Friday, July 29, 2005

Comics !

Although I am a great comic book fan...I found this article in the Times (thanks to the blog entry in Putu the Cat) which shows comic books in a negative also comic book lovers...I just posted it here to be "objective" ! :)

Is it really true that women do not go into comic books stores ? I seriously doubt it. I personally know many women, who simple adore comics...and not all comic books stores have to be musty and dark and fact, quite the contrary. Some of the biggest book stores have entire sections dedicated to Graphic Novels (which have evolved from Comics), which have carved their own niche in the literary world, due to their unique story-telling abilities and visual imagery...showing at times the handicaps of not just written prose but also moving images. Some of the best books I have read have been comics/graphic novels and some of the greatest visionaries, in my humble opinion, have been their authors.

Land of Opportunity...back to harsh realities...

See the story of Ayad al-Sirowiy, an Iraqi boy, who has been in the US for a while now receving treatment for injuries to his face, received as a result of his cow accidentally setting off an American cluster bomb, which drilled tiny pieces of shrapnel into his face, blinding him in one eye and printing a map of pin-prick scars across his skin.

Of course, on seeing Walmart (quote : "it's bigger than my village !"), and drinking a lot of Pepsi, he doesn't seem to want to go back home...and the contact lens given to him by the doctors has already been lost...and since his living conditions will be much worse that his brief stint here in the US, I was wondering about the collective wisdom of providing him with contact is he to take care of it ? Where will he obtain the lens solution, or replacements ? Well, sometimes people (even educated people like doctors, senators, etc.) do not think practically, or consider that the situation in other parts of the world, need not necessarily mirror their own...

Next ?

So, is Iran next in line for a WMD-based "freedom" operation, because of this ?

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Geek's dreams come true ?

Japanese scientists have unveiled the most human-looking robot yet - a female android named Repllee Q1. I am sure every geek in the world will now want a humanoid robot if his or her own !

Humanoid robots, or androids, as they are termed have been the subject of numerous movies and science fiction books for decades now. More often than not, these movies and books have taken a paranoid view of the state of affairs, in a society which houses both : humans as well as androids. The most obvious movies that come to mind are : Bladerunner, Matrix trilogy, AI, etc. Of course, Bladerunner is an adaptation of a Philip K Dick book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep ? But then again, these are just products of fervent imaginations, and just shows the paranoia that is present deep down in society of something (be it our own creations, the androids) ususrping our place on the planet, and in society in general. We shall just have to wait and see...

Another major project that involves humanoid robots, is the famous Asimo project by the research scientists at Honda. Of course, the designers of Asimo have stated sometime ago that one of their goals is to create a group of humanoid robots that can take on the winners of the football world cup in the year 2050, and beat them ! Now that would be an interesting game to watch !

Green "peace" ?

Greenpeace activists and toxic sludge in this article.

I wasn't aware that Greenpeace was organised in India ! But then again, if they use such tactics, and are militant by nature, then why does the organization have the word "peace" in their name ?

Humpy's Woes.

Althought I'm a great fan if Rahul Dravid, it is unfortunate that sportspersons in India are losing out on sponsorship money due to the overwhelming focus on cricket, as was in the case of Chess grandmaster, Koneru Humpy.

Of course, the way it was done was also pathetic, as Humpy was in the process of gearing up for the World championship, and she wasn't given enough time to find other sponsors...well, Humpy good luck to you I say, and hope you do well in both - finding sponsorship and primarily competing in the championship.

( Based on a post in Prem Panicker's blog, Sightscreen. )

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Live Feed from the heavens !

Check out the link from NASA TV, which currently a live feed from the space shuttle Discovery...

Click on the link titled "Watch NASA TV" and then start up the realplayer/windows media player feeds.

Somebody's idea of a Joke.

It's really ironic that at the same time that Mumbai is beset with the worst ever rainfall recorded in India (and perhaps the world), there is a major fire off the shore of Mumbai that detroys an Oil rig.

India changing...and how !

Read this article on changing attitudes towards dating in India...

Of course, what with TOI's known methods of spicing things up, one can never guess about the truth behind the opinions and ideas expressed in the article. Or even the "so-called" facts...

But the interesting thing is...someone actually noticed a change in the so-called "dating scene" and decided to follow up and write the article. So, there must be something behind it all...

Google Moon !

Well, if you thought that Google Earth was amazing, then check out Google Moon !

Also, see what happens when you zoom in completely ! Amazing to say the least !

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Quote !

Here is an interesting quote...

"...if anyone slew a person - unless be it for murder or for spreading mischief (fasad) in the land, it would be as if he slew humanity, and if he saved a life, it would be as if he saved humanity..."
[ Qur'an, 5/al-Maidah/35]

I found it to be extremely ironic considering the current state of world affairs !

