Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ideas - important for an entrepreneur?

I was at an Open Coffee Club Bangalore (OCCB) meetup a few weeks at the Thoughtworks premises on Airport Road, when one of the Thoughtworks employees asked a question which has been on my mind for ever.
"How do I get the idea for my startup?"
Certainly something that, in various forms, many of us ponder, in those moments when we read of Sabeer Bhatia and Hotmail, or Steve Chen and Youtube, or perhaps in the future, Prateek Dayal and Muziboo ;).

But after being in 1.05 startups, I feel that the idea is a very romanticized version of the startup reality show. Primarily because it's the easiest thing for an outsider to relate to. The idea of an idea as the prime mover is very easy to fall in love with. What's easier than having a brilliant idea, and then quickly working it out to make it the best bang since the Big One?


Reality is very different IMHO. In reality the idea is probably fifth in the list of things responsible for the success of a startup. I'd put the order thusly,
  1. Execution
  2. Marketing
  3. Sales
  4. Iteration of your idea
Execution here means operational and execution excellence. Something that you'd be hard pressed to get funding for, but you can't get success without. Marketing and sales are so much more important than most of us engineering types estimate that it's not even funny. Good marketing and sales people will drive the creation and iteration of the product to something that will make money, as opposed to being simply amazing technically.

Iterating the idea is critical. You must be prepared to shape, reshape, sculpt, and re-sculpt your ideas and implementation. Practically no company has become a success with their first product idea. Most went through multiple iterations, before coming up with something that worked, sold, and made money.

What does this mean? If you don't have what seems to be the idea of the century don't worry. If you really want to start a company, go ahead and do it. Make sure you have an awesome team. That'll probably carry you further than any thing else. Keep working on things, and get better each time. Survival is a key attribute of successful startups.

Vet your idea and the execute the hell out of it. Do it to the best of your teams abilities. If there's no way to sell it, shelve it or salvage enough out of it to start on your next shot. That's the long, tough, arduous way to success. You can start with anything, but go at it enough, with good enough understanding of the market and you will succeed.

Best of luck starting up :)

Monday, October 01, 2007

Think Different

This is dedicated to two different sets of folks. For even if what they do, what they dream, what they see that the rest of us don't, are entirely orthogonal and unrelated, they are not so fundamentally different from each other in spirit.

Here's a toast to the folks behind and!
Here’s to the crazy ones.
The misfits.
The rebels.
The troublemakers.
The round pegs in the square holes.
The ones who see things differently.
They’re not fond of rules.
And they have no respect for the status quo.
You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them.
About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them.
Because they change things.
They push the human race forward.
And while some see them as the crazy ones,
We see genius.
Because the people who are crazy enough to think
they can change the world,
Are the ones who do.

fReaK ouT!

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Patriotism is Outdated

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all other countries because you were born in it.” George Bernard Shaw

Thus spake G.B.Shaw, and I'm quite inclined to agree with him. Argument by authority aside, I believe that the human race has outgrown the need for classification by narrow boundaries and must shed this meme to grow further.

Today, if I tell you that as a resident of Jayanagar, you must fight to the death residents of Koramangala, you'd laugh at me. But a couple of thousand years ago, that's exactly what patriotism was - being ready to give your life and limb for the folks in the 2 kilometer stretch around you.

Ten thousand years ago, you'd have been a part of a roving tribe of not-quite-monkeys, being loyal and patriotic to the twenty or fifty not-quite-monkeys with you.

Till a few hundred years ago, you'd have been fighting patriotically for a small state against another small state, perhaps Bangalore against Mysore, or Chennai against Pondicherry.

Today, you're loyal and patriotic to a country. If you stand up and cheer for your team, or fight to kill someone from another country, then you're a patriot.

See where I'm going yet?

Shed your patriotism, 'tis nothing more than a protective skin that was required to keep a small tribe of not-quite monkeys alive. We've outgrown our need for it.

The only object worthy of loyalty today is the Human Race. The only way of keeping the Human Race alive is by working together. "Where the world has not been broken up into fragments by narrow domestic walls..."

Saturday, September 08, 2007


What you may ask, is the Wii? Simply put, a revolution in gaming.

Revolutions are over-rated. I agree with you. Except this once.


Because today, for the first time ever, my *MOTHER* tried to play tennis and bowling on a video game console, with my sister's friend. My Mom is just on the right side of 60. My sister's friend on the wrong side of 20.

