Monthly Archives: May 2010

Identify the country….


Lets play a small game. I’ll post a few photos from the 1950’s and 60’s and lets see if you can identify the country that these pictures were taken in.

A university campus

Biology class in the university

A girl scout program in the capital city

Mothers and children at a city park

A phonograph record store selling the latest music records

Cabinet in session

So which country is it?

Somewhere in Europe? No.

USSR? No.

Iran? No.

India? No.

Its Afghanistan!

This ravaged and war torn country was once a stable and developing country in the 1950’s and 60’s. These photos are from a book published during that period by the then govt’s planning ministry. I agree that this being an official govt book, it would naturally have handpicked photos which served to promote the country’s image in the west. Even then, im sure we all can agree that it is very very difficult to even imagine such normalcy in today’s Afghanistan, even in a few places. Children playing in a park, girl scouts undergoing training, a functioning modern co-ed university all seem so very surreal today. This is what 30 years of war can do to a country. It is very tragic indeed.

I found these images on www.foreignpolicy.com, in a photo essay by Mohammad Qayoumi. Click here to see all the pictures and the full essay.

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Write the Future!!!


Anything i put into words here will be an understatement. So just watch and enjoy this amazing 2010 Football World Cup commercial of Nike.

Epic Game Alert: Red Dead Redemption


What do i say about Red Dead Redemption? One blog post will hardly do justice to describe this magnum opus. Red Dead Redemption is a third person action adventure title developed by Rockstar, the game studio responsible for the highly successful GTA series. Set in the badlands of the wild wild west in the late 19th century, you play as John Marston – a former outlaw who is now forced to hunt down his former gang members. Its an open sandbox adventure, which means that the game does not have a linear structure. Players have freedom to traverse the map in any way they choose, playing different side-missions in any order, before they continue with the main storyline missions. This allows the players to play as creatively as they want as there is no “right way” of playing such games. Other games with an open sandbox model were Fallout 3, Mass Effect , GTA: San Andreas, GTA IV etc to name a few.

Red Dead Redemption takes this open-sandbox nature to the next level. As you traverse the open world of Red Dead Redemption, you will come across a plethora of side-missions which will vary from rescuing kidnapped women and children, chasing down criminals for a reward, gambling, hunting birds and animals like bears, lions and coyotes, search for flowers in the desert, assault gang hide-outs, rob stage coaches, fight in cowboy style duels, treasure hunt and do a lot lot more in addition to the main storyline which will take you through a hollywood-like plot from helping the town sheriff  kill the bad guys to taking part in a revolt in mexico against the dictator and his army.

The game also has, like other sand box games, an in-built morality meter. For any of the side missions you can choose to play as a good guy or bad. For example you can take part in missions to save people from being robbed and thus increase your fame or you can choose to live by robbing the stage coaches in the area and getting notorious. If your rating falls too low then you’ll soon have a reward on your head and cops and other bounty hunters will hunt you down and you must be prepared to fight them off. Im sure that this will set the cat among the pigeons and well soon find some old US senators discussing on various news channels(im looking at you Fox!!) about how this game encourages crimes and violent behaviour just like the furore caused due to some elements of the GTA: San Andreas and GTA IV games.

image courtesy: ign.com

All in all, Red Dead Redemption looks to be one helluva game. Its the first game developed by Rockstar San Diego (the previous GTA series being developed by Rockstar North) and it is already garnering rave reviews and immense buzz. The game releases on 18th May 2010 for the PS3 and the Xbox 360.

The game has been in development for a long time and there have been many rumours in the past that it came close to being cancelled. There were also many controversies a few months back dogging the Rockstar San Diego studio. Many of the employees were complaining of long work hours and bad management policies. This along with reports of Rockstar not happy with the final game, as it was at that time, leading to a postponement in release date, caused many to speculate about the future of the game. Reports suggested that the amount of money put into Red Dead’s development can not be realistically recovered, which would lead to a loss for the studio. However, the main objective of the game, the reports claimed, was to prove that Rockstar San Diego had the resources and know-how to develop a full fledged top class AAA title. Judging by the reviews, it has definitely done so. It also looks like the initial skepticism about the potential sales of the game may have been too pessimistic. It definitely looks like its going to be one of the top selling games of the year.

