Friday, December 18, 2009

Avatar is a mind blowing Matrix-Captain Planet-Last Samurai movie

Review in a paragraph: Avatar is a superhuman mind blowing free-bird creative expression by James Cameron. Do watch it on a big screen, with 3D if possible. It may not be the best movie ever made, but it is the best movie experience I've ever had. Two and half hours of non-stop awe inspiring graphics with every t crossed and every i dotted.

Contents: Storyline(possible spoilers)-Acting-Depth of graphics-Political statement-Reception of the movie-Trivia/Observations

Storyline:

The storyline is a mix of Matrix, Captain Planet and the Last Samurai. People controlling their bodies in another conscience, a sacred tree removed to benefit from the land and a last charge by lesser equipped beings against a superior force - it fits in perfectly. It is not chockablock with cliches to keep the ordinary guy chuckling, like single words dropped in tense situations to induce laughter('Hi... you don't need to stand up' or 'You guys aren't the only ones iwth guns here').

This soldier is sent to replace his brother who was a nerd unlike him, a soldier. He infiltrates the indigenous people because the living soul of the planet accepted him... So in 3 months he does what? Inducted fully, some intelligence regarding the structure of the tree(with all that firepower does it really matter if that tree is hollow or thick or spiral inside?) is got and he still hasn't gotten them to evacuate the area.

The tribe try their best to save the sacred tree from bulldozers(an episode straight out of Captain Planet), are unable and retreat deep into the forest. Our hero tries to convice them to get out, they don't, he is imprisoned, they escape because of one rogue officer and set up a mobile base to help the tribe again.

Everyone is rallied, they attack and take unexpected welcome help from all the animals around. When the scientist said the entire planet was a network of thoughts, I expected the trees and plants to rise up and march like in Two Towers, but instead it was the animals who responded to the call of the mother tree.

Acting:

Cameron said the faces of the actors were recorded on camera and mapped to the characters in virtual reality - well, we could make out anger, happiness, sadness and a menacing face. Beyond this trying to recreate and observe requires keen attention to the face which needs a second viewing. The human characters were, well, cliched. A man in charge who acts like a dumbo, the military guy stern, yes, in that sense they have performed well. Zoe Saldana is beautiful, but it's sad she isn't in the movie in-person.

Depth of graphics:

The first clips to emerge was the Thanator chase clip. That itself was pure awesome, with bubbles in the water sealing the deal. The different plants in the forest, their colours and response to stimuli are amazing. You can see the face muscles twitching and the muscles rippling when the avatars move their limbs.

The robots react nicely to the recoil of the gun - the more the power, the greater the load time and kickback.

The colours used are so rich they remind one of a rainforest - the birds, flowers, flying creatures, arrow feathers. Ash, embers, jellyfish-insects, leaves and the tentacles of the mother tree appear to be floating when seen in 3D.

Cameron said in an interview he waited for 10 days waiting for the right sunset for the famous arms-stretched-together scene in Titanic, so for him to manipulate everything in graphics is a testament to the advancement in technology and perseverance.

Political statement:

When the characters mention the offense as a 'shock and awe' campaign, call out the hero Jake for 'betraying his race' and are unconcerned for deities and show their ultimate goal is material gain inspite of loss to life, it is both obvious and inevitable that James Cameron is making a statement, maybe even politically. The military chief is bothered with a tactical success, elimination of occupying persons and securing the required area. The guy-in-charge is bothered about the 'cost to lives' and hopes not many are lost because if maybe a bad corporate image. That is a lot of not-so-subtle poke at materialism.

In fact, if those tribes were not on another moon but in a pocket of undisturbed land on earth, it is a story often repeated over and over again, where indigenous people want their lands to remain untouched. Did Cameron knowingly take a risky jab at all these events?

Reception of the movie:

It's been beyond expectations. Persons hellbent on it failing were impressed. Sandy predicted Avatar would out-gross Vettaikaran in Tamil Nadu itself. Keeping anyone still for 150 minutes isn't easy.

