Clash of the Titans: Germany vs. Portugal

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Image source: http://fivesee.com/2014/16/2689/germany-vs-portugal-head-head.html

Germany and Portugal, two teams that are considered favourites to win the 2014 edition of the FIFA World Cup, clash on Monday, June 16th at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador, Brazil. This is arguably the most awaited match in Group G, comprising Germany, Portugal, Ghana and the United States.

Germany has been in top form for the last two World Cups, finishing third, and has bested Portugal the last three times the teams met – at the World Cup 2006, Euro 2008 and Euro 2012. However, German coach Joachim Löw is troubled by injuries to his team. Midfielder Marco Reus is down with an ankle injury he suffered just a few days before the tournament that ensures he will miss this tournament, while midfielder İlkay Gündoğan is suffering from back problems and centre back Holger Badstuber is undergoing knee surgery after tearing his cruciate ligaments. But Germany still have a strong squad, with Mesut Ozil, Thomas Muller, Lukas Podolski, Mario Gotze, Andre Schurrle, Julian Draxler, Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm. Finally, there’s top scorer Miroslav Klose, for whom this will be the last World Cup. So Germany has a very strong team, known for playing as a unit, and with their performances in the previous World Cups, it’s no surprise that they are being seen as favourites to lift the cup this year.

germany-vs-portugal

Image source: http://www.thenewstribe.com/2014/06/16/germany-vs-portugal-group-g-match-venue-ground-time-and-live-streaming-information/

On the other side, Portugal has one of the best players in the world, Cristiano Ronaldo, on whom high hopes have been pinned for leading Portugal to World Cup victory. There was some tension about Ronaldo’s nagging knee injury, sustained during last season, and even at the training sessions for the World Cup, he was seen with a strap on his left knee. However, even though Ronaldo is currently in his best form and is expected to be given tough competition at a personal level only by Argentina’s Lionel Messi, he cannot assure a Portugal win all by himself. Central midfielder João Moutinho will be looking to turn the tide for Portugal in the central third of the game while the able defence provided by Pepe, Bruno Alves, Joao Pereira and Fabio Coentrao can create a strong foundation for the Portuguese attackers to bank on. Even Manchester United’s Nani has the skills to change the direction of the game in a moment.

Going by Germany’s last performances in their matches against Portugal, Germany seems the strong contender to win this match as well. Veteran Miroslav Klose, though 36, is still a threat and defensive midfielder Philipp Lahm seems poised to be the perfect foil for the raw power of Cristiano Ronaldo. Germany have won their last six opening World Cup matches, as against Portugal, who have won only one of their last seven World Cup matches. So all things considered, it would be a good idea to bet on Germany.

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Journey into the unknown

vizag

Image source: http://www.bitsaa.org/?page=vizag

In 2009, I, my flatmate, and his office colleagues went for a surprise weekend trip to Vizag. We left Friday evening and returned Monday morning. The holiday was pretty much conventional, with us covering all the must-see places, which included two pretty beaches, a tour of an ancient Russian submarine, a trip in a cable car, and an absurdly beautiful view of sea and sky melting into one from the top of a lighthouse. And yes, a round-a-small-corner-of-the-sea trip in a motorboat. So far, so ho-hum. The ‘unknown’ I’m referring to is a new experience, one I’m unlikely to forget.

