Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Red Letter Day for the Internet we know and love

On the face of it the World Conference on International Telecommunications (WCIT), taking place next week in Dubai, seems innocuous. However, the decisions made by governments at WCIT could redefine the international regulatory environment for the Internet - impacting how people around the world are able to use the Internet.

Who remembers the days when it would cost us money every time we picked up the phone and placed a call. The reason for that in the analog world was, "Somebody has to pay to use this service". With VOIP and the digital world, we now pay a monthly "subscription" for unlimited usage of our phones. The complex world of the Internet and its interconnected global network is currently working on the same principle - of paying a subscription to the service provider. The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) is looking to change this and is considering taking us back to the (more regulated) analog world. WSJ's Gordon Crovitz has written an excellent article talking about the far reaching consequences of this conference. Some countries are looking at this "additional regulation" as "an opportunity for censorship".

Companies like Google are spearheading a campaign saying, "A free and open world depends on a free and open Internet. Governments alone, working behind closed doors, should not direct its future. The billions of people around the globe who use the internet should have a voice." You can add your voice and sign the petition to support a free and open internet here.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Life of Pi

Director Ang Lee brings Yann Martel's Booker Prize winning book to the screen and does justice to this marvelous epic.

The book has been said to reverberate echoes from sources as disparate as Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe and Ernest Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea. The trans-Pacific sea adventure of Pi Patel has been likened to the Kon-Tiki expedition.

Ang Lee uses stunning visuals to accentuate the journey of Pi Patel after he survives a ship wreck and is adrift in the ocean with a Bengal Tiger, humorously named Richard Parker. A majority of the movie focuses on the 227 days Pi and Richard spend on the lifeboat. While that may sound boring, the brilliance of Ang Lee and screen writer, David Magee, are seen in these sequences. It is for this reason that I would recommend watching the movie in 3D. Whether it is watching the majestic hump back whale or the frolicking dolphins or the spectacular flying fish, Ang Lee has used every technical wizardry at his disposal to bring these scenes to life. Unlike James Cameron's 2009 film, Avatar, where all the characters are make-believe, we can relate to the characters and players in Life of Pi. We suffer along side Pi Patel, brilliantly played by Suraj Sharma. We question his faith in religion and in God as he suffers one hazard after another through his arduous journey.

Irrfan Khan's performance as the older Pi Patel is brilliant. Whether playing the police constable in Slumdog Millionaire or the immigrant Ashoke Ganguli in Namesake, Irrfan Khan acts with conviction and portrays the character of the storyteller here.

If I have to point out a weakness in the film, it is the music. I wish Ang Lee had used A.R. Rahman instead of Michael Danna. Even though "Pi's Lullaby" is performed by the renowned Bombay Jayashri, I was somewhat underwhelmed by it.

This film is most definitely on its way to winning Oscars for Direction, Cinematography and Screenplay. It will certainly get nominated for Best Picture. There are many good movies contending for Best Picture this year, including Lincoln (surely Daniel Day Lewis will win Best Actor) and Peter Jackson's Hobbit.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Why you should vote for Obama

Note: Obama's winning in California is a foregone conclusion. California's 55 Electoral College votes belong to the incumbent. So my vote for the Presidential election is immaterial. The "swing" states (aka "Battleground States") of Ohio, Virginia, Florida, Colorado, Arizona and Wisconsin will determine the winner in this Election on Tuesday, November 6th. This post is intended for the voters in these States.

When Barack Obama and Mitt Romney squared up for the first Presidential debate on October 3rd, Obama had prepared based on the messages he had heard Romney mention in his campaign and in the Republican Primary. However, a completely different, free-swinging, conflicting, I'll-do-anything-to-get-your-vote Mitt Romney showed up and thrashed Barack Obama in the debate. Mitt Romney won on oratorical points and a stumbling, bumbling Barack Obama was left dumbfounded. Late night talk show hosts had a field day in describing Romney:

  • Mitt Romney is not pro-life or pro-choice. He is multiple choice.
  • Obama's speech was, "You can be whatever you want to be". Mitt Romney's was, "I can be whatever you want me to be."
For Barack Obama, this was serious business. He went back to the drawing board and coined up phrases like "Romnesia". In the second debate, on October 16th, Obama (perhaps sympathetically) was assisted by the moderator, Candy Crowley. It was deemed that Obama won that debate by a narrow margin. He had, however, asserted himself strongly as the commander-in-chief. Romney's position on women's rights, abortion, contraception, health services and equality came out in the open when he bumbled his way through a question from a female voter.

More jokes appeared on the Republican party's position on rape (click on the picture to the right to see it in full size). It became clear that under a Romney Presidency (when two new Supreme Court justices may get appointed), the rights of women to control their own medical care would be limited. No I am not spreading Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. I am helping the voters in the Battleground states read the tea leaves. Mitt Romney will run the Federal Government like a P&L center. Romney will not take into account human consequences. While that may be good for Corporate America, it not the tonic for the Federal Government. 

Obama may not not have accomplished everything we had hoped for. However, I believe that the nation is moving in the right direction. Besides, he is more likely to reach bi-partisan agreements in the second term since the Republicans have less of an incentive to "make sure that he failed". 

Here is my prediction for the 2012 elections (again, click on the picture to see it in full size): a narrow victory for Barack Obama:

Scintillating Concert

Living in the Bay Area, 8500+ miles from Chennai, the Mecca of Carnatic music, one never feels deprived from experiencing the rich cultural environments of a sabha. The mountain, as the saying goes, comes to Mohammed! If anything, there is an exuberance of activity in the Bay Area that one has to "pick and choose".

One sparkling example of Bay Area's Carnatic Cornucopia is Sanjay Subrahmanyan's SIFA concert on September 21st 2012 at Gunn High School in Palo Alto. Even though the performance was over six weeks back, it is still fresh in my memory. 

Sanjay was ably accompanied by S. Varadarajan on the violin and Neyveli Venkatesh on the mridangam. Thanks to getting caught in heavy traffic, I missed the varnam that Sanjay sang (if you attended the concert, please add information about the varnam as a comment). Sanjay's next song was vinAyakA ninnu vinA brOchutaku in hamsadhwanI. He followed this with a short alApanA in yadukula kAmbhOji and the krithi ninnu sEvinchina. Next, Sanjay started singing an elaborate alApanA in kalyaaNi. At one point he held the gAndhAra swaram (without pausing to take breath) for over a minute. When somebody in the audience started applauding, Sanjay shushed that person by holding his hand out to a stop sign. He continued to hold the swaram for another minute plus! The audience was left breathless!! He sang the Tyaagaraaja krithi sivE paahimambikE. Sanjay performed an elaborate neraval on the caraNam, carA caramayi karAravindamuna rAma cilukanu birAna.

Sanjay then sang the KOTeeshwara Aiyyar composition, kalangaadE manamE. He followed this with an exquisite alApanA in nATTai kurinji and sang the Gopalakrishna Bharati composition, vazhi maraittirukkude. Next he sang the fast paced Thyagaraja krithi anupama guNaambudi in aThaaNaa. He was, of course, setting up the audience for the Ragam-Thanam-Pallavi. The RTP was in AbhOgi. The lyrics for the pallavi were, not surprisingly, "sabhApatikku vEru deivam samAnamAgumA tillai. Sanjay sang the rAgamAlikA swaras in the Hindustani raags of jOg and darbAr. Much to the delight of the audience, Sanjay (perhaps sensing that a majority of the audience were Tamil speaking) sang the rest of the Gopalakrishna Bharati composition after Neyveli Venkatesh completed the thaniAvarthanam.

On the "home stretch" (aka tukkada section), Sanjay packed in three more songs - a Purandara Dasa krithi in bhAgEshri, followed by an excellent ragamAlikA viruttam and a composition in mAnD. The concert lasted for almost 3.5 hours and the audience were on its feet at the end acknowledging the brilliance of the artist.