Archive for March, 2007

zooming through deadlines

March 22nd, 2007

Being a professional skier is exceptionally difficult. If you've never skied, let me give you a brief description.

You start off in a steep slope and you try to build up as much speed as you can by pushing off with your poles. Not that you really need to, as steep as the slope is, you'll soon have more speed than you know what to do with. The path you have to follow runs through a series of gates, so you're not only going down the hill, you're also going back and forth across the hill, making hard turns at each gate. But here's the thing. You want maximum speed. You also want to stay on the path, you miss one gate and you're out of the race. Whenever you turn, your trade speed for rotation. The more you turn, the more you break. The less you break, the more speed you retain.

The secret to winning the race is a couple of things. First of all, you need superb positioning. You want to hit that gate at an angle that allows you to turn immediately, so that again you hit the next gate at an optimal angle (that is, the more you hit it from the top than from the side, the less speed you lose on the next turn).

To get that optimal turn, you need some serious muscle power in your legs. As long as you're going straight, you balance equally on each leg, but when turning you shift all the weight onto the inner leg. This happens at angle where the outer edge of the ski is facing upwards, so you are carving the snow with the ski, often in a lane well traveled by all of your opponents, making it metal vs ice. The turn is the race, the more power you have in the turn, the more control you have, the more you carve out an angle of rotation in a small distance of slope.

Then you have the element of concentration. Through these 2 minutes your body will exert more physical effort than you do in a month. Not only that, there is absolutely no respite, you have to be at your highest state of muscle alertness throughout. You're going at a speed of 100-130km/h. One tiny flaw and you lose, you crash out, or you crash to broken limbs.

Finally, you have to push yourself. To win, you have to take risks that you're otherwise not willing to take. [But don't tell the press that you ski drunk to have more courage like Bode Miller, even if it is a joke.] You have to ski with courage, otherwise you're not going to win.

And that.. is not unlike working through deadlines. Just that the 2-minute interval of the race is stretched to 6 months, and the 2-minute intensity of the race is split up into non-equal fragments over that same period.

You have to stay on the path, if you miss a gate you crash out of the race with consequences. After every deadline, you turn immediately facing the next one. They are coming at you so frequently that you're often not sure if you'll make the next gate. Sometimes they come as long stretches of slope that wear you out. Sometimes they come in quick succession, almost making you panic. When this happens, it's not enough to plan the next gate, you have to plan your route through the next two or three gates if you'll have any chance of navigating through them.

Positioning is crucial. Every late turn accumulates into a later turn at the next gate, lost time is hard to win back. Rather than the muscle power at the turn, it's the power to sustain from one gate to the next that makes the vital difference. Ideally, you want to be optimally positioned at every gate, but just as with skiing, it's impossible. Sometimes you have to make up for lost time, sometimes there's just not enough time.

Sadly, there isn't much to win by taking risks. If you're late at the gate, with a bad entry angle, there really isn't much you can do. The only way to prevent the same outcome at the next gate is to maintain your optimal state of concentration. It's not a willingness to work, it's far beyond that. It's a complete engulfment by the topic at hand, you eat and breathe that assignment, doing what you can until you reach the gate. It's so intense it doesn't even feel much like work. If you find that concentration, you have a good turn ahead. If not, it'll be twice as hard - you both need the work and the focus.

But once you pass that gate, it counts for nothing, the next gate means everything.

rank your sophistication

March 21st, 2007

Everyone wants to think that they have a sophisticated taste in music, right? Including me. :P In one of many pointless internet surveys/rankings that don't mean anything at all, you can now check "how mainstream" your taste is. ;) And, of course, everyone is trying to be "not mainstream", right? :P

You need a profile for this. records music you listen to and sends the artist/track names to a website that has all kinds of statistics about your music taste. So this website takes your 30 most favorite artists and scores them based on how many other user listen to those. Finally you get a score in terms of a number, and so far I'm beating everyone at this. :D :P

Rock 'n Roll! You are 5.72 % mainstream!

How to cheat: Rename your favorite songs to "Artist1 - Song1" through "Artist30 - Song30", play them for a while, then check your score. Better yet, change those names to something like "Qz6SioAp91Z - T1zIqmL09r" for a better shot at the title.

Casino Royale: that was... erm... different

March 18th, 2007

Let's be honest, there has never been a really amazing James Bond movie. It's an action packed sequence of short scenes, silly dialogue packed with puns, a cheer for old Britain, and gadgets. But, it stands for something. It's also a comment about high culture, Bond is both elegant and eloquent, but he's also a complete rebel. He's a guy that we as kids wanted to be, he knows how to get away with stuff, he thinks on his feet. He's the guy with the motorcycle and the leather jacket, only cool. At the end of the day it's exciting, it's unpredictable, it's just plain old fun.

The Bond production has had various ups and downs over the years, casting has been trying, the writing hasn't always been very good. But in one way or another every episode has still been Bond, for better or for worse (the Timothy Dalton episodes live on in infamy). Pierce Brosnan has been a breath of fresh air and truly made a strong comeback for Bond, even though in recent years they've been scratching their heads trying to find problems for him to solve, and the stories have been gradually more pathetic.