I’m usually not one for loud fun and frolic, being known more for being quiet in speech as well as actions. But I’m a sucker for peer pressure, and this time was no different. On the first day of the trip, all my friends enjoyed a long swim/jaunt in the sea pre-lunch while I sat on the sand staring across the shore and at the waves. Then we had a sumptuous lunch, where in the name of an aperitif, I had about 300 ml of red wine. The wine was delicious, and I’d no trouble quaffing it down. We had pleasant desultory chit-chat, and then my friends suggested we go for a second swim, and insisted I should step into the water and not just moisten the tips of my toes with sea spray. I was reluctant, but decided to give it a try. I waded somewhat deep into the water, and one of our gang started splashing me with water. That was pleasant, till someone ran up behind me and gave me a mighty push which dunked me head-first into the water, and I had my first taste of the unpleasant mixture of salt and dirt that is sea water. I was disoriented for a moment with this new sensation of being underwater for a few moments, and coughed and spluttered for a few more to regain breath while my friends laughed all around me and welcomed me into the club. Then, I decided to go for it full-steam, and started imitating the actions of my friends to experience the same sensations they were. One of the new things I learnt was that when a big wave is rising and speeding towards you crouch slightly and stand spread-eagled so you feel a hard physical impact as the wave hits you full-bore in the chest. I did this a few times, and realized the force of the sea (or rather, a microscopic portion of it), as I was almost thrown back repeatedly. Then, a new trick. When a huge wave is rising towards you, turn your back to it, and just as it is about to hit you, jump into the water and let the wave’s momentum carry your body to the shore like a piece of driftwood. I realized soon enough that the human body is far from being driftwood and that it barely moves a few feet in this onslaught. There were those who jumped in the opposite direction of the waves and their bodies just remained where they jumped while the waves went to shore and back as usual. As for me, in my enthusiasm, I became as feverish as the lemmings who decide that they can cross the ocean. I plunged in and for more than a few moments, this time, I was an underwater creature, the sounds of the gurgling water filling my ears, as I blindly crawled (I didn’t open my eyes underwater; not sure I missed much, but I did escape the burning red rash that formed on the whites of my friends’ eyes) like some shelled insect, on the sea bed. It was an eerie sensation, exploring this medium and experiencing the body’s survival mechanism switch on. We are all biological creatures whose chemical compositions dictate our lives. Thus, most of us mammals have one or more common traits that include the self-preservation instinct. I suppose this is an instrument of the sub-conscious and is thus automatic.

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Image source: http://www.tripadvisor.in/Attraction_Review-g297588-d1749401-Reviews-INS_Kurusura_Submarine_Museum-Visakhapatnam_Andhra_Pradesh.html

I went underwater and tried to stay there longer and longer each time I plunged in. I’m sure some of the other tourists who were strolling in the area where we were swimming must’ve stared at me, gasping and panting, and felt, here’s a guy who almost drowned; no wonder there’s tight restrictions on swimming and the beach security guy (who’s relieving himself in full public view in the middle of the beach at the moment) is shrilly blowing his whistle and motioning to the swimmers to come out in the course of his routine rounds. Now I didn’t want to stop at all, but wanted to go deeper and deeper into the sea and stay longer and longer in the water and watch my survival instincts at work. What I really wanted was a flat lining moment; the thin grey space just before the afterlife – the few moments after your spirit has left your body, but you can still see yourself (your body) and your surroundings. But that would be tantamount to suicide, and that wasn’t on my mind on this trip. So, finally I left the water and we went back to the hotel, where the sea in my ears, nose, lungs, and stomach, and the wine in my brain, disoriented me so much that I was hardly aware of what I was conversing with my fellow hotel roommate. In the bathroom, filling water for a hot bath, I was staring wildly all around me, trying to clean sand off my clothes (which I’d foolishly kept on) and sandals without making a mess, and taking a bath without taking too much time. My head was beginning to feel like lead and a dull ache was throbbing in my cranium. My friend banged on the door, asking how much longer I was gonna take. At that moment, I felt so wild that if I’d a gun, I’m sure I’d have shot him. Somehow, I clumsily cleaned my clothes and sandals and took a bath, and then we all left for the submarine.

All this while, my system was functioning below capacity, and I was an android with glassy eyes and a wooden expression speaking in monosyllables. It was only after I had some pav bhaji and a vanilla shake that my senses returned to normal, and I started behaving more like a human again. Finally, when we returned to the hotel room, I realized that the battering of the sea had taken a toll on my muscles, and while my head was clear, my whole body ached. The last beautiful vision I had was of space, the milky way, planets, stars…all seen on the fluorescent ceiling wallpaper that glowed in the dark. Then I was plummeting into space…

Maus: A survivor’s tale

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Image source: http://jdanspsawyksui.com/tag/maus/

Rarely does a graphic artist manage to evoke in you a sense of realism. Most comic art lets you escape into a universe richly realized by its creator, with its own rules or lack thereof, qualities that its characters are vividly endowed with, and circumstances that get you involved, like a silent spectator actually living and breathing in the same world as the characters. But Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ portrays a world that is nothing short of a nightmare that has become indelibly stamped as a black mark in the book of human history. It is a world you cringe even to observe, and even when you do not share any commonality with the events portrayed, you feel the sense of horror and sorrow and also the inner strength of the people who have come through the Holocaust and have made up their lives anew across the world, spawning successful generations who have made their own mark.

