Saturday, July 05, 2008

Movie Review: WALL-E

Don't worry, no spoilers ahead.

First thing first, WALL-E begins with a short Pixar animation "Presto". It is about a magician named Presto and his apprentice rabbit Alec, which he uses for the traditional Hat-trick. The 5-minute feature documents a stage show where both try to outwit each other, and what follows is a non-stop sequence of outrageously hilarious antics. The video is easily the funniest short animation I have ever seen. It is very fast-paced, yet easy to understand. The only downside is that it is not suitable for people with a weak stomach.

My rating for Presto: 10/10 (This is the closest one could get to perfection)


Now let's get back to WALL-E. The story is set in the future, some eight to nine hundred years from now. WALL-E (acronym for Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class) is the only surviving robot on planet Earth, which goes about collecting and compacting trash generated by humans while they still inhabited the planet. WALL-E is no ordinary robot. It is rich with emotions and child-like curiosity. It even has hobbies. And in WALL-E, lies the biggest strength of the movie. WALL-E rarely speaks, and when he did, it would be in a robotic monotone. Yet never in the film do we see a lack of depth in his character. His eyes (binoculars) are extremely expressive, so are his body movements. His hobbies, lifestyle, and quest for companionship, are easy to relate-to and understand. The romance between WALL-E and EVE (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator; sent to look for plant life on Earth) is cute and mostly the kind of love as understood by 10-year-olds. WALL-E's desire to hold EVE's hand has been very beautifully captured in the movie and each of his attempts in doing so is sure to bring a warm joy to anyone remotely familiar with courting.

The story of the movie has a message, and although it forms the core theme of the movie, it doesn't push it hard. Sort of allowing the audience to either ponder deep on it, or leave as an imaginative plot forming the theme of the film and concentrate on the story. The Direction and Screenplay are other strong points of the movie. It looks so real, that one can easily forget that they are watching an animated movie. The Storyline is also good. My only qualm is that the movie could have had a more concrete ending. It is somewhere between an open-ended one and a "they lived happily ever after" one. Surely the ending is on a positive note, but one can't help but wonder if it is good enough.

Now let's move to what the film does badly. Easily, the guest appearance of actual people in the movie was a big let-down. Not only did it dent the effort made by the graphic artists (who created wonderful animated humans) by pitting them against the actual ones, but the actors selected for it did a pathetic job and were hardly convincing. Also, the lifestyle of humans in the future appeared too stereo-typed to be true. It is true one can't easily predict the way humans would live eight hundred years from now, but somehow the life they led in the movie seemed quite card-board like. The ship's captain appeared very dumb for the better part of the movie, and had a brief ingenuity trying to fool the ship's AUTO (pilot).

Overall, the movie is a complete entertainer, with something for people across all ages. The children can marvel at the animation and the funny parts of the movie, the youngsters can relate to the love between WALL-E and EVE, while the adult and elderly get enough to worry about what are we doing to the planet. Go watch it, and you will get the worth of your money.

Overall rating: 9/10. (A fantastic job, but imagination could have been more creative)

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Forward ya Backward?

Remember the 1990s in India's telecom sector? If I were to describe it in two sentences, they will be the salient features of the landline phones and cell phone in that period.
  1. People used to wait for the night (9:30 pm) before placing long-distance calls (STD).
  2. People had to pay Rs. 16 a minute for incoming calls when the cell phones were just introduced.
It is all part of history now, thanks to the telecom revolution. But this revolution seems to have missed one important country, the USA. If someone would have told this to me a couple of months back, I wouldn't have believed him. But now I have a first-hand experience.

When I wanted to break the good news to my friend Anurag a few days back, I found myself waiting for the clock to tick past 9 pm.

Why? Because I had exhausted my cell phone call minutes for the month.

Why? Because I didn't realize that they would be charging minutes even for incoming calls (@ Rs. 4/minute approx.) until it was too late to avoid the inevitable.

Guess what? India is two steps ahead of USA in this regard. Not only were all incoming calls made free years ago, we now have operators who pay you to receive incoming calls. I haven't opted for SMS services in my plan, but my friends tell me that they have to pay to receive SMSes. Isn't that ingenious?

I never thought I would be using Skype for making domestic calls, but that's what I eventually did. It is much cheaper than my cell phone plan.

Ambuj Gets A New Car

The protagonist of this blog has got himself a new car...the 2008 Mazda3 4-door sedan (pictured below).

A first car is always a memorable experience, and I am loving it.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Matter of Ego

It is a truth universally acknowledged that every single reviewer in possession of good knowledge chooses Flickr over Picasa. Flickr is way better than Picasa is most respects, but of course this is not to say that Pisaca is junk! There are some great features in Picasa, with the added advantage that it has a small learning curve and a download button!

If the last part of the above paragraph took you by surprise, let me recap a bit. I have been a big fan of Flickr for a long time now, and being an avid photo-enthusiast have a "pro" (paid) membership on Flickr. However, it has been very difficult for me to convert my friend Shubhasish (a Picasa fan) to Flickrhood. Just as my discussions on comparative advantage of Dual degree over BTech hits a road-block when the issue of Mess Food crops up, my monologue on the greatness on Flickr unfailingly gets him to ask: "But how do you download an Album/Set on Flickr?"

