Nov 25, 2008


Typealyzer attempts to find out your blog's (not your's, mind you) Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. The processing is remarkably fast, which leads me to wonder what portions of the blog they are consuming (at least the results are consistent!).

This blog for instance is classified as ISTP - The Mechanics with the description:

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Anyway, it's an interesting exercise in text classification and I wonder what their training data was. (The folks at LingPipe had that same question when they pointed to this link).

Nov 20, 2008

Quick Tales writing contest - Results

The Caferati-LiveJournal Quick Tales contest results came in on the 18th (the announcement here). This story of mine was placed 4th.

As it turns out, this story and three others tied for the top spot. The tie-breaker left me in the last spot (apply clichés about cookie crumbling'/'biscuit breaking'/'shrewsbury slicing' :-)).

Congratulations to all the winners (quite a few of them). Pats on back to organisers for seeing this through, and for making judging comments available.

One judge mentioned some trouble interpreting the 2nd last sentence, which I didn't realise at the time of writing (I meant one wife and two girlfriends only, present company included. The implication of who hired the man was intentionally open-ended, but in my mind, it was the wife.). I wish I had had another 50-100 words, because I had to skip past a few binding agents to fit it in.

Nov 16, 2008

The 2008 Scientific Indian Story Contest - results

The results of this year's Scientific Indian Story Contest have been announced here. Unlike last time, I didn't win anything :-), but I did get an honourable mention.

Many congratulations to the winners and other selected participants.

I was able to send in a little story this time based on thinking about isolation and human beings. I don't read a lot of sci-fi, so I grope my way in the dark when it comes to such topics. Hopefully, the process and output has shown improvement since last time.

Selva, who's kind enough to organise this contest, has also collected some thoughts on what should be there in a creative science writer's toolkit.

Nov 15, 2008

Star struck

Do you know that the inaugural Twenty20 Champions League will be held in India from the 3rd of December? And that ESPN Star Sports will telecast this?

If not, I bet you have not watched ESPN or Star Sports in the last week or so. Because these channels have been running a huge announcement logo beginning in the top left and working its way down. It encroaches so much real estate that your local cable-wallah might feel a little embarrassed if he did that to show ads.

It is either a sign of desperation or inanity, for these channels are usually viewer-friendly. But now football scores on the top right are painted over. You cannot tell what a tennis ball is doing on the left hand side of the court.

Why not put the logo in the middle and have a little inset on the top left for the sports?

Nov 10, 2008

Flick of the wrist

While looking for links in my previous post, I found this rather interesting article on carrom balls and other spin oddities. On a site about hacking Palm Pilots!

Silky wrists, but what else?

What was the last successful cricketing innovation to have come out of India? This question came up during a conversation between Harish and me. To be honest, I couldn't think of anything since Ranji's leg glance! (and that was over a hundred years ago.

To give you some idea of what we're talking about:
The Pakistanis invented the reverse sweep (Hanif or Mushtaq Mohammad), reverse swing (Sarfraz, Imran, that generation, perhaps even earlier), the doosra (Saqlain Mushtaq). The Aussies invented day-night cricket in ODIs (Packer et al.), slow bowling in the death overs, the zooter (if you believe it exists), (perhaps) trying to score at 4 rpo in a Test. The New Zealanders, usually an innovative bunch, had Mark Greatbatch taking advantage of the then new 15 overs restrictions, Martin Crowe and lot invented "Cricket Max" that eventually inspired Twenty20, not to mention opening with a spinner in ODIs. The English had the googly, Bodyline (besides, they did invent the sport!), Duckworth-Lewis, TV innovations, switch-hitting. The South Africans brought in fielding revolutions and earpieces and (seemingly) choking. The Windies used pace attacks (that was enough), and the chinaman (probably). The Lankans invented dual pinch-hitters and now re-invented the carrom ball (and flex elbows). Zimbabwe seems to have invented wicketkeeper-batsman-captains! (let's see: Fletcher, Houghton, A. Flower, Taibu).

