June 30, 2006

Soccer: Argentina-Germany

Damn it.. Germany won in a penalty shoot-out..

... between this turn-of-events (followed match during penalty shoot-out at this site - a NY Times blog; with live coverage of the match) and India's disastrous cricket performance today on day 1 of the 4th test against West Indies (India lost 2 wickets real early and then went into a shell and scored only 29 runs in 29 overs at lunch, if you can believe that! And just now even as I type this, they lost another wicket in the first over after lunch!), my day is ruined...

I was hoping for a Brazil-Argentina final.... now I'm hoping it will be Germany-Brazil^, since I love Brazil as a team... everyone else just kicks the ball, Brazil actually 'plays' - but despite the record of home country rarely winning the WC* ( France in 1998 was an exception after Uruguay won at home at the inaugural one in 1930 and also, I think England won at home in 1966.)... but right from day 1, I have thought that Germany might actually win the World Cup this time...

^ Oh.. I didn't realize that Germany-Brazil were the finalists in the 2002 WC in Korea/Japan...with Brazil winning. Maybe it will be time for a revenge on home-ground for Germany then....

* Also just noticed that home country has won the title more often than I thought... Italy won at home in 1934, Argentina won on home soil in 1978 and so did Germany ..the last time the WC was played in Germany in 1974, Germany won, led by Gerd 'der bomber' Muller.

Also, here is a tidbit I found regarding the 1950 WC in Brazil (won by Uruguay, btw) which is very interesting and amusing..

Throughout the Second World War the Italian Vice-President of FIFA, Dr. Ottorino Barassi, hid the FIFA World Cup trophy in a shoe-box under his bed and thus saved it from falling into the hands of occupying troops.The qualifying competition turned into something of a farce with teams qualifying then withdrawing - and teams already eliminated being offered places. India withdrew because FIFA would not let them play in bare feet. So only 13 teams participated in the final tournament.

Comment on Book - Creators by Paul Johnson

I wrote this up last night since I had some free time. In the last 6-8 months, I have spent a lot of time in gleaning information (with lots of hyperlinks to the infinite information available on the web) and blogging, which, irrespective of whether anyone reads my blog (do not know if they do! If any one reads regularly, leave me a comment or email me!), this effort taken to blog also provides a historical timeline of some of the things I read online. In fact, it all started with me using Blogger to keep a running compilation of various interesting things on subjects of interest to me that I ran into while surfing online... but earlier this year, I decided to also blog (on this blog) in a more traditional sense. However, I also started keeping a list of the many books I read and also occasionally write my impressions, comments, and occasionally a short review of some of the books I read.

Well.. here is my initial gut reaction to a book I started perusing through last week, albeit after reading only a few dozen pages.

I remember, in the late 90s, my Dad asked me to get a book, Intellectuals : From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky by Paul Johnson. However, when we both read it, we were both very disappointed with his gossipy bios of these luminaries.

Others also have felt the same with the book - see these two reviews, for example:

Conservative historian Paul Johnson wears his ideology proudly on his sleeve in this often ruthless dissection of the thinkers and artists who (in his view) have shaped modern Western culture, having replaced some 200 years ago "the old clerisy as the guides and mentors of mankind." Taking on the likes of Karl Marx, Bertrand Russell, Lillian Hellman, and Noam Chomsky in turn, Johnson examines one idol after another and finds them all to have feet of clay. In his account, for instance, Ernest Hemingway emerges as an artistic hero who labored endlessly to forge a literary style unmistakably his own, but also as a deeply flawed man whose concern for the perfect phrase did not carry over to a concern for the women who loved him. Gossipy and sharply opinionated, Johnson's essay in cultural history spares no one. - via Amazon.com

Does it really matter that Henrik Ibsen was vain and arrogant, that Jean-Paul Sartre was incontinent? In Johnson's view, it does: these all-too-human foibles disqualify them, and other thinkers, from presuming to criticize the shortcomings of society. "Beware intellectuals," he concludes (though, given the subjects of his book, it seems he means intellectuals only of the left). "Not only should they be kept well away from the levers of power, they should also be objects of particular suspicion when they seek to offer collective advice." Whether one agrees or not, Johnson's profiles are frequently amusing and illuminating, as when he suggests that the only proletarian Karl Marx ever knew in person was the poor maid who worked for him for decades and was never paid, except in room and board, for her labors. --Gregory McNamee

Johnson here sets his sights on Marx, Sartre, Shelley, Tolstoy, Brecht, Ibsen and others. "Written from a conservative standpoint, these pummeling profiles of illustrious intellectuals are caustic, skewed, thought-provoking and thoroughly engaging," - From Publishers Weekly


The new book by him that I picked up at the public library last week is called Creators : From Chaucer and Durer to Picasso and Disney, which is a profile of various artistic, creative heroes.

Despite our experience with the former book, I picked this one up to read from the public library after I read the preface to this new book at the library itself, wherein the author admits that he got feedback from some people that the book was "mean-spirited, concentrating on the darker side of clever, talented individuals'. And so, to correct this, he is written a book on Creators, "dealing with men and women of outstanding originality" (and hopes to write a third book in the series on "Heroes, a book on people who have enriched history by careers or acts of conspicuous courage and leadership."

All good intentions with the potential to be great books for inspiration.. BUT.. based on the little bit of reading I have done so far, doesn’t look like he sticks to this promise to not focus on the negative elements of people's lives. Looks like Paul Johnson is a very opinionated bitter right-wing conservative man although he has made a name as a historian of some repute. In my mind, however, he is essentially is a tabloid-writer by nature who indulges in mud-slinging at the political left and other liberal-minded people.

