Siding with the Truth–Satyamev Jayate

We are a nation of contrasts.

On the one hand, India is an amazing country, taking many things for granted that other peoples have to strive very hard for. We are a nation of cultures, languages and history; we celebrate festivals of all religions and backgrounds; we are gutsy enough to go back to work the day after we’re bombed and terrorized. We’re not perfect, but we find a way to be a proud, resilient, affable populace.

And yet—we’re not perfect. We take things for granted that other peoples abhor, and have ideas and practices that straight-thinking individuals would repudiate every time. Among other things, we kill our girl children, have set up sexual abuse laws for children only this week, and demand huge favors and material gifts from our women and their families—even going to the extent of killing ‘unsatisfactory brides’—just for their ‘privilege’ of marrying us.

When bad practices are ingrained into a society, there’s perhaps only one way to remove them. Laws help, but not always, especially when social norms and stigma prevent crimes from even being reported. The only way is perhaps to bring the issue into large-scale public discourse, and try and change the thinking of most people in society. Those of us that are not directly affected often are distant in engaging with these issues—‘oh, it’ll never happen with us’!—and a thriving public discourse may be the only way to change that.

Satyamev Jayate (literally, truth stands invincible; this is India’s national motto) is a new TV show that does just this. It talks about the devils lurking in Indian society, and invites individuals who have themselves been scalded to tell their sordid tales. Further, there is an effort to raise money for donating to charities, and sometimes even ideas on how to get personally involved.

This is a great show, and something that everyone in India needs to watch. The first three episodes deal with the three practices I mentioned in the second paragraph—female infanticide, sexual abuse of children, and the ‘business’ of marriages. Credit to Star Plus and Aamir Khan Productions for keeping the shows free-to-watch on the internet after the show airs on TV. Kudos also to Mr. Khan, for choosing this as his entry into television, instead of hosting another game show or another dance competition.

Please, spread the word. Our problems won’t solve themselves. We’re a great nation, but as I’ve said before, we still have a way to go.

Links:

‘Etymology’ of Baba Sehgal’s Thanda Thanda Paani.

Remember Baba Sehgal, the pop “star” who had a handful of hits in the 1990s? His first hit, which put him on the map, so to say, was the song “Thanda Thanda Paani” (which I personally didn’t really like). Well, here’s the ‘etymology’ of the song:

Baba Sehgal sang ‘Thanda Thanda Paani’,

after he copied the entire premise from Vanilla Ice,

who copied their baseline theme from Queen!

Amazing how so much of India’s ‘hit’ music is directly or indirectly derived from copying someone else. (Note that Vanilla Ice took Queen’s baseline theme, and made a new song; Baba simply copied Vanilla Ice, baseline theme and all.)

P.S.: I’m not saying he isn’t talented—he certainly had his place in the industry. It’s just that—why can’t people make their own songs?!

Pirates of the Caribbean 4: A Review

Meh. That’s my first reaction.

This is part 4 of a movie franchise that’s based on a theme park ride, remember – and by now I imagine the creators have run out of new elements to introduce. So: there’s Jack Sparrow (“with a ‘Captain’ in there somewhere”), there’s Barbossa, there are other ‘interested parties’, all in a mad rush to find the Fountain of Youth. Along the way, there are sea creatures, there’s a supernatural ship, and a romance sub-plot that begs the question: why?!

Does any of this sound familiar?

Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightly are gone, but there isn’t anyone who ‘fills’ the spots that they held. Instead, there’s Penelope Cruz, who’s role in the movie seems tenuous. She has appreciable screen time, mind you – but does she play a significant part? I’m not so sure. And then there are a bunch of other characters who are all present and who all fill the screen – but it’s not much coherent there either.

All in all, it’s just a movie where it seems like we’ve already seen it before. To the extent, that even the customary funny scenes involving Sparrow sometimes seem off color. It’s not a bad movie – it’s just not a good one any more, after three movies before this along the same lines. Go watch it if you have the time, but don’t put off that other important thing just to watch this.

Meh. Yeah, that’s still my reaction.

Of Science Fiction, and James Cameron

I often have a problem with many science-fiction / fantasy movies. It’s not that I cannot identify with technology or ideas that are far removed from what we are used to on present day Earth – it’s just that more often than not the stories are not consistent in their own worlds.