Trivia/Observations:

-As I said, the movie reminds me of Matrix, Captain Planet, Last Samurai and Two Towers.
-When Michelle Rodriguez doesn't press the button and withdraws saying 'I didn't sign up for this sh_t', obviously there would have been an inventory check of who's empty and who's not, revealing she hadn't fired. That didn't happen.
-Noone seems to bother chasing her when she hijacks the copter.
-I wonder what happened to the scientists who chose to stay back on Pandora - were they absorbed into the tribe too?
-The tribe have rituals akin to almost any Earthly indigenous tribe: treating the Earth and other beings to be sacred, observing a deity, spirituality, afterlife, living off the land.. Cameron's just taken an Earthern tribe and made their home Pandora.
-The concept of 'Bird of Prey doesn't look up' is well thought of and used.
-Wonder why the mobile base was not attacked by animals or the people.
-Floating islands, I remember seeing them years ago when people were setting up snazzy desktop backgrounds. I've searched, this is all I could find, but the description is photoshops of a beach in Thailand with the rocky coves made into floating islands.
-The insect which twirls and spirals when touched immediately reminded me of da Vinci's drawings for a helicopter.
-'Unobtainium' negative 50 points for the writers for such a stupid name.
-Minus 50 again for the most ineffective trailers. The movie is so good, the trailer couldn't keep up.
-Another negative 50 points for using Papyrus font for the movie title.
-Watching blurred background objects in 3D is painful, because you try to sharpen them when they aren't.
-I do not understand, and what is not explained in the movie, is how the human controls the avatar. It is just a mental link, but no explanation beyond that.
-Being brutally honest, the characters are practically naked. Couldn't resist mentioning it.

Pics used via Wikipedia, Official Avatar Flickr page.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Burmese Indians

I watched Motor Sundaram Pillai a long long time ago, but what I remember most from it is that Sivaji Ganesan used to have a factory in Burma. I have come across several references to the cultural and trading connections between Burma and India not only in articles but also in familial anectodes, mostly recalling the days of the Raj.

With pro-democracy protests and a military junta in rule, I wondered if there were any Indian-origin people still in Burma. A Google later there was a Wikipedia article, an Atlantic article from 1958 and a Time article from 1964.

Effective way of arguing

Internet discussion is all about disagreeing with one another, denigration is uncommon and unavoidable at times.

This image(click for larger view) coaxes us not to degrade ourselves and judge the efficacy of other comments. It is a one-stop guide to countering another person's argument - maintain the upper hand at all times.

Original text written by Paul Graham and image Loudacris. Image used via CC3.0.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mrs vs Ms vs Mz

In a social gathering, referencing other people is easy amongst peers - you could even say 'that guy' or just call him by name, 'Bala'. With elders, though, it is difficult with the elderly ladies. I've always had a bit of hesitation in naming a person - 'Who prepared this dish?' 'Ms/Mrs XY'.

Depending on their marital status, the answer can vary: the Guardian style guide says use Ms unless they have specified Miss or Mrs; Time magazine in a non-article says anything is fine.

There is one more specific: British speakers tend to pronounce Ms as Mz, indicating their current marital status is 'unknown'. I've heard it a couple of times on TV shows, so at last there seems to be a solution: Mz.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mirror mirror who do you see

While rearranging at home, we had to move a dressing mirror(tall one) outside, where the dogs happened to find it.

The Dachshund is ferocious by nature, while the G. Shepherd is semi-mellow. The difference with which they approached the mirror is a telling lesson in how we perceive others and how they reciprocate to us.

The Dachshund, sighting another dog in the mirror, immediately started growling and then barking. Luckily I was carrying it, else it may have charged the mirror.

On the other hand, the G. Shepherd went to the mirror tail wagging - bumping into it whilst trying to sniff, obviously not expecting the dog in the mirror to move as fast as it was.

Then it struck me: isn't this how we end up viewing others? Unbeknownst to us, people are sizing us up, with little help, based on our doing. Our actions may not seem much to us: a kind gesture here, a swift rebuke there, an innocuous tease - but they may be a lot to others. If one has a frown with an authoritative voice, like the Dachshund, there is no reason for others to speak to us softly or kindly.

While, like the G. Shepherd, smile, and the world smiles with you.

'Dams remove power from the water'

My physics teacher once narrated a tale of how politicians were misleading villagers by telling them 'remove power from the water', hence crops would not grow properly.