Although less gossipy than the previous one, it is still caustic and once again is full of biased, opinionated, pointed remarks about these famous people and their lives. For example, reading the chapter on Jane Austen, who incidentally has written just six novels (all famous and never out of print for over 200 years now!), made me realize that this guy is probably also a sexist. While on the one hand he writes about the huge challenges women faced due to stereotypes in that age which forced ‘women striving to reach the heights of creativity to lead isolated, lonely, and often desperate lives’, he himself uses language and pointed stereotypical words like, “She thought a good deal about handsome young men, and there is even a suggestion that she was a husband-hunter. Well, what normal girl was not, in those days? But no one ever suggested that she was a beauty.” And then.. “The chances are that Jan Austen was no more than ‘a fine girl’, the rather dismissive phrase that she uses to describe a houng woman who has no claim to personal distinction in her looks.

He says this in trying to make a point that in those days, ‘beautiful women got married and produced children instead of novels. If Jane Austen was beautiful, we would have never heard of her.’ See what I mean by nonsensical, stereotypical, gossipy, and shallow speculation about the lives, looks, and motivations for these creative people.

Almost feel like it’s a waste of my time to read this book when there are so many good books to read – I hae half a mind to not even read any more of his book though I might continue reading some more as I do love to read biographies of people and get more insight into their lives than merely their accomplishments that we have heard about before.

P.S. There are some good sentences on what creativity means and what traits creative people have and how they used it to breakthrough and create lasting works of art and literature (the book concentrates only on these fields and not on creativity in the sciences) which I will copy and blog about later…

June 27, 2006

Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz - Book Review

I am 70% of my way through Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz by Edward B. Burger & Michael Starbird but have to return it to the public library soon and so I figured I might as well compile and blog about what I have read so far... since I did glean some more interesting tidbits about numbers, learned about a poll debacle during the 1936 Presidential election due to survey of an un-representative sample of the population, and so on..

Here is a "review"...subject to change and modification as and when I read the un-read chapters and finish the book...

Overall a very good read. Here is a quick review of the book, divided into 4 parts, with about 2-3 chapters in each part.

First a preface:

“When most of us think of math, we first think of numbers. And when we think of numbers, we think of counting. While at first blush we may not view the act of enumeration as profound, it is certainly something we may count on. (Sorry.)”…(Chapter 5, p79).

The book is full of such punning and corny jokes but while they are cause for a pause, they are a welcome distraction for someone like me reading the book in a very technical mood and are probably a necessary diversion to lighten the load for people who are of a mathematical bent of mind - we are after all talking about math and numbers, a much dreaded subject for many in their high school days – although I doubt that despite the mighty goals of such books to reach out to people without a mathematical propensity, do such people really read these books? That said, while the book is definitely void of any mighty equations that may scare some people away, it is not dumbed down and did make for an enjoyable read.)

Part I - Undersanding Uncertainty – Coincidences, Chaos, and Confusion

Some of the initial stuff regarding the role uncertainty, luck, and sheer statistics plays in explaining “coincidences” was elementary, in the sense that it was too obvious to someone with my background and interests. Although I personally would have liked the first two chapters to be shorter, it is likely that for a non-science non-mathematical person, these chapters on unbridled coincidences we encounter in our lives and the origin of chaos and its role in preventing us from knowing the future were perhaps necessary introductions that helped set the mood for what is to follow. The third chapter, titled ‘Digesting Life’s Data – Statistical Surprises’, was a interesting read even for someone like me who has a decent background in statistics… enlightening me about the bias in polling that led to a historic doomed poll conducted by the Literary digest for the 1936 US Presidency poll and also does a good job explaining basic statistical concepts for readers without a statistics background through interesting examples like SAT scores, HIV-AIDS testing, Air vs. road safety statistics - pointing out how statistics an help us understand the world by highlighting random or unknown features of the data but at the same time can also be used to manipulate data and lie with the right (or wrong) interpretation and presentation. (Related aside: Also see my blogpost about nonsensical surveys.)

Part II – Embracing Figures: Sensing Secrecy, Magnificient Magnitudes, and Nature’s Numbers

Skipped Chapter 4 on Cryptography for later reading and also skipped over Chapter 6 on the Synergy between Nature and Numbers (skipped the latter after giving it a quick scan as I plan to read The Constants of Nature : From Alpha to Omega--the Numbers That Encode the Deepest Secrets of the Universe by John Barrow & Just Six Numbers: The Deep Forces That Shape the Universe by Martin J. Ree, which should give more detailson these synergies.)

Chapter 5 titled, ‘Sizing up numbers’ was a great read and succeeds in its goal to put a ‘face to a number’, using common examples that arise in daily life that help us get a more intuitive feel for what thousands, millions, billions, and trillions actually mean….with some funny and interesting tidbits and examples like “The number of hours a student spends in class during a college education is one or two thousand; that number is also approximately the number of hours we sleep in a year. Coincidence? We think not…”; that it is possible for all 6.4 billion people in the world to fit into one cubic mile; and asking interesting questions like “How much will a million dollars weigh” (answer is estimated to be about 1600lbs); and if Bill Gates would be better off going off the clock to pick up a hundred dollar bill lying on the floor, if we assume his annual pay is the twenty billion dollar personal wealth increase a few years ago (the answer is NO.. at 20billion a year, he earns 2800$ a second and so earns 100$ every 1/28th of a second…so, “he should not only not clock out to pick up the 100$ bill, he shouldn’t even stop to look at it”.) But the best and most interesting example to me was the one used for explaining what a quadrillion is… where the authors use an example of folding a paper repeatedly into halves… showing that after 10 folds, we have a thousand layered stack which is 4 inches thick, after 20 folds, it is one million layers and 350 feet thick, …after 25, it is 2 miles thick, after 30, it is 1 billion layers thick and 64 miles thick…and by 50 folds it has reached 1 quadrillion layers and goes for 64 million miles…with the thickness going beyond 128 million miles (well past the sun) at the 51st fold. Ofcourse, in practice, we cannot go beyond 7 folds with any piece of paper.. (try it!)… but this example boggles the mind as even I didn’t anticipate or think of how quickly explosive repeated doubling gets. The next example in the chapter is also an interesting one on arranging a deck of card on top of each other without any glue but such that they do not topple over…and apparently (see page 90-91) it is possible to arrange a deck of 52 cards such that the top card is more than a mile beyond the end of the table so that we can actually sit on that top card without collapsing the leaning pile. Again, this may be impossible to do but the authors provide a sound mathematical and physical argument for why this and other interesting card arrangement tricks should be possible.

