Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Vietnam movies ...

Since this was the memorial day holiday, lots of chnanels were showing war movies, and vietnam was an obvious focus: saw both Platoon and Apocalypse Now (certainly not for the first time)- probably amongst the best movies made on the vietnam war, by two very talented directors (Oliver Stone and Francis Ford Coppola respectivelY). not quite focused on the raw savagery of war (like say Saving Private Ryan), but trying to look more closely at the war, thepeople who fought the war (atleast from the american side), how they perceived it, and how the war affected them.

Platoon has a lot of young actors who went on to have successful careers later on (William Defoe, Charlie sheen, Johnny Depp ... Tom Berenger doesnt count since he cant quite be called 'successful'). the conflict between Sgt Elias (defoe) and Barnes (berenger) is superbly depicted.

Apocalypse Now stars another Sheen - this time martin sheen as captain willard headed out to cambodia to assasinate renegade colonel kurtz (marlon brando), whois supposed to have gone nuts. also featured in smaller parts are robert duvall, harrison ford, laurence fishburne and dennis hopper. the war has certainly changed kurtz, why is he the way he is ... and the interesting point to note is that even though willard thinks its pretty obvious, he doesnt quite knpw what to do once he finds colonel kurtz.

Both movies are 'Vietnam classics' and boast of a superb score and soundtrack. Platoon's Adagio for strings and Respect by Aretha Franklin are certainly highlights. Apocalypse Now is even better: the movie gets a stunning start with 'The End' by The Doors, with The Rolling Stones' "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" and my favorite 'The Ride of the Valkyries' composed by Wagner providing the backdrop to the superbly photographed helicopter assault sequence. Speaking of which, the movie boasts some spectacular visuals ... the river is always there ... providing the backdrop to the chaos and conflict. Both movies are a definite 'MUST-SEE'!

Other Vietnam movies include Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket, Mel Gibson's We Were Soldiers, etc. The former focuses in the first half on boot camp for draftees ... while the latter is predominantly a masala movie ... not a bad one, but its outcome is predetermined. It focuses on the fighting ....

Vietnam has been a very defining moment in American history. And it has defined Hollywood too ... AMC's (American Movie Classics - the cable movie channel) Hollywood Vietnam is proof of that.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

CNR Rao - India's science legend

CNR Rao is certainly a legend ... for those even remotely familiar with material science and engineering. He has been actively involved in research for over 50 years, and is probably the single biggest contributor to science in India, since Sir C.V. Raman. Author of over 1200 papers, he currently holds the positions of Linus Pauling Research Professor and Honorary President of Jawaharlal Nehru Centre for Advanced Scientific Research, Bangalore, India. In addition, he is also a Distinguished Visiting Professor, Department of Materials, University of California, Santa Barbara. In addition to the innumerable academic achievements, he has also been Chairman of the Science Advisory Council to the Prime Minister of India.

His contributions were recognized earlier this week when he was awarded with the $1M Dan David prize (awarded by the Tel Aviv University) for his oustanding contributions to materials science. What makes it even more sweet is the outstanding company he shares the prize with. MIT's Robert Langer and Harvard's George Whitesides, both of whom have had some incredible scientific achievements, simply too numerous to list. All 3 have contributed immensely to their respective fields and made advances that have changed the scientific landscape. Their academic contributions can be gauged by the number of PhDs graduated - and the successes achieved by their students as well. I have had the honor of listening to Bob Langer and CNR Rao speak to audiences and they are very impressive. I am sure the same can be said of Whitesides too.

According to Rao, "This is the highest prize an Indian scientist has received at least in the last 70 years, since C V Raman’s Nobel". Congratulations to Prof. Rao - certainly a proud moment for all Indians!

Growing up ...

Ever seriously re-thought about growing up?

Bill Watterson rocks!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Ed Viesturs - the greatest of them all .....

A couple of months ago, i had mentioned about Ed Viesturs, America's greatest climber today, and his planned attempt at scaling the world's 10th highest (but nearly the most difficult) peak, Annapurna this year. After two previous failed attempts in 2000 and 2002, Ed Viesturs has finally achieved it - achieving it on May 12, along with Veikka Gustafsson of Finland. With that, Viesturs has successfully scaled all the world's peaks over 8000m tall, including 6 visits to the summit of Mount Everest. He has seen the world from heights few can even dream of reaching. After his achievement, he was named as the ABC News Person of the week.

