Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Puck is not going towards a Technology

Vidit Bhargava
There's a popular Wayne Gretzky quote : “A Great Hockey Player plays where the puck is going to be”. In recent times, we've heard the quote being referred to predict the future of consumer electronics. You'd often hear people say, “What's next after the GUI? Where is the puck going to be?”

And if you've followed technology news for the last couple of months, you've probably heard people say, “AI is the future.” ; “The next big thing is Virtual Reality” or more recently “Augmented Reality has finally made it to the masses.” All of them stating that the metaphorical puck is going towards AI, AR or VR.

Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality are all extremely interesting fields of technological research. In fact, Artificial Intelligence has for long captured the imagination of people. There have been books, movies and TV Shows about what happens when a Machine or a Robot or an AI Powered cyborg takes over the city, In fact, Elon Musk clearly feels that we're living in a simulation! So, it must be where the puck is going, right?

But here's the catch. The puck doesn't go towards a technology. It doesn't even go towards a particular design paradigm. The puck goes towards a Human Problem. Technology is just a means of finding a solution to that problem. The solution may include the use of sophisticated AI but it's equally likely that the in final product that the user uses, AI is just a footnote.

The same can be said for Augmented or Virtual Reality, it's evident that they'll exist in some form in the future (To Be Honest, They've always existed in some or the other state), but there's a strong likelihood that they won't drive the products they're a part Of. Take the example of Pokemon Go. What makes that game so successful? Is it the AR Mode? No! It's the idea, that you can be a real Poke Master, that you too can move around the city and collect Pokemon like Ash Ketchum did, that makes it so exciting to a group of people. AR Mode? It's just an icing on the cake (it's not the cake).

The tiny keyboards and displays of the early mobile phones, were extremely limiting to what one could do with them. Modern day Touch Screen technology helped solve the problem, it provided a bigger canvas for mobile phones to do anything they liked. The keyboard wasn't limiting anymore. It could pop up whenever you wanted it to, stay down when you didn't. But it wasn't the touch screen technology alone that enabled smartphones to be the computers of the post PC era. It was the mixture of, a carefully crafted operating system which was meant to be used by your fingers instead of some kind of a navigational tool; the extremely complex hardware that made it possible for a powerful computer to fit into a hand-held device, the materials that gave it a light weight casing, making the experience of holding it in your hands for a long duration more comfortable. All of these technologies came together to form the basis of a modern day smartphone, There was a lot that the computers of the time couldn't do, or were less efficient in doing because of their size and lack of portability. There were a lot of things that a smartphone was capable of but couldn't because of it's limitations, the puck was definitely going towards more portable computers that enabled people to do their work more efficiently. Problems and challenges unlocked diverse possibilities in ways that helped people, all the cool technology involved, was just a tool used to achieve that. Had the puck been going towards touch screen technology, we'd still be using Palm Pilots or even Newton Message Pads.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Movie Review: Sultan


Vidit Bhargava
Overtime I've observed, that there is a recurring theme in Salman Khan movies. Kids in the movie seem to like him for no reason. Almost always, you'll see a bunch of kids come out of no where and shower love and affection on him. This, and a bunch of other almost Cartoon Network broadcast like scenes randomly show up on screen, to which you are bound to hear some or the other group of people laugh in the theatre. Fans of the actor can directly associate with all this but for us aliens it seems like watching a foreign language movie whose cultural nuances we're hardly familiar with. Can his movies be genuinely liked if we take away these cultural nuances (or as some may call it; Salman-isms) from the equation, like we'd sometimes do while reviewing a foreign language movie? Probably not, because it's not really a cultural issue but just lousy writing for Salman's character, that the writers end up using the same tropes over and over again. But there must to be a movie that shines despite all the fan-pleasing material inserted without any context. Sultan, it seems is that movie.

Divided into three major subplots, Sultan's story is one that hardly ever stated in a sports movie. Sultan doesn't just stop at being a rags to riches movie, it goes beyond and discusses the post-medal story, one that resonates with so many athletes of our time. Third time director Ali Abbas Zafar has a good idea at his hands, which he more or less manages to turn it into a Good enough story which is was inviting enough to sit through the length of the movie.

Adding to that, Zafar directs the wrestling sequences beautifully, managing to capturing the various traits of the game. There's some thrill to be had in watching the state championship wrestling matches. There's genuine earnestness in the training sequences, or the state championships. Anushka Sharma as Aarfa has the right demeanor of an athlete. Salman Khan manages to play the earnest but brash sports star nicely, even though his heavily accented dialogue feels forced and unconvincing but the part that he's really good at, is that of the beaten down, forty-something, has been, Khan just cruises through that part.

