Tuesday, December 25, 2018

2018: The Year Gone By

The year 2018 AD is coming to a close leaving behind random memories – some fleeting and some of a little more permanent nature. Here is a personal compilation of events/non-events to remember the year gone by. 

1. Social Movement - #MeToo 
The #MeToo movement finally reached India. The entertainment industry as expected was where the biggest scandals lay but Corporate India was no less culpable. And to think it all began with a comedian’s tweet on the Pan Masala company’s antics on a cruise liner abroad! 

2. The Identified Flying Object 
Elon Musk launched a car in space with a mannequin in the driver’s seat listening to music. We finally have our own hitchhiker moving through the galaxy. 

3. Sporting Caption of the Year 
It was the year of the Football World Cup. We Indians chose our favorite teams rooting behind the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Germany, Spain, Croatia and France. Meanwhile our neighbours on the West sent out this tweet “Dear World, thank you for playing with our balls” to announce the fact that Telstar 18, the balls were manufactured in Pakistan. 

4. The Rescue 
A bunch of Thai boys, from a local football team, stuck inside a flooded cave for many days without food and water and in the dark and finally getting rescued. Gripping drama in the age of 24x7 media and social media coverage. And pretty sure there is a movie in the works as well. Yet much closer home, in Meghalaya, 13 miners were missing and barely a mention anywhere. 

5. The Political Reality TV 
Rahul Gandhi hugging PM Modi in Lok Sabha, to a shell-shocked House and then following up with a wink. The moment when Lok Sabha TV provided more drama than all soap operas combined! And with elections approaching expect more such drama. 

6. The Battle of the Jokers 
Trump vs Kim Jong-Un - after bouts of some childish name-calling (Dotage, Little Rocket man were some of the affectionate terms used), they indulged in a discussion on the size of their respective nuclear buttons and then ended up meeting as if nothing happened. Unfortunately these jokers are also controlling nuclear arsenal. 

7. Data Privacy discussions 
Widespread debates & discussions on how user data is being mined from social media to influence political outcomes and possibly cause targeted individual harm as well. This also led to hilarious outcomes where tech honchos like Zuckerberg & Sundar Pichai patiently explained to Congressional committees how internet and social media worked or that iPhones were made by Apple and not Google. In India, we had our own issues with Aadhaar database and its access, leading to the TRAI Chairman publicly giving out his Aadhaar number and asking all to hack him. (Well, a bit like Mad-Eye Moody teaching the Unforgivable spells to a bunch of teenage wizards) Never got to know the results of this challenge though. 

8. Newton’s Law of Gravity – things which go up have to fall down 
Bitcoins and the multiple crypto-currencies which had spawned all over the place, was the bubble which pricked just enough for many to lose out (and the smart ones to make money) while the underlying blockchain technology kept going places.

9. Headline of the Year 
Seal slaps man with an octopus - Wonder what the poor octopus would have felt and what outraged the seal so much!

10. The 15 seconds of Fame 
Priya Prakash Varrier - the winking girl, or Sanjeev Srivastava - the dancing uncle. All but forgotten by the end of the year. 

So that was 2018 events wise. Lets see what 2019 has in store. After all 2019 brings in the Lok Sabha elections, and the epic culminations of events in Westeros and the Avengers finale! 

Wishing all readers a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous 2019.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

BookMarks #48: Chanakya’s Chant

Title: Chanakya’s Chant 
Author: Ashwin Sanghi 
Genre: Historical Fiction 
Setting: Mauryan Empire & Modern India 
Published: 2010 

In the 4th century BC Chanakya plots to overthrown the Nanda dynasty from Magadh and install his protégé Chandragupta Maurya on the throne. In the 20th century, Gangadhar Mishra attempts to put Chandini Gupta as the Prime Minister of India. 

An interesting way to tell a story. There are actually two stories running here in parallel, separated by a timeline of two and a half millennia. One is a fictionalized take of the ascendancy of Chandragupta Maurya to the Magadh throne and the other a modernized version of the same, set in 20th century India. 

Key message of the book is while settings may change, the basic politics remains the same. Use every means to pin down your opponent while moving up the ladder yourself. And it is the backroom players who play the key role in propping up their candidates. 

Overall quite an engrossing account! 

Previously on BookMarks: The Time Machine 

Monday, October 29, 2018

BookMarks #47: The Time Machine

Title: The Time Machine
Author: HG Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Setting: Late 19th Century Britain & way ahead in the future
Published: 1895

An inventor builds a Time Machine and travels into the future and gets a glimpse of what has become of the intelligent life on Earth.

We do not learn of any character names except Weena, who becomes the time traveler’s companion in the future. Even in the text, when a character addresses another by name, that part is left blank. Almost as if all names have been redacted from the text.

Had read the book at a much younger age, and did not get the many nuances the story has. It isn’t just a tale of an inventor building a Time Machine, finding things different from what he imagined, landing in trouble and managing to get back to his own time after a great adventure. It is also a tale of how even species can diverge if the differences between the haves and the have-nots keeps on rising. The increasing gap here leads to evolution of two radically different species, one of whom even feeds on the other. 

Is evolution circular? A question which crops up while reading the book. The human species hasn’t evolved into a super-human one rather it has effectively moved backwards. There are simple-minded, child-like fun-loving “eloi”, who sustain on fruits and are fascinated by a flame and seemingly have no care in the world. And then there are the savage “Morlocks” who eat the eloi, stay in the dark undergrounds and are scared of fire. Ability to live as a community, agriculture, domesticating animals, building industries and machines – all seem to have been lost alongwith the intellectual capacity to read and write and store knowledge which can be passed on from one generation to other. 

