Friday, May 29, 2009

Random acts of thought-ness

  • This is where students in my Ecology class get to practice their skills during lab.
  • No one compiles better photos of the earth and its inhabitants than National Geographic. (Check out their Visions of Earth section).
  • Christian Bale rocks! Now, if he stops letting other actors steal his thunder, that will be the icing on the cake.
  • Even if I won the lottery I still wouldn't quit doing what I do now for a living.
  • Just because you can do something, does not mean you should do it. All you get is about 14 more years of resources out of it. Gordon Gecko was wrong, greed isn't good.
  • Do the NBA referees intentionally affect the outcome of games?
  • No movie-producing studio has a better track record of consistently making fabulous movies than Pixar. No one.
  • Andrew Flintoff is highly over-rated.
  • Reacher still hasn't said anything.
  • Cricket in the Midwest.

Casting a spell

It is a competition that is becoming bigger by the year, so much so that the final rounds were televised live on a major network (ABC) this year. It has been the subject of an Oscar-nominated movie and, more recently, a fantastic movie.

Here's an article about this year's winner.

Finally, check out the entire list of winners of this competition. Notice a recent trend?

Oh, those good old days...when words like albumen, fracas, knack, therapy, initials, and (my favourite) chlorophyll were enough to win you the spelling bee.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ambush marketing

Check out the following video. While it is an advertisement for a camera phone, it is also a puzzle. All you puzzle-lovers will love it. Watch it and try to figure out how it was done.

I want you to think about it seriously for a few minutes. If you know how it was done or are stumped, check out the solution. In the end, it is quite elegantly done. Yes, it is an advertisement for the phone but what a novel way of doing it!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Maggie noodle reviews

Some quick thoughts on movie that have been bombarding the multiplexes in the past few weeks.

Star Trek: The characters in this movie behave as if they already know how they will end up years from now. If I were on the deck of the USS Enterprise and this James Kirk was at the helm, I would seriously contemplate mutiny. Not once in the whole movie does he demonstrate why the rest of the crew would be willing to walk over broken glass, barefoot, if he asked them to. His ascension to the captain's chair from the not-so-lofty perch of a First Officer is simply because the script demands it. He is crude, insolent, ill-tempered, and selfish to the extreme. Good qualities in a dictator, not a leader of a multi-cultural spaceship. The franchise has been rejigged by JJ Abrams, but I am not so sure of its future. (Sure, it will make tons of money and have many sequels, but that is not what I mean).

Angels and Demons: Tom Hanks reprises his role from The Da Vinci Code. And when I say reprises, I mean exactly that. He tries his best but is unable to elevate the movie beyond the level of a time-pass movie. Revelations and discoveries do not come with a sense of awe. The movie spends more time with fights and explosions and does not pause to exploit the stunning architecture and vistas that Rome (and Vatican City) accord. As Hanks hurtles from one church to another, it becomes a blur, and at this point I am hard pressed to recall any of the details of the movie, even though I have read the book multiple times. If no more Langdon movies were made, I would not cry out in protest. Sadly, there is a new Langdon book on the horizon and I am sure a movie will follow soon enough.

Terminator Salvation: First up, a confession. When I heard that Christian Bale was going to play John Connor, I raised my expectations for the movie. After all, he would not act in a movie that would render him anonymous, would he? Well, not only is he anonymous, he plays second fiddle to a guy who may or may not be a cyborg. Either way, that cyborg (so, I spoiled it for you, but the trailers reveal as much) is more human than John. Multiple times in the movie, John is shown listening to tapes his mother left behind and he knows the future is no longer what his mother predicted it would be. Yet he deludes himself into making decisions, time after time, that try to recreate that future. Confusing? Well, not as confusing as the direction the movie series is headed towards. When you know your father before he knows you, and years before he even meets your mother, trouble is brewing in some screenwriter's mind, I promise. There are two more Terminator movies in the pipeline. I wonder if the director will realize that watching Terminators throw John Connor around for 30 minutes is neither dramatic nor is it an interesting climax to the movie. Seriously! It is as pointless as the car chases in James Bond movies where the villain's henchmen are shooting bullets at Bond while chasing him around hairpin bends. Everyone knows how it is going to end, so quit trying to dramatize it. Instead spend some more time showing how John Connor may be thinking or plotting his way out of a tight spot. Now that would be so much more fun.

X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Save your money. A colossal waste of time. The titular character has three displays of emotion - anger, sadness, and confusion. And sometimes all three together. But mostly it is just anger. We know that Wolverine is almost indestructible but it does not stop folks from fighting him about 7 different times in the movie (and I am probably underestimating this). Okay, let me elaborate on that. They fight him the same way each time. Dude, it did not work the last 6 times, what makes you think it will work now? Try something different. *sigh* I went in with low expectations but even the special effects were too choppy to be sensational, and the movie was beyond redemption. Hugh Jackman better read the script before he signs on for the next edition or else his best work may end up being when he hosts the Oscars.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Money matters

(This post is based on a discussion I had with Dr.CL, who brought these points to my attention. I did not follow the events closely but did some research, as is my wont, to see what the fuss was all about.)

