Monday, December 31, 2007
Art, no matter what form, needs to move its target audience emotionally. We - this term may need some elaboration, but please take it on the face value for now - tend to over-analyze art. I even feel that sometimes we go to some concert or play or read some book just to analyze and critique the art. And in the process we forget to enjoy it. May be, on a subconscious level, we are thinking, "I may not be an artist but I am a critique who can analyze and tear apart any artist's work - main hoon baap kaa baap".
What I said above is not directed to anybody in particular but me. I few months back I realized this sad fact that the gratuitous critic in me is coming in the way of my enjoyment and the art. My training and knowledge in some form of art, namely music and drama, is not helping me either. During an intense dramatic moment of a play, part of my mind is analyzing the blocking, the lights, the actors' business and so on. While listening a new song, my mind gets unnecessarily concentrated on the arrangement of the song, the chord progression, the crispness of the recording. In the process the dramatic moment and the song is gone, probably forever. The first experience never comes back.
I am actively trying to correct it since I found this lacking of mine. And trust me, it's not easy. Apart from untraining and retraining my senses and mind, there are some more philosophical dilemma to sort out. The biggest of them is, "Just because an art moves me emotionally, should I call it a great piece of art?" I tend to answer a subjective "yes" though I am fully aware that some second rate tearjerkers can and do move me emotionally quite often. And of course there is the other side too, where a piece, which is considered great art by many, failed to impress me at all. However, I rationalize that by accepting that it may be a result of my improper training.
The bottom line of art appreciation is training. Most of us are self-trained in art appreciation and most of us are smart enough to separate wheat from chaff. The problem is with the borderline staff - the staff that cannot be called great at the first experience nor cannot be pushed aside as crap. A great art will move you emotionally as well as give you enough food for thought that you ruminate for a few days, if not weeks. A crap art will give you neither. The borderline case will give you some. Unfortunately, the world of art is full of these borderline cases. And the fact that it is majority in the world of art forces us to bring out the critic from inside us more often than it forces us to just sit back and enjoy. That's a sad fact of thinking life.
Friday, December 21, 2007
A couple of weeks back, I opened up the code on my Ubuntu 7.04 with Java 1.5. And surprise, surprise!! When I am supposed to see Bengali characters, I now see gibberish. My first reaction was that I might have changed some code and forgot about it. I told you, I haven't touched this code in a while. So I looked at the font-loading code, but did not find any problem or resolution. I was furiously scratching my head. No clue, what's happening!?
Next day I ran the code on my office computer, which is running CentOS 4 (basically repackaged Redhat distribution) and Java 1.5. To my not-so-big-surprise, the fonts loaded just fine. So I narrowed down the issue to Ubuntu problem. So next I installed Java 1.6 on my Ubuntu machine. This time the fonts loaded fine. I haven't played extensively after that, so don't know if there are other problems. But the most intriguing problem is gone, or at least I ahve found a work-around.
Bottom line: Ubuntu 7.04, Java 1.5 and ttf fonts manually loaded in system do not play well.
Monday, December 17, 2007
After the play there was a short Q&A session with the playwright where he said that the play is definitely anti-war. But I am positive nobody can call it propagandist. I actually found it to be well-balanced and portrays the viewpoint of a soldier and his family's perspective in a very touching way.
After being involved with immigrant Bengali community theater for about 7-8 years, what I find most challenging is to capture the imagination of the community. The issues, the problems, the dreams, the hopes, the frustrations, the achievements of the first generation immigrants are different from the folks back home. Yes, this is true that the first generation, especially we the Bengalis, do enjoy living in a bubble of nostalgia when it comes to culture. We prefer Rabindrasangeet over classic Jazz, Bhimsen Joshi over George Gershwin, Kishore Kumar over Norah Jones. We prefer to go and see the current crops of group theater when we visit Kolkata, but seldom make attempts to see the local repertory theater's productions. However, we do live our lives outside that bubble and constantly get challenged by a different world than what we used to face back home. Our theater should capture that.