Last week, after overcoming every challenge that a mountain can throw up at him, Ed announced his retirement from high altitude climbing. "I am done with 8,000-meter peaks, ... so now I will get know what spring looks like at my home in Seattle", he says. This picture will give some appreciation of his achievement and the heights he has reached:
1992: Ed Viesturs and Scott Fischer in the Bottleneck Couloir at 27,000ft on K2
[Photo: Charley Mace, taken from MountainZone.com]

Friday, May 20, 2005

Newsweek debacle

Some fallout from the Newsweek journalism debacle earlier this week - guess some things cannot be undone :)

via Vinod

Saturday, May 14, 2005

india's nuclear policy ....

i had a post last week - about India completing 7 years as a declared nuclear power. Niket had a compelling point to make:
If the scientists feel we need more tests, we should have more tests. The world be damned.
It essentially comes down to a basic issue: do we need the nukes? we need the deterrent IMO ... and given the world we live in, we should have 'em. if we need to do tests to develop them,
then we must test as many as needed! the big issue about the '98 tests was that they were the 'coming out of the closet' tests!

and while we have a 'no first use' nuclear policy in place: one of the questions that comes to mind based on that is at what point in a conventional conflict does a country like india decide to resort to nukes (God forbid the situation never arises) but it is not a straightforward question to answer. based on the policy as i know it, it will probably mean we will deal with whatever onslaught is launched against us with conventional weapons, and no nukes unless someone strikes against us with a nuke. pakistan on the other hand makes no such claims - according to the pakis, they will not desist from using nukes in a conventional weapons conflict if they feel national interests are threatened. there is a story in 'Yes Prime Minister' called 'The Grand Design' - where PM Hacker tries to implement a unique plan to strengthen conventional forces, based on discussions with his CHief SCientific Advisor - who points out the 'salami tactics' that the Soviets (story dates back to the height of the cold war ofcourse) would use if they decided to invade western europe .... it is pointed out to Hacker (and very rationally to) that the Russians would almost come all the way to the western edge of europe, and there would be no use of nukes by the Brits (ie Hacker, as CEO of the govt!). i suspect a very similar situation is likely to occur in the case of India, they would be perceived as the nuclear power who probably does not have the guts to use em .... while a 'no first use' policy will earn brownie points in world diplomacy, is it the best policy to have in order to safeguard our national interests/?

i believe the indian diplomatic missions in the US have statements of the policy on their website - or atleast thw Indian embassy in washington DC has it on their website. would be worth cheking out in a little more detail this weekend. ofcourse, the policy is made by the so-called experts in public-policy. but how many times have we seen kinks in that armor?i have not seen anyone questioning india's no first use policy and i am not a trigger happy by any stretch of imagination either ..... but i am still not convinced that we should have such a policy. hopefully thee will be some ansers forthcoming

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Anniversaries galore .... Pokhran

In addition to this blog completing a year of existence, today marks the anniversary for a lot of key events in the history of India and the world.

Today is the 7th anniversary of India's coming out into the open about its nuclear weapons program. On this day in 1998, India tested three nuclear devices in underground tests at Pokhran in the Rajasthan desert. A jubilant Prime Minister Vajpayee made the announcement that took the world by complete surprise, and caught the Americans off-guard. Ofcourse, it forced Pakistan to come out into the open with its own nuclear capability. While the nuclear option is a credible deterrent especially for the likes of China, there is debate whether it was worth coming clean with the capability. An article by Sanjoy Majumder of the BBC appeared on this day a couple of years ago on the five year anniversary of the tests. While I am not sure how seriously we are taken after the tests, the article does raise an important point:
Many in India argued that by going nuclear it had lost its conventional military edge over Pakistan.
India has a committment to 'No First Use' of nuclear weapons. Pakistan on the other hand makes no such claims, and infact is not hesitant to play the nuclear card every time a conflict arises - all in the name of self-protection against big brother India with its superiority in conventional weapons. In 2001, when the Indians mobilized for war following the attack on the Parliament, Pakistan was at the forefront in raising the spectre of a nuclear war, since now it is a declared nuclear power. The world was forced to take notice and take frantic steps against the possibility of a nuclear holocaust on the subcontinent.

