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February 28, 2002

Still out of circulation

The fever is gone. Still have a bit of a throat problem. But its getting better. But I have been incredibly busy and stressed about office work. That's why so few entries on the weblog over the last few days.

Famine in Afghanistan

There is a massive food crisis waiting to explode in Northern Afghanistan. (Details here). It appears that the food from the donar countries is not reaching the remote parts. The climate, the terrible transport infrastructure and unimaginable levels of corruption - all probably share the blame.

On a more cheerful note: this photo essay (via mefi) takes a humourous look at the rebirth of television/movie industry in Afghanistan.

Some of the exiled are returning home to rebuild the country.

The cynic in me knows that there is a long way to go for Afghanistan before they have anything resembling a humane society. I wish them best.

February 26, 2002

Elinor Carucci

Elinor Carucci's photography.
Carucci, a young Israeli photographer captures human intimacy. She photographs herself, her family and people around her. 'Nerve' has a small selection of her work that are better presented (registration required). But I found the images in her own site a lot more powerful.

Not work safe.

February 24, 2002

Monsoon wedding

Mira Nayar's new movie 'Monsoon Wedding' received a good review in NYT yesterday. It seems to be about the traditional Indian wedding of a not-so-traditional US resident Indian from an affluent family. The subject has lots of as-yet-unexploited potentials. I always felt that Mira Nayar is a competent filmmaker, but not a great one. But she is one of a handful of filmmakers from my part of the world who have an international audience. I am happy for her. Yesterday's NYT also had an interesting snippet about Sabrina Dhawan - the scriptwriter for the movie.

Now, let's hope that it gets released in the Bay area soon!

February 22, 2002

Others on San Francisco

Quotes from Other people with Other ideas about San Francisco:

    "San Francisco seems to have simultaneously located its soul in the glorious past, and definitively cut off the branches of that very past's organic evolution. And less than any willful act of forgetting, it is the arrival of successive waves of new residents that seems to have most effectively cauterized the stump of history. ......

    The San Francisco I moved to for the first time in late 1990 .... is nowhere to be found among the lineaments of the new city. Not in the painted ladies embalmed for the picture postcard, not in the spanking new redbrick baseball stadium in the heart of SoMa, absolutely not in the fondly recreated and thoroughly neutered decadence peddled as street life in the Haight or the Castro. ...I have come to wonder if anyone who touches down at SFO from here on in, who rolls down those last westbound miles of Interstate 80 on balding tires and the final fumes of an empty tank will ever again find "The City" anything but a place with mild weather, good jobs, pretty hills and an unusual degree of ethnic diversity. I wonder, and as someone who loved the kinky, self-important peacock city I originally moved to, despair a little."

    ( Quoted From v-2.org)

    "San Francisco and I have never seen eye-to-eye, you see. We don't like each other, and have known to go out of each other's way to piss the other one off. ..I like my pretense up and in your face, like the women in Beverly Hills who wear Prada stilletos while they browse produce and network production deals on their cell phones. Not like the sea of inbred Ivy-Leaguers swarming the craggy hills of SF in Pursuit of The Good, snacking and preaching organically-grown bananas while tossing the peels out the windows of imported SUV's.

    Give me LA and its masses of freeway-infested shopping parks, its armies of inorganically-grown centerfolds. At least it's warm here."

    (Quoted from dooce.com via Ariemeadow)

As for me: I am passionate about San Francisco. After I read Adam Greenfield's quotes from 'Invisible Cities' by Italo Calvino in V-2 Org, I have borrowed the book from the library. Its an elegant book. Worth checking out.

February 21, 2002

Fever II

Ok, now I have a throbbing headache, a fever and raging tonsillitis. My doctor appears to be away till monday. I have a massive amount of office work to finish by this weekend. We also need to find a cheaper dig (hopefully) by the month end. There is a saying in India : 'When HE giveth, HE giveth with abundance'. That certainly appears to be true.

February 20, 2002

Fever I

Been down with a flu. After eight tylanols, one lemolate and finally one dose of theraflu (which worked!), I am finally back on my feet, but am feeling completely zonked. The world seems to have carried on perfectly well without any active help from me in the last 24 hours.

