Monday, February 23, 2009

Smell the Movie

One of the things that I keep thinking on and off is how technology that is very familiar to us will be in the future. Consider movies for instance. Conventional thinking suggests that movies of today have all the ingredients in terms of technology that one would want in a cinema experience. But there are certain critical elements that are missing. This is similar to asking cinema viewers in mid 20th century what more they wanted in a movie and they’d have looked askance and wondered what more they’d want. Then came along cinemascope and Technicolor. For a long time, that was the final frontier. There were moving (colour) pictures on screen, there was sound and music. Everything seemed to be great. Until somebody noticed that normal human vision is not 2-D, it’s 3-D.

Most often, technologies in films aim at imitating life as much as possible. The closer one gets to life, the better. Therefore, computer graphics and animation is judged by how close to everyday experiences or ‘realistic’ it is. We’ve had 3-D films for a while now, although it has never really taken off. Everything’s perfect, right? I was thinking so until I realized that one critical element of what a person experiences in life is missing in films – the sense of smell. Imagine smelling gunpowder when the guns go off in period films; imagine smelling roses and lilac while watching mushy romantic scenes; imagine smelling blood and rotting flesh in horror movies and thrillers. The sense of smell will add a new dimension to movies the way sound and later visual effects did. It will give a filmmaker new tools to convey his ideas to the viewer. Very soon, we will have an ‘olfactory effects team’ in addition to the sound and visual effects team in films.

I know that some research has been going into recreating a smell, but I don’t know how successful researchers have been in their efforts to record and play back smells the same way that they are able to do with sight and sound. Essentially there should be
a) a device which produces a chemical or physical change when exposed to the smell,
b) a way of preserving that change in a form that is portable or which can be encoded into specific formats (digital/magnetic, etc.)
c) a way in which these encoded information can be read later on.

Although it sounds uncomplicated enough, I’m sure it’s not that easy – otherwise we’d already have that technology. A quick and lazy search on Google threw up only a couple of useful/working links. Here and here.

Part of the difficulty is that while light and sound have been quantified in terms of frequencies, wavelengths and amplitudes in such a way that it can be reproduced exactly at another location without any loss of information, smell has not yet been completely quantified in terms of two or three variables with which we can completely define it. Once we identify say, the 10 different variables that define what smell is, all one needs to do is to combine x parts of variable 1 with y parts of variable 3 and z parts of variable 8 to generate the smell of the exquisite fish curry that the chef is making on his cookery show.

What made me think about this now? It’s seeing Jamal Malik run towards Amitabh Bachchan covered in shit. How much more effect would it have had if the stench reached the nostrils of people watching in room freshenered Inox?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Kal, Aaj aur Kal

I was tagged by Silverine a long long time ago. This is one of the good tags going around and I'm glad I finally got down to doing it.

The Tag

Two questions from the past, present and future. Answer them and then tag your friends from the blogosphere. Leave a comment on their blog letting them know they have been tagged and you are done.


Your oldest memories...

This is a tough one because of two reasons:

1. Although I have a lot of old memories, I can't place in chronological order my memories before I started school. Once I started school, I always had the girl who I had a crush on as a frame of reference.

2. Many of my early memories have been corrupted by old sepia-tinted photographs in family albums. In many cases, I don't know whether I actually remember those incidents or I just construct those events in my mind from the photos.

Having said that let me write about an incident that must have happened when I was somewhere between 2 and 3 years old which I remember very clearly.

At that time, my family was staying in our tharavad in Ernakulam. As with most Syrian Christian families, church was an integral part of the way of life and the achan in the local idavaka used to drop in fairly regularly. One day, as I woke from my forced afternoon siesta, I happened to notice that appa was in the middle of what looked like an interesting conversation with achan. One look at the two of them standing in the courtyard talking was enough to make me start bawling. To this day I don't know why I did that. I felt something wrong about the whole scene (probably a distrust of religion and men clad in fancy-dress which I felt at that small age?). All I know is that I wanted the conversation to stop immediately. So I kept bawling till appa came and lifted me off the mattress. I could see that appa was pretty irritated, especially because I was exceptionally well-behaved kid normally and never gave any trouble.

What were you doing ten years ago?

