There Will Be Blood

If you have been waiting for a film for a while, watching it alone in a theater is probably most satisfying. For various reasons, but the most important being – I don’t have to justify why the film is worth someone else’s time. It would have been a very tough sell in There Will Be Blood’s case.

I am not sure if it was Raja Sen’s review on Rediff that tipped it for me, or the bulging veins on Daniel Day-Lewis’s forehead in some best actor award nomination preview – I had to watch this one.

What’s my verdict? I am not sure. Morally corrupt love has always perturbed me. Oxymoron?

There are moments in this film, or vignettes, if you will, that showcase this very corrupt kind of love that elevate it above your usual saga. Love for what you stand for, what goes through your veins, on one side – and on the other side, you have love for another person whom you have internalized as your extension.

ps: I walked out of the theater feeling somewhat like this.

The Long Tail of Blogging

Here’s what Nabokov said at the end of his literature-appreciation course:

“In this course I have tried to reveal the mechanism of those wonderful toys — literary masterpieces. I have tried to make of you good readers who read books not for the infantile purpose of identifying oneself with the characters, and not for the adolescent purpose of learning to live, and not for the academic purpose of indulging in generalizations. I have tried to teach you to read books for the sake of their form, their visions, their art. I have tried to teach you to feel a shiver of artistic satisfaction, to share not the emotions of the people in the book but the emotions of its author — the joys and difficulties of creation. We did not talk around books, about books; we went to the center of this or that masterpiece, to the live heart of the matter.”

Is this true? When I heard about Lolita, or more so, its purported story’s theme, I didn’t know that the book was about something else. But I know now. What if I didn’t? Or couldn’t? Would I have dismissed the book as a cheap attempt at erotica that’s not even there? Maybe.

The point is – When I write, I think of a certain type of reader who will get my allusions, and more importantly, whose appreciation hierarchy matches mine. The hope is to create something whose unravelling would thrill a reader – give that shiver of artistic satisfaction. I must also admit that, in retrospect, my posts from the past have given me more cringes than shivers.

Is that you? Not being able to believe that you could’ve written this? You should read some of the other stuff you’ve written.

The Master of Chess

“A Zugzwang!” – exclaimed Grandpa.

“So it seems” mused the other old man. He laid his over-sized black-framed glasses down on the floor and turned to me with a grandfatherly smile. “Your Grandpa will be stuck for a while.” He turned towards the old chess board again and gazed at it for a while before smiling back at me. “Do you know what a Zugzwang is?”

I nodded my ignorance. His grin became wider, and those stained yellow teeth, by themselves, were grinning at me now.

Grandpa seemed to come back to this world with a sigh – “Am resigning myself to resign today.” Before I could smile at the pun, he went on “I need a tea now. Yes, I think I need a tea now.”

I made them both some tea. These tea requests were always special to me. Grandpa loved the special Darjeeling flavor. His friend seemed to not mind. They sipped on it and the game continued.

Their chess was legendary in this part of the world. Grandpa was himself a national level player; FIDE rated players didn’t take his old school defensive game lightly. These days, he had picked up some of the newer styles and was runner up in the 80+ category last year.

Surprisingly, his friend had kept up somehow. Loans, deaths, and disease seemed to have not affected him; or at least, not his chess. He was here everyday morning; and Grandpa started each game with his old rival with a keenness that bordered on obsession.

The games went on. Grandpa won some, but lost many. Tea was served always.

Both of them are now dead. When grandpa’s rival died, I had gone there to pay my last respects. Few dusty books were lying around. I hadn’t known that he could read. A worn out chess book caught my attention and as I was going through it, I could see his wife smiling at me through similar stained teeth. She looked at the book in my hand and grimaced a little – “He hated chess. But he loved your tea.”

Favorite Hotels in South Bangalore

1 – Suprabhata Coffee Kendra: This won’t get figured in any top-list (other than mine, of course). They serve the best coffee in town, and probably the best sambhar as well. It’s one of those pre-darshini-age standing hotels, and is very popular among our auto rickshaw drivers. It’s on the diagonal road connecting Sajjan Rao Circle and Minerva Circle; just before the second hand two wheeler market starts. The good thing about this place is – you get coffee in the afternoons.

