DC vs Mortal Kombat again

Lore Sjöberg of Alt Text wrote about the upcoming Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe game, which I wrote about long back here. And the same basic comparison,too! (Superman vs. Sub-zero, that is). His, of course, is way funnier. Check it out:

Fighting the Good Fight: Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe

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A Day in the Life of…

I’m sorry, I couldn’t actually write a new chapter/story/whatever- I did something else,though, I came up with a storyline for an entire novel, although its by no means finished, I’m sort of at the three-quarter mark right now. I like it, I think it’s nice-can’t say more than that about my own ideas, of course- but it doesn’t have nearly enough shock value or totally outlandish ideas. Right now, unless I write it really well or something, it would turn out like a very conventional SF/F story, the kind that would be very interesting indeed if written by a Clarke or Asimov but only mildly entertaining if left in the hands of the rest of us. So I’m posting a little skit i did a LOOOONG time back(when making fantasies of this sort was so much fun!), recycled from deviant art (www.nikcarnate.deviantart.com). It has a few barely edited but (I think) interesting photos, so feel free to visit if you’re bored. This one isn’t exactly erotic(sorry again!), although the implications are fairly obvious.

“I’ve never actually done this before…”
“You’ve never ironed clothes before?”
“Well, I’ve done a few pairs when the maid was sick and there was no other choice, but no, I have never willingly ironed my whole wardrobe before. And I’ve never done a dress, either.”
“Seriously?”
“Oh come on, it’s not that weird!”
“Aww…well, it’s really not that hard, baby… Here, let me show you.”
“I KNOW how to do it!!! I just said I haven’t had that much practice. You know, just so you don’t nag at me if it’s not perfect or anything.”
“I don’t NAG!”
“I know, I just said…”
“My MOTHER nags. I don’t nag.”
“Well, not too much…”
“Why are you being mean!?”
“I’m not!”
“Are too.”
“Are you doing this so we can pretend to have a fight and have really good make-up sex? I’m good, but when I don’t know the gameplan I tend to get worried.”
“Humph!”
“Aww, my little baby looks so cute when she sulks.”
“HUMPH!”

A man and a woman, lying sideways on a bed, covers upto their chests. The woman is making low sleepy moans. The man is running his fingers through her hair. His hand slides down to her hips under the covers, and the woman turns over.

“Did you know there are couples- couples who have been together for ages, married couples- who set their alarms to wake up about 15 minutes apart, less than an hour before they have to actually get up, wash their face and brush their teeth and gargle and floss and come back and lie down and pretend that’s exactly how they look when they wake up every morning?”
He laughs.
“Me, I think it’s weirdly romantic. You know, how they still care about being good for their partner. But when I mentioned it to my friend she said that’s because they’re not open enough, and they’re still afraid to reveal themselves to each other.”
She pushes him on his back and slides on top of him.
“What do you think?”
“Hmm… tricky one.”
“You have to answer. Would you want me to do all that so I’ll be beautiful for you in the morning?”
“Sure…”
“What? You want me to get up early every day just so you’ll see me as better than I really am?”
“Or not…”
“You just said you want me to.”
“I said sure. Sure means I’m agreeing with you. It means you still love me after I say it. That’s the whole point of sure. Not-” He hugs and kisses her. “This. There. Think you can make breakfast today?”
“Today? I do it everyday!”
“Well, you never ask me first.”
“Fine. Just wait for tomorrow.”
“I love you, sweetheart.”
“I love you too, darling.”
“Wanna make out?”
“Wait, I’ll just go brush my teeth. You should, too!”

PS: This came up a few posts back as well, so I just thought I’d reiterate: I know how to iron. Just imperfectly. And I have very little practice. It’s not a crime.

The Colour of Whuffie

Just a book review I wrote for The Fourth Estate, the campus newsletter…I’m guessing I have reproduction rights, its not like they’re paying me or anything 🙂 .

It’s a little hard to know where to start when you’re reviewing a book like “Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom”, by Cory Doctorow. It’s even a little hard just to decide what kind of book it is: science fiction, of course, but is it a tragedy or a comedy? Utopic or Dystopic? Bridget Jones’s Diary or Anna Karenina? The wit and banter are easily observed, but so is the anguish, and the futuristic theme comes packaged with the murder-mystery element and the social commentary. Perhaps it is best just to present the book as it is, and let the readers decide.

