Thursday, November 06, 2008

Blog Action

Good news. One of the best bloggers around returns:

Problem of plenty - Random records of everyday life

I don’t remember the last time I did not do sufficient research before buying an electronic product. Anything more than Rs. 10,000 warrants you to read the numerous reviews, previews and stuff before zeroing-on a product. When it’s your hard-earned money, why not? Every penny matters. 

And so I decided to research, my own died-in-the-wool way, before buying an LCD TV. I’ve been fond of its clarity ever since I saw one some years back, and when my old TV started acting up, I know that was the blessing in disguise, and I knew what I’d have as its worthy successor. That is, until I started researching on the options. 

It’s like the coffee ad you see. Black or white? With or without sugar? With or without cream? Which blend? How much sugar? Piping hot or a little more tolerable? The list goes on, but then, the good thing about coffee is that you know what you want. And it doesn’t burn a hole in your already getting-leaner-everyday wallet.

The options are humungous when it comes to electronic products. First, there are a lot of reputed brands. Sony is costlier and probably more reputed, but does it justify the 10% extra money you put in? The marketing you learned back in the classroom clearly delineates products and positioning into two different things. In simpler terms, most products sold at a premium do not do real justice to the delta cost, but they are carefully ‘positioned’ that way by a sophisticated marketing team to give a 'sense' of extra ounce of quality. Doesn’t hurt if you manage to sell well, does it? 

Then there are features, sizes, panel styles, sound output, display static and dynamic, contrast ratio and so forth. The best way to start is to finalize your budget and look at options. I had 150-200 LCDs near the price range. No kidding. Suffice to say that you are bound to be befuddled with the options. That’s when I decided to go by product research rankings. I managed to zero-in on 5-6 highly ranked LCDs in the price range.

And then I met the sales guy. 3 of the TVs are ‘old model’ ones, I was informed. The rest had worthy successors, I was told. All I wanted was to buy something that was endorsed by some reputed entity out there. Every time you want to make an ‘intelligent’ decision without getting swayed by the sales guy [who revels in the sheer count of models], who was probably concentrating on his own sales commissions that could be higher for certain new-to-market brands, there are road-blocks. 

The picture clarity wasn’t too clear, the sound wasn’t rocking the floor, or the next TV out there always looked significantly better. Split second decisions had to be made, and I resorted to supposed common-sense: visual comparison of the displays placed side by side. Some LCDs from same brands looked exactly the same, even the specifications, with a price difference of Rs. 5000 for marginal sound improvement. I figured I’d go in for the cheaper model and permanently fit in a 3200W home theatre system that came in for Rs. 4000. In the end, I picked up the model, only hoping its brand wouldn’t let me down. No amount of research actually helped. For the record, I got a 32 inch LG.

Now, the question is: I NEVER resort to uninformed and un-researched buying when it comes to high-value products. I almost always research extensively and then go to the showroom just to negotiate the price and get the stuff. It’s time saving too. None of the websites seem to be of real help. When it comes to electronic products, are you supposed to do away with proper research and just go by gut-feel inside the showroom? That’s certainly discomforting and unintelligent! 

P.S: No real reason behind the post, just thought I’d keep writing! Honest! Hope you had a fab Diwali btw!

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The oomph factor

Here's the latest addition to my family. Yamaha R15. Costs a whopping 1,10,000 Rs! It looks oomph, and is supposedly packed with loads of adrenaline (6th gear!) and the latest technologies.

Of couse, I didn't buy it though - my bro did, but I guess I'd take it for spins during weekends. 
Will post a review sometime soon. 

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What do we owe her?

My first reaction about a year ago when I read about Tata's Nano project being located in Singur, WB are... "WB as in West Bengal? Really?".

One year hence, Tata is moving out. The experience has surely been nothing short of traumatic. To bowl out one of the world's premier projects, an idea that made India so proud - for that fleeting time that proudness lasted! - is reckless. I would never forget the reaction from people around the world - some smart ones - in Slashdot that made me proud as an Indian. 

It's something beyond shocking to see such a project being put through so many hurdles. While acid tests are welcome as part of a democratic, self-correcting process, the key is to find solutions and not to botch up things in the name of polity. Hands down to Mamata's politics. 

Wonder who would EVER go to WB, or Kerala for that matter. I mean, when you have options, you don't necessarily go through the street with nasty thugs and mindless road-bumps.