Part III - Exploring Aesthetics: Sexy Rectangles, Fiery Fractals, and Contortions of Space

Even though I have read quite a bit of technical literature in the area of chaos (by no means am an expert or even claim I understand chaos theory though), the chapters that lead into the discussions on chaos made for new and exciting reading. New & exciting because, based on my previous readings, I already understood how chaos arises mathematically from Bifurcation Theory but to see the patterns and ordered chaos of something like paper-folding was an amazing revelation. Chapter 7 gives us a good introduction to the aesthetics of the golden ratio and its role in art & nature and the “beauty” in golden rectangles whose base to height is the Golden Ratio, 1.618 and a delightful method to construct one with a straightedge which is unmarked and a compass. However, there are other detailed expositions of the subject (eg: The Golden Ratio : The Story of PHI, the World's Most Astonishing Number by Mario Livio) that are on my to-read list (if I ever get to them) and probably will make for even better interesting reads on the subject.

However, what I quite enjoyed was the transition made in copying over the golden triangles repeatedly, leading us from the precise beauty of the triangle to reproductive chaos. And even though I didn’t quite understand this section perfectly, it left me wanting more… the last sentence of the chapter summarizes it well.. “We now see that aesthetics and mathematics are deeply related. There’s beauty in mathematics and mathematics in beauty”. Well said.

And more delightful discussions of organized chaos did come in Chapter 8, which challenges us to go back to the ideas of paper folding and leads us through a series of very interesting pattern recognition exercises involving the valley and ridges in the folds of the paper. The authors show that results are quite mind-boggling – flitting between “sheer chaos” and “complete regularity” and in fact go on to show that the paper-folding sequence for arbitrarily many folds is actually the output of an extremely simple five-line Turing machine program!! (Some of this may be elementary for someone familiar with Turing machines and computer science basics but again… I am not sure I followed this section perfectly well ..not that I couldn’t but I gave it a quick read and did not bother to wait and study the details. The same can be said of the next section on folded swans and leading up to the Dragon curve and the common fractal structure of the self-similar Sierpinski gasket (which you can create in Excel, btw and then measure the resistance in!)

Still to read Chapter 9.. which takes us on an exploration of an “elasticized world” followed by Part IV – Transcending Reality: The Fourth Dimension & Infinity.

June 26, 2006

London or Tokyo, Moscow ya Oslo

If I had a dollar for each time someone claimed something with a "survey".... I could afford to live anywhere in the world :)
It almost seems like cities are vieing in a contest to be un-affordable!

Moscow has eclipsed Tokyo as the world's most expensive city, a new survey says.
The Russian capital moved up three spots from a year ago thanks to a recent property boom, according to a survey released Monday, while the Japanese capital slipped to third place due to the weaker yen. South Korea's Seoul ranked second on the list, up from fifth last year.

This report last year said that London is the most expensive city in the world due to the UK capital’s high cost of renting accommodation while if rents are excluded, Oslo, Copenhagen, Tokyo and Zurich are among the most costly cities in the world

Another report last year claimed Oslo is the most expensive.

Here is an article that references costs (with respect to commercial rents mainly) in Mumbai (Bombay) & Delhi.

5 stories

Couldn't sleep and woke up early (3.30am..although I did sleep earlier than usual at 9pm. I am getting old if 6 hours sleep is sufficient these days - though it probably will take couple good doses of caffeine to keep me going through the day!). I am by myself (the wife is travelling on work) and so instead of having the discipline to go back to sleep again, I started reading Amit Varma's blog, India Uncut - the only blog (other than Prem Panicker's cricket blog) that I try to read regularly.

Here are some gems from stories he has covered recently...(Sorry, Amit.. I give you credit aboveand have tried to link to your blog posts as much as I can but I may have missed some. I'll try to go back and find it at your page soon - but the way this worked - I just bookmarked the original article in some cases and thats what I am quoting from here. However, all credit for leading me to these articles goes to your blog.)

1. I didn't realize this is where the fashion show malfunction (video - may not be safe for work!) rucus ended...in a parliamentary discussion that concluded that wearing underwear is essential!! How ridiculous can we get.. Parliament has nothing better to do than discuss this..!

Wardrobe malfunctions on the ramp has Parliamentarians agitated enough to suggest undergarments be mandatory for models. The fashion industry, however, is only amused by the proposal!

Halle Berry wants to break 'free' - Halle Berry would like nothing more than to lie topless on the beach as the European women she saw in Cannes, for she feels that they are really 'free'.

And who is complaining? ;)

3. A few weeks ago both Amit (and then I) wondered... whats with India and Turkey, with reference to a post about Indian obsession with sex

The follow-up to that trend-analysis shows that people in India/Pakistan (data from delhi, chennai, mumbai!) are searching 'rape' more than any other city... dukhad & pathetic!!

