Category: Musings (page 1 of 2)

My musings.

Starbucks is awesome

I may appear to be late in realising this, but you can rest assured I’m not. I only wrote it down today, I realised it a long, long time back. Instead of heading to the Institute on day 2 of my research period, I decided to spend the day working at Starbucks.

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The utter nonsense of the first draft

Anyone who has ever written a substantial piece of text knows how hard it can be to put together well. The most important word in the last sentence was the last one: well. A chimpanzee can put together a substantial chunk of text — even a meaningful one. In fact, this is called the infinite monkey theorem and states that a monkey can almost surely type all of Shakespeare’s work if given enough (read, infinite) time during which it taps at random letters on a keyboard.

Equating Shakespeare to a chimpanzee is not the best way to begin any article, but that blame (or credit, depending on whether or not you’re Christopher Marlowe) goes to Frenchman Émile Borel. Neither is the monkey here a monkey, nor are the mathematicians who designed this thing full of life because a monkey is so much better than the randomly typing machine they proposed. (At least a monkey was more believable — back in the 1913s.) But I digress.

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Looking forward to 2015

Every year passes like a rigmarole and we look forward to the next. It is almost mechanical, but that was never how it was supposed to be. It starts with gusto and somewhere down the line everyone loses enthusiasm and it all becomes about counting the days to the next new year, yet another start.

I am not saying we should make 2015 different. Maybe we should, you should. But that is another story for another day.

As I pen this, I am reflecting on the how much of our lives we lead thinking about what others think about us. And when everyone does that, the earth just seems like a more considerate place, but it is not.

Your dog, almost certainly, is a better person than you.

This is nothing more than being fashionably selfish. To think, not of others and their needs, but other’s views about ourselves. Since it all comes right back to us, it really is a mere manifestation of selfishness.

There’s a reason why a dog is man’s best friend: there is more your dog can teach you than any person, book or religious scripture on Earth. His undying enthusiasm for you, his love, his affection, and how it never drops and only ever grows in leaps and bounds — humans can never have the same feelings. The fact is simple: your dog, almost certainly, is a better person than you.

In 2015, it is important to prioritise without shunning; to decide what is important without pushing aside the less important. To treat people with respect and go out of your way to help them. Not block, but bind. Which brings to mind something my physics teacher at school had said: “This world does not need smart people; this world needs good people.”

In 2015, try to be a good person with a direction, and practice tolerance and inclusiveness. Treat the world as your family. To be the bigger person and to understand that not everyone has seen the world — forgive me if I sound like I patronizes; the devilry of narrow-mindedness has only recently become clear to me. Everyone makes mistakes; one ought to acknowledge and forgive. Then forget. So acknowledge mankind’s worst mistake: religion.

On Physics and Hinduism

At the entrance to the Centre for European Nuclear Research (CERN) stands a 2 metre tall statue of the Hindu deity, Nataraja (see above). To the unaware, it looks like something out of place: something that does not belong in one of the world’s largest scientific research institutions. But it is only one instance of the compatibility between physics and Hinduism.

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The soft bigotry of low expectations

I will throw this out there, so never blame me if it seems sudden or unplanned. As I sit here at my desk, a strange mass of words comes to me: the soft bigotry of low expectations.

What does it mean? Often, what we hear in our minds is nothing more than what we have once heard aurally. I set out to find the origin of this — almost weird — phrase, and I managed to track it down to a little speech that the former U.S. president, George W. Bush, had delivered at a National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) convention.

So what did Mr Bush — or his speechwriter — mean by this? He was speaking in reference to the education system and these words gave rise to several opinions, all based on similar lines.

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Air pollution

On one of my recent travels, as I was driving over lush, green mountains I happened to spot a pillar of thick smoke rising in the distance. On approaching it I was horrified to find a line of bushes on fire.

It was clearly a raging fire that had died down by the time I came near it, but one look at it would make anybody guilty of even driving a car. The pollution, the black soot, the suffocating heat — they were all sickening.

And behind the orange flames and heat waves rising from the ground on a gloomy, 18°C morning, I spotted the worst of the lot: forest rangers.