More puzzling, of course, was the "unless be it..." clause in there...

Taking Sides.

Why does the media have to take sides so as to make an issue sensationalist ? One one hand, we have some bare facts which are boring and (yawn) uninteresting...on the other hand, if one uses a lens and looks at it from another angle, then voila! its news ! More copies of the newspapers sell and the journalists get more recognition...doesn't matter if this entirely lopsides view of the issue hurts a cause, some individuals, or humanity as a whole !

Take the report on the recent incident in Kashmir - the shooting of teenage boys, mistaken for "terrorists" ! Agreed that this is a tragedy and nothing that the army or the security forces can say will allay the grief of the relatives and friends. But the aforementioned article, in one of the most respected news agencies in the world, Reuters, just shows how biased reporting can hide true facts, just to be more sensationalistic. The report talks about a genocide of "innocent Kashmiris"...hmmm...but what about the silent genocide that has been going on in Kashmir for the last few decades ? Watch this video for more details on that...the news media for some reason, seems to ignore these facts !

Are there no ethics, no morals, no honour left among the mass media ? Is the hunger for recognition and baseline economics of number of copies sold or viewers attracted more inportant than the truth or the bare facts ? Is plain, old-fashioned vanilla flavoured jounralism at an end ? In the interest of the future of the world and society as a whole, let us hope not !

Flux !

Somehow, us Indians are immune to the violence, atrocities and bombings that seem to be on the rise all over the world. Is it apathy ? I mean, I have grown up reading news articles about bombs going off in Kashmir, or people dying in Assam, or horrific train/bus accidents in various parts of the country...such news would filter through (be it the newspapers, television, magazines) almost everyday, and I got used to reading the headlines and skipping over the particulars...hey, how much different can it be, eh ? I see similar attitudes among not just my friends and peers, but also among the previous generation...the only people who used to really notice and "feel" sorrow for the victims, etc, were the elderly...but was it more because they felt the world changing so rapidly that they couldn't recognise any of the their familiar culture/surroundings/safety, etc. ? But that's another topic entirely.

When 9/11 happened...we were all horrified at the monumental waste - especially of human life...similarly when we hear of the Madrid Bombings or the subway blasts in London, we are shocked to hear of the audacity of the terrorists; again, human lives lost and the personal courage of the survivors...ok, we read the stories and slowly shake our heads...but then again, we're inured against such acts and then move on...perhaps it may come up as a hot topic of discussion in a group and then we all feel happy that we've expressed our anger and disgust at the acts...also we're so well-informed that we know subtle nuances of each tragedy, which we use in a game of one-upmanship within a group of people...

What about the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in one of the London subways ? The London police have provided an explanation and perhaps even a terse apology...but have not declined from accepting that such incidents won't happen again. I agree that the security forces of any country would be on tenterhooks when having to face large-scale trauma...there's a local parallel to it as well. Are these actions justified ? I mean, is this the state of affairs that will prevail ? In the excuse of tracking down "terrorists", have security forces been pushed over the edge and been made trigger-happy ? And are we supposed to "understand" it that it was a necessary "show of force" ?

What I fail to understand, is of course the fact that why did FIVE bullets have to emptied into the fallen Menezes ? Since the London cops had caught up with him already, why not just restrain him ? Look at the Israeli forces - they have had to live with suicide bombers and terrorists for a long time now - yet they don't just shoot the first "suspicious" person that happens by ! And what is worse, is that security forces are using fear as an excuse for heinous acts ! I do believe that these security forces should be given any and all powers necessary to tackle insurgents/terrorists, etc. But there must be certain lines that are drawn - killing children and taking pot-shots are innocent civilians is going too far !

Are we willing to let the governments and the police take these "extra steps" and then be at risk from the very people who are supposed to be protecting us ? So, I am safe from terrorists blowing me up in the city, but not safe from the police in the transportation network I take for granted and depend on for my livelihood ? Or the kids in my community cannot venture out of their house for some unadulterated fun without being gunned down by the military ? And the excuse proferred is that these are "necessary measures" or "collateral damage" in the war against extremists ! Maybe we need to reconsider the "war" that is waging and the costs that are being inflicted on us as a result !

Friday, July 08, 2005

Science Fiction.

What determines "science fiction" ? In the last couple of blog entries that I have created, I have used that phrase within, it's time to remove those confines...

In my opinion, science fiction, in it's intended uses of that phrase does gross injustice to the entire genre that it is supposed to encompass...when mindless nonsense (read Independance Day or Armageddon) is filed within this genre, then it not only does injustice, but also drags the entire genre, it's great practitioners and ardent fans, through the mud.

