Science fiction is the key to the future

Science fiction writing had been a primary tool for visualizing how technology would look in the future. Writers like Jules Verne, Philip K Dick, Isaac Asimov, and Ray Bradbury wrote exciting novels, short stories that featured advanced technologies decades before they were invented.

What if businesses could put these stories to proper use by building technologies around them?

Scifutures, a company in Burbank, California does just that. The company specializes in something called “sci fi prototyping.”

The company helps businesses visualize their future with the help of science fiction writers. For example, if an ecommerce company approaches Scifutures asking how people would shop in the future and how would they interact with a shopping website, the company can provide them a solution with the help of a sci fi writer. The solution may be in the form of a short story, a novel, a comic, or a graphic novel weaved around the concept. This would give the company a vision about how their business would be in the future. Even if a writer comes up with a dystopian story, brands will learn how things can go wrong and ways to prevent them.

In a way, sci fi prototyping gives businesses a new perspective. Sometimes, even a new mission.

Several big brands like Ford, General Motors, VISA, Intel, and the American Navy (yeah!), etc. have approached the company for sci fi prototyping.

Albert Einstein once said “Logic can take you from A to B. Imagination can take you anywhere.” Scifutures is set out to accomplish that. Instead of using the help of existing technologies, they use their imagination to power the future. The company handles everything right from visualizing a concept to providing assistance to building a prototype. The company currently employs several award winning sci fi writers to work closely with brands.

The whole concept amazes me. Who would’ve thought of such an amazing idea for a company! Imagine going to work where you can think about flying cars, humanoid robots and machines that automatically make Hyderabadi biriyani. What a time to be alive!

P.S.: While you’re reading this, I am trying to sketch a blueprint for an automatic biriyani making machine.

Google Chromecast – A detailed review

Chromecast is what I am going to talk about today.

It’s been more than a week since I started using the Chromecast and it is amazing! After yesterday’s blogpost, I thought of writing a short, yet detailed review of Google Chromecast.

The Box

Google Chromecast comes in a simple package. The box looked large at first, but when I opened it, all I saw was the device, a USB-HDMI cable and a wall charger. They could’ve packed it into a smaller box, like how Mi does it.

Chromecast Setup

Chromecast comes with a simple setup process. I plugged the device into my TV’s HDMI port and connected the other end into the USB port of the TV instead of the wall charger. The device booted up and asked me to log into chromecast.com/setup to set my device. I followed the instructions and downloaded the Google Home app (previously Chromecast app) to proceed with the setup process.

Within the next 30 seconds my Chromecast was paired with my phone. Once that is done, I connected the device to my home WiFi and the device was ready to go. The whole process took me less than two minutes.

Google engineers have put so much thought into making this a simple onboarding experience. Anybody can do it.

Streaming Quality

The streaming quality in Chromecast was excellent. I was able to stream Youtube videos on to my TV in HD quality and I had no problems. I tried a few 1080p videos and they were smooth. The best part about this was my phone’s display wasn’t turned on when the videos were streaming. I used my phone’s power button to put my display to sleep, but the video was playing in the background. I was also able to control the volume of the video using my phone’s volume rockers.

The Cast feature in Android was fun. I tried casting my phone screen.I tried playing one of the video from my Amazon Prime video app using the cast feature. I turned off the rotation lock and was able to see the video on my TV in landscape mode. This is a workaround as Prime video does not support streaming through Chromecast.

I also tried streaming a few pictures from my Google Photos account and was happy with the output.

Streaming Apps

Apart from YouTube, I’ve also tested streaming from the following applications – Hotstar, ALT Balaji, Netflix. I used the Localcast app to stream videos which I had in my mobile. For those who wish to stream videos that are present in their phone’s local storage Localcast would be the right choice.

Casting from PC

Chromecast also supports streaming of content from a PC browser. It was simple as I had the chrome cast plugin installed on my Google Chrome browser.

Idle Screen

When you aren’t casting anything, Chromecast shows images from the web. But, you can also configure the settings were you can project albums from your Google Photos, Flickr, or Facebook accounts. I linked my Flickr account and was able to see my pictures on the big screen.

Verdict

Google Chromecast is great device worth considering if you wish to turn your normal TV into a smart TV.

Why I Chose Chromecast over Fire TV Stick?

Last week I was in a position to choose between Google Chromecast and an Amazon Fire stick.

After several decades, my living room finally saw an LED TV. The Samsung M4000. Even though I am not much of a TV person, I wanted to buy an LED TV to watch movies and TV series on a big screen. So, when I decided to buy a TV, I also decided to buy a Chromecast or an Amazon Fire Stick as both the devices makes a normal TV into a smart TV (more or less).

When I analysed the devices, both were good. Both were built by great companies and support streaming from multiple apps. And the best part it, they are easy to setup. They fit right away into any LED TV, right out of the box.

During my initial research, I was a little inclined towards the Amazon Fire Stick. It came with a dedicated remote and I had also recently bought a Prime subscription. When I dug deeper, I came to know that it support streaming from all applications like Netflix, ALT Balaji, Eros Now, etc. And, also it came with a lot of freebies such as the 6 month subscription of Gaana, a 3 month premium subscription to Eros Now, etc. After several hours of research, I was fixed on getting a Fire TV stick.

But, I also wanted to check on Google Chromecast (I don’t want to miss out anything). When I checked, I found that Chromecast supports streaming from most of the apps that are supported by Fire TV stick. Prime video does not support casting through Chromecast (Clever move by Amazon!?) But, I can cast my phone’s screen using the cast feature in my Android phone, so that problem will also be solved. And, according to several reviews, Google has made the 2nd generation Chromecast faster than its predecessor.

After knowing about both the devices, I was confused. Both offered more or less the same features. The only advantage in Amazon Fire TV stick is that it came with a dedicated remote and offered freebie subscriptions for several services. But, when I thought about it, the remote was not necessary as I can control the Chromecast from my android phone. Also, if I get the remote I will have three remotes – one for the TV, one for my set top box and one for the fire TV stick. This would make things complicated. Why would I need three remotes for a TV!

I also considered the price. Chromecast costs me Rs. 3399 and an Amazon Fire stick costs me Rs.3999. The freebies offered by Amazon were tempting, but I am not going to use Eros Now or Gaana subscriptions as I already have Prime video and Jio Music (yeah!) So, I settled for Google Chromecast and it is amazing.

The verdict is, both are good options and I settled for Chromecast as I wanted it simple. It is upto you to decide what you want.

I will soon post a complete review about my Chromecast.

Love in the Time of Smartphones

Love. The word makes people laugh, cry, die, and most of the times, get high. And it has been called names – crazy, stupid, blind, fever (typical Kollywood style), etc.

Why talk about love all of a sudden? There is a reason. During the recent times, the landscape of love has began to change. Love is not happening the way it was a decade ago. It is happening online and mostly through our mobile phones.

Before technology, people fell in love when they looked at each other. People were present in the moment. There was a vibe. Our previous generation was able to experience that electric feeling.

 

Photo by Alvin Mahmudov on Unsplash

But now, people hardly lift their heads from their smartphones. They hardly look at what is happening around. If someone has to impress another person they will have to grab a few precious seconds of their online time. In their everyday routine of endless scrolling, people can scroll past you even if you’re extremely good looking or done something extraordinary.

Back then people had enormous amount of personal space. After work hours people found real groups and hung out with real people. They went out and made real, meaningful connections. People fell in love even during their daily commute. Now, when we board a bus or a train, we take out our phones and start watching YouTube. It is not just you. Everybody does that. We never lift our heads up. Even if we did, it will only be for a selfie.

And, after missing out on so many people and opportunities if someone realizes that they need love or a partner, they don’t raise their heads up from their phones. Instead they start looking for love through their smartphones. They install an app and swipe right all day hoping that someone would do the same for them.

Instead of waking up to reality, people stay the way they are and think that everything will be alright. Our phones slowly suck us in without our notice. And, in the process of likes, shares and page views we lose our time, fail to make meaningful connections and most of all, fail to fall in love.

I am not telling that minimizing your smartphone usage would magically bring you a girlfriend or boyfriend. All I am saying is, to have a look around so that when presented with a chance, you don’t miss it.

My 30-day vegan challenge

I recently took a challenge where I decided to go vegan for 30 days.

Yes. You heard that right.

For people who know me as someone who went all the way to Madurai just to eat Mutton biriyani and Kari Dosai, this could come as a surprise. It is, even for me! But, I wanted to give it a shot!

 

 

What made me come up with the idea?

Last month, I saw a hard hitting documentary that showed the ill effects of those who eat a lot of meat. The documentary titled “What the Health” talks about how government organizations promote meat, eggs, and milk in spite of knowing that they’re harmful to our body.