February 19, 2002

Some totally random stuff

Some totally random stuff:

-Did you know that there is something called Seasonal Affective Disorder (or Winter depression) in the medical vocabulary? Apparently, you may feel more depressed in winter than in summer and there is a 'bright light treatment' to cure it (same link). Now I know why I have been so depressed! Its the cold. All I need to do is find myself a bright light source and sit in front of it.

-While driving back the night before, I caught the end of a fabulous program on 88.5 FM on coffee cultures. Among other things, it mentioned that Turks believe that you can read your fortune from the leftovers in your coffee cup. They infer your fortune from the patterns formed inside the cup by the coffee grinds. Culturally, it is similar to reading fortune from tea-leaf (Tesseography) that has been prevalant in China. 'Coffee-fortunes' has the detailed scoop online. I read elsewhere that the practice survives in other parts of the former Ottoman empire including Bulgaria, Greece, Egypt, Macedonia and Bosnia.

-Average Incomes in USA:

White male: $31, 213
Black male : $21, 662
Hispanic male: $19,833

White female: $16, 805
Black Female: $16, 801
Hispanic female: $12,255

'11.3 percent of the nation's population lives in poverty. 9.4 percent of that number are white, 22.1 percent are black, 21.2 are hispanic. (ref US Census, Via Mefi)

February 18, 2002

art and photography links

Interesting art and photography links:

The Open Photo Project: Very cool.
ibiblio: An interesting art portal.
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam: The website of the famous Dutch museum. The artworks displayed and the quality of display are amongst the best that I have seen on the web.

(Links via Kingshuk)

Digital Rights Management

'New Architect' (what used to be called 'Web Technique) has a good overview of Digital Rights Management (DRM) technology in their current issue. For good or for worse, DRM is here to stay and we may as well familiarize ourselves with the technology. The standards in the Rights Expressions languages seem to have a long way to go. XrML, being pushed by ContentGuard (a Microsoft venture) is best positioned (of course!) and apparently the most matured of the lot. The other biggies are also backing XMCL - a competitive move by RealNetworks.

Also check out the XHTML Guidelines from NYPL (via A list apart).

February 15, 2002


Of all the travel writers that I have read, Bruce Chatwin's books resonated most with me. I discovered 'What Am I doing here' in an idle afternoon in a tiny bookshop in Calcutta. Over the next few years, I read pretty much all that he had published, all that has been published about him. Its only when I started reading about Chatwin the man, that I realized that there is a lot of fiction in his travel narratives or at the very least he rearranged facts to suit his theories/his narrative needs. That as a person he was a bit of a sham. But I still think he is one of the best travel writer (much as he would have hated the label) of the modern age.

For anyone as obsessed with Chatwin as me, there is a great resource page on the net that is regularly updated. Last night I discovered this interesting review of Chatwin's work through that page.

February 14, 2002



frankieboots: A great photo blog of New York. Loved it.
Missingmatter: A cool, slashdotlike weblog. Not much traffic yet. But that may change fast. (via Mefi)

February 13, 2002

Friedman on 'Axis of Evil'

Provocative op-ed by Thomas Friedman in today's NYT. Friedman's argument is that while the Bush administration may have shown lack of forethought and pigheadedness in defining an 'axis of evil' where no such axis exists, there is no doubt that evil exists in those countries and this administration's willingness to take on those regimes is encouraging. While on the subject of 'Axis of evil': this satire by Andew Marlatt of National Post is hilarious.

February 12, 2002

Google and the weblogging community

The symbiotic relationship between Google and the weblogging community is interesting.

Google of course is the default search engine for most people on the net. 'I googled it' crops up in online communications increasingly frequently. In the weblogging community all tidbits about Google gets devoured with avid attention. There was Dan Gillmore's over the top comment about how Google would make domain names reduntant and plasticbag's rejoinder to it. Both made it to daypop and Blogdex. The recent Googlewhacking phenomenon is another example. The pros and cons of the Google Programming Contest got analyzed both in slashdot and Metafilter.

Now it seems that Google reciprocates the compliment. Mathew Haughey (of Metafilter) decided to take on Critical path when they made an unsolicited telemarketing call on his phone no that they have looked up from the 'WhoIs' database clearly marked as personal. He posted a critical note about it on his site. He also urged everyone to link to his post. Matt has a large following. The MEME worked like magic. Within a matter of days his 'Critical IP sucks' page outranked the 'Critical path' corporation on Google Searches. The ethical aspects of this were discussed on a MetaTalk thread recently.

