Friday, November 30

Film: The Nines Click for more info

Mind-spinning tale of the Donnie Darko ilk. No bad thing if you like, uh, having your head spun, but even if you don't The Nines goes farther than others in letting the viewer know exactly what is going on at all times (kinda).

But even if you do lose track of the plot, there's plenty more regular qualities that stand out here. The trio that make up the main cast are all excellent, and manage to handle their respective triple parts with ease. I finally found myself actually liking Ryan Reynolds while Melissa McCarthy and Hope Davis back him up superbly.

The script is nothing short of fantastic, engaging and real and the three chapter structure of the film allowed the makers to present three distinct styles; this is a film that is rarely boring if at all. Personally I found the conclusion to be a bit of a cop out, so it was lucky that the film had ridden on much more before the end anyway.

Since it requires a bit of effort to watch and enjoy, this will not be to the taste of everyone. Having said that, I thought it was an excellent film, and so for that reason I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Shak's Choice: Shabana Bakhsh Click for more info

Currently in the spotlight for playing the fun filled NQT Jasmine Koreshi on the quite superb Waterloo Road, the oh-so-pretty Shabana was also see in the brilliant Ae Fond Kiss... (the release of which pre-dates my blog! Jeez, time flies - but watch it if you can 'cos it's ace):

She's Scottish and attractive. What more does a guy need? Well, according to a radio interview she gave this week to the BBC AN is relatively conscious about her faith, is clearly down to earth and a well-grounded and all round nice person too.

Personally though, I was had at "Scottish".

You can catch Shabana on Waterloo Road, BBC1 8pm Thursdays.

Thursday, November 29

Food: Moti Mahal Click for more info

A need for pre-karaoke dinner took us to this smart little Indian place in Covent Garden. Clean, well seated and spaced and nicely staffed, there wasn't much to complain about pre-food. It was the little touches like being given water and a soup appetizer without having to ask for them that sold me.

Food-wise it got even better. We were on one of those cheapo set menu deal things, but I felt that we had a good set of options anyway. Despite the place claiming to be Halal, I stuck to the vegetarian options (mainly for other reasons); not that I minded much since the potato pastry for starters and vegetable kofta for the main were superb anyway. The pear tart with ice cream was also an awesome bonus.

All in all a fantastic place to eat given the £15 bill we paid; so much so that I can imagine heading back in future. Recommended.

Wednesday, November 28

Video Of The Day

Here's Finite Simple Group (of Order Two) by The Klein Four Group:

So sad, yet so awesome. Makes me want to do a Maths degree anyway.

Cheers to Asikha for the tip.

Sunday, November 25

Film: Dhan Dhana Dhan Goal Click for more info

When Southall Football club are told that they need to raise THREE MILLION POUNDS in order to save their Football ground from those horrible property development people, their only solution is to finally step up their game and win whatever Sunday league they happen to be playing in.

The poor man's Chakde! India then? Totally. Heavily cliched and at times even racist (expect copious amounts of "these gorey lorg" repressing "apne wala") this film never quite makes it past the crap point. The acting is awful, the direction bizarre and production just rubbish - amongst other gems, Muslims now own and run Glassy Junction (which apparently has a full dancing stage and floor within it!).

But for some reason I didn't quite think I was totally regretful when I left the cinema tonight. It wasn't quite "so bad it was good", but instead there was some genuine charm in Goal. Whether it was the hammy dialogue (just watch Bipasha Basu come on to John Abraham) or blatant or obvious feel good factor I'm not sure, but the fact that we were giggling our way through and left the cinema smiling says a lot.

Out of principle I can't quite bring myself to recommend Goal, but if you do accidentally end up buying a ticket for this flick, well you may find yourself not minding much by the end of it.

Food: Deep Click for more info

Fine and fancy fish restaurant situated in Imperial Wharf, Chelsea. The first thing that struck me was how bit quiet it was for a Saturday night, there being only five parties while we were there. But then we come to a restaurant for its food, not clientèle.

And although the food wasn't super amazing, it was good enough to enjoy a dinner conversation over. We managed to sample the oysters, prawns, tuna, halibut, trout and sole between us and none of us had any complaints. The service and atmosphere were top notch and we were well looked after overall. There was never any pressure to leave even though we had spent over two hours there (although it wasn't as if there was a queue outside either).

Drinks were relatively reasonable, and after a 50% discount we got away with paying a smidge over the all important twenty per head. For that price we had no regrets for coming here, but equally there's really not much to bring us back.

Friday, November 23

Game: Super Mario Galaxy Click for more info

A whole painful week later, and I have the game my Wii was bought for. Even though I didn't know it at the time. Put simply, this is just the sublime Mario 64 updated for the Wii.

