Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Goodbye 2014

Last day of the Year MMXIV A.D. Its time to look back at the year gone by and await the year coming ahead.

It was an interesting year, full of travel and lots of new experiences and change. The kind of year one can look back in satisfaction that it was a time well spent.
  • Biggest Change - Work shifted from 6-day to a 5-day week, automatically creating a whole extra day every weekend.
  • Travel Map - More foreign travel done than ever before and more domestic travel as well. Singapore, Thailand and Greater Noida added to the travel map.
  • Memorable Experiences - Spoilt for choice here - Staying overnight in a ship in the middle of Bay of Bengal, holding a tiger cub in my lap, para-sailing, underwater walking, boat ride in the backwaters, visiting ancient sites depicting human life from 100,000 years back, giving a speech in front of the entire group company. Or simply lying down on the ground and watching a sound and light show.
  • Online courses - A new interesting world which I accessed this year. 
  • Books - One area which needs heavy correction. Volumes are now at an all time low.
  • Health - More fitness conscious than actually working out
  • And did NOT lose a phone all year
And as for the year 2015 ahead.
  • Soak in more experiences, see more, read more and most importantly enjoy more.
  • Keep Learning
  • Goal for the year - Citius, Altius, Foritus - in all parameters of life.
  • And keep everyone around who matter happy.
Wishing all readers a very Happy New Year 2015 :)

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ten from Twenty14

Fast approaching the end of the Year Twenty14 A.D. And as with every ending its is a time to recollect. So here is list of ten random happenings/events/non-events etc. to remember the year gone by.

1. Mystery of the Year - MH370
In today's world it is inconceivable that a plane full of passengers can simply disappear from the face of the Earth. Its been over 9 months but still no trace at all of the plane. This situation of not knowing is possibly the worst any one can go through. It was a terrible year for Malaysia based airlines with MH17 being shot down in Ukraine and AirAsia QZ8501 crashing in Indonesia, 

2. Villain of the Year
There was heavy competition in this category. Boko Haram kidnapping girls in Nigeria, Islamic State releasing one dastardly "execution" video after another, Pakistani Taliban massacring a school full of students in Peshawar, or "rebels" shooting down a passenger plane in Ukraine.  Wonder which God condones these acts. And giving competition to these "humans" was nature with the Ebola virus building its own killing trail.

3. Event of the Year - India's General Elections
It was a long drawn process with voting taking place over weeks in multiple phases after months of preparations. And finally it ended with India having a new government. It introduced all sorts of new terminology in the political lexicon - Aam Aadmi, Modi wave, Namonia, Jupiter's escape velocity, tards, bhakts, youth, empowerment and what not. In the end all we can say that it was all "क्रांतिकारी , बहुत ही क्रन्तिकारी "

4. Picture of the Year - Oscar Selfie
It was a slightly odd moment. Some of the most photographed people on the planet photographing themselves live on global television. The result a "selfie" craze across the world. Selfie becomes a bona fide word, cellphones added enhanced selfie taking technology and retailers selling selfie-stick. One picture can take the world by storm.

The picture known as the Ellen selfie although its been taken by Bradley Cooper

5. Who is He?
Indian social media was scandalized as Maria Sharapova claimed ignorance about a certain Sachin Ramesh Tendulkar. How could she not know about him? India outraged. Yet a couple of months later when Kailash Satyarthi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, all of us had to resort to Google to learn about him and his work. When we haven't heard of the real greats amidst our own people, why should be expect any better from a foreigner 

6. The Interview
Arnab Goswami interviewed Rahul Gandhi in the biggest TV event of the year. Millions of viewers tuned in to see Arnab asking questions and Rahul giving answers while trying to figure out what, if any, was the connection between the questions and the answers. 
Competition in this category from the Hollywood movie which made Kim Jong Un very angry leading to North Korean hackers unleashing cyber hell on Sony Pictures, thus doing lots of free publicity for a mediocre movie.

7. Sporting Result of the Year - 7-1
Neymar was kneed out of the World Cup with a terrible tackle. Brazil became the sentimental favorites with everyone expecting them to win it for Neymar. Only the Germans weren't told about it. as they hammered Brazil 7-1 to knock them out of their own home World Cup. The darkest day in Brazilian football  history.