Art Spiegelman is one such successful descendant, having made his name as a post-modernist graphical artist, editor, and also a storyteller nonpareil. In ‘Maus’, his bestselling Pulitzer prize-winning 1991 comic novel, he narrates the trials and tribulations of his father, Vladek, a Polish Jew from the town of Częstochowa, who moves to Sosnowiec in 1937 to take up a textile business set up for him by his father-in-law, after marrying Anja, a girl he spots by chance and falls in love with while visiting his own relatives. After the birth of their first son, Richieu, Anja, always fragile, suffers from post-partum depression and Vladek takes her to a beautiful sanitarium in Czechoslovakia. After they return, they are caught up in the anti-Semitic wave riding Poland, and Vladek is drafted in the Polish army to fight the Nazis. He is captured and becomes a prisoner of war for a time, until he is sent back, but not to Sosnowiec, as it has now become part of the Reich. Instead he is dropped off along with other prisoners of war at Lublin, part of the Polish Protectorate, though still ruled by Germany. Vladek sneaks back into Sosnowiec to be reunited with his family.

After reuniting with his family and his in-laws and managing to stay together in as normal a way as possible in a small house in the Sosnowiec Ghetto, the German Army commands the Ghetto’s Jews to move to Srodula, after which the men are marched back to Sosnowiec to work as labourers. As rumours of the deadly gas chambers increase by the day, Vladek reluctantly lets his son Richieu go with his sister-in-law to Zawiercie. Tragically, the Nazis start rounding up the Jews in Zawiercie to send to the concentration camps in Auschwitz, and Vladek’s sister-in-law Tosha, rather than submit herself and the children under her care to German atrocities, poisons herself and the children, and Vladek and his wife are heartbroken when they search for their child across orphanages after the war and find no trace whatsoever of him and accept that he did not survive the war.

In Srodula, Vladek and Anja and her relatives hide in bunkers prepared by sympathetic Jews, until they are discovered. The older family members are taken away to the gas chambers, while Vladek and Anja hide in another bunker with a group of Jews. The group splits up after the Germans depart Srodula. Under cover of night, Vladek and Anja return to Sosnowiech, where they seek refuge and Vladek scours the black markets for food he can buy with money and valuables that he saves up carefully and uses wisely to keep himself and his wife provided for during this period. He makes friends with a Polish woman named Mrs. Motonowa, who sells food in these black markets, and has a regular patron in Vladek. She agrees to let him and his wife stay in her house with her and her young son except for ten days every three months, when her husband, an engineer with the German railways, comes home for a vacation. During this time, Vladek and Anja are asked to hide themselves in the cellar and not come out, as Mrs. Motonowa’s husband is very suspicious.

Through another Polish acquaintance, Vladek meets old friends, the Mandelbaums, who are currently negotiating with shady characters who promise them safe passage to Hungary, which is then relatively unaffected by this turmoil plaguing Poland. Mr. Mandelbaum’s nephew Abraham, offers to go first, and write to his uncle once he has safely reached Hungary, about whether it is safe for them to follow suit. After anxiously waiting to hear from him for some time, a letter comes from Abraham, declaring that Hungary is peaceful and that he is able to lead a normal life there and that the Mandelbaums and the Spiegelmans should follow suit. Anja is very wary and unwilling to undertake this risk and begs Vladek to consider continuing their undisturbed life with Mrs. Motonowa, but Vladek is determined to give his family a free life instead of living in hiding or incognito, and decides to take the chance and pays for safe passage to Hungary. However, the Spiegelmans and Mandelbaums are betrayed by the Polish crooks and find themselves arrested by the Gestapo on the train, and are sent directly to Auschwitz. Art, who is desperate to know his mother’s own experiences at Auschwitz, is mortified to hear that Vladek has destroyed her diaries after a particularly bad day, and also to lessen the pain of his memories of her, which still haunt him. After knowing this terrible truth, Art can no longer stand his father’s presence, and leaves him, calling him a ‘murderer’.

‘Maus’ is only the first of a two-part saga, the second one dealing with Art’s life in Rego Park, New York, where his family has newly settled in, and his troubled relationship with his father, who has become rather stingy and eccentric, and the continuation of Vladek’s macabre tale post his and Anja’s separation at the concentration camp in Auschwitz. I’ve only just started reading this second book, and I look forward to exploring this Byzantine story further.

