Chasing the local Chai

As a long time fan and aficionado of coffee, I have tried to find all the information I can get about it. Of the many trivia I have gathered so far, the Turkish way of preparing coffee always had its special place in my mind. It was the Turks who said –“Coffee should be as black as hell, as strong as death, and as sweet as love”. The Turkish way of preparing coffee involves putting very fine ground coffee and water in an cezve, and bringing it close to boiling twice or thrice. More info here. I thought it to be a unique process which imparts a very different flavor to the drink.

What broke my perception of uniqueness about Turkish coffee was the fact that I saw a street vendor prepare the local Indian tea – chai (In places near Mumbai, half a cup of chai is also called cutting) outside my office. He had just started when my colleagues and I strolled up to him. During our typical office gossip, I noticed him pour milk and tea leaves (the commonly found, low-cost variety) in a saucepan and heat it three times to a near boil. He removed the saucepan just as the boiling started and replaced it back in less than ten seconds, and served us only after doing it thrice. I interrupted him quite abruptly, my curiosity having taken the best over me. He explained that this way of preparation gave the chai its unique flavor.

Then it hit me like a ton of bricks! That is the reason many affluent people are addicted to this low-cost, common man’s drink. It scores over the dip tea or other similar available beverages not just because of its cost, but the flavor imparted by this unique preparation style which has been perfected by almost all street vendors across India. That is also the reason that chai made at home lacks a certain flavor found in the local street shop.

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Game Review – Tomb Raider

This reboot of the very famous Lara Croft – Tomb Raider series was something I was looking forward to play. The character is no longer a scantily clad hottie with loads of oomph, but a meaningful and more likeable character in many ways.

 Premise –

 A stealth-based first person shooter. Your character is marooned on an island where previous survivors and a mystical force don’t allow you to leave. This game shows the growth of Lara Croft into a survivor.

The Best Bits –

  • An open and interactive environment made map exploration actually enjoyable.
  • The gradual but palpable change in the protagonist, who goes from “Please. Why are you doing this?” to “That’s right, run. I am coming for you.” over the course of the game.
  • The survivor instinct is extremely helpful in navigation, which otherwise can be frustrating if you get stuck.
  • The point where Lara had to cauterize her wounds in the helicopter and the fight that followed.
  • The final scene where she dual-wields the pistols in the traditional Lara Croft way.

What could have been better –

  • Your character gets so much experience, that you have the ability to get more perks than the total perks available. Was this not calculated in the alpha phase?
  • The mini-puzzles of the secret tombs and wall climbs near the climax remind you strongly of Prince of Persia-Warrior Within, but fail to come even in the horizon of its complexity or fun.

My takeaway  –

Another definite recommend.  This game also sets a good premise for future games in the franchise which I look forward to. 8/10.

Game Review – Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Human Revolution is a long awaited prequel to the critically acclaimed Deus Ex, this is a worthy part of the series and definitely surpasses its previous games.

 Premise –

A stealth-based First Person Shooter based in a futuristic, technologically advanced world. Your character is surgically modified for extreme performance and caught between two powerful powerhouses.

The Best Bits –

  • The social enhancer perk gives you significant power to alter the outcomes of several scenarios by just talking. Hell, I wish I had that in real life!
  • The gameplay lets you choose your style from complete stealth to complete violence. It is possible to complete the game without killing anyone except in the boss fights.
  • Your character is vulnerable to bullets and can die almost immediately if caught in cross-fire. This is good because it makes it realistic at all playing levels – easy or hard.
  • A reasonably good, if not outstanding, storyline.
  • The stealth mechanism is outstanding.

 What could have been better –

  • The dark environment throughout the game makes you wonder at times if the developers forgot that the sun exists.
  • Even if you opt for a stealth based approach, there is no way around the bosses. You have to fight them.

 My takeaway  –

 It’s a definite wow.  It is a definite benchmark setter for upcoming stealth based games. 9/10.

Game Review – Companies of Heroes 2

CoH2 is a long awaited sequence to the universally acclaimed Company of Heroes. It tried to combine the good points of the original game and better graphics with the lesser romanticized saga of the Second World War.

Premise –

A World War II themed real-time strategy game. It features the struggle on the Eastern Front.

The Best Bits –

  • True sight system is new and I hope similar systems are used in any upcoming strategy games.
  • The focus on the Soviets in WWII is a welcome change from the usual, done-to-death western front.
  • The sound effects give a feel of good research being done on the aural part.

What could have been better –

  • The thought to inculcate the best bits from the original game into this game essentially ended up making CoH2 more like a big DLC with slightly improved graphics.
  • The overall visual effects achieved do not feel worth the computer resources needed to play at a reasonable graphic setting.
  • The story and the characters are a big letdown.

My takeaway –

For people who have played and loved the original game, this is not how you want to see a sequel. If you are new to the series, you may give it a try. 5/10.