8. League of Sports
The success of the IPL gave a template for all Indian sports to build their own Premier Leagues. So we now have a Cricket Premier League, Badminton League, Football Super League, Tennis League, Hockey League and to top them all two rival Kabaddi Leagues. Of all the leagues it was the Pro-Kabaddi league which provided the biggest boost to the sport bringing the obscure sport into the limelight.

9. Kolaveri Di Award for Viral Activity of the Year
There were multiple versions of Pharell Williams' Happy with each city, town, college, company, team lip syncing to Happy and creating their own version. Then there were lots of videos of people taking the ice bucket challenge. And finally there were Indian celebrities posing with a broom as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyaan launched by the PM

10.  Rajnikanth of the Year
The sanskari purush Sri Alok Nath Ji. One fine January day, he started trending on Twitter for no reason with lots of sanskari jokes and memes. Other celebs also trended on occasion but none like him. The almost forgotten actor was back in the limelight appearing in multiple ads. Best Joke - "Once Alok Nath ji took a bus. The conductor refused to take fare from such a sanskari person. In return Alok Nath ji gave him his ashirwaad. That conductor became Rajnikant"

So these were some random tid-bits to rember Twenty14 by.

Wishing all readers a very Happy New Year 2015.

P.S. List for Twenty13

Monday, December 29, 2014

MovieNotes: PK

Movie: PK
*ing: Aamir Khan, Anushka Sharma, Sanjay Dutt
Director: Rajkumar Hirani
Language: Hindi + Bhojpuri dialect
Genre: Comedy, Preaching, Aliens

A movie from the trusted combine of Rajkumar Hirani & Aamir Khan. A unique publicity blitz using still shots of the leads in different get-ups instead of using TV  shows for promotion as is the wont these days. 

Basic Premise
An alien lands on planet Earth. Loses the key for his return journey. And now must attempt to find it back to return home.

Movie Notes
PK's central theme combines viewing India's inhabitants from an alien's perspective while simultaneously satirizing religion, faith and Godmen. 

The satire on religion has raised the heckles of the fringe elements. Guess people have become over-sensitive. As the movie itself said, there are two Gods, the One who made the universe and the one built by man. And somewhere we have lost sight of the real God while putting our entire faith in the make-believe one. A similar theme which was raised in Oh My God, an excellent movie on religion and Godmen. Also I wonder why the protests started in the second week of the run. 

What Works
Acting wise, Aamir Khan is outstanding as the lovable alien who is trying to figure out the ways of this "gola". And he is supported by a heavyweight cast who add their own ingredients to this lovely roller-coaster of a movie. Special mention for the likes of Sanjay Dutt, Boman Irani and Saurabh Shukla.

The music is good and soothing.

Other Notes 
Anushka Sharma's lips have a jarring presence of their own and a big distraction on screen. 

Sanjay Dutt has managed to do a movie from jail and got released on furlough for its promotion. Guess Rajkumar Hirani now knows whom to consult, in case he plans to to make a satire on the judiciary, courts and jails.

A sequel certainly seems to be in offing. 

  • Apparently every intelligent species is constantly searching for other intelligent beings. 
  • The aliens can communicate via telepathic touch and don't wear clothes. A trait also shared by the aliens in Avatar. 
  • Aliens visitng Indian movie are of the nice variety (e.g. Jadoo, PK) and not the conquerors who generally visit Hollywood tales.

AfterNotes - So, Bhojpuri is going to be the spoken language of the other gola?

Rating - 8/10. Entertaining and with a message.

Previously on MovieNotes - Gone Girl

P.S. My comment on those whose sentiments get hurt by a movie - "लुल हैं साले "

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Singapore Diaries: SEA Aquarium

Continuing with the Singapore Diaries.

One of the highlights of the Sentosa island is the Sea Aquarium. Till some time back it was the largest aquarium in the world. Its a good showcase of the sheer variety of marine life. The multiple shapes, sizes and colours of the sea are on full display here.

Here is a small pictorial journey of the place.

