Thursday, 23 December 2010

Odds and Ends

 

Shock: Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson favors marijuana legalization | Raw Story

If this has happened, can legalization be too far behind?

Going back to this – blue alleviation

Sometimes it feels such a hard life

And, this from Sam, I’ve heard the song several times, but this is the first time I’m seeing the video. Cringeworthy.

The apotheosis of 80s hair

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Audio Cassettes and Videotapes

I have these boxsets – Buffy The Vampire Slayer (seasons 5 & 6) and Angel (season 2). There are three James Bond movies – Goldfinger, Thunderball and From Russia, With Love. There’s Casablanca and Twelve Angry Men. The Age of Innocence. The Godfather II. Aladdin. Beauty and the Beast. There are the tapes my cousin recorded from Saudi TV – Terminator 2. Tom and Jerry cartoons. Pink Panther. Late 80s Britpop.

My videocassette shelf is dusty. Several layers of dust. The dust must have got into the cassettes. Most of them probably are unplayable now.  There are a couple of cleaning tapes. I don’t know if they ever worked. I need to throw my tapes away. I don’t want to throw them away.

Its funny. We got our VCR sometime in 1990. By 2010, they are obsolete.

I was a member in a video library well before owning a VCR. I used to borrow tapes and take them to my cousin’s place – or my friends’ places. I remember watching North by Northwest in ACN’s place. Mole, Nandu and I saw Roman Holiday twice at his place. I even watched a movie – Raiders, I think, in Gund’s cousin’s place in Alwarpet. It could be embarrassing – Both ACN’s dad and Gund’s grand uncle (?) were sternly disapproving of the movies I watched. ACN’s dad looked sternly disapproving when he saw we were watching a movie where a man and woman kissed each other. The way he looked at us, it might have been a porn film. Gund’s uncle was worse. “Enna kandravi idhu” (What is this obscene crap), he asked when he saw Marion Ravenswood kissing a battered Indiana Jones. We had to stop watching the film.

I think I compensated after getting the VCR. I remember watching Bolero and Lady Chatterley’s Lover  with a whole bunch of guys – eyes popping out at the sight the Sheikh pouring honey on Bo Derek’s body and licking it up. Or legs twisting and hands on laps when Sylvia Krystal jills off.

The tapes are still there. They haven’t been watched for near a decade now. My VCR is long dead, a useless hunk of plastic and metal, gathering dust in a forgotten  corner of an overflowing attic. I just don’t feel like putting it in a garbage bag and throw it way.

It took my grandfather’s death for us to get rid of his radio, a monstrous thing of valves and dials, the size of the complete Encyclopaedia Britannica. Twenty years after we stopped using it.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Tropes@work


You're fighting the Tome across Tropes

You can't focus your attention within working, or during much for anything, so you turn between the nuclear solution among boredom: the Tome between Tropes. It's a giant book that explains and gives clever names beside all from the recurring themes about literature, popular culture, and even real life.

There are two things down the book that make it purest evil: the first is that anyone can add except it, so it's always changing and growing larger. The second is that every entry contains several references below other cleverly-named tropes, and touching one over those names sends you off an explanation within that trope's name, complete onto references in other tropes . . . and throughout some point you look about and see you're eight years older than when you started.

Irresistible.

2010

These are the things that made my year. They’re in no particular order, but each one of these took up a significant amount of time.

1. Dragon Age: Origins. Bioware’s game was released last year. But I spent several hours – at my last estimate around a thousand hours, playing the game and all its add-ons – Warden’s Keep, The Stone Prisoner, Awakening, The Darkspawn Chronicles, Lelianna’s Song, The Golems of Angmarrak and Witch Hunt.  I was expecting something on the scale of Baldur’s Gate. But it was nothing like BG and not as good as I hoped it would – which did not prevent it from being quite good. High points were the Tower of Ishal, the Mountaintop, the Dead Trenches, especially the Broodmother battle and the Climax – especially the run up to the climax, through the Market District and the Alienage, via the Palace Grounds with a detour at the city gates and the battle in front of Fort Drakon.

Best Moments: Watching your warden evade a lunge by the Flemeth, and leap on its head, hanging on with his knees around its neck and saw through the dragon’s throat , pulling her down  and land the final blow in slow motion. Made all the more awesome if your warden is on fire and all your companions are dead.

Taking Flemeth Down.

Letting your dog take down the Orange Hurlock Emissary in the Refugees quest. The dog knocks the bugger down, and starts chomping on his throat and when he manages to get up charges at him, knocking him down again. Very satisfying.

2. The Mahabaratha. I spent most of the middle months poring over the Mahabaratha, reacquainting myself with the old tales that I knew and reading stories I did not. It started when I came across Arjuna’s rage – and how the only time he had gone berserk was after hearing of his son’s death. This led me to the Abhimanyu Badha Parva, the turning point in the war where the pre-agreed rules of battle were discarded. And it makes Abhimanyu one scary badass. The whole tale – breaking into the chakra vyooha, cut off from his uncles by Jayadratha’s boon, alone and surrounded by enemies, taking down every one who battled him is the kind still provides a rush. A 16 year old kid scares the crap out of the largest army in the world. Its a fantasy, of course, like the climax of a Rajnikanth movie, but it still makes want to cheer.

Best Moment: Attacked from behind, his bowstrings destroyed, his charioteer killed, his standard broken, his shields shattered, the boy jumps down and picks up a chariot wheel.

3.Morrison’s Batman Storyline: Wasn’t very impressed with the Final Crisis storyline. My mind rebelled against the idea of Damian Wayne. I was quite unhappy with the idea of Jezebel Jett, but given her name, I was quite sure she would turn out to be one of the bad ones. But after I started reading Rikdad’s summaries, I got drawn in and before I knew it, I had become a Morrison fan.

Best Moments: Joker’s “Apophenia” speech. The Bat Radia and the Arkham lockdown. The Damien Batman story. Joker “Reiki to the rescue”.

4. The Kingdom of Loathing: As many pop culture references as TV tropes. Including lobstrosities that bite your fingers off and say dad “a chick, dod a chok”, snow queen crowns that “makes you feel like the Queen of the World. For some reason, when you wear it you feel like hanging off the front of a ship, then freezing to death when your lover dumps your ass into ice-cold water.”, rolling stone monsters that try “to roll over you, but can't get no satisfaction” or “Its grotesque mouth puckers and it whistles. A couple of wild, wild horses gallop up and kick the stone so it rolls right over you” and many many others. Also, the weapons, the meat as money, sleaze and stench as elemental. Jick/Mr.Skullface rule.

To put it in their own words,

In the depths of your boredom, you stumble across an amazing game you can play on your work computer. It's an unbelievably detailed simulation of life in both dimensions and both colors, with every simple line of the universe rendered in the same lack of detail you see every day. Even better, the writing of the game is amazingly clever, almost as clever as the disembodied voice that describes everything you do and every item you examine. As you continue playing, you can tell that there's a robust set of mechanics underlying the whole thing, too, so it has endless replayability. But then it starts to get all up its own ass with self-referential fourth-wall-breaking, so you know you have to end it.

