Monday, December 28, 2009

Regular programming to resume soon!!

Hopefully 2010 should see a more dedicated me, blogging wise atleast. I just got back from a barely two week trip to India. We got back last Wednesday, drove to Connecticut to visit family on Thursday; because obviously a 24 hour plane ride does not cut it for us :) I have missed the best season of living in the US. The holiday season. It just feels very odd. The Christmas tree was put up in the a huge hurry while packing for the trip to India. We get back when its time to take it down. I am consoling myself with the fact that our timing could not be better. While we were enjoying my sister-in-law's wedding feast, the Washington DC area got pummelled with snow. Like 3 feet of it. Please not to snigger if you live in the states north of here. We simply cannot handle this much snow.

I am almost over the jetlag. But not the moping. I find I am a tropical girl at heart. All this shovelling and snow and blustery winds business are not for me. I have been on such a whine fest the past few days because I have been rudely flung from a buckets-of-perspiration inducing 90F to a what-will-get-this-chill-out-of-my-bones 19F. No points for guessing what I prefer (ok, a lil AC would be nice, but by and large, sweat wins)

I have a few amazing pictures of peacocks in the snow and a fox in the backyard that I will try and post. But since it involves BigGeek, a wire and a gadget, I hope to cajole him into mailing me those pictures. Till, then Ciao and a here's wishing you all a very happy, joyful, peaceful, all wishes granted 2010.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's trash, but...

why did I not think of it before?????

I would be rolling in millions, yes?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Let it snow!

There is a story about snow I'll never forget. This happened about two years ago.. or maybe it was three. Come to think about it, I think it was three years ago, because BigGeek was still in business school. So one cold day in February we had this huge ice storm. It looked lovely of course, the trees shimmering in ice-crystals, transforming the landscape into a regular fairyland, but the roads were not far away from being fantastic. Covered in black ice and very, very slippery and treacherous. So, on that day of the ice storm, I came home from work in the evening and spent more than two hours breaking the two-inch hard ice in our driveway and shoveling. It had snowed later that day, after the ice storm, so the ice was covered in snow, which had crusted with even more ice. All very nasty business. Chip was with his nanny and they both saw me from the warmth of a bedroom window, chipping the ice and trying not to fall.

Two hours later, the job was done and I was happy with the results. The walkway and the drive way were free of ice and snow and safe for walking. I headed inside and the evening followed its weekday routine, when suddenly at 11:00 pm, while I was in bed reading, I heard a knock on my door. It was Chip's nanny. She called me to a window and there we saw a snow plow, plowing the snow and ice until I realized that it was piling up all the snow right at the mouth of our driveway, blocking it. The nanny opened the window and yelled at him. He could not hear us. I ran down to yell at the driver, but before I could get out of the door, he had piled 3 feet of snow and was gone. We were snowed in.

I was too exhausted and it was nice and cozy and warm inside to go and work the snow again. I knew it was a bad move, but I decided to leave it till the morning. I woke up early next day and armed with my shovel, decided to get that wall of snow down. But over the night it had turned hard into a wall of ice. I attacked it furiously but managed only to get bits out here and there. This was turning into a battle of ego. Ice vs. Dottie. I hacked away at it with all my force, got a chunk out at a strategic spot, but my victory was short lived. I slipped on the black ice and fell. Hard. My ears were ringing.

The nanny saw me fall and ran down stairs but I told her to stay away. One person falling was enough. She begged me to get back in and wait for BigGeek to come home from school that evening and hack away the ice, but that would mean defeat, right? So I picked the shovel again and started to break the ice. Suddenly, my neighbor's teenage son was beside me, with a shovel. I looked up to see my neighbor at her kitchen window with a steaming cup of coffee. She smiled and waved. She had woken up her eldest son and ordered him to go help. How I envied her. There she was in her flannel robe, drinking coffee, ordering her sons to shovel driveways, where as my son was only one at the time. A few minutes later his younger brother joined us and between the three of us, the wall was all but demolished. There was a small hump, but I was certain, I could run my car over it.

I got into the car, revved it up and backed it out. It came to a halt with a loud crunching. The lump of ice had caught its underside. The car was stuck. It could neither go forward or back. We hacked the ice under the car, but it was a really hard lump. Soon another neighbor came out and started to help. Between the three guys, the lump was somewhat tackled. The second neighbor got into the car and ran over the lump. Hurray!!!

Ten minutes later I was driving to work, only to realize that I could only hear with one ear. The fall on the ice was not so good. Later that evening I went to the ER and they told me it was temporary and I should have my hearing back by tomorrow morning and I did, thank god.

But the only lasting impression I have of the incident is the image of my neighbor standing at the kitchen window, looking at her two sons shoveling. This Saturday we got four inches of snow. Chip looked out the window when he woke up in the morning and let out a glee and said "Aie, can I go and shovel the snow?"

From our backyard

The enthusiastic shoveler!!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Dear Santa,

Yesterday my son Chip and I decided to get some holiday shopping done and went to the mall. The air had a slight chill, and the mall was all sparkling and glittery. Holiday music blared out of speakers. Shoppers laden with shopping bags, scurrying about with purpose. Amidst the hubbub, my son saw you. Sitting on your big red chair in the middle of the mall. My son was mesmerized. His eyes would have put the well-crafted Disney character to shame. “Is that Santa’s work shop?” he whispered to me. “Yes.” I replied. He inched forward, half-shy, half-delighted. There was no one in line. No one wanted to take pictures with you yesterday, you were just chatting up the photographer. I saw my son go through the ropes and stare at you in fascination – you do look just like you look in your pictures- and then he uttered a shy “Hi”, and waved. You could not NOT have noticed him. He was inches away from you. Standing there with a silly grin plastered on his face. He tried again, you ignored him again. The photographer and the elf turned and saw me, so did you. You saw I did not reach out for my wallet. My son stood there and watched you and you did not even wave to him. He just came back after a few minutes. Utterly delighted that he “saw” Santa. Not caring for a bit that you did not even throw him a glance.

We finished our shopping and were headed back home. My son wanted to tell you that he has been a good boy. And he wanted to show you his list. And ask you if you would come to his house this year. He wanted to tell you he was going to bake cookies and set out a glass of milk (and juice) because you would be so tired. But all that had a price tag. Of what? $15? $20? When I told him, you were tired and would not talk (for I could not find it in my heart to tell him the truth), he just sighed and said, “It’s ok if he doesn’t come, Aie. I’ll put on a costume and be a Santa myself and give gifts to everyone.”

When you put on that costume, dear Santa, I hope you realize the tremendous responsibility you have. At some point you have to go above and beyond your hourly wage and smile and assure the child in every one that, even when the times are grim and money is tight, there are some things that will never change. That the jingle of the bells, the silver of the beard and the twinkling smile will warm a heart, not only at 4, but even at 40.

Chip’s mom.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Catching Up

No, I haven’t been on a world cruise grande, if that’s what you have been thinking. I was just testing how many people actually read this blog. And the answer is four. Which means I have four really good BFFs in the bloggywogggy world. Even my father has stopped reading this, I see. I haven’t seen a reminder from him either. Hmm.

