Tuesday, February 28

Project: IMLog

Amazingly, it's been over eight years since I started using some kind of instant messaging. More amazing still is the fact that I have ALL my IM logs since that time; 2nd December 1997 to be precise. Going through some of them proved to be quite the humourous (man I talked crap back then) and poignant (finding the first words exchanged between friends over IM) exercise. Some of you may have already been sent snippets from the past.

It really is a valuable resource, and that's why I've decided to clean, normalise and make more accessible the information contained in these logs - all 200 megs worth. This isn't as easy as it sounds. Various mediums, clients and locations put the data in a variety of formats and levels of integrity. The project will have the following phases:

  1. Data collection, cleaning and extraction. First I have to locate all of my logs. This is easy enough seeing as I made it a point to secure them from the beginning. What's more difficult is determining the dates each "archive" covers, determining whether there are any gaps or overlaps, and then in the case of ICQ (whose logs are in a propriety binary format) extracting the data, either conceptually via an API or physically to an intermediary format. It's mostly a manual job.
  2. Data normalisation and aggregation. This would be where development kicks in, since I'd need a way of reading all the various file types and determining what meaningful information to keep. Different formats keep a different level of detail, so I'll have to think about what I want to put in the database and how at this point.
  3. Database design and data retention. Here, I'll create a database and fill it. I think I'll enjoy this bit the most since it's a bit more creative than the other parts.
  4. Data cleaning and integrity checking. Again, another manual process, this time looking for dupes, garbage or any other obvious flaws in the data. Not looking forward to this phase, especially with the older stuff.
But that won't be the end. At this point the data will merely be in a useful form. As to what I'll do with it, well I've got a few things planned. I may open it up to parties I was talking to, create statistics or even just simply browse my old conversations privately. I'm sure there's enough material in there to keep me busy (and possibly a few embarrassing moments for some of my contacts too), I just wonder what it's going to be like walking down that particular memory lane...

How To: Portable Prayer Times

A long time ago I used to enter all Ramadhan Iftar times into my phone. Although this sounds tedious it wasn't that bad and was more convenient than carrying around a piece of paper. When I got a PDA I found a nifty little application that calculated times for any day of the year. Even better. However I stopped carrying my PDA a while ago and ended up with the same problem that I had before. Fortunately, technology had moved on by then.

Although you can get numerous Java apps for your phone that do the same thing, I've found an easier way to carry prayer timetables, using your phone's built in calendar. For this you need:

  • A PC running MS Outlook.
  • A mobile phone, with a calendar that you can synchronise with your PC.
  • Prayer Times 2003, a plug in for Outlook that generates prayer appointments. It's available here.

The rest is pretty self-explanatory after getting the plug in. Unzip and install it to get a Prayer Times toolbar in Outlook. This allow you to generate, remove and adjust the plug-in preferences. These provide a way to change the fiqh, alarm settings and other options used to generate the prayer appointments in the calendar part of the main application.

Once they're in Outlook, it's just another step to synchronise the calendar on your PC with that on your phone. Unfortunately every phone is different so I can't really describe how for each but I have got the whole thing working for a K750i so you know what to aim for. If you need any help, mail me and I'll try to have a look.

The Apprentice Click for more info

I finally got around to checking out the first episode last night, and what an enjoyable watch it was. It was much like the beginning of the first season, although it's clear that the producers are even better at making the contestants all look like total wan... idiots. Wicked.

Syed's done well by becoming the smarmiest of the lot, although I don't think that will help him win anything. Everyone else seems extremely normal (which is a good thing), but what I did notice was how much more immature these guys were compared to the S1 bunch (who were pretty bad themselves). And the lack of integrity! Jeez, I know business is cutthroat, but I still believe a businessman needs some character.

I don't see how any of these guys can run a bath let alone a company. The exchange between Ben and Syed at the end of episode one was fantastic though.

Still, like last time, twelve weeks is way too long in my opinion. I dipped out of the first season for most of the middle, and will probably do the same this time. For now, I'm loving it.

Sunday, February 26

High Beech Click for more info

So a friend is learning to drive, and a part of their insurance conditions is to have a licence holder of at least three years sitting in the passenger seat when they're out and about practising. This was the second time I was playing co-pilot for them so that's nothing new, but what makes tonight different is where we had decided to go...