All this happens even while the Earth is still inhabitable. As the time traveler proceeds further into the future, there are changes in the solar system leading to climate changes, which drastically alter the life. This bit is quite understandable because life exists on Earth in its current form because of conditions which are just right. 

Through the time traveler, we also learn how not to depend just on our biases. Every new information he gets, he tries to formulate a theory based on his 19th century understanding. And thus ends up being wrong multiple times. Although he does keep evolving his thought process with passing time. It is quite fascinating to see how new information is processed by our biased brains. We try to immediately bucket new things with what we already know rather than wait for all information. 

The Time Traveler goes into the future and burns down a forest with fire that he has created in order to keep the morlocks at bay. A whole forest destroyed, large scale destruction of species, some species friended and “domesticated” as companions – isn’t that exactly what humans have done during our time on Earth? Go to a new place and drastically change its ecological balance. Since there aren’t many such places left in the present, our narrator has gone into the future and done the same in a matter of days!

The ending is written with an air of mystery, when there is actually none. If the Time Machine is still working, the narrator should not have to wait for his Time Travelling friend for three years to tell his story. The Time Traveler can choose the exact moment of his return.

Fun Fact – The term “time machine” was coined by HG Wells in this book. And it is now the universally accepted term for such a device! Time Machines and Time Travelers may not exist (from what we know now) but Wells certainly was a man ahead of his time!

Previously on BookMarks: Exponential Organizations
Also by HG Wells – The War of the Worlds 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

BookMarks #46: Exponential Organizations

Title: Exponential Organizations
Author: Salim Ismail
Genre: Non-Fiction, Management, Strategy
Published: 2014

In this book, the author attempts to define what would enable an organization to keep growing. He provides the concept of an Exponential Organization. An Exponential Organization is defined as one whose impact (or output) is disproportionally large—at least 10x larger—compared to its peers because of the use of new organizational techniques that leverage accelerating technologies. 

For an organization to be considered exponential, it needs to have a Massive Transformative Purpose. The vision statement should be simple yet provide a large scope. The author has also provided 10 attributes which an Exponential Organization should have. These are acronymed as SCALE & IDEAS. 
  • SCALE: Staff on Demand; Community & Crowd; Algorithms; Leveraged Assets; Engagement, 
  • IDEAS: Interfaces; Dashboards; Experimentation; Autonomy; Social
He goes on to measure different global organizations and provide how they compare on these 10 attributes. Examples are from both tech & manufacturing industries including Google, Coca Cola, Uber, Amazon etc. And there are companies and ideas which failed to keep up like Kodak, Nokia.

According to the author, Big Data analytics plays a key role in the success of such organizations. The 5P benefits of big data being Productivity, Prevention, Participation, Personalization and Prediction.

Some of the key Qualities of Exponential Organizations have been identified as follows.
  • They are not swayed by the HiPPO (“highest paid person’s opinion”). 
  • Information accelerates everything. Everything is being turned into information—and is thus measurable and knowable.
  • Everything is being disrupted, and disruptions can come from unexpected quarters.In a disruptive world, smaller is better.
  • Rent, don’t own, assets. E.g. Uber & AirBnB. Marginal cost of supply is dropping exponentially for the first time ever.
Couple of interesting observations from the book.
  • “Execution eats strategy for breakfast”
  • “Biology has the unique trait of being software that can create its own Hardware”.
An interesting book giving real world examples on what an organization must to do survive and thrive in this increasingly VUCA world. 

Previously on BookMarks: 36 Stratagems

Saturday, October 13, 2018

BookMarks #45: 36 Strategems

Title: 36 Strategems
Author: Unknown, Chinese oral tradition
Genre: Essay, Non-Fiction, Military Strategy
Published: Unknown, Has been passed on through oral history

Another Chinese treatise on military strategy. It is more of an essay than a book. The book is divided into 6 chapters. Each chapter has six proverbs and a couple of lines explaining the essence of the proverb to the audience. The chapters focus on different strategies which are as follows
  1. Winning Stratagems
  2. Enemy Dealing Stratagems
  3. Attacking Stratagems
  4. Chaos Stratagems
  5. Proximate Stratagems
  6. Desperate Stratagems
Brute force and firepower is never the optimum strategy. However, the strategies focus on use of deception, understanding of opposition and the conditions to reach to victory. The writer saves the best for the last and concludes of the 36, fleeing is the best strategy!

Military strategy and planning has provided lots of inspiration to modern business strategy formulation. This one keeps it simple and straightforward and that is usually the secret ingredient of most successful business strategies! Especially the last one - knowing when to retreat!

LinkWikipidea - provides the entire text with history and explanation.

Previuosly on BookMarks - The Art of War

Saturday, October 06, 2018

BookMarks #44: The Art of War

Title: The Art of War 
Author: Sun Tzu
Genre: Non-Fiction, Military Strategy
Published: 5th Century BC in Mandarin
English Translation By: Lionel Giles (1910)

The Art of War is an ancient Chinese treatise on military planning and warfare. It comprises of 13 different chapters - each dedicated to a distinct aspect of warfare. None of the chapters focus on the actual battle, but instead focus on planning, preparing, understanding the ground conditions, role of the leadership, adopting tactics to the ground conditions leading to calculating the chances of winning the war and gaining territory.