So I have mostly spent the last 6 weeks working, sulking, drinking coffee and sulking. Those who are not smart enough to feel a deep existential angst, mostly drink good coffee and sulk. Actually, that’s not true. The smart bit is, but not the other. I have actually been going on a baking frenzy and a shopping one. Participated in 2 baby showers, and hosted Thanksgiving. I don’t want to cook any more. I just want to sit and eat. If I see my baking pans, I’ll scream. Except for the lovely LeCreuset baking dish BigGeek’s aunt gifted me for Thanksgiving. I open the kitchen cabinets every morning just to ogle at it.

I am still working those writing muscles. They are really stiff and achy. But, I’ll leave you with the images of the cakes I baked and decorated. I mean a picture is worth a thousand words, so three pictures equal around 5-6 posts, then. And in the meanwhile, let me outsource my thinking to you and ask you for some ideas to write. I am sooo stuck.

Chocolate Cake with whipped cream frosting

Pineapple Cake with whipped cream frosting and fondant accents. Yes, the pink is garish and I don't want to talk about it.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Happy Diwali

DotThoughts, BigGeek and Chip wish you and your loved ones a very Happy Diwali and a Prosperous New Year!! I am missing being in India so much right now.. The phulbaaji and lavangi phatake and saap. Like I was telling a friend a minute ago, we used to have so much fun with saap that we forgot to choke on its fumes. Sigh. It's just so quiet here right now. No anaar and bhuichakras to see and no atom-bombs to wince to. And BigGeek and Chip are already in the land of nod :-(

Hope you are having a great time and eating yourselves into a sugar coma. And, as you can see from the picture above, the chaklis , thanks to the recipe left by Vinita in the comments of my last post finally are done! Thanks a lot Vinita!!! You saved the day :-)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Chakli Fail

It’s feeling like Diwali. The air has a bit of chill, but not too much. The maples in our backyard are looking absolutely divine in the mornings, as if the early sun has risen only to spray their tops in shimmering gold. There is a little crunch of leaves underfoot, the scent of Autumn in the air. This time of the year is a perfect time to celebrate Diwali. A few weeks later and it gets too cold, a few weeks earlier and it still feels like summer.

I look out the window. The cul-de-sac is quiet. School work and the chilly weather have driven the kickball players and bike riders into the routine hum of their homes. Across the street, where we live, it’s a different story. The Kingdom of DotThoughts has spun into high gear. Father and son have made a trip to our cavernous crawl space. Much to Chip’s delight. To him, the occasional trip to the dark musty underbelly of our home is like going to Ali Baba’s cave. And who am I kidding? I feel a small thrill too. Oh, look, the rattan basket that I bought to store raddi but used it maybe twice.. and over there, what’s that gleam? Ah! 25 foil pans I didn’t know I had and table cloths with “Happy Birthday” in rainbow colors. It’s like shopping without spending any money.

Chip and BigGeek haul a big black storage bin that says “Outdoor Holiday Lights”. Chip lets out a squeal. He has spotted a Santa House and a Singing Santa that we bought for $5 at a neighbor’s garage sale this summer. With the fervor of an event manager, he lugs that too. “No, Chip, that’s for Christmas. We’ll bring it up when we put up the tree.” I say. Now is the time to let you know that Chip is holiday-challenged. I can’t blame him. He is really not that into Indian festivals. Last year, he insisted on wishing everyone Happy Halloween instead of Happy Diwali. This year he wants to get all the Christmas things out and leave cookies and milk for Santa, for Diwali. Not yet, I tell him a hundredth time. First Diwali, then Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then, then Christmas. He crosses his brow and looks at me in disbelief. “Do you want the Halloween stuff too?” asks BigGeek from nowhere. Why not? I’ll put them up after Diwali. Chip is happy. We get out cardboard skeletons and a scarecrow and pumpkins and fall banners.

As Chip and BigGeek head outside to string the icicle lights, I turn to the faraal. I make faraal every year. No store bought stuff for me. For one, I love cooking, even though I admit with what our schedules are, all that cooking and frying drives me a bit batty. But, it just doesn’t feel like Diwali until the kitchen is filled with the scent of cardamom and tup and besan and frying and chaos. It just doesn’t. They say, our strongest and deepest memories are those of the nose. Diwali proves them right every single year.

I tell BigGeek, I cannot make unlimited faraal for everyone. I usually give a small goody bag of faraal every year to all my friends, so, it’s a limited quantity, and BigGeek usually is quite oblivious to the fact. But this year, I said the “limited quantity” out loud. BigGeek shook his head. “No, that’s not right; you can’t offer limited quantities of faraal. It has to be unlimited. All that they can eat.” My husband is obviously not afraid of me. To say such things at 8:30 pm on a weekday while I am going silently crazy. (If you have any ideas on how to make him quake in fear at my mere presence, shoot me an email)

He is banished from my immediate vicinity and I turn to survey the faraal. Ladoo, check. And they are yumm too. Chip has scarfed down one and is begging for more. Walnut burfi, check. This is a super simple recipe. My mother’s idea. Saucepan, chopped walnuts, fat free condensed milk and viola! Chivda, check. Chakli has been an utter failure. And I don’t know why, exactly. I have this steamed flour method that usually gives good results, but this time the chaklis have simply decided to dissolve in oil and laugh in my face. My attempt #1 was very frustrating and when no amount of repair made the chaklis as strong as my resolve, I, in a fit on temporary insanity, took the dough, added some methi and baking soda to it and baked them into cookies that were looked on with two pairs of very, very suspicious eyes. Attempt #2 is scheduled for tonight or tomorrow night. Wish me luck. Or better still, give me fool proof recipes that don’t involve exotic ingredients like moong flour.

I made karanjis yesterday and the golden crescents made me nostalgic and took me to my grandmother’s home for Diwali – the one year when she had decided to surprise everyone by making savory karanjis with peas. The Shankarpali caught whatever bug the chaklis had. They too dissolved and in oil and turned into a oily, crumbled pile of snarkiness. Attempt #2 will be made today or tomorrow. Or not at all. With chaklis, the magic number 5 will be reached. When the 5 items of faraal are done, I shall rest my old bones and dig in!

How is your Diwali prep shaping up? All set?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

A picture post

Hot Spring - looks like a witch's caldron. Steam and bubbles.

Elk at the watering hole

Firehole Canyon Waterfall

Forest Fire!!!!

A wolf - See that look on it's face!

The Grand Teton Range.. Can you spot the err..

Don't remeber its name Waterfall

The American Bald Eagle

Mule Deer in the grass

Firehole River and Geyser

Bison - they are 2200lbs!

Colter Bay

Colors at the edges of Geysers. Thanks to Thermophilic Bacteria.

More colors

Monday, September 28, 2009

Grand Tetons

It’s funny how French lends an air of respectability to everything. We were driving along the scenic Jackson Lake to Grand Tetons. What does ‘teton’ mean, wondered BigGeek. Now is a good time to disclose the fact that I am the family’s trip advisor, guide and booking agent in one. I am the silly donut (as Chip would mischievously say) that reads up on places and creates spreadsheets and emails a copy to everyone on the party. So, I knew what teton meant: it’s that part of the woman’s anatomy that lies above the waist and below the neck. Naah. I didn’t tell him that. I offered him a half dozen slang words to choose from, but since this is a family blog, I have chosen to employ a pithy euphemism. Really? Said the BigGeek. It doesn’t look like that at all.