2 – Brahmins’ Coffee Bar: Idli, vaDe, khara bath, and kesari bath – not to mention the chutney. Don’t be too demanding at the counter; you might just have to deal with some polite rudeness from either of the Adiga brothers who serve the food. But the food is worth it – so worth it.

3 – Vidyarthi Bhavan: The story goes that it was started to cater to National College students in the early 50’s and some of those students still make it a point to come back (and in some cases like mine, very frequently). The trick to getting serviced here quickly is to know their static dose routing algorithm. Here’s how it works: You need to walk up to the kitchen and see which of the servers is getting ready for the next batch, and try to find a seat in his serving territory. If that’s not possible, the next-in-line server’s territory. Another tip would be to ask for ‘less oil’ – brilliant dose (crisp on the outside and soft on the inside), and that uddin beLe chutney makes me forgive all of Bangalore’s traffic woes. If you can’t handle the crowd, just walk down DVG Road to Mahalakshmi Tiffin Room, and you’ll do just fine.

4 – Hotel Dwaraka – It’s a pity they had to change their location from Bull Temple Road to Tyagarajanagara now, and become a semi-Darshini (of all things!!). But the khali dose still remains as soft and as tasty as ever. I would recommend some palya as well – just to make it a set. Enough has been said about their ‘yeraDu dosege mooru baari chutney koDalaguvudilla’ notices – and now that those notices are gone 🙁 they do serve chutney thrice 🙂

5 – Upahara Darshini – Shavige bath, with it’s unique chutney.

Before Bangalore became the restaurant city that it is now, it used to have hotels – and I am glad that most of the classic hotels have survived, and thrived. I will write more on this when I cover the Majestic area and Malleshwaram hotels.

Counter Example

Finding counter examples to conjectures can be notoriously hard (pun? I think not). This is an area of creativity that mostly goes unappreciated.

Here’s a personal anecdote: my father once came up with an algorithm to solve a hugely constrained version of the traveling salesman problem. The greedy proof was slightly hand-wavy, and I felt it would be an easier thing to find a counter example where his algorithm wouldn’t find the optimal tour. Of course, I was just trying to tell him that he couldn’t have solved TSP (or even approximated it). I learnt two lessons that day.

Lesson One: One must always speak sweet, because one underestimates the number of times one has to eat his own words.

Lesson Two: Finding counter examples can get quite tricky – and if I may, I would admit that it’s not just tricky, it’s quite hard – requires tons of patience, and a deep understanding of the problem and the algorithm we are out to disprove. I had learnt a similar lesson earlier in Sundar’s Approximation Algorithms class. Sundar let us spend one hour counter-exampling that a minimum spanning tree over the vertex set wouldn’t give us a minimum Steiner tree. The counter example used a ‘construct’ that was quite simple, and took a few minutes of dedicated thought to find. But what amazed me today was this fact about Tait’s conjecture:

Tait’s conjecture states that “Every polyhedron has a Hamiltonian cycle (along the edges) through all its vertices“. It was proposed in 1886 by P. G. Tait and disproved in 1946, when W. T. Tutte constructed a counterexample with 25 faces, 69 edges and 46 vertices.

Imagine the patience, creativity, deep understanding of the problem, and the [least appreciated of them all] ability to borrow from related problems and areas – it takes to come up with such a counter example. And I keep wondering: why research?

Are we blind?

Or is it just a dark room?

The Nandigram SEZ was supposed to be developed by Indonesia’s Salim Group. Preliminary web searching indicates that Salim group has very close ties with Dow Chemical. And of course, Dow Chemical owns Union Carbide. It’s up to investigative journalism to figure out the extent to which Salim and Dow are bedfellows; what I find most surprising is that this has not found mention in any major column/article or news coverage of any other form anywhere. I read about it in an Arundati Roy interview in Telelka, and after some serious digging on the web, the best I could come up with was that Dow Chemical was actually invited to bid for the Nandigram SEZ. The collective enormity of these two ironies evokes a very deep and profound rage.

