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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why I am happy that I never used Instagram


Last week, hell broke lose when Instagram updated it's Terms and Conditions and said they will have the perpetual rights to sell user's photos (public ones) without any payment or notification. With this one change, Instagram was poised to become the largest stock photo site in the world, and they were about to achieve it without spending a dime for the photos.

The outcry from users started pouring in the next moment. Social networks and blogs were filled up with rage, and finally, the company came to their senses on Friday. They released the following statement:

'Earlier this week, we introduced a set of updates to our privacy policy and terms of service to help our users better understand our service. In the days since, it became clear that we failed to fulfill what I consider one of our most important responsibilities – to communicate our intentions clearly. I am sorry for that, and I am focused on making it right.

The concerns we heard about from you the most focused on advertising, and what our changes might mean for you and your photos. There was confusion and real concern about what our possible advertising products could look like and how they would work.

Because of the feedback we have heard from you, we are reverting this advertising section to the original version that has been in effect since we launched the service in October 2010.'

So, for the time being, all is well. But, this attitude of the new generation social networking companies is heinous. Also, I think we should keep in mind that they might have backed down for now, but they don't have to listen to the users always. Also, since it's a free service, the users have little or no say with what the company can or will do. Here's XKCD's version of the events:



I don't use Instagram. I never signed up for the service, and never downloaded the apps. And I am happy for that. Also, to the avid photographers out there, I suggest you go for Flickr. Even Marissa Meyer seems to have switched from Instagram.



Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Helmort - The Story that inspired Dracula: A Review

The tagline itself is enough for any horror fan to become inquisitive. Naturally, being a horror writer myself, I got in touch with the author and he sent me a copy to read. And here's my review (some mild spoilers ahead).

It's 1890's. Abraham Stoker, aka Bram Stoker, visits a doctor who stays in an asylum in a remote of corner of England to deliver a letter. The letter conveys some bad news, more specifically about a death. But the doctor is very much happy that he calls for a toast.

We are drawn back to 1870's. In Germany, a young doctor gets lost in the freezing winter. He ends up at an  old castle, and meets a very odd graf (count). Well, not just an odd graf, he in fact meets many people who all behave a little odd. But he receives a warm welcome and stays over for some days. Meanwhile, he gets drawn into various mysterious situations which sometimes questions his own sensibilities. His nightmares literally come alive, and it culminates with an epic battle between the good and the evil. But then, is the 'good' really good, or just a little milder of the two evils?

Helmort is well written, and is a quick read. The editing and proof-reading is good. One possible drawback is the usage of German. The author has taken pains to put in such a way so that a German illiterate person like me (my German is limited to Rammstein songs lol!) will not lose track, but I couldn't resist going to Google Translate a couple of times!

In short, I would say that K.V. Witten doesn't disappoint. There's a lot of unfinished business, and it leaves the mind thirsting for more!

My rating - 3.5/5

Don't forget to check out my collection of short stories, A Night in the House (free on December 19th and 20th)


Saturday, December 15, 2012

A Night in the House

My collection of horror short stories, A Night in the House, is for sale at Amazon Kindle Store. Here's the blurb:

'A Night in the House is a collection of eight horror stories, set in the background of different towns and cities of India. There are stories set in the teeming and congested metropolis of Chennai and Pune, as well as lonely villages and forests of Rajasthan and Kerala. There are ghosts and spirits, as well as human folly. There are myths, legends and well, of course, plenty of imagination.'

Check out the sample (includes the first story) at Amazon now. Those who don't have a Kindle don't worry. You can install Kindle reader on your PC/Laptop, iPhone, iPadAndroid phones and tablets.

And here's the cover.



Friday, November 30, 2012

IKEA, burritos and some thrash

My article on garbage management techniques in Sweden and Mexico City was featured in the Open Page of The Hindu newspaper dated November 25.

Below is a scan of the paper cutting.


Friday, August 17, 2012

The Tattooed Fakir by Biman Nath - A Review

Set in 18th Century colonial India, The Tattooed Fakir tells the story of the uprising by fakirs and sanyasis against the British rule, from a viewpoint of the villagers and the sahibs of Jahangirpur, Bengal.

When the wife of Asif, a peasant, is kidnapped by the local Indigo plantation owner MacLean, he sees only one way to rescue his wife - to become a fakir. He runs away to the nearby mountains, where the fakirs have setup their camp to organize the fight against the British. While the fakirs wage their fight throughout Bengal, his wife, Roshanara, gives birth to a baby boy. The boy grows up in the care of the French manager and his sister. The kid grows up and join his father's band of fakirs, and they set out to take revenge on the sahib and the zamindar who destroyed their lives.

Biman Nath has definitely taken up a little known topic from the Indian independence movement, which happened half a century before the First war of Indian Independence of 1857. He dives into the details of the struggles of the fakirs, and how they go about organizing their skirmishes which kept the local British authorities on their toes for more than two decades.

