Thursday, December 31, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"I'm Really Not That Blond"

A portrait of the artist as a young, civil, intelligent, approachable man measuring 5'10":

In 1967, a 14-year old American girl wrote a fan letter to David Bowie. It was, in fact, Bowie's very first American fan letter. He wrote back to the girl. Just delightful.

Robert Frost, "The American Way of Life", his first short film....such a far cry from the craziness of the Thin White Duke and Major Tom and the spiders from Mars.

(Via MeFi)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Her Bounden Duty

"On November 5 this year, Irom Sharmila entered the tenth year of her superhuman fast"
Just who is Irom Sharmila?

This article at explains:
[Irom Sharmila is]..."protesting the indefensible Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) that has been imposed in Manipur and most of the Northeast since 1980. The Act allows the army to use force, arrest or shoot anyone on the mere suspicion that someone has committed or was about to commit a cognisable offence. The Act further prohibits any legal or judicial proceedings against army personnel without the sanction of the Central Government."
Googling for AFSPA (and Irom Sharmila) brings up an indie filmmaker's blog. The filmmaker, Kavita Joshi, has made a short film on Sharmila titled "My body my weapon".

Mere labels like "heroic" (or even "Gandhian") do not adequately describe this woman's commitment. She has no connection with her mother (who appears in the film and watches her daughter on the little LCD screen of a video camera), the state has completely isolated her from people and there's a very real chance that the government will just continue to ignore her. And yet she puts up a fight and views it as her duty.

Here's hoping her ten-year protest brings her - and Manipuris - the result that she and others have been fighting for.

The Indian government does not wish to see its favorite dead revolutionary's image on the nib of a pen* but living heroes? Why, they are a nuisance, of course.

*Dear Mont Blanc, your product idea was beyond pretentious and fucked up.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The 100 Best

Rolling Stone has published their list of 100 best albums of the decade.

Say what you will about Rolling Stone (I haven't read an issue since 1994) but this was a terrific decade for pop/rock music and I thought this list is a pretty good representation of the decade without a name. (And screw "Aughties".)

Now for the obligatory list-rant: Three U2 albums? And where's Nickelback? Ha ha, just kidding.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Drinking Gourd - Podcast Recommendation

For those of you interested in Zen Buddhism - I wanted to share a link to an excellent podcast I recently discovered on iTunes: The Drinking Gourd. The series has been on heavy rotation on my iPod for the last few weeks now.

Jay Rinsen Weik, who leads these discourses, is a very informal and engaging speaker (and a mean jazz guitarist - look him up on YouTube). But what I really enjoyed about the talks is the refreshing lack of "cleverness".

Jai Guru Deva

Monday, December 07, 2009


Gizmodo likes the Nook.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I stopped by the Nook information booth at the local Barnes & Noble store. During our conversation, one of the staffers working the booth referred to AT&T's 3G network as a "Three Gigabyte network". They are booksellers trying to sell technology, so cut them some slack;) The sales pitch was impressive: better readability, more battery life, free downloads at any B&N store plus you can actually lend an e-book to a friend.

But those old doubts still linger: Is this simply about speeding the transaction to promote more impulse purchases? What about DRM? Are the days of using unread books as coasters over? How will I hurl a bad book at the nearest wall? Most importantly, can I still hold book-burning rallies in my study?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

The Chess Game Was A Drag

"At the World Chess Cup, which is being held in Khanty Mansiysk, Russia, two top Chinese grandmasters, Wang Yue and Li Chao, showed up late for tie-breaker games in their third-round matches because they had been smoking. Under new World Chess Federation rules, they had to forfeit."
The money quote comes at the end of the NYT article:
"Asked if he would now give up the habit, Wang said: “I don’t think so. After such a shock, you only think to take a long smoke.”
You show 'em, Wang!

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Let Them Breathe

"So open up the window and let me breathe,
I said, open up the window and let me breathe" - Van Morrison, "T.B. Sheets"

December 3 should not just be about remembering the dead. Let's also remember the ones still living who could use our help.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Just Checking In To See What Condition My Condition Is In

We gave thanks exceedingly well last night. As a "you are welcome", I get a supremely bitter, nasty, spikes-through-the-skull hangover. I can probably set fire to things by just looking at them.

My neural circuitry is so badly affected that I can actually see individual molecules of Time. When these molecules are not daisy-chained to one another, as they are in the course of a normal day, there is no Cause, there is no Effect. There's only I.

I am walking - make that gliding through ether - at the rate of three half-formed thoughts per step.

Have you ever turned around and come face-to-face with yourself?

The kettle is on the stove, but there's no water in the kettle. So to set things right, I pour as much water outside the kettle as I pour into it. FML.

A slab of butter, a knife and a loaf of bread have been neatly laid out on the kitchen counter. I've also pulled out a box of cereal, a banana and a pineapple. A jar of peanut butter and some cake too. I know I am supposed to do *something* but I am not sure what or how.

That's all. I'm checking out.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Bismillah, Galileo, Figaro And Muppets

Awwww.....Muppets do the Rhapsody. Delightful. Freddy would have been pleased.

Dear Jim Henson Company, can we please have the gang from Fraggle Rock cover a Led Zeppelin tune?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Miracle In The Bedroom

One man's terrifying accident is...well...his wife's lucky break. Only in America, folks, only in America.

What goes down must come...up? Ahem.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Smoke Signals? Telegraphy? Carrier Pigeons?

How were large, complex (are there any other kind?) geographically-scattered software projects managed before companies finally got IM on corporate networks?

Why, over email, of course.

So how were these projects managed before the arrival of email?

God, I don't *want* to remember.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Bozo The F***ing Clown"

A small but funny collection of rock one-liners. Bob Dylan seems to have cornered that market. His zinger to Neil Diamond, supposedly said during the Last Waltz concert, if true, deserves some kind of an award.

A couple of good one-liners can also be found in the comments section, so check that out too.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Google Music

Google now does music. I thought it was all right. Useful but not terribly exciting.

Searching for and serving up results for a song title, artist's name or an album title can't be too hard. Instead, Google could have let users search for legit MP3s/audio streams by entering snippets of lyrics.

Oh well, one can always just google for those things ;)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Man Throws Shit, Judge Throws Book

"As they began to file out of the courtroom, McGowan pulled out a bag of feces he'd hidden in his clothing, rubbed excrement on his lawyer and threw it at the jury."
All kinds of awesome here.

The closing sentence from the defendant's attorney too cries out for an honorable mention:
“When he hits the bottom, he gets angry when he is mistreated or when he feels he is mistreated,”
Yeah. Makes sense. But you know what? If you haven't at least once felt the urge to fill a bag with feces with the intent to fling it at the world, well then, man, maybe you just don't give a shit.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Is There An Animated .GIF Tombstone?

This Monday, Yahoo shuts down Geocities. Oh God, now where will I go for those "site under construction" signs?

Just google for "Geocities" and click on the "News" tab and be prepared to be surprised at just how much news Geocities made back in 1997 or 1998. Actually, with Google's "Timeline" feature, you can go all the way back to 1990-91 - but that just throws up some archived newspaper pages containing Geocities links, probably ads.

Here's an interesting abstract from an archived article in the LA Times from 1996:
"The site is called Geocities ( It exists solely to make money from our natural human instincts to puff out our chests, announce that we are here and what we say can make a difference.

The Santa Monica-based company offers free access to an Internet tool set and a mapped address book that lets Web "homesteaders" create a page in a "community" of their own choosing.

Then Geocities makes a business out of it by inviting advertisers and commercial vendors to market directly to these specialized neighborhoods, by offering deeper Web services to individuals and through transactions."
Funny, I always thought Geocities pages simply existed to stab us all in the eye with their HTML and occasionally puncture our eardrums with a self-launching MIDI interpretation of the Geocities page owner's favorite '50s tune. (For some reason, it was *always* a '50s tune.)

Can we count on Father Time to make social networking sites go away in 2019?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Alive, Barely Kicking

Thanks, MT, for posting a link to 4Chan - always restores my faith in my fellow puerile Man.

??!, I am doing ok, thanks for asking and good Lord no, the net has not "finally become boring". If anything, it has only become more interesting. Like when Black Mamba sent me an invite to Google Wave. It's a fascinating piece of software. One day I *will* figure out how to get past the sign-up stage.

I hope you all have a great Diwali.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Re: Title

Does the {Title}: {Long, pretentious, tease of a subtitle that summarizes the entire book} format of non-fiction book titles annoy you? Of course it does.

