English Movies, Thriller

Anti-trust directed by Peter Howitt

antitrust The movie started well.

Ryan Phillips (Milo) is a software programmer who along with his very geeky friends dream of doing something on their own – being young and idealistic, they believe in everything open-source and a belief that knowledge is for all humankind and should of course be free

All that changes when Milo is given a personal offer by a CEO of a company which for all practical reasons is Microsoft by another name. Tim Robbins as Gary Winston not only looks eerily like Bill Gates but also walks and talks like him and pretty much espouses the similar principles. Milo sees dollar signs all over the sky and chooses the practical route to life.

This is about 15 mins of the movie…

As I said, the movie started well. Which is about 15 mins…

The next hour and a half or so of the movie descends into  an almost half-baked thriller, when Milo realizes that Gary has a secret side to him, which includes stealing data by acting as eye in the sky and even acting as a mafia boss in ordering executions. Finally Milo wins the118-antitrust-lg battle by making a video (which by the way was really terrible) and making it public and making Gary’s most expensive investment open-source.

The movie’s foundation is different – being technical, so the hero is more of the brainy hero rather than the brawny hero. But at the end of it, the movie makes a complete hash of it. The plot, the premise, the strategies, the final coup all seem semi-finished. The story seems to grip and then slips away the very next instant….

And the thinly veiled attack on Microsoft and its market policies makes it worse because it seems at times like the mouthpiece of the open-source movement, which, in my opinion is given a disservice by the makers of this movie…

A movie that can be seen if you have absolutely nothing else to do…


ramanujan the man who knew infinity
Book Review, Non-Fiction

The Man Who Knew Infinity: A Life of the Genius Ramanujan written by Robert Kanigel

9780349104522 One of the most engrossing biographies that I have read. Not only is it a feat of writing because of the eclectic nature of the subject matter – about a mathematical genius whose area of working can seem very obscure to a layman. But also because, to do justice to the subject, the author had to bring alive a vanished world. A world that we have only tenuous links to. The world of the colonial India and a British empire that was still at the height of its powers.

The best part about this book is that not only is a vanished world brought alive but also that the two men who are the main characters in the narrative – Ramanujan and Hardy, from two wildly different worlds, come across as almost in flesh and blood. And if you are put off by the fear that this book may contain reference to some arcane mathematics – perish the thought. Even if you don’t know who Pythagoras was, you would enjoy the book as much as if you knew who he was.

The story is incredible in itself. An untrained genius waiting to be recognized in the dusty backlanes of Madras, who on his own, rediscovered two centuries of western mathematics working with a slate and a few rags of paper. A man who abhorred proofs, preferring to work out solutions in his head. A man whose astonishing leaps of intuition baffle mathematicians to this day. And a man who eventually would come to influence the modern mathematical world like few following him.

On the other side a man who embodies the best in English education. A man whose talent was recognized early on and who got all the advantages of that time. A man who was considered a genius in his own right. A man who was as eccentric as he was fiercely unconventional.

The unlikely meeting of these two men, leapfrogging geographies and more importantly prejudices, resulting in some of the most exciting and original works is considered a romantic lore in the world of science. And that story is told with love here – right from the genesis to the tragic end

The personality of the two men also determined the way the partnership progressed. Ramanujan, always in need of a hassle free environment and in need of professional validation was tailor-made for the mentorship of Hardy, who was selfless in promoting Ramanujan and who took care to nurture the genius in the Indian.

But the tragic part of the story was also probably largely due to their

personalities (and also due to the war – WWI). The unravelling of a partnership, which, if it had survived for some more years, could have yielded who knows what revelations, is a story in itself.

As you move through the pages, you are struck by the care and love with which the author has studied the people populating the book; by how much the author has immersed himself in the world that they lived in – from rustic and warm Madras to the ramparts of cold and forbidding Cambridge. You get to know the two men – Ramanujan and Hardy quite well before we come to the meat of the story. The telling of the story never flags in its pace and you can understand the race against time that Ramanujan must have felt when was working in Cambridge. At times the book almost reads like a thriller!

Robert Kanigel puts care in the way he portrays his characters. He does not mythify them and does not try to gloss over drawbacks in the two men. He takes care to nurture the grey part of his characters, which is what mainly makes the story comes alive – none of his characters seem one-dimensional.

The best biographies are those in which you can breathe the air that the characters breathe and you understand why they did what they did, even if you are culturally and historically removed from them. And the best of them are the ones which you enjoy even if you don’t relate to the subject matter. If that’s the yardstick taken, this book would rank right there at the top.


Book Review, Non-Fiction

Buyology written by Martin Lindstrom

buyology A book that marries branding with neurology, a concept that is catching on fast in the marketing world and also raising a host of other questions, not all relating to selling better – ethical ones primarily. If marketing has always been about second guessing the way we come to a buying decision and thus devising a way to trick us in to believing that we want something even though our logical part says nada, buyology tells us that we have reached a tipping point. Marketers are literally peering into our brains to understand what really turns us on when we look at an object, an image, listen to a sound or smell something. And that is being used to make us open our wallets more and more.

