Wednesday, February 28

Shak's Choice: Autumn Reeser

I never thought I'd say it, but I've found a new favourite OCer. That's right folks: Autumn is actually hotter than Summer[1]:


And for once it seems that I'm not alone in this. In fact I even appear to be late on this one: everyone (boys and girls alike) totally loves her; or at the very least knew who I referring to in my Messenger PM. Either Autumn's universally appealing, or my standards are becoming even more generic. But who cares? She's pretty.

[1] Did you see what I did there? Did you?

Tuesday, February 27

Not Compatible

Recently, it seems that my parents have been approached more than once regarding the eligibility of their single daughter.

For those who don't know I'm one of two brothers and so there is no daughter, single or otherwise. Apparently wires have been crossed, but at least we now know where we've been going wrong. I know I've said before that I don't have any objective criteria, but I think gender is pretty much a vacuous pick.

Or maybe not: I was going to end this post with a gag about how I'm not even that fussy, but then that's probably the kind of thing that got me into this situation and so I won't.

I wonder if he was rich...

Monday, February 26

Game: Trauma Center: Under the Knife (DS) Click for more info

Now that I finished the seemingly never-ending Ace Attorney 2, I finally have a chance to catch up on some of the older games I've had piling up on my to-play list.

Trauma Center is a game made for the DS. It's premise is pretty obvious; you play a surgeon who gets to operate on various patients with equally various problems - it's a kind of modern Operation in the sense that you cut, operate and suture with as much speed and precision as you can.

It sounds fun, and to a large extent it is. There are some problems though - mainly due to the lack of feedback that you get from the game. It demands quite a bit of accuracy from you; it's almost on rails in that sense, and if you don't get it right it'll make you do it again. And again. And again. This in itself isn't a problem except the game doesn't give you any clues as to what you re doing wrong - there is no learning curve and it reduces to a game of trail and error. Having said that, I've only experienced the issue once or twice and they were quickly forgotten when I got to the bits that did work.

It's a bit unfortunate, because the game would have been super-good instead of just good. As it stands, it's still a strong title and well worth giving a bash.

Sunday, February 25

The Roding Valley Half Marathon 2007 Click for more info

Today was the 25th annual Roding Valley Half Marathon, and I was a runner. This was to be my longest run since the London Marathon in 2004, and so I was both excited and nervous about rejoining the lower end of a more serious level of running.

A month ago, when my neighbour and I first decided to run it, we had set ourselves a target of 1:45. This meant eight minute miles, and so was pretty ambitious considering we ran the usual ten, and even that for much smaller distances.

I had a bit of a scare a few weeks ago when I hurt my knee ice skating; and although I'm still a bit stiff it managed to sort itself out before this morning. I'm glad, since I was pretty determined to take part in this race and so it would have been pretty disappointing to have to pull out and wait another year.

Nevertheless, after three training runs of around eight miles each, never going below nine and a half minute miles, we re-evaluated our target time up to the corresponding 2:00. If I'm being honest I thought even this was a little ambitious. I was quite depressed at this considering I did the same race in 1:33 way back in 2004 in preparation for London. Age doesn't help of course, but the main thing that helped me back then was the marathon training itself - at that point I was doing runs much longer than the 13 miles each week.

The race itself was pretty good. We fell into the usual trap of being sucked in with over-eager runners wanting to do the course in under an hour; we paced the first mile at around eight minutes. Luckily we checked ourselves pretty early and stepped down a gear for the rest of the race - we managed to stick to our nine/ten minute miles for the other twelve miles pretty easily, passing a few of those trailblazers on the way.

The course (map here) was actually made up for three loops - one smaller one and then two identical larger ones. This gives runners a psychological advantage of allowing them to mentally visualise markers to aim for (and as an aside, most of the the larger loop made up our training course too). This repetition helps with pacing too; I took it easy for the first long lap, and then exploited that experience in the second.

Overall it was pretty tough. I managed to gun it a bit on seeing the "200m left" marker, but today was nothing like my previous race here. By my watch I managed to finish in just over two hours (EDIT: 2:2.16 to be precise, placing me at 454th out of 660); I feel that I pushed myself and ran the race smartly and so I'm pretty happy with that, especially given the now-clearly inadequate training we had.

As for my career in running, well, I've established a few things. Firstly, I'm definitely plan on taking part in this race more regularly - so next year and every year after that hopefully. Secondly, if I do enter I know to train a bit more and to start earlier (hopefully this shouldn't be a problem since we had integrated the training this time into our usual Sunday runs). And, finally, I don't think I'll ever be running a full marathon again: it would take too long to get back into that condition and quite frankly I don't know how I could manage the training.

I'm glad I ran today. It's vindicating, and good to know that I was still able to complete the distance, even though it wasn't a patch on my previous efforts. Oh and yes, some of you will be glad to know that I am in a lot of pain.

Saturday, February 24

Film: The Good Shepherd Click for more info

Wartime spy movie based on the events occurring up to the creation of the CIA. We jump back and forth through time, following the life of Edward Wilson through his agency recruitment, training and work, finally witnessing the toll it all takes on himself, his family and America itself.

Weighing in at well over two and a half hours, this was possibly a bad choice for a Friday night's film-going. The subject matter probably didn't help either; this was a very technical film that presumed a clued up audience who had knowledge of the context of the time. I didn't, and as such I think a few things went over my head, not least some of the plot detail. Looking at the blank faces of the people coming out, I suspect I wasn't alone in this.