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Thoughts on Minimalism as a lifestyle

Minimalism is a big word. And it is not what you think it means.

A lot of people I know have caught onto minimalism from my religious adaptation of the philosophy how much ever they may want to deny where it stems from.

Minimalism is not about having little; minimalist design is not about having only what is necessary. Quite the contrary: minimalism is about having lots but presented with careful thought so it does not appear overwhelming. Minimalism is serving you ample food while not making you feel overfed.

To all those who follow a minimalist principle, the least I can do is urge you to read Edward de Bono’s book, “Simplicity”.

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Inheriting a new typewriter

Although in one of my earlier articles (published in a magazine elsewhere) I voiced my opinion on how we rightly ought to attribute the fall of handwriting to the typewriter, my own love for these machines — a somewhat dangerously crazy urge to collect them — has never dwindled. I spoke about this too, earlier, where I had put in this photograph of my manual Olympia typewriter:

Well, the great news is, I recently inherited, so to speak, a 62-year-old Royal Quiet Deluxe (or de luxe, if you want to be picky), which my granduncle, Venkataram, (that is right: by count, I would be Venkatram IV in our family, but why would I call myself that?) had used in his time. In all possibility, since he was a scientist, this machine spewed out some nice research papers in the 50s – 80s.

He went on to be chronicled in the World Who’s Who for his contribution to botany (for those of you who are unaware, that is a definitive biographical reference of everybody who made important contributions to mankind, such as scientific development etc.), so, yes, this typewriter has quite a history.

I decided to share some photographs of this new addition to my typewriter collection. (All photos were taken with my GALAXY Note 3 because my dSLR was otherwise occupied.) Here are about eight photographs or so:

I sure hope you liked it. When I have time, I will probably try to make a couple of photographs with my dSLR as well, just to satisfy my curiosity of how much better I can make it turn out, because my phone has continuously impressed me with its capabilities.

Also, here is a remarkable stream of golden light I saw streaming through one of the windows at home this evening:

All this reminds me of Bobby Darin’s “Beautiful things”. If you have not listened to it, you probably should.


Mobile photography, part 3: my return to mobile photography

My joy knows no bounds today because my camera phone (whose wrecked lens glass I wrote about a week or so ago) was finally repaired. Samsung’s customer service was a tad slow in mailing the part (“We don’t get many with that phone here” the man at the service desk told me) but once it arrived, fixing it was easy and lasted as long as a stroll around the nearby bookstore.

The daredevil that I am, I made my first (somewhat) proper photograph as I waited at a traffic signal on the way back:

The weather was gloomy so I cautiously decided to stay at home, but a little later into the evening, as the weather got brighter (or at least as bright as it could just before the sun set), I went for a pretty long walk and made several more photographs.

First of all, I was just glad to have a working camera. But just as important was making sure it worked perfectly, just as well as — if not better than — before it cracked. The exposure, focus and the whole shebang was spot on, and I was in a race against time to make photographs before darkness set in and noise conquered my screen.

In pitch darkness: this is no dSLR, but you cannot deny it is very impressive

In case you are looking for part one and two of this collection of short reports on mobile photography (and if you want to see more photographs), you will not find them labelled as parts but as Mobile photography and dedicated cameras: where do they lie? and More indulgence in mobile photography.


Android KitKat, roadside fires and other random thoughts

I cannot complain about today, or yesterday, for that matter, even if I saw a couple of exhibitions of carelessness. On my usual cycling circuit I noticed (apart from other struggling cyclists) this fancy little fire:

The Earth isn't yours to wreck

The Earth isn’t yours to wreck

What you see here was actually part of a larger fire lit next to an open coconut farm with dried hay and a pub some 200 metres away. Adds up?

And since I had stopped to shoot this, and since I had already breathed in some smoke, I decided to keep doing that while I made this fun shot of a bus passing by (and that photo you see at the beginning of this article too).

