Saturday, February 26, 2011

Books: The Complete Book of Spirits

Anthony Dias Blue traces the history of spirits in this book. In the introductory chapter, he tells us the origin of the word “spirits” along with a brief history of distillation process. In the subsequent chapters, he gives us a lot of background information on various spirits like Vodka, Aquavit, Gin, Rum, Tequila and Whisky. He aptly concludes his book with tips on how to build a well stocked bar in your home.

Each chapter deals with a particular spirit and is well structured. Anthony begins each chapter by what constitutes the spirit. Then he explains the history of the spirit before he meticulously writes about the distillation techniques associated with it. He gives us tasting tips and also how to make the spirit if you are in the mood to try out this at home. The famous brands associated with the spirit are also profiled in the chapter. Before concluding the chapter, Anthony also shares the notes compiled from the various tasting sessions. He also rates the various offerings from different brands using two criteria – starred rating for taste and “dollar”ed rating for price. The author dedicates more pages to explain Whisky. He distinguishes between Blended Whisky, Scotch Whisky, Irish Whiskey with a “e” and also American Whisky.

The structure and style of writing helps in understanding the spirits intimately while making this a brisk read at the same time. The distillation process is explained in layman’s terms which make the reader appreciate the science behind this in a new light. The tasting notes at the end of each chapter adds to the volume of the book. But it gets tedious for someone who is only interested in the history and the process as there are numerous pages dedicated for this. But the tasting notes can be skimmed to check where your favorite choice of brand offering stands in the world of tasting. It also assists you choosing the perfect collection for your next party if you intend to impress your guests.

Pick up this book if you love spirits.

PS: There is a fine line between loving spirits and being addicted to spirits. For the latter, this book will not make sense.

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Tags: Books,Spirits,Anthony Dias Blue

Friday, February 25, 2011

Can you confirm if I will be satisfied with this?

Today, the cafeteria featured French hamburger. One look at the patty and the decision was made. I’m going to order it, bite into it and enjoy it’s journey from my mouth to my intestine.

But the young gun, who joined me for lunch, was hesitant! He asked “Will it be filling?”. As this is a general question, I kept staring at the delicious patty, teasing me from the plate. Then, he repeated the question but this time edging closer to me. This is when I realized the question was aimed at me. He was looking for a confirmation from my side.

I understand the customer, the manager and your co-worker are all asking for confirmation on the work deliverables. But a confirmation on the hamburger? Aren’t we taking this work thing a little too seriously?

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Tags: Musings,Confirmation

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Movie Review: No Strings Attached

In the past 15 years, Adam Franklin(Ashton Kutcher) has bumped into Emma Kurtzman(Natalie Portman) on many occasions by chance. They were always brief encounters. They meet for the first time during a summer camp when they are kids. Adam’s parents were undergoing a divorce. As a result, he is a mental wreck. Years later, they meet at a frat party and Emma asks Adam to accompany her on her dad’s funeral the next day. After a few years, they meet at a fairground. At present, Adam is working as an assistant in a TV show. Although his father was a popular TV actor Alvin Franklin(Kevin Kline) with a great fan base, he politely refuses all help from his father to advance his career. During one of his visits to his dad, Adam is devastated to find his ex-girlfriend holed up with his dad. As a result, he gets drunk and calls every girl on his phone for casual sex.

Next day, Adam wakes up naked in a strange apartment. There are 2 girls and 1 man in the apartment. During the conversation, everyone claim to have had sex with him. When Adam grapples with this, Emma appears. Emma had taken Adam to her house after getting a call from him. Although nothing happened the previous night between them, Adam had put a quite a naked show. During the conversation about the previous night, both of them get turned on and have sex. After this, Adam courts Emma. But Emma does not want to get into a relationship. They decide to become friends with benefits. But can they stay this way forever?

Ivan Reitman directs this comedy. He takes the usual recipe of a successful romantic comedy and reverses the roles. The girl do not want any emotional entanglement while the boy wants a relationship. It is an interesting premise. But it falls flat because the movie tries to trespass into serious territory by exploring the emotional conflicts of Emma. As for the conflict, it is not very clear why she does not want to have a relationship and ends up as a badly written character.