This blog imagines how some classics might be marketed if they were written today. An example:
Then: The Wealth of Nations
Now: Invisible Hands: The Mysterious Market Forces That Control Our Lives and How to Profit from Them
Fun, right? Here are some I half-expect to see in bookstores:

Then: The tortoise and the hare
Now: Slower: On hubris, winning and the seven habits of highly effective athletes

Then: Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats
Now: Purr: Skimbleshanks, Mungojerry, Growltiger and the dark secrets behind the domestication of America's whiskered wild

Then: The Bhagvad Gita
Now: The Lecture: Everything I needed to know about decision-making I learned from slaughtering my uncles and cousins

OK, you get the point. Your turn now.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

M3 + ISRO = H2O (But You Can't Bottle It Yet)

Don't drink that water!

Nasa's M3 and India's Chandrayaan-1 find evidence of "large quantities of water on the lunar surface". has more details.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Werner Herzog's Rogue Film School

Werner Herzog has announced the launching of a film school, named the "Rogue Film School". This excerpt from the school's charter:
Related, but more practical subjects, will be the art of lockpicking. Traveling on foot. The exhilaration of being shot at unsuccessfully. The athletic side of filmmaking. The creation of your own shooting permits. The neutralization of bureaucracy. Guerrilla tactics. Self reliance.

Censorship will be enforced. There will be no talk of shamans, of yoga classes, nutritional values, herbal teas, discovering your Boundaries, and Inner Growth.
Rogue Film School.

How can you not hero-worship this man?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Genius Fellers

The 2009 MacArthur Genius List.

If you are not familiar with the award, it is a "no-strings-attached" grant of $500,000. Winners can do what they want with the prize money. To the best of my knowledge, no winner has splurged it all on drugs, hookers and old guitars, which makes me question the "genius" appellation.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Projectile Dysfunction

A mere three months ago, when summer was all a-bloomin’ and fall was only a pleasant memory and not the Coming Attractions, my newspaper would wait for me right at my doorstep; a blue plastic mystery of a bundle, thick and heavy and filled with things to read. I simply had to open the front door, pick up the newspaper, toss out the unwanted pages into the trash (or “more or less near the trash”, as the wife has pointed out on occasion) and read the stuff I wanted to. I liked that arrangement a lot.

Now it seems an 80-lb weakling of a man (or a woman - I don’t know) with the dexterity of a rusted robot without any lubricant in its shoulder joints is delivering my newspaper.

In the last four weeks, the newspaper has landed farther and farther away from the front door. Last Sunday, it made it to my neighbor’s** driveway, who I suspect helped himself to the newspaper thinking the New York Times sent him a free weekend trial copy.

First I had to walk a few steps, then a few feet and now it appears I may have to take the train to NYC to get my copy. Where will this madness end? Will the Times' editors ship me to Iraq or Iran to experience the news first-hand? (Hey, there's a business idea - journo-tourism.)

**Dear neighbor: you have *no* idea how dreary it was to sit on the porcelain throne without the Travel section. I could have done Barcelona in 36 hours. Instead, I had to make do with a three month-old edition of Times’ “Style” magazine. There’s reading deprivation and then there’s the Times’ Style magazine. Oh dear God. The toilet paper makes for better reading.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sarkari Babus Around The World - In Pictures

(Sarkari Babu: an Indian slang for a bureaucrat; an "overlord" working in a government office.)

Photographer Jan Banning has a series of photos, called "Bureaucratics", of bureaucrats from around the world. Click on "Photo series" in the left-hand navigation bar to get to the pictures which are grouped by countries.

You can also click on the little "about" button below each picture and see information like monthly salary of the bureaucrat.

The pictures from India are a little...what's the word...dispiriting. Not the people, but their work setting. Well, now do you understand why some of them are driven to accepting bribes?

(Via NPR's Picture Show blog.)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Poster Art So Bad That It Is Actually Bad

A most lovable Cujo, satanic kittens clawing a muscular woman...There is kitschy and then there are these fine film posters from Ghana.

I'm not saying these are bad. I'm saying these are awful. And that's good.

(All my best links come from the Blue)

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

$229.99 (That's What I Want)

Writer Chuck Klosterman, on the new Beatles box set:
The signature track is “Yesterday” (the last song Mr. McCartney recorded before his death in an early-morning car accident), but the best cut is “You’re Going To Lose That Girl,” a song that oozes with moral ambiguity. Is “You’re Going To Lose That Girl” an example of Mr. McCartney’s fresh-faced enlightenment (in that he threatens to punish some dude for being an unresponsive boyfriend), or an illustration of Mr. Lennon’s quiet misogyny (in that he views women as empty, non-specific possessions that can be pillaged from male rivals)?
Funny, funny stuff.

Just in case you need any more convincing, some reviews that you may find helpful.

I've heard several tracks on mono. There are some *major* differences between the stereo and mono versions. Is that enough to justify spending almost 250 bucks? I think so. Then again, I am biased.

(Hat-tips: MeFi and Space Bar)

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Golden Years And Cat People

While watching "Inglourious Basterds", it struck me that David Bowie might be the only rock musician whose songs have been used in anachronistic settings in two different movies. I said "rock musician", so no need to point out how Dead White Male classical composers' works continue to be used in modern settings.

The first Bowie tune used in an "out of its time" setting was Golden Years in "A Knight's Tale". (The Bowie song starts around the 2:10 mark.) Must say, it was a little startling on the first viewing and a lot of fun to watch.

Now Cat People (putting out fire) shows up in Tarantino's new film.

If only someone could find a way to use David Bowie's cover of the Simon & Garfunkel classic "America" in a film, I would be a very happy man. He sang it on the TV show that was broadcast in the days following 9/11. Never was I more comforted by a song as when Bowie sang about the Turnpike and Saginaw and Pittsburgh...


I have fond (and very muddled - obviously) memories of watching Paul Schrader's fun little B-romp, "Cat People", back in college. All that menace (did Bowie's voice ever sound as dangerous?), smoke, weird lighting and erotica helped burn that song into my cortex.

QT has used the song in a very different fashion in the film. Like with everything else in a Tarantino film, the sequence can either be enjoyed on its own terms or by recognizing the "quotation marks" around the song. ("Or" is probably the wrong conjunction in that sentence. I should say "and" but that can only happen on a second or third viewing.)

So if you were not yet old enough to watch films in the Eighties or have never experienced goose-bumps from listening to David Bowie's baritone booming over the speakers in a big, darkened hall, well, go watch the Tarantino flick. It is a treat.

Also read this blog (with a great punny title) which talks about the song and Bowie's state of mind when he recorded "Cat People".


Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Confrontational Capitalization

Vicki Walker was fired from her job.
"She had been a capable and competent employee, he said. ProCare did not have a style or etiquette guide for employees using email, so it was not clear what was regarded as unacceptable communication."
So just what did she write in that email that led to her firing? She capitalized it.

All of it.

Remember when capitalization used to be a big no-no on the Net (and newbies would write that way anyway)? (Remember when the word "newbie" was usually found only on USENET? Remember USENET? Like, uh, do you remember remembering, man?)

(Via slashdot)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Blue Meanies To Return? Uh Oh

Robert Zemeckis is set to re-make "Yellow Submarine".

Talk about mixed emotions. Granted, Zemeckis has made several enjoyable films and let's not forget, his debut was a loving tribute to the Beatles. But this is "Yellow Submarine" we are talking about - a film which has little to do with the band. Nor is it too concerned with things like plot and story. That may have worked well in 1968 when there were probably few animation films in theaters (and fewer still with a vision as bizarre and surreal). What would be the point of remaking such a whimsical film in the spirit of the animation film conventions that have developed over the last 15 years?

Can audiences today sit through two hours (or ninety minutes) of visual puns, sight gags, art jokes and mind-bending psychedelia? Or rather, do the studio bosses have faith in the audience's ability to lose themselves in the Wonderland-like setting of "Yellow Submarine"?

It's only fitting that I include this link in this post. I was not aware that Heinz Edelmann, the genius behind the original "Yellow Submarine", died in July of this year. Here's a page with some choice clips from the film.

An insightful poster on this site has observed how "Yellow Submarine" is a "designer's film and not an animator's film". (If you are interested in animation and design, there are some cool links to Edelmann's artistic output in that comment thread.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Leader Of The Pack

Ellie Greenwich wrote beautiful songs (and she wrote this song - wow, just *wow*. BTW, she also co-wrote that classic lyric about "walking down the street, singing do-wah-diddy"....)

