Kill Bill, Troy, Lenin and More

Kill Bill Vol 2 isn’t really a separate movie from Kill Bill: Vol 1. It has a somewhat different feeling to it though. It is slower than the first one which was just non-stop action. This does result in some character development. It also is influenced by westerns. A good movie overall. Not great like Pulp Fiction, but good enough. Kianoush has a longer review of both movies.

Nine Queens is an Argentinian film about two con-men. In some ways, it is like Matchstick Men. I liked Nine Queens better while Amber was partial to Matchstick Men.

The Straight Story is the story of an old guy who rides a lawn mower across Iowa to meet his sick brother. An interesting movie, but I bet he couldn’t have done that anywhere other than Iowa (or Kansas).

When going to see Troy, forget most of the details of the Iliad. A general idea of the characters helps, but the movie is completely different. First, the gods don’t really exist in the movie. Different characters die and live as compared to the poem as well. It’s a fun movie to watch since I don’t care a whole lot about the integrity of the Iliad plot which most likely underwent a lot of changes over time. (See Rob’s rant about that.)

Goodbye, Lenin! is an excellent German movie set in East Berlin around the events of 1989-90 and the fall of the Berlin wall. Highly recommended.

Africa: A Biography

One of the major faults of Africa : A Biography of the Continent is a lack of maps. I like to look at a map of the region whne reading about it and I missed that sorely while reading John Reader’s book.

The book covers only subsaharan Africa, but that is not a problem in my opinion since it was subsaharan Africa that I wanted to know about.

John Reader starts out at the dawn of time and ends around the time of African independence. The earlier chapters which discuss the advent of man etc. are better than the later ones, but the whole book is worth reading.

Obviously, one can’t cover everything (or even 1% of it) about African history in a single book. Reader’s approach is to cover some general ideas, like slavery, cities, imperialism, by writing about some specific case studies of those phenomenon. This technique works for this book, but it definitely leaves a lot more questions than it answers.

A lot of history books give me the feeling of deja vu, like we in present times are experiencing some aspect of history again. One constant is the contempt for the enemy that we humans have and our belief that only through force can we convince our enemy to respect us. An example would be the British governor of the Cape Colony, John Cradock, speaking after the military campaign against the Xhosa in the early 19th century:

I am happy to add that in the course of this service there has not been shed more Kaffir blood than would seem to be necessary to impress on the minds of these savages a proper degree of terror and respect.

Among the injustices of colonialism, there is also a discussion of the arbitrary borders that the colonial powers imposed on African countries. While Africa has the largest number of countries of any continent, the borders of these countries divide quite a few ethnic groups into two or more countries while putting ethnic groups with old enmities in the same country.

A survey shows that no fewer than 177 ethnic “culture areas” in Africa are divided by national boundaries. Every land boundary cuts through at least one. The Nigeria-Cameroon boundary divides fourteen, while the boundaries of Burkina Faso cut through twenty-one.

The worst example of strange borders is probably Gambia, a country 500 kilometer long but only 20 km wide at places. The Gambia was carved out around the Gambia river by the British. It is surrounded by Senegal which was under French rule.

Another related issue is the transport infrastructure which was built to transport raw materials from the interior to the ports for shipping to the colonial powers. This has meant a lack of road and rail connections between African countries, hampering trade among these countries.

The chapters about South Africa, a country I visited in 1996, provided me with some new information as well, even though I am somewhat familiar with their history. For example, I didn’t know that more blacks were incarcerated in concentration camps during the Anglo-Boer war by Kitchener than were Afrikaners. At least 14,154 blacks died in the camps by May 1902.

Belgium comes looking like one of the worse colonial powers in the sections on colonialism and independence for its mismanagement of Congo and Rwanda-Burundi. From the Congo Free State to the practice of forced labor in Congo and Rwanda-Burundi to its contribution in the Tutsi-Hutu conflict, Belgium doesn’t sound like the modern country with universal human rights jurisdiction.

The Belgian colonial government passed a law in 1926 to classify everyone into Tutsis and Hutus on their identity cards.

Where appearance was indecisive and proof of ancestry was lacking, a simple formula was applied: those with ten cows or more were classified as Tutsi, those with less were Hutu.

You should also read Pedantry’s four-part series on Congo history.