Two things struck me: firstly, I was able to accurately capture my artistic intent; and, secondly, phone cameras making terrible night pictures has now risen to plain bad ones. Although that random cheap phone probably still shoots terribly in low light, which is something manufacturers should think about: make better low-priced phones at least this year. A lot of talented photographers out there cannot probably afford iPhones and Note 3s and One Xs.

Materialistically speaking, just a few hours earlier, I had been quite overjoyed when I received a 360MB OTA update on my Note 3. I had no reason to suspect it was anything other than KitKat (Android 4.4.2) arriving:

It took a while, but it soon turned out that I was right.

Screenshot_2014-01-31-22-46-16 Screenshot_2014-01-31-22-46-35

I think the newest edition just makes me repeat myself: everything is faster, and this time around, I actually mean fast enough for anybody to notice. The camera lag that came like a bane with my Note 3 is almost gone. I’m thoroughly enjoying the dedicated camera lock screen short cut as well.

It has been a day and the phone is still snappy as ever. The next most noticeable feature is that the new font is already here, bundled with 4.4.2 (and thankfully not modded by Samsung).


What you might not notice from the picture above is that there is also the white status bar icon set now by default — something I would force onto my older phones after rooting them.

If you see the screenshot in my Google+ update above, you will notice a flurry of colours with no theme. That was Android with an overlay of TouchWhiz. Else, it was blue; but the white is much better looking now. I only hope app developers will adhere to the new aesthetic and make their apps’ status bar icons white as well (I’m talking about you, TrustGo).


Swiping left brings Google Now, saying OK, Google works like a charm as well. [Update: Several more people than usual expressed a desire to find out about the wallpaper I’m using here. It’s a photograph I made very recently with my phone (so that it would be easy to set it up as a wallpaper and all) which means you can have it if you like. Simply right- or ctrl-click and save image as… .]

Unfortunately, Samsung seems adamant about swapping their bulky icons for KitKat-style slick ones, so that leaves rooting as the only option, which means I’ll be putting it off until we find a way to root without tripping the Knox eFuse. You will never know when you might need it.

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But let us look at the brighter parts. Samsung has been nice enough to adopt the beautiful full-screen layout for music album artwork on the lock screen, bringing more of KitKat’s design ideology. (In the picture below, you can also see the camera quick access I spoke of earlier.)

It is interesting that Samsung brought in more of KitKat this time round than it brought in JellyBean in its 4.3 update to my older first generation Note. Perhaps Google and Samsung are growing fond of each other after their recent handshake?


There are other more technical changes, and some user-friendly ones such as an access to default apps management just underneath the regular apps management section of the Note 3’s four-page encyclopedic settings area. Some also complained that third party cases (even with chips inside them) no longer work because Samsung’s own protection enabled metal contacts are missing.

I agree that that was bad marketing on Samsung (or carelessness for not providing support — which is worse?) but I shelled out a little extra to own an original windowed flip case, meaning mine works just fine. But I do hope the others get an update soon.

Oh well, this has been a regular all-encompassing musing from yours truly. Until next time, kEeP L3E7 5PEeK1ng.


Photographic grittiness: justifying what we leave out of the frame

This is one of those Ah, I’ve figured it out! moments you get when you think you stumbled upon the key to a secret treasure. Only, there are so many of them that this becomes just another I think this is how it’s done… maybe? moments.

It is alright if you followed none of that, because that flowed unchecked from the back of my mind. But I think what I have come to realise in framing a photograph today will cause me to make a pretty huge turn in my photographic endeavours.

Oftentimes I am guilty (as I am sure you are too) of leaving out certain things from my frame for whatever reason. But I think only about 60% of the time or thereabouts we do this for a real cause: composition, light, the whole assortment of technical reasons.

And then, the rest of the time, we leave it out because we just do not like it. A hanging wire, a cracked wall, a broken pane, a stray leaf, and the list can go on. These have come to be subconscious decisions of cleanliness rather than aesthetic. A cracked wall, many of us believe, will somehow wreck out photograph; that it will somehow make our photograph look like it stemmed from a poorer locale. The same with a broken window pane, for instance.