Rest in peace, Ellie.

The late-'50s-to-early-'60s girl group "movement" is one of my favorite phases of pop music. They had superb songwriters, great producers and above all, they wrote amazing melody lines and harmonies. Many of these attributes had a strong influence on the biggest names in the British Invasion (a movement which, if you believe the accepted wisdom about pop history, weakened the public's appetite for "Brill pop").

You can hear strong influences of the girl groups on the Beatles, particularly in their earlier albums. Their lyrics, vocal performances, song structures, arrangements and production all owe a great deal to the music that came out of that one building in New York city.

Soundscapes examines this influence in great detail in an article titled "Boys will be girl group". Here's an excellent excerpt from the analysis. (The emphasis is mine):
"Beyond the vocals, however, other facets of Girl Group arrangement abound in the Beatle oeuvre. Those echoed handclaps, tambourines, little obbligatos playing the melody in the middle, the use of realistic sound effects, all have their beginnings among the Girl Groups. Doubled instruments — for example, piano and harmonica playing the exact same thing to produce a "new" sound — was a Phil Spector technique developed for girl groups, later expanded and mastered by both the Fabs and the Beach Boys."
Check out the the Beatles' BBC Sessions album for some fantastic covers of music from this era. (Also read this review of the Beatles' cover of "Baby it's you" on PopMatters.) This version of "To know her is to love her", covered so wonderfully on the BBC sessions is not from the album but from an older Silver Beatles' session (?).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sweety Get Your Gun

"...while Chopra's Sweety will pick up a gun and shoot wildly at anyone if she or he stands in the way of her happiness.

These are not special women, in fact they are ordinary women -- the girl next door -- resourceful, self reliant, volcanic, fun loving and, most important, a real person unlike the melodramatic, over the top characters of previous years."
"Tomato, tomahto" of course. Or rather, you say "ordinary, fun-loving", I say "violent, gun-toting, crazed, blood-thirsty psychopath".

Is the writer of that hilariously bad piece serious or is she being ironic?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Am Thoroughly Irresponsible And Emotionally Unstable

And one day, you become the music you love.
"Jazz fans...were considered to be imaginative, peace-loving liberals with friendly and outgoing natures. Classical buffs are perceived as quiet, friendly, responsible and intelligent but also unathletic, physically unattractive and dull."
And pop fans?
"...conventional and calm but lacking in intelligence and wisdom."
You suck because your favorite music sucks.

(I bet that woman with the headphones - from the stock image used in the story - is a pop fan. She has a calm but idiotic look on her face. Or maybe she's listening to something called "Nature Sounds". Which would make her idiotic and annoying.)

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Secret Mantra For The Tiara

Big disappointment: this headline had me thinking that a Miss Universe contestant would actually be chanting the "Gayatri Mantra" as a part of her talent routine. (What is Gayatri Mantra?) That, let me tell you, would be bizarrely cool and ballsy - though "ballsy" is an adjective the judges may or may not like very much in the Miss Universe contest.

But it turns out, upon reading that article - the horror - that the said contestant will only be using the mantra "as it will give her strength". (Never heard of Bournvita?)

Such a pity. For a moment, I foolishly imagined Miss Universe contestants reading from important spiritual or philosophical texts from their countries up on the stage. That would be something, wouldn't it?

"For the swimsuit round, Miss Israel will tell us about "Yonah and the Great Fish" and the relevance of this allegory to the modern world. But meanwhile, here's the beautiful Miss Denmark. She's 21, 5'10" and will read "Either/Or" in its entirety.

There would be furious debates backstage! Miss Vietnam and Miss Sri Lanka coming to blows over interpretations of the Four Noble Truths, thus marking the first time in history when excited shouts of "CAT FIGHT!" would be drowned out by voices demanding an explanation of "DUKKHA".

Tits and ass and cosmic profundity. Is that really too much to expect from women who are competing for the title of Miss UNIVERSE?

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Rhymes With Doppelgänger

Spooky stuff: Byron, Donne, Shelley, Goethe and Owen all experienced the phenomenon of doppelgängers. (Link to Lord Byron's story on Futility Closet; see other poets' experiences at the bottom of the linked post.)

This doppelgänger business is apparently not rare, nor is it restricted to poets. I've myself heard a couple of stories from family members. As with the above poets, the sightings were connected with news of death or childbirth. I wonder why?

Actually, it might be fun to run into one's doppelgänger on the street. Though one may have to employ techniques from this classic scene to separate the real one from the spirt. (BTW, that clip is hands down one of the top 5 funniest sequences in cinema history.)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Weeds Are Just Weeds*

Robert Wright writes about his experience with meditation in the Times' "Happy Days" blog:
"On a walk one day I looked down at one of those weeds and it looked as beautiful as any other plant. Why, I wondered, had I bought into the “weed” label? Why had I so harshly judged an innocent plant?"
I'm with Robert Wright on that. Weeds are plants too. I'll take a wild, untended patch *any* day over a manicured, fussed-over garden.

But a lizard, that he also writes about in his article, is my blind-spot.
"...there was my moment of bonding with a lizard. I looked at this lizard and watched it react to local stimuli and thought: I’m in the same boat as that lizard — born without asking to be born, trying to make sense of things, and far from getting the whole picture."
Indiana Jones couldn't stand snakes. Henry Jones, Sr., his father, couldn't stand rats and I will never ever have the jones for empathizing with lizards. It's a childhood phobia thing.

Yes, I know, that is *just* where my inquiry should begin. Why am I repelled by the lizard's form? What exactly is it about a lizard that simply freezes me? I recognize, with more than just a little sadness and frustration, these are questions I can't even begin to think about.

So, good post, Mr. Wright, but I would much rather work with weeds and ponder over simpler questions like the Meaning Of It All. At least I do not have to deal with slithering forms, beady little eyes, darting tongues and terrifying scenarios involving ceiling fans and detachable tails.


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Down For Everyone Or Just Me?

Gmail's been misbehavin' since AM. According to this resource, it does appear to be down for everyone.

No, make that "it's just you". Hang on - now it says it's down for everyone. Back again. Down.

Is there a service that can tell me if is down for everyone or if it's just me?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pet Sounds - Minus The Sounds

The Beach Boys were among the finest practitioners of bel canto in pop music. (What is bel canto? Read this NYT article from 2008.)

But very often, studio albums with their layers of orchestration conceal, not augment, the power of the vocal performance.

So listen to this: The Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds", a capella. (Link to a YT channel - no video, just audio.) The band's singing and harmonizing is just out of this world. My favorites tracks are "God only knows" and "I just wasn't made for these times". Even the favorite "Sloop John B." packs some lovely surprises.

For a lot of us who were raised on Brit Rock (or even American rock from the 1960s), the instrumental arrangements on Beach Boys albums sound a bit old-fashioned. There are no growling guitars and no flashy solos to be heard here. Yet, this was the album that pushed the Beatles (and George Martin) to outdo the Beach Boys (with "Sgt. Pepper").

Listening to these pure, distilled voices on these a capella tracks is a reminder of why "Pet Sounds" is a great album.

(Found this on MetaFilter)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

In Jersey Anything's Legal As Long As You Don't Get Caught

Bob Dylan (Link to ABC)
Shah Rukh Khan (link to

I really like how Bob Dylan is reported as walking around in the "pouring rain" (read the description of his clothes on the second page of the article).

What if Dylan had identified himself as Robert Zimmerman and if the policewoman was a John Lennon fan? She could have responded with a devastating "I don't believe in Zimmerman". Ha ha.

(Post title from the Traveling Wilburys' "Tweeter and the Monkey Man")

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Wizard of Waukesha

Les Paul died yesterday.

I was thinking about this. Millions of us wouldn't be who we are had Les Paul not tinkered with the guitar. No, I mean it. Our personalities would have turned out all different - and just wrong. Another hundred thousand or more wouldn't have been *conceived* were it not for music made on the electric guitar. (So, who's your daddy?) Boy, a *lot* of power resided in one man's hands.

Here's an obligatory list of some famous Gibson Les Paul players.

You may not see his picture on the above page, but George Harrison is listed on it. His Les Paul was gifted to him by a guitarist who once fronted a band called Cream. You may have heard of them. In classic blues -and maritime - traditions, the guitar was christened "Lucy". Here she is, the beautiful, seductive and much-storied Lucy.

