Monday, December 19

Food: La Sophia Click for more info

A halal French! Yay! Although having said that I can't say that I've ever had a particular hankering for French food per se so I'm not quite sure why I find this so exciting.

But still it's always nice to have options. Not that I took advantage of that fact, choosing to stick to the safe bets such as the Oven roasted aubergine with fried halloumi for starter and Linguini with king prawns & calamari for the main. Perhaps it's just my age but it seems that anything more exotic is wasted on me now. The fries were awesome too.

But the food was good, the atmosphere intimate and the service impeccable. The menu as it stood was quite pricey, but armed with a taste card those got slashed in half. All in all there really was little to complain about at La Sophia's - perhaps it's location was a little inconvenient - so it gets a hearty recommendation from me.

Sunday, December 18

Food: Khyber Pass Click for more info

"Of course not! This is the first and only real Khyber Pass restaurant" said the manager, as he pointed to the encircled R in the top right hand corner of his restaurant's logo.

And so we were convinced. Despite there being at least two other Khyber Passes within ten minutes drive of the one we were planning to eat in, this was the real deal, the one that they all copied. Apparently the fame has spread far and wide, with lands as exotic as Manchester boasting their own Khyber Pass. Amazing stuff.

But as interested as we were in the history and integrity of the place, we were there to eat. The menu is nice and straightforward; you order Meat or Chicken Karahi by the kilo and accompany it with rice or naan. We also ordered one of the other two remaining choices for mains, the Chappli Kebabs (the other was a daal dish that I would have tried if the crowd had been different).

The food was more than adequate, although the meat was a bit on the low quality side - a lot of it was fat and gristle and having to dig our way through that kind of spoiled the rest of the meal. The chappli kebabs were pretty amazing though (and of quite a novelty super size), and I would have been more than happy with just those and the decent naans myself.

Green tea and sweet rice were complimentary, and the price was a pretty decent 7-8 quid per head. All in all the place was decent value and a nice place to eat, but unfortunately the experience with the meat was enough to put me off going back. Quite the shame really.

Friday, December 16

Book: The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga Click for more info

The White Tiger proves that a good book doesn't have to be ambitious or challenging to read. In fact, I'd say it was in many ways as easy to read as any teen fiction is, with simple themes and characters guiding the reader along the way.

But this isn't teen fiction, and those same simple themes and characters turn out to be very adult and pretty dark. This contrast between the simple and complex is probably the biggest draw of the book.

The White Tiger isn't perfect though. During the beginning it's a bit of a chore to read as the author jumps around a bit too much, and I also felt that the end was a little too rushed and perhaps even contrived. But overall the book is quite inspiring in demonstrating exactly how effective simple story telling can be. Recommended.

Tuesday, December 6

Book: One Day, David Nicholls Click for more info

One Day is an interesting book. It's certainly gripping and engaging and an enjoyable read, but I'm left wondering why since technically it's not that accomplished. But hey; let's go through this one by one.

The main feature of the book is the "one day" device itself (which I totally missed until the fourth chapter or so). We follow the lives of Emma and Dexter over twenty years by covering what they did during the same date of each. Yes, it's very technical possibly redundant and probably a little gimmicky, but in the main it works pretty well. I did find that at times things moved a bit too fast - you don't really get a sense of the passage of time and if I'm honest I wasn't even considering the fact that a year had passed from one chapter to the next - but maybe it's this weird passage of time that was the point of it, how time does fly quickly once you're in your 20s. The auther did paint himself into a corner at times, but managed to get out by some not so artful "reminiscing", but I did get annoyed at missing some of the important bits just because they fell during the wrong month.

Technically the book was written well, and I don't have many complaints about the flow of it. I did trip up a few times over who was saying or thinking what as I kept flipping from third to first person mode, but I suspect that was mostly due to me coming from Shantaram.

Characterisation was okay, but not great. I fancied Emma, of course, but Dexter was largely a waste of words, particularly as he fell into being such a cliché. I didn't think any of the characters were real people though, and that was a little bit of a shame. I did love how so much of it was set in the places I knew and loved, and there were at least three places in the book that I read while actually being in the actual locations themselves.

Like I said, I did enjoy this book, although that was probably more in a shallow than deep way; a bit like watching a trashy TV show or something. I do think that it could have been a lot more, but despite that it does get a recommendation.

As an aside, my copy of the book has been stamped with a BookCrossing.com ID, something which is supposed to encourage random and promiscuous passing around of the book. I've registered my reading of it, and will now attempt to pass it onto a random stranger for it to continue the journey - if you've happened to come from there then please feel free to leave a comment and let us know what you thought of the book too.

Saturday, December 3

Game: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 (PC) Click for more info

It was difficult not to get a little excited by the release of Modern Warfare 3 a few weeks ago. Despite my lukewarm reviews at the time, I have to concede that of all the Call of Battlefield games I find the time to play, I find myself enjoying the MW ones the most. It's all so gung-ho and heroic, I can't help but get caught up in the excitement.

And so here we go again: simply more of the same slick visuals, gameplay and, of course, scripting we've come to expect from the franchise. The story starts where 2 harshly decided to dangle us, not that I even remembered what happened. But still, it was good to see Soap and Price again. We even have the same dual-protagonist mechanic that made the second such fun to play.

Coming off of playing the recent Battlefield game, I was surprised at how fun this game was - it turns out that all FPS aren't actually the same after all. There's something more arcadey and instant about MW3 that gets lost in those other games. Whatever it is is worth mentioning though.

And that's pretty much it. You'll already know if you'll like MW3, and if you do you've probably already played it anyway. Makes me wonder why I bothered stretching this out to four paragraphs at all.

Recommended.

Sunday, November 27

Game: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3) Click for more info

I'm just going to say it: the three Uncharted games (you can read here about the first and second) are worth the entry price that a Playstation 3 costs. I don't think that there are many unmissable games out there, but this trilogy definitely falls in that category, alongside titles like MGS and Mario.

With the gushing out of the way, let's talk a bit about Uncharted 3. It amazingly manages to provide even more than the sequel - I can count at least three or four set pieces that were so gobsmacking that I had to replay the respective chapters they were each in just to process their awesomeness. No jokes. And all the standard (and when I say standard I mean highest quality ever) stuff is still present - so some amazing graphics and music and a production quality that rivals that found in many other media forms. That a whole bunch of the game was set in the Middle East was a personal bonus for me. If Nathan Drake wasn't a contemporary Indiana Jones before, he certainly is as close as he's going to get now.

With the evolution came a few flaws. Collision detection was a little off, and the much talked about "realistic" aiming a little too realistic. The pacing of the whole game was slightly off too, with a not-so-epic ending as the whole thing finished a little too suddenly. However considering the trouble I had with the finale of the last game I think I may have secretly liked that.

Overall though the package wasn't as perfect as Uncharted 2 was; not that this wasn't a better game though; any Uncharted is amazingly great to play. Which is the real point here: relative merit makes no sense if all three become essential for all to play.

Very recommended.

Friday, November 25

Food: Dishoom Click for more info

I had heard a lot about Dishoom and its offering of the Bombay cafe scene here in London. On paper at least it seemed like a wonderful take on the already saturated indian food scene, and I had meaning to check it out for a while now.

Unlike most places, my review starts hours before we even arrived at the place. Based on the advice of those who had already been, I decided to book a table for six (which happens to also be the minimum you can reserve for). On calling I was asked for my credit card details and told that a cover charge of ten quid per head would be taken then, to be refunded on the final bill at the end of the evening. Now I'm not really the type that goes out to eat that often but this was the first time a restaurant has ever asked me to pay to reserve a booking. But hey, some places are popular (while waiting for my table I saw at least five parties being turned away) and I figured they had to do it to avoid empty covers, something probably more likely to happen considering the (brown) people the place attracts.

The place has a distinctive vibe. Crowded and noisy, it was fun and happening and alluring at first but did start to grate toward the end. It seems that the place attracted a certain type of person - you know, the young, professional, pretty "desi" type and although I enjoyed being in the company of such beautiful people the experience was kind of shallow.

And the troubles didn't end there. Due to some of our party arriving late there was a mix up with our table and five minutes after we had been seated we were asked to wait in the queue again - with no option to leave with our deposit. After causing a scene we managed to keep the table, but the experience wasn't that great. Our waiter even explicitly asked for a tip afterwards. My only guess was that the place wanted to recreate not only the food of Mumbai but the service found there too.

But eventually we got to eat some food and at last I found something to justify the trip there. The meat and chicken are halal (and cooked separately), so we had access to a large part of the menu. We picked the Chilli Cheese Toast, Calamari and Pau Bhaji for starters and the Lamb Chops, Dhaba Chicken and Black Daal for mains - I make the distinction between courses but Dishoom has a policy where food comes as it's made ready; we even received our first dish while the server was still taking the rest of our order. It was quite amazing really.

