Settling with Settlers of Catan

Way back in early 2004 I made a trip to Seattle to visit my good friends Alok and Shruti. Here I was introduced to this board game called Carcassonne, which I really liked. Carcassonne is based on a simple concept – territory expansion. You pick tiles and you have to place them on a flat surface in a contiguous manner, trying to build cities, roads, monasteries. Obviously the person with the biggest territory wins. To win your strategy has to be really good and of course, you need to have some luck.

When I decided to purchase this later, Amazon showed me a related game called The Settlers of Catan. The game was not generally available at that time and I checked all stores that I was aware of. Eventually I purchased it from the manufacturer (MayFair Games) at somewhat of a premium. Now, a common theme with me is that whenever I purchase something that is not easily available, I tend to do nothing with it for the longest possible time. To provide you with an example, as an amateur philatelist I was really keen on laying my hands on a Penny Black. I eventually managed to get it, but I just stashed it away in a box somewhere and didn’t look at it again. The same happened with Catan – I had opened the packaging, tried to understand the game and given up after seeing the volume of information that I had to go through. And so the box lay at home, gathering dust.

Then a few nights back our friends Vaibhav and Swati decided to come over for a get-together with a plan to play Catan. The intent was to start early, so there were at our place by 5:30 in the evening. However I had a rather bad weekend with so much work to be done that I only freed up at around 9:00 pm on Sunday. And that is when they explained the rules. I must say that the rules seemed every bit as complicated as they had the first time. We decided to do a trial run and from that moment Tanuka and I were absolutely hooked.

Catan again deals with territory building, but in a slightly different manner. For one, a game of Carcassonne can last upto an hour at the most. Catan on the other hand lasts for at least a few hours. In fact we ended up playing for four hours without completing the game and eventually called it quits. The standard game of Catan can be played with 3-4 players. You get an extension for 5-6 players as well, if you want to support more players: The Settlers of Catan 5-6 Player Extension. There are some expansions available, called Catan: Cities & Knights Expansion, Catan: Seafarers Game Expansion and Catan Barbarians and Traders Expansion. These expansions provide additional scenarios and more rules to spice the game up.

A screenshot from the official website
A screenshot from the official website

The objective is to colonize Catan, a newly discovered island. The person who manages to score 10 points by means of settlements is the winner. In the simplest sense the game has two parts – Board Setup, and Gaining Resources and Earning Points:

  • Board Setup
    • The standard board comes with 19 hexagonal settlement terrain tiles, surrounded by the ocean. A settlement tile could yield lumber, wool, bricks, grain or ore, depending on what type of settlement it is (forest, sheep on pastures, hills, fields or mountains). There are 3 tiles each for bricks and ore, and 4 tiles each that give you lumber, wool and grain. The nineteenth tile is a desert, which gives you nothing.
    • There are two dice, which have to be rolled together (surprise, surprise!)
    • There are 18 circular number tiles, with numbers from 2 to 12, excluding 7. 2 and 12 occur once each, while 3, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9, 10 and 11 occur twice each. You guessed right – these numbers are what you get when you roll the two dice.
    • The settlement tiles could be laid out arbitrarily, surrounded by the ocean. You might need to play this out on a table, since the layout requires space. The number tiles are placed on the settlement tiles. There is a suggested configuration provided with the game for beginners. The fact that you could do an arbitrary arrangement makes things interesting – you cannot bank on playing from the same position every time.
  • Gaining Resources and Earning Points
    • Every player starts by placing two settlements and two roads on the board. You place a settlement at the corner of a hexagonal tile, so effectively your settlement is on 3 different tiles. A road is built on the edge of a tile and has to connect to a settlement or a road that you have already built. As you start gaining resources, you can build more roads, add new settlements or upgrade your settlements to cities. Therein lies the concept of points. Each settlement that you build adds one point to your tally and each city adds two points. Roads by themselves don’t give you any points, but if you have the longest road you get 2 points.
    • Cities and settlements have another important function – gaining resources. Each tile that your settlement is said to be on (i.e. the three hexagons) gives you resources. So if your settlement is at an intersection of lumber, wool and grain, you could potentially gain any of these resources. If the lumber that you are on has the number 6 on it, if wool has 4 and if grain has 11, then anytime that someone rolls 6, 4 or 11 you tend to get the resource from the corresponding hexagon. Resources are given out as resource cards. You might not get any resources from your roll of the dice and you might get a lot from somebody else rolling the dice. Now, if you have two settlements on the lumber tile and somebody has rolled 6, you get two lumber resource cards. If one of your settlements there is a city, you get 2 lumber resource cards for that city and 1 for the settlement. If this sounds complicated, things get much more simplified when you start playing.
    • When you have accumulated a certain number of cards, you can trade them for building up your property on the board. With a lumber card and a brick card you can build a road and so on. You can upgrade from a settlement to a city using 2 grain cards and 3 ore cards. A cheat sheet is provided to each player, indicating what is needed for a particular type of property.
    • There is a stack of development cards, which you shuffle and place face-down by the side. A development card is like a good “Chance” or “Community Chest” card in Monopoly – you don’t know what you will get, but it doesn’t hurt you. You could get a card that lets you build some roads or take any two resource cards that you want etc.
    • You can trade with other players at negotiated rates and with the bank at a fixed rate, to get resources that you require.
    • There is also the very interesting concept of a robber, but I will let you play the game to actually figure out what it is.

