Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It ain’t over till it’s over


Potter drama and then more Potter drama

First, the movie. Off we went, including a friend who has apparently been living under a rock since he had no idea about the books, movies, plot. They all laughed as they heard me explaining in not-so-hushed tones what was going on: “That fat kid is his cousin, very painful,” “So, the bad guy Voldemort killed Harry’s parents,” “Those are the Dementors, they suck the happiness out of you, I rather thought they’d be less... corporeal,” “I need a new hairdryer” (yes, I am easily distracted). And then when Hermione goes on a rant, blowing up Harry and Ron for being idiots and not realising all the various layers of thought Cho was going through as she kissed Harry, the boys laughed — “this sounds like you-know-who, doesn’t breathe between sentences and goes through a million different things like a truck out of control on a busy highway!” We come out, to the pronouncement from the friend who formerly lived under a rock, “Well, that’s an interesting concept!” Indeedy.

A day later, the boss comes in with great enthusiasm: quickly, do something on the spoilers all over the net. That entails reading them, I realise. Oh no. Now — two days before the release — I’m armed with all kinds of Harry information — true or otherwise. So what should I do? It’s only fair to ruin everyone else’s fun. I call a few friends who I know will definitely not want to hear this. Many phones are slammed down on me. Yes, I know. I’m going straight to hell.

So I figure, I’ll read the Half Blood Prince again, soak it all in, then get to the last one. I’ll make a weekend out of it. This plan sounds good, calm, bordering on boring. I should have known my tryst with Harry was not done yet.

Next day — phone rings. It’s someone from a publishing house in the US — one that I’d mentioned in my article — because it was rumoured one of their employees leaked the photocopied pages of Deathly Hallows. And they wanted me to help track down where that information came from. I bet they want to roast that employee (if he exists). To think I might have a part in that one!

Dammit Harry, I’m going to miss you.


Thursday, July 19, 2007

All things Harry II

And a little tribute to the series from me -- I just saw The Order of the Phoenix, and am loving how dark it has all become!

It is difficult for a reader to not connect with the (quite literal) magical journey Harry and his friends have embarked upon. The eternal tug of war between order and chaos that we experience in real life is reflected in the political tension of the magical world that spills into the (ostensibly) orderly world of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, where Harry lives for most of the year.

A metaphor for the challenges of life, there are fantastic demons that plague the children in their pre-teen years, forcing them to mature before their time. We hear it all the time, how kids today are growing up too fast. Harry, Ron and Hermoine (and even Draco Malfoy) are the best examples of this. Consider one of the first barbs the children encounter. In the world of Harry Potter, non-magical people are known as 'muggles' and those with only one magical parent, 'half-bloods'. So when Draco Malfoy, a pure blood since both his parents are magical, insults Hermoine for being 'muggle born', it is especially cruel because it implies that she is not good enough to be part of the magical world. This thought is echoed by Harry's arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort, who believes in only preserving blood purity (although, interestingly, he himself is a half-blood). The parallels with history are almost as apparent as the futility of the mission.

The world of Harry Potter is as real as it is imaginary because of the relationships, between both the adult and children, and the children themselves, which are at the heart of the story. Harry, who had been brought up by an uncaring aunt and uncle, was quite unexpectedly brought into the magical world on his eleventh birthday. The people he encounters and grows to love – Hermoine, Ron and Ron's family, to the adults who become parent figures he had been sorely lacking – headmaster Dumbledore; Hagrid, the gamekeeper at Hogwarts; Sirius Black, his godfather – are a lesson in trust and loyalty for the boy. It is ironic that a 'children's book' deals so much with death – not only is Voldemort obsessed with killing Harry but he is equally fixated on his own immortality. The utter finality of death is never more apparent to the children than with the death of their beloved Dumbledore. The Death Eaters, the guards of the deadly prison Azkeban, slowly become fixtures in the narrative.

Dark magic is also a temptation Harry must learn to resist. While it hold great power, figures such as Lord Voldemort and Lucius Malfoy are reminders to him that absolute power corrupts. But there is no judgment, it is for each individual to decide between black and white – interestingly, once there is a smudge of black, no matter how much white you put in, it will never be any other colour than grey. And that is a lesson the children learn as they grow older.

But amidst the chaos, comes the order. The order of an ordinary life in extraordinary circumstances. If Harry is caught breaking the rules, he is punished, often missing his beloved game of Quidditch. The order of just another typical family at Ron's house; the order of mealtimes at Hogwarts; the order of friendship; of budding romances; of trust; of loyalty and of faith. Of the fact that death doesn't mean the end of love. Of friendship.

This is a story of adventure. But more than that, it is a story of the family we choose to make our own. And that's what Harry and his friends have become to millions all over the world – family.

All things Harry

Leaking chamber of secrets

With one day left till the worldwide release of the last instalment of the Harry Potter series, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, spoilers threaten to ruin the ending for all of us. Mahima Kaul explains why you need to watch where you click

What is with this Harry Potter mania?

When J.K. Rowling started to write the series, she did not have a target audience in mind. Her publishing house, Bloomsbury, assumed it would appeal to children the most. But its imagination, themes, and the hard questions it poses have transcended age. It’s not everyday that a series sells 325 million copies worldwide — and is translated into 63 languages! 250 million copies of Deathly Hallows have already been pre-ordered. Britain is going to release a series of 7 postage stamps to commemorate the event! Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the movie adaptation of the fifth book, raked in $330 million worldwide on its first weekend. An entire industry that includes toys and games feeds off the Harry Potter franchise. Mania, indeed!