And deeper guilt.

Method Living

Pre-Script: No spoilers ahead.

In Christopher Nolan’s brilliant period sci-fi drama* The Prestige, an old Chinese magician lives his act. It means the following: He understands that his flagship magic trick, to look surreally magical, needs a heavy personality quirk. To ensure that he can pull this quirk on stage, he lives with that quirk off-stage. Every day, through his life, he ‘lives’ his act. It’s quite a small scene, and almost irrelevant to the movie; but for some reason, it hit me that there is this guy who is willing to live an act, consciously, forever. I will not get into acts that we live unconsciously, or sporadically, or with temporal profit in mind for some limited time. This is an act that a person lives – forever. Method Living? Perhaps.

Today, I had a night long conversation with Yakshi, and as we go to a couple of people we know, he claimed that they were Method Living. It reminded me of a close friend who Method Lives. The quirk is in his voice. He’d know it if he reads this. It made the movie seem far more real, and far more hard hitting.

These quirks that Method Livers inculcate in their lives are mostly profit driven. I either want to make the world believe that I am something that I am not, or I have a far simpler commercial motive like the magician in the movie. The former is something that we are all capable of: we either don’t, or we don’t notice; or we do. The latter, though, is something that would require me to possess a degree of passion towards my profession that would transcend my life.

Speaking of passion, along with Susan Orlean’s character in Adaptation, I keep wondering if I will ever have a passion that will consume me – at least make me cut a finger or two, let alone give my life.

* – Christopher Nolan’s quote describing his movies: The term ‘genre’ eventually becomes pejorative because you’re referring to something that’s so codified and ritualised that it ceases to have the power and meaning it had when it first started.

Bookie

No significant update. Just removing dead links.

-Aside-
Ages ago, the Intellectual Whores website (now a 404) had given me some solace; but not much hope though. The masterfully written Ladder Theory explains why things are so screwed up; but, yeah, but, so we (whores?) don’t lose hope, there are the ever so entertaining whore avoidance tips. Now, after all these years, I finally manage to read Woody Allen’s short story, The Whore of Mensa.
-End of Aside-

It made me reminisce my own guilty trips to establishments of that sort. I remember how the Penguin Classics shelves at New India Book Depot in Connaught Place had seduced me. I had no hope. But that was just once though. Not the case with Fact and Fiction Booksellers in PVR Priya though. I got lured there many times; oh so many times. I went there for the smell. But no, it’s not easy; I absolutely cannot stand dust. But these people have somehow managed to make the smell pleasurable – the right mix of old dust, new page texture, looming shelves, cozy corners of wood, and maybe they subtly spray bibiliodisiac all over the place. I wonder what will be my stopword this time? How about ‘stop’? But before all that, I helplessly writhe and reach out for Simone. I know I have not been able to do her the last time, but hopefully this time…hopefully.

Then, there are the concubines at home. I have left them spread haphazardly on my bed, under it, on the cold steel shelf, on the hard floor, everywhere. And all these are the more prized ones: I could call each one my own Khartoum. I go back to them everyday, I caress their initial pages now and then, but only a few I have managed to take in fully. Well, some day – some day, there will be that grand marathon session. Or some day – some day, there will be that long session where I will reaffirm my intellectual youth by using them with all the rigour that they deserve. Or some day – some day, I will just take them all one by one, till I collapse.

I love them though.

Eigen

Jatin forced a comment which is worth expanding a little more.

Ever since I found that the PageRank vector of the web-graph is the dominant eigenvector of its matrix representation, I have been meaning to get to the bottom of this eigenvector-eigenvalue concept. I am still snorkeling; long time to scuba dive.

Most of us studied concepts like simultaneous equations in our high school algebra classes, but never really wondered about them deeply, or even more so, felt that they were difficult. Problems like – 3 oranges and 4 apples cost 17 rupees; 2 oranges and 3 apples cost 12 rupees; how much does each apple cost? – never seemed that difficult. We knew that the equations that represented these statements were ‘fluid,’ and need not apply to just these statements, and an overall tool was being mastered.