1) From the numbers in this post, it looks like the tournament that I consider unmentionable for extraneous reasons is here to stay. And not just stay, but get even bigger and worse.

A lesson in basic economics might be worthwhile for the organizers. There's a reason people don't eat sweets all the time.

2) Was Gilly mollifying a forgotten and discarded player or was he genuinely praising Laxman?
Gilchrist also had words of praise for VVS Laxman, from whom he took over as captain after the team finished bottom of the league last season. "Although we made changes in the coaches and the captain, everyone in the squad bought into it, including VVS," Gilchrist said. "He went through a lot emotionally. The captaincy was taken away from him and he only played five games, then the selectors decided we didn't need him."

Laxman remained a good team man despite being dropped, Gilchrist said. "He continued to contribute around the group with his experience and his vast knowledge. He wants to learn to be a better Twenty20 player. That's a wonderful example to young players to see a player at his age wanting to evolve into a better player."

Gilchrist said Laxman even worked with the team's coaches to improve his Twenty20 skills. "It's not just the young kids who are learning all the time, it applies to all of us. VVS epitomises what this franchise is all about
There's a backhanded compliment in there somewhere, I think. But then, in the past, Gilly has been very effusive in his praise for Laxman. (By the way, if you are a true Laxman fan, you will enjoy the article linked above; you will even find out his favorite book...but to know that you will have to read the whole thing!)

Yesterday once more

From the far reaches of youtube and the inner recesses of my mind comes this flashback to the super-90's. While surfing the web I stumbled upon this song, and immense nostalgia abounded. In typical Bollywood fashion, the incongruity of the wedding singer being allowed to prance about untouched while he states his case, while gyrating in synch with identically dressed back-up dancers, is not even worth mentioning. If you are the hero, you are allowed such transgressions! After all, true love is at stake.

(By the way, whatever happened to Ronit Roy, who eerily reminds me of Hrithik Roshan here? Ah, the always reliable has the necessary information.)

And while at it, the following song from Meri Jung was the rage for Javed Jaffrey's dancing, but I never got to see it. Now, almost 25 years later, I finally saw what I had missed. Whodathunk it?!

Once you get past the initial awkwardness, Javed's dancing isn't too bad, is it?

Context meets perspective

Until Tiger Woods came on the scene, the idea of exercise for a golfer used to be to walk from the clubhouse to the driving range and then on to the 1st tee. It took the other golfers a couple of years to catch on and there are a ton of fit golfers on the tour, but the buff-est of them all is still el tigre.

Over in the NFL, Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts is not a name that comes readily to mind when we think of big fellows. If anything, he is considered to be on the slender side for a QB.

The following photo gives you an idea of how big the NFL players must really be. Tiger Woods looks almost Lilliputian in comparison to Manning!

I used to think Tiger could have been a running back in the NFL. Now, methinks he would have been crushed to death by the linebackers!

Reacher said nothing

Every summer, like clockwork, a new Lee Child book comes out. Featuring the hard-nosed, no-nonsense ex-military cop Jack Reacher, the 13th book in the series (and the most global and ambitious of them all) has come, been devoured by me, and left a familiar longing for #14.

Thankfully, Lee Child does not subscribe to the JD Salinger school of book-writing and has already (so he claims) finished writing the next one (called 61 hours). The New York Times has some more bits of knowledge to share about Child, including a bit too much information about the latest book. Oh well, at least they left out the most revealing bits of information.

Next summer cannot come fast enough...

(An earlier entry on Reacher is here.)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reasons to sing

Listening to music is not a constant enterprise for me. I can go long periods of time with no music, and usually look forward to the solitude that a quiet evening allows. When I am working I like the surroundings to be quiet, but I am able to tune everything out if need be. This is a gift and a curse. When I am really immersed in what I am doing, I don't hear a word or notice anything that is going on around me.

But occasionally, especially at the end of a long day, I like to listen to songs while I do some repetitive work. My officemates are quite understanding of my choice of music and have never complained about it (at least not to my face). Today, as I write up final exams for my students, I am listening to some songs in the background.

My jukebox is not a CD or a playlist on iTunes, it is a random selection of songs from Youtube. This gives me the freedom to take breaks periodically while selecting songs that appeal to my current mood. Here are some of the songs and musical pieces that I have been listening to today.

1) The first one is a personal favorite. I can never sing the repeating refrain of this song in the right notes correctly, no matter how hard I try! One day I will, promise.

2) I like the first half of this song (the version I am putting up is missing the second half of the song). Amitabh Bachchan's expressions right through the song are picture perfect, in tune with the music, a sense of timing that offers a glimpse into the immense acting ability of a man whose on-screen persona became so large it trapped him into a career of repeatedly doing the same role in different settings. (The movie is Sharaabi, one of many Amitabh hits directed by the recently-departed Prakash Mehra, the man largely responsible for that afore-mentioned image of Amitabh).

3) Until recently, I did not care too much for Mohammad Rafi's songs. But with time, my appreciation of songs has gone beyond just enjoying the tune and the lyrics have become just as important. Ten years, I would not have listened to more than 10 seconds of this song. Today, I can listen to it on repeat play multiple times. Too bad the song is wasted on such a wooden actor. I feel like applauding every time the heroine slaps him at the end of the song!

