Monday, July 31

New Music

Collaborations - Gurdas Mann, Sukshinder Shinda and Abrar Ul Haq

It's not that great, but at least I get to sample three big(gish) Bhangra names in one go.

Shakira ft Wyclef Jean - Hips Don't Lie

At the time of writing this just made it back to the number one spot. Not surprising why; it is a tune after all.

Snippet

xxxx says (16:50):
    i just had someone contcat me on shaadi whose profile reads:
    "hi wait for some one nice person who create my life nice and easy for love and relation and family value for my future life"
    is that what i'm attracting these days?
Shak says (16:50):
    hey man
    theres nothing wrong with a guy having a punt
xxxx says (16:52):
    i think i should accept him

Sunday, July 30

The Best Thing About Building A Wall Is...

So what's the best thing about spending 26 hours over a single weekend helping rebuild a brick wall?

Is it the achievement at the end? Or the statement made against the git who did it that, no, they haven't got us down? Or maybe demonstrating the ability to take the things life throws at you? Perhaps it's the work out and exercising of all those small muscles you'd probably never use otherwise? Or how about the development of some new and handy building skills?

Perhaps the benefits are more social: like being able to hang out with your brickie friend and having a laugh while doing hard work? Or being able to stay away from the PC and telly for a whole weekend? Maybe it's having the responsibility of making things right in the home and the pleasure of sacrifice that beats all these other suggestions.

Well no. It's actually having to go to B&Q twice for building supplies. See that's where, if you're lucky, you get to be served by that magnificent girl over on checkout 12. And if you're not, get to stare at her from a distance while waiting in the queue for the till beside hers (no, I didn't always pick her till. See, I do have some scruples).

Sure, she's moody, stuck up, almost never smiles, looks permanently pissed off at at the world (although she does work in B&Q I suppose) and has the whole-ignore-by-turning-her-back-on-you thing nailed (including that extra dose of contempt reserved just for us Asian lads. Or possibly just me).

On the other hand she is pretty (and seems to know it), oozes style and attitude and has the nicest hair ever for a B&Q employee (excluding family and in-laws, of course). And she gets 20% off at B&Q. Sigh.

So yes, she's perfect and I'm smitten. I just hope I need more supplies. In fact, I'm beginning to wonder just how secure that other wall is...

Friday, July 28

Seven Ball!

At last I've managed to seven ball someone! I know I shouldn't brag, but it's something pretty special and I don't expect it to happen again, if at all. It wasn't even a fluke; I played really well and only allowed my opponent one shot after their break.

It was one of my best games and, even if I do say so myself, she didn't stand a chance from the beginning.

Praying Unreligiously

Some people struggle with the whole five-times-a-day-prayer thing, and some don't. I think I fall into the latter group, but I only mention that 'cos it's relevant to this article. I don't wear it on my sleeve and I certainly do not expect the same from everyone. I mean I'm not bragging or anything.

But is someone who prays regularly a good Muslim? I only ask because it seems to be the main way people decide that I might be (and although I'm referring to introductions and arranged marriages here, this isn't really specific to those situations). That is, if they haven't seen my facial hair already. Or noticed that I happen to be wearing shalwar kameez. But let's forget those factors and get back to salah.

The thing is that since it's a habit for me now it doesn't really require the effort or struggle that it may do for others. It's like having to eat three meals a day, or shower, or any other regular domestic activity. Some people think that's a lucky place to be in, but I think anyone can get there if they wanted to. Should they though?

Maybe an example will help me explain. Who's more religious: someone who prays five times a day without fail at home, or someone who might not be that regular but goes off to help their brothers and sisters in a Middle Eastern refugee camp? Who's the better Muslim? Who's made the bigger sacrifice, or demonstration of faith to God?

You can't say really. No one can, except That One Being upstairs. But then that's what I'm saying. I just don't think that prayer, on its own, is an accurate barometer of faith. Not now, anyway. Sure, I may be a better Muslim than I would have been if I didn't pray, but that doesn't necessarily mean I'm a good one in either case. So faith is relative and not absolute, then.

Oh, and I'm NOT saying that prayer isn't obligatory or not superficial or that it's excusable to miss it even once every few months or that everyone shouldn't try their utmost best to establish regular prayer. However, being a Muslim is more than just practicing (including beards and hijabs and the rest of it) and as I grow older I think I'm understanding this more and more. In fact, you could argue that all of the obligatory stuff is trivial for a reason.

All those seemingly weak cliches I heard when I was younger, about it being personal and more about treatment of others, begin to make sense. And then more advanced ideas like how it's also about community and social issues and politics all fall into place too. And quite possibly above all, the importance of spirit becomes apparent and so easier to recognise and express.

So yeh. Don't assume that someone is religious or a good Muslim just 'cos they pray. That part is relatively easy and there's a long way to go after that, even for someone who had established it before they had reached their teens[1].

IANAS

[1] Alright, that last bit might be bragging a little.

Wednesday, July 26

Motor Show Click for more info

I popped down to ExCeL (man, that's difficult to type) on the way home to check out the 2006 British International Motor Show today. To be honest, I'm struggling to say anything about it and the more I think about it. All the Japanese manufacturers were disappointing (although Toyota's Aygo was interesting), and there wasn't really anything new and jaw dropping (although the XKR did come close).

Still I only paid a fiver (after 5pm), and it was worth going for a couple of hours after work. Thankfully it was half deserted so I managed to see everything with relative ease - pics here.

So what was my car of the show? Well it was going to be one of the DB9s (The Vanquish suddenly looks very dated), but I think I'll have to go with the Z4 M Coupe. As a fan of the Z3 equivalent this might not be surprising, but there's something about this iteration that makes it even more alluring.

Chewing Gum

I've started chewing gum.

It's mainly for dental hygiene reasons, which is pretty ironic since I'm not a lazy person when it comes to teeth (as those who have witnessed my twice daily dental regime will know). Yet I seem to have developed some weird staining recently; I obviously have weak saliva.

Anyway, it also keeps my breath fresh and makes me look cool. Result. I hate regularly biting my inner cheek though, but I'm sure I can get over that with practise.

Tuesday, July 25

Scotland, Day 3: Coming Home Click for more info

Luckily, both the Culloden Battlefield and Loch Ness were relatively close to Inverness. We had done the former by 10am and spent the rest of the morning traveling along side the Loch, stopping at random points as well as Castle Urquhart to check out what was ultimately a large patch of water (and no, I wasn't impressed).

