Sunday, July 27, 2008

Triskaidekaphobic Dancegoers

Well, I am neither afraid of 13 nor do I go attend dances, and I do not know anyone with similar tendencies, but this does look a whacky title for a post written to introduce the words Triskaidekaphobia and Dancegoers on the same webpage. Why did I need to do so? To record a GoogleWhack in the Whack Stack.

From the official website, a Googlewhack is that elusive query(two words-no quote marks), that returns a single, solitary result. There are three rules to it:

  1. both of the terms must exist in Google's list of legitimate words on,
  2. a Google search on the words without quotes should return "Results 1 - 1 of (any number)", and
  3. the two words should not be merely a part of a wordlist.
I tried a few couples of words but could not find a whack, and soon lost patience. Finding two words that occur only once together on the world-wide-web was not an easy task. I instead realised that finding a pair that does not exist at all might be easy, and I can create a page including both the words, and as soon as google indexes that page, I'll be able to record a whack, without breaking any of the rules.

So here I am, with this post. There is no other page on the web that has these two words. Let us hope I am able to record one this easy way. It is not difficult the normal way either. Why don't you too try and log one? Its fun!

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Dark Knight

Another overhyped superhero movie. When I read the reviews, I had the proclivity to try and find out what was so good about it. The special effects required that I watch it in a theater and not on the computer, but that did not make me concur with 115,340 users (at the time of composing this post; it was 91,097 votes when I first saw it yesterday afternoon) at IMDB rating it at 9.4 making it the Numero Uno on its all-time Top 250 list, surpassing Godfather, Forrest Gump, The Matrix, Judgement Day, and many other movies much more deserving than this one. And this, when it is not yet released in the UK, a majority of Europe, and Japan.

Not considering IMDB's ratings, the movie is indeed good, though not as good to qualify as the best movie ever. The Nolan brothers strike again after Memento, Batman Begins, and The Prestige, and outmatch all their previous creations. It could not have been better for only the seventh movie for director Christopher Nolan, and the fourth for part screenplay writer Jonathan Nolan. Amazing cinema at display with an intelligent blend of action, darkness, iniquity, violence, eeriness, and of course, technology. A gripping tale across the aesthetically constructed city of Gotham, meticulously created sets, awesome Batman gizmoes including his armour and vehicles, The Dark Knight narrates a story of good against evil amid thrilling chase sequences, psychopathic wickedness, excellent roleplays, and a background score as eerie as the rest of the plot.

The best part of the movie is Heath Ledger as the Joker. With that sinister-ly painted white face with dark eye circles and a wide blood-red smile, and the peculiar tongue gesture, you have a tingle down the spine whenever he says "Why are you so serious? Let's put a smile on that face", and starts narrating his psycho stories with a knife inside someone's mouth. He had in his part some really well-written dialogues he delivered menacingly. He was THE star of the movie, and reminds you of sinister characters like Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. I can put my money on his winning an Oscar for the best supporting actor this year; unfortunately and sadly enough, the Oscar committee does not consider villainous roles for the best actor category. Another unfortunate and sad event is the tragic, untimely, and accidental demise of Heath Ledger, just after the filming of the movie. He was 28. Thankfully the Oscar can be awarded posthumously.

Christian Bale as both the superhero and the business czar is poised as opposed to the rowdy Joker, although I believe he performed better in The Prestige. The veterans Morgan Freeman and Michael Caine too give a serene screen presence.

The review would be incomplete without a mention to the superbike that is 'ejected' out of Batman's supercar when it crashes and fails beyond auto-repair. The bike has 20-inch-wide tyres, and is made to appear as if it is armed with grappling hooks, cannons, and machine guns. That is a machine designed to perfection, and the best bike I've ever seen in any movie.

The one bit that irked me was the extended role of Harvey Dent. His half-burnt face was not scary enough as compared to the Joker's fully-painted one, and he turning rogue after he loses his girlfriend in a plot by the Joker, and then his taking revenge upon authorities and Batman seemed a bit overdone. Also, his uncanny habit of flipping a two-headed coin reminded one of Sholay.

Out an out, an interesting movie. Not IMDB #1 material, but if you love sinister, fearless, psychopathic wickedness, just go and have a watch without a second thought.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Of Serenity, Courage, and Wisdom

God grant me the serenity
To accept things I cannot change,
The courage to change the things I can, and
The wisdom to know the difference.

-Reinhold Niebuhr

The serenity prayer has been trying to help me out in various situations in life, but I've been so desperately trying not to pay heed to it. The wisdom to know the difference is something I believe I have. Courage too, but its more of trying to change the way events happen, by influencing others, rather than try to bring a change in myself. However, serenity is something I totally lack.

Now that I introspect and retrospect, I see that I could have solved almost every problem that ever troubled me had I had the above three ingredients in the right proportions. A disproportionate value of one of them screws the entire recipe up.

Anyways, let me start it one baby-step at a time...
God grant me the serenity...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

A 25 Billion-Dollar Orange

This weekend, all CNBC TV18s, NDTV Profits, Business Standards, and moneycontrol.coms have been talking about inflation hitting a 13-year peak of 11.89%. If Indians were extremely distressed a month ago with inflation reaching double digits, Zimbabweans are apprehensive about it reaching nine digits. Yes, there is no typo there, the inflation in Zimbabwe is at 9 million percent, and economists predict it would reach 100,000,000% by the end of Q3.

Zimbabwean government has been introducing new currency notes every few weeks, and the current denominations they are available are 100 million, 500 million, 25 billion, and 50 billion. This Monday, a new 100-billion-dollar-note would be in circulation, with an expiry date of 31st December 2008. This new note, however, would not buy you a loaf of bread in Zimbabwe, which costs at least 120 billion. You can pay for four oranges instead.

An article on reports:

Another friend recounts a weekly shop costing $514 billion, which she paid for by debit card. The shop till could only ring up $9 billion, so the card had to be swiped 57 times. By the time 57 swipes were made, ZWD soared higher and it had to be swiped 8 more times; at the end of 8 one more to finally make it even.

Okay I made the last part up. But the rate at which the currency is falling, the numbers are almost meaningless. Friday's exchange rate was 24,782,853,660 ZWD = 1 USD (Source: That means four oranges still cost four American dollars. But I wonder how do they figure out such figures down to the tenth significant figure.

Sample this restaurant bill dated earlier this year. Today, bills are of similar
numbers, but restaurants ask you to add six zeroes to the end before making the payment in mollars-millions of dollars. They might have to up the amount by a few million dollars if they use a larger sheet of paper and some extra toner to print all the digits. Cheques are refused at many places as their value would plummet by the time they are presented to the bank. Those who accept cheques ask for double the amount than that would have been paid by cash. There is a placeholder for gratuity too on this Jungle Junction bill. How many millions would you tip?

Who wants to be a millionaire? in Zimbabwe would be renamed as Who wants to be a quadrillionaire? next week, and Who wants to be a sextillionaire? three weeks hence. Billionaire lists would contain almost everyone on the census. Organizations have weekly appraisals and salary reviews in order for them to make sense.

Jokes apart, this indeed is a matter of concern. I am astonished at how is Zimbabwe still struggling in the face of economic collapse. Equally surprised I am at the Weimar Republic of Germany having faced hyperinflation in 1923, when people used currency notes in stoves because they would burn longer and provided more heat than the amount of firewood that that money could buy, and today Germany is one of the world's most advanced market economies.

Some more assorted statistics of interest:
  • At Independece in 1980, the Zimbabwean dollar stood equal to 1.25 USD, inflation at 7%.
  • In August 2006 the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe revalued the Zimbabwean Dollar by 1000 ZWD to 1 (revalued) dollar.
  • Burma stands a far second on the list of countries with hyperinflation at 39.5%.
  • Inflation in Zimbabwe touched triple digits in 2001, four digits in 2006, five in 2007.
  • Year-on-year inflation for 2007 in the USA was 2.7%, Germany 2%, France 1.5%, Japan 0%, and Naurau -3.6%. The complete list is here. (Source:

Monday, July 07, 2008

Nadal's Big Fight

Or was it Federer's? He fought back to retain his crown but Nadal kept chasing him till into the last point on the ninth game in the final set, and finally dethroned the five-time king of grass court in an exciting, nerve-thrilling, highly suspenseful, extremely dramatic, power-packed, longest Wimbledon final.

For record's sake, the scores were 6-4, 6-4, 6-7(5-7), 6-7(8-10), 9-7. What a match! Between the world No.1 and No.2!

