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Roger Federer

I am a big fan of tennis. Some of my earliest memories of my childhood are watching Davis Cup matches involving India in the late 80s and early 90s. In fact, I think at that point, India was among the elite nations in the Davis Cup and I particularly remember watching Ramesh Krishnan and later Leander Paes make a mockery of the ATP rankings.

Later I started watching Grand Slam tennis as and when I was able to (Doordarshan would only telecast the finals of Grand Slam events). Nowadays I watch almost all Grand Slam tournaments and Masters Series events. Especially when Roger Federer is playing.

Federer just won his 12th Grand Slam title (in 14 finals, which is an insane conversion rate for tennis) at the 2007 US Open. Even though everybody expected him to win it, he did have to beat some tough competition to get there.

I love to watch Federer dominate men’s tennis like no one has ever done before. In the quarterfinal match against Roddick, he had gotten his nose just ahead by going 6-5 up in the first set tiebreak after having barely held serve to get to the tiebreak in the first place. Roddick was playing brilliant tennis, serving like a maniac and the crowd was vociferously behind him. All eyes were on Federer and conspicuously so. And what did Federer do? Fire a 125 mph ace down the line to seal the set. The story was to repeat again in the final (as it has on numerous occasions in the past), when he saved 7 set points in the first 2 sets to beat Novak Djokovic in straight sets.

The fact that he is able to do this, especially now when he is under immense pressure, is the mark of genius. And I absolutely love to watch genius. To me, there is nothing more fun than watching people like Federer (and Woods; and Nadal at the French Open; and until recently, Tendulkar and Anand) come up with the goods under ever increasing expectations and pressure.

However, that is most certainly not the prevalent opinion on the web. The one thing that I see mentioned over and over is (to paraphrase):

I am sick/bored of seeing Federer dominate tennis. I am not interested in following tennis any more. Wake me up when he starts losing – that is what will make things interesting.

I find this attitude very strange.  If you follow that logic, it means that people want to see different people win each time. Dig deeper, and you will see that it is really the certainty, the inevitability of the final result, that is associated with Federer that these people hate.

Life is inherently uncertain (all the way down to the Heisenberg principle and quantum physics). You don’t need to look for uncertainty in a tennis match  – just look at yourself (unless you are Federer :)).

The great thing about Federer is the fact that he has conquered every one of the amazing number of things that make life uncertain in order to effect that certainty at the end. And if that is not interesting to watch, I don’t know what else is.

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Indian Cricket League – exciting times ahead

I haven’t blogged here in a long while since the wedding. Married life has been pretty busy so far and only now Vidya and I are settling down into a routine of sorts. I will blog about our married life later (there is plenty of material!).
The reason for this post is different – just now I saw this link (http://content-usa.cricinfo.com/india/content/current/story/293980.html) on CricInfo which claims that Brian Lara, Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath have been linked to the breakaway cricket league in India started by Subhash Chandra of Zee TV.
This is exciting news on two fronts. For far too long, the BCCI have been running the cricket show in India with unbelievable ineptitude and incompetence. Competition like this can only help improve matters.
On another front, Twenty20 is the most exciting form of cricket as it conforms to the magic 3 hour duration. That will help it sell to non-traditional audiences without testing their patience and will also allow telecast in primetime.
I wish all success to the Indian Cricket League. Even if it doesn’t succeed, it will show the BCCI that they cannot take matters lightly any more. And that can only be a good thing for Indian cricket.
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Publishing using Windows Live Writer

I have been meaning to use this tool for quite some time but I only got to try it today. It is a pretty sweet application.

Check it out here.

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300 – truth is good enough

The movie 300 was recently released here in the US to a blockbuster reception at the box office. The movie had the biggest opening of any movie in March netting nearly $71 million over its opening weekend.
It tells the story of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC when a band of 300 Spartan soldiers (along with other Greek allies) engaged in a suicidal battle in a narrow canyon with a Persian army several times their size and inflicted huge damage on them. Accurate numbers of combatants and casualties on both sides isn’t available. Wikipedia says that on the Spartan side were 300 Spartans + 700 Thespians + 6000 Greek allies (of which ‘all but a 1000 were dismissed by the 3rd day’). On the Persian side were 100,000-500,000 soldiers. And the casualties on the Spartan side were all the Spartans and the Thespians along with 1400 Greek allies. And the casualties on the Persian side were about 20,000.
Apparently, in the movie and in the book on which it is based on (disclaimer: I haven’t seen the movie or read the book), the battle is romanticised and shown as a battle between 300 Spartans and a million Persian soldiers (at least that’s what the preview said) with the casualties on the Persian side shown vastly higher than the modern estimate of 20,000 as mentioned above. The movie came up during a lunch conversation with my colleagues and the conversation drifted towards how the numbers have been exaggerated in the movie. At that point, I found myself saying ‘it was not 300 vs a million, it was more like a few thousand vs. just a hundred thousand’.
Later when I thought about that remark, I found myself wondering what made Frank Miller (the author of the book) exaggerate the numbers. Now think about it – ‘a few thousand vs. a hundred thousand’ is an incredible feat in itself (basically 10 Persian soldiers were killed for every soldier killed on the Spartan side with both sides roughly matched technology wise). What made him think ‘no, that isn’t heroic or brave enough. let’s make it 300 vs a million’?
If the book and the movie were historically accurate (in this case, as accurate as possible since we don’t have the proper numbers) it wouldn’t have diminished the bravery or sacrifice of those soldiers one bit. But by exaggerating what actually happened, they have forced people to downplay the truth (‘a few thousand vs. just a hundred thousand’) – and therefore downplay the heroism of the Spartans – which is a shame. So, in trying to exaggerate the truth, they have basically achieved the opposite effect.
Sometimes, truth is good enough.
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The wedding

