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Google TV 3.1 – A Critical Review

Last Wednesday (7-Dec-11), Google TV announced on its blog that “all units of the Logitech Revue™ will begin to receive an over-the-air (OTA) update of the new Google TV software”. This update was much awaited and several weeks later than the update was announced for the other Google TV device – the Sony. Anyway, my Logitech Revue got its update yesterday (10-Dec). However, so far the software has not really lived up to its expectations — Google could have, and should have, done a much better job. Anyway, here is a detailed review of what works better and what got worse on Google TV 3.1. For the record, I tested it on a Logitech Revue (with a regular keyboard), hooked to a 51″ Sony Bravia LCD, connected to Comcast cable.
What Got Better:
Let me first talk about what got better. The interface definitely looks much better. When you press the “Home” key on the keyboard, you get a nice toolbar at the bottom of the TV screen.

This toolbar contrasts with the vertical sidebar in the last version, which did have its advantages that I will come to later in this post. Anyway, the first icon in the toolbar is the “All Apps” icon. The second icon is the “Live TV” icon. It is the third icon “TV & Movies”, which is the best feature, and perhaps the only better feature, of Google TV 3.1. This brings up a list of all movies and shows available — currently on live TV, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, and so on. You can also change the time from “Now” to a future time and see what is coming up.

Google TV 3.1

Another great addition is the Android Market. However, other than some games, there was not much of my interest. I am sure this opens Google TV up to a large improvement in coming days and weeks.
What Got Worse:
Earlier the “Home” screen had access to almost everything — Applications, Bookmarks, Spotlight, Chrome, and so on — all in the left sidebar, which is now gone. Now, when you go to the “All Apps” screen from the home toolbar, it only brings you to the Apps. There is no more easy access to Bookmarks.

Google TV 3.1

Since all my favorite online video sites were on “Bookmarks”, I need an easy way to get there. Unfortunately, the only way to get there is by opening Chrome, pressing the “Menu” button on the keyboard and choosing “Bookmarks”. The favorites key on the keyboard should have taken us there. Also there seems to be no way to delete existing bookmarks.

Google TV 3.1

Also, the earlier version of the software had an easy way to close a window — press the “Menu” key and choose “Close Window”. Now there is no easy way — you need to keep backing out of the window until you get to Home screen, or press “Menu” key, click on Windows and then click on the “X” next to the current window. Not user friendly at all.

Google TV 3.1

What Stayed the Same (or didn’t get better):
The online TV works as well as it did, as long as it is not blocked. The following picture is from NDTV, a TV channel streaming online from India. All such channels in my bookmarks work fine.

Google TV 3.1

Also, other channels accessible via Google Chrome (e.g., youku.com, vimeo.com, etc.) work fine and offer a lot of content.
“Spotlight” is described as “TV Optimized Websites”, but doesn’t live up to its name for most items listed under it. Well, the website interface is optimized alright, but the content is not made available for Google TV in all cases. Look at the following screenshots from TBS, TNT and Sidereel. The interface is fine, but there is no content to watch. On TNT, there is an option to log-in to your cable provider account, but clicking on that option gets you nowhere. So much for “TV Optimized”.

Google TV 3.1 Google TV 3.1
Google TV 3.1 Google TV 3.1

Then there is the already existing problem of major online TV resources, like Hulu and major TV networks, blocking its content from Google TV. Google 3.1 brings no solution to this issue.
My cable provider is Comcast/xfinity. I can log-in to the Comcast website to watch content online on my PC. This I consider as paid content, because I am paying for access to Comcast. However, when I try to do the same thing on Google TV, it brings up a message asking me to install Microsoft Silverlight. Obviously, there is no way Google TV is going to allow me to install this add-on, and who knows if that is the only missing link.
Maybe it works better on Dish Network, but it is not worth switching TV providers. In fact, I want Google TV to get me closer to cutting the cord, but right now I am nowhere near it.
Fortunately, I bought my Logitech Revue recently for a measly hundred bucks, compared to the earlier price of $300, so I think I am getting my money’s worth with whatever I am able to watch, but Google is not coming up to its expectations, where Google TV is concerned. Why is the “Beta” sign not where it belongs most?
All said and done, as I figure out easier ways of getting things done on Google TV, and get used to the interface, and as more items become available in the Android marketplace, I am still looking forward to a great experience with Google TV.