As you can see, the rules do appear complex. Apparently the founder Klaus Teuber had planned a much more complex game to start with, but after revisions finalized on the current form. I have to add, though, that once you play the game the rules appear much more simple. I have only played this twice and by the second time I had a full understanding of the rules. Tanuka loved the game too. Just to give you an insight of how much we liked it, I have gone ahead and placed orders for the 5-6 player extension as well as the the Cities and Knights expansion. We tried playing Monopoly the following evening, but found it significantly underwhelming after Catan. Try to get your hands on this game if you can – you will not regret the experience of playing it!

The Yes Men Fix the World – Pranks with a Twist

I had earlier expressed my chagrin about how Union Carbide, Dow and the former chairman of Union Carbide Warren Anderson have made the Bhopal Gas Tragedy an absolute farce of capitalistic proportions. Imagine my surprise when I came across this rather interesting movie, “The Yes Men Fix the World” on HBO last night. The movie depicts how a team of two pranksters, Andy Bichlbaum and Mike Bonanno (real names Jacques Servin and Igor Vamos), calling themselves the “Yes Men” played elaborate pranks on some of the major greedy corporate giants of the world.

I had read about this movie being released and Dow and ExxonMobil slamming it a few days back, but I did not expect to catch it so soon on TV. Nevertheless it was worth a watch. Perhaps the most spectacular indictment was that of Dow. On the 20th anniversary of the Bhopal tragedy on 3rd December 2004, Andy posed as Jude Finisterra, a Dow Chemical spokesperson and went live on BBC World, claiming that Dow had decided to liquidate Union Carbide and hand off the $12b proceeds for medical care, site cleanup and funding research into the hazards of other Dow products.

Needless to say, Dow was swift and emphatic in denying that they had anyone by that name … but in the few hours between the broadcast and Dow’s reaction, shareholders dumped massive quantities of Dow stock and wiped out $2b of the company’s worth! Spectacular, indeed! Additionally Dow’s reaction gave the story even more coverage and shot the irony of Bhopal and the dynamics of Bhopal to public spotlight – somebody announced that Dow was doing the right thing and Dow’s stock plummeted, while Dow discredited the story, denied doing the right thing and saw its stock go up again!

Andy then appeared in another BBC interview on Dow after the story had been discredited and was quizzed repeatedly about toying with the sentiments of the Bhopal victims. Curiously the interviewer’s focus was not on the fact that Dow hadn’t done the right thing. The movie proceeds to show that Andy and Mike traveled to Bhopal, met with people and social activists there and tried to find out if they had caused the people more harm than good. As per the movie they did not (but I am guessing that they probably edited the uncharitable parts)

There are a lot of other pranks shown, like one about Exxon recycling the remains of victims of a toxic spill to make “Vivoleum” candles, high-level Halliburton executives agreeing to a SurvivaBall, “designed to protect the corporate manager no matter what Mother Nature throws his or her way”, pulling a fast one on New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin and so on.