My mother has never played a video/computer/arcade/whatever game. Never even attempted to or been interested in sports actually. She's probably never even played anything for more than thirty years.

But today, when I played tennis and bowling and she was watching, she could hardly resist giving it a shot. And she couldn't stop! My dad was also interested and started playing different sports on his own.

Me? I played for more than three hours. At the end of which my back hurt :-). I realised I'm in crappy shape physically - sitting on your ass in front of a computer for 12 hours a day seems to do that.

You want some advice? Go play a Wii wherever you can get your hands on one. Play Wii sports. Check out the fitness regime, find your "Age". See if it shocks you out of torpidity. It did that to me.

Buy a Wii. The only thing you will regret is your muscles aching the first few days.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Wet, wetter, wettest

We take far too many things for granted; being dry for instance. I have never before appreciated the pleasure of being dry as I do now.

Just dry.
Just going out in dry clothes, without worrying about getting wet.
Just not having the first millimeter of my skin completely wrinkled due to excessive water-logging.

If you want to get really wet, go to Honnemardu during the peak of the monsoon season.

Enjoy the freedom that comes with having no cell phone coverage, no Internet access, no TV, and no electricity. At the end of two days, I had no problem with eating lunch standing in the rain, or walking about in the warm, wet mud in the rain. Or in the cold, wet, mud in the rain. Or just generally in mud in the rain.

It's certainly a place for the severely water deprived; Madras-folk will be in awe at the litres of water that pour out of every square millimeter of sky. At the millions of liters in the reservoir. At the clouds that never dry out. At the humid wind that blows ceaselessly from the south-west.

My reluctance to getting wet seems to be a function of how many valuables I cart around. Once I got rid of the cell and the wallet, and after a couple of cycles of getting wet and dry, I was less hesitant - after all it seemed I was pretty water-proof and the liquid just ran off my skin.

The absolutely awesome Ganapathi a.k.a. Ganesh is a master of all trades. He teaches you how to swim in the reservoir, boat with coracles, or canoes or kayaks, trek in the Western Ghats, light a camp-fire in the rain, identify which call is which bird, which trail goes where, and so on ad infinitum. His list of skills seems to be countably infinite.

Fair warning! Don't think it's a resort where you can go and laze around. You have to do everything yourself; it's fully self-service. Planning your activities, pitching your tent, and washing your plates - all of them are your jobs.

Go to Honnemardu. Leave behind the mundane dryness that plagues all of us. Experience a life where every moment of every minute is spent with your body in full contact with, and at full mercy of, the Elements. Rich color seems to seep out of our lives as we battle with endless issues at work and home. Honnemardu is a chance to go full color for at least one weekend.

Thanks to Sudhir, Prashant and all the other folks who made this possible, and to Piyush who dragged me there when I was not convinced I could go!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Freedom and freedom

There are a lot of people who are confused about what the GPL and BSD licenses do to the code involved.

The best and most succinct explanation that I've seen so far considers the two parties involved - the code itself as one party, and people as the other.

The BSD license frees people. People who use code under the BSD license are free to do whatever they want with the code.

The GPL frees the code itself. Once code is under the GPL, until it falls out of copyright, it cannot be 'imprisoned'. It's free for ever. It accumulates changes which are also free.

Remember that the next time you are confused between Open Source(BSDish) and Free Software (GPLish). The FSF has a definition of 'free code'.

And if you've got similar metaphors to explain the difference to lay-people, I'd certainly like to see them.

  1. I read this in a /. comment. Not original.
  2. Yes. I know the GPL does not restrict use, it only restricts distributors' rights.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Software Coolies, Hear Me!

Software Coolies of India!

That's what most of you are. Just software coolies.

You carry head-loads for different clients; they come for your services at various times of the day and night. What do you get out of it? A payment on completion - for your labor. Even the software companies don't make much money out of this! They're just like a coolie union. Pressed on one side by more competitors, and on the other by 'cheaper customers'.

Stop Cribbing! Get off your hind-sides!

The only way to create wealth is to make something that someone wants. Start your own company, don't blindly do offshore services. Do that for survival if necessary. Create products. For any market which you know, or which you have the skills to target.

But who am I saying this to? You folks just want your cushy 'government jobs'. Regular pay. PF. No risks.

Just remember, you are a software coolie - no risk, no reward.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Manhattan SUCKS

No. This is not the Manhattan in New York. I've been there, or so my parents say. I have no memory of the event.