But it's not just about the solidbody guitar. Les Paul is also credited with the first commercial recording featuring overdubs (Rodgers and Hart classic, YT video; a *delightful* piece of gee-taaar music) . What would modern pop and rock be without that vital recording technique?

For that, and for Whole Lotta Love and Tales of brave Ulysses and the gently weeping Lucy - and for making my teenage years worth living - thank you, sir.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Flight Of Ignoramus

One of my life's little delights is hearing from Air India - their frequent flyer program, to be more specific. The latest email, informing me that they have upgraded their fleet, does not disappoint at all:

"You, no doubt, know that our daily non-stop services from JFK operate with new 777-200LRs, and our daily flights from Chicago with 777-300ERs." (emphasis mine)

I can see a pop quiz at the airport before checking in.

AI Officer: "What aircraft will we be flying today?"
Passenger: "Umm...747?"

Officer: "FAIL! EPIC FAIL! Back of the bus! No poori-chole for you!"

(then turning to the stewardess, with a sneer on his face):

"Foolish civilians! The answer we are expecting is - "the longer-range 777-300ER and 777-200LR variants entered service in 2004 and 2006, respectively, while a freighter version, the 777F, first flew in 2008. Both long-range 777 models and the 777F are equipped with General Electric GE90 engines, wingtip extensions of 12.8 ft (3.9 m), and raked wingtips."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

LMW 28IF: Looking At A Cover Again

40 years ago, the world's best-known rock festival was being planned when on the other side of the Atlantic, a photo-shoot was taking place that would give us one of best-known pictures in pop culture. (Also in the Times)

I have never really found a satisfactory answer as to why so many people are drawn to this photograph. (It remains one of the most parodied photographs.) To be clear, I am talking about its composition and the story it tells us.

Maybe I should try and remember why I fell in love with this image.

Was there an air of mystery about it when I first saw it? It is, in a away, a shot of a group of men marching toward a fantastic journey into the future.

There were all the obvious questions: why are they all dressed so differently? Where are Paul's shoes? Who are those people in the background? Could they have known this would be the band's final album?

Maybe it was the composition (Photography/art geeks: feel free to chip in with your own ideas). A converging point in the background and the subjects walking, not toward the convergence, but across the frame, defying some rule. That's what rock bands are supposed to do: defy rules, and this band, more than any other, defied nearly ever rule in the book even as they wrote them.

Another aspect of the cover that makes it interesting to me, composition-wise, is that it is a realistic picture (unlike, say, Revolver) and shows one of the most gifted teams in music in simple, bright and cheerful light, that seems to harmonize well with the music inside.

But you also realize, upon hearing the album several times, that it hides more complexities than "Sgt. Pepper", which has a busier, cluttered, pop-obsessed cover photo. That contrast creates an element of surprise.

Such a simple cover, it's practically the opening line of a joke or an absurd play. Four men are crossing the street. Thirty minutes later, nothing happens. The love you take is equal to the love you make. The end.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Bueller? Bueller?

Tributes to director John Hughes are all over the Web. (links to Roger Ebert and A.O. Scott)

But few are as personal as this one. (Via Waxy)

I haven't seen any John Hughes films on the big screen. So most of my recollections of his pre-1987 films are linked to cheap, pirated VHS prints. When I think of "Breakfast Club" or "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", I can't see the sharp, neon-glow vividness of the 1980s. But still, those colors shone brighter than Indian state television's palette. So here was the perfect combination that young film-makers probably dream of: a new medium (cable TV/VHS), a new musical sound ('80s pop; music just filled his films), a new kind of character (the '80s teenager) and of course, a new audience (again, the '80s teenager).

It seems strange now, but I remember some of his films made me feel a little threatened. Not the content of the films but the form. They were just completely wrapped up in the sensibility of the period and it all felt very foreign - and hence both wrong and desirable - to me. But now when I see some of those Brat Pack films, I feel a mix of nostalgia, recollections of that foreignness and memories of wanting to grow up fast.

But the one film of his, other than "Ferris Bueller's Day Off", that I still enjoy is his road movie. Come Christmas time, I simply must watch that film on TV. (A very affectionate remembrance of the film in today's Opinion page in the Times.)

And finally, one more reason to love the man: in my opinion, John Hughes probably made the FINEST use of a Beatles song in a film. (See other films with Beatles music.)

R.I.P, John.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Geometry of Kangra Art

If geometry can be applied to study Islamic Art, why not to Hindu Art?

Courtesy a link posted by an anonymous commenter in my previous post on Islamic Art, a geometric analysis of Kangra paintings.

From the linked page:
"Observers of these paintings often comment that their lines, forms and colors combine to produce a rhythmical and harmonious musical effect. This is no accident. These paintings are composed by a combination of science, art and religion. At their heart is a knowledge of aesthetic geometry deriving from the ancient world."
I must confess- I've always taken Kangra Art at its face value. The paintings are undoubtedly beautiful but I've never really discerned pattern in them. But now I see there is much more lurking under the surface than just pretty pictures of Krishna, Radha and randomly placed deer.

Thanks for the link, Anonymous. The Internet indeed is a wonderful school.

I should apply pattern analysis on my third-grade "drawing" class homework. Who knows what that might throw up! The operative words being "throw up".

Must See: Pattern In Islamic Art

"At their best these images express a refined and even sublime aesthetic sensibility, but they always remain perfectly accessible."
Four thousand free images of themes, motifs and designs from Islamic Art. All downloadable, with accompanying analysis, historical significance, bibliography.

Go eat your heart out.

(Via MetaFilter)

Update: Via Feanor, an excellent link to an analysis of the types of symmetry found in Islamic art.

Second update: Rahul sends in another link that looks at the intersection of Islamic Art and Geometry. Great find - thanks Rahul!

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Die Die My Darling

From yesterday's Op-Ed page in the Times, a column about the decade-long "undoing" of the music industry:
"This is part of a much broader shift in media consumption by young people. They’re moving from an acquisition model to an access model."
Had the people running the music labels understood this fact in 1999 - the year when the business peaked (and oh the cosmic irony - the year when the world discovered Napster) - or even in 2005, they could have come up with a more meaningful pricing model, instead of letting "free" become the standard.

Saturday, August 01, 2009


A very cool little blog-post on Benjamin Franklin in the NYT, as a part of the "And the pursuit of happiness" blog by writer-illustrator Maira Kalman.

Is there anything Franklin couldn't do?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Coolness and Passion Index

"It may be too hard to tell whether an artist is cool, but we have all sorts of ways to tell that an artist is definitely not cool. For instance, if lots of listeners really don’t want people to know that they are listening to a particular artist, then that artist is probably not too cool."
By examining "unwanted scrobbles" data from, a blogger tries to make sense of what's uncool in popular music. (What is a scrobble?) The conclusion?
"It is hard to be cool and female."
No two ways about it. Most male music fans don't care to collect music by female performers and bands. The only exceptions might be in genres like Jazz, country and folk.

I know, some of you will be eager to drop the names of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Joni Mitchell at this point, but I can't say I have spent any significant amount of time listening to them.

The Coolness Index.

On a similar note, the same blogger looks at a "Passion Index" to understand "which artists generate the most passionate listeners". While the math is clearly not perfect, the Beatles win hands down. (Their former rivals, the Rolling Stones are actually ranked below, get this, Gorillaz.)

But how might "passion" be linked to music sales? Do Gorillaz actually sell more than the Stones? Can Sigur Ros really sell more singles and albums than Led Zeppelin? I doubt it. But it is an interesting bit of insight.

How much longer before even the Beatles and Pink Floyd drop out of this list, just like Elvis? Another fifty years? A hundred years? Or are they destined to forever remain on such an index, like Beethoven and Mozart?

The Passion Index

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Kokko's Bonfire

"Kokko, kokoa koko kokko kokoon. Koko kokkoko? Koko kokko, Kokko, kokoa kokoon!"

Via the delightful Futility Closet, a little lesson in Finnish.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Line Maroing

Fellow geezer J.A.P started this:
"Lines – lines from songs - that you think are great. Or maybe almost great. Or maybe just lines that stick in the mind."
The million-dollar question is, do I skip the obvious sources and lines or stick to them? I am not sure but I will NOT quote from "Like a rolling stone". Done. To. Death.