I guess the message is to believe in your intuition and common wisdom. Because it pays to.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Into the Wild

I just completed reading this book "Into the Wild" from Jon Krakauer (of Everest’s [the book] fame). 

It’s a long time since I’ve almost-totally moved away from fiction. Of late, I’ve been magnetically pulled into two broad topics – adventure, and religion vs. atheism. Both topics have no correlation whatsoever, but are somehow very captivating in their own way. 

Adventure is obviously straight-forward, and when you read real stories of adventure – tries, and ultimately conquests, of the Poles, Mt. Everest etc, you somehow wish you were a part of that hardened troop, your oh-so-comfortable life not withstanding. And the more you read about atheism, the more religion seems pointless. More so, religion somehow feels too narrow-minded, and you really don’t have to be a genius to question both the existence of God(s) and the merits of the very existence religion. It seems a very antiquated idea, but the weave it’s got on masses seems almost magnetic. Of course, the catch really is to ‘ponder’ and ‘question’ religion and Gods, which most people don’t even think about, probably fearing that God might not take the ‘lessened-faith’ or apostasy lightly. Of course, there are some positives with religion – it’s like the ‘Fair and Lovely’ that gives millions of people ‘hope’, if not real substance. [Hope I can copyright this comparison. :)

Whatever the reason, both the subjects - although disconnected - are too captivating to let go, and hope I devour as many books as possible in these subjects.

Coming back after a long digression, ‘Into the wild’ has no surprises. The book is about a very educated and smart boy who relinquishes worldly comfort of all forms – money, people, warts and all – and heads into the Alaskan wild to live as a hunter-gatherer, like men thousands of years ago. The book starts with the story’s end – the boy actually dies in the Alaskan wilderness – and is somehow captivating. Just reading about someone who actually had the guts and motivation to relinquish society in favor of adventure [which is something that you can’t do], something about being non-conformist to the material society at large, something about living like our ancestors thousands of years ago (and the argument that we have actually become inferior as a race since we no longer have the real capability to live out and survive in the open]. 

If you are into adventure reading, I urge you to get hold of the book. I laid my eyes on this book after watching the movie-format of the same story in a flight some 8 months back, and this book has lived up to the expectations.

By the way, wifey says hi to readers of this blog. [On a side note, I hope I can lay my hands on the ‘Thousand Splendid Suns’ she’s reading, simply because it’s from Khaled Hosseini, the author of ‘The Kite Runner’ fame and I can’t wait to read it.]

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Google's Chrome got the feather touch!

Google Chrome (the Google's windows killer) is in! It’s supposed to be the next big thing to (re)trigger the browser wars. 

I guess I’m one of the first to try – its launch was Sep 02 PST, so here's the first cut review! 

Chrome, to start with, seems very, very light and very fast (much faster than FireFox, and IE of course). It loads faster into the memory too (seems to use less page files). Interface is neat, and you have a lot of screen space to read – almost like full screen browsing. And it's got tabs.

That were the positives. I haven’t gotten any errors or problems per se, but advanced features seem lacking. For example, if I want to run an Amazon or IMDB search, I guess I need to first go to their site to do it instead of running the search from the browser… we’ll hopefully have updated versions.

I guess I will use Chrome for some days to come! It's certainly lighter on my laptop that's starting to grow beard!

Sunday, August 31, 2008

What have you been watching lately?

These days, amidst all the clutter of news channels and television programs, finding a good program to watch non-stop for an hour is a skill in itself. I’d much rather choose to watch a program along with the advertisements for a continuous hour, as opposed to flipping between the channels for an endless duration and watching nothing end of the day.

Cutting the long story short, I wanted to get some tips on great programs running in TV these days. Following are mine:

Man vs. Wild

Call it captivating, disgusting, entertaining, or daring, Bear Grylls (the host of this program – from Discovery Channel) has it in him to pull off whatever he does. If I see one program, this is it. Being an ex-Special Forces and the record holder for the youngest Brit to climb Mount Everest, his background gives the show a lot of credibility. Of course, critics apart, eating those live snakes, moths, fish, raw zebra meat, frogs, and the like in his quest to survive are, in my opinion, the show’s ultimate clinchers. I’m waiting for the DVD format.