So what are you waiting for? Get into those darn cowboy boots, shoot the hats off those criminal gunslingers, save the girl and ride off into the Mojave sunset.

Movie Review: Iron Man 2


image courtesy:filmofilia.com

Iron Man 2 has all the trappings of a traditional big-budget Hollywood action flick. Dazzling pyrotechnics? Check. Witty dialogs laced with double entendre? Check. Russian Bad Guy? Check. Badass gizmos and mean-looking robots? Check. Very attractive and curvaceous actress in a skin tight black suit? Check. Need i say more?

Iron Man 2 is good, but its not great. However, i must say that i wasn’t a big fan of Iron Man 1 either and chances are that if you loved the first installment you’ll like the sequel too, in equal measure, though i must warn you that some of the novelty of the first movie has worn off.

So, Tony Stark is now under pressure to turn over his Iron Man armor suit to the US govt, which detests so much power in the hands of one man. He also has an industrial competitor in the form of Justin Hammer, another weapons manufacturer, who aims to outdo Stark Industries in weapons development. There’s a mild Steve Jobs-Bill Gates analogy in this. In addition, Tony has to face a Russian physicist-gone-cuckoo, Whiplash, who is out to take revenge against Tony due to an old family grudge. However, this time Tony has help at hand from Colonel Rhodes and a mysterious secret service agent. To top this all, Stark has to figure out a way to stop the slow poisoning the Iron Man armor is causing him before the toxicity kills him. Phew. Nobody’s heard of too many cooks spoiling the broth? The movie and its ensemble (over)cast reminded me of past duds like PoC: At World’s Ends and Spiderman 3. Both movies were riding on high expectations following previous blockbuster installments, but managed to mess things up by including too many plot points and unnecessary characters.

For a summer action flick, the movie dint have many edge-of-seat riveting action moments. However, the highlight of the movie is once again the very talented Robert Downey Jr, who effortlessly portrays the dynamic and narcissistic Tony Stark. His bad-ass attitude and tongue-in-cheek dialogs are a treat to watch. Scarlett Johansson’s character has very little to do, but as long as its portrayed by Scarlett Johansson i don’t think anybody’s complaining. The witty dialogs and the pervasive subtle humor remain as strong as they were in the first movie.

I guess you realise you’re growing old, when you see Tony Stark use some sort of optic fiber cable and a lazer beam refracted through a prism to create a new element and you cant help but laugh at the absurdity of it. Or maybe thats just being hypocritical, cos at the same time you’re drooling over his shiny red Iron Man armor. Oh, the innocence of childhood!!! Anyways, despite some inherent flaws, Iron Man 2 is definitely worth a watch. Go for it!!

P.S: Wait till the end credits get over to watch a special bonus clip from the movie. Or you can just skip the wait and watch it on youtube, but then you wont get to brag about it like im doing now.

The Evolution of Facebook’s Piracy Policy … err Privacy Policy


There are already tons of articles out there on the web, ranting about the changes made to the default privacy policy settings of Facebook (which makes your personal info public by default). So, ill keep this short and try to sum it all up using infographics prepared by Matt McKeon, a developer with the Visual Communication Lab at IBM Research’s Center for Social Software.

The 2 graphs below indicate how much of your personal data is accessible by third parties online and how that accessibility has changed between 2005 and 2010. The dark blue represents the availability of your personal data, by default.

availability of personal info in 2005

availability of personal info in 2010

What does Facebook get by giving third parties more access to your personal info? Its the ad revenue stupid. Think Google.

According to the Wall Street Journal, in the first quarter of this year, Facebook pulled ahead of Yahoo for the first time and delivered more banner ads to its U.S. users than any other Web publisher.

