Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The Beach was a good movie, almost half as good as the book on which it is based which means that it is an awesome book. It was written by Alex Garland (1996). The book is throughly recommended for those who liked the concept / movie.

Here is an excerpt from the book.

I once read that the most widely understood word in the world is "okay", followed by "coke", as in cola. I think they should do the survey again, this time checking for "Game Over".

Game Over is my favorite thing thing about playing video games. Actually I should qualify that. It's the split second before Game Over thats my favorite thing. Street Fighter Two - an oldie but a goldie - with my friend controlling Ryu. Ryu's his preferred character because he's a good allrounder - great defensive moves, pretty quick and once he's on an offensive roll he's unstoppable. My brother Theo's controlling Blanka. Blanka's faster than Ryu but he's only really good on attack. The way to win with Blanka is to get in the other person's face and never let up. Flying kick, leg sweep, spin attack, head bite. Daze them into submission. Both players are down to the end of their energy bars. One more hit and they're down so they're both being cagey. They're hanging back at the opposite ends of the screen waiting for the other guy to make the first move. Leo takes the initiative and throws off a fireball to force Theo into blocking and then jumps in with a flying kick to knock Banka's green head off. But as he's moving through the air he hears a soft tapping. Theo's tapping the punch button on his control pad. He's charging up an electricity defence. So when Ryu's foot makes contact with Banka's head it's Ryu who gets KO'ed with 10,000 volts charging through his system.

This is the split second before Game Over. Leo's heard the noise. He knows he's fucked. He has time to blurt "I'm toast", before Rye is lit up and thrown backward across the screen, flashing like a Xmas tree, a charred skeleton, Toast.

The split second is the moment you comprehend you're just about to die. Different people react to it in different ways. Some swear and rage. Some sigh or gasp. Some scream. I've heard a lot of screams over the twelve years I've been addicted to video games.

I'm sure that this moment provides a rare insight into the way people react just before they really do die. The game taps into something pure and beyond affectations. As Leo hears the tapping he blurts "I'm toast". He says it quickly, with resignation and understanding. If he were driving down the highway and saw a car spinping into his path I think he'd react the same way. Personally I'm a rager. I fling my joypad across the floor, clench my eyes shut, throw back my head and abuse at anything within abusing distance.
A few years ago I had a game called Alien 3. It had a great feature. When you ran out of lives you'd get a photo-realistic picture of the Alien with saliva dripping from its jaws, and a digitized voice would bleat "Game Over man!".

I really used to love that

I can so connect with this. Video games sometimes do bring out the real us. Almost as much as sports do. I have always been able to make pretty accurate first time judgements about people by their demeanor on the soccer field, tennis / squash courts. The way they react to missing an open goal, someone cheating, opponent playing rough, being on the losing team and other myriad situations. I guess thats because when playing there is not enough time to think and act. You say things because you want to and you do stuff because you want to. There is no analyzing and counter analyzing. You react on instinct and that instinct is you. Some show restraint, some rant and some cuss because thats what comes to them naturally.

Moving on to the differences between the story of the book and the movie.

In the movie, Richard becomes an American and Sal British! Richard does the rice run with Sal in the movie. Sal knows about the map that Richard made and gave the Americans and uses this to blackmail him. In the book, Sal comes to know of the maps existence only towards the end. Richard has an affair with Francoise in the movie where as in the book the relationship is limited to light flirting (How can Francoise choose a Frenchman over Leonardo DiCaprio?! Oh! The horror that would be. So Richard gets to sleep with Francoise). In the movie Richard is blamed for the shark attacks (He kills a baby shark if I remember correctly). Not so in the book.

The endings are different

Movie - the drug lord asks Sal to shoot Richard and she does it except that the gun the drug lord gave her was not loaded. Seeing Sal's attempt to kill Richard the others freak out and they all flee from the island.

Book - the drug lord warns the group about trespassing on his poppy fields and dumps the the bodies of the American duo and the German couple, who the drug lord had killed earlier when he catches them wandering in his fields, in the camp. Everyone loses their senses when they see the dead bodies . They attack Richard who manages to escape from the island with Etienne, Francoise, Jed and Keaty who were anyway planning to leave by boat.