And the food wasn't bad actually. Rich and tasty, yet light, the deceptively small portions were more than enough for those at the table; we even had some left over. Even the "boring" daal turned out to be quite the hit, and my mouth is watering again just thinking of it.

The bill was a bit of a surprise, the total coming to 16 quid per head for all the food and Nimbu Panis. We couldn't quite figure out where the value came from, but there you go.

In many ways Dishoom is very much like most pretty Asian female Londoners: hot, attractive, sexy and alluring at first... but ultimately stuck up, rude, pretentious and high maintenance once you get to know them. And like with the pretty Asian female Londoner, whether the really good is worth the so, so bad is something a hungry soul will have to decide for themselves. But even though I would recommend you all give Dishoom a try, it's somewhere I'm unlikely to go back to again any time soon myself.

Wednesday, November 23

Islamic Circles presents: CAN THE OBEDIENT WIVES CLUB (OWC) – aka THE POLYGAMY CLUB WORK IN THE UK? Click for more info

First things first: I am a monogamist, or at least as much a monogamist a single guy can hope to be. And not only am I a monogamist, I am strictly and actively so. I think it is impossible for me to ever be in love with more than one person let alone marry more than once, and I'd rather be alone than in a polygamous relationship. But it goes even further than this, since I'm also a temporal monogamist; I'm one woman for life and only plan on falling in love the one time. It's possibly unrealistic and most certainly pathetic but it's my take on monogamy more than anything else (including my religion) that explains why, for example, that I've never been interested in any kind of casual relationship with a girl - it'd feel too much like cheating - and I'm always puzzled by how some guys get turned on by the idea of multiple women at the same time. I'd even be as lofty to say that to even remarry would be a big deal for me and that I probably wouldn't unless for obviously practical reasons. So yes, I'm definitely in the "lobster" camp; what's more is that ironically this obsession with monogamy is probably one of the biggest reasons why I'm not married yet - but that's for another post.

Hopefully that is enough of a pre-emptive and defensive introduction to convince even the most cynical (read: feminist) of you that this post isn't about any personal fantasy or desire of mine.

Personally, my reason for attending a talk like this one was because it's finally something different from the usual run-of-the-mill Islamic lectures that have almost dominated the social scene of outgoing Muslims (and my poor inbox) during the past ten years. It wasn't about abstract topics like Tawheed or Aqeedah (things I don't think can necessary be prescribed anyway), it wasn't the instructional stuff you're probably better off reading about in a book and neither was it jumping on a passing bandwagon (I'm looking at you Islamic Finance and Green Islam). Unlike other lectures it hasn't been designed to be summarised in a Facebook status update, or to be tagged with the name of some rockstar imam I can't even pronounce the name of. But, again, my bitter cynicism toward Islamic academia is probably something for another post.

No, this is a topic that's largely been unexplored, at least in an open-minded and impartial way, isn't fashionable (yet) and may even be more practical and relevant than the knowledge currently being sought elsewhere. In fact, I'll even say I didn't really attend as Muslim tonight (you know what I mean), and I was genuinely interested in the personal story of those we had come to see. Congratulations to Mizan and Islamic Circles for being so innovative and brave.

Despite my personal take on the issue, there's no question about it: polygamy is hot right now. Apparently on the increase in British born Asians (although the article doesn't explain what it means by "polygamous relationship", or how it compares to the number of open or unfaithful marriages in other demographics), and not, as many may like to assume, always at the insistence of the man in the relationship. Considering the often lamented loser-to-men ratio, the alleged statistic that there are far more decent women than decent men and finally how there seems to be a bit of a marriage crisis for single Muslim women nowadays, the idea of polygamy has finally gathered enough mindshare for at least the initial debate to begin - and that in a more sophisticated way than it may otherwise have been handled.

So we had a triple - a husband with his two wives, naturally - giving their experiences and insight into the issue at hand. They only spoke for ten minutes in total before the floor was opened for questions; a genius move on the parts of the organisers. During the Q&A we learned how Global Ikhwan were not polyagmists by default and how only a small subsection actually participated in the practise. We were given a bit of a background of the various clubs formed - by my understanding there are actually two separate ones serving two separate purposes: The Obedient Wives' Club and The Polygamy Club. The latter was a support group for those in polygamous relationships, whereas the the former was one promoting a particular way in which to be a good wife. The choice of name is possibly unfortunate, especially in a climate where obedience is a weak and bad thing. I do agree with the argument that an Obedient and Responsible Husbands' Club is also desperately required and I'd probably wouldn't mind joining something like that myself.

Mohammad Ali was the husband with the two wives. He explained how it wasn't him who chose polygamy but that he and his second bride were picked by his community for a wider purpose. We were told how all parties including him, his existing wife and his new bride all went through training and counselling to prepare for the change, and, ultimately, how polygamy was about choice, justice and morality and not control, lust or misogyny. Indeed, the three were here to share their lives, not convince, convert or recruit anyone to their cause.

For me the most interesting of the three was the first wife. Highly educated, she was the most comfortable of the three with speaking in English. She explained how polygamy liberated her from the impossible position she had previously placed herself in, wanting to have a career as well as look after the home and children. She said she found that she had the time and energy to focus on the things that made her happy once she was secure in the knowledge her husband and home were being looked after.

The second wife was much quieter but still had a presence in the triple. My question was to ask about the relationship between the two wives and how they considered each other and after rephrasing it to sound less kinky (that wasn't intentional, I swear), they said how it was almost like a sibling relationship. And as I watched them throughout the night this affection was quite obvious as they shared in-jokes and demonstrated a tactile level of body language. They were clearly at the very least good friends.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there was a lot of cynicism shot out from the audience. I think that much was fair enough - Mohammad Ali and his wives were probably prepared for a hostile crowd - but it was still a little disheartening and even embarrassing at times. There were what I can only describe as haters present, people only there to cause hassle, demonstrate close-mindedness, or just to look good in front of the other women in that faux-feminist way some guys have. Especially amusing were the couple of girls getting emotional over a comment the first wife made about how women are prone to becoming emotional. I'm pretty certain they didn't see the irony in their reaction.

Particularly disappointing was Abdul-Rehman Malik of Radical Middle Way fame. His input was to ask random questions about group sex and anti-Semitism, which if I was a cynical chap could only describe as blatant attempts at discrediting the personalities present rather than discuss the issue at hand. He himself didn't even bother to listen to the replies to his question as he tapped on his Blackberry.

Overall, the lack of etiquette by the audience (some even left as the three were making their closing statements) was a little disappointing and ironic considering how most were complaining about the lack of respect demonstrated by polygamous men by default. I wondered how many of the people throwing tomatoes were as ethical and honest in their monogamous relationships as the three on the panel were, or how they would have behaved in a talk about relationship types sanctioned-by-the-west like casual ones, homosexuality or those of mixed faiths. The media was also present in full force; I expect the BBC to report on the topic in their unique and authoritatively misinformed and inaccurate style (EDIT: and here it is. Sigh).

On the other hand we did have some genuinely curious questions and interest from the audience too, as well as the cheeky, including one regarding the challenge of having two mother in laws. My favourite was how one guy juxtaposed the distaste we were supposed to have for Islamic polygamy with the acceptance and championing of the right for men and women in the west to cheat in their marriages or be casual and promiscuous. According to him, Islam was backwards by expecting the husband to be responsible for and honest toward his multiple relationships as opposed to the western idea of the more independent and self-serving toward a partner the better. I suspect his point was as lost on the audience as it was on Mohammad Ali though.

Most encouraging however was a young female college student, adamantly against the concept before the talk started but afterwards much more accepting of it as a choice and even solution to bring happiness to certain individuals. She explained that it still wasn't for her, but that she was now able to accept and even understand why it would be the choice for others in certain situations. In that sense the triple were pretty successful in spreading awareness and understanding.

The main issue of contention for some was the doubt over a person's ability to treat more than one wife with justice. The answer to my question, about how the wives saw each other as siblings, got me thinking about the situation where a parent (single or otherwise) has more than one child, and how in that case we would embrace and even encourage the challenge of sharing our love and being just between people with equal rights to that love and justice. And yet we pour scorn and incredulity on a person who chooses to do the same with two spouses. If we think about it, the issues are largely the same if you consider a marriage where the man and woman have defined (that is different but justly divided) statuses. Of course if a couple decide to have a more "literally" equal marriage then I would say polygamy wouldn't really work for them, and they would probably be wise not to practise it. In that sense, this debate wasn't really about having multiple partners, but more about the respective position of a husband and wife (regardless of the number), and the nature of relationship between them and whether traditional and well defined marriages, even the monogamous ones, can ever be considered fair or just.

