Friday, December 14, 2007

Customer service woes...

What is it about interacting with customer service that seems to drive us over the edge? Is it the incessant lack of logic and rationality that we have to face from time to time? No matter which industry (telecom, credit cards, insurance, you name it) the same problems keep creeping up all the time.

The standard answer of "the system says so, hence, it must be true" must be intentionally designed to bring out the maximum frustration among the customers. I have often been tempted to reply, "you know I am fairly competent in Computer Science and I know that the system is only what you put into it. It does not have a life of its own," but held off from doing so, if only to avoid the metaphysical discussion that would inevitably follow about "the system" having a life of its own!

Then it seems like the first person you speak to about your problem cannot help you, because the rules don't allow them to do anything about your situation. "But for a low fee of $14.95 we can ensure that you do not receive additional penalties!"

Most people will probably hang up, pay the additional fees, seethe about how they got screwed over and then forget about it -- until their next tryst with a customer service rep, when the horror starts all over again. Some resourceful people will actually record their experiences and force the company to pay them back. Interestingly, the companies still do not learn!

I had a recent experience with AT&T customer service. Here's the history:

  • I was supposed to get a certain discount, every month, since July of this year
  • as of last month (November) they hadn't credited me with this discount
  • my bill was over $100

I complained. They said they would look into it but with complete skepticism, as if I was lying about it. They called the actual store I got the plan from and then came back, in an apologetic tone, stating that the credits would be applied and my bill would be reduced to what it should be. I then get a call this month stating that my cell phone service would be disconnected for not paying the $100+ bill. I called them back and asked what about my credits and guess what I heard?

"What credits?"

Imagine that. Long explanations all over again, part of which included the following statement from their rep,

"sir do you use your phone for voice service?"

My incredulous response: "can you please repeat?"

Them: "do you make or receive calls from your phone?"

Somehow I felt that this might be a parallel universe where the meaning of a cellular phone was somehow different! Anyways, after much plodding I was assured there was a mistake and that they would credit my account, etc. etc.

I ask: "should I just go ahead and pay the balance to ensure that my account will be valid?"

Response: "not required. We will fix this matter. Call us back in a couple of days and we'll see." End of call.

10 minutes later, my cellphone service has guessed it -- disconnected! I call back from another phone and try to explain the situation

Response: "Sir, your phone has been disconnected due to non-payment. Unless you pay the amount in full we cannot restore the service. Of course, there is an additional charge of $36 to restore your service!"

I tried to reason with her and then got this response: "as a one time courtesy to you we will remove the $36 connection charge, but you must pay the balance in full!"

I ask to speak to manager/supervisor, who tells me more of the same but then I'm forced to pay half of the balance to get my service back. Apparently they will apply the credits in due course and everything will be adjusted.

Then comes the best part of the whole incident. As I'm waiting for the half payment to go through, the supervisor tells me,

"Sir we are not charging you the $36 fee as a one-time courtesy only! In the future, if you are disconnected, you must pay that fee"

Me: "you do realise that this happened because your people made a mistake?"

Her: "Sir, I do realise, but I am warning you that in the future this should not reoccur from your side."

Me: "but you still do realise that it wasn't my fault and that your people messed up?"

Her: "Sir I understand, but I'm just laying the ground rules and expectations for future dealings!" (who speaks like this in real life???)

Me (mixed exasperation with attempt to not laugh into the phone while trying hard and somewhat succeeding to keep my voice at an even tone): "Ok, now I am laying the groundwork hoping that your people will not screw up my bill and then charge me for it, cancel my service and attempt to charge me for reconnecting it -- while it was the fault of your personnel, all the time!"

30 seconds of silence on the phone and then,

Her: "thank you sir. your payment has been approved. Would you like to take down the confirmation number?"

Still no admission of guilt.

 While it was exasperating that they had made a mistake and were continuing to do it even after I thought I had cleared it with their reps a month ago, the really annoying part is where they're condescending to me. The supervisor and the rep before acted as though they were doing me a favour! They did not really admit to something being wrong from their side, and yet were insisting that they were fixing the errors only as a "one-time courtesy." This is the whole attitude that annoys me. That and coupled with the fact that the first person you speak to is typically of no help. I think their job is to just stall and see if you go away. If you don't, then they put you on hold for a long time and then come back asking, "sir, are you still there?"

I have realized that the best way to get something worthwhile done after a couple of minutes of explaining it to the first rep, is to ask to speak to the supervisor. And failing that, ask to speak to their supervisor. Finally you do get to someone who can help and finally will. There was that one time though that one person said that I can't talk to anyone else simply because there is no one above him. I expressed surprise that I was speaking to the CEO of the company and that how nice it was that he was actually responding to customer calls! Well, sarcasm worked in that case and he transferred me to his boss who finally solved the problem.

So after many years of frustration in dealing with customer service, I finally believe that it is a cleverly designed system - a system to keep people out, where only the persistent ones get their problems resolved. So the next time, perhaps ask to speak to the supervisor directly and spare yourself the task of reducing your lifespan trying to explain the problem multiple times.

Oh and definitely record the conversations. Absolutely. You never know when it might come in handy.


Saturday, December 08, 2007

Book Review | Graphic Novel version of Richard Matheson's "I am Legend"

So who decides if you are human? Is if enough that each person holds on to the unshakeable belief that he or she is human? What if everyone else thought that you were not one of them? Does that shake your beliefs or do you hold onto them with a vice-like grip -- afraid that your last attempts to stave off insanity must mean that you must hold these beliefs closer than ever?

Richard Matheson's "I am Legend" forces us to ask the question - if everyone else on the planet is alike and you are the only one who is "different," then who is really human - you or them? What if all of them were bloodthirsty vampires out to kill you? Every single one of them! Since you are obviously in an abject minority, does it really matter that you believe that they are "freaks"? Does it give you the right to decide that their lives are not worth it and your is more important?

These questions hit home; uncomfortably so in fact in this book. When it is in the stark black and white that is the graphic novel adaptation from IDW by Steve Niles and Elman Brown, there is no question that this is not just any other "cool" vampire book.

This book will dispel any preconceived notions about graphic novels or vampire stories. The protagonist is not a muscle-bound super-smart guy who uses cool technology and martial arts moves to bring down vampires. Robert Neville is just another small town guy who has suffered the loss of his wife and daughter to the vampire manifestation (or is it a "virus"?) and has to survive being hunted down every night. He's neither good looking, nor does he have a technology expert helping him hunt vampires. He does so the old-fashioned way -- shaping wooden stakes from planks and putting up garlic cloves everywhere.

He has to constantly fight his all too human urges -- fires within his loins for instance. This is a facet that keeps him tottering on the edge. Whether he will give up all attempts at humanity and rape a female in sleep or if he can control himself -- are positions that he must constantly evaluate and painfully so. He does try to attack the problem analytically to understand the "scientific" issue of vampirism even while facing failure from time to time.