4) I do not completely understand the lyrics, but just listen to SP Balasubramaniam grab hold of it and give it life. There is some audio trickery in there somewhere, but it sounds as if the song is being delivered in one breath by him. The tempo of the song builds up leading to a very satisfying crescendo. (Luckily, I found a version with subtitles that helps understand the song better. It's a pity that the actor (Ajith) almost ruins the song with his "acting").

5) Anytime I need a pick-me-up tune, this is the song I go to. The combination of the lyrics and the peppy beats never fails to get my blood flowing again. (The explosion at the 2:05 mark is cool, too!) Oddly, I enjoyed the Hindi version of the movie more than the Tamil original, even though Vikram is a much better actor than Vivek Oberoi.

6) At the opposite extreme is this lovely song which contains one of my favorite statements someone can ever say to a loved one. Listening to Placido Domingo and John Denver is such a treat, too.

7) And finally for this post, one of the most awesome pieces of music ever composed, in a video that doubles as a tribute to, well, see for yourself. I love the music. It is haunting and reflective, and fittingly it served as the recurring musical theme for "The Fall".

Monday, May 11, 2009

TMC: Episode 1 - Zero out of 3 ain't bad

Welcome to The Midwest Chronicles (TMC). These are the accounts of the exploits of the Nebraska Cricket Club in the 2009 season. To spice up what would otherwise be a routine match report of runs scored, wickets taken, and catches snaffled (or spilled) these posts are being written with a tongue firmly in cheek but with the facts completely in the true. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the meandering show.

Here's a complete guide to the cast of characters and their nicknames. The cast will be updated as players are added or dropped or nicknames changed as the season progresses.

You can't run away forever.
But there's nothing wrong in getting a good headstart
- Meat Loaf
The entire gang was told to assemble at Gundappa Malki's residence by 11am sharp, with the latecomer's punishment being that he would have to sponsor everyone else's lunch. For years, the NCC has worked on IST (Indian Stretchable Time) standards but, incredibly, with mere seconds to go, the only one missing this time was Bob Loblaw (Manish, who has never been late for anything except when it comes to his bat making contact with the ball). Even as the cell phones turned over to display 11:00am, Bob came careening into the parking lot to (JJ) Energizer's intense chagrin. Foiled!

Captain Ozone (Damian) came up with a brilliant strategy to get the team to gel and connect with each other. Two mini-vans were commissioned to take the 12 members on the 125 mile drive to Des Moines. This way the team was split up into just two groups of players. Nothing unites 6 people more than finding funny and insulting things to say about the other 6 folks in the team! With 2.5 hours of such team-bonding on hand, Cap'n now had to contend with just two factions in the team!

The drive up to Des Moines was quite uneventful and the first close catching practice session of the season was hastily organized by Bhishma (Bhaskar) once they reached the ground. The odds of any fielder being this close to the bat when the ball is hit is remote, but some traditions die hard.

Ozone is deathly scared of losing the toss and has assigned Little Boy (Swarit) with the onerous task, thus ensuring that he has a scapegoat if things go against his plan. But LB is so lucky that even when he loses the toss, he manages to come out clean, as the opposition - Cedar Rapids "A" - chose to field (Ozone wanted to bat anyway)!

A quick pep talk by Ozone ("score lots of runs, score fast, don't get out" ... you know, the usual platitudes that are wasted on the team) was the signal for Bhishma and Thin Man (Bala) to go forth and begin the 2009 season. Thin Man got off to a rollicking start, pounding 33 runs in just 23 balls and after 6 overs the score was a smile-inducing 49 for no loss. There was one particularly memorable shot by Thin Man off the opening bowler that cleared long-on, the trees behind long-on, and also the road behind the trees behind long-on before finally landing in someone's front yard. It took about 10 minutes and half the players from both sides to find the ball. The bowler's ignominy was complete when he ended up being the one to find the damn ball. (Too bad Keyshawn Johnson wasn't at hand to retrieve it).

The first ball of the 7th over was the turning point in the match. Bhishma, who is sometimes too talented for his own good, in an attempt to "rotate the strike" tried to deflect a ball that he would have creamed through cover on any other day. Instead a regulation edge to first slip brought Chikna Slater (Jatin) to the crease. His whole innings was shorter than the time it took for Bhishma to remove one pad. A shuffle across the crease, a thud on the pads, and suddenly the bowler was on a hat trick!

Kingsize Dada (Abhi) calmly played out the hat-trick ball, and the next one, and the next one...and so on, bringing some peace to the proceedings. But at the other end, with the loss of quick wickets, Thin Man was in two minds about smashing the ball and gave a tame catch to gully to put NCC in a more serious hole. A good start was starting to unravel, but this team is not sufficient with converting the good into the not-so-good. Why stop at 3 when even more wickets can fall?!

Energizer had barely drawn a deep breath when he gave the cover fielder some catching practice, but not before watching Kingsize get out. Wait? Did I not tell you about that? Well, well, well...that deserves it's own paragraph.

That Kingsize likes the off-side is no secret and the opposition knew as much. What is life without a few challenges? Taking on the challenge of the 5 man ring on the off-side, Kingsize square-drove the ball to the fairly deep point fielder and took off down the wicket. Energizer stopped him from taking more than 4 or 5 steps but by then it was too late. Momentum = mass multiplied by velocity. For Kingsize to reverse his momentum is not as easy as it used to be (blame it on the Freshman 15...or 20). He had barely reversed directions before the keeper smashed all the stumps out of ground. Run-out by a country mile, as most Indian commentators (most of whom do not know that this is also a country mile) would say.

The Tasmanian Devil (Amit) and The Shadow (Botheju...I need to find out his proper name) pieced together a slowly building partnership. The type that would put DLF out of business because it is based upon singles and not sixes. Their running left much to be desired and, not surprisingly, a horrendous mix-up occurred and the Tasmanian thought he was really as fast as his cartoonish namesake and perished attempting a second run that was never there.

By the way, to say this middle-order collapsed would be an insult to middle-order collapses. In the blink of an eye (albeit a long protracted blink lasting about 9 overs) the score was around 75 for 7 with another 5 overs to negotiate.

Lord Warnie (Pradhip) hit a boundary and got carried away in trying to swing for the fences. Stumpings do not come any easier than the one that the opposing keeper had. He even had time to wipe away the drool before he smashed the wickets.

Now, Ozone and Loblaw were at the crease with memories of a similar situation in the 2008 CLIA finals fresh in their minds. On that occasion they had squandered it away with a needless run out and decided to eschew risks of any kind this time. Not surprisingly, not just two's but even three's were converted to singles. So averse were they to risk-taking that the 19th over, the penultimate one of the innings, yielded just one run. Bhishma, who was umpiring at this point, was heard negotiating with the opposition, offering to give the batsmen out if the bowler even cleared his throat in appeal. Sadly, the opposition thought he was joking!

Hearing this Bob took matters into his hands by pummeling the first ball of the 20th and last over into the square-leg fence, taking the team score beyond 100. Joyous celebrations ensued on the sidelines and even as the bystanders (two dogs, one rabbit, and five grasshoppers) settled down Bob was in their midst, having tested square-leg's prowess in taking swirling catches.

Little Boy finally got to walk into the middle during a batting innings in a live match. Marching up to the wicket with his jaw firmly set, he dreamt of ending the innings Kapil Dev-style with 4 consecutive sixes.

But the best laid plans of mice and not mice-like men never bear fruit. The two batsmen had crossed over while the catch was taken and Ozone gently drove the next ball to the cover fielder to end the innings on 104 with 3 balls still to go. Little Boy walked off with an extremely eye-catching and impressive 0 not out to his credit.

In between innings, the entire NCC team wandered into the middle and had an extensive fielding session. Strange but true, this was the first time all season the players had done any kind of fielding drills together. The opposition was totally bemused by the intensity of the session. Oblivious to thoughts of conserving energy, talking strategy, or simply taking a break, all 11 players had a fantastic round of ball retrieving.

The Cedar Rapids dudes came in and faced a charged-up Energizer and Bhishma. Here are the cold-hard facts: After 8 overs featuring 4 overs each by the two bowlers, the score was 30 for no loss. While I have your attention, here are some other facts:
  • It's against the law to burp, or sneeze in a church in Nebraska, USA.
  • You can't kill yourself by holding your breath.
  • It is impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
  • Your tongue is the only muscle in your body that is attached at only one end.
  • "Almost" is the longest word in the English language with all the letters in alphabetical order.
But the most important fact is that all that fielding practice had a significant effect:  NCC dropped 7 catches in those 8 overs with Ozone moving on from a catch-less 2008 to continue his streak of dropping at least one catch per match.  (Rumor has it that he has trouble even catching a cold when he is drenched in the rain in the dead of winter).  Not content with grassing one, he put down a second one that was even easier, off Bhishma's bowling.  But you see, this was all part of a strategy that would pay off later on (more on that at the appropriate time).

Chikna was brought on first-change and his relentless desire to hit the base of middle stump paid off when the first wicket came down in a clatter of timber to bring a few smiles to the beleagured faces. A second wicket followed soon after but then Chikna and Kingsize lost control of the ball and were smashed, by Mike Strydom and Himashu, who took Kingisize for a couple of humungous sixes and a four to bring the asking rate down so much so that after 13 overs, CR"A" was at 67 for 2, needing just 37 runs in 42 balls with 8 wickets to spare.  Driver's seats have rarely been more stoutly filled but NCC's secret weapons were still to be unleashed.

When catches were going down like nobody's business in the first 6 overs, what NCC was really doing was lulling CR"A" into a false sense of complacency.  You see, had the fielders taken the catches then Cedar Rapids would have been more careful about getting the runs needed and would probably have coasted with 37 singles.  But having been blinded by the prodigality of the NCC fielders they did not fear for their fate and began to loft the ball with reckless abandon.  The trap had been set and they walked right in.

Ozone threw the ball to Warnie and, on debut, Warnie enticed Himanshu to swing for the fences.  His desparing blade swished through without making any contact and the leg stump felt the full force of the ball.  The door to victory, which had almost been shut completely, was now ajar.  Like the rude guests that they are, the NCC-ers came charging through.  

Complementing Warnie was the wicket-to-wicket bowling of the Tasmanian Devil.  As the runs began to dry up, the pressure began to build and periodically the Cedar Rapids batsmen tried to relieve it by lofting the ball.  The hunter became the hunted.  Catch after catch was taken, none more impressive than the single-handed grab at backward square-leg by Thin Man, that was speeding by him.  When a swirling hit towards long-off was safely pouched by Energizer the game was as good as over.  For all his abundant skills in the nets, Energizer dropped (by a conservative count) a dozen catches last season.  Seeing him hold on to the ball sent the team on a Monty Panesar-like celebratory outing (especially the last 10 seconds of this video).

In the 6 overs bowled between Warnie and TD, Cedar Rapids lost 8 wickets (the last one being a run-out to end the match) for 24 runs, getting all out for 91.  NCC had yet again managed a get-out-of-jail victory that has been their trademark since they joined the CLIA

One game, one win and the 2009 season is off to a good start. Sort of. As noted by Bhishma, NCC batted badly, bowled badly, and fielded badly...and yet won the game.

To mis-quote Meat Loaf, "None out of three ain't bad!"

Saturday, May 09, 2009

The Midwest Chronicles: Episode 0 - Ground rules

For the second time since the inception of this blog, I shall revoke my promise to not reveal people's full names. As in the previous case, I shall be documenting the triumphs and errors of a cricketing season. On this occasion, however, it shall be during the season, rather than after the fact. Let's see where this season leads us to.

The team I shall be following is the Nebraska Cricket Club, based in Warren Buffett land. The cast of characters will be plenty, but taking inspiration from an inspired source, I shall be assigning nicknames and using real and nicknames interchangeably.

Here's your glossary of the cast of characters. It will be updated and revised as and when needed, depending upon which lawsuit has been settled, and who has earned a new nickname. Where possible I have tried to link the nickname to the information they were based off of.

(In approximate batting order)

1) Bhaskar Krishna - Bhishma. The grandfather member of the club, he has been around since the time of the Bush administration (the senior one) or so it seems. Like the man whose name he has been given, Bhaskar is big on oaths - a day does not go by without a big proclamation. His bhishan pratijna has been to not retire from playing cricket until every 8th grader in the greater Omaha area knows the difference between the insect and the glorious game.

2) Balachander Marimuthu - Thin Man. Do not be fooled by his reed-like appearance and the glasses he wears. He combines the fleet-footedness of an antelope being chased by a lioness, with the long-distance thrashing power of an on-song Chris Gayle. Seemingly built to only make special appearances, he has surprised many an opposing team by batting so long, the rest of the match was too easy to even be called a formality. Oh, and just to show that he is not perfect - he wears glasses even when he plays. What a nerd!

3) Jatin Khurana - Chikna Slater. He shares more than just a physiognomic connection with the erstwhile Aussie opener. Jatin enjoys hitting the ball in the air (especially off the fast bowlers), likes a dot ball as much as a vampire likes the sun, and most importantly, is guaranteed to get out in the 90's caught at the boundary. No Tendulkar-style tippy-toeing towards landmarks for this fella, a trait he shares with that other fellow Delhi-ite he adores - Sehwag. And as incredible as it sounds, Jatin is really fairer than Michael (and fairer than lovely). By the way, his parents never had to search for him even once their whole lives. All they had to do was say, "Who wants to bat now?" and Jatin showed up in less than 5 seconds.

4) Abhimanyu Lakshman - Kingsize Dada. His off-side play is a sight for the Gods. So much so that after Rahul Dravid once said, "On the off-side, first there is God, then there is Ganguly" he added, "Except, of course, for my big friend Abhi." But no one remembers that. A gentle giant, Abhi prefers a ground attack and accumulates his runs by giving the deep cover fielder lots of practice. His bowling is bimodal, short-pitched when he is off his game, and yorkers when he is on. The fastest bowler on the team (you know it's true, Jatin, so just let it go) he is like Shoaib Akhtar in that he goes full steam for no more than two overs at a time.

5) Janmejay Tanwar - Energizer Bunny. Like his fellow desert-buddy, the camel, JJ seemingly has inexhaustible reserves of energy, and can be seen either bowling, batting, or fielding during every minute of practice or game. Currently, among the top two all-rounders in the OCC (no, Jatin, you are not the other, so just sit down will you?!), he is an opening bowler with a b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l outswinger and a batting technique that is pleasing to watch, unless he decides what shot to play before the ball is bowled. Guaranteed to drop at least one catch per match, he has perfected the art of diving after the drop to make it seem like it was brilliant athleticism that he was even able to get his hands (and body) to the ball at all.

