Technology | Entrepreneurship | Fitness


places that are worth visiting

Dear friend!

I’ve picked a couple of places that I;’ve visited recently, they are all worth visiting. Please take a look

Hope this helps, Sharma

“Fear is often the admission price for life’s greatest rewards”


The quote in the title is from Sasha DiGiulian, a 23-yr-old world-champion professional climber and a soon-to-be Columbia lion. I learned about her recently. Her quote rang with me and is stuck in my head now. Human being’s most primal and universal enemy is fear. When you read about Sasha, at once you’ll think she’s crazy climbing trails like the Murder Wall. But, you’ll learn that managing fear is another skill she acquired with her climbing technique. She does this by shifting her thoughts away from what-ifs and directing them instead toward next steps. Eventually, her fear crystallizes into focus, leading her to the summit.

Sasha DiGiulian rock climbing in the Red River Gorge Kentucky, USA.

Sasha DiGiulian climbing “Golden Boy” 13b at “The Gold Coast,” Pendergrass Murray Recreational Preserve, Red River Gorge, Kentucky, USA.

If I fear or am nervous about doing something, I cannot sustain without actually going through it. Whether it is giving a talk to a crowd of three hundred or walking up to converse with a pretty lady with an on-the-fly icebreaker I come up with, I just can’t go to sleep with the fact that I didn’t confront myself to do it. And, as Sasha’s quote nails it, I attest that such actions certainly yield life’s greatest rewards!

I cannot survive and progress without thriving on challenges and competition. I owe my academic achievements in college and professional successes at work to them. That wasn’t the case, though, in my fitness routine. For the longest time, since I started going to the gym regularly (sometime in 2007), I was primarily using the treadmill, elliptical, and bike for cardiovascular exercises. When it got terribly mundane, esp. with the stationary machines, I switched to running outdoors on the side roads. Last year, I completely stopped cardiovascular workout at the gym and started running on the beach instead. Running on the beach provides with three major benefits:

  1. The (scenic) environment is away from the city’s vehicular and industrial pollution.
  2. The beach surface is soft on your knees than a paved cement road or the treadmill belt.
  3. Running on the soft beach surface—both wet and dry—is more challenging as you dig out your feet every step of the run. As a result, running on a flat surface feels a lot easier after.

But, since the time I started, I was running on relatively flat and semi-wet sand. And that, too, got monotonous. I wanted further change and more challenge. I observed that the uneven mounds on the beach; and the soft, dry, & unevenly dug-up sand were the surfaces to try next. Personally, I love anything off-terrain, whether it’s off-road driving or trekking. After I switched to the uneven and soft sand, my running has become so much more challenging, exciting, and exhaustive. Every time my feet slip or get stuck, it provides me a teasing challenge to pull myself out and continue running. In the process, I also develop my stabilizer muscles—the muscles around the periphery of your major muscles in the legs—as you turn and twist for traction control. I sweat more, burn more, and feel satisfied more after finishing the run.


Take fear like a challenge. Repeated failures progressively irk me to keep retrying until the achievable goal is attained. After experiencing many failures, the few academic and professional successes I have had, have solidified my mental strength to just not give up. Even if I’m fighting my battles alone, I realize that I’m alive… to (change my approach, if needed, and) keep trying. And, like they say, what doesn’t kill you, only makes you stronger.


Lightning PC

Cooler Master N400 cabinet

I’m returning to blogging after a really long hiatus. As my readers, you deserve an apology from me, and I’ll do my best to make it up to you!

I generally keep my posts brief, but the nature of the subject requires sharing detailed insights, so this post is going to be longer (and a bit technical) than usual, yet very informative and organized. As the title suggests, the post is about computers. Why the name, “Lightning?” Here’s why. In the year 2000, I got my first computer ever: a Windows 98 desktop PC. Back then, it was the fastest machine out there, with a Pentium III 450 MHz CPU, 64MB SDRAM, 8.4GB of hard disk storage, etc. That machine still lives, but it, actually, had gone obsolete within 2-3 years of its purchase, primarily, because:

  1. I had hired an IT guy to configure and build it for me, based on my very “general” requirements.
  2. Being in high school, I was merely an overzealous newbie to computers than a hardcore techie.