Is he right in trying to preserve his ideas of right and wrong? Does he have the right to kill vampires in their sleep? Are they now the "humans" on the planet and he an aberration? How does one man fight an entire planet?

The movie adaptation with Will Smith will have a tough time keeping up -- not just with the original book, but more so with this "visual" adaptation. They already seem to have started on a wrong note by making the protagonist "Dr." Robert Neville - trying to infuse some sort of intelligence to tackle the problem. Well, I won't prejudge the movie until I see it, but the graphic novel adaptation sure does look like a tough act to follow.

If you haven't read this book, then well, you should! And it is also a good book to show those people who believe that graphic novels are for prepubescent teenagers to salivate over hot babes/superheroes in tight costumes. This book shows that quality graphic novels can achieve a level of storytelling that is often hard to beat.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

Bill vs Bill.

Bill O'Reilly vs Bill Maher that is.

No, this is not a post where I compare the two - one supposedly a battle-weary veteran holding fort for the "fair and balanced" news network and the other holding up the bastion of the liberal left against the "evil" right wingers. This is not one of those situations where I find which one is better and say that the other one should shut up.

On the contrary, I find them to be incredibly alike! Yeah, that's right, alike! Hmm...somewhere in both worlds (the liberal and the conservative ones, for clearly, they occupy different planets) heads are popping and hearts are giving out simply because I'm writing this, nay, even thinking about it!

Well, surely I'm mistaken, they say. I must mean that O'Reilly and Maher are exact opposites of each other - why look at their shows, their views, their guests, etc. They cannot be alike - it must be an error of judgement on my part. Perhaps I'm a one of those left-wing liberals trying to bring down a straight-talking, shoot from the hip TV host. Perhaps I'm a right-wing, conservative who is trying to bring down a straight-talking, shoot from the hip TV host. Hmm, now what could be common among those two statements?

Let me get rid of the subtlety and sarcasm to just get down to the point. They are both biased, stick to extremes on their own sides, push their own left-liberal/right-conservative agendas, trash talk about and talk down to people they don't agree with and bring up hypothetical situations about the attack on the right/left. both take pot shots are each other (well, at least of late I've seen Maher do that to O'Reilly and I'm sure the other Bill can never resist a brawl). I mean think about it - they're both preaching to the choir, and increasing the division between their respective audiences. During a time that bipartisanship is supposedly at its height, what are The image “” cannot be displayed, because it contains errors.they doing but fanning the flames? And they each blame the other side for doing the exact same thing that they themselves do. While O'Reilly claims that the media is left-leaning  and they're baby-murderers and terrorist-supporters, Maher claims that O'Reilly and his kind are right-wingers who lust for oil and are...yup, you got that and terrorist-supporters!

The more I think about this, the more similarities I find between the two. They can always bring up hypothetical situations (or get guests who will do it for them) which supposedly can put the other side in a "tight spot". Come on - they're hypothetical for a reason - they are artificially constructed examples that can probably never occur in real life! If they could and did occur, then you wouldn't have to ask these questions would you? The answers would be fairly obvious!

I think such "media-types" are more to blame for the problems and "fear psychosis" in today's society - at least definitely more than their targets, the politicians they like to slam. While politicians and other people in the news are expressing their private opinions, whatever they may be, such talk show hosts are the ones who are pushing these views onto the public, in what is probably a pathetic attempt to boost their ratings. And I believe that this is the worst thing to do - take side and play divisive politics without real convictions - just for increased ad revenues!

Here is a good example (and probably a rare one) of the two having a conversation...the interesting thing to note is that they still take pot-shots at each other. O'Reilly starts of by claiming that Maher has all these left-wing nut jobs on his show and then gets a good response about O'Reilly being the one who supposedly "plays it down the middle". Towards the end, Maher takes a shot at Guilliani for being a "cross-dresser" and O'Reilly takes him down, and rightly so, by asking him about what the clothes have anything to do with it.

Hmm, am I beginning to sound like them? Am I doing to them what I claim they do to others? Perhaps, but at least I'm doing it to both sides and to be honest, I have yet to see some ad revenue, and now that I've managed to piss off both sides, I doubt if I will see any.


Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Movie Review | Transformers doesn't disappoint...all that much

I have, of late been reading the webcomic, "Least I Could Do" by Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza. It is quite funny and really hits the spot especially if you are a twenty-something who has grown up in an urban environment. I had particular reason to think back about one recent strip as I was heading off to watch the "Transformers" movie by Michael Bay...

My thoughts exactly! Having watched a lot of the Transformers cartoon series when I was young, I was really apprehensive about the movie, especially since the trailers didn't seem to be really very interesting. And the part that I was most worried about - it's being directed by Michael Bay! Come on, he has Armageddon and Pearl Harbor to his credit! Even though the former was a huge hit and collected millions in the box office, I found it to be a dismal joke. So while expectations were not very high, I was hoping that my pre-analysis would prove to be wrong and that the movie would blow me out of my seat, and luckily for me, that did turn out to be the case.

First off, let me say that the movie is an out and out action blockbuster - the action hardly ever lets up and makes for one thrilling joy ride after another. It starts with a bang and then keeps up a fast breakneck pace. So, the only reason you would get bored, is if your idea of a night at the movies is sitting at home watching a Freddie Prince Jr. movie marathon in your pink pajamas with a batch of tissue paper!

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie because it has all the ingredients for a great summer blockbuster -- great action, fantastic special effects, fast storytelling, nostalgic memories of weekends spent watching the Transformers cartoons in our childhood, hot women, great cars and a bit of wit! Yes, that's right - they have some intentionally funny moments, at least in the first half of the movie. Most of the funny incidents and one-liners come from the unwilling protagonist played by Shia LaBeouf. He's a bumbling idiot who is always picked on by the jocks and can't seem to make women notice him, even if he spent many years studying in the same classroom with them. He gains centerstage attention because he unwittingly obtains the directions to a source of great power - something that two robot armies, who have been waging war for millennia, have been seeking for a long time.

The "Automatons" and the "Decepticons" are the good and bad guys, respectively. The former are trying to prevent the latter from achieving their goals - of taking over the Universe, presumably. Earth becomes the staging point for their battle, because "Megatron", the leader of the Decepticons has crashed here thousands of years ago and him and a vital instrument are missing and are the central objects of an intense struggle and search by the others. They have the ability to transform themselves at will and take on the looks and behaviour of any machinery -- from cars to stereos to army vehicles to aircraft to even cell phones. Some of these robots have been on Earth for many years, trying to understand the nuances of human civilization all the while searching for their objective. One, "Bumblebee" in particular, has the mission of protecting our hero.

So this is the perfect setup for Robot armies to invade the Earth and then start pounding each other without any regard for human life or property. What results is a carnage of intense violence and breathtaking action and special effects sequences. The camera work is also a delight to watch and some of the slow-motion sequences add a nice touch to the movie. There is one particular scene, shot in slow motion, of a car transforming itself into a robot while jumping over a shocked woman and at the same time trying to avoid missiles being fired at it. The scream of the woman, slowed down while still retaining a high pitch brings in a touch of humour to the entire situation.