As I happened to read in the preface for a great book, science fiction has been used to include everything from "futuristic novels", to fantasy, to alternate realities and many more different what qualifies as true science fiction ? Is it just all of the above ? Is it narrower that what I have mentioned ? Is it a ll about a geeky adolescent's fantasies about space operas and light sabres ? The answer, of course, is yes and no...

Again, to take inspiration from that preface...suppose I write about a story in which a character needs to whip up some eggs and I describe a device which does that...then it is not science fiction...doesn't matter if the story is set into the infinite future, or in an alternate dimension...I am still describing an egg-beater, which has existed for decades now...but suppose, the story had been written by some person, 300 years ago, then that would be science fiction in its purest sense...he sees a need to perform a task, but there exists nothing in the practical world which would help him achieve the task of whipping the he "invents" and describes a wonderful device which allows him to do just that.

So, to generalise, science fiction, is all about diving the future...the economy, the political and social setups, of course the popular technological advances, and even the religious fall-outs of such advances...maybe it could be that the religious advancements of humanity were what drove the other fields to catch up....but still, the science fiction writer is not just writing about the cool gadgets...his responsibility goes far beyond that...he must forsee the conditions of humanity (albeit through certain characters), and comment, or invoke commentary on that. So, more often than not alien lands and cultures, the moral and technological advances, the socio-economic and political rights and wrongdoings are just metaphors...about the current state of human affairs and how they would, at times in the extreme, lead humanity as a whole towards the unforseen future.

So, from the simplistic/idealistic writings of Asimov to the paranoid delusions of Philip K Dick, or even the subtle handle on reality of James Blish, we see the above characteristics come through.

This is where science fiction can deviate from fantasy...the latter is all about imaginary lands and worlds and more for the cause of entertainment...they do not invent, or divine...sometimes they do, to prove a point about how humanity exists in it's current situation, but never really do they take the bold step of looking into the future...

p.s. : here is an article about science fiction.

A Case of Conscience.

Recently, I had the opportunity to read A Case of Conscience by James Blish...hmmm...what can I say ? Anything that I say would seem too less...but here goes...

This Hugo-award winning "Science fiction" book is a great read, and is one of the first, and I must say very successful attempts at considering science within religious confines.

What I like about this book, is his viewpoint (subtly but yet very clearly demonstrated) that although religion and science are meant to exist for the betterment of humanity( one supports the mind while the other pampers the physical, the body ), at times, they are so lost in their eternal conflict with each other, that they neglect their true purpose, and at times crush humanity !

Through the eyes of a Jesuit preist, he unravels an interesting plot...can there exist a real, physical eden ? Can Satan, "the second-best authority in the universe" (as described in the book) create physical worlds and universes and not just metaphysical and psychological ones ? Can the convinctions of religion prove that what the eyes see as a cornucopia of ideals, is not just that ?

The beauty of this book, of course, is that you are welcome to believe that the priest, and his ideas, are entire fantasy and there exists no such thing as a God. You also welcome to believe that the actions of the characters and what subsequently follows is a result of the socio-political setup of the times, and the upbringing of each character...also, the end, can also be viewed as an after-effect of religious contrivance or maybe scientific tampering. He does not take a stepping back and forth between the ideologies, we see why James Blish was such a fantastic practitioner of "science fiction".

Another Movie Review : War of the Worlds

Now this is true science fiction...adapted from one of the best known science fictions works of all time, War of the Worlds is a well-made movie that diverts away from the "yee-haw", cowboy attitude that has been prevalent towards "alien-attack" movies in american cinema...where the heroes come in to save the world and then ride into the proverbial sunset with the girls ! Yes, I am talking about that travesty on rational thought - Independance Day ! ( Aliens mastered space travel, but then couldn't set up a secure wireless network ? Also, how about the fact that their OS's are prone to "alien" viruses !!! But all of than ranting for another day )

This movie shows the attitudes and fears and apprehensions of real people( yes...they exist...even in America...look around you ! )...their shortcomings, their single-mindedness...and Tom Cruise puts in a credible performance...without his usual cocky attitude, as a real, flawed human being, a failed father and someone who is just scared the hell out of his wits.

As countless movie reviews have already written, the performance to watch out for is Tim Robbins ! He can scare you witless...he's on screen for just a short time...maybe 20 mins, but that's the most haunting sequence of all !

Of course Steven Spielberg mut put out some kind of "social message" in his movies...this time it's his suBtle take on post-911...when the aliens start attacking, the kids ask..." it the terrorists?" commments on that one.

What I liked best about the movie, was the, I won't give it away here...just was impressed with the way Speilberg didn't mess around much and decided to give "science fiction" a chance...( why the quotes around "science fiction" ? out for another post ! ;) )