6) Amit Phatak - U-turn (previously he was the Tasmanian Devil). The fastest runner on the team, I predict that this relative newcomer will now have the honor (cough) of racing from deep midwicket to deep midwicket between overs for the rest of the year. He is what Ravi Shastri disturbingly calls a "handy man to have in your side" as he bowls a stump-to-stump line, fields anywhere from silly point to, yes, deep midwicket, and his batting style belongs to the almost-forgotten Mohammad Kaif school of strike rotation. Midway through the season he demonstrated a propensity to take sharp U-turns on one-way streets, exit ramps and parking lots while driving, and on the playing field by turning around the fortunes of NCC midway through a match with his under-rated but brilliant wobbly seam bowling which never fails to snag a wicket or three.

7) Harshana Boteja - The Shadow. At this point of time, I don't have much to add or say as I have never had a conversation with him. Who knows what lies in the heart of this man? The Shadow knows! Having seen him play a couple of times, I can say that he is surprisingly quick to the ball, and can bat a little bit. But I will add more, I promise, before the next episode.

8) Pradhip Swaminathan - Johnny Walker King Warney. (This name is on a probationary basis as he personally requested it with these words: "I will get the zinc on my hair and my nose, wear white wrist bands, sledge and swear like a pirate, text message anything with a phone wearing something resembling a female undergarment.") The only southpaw on the team, his batting is full of drives and lusty pulls, while the surprise package might yet be his bowling, if he gets it on the stumps. His single biggest contribution to date has been to take some friendly Saturday morning tennis ball matches in downtown Omaha and make it a venture that now requires capital campaigns and fund-raising activities just to be able afford the cost of using the javelin thrower's runway at an elementary school. Talk about making a mountain out of a molehill. Attaboy!

As the season progressed, teammates realized that Pradhip is very quickly out of position on the field, rarely to be found at the fielding spot assigned to him. Several matches later, Ozone figured out why. Before every ball is bowled, fielders usually "walk in" a few steps in preparation. Once the ball is bowled they walk back to their mark. But you see, Pradhip does not. So eventually by the end of the over he is about 30 yards away from where he started! His new nickname is in honor of the whiskey brand whose tag line is Keep walking.

9) Me - Bob Loblaw. On the link for Bob Loblaw, scroll down to the Minor recurring characters section). Because of my propensity to chatter non-stop much to the annoyance of opponents and teammates alike, this moniker was thrust upon me by Little Boy (see below). I am being typecast with a fictional character's name which is meant to sound like "blah-blah-blah". (Hmpff!!). Apart from possessing a forward defensive prod that would bring tears to Aakash Chopra's eyes, I am the current record holder of the deep midwicket to deep midwicket walkathon-marathon that is organized every year by the devilish captain of the OCC.

10) Damian DeRozairo - Captain Ozone (formerly Captain Binary).  If the name wasn't a big enough clue - he is the captain of the NCC. Since he either bats at #1 or #10 he does his best to live up to his nickname. No captain is more afraid of losing the toss and he has yet to lose one in almost two years. How does he do it? He sends someone else for the toss! A Sri Lankan by birth and an Aussie by youth, he talked his way into the captaincy simply because no one knew what he was saying for the first 6 months of his stay. One fine morning when the words began to make sense, everyone realized that he was already telling the NCC how grateful he was to have been asked to be the captain. No one on the team knew how to speak Australian to tell him otherwise. A very flappable fellow when things are going down the drain (and they do in every game the OCC plays) his rallying cry is the stuff of legends. It starts off: "Guys, we are letting the game slip away. What's going on? If we keep this up...." In order to not listen any further, the rest of the team gets serious and, invariably, a furious fightback and victory ensues. The NCC has been taking such strategic timeouts under Damian long before it had even fermented as a thought in Lalit Modi's green-hued brain.

After a round of discussions and some spirited chants of "Aussie, Aussie, Aussie", Binary's new nickname is now Ozone (Aussie, Aussie, Aussie .... Ozzie, Ozzie, Ozzie ... O three ... chemical structure of Ozone is O3 ...comprendes?).

11) Swarit Agarwal - Little Boy. This not-so-little fellow packs quite a punch. The CFO of the club (i.e. the guy who oversees the $14.37 surplus that is guarded with pride in the OCC bank account) his roles are many - wicket-keeper, off-spinner, gadaa-dhaari Bhima impersonator, and scorekeeper par excellence. By the way, his swearing can cause even pirates to blush...and often does. He is the only man I know who trashtalks the umpires and the opposition team from a scorer's perch.

12) Francis Origanti - Doctor Kamikaze. A legend in his own lifetime (and in his own mind and no one else's), Kamikaze believes that the walk to the crease is more than enough time to gauge the wicket, the bowler, the situation, and the conditions. A master at assessing bats - swinging one without contacting the ball is enough to tell him whether it has a good stroke. His feats are of the aar ya paar type. He has scored a century in 50-odd balls and has been dismissed bowled first ball trying to hit a six (with his team at 0 for 1 after 1 ball in the innings!). He has taken 6 wickets in a single innings and has been taken for 30 runs in a single over. A good way of knowing how his day is going to be is to see when he has to be home before he gets beaten up by his better half. If he is looking at his watch constantly, it is a bad sign for the opposition. Games have been decided on mere glances at the clock. And yes, since no one listens to what he says, when no one was paying attention he became the vice-captain of the team.