The best thing about the Loch was that it led us to Ben Nevis and Glen Coe. Now these were exciting. The area around these places alone made my whole trip up to Scotland. I have photos, but I don't think I quite managed to capture the range and how awesome the scenes were. Unfortunately the cable cars were out (you may have heard about the incident on the news) and I didn't get to climb the peak due to time constraints and who I was with, but that's ok; it just means I'll have to go back one day.

The only thing left on our (or rather, my) list was to visit the Rosslyn Chapel (yes, I hate The Da Vinci Code but I was there so I thought I may as well). We planned on catching the A1 and then M1 home so it was on the way South. Unfortunately we arrived after it had closed, so I didn't get to go in but was lucky enough to have been allowed a peek so that's something.

Alas, it was time to go home. I only really realised then how large Scotland was. It took us hours to get to Edinburgh (despite the stops), and we still had some more to go before hitting the border. We left the Chapel at 7pm and it was a couple of more hours later before we passed into England, and even that was more than an hour away from Middlesbrough (which previously took me around four hours to reach home from).

It was a nice drive though, passing through all the places on the way (there was a suggestion to go see Hadrian's Wall, but we were running well late at that point). It was also quite relieving to be back on flat roads and regular city lights, where even the most remote house had a Sky dish. We slowly ate into the distance and managed to arrive home at around 2am. Seven hours driving? Blimey.

So three days and 1400 miles later we were back. It was a bit more road trip than holiday but it was nice. I wish we had been a bit more efficient, but looking back I think we covered quite an impressive amount in a pretty short amount of time. And, of course, it's not like I'm never gonna go back - especially if my wife comes from Scotland anyway.

EDIT: Pics are now up here, on Picasa.

Sunday, July 23

Scotland, Day 2: Edinburgh

We actually spent the night in nearby Livingston and so needed to travel a bit more to get to Edinburgh proper. After a quick breakfast (and it's worth noting how we didn't expect to have to buy any food on this trip; as typical Asians we had packed three days worth of the stuff. I found that both quite amazing and terrifying at the same time. It's came as a surprise to me that we were so well stocked and to be honest it wasn't something I liked), we headed off.

It took around an hour to find the castle but even longer to get to it; I was beginning to get slightly impatient with my family taking their time doing ANYTHING (they were even suggesting we skip the castle altogether). It seemed like we were wasting so much time taking pictures of painted cows (yes, those ones) and things that I almost gave up on doing anything more interesting. Having said all that, we did manage to and the castle was pretty cool. We did wait for the 1pm gun to fire until we realised it didn't actually do that on Sundays.

What little else we saw of the city was ace. It seems like a nice, chilled out place to be and I think I'd go back. Unfortunately we didn't really spend that much time there today as we had to make it up to Inverness (another 150 miles away) so after driving around the city for a while longer, we left the capital.

We passed over the Forth Road Bridge and into Dumfermline where we stopped off to see its abbey, and apparently more important for my travel companions, an Asda. Again, it had no Asian staff, but at least it gave me a chance to wow the locals with my accent: "Could you point me to where the bottled water can be found" I asked in my bestest phone voice. I even got a reply containing "aye" and "wee". Sigh. I so want to marry a Scot someday.

I insisted that we visit St Andrews on the way to Inverness. It was late in the day and the chances were that the Cathedral (I love chuches as much as any other place of worship) would be closed to the public, but I was determined to be able to say we had done more than just the castle today. And although it was closed I did mange to get some piccies. And see the golf course. And the university. Ho hum.

We then set off proper; there were to be no further stops till our hotel. And on the way to Inverness we saw some brilliant scenes - the kind you always imagine when you think of Scotland. I was actually quite disappointed that we would be returning the next day...

Saturday, July 22

Scotland, Day 1: Getting There

So we left at six or thereabouts, intending on stopping off at The Lake District on the way to our room in Edinburgh. However seeing as we made it up there with time to spare we decided to hit Blackpool too. We parked up at around 11:30am.

I can't remember the last time I was in Blackpool, but it was a long time ago. It seems to have shrunk in any case, but although there wasn't much to do it's a nice place. If anything, it's amazing to find a Woolworths that doesn't have a single Asian member of staff. It really was weird.

Anyway, we then spent the afternoon in The Lake District. Again, I must have last come here when I was five or something. I don't remember much, but what I did seems to have changed since then. Oh, and the lake was nice, too. Some pictures of Lake Windermere and the other various places we visited are on my flickr right now, but I'll upload a more complete album of the whole trip to Picasa soon too.

We then resumed our journey into Scotland. I had never been that far North before (Middlesbrough was the furthest previously), so I was kinda excited to be passing into this strange and wonderful land. On the way to our hotel, however, we found a little spot called Aria Force, a small quaint little waterfall. I think I was the only one to have liked that bit!

We arrived at 11:30pm. We were finally in Scotland.

Friday, July 21

City Circle: Who Should The Government Talk To? Click for more info

Since my guitar classes have finished, I can return to the Friday evening CCs. Today's was regarding the representation of Muslims living in the UK (and at some points of the debate, globally) and accountability of the various existing groups we may have fulfilling that role at the moment.

I had actually attended to see what Martin Bright had to say in person. I heard him on the radio earlier in the week and although some (most?) of his claims seem to have been deliberately made to antagonise, he did manage to face most of the points thrown at him during that time on-air. The added bonus this evening was the appearance of Sir Iqbal Sacranie who was set to defend the MCB (even though I wasn't convinced that Bright had said anything that needed a response by them). The remaining panelists were Madeleine Bunting (formerly of The Guardian) and Yayha Birt (who does lots of various things).

Potentially, this debate was going to be interesting. And some bits were, like the claim that Sufis were being under-represented and that current bodies like the MCB, regardless of whom they represent, may have a bias toward a political Muslim minority. All wild and pretty loaded stuff; the main conclusion was that the MCB was just one of many and should not be used exclusively as a way to access UK Muslims.

However it soon turned into a tit-for-tat and petty argument, which, although entertaining, didn't really accomplish anything. Accusations were being thrown and defended by both Bright and Sacranie to each other, and they were joined at times by the audience. The debate had definitely become specific to the MCB, and possibly even personal between two on the panel. If I didn't know any better I'd even say it had been tabloidified a bit.