The politician was supposedly referring to the electricity generated upstream, hence 'power removed', there would be 'lesser power' left for the crops to grow.

So, my teacher said, villagers must be given proper information about dams and how generating electricity does not remove any actual 'power' from the water, and that scrupulous politicians were using the situation to rail against the dam.

However, in my opinion, the politicians were inadvertently right, and my teacher was wrong: putting up dams does actually remove 'power' or 'punch' from the water - silt and hence nutrients are held back - which could lead to lower crop yield. I have no idea which dam he was talking about and dams have varied locations and maintenance; so silt accumulation may or may not be a major problem, but in many dams this has been a problem(wiki, Aswan dam, 1, 2, KRS Mysore, Mettur dam).

To sum up, politician makes a seemingly inaccurate statement to further his goals; they could be ultimately true albeit in a different sense.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

The milk jug illusion

Getting milk in one gallon jugs and infrequent visits to the grocery store mean timing your consumption to coincide with a trip worth the time, so it took awhile to counter the milk jug illusion which tends to throw off scale visual levels for judgement.

These jugs(also called milk gallons) have pseudo-conical top halfs, so when pouring out milk, that half seems to empty faster, instructing you, albeit falsely, to slow down consumption by say one-eights so as not to make a specific visit to replace it. A couple of days later, the level reaches the cubical half, and then the level hardly seems to dip, panicking you to believe you will still have milk left when you get a new jug.

It's even worse when the level is so low when viewed from outside that what one might assume it will last for just one day actually lasts three times.

In essence, the milk jug empties out faster when opened and doesn't want to empty in the end.

Image via

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If you didn't know: Jay Leno

Jay Leno moves to make space for a fresh face, Conan, for the revered late night brand, The Tonight Show. That is just the last page in the voluminous book documenting the high-stakes talk show. Some of the following, you will find interesting if you watched Leno, including the censored and delayed version on Zee Cafe.

Pre-1992, The Tonight Show was hosted by Johnny Carson, who was absolute king, beating all his competitors by the mile. David Letterman hosted the hour after this show, called Late Night. Jay Leno was a frequent guest host for Johny and a frequent guest on David's show.

Such was the charisma of Johnny and the then Tonight Show that everyone wanted to emulate him, and obviously succeed him. Letterman thought he was the rightful heir; Jay too wanted that job. Now NBC, the owner of both Tonight Show and Late Night, didn't want to lose both Leno and Letterman to a rival broadcaster. Apparently Leno had better clout with NBC, giving him the job, even hiding in a cupboard to listen in on a meeting of executives.

Obviously Letterman agreed to move to CBS, where he had a higher rating till 1995. That was when Leno welcomed a guest with a very embarassing crimesheet, the ink just drying up. Ever since Leno has been the leader, straight for 14 years. That is no small feat.

History repeats itself: in 2004, Conan gets good offers from other broadcasters; NBC guarantees he will get to succeed Leno in 2009. At the time Leno didn't know what 5 years would do to his prime standing, and then as time came near to hand over the baton, NBC was yet again in the same spot: if they let Leno out, other networks, like ABC, would definitely put him against Conan at the same time slot. They wanted to keep both in the network, so the solution was to put Leno in some other time slot, to which he agreed.

The announcement of new show which Leno will do shook the foundations of broadcast networks, because the 10 pm slot is 'primetime' which drama-based high-voltage shows occupied. The 'justification' provided by NBC for replacing drama based shows, which attract higher audiences and more revenues, is that for the cost of one drama episode, 5 Leno shows can be made, thereby reducing the stakes for the required advertising and the ratings.

The biggest loser in all of this is undoubtedly Conan, for now. For 16 years he followed Leno's show; now too, he will have to follow Leno's 10 pm show with his starting at 11.35 pm. Maybe people will not watch his show because it might have a similar monologue and a similar show. The biggest winner, in my opinion, is Leno, because he wins in all ways: he still remains the attention getter with a prime time slot.

Many say Leno is not as popular on the coasts as Letterman, who is more snarky, but I staunchly like Leno for his intelligent jokes while the other can be at times silly. Leno's jokes are highly observational - so election times are real fun, non-news days can be really boring.

