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Mostly Harmless

I just finished listening to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series even though I’d had the mp3s lying around for ages.

I had downloaded the original radio series of 12 episodes years ago and dumped them onto a CD and had then forgotten about them completely. Last month I stumbled upon a site[1] that had mp3s of the new series broadcast in 2004 and 2005 which covered the story from the last three books (and in hoary Hitchhiker’s Guide tradition flatly contradicting quite a few episodes from the original series!)

Through most of the new series there are a number of additions, omissions and modifications, the majority of which are mostly harmless. The one change they made that annoyed the hell out of me though was the end of the last episode.

**SPOILER**

By the time Douglas Adams wrote the fifth book in the series he was pretty much fed up with people asking him to write more Hitchhiker’s Guide books and so he wanted to pretty much end the series definitively. Thus in Mostly Harmless (written many years after the previous book and with definitely darker tones) he kills off all the major characters and destroys the Earth quite completely.

I had wondered how they were going to handle that in the radio series but I assumed it would only be cosmetic changes. But no. In the radio series, every one lives. And happily ever after too. At Milliways[2]. And Fenchurch returns. As does Marvin. And worse, Arthur gets TWO happily ever afters. On one probability he lives with Fenchurch on an Earth that has popped into existence again and on the other, all the major characters spend the rest of their days at Milliways. Worse still, Wowbagger the Infinitely Prolonged[3] who I quite liked as a bit character is killed off! By Zarquon!

**END SPOILER**

To cheer myself up and forget this hack work, I need to dig out my DVDs of the TV series and watch them again. Its been a couple of years…

[1]: Email me and I’ll send you the link to the site.
[2]: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe.
[3]: The immortal guy who decided to insult everyone in the universe.

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Of Spectacled Bears and Señor Free

As grouched about in the last post, I wanted to sit somewhere peacefully (not home, since current home is a little depressing) and read a book. Obviously, since I had left home with just umbrella in tow (the monsoon is in full swing in Bombay) it meant finding a book first.

Which meant wandering around the British Library aimlessly for a bit. And out of some sort of obligation I had to glance at the shelves holding the biology textbooks. Slight shock to see a colourful hardback, the author one Stephen Fry. I picked the book off the shelf immediately.

Rescuing the Spectacled Bear seemed interesting, so I borrowed it and left. Hours later at night, I was still reading it. The spectacled bear (so named for the yellow markings around and on its face) is a bear native to South America. Yep. There are bears in South America. Stephen Fry (or Señor Free as the Peruvians called him) was drafted into being the narrator/presenter for a program on them. This book was the journal he maintained the few weeks they were in Peru and Chile. Filled with beautiful still photos and great (and hilarious) writing that I always expect from Stephen Fry, I loved the book. The proceeds from this book go towards a foundation to help found a reserve for the spectacled bears in Peru. What are you waiting for? Go buy the book! 🙂

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Update, Books and more

Been a long time coming, I know. But life has been madness and with no proper computer to get onto the net (and now no net connection either) its been tough!

My laptop is as good as dead. Backlight of the screen has gone phut, the battery has been dead for months and now the place where the power adapter plugs into the computer is loose, so if you jog the computer a bit, poof, it goes off. After one such incident, I guess some data on the hard disk got messed up, so it refuses to boot up, I get an “UNMOUNTABLE_BOOT_VOLUME” and a blue screen from Windows. So there you have it. Luckily I have a Knoppix CD, so I hook it up to the network at college and copy stuff off it slowly. Then I can go ahead and wipe the disk and begin the slow process or reinstalling everything again just the way I like it.

In other not so bad news, I went home to Bangalore for a three week vacation. Did nothing but sleep a lot and eat home-cooked food! Yum! I also picked up a number of second hand books.

House of Sand and Fog is a beautiful movie starring Ben Kingsley, Jennifer Connelly and Shohreh Aghdashloo. I had seen it last summer and I found a copy of the book written by Andre Dubuis III. It’s brilliantly written in the first person for both protagonists. A really good read.

Next on the list, Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir, a well written memoir of his years in Africa studying baboons.

I also finally got my hands on Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. I’ve read other books by Sacks’ and quite liked them, especially An Anthropologist on Mars, so this was a good find.

There were more books, but maybe I’ll leave that for another blog post!