In Ron, I thought, Sudiptada could strike the golden balance there where he could evoke a sense of nostalgia within the realm of our everyday existence. Our third production Chhenra Collage also struck that balance, it seems. Even after our tenth production some of the regular audience still refer to the third production. I may have some conjectures as to why this is happening, but cannot really tell for sure. But one thing is for sure, I like to continue doing this kind of theater where we can introspect our contemporary lives with compassion and humor.
Friday, November 09, 2007
So I moved my host to Dreamhost on October. It has a very impressive array of features for a very decent price. I have seen its server held quite firm after a digg effect on one of the domains it hosted. Also read some reviews which even though didn't put it in the top performer slot, nevertheless put in somewhere near there. Since, my site is very very low traffic site, I didn't bother. But I should have. After moving, I spent quite a bit of time redesigning my site, only to discover that server response is not very good - barely acceptable. But the real damper was its mail server. The server that hosted my mailserver had a history of problem and Dreamhost was in the process of upgrading the hardware when I moved my host. Dada was complaining that he basically couldn't do anything on his mailbox. He was connecting via IMAP. The only think he could do is downloading the headers, but server timed-out 9 out of 10 times while downloading the body. I thought it was temporary. But even after the claimed hardware upgrade, things didn't improve. At that point I decided to quit. But to be fair, I must say that I didn't have any problem connecting to the mail server using POP3. In conclusion, I think Dreamhost has good intentions and all the makings of a good host, but it may need to put a lot more focus on performance at this time.
Then enters HostMonster. I read very good reviews about the host. More than one review sites put it on the top of the heap. It claims to host more than 200,000 domains. Even though most of the things in all Linux hosts are almost same, they have enough differences in settings that warrant at least a couple of days of tweaking my code to run seamlessly. Same story here. Finally I think I am done. The jury is still out, but so far I am seeing improved speed of access. Dada informed me that he now has no problem with mail connection using IMAP. Hopefully I can stay with these guys for some time.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
For me Parama was a disaster. But I liked Paramitar Ekdin quite a bit. Aprna's narrative style and treatment of the subject went well. And the acting from Rituparna and Sohini stood out.
I can say almost similar things about 15 Park Avenue. The narrative style went well with the subject. Acting was quite well all around. But I have some peeves about the character development. Take the case of Anjali, done by Shaban Azmi. It's the weakest among the major characters of the film. It's too white with almost no grey except some patchy outbursts here and there. It takes an actress of Shabana's caliber to impart convinciblity to the character. The mother character played by Waheeda Rahman didn't get enough screen time to develop. Though Aparna is one of the very few directors who can create a believable female character with only a few strokes. That happened here too. Aparna's handling of human interaction between two females is also something that stands out from most of his contemporaries.
Konkana Sensharma excelled in her character. True it was the proverbial 'author-backed' character - but still it was not at all easy to play a psychological patient and a complex character. She seems to have an array of acting capabilities in her. Her face speaks with the same rich diction as does her round voice.
In the storyline, I thought, the coincidence of Joydeep (played by Rahul Bose) seeing Mithi (KS) was a spoiler. It could have been somebody else. But bringing Joydeep back, the director was forced to spin a subplot of Joydeep's present relationship with his wife - which, to me, didn't add anything to the main plotline other than some distractions.
Another aspect that Aparna disappoints me frequently: it's the cheap attempt of showing some universal message/philosphy. Take the scene where Mithi is forced to go through a Ojha-session. With all the onscreen hocus-pocus, the superimposed audio track plays Anjali's class lecture on quantum physic or some hifi physics topic. Where is the subtely, Aparna? Again near the end of the film, Kunal says "She is looking for something" when Anjali reply "Aren't we all?". Jumpcut. C'mon. It's too cheesy to come from a director like Aparna.
Dhritiman was ok too, but just Ok. And this is first time when Dhritiman (as Kunal) as an actor failed to impress me.
The screenplay was good, and the film is paced well - barring a patch of 15 minutes before the movie picks up the pace again at the end. Audio (including music) design was adequate for the situations. Deep strings worked really well. The outdoor shots are convincing. Dubbing was quite well done. Though I thought there were places where the mood of the scene could have manipulated with some more innovative light designs.
All in all, the film is a worthy one to watch and Aparna scores again as a very competent director. I will be looking forward to her to get a great film, someday.