High Beach is Epping Forest's very own haunted spot. It's home to the pretty common urban myth of that couple innocently making out in a car when all of a sudden they hear a violent banging on the roof - and you know the rest. It's where college students go when they first past their tests to scare the bejesus out of the girls in their group. Not that I've ever been before; still, ten years late is better late than never, eh?

Apart from being in a forest at night (which frankly is scary enough), High Beach has it's own church and graveyard. But the scariest and therefore best thing there is Hangman's Hill itself. This is a place where strange, strange things happen.

So there we were, at the bottom of the hill, engine off. Nothing happened at first, although we then realised that was because the driver had their foot on the brake. Doh. So then we lifted off the pedal... And that's when the car begun to roll...

... UP THE HILL!!!

Believe me, it was weird. So weird we had to do it four more times (and quite amusingly we weren't the only ones there doing so - don't people have better things to do on a Sunday evening?). Now, some people talk about optical illusions and "magnetic hills" but in our scientific opinions (we were both Imperial grads, y'see), it was certainly unexplainable by mere conventional physics. Although my friend's claim that they had felt something on their foot while the car was rolling UP THE HILL(!!!) I did take with a pinch of salt.

It was scary, man. Hold me.

Game: Ico (PS2) Click for more info

Hmm. I don't get it.

Critically acclaimed by everyone who knows videogames (which are those that don't play FIFA and WWF games really), I've finally gotten around to play Ico via its recent reissue. And I just don't get it. Granted, I've only played 40 minutes or so, but I don't see how the controls, combat, graphics or, well, gameplay is going to improve much later on.

Perhaps it's 'cos it's an old game and I've already played Prince Of Persia (which, frankly, this seems the poor man's version of). I will say that I'm mildly impressed with the level design so far and that the puzzles have been pretty clever, but I see myself getting VERY frustrated with wrestling with the aforementioned controls, both while navigating the levels and fighting the bad guys.

I dunno. It's a curiosity at best, but I guess I fall in the "Ico is massively overrated" camp. I'm too old and busy to play games that a) leave my hands and fingers hurting and b) have me thinking "I wonder what else I have to do" while playing them.

I'll give it another couple of hours, but unless things change very soon I think I'll be returning it uncompleted. A shame really. I wonder if things improve with SotC?

EDIT: So it clicked. And yes, I love it. Brilliant game and one of the few to leave my jaw literally dropping. All games should be like this.

Saturday, February 25

Link Of The Day Click for more info

Unpublished Jessica Alba

For all you Jessica Alba fans (and I know I have at least three reading), this is the picture she tried to get banned.

Thanks to Roh for the linkage.

Friday, February 24

Scary Baby II Click for more info

Well, since I was told how babies were supposed to be clever and stuff, I've refrained from blogging about the tricks and things that Idris continues to impress me with. After all, I don't want to bore anyone with non-exceptional activity that they see themselves everyday with their own babies, right?

However I just have to record the fact that he can now use a mouse. You know, so that he can control a computer, click on icons and pictures and navigate the CBeebies website effectively. Hah.

For those that don't follow his age (that's at least me since I had to go look it up just now) he's not even three yet. Now that just can't be normal... Can it? Let me know please!

Thursday, February 23

Me? Vain? Never!

So aunty ji asked for a mini profile in order to pass to a friend of hers. And as with all of these things, the mini-profile required a picture of me to be attached.

It turns out, however, that the latest appropriate (meaning not of the 2004 marathon) solo snap I have of myself was taken way back in 2003, from my trip to Bali, and even that wasn't taken by my camera (and in fact is the same picture I used for my shaadi.com profile and yet another reason why that needs updating).

Not sure if that's a good thing (I'm not self indulgent, hooray) or bad thing (it's certainly a hassle when creating profiles, boo), but luckily for aunty ji my trusted K750i enabled me to quickly fill that particular gap in my collection. Although perhaps I should have combed my hair first though. Hmm.

See Also

Just for reference.