The second half of the movie starts to become a bit cliched though - while the action still remains at a top level, the storyline and dialogues seem to take a serious nosedive, often times bordering on the nonsensical. The dialogues between "Optimums Prime" (the leader of the good guys, Automatons) and "Megatron" (the leader of the Decepticons) become cheesier and cheesier as the action seems to get hotter. Its look as though the scriptwriters and directors got caught up in planning and writing up all the action sequences that they seemed to have forgotten that a movies must also have dialogues and at the last minute patched in cliched, typical dialogues from various disaster movies. Lines akin to "these fragile humans do not deserve to exist", and "they must make their own choice", or even the spiel about how we are a "young race" who must "find our own way" and "our way of life needs protecting", etc. are uttered far too often.

Then there seems to be the whole idea of all the bad guys disguising themselves as authoritarian vehicles - either police cars of military vehicles (helicopters, tanks, military trucks, etc.) while the good guys get to be cool sports cars, road trucks, pickups, etc. In fact, most of the bad guys are military vehicles. Is Michael Bay trying to send "subliminal" messages about the current war and political situation? Is he trying to state that the military and the government are bad? Is this a dig on the military-industrial complex, perhaps? Oh, the subtlety! Surely no one noticed this as it was not thrown on their face a few hundred times! While directing good action sequences seems to be Bay's forte, subtlety and smartness surely doesn't seem to be.

Of course, the cast and their so-called acting wasn't very great either. Except for Labeouf, everyone else seemed to be labouring through their roles and acting in a bemused sort of way - since they must now act with non-existent actors all around them (the special effects, robots, etc.), they seem to be finding it difficult to adjust eye and body movements to obtain a natural effect. What results is a loss of sync between the live actors and the CGI. While Megan Fox was the eye-candy for the movie, she did have a decent role and performed admirably well. Rachel Taylor, with her thick Australian accent, was a bit irritating as the "special advisor" to the defense secretary. She doesn't seem to know anything about the tech stuff that she was talking about, which kind of lets her off the hot seat a bit, as much of the tech stuff didn't make sense anyways! Ok, ok, I agree - in a movie about self-transforming robotic aliens waging war on Earth, technical correctness may not always be the thing to look for -- but lines like, "can you hotwire this computer to connect it to that ancient morse code generator so that it could send morse code" and then pointing to and picking up the computer monitor was not even funny - it was plain pathetic!

There were also definite gaps in the storyline and it seemed like they were in some sort of a rush to get the movie done and out this summer. Seems like they couldn't "transform" a bad script into a good one.

Of course, the most glaring point of the movie was the garish product placement - from the Panasonic SD card to all of the GM vehicles. Phew! It was in-your-face and hard to ignore. I'm not against product placement if it is done in style. Hey, they need money to make the movies and if companies will shell out money so that they get a couple of seconds of showtime, then let that be the case. But there must be some limits -- in once scene, Rachel Taylor's character removes the SD card from a computer and holds it for a second while showing it to the camera instead of doing whatever she intended to do with it. Oh, then there was the over-abundance of GM vehicles. One would think that the only vehicles that the world ever had were made by GM! But the plus side of this was all the cool cars that were shown - especially the new Chevy Camaro and the Pontiac Solstice. Both transform into some really cool robots, and the transformations are as much fun to watch as the action sequences.

Well, I could say that this movie is worth a watch and it does provide sheer entertainment - at least for the guys and geeks everywhere. If you were a fan of the original cartoon series and action figures, then it is a must watch, but be prepared to switch your brains off for a while, and ignore the bad acting. Apart from that, you might enjoy it, thoroughly.


Friday, June 22, 2007

Gone Marbles.

Matthias Wandel has created a binary adder that uses marbles! Here is a video demonstrating how it works.

If nothing else, it look real cool.

Original link via Makezine.


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Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Mugger to "muggee"

A would-be thief in the western German town of Aldhenhoven found the tables turning on him, when he tried to mug a cab driver.


After the 20-year-old stole the driver's wallet, a scuffle broke out between the two, in which the cabbie not only recovered his property but also took his attacker's wallet


The driver then locked himself in his taxi and called the police, who were amazed to find the mugger waiting patiently for them on the curb next to the vehicle when they arrived.

"He wanted his wallet back," a police spokesman said.

Well, the next time you decide to steal from someone, make sure he's not a German cabbie.


Monday, June 04, 2007

What am I?

I found myself in a really odd position the other night, when a long-time friend informed someone else, in a matter of fact way, that he knows for a fact that I am a Republican! I guess surprise and shock was evident on my face as he stopped speaking and then stated, "oh! you're not?"

"Of course not!" was my reply.

Then you MUST be a democrat!


Green Party? Communist ?

No and NO!

Some confusion reigned at the table as I tried to explain my position...I do not believe in aligning myself to a particular political agenda. My opinions will always be issue-based. I will think about the issue at hand and then decide which candidate or political party or group has similar thoughts and ideas. If I find one, then I might back them, for that issue alone.

Well, the reason for this post wasn't to clarify my political affiliations, or lack of one thereof. I was intrigued by the vagaries of human nature. Just because you propose a different opinion from the person whom you engage in a dialogue with, you are automatically classified as belonging to the "other" side! For most people, affiliations and opinions are either black or white. There is no place for shades of grey that is usually abundant in life. I mean, I have been categorized by different people as being a democrat, right-winger, republican, liberal and various other unprintable types! For instance, some of the folks that I hang out with, decidedly swing to the right (or more promptly to the Republican party agenda), When I disagree with some of the views that they express, I am immediately classified as being a "liberal". When I argue with the aforementioned friend (who is decidedly a believer in left-wing ideas), I am classified as being a Republican!

It seems like the thought, "if you are not my friend, you are my enemy" holds true among most human beings. Most people look for some sort of affirmation and when they don't get it, they suspect a hidden agenda - in fact, along the lines of opposition! I mean, we're humans - we're opinionated, self-obsessed, egotistic and short-tempered. We can't all be expected to hold the same views and opinions (a la "1984") - I mean, most of us have disagreements on where to go for lunch, and how can one expect a rational human being to align himself or herself perfectly with everything that one person believes in? In fact, dissidents abound in every major political party the world over. Hey, if the party leaders can rarely agree on what is a "correct" course of action (is there such a thing?), then why must someone from the general populace pick just one side and agree with all the baggage that comes along?

I mean, you might pick the Democrats because they are more "liberal", but may not like their socialistic ideas of medicare or increased taxes. Perhaps the Republican party's ideals of fiscal responsibility may be your thing, but you may like their ties to the oil industry. The Green party's ideas that everyone should do what they want perhaps makes sense in the larger scheme of things, but you may not like fact that people could get easy access to pot and cocaine!