We all know what happened, but I guess Pakistan's belligerent posing on the basis of its nuclear capability is something India will have to deal with everytime a confrontational situation with Pakistan develops.

1 year ago ....

Its been exactly one year since this blog was started. and 117 posts, and some 10,000 (and change) hits later, i am glad to say i'm still motivated to keep it going. a post every 3 days or so is the average, but the posting frequency fluctuates quite strongly - sometimes with 2-3 posts in a day, and then nothing for 2-3 weeks! need to work on that ....

thanks to prashant mullick and niket kaisare who introduced me to the blogosphere. i have come across hundreds of bloggers who provide for a lot better reading, commentary and op-eds and analysis on a lot of issues, better reading i'd say than most newspapers. the desi blogworld is great, and every new day introduces to more and more quality desi blogs.

glad to be part ofthe blogosphere.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

चमक उठी सन सत्तावन में ....

सिंहासन हिल उठे राजवंशों ने भृकुटी तानी थी

बूढे भारत में भी आई फ़िर से नई जवानी थी ।

गुमी हुई आज़ादी की कीमत सबने पहचानी थी

दूर फ़िरंगी को करने की सबने मन में ठानी थी ॥

these are the opening lines of Subhadrakumari Chauhan's epic poem titled 'झाँसी की रानी', not just a biographical sketch on Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, but also a fascinating sketch of the Mutiny of 1857, the first freedom struggle against the British in India. Today marks the 148th anniversary of the day when the sepoys first broke ranks and raised arms against their British commanding officers in Meerut. No surprises therefore that Sepia Mutiny carries this story! Wikipedia has the details on the uprising. The rebellion lasted just longer than a year, and was ofcourse put down by the British. Although the first real movement against the British, it was such a body blow to anyone harboring thoughts of revolt that it was not until the early part of the twentieth century that there was any serious organized effort to dislodge the British, and more than 90 years since the first revolt that these efforts finally culminated.

The Mutiny however has firmly taken its place in Indian history, alongwith the martyrs from that uprising - including Mangal Pandey, Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi and Tatya Tope. 2005 will also see the release of The Rising, starring Aamir Khan in his first release since the Dil Chahta Hai and Lagaan in 2001. Based on press coverage so far, it certainly a movie to look forward to. I will leave you with a few more lines from Chauhan's masterpiece, snippets from the Mutiny:

बुझा दीप झाँसी का तब डलहौसी मन में हर्षाया
राज्य हडप करने का उसने यह अच्छा औसर पाया ।
फ़ौरन फ़ौजें भेज दुर्ग पर अपना झंडा फहराया
लावारिस का वारिस बनकर ब्रिटिश राज्य झाँसी आया ॥
[Viceroy Lord Dalhousie's ploy of annexing princely states that did not have an heir, including Jhansi]

महलों ने दी आग, झोंपड़ी ने ज्वाला सुलगाई थी,
यह स्वतंत्रता की चिनगारी अंतरतम से आई थी,
झाँसी चेती, दिल्ली चेती, लखनऊ लपटें छाई थी,
मेरठ, कानपूर, पटना ने भारी धूम मचाई थी,
जबलपूर, कोल्हापूर में भी कुछ हलचल उकसानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
[The mutiny spread rapidly .... and soon enveloped most a lot of princely states, including Delhi]

इनकी गाथा छोड़, चले हम झाँसी के मैदानों में,
जहाँ खड़ी है लक्ष्मीबाई मर्द बनी मर्दानों में,
लेफ्टिनेंट वाकर आ पहुँचा, आगे बड़ा जवानों में,
रानी ने तलवार खींच ली, हुया द्वन्द्ध असमानों में।

ज़ख्मी होकर वाकर भागा, उसे अजब हैरानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
[Lakshmibai's victories in the Mutiny]

विजय मिली, पर अंग्रेज़ों की फिर सेना घिर आई थी,
अबके जनरल स्मिथ सम्मुख था, उसने मुहँ की खाई थी,
काना और मंदरा सखियाँ रानी के संग आई थी,
युद्ध श्रेत्र में उन दोनों ने भारी मार मचाई थी।

पर पीछे ह्यूरोज़ आ गया, हाय! घिरी अब रानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
[The English recoup and come chasing her down ... Hugh Rose is leading the charge against her]

