Archive for January, 2008

Background scores of movies

January 31, 2008

Some of the finest background scores for movies I have heard are from Ilayaraja. I used to love the score he made for the Malaylam movie called Guru, in which, when the protagonist moves from our world to another in which people lack the sense of sight and hence carry out all their activities based on sound and vibrations, the background score also glides and becomes exotic and fantastic.

However, there aren’t many Hollywood movies that I can think of, the background score of which, did impress me (There are exceptions, of course; Ronin is one that comes to my mind immediately).

Alex Ross, in his latest New Yorker piece seems to agree that Hollywood does not pay much attention to background score, but has some nice things to say about the background score of the movie There will be blood:

There may be no scarcer commodity in modern Hollywood than a distinctive and original film score. Most soundtracks lean so heavily on a few preprocessed musical devices—those synthetic swells of strings and cymbals, urging us to swoon in tandem with the cheerleader in love—that when a composer adopts a more personal language the effect is revelatory: an entire dimension of the film experience is liberated from cliché. So it is with Paul Thomas Anderson’s movie “There Will Be Blood,” which has an unearthly, beautiful score by the young English composer Jonny Greenwood. The early scenes show, in painstaking detail, a maverick oilman assembling a network of wells at the turn of the last century. Filmgoers who find themselves falling into a claustrophobic trance during these sequences may be inclined to credit the director, who, indeed, has forged some indelible images. But, as Orson Welles once said of Bernard Herrmann’s contribution to “Citizen Kane,” the music does fifty per cent of the work.

Take a look!

Update: Jan Swafford reviews the soundtracks of No country for old men and There will be blood:

This winter produced two epic Westerns, both powerful and unconventional, both filmed in the same landscape, similar in some dimensions and contrasting in others. No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood present visions of the American dream gone haywire, one in orgies of killing, the other in a labyrinth of greed and madness. One thing that unites them is how all the elements of their soundtracks—dialogue, effects, music—work together to shape the story. What divides their approach to sound is that Jonny Greenwood’s score for Paul Thomas Anderson plays out in the usual musical fashion if not with the usual sense, while the Coen brothers created a soundtrack of great expressive effect with next to no “music” at all.

Take a look!

A recommendation for Conan Doyle’s Brigadier Etienne Gerard series

January 31, 2008

I knew of Conan Doyle’s Holmes novels and stories; I also liked his Lost world, which I read it in tamil translation ages ago. However, I did not know about his Brigadier Etienne Gerard series; over at NPR, Michael Chabon strongly recommends these stories:

But did you know that in between gleefully killing off Holmes and somewhat reluctantly reviving him, Arthur Conan Doyle created another great fictional character, one who easily rivals Holmes — if not for intelligence, then for heroism, bravery and dash? A character who exceeds Holmes in the one trait in which the great detective, by his own admission, was always deficient: a rich and lovable humanity. This hero, a handsome, charming and resourceful cavalry officer serving in the Grand Army of Napoleon, has only one tragic flaw, though in his own eyes, of course, it is his glory and his single greatest advantage in life: He is a Frenchman.

His name is Brigadier Etienne Gerard, and he starred in 17 short stories that Conan Doyle wrote, with a palpable sense of liberation, after pushing Holmes off that Alpine ledge. In their day they were almost as popular as the Holmes stories, but I have to confess that even though I’m a lifelong Sherlockian, I had never heard of the good brigadier until his exploits and adventures were recently collected in a single volume.

In its pages you will find adventure, action, romance, love and self-sacrifice, hair’s-breadth escape and reckless courage, gallantry, panache and a droll, backhand humor that rivals that of P.G. Wodehouse. You will also find yourself, even more than with the celebrated stories of Holmes and Watson, in the hands of an indisputable artist. For more than any other adventure stories I know, these stories have a power to move the reader.

There is a very long excerpt too from the recent collection of this series; have fun!

How big is too big?

January 31, 2008

Recently, I have been trying to see how large a memory chunk I can allocate using malloc. Rather, I was trying to allocate more than twenty large chunks of the order 0.1 GB or so, and my desktop  (Mac 4 x 2.5 GHz PowerPC G5, with 4 GB DDR2 SDRAM) was giving up with error messages of the  following type:

muse_evolver_fftw.out(2491) malloc: *** vm_allocate(size=268435456) failed (error code=3)
muse_evolver_fftw.out(2491) malloc: *** error: can’t allocate region
muse_evolver_fftw.out(2491) malloc: *** set a breakpoint in szone_error to debug
Bus error

So, I wanted to figure out the limit (as well as a solution — if there is a way to overcome the limitations, if any).