All in all, the movie is a fine watch. The really horrifying parts of it are the very insensitive remarks made by different people regarding different disasters, natural or man-made. People’s talking about how to take advantage of others’ suffering goes to show where the priorities of people lie. Go ahead and watch it if you can!

PS: I have been working so hard on my blog that I have stopped posting! I am currently working on the next release of Suffusion, something a lot more customizable. Keep watching!

The Inspiration for Memento?

The 2000 movie Memento happens to be a favourite among viewers and with good reason. At the time of writing it is #29 on IMDB’s top 250.

If you are not familiar with Memento, do try to watch it, and with full attention. It takes a very innovative concept and turns it even more innovative. The protagonist Leonard Shelby discloses at the start of the tale that he suffers from anterograde amnesia (short term memory loss). He remembers that in an attack his wife was mortally wounded and the injury that he suffered on his head caused this condition in him. He remembers things before the attack, but cannot hold on to things happening after the attack. The story proceeds to show how he tracks down his wife’s killer. And that is where the fun begins. The director and screenwriter use three plot devices – a reverse chronological thread, a chronological series of flashbacks and an intuitive way of creating memories for a man with none.

Within 10 minutes you realize that the story is being told in a reverse sequence – first you see the last 5 minutes of the story, then you see the 5 minutes preceding it, then you see the 5 minutes before that, and so on. This way, what you see at the end is actually the beginning of the story. You also see Leonard taking polaroid shots of people and scenes that he comes across, then jotting down important things on the photos. Additionally he gets important information tattooed on himself. This way he creates memories that he can hold on to. What you also see is the story of Sammy Jankis, one of Leonard’s former clients and a victim of anterograde amnesia.

Obviously, when you have a story being told in this manner, you are in for a surprise at the end. And in compliance with my unspoken policy I will not spoil that end for you.

Memento got a lot of kudos at the time of its release, because of the innovative reverse-chronological style of story telling. However, when I first heard of the story, I knew that the narrative style wasn’t entirely original. Back in college I had borrowed a science fiction collection from the hostel library and that had a short story of which I could recollect the two supporting characters – Tharn and a robot. Neither Google nor Wikipedia were very helpful, since I couldn’t recollect the name of the book, the name of the story or the story’s author. After several aborted attempts I finally had success today.

Typically I tend to remember the names of a few short stories in a collection. In this case, given that I had read the book more than 12 years back, and given that I had read several books around the same time, my memory was clouded. But eventually I did manage to recall one story – “Brightside Crossing”. I knew earlier that Asimov’s “Nightfall” was in this collection, but then that short story is a part of several collections. A Google search gave me the link to a collection called Beyond Tomorrow – 10 Science Fiction Adventures and I immediately knew I had struck gold. There was one story in this book called “Happy Ending” by Henry Kuttner. This was what I was looking for.

Turned out that Wikipedia did have an entry for this:

“James Kelvin pushed the button on the device the robot had given him. He was instantly transported to the chemist with the red moustache, who exclaimed, ‘Where have you been? I patented those medicinal formulas you gave me, and they are easily worth several millions of dollars. We will both be healthy, famous and rich!'” This was the happy ending to the story of that name about James Kelvin (by Henry Kuttner, 1949). But it is also the first paragraph of the story! Now it continues with the beginning of his tale, and by the end of that beginning, the reader receives a nasty jolt, as every assumption of the happy ending is turned inside out by the truth.

As you can see, there is no mention of either Tharn or a robot, which indeed makes it more difficult to locate this story! However, armed with this information I did manage to get some excerpts:

This is the way the story ended:

James Kelvin concentrated very hard on the thought of the chemist with the red moustache who had promised him a million dollars. It was simply a matter of tuning in on the man’s brain, establishing a rapport. He had done it before. Now it was more important than ever that he do it this one last time. He pressed the button on the gadget the robot had given him, and thought hard.