रानी गई सिधार चिता अब उसकी दिव्य सवारी थी,
मिला तेज से तेज, तेज की वह सच्ची अधिकारी थी,
अभी उम्र कुल तेइस की थी, मनुज नहीं अवतारी थी,
हमको जीवित करने आयी बन स्वतंत्रता-नारी थी,

दिखा गई पथ, सिखा गई हमको जो सीख सिखानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
[She died valiantly, but showed the way to fight for freedom ... just 23, but the role model for generations to come]

जाओ रानी याद रखेंगे ये कृतज्ञ भारतवासी,
यह तेरा बलिदान जगावेगा स्वतंत्रता अविनासी,
होवे चुप इतिहास, लगे सच्चाई को चाहे फाँसी,
हो मदमाती विजय, मिटा दे गोलों से चाहे झाँसी।

तेरा स्मारक तू ही होगी, तू खुद अमिट निशानी थी,
बुंदेले हरबोलों के मुँह हमने सुनी कहानी थी,
खूब लड़ी मर्दानी वह तो झाँसी वाली रानी थी।।
[India will always remember her .... ]

The full poem is available here.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

मराठीत लिहीण्याचा एक प्रयत्न! (an attempt to write in marathi)

Unicode fonts वापरून देवनागरी लिहीण्याचा हा माझा पहिलाच प्रयत्न आहे. त्यामुळे चूक भूल द्यावी घ्यावी! मायबोलीवरील हितगुजचा गेले चार वर्ष सदस्य राहिल्यामुळे मराठीतून लिहीण्याचे नियम नीटपणे माहित आहेत मला. (तसे itrans वापरून देवनागरीत लिहीता येत असेल तरी पुरेसे आहे. जवळजवळ सर्व नियम सारखेच आहेत.) परंतु मराठीतून लिहीण्याची इतकी सवय कधीच झाली नाही की पटापट मराठीतून लिहीता येईल. काही महीन्यांपूर्वी एक प्रयत्न केला होता, पण तो Unicode वापरून नव्हता आणी त्यामुळे ते post सर्व browsers वर नीट दिसायचे नाही. माझी अशी समजूत आहे की unicode मध्ये लिहीलेले मात्र सर्वत्र वाचता येईल. तुम्हाला वाचायला न जमल्यास मला नक्की कळवा.

मराठीतून blog वर कसे post करावे यावर एक छोटीशी टिप्पणी
तसे बरेच जण blogging साठी देवनागरी वापरत आहेत. त्यामुळे ह्यात नवीन किंवा विशेष काहीच नाही. काही जणांकडून सूचना मिळाल्या होत्या. पण पार पाडणे कधीच नीट जमले नाही. कदाचित माझ्याच हातून काहीतरी चुकत असेल. ह्यावेळी मात्र जमले असं वाटतं आहे. ह्यावेळी सल्ला देणारा रोहित नातू. त्याने मला ह्या साईटकडे वळवले : साईटचे नाव आहे baraha. ह्या शब्दाचा कन्नड भाषेत लिखाण असा अर्थ आहे. त्या साईटवरून baraha 6.0 download करा आणी install करा. त्यासोबत येणारी Baraha Direct Utility चा वापर करून एकदम सरळपणे देवनागरीत लिहीता येते. इककेच नाही तर मलयाळम, तेलगू, कन्नड व तामिळ भाषांमध्येही लिहिता येते. Baraha Direct चालू करा, Output format साठी Unicode निवडा आणी हवी ती भाषा निवडून सुरू व्हा. परस्पर microsoft internet explorer किंवा firefox किंवा notepad मध्ये सुद्धा लिहिले की देवनागरीत दिसते. बघा एकदा वापरून, आवडतयं का!
मराठीत लिहायचे नियम हवे असल्यास इकडे टिचकी मारा.

English synopsis of above post for those not familiar with marathi:

Check out Baraha. It seems the word 'baraha' literally means writing in Kannada. Download the Baraha 6.0 utility and install it. Using the Baraha Direct Utility that comes with it, you can directly write in Malayalam, Devanagari, Tamil, Telugu and Kannada. This will directly output Unicode text for the selected language. You can even directly type in devanagari (or any of the above languages) in blogger, MS Word, notepad, or even MSN messenger (it does not work with Yahoo messenger, no clue why). F11 will allow you to toggle between typing in English and marathi. For some reason, mozilla (firefox/netscape) does not display the devanagari fonts nicely. IE renders them much better. Ofcourse it is assumed that you have a unicode font installed. For devanagari unicode details, check here

If you are familiar with Itrans, then typing in local Indian languages should be pretty easy - it is phonetically almost exact. Baraha's help has a good overview of the transliteration keyboard mapping. Here is a link to the devanagari rules.

