HTG2: Not to Panic!

Guide to the Movie version of the Hitchhiker's Guide
It's really hard to make a movie based on a book that is simply not just famous, but a major cult classic and please everybody. A sort of book that inspires a generation of nerds to name their products: Trillian and Babelfish, automatically raises the bar. With such books: some are pissed because the movie is not true to the actual story in the book; others complain that it is just like the book and the director did nothing special. In my opinion, it's not really the authenticity to the author's work that matters so much, but how much it matched our own imagination. Anyone who has read the book has developed some concept of what a Vogon looks like, how it might behave, etc. and you will like the movie if the director did a good job depicting it with respect to your concept of it. I saw the movie last night and despite my initial doubts about the actors and the director I was not totally disappointed. Those who see the movie without having read the book will love it, because it is that sort of book - wacky and weird.

Stephen Fry was perfect as the voice of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and using Mos Def, a black actor to be Ford Prefect was a stroke of genius. That Sam Rockwell (Zaphod Beeblebrox) had to be an over-the-top American was a no-brainer. Martin Freeman was quite the bumbling, neurotic, panicking Arthur Dent that I had imagined and you can't but help falling in love with Zooey Deschanel who plays Tricia Macmillan or Trillian. However, Marvin the Paranoid Android with the GPP (Genuine People Personality) was the show stealer.

The Movie:
It was comforting to note that Douglas Adams wrote the screenplay and was quite deeply involved in the production of this project (He is listed as one of the executive producers). That should rest fears about being true to the author's original vision. Garth Jennings, who I called as an unknown, did a good job using the special effects for some of the weird ideas in the HTG2 and I must applaud him for the selection of music. Though I thought that the 'Thanks for All the Fish' song was kinda lame. So much money can take you only so far and I suspect they had a major budget problem; which explains some of the casting and low-quality of visual effects. The movie does not deserve to be completely panned and it does do a decent job given the constraints of budget and talent. It's kind of hard to make fantasy movies in a post-Lord-of-the-Rings-era. Peter Jackson has set such a high standard that few movies even with big budgets will be able to match.

Bottomline: Movie is alright. No reason to panic!

Breaking Rules

Breaking Personal Rules

Yup, I did it! I used a highlighter to mark in a book. Till the day before, I have never made any sort of ink mark in a book. At the most, I allow myself discreet marks in pencil in the margin. I have often castigated people for their barbarous practice of leaving their inky pawprints in books. Their comments for future readers reek of patronization - 'Hey, this was really funny, okay?'

Of late, I have fallen prey to the joys of using a highlighter. I use it primarily for marking out stuff in printed out copies of journal papers. It is really useful if you have to revisit the material and it is a more efficient use of time to have the good stuff marked out. Most sentences and words are redundant and repetitive (you shouldn't be reading this!) and wielding the highlighter like a rapier I reduce pages and pages of stuff into what can be condensed in a few short paragraphs.
So I got carried away the day before, and a few hours later I have this book full of fluoroscent green marks all over. I was horrified!

'Technically speaking, I was well within my rights since this was a 'textbook' and highlighting can be an indispensible aid for efficient and quick review.'
'Couldn't you have used a pencil?'
'Ya, but what's a plain ole' pencil got compared to the razzmatazz of the highlighter?'
'There you go again - rationalizing your behaviour.'
'Anyway the deed is done, the rule has been broken.'
'So, is nothing sacred anymore?'

How many roads must a man walk down?

How many roads must a man walk down?

It since many years since the BBC TV series came out and now finally, after being in the works for quite some time: HTG2 or often called the trilogy in four parts - The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy is now available as a movie. It is directed by an unknown (at least to me) Garth Jennings and starring another unknown (you don't know him too, so stop acting!) Martin Freeman as Arthur Dent. I am starting to panic!

It is being released on April 29th in the US and was released today in the UK. Why didn't the promoters release it on April 2nd? We might never know, perhaps we should ask the mice once they are done making the question. Poor Douglas Adams won't know anything.

Almost there ...

Almost There...

