The C++ Standard Library

Rating: 4/4 (A gentle introduction and a must-have reference for all C++ programmers.)

One of the love-hate features of C++ is the standard library. A predominantly large part of the library is the Standard Template Library (STL), which consists of containers, iterators and algorithms. The C++ programmer combines these classes to write his application. Due to the size of the library, the number of classes and functions and their odd eccentricities, a good reference is needed to use it properly. Thankfully, the The C++ Standard Library (A Tutorial and Reference) by Nicolai M. Josuttis is up to the job. This is probably the C++ book which I have used the most in the past few years.

The containers, iterators and algorithms of the STL use template metaprogramming heavily. However, learning this is still quite an uphill task for most programmers. I love this book because it cleanly sidesteps that part of C++, while still being to introduce and provide a compendium of usage of the STL classes. The reader only needs to read and understand the introductory chapters. The rest of the book serves as a reference to lookup when he actually faces a task that needs a container or algorithm. Chapter 6 (Containers) and Chapter 9 (Algorithms) are what I refer to most frequently almost every day. There are very few books which deal with the C++ standard library, thankfully this one is very good! The C++ Standard Libary is a must-have reference for all C++ programmers.

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Phobia 2 (ห้าแพร่ง)

Rating: 2/4 (A decent compilation of horror shorts.)

Phobia 2 (ห้าแพร่ง) is a 2009 Thai horror movie that is a sequel to Phobia. Like the original, it is composed of many short movies, 5 in this case. In Novice, a boy is hidden away in a forest monastery to save him from his crime of killing a person on the road. During a ghost festival, he discovers that he will be made to pay for his karma by the forest ghosts. In Ward, a cocky teenager has to spend a night in a ward with a brain-dead person kept on life support in the next bed. Horror ensues when he discovers that his roommate’s soul is looking for a new body. In Backpackers, a Japanese teen couple backpacking through Thailand are beset by zombies. In Salvage, a car dealer who refurbishes wrecked cars from fatal accidents finds her son assailed by the ghosts of the accident victims. The final In The End is a story where a film crew is shooting the last scene of a horror movie. Hilarity ensues when the actress playing the ghost gets sick, dies in the hospital and comes back to finish her scene.

In recent years, Hollywood seems to have run dry on good horror ideas, while Asia has stepped in with fresh stories using its myriad cultures and scenarios. I have never been able to sit through a typical full-length Hollywood horror movie  anyway, where the focus has been mostly on gore and scares. Bollywood ventures like Darna Mana Hai and the Thai Phobia series have tackled this problem with innovative horror shorts. Phobia 2 is a pretty nice venture, but nowhere as innovative as Phobia was. I liked Novice for the way it mixed Buddhism and ghosts deep inside a forest. And it was also hard to not love In The End, which features the same comical cast from the awesome In The Middle in the original Phobia. This short is well written and questions all of the cliched horror move twists. Ward had potential, but the implementation loses it. Backpackers is like a Hollywood zombie-fest, which I have no interest in. Salvage too had potential, again lost in mediocre writing. All in all, Phobia 2 is a decent compilation of horror shorts.

.Net Book Zero

Rating: 4/4 (The perfect introductory C# book for C and C++ programmers!)

I am most comfortable with C and C++, though it is mostly a love-hate relationship. C# is a modern programming language for the .Net platform and I have wanted to try it for sometime. I looked around for some good books and found most C# books to be horribly written. I mean, anyone can teach the keywords of the language and syntax. What one wants from a book is a deeper introduction. I finally found my match in .Net Book Zero by Charles Petzold. Petzold is a technical author who is legendary for his Programming Windows series of books. .Net Book Zero is his book for C and C++ programmers who want to learn C# and .Net.

Call me old fashioned, but I love it when the author says “Close your Visual Studio kid! Let me show you how to write and compile a C# program at the command-line using the C# compiler (csc.exe). Now, let us disassemble the program using the IL Disassembler (ildasm.exe) and examine the IL code the compiler produced for our program.”

I used version 1.1 of this book, which is updated only up to C# 2.0. I did not mind this, so the book was perfect for my needs! Petzold quickly glosses over features which work the same in C# as in C and C++. Instead he focuses on features that are new or work in subtly different ways. I especially loved the depth with which value types (allocated on the stack) and reference types (allocated on the managed heap) are covered all throughout the book. It is this kind of writing that enables a C/C++ programmer to come through this 250+ page book with an in-depth knowledge of how the gears crank underneath C#. The one thing that is missing in this book is a good index. I cannot think of an introductory C# book that is better suited for the C/C++ audience. Highly recommended. Petzold made a mistake sharing the book for free 😉

The book has some spelling mistakes, I have compiled the errata here.

Manasaare (ಮನಸಾರೆ)

Rating: 3/4 (Manasaare is an intelligent and entertaining existentialist experiment from the minds of Yograj Bhat and Pawan Kumar.)

From the imaginative duo of writer Pawan Kumar and director Yograj Bhat comes the 2009 movie Manasaare (ಮನಸಾರೆ). In the movie, Manohar (Diganth) is an orphan who sees society as full of puppets living their life according to others’ expectations. People start calling him harebrained when he starts to speak his mind. Ironically for him, he is mistaken for a mentally unsound murderer and taken to a mental health institution named Kaamanabillu (Rainbow). His pleas that he is not insane are ignored and he makes several failed attempts to escape. He meets Devika (Aindrita Ray), a female patient and it is love at first sight. Devika is at the hospital due to repressed hatred of men caused by childhood atrocities by her father. Manohar tries to win her heart and escape from the institution with her.

