November 30, 2008
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Two for the Money
We watched National Treasure: Book of Secrets and Bachna Ae Haseeno yesterday and both were entertaining, at least
Of course, Book of Secrets was a bit too predictable and had a bunch of large plot holes. Like the one where they are all stuck in an underground cavern and there’s water pouring in. They got to that place by figuring out that the water from a cavern above had to drain out. So they stopped the water in the cavern above, get to the one below and then when the water starts flowing again in the cavern above, discover that the water does not go anywhere in the new cavern unless a door (which is closed) is opened. So where was the water going to earlier? Confused yet? I was!
But it did have some neat historical points which had me scratching my head wondering if the facts were real or made up. It looks as if at least some of the facts were real – there were indeed three copies of the Statue of Liberty and the Resolute Desks actually exist. Of course, there are other minor items which were altered, or created out of whole cloth, to drive the story. Overall, Book of Secrets was entertaining but nothing special.
Bachna Ae Haseeno was, on the other hand, a gem because it’s an atypical Hindi/Bollywood movie. It’s a movie in three parts and the first part does seem to draw some inspiration from Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge while it also makes fun of some of the items from DDLJ. But overall, the concept of the movie seems to have a marked resemblance to Autograph but unlike the usual Bollywood "adaptation", which simply copies other movies scene for scene, all the events in Bachna Ae Haseeno were totally different. So I’m left wondering if this was actually a case of coincidental resonance or if the writers for the movie did start with the core of Autograph but then went their own way.
An interesting factoid about Bachna Ae Haseeno is the title song. Like Unforgettable, where Natalie Cole and Nat King Cole collaborated across the divide of time, Bachna Ae Haseeno (the song) has Kishore Kumar posthumously collaborating with his son Sumeet Kumar. But the interesting thing about this particular song is that there’s another father-son collaboration (or pairing) at work here. The song was originally used on a movie starring Rishi Kapoor, the father of Ranbir Kapoor, the lead actor in Bachna Ae Haseeno
The story? I won’t spoil it for you. It’s worth watching the movie to enjoy the whole thing completely 😀
November 29, 2008
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November 28, 2008
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November 27, 2008
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HP Reveals All
HP certainly revealed a lot of things (but not their pricing) at yesterday’s press conference to launch their new range of business notebooks and desktops for Sri Lanka. The press conference was held at the Trans Asia and surprisingly enough for Sri Lanka, it started only about 15 minutes late
The first thing to be revealed was of course, the new notebooks. In the process, HP also revealed their lack of taste, decorum, or any indication that they knew which country they were in. Why? Because they had models in skimpy outfits strutting around showing off the notebooks as if they were having some sort of catwalk fashion show. Sure, HP calls itself a "green" company and sells a lot of PCs, but they certainly showed the fact that they are not PC at all and that they are very green when it comes to doing tasteful marketing 😀
The ladies doing the modeling, no offence to them, were terribly over-made-up and under-clothed. They had this horrible blue eye-shadow which made them look like zombies and these skimpy skirts which would hike up when they got on the stage and if you were half a foot shorter than me, you probably could see their underwear as they got on stage. Yes, it was that short! And the showcasing of the notebooks? They simply walked around in front of the seated audience, giving them a glimpse of the notebook, which was totally useless because you didn’t get any of the details. But then again, this was all for effect and not really to let the participants get any useful info, right? And not once did any of the models smile, look pleasant or in any other way try to make the audience feel like taking a second look at the computers.
But then again, most of the guys there were probably busy looking a little bit below the computers, which were at eye level, to notice if the models were smiling or if any of the computers were even powered on :p
Given that this was a gathering of journalistic types and the abundance of pocket-feminists and armchair-nationalists who normally rise up to talk about "objectification of women" and "2500 years of cultural history", I was surprised that nobody pointed out the fact that apart from being utterly tasteless and tacky, this was also something which went against the culture of Sri Lanka and was degrading towards women. I’ve never understood why you needed a scantily clad woman to sell a car or a computer – you’re not buying the woman, you’re buying the item. Do we really need this kind of senseless, appealing-to-the-gonads type of advertising here in Sri Lanka as well? (Or did I lose the one single reader I have at "scantily clad"? :p)
Of course, that was just the beginning of things. HP talked up their products but gave no concrete answers to questions about how much these new products would sell for or even how much their current products sell for. They also kept harping on the fact that they weren’t a price-based organization because their products came with value-additions that others didn’t have. When asked what these value-additions were though, they were again rather vague – talking about doorstep service to customers. But then they went on to say that they don’t sell any HP products directly but do so through their network of authorized dealers and that all value-additions are provided by the dealers. So how do they even know that this mythical doorstep service exists? I’ve certainly never heard of it.
