Thursday, April 28, 2011

Geoffrey Mutai

Mutai wins a 10K race in Netherlands in 2008 in 28 minutes and then in 2009 in 27:38. Listen to what he has to say in 2009. Even in Kenya! Poor man, he runs amongst the world's fastest times and he humbly says what he does:)

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Poetry in Motion

Boston Madness:

First see the women, then the 3rd and 4th men (especially Ryan Hall's monstrous stride) and then the 1st and 2nd  among men (synchronized swimming almost). HT to Sports Scientists for the first video.

It is like listening to Balamuralikrishna singing Yendaro Mahanubhavulu. Pure joy!

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Triumph and Tragedy in Mudville by Stephen Jay Gould

The book is a collection of essays on baseball by SJG, published posthumously. The essays serve to take us on a tour of baseball through over 50 years from the author's childhood when he was a devoted Yankees fan to the near end of his life, when his son has grown up to be a Boston Red Sox fan.

I picked the book up mostly to read his brilliant essay on the myth of why 0.400 average can't be reached today due to the general overall improvement in the standard of the game rather than the incorrectly purveyed myth of the glory days. However in line with my rather silly principle of trying to finish whatever book I have started, I trawled through it. The book is more than an overdose of baseball to someone who is not a fan of the game. Perhaps if it were a book on football or even cricket, I would have found it mildly tolerable. With that qualified confession, here are my cribs on an otherwise fine book

 - The book has numerous spelling errors with some solid howlers like basketball being spelt as "backetball" WTF!? C and S are not even close on the keyboard!

 - The book has an element of repetition which grates on the reader if you are not a forgiving & fawning Yankee fan. The fact that the author was not around for its publication may be a key reason since I am sure someone with his incredible gifts for narration and discussion outside his profession would have caught onto it

 It does dwell more than once on the unfair treatment to blacks in baseball for quite a few years but there does not seem to be much on Hispanic players and almost nothing on the Japanese players who have acquired some significance in baseball in the last 10 years. I even remember at least one essay in some magazine less than 10 years ago which paid tribute to this. Surely someone with the author's polymathic interests would have noticed this. Or did no one ask him to write one essay on this cultural import? Surely Hispanic and Japanese players must have brought some change into the game and its fan following. I confess my ignorance if anything exists in this sphere by SJG. I know that the great man passed away in 2002, but the first Japanese came into baseball in 1964. So even the trivial event is unlikely to have gone unnoticed by the perceptive author.

I confess I won't be reading another baseball book for atleast a few months now. Onto 2 books on other sports - Playing for Keeps by Halberstam and Tom Derderian's history of the Boston Marathon, books on basketball and running, at least one of which I claim to have some background in. And I have SJG's The Richness of Life, which I am yet to read. I will post on it someday. I must apologize for my lack of awareness or sensitivity to baseball, but that's the way life is. I am apologizing only since I like the author and the fact that he is an incredible polymath, but this baseball is beyond me.

Comments welcome

Monday, April 25, 2011

Podium Finish!

I have been first once at least in a race before when I did 10 km in 49:11 in an RFL race. But this is my best ever time for a 10 km race till date and I actually got a prize! Thanks to the ASHA guys for this lifetime moment. Woo hoo!

Of course, the guy who beat me was ahead by 2 minutes. Not that I noticed. My aim was to beat 40 min.

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Friday, April 22, 2011

The King's Speech

Saw The King's Speech (TKS) finally. While I have read enough about Firth's excellent portrayal, hadn't read as much about Geoffrey Rush who did earn a nomination for his work. Some googling yielded this which shows uncanny parallels between his character Logue and his actual life. What a fine screenplay by Seidler...Although it is a little difficult to eject the rather unfortunate Timothy Spall as the rat from Harry Potter and insert his portrayal as Churchill. And of course, TKS does hold a mirror to us for our cruel acts at whatever age for mocking people who stammer.

Besides the success - both critical and commercial, the movie is an object lesson in understanding people with learning difficulties. I am constantly reminded of the educational system I went through as did most of my readers that confined most people with issues - minor or major to mostly fend for themselves. It was not too long ago that I finished reading Sacks' account of autistic people.

