Friday, August 24, 2007

Quoting Shantaram

The world is run by one million evil men, ten million stupid men and a hundred million cowards - Shantaram.

The world is run by one million evil humans, ten million stupid humans and hundred million cowards and six billion humans who define evil and stupid and coward - me. And did you notice that my statement is not sexist? :P

Google Redesigns Orkut

After long last, Google is redesigning Orkut interface. They are rolling out the changes to a few users at a time, selected randomly, but have posted a screenshot on their Okrut blog. Here is the screenshot for you.



The New Look

I really like the new look. It is modern, with light colors and rounded edges and shadowed panes. I also like the fact that they have chosen to stay with the blue background. I’m no fan of the Orkut blue, but with white it does look sleek. Somehow reminds me of the new KDE 4 Oxygen style.


And I really like the way the top right corner of the centre pane has that extra bend.


Easier Navigation

The navigation is now easier. They seem to have picked up a few things from powerscrap. I really like the fact that a scrapbook link now features on the top. I always hated to have to navigate to my profile and then go to my scrapbook. I then bookmarked the scrapbook page so that I could go to it in one click. So this thing is a really useful improvement.


I also like that manage communities and manage friend buttons have been added. They make a lot more sense being where they are now, under the friends and communities panes.


Sense of Symmetry

You will also notice light grey rectangles around your friend pictures and communities. I always found the friend photos misaligned because of different sizes. The sizes will not change even now but because of this background rectangle they look much more symmetric and organized. It is very pleasing to the eye. Also, the birthday reminder looks a lot more attractive now.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

What is Scientific?

In the modern world, as soon as you propose a new idea, the first argument that you will be faced with is that the idea is not scientific. Although, just being scientific does not really make the idea very useful or legitimate it does help a lot to gain respectability if you are able to prove that it really is scientific. So what is scientific? What does it mean to say that something is scientific?


Invariability in Space

Scientific ‘laws’ or equations or statements should be invariable in space. For example, when Newton says that action and reaction are equal and opposite, what he really means is that they are equal and opposite all over the universe – in Europe, in Asia, in America, on the Moon and even on Andromeda. And there is a slight extension to it. In case your statement actually has to do with measuring physical quantity then the scientific idea should be invariable with rotation too. For example, if a proton decays in t seconds when your apparatus points north, it should also decay in t seconds when it points west.


Invariability in Time

Invariability in time is perhaps even more important than in variability in space. It is this that makes scientific statements into ‘laws’. A law is something that always happens. It happens today, it happened yesterday and we have reason to believe that is also happened billions of years ago right back to the Big Bang. Scientific laws should be repeatable.


There is something more to be said about repeatability. Things are repeatable only when the ‘experiment’ is set up in the same way. One cannot expect gravity to act the same way on moon as it does on earth. The masses are different. One has to make sure that all the factors that significantly affect the phenomenon are similar. If you want the same amount of gravity on moon as on earth, you must put in the same amount of mass into the moon.


Deniability

This condition is perhaps the trickiest of all. And the most difficult to understand, perhaps. But also the most crucial. Often you will be faced with unscientific claims that are invariable in space and time. But they also have to be deniable. Unless they are deniable they are not, by definition, scientific claims.


To state simple, deniability means that it should be possible to set up an experiment that can possibly refute the scientific claim. For example, taking Newton’s example, it should be possible to set up and experiment that can possibly prove that action and reaction are not always equal. One such simple ‘experiment’ would be putting your pen on the tabletop. If action-reaction were not equal-opposite, the pen would fall through the table. But is does not happen.


The idea here is that it should be possible to set up such experiment and not that the experiment would necessarily refute the above claim. In fact, if the claim indeed is a law then it cannot the experiment cannot refute it. However, such an experiment should be possible to set up.


Another thing to note is that merely having such an experiment does not make the claim scientific. You have to ensure invariability in space-time too.


Using these tools let us examine a spurious ‘scientific’ claim. A pundit claims that if you pray to Vishnu with full faith he will cure your cancer. And indeed, he cites many cases (possible concocted by himself) when this has happened. But he says, faith is important, if there is not faith it will not happen. This ‘scientific-ness’ of this claim is easily put to test. Is it possible to set up an experiment where someone prays with full faith and still does not escape from cancer? As soon as you say that, the priest is in trouble because then he will have to define exactly what faith is and what it is that you have to do during the prayer. I’m sure he will not do that.


