Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

I’m a self-confessed dinosaur nerd so any movie with dinosaurs in them is essentially review proof. It’s been 25 years since the first Jurassic Park was released and one thing we can agree upon is that there will never be a dinosaur movie as spectacular, wondrous and unforgettable as that one. Not even Steven Spielberg could top that one if he tried.

When the first Jurassic World was released in 2015 no one expected that it would break the all-time box office record. It showed us how much pent up demand there was for a Jurassic movie. It also meant fun dinosaur movies could still attracted a sizeable audience other than dinosaur fans like me.

The one time, I was looking forward to watching a movie in 3D, I couldn’t because only the 2D version was released here in India, owing to some issues between the distributors and the multiplex owners. Curse them.

That aside the movie has some decently mounted set pieces. The dinosaurs are awesome as ever with the humans taking away their screen time for not very interesting reasons. The most disappointing aspect of the movie was the ratio of dinosaur deaths to human deaths. Far too many of these magnificent creatures were lost. That aside it also surprised me with the ending and the direction that the trilogy was going to take for its final movie. I thought it was a great setup and I am very much looking forward where they go from here.

The Price of Digital

While this post is written from an Indian perspective some of it applies irrespective of where in the world you are. I was recently in a conversation with someone, let’s call him Mr M who asked me “So, from where do you download music?” “I subscribe to a music streaming service” I said. He looked at me with an incredulous expression on his face. He also proceeded to admonish me, for paying for it, because I could have easily got a hacked APK of the service, that would let me use it for free.

What he was actually asking me was, which site do you download your free music from. Now, I am no saint or rich man who subscribes to a music streaming service because I feel entitled to do so. I do it because it’s simple, convenient and incredible value for money. In India subscribing to a music streaming service costs Rs 100 or for global reference ($1.56) a month. For less than what a coffee costs at Starbucks, I have access to 40 million songs. Even if we put the coffee aside for a second, I know people who drop upwards of Rs 50000 ($800) for a phone almost every year but will refuse to spend even Rs 10 or 1/5000th of that on an app.

Now the thing about the Starbucks or phone analogy is, drinking that coffee with that fancy phone in the other hand maybe a matter of pride. Most importantly however the coffee is a physical object. Unless you managed to somehow steal a Starbucks coffee, your not getting one without paying for it. You can’t watch a movie in the theater without paying for a ticket. Some of you may have managed to accomplish that in the nineties, but I’m pretty sure it’s next to impossible these days. So a physical object like a coffee or a physical experience like a theater movie that requires you to be present in a physical location will inherently have some value associated with it. Try as hard as you can. If you want it, you, or somebody else is paying for it.

Since the advent of the internet and the mp3 format a whole new generation of listeners at least here in India grew up believing that music is free. To even think of paying for it is considered foolish. The generation I grew up in is sort of a bridge between the two. We experienced the joys and sorrows of cassettes, CDs, Napster and dial up internet. What also happened is that I got into the creative field of video games. Also a form of digital entertainment. Equally hard to put to a price on.

When your livelihood depends on people paying for something digital that you create, it also makes you conscious of what you consume. When I go out to eat I could easily spend Rs 500 for a single person’s meal. So to spend Rs 500 for a game that I will easily enjoy for at least 10 hrs seems like a bargain in comparison. Just as a cook worked hard to prepare that meal for you, a bunch of hard working folks toiled away for years to make the game that you enjoy.

People assume sometimes that when it comes to the entertainment industry, most of them, whether singers, musicians, movie actors or video game developers lead an exotic lifestyle as visualized on TV or in magazines. The truth is very few earn the kind of money to support that kind of lifestyle. Even a media conglomerate like Disney earns a substantial amount of it’s revenues from it’s theme parks and resorts.

Sometimes people ask me how we earn money from the games that we release for free. I smile and say nothing. It wouldn’t be worthwhile to explain to every person who asked me that, the concepts of Free to Play game design. If I feel like the person deserves an answer I simply say “For every 100 people who play our game, there are 99 who believe that they deserve the game for free, there is that 100th person who gives us enough to compensate for the first 99”

 

It truly saddens me that we don’t do enough to support the creators of this world. Unlike food maybe, we can live without arts and entertainment. The question is would we want to live like that? So the next time you hesitate to spend money on something digital take a pause. Try to put it in perspective. Whether it lasted for a few minutes or hours, for those brief moments made your life a little bit better. Give a little back to the creators. All they really want to do is create something more for you.