All agreed that Bright's recent (and slighty rhetorical) questions have been a good thing by stimulating these kinds of discussions. Despite that, I think I agreed with Birt who, at the end, expressed his disappointment at the lack of abstraction presented by this debate. A bit of a missed opportunity, I reckon.

It is Wrong to Rate Women on a Scale of One to Ten

And I'm sure many of you will agree.

For a start, it's complicated and slow. It kinda takes all the fun out of rating, since you have to actually think and assess before giving an almost arbitrary figure. It's also non-instinctive and therefore possibly inaccurate. And practically, it serves little purpose. I mean it's not like you'll ever have so many women spread so widely across a scale that it actually makes a difference that one is an 7 while the other a 6. The scale is also biased toward the middle, and so places a disproportionate emphasis on the tails. So no, I reject this ten point scale.

Instead, I suggest a three tier system. In the early days of development it was to give an A, B or C class but seeing as that's still pretty anonymous it has been restructured to a more intuitive Yes, No and Maybe. It's so simple, I'm positive that I don't even have to explain it any further.

Hopefully once this becomes popular we can get back to enjoying the pure spirit of ranking, instead of wrestling with the red tape and bureaucracy the old deprecated scale had to offer.
I, of course, will be doing my part and promoting the use of the new system by example. It's the least I can do after all.

Six Months Later...

Well it's now been around six months since my first introduction, and I think I've been on the scene (oh dear) long enough to note a few observations and experiences.

Firstly, whoever said that all introductions were the same must have been to just the one. I mean I've been in as many different situations as there have been girls (not that there have been that many, but still). Ok, there have been the normal house visits by us and them (the latter being totally besti in my opinion) and sure, I've been served the symbolic juice (I don't drink tea). But that's where the clich├ęs end.

With some families I've spent more time with an older brother than the girl in question, and there have even been visits where I've not seen the girl. And the times that I have got to speak to one, we've been left both with a chaperone and completely alone. I've also been given email and MSN addresses on which to (solely) make and receive an impression. More recently I've even been handed the number of a certain husbandless girl by my own mother and then left to my own devices. Yes, that's right: mum's now become my new wingman-slash-pimp. All very, very different, but I suppose in hindsight I shouldn't have expected anything else.

Generally it's been tough talking to these girls. I wouldn't say awkward though, and it's not about being embarrassed or scared of making a fool of myself. But it is weird knowing that some kind of make-or-break decision will have to be made at some point in the near future. And that's what makes it hard: the synthetic or manufactured vibe of the whole thing. The same thing that applies to the Shaadi.coms and even the more formal introductions I've had via friends.

It's just a context thing, of course. It's not the particular girls that are causing this reaction but more the situation we've been placed in. As an extreme indication of this, I tend to get on well with the more "inaccessible" members of the opposite sex (like those who are older, of the wrong background/religion or the ones already involved in a relationship). As a conclusion, perhaps something a bit more organic would suit me more?

But what if this organic free-range engagement I'm looking for can't be be found in an arranged marriage framework? Nah, I reckon that there's enough variation around for me to find an approach I'm more comfortable with and I have to admit that being given a phone number to call without any intervention from parents is interesting. With these kind of "free" approaches lie the dual benefits of there being less pressure in the first place and having a good indication of the mindset of the families involved; as some may know I don't belong to the most traditional of clans.

Finally, there's the age thing. But when I say "age" I don't mean years or even maturity (since, y'know, I have almost none). I do however think that single people develop in a different way to those in relationships, or put more bluntly as you grow older you really do become set in your ways.

This in itself isn't a problem with introductions, but because:

  • there is a natural tendency for guys to be older
  • those who expect their marriage to be arranged also expect to develop in this way after it
  • those that are used to their space may avoid arranged marriages in the first place
it may prove difficult to find someone with the same awareness and respect of space that I may have.

And that's about it really. And I am enjoying myself; I think I have to in order to survive the process without becoming as cynical as others might have become during their own particular ordeals. I'm also getting used to the whole process and maybe even becoming better at dealing with each new encounter. Of course, the irony is that if I did find someone I'd like to progress with, I probably wouldn't have had any of the above issues with them anyway. On the other hand, perhaps that's the exact sign I should be looking for?

Thursday, July 20

Losing My Amazoginity

I reckon since being able to, I've always read more than the average Joe does. Furthermore, having to use the Tube for two hours each day for the past ten years has also given me a chance to get into a regular habit of daily reading (although lately the DS.Lite has messed that up). In other words, I like to think of myself as one who appreciates books. Be it fiction or non, fantasy or thriller, I just can't get enough of having to turn pages.

Despite this pseudo-love I have for books I don't actually own that many. The reason is due to my phobia of building any kind of collection. I mean, they take up space and resources and chances are they won't do anything other than gather dust for 90% of their time under your ownership. It's why I don't own any CDs or DVDs either, or almost always dispose of any videogame collection I may build.

University was supposed to shake me out of this habit, especially after seeing the library my brother had created during the time at his. He had studied Psychology and so had cool sounding titles like "In the Killer's Mind" and "Child Psychology - An Introduction" to boast about. However, when I realised I'd have a bookshelf full of things like "Operating Systems I", "Java in a Nutshell" and "Design Patterns for the 90s", the opposite happened and I ended up actively avoiding buying books instead, and so ended up with none. Which, considering how I did at Imperial, is pretty impressive in itself.

So, no; I don't buy books. Instead, I borrow them from friends, family and libraries (the one at SOAS being amongst my favourites), consume them, and then give them back in order to move onto the next. As a result, I had ended up being in the unique position of being the only guy on this planet[1] never to have ordered a book from Amazon. I've ordered videogames from them, and almost even a DVD player, but never anything with pages.

But that's all changed now. My first book from Amazon was delivered this morning. It's not about anything particularly exciting but it is something I was required to read and that no one else had to lend me. And now that that mental barrier has been breached, I can see myself ordering more and more. Missing out on a book I'm interested in 'cos no one I know has it will now be a thing of the past, and perhaps I'll even end up with a bookshelf to be proud of?

[1] May be an exaggeration.

Wednesday, July 19

Doctor, Doctor

My GP is a Muslim woman who wears the hijab. Being the professional I am (guffaw) this doesn't really bother me and I act with her as I would with any other doctor. I have to admit, however, that beneath the surface various apprehensions and thoughts will be buzzing away.