Okay, having only done the first star (notice how they're NOT shines any more) this praise may all be premature. But there's something here that I've not seen since M64 and that was completely missing from Super Mario Sunshine (barring within the void levels maybe) so I'm confident I'm right.

The fact that you can run around a globe, sometimes upside down, without even thinking about the controls says a lot. The clean graphics and level design (you're only ever going for a single star at a time, and you know which one it is, too) just add to the experience. I'm ignoring the inevitable addition of motion controls since using the pointer to collect star bits just seems so natural to do.

I just want to go home and collect more stars. Unlike other games where I, sometimes forcibly, pace myself, I just want to keep playing this till exhaustion. I'll say it again: a whole year after I bought the machine to play it on, this is the reason why I did. It's that good.

Monday, November 19

All Tagged Up

I've always wanted to tag (or label) the posts I've written here, and once Google eventually gave Blogger users the facility to do so, I took on the arduous task of back-labelling three years' worth of content. It's taken me almost eleven months to complete, but I'm happy to say that it's finally done. Yes, it was a manual process so it may not be as accurate as I'd like, but I hope to be continually fine tuning the labelling over time.

Apart from making it easier for you guys to filter Radio Shak based on what you want to read or search on, being completely labelled up has also indicated a few interesting trends and statistics regarding what I post about and how. The following is based on a published post count of 1453, while the post counts are totals rather than taking into account more than one coexisting label.

First up: it's my great pleasure to shatter the myth that this place mainly about relationships in general or me complaining about being single. At the time of writing, just 117 posts (8%) are about relationships and marriage. In comparison, I've written 183 (13%) articles on Islam, which remains the single topic I post the most about. Who knew eh? I was also interested to see that 206/14% of my posts have had something to do with the Indian Sub-continent.

Genre-wise, it was always obvious that a large number of posts make up reviews (412/28%) be they of films (171/12%), music (90/6%), tv (109/8%), videogames (71/5%), books (41/3%), restaurants (41/3%), theatre (4/0%) or talks (26/2%). Alas my favourite genre, the opinion or theory posts, lags way behind at 190/8%, and for those of you who can't stand my longer posts, 406/30% are classified as short.

I've recommended links (72/5%), videos (30/2%), and television shows (109/8%) a total of 137/9% times, and seem to have been on more activities (107/7%) than social events (90/6%). I also write more about friends (42/3%) than family (25/2%), but only just.

Quite embarrassingly, I've spoken about girls (be it on The Tube or media) 127/9% times, within which 34/2% have been virtually perved upon having been made a choice. Cripes. Perhaps compiling these statistics weren't such a good idea after all...

Anyway, click away. Oh, and please feel free to suggest any other labels or corrections you think may be useful.

Saturday, November 17

Film: Beowulf Click for more info

First things first: Beowulf is no film for kids. Please expect gratuitous violence and scenes of a sexual nature if you decide to watch this film. More importantly, do NOT take an eight year old child. I was cringing throughout the film for those younguns in our audience.

Just like The Polar Express (which was made by the same people), Beowulf offers the same super realistic yet kinda disturbing CGI visuals. There's something creepy about the the not-quite-right actors here, but you soon get over that. To be honest, at first glance I didn't even realise it was CGI.

But instead of the soft and cuddly Christmas setting of that train film, we now find ourselves in cold Denmark fighting demons, monsters and dragons. And seeing how computer animation allows us to see some of the most fantastic action sequences, this should have been gripping stuff.

Alas, the film doesn't quite hit the mark. Both (yes, that means all two of them) fighting sequences are very well done and leave the viewer pretty dazzled, and in some ways it was worth sitting through the rest of the film just to see them. In others, it isn't really at all - Beowulf seems devoid of a middle between its beginning and end, and this gap turns out to be pretty fatal for it.

No recommendations here I'm afraid.

Tuesday, November 13

Link of the Day Click for more info

Although mainly talking about the news of an Islamic car being developed in the Far East, Fugstar also covers the more important subject of Islamic® branding as well as the current phenomenon of prefixing everyday items with "Ummah".

Bearing in mind that I'm a professional moaning cynic I agree with his sentiment, but in the same breath I would have to acknowledge that I'm a lazy so and so who couldn't dream of launching any similar products.

Still, I can't help but feel that there's a hint of exploitation, tribalism and self-sustainment here (read: sales on a novelty). I think I'd be more comfortable with Islamic products that are genuinely aimed at Muslims and non-Muslims like rather than those aimed at a minority with wallets - after all by its essence, anything Islamic should be of benefit to the whole world... Right?

Saturday, November 10

Food: Sugar Reef Click for more info

Since a friend of mine had booked a space in the Coral Bar below for his thirtieth, we decided to grab a quick dinner at the Sugar Reef Restaurant above.