A wrecked ship with a variety of marine life swimming around.
The whole school moving and turning as one unit is a beautiful sight to behold
Light emitting jelly fish. Also available in blue, green and white.
Is is fish? Is it a snake? Is it a plant?
Question same as above? Or a horse?
Leopard fish
A type of mollusc
Another school swimming along
Colours ...and more Colours
Entertaining, Educative and Fun Place.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Falling Crude Prices

Crude prices have been plummeting down since the middle of this year

1 Year Crude Oil Prices - Crude Oil Price Chart
Crude prices are now dipping the $60/barrel mark, much below the $100-120 range in which it had been moving for the past few years. Chief reason for the collapse is being supply outpacing demand (basic economics). Quite a few reasons have been attributed to this.
  1. The Shale supply has enabled US to become self-sufficient (for now) and hence it doesn't need to import further.
  2. Economic slowdown in Europe which is still not fully recovered from the recession.
  3. The OPEC cartel is not united. And Saudi Arabia, the only ones with the spare capacity, are unwilling to cut production.
While lower fuel prices seem to be a good thing at first sight, this sharp dip in prices will have a major impact all round the industry.
  1. Revenue calculations gone haywire, not just for the big oil companies but also for governments who have a substantial part of their budget sourced from taxes on oil & petroleum products.
  2. Quite a few upcoming projects have been put on hold because the economics don't work out anymore. The projects become viable only if the costs go down. The supply chain generally lags behind the crude prices by a couple of Quarters, hence the projects might see quite a lengthy delay.
  3. Marginal plays (e.g. Deepwaters, Unconventionals etc.) which had opened up due to higher crude prices may have to be put on hold. 
  4. The alternate energy sectors (solar, wind, bio-fuel etc.) have to compete with these lower prices. This certainly delays their arrival as a big energy source.
  5. Consolidation in the oil industry - Many players may be put out of business. Even the big companies are feeling the pinch. The second largest oilfield service provider Haliburton has bought Baker which was the third largest service provider. The M&A market may become quite busy in the days to come.
Normally when the prices have fallen the Saudis have intervened. They have cut production reducing supply. But this time they have chosen not to act.

Quite a few conspiracy theories are going around on their possible motives. The most obvious one is to destroy the competition. Saudi crude is available at much lower production costs than Shale or deepwaters. So when prices fall dramatically the Saudis will be the last to feel the pinch. 

Below are some of the theories doing the rounds. Most of them have less to do with economics but more to do with geopolitics.
  1. Destroying US Shale - US Shale boom is considered the chief reason of this price drop. Ironically this boom happened only because the prices had breached the $100/barrel mark in the first place. Now that the Shale industry is well developed, we have to wait and watch how long they can hold up.
  2. The OPEC cartel has seemingly run its course. The Saudis are the only ones with any swing production capacity left. So there is a theory that they will let the prices drop till the other OPEC members take a hit on production. Probably leading to the demise of OPEC.
  3. Collusion between US and Saudi Arabia to stop the further development of the Russian oil industry. Russia may have even bigger reserves than Saudi Arabia but its more difficult to access, thus needing higher costs to sustain. Russian rouble is already in trouble and interest rates have been boosted up from 10.5 to 17% in Russia. 
  4. A pre-dominantly Sunni majority Saudi Arabia does not want a Shia majority Iran to get oil revenues. Plain and simple.
Many theories doing the rounds. But oil prices have a major impact on world's economics. Falling oil prices will reduce inflation, creating more spare cash, which will be hopefully pumped back into the economy causing the economy to boom again, creating more demand for oil and pushing prices up. But this cycle will require at least a year's time. And during this period the industry may have already undergone a drastic upheaval.

Interesting times are ahead not just for the worried oil industry but also for the world economy as a whole. We will have to wait and watch what impact this churn has on the energy industry.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

MovieNotes: Gone Girl

Movie: Gone Girl
*ing: Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike
Director: David Fincher
Language: English
Genre: Thriller

Basic Premise
Murder, She Wrote 
[Spoilers Ahead]

Movie Notes
A man returns home to find his wife missing, triggering a chain of events in which he finds himself trapped in an immaculately staged plot. The story keeps jumping timelines going forward and backwards at a frenetic pace yet managing to hold the viewer in its firm grip.

A huge drama being played for the public consumption driven by non-stop news and publicity hungry protagonists. Yet it is nothing compared to the real drama going on behind closed doors. The lead characters are involved in a non-stop game of oneupmanship trying to bring out the version of truth most palatable to themselves. A pretty intense game with the viewers being the only ones in the know. 

The constantly changing husband-wife dynamics plays its own part in the narrative. The script changes with every move made by either of them in this immaculately staged game of chess and bluff.