5. WoT: The Crossroads of Twilight – book 13 of the WoT was published in October. Since then I have read the book 3 times, updated my collection with “The Gathering Storm” (which I hadn’t bought), The Great Hunt, The Dragon Reborn and The Shadow Rising – which my niece took without remembering to return.

Thankfully the books I have have the Serpent/Wheel logo on them, and not those horrible scenes from the books.

I reread the series twice and started going to the old WoT websites – and the WoT Encyclopaedia is one of the sites that I look at when I have to wait without anything to do.

More to come…

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Randland and Me

Thats probably all the fiction I read these days. Right now, its another RJ iteration. I first started reading RJ in Colombo, in 2002. Every week, I would go and get me a new book, which I would consume, with multiple bottles of Corex and vodka, along with Muthu’s masala Maggi. 

I remember the first time I read The Eye of the World. The book started off slowly – and the familiar tropes of “stranger comes” – the scary man in the black cloak, the beautiful and mysterious woman visitor on winternight and her badass male companion and then the trollocs hit. Emond’s Field became the doomed hometown. The tension built up, slowly, steadily – the flight to Tarren’s Ferry, the draghkar, Baerlon and beyond.

I could tell that there were sections of the book that dragged. There were places where every character volleyed with the idiot ball. But all this became irrelevant as the book raced to its conclusion. The last chapters zipped by and the next day, I was at the bookstore, looking for “The Great Hunt” and “The Dragon Reborn”

I can perceive the problems with the books, the turgid pace on for long stretches, the dangling plot threads, the occasional terrible characterization, the sniffing and the snorting and the endless braid tugging, the disappointment at the series progressing without any significant deaths, Egwene’s Mary Sueness, Elayne and Faile fighting for the Scrappy award.

Halfway through the books, I was overcome by the sheer number of characters – nearly 2000 named characters at the last count. And the books started getting bad. Long stretches where nothing happened, characters becoming more and more unlikeable, Endless descriptions of dresses and jewellery, battles without stakes or suspense, villains who were stupider than everyone else – reaching apotheosis in  “The Crossroads of Twilight”.

This wasn’t like the other authors -  I had become a fan. I lived in that world, in Randland. I had invested too much time in the T’averen, and too much hate on Egwene, Elayne and other scrappies. to give up. I trawled the web for discussions on the WoT. I read and reread the wot faq. I downloaded and shared alt.shrugged with anybody I could, whether they were into Jordan or not. I lurked on RASFWRJ and AFRJ. I read and reread sections of the books – The Falme section of The Great Hunt, Mat’s encounter with Gawyn and Galad in Tar Valon and the stone of Tear climax in The Dragon Reborn, Rhuidean in TSR and several others. But you can reread the books only for so long and I couldn’t sustain enthusiasm until tCoT

My ardour dimmed considerably after “The Crossroads of Twilight”. The gap between the publication of tCoT and that of Winter’s Heart – or atleast, the availability of tCoT in the subcontinent was too long. I had moved on from RJ to children’s fantasy – reading Artemis Fowl and Garth Nix, Septimus Heap and Robert Rankin.

I came back from Sri Lanka in 2005. One of the first things I did after that was to buy me an XBox. I rediscovered Bioware. I hadn’t read the WoT books for a long time. Then, late that year, I wandered into Landmark to find KoD on the shelves. I bought it, but while the book was better than tCoT, it wasn’t by much. The thrill had gone.

Later, I heard about Jordan’s death. I was upset – after all, he was a writer in whose books, I had invested significant time. And I was vaguely curious as to how everything would have turned out. I saw that a guy named Brandon Sanderson had started working on the WoT. I wasn’t very optimistic about this, and I did not buy tGS.

Then, sometime in this year, I started browsing tvtropes.org and I found myself in the WoT page. I read the “Oh Crap” reference there and figured what had happened. I also read Leigh Butler’s review – where she said “tGS was good, ToM is better”. I bought ToM and I was back in Randland, deeper than ever. I have been there since.

,

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Sanderson's toh and other open items

Now that I've reread the Towers of Midnight and skimmed through some of the earlier volumes - all except The Great Hunt and The Path of Daggers, it occurs to me that the final book will still have to be enormous, for there are still several dangling plot threads. Reading ToM again also makes certain issues with the writing and characterization more visible.

First, the problems. Sanderson needed a good proof reader. The number of spelling mistakes, typos and punctuation errors are way higher than they should be for a published novel, especially one that has a critical fanbase.

The second problem is one of timelines. The Gathering Storm and Towers of midnight mostly cover parallel plots, except for those of Rand and Egwene, which means that the Perrin plot is way behind. That leads to some confusion – as Rand had his moment on the mount by the first chapter of ToM, but Tam leaves Perrin to go to Rand several chapters later.

The other thing is that the book has to zip from plot point to plot point, without pausing for breath. While plot advancement is absolutely vital at this point, there are sections where things drag. Elayne’s jockeying for stability in Andor and the throne of Cairhean could have been cut by several pages. Egwene confronting secret meetings of the sisters was unnecessary, except maybe to tell readers of her total MarySuedom. {Oh, how I despise Egwene}

The other thing is that there a few things off. Setalle Anan's conversation with Mat in the Boots chapter is terrible, as is Mat’s speech about boots. Then there is the fact that Setalle Anan doesn’t seem to know that Elayne is the queen of Andor, or know Elayne at all, despite being “the one who is no longer” who grabbed Elayne and Nynaeve by the ear to the Kin in aCoS. And Mat tells Moiraine that Morgase is dead, even though he met Perrin who described his adventures until they arrived at Caemlyn.

One other worry I have is the sheer number of things that can be covered in aMoL   

  • The Fields of Merrilor confrontation between Egwene and Rand
  • Olver, Talmanes and the battle for Caemlyn
  • The Seanchan attack on Tar Valon
  • The Loghain/Taim face off/ the black tower storyline
  • Lan and the Malkieri in Tarwin’s Gap
  • The red veiled killers
  • Padan Fain and the dark prophecy
  • Aviendha and the Aiel future
  • Cynfear in Tel’aran’rhiod
  • Dealing with Slayer
  • Breaking open the seals (or whatever it is that Moiriane has to do to make Rand victorious)
  • The last battle itself

Over and above this, I would like to see Rand’s reaction to Moiraine’s reappearance – and Nynaeve’s too, for that matter. I want to see the 13x13 trick and how its handled. I want to see the Mat/Tuon reunion. I want to see how the damane and adam are handled after TG. And what Avi does to prevent the destruction of the Aiel future.