Wednesday, February 22

City Circle: Concept of Citizenship, Professor Tariq Ramadan Click for more info

The second in a series of monthly talks by Ramadan, hosted by the CC. This session was about citizenship, at times specifically British citizenship, and was mainly an introduction to Ramadan's concept of the European Muslim. In a nutshell we were told how justice was more important than allegiance and nationality. To do this he explained how Islamic laws, cultures and values could be reconciled with their European/British counterparts.

Culture and values were the easy bits. The first most of us have managed to do pretty easily anyway, and it's not hard to see that good British values exist and are shared with Islamic ones. Law is much more difficult and so as a result a bit harder to harmonise, if possible at all.

Ramadan's reasoning here was, again, based on justice. His argument goes that since the objective of Shariah is justice and equality, any seemingly non-Shariah based law that promotes these concepts does in fact come under it's banner anyway. And any that don't should be changed using existing processes till they do. The historical precedent he gave for this was from The Prophet's time, where he adapted the existing laws of Madinah and made them Islamically valid rather than totally replace them with a new Shariah Law. In this way it's perfectly acceptable for Muslims to live under a (formally) non-Islamic system of law. Great, no?

I'm not sure. On the surface this seems ok. After all, if the result of two laws are the same, does it matter how each came about or what their implementation are? On the surface, possibly not, but look a bit deeper and there are some issues. Firstly we're assuming that we're able to objectively evaluate laws that already exist and have been possibly for a long time; it's easier to accept and justify things which have been established by others than to criticise them. Muslims have been doing that for years.

And how does this process fit in with the idea of worship (which we are taught is all that life is supposed to be)? Shouldn't Muslims themselves be actively establishing a "good" law rather than accepting those of others? After all The Prophet was the head of Madinah, not a resident like we are. Or are we implicitly determining the validity of law anyway by following them? The more astute of you will realise it's the age old question of intention versus action, and keeping a balance between the two is probably the answer here too (even though it's still a bit of a cop out).

This concept of "justice over all" doesn't just solve the problem of Shariah Law. Ramadan also uses it to determine whether Muslims can wage war against other Muslims (the conclusion being "it depends on whether the other Muslims deserve it"), and whether we should vote, protest or boycott and for what reasons (freeing Tibet being as much a Muslim cause as freeing Palestine). The talk concluded by giving practical (albeit non-specific) advice on how to provoke the changes required in our host countries' laws, culture and values by increasing our knowledge and participating in social, political and civic affairs. Pretty obvious stuff, but that just goes to show how much sense it all makes.

It's the silver bullet for all our problems; but the fact that justice itself is inherently subjective and sometimes needs to be externally defined by scripture seems to have been forgotten. Not that that's a fundamental flaw with the concept in general, and sometimes it's obvious what is right and what is wrong even without a reference. Overall I found myself agreeing with Ramadan more than disagreeing with him, but then I am more reformist than traditionalist. Slightly. Possibly.

Sunday, February 19

I'm A Loner

I actually lied in my post below. Hidden was special, but not for being a well made engrossing film. No, Hidden was special because it was the first film I had seen in the cinema on my own. Yes, that's right, I knew no one there.

I've always been the first to admit that my fear of going on my jones was irrational - I mean I watch (and sometimes even prefer) to watch DVDs and the like alone and it was obvious that the only thing I was afraid of was to actually do it for the first time. I wasn't even worried about having the pee taken out of me (like I always did to single guests I saw at the cinema).

But the fact was that no one wanted to go watch Hidden, and I've missed way too many films because people were either not up for it or busy (ie no real reason at all). And of course it wasn't painful or less enjoyable - I did miss having someone to heckle and laugh with, but on reflection that's better than not going at all, right?

And now that I have been I know I'll be going again. Heck I might even begin to prefer it! Either way I'll be watching what I want, when I want

Film: Hidden (Cache) Click for more info

The brilliant thing about foreign film in a British cinema is that you're always almost guaranteed that it'll be a great film. I mean it wouldn't have made it out of its own shores otherwise right?

Well, not quite. Hidden wasn't bad, but in my opinion it wasn't particularly special either. Of note was the way in which it was shot (including the total lack of soundtrack), and the plot was interesting enough too. The acting had it's moments as well and there was a single scene that I thought was one of the best I've seen. It's just the ending was... Well I don't want to spoil it, but it did leave questions unanswered and that's something that irritates me enormously.

