In The Armchair

The Triplets of Belleville

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on September 26, 2008

It’s rare that I enjoy an animated film this much, but The Triplets of Belleville is a beautifully directed, drawn and animated film that really drew me in. It’s an odd story, about a very capable grandmother who trains her grandson for the Tour de France. The grandson is kidnapped, and the grandmother sets out to rescue him with their dog, meeting the weird triplets of Belleville along the way.

The art was one of the things I really liked about this movie. It isn’t just animated like a cartoon; each frame looks like real art. Another one of my favourite things was the dog’s personality: everything about it is very dog-like and, to one who knows dogs, recognizable.

Beautiful film, heartily recommended!

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PGF and TikZ

Posted in Computers by Armchair Guy on September 26, 2008

I guess I’m just completely out of touch, but there’s an excellent package that allows you to draw sophisticated graphics within LaTeX (using a graphics programming language) I hadn’t heard of till recently.

It’s called PGF, and the component you use in your LaTeX/TeX source code is called TikZ. You enter simple LaTeX-style commands to tell it what to draw, in an environment right in your (La)TeX code, and it does the job for you. The excellent user manual can be found here, including instructions for installing and a tutorial. (If you’re a Ubuntu user, of course, there’s already a package you can install with a few clicks.) Great examples can be found here. Wow! What a package.

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Brussels Sprouts with Garam Masala

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on September 23, 2008


I got this at Super-simple, super-quick, and super-healthy.


Brussels sprouts
Garam Masala
Oil/Non-stick cooking spray


Thaw brussels sprouts if frozen, otherwise cook in microwave until al dente. Halve the sprouts. In a shallow frying pan, heat oil or spray. Add sprouts, stir-fry on low heat until seared on the outside. Add salt and garam masala to taste. Stir-fry some more. Done!

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The Simoquin Prophecies

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on September 23, 2008

I got back to work from vacation, and as usual my reading speed has diminished considerably. There’s something about relaxed reading of escapist fantasy books like The Simoquin Prophecies that is posturally incompatible with intense work. Oh, well.

But my respect for Samit Basu has increased considerably. When I started reading the book, I commented that it didn’t pull me in as much as I’d hoped. I think that right at the beginning, Basu may have given off a slight “trying too hard” vibe. It may also be the fact that the book I read just before this one was Sea of Poppies, which might have increased expectations — an eating-a-sweet-just-before-tea kind of problem. But as I read on, I realized that Samit Basu, like Amitav Ghosh, is able to keep his book on an even keel. The fundamental nature of the story doesn’t change. It doesn’t sound enthusiastically written at places and listless at others. The humour stays up, and Basu comes up with hilarious gems at regular intervals. The situations in the book are often familiar, but usually engrossing. He keeps his prose interesting without sounding like a class 10 student trying to impress the examiner in the ICSE board exams.

Good job, Samit!

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Van Gogh

Posted in Armchair Ruminations by Armchair Guy on September 22, 2008


Van Gogh’s paintings Starry Night and Cafe Terrace at Night stir something deep. My interpretation (which van Gogh probably never intended) is that they are a contrast between the warm, familiar fold of civilization and the wild unkown mystery of the celestial sky. In Starry Night, it is as if the monumental forces lying in the hearts of suns and galaxies have descended onto the cozy hamlet of Saint-Rémy, which is getting ready to tuck in for the night, unaware and unconcerned about the fantastic forces at work in deep space.
The same sentiment is stirred by Cafe Terrace at Night: the warmth of familiar surroundings and human company contrasted to the unknowns in the surrounding dark streets, and even more, the unknowns up in the sky. I can’t decide what I want to be: a diner at the cafe or a predator lurking in the dark alleys, looking at the diners and waiting for one of them to leave that safe haven.

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Italian Herb Sandwich

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on September 21, 2008

Simple, quick, healthy, tasty.


1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 clove garlic, grated
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, preferably freshly ground
Coriander leaves, chopped fine
1 tomato, sliced into rounds
Bread (white tastes best, brown/multigrain is healthier)


In a frying pan, heat olive oil. Add half the basil and all of the oregano, sautee 20 seconds. Add garlic, sautee until it just starts to turn golden brown. Add onions, salt, sugar; sautee over low flame until onions are translucent. Add remaining basil, turn off heat, let cool 2-3 minutes. Add coriander leaves and pepper; mix well.

To assemble the sandwich, spread some of the onion mix on a slice, place several rounds of tomato on top of the onion mix, top off with another slice of bread. The sandwich can be grilled, toasted or eaten plain after this according to taste.

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Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Posted in Food by Armchair Guy on September 21, 2008

Simple, quick, not too unhealthy. This recipe is humble, but it tastes good!