Planet Earth

[From BBC] This show brings the most spectacular picto-cum-cinematography ever. Every frame of this show is a portrait and a statement in itself. I’m not sure if this is running on TV these days, but I got the entire 5 DVD set for 400 bucks, and the clarity of the images and Attenborough’s husky voice is stunning. Nature is spectacular, and if one show has managed to record it all, this has to be it.

Ice Road Truckers

[From History Channel] You just wish you were driving one of those vehicles, just for a day. Captivating - to say the least. I just love this show. Switch off the lights, relax and watch the program. It's the best part of your day.

What’s awesome is that such programs still bring sanity and respect to Television – amidst the swarm of saas-bahu soaps and irksome and constantly bickering news channels.

Any other program to watch out for?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3

Some movies are timeless.

The odd sounding "The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3" is one. [Thanks Ash!]. It's a tad old, but if you are a serious movie buff, there is no such thing as an old movie. This one keeps you riveted, till the very last scene. No, the last frame.

Download a copy from one of those torrents, or get in touch with me!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Delusion called God

God Delusion, the last word in atheism, was unforgiving. The book is loaded, argumentative, incisive, ruthless and even nasty at times. If you can live with the tough language and the tight flow – mind you, you don’t have any racy storyline to keep you riveted – this turns out to a great read.

If you do want to read this book, I’d recommend surfing the initial 100 pages, giving the next 100 pages a very light curse, and then concentrating on the last 100 or so pages. The last pages are the essence, and are crystal clear, with less of rhetoric, but I suspect most won’t last till the last page. I would not be surprised if you feel cheated, of Gods, of religion, of the so-called holy-books, of people around you. But then, you must have felt so even before getting to this book. This book is not supposed to be a light-hearted fiction anyway, so you should know.

Like an American colleague of mine wrote to me once “Though few know of my apostasy, you wouldn't believe how wonderful it is to be mentally free!” I guess I can’t add to those words without spoiling them. I emphasize ‘American’ since he was one to be brought up in a conservative, rural part of the religious America – of the yesteryears.

I’d leave with one last wonderful quote (from the Wikipedia link above): Robert Pirsig's observation in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”: When one person suffers from a delusion it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called religion.

This book from Richard Dawkins is the last nail in the coffin for religion - if you can manage holding this book in your home that is.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

A shining beacon in the night sky

Yes, that’s what Taare Zameen Par stands out to be. I had come across countless reports showering praise on the movie, Aamir Khan and his directional debut, but I just couldn’t squeeze in a little bit of time to watch the spectacle the movie is.

It’s gladdening on a number of counts. It’s portrayal of a poignant issue plaguing the society in a rather mature way puts it far apart from the clutter of the routine, senseless movies. And there’s no frivolity – no Basu’s or Sherawat’s running around trees and encircling bare male bodies wearing a handkerchief for a cloth.
I’ve followed the ‘movies’ section of the ‘Ergo’ tabloid that is circulated in these parts for about a year now, and the section invariably contains one of these women striking an incisive still at the camera, amongst some ‘heroes’ who invariably look like immature school kids. In all the year I’ve watched this, the only thing that seems to change between the posters is the title of the movie and the color of what they are wearing. It’s almost like I can find a crap movie whenever I want to, but, lo and behold, sensible ones come only once in a long while. Love (the hetero-sexual movie-love) and sensuality are essential parts of human emotions, but it doesn’t have to be taken so far. I wonder how long people can take such crap. The two subjects have been abused beyond imagination, and it’s time for sensible directors to come up with the likes of Taare Zameen Par to put an end to this madness.

Coming back, the best part is that the movie went on to become a hit amongst the audience. I loved the parts that emphasized how much emphasis we place on not letting kids just let them be… and rather want them to follow the routine school-college-corporate mayhem. Classes, schools, exams… all the despicable items of a child’s life - accentuated further with tuitions and coaching!

Jeez, kids these days are a mess! I was thoroughly disappointed with the schooling culture in metropolitan cities (Chennai etc) and the race to ‘getting marks’ – even in the initial parts of schooling days. Say this based on our experience – what is really the correlation between achieving high marks in schools and your performance in real life?

I just loved a sight yesterday - when I ran into a bunch of kids playing football using make-up goal-posts in the open parking space of the apartment complex where I happen to stay. It was a wonderful sight… personified with childhood innocence that took me back by almost 15 years.