The closest that we could think of:

1. Srikkanth's over the top hitting in ODIs (a little weak, because it wasn't sold as a strategy - he was an opener and that's how he played)
2. (Harish) Sending the top batsman to open in ODIs rather than shielding him in the middle order (as with Sachin Tendulkar)
3. Playing a spin trio? (was a strategy, but hardly any alternatives existed)
4. (Harish) Perhaps the paddle sweep?
5. Day-Night cricket for a first class game? (unless it has been done elsewhere before the 1994 Ranji Final at Gwalior)

As you can see, we're clutching at straws here. Innovations often happen as a response to constraints or as a product of careful thought that challenges existing conventions. That rules out "the Great Indian batting collapse" as an entry.

Ranji: you win, unless we can come up with something better.

How about "Mankading"?

Nov 9, 2008

'Yuvvraaj' - music review

The CD booklet for Yuvvraaj says (brace yourself) - :

Imagine a film where: Salman is a dreamy singer...
Katrina is a leading musician...
Zayed grooves to a chaotic disco sound...
Anil Kapoor enjoys only classical music...
Clearly, Subhash Ghai possesses a one of a kind, not to mention dangerous, imagination. I tried very hard to pull off this impossible task, but couldn't. I don't know how much success music director A.R.Rahman and lyricist Gulzar had, but we'll take this album as their best shot. I've tried wrapping my head around this soundtrack for a while, but continue to find it a mixed bag. I blame Subhash Ghai - I think he's finally got to Rahman, whose clever ploy of working at odd hours kept the Guy out of harm's way during previous collaborations. This one must have been made in broad daylight, which Ghai channeling Laxmikant-Pyaarelal. The result is a very confusing medley of styles and songs, and a subdued Gulzar.

lat uljhi...manamohinii more (Vijay Prakash) is the stand-out. Rahman has often thrown in western orchestrations for classical numbers, which coupled with the singer's assured singing, makes this an excellent song. The contemplative zindagii zindagii (Srinivas) is so mellow that it is in danger of being disregarded by listeners. However, it is one of the few songs in the entire album to feature some Gulzar sparks, and so worth getting on the playlist loop.

For me, the Gulzar-ARR partnership has always been successful when they have connected on an elemental level of 'sound'. Unlike the Vishal-Gulzar duo, where the music reinforces word semantics in a snug fit, Rahman's music reacts best to the onomatopoeia of the great man's words. In this album, Mastam Mastam (ensemble) achieves this in its orchestrations and sonorous lyrics. This is in the vein of ooh la la lah (Minsara Kanavu/Sapnay) and shabbaa shabbaa (Daud), and worked for me.

The recipe of dil ka rishta (ensemble) , though rich in musical themes, is a throwback to Ghai's idea of a 'musical' , with every bit of the soundscape painted mercilessly. shaaNo shaaNo ("Beware Blaaze" alarm) provides a basis for similar complaints. tu meri dost hai (Benny Dayal) has a simple melody which only improves when Shreya Ghoshal and Rahman take over in the end, while in tu muskuraa has Alka Yagnik touching Castafiore-ian scales.

Stay away from mai.n huu.n yuvvraaj (can't imagine Beethoven doing a jig at finding his name coupled with Herr Salmon) and the shaaNo Remix (to be honest: didn't bother listening to this. Why do I want to?)

I suppose all this bias is because a wise man once said: always be suspicious of any film that contains:
1. Salman Khan
2. Zayed Khan
3. Subhash Ghai
4. Blaaze
5. Anyone 'playing' a musical instrument in the proud Bollywood tradition of torturing it into revealing its octaves by giving it a good massage
6. Katrina Kaif
7. Any film title with superfluous letters, especially an extra 'v'

Nov 3, 2008

You're making me confess.

  1. I have never been economically threatened by any kind of Indian (perhaps not yet).
  2. I don't seem to have economically threatened anyone else's livelihood (yet).
  3. I do not personally know anyone whose livelihood is threatened by any kind of Indian.
  4. I have never lived in a neighbourhood whose demographics have significantly changed during my life.
  5. I have never felt the loss of political influence to "outsiders" (Perhaps people like me never had any political influence to lose).
  6. I didn't have any trouble with the last (and only) unfamiliar local language I learnt, a long time ago. Would I willingly learn a new language if I went somewhere unless I had to?
  7. Would I sufficiently integrate into another culture? Have I sufficiently integrated with the current culture? Have I even integrated into my culture-by-inheritance?
  8. I have never had to migrate for elemental reasons such as: "If I don't find a job somewhere outside, I don't survive"
Can I have any reasonable opinions on the fundamentals of these 'alien' issues, with such an invariant life?

