Friday, November 11, 2005

Images are here....

This is my first blog entry with images. Thanks to Picasa. Free software obviously. I chose one of the few agreeable photos from my collection to make a start...

Two words about Picasa - superb, still can be better. Lot of features are well packaged into one single light weight application. I could not believe it scanned my entire disk for images adn movies... As it says, it can show images that you think did not exist. Be careful. I realize that it does not scan any zip files if they had images in them ;-) Later, In the options I found that I could instruct Picasa not to scan some folders... They should have asked that question during installation... May be that is too much for an average American user. Downside: I found the feature of making a collage wanting. A limitted range of options limits your creativity. Actually, when I tried more features - all of them had exactly the same trend. Just about all you need for 90% of the cases... But I guess you ahve to pay to do the other 10% where in you can show-off your creativity. Nice strategy.

During trying Picasa, I discovered another game played by Google. Its about Hello. They want to make the location of information irrelevant as long as there is internet and a high speed connectivity (especially in the last mile). Hello lets you and your buddies to see each others photo... no mails, no upload, no tiny URL, nothing. But if he wants to see it again, even if you are there, may be you will have to send it again... Neat... when Google are the ISP also. If this gets general public's approval, then there would be a spurt in Internet traffic.

Another amazing attention to open standards is Picasa's ability to read the details put in your images by your cameras. As long as they in standardized format, Picasa can show them. In my case, the display is better than Canon Utilities provided along with the camera. I thought I shall try other features of Picasa as and when I write... But Picasa has disabled and blurred the main window... Not helpful :-( but blurring the whole window is again a neat idea.

All in all, Picasa is a very good software... especially when it is FREE.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Angels and Demons by Dan Brown

Long time ago I read Angels and Demons - that completes me having read all of Dan Brown's famous publications. In fact, I read it so long ago that I have almost forgotten the plot. What I do remember is that this one was not as boring or predictable as Deception Point or Digital Fortress. Again, Dan is obsessed with conspiracy theory, religion, secret societies and their obscure clues. I have no clue as to whether Illuminati existed or whether Bernini was one among them... But Dan has written one whole novel on such an assumption. What I do not understand is that if the Church knew about all these - why then did it not destroy all traces of the Illuminati?

Dan likes to insert action packed scenes in his novels... wants to make it like one of those Hollywood thrillers. Unfortunately does not do a good job. Is it really true that with just one stretch of fabric, you can survive a helicopter jump from 25000 feet? Even if you did, can you get out of bed, in just 10 hours? I don’t know... but I have read stranger things... like anti-matter :-)

Another striking similarity in Dan's novels is that all of them start with death. Sophie's grandfather in Da Vinci Code, Tankado in Digital Fortress, the Canadian geologist in Deception Point and Leonardo Vetra in Angels and demons. The villains in each of the novels are those who are projected to be men of honor in the entire first half of the novels. Leigh Teabing, Strathmore, William Pickering, the camerlegno - all of them are saints in their own respect for half of the novel. He better change the overall plot for the next novel.

This particular book is made interesting by definitely knowing when it will end even though we would not know how. At the very beginning, a deadline is mentioned and we call can easily guess that nothing extra-ordinary is going to happen before that, and at the deadline, the novel has to end. That certainty gives a comfort feeling. Also, there are intermediate deadlines that give excitement at periodic intervals... the clues are not entangled with each other and hence one part of the novel can be read even a week after the previous one was read.

Prashanth Kota

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Deception Point by Dan Brown:

Deception Point by Dan Brown:

I have one advice to readers who follow Dan Brown. Never read his books back to back. Even if you think a little hard you can see disturbing similarity in the plots. All the 3 books I have read have a hero with an academic incline, a heroine in a powerful position in the government trying to unearth a deadly conspiracy of utmost importance. In both Digital Fortress and this book, the leading lady has a boss whom she adores and whom she completely believes in. Towards the end, both of them die still thinking what they did was in the best interest of the nation. In Digital Fortress it was NSA and here it was NRO. But for that, both the plots have predictable surprises.