“Down and Out” is set an unspecified time in the future, “some time late XXI”, when a new found abundance of resources has solved all of today’s major problems, the basic economic rules have been turned upside down, money has been abolished and the “Bitchun Society” covers the globe. A system of reputation points called “Whuffie” determines the allocation of the few scarce resources around, although everyone has access to food, shelter and information. Everyone in the Bitchun Society is always online, connected through neural implants, and their “respect” for other people is converted into Whuffie. Death has been cured by the invention of mental backups and force-grown clones, and Disney World (aka the Magic Kingdom) is the entertainment centre of the world.Whuffie is concrete karma and the world is a giant P2P network. Reputation is everything. When your Whuffie is high, you are a god; when it’s low, people treat you like you have a personal hygiene problem and when it’s zero, elevators look down their noses at you.”

Julius is over 100 years old, although he’s “apparent 40”. When we first meet him he’s wasting away as a graduate student in Toronto, although he has “learned ten languages and composed 3 symphonies”, and he’s just met Dan, a “missionary” for the Bitchun Society in the few pockets of civilization that have yet to accept it, with a cowboy vibe and more Whuffie than could fit into Julius’s standard display. In the next chapter Julius is fulfilling his boyhood dream of living and working in Disney World with his girlfriend, Lil, who is just 15% of his age, when Dan calls on him, washed up with near-zero Whuffie and in dire need of help. Dan wants only to die, but when Lil suggests that he’s too late, that he should have cut the cord ten years ago, retiring permanently as a champion and not fading away as a loser, he decides to work with them for a while, to build up enough Whuffie before closing the curtain.

There’s trouble in paradise soon enough- at 220 pages DOMK is a fast-paced book. Disney World is being run by ad-hocracies, small groups that take care of specific areas, and the Liberty Square ad-hocracy that Lil and Julius work with is under fierce competition from a talented sim-coder called Debra who wants to replace the ancient animatronics with pristine white sim-boxes. The rest of the novel deals largely with this competition. In the very next chapter Julius is killed and restored from a backup, and Debra takes over the Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square for an overhaul. Julius is convinced that it is Debra and her cronies who arranged to have him killed and he fears that they will now try to take over his favourite ride, the Haunted Mansion. He stoops to sabotage the grand premiere of the revamped Hall of Presidents, and instead finds himself sick and offline, his interface erratic. Debra’s show is a great success, they both work very hard to keep up with it in the Haunted Mansion and passions turn to anger when Julius is still offline and is unable to access his hormonal supplements. Julius begins a grand scheme to revamp the Mansion with more human interaction, but things go awry after his interface remains faulty and he drives Lil into Dan’s arms. Julius finally “cracks” when he sees his dreams turned to dust and he bashes up the attractions in the Hall of Presidents. This pushes his Whuffie to ground level when he is caught and gives Debra and her colleagues enough “sympathy Whuffie” to take over the Haunted Mansion, by invitation of the same fans that Julius recruits to work in the Mansion. Dan leaves Lil, Julius is kicked out of the adhoc and his Whuffie hits rock bottom – low enough that people steal from him with impunity and elevators don’t stop for him. Then comes the revelation: just before deadheading (putting oneself into a voluntary coma) till the heat death of the Universe, Dan reveals that it was in fact Debra who had arranged to kill Julius, with his help, in exchange for the Whuffie that her team could give him. Dan had asked one of his converts from his missionary days, a young girl, to do the dirty work. He makes this public; Debra is thrown out, Julius gets sympathy Whuffie and, ironically enough, falls in love with his sweet young murderess. He never restores himself, because doing so would erase his memories of that entire year, but lives the rest of his apparently eternal life with his deceased interface.

Doctorow possesses a skill that few writers in the SF/Fantasy genre today possess: his story is short and sweet and manages to turn your brain inside out with a mere 200 pages. There are, of course, contradictions and unexplained responses, as in any book: the human relationships that form the story are somehow a little less convincing, a little less believable than the fantastical future that Doctorow cooks up. As a story about the dangers of letting our fixation with technology, convenience and the “good life” strip our lives of the value inherent in things earned, worked for, and easily lost, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom is likely to be one of the more surprisingly touching little tales you’re likely to pick up.

PS: Brief plot summaries rarely do a good novel justice, and I hope that anyone who finds this intriguing reads the book itself. This would be fairly easy if you don’t mind e-books, since the entire novel is available as a free download. Cory Doctorow is a proponent of “Free Culture” – he’s an Outreach Coordinator for the Electronic Frontier Foundation and discusses his thoughts on the uber-blog www.boingboing.net, which he founded – and has declared the entire novel as free for noncommercial use under the Creative Commons license. You can download it at http://www.craphound.com/down/download.php.