 

Dilbert

I don’t read any particular comics regularly, aside from a very special one called Dilbert. Creator Scott Adams insight into the workplace culture and all of his characters biting social commentary on everything is incredible. How he has managed to come up with something unique and fresh every single day for the past so many years is astonishing.

Though it does require some familiarity with tech company culture it’s still enjoyable by others too. While the comic is often laugh out loud funny what sticks with you it’s scathing commentary about what are often ridiculous but true workplace practices.

It’s not always easy to say something meaningful in a single strip but besides a few rare occasions most of the daily comics are self contained.

This one is one of favourites.

http://dilbert.com/strip/2017-12-03

Young Sheldon

Despite what many people feel about The Big Bang Theory, it still has the highest viewership among sitcoms even today. Young Sheldon is a spin off series that I had heard about sometime back. I initially assumed that it was simply a series that was trying to bank off the popularity of it’s parent show.

I came across an article talking about the most watched shows of 2017 and I wasn’t surprised to see Young Sheldon ranking high. I decided give it a shot when I saw that it was available on Amazon Prime Video.

The show is about the life of Sheldon from the original show when he was a child living in Texas with his parents and siblings. Meemaw his grandmother who gets mentioned often in the Big Bang Theory is a primary cast member here. Jim Parsons the adult Sheldon serves as the narrator for the show.

I expected the show to be very much like The Big Bang Theory with Sheldon being a snarky, sarcastic and obsessive compulsive child as well. While some aspects of his adult personality are present here, overall Young Sheldon is a show that feels very different from The Big Bang Theory.

9 year old Sheldon is still a genius and he can be sarcastic but he is also rather sweet and innocent at the same time. Every facet of his behavior whether a portrayal of his intelligence or his sarcasm is encompassed by the innocence with which he speaks his words. That is why the show feels so different from The Big Bang Theory. At the heart of it, its a show about family and the trials and tribulations of growing up as a boy genius in a very traditional family. Every other member of his family is equally well cast. Especially his mother who feels very different from the character she plays as his adult mother. The only common thread is their deep religious beliefs. Meemaw the grandmother is one of the best characters of the show. She is very different from the rest of the family and turned out very different from the overly sweet sounding Meemaw that the adult Sheldon always mentions.

The biggest change fans might notice going in though is that unlike The Big Bang Theory , Young Sheldon does not have a laugh track accompanying it. It’s hard to describe what kind of show it really is. To put it a bit obliquely it’s a relaxing, family friendly show for everyone. If you have grown to hate the adult Sheldon you just might ending feeling the complete opposite about him in this one.

The Luminaries

The Luminaries was the most fun I have had reading a book in ages. It’s a sprawling 832 page novel that starts out slow. It uses a very interesting conceit to structure the narrative and it’s characters. It’s also written like a book from another era yet thoroughly appealing to modern sensibilities. After a measured start it picks up the pace and I found myself racing towards it’s incredibly satisfying denouement. Set in 18th century New Zealand during it’s own gold rush The Luminaries is an intricately plotted mystery novel first. Secondly is witty and funny and it’s eclectic cast of characters remain entertaining throughout. If I had to sum it up it was both, the fastest I have managed finish a novel and the longest novel I have read in recent times.

This Is Us

A scripted family drama was not something I thought I would ever find myself watching. I began watching This is Us somewhere towards the end of the year. One episode in and I was hooked. What makes it so special is the incredible writing, the complex characters and the stellar cast who plays them. Add to this the brilliant music score and the selection of songs used throughout the episodes and it all adds up to an extremely well-produced show. That’s not where the superlatives end.