What I notice about many people shooting a country like India, is that they attempt to make it look better than it is. Indeed there are parts of the country’s urban belts that are no less modern, high in tech or global than a so-called first-world metropolis. But the other side of India — the one National Geographic is so fond of showcasing — is something many photographers shy away from.

The best illustration I can think of is when I made the photograph below. I decided to make the place look alive more than photogenic. But then I went ahead and made this photograph of the same place anyway, as a more artistic twist. (You can always see more on my portfolio. Also, the large building here is an oriental carpets store — wow!)

To make it look good or to make it look alive

To make it look good, or to make it look alive

I am just as guilty of this as the next fellow. In fact, I have seen far too many people who decided not to shoot a doorway because it was so common, so mundane. Or a wrecked old tonga because — what’s interesting about a wrecked old tonga? I think this is answered in much the same way as why Mr N!xau’s character from The Gods must be crazy was so taken aback by a Coke bottle and why you and I are not.

However, what interests a global audience (such as the one your photographs are subject to when uploaded to the internet) is precisely that which we think is commonplace. A metropolitan skyscraper, except for its geometric identity, is far less awe-inspiring to a global audience (who have probably seen a skyscraper in their own city, to say the least) than a stray buffalo.

But nobody really up and shoots a stray buffalo on camera, because… buffalo?

Perhaps that was all extreme, but one thing I have learnt from looking at so many legendary photographers make photographs of India is that they showed the country as it was, not as they thought it would be. But, more importantly, India here is only a namesake. In general, in all of photography, I think if we paid a little more attention to what we photograph than what we think we are photographing, the results would surprise us.

Art photography is highly subjective, so I do not expect somebody trying to weave, say, minimalism (myself included) to adapt this approach 24×7. But when we are trying to depict a place (as we do every once in a while) we ought to try to show it as it is, albeit through the magic of our lens and our eyes, being careful not to repaint it altogether. This may seem similar to abusing Photoshop but, trust me, this is far worse.

So I for one will make sure I include that little element I was too quick to judge as a defect because maybe it will enrich my photographs like I never thought before. How ever your edits end up, it’s time your compositions are bold and gritty.


More indulgence in mobile photography

It seems that mobile photography has me awed. Not a long time back I wrote a couple of articles on the topic.

My points, then and now, were that making photographs with one’s phone has often been underrated, and we (especially we photographers) need to re-visit it. Perhaps we can even think of making our phones our secondary — or tertiary — cameras. As people have said far too often, the best camera is the one you have with you.

I indulged in some more photography these past days with my phone and thought of sharing the results here. You can see the first round on my Tumblr.

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2014-01-29 18.35.36

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I like mobile photography for precisely the reason many hate it: because it gives me very limited control, forcing me to focus not on my device mechanics, but instead on the substance in my photograph.

Keep photographing au portable.


“The Beatles still sell for €5,99” and other tales of everlastingness

I noticed on my visit to the music shop today that a new batch of low-price The Beetles CDs had arrived. Now I already own all of The Beatles, so I really had no reason to pick up the disc set to inspect it, but I did and one thing stood out: a €5,99 price tag; which is roughly $8 or £5 or ₹500 I suppose.

It is fascinating how a rock band that was active for ten years sells, nearly forty years later, for the same price as Beiber’s enhanced My World disc on Amazon.

Without meaning disrespect to anybody, I think that this shows just how popular The Beetles had become by the time they broke-up. In contradistinction, it is an issue of concern that every music group’s gospel — performing every single one of the Beeth’s excruciatingly hard-to-perform symphonies — sells far cheaper than the mediocre music made today solely for cash. Perhaps that is because everybody does it; but should repetition of a classic make it any less of a classic?

Speaking of Beethoven, I recently answered myself a question that had been bothering me: what on earth does Beethoven mean? As it turns out, Beeth is beetroot (yes), and hof is farm. So that gentleman we all so admire is Ludwig from Beetroot Farm.

But are classics really held far less worthy, or does everything modern generally take precedence when it comes to setting prices, or are our tastes as a society changing, or should there exist a very different kind of motivation to last, as former US Labour Secretary, Lynn Martin, put it:

No matter what your religion, you should try to become a government program, for then you will have everlasting life.