[An old post - recycled. I wrote it in February 2006]
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
I have lifted it from somebody else's page. I don't know who created it or who holds the copyright. If you have information, please let me know - I will update this entry. Also, I had to scale down the image to fit in my page without messing up the formatting of the page. The full version is more interesting.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
I released it as pre-alpha version, which in software business means, "Feel free to use it, but do expect to see bugs and crashes". Not too many bugs were reported in last two years. So, I decided to upgrade it to "Production/Stable" status. In the process I tweaked the code for minor enhancement. Today, I have requested a release.
The unique feature for SandR is that it supports auto-detection of file encoding. I used the Java port of Mozilla's Character detection algorithm for detecting the character encoding of the files. SandR also supports regular expression for search string, although there are some other similar OSS utilities which provide regex support.
It's really very useful that Java now supports regex or Regular Expression. Previously regex was the power tools for the Perl programmers only. GNU had a C library from regex, but it was really the forte of Perl. So when Java 5 started supporting regex, programmers welcomed it enthusiastically. However, as we delved more into it, we found there are some differences between Perl and Java regex, nothing major though. One conversant in one will have absolutely no difficulty in understanding and using it in the other. But why? Why there has to be two flavors of the same utility, however small may be the difference? Techies and programmers are using regex for ages. They have become very conversant with the Perl type. Then why, oh why, introduce a minor variation? This is so Microsofty. Sun can do better. I haven't tried Java 6 yet since I do not use Java in my day job regularly, but I doubt Sun has changed the regex implementation. Don't know the plans for upcoming Java 7 release. But let's request Sun to abolish whatever minor differences there are between Java implementation of regex with its Perl counterpart. You can do it, Sun.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Take the case of Web 2.0 (pronounce as web two dot o). There is a conference going on right now in San Francisco on Web 2.0. The first day was sold out with registration fees running into thousands. That shows there is a lot of interest and enthusiasm about Web 2.0. The tech blogs are constantly chattering about web 2.0. Tech columnists are dropping that term generously. Every other site is claiming that it is 'Web 2.0 enabled'. Now you go and ask 5 people what Web 2.0 actually is. You will get 5 different answer with couple more extra as bonuses. And chances are that all of them starts with, "To me web 2.0 is ...". That proves beyond any doubt that there is no definition, no coherent semantic explanation of the term, yet everybody is extremely excited about it. What else could be a better definition of hype!
First there was this Natural language search engine, then there were semantic web, then Internet 2.0 (which, by the way, is still alive but may not be kicking hard). There were SOA (Service Oriented Architecture), Middleware, thin client ... welcome to the hype-land.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Hindu Bengalis have taken this puja to a different level. Its is the Puja to them. It's not so much a religious festival anymore, but has become a social and cultural carnival of the year. West bengal, especially Kolkata, and I guess Tripura also, goes into an inebriated state for almost a week. The economy rolls as if it were on drugs. Wastage flows on high adrenalin. Everybody, unless there is some significant event of sorrow in life, transcends into a state of undefined exuberance. And that includes poorest of the poor people too, who are never considered when generalized statements are written with the word 'everybody'. This is one of the most inclusive festivals. Not that the poor people's problems and sorrow mitigates overnight, but the way economy rolls in those few days, the earnings of the poor exceeds their normal time earnings.
Today is the start of the festival - Shashthi, the sixth day of the lunar cycle. From the religious point, on this day the godess is invoked into the idol. The claydolls comes to life and becomes Dev and Devis. I always find the mythological storytelling of these pujas more interesting than its religious connotations. Puran, the Indian mythology, tells us that this is actually the time when Durga with her four children visits her parental home in Bengal from Kailash where she and the children stay with her husband Shiv. The tenth day of the lunar cycle - Dashami - is when they leave to go back to Kailash. After they leave, the idols become lifeless clay-dolls again and are immersed in Ganges and the festival comes to an end.
On this opening day of the festival, I reproduce an wonderful article by Vir Sangvi on this topic: Durga Pujo in Calcutta (What "Pujo" means to a Bengali). This was published in Hindustan Times some years back.