But testing cinema aside, The Good Shepherd was a pretty decent flick. Production-wise, there was nothing to complain about - decent acting, direction and script were all present, and even those few that didn't quite get the film should be able to enjoy the more straightforward plot arcs it offers.

Otherwise it is one solely for the fans of the genre. For the rest of us, there seem to be way too many barriers to enjoying this film fully.

Wednesday, February 21

The Death Of BikiniFairyMan

That's right, it's time. He's going.

Born on the 20th of September 2003, BikiniFairyMan was a result of a friend and I messing around with some new WeeMee service (before they started watermarking their previews, of course). Actually I did first create one that was meant to resemble what I thought I really looked like (I was regularly playing football at the time):


And you can probably see why I didn't stick to it. Since the caricature looked just as boring as the real me did, I decided to start again and this time, go nuts. And so BikiniFairyMan was created:


And he kinda stuck. I very rarely changed my Messenger display picture from him, and whenever a website/forum asked me to choose an avatar it would always have to be BFM; you may have even spotted him in places other than the usual.

But yes, just like it was with the pseudonym Spammy it's time to move on. After only three and a half years of superb service (and it really seems like much, much longer) I'm going to retire the poor fella. I feel that he no longer represents me. Especially at my age. Not that it was particularly suitable in 2003 or anything.

I know some of you love him so I'll leave him up till the end of the week or so for you to say your goodbyes. I'm sure he'll miss you as much as you'll miss him. And for those that hate him, well, I reckon the same thing goes to you lot too.

RIP BikiniFairyMan. It feels like a part of me is leaving forever.

Video Of The Day Click for more info

Off the back of my latest choice, here's a brief interview with Sitara Hewitt:



It's almost like she's talking directly to me. In fact, I do believe she actually is. Woot!

Oh, and thanks to Fuad for the link. You dawg.

Tuesday, February 20

Bangladesh: The Way Forward

Okay, I admit it: I'm no expert on Bangladeshi politics. I do know that elections have been postponed, that there is a military coup going on, and today I read that that Nobel Peace Prize winner (I forget his name) has thrown his hat into the ring currently occupied by both Islamic and secular "extremists". But other than that I don't really have an interest; I was here to support a friend who was chairing this debate between "Secular Fundamentalism and Political Islam". On the panel were Asif Saleh (founder of Drishtipat), Omar Faruk, Niaz Alam and some other guy I forget the name of (and hopefully someone will fill me in).

That's not to say that it didn't turn out to be interesting anyway. Quite a bit washed over my head as names and events specific to the situation were being discussed, and the Question Time format meant that the debate started off in a timid fashion as the audience warmed up. But things soon turned more interesting once the debate was, quite deliberately, turned into one about Theocracy vs Democracy.

It was these abstract bits, which were more about Islamic rather than Bangladeshi politics, that I was able to relate to. Sure, most of it went down the same well trodden and predictable route ("Theocracies repress women", "Democracy has clearly failed" etc), but there were some constructive (if a bit patronising) ideas being floated too: Bangladesh was young and these were just teething problems, Jamaat-e-Islami was perhaps the most democratic party over there and possibly how the current leadership was all Bangladesh deserved.

The panel was pretty good, if a bit agreeable and polite. I suspect it was the audience that let the debate down; the QT format expects much more than we managed to give, and so the people up there may not have been as exploited as they could have been.

I think that given another hour this event would have become much more exciting and constructive. Still, as it stood it was pretty good and I ended up staying till the end; which was longer than I had planned to anyway.

Monday, February 19

Book: The Messengers And The Messages, Umar S. al-Ashqar

The fourth of eight in the Islamic Creed Series (previous reviews here). This time, the author covers both the Messengers and Books in one volume, one part for each.

Pretty strange, considering that they're usually considered as separate articles of faith. But still, Al-Ashqar presents the topic in a consistent way, talking about The Message as an abstract quality of Messengers rather than a material book.

Unfortunately, the book itself seems to be the driest of the series so far. In fact, I had to take a break from it since I was beginning to lose interest a few chapters after the half way point. I didn't feel that much was said in the 300-plus pages, there was a lot of labouring and repetition and, in my opinion, TMATM could have been much shorter . On the positive side the topic did provide the opportunity to present some basic seerah (stories of The Prophet) and history from the lives of the other prophets.

As part of the range it is a required read, if only for completeness. As a reference it's ace, but as a book it disappoints, especially when compared to its sibling volumes.

Sunday, February 18

Film: Hot Fuzz Click for more info

Hot Fuzz is an easy going and silly British comedy about a high achieving cop who gets sent to a remote village in order to stop showing up the rest of the Metropolitan Police. While at first he is preoccupied with trivialities, things soon turn interesting as residents suddenly start having fatal accidents...

By the same people who brought you Shaun of the Dead, this is basically more of the same but with the police instead of zombies. As such, the brand of humour is a bit obvious and in your face; a bit of an acquired taste then, although I did laugh more often than not. But then I didn't enjoy this film just 'cos it was funny. The script, acting and production were all fine too.

But, unusually, it was the story that made this film for me. With one of the best turnarounds in years, Hot Fuzz is worth watching just because of its bonkers plotline. I can't really elaborate any more than that without spoiling it, but it's definitely something that will split audiences.

I enjoyed it so yes, I guess I'd recommend this as one to watch.

Food: Mangal Ocakbasi Click for more info

Turkish. No menu, just meat. Lots of meat. Open grill. Simple food that melted in my mouth. 12 quid per head. Ate too much. Need to sleep it off.

Sit and Shiver Click for more info

I just realised that I've not yet done a theatre review since this blog came into being. Pretty disgusting considering how I like to think I like going to see stage plays.

But anyway, Sit and Shiver was a charming little production being held at the Hackney Empire. It was a single continuous scene (I'm sure that there's a technical word for that) about a Jewish family hosting a wake (or sitting shiver) for the loss of another senior member.

Each guest handles it in their own way, and the surprise visit of an old friend of the deceased makes things interesting later on, but otherwise it's not really full of plot (and I'm sure that there's a technical word for that too). One thing that always occurs to me when watching a play themed specifically for a particular culture is how close it resembles my own - for example, here was a family that followed ritual out of tradition without knowing exactly why.

Sit and Shiver was billed as a black comedy, but I'm not sure that's what it was. Yes, it was funny (in places anyway), but it was more regular situational than black. The production itself was interesting anyway; we either had a soliloquy or weird dancing phase every few minutes as each character went through their main development. I'm not sure how relevant the latter were.

The acting was okay (it took me more than a few minutes at the start to actually hear what was being said) and there were a few technical errors, mainly with the lighting. And oddly the second, more engaging, half was much shorter than I was expecting it to be, not that that's a flaw or anything.

I didn't really know what to expect from Sit and Shiver when I took my seat this evening. And writing about it now, I don't think that I was too disappointed. I think it was the whole easiness and lack of challenging themes that did it, but the play turned out to be pretty effortless to watch.

Saturday, February 17

Democracy and Majority Opinion

So, over one and a half million people have signed an e-petition asking the government to scrap the planned vehicle tracking and charging policy. Apparently it's the biggest display of public revolt against the Government since Thatcher's Poll Tax. A bit depressing if true; the petition itself hasn't actually affected policy (yet), so right not it's nothing more than list of names.

Still, the whole thing did get me thinking. What is democracy anyway? I mean abstractly and apart from voting and policy making? What's the point of it and what is it trying to prove? Well I guess it's all about representation, and a formalisation of the idea that the opinion of the majority is the most correct, and so, best thing to base decisions on.

However, in order to deal with the the logistical problems (since it's not really practical to ask everyone about anything), and the fact that one might not know what's best for them, we've added a layer of indirectness and so nominate a leader (or fifty); the idea being that the majority will correctly choose Mr X or Miss Y as the one most able to run the country at that point in time.

Sounds fair, right? Kinda, but there's a big assumption here: that the majority agree that this actual process of representation is the best way of establishing democracy. But is that really the case and does it have that kind of public backing? I don't know, but then I don't remember being asked about it during my ten years or so of being able to vote either. Heck, I don't even know enough about the topic to do that anyway.

But let's look at this in a different way. Maybe the fact that no majority is asking for change, in the form of an uprising or otherwise, is some kind of implicit indication of their agreement? Well sure, that might be the case, but then the same could be said about Iraq, Afghanistan or any other apparent dictatorships that have been recently criticised by other democracies.

Perhaps we've been manipulated into accepting this process? Possibly, but then that would go against the theory of majority rule; unless we, ourselves, actually want to be manipulated! Maybe we live in a more legitimate or authorised form of dictatorship, albeit one where the leader changes on a regular basis.

Still, I guess if we have a problem with someone who we voted in ourselves then it's really an indictment against the process itself rather than the current resident of Number Ten. I mean, if we presume the strength of majority opinion then we have to accept that Tony is the best man for the job at the moment. And if that's the case, then perhaps it's the job itself that needs changing? Perhaps what we actually need is a new system of democracy?

Which brings us back to e-petitions. This whole driving thing shows that, as a public society, we're able to give an opinion and make a decision. Not only that, but we're able to do it pretty efficiently as well. Okay, 1.5 million people is a tiny fraction of society and you can argue that even this particular petition isn't a majority opinion quite yet, but the potential is pretty stunning.

There are dangers with this idea though. We're not experts in everything and so might not be in the best position to decide policy ourselves. Still, if we trust in majority opinion then that doesn't actually matter (since errors would be smoothed off) and perhaps giving us individual responsibility would also prompt us to actually educate ourselves and engage in debate? And of course, the opinion of one man can be just as (if not more) wrong that that of the public anyway.

Of course as superb as the above sounds it is still the view of just one person. It'll only become a correct idea if the majority agrees to implement it. That kind of validation is important since even if those in power decided to change the system themselves, that doesn't mean they're doing it based on majority opinion - and if they actually did then it would probably be the biggest reason not to do it too!

So yeh, that's my take on democracy and what it means for us. But remember, I'm no political scientist, so most of this might have been said before or, more likely, is absolute rubbish. But then I'm not really talking about UK or even Western/Global politics, so some of it might actually have a point. What I do know is that I don't think any country can currently claim to have a process that's adequately democratic, if only because there's too many people thinking exactly that.

Wednesday, February 14

Film: Blood Diamond Click for more info

Topical thriller about the chase for a simple, yet very valuable, diamond. But this is no Pink Panther; Blood Diamond is dark, violent and purposefully to the point.

Set in the troubled Sierra Leone of the 90's, the film has a relatively shallow plot. There are no twists or turns or headache-inducing storylines, and is all the better for it. Instead, it concentrated on providing themes and messages, although at times it did all become a bit too patronising.

The acting was fairly good - Blood Diamond is by far my favourite Jennifer Connelly film since Labyrinth. Djimon Hounsou was his typical serious and tormented self, and Leonardo DiCaprio, while playing a fantastic anti-hero, may have had a slightly flawed South African accent (eh).

Direction was also more than adequate and the script was particularly smooth. Some of the action set pieces were brilliant, again in a simple way, although other scenes were a bit irrelevant (and I think that the film could have been 15-20 minutes shorter).

There's a sad ending that'd make even the most cold hearted viewer weep (but not me, of course), but there are plenty of lessons to be taken away from the film too; not just the obvious ones regarding conflict diamonds or child soldiers, but more abstract ones about how the little we can each do can still be something worth doing.

Much recommended.

Snippet

xxxx (15:22):
    and inside teh card it says "from a secret admirer ...?"
Shak (15:23):
    its nice... but scary too
xxxx (15:23):
    that someone would put so much effort into it?
Shak (15:23):
    wihtout saying who it is
    i think you should keep quiet
    the first person to ask "have you got anything yet" will be the person who sent it
xxxx (15:24):
    i should have done that but it was yyyy. i just asked him and he didn;t answer at first so oi asked him again and he asked "from secret admirer wasnt it"
    jesus
    it's too much man
    i wish it had been from someone else
Shak (15:25):
    lol
    no pleaseing some people

Link of the Day Click for more info

Joel Johnson writes about how crap we all are for lusting after the latest shiny tech. And he's probably right; not that I do it that often, myself.

The Annual Inevitably Cynical "I Hate Valentine's" Post

You know, I had to actually check if I had written about Valentine's before. Of course I had (and previous posts can be found here and here), which is both impressively and depressingly consistent at the same time.

Not one wanting to break with tradition, I'm happy to say that I didn't receive any cards or messages today; not even a gag-pity-e-card. But then that's okay since I DON'T ACTUALLY CARE ANYWAY. But I understand that some do, and for you guys Urban Dictionary has some good entries on what Valentine's Day really stands for. Go stick those up your nose holes, you exploited and whipped consumers.

As for me, my plans this evening involve a trip to the cinema. Possibly even on my own. That'll be more than enough for me; I just hope that it won't all be spoiled by countless inconsiderate couples or, even worse, jovial gangs of over-compensating sistahood single women. Why aren't you all making the same effort every other day of the year anyway, huh?

Tuesday, February 13

Memory Chips

So here's a thought. Seeing how impossibly tiny M2 and Micro SD cards are now, it seems quite possible for one to be able swallow them. Accidentally, of course.

But if someone did, would the cards pass through okay? And if the cards did, would they still work and contain the pictures you took over the weekend?

Answers on a memory card, please.

Monday, February 12

Shak's Choice: Sitara Hewitt

Yes, of Little Mosque fame. Yes, she plays a hijab donning Muslim doctorwoman. Yes, by virtue of her being here I think that she's very pretty:



And yes, I do feel a bit odd making her a Shak's Choice; but only a tiny bit and I'm sure I'll get over it. In the meantime, if anyone happens to know a Rayyan in real-life be sure to let me know asap. Cheers.

Sunday, February 11

The Book Group

So just how long can a bunch of people talk about a single book that they've been recently reading? Well, being the cynical chap that I am, I figured not long at all. If we had managed thirty or so minutes today, at our first book group meeting, I would have gone away happy and fulfilled. Thankfully though, I was way off the mark.

As you might have read already, the book in question was The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger. We had given ourselves a month or so to read it in preparation for today, and I suspect that, for most of us, meeting was an excuse to force ourselves to read something, and since we had done that anything else would have just been a bonus.

I think we actually talked about the book and it's surrounding themes for around two hours or so. It felt much less though, and to be honest I think we could have gone on for two more. I've already written what I thought of the book and more or less stuck to that at the meeting so I won't bother recounting my thoughts here.

But there were other opinions this afternoon too. It really is amazing how different people interpret books in their own personal way. For example, a major issue in the book for some was how Henry had treated Ingrid. Now, personally I found this to be quite irrelevant in the wider scheme of things, but that didn't stop the topic itself being amongst the most heated for us all. In fact, the book became a tool to discuss some quite abstract and profound issues - and we were referring to the characters as if they were people we knew personally rather than the creations of an author.

The thing I found most striking was how everyone was up for talking about the book. We were all focussed and didn't go off topic to talk about something else every two minutes as you would expect to on a more regular meeting of friends. We took the topic seriously instead of just as an excuse to talk, and I guess that's what it was - quality conversation borne of a quality book and quality people.

Book talk aside, the whole set up was really good too - it was comfortable for all of us with food and drink generously provided. In fact we ended up chit chatting for an hour or so after we were done with the book (I think we got up to leave at least three times before we actually did). By design there were a fair number of new people too and it was good to have all participants hitting off each other's contrasting opinions while completely accepting them all the same.

Aside from being a pleasant and sociable way to spend a Sunday afternoon, this particular session allowed me to enjoy The Time Traveler's Wife even more than I did by just reading it; and that by not turning a single further page. The various discussion that came out of today added much more depth to what was "just" a book before, and so in my opinion the book group was a total success. I'm really looking forward to the next one too (we've given ourselves two months to read since we're so, uh, busy), where the book in question will be John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath. Hmm. I'll be needing a copy of that then...

Book: The Time Traveler's Wife, Audrey Niffenegger Click for more info

As you may have already guessed, The Time Traveler's Wife is the story about a time traveller. And his wife. They meet, they fall in love, things happen to them while they are apart and together, and the book ends. Oh, and in the meantime we happen to be treated to some superb storytelling too.

But I'll start with the obvious. As a lifelong trekkie, it was nice to see a relatively good take on time travel. It was clear that the author had thought about how she was going to tackle the many issues that present themselves with the topic, and in doing so she managed to avoid all of the usual paradoxes that arise from this theme; it was possibly at the expense of complete free will, but it was good enough for someone who is never totally comfortable with the flippant way in which time travel is usually discussed.

Because of this soundness, time travel was never seen as something tacked on to the story as a novelty. Above that, it was also accessible: even if the reader didn't immediately have a handle on the way time jumps and loops in the book (or, more likely, didn't care), I think most would find themselves expertly navigating the hundred years or so over which the book is set.

It's a testament to Niffenegger's handle on her own storytelling - another author might have made it all too complicated or circular for the reader to bother, but Niffenegger knew exactly what she'd need to provide us with in order to remain sane. I was expecting to have to keep flicking pages back and forth just to make sure the various events linked up and were consistent, but apart from a few times I didn't have to (and even then quite irrelevantly).

So yes, the time travel itself was interesting and well executed. But that wouldn't have mattered if the rest of the book wasn't up to scratch. Thankfully it was; Niffenegger is a technically brilliant author, right down to the layout of the pages. You can almost see how the effort was deployed in crafting the book - I quietly congratulated the author each time I noticed that a particularly large hurdle had been overcome. She's very accomplished and it's even more surprising given this was a debut book.

Of course, I wouldn't be rating this book as much if it wasn't brimming with some fantastic characterisation. To the betterment of the book, the author didn't try to be too clever and instead used some obvious and well established tricks to bring her characters alive: a change of style as they grew older, bags and bags of reflection and contemplation and, finally, the consistent recounting of all those little irrelevancies that make fictional beings so human. The masterstroke was to narrate from both Henry and Clare's respective point of views, and they were each different enough to prop up the rest of the fictional universe in which the story was set. Brilliant stuff, and for me the reason why the book was so good.

Interestingly, I found that the book also managed to get away with some pretty extreme themes; things like almost-paedophiliac age gaps between partners, death and suicide and the acceptability of crime and social irresponsibility were thrown to the wind once the concept of strict causality was established. If something is meant to happen, how can you be to blame? It was almost religious, although I do feel that the concept wasn't explored in really great depth.

Funny, tragic and above all terribly romantic, time travel is merely the context in which a classic love story is being told - in the end the temporal genes cease to become important as the characters grow alive anyway; Henry could be a regular traveller going off to sea and the book would have been just as powerful.

As an aside, I've been reading The Time Traveler's Wife specifically as part of a book group a few friends of mine and I have started (the meeting of which is happening in around an hour). But I'll probably blog about that separately a bit later on.

Super Saturday!

Today was another one of those brilliantly packed and varied days that make you realise exactly how much you can stuff into a single Saturday.

It helps starting the day early though. We arrived at the rink for the 11am-1pm session in order to be done with the ice skating in time for lunch. To that particular end we decided on Nando's and spent a good hour or so munching on chicken. It was all invariantly Collective-birthday-like and I loved it.

I then split from the guys to drop by my brother's place, where a family lunch was going on. I missed the food but caught the people (albeit briefly) so it wasn't a total write off for me. Since there was no food or anything to eat the time was spent just chilling.

Next was home, where remnants of the morning's birthday party joined for some wicked Warioware action. They had to finish off the remainder of their Saturday after an hour or so, which actually gave me some free time before the evening started. And I still had two more things to do!

We had another family do at my uncle's house; it was bigger and with more guests. I stayed for dinner and a bit of a doss (which included technical support for my hosts), and was reluctant to leave since it felt like I was hitting and running. But I had one last thing to do this Saturday.

A couple of uni friends were throwing a bit of a bash to celebrate their engagement. For some reason uni get-togethers seem to be a bit of a rare occasion nowadays so things like these are a must to attend. And it was a nice night out, especially since I got to see the happy couple, most of the gang all in one place and, of course, the inevitable tipsy behaviour. We even had both Snow and Vanilla Ice played. Superb.

Aside from all that, I even managed to get a haircut, not miss a prayer and get all my other Saturday chores out of the way, so I didn't even feel guilt by bedtime. Still, the worst thing about days like these is that they do have to end sometime. At least I get to lie in tomorrow (since I'm not running), so I even get to do the recover-from-the-fake-hangover thing where you take in all the action from the day before. How often do we get to do that?

Saturday, February 10

Skating On Thin Ice

A friend's birthday brought us all to a morning session on an ice rink. I hadn't been ice skating since secondary school so was quite excited at the prospect of hitting the ice like the graceful swan I was. I'm not sure why, but ice skating always seems harder to do than I imagine it to be in my head.