‘Maus’ is an achievement on many levels; at once a biography, a documentary, a novel, a post-modern masterpiece of pictorial literature…it subsumes genres. It is a portrait of a man who holds himself steady in incredibly trying circumstances, who is at once a hero and a nag in the eyes of his son, who protects and takes care of his wife throughout their miserable times during World War 2 and its aftermath but comes across as aloof and cold and more interested in objects than in people during his present day condition as a rich but miserly, convalescing multiple heart attack survivor, who has also survived the suicide of his wife and the estrangement of his son; it is also a forceful and stark depiction of the human condition. As Vladek says to Art at the beginning, when a young Art complains to him about his friends deserting him, “Friends? Your friends? If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week, then you could see what it is, friends!”

Though Spiegelman initially found the raw reality of his father’s tale and his portraying his own suffering at his mother’s suicide too harrowing and intense for depiction in comic form, he took an anthropomorphic approach and added a layer of abstraction to his story by showing the Jews as mice, the Nazis as cats, the Poles as pigs, and other animals that represent other races. Here, especially in his portrayal of the Jews as mice, he was playing along with the Nazi depiction of Jews as vermin. Ultimately, the characters are no more animals than you or I, but are simply distinct identities in a human mass.

‘Maus’ is a tribute to powerful memories that live through generations, and like terrifying urban legends passed on through oral tradition, continues to make us viscerally relive experiences that we wouldn’t wish upon our enemies. In realizing this profound work in such a unique and genre-defying form, Art Spiegelman has indeed created an original and enduring work of art.

Fight Club: A movie about your life

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Image sources:

http://news.doddleme.com/news-room/fight-club-gets-a-sequel-this-time-as-graphic-novel/http://www.impawards.com/1999/fight_club_ver3.htmlhttp://alikamran.com/2012/08/1174/

I’ve been in Bangalore for two years now. Before that, I have lived in a small town suburb of Mumbai and then in Hyderabad. Though all three are metro cities, Bangalore has a quality all its own. For it is one place where the ambitious come from all over the country to realize the dream life, experience all the pleasures that an urban environment can provide, and seek satisfaction in the pursuit of material happiness. So much so, that Bangalore is now a typical urban jungle, filled with more vehicles than pedestrians, more potholes than footpaths, more traffic jams than smooth drives, more people who are connected to their devices than to their reality, more opportunism than empathy, more avenues of instant gratification than purposeful activities and more frustration than enthusiasm. It exemplifies the rat race like no other place I’ve seen. What does this have to do with the cult classic 1999 movie? Read on…

‘Fight Club’ is the story of an urbane man, trapped in his small world filled with small comforts and respectability, stuck in a dead end job and suffering from insomnia. His lonely life combined with his perception of the vacuity of his material ambitions drives him to a state of frustrated wakefulness that reaches such a peak that he seeks solace in the suffering of fatally ill patients, and sits with them at group therapy, pretending to have their diseases himself. So wretched is he that he finds ‘release’ from his pent up frustration and despair only when he is able to truly cry while hugging a fellow attendee who is actually dying. The released sorrow soothes him and he finds himself being able to get a full night of sleep. This pattern continues until he sees a fellow ‘tourist’, a woman seeking similar dubious relief from being part of such groups, and the narrator is forced to stop attending them for fear of being found out as an imposter. Thus, his insomnia returns and he becomes miserable round the clock again.

One day, during a business trip, he meets an unusual man named Tyler Durden, who turns out to be a soap salesman, and whose values seem to be the exact antithesis of the protagonist. Tyler is a rebel, a mercenary, a shady businessman, and an in-your-face type, who is at the same time very focused, very energetic and fears no one and nothing. And he has an agenda. He is more than just a soap salesman, in fact, he’s a subversive prankster who engages in disturbing acts such as showing a second-long porn image during a regular family movie in a cinema hall while working as a reel changer, collecting waste bags of fat deposited by hospitals in dumps post liposuction surgeries and using these in the making of his soap, and more, purely to disturb the docile civility of the average person and get back at the rich who gain at the expense of the working class.

One day, as he is returning from a business trip, owing to a gas leak and subsequent explosion, the narrator’s house burns down and he suddenly finds himself homeless. He calls up Tyler and is offered indefinite asylum at Tyler’s house, which is a rotting independent house, fit for demolition. One evening, outside a bar, after a few drinks, Tyler challenges Jack, the narrator, to hit him as hard as possible, in the face. Ignoring the narrator’s protests, Tyler encourages him until Jack ends up punching him in the ear. After howling in pain for a few seconds, Tyler punches Jack neatly in the gut, making him bend over in pain. This starts a no-holds barred fight, which awakens a deadened energy and spirit in Jack. Slowly, more frustrated men in the vicinity start coming over to participate in this bizarre ritual, and thus ‘Fight Club’ is born.