Durga Pujo in Calcutta (What "Pujo" means to a Bengali)
It's always hard to explain to somebody who does not live in Calcutta what it is about Puja that makes that period so magical. Before I came to live in Calcutta in 1980, I was only dimly aware of the significance of Puja. I knew the boring facts and figures, of course. I knew what proportion of annual retail sales took place during the Puja period. I knew that the city shut down for the whole week. I knew that at ABP - where I was soon to work - telephone operators would, strangely enough, take the trouble of coming to work, only so that they could receive incoming calls, shout "Pujo", and then hang up on irate out-of-town callers.
It's like Christmas, they told me. Imagine Christmas in New York: Puja means that to a Bengali. Others found more home-grown parallels. It's like Diwali in North India, they said. You know, the shopping, the parties, the festivities and all that stuff.
Actually, of course, it was nothing like Christmas; and certainly nothing like Diwali in North India.
Nothing, in fact, can prepare you for the magic of Puja in Calcutta.
To understand what it means, you have to be here. As the years went on and as I went from Puja to Puja, I tried to work out why nobody could explain to outsiders what it was that made Puja so special. Why was that I failed as completely as everybody else in communicating the essence of Puja? Why did all the time-honoured comparisons not really ring true; with Dushera, Diwali, Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and God alone knows what else?
The answer, I suspect - and after all these years, it is still a suspicion, I have no solutions - is that you can't understand Puja unless you understand Calcutta and unless you understand Bengalis.
Most modern Indian cities strive to rise above ethnicity. Tell anybody who lives in Bombay that he lives in a Maharashtrian city and (unless of course, you are speaking to Bal Thackeray) he will take immediate offence. We are cosmopolitan, he will say indigenously. Tell a Delhiwalla that his is a Punjabi city (which, in many ways, it is) and he will respond with much self-righteous nonsense about being the nation's capital, about the international composition of the city's elite etc. And tell a Bangalorean that he lives in a Kannadiga city and you'll get lots of techno-gaff about the internet revolution and about how Bangalore is even more cosmopolitan than Bombay.
But, the only way to understand what Calcutta is about is recognize that the city is essentially Bengali. What's more, no Bengali minds you saying that. Rather, he is proud of the fact. Calcutta's strengths and weaknesses mirror those of the Bengali character. It has the drawbacks: the sudden passions, the cheerful chaos, the utter contempt for mere commerce, the fiery response to the smallest provocation.
And it has the strengths (actually, I think of the drawbacks as strengths in their own way). Calcutta embodies the Bengali love of culture; the triumph of intellectualism over greed; the complete transparency of all emotions, the disdain with which hypocrisy and insincerity are treated; the warmth of genuine humanity; and the supremacy of emotion over all other aspects of human existence.
That's why Calcutta is not for everyone. You want your cities clean and green; stick to Delhi. You want your cities, rich and impersonal; go to Bombay. You want them high-tech and full of draught beer; Bangalore's your place.
But if you want a city with a soul: come to Calcutta.
When I look back on the years I've spent in Calcutta - and I come back so many times each year that I often feel I've never been away - I don't remember the things that people remember about cities. When I think of London, I think of the vast open spaces of Hyde Park. When I think of New York, I think of the frenzy of Times Square. When I think of Tokyo, I think of the bright lights of Shinjiku. And when I think of Paris, I think of the Champs Elysee.
But when I think of Calcutta, I never think of any one place. I don't focus on the greenery of the maidan, the beauty of the Victoria Memorial, the bustle of Burra Bazar or the splendour of the new Howrah "Bridge".
I think of people. Because, finally, a city is more than bricks and mortars, street lights and tarred roads. A city is the sum of its people.
And who can ever forget - or replicate - the people of Calcutta?
When I first came to live here, I was told that the city would grow on me. What nobody told me was that the city would change my life. It was in Calcutta that I learnt about true warmth; about simple human decency; about love and friendship; about emotions and caring; about truth and honesty.
I learnt other things too. Coming from Bombay as I did, it was revelation to live in a city where people judged each other on the things that really mattered; where they recognized that being rich did not make you a better person - in fact, it might have the opposite effect. I learnt also that if life is about more than just money, it is about the things that other cities ignore; about culture, about ideas, about art, and about passion.