Since 2005, I have been working off of laptops—some of which are 5-6 years old, but, luckily, in tip-top condition. It was high time that I got myself a mean machine to appropriately offload a lot of downloading and (video) encoding work from my laptops, so they don’t scream to death and are spared of what remains of their lives! Having had a penchant for cutting edge tech and worked at the IT department in graduate school, I thought I was old enough to build a fully-customized desktop PC, such that it is “scalable” and “future proof” for at least 5-7 years (albeit I am shooting for 10). Below is the configuration, with brief description on the thought process behind choosing each part that went into building this “Lightning PC:”

  • CABINET — Cooler Master N400 ATX Mid-Tower
    My previous cabinet got obsoleted as it took only microATX motherboards. I chose the N400, because it supports microATX and full ATX motherboards. It’s powder coated black inside and out, to prevent corrosion. It also has a cooling system that supports, in addition to the CPU and power supply unit fans, up to eight 120mm cooling fans & 240mm liquid cooling radiators for CPU and graphics cards. As for peripherals and I/O, it has 5.25″ drive bays for 2 optical drives, 3.5″ drive bays for 8 hard disk drives (HDD), 2.5″ drive bays for 3 solid state drives (SSD), 2 Super Speed USB 3.0 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, 1 microphone & 1 HD audio input. More importantly, it allows for high-end graphics cards up to 12.6″ long, including NVIDIA GTX 690 & AMD HD 7990.
  • POWER SUPPLY UNIT — Corsair CX430 90-264 Volts 430 Watts SMPS
    I wanted an universal power supply unit, so I could take this desktop virtually anywhere in the world. The SMPS pumps out 430 Watts, which is substantial for a system with an Intel Core i7 processor and a single high-end HD graphics card. It also has a generous amount of power cables, such as 4 for SATA devices, 3 for IDE peripherals, etc.
  • MOTHERBOARD — Gigabyte B75MD3H Intel B75 Chipset
    The motherboard, majorly, decides the scalability and upgradability of a system. This may not be the top-notch gaming board, but it’s got all the bells and whistles one would ever need. Following are the specifications:
  • Supports up to one Intel Core i7 processor
  • 4 DDR3 DIMM memory slots for system memory up to 32GB and an overclocked frequency of up to 2200 MHz.
  • VIDEO ports — 1 D-Sub (max. resolution 2560×1600 pixels); 1 DVI-D & 1 HDMI (max. resolution 1920×1200 pixels)
  • AUDIO ports — Intel HD Audio 7.1 channel Line Out/Line In/Microphone
  • ETHERNET — 1Gbps LAN
  • I/O PORTS — Four 5Gbps USB 3.0 Super Speed and Eight USB 2.0 High Speed
  • 1 SATA 3.0 6Gbps and 5 SATA 2.0 3Gbps connector ports
  • PCI Express 3.0 x16 ports with speeds up to 16GB/sec
  • 2x 64Mbit UEFI Dual BIOS flash
  • PROCESSOR — Intel Core i3 3220 3.3 GHz (Dual Core) 64-bit
    The 3220 is a 64-bit 3.3GHz 3rd generation Intel Core i3 series dual core processor with 3MB cache and on-board Intel HD 2500 video graphics with up to 1GB of video memory support. Manufactured with Intel’s latest 22nm semiconductor process, it supports up to 32GB system memory at 1333/1600 MHz. For high-speed networking, browsing, downloading, (video) encoding work, this is a great and a very economical choice. Intel Core i5 and i7 processors are at least 2-3x expensive than the Core i3.
  • MEMORY — Corsair Vengeance 8GB (4GBx2) DDR3 1600MHz
    Since, support for 64-bit OS has matured, it made sense to go beyond 4GB of system memory (limited by a 32-bit OS) to harness the potential of the 64-bit processor architecture and the 1600 MHz bus speed. Memory size and speed bring about a big improvement in performance, esp. during multitasking. The Vengeance series also has fancy heat spreaders to keep the RAM cool.
  • STORAGE — Seagate 1TB SATA 3.0 6Gbps 7200 rpm HDD with 64MB cache
    Gigabytes is not enough storage these days. 1 Terabyte (1024GB) is a minimum recommended disk size, esp. when you’re going to store HD videos, install HD video games, and create backups. SATA 3.0 6Gbps is essential when transferring large files like HD data that is in the GB range. If boot-up times make you impatient, you may add a 60-120GB SSD to run your OS off of, while you use the HDD for data storage.