13) Srinivas Malkapuram - Gundappa. Built along the lines of the original Little Master, Malki is a man whose contribution to the team's score goes beyond the runs off his bat. Opposing bowlers find his posterior so enticing that they go crazy trying to hit it, but always in vain. With a speed that belies his frame, Malki hops forward just before impact and the ball sails harmlessly by to the keeper down the legside - wide! An extra run, an extra ball, and a frustrated bowler - it is a wholly unique way of getting a hat-trick in one ball. Midwicket is his domain, and he is the most improved fielder on the team, putting JJ's shoddy fielding displays in true perspective.

14) Gowtham Maranani - Gunmaster G9. Okay, I was wrong when I said that Abhi was the fastest bowler in the team. Gowtham is it, by a good yard or two. A gunslinger in the truest sense, he is a throwback to the good old days when bowler's run-ups were 30 yards long, and their primary attacking balls were the yorker and the bouncer. Gowtham looks like a docile Telugu movie sidekick and the next sledge that comes from his lips will be the first words he has probably ever uttered on a cricket field but do not mistake his docility for weakness. Many batsmen have made that mistake and numerous crushed toes, jammed fingers, and dented egos have been left in his wake. (Including Jatin's, who can no longer fathom the fact that he is not even the second-fastest bowler in the team any more).

15) Quintus Swampillai - Mind It now the Fifth Element. With a name that evokes awe and respect in the same breath, Q is the quintessential team man - first at practice, last off the field, ready to bowl a few balls, chase a few down, and bat till the sun sets. Rumor has it that he once said a few words without being prompted three years ago, but no one has ever heard him speak to know if it is true. A quick smile belies the intense desire to play better every time he dons the white flannels (okay, sweatpants, but they are white). His nickname comes from a recent change in his facial hair pattern. A look that suits him to a T. Having shaved off his distinctive facial hair, Q was ready for a new nickname and upon me finding out that he was the fifth child and hence the name Quntus, it was decreed by popular vote (mine) that the Fifth Element be his new name.

16) Devkanth Rao - Soul Patch. He is a rare breed - an opener who has converted himself into a middle order batsman. Light footed and ever-smiling, Devkanth's favorite scoring area is the V between midwicket and cover. Unafraid to loft the ball, his recent scores have been hampered by an inability to find a bat that he is comfortable with. His nickname comes from the Aamir Khan-like fuzz on his face.

17) Jai Ganesh - Hercules. JG has the best upper body on the team (which is not hard when you consider the sizes and shapes of the players..but still), a testament to how many hours a week he spends in the gym. A bowler who bowls better when he slows down the pace, JG is always one ball away from unleashing a bouncer. It has yet to work for him, but some day it shall, he supposes.

18) Sandip Umrotkar - Sunny D. A pleasing-to-the-eye batsman cast in the Rahul Dravid frustration-by-accumulation mode, Sandip is the perfect #3 batsman. He is willing to bat through the innings, and does not get bogged down by having to play out prolonged periods of good swing bowling. He knows that runs, just like his ever-present smile, are always one ball away.

19) Nirmal Srinivasan - Bean Counter. A man who does it all - bats, bowls, fields - Nirmal is also armed with the enviable ability to recall facts, numbers and stats at the drop of a hat, making him a scorer's nightmare. Calling him a stable batsman, a steady medium pace bowler, and an electric fielder pretty much describes his on-field expertise. Off the field he is a doctoral student studying the potential impacts of cell phone usage (while driving) on the sensory perceptions of a driver. Yes, he's one of those dudes who are ensuring that Bluetooth stocks keep rising.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

When ants meet sledgehammers

There is a temple in Nebraska which has been very good at fund-raising in the past few years. So much so that it is widely regarded as being the strongest temple, especially in these economically difficult times, by virtue of the monetary clout it possesses.

Last year a small group of individuals in this temple set up a separate prayer group. Some of the members of the temples in the state also joined this prayer group. The main temple did not approve of this move and banned any person belonging to their temple from fraternizing with the new group. The prayer group held steady and began to expand. However, the temple extended its reach by preventing other temples in Nebraska from letting members of this prayer group from attending or participating in any temple-related activity.

Soon, the members of this prayer group were ostracized and when a couple of them tried to organize charity events in the neighboring state of Iowa, the Nebraska temple strong-armed the Iowa temple into preventing these individuals from participating in the activity.

The Nebraska temple then successfully lobbied the main governing body that oversees the functioning of all temples in the country and has officially stopped any member of the prayer group from practicing their faith anywhere else in the entire US. Any temple not complying with this faces severe sanctions and worse.

Do you think this is unfair? If you do, here's the official website of the now-ostracized group.

If you are NOT affected by it, here's the official website of the all-powerful group. You may also want to see the clemency offer that was so magnanimously put forward to the splinter group.

What dreams may come

I have previously talked about "The Fall".

I saw the movie (finally) and fell in love with it. The folks I watched it with were not as enamored, but it may have had to a lot to do with the stop-start nature of our viewing and a tendency to judge the movie before it even began.

