Thursday, May 17, 2018

LearnNBlog #14: Because It's There

“Because it’s there… Everest is the highest mountain in the world, and no man has reached its summit. Its existence is a challenge. The answer is instinctive, a part, i suppose, of man’s desire to conquer the universe.” - George Mallory

16th May, 2018. 
As part of the daily ritual, started the morning by flipping through The Times of India. Mostly filled with political stuff, which I ignored. Ended up reading an article on Everest “Trophy Hunters”. Basically people with more money than actual climbing experience, who are using Eeverest tour operators to pay their way through knocking off the achievement of having climbed Mt. Everest. It had quotes from Guy Cotter (he is also featured in the movie Everest), a New Zealand based adventure tour operator. And then comes the concluding paragraph in the print edition.

“They are not mountaineers. They are just people who want to claim the prize of climbing Mount Everest. They are hunting for that trophy,” said Tenzing Norgay, the first man to summit Everest together with Edmund Hillary in 1953. 

Now Tenzing Norgay passed away in 1986. So there was no way, he could have given this quote in 2018. And it could not have been an old quote either as Everest commercial climbing became a business only in the 90s! Unless, the reporter was time traveling or just using quote generators!

Now, we live in a world increasingly filled with “fake news” and propaganda. But why would anyone put in a fake quote? Turns out, the truth was a little less complicated. Times of India had run out of column inches and just ended the story at that point with minor edits! The actual article as per the News Agency AFP read:

"Nowadays people can go on the internet and buy the cheapest expedition onto the mountain. But there is no criteria for experience with some of these operators," said the owner of New Zealand-based Adventure Consultants. "They are not mountaineers. They are just people who want to claim the prize of climbing Mount Everest. They are hunting for that trophy." 
Tenzing Norgay, the first man to summit Everest together with New Zealander Edmund Hillary in 1953, only reached the top on his seventh attempt. 
Today amateur climbers expect to do it on their first try, prompting many to take higher risks blinded by "summit fever" and lulled into a false sense of security by the thousands who have succeeded before…. 

So who do we blame for this glaring editorial stupidity? Just goes to show how much Ctrl-C, Ctrl-V goes on in the journalistic world? How careless our news sources can be? Little knowledge is dangerous. And in the wrong hands, it can become downright perilous. 

P.S. And why this fascination with climbing Everest? I guess, as the legendary mountaineer George Mallory had said “Because it’s there”. 

P.P.S. And all this while I thought this was a quote by Sir Edmund Hillary. Well, we all learn something new everyday.

Further Links:
Previusly on Learn N Blog: Few or A Few

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Road To Tokyo: Episode 2

It's been eight months since I wrote the first episode in the "Road To Tokyo" series (which still comprises of that solitary post. Marvel folks make movies faster!). Had promised myself that I would write more regularly about India's preparations for the next Olympics at Tokyo in 2020. For different reasons, mainly general laziness and other distractions competing for the limited resource, that is time, somehow was not able to complete my second post so far. 

Originally had planned for the second episode to be about the changes made to the events schedule from Rio (and there have been a lot). However, while I dilly-dallied in my write-up, we witnessed our first big event in the "Road to Tokyo", the XXI Commonwealth Games (CWG) at Gold Coast, Australia. So instead, chose to write on India's performance at Gold Coast and what we should read from it. 

To be honest, we focus too much on the CWG. I guess, primarily due lots of medals pouring in from every direction during the course of the Games, a rare sight for an Indian sports fan at any multi-disciplinary event. However, given the overall level of competition it should be treated just as we treat the frequent tri-nation cricket tournaments. A feel-good factor on winning but it is not the World Cup or Champions Trophy. In my opinion, the CWG are a good warm-up event for the Olympics. Given their timing, two years before the Olympics, they also provide an opportunity to evaluate and undertake mid-course corrections in the four-year journey. 

So what can we take out from India’s performance? India won 26 Golds, 20 Silvers and 20 Bronze medals to finish 3rd in the medals table. This was a marked improvement from Glasgow where we had 15 Golds, 30 Silvers & 19 Bronze Medals to finish 5th. The increase in the Gold medal count was especially heartening to see. 