I have to kick this off with a line from a more recent band that has entered my Great Line Database:

"Are we human or are we dancer?"

It is a genuine head-scratcher, lyrically and grammatically. It could also serve as a zen koan and is a sort of a companion to another line written more than 40 years ago by the Beatles, which is also a favorite of mine:

"you may be a lover but you ain't no dancer"

"God is a concept by which we measure our pain"
"How can I go forward when I don't know which way I am facing?"

"I have tended my own garden for much too long"
(one of the most underrated songs in the S&G songbook)
"Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust"
"I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"
"I'm goin' to California where they sleep out every night"
(I know, it's not profound or anything, but it's a line I love.)

"Maybelline, why can't you be true?"
"Crusin' and playin' the radio, with no particular place to go"

"She whispered in his ear "Exactly Odo Quasimoto"
(John Prine is a genius. Please listen to "The Missing Years" album if you are not familiar with his music. You *will* thank me later.)

"your cracked country lips, I still wish to kiss" (Of all Dylan lines, is there one more precise and evocative than this? Of course there is.)
"Yes to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free"
"We are stardust"

"Water in the milk from the hole in the roof where the rain came through" (Waylon Jennings is my man)
I'm wishing, Lord, that I was stoned" (*the* saddest song about Sundays. Period.)
"Sitting on park benches like bookends" (though, to be sure, "Parsely, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme" is their most quotable album)
"I saw a shadow touch a shadow's hand" (a pretentious Paul Simon lyric, but the line's been seared in my brain)
"I am 22 now and I won't be for long" (a *serious* teenage crush will forever be associated with this song and album. Ahh, teenage.)
"and after all, we're only ordinary men" (pass me the doobie, brother)
"Have no fear for atomic energy"
"You can fool some people sometime, but you can't fool all the people all the time"
"Wake me up before you go-go"
(stop smirking - it is *almost* a good line)
"it's a long way to the top if you want to rock 'n roll"

Damn, I can do this all day :) So I will end with my *most* favorite line:

"And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make"

P.S.: Not *one* Cole Porter line? Yes, but only because it is unfair competition.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Geeta Nagar Needs Your Help

Via the Griff Man's blog (and MumbaiHelp), a request for assistance:
"The high tidal waves on 24th July destructed several homes at Geeta Nagar, the largest slum in Navy Nagar and washed away roofs and huts of more than a hundred poor people.

Please contribute rice, atta, sugar, tea leaves, pulses and also bedsheets, and clothes for men, women, children.

Any help is welcome."

Saturday, July 25, 2009

A Day In The Life In The Park

Neil. Punk bastard.

Here he is, in London's Hyde Park last month, performing "A day in the life". To sing the bridge and to do the "aah, aaaaaah", he's joined by the guy who co-wrote all those fun bits :)

Neil and Paul McCartney share a microphone, Neil breaks guitar strings with much glee which seems to delight Paul and after the noisy crescendo (classic Neil), they go on to play a little tune on a vibraphone.

All in the course of one song.

I freaking heart Neil.

(Can't be sure, but the two of them look a little too blissed out...some backstage smoking, perhaps?)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Wildlife Harakiri Program Continues

Remember the baby deer? I don't know how, but I seem to have turned into this powerful Beast Magnet. It's like being in a "In Soviet Russia" joke. The animals, they brake for me.

This morning, a big wild turkey tried to shuffle off the mortal coil by placing itself in front of my (moving) car. Watching it run was like watching an extremely pregnant woman participating in a 100-meter race against her wishes. Funny, yes, but ultimately painful.

The bird made it OK. I gave it an angry stare in the rear-view mirror while silently mouthing "Thanksgiving 2009". No coffee was spilled.

Now I wait for the suicidal wildebeests, misanthropic dolphins and sad woolly mammoths.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Moonhead Jam

How cool was this planet in 1969?

It was so cool that during BBC's coverage of the moon landing on this day in 1969, they had Pink Floyd, a band later celebrated for its tight connection to our beloved satellite, provide live music to the landing. (I hope someone from ISRO is reading this. Guys, if you need some mixtapes when your 'nauts bounce around that rocky, dusty surface, call me. I will gladly do that job for free. Keeping fingers crossed.)

David Gilmour's blog, which is NOT written by him so don't go all fanboy there, has a video of the so-called "Moonhead" jam. (Via The Lede)

Isn't it just brilliant that something as new as space travel and something as old as blues music can belong together?

Friday, July 17, 2009


What Amazon did recently is just plain shitty: it deleted copies of George Orwell's 1984 from everyone's Kindle. (Doing it to any other title would have been just as bad, but.come.on. Not 1984.) Something to do with copyright issues between Amazon and one of the publishers of 1984.

Like so many other book lovers, I too have indulged in an occasional rant or ten against Amazon's Kindle. Even with recent announcement of the new pricing, I am not clear why I should get one. (Not that I am in the market...) But when you work in the tech business like I do, you do feel vaguely ashamed at sounding like a bit of a Luddite. I mean, if I can't accept changing trends, why do I expect my customers to behave differently?

For me, the biggest obstacle with the Kindle is that it takes a perfectly great product, aka the book, and turns it into what is described in the software world as a "proprietary platform". A Kindle is a platform on which you download, read and store books (and is not the book in itself).

If the last 3 decades of Information Technology has taught us anything, it's this: the the one who builds the platform is the victor. Apple, Microsoft and now Google, they are all fighting for that right to build the next platform. With the platform come the cool software applications and before you know it, you are tied to one provider.

That is the *only* game in town. Hence, Amazon wants to create a "reading platform". The trouble is, platform providers wield too much power. They decide what can and cannot run on the platform. They decide how things will work on the platform.

Amazon deleted the book because it could.

But what all this means is I don't have to go through the trouble of drawing up the pros and cons of buying a Kindle. The fact that Amazon can "unsell" a book only makes the argument in favor of buying "real" books that much more compelling.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Beatle On The Rooftop, Circa 2009

Talk about a full circle. Paul McCartney in NYC yesterday playing, not on the Ed Sullivan Show of course, but ON the Ed Sullivan Theater. Close enough, right? CBS has put up a rocking, tight little, five-song concert video.

I'm still kicking myself for not knowing about this sooner. I've seen Paul live on stage before but watching him play on a rooftop would have been so cool.

Related: Letterman is on a roll. (I suppose Conan will now have to summon George's spirit to play some rooftop in LA to beat Letterman's ratings?)

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Unchanged And The Unchanging

A poem by Wallace Stevens and a wonderful bit of transcendental commentary on the poem by Space Bar:
"In other words, only one who can see and hear without modifying what is seen or heard, can see things as they are. The only quality one must possess is the quality of not overlaying what is external with the cloth of thought – ‘not think’ but merely behold, merely listen. Be both unchanged and unchanging."
Yes I know, it somehow feels wrong to be reading a poem about snow and "junipers shagged with ice" in July. It's July, for crying out loud! It's a happy 83 degrees outside. The "frost and the boughs" business is still five months away. Shoo! Shoo!!

Also, read the Wiki on the poem. (Caution: contains the words "epistemology" and "Nietzchean thought" which make you feel smarter than you really are.)

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Contrarian View On Asia's Future

On the Foreign Policy magazine website, a provocative piece on Asia:
"'s a gross exaggeration to say that Asia will emerge as the world's predominant power player. At most, Asia's rise will lead to the arrival of a multi-polar world, not another unipolar one."
" thinking about Asia's future, let's not get ahead of ourselves. Its economic ascent is not written in the stars."
If you work in the technology sector, please go start a flame war on FP's site over the author's take on the lack of innovation in Asia and the quality of engineers in India and China ;)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Original Killer App

Searching for music online is the only cure for those long summer afternoons when you feel you have surfed to the very end of the Internet. (There *is* an end. You do know that, right?)

Cnet has a neat little post on search engines that only look for music. I was pleasantly surprised by the results on all the engines. Give them all a spin and see for yourself.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Who Will Mourn An Accountant's Death?

Allen Klein died a couple of days ago.

I found an absolutely fantastic site that tracks the economic history of the Beatles. Read that linked page about what Klein did for the Beatles. Among other things, the Beatles' royalties went up from 6 cents per sale before 1966 to 39 cents per record between '66-'69. Sweet mother.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Not To Touch The Earth

The levitation of Jim Morrison's girlfriend (link to a single photo; Jim Morrison doing a P.C. Sorcar)

Don't ask. I have no idea what that picture's all about. It is trippy, silly and funny.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Best Obituary Ever

Christopher Hixson, Nancy Hixson's son, was kind enough to include this bit of information in the comments: This link goes to a version of the obit with page breaks.