A smart and clean decor and a classy crowd (apart from us of course) makes this a pleasant enough place to eat. The food was good (I picked the tomato soup and Salmon main for my two courses), especially since we were only paying a tenner for it.

But something was missing. I didn't pick up on any special qualities or character and there wasn't anything there to lull me back any time soon. It's strange because as rational as I am it's not often I find a place whose ticked boxes still isn't enough to excite me.

Shak's Choice: Deepika Padukone

The one reason for anyone to watch Om Shanti Om is right here:

As I mentioned in my review, Deepika's effortlessly able to be both totally hot and girl-next-door at the same time. She can also (kinda) act too which helps. Oh, and did I mention how stunning she is too?

Film: Om Shanti Om Click for more info

As the film itself asks, how the heck can we expect an audience in this day and age to get engrossed in a film about reincarnation? Perhaps I'm being culturally insensitive/close minded, but I always suspected that it would have been a tough job to pull this off.

But if you ignore the absurd plot and inevitable holes it leaves behind, you do end up with something that's relatively entertaining. Direction was good and the film was vibrant and easy on the eye. Acting was also above the usual fare, although any hope of Shahrukh Khan not regressing to his usual lip-quivering self was dashed after the first fifteen minutes.

Other good bits include a music number with over thirty Bollywood stars in it (even more impressive and poignant than the equivalent from Heyy Babyy) and plenty of throwbacks to seventies' Bollywood during the first half.

But for me, the main reason to watch this film was the jaw droppingly gorgeous Deepika Padukone and her perfect blend of being totally hot (yaar) and girl-next-door. She really was that stunning and I bet you can guess what I'll be posting next.

For the girls: apparently SRK's been working out and even takes his top off for a song - fortunately due to a cinema glitch I wasn't subject to this (much to the chagrin of my aunt and certain other female members of the audience this evening).

But even all these good bits (including Deepika) weren't enough to save this film from post interval traumatic stress and the film literally loses the plot for the second half. This is a shame, but since there really was nothing wrong with the filmi fun of the first hour or so perhaps leaving after the break is the best way to watch Om Shanti Om?

Friday, November 9

Game: The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (DS) Click for more info

Billed as the spiritual, if not direct, successor to Windwaker, Phantom Hourglass uses the same visual style and presentation as the not-so-classic Gamecube implementation of the Zelda franchise. While this in itself is no bad thing (the style had been universally accepted as being a brilliant touch, if not the game itself), I couldn't help but feel weary about having Link appear on the DS. Would all that was wrong with Windwaker also make it though the transition?

Well, I'm glad to say that it didn't. Obviously, PH is a much smaller and less ambitious game than WW and so any danger of trawling an ocean for ages or spinning your wheels doing a tedious challenge has somewhat been nipped in the bud.

Instead we're left with the good bits of Zelda: puzzle solving temples and dungeons. There's still a bit of fluff in between for my liking, but it doesn't spoil the game for me like it did WW and even Twilight Princess. Since the world stage is still an ocean there's still sailing, but at least now you can set your ship on autopilot and take a nap while travelling (the promise of warp points makes this even less annoying potentially).

Other complaints include having to go back to a timed "hub" dungeon between each of the others. The timing itself is bad enough, but to introduce unbeatable guards which you have to stealthily avoid makes you wonder exactly what the game makers were on while designing this game.

So a mixed reaction then? Well it's not bad enough to stop me from playing (especially since I don't have anything else on the go for the DS at the moment), but it's still not the classic Zelda experience I was after. And since this has largely been the case for the last three games in which I've been controlling Link, I'm starting to think that, perhaps, I just don't like Zelda any more.

Tuesday, November 6

Pub Quiz

My workplace organised a pub quiz tonight. It was my first go at one and I didn't know quite what to expect; I mean in theory a pub quiz should be fun, but then I had this niggling suspicion that some may take it a bit too seriously (like me for example).

My fears were unfounded though, and it was all taken with a light heart by all. The format of the quiz was fun and varied and my team was quite balanced. Amongst other things, for my part I managed to contribute the following:

  • Remember that the DK in DKNY stood for Donna Karen.
  • Recognise Bon Jovi's Living on a Prayer as it was played backwards.
  • Recognise the theme to The Flying Doctors.
  • Recognise a picture of Ali Bongo.
The last two absolutely exclusively I hasten to add.

The result of our efforts? Joint third place. Not bad for a team who weren't there to win (honestly).

Saturday, November 3

City Circle: In and Out of Islamism with Maajid Nawaz Click for more info

Security was the order of the day for today's talk with Maajid Nawaz, yet another ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir member currently doing the rounds: will there be any left I wonder? Being ex-Hizb is clearly this year's emancipated Asian woman.

