Saturday, May 31, 2008

Thoughts That Should Never Pop Up During Sex, But Do

"Wish I had bookmarked that page with a really simple solution to the Rubik's cube. You know, the page I found while googling for 'absinthe'.."

"What if I voted for McCain?"

"Kraftwerk should stun the world by releasing a totally acoustic album, complete with songs about birds and trees and ocean waves and even a Shania Twain cover."

"No, you must be Don Francisco's sister".

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Two Commencement Speeches, No Sunscreen

I was a little suspicious when ex-"aw-shucks-you'll-be-back-no-I-won't-yes-you-will-no-I-am-done"blogger OTP forwarded me a link to a commencement speech.

Some of you will understand. Back in 1997, I developed violent feelings towards people who forwarded me commencement speeches, especially one featuring the word "sunscreen". NYT (and even Kurt Vonnegut) found the speech funny, but I thought it was pure Anne Freaking Geddes. (Never mind that it was not actually a commencement speech and - big relief - was not written by Kurt Vonnegut.)

So why did OTP forward me a commencement speech, I asked myself. Was she turning soft? Would she be posting song lyrics on her blog next? Judging from her blog, I had always found her bullshit detector to be keen and fine-tuned. So I gave it a second thought, suppressed my violent feelings and read the commencement speech she sent me.
"...It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience."
The stuff wasn't bad at all. In fact, the speech was pretty good. One of those speeches that you wish you had heard at 21. (But as I later told OTP, if I had heard this speech at 21, I would probably have left the room with a loud snicker and a dismissive wave of the hand.)

You can read the full transcript of David Foster Wallace's speech here. Some very interesting ideas in there and no mention of sunscreen.

(Space Bar: echoes of JK's lectures about the meaning of education?)

It is some coincidence that my (only) favorite commencement speech was also delivered to graduates of Kenyon College, back in 1990, by cartoonist Bill Watterson. Everyone knows him for "Calvin and Hobbes". This is the same man who, at the peak of his career, famously decided to call it quits. Here's a terrific excerpt from Mr. Watterson's address:
"Ambition is only understood if it's to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success. Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake. A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential-as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth."
Link to the speech. Again, great ideas, no sunscreen.

BTW, it's going to be bright and warm and sunny all this long weekend and I plan to be outdoors as much as possible. What is that one thing I will need the most? That's right. Lots of Tabasco.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Return Of The Son Of The Revenge Of The Jones Family's South American Vacation, Part Four, Episode 1

Lowered expectations helped a lot. The first half of the film was very entertaining. People in the theater cheered and clapped our hero's return. Indy actually says "nucular". Nice touch.

Some critics seem not to have enjoyed Shia Leboeuf's entry in the story. I thought it was cute. Not many 12-year olds will recognize a reference to "The Wild One". The 19-year olds sitting behind me struggled with Shia's name. I thought that was funny. (And not so funny? What the screenplay does with the two lead characters - Indy and this kid. Other than the obligatory comical bickering and some mild antagonism, there was just nothing between them. A huge lost opportunity, story-wise.)

The second half of the movie was not engaging enough. There was definitely a sense of restlessness among the audience. Imagine, there we were, watching a new Indiana Jones movie and a couple of idiots in the crowd (from a certain Ivy league college) were busy texting. No, I don't think the problem is lack of attention spans at all.

There is a lot happening in the second half but, and this is the real problem, I was hardly paying attention to Indy. There are too many characters filling up the screen and they are mostly uninteresting.

But the definitely-not-as-cool-as-melting-faces-climax and the closing sequence can still be enjoyed.

Just lower your expectations. A lot.

Someone on Digg commented on this movie: "definitely did not suck as much Phantom Menace". Nowhere close. Indy fans got a much better deal than Star Wars fans.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

61's My New Drug

The Sixty-One. Lots of good new music. The "Best" page is the place to start.

The Flight of the Concords song will induce cerebral LoLsy.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Indy Movie

The last few days, I have been reading every bad review of the new Indiana Jones movie. I want to know just how bad the screenplay is and how the movie is utterly charmless and that there's not one funny line in it for Indy. I have also been reminding myself, mostly by remembering the fourth "Star Wars" movie, that George Lucas can inflict some serious cinematic damage.

This way, when I walk into the theater on Thursday, my expectations will be lower than the lowest point in the Mariana Trench. And then maybe, just maybe, I can once again enjoy an Indiana Jones adventure.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Tagore's The Hero, Animated

Sometimes you find beautiful things on some random website, someone's little nerdy pet project page, and sometimes you find them on a blog right on your blog-roll.

I found a lovely animated short on Sugata's blog. The video is set to Rabindranath Tagore's rendition of his poem Beerpurush ("The Hero", not "The Beer-man", har dee har). Sugata was kind enough to include his own translation of the poem, so double the fun. This kind of stuff belongs not just to school textbooks but on YouTube and blogs. Thanks, Sugata! (Some googling led me to another translation of the poem. Link goes to

YT does not credit the animator(s), nor could I google for it. If you know who made this video, please post the names in the comment space.

You can also read Tagore's own translation of this poem (and his other poems) in his classic "The Crescent Moon" on Google Books. The text contains illustrations by the great painter, Nandlal Bose.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Birds Of Kolkata; No, It Does Not Come With Pickup Lines in Bengali

This is geeky OCD at its finest: a meticulous Indian birding guide. It has lovely pictures, extensive trip notes and even some on historical notes on bird-watching in India. (A fascinating example: Ustad Mansur, a painter employed by Emperor Jehangir, painted the Dodo.)