  • WIRELESS LAN — TP-Link WN851ND 300Mbps 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi PCI adapter
    802.11g 54Mbps is slow and almost obsolete, while 802.11ac 1Gbps will take some time to settle in. Although, ISPs may not be peaking 300Mbps, the bandwidth of 802.11n can be very useful in a local LAN for HD quality streaming and gaming. This PCI adapter came with 2×2 2dBi MIMO antennae, which I upgraded to 2×2 5dBi MIMO antennae for better reception.
  • BLUETOOTH — ASUS BT211 v2.1 + EDR 3Mbps adapter
    Bluetooth comes handy especially for file transfers with mobile devices and for connecting audio devices such as bluetooth headset and speakers. This adapter has a wide range of up to 100 metres and enables me to play audio from my mobile devices.
  • MULTI-CARD READER — 68-in-1 USB 2.0 Memory Card reader
    Most laptops have some type of card reader that supports at least an SD card. This 68-in-1 internal memory card reader sits inside the 3.5″ drive bay meant for floppy drives and connects to a USB 2.0 connector on the motherboard. It supports almost any memory card one would need: Compact Flash (CF), Secure Digital (SD), Memory Stick (MS), xD card, etc. with a spare USB 2.0 port.
  • OPTICAL DRIVE — Samsung 24x Dual Layer DVD Writer
    An optical drive today, in my view, is merely a boot survival kit in case of accidental damage/erasure of OS or for backup. In the era of flash and SSD storage, optical media is very slow. It also may not make sense to spend extra money on a Blu-ray drive/writer, when media is available and stored digitally.
  • BIOMETRICS — HP SimplePass Mini USB Fingerprint Reader
    Most smartphones and laptops come with a fingerprint reader for ease of unlocking and logging in. The added benefit of a swipe-based fingerprint reader like this is that it’s compact and, with a simple swipe, allows for seamlessly and securely logging into your email accounts and websites where you previously had to enter your username and password to login every time.
  • OPERATING SYSTEM Dual UEFI Boot with Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit + Linux Ubuntu 14.04.03 LTS 64-bit
    A lot has changed since the time of Windows 98. A relatively new development to keep in mind when setting up Operating System(s) and disk partitions is the evolution of BIOS to a new firmware interface called UEFI (Unified Extensible Firmware Interface). UEFI is secure, boots faster, supports bootability of disks larger than 2TB, and is flexible in pre-OS environment with features such as usability of the mouse. UEFI, also referred to as EFI, is supported from Windows 7 onwards and on more recent versions of Linux such as Ubuntu and Mint Linux. I kept my primary OS as Windows 8.1 Pro 64-bit, while Ubuntu 14.04.01 LTS 64-bit as the secondary one. Linux has come a long way from the days of Fedora. Surprisingly, Ubuntu seems more user-friendly than Windows. I hadn’t had to install a single software on the Linux partition as any/all updates are received through a unified software center app.

The only wires connected to the cabinet are for power and display. Rest all of the devices, such as keyboard, mouse, speakers, and internet are wireless. I’m sure many of you’re wondering that this ain’t no “Lightning” PC. That there are high-end multi-core processors, low-latency high-frequency RAM memories, high-performance SSD storage, etc. that would rather qualify a system for the title. I like to think that just having the fastest tech right away (like I did when I bought my Pentium III PC) is not the key, but having a foundation with the scalability to do so is. I believe that this PC can continue to scale to as far as 10 years, provided desktops are still around! As for purchasing, I sourced the parts directly from separate authorized wholesale retailers/distributors in such a way that it cost me about $100 less than what it would have even if I had bought them online in the US.