Amongst the sports which are a part of the Tokyo roster, India got medals from seven major disciplines - Shooting, Weightlifting, Wrestling, Boxing, Badminton, Table Tennis and Athletics. We also got medals in Squash, but that didn’t make the cut for Tokyo. 
  • Shooting – We dominate this event at the CWG. And that is why there is such a hue and cry that the next edition in Birmingham will not feature Shooting. There have been even calls to boycott the Games totally if Shooting is not included (totally ridiculous IMO). But back to the current Games. While India extended their dominance, what was heartening to see was the performance of the new generation of Indian shooters some of whom are still in school! Manu Bhaker, Anish Bhanwala, Mehuli Ghosh are still in their teens and shooting world records. Hopefully they can up their game further through more exposure and wipe off the agony off the Rio Games. Seems that NRAI’s self-introspection post-Rio is giving results. 
  • Weightlifting – Thankfully, India’s performers are clean now and the overhanging cloud of drugs has dissipated. Mirabai Chanu is the current World Champion and just blew off the competition. In fact, she lifted more than the winner of the next higher weight category. Certainly a contender at Tokyo. Rest of the contingent continued India’s good run at the Games. 
  • Wrestling – India sent 12 wrestlers, all of whom returned with a medal. Maybe some of the female wrestlers could have done better. But nothing much should be read in the performances except that Sushil Kumar is still a force to be reckoned with. 
  • Boxing – A marked improvement from Glasgow as all eight men returned with medals. Women’s front was slightly disappointing, however, Mary Kom got her 1st CWG Gold. 
  • Badminton – India were expected to dominate and that’s exactly what they did. There is still scope for improvement though, which Gopichand and company would already have begun working on. Great to see an India vs India Final as Saina Nehwal defeated PV Sindhu to win the Gold. 
  • Table Tennis – Manika Batra was the break-out star for India with 4 medals including two Golds while consistently beating higher ranked opponents. Only time would tell if the Gold Coast Games are an inflexion point in Indian Table Tennis and if Manika can become a trail-blazer like Saina. 
  • Athletics – Neeraj Chopra lived up to the hype and delivered a Gold. He is still 20 and hopefully will only improve further. Mohammed Anas broke the National Record in 400m finals and finished 4th, showing how far behind we are from the world standards. Hima Das is certainly one to watch out for in the near future. 
  • There were a few National records set in Swimming, but we were nowhere in contention for a medal. While in Gymnastics, Aruna Reddy couldn’t replicate her World Cup medal winning form. 
Now for the lows 
  • The poor performance by the Hockey teams, both of whom finished 4th in the competition. Really need to pull up their socks. Bigger challenges are coming in the year ahead including World Cups and Asian Games. 
  • Doping – While no athlete was caught doping, the Indian contingent had not one but two violations of the “no needle” policy. Two athletes were even sent back. This is a crying shame and worse than poor performance on the field. Hopefully, the athletes, coaches and management are made better aware of the rules and regulations and we do not see a repeat of such things. 
Overall Gold Coast was a happy hunting ground for the Indian contingent. But the real test is to come in Asian Games later this year. Also, qualifications for quite a few of the disciplines would begin in earnest. And that’s when we would well and truly be on the Road to Tokyo! 

  • Road To Tokyo, Episode 1
  • India at 2018 Commonwealth Games, Wikipedia

Monday, April 30, 2018

BookMarks #40: Poirot - The Complete Short Stories

Title: Poirot – The Complete Short Stories
Author: Agatha Christie
Genre: Crime, Mystery
Setting: Early to mid-20th century Europe, mostly focused in Britain.
Published: 2008

The book is a compilation of over 50 short stories written by Agatha Christie featuring Hercule Poirot. Although some of the stories go beyond “short” and run into over fifty pages! The stories were published over a period of 20 years from 1920s to 1940s. 

“Mon Ami”. We all love Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective, with an egg-shaped head and a neat walrus mustache, who focuses on order and method, and makes his deduction by exercising his little grey cells, dislikes needless running around, but never hesitates to make his energetic presence felt at the scene of action. And is always in control of the situation. But the most compelling feature of Hercule Poirot’s personality is the kindness of heart, something which many detectives seemingly lack.

The stories evolve with time, which is understandable given that they have been written over a period of more than two decades. Society itself changed a lot during the era, especially given the impact of the great wars.

My favorite story was not one but a set of twelve, right at the very end. The twelve labours of Hercules, as the detective called it, making them his swansong as he goes into retirement, a happy and content man. Funnily enough, I had read these as a separate compilation long time ago, and yet they did not seem as poignant at the time. Probably because they were read out of context! After all, while all the stories are independent there is a subtle link going through them.

There are lots of references to a certain British detective who precedes Poirot by a few years. Just goes to show, how big a fictional (and real world) phenomenon was Sherlock Holmes.

Now a confession time. It took me nearly seven years to read through the compilation. Says a lot about reading speed and enthusiasm these days. Well, in my (feeble) defense, it is a nearly 900-page tome and there is no immediate urge to go onto the next story after one ends! And in the interim, a few other books jumped in the queue. But having completed it, look forward to revisiting more of Christie classics! And yes, the stories truly are "Masterpieces in Miniature"!

Previously on BookMarks – In the Name of God 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

BookMarks #39: In The Name of God

Title: In the Name of God 
Author: Ravi Subramanian 
Genre: Fiction, Mystery 
Setting: Present Day India 
Published: 2017 

Mysterious deaths occur, when a team is sent to audit the wealth in a temple. And a CBI officer tries to establish the link between different occurrences across the country. 

