Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Midnight in Paris - Woody Allen

Midnight in Paris is Woody Allen's latest movie and is a completely self-indulgent and utterly delicious movie.

Woody Allen, you b****!

That was my first reaction to the movie. (Spoiler alert in general, but this is not a thriller like say, Match Point. So I am hardly giving anything away).

Woody Allen has made perfect use of the fact that he could get anyone to act for him and will and made perhaps his best movie in two decades. The movie seems to be his way of saying "I know I can get away with anything in my movies, but this time I will entertain you and I will get away with a lot."

Marion Cotillard....ooh! Such devastating beauty!

I am sorry Owen Wilson but you belong in Wes Anderson movies more than Woody's. You didn't do bad though. It is just that someone with a more expressive face would have done. Michael Sheen who I loved in The Damned United portrays a pedantic prick with style.

A bunch of other actors not usually seen in popular movies except Marion and Kathy Bates (who seems to be smugly telling herself not to laugh while she plays out her excellent role as Stein) essay excellent characters although Brody was just ok as Dali. Even Carla Bruni does ok.

Not since Woody Allen totally kicked butt in Annie Hall with this scene (jump to 2:23 for the exact moment), has he made watching his movies as much fun. This is Woody Allen of 1977, but suitably updated for the present day - new and improved to use the cliched term. Despite the obvious nostalgic nods to Hemingway, Picasso, Fitzgerald, Stein among others, not since Stephen Jay Gould viciously attacked romanticism about the past and golden ages in his book Eight Little Piggies, has anyone made such a beautiful commentary on the past, yet commended the virtue of the present age.

This movie could spawn a new genre of art and literature which tips its hat to the past but is not necessarily stuck there like a relapsing alcoholic. It belongs right up there with Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime series or say the new "Sherlock" series by Stephen Moffat.

The movie has a tongue-in-cheek reference to itself towards the end and runs largely like a Christopher Nolan (of Inception) meets Giuseppe Tornatore (of Cinema Paradiso or the retrospective from the Oscar awards) movie. And the movie is wonderful entertainment with such tastefully chosen music - you know Cole Porter made awesome music. but did you know how much fun you can have when you walk in Paris in the rain with Cole Porter playing in your head? Go watch the movie to find out.

Marion Cotillard....ooh! Such devastating beauty!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

So my job* is stressful huh?!

Zonal Marking on Barca's victory

As is the norm, an outstanding post by ZM. The graphics of successful sorties by Barca vs. a similar one for ManU tell the story. Edward Tufte would be proud if this were put up as the summary of the match with just the scoreline and the viewer left to interpret the rest

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Notes on Barca's victory

For once, Alex Ferguson was not really scowling when he left. At least he had a smile on his lips when he greeted Pep. He knew he had witnessed the beautiful game. It is hard to be upset when you have witnessed one of the most beautiful displays of football ever.

Of course it was not 90 minutes of Barca domination. ManU shone for brief moments. I really liked Park's tenacity, especially in the first half and if you had seen the first half, you could have been forgiven for harbouring the notion that ManU were up to it. There will be enough people harping over ball possession. That is illusory. Remember what Jose did to Barca last year. Even then, Barca had more than 2/3rd possession. But last year was last year. This year we kicked him in the teeth and that when he had Ronaldo playing for him, no less.

A good coach (as a memorable podcast on NPR discussed) does 3 things - improves the player, improves the team and improves the game. Remember Maradona (the suckiest coach in football despite perhaps the greatest player of all time) had Messi, Tevez, Di Maria, Higuain, Aguero and Milito!

It was like watching origami in water. It was clear Messi would be marked and ManU did well. Slowly but surely, Barca created their alternative game around Pedro, Xavi, Iniesta. Once Pedro fired, ManU had to release its grip and the game opened up. Then Messi showed us why we don't have to die with any regret about Argentina losing the previous WC despite having the best lineup ever. The game is bigger than any trophy including this one. The short passes that Barca uses makes for a mesmerizing display of tactics. While Rooney and his peers made long runs to be caught offside frequently, the Barca side didn't ever focus on one player. And after Messi scored, he was back to his familiar role, controlling the ball. And without a hint of jealousy that perhaps dogs most other top teams, Messi was clearly celebrating the goal of David Villa like some schoolboy who had been allowed on to the field! I guess such team dynamics help. I saw at least one run from Nani wherein he could have passed to Rooney to his right but he chose to take the strike which landed safely in Valdez's hands.