DISCLAIMER: This post does not endorse any of the mentioned products or brands. All views are personal.

APPS to yearn for…


Flipboard – An amazingly convenient way to keep up with the latest news: just flip pages over and tap to read. This cool app pulls up news from major news services like NYTimes, Huffington Post, Forbes, National Geographic, CNET, LATimes, Wired, etc. A must have!
Download for iPhone, iPad
Download for Android

Polaris Office – I’d like to call this the Microsoft Office for mobile. With this app, you can create Word documents, Excel sheets, PowerPoint presentations, text documents and view Adobe PDF documents on-the-go. Highly productive app, and it’s free for Android devices!
Download for iPhone, iPad
Download for Android

SMS Backup & Restore – Do you end up losing text messages from your old cell phone due to resetting the phone, changing the phone, or switching SIM cards? Well, now you don’t have to worry. This free app lets you “Backup” & “Restore” SMS messages on Android devices! You can backup your text messages and save them to an external memory card (microSD) on the phone, simply transfer them to your computer via USB/Bluetooth, or upload ithem to Dropbox or Google Drive. You can also backup messages from an older device and restore it to your newer one!
Download for Android

Swype – This is the most innovative touchscreen experience I have had yet. Swype is a text input app that uses the continuous finger motion across the touchscreen keyboard to predict text. Unlike text input methods on iOS, Blackberry, or conventional Android devices, this patented input method doesn’t require you to lift your finger while you type words! Even better, it learns & memorizes, and thus, predicts as you type custom words you had entered before. Check out Swype’s cool features here.
Download for Android

QR DroidQuick Response (QR) codes have become quite common these days for sharing web addresses, business cards, and shopping coupons. QR Droid helps you capture QR codes from the mobile device’s camera, read & decode codes from Images stored on your device, and even create codes for other things like a password for a WiFi network, a Calendar Event, the Geolocation from your GPS. For iPhone, iPad users, there’s a QR code app from AT&T.
Download for Android
Download AT&T Code Scanner for iPhone, iPad

Square Wallet – e-commerce is evolving in to m-commerce. This interesting mobile wallet app lets you store your credit/debit cards, rewards cards, etc. for making purchases. With this, you don’t have to carry your stuffy wallet. You can even look up a merchant on this app, whether it is a Starbucks coffee store or a Pizza store, and open a tab before you arrive for timely pickup of your order.
Download for iPhone, iPad
Download for Android

What’s-On-India: TV Guide (for INDIAN channels only) – Isn’t it taxing to sift through the newspaper everyday to look for the day’s TV programming? Plus, many times the programming is either wrong or is missing for some TV channels, because there isn’t enough space in the paper to print. Add to it, you aren’t always sitting in front of the TV. Well, this app is the perfect and accurate on-the-go TV guide I stumbled upon couple of years ago. You can also set email/SMS reminders, so you don’t miss out on your favorite TV shows!
Download for iPhone, iPad
Download for Android

DISCLAIMER: This post does not endorse the above products or brands. All views are personal.

Fitness 2.0

In my first blog post on fitness, Fitness 101, I gave a lowdown of techniques and strategies to get on-boarded on a fitness regime. In this addendum, I would like to shift focus to the nutritional and wellness aspects of two banal, yet unlikely, food sources that will greatly assist you in your journey to attaining and maintaining fitness.