As expected, most of us started by gripping the sides while we found our feet on the ice. Most of us managed to progress to something that resembled skating, and after around half an hour we had started racing and playing tag. It really is an exhilarating feeling going at a good pace across the ice. Provided you don't fall over at the end, that is.

It's funny though: as it is in other situations, it's the fear of failing (or in this case falling) that keeps you from progressing. Once you do, however, you find that you're not scared anymore - it's kinda like the activating event you need to flourish. It's just amazing how crippling irrational fear is, especially seeing how easy it is (in retrospect) to get past it.

So yes, I fell. In fact, that was probably the only "race" I won this morning. I haven't spotted any bruises yet, but I do feel a bit of a graze on my elbow and my muscles are sure to ache tomorrow (even though I had intended to stretch beforehand, I kinda forgot in all of the excitement). Most worryingly, however, my final fall was kinda awkward and I did feel something click as I went down; I'm hoping it's nothing more than a minor sprain or something (I won't be running tomorrow morning, that's for sure).

I was also surprised at how reasonable entry was - it's certainly cheap enough to do regularly. I might even take a few lessons. I may even be that swan before you know it!

Friday, February 9

City Circle: It Takes Two to Tawhid: Finding the Right Partner Click for more info

A talk about marriage? How could I not attend, eh? And I wasn't alone; once again the big topic of finding the right person pulled in the crowds. Still, at least I had come last week. I'm a regular round here, don't you know...

This week, Luqman Ali was telling us what was what. He opened with the usual scripture about how it was almost an Islamic obligation (via the Sunnah) to marry and how it "completes your deen". He even quoted that "the people of the fire were bachelors". So no, not a particularly impressive start in my opinion.

It got much better though. Ali's view on (dynamic, as opposed to institutional) marriage is that it was more about improving the lives of the individuals involved rather than creating a new "dual personality". The idea was to create heart and iman from the conjunction of your spirit and self - this conjunction only being made possible in the context of marriage. Your partner was the leverage or catalyst or key to unlock the betterment within yourself. It was all very kooky, yet very cool stuff.

He also pointed out how marriage was supposed to be fluid; how men have a feminine side and women a masculine, and how each of these play off each other eventually and hopefully resulting in a net balance. On the other hand, we did cover some pretty obvious things - apparently bad marriages were bad and needed to be avoided. Hmm.

Moving on to causes and solutions for why we were in the situation we were in, Ali offered four main ideas:

  1. The lack of communities of purpose. Single people today have the wrong context (meetings and introductions were too overtly about getting married) in which to get married, a lack of support for when things go wrong, few good examples and role models to make the idea attractive and no conduit with which to defuse any personal negativity one may have in a relationship.
  2. The over-segregation of the sexes. Those that haven't grown up associating with the opposite gender find it difficult to do so when it comes to marriage. Talking further about the issue of context, above, he mentioned that in his experience, people found their ideal partners as a bonus while working with them in service (volunteering and other social activities) or when seeking knowledge.
  3. The over-emphasis on culture. So arranged marriages becoming forced, the whole Eastern vs Western values and the traditional roles of the husband and wife causing problems.
  4. Unrealistic expectations. Men want demure yet lively women, while women want manly yet timid men.
He wrapped up his opinion there, and then opened it up to the audience. The Q&A session was pretty good this time, with people actually having new and useful queries and comments:

  • What do you do if the whole community is against change? You try your best, and then move (ie perform a hijrah) to a new, more accessible community.
  • Why is the divorce rate amongst Muslim couples so high? There is currently a major misunderstanding about what love means: it's not just about attraction but about repulsion too - being able to be with someone despite their flaws while appreciating their gifts.
  • Is there no hope for those who, for whatever reason, remain single (yes, that was my question)? No, marriage is Sunnah, which implies that the conjunction of spirit and self can be achieved outside of it. It would have been wajib if technically obligatory.
  • Why are marriages today so miserable? Because they are done for the wrong reasons: abuses of power or short term pleasure rather than holistic development. Ali compared it to the want of material instead over spiritual gain.
This high quality of questions and answers didn't last long though. Most of the questions were obviously rhetorical: so we had comments about how men shouldn't be too fussy, how women shouldn't be too fussy, the age one should get married at and how men shouldn't mind independent women, how men and women should be able to get to know each other in a respectful way, and how we need to move away from objective checklists when picking a partner. It always makes me wonder why people ask the questions they should already know the answer to, but then perhaps I'm giving humanity a bit too much credit here.

And it got worse. Unfortunately, the evening regressed to another man-bashing session; we had the same old clich├ęd complaints about men all being mummy's boys wanting subservient wives from back home so they could slave-drive or bully them, and how they were also too lazy or proud to drive change. I found this pretty insulting; there were an equal number of men as there were women at the CC tonight, and I suspect many if not most of them would be way above the kind of criticism being aimed at their gender. I don't think this attitude furthered the discussion much.

My take is this: the quality of men isn't the issue here. Even if we managed to fix blokes and made them into the perfect beings some women want them to be, marriage would still be problematic. Women would still be rejecting men just as much as the other way around.

In this respect I totally concur with Luqman Ali's four issues above, and the lack of a community of purpose especially rings a bell with me. Improve the quality of social interaction (let the opposite genders co-operate and work together) and we'll be half of way there.