I am disappointed at the lack of innovation. Seriously... the novel may keep you guessing what’s in the next page. But after reading his other two book, there is hardly any prize for predicting what's in store in the last few pages of the book. The only welcome addition to the plot (compared to Digital Fortress) is Senator Sexton - who is running for the Presidency. However, he is shown in very bad light to glorify the office of the president of USA. He is amoral, disgusting and finally also a fool who kills his own career. Dan conveniently has omitted how Gabrielle managed to pull the trick (of switching the envelopes) off. I was also disappointed with the vague description of the action sequences. To Dan's defense, I have not read any novel that has done justice to "Action", which has always been a visual thing - better seen than read about.

But, If this is your first Dan Brown novel - then this is a definitely a novel that has pace. Gripping. More so, if you like the concept of conspiracy like any average American.

I am shifting my focus from thriller novels to comedy... and who better to start with than PG Woodhouse

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Digital Fortress by Dan Brown:

3. Digital Fortress by Dan Brown:

After Da Vinci Code, I was curious about this book by Dan. Subhash suggested this book and said that a very simple funda of double encryption had been used to create an un-breakable code. Inspired by my interest in security I started reading it and very quickly found lots of similarity between the previous book (The Da Vinci Code) and this one. Looks like our friend Dan, is a little short of ideas and even words (repeated use of words like gibberish) … The habit of creating un-necessary trivial suspense continues in this book also.

Anagrams, Ceasar’s n^2 cipher also make into this book… pretty strongly too. Why did he have to use the same techniques in two books in spite of having two esteemed ex-employees of NSA helping him with the plot?? Any way, the book was not all that interesting as it was expected to be… Telling two stories in parallel is old wine. They finally converging into one and finally realizing that they were beating round the bush for the entire 100 odd pages is old wine in old bottle. Especially the lousy way that Tankado encrypts “3” as a vague difference between U235 and U238 is laughable… I tried to imagine the firewalls falling one by one… as some sort of concentric ellipses that dissolve slowly… that’s comedy… hopelessly misplaced though.

It makes sense if a pro killer like the deaf guy starts killing indiscriminately… But Hale, and the SysSec guy die needlessly in the plot… I don’t know which came first this book or Mercury Rising the movie starring Bruce Willis with a autistic kid… obviously the one that came later is definitely inspired by the first. Strathmore – hero for the first 100 pages suddenly turns villainous and finally dies… Like Alec Baldwin in the movie… both posses the “Kill anybody to keep the nation secure” ideology. There also, a chain of murders are commited to silence any body who could have come close to the code. Repeatedly the author mentions about protecting agents in the field (obviously insprired by MI) and war time communication (enigma). Dan Browm makes no mystery about his inspirations and sources.

In summary… I did not enjoy the book. I always hoped there would be some real excitement in the next few pages… the hope never materialized… My judgment may have been clouded by the fact that I have some knowledge of encryption, system security and computers… and the author’s lack of it. I hope Deception Point will be better.

The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown

2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown:

Is there any one yet to read this book? Vinod asked me this. I think the answer is no… or may be there are a few people in this world still waiting for the movie to come out. Tom Hanks plays Langdon. Should be interesting… but is already under a lot of controversy. It seems, they were not allowed to shoot at Westminster Abbey where Newton is laid to rest. Coming back to the book, it was gripping… just as Andy had told it would be. I know two people at least, who say they have read only half of it… how did they manage to stop it in the middle?? Forget about Christ… his wife or his kid or the conspiracy theory that church re-wrote the Bible… Even if you take out all of them and replace with any other secret worth guarding (like the NOC list of Mission Impossible or the Enigma) the story is still equally potent. Yes, all over the world this book is famous for throwing light on other wise murky questionable history of the Roman Catholic Church. But I would say it would be equally potent just as a thriller. There are a few things that seem to be only in the author’s imagination. Was Fibonacci (an Austrian born) ever involved with the Priory?

But the style of writing becomes pretty frustrating… It’s like those sops where the chapter ends in a clue that is left un-explained. When it happens in every chapter, it gets to you. How many times there was a reference to the secret societies’ ritual before Sophie spilled the beans about what she saw… Yes, if it frustrated her, it had to be sexual but it gets confirmed only at the end of the novel… There are many such occurrences where Dan has tried to sneak in an element of surprise where there was no need for one. Yes, you can never know who is friends with whom until the last few pages… yet, it does not seem to be a total surprise either.