Week 21: Level 2 Diagnostic Ultrasound

The child finally looks human

I was scheduled for a level 2 diagnostic ultrasound during the 21st week. Myself and Zack were very excited as we were told that at 21st week the baby looks like a complete human vs “human like” in the early weeks.

The ultrasound was scheduled at around 7:30am. We reached our lab and the procedure started. Our baby was lying on her tummy and was very active. The ultrasound technicion took at least 50 different views. The sonogram included brain, kidneys, heart, legs, arms, face, hands, feet and what not. It continued for 2 hours. All that time our little one did not sit idle for a sec. She was not very co-operative. At one point the technician said to us “what a crazy kid she is, she is not letting me have the details I need to do”. But by hook or crook, all of the diagnosis was done. We were blessed to know that everything is normal.

The most amazing part was that at one point in time, she almost raised her head and seemed like she looked at us (that’s how it appeared on the screen) and while doing it, she used her pretty little hands and wiped her face. According to the lady performing the procedure, very few kids do use their hands to clean their face. Seems like we will have a neat, tidy kid after all. Like mother like daughter.

Progress of the fetus

During the 21st week,

Your baby can still move all over in the amniotic fluid. Towards the end of this trimester the baby will begin to settle, usually in a head down position (Although some babies do not turn head down until late in the last trimester.). About 3-4% of babies will remain in a breech position. Your baby weighs just under a pound (13 ounces or 369 grams).

Home Networking and Digital Camcorder

I need some advice/suggestions on two matters.

I have Verizon DSL at home. It uses PPPoE. We have 2 desktop computers and one laptop. I am thinking of connecting them in a network so that files can be shared and we can also access the internet through any machine. I am not sure whether to get a wired router or a wireless one. A wired solution is cheaper and faster. Plus we live in a 1-bedroom apartment and I have a really long cable. On the other hand, wireless would give some freedom in moving the laptop around and would be useful later when we move to a bigger apartment after the baby. But I’ll have to buy wireless adapters for the desktops as well.

What would you suggest? Plus any router/adapter recommendations? Do you know of any quirks of Verizon DSL with home networking?

Does anyone know of a good and extensive review website for digital camcorders? Something like Phil Askey’s Digital Photography Review. Also welcome are camcorder recommendations. I am looking for something nice and high tech, but not professional.

UPDATE I: My bad. As Patrick Nielsen Hayden and Zhang Fei point out in the comments, a wireless router has a few ethernet connections as well and hence for faster transfer of data between my computers I can connect them via ethernet instead of Wi-Fi. It also turns out that 802.11b wireless routers are going for about the same price as wired routers nowadays. I looked at Linksys BEFW11S4 Wireless-B Cable/DSL Router and Netgear MR814 802.11b Wireless 4-Port Cable/DSL Router and bought the Linksys.

UPDATE II: The immediate idea for a camcorder came because of the baby. So the most likely use is taking videos of our baby, but family events, outdoor/wilderness trips etc. will also be among its uses.

In terms of specifications, at least a 10x optical zoom, a megapixel video capability, image stabilization, external mic capability, low light capability and IEEE1394 and USB connections are among things I would like.

Here are some camcorders I am looking at: Sony DCR-HC85, Sony DCR-P330, Sony DCR-TRV80, Sony DCR-TRV950, and Panasonic PV-DV953. Please suggest any other models that you like or comment on any of these.

What’s in a Name II

In my previous post thinking about a name for our baby, I mentioned a website for Muslim names.

Now, what exactly is a Muslim name? Let’s take a look at a few websites listing Muslim names. Most of the names on these sites are Arabic names with some Persian and a few Turkish names as well.

This seems like the general naming pattern in Pakistan where Arabic and Persian names are quite common.

However, why should we restrict Muslim status to Arabic, Persian or Turkish names? One website seems to be even more restrictive, prohibiting even Persian and Turkish names as “foreign.” Why are Persian or Arabic names Muslim while Indonesian (which is the largest Muslim country) ones are not considered Islamic by some Muslims? What about Berber names? Or African ones?