Because if he does that, then you can immediately perform the experiment to see whether his claim holds or not. As it will turn out, I’m sure, the claim will not be scientific. It is valid as a claim of religion and faith but not of science.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

लहू का रंग

प्रस्तुत है अतुल जैन द्वारा लिखी हुई एक कविता ...

लहू के एक रंग को
देख पाती हैं
वो आखें
जो या तो पीड़ा से लाल हों
या फिर निर्वेदता से श्वेत,
इसीलिये लहू किसी को लाल
और किसी को सफ़ेद नज़र अता है ...

मगर सिर्फ ये दो रंग ही लहू का दायरा नही
लाश का लहू काला भी होता है
बिल्कुल उस अँधेरे जैसा
जिसके अधिपत्य में उम्मीद की रोशनी रोज़
हर गली हर मोड़ पर दम तोड़ती है

ये ऐसा लाल भी है
जिसे देखकर प्रेमी अनुरागमत्त हो
खुद को भुला
जीवन और मृत्यु का अंतर भी भूल जाते हैं
और उस नमक का श्वेत भी
जो एक कमजोर टूटे इन्सान को
मृत्यु के आगोश से स्वतंत्र जीवन
को निकाल लाने कि हिम्मत देता है

मगर लहू का भी एक असली रंग है
जो चीरता हुआ
राष्ट्रीयता धर्म और जति के आवरणों
मानवता कि नन्गी हड्डियों से टकराता है
जो खोज में सत्ता कि
सड़क पर बहते बहते जम जता है
और खोखले होते इन्सान को
विकास कि सही कीमत बताता है

जिस दिन तुम उन ठिठुरती कड़कड़ाती हड्डियों कि वेदना को सुन पाओगे
उस दिन तुम मेरा, अपनी ही रगों के लहू का
असली रंग देख पाओगे

Monday, August 20, 2007

Frustoo 07 Democracy

Prabha Mallya draws for us yet another fabulous Frustoo. See here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Presidents of India

Here is a screenshot from presidentsofindia.nic.in the official site of the President of India. Shows how serious we take such official sites and how much effort is put into putting up such documents of public importance on the net. And all this after we claim to be a so called IT superpower ...

Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Gandhi My Father


I walked to this movie with almost no pre-held notions. Well, almost. My friend Atul had been telling me about the play a little while before the movie, how the play was very anti-Gandhi and how the tone had been mellowed in the movie. He also told me about the raving reviews that The Hindu and other newspapers had published for the movie.



As the movie rolled, it became very clear that it was trying to do what a lot of movies these days are doing – bridge the gap between art and commercial cinema. Thus, in the first few scenes you see Harilal playing football and Gandhi having a bath under a jury-rigged shower. But the story soon moves on to the real subject matter – Harilal’s rejection of his father’s ideology and the subsequent loss of his own identity under the shadow of the historical figure of Gandhi.


But, at least on me, the movie failed to have an impact. While it becomes very clear why Gandhi was doing what he was doing, Harilal has no voice in the movie. Gandhi says it in so many words in so many places. He did towards Harilal what he did because he had a personal ideology that he firmly believed in and he could make Harilal no exception to it. Perhaps it was also that in his effort to stay neutral to everyone, he became anti-Harilal just so that no one could allege that he held family above others. Whatever the case was, Gandhi’s idea do become more or less clear.


The same cannot be said about Harilal. First of all, he remains more or less silent in the movie. The silence is quite effective in the first half of the movie where at least some effort is made to explain what Harilal is. But later things go completely awry. Imagine this scene. We see Harilal with a prostitute. As he goes out of the room, he is chased by two men who round him up and say that they are not here for their money but with a message from Zakaria sahib who wanted to see Harilal. Hari goes to this person, has food and next we see him converting to Islam.


Who was this muslim person? What did he and Hari talk about? Why did Hari decide to convert to Islam? Was is just for the money or was there something else involved? What did he feel about leaving his religion for money? What did he think his parents would think?