Super Beans

Beans have long been known as excellent source of protein. Additionally, they are rich in soluble fiber, complex carbohydrates, folate, and iron. They contain no fat or cholesterol; in fact, they help lower cholesterol. The fiber and protein in beans can help you feel satisfied, so you end up eating fewer calories. Some of the known beans are:

  • Soybean
  • Chickpea (Garbanzo bean)
  • Black turtle bean
  • Red kidney bean
  • Turkish gram (Moth bean)
  • Black gram
  • Green gram
  • Black-eyed pea
  • Lima bean
  • Pigeon pea

A super beans mix can be either purchased from an organic store or created by evenly mixing the above beans. I highly recommend a super beans soup for breakfast with a whole grain or multigrain bread. The mix can also be used to create a delicious vegetable for post-workout lunch/dinner by throwing in some green vegetables in there. It makes for an utterly delicious, sumptuous, and very satisfying meal!

Super Seeds

Ever wondered why do you see those seeds sticking out of multigrain breads at organic stores? After you have finished reading this post, you’ll be amazed to learn of the benefits those tiny seeds carry. Apart from dietary fiber, the following seeds have some serious long-term benefits:

  • Sunflower seeds: Great source of protein, they contains phytochemicals that help you lose weight. They’re rich in folate, Vitamin E, selenium, and copper: an effective combat force against heart disease, cancer, and cellular damage.
  • Flax seeds: Perhaps, the only richest plant source (the other being fish) of Omega-3 fatty acid that helps reduce risk of heart disease. They’re also the richest known plant source of phytoestrogen, an estrogen substitute, which stabilizes hormone levels and helps lessen the impact of menopause & reduce osteoporosis in post-menopausal women.
  • Pumpkin seeds: Lower cholesterol and contain L-tryptophan, which keeps depressing thoughts at bay. They are high in zinc, protecting you against osteoporosis. If you still need seducing, know that pumpkin seeds contain magnesium and are natural enemies of tapeworms and other parasites.
  • Watermelon seeds: Contain several amino acids and arginine, which regulates blood pressure. They are also rich in B vitamins and magnesium.

Roasting or soaking these seeds activates essential nutrients. Some people may not prefer eating these seeds by themselves, so the best strategy is to either buy a multigrain bread which has these seeds plugged on to the bread. Or, if you make the bread flour at home, like people do in certain parts of the world, put a handful of the roasted seed mix with the staple grain in the flour mill. This way, Super Seeds become a part of your staple diet!

I hope you take advantage of unlocking the benefits of Super Beans and Super Seeds. If you haven’t started your journey to fitness, NOW is the time. Remember to drink lots of water and take your daily multivitamin!

My Blog’s footprint (YTD) | Thank you readers around the world from 67 countries!


Mobile Commerce (m-commerce) has finally arrived

Bravo! Mobile Commerce (m-commerce) has finally kicked off. People are moving towards shopping using Smartphones and Tablets. According to Statista, a leading Internet statistics company from Germany, mobile commerce sales have quadrupled from 2% to 8% over the past two years.

In March 2012, more than 40 million people in the US i.e. approximately 13% of about 300 million people in the country, visited Amazon using a tablet or smartphone. The above exhibit is a suggestive extrapolation of the current trend upto 2014.

The four biggest online retailers—Amazon, eBay, Netflix, and Wal-Mart—saw millions (double-digit) of Mobile web/app visitors.

Apparently, both smartphone and tablets equally took away the share of PC visits to online retailers.

Higher the household income, higher the percentage of tablet owners. Clearly, tablet owners are the affluent buyers.

The tablet is still a premium device and for people who have more disposable income, so the average value of an order placed from a tablet is the highest of all three devices. But, the PC continues to be the primary purchasing medium, resulting in the highest conversion rates. The smartphone acts rather as an exhibitor for online stores, and, thus, may or may not result in a purchase when compared with the ease of navigating websites on a PC or a tablet.

Gadgets & Accessories: Must-have and Good-to-have

If you believe in living your life to the maximum or making a personal statement, then these are some über-cool gadgets and accessories you should try to get your hands on.

