Category: Opinion

I recently watched Free Solo, 1917 and Greyhound. Here are my thoughts.

Free Solo

This was such a thrilling documentary. I have rarely used that adjective for a documentary. But this one is so very different. I cannot fathom someone’s possession for their passion can blind them to the risks rather conspicuous to the rest. I was aware of the free soloing as a form of climbing. What took me by surprise was the level of planning that goes into the preparation. In hindsight, it was foolish of me to think that wasn’t the case, that the act was spontaneous.

1917

I can’t think of a better way to captures the immediacy of war than how Sam Mendes does with 1917. The single-take narration grips one right from the beginning and never lets off even for a moment. I was with the characters throughout their journey, feeling their anxiety, their pain. I entered every new terrain, turned every dark corner equally uneasy. What Mendes and his cinematographer Roger Deakins manage to achieve is absolute brilliance. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and was left gasping by the end. A cinematic masterpiece.

Greyhound

Another war flick that, sure, aimed to be different. A fast-paced action thriller about battleships is not very common. However, the economical 75 minutes of the runtime itself felt too long. The fights felt repetitive and with no other thread to hold the plot together, it was easy to skip over. Tom Hanks sells the character though. However, I am tired now of seeing him play the perfect guy. He needs to play some grey characters now, someone with a few flaws.

Bonus – Quarantine Special

I also finally watched the Quarantine special episode of Mythic Quest. This is the best show on Apple TV+, period. And this special episode was exactly what I needed now — an understanding of what I and most of us are going through in current times. What’s commendable is that it does so without giving up on the hilarity. As the episode came to the climax, it had me jumping with momentary joy. With my eyes full of happy, hopeful tears and my fists clenched, [spoiler alert] I joined Ian to shout out loud “Fuck you Coronavirus”.

Finished reading Atomic Habits by James Clear.

I didn’t want to read another self-help book. But this one had been recommended to me for so many days, so many times that I had to read this once. Going in, I absolutely knew what to expect of the book. I got just that. It just was structured well enough to keep me going.

James Clear has got a nice framework in place — make good habits obvious, attractive, easy and satisfying. One can understand why that is important. He also presents it with enough examples and detailed description. I just wish it was shorter. A few chapters feel repetitive and only to be there to meet the page count goal. We could trim almost a third of the book and it would still be equally effective.

Anyway, the rating is for the simple way James presents the framework. There’s something to be learnt from this, for sure.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Proposed Captcha for the AI Age

I recently read this brilliant comic by Zach Weinersmith at SMBC. And the first thought I had was this “has to be the most foolproof way there exists to prove yourself human”

Seriously, I am tired of proving to Google that I’m human by selecting grids with zebra crossings in them. This task has to be a lot easier for bots than it is for me because I suck at it every time.

I think, maybe, just maybe we need some other ways to test if users online are humans. Just test us for what we suck at.

  1. Keep showing us optical illusions and check how we freak out. Our eyes keep making a fool of our minds and we let them. Of course, we are already being crazies by training computers to fall for optical illusions. Why, why?
  2. Show us a street full of people coughing and sneezing around openly and ask a single question “what’s the risk that you will get coronavirus if you walk out on this street without a mask?” Apparently, no human will say 100%.
  3. Show the departure time of the flight. Show us the distance to the airport, the traffic en route. Ask us then when should we leave the house. Bots will always make us reach in time. Humans, on the other hand, will be either too early or too late, even when provided with all the data.
  4. Show us a video of people playing basketball and make us count the passes. Then just make us randomly predict when will the pandemic end. If a user selects “before August starts”, has to be Human. Yeah, and also show us next the walking, chest-thumping gorilla that we missed in the video.
  5. Just put a simple multiple-choice question, “What will you name some random street?” with one of the options as “I don’t know… name it whatever the fuck man”. Majority humans apparently will select that.

You get the idea. Don’t judge us by our smartness. If there’s anything that the last few months have proven, it is that we ain’t an intelligent species. It is our dumbness, our frailties that make us humans now.

I’m not subscribing to HEY

I have finally made my mind. I am not going to pay for HEY. It is a wonderful service, no doubt. I love it. I just don’t need it.

I have been using HEY for almost two weeks now and since last few days, I have hardly acted on any emails the way the team wants me to. Most emails have been filtered out. Tells me an email as a communication medium is already pretty worthless for me. I can’t pay so much for something that’s worth so little. Here’s my state from yesterday as I responded to an ongoing conversation.

HEY makes my email even more worthless than it already is for me. I hardly see any emails getting filtered through to me. I’m yet to decide if it’s a good thing or a bad one.