Somehow, the same never happened to tools like primal-dual, or eigenvalues-eigenvectors, or other tools from linear algebra, statistics, calculus, etc. Somewhere, the learning process got fucked because of an emphasis on just the concept, and a palpable lack of intuitive visualization. When people talk about a matrix, I never think in terms of transformations. If I did, I could see that some transformations would leave some ‘victims’ unchanged. And these victims were the eigenvectors of that transformation. Maybe they could change in terms of scale, but not in terms of what they fundamentally are. Here is an example from the Wikipedia entry on Eigenvalue:

As the Earth rotates, every arrow pointing outward from the center of the Earth also rotates, except those arrows that lie on the axis of rotation. Consider the transformation of the Earth after one hour of rotation: An arrow from the center of the Earth to the Geographic South Pole would be an eigenvector of this transformation, but an arrow from the center of the Earth to anywhere on the equator would not be an eigenvector. Since the arrow pointing at the pole is not stretched by the rotation of the Earth, its eigenvalue is 1.

So, was Neo an Eigenvector of The Matrix? I wonder…

As for what it means when they say that PageRank is the dominant eigenvector of the web-graph, we have to visualize the web-graph’s matrix representation as a transformation. The matrix representation has all web-pages in rows and columns, and if a web-page in row i has a hyperlink to a web-page in column j, the [i, j] entry is 1, else 0. What does it mean to say that this matrix is a transformation? And what does it mean to say that it can act on ‘victims’ to change them? And if the ‘victim’ happens to be a vector which has the pages’ pagerank values, the transformation doesn’t affect it. What does that say about PageRank, and how is that related to our intuitive perception of pagerank as the importance of each page on a global scale?

We will get to primal-dual some other time. My head hurts. It hurts.

ps: And these are all just tools; albeit mental in nature. If we don’t master them, well, it’s ok I guess. We can always go back to intellectual stone age, or whatever was there before that. I mean, I always fancied myself as a Cro-Magnon.

The Autobiography of Malcolm X

It’s somewhat sad that the Autobiography of Malcolm X is also meant to be a specific political and social message, as well as serve as a brilliant account of the life of a thoughtful and brave leader. X thought he would be dead by the time the book came out, and was also probably a little concerned about what he wanted his reluctant critics to think about him: so that they would take his message seriously. So, instead of celebrating change for change’s sake, X decided to underplay it, to an extent that if don’t watch out for it, the book will seem more like a testament to the angst and the rage of the African American in mid-nineteenth century. It is that, I don’t deny it; but it’s also an account of a man’s life – a life of change: change in reverence of concepts, in thoughts, in mind-sets, in lifestyle, and more so, a change in life itself.

Malcolm X went from being a shoe-shiner, to a hustler peddling drugs in the Harlem ghettos, to armed robbery in Boston’s Roxbury area, to prison (where he had all his education – not the kind which prisons typically dish out), to being a minister in a temple, to being the most ardent mouth-piece for a socio-religious movement, to revelation in Mecca, to being the charismatic leader of African-Americans, to a martyr.

We see these transitions through X’s eyes; and this has to be attributed to the writing skills of Alex Haley, who ghostwrote the Autobiography. But what hit me more was that though the changes are what the book is about, X’s thoughts preceding his committing to any change is never discussed. Some changes, he had no hand in them; some others, he went through them while knowing that they would alter the very nature of his built up case, cause, and life. He clearly explains why he changed, but he never touches upon what he went through before these changes. The uncertainty of any major self-orchestrated life change is what I would have loved to see X muse upon…….Every such change in my life, however miniscule it might be, makes me wonder…..

Apart from that one complaint, there is also a shocking lack of supreme skepticism about religion in the book. Someone as sharp, as obviously intelligent, and as widely read, embracing a new religion to the extent of being ready to die for it – makes me conclude that the driving forces must have been of an order of magnitude that I cannot even imagine. Maybe in a larger context of history, it will all make sense. A must read.

ps: Most house burglars get thwarted by dim lights of bathrooms.