One large potato, diced (1 cup)
One garlic clove, grated (1/2 to 2/3 teaspoon)
One tablespoon nonfat yogurt
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper, preferably freshly ground


Boil diced potato covered in microwave (or any other way) until well boiled. Add grated garlic, yogurt, salt and pepper and mix until potatoes are thoroughly mashed and a uniform consistency is obtained. Done!


Nonfat sour cream can be substituted for the yogurt.

Chili flakes and a variety of herbs (parsley, coriander, etc.) can be added for a variety of tastes.

The quantity of garlic can be varied to taste.

Adding a tablespoon or two of butter makes it taste better, but adds a lot of fat!


This recipe seems to be very sensitive to the amount of yogurt, garlic and pepper. One way to do it is to add too little, keep increasing in small increments, and stop as soon as you like the taste!

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Covers for Samit Basu’s Books

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on September 5, 2008

I saw this cover for the German version of one of Samit Basu’s GameWorld books:

Compare with the Indian version:

While the Indian version is nice, the German one is much more evocative and appealing (although the glowering eyes do diminish it a bit). The German version immediately makes me wonder what the story is about. Whose castle is that? What quest is that rider on? Why does s/he have a hood? The Indian one is just all right, I look at it and flip to the next page.

I wonder why Indian publishers are lackadaisical about cover publicity? Surely they know that people do judge a book by its cover? I wouldn’t buy the argument that the Indian cover is more appealing to Indians, because I’m pretty sure it’s not.

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The Simoquin Prophecies

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on September 5, 2008

Just started reading The Simoquin Prophecies, the first book of the GameWorld trilogy by Samit Basu. The dude is just 28 now, and according to Wikipedia was only 22 when The Simoquin Prophecies was released!

The first thing that struck me about this book is its tonal similarity to Terry Pratchett’s DiscWorld series. I got the feeling Basu set out to write an Indian version of the Fantasy-spoof.

So far, Basu seems to be doing a good job. The humour is good, the allusions are recognizable and cute, and the writing is natural. The storytelling: I’m not hooked yet, and I definitely don’t understand some of the superlative praise heaped on the book, but maybe I will in a few pages.

I’ll update once I read a little more.

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Wah, Ghosh!

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on September 3, 2008

I just finished Sea of Poppies by Amitav Ghosh. I have to say: Wah, maestro! This was a real zabberdust book. It puckrows a chuckeroo’s interest and really doesn’t let go. The only complaint is I have to wait a long time for the next two books in the series!

Heartily recommended to all Indian readers — non Indians too, but they might find it a bit more difficult to follow or identify with.

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Sea of Poppies

Posted in Books and Literature by Armchair Guy on September 1, 2008

sea_of_poppiesI’m really enjoying Amitav Ghosh’s Sea of Poppies. Ghosh is one of those writers who seems to write some very good books and some very pedestrian ones. Like I said before, his prose is prosaic, so to speak, and lacks the kind of flair achieved by Salman Rushdie and attempted by Arundhati Roy. It’s very correct, but I found it a bit too bland in The Glass Palace.


Sea of Poppies is a book that Just Works. You don’t notice the blandness of the prose because you are dazzled by the profusion of archaic and obscure yet deliciously recognizable words that Ghosh keeps weaving into the conversations and sentences in this book. This book is worth reading for the language alone.

One of the greatest things about Ghosh, and I noted this in my review of his book, The Hungry Tide, is his ability to let a story tell itself. He doesn’t try to force his opinions down the reader’s throat, something that some other authors do, sometimes quite directly through infodumps and at other times obtusely through conversations or events in their books. Ghosh tells the story with an even keel, and you can make your own judgements. This is true of Sea of Poppies.

Another thing I really appreciate about this book is it’s not targeted at Euramericans. A great many Indian authors, presumably worried about their bottom lines, write exactly what the fashionable parts of the West want to hear: exaggerated stories of caste conflict, language that’s carefully non-heathen and uses Western idioms instead of Indian ones. Ghosh eschews all that. Nothing against Euramerican-style literature, but it’s nice to see a more Indian flavour in a book. Although you might guess at the meanings of half the archaic words in the book without a knowledge of Hindi, those who do know Hindi can understand it better. This is a real Indian book.

And unlike some other authors, Ghosh doesn’t sugarcoat the problems the British created. In Sea of Poppies, Ghosh brings out the terrible privations that British Rule forced upon India. There are Brits who still persist in the belief that British Rule wasn’t a disaster for India, and reading this book would quickly disabuse them of such notions.

I’m halfway through the book. Let’s hope the rest of the book retains these qualities.

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