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Leap Motion

I ordered the Leap Motion controller sometime last May and over a year later, I finally got to play with it. Scroll all the way down for the (unedited and needlessly long) video.

The packaging, as with most products these days, is tastefully minimal. Along with the controller, there are two USB cables and a manual I haven’t bothered opening yet. The controller itself is surprisingly small and light and, while I wish it were wireless, I understand why it isn’t.  The sides are made of aluminium and the bottom is rubberised so it stays firmly put on most surfaces. If you’re using a desktop computer, you can probably leave it on your desk without ever having to fiddle with it.

I’ll admit I went in with pretty high expectations and was somewhat disappointed at how unfinished the device seemed to be. The controller was very sensitive to gestures but it didn’t translate into a satisfying UI experience. Some games like Cut the Rope were fun but ultimately, tiring and infuriating.

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There are over 70 apps in the Airspace store and I’ve tried a few of the free ones so far. Some of them are exclusive to either Windows or Mac. One of my favourite apps is Molecules (more in the video embedded below); it’s pretty impressive zooming in and out of molecule structures (Aldrich Killian did it better) but ultimately, pointless. A few people I showed it to were quite impressed. Better Touch Tool is a Mac-only app that allows you to use gestures on the Mac OSX desktop. This, like most other apps, is hit and miss. I’m not sure if waving your hands in the air is an effective way to work on a computer; though I can see why it works well on entertainment consoles a la the Microsoft Kinect.

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As it is, the Leap Motion is not a particularly useful device. It is incredibly cool but unless app developers come up with use cases where hand  gestures are tangibly better than the keyboard or touch, I cannot see this taking off.

Until then, it does make for great party tricks though.

 

Categories: Gadgets, Technology, Videos, You Tube.

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On BioShock Infinite (and Games as a Narrative Medium)

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I’ve spent a lot of time this past week thinking about BioShock Infinite. This is somewhat unusual seeing as how I got into video games only a couple of years ago and am not really a gamer in any real sense of the word. I’m wary of open-world games and military shooters and I cannot play for longer than an hour without getting distracted. I gave up on critical darlings like Dishonored, Crysis 2 and Far Cry 3. I’m that guy.

Having said that, BioShock Infinite was different. I know I’m supposed to mull over what the game has to say about race, politics, feminism, American exceptionalism and religion. Sure, all that’s really interesting. And yes, the game excels at world-building. Columbia is an amazing yet terrifying place – one man’s utopia is another’s dystopia etc. The ending was incredibly complex and satisfying. It was, without a doubt, the most I’ve been invested in a game. Ever.

Plot and game mechanics aside, what BioShock Infinite really changed my mind about is video games as a narrative medium. The more I think about it, it really isn’t possible to distill the philosophy and story of Infinite into a film or even, a book (unless of course, it’s an intertextual tome a la Infinite Jest but that runs the risk of being, well, tedious). A film certainly wouldn’t do the story any justice because a lot of the plot is picked up via ‘voxphones’ and that too, only if you actually listen to them. Many actions in the game are purely optional but every single one of them add to the experience. And the experience is overwhelming.

Ken Levine, Irrational’s creative director has ensured that the story and philosophy is relatively high-brow whilst throwing in references to the Beach Boys and quantum theory. There is even a little fan service (Rapture!) at the very end.

Sure the game has its flaws and I’m positive, like most things that achieve this level of popularity, it will be dissected and derided by many cultural contrarians. I’ve been guilty of that in the past. But that shouldn’t dissuade anyone from picking up a copy of the game or even talking to someone who’s played it.

I’ve changed my mind about video games. I now see how it really is a legitimate artistic form that is often misunderstood and not given enough credit. BioShock Infinite made me think and feel and want to discuss it at length. I’m pretty sure that’s what art is supposed to do.

Categories: Art, Films, Uncategorized.

On Origin Stories

Back in school, I managed to get a tattered old copy of Carl Sagan’s novel, Contact from our reasonably stocked school library. There were missing pages. I never got to the part where the book posits that the prime mover of the universe may have hidden (or placed) something within the digits of π that even a civilisation capable of traversing wormholes could not find.

I later bought my own copy which, thanks to my lax lending policies in college, managed to lose. A couple of years later, I received a copy as a birthday present from a friend. That copy is somewhere in a musty old shelf in India. Contact was the defining book of my childhood. It might be slightly facetious to suggest that a single book can have profound effect on the way one thinks today, but really, it’s not that far from the truth.