But then it was time to draw the line and start fresh. Casting for Bond must be incredibly difficult, because they looked high and low for years and came up with Daniel Craig. When I first saw him, I thought he looked like one of the bad guys from old Bond movies.

Casino Royale is not the worst Bond film ever made, it's not even a Bond at all. In the opening sequence, Bond drowns a guy in a men's room, literally drowns him in a sink. The real Bond would just knock him out, but this guy kills him with his bare hands. And for what? The scene is not explained at all, you have no idea what just happened. The opening sequence is very important in Bond, this one just completely blows. That's when I realized it's not Bond I'm watching. If that's not enough to tip you off, watch the opening credits. They've always had an artsy feel to them, with pretty abstract images. This time you actually see cartoon characters in violent hand combat, blood spilling.

Then we come to a long, long scene in Madagascar. A guy is being tailed, that turns into a pursuit on foot, and Bond is chasing him for minutes, again without the slightest idea what the hell for. Eventually he just shoots him in cold blood. The motive? His cell phone. This movie is obsessed with cell phones, Bond is calling people and checking his phone every five minutes, if you came in to see some cool gadgets, you'll be very disappointed.

This new Bond doesn't have any gadgets, he's not charming or witty, in fact he's slow. You know how Bond can always get out of a jam with some spur of the moment idea? Not this Bond, he's always behind, almost a little thick. I mean calling M because he can't figure out how to open a door? Are you kidding? Yes, they gave Pierce Brosnan really stupid lines to say, but this Bond doesn't have anything to offer in the vocal department. "I nicked the door", what kind of hillbilly are you?

Then we come to the focal point of the story. The big poker game. Not only is it the longest and most boring gambling sequence ever. Normally in Bond, gambling is just a way to antagonize the bad guy, but here his whole plan stakes on it. And he loses. Of all the things Bond can't pull off, he can't even gamble anymore. The game seems to last for days. Through all this MI6 is tracking his every move, up until we get a badly needed respite from poker when he gets poisoned. Again, he's completely helpless and outwitted, doesn't even know how to use a defibrilator. The Bond girl saves him.

What is perhaps the most painful about this movie is the many long scenes of chit chat. It's not supposed to be a soap opera. Bond falls for the girl, quits his job, she betrays him, she dies, he says "the bitch is dead", like he's a psychopath. Granted, Bond always had a relaxed relationship to his women, but he had class. Again, this shows what a halfwit this new Bond is, never occurred to him that things may not be what they seem, can't handle it either. He's a complete tool.

As if to top the whole thing off (not that it needed to be done), David Arnold, who scored the last three Bonds, and did so extremely well, seems to have lost his marbles and the score in this movie is not even worth playing once.

silent flights

March 16th, 2007

Air travel was once a luxury for the wealthy. Flying as a business was so expensive anyway that they could increase their profit margins by giving you selling you food, drink and entertainment, which only raised the price cost marginally. Then came the age of ever cheaper flights, and gradually they began phasing out everything but the bare essentials: the flight itself.

So an activity that was once about giving you an enjoyable experience, albeit in the confines of an airplane seat, is now nothing more than just transportation. Like taking the bus. Sure, they keep trying to sell you food, but very few people bother overpaying for a sandwich unless the company pays for it. And there's nothing else for you to do, between This is your captain speaking blahblah would you can it already, Sir, would you care for a sandwich *waves them away* and We'll be landing in 45 minutes, the weather is blahblah.

And that's the problem, they keep trying to pretend like flying gives you something to do, but it absolutely doesn't. And people don't believe it for a second, they're trying to just get through it. Is trying to get some rest too much to ask for? Do I really need the pilot talking his standard nonsense right above my head when I'm trying to doze off? Shut up already, I'm tired enough as it is having to get up early to get to the airport and oblige you with the ridiculous "safety" precautions, wait around doing nothing, take the flight, wait 40 minutes to get my luggage, re-check-in to my connecting flight, waste another hour at the damn airport and then listen to you all over again.

I always look to my mp3 player for salvation. Without it flying would be much worse. And recently I listen to audio books a lot. So when I get on the plane, I want peace and quiet, cause either I'll be listening or I'll try to go to sleep. Everything you could possibly say I've heard a dozen times over, please just shut up. I think we should have the stewardess hold up those big signs with everything they want to say written on it, like a teleprompter. That way they can talk as much as they want, the rest of us can get some peace.

Don Quixote

March 13th, 2007

I think that reading classics generally comes with a certain expectation, that since this work is so famous and acclaimed, it should be truly captivating in some way. Often this is not the case. Of course, there is to consider the time in which the work was produced, but some works have this timeless quality to them, and some do not.

"Don Quijote de la Mancha" is a superbly influential work, and apparently very "modernistic" for its time. And that is something I would not dispute, it really does have that kind of timeless quality to it. But it still falls short of the kind of work that a classic is expected to be.

The premise of Don Quixote is amusing, but the story is very long and in essence not very much more is said mid way than is said in the first chapter. Don Quixote and Sancho Panza are well spoken characters with substance, but their adventures are quite shallow and simplistic. This is amplified by the fact that through the course of their history, they encounter a host of characters whose stories sometimes are near identical.

In fact, one wonders if this is not a children's book, because the structure of the stories is so simple, and so obvious after the first few chapters, that a child could easily follow it.