Jack’s life changes completely, as he finds himself being able to ignore the stress of work life as well as his demanding and mean boss, as his injuries from fights, new fitness regimen to continue participating in Fight Club and newly toughened disposition makes him numb to everyday irritants. Soon he starts working with Tyler to organize fight clubs in other cities, even as the activities of these groups become more and more dangerous and violent, something that Jack is not comfortable with. Jack realizes that even though they started Fight Club together, Tyler has slowly shut him off from his plans and activities.

Eventually, Jack understands Tyler’s unflinching drive as caused by his desire to destruct capitalist society’s pillars, the banking and financial institutions, that facilitate our comfort-seeking lives and make us subjugate our selves in our quest for material success. In Tyler’s view, destruction brings improvement, and letting go of all the things we hold dear makes us realize who we actually are. In a shocking twist towards the end of the movie, we learn that Jack and Tyler are the same person, that, like Jekyll and Hyde, Jack’s submissive conformity and endless despair seeks relief and self-expression through Tyler’s no holds-barred drive to recreate by destroying the existing order and helping an evolution of the self.

Though the message of the movie is expressed in a rather subversive way, for that very reason, it is quite hard hitting. A purely material life’s shallowness is exposed for what it is, and the innate violence within us that is severely suppressed by following rules rigidly is also brought to light, as is our meaningless quest for self-gratification and the media’s hypnotic control of our minds and desires. Ultimately, the quest for pure material success erodes our souls and we see society transforming into a well ordered battlefield, where everyone’s trying to run everyone else over to be the first to reach the destination, where a person’s worth is measured in the material assets he/she owns, and to achieve success, it is fine to compromise on your real values and your true nature. ‘Fight Club’ portrays the destruction of a materialist society that makes mice out of men, amuses and gratifies us with junk, keeps us conforming to its diktats, wants us to aim for what it holds high, and keeps our true selves repressed. It is indeed a dystopian existentialist vision that today’s average yuppie or aspirant would relate to and see reflections of his life in.

This movie makes you think about how you are squandering your life, and sums up its philosophy in this unforgettable dialogue:

Man, I see in fight club the strongest and smartest men who’ve ever lived. I see all this potential, and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables; slaves with white collars. Advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don’t need. We’re the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no Great War. No Great Depression. Our Great War’s a spiritual war… our Great Depression is our lives. We’ve all been raised on television to believe that one day we’d all be millionaires, and movie gods, and rock stars. But we won’t. And we’re slowly learning that fact. And we’re very, very pissed off.

And one more gem that reminds us of who we are not:

You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis. You’re the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world.

 

Read between the lines

In my various attempts to delve into my artistic muses, be it drawing, playing guitar, writing, etc., I’ve discovered over the years that the most (pleasantly) surprising creations happen when you’re not consciously working yourself into a sweat, or thinking about creating ‘a masterpiece’, something that others will admire you for, or trying to emulate someone whose work you admire, but letting yourself go free. Letting your subconscious take over and chart its own territory. Bringing out visions hidden in your psyche.

Though I’ve always enjoyed drawing, lately inspiration has been rare in coming, and more and more unpredictable. Usually, it takes a strong trigger, in my case, a vivid memory that I’d like to depict on paper, for me to unconsciously start doodling. One such memory remains in my mind decades after I saw the scene in an obscure Hollywood movie on DD2 (yes, it really was quite long ago). The scene goes like this:

A plane is shown flying in a stormy sky at night, the darkness punctuated by flashes of lightning. The scene shifts to the inside of the plane, and we see the passengers sitting with their hearts in their mouths, petrified at what might happen. The camera pans to a handsome but melancholy looking man, who seems unmoved by the storm raging outside or the scared passengers within. Suddenly, he gets up and walks down the aisle toward the rear of the plane. To the shock of an airhostess who spots him just at that moment, he begins turning the hydraulic mechanism that opens the exit door. As she runs screaming towards him, tell him to stop, the door flies open inward, and amid a rush of various papers and small objects flying across the aisle, the airhostess is thrown back, loses her balance and falls. The passengers are now screaming in terror. The man, however, continues to look unmoved, and fighting against the terrible wind, he struggles towards the door. The camera then focuses on his calm and melancholy countenance one last time as he scans the whole world from the entrance of the plane door, 30,000 feet up in the sky…and then he jumps. As we hear his fading scream, muffled by the wind, we see not him falling but instead the horizon, consisting of two adjoining mountains which are briefly lit up by a huge flash of lightning. As the light fades away again, we see two powerful God-like eyes showing above the mountains…and then the opening credits begin.