Of course, it would be nice if Egs gets her butt kicked, but that would be asking for too much.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Mixed Up Music Log

Sometime in the mid 1970s, my father bought a Philips record player. It was the size of a small suitcase, with a single speaker that worked as the turntable cover. The first thing I heard on it was Rajaji’s voice, a commentary to M.S’s Bhaja Govindam. This was the beginning of something like a ritual. At 6:00 pm, my mother would switch on the courtyard lights and my sister would put a new record on the turntable. Agarbattis would be lit and the faint scent of sandalwood would waft thrugh the hall. All the stuff we played was devotional. There was Baja Govindam, Lata Mangeshkar singing the Geeta and Meera Bhajans, the Vishnu Sahasranamam and my favourite, Kurai Ondrum Illai – the last two sung by M.S again.

Kurai Ondrum Illai was a piece composed by Rajaji, and I still get goosepimples when I hear M.S singing it. I have never been able to get Carnatic music, I can never identify a raga or a tala. But MS singing Kurai Ondrum Illai can still make the tears flow.

That summer, my aunt and her son brought with them a bunch of records of English songs. The only other “English” music I had heard was an LP record of nursery rhymes, eminently forgettable. This was different. The first record she played for my sister and me was something called “Usha Sings for  You” by a woman called Usha Uthup. I thought it was horrible. There was a song called “Oh Sinner Man”. There was another called “Brown Girl in the Ring” and when she sang the line “show me your motion”, we would all crack up with laughter. There was another group called Abba that we all liked. Athai had two discs – one was called Arrival and the other was just called “Abba”. My sister, the resident “Western Music” expert, told us that Abba was named after the two guys and the two girls in the band. Two of them are married, but the other two, she said, with a dramatic pause, are living together. I think she was disappointed with the lack of reaction from us.

So, anyway – it was these guys for a while.

Technology was moving on as well, and we bought our first casette tape player, a blue and white Grundig sometime in the early eighties.

I started off trying to make tapes of my favourite movie songs, and one of the first I recorded was this one

A time when the hero could smoke and no one bothered

And how can anyone who has lived in Madras in the 70s and Eighties forget this number…

Kamal sings, Rajni trips and is that my school principal's husband next to Srividya?

And the smokers anthem

Jagame thanthiram, sugame mandhiram

That was the time when one of my cousins went abroad – the first member of our family to do so. It wasn’t the US. It was the gulf. Saudi. His job was not a demanding one, but it paid a great deal.

Gospel

I used to hero worship Ravi. He knew movies and  music. The movies I had seen up to that summer of 81 were very general – movies that the school organized – like Benji and Treasure Island (the Robert Newton version). Ravi took me to “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin” and “Mackenna’s Gold” and “The Spy Who Loved Me”. He would talk about Alistair Maclean and Arthur Hailey and Ian Fleming, sitting on the roof of his house, where all the teens of that street would gather to talk about girls or fly kites. Ravi brought back hundreds of cassettes. Boney M, Blondie, The Police, groups I had never heard of before. He knew all kinds of things as well. He would tell me who Rasputin was, as the song played in the background. He would talk about the Bible, and what the song “Rivers of Babylon” was about. He was the one who told me that the singer for Blondie had been in Playboy. When that didn’t mean anything to me, he told me about Playboy.

So Cool

In 1983, I moved from the junior school to the main school. A week before school began, students were expected to turn up to pick up the textbooks, notebooks and registers for the year. On that day, I saw a class XII student wearing strange earmuffs. I learnt that it was a tape player, called the walkman. I managed to get a listen to it. The sound was stunning, like someone playing music in my head. I wanted one. Badly.

The eighties were beginning to kick off.  The market for Western pop was soaring. There was a magazine called Sun that carries  mini posters of pop stars – maybe they modeled it after Smash Hits or

I used to take my father’s transistor radio and sit on our roof in the evening. Every Thursday at 5:00 Ray McDonnell  would count down the US top ten singles and albums.  Then, at 5:45 pm was the UK top twenty countdown on  BBC World Service. The Beeb was always cooler than boring old VoA. Their top twenty countdown did not play full songs, just snatches, except for the weeks Number 1 record. But there were many songs, one hit wonders, lesser known groups that stuck in my mind. There was this

A good song by an ugly guy - was the way I remember this being described

and this

I think Laurence Olivier had something to with this

and who can forget this song’s nine week run as the UK number 1.

I kept wondering who the black cat was

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Odds and Ends

I love this. Its been on Xbox Live, but this is the first time I really noticed.

Season 3 Music Video

And it’s been plugged by the Jossman himself – who says that they were primary influences on Dr. Horrible

And there’s this

Season 4 Music Video

Just finished reading the new Percy Jacksonverse book by Rick Riordan. “Heroes of Olympus The Lost Hero”. Quite nice, combination Bourne Identity and Greek Myth. It tracks an amnesiac demigod called Jason, with his friends, Piper and Leo as they try to save Hera/Juno from her kidnapper and prevent the rising of the giants. Good fun.

Friday, 12 November 2010

More WoT the F**k happens?

Further thoughts on Towers of Midnight.

The Shadow Prophecy

Lo, it shall come upon the world that the prison of the Greatest One shall grow weak, like the limbs of those who crafted it. Once again, His glorious cloak shall smother the Pattern of all things, and the Great Lord shall stretch forth His hand to claim what is His. The rebellious nations shall be laid barren, their children caused to weep. There shall be none but Him, and those who have turned their eyes to His majesty.

In that day, when the One-Eyed Fool travels the halls of mourning, and the First Among Vermin lifts his hand to bring freedom to Him who will Destroy, the last days of the Fallen Blacksmith's pride shall come. Yea, and the Broken Wolf, the one whom Death has known, shall fall and be consumed by the Midnight Towers. And his destruction shall bring fear and sorrow to the hearts of men, and shall shake their very will itself.

And then, shall the Lord of the Evening come. And He shall take our eyes, for our souls shall bow before Him, and He shall take our skin, for our flesh shall serve Him, and He shall take our lips, for only Him will we praise. And the Lord of the Evening shall face the Broken Champion, and shall spill his blood and bring us the Darkness so beautiful. Let the screams begin, O followers of the Shadow. Beg for your destruction!

-from The Prophecies of the Shadow

OK, the first paragraph is general gloom and doom. The nations already lie barren, except around Rand. Their kids already weep.

The second paragraph is where the meat begins.

Mat with Ashendarai and Hat

The One Eyed Fool is obviously Mat. Travelling the Halls of Mourning could be the Tower of Ghenjei - and probably is, but you cant really be certain.

There's been speculation that the First Among Vermin is Ishidin, but my money is on Fain. He fits the vermin tag better. But, the First Among Vermin "lifts his hand to free "him Who will Destroy" - so does that mean that Fain destroys the remaining seals, thereby forcing Rand's hand? Does Fain prevent fighting between Rand and Egwene? Ta'averenosity making Fain do this? There’s another school that believes Rand is the “First Among Vermin”, echoing Lews Therin being the “First of Servants”. My bet is Fain, however.