Ashton Kutcher as Adam sleepwalks through his role. There is nothing new about this one. Natalie Portman is a misfit as Emma. She is good during the emotional scenes. But the movie has very few of such scenes!

Skip it. You have to either be Adam or his dad Alvin to like this move! Adam gets drunk fast and Alvin is always on the weed. Even then, the chances of liking this movie are rare!

Language: English

Genre: Comedy

Rating: *

Tags: Movies,Ashton Kutcher,Natalie Portman,Kevin Kline,Ivan Reitman,Comedy

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Why is it hard to decide the right audience for our message?

My colleagues have a different working style which is evident from the recent communication over the email. The subject in question was the review of a functional specifications. Although I rate my area of expertise way above this mundane document, it was the need of the hour! Sometimes, it is good to go back to your roots. The email was was marked directly to a set of people and also cc-ed the email to another set of people.

The people, who were marked directly, could have contributed to the review process. Among those who got a copy of this email, there were persons who where at least 2 levels up in the hierarchy as compared to the sender. I wonder what was the reason to include such a person! After all, it was for reviewing the functional specification. Typically, a person who is 2 levels above the sender would be reviewing the contracts, the profitability, the penalties, the operational efficiency etc. On top of it, such a person has employees in the range of 100-150 reporting under him. Will such a person be able to read and comment on a functional specification? If the person can do it, isn’t it counter productive?

At work, I constantly struggle with organizing and responding to my emails. Sometimes, there are issues addressed to me for which I will not be able to contribute. In such cases, I make it clear to the sender. But this happens as a feedback. Coming back to root of the problem, why is it hard to decide the right audience for our message?

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Tags: Musings,Email

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A customer blows steam

Yes, I have been insulted by the customer on numerous occasions. The caustic reaction from the customer ranges from the emotional outburst to veiled sarcastic comments after checkmating me. There is not much to write about these veiled sarcastic comments. This one causes enormous damage! It ends up making you look like a fool and also feel every bit of it! On the other hand, it is the emotional outbursts which provides entertainment.

As part of a goof up, a young gun was in charge of the damage control. The damage control was a two step process. The first step was to ensure the users are able to proceed with their validations. The second step was to assess impacts on other parts of the system. Yes, this should have been done first. Now, it is too late in the game. So, the consensus was to do a black ops. Assess the impact silently and rectify it before anyone notices it!

The young gun was interacting with the users primarily. As users are aware of neither the underlying technology nor the enterprise level impact of the system, it is easier to get them going. All was well till a technically proficient old timer got involved in the proceedings. The old timer asked questions and the young gun became evasive. Very soon, the age difference, cultural difference and language barrier formed the three major factors for blowing up the fuse.

I was called in. Even before explaining the situation and what to do about it, the old timer blew out some steam.

The old timer said. “Could you please… I repeat… PLEASE… tell the young gun that I have been programming before he was born!”

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Tags: Musings,Customer,Young Gun,Old Timer

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Books: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

This book is a compilation of articles written by Tucker Max. Tucker Max runs a website where he regularly blogs. He also uses his website to meet members of the fairer sex. He writes about encounters with women and the drunken trysts with his friends. Sex and drunken behavior prominently appears throughout the book.

Tucker unapologetically writes about the first time he had anal sex, how he tried to film it and the ensuing disaster. The disaster is not about getting caught but about how he got caught! Tucker also has insecurities. Yes, a man like him also have insecurities. With a long list of women in his life, he is unsure if he had sex with a man! But, why is it difficult to find out? It is in fact and a gay man explains it to Tucker. Tucker have many casual buddies. Since he knows what they are up to even when some of them are on their way to a date, he often wonders whether he was at the receiving end at any time during his life! That worries Tucker.