In 1996, Robert Zemeckis gave it the big-budget Hollywood treatment and was for most part, able to capture the essence of the book. Having just re-watched the film, I’m once again nostalgic for that sense of wonder, optimism and curiosity that books and films once instilled in an impressionable and easily amused thirteen year-old.

Watching the film again, weirdly, felt like revisiting my own origin story. It’s a nice origin story to have.

Categories: Uncategorized.

2012 in Film

swmHere’s a list of my favorite movies from 2012 in no particular order.

If you haven’t watched Mike Birbiglia’s incredible Sleepwalk with Me, you should.

Categories: Books, Movies and Reviews thereof, Films.

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Categories: Uncategorized.

Article 19, Clause (2)

From the Constitution of India.

19. Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.—(1) All citizens shall have the right—
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) to form associations or unions;
(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India; and
* * * * *
(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or
business.

(2) Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall affect the operation of any existing law, or prevent the State from making any law, in so far as such law imposes reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right conferred by the said sub-clause in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

There are always going to be limits on your freedom. Always.

EDIT: A lot of the recent kerfuffle stems from this particular section from the IT Act 2000 passed in 2008 with no discussion in the House.

66A. Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc..- Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-

(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or

(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred, or ill will, persistently makes by making use of such computer resource or a communication device,

(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to tthree years and with fine.

Categories: India.

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Wake

Twenty three thousand feet. The captain tells us we’re twenty three thousand feet above sea level. News channels have taught me to contextualize huge distances. I work out in my head that we’re at a height of about twenty three hundred elephants. I close my eyes and press my sweaty fingers into his palms. Apparently, we’re in for some turbulence.

The plane begins to rattle and I feel my pulse quicken. I’ve noticed that most people just try their damndest to look unperturbed during turbulence. I’ve never been able to muster that level of self-deception. I pull my hand away and dig into the armrest. It isn’t death so much as the loss of love that worries me. I’m not a religious person; calling on a deity will just feel disingenuous now. There are a million unformed and hazy memories swimming around in my head and I try hard to piece them into some coherent sequence. Doesn’t work. Only irrational panic.

As always, we land safely. We’re holding hands not knowing that we wouldn’t in a while.

I later find out that the turbulence wasn’t caused by bad weather or dense cloud cover. We were caught in another plane’s wake. Someone hadn’t taken into account that what goes before affects what follows.

Neither had we.

Categories: Fiction.

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Kuwait, 2009

This is exactly how I remember Kuwait – tinged with false colours.

Categories: Photos.

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Crystal Blue Persuasion

Breaking Bad is not just my favorite television show. It’s my favorite piece of popular art ever.

For a show about a hugely successful methamphetamine empire, at its core, it is a terrifying anti-drug message. There’s something to be said about the writing when you cannot look away from the horrifying train wreck that is the show’s protagonist. Bryan Cranston’s Walter White is one of the most compelling characters written for any medium. There are times when his deception seems unjustifiable and then Vince Gilligan reminds you that one doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad person to do bad things. Evil is quite possibly the unfortunate byproduct of a life fully and recklessly lived.

There is so much to take away from Breaking Bad that it’s almost overwhelming. It is beautifully filmed and exceptionally well-written. But what brings it home, is the palpable tension that the show’s narrative nails.

Critics have been unanimous of their praise of Breaking Bad and yet, to me,  that doesn’t do it enough justice.

 

Categories: Books, Movies and Reviews thereof, TV.

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Kumaré

Vikram Gandhi‘s documentary, Kumaré is an interesting but ultimately, intellectually dishonest  prank. Gandhi pretends to be an Indian guru who amasses a number of eager followers through his phoney teachings (‘blue light yoga’) and heavily accented spiritual insights. His followers range from depressed single moms to former substance addicts and they seem more than happy to buy into the facade created by, unbeknownst to them, a brown man from New Jersey.

The problem with Kumaré is the eventual ‘unveiling’, where Gandhi decides to reveal himself. On the way to the third act, Gandhi gets caught up in his own bs. There are two possible explanations. He actually believes, like he says, that the pretence taught him and his ‘followers’ something about our innate need for self-actualisation and spirituality. Or more likely, Gandhi was too scared to pull off an honest reveal. The group might have not taken lightly to the fact that they were being taken advantage of by a man with an agenda to expose and ridicule Eastern spirituality.

That’s too bad because going all out would have made for a more profound, albeit crueler, conclusion.

Categories: Books, Movies and Reviews thereof, India, People, Religion.

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