But: somehow, the changing faces of Pune make me uneasy. It's hard to put a finger to it. I think it is because life becomes increasingly unfamiliar. It causes a discomfort that is hard to nail down. I catch myself being disapproving of certain ways some people speak, behave, flash. I instinctively seem to blame non-Punekars for being responsible for this. And for some of our own people for changing colours so easily. Was this tendency always there? I don't like these people changing the way it used to be. Luckily, there are still places I feel comfortable with and things that I can go do. If that goes, what do I do?

I thought I am (was) tolerant? But how can this be reconciled with the above paragraph?

I can't balance comfortable stability with drip-drip-drip change?

Nov 2, 2008

"A Wednesday" and "Rock On" - reviews

(possible spoilers in both review-ettes)

Wednesday is the Se7enth Day
I found A Wednesday infuriating - it could have been so much better. For one, this film should have been even shorter. Instead of packing the first segment with overdone character introductions and superfluous humour, it should have forged on ahead. I was put off by such unnecessary scenes where Anupam Kher (a welcome return to a hard-as-nails posture last seen in Rang De Basanti) gets his men to make macho statements at high decibels. Or how the police commissioner insists of making confidential statements in open corridors or in front of about 50 people. Worst, I smelt the ending too early to enjoy any surprises at the end. (There was always going to be just one possible ending).

But on the positive side, the ratio of fat to muscle was much less in this one, with no songs to break the pace. The biggest saving grace was Naseeruddin Shah's sizeable monologue towards the end, which salvaged the film for me. His motivations reminded me of Se7en (but without its superbly fuzzy morals). However, this film ended days too early for it to be in the same league.

Turn that Rock Off!
I was all keyed up to watch Rock On! because I wanted to see how the rather simple story (from the outlines I had picked up from people and reviews) had been plotted. Perhaps my expectations had been too high, because I felt bored by the middle. This was Dil Chahta Hai without the depth. Character arcs or motivations were not sufficiently explored and some of the resolutions were too easily disposed off. I was aghast to see the most interesting character - Shahana Goswami's "Debbie" - palmed off in the end with having become a successful stylist. Someone who angrily plodded through ten years suddenly has the rainbow burst through her roof - how convenient!

I couldn't tell if this was a film about the band (Luke Kenny and Purab Kohli's characters whimper along with hardly a feeling of being let down by the other two) or the Farhan Akhtar-Arjun Rampal situation. Prachi Desai fades off in the 2nd half. It doesn't help that the songs become a drag, especially with the musical abilities after the reunion conveniently taking off where they left - which for a recently promoted investment banker who has never hit a note in the last ten years and has so much time to practice, is just too easy. The climax reminds one of Jhankaar Beats, whose happy ending was a lot more palatable, just like its 'band issues'.

The lac (sic) of Magik is compounded by the silly attempt by Javed Akhtar to pass off random noun phrases as lyrical poetry, which overshadowed whatever parts of the music appealed to me. Unsurprisingly, my favourite track from the film is the mellow "Yeh Tumhaari Meri Baate.n" (Dominique Cerejo). Unlike that song, I didn't want the film - admittedly well made in some respects - to go on and on.

Nov 1, 2008

Quick Tales writing contest shortlist

Caferati and LiveJournal are running a 1000 word flash fiction writing contest called "Quick Tales". The (longish) shortlist was recently announced (here), pruning the initial set of 1024 to 134 entries.

I have two stories in this list. These are entries 639 and 823 (both untitled - no words to spare for titles :-)). The former is about a cop who has to read someone's journals, while the latter is about a bored man in a local train.

The theme of the submissions was "Journal" (in part, this exercise is also aimed at promoting LiveJournal among Indian netizens). I struggled to come up with ideas for this topic, and somehow managed a few.

Anyway, all the stories have been put up because there is a "Community Choice Winner" prize based on public voting (public == LiveJournal account holders). I'm more keen on receiving feedback, so if you get a chance, please read the two stories linked above. If you are so inclined (== sufficiently jobless), you could numerically evaluate it using a score between 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest) or textually by leaving a comment. But you'd need an LJ account to do either. So if all you want is to let me know how you felt, emailing me or leaving a comment here is just as fine.

You can also read the other stories (an index by entry id is here). Of the few that I've read, I thought #618 titled "The Quack" was very imaginative.