This is yet another note to myself

Timothy Omundson, Aamir Khan, same guy?

See this and then this

Thursday, April 14, 2011

India at the Shooting World Cup

From a brief look at the above, it looks like most of our previously successful shooters didn't have good luck. Bindra, Jung, Narang, Suma Shirur, etc all stumbled.

One bright spot is that Sanjeev Rajput who I had not heard of, despite him holding the national record, won gold and an Olympic place joining Narang & HariOm Singh with the 3 quota places India already has at 2012.

Wishing better luck to our shooters.

The interesting thing to me was how close the margin of error is. Look at pages 13, 16 and 21. Even a 99 on 100 didn't work for some shooters. You needed to have hit 100/100 4 times for gold!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

School Kids reading 50 books a year!

Apparently kids from the Infinity School in Harlem, NY were set a target of reading up to 50 books a year. And the UK Education Secretary picked on this to rally the schools in UK to do the same. What an idea to implement in the National Library week!

And here I was feeling smug over my 20B20W. Compared to school kids, am feeling much humbled. And besides most of the books they are supposed to read are so much fun!

I still remember Emil and the Detectives!

Check out this list by some authors

That warm feeling of public libraries

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Bangalore Calling by Brinda S. Narayan

Bangalore Calling is the debut work of Brinda S. Narayan, who has worked in the corporate sector for over a decade and half and currently lives in India, Bangalore. The author has lived and studied in the US in the past. The book’s back cover says that it attempts to explore the social costs of outsourcing - the erosion of cultures, the displacement of vernacular languages and accents in a world that’s not yet flat through fifteen linked stories.
The book revolves around the ironically and perhaps deliberately named Callus call centre and the various characters that dot its landscape – Yvette, the trainer, Saswath, the CEO, Akriti, the trainer/counselor, Natalie, the American collaborator for the trainers, the agents (Jimutha aka “Jimi”, Bitty aka “Betty”, and Azeem  aka Aaron), Varghese, the Admin guy, Rani the housecleaner and Panduranga, the driver.
The book (as the author acknowledges) is inspired by the ground breaking work of Arlie Hochschild’s The Managed Heart, a sociological look at how estranged personal feelings affect people in the service industry using the examples of airline attendants and bill collectors. In this book, the author extends the treatment to the BPO space, specifically contact centres where agents take on different names and assume different accents in order to serve customers from a different geography and culture.
The book is pioneering in its effort to take a sociological view of the call-centre space and commendable for its effort to do so using fiction. The contents reflect the years the author invested in drawing insight and creating an authentic insider’s view of the industry, to the extent that it sounds eerie that the author could be so many people at once! The book also holds a mirror to the India of today and how certain cultural/sociological issues are brushed under the carpet/mostly ignored and not just in the BPO space.
The book is quite well written and perhaps the best tale is that of Yvette who acts as the conscience keeper for the book. In a book that extends just over 300 pages, there is hardly anything worth an objection as the author keeps the readers engaged while effortlessly switching styles & tempos to match that of the character being portrayed. There is some stereotyping in the caricature of the CEO and the profile of a Bengali agent as someone with leftist leanings is perhaps clichéd. But they are rare blips in an otherwise good read.
In particular, the author’s narrative style of the world coming a full circle through the tales of its characters as the company around which its tale is told, responds to Hurricane Ike (the proverbial ‘storm’), make it entertaining.
Don’t be surprised if you end up seeing a movie made out of this

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Send in the Idiots by Kamran Nazeer

The book is about the tales of the author and four of his classmates from a special school for autistic kids, whom he tries to connect with 20 years later. The work is an outstanding book and not because it is written by someone who is autistic (And if you read the book, you will know why it is important to make that distinction). Of course there are minor style & editing issues but they are mostly my issues with the narrative. You may not have the same or even notice them.

The author is a civil servant in the UK. He is educated in both law and philosophy and he argues convincingly during the course of the book, especially in the section when he expresses his displeasure about people making 'allowances' for autistic people and having unreasonable expectations (at both ends of the expectation spectrum). He uses the fascinating example of Ray Monk who was the biographer for both Wittgenstein and Russell and didn't appear to treat both his subjects objectively, only because he believed one of them was a genius.