Food Glorious Food

Three out of four meals this weekend were taken outside in restaurants. Sahara Grill, Mirch Masala and New Tayyabs all had the custom of me, my family and my friends. And in each my brain was ignored when it was telling my body to stop eating. I must have eaten at least a lamb and a couple of chicken in total and I don't think that I can consume meat for another week.

But still the dinners themselves were nice in respects other than the food (and sometimes in spite of it), especially since the company varied so. Good times.

Touchy Feely

I think I've always been a relatively touchy feely person. Even when I was a kid I always needed to hold a parent's hand. And when co-ed college came (and with it girls) it wasn't a rare sight to see me linking arms with or greeting with a hug a close(ish) friend. Not that this is or was a girl thing - I'm also pretty feely with guys too, although possibly not with the linking arms bit.

Of course not everyone is the same. Some people prefer their space and boundaries, and quite fairly so. However, as I get older I think I'm finding it more difficult to tell which camp a particular person is in. I guess the safe thing to do is to avoid it all and keep your distance with everyone till you're sure of their feelings on the matter (possibly by seeing how they react with other people), but by then it's too late and possibly even more awkward to change your mannerisms once they've been demonstrated.

And even then there have been times I've gotten it wrong. And any excess embarrassment aside (I'm used to making an ass of myself), it is possible to offend others by invading their space (or even not invading it after they've seen me act a different way towards others). I don't care how I look, but it's a good idea to be mindful of the sensibilities and feelings of others.

There's not much one can do except be honest and open, and thus hopefully minimising any embarrassment or disrespect, and I guess that's what this blog is about. It's all a part of growing, maturing and being able to meet new people though, and if mistakes are made along the way, well, that's all a part of it innit?

Friday, February 17

Salman Khan Sentenced To Jail

At risk of seeming obsessive (I think I talk more about SK here than I do KH):

Bollywood star guilty of poaching

Of all the reasons I'd send him to jail, shooting antelope would probably be somewhere near the bottom of the list. But hey, I'm not complaining. Although I do wonder how long it'll be before he gets away with this too.

Thursday, February 16

Goodbye Gym

My gym membership expired today, and I'm not renewing. With a treadmill at home now it's only a small step matter of getting some more weights and maybe even a multigym to replace a fully blown one (and the £500 annual subscription fee that comes with it).

I just wish I had taken before-pictures of myself just to see how much I haven't changed in a year...

Family Tree

Last night I caught a programme following our favourite Asian director Gurinder Chanda finding out about her family history. Apparently she felt that she had an embarrassingly low knowledge about India and her ancestors' place there and so wanted to fix it. The programme followed her travels to Kenya, and from there her ping ponging between Pakistan and India trying to trace her roots.

It kinda got me thinking of my own family history and more generally that of all South Asian immigrants to the UK. I think my first reflection on this issue was during primary school when we were asked to draw out our own family trees. Apart from tying myself up in knots (and some of you will know why), I couldn't really break past two generations or so up.

There was also the time when one of my mum's grandparents died (I can't remember which). The thing that strikes me now was how I had no idea who they were - I don't think we had ever met. And every trip to Pakistan I manage to meet yet another sibling or cousin or random family member whom, on paper, are close but in reality aren't. It's all very weird and in some ways unfortunate.

Of course it's much a result of exponential growth of families as a continent being in between us all. I mean I'm sure people who haven't moved around the world have the same issues tracing their heritage. I guess what makes it slightly more romantic and poignant for us is not being in the same physical place or relative vicinity as our roots. For example, I've never been to my pind (innit) Ghodra back in Gujarat, and I don't see the opportunity coming any time soon (and as an aside, the coverage the programme last night gave to partition and the moving of communities was pretty touching).

I mean, for me, my family tree starts with my grandparents coming into existence at the age of fifty or so. I can't imagine them before that time and I can't imagine them living in another country either. Generations before them get treated even worse - they don't even exist in my mind at all! And then there are questions like: When did we arrive in Godhra? Or whether our family was ever Hindu, and if so what that was like and the causes/time of conversion. And did we have some kind of family trade or business? Where have the other lines of my tree ended up? Were any of them involved in the recent events of the area?