As mentioned, this novels spans close to over two decades. And this is exactly where 'The Tattooed Fakir' falters. None of the characters, even the tattooed fakir, is developed properly. Also, throughout the novel, we get different and contrasting pictures of each of the characters. For example, when we start pitying Asif, the estranged husband, he takes off to the other side of India to Mysore, in what seems to be a fool-hardy operation to learn rocket technology from Tipu Sultan (though the author acknowledges that there's no historical proof of such a liaison between fakirs of Bengal and Tipu of Mysore). But it seems ridiculous that a man who was blinded with rage took more than seven years to even plan for a rescue operation.

The climax of the story is weak and does not keep with the rest of the writing. It seemed to me that the author wanted to end the story somehow, and resorted to a mediocre ending.

Biman Nath had taken up a story with a lot of potential, and he could have even turned it into a series. Instead, he has tried to cut the story short, and tell us all he had in mind in less than 270 pages. This has produced an average novel, good enough for a read if you are forced to spend some hours alone in a train or at an airport.


Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Water Thief by Nicholas Lamar Soutter - A Review


Ever since H.G.Wells wrote When the Sleeper Wakes, dystopian societies have been a favorite subject amongst authors and readers alike. Twentieth century's writers painted vivid pictures of multitude of such societies and they let our imagination run wild.

After Battle Royale of Koushun Takami in 1999, the standard of dystopian literature took a deep plunge. With the release of the The Hunger Games trilogy, the quality of such works reached an all time low. The success of such books also make us wonder whether we are going through 'The Twilight' of dystopian fiction.

The Water Thief by Nicholas Lamar Soutter is a fresh relief. The plot is simple, and it takes us through the monotonous life of Charles Thatcher, an employee of a corporate giant, which controls almost every business. Every aspect of life is measured in 'caps' (or money), which warns us of a near future when clean water and air will be charged. Charles meets a woman, and she helps him to see through the corruption and greed, and makes him think of a free life. The culmination of the events is quite unexpected, and also difficult to guess. I would say that it was quite a cliffhanger.

But the distinctive aspect of this book is the themes of business, corruption, greed, freedom and human life, which is explained quite in detail by the author. It can get quite complicated at sometimes, and I had to turn back the pages and read again. But this aspect of the book is what makes it stand out amongst such similar works.

Like I said before, the ending is quite unexpected. After watching Inception, I left the theatre with a heavy heart, trying to guess whether it was all a dream or reality. Similarly, when I reached the last page in my Kindle, I swiped it many times trying to find whether I had missed any pages. It's quite an ending, and I had a go for a short drive around the city to calm my mind.

To sum up, this is one of the best dystopian novel I have ever read. If you are fan of Battle Royale, The Running Man, I am Legend (movie), 28 Days Later (movie), this is a must read. If you are one of the 'those' fans of The Hunger Games, then read this book to understand what is really meant by a dystopian work of fiction. If Hunger Games lies at 'The Twilight' spectrum of the genre, then The Water Thief inches closer to 'The Dracula' spectrum.

You can buy the book from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B007VTMNEO/ref=cm_cr_mts_prod_img) or Smash Words (https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/154585)


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wallander - Never judge a book by its serial

When J.W. Eagan said "Never judge a book my its movie", he most probably meant that movie usually make a crap out of the book on why it's based on.

When I saw the BBC series crime procedural drama Wallander, I was enticed by the refreshing plots, awesome acting of Kenneth Branagh, and the scenic beauty of Sweden. It was more than enough to push myself to pickup the novels by Henning Mankell, based on which the series was made.

Boy, I was in for a disappointment! Within a week I finished Faceless Killers, Sidetracked and Dogs of Riga, and my disappointment grew worse with each book. Though I knew they would be procedural dramas, I didn't expect them to explain what Wallander ate for breakfast, lunch and dinner for each day, how he took bath, when he farted and so forth. To add to the misery, the translations were so badly done, that I wondered what kind of editor the publisher had.

For those who are new to Wallander, he is another normal cop, who is fat (but trying to be health conscious by eating salad), divorcee and having a terrible time with his daughter and father. His personal life is so screwed up , but still he manages to keep a straight head by promising to visit his father at 8 o'clock in the night, and not turning up. He loses his control (well, sexual) with the local public prosecutor (but finally manages to bed her), and concludes things fast and always goes on the wrong track.

Even though the actual Wallander turned out to be a disappointment, Kenneth Branagh did a wonderful job in the British series. Wallander had been adapted for screen in Swedish films, but Kenneth has given a new perspective to the boring Scandinavian detective. It's sad that they have so far made only six episodes, but a new season of three more episodes is supposed to be out in 2012. I will wait for the serial than read the other books in the series, which has caused me to despise the character whom I liked a lot when I watched him on screen.

Some of the book stores have been promoting Wallander as the next thing to read after The Millennium series by Steig Larrison. My opinion - Don't read the books, watch the series.

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