Perrin and Egwene, fleeing from the Ravens Fain with ruby dagger

The Last Days of the Fallen Blacksmith’s Pride.  The Blacksmith is Perrin, but the “Fallen” bit could be anything. It could be his “Fallen Pride” – and a reference to Perrin’s refusal to consider himself anything other than a blacksmith. It could refer to the wolves that travel with him – though its a pack that travels with him, not a pride. It could be Morgase, Lini, Tallanvor and Galad – all Andorans.

The broken wolf- multiple possibilities here. One is Hopper – who is broken – killed in tEoTW, thus becoming “One who Death has known”. But its unlikely that Hopper’s death will cause “fear and sorrow to the hearts of men”. Only Perrin grieves for Hopper. The next possibility is Rodel Ituralde. Great captain, nicknamed “The Wolf”. His death would mean that a number of Domani would grieve, even Bashere’s Saldeans.

And there is  Lan. The first Badass we see in the series. All round cool guy. “The Golden Crane flies for Tarmon Gai’don”. And “I may be a king without a land, but I am still a king”.  Nyn’s husband, Rand’s tutor, Moinraine’s warder, Dai’shan. His death would cause all around grieving and tie in nicely with Min’s vision of Nynaeve weeping over a grave. It would also tie in nicely with the vision of two men lying dead surrounded by ranks and ranks of Trolloc corpses.However, the  “shall fall and be consumed by the midnight towers” part is a bit iffy. I can’t find anything that clearly ties Lan as being the “One who Death has known”. The only ones whom “Death has known” are Mat, Aviendha and the late Master Natael. Unless of course, it’s not Lan, but Slayer we talk about here. “One that death has known” – check; “Broken Wolf” possible; “Fear and sorrow in the hearts of men”- if they thought Isam was Lan, it is possible. But odds are on it being Lan.

“Fall and be consumed by the Midnight Towers”. Unlikely to be the Seanchan towers of midnight, but the remaining Forsaken – Ishidin, Demandred, Moggy, Graendal and Cynfear. The last is not so likely, given how she figures in “And After” – and my hunch that she goes in for her Heroic Sacrifice. That leaves Ishidin, Demandred, Moggy and Graendal. My guess is that it is Demandred.

The rest of it is straightforward. DO faces Rand, blood is spilled in Shayol Ghul. Bad things happen. But maybe those things happen only to the “followers of Shadow”.


Things to Look Forward to in AMoL:

  • Moiraine meeting Rand
  • The face off on the fields of Merrilor, where the Amyrlin is unable to stop Rand from destroying the seals
  • The Battle for Caemlyn
  • Avi and the Aiel future
  • Lan’s last stand – or the battle for Malkier – however it turns out
  • The Rand/DO face off
  • Demandred’s appearance
  • Taim vs Loghain
  • Mat taking the Horn of Valere  from Tar Valon

 

Things I wish would happen

  • Elayne dies [please please make this happen]
  • Rand, Nyn and Moiraine take on the DO with Callandor
  • Perrin or Mat bag themselves a Forsaken each


The images are taken from Seamas Gallagher's blog

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Gamercards

I was looking through this site – add-ins for Windows Live Writer, the simplest blog editor around – and one of these add-ins was a tool to insert your XBox 360 Gamer Card.

I also found this – a website that will return the details of your gamerscore, given your gamer tag.

Still, it wasn’t enough – I needed a great deal more control – I went through a whole bunch of sites providing leaderboard info – mainly

MyGamerCard.net Provides a bunch of templates for custom Gamercards. Registration required for some templates. Also provides leaderboard information
Glop Similar to myGamerCard.net, but fewer templates
XBox Live Card More templates, but mostly variations of a theme, colours and background images vary
XBox Friends Watch By this guy called Adam Kinney, based on tute samples, also described in his blog

Adam Kinney’s site was useful, but doing the gamercard obviously required a much stronger grounding in Silverlight than I have – or access to Expression Blend, that I don’t have.

Right Now, the easiest thing to do would be to use Duncan Mackenzie’s Webservice – and use the generated Xml Response. 

Let’s see if I can do something with this :)

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

The Towers of Midnight – The Wheel of Time, Book 13

[Spoiler Heavy]

Brandon Sanderson has gained much ji.

Finished reading “The Towers of Midnight”, Brandon Sanderson’s second book in the “Wheel of Time” series and I must say - “Damn. That was good”. 

The trouble with the WoT was, like most long running series, the quality has been variable, trending towards decline. The last few books have been pretty damn bad - “Crossroads of Twilight”, “Path of Daggers” and even “Winter’s Heart” have been abysmal.

Sanderson has made a difference. Story-wise RJ had left copious notes on how he planned to handle TG, but juggling the sheer number of major and minor plot threads couldn’t have been easy. He’s kept the story moving along, zipping along, tying up long standing loose ends and bringing Randland closer to Tarmon Gaidon than ever – in fact it seems that TG has begun by the end of ToM.

So lets see – what’s he  done so far:

  1. Made Rand likeable again, bringing him closer to EoTW Rand.  The transition from jerkass badass to jedimaster badass is actually quite smooth.
  2. Made Nynaeve likeable again, a MUCH harder job. She was one of the characters I despised through the series, but here – oh wow. She ROCKS. Hard. Her AS testing and the speech she gives about who she is, makes you want to cheer.And there's a very funny moment where she begins a tirade at Rand, having returned after three days when no one knew where he was, and Rand calmly completes it for her and tells her that she needs new insults to use on him. "Er. Yes" indeed
  3. Answering the Mesaana question, having Egs face off the Forsaken and turn her to a drooling idiot. (cue Egs fans squee). Egs used to slip in and out of the jerkass squad, and I’ve never really been able to like a person who’s name sounds like Chinese food. She does the same here, good moments and bad moments
  4. Brought Moiraine back. Moiraine was one of the best characters in the series, and in a lot of ways the leading lady.  She is weaker than before and her wish from the Finns sounds quite ridiculous – downright un Moirainey – a goddamn angreal? Not even a sangreal? But there’s a possibility that the angreal, that specific angreal has a part to play. Moiraine was always a deep one.
  5. Reunited the Trakands. Dear God. I thought Morgase would never meet her kids, who still think she’s dead. Well, there’s a reunion here. Uncomfortable, but a reunion just the same.
  6. Ties up the Gawyn/Egs and Morgase/Tallanvor romances.
  7. Kicks off the Galad/Berelain relationship, long foretold.
  8. Changes the balance of the Rand/Cadsuane relationship
  9. Ends Perrin’s “I am not a leader” and “I don’t want to become a wolf” angsting
  10. Kills off Hopper
  11. Shows that Elayne is still the undisputed mistress of the idiot ball
  12. Shows Perrin making a hammer (Verrry cool scene- deals with the fallen blacksmith)
  13. Makes Perrin super powered in Tel’aranrhiod – very matrixy too, stopping balefire(!?!)
  14. Brings Lan, the entire Malkieri nation and several Borderlander nations to the Blight for TG.
  15. Shows the new jedimaster badass Rand saving Rodel Ituralde and destroying a 150,000 strong trolloc army in “a storm of light”
  16. Mat meets up with Perrin finally, and in one of the best moments of the book (Easing the Badger? Easing the Bloody Ashes Badger?)
  17. Matt kills the Gholam
  18. Mat gives up half the light of the world, dealing with the Finns
  19. Taim has been running the 13x13 trick on his Ashaman and some of the visiting Aes Sedai.
  20. Provides Avi with one of the most critical passages she has had in the series, ever
  21. Kills of Balthamel/Arangar for the second time, this time by balefire
  22. Kicks off Tarmon Gaidon

Oh, and most importantly, shouts out to Kate Nepveu, Jason Denzel and other long time fans.