MULTIMEDIA SPEAKERS: I’ve always disliked music systems, because they brag about peak audio output and constrain you to in-built players/radio. Purchasing a separate multimedia speaker set, which can be wired to almost about any audio source—laptop, mobile phone, television—provides a lot of flexibility. A 2.1 speaker set w/ two 2-way speakers for mid-range & treble and one dedicated sub-woofer for bass is a good choice. 40 watts RMS is a minimum you should buy if you really want to enjoy music/movies. I recommend the Altec Lansing MX6021 w/ 200 watts RMS. It has 68 watts RMS on the sub-woofer and 66 watts RMS on each of the 2-way channel speakers. Compared to the Logitech Z623, which is also 200 watts RMS, MX6021 has divided approx. 130 watts RMS equally between the sub-woofer and mid-range that will give you high-quality vocals w/ bass. (Must-have)

SMARTPHONE: Nowadays, everyone has an internet-enabled mobile phone w/ 3G or 4G capabilities. But, is that it? You’re not getting the most from your phone if it doesn’t have:

  • Syncing and saving contacts, calendars online
  • Tethering your phone over USB or as a Wireless Access Point (WAP) to connect your laptop to the mobile internet
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity
  • USB-based charger
  • External memory storage capacity of 32 GB or more
  • Quad-band GSM (2G) and, at least, Dual-band 3G
  • Assisted-GPS (A-GPS) for accurate map locations
  • Mobile tracker for tracing after phone theft
  • FM radio

I personally use the Samsung Duos. It has dual SIM capability, so I don’t have to carry two separate handsets when I travel to other countries—all I do is plug in the new SIM in the phone’s 2nd slot. I’ve also become a fan of the open-source Android OS and the microSD card functionality, because I feel that Apple and other competitors are trying to handicap you w/ syncing software like iTunes and using DRM. “Drag and drop” of files over USB/Bluetooth/Wi-Fi and FOTA (Firmware Over The Air) upgrades are awesome features that give you a lot of “mobility.” (Must-have)

LED FLASHLIGHT: Every household has a flashlight, but not necessarily an LED one. LED flashlights are becoming the norm for automotive headlights and several other indsutry applications. They are very efficient compared to their predecessors and have a visible range of few miles! I recommend the T-series range of LED flashlights from Inova. These have a range of 100’s of meters and visibility of few miles. They have a rugged metallic body and were initially manufactured for use by the military. The best thing is that Inova provides a lifetime warranty wherein if your flashlight stops working, you can get it replaced anytime! (Must-have)

SUNGLASSES: Whether you drive a car or walk, it’s terribly hard to go out during the day without sunglasses. Very few pay attention to technicalities beyond aesthetic details. Today, almost all decent pairs of sunglasses have some sort of UV protection. But, only a select few have polarized lenses. Polarized lenses protect your eyes from harsh reflections from shiny and metallic surfaces. Though polycarbonate lenses have become popular, I still prefer glass lenses for their durability and relatively superior scratch-resistance. Only a few like Ray-Ban offer glass lenses. Ray-Ban’s Warrior are great wraparounds and they also have gradient tint in brown. (Good-to-have)

TOUCH-SCREEN WATCH: If you thought only mobile phones and computers can have touch screens, you thought wrong. Kenneth Cole New York came out with their slick collection of touch-screen watches few years back. All of the controls for 32 time zones, alarm, timer, backlight, etc. are a tap away! The coolest part is that they have an inverted black-and-white digital display. (Good-to-have)

CAR SUB-WOOFER & AMPLIFIER: Ever wondered that there’s juice missing in your car stereo’s music? Because, whether you’re an audiophile or not, you’ll realize that the car stereo, like a home theater system, needs a sub-woofer and an amplifier. To get that bass punch out of the stereo, a sub-woofer with at least 200 watts RMS is recommended. Pioneer, Sony, and JBL offer good starter sub-woofers, while MTX, Kicker, and Infinity offer premium range sub-woofers. Obviously, you can’t run a sub-woofer without an amplifier! A mono (single channel) amplifier will give that much-needed power boost to your sub. Again, the same manufacturers also provide the associated amplifiers. (Good-to-have)

