Review: The Rhythm Divine

Pung Cholom Dancers with Astad Deboo

A fusion of the avant-garde with the traditional, that was the Rhythm Divine. A collaboration borne out of Astad Deboo’s almost 11 year romance with Manipur where he came across Guru Seityabanji and his troupe of Pung Cholom drummers of Shri Shri Govindji Nat Sankirtan. The traditional Pung Cholom drumming metamorphosed with the body vocabulary (as he calls it) of Astad Deboo. A treat to the eyes!

The performance began painfully slow –an almost chrysalis like depiction, extremely slow, with classical background music. In fact, in the first 15 mins I was almost bored! And then the dancers picked up the tempo — with perfect synchronization once they had the beats of drums or of their palms on their thighs (which is how they practice apparently). What followed was visual poetry — the oriental music and dance of the drummers and Astad Deboo who complemented them with emoting fingers, emoting eye-brows and an emoting body.

When the drummers were finally given the drums in the last act (what they are most comfortable with), the music and the dance built up into a crescendo — a fitting end. In the discussion that followed, Deboo described how he’d worked with Manipuri martial artists in the past and then he’d put up a performance with the drummers at the Frankfurt Book fair when India was the guest of honour(2006), and it seems he has made it into a regular feature now.

To read more: Astad Deboo on RediffAn Interview with Astad Deboo Ranga Shankara’s Programme Site

All For A Bottle of Wine

After a long day of long deliberation, long discussion and longer cups of coffee, a lot of shopping which left me feeling guilty and compromised, and having missed the Fireflimageies festival (Wikipedia and an older review), we decided we could hold more discussions with a bottle of wine. And thus, we walked into a shop on MG Road, and in a fateful moment, we decided to go for Cabernet-Shiraz from the vineyards of Grover, very near Bangalore. In fact, it was the geographical proximity that clinched the deal for Grover, blessed be his wine!

Once at home, the setting had to be perfect, and nothing better than Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring to see some cool and calm action. Now, the setting was perfect, and after biting a few nibbles, we were ready for the celebration.

Drumrolls… the wine bottle was opened, and Murphy couldn’t desert me just like every other time, and he came in the form of a cork. Sula‘s are better — the bottles don’t have cork, but now we were stuck at home at 11 in the night, with a bottle of wine but no cork-opener. And no Swiss Army knife. And two guys really really desperate to have the wine. Not a pretty sight.

Never learnt to accept defeat, did we? All our engineering prowess had to come to use now. The cork would be subjected to a number of implements over the next hour without respite, until it yielded to our superior knowledge of stress, tension and torque. The first up was the common fork, spotless and stainless, benign usually, but a mighty force in the hands of a master. The fork was sharply thrust into the cork, and as we flexed our biceps in applying the torque, there was a loud clank and we thought the cork had popped.

But no, the cork was stronger than we expected, and it was the fork that had clanked. Far stronger than expected — it was smartly using all the vacuum inside the bottle to bolster its position, and putting up a seemingly winning fight. We almost accepted defeat, but suddenly, we were reminded of our machine tools class, and all the filing and minute working of the lathe we had practiced. A frantic search started in the house — something sharp and long.

And thus, a lot of search found us our next weapon for our next battle. A small pair of scissors, innocuous but intense, and after a few rounds of sharpening it on the granite (like a true expert!), we again thrust it into the cork. The cork seemed to open it mouth, and engulfed the scissor’s blade. A whale gulping down the missiles we fired at it. And we would have none of it. More throwing of pots and pans around, cleaning up our messy kitchen, moving heaven and earth, and we found the knife we had gotten free with our stove-lighter.

Not a Rampuri, but baleful and unrelenting, the knife was the perfect tool for our fresh attack. The bottle was held tight with both hands and the knife thrust in it. After it refused to go in further, it was hammered in further with all the pots and pans we had cleaned up. The knife was turned, and yes(!), the cork unscrewed as well. Success is tasty, and wine is tempting, and we continued with the attack. The cork started giving in finally, but brittle as it was, it broke, and we had to cut parts of it off, and repeat the process. Finally, as it seemed to be succumbing, we upped the effort, and in one giant pop something happened.

Wine was all over us. The glass of the bottle had broken off from the side, and some of the wine had spilled all over the kitchen. Thankfully, damage had been limited to the wine bottle, and not to our hands or the kitchen. But yes, we had won! We had finally prevailed over the corky and cranky enemy. Wine was ours to be had.