This "being the enemy" phenomenon is not limited to US politics. In India, for instance, the Congress party's sole reason for existence seems to be to stay in power, but they say they are pro-poor. The communist left claims that the Congress party is a bunch of elitist rich squeezing the blood of the poor labourer. They both dislike the BJP, which is supposed to be "right-wing". If you disagree with even a single policy that any of these three political parties may have, then they classify you as being "disloyal" and belonging to the other side!

Perhaps if people stop jumping to extremes when they face something different, and understand the idea that something different doesn't necessarily mean something "wrong", then maybe half the problems in politics wouldn't exist. But then again, politics itself wouldn't exist!

So, coming back to the discussion which started this entire thought process, I was asked, "so, who do you vote for - Republicans or Democrats?". My response was - well, I can't vote in the US since I'm not a citizen, so my "affiliation" probably doesn't count!


Friday, May 04, 2007

Movie Review | Spiderman 3 sucks!

Well, it was bound to happen. After the first two movies made over 1.6 billion dollars at the box office, one would expect that the egos of the director, the stars, and even the writers would spin out of control. It did and it resulted in a sub-standard movie that seems to have been created by committee.

I am big fan of the Spiderman comic books and really like the way the characters are presented, especially the protagonist. He is nerdy, dorky and with awesome super-powers, but with a biting sarcasm which he uses really well to frustrate his opponents as well as a defense mechanism when things start to go wrong - both in his "professional" as well as personal life. That sarcasm and humour, the quintessential traits that sets Spiderman apart from the rest of the comic universe is completely lacking in the movie versions - all three of them. And that tarnishes the character quite a bit. But to be completely honest, its just as well. Considering the acting abilities (or lack of it thereof) of Toby Maguire, one must understand that there is no way that he can carry of a "funny" Spiderman.

Anyways, that apart, I went into the movie with a lot of expectations. I even believed that I will go back and watch it in a day or two at the local IMAX theater, simply, to see the obvious, awesome graphics. Yes, that's right obvious! In a world where CGI has progressed to being indistinguishable from reality, one can see what is real and what isn't in this movie. Sometimes the graphics are tardy and overdone. The action sequences are too fast and all over the place for ordinary humans to follow, make sense, or even be in awe. Things rush by so fast that one can easily get bored. Hey, if I can't follow what's going on with the fast blurry stuff zig-zagging on screen, then I might as well concentrate on the pop-corn at hand and the pretty girl sitting next to me.

And to think that they spent close to a half a billion dollars on this movie! Most expensive movie on the planet and all of it down the drain. Well if they spent even a small fraction of that money and expensive graphics to fix Tobey Maguire's complete lack of talent at emoting, then well, this movie would have been ten times as good. Let's get this straight - the only expression he can put on is one of a dopey, goofy character. Anything more complicated seems to be well out of his bag of tricks. By the way, there are two attributes that he should never attempt and he seems to overdose on them in this movie - one is trying to be emotional/sad while the other is trying to be "cool"/suave. And not surprisingly, he fails miserably on both counts.

We see a sad Peter Parker on two occasions : first, when Mary Jane claims to break up with him and again when his friend Harry Osborne has been critically injured. On both occasions he is in tears and let me warn you - it is not a pretty sight. Its like watching something horrible but being unable to turn your eyes away. In fact the audience was gasping in horror at the pathetic exhibition of emotion from Tobey Maguire.

The other disturbing aspect of the movie is when Venom takes over Peter Parker/Spiderman. Venom, an alien parasite, is supposed to bring out the worst characteristics in its host with the dark side taking over the host's personality. In Peter Parker it is supposed to make him more angry, more of a womaniser, more deadly, more powerful, less moral, etc. Well the problem is that in this movie, the character of Peter Parker is played by Tobey Maguire and angry, immoral and suave he is not. He is supposed to walk with an air about himself, make random passes at women, dress in a more dark, more stylish way, wear his hair differently and cut the rug in a mean way with some stylish dance moves at a jazz club. To be very polite, Tobey Maguire is not a John Travolta or a Patrick Swayze. He completely lacks the panache required to exhibit a "dark side" and it comes off as being extremely funny and comical. Unfortunately that effect was not intentional.

Topher Grace (of "The 70s show" fame) plays his rival for a job at the Daily Bugle and subsequently becomes infected by Venom. Suffice to say that acting was never his strong point. He seems to be just another Tobey Maguire - able to play the dorky goof-off in the sitcom but not quite making the cut for the big screen especially in action flicks. Well, at least he is better at humour that Tobey Maguire. Hmmm...maybe Topher Grace as Spiderman would have been an interesting experiment - at least he can carry off that sarcasm part well.

Of course, my biggest gripe with any big-screen adaptation (which wasn't as evident in the first two movies) is a distinct divergence from the comic book (Spiderman universe) storyline. For example, the reason Peter Parker meets Gwen Stacy (in the books at least) is because she studies with him and then is taken in my Aunt May when her father is killed in the line of duty. Both Gwen Stacy and her father receive about 5 minutes of footage and might as well have never been in the movie to begin with - their roles are pointless as far as Spiderman 3 goes.

Of yeah, I almost forgot - the overdose of drama and soap-opera'ish storylines. This movie has just too much of it, and considering that this is an action movie that is unacceptable. In fact, if someone had walked in to the movie about 15 minutes of its start and then watched the next half an hour, he would be puzzled and would think, "did I walk into the the wrong movie? I thought this was an action blockbuster. This looks and feels like a chick flick?" This is especially relevant, because as I mentioned above, most of the actors in the movie fell flat while trying to carry off the serious "acting" stuff that they're supposed to do when they are in front of a camera.

One other big problem with this movie - the direction and screenplay. There is no flow between the various events and scenes. A lot of unrelated and unnecessary parts made the cut. It seems like the entire package was put together in a hurry. Not hard to believe considering the enormous budget - I guess it must have been ballooning at an alarming rate and the studio must have put its foot down and forced Sam Raimi's hand to finish it in a hurry. Or, perhaps he was just bored with the entire thing. As a friend put it - maybe the actors, the director and crew were so tired of the entire thing that they decided to kill the movie franchise by doing a bad job!

Perhaps the guy who made (and markets) the Dyson vacuum cleaners might sell more of them if he changed his tagline to - "Dyson: sucks as much as Spiderman 3"!


Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Book Review | The Red Anthology

The cover immediately appeals to me. Being a cricket fan, the sight of teenagers playing cricket by the roadside brings back fond memories. Memories of growing up, of playing the game on various grounds, fields and the roadside even. It is no stretch of imagination that the picture was taken in a South Asian country - probably India (the motorcycle in the background is suspiciously similar to the one I owned through my high school and undergrad years).

I am also a fan of short stories, having devoured Roald Dahl, Jeffrey Archer, Guy de Mauppasant, Chekov, Saki, O. Henry, Gerald Durrell, Ruskin Bond, and a whole host of others all through my life. I occasionally dabble in writing short stories myself.