UNIVERSAL POWER ADAPTER: Do you travel a lot? And give up on hunting for compatible power outlets? This is the gadget you’ve been yearning for, but haven’t had luck with or ran out of it after purchasing unreliable ones. The World Travel Pro+ adapter (aka World Travel Adapter 3 in some countries) from Skross of Switzerland is the perfect companion for powering any/all devices, literally, anywhere in the world! It has 3-pole inlet sockets and outlet pins for US/UK/Europe/Japan/Australia/China, you name it. And it can connect to 100-250V power outlets, powering devices up to 2200 watts. (Must-have)

USB PHONE CHARGER: The ReTrak USB 4-in-1 charger, I think, is probably one of the most innovative products around. Using this, you can charge up to two smartphones either through a wall outlet or a 12V car power outlet! The best part is that it supports global voltages of 100-240 V, and all of its pins either retract or have a cap, making it very suitable for travel. (Must-have)

Hope you found this post interesting and utilitarian! In my future posts, I’ll talk about must-have personal care products.

Agent Vinod: Birth of India’s own James Bond?

This is my 2nd review of a movie—and the 1st of a Bollywod movie—after I did of Inception in 2010. As I am very selective, you can tell that the stakes were really high for Agent Vinod. The pre-release promos and two songs, “I’ll do the talking” and the theme song, had intrigued and convinced me well enough of the beginning of a new era, so I pre-booked my tickets (two weeks in advance) for the first day, first show!

About 35 years ago, the original Agent Vinod that came out with a mediocre actor in the lead role was apparently a hit. That movie was produced by the Barjatyas of Rajshri Productions who gave Maine Pyar Kiya and Hum Aapke Hain Kaun. Nawab Saif Ali Khan figured out the opportunity to revamp the character and gave Agent Vinod a complete makeover.

The movie starts out quite well with Agent Vinod (Saif Ali Khan) of India’s clandestine service, the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), being held captive by the Pakistani army in Afghanistan. His aide, Major Rajan (Ravi Kishan), assumes a cover to rescue him. Enter Farah Feqquesh (Maryam Zakaria), an Afghan girl, who joins them in the action-packed rescue. Certain sequences like the one where Saif is hanging out of a jeep’s door and shooting are neat, but the action wasn’t great enough to throw people out of their seats and say, “Whoa!” The beginning credits with the theme song in the background and the lyrics of the Hindu prayer, “Govind bolo, gopal bolo,” is quite unique and lends a patriotic touch. Later, Major Rajan is caught and killed conducting espionage activities in Russia, but sends a code red message about a mysterious number, 242, to the Indian intelligence agency before dying. Agent Vinod is sent in to investigate who killed Major Rajan and what the number meant. The story then revolves around Vinod’s globetrotting discovery of 242 to Russia, Morocco, Latvia, Pakistan, New Delhi, and finally to London, unraveling what turns out to be part of a larger conspiracy.

The first 30 or so minutes are the only few intriguing moments in the film. The mid-section becomes so slow that I kept thinking, “Please don’t keep me waiting or guessing. Where is the STUFF you bragged so much about in the promos?” One can tell that Saif has worked very hard and fits very well in the role. Aged 41, he looks a lot younger than his British counterpart, Daniel Craig, at 44. But, the director and screenplay writers should have worked just as hard in crafting a personality for the Indian secret agent just the way Ian Fleming did for James Bond. As the central character, Agent Vinod should have dominated the screen with his personality traits, eccentricities, humor, charm, witty remarks, and sarcastic retorts. The movie makers should have thought smart, not hard and spent more money on intelligent plots and scenes than on travel and clothing.

Kareena Kapoor as Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) secret agent, Dr. Iram Parveen Bilal aka Dr. Ruby, is average. The character is unnecessarily sentimental and very indecisive for an agent. More importantly, there’s no chemistry between her character and Agent Vinod. B P Singh (of CID fame) as Director of RAW is okay. As head of the intelligence agency and mentor to Agent Vinod, I expected more from his character than just dumbfounded looks. Someone with the charisma of yesteryear’s K. N. Singh or Iftekhar Ahmed could have done a better job.

