Christian Bale's alienated Bruce Wayne. The film seems to dovetail into the first Tim Burton Batman, with the threat of the Joker looming over Gotham, and the Batman soaring over the darkened city.

Batman Begins (TM)/Dennis O'Neil Batman Begins/James Newton Howard Batman Batman Returns Phenomenology of Spirit (Galaxy Books)/A.V. Miller Batman Begins Deluxe Batmobile Batman Begins Action Cape Batman Figure The Art of Batman Begins/Mark Cotta Vaz Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon/Will Brooker Batman : No Man's Land (Batman: No Man's Land)/Greg Rucka

Friday, June 17, 2005

Home Theater Hacks - An essential reference

"Home Theater Hacks" illuminates the technical, complex world of home theater systems, HDTV monitors, and more. Part of the O'Reilly Hacks series, it is true to form in its structure and content, delivering many easy and complex insights into the subject area.

It is quite technical in parts, which is informative for someone who has a passing familiarity with electronic equipment, and enables a regular user to understand the intricacies of the complex equipment at his/her disposal. It addresses the needs and interests of both high-end and middle-of-the-road consumers.

The sections covered include buying gear, selecting the right video and audio components, high definition planning, speakers, wiring, connectivity, calibration, and also discusses Home Theater PCs (HTPCs) and the must-have TiVo. The hacks go into interesting areas like techniques for squeezing large TVs into smaller basements through a process of careful dismantling and moving the TV components. The HDTV chapter expounds on antenna selection and setup, and problems associated with SD programming on an HDTV monitor.

I found much value personally in the speakers, wiring and audio sections. My home theater setup feels much more effective post implementation of a few of the hacks, such as the addition of a bass shaker to really feel the low frequencies, and effective calibration of my receiver. The book gives the low-down on "wiring upsell", comparing it to the plumber's recommendations to put in 6-inch, gold-plated pipe that will never corrode, carry all the water you want and will taste good. The recommendation to use your receiver for video switching is a good one, which I was following and glad to see validated. The book cautions against using the THX Optimizer found on most recent Lucasfilm DVDs, declaring them to be inconsistent, like the films (ok, the book doesn't really say that last part :) )

The Do-it-Yourself section is a challenging set of projects ranging from building your own antennas, speakers and stands. Not quite my cup of tea, but worth many people's attention, I'm sure.

The TiVo section is more of a teaser for the full-length TiVo Hacks, but a few techniques presented here like Speed Reading, the 10-FF-40 solution and how to stream Internet Audio broadcasts to your TiVo are worthy of note.

The book is an effective guide to getting down and dirty with the wonders of home theater equipment, and necessary reading for anyone wanting to maximize their experience.

Home Theater Hacks (Hacks)/Brett McLaughlin Home Theater Design: Planning and Decorating Media-Savvy Interiors/Krissy Rushing Home Theater Practical Home Theater: A Guide to Video and Audio Systems, 2005 Fourth Edition/Mark Fleischmann Home Theater for Dummies/Pat Hurley TiVo Hacks (Hacks)/Raffi Krikorian Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man/Lewis H. Lapham

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Time traveler, world traveler, book reader