4. Look ma, a floatation device
Steven Levitt of Freakonomics fame now reveals that since 1970, encompassing perhaps over 150 million commercial flights, there hasn't been a single water landing. "So perhaps 15 billion customer trips," he writes, "have heard that 10-15 second set of instructions without it ever being useful to anyone." His post, aptly titled "Airplane Nonsense," talks about some of the other instructions read out on airplanes that make no sense, framed, no doubt, by regulators who are far removed from the reality of the field they regulate. Do read, I'm sure you'll sympathise with a lot of it.
Update: It turns out that Levitt wasn't exactly correct about there being no water landings, as this Wikipedia page indicates. But his point is valid anyway, no?
Update 2 (June 13): Peter points me to a counterpoint.
5. And just for fun...read these ten miscellaneous timepass stories (ok..its actually 14 stories..not 5, like the post title says ;))
a) ' Desi molests woman in Singapore with..... lemon!' - via
b) Dil-Vil, Purse-Wurse --- Man steals purse of woman. Man sees woman's photo in it. Man falls in love. Man wonders if woman is hooked up. Man sees woman's divorce certificate in purse. Man sends purse back to woman, along with a love letter. Coming to a theater near you soon?
- via
c) Football wars - see this hilarious ad campaign :)
d) Amit tells us about a hilarious case of
mistaken identity - The BBC, doing a show on technology, mistakenly call in the wrong guy. Instead of a tech expert named Guy Kewney, they usher a gentleman from Congo named Guy Goma into the studio. As the anchor addresses him as Kewney, Goma realises the mix-up, but gamely answers the questions thrown at him anyway. Watch the video at the link above
The Times of India reports that cops in the musically named Dumka district in Jharkand have filed an FIR against a ghost. The report says that "intriguingly, it appeared to haunt women more than men." - via
f) Amit tells us that the British Army has demoted a goat - No, this news is not from the Onion, it's from the Washington Goat Post. It seems that "a 6-year-old male goat called Billy" has been "downgraded from the rank of lance corporal to fusilier," and "soldiers of a lower rank are no longer expected to salute Billy as a sign of respect."
g)Amit blogs about a Mid Day report that informs us that "at least 100 men went under the knife in the last three months because they wanted dimples like Shah Rukh Khan." GOOD for them!!! Next they can start h...h....h....haklaoing like him ;)

Darkness and Hope

There is still hope...

....here is a atypical bit of news – quite different than the usual stupid, retrograde, inane, meaningless, did I mention retrograde, sheer evil, comic, sad, depressing, and sometimes simian (monkey-business!) stories that we read in the media ..(Actually all the links in this sentence are from items Amit Varma has blogged about recently at his site, India Uncut.)

The 'retrograde' links above lead to...

Banning skirts, measuring skirts - IANS reports that a woman's commission in Madhya Pradesh "has suggested a ban on the wearing of skirts in schools and colleges and a strict dress code to control incidents of crime against women."


Banning the 'condom' word: Donning the role of the morality police, the Left Front Government has ordered that the Buladi AIDS awareness campaign - which has been running since December 2004 - be changed to omit the use of “offending” words and phrases.

While the news which brings me an element of hope that all is not wrong in this world is..
India's eye-donor capital - Tens of thousands of residents of Neemuch, a small district town of 150,000 people in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh have pledged to donate their eyes....

June 25, 2006


India to join superpowers by 2020
BRUSSELS: By the year 2020 India, China and the US will jointly contribute $1 trillion to the global economy, according to a study 'Foresight 2020' conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and sponsored by Cisco Systems. The next fifteen years will see significant outpacing of the rest of the world by Asia, particularly the powerhouses of India and China, in gross domestic product (GDP), wages and consuming power. India will contribute 12.2% to global economic growth by 2020. The study projects the continued rapid growth of India as one of the fastest growing economies. By 2020, India as a trading nation will record the biggest jump in world ranking-from 24th to 10th. Propelled by fast growth in India and China, Asia will increase its slice of the world's GDP from 35% in 2005 to 43% by 2020. India's share in the global GDP will rise from 6.2% in 2005 to 8.8% in 2020. Developing Asia will account for two-thirds of the increase in employment growth, with India alone making up 30% of the net increase in global employment with 142 million new jobs.

Read more at the article.

In 'Krrish,' Bollywood Gets a Superhero of Its Own
by Anupama Chopra, New York Times
Quoting from the review... 'fiercely handsome man with a painstakingly sculptured body"
... I can see where the 'fiercely handsome' part comes but 'painstakingly scultptured'?!! Anupama seems to be hyperbolically in love.. ;)

btw, lets hope all the special effects, costumes and Ching's marital arts that 10MM USD can buy makes Kkrish fun to watch.. The prequel to this movie, Koi Mil Gaya, was very disappointing, cliched, and the special effects sucked even compared to ET, which was made 25+ years ago. I saw the trailer to K..K...K...rish when I went to see "Fanaaaa...aaa..ugggh" recently and while it did look like Matrix-mixed-with-Spiderman, I am not sure it is going to be impressive to people fed on a steady stream of good special effects and action from Hollywood.

I think the lungi bit in the above review might be the reviewer throwing in some nonsense in leiu of a desi-metaphor.. seeing the Matrix-like long black leather costume, it is hard to imagine Roshans actually thought of a lungi as a superhero costume. Its a Roshan flick afterall.. not a Govinda-DilipDhawan caper! :)

Update: The word is in... not so super-powered after all. Krrish is Krrap, opine some.. although others have reviewed it to be Hrithik's best performance to date.

Rich people

Two stories..

1. Arcelor agrees to Mittal merger
The world's two largest steel companies have agreed on a more than €26 billion merger.

First Gates decides to step down from CEO role (albeit effective June 2008) and concentrate on his charity work with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation....less than a week later, this....

Billionaire Warren Buffett giving his fortune away"
"Brace yourself," billionaire Warren Buffett warned with a grin during an interview with Fortune magazine. He then described a momentous change in his thinking. Within months, he said, he would begin to give away his Berkshire Hathaway fortune, worth well over $40 billion. Most of it is going to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, he said.