Each character is not just interesting on their own, the chemistry between all of the leads is incredible. There was a point when the lead characters Jack and Rebecca played by fairly well known actors Milo Ventimiglia(Of Heroes and Gilmore Girls fame) and Mandy Moore (the singer) became just the characters of Jack and Rebecca. It began to feel like I was watching real life documentary of a family. Every other cast member that comprises the family in the show is great in their own right. The other part about it is how many surprises it manages to throw your way on a regular basis.

There are times when This is Us will bring you to tears. But it earns those tears through genuine, intense and raw moments that could happen in anyone’s life. The dialogs are also stellar. They leave you hanging onto every word and make you wish you could express your most complex thoughts with such impact and clarity.

This Is Us is currently midway through its second season and it remains as fresh and engaging as it was in its first season. It’s also one of the highest watched dramas on television right now. Which bodes well for its future. As it currently stands I could watch the lives of these characters for a long time to come.

A weekend in Mumbai

It had been almost a decade since I went to Mumbai for anything other than taking a flight out of the international airport. I probably avoided actively going there because of it’s difficult weather and the overcrowding. My wife however had been wanting to go visit for a while. So an invitation from her friend took us there on a weekend where the summer was just ending and monsoon had not yet begun.

Dhobhi Ghat

This was the first of Mumbai’s iconic locations we came across. While I didn’t dare descend into the chaos below I stood there for a few moments trying to comprehend the scale of the activity that happened here.

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I noticed this beautiful clock tower while walking around called the Jijamata Udyan Clocktower

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Ballard Estate

Driving through this area felt like I was in a secret area of Europe. Only the presence of big Indian brands and some Indian folks gave it away. It was a stunnning place and it being a Sunday let us appreciate it a lot more.

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Elphinestone College, Kalaghoda

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A stunning mural somewhere near the Kala Ghoda area

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Artisan’s Gallery, Kalaghoda

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Gateway of India

The Gateway I visited several years ago, was the one untainted by one of India’s worst terrorist attacks. While the place was even more crowded than it was back then it felt a lot more restricted with a security check before entering and a lot more barricades all around.

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The Taj Hotel

I’ve always wondered how magnificent the Taj would be on the inside. We weren’t really dressed for it so we thought we would try and make an entry into it and hoping no one would question us once we entered. We quickly went through without lingering too much at one particular place. The swimming pool was stunning with nary an Indian to be seen besides the housekeeping staff. We kept walking through until we reached the Hotel bakery where we had some expensive pastry. It was worth it though, just to be able to see the hotel on the inside. We exited through another gate and I noticed someone else trying to convince the guard to let them go inside. The guard flatly refused them. I guess we got lucky.

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Victoria Terminus

Off all the places I remebered from my last visit to Mumbai Victoria Terminus really was the most vivid. The architecture is absolutely stunning and timeless and it continues to to wow me even today.

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Stalled Constructions

When you move across Mumbai one notices buildings in progress at a massive scale. However there are several of them that have also stalled progress due to various legal issues. This one was one of them.

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Bombay High Court

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Monorail Joy Ride

The monorail service in Mumbai covers a very small area currently. We decided to board it anyway for a joy ride from the Wadala station and back. The tickets are very cheap and it’s a fun experience if you’ve never ridden one. The stations were clean, rail compartments were air-conditioned and there were very few people around.

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Sea Link

I had heard so much about the Sea Link and was absolutely looking forward to driving on it this time. All I can say is that is certainly a magnificent modern structure the likes of which I have never seeen in India.

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Other odds and ends

While driving around our friend also pointed out to the the infamous billion dollar building Antilia that is the home of Mukesh Ambani. It was absolutely horrendous. I have never seen such an ill concieved billion dollar home.

Traffic in Mumbai is bad as any other major city in India in terms of volume. Discipline wise compared to Pune at least it was so much better. It was refreshing to see traffic rules being followed in most places. I’m not really sure if it was a cultural thing or a result of a stricter police force.

We ended the weekend with dinner at the Prithvi Theatre cafe. It was time to go back to Pune the next morning. Our bus was to leave by 6.30 a.m and we were dripping with sweat while walking back to the bus. On the ride back I was talking with my wife if her desire to stay in Mumbai was any greater. She said it’s nice for a weekend but she could never stay here.