Leno, or rather his writers, very accurately reflect the pop culture in the country, which is one of the reasons he still is so popular. Leno's style relies much on language, while Conan has based his show on skits and mannerisms. I prefer the clever Leno to the others(oh, about Craig Ferguson, that is another story altogether).

I never liked Conan, Leno at 10 pm won't make much of a difference for those who don't have a TV, but the bar is so low that any good ratings will be claimed as a victory.

Will be very interesting to watch how Leno fares at 10pm. Good luck to this highly respected selfless man.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

It's vs its

I myself make this mistake more often than not inspite of having a nagging doubt every single time, so here's to settling it once and for all, this website makes it crystal clear in its text when it's appropriate to use the latter or the former.

Basically, you should be able to replace it's with it is and its with his or her.

Friday, February 20, 2009

AAA 8 - Crunching Numbers

All About America, part 8: a few price comparisons/times
  • It takes 2 minutes 15 seconds to heat one mug of milk to the right temperature
  • It takes 14 minutes 45 seconds to cook rice in the microwave
  • Eating out moderately at a decent restaurant costs the same as a 15 lb bag of rice (~$15)
  • One cup of ice cream at the college store costs the same as one gallon of milk ($2)
  • One small Fries at McD's costs the same as 6 bananas ($1)
  • It takes 7 minutes to walk from home to the department
  • Mailing a letter (42c stamp + 9c or 10c envelope) is comparable to an almost 1.5 lb box of salt (33c to 50c)
  • The signals at Exchange Street change from proper signals to flashing yellow at 11pm
  • Instead of 3 or 4 cans of soda it is worth buying a loaf of wheat bread (~$1.30)
  • Eat 3 fish sandwiches at McD's('Filet-O-Fish') or 2 at Burger King('Big Fish') or buy one pound of fish and cook yourself(~$7)
  • It costs as much as it takes to walk there as it does to borrow DVDs, CDs or books at the county library (free)
  • One sandwich at Subway can pay for 50 eggs ($5)
  • I don't drink coffee, but from what Sandy says, one 'Tall'(to hell with Starbucks and their size nomenclature) Frappucino at Starbucks can pay for 2-3 months worth of daily Folger's coffee(~$3.50)
Read Part 7 and earlier parts here: http://abhijith1729.blogspot.com/2009/01/all-about-americaaaa-part-7-down.html

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

All About America(AAA) Part 7 : A down economy

This post is about the changes observed first hand during tougher economic times.

  • McDonalds(East Exchange St) gets Mercs and Bentleys to its drivethrough. It was a while since I went there, so I had to skip lunch for later when to my shock it was crowded. It has redesigned its packaging for a higher-income category, with non-descript packages getting deep colours and slogans which appeal to them.
  • Walmart(Arlington) suddenly stocked itself with more goods, which obviously is for those looking to save a few pennies. More shirts, higher priced jackets, licenced wear.
  • A family of 4 walks up to the aisle at Walmart, father picks up a bottle of a product, confirms with wife that price is cheaper here, walks away with bottle in hand. Never seen such price comparers before.
  • Both McD and Walmart see a greater influx of persons usually seen in Starbucks: wearing clothes which will take a while to put on, full length coats.
  • Aldi's needs to have all three counters open, instead of the usual one, apart from the out of place new SUVs and Chevys and Hondas alongside the old Dodge Hatchbacks and Buicks and Lincolns.
  • The humongous increase in persons using the County Library. More people who have trouble using public computers/persons asking Assistants for help in searching = new patrons. Again, long coats and fancy office wear-clad people wandering up and down the aisles searching for DVDs and CDs.
  • Cash for Gold flyer on my door knob.
  • University admissions up 6.5%.
  • Electronics now available with awesome deals. Sad I bought them when their price was not so awesome.
  • More infomercials on TV. Already unwatchable TV is now unbearable.
  • Unlucky pubs putting up special offers to lure in customers
  • Random people wanting to sell their CDs to you
  • Churches advertising on buses and TV for people to visit them
Elsewhere, nationwide:
  • Part-time Receptionist job gets 3520 resumes in under 24 hours
  • Wall Street executives eating at McDonalds
  • More advertisements for self-investment sites like scotttrade and tdameritrade
  • McDonalds and Walmart among only a handful actually making a profit and seeing a rise in share value
  • Post Office(USPS) proposes to drop delivering mail on Saturdays to cut losses
  • Dozens of magazines shutting down
  • Unfortunately, the cause of all the above, layoffs. Thousands upon thousands.
  • The President is the Messiah who will deliver and the Opposition is a 'it's ok a stimulus shall have our ideas' style group.
Read earlier parts: AAA - Part 1 Part 2 Part 3 Part 4 Part 5 Part 6