For those who cry foul at the disparity of this choice and say that men should refuse polygamy on the grounds that it's a facility unavailable to their wives - I'm not sure negative play is the best tactic in any discussion. Almost by virtue of them being so well defined, Islamic marriages are always going to have a disparity between the man and the woman who choose to partake in them, and to deny this particular right would be like relieving a man obligation to provide for his family - an obligation that the woman doesn't have. To be fair some couples do modify these rights, and that's fair enough if done in agreement and consistency. But generally if we accept an Islamic marriage to be just and fair, then we have to accept all the rights available to both parties are too, no matter how exclusive they happen to be. On a secular level I would absolutely agree that there is no reason why women shouldn't be allowed to marry more than once, and such statuses do actually exist in other parts of society.

But as with all rights and facilities, abuse does occur. And yes, there are a lot of douchebag men out there. But I suspect that there are more douchebag monogamists than douchebag polygamists; a douche doesn't become a douche once he chooses a particular opinion and neither will all douches want the same things. In short the bad qualities most people say manifest themselves in a polygamist - so a lack of character, fickleness, no sense of justice - would probably all be present even if you restricted them to monogamy, since it's certainly possible to be unjust and uncaring toward a single wife too. And even a fantastic guy might not be able to handle more than one wife - the chances are that he wouldn't want to anyway.

I'm often told how relationships and marriages have evolved, and how their nature has moved from that of the practical and well defined to a more loose and flexible "organic" one. In the Muslim community self-determined, causal and non-committal relationships are now more acceptable and even expected and encouraged as a natural consequence of progress, when before they would have been resisted and unheard of. And as we continue to evolve and change who we as individuals are, I suspect the same will happen with polygamy. As well as solving the quite real numbers issues - is half a great guy really worse than a whole loser or not being married at all? - it could also be a solution for the increasing number of independent woman who wish to marry but also, like the first wife today, to be free of certain expectations and pressures in order to allow her to focus on her own things.

If consenting adults can pull it off then you can't really do anything but praise God for allowing it to happen. As the polygamists repeatedly mentioned, their relationship - like many monogamous relationships - was mainly for the pleasure of God and they felt that the fact that they found success in it was an indication of God sending his blessings upon them. And regardless of how religious you are that's the real point here: in the face of countless accusations of polygamists being backwards or the wives in them repressed - accusations laden with ever helpful baggage and preconceptions of the accusers themselves - their specific relationship was anything but sleazy or temporary, but rather quite long term, well-founded and full of love; certainly more so than many of the monogamous marriages we come across in life.

And like all loving relationships that's something that can in no way ever be criticised or seen as a bad thing. If I ever get married and my monogamous relationship is as happy, stable and content as the one I saw tonight, well I'd be nothing but pleased and thankful for what I have.

Tuesday, November 22

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Ah, the old space versus clinginess debate:



People call me unrealistic when I say I don't and won't need space, and I'm sure most are just waiting for reality to hit me square in the face... but until that day I will stick to my stance. And it's precisely because of that last frame that I will.

Monday, November 21

Book: Shantaram, Gregory David Roberts Click for more info

It's not often that I don't really know where to begin when reviewing stuff. And yet here I am, wondering exactly where to start with Shantaram.

I'll get the easy stuff out of the way first, and start with the plot. The story (apparently largely based in reality) is about an escaped Australian convict who, en route to Germany, finds himself in Mumbai where he decides to remain. Over the next decade or so we hear about his adventures in the Bombay city, its slums and even its Mafia, all told in wonderful and vivid first person.

Despite the pretty incredible (and almost nonsensical) plot it's a pretty thrilling ride, made all the more real by some of the best characterisation I've read. I'm still trying to figure out how exactly Roberts manages to do this since, technically at least, the book seems largely plot rather than character driven. Perhaps it's the constant almost-poetry littered throughout, talking about all sorts of things like morality, truth, life and, of course, love? Whatever the case the whole thing is so real it almost feels like you're reading someone's autobiography and as you share the journey with Lin, the protagonist, you get to feel all of his love, romance, anger and emotions.

Technically the book is very well written and extremely easy to read and get lost in. Roberts' skill is not only in the creation of the story but the story telling itself; despite being quite the epic the book is perfectly balanced in terms of pace, progression and weighting of the chapters. The book is complete in the tying of all its thread and is thus immensely rewarding to consume.

But as well as being entertaining, the book also makes a good attempt at discussing relevant real life issues like morality, religion and justice - most of the conclusions essentially saying how although things are never as black and white as we like to think they are, what is right and just is almost always obvious.

But I'm gushing now. Shantaram really is a brilliant read and I thoroughly recommend it to anyone who has even a passing interest in books, India or just a great story.

Saturday, November 19

The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company Click for more info

Okay I'm going to put my hands up here: I did roll my eyes when I heard about this going on. "Oh look, another patronising and feeble attempt to reach out to The Youth in their own language".

As usually is the case I was proven wrong. Gladly so in fact; the evening was a lot of fun as we saw various members of the company perform bits for the bespoke audience made up of all kind of ages and backgrounds (although I've never felt so old and uncool in a crowd before. It didn't help that I am old and uncool).

I was partly right though in that the connection between their art and that of Shakespeare was made unclear at best, and tenuous at worst, but for me that wasn't the point. Live music is always great, and the eclectic mix I saw tonight was well worth the entry fee (which happened to be nothing). Yes, okay, there was a bit of a clever experiment at the start where we had to guess whether a quote was from modern hip-hop or the bard himself - and yes it was fun and surprising - but that message quickly got lost as the night progressed. Of course it could quite possibly have been my lack of coolness missing the point.

All in all though it was a brilliant couple of hours out and I had a lot of fun. The hip-Hop Shakespeare Company is well worth checking out if you get the chance.

Monday, November 14

Food: Papa J's Click for more info

Who knew Luton could have such nice places to eat? Sure, at almost £20 a head for a starter and main you can hardly consider this place cheap, but for once I have no complaints about the food we got. The Chilli Paneer, the Seekh Kebabs, the Chicken Tikka Masala and the Daal Makhani were all pretty awesome - enough for me to over eat by quite a margin.

Service was adequate if not polite and prompt and the place had a nice enough character in which groups, families and smaller parties could all have a good time.

Of course me being me, I have to take away points for the cost... but other than that I can't end this review without recommending the place - you know, if you ever have the misfortune of having to go to Luton in the first place.

Monday, November 7

XKCD Click for more info

XKCD in a nutshell explains the curse of the programmer, or more accurately, the abstract logician:



That right there is why I get no work done. Okay maybe not exactly that, but you know.

Saturday, November 5

Snippet

[18:50:48] Shak
    heh
    there's nothing wrong with being a hermit
    only boring people need to go out and about
[18:53:20] xxxx
    nah
    only single ppl
    :-)
[18:53:34] Shak
    hmm
    i spend most days in now
    looking forward to xfactor tonight
    that is my life :D
    oh well. have plenty of stuff to watch
[18:55:02] xxxx
    :-(
    man...
[18:55:15] Shak
    dont say it
[18:55:16] xxxx
    hurry up and get married already
    too late
[18:55:31] Shak
    so many hot girls in can wharf man

[...]

    :D
[18:56:15] xxxx
    there are loads
    i love it here
    if you're a banker
    easy to get fit *****
    wait for the economy to tank
    there will be loads
    you can 'save' the really poor ones from a life of stripping
    sounds harsh...but it's reality
    you'll be able to provide where a hot guy with big **** may not
    remember these words my friend
    great recession = hot ***** for you
    don't save this chat
[19:05:37] Shak
    ah man, i havent posted one of your quotes for ages. this is def going on the blog
[19:06:16] xxxx
    ...
    call it....
    recession *****

Sunday, October 30

Film: Ra.One Click for more info

The only thing surprising about Ra.One is how precisely it fulfils what you would expect from a Bollywood superhero movie. It has a thin and nonsensical plot, horrendous acting (with a special award going to the annoying brat and his haircut) and awful special effects. Oh and the 3D gave me a headache (which to be fair has nothing to do with Bollywood superheroes).

Nevertheless I have to admit that for some bizarre reason I kinda fell for the charm of this movie. In fact I kinda enjoyed it. And yes, that song was pretty cool too.

I can only assume I'm going to be alone in this conclusion - maybe I was just having a good day - and I find it my duty to not recommend any of you to go watch this.

Saturday, October 22

Trust Us With Your Life

Another week and another BBC filming. This time the show was a new one named "Trust Us With Your Life", billed as a kind of spiritual follow on from the classic "Whose Line Is It Anyway?". So improv was the main course today, brought to us by all the names we're used to including Colin Mochrie, Wayne Brady and less visibly but probably most important the genius that is Dan Patterson (who I just realised was present at Mock The Week too).

The premise was simple - we have two celebrities telling us various tales from their lives. Each scene they paint is then given the improv treatment in the typical Whose Line minigame manner. In theory it's a pretty sound idea, but in practise it was a little forced as we discovered that the stories were (understandably) more cherry picked than random, which kind of defeated the point of improvisation.