Of course you can go mad thinking endlessly about this stuff, and to some extent it doesn't really matter. Still, with the arrival of technology perhaps when our descendants get the urge to look up their roots it will be a whole lot easier for them. Of course they'll only be able to go back as far as we did, but hey, as long as they read my blog I'll be happy.

Hello my children! Remember - don't do drugs.

Tuesday, February 14

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

Worst day of the year, waste of time, commercial, fake, for sad people and bum bum heads.

It's offensive to single people and we should ban it. Bah humbug.

Monday, February 13

New Music

Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! Original Songs!

The soundtrack to my favourite game on the DS, Ouendan I'm bracing myself for yet more "but this isn't English" comments from my passengers.

I'm not even sure that you need to be fan to enjoy this selection. Typically J-pop but varied enough to charm anyone but the most averse to different music. I think I'm going to enjoy my tube journeys a lot more these coming days. Happy happy.

Sunday, February 12


I know you're all dying to know how it went, and as there were no major boo boos, I guess it went ok. As for what she was like...


She had two arms and two legs. And that's all you're getting.

My First Rishta

Yes, so today is the day I get taken to someone's house to see a girl for like the first time, ever. Ooooh. Strangely enough I seem to be quite indifferent or possibly pragmatic toward the whole thing, which might be due to my decision to just not worry about these things anymore. I don't even mind that my parents agreed to make it a dinner (and so in one stroke removing any chance of me making a quick getaway).

It's almost like I'm tackling it in a very academic manner - I just want to see what happens at these things. Yes, there are other parties involved, but this attitude of mine doesn't disrespect them, I don't think. I mean my mind is open to the possibilities, but on the other hand a rishta meeting with me was never going to be typical.

How exciting!


What is it about bowling that can make a player do so badly one go and yet so well the next? Of course this inconsistency smacks of inexperience, the latter being a result of luck most of the time.

But yeh, we went bowling today. I say "we" although that might be the wrong word to use there having been 30 of us. We were divided into teams relevant to where we came from (The East, West and South respectively), and ours went to the lanes honestly believing that we were gonna lose; so much so that we were determined to have fun instead.

And have fun we did. Bowling is so much more enjoyable when you're not concentrating on winning. Ironically, though, this seemed to have had the paradoxical effect of improving our game (our, ahem, least abled player got a few strikes, and I even got a personal average beating 100). So much so that we actually won - winning absolutely even though we had a player less. Go us.

Of course with our gracious nature we didn't rub it in too much; we didn't even pull out the cache of water pistols we had brought along. Although having said that I'm not sure the other teams realised that it was only a friendly game; some were clearly upset and even went as far as to swear vengeance. We tried explaining that it wasn't our fault we were naturally good at bowling and that the other teams had their own gifts, but they were in no mood to reflect on that.

Alas the evening was marred by my having to miss out on the team's celebratory dinner, but I was with them in spirit. Can't wait for the next one, hah.

Thursday, February 9

New Music

Sshh - Menis aka Road Runna & DJ Nazza T

Hilarious and catchy, but I'm left wondering whether we'll see these guys again. "Everybody inside the place"...

Rehle Rehle - Hunterz

2003? Jeez. But yeh, one of Hunterz classics; so classic I only noticed last year it was actually by him. Hah.

Link Of The Day


A frankly amazing service that learns your taste as it goes along, creating up to 100 custom radio stations for you to bop to anywhere you have internet access. Quite impressive and doubly useful, it's one of the more worthy things to come out of the web.

Ok, so us in the UK aren't technically supposed to register and understand that I've not tried it myself; this is all based on what a friend in the US is telling me. But I'm sure you can all find your own US friends too.

Monday, February 6

New Music

Let The Music Play - Shamur

Where have I heard these lyrics from? Who cares; this is a straightforward simple song that manages to get the basics right. Oo, ah, let the music play...

Sunday, February 5

Shak's Choice: Soha Ali Khan

It was inevitable really. Considering that she was someone whom I thought was very plain this is quite the u-turn from me. Again.

I think it's her ability to pull off almost any style that gets me. Sure, maybe there are certain features that, ahem, stick out, but she more than makes up for it with her sheer class. Oh, and Saif would make a wicked brother-in-law too.