Monday, February 2, 2009

Nagesh: a handful of memories

The performances our generation saw may not have been his best, yet, Nagesh has stamped his place in our hearts with those movies he acted in.

A couple of decades ago this not-so-beautiful hyperactive outspoken actor would bring the house down with his antics. Amongst the few I have seen entirely, Anbe Vaa is one for comedy(along with another stalwart, Manorama). However it was Ethir Neechal which cemented Nagesh's versatility for me. A poor, unassuming guy pure at heart and intention, we remember Madhu because of how the role was delivered.

In the recent years, Minnale saw the everyday elder: financially and emotionally supportive, ready to stand up for his dear 'grandson' even when all the odds are against him with a down to earth appeal to the heroine.

Panchathantiram, a fine comedy movie, he plays the intrusive father-in-law always poking his nose and making the water even cloudier. Then the ever loving father first proud and then disappointed in his son in Vasool Raja MBBS.

He was almost never the central character in his movies - we often overlook such performances because they are natural and flawless.

His comedy movies should be a lesson for all of today's comedians - humour is possible without blood and gore, without sexual innuendo and without being a big bore. In these few days when we are in deep sadness, it is ironical that watching his movies moves us to tears. Tears of joy and laughter.

Nagesh will be dearly missed.

'Tip to Sama for telling me to write out my thoughts.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vista failed on me and my prof is not happy

All that was to be done was to copy a couple of folders containing a few files of coding(used to solve Equations of State if you are wondering) and adapt them for my use. But Vista had other plans.

Indexing is a very useful tool, no doubt, because it scans the contents of every folder you open and keeps it ready in case you search for a file later on. I have no problems with that. But what I noticed and confirmed with Googling is that it indexes while we are doing work also - in other words unlike other indexing software it does not index only when the system is idle.

So when I copied the folder from the usb stick to my laptop and opened it, Vista started indexing. It started and wouldn't finish, going on forever. I agree the problem could be with only folders containing some files of coding or dat files, but even then, it's an unnecessary pain. Now since the previous day was snow day and continuous lab was essentially cancelled, prof had some time - but time is not worth wasting. But hey - Vista's got all the time in the world.

Prof gave up after the folders hang. He told me to fix it. I remembered coming across an option to turn off indexing, so I right clicked the folder on one higher level and unchecked the indexing. Done, I thought.

So we opened it again, but no avail. The green bar would start its pilgrimage across the address bar. Now his laptop specifically runs XP - I mean specifically because Vista had already fallen out of his favour. So he gave the laptop to me to fix it once and for all.

Control Panel had an Indexing Option icon, I recalled. Unselected all the folders there. No effect.
Googled and with that help went to Start Menu Search>Services>Windows Search>Properties. Stopped search and Disabled it. Nope. Looks like Indexing was on a war path to reaching its goal no matter what.

Now my patience was running out. Wasn't that supposed to fix the problem? Isn't that why those options are provided?

I tried Starting and Stopping in the Options again, toggling it. I tried after switching UAC back on(User Account Control -yeah I had killed that a long time - and you should too. It too is in the Control Panel). I tried the Services panel again. Na.

And did I mention all the time wasted while CPU usage reached 100% and I had to wait for Ctrl-Alt-Del to take effect and then wait till Task Manager appeared and then kill Explorer... Oh, by the way, I had to kill explorer every time I tested it.

Finally I realised I could stop indexing C drive itself. It said, OK, I will do it for you. And took 20 minutes to apply the 'no-indexing' policy to all the folders in it, which is basically all my files.