Still, I have to say I enjoyed this filming a lot and laughed more genuinely than I would have at another comedy show. The comedians were smart and funny, and I even begun to like the two Osborne kids who were the celebrities in the hot seat tonight. The usual downsides that come with a filming like this - the interruptions, the pick ups, etc - were particularly painful to sit through though. Interestingly, the show is bring filmed here but for an exclusively American audience, and that affected the style and sensitivity of the humour - it wasn't as brash and edgy as that found in Mock The Week. And while we're comparing the two, I have to say that I now appreciate Dara all the much more.

So yes, I think it's a thumbs up from me. The show is still filming and will bring more guests in the coming days, from David Hasselhoff to Ricky Gervais (which could in theory be incredible to watch), and I may even go as far as catching the show on that television thing.

Friday, October 21

Food: Big Moe's Diner Click for more info

I could save myself a lot of words by just pointing you to my Tinseltown review, but it's true: Bog Moe's is just a clone of the previously unique pace annoying young Muslims go to eat.

So it's the same adequate food, the same adequate service and the same value for money (that is, none). But hey, options are always good things and I can't knock a place for being unoriginal. On balance I might even say I preferred it here.

Friday, October 14

Food: Fish! Click for more info

Swanky and clean, Fish! is a nice place in which to eat. The food was above average - I stuck to the good ol' cod and chips with mushy peas, and if I had to be harsh then I would say that the chips were a little overcooked.

Service and atmosphere were all great and my friend and I did walk away feeling happy with the pleasant dinner we had. All this came at a cost though; at £20 quid a head it was very expensive for what it was - enough for me to steer clear of the place in future.

Wednesday, October 12

Software G Forces and Ease At Work

One of the good things about working in a big flashy corporate are the facilities that are made available to employees. For example today we had Kent Beck come in and give a talk for the most part of the morning.

It was a good talk. Beck himself is a brilliant speaker if a little sheepish, but the manner in which that he embraces this side of him in itself gives him an air of confidence. Indeed a major theme in his work is to accept people as people and not assume that just because the work of programmers is largely mathematical that programmers themselves are - as well as accepting that we as an industry have social issues that need to be acknowledged and worked on.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself here. The first part of the talk was titled "Software G Forces: A talk discussing the dramatic changes to the development as the deployment cycle shrinks", and literally listed what to expect if we attempted to shrink our own release cycles from months to minutes. Beck assumed that we had all already bought into the idea that instant release cycles was the aim and in that sense it was more of a observational than conceptual talk.

Although the talk was very good and did what it aimed to do, I think most of the audience were stuck in stage zero and were not of the position that shorter cycles was always a good thing. As such the questions and feedback was less about what was said and more to do with why we wanted to in the first place. For sure, Beck's ideas require a philosophy change or paradigm shift to work and reap benefits and simply "working faster" wasn't the point.

In other words this talk was probably came a little too early for some of us. Still I found it quite beneficial to know the material effects of moving to a faster release cycle, and I was uplifted when he explained how Amazon manage to release thousands of times a day. It was liberating in the same way as when you realise you don't necessarily need static typing or OOO any more, a kind of vindication of a feeling you may already have had, or a meta-awareness of the software development industry.

The second part of the talk, "Ease At Work: The importance of maintaining an accurate self-image" was pure psychology and in my view didn't have much to do with software but more general work ethic - but perhaps in a way us in technology may understand. Ideas like self-awareness and communication were correct and materially rewarding as well as learnable behaviours, and that the only thing holding us back were the lack of traction, laziness and habit. I already try to implement many of the things he mentioned in my everyday life, but it was refreshing to hear it in the context of IT let alone work.

I'm going to put my hands up here - before today I had no idea who Kent Beck was. That's more an indication of my own disinterest in my chosen career rather than his celebrity status, and having studied XP in university I certainly know of his ideas and work. So yes, it was a privilege to have him address us this morning. I was expecting a fully technical talk but instead found something quite human, commonsensical and practically useful. For sure, I still think Computing is a technical field and can never be seen as a social industry and that a lot of modern effort to make it so is a bit shoehornish. But what I realised today is that there is room for some soft skills in my work and that it's quite worth the time to achieve some of those.

Tuesday, October 11

Britain's Got Bhangra Click for more info

Despite being terribly cynical about all the desiploitation going on in the past decade, I must admit that I was a little gutted after having missed Britain's Got Bhangra last year. Even if I don't dig the scene I do love brown music, and in recent times Bhangra in particular, so I think I would have liked a musical based on that part of the culture. So when I heard that it was being brought back this year, I made a point of going.

It was pretty much what was expected. There was music and dance and it was fun I guess. The acting was okay, with the plot being the real star of the show. Otherwise I found the whole thing a little flat and amateurish, both planned (it was all quite silly) and unplanned (sets falling apart and the like).

I'm told that last year's production was much more, both in terms of depth and quality, so it seems at least in theory this should have been great. But for this day in the Hackney Empire I can't quite say it was that amazing an experience.

Friday, October 7

Book: The Duke and I, Julia Quinn Click for more info

Initially, the biggest issue I had with this book was the cover. Bright and pink, with a picture of a lady putting gloves on, it was obvious what genre I was reading on my daily commute to work. And yes, I did get a few looks. But all my misgivings and embarrassment went away after I got my first smile from a passing girl. Result.

But this is a book review, not "ways to pull on the tube" (coming soon). It would be easy to assume that, as a guy, I would be gearing up to trash any kind of chicklit and had decided to hate this book before I even turned the first page. I think I can be objective with these things (although many would argue that's not the point of literature), and I'm also open-minded enough to give a recommended book of any genre a try. That doesn't mean I would like it though, and Twilight is still embarrassingly crap.

So then, The Duke & I. The title alone should fill you in about most of the book: set in 19th century England, about an aristocratic community and in particular a woman and a Duke. Heck, if you've seen any Bollywood in the past decade then you could probably guess even more about the plot and the pace of the story.

I have to admit I was gushing over the first few chapters of the book. It, or rather the characters, were funny and sassy and I totally fancied the main character in Daphne. It was way more intelligent than some of the other books I've read of this type and unlike other female authors who think they're funny, Julia actually is.

Alas, just like its Bollywood analogy, the book does seem to suffer from a post-interval crash. All the magic that made it so great at the start gets replaced by angst, heaving bosoms and various kinds of metaphorical (and not so metaphorical) explosions; and even I was made quite uncomfortable by what I can only call pornography (and I thought I had been desensitised by American Psycho). It's a shame because it made the whole thing a little trashy and cheap, but not just because of the rude bits; the chapter endings (which are a bit of a personal bugbear of mine I admit), were a little too leading for my liking.

But as a book it was better than most; at the very least Quinn should be applauded for being literate - I'm looking at you Myers. Actually on that topic and as a side commentary I do think it's as much evidence as Twilight was of how confused and hypocritical women are - apparently reformed rakes make the best husbands. Please.

So yes, I can't quite recommend it unless you're specifically looking for something like this. If you know what you'll be getting yourself in for then you'll probably enjoy the banter and fun, but if you want something a little more sensible and mature and less shallow then you're better off going for something like this or this.

Thursday, October 6

Shak's Choice: Nazanin Boniadi Click for more info

It's a bit of a special edition today. You see the magnificent Nazanin isn't technically my choice; heck I don't even watch How I Met Your Mother, the show in which she was spotted. But after a (girl) friend suggested I marry Nazanin I thought it prudent to look her up and, yes, it turns out that she's actually quite the knockout.



Notable tidbits include how she's Iranian, that she's won awards for her work in cancer research and how much of an activist she is. So no, not just a pretty face then.

Tuesday, October 4

Mock The Week Click for more info

The Mock The Week screening a few of us went to was pretty much as expected. It wasn't a full three hours of stand-up comedy, and we saw a lot of the technical "behind the scenes" work that goes into creating a 30 minute show. That said, there wasn't as much dead time as I thought.

It was funny throughout, but that just proved that there can be too much of a good thing - we were mentally and physically exhausted after laughing so much. It's actually quite weird; even though I was laughing I did actually become bored of doing so. Before tonight, I assumed those things were mutually exclusive.

Dara was amazing and seemed to be the only one who succeeded with his improvising. The others were good too, but seemed a bit well prepared. I guess part of the genius is making it all look so natural on the show itself.

It was long but it was fun. I don't think I could do it again any time soon though. If you wanted to see the end result, feel free to hit the see more link above.

Monday, October 3

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

One of my more irritating habits is to constantly remind someone complaining about anything that they're the ones who choose to feel how they do. This isn't just from a causal perspective ("you hate your job? Well you're the one who wanted to work, and you can quit now if you wanted to.") but even further in a self-awareness or CBT kind of sense. Cue today's Abstruse Goose:



At first glance this might look like the complete opposite to what I advise, but it's not really. Accepting that life is what it is is a fundamental step to being happy.

Sunday, October 2

Film: Crazy, Stupid, Love. Click for more info

CSL is so well built and balanced that you could almost forget that it is essentially a romantic comedy about a couple going through a bit of a marital crisis. Steve Carell and Julianne Moore are the guys in question, with Carell doing such a good job as the guy struggling with his wife's decision to divorce that you can't help but admire his genius.

The rest of the film is hung on this premise, with Ryan Gosling playing the part of the womanising bar hop, Emma Stone the sensible girl learning to jump blind a little more, and an ancillary cast (Bobo and Tomei) propping up the rest of it.

The film itself feels a little long, and yet I can't see how they could have done it any different. Unquestionably feel good but with a reality-bites undertone, I thought CSL was brilliant and so I can't help but recommend it.

Friday, September 30

Book: How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, Chad Orzel Click for more info

The danger with being a smarter than the average cookie is not that it brings with it a certain arrogance, but more that it becomes difficult to relate to mere mortals (which is why I don't expect many of you to have realised what I did there).

Take quantum physics for example. Even the name itself sounds clever and so it's always going to be a tough task explaining it to the layman like me. But it's not impossible and there are many strategies available to transfer ideas and thoughts - most of which take time and effort to implement. Another way is to use analogy to relate and this is the approach Orzel takes in this book.

The problem is that almost by definition there are no analogies for quantum physics - Orzel explains as much in the first chapter. And yet he still tries to do this, using his dog Emmy, and her fondness for rabbits made out of cheese.

On the surface, this isn't really a problem; it's easy to ignore irrelevances like a talking dog after all. However the trouble here is that Orzel does this at the cost of the essential detail - he glosses over the important stuff and anaesthetises the reader with humour and theatre. Sure, some bits are funny, but for someone who is interested in the maths it's a little frustrating to be asked to suspend our disbelief instead of being made to understand.

The biggest show of Orzel's incapability of transmitting his ideas is toward the end - a whole chapter dedicated to slagging off and debunking other scientists (not that he would use that word to describe them). It's almost propaganda in style, and extremely ironic considering his book doesn't sound any more real and acceptable than those he criticises - I wouldn't be surprised if many more "con men" with a false understanding of quantum physics come about after reading this book. It actually reminded me of certain Islamic "scholarly" works, where the message essentially boils down to "believe me, not them". I don't expect that from science.

One of the themes of the book is to do with conservation of energy and an underlying natural order, but unfortunately it's Orzel who thinks we can get something out of nothing with his book. I've come away learning about some buzzwords but cannot say I have any kind of deeper understanding of the science. Which is a shame, since it means I can't really recommend this book.

Tuesday, September 27

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Okay I admit it - tons of "grass is greener" syndrome here:



It's quite ironic actually since I realised the above way back in primary school; when clearing up after a particularly mess afternoon, Jodie suggested I slow down a bit and do it properly, like she was. Of course I ended up clearing my mess up in half the time she did.

But that was a unique example of how pragmatism won the day - generally I tend to follow the rules and advice that the consensus provides, but doesn't necessarily follow itself.

Which makes me wonder: is doing things the "right way" really the right way to do things? And if not, is it too late to change? I'm not saying I'm not already a complete douchebag, but if it's clear that some strategies do bring what you want, then maybe it's time for a change.

Saturday, September 24

Food: Pizzeria Pappagone Click for more info

In terms of food, Pappagone is a decent Italian joint just north of Finsbury Park. The portions were just right (that is, not especially generous), and the bill of 15 quid per head for mains, a drink and desserts pretty decent value. The menu is varied enough to have you coming back for a new experience for a couple of visits at least.

Where the place lost tons of points was for the atmosphere. The place was incredibly noisy and had us screaming at each other just to make conversation. There were even FIVE rounds of happy birthday (of which only one seemed particularly appreciated by the birthday guest it was played for). In short, this isn't really a place you should go for ambience or intimacy. Or, heck, even a birthday party.

Its a real shame because otherwise this place was excellent.

A quick note about the website - ignore the map because it's wrong. It's actually on the north side of Tollington Park, not south as indicated.

Wednesday, September 21

New Music

If you make it a point to read these music posts, make sure you check out the note at the end of this post.

Bewafa - AAG

AAG does Imran Khan cover? Not only that, but better (not that that would be that difficult - sorry Imran)? Well yes, it seems so.

Dil To Bachcha Hai - Ishqiya

Simple but sweet, almost folk like.

Rabba Main Toh Mar Gaya Oye - Mausam

I didn't really get this at first (oye rhymes with oye?), but now I really like it. But which version am I talking about? Well to be honest I don't think there's much in it between the Shahid Mallya and Rahat versions so I'm not quite sure.

As an aside this will be the last music post I make on this blog. I don't think it's been very useful for a while now, and any songs I really would want everyone to listen to will probably be made known via Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

Book: The Alchemy of Happiness, Al-Ghazali Click for more info

Before you ask: no, I haven't suddenly become a fan of classical Muslim literature and scholarly works; I'm still way too lazy for that. This slim book was actually given away at a wedding I attended in South Africa last year - a neat alternative to the party favours we usually would have received. It even had a dedication inside the front cover! Neato.

I don't think this is actually the full Alchemy of Happiness but just a few chapters from it. In fact the book feels more like an extended pamphlet than a volume, although that's not to say that it doesn't cover some relatively deep topics. Still I didn't find it as useful as the last (and only) Ghazali book I read; this seems a little more abstract and fluffy and so, for me at least, not as engaging.

Particularly amusing is the chapter on marriage and discussion on wives and how to pick one. I won't go into too much detail except to say that I would think most women I know would probably have a problem with it. The "editor's note" goes on to blame the translator, accusing Claud Field of being an Orientalist, but whether the editor himself is being objective or a feminist is open to debate. Either way, this little conflict is actually the most interesting part of the book.

As much as I appreciated the book as a party favour, I can't say it compels me to read any of the full version or even Ghazali's other stuff. As such, I'm not quite sure I can recommend it.

Saturday, September 17

Arabick Roots Click for more info

The Royal Society are currently running an exhibition on the historical Arabic and Muslim sources of inspiration that the organisation has. Since this weekend was one of the two that they exhibition was open to the non-guided public, a friend and I decided to check it out.

It was a very personal show, both in terms of content and presentation. The Royal Society isn't a gallery or museum, and so the artefacts and show-pieces were dotted around the building in a kind of ad-hoc fashion; this may have made it a little difficult to follow but looking at the free guide we were handed I don't think we missed much. The themes covered included pharmacy, chemistry and alchemy amongst others - all stuff that many may already know originated from an older Muslim world - but the whole personal touch, about how members of the Royal Society itself were the ones to form these relationships made it all very intimate and even more striking.

On the flip side it's probably this personal slant that made the whole thing so limited. We had covered most of the material on offer (as well as checking out the Royal Society itself) within 45 minutes or so. In those terms it's difficult for me to recommend the exhibition for those who have no other business in the area, but if you happen to be passing this weekend or that of the 1st-2nd October then it a nice enough way to kill an hour or so.

Friday, September 16

WharfMA: Eid in the Wharf Click for more info

It's hard to believe that it's been a whopping three years since I last attended a WharfMA Eid in the Wharf event. Personally I had found that I had kinda grown out of the whole Muslim Professional Networking thing a couple of years ago - so it's quite ironic that I find myself in the thick of the scene working where I do now.

And if I'm honest I would have given this year a miss too. But this year the organisation I volunteer for, ICSS, decided to make a well organised push to recruit at the event. In other words tonight was more about work than socialising. Ahem.

Of course that didn't mean I wasn't going to enjoy the entertainment on offer. The WharfMA decided to take a distinctly arty yet eclectic turn this year, with a whole bunch of weird and wonderful artists performing alongside the more regular ones. First up was David J, a spoken word artist who may have even been my favourite performer of the night. This wasn't the flippant and rhetorical stuff I was expecting but actually multi-dimensional and entertaining on an obvious (ie funny) level.

Daniel Waples managed to stun the audience with his Hang Drum skills, and I was really impressed by the sound that he was able to create on his own. The next act was pretty much pure fan-service for the girls - Sound of Reason had popped over from Canada to do a few sets. Now I really don't like the whole Nasheed thing but these guys were more on the Outlandish side of the scale so I was able to enjoy it more than I would have otherwise. Well until the girls in the audience regressed to teenagers. No, I'm not hating. What was really ironic is how uninvolved the audience was otherwise - come on guys, are we so uptight that we can't even wave our arms in the air to a beat?

I have a theory about Islamic (or rather, brown) Comedy: that it doesn't exist. Aman Ali didn't disprove this idea, although there were two times that I did actually laugh out loud. Still the audience seemed to love it more than I did, so I will put it down to me being a grouch (either that or Muslims just don't get out much).

Otherwise the event flowed smoothly enough; Mohammed Ali hosted and engaged the audience well while the ancillary speakers did their part (although I do think that the majority of those twenty who were donating £1000 a piece didn't actually realise it. Hopefully I'm wrong). The food before and after was adequate enough, and there was plenty of time to mingle - sorry, I mean "network" - after the entertainment had finished.

We even managed to drum up a record level of interest in the schools, so in our eyes it was a massive success; but even aside from that it was a decent enough way to spend a Friday night too.

Thursday, September 15

Fall Season 2011

This last year has pretty much been a failure for me in terms of TV watching. The truth is that between a full time job (sigh) and a years' Sky Movies subscription I had totally no time to watch much in terms of serials. But the Sky subscription is now over and I'm slowly becoming a hermit which means things should come back on track. For example in the past month I had already cleared the last season of Smallville and House.

Smallville has finally ended, and it's quite difficult for me to express how glad I am of that. It was like a dead weight around my viewing schedule, a kind of punishment for being a fan of the time pass that is television. House kind of made up for it this year, even though I felt some of the main story arc was a little against what I was expecting. I'm currently making my way through One Tree Hill, which has now officially taken the place of Smallville as Bane of My Life. Please let it end soon; the next season has been said to be last (and is only 13 episodes to boot), but we've all heard that before.

Otherwise I don't have much else to say regarding last year. Although I had plans to, I decided not to watch An Ordinary Family, Hellcats and Camelot - all three have been axed so I'm glad I didn't invest any time in them. My official backlog now consists of Doctor Who, Family Guy, Glee, Little Mosque and Torchwood. Oh and I've decided to jump on Entourage, The Big Bang Theory and The Wire too, so you can add those to the lists of shows I've yet to start (30 Rock, Community, Dexter, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation).

The new shows I'm looking forward to this year are Archer, Falling Skies, Game of Thrones, Ringer (Sarah Michelle Gellar FTW!), The Event (yes, even though it's been axed), The Killing and The Walking Dead.

And this isn't even a comprehensive list: I have a ton load of BBC documentaries to watch with my dad (Planet Earth, Human Planet and Planet Dinosaur), as well as short stuff like Sherlock and The Inbetweeners to watch. And to top it all off I just decided this morning that I had a craving for Quantum Leap.

Crazy? Well yes, although it's quite interesting how many of these shows are either really old or just started. As such there's no real rush to watch any of them immediately so if anything paradoxically there'll be less for me to watch on a regular basis. Maybe I'll even save the shows I've yet to begin to watch for a later date (if you'll excuse the pun).

Book: The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

There comes a point in one's cynical life where you consider the question of whether it's okay to manage people. Of course it's easy enough to argue that it's impossible not to, and in fact that's all that communication is, so I guess the real question is whether or not it's okay to exploit people for their own good.

Leaving that wider question aside, I think most people would regard The Prince as a good discussion of the topic - I say discussion but it's not really seeing how prescriptive Machiavelli is in it. His themes and advice isn't hard to understand or even implement, but his justification is where the interesting stuff lies, and it's clear that he's a great believer in "the greater good" and "means being to an end". And since morality is subjective it's hard to argue against his methods that have been shown over the years to be quite effective.

It's not a long read although can be hard to follow at times, particularly if you don't know much about Italian political history. Oh and as an aside, the copy I was loaned was a pretty little book.

So I guess this isn't really a book that one learns from - if you're reading this then you probably know how to manipulate and represent yourself to others. But as a test of your own moral code - essentially whether you protest or embrace the book - it's quite a good read. And no, I won't tell you my own reaction in that much depth. That would only give the game away.

Wednesday, September 14

Video of the Day Click for more info

Mario is 30?!? THIRTY! Cripes. I'm so speechless at this fact that I'm just going to post the video and get on with it.



Yes it's 18 minutes long, but if you're anything like me you'll love every single one.

Saturday, September 3

HP TouchPad

So it seems that the tablet effect is in fact real.

I was one of those who didn't quite see a use for a dumbed down portable and keyboard-less slab that could at best only be used to check mail and web. But after HP's discontinuation of WebOS hardware and subsequent firesale, I couldn't resist picking up a TouchPad. For 90 quid, it was an easy punt.

The effect wasn't quite immediate. But taking this week for example, I've left my main PC off for two evenings because the tablet served any purpose I wanted on those particular days. In fact I was quite surprised that there were in fact days when all I wanted to do on a PC was check email. I guess I'm a consumer after all.

And strangely using the tablet is actually more efficient than the PC. Perhaps it's ironically how its hard to type that I don't want to that much, or maybe it's the change of environment - it's easier to tear yourself away when you're lounging on a sofa rather than at a desk. Whatever the reason, for those two days I spent less time plugged in.

Although the future of WebOS is uncertain, there is already a lot that the TouchPad does already. It has mail, a calendar, a browser, Gtalk and Skype already loaded. It has an (admittedly quiet) app store and can play flash videos off YouTube and the like. Sure, it will never do everything my Android phone does, but that's okay - that's why I have my phone. And as has been said elsewhere the paradigm of using cards to represent multitasking is pretty much genius - I'm left wondering why Android and iOS settled on such respectively archaic ways of doing more than one thing at a time.

There are niggles though - the much talked about contact management, or Synergy, doesn't quite work as well as advertised, and there are a fair few UI issues where buttons or inputs lock up. Oh and the platform performs incredibly slowly.

Hardware wise there's not much to say. I miss a hardware back button, and the slab is a little heavy but other than that it's quite sleek (until your fingerprints destroy it). I'm a little annoyed that I can't charge it via my PC, but I'm sure there's a workaround for that.

Of course this isn't a fair review - tablets like this don't usually retail for under a ton. And even knowing what I know now, I still wouldn't pay more than £150 for one. But pricing aside I have to say I'm both surprised and impressed by the utility of such a device, and can even see how some are describing it as the future of computing.

Game: Heavy Rain (PS3) Click for more info

What? A game full of QTEs? That can't be good. After all, we all hated Dragon's Lair and those countless lame MegaCD games, right? The creators must have been crazy to even bother with this.

But it turns out that armed with a great story and characters you can actually get away with the lowest form of interactive entertainment. The game itself describes this as "interactive drama", and is placed firmly between film or TV drama and videogames. So a lot of it is passive, but yet active enough to make you feel involved in the story. As someone who is increasingly complaining about how demanding games have become, this is actually a good thing. Graphics, music and the rest of the presentation are good, with few niggles to complain about.

So yes, it turns out that a game full of QTEs can actually be rather good. Recommended.

Friday, September 2

Food: Chimichanga Click for more info

You see, if it wasn't for Wahaca, Chimichanga might have actually been better received. I mean there's nothing wrong with the place; the South Woodford branch at least is clean and well serviced. The food was generous if a little bland, and at 17 quid per head for shared starters and dessert, a main and a drink, the value wasn't too bad.

But then seeing as Wahaca beats Chimichanga on all those fronts, there's really no point in going to Chimichanga if you specifically want Mexican. Although I guess the location is pretty handy for us locals.

Thursday, September 1

Slice: Lahore - London Click for more info

I spent a few hours after work checking out the Slice exhibition at Rich Mix. To be honest I wasn't quite sure what it was about - a dysfunctional and unclear website didn't help with that. I thought it was one of many related exhibitions being held across London, but it turned out that the whole thing was there. Which was a pleasant surprise I guess.

So the premise then? Well this was a series of video and audio art related to places plotted on a line traced from London to Lahore. The way in which they were presented was interesting: each country had a monitor that was controlled by a arrow shaped "puck" that was to be placed on a table map below it. Although this excited the geek in me, it did make viewings a little frustrating as you had to share the platform with other viewers.

What I did get to see was, as expected, a mixed bag. I mean I'm hardly the most likely to appreciate this kind of stuff so my opinion probably doesn't mean much in this situation, but I didn't quite get a lot of it. I did like Conrad the Scoundral's and another artist whose name I can't remember. Oh and there was free food courtesy of Tayyab's, not that I got to eat any. Darned Shawwal.

Although I can't quite recommend people go out of their way to view this exhibition, it's a free event so if you happen to be passing (I dunno, while grabbing a bagel or something) then it might be worth a quick look.

Wednesday, August 31

New Music

And so the music begins.

Super Bass - Nicki Minaj

Well I may as well start with the trashiest stuff first. A song that's as colourful and bubbly as the chick who sings it.

Don't Speak - No Doubt

There was actually a time when I wasn't interested in music. This track marked the beginning of a transition to a place where I can't imagine not having it. And oh my: 1995!

Achha Lagta Hai - Aarakshan OST

Sultry and playful, I love this track. And no, not just because it has Deepika in the video.

Saathiyaa - Singham OST

More identikit ballad goodness. I think I prefer this to the other big track on the OST.

Maula Maula - Singham OST

Oh look, and the inevitable qawwli inspired track as a bonus!