What makes me curious is what yardsticks google really uses to determine site ranking? What makes the weblogs exert so much influence in google search results? (Not that I am unhappy about it). Two things that we already know:

Pageranking: Simply put, every page has one vote. "Its PageRank is essentially a measure of its vote; it can split that vote between one link or two links or many more, but its overall voting power will always be the same". So when these thousands of weblogs start pointing to a single link, that link's rank on a google search result start shooting up.

Frequency of updation: Google apparently loves frequently updated sites and there are references to it on the net. I don't really know how it works. But obviously Weblogs get updated a lot more often than most other types of sites (except probably media sites).

I have been scouring the net hunting for whitepapers, case studies on Google. So far, I have found 'The Anatomy of a Search Engine', (probably the most often accessed research paper on the Stanford University site) and this pdf document that explains pageranking concepts in a layman's language. Haven't found anything else worth noting yet.

Travel to LA

I was helping a friend move stuff to Orange County last weekend. We drove down I5 to Orange County on Saturday. Came back last evening. Not a fun thing to do. Images that stayed on my mind:

    The sign pointing to Modesto. In the pre-Condit days I didn’t even know Modesto exists.

    On a deserted stretch of I5, in the middle of a pistachio orchard - a faded 'Gore' poster with a right tick mark on it, gently swaying in the wind.

    A tiny cropduster airplane spreading who knows what in a beautifully scenic farm in the central plain.

    As we approached LA, the majesty of Sierra Madre mountains rising up hugely from the arid plains before it. Its not as magnificent from the roads as the mesas of Utah from I70, but is an impressive sight nonetheless as you leave behind a few hundred miles of Central Californian plains.

    The ugliness of LA's urban sprawl. I know I should not be passing judgment on a city I spent so little time on - but I found Los Angeles cold and antagonistic. Cities speak to you. I landed on New York and I bounced. I drove into downtown LA and it felt like hostile territory.

    The wind. It doesn’t whistle in Orange county, It roars. It feels like it can make your car swerve off road.

    152 all the way from I5 to Gilroy where it connects with 101. It is scenic and pretty in a feminine way. The garlic shops that started sprouting up as we neared Gilroy were a bit of a surprise.

February 8, 2002


They have tried to keep Main Street the way it looked when hit westerns used to be shot in Niles Canyon and Chaplin was making ‘Tramps’. Now, in the evening when the tourists go away, it is peopled largely by a blue-collar crowd that live in the neighborhood. Its a friendly, laidback place. A few days back I was hanging around there .... watching the bartender shoot pool. 'Nine Inch Nail' was in the jukebox.

The stocky, twenty-something woman shuffled out after doing two shots of crown. The very next moment, she was rammed inside by this really tiny Hispanic girl. They were immediately at each other, throwing fists, kicks... chairs tumbling. The girl manning the bar quickly jumped over and came between the two. Lots of colorful words flew back and forth, threats from the tiny one about laying off her man, counter threats from the other. The audience was mildly disappointed when they both left foaming at the mouth. One middle aged man informed the room that he has seen a much better catfight in Reno.

The same neighborhood, sometime between 1911 and 1916 wanted to throw Charlie Chaplin out of town when he moved into a house with a woman he wasn’t married to.

February 6, 2002

Enron in India

A devastating story in this week's Outlook on how the ecosystem in Dhabol (India) and the people's traditional livelihoods that depended on it got destroyed by the establishment of the Enron factory there. They also have a story that hints at larger scale corruption and complicity between Enron and three successive Maharstrata state governments.

I have always been an advocate of massive foreign investments in industrial development to bootstrap weaker economies. But I also know that most third world countries have irredeemably corrupt governments. Most politicians anywhere dont think beyond their prospects for the next elections. I read stories like that of Dhabol and despair. How do you kickstart an economy, solve infrastuctural issues without fucking up things on a gigantic scale as it happens way too often?

February 5, 2002

Media on Weblogging

A lot of mainstream media attention on weblogging this month:

Newsday's take: A good read.
Time Magazine Nice, but has nothing new for the weblogging community. So, I am kinda surprised that its on top of Daypop. Another example of navel gazing by us.
John Dvorak in PC magazine. A little condescending, but has some hometruths too.
BBC News: Seems more balanced.
Guardian on Eve and Blogger.com. Very cool. Guardian is one of the most clued in in among the mainstream media (check their international news weblog).
CSM on Metafilter. Nice, complimentary article. People are already feeling for the warm halo around their heads :-).

