Friday, June 11, 2004

Hearing Colors, Tasting Shapes

The title is borrowed from this exciting Scientific American article. I don't know if the idea of Synesthesia is as exciting for everyone as it is for me. I understand it can be very distressing for the synesthetic person but its milder forms can be really interesting without being patently disadvantageous.

I came across this article a few days ago when I was reading about LSD (no, don't get any ideas.. it was perfectly innocuous websurfing driven by nothing more than normal scientific curiosity). I knew a little about synesthesia earlier but always thought its a permanent genetic disorder (which it is, in some cases). I didn't know that it can be induced by drugs like LSD. Anyway, I'm going off topic. Whats most interesting about the sciam article is not the induced synesthesia (where one might hear colors and taste shapes) but the clever experiments done with permanent synesthetes, specifically with people who have a condition that makes them see a particular numeral always in a related color. For example, if they see a "3" (even if typed in normal black font), they would see it in red hue. similarly, other numerals might be related to other hues. Clearly, this is not just a "cross-connection" between signals of different senses as one might expect in someone who sees red when hearing a metallic sound (with intesity of the color related to the loudness of the sound). What is special about "3"? This seems to indicate that the cross-talk happens not between signals but between the processed information. But wait!! What is even more astounding is that the "3" appears red even if the person can't see it clear enough for him to process it as a representation of number three. Confused? Read the article.

The article ends with a nice hypothesis that "creativity" is actually a manifestation of extremely mild (and universally present, though in different degrees) synesthesia. Confused again? As I said, read the article. :)

mujhe bhi india jaana hai!!!! :((

All my friends are going back to des. Not me though. :( Its been two years almost and the smell of des ki mitti is still far away. I can't go this summer as I have my qualifier in August. And I don't think I should go in december as I'd have just started work in my new lab. It would be extremely difficult to gather enough courage to ask my new advisor about it. Lets see... Speaking of India, speculations are rife that my housemate might very well be engaged - if not married - by the time he comes back from India. That would mean I might have to look for a new house and housemate very soon. :( On the other hand, it would most likely also mean more accessible good homemade food cooked by Mrs ex-housemate!! :))

getting cooler by the day....

Thats me, not the weather.. ;) Bought a car and a mobile this week. I still am not sure that getting a mobile was such a great idea though. But maybe it'll be much more useful once I start using my car (which, obviously, can't happen unless I learn how to drive and going by my first tryst it seems unlikely thats going to happen in near future!).

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

The Transit

So, The Transit is now past and so is all the hype surrounding it, for the time being at least. The hype didn't touch me though. And I was surprised in the beginning at my own indifference to this. I remember myself being very excited about total solar eclipses (even partial/Lunar ones), the first time I spotted a sunspot (pun unintended), meteor showers that never reached their potential, seeing jupiter and its moons, seeing saturn's rings, seeing andromeda. Basically anything related to astronomy always used to excite me. But I felt nothing about the Venus transit. It was nice to see some pics online but nothing more than any other average APOD pic. I wonder why others seemed to be so excited about this. To me it was nothing out of the ordinary. You see venus everyday, and you can see sunspots very often. At best this was a slighty larger than an ordinary sunspot. Something that people would've missed had they not known what to look for and exactly when to do it. Unlike a total (or even partial) Eclipse or a naked-eye comet.

The transit wasn't visible from most of US, but even if it were, I doubt I'd have looked at it more than once during the day. And that too would have been a casual glance at best. Reading about the early AU calculations and the history of transit watching was far more exciting than the transit itself. And yet, it seemed to be the most common topic in media for last 3-4 days. Just because something hasn't been seen by anyone alive doesn't make it exciting IMHO. A lightning stroke is much more common yet much more exciting for me. Maybe because of the randomness and unpredictability of its form.

I don't mind the hype though. It just amuses me. I don't think anyone interested in astronomy would've been REALLY interested in watching this himself. But they all played their part in hyping it. It was more about taking an opportunity to make people excited about science in general and astoromical studies in particular. Its occurances like this that keep people interested in science.