Fifty years ago, on 12th April, 1955 at a press conference held at the University of Michigan, Dr. Thomas Francis Jr announced results of the study on the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk. Salk had developed the vaccine in 1952, but that was only half the story. The vaccine needed to be tested rigorously. Using advanced statistical survey methods public trials were conducted on 2 million children starting in 1953. The testing methods used for the polio vaccine were so well designed that all future drug and vaccine tests would use it, or a variant of these polio-tests.
It did not take long for the government and the public at large to grasp the fact that polio eradication was no distant dream. I don't know how much of the American evangelistic polio vaccination fervor during the 50s had to do with the fact that the much beloved F.D.R., the greatest American president since Lincoln, had suffered from it. Incidentally, his charity paid for most of the initial research and testing of the Salk vaccine. By 1964, in less than nine years after the adoption of the Salk vaccine, there were only 121 cases of polio are reported in the U.S.
However it took Albert Sabine to develop an oral form of the vaccine (introduced in 1963) for polio vaccination to really take off in the rest of the world. The new oral vaccine was also 'live' and thus more effective as immunized people could 'infect' others with immunity instead of being immunized but still carriers as in the Salk vaccine.
The timeline of polio vaccination has been vastly different in Asia and Africa, which still have incidents of polio. India always reports the most number of polio cases in the world each year. It might seem to be a small figure per capita but some children will never be able to walk again.

more photographs

Only in 1995, following China's example, did India institute a 'National Polio Immunization Day'. Better late than never, the national immunization days were the most successful health program ever launched in India. A British study concluded that the community awareness of the immunization campaign was better in the most difficult to reach areas where infectious diseases like polio are prevalent compared to the more accessible areas. Immunization programs, in particular national immunization days, often are the most successful programs in reaching pockets of high-risk children, who otherwise do not receive the full benefits of other basic primary health care services.
This year, the country recorded only 12 incidents of polio. This was a marked decline from the 225 cases recorded in 2003. In 2004, the count was 85 - the first time India did not have the dubious distinction of having the largest number of polio cases in the world.

Almost there but fifty years too late!
I am really happy with the progress made in the last decade but pained by the fact that took us so long to implement a program almost forty years after the vaccine was proven to be effective. Such delayed reactions have cost us dearly, to speak nothing of AIDS. It has more to do with the mindset of people in India than the fact that we are still a 'developing' country. I think we have used that excuse more often than required. Though some people are making valiant efforts, the official position and effort have been less than encouraging. From,

"However it is still debatable as to whether there is sufficient commitment to combating the epidemic at government level. Many Indians in positions of power refuse to accept that their country faces a grave threat from the epidemic. And as the epidemic spreads, the battle against AIDS is mired by a lack of consensus on the extent of the pandemic, the "right strategy" to combat it, and how to deal frankly with sexuality."

This time we won't have fifty years to respond.

Garden State

Garden State: In a state of confusion

It's been a hard day's night,
And I've been working like a dog,
It's been a hard day's night,
I should be sleeping like a log,
But when I get home to you,
I find the things that (we) do*,
Will make me feel alright

- The Beatles

*the things that (we) do = see a movie

It's great to come back home after a long day staring at a computer screen to stare at another screen. This time to watch a movie. Today's movie was last year's Sundance Festival hit - Garden State. Zach Braff stars in, directs and writes this slightly off-beat movie.

Andrew Largeman is returning to New Jersey after nine years, for his mother's funeral and tries to pick up the threads of his past life. He meets the gorgeous Natalie Portman at a psychiatrist's clinic and falls in love with her from the moment he puts on her headphones to listen to 'the song that will change your life' and - it does.
What has now become quite an avant-garde cliche - the movie is full of wide-angle lenses, scenes shot with the camera on the floor, time slows down, then speeds up after Zach takes the pill. To me, it was a poor imitation of the classic Trainspotting. The movie is quite sarcastic about life in general and Largeman(Zach Braff) numbly makes his way, oblivious to almost everything - thanks to a lifetime's use of lithium and other drugs. Now home and away from the kitchen cabinet of drugs he tries to feel and Portman shows the way. (I wish all girls, as good looking as Portman, fell in love so easily).

There is more dark comedy -
In one scene, he meets an old friend, who asks him how his good his policeman act was. Zach looks at him - the former junkie now turned cop and weakly smiles. It was hilarious. In the beginning, we see a lady angrily demand 'How come you don't have bread?' to which Zach replies '...this is a Vietnamese restaurant we don't serve bread, we serve noodles...'

The movie promises much but fails to deliver. The highly improbable story gets boring and then takes a much too familiar escape route of simply being cute and cliched in the end. Seems like Zach Braff started with one great idea and then clearly couldn't keep it up. Still worth the promising start and bearable middle, after that - stop watching and stare at a better screen before you are disappointed with the Garden State as it nosedives from dark comedy and satire into a chick-flick end.
Roger Ebert was quite kind compared to James Berardinelli's less than enthusiastic approval.

Google Update
Gmail turns 1 today and they had a cool drawing on a napking showing how Google goes one step more than what is theoretically possible.
Still on the wishlist is having the ability to make groups on the contact list.

Also Google is now in the soft-drink business with a new product.
Google Gulp

I love Google because they are so innovative!