To paraphrase Neil deGrasse Tyson, no other  act of human exploration laid a plaque saying “We Come In Peace For All Mankind”.

Neil Armstrong passed away yesterday at 82. RIP.

—★—

Validated

We make choices every single day. Most of them mean nothing1, but every once in a while you will make a big decision that you know is going to affect you in the future. Picking the girl, buying a house, making an investment, choosing to break the truth. If you’re very lucky, you’ll know your choice is validated—it was the right thing to chose at the time.

I woke up this year on my birthday—it was a working day—at 6:30am, with my alarm. I got ready, had breakfast, and got into my car. My sister called me on the way to wish me and asked me what I was doing going to work. It hadn’t struck me until then, but I wanted to be there. There’s no one to stop me from sitting at home, but it didn’t matter. It’s what I wanted to do. Two years worth of choices—choosing to leave the States after college, turn down job offers, move out of an industry I was comfortable in to one where I was a stranger—were at that moment validated.

I try to look at a choice not just in terms of loss/gain, opportunity cost etc., but also in terms of what conditions will have to be satisfied or what series of events will have to take place such that I feel my choice is validated. It’s easy to do this in business (e.g. a payback calculation for capital investment), but not so much personally. But those are the choices that really count.

  1. Don’t be that guy that spouts Chaos Theory.

—★—

Tendulkar

This is Sachin Tendulkar’s sixth world cup. He goes into the final knowing that, at thirty-seven, this is his last shot at glory. He will play the match to win the first Indian world cup in cricket since 1983. He will have a shot at completing one hundred international centuries. He is en route to being the man of the series. Thirty years from now, Bradman will be a fading memory and Tendulkar will be the name that cricket fans say in reverence.

This is what sporting legends are made of.

—★—

The Mark of a Man

The mark of strength in a man is the unwavering wall he is to shelter his family from storms. The mark of honesty in a man is the fervent loyalty he inspires in both his friends and rivals. The mark of good in a man is the pain people feel when he dies.

Well, it hurts.

—★—

I am resurrecting my old Tumblr site, http://avinashv.tumblr.com. It’s going to be stuff that isn’t long-form writing.

—★—

Inception (2010)

To the kids born in the late 90’s: Inception is your Matrix. It’s the film that, when you’re twelve1, is one of the greatest spectacles you have witnessed, and the movie that all others will be measured against2.

While it’s no Memento, it has a hook like every Christopher Nolan film3. Unlike Memento, which loses its charm for obvious reasons with repeated viewings, Inception’s hook is a bit more charismatic. The idea of riding through dreamscapes is an interesting notion in itself, but I think the hook of the movie is actually the relationship between real time and dream time. The compounding of that with the dream within a dream business is what keeps things lively4.

I don’t think the movie is trying to make a philosophical message, so I’m going to avoid the obvious allegory to The Matrix, but the storyline is mature and exciting, and I think that Nolan has set the bar for summer blockbusters from here on. It’s about time these films grew up out of the Michael Bay era of blowing shit up and doing it with the kind of style that Nolan showed.

Speaking of blowing up—this movie is beautiful. There are plenty of visual glitches—when Ariadne broke the mirror, for example, it looked like CGI from a 1995 movie—but the imagery is masterful. And to know that so little of it was done with CGI is truly something spectacular. The explosions around the Parisian bistro were done primarily with compressed nitrogen with CGI used to fill in. The awe-inspiring gravity-bending action sequences were done with a crazy mixture of wires and a huge, purpose-built rotating hallway set. The opening dream sequence where water floods the dream was done with carefully positioned and timed sprinklers. For maybe this alone, Inception will cause a generation of kids to look at action in a totally different way, and for a new generation of movie makers to steal from it. Just like The Matrix.

To complement the visuals is Lord Hans Zimmer’s score. I was blown away—this might be some of his best work. Powerful and raw, with a smooth flow through the editing that you don’t usually find in movies this elaborate. I was unimpressed with Zimmer’s last collaboration with Nolan (The Dark Knight). Must like the film’s floundering final act, the score didn’t stir emotion. Inception’s soundtrack is a different beast. It’s a throwback to the Zimmer who scored The Lion King, Gladiator or True Romance.

Acting is an all-round solid affair. Leonardo DiCaprio is shaping up to be today’s Robert De Niro. He seems very deliberate with his role selection, and has been a part of some solid chart-toppers. This is a role that was right up his alley. The brooding, damaged and flawed protagonist play to his strengths, and he had good chemistry with his supporting cast. I was glad to see Ellen Page had dropped her too-indie vibe to take a slightly challenging role (that was well executed). Joseph Gordon-Levitt was a surprise—I was worried I was going to see a potentially awesome character go to waste the way Topher Grace murdered Venom in my mind forever. No, Gordon-Levitt, despite having limited dialogue, was suave and surprisingly right for his action-heavy role. Knowing that he performed his own stunts for the magical hallway action sequences ups him on the respect ladder somewhat. The rest of the cast, particularly Tom Hardy, put on a good show as well.