Exiting Mumbai

My personal take on things were that Mumbai is a fascinating city without doubt. It has incredible architecture and offers a lot for the curious. The weather is one of the most serious considerations for anyone planning to stay there. It was a wonderful weekend trip. There was so much that was left to see and do there. The people of Mumbai are certainly full of verve. To eke out an existence in big city like Mumbai with it’s overcrowded streets and expensive real estate is a miracle. Given everything that I experienced in a couple of days while wondrous, wasn’t enough to convince me to stay. I simply couldn’t get past the weather, crowds and the vast distances one needs to cover. Perhaps a few more trips or an extended stay might finally make me understand what it is that makes Mumbai the city that Mumbaikers can never leave.

Exiting Kashmir

The last day of your vacation is always the toughest. After 7 incredible days here and lifetime of memories to take back, our driver said there were a couple more places he wanted to take us to before heading back to the airport.

Zeshat Devi Mandir

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The first was a little known temple close by to the The Lalit Grand Palace in Srinagar, the Zeshta Devi Mandir. I am typically averse to most temples because of the huge crowds that throng most temples. This one was something our particular driver liked to take his guests. It was up a few winding roads and there was absoultely no one there besides us. It was a simple structure but nestled between some beautiful mountains.

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The Lalit Grand Palace Srinagar

As I had mentioned while there are a ton of options for accomodation, for tourists on a budget there are also options for the rich and famous. Our driver very confidently told the security at the hotel gate that we were here for lunch when asked if we were guests going to check in to the hotel.

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After getting through with confidence we got off to take a stroll inside the hotel grounds. While I can imagine that the inside of the hotel were suitably lavish being a 5 star hotel the best part of the hotel was it’s spectacular location. With huge open grounds in the front and incredible mountains behind it felt like a place that you would want to one day want to stay at. DSCN2171.JPG

We took a small horse buggy ride offered here before heading out.

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Don’t miss out on Kashmir

In today’s age of Whatsapp and Twitter news has become more accessible and dangerous. It is as fast to spread misinformation as it is to to benefit from these modern technologies. On the day that we had arrived the internet had been shutdown for 2 days to prevent this very problem. Our driver told us that despite the inconvenience it was a good thing.

Our 7 days spent were some of the best. Media and politics has absolutely destroyed the livelihood of so many locals that rely on tourism. The warmth we felt here from the locals was genuine. They want nothing more than peace for their state. The acts of a few nefarious elements have unfortunately come to represent the nature of all it’s people. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In a tourist driven economy they want nothing more than to make tourists feel safe. That anyone would willingly do something to jeopardise this is unthinkable.

Kashmir was absolutely breathtaking. It’s no wonder everyone fights over it. Despite everything you may hear on TV or the internet it’s a place every Indian must visit once in their lives. I advised everyone who has asked me since about travelling to Kashmir if it was safe. I told them in the 7 days I spent there this is what I felt.

I am more likely to lose my life in a road accident in Pune because of it’s unruly traffic, than I am from anything that could happen in Kashmir

Gulmarg

Apprehension

We were only 2 days away from returning back to Pune. We were pretty excited about going to Gulmarg. When we got ready to head out, our driver told us there was a situation in the general area that we were headed to. After 5 days of unworried vacationing this was our first whiff of the other side Kashmir. The ugly side that the media and people tend to hype up. As it happened there was an altercation between military forces and some students that had lead to the death of a student.

You only live once

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Our driver left the decision up to us. Gulmarg is the crown jewel of Kashmir and after coming all the way here I just didn’t feel like going back without seeing it. So despite my wife’s reservations we decided to go. I’m glad we did. The city of Srinagar was shutdown for the day. Besides some areas that were cordoned of on our route and an increased military presence we made our way to Gulmarg without incident.

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We finally reached Gulmarg after making our way up desolate winding roads. Once we reached the top we were saw that it was the most the most crowded of all the spots we visited on our entire trip.

Gondola Ride

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Gulmarg has some stunning places to stay at the top and it has been the location for several Bollywood movies. Once you reach the base you go further up via a Gondola ride that costs you Rs 600 per person. While it is expensive, it is run by the government so you can be assured that it is safe and you aren’t being fleeced by anyone. Also it offers incredible views and the gentle pace at which you move up the mountain is an experience of it’s own.