Nancy Lee Hixson is not a name most of us recognize, but her obituary, a self-penned one, is worth reading for so many reasons. For example, her description of herself as an "indifferent housekeeper".

Then this:
"She also enjoyed a long life of unmentionable adventures and confessed she had been a rebellious teen-aged library clerk, an untalented college student on scholarship, a run-away Hippie, a stoic Sunday School teacher, a Brownie leader, a Grange lecturer, an expert rifleman, a waitress, a wife once or twice, a welder, an artist, and a writer."
I know, starting the week with an obit is not exactly the motivation boost you were looking for but this actually might do the trick. (Stop bitching and moaning about the lack of indentation in the linked page. I am sure you have Notepad or Word on your computer.)

Also, don't forget to read the guest book and also this article in the same newspaper.

Nancy Hixson, RIP.

(Link via the Blue)

Saturday, July 04, 2009


Using Rubik's cubes to make two iconic album covers: Abbey Road and London Calling. (Link opens to a video; Via MetaFilter)

Note: The artist, Jonathan Levine, has an exhibition in NYC. Here are pictures of other album covers on display.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Whizzz! Boom! Bang! Meh.

"...the professional fireworks display is an exercise in pomposity, aggression, triumphalism, and hubris. The pyrotechnician—and, more importantly, his patron—intends to ornament the night sky beyond the powers of God himself. He means to inspire awe for little purpose other than to demonstrate his power."
From Slate.

The best fireworks display I saw was one Fourth of July, several years ago. It had been raining all evening and by the time it was dark, the fireworks were occurring behind a thick wall of cloud. It was like a high-concept, prank art project. You had ten thousand billion people, all looking up at the sky and, by force of habit, emitting a disappointed, low-intensity "oooh" at nothing.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Time Is Tight

Booker T and the MGs rock out with a classic. Take note of the very special guests hanging out in the wings and watching the MGs play.

Also read the making of. (Poke around that link for more "making of" articles.)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Soul-selling As A Proven Sales Strategy

Finally, a clear and scientific explanation of the Beatles' success. (Caution: it's all very scientific.)

What if every human being were to enter into a similar pact with Satan? Would that not lead to a glut of great music and just kill the damn market?

On the other hand, if we were all deprived of fame and fortune forever, would we not be a simpler, happier people? Soulless, yes, but simpler and happier, finally freed of all desires, content to be writing, painting, singing, knitting without an eye on the prize. All thanks to Satan.

I say turn me on, Red man.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


Update: What does his death mean for the Beatles' catalog?

Larry King just asked some guest if MJ's death is as "big" as Elvis's and John Lennon's. Wow. That's just sad.

But fuck all that. This is my favorite MJ song. Killer riff, killer hook.

I came of age with "Thriller" and I remember how he "arrived" on the scene in India. It was sudden and it was total. A remarkable feat, considering that he became big in Indian cities and even many mid-sized towns before the arrival of cable TV (or even FM). One day, none of us had heard of moonwalking and the next day, we were talking about the fire on the sets of the Pepsi commercial.

It's fair to say that Jackson had a bigger impact on the pop culture landscape in India than Elvis, the Beatles and Nirvana put together. If you are the typical Indian rock listener, you have probably spent more time listening to "The Wall" than "Off the wall". That was, and continues to be, music for the elite. But MJ was popular, truly pop.

And 26 years later, my eyes can see how his feet move during the moonwalk but the brain still doesn't get it.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Why Did The Baby Deer Cross The Road?

1. Car rolling down the road, Blind Boys of Alabama blasting.
2. Baby deer very awkwardly leaps into frame.
4. Furry little cute little awkward-walking baby deer crosses over to the other lane and freezes DIRECTLY in front of the BIGGEST SUV ON EARTH.
6. BIGGEST SUV slams brakes.
8. Baby deer shivers, quivers, trembles and cowers.
10. Meanwhile, in my car: hot coffee has been displaced, magically, from container to crotch. (Externally of course..instead of its usual route from container to mouth and so on southward.)
11. Roasted nuts. Mmmm.
12. Traffic stops, baby deer unfreezes and runs - awkwardness all gone - unhurt over to the other side.
13. Deep breath. Blind Boys of Alabama back on. "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty..."

Random YouTube Insult Generator

The answer to most all of life's problems.

(Found on the blue.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

"Pass The Mic, Tom"

Via 3QD, a really cool mashup of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" and Beasties' "Pass the mic". (Check out 1:32 when the riff from Tom Sawyer kicks in....)

And remember when Tony the Tiger snorted Cheetos and tripped out to "Tom Sawyer" on "Family Guy"? (Just for the record, I've stopped watching "Family Guy", even re-runs. It's turned beyond unfunny for me. Don't ask me why.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Oh What Joy For Every Girl And Boy

Pic of the entrance to the Octopus exhibit in the delightful Monterey Bay Aquarium.

But the Seahorses exhibit stole the show.

Here's a sample (click for bigger image). Those leafy things you see? All seahorses. Camouflage taken to some unbelievable heights. Or depths.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Ali Akbar Khan

(Image taken from this site)

What a musician. R.I.P.

Slightly ironical that I should begin this post with an excerpt from an interview with a western classical musician. Here's the guitar maestro, Julian Bream, talking about a trip to India that he took in 1963:
"He seemed to me, just about the finest musician I had ever met....his mastery was not the normal professional mastery that most of us professional musicians have.....his improvisations were so fluid, so expressive, so inventive...this was the way to play music"
Do watch the short YT video here.

Every classical music-loving family builds its own private pantheon and mine was no different. At the very top was always Ali Akbar Khan. Of course, when I was six or seven, I remember being more awestruck upon being told by Amma that he was a descendent of Mian Tansen and what kid wouldn't be impressed by knowing Mian Tansen was the man who brought lightning and thunder with his music? While I don't remember the concert too well - I was probably eight or nine - I am pretty sure that when I saw him up on stage, I was half-expecting floods.

The sitar may be more expressive and it does have a wider dynamic range but in Khansahib's hands, the sarod, as the cliche goes, said more with less. It took me a while to understand why music lovers associate his playing with depth, dignity and quiet intensity. No notes were ever wasted, nothing was overstated and the aim was always true.

Thank you for filling our homes and our lives with such wonderful music.

You can find lots of recordings of AAK on the web. One such source is this fantastic blog which has a beautiful duet between the Ustad and L. Subramaniam.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Things We Can Learn From Nature

10AM Pacific Time: A hummingbird was perched outside the bathroom window with a dead, fat, hairy worm in its beak. Then it flew off, presumably to enjoy its breakfast. It returned a few minutes later; this time with a deader, fatter, hairier worm in its beak.

HA! Now who's getting the worm, you tiresome, hyper-motivated, disciplined early bird?

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

This Is MY Hum

You are humming a song and minding your own darn business when someone else listens to your humming and feels compelled to hum along - in the wrong key. I am (sort of) OK with that. Look, there are several things wrong in this world and a tuneless hum is far from being the worst thing.

But when the shameless hum-hijacker listens to a few notes of your humming and confidently launches into a different song?

I am sure if we all looked hard enough we would find the Good Book allows an occasional murder or two.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Tangerines, le Carre novels and Sigur Ros

"If you’re the kind of person who prefers freedom to security, who feels more comfortable in a small room than a large one and who finds that happiness comes from matching your wants to your needs, then running to stand still isn’t where your joy lies."
That excerpt from a column by Pico Iyer, in today's Times, about leading the simple life.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Mmm...Cloned Buffalo Milk

Garima the cloned buffalo looks really sweet but why does she have yellow hooves?

This website explains what they mean by "hand-guided cloning technique". (You can also read this technical paper about "hand-made clones". )

Doesn't the common water buffalo have a very musical biological name? Bubalus bubalis.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Farewell, Mr. Han

The cultural high-point of my childhood was a line from a little movie called "Enter the Dragon": "Bullshit, Mr. Han man". (Someone has oh-so-lovingly taped the scene and uploaded it on YT.) That line, delivered by Jim Kelly in a fine, assured drawl thrilled us kids because someone had dared to stand up to the mean, mean Mr. Han. (And because someone said "bullshit" and that seemed funny to this nine year-old.)