I have always been a user of the free Gmail service until now. I have evaluated many email services over the years, but haven’t paid for any. I do not run my livelihood over my personal email. Neither do I receive so many emails that managing them becomes a hassle of any sort. I could just sit down for a few minutes and handle all of them together. I hardly have to triage them — snooze or reply later are all nice features. But I rarely need them.

If all the other emails services failed to pique any interest in me earlier, why did HEY even come so close? Well, because I do see how all the features they tout as game-changing can actually solve the problems many people face with their email. No wonder then that even I want to use all the features. But my current lifestyle just doesn’t have any need for any of those.

But the screening and the feed and the paper trail?

Well, I spent the last couple of hours on Gmail to clean my filters — and with that, I have now got a pretty similar workflow in place with the help of filters and customized priority inbox. Here’s how my inbox looks.

Will I be able to maintain it? No idea. I have managed to sail through for so long. I had no clue about the sheer amount of emails even my current system was already “screening” out. So, I believe I would be fine.

Won’t I love if a system did that for me? Well, sure I would love that. But you see Hey doesn’t want to be that system. Here’s an excerpt from their manifesto.

Email’s better with a human at the helm. That’s you. You’re better at deciding where things go, what your intentions are, and how you want things set up. The machines have a lot of learning to do before they’ll be able to second-guess whether you actually wanted to see that email, whether it was a receipt or a newsletter, and even what you should be writing someone. At HEY, it’s human intelligence over artificial intelligence.

The whole workflow in HEY begins with me screening the first time senders before they arrive at my inbox. Well, nice. However, am ok to take the same decision after it has reached my inbox — I will create a filter. That’s ugly, manual work sure. But it doesn’t cost me $99/year worth of my time.

I have already created labels for feeds and paper trail. And many more. Because you see, my emails don’t just fit in these two categories. I have a lot many more filters. And I have pretty simple rules for each.

  • I need this mail in my inbox, unread.
  • I need this to skip my inbox, but stay unread. I will get to it.
  • I need this to skip my inbox and get marked as read.
  • I need this to be deleted.

That’s it. All my filters do just this. I will continue to do so manually. (I do wish though that the Gmail’s Android app allowed creating simple filters in their app.)

And am ok to lose the email address I want?

Well, I’ve currently shared my Gmail address everywhere. Even if I shift to HEY, I have to change the email address registered with many of the services. I think if I am ever to go through all this trouble, it would be for one with my custom domain. In which case, it won’t matter what email address I get on the service.

All in all, HEY is a brilliant service with a fresh perspective towards the way we use our emails. It can potentially enliven the email offerings from all the players, just the away Gmail did back in 2004. But I don’t face the problem it is trying to solve; I have no use for all its groundbreaking features. So, I can in no way justify paying the price it asks for it.

HEY has me conflicted

I paused at that last word in the title. I was so close to writing “hooked”. But then I thought have they really sold the promise yet? No doubt, they are close. But, it’s not a done deal yet.

Why is this service so enticing though? I mean it’s just an email service. I don’t even use the email that much. So why do I keep going back to HEY? It has got something to do with their promise. Of making me care even less for the email.

Every now and then I visit the “Screened Out” section to see all the mails I would have seen had I been using any other email app. And it is a mess in there. These emails never get filtered out with my existed setup. I am tired of setting all the filters in Gmail. It just doesn’t work efficiently. Junk emails always end up reaching my inbox.

This hasn’t been the case with HEY. Because they have decided on a sane default – everything screened out if not allowed earlier.

We ask every software to side with “opt-in” for every marginal aspect — something that would split their users on whether they accept it or not. Why can’t expect the same from our email service too?

And I haven’t even gotten used to all the other features that I think are potential game-changers that many others have well documented.

  • I have merged and renamed the threads — I like the cleaner workflow.
  • I have set aside the emails and marked them to be handled later. I like the idea.
  • I do not like the feed; in its current form, it is almost useless. Is it just there so that I can skim through and ignore?
  • I like the paper trail section. I don’t want to see those emails, but want them handy.
  • I love sticky notes and notes that we can put on emails. Such a simple, but brilliant idea.

However, with all said, I am conflicted. Do I want the clean experience so bad that I am willing to pay the cost? Do the junk email that I have got into the habit of deleting without a second thought bother me so much that I am willing to pay the cost? Can’t I just manually screen-out the emails?

I have about a week to decide.