More news, I finally moved out to a place of my own in Bombay. For the first time in my life (and none too soon, I might add) I’m living entirely on my own. It’s been just three days, so nothing exciting happening yet! 😉 But I’m facing a number of problems, like what furniture should I get? Where am I going to keep all my books? And dammit this city is dusty! And oh yes the water problems in the neighbourhood which means I have no water at home today and have to go to a friends’ home to take a shower! 🙁 But I’m hoping these are small wrinkles that will iron themselves out.

Yes, pictures on Flickr will be put up as soon as I get a decent link and a computer to transfer pictures from camera to computer. I’m planning a before and after set for the apartment! 😉

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Finished!

I finished reading Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything a few days ago. I’d actually put it down for a few days while I read through some other books. (In point of fact, one other book.)

I started this post thinking that A Short History was the first book I’ve actually finished in a while and then realised how stupid I was being, since I have actually finished the other book too! And that one was The Science of Discworld by Terry Pratchett, Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. Looks like I’m beginning to slip into my role as “absent-minded professor.” It won’t be long before I start living in a crumpled labcoat, grow frazzled grey hair and wear thick nerd glasses. *grin*

Well anyway, A Short History is a brilliantly written travelogue of science. A journey through our existing body of knowledge and how we came about it. Bill Bryson captures the essence of science with fairly succint and readable explanations with short (though not always) excursions into the lives of the scientists and thinkers behind it. The book is divided into sections that lead almost seamlessly into one another and are also ordered in a way that seems to make innate sense. I was quite happy to see that the largest number of chapters were devoted to life! My bias as a biologist! hehe. Read this book!

I’d write about the Science of Discworld too, but it’s similar to A Short History the difference being in writing styles (of course) and the interspersed chapters of a Discworld story. Essentially, the wizards of Unseen University split the thaum, this generates so much magical energy that it must go somewhere. So HEX, their computer (Anthill Inside) suggests starting the “Roundworld” project. And just like that a universe pops into existence on the Discworld. (If you haven’t guessed, it’s a universe much like ours.) The wizards proceed to watch this universe, and being wizards, interfere with it too. (Like smashing comets into planets and trying to make pocket-sized suns like the ones in their universe.) See? I knew you wouldn’t be interested!

Both good books and both good expositions of science and our present understanding of the universe. A Short History has a broader canvas and talks about a lot of other things too, but I think The Science of Discworld has two sequels too. (Now to get my hands on those!)

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Books!

I just blogged two weeks ago about the new book Rebecca sent me. Well, I’m about 200 or so pages into that book and still enjoying it.

Of course, that doesn’t stop me from buying more books! The Strand Book Stall in Bombay has an annual sale on a large scale. The sale is being held in a large auditorium (boxes of unpacked books stacked on stage!) with books displayed on long tables that ran the length of the hall.

My haul:

  1. The Simoquin Prophecies by Samit Basu
  2. Best New SF 15 (from 2001) edited by Gardener Dozois
  3. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (paperback) and
  4. The Ancestor’s Tale by Richard Dawkins (illustrated ed.)

More later…

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I have the best friends

I came home this evening from work and found a box from Amazon.com! A big surprise, of course! I quickly opened it to find “The Beak of the Finch” by Jonathan Weiner, sent to me as a gift from Rebecca!

This book (already added to my allconsuming.net list on the right) is a book I’ve been wanting to read for years. I first came across a copy in a bookstore back when I was still an undergrad student. The price was beyond what I could afford then but I made up my mind that I had to read the book. I never did find it again (in a library or elsewhere) and so I was always recommending the book to friends without ever having read it myself! And now finally I can and goddamn! I’ve been right to recommend this book! 😀

Oh, I didn’t really say what the book was about, did I? Well, on the Galapagos islands, where Darwin collected many specimens on his voyage on the Beagle, are found 13 species of finches (also known as Darwin’s finches as he was the first person to collect the specimens.) Now due to the weirdness (even to a biologist) of island biogeography, populations of animals and plants on islands like this evolve at a fairly quick rate. Therefore a detailed, systematic study of any such population should give you all the real data to show evolution on the march! And that is what “The Beak of the Finch” documents along with a very well written exposition on Darwin’s theory with all the requisite history to fill in the spaces.

Read this book!

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This is uncanny!!


You’re Pale Fire!

by Vladimir Nabokov

You’re really into poetry and the interpretation thereof. Along the road of life, you have had several identity crises which make it very unclear who you are, let alone how to interpret poetry. You probably came from a foreign country, but then again you seem foreign to everyone in ways unrelated to immigration. Most people think you’re quite funny, but maybe you’re just sick. Talking to you ends up being much like playing a round of the popular board game Clue.

Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.