In Bombay, a man with a relatively low income will salt some of it away for the day when he gets a stock market tip. In Calcutta, a man with exactly the same income will not know the difference between a debenture and a dividend. But he will spend his money on the things that matter. Each morning, he will read at least two newspapers and develop sharply etched views on the state of the world. Each evening, there will be fresh (ideally, fresh-water or river) fish on his table. His children will be encouraged to learn to dance or sing. His family will appreciate the power of poetry. And for him, religion and culture will be in inextricably bound together.
Tell outsiders about the importance of Puja in Calcutta and they'll scoff. Don't be silly, they'll say. Puja is a religious festival. And Bengal has voted for the CPM since 1977. How can godless Bengal be so hung up on a religions festival? I never know how to explain them that to a Bengali, religion consists of much more than shouting Jai Shri Ram or pulling down somebody's mosque. It has little to do with meaningless ritual or sinister political activity.
The essence of Puja is that all the passions of Bengal converge: emotion, culture, the love of life, the warmth of being together, the joy of celebration, the pride in artistic _expression and yes, the cult of the goddess. It may be about religion. But is not about much more than just worship. In which other part of India would small, not particularly well-off localities, vie with each other to produce the best pandals? Where else could puja pandals go beyond religion to draw inspiration from everything else? In the years I lived in Calcutta, the pandals featured Amitabh Bachchan, Princes Diana and even Saddam Hussain! Where else would children cry with the sheer emotional power of Dashimi, upset that the Goddess had left their homes? Where else would the whole city gooseflesh when the dhakis first begin to beat their drums? Which other Indian festival - in any part of the country - is so much about food, about going from one roadside stall to another, following your nose as it trails the smells of cooking?
To understand Puja, you must understand Calcutta. And to understand Calcutta, you must understand the Bengali. It's not easy. Certainly, you can't do it till you come and live here, till you let Calcutta suffuse your being, invade your bloodstream and steal your soul. But once you have, you'll love Calcutta forever. Wherever you go, a bit of Calcutta will go with you.
I know, because it's happened to me. And every Puja, I am overcome by the magic of Bengal. It's a feeling that'll never go away.
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
It was the Thanksgiving weekend. After doing the compulsory chores of eating and drinking merrily, taking a day trip for picnicking etc. I had enough time to fiddle with my home machine - the main one which is running Fedora Core 4. I decided that it's time to upgrade it to FC 6 which has come out last month. Historically I have upgraded every other FC release: started with FC2, skipped FC3, upgraded to FC4, skipped FC5. Well that's not enough history but you get the idea.
I fired up by BitTorrent client - Azureus, downloaded the FC6 torrent file and started downloaded a 3.6 GB DVD image of FC6. Then I went to the Thanksgiving dinner to Dada-BoThan's place. Came back and the DVD image was sitting there, ready to be burnt. Double checked that the download was right by doing the SHA1 sum and matching the signature with the one provided on the FC site. Put a blank DVD into the drive, fired up k3b and started burning the image onto the disk. I decided that that was enough for the day and went to bed.
Next morning, the disk was ready. So far so good. Rebooted the machine. While the machine was rebooting, I changed the BIOS setting to have the machine booted from the DVD instead of from the hard drive. Sure enough, FC6 installation screen came up, hit enter and I was on my happy way to upgrading my machine. Well, not so fast. The media test (which is, by the way, optional step during installation) said the media is faulty. Hmmmm. Anyway, I took the risk and went ahead with the installation anyway. But, sure enough after a while installation freaked out saying it cannot read certain package from the disk. Hm, I thought, the SHA1 sum was right, so this must be the burning process. So I went back to my FC4, reburnt another image on another media. Same process of rebooting with the same result - media integrity test failed.
I did the next thing one supposed to do - googled to see if anybody else had the same problem. Sure enough, a lot did.