Every Pixar Movie Ranked *

Pixar Animation Studios

Vox Media has an updating list of all the Pixar movies, ranked by their Culture team from worst to best. They have been doing this since last year. So it is interesting to see the list updated with every Pixar release.

Since the release of its very first feature film, Toy Story, in 1995, Pixar has become one of Hollywood’s most celebrated animation studios. Ranging from superhero adventures to tales of a lonely robot on a post-apocalyptic Earth, the studio’s 22 movies to date have earned plaudits for being artistically adventurous and telling stories ostensibly aimed at kids that have just as many adult fans. 

Yep, absolutely. I whole-heartedly agree. I and my family had recently watched Onward and had thoroughly enjoyed it. So when Vox says lets take a look back at the high highs and low-ish lows of the acclaimed animation studio”, even I want to attempt that. I do not agree with Vox Culture team’s ranking. So I want to put my own rankings out there.

* Nope, not gonna do that. I can’t rank all of them. There are 22 — how can you ever say if The Bug’s Life is worse than Cars 2. So, I will just give out my top ten; this is not a commentary in any sense. I am not a film critic. I can’t explain why one is artistically better than the other. What I can say is why I like, nah, love each movie in here.

10. Cars (2006)

As far as I can recall, this was one of the early movies I saw from the Pixar studio and I was left completely mesmerized. It was also the first time I realized how emotional an animated movie can leave you. The story was wonderful, made me emotional at many moments. And it wove the same magic for my daughter. So this remains a special movie, to this day; doesn’t matter if it is actually a good movie or not.

9. Onward (2020)

We watched the one the most recently as we were stuck at home for more than 3 months. And the fun we had as a family throughout was completely unforgettable. It made us laugh, made us cry and at times even terrified. It made us forget about all the terrible news that was spread through the world outside — makes it a very special movie for me.

8. Monsters Inc. (2001)

Again, another of the early movies from Pixar. I wasn’t a parent then, but it made me aware for the first time what parenting would be. As I watched Sulley and Mike struggle to keep Boo safe, at the same time growing closer to her, it made me worried and equally excited for the parent that I was one day going to be. I fell in love with Boo as she expressed myriad of expressions through her toddler face.

7. Inside Out (2015)

This has to be one of the smartest and most creative animated movies ever made. Such a creative story stitched into a brilliant movie. The colours, the characters, their journeys alone and together. How they drove the central human character was fascinating. This was again a movie that made me realize what I need not do around my daughter as she reaches adolescence one day. The story was clever, the execution was top-notch and the emotional attachment was to the point.

6. Wall-E (2008)

Another clever movie from Pixar. The first half without any spoken words was absolutely brilliant. I still can’t fathom how the studio made us fall in love with a squarish droid. He doesn’t speak, he doesn’t have any human features. But he expressed so many emotions that many of the well-paid actors fail to do. Wall-E’s struggle to express his love for Eve had me root for this lovely droid throughout the movie. Wish humans didn’t arrive later in the movie to spoil what could have been the finest movie of all times.

5. Toy Story (1995)

Another movie that I watched way back in my teens when I had started to believe I had become too grown up to watch animated movies any more. Pixar prove me wrong — boy what a masterpiece this one is. A movie with a brilliant story that also teaches you so much. Still being so much fun at the same time. Toy Story completely defined the roadmap for future animated films — they had to cater to the kids and the adults with a kid within at the same time. This movie did it so perfectly.

4. Coco (2017)

I love music. And I love getting emotional while watching a movie. Especially if it weaves stories around families. So Coco fit just the right spots for me. Boy, oh boy. Such a wonderful ride it was. Those mesmerizing colours. The peppy, moving music. The story that has you gripped throughout. Coco was an experience of a kind. Again, such a meaningful movie that teaches you the importance of a family. I had a tear rolling down my cheek during the final reunion song.

3. Finding Nemo (2003)

Another film that touched my yet-to-be-a-parent’s heart. I was rooting for the worried, clown-fish dad throughout his transformation. And I can’t recall how many more times have I rooted for this guy since then. I watch this movie every now and then with my daughter. She loves it; she asks me many questions about what plays out in the movie. I pull her close to me into a hug and answer her to the best of my abilities. Knowing very well, that soon she too would want to explore more and I would have to stop being overprotective and let her do that. Anyway, see that’s what even thinking about this movie does to me.

2. Toy Story 3 (2010)

There’s just so much to love about this movie. The friendship, the bond that we’ve seen grow over the 3 movies, comes so close to a culmination here. Full of laughter. Full of life-lessons. Full of heartbreaks. This is one hell of a movie – not just an animated one. Period. As Woody looks at Andy walking away while sitting close to Bonny towards the end, am sobbing away with joy. There are so many plots here and each one betters the last. This one is a string of masterclass at film making, one after another.