It's perfectly natural and human, I guess, but still kind of prejudiced too. I guess there's nothing wrong with having reservations and principles about something as sensitive as personal health, but I do wonder if we'll ever reach a stage when these kind of things will become totally objective and clinical - and whether that would be a good or bad place to be in.

And yes, she's married. I saw the ring.

Tuesday, July 18

Iran Implicated

Well it was only a matter of time before Iran was implicated. I'm not sure how many people predicted this kind of move during the recent nuclear row (remember that?), but I do wonder if there's anyone left to fool. To be frank, a part of me is upset that some would so easily attempt to insult the collective intelligence of the world.

You really couldn't make this stuff up. The only potential surprise left is if action isn't taken out on Iran in the near future.

Monday, July 17

Contexts

One of the more interesting conversations I had at the BBQ yesterday was around the allegation that it was somehow easier for guys to approach girls (whether to pull or for other more innocent reasons) than it was the other way round. Now, if you don't already know what I think of this assertion then you can read this here which kinda sums it all up. Generally though, I think that it can be equally difficult for both men and women; the only real difference being that it may be more acceptable for a bloke to gain any "reputation" that may form as a side-effect. In this day and age I'm not quite sure that's valid anymore though.

Whatever the detail, we did agree that it could be difficult. But then, we asked ourselves, why was that the case? Was it plain ol' fear? Shyness maybe? Well in some situations (perhaps even most), it could be, sure. However the friend I was speaking to didn't really seem the fearful type - and she respectively concluded the same about me - yet here we were swapping anecdotes of how we didn't approach that particular person on that particular day. And looking around I think that there are enough people who aren't afraid of rejection (or even acceptance) but still don't make approaches to warrant a new theory for this behaviour: one of contexts.

There are many contexts under which relationships can form. For example you might:

  • be acquaintances of mutual friends or family
  • come into contact with others professionally via work or some other shared interest
  • be looking for them via matrimonials or dating and the like
  • be introduced to people for the specific purpose of marriage
  • randomly get to know someone, say on your train to work (cough)
And different people operate differently under these different contexts. So that guy who was so smooth and able to charm the pants off of the even the most prude girl at college (yes, him) would buckle if he met the same girls through his family. Or that girl who's really shy and doesn't usually talk to guys might be the most popular and attractive person at work where the context is different.

And we can go on to describe these contexts in even further detail. So some people will never be able to form a relationship with friends of their exes (or if that doesn't apply then the friends of someone who's previously shown an interest in them), while others will never consider a boss or employee as a potential partner.

The point is that none of these reflect anything about the particular people involved, yet they seem to be enough to stop any potential relationship from forming no matter how perfect the candidates may be for each other. Weird, eh? And this may also come into play in other types of relationships too, like when making friends or having to work in a team. It's all about the context, man.

This effect shouldn't be confused with that of regular prejudices (like not going for a person of a certain job or background). What I'm talking about aren't prejudices per se, but they are just as irrational and baseless since under any other context, something might have actually happened at a better time and in a better place

Going back to my friend and me: I don't think either of us have trouble talking to members of the opposite sex (and I for one have been called many a scandalous things because of this. Sigh) and we're regularly coming into contact with a lot of interesting people, so in theory it's just a matter of time before something positive happens. Unless, of course, the context we're now aware of doesn't lend itself to allow anything to progress (which seems to be the case to date).

It's a strange and largely irrational consequence but one that is definitely there. It may even explain why so many good people are still single. If that is the reason, then one way forward would be for them to find the particular contexts that work and then to focus on just those and not waste time with the others. And if you think about the relationships that you've witnessed, you might find that the people involved did exactly that.

Of course, the better idea would be to stop making excuses and to just get over it. After all, if it's something that doesn't really mean anything anyhow, why let it get in the way in the first place?

Nemi Click for more info

I love this strip. And this is why:


Sigh. Why can't real women be more like Nemi?

Sunday, July 16

The ICSS BBQ, 2006

Today, ICSS held its annual end of term BBQ.

It was as close a perfect "mass" BBQ as you can get, really. The food was fast and flowing (and blummin' tasty) so there was no waiting, the kids (and adults) were kept busy with the bouncy castle, five-a-side and rollerblading and the guests were turning over at a rate of knots. It was partly down to having good circumstances, but mainly a testament to damned good management getting everything and everyone to flow so nicely.

Most of us were there for seven hours (and some even longer) but the heat, tired feet, sore backs and mental drainage were worth every minute. I think many left floating on that unmistakable high you get after being responsible for such an occasion.

As an aside, it's also been a year[1] since I joined the existing volunteers at ICSS, and it's clear that some roots have taken, erm, root over that time. For example, although I may not contribute as much as the other amazing people there, I do feel a bit disrupted now that we're closed for the summer hols. And those who had left since I initially joined (so not that long ago, really) are now disconcertingly considered "old school" (bdum tish) when they return to visit us as some did today. I even felt a bit poignant when two more left today.

I guess it all means that I'm a part of something pretty important. Something to be proud of.

My first year flew by, and the next six weeks that we are closed for will pass by quickly too after which my second year with ICSS will start. The last twelve months have been interesting - overtly in terms of just taking part but also in other, more inherent, aspects associated with it (including the fantastic friends made, the pretty demanding and hectic social circle formed and the physical changes seen at the school itself) and even the things internal to myself. If I've changed over the last year a lot of it may be explained by my involvement with the ICSS.

I wonder what the next year will bring? I guess I'll be in a position to say at the next annual ICSS end of term BBQ. My stomach is growling already... I can't wait.

[1] Well a year and one lesson to be precise, but who's counting?

Saturday, July 15

Embarrassment: Definition

em·bar·rass·ment (em-bares-ment)
n.

  1. The act or an instance of embarrassing.
  2. The state of being embarrassed.
  3. A source or cause of being embarrassed.
  4. Rushing at a friend and his partner, head down and leading with fists in a Superman-esque flying pose before realising that it's not actually someone you know, quickly walking on past him without turning around but then having your own (legitimate) friend witnessing the whole thing, thus giving you no way of denying or ignoring the fact that such an event had ever occurred.
  5. An overabundance: an embarrassment of choices at a buffet dinner; an embarrassment of riches.

Film: Superman Returns Click for more info

Unlike other modern sequels, Superman Returns gives those that remember the originals exactly what they want and borrows heavily from the series of the eighties. The imagery is still there, the music is so still there, Lois is still a bitch and they even got us a Reeve lookalike to play the Man of Steel himself.

But Superman Returns manages to be fresh and compelling for an audience of the 21st Century too; a politically correct Superman now fights for truth and justice (but no longer the American way). There are few dull moments and the plot is simple and seemingly present for sole reason of allowing Superman to do his thing. Good stuff.

There were problems though: the film wasn't as funny or in-jokey as the previous ones, and a overall good set up was spoiled by some weird story arcs. But these weren't fatally bad points and the film manages to power through its failings.

I liked it. Go watch!

EDIT: And does Kate Bosworth have the best movie feet ever, or what?

Orange Shop == Pretty Asian Girl

Being the observant guy I am as well as a BIG fan of Orange phones I can't help but notice how most of the Orange Shops in London seem to have a token pretty Asian assistant (or Phone Trainer as they like to call them) on shift at any arbitrary point in time. Crazy huh? But it's true.

For instance I've been passing the Canary Wharf branch on a regular basis for, oooh, a good five years now (y'know, to check out the latest in phone technology) and there has been, without exception, a pretty Asian girl at the till, on the floor, or lingering around in the back every time. It's not always the same girl, but they have always been a) Asian and b) pretty.

I find it very interesting actually. I mean there must be a reason behind this esoteric pattern. Are Orange a good employer of pretty Asian girls? Are there socio-political reasons that makes Orange an obvious choice for pretty Asian girls? Is it all just a clever hiring policy to capture the Asian male demographic? I refuse to believe it's just luck; it's so consistently true that it could be a fundamental law of the universe.

Of course, to check that it's not just a coincidence I am forced to continue to visit as many Orange Shops as I can. Maybe it is a perfect rule, or maybe I'm yet to find that single Orange Shop that will finally break this law. Either way, it's lucky I have all those lovely phones to have a look at while I'm there, huh?

Thursday, July 13

Video of the Day Click for more info

Oh, those French. Who knew they could be funny and self-deprecating?



Guffaw. Thanks to Shaz for the link.

Tuesday, July 11

Game: Final Fantasy IV Advance (GBA) Click for more info

Now here's a game that brings back memories. I never got to play FFIV when it was released on the SNES, but I did sit through some of it at that time with a friend who was playing it during the summer holidays. If I had known back then I'd be giving it a go first hand almost ten years later, and that on something that even resembled a DS, well, I'd have been very surprised indeed.

But I digress. FFIV is regarded by many as being one of the best RPGs, ever. Yes, even better than FFVII. Like I said I've not played it and so I look forward to deciding whether or not it tops my personal favourite, The Secret of Mana, which was also released on the SNES. Please give me a second while I reminisce.

Ok, I'm back. As this is an RPG I can't really do more than state the obvious at such an early stage in the game. I've only played 29 minutes, but so far the story is gripping, the presentation is endearing (and totally wipes away any expectations of CGI cutscenes or Dolby Surround you might have) and the interface is spot on to the point where you can play it blind.

Oh yes, I look forward to the next twenty hours or so with this one. In fact, I can't wait to get on the train right now so I can play.

Monday, July 10

Buses Suck

If it takes an hour to get from Victoria (where I work) to Vauxhall (for The Oval), which is two stops on the Victoria Line (so should have taken ten minutes, max), what hope do buses have? I used to love buses and always tried to use them over trains as much as possible, but now I just don't think they're practical.

Thankfully the rain delayed the start of play, but still, it would have been quicker to have walked.

Twenty20: International XI Vs Pakistan

This evening I was invited to watch a charity Twenty20 match at The Oval. Pakistan were set to take on an International XI team comprising of, amongst others, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. The rain had delayed the start of play (which, ironically, was good since I was late), so we ended up watching a Ten10 instead. The light sucked and to be honest we weren't expecting much.

I've been to a few Pakistan matches before, and although I'll never tire of them it was nice to see some of the other cricketing stars I wouldn't usually have the chance to. Lara and Tendulkar both put on good shows, while Dhoni made things exciting toward the end of the International XI's innings. I even got to see Waqar Younis bowl (albeit badly)! A score of 123 was set which was pretty exciting for ten overs.


It was then Pakistan's turn to bat. Most were surprised that Afridi wasn't opening, but I didn't mind; if he was going to do his thing I'd rather watch some of the other batsmen have a go first. And that was basically how it went - Pakistan didn't really accelerate till Afridi (41 off 21 balls) and Inzamam took to their respective creases. And even then the game was taken to the wire: twelve runs were required in the last over for Pakistan to win the match, but after five balls they had only(!) made ten. The sixth throw was a no-ball (perhaps unfortunately) and so secured the draw. That didn't matter though as Inzamam knocked the rethrow for a four. It was total drama, yaar.

The three Indian players drew in a lot of their fans: between us we made up most of the audience and our flags were the only ones being waved on the pitch. In essence, this was as close to an Indo-Pak affair as you could get without them actually playing each other. And the fact that this was a "trivial" charity match seemed to have taken some of the venom away too with each side indiscriminately cheering and jeering anyone and anything they could.


It was fun and stress-free and I can think of worse ways to spend a gloomy Monday evening. And there were fitties, like, everywhere too. Perfeck.

Media-wise, it was a pretty low key affair and I can't find many match reports online but The BBC and Cricinfo both have write ups of the match.

Link Of The Day Click for more info

If only for the frightening speed in which it has been put together.

For the record, I was gutted when France lost last night and think all Italian footballers are gay.

Thanks to Roh for the link.

EDIT: And they just keep coming... No points for guessing the game.

Sunday, July 9

On The Farm

Today was the ICSS's trip to the Lambourne End Outdoor Centre. In essence this was a farm (with, like, real life animals and everything), but with facilities to host other things like outdoor games, sports and camping as well. Due to time constraints we really only managed two main activities. These were a tour of the farm proper and then a brief introduction to pony training (including a little cart ride after).

I can't remember the last time that I visited a farm. It was probably when I was the same age as the kids that we took today. It was pretty fun all the same, hanging out with the cows and sheep and learning how they each had four stomachs. It's also good to see that the ol' fake rubber chicken egg trick is still around (and working).