Sultan also benefits from a very strong supporting cast. One could argue that Anant Vidhaath actually outperforms the leading crew, in a role which seems he was born for. He's the best of the supporting actors I've seen since, Zeeshan Ayub in Raanjhana and Kumud Mishra in Rockstar. Speaking of Kumud Mishra, he's in the movie too, and leaves a mark as Khan's mentor. The rest of the cast chips in with their witty dialogue, and are the ones to give a realistic setting to the movie. Amit Sadh as the rich owner of a failing sports league is rusty at start but eventually slips into his role and gives a good performance. The movie also benefits from real world MMA fighters who are introduced in the movie as Salman's competitors. Their fighting sequences are convincing and make for an engaging 20-30 minutes which could easily have been a bore!

Sultan is far from perfect though. Along with all the sense-less fan-pleasing content that's randomly inserted into the movie, the movie also fails to provide sufficient depth to any one but Salman's character. The biggest casualty of lazy character sketching is Anushka Sharma's character. Starting of as an ambitious athlete with an eye on the Olympic gold, Her character is abandoned midway, ambitions thrown in the river and all that's left is a sulky face. It's hard to overlook the injustice her character is subjected to in the shadow of being “strong”. Frankly with better writing could have given us a story of not one, but two great athletes.

Anant Vidhaath's character of Govind also deserved greater depth, but all of his acting is put into a role that is ultimately never more than a sidekick. The same can be said for Randeep Hooda's character who leaves a lot of questions in the audience's mind, the writers give him a convincing build up but ultimately abandon him, to make way for more of the MMA content which could frankly have been cut down.

It's been a long time since I last saw a decent Salman Khan movie. Go in with Modest Expectations and a broader tolerance zone for Salman Khan's various fan-pleasing tricks, and you'll hear an interesting sports story, one that's firmly rooted into the current state of Indian Sport, incredibly aware of the times we're in and a reminder of what Sports are really about.

Rating : *** (Watch it for Anant Vidhaath's terrific performance and a good story)

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Travelling as a Lacto Vegetarian

Vidit Bhargava
Being a lacto vegetarian in San Francisco or any other city around the world can be a little tough. Given that most of these places have started to consider eggs as vegetarian, you're likely to get Vegetarian options but equally unlikely to get any 'lacto-vegetarian' meals for yourself. You could either go to a restaurant or cafe and tell them to avoid eggs in the preparation or just ask for something vegan (at which point you are just handed over a Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette), it's a pretty tough experience either way.

Dominos has a variety of vegetarian options in its menu and they are fine, except Domino's in US offers really thick crusts and has this concept of diced tomatoes (which have a horrible taste, btw), something that I'm not looking forward to have anytime soon.

Piccolo Forno a small Italian Dine-In near North Beach , offers a couple of vegetarian options, which are very good. Being pretty new on a street that's filled with Italian Restaurants and cafes, Piccolo Forno is a quite place, the weekend I went there, the only noise was of a couple of fans watching a Euro Cup match between Portugal and Switzerland. I liked that very much, I've never been fond of ultra-noisy cafes that make it difficult to have a meal in peace.

They offer a Vegetariana Pizza where they add fresh vegetable toppings to a wood-fired Pizza (which, from the description in their menu, may change by the day). The Pizza I had, was topped with Broccoli, Aubergines and roasted Eggplant along with some of the regular toppings. Never has this combination tasted as good as it did on that Pizza. One of the unlikeliest Pizza toppings I encountered, but also one of the tastiest Pizza's I've had in a long time. This is something you don't want to miss, if you ever visit Piccolo Forno, you should have one of these.

With Sandwiches, luckily Starbucks decided to offer something vegetarian in their menu that didn't have a dash of Mayonnaise. So you'll almost always be able to grab a Roasted Tomato and Mozzarella Panini from a Starbucks near you. Almost. The thing is, this particular Panini isn't stocked very well, so you'll be out of luck if you landed at a Starbucks late for lunch, you'll then probably need to search for 'vegan' options like a glorious fruit basket of preserved fruits.

If you are looking for San Francisco's signature Sourdough bread, you should head over to a Boudin Bakery Cafe which offers a few vegetarian options, including a Tomato Soup served in a hollowed out Sourdough Bread or you could ask them for a california veggie without mayonnaise. But Boudin doesn't publish any allergen info, so you'll have to rely on their word when they say their Breads aren't glazed with Egg White.

San Francisco has a lot of options in terms of Mexican food (Did you know San Francisco was a part of Mexico until 1846?). And while I didn't explore much of Mexican Food available, I did go to a Chipotle, which seems to be similar to Subway in terms of how they make their food. Chipotle has an organic Tofu (Sofritas) filling to offer, so you can easily order a vegetarian Burrito, Bowl or Taco, which makes for a decent lunch meal. And if you are a fan of spicy food (which I'm not) there are ways to make your chipotle meal very spicy.

To be honest, Lacto-Vegetarian food is a very small subset of a subset of any menu at an international city but there's enough to make you not give it up. For me, being allergic to eggs, makes it a compulsion to look for lacto-vegetarian options anywhere I go. For a lot of people it is also for religious reasons, and some of them seem to give it up on the pretext that there aren't enough options. I hope this post helps people get a decent vegetarian meal when they visit SF next time.

Seen here is Boudin's California Veggie