Sunday, September 27, 2009

Everyone likes tomatoes

Tomatoes are the easiest to grow in the backyard. And the fresh, ripe tomatoes tend to be very sweet and delicious. Everyone loves them.

Including this baby frog, that I noticed one late evening ! It's so tiny that it could comfortably sit on a tomato.

I had to move aside the branches using one hand (carefully so as to not disturb the frog) and take the photo using other hand.


Book Review : Outliers - The Story Of Success
Author : Malcom Gladwell
My Rating : 3 out of 5 stars

I have been planning on reading "Tipping Point" written by Malcom Gladwell, but when his new book "Outliers" came out, I decided to try it out before reading his earlier books.

First, this book is not about how to be successful. It is also not about what to learn from what successful people have done to become so. And is it not about examination of what all factors are needed to become successful.

The book's main focus is about what external factors (other than personal talent) were involved in achieving success. The author argues that, our cultural legacy, family upbringings, period in history is as important as innate talent, and may be more important.

The books starts with an interesting observation about the birth dates of professional sportsmen. It seems that being born in the 1st quarter of the year is crucial to being a Canadian hockey player. The same observation is true for many sports in many other countries. Why being born in January is better than being born in December ? Because of cut-off dates. So when a group of kids is being evaluated at a very young age, someone born in January is almost a year older than someone born in December of that same year. In early elementary years, this is a huge physical advantage. Hence in the very early stages of being filtering, the kids born in 1st quarter of the year get chosen and receive more focus, attention and training. The others are simply weeded out. In a well established system that takes kids from minor league to eventual major league, this virtually guarantees that future sports stars will have a birth date between Jan and April !

This should be enough to tell you what argument the author is trying to make in the whole book. You will hear about what advantages Bill Gates and Bill Joy had to become the titans of the computer industry. You will also learn why famous corporate lawyers are Jewish, why Korean Air had a miserable accident record and what they had to unlearn to become safer, why Asian kids are better at Math and much more.

The book is as easy and fun to read as it any book can be. Gladwell keeps things very interesting, includes lots of anecdotes, personal stories and interesting insights. It is enough to make this a "very good book", but not much more.

There are some problems. One is originality. How much of the research is author's own ? It doesn't always have to be. But then at least there has to be some great original insights that are obtained by tying research of seemingly disparate sources. That is absent. And why would there be any ? What the author is arguing against is a strawman. We already know that it takes a lot more than inborn talent.

It's interesting to know about the advantages of being born at the right period in history. But the phrase, "Being at the right place at the right time", is not new. It's great to put a number - 10000 hours - on the amount of practice needed. But we have been saying - "There is no substitute for hard work". And "It's not what you know, but whom you know that matters", and so on.

At the same time, it's also true that there is no substitute for talent either. In school I was quite good at math. But I had no illusion about being the next Isaac Newton. Not because I wasn't willing to put in 10000 hours. Being good at math also gave me an idea about exactly how good I wasn't. Same is true for chess. All grandmasters at the top level study hard. But their mind works in a very different way. Mere mortals like me, have no hope of ever being a super GM, even if I had started learning chess at age 2. You don't "become" Einstein. You have to be born as Einstein, work hard to remain an Einstein and then have the luck to finally become an Einstein.

The author - to be sure - is not arguing that talent does not matter. He is focusing on a different part of the story. That's fine. But precisely because of that, this is only a partial story of success.

The author offers some points to ponder. The advantages of which month you were born into and such are easy to nullify and will greatly benefit all societies. We all cannot become great, but by opening up opportunities to as many people as possible, we can all succeed at being good.

Overall, I can definitely recommend this book. It’s short, fun, very enjoyable and thought provoking.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Being Cyrus

Movie Review : Being Cyrus
Genre : Black Comedy
Release : 2005
Language : English
Cast : Saif Ali Khan, Naseeruddin Shah, Boman Irani, Dimple Kapadia, Simone Singh
My Rating : 7 out of 10

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started watching the movie. Or maybe I should say, I had the wrong idea ! The photo on the DVD cover clearly indicated - or so I thought - that this was a lighthearted comedy. And sure enough, the movie began like one. But in the end, the photo turned out to be as misleading as the name of the movie !