While the era of "conventional" warfare is gone, the book is still a gem for understanding tactics and building strategy. The book addresses themes like understanding the environment, the economics, the resources and their mobilization, opportunities and  how to cash in on them, when to engage in and to avoid direct confrontation, the need for flexibility, the tools to be used and finally the role of gathering intelligence about the opponents. No wonder, it is a much cited book for strategic planning and why so many leaders refer to it as their "inspirational" book. Also, the small text size helps a lot!

In short, the perfect beginners' guide to building strategy!

Link: Google Play Store App

Previously on BookMarks – The World is Flat

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Road To Tokyo: Episode 4

On our Road to Tokyo, we crossed another important milestone – the 18th Asian Games. It did provide a glimpse of what can be expected at Tokyo. But two years is a long time and things can change quite dramatically. Here is a short review of the Indian performance at the Games in context of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

The Pre-Games Drama 
What is Indian sport without any drama in the build-up? So many athletes and even sports went to court regarding participation/selection in the Games. Shows how big a mess we are in still in the matters of sports administration! 

Tennis provided its usual drama with Leander Paes as usual in its epicenter! Paes pulled out at the very last minute expressing his unhappiness at the doubles combinations (déjà vu!!!). When will this Paes saga end? 

Meanwhile our Swimming Federation sent in wrong qualifying timings (!!!), ensuring our swimmers ended up in slower heats!

And for the Games themselves. First the Olympic events
  • Shooting: Our shooters are getting younger and younger with each passing event! A good haul this time around and a whole new crop of shooters is ready to roar at the World arena.
  • Athletics: Our athletes are the best amongst Asians. It was quite a weird sight, seeing India earn silver in race after race losing out to African origin athletes. Bahrain and Qatar seem to have done a good job in outsourcing their sports department! Meanwhile we continue our “niche dominance” in Women’s 4x400m relay winning our 5th consecutive Asiad Gold. Neeraj Chopra was certainly a class-apart in Javelin Throw. All four of his valid throws were way ahead of the rest of the field. What a dominating performance.
  • Medals arrived in Table Tennis – our first ever. Manika Batra is definitely one to watch out for proving that the Commonwealth Games were not just a flash in the pan. And this is one sport where the Asian level is as competitive as the World stage.
  • Hockey: It was a tale of missed opportunities. After hammering all and sundry, both the teams came a cropper at the critical juncture, missing out on Olympics berths. Only consolation is with Japan winning both events, an extra quota has opened up in other Qualifiers.
  • Wrestling – Bajrang Punia & Vinesh are world class, while rest have to start catching up. And is it the end of road for Sushil Kumar!
  • Badminton: One sport where the world level is hardly much different from the Asian level. Had our best medal haul till date. The doubles teams are improving but still not there yet. But the early loss in Men’s singles was surprising.
  • Boxing: Amit Panghal defeated an Olympic champion to win the Gold, but overall the boxing contingent is slipping back.
  • Rowing: A sport where we improved our medal tally and yet felt like we have underachieved! So many 4th place finishes!
  • Gymnastics: No medals but a big silver lining. It’s not just Dipa Karmakar anymore. Dipa is expanding her range and there are other gymnasts making their presence felt.
  • Tennis: We got back the Men’s Doubles Gold, and a couple of singles medals. 
  • Sailing: A few medals, but not sure about further chances
  • Equestrian: We got a medal after 36 years. Makes me wonder why we did not participate in the Olympics qualifiers also last time!
  • Fencing – Pretty sure this was the first appearance of the fencing team. They did make their presence felt but can’t read much into that.
  • Swimming: Like at Gold Coast, many new National records, a few finals, but nowhere in the hunt for a podium finish except for a solitary 4th place.
  • The Martial Arts – Nothing of note in the Olympic sports – Judo, Karate, Taekwondo. But we picked up medals in the non-Olympic ones – Wushu & Kurash. How does somebody decide their calling as representing India in Kurash or Pencak Silat!
  • Golf: Wonder why amateurs participate in Asian Games while Olympics allows pros!
  • Team Sports, with the exception of Hockey & Kabaddi, are an area where India made hardly any mark. Football, Handball, Water Polo, Volleyball, Basketball – nothing to note in any of these events.
  • Weightlifting: Mirabai Chanu was missed.
And for the events not in Tokyo roster.
  • Kabaddi – no Golds this time. It was coming for some time, but India are now well and truly knocked off their pedestal. And just to rub salt in the wounds, Iran is claiming to be the spiritual home of Kabaddi. Will India come back or will be go down the slippery slope a la Hockey! In the Kabaddi is the real winner here!
  • Bridge – Who would have imagined cards as a sport at Asian Games. Or that e-sports will be a demonstration sport with likely inclusion at the next Games!
No quotas for Tokyo earned during the Asian Games! But we have certainly identified strong potential representatives for raising the Indian flag at Tokyo in 2020. And most importantly no doping issues (so far). Thankfully!


Monday, September 10, 2018

MovieNotes: Stree

Title: Stree (IMDB)
*ing: Rajkumar Rao, Shraddha Kapoor, Pankaj Tripathi, Aparshakti Khurana, Abhishek Banerjee
Director: Amar Kaushik
Language: Hindi
Genre: Horror, Comedy

Basic Premise
A small town is haunted by a woman’s ghost who abducts the town’s men.