The Gates Foundation: a global force

Guess Gates knew it was coming, huh? :) This a great donation from Buffett though... May their tribe increase!

Now lets seriously END POVERTY, fight AIDS-HIV and other scourges, and other world problems. (No...they probably can't solve the mess in Iraq or the Palestine-Israel conflict...that the perpetrators will have to figure out how to solve!)

June 23, 2006

a matter of perspective

What might be deemed a symbol of subjugation to some foreign cultures is a statement of individuality to the ones that wear them. Highlights cultural differences that not everyone understands before judging someone else...

Safaa Faisal travels through Egypt to find out why women there are increasingly choosing to wear Hejab, the Muslim veil, as a statement of their individuality. Listen to this BBC programme to understand this apparent paradox better

Ella to the rescue

TGIF.... It feels like a Saturday...want to just lay back and enjoy some jazz.

I want to ba-be-do-be-doodle like her :)

Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie: "Flyin' Home" (video via download.com)

Next up... the Puppini Sisters and the song 'Heart of Glass' heard and enjoyed on Mel Hill's wonderful jazz program on BBC Radio. Retro is back, baby.... ;)

Title of this blogpost reminds me of a poemku I wrote in 2004..

Coltrane in repose
A riff to the rescue
Life's subtleties

P.S. A little quote about jazz, arguably the 'highest rendition of individual emotion in the history of Western music'

Jazz is something Negroes invented, and it said the most profound things -- not only about us and the way we look at things, but about what modern democratic life is really about. It is the nobility of the race put into sound ... jazz has all the elements, from the spare and penetrating to the complex and enveloping. It is the hardest music to play that I know of, and it is the highest rendition of individual emotion in the history of Western music. - Wynston Marsalis (Ref.)

June 16, 2006

Books on two Italian Geniuses

Perusing through the public library last year, I had found two new books on Leonardo Da Vinci: Leonardo by Martin Kemp and Leonardo da Vinci : Flights of the Mind: A Biography by Charles Nicholl.

Some other interesting books about Da Vinci:
Leonardo da Vinci, Master Draftsman (Metropolitan Museum of Art Series) by Carmen C. Bambach
The Notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci (Volume 1) by Da Vinci
Leonardo : The Artist and the Man by Serge Bramly
Leonardo: Beautiful Dreamer by Robert Byrd
Leonardo Da Vinci: The Complete Paintings and Drawings by Frank Zollner
Leonardo Drawings (Dover Art Library).

Also of interest are the following books on the other Italian genius from the Rennaissance period ...Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni

Michelangelo Life Drawings (Dover Art Library)
Filippo Brunelleschi's design for the dome of the cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore in Florence remains one of the most towering achievements of Renaissance architecture. Completed in 1436, the dome remains a remarkable feat of design and engineering. Its span of more than 140 feet exceeds St Paul's in London and St Peter's in Rome, and even outdoes the Capitol in Washington, D.C., making it the largest dome ever constructed using bricks and mortar. The story of its creation and its brilliant but "hot-tempered" creator is told in Ross King's delightful Brunelleschi's Brunelleschi's Dome : How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture.
Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling also by Ross King
The Agony and the Ecstasy : A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo by Irving Stone
The Stones of Florence by Mary McCarthy

Of docu-fiction, alternative history, and parallel universes

Picked up a book yesterday ..The Princess of Mantua by Marie Ferranti (translated by Andrew Brown). Should be an interesting read and I will try to blog about it after I am done reading.

Purpose of this blogpost though is to talk about books like these, which some people call docu-fiction. All novels are based in time - be it the past, present, or the future, but there are some that are more steeply based in the background of a given era and use lots of historical figures, personalities, events, and landmarks as part of the story. I find that I really enjoy this genre maybe because you stand to gain a history lesson and have a cultural experience of the types you get when you visit a museum, in addition to reading a good story and enjoying good literature!

The book reminded me of two novels that I have read in the past. One was a great love story, A Venetian Affair Aby Andrea Di Robilant
, which I read completely and enjoyed a lot in 2003. The story, 'drawn in part from a cache of letters discovered by the author's father in his ancestral palazzo on the Grand Canal' had me gripped not only for the love-story aspect of it but also gave me a introductory historical perspective of life in Venice in the 15th century. The other was another good novel, The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant, which I had read half-way but never completed, also in 2003. ('Dunant masterfully blends fact and fiction, seamlessly interweaving Florentine history with the coming-of-age story of a spirited 14-year-old girl. As Florence struggles in Savonarola's grip, a serial killer stalks the streets, the French invaders creep closer, and young Alessandra Cecchi must surrender her 'childish' dreams and navigate her way into womanhood.' - italized sentences are from the amazon.com blurb for the book.) The novel is based in 15th century Florence and gave me a historical lesson on the Italian Renaissance, with an introductory lesson about the Medici family and Girolamo Savonarola's tyrrany and enlightened me to the origin of the term 'Bonfire of the Vanities' ('In 1497 he and his followers carried out the famous Bonfire of the Vanities. They sent boys from door to door collecting items associated with moral laxity: mirrors, cosmetics, lewd pictures, pagan books, gaming tables, fine dresses, and the works of immoral poets, and burnt them all in a large pile in the Piazza della Signoria of Florence. Fine Florentine Renaissance artwork was lost in Savonarola's notorious bonfires, including paintings by Sandro Botticelli thrown on the pyres by the artist himself.')

