Ray Bradbury On Reading

Ray Bradbury, the author who made science fiction writing a main stream category in literature, passed away this Thursday. His death was mourned by a variety of personalities, from Stephen King to Steven Spielberg, and publications from the New York Times to the Huffington Post. I had only recently discovered Mr.Bradbury works when I stumbled upon his speech at the Annual Writer’s Symposium and one of the most striking things about him, for me, was his love for his life and craft. It was clear from his voice that he did not write as a pastime or career choice, but he wrote because it brought him joy. Indeed, most of his advice in his speech centered around the idea that if one is not immensely enjoying writing, so much so that all of lives little annoyances become bearable through words, then one has no business writing in the first place. In fact, that seems to be his approach to the larger theme of approaching life as a constant attempt to be curious about the universe and let that curiosity drive one’s ambitions and actions and through the relentless pursuit of those actions, experience true happiness.

If you know how to read, you have a complete education about life, then you know how to vote within a democracy. But if you don’t know how to read, you don’t know how to decide.

More than that speech, I particularly love this interview from him in which, by any measure, he validates the importance of reading. As someone who has recently become a frequent patron of my neighborhood public library, I have been indulging myself in the mysterious and fulfilling experience that is reading without a goal. See, schools and colleges have trained many of us to associate books with mindless memorizing, where we are trying to forcefully yank the knowledge and ideas out of the pages and into our brains, all for the sake of passing an exam. But when you pick up a book, not really knowing why, but for a vague sense that something within those pages might open a portal in your mind to a place where there is hope for truth and clarity, then there is no struggle in learning. There is only a smooth flow of information and ideas. Of course, those are idealistic targets, but that is the point. Each book I pick up seems to lay one more intersection on an internal map that seems to expand with every visit to the quiet and poorly funded neighborhood public library, with only the possibility of finding a promising destination.
I had decided, when I first listened to his speech at the Writer’s Symposium that I will pick up his books next time when I am at the library, not realizing at that time, that his books tend to be put on reservation a month before one can even hope to get hold of them. If anything, his passing will only prolong the waiting times for those books, but if by that his vision of us all living a well-read life will come that much close to reality, then so be it.
Soon after I learned about Maurice Sendak, he passed away and only after a few weeks of me coming to know of Ray Bradbury, he too has left the mortal life. If its a trend, it needs to stop right now.

Books are smart and brilliant and wise. Love what you do and do what you love. Don’t listen to anyone else who tells you not to do it. You do what you want, what you love. Imagination should be the center of your life.


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Getting Close to Minority Report

Remember the super-cool computer screens from the Stephen Spielberg movie Minority Report? Tom Cruise and his fellow actors were able to manipulate objects on a screen directly with their hands using an almost magical contraption that allowed true 3D interaction with digital screens and objects on them. We have been waiting for this technology since the movie came out in 2002 and finally the tech world has caught up to it.

MIT student Jinha Lee designed a prototype as an intern in the Microsoft Applied Sciences Group which allows a user to physically interact with the objects on a transparent screen. Moving windows forward and backward with your fingers, two Kinect cameras sense where the users hands are and allows for a true 3D interaction with the content on (or is that “in”) the screen. The cameras also track your head and adjust the screen’s orientation in 3D so that the view and aspect of the screen is maintained no matter the angle of view.

Here is a demo from Lee.

It is not far from becoming a commercial product and once it reaches the market it can make big impact on everything that has a screen, from a small iPod to computer assisted surgeries in medicine. This is such a brilliant technology that its only a matter of time before someone smart does something incredibly amazing with it. I just hope that it happens sooner.


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Adventures of Tintin

I have never read Tintin books. I think I have seen a few Tintin cartoons but don’t remember too much from them. I remember his pointy hair, the flash light and a white fluffy dog. Saw the animated movie version today and I am dearly regretting not reading those books, not watching the cartoons and I surely regret that I forgot about the amusing duo of Thompson and Thomson.

The movie does not spend any time in introducing many things. Within the first few minutes almost all major characters are brought to the screen or at least referenced by a major character with little to no background information. For instance, in a particularly short but revealing scene, a wall shows several awards and news paper clippings, each celebrating Tintin’s crime discoveries. For someone who does not know much about the series, I did not find this kind of screenplay uninformative in any way because Spielberg wields his magic with expert precision. The movie is an adventure, as suggested by the title, but not a cliché in any way, at least for me, because there is nothing in the move that distracted me from it. And this from a guy who can’t keep his focus if his life depended on it.

The movie is in gorgeous animation format – I watched it with the effects magnified by IMAX 3D – and there is not much ground to gain in this sector. The scenes are so realistic, barring the people who are intentionally made more comic book looking, that its hard to see where it can progress from here. There are shots of reflections caught in bubbles on the ocean surface, distorted human faces shown through glass bottles that are empty and sometimes half filled, objects hurtling on all kinds of surfaces from sand in Saharan desert to high-strung cables in Morocco, from rusty old ship to airplanes. One particular action sequence is sure to invoke comparisons to the break neck chase sequences from old Indiana Jones movies. In fact right after the action scene ended, I remember exactly thinking that it closely resembled chase sequences from Indiana Jones movies. It was brilliant is what I am trying to say here.

The story itself is, I am told, constructed from three different stories stitched at the right sections to make it into a standard length movie. I did not notice this while watching the movie because of the previously mentioned magic wielding by the director. The plot is nicely stitched together and with no noticeable flaws in logic and the dialogues are kept pretty much straight forward. For an almost-first-time viewer, like me, Tintin did not seem like a guy who makes sarcastic, unkind or even rude remarks at anyone. Captain Haddock lays out some profane-sounding-but-totally-family-friendly phrases but they are either a drunk slur or a thick Irish accent. Fun fact: Majority of field tests have proven that Irish accents and drunk slurs in any language are very much identical. In any case the writing is splendid and, barring some of the Captain’s lines, always progressing the plot. The place where the story starts or Tintin’s nationality and origins are kept unopened in the movie but you don’t really think about them until the movie is over. Again the credit for keeping us so engrossed in the story goes to the – say it with me – magic wielding by Spielberg.

One of the oddest thing about this story is the lack of female characters. There are only a few who even show up on-screen and only two of them get to speak lines. If you guessed that Tintin does not have lady in his life you are right (he is actually just a kid), but you may also rejoice in the fact that no other character has a marital partner either, unless you prefer to think that Thomson and Thompson have something going on.

I thought about how to finish this review. I did not want to say anything about the story, just because I don’t see why I should. I’ll say the movie has lots of action scenes. It employs impressive cinematography and exquisite quality of artwork. The story is thrilling and the sense of adventure lingers a bit even after you exit the theater. It’s an awesome movie.

I guess, if you don’t like awesomeness for any particular reason then don’t watch it. For the rest of you sane people, you really don’t have a choice.

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