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One thing to keep in mind is that while food and accommodation is relatively expensive in Kashmir, the activities that you can do when you reach the famous spots, can burn a decent sized hole in your pocket. However since it was our last real day in Kashmir we decided to go all in and it turned out to be the most expensive day for activities. We were so out of cash that we had to borrow cash from our driver on the way back.

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Once the Gondola drops you off at the first base point, you can stay there and enjoy the various activities like skiing, sledging or the snow motorcycle rides. Or if you chose to spend another Rs 900 you can take the next phase of the Gondola ride that goes right up to the top of the mountain. Some guides told us it wasn’t worth it but we chose to go anyway.

End of the World

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I was so glad we did. While there is nothing to do in terms of activities at the top when we alighted the Gondola we simply felt like we had reached the end of the country. The only signs of life besides a few tourists around us was an army bunker camouflaged with the snow in the distance.

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We couldn’t spend much time here as the Gondola was close to shutting down for the day. The ride back down down a steep slope was an equally amazing experience.

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Once we made it back to the first base we spent a lot of time just soaking in the views. For those us who have never experienced a snow filled landscape like this one it was hard to think of leaving that view behind. We spent a lot of time clicking pictures here and finally decided to come down via snow sledges that are sometimes dragged and sometimes driven by the downward slopes of the mountain.

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Safe and Sound

On the way back there was no traffic on the roads owing to the strike. Another driver joined us on the way back because the family he had taken to Gulmarg decided to stay back for the night due to his fear of the incident. We didn’t see much traffic on the way back but we did see a local public transport bus. They told us if a public bus is on the road it means that things are ok and we could travel further on without worry.

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It was a long day that started with a little nervousness but we were glad to be back safely with some incredible memories to bring back for the day.

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Gardens of Kashmir

It was the day that we were finally visiting the gardens of Kashmir. After having some poha that was spelled as puha in our hotel menu we headed out early. While I love gardens of all kinds, my wife is not a big fan. Since we were to spend the entire day exclusively visiting gardens she wasn’t the most excited as we headed out.

Parimahal

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Our first stop was a ride to Parimahal a terraced garden that offered spectacular views of Dal Lake as well as the city. Situated on a hillock we had a great time walking across it’s multiple levels each offering different views of Srinagar. The crowds were moderate and a gentle breeze accompanied us everywhere.

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While I had initially imagined Kashmir to be a conservative place with couples not tending to show their affection in public this place completely surprised me. There were young couples everywhere and it seemed like this was one of those places where they were truly free to just be themselves and enjoy each other’s company.

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While there are lovers names scratched into the walls at some places thankfully it wasn’t so much that it became an eye sore.

Chasmeshahi

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Chasmeshahi falls on the way to Parimahal at the top but we chose to go here on the way back from Parimahal.

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It has a point of fresh water whose source is not known. Our driver told us that Nehru’s water came from here. While it’s upto you if choose to believe in this I think a story whether true or made up always adds to the charm of any place you may visit.

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Nishat Baug

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Next up was Nishat Baug a 12 step terrace garden built in 1634 A.D. Overlooking the Dal lake from the first terrace onwards and extending to a great distance upto the uppermost terrace it’s a vast garden lined with fountains water channels and chinnar trees.

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Once we went upto the last terrace we stopped midway to just lie down in the grass and listen to some soft music. With the perfect weather that day it was a sublime experience.

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Shalimar

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Built by Emperor Jahangir for his wife Noor Jahan this was the last of the mughal style gardens we saw before heading to the Tulip Gardens

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Tulip Garden

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The Tulip Garden is open only for 1 – 1.5 months in the year when the tulips are in full bloom so were lucky to see them. Late evening is the best time to see them as the afternoon sun makes it hard to see them for a longer stretch of time.

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Botanical Gardens

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We still had some time to to spare after visiting the Tulip Gardens so we ended the day with a silent peaceful pedal boat ride at the neighbouring botanical garden. Most people tend to give it a skip but I highly reccomend it.

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