Teri Meri - Bodyguard OST

I hate Salman Khan, and every time I have to listen to any song remotely related to him or his films, I hate myself a little too. Tune though.

Friday, August 26

XKCD Click for more info

There are two ways to approach something new - either go for it or start thinking about how it'll all go wrong. Either approach has its merits, but sometimes it's just faster to try than consider things fully:



What's possibly worse in this case is how someone else knows your level of ability more than you do yourself. That's a sign right there, folks.

Tuesday, August 23

The Seven Year Itch

It's a bit sad that of the hobbies or interests I have, the one I've maintained the longest happens to be this blog. I'm still in two minds on whether I should be proud or ashamed of that. Probably a little bit of both.

I think I've past the point where this blog can go back to the state it was in during the early years - you know when people actually liked reading it. As mentioned before Twitter is a cause of this, but a lack of time and inclination are also major factors. I seem to actually, you know, talk to real life people more about the stuff I would have usually written here; it's faster for one, but more than that I seem to have much more patience now and can tolerate a return conversation.

If we add to that my growing general disliking of The Internet (thanks Facebook!), then you could conclude that there may even be a definitive ending to this place. Of course that won't happen for a while - my OCD will keep the reviews and travel logs coming for a few years at least - but the fact that my draft list is well over fifty posts long is quite telling.

I guess the balance between writing and actually being read has tipped to the former. Whether anyone actually cares or not I have no idea.

Sunday, August 14

Game: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3) Click for more info

And finally I get to play the sequel to one of my most favourite PS3 games, Uncharted. I said in the review back then that this is how games should be made, and Uncharted 2 not only doesn't disappoint, but goes even further than the first game.

It's all just so slick and entertaining that it's hard to fault. We still have the simple controls and gameplay, but now with bigger explosions. It's great.

If there is a little niggle it's the final task, but since it'd spoil the game for me to go any further I'll just brush that under the carpet.

So yes, as recommended as the first game - and if you haven't played either now is the time to do so, mainly in anticipation of the third part in the series that will be out soon.

Thursday, August 4

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

We all think we're special, but today Abstruse Goose tells us exactly how special we are:



We can talk about destiny and stuff, but at the end of the day we're just accidents. Move one pivotal variable (here's a clue: they're all pivotal) and we'd be totally different. If that's not a reason to embrace who you are I don't know what it.

Monday, August 1

Ramadhan Reminder

For all non-Jummah workdays during Ramadhan, a different guy will be giving a five minute "Ramadhan Reminder" after each Zhur Jamaat in my company Prayer Room. I've been given the honour of opening this year's session and what follows is what I used as a guide for my talk today.



Open.

"There are many who fast all day and pray all night, but they gain nothing but hunger and sleeplessness" (hadith)

As you all know Ramadhan is not just about starving ourselves. It is an achievement to get through a day while refraining from the technically forbidden acts of eating, drinking and having relations and it's also full of blessing and reward, especially in these difficult summer months, but looking around I don't think many people need much reminding on how to carry on with that, and as the saying implies there is much more to a day in Ramadhan than feeling hungry.

There are two further things I feel we can focus on - increasing the good habits while reducing the bad. Most of us manage to do that former to an extent - we pray more, both obligatory and optional prayers. We read more Quran and seek more knowledge as we can see by those sitting here. We pay more charity and generally feel more spiritual. This is all commendable and we should be proud of ourselves and look to increase all these acts as much as we can. But there is more we can do, things which may not at first glance have a religious value and they all involve improving our character - we can be even nicer and generous in character than we usually are, we can look to be more helpful and patient with those around us. These "soft skills" are just as important as any particular act of worship, particularly because they're so pervasive in our lives, and yet they sometimes get overlooked because they're not as seen as explicitly religious.

Where I personally fail is on the other side of the coin; the reduction and removal of the bad habits we form during the rest of the year. These come from both outside and in - we work in an environment that presents quite a lot of fitna and gives plenty of reasons to show bad character and make bad choices. But even putting that aside there are lots of actions that we have only ourselves to blame for - things like gossiping, back-biting, being rude, fighting and arguing, being unhelpful in our work or homes, or not being forthcoming when it's easy for us to.

Ironically sometimes it's our situation itself that is our excuse to behave badly - fasting should bring peace but sometimes the difficulty incites bad temper even when we don't realise it. The most dangerous thing is how these small behaviours and actions can add up - and even jokey and innocent behaviour could be dangerous. Its all the things we take as second nature and harmless which are sometimes the ones which are the most difficult to reduce.

But as with all kind of improvement there is no better excuse than Ramadhan to try and nail these habits. Yes we should continue to focus on the the improvements we've established - the prayer and seeking of knowledge, but for me there is real value in using the sense of goodwill and hidayat to reinforce the good behaviours and battle the bad ones. We should use the spirituality and god consciousness to build and improve our conduct; use our hunger to remind ourselves to be nicer and patient people. Hopefully this will then become habitual and a part of your overall character both during and out of Ramadhan.

Dua.

Saturday, July 30

Film: Horrible Bosses Click for more info

After the two amazing films I watched recently, it may seem a little odd to tone down the class in the same week. Horrible Bosses is exactly that; cheap gags and a throwaway plot bringing us a couple of hours of good quality timepass.

But it was funny and enjoyable so it did its job well enough I suppose. To be honest I can't quite remember much of the film now, but if you're looking for something light then you can't do worse than this.

Friday, July 29

New Music

Bol OST - Bol

Of course we have Hona Tha Pyar and Kaho Aaj Bol Do from Atif Aslam & Hadiqa Kiani, and why these two don't just keep making music together I don't know. Dil Janiya by Hadiqa Kiani is good fun apart from the rap. And the filler on the OST gave me a chance to fill in my Atif gap with Chhod Gaye.

Bindrakhia Boliyan - DJ Harvey ft Nirmal Sidhu

This track is mainly interesting because of the medley-vibe it has. As a tribute it's not too bad.

Fitteh Moo - PBN

More girl on guy action as PBN does the battle of the sexes thing. I'm struggling to understand all of it, but the bits I pick up are hilarious.

Hale Dil - Murder 2

Of course.

Khaabon Ke Parinday - Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Airy and... well, pretty I guess. A perfect fit for the film it was taken from.

Senorita - Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara

Every time I hear this song I think of the film. And every time I think of the film I remember how amazing it was. I love how it's the vocals of the actors in the song itself.

I'm Into You - Jennifer Lopez feat. Lil Wayne

Far superior to her last track in my opinion, although even then I don't have much hope for her album.

Rolling In The Deep - Adele

It's the lazy Sunday mornings listening to Capital Breakfast that reminds me of all the decent English music I tend to miss out on. Like this.

Wednesday, July 27

Film: Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara Click for more info

There's no such thing as a perfect film. But sometimes you watch a movie that is so right, so flawless that you can't imagine how it could be any better. Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara is such a film.

It really was brilliant on a multitude of levels. The plot was engaging, the script hilarious (I lauged out loud many, many times) and flowing, the acting and characters believable and the music perfectly apt and original. And although it delivered on all these fronts it still manages to be pure Bollywood. So yes, this isn't one of those "different" films; we still have the item numbers and dancing and melodrama and fun. The balance is struck so precisely it's amazing.

For certain one of the best Bollywood films for a decade - it's for certain in my top five ever. I might even consider it for film of the year, and I still smile each time I think of it. It's seriously that good; so much so that a mere recommendation seems an injustice.

Sunday, July 24

Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 Click for more info

And (once again) it all ends here. After ten years and eight flicks, the film adaptation of Harry Potter comes to an end.

And what an end it is. Part two of the seventh chapter was so good that I've even forgotten all the duff episodes of the past - if it was all for this then it can all be forgiven. Yes, the acting is just as shoddy as it's always been (and to be honest we wouldn't have it any other way) but everything else seems to have been so lovingly crafted that I couldn't help but enjoy the two hours or so it ran for.

Considering my disappointment with the final book, I'm actually quite surprised at exactly how much I dug this film. The story was certainly the same, with the two parts managing to cover most of what happens, and yes I suppose was slightly underwhelmed by the finale too. But the level of poignancy and emotion evoked hit levels of fan-service, and it was this value that the film added which made it so special.

But I'm gushing now, so I'll stop. It's not often that a finale justifies the rest of its series but TDH:P2 does so and then some. Hugely recommended for fans.

Saturday, July 23

Book: The Iliad, Homer Click for more info

The Iliad has become the first book that I've had to bail on part way through. I didn't even get that far, which I guess makes sense seeing as if I had I probably would have stuck to it. But whatever the detail, I am a little sad that it's come to this.

It's my own fault really. I wasn't really well informed on what The Iliad and its background was - caught up in the fervour of the Hollywood rendition as well as my own personal interest in Greek mythology made me throw caution to the wind and just buy (that's right, buy) a copy. Not only that, but I bought The Odyssey too (which seems destined to remain in pristine condition), both of which were translated by George Chapman.