Naturally it raises big ethical questions. Which are not easy to answer at all; the question is – does the book address this very important side effect of this science coupled with marketing?

The book opens brilliantly with promises of lot of jaw dropping revelations. The book starts off with the grandest experiment ever conducted till date on consumer’s brains. And then it makes you settle back for magic.

Except it does not quite appear magical. Somehow it seems to lack the punch. Its not in the narrative. Its more in the final result. The first few revelations were, quite frankly, quite lame and seemed pretty intuitive. I think that any marketer worth his salt would know that overkill of similar visuals lowers attention spans and that product placement within the narrative of a show would achieve much better results. Hell, I am starting out and I knew that before I opened the book. Or the fact that sports are akin to religion in the fervour it causes amongst its followers, however atheist they may be. Or the fact that too much of scatter-brained sexual imagery takes away the customer’s attention from the product itself. Or the fact that emotions sell more than a mere logo. Or the fact that seeing a glittering futuristic design on somebody’s ear or wrist makes you want to own it. You don’t need brain scans to determine that or to know that mirror neurons are at work (in the last case, it is)

However there were some extraordinary revelations, though they were few in number as compared to the ones I described above. The prime among them, I feel, is the insight that the warning signs on the cigarette packs actually results in increasing the craving for nicotine in the smokers. Quite powerfully counter-intuitive and absolutely a death blow to anti-tobacco activists.

That said, there are nuggets of very interesting facts hidden throughout the book which gives new meaning to everyday phenomenon. And IT IS good to give a reason to societal viral marketing – mirror neuron that is. But the most important thing about this book is that it aims to make a precise science of guesswork and learn by experience that marketing is still largely today. No matter what the quality of revelations in the book, the fact is that the science it defines is very much real and is becoming a part of corporate’s marketing arsenal even as I write this. Soon, through numerous experiments, it will soon be known which area of our brains light up when we think about food, clothes, sex etc. and soon we will be sold products and services tailored to light up those precise areas

Which brings us to the most crucial question – the ethical one and the natural fear of a big brother society, which in this case would be dominated by the advertising-political-military complex. Imagine being manipulated into buying (or believing something) just because we cant help it, because our brain is overriding our logical instincts without us being even aware of it. Can it really get so bad, is the first question that pops in your mind as are halfway through the book

The book answers this poorly, lamely informing us that knowledge is power and by understanding how the marketing world CAN manipulate us, we can make our own defences. Can we? I was not convinced. Brain scans are not something at our disposal and nor are we equipped to keep in touch with the latest advances of a phenomenon which is just in the nascent stage.

But WILL it get that bad? Maybe not. Every science has its limitations and human nature cannot be manipulated so completely that someone does not cry wolf for real. But there is always a niggling possibility, no?

A book that is one of the first to talk about this new consumer science should have taken the lead to identify the paths, good and bad that we could be taken on, once this science becomes commonplace.  In this regard the book is a disappointment. But with regards to the science it proclaims on the world, this book is worth a read – especially if you are not that much into marketing yet.


Book Review, Non-Fiction

Blink written by Malcolm Gladwell

6a00d4144194da3c7f00e398cc52650003-500pi Blink carries on the tradition of ‘The Tipping Point’ of demystifying some of the mysterious undercurrent forces that affect us so much in our lives, only that we are unaware of them consciously. If ‘Tipping Point’ was about how social phenomenon around us are affected by things which do not lend themselves to documentation or rational analysis by common sense, ‘Blink’ is more personal and more individualistic.

‘Blink’ is about how our mysterious subconscious, the murky supercomputer residing in us, can make leaps of decision making and connections that we are unaware of us, but which nevertheless is a part of the choices we make or the way we think.

From knowing that a statue is fake by looking at it, when scientific analysis state otherwise, to the best method of choosing a musician (should be done blindly), this books has interesting tit-bits that keep you hooked and encourages you to think and reflect. For example, I found the part where this supercomputer can work against us, very exciting. Not only because it explains a lot about how subconscious prejudice works but also because of how we can actually make ourselves fairer by knowing our own pitfalls.

Malcolm Gladwell is very good at assimilating all the interesting research being done out there. So even though nothing in the book is essentially original, the compilation of the various researches aimed at a specific reasoning makes for exciting reading. I think this is mainly because the lay reader does not come across the individual researches which are usually known well in the scientific world…

This book, though leaves a lot out. I would have loved more details in every chapter especially on the neurological and the psychological part of the phenomenon. Though I admit that if that would have been so, the book would have become a tome of sorts. But nevertheless I found this gap to be both the strength and weakness of the book. The strength of this lies in the fact that it spikes your interest and encourages you to read more on related topics in detail.

For me, the book served more as a window to more exciting possibilities…