I bring this up today because Mr. Han, the actor Shek Kin, is dead.

There was no villain meaner than Mr. Han. And only he was worthy of an ass-kicking by Bruce Lee.


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Insert Coin To Start Game

Update: How the game came together (link to CNET)

More than anything, this one sentence from the story has got me intrigued: "Another important factor was the developers' adding the ability to include vocal harmonies as part of game play."

"Their music is so much about harmonies," he said. Adding vocal harmonies was something that had never been done in "Rock Band" before, but it was considered vital to accurately representing the Beatles' music in the game.

Great, so now we will have people pretending to play the guitar trying to sing harmony with masters of harmony-singing.


Harmonix has put up a really far out animated short film to promote the Beatles Rock Band game. (link via)

Could someone please make a Saturday morning TV cartoon show out of this? I promise to watch non-stop from 9AM until whenever, buy all your sugary crap and the video game too.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Current Mood: Juvenile

"After unsuccessfully petitioning his father for two years to marry the girl, the man heated up a knife and sliced off his reproductive organ, said a police official."

And so, with one very painful chop, the young man debunked one of this modern world's cherished beliefs: that the penis mightier than the sword.

Love requires courage, but this is madness. It made the man seem a bit too cocky.

I really should go now.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sebastiao Salgado

Yesterday's Times had a story on master photographer Sebastiao Salgado. I was not familiar with his work at all but I loved what I saw in the paper.

Many of his photo-essays are online. Other than the striking "Genesis" images, the one that really impressed me was his series on the Serra Pelada in Brazil. You can see some of those on this Flickr photostream.

The Guardian carried a series of columns between 2005 and 2007, written by the photographer himself, on Genesis. For some reason, the images are not easily accessible on The Guardian.A little Genesis sampler can be seen here. Also on the Guardian: Salgado's "best shot".

Friday, May 29, 2009

"Phil Spectored"

Or, as the court put it, 19 years in prison

A 1965 version of "A simple desultory philippic" (you do know it's a song and not just the title of a funny blog, right?) featured names of other famous personalities, including Indian politician Krishna Menon (rhymed nicely with "John Lennon"). Link goes to the original folksy, jangly version of the song on YT.

FOXP2; Now We Have To Put Up With Their Idle Chatter?

Wife: "Did you hear that"?
Me: "It's probably just mice in the kitchen"
Wife: "But that's not a squealing sound I hear"
Me: "Really?"
Wife: "It's like they are...talking"
Me: "You are right - they are talking!"
Wife: "What do you think they are they talking about?"
Me: "They are complaining about the new brand of peanut butter in the pantry"

Scientists haff vays of making ze mice talk.

You can also read a good background analysis of the FOXP2, or the so-called "language gene", and keep that in mind as you read sensational newspaper claims about scientists trying to make mice talk.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Air-conditioning is air-conditioning, right? Not if you have experienced the "khus-khus" cooler. Also known as the "desert cooler", that contraption - and there is no other word to describe it - was a lifesaver during the summer months in India. Northern India, to be accurate. (So a chicken mesh, a fan, a small water pump and some wood shavings was India's Mason-Dixon line?)

Don't bother googling for the khus-khus cooler though. Most results are about khus-khus drinks. I am also surprised that there are no images of the appliance on the web. Seriously, not one picture?

But 3 Quarks Daily has something even better: a delightful post about air-conditioning, architecture, town planning (with some good ol' Delhiana thrown in). You may want to get a glass of jaljeera first before you start reading it.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sing Out Loud

Musician, producer and strategist Brian Eno, about the benefits of singing:
"Well, there are physiological benefits, obviously: You use your lungs in a way that you probably don't for the rest of your day, breathing deeply and openly. And there are psychological benefits, too: Singing aloud leaves you with a sense of levity and contentedness."
From NPR's "This I Believe".

I agree; singing and harmonizing with a bunch of friends is fun. But remember, if you pick songs like "Love hurts", which appears on Eno's list, only one of the two can survive: the song or the friendship :)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This Land Is Your Land

Out in the country,
Far from all the soot and noise of the city...

(Taken from one of my most favorite albums, "The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society". Yes, I do recognize that I am echoing Ray Davies' words "Gawd darn it, isn't it a pretty scene".)

Swat on Flickr.

They are calling it the "worst internal displacement crisis" since the Partition of 1947.

As of May 2009, MSF has halted their relief operations in the area. To learn more about how to donate, visit the Swat Plea blog run by Pakistani citizens.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cost, Price And Value

Has the CEO* of a company sounded more like a dinosaur? Here's Carolyn Reidy, of Simon & Schuster, in the New York Times:
“The concept that because a book is an e-book it should automatically be priced significantly lower than a paper book is one we don’t agree with,” said Carolyn Reidy, chief executive of Simon & Schuster. “What a consumer is buying is the content, not necessarily the format.”
The Times story questions that assumption.

Is Ms. Reidy arguing that the price of a book should be set by its value and not its cost? That's just, uh, priceless. The digital format makes the hardcover/paperback distinction about as relevant as a 9.6K modem today. If more readers don't want to pay 26 bucks for a digital copy of that latest legal thriller, well, then $9.99 just has to be accepted as the new standard. Why is that so hard for these companies to understand?

*No, he never said 640k would be enough.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

"The Interview Project"

3-5 minute conversations with regular people. That's David Lynch's latest brainchild, "The Interview Project". (Studs Terkel would have done this if YouTube was his medium.)

If the rest of the interviews (or rather, the interviewees) are anything like the first one, I am going to be watching all 121 of them.

Just one quibble: I wish Mr. Lynch (or his editors) would re-consider the use of background score. Using long, slide-guitar notes in a Southern or a rural Mid-western setting is a cliche. But using such sounds to underscore an emotional scene in an interview, like at the end of the linked video, reminds me of interviews on network TV. And I am pretty sure most fans of Lynch don't like watching interviews on network TV. But then, what do I know? Lynch knows his films.

I hope some filmmakers in India are inspired to run their own little Interview Projects and bring us conversations with "everyday Indians"; people that we don't often get to read and hear about.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Be Flat Together

A very cool experiment in the key of B flat. (Click on the "more info" on the linked page to read about the project.)

I took the Strat clip (second video in the first row), added the clarinet (third vid from the left, second row) and then pulled in that spoken-word thing (first vid, third row) and what I got was something that sounded like a Pink Floyd-ish track. (In my imagination, of course.)

Monday, May 11, 2009

Not Everything Looks Good in Black And White

Mention the years 1963 or 1964 and chances are, they bring black-and-white images to your mind.

Funny how that colors our perception of the music of the time. The Beatles' songs from the period, or the early Kinks or the early Stones - they are all "black-and-white" songs. Whatever that means. The music sounds older and even quaint. How different the music from 1966 or 1967 sounds because of its association with the images from the period. (A bit ironical, considering that one of the earliest acid-rock albums from that era does not have any color on its cover.)

So when you see a picture like this, it comes as a surprise. (It's hard to believe that that fresh-faced kid in the picture would go on to write "My back pages" a year later.)

Look around for more lovely pictures of some famous (and some not-so-famous) "folkies". Then there are pictures of blues legends like Son House. We are accustomed to seeing fuzzy, grainy, b-and-w pictures of the "original" Delta bluesmen. But color photographs make them look so much more real and immediate.


Thursday, May 07, 2009

Tintin, Vincent And That Good Night

Roger Ebert on his mortality:
"I was perfectly content before I was born, and I think of death as the same state."
A terrific post and, as always, the comments on his blog are just as much pleasure to read.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Gauguin Did It

Everyone knows the delightful story about how Van Gogh chopped off his right ear and presented it to Rachel. (Kids: this was long before greeting cards and Evites and Facebook became popular.)

Now art historians say "Fou-Rou" did not mutilate himself. It was Paul Gauguin that wielded the razor and separated poor Vincent from his beloved ear. (Which may have led to Van Gogh writing the classic, "It was a very good ear". Okay, no more.)

Let me get this straight - Gauguin walked around with a fencing epee and lopped off his friend's ear and Van Gogh checked himself into Saint-Paul-de-Mausole?

(Via MeFi)

Monday, May 04, 2009

Sexist Physics?

The "beard-second": the length an average physicist's beard grows in one second. (Link to Futility Closet)

Friday, May 01, 2009



An eyewitness account of a beheading in Saudi Arabia. (Link to The Walrus; found on Kottke.)