Reason? Meat producers, aerated beverage makers, and milk companies sponsor huge amount to these organizations, asking them to promote their products in a good way. The documentary was shocking. It also showed the benefits of the vegan diet and how it can transform your body.

 

 

After watching the movie, I thought “What if I go vegan for one month? Can I do that?”

So, I started the challenge.

You might ask me “Do you know what going vegan means?”. Yes I do. No meat. No eggs. And no milk and milk products. It was kinda hard for me for the first couple of days. I always wake up to a cup of coffee and I missed it badly. Drinking green tea as a replacement was a nightmare, but I did it anyway. It was also painful to see my friends eat biriyani next to me, but all I could eat was sambar and rasam. The challenge intensified when I went to veg restaurants where most of the nice dishes were based out of paneer.

I replaced my non veg diet with lots of vegetables and rice. In the afternoons, I opted for traditional south Indian meal comprising of sambar, rasam, and some form of spinach. And, in the evenings I had lemon tea instead of my usual dose of coffee.

After the first two weeks, I did not miss milk and milk products. The one I missed the most was mutton. I never thought I could live without it. But, I was able to. There were times where I thought about having a cheat meal, but my friends encouraged me and helped me stay on track. It was challenging and fun.

Last week I successfully completed the challenge. What did it do to me?

Less fatigue

I felt less tired during these four weeks. I did not feel sleepy or groggy after a meal and my stamina levels increased. I was able to run around throughout the day without getting tired.

Better skin

I always thought I had oily skin. But, going vegan had minimised that oily effect on my skin. It was better and I felt fresh all day.

More Savings

Avoiding non veg food and paneer based foods made me eat less at restaurants. Even when I ate, I stuck to normal south Indian foods that was light on the stomach and light on the pocket. I saved close to Rs.2000 this month (which made me realise how much of my salary I was spending on eating out!)

But, I would say staying vegan for one month won’t bring enough benefits. I am planning to continue this again from Monday. This time I am planning to stay vegan for two months. This time, I will couple my daily routine with exercise and meditation. I am planning to allow one cheat meal – once in 20 days to keep me motivated. Let’s see how it goes.

I will share you my experience after 30 days.

What is wrong with “Lipstick Under My Burkha”?

I’ve thought several times before writing this blogpost. The topic is sensitive as it involves criticism about a movie that talks about women freedom (at least it claims to).

Like every other Indian movie buff, I was excited when I heard the news about the release of Lipstick under my burkha.

Reason?

The trailer…the news about CBFC trying to ban it…and the release of 27 cuts made by the censor board took the hype to the whole new level.

But, did the movie live upto the expectation?

NO.

Lipstick under my Burkha (let’s call it LUMB for the rest of the blogpost) revolves around the lives of four women who live in the same apartment complex. Each have different dreams, desires, and fantasies and they’re too far from reaching them. The idea of the movie is to show the hard hitting reality of how women’s dreams are crushed by the society that surrounds them. When looked at a high level, this is an amazing plot. But, the way it was written and the way it was made, fails to impress the audience.

 

 

The first thing that strikes you after watching the movie is, none of the characters in the movie create an impact in you. I wasn’t able to connect with any of the characters. When you look at K Balachander’s movies, woman characters are strong and you will be able to connect. In recent times, Tapsee Pannu’s characterisation in “Pink” is a good example. The scenes of the movie slowly adds weight to her character and when speaks in the court during the last few minutes, you are able to connect with her feelings. But, LUMB, in spite of having four such characters, wasn’t able to create that emotional connect with the audience.

The second thing is there were unnecessary sex and smoking scenes. I mean, out of four characters two characters were portrayed in such a way that all they think about is sex. And, they all at, one point smoke or drink, or do both. (If you ask “Guys are smoking! Why can’t girls?!” Smoking, be it done by a guy or girl, is unnecessary.) When a movie claims to talk about womens’ freedom or at least others claim so, portraying characters that always think about sex, going to parties, boozing, etc. may send a wrong message. Konkona sen sharma’s character is the only good character in the movie which again fails to create an emotional connect.

The young girl who wants to be the next Miley Cyrus goes shop lifting so as to look posh and be part of the college group/band or whatever. And, when her dad scolds her, she becomes sad (awwww!) Now, the movie shows the mom and dad as the villain. Utter Stupidity. Can’t she be friends with people who accept her for who she is? Can’t she move with normal people?