References to Tintin - Daffy has a collection of all except The Blue Lotus which Richard had but in French. Daffy's favourite was Prisoners of the Sun. Richard liked Crab with the Golden Claws or Tintin in Tibet.

Other books by Alex Garland (Haven't read any of them)

The Tesseract (1998)
The Coma (2004)

More Trivia - The song "Pure Shores" (All Saints) was a part of the soundtrack. It was from the album Saints and Sinners. The English / Canadian band had 4 members (3 initially before they split up in 95 and inducted the Appleton sisters). Nicole Appleton was once Robbie Williams lover. She later had Liam Gallagar's (Lead Vocalist, Oasis) baby in 2001. Her sister Natalie Appleton, also a part of the group, married Liam Howlett of The Prodigy (of the Firestarter fame). Quite a music troupe the whole family would make.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Second helping of Soccer for the Soul

One of my good friends landed up at my flat this Sunday evening. We (my wife, a friend and I) had just finished watching Black Hawk Down. Our heads were still ringing with all the gun shots in the movie (btw, BHD is a must watch for those who haven't seen it. It's sad, touching, gruesome, gory, graphic - war up close - based on actual events that took place over a day in Somalia in 1993. Might as well have been 2006, things havent changed much in this world). Anyways this is a happy post. As I was saying my good friend turned up - and he looked as if he had jumped out of the Black Hawk Down set into our living room - like a Delta Ranger returning from a sortie into the Bakara market in Mogadishu. He was sporting a bad limp, an exhausted look, big blue bruises on both elbows, four cuts to his left knee that were wrapped up snugly in a big white gauze roller bandage with a bright iodine stain , the look of annoyance that tetanus injections cause and he actually had the air of someone who has just got back from a long weary battle - vanquished but with all the pride intact from the knowledge that he gave his enemies all that he could and more. Explanations followed - It seems that the company he works for had organised a mini seven-a-side soccer tournament over the weekend. His team lost in the first round and he took quite a few tumbles on the field. He said that looking us in the eye and without shame. He went on - continuing to look us in the eye and without shame - he blamed the rain, the slush, the lack of practice and the lack of proper football gear (soccer shoes esp) for the tumbles. We had a good laugh at his expense. [Among the Mind, Body and Soul, I think its probably the Soul that ages the most slowly. It still feels that the Body can engage in activities that it was once very involved in and very good at 15 years ago. I guess it gets the feeling thats it's all about getting the Mind over matter. The Body inevitably takes a battering before the humbled Soul decides that it's better off letting matter drive the Mind with regards to physical issues like these.] At the end of the soliloquy, my friend said modestly that he's giving up football and is going to channel his energies to cerebral sports (If such a thing exists! Is chess a sport or a game? I didn't voice my thoughts nor raise the issue for debate. He most certainly wasn't in a mood to exercise his grey cells - because the smart cells that they were, they probably had a look at the state of all the other cells that had had more than enough exercise and decided that they were better off unused). Moving on, once the laughter was out of the way, we sat down and watched Tour De France - wishing we too had a teeny weeny bit of the incredible endurance and stamina that the chaps on screen had. 3800 kms over 23 days, sometimes cycling at over 65 kmph. Phew - Unbelievable.

My friend sent me this article today ....


If you've ever thought about getting into shape, you need to take lessons from me. I'm an active guy. Not only do I jog regularly (to the pizza shop), I also walk every single day (to my mailbox). And as if that isn't enough exercise, I'm even playing in a soccer league this summer. It's an over-30 league, which means that all the players, without exception, must be at least 30 pounds overweight.

I don't want to brag, but after three games, my statistics are nothing short of remarkable: three goals, one assist and four injuries. The injuries include a pulled hamstring, a strained quadriceps and a sprained ankle. I won't even mention the injuries I've inflicted on others. I don't want to provide any evidence for their lawsuits.

Perhaps it's called an over-30 league because every game seems to produce over 30 injuries. (That's an unofficial number. It doesn't include any injuries suffered by referees, either during the game or soon after.)

Injuries occur partly because soccer is a contact sport. Players in my league contact each other, contact the ground, and, every now and then, contact the ball. Pretty soon, they're also contacting their doctor.