And why not? Facebook makes money when you click on the ads presented to you. You would be more willing to click on those ads if they were personalised for your needs. Facebook also sits on a wealth of your personal info. Now Facebook is providing that info (as the default setting) to third parties who can target you with more personalised ads. Simple, isn’t it?

The main issue here is that Facebook lured in people with its foundation of strong privacy settings and is now pulling that very foundation from its user base. I dont think most FB users are complaining though. According to this Wired article most of the current anti-Facebook rantings are by adults over 35 years and not its core user group in the age bracket of 18-34 years. However, there is this interesting article in the New York Times about people realising the long term implications of sharing private information in the public world of Facebook.

Tech Startups and Rock Bands


Found this really interesting analogy between starting a tech company and a rock band here. Image credit to Shane Snow.

Lost in Translation


There are just around 200 minutes remaining before ABC’s hit series “Lost” comes to a close. The show debuted in 2004 to rave reviews and high viewer ratings. It even notched an Emmy in the best drama category for its first season. However, ratings gradually slipped and viewership declined as well, during the subsequent seasons. The Lost faithfuls though, remained glued to the show. Having followed the show for 5 years now, i am a tad bit disappointed with how the sixth season has turned out so far. I expected far more answers to be on the table with just 5 episodes left to air. It is disappointing when the show’s creators Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof  claim that the only answer they owe the fans is about how the connection between the flash sideways timeline and the island timeline will eventually make sense. They created a totally new (unnecessary ) theory in season six and they now claim that that is the only answer they owe to the fans?

I also feel that with season six, the show’s theme and characters have been diluted. The show was always about the confrontation between reason and faith, epitomised by the characters of Jack and Locke. Locke’s death resulted in the loss of one of the most memorable characters in TV history. And Jack seems to have left his logic and reason behind and has taken the place of Locke in believing in the island and his destiny inter-twined with it. This confrontation between reason and faith has been replaced by a more banal good vs evil duel. The characters now just seem pawns in the hand of the Smoke Monster and Jacob. Another interesting rivalry was that between Charles Widmore and Ben Linus. I think they could have spent more time on that and shown how these 2 powerful characters take their fight to the endgame. However, the scheming, cunning and manipulative Linus has been reduced to an almost helpless state.

The island in itself was a very interesting character. It seemed to have a mind of its own. It seemed to have free will. The survivors came to fear it and the secrets it held. However in season six, this sentient nature of the island has been replaced by Jacob. I think it was far more interesting to wonder why this inanimate island chose to bring certain people to the island rather than knowing that they were brought here due to a flesh-and-blood Jacob.  Jacob and “the man in black” themselves not having been introduced till the finale of season 5, it looks like the past mysteries are being bent around to fit this plot device.

The strong sci-fi under-currents to this show have been diluted out too. While the last 2 seasons focussed on the anachronistic and electromagnetic properties of the island, this season is only focusing on the Smoke Monster. I think most sci-fi fans would have loved season 5( and season 4 to an extent) for the interesting plot created due to time travel and the focus on the experiments of the mysterious Dharma Initiative. I think they could have focussed more on these anomalies of the island.

Honestly speaking, no-one wants all the mysteries to be answered, but I think at least most of the them should be answered so that it doesn’t seem like the creators were randomly throwing in mysteries without any deeper meaning behind them. Season six is good no doubt. However, it is just not as radical as i expected it to be (at least until “The Candidate” episode). I’m sure more answers will be revealed in the last 5 episodes. I just hope they have better explanations than the “island whispers” mystery. For a more detailed read on the various mysteries of Lost, click here.

Update: ABC has extended the duration of the series finale of Lost from 2 to 2.5 hours. This extension turned out to be necessary apparently because there has been so much crucial material shot for the finale, titled “The End”, which could just not be left out. More on this story here. This is very good news to all us Lost fans. Here’s hoping the series ends with a bang!