I mean, she could upload her songs in youtube from her room and be famous. That would’ve been inspiring. Instead she so badly want to fit into a band where none of the other girls sing and the drummer always smokes (and finally ends up making out with this new girl. Oh My!)

Last but not the least, all men characters were shown as angry and stupid. Is that the reality? I don’t think so. Why can’t a male character be normal? I guess it is a norm in Indian cinema that when a girl loves a guy, and the parents choose another groom for her, he will always be shy and dumb. Why? How else can you justify pure love?!

And, in the final scene, they all will put lipstick which is shown as a montage. (Ha ha!!)

I can go on and on about the movie. The more I think, the more flaws I could find.

According to me, Lipstick Under My Burkha had a great story, but had messed it up big time due to poor characterisation and overuse of sex.

How to use songs in a movie? Lessons from Edgar Wright

I am a big fan of Edgar Wright. When I first saw “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World”, I was blown by the way it was made. The concept, the visuals, the cast – everything fell right in place. But, back then, I never knew that the movie was directed by Edgar Wright. I liked the movie and I kept telling my friends about it. I noticed it recently when I saw the trailer of his latest movie “Baby Driver”. The trailer was fresh. It featured an amazing soundtrack, crazy cuts, and an awesome sound design. When the movie released a couple of weeks back, I ran to the movies without second thought.

 

 

 

The entire movie is driven by music. If you ask me “Is it a musical?” I would say it is. But, you won’t feel like watching one. The songs intertwine with the scene in such a way that you can’t visualize a scene if you take out the song. A good example would be the opening scene where Edgar Wright introduces Baby’s character to the audience. The scene starts with him parking the car in front of the bank. He turns on his iPod and Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s “Bellbottoms” starts playing. For the next five minutes you will be amazed to see how every beat of the song perfectly syncs with the visuals. At the end of the song you will wonder how much time did Edgar Wright and his team would’ve put to bring out such amazing visuals.

 

 

The first six minutes of the movie sets an expectation of what you can expect for the rest of the movie. And, “Baby Driver” completely fulfills your expectation. Everything about the movie is fresh. Especially the characterization of Baby; His habit of timing a getaway with a song, his iPod collection which he chooses from according to his mood, his little mix tape experiments, will not fail to impress you.

Instead of filming the movie first and choosing the songs later, Edgar Wright chose the songs and wrote the script in accordance with them. This is not the first time he’s done it. He is known for making the best use of songs. Another good example would be “Shaun of the Dead” where he uses Queen’s “Don’t stop me now” during a Zombie fight. The whole scene is brilliant and hilarious. This way of film making is really hard to pull off, but Edgar Wright always does it.

 

 

If you’re an aspiring film maker, you can learn a lot from Edgar Wright. Especially the art of bringing every element of film making into a scene and make them fit right in. Remove any one of the elements and the scene loses its value. His scenes bring out the perfect orchestration of story, screenplay, cast, cinematography, editing, soundtrack, and sound design. Looking forward for more such wonderful movies from him.

P.S.: After coming out of the movie “Baby Driver”, I’d badly wanted to drive like Baby. But, as I was amidst other cars on one of the busiest roads in Chennai, all I could do was shift to gear one and angrily honk at other cars.

 

Inside Edge Series: A Review

I’ve always wanted to watch an Indian series that is as good as anything that was made in the West. My long wait was recently fulfilled by “Inside Edge”, an original series by Amazon.

When I started with the first episode, I did not have any expectations. But, as the series went further I got drawn into the story. It had the right blend of drama and suspense, bound together by crisp screenplay and an amazing cast.

 

 

The series revolves around the T20 cricket team Mumbai Mavericks and the pressure they face when they get a new co-owner who also happens to run a match fixing Racket.

Zarina Malik (Richa Chada), the slowly fading superstar of Bollywood, owns the Mumbai Mavericks for six years. When one of the investors backs off, she was pushed to bring in a new co-owner. Vikrant Dhawan (Vivek Oberoi), who runs an elite match fixing racket, uses this opportunity to swoop in. He buys co-ownership of the team and slowly tries to bring players to his side. He also threatens those who did not budge to his will. When Zarina Malik finds out about this, she has choose between money and her team. What did she choose and who had won makes the epic season finale.

The characters are deep and lively. And, the entire cast that plays the Mumbai Mavericks walk and breathe like cricketers. The actors who play Arvind, Vayu, and Prashant were natural and compete each other with their screen presence.