Far off, across limitless distances, he found the rapport.

He clamped on the mental tight beam.

He rode it …

The red-moustached man looked up, gaped, and grinned delightedly.

“So there you are!” he said. “I didn’t hear you come in. Good grief, I’ve been trying to find you for two weeks.”

“Tell me one thing quickly,” Kelvin said. “What’s your name?”

“George Bailey. Incidentally, what’s yours?”

But Kelvin didn’t answer. He had suddenly remembered the other thing the robot had told him about that gadget which established rapport when he pressed the button. He pressed it now – and nothing happened. The gadget had gone dead. Its task was finished, which obviously meant he had at last achieved health, fame and fortune. The robot had warned him, of course. The thing was set to do one specialised job. Once he got what he wanted, it would work no more.

So Kelvin got the million dollars.

And he lived happily ever after …

This is the middle of the story:

As he pushed aside the canvas curtain something – a carelessly hung rope – swung down at his face, knocking the horn-rimmed glasses askew. Simultaneously a vivid bluish light blazed into his unprotected eyes. He felt a curious, sharp sense of disorientation, a shifting motion that was almost instantly gone.

Things steadied before him. He let the curtain fall back into place, making legible again the painted inscription: HOROSCOPES – LEARN YOUR FUTURE – and he stood staring at the remarkable horomancer.

It was a – oh, impossible!

The robot said in a flat, precise voice, “You are James Kelvin. You are a reporter. You are thirty years old, unmarried, and you came to Los Angeles from Chicago today on the advice of your physician. Is that correct?”

This is the way the story starts:

Quarra Vee sat in the temporal warp with his android Tharn, and made sure everything was under control.

“How do I look?” he asked.

“You’ll pass,” Tharn said. “Nobody will be suspicious in the era you’re going to. It didn’t take long to synthesise the equipment.”

“Not long. Clothes – they look enough like real wool and linen, I suppose. Wristwatch, money – everything in order. Wristwatch – that’s odd, isn’t it? Imagine people who need machinery to tell time!”

“It’ll be safer. The optical properties in the lenses are a guard you may need against mental radiations. Don’t take them off, or the robot may try some tricks.”

“He’d better not,” Quarra Vee said. “That so-and-so runaway robot! What’s he up to, anyway, I wonder? He always was a malcontent, but at least he knew his place. I’m sorry I ever had him made. No telling what he’ll do in a semi-prehistoric world if we don’t catch him and bring him home.”

Note that the texts “This is the way the story ended”, “This is the middle of the story” and “This is the way the story starts” are in the original text and are not my embellishments. Obviously I have left out the main story, but the author does the decomposition into three parts, giving the last part first, the middle part next and the beginning last. And obviously you are in for a shock at the end. This story was first published in the “Thrilling Wonder Stories” August 1948 edition, so it predates Memento by more than half a century. And apart from the reverse chronological setting there is brainwashing involved too.

Memento takes this concept up a few notches and splits the sequence into several sections, thereby adding scope for unpredictability in each section. That is where its novelty lies – not in the reverse chronology itself.

Swoopo – An Interesting Auction Model

On the RSS feeds that show atop my Gmail inbox I sometimes see a ridiculously priced HDTV or MacBook at an auction. Instinctively I dismiss the link as a scam. However, out of idle curiosity I decided to take a look at one such link today and I came across a really interesting business model.

Swoopo operates very differently from a traditional auction site like eBay. In eBay you can buy or sell stuff. When you buy there is no cost involved in the bidding process. If you are eventually the highest bidder for an item you win it. You pay the seller the amount the bid was settled for. eBay makes money for each listing and takes a small percentage of the selling price. If something was not sold, eBay still gets the listing fee.

Swoopo is different. For starters you cannot sell stuff (if you can, I couldn’t locate it on their site). Secondly, you cannot buy using the traditional methods. Who in their right mind would sell a MacBook for around $7.00?