For example, I’m sure you have encountered movies where a principal character is found in a tight spot, with no apparent way to wriggle out unscathed. You wonder how in the world the story moves forward without having the character dead / compromised – and then the character pulls out a ‘special power’, that either no one knew the character capable of, or that violates what a ‘normal’ character would be able to do.

Why that inconsistency, in the movie’s own set of rules?

I think one of the reasons Harry Potter is such a successful franchise is that Hogwarts and the magical universe is incredibly well defined in terms of what is allowed and what is not. Everyone has certain powers, and such powers have well defined limitations. When the author needs to add capabilities that are apparently undefined, she makes a point to give a background – before the power is used by a character – whereby the rules and limitations of that power are defined. It’s complex and rich – and also very self-consistent in its own universe.

That’s my point of view – that good fantasy / science fiction should be self-consistent in its own rules and laws. I usually don’t find too many takers to this – most people around me are often lapping up a movie, while I smirk and shake my head.

And then I find this, from a biography of the director James Cameron:

One of the rules the T-1000 [from the movie Terminator 2: Judgment Day] had to play by was that it could turn into a knife but not a gun, a limitation revealed when the character passes through the bars of a mental institution, but its pistol gets caught. As Cameron saw it, the T-1000 could harden portions of its [liquid metal] mass to form edge weapons and stabbing weapons, but it couldn’t convert part of its mass into a complex machine involving separate, detached pieces or make gunpowder to launch projectiles. It was important for Cameron to show the audience the character’s restrictions. […] “In science fiction you have to have rules and you have to state them, and you have to play by them,” Cameron says. “Somehow it makes the fantasy more real, by adding complexity.”

Perfect, is what I say.

And then we had, of course, Terminator 3, involving another liquid metal character capable, this time, of this:

Using the same logic as before (using ammunition or fuel, along with fire), are you surprised that Cameron neither wrote nor directed it?

Why NOT the iPad

I spent the last post on why the iPad makes sense, and why it might come in handy. This post is about why I would NOT buy one.

1. I don’t have enough spare cash to have a laptop, an iPod Touch, AND an iPad. If I had to choose between the iPod Touch and the iPad, I’d choose the former, simply because it ticks a lot of the same boxes, along with an additional one – it fits in my pocket. The boxes that the iPod doesn’t tick, I can live with, especially since it leaves my pocket considerably heavier.

2. One reason I might have been interested in a tablet computer would be hand written note taking, but the iPad doesn’t have the capability. One whole dimension of why electronic devices are useful is that you can carry around the same amount of information, without adding volume or weight.

As the iPad ushers in a new generation of tablet computers, I would have liked for it to be writing capable. I should be able to carry it to my graduate courses, and research meetings, and seminars, and anywhere else I would usually carry a notebook, and scribble down notes right on the tablet!

3. I’d wait for the internet industry to sort out the Flash / HTML 5.0 war. Apple does not support Flash, calling it buggy; the rest of the internet has simply not yet graduated to HTML 5.0. As it stands, a significant chunk of my online experience is cut short if I use the iPad. Not done.

4. This new generation of tablet computers is probably a year or two from really maturing – just such as the iPod is now mature and supports diverse applications and addresses various needs, that no one knew existed when it first came out.

Also, Apple being Apple, I have a feeling the iPad 2.0 will be far richer in its feature sets and capabilities than its present avatar – again, just like the iPod Touch 2nd generation, as compared to its 1st generation.

Bottom line: The iPad might be an interesting device, but as of now, I’m giving it a miss.

The iPad

When you do work-things, you use your laptop. When you travel, you carry your laptop with you –  either because you carry work with you, or you use the laptop as a data-vault, transferring data from external sources onto your hard drive.

Well, when you do non-work things, what do you use? Your laptop. And why is that? Is it really that you even now need the humongous computing power that MATLAB also needs? Or the keyboard? Or the very large screen?

What you DO need, is:

1. a device that you can use comfortably – lazing on the sofa, lying on your bed.

2. a device that has the bookmarks that you saved, either on that very same device, or on your work machine.

3. a sturdy internet connection.

4. a device that you can use for reading – blogs and online newspapers on the one hand, ebooks on the other.