Why did I read the book? One of the central characters of the book is named “Nirav Choksi” and he is a diamantaire by profession. Recently we had the frauds detected at Punjab National Bank (PNB), where the key accused are diamantaires Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi. Guess that was enough to pique the interest and get a copy of the book! 

A disclaimer upfront. There is no connection to the story of the PNB fraud and this book. While the real-life case is a story of fraudulent banking practices and creative accounting, the book has more drama involving, Gods, heists, antique thefts and smuggling, murders and love triangles! 

There is too much going on in the story. A heist at a Dubai mall, leading to a search for idols, smuggling of antiques, rivalry between diamond merchants, audit of a centuries old temple, family feuds, bomb blasts! Too many characters moving around and getting bumped off. Building up tales and not following on with them. And just too many coincidences! Story could have been better if the plot had been simplified and characters more fleshed out. Although I liked how real life happenings and people have a role to play in the story as well.

Previously on BookMarks: The Gondola Maker 

Monday, April 09, 2018

MovieNotes: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (IMDB
*ing: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Language: English
Genre: Drama, Crime

Basic Premise
A mother puts up billboards to try to force the authorities to solve her daughter’s murder.

(Spoilers Ahead)

The movie has interesting character sketches, all in varying shades of grey. Some of them who don’t even let death get in the way of throwing a few punches at their adversaries. And people can and do change with circumstances.

The open ending and its unresolved issues. The movie ends, while the story does not. And we, the audience, still do not know who the culprit(s) is (are). While the characters will figure out their path forward on the ride, we are left hanging and not taken on their journey!

The movie has its underlying themes of racism, class divide and homophobia. Is it a political comment on Trump's voter base?

It is difficult to set the time period of the movie – characters communicate via landlines or in person, news is disseminated through radio and television broadcasts. Although we do see a cellphone at the end! Internet is certainly not visible. So could be 80s or 90s!

Peter Dinklage seems to be playing a modernized version of Tyrion Lannister again. Getting typecast here!

Real life impact – protests in USA have taken up the format of using three signs to deliver personalized messages to the targeted politicians.

Rating: 9/10. Brilliant acting and a good storyline.

Previously on MovieNotes: Fukrey Returns 

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

MovieNotes: Fukrey Returns

Title: Fukrey Returns (IMDB)
*ing: Pulkit Samrat, Varun Sharma, Ali Fazal, Manjot Singh, Richa Chadda, Pankaj Tripathi
Director: Mrighdeep Singh Lamba
Languange: Hindi
Genre: Comedy

Sequel to the surprise hit Fukrey. And made while retaining the entire cast and crew.

Basic Premise
Story picks up one year after the adventures of the first part. Bholi Punjaban is out of jail and seeking revenge. Matters get complicated as politicians get involved. Meanwhile Chucha’s lottery dreams have been replaced by premonitions.

Fukrey was better. Fukrey Returns tries hard, but doesn’t quite live up to its prequel.

The story is more disjointed and outlandish this time. Why the CM would be involved in carrying out a raid himself? How is a zoo closed for renovation have so much easy access? Many plot-holes abound. Yet, Choocha manages to salvage the movie from being a total disaster and bringing a sense of “deja chu” to the proceedings.

And they should stop thinking of making any more sequels.

Rating - 6/10. Funny in bits, but doesn’t match Fukrey.

Previously on MovieNotes: Black Panther 

Monday, April 02, 2018

LearnNBlog #13: Few or A Few

“The More I Learn, the More I realize, that like Jon Snow, I know nothing”. 

This LnB will be a short Grammar lesson. Difference between “Few” and “A Few” 
  • “Few” refers to zero or close to zero (reminds me of Limits in my Calculus class).
  • “A Few” refers to some i.e. not a very large number! 
A subtle difference but could be a big grammar trap, and a potential playground for lawyers as well!

That was a Short & Sweet Learning Nugget! 

Previously on LearnNBlog: The Shortest Chess Game

Friday, March 30, 2018

BookMarks #38: The Gondola Maker

Title: The Gondola Maker 
Author: Laura Morelli 
Genre: Fiction 
Setting: 16th Century Venice 
Published: 2014 

Luca Vianello, son of Venice’s most prominent gondola maker, tells his story. He has a difficult relationship with his father, accidentally burns down his family’s gondola business, runs away, becomes a boatman for a prominent Venetian artist, falls in love, repairs an old gondola and lands in different troubles, ending in a prison time. The tale ends with Luca’s life on the mend with his troubles sorted out. 

A confession first up. The book was available for free on the Google Play Store, so that’s how I managed to get hold of it, and used my travel time to read it. Given some past experiences with the “free books”, had my doubts in the beginning, but this turned out to be an interesting read. 

