Monday, October 22, 2007

Brokeback Pottery

Dumbledore is all knowing and intelligent. He's supportive of wizards with odd quirks - lycanthropy, giant heritage and so forth. He dresses in highly colorful clothing. And he loves chocolate. All of which should, I suppose, have prepared us for this little ''outing'' of his.

''Shocking" hardly covers the reaction of kids and parents worldwide - self included despite this post poking fun at it. That the wise-mentor father figure had a functional fig and olives is OK - though we didn't need to know it. But now we find he liked figs, or rather a particular fig - growing off Gellert Grindelwald, with his blonde merry face and charming blue eyes or whatever.

Harry Potter has officially made the transition from Dahlicious PG-13 to R, as Rowling leaps from murder and incest to man-man love. How tainted I feel. I'll have to re-read every scene from Potter that involved Dumbledore and be sure there was nothing gay about it. Now we know, I suppose, why Dumbledore attended all the Quidditch matches with Harry in them. And why he gave Harry all those one-on-one lessons. The Chosen One indeed.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

From Here to Eternity

Literally. That's what it was. A journey from here to eternity. In addition to which, it will accompany me on my own journey from here to eternity..... (Don't mind if I'm starting to sound like a C++ recursive function call)

Strangely enough, I was the calmest through the trip to the airfield. Bored even - that drive lasted 3 damned hours, and when we got there we had to fill forms for an hour and wait for two more. Aurv and Srutesh went first. Both were a bit wobbly going, and considerably more than shell shocked coming back (Grinning from ear to ear though). Jeroen was quite uncomfortable as we boarded. I alone smiled, and straight into the camera (I'll get into that later). Eric, the pro I was in tandem with, backslapped me heartily as we got on. Even as the wrist dial started to go wild I was collected.

About the time it hit 16 they opened the door. A certain twinge of unease occured as people began to disappear into the void outside. But courage, Arun, courage - I told myself. Imagine Amma encouraging you to have adventures. And Appa's expression if you told him 170 dollars went to no use.

I did what they said, facing the door. Rock back and forth squatting. Arms crossed and folded. wasn't till we jumped right out the plane that the first "Naaaaaraaaaayanaaaaaa ......." escaped

The first sensation was cold. It was cold at 16000 feet, up above the clouds. Then came the wail of the wind in the ears. And the realization that it was wailing because you were whizzing down. From 16000 feet. Wierdly though, this wasn't the scariest part. For starters, I suppose there's no mystery in what's going to happen if you impact the ground from that height. Also, you can wierdly do turns and twists (even in tandem) in the air. Pretend you're Superman till the ground proves you otherwise.

That damned cameraman was hovering with us, grinning all the way. He signalled for me to smile, grabbing my hand as he hovered up. For God's sake, man. I'm falling down. Let me fall in peace. Oh all right, here's your damned smile for the camera. Grin from ear to ear with my cheeks flapping in the wind - not a bad thing to do before getting smashed to a thousand bits.

The altimeter was merrily climbing down. As it neared 5, Eric nudged me. At 5, wind screaming and all, I pulled the cord he told me to pull, "Narayanaaaaaa"ing all the way.

Silence. Suddenly the air's not screaming. The ground's a lot closer, but not charging at you like a paparazzi at Angelina Jolie. I can talk again. And am upright (head towards the sky and feet towards the ground) again. Whew. If only there was something for my feet stand on.

Eric pointed out the sun, now red, in the distance. "No sunset like one at 4000 feet" Amazing sight, considering that for people on the ground it's probably over the horizon. It would probably be possible to see the shadows lengthen on the ground with binoculars or something. The sights at this point were, to say the least, unbelievable.

This leg of the journey however proved to be the real challenge. For starters, the harness needed some adjustment (as a matter of routine) and Eric actually undid a couple of clips in the air. Not reassuring, to say the least. Also, he wore the parachute. So while we were what's-mine- is-yours with the acceleration towards the ground, the parachute belonged to him (In the Resnick and Halliday fbd mechanics sense). I was attached to Eric through the harness, and so was held up, but the result was like being hung off a hook. Damned uncomfortable. Specially when the hook went under and between your thighs.

That adjustment thing actually made we wobbly and I asked Eric if I was attached right. He told me, if I weren't, we'd be a hundred feet apart already. Gallows humour. There's no beating it.

The parachute needed guidance. Pulling on two additional cords turned us in the air. Soon we were gliding more than falling, and at one point we began turning circles in the air, spiralling downwards.

I can't explain why, but the queasiest quease (No other word for it) hit my stomach and covered me in a panic. Suddenly, I felt it would be OK if I only were free of the parachute. If I kicked and screamed and struggled. I had to get rid of the harness. The thing feels like a bad dream now, but it felt then like the only way out of one.

I suppose having my hands on the separated taught cords gave me some control (in that I was restrained). I asked Eric to cut out the turning "It's making me sick, man" I said. He stopped the spiral immediately.

The descent was more diagonal now. And steadier. The ground was looking a lot clearer. There were stalks visible where there was just an expanse of green. And wasn't that white cubical building a spot a minute ago?