A word of caution for all those who raise their expectation about this best seller…

  • the codes and puzzles are not even as tough as the INFY puzzles let alone MSFT of GOOGLE. It only requires you to be a European History major
  • You need to have access to some of the paintings mentioned thru some other means (www of course) to appreciate the theory... But lack of it does not deminish your pleasure of reading... as I said earlier Christ or otherwise, the book is interesting.
  • Does not answer you questions about Mona Lisa.
  • You can never know who is right??

It was a wonderful suspense thriller that I liked more for the plot rather than the secret being protected… However both of them turned out to be a big anti climax…

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

B.A. - Bachelor of Arts

Since last time, I read 3 books... each different in its own way...

1. B.A. - Bachelor of Arts by R.K.Narayan :

This really connects me to the India my grand parents lived in. Most of the customs and situations happen even today in my village. Things have changed but not by much.

The story (if there is one) is set in pre-independent India in Malgudi (which is almost real Mysore + Coimbatore + Chennai) where our hero - Chandran finishes his graduation and is forced into this world. In India even today, arranged marriages are a norm. It serves as a Insurance cover for those who are hopeful of finding a perfect soul mate themselves but (for some reason) not able to. Chandran likes a girl without knowing pretty much anything about the girl. The most daring thing he can imagine to do is ask his parents to "arrange" his marriage with that beautiful girl he names her Lakshmi. However, the ever notorious horoscope does not permit him that privilege. I find it hard not to wonder how many times I have heard of this episode...

There is an episode where Chandran’s mother cribs about somebody stealing the flowers from her garden… My mother does that. To catch the thief Chandran’s father stays guard from 4AM one day. My father did that once. Finally when mother learns that a sadhu was stealing flowers only to be offered to God, she forgives him… goes a step further by approving of him stealing for a noble cause… just like my mother… I could not relate to any other episode in the book more than this.

Time is one thing people of that era had in plenty... Chandran spends some years of his life reading books... and doing nothing else... can any body do it now?? He wanders into a aimless journey and lives on the streets for almost an year and nobody thinks it’s awkward or disrespectful... In fact it is the contrary.

Students of that age were devoid of any peer pressure. Narayan himself completed his degree in the second attempt (so I read). Chandran proclaimed that he would go to London for studies and become a professor to who ever listened… finally did nothing of that sorts… but no shame… no guilt… Where had that society gone??

Narayan has very vividly described India in 1930 without mentioning any thing about the political turmoil of the time. Its both good and bad… good because his story line is not contaminated… bad because, it makes it a complete fiction even though you can relate to it.

Chandran, his friends, his obsession with Lakshmi, his younger brother, his family values are all timeless… Some things have changed from then and now. Unfortunately they have only worsened… some where in the meanwhile India becoming independent is the only positive.

Suggestion: Definitely worth a read. Inspires you to read the rest of Malgudi series.

Monday, May 23, 2005

Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith

Yesterday I contributed to the $20 billion asset of Mr. George Lucas by watching the "Revenge of the Sith" in the theatre. Yes, it is sad that it is already available for download on the P2P networks. The movie, like any other Hollywood sci-fi movie of recent times surprises the viewer by the scale. Everything is big.

I have never watched any of the 5 other movies. Yet I kind of liked this one. I guess I could still follow the movie because the plot was pretty thin and simple. Something hard-core star-wars fans would not like. Andy had told me at the beginning of the movie that people with white or green swords (oops... they are called sabres) are the good ones and with red swords are the bad ones. That really helped me sort the characters out in the first 20 minutes of the movie.

Things I liked about the movie:

  1. Sanskrit like grammar in sentences of Master Yoda.
  2. Names of all the characters. Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin SkyWalker, Darth Vader, Yoda... The last time I liked the names of the characters was when I saw "The Mask of Zorro".
  3. Concept of the Dark Side and people siding with that. Seems so similar to never ending clashes between dev and danavs in Indian Mythology.
  4. Sunset (Sun like star set) scene where Padme is looking at the Jedi temple from her pent-house.
  5. Varied Landscapes - Anikin's house was in a sky-scraper. While the place where General Grievous was hiding was like deep Africa... Some war scenes seemed to be copied (at least locations) from Saving Private Ryan. The Lava planet and so on...
  6. Security system in Jedi temple which had hologram re-play. Proves the point again that no matter how strong your fire-wall is... it can not stop physical brute-force attack.