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wordless Speech

No, this is not an Indus Script post, though, in a way, it is about language. Spoken language, that is.

Take away all words from a speech or a conversation and what are you left with? This.

Click on the example titled "Strangers on a train", which is a well-known scene from a Hitchcock film. Compare to the original (find it on YT), take notes and discuss why words are neither necessary nor desirable. Using smoke signals or Harappan seals, preferably.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Indus Script, Continued

Rahul blogs about the recent brouhaha over the Indus Script. (Hey, it's his blog and you will read words like "Markov chains" and "conditional entropy" :))

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fish, Arrow, Fish, Jar, Two Fish, Arrow

Very old chicken scrawl not chicken scrawl after all.

There is now evidence that the Indus Script could have been a real language. A photo essay, with pictures of those famous seals, provides a short and simple background to this interesting new development.

Why is it a big deal? Of the oldest known systems of written language, the Indus Script remains the only one not deciphered. Of course, there is much controversy over whether or not the Harappans had a real script.

There's even a "dictionary" of Indus Script "words" on, so now you *really* have no reason to suck at Scrabble.

I find this whole business of combining computer science, pattern recognition, history, archeology and linguistics simply fascinating. It raises a whole bunch of questions that start with Science and History and go into the metaphysical and existential.

For example, how does a scientist know, just by observing repetitive patterns, that there is a language or a method behind the code? At a more basic level, what is language and why was it necessary for Sumerians or the Chinese to develop a written system? How on earth did they get to agree on a set of symbols? How did Indus seals show up in Mesopotamian cities? Was written language primarily a tool for trade and commerce? If there were no written languages, what would the 21st century look like? (Via)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Best Thing I Learned This Weekend

"Scaphism" (courtesy this short but grisly and fascinating op-ed piece in the Times.)

Read the Wikipedia entry on the word and I guarantee you will never think of the words "milk and honey" the same way again.

Yes, ??!, the Death Month continues here.

Who Orders A Burro In A Chinese Restaurant?

This priceless pun deserves to be rescued from the dark, swirling backwaters of the comment box of a blog:

"What’s the difference between NYC and Dunhuang?

In NYC they have restaurants in boroughs, in Dunhuang they have burros in restaurants."

You will have to read Black Mamba's post to understand the context.

Friday, April 17, 2009

"Left In The Sun To Die"

"They say the 11-year-old was being punished by her teacher for not reciting the alphabet properly."
Oh Lord. That was her crime? She was only eleven. (Link to BBC)

There's an entire website devoted to study of such punishment. The site claims it is not designed to "promote particular opinions about corporal punishment". Ignore that for a second and let me point out an interesting observation from the site about corporal punishment in Indian schools:
"It should be noted that the phrase "corporal punishment" is being used particularly loosely in the Indian subcontinent. The "horror stories" about so-called CP that are routinely quoted in support of these various bans, involving pupils being injured by untrained angry teachers who lash out violently on the spur of the moment, have nothing to do with proper formal corporal punishment."
I agree. Bashing a child's head into a desk is not corporal punishment. Leaving a child, an epilepsy patient, out in the hot Delhi sun for 2 hours is not corporal punishment. It's your good old sick-as-fuck torture.

But "proper formal corporal punishment"? What? Is that when the teacher first instructs the class on the virtues of discipline, reads them their Rights, apologizes in advance for the pain and only then proceeds to rip the skin off their hands and legs?

Thursday, April 16, 2009


I think The Economic Times has just outdone itself. See headline and story excerpt in the image below.

Somehow, I can see Manmohan Singh at a security briefing with the Pakistanis and getting into a serious debate over whether Goofy and Minnie are an item.

If the editors at Economic Times are taking requests, can we get a serious economic analysis with the headline "Huey, Dewey and Louie finally decide on orange caps"?

He Not Busy Being Born. He Busy Listening To Celine Dion

According to this article on AFP, "My way" is the top musical request at funeral services but songs like "Highway to hell" (oh yeah), "Another one bites the dust" (umm...great song, but a little too on-the-nose, isn't it?) and "Hallelujah" (of course) are also becoming popular.

Go read what else people want played at their funeral service. A little research brings up Douglas Adams' final "playlist". Classy guy, all the way.

By the way, if you don't have a deathbed playlist yet and need some inspiration, Saturday, April 18 is Record Store Day.

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Felice Brothers

When a band names its album after a phrase from a Mark Twain story, you know they are bound to be very interesting :)

OK, so some of you probably discovered the Felice Brothers a year ago but I heard them for the first time only a few days back and was deeply impressed by the singing and the lyrics. Some lovely roots-rock from the region that gave us "Basement Tapes", though the band categorically denies ever having heard that album.

Download "Run chicken run" from this blog to hear what I am talking about. (Look for the "exclusive download" link on the left panel on that blog.) You can also listen to (and download) "Penn Station" here.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

What's Purple And Swims In the Ocean?

I had long been embarrassed by the fact that though I consider myself a fan of acid rock and psychedelic music, I had never really heard a Moby Grape album. (While I am at it - I have also not read Pynchon or Proust.)

Their name - which still sounds funny and surreal after four decades - pops up in any conversation about the mid-/late- Nineteen-Sixties' music and the San Francisco scene but you don't find their albums in stores, in people's collections or even played occasionally on college radio stations.

The band inspired and influenced many musicians (Led Zeppelin, for one) and musical genres, from country-rock to Southern Rock to that indie, psychedelic-folk sound of the recent times. (Some idiot on Wikipedia compares them to Poco and the Eagles.)

Ask any "classic rock" fan about Grape and chances are, he knows *some* trivia about them and it usually has to do with their legendary personnel woes.(Links to The Hangar, Salon and NPR.)

But their music itself has almost been completely ignored.

So to to fill this personal musical gap, I got a copy of "Moby Grape '69". Going by some online opinions, I should have got the much-praised debut album, but this album did not disappoint at all. In fact, it is fantastic.

Turns out that in 1969, the Beatles were not the only musicians readying themselves to make one final record as a real, united band. Moby Grape was coming apart too and wanted to get their act together. (Unlike the Beatles, they had been together for only two or three years in '68/'69.) Of course, "Moby Grape '69" is not "Abbey Road" - nothing is - but it is just as timeless, never mind the year in the album's title. Songs like "It's a beautiful day today" and Skip Spence's harrowing "Seeing" should be on more iPods.

BTW, if you are in the mood for silly, trippy, nonsensical psychedelia, this is not that album. This album is really a mix of blues, soul, country, folk and that late-Sixties vibe which can be heard on Stones' albums from the same period.

But what prompted me to post this is not the desire to play Rock Historian. Instead, I wanted to share the original liner notes to the album, written by legendary producer David Rubinson. Even if you don't care much for rock 'n roll, do read the text below. I doubt if such sincerity has ever been seen on the back of a rock album - whether in the Sixties or now.

"In this country, where artistry is so often a function of greed, where the creative imagination finds its wildest expression pushing those nose drops and aluminum foil, and where so few can think, but everybody can count, the story of Moby Grape is an American classic. For their story reflects in clearest detail what life is really like for any group in "The Music Business", and thereby, in miniature, what life is like for the artist in America.

Few recording acts get the initial build-up which the Grape got when they started. They themselves demanded the enormous hype - I know this, I was there - but they didn't know what they had started (nor did I), and, logically, they couldn't ever live up to their notices. They chose to substitute notoriety. They became defensive - self destructive - in an attempt to reconcile the publicity blurbs (which no artists ever really think they deserve) with they, in their typical artistic insecurity, thought to be deprecatory truth.

Let there be no mistake: they demanded the hype, they were greedy and they didn't trust their enormous talents. They lost all faith in themselves and stopped loving their music, stopped respecting each other. Music became a function of money and fame. They fell apart. The hangers-on, middlemen, entrepreneurs, advisors, and most everyone else predictably drifted to the newest hype. Alone, they could fall back on nothing but their music.

This album represents an attempt to retrieve all that was once so honest and easy and simple. It symbolizes the very amazing truth that through all the incredible nonsense of the past two years, the group is still together, still functioning, writing, playing, rehearsing. They are, in fact, starting all over again.

We have promised each other: no more gimmicks, no more hypes, no egos, nothing ever again but the music and the mutual respect and feeling from which the music springs - pure, honest and with a most hopeful eye to the future." - David Rubinson.