Friday, May 06, 2005

This is ridiculous ....

the indian courts are loony, and if the victim agrees to forgive in exchange for marriage, you would think the victim is loony too ... and the rapist was formally acquitted since he agreed to marry the victim. According to The Hindu,
According to the public prosecutor, just before pronouncing the sentence on Tuesday, the judge asked the girl if she wanted to say anything. The girl said she would forgive 25-year-old Firoz Shaikh provided he married her. Shaikh agreed to this.
I can completely imagine why Niket was so furious about it.

One is tempted to ask the question: Was the victim nuts when she said that, or was it merely social pressure of some sort that coerces the story to move like it did? In this scenario, is the court justified in acquiescing to the request of the victim or are the people justified in taking the prosecution to its proper end, and convict the rapist? there doesnt seem to be any shred of doubt about the crime or who committed it ... then what should be the outcome/? or is it simply dependent on 'victim withdraws the charges, case dropped'? wonder what the legal answer to that is?

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Distant Dream

Check out the new band Distant Dream, based out of the Ann Arbor area, who came out with their first album entitled A New Beginning. The website is superb and they have streaming access to all songs. A very good friend, and former classmate from the good ol' days in Bombay, Sujit Srinivas is the lead singer of the band, and also credited guitars, keyboards and arrangements. I think the 5$ price for the CD is a good one to pay - and from what Sujit tells me, it is mainly to cover the cost of production.

I like the music they have produced, and the concept of a story running through all songs is cool - it has been done before, and its no surprise that bands like Pink Floyd and Dream Theater who have done it previously have strongly influenced Distant Dream. Do check the music out, and if you like it, do let them know by getting your own copy!

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Andaman & Nicobar victims shortchanged

The Indian government has come in (and deservedly so) for some serious flak over the pathetic handling of relief in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which were hit very severely by the Tsunamis in the Indian Ocean. The British newspaper 'The Independent' reported about the angry reaction when the Indian government started handing out compensation checks worth Rs.2 (!!!) - thats right, its the equivalent of about 4-5cents (forget that its 4-5 cents, Rs. 2 is a trivial amount even in the Andaman Islands, and wont get you even a full meal) to the people in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, who were affected by the December 2004 tsunami disaster. [via The Tsunami Relief Blog]. Lt. Gov Ram Kapse, who is the civilian head of local government there was forced at admit the ridiculous nature of the compensation after the BBC unearthed the information. The report from The Independent goes on to state:
Many Indian commentators thought Mr Kapse was lucky to keep his job after the woeful relief effort on the islands. Survivors were left without food or shelter for more than a week while Mr Kapse's administration refused to allow foreign aid or relief workers to reach them.
The BBC now reports that an inquiry has been launched into this situation. Hopefully, it will mean that more appropriate compensations will be handed out in a timely manner allowing those affected to rebuild their lives faster.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Return ....

Its been an extended hiatus, nearly three weeks since the previous post. Gmail has since upgraded their email service quotas and they no longer have a scrolling counter. They merely say 2150megabytes and counting. The India-Pakistan series has successfully completed - Musharraf did come over and have his cup of tea inspite of my protest and the series will go down in history as the most well executed script in cricket history. How superbly delightful - we go over, win the test series and then the one-dayers 4-2, and when they come over, we let the tests tie at 1-1 and the one dayers have to be conceded in themost lame manner possible (the debacle in the final one day reminded me of the collapse against aquib javed in sharjah) ... ridiculous. But its a dead and gone and past issue that should be left alone.

On the personal front, had a chance to play another tennis tournament this weekend, and managed to win the doubles event ... and apart from that, me has had a chance to get re-acquainted with old contacts and get introduced to some new ones ('the world is small type' - much fewer than the six degrees of separation), all via the blogosphere. Its been nearly one year since my first post on this blog (that would be May 11, 2004). Also soaked in some sun and sand on the shoreline of the Gulf of Mexico. Here are some of the pictures from the visit to Florida.