Sarah Dunant herself has a few other books in this genre (very different, than something I just ran into researching this blogpost called 'historical fantasy' ), which are set in the Rennaissance period* but the other similar novel that I had read half-way but never finished, is Tracy Chevalier's Girl with a Pearl Earring, which is quite popular, thanks to the movie adaptation, with the same name - although I never realized when the movie came and went - saw it directly at the video store one day! Couple other recent books that I saw at the public library yesterday which, I think belong to this category, are Leonardo's Swans by Karen Essex and The Constant Princess by Phillipa Gregory, which is the story of Catalina, princess of Wales & Spain and the youngest daughter to the Spanish monarchs and crusaders King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who was promised to the English Prince Arthur when she was three.

At the public library, I also ran into two other books that are in a related genre - fictionalized-dear-diaries by famous historical figures (deemed 'fictional popcorn, rather tasty, but neither filling or nutritious' by an amazon.com reviewer of the Helen of Troy book mentioned below) - but written by someone today, fictionalizing what the famous person could have possibly written. In the first one, The Hidden Diary of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson , a historian turned first-time fiction writer, fictionalizes a diary that the ill-fated queen of France may have left behind - recounting her life story in a 'spirited blend of fact and fiction' - right from her 'childhood as Austrian Archduchess Maria Antonia, her marriage to feckless Frenchman Louis XVI and her naïve pangs of conscience about hungry peasants clamoring at the gates of Versailles.' (Again, italicized words are from amazon.com blurb for the book. Also, for a more true-to-history, non-fictional rendering of her life, read Marie Antoinette : The Last Queen of France by Evelyn Lever; Marie Antoinette : The Journey by Antonia Fraser, and To the Scaffold : The Life of Marie Antoinette by Carolly Erickson.) The second is The Memoirs of Helen of Troy by Amanda Elyot (pseudonym of actress-novelist Leslie Carroll) , in which 'Helen, in middle age, writes her autobiography for her daughter, Hermione, revealing how she became the notorious Helen of Troy.' Again, since it is fictionalized but still steeped in history ('one foot in history, one in the realm of imagination', you could say) ', these books should make for interesting reads.

The other related and interesting genre that spurs flights of imagination are the alternative history books that take you on what-if scenarios, wondering how the future of the world would have changed if a certain thing in history had not happened and something else, which was a likely outcome at the time, would have happened instead. Interesting again...but though I have heard of these books, I have not read any and so cannot really blog about it much here...

And then there is the whole world of parallel universes, that people explore under the aegis of science-fiction. I am NO fan of science-fiction (never got into it!) although I love reading scientific books on physics - Cosmology, Quantum Mechanics, Relativity, lives of famous physicists (beyond Einstien, Bohr & Feynman!) etc. - although some would argue that a lot of the latest cutting-edge theories (all these links are to do with String theory, which Brian Greene, author of The Fabric of the Cosmos : Space, Time, and the Texture of Reality, tried to explain for the layman in his really good PBS-Nova documentary, The Elegant Universe - based on his book by the same name) in the scientific realm do sometimes sound like sci-fi :)

* Somehow, for me books to do with Italy or Spain in the 15th to 17th century make for more interesting reading than fiction dealing with (as against fiction from that era) 17th century Britain. (Hah.. add England/France to the list of eras of interest... though its from 5 centuries before the prudes took over in England :). In looking up these links, I read aboutthe story of Queen Isabella .. "Isabella of France (1295?–1358) married the bisexual Edward II of England as a 12-year-old, lived with him for 17 years, bore him four children, fled to France in fear of his powerful favorite, returned with her lover, Roger Mortimer, to lead a rebellion and place her son on the throne and eventually saw Mortimer executed as her son asserted his power. " Now thats a story!! :)

June 13, 2006

Vile crazy world

Vile crazy world we live in....this one comes via a great blogpost by Amit Varma. By combining two seemingly unrelated stories and juxtaposing these sad stories like this, he brings out the pathos more. Powerful blog post this..

A Colaba couple who didn't want their extra pounds to embarrass their only son underwent a gastric bypass operation to lose weight yesterday.

A girl of 13 deliberately made herself fat to end years of abuse by a bullying paedophile. She decided the only way to end the 'systematic and vile' abuse was by over-eating to make herself less attractive to him.

Read the original post at Amit Varma's India Uncut blog...

Overheard in Boston

Walking down to work along the bike-path here (same route to train station - so lotsa other people also walking...btw, speaking of walking, I read recently that after San Fransisco, Boston is supposed to be the city with the most fit people), I overheard this conversation...will replay it here in bits-n-pieces, like I heard it:

...stocks...magical thinking.. the butterfly that flapped its wings in Panama to cause a hurricane in Asia (chaos theory)... I buy stocks and the stock market goes down and a million other people have the same experience... blah blah blah...
... no.. he didn't say "blah blah blah"..but I missed the conversation thereafter as that was all the time it took for me to overtake them and move on..

Point being... this is probably one of the few cities where people in early morning to-work conversation discuss chaos theory as a possible explanation for stock market fluctuations! True that what he was saying was not some well-thought out and not necessarily meaningful theory either...most likely it was mere pontification (phatts!) based on some random tidbit of knowledge of chaos theory (or who knows..maybe he's a Math professor at one of the esteemed universities down the lane from here ..though I think not :)). In any case, I think, 90+% of all casual conversations (excluding business conversations which SOMETIMES achieve something) on this earth are garbage, inane, bogus, and meaningless... perhaps 8% is phatts like this and maybe 2% is intellectually stimulating and really interesting. The same can probably be said about the blog-space and even my mails maybe :) (I would like to imagine that my own blog is more 80-20 i.e. 80% stimulating and interesting and 20% inane... but hey.. no one other than me reads it and so thats what the poll/survey says :)

Speaking of polls, I am reading a book called Coincidences, Chaos, and All That Math Jazz, which has some interesting tidbits I gleaned about numbers, about a poll debacle during the
1936 Presidential election due to survey of an un-representative sample of the population, and so on... but I'll blog/email about that later when I complete the book - am only 30% my way into the book right now. (Extending above theory to books - 90% books are garbage, 6-8% are interesting and stimulating and perhaps the top 1% (or less) are classics. This book would be in the top 6-8% - interesting but not a classic - category).

Enuf early morning pontification .. :)

P.S. A friend points me out to a "Overheard in New York" site and says I should perhaps start a similar one for Boston. I do not overhear too many things actually ..today was an unusual event... and moreso am sure conversation in NYC is infinitely more funny, if a quick perusal of that page is any indication :) The same friend also points out that
"Sturgeon's Law says that "Ninety percent of everything is crap". Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, "Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That's because 90% of everything is crud."" Well...though I independently made that up above, Sturgeon said the same thing more than 40 years back! Well, maybe there also is a 'law' that says that anything worth being said has already been said and thought of by someone before me! ;)

June 9, 2006

Reminder for the day...

.. while it's desirable that the foreign ministers talk about Iran, they don't seem to devote any thought to the fact that there are still some 27,000 real nuclear weapons in the world. - Reminder from Hans Blix, head of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission from January 2000 to June 2003, when he was succeeded by Demetrius Perricos. Remember that Blix, author of the book, Disarming Iraq, was Chief Weapons Inspector in Iraq in 2002, when the commission began searching Iraq for weapons of mass destruction, and repeatedly said there were no weapons of mass destruction (WMD's) in post-1990s Iraq, which has been proven correct leading Blix (and others) to the conclusion that the Iraq war was 'planned well in advance. Sometimes this raises doubts about their attitude to the (weapons) inspections'. Little doubt then that the Pentagon & Bush administration in-turn took to undermine Blix's efforts and even lauched a smear campaign against Blix.

Book on this subject..
Nuclear Terrorism by Graham Allison, in which the author, a founding dean of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, arguing that the only way to eliminate nuclear terrorism's threat is to lock down the weapons at the source, Allison recommends nothing less than a new international order based on no insecure nuclear material, no new facilities for processing uranium or enriching plutonium and no new nuclear states. Those policies, Allison believes, do not stretch beyond the achievable, if pursued by a combination of quid pro quos and intimidation in an international context of negotiation and a U.S. foreign policy he describes as "humble." A humble policy in turn will facilitate building a world alliance against nuclear terrorism and acquiring the intelligence necessary for success against prospective nuclear terrorists. ..... "We do not have the luxury," he declares, "of hoping the beast will simply go away." - Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

I have ranted against nuclear weapons elsewhere...but just thought I'd add this as a reminder to all of us for the day!

It's good to be King...

Kings and queens from around the world gathered here this week to honor the longest- serving King Bhumibol Adulyadej of Thailand, who celebrates the 60th anniversary of his rule on Friday. (King Bhumibol Adulyadej the Great, born December 5, 1927, also known as King Rama IX and the Ninth Rama, has been King of Thailand since 9 June 1946. He is currently the world's longest-serving Head of State.)

Thailand marks the occasion with a spectacular River Procession - a Grand Royal Barge Procession & Light-And-Sound Show.

Thai financial markets will be closed Monday and Tuesday as part of the celebration of the 60th anniversary to the King (In unrelated news, Thai shares fell to a 6-month low, falling for the fourth straight day and hitting its lowest level since Dec. 2, 2005!)

Thailand's king to be presented with rainmaking patent
A patent in weather modification by royal rainmaking technology will be presented to Thailand's revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej

June 8, 2006

Tennis - French Open 2006

I have hardly followed whats happening in French Open this time... just got tired of work this evening and thought I'll catch up on sports news.

French Open 2006

French Open women's seed report & men's seed report, by Jon Wertheim of SI.com

Also here is a list of French Open Champions over the years..


Roger Federer has advanced to the semifinals at Grand Slam tournaments after beating Croatia's Mario Ancic 6-4, 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday. Federer will face No. 3 David Nalbandian in the semifinals. Nalbandian defeated No. 6 Nikolay Davydenko of Russia 6-3, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to reach his second French Open semifinal.

In the other semifinals, defending champion Rafael Nadal of Spain beat Novak Djokovic of Serbia-Montenegro, when the latter quit with a back injury after losing the first two sets. Nadal meets fourth- seeded 27-year old Croat Ivan Ljubicic, who is enjoying his best-ever showing at a Grand Slam event, with his previous-best effort being a trip to the quarterfinals at this year's Australian Open, where he lost to an upstart but eventual finalist Baghdatis. Ljubicic led Croatia to its first-ever Davis Cup title last year and helped the Croats capture the ATP World Team Championships event in Dusseldorf the week before this '06 French Open commenced. Ljubicic reached his first grand slam semifinal after he defeated Frenchman Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-2, 6-3.

Looks like it will be another French Open finals (hopefully with a different result than last time) between Nadal and Federer....though after 3 defeats to Nadal this year*, world #1 and super-tennis player, Federer will strangely start as the underdog!! The 20-year-old Nadal has won an Open Era-record 58 straight matches on clay and has yet to lose at the French Open, where he's 12-0. Nadal, who's a brilliant 98-12 lifetime on clay, is 33-3 overall this season, including four ATP titles.

Nadal is 3-0 versus Federer this year, with all three wins coming in finals, including clay-court ones at Masters Series events in Monte- Carlo and Rome. Federer is a perfect 43-0 this season when he's not playing Nadal.