Swoopo, for ridiculously low prices
Swoopo, for ridiculously low prices

But there is a lot more to this than meets the eye. In Swoopo you actually pay to bid, so the cost of the item is divided amongst all the people making the bid!! Look at their Penny Auctions. The price of an item increases by 1 cent for each bid, however to bid you have to pay 75 cents each time. So if a $1,299.00 MacBook is eventually sold for $24.00, there have actually been 2400 bids on it @ 75 cents each. So Swoopo has actually made $1,800.00 in the bids alone, in addition to the minuscule $24.00 that the item actually sold for – that is a neat profit of $525 for the seller. And the best part is that even if the winning bidder has made 200 bids, he has only paid $174.00 for the item – a significant markup from the selling price of $24.00, though still way below the retail price of $1,299.

So what’s the catch? The rest of the price is actually being footed by the losing bidders. So unless you are absolutely sure that you want to buy something and are willing to go for the kill in bidding, stay away!! The thing about Swoopo is that everytime there is a bid it raises the auction time by some seconds. So you could potentially be stuck in a bidding war and end up making a big enough loss in an attempt to outbid someone.

Happy bidding!

Portraying the Mahatma

At the risk of being butchered, marinaded, barbecued and finally eaten, I would like to state that Bengali pride makes most Bengali people prefer the firebrand nature of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose to the more non-violent Mahatma that the rest of the world idolises. I fall in the same bucket (i.e. prefer Bose to Gandhi), which is why I decided to take a shot at writing this.

I have tried to analyze 5 movies, each dealing with a different view of Gandhi. Correction: I have tried to analyze 4 movies movies and 1 play. I have tried to keep my analysis as spoiler-free as possible.

  1. The Perspective of a Biographer: Gandhi (1982)

    Any list on films about Gandhi is incomplete without this biopic mentioned at the top of the heap. The remarkable thing about this movie is that the maker Richard Attenborough is not Indian and Ben Kingsley who plays the titular character is only half-Indian. And yet, this is as good a depiction of Gandhi as possible. So much so that most non-Indians I am aware of got interested in Gandhi through this eponymous movie. I myself use this movie as a refresher-course when I forget some detail associated with India’s freedom struggle.

    As a biopic this multiple Oscar winner covers Gandhi’s life from his days in South Africa up to his death. The whole aspect of India’s freedom struggle with him in the forefront is shown in great detail. The movie publishes a disclaimer upfront, stating the impossibility of recording all of Gandhi’s life in one movie and proceeds to show his journey with great historical accuracy. It seldom sees the need to spice up any event associated with Gandhi’s life, since this was a life where truth certainly was more interesting than fiction. Being more of a homage, it tends to skip over some character flaws, but that doesn’t take anything away from its splendour.

  2. The Perspective of a Relative: Gandhi, My Father (2007)

    This is an exceptional movie directed by Feroz Abbas Khan, which got buried under the more commercial releases of the year. Given the fact that the average Indian moviegoer likes the glamour and glitz that a Khan puts on display rather than a serious look at an unexplored relationship, it was not at all surprising that Gandhi, My Father failed to set the cash registers ringing. Featuring Darshan Jariwala as the Mahatma and Akshaye Khanna as his eldest son Harilal Gandhi, this movie tracks the troubled relationship of Gandhi with his son.

    I like this movie because it is never preachy. It shows how Gandhi favoured merit over relations and gradually became a passive agent of the destruction of his son’s life. Harilal’s relations with his father soured due to several actions on Gandhi’s part:

    1. Preferring to sponsor another young man in the neighbourhood for higher studies in the UK
    2. Advising someone to sue Harilal for cheating
    3. Disowning Harilal publicly

    It shows how Gandhi the father of the Nation always trumped Gandhi the father of Harilal.