Thankfully at the end of the day after time spent with no progress, thankfully the necessary folders did not crash and some copying and modifying was done though incomplete. Yet, I may be overlooking something here, the green bar still races through the address bar for some folders.

That's it, Vista has ultimately lost the last few scraps of respect I had gathered for it inspite of its early debacles, for hindering productivity and frustrating prof to the point of anger. In the process it got a few choice words for Microsoft and Bill Gates and his 'one step back' software too. Windows 7 better be really special and cheap for Vista users, Mr. Gates. Ballmer is in, but Gates is responsible for this.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How spammers know email id is legit: Embedded images

I never anticipated this, I am embarrassed not to have seen through it.

Spam, if you open them, inspite of them going to your spam folder, sometimes contain embedded images. Gmail blocks these and instead has a link 'Display images from...'. But I never realised that out of curiosity, whenever I viewed those images, I was telling spammers to spam me more.

Turns out, when the image(which is stored on his server) is viewed, it flags my email address - saying I open spam email and will do so in the future. Moreover, since the time the image is accessed - since it is from an external server - will show not only that you opened the email but also when you opened the email.

This is also why I have recieved newsletters and promos with a few images here and there - they are validating the emails on their list, giving them valuable information as to what time of the day their emails are being read, and also the IP addresses of their readers - giving them a geographical distribution.

Such a simple 'hack' has a lot of potential uses. You can send an email with an embedded image - and using the imgae logs you can show the person opened the email with an intention to read it, as this post shows. I was searching for stuff related to Google talk and this post caught my attention. As he also mentions, it delivers your IP address... So you can potentially know where your friend who has gone into hiding is reading his emails from(or which end proxy he is using). Or if the email is being misused by someone else. Of course, this is with the assumption that he choses to display the images in Gmail or is using some other mail provider automatically showing embedded images.

I am considering not allowing images on the one or two useless newsletters I get and never opening spam again.

Friday, January 16, 2009

What does -23 deg C feel like?

What does sub 20 degrees Celcius weather feel? So far the lowest I had encountered while outdoors was a measly -10, so it was exciting to experience lower temperatures.

You feel like coughing after your first couple of breaths as you step outside; the lungs need a few seconds of cold air to adjust.

Whatever mucus you have in your nostrils hardens, as you inhale, you have to expand your nostrils by force to avoid the clumped feeling. It is similar to stretching your hand after leaving a layer of Fevicol for 5 minutes.

The clothes for temperatures no lower than -10 C will seem insufficient by the end of the 10 minute walk to the unviersity. One more set(after inner wear, shirt, winter jacket with hood, first pant and jeans, half-work style gloves and ear warmers) should do.

The ends of your fingers, though inside gloves, will feel as numb as a piece of wood, if not inside kept inside pockets.

Of course, there's usually snow around. All of it. Whatever came down will remain, unless on private or university-public property which will be cleared for people to use. Less used sidewalks will be fluffy and ankle deep for you to step in for a late morning workout. A couple of days later, the latter mentioned snow gets compacted - sometimes into ice - for a great free lesson in skating. Walking on a thin layer of snow is somewhat akin to walking on sand - a grinding effect - the sand/snow gets pushed back as you back.

What if you want to walk in even deeper snow? Like calf-deep? I love doing it - but there's only one problem. The boots I wear are upto my ankles, but in deeper snow, as I put my foot down, the jeans lift up - and as I bring my foot back up snow enters the shoe - resulting in a momentary cool feeling. If it weren't for this, I would be walking all the way in the snow.

Then there is wind chill - which is basically the effect of higher wind speed resulting in lower 'feels like' temperatures than the above mentioned air temperatures. So -23 deg C was the air temperature; wind chill, which is the temperature the skin feels it to be, must have been around -30 deg C.

Indoors, you cannot risk turning off heaters - or a higher temperature will have to be set on the thermostat - or left on for longer at lower levels - in spite of the blanket-comforter combo.

A beard(hard luck, ladies) is most welcome, if you ask me, to help in insulating my so-so handsome face, much to the chagrin of my dad.

Well, all this will be forgotten when I get to the lab-room and get easy in the 'room temperature'. New tourist destination to add to my wishlist: Minnesota/Canada in the dead of winter.