Hidden between all the vomit, urine, poop and sperm, there are funny incidents that don’t gross you out. Can you get to it? It depends on your tolerance level. The writing style is easy and funny. Finally, it is a book for the guys from an alpha male. Men can relate with this book more; not because they have experienced what is written in the book. But these are the topics of discussion when your tongue is loose after alcohol intake.

Tags: Books,Tucker Max

Friday, February 18, 2011

“eye”raq or “ee”raq

How do you say “Iraq”? Does it sound like “eye”raq or “ee”raq?

I was listening to an episode of Fresh Air featuring Matthew Alexander who served as a senior military interrogator in Iraq. Throughout the interview, he kept saying “eye”raq.

I always say “ee”raq. But I may be wrong! Then, there is nothing to worry.

But if Matthew and his fellow Americans have got it wrong, then there is something fundamental missing in the whole equation. Matthew is an interrogator and needs to build the trust with his source to weed out intelligence. How do you expect to build trust when you can’t get the name correctly?

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Tags: Musings,Iraq

Movie Review: True Grit

When her dad is killed by Chaney(Josh Brolin), Mattie Ross(Hailee Steinfeld) decides to apprehend him. In order to do this, Mattie searches for a Marshal with true grit. She finds one in the old drunken Marshal Rooster Cogburn(Jeff Bridges). She strikes a deal with Cogburn and agrees to pay him for his services. There is one condition. Mattie will be accompanying Cogburn in the mission.

Soon, Mattie finds a Texas Ranger named LeBoeuf(Matt Damon) who is also interested in capturing Chaney. But LeBoeuf plans to take Chaney back to Texas. Even though Mattie tries to prevent a meeting between LeBoeuf and Cogburn, she is unsuccessful. Both men go off on the hunt without Mattie. But Mattie follows them and finally both men relents. The hunt turns out to be life altering experience for Mattie.

Joel and Ethan Coen – the Coen brothers – adapts the novel by Charles Portis and also directs it. The movie is different from the earlier adaptation starring John Wayne in many ways. Although there are minor changes from the novel, the movie carries the spirit of the novel. This is truly the journey of Mattie Ross. The final moments of the movie captures the loss of an era poignantly. Instead of romanticizing, the Coen brothers focuses on the flawed characters in tune with the times. At the end of the movie, the viewer finds true grit in all the three main characters. All three are different from each other but display exceptional courage and determination.

Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie is the pillar of the movie. Hailee’s Mattie believes in justice mostly from her understanding of the Bible. She is a teenager who has bigger responsibilities than her contemporaries. While she is strict and smart in dealing with people around her, she also displays the innocence of her age. Jeff Bridges as Cogburn speaks unintelligibly. But that is how Cogburn should be. But it is during moments when Cogburn deals with his past that Jeff Bridges surprises us. His drunken antics are funny and also shows the stubborn yet foolish nature of the character. Matt Damon as LeBoeuf impresses by the way he transforms into a Texas Ranger. Check out how he speaks after he is injured.

The focus is not on action but on drama. That is what the novel is about. A good adaptation and a recommended watch.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tags: Movies,Jeff Bridges,Matt Damon,Hailee Steinfeld,Joel and Ethan Coen,Drama

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Champagne glass that glows

My friend brought back a champagne glass from Paris. The glass was part of a promotional activity associated with some brand of champagne. A light glows when you pour liquid into the glass.

Tags: Videos,Champagne,Glass

Getting the girl’s dad to say “Yes”

Falling in love is dangerous especially if you have to get the consent of parents to get married. Although I have heard all kinds of stories about getting the parents to say “yes”, all of these were vague on what exactly clinched the deal! A friend detailed his experience which involved two religions and two regions. How complicated can it get?

He is from Maharashtra. She is from Kerala. He is Hindu. She is Christian. Cupid struck. All is well till then they decides to take the next step. They want to get married. Now the families come into the picture. His family is okay with this. Her family is not okay with this.

So, he visits her dad. Her dad is very polite. In the first round of discussion, her dad tells him, “You are a good boy”. This is immediately followed by the next request. “This union is not good. I request you to consider as a sister”.