Barca added the icing on their cake even with their substitutions, bringing on Puyol with 3 mins to go (3 were added later). And Puyol generously let the captain's arm band go to Abidal, the man who has returned in nothing short of a miracle to not just playing football but the UCL final. And Abidal was finesse personified. Have you seen his legs? They are like a distance runner's - not an ounce of brawny muscle, just lean strength. I was almost moved to tears when Abidal was allowed to lift the trophy. If there are egos on this team, I guess one will need to get each of them drunk with a UCL cup worth of liquor each to see it. They are more like schoolboys on a trip having fun. And the silent work of Piquet in defence didn't go unnoticed by me either. If I go on, I will have to list every player but that's how good the team was. ManU showed why they are the top team in EPL by making steals which in any other game would have led to goals. Barca shrugged off all such moves and played like the champions they are.

Joga Bonito

 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Barca vs. ManU - Jonathan Wilson's comments

Ever since I began reading "Inverting the Pyramid" - that masterpiece of football tactics by Jonathan Wilson, I have always thought of him as the finest writer I have read on football. Besides I am partial to anyone who begins his discussion with Argentina/Argentinians and if it is a woman journalist he is quoting, the charm is enhanced. And I am yet to finish that book!

To return to the title of this blog, this nearly 2000 word piece serves to showcase Wilson's understanding of football and his prescription to ManU for the match coming up in less than 12 hours. Read it and be prepared.

I am hoping that I shall be chanting "Barca, Barca, Barca, Messi, Messi, Messi" yet again. Once Pep moves out and the Barca team disintegrates in the 2011-12 season, I am not sure Barca will repeat their success. So here's hoping for one last hurrah for Pep at Barca. Come on, you magic boys!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bizarre event - Indian diplomat's daughter to sue NYC, school

This news item from Rediff which I had no clue about and read only moments ago is bizarre in so many ways. I am not sure whether there is a precedent to this, but I thought that families of diplomatic corps did have some privileges. Apparently not.

Does anyone know if say, the children of some US diplomat in India ever got stuck in similar circumstances and if so, how they were treated?

After the searching of at least one Indian diplomat not too long ago by the TSA ruffled feathers, this one is bound to agitate a lot of people in India, at the least.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Are Hjorungnes - RIP

I met Are Hjorungnes for just about an evening when I was in Honolulu, Hawaii last month. I had never met him before. And sadly I will never meet him now. A common friend had set up a dinner with 2 of his friends from the university.

We found some common ground to talk about. I introduced myself and said that I was on a sabbatical. Are was too.I said I was a runner and Are was too. So we discussed each other's timings. I discovered he was in a different class altogether. He had been a fast runner in college.

I mentioned I was writing my 1st book. He had written two technical works, published by Cambridge University Press!

It was like kids playing with flash cards! Almost everything I could discuss found an echo in Are. I was so kicked.

He had a mischievous, disarming and almost permanent smile and said stuff as if he were surprised by it too. And another friend talked about Are's adventures on the beach. Are was so energetic that his life must have been eventful all the time.

While we waited for dinner, Are constantly joked around and then insisted that we all have his business card. Encouraged by him, the other friend also gave out his card. I wasn't carrying any since I was on vacation. But this was one of the various funny moments from our evening. It reminded me of the time when I first got business cards in my first job. I had to force it on people. We had even discussed that if he ever came to India, we should meet.

We walked around for over an hour in the Waikiki area and the company of Are and his other friend was so great that one didn't realize how much time had passed. Not for a moment did we remember that my host in Hawaii had been away for over an hour. To know that someone so interesting and who led such a rich and eventful life, is no more, is quite saddening and disappointing.

God bless his soul. May his family & friends have strength to absorb this loss.

Here is a blog which was setup by some of his friends, while they went around searching for him and a relevant news item.

Friday, May 20, 2011

California State Park Closure

I read this news with more than a tinge of sadness. As per this blog post, the cut is about $11 mn which will be saved from closing 70 parks, which means nearly $150K/park/year. Surely that seems like a sum that can be raised by local neighbourhoods or donations (which is one of the options being explored anyways). But it is interesting to note that nearly 70 mn people visited these parks of which roughly 19 mn people paid in 2009. Assuming no major shifts in the nos, doesn't this mean that charging everyone (what seems like a reasonable sum of) $1.5 per year per person should remedy that deficit?

I know I make a simplistic argument, but I am sure runners across CA would not mind paying $1.5 as a park fee for the year for ex? After all several runners use parks for practice runs. Although I haven't been to many parks in CA, having run mostly on Steven's Creek Trail for the most part, I think this is something sellable. Another option would be try and get all marathons to raise an optional $1 per participant as park fee. After all, they do make donations to various causes even at the time of registration and they are usually more than $1.