Hence, it is with nostalgia and fond memories that I pick up "The Red Anthology of hitherto unpublished writers".  Everything led me to believe that this book would be a worthwhile read, and it did not disappoint.

Ok. This is a book of short stories. If you are not a fan of short stories or anthologies of short stories, well, then you should be. Given that an idea, a storyline, a feeling a, an emotion, a chill or a philosophy must be presented to the audience without the luxury of length or the chance to have an intricate build up of events that usually surrounds novels, the short story brings out the best in an author. While almost all of the above authors have written excellent novels and longer books, their real skill and craft is evident in their short stories.

This anthology starts well - the first story is titled "A Christmas Letter" and it is written by one J T Townley. It is a humourous, well-written satirical take on Christmas letters that families usually send out to their family and friends. Written by a suburban housewife who suspects her husband to be cheating on her and who wins a contest for a date with a soap-opera heartthrob, it manages to make you chuckle as you read her machinations and schemes to get her husband to admit to cheating.

From Christmas letters to train rides in a snow-covered countryside, from death, self doubt and suicide to a grown woman trying to revisit her childhood, from lakes in the head to farmers growing muscles (yes, that's right, muscles!), and many many more places and ideas, the stories abound with imagination, crazy ideas, self-pity, sadness, delight and even fantasy. We are taken through a roller-coaster ride which sometimes dips into slaughter houses, sometimes into an Orwellian future, while sometimes showing you how someone can calculate and plan to fall in love.

"Organ Donation" by Miles Newbold Clark is an interesting story that has a first-person narrative from organs harvested from an accident victim. It intertwines storylines and has an way of surprising you - if organs could think, perhaps this might be how they do it. Andy Darley's "I'm here to make you smile" shows an English suburban newspaper columnist trying to come to terms with the sordid nature of youngsters and what might be the future of humanity. Most of the stories make you reflect, at least a little bit.

One interesting feature of the book is the imagery. The book is filled with images and photographs that may or may not have anything to do with the story at hand, but it does change the way you read the story. In a subliminal way, the images seem to fashion your responses to the stories that you read. This is the first short-story anthology that I have read which uses seemingly unrelated images to shape your moods while the text does its work at furthering the event-line.

Commendable of course, is the attempt to present unpublished authors a chance at breaking into the mysterious world of publishing. Hopefully this will inspire them and bring them into the limelight and they will go on to great success in the publishing world.

A good read, all round.


  1. A Christmas Letter by J T Townley
  2. The Brevity of Snow by Jared Roscoe
  3. From the Fear of Contagion by Carl James Grindley
  4. Helen and the Wolf by Ross Lehman
  5. Seventy-Eight Days in the City by Sarah Todd
  6. The Farmer's Story by Abby McMillen
  7. Flesh by Christopher ole
  8. Organ Donation by Miles Newbold Clark
  9. Snow by Emily Isovitsch
  10. From Song Book by Richard Tock
  11. A Piece of Mind by Cassandra Taylor
  12. Love by the Numbers by Cynthia Closkey
  13. From I'm Here to Make You Smile by Andy Darley
  14. Contingency-Design Part B by Charlotte Paladine

Update: I just received word that the version of this review posted on blogcritics has been selected for syndication! It will be a part of syndication in and


Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Today, I was reminded of the intransigence of life. Today, I lost faith in the positives of life, pondered over the loss, was angered by the unfairness of it all, called into question the weird sense of humour that the Gods seem to exhibit, but ended the day in a bemused state, having gathered that life goes on, regardless of anything that is thrown at it.

Today I asked myself as to what the purpose of life is...even going to the core of the question of what life is. I asked if this whole mess that we are hurtling through is really worth it, and came up short. I wanted to know if anything is real, and even what "real" means!

Today, I asked if God exists, and if he was a benevolent being that cares for the well-being of all. Or is there some higher being that toys with the rest of us for its amusement? Or is the universe a large mess of randomness and chaos?

Today I wanted to know if there is a way to move on in life after a tragedy, what a tragedy is, and if it means anything in the grand scheme of things. Is it deeper than just a plain interaction of chemicals in our brain? Is there meaning to it? Is there a point to remembrance or are we better off ignoring it altogether?

Today I wondered if memories exist or are they figments of our imagination? Does time reflect anything or is it just a human condition? Does the passage of time and growth of memories mean anything? Are we holding on to slender threads for our comfort or because they mean something?

Today I saw that life must move on, and while it may be someone's dream, it is probably the only thing that is real for us, and it is worth holding on to. Only in the loss of life and its absence do we realize its value, it existence even. We must face our own mortality to realise our immortality - albeit not in the physical realm but in someone's memories and thoughts

Today I saw the black, white and grey reflections of the colourful world...reflections within my own eyes in the mirror...

Today I was woken up with some sad news - of the passing away of a child in an accident. While the news of anyone passing is sad, that it was a child was what triggered most of the emotions and thoughts mentioned.

Today even my smile is shadowed by melancholy thoughts...


Thursday, April 05, 2007

I'm famous...

I was interviewed by the Voice of America folks.

The article.

The video:


Sunday, March 11, 2007

Heartbreak for NC State in the ACC tournament

They came here as underdogs, they played their hearts out, they took down the mightiest names in college basketball and reached the finals of the ACC tournament, where exhaustion finally seemed to take over. I'm talking about NC State's run in the ACC basketball tournament. UNC just won the ACC basketball tournament, beating NC State 89-80.

While Tyler Hansbrough was taken down by the State defense, Brandan Wright stepped up and kept the scoreboard ticking. In the first half though, NC State was able to keep up, mainly due to the pyrotechnics of Brandon Costner. He set the scoreboard on fire with his three-point shooting and great moves on the paint. Engin Atsur, State's point guard seemed to be struggling at times - perhaps his hamstring injury and fatigue finally caught up with him.

But with two minutes remaining in the first half, and the teams tied at 32 points apiece Carolina seemed to blaze away with a 14-2 run by the time the half-time break came around. When the second half started, they seemed to continue their run and extended the lead to 16 points. State was written off and if anyone expected them to roll over and play dead, they were wrong. State came back strong and even tied the score at 69, but then almost immediately went down by 3 and then never really recovered after that. The closest they came after that was within 3 points of Carolina.

I think what State was missing in the second half was a complete lack of three-point shooting. Considering that they had three good three-point shooters in Atsur, Costner and Grant (with Fells and Nieman also able to chip in admirably in the past) it was puzzling that they didn't try to shoot more from behind the arc. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, they didn't have a single three-point basket in the second half! This effect became important in the last two minutes of the game where with state being down by two plays, shooting three-pointers seemed like the logical thing to do to close up the gap in a hurry.

There was some poor decision-making in the crucial last couple of minutes, as NC State seemed to be taking too much time to cross the floor, especially when they're trailing by 5! Then there were costly misses when they did get to the other end, all of which probably contributed to their loss after playing hard and coming close.