I cracked up at this stage. But he continued with the story without revealing his reaction to this absurd request.

He says, “Sorry”. Her dad insists. But he is like a rock; immovable. The discussions go on and on. Finally, her dad says. “I’m worried about her education. She has two more years to complete her graduate degree. What happens to her education after she marries?”. He understands the concern.

Now, he is happily married to her. They have a son. He also “funded” the last few years of her education.

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Tags: Musings,Love,Marriage

Friday, February 11, 2011

Please take your business elsewhere!

The bank has asked my friend to take his business elsewhere. Surprisingly as it sound, that is exactly what they said in the elegant words written on the snail mail. But he is not surprised as he has a good understanding on the reasons why his account is shutdown. It was as the result of helping his fellow expatriates.

My friend works for one of widely known consulting firms located in Europe. Unlike the rest of us, he is going to be here in France for a very long time. The rest of us have a shorter shelf life. So, my friend doubles up as the go-to person or the man who lights the path for the rest of us. All of us go to him for small favors. He obliges.

One such favor was of a financial nature. Some of his friends are here for “business”. But here, the “business” is carried over a period of 3 months or more. In such cases, you can’t open a bank account. So, these friends asked my friend to keep the money in his savings account. The money is safe in the bank and you get a negligible amount in interest. My friend as usual obliged. When he was depositing the money, the bank questioned him about the source. Normally, a person should develop a cold feet. But my friend was brave. He declared it as a loan.

It has been over three months since this incident. The bank has closed his account!

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Tags: Musings,Bank,Expatriate

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Books: True Grit

14 year old Mattie Ross is determined to find her father’s killer and bring him to justice. Her father was killed by a recently hired hand named Tom Chaney. So, Mattie travels from Dardanelle in Yell County, Arkansas to Fort Smith, Arkansas to receive her father’s remains. At Fort Smith, she searches for a man with true grit to capture Chaney. She finds Marshal Rooster Cogburn and enlists his help. Mattie also comes across a Texas Ranger named LaBoeuf who has been searching for Chaney. Mattie wants to accompany the men in the search. The men resist the idea. But Mattie is resourceful and determined.

Charles Portis, the author, narrates a tale of vengeance. The novel is written as a first hand account by Mattie Ross, several years after the events in the novel. The events takes place a few years after the Civil War. Portis details the changing world through the eyes of Mattie. Mattie has not seen much of the world outside her ranch. Being the first child and smart beyond her age, she has been helping her dad in his business. Her political views are limited and her wisdom comes from the Bible. All these factors contribute to telling a tale of vengeance that touches you. Portis uses a lot of idioms and way of speaking from a foregone era which throws a lot of insight into times in which the characters lived. The style of language brings in clarity to the times and the plot never ever straying from Mattie’s viewpoint. The accelerated adulthood of Mattie and her righteous talk lingers in your mind even after you put down the novel.

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Tags: Books,Charles Portis

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Does he really deserve credit?

My friend sounded distressed. He had delivered just a project and was expecting a word of encouragement from the customer. But there was none and he panicked.

I cooled him down. On second thoughts, I thought I was cooling him down. So, I ended up asking a question and as usual, I summarized.

“So, your customer wanted this deliverable two months back. You delivered this two days back?”

“Yes”. And he continued, “ But the customer did not tell us what they needed until two months back!”.

I couldn’t help asking. “So, they wanted it two months back. Okay, they were late in telling you exactly what they needed. So, you ended up delivering half of it two days back. The rest of it will be delivered only two months from now. And you expect a pat in the back for half the real work”.

He replied without hesitation. “You are right! I do!”

Does he really deserve credit for this? In my opinion, he did not deliver what was expected. So, he should not be expecting a commendation!

