Sunday, February 28, 2010

Why I love "Ikiru"

Ikiru is one of the most powerful movies I have ever seen in my whole life. It revolves around Kanji Watanabe, a public servant who recently discovered he had stomach cancer and has only a few months to live. Realizing his whole life went by worthlessly (the movie goes on to describe that "he has been dead for the past 20 years"), he resolves to spend the last months of his life doing one final selfless act.

I love this movie. Let me share with you what parts of the movie impacted me. I'll mention a few spoilers to reinforce my point - but I think they won't destroy your viewing experience.

1. It is an attack against living for the sake of living - This is the problem Watanabe encountered - he has stomach cancer, and he only has 6 months to live. Several tries at redeeming his life (entertainment, drinking, gambling, flirting with a girl) failed. In a flash of insight, he decides to do something of enduring value with the last 6 months of his life - to put up a park in a city area where originally there was a cesspool.
...which I think is a problem many people have. It is a problem I have. Life is reduced to routine, and we try to break our routine by having "fun." But at the end of the day, what was the purpose of all that?

2. It is about politics - During Watanabe's funeral, Watanabe's (only?) achievement in life was claimed by the deputy mayor. A debate ensues between his colleagues finally showing bits and pieces of how Watanabe worked through the pain and the bureaucracy. He worked passionately and silently, as the cancer was killing him slowly. A note on the bureaucracy - the citizens who raised the request have been shuffled through all City Hall departments but to no avail. Watanabe-san had to humiliate and risk himself to get the papers moving.
...this issue still dominates workplaces and life in general. I do not like politics. It robs the excellent but self-effacing people the credit they deserve. And there is a breaking point.

3. It encourages you to listen - In one scene in the movie, Watanabe-san was about to tell his son of his stomach cancer when his son rudely interrupts him. His son then complains about his supposed "affair" with the young girl (see item 1) is causing problems. Dumbfounded at his son's outburst, he decided to not share his predicament at all. Fast forward to the funeral, the son cries, "Why is Dad so cruel? He didn't even tell us he had cancer."
...we have to listen. Maybe it won't be repeated again.

4. It tells the cold truth about inspiration - During the funeral, after his colleagues realize the great work Watanabe has done, they resolve to do things better. To "sacrifice self for the many" and to not waste his death. But once back to the daily grind, their idealism fades...
...Inspiration dies fast often. Which is why rallies are not effective. Which is why our politicians make great promises but fail to keep them. Which is why great ideas die in the bureaucracy.

There are other great things in the movie, but I choose to write only a few very obvious ones, and other more obscure ones.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Oh no, a Villar ad is in my blog...

Villar has a lot of money. :\ And there's round 2!

...and another one.

Friday, February 12, 2010

JK Rowling - The fringe benefits of failure (HIGHLY RECOMMENDED)

I highly recommend JK Rowling's commencement address at Harvard. She talks about the fringe benefits of failure, which I think is very, very applicable for us. Especially so, since majority of my social circle led very cloistered lives in school, and were also pretty much successful without getting a taste of bitter failures.

Let me highlight a few points that struck me from Rowling's speech:

1. There is an expiry date at blaming your parents for steering you to the wrong direction... The moment you are old enough, responsibility lies with you. - At some point in your life, you begin to take the wheels. I believe this, but this has to be clarified.

It's true that you have to take responsibility for your own direction in life, but what your parents imparted with you can make or break your desired state in life. Read Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers, the one on Bill Gates. Success is not just because of you, it's because of everyone and everything around you. In quick points, Bill was born in 1955, the so-called perfect date for software tycoons. Bill's parents enrolled him in a forward-looking school, one that allowed him to be exposed to computers at a young age. Because of this, he had the prerequisite 10,000 hours of practice to be an expert in the field.

But it is true that once this preparation was set in place, it was up to Bill to take Microsoft to the next level. I would think though that if Bill's parents weren't there, he probably wouldn't be where he is right now.

2. It's impossible not to fail, unless you've lived so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which you fail by default. - Many people choose to play it safe and avoid risks. This statement strikes straight at this belief.

I was talking to a friend (still a student) over the weekend, asking how his day goes. He goes: wake up in the morning, go to school, go to the tutor, go home and eat dinner, study, take a bath, then sleep. The next day is exactly the same. So what do you do during the vacation, I ask. TV, and possibly Math summer class.

Even for people who are employed, it's the same routine over and over. Settle into a routine because it's safe. Avoid risky things because they might present harm.

I have been like this for a long time, but I'm happy because I know I'm doing something out of the ordinary. Let's see how it goes.

Rowling said it best - when you don't take risks in life, you fail by default.

3. Failure meant stripping away all of the inessential/set free by failure - Rowling said that failure strips away the inessentials and allowed her to direct her energies to what truly mattered to her (which is writing). This is a new perspective to me - by failing you can narrow down your focus on that one thing that matters to you.

By failing, she knew herself better: her inner strengths, and the strength of her relationships.