But in an over-30 league, you don't need contact to get injured. All you need is motion. Any motion. Some players, eager to help their teams, get injured while jumping out of their cars. Others get injured while running toward the field. A few get injured while stretching. That's why, to minimize injuries, I've decided to give up stretching. I don't want to take any chances.

Considering the frequency of injuries, it's no wonder players are required to sign a waiver, promising not to sue the league. Players are also asked to protect themselves by wearing shin guards and, if they're smart, bringing their own stretchers. A few bright players also wear jock cups, knowing that the world doesn't produce enough aspirin.

But regardless of the injuries, the over-30 league is quite competitive. Not all the players are in poor shape. Yes, some do get tired quickly, but others can maintain great intensity, without taking a breather, for at least an entire minute. Perhaps even two minutes.

Being an over-30 soccer player does have a few advantages. You have lots of experience and you can think fast. You know exactly what to do with the ball. If only you could get to it.

As I've come to realize, soccer isn't a sport designed for older people. There's far too much distance between the goals. It would be a lot easier if the game were played within one of the goals.

It would also help if the ball weren't so round. It rolls a little too fast. That wouldn't be a problem if we could play with several balls at once. When you have 22 guys trying to kick a single ball, you're asking for trouble.

It's a good thing my league has referees. They do a good job of keeping the game under control, especially when they're awake. (Players sometimes have to shout, "Wake up, ref. Didn't you see the foul?" That's yet another downside of America's growing problem of sleep deprivation.)

Even with all the injuries and limitations, soccer is an enjoyable sport -- no matter your age. I paid $35 to get into the league, so my expectations are high. I'll be very disappointed if we finish the season without a single pizza party.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Defining High Definition

HD - the buzzword in the AV industry or atleast in the visual industry. TV shopping is not easy anymore. Maybe it never was but there were very standard and established guidelines for the common buyer. How many inches and what brand were the two and the only two questions that needed an answer before stepping into an electronic shop and coming out with a brand new TV.
The answers to the two questions were pretty easy to arrive at too. Budget for most people and maybe room size for some, decided on the size and make of the TV. Those who had the extra cash went for Sony and most landed up with an Onida, BPL, Sansui or Videocon. The general opinion (mine included) was that Sony was the best. The most popular size would have been the 21". 90s saw the 25" TV gain popularity since by then it was pretty much affordable. 29" was still a distant dream for many. Baron Electronics and Akai changed the face of the TV industry in India. (Actually they had a big hand in the audio industry too but thats out of the purview of this post) They started selling TVs at a price previously thought impossible. To cut a long story short - TV has evolved. Size, price, brands, features (Nicam stereo, timer, automatic settings, organiser and headphones) evolved.
This century saw the maturing of new technologies - LCD, Projectors, Plasma, Rear Projection TVs. CRT technology has ruled the roost for half a century. Will it soon lose its ascendency to any of these upstarts? The net is filled with countless articles articulating the differences between these technologies. The common feature among these articles is the fact that they dont agree with each other on which is the best among the lot. To keep things in perspective the good old tube will continue to be the TV of choice for the majority of people simply because it continues to be much much cheaper than the rest. The people with the moolah or the gadget lovers with a little bit of moolah will have to decide from one of the following - HD CRT, LCD and Plasma. (I think rear projection TVs are out of contention. I am leaving out projectors too from the list since they are more likely to be found in pubs and other public places)
Before going further, what is HD? Whats all the fuss? Why the fuss? Is the fuss justified? Simply put, HD will provide the view sharper pictures and more detail - provide cinema-like picture quality. I think that justifies the fuss (With the rising multiplex ticket rates, getting cinema experience at home is no small thing). Analogy would be a the difference between 1 megapixel and a 5 megapixel digital camera. The 5mp camera is able to capture and display more detail than the 1mp camera. The HD TV will be capable of handling and displaying more detail. A HD TV can display HD signals (from set-top boxes, dvd players, videogame consoles, handycams etc). Those of us with the progressive scan DVD players can finally use the feature to get better resolution on a HDTV.