The rest of the journey is to reconsider exactly what the point of marriage actually is. Personally, I don't think that it's a certificate of achievement or a membership badge or the silver bullet we each need to complete our respective lives or deens; no, it's an enabler of growth, a tool with which to ease the development of our souls. And I reckon that once those who are currently finding it difficult to marry realise this, they'll each know exactly what it is they're looking for and exactly where to find it.

You Know It's Love When...

... They start referring to each other by initial:

I can't come out this weekend 'cos I'm helping M out with her house move

Uh huh...

Thursday, February 8

Snippet

xxxx says (10:50):
    there's a cute guy who works for one of teh offices that recently moved into the building and i think he might fancy me
Shak says (10:51):
    think? of course he does! how can he not?
xxxx says (10:51):
    lol. are you being sarcastic?
Shak says (10:51):
    yes
    but seriously
xxxx says (10:51):
    thanks
Shak says (10:51):
    why do you think this? tyell me
Shak says (10:52):
    so i can do the same
    i swear i make it obvious when im checking someone otu. maybe thats why they move away

Riding In The Snow

So I'd thought I'd be a bit different and blog about the "worst (or best depending on your viewpoint) snow in ten years". Has it really been that long?

I was taken aback a bit when I saw it this morning. The first thing that struck me was how clean it all was - no dog poo footprints in sight! But hey this was my first time in this new area so perhaps that was just a Leytonstone thing.

I was the first to set foot outside my home and immediately I noticed the sheer amount of it all - I actually sunk a good few inches. Snow just doesn't settle like this in London any more. All in all it felt like three or four, all crunching away under my apparently oh-so-inadequate trainers.

Traffic was as slow as was expected; I gave up waiting for the bus and walked to the station with a friend instead. Car wheels were consistently spinning as drivers stuck to their low speed (correctly) and low gears (incorrectly). They should expect high fuel bills this week.

The Central Line was running a special service due to the weather. For once, this seemed to be to the benefit of us Epping Branchers; we were getting a train a minute, each only half seated. Still, I felt sorry for the Hainaulters who had to change train and cram on to ours at Leytonstone. Poor buggers. It didn't take that much longer than usual getting in.

And now, as I type in the late morning, I see that it's still snowing. A whole new generation are experiencing these conditions for the first time, but whether it has happened before or not I can't remember such continuous and settling snow and it does feel new and different for me too. And all in February! Climate change at its best, eh?

Wednesday, February 7

Video Of The Day Click for more info

Yes, I know. I know. You can't really have two "Video of the Day"s. But this is so simple, educational and powerful I had to share it:



So the next time you think your blog, web forum or even private mail message is largely insignificant, have a think of this video.

Video Of The Day Click for more info

Nothing like some barefaced satire to start the day:



Ho ho ho. Nicked off Spirit21.

Tuesday, February 6

Things That Pee Me Off #28: Posh Plugs

I'm not quite sure how to explain this one in any way other than pictures so:


They're usually found in posher bathrooms and toilets. They seem innocent enough, right? I mean, how can anyone become upset over a plug and its hole? Well, it's all about how you close them y'see:


If you still haven't figured it out, these plugs are manually swivelled by hand. As in you have to touch them. And if that isn't disgusting enough, remember that, by function, a closed plug would be under a few inches of already used water. And it's even worse when you find a sink (in, say, a shared toilet) with the plug already in since you'll have to wade through someone else's scum to get to it. They obviously decided to do a runner instead of braving the drainage, and you know what? A part of me doesn't blame them.

Euuurgh. What's wrong with a remote lever or button? Even a good ol' chain would be better than this. Ban these things. Now.

Sunday, February 4

"Oh No Chachu Please Don't" Part 2

Remember this? Well today was the sequel, but with the younger brother, Haroon.

Haroon isn't as much of a cry baby as his older brother is, but boy did he bawl today. It all turned out to be a bit crocodile though, since he was able to hold some pretty good conversation while screaming (a very surreal experience, that) and hold still for the clippers.

We're still friends. What a trooper.

Friday, February 2

City Circle: People of the Qibla: Creating a Sunni-Shia Platform Click for more info

This week's City Circle aimed to discuss some of the issues surrounding the apparent Sunni-Shia divide, including the current sectarian violence occurring in Iraq. To do this, two prominent members of each were invited to talk about the differences, causes and possible steps to a more united way of living.

Dr Musharraf Hussein al-Azhari presented the Sunni viewpoint. He spoke about the human tendency to treat "the other" as bad, and how instead, in his opinion, pluralism was actually divinely ordained. His theological proof was based on how The Quran speaks about the acceptable differences people might have ("if God had willed otherwise, then he would have made us all the same"), and how even in the time of The Prophet Muslims were of a range of differing natures, and so had a range of laws.

Dr Musharraf ended with some recommendations. We all needed to increase our levels of mutual understandings, equality, cooperation and friendship, and realise that diversity was the essence of human existence and so shouldn't be fought. Practically, he also suggested the formation of a Sunni-Shia forum.

Hujjat-ul-Islam Dr Mohammad Saeed Bahmanpour was the resident Shia on the panel. He mainly reiterated the sentiment of Dr Musharraf on how unity was both possible and required. Having said that, I did think that his stance was slightly defensive: he explained that, theologically, the Shia followed the Sunnah as much as the Sunni; that they also considered themselves a part of the ummah alongside the the majority Sunni; that they accepted the opinion of Sunni as valid (and so would, for example, pray behind them in jamaat) and so forth. Disputes were not over basis of rulings, but over their respective authenticities.