This is the Manhattan card provided by Standard Chartered Bank in India. If any of your friends, family, neighbours, class-mates, enemies, non-friends, non-enemies, ever seem to be falling into the trap of getting a Manhattan card, stop them at once. Even if you have to summarily execute them. That would be more peaceful than dealing with the absurdities that the Manhattan card folks put you through.

First they put a late charge on my account because I paid by check two days before the due date. What?! I paid before the due-date didn't I? Oh there's some fine print, if you're paying by check you have to pay three days before the due-date. Ok. That's some pretty slimy fine-print, even BSNL and BESCOM take checks in their drop boxes on the due date. In fact even after the due date. So they cancelled my charges after about half a dozen calls. I vow never to use the card again and forget about it.

A year later I get a bill for Rs. 2484. I never used the card. It was supposed to be 'life-time free' so I had to call to find out what the hell happened. Apparently there was some Rs 80 charge for some crap. Which bounced and ballooned and grew up to Rs. 2484 in a few months. And the statement said "You have been put into the Defaulter's list. This is a very serious matter. which will affect your credit-worthiness." Grrrrrrrrrrr.

Another round of calling, to get things canceled. Thankfully, without too much effort, they said they'd reversed their screw-up and all the charges.

Well not all. Apparently the last month's charge couldn't be reversed. So I had another round of calling. Then called to cancel the card. Was told it was canceled. So I forgot about it again. Mistake.

I get a statement today saying I owe them 4 paisa! And "You have been put into the Defaulter's list. Blah.." And along with a 'Small Amount Credit' for 4 paisa. Which seems to mean that on next month's bill I'll have a zero balance. Whew!

But wait! Now I get a threatening SMS! "You have a payment due of Rs. 0.00", it says. "You better make the payment of Rs 0.00, or else ..."

To summarize - Manhattan SUCKS. Standard Chartered SUCKS.

I called up, and emailed. Got replies that my card was already marked "Canceled" and I have a zero balance, and I'm not on the defaulters list. One silver lining is that the customer support seems to be able to do stuff, and have always been helpful.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Living in a Vacuum

No. I don't mean a metaphorical vacuum. I mean a physical one.

I was feeding my roaring information addiction tonight and I came across this very long and interesting /. post.

And there's a comment which speculates on living in a vacuum. Presumably you'd have some kind of respiratory device to help stay alive. But perhaps it's work without even lung action - directly dissolving the oxygen into your blood.

Pursuing that further, maximal exercise uses some 2.6liters of O2 a minute. So we need to figure out a way to have some form of surgical implant to dissolve 2.6L of O2 a minute into blood, and remove the roughly equivalent amount of CO2. Perhaps the lungs could be filled with some form of fluid which does this function. One lung for O2 entry and the other for CO2 extraction.

For the heating or cooling of the body some form of "Rapid Thermal Exchange" would take place. Or perhaps the same device would both cool and exchange O2/CO2. Imagine the lung fluid itself also performing heat exchange.

In fact if there is a scrubber and enough energy generated, the CO2 could even be reformed back to O2. But I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader :-).

Then there would no longer be a bulky space suit required, perhaps even a thin wet-suit kind of outfit would suffice. There's the issue of background radiation, but that'd would be solved by a thin layer of metal foil for the alpha and beta. And I'm not sure what the concentration of gamma is in space. Apparently in a year an astronaut on the ISS gets about 27 times the average someone gets on the surface of the Earth. Which is well within safety limits anyway.

And we could use this outfit not just in space - we could use it on the surface of the Moon or or Mars.

The side-effects would be interesting too. No more romance novels with 'Sighs of discontent'. No need to breathe in and out every few seconds.

Given the rate of scientific advance, how far do you think this form of breathless respiration is going to take? My bet would be on less than 20 years, closer to 10. Any takers for a long term bet?

And Dr. Freeman Dyson on life in vacuum.

Friday, June 08, 2007

GPLv2 Vs GPLv3 - for the technophobe

A friend of mine asked me,
"What's the GPLv3 issue?"
That, to put it mildly, is a long story :-)

The purpose of the GPL is to 'free the code'. That is any code under the GPL and modification made to the code will always be available to end-users to study, modify, re-distribute, and use with modifications, referred to as the 'fundamental freedoms' .