Shopping for a HDTV

Fix your budget. I can't emphasise enough how important this is. I guess this holds true for any kind of shopping nowadays because there are commodities available to take care of all kinds of purses - the large, the small and the everything-in-between. The cheapest HD TV would be around Rs 30000 and I have seen TVs that go upto Rs 300000. Fixing the budget helps in a couple of things - deciding on the type of tv (plasma/lcd/crt) and the screen size -- My budget was Rs 50000. Was sure that I would be looking for a screen of size around 29 to 34 inches. With that kind of a budget, Plasma was out of the question. Had to decide between LCD and CRT (LCD being the more expensive in terms of money per inch of the diagonal)

Do some homework. The first time at the shop, let the salesman do the talking. What you should be doing is listening and listening good. At the end of the sales pitch, it is helpful if he hands over a brochure otherwise it is important that the model numbers of the TV sets are noted down. Head home and check the net for reviews. Never buy on your first visit - there's a very high chance that this will lead to regrets. Download manuals. Compare features. Ask friends -- At the end of this stage I decided against the LCD TV. Reasons being contrast, refresh rate and also the cost to a certain extent. The cons of medium priced LCD tvs are that they can't handle shades of black as well as their CRT cousins do (contrast). The refresh rate is also a lot less. This will be apparent when playing very fast moving video games (ghost images/lower frame rate)(apparant in desktop PCs too - CRT monitors vs LCD (not TFT LCD) monitors - the game environments look so much better on CRT). The cons of a CRT TV are weight and bulk - nothing else. A 29" TV weighs 50 Kgs and a 34" is around 75 Kgs!! Image quality in my opinion is better than LCD and the same as Plasma. Of course the other con being that CRT TVs dont come in sizes larger than 34". So if one is looking for a 40" or larger TV then CRT is out of the options.

After about a month of looking around at various showrooms and reading up article after article on the net, the options I had were pretty limited in terms of brands. Only Philips and Sony had CRT HD TVs. I decided on Sony because they had a few models to choose from (Philips had only one - the PixelPlus series) and from past experiences. Whatever be said of Sony, they do make excellent Television sets.

These were the models I finally shortlisted

da29m80 Rs 49990
db29m80 Rs 44990
hz29m85 Rs 59990

The differences between all of these were not significant. They had to do with the number and type of optional line ins and the highest model supports teletext. Otherwise all three support resolutions upto 1080i (not 1080p which is the highest available in the market) and have the same kind of picture tubes (Trinitron - aperture grill CRT). I finally went for the da29m80. I have no regrets. DVDs are amazing. Cable TV too looks a lot cleaner.

In closing, CRT I feel still has some way to go before it dies a natural death. Theres still a lot of room for improvement in Plasma and LCD technologies. Till that happens and till the cost comes down they pose no challenge to CRTs (for buyers like me - no money to burn but will burn if convinced). And when they do I shall be ready to bid adieu to CRT. I must say that it's a wonderful period in time for all the technology freaks out there. The AV industry is passing through some very exciting phases.

Monday, July 10, 2006

I don't know, R.E.M

It was a sultry saturday evening. Bombay had been battered by rains that afternoon. We (a couple of friends and i) had finished watching a German movie(!) - Goodbye Lenin (Was a good watch. The movie is about a staunch Communist lady who is in a coma when the wall is brought down and how her family, her son in particular, takes extreme and hilarious measures to shield her from the fact that her beloved country DDR, Deutsche Demokratische Republik, is no more). We finished with the movie and sat around chatting. The topic of blogs somehow sprang up. Both of them had been, still were regular bloggers and were pretty surprised to know that I didnt have a blog (reasons why I never wanted to start a blog shall be addressed sometime else). I hadn't had a look at their blogs before. One of them said that he has some interesting photos and digital pictures put up. We deciding that there was a lot of time to kill had a look. As we were going through my pal's blog I somehow felt what I had assumed I would never ever feel - I felt that I should have a blog too. It would be a cool thing to have if not anything else. Maybe it would also feel like I have a private place of my own (that everyone else can see!) on the vast and intimidating net. Atleast create a blog, there's absolutely no need to post - my thoughts went.