Prem Chopra is absolutely flawlessly as Kazan; a legend of an actor. Adil Hussain as Colonel is a brilliant find. He lends that viciousness and treachery to the character. His terrific performance cannot go unnoticed. Dhritiman Chatterjee is excellent as Sir Metla; his unique dialogue delivery will wake you up if the pace of the movie puts you to sleep. Of course, Shahbaaz Khan (of Chandrakanta fame) perfectly fits into the role of a corrupt Army General. Iranian beauty, Maryam Zakaria’s accent and personality caught my eye; she makes Kareena Kapoor look fat and out of shape in the mujra song!

One great thing this movie would do is create awareness and bring recognition to the Indian clandestine service. Lately, RAW has been deprecated for corruption, so this could be a beacon for them to work on their image. Pakistan has been shown in somewhat positive light by co-operating in covert operations with RAW. But, the movie has been banned in Pakistan for displaying corruption in the Pakistani army and links to terrorist groups.

The Good:

  • Finally, we have branded an Indian spy!
  • Original and innovative story-telling
  • Lot of panache; is suave and stylish
  • Shot in exotic locales around the world (though 12 countries wasn’t necessary)
  • Hollywood-class product

The Bad:

  • Poor screenplay and direction
  • Slow and dragged too long
  • Agent Vinod’s personality and character are undeveloped
  • With 4 ladies and marketed as a ladies man, Agent Vinod doesn’t flirt at all!
  • Chevrolet Camaro for a secret agent? A BMW or an Audi wouldn’t have hurt
  • No gadgetry
  • Song warbling during a killing spree?

The Bottomline: Agent Vinod as a franchise for India’s very own secret agent is launched. Given Bollywood has all the material and capital resources at their disposal today, the producers/directors of Agent Vinod should have focused their attention on delivery, intelligence, skills, and substance.

Smoking or Facebook: Which addiction is worse?

It has been nearly 7 years since I started using facebook, and since the time “News Feed” came into existence, I have seen humungous quantities of data pass through my eyes. This feed—best defined as a newspaper about all of your friend’s activities—has exponentially increased people’s addiction to the social network. Just like chain smokers can’t do without a 10-pack Marlboro or Camel lights everyday, people find it difficult to get through the day without logging on to facebook at least a dozen times. And in extreme cases, some people can’t get off of it. It’s like their lifeline: from posting and commenting on status updates; sharing photos, videos, and links; adding applications and playing games; checking into places and attending events; to chatting and a lot more!

Undoubtedly, there are benefits of connecting, showing off, and venting with friends and family over distances, there are also several “not-so-good” things happening in the background. And I can attest to this from several observations I’ve made over a period of time. Facebook, and many social sites, has been accused of collecting its users’ data for corporate benefit. For those who are statistics and analytics experts would have guessed by now where I’m going with this. The real-time status updates, in conjunction with your location information, are used to determine what you like to buy, watch on TV, hear on the radio, etc. Your “Likes” help social networks, and in turn corporations, to make decisions on what needs to be sold or shown on media channels in your particular region. Call it an Invisible Survey. Many movies & commercials that I watched on TV or products I saw on website ads had left me awestruck to think, “Oh my God! This is what I have been yearning for and was thinking about just a few days ago.” But, repetitive observations made me realize that this is no co-incidence at all.

Smoking, when done heavily, is clearly dangerous to the physical health in the long run. Similarly, an excessive addiction to social sites can drain a lot of your precious brain’s resources that could be put to better use. If corporations are getting access to our sensitive personal information, then shouldn’t we be wary of what we post even in a closed network? I’d love to know what you think is worse, so I’ll be happy to interact over comments here. As an analogy, I’ll leave you with Morpheus’s words to the protagonist, Neo, in the movie, The Matrix, that best describe this addiction:

“The matrix is a system, Neo. That system is our enemy. When you’re inside, you look around, what do you see? Businessmen, teachers, lawyers, carpenters; the very minds of the people we’re trying to save. But, until we do, these people are still a part of that system. And that makes them our enemy. You have to understand most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inert, so hopelessly dependent on the system that they’ll fight to protect it!”