This nightmarish scene remained vivid in my memory since that day, and one day, without thought, while wanting to express something intense on paper, I drew this:

Eyes-in-the-sky

So yes, inspiration has no shape, form or definition when it comes to art. It has to have made an impact on the subconscious to express itself as vividly as this.

Of course, inspiration isn’t always dark and foreboding. There are many colourful sights, sounds, and visions that clamour for space in our subconscious as well. After I arrived in Hyderabad post getting an employment offer from Google, I had my first experience of visiting pubs. One which I frequented a few times with my friends was Club 8, a basement pub in Begumpet, complete with a large LCD TV in the centre of the room showing football matches, a regular one on the side playing recorded cricket matches, and best of all, a large speaker blasting out awesome hits from Stone Temple Pilots, Jefferson Starship, Toto, Spin Doctors, Guns N’ Roses, Deep Purple…you get the picture. My love of rock music began here, and to this day, I’d rather listen to rock than anything else. Later, over the years, I discovered many more artistes, especially great guitarists like Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Joe Walsh, David Gilmour, and many others, whom I worship to this day. Over time, these influences remained in my head strongly enough for me to want to play guitar, and after playing a classical and a steel string one that went their ways with their owners, I bought a Yamaha acoustic that sounded beautiful and more than worth its price.

Well, music has always cheered me up when things have been low, and it was such one dismal afternoon at my rented house in Hyderabad, when my dad was admonishing me for the poor choices I’d made, as I was sitting at home unemployed, my bank account nearing zero, and a flatmate who was heavily in my debt but treating me shabbily as soon as he got a job, that I started unconsciously scratching with a black pen on the back inside cover of a diary, to block him out. This is what came out:

Dave-Navarro

Jane’s Addiction’s guitarist Dave Navarro had impressed me with a memorable live performance of ‘Three Days’ in Toronto, Canada in 2009. Dave’s controlled but powerful playing, smoothly covering the intro, riffs, bridge solo and lead solo of this famous song were simply awesome, and I keep checking this video over and over. You can view and appreciate this great performance at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vwoo2Rp-pww.

And finally, this is what happens when you take a break. Inspiration takes a break too.

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Someday, I’ll complete this 7-string Schecter guitar. But for now, I’m continuing life’s routine and waiting for the next ‘Eureka’ moment that might produce something worthy.

How big data is affecting our lives

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Image source: http://www.greenbookblog.org/2012/03/21/big-data-opportunity-or-threat-for-market-research/

Since George Orwell created the sinister ‘Big Brother’ in his epic novel ‘1984’, the world has come to terms with nothing being sacrosanct, least of all, privacy. Over the decades since the 1990s, when information technology was just beginning to be recognized as the next big wave that would change the course of the world, businesses started realizing that they could now have easier access to a larger audience of potential customers by using the technologies that the web provided. From the earliest browsers, email and chat messaging services, forums and bulletin boards, online games, web portals and any other web properties requiring registration, all our transactions, monetary and otherwise, have been recorded. Big data was waiting to take the world by storm.

Fast forward to 2003. In the words of Google’s Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt, “From the dawn of civilization until 2003, humankind generated five exabytes of data. Now we produce five exabytes every two days… and the pace is accelerating.” Indeed, the amounts of data we produce today is mind-boggling. Even more worrying is the fact that the automatic data generated by machines such as CCTV cameras, sensors, vehicles, computes and mobile devices, etc., is overtaking the manual data generated by humans, and data volume is growing to the extent that a complementary new field called machine learning is currently a ‘hot’ specialization and is generating intense demand in the job market and businesses are coveting such specialists. The irony is that this might very soon render a very large number of people across the world useless because their less than creative, machine programmable tasks, will soon be performed efficiently and effectively by machines, which have been fed all the parameters on which the tasks need to be performed and have perfected the right responses to all possible scenarios.

Big data analytics tools like Hadoop typically ‘crunch’ massive amounts of data, amounting to several terabytes, in astonishingly small timeframes like a few hours or even minutes, by breaking down the data into smaller sets, which are individually worked upon, on multiple computers, and the individual results for each of these are combined to produce a final result that relates to the entire mass of data. This idea was Google’s guiding principle in creating their path breaking search engine, and today forms the basis of big data analysis.