And what better way to celebrate than a bottle of Wine. Cheers!

Should prizes make a come back as against grants?

A very interesting article by Tim Harford about how prizes were a motivation for a big chunk of research which got productised earlier, and how it could be making a comeback. The advantage is quicker solutions, involvement of a more diverse community with more diverse ideas, cutting bureaucracy, fame and fortune for the inventors, and of course, problems getting solved. He cites how a competition was used to build an accurate clock used to predict the longitude of ships, and how today, from the Gates Foundation (for pneumococcal disesases) to Netflix (for machine learning algorithms) is using a cash prize as a motivation to involve people to solve important problems. It could also be used by governments to replace patents for solving large problems. He says:

Champions of prizes see them as a component of a wider system to promote innovation, rather than as an outright replacement either for grants or patents. Instead, the hope is that prizes will help to compensate for the specific weaknesses of those alternatives.

The downside of a patent is fundamental to its design: in order to reward an innovator, the patent confers a monopoly. Economists view this as, at best, a necessary evil since monopolies distort prices. In the hope of raising profits from some customers, they will price others out of a market. The most obvious victims are consumers in poor countries.

In an ideal world, prizes could replace patents. Instead of offering a patent for an innovation, the government could offer a prize. The inventor would pocket the prize but would not be allowed to exploit any monopoly power, so the innovation would be freely available to use in products for poor consumers – cheap drugs for Africa, for instance – and, importantly, in further innovations. But to explain that idea is to see its limitations. How could the government know enough about the costs and benefits – and even the very possibility – of an innovation to put a price tag on it and write the terms of reference for a prize competition? For this reason it is hard to see prizes replacing patents in most cases. But it is not impossible.

The modern heir to 18th-century prizes for canning, water turbines and finding longitude at sea is the advanced market commitment for vaccines for the poor: the goal is clear, the costs and benefits can be guessed at, and the quasi-prize nudges the patent system to one side with a prize contract that respects the patent but, in exchange for a large subsidy, radically constricts the holder’s right to exploit it.

Prizes may be an effective way to build technologies that solve a specific problem, but I doubt if they can help in unknown sojourns into the world of science. Most of our applied technologies are build upon these basic scientific fundamentals and I don’t know if a gold-rush will lead to the newest laws of physics, or fundamental rules in mathematical logic. Issues of ownership of Intellectual property are also a little ambiguous, and have to be specified clearly up front. In many cases, gauging the ramifications of a new mathematical theory, or basic physical laws might be extremely difficult (which is the reason Nobel prizes are awarded after the work has been established over a long term).

All said and done, I am sure prizes (not just the cash, the fame and respect as well) make for great motivation and we might see a lot of it.

Virgins

nobody_remains_virgin.jpg

Sometimes, a picture speaks a thousand words, isn’t it?

Review: The Reluctant Fundamentalist

image Just finished reading The Reluctant Fundamentalist (Amazon, Wikipedia) written by Mohsin Hamid. The book is about the story of Changez, who grows up in Lahore, goes to the United States to obtain his bachelors from Princeton (mirroring the life of the author quite closely thus far), gets a job in one of the top financial consultancy firms Underwood Samson (the author worked in McKinsey), falls in love with a girl who still loves her dead boyfriend, and finally returns to Pakistan following emotional turmoil in the aftermath of 9/11. The book is written as a conversation that the protagonist has with an American tourist, and is quite brief. In fact, Hamid had remarked on it’s brevity:

I’d rather people read my book twice than only half-way through.

I took a while reading it since I had misplaced my copy and finally located it in my luggage. The book is a very easy read — no high flying philosophy, or cross references to Greek literature, but is quite alluring. There are so many things you identify with and you see such people around you. Changez, after passing out of Princeton thinks that the world is his oyster. He is uneasy adjusting with his high-flying lifestyle. The work (as a foreigner in one of the most respected firms in NY), the competition at the workplace, holidays, finding in unrequited love with a girl, the emotional turmoil at the contrast between his own life in a castle and his family’s in a moat, and finally giving it all up to return to a life where rewards are less monetary and more spiritual, the heightened sense of everything that is right about your country, the smell of the soil, the flower market, the food and even the beggars on the streets to regain a connection with his country all give you a sense of deja vu, a feeling that this is for real, I have seen this person somewhere.