  3. The Perspective of a Common Man of Today: Lage Raho Munna Bhai (2006)

    Among all movies that I have seen, this was the most novel attempt of making the common man empathize with Gandhian philosophy. For those not familiar with the movie, this is the second (and so far last) installment of the popular “Munna Bhai” series directed by Rajkumar Hirani.

    It deals with a goon Munna (Sanjay Dutt) trying to woo a pretty Radio Jockey (Vidya Balan) by pretending to be a professor of Gandhian philosophy. When he first hears of 2nd October and “Bapu” in the land of the Mahatma around 60 years after independence, his thoughts don’t progress beyond it being a “dry day”. For the uninitiated, a “dry day” is when booze-shops don’t sell liquor. After a bit of fact-finding he figures out that Gandhi is the “guy whose face they have on banknotes”. However, faced with the prospect of being outed he bites the bullet and slogs for 72 hours through every piece of literature that he can find on Gandhi.

    The result is that Gandhi (Dilip Prabhavalkar) appears to him in person and guides him through the essentials of Gandhian philosophy. He solves a variety of complex problems using his approach, called Gandhigiri:

    • He helps people muster courage and speak the truth (while lying about himself!)
    • Fights corruption
    • Shuns class discrimination
    • Protests in a non-violent manner
    • Makes people feel guilty about doing the wrong thing
    • Fights superstition

    The attempt of this movie is to help people start a journey to understand Gandhian philosophy. Of course, to gain a real understanding you would have to devote a few years of your life, but this movie’s refreshing approach really connects with the common man.

  4. The Perspective of a Non-Believer Turned Follower: Hey Ram (2000)

    Many would argue the presence of Hey Ram on this list, because this movie barely showed Gandhi for 10 minutes. However, IMO this is a very deserving pick.

    Kamal Hassan directed and acted in this movie, featuring Naseeruddin Shah as Gandhi. His character, Saket Ram loses his wife to the communal riots associated with the partition of India. In his grief and rage he is recruited by a group of Hindu fundamentalists, who plan to kill Gandhi. They hold Gandhi responsible for the riots and are against his policy of appeasement towards Muslims. Saket Ram is assigned the task of assassinating Gandhi. Eventually though, after the murder of a very close Muslim friend (played by Shahrukh Khan) by Hindus, he sees the error of his ways.

    What caught my fancy in this movie was the gruesome violence and the sheer futility of the partition riots – I was quite shaken after I stepped out of the movie theatre. The interesting thing about the movie is the difference in the portrayal of Gandhi before and after Saket’s change of heart. The dialogue delivery by Naseer before the change makes you detest Gandhi – it is as though Gandhi tried to emotionally manipulate the masses by going on fasts and Satyagrahas. After Saket’s change, however, the portrayal became much more benign. Most friends of mine failed to latch on to the fact that the portrayal of Gandhi varied by the state of mind of the protagonist, and thereby disliked the film.

  5. The Perspective of a Follower Turned Assassin: Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy (1989)

    This one, a Marathi play, is the odd one. This was also a very hard one to write about. Pradeep Dalvi, the playwright was denied permission to stage the play by the government of Maharashtra in 1989. Nine years later an attempt to resurrect the play in theatres failed again. So you can’t catch the play, but the transcripts are available. The play is split into four acts:

    1. An Assassin Speaks
    2. Gandhi Must be Stopped at Any Cost
    3. The Next Moment I Fired at Gandhi
    4. The Assassination

    History is always written by the victor. In this case, though Nathuram Godse was the person doing the killing, the victor was actually Gandhi. So naturally, any viewpoint that opposed Gandhi’s was bound to be put down. The play provides the viewpoint about Gandhi being wrong in his political stance, then justifies his killing as the only way to stop him from destroying India.

    I was hanged. There was only one common factor in Gandhi’s life and mine. We were both the cause of each other’s death. He wanted to live for his principles and I was prepared to die for my principles.

    Nathuram Godse, in Pradeep Dalvi’s play, Mee Nathuram Godse Boltoy

So there you are – one man, so many movies. Do catch them if you can – each is worth your time. It won’t matter if you admire the man’s principles or not – his journey has several lessons to teach.