Thus began our quest to debate the intentions of the explorer who saw in this mountain range, a err.. grand teton. The Grand Tetons are how I imagine Switzerland to be. Impressive peaks breaking out into the wide blue sky. The sole reason I wanted to visit Grand Tetons was Ansel Adams. No amateur photographer worth her pixel would not attempt Adam’s famous picture at the Snake River Overlook. At the magic hour. When the sun has set but its light lingers on for a little while. I was all set. Batteries, flash cards, lenses, tripod. Everything. I was going to attempt an Adams.

Once we reached the Snake River Overlook, the sun was still pretty high in the sky. I waited patiently for it to hide behind the mountains and scouted the area. The Adam’s photograph was planted firmly in my mind. I had to find right spot and get that framing. How hard could that be?


I struggled in frustration. I changed lenses, played with tripod heights, crouched, bent, twisted to get the Snake River snaking beautifully from the foreground and twisting away to the mountain peaks. I clicked a few pictures but they looked quite ordinary. Simply No mojo. It was getting late and I clicked away furiously at every exposure, every length I could think of. BigGeek was getting hungry and the only restaurant around for 40miles would close at 9:00pm. I packed the camera equipment sullenly. Adams would have foregone hunger and thirst for the perfect picture. I thought. There was no way I could be a good photographer of I have to keep track of mealtimes, could I.

The pictures I had taken were all super terrible. Not one made the cut. Not one. Ansel Adams had better equipment .. or his amazing talent had more to do with it. Where did I go wrong while framing? Was it the light? Then I realized. Adams took (made) his picture several decades ago. There were no trees there. From the overlook, you had an unobstructed view of the river and the mountains. My view was partially blocked by tall pines and I had to work around that. Perhaps if Adams came here to this exact spot today, he would not give it a second glace. Who knows? I was a fool to try and copy a picture blindly. You have to see it with your heart (cheesy, I know). For the 40 minutes, I could not see what Adams had. Literally and figuratively. The scene had evolved over the years, but like the proverbial immigrant stuck in the decade when he left his country, I had sought to find the familiarity of the picture in the landscape before me.

The only thing left to do now, was drive to the restaurant and eat.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Big Sky

The thing about writing about a trip you took two weeks after you get back is that everything seems a bit old, you know? A couple of weeks ago, we travelled cross-country (in a metal tube that flies) to World’s first National Park. Yellowstone. We are outdoorsy people. Our shapes and sizes belie this fact about us, but it’s true. Cross my heart. We cannot spend a week sunning on the beach; for one, who needs a tan here, we have a perma-tan and its gets to be boring. Really, really boring. We need to “do” things and “see” stuff. And there is not much in terms of history (compared to say, India or Europe) here, but tons, I mean tons of natural wonders to see.

After a long grueling flight that took us to Ohio, then Utah, we finally set our hiking boots and backpacks and 2 cameras and 6 lenses and a tripod on the soil West Yellowstone, Montana. The county is called Big Sky. What an awesome name, I think that is. I would love to live in a place like this.

West Yellowstone is your not-so-friendly Western Town. Small. The place where they look at “tourists” with disdain or at least with a certain je ne sais quoi, which is ironical, because that seems to be the only source of income for this little town. Takes them a couple of days to warm up. After that, one is actually surprised to find out that the waitress-with-a –viper-tongue or the reluctant-coffee-man actually have the requisite muscles to mould their faces into a smile.

The first I ever read about Big Sky and Montana was in “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” when I was in college. The book has become a rather kitschy icon of philosophy. In not so insignificant ways, the book exhilarated me then, when I read it again a decade later, it sadly failed to have that effect, so a word to the wise, if you really really like a book, it’s best not to read it again. Not after a decade. In the novel, the protagonist rides his motorcycle, thinking about “Quality”, philosophically. It seemed like such an idyllic environment and the name of the county stuck. Big Sky. Like Big Sur. Another name, another place, another book. One day, I said to myself, I would like to visit Big Sky. More than 15 years later, I was in Big Sky, grinning.

Yellowstone is huge. We had 5 full days to explore. And we also wanted to see the Grand Tetons. To try and see the park in 5 days is impossible. So we decided to see what we could, but see it to our heart’s content. And if that meant going to a certain canyon and falls (Fire Hole Canyon) every day as we passed, so be it. It was not a race of been-there-done-that. Or those horrid two week tours of Europe: if it’s Wednesday, it must be Belgium, kinda of thing. That’s no vacation. That won’t life your spirits or make you purr and sigh and wonder about your place in the Universe and all that lark.

Yellowstone is a place with magic. Especially - without the crowds with their $3000 Canon L-series lenses- at twilight, shrouded by a velvet sky, the hot geysers spewing steam and hissing, boiling underneath – a place where the earth comes to PMS. If it decides to get mad, it will turn everyone and their kangaroos in Australia to toast. But it has kept its cool so far, thankfully. The park has over 250 lakes. They haven’t even bothered naming all of them. Countless waterfalls and canyons. Bison roam and graze and cause traffic jams. And gently walk towards your car while you sit there and wonder about how much harm can a 2400lb creature hitting your car at low velocities can cause. The bald eagles and ospreys sit atop trees while hundreds of people park their cars at the side of the road and get their expensive equipment and try and get that perfect shot a la National Geographic. We were no different. Wolves disappear into the maze of light and shadow in the woods. Their hungry eyes leaving you with pity and discomfort. Moose and Elk come graze lazily as the summer winds down. Winter is tough in Yellowstone. Of all the elks and moose and bison and wolves and eagles we saw, how many would actually make it to next spring? It’s a jungle out there.

Chip did remarkable well. He loved the place and he had picked a sturdy stick that became a fishing rod, walking stick, weed whacker and lawnmower with his mind. He made me follow a bison for a 1/2 mile on foot because he was tired of seeing its butt and wanted to see its face. He did not understand the bit about volcanoes or geysers or wasn’t impressed by it, but he found the wide stretches of burnt trees to be fascinating and tried to educate another 4-yr old boy about forest fires while standing in a line for bathroom.

We took pictures. In fact we took a LOT of pictures. 600+. Seriously. We are pixel crazy. But the daunting task that we haven’t got down to doing is to sort, correct and convert their sizes to from Brobdingnagian proportions to human. But the pictures will be stunning. And even if they are not, we demand you stay away from truth, or at least not ask us to come near it.
So, on a scale of things (things being as the national parks we have been to) where will I place Yellowstone? At #2. It’s a beautiful place, quite unlike anything else in the world, yes, but what captured our hearts truly and still has was Denali and Kenai Fjords in Alaska. That, my friends, you should plan to visit once in your lifetime.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The White Tiger

In essence, this is a story of how Balram Halwai, a man born in a backward village in the “Darkness” and his ambition to rise above his poverty – to not stay a prey, but be the predator – one with a belly. From a job of splitting coals in a teashop, he becomes a driver (chauffeur) to a US-returned son of a landlord. He commits murder, becomes a social entrepreneur (his words), and finally turns into a businessman. The book is comprised of a series of letters written by Balram Halwai to the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao.