The name was the key. My friends blog is called Froogy simply because he couldnt find something he liked that wasnt taken by someone else. I was certain I would have to do some considerable thinking to come up with a good name. And considerable thinking is something of a habit not very much like cycling. It's not as if you get on a bike after five years and lo - pedalling and balancing follow automatically. Nevertheless I decided I would do some thinking.

The next day I was watching VH1 classic and the song Whats the Frequency, Kenneth came on. Its a song by R.E.M (from the album Monster, 1994). I have always wondered what R.E.M was singing about - the lyrics aren't particularly easy to comprehend but the title set me thinking - Who's Kenneth and whats the frequency that this Kenneth is supposed to know. Maybe R.E.M was asking all the Kenneths in the world about the elusive frequency in which case it was also directed at me. So I categorically wanted to tell R.E.M that I haven't the faintest idea about the frequency. Maybe then he will take my name off the list of Kenneths who might know it and narrow down on the Kenneth who has the right answer. So the title of the blog - "I dont know, R.E.M".

Initially I thought it was a cunning idea but I am not so sure anymore (Its not R.E.M who wants to know. Its a not so normal guy called William Tager whos looking for the frequency and he's not singing a song to find out. He prefers a different and not so subtle approach - he follows the Tell Me Or I Smash Your Head In approach. More details at the end). So it is even more imperative that I make myself clear that I have absolutely nothing to do with the dang frequency. So there.

Anyways I dont think I can come up with anything smarter (not without a lot more of considerable thinking) so I am sticking to it. I dont know, R.E.M sounds a wee bit better than I dont know, William.

Heres the story behind the song.

One night in October 1986, CBS News anchor Dan Rather was walking down a Manhattan street when he was punched from behind and thrown to the ground. His assailant kicked and beat him while repeating, "Kenneth, what is the frequency?"

No one could explain the event, and the rumors flew fast and wide. Some speculated the assailant was a KGB agent, while others claimed the attack was the work of a jealous husband. Rather himself couldn't shed any light on the subject. His explanation at the time?

"I got mugged. Who understands these things? I didn't and I don't now. I didn't make a lot of it at the time and I don't now. I wish I knew who did it and why, but I have no idea."

Apparently the strange event moved R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, who said of the incident:

"It remains the premier unsolved American surrealist act of the 20th century. It's a misunderstanding that was scarily random, media hyped and just plain bizarre."

The attack inspired the 1994 hit "What's the Frequency, Kenneth." Being a good sport, Dan Rather even accompanied the band when they performed the song on a Late Show with David Letterman appearance.

In 1997, based on a tip from a psychiatrist, Rather's attacker was identified as William Tager. According to the psychiatrist, Tager, who was currently serving time for killing an NBC stagehand, blamed news media for beaming signals into his head, and thought if he could just find out the correct frequency, he could block those signals that were constantly assailing him. Hence the enigmatic inquiry.

Rather wierd eh?!

Here's the lyrics of the song

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
I was brain-dead, locked out, numb, not up to speed
I thought I'd pegged you an idiot's dream
Tunnel vision from the outsider's screen
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh

I'd studied your cartoons, radio, music, TV, movies, magazines
Richard said, "Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy"
A smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh

"What's the frequency, Kenneth?" is your Benzedrine, uh-huh
Butterfly decal, rear-view mirror, dogging the scene
You smile like the cartoon, tooth for a tooth
You said that irony was the shackles of youth
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I never understood the frequency, uh-huh
You wore our expectations like an armored suit, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
You said that irony was the shackles of youth, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
You wore a shirt of violent green, uh-huh
I couldn't understand
I never understood, don't f**k with me, uh-huh

[Amphetamine (Benzedrine is one) also known as speed, is a synthetic stimulant used to suppress the appetite, control weight, and treat disorders including narcolepsy and Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. ]

I had assumed that the Blog creation would be a piece of cake. The tough part would be choosing a name for the blog and that I was ready with. That was not to be. I had to spent a lot of time on procuring a username (more of that sometime else). Anyways that hurdle was overcome as well with patience and some perserverence. The rest was easy. Clicking nexts, copying funnily written alphabets into a textbox, reading lengthy service level agreements (or at least agreeing that I did) and so on and so forth. So here I am, with a blog to my name and a sufficiently witty title (or so I hope) - all I need now are posts. I do hope they follow.