Sunday, July 31, 2005


Move over Aibo. Japanese researchers have created the first female android and she is called Repliee Q1 just so that you don't forget she is a robot.

She can flutter her eyelids and move her hands like a human. She even appears to breathe.

However, any fears/doubts that this fair lady might be one of the fine young ladies that you might have dated in the past, are quite unfounded. While Professor Hiroshi Ishiguro believes that robots may be able to fool us someday, that day is still quite far away. So, it might be a little too early to throw that little black book/PDA / away dudes.

Apparently 'she' interacts with humans in a very human-like manner, so I am guessing that she comes pre-programmed to do a lot of things. Like telling you to pick your socks up or putting the toilet seat down. But the good news is that soon, you won't have to pay a check for two at a restaurant. Infact plug and play just took on a whole new meaning!

Discovery Channel Canada has a piece on her. Check out the video here.

Friday, July 29, 2005

The Chair

The MoMA, as we all know, houses the best and finest of Modern American Art. In a bid to bring design into the drab HomeDepot interiors of every apple-pie baking mom's boudoir, the MoMA organizes the International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design annually.

So when Charles and Ray Eames, two furniture makers and architects from LA decided that they wanted to enter it in 1948, they knew that they needed to come up with something whacky enough to please the blase New York crowds. New York, in case you did not know it, had already been there and done them. Even in 1948.

Along with the Third Reich, WW-II had also officially put and end to the mad craze for curvy baroque French furniture. Nowadays, you can still see some fanatics breathe in heavily when they speak of Louis XV furniture, but then you see Neo-nazis hanging around too.

"We need something new and original for the Competition," Charles said to his wife Ray one sunny LA morning over breakfast in 1948 as he began squishing the frosted doughnut on his plate.

"Dont' play with your food Chuck. And take the trash out once you are done, honey." It would be a while before couples in California started saying "groovy baby" to each other. But Chuck was not about to be distracted.

"Ray, darling! I've got it!" he proclaimed, holding the deformed frosted doughnut up on his fork. "This is gonna be the new low-cost chair for the masses in Manhattan!" And that's how the "La Chaise" came to be.

The Eames' obviously knew that when the MoMA calls for a low-cost design competition, one can interpret the term `low-cost 'very loosely indeed. As a matter of fact MoMA's online store still sells it and here's their pitch for it.
Price: $6850.00. Designed in 1948 for MoMA's International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design, and inspired by Gaston Lachaise's 1927 sculpture Reclining Nude, this organically-shaped chair has become a design icon. Although it proved too expensive to manufacture at the time, La Chaise finally went into production in 1990 and has been produced in small quantities ever since. Engineered by Vitra of a fiberglass shell and natural oak base with metal supports.
So after they had prototyped this one, they called up the Rockefellers and asked them if they wanted to buy it. "Yeah sure," JD is reported to have replied," but what is it?" And here's what the Eames' came up with (taken from the MoMA site again)

Charles and Ray Eames's description for the design of La Chaise, submitted to MoMA's 1948 International Competition for Low-Cost Furniture Design, read "The form of this chair does not pretend to clearly anticipate the variety of needs it is to fill. These needs are as of yet indefinite and the solution of the form is to a large degree intuitive. The form can only suggest a freer adaptation of material to need and stimulate inquiry into what these needs may be."

The MoMA was quick to recognize a good thing when they saw one. While they had only asked for a chair and maybe a dinner-table, the Eames's had in effect created a modern day Sphinx that looked like a melted doughnut. Not only was this a whack-job, but also a baffler. New York society ladies bought these by the dozens and installed them in their salons since it was evident that the chair would provide for hours of entertainment. In the days before TV or swingers parties became popular, the `with-it' set invited their arriviste neighbours (those that could only afford apartments that did not have a view of Central Park) to their drawing rooms and tittered merrily as they watched them squirm uncomfortably on "La Chaise".

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Take the Book Quiz at the Blue Pyramid. Here's what they thought of me. I am a little bugged since I am not an LOTR freak by a mile. In fact, I couldn't care less if Bilbo bailed on the whole ring-courier job and assumed an early retirement to smoke his pipe in peace.