EDIT: And I've just found out that she's almost exactly the same age as me (within three days, in fact). It's definitely a sign.

Film: Rang De Basanti Click for more info

Brilliant and well made - easily one of my favourite Bolly movies already. Good production, a wicked script and a near perfect plot helped, but not more than having that rare magic great films have. The cast are fantastic too, with Alice Patten demonstrating better Hindi than I ever could and Soha Ali Khan growing on me even more.

I think what made it so good was how inspirational and motivational it was without being lecturey or dragging. And it was more than it's message too; even without that I suspect the characters and feeling would have carried it through. In fact, I was enjoying it a lot before the mid way twist and change in direction.

Which brings me to the near perfect plot. It would be tough to explain it specifically without giving away too much, so I'll just say it seemed rushed at times with some bits deserving way more attention and care then they got. And like so many other Bolly films, RDB also suffers from having a post interval that's just not as good as the pre. But those are just niggles.

I'll say it again: this is a brilliant film and well worth catching. It even has enough English in it to relate to those that aren't into Bolly much.

EDIT: Rohit pretty much sums up what I feel about the second half (complete with spoilers) here, although unlike The Ho these flaws weren't quite enough to ruin the whole film for me.


That's Bring Your Own Meat. Ha ha.

A BBQ on a particularly cold Saturday night in early February? Only in Redbridge. Having said that, it was another classic Collective BBQ that passed way too quickly. The jokes ran, and the meat flowed; we will find out tomorrow morning exactly how well cooked it all was.

The Collective BBQ is dangerously close to becoming a ritual - we each knew our place and job and what needed to be done, and we all got on with it without getting in each other's way. It's once of those weird groupthink things where everyone chips in the most efficient way forming a natural order. It's hard to explain but I'm sure you've each experienced it. We even spent close to an hour driving around looking for dessert, in exactly the same way we had done the last time around. Brilliant.

Y'know, there was a time when something like this wouldn't end till the early hours of the next morning, yet here I am typing a little after midnight. Man, we're getting old.

Saturday, February 4


So I was introduced to that "friend of a friend of a friend" today. The place we all met, a coffee house called Roasters in Mile End, was pretty nice. I got there early, and was caught reading The Times as opposed to playing on my DS. Thankfully.


Well I guess that's all I'm going to say here. Oh, and annoying questions via Messenger will be dealt with by a blocking for a week. Call me a tease, but you have been warned.

Film: Munich Click for more info

A well done film which, although dragging in a few places, turned out to be of pretty compelling stuff. It manages to be unbiased (although being non-anti-Arab is kinda fashionable nowadays) but even apart from that tells a good story.

It's also paradoxically deep yet straightforward (probably 'cos it's teaching the classic primary school lesson of violence leading to more violence that we all should already know) and easy on the brain - there are no complex conspiracies or levels of power to keep track of here.

Definitely worth checking out.

Film: Fun With Dick And Jane Click for more info

Pleasant enough story about a desperate couple who turn to crime to make ends meet. More a series of sketches (some belly achingly funny) than a film FWDAJ is easy on the head, short and so perfect for a late Friday night.

If you're looking for something that isn't trying to be important or deep, you could do much worse.

Thursday, February 2


xxxx: shakiiiiiiiil
Shak: sup mofo
xxxx: my fn key has stopped working
xxxx: if there any way I could have disabled it accidently?
xxxx: and if so, can I enable it again?
xxxx: I need it to switch from the laptop's LCD to an external monitor
Shak: lol
Shak: you know im not sure whether to be insulted or flattered
xxxx: well, you are the computer gee..er, expert
xxxx: so, please be flattered
Shak: i have no idea how to fix your fn key


xxxx: do you know if its possible to have disabled it?
Shak: its quite possible
xxxx: how would enable it?
Shak: by doing whatever you did to disable it in reverse?
xxxx: oh god you're hopeless
xxxx: call yourself a geek??
Shak: sorry :(
xxxx: maybe yyyy will know
xxxx: he's clever
Shak: :(

RIP Smash Hits

Smash Hits falls victim to fans' eclectic tastes and internet

Quite gutted. I never actually bought a copy myself but it's definitely the end of an era.