What worked for me
The language. It’s witty, sarcastic, vivid. Very, very irreverent. The “Darkness” where Balram is born and lives is all too plausible and disturbingly familiar. The images of Delhi or the “Light”, as seen through Balram’s eyes are graphic – especially the scene when he sees a masterless buffalo and the lifeless load in the cart it drags. Balram’s state of mind, his observations, and his thoughts are superbly crafted. The plot is simple – or rather there is not much of a major plot here, but a series of episodes or incidences. Yet, the book is a page turner and I was sufficiently invested the characters: Balram, his US-returned employer Ashok, his mini-skirt wearing wife Pinky –all try to break out of their own “rooster coops” - all evoke a sympathy but on very different levels . I liked the fact that the book has layers of meaning. While reading it, I didn’t think much of it, but the fact that it was on the back of my mind for a week, denotes the contrary. I like books that upon chewing them a day or two present undiscovered facets and meanings. It’s like a mini treasure hunt.

What did not work for me
The book is a series of letters that Balram writes to Jaobin. Why? There is no plausible reason for this offered in the book. It felt like a cop-out – a means to bash China while the author bashed India. That is the biggest problem with the narrative. Also, given the scope of the book: India, its dichotomy – Gurgaon and real “gaon”, corruption, caste struggles, poverty, the observations sometimes seemed a bit naïve. Or Jaded. Or both. Corrupt “public servants” sitting under framed pictures of Gandhi is so 1970s filmy. It’s such an overworked idiom. Which led me to think, that perhaps Adiga was aiming this book for an entirely different readership? Not Indians like me, or not Indians at all, but aiming it at the “western” reader who thinks India is all saris and spice. And elephants. Well, there are several mentions of the buffalo in the book, so at least in that regard he is not too far off.

Hot or drop
Hmm. Tough one. If you have nothing else to read, do pick this up. It’s a slightly disturbing read. If you are like me, an Indian, who grew up in India, I wouldn’t ask you to go out of way to read it. But if you do pick it up, it will remind you somewhat of Goodfellas.

Friday, August 28, 2009


I have a fairly severe addiction. To the above mentioned substance. While I don’t abuse the substance per se, I definitely do need a fix on a diurnal basis. As BigGeek and Chip have learned through hard and nasty experience, its best to stay a few arm lengths away until I have imbibed my daily quota and my brain cells have all been sorted out nicely.
This morning as I drove to work, my head ached, my feet tapped themselves. Thank god there was no traffic, I would not have hesitated to run people over. Just kidding. Or not.

Withdrawl looks like this and does not feel good at all.

I went into my cube, fished out my bag and counted dimes and nickels and pennies. I needed $1.60. I found it, ran back down and entered the cafeteria.

Oh! Blessed Caffeine.

Here I am now, bright and chirpy, having downed 16 oz of the finest Columbian that has made its way here through Seattle. My brain can finally get down to work, and people around me are safe. I am fairly tame when I am well caffeinated.

I have been drinking coffee ever since I remember. No, seriously. My mother, many decades ago, weighed the cons of coffee to the pros of milk and decided there was absolutely no harm in stirring a small teaspoon of NesCafe into my morning milk. Which was the only way I drank it. And wait, before you roll your eyes at me, my mom prior to the NesCafe, would try and stir malt-extract-with-fish-oil into my milk.

Anyone remember what it was called? Gluta-something. Blech. Tar tastes better. I still carry emotional scars of the Gluta-something days. After that, I refused to drink milk. My mother claims I refused to drink milk way before that and that Gluta-something was a way to improve its taste (what was she thinking?) and get the additional nutrients into the skinny-minny that I was (I am not any more; I wish I were, but am so not).

So, after going down the rungs by trying to get me to drink Horlicks (yuck), Complan (still yuck, it should be named Complain, not Complan), Bournvita (not bad, but still a bit yuck), she finally settled down on Nescafe. Which sowed the seeds of my addiction.

I try and wriggle my way out of staying overnight in households where they don’t worship the altar of caffeine. Or at least brew a good cup every morning. My dad makes a mean cuppa of filter coffee and my mother-in-law is kindly disposed to it as well. She drinks Bru – which is not bad at all and she whips it up to a nice froth.

In our household, we are a bit snobbish. Beans are carefully selected. We are partial to Colombian. Freshly ground every morning and then brewed with two unbleached filters into a thermally-insulated carafe. Not the hotplate ones – they burn the coffee. Any variations in the quality of water (yes), coffee or filters is met with pouring the brew down the drain, intense cursing, severe withdrawal and re-brewing.

Which is what happened this morning. BigGeek half made the coffee. He rinsed the carafe, and poured water and left it at that. When I came down, I rinsed the carafe, filled the water, ground the beans and brewed. The resulting brew would have put dishwater to shame. It was dilute and BigGeek had used “smelly” water and so I had to throw it out (or water my plants with it). There was no time to re-brew which is how this post started.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


I am sitting in my car on a bumper-to-bumper road, on my way to work, listening to the local station trying to tell me how the roads are all clear. Yeah, right. Look at those darned cameras, now, you. Just as I am about to switch to my friend of misery, I hear an interesting tid-bit. That the class of 2013 was born in 19-fricking-91.

Let’s do the math.

In 2013, when the class graduates, Chip himself will be only 10 years away from being a freshman. Which is how long I have been living in this country and have very little recollection of how the decade whizzed past.


When these kids were barely out of their babyhoods, I was a freshman myself. In the time, these babies cut their teeth, learnt to walk, talk, read, write, do math (or not) , date and apply for college and basically grow 5ft at least, I have graduated, and post-graduated, met a guy of my dreams, married, got a job, bought a house and spawned.

Now that I think about it that way, it makes me feel a wee bit better. Also makes it easier to ignore the fact that I have also grayed, put on 30lbs (and that’s all I am really going to admit to) and wrinkled like a shirt that was not removed from the dryer promptly. I am a bonafide auntie now.

So, for the class of 2013, the following has always been their life.

  1. Salsa has always outsold ketchup
  2. Text has always been hyper
  3. They never had to “shake down” an oral thermometer
  4. European Union has always existed
  5. Cable TV has always offered phone service and vice versa
  6. There have always been flat screen TVs
  7. Smoking has been uncool
  8. There has always been a computer in the Oval office
  9. Britney Spears has been always heard on classic rock stations.
(See the complete list here)

For my generation, living in India,
  1. Internet was unheard of,
  2. PCs were rare, we worked using “dumb terminals” in colleges
  3. W used Pine for email.
  4. Sundays meant Ramayan or Mahabharat or Star Trek re-runs on Doordarshan
  5. MTV was the new fangled “western influence out to corrupt young minds”.
  6. Floppy disks (the 5 and ¼ inch) ones were the rage.
  7. USB was unheard of.
  8. CDs were criminally expensive and tape was the way to go. There was no random access and you had to change sides. Chip, has seen my old tapes and thinks they are “funny” and wonders what their use is. When I tell him they play music, he looks for a button on the cassette, a la ipod.