As the title says, HP certainly revealed a lot of things at this press conference, but not many of the things revealed were complimentary to the organization. The products showcased were good but given the lack of pricing information and HP’s insistence that they are not price-based because in the total cost of ownership, the price of the machine is a mere fraction, I certainly wouldn’t be dreaming HP anytime soon
November 26, 2008
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November 7, 2008
The Stuff Nations Are Made Of
I just finished reading PTerry‘s Nation last night and it was quite the experience. Shakespeare, in As You Like It if I’m not mistaken, says that there are seven ages to man. There seems to have been, at least so far, three stages to PTerry’s writing
First there was the the spoofing PTerry, the one who made fun of fantasy clichés and parodied pop culture. Then there was the PTerry from around Small Gods who (or was it later, when Vimes began transmogrifying from a regular character into something different?) wrote much more thoughtful novels; in fact, he might just have moved from spoof to satire around this point. Of course, this is just my opinion, others might think differently
But with Nation, you have a new PTerry, or the third age of PTerry, where the tone is more serious. The usual PTerry humour is there but the tone of the novel is not of parody or satire, it’s about telling a story and it’s a story of ideas. Little ideas which can set big ideas rolling and big ideas which can move entire worlds. In fact, the whole novel is chockablock with ideas packed tight like sardines in a can
But the thread underlying it all is simple. It’s about the concept of a nation. When you are one person all alone in the world, there’s just you. But when you have two people facing all that may come there way, you have a nation. When a small child creates an imaginary friend, he’s creating his own nation that will let him be all that he wants to be. When an adult creates an alter ego that does heroic things when he can’t, he’s creating a nation that lets him cope with the world. We all rely on nations, whether consciously or subconsciously. But Nation takes the concept and shows us all that goes with being part of a nation.
There’s more to the story than that of course. But why should I spoil the joy of discovering these things for anybody? There’s a lot going on and given that I read the novel rather quickly, it seemed to all happen so fast. But it works and it works well.
About the only thing that didn’t work for me was the ending. And that has nothing to do with PTerry’s writing. There are two children at the end of the novel who ask somebody who’s telling them the story that was the story of Nation, why it couldn’t have ended differently. They don’t want a happy ending for nations, they are not interested in the bigger picture. They wanted a happy ending for individuals. I am like those children.
I can understand that reality is different, that you don’t always get the happy ending you wanted. I can also understand that when you look at how things turn out overall, that it was a happy ending for all of humanity perhaps. But still, I yearn for the happy ending that I wanted. Perhaps it’s because I’m like those children, I still haven’t grown up. But then again, I don’t want to grow up if it means that I have to give up my hopes for happy endings :p
On the other hand, I have enjoyed every bit of PTerry’s writing that I’ve come across over the years. While I found some of them were profound, they were still like a good dinner that you enjoyed a lot but forgot about after a few days – you take the idea with you but the details get lost as time passes. But Nation is like that one enjoyable dinner where you swallowed a fish bone by mistake and even after the dinner is forgotten, you remember the fish bone. Perhaps that’s why this particular ending is there – you remember it when all else is forgotten.
Overall, I think this is the best PTerry novel so far and while I probably would prefer that he goes back to the good dinners of the Discworld, I wouldn’t mind a fishbone-included-dinner like Nation every once in a while
November 5, 2008
Finding the Foundation
I have been reading Isaac Asimov‘s Foundation series lately though I have taken a break to quickly finish Terry Pratchett‘s Nation before getting back to the next novel in the Foundation series. (Yes, I know, I should have read the Foundation series a long time ago! But I was waiting till I had all the books in the series and then I did have the books but didn’t have the time … and you know how it goes …)
The Foundation series started sometime way back in 1942 and the first novel in the series, Foundation, was actually a collection of short stories which was later published as a novel in 1951. The other two books in the original trilogy, Foundation and Empire and Second Foundation, were similarly combinations of short stories and were published as novels in 1952 and 1953 respectively. You do have to keep these facts in mind for what follows
Basically, while I found the books in the original trilogy enjoyable, I did find them also slightly dated See, I don’t recall noticing so many inconsistencies and implausibilities when I read Gordon R. Dickson‘s Dorsai!, and that was written in 1959. Of course, this might simply mean that I wasn’t as critical when I last read Dorsai! or that a lot changed between 1951 and 1959
Whatever the case, there are things which bug me about the early Foundation novels. For instance, you have a galactic civilization which spans from one end of the galaxy to the other but which still relies on paper! Communications are sent via capsules which contains thin strips of paper, paper is used in all reports, and they have what are called book projectors which seem to indicate that it’s some sort of machine which throws an image of a book on to the wall. Rather primitive when you consider that these people are also supposed to have hyperspatial travel and can go from one star to another in a few days, if not hours!
