Hobbit_The_Battle_of_the_Five_Armies

The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

For the past couple of years I was waiting to see how Peter Jackson treated The Hobbit. His Lord of the Rings trilogy was a treat to watch, and although many plots of the book were left out, the trilogy remains one of my favorite.

The Hobbit on the other hand is much smaller, and uses the lore already built around Middle Earth. This was why, watching the movie was an entirely new experience for me. Take the Game of Thrones series, where the episodes match verbatim scenes in the books … the Hobbit’s treatment adds an interesting angle to the way Peter Jackson has unfolded the story for all of us.

Warning: If you have not watched the movie yet, stop reading, this is a SPOILER alert. I generally do not reveal plots, however I make an exception in this case … there are multiple aspects within the movie which I wanted to rant and rave about :-)

The Dragonslayer

Bard the Dragonslayer
Bard the Dragonslayer

The movie starts with the show off between Bard and Smaug. Surprisingly, this part of the movie I think could have done better. There is too much chaos to start off, and suddenly amidst that chaos, and there are scenes where a more human aspect could have been showcased viz., the father and son v/s the dragon scene.

The audience however is treated to some great visuals on the way, and that’s where Jackson is right on the money. No one is going to remember how far the story has deviated from the plot, as long as its done well with some pretty FX thrown in.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the movie!

The movie is made for an audience which may or may not have read the book. It does not assume that the audience has read the book. This is one of the reasons why I liked the movie, it does not alienate the readers nor does it keep the non-readers clueless about the more nuanced sub-plots within the movie (the scene between Galadriel, Elrond, Gandalf battling the ring wraiths for instance).

The Epic Battle

The Dragon is slain and that starts the movie for us. Remember, the mountain contains a hoard of gold, and everybody was afraid of approaching the mountain because of the Smaug. Now with him dispatched, everybody wants a piece of that hoard.

Thorin closes all access to the Lonely Mountain and backs down on his own words. This leads to an alliance between the army of Men (led by Bard) and the army of Elves (led by Thranduil). The allied forces come to a stand off on the gates of Erebor.

Elvish Army Standoff
Elvish Army Standoff

This is the point where the third army is introduced in the mix, the Dwarves have called upon their cousins from the Iron mountains. We see Dain the Dwarf, the cousin of Thorin come to the aid of the line of Durin.

Dain the Dwarf
Dain the Dwarf

Meanwhile as Gandalf and Bilbo realize in shock that instead of fighting the enemy, the Dwarves, Men and Elves are going to fight each other. This with Thorin refusing to listen to any counsel.

This is the point where Azog chooses to attack the three armies with his massive army from two sides, one from the south and the other from the north.

The Orcs of Gundabad
The Orcs of Gundabad

What happens next is an epic battle that has been well shot. Unfortunately to keep the movie within normal range, a lot of the scenes are cut from the theatre reels (the dwarven wagon race on ice v/s wargs is completely removed).

The fifth army (in case you are wondering this), happens to be the army of Eagles that rush in to save the day.

The sub-plots and the deviations

The character Tauriel is not part of the book. She has been created for the sole purpose of adding romance to the movie series. Evangeline Lilly has been cast in this role, and she plays the Elf Captain role very well.

Tauriel
Tauriel

Her relationship with the Dwarf Kili and the Elf Legolas is slowly unfolded for the viewers. It’s a story that’s not overly stressed upon (in the middle of the battle), but it’s still present nonetheless.

Unfortunately, this romance is but a tragic one, with Tauriel crying over Kili’s dead body. A quote from the movie that kind of sums up the love that Tauriel had for Kili is –

If this is love, I don’t want it. Take it away, please! Why does it hurt so much?

There is an untold story there perhaps, which ensures that unlike all goody goody movies where all loose ends come together in the end, we have more subplots opening up.

That also lays foundation for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and this movie does pay a heavy homage to it’s legacy. When Thranduil advises Legolas to seek out Strider, we all know who this great man is

Go to the North. There is a member of the Dunedain you should meet and stay with. His father was a good man, I have hope he will be a great one.

There of course, remains on sub-plot to be discussed, and that is the exact relationship between Galadriel and Gandalf.

Galadriel and Gandalf
Galadriel and Gandalf

There are multiple scenes in this trilogy that make the viewer think that there is a deeper relationship between these two. In the LOTR series (as well as the Hobbit series), there are multiple times where Galadriel has sent aid to Gandalf. The skirmish with the ring wraiths also shows that Galadriel is one of the most powerful people on Middle Earth and cares for Gandalf.