Even more interesting is that most of what we listen to today may be heavily modified; whether it is really done that way or not, nobody can deny that we have enough technology today to make person X sound a million times better than he really is, especially if that Mr X agrees to hand over the producers a greater percentage of profits than the better-sounding-poorly-sharing and more deserving artiste, Y.

I have, bookmarked, this 1919 photograph of Cxechoslovakian violinist and composer, Jan Kubelik, from sometime back. It really is a reminder that we came from a time when state-of-the-art music refinement was done using cones taped to reduce reverberation.

Jan Kubelik (R) with Bruno Seidler-Winkler at the Piano.
Photo courtesy Flickr/painting in light

Today, refinement has come from meaning getting musicians’ unadulterated sound to helping them by making it sound better. It has become Photoshop for audio.

A counter argument I can suggest myself is that the term classics is too loosely defined. Our renaissance classics were modern works during the renaissance. While desperate efforts were being made to save the then-classics, what was really being celebrated — being the centre of attention — during the renaissance was the day’s absolute modern attempts at art.

It then does not seem far fetched to say that Beiber may become a classic singer around the 2050s or later. And we are only paranoid in saying the classics are on a decline. Or that they are in any way comparable to today’s approach to art and society — both of which have inherently changed a lot between the 16th and 21st centuries.

But even such an argument does little to explain why The Beetle’s low-price disc should sell for close to €6.

 Cover image: Flickr/erin 

Mobile photography and dedicated cameras: where do they lie?

I have only recently come to use my phone a lot for photography, and I am pleasantly surprised about how good it is. But what really strikes me are the similarities and differences between photographing with a dSLR and indulging in the new breed of photo-art: mobile photography.

This article was written in parallel, and to serve as a postscript, to my article in Subtle magazine.

Familiar grounds in mobile photography

If you have been photographing with an actual camera (as opposed to a camera phone), you would have realised that the power the dedicated camera gives you can almost be addicting.

Forget the thick, zoom-filled unreasonably high resolution camera phones. I refuse to carry any of those around and risk looking like I am insane. The sleeker, more decent-looking ones we do have with us, iPhones or Android or Windows Phone or something else, all end up sacrificing a little to deliver that slim profile.

But there are familiar grounds: the light and the composition stay the same, to a great extent. And that is what I bring from my dSLR to my phone, but that, often, is all bring.

Making space for incapabilities

The largest sacrifice mobile photography demands is the zoom. (Disregarding digital zoom, that is.) In other words, your phone acts as a fixed focal length lens and forces you to zoom around on foot.

I think that, while this is definitely a drawback under some circumstances, it is a boon under most others. Your phone inevitably forces you to physically find better frames to photograph or spots to shoot from, all while making sure you consider the light, the feel and the capabilities of your phone (maximum tolerable ISO, shutter speed etc.)

This is the fundamental difference between phone and dedicated camera photography. Clearly, neither takes the back seat and both go on to succeed in their own ways, depending on how you look at it.

Coconut and sunshine

Coconut and sunshine

Spending a day with your phone

I recently spent an entire day with my dSLR cozy at home, and with my phone alone to satisfy my photography urges. And, boy, was I pleased with the results.

I think technology has come far enough to warrant the use of phones exclusively, unless we carried around our dSLRs on purpose. That is not to say, of course, that a phone can replace one. In fact, I am a firm believer in mirror-less cameras also being at least a couple of years away from truly matching the capabilities of a dSLR.

Again, mind you, I said capabilities, not quality. The J1, P5 or even my GALAXY Note 3 can match the quality of, perhaps, the D3xxx, the D5xxx or so in regular photography (the kind that does not require tripods, compulsory manual control and so on). That is to say, for everyday use in today’s world, even a regular camera phone can make art — especially the kind suited for digital sharing and small prints.

I will very likely be spending more time with my phone now. You can also take a look at some photographs I made on a road trip with my dog, Sir Gladstone, where I have more specific commentary about today’s mobile phone photography. I think dSLRs are a different breed altogether, but phones have found themselves a niche that was perhaps both unexpected and extremely interesting. And, in any case, well worth any photographer’s time to explore.