Monday, June 07, 2004

That felt good!!

In case you haven't seen the movie or the trailer yet, that is what Hermione said after punching Draco in the face in PoA. And it being the title of this post is an indication of the fact that I saw the movie last saturday.

I went with Ashu and Sapna (our friendly neighbourhood couple) to the theatre and actually made them leave home almost 40 minutes before the scheduled starting time of the movie so that we might get reasonably good seats. After all the movie had a record breaking opening day on friday; there was every reason to expect a packed theatre except that it was a 10:40 pm show. What greeted us was a completely empty hall. we were the first to enter it and promptly took the best seats (this was at about 10:15, about 25 minutes too early). Here, I would like to put on record my heartfelt gratitude to Sapna because she showed amazing control and didnt thrash me (as she is wont to do with Ashu :D ) for literally dragging them to the theatre so early.

Anyway after some trailers (Spiderman 2 and The Polar Express among them) the movie started. And within a few minutes of the beginning I had already started to feel uneasy. This was not what I had expected. It was too "jerky"... too uneven.. The flow just wasn't smooth. It probably doesn't really matter to children (almost all of whom have already read the book), but I don't see how can someone who hasn't read the book enjoy the first half. The second half, however, redeemed the movie to a large extent.


I guess Cuaron just took the shrieking shack drama and the Sirius/Buckbeak rescue as the "theme" of the book and hence spent a lot of time on that. This made most of the second half flow nicely and smoothly on the screen. Moreover, these sequences are really what make PoA such an amazing story. In my opinion it probably has the best climax among all the five books and that shows in the movie. Another good thing about the movie was the interaction between Lupin and Harry. All those scenes came out well. In fact, in one of those scenes Lupin talks about Lily and seems to have had romantic ambitions about her in their youth. He said something like "She was there for me when no one else was". This might be one of those hints to future books that Rowling was talking about. Emma Watson didn't disappoint and played the now-teenager Hermione extremely well. Her chemistry with Ron is made much more obvious here than just the awkward hug at the end of CoS.

Buckbeak's parts were done extremely well. It looks very real in most parts. and Harry's flight on Buckbeak is one of the best shot scenes in the movie. The Marauder's map is also presented extremely well. In fact one of the many ways in which the movie moves away from the book is related to the map.

Now, onto the not-so-good parts (besides the uneven nature of the first half sceenplay/editing). This was the longest among the first three books but the makers decided to make it the shortest movie! another 20-30 minutes would probably have made the movie much better from not just the perspective of the fans of the book but also of those who were unfamiliar with the story. There are some things that I'd have liked to be explained in the movie. Like the whole Crookshanks/Scabbers thing. The movie never really shows anything of the sort. They only show Hermione and Ron having a little fight (actually just a banter or sorts) regarding the cat/rat thing but nothing that anyone would remember at the end. To me this was disappointing because I thought it was one of those very brilliant foreshadowing events that Rowling plants in her books. While reading PoA you never realize that even this innocuous/unimportant looking sidetrack will be related to the main story in such a nice way. The fact that Crookshanks' being a half-kneazle and not a cat might be important in the last two books means that Cuaron has left another thing for the later directors to fit in their movies. Similarly, it was never explained who Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs were. I don't know how anyone is supposed to understand why Lupin knows so much about the map. The map's authors was another foreshadowing of what was about to happen in the shrieking shack later on. As the movie stands right now, no one will know about animagi and things like that which are likely to be very important later on. Also, people might wonder why Harry's patronus looked like a stag in the end and not before that. and why stag? Anyway, that might not be anything very important. Though I'd have liked to see that. As I said, the movie could've done all this in 15-20 minutes.

Anyway, bottomline is that the movie doesn't look good in the beginning but ends very well. Overall, its better than the first two movies though. However, that doesn't mean its great cinema.