However there is a loophole in the GPLv2 which allows some HW companies to follow the letter of the GPL - give the code to their users, while breaking the spirit of the GPL - not allowing the users to modify the code and use it.

Also, the GPLv2 did not have much about software patents and protection of patents, which was also a loophole which allowed companies to obey the letter while breaking the spirit.

The GPLv3 tries very hard to fix these loopholes. It intends to refresh the spirit of the GPL, and ensure people can't abuse these loopholes in the GPLv2.

1) First read Tivoization for what the loophole in the GPLv2 is, and how Tivo used it to break the spirit of the GPL. There are more references on that page which are well worth a read.
3) I couldn't get such a clear reference to the patent issues - but this article explains a bit.
4) The GPL is actually quite simple and clear to read! Read about the gplv3!
Read the gplv2 license.
5) What defines the four fundamental freedoms?

Disclaimer: THIS IS NOT MEANT TO BE COMPLETE OR ACCURATE. Just an introduction to what the GPL is and the source of difference between v2 and v3. If you are really interested post here, after reading the references, and I'll respond as I can. Reading the references should take between 4-6 hours minimum :-). And if you want real legal advice - talk to a lawyer.

Richard M. Stallman. No discussion on Free Software would be complete without reference to him. Some might even say Him. He's the man who leads the Free Software Foundation (FSF) and has made Free Software his life's work. The code he's written is used daily by millions of people. He's also a very controversial person - typically because he's very blunt, stubborn, and precise in the way he speaks and uses words.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Argument by Authority

I like G.B.Shaw quotes, as you may presume reading "about me".

“Life isn't about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

You see things; and you say, 'Why?' But I dream things that never were; and I say, 'Why not?'

Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.

George Bernard Shaw quotes (Irish literary Critic, Playwright and Essayist. 1925 Nobel Prize for Literature, 1856-1950)

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Religion, Caste, Sikhs, Rajasthan

Sikhs are supposed to be caste-less. Sikhism was founded as a heterodox alternative to the hitherto incompatible Islam and Hinduism. Guru Nanak did not ask his followers to renounce their religions - instead he asked them to realize that they were all followers of the same God. That's the theory. Where is Sikhism today?

A big caste-divide. Separate langars for Dalit Sikhs and other Sikhs. Sikhs who have other caste names. A mostly Dalit Sikh organisation which seems to have tried to go back to the basics - although the Mercs of the leader seem incongruous. So what do the Sikh leaders do? Destroy the Dalit Sikh organisation of course. How can they tolerate such a blatant display of what they're supposed to be?

Moving on to Rajasthan for one comedy and one tragedy.

Some over-zealous BJP functionaries portrayed the CM as 'Annapurna' along with a trinity of the BJP bigwigs. Now the BJP folks have shown their righteous indignation at this sacrilege, and the wife of Jaswant Singh, BJP's ex-Cabinet Minister has filed suit against the perpetrators of this evil act that is designed to inflame religious sentiments. Time-pass!!!

Now for tragedy.

The Jats who were OC, were moved into the OBC category. The Gujjars who were OBC lost half their seats to the newly minted OBC Jats. They wanted their share of seats back - and logically they figure they can achieve it by becoming ST. The BJP promised the Gujjars ST status. Small snag, only the Central Govt can designate a community as SC or ST. The UPA central govt. is in no mood to fulfill the poll promises of the BJP.

Let's throw into the pot the Meenas who are currently ST and are worried that they'd lose their share of seats to the Gujjars.

And a conflagration ensues that would put to shame any civilized state.

Such is life with religion. Get rid of foolish, archaic, beliefs. Get rid of societal friction.

Let's try to move into the third millenium shall we?

Cycling away...

One of the things I'm planning to do is cycle long-distance. My icon for this is Kiruba, who cycles 26km a day to and from his office in Madras. I'm nowhere in his league - at about 3km a day now.

He also participated in this mad enterprise - cycling from Bangalore to Madras over a weekend - 353.49km! Two days of intense, gruelling, pain-filled exhilaration! These Romans^WGuys are crazy! *Miming Asterix going tap, tap, tap*

So in my feeble attempt to start off, I decided to pedal the 19km to my cousin's place today. Started off at 06:03, reached their house at 07:23. Had a 'yelaneer' break in the middle - that's tender coconut water for you non-Tam folks. I have a non-geared Hercules Thriller, and the Bangalore roads with their ups and downs are not kind. The lack of any really long roads also takes a toll - stopping and starting is a pain if you have to do it every few hundred meters. And braking immediately after a downhill slope because there's a traffic signal or an intersection is heart-breaking :-(.