Playing out somebody's life in public even as a fictionalized version of themselves from childhood is bound to have some negative impact on a person's mindset. Probably the chief cause of the entire plot.

What Works
Superb acting all around especially by Rosamund Pike who plays a pyschopathic character to perfection.

The narration - specifically the immaculate planning done by the lead female character which forms the central plotline

The various psychological tricks being played by its lead characters. They know the truth about each other, yet they can't bring it up in front of the public.

Other Notes
There is striking similarity in theme to mysterious unexplained disappearance of the author Agatha Christie. Probably the greatest mystery from the woman who was the master of mysteries.

Rating -10/10. An excellent film which holds your attention for two and a half hours.

Previously on MovieNotes; Olympus has Fallen

Monday, December 15, 2014

Singapore Diaries: Sentosa

In the second part of the Singapore Photo Diaries, taking a picture tour of the island of Sentosa.

Sentosa is a tiny island off Singapore connected to the mainlands by underwater tunnels. Sentosa is a major tourist attraction where tourists can spend a lot - time as well as money.

It is home to multiple theme parks, many restaurants, museums, aquarium, resort hotels, casino, sports facilities and an unique sound and light show held on a beach.

The entrance reminding of a castle from Disney films

The Casino

A view of the integrated resorts

You are being watched

A sign welcoming you to a dance party

Its Singapore, so the Mer-Lion has to make its presence felt

"The Wings of Time" - a sound and light show on the beach. See it to feel it.

To Be Continued...

Thursday, December 11, 2014

MovieNotes: Olympus Has Fallen

Title: Olympus Has Fallen
*ing: Gerard Butler (king from 300), Aaron Eckhart (a.k.a Harvey Dent), Morgan Freeman (no intros required) and others
Director: Antoine Fuqua
Language: English
Genre: Action

Basic Premise
Terrorists (the bad guys) attack the White House for their own bad intentions. The good guy comes and stops them from achieving their final objectives (mostly single-handedly).

Movie Notes

The movie is a mixture of Die Hard & 24. Gerard Butler's character handles 24 like situations (e.g. nuclear threats, President under danger, foreign organisations, a different person leading the country etc.) in a manner reminiscent of John McClane

Plotholes? Its an action packed adventure which does not permit the audience to really think too much ensuring some gaping plot-holes are not over-exposed.
  • How does a person who has been removed from the White House 18 months previously still have working access to the security system?
  • They don't seem to have changed any passwords in the White House in at least 18 months. Very Weird!!!
  • All these Hollywood movies are giving out quite a few details of the codes and security. Or are these all just a movie prop like the 555 phone numbers.
Random Thought - Hollywood has no qualms about showing a bullet ridden US flag. In India the makers would certainly have been in jail for disrespecting national symbols.

Favorite Scene  - Morgan Freeman first ordering his coffee and then laying out the next steps in his action plan.
India Connect - India is mentioned a couple of times as are a few other countries.

Rating - 7/10. A mindless action movie, entertaining and catching enough to pass a couple of hours.

Previously on MovieNotes - Interstellar

Monday, December 08, 2014

Singapore Photo Log - Marina Bay

Singapore - a tiny island nation on the southern tip of the Malay peninsula. This city state is roughly the same area as Mumbai and having a quarter of its population.

History Fun Fact - The country was colonised by the British. Got independence from the British in 1963 as part of the Malaysian federation. However it was expelled from Malaysia through an act of Parliament in 1965. Quite odd given that the world map has been shaped on the basis of kingdoms trying to expand their respective territory.

That probably has helped in Singapore becoming one of the ultra-modern commercial hubs of the world. The city state has also created a massive tourist infrastructure to boost up its financial powerhouse stakes.

Following is first part of a photo blog series depicting Singapore. 
The pictures below are of the area around the Marina Bay - one of the major tourist and business hubs and also host of the Singapore F1 Grand Prix race.

The Mer-Lion
The part-fish part-lion statue. Appropriate symbol of a seaport whose name literally means the city of lions in Sanskrit.

A panoramic view of the Marina Bay

Panoramic view - night shot
The lights of Singapore
Its all lit up

Modern architecture - They have a canal flowing inside a mall with actual boats floating in them

The replica of the The Thinker

The watch shop - inside the Marina Bay Mall

The Versace collection - after all it is one of the highest net per capita income places in the world

A very interesting and apt name for a restaurant
Some more pictures from around the city/country in the next part.