The book also presents a richly detailed picture of 16th century Venice – its politics, social life, the boatmen, art commissioning, the business of gondola making and associated trades. It helps that the author is herself an art historian! 

The book has its share of themes – it is a tale of choices, relationships between individuals, rash actions and their consequences, the rich-poor divide. All of this inter-woven in the plot. Where the book does suffer a bit is its abrupt ending. The conclusion is not satisafactory, as the reader is left wanting for more! 

Previously on BookMarks: The Audacity of Hope 

Monday, March 26, 2018

MovieNotes: Black Panther

Title: Black Panther (IMDB
*ing: Chadwick Boseman, Michael B Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Danai Gurira
Director: Ryan Coogler
Language: English, mixed with some Wakandian
Genre: Comic Books, Fantasy, Marvel Cinematic Universe

Basic Premise
Wakanda - a tiny nation, in the heart of Africa, masquerading as a poor third world country, but in reality a vibranium-powered technologically advanced civilization. Wakanda, faces leadership challenges and questions its own place in the world.

Another good origins story from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel producers do know how to bring in new characters, bringing fresh air to the increasingly bloated Marvel Universe, while simultaneously linking it to the main chain of events. 

A good storyline, with a dash of humor, a worthy antagonist, a setting which is a visual delight (even though it’s all CGI), slickly shot action pieces (who wouldn’t love a battle scene featuring charging rhinos) and all of it backed by good acting. All the ingredients in the right proportions making for a fun ride for the viewers. If the story has a larger message playing out in the real world context, even better. And, this is where Black Panther succeeds.

First, about our villain. If told from Killmonger’s perspective, it would make an even better story (with minor changes). Young boy, grows up far away from his home, seeks vengeance for his father’s murder at his uncle’s hands, returns and takes over the throne and then puts out the kingdom’s hidden technology to greater use for benefiting the cause of all African origin people across the globe! That would make for a hell of a story! But, unfortunately, he shows lots of villainous tendencies, so Prince T’Challa is our righteous hero.

Which also brings us the key question? Who is the real villain in the story? In my opinion, that’s King T’Chaka. Kills his brother (partially justified) and abandons his nephew (not justified), trying to keep all of Wakanda’s vibranium fuelled technology to themselves (very questionable) and not taking in refugees (that’s a contemporary thorny issue). Certainly the real villain of the story.

Probably, the reason why no one in Wakanda seems to be grieving his sudden demise! Except for his son, and that too very briefly. Otherwise, all of Wakanda seems to be very excited about crowning of a new king!

Which brings to the crowning. When taken at face value, it seems a very democratic process. After the passing away of the previous king, his son is anointed the new king. However, there is an open-to-all invite for any interested candidate to challenge for the crown in a winner-takes-all one-on-one combat. However, the challenger has a major handicap, the crown prince receives a booster vibranium dose just before the battle while the challenger does not! And our friend Killmonger, overcame this handicap as well. Again, why is he not the hero of the story?

In today’s times, cinema has become more than just a visual story-telling medium. And here lies Black Panther’s biggest success. It is a politically charged film, talks about slavery and Black Power, the refugee crisis, world with less borders, inclusion in sharing technology and resources, while painting a vision of a brighter future for the whole world! All this without going into a preaching mode and ensuring that it stays a comic book film at its core. The reason why #WakandaForever is fast becoming a rallying cry across the world. 

Overall, there are very few links to main cinematic universe, although end-credits suggest that the action will now shift to Wakanda. Now eagerly waiting for Infinity Wars to hit the screens.

Rating – 9/10: A fun ride and a visual delight.

Previously on MovieNotes: Thor: Ragnarok 

Monday, March 12, 2018

BookMarks #37: The Audacity of Hope

Title: The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream
Author: Barack Obama
Genre: Non-Fiction, Autobiography, Politics
Published: 2006

“The Audacity of Hope” was written by Barack Obama when he was a Senator in USA. 

The book is partly autobiographical and partly a political manifesto. We learn about Obama’s family, his childhood, his education, his political beliefs, his election battles, the society around him as he grew up. But they are not presented in a chronological manner. What we get instead is a discourse about Obama’s beliefs and ideas. And interspersed in these sections are glimpses of the future president’s past. 

The book does read like an election manifesto. And why not, just three months after the publication, he announced his candidacy for US President which he went on to win. The book gives us a glimpse of Obama’s philosophy and outlook towards America and the rest of the world. 

A Quote I liked - “You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts”. Something the perpetrators of fake news and convoluted history forwards should keep in mind.

Let’s say it was a welcome change to read about somebody talking about bringing a change to the world in a positive way. Especially after having recently read Fire & Fury – about another American President.

Previously on BookMarks: Innovate or Evaporate