Now I've got to cycle back. Not decided if I should go early tomorrow morning (Monday), or leave in an hour. Traffic and heat versus being able to sleep in my own bed. Probably go in the morning. That'll also let me be on the Net tonight.

I guess people should try to have some kind of physical goal - to put their bodies through its limits occasionally. That helps me take my mind off work, and makes me so tired at the end of the day - all I can do is sleep. Otherwise my idle mind is the Devil's workshop!

One medium-term goal is to go for a week's trek in the Himalayas. This'll probably happen reasonably soon, given that two sets of my friends are planning for this in the near future. One guy has almost finalized a mid-August trek in Leh. I've been trying to plan for something with the other set, but nothing seems to be materializing :-/.

Another medium-term goal is to backpack/hitchhike through south Tamil Nadu and perhaps Kerala for a couple of weeks. Having been in Madras for nearly all my life, I want to walk through villages and rural areas and see things for myself. Don't know if I'll get company on this - most of my friends seem to be getting married off in great haste :o)

Don't know whether I'll be fit enough for these things, so have to make sure I get some regular physical exercise to build up stamina. And that for now is only cycling. I think I should plan for some regular cycling every day - a few tens of kilometers should do the trick. Let's see if I can do that and keep it up. Perhaps cycle till MGRoad and back, or down Bannerghatta road for 10 or so kilometers.

Get a physical goal!

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Western double standards

Do you want an example of western hypocrisy and double-standards?

When Muslims protest against the representation of Mohammed, it's barbaric. But when Catholics exhibit righteous outrage at a chocolate Jesus, that's because the artist was being provocative close to festival time!

I thought the juxtaposition of Chocolate, Easter, and Jesus, was quite a profound statement.

A line from the Quran that the Western world and Israel need to learn
Your Lord may destroy your enemies and make you inheritors in the land. Then He will see how you conduct yourselves.
To hell with all these foolish beliefs!

Friday, March 16, 2007

Why do they need reservation?

When they don't have the right to live life on their own terms?
On the surface, Bibipur, a tiny village in Haryana's Karnal district, seems the epitome of untroubled rural life. Brahmin homes occupy the front while Dalits huddle together in semi-finished quarters in the rear, making do without water and toilets. Every morning, Bibipur's Dalit women trudge to fields owned by Brahmins to relieve themselves — aware that they do so by the latter's magnanimity. In a word, this is life as it is expected to be.

Institutional prejudice
A Dalit temple's encounter with official India

This is what the much vaunted, most peaceful religion in the world, of philosophers and Saints, of messages of universality and peace, does to people.

Death to all religions!

I don't think that these 'upper-caste' people in Haryana and the politicians and bureaucrats who have supported them deserve to live. If they don't act like humans to other humans they should be killed like the vermin they are.

Who will destroy this status-quo?

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Mozhi - Language

If you see one Tamil movie this year, then let it be Mozhi.

This is not a review of Mozhi. This is a paean to it.

I'm an unabashed Prakash Raj (nee Rai) fan. The man seems to have realized what the audience wants, and is delivering it - earning accolades in spades from critics and viewers alike. Although he's type-cast as an actor in other movies, in his own productions, he's making sure that his roles are different and apt. He doesn't play a 21 year-old college kid, as others of his age are wont to do. Hat's off to you Sir!

Mozhi is simply brilliant in its execution. Let me repeat that. Mozhi is simply brilliant in its execution.

From the simple things, like the noise the kids make, to the posters Viji (Prakash Raj) and Karthik (Prithvi Raj) have in their house, the music they listen to, to the background score in the Pichakaran/Pannayar ponnu intro sequence, authenticity is the basic scent of this movie. And let me tell you it smells like a bed of fresh roses.

On the other hand, I am not a fan of Jyothika. Sorry I meant to say, I was not a fan of Jyothika, till I saw her as Archana. Her presence on the screen is incandescent. Her anger is raw and untrammeled. She's made up her lack of dialogue brilliantly - her every look is a poem. The real pain is going to be when we need to see her when she acts, or to be more precise, doesn't, in other movies after Mozhi.