At that point, I had to leave since we had a picnic plan for the day. The forced leaving was good since I had got enough time to think about the situation. Sure I could leave the system with FC4. It is working quite ok for my purpose. I have tweaked it to have all my required applications running fine, the peripherals are working fine too. Why fix something that ain't broken? On the other hand, I have been itching to see all the new things that have happened in the brave new world of Linux and Open Source since the time of FC4. Should I spend rest of my weekend to figure out a way to get FC6 installed? It's an iffy path at best. The other option is to use some other distro: may be Ubuntu? OpenSUSE? CentOS?
I am using CentOS at my work. It's a solid distribution based on Redhat. I know it works well. A known devil is better than an unknown? But it's still based on Redhat, that means there is not much room to play around there since I know that distro quite well.
OpenSUSE? Not right now after the Novell-Microsoft deal. I am not sure whether Novell has sold its soul to the devil (as a lot of Open Source people are saying). I would rather wait to see what all these mean.
Ubuntu seems to be a nice choice. The distrowatch.com says it is the most popular distro right now. There are lot of buzz about Ubuntu in this part of the world too. They also released their latest 6.10 last month and there are some very good reviews.
On the downside, this means I have to backup a lot of stuff for just in case. But, my new 320 GB USB hard drive was delivered just last Wednesday, that means backing up is so easy now. Decision made: let's go Ubuntu way.
I came back home, downloaded the Ubuntu torrent, fired up Azurus and started downloading the CD. Very pleasantly surprised that the Ubuntu installation can be done with only one CD. Great! The image finished downloading in no time. Burnt it on a CD. And waited for my almost 50GB backup to finish.
Once backup is done, started installing Ubuntu. It doesn't have a graphical installer like FC does (anaconda), but it was enough for my purpose. Moreover, you don't have to select your packages at installation time. That was good since that way the installation process was quick and sweet.
Installation was done in about a few minutes, rebooted the system and the system came up much faster than FC4. Plugged in my USB harddrive, Ubuntu immediately recognizes it. It recognized the network automatically. And at the very first go, I am on internet which I connect through a DSL router. Next stop printer setup. I have a Brother DCP 1000. With FC I had to do some work to have my printer working. But with Ubuntu's printer setup applet, the system found my printer, though it thought that it is Brother DCP 1200. With a small googling I found the right driver for DCP 1000, set that in the properties applet for the printer (no need to download or install driver, the driver came with the distribution) and my printer was set up.
Next: sound. By default ALSA keeps the Wave Surround channel muted. Opened up the Sound Preference applet, unmuted Wave Surround channel and I have my sound (BTW, I have a SBLive! soundcard).
The only thing left to do was my VPN connection since I do my work-work from home a lot. VPN client installation on FC4 was also a bit involved. Good that I kept the note. Following that note I downloaded, compiled and installed the VPN client. It's working now, I can connect to work just like I did in FC4 with one difference: in Ubuntu I have to start the VPN client with sudo. Yet to find out why and more importantly how to solve this issue. But since I can work fine, the issue is not that pressing.
Now, I am a happy Ubuntu user (and an ex-FC user). I still have to set up my SFTP server, check how my Digital camera and camcorder works etc. But Synaptic, package management is very easy in Ubuntu. I am sure, these wont be that big a deal. But still, wish me luck.
Monday, October 15, 2007
Then I changed my hosting company. It came with blogging software - not just one, but you can choose one from many. I don't expect to be an avid blogger suddenly, though I sure hope to become one. But I decided to install one blogging software - any one - to see the features. The first one listed was Wordpress. I heard the name, so I went with it. I don't regret, actually I am quite impressed with it. Playing with the themes there, I chose something called Almost-Spring. I liked it. I tweaked the color scheme a bit, customized the sidebar, footer and borrowed the edited theme as the theme of my website. The change required changing layout for all the pages. In order to do so, I recoded the PHP pages, so that the next time I need to change the look of the site, I don't need to change each individual file. So, it has become sort of a home-brewed one-of-a-kind CMS. Yes, it is Deja Vu all over again.
So what about my old blog postings? I can possibly hack Wordpress to post backdated. But I do not have too many posts that I care about, and most of them are not time-topical anyway - either way it's not worth the time and effort the hack. I can just cut and paste some of them into this new blog and change the world! Keep checking this space for some earth-shattering old blog posts. Till then, bye.