But that is not taking away from the way this team played in this tournament. Sidney Lowe's team seems to have grown this season and they carry themselves much better than most NC State teams have done in the recent past. With some good recruits that have been picked up this year, next year's season will be a mouth-watering wait for Wolfpack fans.

Even Roy Williams, the UNC head coach, had to stop and admire the State team when he was talking to reporters immediately after receiving the trophy. He said that they have come far and Wolfpack fans everywhere must be proud of how they performed this year. Being a Wolfpack fan myself, I must say I completely agree - they went further than anyone, their own fans included, expected and unfortunately couldn't win the final one - not because they didn't play well, but because they were matched up against a slightly better team. I say slightly, because if NC State had bench strength, then they would have definitely better than UNC today.

Now we'll just have to wait and see if the powers-that-be that make up he NCAA will fee like they have made enough of a point to grant them a spot in the NCAA tournament. Wishful thinking, you say? Well, three days ago, no one would have even considered the idea that NC State could beat Duke, Virginia and V-Tech and make it to the finals of the ACC tournament.


Saturday, March 10, 2007

Movie Review : "300" is a visual treat.

 Frank Miller is a genius. I guess that fact is obvious to those of us who have read his graphic novels over the years. He created what is arguably the best Batman series ever (The Dark Knight Returns).

The rest of the world came to know of his genius when Sin City hit the big screen a couple of years ago and became an instant hit. The dark storylines and the imagery conjured up precise ideas and feelings - probably the ones that Frank Miller wanted everyone to conjure up in the first place with his Sin City graphic novels. Coupled with Robert Rodriguez, Frank Miller crossed that hallowed line - adapting a great graphic novel into an even better movie while still retaining that essential touch which made the books special.

While not directly involved in the direction of "300", Miller's hands are visible all over the movie version of his graphic novel, which he created in collaboration with Lynn Varley. Although the movie version has been directed by Zack Snyder, the visual imagery, the story-telling and the composition of sequences tell a story that was exquisitely framed by Miller and Varley.

The movie is visually stunning and that is an understatement. As Sin City used color prodigiously, so does 300, but to the other extreme. While Sin City had just one or two colors embossed on an otherwise black and white canvas, 300 shows a riot of colors, but in a dim, blurred sort of way - almost apologetic that color seems to exist. Yet, the dimness and the grainy camera work shows sweeping scenes that capture your imagination like none other and forces you to gape at the screen like a 5-year old on his first outing to the movie hall.




Based loosely on the events surrounding and leading up to the battle of Thermopylae, Miller presents the brave sacrifice of 300 Spartans, led by their king Leonidas I, who faced the million-plus Persian army of Xerxes (as the movie and book puts it, "the collected armies of over a thousand nations") on their way to conquer Greece, and through it the rest of Europe.  Resting solely on their grit, determination, bravery (what some might even call stupidity) and superior military tactics, they fought to the last man and were able to hold off the vast hordes of Asia until the rest of Greece united and decided to take on Xerxes's might.

Miller has crafted in politics, corruption, greed, anger, fear, mysticism, sex, hubris, endurance, violence and war in ways that don't do anything but mesh in well with each other. The storyline presents the Spartans in a special, noble light - almost godlike in their adherence to their ideals and belief in their abilities. But it is Xerxes who believes himself to be a God among humans while the Spartans just consider themselves to be supremely conditioned, but humans nonetheless and holding on to their highest ideals of freedom and liberty.

The battle sequences - if you thought the rest of the movie was spectacular and stylish, then wait till you see the battle sequences. They grab your attention and not since The Matrix Revolutions or Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King has a battle sequence been this good, and in my honest opinion, this tops them all!

While there is blood and gore all round, you cannot turn your eyes away,, for fear that you might miss the tiniest of detail of the work of art which is being painted in front of you. Every single sequence in the battle sequences looks like it has been choreographed, but has that complete unscripted feel to it - like a real battle would have.

I do believe that the actors were chosen for (a) being over 6 feet tall and having sculpted bodies and (b) being able to maintain a stoic facial expression. There is no other reason to explain the lack of expression and sometimes dull acting that is visible in some parts of the movie. Gerald Butler seems to have some sort of multiple personality disorder, as different Gerald Butlers turn up in different parts of the movie - in some he is plain ordinary, while in others, he is able to carry his own.

Lenda Headley as the queen and Rodrigo Santoro as Xerxes were superb - they acted like they belonged to their characters and showed that in an epic like what 300 is, there is a significant place for good acting.

On the flip side, some sequences from the book were missing in the movie, like the raiding party that the Spartans undertake to burn the encampments of the Persians, but that does not matter - for whatever reason, the movie had a shorter script and sometimes one has to live with that.

All in all, a fantastic movie and being a comic book fan, I am thrilled at the (more or less) faithful adaptation of the book and this is a movie which I would be proud to own on DVD. But before that happens, I forsee myself watching it multiple times on the big screen.

[Please Note : The images from the movie are courtesy of IMDB.]


ACC Basketball : NC State blazes in the year of the underdogs.

NC State's basketball team is having a dream run in the ACC tournament so far. Coming into the tournament with an all-time low seeding (10), no one even took them seriously. This, considering that they had beaten the fabled UNC once and Virginia Tech twice (yes, home and away) during the regular season.

Suddenly they are in the spotlight, and that too as giant-killers! They made the unthinkable happen by beating Duke in the first round, and now have taken down Virginia in the quarter finals. And these were teams which had comprehensively beaten NC State during the regular season. They are also both in the top 25 in the Coaches poll, with Duke being at 21 and Virginia being at 24. Now, there is a possibility that both of these teams could drop out of the top 25 as a result of these losses.

Sidney Lowe's NBA-style offense seems to be paying off, and the team is led well by point-guard Engin Atsur. The team seems to be completely different every time he is on the court. He handles the ball well and makes great plays, making use of good finishers like Brendan Coster, Ben McCaulay and Gavin Grant. Today relative unknown Bryan Nieman also stepped up and shot a couple of three-pointers to bring the Wolfpack back into the game.

The Wolfpack have been derided all season long for lacking bench strength, leading to exhaustion among the starters. They have often been called the "sixpack" due to having only 6 players playing the entire game. This has resulted in player fatigue surfacing at key moments, such as the loss to UNC in the away game during the regular season. Today was only the third time, all season, that Lowe used 7 or more players in a game.

In the first half it seemed like too much experimentation was going on (what with close to 9 players being rotated in and out), and NC State went into the break trailing by 14 points. It would be great to know what Sidney Lowe told his wards or fed them during the break, because the regular starters came out and played like they were possessed - they soon cut the lead to 7 points, but then saw it stretch to 11 again. Nieman, Costner and Atsur soon pulled Virginia back and State were leading with around 8 minutes of the game left. They never relinquished the lead, and the game ended at 79-71 in favor of the Wolfpack.