For Chip, the idea that someone does not own a cellphone or an ipod is unthinkable. Everything can be found “online”. And “online” is a button away with the iphone. So are games, music, photos and videos. CDs are so 20th century. Tapes can be found in museums. You never print directions, you just punch the address into the GPS. If you don’t know something, you don’t look it up in a book, you ask your mom to just google.

Oh, Chip! How will the world change when you go into your Freshman year? How, indeed?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Women, fire and other dangerous things

When we look at a sweeping landscapes, gory accidents or even a common object like a desk or a chair or a key, does the language we speak matter? I stumbled upon a very interesting article on EDGE that seems to think so. For years famed linguists like Chomsky and Co. were like, “Dude, no way!” and I daresay that’s still pretty much their stance in the matter, but after years of being swept under the rug, the question is being aired again by a Stanford professor Lera Boroditsky.

One day, Lera packed her bags and travelled to Australia, to Cape York to meet a small, interesting Aboroginal community – the Kuuk Thaayorre.

Instead of words like "right," "left," "forward," and "back," which, as commonly used in English, define space relative to an observer, the Kuuk Thaayorre, like many other Aboriginal groups, use cardinal-direction terms — north, south, east, and west — to define space.1 This is done at all scales, which means you have to say things like "There's an ant on your southeast leg" or "Move the cup to the north northwest a little bit." One obvious consequence of speaking such a language is that you have to stay oriented at all times, or else you cannot speak properly.

As BigGeek reads this, I am sure he is Googling (or Binging) to enroll me in a Kuuk Thaayorre class. But jokes apart, when they put the Kuuk Thaayorre on unknown streets and unfamiliar buildings, they did not go “Huh?” as I would definitely go, but had a keen sense of direction, just like a compass, and far, far more impressive then the your usual Joe. Amazing or what? So tuned into space they were that when asked to order cards like a baby growing older or man eating a banana, they ordered it not left-to-right as we would, but east to west while facing south, west to east while facing north and so on. And while in a closed room.

Note to Garmin: Don’t even try and sell GPSes in Cape York.

Lera and her team also tested people speaking other languages by doing this experiment. They chose objects that had different genders in different languages. For e.g. “key” is llaves in Spanish and is feminine but masculine in German (what is it called in German?) And here is what they found-

German speakers were more likely to use words like "hard," "heavy," "jagged," "metal," "serrated," and "useful," whereas Spanish speakers were more likely to say "golden," "intricate," "little," "lovely," "shiny," and "tiny."

Key is also feminine in Marathi, and I would definitely jot use jagged and heavy to describe it. Actually, if you ask me, a key is intelligent and elegant :-) There are other aboriginal languages where they don’t have 2 or 3 genders for nouns, but like 16 (at this level, we should call them classes or bins, right? Calling them genders is a bit creepy). They have separate genders for totally arbitrary stuff (arbitrary to us, ok to me, at least)

For example, some Australian Aboriginal languages have up to sixteen genders, including classes of hunting weapons, canines, things that are shiny, or, in the phrase made famous by cognitive linguist George Lakoff, "women, fire, and dangerous things."

Other interesting points – in Turkish, a verb form HAS to have information about actuality. In a sentence like “He drank water”, the verb “drank”, if it were in Turkish would have a different form if you actually saw the action, another form if it were hearsay/second-hand information. Or in Spanish, where “to be” has two forms – one for long term, one for short term. So if I say “Soy contenta” it means I am a happy, have always been one and will be in future – in short, I am a happy person. Now, if I say “Estoy contenta”, it means I am happy at this minute, no telling how I was in the past or will be in the future. Does thinking of “being” in short term or long term or looking at events to see if they actually happened or someone just said they did, not in abstract terms, but as an essential part of language that is a must to communicate – does communicating like this impact how we “see” the world?

Would you start looking at the world differently if you picked a new language?

The only language I have somewhat learnt in adulthood is Spanish and I must say, I do miss the Soy and the Estoy bit in English/Marathi/Hindi. It’s just so convenient, you know? But another question that popped into the aging mind was this – Why did the Spaniards in the first place feel the need to have two forms of “to be”? Why didn’t English, Germans and Maharastrians didn’t feel that need? Why did the Turkish feel the need to add information about if an event actually happened/it is second hand information in their grammar? Why is “key” masculine in German but feminine in Spanish? Are these things arbitrary or is there more than meets the eye?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Summer will have its flies

The summer is passing by and I am simply watching it go by. Come to think of it, I like nothing about the summer. Except that it gets Chip out of my hair and on to his bike. Or except the veggies in the backyard produce a bounty and make shopping for vegetables eye-rolling-oh-so Winter ‘08. Or except that the sun lingers and doesn’t go to bed until, much, much later. Or that I can find a cushy parking spot right by the elevator even if I reach work late.

So, what am I exactly complaining about?

That we never take a vacation. When the sun comes to town, the deals go away as they say, ok, really it is as we say, so we go into a self-imposed-expedia-exile. While the world – and owing to the small fact that this old bag-bones has lived in the U.S. for over a decade now, the world solely consists of 50 states and Canada, and those tropical countries where monsoon comes in summer, do not exist beyond the pages of “My First Atlas” – so while the world suns on the lush, palm-fringed, expensive beaches of Barbados and Cabo San Lucas, sipping drinks with little hats on them, I meant the drinks, not people; but maybe people wear hats while drinking drinks with hats too. Which they should especially if they are fair skinned. So while the world sunburns tans we slog away in our temperature-controlled, gray cubes, counting pennies, because, who needs a tan? It simply does not go together with “Fair and Lovely” anyway.

So while “others” clutch surfboards, I clutch the grimy gray mouse, clicking at pictures wishing I was a permanent fixture in this landscape.

*from Denali National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park , Alaska. Visited May 2004, just before Summer started. Sigh.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Birthday Clubs

Ok, I am not saying where or how, but some people who know each other only remotely through the intrawebs have come up with an idea of a Birthday Club. What is a Birthday Club, you ask? Well, according to one young parent, their child’s toddler birthday had no guests because they did not know any children that age. So appropriate aged birthday guests were being solicited over the intrawebs. The parents who participated in the Club would invite other member’s kids to their offspring’s birthdays. So that the birthdays would look like birthdays and less like a farce. I laughed but people signed up. What have we come to?

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Writer's Block and Other Stories

A writer’s block has no cure, I just found out. The old brain was mightily overloaded past few weeks. Work sometimes has that effect on me. Sometimes. And then the news of a wedding in the immediate family. Awesome news, that. I am missing all the excitement and action and my mother-in-law is certainly missing my help more, I am sure. My head has been wrapped in which sarees to buy. Never mind the tiny fact that most of my sarees come out of their hibernation two times a year, at best.

