Wednesday, November 24

Book Review: God and Golem, Inc.

God & Golem, Inc: A Comment on Certain Points Where Cybernetics Impinges on Religion, published in 1964, has been penned down by Norbert Wiener. Wiener (1894-1964) happens to be the coiner of the term ‘cybernetics’ in its modern sense. Wiener is a well-regarded mathematician and has a vast number of technical papers to his credit.

However God and Golem Inc, has very little to do with the subtleties of theoretical physics or mathematics, it concerns itself majorly with socially relevant issues of cybernetics that intersect with religion. The author here refrains himself from using any highly technical phrases to prove his points. Some of the ideas do remain rather vague, as a result of this approach. But it seems necessary as the book caters to a much wider audience this way. 

The three main issues, discussed throughout a number of short essays in the book, are: 

  • Machines which learn themselves
  • Machines which have capacity to reproduce themselves
  • The relation between man and machine


Learning is a property which has been long attributed to self-conscious systems, or simply put living organisms. But there have been efforts to make learning machines, which might ultimately lead to the invention of the long anticipated (and feared) “Artificial Intelligence”.  The author takes an intereting example of Checkers playing machine. The computer which has been programmed to play a game of Checkers also possesses an interesting ability to “learn” from its past experience and improve its game in accordance. Such a machine was able to consistently defeat its creator, Sameul, in the initial phase. "It did win," the author writes, "and it did learn to win; and the method of its learning was no different in principle from that of the human being who learns to play checkers.”  An interesting point raised here is the conflict between the Devil and the God, as described in the Book of Job or Paradise Lost, might seem to be a pitifully unequal contest in the first sight. To avoid moral dualism Devil must be considered God’s creation. The game, it has been argued, between the Creator and the creation, ignoring the omnipotence of the Creator, happens to be quite a real conflict with a possibility of the creator losing the game.


Second point deals with the ability of reproduction amongst machines, or whether such ability exists at all? Man makes man in his own image, which is supposedly an echo or a prototype of the act of creation, by which God has made Man in his own image. The author demonstrates that man has made machines which are able to make other machines in their own image. These images can very well be pictorial as well as operative images. This brings me to the title of the book. Can we safely say that God is to Golem as Man is to Machine? Golem is considered to be the embryo of Adam, shapeless and not fully created, according to Jewish mythology.


The author ponders upon the relation between Man and Machine next. He ponders on the subject of androids, or the semi-machine humans. In fact to have forecast the development of such systems in back in 1964 is rather impressive. "Render unto man the things which are man's and unto the computer the things which are the computer's," the author warns. The issues discussed here are more of ethical in their nature.

The author also touches upon a lot of other important issues, except for the main three described above. Some of the examples include human responsibility in usage of advancing technology, sensory feedback to artificial organs, machine game-playing, Cold War, Marxism, Darwinism, adversities of Ideological thinking and even Economics as a science. This exemplifies the range of the author as well as shades some light upon his vast knowledge pool.


However, at times, it appears that the book lacks direction. Some of the issues are left rather contentious. His ideas including the right to die and the ones including machine self-reproduction seem rather vague. The book however remains crisp and sharp, devoid of any unnecessary length. The ideas are presented in progressive manner. Sometimes it appears that he overestimated future technology, such optimism however isn’t very uncommon among the authors coming from a scientific background.


He puts forward the notion that scientists and engineers are moral people, whose work is based on their fundamental belief in human goodness.  He states that deepest hell in Dante’s Inferno has been reserved for the sin of Simony (which was used in the context of the misuse of Church’s power). He draws parallel to this old term in the sense of misuse of growing technological powers for a more personal gain, or usage of money as a force.


It remains an important book. One might not necessarily agree with all the points covered in the book, especially the ones touching upon religious issues, depending upon his/her personal beliefs. But the book has got courage to ask difficult questions.


My favorite line from the book:
“Remember that in the game of atomic warfare, there are no experts." 

Monday, November 22

Inside The Gutter

Thought me had no one,
Noone to take care mine,
Take mine care,
Before it was,
Noticed your,
Small your paws,
Brown fur,
A rat me all got,
All me got,
Trapped inside both,
The same gutter,
Rat got the me,
Me got rat,
Both we bored,
Enough ignored,
Our shared stories,
Biologist and histories,
Bonded really we,
Shared all could we,
Shared food our,
We shared our food,
He shared his body,
Me shared mine hunger,
And left was me,
All alone,
Me was alone,
Inside the gutter.