What is the purpose of using the tools of big data? Primarily businesses, and increasingly governments, are realizing the need to analyze ever-increasing (in volume and complexity) data to study individual and collective trends at a minute level, which helps them to come up with policies and products and services that serve their purposes while ostensibly serving their stakeholders better. The range of data encompasses phone records, commercial transactions, email, chat and browser logs, GPS coordinates, social media activities, devices that transmit data about our activities, such as smart watches, Google Glass, smart phones, tablets, etc.; the list goes on.

Businesses that have a large volume of customers, such as telecom service providers, the travel industry, retail, etc., use big data tools to analyze individual behaviour so as to take predictive actions. For example, a retail chain can analyze the log of data about a customer using her transactions to predict an event in his/her life, such as a birthday, pregnancy, etc., and target relevant promotions to that person coinciding with the event. Thus, in real time, businesses can study customer behaviour and use promotions based on future activity. In effect, they can predict our lives.

An example of a non-commercial application of big data is the analysis of our music consumption by an audio website over time and its subsequently generating playlists containing music that matches our personal tastes.

From the point of view of machine learning, a great example of the application of big data analysis would be in the case of Google X’s ambitious project of developing self-driving cars that have to process a massive amount of information in real time using their various sensors so as to be safe for use on the roads.

There are four pillars on which big data is based. These are: volume, velocity, variety and veracity. This refers to the increasing size of data, the speed at which data is being generated, the increasing complexity of data due to the various forms of it, and the amount of real world value that each of this data represents.

While critically evaluating the idea of big data, one cannot deny some of its benefits, which include creating customized products and services across various sectors, providing enterprise-wide insights that can help companies develop policies that redefine them, reducing unnecessary costs, identifying new opportunities and revenue streams, providing better security, analyzing potential risk better, making our infrastructure smarter, making healthcare more efficient, understanding customer preferences better, and many more.

Though organizations like Google, Facebook and others face numerous lawsuits our breaches of privacy, we are coming to terms with the glum fact that in today’s digital age, we can never hope to be completely anonymous, and that a record of our activities and our lives will exist and update in some form or another across the spectrum of our lives.

The recent revelations by ex-NSA contractor Edward Snowden reveal how rampant spying is in this digital age, and that no one is exempt from it. Spy agencies have gone to the level of using tracking devices in USB cords, so that even if devices are not online, they can transmit data. This is indeed scary, and makes us realize that we can be manipulated in innumerable ways, and that a variety of institutions know more about us as individuals than we dare acknowledge.

George Orwell’s disturbing dystopia is indeed manifesting itself subtly but steadily.

Smart game ideas

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Image source: http://www.pcmag.com/slideshow_viewer/0,3253,l=259352&a=259350&po=5,00.asp

When I first started using a smartphone, I was taken in by the touchscreen concept, keyboards you could ‘swipe’ on to type really quickly, high quality camera and nifty audio and video players, to name a few of the amazing features that completely engaged me. After that, of course, I saw many exciting games featured on the Android app store that I wanted to try out. I’ve played a few of these, including ‘Atomic Bomber’, where you are the pilot of a bomber jet that flies over enemy territory destroying tanks, rocket launchers, ammo warehouses, etc., while trying to avoid being shot down, a thrilling bike racing game called ‘Racing Moto’ involving tilting the screen left or right to allow the rider to make steep turns at high speed or avoid obstacles in a rich variety of landscapes amid heavy traffic, an addictive game called ‘Fruit Ninja’, which allows you to slice falling fruits in half by swiping across them as they fall…the list goes on.

Smartphone games have become more and more sophisticated, with high-definition RPG games like ‘Modern Combat 4: Zero Hour’, multiplayer games like ‘Asphalt 8: Airborne’, major upgrades to old favourites, such as ‘Angry Birds Space’, ‘Temple Run II’, etc., retro-themed games with great music from the period featured in the game, such as ‘Crazy Taxi’, world building games like ‘Minecraft’, and more, completely redefining our idea of gaming and giving us experiences that we thought we would get only on gaming consoles, with flat screen HD TVs acting as game screens.