Much better writers than I have captured the essence of movie. If not for anything else, at least for the visual style of story-telling, this is a must-see. I have not seen a better-looking movie than this, ever. And the music that was used throughout the movie was Beethoven's 7th symphony, 2nd movement (one of my favorite pieces of music).

Here are some other sources of information on "The Fall".

a) The official website of the movie has some still photos worth preserving as screen-savers.

b) Roger Ebert raved about the movie on his website.
... Tarsem made one of the most astonishing films I have ever seen. It is all the more special in this age of computer-generated special effects, because we see things that cannot exist, but our eyes do not lie, and they do exist, yes, they really do.
c) An intrepid blogger Moriarty goes in-depth with Tarsem, the director of the movie, in this no-holds barred interview (yes, there is some salty language in there). His fellow blogger "Capone" conducted a two-part interview. Here's part 1, and part 2 of the interview.

d) If bloggers aren't your cup of tea, here is the Washington Post on Tarsem's long but strange journey to make the movie.

e) Finally, the New York Times weighs in on this astounding movie.

The man of a 1000 cuts

According to the ICC, the number 1 ranked Test batsman in the world is not named Ponting, Sangakkara, Tendulkar, Sehwag, Smith, or Pietersen. Not surprisingly, this anonymous soul is happy that the attention is elsewhere.

Shivnarine Chanderpaul is content to let preening alpha dogs like Kevin Pietersen hog the limelight while he toils away in a mediocre West Indian batting line-up. His road to the top has been a long and arduous one (as is almost everyone else's, true) but especially so since his shy nature and interesting batting style does not lend itself easily to reams of poetic prose, to coin a phrase.

Only 6 batsmen in the history of Tests have batted more than a thousand minutes between dismissals. Chanderpaul, the only man to do it more than once, has done it a mind-boggling 4 times! He is the only one to go more than 1500 minutes, and during that span he faced more than 1000 balls (the only one in the 1000 ball club, incidentally). In fact, that 1500 minute span came against the 2001-02 Australia team, no less!

And he is not just a blocker. One day, he scored the 4th fastest Test 100, off just 69 balls, that too in the first innings against Australia!

Talking to Anna Kessel of The Observer, Chanderpaul shows why he is more than content to let the others around him hog the limelight. Though, the mention of one person does raise his shackles and bring out the hidden fury in him.
There are few subjects that will shake Chanderpaul out of his private world, but Kevin Pietersen is one of them. The two batsmen are polar opposites – Pietersen loves the limelight, Chanderpaul detests "glamour"; Pietersen loves to take risks, Chanderpaul would rather stay at the crease. They meet again at Lord's on Wednesday as England take on West Indies. At the mention of KP, Chanderpaul's face grows very dark. On the recent West Indies tour Pietersen took a swipe at him, accusing him of "playing for himself". It was a comment that Chanderpaul did not take lightly.

"You can't assume or think someone's just playing for themselves. I don't know where he gets his stories from … I can't be playing for myself when I'm in Trinidad trying to save a match. Scoring 140 and I'm playing for myself?" Chanderpaul's expression is one of utter disgust.

Did Pietersen's comment make him angry? "What he said just motivated me more. It definitely made me better at what I was doing. If people come at me I just want to make sure that I can be out there even longer. You get angry and you just want to grind somebody out there longer, that's how I do my job." Chanderpaul folds his arms, his outburst a rare moment of expression
By the way, I am waiting for a day when an article on Chanderpaul will be written without his crab-like batting stance being mentioned even once (oops, I just did it, too). The photo at the top of this post was taken from an article in The Age that discusses his stance.

Spring cleaning

Cutting ties with the past is something that we do not do very easily. In this electronic age there are added layers of connectivity with the past that we are not even aware of.

Recently, I had a few minutes to kill and scrolled through my phone list on my cell phone. In it I found saved phone numbers of acquaintances who I had not even thought about in more than 5 years. I began deleting those names from the cell phone's memory.

Even within that process deciding which names to delete and which to save became a process of deciding which names conjured up good memories and which did not. Some names were in the deep recesses of my brain and it took me a few seconds to even place them. Those were the first to go. The rest took a little longer to do.

But now from 281 contacts on my phone, I am down to 183 names. Just as 281 was a good number of contacts to have, 183 is a good number, too, so I shall not purge any more for some time.

I wonder whether I will ever have cause to wonder why I deleted all those phone numbers. Let's see.

Caveat emptor

When someone promises you the moon it is always good to remember that beyond the realm of a poet's imagination the moon is nothing but a desolate, deserted orb revolving around the earth.

For the past few years Dubai has been the hotbed of raging construction and mind-boggling real estate growth. In a chilling article, Johann Hari of The Independent scratches beneath the surface and what he finds is more than a cautionary tale - it is a horror story of unimaginable proportions.
Once the manic burst of building has stopped and the whirlwind has slowed, the secrets of Dubai are slowly seeping out. This is a city built from nothing in just a few wild decades on credit and ecocide, suppression and slavery. Dubai is a living metal metaphor for the neo-liberal globalised world that may be crashing – at last – into history.
Click here for the rest of the article. It deserves to be read from start to finish.