A Varied Collection 3

This is for the Princeton supplement, its on my favourite quote:

“ Ask and you shall receive,

Seek and you shall find,

Knock and it shall be opened unto you.”

I am an optimist, because I have always thought that was the only sensible way to approach life. However, my philosophy is a little more rational than “All is well, and this is the best of all possible worlds” and this passage from the Bible expresses it very succinctly. I will receive everything that I desire…but only if I ask for it. If my desire for something is intense enough, if I am prepared to sacrifice enough for it, then I will surely get it. Food keeps men alive, but hope is what keeps them living and struggling, and mine is a philosophy of hope.

One of the things my father has taught me very thoroughly is the importance of hard work. He constantly emphasized that, no matter what a man’s circumstances, his persistence and industry is what will determine his success or failure. There are no substitutes to hard work. The only way to “ask nicely” for something is to keep working at it, and the only thing that will achieve results is the “single minded pursuit of excellence”.

A Varied Collection 2

This is Princeton:

The Social Question

“Change is the only constant”, as someone famously observed, and the world we live in constantly bears testimony to his (or her) wisdom. Globalization and increasingly better communications are helping to bring about a “knowledge revolution”, where ideas are the true currency, and it seems nothing can stop it.

Tony Blair, the Prime Minister of Britain, says, “Complaining about globalization is as pointless as trying to turn back the tide.” Companies in the developed world are finding this true: they must “Outsource, or perish”. India is the greatest outsourcing hub in the world today, and millions of Indians have benefited from this wave of globalization. Information Technology is the ”Sunshine Sector” of new India. But some still see a thunderstorm over the horizon.

The simplest of outsourcing businesses, call centers, show the most obvious signs of trouble. Not economically: by any criterion that can be expressed in figures, they are doing just fine. It’s the human side of the question that I am interested in. What a company offers an employee, beyond financial remuneration, is experience. Working at a company should enhance your skills, it should add something to you; most call centers do not do this, which is why attrition has always been a troublesome issue. This is also a problem on a national scale. When nations base their economies almost entirely on such services, they become nothing more than the garages of the world, continuously doing the least knowledge-intensive jobs.

This, however, is a subsidiary problem, and one that will sort itself out given time and a free market. The real problem is less obvious. Due to outlashes in the United States and other countries against companies outsourcing services to the developing world, many call centers require their employees to pretend to be foreigners. While at work, they must undergo a complete transformation, from Tarun to Tom or Aanchal to Alice; they fake accents and memorize slang to deal with customers. Much has been speculated about the possible long-term psychological effects of such a nightly transformation.

The financial benefits of outsourcing for all concerned parties, from the CEO of the western multinational to the coffee shop next to a call center, are undeniable. Nevertheless, if we are to take full advantage of the knowledge economy and all that it offers, these little kinks must be ironed out.

I am deeply concerned by this issue because I am one of those who are set to join this breed of knowledge professionals, from either side of the globe. The problems that I have just discussed are the ones that I will directly come into contact with over the course of my career: not faking identities, I hope, but selling the skeptics on what the New World Order- in capitals, and with no sarcasm- offers us. This may sound clichéd, but our generation is truly at a crossroads in the history of the world, and we must decide if we are to lead the world into a new interconnected future or remain content with our fate. I already have.

A Varied Collection 1

Basically, excerpts from my application essays. A little busy to think of anything else right now.This is the final draft of my MIT essay, which I posted earlier:

Game Over

One of the greatest disappointments in my life is something most people would dismiss with little thought. Even for me, the disappointment is more a product of my hopes than anything concrete…

The Information Technology Quiz sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services is something of a ritual with my school: we go for it every year, at least one team makes it to the final round, and every year we come back without the winner’s trophy. For the past three years, it had also become a ritual for me: more by fortune than by skill, my team has been one of the six to make it to the final round, although we have never won the first prize.

It was one of the high points of my year. Many schools, especially the ones that produced winning teams, prepared for it throughout the year. We, however, went about it in a much more relaxed manner. About a month before the competition the brochures would arrive, and the teacher would tell us to begin preparations. Two weeks before the event, we would start staying back after class every day for marathon quizzing sessions. With only one week to go, the serious contenders would start to slip into a world populated entirely by acronyms and technology businesses.