-Pavan
22 November, 2010

Thursday, November 18

Been There

Been there, seen it
Your smile your pet mouse
Both inside your wooden house
Upon the mountain inside the stone

But your mouse is dead your smile stolen
Your furniture broken your cousin grown fat
Bet your insurance company
Didn’t know anything about that

I still remember our first kiss
Going to the movies, flying the red kites
The trip to Albino, our first few fights

Shades of gray lingering between
All the blacks and the whites
Happy times, sad days, desperate nights

But when I needed your love the most
Your condolences, your advice
You were never there
No one to hear my cries
For you were dancing in the distance
With the tall guys

Never thought you will leave someday
Was it so easy to betray
When I was exhausted you threw me away
Just like an empty bottle of spray

Sometimes, in my dreams, can sense you
Hear your footsteps, can hear their distant sound
My fears shake me up, from dreams they wake me up
And there is nothing but emptiness to be found

Took long to realize you were gone
Considered jumping from the stone
Loveless, desperate and vulnerable
I was left, all alone

But the seasons have changed
The crows now sing in melodic tone
The owls have grown smarter
The person I was long lost long forgone

I should have known you will leave someday
That it is easy to betray
You will throw my exhausted soul away
Just like an empty bottle of spray

When I needed your love the most
Your condolences your advice
You danced with the guys, squat and tall
While my cries echoed in the empty hall
No you were never there

But I have been there
Have killed your mouse stolen your smile
Broken your furniture it took me some while
But your cousin growing fat
Now I have nothing to do with that!

-Pavan
15 November, 2010

Sunday, November 14

A Lovely Saturday

Over the hilly town
Under the dead nun's gown
Have put it down
But somehow
Can’t find it now
  
Can’t locate grave of the nun
Under the burning sun
But I won't give up
Will return when the moon shines
And the silver fox cries

Find my paper crown
I will burn the place down
Sit atop the banyan tree
Enjoying the off spree
Watching the world burn free

Cherish the moment
Enjoy every last scream
People burning while still in their dream 
Will dance naked over dead bodies
Eat the flesh of children


And when I am all fed up
I will consider my mistakes undone
For god is kind
Having a sound mind

I shall confess all my crimes
Beat up my back couple of times
My sins, be forgiven

And someday 
When I meet Him
We shall ride horses made of clay
And to Him I would say
"It was a lovely Saturday!"

-Pavan
14 November, 2010

Tuesday, November 9

41

Underneath moonlit skies, on curving yellow roads we walked,
Over elating highlands, warm rainforests her shadows I stalked.

In some silent whispers, couple of nameless songs she hummed,
Insinuating ideas dusted and newfangled alike, and we talked!

Enjoying unblemished sunshine a marsh harrier upon us flew,
Fresh smells of flowing seas of blue mountains and rambling squirrels it blew.

She told me of her grandpa’s old clock, about how much he cared,
Other funny little stories of her childhood she shared.

And I listened wondering all the while,
Upon a green leaf and little orange flowers, a butterfly hovered meanwhile.

“So Cute!” Pointed Mrs. Wayne to her husband and their only son,
A small fist extended as the boy captured the fly, just for the sake of fun!

A lion roared in vicinity, out Mr. Wayne took his shredded gun,
Four thousand feet above us all a German fighter-plane flew, under the hooded sun.

The butterfly escaped the fists, the plane dived,
The lion roared again, the harrier smiled.

Her dimples flashed In the sun,
"Bang!" roared Wayne's aforementioned gun.

I told her a joke which one I don’t remember now,
But it did make her laugh, her beautiful smile leaving a faint afterglow.

The bullet traveled through the air,
Cutting through all the love and despair.

Faster and faster it moved death etched upon its nose,
The shrewd king of jungle jumped, missing the bullet quite close.

Straight the bullet traveled ‘cause it still had to kill,
And it pierced right through her heart leaving her silent still.

Impending upon her doom she lay down on the grass, quieten and motionless,
The ghost of her last laugh still etched upon her face.

A teardrop fell upon her body, the harrier joining in silent requiem.
And I sat beside her despairingly hoping for another such bullet to come.

Thinking of all the mountains together we crossed,
Only to be met by an end so glum, so sad.

Unaware we were of our destiny, but it hardly matters,
Her stories remain untold, the journey never ends.

-Pavan
4 November, 2010

An afterthought:
But then it’s never the journey that terminates, is it?

Sunday, October 10

ALIEN Movie review [SPOILER ALERT!]