(P.S. Here you can see the photograph that made me want to try out mobile photography giving it greater patience than I had before.)

Agnosticism is a middle ground, or something much better

I recently had a very brief but interesting (and amusing, if I must admit) conversation with somebody who goes by the name Flying Free on Twitter. It was about one of my articles on Richard Dawkins and atheism.

In that article is is a statement which I believe sparked the whole debate that follows. I quote myself:

Agnosticism is the safe line bordering both atheism and theism …

I have gone on to say that the existence of higher beings or their lack thereof ought to be of no consequence to the work of a scientifically-minded fellow. (I was, of course, talking of science and religion then.)

Not a middle ground?

Somebody who had clearly read my article (because this particular sentence comes round the end anyway) had this to say:

That got me thinking. As far as I knew, agnosticism, atheism and theism were on the same page even if they defined themselves slightly differently. The definition of an agnostic, according to the Cambridge dictionary of English goes thus:

Someone who believes that it is impossible to know whether a god exists.

Looking into the annals of religious social development, one finds a slightly different definition taking equal prominence:

A person calling oneself ‘agnostic’ is literally stating that he or she has no opinion on the existence of God.

The closest I had ever come to reading about agnostic atheists and agnostic theists (as I could recall at that time, phone in hand, Twitter app opened) was George Smith’s, Atheism: the case against god. Honestly, it was one of those books that I had read almost half-heartedly between two better books (that is not to say this book was bad by any measure) but that work was my only compass at that moment.

So I replied:

And, as expected, I received a reply. Several, actually.

Believe is binary

One of the replies I received was from the same person, and went thus:

Now that is faulty premise. Whoever defined agnosticism on the basis of belief in a god? Agnosticism is one’s position on the knowledge of existence of god, not in the belief in one.

To elaborate (or dumb it down): you decide whether you are an atheist or not by asking yourself if you have faith in god. You decide whether you are an agnostic or not by asking yourself if you think god’s existence can be ascertained as knowledge not falsifiable.

So I tweeted back:

And then there came more.

What’s your favourite number?

I actually got several more tweets at this point, but there are two I will mention, as follows,

I chose to ignore the ignorant or dishonest dish mostly because I never was able to figure out where that came from; and it sounded more like an insult. A moment later, however, this pinged on my phone:

Ah, that is a clever way of putting it; but a little effort into lateral thinking will bring out something else, as I pointed out.

I think that is a question that deserves some thought. I can have an opinion on something, or I may just not care enough to have an opinion in the first place. That would suggest neither belief nor disbelief, i.e. a middle ground.

But we soon reverted to the original question in an attempt to explain by example:

Sounds reasonable, but this was really a demonstration of his (or her — how do you determine gender by a handle like @FlyingFree333 anyway?) previous point, so I demonstrated my own point in return, just in case my previous 140 characters had not been as clear as I thought.

Finally, we are getting somewhere.

I’d rather be a moron, thank you

Clearly, by this point I had either been right enough to be hard to argue with or foggy enough to want to run away from, so my honorable debater stooped down to insults once again:

Without picking on the grammatical errors in that Tweet, if I absolutely have to answer, I’d say I’d rather be a moron than a liar. In any case, neither my IQ nor my trustworthiness was the point of this discussion. So let me bring it to a more decent closure than what I received with the person above.

To quote Dawkins, “I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there”. That seems like it sums up the issue quite well, so where do agnostics stand on the scale from atheists to theists?

Without touching up on gnosticism, I would say that agnostics can take a permanent stand or a temporary one, somewhat similar to Dawkin’s own TAPs and PAPs. As I said before, I do not care to judge right now whether god exists because whatever proof we have (for or against it) is meagre. That would put me down squarely within the definitions of a TAP.

And to wrap it up neatly in one sentence, I would simply state that being an agnostic draws definition based, not on faith or belief in something, but in the knowledge of its existence, thereby providing a middle ground.

What are your thoughts on this?

 Cover image: Flickr/Jennifer Boyer 



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