Game Review – Alan Wake

I have been an avid gamer since well, forever. I have put in enough game-hours to make a good judgment about any game and thought I could jot down my views on some of the games I have played. That being said, I will try to make this concise since there are many detailed walkthroughs, tips and tricks available on the net. We begin with Alan Wake.

Premise

A psychological horror first person shooter. Preternatural elements are involved and you play the titular character, who comes to a seemingly idyllic town.

The Best Bits

  • The story and narration mix – An above average story coupled with good narration makes a compelling reason to play. The ending also differed from what I expected.
  • Fantastic music – The songs taken for the game make a fabulous collection, my favorite being ‘The Poet and the Muse’ and ‘Haunted’. I can listen to the former on a loop for hours.
  • The fact that light is used as an actual weapon is a novel idea.
  • The scene where you fight on an old rock concert stage. ‘Children of the Elder Gods’ blasting in the background and you whaling your opponents for a change.
  • The TV show in a dream sequence utilized a video of the actual people on which the characters were modeled.

What could have been better –

  • The DLCs were a comparative let down. After such a good story, it seems the effort put in them was low.
  • The collectibles did not impact the gameplay in anyway, so going after them just to reach a game achievement didn’t seem worthwhile at times.

My takeaway –

A definite recommend. I loved playing it and was genuinely scared at times. 8.5/10.

Fine Wine

I remember a friend describing me earlier as one having a reasonably developed palate. So when I was fussing over the wine at a restaurant the other day, it got me thinking – why did wine become such a synonym with fine living?

Sign of Prosperity – Even before medieval times, wine was not a drink for the poor, simply because of the cost of making and storing wine with its high chances of getting spoilt. Cheaper homemade alternatives were used by the mass, but wine was a sign of affluence. This was prevalent across Greece, Egypt and other cultures. It was the Romans who actually catapulted it to its current status. For an ordinary person, a simple association of the wealthy and powerful of the richest civilization with wine drinking would present a powerful image. Thanks to Roman colonization across Europe, especially Spain, Britain, and France, wine development had started and added to the popularity of wine.

Alternative to water – After the industrial revolution, water from natural sources was not drinkable in many places due to pollution, and transportation was not adequate to get pure water in quantities everywhere. Wine was considered as a healthier(!) option to available water and steadily became considered as part of the daily diet of the Europeans. Coffee would later replace wine as the drink during the day.

Taste – From early times, people did enjoy the taste of wine. This is partly because of its low alcohol content (Wine typically has 10% – 12.5% alcohol v/v), which allows the tongue to taste other flavors and partly because of the nature of the basic ingredient of wine. This also means most people can have some glasses of wine in a social gathering without acting unrefined, like throwing up or passing out, all the while showing off their skills at guessing the subtle wine flavors. It also does have some health benefits, especially in comparison to other alcoholic beverages of earlier times.

Joys of Being a Jerk

Having had a brief exposure to the front end of retail sales, I have dealt with all sorts of customers. The ones that come to mind the most are obviously the horrible, screaming ones. They are the kind which makes people in retail despise humanity as a whole. I had often thought when dealing with this type of customers, that I would never do something like this while making a purchase myself. I planned never to scream or make a scene even if my shopping caused me some inconvenience. But then again, the best laid plans of men and mice…

I have a high-end gaming laptop which cost me quite a bit. It is, as expected, an ultimate performance machine which comes with extended warranty. I was having some issues with it recently so I called in the service guy. His diagnostics suggested replacement of a few parts and he committed to complete the task next day at or before 11:30 AM, because that was when the necessary parts would be sent separately by the company. Apparently, parts were delivered separately to ensure genuine products reached the customer. So far, so good.

The next day however, I started getting. apologetic calls from the company from 10:00 AM at an interval of every 20 minutes, explaining possibilities of a delay! Apparently, what had happened was this – Possession of this tres cher laptop made me one of the most valuable customers and in order to get a good feedback, the service guy had made the time commitment too early for their warehouse to adhere to. He arrived on time and had a proper contrite face when I told him that the people on the phone said the delivery could happen by 1:00 PM earliest (by Indian standards, this was not even an issue. Hell, they could have been 24 hours late before anyone except the customer could be bothered).

At this point, knowing the situation, plus my background experience, I should have ideally smiled and said that it didn’t bother me. Instead, the core of my existence, which is twisted and evil, prompted me to have a feel of the other side of the table, being a nasty customer. I purposefully berated the poor guy for wasting my entire day and added some other filler I had heard as a front-end guy. The man immediately started making calls to his bosses and as a result, a delivery van arrived with the parts within half an hour. Before 12:30 PM, my laptop was good and I was golden. My takeaway from this episode can be summed up very simply – The crying baby gets the milk. I think I understand why people do it in a store. Making a scene is not only a surefire way to get your needs fulfilled immediately, but also, there is a chance to receive a bonus to placate you. Also, venting out makes you feel (temporarily) good and doing so publicly makes you seem macho. I did end up giving the service person the best possible rating in his feedback.