Two Weeks Notice

Two Weeks Notice

Rating: 2/4 (Thin and barely watchable)

Two Weeks Notice stars Hugh Grant as Wade, a construction empire millionaire and Sandra Bullock as a lawyer with a flower-power hangover, who works for the welfare of the society. When arguing with Wade about the destruction of a community center, she ends up becoming the chief counsel for Wade. You know the drill after that. Hard boy softens up to gal! 😉 Quite late into the movie after a bout of jealousy, they realize that they love each other. And we all know how it ends after that.

Two Weeks Notice is pretty on story, even for a romantic movie! Sandra Bullock is back to being all goody-goody and innocent. Hugh Grant with his British accent is a relief. Barely watchable.

Deception Point

Deception Point

Rating: 3/4 (Engaging read)

NASA has discovered a meteorite in an Arctic glacier which has fossils of extraterrestrial life forms! That is the premise of the book Deception Point, the third book by Dan Brown. The protagonists in the story are Rachel, an intelligence expert for the NRO and Tolland, an oceanographer. Rachel’s dad is a Presidential candidate who is hellbent on winning the Presidency by bringing to light the recent inefficiencies and failures of NASA. Rachel is requested to visit the Arctic to confirm the details about the meteorite. Could such extraterrestrial lifeforms have formed the origin of life on Earth? What Rachel discovers there casts a big doubt on all this.

The book is a good read. It is far better than Brown’s Digital Fortress. Much like his other books, though the story might be quite lame, Brown keeps throwing interesting tidbits along the way that keeps the reader quite engaged.

Runaway Jury

Runaway Jury

Rating: 3/4 (Full of thrills and twists, a good watch)

Based on a John Grisham novel by the same name, Runaway Jury is a movie based on a legal case. A stockbroker has been shot dead by a disgruntled employee. His widow sues the gun company for selling firearms. The gun company brings in their expert jury consultant Gene Hackman. Fighting for the widow is Dustin Hoffman, who not only wants to win this case, but also use this as a precedent for all gun cases in the country. The gun companies have never lost a case thanks to the Second Amendment of the US Constitution. The stage is set for the trial of the century!

The surprise element is an innocent looking jury member John Cusack. He is a videogame salesman and turns out to be a trickster. He and his accomplice blackmail both the sides for several million dollars to swing the jury to their side. Who pays up? Who wins the case?

I am a sucker for movies in a legal setting and this one was no exception. Good movie with lots of thrilling moments and the trademark John Grisham twist-in-the-tale. Well worth watching.

Digital Fortress

Digital Fortress

Rating: 3/4 (Pretty decent yarn)

I read the novel Digital Fortress over the rainy weekend. This is Dan Brown’s first fictional work. The story involves the ultra secret NSA and its cryptographic department. The NSA has built a computer with 3 million processors named TRANSLTR which can crack any ciphertext using brute force. But, it is one day challenged with a ciphertext that it cannot crack. The creator of the new encryption algorithm named Digital Fortress threatens to go public with this algorithm if the NSA does not reveal to the world that it has been snooping on the world’s information using TRANSLTR. Wait, there is more. There is a chance that some of USA’s biggest secrets will be revealed to the world.

Compared to the popular The Da Vinci Code, Digital Fortress is amateurish, especially the first half of the novel. The main protagonist is a female cryptographer who is in love and has a fabulous figure to boot! (I am not saying I have seen her, Dan Brown describes her like that. 😉 ) The book rests on cryptography, so the author tries to explain all the crypto jargon in layman terms. This read as quite funny to me in most of the cases. In parts of the book the EFF and the right to information also show up. Thankfully, by the the time I reached the second half, the book became a nail-biting page-turner with Brown throwing up twist after twist. Quite an enjoyable read.

War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds

Rating: 2/4 (Disappointing, especially coming from Spielberg)

Starring Tom Cruise and Dakota Fanning, War of the Worlds is loosely based on the novel of the same name by H. G. Wells. Tom Cruise plays Ray, a crane operator who is left in charge of his daughter Rachel (Dakota) and his teenage son for a weekend by his long estranged wife. Strange things start happening near his place that weekend. Earth is struck my EMPs and there is lots of lightning. Huge tripods break out of the earth and start destroying people with their heat rays. We learn that they are aliens who are now terminating humans.

With the screaming Rachel calling on his attention every minute, Ray takes charge and drives her and his son over to Boston. On the way they stopover at his wife’s place which is now empty. They spend a terror filled night only to be greeted by more destruction by the tripods. A 747 has crashed in their frontyard. The destruction of the tripods and Ray running away from them continues on and on forever. During this time, we learn that the aliens are using the blood of humans to spread their red weed! In the end, all bodes well and the aliens go weak and die. They are killed by microorganisms, the same germs for which we have gained immunity in the process of evolution over millions of years.

I guess Spielberg did not have much freedom with an old novel like this and also since it has been adapted so many times on TV and radio. He seems to be evoking feelings of 9/11 in this movie by putting Ray into save-the-family situations. Spielberg shines in these family and emotions department, but other than that this movie is disappointing. Barely worth a watch for Spielberg fans.

Silicon Sky

Silicon Sky

Rating: 3/4 (Good read)

Silicon Sky authored by Gary Dorsey is a non-fiction book that follows the creation of the Orbcomm Low Earth Orbit (LEO) messaging satellite. The author stayed with the satellite team for 4 years from its inception to launch.

By 1991, David Thompson, CEO of Orbital Sciences Corporation had tasted success with his startup company’s Pegasus launch vehicles for commercial satellite launches. The company now aimed for a new frontier: a low cost satellite messaging system. They planned a constellation of 24 cheap LEO satellites named Orbcomm for this. During this period, competition is hotting up with Motorola raising literally billions of dollars for its mega 66 satellite constellation named Iridium.

The book follows the day-to-day travails of the Orbcomm team, consisting of mostly fresh graduates from university as they try to build the world’s first commercial messaging satellite. The project was planned to be completed in just 1.5 years, but drags on for a full 3 years. During this period, the team is pushed to the extreme by faulty parts, changing requirements and increasing weight of the hardware. Some of the parts that they fashion for the satellite turn out to be ingenious hardware and software hacks necessitated by the failings of the commercial parts at that time.

In the climactic chapter of the book, even after 2 initial satellite launches in April 1994, they fail to respond to the earth station. The team works with almost no sleep for 2 months before they find the problem and fix it, thus bringing back Orbital from the brink of economic collapse. The company later launches all its planned satellites in the constellation. OTOH their competitor Motorola is heavily delayed and even though it finally launches its satellites, it goes bankrupt on its Iridium satellite phone system, not realizing the emerging potential of GSM global roaming agreements.

Gary Dorsey stays so close to the Orbcomm team that sometimes it becomes unbelievable that the book is not fiction. The workings of the management and engineers are covered in microscopic detail. However, the book is boring in some parts since the writing is not interesting. Also, there are just too many team members who are followed up in detail and it gets hard remembering who does what when they all come together. This is a good read.

Trivia: OSX is the name of the custom operating system running inside the Orbcomm satellites.