What are spoilers? And fan-fic?

Spoilers basically tell you the plot of a yet unreleased movie/book. Harry Potter is not the only series to face this problem — for the Sex and the City finale, four separate endings were shot, so that if one ending leaked, they could use another so as to keep the finale fresh for viewers.
Some Potter fans, such as those who run the websites www.the-leaky-cauldron.org and www.mugglenet.com vowed to keep away from spoilers, and have refused to publish the rumours of plot-points floating around the Internet.

Many online communities have kept themselves entertained by creating Potter fan-fic, which are fan based versions of how the book ends. They are both harmless (for the publishers, especially) and quite popular. The key difference is that spoilers claim to be the real thing while fan-fic is a take-off (and often a tribute) to the original.

Where and who leaked them?

A month ago, someone going by the name of Gabriel claimed that he had hacked into the computers at Bloomsbury and posted key plot points on his website. He said it had been easy since many employees had kept chapters and drafts of the book on their computers.

More recently, a sequence of photos of a hand leafing through the 700-page book has been released on the Internet. The story doing the rounds on blogs is that someone who was responsible for counting the number of books in a carton took these pictures and posted them online. While many maintain that this is also fake, some bloggers claim that the photographs of the book’s epilogue were taken by Barnes & Noble employees themselves. Scholastic, Rowling’s US publisher, has neither confirmed nor denied the accuracy of the leaks.

So how are the publishers protecting the book?

The final book was published in an undisclosed location. The 65 publishers worldwide have started delivering copies to bookstores for the synchronised world book launch. There is major security — there are sensors on the cartons which will go off if it is opened before time, tracking devices on delivery trucks, and even guard dogs posted at certain storage places.

While the publishers have been asking people not to re-post spoilers floating on the Internet, they will definitely not hurt sales figures because all Potter fans will like to own a copy of the book!


Friday, July 13, 2007

Worm in the Apple?

In iPhone, the company that gave us iPod may have to contend with technology being a great leveller of reputation

I never jumped on to the iPod bandwagon. Let me assure you, I was probably the only person in Montreal not bouncing along the streets plugged into an iPod, exchanging a knowing nod with fellow Macaholics as I crossed them on the street. But that didn’t make me miss out on the phenomenon that is the iPod — the product that is poised for an elevated place in the technology hall of fame (if there is such a place). It isn’t really surprising —Mac was always considered the cooler (richer) cousin of the PC, so any product Apple Inc. came up with just had to be slicker than the rest.

Apple managed to ride the cool wave for a long time. Very intelligent and perceptive marketing is the backbone to an already impressive product — ‘Think Different,’ Apple urged us and then told us how, with the ‘Switch’ campaign that followed. The computer offered software that allowed people like you and me to produce movies, music, websites, whose quality could rival big production houses. The iPod offered new ways of organising and transferring music— and everyone wondered how they ever did without it!

But now we are faced with the iPhone. Can it bring about a similar (global) Mac attack? Let’s go step by step.

Why would you buy an iPhone? (As opposed to simply salivating at the thought of owning one.) It’s the first phone that does not extend its software to accommodate extra features (for example, a music player) but instead it essentially condenses an entire operating system into a phone — a mini Mac, if you will. Its real feature, then, lies in applications that have not been introduced as yet. This means that you can do virtually anything with it, with features far beyond what a Blackberry offers.

But there is a small glitch. At the moment the iPhone has tied up to a single network provider in the US — Cingular — and it only allows Apple software to operate on the iPhone. This will have to change — Apple made the right decision in the 1990s when it tied up with Intel and embraced Microsoft software for Mac, instantly expanding its customer base. Now, it needs to differentiate its product from the many, many cell phones in the market. And the challenge is the same. It needs to enable consumers to play around with the product instead of being limited by it.

So will Apple’s unique branding work for iPhone? Apple’s success has rested on its image as an alternative to the system. But with the iPhone and Apple TV, uniqueness is lost. Cheaper cousins of iPhone are certainly going to crop up. News reports already talk of the initial sales boom slowing down.

We, the global community of consumers, are spoilt for choice. We are constantly adopting technology we really don’t need — simply because we can! And no doubt, the iPhone wants to ride this wave. But will we bite?

Outside of selling itself as the hippest, edgiest version of any product out there, there are some practical steps Apple should take to advance its consumer base — firstly, improve its customer service because at the moment the company is notorious for being difficult about repairing its products. But more importantly, like it did when it released the iPod nano, it needs to come up with an iPhone for the budget shopper — or a person like me — who just needs a phone, but not necessarily one with a global mapping system.

This is the crux of the matter. Apple is now in the mass-producing world of consumer electronics, and unless it wants to remain a high-end luxury product service, its strategy needs to be revised. The iPhone media hype was a freebie. It’s almost a guarantee that when the Apple TV is launched, there will be no overnight queue waiting impatiently for the moment they can plug in their newest idiot box.

Technology can be a great leveller. Apple will have to ensure it doesn’t fall too far from the (consumer) tree.