The movie does begin with Cyrus - the lead character played by Saif Ali Khan - narrating about his life in foster homes. Quickly he starts narrating about his visit to Dinshaw (Naseeruddin Shah) and his wife Katy (Dimple Kapadia) - leaving in a remote estate in Panchgani. Dinshaw is a retired pottery artist, well past his prime, leaving on inheritance. Katy is bored housewife. As a Parsi couple, they have their eccentricities and set the tone of the movie - light and humorous.

Dinshaw's father is a rich landlord. But the other son Farokh (Boman Irani) keeps complete control of all the affairs and forces the rich dad to live a poor, jailed life. Even Farokhs's wife Tina (Simone Singh) is scared of him. In spite of this, the tone of the movie still remains humorous.

Katy convinces Cyrus to visit her father in law and sends some money, chocolate candies for the old man. And slowly the movie starts getting darker. It never loses the comedy part completely, but by the end, it becomes quite twisted. I won't give away any more details. Just be prepared for something more than simple comedic relief.

It's a very well acted film. In spite of the name, the movie is not just about Cyrus. Other characters get significant share of the screen time and everyone is effortless. The direction by Homi Adajania is up to the task.

I am unsure how many viewers would enjoy the mix of comedy with the criminal intentions of the characters. I think it depends on the expectations. I wanted to watch a nice comedy and wasn't really looking for twists and turns. I still enjoyed the movie, and can definitely recommend it. Make sure you don't watch it in front of kids.

Longest word without a vowel

Here is a useless trivia question.
In English, what is the longest word which does not have a vowel letter in its spelling ?

Obviously, this has to have a 'Y', so there is a of course a vowel sound in it. But this word does not have any of the 5 main vowel letters (a-e-i-o-u).

See comments for the answer.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Lions For Lambs

Movie Review : Lions for Lambs
Genre : Drama
Release : 2007
Rated : R
Cast: Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep, Robert Redford
Director : Robert Redford
My rating : 7 out of 10

This movie has not generated any glowing reviews. I understand the complaints about being "wordy" or "not breaking any new grounds" etc. And while I do not think this is a great movie, I very much enjoyed it.

The movie has 3 streams. In one, an ambitious Republican senetor Jasper Irwing (Tom Cruise) is explaining a bold new strategy to win the war in Afghanistan to a famous veteran reporter Janine Roth (Meryl Streep). In second, 2 soldires who are in action based on this same strategy are fighting a dying battle in some snow capped mountains in Afghanistan. While in 3rd, a California professor of political science Malley (Robert Redford) is trying to convince a talented by cynical student Todd Hayes to not waste his potential.

All 3 streams are happening simultaneously and are interleaved in the presentation. Of course all 3 are connected and although there is no suspense as to how, I won't give away that part.

Let's start with the bad news. The stream that deals with the battle in Afghanistan is not very convincing. The action sequences are definitely not a strong point for director Robert Redford. The choice for the patriotic protagonists willing to die for their country and also for each other is ... yes, people from 2 different minority backgrounds. Hmmm, this kind of playing it safe really diminishes the sincerity of the movie's message. Especially, for a movie that does not shy away from expressing its strong political bias.

Now the good news. The 2 other streams are very well written and extremely well acted. The casting is near perfect. The main strength is definitely in the dialogues. Candid, hard hitting and quite able to define the characters for us. The battle of wits between the professor and the student, is as close to a philosophical debate in the Greek tradition as you can get in a main stream movie. On the other hand the discussion between the senator and the journalist is often indirect, manipulative and is more about reading between the lines. The not-so-subtle hints, the euphemisms and the spin is quite contemporary and easy to relate to. These 2 interactions made the movie worth seeing for me.

The movie has strong political bias, and a viewer's opinion of the movie will very likely be influenced by his or her political affiliations.

I am hesitant to recommend this movie wholeheartedly to anyone. Unless you enjoy debates, and if you do, then you can definitely give this a try.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...