Feb 2009, I was in 9th standard. Feb-March was a good time of the year, in spite of the final exams lurking around the corner. School annual day function, lengthening days (which meant more time to play in the evenings), birthday - so many things to look forward to. 9th standard was probably the last year of my life when I didn't have to think about 'future' and 'career'. And Valentine's Day figured nowhere in my calender (some things never change).


Went turtle egg hunting through the night. Almost the whole of Chennai was there when we started. 8 kilometres and 152 eggs later, only the craziest people were left. Slept on Elliot's Beach after the walk. Highly recommended, because it will remove all romantic notions associated with sleeping under the open sky on the beach sands - it was so friggin' cold. The mean land breeze made it impossible to sleep and by 5 O'clock I was shivering. In Chennai. In spite of my windcheater.

If you build a time capsule what would it contain?

My laptop, old photographs and a letter to future generations from The Phlip Side.


I'm off for some serious trekking (not the picnicy kind). If I make it through, I'll try posting some pics.

What do you see yourself doing 14 years from now?

Lots of meditation, I guess. I'm going to need all the peace and tranquility to survive in an even madder and crazier world.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

How I Went to Goa

How did Philip manage to go to Goa when the rest of the team had to undergo The Review and that too barely 15 days after he got back from a 2 week vacation to Kerala?

a) He lied about the death of an imaginary uncle
b) He had the sweetest of bosses
c) His boss wanted to get some work done and getting rid of him was the only way to do it.
d) It was written

7pm. 38 hours to go for The Review. 3 hours left for me to catch my bus to Goa. I'm wondering - how did I get into this mess? It was never meant to be this messy. I'd planned the vacation to start a good 10 days after the review. But, as luck would have it, the review got postponed. Twice. Hence the mess.

The project team is tense in anticipation. 38 hours to go for the biggest review our project has had. The powerpoint presentations are done and we are brainstorming on what could go wrong during the review. Many disastrous scenarios are being contemplated (which only leads to further worry) and escape routes being finalized. My mind is in turmoil. I'm waiting for a lull in the discussion or a coffee break or a blackout - anything to get 2 minutes to 'pop the question' to Boss in private. How do I ask with so many of my teammates around?

If ever there was a wrong time to ask for a vacation in Goa, this was it. It meant ditching your team in its greatest hour of need.But not asking meant cancelling air tickets and hotel reservations. I had never been to Goa in my 24 years of existence, because of which I've had to endure much ridicule from friends who believed that you've never had a real vacation until you go to Goa. What if I don't get the opportunity to go to Goa again for a another couple of years? What if I never get to go to Goa as a bachelor?

7.15 pm. I've been carrying the burden of this question for the whole day. Now there seems to be no hope. What I couldn't do in 9 hours won't happen now. I sigh resignedly and message Badri and Mono to go ahead. I will not be able to make it.

They message me back - Dude, stop being an asshole and ask him. We are tired of waiting here. Remember we agreed to go to Goa only because you'd never been there. Otherwise we're all cancelling.

Oh shit. Now I have to carry the burden of having screwed my friends' plans too.

"Ok. I think we can wind up for today. Since most of the work is done, you guys are free to decide what to do tomorrow. Just be available on the phone to give some clarification if I require it," says Boss.

A relieved team mumbles an OK in unison as they reach for their bags to pack up.

"Philip, where are you planning to go tomorrow? Corporate or Tech Centre? I suggest you come to Corp tomorrow. We need to refine some cost and BOM slides".

*Gulp*. It is now or never.

"V, I think we need to have a chat about that," I reply.

"Oh. You want to take the day off tomorrow?"

"I think we need to have a really long chat." My heart is pounding in my chest.

"Hmm...why do I get the feeling that you want to bunk The Review and go home for 4 days?"

Damn. Bosses and their sixth sense.

"Actually, yes." I didn't want to correct him and tell him I was planning to go to Goa, not home. Wrong time to correct boss.

The whole team turns to me. My audacity has elicited emotions ranging from admiration to anger.

"OK. No problem. Since you are not actually presenting anything I think we can manage."

And that was it. I did it. It was so easy!

I run out of the conference room we're sitting. I high-five a couple of guys on the way. I call Badri while running and yell, "Dude, turns out we are going to Goa after all."

d) It was written.