However, the literature on this only indicates a friendship between these two and nothing else!

Finally, it’s a Home that we seek

Richard Armitage has played Thorin beautifully. The way he stubbornly holes up within the mountain, refusing to listen to rhyme, reason, honour and friends is great.

Richard Armitage as Thorin
Richard Armitage as Thorin

I liked his parting words to Bilbo …

Farewell, Master Burglar. Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world.

There is immense wisdom in those words. It also draws onto the fact that the dwarves took this quest just to reclaim their home, Erebor. It’s an epic written on wanting to return back to one’s roots.

All in all, a great movie to watch. Not just for the FX but also for the wisdom in the words, and the lore of Middle Earth.

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Why to use GOSF Coupons

Great Online Shopping Festival is an exciting event; it is a Mecca for online shopping lovers. The GOSF 2014 is scheduled to start from 10th and better than the previous two edition. If you have been waiting to go on a shopping spree, wait till the festival begins and use the GOSF coupons for shopping. The coupons are a great way to save money. Some of the best uses of these coupons are discussed below:

One of the major reasons why most people use online shopping coupons is to try a new product without the risk of losing their money. If you have been apprehensive about buying a product for the fear of the product being undesirable, with great online shopping festival just around the corner you can take a brave decision to buy the product at a discounted rate using the GOSF coupons. For instance, if you want to try using a new dish washer, you can use the promotional coupons and buy it without spending too much money.

Groceries are essential for everyone. If you buy your groceries online, you can use the coupons to get free goods. For example you can get free toiletry items by using the coupons with a sale offer by a particular brand or e-store. Additionally, with coupons you can manage to buy more food items yet stay within your budget. Apart from the discounts and offers on the canned products and personal care items, you can also find offers that can be used at clothing stores and restaurants. This will not only allow you to treat your loved ones but also save money.

Luxury goods or branded products are generally expensive and is not affordable for all. If you want to a buy branded shoes, bags or clothing, you can use the coupons to afford them. The coupons basically reduce the cost of the product and give you the liberty and joy of purchasing goods that you want to buy but couldn’t afford otherwise.

Initially, the coupons were available on the coupon booklets and local newspapers but today in the digital age, you can easily find the coupons you want online. There are several dedicated coupon websites, social media and mobile platforms. The brands and e-commerce website that are participating in the GOSF 2014 are offering their shopping coupons on their website; you simply have to keep your eyes open to find the coupon you want.

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Schedule

Maker’s schedule v/s Manager’s schedule

At 13 Llama Studio, we are a young and energetic team who works on multiple ideas at the same time. We are makers … people who tinker with code, libraries and see if we can put all of them together and create a beautiful kaleidoscope of an experience for our audience.

The Maker’s schedule

Designing, Development and any activity which involves creation for that matter is a thoroughly rewarding experience. However, it also puts you in a state of trance … a trance wherein you do not want to be disturbed. Not because you want to be rude and unresponsive, but because when you are in that state, you literally are building a castle in the sky.

This castle can quickly come tumbling down like a pack of cards if you were to be disturbed. This scene from the movie Social Network sums up how I feel when I get disturbed when I am wired in.

The maker’s schedule is not full of deadlines, it’s full of possibilities and experiments. The maker is someone who explores multiple options, plays with different things and creates something truly remarkable.

We do encourage makers, however, as a services firm, we do have deadlines. Which is why some of us have to shift modes from Makers to Managers.

The Manager’s schedule

In a year’s time we take on 20 or more challenging projects and deliver them (mostly on time and under budget :)). This requires constant updates with the business team, setting up meetings and achieving deadlines. This is where makers need to become managers and start actively managing the creation process.

At times it becomes really difficult to make this shift. A manager lives by the hour and generally has multiple tasks setup in a day. If an hour gets wasted, the other hours in the day can make up for that wastage. A maker on the other hand has few tasks in a day, but needs longer chunks in the day without being disturbed.

The shift

A lot of the work that we do is done in the wee hours of the night. This is not because we are suffering from insomnia or we love burning the midnight oil. This is because it is during these hours when we are not disturbed. It’s these hours (and the early mornings) that I try and schedule my most difficult tasks.