This was my final chance at the quiz, and I was determined to make it count. I was all the more hopeful because the Untouchables-the fanatics, who could tell you Bill Gates’s favourite cologne, and expand acronyms that ran off the page- had all finished school and gone.

When the big day came, everything seemed different and something felt wrong about it all. I began to feel better once we were seated in the hall, and the well-remembered flurry started within me. The preliminaries began, and by the tenth question we were nearly laughing out loud with relief: this was so easy!!!

That was the problem: as it turned out, everybody else thought so, too.

The lunch break was agony, and when we got back, as expected, the quizmaster took us through all the prizes before announcing the finalists. Three schools were announced, and then he said: “And here we have a school that has made it on stage every year, the persistent ones all the way from Kottayam”- we nearly rose from our seats-“Joseph Sebastian and Mikhail Jacob from Pallikoodam!!!”

In retrospect, its rather funny, but we weren’t laughing then. Of course, we acted like good sports and cheered harder than everyone else, but we both felt devastated. Both of them had been strong contenders, just as much “favourites” as we were, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. However, right then, none of that mattered.

The disappointment numbed by the time we got back home. It has always been my policy never to worry about something you can’t change, and I moved on. That’s a policy that I’ve always believed in, and it has not failed me yet.

My Application Essay

The topic is “My greatest disappointment” and its for MIT. Its still not down to size, I cut it from 7– to 57-, I need 500. I think its a lil too upbeat for the topic, but hell…

One of the greatest disappointments in my life is something most people would dismiss with little thought. Even for me, the disappointment is more a product of my hopes than anything concrete. However, as it is still so fresh in my memory, I felt I had to write about it.

The Information Technology Quiz sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services is something of a ritual with my school: we go for it every year, someone among us qualifies for it, and every year we come back without the winner’s trophy. For the past three years, it had also become a ritual for me: more by fortune than by skill, my team has been one of the six final round, although we have never won the first prize.

It was one of the high points of my year. Many schools, especially the ones that produced winning teams, prepared for it practically the whole year. We, however, went about it in a much more relaxed manner. About a month before the competition the brochures would arrive, and the teacher would tell us to start preparations. Two weeks before the event, we would start staying back after class every day for marathon quizzing sessions, beginning and ending with data from some random website. With only one week to go, the serious contenders-of which I was one- would start to slip into a world populated entirely by acronyms and technology businesses.

This year was my final year at the quiz, and I was determined to make it count. I was all the more hopeful because the Untouchables-the fanatics, who could tell you Bill Gates’s favourite cologne, or expand acronyms that ran off the page- had all finished school and gone. My teammate this year was Tarun Markose, one of my classmates, and it was with him that I had secured the fourth place in the state finals last year.

When the big day came, everything was somehow subdued, but I remained hopeful. We had prepared sufficiently; as both Tarun and I had always been interested in technology, we had a pretty good idea of the sort of things that were generally asked. God had never let me down yet…

I began to feel better once we were seated in the hall, and the well-remembered frenzy started within me. The preliminaries began, and by the tenth question we were nearly laughing out loud with relief: this was so easy!!!

That was the problem: as it turned out, everybody else thought so, too.

The lunch break was agony, and when we got back, as expected, the quizmaster took us through all the prizes (“Why did they tighten up?”) before announcing the finalists. Three schools were announced, amid hoots and clapping. Then he said: “And here we have a school that has made it on stage every single year since we started, the persistent ones all the way from Kottayam”- we nearly rose from our seats-“Joseph Sebastian and Mikhail Jacob from Pallikoodam!!!”

In retrospect, its rather funny, but we weren’t laughing then. Of course, we acted like good sports and cheered even harder than everyone else without missing a beat, but I think my teammate was just as devastated as I was. Both of them had been strong contenders, just as much “favourites” as we were, so it wasn’t much of a surprise. Ofcourse, none of that mattered at that time. We got over it on the trip back, but it still felt weird coming home with no prizes, for the first time in 3 years.

The school maintained its tradition…they got fourth place.

Risky Business

[ The topic that I had to write about, as you might guess, was “the greatest risk you ever took”]

I could never be described as someone who lives dangerously…I’ve done my share of jumping off almost-stationary buses and the like, but never anything that constituted a “conscious” risk. The biggest risks I’ve ever taken I’ve had my conscience go “temporarily dumb” and lied blatantly, but since those are still far too embarrassing to recount…

A little memory comes calling, from my pre-teen years, when I was not quite so thoroughly acquainted with the better part of valour…not that I am acquainted with it now, thank God for that and for whatever remains of my life that is spontaneous. I was around nine or ten, I think, and I had gone with my father- this took place sometime during the summer vacation before I entered sixth standard- to a rubber estate near Thiruvanathapuram in a place called Marthandam. It was my first visit to the place, and after nearly five-and-a-half hours in the car, I had already thrown up once and was just starting to feel better when we arrived.

My father took me on a walk around the estate to cheer me up, although we had not gone far before my little legs and big mouth started to complain- the former by slowing down and the former with a persistent grating wail. Therefore we stopped near what I think was the manager’s bungalow, and my father had him called and they began to discuss some accounts on the verandah.

Finally, we get to the good part. My tired legs not being quite so tired anymore, I set off to explore the house. I went around the corner of the house, and then I saw it: a huge black dog, neither lying down nor sitting up, but remaining crouched and yet ready to spring, its body tense, its eyes alert.

What passed, to repeat the oft-used cliché, was “like a dream”. Literally surreal. I, for whatever inexplicable reason, adopted the same “stalking” pose, my knees slightly bent, and then…I leapt.

Or rather, we leapt, because in my (possibly romanticized) memory, I met the dog in mid-air. It bit an extremely small part of my ear lobe, and I got what I thought even then to be a ridiculously small portion of its hair. I don’t know what greater damage may have resulted if the situation was allowed to develop, but just then 2 workers slipped out of their shock-induced paralysis and caught hold of the dog, and led it back barking.

No one seemed to know quite what to say to me…I myself, having once again become the possessor of a rational and functioning intelligence, was caught in a “what just happened” moment. They all made do with fussing over my ear, and giving me food, and directing me to the bed. I didn’t overhear anyone giving my father instructions on where the best rabies treatment places were, but I wouldn’t count that as proof that it didn’t happen.

On retrospect, the dog was not quite so large, nor its pose quite so threatening; the little space was not quite so dark, and the dog was almost certainly grounded when I sensed its unwelcoming mood and opted for “pre-emptive action”. However, I do know that I was not fully in control of myself for that one instant…and the sheer possibility of what could easily have resulted in the absence of the workers coupled with my fear over this “loss of control”, this temporary insanity, caused the incident to haunt me for days. This event is one of the most memorable of my childhood days, and I have often wondered just what had happened to make me take the greatest risk I had ever taken.

My Speech

Snce, anyway, its “like your old blog entries, all smart” and “speechy” anyway…

Episode 59: A New Hope

Everybody is a pessimist.

I say this in spite of the buoyant markets, in spite of India Shining, in spite of a breakthrough nuclear pact, because for all our celebration, we are not celebrating as much as we should.

Let’s take a look at some statistics… for all the accusations of the mass media “being” corporate globalization,and are generating undue hype in its support, no one has yet claimed that numbers can lie. Even if we accept that the currently sky-high markets are fickle and an unreliable indicator, there is no denying that we have come a long way. From that midnight nearly 60 years ago when our first Prime Minister sought to fulfill his “tryst with destiny”, we have proceeded at least to lay the foundations and raise the walls of the “noble mansion of free India.”

Our Gross Domestic product- the national income, in layman’s terms- of over 3 trillion dollars, adjusted for price differences, makes us one of the 5 largest earners in the world. Our growth rate of nearly 8% means we are, for once, achieving our goals. We have ceased to be a predominantly agricultural nation and we are starting to show the signs of a developed nation – agriculture contributes less than a quarter and services nearly half to the economy.

Now the time has come for India to consolidate its gains – build the roof of the mansion to continue with the analogy. We gained political liberty at midnight 59 years ago, but it is only now that we have come close to achieving true economic freedom for the vast masses that are the true face of India Our political systems and our democracy is a success because we have managed to forge the Indian mosaic into a single cohesive unit, that speaks and acts as a sovereign nation. We have managed to become “concerned capitalists”… placing necessities for the rural poor above gadgets for the urban rich. We must continue unnhesitantly on the path to economic liberation and we should start on the path to leadership – the first step being a permanent seat on the Security Council of the United Nations. Let us leave this sorry stage of doubt, and leap forward- paraphrasing the great man once again- embracing our destiny! I end on the same note that I began: hope, not longing; optimism, not nostalgia. Jai Hind!