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Guzaarish – 100 Gram Film

guzaarishSanjay Leela Bhansali’s Guzaarish is on Netflix, and I just watched it. I felt better having watched it at home because in a theatre I would have walked out feeling cheated. The movie does have its plus points and I will come to them, but one big plus was that it was mercifully less than 2 hours long.
Bhansali excels at showing opulence in his sets, and there is plenty of that in Guzaarish — limitlessly high ceilings and tall curtains. If you are looking for fantasy, if you are looking for great cinematography, if you are looking for opulent sets, this movie is for you. There are also some great performances, particularly the one by Hritik Roshan, who plays a quadriplegic named Ethan Mascarenhas. The theme (of euthanasia) is serious and thought-provoking, but has not been treated right. If you are looking for some realism in a movie like I usually do, then stay away from this one.
Instead of doing a full review of the movie, I will just quote from some reviews it has already got in the media, particularly the ones I agreed with, then I will list the things that irritated me personally.
On the Reuter’s website the reviewer calls Guzaarish slow death. The reviewer goes on to say,

Everything else, like Aishwarya Rai’s make-up, seems fake and loud, and puts you off. The emotions, the set design, the dialogues, Hritik Roshan’s beard are all out of this world, residing in some alien planet that only Bhansali inhabits.
I’m from Goa (where the film is set) and I can assure you, I don’t know of too many Goan women who wear Victorian skirts, have elaborate hairdos and bright lipstick, all the while nursing a paraplegic man. Actually, I don’t know if women anywhere do that.

Anupama Chopra says on her review on NDTV:

Sanjay Leela Bhansali has positioned himself as Hindi cinema’s poet of pain. His movies are operatic and highly melodramatic. But over the course of six films, the worlds Bhansali creates have become increasingly sealed off and removed from any known reality. So even though the characters in Guzaarish ostensibly live in Goa, the milieu isn’t one that you would recognise.
This fantasy would be effective if the writing was more organic and the emotions felt more authentic but Bhansali never gives us a chance to invest in these people.

Coincidentally, The Hindu reviewer Sudhish Kamath also calls Guzaarish “slow death” (there should be a copyright on public insults). This is what Kamath says about the movie:

We are talking about a glossy, surreal, picture-perfect set put together by four production designers, not one of them capable or smart enough to figure out that such a character who has been living out of a wheelchair for 14 years would probably need a disability ramp in the house, especially if the character prefers to stay under a leaky roof on the first floor.
Before you try to milk the audience for sympathy and manipulate a serious issue like disability for tears and melodrama, how about understanding the special needs of such a character to live with dignity?

And then, there is this awesome video review of the movie from, who else, NDTV-Hindu. Do watch:


Anyway, now that I have milked some well-published reviewers for their opinions, let me explain the holes I personally found in this story, which completely lacked credibility in my opinion:
1. The arguments made in the movie are childish. Except for the one scene where the sarkari lawyer is made to get into a box, the film’s makers have not thought of one convincing argument that would
justify the protagonist’s guzaarish (request) for euthanasia. Ethan is living a good life for a paraplegic. He can afford full time servants, a large house, owns a radio show, has a lovely lady taking care of him, can still teach and create magic, has a fully functional brain. This is much more than can be said of real life paraplegics. His desire for euthanasia suddenly comes from nowhere one fine day after 14 years, with no apparent and immediate reason. When he presents the argument on his radio show, even a group of paraplegics (the “quad squad”) vote “no” on his proposal. Then what arguments does he present that sway the public opinion in his favor? NONE! His ex-lover is the only one who speaks in his favor “because she loves him and understands how he feels.” This may make sense for one or two or six people who personally love him, but is not enough to create so much public support that there are people standing with placards outside his house when there is a court hearing there. No placards are shown against his position.
2. Regarding the magic (the protagonist’s profession), it is not clear if he is actually supposed to be performing magic or just trickery. Half of the movie has the viewer believing that he is actually performing magic (he can make it rain, teach magical spells), but then there is the scene of the sabotage/accident when it is shown that it is obviously the trickery. Then in the last scene he is able to pull a trick on his pupil (the Draupadi sari miracle) when neither his arms nor his legs are working. Was that magic or was that trickery? If he was that functional then why die?
3. Paradoxically, talking about euthanasia makes more sense when the person is not able to even make that decision. People who are in perpetual coma, are brain-dead, people who live like a vegetable, and so on, like the Terry Schiavo case, or the more recent and relevant Aruna Shanbaug case. People
who have just their limbs non-functional can do much better than die. Quadriplegics participate in paralympic games. Nobody makes that argument in the movie. I have personally seen paraplegics swim, and have seen them do much more on film. If you are only as disabled as Hritik Roshan is shown in the movie, such a wish to die would be termed as plain suicide. Thankfully the judge doesn’t allow it in the movie, but the arguments in favor or against the case could have been made more convincingly. After all, that was the point of the movie. Wasn’t it?
4. In the last scene, Sophia (Aishwarya) decides to kill Ethan (or “help him die”) but before that she “marries” him. It looks like this criminal agreement to kill Ethan is also made known to all friends because there is a farewell party for him — with the understanding that after the murder she is going to jail. Does not make a lot of sense. Does it?
5. Towards the end, so many elements are introduced in such a haphazard way that they make no sense except direct the story to its intended end. The way Aishwarya’s husband appears out of apparently nowhere, his sudden mistreatment of her, her divorce, then marriage, the leaking roof in an otherwise magnificent house over which the magician who can make rain has no control — all these elements make for good fantasy, but not much realism that is needed for such a serious topic. The healthy sixty-something-looking mother (Nafeesa Ali) has to not only not hear her son’s shouts for help, but suddenly die peacefully for no apparent reason, as if she was in her nineties.
6. The setting shown in the movie is Goa, but not much in the movie looks or sounds Indian. Even Omar’s name is pronounced in a foreign way — Omaar.
It doesn’t help the movie either that it is reportedly a copy of an award winning Spanish move “The Sea Inside“. To quote the Indian Express reviewer,

If the director were entirely honest, he would have had a line saying it was, at the very least, “inspired by”, but then who in Bollywood is, unless they are held at gun point by the studios the films are being stolen from?

Well, I can go on and on about this movie, but let me also acknowledge that lots of people have immensely liked the movie and they must have their own reasons. There are also some rave reviews online. I guess some people like fantasy, some like sci-fi, some like cartoons. I go for realism. Give me “Peepli Live” any day, even if I am the only person in the theater — which was the case when I watched the movie in a DC area theater last summer. Classy stuff? Not for me. I liked the “100 gram zindagi” song in the film though, but that also summed up the weight of the movie for me.

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Jaime Pressly is Engaged to Simran Singh

Jaime Pressly, image courtesy WikipediaAccording to this People magazine story updated a few hours ago, Jaime Pressly (best known as Joy on the NBC sitcom My Name Is Earl (she won an Emmy for it) has got engaged to Simran Singh, an entertainment lawyer.
The name Simran Singh seems to be of Indian origin (Sikh or Hindu), but at this time there is not enough information about Mr. Singh’s background, except that he is an entertainment lawyer.

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Led Zeppelin's mis-titled Kashmir

Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin/Imageshack.us“Kashmir” is one of the words I google quite frequently for news and other information, since this refers to my lost motherland. Everytime I google it, one or two links to English rock band Led Zeppelin’s song titled Kashmir always appear on the first page. Since I am not a great connoisseur of Western music and had never heard the song, I assumed the song must have something to do with my Kashmir, its beauty, or the conflict there. So, I set out to research the topic a little bit. Turns out the song has really nothing to do with Kashmir, unless you dig deep into the meaning and try to find a far-fetched link. The word “Kashmir” is mentioned only once in the song, that too in passing.

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An Indian Tribute to Bob Dylan

Caught this excellent story on NPR’s All Things Considered today. So, there is this group of Bob Dylan fans in Shillong who make have been making a point to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday every year for the last 37 years. Read and listen to the story here, and get the audio here. This was my driveway moment today, or parking lot moment, if you may.

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Anoop Back with a Bang

Anoop Desai was great this week.
My skeptical attitude in last week’s post about Anoop Desai’s re-entry into American Idol has proven wrong. He got mauled by the judges last week, but survived in audience voting. This week, he was back with a bang. This was country music week, and his song was liked well by judges and audience alike. Simon Cowell, the judge who is the hardest to please, said “you went from a zero to a hero”, and called his performance the best of the night. I’m sure he will survive tonight’s vote too.