The pony activity was quite a bit more technical. We first got to groom them with what seemed like a gazillion different kinds of brush and then moved on to preparing them for the cart ride by suiting them up in tack. I now want a horse (since ponies are for girls) by the way. That was about it really, which is a bit ironic seeing how the four and a half hours flew by. I think the adults had as much fun as the kids!

This was my first field trip after a year with ICSS and it was weird being on the other side. Nothing slams adulthood in your face than looking after children outside of the classroom, and things like this make you realise how hard it was for those in charge of us back in the day.

On the other hand it also hit me how unprofessional, accident prone and full of in-jokes my own teachers were when I was at school. It's like being told that great secret that, yes, teachers, guardians and caretakers are human too. But the strange thing is that instead of thinking them as failures or phonies in that regard, my respect for them just grows instead.

So that pedestal I placed them upon collapsed as I tried to climb on it myself, but the point is that kids don't know this and think that we know what we're doing... and probably will do until twenty years' time when they get in on the act themselves!

Saturday, July 8

Don't Touch!

One of my (many) irrationalities is my fear of public surfaces. For example consider The Tube. There are two types of travelers: those who hold on to bars and handles to steady themselves on bumpy ride, and those who don't. I fall firmly into the latter group - and then some.

There's no real reason for this behaviour. I mean, I won't start sucking my fingers or touching food to be eaten when I'm out, no matter how clean my hands are. I'll always wash my hands first thing when I get home or on arrival to the office (which has given me a weird habit of washing my hands before I go to the bog), so it wouldn't matter if they did get dirty on the way anyway. There's just something about touching things that thousands of others may have that makes me go "ew" (although thinking about it now I wouldn't want to contaminate my iPod, DS or whichever book I'm reading at the time either).

Dealing with this fear can help one develop many skills, both mental and physical. For instance, I can ride a bus or train keeping impeccable balance while standing. I've also developed a sixth sense for detecting germs - I'll never use my fingers to press the button to call a lift or enter PINs. If I do have to touch something (you know, in order to save the life of a baby or something), then I'll subconsciously avoid touching anything of my own till I clean my hands.

Someone (who I've happened to know for around five years now) was just having a go at me today for being a bit paranoid. Now this might be irrational (and it's certainly impractical), but I'm inconveniencing no one but myself. And if it takes someone five years to realise this habit of mine, then it's not like I'm visibly acting strangely.

I blame my mother (of course), but I don't see this as a bad thing. When you see the toilet habits of those in a regular office, you begin to realise how unhygienic people are. Now, I'm all for the freedom of one to be, erm, dirty, but that doesn't mean I'm going to join in with the fun. No thank you. And at least when you shake my hand you know you won't contract a disease (or eight).

Film: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest Click for more info

I was disappointed. There, now that I've gotten that out of the way perhaps I can give a more objective review. Actually no, let me rant a bit more.

The thing is that I'm not sure it's even a case of having the brilliant original to stand up against. Unlike other sequels, DMC had a good and recyclable foundation to exploit and all it really needed was a good story to carry it all through. Instead, it's almost like the corporate bosses have moved in and sucked the life out of the franchise. The plonkers.

It's too long (my bum started hurting), not much happens (they even repeat a few scenes) and it's not as funny or magically swashbuckling as the first. A cash in then, which is a massive shame seeing as it was the respect the first had of its audience that won them over.

But I promised to be objective so here I go: in conclusion, the franchise is good enough to make this a watchable film. But still, that's exactly why I was disappointed. Boo.

Friday, July 7

Snippet

xxxx says (11:49):
     i remember all tht u know
Shak says (11:49):
     all what?!?!
     huh?????
xxxx says (11:50):
     how u insult me
     :(
Shak says (11:50):
     you know what i find intersting?
xxxx says (11:52):
     yaaaaaaaaaaa
Shak says (11:52):
     how girls always moan about how i insult them. when 9 times out of 10 they start on me first

Link Of The Day Click for more info

I so need to go on this. And as the author says, the last pic really does say it all.

Thanks to Steve for the link.

Thursday, July 6

Brick Wall

We woke up this morning to find this in our driveway:


Ain't hit and runs great?

Tuesday, July 4

The JP Morgan Corporate Challenge 2006, London Click for more info

Today was the first JP Morgan Corporate Challenge London Race of 2006 (the second one is being held on Thursday). This is a certified 5.6km annual course that's been held in various cities globally since 1977, and although I've had the opportunity to run it for the past two years I've not really had much inclination to do so till now.

It was my first competitive run since April 2004, so I was quite excited about it. I manage to do around 6-7km each week so I wasn't too concerned about the distance, but there's something about race conditions that makes one push themselves more than they would on a typical Sunday morning. In other words, I was interested to see how I would perform on that Battersea Park course with ten thousand other runners.

I had been warned that the event becomes pretty congested and so to make my way as far forward of the starting crowd as possible to get any kind of competitively accurate time. I didn't quite manage that, but it wasn't that bad anyway - I think I lost around a minute, maybe two, over the whole course due to traffic. Ironically those that had managed to push their way to the front were the ones walking and being obstructive - as early on in the race as the 1km mark. Honestly, some people.

But this wasn't supposed to be a serious race. There were people of all shapes and sizes there, some taking it seriously and some not, but all having fun and intending on hitting the various BBQs and alcoholic drinks waiting for them back in their corporate tents (apart from me that is: I had a match to catch, thanks).

5.6km is a strange distance. I've been pacing myself at 5km for the past few weeks and felt a slight wall at that point during the race. The remaining 600m wasn't that big a deal, but it's interesting how accurate a measuring device the human body can be (a bit like those ants, innit?). It was also pretty damn hot, but on the day this didn't seem to bother many (except for that one guy I saw unconscious on the floor around the 4km mark. Eep.).

And the results? Well my target before the race was to break 30 minutes, so I was pretty happy with the 28:25 I clocked up (unofficially - surprisingly there were no timing chips this year). I managed to gun the last 200m or so which implies that my pacing was off, but I'm putting that down to traffic more than anything else. For those who are interested (that'll be just me then), my time equates to 5km in 25:22, 1km in 5:04 and 8:10 per mile, which is pretty much bang on in line with my marathon pace. What that means is that, in theory, I should have received a better time than I did (the shorter distance allowing me to run a faster pace). Perhaps under more ideal conditions I would have done.