Some key elements of the game - Costner's 20 points (this following his 30 point showing in the Duke game), McCaulay's penetration of the Cavaliers' defense, Atsur's ball-handling and play calling, and the unselfish attitude of the State players. One instance was when McCaulay was fed the ball, into the paint, by Atsur, and he immediately sent it to the corner where Courtney Fells was waiting to nail a 3-pointer. This in spite of the fact McCaulay himself might have been able to put in a 2-point basket without much difficulty. This shows that the players are placing the team ahead of themselves and is a great attitude that Sidney Lowe is cultivating.

Also, the defense was exemplary, and this in spite of the fact that the Cavaliers have Sean Singletary and J P Reynolds in their team, who can run rings around (and occasionally did in this game) most defenses in the country.

There is one worrying point for State, and that is the large number of turnovers. There were 13 in the game, with 8 in the first half, and Gavin Grant seems to be responsible for a few of these. Turnovers have been a constant problem for Grant throughout the season, and he must work hard on improving this aspect of the game. Many a game has been lost by State during the regular season, because of this issue.

Next year's NC State team will be worth watching, considering that the current team, with its lack of bench strength is performing well, and since Sidney Lowe has some promising recruits lined up for fall '07.

All in all, this ACC tournament seems to be the year of the underdogs, with all four games on Thursday being upsets (in that they were won by lower-ranked teams). Only UNC seems to be living up to its seeding, by beating Florida State in today's game.

Even if NC State doesn't make it to the NCAA tournament (which seems highly unlikely considering their lackluster regular season performance), they have retrieved their pound of flesh by beating UNC and VTech during the regular season and now Duke and Virginia in the ACC tournament. Who knows, they may have even spoiled the Blue Devils' and Cavaliers' shots at the NCAA tournament, and that is no small consolation.

Most importantly though, they have gained respect by how they have performed admirably and entire season with their handicap of a short V-Tech, again, in the semi-finals and UNC in the finals.


Sunday, March 04, 2007

US lacking in cross-Atlantic trade wars.

Yes, the title is exactly as I meant it to be. There seems to be a subtle trade war, of the underhanded kind, and the United States doesn't seem to be doing too much about it.

I'm not sure if the Europeans are following an agenda, but they seem to be systematically targeting some of the biggest players in the tech industry (basically American corporations).

The first in line, was of course Microsoft. But then, they were pulled up in the US for unfair trade practices as well, so one could say that well, they deserved it. If they used unfair methods to get ahead, then well, it is obvious that the Europeans would go after them as well. But what was interesting, was that the Europeans kept at it. The legal battles and fines went on for much longer in Europe than it did in the US. In fact, the Windows versions released in Europe were very different from what was released worldwide.

The extent to which the Europeans seemed to be taking Microsoft to task was obvious by the way American corporations like Google and Adobe would run to the European Union to complain about their impending Vista release and not to the American government/courts! They felt they had a better chance of being heard there than in their own country.

Well, considering that Microsoft was being dragged about everywhere by the European Union, the American government did not intervene and throw their support behind the company -- but then again, since they had also gone after the same company, it would seem odd if the government now changed its stance and helped Microsoft.

Of late, Google has been in the news, again in Europe, losing court battles that almost seem nonsensical - people laying claim to the local language site like, others complaining that Google cannot use the name "gmail" or something even more nonsensical like they don't want their articles to appear on Google News. In the latter instance Google was initially being fined close to a million dollars a day unless they stopped their search engines from indexing certain Belgian newspapers. Apparently they didn't like the free links from Google!

Then there's Apple. Apple is supposed to be everything that Microsoft is not - cool, revolutionary, hip, and rebellious. They supposedly are in a league of their own and are responsible for over 70% of online music sales and also own the player market with their iPods.

First, the French decided to take a shot at Apple. They passed a law, (mind you that's a constitutional change), that says that companies (like Apple) that sell digital music in France must open up their systems so that the music can be downloaded onto any device. This means that Apple will have to make their music available on any mp3 player. 

The rest of Europe seems to be following suit -- various countries that form the European Union are now pursuing Apple to open up their iTunes store.

I'm not taking side in the DRM vs non-DRM argument. I'm not even backing the record companies in this case. The socialist nature of the European Union seems to be driving them into taking periodic potshots at companies (companies that are global players, but US-based nonetheless) and maybe hurting them seriously.

I'm not a big fan of the governments stepping in and trying to crush free competition, especially when they're driven by a particular socialist agenda. The only reason these lawmakers are even considering these legislations, is because they know that the iPod/Google/Windows is very popular and the voting public will see them as taking on these software giants to help their everyday lives. Add to it, they will also have given "evil" Americans a snub in the face.

I do believe that the US government has to step in and back their corporations to the hilt. These issues should be a part of trade negotiations with the Europeans, because these problems have a serious side effect - the losses/drop in share values could affect American economy in a big way. Add to it the idea that any company, just because it is big and successful, can be a target of malicious governments the world over should not be tolerated.

This is not limited to the personal tech sector. There is the classic case of Airbus vs Boeing. The European aircraft manufacturer has been getting away with a lot of "profit" and price cutting due to subsidies it obtains from the European Union, while Boeing has been feeling the ill effects of having to compete with Airbus on unfair terms.

Then there was the hushkit issue a while ago. While all Airbus-manufactured aircraft had these installed, the European Union found a way to go after Boeing for not having this installed, which would cost the American aircraft manufacturer billions of dollars - to retrofit every aircraft that flies over European airspace!

But the aircraft industry was an instance where the US government decided to step in and support Boeing and file WTO complaints against the EU. During the hushkit fiasco, they also came down hard on Airbus on aircraft flying into the US. I guess the visible losses in income and blue-collar jobs woke up the Washington DC politicians and made them spring into action. Sadly, no such action seems forthcoming in the software/personal tech sector. The losses are not visible yet, or are in the unforseen future, and hence they needn't worry about it. Reminds me of the ostrich-in-the-sand scenario (or even the global warming issue to be honest).

The US government seems to be sleeping while their industry is facing serious problems in Europe. Perhaps it is time that the government (surprisingly an industry-friendly government in this case) wakes up and decides to do something about it.


Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscars 2007 | Al Gore's strategy...

Al Gore is one smart guy...he ensured yesterday that the playing field (the 20+ field of presidential wannabes) was drastically reduced to maybe like five. Yeah, only those of strong heart remain(and Obama, 'cos he believes that he is virtually untouchable due to Geffen's support...ah! for the naivete of the inexperienced), thus making it a more-or-less obstacle-free run for Gore to enter the white house! The others probably went down in a foaming-at-the-mouth, hand-clutched-to-the-heart, eyes-bulging-out kind of way...