There is horror and the scare element involved, but more importantly the makers have kept the focus on comedy making it more watchable than if it had been out and out horror film.

The acting is brilliant. Rajkumar Rao and his gang are fun to watch but Pankaj Tripathi simply steals the show with his deadpan delivery and the habit of breaking into old songs at every opportunity. The analysis of what-we-know about the ghost is simply brilliant. From Hello Mr. “Falana dhimkana” onwards!

Best Jokes 
  • How does the ghost know everybody’s name? Well everything is Aadhar linked. 
  • The town’s men staying scared at home while the women move around freely!
The unanswered questions – Who or rather what exactly is the girl (whose name we never learn), and what happens just before the end. And who is Shama? And is Vicky's mother the Stree? The ending just spoils a bit of fun. Although it also sets up enough material for a sequel.

Rating: 8/10. An unusual film which is scary and funny with good acting. Only the ending spoiled it a tad bit.

Previously on MovieNotes: Hachi 

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

BookMarks #43: The World Is Flat

Title: The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty First Century
Author: Thomas Friedman
Genre: Non-Fiction, World Affairs, Economics
Setting: Early 21st Century
Published: 2005

The world is changing and changing fast. The most visible change is the increased connectivity making the world “flat”. And this is the theme of Thomas Friedman’s book. 

Friedman identifies his ten flatteners – the events which have reshaped the world. The fall of the Berlin Wall, launch of Netscape, Collaboration, Outsourcing, Insourcing, Supply-chaining, Open source architecture, the laying of the fibre-optic network etc. are some of the elements which have contributed in this flattening process. However, more than the individual factors, it is the convergence of all of them together, which really accelerated the flattening.

However, there are potential barriers to the flattening. It is not uniform across the world, and there are many societies resisting the change for their own reasons. The resistance can lead to conflict. The Americans may see the flatter world a threat to their job security. However, many are upskilling to make a better living for themselves in this fast changing world. To counter this conflict the author presents his “Dell Theory of Conflict Prevention” - No two countries that are both part of a major global supply chain, like Dell's, will ever fight a war against each other as long as they are both part of the same global supply chain. That’s why Taiwan and China do not go to any war now!

However, there is a new threat of non-state actors which has emerged. One which announced its presence on the global scene with the destruction of the twin towers on 9/11. The book identifies radical Islam as the biggest danger to this flattening! And yet also concludes that the rise of Al-Qaeda was also a product of the same flattening process. In fact it compares Osama bin Laden’s operations with those of JetBlue! 

Although global in its coverage, the book is written mainly from an American perspective. What should Americans do survive and thrive in this increasingly VUCA world and where billions of Chinese, Indians, Russians, Mexicans and others are fast becoming their competition? Focusing on education and learning from others is what the author suggests. The book is filled with Friedman’s personal anecdotes from all over the world. 

However, reading it 10 years late, the book already feels dated at times. Shows how accelerated the process of convergence or flattening has been!

Previously on BookMarks – The War of the Worlds

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

India @71

It’s time for the patriotic fervor to reach its annual peak. Also time for me to pen down my annual India blogpost. (2017 edition is here). 

As one grows older and hopefully a tad wiser (albeit not in all cases), one learns that economics is more important than politics. So on that note,

The sensex is nearing record peaks, the rupee is touching new depths, meanwhile the banking sector has too many skeletons tumbling out of its collective cupboard and oil prices are back up. And we have an election year coming up, which generally means throwing away financial prudence and bringing in lots of sops to appease the vote banks. In all a perfect storm brewing up. Do we have the right captain to sail through these choppy waters and get our ship to safe harbor? That is a multi-billion dollar question!

Assam finally managed to bring up the first draft of the National Register for Citizens (NRC). It has brought interesting results. About 40 million people have been identified as non-Indians, although many have been living here for years. An exercise worth carrying out across the country as well. Although we don't know what to do with these aliens. Throw them out, but no one else seems willing to take them. And thus we have our own version of the refugee crisis. Time for some tough decisions for the policy makers.

Coming to the general state of the country. News media is a now a commodity of trade. Some would argue when it has not been. Every "news" is presented in a way to please their respective "owners". Thus we have the funny scenarios, where some try to find deep conspiracies in every government uttering, while others ask questions on why the opposition leaders are not doing anything?

Meanwhile less said about the social media the better. Some of the social media warriors have realized that the fastest way to attain fame is to sound more and more bigoted. The more radical the views, the more venom you spew, the more divisive your rantings, the more your number of followers and higher the chance of fulfilling your political ambitions. And why not, when the average citizens are willing to take up the cudgels, sometimes literally. And that's how lynchings are on the rise. After all, rumors travel fast in the times of free 4G. Also, the reason why mobile data shutdown has become the modern day curfew. (Lived through one such day recently, found it quite relaxing, the data not available issue, but that's the subject of another post).

The individual views are swinging away from the balanced moderate centre to the radical extreme. Witnessed it on social media, on college WhatsApp groups, where people seem to be gunning for fights. How did we become so intolerant of each other? Today, either you are pro-government or branded an anti-national, there is no middle path.

Meanwhile, there are groups agitating for "rights" suddenly holding up cities to ransom for myriad reasons. Reservations, loan waivers or even supposed wrong depiction of a mythical princess in a movie - the cause could be any but the sufferers are the same. Buses set on fire, roads blocked, vehicles pelted with stones. Destroying the already crumbling  infrastructure. And then nature gets into the act and starts giving  back. All our megapolises are just crumbling inwards.