So what more can you expect?

The book also raises a few interesting questions

  1. We still have no clue who and where Demandred is
  2. Who are the red veiled killers in the Aiel waste?
  3. Is Cyndane in Rand’s dream a trap? Or is she for real?
  4. Who is Taim working for?
  5. Who is the murderer on the Seanchan throne? Is he relevant to the story?
  6. Who’s Graendal’s pretty in the Seanchan court in Ebou Dar?
  7. Tuon's Tar Valon attack - how will it pan out?
  8. What happens to the fake foxhead taken from Elayne?
  9. Who saves Caemlyn? Is it Mat, Perrin or Olver, Talmanes and the Band?
  10. Is Avi's vision a probability or a certainty?
  11. What about the Shadow prophecy

Which therefore lead to some wild guessing on how A Memory of Light will go.

  • Demandreds Location: Shara
    Reasons: When Graendal meets Sammael in LoC, they talk about the others - Mesaana, Semirhage and Demandred. Demandred says something about their locations and how long the DL has been planning. Graendahl then talks about her latest pets from the Shara. She implies she doesn't know where Demandred is, but she knows Mesaana is in Tar Valon. And its possible that the who Shara bit was red herring, its also possible it was not.(Tenuous )
    Then there's the fact that both RJ and Sanderson have said Demandred has not appeared in his civilian form yet. The Shara is one of the few places we have heard about, but have seen nothing of. (Tenuous again)
  • The Red Veiled Killers
    Following from above. Veiled faces, teeth filed to points, in the Aiel Waste. Other possibilities are, of course, male Aiel channelers, Fain's creatures - turned Aiel, like undead Trollocs
  • Is the Lanfear dream a trap?
    My take - Cynfear is a trap, but her repentance is genuine - heroic sacrifice ahoy
  • Who is Taim working for?
    The clues all point to Ishidin - the colour choices - red and black, the possession of the second dreamspike (thats obviously what is preventing Travel in the Black Tower. Taim is obviously doing the 13x13 trick, and he's trying to get a set of 13 Ashaman and 13 Aes Sedai as well. So who is he trying to turn? Is he planning a severing?
    Whatever it is, this is probably something that Loghain will handle, not Rand. Rand may do a repeat Ituralde, come in at the last minute, apologize to Loghain and then kick ass.
  • The Seanchan Throne
    Absolutely no idea. Logically, it should have been some DF tool of Semirhage, never shown before, but now, you don't know. Suroth was the only tool Semi had used up till this point - but that doesn't mean much. Ishidin again? Or Demandred? The thing is I'm not sure if there have been any references to Seanchan nobility in Seanchan before. And whether this is relevant to the story or not, I'm not sure. Tuon will have to deal with this person, but whether that is in the scope of MoL is not clear.
  • Who is Graendal's pet in Tuon's court in Ebou Dar
    The most obvious answer is Beslan - given Graen's penchant for pets drawn from the relations of the rich and powerful. Graen also talks of this as a recent development and Beslan has just been raised to the High Blood.Beslan might be thinking that his duplicity is furthering the cause of Ebou Dari independence. There are other possibilities - One dark horse is Abuldar Yulan, married to Riselle of the famous bosom. Riselle being Graendal or one of her proxies. Galgan could be another.
  • Tuon at Tar Valon
    I would like to think that things get settled by then, but thats unlikely. What seems likely is that Tuon gets a'damed and changes her mind about marath'damane. The other thing is that the Amyrlin and her troops are now in Merrilor and the tower is practically undefended.
  • Who Saves Caemlyn?
    It's not Perrin. He is already in the Fields of Merrilor. It's unlikely to be Elayne, there's a contingent of Cairhenian in Merrilor as well. Rand is in Merrilor too. The candidates are Talmanes, Olver and the Band and Mat himself. But Mat is near Ilian, and he needs to travel back to Caemlyn and that depends on Grady being around to open the gateways. My personal take is that this is Olver's moment in the sun, but let's see
  • Aviendha's vision
    It's a possibility, not a certainty. It's fruition depends on the Seanchan. Does Rand bow to Tuon or vice versa? I think its highly unlikely that Rand submits to Tuon. And Avi/Rand relearn the song and they try to get the Aiel back to the Jenn ways. It will be interesting to see how this pans out.

As for the Shadow prophesy, I think I need to reread the series, especially the Great Hunt - which I read ten years ago in Sri Lanka - to look at the other poems of prophecy.A lot more newsgroup scavenging will be required as well...

Sunday, 31 October 2010

Muthamma

Muthamma has worked as our maid for thirty years. She’s around seventy now. She lives in a small apartment put up by the Tamil Nadu Slum Clearance Board not too far from my house. She also does for two other households in my street.

Everyday, twice a day, she comes to our house to sweep and mop the floors, wash clothes and take out the trash . She started off in the 1979 at a princely salary of 50 Rupees a month. She would bring her daughter Panchali to give her a hand once in a while. At the time, she was saving up to get her daughter into a garment factory – which she did. The daughter started working there and making more money than Muthamma had made in her life. She and her husband were able to get Panchali married and soon became grandparents of a bright little boy called Venkatesan.

The family admitted Venkatesan to Venkatasubbarao school – a major expense for them, but one that they thought worthwhile, because they all agreed that the corporation schools were not good enough. Muthamma started working at three more houses to make enough money to pay for a portion of the boy’s fees and book costs. She would ask us for notebooks, pens, old textbooks – anything the kid could use. She would bring him home, so that he could study in our backyard undisturbed, while she did her chores.

Venkatesan was a hard worker. He was very systematic and structured and while he did not top his class, his marks were in the high eighties and low nineties. You could see Muthamma’s pride in the boy. He was going to become an engineer and get a good job – maybe even go abroad. He would talk to my mother about school and his classes – and you got the feeling that this was someone to whom education was special – it wasn’t something taken for granted. My mother used to drive my niece crazy by telling her about how good Venkatesan – they were of the same age.

Muthamma venerated MGR. Before she bought a TV, she would watch the Sunday movie at our place. If it was an MGR movie, she would be there an hour early. She would attend every MGR speech and rally, and loved to talk about how good a person MGR was

Things were looking up for her. She upgraded her slum hut for a housing board apartment, courtesy the TNSCB. My mother helped her set up a bank account at Canara Bank, down the street.  Muthamma would put away two hundred rupees ever month. She was even able to afford a pilgrimage every year. Catholic in her devotion, she  alternated between Melmaruvathur and Vailankanni.

In the late 80s and early nineties, I was away from home. College and postgrad meant that I came home twice a year. Attempts at a Bohemian lifestyle meant that cigarettes and other items would be found in my pockets. And then would be discovered by Muthamma when she came to do the washing. God, I used to hate her snooping.

Late in 2002, I returned to Madras, maybe for good. Muthamma was still around. She was greyer and frailer, but still managed to zoom around the house, doing her chores.  My cigarette smoking had ceased being scandalous, but Muthamma found fresh ways to embarrass me – one of them being her occasional harangues on my bachelorhood – made painful when done before younger relatives – and made much worse when they included questions about my “manliness” and how I was failing to behave like an “ambalai”.

Things were not going well for her, I learnt. Her husband had been unemployed a while and had gone down the booze  route. The daughter and son in law had become openly abusive, and were treating her like a servant in her own house. Amma told me that Muthamma had broken down one day because her daughter had tried to get her to sign over her housing board flat – saying that it was her duty to provide for her grandson and that turning over half her life’s savings was not enough.

Her grandson had done very well in the 12th public exam and had made around 78% overall. He had been admitted into Anna University. The boy had big plans, Muthamma said, he wanted to go abroad for higher studies – maybe even to the US. But the pride was fading from her voice.

Later the story came out.

It wasn’t as good as it seemed. The boy was running with a bad gang, she wailed to my mother one day. He had fought with his mother until she agreed to buy him a bike – half of which Muthamma paid for – Twenty five thousand rupees was a lot of  money. And now he was asking for a computer – an expensive one that he could carry around with him.  She was afraid he had started drinking. He seemed to resent his family, especially the fact that they couldn’t afford what seemed to be basic stuff for his peers.

Her husband had not so much fallen off the wagon as leapt of it, and was managing to put away a quart very day. If he didn’t stumble home to collapse into drunken slumber, he would threaten and plead and cajole her for the money to get drunk. Sometimes he would beat her.

One day, a couple of years ago, she came in very late to work. Her eyes were red and there were marks on her face. Amma asked if what had happened. She started weeping uncontrollably then. Her husband had hit her. Then her daughter and her son in law got into a fight. She had tried to intercede on her daughters behalf, and her son in law turned on her and hit her and kept hitting her for interfering. And her daughter wasn’t exactly thrilled with Muthamma’s intervention either, cursing her and calling her the root of all the troubles in the family.  She spent the night outside the stairs of her own apartment.

Things slowly limped back to a kind of normal in the next few weeks, but her husband still was a drunk, and she caught hell from her daughter for anything that happened.  She wished that she had stayed in her hut in the slum, instead of moving to the apartment which was causing so much grief, an apartment where she was an alien.

Nowadays, she spends most of the day tying flowers, sitting under a makeshift shelter of wooden boards and crates – for a sum of ten rupees per yard.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Navarathri

Yep. Navarathri season again. Back when I lived in a joint family, setting up the kolu was a big operation.  The hall had to be cleared out – meaning three heavy rosewood sofas had to be lugged into bedrooms and storerooms. The floor would be swept and mopped until the red-oxide gleamed. My cousins, my sister and I would go to the attic and get back the wooden planks that made  up the display shelves.  There were two saw toothed boards – roughly about 11 feet long, that formed the shelf sides. These would be fastened to nails on the wall – eight feet apart and then planks would be placed on each of the teeth. The result was an arrangement of 9 stair like shelves, that took up most of one side of our hall. The steps would be covered with old veshtis, and we would bring the dolls out from the cupboard they stayed the remaining three hundred fifty six days every year.

These dolls were clay, and some of them very old – some so old that even my father thinks they were around before he was born, 80 years ago. These were usually the bigger dolls – around 2 feet tall, Shiva and Parvathi, Murugan, Avvaiyar in her white sari, A beautiful bust of Krishna,  with a shining peacock feather tucked in his crown and Swami Vivekananda. There were dolls of Gypsy couples (Kuravan & Kurathi), a Gudu Gudu Paandi rattling his udukku, boom boom maattu karans  and other street people of another era. There even was a figurine of a pink faced Winston Churchill chewing a clay cigar.

The smaller dolls had the usual staples of the Indian Pantheon and myth. The Dasa Avatharam, 10 dolls arranged in chrono order; the four Shaivite saints -Appar, Sundarar, Thirugnanasambandar, Manikkavachagar; Lakshman, Ram, Sita and Hanuman, Kannappa Nayanar – poised forever with an arrow at his eye, balanced on one leg with the other leg pressed against a bleeding stone lingam and a Krishna dancing on the hood of Kalinga. There was a porcelain rendering of the last supper of Christ and a Santa Claus with  a cotton wool beard.

The last stair -  a set of wooden planks (manais) had the Chetty and the his wife the Chettichi, presiding over their grocery stall of wax fruits and real grain and spices. The Chetty  is a fat man, wearing a veshti and a towel around his shoulders. He’s got this huge smile on his face, as if he is glad to see you. His naamam shines on his forehead. His wife is much smaller and quieter, sitting at his side,  She’s smiling, and it seems its as much a smile at her husband’s flamboyance as a smile of quiet welcome. They know they are the stars of the kolu.

Every night of Navarathri, my cousin and I would accompany my mother to see the kolus at our neighbours’. Sometimes we would be asked to sing, so we would recite one of our school’s prayers - “I giri nandini” usually did the trick. In return we would get handfuls of sundal and sometimes, if we were lucky, Rasna.

I used to feel smug, because our kolu was usually bigger and better than most of our neighbours’ kolus.  Two kolus jolted this smugness, though. One was in the house on the main road with a sign that said “Balachandra Printers”. I don’t remember the family who lived there – and the house itself is long gone, replaced by a shopping complex that itself looks on the verge of demolition. Their kolu was smaller, around seven steps, but they built a forest, complete with cardboard trees, paper undergrowth and Binaca Toy fauna. It took up most of the floor and was amazing.

The other was a kolu at one of my grandfather’s friends’ house. The friend was a Malayali gentleman we knew as Kaimal Mama. Their house was huge, practically a mansion, and their kolu was an amazing 14 steps or so – larger, taller wider, more dolls, better dolls, more expensive dolls etc. If I remember right, Mrs Kaimal actually served bottled cool drinks – two tumblers of Gold Spot.