 For the first time in 21 years, the top-four seeds will compete in the semifinals here. John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and eventual champion Mats Wilander combined to turn the trick back in 1985.
The 24-year-old Federer needs the French Open to complete a career Grand Slam. The seven-time major titlist currently holds the Wimbledon, U.S. Open and Australian Open crowns and is trying to become the first man to hold all four majors since Rod Laver in 1969. Only five men have won all four Grand Slam events (Don Budge, Fred Perry, Roy Emerson, Laver and Andre Agassi.
Federer, seeking his first-ever trip to the final at Roland Garros, has won his last 26 Grand Slam matches, dating back to Wimbledon last year. Laver holds the Open Era record by capturing 29 straight from 1969-70. The world No. 1 Federer, who lost to Nadal in last year's Roland Garros semis, will perform in his eighth straight Grand Slam semifinal. Only Lendl, who reached 10 consecutive Grand Slam semis, has a longer streak of reaching the final four.
I am assuming both Nadal and Federer will win the semis.. though it may not happen - might be a tough match for Federer against Nalbandian! (The 2002 Wimbledon runner-up Nalbandian beat Federer in last year's Tennis Masters Cup final in Shanghai and is 6-5 lifetime versus the great Swiss. Federer, however, has won five of their last six encounters, including a semifinal victory at the Rome Masters just last month. They are 2-2 in their Grand Slam meetings, but have never met at the French Open.)

UPDATE - June 9, 2006: Nalbandian retired... Federer wins and moves to finals. 3-6, 6-4, 5-2....
And Nadal's most likely is continuining his winning streak on clay....leading Ljubicic 6-4, 6-2, 3-3
So..gear up for a Nadal-Federer finals on Sunday :)


It's Henin-Hardenne vs. Kuznetsova in French Open Final
Kuznetsova advanced to her first final at Roland Garros by rallying to defeat the Czech 17-year-old Nicole Vaidisova, 5-7, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 while Henin-Hardenne never came close to losing the second semifinal against her longtime Belgian rival, Kim Clijsters, breaking open the match at 3-3 in the opening set and winning, 6-3, 6-2, in little more than an hour. It was one of the most lopsided and disappointing matches in their long rivalry, and though it is now tied at 10 victories apiece, Henin-Hardenne holds a 5-1 edge on clay. After the match, Kim Clijsters admitted that there was no way she could have beaten Henin-Hardenne.

Henin-Hardenne has won two out of the past three French Opens and starts as a favorite against Kuznetsova, although the latter is having a great season (winner of the prestigious hard-court Nasdaq-100 tournament in Key Biscayne, Florida this year) after slumping in the wake of her first Grand Slam title at the 2004 U.S. Open. Henin-Harden almost very nearly did not get past Kuznetsova in the fourth round - the latter had two match-points - when she won the French Open last year, easily defeating home-town favorite, Frenchwoman Mary Pierce, 6-1, 6-1, in the finals. In 2005, Kuznetsova had held a match point against Anastasia Myskina in the fourth round in 2004 when Myskina went on to win the title and history almost repeated itself for the third time today when Vaidisova was serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. But at that point, the relatively inexperienced Czech, making her debut as a Grand Slam semifinalist, proceeded to make three unforced errors with her feast-or-famine forehand and then double fault at 15-40 to lose the game. Kuznetsova rallied to take the set and swept through the 3rd set to win 5-7 7-6 6-2, bringing and end to a dream run by the Czech 17-year old, in which she beat world number one Amelie Mauresmo and Venus Williams on her way to the last four. After the match, Kuznetsova offered her sympathy to her Czech opponent Nicole Vaidisova after the teenager threw away a set and a 5-4 lead to lose their French Open semi-final.

(Note: Maria Sharpova, the fourth seed, lost in the 4th round itself - upset by her compatriot, the 14th seed Dinara Safina who came from 1-5 down in the final set before reeling off six straight games to complete a spectacular 7-5 2-6 7-5 victory.)


he top-seeded Bryan brothers, Bob and Mike, will play in Saturday's men's doubles final after posting a semifinal victory Thursday at the 2006 French Open. The twins handled the 15th-seeded duo of Romanian Andrei Pavel and German Alexander Waske 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) to reach a doubles Open Era-record sixth straight Grand Slam final. The Bryans' next opponent will be the second-seeded tandem of Swede Jonas Bjorkman and Belarusian Max Mirnyi, who throttled the 13th-seeded Czech pairing of Lukas Dlouhy and Pavel Vizner, 6-3, 6-3. Bjorkman and Mirnyi beat the Bryans in last year's French Open finale. The 28-year-old Bryans are 3-4 in their Grand Slam finals, with the victories coming at this year's Australian Open, the 2003 French Open and last year's U.S. Open, where they topped Bjorkman and Mirnyi for the crown.


Only comment: 4th seeded Chinese pair are in the semis. The Chinese women have become a major force in women's tennis - especially doubles. Hopefully, #1 seeds Samantha Stosur (AUS) and Lisa Raymond (US) can stop them in the finals even if 5th seeded Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) & Ai Sugiyama (JPN) can't.

Mixed Doubles - Finals

Elena Likhovtseva RUS (7)
Daniel Nestor CAN (7)
Katarina Srebotnik SLO (8)
Nenad Zimonjic SCG (8)

btw, apro lose-in-first-round all of this year, Sania Mirza has kept up the trend...she lost in first-round (albeit to a good player) in the women's singles - losing to Anastasia Myskina (10th seed) 6-4, 6-1. She teamed with Janette Husarova of Slovakia in womens doubles and lost there in the 3rd round (her doubles record is much better this year than her dismal singles record - its amazing to me that somehow despite losing every single tournament she has entered in the first round itself and at best in the 2nd round, she is still in the top 40 in singles seeding!!) and she teamed with Paul Hanley of Australia in mixed doubles and lost there ina first-round, again albeit against a good team - the duo of Bob Bryan (of Bryan brothers fame) & Martina Navratilova (looks like Martina has given up on Paes ...after losing the finals in mixed doubles last year.)

Not one more refugee death, by Emmy Pérez

And just like that, my #NPM2018 celebrations end with  a poem  today by Emmy Pérez. Not one more refugee death by Emmy Pérez A r...