If you’ve ever used an iPod Touch (as I have started to, recently), you have perhaps realized that the ideal device for the above, non-work things that you do, is not necessarily your laptop. Yes, the laptop is more powerful and gives you a more generic (as opposed to specific) experience, but it’s not as convenient as the iPod Touch for doing some leisurely things.

Also, if you’ve used the iPod Touch, you’ve perhaps realized that there are indeed limitations to the things that you do on it – you wish the blogs and the ebook pages were larger; that you didn’t have to scroll horizontally as much as you end up doing; that you had a larger virtual keyboard for instant messaging conversations.

And that is exactly where the iPad will come in.

The general idea about the iPad seems to be that it does nothing that either the iPod Touch or the laptop computer does not do. Well, neither of those situations is what the iPad is designed for!

When you’re done with work, you want to simply turn that computer off – you’ve seen enough of that keyboard for the day. And yet, you do need to be on the internet for other things. The iPod Touch addresses a lot of those needs, but it has an inevitable constraint – it needs to fit in your pocket. And that has built-in limitations that you cannot avoid.

The iPad seeks to be the device that you use when you’re not working, but not the device that you carry around in your pocket when you go to the grocery store.

I was skeptical, like everyone else, when the iPad was first introduced, but now that I’m using the iPod Touch, I can perhaps better acknowledge the role that the iPad might play. And to those that say the iPad is “just” a larger iPod Touch – well, sometimes, that’s exactly – and all – that you need.

The iPod Touch

I treated myself to an iPod Touch recently. And it’s a great device. For the most part. (Well, having the iPod, I can now extrapolate to why the iPad might be a very interesting device – but more on that later.)

But the point of this post is not to laud Apple, and sing songs of its glory, but to point at some chinks in the iPod instead. So, here we go:

1. Why can I not create playlists on the iPod? If everything can be synced between the iPod and my computer, so can playlists! It’s really no big deal, is it?

2. Why can there not be a song queue? Again, the iPod has enough memory to keep a simple list of songs to play. Should be a no brainer – but apparently not.

3. Why can I not play all the songs returned by a search criterion? For example, I have songs sung by “Sonu Nigam”, as well as, say “Sonu Nigam and Shreya Ghoshal”. These two entries are shown as two separate artists (understandably). Now if I want to play all Sonu Nigam songs, I should be able to just search for Sonu Nigam, and play every song in the search result. But no, I cannot do this.

4. How hard is it to put arrow keys on the virtual keyboard? You know, you mistype, you realize the typo at the end of the sentence… and you don’t have an arrow key to move the cursor back. It’s almost impossible to get the cursor to a point in the middle of a text field – the usual AI response is to take the cursor either to the beginning or to the end of the text field. Do Apple engineers never make typos that they discover four words later?

These peeves seem to me to be very minor issues that should be really simple to implement / get bugs out of… and yet, here’s Apple, with it’s reputation for things that “just work”, not doing the implementation.

Can’t you do better, Mr Steve Jobs?

Avatar

As expected from James Cameron, Avatar is an epic. Visually stunning, great details, sweeping landscapes and breathtaking scenery – it’s all there. It’s a pretty decent movie too, I’d say.

It seems, though, that James Cameron conceived the project 15 years ago, but could not go ahead due to technological restrictions. Really, Mr Cameron – 15 years? Which part?

The part about a larger / technologically advanced group invading a smaller / underdeveloped group? Or the underdogs winning, despite being backward? Those are not very new, are they? The only interesting portion was where the hero can ‘transform’ into other forms – and even that is not new (remember Jonny Quest, the Animorphs series?). Which part did you really uniquely conceive, Mr Cameron?

Nevertheless, the movie is good. It’s probably not going to be as big as Titanic, because where the Titanic had an off-the-beat storyline, Avatar has a predictable routine. Villains invade, insert a spy, spy gets involved with locals, feels for them, and finally goes against his bosses to fight, and win, for his new friends. Predictable storyline – with only the species changed. Even where the film had a chance to deviate from the routine and have some twists, it chose not to.

And then there are the stunning 3D effects. When Cameron talks about new technology to create something special, I am inclined to believe him – the movie is a must watch if only for the stunning Digital 3D and visual details.

If you’re sitting on the fence trying to decide whether you want to watch Avatar – let me decide for you: go watch. You won’t be disappointed. (No promises on the 2D version though – make sure to get to the 3D theater.)