Tags: Musings,Commendation

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Movie Review: The King’s Speech

In 1925, King George V(Michael Gambon) asks his second son Prince Albert(Colin Firth), Duke of York to address the closing ceremony of the Empire Exhibition at Wembley Stadium. Albert stammers through the speech and eventually makes the crowd uneasy. When several treatments fail to cure Albert, his wife Elizabeth(Helena Bonham Carter), Duchess of York pays a visit to Lionel Logue(Geoffrey Rush). Lionel has been successful in treating speech impediments through his unorthodox ways and Elizabeth came to know about him through a friend. Lionel agrees with conditions. Albert has to come over to his clinic for treatment and there will be equality between the doctor and the patient.

Albert arrives for the first session. But he refuses to believe Lionel and hates Lionel’s methods. So he storms out of the clinic. Later, after making the Christmas speech, King George V confides in Albert. The father tells the son the importance of radio in the future. He also talks about his first son Prince of Wales(Guy Pearce). King George V does not like the womanizing and carefree life of his first son which is unbecoming of a future king. Albert understands he will be king one day if his brother turns out to be incapable. But Albert fears that day because of his disability. Once again, Albert goes to Lionel. Though the men work together on Albert’s problem, there are events that will test their friendship and confidence. With Hitler rallying the Germans and his elder brother’s disinterest in politics, Albert is forced to a corner.

Tom Hopper directs this movie which focuses on the dilemma faced by a public figure who reluctantly rises up to occasion despite his several misgivings like lack of confidence, disability etc. Although the historical facts might be distorted, the movie eventually provides adequate drama to make this an interesting watch. The story spans from first disastrous speech given by Prince Albert to the successful address given to the nation on the eve of war. In order to tell a compelling story, Tom is backed up by a team of veterans who perform their roles with ease giving a delightful and original interpretation of the various public figures. Finally, it is the performances that wins over the audience even though the pace of the movie is a bit slow.

Colin Firth gives a moving performance as Prince Albert. Colin’s Prince Albert knows his elder brother is not capable of doing his duty as a king. While he fights to cure himself of his speech impediment, he is also besieged with various emotions. Is he betraying his brother? Can this be interpreted as treason? Finally, he is also frustrated by the previous failed attempts in correcting him of this disability. The few scenes that brings the best of him are when he narrates a bed time story to his two daughters, the way he avoids looking into Lionel’s face during their sessions and the sudden angry outbreaks. The look on Colin’s face, who is now King George VI, after delivering the address to the nation tells volumes about his capability as an actor. Colin successfully incorporates the stammering while delivering his lines and makes the audience believe he has a speech impediment. At no place, it comes out as phony.

The supporting cast has several bigwigs – Helena Bonham Carter, Geoffrey Rush, Michael Gambon, Guy Pierce, Derek Jacobi and Timothy Spall. Geoffrey Rush displays shades of his earlier roles of a tireless mentor in Lionel. Although he has done justice to the role, it is not a new one as he has done several like these in the past. Helena Bonham Carter as Duchess of York enacts a determined and caring wife who tirelessly helps her husband. The way she interacts with commoners combined with her subtle eye movements and raised eyebrows brings in a quite a few laughs. When she snubs Wallis Simpson, we believe she is royalty. Michael Gambon has only two scenes – one in which he pressurizes Albert into delivering a speech after ranting about his incompetent first son and the rambling old man in his deathbed. The two scenes are enough to showcase his acting prowess. Guy Pierce is casual and mean as Prince of Wales.

Go for it and enjoy the performances.

Language: English

Genre: Drama

Rating: ****

Tags: Movies,Colin Firth,Helena Bonham Carter,Geoffrey Rush,Michael Gambon,Derek Jacobi,Guy Pearce,Tom Hooper,Drama

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Books: The Lincoln Lawyer

Michael Haller is a criminal defense attorney in LA. He is good at cutting the best deal for his clients. His clientele mostly includes repeat offenders who has no scruples in breaking the law. He uses his Lincoln town car as his office and is chauffeured around by a former client in lieu of fees. He was married twice and divorced twice. He has a daughter in his first marriage with Maggie McPherson. Maggie works as a public prosecutor with the state and upholds diametrically opposite values compared with Haller.

Haller is contacted to defend Louis Ross Roulet. Roulet has been accused for breaking and entering with an intent to rape and murder. After checking the background information about Roulet, Haller is surprised. Roulet does not fit into his category of clients. Roulet is extremely rich and also might turn out to be the big ticket for Haller. But what is initially worked out as a straightforward case has a lot of surprises in store. Now, the lives of Haller and his close ones are in danger.

Michael Connelly pens this mystery. Told from Haller’s viewpoint using the first person narrative, the novel is racy and entertaining. The first person narrative helps in building the drama. At the onset, it is evident to the reader who is the culprit. But you are hooked because you want to know how Haller extricates himself from this predicament. There are a few red herrings that also gives away the suspense.

A perfect read to take your mind away from worries.

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Tags: Books,Michael Connelly,Michael Haller

Let’s cook dinner…

A friend invites me to cook dinner at his place. After reaching his room, we quickly decides on what to cook.

Me: Sambhar?

Friend: *excited* Yes. I have the recipe with me.

Me: *impressed* Show me.

He shows me the recipe. I read it quickly. It is simple and neat – toor dal, drumstick, brinjal, potato, tamarind and the list went on.

Me: Nice. Do you have toor dal?

Friend: No.

Me: Do you have brinjal?

Friend: No.

Me: Do you have tamarind?

Friend: No.

The nays did not end there. Now, he has gone shopping. I’m waiting for him.

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Tags: Musings,Dinner

Friday, February 4, 2011

Movie Review: Green Zone

Four weeks after the invasion of Iraq, US Army Chief Warrant Officer Roy Miller(Matt Damon) and his team search different sites for WMD. Roy is disillusioned since all searches so far has failed to find any traces of WMD. So, he starts to question the source of intelligence during various occasions. Sensing his veiled agitation regarding this during a high level debriefing session, Martin Brown(Blendan Gleeson) a CIA officer befriends Miller. Martin believes the search for WMD is not going to yield any results.

Meanwhile, Clark Poundstone(Greg Kinnear) another pentagon official organizes the arrival of Ahmed Zubaidi to Baghdad. Zubaidi is the chosen one to lead Iraq into democracy. At the airport, Poundstone is questioned by the Wall Streel Journal correspondent Lawrie Dayne(Amy Ryan). Lawrie has published articles stating the existence of WMD based on a source named “Magellan”. She wants to meet the source in person as Poundstone was the intermediary for all communications so far.

On a mission to unearth WMDs, Miller is interrupted by an Iraqi named Freddy. Freddy witnessed a lot of Ba’thist hotshots convening for a meeting at a nearby house. On hearing this, Miller orders his team to search the house. After a shootout, they are able to hold a man captive while many escape. Later, Miller identifies former Iraqi General Mohammed Al-Rawi as one of the person who escaped from the house. After this, the events unfold at a rapid pace where Miller sense something inappropriate going on where his government is also involved. This also results in a direct confrontation between Poundstone and Miller.

Paul Greengrass directs this thriller. The story is based on the non fiction book named “Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone” by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. The contemporary events generates drama, intrigue and betrayal (by the authorities) in the mind of the viewer. Like his previous ventures, this movie is told in a frenetic pace with a shaky camera. The camera on constant move flipping between the action and the reaction. By using this technique, the viewer becomes the part of the action unfolding on the screen. The final chase sequence in the climax is a visual delight because of this technique.

The performances are good. But the story telling takes precedence.


Language: English

Genre: Thriller

Rating: ***

Tags: Movies,Matt Damon,Greg Kinnear,Blendan Gleeson,Amy Ryan,Paul Greengrass,Thriller

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

I’m from UK

“I’m from UK”, he said extending his hands to me. I shook his hands with bewilderment.

He spoke confidently and the tone implied he was born and raised in UK. But his accent betrayed him. The accent had heavy traces of Delhi and Haryana.

He and his friends burst out with laughter seeing the expression on my face.

Then, he clarified. “I’m from UttaraKhand… UK”.

Tags: Musings,UK

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