Elizabethtown & “Thank You for Smoking”

Having been disappointed with much of Hollywood’s recent output, I was recently pleasantly surprised to view two very enjoyable comedies.

Elizabethtown, starring Orlando Bloom and the delectable Kirsten Dunst, was a unconventional romantic comedy, in the vein of the excellent Garden State. The humour was quirky and slightly surreal—for example, the traditional scene where boy and girl are shown having a fun day together (set to music of course) takes place in a cemetery… There are a couple of bad scenes: Kirsten Dunst’s character thankfully has a complete personality transplant between her initial scene and the rest of the film, and there is a bizarre sequence near the end involving a wake which makes no sense at all, but overall it’s funny.

Another film which I entirely missed when it came to the cinema but provided some very enjoyable entertainment on a recent plane journey is Thank You for Smoking. Black satire at its best; watch it.

THE Security Engineering Textbook now available online (for free!)

Professor Ross Anderson at Light Blue Touchpaper writes:

With a single bound it was free!

My book on Security Engineering is now available online for free download here.

Professor Anderson’s book is an invaluable reference guide for anyone wishing to implement “secure” computer systems, or simply gain a better understanding of the field. This is great news.

“Downtown” Bangalore Revisited

This weekend I took another trip to MG and Brigade roads, as I was sure I had not seen everything on the previous visit. The trip was an altogether more enjoyable than previously: much like London’s Oxford St, Brigade Road is not nearly as crowded on a Sunday morning compared to later in the day, but conversely MG Road seemed to have a bit more life to it. The fact that I am feeling more acclimatised to India now probably also had an effect, and I refrained from eating anything this week. 🙁

Another factor that may have contributed to my enjoyment was the discovery of a wonderful coffee bar called Barista—sort of an upmarket Indian Starbucks—featuring good coffee and a very pleasant atmosphere. Finally. 🙂

After coffee I wandered into the green and pleasant Cubbon Park (photo and photo). Despite not being rated as highly as the Botanical Gardens I visited last week, I found the Park to be much nicer: more shady trees, very tranquil, and the State Parliament and High Court provide photographic points of interest at its edge.

All my photographs of Bangalore.

Another side of Bangalore

Bored of the restaurants near the apartment, on Monday night I took an auto out towards one of Bangalore’s best hotels, the Leela Palace, in the search of some nice food that hopefully wouldn’t poison me.

On reflection, it’s entirely likely that the probability of being killed in a road accident during the 20 minute auto-rickshaw ride out to the Leela Palace is greater than the probability of dying from food poisoning: the trip involved dodging buses, impatient SUV drivers, and some unfinished roads, making my short daily ride the to office look like a carousel compared to this roller-coaster. On the other hand, the auto also took me to through some parts of Bangalore I hadn’t seen yet. There was more of the dense and maze-like zig-zagging streets, but unlike the similar streets near where I live, these actually looked like they might make a pleasant area to wander through and explore—there were no piles of rotting rubbish and fewer roads that looked like abandoned building projects and open sewers.

Along the main road, there were a variety of modern looking bars, restaurants and other amenities. I remember thinking that this must be where Bangalore’s young and affluent middle class, of which I had read so much about, come to hang out—the area looked like the up-and-coming city Bangalore is supposed to be, as opposed to where I live which is like an oasis in the middle of a building site.

A further facet to Bangalore was revealed on Tuesday, which was Independence Day. I attended a traditional pre-breakfast flag hoisting ceremony in the grounds of the development where I am living, although the guest of honour (a high up in the company who owns the development) was very late and deeply unimpressive—he mumbled his speech so inaudibly that I don’t think anyone except his aide heard him. There was some nice singing of “patriotic songs” from the children, and all-in-all a lovely atmosphere of neighbours gathered for a day of celebration.

Exploring Bangalore

Today was the first day since I arrived that I have had chance to really explore Bangalore. It’s a sprawling city, but the auto-rickshaws make getting around very easy (once you get used to the way they drive over here!). My first stop was the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, founded c.1760 by the British (it even has a bandstand!) since I had heard there was a special flower display on today for the forthcoming Independence Day celebrations (15th August).