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Anoop Desai is Back, but is he?

I have not been watching American Idol regularly, but seeing desi kid Anoop Desai on the show had sparked some interest in me. Then in last week’s episode, I turned the TV off when he was not one of the top twelve chosen. Turns out, moments later the judges had decided to make it a top-13 instead of a top-12 (video).

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How is Slumdog an Indian Movie?

Congratulations to the team of Slumdog Millionaire for winning eight Academy Awards. Well, with all the hype that was built leading up to the Oscars, I think everyone expected it. Good job, but I don’t understand why Anil Kapoor is jumping up and down. Yesterday, he was calling it an Indian movie, because “it was about the Indian people and had Indian people in it”. Unless Anil Kapoor was doing some behind-the-scenes planning and direction while the movie was being made, something that the movie watching world is not aware of, Anil Kapoor didn’t have a lot to do with the movie. His role in the movie, where he plays the host of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” and asks a few questions of the film’s protagonist, would have been described as a “guest appearance”, if he had such a role in a Hindi movie.

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Will the next Indian Idol be a Kashmiri?

BBC News: Indian Idol creates stirToday, an enthusiastic member of my community sent a link to this BBC news item around: Indian Idol creates Kashmir stir. Her accompanying message said, “This is great news!”. It made me happy too. Hundreds of Kashmiri kids had lined up for a chance to be the next Indian Idol. They had flocked to the Srinagar auditions of Sony TV’s music talent show, in spite of terrorist threats. Obviously Indian forces must have been standing guard.
Why did this news make us happy? Why does it make us Indians happy when Kashmiris want to be Indian idol?
Why does it irritate the separatist Kashmiri bloggers when Indians call Kashmiris their atoot ang (inalienable part)? They want India out of the valley. Due to the special status the state enjoys, and due to the movement of terror run by the militants, it is hard for outsiders, and some sons of the soil, to more than temporarily visit the valley. They cannot work, live and own property there, while Kashmiri Muslims can live, work, study and own property anywhere in India. Rightfully so, as Indian citizens they study in the best institutes of the country, hold coveted jobs in the central government, trade in Delhi, Kerala and Mumbai, and have winter homes in Jammu and Delhi. And they are the ones complaining. I read references to the word “hypocrisy” in most of these blogs. It seems it works only one way.
The BBC report by Kashmiri journalist Altaf Hussain also talks about militant threats against such programs, enforcing dress codes, etc. I wonder why these blogs don’t talk about independence from these threats.
Qazi TouqeerOn another talent hunt show, Fame Gurukul, a Srinagar kid Qazi Touqeer was voted by the Indian public to be the winner. I hope they find some good talent this time too. I grew up with a close KM friend singing melodious Kishore Kumar and Mohammad Rafi songs. He was so good, I wish we had such talent shows those days. Now he teaches in a higher secondary school in South Kashmir. Last weekend he called to tell me the good news that he has purchased land in Jammu for his winter home. Congratulations.

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Sanjay Patel and his Book of Hindu Deities

Listening to Sanjay Patel‘s interview on NPR’s The World last week was a pleasant experience. Sanjay seems to be one hell of a creative person. He works on cartoon characters for Pixar. Having worked on hit animation films like “Monsters, Inc.“, “Toy Story 2“, “A Bug’s Life“, he has now written a book of illustrations about Hindu gods and goddesses. You can listen to his interview with The World here, and see a glimpse of his illustrations here.
Sanjay Patel's Little Book of Hindu DietiesSanjay has a neat website promoting his book and his art, and it is interestingly called gheehappy.com. It has an interesting profile of him, and has the only picture I could find of him – apparently his childhood photo. His profile says he was born in England and raised in LA, “but has never been to India” — sounds kind of out of context on his profile though, unless from his name or his book people would assume he comes from India.
In the interview, Lisa Mullins asks Sanjay about how he came to learn about the gods, and she asks as an example, about Kaama (of all Gods). It is hard to explain to the westerner how Kaama may be irrelevant to a practising Hindu. Sanjay Patel says when he was a kid, his parents came to the US and bought a motel in California, like so many Gujarati immigrants do. They lived in the motel, with one room reserved for pooja. His father would force him to sit in the pooja room every evening while the family worshipped, making him miss his favorite cartoon shows on the TV.
Are the cartoon protesters listening?