You're The Fellowship of the Ring!

by J.R.R. Tolkien

Facing great adversity, you have decided that your only choice is to unite with your friends and neighbors. You have been subject to a ton of squabbling and ultimately decided that someone humble is your best candidate for a dangerous mission. You're quite good with languages and convinced that not all who wander are lost. If you see anyone in black robes on horseback, just run. That's just common sense.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Rent -- we paid too much

Rent is inflated and this time we are not talking about real estate. Sure it has great music and the cast is talented, but the play lacks direction. It started off pretty crazily, but once we had reconciled ourselves to the fact that our ticket-money would not buy us a visual feast on the scale of The Lion King or even Chicago (where most of the cast was in fishnet body stockings) we noticed that the music was really good and we got down with it. But that was all before the intermission. While we hung around the counter and bought thimbles of water/soda/wine at prices normally reserved for airport lounges, we almost convinced ourselves that Rent was the real deal. It was quirky, post-modern and definitely different from the standard musical fare. In particular, the "candle" song was a lively interpretation of the original from Puccini's La Boheme.

We made generous allowance for the fact that it was nine years old and that we were probably too well-fed and yuppie to understand why people with AIDS were falling in tempestous relationships with crack-whores. We even agreed to let the overdone minimalist phonecall motif by without much comment.

So we braced ourselves for a plot that plunged deep into human misery and torment, and waited for the climax. Then the lights came on and we cheered the cast who came in to recieve three encores from a half empty theatre all the while wondering how four of us might have missed the climax simultaneously. My guess is it was lost somewhere in the melee while Angel was dying and turning into Mimi's guardian angel and miraculously reviving her from death in a communal love-fest faintly reminscent of Woodstock '69.

We looked around and most of the folks around us, like us, were puzzled to the very end. Many were relieved that they had seen it and crossed it off their "things to see before I die" lists with gusto. The rest of us tourists decided that we would go back to the rest of the world -- the anti-Manhattan -- and roast it before the movie came out.

Rent's biggest problem is its lack of focus. It never really defines what the primary narrative thread is. The central premise of Rent is that its characters are all brilliant and smart and educated and savvy but they are either gay or dying of the virus and are therefore automatically marginalized and so they have to resort to living out their indie-hip bohemian existence. A lot of the motivations of the characters, all variations on the theme of the recalcitrant refusal to `sell out' to `the Man', seem remote, if not anachronistic, to the distinctly un-Bohemian 21st century audience. Like the Manhattan lofts where the characters squat, the people that Rent talks about have long since been remodelled, repackaged and marketed for millions.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Harry Potter...what must be said

I was at a Barnes & Noble in Manhattan on the day that the book was unveiled officially, which was about two days after the book was released by Muggles that muddle these things up. I was there, before you jump to any conclusions, to merely hang out at the Starbucks(TM). The way I see it, as long as I get to read a $12.00 book for the price of a mint chocolate chip frapuccino, I am more than getting my money's worth. Besides, there is no real activity of any sort in New Jersey where I am staying -- that is unless you count mowing your lawns and driving your SUV as legitimate activities -- so hanging out in Manhattan and people watching is definitely the thing to do over the weekends.

Getting back to the B&N, I was shocked to discover the place overrun by 30 year olds in prepubescent Potter paraphernalia - pointy hats, broomsticks, and a couple of moms in violently shaded capes. And kids running amock while the parents read through the blurb quickly to determine appropriateness of content, never mind the Pope. But they needn't have worried. With this issue of the seven part series, JK Rowling jumps clearly into the genre previously occupied by movies starring Lindsay Lohan or Reese Witherspoon.

The plot is quick and racy and references to obscene hand gestures and snogging in public are exactly what you'd want your 10 year old to read in the interest of getting ahead in the evolutionary race to find a girlfriend. But there are no spoilers really since you start reading the book anticipating the twist that you know will come somewhere in chapter 29 or so and then a heavy spell binding faceoff between He-who-must-not-be-named and He-who-is-not-getting-any- currently-just-because-he-chooses-not-to-be-with-the-obviously-slutty-chick.
Since you know there is going to be a book Seven, you know that Potter is not about to meet his untimely death in this one.

And I am only on chapter 22, so its not like I read the whole book before I came to these conclusions.

However, one thing must be said... I am glad that they are making the movies right now. Let's get this over with and get back to business. The last thing one wants is for the toddlers of today to queue up twenty years from now, outside movie halls for weeks, through rain, heatwaves and the occassional hailstorm, in goofy star spangled capes and green tights and wielding plastic glow wands as they wait for tickets to the last and final edition of Harry Potter: Revenge of the Slyth(erins).