Only sporting achievement manages to bring us together. And why not? As has been said, always read the newspaper back to front. The last pages narrate the success stories of man, while the others tell us of it's failures!

That's too much of rambling. Election year coming up. Let's see what it has in store for us!

Anyways, wishing all a very happy Independence Day!

P.S. A long but interesting read – Ambedkar’s speech on Mahadev Govind Ranade’s 101st birthday in 1943 . Quite a few parts still relevant today, even after 75 years!

Monday, August 13, 2018

MovieNotes: Hachi

Title: Hachi: A Dog's Tale (IMDB)
*ing: Leyla, Chico & Forrest (playing Hachi) + Richard Gere, Joan Allen
Director: Lasse Hallstrom
Language: English
Genre: Animal Kingdom

Basic Premise
A tale of a dog who keeps waiting for his human friend, even after the latter's death.

It is a beautiful tale of friendship and loyalty all amalgamating into a perfect emotional tearjerker. A tale which brings life to the phrase "dog is man's best friend". And like the best of stories, it is based on a real-life incident. The real Hachi belonged to a professor in Japan. The setting has been made American but the story's essence remains the same.

Just a couple of days earlier had seen a documentary on Animal Planet on how dogs have evolved over time to become better human companions. Especially those puppy eyes, which no human can seem to resist. And thats what our star Hachi does. One look at his eyes and all humans become his friends. Cats are a different matter though, as Hachi learns very early in his life, and so are skunks!

The makers transported the setting to USA, but retained the dog's origin. This movie must have set Akita breed sales skyrocketing in USA.

India connect - The local hot dog seller at the station is Jasjit, played by Erick Avari, who is India born!

Rating - 9/10. One of the perfect movies for a weekend watch!

Previously on MovieNotes - Raazi
The real-life Hachiko on whom this movie is based.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

MovieNotes: Raazi

Title: Raazi (IMDB
*ing: Alia Bhatt, Vicky Kaushal
Director: Meghna Gulzar
Language: Urdu
Genre: Spy Thriller

Basic Premise
A Kashmiri girl is married into a Pakistani military family, to serve as a spy, during the Bangladeshi liberation movement.

Except for the very end, the story is depicted in a very believable fashion. And why not, given that the book on which it is sourced is claimed to be based on real events. The book, Calling Sehmat’s author has never revealed his source, citing safety concerns to the subject.

Good performances all around and a taut script make for a good viewing. Songs are used to hasten the narration. Although, the makers love of using flashbacks as a narrative device does get a bit jarring after some time. 

Pakistanis are not depicted as villains of the piece but just as an opposing side. They are not demonized, just shown as someone operating on a different set of beliefs. The movie depicts patriotism without engaging in jingoism and chest-thumping one liners – the real achievement of the movie.

The events depicted in the movie, set up the context for Pakistan’s submarine Ghazi’s failed attempt to destroy INS Vikrant. And thus setting up context to watch the movie Ghazi Attack!

Rating – 8/10. An engaging watch.

Previously on MovieNotes – Deadpool 2 

Monday, August 06, 2018

Road To Tokyo: Episode 3

After a 3 month gap (frequency is getting better), presenting the 3rd episode in the “Road to Tokyo” series. This episode will focus on the changes made in the events roster since Rio (there have been quite a few).

According to Mr. Thomas Bach, the IOC President, the changes have been made to make the Games “more youthful, more urban and include more women”. Based on the above philosophy, following changes were made in the Events List

New Sports
5 Sports have been added to the Olympic roster, specifically for Tokyo, taking the overall count to 33 – Baseball (for Men) & Softball (for Women), Karate (4 weight categories each for men & women), Sport Climbing (2 events), Surfing (2 events), and Skateboarding (4 events).

Existing Sports - Further many of the existing disciplines have undergone changes
  • Archery –Mixed Team Event has been added.
  • Athletics – Mixed Relay Race (4x400m) has been added.
  • Basketball – 3x3 events added for both Men & Women
  • Boxing – 8 weight classes for Men (against 10 in Rio) & 5 weight classes for women (3 in Rio)
  • Cycling – BMX Freestyle & Omnium events added, while Madison has been dropped (I have absolutely no idea what any of these means!)
  • Fencing – 2 Team events are added, Foil for Men & Sabre for women (again no clue)
  • Judo – Mixed Team event added.
  • Shooting – 3 men only events Double Trap, 50m Rifle Prone & 50m Pistol ave been dropped. Mixed pair events have been added in 10m Air Rifle, 10m Air Pistol & Trap. (The events with the most interest for India)
  • Swimming – Events added – 4x100m Mixed Medley relay, 800m Freestyle for Men & 1500m Freestyle for Women.
  • Table Tennis – Mixed Doubles event has been added.
  • Triathalon – Mixed Team relay event has been added.
  • Weightlifting – 1 Weight category for Men has been dropped.
Overall, medal events have increased to 339 from 306 at Rio. Of the many changes made, Indian interests would lie mainly in areas like Mixed Archery, Boxing & Shooting.

Later this month, we have the Asian Games coming up. Apart from gauging our preparedness for Tokyo, they also serve as the first qualifying events in some of the disciplines e.g. Hockey, handball, Archery, & Karate. Hopefully by the end of the Games, the Indian qualifying tally for Tokyo would have opened up.