What is also endearing is Hamid’s style. The pity remarks he makes while describing the contrasts between his country and the US. Of the heightened security in the airports he says:

Seen in this fashion I was struck by how traditional your empire appeared. Armed sentries manned the check post at which I sought entry; being of a suspect race I was quarantined and subjected to additional inspection; once admitted I hired a charioteer who belonged to a serf class lacking the requisite permissions to abide legally and forced therefore to accept work at lower pay; I myself was a form of indentured servant whose right to remain was dependent upon the continued benevolence of my employer.

His descriptions of life back in Pakistan is also unique, his observing the foreigner leering at girls and noting that girls milling in the streets joyfully is such an uncommon sight that it is hard not to notice. Small things that make the book a very enjoyable read.

I was particularly struck by the sense of turmoil Changez had, and I thought it was a little exaggerated, and his response artificial. Confronted with a motherland at war and a girlfriend who commits suicide, his work slacks and he is soon fired. He goes back to his motherland, becomes a lecturer and the nucleus of anti-American protests among students. However, with his knowledge of the States, he might have been well positioned to not only know its limitations but its goodness as well, and if that little bit had been brought in as well, the book might have a different flavour and perhaps a different ending.

More reviews: Akhil Tandulwadikar

The side-effects of an engineering degree ;-)

The auspicious occasion of Valentine’s day couldn’t have been put better than this cartoon from PhdComics.

powerless-against-girls

Click on the pic to see the whole thing. I got this from here. A bunch of many more funny cartoons there, including a bunch of stuff by Bill Watterson on education.

A very Happy Valentines Day to all the lovely ladies who take the trouble to read my blog ;-)

Pacific Rubbish Dump is twice the Size of America

Even though Armageddon lovers will have a field day with this, if this is true, it will one of the biggest shocks of the year. I myself could not believe it, but it is alarming to know what we do with our plastic waste. In our bid for improve the bottomlines of our largest corporations, we might just alter the bottomline of the world’s oceans for eternity.

Daily Mail UK reports that a rubbish dump has been found floating from America to Japan. It was found way back in 1997! It says:

He warned that the rubbish could double in size over the next decade if consumers do not cut back on their use of plastics. More than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals die every year as a result of plastic rubbish.

Syringes, cigarette lighters and toothbrushes have all been found inside the stomachs of dead seabirds.

The rubbish can also be dangerous for humans, because tiny plastic pellets in the sea can attract man-made chemicals which then enter the food chain.

Just today, I was watching on Animal Plant how the red fox life cycle works and I could not help wonder that the kids are ready for hunting rodents just as the harvest is being cut, so that the rodents are out in the open. I wondered how Nature has worked out such a perfect system, and now, we are jeopardizing the same system. As one commenter (Mike Randall from Worchester, UK) says:

This planet is being destroyed by the the ‘most intelligent being on it’. I think we need to re-define intelligence.

It also reminds me so much of the way Neal Stephenson portrays humanity evolving in his book Snow Crash. The world is full of small “franchise-states” and human beings are reduced to living life on a Las Vegas-esque life on a MetaVerse (we are already seeing it happen with Second Life). The one person who controls the world’s optical fibre cables is trying to spread a pre-historic virus by shipping people over the sea in interconnecting trawlers spreading almost from California to the northern border, almost like a huge plastic dump.

Bitwise 2008 – Can it get any better?

I still remember Bitwise 2006 very fondly — all the last minute action, with the teams participating, running around to arrange problems, solutions, making sure everything runs properly. And it’s been 2 years since then. It’s very proud to see Bitwise 2008 progressing so well, with teams from almost 43 countries and clicks from 75! It can’t get any bigger than this. It all started in 2001, and has come so far since then!

If you fancy yourself as a ace programmer, and you think you can unravel the double helix in your sleep, if you live and dream algorithms, crunch numbers when nobody’s looking at you, you gotta participate in Bitwise, the real test of your abilities. It’s the largest algorithm intensive online programming contest in India organized completely by students from one of the best engineering institutions in the country. You compete with the best brains in the area worldwide, and there are a sweet USD 2500 on offer as prizes.

Do you have it in you? Visit the Bitwise 2008 site and register NOW.

Making Money

As Google announced depressed outlook due to lower than expected revenues from Social Networking sites with which it has done massive deals, these SocNet sites are using more and more innovative ways of making money:

Tera Patrick Facebook Sponsored Ad

If you haven’t heard of Tera Patrick, it means you never lived in a boy’s hostel.

It’s all about money, honey. Anything goes, including $44b in shareholder wealth for a single DNS entry. Strange are the ways of men. Back to the Shire!

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