What’s bad? Well, unless you’re like me and love to read into films far too much, you may find the storyline a bit pretentious. The “militarization” of the projections was probably, for me, the weakest part of the film. Conflict has to be made, but I can’t feel like it was a bit convenient. I can’t help but imagine that turning this movie into a psychological horror film5 might have served the very dark idea of invading someone’s dreams quite well, but I don’t think a Hollywood studio would have footed the bill for an audience-limiting film like that the way they did6.

Nevertheless, I think Nolan pulled it off. Definitely the best film of 2010 so far—not that there was really any competition—and definitely one of the better summer blockbusters in many summers. I hope this starts the same trend in summer films that Nolan managed to start with superhero films—giving the audience enough credit to write an intelligent script.

  1. As I was when The Matrix was released.
  2. Or at least until you outgrow special effects. Not that The Matrix isn’t karate-chopping awesome.
  3. Except the _Batman_ films.
  4. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but I seriously think the hook actually might be that the entire movie is just Ariadne pulling a Mr. Charles on Dom Cobb and we actually never see them awake. It’s all a dream!
  5. It would be wonderful to watch an intelligent, legitimately scary one.
  6. Nolan’s The Following is one of those movies. I’m extremely glad he made that when he did, because no studio would dream of paying for that kind of movie. Highly, highly recommended—one of my favorite films ever.

—★—

That’s The Way

And yesterday I saw you kissing tiny flowers, 
But all that lives is born to die. 
And so I say to you that nothing really matters, 
And all you do is stand and cry.

—★—

I just read this, the latest in people complaining about the new developer terms of iPhone OS 4’s SDK (started by Gruber). I honestly don’t see why everyone is getting a hernia over this. It says, “Applications must be originally written in Objective-C, C, C++.” OK, fine. I don’t see how that prevents me from writing a framework that, hypothetically, is Python-based, that outputs pure Objective-C code that I can compile with Xcode. What this addendum aims is to prevent execution of run-time byte-code. Why is this not clear to everybody else?

—★—

This is not an iPad review

It seems everybody is reviewing their new iPads and raving over it. I’ll begin by saying that1 the idea is interesting to me, and I would consider owning one in maybe a few iterations, but for now? No. It’s because I’m still waiting on the perfect phone!

When the first-generation iPhone debuted, I was floored. The screen wasn’t an original idea, the lack of an SDK was laughable, and the closed filesystem was upsetting to the hacker in me, but I think that it was the best phone on the market at the time. I’ve held off buying one for several reasons, most of which are the traditional criticisms of the iPhone (and now, iPad): no third-party multitasking, closed ecosystem and poor camera2. I held off three successive generations for that phone to appear, and there is now a glimmer for it with the fourth-generation iPhone. But it doesn’t matter. Jailbreaking affords enough luxuries now that I know I will be buying the next iPhone.

I can’t imagine a use-case for the iPad3 that wouldn’t be better sufficed by having the same functionality in a pocket-sized gadget.

Surfing? Check. Sure, a bigger screen is nicer, but I have a browser in my pocket right now, and even though it’s not Mobile Safari, it’s more convenient to be able to Google something while sitting in a cab during a night out than not at all.

Movies? Check. Again, bigger screen is nicer, but I have a laptop with a 13” screen, a 42” television and can’t imagine myself not using either of those over the iPad. The one interesting scenario is on flights. I take several 12+ hour flights a year, so while a 10-hour battery life doesn’t do the job, it’s not bad. Most of the time, though, Emirates has a pretty excellent and very vast selection of movies, television shows and music that I don’t run out. The iPad does have a better screen, but I am not sure about the form factor being comfortable for 10 hours of movie watching in a cramped seat. What am I supposed to do with it? Rest it on my lap and look down? Put it on the tray table? What do I do when meals come? Get some rubber bands and MacGyver it to the headrest in front of me?

Here’s my last issue: how careful do you have to be with a 9.7” touch-sensitive screen with nothing on it? Smudges aside, it’s going to get banged up pretty badly. Especially with the slightly dubious form factor, I expect to see some hilarious YouTube videos of people falling asleep and their iPads getting into all kinds of mischief.

Here’s what will make me buy an iPad: at least a front-facing camera4, multi-tasking for third-party applications (this should be coming pretty soon), and an iPhone that is perfect for me.

  1. I have yet to see it in person.
  2. Image quality for what it is suffices, but I want at least 5 megapixels.
  3. Picturing myself typing anything into the iWorks suite on the iPad makes me laugh. It won’t happen.
  4. Clever Steve for holding off on this. The man had to have known it wouldn’t put much of a dent in sales, and now he has an ace up his sleeve for a future generation.

—★—

Stumped

Like many, I absolutely cannot stand long flights, but (besides the airport experience) I rather enjoy short flights in the daytime, mainly for the conversation. Last week I sat next to a little girl, Claire. She was eight. She had taken her seat before I got there, and her face was glued to the window from before the plane left the gate till it leveled off at cruising altitude. She then sat back and asked me a question.

“This plane’s wings are as long as its body, and it can fly. My arms are as long as my body, so why can’t I fly?” I explained aerodynamic lift as simply as I could (which was, incidentally, a much harder task than I anticipated). Therein followed a long list of “why” questions that got harder and harder to answer. “But if the size of the wings goes up as the body goes up, why are a bee’s wings so tiny?”

Stumped.

—★—

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