With Prakash Raj and Jyothika lighting up the screen, that left very little space for Prithvi Raj and Swarnamalya. I was literally unable to tear my eyes off Viji and Archana for long enough to note how well others had acted. Brahmanandam and Bhaskar have played roles which add a lot to the execution.

The best Tamil actor according to me is Kamal Hassan. I've been a fan of Kamal for as long as I can remember. As a kid I was taken to the theater to watch Moondram Pirai; after that I made up tall stories of Kamal visiting my house, according to my aunts and parents. In Nayagan, MMKR, Apoorva Sahotharargal, and Kurudhippunal, he has out-performed all else on screen. But I have seen a better actor, a more intelligent cinephile, and above all, a man who knows his limits. My allegiances have now shifted to Prakash Raj.

Mozhi is at its heart a very simple movie. A very very well made, well told, story. Radhamohan has extracted sterling performances from each and every actor who has a frame. The girl who falls in love with Karthik adds an Escher-esque dimension to the proceedings.

Above all, you can see that the people who made this movie had fun! And you'll definitely have fun watching it.

Apparently the movie will be releasing on DVD soon for just Rs 34. I'm planning to buy one as soon as it's available. Heck, I'll probably buy one to give to a few of my friends too.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Healthy snacks in B'lore

Hungry for some healthy snacks in B'lore?

Head to Fresh and Natural - they have some nice and vague salads and sandwiches. Kimchi salad, Spicy native salad, Chopsuey salad, etc. Very nice fresh veggies and nice dressings too!

Like one of the many salad and sandwich bars in US, these guys also have soups, sandwiches, and fresh juices.

They've got branches in 4 places in B'lore - Koramangala, IndraNagar and JayaNagar 7th block being those I recall. The rates are reasonable - for a salad and sandwich it was Rs 70 - more than enough as a snack for two.

The branch in 7th block JayaNagar is very close to JSS circle, turn toward RV road from JSS circle and take the first left. Fresh and Natural is before the second left.

Their neighbour is an intriguing 'Chocolat' which serves exorbitantly priced - you guessed it! - chocolate based desserts. Rs 150 seemed to be the median price. But the desserts were pretty decent - I had a reasonably good for India, New York-style Cheesecake...

Chocolate is healthy - for me ;-)...

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Terror is not only Islamic!

For a western world which is increasingly trying to imply that Islam has a monopoly on violent terrorism, I have only these words to say,
  1. ETA
  2. LTTE
  3. PWG
  4. IRA
  5. IRGUN
  6. ANC
I may be biased toward Asia, and have certainly left out such prominent examples as the Red Brigade, et al.

So the next time a 'knowledgeable' friend of yours tries to imply that Islam holds a monopoly on terror, you know what to say.

P.S. "Violent Atheism", I do believe, mostly, that "Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent." However, it may be the only way to deal with irrational people effectively. And I'm not violent. Yet. :-)

The role of editing in movies

We've all known movies are not shot linearly. That the ending might be shot before the beginning and after the middle.

We've also heard a lot of desi actors praising the likes of Mani Ratnam and a handful of others directors who provide them with a script before the shooting starts. I used to wonder why the other directors would not give a script, and how on earth you could make a movie without a script.

Think about it. The key problem in the optimization of movie making is probably not actor management or shot management, it's location management! It probably takes anywhere from 1-3hours to setup or tear-down* at a location. This shot might last a minute or two. Perhaps even five. If the unit tried to make a movie linearly according to the script, they'd end up with at least 4 hours of setup/teardown for each shot. Given a three hour movie with perhaps 50 (optimistically) changes in location, you'd get two hundred hours of setup and teardown alone! Not very pleasant!

Consider the alternative that innovative editing brought. You shoot all your shots at a particular location at one go, making sure that continuity is preserved carefully. Finally since this is film** and you can cut and splice, when all the movie has been made, edit the movie into its final form.

What does this do to the location management? Perhaps you have only 10 different locations, voila, setup and tear-down now occupies only forty hours!

What does this editing do to the actors? Since different shots are expected to be at different times, morning, evening and night, optimally, you'll need to schedule the shots according to the time they're supposed to be and not linearly per location either. So the director and assistants have the unenviable task of ensuring continuity in the look and clothes and expressions of the actors. The actors who typically have shots of between 60-180s, do many of them repeatedly and in a completely (in their reference) bizarre order.