4. Life is not a checklist of achievements - But there are those who confuse it. In a way she also meant that happiness in life is not obtained via achievements, or money. A sad reality in the world today, more so because it's driven by the world economy so there's virtually no escape from it.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Google Buzz - firsthand impressions

I got Google Buzz last night, and I've been playing around with it for the past few hours. Here's what I think about the product.

What is Google Buzz to me?
Google Buzz is a Twitter/Friendfeed on steroids with Wave-like features.

1. Photos and videos - Buzz makes uploading and viewing photos very easy. Take a look back at Twitter: Twitter was never meant to be a photo-sharing service, but as the site matured more and more need arose for sharing photos. Services have come up addressing this need (like Twitpic) but the user experience is not seamless. Buzz addresses this problem nicely.
Apart from displaying the images inline (a la Facebook), viewing the images in large size is also a breeze for Buzz. In the screenshot below, note that the image is displayed over a grayed out Buzz window.

2. Integration with Google ecosystem - Buzz is closely integrated with Gmail, and let me explain why this is a good thing. Google emails buzzes where a comment has been made, similar to FB's notification bar. You can then comment on buzzes directly from that emailed message. Since Gtalk is intertwined with Gmail, you can also directly IM that person. Buzz also allows for @-ing people even within your comments (Facebook doesn't support this).

The fact that Google Buzz slid into Gmail also leverages the natural email network that you already have. I don't have a lot of contacts, so it's not entirely useful for me, but for people with many contacts, this may be more fun. I think that this network can also be used to serve as a noise filter in the future.

It also allows for nice integration with other Google properties like Google profiles, Blogspot (more on this later), Reader, and Youtube.

3. Blogs * - One of the biggest uses people have for Twitter and Facebook is for posting links However, to actually see the contents in that link, you have to click the link. In Buzz, blog posts (seemingly only for blogspot atm, but I'm hopeful they'll expand!) are shown inside the individual "buzz" and you don't need to actually visit the blog to see the content.
Clicking expand shows my entire blog post.
(Why did I not include mobile and the Foursquare-like features? Because I don't use it :) )

1. Facebook - I think this is a deliberate effort of Google to leave out Facebook integration, but with Facebook being the world's largest social network (at 400 million strong), Google not integrating with Facebook means people still need to open Facebook. Facebook is soon launching its own webmail service, and that will just eat into Gmail.

2. No extensions - This is too early to tell, but I'd appreciate if Goog would roll out Chrome/Firefox extensions.

3. No outgoing capability - My blog automatically posts to Twitter, my Twitter automatically posts to Facebook. I'd like Google Buzz to have this capability as well, so that when I post a buzz, my Facebook and Twitter profiles are updated. It should be intelligent enough though to interpret duplicates and remove them from my stream.

What would really make me happy:
1. If Google Buzz would become the ultimate social aggregator - I've long been hoping to have a one-stop shop for all my social networks.

Here's the official Google video on Buzz:

Creative bento boxes

If I were to come across bento boxes like these, I wouldn't eat them at all.

via Oddee

Monday, February 8, 2010

Google's Superbowl ad - A love story told via searches

Google's first Superbowl ad. Techcrunch described it well - "Amid dozens of ads focused on cars, beer, and busty women, the Google spot definitely took a different approach: it tells a love story through a series of search queries. The tale begins with a query for “study abroad paris france”, moves on to “impress a french girl” and eventually makes it all the way to “how to assemble a crib”, showcasing Google’s technology in a way that pretty much everyone can relate to."

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Strip games

I gotta hand it over to Randall Munroe (of XKCD) for his ingenious use of Google.

Strip tennis sounds.... awkward.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

My favorite Chuck Norris facts and videos

Everyone knows Chuck Norris is the man. Here are some of my favorite Chuck Norris facts, ranked in no specific order :) There's too many to mention, actually.

Chuck Norris destroyed the periodic table, because Chuck Norris only recognizes the element of surprise.

There is no "ctrl" button in Chuck Norris' computer. Chuck Norris is always in control.

Google won't search for Chuck Norris because it knows you don't find Chuck Norris, he finds you.
In fact, if you "find chuck norris" on google and press "i'm lucky", you'll get the screen below.

Chuck Norris puts the laughter in manslaughter

For some, the left testicle is larger than the right one. For Chuck Norris, each testicle is larger than the other one.

If at first you don't succeed, you're not Chuck Norris.

When Chuck Norris does a pushup, he isn't lifting himself up, he's pushing the Earth down.

Chuck Norris can divide by zero.

When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks his closet for Chuck Norris.

Chuck Norris does not sleep. He waits.

In a fight between Batman and Superman, the winner would be Chuck Norris

Fire does not burn Chuck Norris, Chuck Norris burns fire.

Superman owns a pair of Chuck Norris pajamas.

Chuck Norris is suing Myspace for taking the name of what he calls everything.

Here's why Chuck Norris can never become a video game character. The game would be too easy.

And here is what Chuck Norris likes to do for fun, when he's not out beating the hell out of every person he sees: