Saturday, March 31

A Midsummer Night's Dream Click for more info

Tim Supple's production of Shakespeare's play has made it even more weird than it was anyway. Totally India-fied, the play was laced with the culture, the setting and even the languages from the sub-continent.

The last of which might be why I didn't really appreciate this as much as I should have. My basic Urdu/Hindi is bad enough without having to follow a live performance spoken it in, but the other languages (Tamil, Malayalam, Sinhalese, Bengali and Sanskrit according to the website), perhaps unsurprisingly, were totally lost on me.

I haven't read A Midsummer Night's Dream either, so I found myself not really knowing what was going on by the interval (although arriving late and so having to miss the first twenty minutes or so probably didn't help either). Still, all was not lost; once the basic plot had been explained to me a lot of what went by begun to make sense, as did the rest of the story. If you were going to watch this, I advise you to brush up on a synopsis or three before you do.

Language and plot difficulties aside, the play was pretty interesting to watch. There were acrobatics, music, fighting and dancing, all serving to literally spice up the story. Acting was alright but nothing fantastic, while the set and costume were kept basic to good effect; the stage itself was heavily layered with sand, giving a good ethnic feel to the show. The cast fitted well with the play, with Yuki Ellias (Hermia) reminding me how I really wouldn't mind hooking up with an actress.

It's worth mentioning the Roundhouse too. It's based in a part of Camden I've never been to before, around a ten minute walk from Primrose Hill. The venue itself is nice enough (it's just been recently refurbished); the round in the name is literal with a stage that protrudes right into the audience, resulting in two thirds of those watching having a side on view. Unfortunately this didn't really suit the production and being one of those on the side, I found myself missing quite a lot even thought we was only five rows away from the front.

All in all, I didn't come away from this production of A Midsummer Night's Dream with the uplifting awe that I usually get after visiting the theatre, and so I guess I'll have to conced that it wasn't that amazing. Still, it was different enough to make it watchable and so it's difficult to call it a complete waste of time or money. If you want to see Shakespeare with a twist, then you probably couldn't do much worse than this.

Friday, March 30

Film: Meet the Robinsons Click for more info

Disney CGI animation about a young orphan discovering his future as well as a new found confidence against failure. Yada yada yada. With no Pixar or star voices, I took a bit of a punt with this one. I've mentioned before how I feel about the proliferation of CGI animations and the inevitable lack of quality that will bring, and so a main reason I went to see this was cos it was the shortest film available on a Friday night.

I didn't regret it though. Animation and direction were all fine (as they are with these things nowadays), and the film was well built technically. As always with animations it really comes down to the script, and with respect to that Meet the Robinsons didn't disappoint.

The thing that saved the film was the comedy. There were some genuinely funny laugh out loud moments, usually involving the villain, Goob. I can't remember the last time I've laughed at such simple slapstick - I usually disregard visual comedy as not deep enough. This just got right to me though, and it's a quality I recognise as something quite special. And although she was no Helen Parr, Franny was pretty hot too. For, uh, a cartoon character that is. Right.

It wasn't perfect though. The start was way too slow and as a result the ending felt a bit rushed - I wouldn't have minded another half hour or so. Also it didn't quite tug on the heartstrings as much as it could have done, but then it was hard to take any of it too seriously. Especially Goob. He was hilarious.

Overall though, this was not a genuine Disney-Pixar, and it's clear that the former has a long way to go before establishing itself in its own right. Still, Meet the Robinsons is encouraging though, and if this is a taste of things to come then I'm happy.

I wonder if Pixar will be as successful on their own?

Thursday, March 29

Things That Pee Me Off #08: Anonymous Mass Messages

Five years ago, I was commanding (in my usual manner) everyone who wanted to include me in a mass e-mail message to start using BCC when forwarding e-mails. The last thing I wanted was to allow my e-mail address to be broadcasted to 50 million people I didn't really know. After being ignored (as usual) I eventually gave up, instead choosing to create a more private email address that I only gave out to people who respected my right to some kind of privacy. But still, people soon got the hang of BCC and became generally aware of the etiquette associated with e-mail.

But now the cycle seems to be repeating, with BCC itself at the centre of the abuse. Some people seem to think that any responsibility they have for the people they message ends at them keeping the identities of the recipients a secret: if you don't know who else is being sent, then the content of your mails doesn't seem to matter much. Take the following as an example:


Hi guys!

I know I've not been around for a while, but I thought I'd say hi anyway. I just came back from California where I had a fantastic time but now that I'm back it'd be great to meet up - let me know when you're free! I hope you and your families are well...

X


At first glance you might think that there's nothing wrong with this. X is obviously concerned about your welfare and all that. That is until you realise they've also sent the same sentiment to everyone they know. In these cases non-BCC is much more preferred, since it's likely you'd both know and want to talk to everyone originally mails. The use of BCC breaks this community.

It's worse than mindless forwards to be honest (which itself is as bad as spam in my opinion). It's the totally contradictory situation where a personal mail is being sent quite impersonally, reducing the whole thing to nothing more than a marketing or public relations exercise. It's similar to mass Eid Greetings and the like, differing only 'cos these are now recognised and accepted as nothing more than empty formalities.

Some people go even further and decide to place some pretty private messages within these mails, all to be read by people you probably don't know (not that you'll ever find out because of BCC abuse):

Shak - we had a real laugh last time ;) although maybe we shouldn't really try that trick again eh? Hows the hunt going btw? ;)


I can't be the only one irritated by this behaviour.

This lack of respect for mass communication isn't just restricted to e-mail. With the swelling of text message allocations people now have no qualms sending a single message to more than one person. There's nothing wrong with this in itself, and sometimes it's actually quite handy in some situations. It's when some (and admittedly it's only a few right now) pretend that it's only you they're sending it to:

Hi, long time no see. Hope you're well. Anyway I really need a favour, can can only think of you to do it. Can I put you forward? Reply to this pls


Horribly generic and impersonal, and again the terms "marketing" and "manipulation" spring to mind.

And I think that's what's bugging me really. The treating friends like one-of-many, as just a single big mailing list, and not as the individuals that they actually are. It's impersonal, uncreative, lazy and totally inconsiderate. You got to wonder how much you're actually worth to these guys: if I wanted to be a part of an anonymous list, I'd join a yahoo Group.

Unfortunately there are no filters to automatically ignore these messages, so we just have to put up with them, disregarding them in the extreme case. But then perhaps that's not really a problem: if some can't be bothered to talk to others directly then perhaps they're not really expecting many replies anyway.

Wednesday, March 28

One To Watch: The Apprentice Click for more info

Tonight, 9pm BBC1

It's back! Despite my following of Celebrity Big Brother a couple of months ago, there's no doubt that The Apprentice remains my only favourite of all the many reality shows currently being thrown at us.

This season promises to be more real, as the candidates have been picked for reasons other than how much entertainment they will provide to us, a gagging audience. I'm not convinced, but then I didn't think anything needed changing anyway. Bring on the muppets in force I say.

Of course it's obvious who I'll be following. At 23, Ghazal is the youngest ever potential apprentice, and is both pretty and Glaswegian; two qualities I always look for when determining success. As an aside there is also an above average number of Asian candidates. I wonder how long they'll last...

Snippet

xxxx says (13:01):
    oh well, i don;t much care, he was just a distraction
    i had sex on friday
Shak says (13:02):
    lol
    oh man
xxxx says (13:02):
    just felt the need to kep you updtaed
    what?
Shak says (13:02):
    im your gay best friend arent i?
xxxx says (13:02):
    lol you could be
Shak says (13:03):
    :(
    im gonna post that
xxxx says (13:03):
    if you were my gay best friend at least you'd be getting some action
Shak says (13:03):
    how?
xxxx says (13:04):
    shut up don;t ask me that, you know i don't have an answer, i was talking shit
Shak says (13:05):
    lol
Shak says (13:06):
    youre just faking wit now in order to get a snippet out of me arent you?
xxxx says (13:06):
    yeah
    lol
Shak says (13:06):
    you should know that snippets are anonymous
xxxx says (13:06):
    i don;t care, i know it's me

Monday, March 26

XKCD Click for more info

Once again, XKCD hits the nail on the head:


And again, don't forget to check out the picture title by hovering your mouse over the comic.

Sunday, March 25

Film: 300 Click for more info

Super violent extravaganza about a bunch of Spartans (300 to be precise) defending their land against an oncoming Persian army made up of an estimated ONE BILLION men.

300 was filmed in that high contrast CGI style, not quite what was seen in Sin City, but still striking nonetheless. However, where it keeps ahead in visual style it fails in direction; it wasn't anything more than point and shoot at the person talking.

That is, apart from when no one was talking. The fight scenes were really good, if not a bit short lived. Still there were plenty to choose from, each battle having its own quirk as if levels from a videogame. Most were beautifully choreographed, while the others just stuck to barefaced visual stunning. Although there were perhaps way too many half naked men for my liking.

And yet, I come away slightly disappointed with 300. There was no depth to this movie, no emotion or feeling. I wasn't really bothered when some people died, or when others betrayed. Not only that, but the makers didn't even bother with the characters; you were either good or bad in this movie, right or wrong. It wasn't quite the jingoistic affair some critics have accused it of, but it would have helped if it wasn't all so black and white (and I mean that almost literally).

Worth watching just for the blood and swords, just don't expect anything but a shallow experience along with it.

Saturday, March 24

A Slide or Modern Art? Click for more info

I managed to spend a few hours at the Tate Modern today. I went mainly to see/ride the current Unilever Turbine Room exhibit, The Carsten Holler slides, although of all the London galleries and museums I've visited I've always been up for the Modern more than usual.

After queuing for over half an hour, I found that the slides themselves were a tiny bit anticlimactic. Although from outside they seem pretty exciting, they end pretty quickly and are actually not that fast. Perhaps that's unsurprising though, after all these were pieces of art rather than thrilling roller coasters. Piccies should be up on Picasa soon.

Still, at least I got to see some of the new artworks while I was waiting. I totally forgot that Amrita Sher-gil's stuff was there, so it was a pleasant surprise to check it out (even though it wasn't all that after all). My hit for today were the various Collection Displays - I can't remember which theme in particular I liked the most, but they were all worth wondering around in their weird and manic ways that I'm still not sure I get completely. That, quite possibly, being the point.

It was a nice leisurely way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Libraries Rock!

I haven't been a member of a library since I was, oh I dunno, twelve. Since then I mostly read on the recommendation of others, and so I usually had someone to borrow the books being read off of too.

However, this session's Book Group book (John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath) has caused me problems, not least because my potential lender is busy reading the book themselves. And so I decided to try my local library.

And my how they've changed. I must say I was terribly impressed. Online catalogues and renewals are old hat now, and I was expecting that much, but what I found amazing was how federated it's all become.

With my single membership, I am able to borrow books from any library in my borough. I can also return the same books to any other branch. I am also able to query (and, I think, request) the holdings of any library in six London boroughs. Amazing really, although the library staff may have seemed a bit bemused when I congratulated them on their facilities.

Anyway, I was impressed. And after being referred to a branch library, I also managed to find a copy of The Grapes of Wrath to boot. And if you're wondering, yes, I did first go over it with a wet-wipe...

Friday, March 23

An Evening with Ali Click for more info

Like I wrote in my previous post, I didn't really know much about Ali and Ummah Films before I arrived to The Great Hall this evening. In fact it was worse than this: I actually thought I was going to see someone else (clearly all these Muslim comics look the same to me), and when I finally realised who it really was, I was a bit disappointed. You see, I've never been able to make it through a whole Ummah Film short. It's not that I don't find them funny, because I do to an extent. It's more that I didn't find them saying anything new or original.

But I had come to see Imperial anyway, so I felt that it wouldn't be a total waste of a visit if I stayed for Ali too. There is a following so I always accepted that it was my grumpy and cynical side stopping me from enjoying this stuff, although the fact that young women made up the majority of the audience was kinda interesting.

The format of the show was to show us two published videos, two yet to be seen anywhere videos, and then to finish off with a question and answer session. Taking the videos in order, we were shown:

  • Muslim While Flying: This was quite funny, if not entirely easy to relate to. I don't think I've ever been stopped multiple times when flying, and when I have it genuinely has been random (in that people all around me were being stopped too). I liked the "things not to do" bit; I often wonder why people wear the red rags that are Islamic "humour" t-shirts.
  • Muslim Characters at Work: Again, this had a few moments that made me laugh out loud. But also again, I found it difficult to relate to. The things Ali describes in this video just doesn't happen here. Or at least not to me; perhaps I've been fortunate enough to only meet people in the work place who aren't afraid to wear their respective religions on their sleeves.
  • Marriage and Parents: I found myself laughing less and frowning more. We were back on the "parents force their kids to marry their cousins ha ha" trip, material not seen in the UK since the good ol' (read with a thick sense of sarcasm please) Goodness Gracious Me days. Cliched and derivative, I hoped that it was a once off; I'm even sure I noticed a contradiction in the message as he told us to not marry within culture (and so to ask parents for a choice) while saying some cultures weren't compatible (those of our parents in particular). Hmm.
  • The Pursuit of Cleanliness: At first, this made up for the previous video. However, I seemed to have become averse to Ali's style by this point - I was soon seeing past the comedy and through to what he was actually trying to say. I'm the first person to show concern at the lack of hygiene in public places, and although criticising fellow colleagues at work for not washing their hands might be funny, it's also quite isolationist at best and judgemental at worst. Either way it has little to do with the Islamic message that was being purported - that we should stay clean (erm, since we're pointing and laughing at the dirty white man, don't we do this already?). There was also the same lack of originality seen in the other videos (there's only so many times I can laugh at a makeshift lota water bottle with its label ripped off, and this is at least the third time). Still, I think this was my favourite video since it was the funniest, and judging by the crowds I wasn't alone. Toilet humour rocks then.
So no, the selection of videos didn't really change my opinion any. They each followed the same pattern of offering the situation, then the funnies, then the lecture and then ending with the moral of the story. If we look past the amusing window dressing it seems that all we're left with was basic preaching: with someone telling us what to do while, quite harshly, judging those that don't. Ironically it became pretty apparent just how conservative and culturally traditional Ali actually is, and the phrase "holier than thou" sprung to my mind more than once.

There was also a defensive, victim mentality to the videos, as if they were direct responses to accusations being made by non-Muslims everywhere. There were more than a few "if you think you have it bad, try being a Muslim" moments too.

I also felt that they just didn't relate to the situation Islam finds itself in the UK (or at the very least in London). For example, when was the last time someone here was asked what fiqh they followed? It just doesn't happen anymore - we resolved these basic things quite a while ago. And again, what with most major organisations having corporate Islamic Societies, how much of the work stuff applies to us here? It's more evidence of how how far we are over here, and as such some of the points made in the Ummah Films were pretty shallow. I imagine UK versions of these films to look quite different.

Still, Q&As are usually much more interesting, so perhaps there was still a chance for me to get some positives from today. And so it was this time too; we saw a more genuine Ali as he answered questions on the fly as well as the many other non-comedic layers that he had to offer too. It became clear that he had bags of good intent despite the lack of original thought (with respect to his message as well as material).

There was also no doubt that Ali is a funny and extremely charming guy. The girls certainly thought so, lapping up all he had to offer. It was especially worrying to hear the ladies applaud Ali suggesting to the men that we find wives that will best raise children while they're at work. If anyone else had said that, I'm pretty sure they'd be toast by now. Make a girl laugh and you can feed her anything it seems (is it getting hot in here?).

On the other hand I suspect that most guys (me excluded, of course) were hating on him. We've gotten away with not having to be funny for a while now, saying that it just isn't possible for Muslim guys to be so. Ali's totally blown that gentleman's agreement out of the water. Brilliant.

But even though the above seems pretty bad on the whole I must admit that, ultimately, I was impressed by Ummah Films and Ali. You see, I can't criticise him for his Islamic opinion since it's a perfectly valid one. I can't accuse him of not being that funny, since humour is subjective. Most of the negative comments above seem to stem from the fact that West Coast USA is a very different place to London, which is also fair enough.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that Ali has achieved a great deal with Ummah Films. The fact that he did it on his own and then without any prior experience is pretty amazing; to actually get off his lazy bum and do something, however easy that sounds, is an impressive feat - it's more than what I can hope to achieve anyway.

As a person, Ali shone. I honestly believe that if he read this he would do so without taking offence; that's the kind of humility, humbleness and honesty he demonstrated on the stage this evening. He's a profoundly inspiring chap too, talking about how a relatively small effort with the right intent can make a big difference almost automatically (or, more accurately, with the will of God).

So I think that my biggest criticism would in fact have to be aimed not at Ali but at us - the audience he was talking to. I could totally be underestimating the crowd tonight, but judging by some of the reactions displayed I have to wonder exactly how many were actually listening to what Ali had to say above all the laughter he was generating (see the example above where his opinion of the "right" type of woman to marry totally being disregarded. He also has some pretty interesting views on the hijab and the manner in and reasons for which a woman should wear it that have been "well received by the sisters" apparently). I sincerely hope that he doesn't become yet another halal pin-up whom we all champion blindly (confer Outlandish). That would almost certainly hinder his objective rather than help with it.

Even though I didn't really enjoy the stuff it has produced, there's definitely a place for Ummah Films in this journey Muslims are travelling on at the moment, and it shouldn't change anything in what it's doing. However, I don't think that it's most effective on its own; to be so it needs to share the stage with vividly differing opinion and methodology. And who knows? Perhaps then I'll also see it in a different light.

Returning to Imperial College

Tonight's Ummah Films event was being hosted by Imperial College's ISOC.

I've not returned to IC since I graduated way back in October 2001. In fact, if I'm totally honest, this thing tonight was just an excuse; I've been looking for a reason to go back for a visit for a while now (if not since I had left). I didn't really know about Ali and his work so if it turned out to be good on the day then that would have just been a bonus.

It's amazing how far away South Kensington seemed when I was studying there; it was like travelling to a whole new world each day. I now work relatively close to the campus, so the area is now kinda familiar. Despite this I left early in order to have a proper wander around before the show started.

I deliberately got off The Tube at South Kensington instead of my usual at that time, Gloucester Road. This was because I had yet to see the new literal face of IC: the Tanaka Business School, accessible easiest from the former station. For maximum effect I just had to take The Tunnel joining the station to Imperial - I remember being stunned by the depressing length of it the first time I took it over ten years ago. I was just as stunned again this time.

And yes, Imperial itself had changed. The Tanaka Business School is the obvious mark of this, but there were lots of other smaller cues too. We (or should that be they?) now have a reception of all things, as well as a foyer. There's now a "Faculty Building" (whatever that is) opposite the Royal School of Mines, itself now faced off with glass.

There were the constants - the walkway was still the spine of the campus, and the place that represented the university as a whole the best. The JCR and SCR both remained as they were six years ago. The Prayer Room (and I smirked when I heard it still being referred to as the PR) was still in the same place albeit with a new carpet(!) - although it still had the same sign hanging over the stairway down. And maybe my memory isn't that great, but I'm sure there was less mixing of the genders in my time...

There were also more subtle changes around: you now needed to scan in everywhere both internally and externally in order to get around. The ISOC now have a dresscode, with all the members visibly displaying their colours and logs on a uniform tee shirt (I'd also mention the somewhat matching gelled hairstyles and goatees if it was relevant here, but it isn't really). Everything also seemed so... small - especially the students, and there were definitely more girls around too.

Huxley was a major shock for me, and I'm not because of the new lick of paint it's obviously received. There is now a "Visualisation Studio" sandwiched between the two main lecture theatres, both of which have had a rather dramatic overhaul. I actually lost my breath when I saw what had been done to them - gone are the places I studied four years in a row in (and here's a sad fact: I never missed a single lecture in all my time there. Crazy eh?). In their stead are two plush, comfortable and - dare I say it - stylish lecture rooms. On some level it was quite upsetting, this change of character from nerdy to cool, but then I realised that old Huxley was probably just as geeky as it's always been once I looked past the leather jacket it had been bought. I didn't get to see the labs, which is a shame.

But most striking was the change in vibe of the place; it seemed to have more of a uni-like feel to it now. I had a mixed reaction when I realised that IC wasn't the same place where I had studied. It's all clearly positive, in that change is good and good change even better. But I don't think that the character needed to change too for this, but it seems that it has. I guess I'm just afraid that at this rate, when I come to visit in five years or so, it will be a totally different place altogether.

Mr Nice Guy

It's becoming pretty clear that I've been a bit of a moron for the past... well, forever really. This may not be news to you (and even not to myself on some level), but it's becoming particularly irritating for me personally now as the internal and external effects become more noticeable.

So, in a classic example of self-involvement and analysis, as well as the greater good, I've decided to run a bit of an experiment. For the next four weeks or so, I'm going to be deliberately nice. I say four weeks, but of course I hope to keep it up as long as I can.

To help me do this I've formed a kind of mini-charter. Until Jummah of the 20th of April (which seems like such a long way away now!) I will endeavour to do the following:

  • I'm going to be nice. Literally and, potentially, sickeningly so. This may feel to me and appear to others pretty patronising, but I will stick to it since this point forms the basis of the charter.
  • I will not get angry, particularly over the little things.
  • I will smile more often, even when there's no one to smile to.
  • I will insulate others from my bad moods.
  • I will be reasonably accommodating and do things for others that may not be expected or required of me to do so; so hopefully there'll be no "Why should I?" feelings.
  • Until I learn to be more tactful, I will not be as "honest and open" or blunt.
  • I will articulate explicitly the things people need to hear, even if I think it's obvious that they know these things.
  • I will remain quiet when I have an opinion that others may not want to hear, no matter how genuine the opinion is.
  • I will offer sympathy when people have complaints, trivial or legitimate.
  • I will offer support when people need it to do something, trivial or legitimate.
  • I will not deliberately push the buttons of others.
  • I will drop trivial arguments if they look to spiral out of control.
  • I will be patient if I'm being misunderstood, and rephrase to get my point across.
  • I will quit lecturing, resist being holier than thou and superior.
Wow. That's a pretty long and ambitious list up there, which probably implies how much a change is needed. Of course this can all be done in a non-public fashion (in fact it probably should) but where's the fun in that? It's all here in writing for you to dangle over my head when I inevitably fail. And as self critical as the above seems it's actually quite selfish since a nicer me will also hopefully be a less stressed me too. It will be better for my mental health. Plus I should get a few sympathies to boot.

I guess my biggest fear is that I'll appear totally non-genuine and quite fake, since by definition I'll be acting somewhat out of character. And perhaps a natural Shak would be preferred over a more bleeped-out version - I'm already wondering what the hell I'm going to talk to people about. It'll be tough, but even if it is a bit of a fa├žade now, perhaps being nice is something you can get used to enough for it to become real too.

Oh and finally, a favour to you all. Please don't take too much advantage of any change you detect in me. It's going to be difficult as it is...

Thursday, March 22

Indo-Pak Unity

Who said that the India and Pakistan cricket teams aren't chummy?



Cheers to Ruby for the piccie.

Wednesday, March 21

Goodbye Inzy Click for more info

I'll never claim to be the biggest fan of Cricket, whether that's when watching Pakistan or not. But the final one day international bat of someone who's been playing since you started watching properly (1991!) is a pretty moving thing to witness.

Of all the names and memories I personally associate with watching Cricket, Inzamam-ul-Haq is way up on the list. With all the highs and lows, I'm pretty certain he helped keep me interested in the sport on some level.

Aloo, I salute you.

Sunday, March 18

The End of The OC

And just like that, The OC is over.

I had a bit of a love hate relationship with Ryan and co. I remember being alone in looking forward to the show when it first aired - even though it was yet another Rich Kids in Generic Rich West Coast Location serial, I knew the script would make this different, and so, popular. And it was exactly that for a while; the show soon gathered a bit of a following, with some people particularly jumping on the nerds-are-cool-and-funny fad of the time that was personified by Seth.

However I was just as alone in the criticisms I had toward the end of Season One. The whole Oliver affair totally shattered the serial for me, showing it for the sham it was. The producers had shown all of their cards - all the main couples were together and there was no longer any reason for us to watch; the fact that the exact same things happened in all of the first three complete seasons shows that there was no more innovation left in the show. There was also a blatant over-reliance on Seth, and it's clear that, as the show comes to a close, a massive backlash was going to begin as his lady fans begun to bore of him.

Despite all of the above, The OC was defining television - the fact that I've written so much about it on these pages must mean something. It's hard to believe that only three and a half seasons were shown (although the massive 27 episodes of the first season, split over a year, probably had something to do with that).

The show also holds the current record for providing the highest number of Shak's Choices: Rachel Bilson, Kelly Rowan and Autumn Reeser all made the list and I'm sure I would have included Mischa Barton eventually if she hadn't popped her clogs when she did. She obviously knew the end was coming.

Still, credit to the makers for pulling the plug. They could have rinsed it to the very end, but chose to leave with dignity instead; other programme makers should really take heed of this. I predicted in 2004 that the show wouldn't last and I am actually quite sorry that I was right.

But it's gone and a part of me is glad, especially as I was considering dropping it anyway. But if I'm totally honest I must admit feeling a bit poignant when watching the last episode, and ultimately I don't really regret following the show till the very end.

Game: Excite Truck (Wii) Click for more info

Excite Truck is a very shallow game. Holding the Wii remote horizontally, you twist and turn the remote in order to steer your on-screen truck, tilting it forwards and back in order to gain hight on the many jumping opportunities that lace the sixteen or so race tracks the game has to offer.

And that's it really. But it's in its simplicity it is actually quite fun. You feel a real sense of motion as you fly through the air, and it soon becomes second nature to trigger the more complex stunts in order to earn more points - with enough scope for an expert to get even more over time.

There is something surreal about controlling a vehicle with movement, especially when there is no feedback, but you soon get over that. Graphics are okay, music is atrocious (but that's fine since you can play your own via the SD card), but as a game it works well. It's a nice complement to my current collection of Wii games.

Saturday, March 17

New Music

Turtle Power - MC Hammer

No explanation needed here, I hope. Taken from the first album I had ever bought - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles OST - this is still a tune. What's even more shocking is that I still know the words.

#On a half shell, we're the heroes four. In this day and age who can ask for more?

Film: TMNT Click for more info

If you knew me as a ten year old, you would have known me to be a big time Turtles fan. I was totally sucked in; in fact although to me they were second only to Transformers they were the only characters I based actual school work around. I still remember how impressed my teachers were when they discovered I had written a story based around four big renaissance artists.

So I guess you could say that I was really looking forward to this, a CGI rendition of the franchise presented to us a whopping 17 years after the first feature. Being a natural cynic I expected the worst, assuming my rose tinted glasses would make me see a cash in in an even worse light.

But I was wrong. So wrong. TMNT was brilliant.

Set after the demise of Shredder, TMNT tells of a broken brotherhood trying to unite against a new (yet typical) foe threatening New York. All regular stuff and there were no points for originality... But in terms of execution the film did wonderfully well.

It almost felt like being with old friends again; Leonardo, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Raphael were all just as they were supposed to be - there were no "creative updates" here. Even April O'Neill was just as hot as ever, this time voice by a certain Sarah Michelle Gellar.

As a film it was well made. The CGI itself was above average, although nothing too fancy. It was well directed though with scenes swooping and wooshing all over NYC, and some mad fighting stints too. As a member of the audience I was well involved in all the action.

I'm a bit puzzled by who exactly this film was made for. It was way too violent and scary for the under fives who were watching with me, and too obscure for any new fans (I couldn't help but grin when a bunch of kids in the line for tickets asked: "what the hell is TMNT?"). I guess it was made specifically for people like me; die hard fans from the first time around who were now adults. Perhaps the mothers were just using their kids as excuses to watch for themselves.

So yeh, I pretty much loved this film and I don't think that it was just for nostalgic reasons. The Turtles are definitely back, and I can only hope that there's a sequel in the works.

Food: Royal China Click for more info

Nice little place on Westferry Circus offering dim sum daily. I suspect that's because dim sum is its strength - don't bother coming here for regular Chinese food.

Not much more to say except that there was good food, a good location, a good set up and a very good price. A healthy serving cost us a smidge over ten quid per head.

I don't think there's anywhere else to go for dim sum really.

Friday, March 16

You Are Your Friends

A couple of weeks ago a bunch of us were discussing the influence of friends over the choosing of a potential partner. It was declared how typical it was for some to fall into the trap of wanting a partner that their mates would like, rather than one who would be be right for them as an individual. It was unanimously decided that this was A Bad Thing. Well alright, not quite unanimously.

Firstly, I'm not quite sure how true this is anyway. I mean, sure, there is sometimes a requirement for trophy partners and the like. But if I wanted someone who was pretty it would be because I wanted someone who was pretty. That she also happens to cause envy in other men would just be a bonus. Cough cough and all that.

Secondly, I'm not quite sure it's wise to totally disregard friends when deciding if a potential is right. Of course, others should never be influencing your decision in a direct and blatant manner and it is you that has to live with the person you choose and not anyone else. But I reckon that the manner in which a partner interacts with your existing friends is a very useful tool to determine how they will get on with you too.

I think that there's a lot behind the phrase "you are who your friends are" (although checking on Google, it seems this isn't as common a phrase as I first thought it was. Hmm). I mean there's a reason why you can describe these particular people as mates right? It's more about just liking someone; or at least it's very likely that you like someone because a part of them are just like you. And perhaps there were too many "like"s in that last sentence, but that just goes to prove my point.

You also assimilate certain qualities from your existing friends. So if someone swears a lot, then you might pick that up; if a friend shows respect to the opposite sex, then that may be something you do after a while too. So overall your friends as a collective are a pretty accurate depiction of you I reckon.

And therein lies my reasoning. If a potential partner doesn't like a specific group or subset of your friends because of the specific quality that defines them, then that implies that they don't like the same quality in you either. Now, I don't mean to say that that they all have to like the same things, but if a partner declared that she "couldn't stand" some of my mates, alarm bells would start ringing in my head. It would indicate to me that she may not like an aspect of me either.

Let's take sport for example and say a girl can't stand football. Now, whether the guy himself is obsessive or not, the fact that he has a bunch of mates who are means that it's a pretty important part of his persona. If the girl in this situation tends to distance herself from those friends, then she probably doesn't like her bloke enjoying sport either. For some reason she ignores or accepts it in him.

For the sake of balance, let's take religion as another example. If a guy thinks his partner's friends are all over-zealous religious nutcases, then he probably feels the same about the part of her that made them all friends in the first place. But again, for some reason he ignores or accepts it in her. And these are concrete qualities - friends get together for far more abstract things that can't be nailed down as a single interest or topic, like a certain sense of humour or behaviour.

There is a counterpoint about balance and compromise and how the other things a person has to offer may compensate for the bits that aren't preferred. And that's all right to a certain extent, but if a quality of a person is so strong that it manifests itself in a group of friends, then I'd argue that it's too big to cover up in that fashion.

That, and the fact that I wouldn't want a partner to "tolerate" or need to compensate any part of me that she doesn't like. I know no two people are alike, but I totally believe that it's possible to like the same people in spite of that.

Video Of The Day Click for more info

On for the retro Amiga fans:



Oh my, the memories. Check out Speedball 2 and Gods too.

Wednesday, March 14

XKCD Click for more info

XKCD is fast becoming my most favourite webcomic. And this is why:


Be sure to check out the picture title too (hover your mouse over the above). Who said technologists couldn't be romantic and insightful?

Saturday, March 10

The Perfect Woman

So since it was International Women's Day this week and I talked about everyone being human I got thinking about my own perceptions of others, particularly women.

A particular female friend keeps commenting about how I don't really know how to treat women correctly; probably because I had no sisters. Of course, I always vehemently disagreed with this assertion (I mean hey, I treat girls just as badly as I do the guys). But if I'm pressed on this issue I would have to admit that, yes, I do discriminate against women; but possibly not in the way my dear friend was thinking.

It's fair to say that I haven't grown up around women. I went to a boys' school till GCSEs and it's not like Imperial is famous for its boy to girl ratio. I didn't have any female cousins in the UK till recently either. Any girls I know were either of another generation or just friends. I guess at one point most of what I had assumed about women was, well, kinda made up. I had to presume certain things, but unlike some who automatically choose to believe the worst about people they don't know, for some reason I went the other way.

So for me, women were perfect beings; flawless and incapable of doing anything wrong. They would always be sensible, intelligent, understanding and (of course) beautiful; however absurd it sounds they were all pretty much goddesses in my eyes. It's rooted in the typical Asian Mummy's Boy Syndrome or something. Well, probably anyway.

Yes, it's an irrational stance. Even more so seeing as how I actually know real live women now and have seen them to be brilliantly normal, warts and all. The trouble is that I still presume any I don't personally know to be perfect and, possibly worse still, I'll also always expect them to be.

Some of you might already see the problem here. You see, the truth is that women are not perfect. Or rather, they're human and so will act as such. They're not all sensible, intelligent or understanding, with some individuals not even coming close.

This has two implications in how I interact with the opposite sex. Firstly, since they're assumed to be the mature, sensible, confident and self-assured party, I tend not to be. In such situations of disparity, liberties may be taken and sensitivities discarded with. Secondly, as is always the case with unwarranted and unfair expectation, it's all a bit, well, disappointing when they inevitably turn out not to be as perfect as I believed them to be.

Of course, putting women on such a tall pedestal is only an indication of my blatant ignorance and nothing else. But even after recognising this I don't see my behaviour changing any time soon; this expectation just seems to be too deeply ingrained in me. And although some may say that it's better to think the best of someone than the worst I don't think this holds when the bar is set unfairly high, especially when one isn't able to handle the consequences when it's more reasonably fallen short of.

Friday, March 9

Food: Canteen Click for more info

Bit of a quickie this time: I shared with another a single main meal consisting of a vegetarian pie, mash and some mushy peas, followed by a steamed sponge cake for dessert. Everything was fairly adequate and the food was nice, but it came as a price - the total bill hit around 24 pounds which is pretty expensive considering we only had one complete meal along with tea and water between us. There are far superior places for this amount of wonga.

Thursday, March 8

Happy International Women's Day! Click for more info

All across the globe, people everywhere are celebrating women. Well I say "people", but in actual fact it seems that only women are allowed to celebrate women.

During the weeks either side of today many interesting events have been taking place and although there were a few I'd have loved to have attended, the fact that I have both X and Y chromosomes[1] meant I wasn't allowed to. Oh and no, I didn't just want to attend these things just 'cos there was a guaranteed selection of girls there. Honestly, tut.

Even Islam, a religion that teaches equality and promotes the spreading of knowledge no matter who you are, wasn't immune; the WharfMA amongst others were holding women-only lectures. And I read that today a library banned men from entering for an extended period of time. Absolutely stunning. Imagine a day celebrating Muslims or the Black community for the sake of understanding, but marked with events only for those particular groups. I'm not sure many would call that much of a celebration.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not criticising the day itself. Even though I have my reservations (I think it's unnecessary and redundant at best and sexist at worst; I mean, when's International Men's Day anyway, huh?), I don't mind it and even appreciate the sentiment and spirit of the occasion: I'd much rather celebrate this than a more commercialised and exploitable Mother's Day (say). I do think it's a bit patronising though, especially when some events seem to be exclusively about how to cook, clean and generally keep a home running. But hey, I'm not a woman, so perhaps I'm off the mark with that one.

No, I have a bigger problem with certain aspects of today; specifically the intentional and deliberate non-inclusion of men in it. I've always disliked the whole "sistahood" mentality so, yes, my feelings are partly due to that. But I do have a more objective criticism up my sleeve too. Honest.

Recently, men have been continually criticised for not getting involved with or being interested in the affairs of women. Apparently we're not up for dialogue or debate with them, and we avoid any attempt at understanding the alleged gender divide despite the unabated efforts of women to approach us with enlightenment.

However now that there's a perfect opportunity to do exactly that, we're instead told to stay at home and allow women the right to have their party on their own. In other words, we're only allowed to interact on the terms of women and on their timetable (usually when the Football is on. And I don't even watch Football!). I was never really convinced that it was fundamentally the guys dragging their heels when it came to improving gender relations, but when things like these happen it's compelling to conclude that women are just as reluctant to face the issues we have at hand.

I don't mean to sound like I'm hating. Quite the opposite in fact, and I hope that most of you reading know how I utterly respect (and, of course, totally love) women. However I have to say that I think an opportunity has been missed today and that an isolationist, separatist and almost defensive approach to celebrating women won't really do much to improve gender relations. Nope, I think the best way to do that would be to allow men and women alike to celebrate the fairer sex together.

[1] As some of you might have guessed, I was going to pick a certain other attribute with which to demonstrate my disqualifying masculinity. Luckily I decided to behave myself today.

Wednesday, March 7

Only Human

Carrying on from what I touched on yesterday, I've recently begun to realise that no matter how special or unique people appear to be, at the end of the day they're all just human. From parents to bosses, celebrities to politicians, rich folk and leaders: they all have exactly the same issues, personality traits and flaws that the rest of us do.

They all have birthdays, they all have to eat and they all have to poo. Many have found it hard to make friends or break the ice with strangers at one point. They've all had man/woman trouble of some kind, and none of them get along with everyone. They all make mistakes, and have at some point made wrong decisions. We often come from the same place, and like everyone else when they go home they cease to be famous - we can check Big Brother for a pretty striking demonstration of this.

As impressive as they can be, they can be just as disappointing. In fact it's quite disheartening when you see someone in the limelight falling off that pedestal the rest of us have (possibly unfairly) placed them upon. But then this feeling turns into something more positive; a realisation that there really isn't much separating them from the just-as-regular us on the street.

The point is that special people are all just as special as the rest of us are. The only real difference that I can think of is that they've managed to exploit their potential - a potential that we all each have. And this ability to exploit or develop potential isn't unique in itself; it can be learned or helped with by oneself or others.

Another implication is that any human "failings" that you think that you have do not place you out of the reach of success or achievement. The fact that there are people (who are all imperfect by definition) around us doing well is proof that one doesn't have to be perfect themselves in order to do good things.

But none of this will happen unless you really want it to, and it's often the case that the biggest barrier to better things is a simple yet powerful lack of self belief. But if anything, those who have reached that point already should be seen as reflection of what the rest of us are capable of and the success of others should inspire rather than depress us. We should be thinking of what we are capable of rather than continually comparing ourselves with the artificial them all the time.

Tuesday, March 6

Meeting a Producer

Today, a friend and I had a meeting with an executive producer at an independent television production company. I won't dwell on the details here, but overall it went pretty well and we learned quite a lot in the limited time we had with him.

It's funny how these things are though. Meeting a telly exec sounds like a big deal (and it certainly felt so in the week running up to today's meeting) but in the actual situation it wasn't that heavy. I guess it goes back to a post (which, it seems, I've yet to write) about how all people are also human and how big things are made up of smaller and more trivial manageable pieces; baby steps if you will. It's an encouraging realisation, since it suddenly puts these big things in the potential hands of us mere mortals too.

So yeh, today felt like a step in the right direction: the person we were meeting probably went through the same thing when he started out too. And who knows? Perhaps we'll be dishing out the same advice he gave us down the road somewhere... But regardless of what actually comes out of today, it was certainly worth it in its own right too.

Nemi Click for more info

These fancy new crisps I've been eating claim to be 40% fat free. I didn't realise that was because there was 40% less crisps; and it seems that Nemi found out the same:

Sunday, March 4

Food: Mezbaan Click for more info

For some reason I wasn't going to review this place. On the face of it Mezbaan is just another curry place on Green Street. But we did have lunch there so it qualifies I guess.

I'm not sure why I was reluctant though, because Mezbaan wasn't actually that bad. Since we had numbers, we went for a set meal; a fiver got us a soft drink (juice was extra), a lamb or chicken curry, one naan and a generous helping of rice. Pretty fantastic value even if the food turned out to be substandard.

The thing was that it didn't. I went for the chicken, and although nothing particularly special, we didn't leave anything behind either. It was pure, unfussy, tummy filling stuff.

Atmosphere wise, it was pretty good too. Clean and airy they allowed us to take over for the Sunday afternoon, although if I did have a criticism it would be about the long row-based table layout. In theory this should have been much less, but it turned out being quite impressive for reasons I can't quite place.

Saturday, March 3

Film: Ghost Rider Click for more info

"Hmm. We haven't exploited a Marvel franchise for a while..."

"Well, yeh. That's 'cos we've done them all, right?"

"Huh? There's hundreds of characters we can exploi- erm, I mean use to tell a story."

"Well we haven't made a Ghost Rider film yet. What about that?"

"Ghost Rider eh? Is that the flaming skull guy? I LOVE IT!"

"Great. I mean he's not the most popular character, but there's potential if we put in some effort..."

"Effort? That sounds pricey. Can't we just put in a few special effects and call it a day?"

"I don't think audiences appreciate that kinda thing anymore, boss. They want a plot and good script and stuff now."

"Phooey they do. It's all about the action with these things; we don't need any intelligence here. I tell you what... I'll even whack in a hot babe too. Hey Eva Mendes is free right?"

"I think so. I'm still not sure about all this though. Shouldn't we at least try to give people a good story? I mean you do remember what happened with Elektra, right? We were way off the mark with that one, only 'cos we didn't bother."

"Nah. Elektra failed 'cos she wasn't a well known character..."

"Uhh..."

"Tut. Okay, fine. We'll spend some money on the lead... How about Nick Cage for the Ghost Rider himself?"

"Isn't he a bit.. old?"

"Nah. He'll be fine. And since it's all CG anyway, we won't even have to pay him full."

"Huh? You sure he'll be up for that? I mean he might not even bother acting well if you pull a stunt like that..."

"It'll be fine. And the money we save we can put into production costs - you know have it well shot and edited!"

"... You're kidding right?"

"Yes I am. I have a living to make y'know."

"Sigh. Well to be honest I think Ghost Rider is gonna turn out pretty crap if you carry on with this plan. You can't just ride on the character and make a shallow film. People just won't go.

"'Course they will. They'll be some poor sap who won't believe anyone can mess up a comic book. And once they've paid who cares what they think when they leave the cinema. And for those who don't... Well I'm sure they'll pick up the DVD later anyway."

"By golly. That's harsh. I don't think I'm comfortable with the idea of intentionally making a bad film."

"Oh. I see. Fine. Hey by the way... Has your wife stopped asking for that new car?"

"No."

"Well then. Give Nick a call."

"Urgh. Yes sir..."

Thursday, March 1

Video Of The Day Click for more info

30 minutes of 80's cartoon openings? Oh my oh my oh my:



Poignancy overload! I'm actually kinda scared to go through all of it...

EDIT: There's a far superior set of intros here. They get all the ones the above is missing, and misses out all the ones the above adds superfluously.

RIP WHRN

Write Here Right Now is gone.

I first posted way back in 2001. I had started my first job after graduating and as is to be expected a friend and I were pretty bored. The Internet always was able to provide distractions and so we decided to cause havoc on the BBC Asianlife Message Board. We were gonna change the opinions of people one poster at a time.

WHRN was the nucleus of the ALMBs. It was topic agnostic and (almost) anything could be posted about. And it was - the discussions were as varied, smart and funny as the people contributing to them and after a while it became quite the hang out for me in the online world. It was the golden age of the ALMBs, and I'm not ashamed to say that I learned quite a lot from the people there.

But a golden age wouldn't be so retrospectively shiny if it didn't start fading eventually. And such was the case with WHRN; as it became popular (especially after the consistent plugging by the Asian Network, as the BBC tried to consolidate its various Asian interests) it became a victim of this success. I don't think it's a case of rose tinted glasses when I say it was never the same as it was during those earlier years. As the number of regular posters rose, the number of deliberate misanthropes and unintentional clashing of personalities did too. This had implications.

The quality of conversation declined. Blanket and collective punitive measures were taken. It became a censored, castrated place as the relationship between posters and mods broke down. And I had possibly grown out of it anyway, but whatever the reason after a grand 12,000 posts I finally stopped posting there. This place was born as an alternative output for my rantings, and I've not regularly posted on the ALMBs or WHRN since.

Okay, despite the lengthy post it is a trivial matter, and I'm not actually as concerned as it might appear by the history lesson above. Still, I do recognise it as the place where my writings began, the place where good friendships were made and one of the places that really opened my mind to different ways of thinking. I think it's worth noting its closure here, especially since this blog would probably not be here if WHRN never existed.