This perhaps can be attributed to the level of technology existent at the time Asimov wrote the books since there is no mention of computers either. Such an advanced galactic civilization appears to do all their navigational calculations by hand And I found that rather funny. But at the same time, given that we have taken computers for granted, I am not sure if I can try to imagine if it would have been possible to imagine back then how ubiquitous computers would become a mere 50 years later.
Plus, I find myself wondering if I were to write a novel of the future and included handheld computers which are the equivalent of the super-computers of today, whether somebody 50 years from now would find that reference charmingly antiquated because technology had moved on in a completely different direction and electronic computers are as outdated as paper That I guess is part of the joys of science fiction, trying to anticipate (and sometimes succeeding but also failing at times) how technology will change …
Of course, Asimov corrects these issues in his later Foundation novels He returned to the Foundation series after a hiatus of about 30 years and so, the next novel in the series, Foundation’s Edge, was written in 1982. This book does not mention paper very much at all and everybody uses computers. In fact, they have computers which can be controlled via the human mind! So that was quite interesting in how changes in technology changed how a fictional universe worked in under about 200 years according to that universe’s timeline.
I have read only up to Foundation’s Edge and so have no idea if technology would change further in the novels. Additionally, I’m curious as to if Asimov’s Foundation prequels, which were written even later, would include computers and so change the history of the original novels or not. I have read the prequels before but I wasn’t paying attention to technology at that time. So it will be interesting to find out …
November 3, 2008
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Sri Lanka vs. Qatar – the Differences and the Tragedy
I love my country. In fact, I came back to Sri Lanka at a time when I had the opportunity to stay permanently in the US because I loved my country (and my family, of course :p). And since coming back, I have not taken up several opportunities to go elsewhere again because I enjoy being in Sri Lanka and have had hopes for its future. But no more
I’ve always said that the only thing wrong about Sri Lanka is it’s politicians. Doesn’t matter which party they are from, what doctrine they profess to espouse, the only thing they really are here for is their own enrichment at the expense of the nation and its citizens. Sure, we had politicians who left power with only the same amount they had in their bank balance that they had when they came to power. But all of them are dead now. What we now have are the rapacious bandits who want to make as much money as they are in power and damn the country and the people who elected them!
In fact, the country has been impoverished so much by these robbers that they’ve turned to finding new ways to fatten their own coffers. The latest such attempt is detailed in this story. Now I must say that I don’t know if what is mentioned in the story is true – watching the news or reading the newspapers over here just makes me so mad that I’ve stopped doing that. However, the story is in line with all the other stuff which has gone before. They will enact some sort of draconian law which gives the media ministry (and hence, the minister) the power to decide who can broadcast in the country. Then he will levy fat fees to "facilitate" the process for anybody who approaches him. In the mean time, any international corporation interested in doing any media work in the country will (if they have the least bit of integrity) will run far away from such corruption. Typical, just typical.
On the other hand, take Qatar. I had been aware of Qatar only peripherally for most of my life. I knew that it was one of the Middle Eastern countries where a lot of Sri Lankans went to work but that was about it. I didn’t know anything about the nation’s history or politics or government. Till recently that is ..
I came to learn about Qatar, quite by accident, on reading the above Wikipedia article that I’ve linked to. What I learnt was that in Qatar, the current Emir came to power after a bloodless coup where he deposed his father, the previous Emir. He didn’t do it because he wanted the wealth or the power. He did it because he wanted to see his country flourish and he knew that he could do the job.
Apparently, the previous Emir was not interested in the country. He was content to amass wealth, enjoy the privileges of royalty, and make frequent foreign trips (much like our Sri Lankan politicians, in fact). The current Emir took on the reigns of the country after consulting all the members of his family (who constituted the powers that be) and since then, has done away with the pomp and ceremony of a royal court and instituted a government that works like a business – a government that gets things done.
In fact, under the new Emir, enormous changes have taken place in the country. I believe Qatar is the only Middle Eastern country where women can vote. But that’s not all, they’ve done a lot of work in creating a nation that its citizens can be proud of and where everybody benefits, not just the ruling class. In fact, it’s said that the Emir will personally call up a minister if he sees something wrong while travelling through the city. Contrast that with here where the rulers don’t want to see anything while they are travelling through the city and are only worried about whether somebody will attack them.
When I read about Qatar, all that was wrong about Sri Lanka and the political blight slowly draining the lifeblood out of the nation was brought home to me all the more clearly. No, I’m not a revolutionary calling for the blood of the politicians :p In fact, I don’t see a solution for Sri Lanka because it isn’t one political party – it’s all of them and the people keep electing one party or the other in the hope that things will improve. But will they? I’m not so sure …