And tending to the garden. And lessons learnt. About soap. The story goes like this. Or should have gone like this. BigGeek calls me to tell me that the pumpkin plant is infested with black insects. I look. I know what they are. I get appropriate weapon of bug destruction. Ka-boom. End of bugs. Hello, pumpkin. What happened was I looked at the insects, I did not know what they were. I tried my trusty vinegar. They did not die.

I got angry. Really angry. And when The Dot gets angry, beware. She gets soap. I squirted good amount of Palmolive dishwashing soap in the squirt bottle, added a little water and went on the sprayed every bug and its egg with it. Which was pretty much every leaf of the vine. And then, because In was so angry, sprayed the eggplant plant and the pole beans and the cukes and the tomatoes. You get the picture. Next day I survey the warzone expecting to pick up dead bugs. But. I see dead vines. Almost dead plants. 19 to-be eggplants on the plant and 2 weeks later, only 4 survived. The pumpkin vine BigGeek has tried to tell me gently has passed on.

But I learnt lessons. It’s better to use insecticides than soap. And BigGeek, the day I went beserk with my soap spray had bought two insecticides for me to choose from. Bless his heart. And I scoffed at him and told him we grow stuff without damaging pesticides. Sigh. But, I have harvested over 30 cukes, 2 lbs of beans, 1 lb okra. 10 squashes, a few tomatoes, a few strawberries. Tomatoes are still ripening. There are three pumpkins on the pumpkin vine, no idea how they will fare.

What also happened in the past few weeks was that BigGeek went on his annual gadget-buy. He bought a ton of gadgets and we have spent all this time trying them out. A new DLSR – Canon T1i, a new prime lens for me – Canon 50mm f/1.4, which I love, love love. Zooms confuse the hell out me, I realized. A new set of Celestron eyepieces for the telescope I gifted him earlier this year for his birthday. And coupler rings and adapters to turn the above mentioned telescope into a gigantic lens.

In all this excitement, I even forgot that this blog turned 2. And it would not have without you. Your comments are nothing but encouraging. So, to show you my gratitude, I am going to filch an image of the moon taken by the BigGeek from our backyard last week. Enjoy and thanks for all the fish.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Spat

So once upon a time, Aie and Baba were having a kitchen spat. I mean, what is a marriage without an occasional spat, right? Right? So, like most spats, it had no reason and one thing led to another. Lil Chip was standing by, watching the goings-on curiously. In the end, he decided to referee.

Chip: Aie, Baba, wait. Don’t fight. Let me get you a beer.
Baba: No, Chip. I don’t want a beer right now.
Chip: OK. I will get Aie a beer.
Aie: I don’t want a beer, Chip.
Chip: Then…. I can’t help you.

With that, this odd trio wish all US-wasis a happy July 4th!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Off the wall

R.I.P, King of Pop.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A domestic horror

A little while ago, Dipali tagged me to describe a domestic horror. Now, we have one, on a daily basis, and that’s me, but I think she meant one of a kind. Which would also be me, actually. However, a few months ago, a terror of some inconceivable magnitude descended upon us. Masked as a general contractor, wielding a clipboard, wearing expensive cologne and designer shirts. The Contractorator.

For about 3 years now, I had been nagging the BigGeek for new bathrooms. Watching too much HGTV will have that effect on any sane person, not to mention others like me. In the end he conceded to my idea of brand new los banos. My visions of restful spas, seen, you guessed it rightly, on HGTV had to be curtailed to fit our square footage, our wallet and the size of our water heater. I mean, what’s the point of having a fancy footed tub with jet sprays and bubbles which conveniently allow you to disguise that-which-shall-not-be-uttered-by-a-lady if your water heater can only heat 5 pails of water?

So, we went for the minimalist look. Small vanities, simple tiles, subdued palette. The Contractorator nodded, gave us a price including all labor and materials and we spit and shook hands. This contractor, had been un-recommended by a friend. By that I mean, I had wrangled a phone number out of her, but along with it, also many reservations about the less than satisfactory velocity of his efforts.

Now, I consider ourselves quite the opposite of naïve. Contractor-wise, at least. This was not the first major remodel we had undertaken. But your remodel experience should not be counted by the number of remodels, but by the number of Contractorators you have worked with. And by that yardstick, we came under an inch.

On good days, I had no idea what he and his assistants planned to do. The Contractorator was not big on punctuality. The smallest division of time for him, was not minutes, but days, even weeks. “I’ll come today to tile the powder room” meant “I’ll come in 6 days to rip the vanity in Chip’s bathroom.” All I could do was pray that I had a place to answer nature’s call when I came home from work. That and plead with BigGeek to not give him another penny until the promised milestone was met.

Amongst the other stupid things they did, the first was to cut tile inside the bathrooms that covered everything in a fine white powder. The second was a mysterious leak in the powder room, the third was to keep assorted nails and other toolery on the speakers. The fourth was to forget to lay tarp and track muddy boots all over the carpet. The fifth was to reverse hot and cold for the master shower because he thought “C” meant calor (hot en Espanol). The sixth was he had no idea then, what “H” stood for. The seventh was to offer to paint the bathrooms for free because of 1-6 and then ask for money. The eighth was to repair a shower leak and fail to repaint over the mend. The ninth was to forget to paint the new baseboards and the tenth was to fail to seal the granite vanity tops. I am sure I am missing a few.

Are the bathrooms done? No. the baseboards still look like they came in from a rough game of football and a huge patch of unsanded, unpainted spackle greets us every time we shower.

Tagged: Ro, MGM, Rayshma

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Russian Sage and Asiatic Lily

A romance movie set in 18th century, a story spanning across the worlds starring Ziyi Zhang and Tom Cruise. Unrequitted love. Long journeys to nowhere. Duty and Passion. But. Pause. Freeze frame. This is what I am really talking about. Showing for a limited time only. And not in your local Regal.

Russian Sage

Asiatic Lily

Special Credits
Blue Bowl: Japanese pottery gift from a good friend (who I think comments here sometimes)

Doily: Blue and white made by hand by the woman who gave birth to me.

Tall vase: An old jug. BigGeek was most annoyed that I used utensils intended for food and drink to showcase the sage.

Sunday, June 21, 2009


Perceptions are like palimpsets. Particularly correct of people around us. We form an image of a person – good or bad – code it with a cipher and tuck it in the back of our minds. Many days, weeks, months, years, words, looks, shrugs, smiles, silences later, that image is retrieved, scrubbed clean and redrawn. The problem is here. Like a bad dishwasher, no matter how much we try to scrub and scour, the old image leaves a shadow. The new one covers it – or we think it does, but the shadow lurks, peeping every now and then, and when you hold your image to light, you see the old image had never left. It was always there – damaged and incomplete. Years and years of doing this and it’s a wonder if we are left with anything of real value. Just a few odd lines here and there, disjointed and divergent. Lies covering truths or is it the other way round?

For all the time we spend in trying to figure out a person – friends, family and other assorted gentry, we, one day, realize with a mild horror, the fact that we are palimpsests in other people’s minds too. Fragmented, and unfinished, we are but solitary actors to their choric sapience. And some times, or perhaps many times, no matter how well we perform, we have no control whatsoever to their perceptions. And we shouldn’t, because we must all be entitled to our own wisdom or lack of it.