Things I did not like:

  1. Vague ending... Can not say who won or who lost.
  2. Dull humor. Seems like somebody is trying to hard.
  3. Some part of the movie was slow.
  4. Un-necessary dinosaur like animal that Obi rides before killing General Grievous
  5. Words like "republic", "congress" also being used even long long ago in a far far galaxy.
  6. Predictable story line. I am seeing any STAR-WARS movie for the first time... but as soon as Padme wanted to tell something important to Anikin, I guessed that she must have been pregnant. Also, when Palpatine asks Anikin to kill Count Duku, even though he is a Jedi - his Sith worthy intentions were made pretty obvious.

Overall it is a nice movie. But is it worth all the hype?? I guess not. It has definitely made me want to see the other 5 movies.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Anand, Bombay and Charles Dickens !?!!!

This weekend, I must decide whether I will continue to read that book I have picked up a long time ago… Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens… I have finished the first few chapters but it is very hard to make any progress. May be a person who has lived in such an environment will appreciate the descriptive style of Charles Dickens. But this is the last opportunity that I am giving myself to complete the book.

I have been watching few emotional movies over the last few days… CVO has been on a roll. First it was Manirathnam’s Bombay and yesterday it was Anand. Contrasting movies… but not so capturing viewer interest for the entire duration.

I had heard about Anand so much. But I had never seen the movie. Yesterday, the most famous dialogue of the movie [“Zindagi aur maut uparwale ke haath mein hai, Jahanpanah. Hum sab rangmanch ki kathputliyan hain jinki dor uparwale ki ungliyon se bandhi hui hai. Kab kaun uthega koi nahin bata sakta.”]
was put in perspective for me…I had always thought that it was a sintimental dialogue told by Anand when he tries to explain the inevitable to Bhaskar babu moshai. But now I know that the intention was totally different. The songs are excellent… each one of them... both lyrics and music. Sometimes I wonder why such good natured movies have disappeared from Bollywood all together. May be there is no money in slow movies no-a-days.

May be this vacuum of sensible movies is what made me like Bombay so much. Yes it has violence, slightly unrealistic, too critical of the system and so on… But good lyrics, bold (at the same time sensitive) story line and amazing music set it apart from all the modern movies. Its amazing how the lyricists managed to fit such great poetry in 3 languages for the same music. The names chosen for the kids are also so thoughtful... Kabir Narayan and Kamal Bashir. Well, the Ayodhya incident is at least one forgettable part of modern Indian history.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Island of Lost Maps and Detective.

The Island of Lost Maps: A True Story of Cartographic Crime. by Miles Harvey.

I leased this book from Ashish - a colleague of mine for a week-end. At first I thought, that it would be very difficult to finish reading such a bulky book in just 2 days... given my levels of concentration. As chapters after chapters rolled by, I found myself admiring the debutante’s way of narration. It was very similar to what I do when I write... the things that are told seem unrelated and vague until, the author himself connects all the dots for you... Some times even after the author connects the dots the picture is somewhat hazy... I guess Miles Harvey knows this and repeats himself where ever the reader may feel lost. That’s so much like me... I liked the book partly because of that. Apart from the gripping story, the book is filled with cartographic trivia.

Al in all, the book is an excellent pass time to read on a lonely journey.

Detective - by Arthur Hailey.

I borrowed this book from Mayank Singh. There was no dead line to finish the book... The story is about a serial killer and one another killing that does not fit in the pattern... I was reminded of all those episodes of Law and Order that I had seen when I was in US (and here too...) But after all that, I found this book lacking the excitement. It was very easy to expect the unexpected... I may be feeling so because of those serials or the expectations I had about the author himself. If I don’t like a book, i better justify it... In this book I feel, the author has gone too far to complicate a crime... and the methods used to do so are also not highly imaginative... how many stories have we not seen where a highly placed government officials have dark episodes (of sexual nature) in their childhood... In most of them, the perpetrator is usually the father... Americans have been obsessed with the Bible... I can remember at least 2 famous movies ("Se7en" starring Brad Pitt and Morgan Freeman, "The Seventh Sign" starring Demi Moore) that deal with similar topics... The author seems to have "bible based serial killing" as the center piece and added the rest of the story by backtracking and tying up lose ends... and try to make it interesting in the larger sense. I wonder how this ever became a best seller?