Monday, October 26, 2009

Archetypes in Lost

I’ve been completely hooked to lost these days. Since the show can broadly be classified as fantasy, I thought it might be a good idea to see what archetypes the major characters fall into.

Jack Shephard: He’s the Hero. He’s group oriented. Live together, die alone is his motto. For him, the group is more valuable than individuals.

John Locke: He’s the Hunter. He has acute sensory prowess. But what really is remarkable about him is his intuition or sixth sense. He believes that there is a higher purpose to his life and believes in following the ‘signs’.

Sawyer: He’s the anti-Hero. There is little about him to like. He’s a cheat, a con-man who cares only about his own petty interests. And yet, we pine to know his story.

Sayid: He’s the Soldier. Infused with a black-and-white sense of morality, he takes upon himself to fight and protect. He isn’t proud what he has to do in the line of duty and is deeply nostalgic about people he’s had to lose or leave behind.

Ben: He’s the classical Trickster. You can’t trust him on anything. There’s no telling what his words really mean or what his intentions truly are. And yet, if he gives you his word, he’ll follow it. Ironic, isn’t it?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Supplying Water

I did my bachelors in civil engineering. This meant that somewhere in the third year, we had a course on supplying water.

Now designing a water distribution system is a fairly simple process. First, you estimate the population. If you’re designing for the future, you might use a 25 or 50 year projection of what the population will be. Then there are standards for the per capita consumption. Standards for how many water outlets each house should have, what the pressure at these outlets must be.

Once all this design data is known, you design the water supply system so that water is available at all these outlets in the desired quantity and at the desired pressure head.

But there is something fundamentally wrong with this approach. It assumes that adequate amount of water is available for you to supply water 24x7 in this manner. In India, this is hardly ever the case.

In India, in most regions, water is available in a very limited quantity. My own house in Indore gets water for about 1 to 1.5 hours every alternate day. That too at a pressure that can’t even rise above the ground floor. Different regions of the city get water at different times and in different quantities.

Clearly, what needs to be designed by the engineer is not what is taught in the classroom. We need to learn how to schedule the water supply. We need to learn how to prioritize supply regions, supply times and supply volumes. Of course, none of this is taught. Most probably because that kind of knowledge doesn’t even exist.

I know that water is a big political issue in India. Who gets water and when and how much they get it is largely a political decision. But even in an ideal world, where one would want to ensure equitable and optimum distribution of water, the know how to do it doesn’t even exist. I find that somewhat disturbing.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Bad Writing in Bollywood

I think Bollywood has some very good talent. We have great actors, great technicians, great musicians and some really fabulous directors. What we lack are script writers.

When I go to a Bollywood movie, there’s not thing that irks me more than the lack of a script. An example that immediately comes to mind is Chandni Chowk to China (CC2C) which I watched on the airplane on my way back to the US last month.

It’s a nice brainless comedy, something that you’d enjoy when you have nothing to do. And I have nothing against such movies. But consider, for a moment, an important plot point. Sidhu’s martial arts teacher tells him – I don’t fear those thousand moves you’ve practiced once. I fear that one move that you’ve practiced a thousand times.

Sidhu is reminded of this advice in the climactic moments of the movie, when he’s being beaten black, blue and red by the villain. Clearly, it’s an important plot point. Something that would have hooked the viewers on. Sidhu is a cook. The writer needed to turn a cooking move into a martial arts move. Something , that I think, will be rather easy with a day or two or brainstorming. That’s what I was expecting. What do we get instead? A set of moves that have nothing to do with Sidhu’s past profession. Or even his training sessions with his master. Just some random choreography of fight sequences.

That’s bad writing. That single thing took out all the joy from the movie. When will Bollywood learn to pay attention to details?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Quirky Python Behaviour on Ubuntu

So my good friend AD is messing around with Python these days. You know, basic variables and loops and stuff. So he does some stuff with strings and naively names the file string.py and saves it in his home folder.

Done with this brainwork for the day, he fires up rhythmbox to listen to some music. The busy cursor shows and nothing else comes up. Since I'm the only linux 'expert' in sight he turns to me for help.

I advise him to run rhythmbox from the command prompt and tell me what the error messages are. He does that and receives a segmentation fault with random garbage from the python exercises he was doing earlier.

What was happening here was that python was treating the string.py in as the default string module. Or maybe it's a rhythmbox thing. Or an Ubuntu thing. In anycase, it seems like a stupid thing to give precedence to random stuff lying around in your /~. Is this a feature or a bug?