That was then. Now, the steps are gone, the planks converted to bookshelves. The kolu has shrunk – from nine steps to four.  The steps are bookcases, coffee tables, books (my Stephen King hardbacks do well here). We display  around a hundred dolls, down from the seven hundred plus, twenty five years ago. Most of the old families in the neighbourhood have long gone – to Nanganallore or Thiruvanmayur or the US. Most of our new neighbours are Gulf returnees, living in spanking new granite and marble wedding cakes, behind forbidding sheet iron gates.

Where once we would get three or four families visiting the kolu each day, we now get one in every two or three days.

My sister was on the phone this morning. Bitterly disappointed with the way her kids were behaving. Navaratri was her favourite festival. She was the one who drive all of us into getting the stairs and setting up the kolu. Now, neither of her kids showed any enthusiasm for it.  It was a chore, to be done as quickly as possible, so that they could go back to their iPods and PSPs. They have stubbornly refused to go visiting, and have just stopped short of heaping scorn on the entire exercise.

Times are changing. And while this piece may sound like the usual longing for “the good old days”, I can’t lose sight of the fact that those days were often anything but good. It’s not hard to figure out that your younger self was usually quite a dick. So I wonder.  I would like to see my nieces making my sister proud wearing their pattu pavadais and singing for neighbours and relatives. But I also get how it would be crashingly boring compared to mall hopping with your friends or attending an online party at stardoll or playing Jak and Daxter and Civilization V. Hell, given a chance, I would choose Civ V over relatives any day.

I know that the kolu at home will stop soon – when I am the last one standing, the dolls will just gather dust behind the dirty glass front of the almirah. My sister may grieve a little, but that’s about it.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

My Eighties

Every time I see my niece I end up talking about the 80s to her. It’s usually about music, but it’s the decade of my teens – and the eighties begin with the ending of the "International Year of the Child” – 1979. .

I also remember sitting cross legged on the floor of the kitchen, with my chitappa’s radio playing the “Gopal Palpodi” advertisement, our dinner call at 7:00 pm. Chitappa and Appa were discussing Psycho – which they had both seen. This was unusual, as my father seldom saw any films. It was after much badgering that he had consented to take me to “Superman the Movie”. They were talking about somebody’s eye being very scary – and I understood that it was a film made by somebody who had died that day.

“Geoffrey” – I was either “Geoffrey” after Geoff Boycott – because of the way I played cricket – or “Thenga” for the shape of my head- he warned.  “You should never see that movie. It will scare you into hysterics”. Given that my cowardice was well known within the family - I’m still mocked because I hid under the seat whenever Gabbar Singh appeared in Sholay – and given that this was a movie that scared adults, I thought it was sound advice.

The next day I found out that the person who had died – the director of Psycho, was a somebody I had heard of. After all, I had been heavily into “The Three Investigators” – Jupiter Jones, Peter Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, of Rocky Beach, California. These books were published as “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” at that time. Hitchcock was a character in those books – and we knew that he was famous, loved mysteries and was English. Oh and he was fat.

That was back in 1980 – I had just gone to class 6. My sister had just started going to Women’s Christian College. My grandfather had an old ambassador that he swapped for a Fiat 1100 – MSL 7072. We had started writing our notes using fountain pens that year, and felt grown up.

We had this period called General Assembly, GA – once at the end of each week.  It used to be the last period on Thursdays, then changed over to the last period of Fridays.

It was usually fun. We would watch dumb charades, quizzes, speeches, debates and skits. Some of these were very entertaining, others Godawful. There was one particular Wednesday, June 83 – where we had a GA on a Wednesday. Our principal had invited Swami Chinmayananda to address the “children”. Since India was playing England in the Prudential Cup semis at that time, he faced a bunch of impatient students dying to get to their TV sets or the radio. He acknowledged this, and when the teachers welcomed him with a fruit basket, he opened it up and started chucking the fruit at the audience saying that they needed to practice their fielding – this, though it did not go over well with the staff, caught our attention enough to forget about the match for a while. When the lecture ended, I ran to my  cousin’s place – they lived right next to the school. Allan Lamb and Mike Gatting were batting, England three wickets down. I watched until Lamb fell and then cycled home furiously, just in time to see Botham get out. It looked as though India would have a chance to go on to the finals.

And we did. Sandeep Patil and Yashpal Sharma – remember them? They came through. And all we could talk about in the next two days was cricket. And how the fact that we had come through to the finals was just sheer blind luck and of course we wouldn’t win the finals – no one got lucky twice against the West Indies – especially a West Indies team that had Roberts, Holding, Garner and Marshall leading the bowling and Richards, Lloyd, Greenidge, Haynes, Gomes and Dujon in their batting lineup. But still, it was nice to dream and we prayed that India would make a good match out of it and not be bowled out in 10 overs without reaching a triple digit total.

Friday afternoon saw the entire family – barring the mothers around our TV. We watched Srikkanth’s innings with our hearts in our mouths, cheering as he hit a six and cringing immediately after as he missed and edged his way to a patchy 38. Through most of the Indian innings, it looked as though it was a question of how much humiliation the Windies would heap on us. A total of 184 to get in 60 overs was pitiful enough, but when it was against the strongest batting lineup in the world – the only variable was the number of  overs would they take to win.

I remember sitting in the hall after dinner, watching the first over. It felt like watching an execution. Then Sandhu bowled Greenidge out, shouldering arms to one that came back in. Still, it just meant a 9 wicket victory for the men in the maroon caps. The next few overs confirmed this, as Haynes and Richards seemed to settle in. After a point, I decided I did not want to watch and went to bed.

I was woken up by my sister, telling me that the West Indies were 7 down for 120. I didn’t dare to believe her, but I went up to the TV where the family was watching in rapt silence. There were no comments, no discussions – no fundae or predictions. Just a silent group of people devouring the TV.

Marshall and Roberts fell. The sounds of cheering swept through the streets. There was a brief period of quiet as Joel Garner and Michael Holding hung on, but we knew that the unthinkable was going to happen.

And it did, when Holding missed a delivery from Amarnath and was adjudged LBW. It was Deepavali in June.

Kapils Devils. Mohinder Amarnath. Kirmani’s Nataraja shot.  An Indian world cup win. The perfect year.

Cricket was possibly the only thing I watched on TV in those days. Doordarshan specialized in gray studies of hopeless misery – the occasional Tamil play and the weekly half hour of film music providing relief from the regular stream of programmes for farmers and adult education shows – perasiriar Ma Nannan, anyone?

This was changing now. In 1984, Hum Log started, followed by Yeh Jo Hai Zindagi, a show that was popular even in Hindiphobic Madras. Shafi Inamdar and Swaroop Sampath appeared in every home. Khandaan, the desi version of Dynasty, started around this time.  The Pathak sisters appeared in a sitcom called Idhar Udhar – or was it Paying Guest?  House husbands were on display with Jayant Kripalani and Archana Puran Singh in Mr & Mrs.

DD also started playing the occasional English serial – usually Britcoms. Notable ones were “Father, Dear Father”, “The Goodies”, “Yes Minister”, “Wodehouse Playhouse” and “Are you being served”, the serial that introduced OTT camp gaydom to India.