Meanwhile, on a personal note, a few days back had the privilege of attending a session by Abhinav Bindra, our only individual Gold medalist. It was inspiring and fun! Bindra’s key message – take up a sport as a hobby and also follow sports and not just during the time of big events! So this is me, doing my tiny bit to keep the interests in our Olympic sports running!

Next edition of “Road To Tokyo” will have updates from the Asian Games. Till next time!

  • Road To Tokyo - Episode 2
  • Tokyo 2020: Mixed-gender events added to Olympic Games: BBC 
  • Number of events in Tokyo – Official Site

Thursday, July 26, 2018

LearnNBlog #15: Perfect Numbers

A Perfect Number is number which is the exact sum of all its factors excluding itself and including 1. 
The smallest such number is 6 whose factors 1, 2 & 3 add upto 6. Although there maybe a case of considering 1 as a Perfect Number, it is not included in the list of perfect numbers. 

In early times, numbers were classified as 
  • Deficient – if the sum of its factors was less than the number 
  • Perfect – if the sum of its factors was exactly the same as the number 
  • Super abundant – If the sum of the factors exceeded the number itself 
Perfect numbers being very few were assigned mythical characteristics as well. 

Till date 50 such numbers have been discovered (List). So far none of the numbers have been found to be odd, all are even! However, with better computational powers search for more such numbers continues!

Other Links 
Previously on LearnNBlog: Because It’s There 

Monday, July 09, 2018

BookMarks #42: The War of the Worlds

Title: The War of the Worlds
Author: HG Wells
Genre: Science Fiction
Setting: Late 19th Century Britain
Published: 1998

The Martians invade Earth, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. No human forces seem able to contain the attack. Till they are finally laid low by the hostile environment of Earth.

We do not get to know of any of the major characters names. The story is told in bits and pieces through various accounts obtained by the narrator, who is a writer of philosophy and caught up in the events of the invasion of the Martians.

It is not a heroic tale, although we get to see bits of gallantry displayed all round but most of it ends up in disaster! Finally what saves the human species is not any ingenuity on their part but due to the Martians being unable to survive the terrestrial bacteria!

This is a tale of survival! The ones who survive are the ones who band together, stay hidden and camouflaged and run away at the appropriate time! Also, try not to worry about sacrificing a fellow human while managing their own survival.

“The War of the Worlds” set up the template for various alien invasion stories which Hollywood has kept rehashing for the last century. And there is the legendary radio broadcast, which set up near mass hysteria in its listeners about a Martian invasion!

HG Wells was certainly ahead of his time!

Previously on BookMarksMeasure What Matters 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

BookMarks #41: Measure What Matters

Title: Measure What Matters: How Google, Bono, and the Gates Foundation Rock the World with OKRs 
Author: John Doerr 
Genre: Non-fiction, Management, Business 
Published: 2018 

In Measure What Matters, John Doerr talks about the concept and utility of Objectives & Key Results (OKRs in short) as a tool for goal-setting and evaluating business performance. 

OKRs were introduced by Andy Grove in Intel, where Doerr started his career, in the 1970s. From Intel, Doerr took the gospel of OKRs around the world, especially in the tech sector. Google has been one of the most faithful adopters of the OKR philosophy. 

Measure What Matters describes what OKRs are and provides case studies of its adoption in different organizations worldwide like Google, Adobe, Lumeris, Gates Foundation, ONE foundation etc. 

OKRs streamline a company’s objectives and are communicated to all teams and individuals who then align their own OKRs to the company’s ones. Even the progress tracking and monitoring is open to all. Regular reviews are carried out for re-calibration of Objectives. 

The distinctive feature of OKRs is that an OKR will be considered successful if 60-70% of the objective has been fulfilled. If you are achieving the complete goal, then you are not stretching yourself! And thus it sets groups on track to outperform themselves! 

However, the book presents a very rosy picture of OKRs and it is a sold as a panacea for a company’s success. What we do not learn is what happens if OKR approach doesn’t work! 

Previously on BookMarks: Poirot: The Complete Short Stories 

Saturday, June 09, 2018

MovieNotes: Deadpool 2

Title: Deadpool 2
*ing: Deadpool, Thanos & others
Director: David Leitch
Language: English
Genre: Comicbook

Sequel to the ultra-fun superhero movie Deadpool. A man with superpowers who does not take himself too seriously.

Basic Premise
Deadpool attempts to save a young mutant from a time travelling soldier. 

MovieNotes [Spoilers Alert]
What do we love about Deadpool? He doesn’t take himself too seriously, is funny and witty, often breaks the fourth wall, and keeps reminding the viewers that this is just a movie like other movies. Yet, for all the nonsense spouted by Wade Wilson a.k.a Deadpool, the movie actually turns out to be an emotional roller-coaster with a grieving Wilson tries to figure out his life post his wife’s murder. 

The opening credits are all over the place, again seem to be the work of Honest Trailers team. Yet, they manage to open with a gun barrel sequence, with Celine Dion singing Ashes. The Deadpool team have here outsmarted James Bond as well!

The stand-out aspect of the movie is its self-deprecating humor – e.g. calling Cable as Thanos, not seeing the other X-Men in the mansion. All this enabling to keep up the fun quotient despite the tragic background.

The movie is a near non-stop torrent of cultural references – James Bond, Star Wars, MCU, DC Universe, X-Men, Wolverine, Stranger Things – nothing seems to have been spared. For all I know, I may have missed a thousand others as well.