"When I tell you to, kick your legs out" Eric said. "Sure" I replied. We were picking up a bit of speed, and the downward motion was clearer. The altimeter was somewhere between 1 and 0, and nearing the latter. At about (I found out later) 50 feet he said "Now". I kicked out and gave my abs the toughest workout they had. I found out why as we sailed to ground, reaching it while moving horizontally. Had I not kicked out, the impact would have broken an ankle at least. As it were, I took the impact on the old gluteus maximus, glad for once to have been relaxed with recent diets. Funny, 16000 feet and you land on your synonym-for-a-donkey. Hell of a way down. I got up, mouthing holy names of Vishnu and truly unholy profanities in the same breath. In that frame of mind, it matters more that you say something, than what you say.

Eric later told me the queasiness was due to my persistent looking down at the ground. "When you're up there, look around you. Look at the ground and you're head'll spin" Verily, a profound lesson - don't be distracted by the memories of Earth, when sampling the joys of Heaven.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

iPod, therefore Isolate

You see them everywhere. They're enjoying a sutta or a book on park or campus benches. They're waiting at bus and train stations. They're driving, biking or just walking around. They're lifting weights or jogging on a treadmill. Any one of hazaar such activities. And while doing so, they're listening to flat little cigar boxes with white earphones. It might be music, a comedy album, a radio play, hell even a recorded lecture. But they all come out of that little shiny box with a bitten-off apple and a metallic underside. While the iPod took the world by storm, it's taken the US... period.

The late 90's were the Golden Age for digital audiophiles. Before Napster got into all that RIAA trouble, MP3's were all the rage among the net-savvy (and I'm just talking about us guys in India). There was no more buying an album to listen to that one song that you loved on MTV. Get the song itself from Napster. Burn it onto a CD to carry with you, or just play it on your computer. Napster got sued, shut down and re-animated as an emasculated version of itself, but the playlist-based-singles-driven music craze continued to grow, generating an interest in digital players that were also a storage unit.

The first ones were uber-delicate 32-64 MB storing clunky little things whose memory would be wiped out when you removed the batteries. Then came some upgrades from America-based companies like Archos, Singapore-based Creative Labs and Korean companies like Samsung. Compaq licensed the technology for the first GB-order player to HanGo Electronics (I haven't heard of them either) which released the PJB in 1999. The competition around GB-order music players grew, until of course Apple came up with the iPod.

The market's never been the same. Apple remains the leader worldwide in digital music players and digital music. There's a few other players around, but no product matches the sleekness of the iPod, while the Apple store competes with Amazon on the music front.

More significantly, digitally spread mobile media has gained importance like never before. People downloaded songs from the Internet. Now they can do it off Starbucks' WiFi. Internet radio used to require a computer to listen to. Now it's on podcasts. People needed reruns or season tapes to catch missed episodes. Now they download them off company websites and watch it on their iPod videos. And Apple's latest product, the WiFi-enabled iPod Touch, lets the user download media without a computer. This on top of the iPhone, which is a phone-cum-address book-cum-iPod-cum-Net browser-cum-God knows what else.

This explosion of media was once an awesome thing. Now it feels a bit, well like an explosion, which is rarely a good thing.

As I mentioned before, music players before used to hold 64-128 MB. the GB player, when it emerged was considered something rally awesome. Given the opportunity to pick up a 20 GB Creative Jukebox, I jumped at it.

But since then I have found, at no given time can I listen to more than about 500 MB worth of music. No period of motion really lasts longer (or even as long as) the time required to play 125 4-minute songs. The only time now that I really use my player is when travelling out of town. How many of us really need even 1 GB of music to carry around when moving about the place? A computer is one thing but to need that in one's's bordering on the ridiculous (I understand (a) this does not extend to iPod nanos and flashes (b) I'm an idiot for buying my jukebox to begin with)

My next gripe is with the device itself. As I mentioned, music was just the tip of the iceberg. People now carry TV shows and movies on their systems. Again, do you need media that much whenever mobile? In fact more significantly, how do you get way from all that media? There used to be a time when Moms and Dads would tell us "Get away from that walkman/stereo/ television" so we could go out into the world and smell real air, touch real objects and feel real emotions. Interact with the real world and build self (Or as Calvin's dad would put it, character). But when the TV is now something in your pocket? Britney, Fallout Boy, Heroes, Lost, American Idol (replace them with their analogues outside the US) are things that stream into your head anywhere and anytime. That can't be good for you, to have them tinge reality like that. Makes you wonder - does the i stand for idiot?

My final point has to do with why portable media players and their supporting data networks so popular. What is it about being able to drag 2 episodes and/or 125 songs with you? My opinion - the playlist. I mentioned the playlist earlier as the base of the digital audio craze. It became much more than that. While mix tapes and CDs existed beforehand, they needed people, well to mess about with mixers and what not. The late 90's was the era of GUI driven systems with software that downloaded and coded music for you. This era turned the playlist from a figure of entertainment to a fingerprint, first for the techhead elite, eventually for the (still techy) hoi polloi. When you make a playlist, it's your playlist. It defines an action you've taken. It is a small you-zone. And when that playlist is 2000 songs long, you-zone becomes You-World. That's why people carry so much media organized in such fashion with them. They want to carry a bit of their world (which was restricted to such areas as the room or the house) with them. What's outside is a mixed bag. What's in the magic box can shut it all out, and so the investment in a flatbox with wires coming out of it. Something that I think marks an atavistic return to frogs in wells/ponds. It's more disturbing when you realize that world you cocoon yourself is defined by a handful of information someone else recorded. Someone else's world, so to speak.

Where will this lead us? What will it do to reality as we percieve it? Will we have a new "Ghost in the Shell"ish world, where people spend life cocooned in their own artificial reality (like 6 billion one-person Matrixes)?

Who knows??