After a bit of Googling, I found that Chris Adams, in his page, gives a C code which you can compile and run on your machine to figure this limit; I compiled and ran the code on my desktop and got the following output:

Determining maximum single allocation: block size = 65536, memset=0
maxmalloc(4123) malloc: *** vm_allocate(size=2363490304) failed (error code=3)
maxmalloc(4123) malloc: *** error: can’t allocate region
maxmalloc(4123) malloc: *** set a breakpoint in szone_error to debug
Maximum single allocation: 2.20Gb (36064 65536 blocks)
Determining maximum allocation size: small block size = 1024, memset=0
maxmalloc(4123) malloc: *** vm_allocate(size=8421376) failed (error code=3)
maxmalloc(4123) malloc: *** error: can’t allocate region
maxmalloc(4123) malloc: *** set a breakpoint in szone_error to debug
Maximum total allocation: 1.00Gb (1777660 1024 blocks)

Thus, though the physical memory available to me is large, malloc gives up within 25 to 50% of that memory usage.

The fact that malloc has an upper limit in the memory it can allocate has a say in how large a simulation I can run, since, I run 3D simulations using FFTW. One of the easy ways in which you can make FFTW run faster is by using threads — it just requires few extra lines in your code and can speed up the calculations quite a bit; however, such shared memory parallelizations seem to have a problem when one has to run simulations on large system sizes. In such cases, it might be essential that I distribute both memory and processes — in other words, use MPI and such parallelizations. For now, I have overcome the problem partly, by malloc-ing and free-ing the memory so that at no time I have such a large number of arrays in memory. This seems to mitigate the problem a bit, albeit, at the cost of such frequent allocations and freeing.

Disclaimer:  I do not know much about malloc, its limits, shared memory and distributed memory processes. All of the above, I gathered via Googling. So, if any of you find any mistakes in what I have written above, and/or have solutions for my problem, please feel free to put a note below in the comments. I will hoist them to the post.

HowTo: improve peer review

January 30, 2008

Grrlscientist has a must read post on how the current single-blind review process of papers makes it easy to discriminate against authors based on their gender; the post is based on a study carried out by some researchers at University of Toronto, and here is Grrlscientist’s conclusion:

Instead of hand-wringing and asking “Why are there so few women in science? Why are they leaving?”, it is time for the community to begin reflecting on the behavioral data they are being confronted with. Basically, the scientific community makes it very difficult for women to remain in the sciences, and one way in which they do this is through a demonstrable bias against women in the review process. In my opinion, it would take very little effort for the scientific publishers and granting agencies to change their review policies to incorporate the double-blind process, knowing that women (and scientific progress in general) will greatly benefit.

While I do agree with her, and am all for double-blind reviews, that is only my second choice; the first choice would be open review where both the authors and the reviewers are known to the entire world with the review also published (online, for public consumption). Any case, go take a look at the post as well as the comments on it.

PS: Hat tip to Abi for the pointer

HowTo: spice a South Indian wedding

January 29, 2008

Krish Ashok clarifies what he means by spice-up first:

When I use the word “spice”, it’s not like “They added an item song to spice the movie up”.  It’s more like “They used modern technology as one would use a fluorescent marker, to reinforce and highlight the the relevance of ancient traditions”.

Then he goes on to list some problems with the present wedding ceremonies, like this one, for example:

 My amateur musician heart goes out to all the Nadaswaram and Thavil brothers who are cruelly mistreated and their music blatantly disrespected at every Tambram wedding. They are all too frequently interrupted and asked, willy-nilly, to stop their passionate alapana in Thodi and instead, play an unmusical stream of noise called Getty Melam.

And, his solution? You have to go see the cartoon involving Bose G1000 “Getty Monster” speakers, Chi, Sow, and the Nadaswaram party to appreciate it.

PS 1: This being a 1.0.1 (beta), I can understand that he is not keen on talking about item song kind of spice up; but in the interest of South Indian humanity and keeping up its cultural heritage, I hope he will do a post on the more interesting kind of spicing up of marriages next time!

PS 2: Hat tip: Gandham for the email alert!

We are like that only

January 28, 2008

When I see a book titled thus, I cannot help but wonder what, what title and all people give to their books yaar!

S Ramachander reviews Rama Bijapurkar’s book on Indian consumer market titled We are like that only and finds it very good:

I like this book personally for the reasons that we like most things; because it says what one wishes one had done oneself. For instance, her persistent use of the new and more research based mental models is very encouraging. The fact of the matter is a good marketing strategy in India of today demands a combination of the skills of a sociologist, anthropologist and economist, which is quite rare in any individual and difficult to come by among the permanent staff of a company.

Insight rather than information or statistics should guide thinking on any relevant, innovative marketing strategy. It is a lesson that many CEOs tend to learn slowly and somewhat reluctantly. Here is a book that should help along the way, if they are so persuaded.