The Apple of My Eye

Overcome by curiosity at the fawning of thousands of bloggers over Apple in general and the Mac OS X operating system in particular, I bit the bullet and purchased an Apple MacBook. The nice-looking black one. In November 2006. Having used it for more than 2 years now I have mixed feelings.

Before I go into my rant, let me provide a background about myself. My foray into computers began with dumb terminals working off a mainframe. I then had an extended affair with Linux – RedHat and Slackware. I also used HP-UX, SGI Irix and Solaris quite a lot, based on which course I was doing my assignments for. After that I got into a job, which meant predominantly using Windows, first NT, then 2000, then XP and now Vista. Of course, I continued to have Linux installed on my machines on a dual-boot and I did help in the administration of Linux quite a bit.

During my formative years I had the option of choosing from vi and Emacs for editing. I stuck to Emacs, mainly because it seemed supremely configurable. When I moved into the professional world I shunned commercial software like Visual Java for JDEE on Emacs, mainly because it kept my machine spiffy and because I had a very good understanding of Emacs. Of course, once I got a taste of IntelliJ IDEA, I dropped Emacs. I started using vi (actually GVIM) at that point, just like a lot of people use TextPad or EditPlus for quick and dirty editing. It was just that Emacs was an overkill for such activities and vi was much better than any of the pure Windows alternatives. The only time I use TextPad is when I want to do a “block select” on text.

The point of saying all of the above is that I have covered a fair spectrum of machines and operating systems and have adapted quite comfortably to each. To cite an example, I took to Vista just as easily as I took to XP, unlike several people I know.

So here is what I felt about Mac. You might have guessed by now, since I have had the black MacBook for more than 2 years, that I have used Mac OS X version 10.4 and 10.5 on an Intel platform.

  • The Good
    • Undeniably, the OS reliability. I have left the machine running for weeks without having to shutdown or restart. In fact, the only time I do a restart is when some patches need to be applied.
    • The looks. You can’t argue with this one. The outward appearance is sleek and the GUI redefines polish.
    • Boot Camp. I haven’t come across a better tool for installing an alternative OS. It was as effortless as it could be. Of course, I am still not sure if I can get it to triple-boot with Linux in addition to Vista.
    • Lots of other things, like battery life, resource usage etc. My battery lasts quite long – around 1.5-2 times as much as my office’s dinosaur, HP Compaq nc6400. The Mac hardly ever makes any noise.
    • Pricing. I know I will get a few raised eyebrows for this. But I am not kidding. If I compare the most reliable of the breed in non-Apple laptops (IBM / Lenovo and Sony), the costs are comparable for comparable configurations. And with the kind of stability that the machine has, I would say it is excellently priced. This wasn’t always the case, mind you, and the falling prices are the reason that Mac sales have picked up steam in the last few years. That and the switch to Intel, of course.
  • The Bad
    • Safari. Contrary to what the fans say, I find Safari to be a mediocre browser at best. Its page rendering is slow and the features it touts are things I don’t care too much for. Its redeeming feature is that it has full versions available for iPhone in addition to Windows and Mac. But then, so does Opera (for non-Apple Smartphones).
    • I was stunned to see Apple sounding the bugle on “Spaces”. 12 years back I used the WindowMaker window manager on RedHat and that let me define multiple desktops and assign different programs to different desktops. Of course, I had to tinker with the configuration file scripts for that, but I am sure they have a UI for it.
    • One aspect that is reminiscent of Windows of yore is the system restart after applying most patches. I can understand wanting a reboot if a critical security patch has been applied, but restarting after updating QuickTime? Safari? That is a stretch, given that these are patched quite frequently.
  • The Ugly
    • Where is my right-click? I consider it a serious design flaw that I have to keep “Control” pressed and then click to get a right click (or use an external mouse). Whose brilliant idea was it?
    • I have to actually use the command prompt for showing / hiding system files. And I thought this was supposed to be easier than Windows.
    • In Windows I can define what services I want to start automatically and what programs I want to start automatically. Imagine my surprise when I had to resort to Google when I wanted to figure out how to do the same in Mac. I looked at all the usual places first, like System Preferences » Accounts etc.
    • 5th January 2009 was a very happy day for me. Because Google made Picasa available for Mac that day. Ever since I came to know of Picasa in 2004, I have been hooked by its extreme simplicity. The fact that it was available for Windows and Linux but not for Mac always had me wondering. The last 2 years have been extremely difficult – iPhoto is just plain ugly.