During the last two decades, over the course of multiple movies, we have seen myriad abilities as superpowers, some physical, some of the mind, some simply extra-terrestrial, yet it turns out being lucky is the biggest superpower one can have. Sometimes plain luck (and some pluck) is what works when all else fails.

The Cameos – Vanisher is amazing & just when you though he was all CGI, it turns out he was Brad Pitt. Meanwhile, Matt Damon is just unrecognizable. Is doing cameos becoming a habit for him? (Remember Thor: Ragnarok – with the play inside the film)

Important Question – Which timeline is this movie set in? The X-Men shown are the younger versions (e.g. James MacAvoy plays Professor X, not Patrick Stewart), yet Deadpool references the later versions comparing and contrasting his movie to Logan, which is set much further in the future. Ah, mixed timelines! That’s why he is not appearing with the mainstream X-Men!

Finally, on time travel as a story element. Again, it’s too easy and too lazy. But Deadpool uses even this to more comic affect like killing Ryan Reynolds before he can sign Green Lantern!

India Connect – Deadpool’s friendly taxi driver Dopinder is now playing “Yunhi chala chal rahi”. He was listening to “mera joota hai japani” last time around!

And lastly, what next for Deadpool – teaming up with the remaining Avengers to stop Thanos? With his regenerative abilities (btw that leg growing scene is hilarious!!!), he should have certainly survived Thanos’ snap

Rating – 9/10. For just bringing back the fun element in superhero films.

Previously on MovieNotes – Avengers: Infinity Wars 

Friday, June 01, 2018

Thanos' Snap & the Aftermath

[Spoilers Ahead – Although it’s been weeks since the movie released, so should not matter] 

In Avengers: Infinity Wars, the central character, Thanos, seeks to bring together all six Infinity Stones, to enable fulfilling his mission to reduce the universe’s population to half, so that the other half can live happily on the remaining resources. The superhero team from across the universe joins forces in a failed attempt to stop him. Thanos succeeds and with a single snap of his fingers, makes every second living entity disappear from the face of this universe. 

What happens next will remain a point of conjecture, till the next movie comes up. In this post lets try to figure out the aftermath from a economics perspective. 

Thanos believes that resources are finite, the universe is overcrowded [a belief shared by every person who spends a considerable part of their day in commute] and the population has grown much beyond sustainable limits. For the betterment of humankind, he intends to destroy half of it. Resulting in the remaining half living happily ever after on effectively double the per capita resources. But does it really work out? 

Assumptions – Only Earth (as we know it) is considered. And the Snap works only on Homo Sapiens. All other life (plant, animal, extra-terrestrial) is spared. 

First, who survives the “snap” and who does not? As per Thanos, it will be a random occurrence. So assume it to be like a coin toss. We don’t know the outcome for each specific event but overall, it will be close to 50-50 heads or tails or in this case, survival or disappearance. 

And what happens to the survivors? Overcoming the initial shock itself will be a herculean task. Every other person just fading away, is too big a shock to easily recover from. They will have to bear with the huge emotional trauma of an unprecedented global scale. Humankind has faced disasters – both man-made (World Wars, atom bombs, terrorist attacks) and natural (earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, cyclones) but these have been geographically limited and not on a global level. Here no corner would be spared. 

In the immediate aftermath of the snap, there would be further human losses. Folks in need of care (the sick, the very young and the very old) might not have people around to take care of them. Also, at any given point of time, millions of machines are running under human control (vehicles, industrial plants, utlities etc.), Sudden removal of this control in the immediate aftermath of the "snap", will lead to a multitude of accidents globally. Insurance companies are certainly going to take a major hit on their books from this global catastrophe.

Now coming to the resources bit. Assuming that the natural resources, crops, livestock are spared. Does it mean every survivor now has access to twice the per capita resources? The resource distribution is not homogeneous & neither is the consumption pattern. And more importantly the skill-sets required to manage the resources are differentiated. 

Natural resources – air, water, minerals – would be increased per capita. But managing the utilities will become a major task. 

Perishables will see a lot of wastage, as consumption would be halved (or even less, accounting for trauma and the cascading reductions). 

Supply chains will get severely impacted, with links broken in-between leading to glut of certain items and crunch of others. In an increasingly inter-connected world, breakdown in supply lines for essentials could create major havoc especially in the urban areas.

Labour will be in high demand leading to increased wages. But payment might be in kind and not cash. Barter system might make a sudden comeback. Overall production will reduce due to shortage of workforce. Automation might get a boost, but the number of consumers will also have reduced. So technological innovations might take a back-seat in the immediate aftermath. 

Prices will decline. Real estate will suffer. Owned housing will certainly become more affordable. Other consumer products will also lose selling value. Overall, economy will see a severe deflationary trend. 

The carbon footprint will decline. We might achieve the COP21 targets after all. Less humans will mean more space for the flora and fauna to thrive as well. The ecological balance will undergo a sea-change.

Some nations might have constitutional vacuums, if their leadership disappears. Significant shifts may occur in the geo-political map. Balkanization could become a worldwide phenomenon. Monte Carlo simulations might help predict boundary shift scenarios on the basis of which leadership survives ? 

Overall, the scenario becomes further bleak. Population reduced to less than half, survivors trying to rebuild from the trauma, supply chains broken, breakdown of law and order, territorial disputes, an economy in recession, shift in the ecological balance, climate change under control. In the immediate aftermath, the scenario appears grim for humankind. However, Homo Sapiens are a resilient lot. Life will survive and thrive again but it may take centuries to get things back on track i.e. exploiting our limited resources to the hilt and then some more. And what does the omnipotent, omniscient Thanos do in the interim? Does he wait for the population to grow back to a certain level and "snap" his fingers again or does he undertake regular trims? 