Why should we consider Arabic names Islamic? After all, Arabs of all religions share those names. Arabic names have spread over wherever Arabs ruled as well as in other Muslim lands, but one can still not tell a Muslim or Christian Arab apart by their given name in general. An example of the cultural and ethnic origins of names is that Pejman Yousefzadeh’s grandfather was named Abdollah. Pejman’s family is from Iran and he’s Jewish, but his paternal grandfather’s name is Arabic and means “Allah’s slave.”

I think names follow culture, language and ethnicity. A few names are based on religious figures and hence could be said to belong to a religion, but most are not.

Consider Biblical names. Quite a few Biblical names are common among Jews, Christians and Muslims. Yochanan, Ioannes, Johannes, John, Jean and Yahya are different versions of the same name in different languages. Why should we consider Yahya, the Arabic version, as the only Muslim one of this list?

Let’s look at the practice of the Prophet Muhammad in this matter. There is no record of him renaming people who accepted Islam to distinguish them from pagans, Christians or Jews. The only examples I know of where Muhammad changed someone’s name was either because the name was derogatory or was of the form “slave of X.” Here is what Muslim Baby Names says on the topic:

The name must be meaningful. “You will be called by your name on the day of judgment” this is another reason why it is important to chose a name with good meaning. The prophet was very particular about it and he always changed names that were derogatory. An example is that he changed Aasiyah (disobedient) into Jameelah (beautiful).

A child must not be given the name of Allah unless it is compounded with Allah. According to a Hadith the worst of men on the day of judgement will be one who is called Shahinshah. only Allah Ta’ala is king of kings or Shahinshah; Kingdom belongs to him alone

Further parents must make sure that the names they select signify servitude to Allah alone and to no one else. They must not append bondage even to the name Nabi. Names that reflect love or romance must not be used either. The Prophet has suggested names of the Prophets or Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. He has said,

“Keep the names of the noble Prophets, Allah loves most the names Abdullah and Abdur Rahman. The most truthful names are Harith and Humam, while the most disliked are Harb and Murrah (war and bitter).”

I am always surprised at Muslim converts who change their names at the time of their conversion. I see no need for it.

Next: The struggle for last names.

Pakistan: Whither Democracy?

Via Chapati Mystery, I find out that Patrick Belton of Oxblog has written a 3-part series on Pakistan and democracy at Winds of Change. It’s definitely an interesting backgrounder for people who want to know more about Pakistani politics.

Chapati Mystery adds his own thoughts on the topic.

I have a few quibbles and additions to what they say but that’ll have to wait for later.

Hobson’s Choice also had a good post about Musharraf and Pakistan recently. He introduced me to the junker (German word) class.

And Chapati Mystery, who I have added to my blogroll, seems like a great blog. I like the blog name very much and there are quite a few great posts in the short time sepoy has been posting.

Fourier Transform Song

Now, you can enjoy music and learn signal processing concepts at the same time.

Here are the lyrics to the song Table 4.1: Properties of the Fourier Transform.

Integrate your function times a complex exponential
It’s really not so hard you can do it with your pencil
And when you’re done with this calculation
You’ve got a brand new function – the Fourier Transformation
What a prism does to sunlight, what the ear does to sound
Fourier does to signals, it’s the coolest trick around
Now filtering is easy, you don’t need to convolve
All you do is multiply in order to solve.

From time into frequency – from frequency to time

Every operation in the time domain
Has a Fourier analog – that’s what I claim
Think of a delay, a simple shift in time
It becomes a phase rotation – now that’s truly sublime!
And to differentiate, here’s a simple trick
Just multiply by J omega, ain’t that slick?
Integration is the inverse, what you gonna do?
Divide instead of multiply – you can do it too.

From time into frequency – from frequency to time

Let’s do some examples… consider a sine
It’s mapped to a delta, in frequency – not time
Now take that same delta as a function of time
Mapped into frequency – of course – it’s a sine!

Sine x on x is handy, let’s call it a sinc.
Its Fourier Transform is simpler than you think.
You get a pulse that’s shaped just like a top hat…
Squeeze the pulse thin, and the sinc grows fat.
Or make the pulse wide, and the sinc grows dense,
The uncertainty principle is just common sense.

Dr. Time and Brother Fre wrote the lyrics for this song.

Brother Fre(quency), or Prof. William A. Sethares as he’s more commonly known, has even sung Klingon songs.