Ripley: Will you listen to me, Parker? Shut up!
Parker: Let's hear it. Let's hear it.
Ripley: It's using the air shafts.
Parker: You don't know that.
Ripley: That's the only way. We'll move in pairs. We'll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered. And then we'll blow it the fuck out into space!
Set in an undated future, the 1979 science fiction Alien depicts the tale of a 7 member crew trapped with a barbarous Alien inside the commercial towing spaceship Nostromo.  And it does it so in a most perturbing manner. The starkness of space, the gloomy atmosphere and the dark undertones all add up to a compelling movie experience.


Alien begins rather slowly, but it gains significant momentum in a few scenes. Nostromo, the commercial towing spaceship of the "Mother" Corporation, is set on its return course to Earth.  Upon receiving a possible distress signal from an apparently desolate planet, the 7 member crew is woken up from their hibernation. The company policy forces them to investigate the source of the signal. Dannas, Lambart and Kane (3 of the crew members) bravely set out to investigate it. Surprisingly they find some remnants of an unoccupied spaceship on the hostile planet. Inside its chambers Kane comes into contact with some egg like objects. One of them burst open and an fibrous little creature throws itself at Kane.


Kane is taken into medical facility on the spaceship.  After a while the creature disappears. Shortly it is found dead. Eh! No damage done. It’s almost too good to be true. Celebrations are in the air. The crew decides to throw Kane a grand dinner party. The normal dinnertime chit-chat is shortly interrupted. Kane starts choking and muzzling.  Suddenly a creature spurts wide open from Kane’s chest, as if it were made of plastic, and evades into the more gloomier areas of the spaceship, leaving Kane dead as a rat. Shortly after Kane, it is Brett’s turn. All possible attempts of the remaining members of the crew to capture/kill this monster form the rest of the movie.
Director Ridley Scott’s well-honed talent of creating a dark/tensed environment only elevates the film to an entirely new level. In 1979 no technology existed for creating fancy computer generated images of the Alien.  A lot of ‘manual’ effort had been put behind the very design of this creature. While a lot of parallel was drawn from real-world insects, a lot of things were derived from just fragments of pure imagination. That certainly contributes to the somewhat obscure ‘reality’ of the creature.  Throughout the film a constant fear of an arcane entity is felt, which is successful in keeping the viewers on their toes.
Alien come with quite a handful of feminist intimations. (Maybe a first in a genre of Science Fiction?) It is one of the factors that make it ahead of its time.The simplest of them being the fact Ripley (a woman!) happens to be the only surviving character. In a rather controversial scene, she is shown in her mere underpants before she finally blows the Alien off into the space. A parallel to the old myth “The weakest of them shall defeat the death” could be drawn in reference to the particular scene. There might be other inferences too, but no tangible explanation has been provided by Mr. Scott in past 30 years since the release. Other intimations include the way Alien chooses Kane to conceive and latter give birth to its child. (By the way, Is the Alien male? Is it female? Or is from an altogether different gender? Again, no explanation is provided!). Even the preponderant corporation is named 'Mother'.
Actually it is this Mother corporation that proves to be the main villain behind the misfortune of the Nostromo crew. Being a just another commercial ship, none of the crew members are sophisticated enough to handle the adversities of the mission. In fact Ash (the android planted between the unsuspecting members of the crew, in order to carry out direct orders given by ‘Mother’) imperturbably tells others when his identity is exposed
"I can't lie to you about your chances, but... you have my sympathies. “
Ash has clear instructions that first mission priority is to bring Alien back home, and the crew is expendable. Ash argues that it is essential to bring Alien back to earth because ‘such a species has never been encountered with and they need to perform all kind of tests’. It seems a rather farfetched logic and common sense doesn’t comply with it. (Is it worth the risks? Why send a commercial ship with unarmed crew?) As one of the crew member suspects, the Alien could be boon for military purposes. In such a case the future of whole humanity could be at stake. The underlined message is crystal clear; it would be the evil corporates’ money craving policies that would bring upon the Apocalypse (if ever) and not some random monster from outer space. It might even be much before we acquire technological prowess to manufacture giant spaceships travelling thousands of light-years. (Maybe is this the reason actual timeframe of the movie is never revealed?)
The name of spaceship Nostromo (derived from the famous 1904 novel Nostromo, by British novelist Joseph Conrad) means “our men” or “the third man” in Italian. It is interesting to know that there can be two interpretations of the term. Ash (the science officer) acts as a Nostromo for the Mother Corporation, while Ripely (the 3rd officer of the ship) could be the Nostromo for the rest of the crew-members.
In a movie which hugely rests on the performances, as there are no super-effects or fancy locations to keep the audience immersed, almost every actor does a solid job. Especially Sigourney Weaver is first rate portraying the role of Ripley. Set design (Ian Whittaker) is commendable. Background score (Jerry Goldsmith) attributes for most of the uneasiness felt throughout the film. The Cinematography (Derek Vanlint) is excellent for its time. The movie has a very strong visual feeling about it. The particular usage of light and shadows is remarkable. Especially in the scenes constituting the recovery of the lost alien, the foreign planet is captured magnificently by underexposed wide shots. On the flipside the pacing could have been a little better, as several of the scenes add only to the length of the movie. Especially the long shots when one of the crew members searches empty halls trying to find a lost cat are very predictable. Many questions are left unanswered in the screenplay, leaving up to the viewer to have his/her own interpretations.
Overall Ridley Scott does manage to pull off an engaging as well as intelligent film which, as rightly said by many critics, happens to be much ahead of its time.
P.S. I almost forgot to mention. There is also a cute cat in the movie, what more can one ask for? :-)