Would love to hear opinions from readers (if any) in CA

University of Life

I am an admirer of Alain de Botton, especially after listening to his earnest imploration in his TED talk. And I have read more than one of his works (How Proust can change your Life, parts of The Architecture of Happiness). So I was intrigued when I stumbled across this. I now have excellent ways to sum up certain friends of mine - Oh, he's my bibliotherapist! Inspired as it sounds, I won't be shocked if the enterprise folds up in a while. People succumb to peer pressure and work more often than they pick up nice books and help themselves get inspired. And paying for such services seems rather expensive. I have friends who do this for free for me :)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

We might as well win by Johan Bruyneel

Johan Bruyneel is almost always nearly mentioned in the same breath as Lance Armstrong. However he did have a bit of a cycling history himself having donned the yellow jersey once after a famous stage victory in the Tour de France.

The book is an excellent first person recollection of his experiences in Winning and Losing (the latter part being almost the same size as the former in the book) with Lance and to a smaller extent with Contador. Of course there are sprinklings of anecdotes of other legends including some of his contemporaries such as Indurain

One gets a insider's view, albeit in retrospect at the machinery at work behind the scenes, as riders race, pedal, crash etc at various races following instructions, relaying, transmitting & receiving messages, back and forth, from & to the Team Director.

While there are those who taint Lance who may taint Johan also, I would rather learn about the strategies for competing at the highest level, regardless of what the future may bring on the various investigations/scandals that keep cropping up in professional cycling, than stay away from such a tale. While my heart is with the likes of Graeme Obree, I find the astuteness and aggressiveness that comes with a certain brand of athletes also, a refreshing change. Bruyneel's tale is not exactly an ode to humility but winning 8 TDFs ( 7 with Lance and 1 with Contador) is unsurpassed.

And how many real Belgians (sportsmen or otherwise) do you know of? This is my first book about one such and what an example of success from such a small but impressive country!

Well worth a read.

Must get hold of a book on "the cannibal", Eddy Merckx, sometime.

Update: A not so minor error of omission on my part - the book is co-authored by Bill Strickland, a journalist who has made his own name in the cycling world

Monday, May 16, 2011

Paul Tergat: Running to the Limit by Jurg Wirz

This book about Paul Tergat by German journalist Jurg Wirz, subtitled "His Life and His Training Secrets With Many Tips For Runners" is a very brief profile of Paul Tergat. It is as much a profile of Tergat as it is a running guide for serious as well as beginner runners.

It is barely hagiographic and is almost like a series of magazine articles, rather than a book. Tergat's early life as well as most of his big contests are described in brief detail. It is difficult to say what could be more detailed but there is hardly any detail on Tergat's upbinging or his family. There is not much discussion of the mental part of the preparation of Paul for his many races with Haile. There is very little on Kenyan running as a general tradition or description of Kenya in the 70s and 80s as Paul grew up.

The "running school" part of the book is precise and excellent but the reader is left hungry for more. The book also has a collection of pictures from Paul's life, previously unpublished. Worth a read if you are a fan of Tergat or an aspiring runner, but not much of a classy biography for reasons outlined above. Since I am a fan of Tergat and since this is my first book about him, I am obviously very happy to have read it.

I can say that the book completely lives up to its subtitle

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sammy Wanjiru RIP

I had marked out Sammy Wanjiru as my choice to break the WR here and here. He had been beset by some domestic problems of late but seemed to have been turning around with that breathtaking victory against Kebede at Chicago. Despite whatever his personal problems were, it is a sad day for athletics. Sammy was just about 24! It will not happen now. He died a few hours ago.

As a self-confessed fan of Kenyan running in particular and marathoning in general, I will miss him. His win at the Olympics had underlined his potential. Now he will join the league of people whose lives could have produced many more great things.

Very sad day.

God bless his soul.

Here's a tribute from the guys at Sports Scientists

100th edition of Bay to Breakers

Amongst the few touristy things I have done on my sabbatical, I registered for the 100th edition of the Bay to Breakers (B2B) race in my first month in the US.

As my training progressed, I had planned to use it as a fast 12K. But with my injury in the last 2 weeks, my expectations changed completely. I was just happy to run in the race and use it as a shake-out run as my massage therapist called it and more importantly, finish the race with no injuries/aggravation of my existing issue.

Perhaps due to the fact that I registered in Feb, I ended up in corral C, which was set to finish in 90 min. I was quite disappointed about it and was quite uptight at the start when I got there at 6 am for the 7 am start.

However I had no idea how the day would turn out. Usually I end up at the start of races mostly all wired up and intent on timing. But within moments of my getting into the corral, there were gingerbreads, chapatis, tortillas flying about in apparently what seems to be a glorious tradition at the B2B race. Initially I was wondering what on earth were people doing. However after seeing some cheery 60-70 year old use tortillas as frisbees, my feelings changed. Soon I was an eager participant in the festivities. As if tortillas weren't enough (at some point in time, there were around a 100-150 tortillas in the air!), some people began to bounce beach balls around. It is something to see people scream "Don't touch it, That's mine!" and so on bouncing beach balls while waiting in the starting corral. Waiting for a race has never been so much fun. Some people who didn't really participate initially decided to plunge full in, when they were hit by a few tortillas in the head. It was like one large dormitory of kids let loose.

And then of course, there were the costumed runners - people in birthday suits, a permanent fixture in the B2B to people dressed as superheroes/animals/birds etc. After a long time, I ran a race with little attention to my watch and spent time looking around. Besides my back still hurts. So not much good news yet.

But much fun was had by all.

And yes, I did ok on timing too considering that the race was almost all downhill after a staggering ascent along Fell Street - a nearly 11% gradient up Hayes Street Hill.

If you are visiting SF during May, a strong recommendation to participate

 

Boston Marathon by Tom Derderian

The book subtitled "History of the World's premier running event" is one amazing effort at archiving the evolution of what is arguably the world's premier running event.

There are so many things that I learnt for the first time from the book that is impossible to put them all down in one place w/o reproducing a lot of the book here. The author, no slouch himself, having run a 2:19 at Boston, has taken great pains at documenting the history of the event, year by year, while producing a decade-wise general summary of the world at that point in time.

It is fairly startling to know that Boston wasn't always the elite event of choice for most runners and also that they had so many problems common to events with less heritage. And it is almost incredible to know that the BAA almost lost control of the event at some point in time.

Wonderful book. Must read for any Boston marathon adherent such as myself. Enough lessons on racing strategy, heartbreak and running spirit in general.

It is quite a long book and very detailed and took more than a week to complete for me, at nearly 600 pages. I am thinking I should get a copy for myself now!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

XKCD on Woman in science

This one strip quadruples the average person's knowledge of woman in science

The real Kenyan secret

HT to Runner's World.

Read this

"...try busting your ass two or three times a day, seven days a week. Try dropping your day job and devoting your life to running..."

This is eerie. It is almost like they were speaking to me. Now if only I could go back 20 years and lose 20 pounds!

Another reason to be in Argentina besides Messi & football

Read this. HT to Nilanjana

Monday, May 09, 2011

Funny in Farsi by Firoozeh Dumas

This book was picked upon Arun's mentioning it. It is a delightful read about a positively charming woman's experience of growing up as an Iranian in the US. As the author says, it is not necessary to have been a celebrity to pen a memoir. And she pokes fun about everyone including herself so smoothly that you get the feeling of being in the company of one of those cousins whose visits you look forward to, when you are kids, waiting to be regaled by their stories. Her love for her father whose sometimes hilarious sometimes poignant tales populate the book, shines through the book. And I think it is necessary to read such books, about someone from an extremely rich culture. This is my 2nd book by an author of Iranian origin. Look forward to savouring more. As the author argues, just because a few people give the Middle East a bad name, doesn't mean you lose your head and treat everyone just the same. If you listen to her interview on the Commonwealth Club podcast, you almost want to hug her.

Strongly recommended especially for aspiring authors.

I need to figure out a way to get the author to have coffee with me. She seems like someone who might agree to join me, considering she lives somewhere in the Bay Area. Such cool company can brighten up your entire day

Injury Time

I am out of commission :(

After 14 weeks of training, during which I didn't miss a single scheduled work out and ran over 700 miles, I have decided to take an unscheduled & indefinite break. My lower back issue is now officially a derailer to race preparations.

While I know that I was not really India's bright hope for a medal at London 2012 or even 2016, in my mind, I was pretty much on a quest larger than that.

My mind is a falooda with emotions ranging from rage, stoicism, depression, frustration and of course, hope for a miracle in 4 weeks.

Just a week ago, I was all gung-ho about taking on a marathon in 5 weeks and going for 3:05. Right now, I will be lucky to get to the starting line with no injury.

I feel I have a bit of the legendary Irish luck when one knows that a bit of good fortune is usually an indicator of a disaster round the corner.

I know I am in good shape to repeat a 3:10 at least if I just manage to get to the starting line, but right now I can't knock out even 10 miles without pain. So after some discussion with my coach, I have decided to take this break and consult some sports medicine therapists. Lets see where that goes. In the past I have gotten over injuries by just resting and doing no running for a week or even two. But I was never chasing time in those races.So all I would do is rest and get to the starting line and then aim to finish the race with less mileage in training than planned. And that was fine. Even now I can perhaps run a 3:28 (~8 min pace) with some pain but no muscle pulls but what use is that?! I might as well go see Sea World while I am in San Diego

The rage is mostly being directed towards my considerable pile of unread books. I am knocking off my 2nd book in as many days now. Even Martin Meredith's doorstopper doesn't seem like a challenge now with the amount of free time I have on hand. But it is difficult to even eat food without guilt. And I no longer even need an afternoon nap.

And I am the first one to note that this could have happened earlier too and I wouldn't have even had 3:10 against my name. But humans are greedy and I am human!

As Carey says in Liar Liar, "And that's the way the cookie crumbles"

Playing for Keeps by David Halberstam

The book is subtitled "Michael Jordan and the world he made". It starts off so poorly with a discussion of the owner of the Bulls, Reinsdorf in such a dull chapter on Michael's contract negotiations that it makes you wonder what has made Halberstam as famous as he was in the world of sports writing. But then he begins showing you why from the next chapter onwards. The book has great personality profiles like any decent biographical work should and not just of Michael but also of the supporting cast.

The book is not just about Michael Jordan but everyone who played in his era and also the people/organizations who were principal characters in his universe - Dean Smith who ran the basketball program at UNC, Phil Jackson who managed the Bulls so well#, Scottie Pippen who was perhaps the big reason Michael was as successful at the Bulls*, Rodman - the literally colorful character, the legends - Magic and Bird and their respective teams (Lakers, Celtics) of that era, Malone, Stockton, the Pacers, Michael's agent - Falk, Krause **, the NBA itself, Ewing and the Knicks, ESPN and Nike.

I would recommend it strongly for anyone interested in team sports (especially basketball, of course!) and also for those who watched/began watching basketball in the late 1980s-early 90s like I did. It is as much a documentary of the world of professionalism in sports as it is of Michael Jordan.

The book is an excellent read.

*not many realize that he was at the Bulls from 1981 and completely frustrated with the lack of success till Pippen and few others joined the Bulls

# It was a pleasant surprise for me to learn so much about Phil Jackson and his counter culture background

** who comes out looking like a slimy character

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Stephen Fry being generally awesome

This video where he sounds so loveable for his wisdom and sounds quite serious for someone of his disposition and then again, here on Wodehouse (old article, awesome still).

HT to Quatrainman who provides more evidence of his fine taste.

The video is a sort of a tearjerker because it addresses personal insecurities but given the phase of life I am in, I have utter respect for what he is saying and can relate to it so completely.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Payton Jordan Invitational

Here is an awesome race from the PJ 2011. HT to Flotrack. I saw it only because Matt Tegenkamp, my virtual teacher (he doesn't know that!) was racing his 1st big 10K race. See this and see from 20th min at least when some dramatic stuff happens. It is a 30 min or so video. If you like running, you will love it

Boston Qualification, wiggling big toe

The title of this post is a nod to Kill Bill where the protagonist says before embarking on her venegeful spree that she must first wiggle her big toe first!

For those of you not deluged with my immodest status updates on FB, I ran in the Avenue of the Giants Marathon 2011 y'day. I finished in 3:09:46. I was 7th in my age group and 18th overall.

This is a PB by 50+ mins for me. Shows the quality of my superman coach.

Thanks are in order to various people who cheered me including over a thousand runners/spectators at the race.

My modest target from the race was to run 20 miles in 2:20, a pace of 7 min a mile, mostly since I was using this race as a tune-up to a more serious attempt at a BQ on 5th June at the Rock n Roll San Diego Marathon. I had run a maximum of 18.5 miles in training before this race. So my coach and I were keen to ensure I got a quality run of 20 miles and then anything better would be a bonus. I got to the 20 mile mark in 2:21. Alarm bells had begun ringing at around mile 17-18 itself since I pulled my left hamstring then. I had been carrying a lower back injury for a while now, ever since I got back from my trip to Hawaii. That injury induced stress moved down to my leg over the course of the race and morphed into a nasty strain. However our gamble to run 7 min miles till mile 20 paid off as we knew I would have 50 mins to run the last 6.2. It almost didn't happen as I was about a minute off the pace at 3 hours. But some amazing prodding by the superman and pacing by a fellow participant (Thanks Anya) who finished 2nd among women (we ran quite a significant part of the race either together or within a few yards of each other. We also finished within seconds of each other).

Phew!

Onto San Diego and some much needed rest in the meanwhile.

Of course, this is an opportune time to plug my book again. Publishers are welcome to enquire :)