None of this is shown. And even amateur writers would not commit the mistake of leaving these things out of a character development. The film is full of such things.


Thus, I did not like the movie much. The movie is a laudable effort just because of the subject matter it deals with. Perhaps I will write about that in a later post.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

A Woman Alone with Her Soul

Today I have absolutely convinced myself that I'm totally going bananas. I actually wrote a 668 word review of a three line story. This was actually something posted on the e-Literary-Discussion-Group [eLDG] that we run and the story posted was this. I present my reply to this story. In case you actually do a word count to verify that it really is 668 words long, do not include this paragraph. Include the title also. Do the word count on MS Word. And oh, use MS Word 2007, not 2003 or XP or something. Yes, yes, I'm getting to it.




(C) Deviant

For the benefit of those who are too lazy to click on that link, I'll quote the story here -


A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead. The doorbell rings.


I think what the author is trying to do, at least at one level, is construct a minimalist definition of what fantasy is. The first two sentences tell the reader that the woman is alone and that all other living things are dead. Also, it is made very clear that the woman also knows that she is alone in the world with all other living things being dead.


Thus, both in the reality of the reader and the reality of the text, it is firmly established that nothing like the doorbell ringing can happen. Yet, it happens. That is fantasy. Something that is impossible both in the reader's reality and the text's reality being caused to happen.


This definition immediately runs into some problems. How would you apply it to something like Harry Potter (yes, I finished the seventh one last night.) The first book would be a fantasy insofar as Harry doesn't think magic is possible and neither does the reader but it happens. However, as you read the second book you have accepted the fact that magic will happen and so has Harry. And thus, by our definition, magic no longer remains fantastic. But come to think of it Rowling does have to throw in spectacle after spectacle to make the books work as fantasy. This she keeps doing till the very end - the deathly hallows and Harry's connection with Voldemort. If it was just lumos and expelliarmus till the very end then it would hardly have been fantasy anymore, besides being a very boring book!


On another line of thinking, one may wonder what exactly it is that makes the above three lines a fantasy. On the very first glance one would conclude that it is the last sentence that is fantastic. It is the last sentence that is the impossible within the story. If you remove the last sentence what you get is -


A woman is sitting alone in a house. She knows she is alone in the whole world: every other living thing is dead.


This hardly appears to be a fantasy. So it must be the last sentence that makes it a fantasy. However, if you remove the second sentence only, what you get is a two-sentenced version of a reality show. So which sentence is essential to it being a fantasy? Both of them. But then why is it that only the last sentence appears to be impossible? Why not the second one? This is clearly because there is a linear order in the sentences. The second is not the same as the third because by the time you have read third, you must have read second and not vice versa.


Looking at it from yet another angle the story is not fantasy at all! Okay, so the stupid woman thinks that she is all alone in the world. Who says she's not delusional? After all, the knowledge is given from her POV and not the neutral observer POV. So she might as well be absolutely gaga (yes that is the HP effect) and someone real may be ringing the bell!


This makes me really wonder. Why the story is called A Woman Alone with Her SOUL? Why soul? Has it been thrown in to make sure that the concept of souls exits in the text reality? In that case, the story clearly is not a fantasy at all, because if souls exist then the ones without bodies may as well ring bells. Nothing fantastic about that, isn't it?


Phew! I can't believe that I wrote all that about just three lines! And to think I actually learnt to do this nonsense in a classroom. And You-All-Know-Who's!

The Mighty Blue Apple

In continuation with Apple jokes here is the original one. The very first that I saw and I still love it!

Hilarious Himesh

See this absolutely hilarious animation here.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

300 and the Lord of the Rings

I watched the movie 300 for the third time today. I really didn’t want to, but a friend dragged me and we walked out about half an hour before the climax. But watching the movie today in a very distracted atmosphere did lead me to contemplate some interesting things.


The Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings trilogy is a remarkable set of movies. (Tolkien has said that the LOTR is hardly a trilogy. Rather it is a book that happens to have three parts. I would say the same for the movies also.) The storyline is, undoubtedly, one of the best modern myths that we have. However, the movies themselves go ahead and create a visual vocabulary which is of epic proportions. We had not seen such a spectacle on screen before and now that we have, we automatically associate these images with the fantastic world that Tolkien has created.