Given a choice will I not own a Mac? Far from it. As I said earlier, I have seen a wide spectrum of machines and operating systems. None of the flaws that I have pointed out in a Mac are really showstoppers and the strengths are *very* good. And since adaptability is not my weak point, I would go so far as to say that I like the overall package.

I guess my main gripe is with Apple and its fans harping on the usability of the OS, when really it is quite unusable for a layperson used to other things. It is like saying that vi is more usable than TextPad, while it really is not unless you figure out its quirks. I still haven’t gotten Tanuka, someone who uses a computer for chat, mail, surfing and photo management to quite like the Mac. She finds it very alien.

Floored. Completely.

My absences keep getting longer and longer. Luckily I decided to write something today, otherwise I might have finished 2007 without a blog!! Anyway, here is something I actually posted as a comment on Aamir Khan’s website ( about his recent movie Taare Zameen Par. It is tough to do an “Eloi & Morlocks” analysis for this movie, so the comment is general. Aamir’s blog has a limitation of 1000 characters per comment and my first draft was 3772 characters long! So I decided to split it into sub-sections and tried my “precis-writing” skills. I eventually brought it down to 3 sections from 4 and posted it. Here is the content.

(Here is a really long comment that I have split into 3!)

Part I

My wife and I would like to first thank you for making a splendid movie. We sincerely hope that the movie makes a lot of money otherwise the message will not go to the masses. That being said, the movie set us both thinking.

I have, for the past few years, been a contributor to a group called Parivaar in Kolkata. Parivaar takes complete care of destitute and vulnerable children. Two things stand out when you visit Parivaar – the children and the administration. The children are in many ways like the ones at “Tulip”, but they are not suffering from Down’s Syndrome or autism or other congenital ailments. Instead they have been given up by parents who couldn’t take care of them. The founder is a young man in his twenties with degrees from both IIT and IIM, who chose not to pursue a life of luxury and dedicated himself to helping the underprivileged.

(Continued …)

Part II

My point in the above is that most of us lack the courage and conviction to do something so radically different. We forget that the smiles on the children’s faces are often a greater reward than any other. Why is it that most of us want our kids to grow up and become doctors or engineers? It is due to our conditioning. An average Indian is by nature more conservative and risk averse than say, an average American. Not our fault – there are more jobs and benefits available to a mediocre engineer than to a good artist. So the parents feel more secure if the child is in a low risk track. To that extent I sympathise with Ishaan’s parents – how is a child to survive in the rat race without the 3 R’s? After all, no parent wants his or her kid to do badly. It is just that in India our inherent nature really narrows down the range of “doing well” to academics. Come to think of it, even TZP’s ending shows that Ishaan has become better in academics.

Part III

I think that for the movie to make a tangible impact to society, everyone has to accept that there are more choices than becoming an engineer or a doctor. Moreover these opportunities really have to be available, profitable and visible. Our taxes should be used better to build a good infrastructure for handling unemployment. Once this happens TZP can go down in history as the movie that kickstarted a progressive society.

High points:
– Darsheel. It was astounding how he conveyed so much by speaking so little. Besides the “3 x 9” sequence, I believe he has less than 30 lines of dialogue, which goes to show how well he emotes with his eyes. The scene where his mother tells him that she cannot visit was top notch.
– The song “Maa”. And the music in general.
– The script and the direction. I now fully understand your comments on “Black”
– The research. “Solomon Islands” was a gem

Sorry for the rather long-winded comment. I hope I haven’t worn you down!


Coming soon – a tribute to our soon retiring generation of great cricketers.