To add to the confusing mix is the fact that spare a few, most of us are trying to figure out who we are by trying to gauge the contents of these palimpsets. But we neither have their cipher and even if we did, their language is different than what we speak. Like the crazy house of mirrors in a carnival, this is a dangerous territory of distortions. The funny thing is this. Inaccuracies are a problem only when they injure us. I mean we are not exactly going to run and complain ad nauseoum if we are being thought of as agreeable while we know we are quite the antithesis. But how do we know we are disagreeable really? We don’t. We are only reflections of ourselves.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Veggie Update

Some pictures of the kitchen garden. A lot of people have asked me about my 100% container garden. I had no idea it was such a novel concept. I'll do a post on container veggie growing soon. Until then, a few pictures of how the veggies are doing.





Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Jam On

Nothing tastes as delicious as home-made jam. No, I mean it. You won’t touch Smuckers and their thick jellied jams that taste like ordinary. Make a batch of jam at home from in-season strawberries with nothing but sugar and a little lemon juice added to brighten your mornings.
I like my jam to be a bit runny, unlike the store bought jams, so I skip the pectin altogether if the fruit is tart or add ½ the recommended amount. Pectin “gels” the jam and jellies and is usually extracted from apples. Strawberries are a low pectin fruit, so additional pectin is a good insurance that the jam will gel.

Jam recipes are all about ratios. To make strawberry jam, wash, de-stem and crush the fruit with potato masher or pulse it briefly in the food processor, leaving chunks of fruit intact. For every cup of crushed fruit, add 1.5 cups of sugar. For every 8 cups of crushed fruit, add 1 packet of pectin (1.75 oz). This will yield a runny jam. For every 4 cups of crushed fruit, add ½ cup of fresh lemon juice. So a recipe will look something like this.

Yummy Strawberry Jam
8 cups crushed strawberries
12 cups sugar (yes, that much)
1 cup fresh lemon juice – this adds a brightness to the jam
1 package pectin

In a heavy bottom sauce-pan, combine fruit, lemon juice and pectin and bring to a rolling boil. What is a rolling boil? It means that the mixture won’t stop bubbling even after you stir it. Add the sugar, stir to dissolve and bring again to a rolling boil and boil for a minute. Fill into jars. And enjoy on toast or over ice creams.

See? It’s that simple. Of course if you are making that much jam, you might want to “preserve” it so that you can enjoy it all year. You can either refrigerate it, but I just can it. It sounds a bit complicated, but it isn’t. Its super simple and the jams stay good for 2-3 years at least as long as the jars are stored in a cool dark place (like the back of a kitchen pantry). Sugar is a natural preservative, so you can seal the jam jars with hot wax or process them in a boiling water bath (which is what I do).

Prior to making jam, I run the jars (you can buy jars and bands and lids at stores like Walmart. They usually run about $8 or $9/dozen.) through a sterilize cycle in my dishwasher or you can just wash them in hot soapy water. I wash the bands and the lids with hot water and soap as well. I use 1 pint jars because they fit nicely in my water bath. Ladle hot jam in the jars, leaving a ¼ inch head space. Place lids on jars and screw bands lightly, NOT tightly. This will enable you to ensure that the lids are sealed because of vacuum, not because of the bands.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Place jars in the boiling water, adding more boiling water if necessary so that there is at least an inch of water above the tops of jars. Cover and boil for 10 minutes. Remove jars. The jars will start “popping” as the air inside them cools and creates a vacuum seal. Leave to cool over night. By next morning, the jars must have small dent in the center and should not “pop” when you press the center of their lids. If some jars do pop, refrigerate and consume within 1-2 months – they haven’t been sealed properly. Screw the bands rightly and store the jars in a cool dry place and enjoy. These jars make awesome hostess gifts.

Next time instead of making plain strawberry (or mixed berry) jam, I am going to try to make strawberry + champagne jam. Maybe later in the season when apricots and peaches are aplenty, I will make apricots/peach + grand marnier marmalade.
Here is a picture of the strawberry jam I made this season.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Comprehensive Geek's Guide to Movies - Final

Star Trek – The First Contact (1996) IMDB Rating 7.6/10
Fans of the Star Trek series will love this movie. This movie (and all other sequels) have snce been overshadowed when JJ Abrams rebooted the whole Star Trek timeline, but this movie is quite enjoyable. The human race builds its very first warp engine and takes it for spin. Ofcourse there is the mandatory time travel and all. If you have seen the new Star Trek and are waiting for its sequel, you might want to see this to kill time until then.

Star Trek (2009) IMDB Rating 8.4/10
The new one. The JJ Abrams one. Very well made, very slick, very enjoyable, very updated – Uhura is not space secretary but Communications Officer, keeping up with times. Almost everyone has seen it, so I am not going to give a complete synopsis here, but will only say this, I did not like what they did to Spock. That’s all.

Total Recall (1990) IMDB Rating 7.4/10
This is a family favorite. Meaning BigGeek and me. My father likes Terminator, I don't think he has seen this one. My father was asking yesterday when this (implied boring) series will come to an end, and yes, to answer his Q., this is the last post (yippee, back to regular programming soon). This movie is an all time favorite. What’s not to like? Alien planets, twisted plot, action – the Governator stars in it. Perfect Friday night movie. Go make some popcorn now! This is the end – or this is the beginning. This is your cue to groan collectively.

Also Rans
Beetle Juice
Blade Runner
I, Robot

I am legend
War Games
Vanilla Sky – This was in my original list, but this movie is more touchy-feely. Interesting movie and one of my favorite ones, but not a geek masterpiece.

Vetoed Out
H2G2 (the book rocks, the movie makes you want to throw rocks)
Star Wars
Matrix 3

Melhhuan recommened Event Horizon. I have heard of it, have not seen it yet. Thanks Melhhuan!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Comprehensive Geek's Guide to Movies (M-P)

Matrix 1 &2 (1999) IMDB Rating 8.7/10
The movie that shook the geek world. Stunning special effects, plot that would make Escher blush, software rules the world (literally)– ultimate geek paradise. One of my favorite movies that I don’t watch too often in the fear that I might feel I have outgrown it. I liked Matrix 2 more, actually. Loved the whole restaurant scene with doors and the keymaker. All very convoluted. Just like a mobius strip. So many fascinating undercurrents. I want to pretend Matrix 3 never happened. A horrendous movie to boot – the only scene I actually liked was the train scene with Kamala and her father. If you haven’t seen the movie(s), I demand you go and watch it (them) NOW!!.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) IMDB Rating 8.5/10
Geek classic. Cult following. Absurd. The movie, not the following. We have a huge framed poster of the movie hanging on a wall in our family room. Need I say more? Ofcourse I do. Because if I don’t the layout of the post will be all screwed up. So, as I was saying, if you haven’t watched it, it can be safely assumed that you are not a true geek. No, wait, let’s rephrase that, if you haven’t watched it, I will be kind and tell you to go watch it. If you have watched AND you did not like it, you will be booted from the geekdom into, well another dom where they don’t watch Monty Python. If you don’t get it, you don’t get it!

Office Space (1999) IMDB Rating 7.9/10
Programmer – check. Software company - check, Cube dweller-check, Caffeine -check. Annoying boss – everyone make their own assessment here. A hilarious comedy about software engineers and rebellion. A movie software geeks (are there any other kind left these days?) can identify with. Subplot involves hacking activity. This movie is all about the 90s software culture. Start ups, California, bad clothes and goatees.

Pi (1998) IMDB Rating 7.6/10
Ok I thought long and hard if this movie made the cut. BigGeek didn’t think so, I thought it did. Then thought it didn’t, then thought it did again. I spent so much time thinking about this movie that I was a weary, exhausted, worn-out, fatigued deatbeat. So I decide to include it and see how many of you had seen it and what you thought of it. Directed by Darren Arnofsky and shot in a high contrast B/W film stock, this is a low budget film with big budget aspirations. The movie is a story of a mathematician (genius, obviously) who works with number-theory to find patterns in the stock market. If you are a math enthusiast, you will roll your eyes because this movie is the math equivalent of the first chapter of a high school math book. But it is an interesting movie nevertheless for it has some interesting themes going on, despite the clichéd representation of a mathematician (early PhD, paranoid, socially awkward, I mean puh-lease). I learnt about a game called “Go” because of this movie. Definitely a worth see.

Next post: Star trek – the first contact, Star Trek, Total Recall, Vanilla Sky

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Comprehensive Geek's Guide to Movies (C-G)

Contact (1997) IMDB Rating 7.3/10
Ok, his one is right about where IMDB rates it. Based on a novel by Carl Sagan, the movie is a story of an astronomer who discovers signals from an alien intelligence to build a machine. Nobody has any idea what the machine does. Is it meant to communicate or destroy? I liked the movie because it gives a non-traditional view of aliens. I think that non-traditional view has since become not that non-traditional. The movie is very intense. The only flaw is that is takes itself very seriously. But it is a good, interesting movie to watch and it will put you in a nice wow-haze for a day afterwards.

Dr. Strangelove (1964) IMDB Rating 8.7/10
I wasn’t sure if the Kubrick masterpiece was a geek movie. But in the end thought it was. It presents in a very absurdly comic manner the possibility of total annihilation due to nuclear warfare. This movie, I thought was a comic exaggeration of the “what-if”, but a year or so ago, I watched a Trinity and Beyond, a documentary about early experiments with nuclear weapons. I was gobsmacked to see the US military testing nukes and watching it from 10 miles. People back then really had no idea. (Also see this criticality accident that caused death of scientist called Lois Slatin due to irradiation back in 1946.)

Dude, where is my car (2000) IMDB Rating 5.0/10
No, no, no. not 5.0. Come on! This is one hilarious comedy. Absurd, crazy right up the Bill and Ted or Buckaroo alley. An amazing spoof of main stream sci-fi. The movie starts when two dopeheads wake up after a wild night of partying and can’t remember where they parked their car. While on their quest to find their car, they encounter many strange people. A transsexual stripper, street gangs, alien-seeking zombies, drop-dead gorgeous aliens. You name it, this movie has it. This is an immortal movie. Great lines. Sweet!

The Fifth Element (1997) IMDB Rating 7.4/10
I can never get tired of watching this movie. Or watching Bruce Willis. This is more main stream sci-fi than say Contact, it is a very well-made, slick film based in the distant future of 2200 where NYC is dirtier than ever and interplanetary travel is as common as jumping on a plane. Although the plot is quite predictable, the movie has an awesome feel-good factor because well, the Earth has risen to defend us from evil. And the fact that the US President is a shown as a black man – which is a reality today. Awesome movie.

Gattaca (1997) IMDB Rating 7.8/10
Again underrated. The movie is set in a future where genetically designed babies are common and genes determine your standing in life. Vincent is a naturally born baby, not genetically enhanced and according to the geneticists, will not make it to 30. He works as a janitor for Gattaca Corp. , an Aerospace company and dreams of being an astronaut. An intense movie, it has lots of very interesting scientific and ethical and philosophical undercurrents. One of my favorite movies. But its not your casual Friday night reel. This movie will make you unsettled and you will go back to it again and again, days after you have seen it.

Next post: Matrix (1&2 only), Monty Python, Office Space, Pi

Monday, June 8, 2009

Comprehensive Geek's Guide to Movies (A-B)

Aeon Flux (2005) IMDB Rating 5.5/10.
Frankly, this movie deserves a better rating and the world needs more geeks. I totally enjoyed the movie. It starts out as a futuristic action movie, but ends on a very interesting note about birth and such. I don’t want to give away more because there is a nice suspense here and any more detail would be nothing short of spoilers. All I say is that if you are looking for a good Friday night movie, and have exhausted everything else on your list, watch this. You won’t be disappointed.

Apollo 13 (1995) 7.5/10
Ok, by now, I have stopped taking IMDB ratings seriously. Because, in my books, this movies rates a 9 or more. Based on a true story of the third manned mission to the moon by NASA in 1970, it was termed as a “successful failure”. There was an onboard explosion in one of the service modules of the craft, but the crew with their ingenuity and sheer bravery, managed to reach back safely to earth. This movie was a reminder about the perils of space exploration – we are ages away from Star Trek like ships, but I would like to think we are getting there. It is in part because of astronauts like Lovell, Swigert and Haize, science continues its climb. A must, must see.

Back to the future (1985) IMDB Rating 8.5/10
One of the best sci-fi comedies. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, it has time travel, time travel contraptions and funny paradoxes. The movie has cult following. The original movie ahs two sequels, out of which the second one is a bit weak with Marty’s family problems knocking down the otherwise feel-good factorof the movies.

Bill and Ted’s excellent adventure (1989) IMDB Rating 6.7/10
This movie, if you haven’t seen it is an undiscovered comedy, sci-fi treasure. Oh, I am so jealous of you now. Two ridiculously dopey high school students (one of them is, yes, Keanu Reeves) travel in time to complete a history report. Directed by Stephen Herek, this sci-fi laugh out loud, absurdity will have you clutching you stomach as you writhe in mirth. That funny. The sequel (Bill and Ted’s bogus journey) is awesome too, albeit not as light hearted as the first movie. Party on, dudes.

Buckaroo Banzai and his adventures across the 8th dimension. (1984) IMDB Rating 6.0/10
What the hell is wrong with IMDB? 6.0? Where are the geeks who will appreciate this completely madcap, absurd gem? Buckaroo is a physicist/neuro-surgeon/black belt kungfoo master/world class rock musician and more. He finds a way to go through solid matter (based on the assumption that matter is 80% space). He does, but finds that the 80% space is actually another dimension. This is one crazy awesome movie. Lotsa inside jokes which you will get if you are a true fan of sci-fi. Great lines. Absurd. I mean a character in the movie is called New Jersey and several others are called BigBoote. Not for a wanna be geek. Such wackiness is reserved for the true-blue-nerd.

Next week C-G: Contact, Dr.Strangelove, Dude where is my car, The fifth element, Gattaca.