1. Up (2009)

Just with that masterful opening montage, this one enters my top ten list any day. I had a lump in my throat right at the beginning. The movie follows it up with weaving such a beautiful story about Carl and his relation with Russel and the many friends he makes over their journey to Paradise Falls. I loved each character in this movie. Russel. Kevin. Dug. Even Muntz for that matter. The movie had me empathize with this antagonist too before he goes all bat-shit crazy, that is. And of course, finally Carl. I loved Carl so much that I had one character based on him in my fictional short story series. Up will always remain a very special movie for me.

Best Moments from other movies

There are of course many other movies from Pixar that didn’t make the list but have some brilliant scenes. When She Loved Me song from Toy Story 2. All the action sequence from The Incredibles. Speech on criticism and creativity in the finale from Ratatouille. These movies could very well have made the list, just for these scenes. But, for me, the others on the list are just very close. So these remain the honourable mentions.

Put a price on that “sure”

There are three important rules you should live by if you want to survive in this world. First, always look over your shoulder. Second, never trust anyone. And third, never say sure”.

Not to the shopkeeper that wants you to share your mobile number with him. Not to the neighbour that wants you to help him get some work done in his home. Not to your parents when they message you asking you if they can call now; they tell you it’s not urgent. You should listen to them. Not to your wife that wants you to promise her you would do something for or with her. Not to the politicians that want you to vote for them. Not to the boss that wants you to submit the revised estimates urgently. Not to the friend who wants to add you to a WhatsApp group of batchmates from school.

Because your sure” is a promise that you know you won’t be able to keep up with. Don’t make any of these promises before you know what you are getting into. Follow their questions with some questions of your own; all should start with a why”. Get them to be specific. Evaluate and decide what you are signing up for with your sure”. Never ever lend an easy sure”.

I wonder how easy it is to write with WordPress. I know this is a brilliant platform; one that is used my many writers all over the world.

Oh, yes. You read that right. Not bloggers, but writers. I have no doubt that bloggers are writers. Doesn’t matter how they movies.portray them. As Dave Winer says, movies are written by writers and they tend to look at bloggers with total contempt.

I have decided to actively be back on Twitter again. In a way, I never was off Twitter; I have been a passive contributor on Twitter for more than a year now. During that time, Micro.blog became the place that I was most active at. However, recently I have found that the platform just doesn’t attract me. It has got nothing to do with the product or the community there. Both remain brilliant. It is the diversity (or the lack thereof) that just doesn’t fit my lifestyle, my routine.

My timeline is never active when I am. Even those who are active in my timezone do not share my interests and my culture. It is frustratingly difficult to become part of this wonderful community.

I had casually pointed out this challenge during my interaction with Jean on Micro Monday. I am afraid the things haven’t improved much in the 18 months since. I have made many attempts to overcome this. I tried to inspire people that I know, that I am friends with to join the service. I built Micro.Threads to check on the conversations that I missed while I was absent. I even tried to change my routine to better fit in. It was this last attempt that made me cognizant of the limits I was going to to just be an active participant at the service.

I know there are people from my timezone, of my interest that are very much active on the service. I am sure there would be a thread somewhere listing all such folks. But that thread cannot be discovered or be searched for. Those folks cannot be easily found. I have come to realize that neither of these is a challenge with Twitter. No doubt, Twitter has its own set of challenges. But, at least, I can participate as per my routine.

Lack of diversity and discovery remains Micro.blog’s Achilles heel. It’s a wonderful community on there; it just isn’t inclusive enough for me to fit in.

Book Review: The Mystery of the Blue Train

The Mystery of the Blue Train is a typical Poirot mystery, just not presented in her signature intriguing style. There are just too many shifts to the points of view of the supporting characters. The clues are perceivable, but they aren’t backed by any information that is revealed earlier. There were many moments when I knew what was being narrated was important, was a clue to something. But I could just not put my finger on why that was so. The resolution towards the end too did not feel very natural; it felt rushed, forced.

With the way the novel is structured, it felt as if Christie began writing this somewhere in the middle when Poirot is introduced, reached towards the end, and began to wonder how to tie the woven mystery up. All the side characters and their backstories were penned at that point and spread across the novel.

As a whole, the story just didn’t feel coherent. It wasn’t boring; I don’t think Christie can write a boring mystery. But it just wasn’t one of her finest works. I have heard even she has acknowledged this fact.