If you're still having trouble, imagine a typical Tamil romance, with shots in the hero's and heroine's houses, their college, and perhaps a bus. All the shots in the bus might be filmed first, with the hero having little clue of how he's supposed to react to the heroine initially. The shots in the college may be filmed last, when they are most comfortable working together, but may in fact end up at the beginning of the movie, when they're not supposed to be! Little wonder that many actors end up looking lost in their roles! They don't know how they're supposed to act!

Only the director knows what he's trying to achieve. Between these hundreds of shots, each with different characters and different takes, is it any surprise that many directors take the easy way out and meld the script to suit the good shots? Thus the surprise that actors exhibit when they realize the movie they thought they were shooting, was, in actual reality, quite different in the mind of the maker. Add in last-minute or rolling suggestions from the producer and other influential (read financially munificient) people and the movie may end up being very different from what it was when it began.

This is forcefully brought out in a seemingly prosaic comment from Kamal Hassan***, who was asked by a reporter whether he was expecting a movie to be a hit when he was making it. Paraphrased from memory, it goes, "We expect every movie to be a hit - otherwise we would not be making it. We expend every bit of energy to do that in every shot. But at the end, when we see the whole movie, we see that this part could have been better, or that part different. By then it's in the hands of the public."

Hence the praise for good directors who provide scripts up front. Hence the generous praise for editors who do a good job, mostly from industry-insiders who realize the work involved, from a huge pile of mostly useless film.

So the next time you see a movie, count the number of shots, and the number of changes in locations, and the number of locations. Then estimate the amount of time it would have taken, and appreciate the skill of the editor!

* This ignores the setup and tear down involved in a particular location, which will still play a very significant role. Also permissions and dates are needed for shooting in public locations making things even more difficult.
** The advent of digital cinema may make for easier editing, but site setup/teardown is still going to be as involved.
*** Yes I'm a Kamal fan(atic).

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Violent Atheism

The time has come for the world to reject religion in its various forms and guises. The proposed beneficial aspects of religion have been far out-weighed by the violence perpetrated against 'outsiders' by 'fringe' elements of these religions.

The Buddhists kill Hindus, the Hindus kill Muslims, the Muslims kill the Christians who kill the Muslims. And if any of these people don't have outsiders to kill, the Catholics kill the Protestants,the Sunnis kill the Shias, and the Brahmins kill the Pariahs. What gives these 'fringe' elements the gall to take power over the lives of others? A belief that their path is righteous, that they have a monopoly on the 'truth'.

Why do they think that their path is righteous? Because they have some holy man, holy book, holy rock, or holy shit, telling them that theirs is the one true belief.

Why do we allow these false beliefs to perpetuate in this age of reason? Is it because 99% of the religious do not hurt anyone? But aren't they the people the 1% brazenly claim to protect? If we get rid of the need for 'protection', would we not get rid of the justification of the 1%?

Secularism as practiced in India, and elsewhere, is a failure. It has merely kept the poor and oppressed, poor and oppressed. While before they were oppressed by the proxies of the British, today they are oppressed by their successors and ruling classes directly.

Why do we pay so much attention to religion? There are far more pressing problems that need attention. People all over the world are starving, and a god-man here says he can produce statuettes out of his ears, a god-woman here claims that her hugs can cure all, a god-man there claims that he has found the correct way to live life.

Let us destroy all temples, all mosques, all churches, all gurudwaras, and all synagogues. Spend the money and effort in bringing humanity to a higher plane. Why should there be a single starving child in the world, while millions and millions pour into the Vatican and Tirupati?

Let us destroy those who claim to have the unprovable truth. Let us build a foundation of reasoning. On rationality that transcends boundaries and depends only on formal logic. On a humanity that allows every human in this world to live life in the best manner as possible.

Let us destroy government which allows all manner of superstition. Let there be a government of people who acknowledge and dwell in science and rationality. Even Chanakya would have been aghast at seeing a state killing or allowing people to die simply because they had a different set of stupid beliefs.

The only way out of this millennia-old quagmire is to destroy it. Non-violence and rationality can work with rational people, but these sheeple have already demonstrated that they are not rational. Hence let us show them what irrationality truly leads to. You cannot train a dog by giving it a powerpoint on potty training. You must discipline it and demonstrate the stick and the carrot. The carrot is a world with peace. The stick is the destruction of all religious artifacts.

Yes, this is violent. Yes this is unjustifiable. But this may be the only way to get the hell out of this hell.