The movies were ruled by Rajni and Kamal in Madras and by Amitabh in the North.  Madras in the 1980s meant that you knew the lyrics to “My name is Billa”, Rajni’s breakthrough hero role.

Tiger Mask and Flares

You watched Kamalahasan and Sridevi star as a Tambram couple in Meendum Kokila, a Retard, his twin and their lover in Kalyanaraman, as a vigilante and his girl in Guru, as a Dying man and his lover in “Vaazhvey Maayam”, a mentally ill girl and her caretaker in “Moondram Pirai” and many others. Kamal also had his first Hindi film megahit “Ek Duuje Ke Liye”. His next movie in Tamil “Sakalakalavallavan” had him sing, modestly “Ek Duje Ke Liye, Aendi nee paakirey?…Naalthorum thaan Aal Maruvane, Naan thaan Sakalakalavallavan” (“Why do you watch “EkDuuje Ke Liye, girl…I change personalities all day, I am the master of all arts”).

Caalage Teenage Penngal

I would go to my aunt’s house in summer weekends. They were never well off, but they looked after me and fussed over me like I was a VIP whenever I came over.  The whole street was full of  guys in their early 20s – just out of college and into their first jobs. Every evening was a party – there would be badminton games, kite flying, carroms and chess games, long discussions about movies and girls – it was like living in a youth club or something.

I adored my cousins, especially the eldest. He was infinitely patient , and genuinely liked me. He would take me out to the Duraiswami road subway everyday at 2:00 pm to see the Vaigai Express because I was train mad.  He would take me to my first Bond file (The Spy Who Loved Me) and pass his passion for the series on. He would take me to watch “The 36th Chamber of Shaolin”, one of the longest running foreign language films in Chennai – it ran for over a year in the Safire theatre complex.

There were rules – theatres like Casino, Devi, Satyam and once in a while Pilot would play English films. Blue Diamond, on the top floor of the Safire complex played continuous shows from 9 am. If you had 20 rupees, you could stay in an air conditioned hall  all day.

Another place that was excellent for escaping the Madras sun was the British council. Open from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, Tuesdays to Sunday, it was everything a guy who liked to read wanted. The air conditioning was powerful, conversations muted, the sofas comfortable and books and magazines plentiful.  I used to hang out  in the Encyclopedia section with Halliwell’s Film Guide (5th Edition) a paper and pencil, making a list of movies that I would see when I was older.

You could also see some excellent documentaries – David Attenborough’s The Living Planet was always in demand.

Once in a while, I would visit the American Center. It was nowhere near as good as the British Council. Library membership was free, and they had good titles, but with pages torn or scribbled over.   But they had a collection of Bosley Crowther’s movie reviews, which made was great way to pass the time.

Of course, the heat did not feel as bad as it does today. Whether that’s because of nostalgia or because there were more trees and less concrete in the city at that time, I don’t know. But come on, summer hols meant you were out of the house all day, playing cricket in the open area where the Nungambakkam Tennis Stadium now stands or table tennis in what is now the corporation office.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

How Did I Miss This

While looking up David Attenborough, I came across this entry from Wikipedia.

Attenborough also launched ARKive in May 2003,[41] a global project which had been instigated by Christopher Parsons to gather together natural history media into a digital library, an online Noah's Ark.

And ARKive.org is spectacular.

'>Sea Horses – and the thylacine

ARKive requires Flash to show its video content; click here to install the plugin

Need to examine their APIs for deep embedding


On a similar note, the WWF has released its 2010 Living Planet Report

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Mass Effect 2 – contd.

Just completed the game – veteran mode, Infiltrator class. The final boss- the human reaper embryo wasn’t tough. If you took cover before his devastating beam attack – which is very clearly telegraphed, you can finish him off without getting injured. The Widow Sniper Rifle is terrific here – as is the Particle Beam weapon.

Now I’m trying the Vanguard class, and its much tougher. Beginning to realize how much I had relied on the Infiltrator’s cloak.

Update: Just completed Vanguard. The toughest part of the game was the Heat Exchanger run in the Collector Base. The Biotic charge works here, but its not as effective as the cloak.  Anyway, managed to bring the whole team back alive.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Surfing History

I have been wondering how easy or difficult it would be to examine ones browsing history – say the number of times you’ve visited one site over another – social media vs email vs blogs etc.

It wasn’t as straightforward as I hoped. I fired up the Visual Studio Express after years of Excel documents and mind raping Power Points.

The first thing was to find out what .NET namespaces dealt with browsing history. And the first thing was a failure – as I couldn’t find ANY .

After much tedious googling, I found a sample at iok.net. It laid out everything quite clearly.

The main item here is the INTERNET_CACHE_ENTRY_INFOW structure.

    public class INTERNET_CACHE_ENTRY_INFOW
{
public uint dwStructSize;
public string lpszSourceUrlName;
public string lpszLocalFileName;
public uint CacheEntryType;
public uint dwUseCount;
public uint dwHitRate;
public uint dwSizeLow;
public uint dwSizeHigh;
public System.Runtime.InteropServices.ComTypes.FILETIME LastModifiedTime;
public System.Runtime.InteropServices.ComTypes.FILETIME ExpireTime;
public System.Runtime.InteropServices.ComTypes.FILETIME LastAccessTime;
public System.Runtime.InteropServices.ComTypes.FILETIME LastSyncTime;
public IntPtr lpHeaderInfo;
public uint dwHeaderInfoSize;
public string lpszFileExtension;
public uint dwReserved;
}


In addition, the STATURL structure gives you information about the site itelf



    struct STATURL
{
public static uint SIZEOF_STATURL =
(uint)Marshal.SizeOf(typeof(STATURL));

public uint cbSize;
[MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.LPWStr)]
public string pwcsUrl;
[MarshalAs(UnmanagedType.LPWStr)]
public string pwcsTitle;
public System.Runtime.InteropServices.ComTypes.FILETIME ftLastVisited,
ftLastUpdated,
ftExpires;
public uint dwFlags;
}


Once you have these, its just a question of looping through the History folder, like so



             
IUrlHistoryStg2 theHistory = (IUrlHistoryStg2)new UrlHistory();
IEnumSTATURL vEnumSTATURL = theHistory.EnumUrls();
STATURL vSTATURL;
uint isFetched;
while (vEnumSTATURL.Next(1, out vSTATURL, out isFetched) == 0){
Console.WriteLine(string.Format("{0}:{1}\r\n",vSTATURL.pwcsTitle, vSTATURL.pwcsUrl));
}

The next thing would be to see how this can be worked into an Excel template that charts the number of pages you visit in each site.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Odds and Ends

Some lovely photographs here, taken by the census for marine life. Their video gallery is good, too.

There was also this obituary about a guy who – well lived a normal life – living within his means (even on minimum wage) – and was killed by a hit and run. Good for the Petersburg Times for responding to a troll in the most graceful manner possible.