Monday, March 29

Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute: Entrance and How (by RUSTICMIND)


Its been a year since I began contemplating seriously about getting into a film school. A series of confusions ensured that I miss the FTII 2009 dates. The binduest of all being the fact that I had to leave my peanut salary and start with an empty bowl again. It made me think over and over. My mind almost threw my heart out of head one day until I re-read a famous advertising quote inscribed on my office wall. The one we often use to describe our profession to non advertising people, especially women as that might impress/intrigue them. Who knows? Whatever. Doesn’t matter. What matters is the quote : “ Don’t tell my mother I work in advertising. She thinks I play the piano in a whorehouse”. Wait a minute !! whorehouse. Oh yes!! thats what whorehouses (agencies) do. They hook us, enchant us and keep us shut out from the real world. If you got to find your voice and truth, you got to get out of that cushy creative department of yours. With that note I decided I have to take the plunge. So I went ahead and checked the dates for SRFTI ( Satyajit Ray Film and Television Institute ) entrance exam. Lucky dog! The forms have not been announced and were about to be offered sometime soon (the exam was postponed else it would have been around FTII’s :D ) . Thus began my journey of appearing for the entrance and making it through.
Enough flattering and buttering of words and emotions. Lets get down to business. Which is to give you guys a clear picture on the whole process of selection. I am sure everyone knows how to fetch a form and get an admit card so wont waste my time over it and go straight to the exam details.
Stage -1 ( Written)
2 papers. One tests you on Arts and culture and people of India. The other is a creative test as per your applied discipline(direction & screenplay, cinematography,editing, sound design).
Paper 1: A&C&P of India (100 marks, 1 hour)
You ought to have a some idea on the roots of arts and culture primarily. Like knowing the various forms of art and folk forms that thrives in our country. From painting to sculpture to theatre to handicrafts, you name it, they have it on that paper. The good part is, its a multiple choice question paper. Questions like who has written this book, what is the form of theatre known as in West Bengal, amongst the shown paintings which one is this and which one is that… things like that.
Paper 2: Course Specific ( 100 marks, 1.5 hours)
I had applied for direction and screenplay ( sorry as I don’t know jack shit on what they asked for the other 3). Basically 4 questions. 25 marks each.
a) A given synopsis which has to be described as how you cinematically see it in 20 shots per say ( If you can wrap it up in less than 20, nothing like it)
b) which recent movie you enjoyed watching and why. Have to mention a few on credits like the director (how dumb!), cinematographer (hmmmm), screenplay (not sure) and music director (thank god I know this!)
c)Writing a sound narrative on a given situation. No dialogues or description of ‘we see…’. Just pure plain SFX to establish the space and time around that situation. The situation can be anything, one of the options I got was a kid who’s got lost on a bus stand.
d)Writing a dialogue conversation for a given scene. I wrote for a context of 2 strangers talking on the train for the first time.
Except b), every question has 2 choices to pick. And the most important thing is that they have given you a printed question answer book, so no writing beyond prescribed area. You are allowed extra sheets I guess but its advised to keep it to the printed book only.
Stage 2- Orientation program & Viva Voce
Patted my own back for clearing the first round. Umpteen beers down my belly, several miles east I travel to appear for the orientation. Entered the campus, got myself registered and did all the tam jham.
Day 1: Inspirational Talks, speeches, screening of few final year student diploma films , Checking out women, seniors & the other selected aspirants etc. After half a day, they lead you to respective departments and hereon my post becomes very specific to those who are seeking to specialise & get into direction and screenplay (you are welcome to read even if you aren’t :) .
20 selected students ( direction discipline) are divided into 4 groups. Each group has to name themselves and have a representative. Then the whole group will introduce themselves and others in their group. The same happens for all groups. Please don’t try your interpersonal skills overtly here. This is the first hurdle where unknowingly you might blabber some stuff which you could have kept to yourself. Choose your words wisely.