(via mefi, blogger)

February 4, 2002

Interesting links

Henry Darger's Art

"Darger's 15,000 page art work, discovered after his death, is filled with images of young naked girls, at war, committing atrocities upon each other, often being subjected to torture and mutilation, all of which has caused some to call him a pedophile, at the very least. What he was, was an insane obsessive devout Catholic who had an incredibly harsh childhood and lived a solitary recluse's life. His work was discovered in the last days of his life. He died a pauper, much money has been made from his work......"
(via mefi)

Eyestorm: A British gallery of art and photography. Lots of interesting stuff with expensive price tags. Check out 360 delve

MSNBC's The Year in Pictures 2001

On a different note: Please go and see Without Sanctuary: A Photographic history of lynching in America. (Via Mefi)

Half Moon Bay

Went to Half Moon Bay last saturday. We drove up Highway 92. It becomes pretty after you cross San Mateo town. It finally becomes a 2 lane highway that gently winds around the green rolling hills of San Mateo county. The beach was nearly empty. There were albatrosses circling overhead. The picnic tables were all deserted. Occasionally a family would drive up, get down, the children would hop around, but the cold pacific wind would drive them away soon.

Highway 1 from Half Moon Bay to Santa Cruz doesnt seem to be as crowded with traffic on the weekends as it can be south of Santa Cruz. It hugs the pacific coast and there are turn offs into nice, tiny, sandy beaches every few miles. We caught the sunset from one such beach and drove back via 84. Its a narrow, winding, densely treed road. At places you could catch the lights of Bay area down below. It would have been more enjoyable if there were not so many cars on the way back.

February 2, 2002

Building sustainable communities

I started hanging around Metafilter last December. I think its one of the best out there.

There has been a lot of naval gazing at Metafilter lately - fueled mainly by two high profile exits and some recent spats. Nothing terribly uncommon in an online community. I still think Mefi is a great place to hang around - both for the quality of links and for the quality of comments (sometimes). Threads tend to get derailed when the hot button issues come up (Bush, Clinton, Arab/Israel, Abortion, etc.). At times, I have lost my cool too :(.

The reality is - if you keep membership open, the personality of any community would keep evolving. Internet evolved from being nerdcentral to what it is today. From what I hear, initially left leaning, erudite, creative types used to hang around Mefi. Over time, as the buzz spread, more people from elsewhere joined up bringing with them their own biases, beliefs and attitudes. Not everyone thinks that the changes have been for the better.

It is not unlike the Bay area where old timers keep complaining that the fast paced urbanization is drowning out the culture of the local communities. The only way to prevent it is to stop newcomers from moving in. I think closed societies eventually stagnate. Successive generations of immigrants' and their drive to make it in the new world has fueled innovation in USA. Eventually, most communities get assimilated by the second or third generation.

Trouble with online communities is that instead of melting into the cultural potpourri, they tend to self-explode after a certain time. Many become very clichéd. Some communities have chosen light moderation as the price to be paid to ensure that a certain quality and civility gets maintained (e.g. Plastic, Slashdot etc.). I kind of enjoy the spontaneity, the relative anarchy in Metafilter. Whether that can be maintained, only time can tell. I enjoy hanging around Mefi. But I would be careful about what I post there. e.g. I ran into this really funny page today: '26 Rules for being a good Republican' (via Medley). I almost posted it without thinking. But then I realized that it might not be considered funny by all and may cause trouble.

One community that I had been thinking about a lot in this context is Magnum. Magnum was supposed to be a meritocracy of equals, an agency run solely by photographers rather than by executives. Over the last so many years, Magnum has produced some of the best, humane, iconic photographs in the world. I read this book (Magnum: Fifty Years at the Front Line of History) last year. It brought to life some of the all time greats of photography. But it also showed at close quarters the ugliness and viciousness that lies just below the surface in Magnum. I guess that as you grow bigger and more successful, it becomes kind of difficult to retain harmony. If anything, the impact of the written word and the immediacy of the web can make it only more difficult. I hope that Mefi retains the charm and the stimulation that originally attracted me there. I think the majority of people who go there share my optimism and feelings.