Manasaare has such cool surreal and heretical moments that it is a wonder how it got funded and made into a commercial movie. Manasaare and Pancharangi clearly fall into the same basket, with Manasaare going much deeper into the introspection of who we are and how we live. Not surprisingly, the protagonist Manohar finds his worldview at home in a mental institution, rather than out in the real world where people find truth discomfiting. His roommates Raju Talikote and Dollar provide the perfect Yin for Manohar’s Yang. Talikote is mentally sound, but finds comfort living amongst people whose insanity have cures instead of living in a society whose insanity has no cure. Diganth and Raju Talikote have acted excellently. Pawan Kumar who plays the comically deranged Dollar is also the writer of the movie. (His experience of writing and creating Manasaare can be read here.) Aindrita Ray is a doll and her role requires very little talking. Mano Murthy has created some lilting tunes which benefit from some of the best lyrics writing by Jayant Kaikini. My favorites are the songs Ello Maleyaagideyindu (It has rained somewhere today) and Naa Naguva Modalene.

In the climax, Manohar returns back to society and is pushed to insanity when people mock him and label him insane. His mental dilemma is resolved in a well shot intelligent ending, one of the coolest I have seen in a long time. Manasaare sports an original story, but does have strong shades of Upendra’s A and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Thankfully, it is never takes itself too seriously, resulting in an entertaining romantic comedy. This is an intelligent experiment by Yograj Bhat and Pawan Kumar that should be watched.

Community (Season 1)

Rating: 3/4 (The second half of Season 1 produces a rainbow of characters and some clever parodies.)

Community is a new sitcom on NBC that, I guess, tries to capture some of the magic of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. The main characters are 4 guys and 3 females who form a Spanish study group at their community college. They are all post-20s losers of some sort, who are in the college for a second chance at life. Greendale College is however a bottom-rung place with low standards and staff with pitiable morals. The series derives it humour from being able to use both mature adult relationships and also the college-year growing-up scenarios, albeit with older people. Most of the episodes also pay subtle homage to classic TV or movie themes and characters.

Here is the warning about Community: the first half of Season 1 is downright un-watchable! These episodes are a serious letdown, with the comedy completely falling flat. The first few episodes are so incredibly non-humorous that it is a surprise that NBC allowed this series to survive for that long. But, magically by mid-season the characters start to get endearing and the laughs start rolling in. So much that by the last episode one starts to feel bad that the first year of college for the characters is already over! Some of the last few episodes are pure comedy gold, a total laugh riot! My favorite was Modern Warfare, where a paintball tournament at the college turns into a parody of action movies. The second half of the Season 1 of Community is a good stress-busting watch, especially for TV and movie fanatics.

Focus

Rating: 3/4 (If your daily life is being strung tight by too many distractions, Focus might be a handy guide to peek into.)

Focus is the latest book by Leo Babauta, famous for his Zen Habits blog. The book is an edited compilation of his writings at Zen Habits and Mnmlist on the subject of focus. This is the latest in the series of books that seem to recommend single-tasking in our distraction and gadget filled lives. The theme is quite akin to The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, which I read recently and which I feel is quite influential. Focus can be summed up by this Charles Dickens quote:

“He did each single thing as if he did nothing else.”

Focus is well organized, leading from the motivation, to recognizing the distractions, to practical ways to simplify life and finding focus. As you might guess, there is no magic bullet. The solution lies in recognizing the fact that with the finite time and attention we have, there is only so much we can achieve. So, why not throw the rest overboard and concentrate on what is attainable and brings us happiness? This is easier said than done in our consumerist culture that emphasizes ownership of objects and in this digital age where everyone expects one to be available and answerable 24/7 on the Internet. The book leads the reader gently through methods, rituals and habits that can help the process of attaining single-tasking and mindfulness.

If you already read the Zen Habits and Mnmlist blogs, there might be not much takeaway from this book. Though I must say, it is nice to read it all as one purposeful book. The book reads gently, the chapters are short and easy to read, think and apply. The book is freely available and it would not be surprising if it becomes quite popular. If you find your daily life being strung tight by too many distractions, Focus might be a handy book to peek into.

Male Barali Manju Irali (ಮಳೆ ಬರಲಿ ಮಂಜೂ ಇರಲಿ)

Rating: 1/4 (With nothing redeemable about it, Male Barali Manju Irali is a poor creation that should be avoided.)

Male Barali Manju Irali (ಮಳೆ ಬರಲಿ ಮಂಜೂ ಇರಲಿ) is a 2009 Kannada romantic drama written and directed by Vijayalakshmi Singh. The movie stars Parvathy Menon, Sreenagara Kitty and Naga Kiran in a romantic triangle. Parvathy returns to a mist filled estate of Madikeri to meet her dad on her vacation. Her dad works at the estate, whose owner has two sons Kitty and Kiran. Parvathy falls in love with the elder brother Kitty, while the younger brother Kiran falls in love with her. Kiran sacrifices his love for his brother, while an old lover of Kitty returns back to marry him leaving Parvathy in a dilemma.

The only watchable aspect of Male Barali Manju Irali is the beautiful rain and mist filled scenes of Coorg. The movie is all round disappointing. Dealing with a well worn story, Singh does not add anything to make the plot interesting. Choreography, editing and music, all are poor. Parvathy Menon is just as watchable as she was in Milana, and the two heroes give decent performances. Jai Jagadish, the real-life husband of Singh, is in the role of Parvathy’s dad. Singh makes a cameo appearance in the beginning of the movie, standing beside Parvathy at a busstop. With nothing redeemable about it, Male Barali Manju Irali is a poor creation that should be avoided.