I enjoyed the race anyway. It was even enough to convince me to try for something more ambitious - perhaps not quite another marathon, but possibly something half that distance. Maybe.

Monday, July 3

The Fabian Society: Being a British Muslim Click for more info

I've been attending various City Circle activities for a while now, but recently I've been finding them a bit lacking. Don't get me wrong: I value CC events a great deal but as time goes on it's been occurring to me that I may need other stimuli to complement them.

This is my first Fabian Society event. I've been meaning to attend something of theirs for a while now, but since this one was held in association with CC I felt it may be the easiest way to become involved. I was hoping that there'd be a higher level of debate than what CC have offered in the past as well as coverage of the more fresher and complex topics I'm after at this moment in time.

This evening Sadiq Khan MP was given the opportunity to talk about Being a British Muslim. Responding were Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari (the recently appointed Secretary-General of the MCB), Shahedah Vawda (a trustee of CC), John Denham MP (of the Home Affairs Select Committee) and Humera Khan (of Q-News and founder of the An-Nisa Society). Sunder Katwala (general secretary of The Fabian Society) was chairing.

Sadiq Khan's speech has been written up here, so I won't dwell on the content itself. I found the talk to be a bit lacking and not really saying anything new (if anything at all). The whole thing seemed too well rehearsed and forced for my liking, for example like when he made a cringeworthy reference to England losing on Saturday. He was pretty much a Government frontman and I may have even nodded off more than once while he was on. Not a good start then.

And at first, the respondents weren't much better. Dr Abdul Bari was a bit too meek and quiet and didn't really seem to further the discussion. Ms Vawda made things a bit different with talk of ijtihad and reformation, but she soon regressed to patting the Government on the back; she related to and congratulated Sadiq Khan a bit too much for my liking, but then I'm cynical like that.

Things finally got interesting with Mr Denham MP. He challenged the current line of thinking that identity divides have replaced the class divides of old by recognising that the former only seems to be a problem today during particular instances of the latter, concluding that class may still be an important consideration when talking about integration. He also, quite reasonably, said that before dealing with the definitions of a British Muslim we have to first define what being British itself means, and how there is a confusion about this. He finally claimed that, historically, politicians haven't created or developed identity, and that this was the natural effect of community instead (something that echoed what Tony Blair would be saying the next day).

For me, the highlight of the evening was Humera Khan. In her response she said that she didn't find Sadiq Khan's speech of any real substance, and questioned the existence of these shared values we were all supposed to have - a form of the classic assimilation vs integration argument here, I think. She humourously denied having an interest in the England football team to make this point - If Sadiq is British 'cos of his support, what does that make her? Her conclusion was that you don't have to be a nationalist to be British.

She also had a go at Denham, stating that the troubles some faced today were of a direct result of the Government's previous attempts at multiculturalism, and that to move things forward we would have to be a bit smarter about how we promote understanding - like explaining to some Muslims why the UK may be particularly sensitive about religion in general. She also accused those in power of manufacturing identity, and even dumbing down culture in order to make it more accessible. Related to this concept was the observation that even though we may now have non-white faces in the media, how many of them had to leave important pieces of themselves at the door before being permitted though.

Unlike with the CC, the Q&A session tonight was as interesting (if not more so) than the main talk itself, if only for the constant to and froing between the two Khans on the panel. Amongst the many competent and coherent comments made (by the panel and audience alike), we had:

  • That it's good to debate, but we should be weary of exceptionalising and problematising Muslims. They (or rather the issues surrounding them) are becoming a punchbag or scapegoat for the problems we really have. The debate should aim to be more generic than specific.
  • That, as everyone is ultimately loyal only to themselves, it shouldn't matter if some will choose not to support England in the football, or agree with the MCB, or to leave the curry business to join the civil service.
  • That this debate is not just for Muslims but for the majority of the majority (ie electorate) for whom issues of identity are of concern. It's not just one section of society that raises these arguments, and it's not only one that will be affected by any decisions made.
What I found interesting was how those on the panel who had come prepared for their main talk suddenly came alive when they had to perform on the spot during the Q&A. Sadiq Khan MP in particular had many more interesting things to say during this section; make of that what you will. In fact, he was much more like how I remembered him.

And that was pretty much it really. As an introduction to Fabian events I thought it was pretty painless and relatively interesting, and it was reassuring to find that that these kind of open and public debates aren't inherently lacking after all. Another alluring quality was the variation in topics offered and audience that may not be necessarily found in a forum like CC. It's definitely enough to get my attention, and so I think I might come to more of these things in future.

Write ups of tonight's event can be found here (BBC) and here (The Guardian).

Video Of The Day Click for more info

I wrote during my review of NSMB about my love for its predecessor, Super Mario World. I guess that's why this video is so poignant for me, forcing the memories of my playing the game to come flooding back. I think I need to play that again at some point.



Even if you don't recognise any of the tunes the organ produces some of the most listenable music anyway, so enjoy.

Kristin Davis (Or: I Told You So) Click for more info

Sex and the City star Kristin Davis has finally topped one of those "most beautiful women" polls. She plays Charlotte in SATC, but since I've never watched a single episode of that tat I prefer to refer to her as Brooke, Billy's psycho girlfriend from Melrose Place (which, ok, was also tat).

I clocked her ages ago (ten years in fact! Cripes. I can't believe I've been a dirty old man for so long) but I'm glad to see these, erm, 4,000 30-something women finally catching up. I did it with SMG too (I had DoC's bitbucket filled with pictures months before she topped FHM's poll), and I just know there'll come a time where my Shak's Choice columns will become the definitive hot-or-not column of the industry.

Anyway here's the rest of the results of poll by Eve Magazine:

  1. Kristin Davis
  2. Catherine Zeta-Jones
  3. Halle Berry
  4. Nicole Kidman
  5. Charlize Theron
  6. Kate Beckinsale
  7. Kate Winslet
  8. Eva Longoria
  9. Jennifer Aniston
  10. Angelina Jolie

Sunday, July 2

Film: Over The Hedge Click for more info

Derivative animation about a raccoon (and friends) trying to get food. Over The Hedge is a typical example of how the genre is slowly becoming diluted as time goes on.

There just isn't any of that classic magic here. The jokes fall flat, the story becomes irrelevant and the set pieces fail to wow.

It's more a reality check then; that the old rule of CGI equaling quality doesn't quite hold anymore. Wait for the DVD.