So what did Al Gore do? For those of you who were living in a cave and did not watch the Oscars last night, Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio came on stage to announce that this Oscar presentation was the first one which was completely green - i.e., it has been produced with techniques and considerations for making it environment-friendly. Then DiCaprio asked him, "do you think there is any other maaaaaajor announcement that you want to make today?" In response, Gore goes teary-eyed and says something to the effect of, "considering the overwhelming response and support I have received, I would like to make an announcement", (takes a piece of paper out of his pocket), "My fellow Americans...". Suddenly the Oscar music starts playing and the mike is withdrawn - an obvious gesture that he is out of time...Gore looks up into the sky and smiles sadly...a humourous take on all the fuss that has been about him announcing his candidacy for the presidency...

So, Al Gore's near announcement with DiCaprio on Oscar night was a smart move...every politician who has the slightest of misguided hope that he or she can become the next American president probably saw their worst fears come true...Al Gore, about to announce to the world, in front of billions of people (on TV), with the Hollywood glitteratti backing and cheering him to the hilt, that he might run for president! Then they proceeded to have a heart attack, in a foaming-at-the-mouth, hand-clutched-to-the-heart, eyes-bulging-out kind of way, and die! And for the unlucky ones that didn't die the first time, the second time he said "my fellow Americans" after winning the Oscar for best documentary ("An Inconvenient Truth"), coupled with the Oscar win, probably did the trick!


I mean he has Leonardo DiCaprio egging him on, on national (nay, international TV) for godsakes! That alone would ensure that women and the gay community would vote for Gore! Which gives him a majority. How? see if women make up close to 50% of the population and the openly gay community makes up say even 5% of the remaining male population, then Gore gets close to 55% of the vote...add to that 10% from the remaining 45% of men who are secretly gay, and also 10% from the remaining who think they are liberal and helping the environment (these guys are also gay probably, but don't want to even start thinking about it, heh, heh!). So, 50 + 5 + 10 + 10 = some ridiculous number of people that will vote as long as it is above 50 (ok, ok, it is 75%).

Now to be honest, this is not 75% of the total population of America...that would be blasphemous...what, in a total democracy, you wouldn't expect more than 5% of the population to actually want to have anything to do with the election process would you (the remaining 95% of the people leave their choice-making to the courts)? So that's like 75% of 5%, which is like, err...ummm...ahem... 3.75 % of the total population voting for Gore - which makes him the next president of the US.

I mean how many politicians, other than Gore in this case, have a sense of humour? We know that Hillary certainly doesn't...Bill Clinton was probably the last one to seem to have one and he used to it to rake up the brownie points with the ladies and "make sexy-time" (as Borat would put it). Even he seems to have lost it now considering his blow-up on TV recently. So, all the remaining candidates were dropping dead at the sight of Gore starting to announce his candidacy, thus ensuring that when he does make the real announcement, he would be left with no real competition.

But spare a thought for these poor candidates...I mean, when their souls do turn up in Hell, and they catch the remaining parts of the Oscar telecast and then read this post about how it was all an elaborate set up, they would continue the foaming-at-the-mouth, hand-clutched-to-the-heart, eyes-bulging-out dance that got them to Hell in the first fact, if I was Satan, I would ensure that they are shown reruns of the Gore-DiCaprio fake ad-infinitum, and then force them to read this post during the short breaks that they get (in fact, I have a sneaky feeling that Satan uses my blog posts as a torture mechanism anyways!).

So, considering that Gore gets the 3.75% and that the remaining candidates are in the field only 'cos they never really mattered in the first place, perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio should have addressed him as Mr. President! (But I guess that would have been a mistake 'cos Spielberg might take offence!)

Update : Here is the video...


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Book Review : Beowulf graphic novel

"Take warning by him O Beowulf.

Wondrous it seems when Almighty God gives a man fortune and fame and a wide dominion - power over great parts of the earth, an empire so ample that he can comprehend no end to it. But it ever comes that the frame of the body fragile yields, fated falls, and there follows another who joyously thy jewel divides, the royal riches, and cares not for his predecessor.

Take thou, therefore, good head, O Beowulf, against pride and arrogance. choose the better path; profit eternal. Now, indeed, thou art in the pride of they strength and the power of they youth; but there will come of surety, sooner or later, either sickness or the sword; fire shall consume thee or the floods swallow thee up. Be it bite of the blade or brandished spear, or odious age, or the eyes' clear beam grown dull and laden.

Come in what shape it may, death will subdue even thee, thou hero of war."

This is the friendly advice given to Beowulf by King Hrothgar of Denmark. Grim though it may be, it is sound.

Gareth Hinds graphic novel adapts the classic Norse myth of the legendary warrior named "Beowulf". Originally self-published by Gareth Hinds as a series, it has been released again, by Candlewick press, as a single graphic novel, albeit with a new text which is based on a 1904 translation by A J Church.

The book follows a poetic approach rather than the use of prose and on a first glance, the text may not seem to be directly linked to the images around it. On careful inspection though, one realizes that the images tell a story by themselves, often times embellishing details that the poetic text glosses over; the details of battle, for instance. Hinds does not intrude on his visual story-telling by putting in unnecessary words - words that may take away from a reader's own comprehension of events.

Beowulf is initially shown to be god-like almost, in his stature, strength, reserve and ability to take down mighty monsters. The first part of the book builds on the legend that was the mythical Beowulf in his youth. On conquering Grendel and his troll-mother, Beowulf is showered with gifts by King Hrothgar of the Danes. Perhaps the most important "gift" given, is the advice quoted above.

Until this point, one might be led to believe that this is another story of an all-conquering hero, who with his great abilities and strength is able to perform many great deeds, but this is where Hinds' vision comes into play. We see Beowulf again, but in old age! He possesses a similar stature, but his visage is that of an old man - one who has seen a lot in his life. He is almost resigned to impending death while he sets out, again, to take on a monster/dragon that has been tormenting his people.

Interestingly, the book traces Beowulf's life in just two events, both of which are about how he deals with monsters that are troubling his friends or his people. In the first half, he is full of vigor, confidence and agility and is able to easily take on monsters at will. In the second half, though regal, he is old and doubts if he will return alive from the dragon's lair. Interestingly, while the first half is resplendent in color, the second is illustrated in grim, gray tones. Compare these images of Beowulf from the two stages of his life in the book...


The story comes full cycle with the death of Beowulf and the homage paid to him by his people. On a grim note, the story-teller who has been reciting the saga of Beowulf also forsees the end of Beowulf's people - the Geats. The Geats were people who supposedly occupied the lower half of Sweden and were either killed or driven from their homeland by the Swedes. Many claim that the Wuffing dynasty of Denmark was set up by fleeing Geats, but nothing is known for sure.

Hind storytelling style is really interesting...he is able to make us aware of the fickle nature of life using the stories of the rise and fall of even great, mythical warriors. He evokes wonder and pity for the same character by judicious use of imagery that will stay with us long after we have put down the book.

The story of Beowulf has seen numerous adaptations and is supposedly set to appear on film to be directed by Robert Zemeckis. Then there was Michael Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead"/"the 13th Warrior" which was a farcical take on the Beowulf mythology. But I find Hinds' graphic novel adaptation to be one of the best so far...