In all, Thanos's snap doesn't quite fufill his objective of making the world a better living place (at least for the humans). And certainly makes no economic sense.

Monday, May 28, 2018

MovieNotes: Avengers : Infinity Wars

Title: Avengers: Infinity Wars (IMDB
*ing: Thanos, The Avengers, The Guardians of the Galaxy, The Black Force, Peter Dinklage (the king of dwarves) and many more
Directed By: The Russo Brothers
Language: English, with a dash of Groot.
Genre: Fantasy, Comic Books, MCU

The most ambitious movie crossover ever with the largest assembly of superheroes coming together culminating 10 years of development of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU).

Basic Premise
Thanos seeks to bring together all six Infinity Stones, to enable fulfilling his mission to reduce the universe’s population to half, so that the other half can sustain on the remaining resources. The superhero team from across the universe joins forces in an attempt to stop him.

(Alert: Spoilers Galore – Not that it should matter anymore, after all it has been weeks since the movie released)
First, take a deep breath
Comicbooks are supposed to be fun with the heroes prevailing over the villains and everyone living happily ever after. But our bunch of Avengers just can't seem to catch a break!

What a story and what a movie (yes these are two different things). A movie full of familiar superheroes and yet the villain is the protagonist. Thanos has a motivation greater than from creating havoc or personal gain. He wants to make the world a better place! Believing that the universe is overcrowded [Aside - a belief shared by everyone who spends considerable time in their commute], he wants to take drastic measures, which involves removing every other living thing from the universe at the snap of his fingers! Whether one survived the snap was a totally random event without any bias or prejudice. And thus we have the stunning end (no one saw that coming) where Thanos actually achieves his objective and every other living creature just fades away! Even the end-credits say “Thanos will return”

Questions, and more Questions 
Are they really dead? If they are, this is a bigger carnage than the Red Wedding. Seems unlikely, given the other announced films (unless they cover events prior to Infinity Wars). If they are not dead, where have they disappeared to? How will they return (as seems likely)? Is time travel involved? If yes, as it is likely to be, it is a lazy way out and always unsatisfactory way of closing things out (Honest exception – Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban)

Now that he has achieved his mission of “removing” half of the universe’s population, what does Thanos do next? Does he sit on his throne, wait for the population to grow back to a certain level and snap again? Or does he use the soul stone to resurrect his loved one (if resurrection is possible, that is, and the sacrifice can be undone?)

Does the Snap destroy all living creatures (including trees and animals) or just human beings and related ones (it does affect Groot)? If yes, then we have half the population left with half the living resources, but with more individual space!

The missing ones – Where were Hawkeye, Antman, Wasp, Valkyrie, Mordo, Hela, the Ravagers? Did they survive the carnage? Will they have a role in the next installment? How convenient for the Marvel producers, any Contract dispute, and the character is just “snapped” off!

Why did Dr. Strange not use his power? After all, he managed to bore Doramammu to submission. He envisaged only one scenario of stopping Thanos. But just handing over the stone seems quite a convoluted way of stopping him.

Why can’t Dr. Bruce Banner change into Hulk? Is it a new trick from the master of trickery, Loki himself. After all, Loki dying in the opening minute of a movie, just doesn’t seem right.

Where did the fighting rhinos of Wakanda disappear? And could they not have closed the gap in the dome after a while?

Learnings (or not)
  • Groot is a full-fledged language in itself. And the University of Asgard has an elective course in it, which has been taken by Thor! Does it imply that there are more Groots in the universe?
  • Thor is 1,500 years old. Quite a long life. But the last 10 years have been terrible for him. That’s why should not have come to Earth.
  • What happens when superheroes are brought face-to-face? Bring two males face-to-face, a huge ego battle follows – Thor/Star-Lord or Iron Man/Dr. Strange. While the heroines show immediate camaraderie – a la Battle of Wakanda.
  • So, the country of Wakanda opened up to the world and became the battleground for an inter-galactic war! Wonder what the citizens must be thinking of these turn of events.
  • Vision is an android, i.e. a programmed robot. Not a human being or a living species. And is in a relationship with the Scarlet Witch! Conclusion - Westworld folks have infilitrated the MCU!
  • Nobody sees Rocket as a raccoon. Poor fellow is called a rabbit here!
  • The biggest cheer from the audience came when Captain America makes his first appearance on-screen. And to think Chris Evans has been shunted down in the end-credits to 5th now!
  • Have to give credit to the MCU folks. They show Hulk running in Wakanda, in the trailers but in the movie he doesn’t appear in Hulk form! Now that’s an anti-spoiler there!
  • The older ones survive, while the newer ones fade away. Just when we expected the opposite to happen. Remember reading Alistair Maclean's Force 10 from Navarone, where the new recruits die, while the old hands are left standing!
  • Captain Marvel – she is coming, but is she the destroyer of Thanos and savior of half of the universe’s populace? Will have to wait this one out.
And now for the long wait…
2019 can’t come soon enough. The Game of Thrones will come to its epic conclusion and so will the Avengers! Hmmm… it’s a long year’s wait for the fandoms.

Rating – 9/10. For delivering on the hype. And making you eagerly await the next installment.

Previously on MovieNotes: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misssouri 

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