The wedding was scheduled for the 6th, 7th and 8th of February and I am relieved to say it went well.
All the planning and preparation work was going on in full swing in the days leading up to the wedding when suddenly all the local news media were abuzz with the news that the Cauvery Tribunal was scheduled to deliver its final verdict on the long running dispute on February 5th. The last time this tribunal gave a verdict (an interim one back in 1991) there were ugly riots in Bangalore. Bangalore (in fact all of India) has come a long way since then but the authorities, acutely aware of the need to maintain a good image, started clamping down on the city.
The verdict came at 2pm on the 5th and initial reaction was that it was unfavorable to Karnataka (the current reaction is more muddled) and therefore everybody was expecting the worst. The authorities swiftly swung into action stopping inter-state buses, closing schools/colleges and deploying forces to sensitive areas. To top it all, some pro-Kannada/Karnataka organizations declared a State-wide bundh on the 8th which unhappily coincided with the 3rd day of the wedding.
It was as if the preparations were going too smoothly to someone’s liking and they decided to inject some adventure in the mix.
Emergency consultations were held and everybody was discussing the fallout and how best to minimize disruption to the planned events. Finally it was decided that we would show up at the wedding hall at 11am on the 6th instead of 6pm as originally planned. We also decided to postpone the events scheduled for the 8th to a later as yet undecided date.
Fortunately, that was to be the only wrinkle in the whole event. On the 6th, news came that the state-wide bundh had been postponed to the 12th so we were relieved. The wedding as a whole happened in multiple sessions – evening of the 6th, several sessions on the 7th and the morning of the 8th. All of them happened as smoothly as we can expect them to – Indian weddings are a cacophonous and chaotic affair with several players, each insisting that their idea of how things should happen is the right one, pulling the strings simultaneously with the protagonists (the bride and the groom) meekly following the latest advice as it comes. I thought I would remember the innumerable rites and rituals only hazily but I actually remember them better than I thought. I am just too lazy to document all of them individually.
Finally when we thought we had some breathing room on the morning of the 9th, I came down with a mild case of gastroenteritis (probably from the fact that my eating and sleeping schedule hardly deserved to be called a schedule). That and the fact that the bundh was now scheduled for the 12th put our trip to Chennai (where Vidya was to appear at the consulate to get her visa; we were scheduled to fly out on the 12th) under a cloud. Fortunately I recovered in a day and we were able to advance our trip by a day to the 11th so we made the trip without any problems.
I am writing this from our hotel in Chennai where I am anxiously waiting for Vidya to come back from her trip to the consulate. Keep your fingers crossed…
Update: Vidya got her visa!
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I remember the first time I saw snow was when I visited Mussoorie during my school years (I think in 1994). I recall not particularly enjoying the experience because the cold was quite unbearable (the temperature was in the region of 2-3C which was a good 10C lower than the lowest temperature I was used to until then).
I have also tried roller skating once before in a small rink in Hyderabad (that was part of a go-karting track called Runway 9). Again, I did not particularly enjoy the experience since I remember spending more time on my butt than actually skating.
So, when my friend first asked me if I wanted to join him for skiing one winter day in 2004, I didn’t immediately agree. Only when I realized I didn’t have anything else to do that day I agreed to go with him. We took a beginner’s lesson and all I did that day was ski down a 10-degree incline with great difficulty (falling at least a couple of times over a 100-yard distance) and walk up the slope with my skis off (I couldn’t walk up the slope with my skis on despite trying really hard).
I didn’t go back skiing again that season.
But in 2005, I again went back to skiing because there was not much else to do on the weekends in winter (other than watch football of course). This time I took one of the popular 1-2-3 passes (they give you 3 days of lessons, equipment rentals and lift tickets). The first day I had a lot of trouble even going up the magic carpet (basically like one of those walkways in the airports). The second day I was comfortable using the magic carpet so I decided to take the lift. The first few times it wasn’t pretty – every time I tried to get off the lift I would manage to fall horribly forcing the lift operator to stop the lift and come help me get off. The third day I had become confident enough to get off the lift cleanly and also ski down the basic green slopes without falling).
All this tough experience, far from discouraging me, actually encouraged me to master the art so I could ski like the pros I saw in commercials. So I took another 1-2-3 pass in another resort (Crystal) and gave it a try. By the end of the third day here, I was comfortable doing the hard green slopes as well so I decided to try a blue slope. As I stood on the top of the slope, the first thing that struck me was panic. The slope looked much more intimidating from the top than from the bottom (which is a general rule with regard to ski slopes, I have now learnt). I gingerly skid down the slope with great caution and still managed to fall down several times.
This season, as soon as it began, I took the 1-2-3 pass at Crystal and did all the green slopes very comfortably. So again I decided to try the blue slope and to my surprise it wasn’t as uncomfortable as I thought it would be (I wasn’t exactly skiing like a pro but I wasn’t falling down either). So I went back again and tried it and I felt quite good. The second 1-2-3 pass I took (this time at Snoqualmie) I spent most of the time in the blue slopes and by the end, I was quite comfortable skiing down the blue slopes. I was tempted to try a black slope on the third day but again the slope looked scary from the top so I decided to hold off until later.
My ambition is to ski black diamond and double black diamond slopes with expert skill. I don’t have a particular timeframe for when I want to achieve this because that is not the main reason why I ski – I enjoy skiing down the slope with the cold wind on my face with the proud knowledge that I have mastered (relatively speaking) something that was totally alien to me not too long ago.
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