People who have worked in start-ups would agree with me when I say that most of the day is usually spent in discussing with the rest of the team as to what they have to do. This is the shift. The manager works during the day, the maker works during the night. It does wreck havoc with personal life, which is why most makers end up hiring managers as they grow.

The purpose of setting 13 Llama Studio was to have a team of makers ship awesome products. As an organization which is slightly older than a year, we are becoming more discerning with the people we want to work with (both employees and customers). However as we grow and scale up, we are going to require full time makers and full time managers.

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apps

Rise of the App Economy

As a technical architect and a start-up enthusiast, part of my work is consulting organizations on how to go about implementing and monetizing their ideas. The past decade’s experience of working in this field, as well as having successfully built the product and development teams of two start-ups (which secured VC fundings) ensures that a lot of people are willing to share their ideas so that I can advise them on the implementation.

Each year has its set of trends. These trends become apparent when people read about them in TechCrunch / Mashable and then integrate them somehow in their plans. In 2014, Kleiner Perkins’ analyst, Mary Meeker announced that the Education and Healthcare industries are the ones to watch out for. A lot of individuals started thinking and re-shaping their ideas along those lines. Similarly, since 2013, the famous analyst has been saying that mobile Apps are going to dominate the way consumers are going to engage with the brand.

I am seeing more start-ups gravitate towards this concept every year. Everybody who has a product, wants to also have their apps in the app stores (both Apple’s and Google’s). Back in 2000, when the DotCom Boom was apparent, everybody wanted to have their own site. Currently, we are definitely seeing the App Boom, where not only do entrepreneurs want to have their apps, but also individual celebrities are launching their own apps.

App Development can be a costly affair, with native apps costing as high as 2000 to 3000 USD to develop for the most basic apps. Add multiple platforms (iOS, Android, Win8) to the mix and the development costs surge.

This is where app template marketplaces like this website help tremendously. The core functionality is already in place, what has to be created is the creatives and voila, a custom app is read! Not only is this approach a faster method, but also it is extremely profitable. With the app economy maturing, we are seeing retail consumers using their handheld devices more than television sets!

This means that the media consumption is changing, thus an app is slowly eating away at TV’s timeshare. With tablets growing at 80% Year on Year, I’d say that both mobiles and tablets are here to stay, and with them a horde of enterpreneurs, developers and investors who would be happily launching multiple apps!

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Half_Girlfriend

Half Girlfriend

On a lazy Saturday afternoon, during the Diwali weekend, I saw this book lying unread on our bookshelf. Chetan Bhagat is an author who did huge waves with the launch of his first book, however book after book have been thrashed. There is something about CB and numbers.

Half Girlfriend

There is a lot of criticism floating around for Chetan Bhagat. I think part of it is well deserved as well! However, you cannot deny the genius of the guy.

In this book, he tells the story of how a Prince from Bihar who albeit cannot speak a single sentence of English gets admitted into St. Stephen’s College in Delhi and how he falls in love with a girl from an upper class family.

There are other ingredients added to the masala as well, about how our protagonist strives to learn English and earn a living for his family (and his village). The great divide brought on by language is interesting … this is the point where the author’s genius shows. At one point in the story, the heroine of the novel suggests reading Chetan Bhagat’s novels as a way of improving English!

Subliminal messaging  Product Placement at it’s best. Add to it assurance to the reader and correctly identifying the target audience. Clearly these books are not targeted towards me and you too!!

This is why, you cannot really blame CB for the book. If you don’t like it, move on, they were not for you anyway!

I liked the book, it’s a light read where you do not have to think, you just keep flipping pages and enjoy the mental torture our hero faces during the course of this book.

Epilogue

Whatever we might want to say about CB.

The elitists will hate him, the journalists will herald him as the new educator of the country and the script writers will thank him, but we can never deny the fact that –

Deti hain to de, varna kat le

has gone down in the echelons of literature as Chetan Bhagat’s tribute to Indian romance.

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Rackspace: The Case of Core Values

In the last days of September 2014, Rackspace customers were faced with multiple issues regarding service uptime, security concerns and network outages. The worst hit were the ones who were using Rackspace’s Chicago datacenter.

I happened to be one of those customers. This is my story.

Rackspace: A beacon of hope for all things hosting

Let me begin by saying that I love Rackspace. I salute the kind of service they provide, I appreciate the pricing that they charge. I even admire some of their key people.