There are many reasons I've struggled so badly with this book. The first is that it's a poem. As someone who is more literal than poetic, I really don't like poetry. I think it's forced, obtuse and one of the most inefficient ways to communicate anything.

The other reason is that since it was originally written in Greek, I had to pick a translation and as such there are many versions of the same. I may have, perhaps, picked the least friendly of these and the poetry format aside I simply couldn't understand the language used by Chapman. It was almost like a foreign language to me. After two books (or chapters) I had no idea of what was going on - I could have been reading a book in French and I'd probably understand more. What's really frustrating is how during my brief hunt for review before buying the two books many said how easy it was to read. But hey, perhaps I'm just not smart enough.

So yes, as I get older and realise how little time I have to spend on this stuff, I've had little option but to ditch The Iliad as well as The (unread) Odyssey. But that's not to say my interest in Homer has waned; no, if anything I now know to go for perhaps a modern prose translation of the two classics. Watch this space I guess, but in the meantime unless you're some sort of Literature degree student, I would steer well clear of Chapman's The Iliad.

Thursday, July 21

Book: A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking Click for more info

I first read this book way back in 2002 - I was travelling alone back from Pakistan and picked it up at Karachi airport. I don't usually buy books, but since I was fresh out of university I was still a maths and physics head; Hawking was as much a role model and hero for me as any Hollywood (or Bollywood) actor was for my peers. A decade later and I'm slightly less geeky, so after a friend asked to borrow my copy I took it as an opportunity to re-read it and see if I took to the book as much as I did before.

As it says on the tin, A Brief History of Time is a small book. That's not to say it doesn't cover its subject matter in appropriate depth - any more detail would require much more of a technical background from the readership it was aimed at - and it's a credit to Hawking that he manages to convey some pretty difficult ideas to his audience. Or does he? Perhaps it's because I'm older and more cynical, or perhaps I've just lost my ability to think, but some of it didn't make complete sense.

Of course the book hasn't changed; only I have, and I don't remember having these difficulties during my first read - perhaps I just had more time and inclination to think about them? Still, you don't need to comprehend the book too much to enjoy it - I still enjoyed reading about the scope of the universe and time and the like even after taking what Hawking says for granted (something easily done if you're not a physicist).

The book is quite contemporary for one written such a long time ago - it was first published in 1988 which makes it an astonishing 23 years old (and quite amusingly older than the friend I'm planning on giving it to). But as well as covering the well established concepts like Relativity and Quantum Mechanics, it does also eventually touch on more exotic stuff like String Theory. Whether this was added to my "later" edition I'm not sure, and it's possible that later editions still have more up to date discussion.

But still, for the layman (which, alas, after reading this book I have finally accepted that I am), A Brief History of Time is a great introduction to a field of science that can sometimes be as scary as it is fascinating, so provided you already hold an interest in the topic I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this book.

Monday, July 18

Video of the Day Click for more info

Ah Dawson. How you changed the lives of everyone who watched you:



And yes, I do blame my five years of total Dawson viewing for ruining any chance of having a relationship... Although perhaps not in the way he suggests above. It turns out using Dawson as a role model doesn't do anything for your chances of grabbing a Potter either.

Nicked from Zany's blog.

Sunday, July 17

Shak's Choice: Melody Hossaini Click for more info

Now that it's all over and we know who's won, we're left with the real competition: yes, that's right, who made it as Shak's Choice for this season. And although I didn't realise it at the start of the show this year has actually been quite the prettiest for a while, and as such I've actually had to struggle a bit - I've even had to confer with my peers tonight over text message it's been that difficult.

So for the first time ever I'll have to include some notable mentions. In no particular order we have Felicity, Susan (who was my pick to win), Helen and Zoe. You all should be proud of getting this far, but unfortunately: you're fired.

But ultimately this years pick was the obvious choice; I even said so myself at the start of the season. That's right, this year's Shak's Apprentice Choice is the delightful Melody Hossaini:


But let's get one thing straight here. Unlike most other Apprentice fans I didn't actually immediately think Melody the prettiest in the house. In fact I would say that, lookswise, she kind of grew on me over time. But what I did like about her straight away was the way she presented herself - dainty and vulnerable and yet with some real power and intelligence, and while she was annoying everyone else with her style of talking I was loving it. And yes, the whole posh thing helped loads too. But it's not all about how attractive a candidate is; no, Melody did well in the process too. In fact I think she's been the most successful and impressive Choice yet.

So there you have it: the real winner of this year's Apprentice. I'm quite confident that this will come to some consolation to her as she continues on her path to world domination.

New Music

This Ain't a Love Song - Bon Jovi

I have no idea why this wasn't already on my play list, but a random listen in Mauritius made me realise that was the case. It's crazy that it's not on the greatest hits.

Teri Dewani - Kailash Kher

Quite possibly the song that defines Kailash Kher, this is accessible sufi at its best.

Louder - DJ Fresh ft. Sian Evans

Yes, I've loved this since hearing it on that advert... although I must admit the full version isn't as great.

Thursday, July 14

The Standard Chartered Great City Race 2011 Click for more info

There isn't much to report for this year's 5k race. I haven't run (at all) since this exact same event last year, so I was a little concerned at how it would go. Unlike other times when I had stopped running for a while, when I did still feel fit and knew I'd be able to get around, today I really had no real understanding of my fitness level before the start.

The race itself had technical issues. Firstly, it was the reverse course which in although in theory shouldn't make a difference was a little disconcerting as I apparently lost the distance cues I had built up over the past three races I had taken part in. Secondly, as I entered the race quite late in the queue I got caught up in a lot of traffic during the start - I would say it cost me at least 20-30 seconds. And finally apart from my lack of recent race experience I wasn't feeling too great and my sinuses were clogged up. Yes, aw.

My official time is 26:40 which surprisingly is bang on what I hit last year, perhaps proving that I don't need to do any exercise any more. Maybe. That said it was quite a difficult race and I did feel some muscle pain - which is quite pathetic considering the distance - and I expect to feel sore tomorrow, something that hasn't happened since I ran the marathon. On the other hand my respiration seemed to be okay, so I think I can still claim to be relatively fit.

Nevertheless I certainly miss being able to do this kind of stuff backwards in my sleep, and will take this as a clear indication that things are moving on.

Monday, July 11

Indexed Click for more info

Although I found this insightful at first, today's Indexed has got me struggling a little now:



The thing is I don't know if I'm an extrovert or introvert. I tend to do relatively okay in crowds and with new people, yet I am almost certainly anti-social (I constantly tell my friends how I plan to dump them after I marry) and prefer to stay indoors than out.

Apparently ambivert is used to describe those who express both, but I suspect that implies balance rather than mutuality. Although who said they were mutually exclusive anyway?

What might be easier to figure out is how lonely I am. Everyone say "aww".

Wednesday, July 6

Indexed Click for more info

Finally! The reason I can't stand having lie ins:

Monday, July 4

Madagascar, Day Eleven: Hellos and Goodbyes

It's a testament to how much of a great time we had here a week ago how glad we were to be able to spend a bonus day in Mauritius. Of course anything would have been better than Madagascar, particularly the last couple of days, but we were more than happy to be back anyway.

That said there really isn't much to report today aside from the extreme welcome and love of our Mauritian hosts. We even managed to catch that meal at Nando's that we missed out on during out main stay. The rest of the day was filled with family fun as we sipped on coconut water and did some local shopping.

So spending a day here was surreal but in a good way; as if we were being given it for free. I was caught smiling to myself more than once, each time as I considered the events of the past few days. Having to spend a day here definitely made up for the 48 hours before we arrived.

Saying goodbye was equally surreal, yet the repetition and familiarity reassured me that I would be meeting these guys again, be that in Mauritius or elsewhere. I can't wait.

Sunday, July 3

Madagascar, Day Ten: Now I Know How Jack and Kate Felt

I'm not even supposed to be writing a post today.

On the bright side, everything in terms of accommodation, transfers and food has been arranged. But other than waiting for mealtimes there is nothing else for us to do except hang around in the hotel waiting to be taken to the airport. We did venture out for a bit (looking for socks of all things) but otherwise we are totally in limbo. At least we have wifi.

The afternoon was spent in the airport, where we discovered that our flight was to leave at 6. That didn't leave much time for use to catch our connection from Mauritius, but it was still possible.

Of course such thoughts turned out to be wholly optimistic as we were delayed once again by one hour. At this point we were desperate to leave Tana - anywhere would have done and plans to fly to South Africa, France, Kenya and even Reunion Island were all tabled.

Despite knowing we would miss our flight to London tonight, we were all pretty ecstatic once we eventually took off. A night in Mauritius now seemed like a reward for all we had been through and we didn't even mind having to spend yet another day on our journey home; anything to get off Madagascar.