Flickr does not have native set download feature, but there are many third-party apps that offer the functionality. I promised to send over a link of one such good service, but I knew my job won't be easy. This was somewhat like comparing apples to oranges (linguists, please come up with something better. I am sick of using this apple-orange analogy over and over again). While Shubhasish shares all his photos publicly, I prefer to keep my private photos private and share only generic photos with the rest of the world. Thus while sharing my photosets with him, I usually pass him on a "guest pass", which allows him to access the private photos uploaded by me. Now were I sharing all my photos publicly, it would have been easy for me to pass on the most easy-to-use software to download Flickr photos. Dozens exist is the market, allowing users to download high resolution images from public albums/sets (some even allow downloading private images from own sets after authorization). However, referring a software that does the apple-apple comparison so well but fails to satisfy the purpose (of being able to download the whole set in one go) would have made the dialogue complicated and done little to set the scores once and for all. What I was looking for is a software that can recognize a guest pass and authorize the user to download the set. While the debate continued, I gave myself a TwentySecondGoogle challenge but was unable to find it. I saved my energy for the time being and moved on.

Later, while ego-surfing the web (not in the traditional way, but for my own ego...How dare he compare Flickr with Picasa! Huh!), testing softwares one after the other, my hanging suspicion soon became a confidence that it you can't teach softwares to recognize guest passes. So my search space was reduced to software codes that work inside the browser itself: Firefox extensions and Greasemonkey scripts. There was light at the end of the tunnel, and soon I stumbled on to this cool hack (thanks Juan). Quite surprisingly, in order to download the set, you need both Firefox extensions and Greasemonkey scripts. Assuming most people I get in touch with are already on Firefox, it requires three additional softwares/plugins/codes to set the show. But once done, I was impressed with the effectiveness of the hack. Just in a matter of one or two clicks, you can get the whole set on your hard disc. It just made life so simple. A native support of photoset download from Flickr would have been great, but this hack goes miles to show how robust Flickr's API is. I was quick to refer Shubhasish to the trick, which he promised to try.

Coming back to the issue of who's better, a true Flickerian wouldn't want to get into the debate because even as of today, Picasa is way-way behind Flickr. Picasa is just a new kid on the block. If Flickr is a country with centuries of glorious history, Picasa is hamlet settled a few weeks back. It is easy for people to compare storage space, navigation options, integration, etc. between the two services. In fact some may find them comparable. However there's something about Flickr that's totally missing on Picasa: The community experience. If you are on Flickr, you feel so much as a part of a rich and vibrant community of photo-enthusiasts. It is a lively place to be in. The whole world of Flickr is built around sharing and discussing wonderful photos. Picasa, with its best integration feature, is as good as a folder on your computer. You have great access and control over what you have, but there is complete isolation from the world. There is no way of finding out what "interesting photos" your neighbours are coming up with. There is no way of having a lively discussion on a particular photo. There is no way of getting a photo recognized as a great snap. There is no way of finding out the capabilities of your camera. Yes, there is a learning curve associated with it. It is akin to understanding the customs and laws of the nation as against those of a small village community. Picasa would grow, I am sure, and probably one day challenge what Flickr is. We don't know who will win. But even in these days of fast changing internet landscape, I am sure that the battle is still years away.

TwentySecondGoogle: A trademark formula used by me. If I am searching for something specific on Google, and can't find it in the first 20 seconds, there is 95% chance that I will never find it, and very likely, the thing doesn't exists in the indexed web.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Have a Good Friday

I had been looking forward to my first weekend since arriving in The Hague. It will be a four-day weekend, on account of Friday (Good Friday) and Monday (Easter Monday) also being holidays. During weekends, I used to miss my breakfast while in IBC Diamond District as I never left bed before the 10 AM deadline. Here, I had the luxury of sleeping even late as a pamphlet in my room informed me that breakfast will be available till 12 noon on Sundays and Public Holidays.

So at 11 AM today, I found myself visiting the breakfast room for, umm, breakfast. What was weird was that there were no people in the breakfast room. What was even weirder was that THERE WAS NO BREAKFAST. With not even any waiter around to explain what happened, I didn't have any difficulty deciding to pay a visit to the neighborhood McDonald's (Yeah, they ask for payment) and force some junk food down my food pipe.

On my way out, from the corner of my eye, I saw the receptionist greet me "Good Day". I had a nagging suspicion that she must be knowing the reason behind what happened and I found myself explaining my breakfast room visit to her. Very politely, she informed me that breakfast is only available till 10 AM on Fridays. Equally politely, I informed her that today happens to be a Good Friday. Confused, she rang her supervisors and explained the situation to them. After hanging up, she informed me that Good Friday is NOT a Public Holiday.

Well, yeah, Easter is. I decided not to argue and moved on. As I left the reception, she said "Have a good day, sir".

Goede Vrijdag to everyone!