He also made some other various points about how differences were mainly over methodology rather than theology and how history should be left in the past. Regarding Iraq, he used the fact that Sunni and Shia have been living together for centuries as proof that the current violence wasn't fuelled by theological difference but mismanagement (possibly intentionally) by the USA. He was especially critical of current propaganda aimed at highlighting non-existent sectarian differences.

The question and answer session afterwards was fairly unexciting, although we did hear how unity was more about accepting each the differences we each have rather than making anyone align themselves with a local or global majority. Recent steps to doing this was to include the Jafari and other Shia schools of jurisprudence alongside the traditional four Sunni ones. There was no suggestion of deprecating them all altogether though.

It was a pretty educational and eye-opening session, although a lot of was either very rhetorical ("we are all taught to accept the other!"), very obvious ("we need to stop fighting!") or very vacuous ("we need to stop disagreeing to agree!"). This was probably due to only having those with a pluralist vibe on the panel, but on the other hand sometimes the obvious needs to be stated for people to take initiatives.

Personally I find it pretty ironic that the intra-faith divisions we face seem to be causing Muslims more problems than our inter-faith ones... Although perhaps that just tells us how important it is to move forward in this respect.

Link of the Day Click for more info

I'm guessing a total of one person will find this link interesting. For those who have no idea what Phoenix Wright is, see here and here.

OBJECTION!

Thursday, February 1

Thrown

I like to think that I'm a well adjusted individual. And by this I mean that I am aware and can usually make sense of myself and what goes on around me. Correctly or not, I can rationalise events, interpret my thoughts and experiences and accept the actions of others as just that. Hence, most things end up making sense in my head. And once I do that, I can put them in the out-tray part of my brain to be filed away as a lesson learned.

However, on some especially rare occasions, I fail to achieve this level of understanding. Perhaps I've just been lucky to have avoided the many complex and unpredictable situations any other person would have normally faced by my age. Perhaps I'm just not used to what others simply describe as life. Whatever the reason, I'm not complaining here: I don't actually mind when I can't process something and as egotistical as I can be I can also accept that, yes, even I can't explain everything that happens around me.

Nevertheless, for someone not accustomed to curve balls they can be very disorientating when they hit. Still, at least these "episodes" make life more interesting than it would be otherwise. I guess being thrown slightly off track from time to time is what makes each of us human.

Outlandish At Scala

Awesome, awesome, awesome. But wait, I'm getting a little ahead of myself.

I got there late of course. That was pretty inevitable considering I went home to pick up my car first. Still, I guess that there was no need to rush; although the doors opened at 7:30pm, no one was expecting the main act to come on stage till at least an hour later. As for getting in, thankfully I had my girls in the queue waiting beforehand (and that's the only reference you guys are gonna get, sorry. Oh, but thanks for inviting me to come).

Scala was a smaller venue than I had expected. Although we got in relatively early the main floor was already rammed, and the gallery was filling up fast. Some bright spark amongst us had the idea of grabbing a place up on a balcony and we eventually ended up on the super-secret highest one; although it was the furthest spot from which to see the stage, for the 25 or so of us up there it was quiet, intimate and offered a fantastic unobstructed view of all the acts playing. I've posted some pics here.

Support was in the form of Friction and Nihal doing their "thing", with DJ Kayper doing hers. I still think Nihal is much better on the radio than he is in person, but thankfully he wasn't too annoying this time. DJ Kayper was just as lovely as she usually is. Sigh.

We also got to sample Gypsies, who really weren't that bad for a support band. Loud and raw, they kinda reminded me of a European Linkin' Park. As good as these extras were, however, none of us had come for Friction, Nihal, Kayper or Gypsies. Our reason for being there walked on stage just after 9:30pm.

Outlandish played the predictable: Peelo, Walou, Guantanamo, Just Me, Sakeena and Look Into My Eyes amongst other popular tracks. Thankfully they played (albeit an abridged) Kom Igen, although judging by the reaction of the crowd I might have been the only one to appreciate that live. There was no Fatima's Hand - I found that surprising considering the audience. All in all they played 12-13 tracks from both albums cumulating (of course) with Aicha, but that only after a well rehearsed and teasing fake leaving of the stage. Like we cared.

Whatever I felt about Outlandish before tonight pales in comparison to my opinion of them now. They took their music to another level; these guys really know how to perform live. Perhaps listening to their two albums constantly for the past couple of days is what did it for me, but there was a level of involvement by the whole audience that really blew me away. We all became pretty wired.

Speaking of the audience, I have never seen so many swinging hijabis before, all perfectly comfortable in a cramped and mixed crowd. Although I had heard about this kind of thing (at GPUs and the like) it was definitely something I hadn't experienced first hand. The cynical side of me rates Outlandish for putting a smiling hijabi in their first popular music video - I suspect a whole bunch of these people wouldn't be here if they hadn't (and I wonder how many realise that it's actually a cover). Still, it was an enjoyable crowd if not a bit too young and groupie.

Outlandish were awesome live and it took me ages to come down from the gig; I expect to be humming more than a few of their tracks over the next few days. They more than surpassed my expectations and I was totally and utterly surprised that they weren't just good but absolutely brilliant instead. Awesome, awesome, awesome.