Then you got an SOP to write. Statement of purpose. Limited to a page and 30-45 mins of time. No one’s interested to read a speech. Its your life and how that journey has led you to the film school which will interest them.
Day 2: You watch a film, based on which you are asked to answer some questions. What made you like/dislike the movie. Describe the cinematic elements that you like/dislike and stuff like do you relate to the film personally or not. Then you have some chai samosa, meet seniors, smoke cigs, bitch about some chutiyas who you think are useless there.
Few yawns and then attention!! the discussion over an exercise that will transform your talking into doing (ACTION!!) starts. A camera exercise. An awesome 5some experience in my case. Its called the 3 shot exercise. Like the name suggests, every student has to shoot a film on a given topic in 3 static shots. The topic can be anything. Like freedom, indulgence, aspiration or nuisance!!
when I say 3 static shots, I mean 3 preset shots where you can do nothing with the camera (no zooms, playing with menu, trying to show off your camera skills). Your frame is static, your characters can move. But no dialogues. You can make your frame for each shot before you shoot. It has to be sequentially shot, camera edited. And yes, you can tap in sounds, but only ambient.
The exercise is assessed on the basis of a) compositional value b) plot as per theme c) team spirit and value you bring to every film in your group.
This exercise is to happen the next day and post giving the theme, the faculty will tell you to leave the room and discuss the sequential shooting order (who’s shooting which time of the day) and see the location (you can shoot anywhere within the SRFTI campus). Your team is your crew. The camera will be handled by a senior who’s an assigned cameraman to your group. Each group will have one. And yes, each student has only 1 hour to shoot. ‘Enough restrictions imposed for the day’, see you tomorrow the faculty would say smiling at you and off you go for the day.
Day 3: The 3 shot exercise
My take out from the day:
Try and build your mood with the help of the natural light setting as much as you can. Like if you have the last slot to shoot, choose a topic on the given theme that can be complemented with the surround lighting.
They say your cameraman is there to assist you. Most of us overlook the connotation and use them as mere operators. Use them as your value adds. They can help immensely for anything and everything (camera angle, light, how to cheat etc…
Please feel free to add your suggestions to others films, but not just for the sake of it. If you are desperate to earn those team brownie points, It shows.
Pack up and move out of the college. The faculty bench will assess your films overnight and will talk about it the next day in your department interview.
Day 4: Department Interview
Based on your SOP, film appreciation & 3 shot exercise, the faculty starts digging deeper into your interests. They want to know why, how, what the institute can give you. A small little discussion over your 3 shot exercise and why you chose the particular theme and stuff. They can have a candid chat on anything and everything in between as well. From the films you watch to the no of joints you smoke in a day, the questions can be specific to vague.
While this interview happens one by one, there’s a provision to watch a movie for the waiting candidates and the ones who are done with. This interview along with the other exercises are the tenets on which the faculty recommends people to a final panel of external selectors for final selection which is to take place in the next 2-3 days.
Day 5,6 – Final Interview with external jury
They already see who’s recommended and who’s not. So more or less, this is just a formal interview but an important one. Here, its just a little chit chat discussion in brief of your work and what led you to the film school and all. By this time, you’ll be comfortable enough to handle this interview. Buddhadeb Dasgupta and Sunny Joseph were there on the panel this year alongwith a psychologist, the dean and some gentleman I don’t know.
Day 8/9 – Final Results
Going by my take, the key to getting selected is to stay honest with yourself and your beliefs. They don’t want another Satyajit Ray or Ritwik Ghatak or anyone else for that matter. They are interested to see you. Your way of looking at things. Your take on life.
Mota Mota, that is what this entrance is all about. FTII would be more or less similar in terms of pattern I think.I would love to write about the campus and the life there in detail but I got a train to catch. In sometime, I will be boarding a journey that will transit me from the world I live in to the world I seek. And yes, excited I am :D . Hope this blabber gives you a better picture about the entrance in general.