Shak's Guide To Avoiding The Subject

Well it was just a matter of time really: this morning, my phoopa asked... nay, advised... no wait, told me to get married.

Now, unlike it is for others in my situation (ie not married) this isn't a frustrating discussion for me to have. I quite enjoy it since I've yet to face an argument that I don't have a fairly reasonable reply to. Heck, sometimes I even get the others to change their minds! That said, debating with my phoopa was a bit annoying due to the language gap; luckily I had my dad to translate/misrepresent me.

In my experience, these talks usually follow this pattern: we open with a commandment, move onto religious justification, then cultural justification, then vacuous justification, then make another commandment and then repeat the whole thing all over again. Commandment is easy enough to counter; others have as much right forcing you to do something as you do them, and a simple "no" will usually suffice at that point. If not, a promise to hold them liable if anything goes wrong usually scares them off for a while (and is an interesting indication of how much faith they have in any future marriage of yours).

Anyway, it's the bits in the middle that usually turn out to be fun and juicy. Here I list a few common approaches taken by those that care about my well being during such a discussion, followed by my usual responses:

Getting married is half your deen!
Ok, in that case I want to marry a non Muslim then. Perhaps even a Hindu. Explain that "getting married is half your deen" doesn't mean that just marrying anyone will automatically double your faith.

Ha ha. Getting married to another Muslim is sunnah!
But staying single isn't a sin, and there might even have been companions of The Prophet that didn't get married at all either. Furthermore, islamically, it's probably better to remain single than to be unhappy with the wrong person (throw in a couple of anecdotes about so and so having an affair). If you want to be specific then point out that there are many people who could have built mosques and schools, but didn't get to purely because they got married.

What about respect? You won't have any unless you get married. You'll be stigmatised by society forever!
Possibly, but only by those with a small enough mind to do so.

Your friends and family need deserve a wedding reception to go to!
Hey man, if you want a party I'll gladly throw one for you. I refuse to serve that sweet carrot desert stuff though. Like, ew.

What about bringing up children?
I could adopt.

What about all your household chores?
I could do them myself. Or hire a maid. Whatever.

You'll be better off if you get married! Life starts when you get married!
Or ends, depending on your viewpoint. I usually mention various stats, and if I'm feeling particularly facetious bring up a couple of broken marriages within my own extended family, just to rattle cages. There is a common genepool there, after all.

You're being pessimistic. Not all marriages fail...
It's also pessimistic to think that all single people become misanthropic waste-of-spaces.

You know, seven years down the line you're gonna be alone and regret not getting married.
Yeh but I could get married and regret that seven years down the line too. Unless you can guarantee my happiness, will you be around for me to blame?

So you don't want to get married? That's a bit stubborn.
No! I didn't say that and in no point in my life have I believed that either. In fact, I think I've wanted marriage the longest out of all my friends of a similar age and background. Sure, I've not complained for a while now about being single (and boy, did I use to) but that's because I came to understand that there's nothing really there to complain about. That doesn't mean I'm averse to the idea of getting hitched at all. In fact, I consider marriage an important goal of mine - but only if it's with the right person and not just anyone.

People NEED to get married! It's a MUST!
Well no, obviously not. A good marriage is a luxury, a nice to have, a bonus in life. A bit like owning a sports car actually. And like that Aston, it would be great if I ever got one; but if I don't, I'll survive.

You need to get married for, erm, you know, physical reasons.
Any sex drive I have broke long ago out of a lack of use.

If you remain single you'll become a slag.
After 27 years of practise, I'm sure refraining won't all of a sudden be a problem. But hey, thanks for having that much faith in me. No, really, I'm flattered.

Are you gay?
Oh please.

You've got to try to find someone. Make that effort. You obviously don't want to get married. You're too lazy.
The fact that I haven't found anyone yet doesn't mean I don't want anyone at all. And I think I'm being relatively active actually: I'm always open to meeting any new potential rishta - more so than a lot of people I know. Know any single women by the way?

You're too fussy.
No. I'm particular at best. And more girls have rejected me outright than I have them.

Marriage is the key to happiness. How can a single person ever be content?
I think that the only person that can make one content is themselves; unhappy marriages wouldn't exist otherwise. Not everyone needs another in order to be validated - confer various divorcees and widow(er)s, not to mention wholesome bachelor(ette)s.

You don't respect the concept of marriage.
Except I'm the one who values it so much that they're willing to wait as long as it takes to do it correctly, as opposed to someone advising me to shack up with the next kuri I see.

Sigh. Y'know, sometimes I hate having an answer for everything.

One Of Those Evenings

We had a pseudo-traditional BYOM today. Despite the day's events we managed to have a good time anyway.

The food was... interesting, the humour was flying and the vibe was just resonate. We played the remainder of the night outside in the perfect weather just hanging out, staring at the clouds and making out shapes. We even had Spanish guitar playing at one point.

It really was something like what you'd see on the telly or hear about in songs. I'm reluctant to use the word perfect, but it was something that could have lasted much much longer than it had done; it was perhaps one of those occasions where you realise life isn't really as difficult as you think it may be.

Saturday, July 1

Gutted

I don't watch football. In fact, I'm not really that passionate about what I call "regular" sport. I don't think I have the time or inclination to do so.

However, like many others I imagine, watching England in a major tournament always gets me. Whether they do well or, as is usually the case, badly I seem to regularly get emotionally caught up in the drama they typically provide.

Perhaps it's just pure bandwagon jumping or just a front or just me fooling myself. But the near-tears (since I don't cry) of joy and sadness, the loss of breath when they create a good chance to score and that pain when they lose on penalties all feel real enough.

It may even be a stronger affinity than that with the Pakistan Cricket Team[1], but then again I may not be in a state of mind right now to make that comparison.

Anyway, here's hoping France knock the socks off Portugal on Wednesday.

[1] Like many others I support England in the football and Pakistan in the cricket. Just this week, a work mate didn't seem to get that. He asked me to rationalise the disparity, to which I replied that I didn't consider fandom a particularly rational idea so couldn't really; that it just is. Even if Pakistan had a good football team I reckon I'd still back England (in that sport), so it's not about default choices as some seem to imply. It's just the way it is, and not something that should require justification (even though, in this case, it can probably be put down to culture and association. But don't tell my work mate that). Take that, Tebbit.