The makers of the series wanted to try something like “House of Cards”. It was evident everywhere. The title theme, the characterization of Vivek Oberoi, his relationship with his wife, his secretary who resembles Doug Stamper. But, the borrowing of ideas did not spoil the core story as the director tried to bring in his own style in the making.

When mentioning about the series, I shouldn’t forget to mention the season finale. The last episode was normal until the last twenty minutes. For a moment I was like “what the..!” It was shocking and exciting.

Its great to see Amazon come up with original content for India. I look forward to more such content providers to bring such quality shows to the Indian audience. There are other players like Hotstar, ALT Balaji, etc. But, Amazon stands out with it amazing cast and a huge budget.

Verdict: Inside Edge brings out the darker side of cricket.  Can’t wait to watch season 2

Rating: 8/10

My Experience with Dialogue in the Dark

Two weeks back, I got invited for an interesting dining experience. Chennai Bloggers Club chose me to be part of a small bunch of bloggers to experience Chennai’s new, one of a kind restaurant “Dialogue in the Dark”.

So, what is so special about this place?

When I googled a bit, I came across their website which said “Taste of Darkness. Experience food like never before.”

All this snowballed into an expectation when I reached the doors of the place on Saturday.

I was welcomed by Ananth, manager of the restaurant. He explained the concept of the restaurant. Once we enter the restaurant, we will be completely surrounded by darkness. We will have to use our other senses in order to find our way inside the place. The introduction was interesting.

After the brief introduction, myself and the other bloggers who were invited for the experience were asked to line up for the experience. Once we entered the place, the door was shut behind us. The next 90 minutes was amazing. The place was run by visually challenged people and they helped us through the entire experience. They helped us cross a shaking bridge, play cricket, identified objects, etc. And, everything was in complete darkness.

And, then we were taken to the dining area our lunch was served. One the whole, it was a nice experience.

But, there are a few things that I am a little concerned about. I am writing them here as part of my review.

Even though they introduced the restaurant concept, they are yet to figure out a few things there. First of all, we don’t get to choose the food. Its either veg or non veg and the menu is the choice of the management. I understand that it is a surprise. But, what if I did not like it? What will happen then?

I was served a sweet tasting pulao which I was not very much interested in. This could give a bad experience to a few visitors.

The second thing is quantity. They serve lunch in a stainless steel tiffen box, like the one they gave you when you were a kid. It was small. The quantity is not enough for an adult. And, it was definitely not worth the Rs.349 + taxes they’re charging for the food.

The place is good and gives you a nice experience. But they need to improvise in terms of food, its variety, and the quantity. At the end of the day, a restaurant will not be judged by the ambience or the unique concept but only for the quality and the quantity of the food.

I hope they take this inputs and implement them. I would definitely want to go there again.

Book Review: The Kind Worth Killing

I was recently skimming through Goodreads to find the next book I wanted to read and I stumbled upon the book “The kind worth Killing” by Peter Swanson.

 

The plot looked pretty usual, but the reviews were praising so much about the book. I was a little hesitant to pick up the book considering my previous experiences. But, my mind kept going back and forth telling me to give the book a shot. So, I got a copy of it on my Kindle and started reading. I read the first few pages and by the time I realized I was 80% done with the book. I was then unable to keep the book down. So, I sat down and completed the whole book. It was amazing!

As a reader, I liked the book for the following reasons:

No bullshit

The author directly goes into the story right from the first line of the first chapter. No weather descriptions, thrilling prologues, and stuff. He draws us into the conversation between the main characters and you instantly get hooked. By the end of chapter one you would want to read the rest of the chapters.

Excellent use of first person narrative

The novel is written in the first person perspective. But, the beauty is, the first person narrative is not canned to one character. Almost all the characters in the novel have a chapter written with their first person narrative. This was pretty innovative and the thing I wonder is the ability of Peter to pull this off. This style of writing did not come off as awkward. Instead it makes the plot more interesting.

Gripping Characters

The characterization in the book is amazing. Especially the character of Lily. It was deep, dark, and brilliant. Every character is powerful in its own way and is written in such a way that you cannot ignore anyone. Everybody has a part to play and that is what makes this book a complete thriller.

Ending

When I thought I had reached the climax of the book, I was wrong. There was one last page and I was like “what could happen in one page”. And, it happened, the last page is the real shocker. Peter Swanson made complete justice to the story with such an awesome ending.

My verdict

If you love thrillers, I would definitely recommend this novel. Its short, fast-paced and has interesting characters. And, Peter Swanson’s got an amazing writing style.

Rating: 4/5