The author being a policy adviser to the UK government is extremely articulate and writes well. Here is an illustration of his writing as well as his ability to express himself and argue convincingly - "Striking up a conversation is an autistic person's version of extreme sports." Once you get his insider's perspective with illustrations like this one, you begin to feel like you are in a seminar with the author at the end of which you will ask him some questions to which he shall provide convincing responses.

I would strongly urge you to read this book. It is in an altogether different realm from anything I have read on autism (which is mostly Sacks' two books, but they focussed largely on savants).

Just reading the book is like a mental slap to several prejudices/notions you may have held like I did. Even if you didn't, it is nevertheless rare and fresh insight.


And now I must sleep...

Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman

On my solitary rest day of the week, waking up, I decided this slim delightful volume must be completed in one sitting. Save for one frantic bout of searching for my notebook (which had mysteriously slipped into the folds of the sofa), I never quite got up.

The book is an ode to booklovers everywhere. I consider myself a "Common Reader" as Virginia Woolf so termed my type and like the author, I would rather classify myself as a lover of heroic failures more than successes. She eloquently terms this as "Americans love success. Englishmen love heroic failure." So I share much of the joy of reading with the author, though my own collection would perhaps tip a thousand volumes.

While the author does quote Woolf more than once, the pleasure of being a bibliophile expressed through various chapters is best summed by this particular quote*

"When the Day of Judgment dawns and people, great and small, come marching in to receive their heavenly rewards, the Almighty will gaze upon the mere bookworms and say to Peter, “Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them. They have loved reading"

* from goodreads

Of course, must read!

Quite a happy read, I must say after the excellent but depressing Sacco book I read before this.

Under the Frog by Tibor Fischer

This is perhaps the best book I have read in the last 2 dozen books I have read.

At times satirical, other times poignant account of youth set around Hungary's revolution of 1956, the book is brilliantly written. I am still wondering why I had never heard of the book, despite being something of a Booker Prize book fiend. The tale is told through the voice of Gyuri, one of a team of talented & colourful basketball players obsessed with sex, not working, not studying and avoiding conscription but drawing some sort of state wages under a communist regime.

Strongly recommended.

Here is a delightful sample, describing how one of the main characters, Pataki approached exams " the time he walked out, he already knew less than when he walked in..."

It appears that the author derived his tale from that of his parents who were basketball players and fled Hungary in 1956. As Wiki informs the reader, the title is derived from a Hungarian saying, that the worst possible place to be is under a frog's arse down a coal mine

Friday, April 08, 2011

Anna Hazare

There have been two articles posted by various people on the internet arguing against Anna Hazare's fast as some kind of show-boating.

The civil, cogent argument by Pratap Bhanu Mehta is here.

The juvenile, cynical one by Manu Joseph is here.

Manu Joseph adopts the most juvenile of tactics of getting personal when he couldn't find anything substantial to say against Anna. I don't think Anna is grand-standing only. He could have just as easily died and we would have had an outpouring of homages. Instead he lived.

This time, surprisingly more people caught on. I would rather we have flash mob style protests at RTOs, Taluk Offices each time someone demands a bribe (or for that matter a telecom licence), but it is easy to get cynical. And lets not forget more people are watching IPL than fasting with Anna or protesting similarly for some worthy cause. As someone pointed out on Twitter, Sharmila Irom has been protesting for over 10 years. It is not like justice has been served in her case either.

Do more of these and shame people into righteous behaviour. And then we can dispense with fasting as a means of protest. I don't get the cynicism. We don't exactly run a perfect government, do we? Anna has not exactly stopped traffic because his motorcade has blocked your ambulance or because his daughter's wedding has ensured you can't get to work. He has not taken front row seats on an airline only because he is a Member of Parliament or worse still, because he is related to one. Neither has he cornered government land or diverted public resources like an Air India flight for personal benefits. So what is the f* problem? Are we jealous of the attention he is getting?