I always hold Rackspace above the other mortal hosting firms … why .. well because they are fanatical about their support. So much so that it’s part of the core values at Rackspace.

This singular point is why I hold them above the others.

In India, where anyone with a global ip decides to have their own hosting and start providing this as a service, the quality of hosting is a major issue. A lot of the times, as a techie I have found to my own chagrin that the inhouse team of the hosting provider is completely clueless about hosting, networking and security.  Add to it the prohibitive costs that these providers charge … that puts them not only at par with Amazon or Rackspace, but also at times much higher than them.

The outage

As a result, I almost always promote Rackspace as the go to hosting provider for all of the people I work with. What this means is that I am referring their services not because I am an affiliate (no I am not), but because I truly believe in them and their ability to deliver great uptimes. However, this belief stands shattered.

In the last days of September, there was a massive outage (almost lasting 2 days) with all Rackspace servers. Whereas, 13 Llama’s server did not face major issues and it was up and running most of the times, some of our main clients did!

My first reaction was that there might be an issue with the webserver settings. So I promptly logged into the server and lo, I could not even reach the server much less tweak apache settings. Clearly, this was a network issue due to some problem. I tried catching the chat executive on Rackspace’s site. The chappie tried his best, however after 20 minutes it was clear that he had absolutely no idea what the problem was … or that he was not willing to acknowledge that there was a problem with the datacenter’s network.

I raised a ticket, after a couple of hours of waiting, there was an update and the support team acknowledged the network issue. They also suggested a fix, however that fix was not working.

Things get ugly

After trying different approaches, the support executive say that I will have to upgrade my membership and purchase a managed services slab so that the person can take a look at my server. I would have done this had there been any issue with the server. However, I had not made any changes to the server due to which this outage would have been caused.

This is where I start losing patience.

  1. I am being kept in the dark of the actual problem at hand
  2. The server changes / outage was due to some security upgrade that they are doing, and due to this I have to pay them more to solve a problem that they have created
  3. My client’s website is still down

I give up on Rackspace support and try solving this on my own.

Simple Solution

In the end, what came to my rescue is the cloud!

I made a back-up image of the server in question and spun a new server with the same configuration and that image. Within 10 minutes, a new server was up and running. I updated the nameserver records and that’s that.

The problem was solved for me. Rackspace, however had major problems.

The Apology

I was angry at Rackspace’s support. However, this heartfelt apology from Taylor Rhodes drove me to reply to his email … inspite of knowing that most likely this email was sent as a mass email (an excerpt is below).

Those of you who are longtime Rackspace customers know that we have a strong record of open, timely communication with you. We reach out to you whenever there’s an issue.  We answer the phone whenever you call. We do everything we can to find a solution.  This past weekend, our engineers worked tirelessly with customers and partners to remediate the Xen vulnerability.

Such an email warrants a reply!

The catharsis

When an organization of the caliber of Rackspace (there is no denying their ability and scale) mucks-up, that is when I question things. Here’s an excerpt of the email that I replied to the mass email (I was not expecting a reply).

I don’t want to complain about my individual problems. I am sure your team has had thousands of those. I just want to point out to you that one of the core values with which I look up towards Rackspace was “Fanatical Support”. I believe that you have failed at maintaining this core value.

Within a week, I received a personal reply from Taylor Rhodes and it was addressed by one of the management members in his APAC team. This is great response.

What is broken may not be fixed

However …

What I wanted addressed was not my server issue. I sorted that out myself, thank you.

What I wanted addressed is how does a large organization manage to adhere to its core values? In India, I see a lot of large firms (even the Fortune 500 ones) who tout high values, however, how many of them manage to uphold them when engaging with their customers?

With regards to this, I was looking at Rackspace in high esteem … they had (until now) managed to be awesome in support. What changed then … yes, the crisis they were facing was a lot, and their support team would have been facing several angry customers. I grant them that. There is no elegant solution to this.

However, how do you intrinsify a core value? At what point in time do you do a reality check and say …

Hey, are our core values being upheld?

That’s a difficult question to answer. Personally, if you ask me, I have yet to brainstorm the core values of my even own organization!! However, the real question that I would ask myself or anyone who has put out their core values is … to what extent are you going to go to uphold those?

Would 1 customer complaining out of 200,000 be neglected (as it’s an extremely negligible sample size)? Or would the 200,000 complaining customers be a big enough number to take necessary action.

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