A common friend once described Rama Bijapurkar’s chief strength as the ability to popularise difficult concepts and turn research findings into layman’s language. I thought that it was a perceptive remark, considering how she has used a career in marketing research, and understanding the complex entity called the Indian consumer market as a springboard to becoming a well-recognised publicist for marketing and a strategy consultant.

After reading the very interesting volume full of insightful arguments and convincing data, one tends to agree. The book demonstrates that “Rama is like that only.”

If you ask me, I will tell you just one thing — for that title alone, I would happily shell out the 500 bucks, really! Take a look!

Why group meetings are better than seminars

January 28, 2008

PhilipJ at Biocurious, after outlining a typical seminar, tells why he finds group meeting talks more interesting:

I am finding more and more that the kind of talk given in a group meeting environment is more interesting: there’s no grand-standing, there’s no “massaging” of the data, and there is usually good discussion about the real issues faced on data analysis and collection, or the development of simulations, or what have you.

When I was a grad student, we ran an underground seminar forum (called Night Club since it was usually held on Tuesday or Wednesday nights) also for some of the reasons listed above; and, I learnt a great deal about the research in general, and about the research activities in the Department in particular through those talks.

Some blogological links!

January 28, 2008
  1. Sarah Boxer at The New York Review of Books on Blogs (via Abi, at whose post, Coturnix lets us know that the response of Laeleps to the piece is a must-read);
  2. Zuska on interactive and ethical blogging;
  3. Andre of Biocurious on science and blogs (with a video clip of a talk by Andre);
  4. Dave Munger on the official launch of; and,
  5. Raj at Plus Ultra in a conversation with his daughter, who knows that she is just being used as a  sounding board for his blog post ideas 🙂

Tribute to Sultan of story

January 27, 2008

In the latest issue of Frontline, K Satchidanandan pays his (birth centenary) tributes to Vaikom Mohammed Basheer; the photos that accompany the piece (Punaloor Rajan) are a feast too. Here is a sample from the piece:

Of the many stories Basheer told, his own, as told in his autobiography, Ormayude Arakal (The Chambers of Memory), is perhaps the most exciting. Trained in Arabic at home by a musaliyar, he learnt his Koran by the age of eight. Then he studied Malayalam and English, and read his first storybooks from a friend, one Potti, which might have stirred in him the desire to tell stories. The names of Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of the freedom struggle excited the young boy. Basheer has given an account of him literally touching Gandhiji during the Mahatma’s visit to his land for the historic Vaikom Satyagraha in March 1924 demanding, for the so-called lower castes, the right of entry into the temple.

The call of freedom took Basheer to Malabar, the centre of the nationalist activities in Kerala. He joined the Al-Amin newspaper run by the patriot, Muhammad Abdu Rahman. Basheer participated in the Salt Satyagraha on the Kozhikode beach that landed him in jail. Now he began to feel that Gandhi’s peaceful ways would not earn freedom for India; he was fascinated by Bhagat Singh and his comrades and moved over to Ujjeevanam (Rejuvenation), which had now turned from a Congress journal into the mouthpiece of the armed struggle against the colonisers. Basheer had to go underground to evade arrest. That was the beginning of seven years of wanderings in a variety of disguises: as a Hindu mendicant, a palmist, a magician’s assistant, an astrologer, a private tutor, a tea shop owner.

He also went to meet the film-maker V. Shantaram in an outlandish outfit hoping to join the film industry. Shantaram asked him to learn Marathi and come back. Before he could learn Marathi, a certain Gajanan, impressed by his language skills, employed him as a tutor. He was asked to teach mathematics, and Basheer had no choice but to leave the job and move to Bombay (Mumbai) where he became a physician’s assistant in Kamatipura, the haunt of sex workers, transgender persons and thieves. Next he ran a night school in Bhindi Bazaar, teaching basic English. It was then the sea called him and he found himself sailing as a khalasi on SS Rizvani carrying Haj pilgrims to Jeddah via the Red Sea. On the way back he landed in what are now parts of Pakistan. He served in a hotel in Karachi and then as a proofreader’s copyholder in the Civil and Military Gazette.

That is just the beginning of Basheer’s fascinating journey of life, and there is more where it came from. Take a look!

Yet another review of Musicophilia

January 25, 2008

Jessica Phillips-Silver reviews Oliver Sacks’ Musicophilia for Science (and has quite a few nice things to say about the book):

Musicophilia is not only another example of best-selling author Oliver Sacks’s repertoire of fascinating neurological anecdotes and skillful storytelling but also a poignant collection of evidence that music has a powerful influence on the human brain.

Last time, when I borrowed the book from the library, I could not finish reading it. I have brought the book home again today, and, probably this time, I will finish it (and write a note here about it).