The issue may not be life-threatening but he is just protesting. You could have just ignored him and let him die right?

So each has its place. By mocking him and taking a cynical stance, Manu and the likes are drawing attention to himself isn't he?

Jokes are welcome about Anna and anyone else. But this cynicism is pathetic. How difficult would it be to write at least a civil and cogent argument like Pratap Bhanu Mehta has done in the Indian Express.

If this is what it takes to shake us out of our general apathy, one such protest per year or more is welcome. When was the last time we showed we had a spine?


A fond farewell to secondhand bookshops

Read this

This prompted memories of Premier Book Shop to me, although Premier didn't exactly sell used books, but it does read about the same for independent book sellers, especially small ones. It also has an elegant solution to salving your conscience.

As with most things related to books, this one also demands a HT to Nilanjana, I think!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

The fate of the thirsty and the greedy

As someone who may have read my blog in the past, you may remember this & this when I was irrationally exultant about what all I had gathered for so little. And then my hubris took new turns - I discovered the public library scene, which drove me nuts. Despite my own admission that I needed to read a few of those, I was banking on the USPS' Media Mail service to help me send my box(es) of books to India. Turns out that Media Mail is only for domestic shipments.

So I am now faced with the cruel task of leaving behind some books I have bought.

While my 20B20W is history, I shall now embark upon something more ambitious and admittedly shallow  - knocking off 26 books that are unlikely to reach the Deccan peninsula (19 of which I bought) in 9 weeks. Mercifully 7 of the 26 are library books which just need to go back to their shelves.

Some time in my life in the future, I shall look at this and snort at it, but for now, my reading speed shall lace up for a wild race to June 15th!


Footnotes in Gaza by Joe Sacco

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As Joe Sacco writes at the end of his book, “There is more to life than bad news and awful history.” At least one hopes there is, for the sake of the Palestinians in the Gaza strip written about in “Footnotes in Gaza.” As he explains, his project was born as part of his role as an illustrator for a feature by Harper’s but ultimately some pictures about the 1956 incident in Khan Younis, one of the two places written about in the book were not carried. So Sacco pursued the story further and also added another neighbouring town, Rafah to his work. Due to the format in which it is written, that of a graphic novel, the book makes reading an easy exercise although the mind is not necessarily rested due to the heaviness of the content. And the content is definitely not light.

Here are a few things I will remember from the book

  • Kids couldn’t keep long hair due to the impending threat of insects and diseases. Can you imagine growing up scarred like that?
  • Israel has/had apparently got Thais doing tough low-paying jobs. I didn’t know that Thais went anywhere outside their homeland for work given the general prosperity of Thailand?

Of course, the book is another slap in the face for conflict mongers, but what will we learn? At some point in the book, Sacco quotes from a Ben Gurion speech where Gurion seems to display some empathy for the Palestinian's anguish and rage, while continuing to lead hostilities against them. The book is a must read, despite the fact that it won't be easy to eat food or even sleep well after doing so.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

This book is finally off what I now call my guilt list (books which I have started a while ago, but haven't quite gotten around to finishing).

If you haven't been Pterried already, then this book is a good place to start. The book is classic DiscWorld - right from the weird but intelligent wizards, the tyrant Vetinari, the sharp likeable women to some downright loveable characters like the erudite Mr. Nutt, whose name is the least of sources of humour in the book. Like most Pratchett books, the book has something of a plot, but reading the entire tale is what makes the experience completely worth it while making your fellow passengers on a train wonder how a guy who laughs to himself alone, is cleared to travel alone! TP's skills with the language and puns and nods to popular culture are on show. The book is a little more adultish than most of Pratchett's other books and is about football. Makes one wonder whether its writing had anything to do with the Football World Cup in 2010 (the book came out in 2009). Occasionally the tone gets clearly sombre, quite a novelty for Pratchett's books but its all lovely.

I will present my case with the following gem from the book. If they impress you, remember the book has more.

"...Truth is female, since truth is beauty rather than handsomeness.." Definite read

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Gary Kirsten for Dronacharya Award?

You heard me say it and propose it first!

So Gary, when you get it, get in touch with me ;)