The world that Tolkien creates is simple. There is honor and valor on one side and people who believe in them. Kindness and pity are virtues. Bravery and sacrifice are ideals that everyone is trying to live up to. There is evil and treachery, malice and lies on the other hand. The darkness of the Dark Lord lies in his hatred and abrogation of all things fair and just.


These ideas would appear quaint to the modern man who has grown up learning that things are not black and white but there are shades of grey. He is delighted at a tale that shows him these shades of grey. Perhaps that is because it makes him more comfortable about his own inadequacy.


And these blacks and whites in the Lord of the Rings movies are depicted by Rivendell and Mordor. One place that is fair and just and another that is evil and dark. And as the story progresses we get more of these coin like visuals. Elves vs. Orks, lembas vs human flesh, horses of Rohan vs the winged steeds of the Nazgul. Even the atmosphere itself becomes an incessant play of light and shade as the battle fields of Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith are overcast and gloomy.



300

The movie 300 uses a lot of this visual vocabulary. In the very beginning we have a beast that appears animated, not a like a real beast at all, whose eyes glow and which walks with a steady choreographed motion. The beast has a air of unreality around it which is emphasized by its shining eyes in the dark. However, it is merely a wolf and there is nothing out worldly about it.


Next we have the Persian messenger riding down in slow motion across the rolling Greek farmland. Reminds one very much of the White Rider riding down to the help of those trapped and holding fort in Helm’s Deep. King Leonidas then has to go consult the Oracle who wreathes and sways in her intoxicated state as if she’s a fairy from another world.


Leonidas then gathers his 300 loyal men and marches off to his death. What we see as he departs is not a realistic countryside but a highly stylized landscape done in very much the style that Rivendell was.


Next we get the battle itself and all its excitement. Notice, though, that the Xerxes’ elite are called Immortals and ghosts – ones who do not die. Yet they are just warriors in reality. They wear masks that do not show eyes or mouths. Much like the Nazgul We are faced with beasts and men who look like supernatural beasts out of any run of the mill fantasy. Yet, 300 really did happen and there was no way that Xerxes could have had those other-worldly ghosts to fight for him. Xerxes himself is referred to as the God-King lending and air of fantastic to him. And yet, it merely turns out to be a very human battle in the end.


What Does It All Mean?

Fine, so 300 uses a vocabulary, visual and otherwise that a fantasy movie would use. What does that achieve for us? What does it tell us?


It tells us perhaps that the way the story is told has a very deep impact on what the story becomes. The battle of Thermopylae is an ordinary battle. Yes, it was a battle of great courage and valor but a human battle after all. Narrating the tale in this manner lends it an air of being extraordinary in some sense.


And unquestionably, there is nothing special about this observation. It has been shown time and again that the ordinary can indeed be turned into the extraordinary by a careful and crafted use of the medium. That is what advertisements do all day on television. So what really does the film tell you when they do this?


Perhaps the fact that the medium can do this transformation becomes very express in the way the film is crafted. The viewer is constantly given a high where he is expecting the extraordinary and then given a jolt to reality as he realizes the medium is playing tricks on him. Perhaps that is the point. To make it clear how the medium can do that. And that, perhaps, is the magic of Frank Miller.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

From the 90s and Still There

Saumya has this absolutely lovely post remembering the 90s. To quote him.

I am a retro.
I grew up in the 90s.
A good part of me still lives in those times. No matter how much I try to keep pace with the times, I am stuck!

Wanna know why? Here's 50 reasons, in no particular order...


My favorite is:

47. That reminds me of "Yeh aakaashvaani hai, abhi studio ki ghadi mein shaam ke aath bajkar chhabbees minute ho rahe hain. Abhi abhi aapne Manju Sharma se hindi ke samachaar sune..." and "...geet gaaya hai Kumar Sanu aur Anuradha Paudwal ne, bol hain Sameer ke aur sangeet Anand Milind ka hai" and "Yeh hai VIVIDH BHARATI!" ... Speaking of which, those little Transistors which everyone used to glue to their ears, especially when a cricket match was being aired. AIR rocked!