I think I’ve said enough. If you haven’t watched the movie yet – do not wait. This is a piece of art. Send it to the Oscars.

Friday, July 04, 2008

In defense of Dasavathaaram

There’s nothing novel in people trying to get famous by ridiculing things that are otherwise popular. I guess the case is no different with Dasavathaaram. [Some reviews here]. I had almost decided not to watch the movie in theaters after reading all the reviews blasting the movie, but I had to give in to my better half.

To start with, I liked the movie. I think I even loved it in bits and pieces. It isn’t a magnum opus in any case, but it does attempt to convey a lot of right messages. And it’s pretty bold. Kudos to Kamal - I haven’t seen a mainstream movie with a mainstream actor who’s bold enough to expound the values of atheism in such an emphatic manner, with absolutely no second thoughts.

Let’s start with the positives. Kamal’s effort is admirable, as always. If acting is his profession, there’s no doubt that he does total justice to it. Here is one guy who still believes in ‘acting’ as opposed to other forms for attracting the audience – such as humor, so-called ‘ssshtyle’, so-called ‘action’ etc, most of which turn out to be silly more often than not. His acting is second to none.

That said, I think the biggest point that works in the movie’s favor is the wide-sweeping nature of the tale itself. While bits and pieces appear disconnected, the movie works. It manages to thread all the pieces together, and, in the process, covers religion, atheism, God(s), bio-terrorism, global warming, Tsunami, and what not. That an Indian movie could be so wide-sweeping in nature and still manages to captivate the audience is heartening. I mean, do we really have to look for a racy entertainer all the time for a movie? How many movies have done this? Can we give credit for the effort? Playing 10 roles is purely a marketing element, but what is gladdening is an effort to connect multiple themes into a movie. The movie doesn’t end up like a ‘Babel’, but I guess Babel won’t run among Indian audience.

Onto to the negatives. When a character is supposed to perform 10 roles, there ought to be some force-fits, and there’s obviously a possibility of lesser attention to some of the roles. Some of the roles appear purely for adding to the count, and some just didn’t make any sense. Case in point is the Japanese warrior. Then there is the biggest blooper of all – the heroine, played by Asin. Boy, wasn’t that an irritating character? So annoying and almost nauseating! I guess half the sane people in the world would ditch her first thing if they encounter someone like her in their lives. The hero deciding to marry him is admirable, and courageous. She was a perfect example of how 'not to be'. The graphics could have certainly been better.

I loved the closing lines. “I don’t say there is no God… all I’m saying is it would be nice to have a God!” Seen from the context of movie, i.e. Tsunami, I can’t wonder how true and poignant those words are.

Rate Four out of Five. Kudos to Kamal for his audacity. People who were disappointed were victims of their own expectations.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

R.I.P to Petrol at 50 bucks!

Here’s R.I.P to petrol costing Rs. 50. It’s going to cost 5 more bucks from today.

With petrol prices subsidized by 15 rupees to the common man by the oil companies, I guess even days when prices are going to be in the range of Rs. 50 to Rs. 60 is numbered. It’s going to be Rs. 65 soon – may be in a couple of months. Days when the middle class (not the upper middle class, mind you) can travel in airplanes are over. Sure, there is going to be Deccan and other erstwhile low-cost carriers, but they aren’t going to be low-cost anymore.

So here’s R.I.P to days of cheap travel, cheap air tickets and cheap tour packages. Wish I were in Venezuela!

Monday, June 02, 2008

Peace of mind

Now, now, that doesn’t have a monetary figure against it, does it? That’s exactly what you get moving to your own place.

The very thought of a house owner (when you have taken a rented accommodation) calling you on the 28th of the month for the rent you need to pay before the 5th of next month was irksome. As if you don’t pay your rents every month. The very thought of getting an increase in rent (From 15000 to 18000) at the end of the 11th month of the rental contract was a chill down the spine, more so because you know any money you pay as rent is direct down the drain – you don’t have an inch of investment made with that money, and you don’t have any returns on that. Most house owners get a 10 month advance, and you can’t begin to comprehend the opportunity cost you could have made out of that money had you invested that in the stock market.