It took me a while to find my way into the gardens proper as the only map I could find lacked the all-important “you are here” marker, but once I did I found them to be very pleasant—although not the immaculately manicured and picturesque gardens one might expect: more a large collection of different species of flora, with some pleasant spots occupied by families enjoying a Sunday outing. The Independence Day flower show was spectacular, though also extremely crowded, which made taking photos difficult. Photos; only the last two are from the flower show itself.

After the Botanical Gardens I took another rickshaw to MG (Mahatma Gandhi) Road, Bangalore’s retail and entertainment hub. Unfortunately I was rather underwhelmed by the area: admittedly it is Sunday and a few places were closed, but MG Road itself seemed to consist mostly of shops selling traditional Indian goods and still no chic. When I later stopped to pull out the guide book I realised that there were two recommended places just before the start of MG Road which I had missed; as usual the gems are always in the back streets, but I wasn’t feeling up to straying too far from the beaten track on my first trip.

Turning off MG Road, I found myself on Brigade Road which had also been recommended, and here I found the less touristy shops and eateries. Unlike MG Road, it was also thronged with hordes of people enjoying a Sunday shopping expedition. Feeling hot and thirsty, I spotted a suave-looking restaurant, and found myself sat in a comfortable sofa perusing a tasty sounding menu which actually explained what dishes called “Aloo Ka Garlay” were about (fried potatoes with green peppers in a spicy sauce). The waiter was friendly, the air conditioning a welcome relief, and the food lovely—although like much of the food in this country, left me feeling a little queasy. 🙁

News from home

Once again I find myself reading about Britain’s response to a major terrorist incident in the foreign press, on the other side of the world (I was also absent from the UK on 11th September 2001 and 7th July 2005). It feels odd to be disconnected from home at times like these, although also slightly glad to be away from the chaos, and reading about home in foreign newspapers is certainly very interesting. Foreign newspapers also tend to give much more of a global perspective: reaction to the news from around the world, rather than the intense focus of British media outlets on the big story.

Here in India, I have been reading the Times of India every day, and the International news section is never very large. Today was no exception. The bomb plot and hand luggage restrictions did take up about half of the front page though, a domain normally reserved for Bangalorean news. The possible link between the bombers and Pakistan was not emphasised, but it was certainly highlighted. Given India’s own recent experiences of terrorism, I am glad I am not flying anywhere for the next fortnight.

The BBC provides a brief overview of what British newspapers are saying, while there’s a good healthy dose of cynicism over at The Register.

Bangalore Update

A little exploration of the area where I am living has led me to believe I am probably living in the Bangalore equivalent of Canary Wharf: there are lots of shiny new office and apartment blocks, and some amenities in the form of an American-style mall, but none of the classy lounge bars and fine restaurants that are talked about in the guidebook. The area also has a decided “unfinished” feel to it, so perhaps Canary Wharf as it was a few years ago, rather than today. I’m getting used to taking the auto-rickshaws now so explorations further afield are clearly called for.

Walking around and reading the local newspaper, there are plenty of signs of Western culture: from Levi jeans to Mcdonalds and Pizza Hut. However, it doesn’t feel like the globalised assimilation that you might expect but instead it has its own uniqueness; the signs may be familiar, but everything is still quintessentially Indian in a very pleasant way.

More Adrenaline Rushes than a Roller-Coaster: My Commute

Like all good roller-coasters the biggest adrenaline-rush is always saved for the finale. After a white knuckle auto-rickshaw ride from the office, I have a short walk to the apartment building. Unfortunately it usually involves crossing a busy urban dual carriageway where right-of-way is accorded to the biggest and fastest, and lights are strictly optional, even at night. After the dual-carriageway, it’s more like an adventure trail: does one risk the gaping holes and lose slabs of the pavement, or take one’s chances with the oncoming auto-rickshaws and motorbikes on the road? The journey concludes with another road crossing: this time a nasty t-junction with a sprint finish to take refuge on the (broken) pavement before the motor vehicle finishes its turn onto the road.

Welcome to commuting in Bangalore.