Finally, a country that has "13% of the world's bird species" gets a birding guide it deserves.

Update: Ludwig pointed me to another very cool bird site, India Birds. (The site resizes the browser window and requires QT plug-in to play birdsongs.)

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

With A Heave And A Ho

It's the greatest song ever written about sex on a train. (I don't even know if there's another song about sex on a train. Do you?)

It's a standard for all blues-rock bands. It was the first song that Led Zeppelin ever played.

Never mind your rock history books, but this is first song to use guitar distortion*, preceding not just the Kinks ("You Really Got Me") but even Link Wray ("Rumble").

Of the several gazillion versions of this song, there's one that still rocks ferociously.

Ladies and gentlemen, the Johnny Burnette Rock'n Roll Trio singing "Train kept a-rollin'". For best results, PLAY IT LOUD. (Sadly, not a video of the band. YT has plenty of other versions, including the famous Yardbirds' version. Guitarist Grady Martin's son has a comment on the YT page.)

*But who played lead? Was it Paul Burlison or Grady Martin? The debate, on this super-geeky guitar page.

*Also see this excellent WFMU page on "country-fuzz".

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And You're A Rocket Queen, Oh Yeah!

Just don't call Tessy Thomas an Agni Aunt.

Of course, this profile has to talk about how she "does the tightrope walk between home and career". Why can't she be admired simply for her professional achievement?

Thursday, May 08, 2008

WWH Is Looking for Contacts in Burma

An email request from Peter.
"After the devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, we have been trying to get information about the situation and how people who would like to help can best do so. But with Myanmar having been so cut off from the rest of the world, we have no contacts in the country.

If you know someone in Myanmar/Burma, could you help us get in touch with them? Ideally, people in the country who join us on the blog, or send us updates in some way.

We'd like to hear from people with reliable NGOs, secular charities, even in government or administration. The kind of information we are looking for is what the scale of destruction is, what emergency supplies and essential commodities are most needed, where money could be most effectively donated, organisation that need volunteers (many are willing to fly to Myanmar at their own cost, for instance), and so on.

You could leave a note in the comments here or in the GoogleGroup in this thread or in this Facebook group thread"

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Continuing To Be Amazed By The Web Since 1994

Google adds Hindi to its translation page and there goes the rest of my day.

Puerile brains being what they are, I headed over to the page to translate my favorite Chuck Berry lyrics into Hindi. I was *so* entertained that I think I will cancel my basic cable subscription and maybe even stop renting DVDs and reading books. Maybe I will dedicate the rest of my life to translating Chuck Berry songs into Hindi. Take a look:

मेरा एक टन टन लिंग , मेरे एक टन टन लिंग
मैं चाहता हूँ कि मेरे साथ खेलने के लिए एक टन टन लिंग
मेरा एक टन टन लिंग , मेरे एक टन टन लिंग
मैं चाहता हूँ कि मेरे साथ खेलने के लिए एक टन टन लिंग

Are you not astonished at the - ahem - tool's ability to preserve the song's meter? And what about the translation of "Ding a ling" into "टन टन लिंग"? The master's innuendo, beautifully preserved in another language from another culture! PURE GENIUS!

I was going to post the translation to Prince's "Sexy M.F." but decided against it. Not because this blog is PG-13 but because the translation to the chorus (and a few verses) is just OUTRAGEOUSLY funny and I would rather you discover the beauty of that song, in Hindi, all by yourself.

Update: The reverse translation of "My ding-a-ling" into English is even classier. (Thanks, Space Bar!)

I have a gender ding, ding one of my gender
I want to play with my ding a gender
I have a gender ding, ding one of my gender
I want to play with my ding a gender

Tuesday, May 06, 2008


MSF's statement on their operations in Myanmar, in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.
"We are concerned that some of our patients may have treatment interruptions, either because they cannot access our clinics and/or because they have lost their medicines during the cyclone."

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Quick Lesson in Harmony Singing

Update: Found something even better and it's also on Pandora's blog: A page that lists examples (from pop/rock music) of some of the different kinds of harmony.

I just discovered that Pandora has a blog and it even carries the occasional music lesson! I found this excellent video primer on harmony singing on the blog.

What makes the video really cool is that it takes one simple melody line and applies different harmony techniques to it: tutti, "drone", unison, counterpoint etc. You need absolutely NO knowledge of musical theory to enjoy the video.

If you prefer a link to the page, go here.

I also found a very interesting page on harmony singing for Bluegrass music. (For the uninitiated, this page definitely needs some rudimentary knowledge of musical theory.)

I often wonder why harmony (especially counterpoint) was ignored by classical musicians during the early days of music development in the Indian subcontinent? Though one of the delights of Indian classical music is hearing the tanpuras's shimmering Sa and Pa (the classic interval of fifths; C and G notes) forming patterns with the notes of the raag/composition.

Real Engineers Don't Wear Suits, That's All

Go see "Iron Man" with your 10 year-old. He or she will leave the theater begging to be enrolled into an engineering/robotics program.

The engineering workstation sequences (in which Tony Stark develops the suit) were just jaw-droppingly cool.

Disappointment of the evening: Black Sabbath's song doesn't appear till the closing credits. Bah. I had always imagined an Act II montage showing Tony Stark prototyping and testing the suit, with this song blasting in the background.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

John Cage-ism

"In Zen, it is said, if something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all."
(Source: Wikiquote, via a comment on BoingBoing)