If the monetary aspects of being a tenant are vexing, I can’t begin to describe how it is to actually find a rented accommodation. It’s similar in most places I’ve looked out for accommodation – Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai, but there’s the added humidity to tackle in Chennai. It’s not reality television. It’s for real. You start thinking about your own home – wasn’t that a King’s life you lived? The part I hate the most is dealing with the vermin – the brokers. It’s a cartel, what they run. As a strategy, they take you to the murkiest parts of the city and show you ramshackle houses for earth-shattering rents. You feel an earth quake when you hear about the rents. When you’ve seen 10 of those houses, and have begun to realize how miserable your life has ended up being, they show you a decent looking house at “just 15000 a month”, with a sweet little ten month of rent money as advance. It’s between the devil and the deep sea. You have the option of choosing that, or roaming around the entire city marveling at more people who live in the places they do. It’s a quest for survival out there, where only the fittest can dare think of survival, and a lot of guys in our cities win hands down for living where they do. Life is a bitch. At the end of the ordeal, that you will end up feeling like a loser is almost given.

Personally, after having lived 18 months as a tenant, moving in to an own place couldn’t have come at a better time. The very thought of your own home - where nobody calls you asking for a rent. Own home - a place you feel like keeping it tidy, because it’s yours; A place where you don’t mind getting that old bungalow-style artwork or that eerie-looking modern art splashed with bright colors for a couple of thousand bucks, because its yours; A place where you contemplate spending because you want to, not because you have to.

Of course, calling the erstwhile house owner (two times every day – a taste of his own medicine) asking him to return the advance money comes especially sweet!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

It's all about oil

The moment I read this article in ET (about gas price rise hurting the US lifestyle), my immediate reaction was “Wasn’t this so very predictable? Do you need a gas price rise to tell you this is going to happen?”

I don’t know what people think the first time they visit the US, but I felt something was odd. The country was designed around cars and the mobility that they brought. I did not want to rent a car the first time I visited the country, simply because I didn’t want any adventure without someone to help me out with the logistics of renting for the first time and driving the first time outside Indian shores, but I was forced to rent a car since I just couldn’t survive without it in the place I lived. I happened to be put up in a small town with no public transport, and the nearest grocery store was about 2 miles away. It was high winter in Connecticut.

I guess about 95% of the people in the US can’t lead their regular lifestyle without automobiles. I mean, if it comes to it, I guess a lot of us in India or in other Asian countries could manage to live commuting in trains, buses, two-wheelers or even bicycles, primarily because everything you ‘need’, and a lot of what you ‘want’, is accessible within 3-5 Kms. US is startling in comparison. Consecutive shops were spaced 250 meters apart, which means that you can’t park your car near one shop and walk to another shop due the distance in between. You ‘have to’ drive down. Distances between residential locations and grocery stores were in miles, something you cannot walk or bicycle down. There were no small stores catering to small 100-250 households, but only single Wal-marts that catered to entire towns. Public transport was available in cities, but it was generally the lower middle class that used them. Add to it, people in US generally prefered to live in the outskirts – some 20 miles away from the city for ‘calm’ and ‘peace’.

And then, there are those BIG vehicles. Vehicles bigger than those share- vans in India (that could transport about 10-12 people when jam-packed) were carrying just a single passenger (the driver). My first thought was: if you want to drive single, why would you buy a mini-bus? Why can’t you buy a flashy but small car? Two reasons: 1) The fuel in US was cheaper than in most countries, and 2) People were rich. People continue to be rich now, but since fuel price has risen, and food price has risen, people are forced to face the pinch.

The US model is just not energy efficient. It is designed without a backup plan. What if the rampant car culture cannot be sustained? Will the country survive if the gas prices rise 10 times? I think India would. I am not an expert in optimum use of energy solutions, but the basics of supply chain management tell you that your design has move things from A to B paying the least cost. And that is something that’s been overlooked for decades in the US, simply because theirs was one of the few countries that was rich and could afford fuel. Now with other countries getting richer, fuel is THE premium product. It’s all about oil.

All said, it would really be interesting to see the US getting energy efficient and transforming the way the country travels. There is no alternative since fuel price has only one way to go: Upwards. When so many million cars get energy efficient, it is certainly good for the people around the world.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ignorance is bliss

Found this image on a recent Freakonomics blog - the happiness index for Religious vs. the secular people. Looks like whoever said ignorance is bliss has got it damn right!