Here are some game ideas that I’d like to see implemented as smartphone games, purely because I’ve either played the retro versions of these games or the concepts themselves immediately get my attention and interest. There must already be different versions or interpretations of some of these ideas existing in the smartphone gaming world today. Nonetheless, here goes:

Steet Fighter

This is one of the few games I played years ago on a Windows 98 PC, and which I still remember fondly. If there’s any way to adapt the characters in this epic game to the Android screen and replicate as many of the fight techniques as possible, this could well be a great retro comeback to the Android/iOS smartphone screen.

Shoot the assassin

A game with a twist; you’re not shooting off random targets and becoming a top assassin, you’re chasing and killing off assassins secretively. The game can involve dark corners, night/infrared vision, top storey windows of buildings or even terraces, drive-by shootings and more. As you clear levels, your weapons can be updated. You can plant car bombs in the cars of the assassins and watch them blow up when they try starting their car, you can make their weapons malfunction through remote control (remember the Mark Wahlberg movie ‘Shooter’, showing a remote-controlled gun; now you can sabotage that gun and maybe make it shoot the assassin if you can spot him). Other bonus points include health packs, babes (because they always attract male gamers) who are in fact messengers delivering ammo or the keys to your vehicle or food (health packs) or other essentials to you, and keys to secret passageways to escape into if an assassin has spotted you and is chasing after you or shooting at you.

Once you shoot a certain number of assassins, you win a medal for service to the country. This can be made into a multiplayer game as well, where you can take on the role of either hunter or assassin.

Kill the hunter

Here, you’re in a dense forest, and danger lurks all around you, in the trees, in the air, on the ground, in the ponds or other water bodies across you, in the bushes, you name it. You have to be very quick-witted and kill off these animals (all predators, no Bambi here) using a variety of weapons available to you (hunting rifle, hunting knife, bow and arrow, club, spear), as you make your way through the forest towards getting out of it. As the levels progress, you can have a night mode, which can be pretty scary, where all you can see are glowing eyes or hissing noises or slight movements that indicate where the animal is. Animals can range from lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, and panthers to snakes, scorpions, poisonous spiders, crocodiles and more. This is jungle hell and you should be a quick killer to get out of it alive.

Hunt for the Red Baron

Another cool vintage-themed PC game adapted to smartphones, here you’re a World War 2 flying ace, on enemy territory. Your enemies are mainly other planes which always seem just out of reach or in the far distance but start shooting at you much before you can get close enough. So again, good reflexes and shooting ability are needed. As you successfully shoot down enemy planes while sustaining minimal damage (nothing that will make you crash and explode in flames), you progress through levels and get better weaponry (your enemies might have better weapons too; you won’t know for sure), including rocket launchers, mortar guns, cockpit machine guns (like Jason Statham in ‘The Expendables’), even shrapnel (a blast of shrapnel can seriously damage enemy planes and make them crash, if not make them explode in mid-air). In the final level, you face the Red Baron himself, and he can be frustratingly difficult to bring down, due to his ability to roll sideways, glide up or down at varying speeds, be in front of you one minute and be shooting at you from your back the next, etc. If you’ve mastered the controls, you can yourself do these motions, but the Red Baron is very fast and you need a combination of tricks to finish him off. You can get sonar equipment so you can try bouncing sonar waves to your left or right, if you’re not sure of his location, and if you get back a ping, you can confidently fire in that direction and try to hit the Baron.

Ground-to-air attacks are not a part of this game, though they’re there in the original PC version.

Multiplayer cricket game

Lots of cricket versions are out there, but here you can try cool gyro effects so you can pan camera angles by tilting the screen right/left, play a great variety of shots and bowling styles,  as well as fielding techniques. You can choose different versions (T10, T20, and T30). One unique and interesting characteristic of this game is that you can be nasty if you want (special keys for sledging, for throwing a Yorker and hitting a batsman in the face, for a direct face-smashing shot that retires hurt the bowler or a specific fielder or even the umpire), but be ready to be suspended or face other penalties (your character can be asked to leave in the middle of your innings for any really serious/nasty actions, and this may be an issue if each player is given their own batting/bowling features, like in the case of the Street Fighter game; you won’t get to use these techniques if the player is asked to leave mid-game, so be sparing with the nastiness!). When you become Captain of your team, due to repeated wins for a certain number of times over the opposing teams, and you win a championship trophy, a special prize (inspiration from ‘Road Rash’) is a couple of hot cheerleader babes posing with you as you grin like an idiot. And yes, you can save this image.

So yes, I hope some of these ideas become realities and I’d certainly love to try them out when they do.