Federer was almost out in the fourth set where he had to acquire 10 points in the tie-breaker to stay back. The third set had been decided on a tiebreaker too, and Nadal had given a real tough fight. But the final set was the most nerve-shredding. It had looked at many points during the final set (and I was praying for), that the reigning champ would break Björn Borg's record of five consecutive Wimbledon titles, but his opponent kept chasing him in almost every point and every game, till he finally screwed one wide and then netted the next, handing the cup over.

Federer's 25 aces couldn't save him from the Spaniard's energetic performance, running after every every shot, even apparent winners. Federer's excellent backhand slices were much better than the other's double-handed ones, but the Swiss could convert only one of many break points he had, could not take up some of the drops, and did way too many unforced errors, each net acting as a nail in his defeat. The two rain-breaks did not affect Rafa, but perhaps Roger could not calm down his nerves. He looked worked up towards the end, and even complained about Nadal's typical long moments before the serve.

"I tried everything," said Federer in his speech at near darkness. "Rafa is a deserving champion. He just played fantastic. It was the worst opponent on the best court." I couldn't agree more, Nadal did deserve this cup. Rafa showed an equal mutual respect by calling him still number one: "He's still the best. He's still five-time champion here and I only have one, so for me it is very, very important." But watch out kiddo, said Roger before parting with his runner's up trophy, "It is a pity I didn't win but I will be back next year."

The 12-time Grand Slam winner is often cited as the greatest tennis player ever, or on the lines of one. What do you call a 22-year-old Rafael Nadal who stopped five years older Roger Federer's winning spree on grass, having suffered defeat for two consecutive Wimbledon finals in the past at the same court against the same opponent?

Friday, July 04, 2008


Director Akira Kurosawa
Cast Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô, Takashi Shimura
Released 25th Aug, 1950 (Japan)
26th Dec, 1951 (USA)
My Rating4.0

A woman is raped, her husband killed. A woodcutter finds the body and a bandit is arrested. Next we have four perspectives of the murder: the wife's, her dead samurai husband's through a medium, the rapist bandit's, and the woodcutter's. The four versions are mutually contradictory, leaving the viewer in the end to determine, which of them, if any, is the truth.

The four stories are flashbacks within flashbacks, as told by the woodcutter and a priest (who had seen the couple a couple of days before the crimes) to a commoner, all three of whom happen to be stuck at the Rashômon Gate in a heavy downpour. The narrative style of different perspectives to the same event is adopted by an extensive variety of future films, such as the IMDB# 21 The Usual Suspects, Vantage Point, Courage Under Fire, and closer home, Kamal Haasan's Virumaandi (Tamil).

The mysterious piece of work is considered one of Kurosawa's masterpieces, and simplicity is its biggest feature. The black and white movie is shot at just three sets: the woods where the rape and the murder occur, the supposed court where the all those involved testify, and the Rashômon Gate. Brilliant use of mottled light is made in the woods through tree-leaves, adding to the ambiguity. The cinematography and the background score capture the mood of the movie quite effectively. The epilogue where the commoner flees away with the kimono off the crying baby who has been abandoned by its parents at the gate, and when opposed by the woodcutter and the priest, depicts the changing world then, where every man is selfish. Kurosowa mentions in his autobiography that Rashômon is a reflection of life, and life does not have clear meanings.

The cast contains only eight people, and I felt everyone did their job well. Toshirô Mifune portrays the savage look of an animal as the bandit Tajômaru. The only overdone part was the crazy laughs, the bandit's barbaric and the rape victim's hysteric. The laughs appeared forced and artificial to the point of irritation.

The movie had quite an influence in many aspects, including film-making inside and outside Japan. It also has an effect named after it in psychology, the Rashomon effect: the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.

Kurosawa was conferred with the Academy Honorary Award in 1990, two years before Satyajit Ray was awarded the same Oscar.

Recipient of high critical acclamation, this movie is supposed to have brought Japanese cinema to the rest of the world. I've seen a few foreign-language-films (French, German, Italian, and Dari), but this marks as the first Japanese movie I watched. It would be inappropriate to consider this sixty years old movie as a representation of Japanese cinema. However, there are quite some similarities with Indian movies of that era, not only in presentation but also in content, the way certain things (read sex) were taboo to be talked about in any form, even on screen, unlike Hollywood. Somewhat gloomy, thought-provoking, ambiguous, freaky, Rashômon was quite a refreshing change from the usual stuff.

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