But despite my obvious cynicism, today's talk was one of the better City Circles that I've been to. Maajid Nawas certainly articulate (perhaps due to his HT training? Okay, okay, that's the last one, promise) and a joy to listen to.

He started by talking about how he originally got involved with the party - it was the usual stuff of an eager youth, brutalised by the racism of the day, searching for an identity that wasn't the British or Pakistani ones that had already rejected him. His deliberate first person argument for joining HT was pretty compelling, but then any of you who've ever been approached by a member would have known this already. For those who haven't, the colonial West, with their manipulation of history and puppet leaders were all Very Bad Things and it was the religious duty of all Muslims to oppose them.

A four year prison sentence in Egypt had changed Maajid. He had the opportunity to contemplate and critically think about his beliefs, and came to the conclusion that, no, what the HT were promoting was not what he was into - what exactly caused this change of heart was not made clear (as far as I could tell, prison just gave him some alone time).

Moving on from his personal experiences, Maajid then went on to talk about what he did believe. The main crux of his argument was the rejection of the idea that sovereignty (of the political kind) belongs only to God. Effectively this meant that Islam was a religion just like Christianity and the like and not an ideology at all, and so where personal practise should be derived from scripture, wider political decisions should not.

Pretty controversial stuff, eh? Well maybe, but only because it was coming from an ex-HT member. This was pretty much the common secularist's view; that the religion and the state should be strictly separate and in that sense was nothing particularly new. Still, the discourse was still handy and a few interesting details did come up.

He compared an Islamic state to that of an Islamic car, or hospital - a nonsensical entity that wasn't really of any practical use. Personally, I think that a state is more abstract than a car or hospital, but even so it's easy to create an Islamically valid entity, so I wasn't quite sure where he was going with this analogy.

He also claimed that leaving HT hadn't changed some of his ideas about justice or truth, but acknowledged that they may now have been based on different foundations. He also criticised the use of minority politics and that politics should be about the single right answers for all of us, and not about giving each group their own solutions. It's a sentiment I agree with and have written about in the past.

The Q&A afterwards was one of the best I've witnessed at a CC, although that possibly might not be saying much. The biggest surprise was how consistent the audience was in their questioning; there were clearly some pretty major flaws in what Maajid was saying tonight and a number of us had picked up on it. The cracks were beginning to show I think.

Although I didn't ask them personally all of my questions were covered, if not adequately answered:

  • What makes something personal or political? The state decides. How? Arbitrarily.
  • What happens if the state restricts Islamic practise as a consequence of reason and logic? There is a difference between "state legality" and whether something is Halal or not, so the two things exist on different planes and so shouldn't affect one another.
  • Is it possible for an Islamist regime to establish a "secular friendly" society, and if so what's wrong with that? This is a question of semantics, and Maajid wouldn't describe such a regime as Islamist.
The Q&A was also interesting in that it sometimes appeared to be a bit of a love-in of ex-HT members, all relating to (if not agreeing with) Maajid (and I guess it wasn't surprising that Ed Husain was in the audience). For some, the reformation they went though gave them each an insight into the matters at hand. Although not a relevant observation, it had amused me anyway.

In conclusion, today's speaker seemed to be promoting nothing more than plain ol' secularism and so nothing particularly new. His background in HT added a slight twist, but only in that at times he seemed to use the same language, style and - dare I say it - extreme view as he might have when he was still a member; it had just been applied to secularism, possibly as a way to compensate for previous sins.

In fact, I actually agreed with a lot of the common sense that he dictated (regarding tolerance of opinion and interpretation for example), but some of his deeper arguments regarding secularism were just way too inconsistent for me to swallow whole. And to make the connection one last time, this is precisely the reaction I had towards those promoting the ideas of the Hizb ut-Tahrir too.

Friday, November 2

Archiving Hotmail to Gmail

Since Gmail first arrived on our browsers (way back in 2004 it seems!) it's proven to be an indispensable tool for those who live on email. Like me. The space (it's a rare day when I actually delete a mail now), the interface (non-threaded views are so backward), the ability to search quickly (I don't even bother with labels any more) and a superb spam filter all meant that Gmail literally changed the way I use email.

I restrict my use of Gmail to personal mails between people I know relatively well. For anything else (account creation, formal correspondence and mails to less well known colleagues), I stick to Hotmail. This semantic separation is required in order to keep my Gmail inbox relatively clean and useful. However, inevitably, there are mails in my Hotmail account that should really belong in Gmail - Hotmail isn't really designed for long term storage of mail (well it isn't in my set up anyway), the nature of conversations change over time and it just makes sense to have it all in one place.

Archiving mail to Gmail has been a problem for account holders since the service was introduced. Plenty of solutions have popped up too, from the simple action of forwarding to hacking the Gmail client in order to "inject" mails into its inbox. Both have problems: the former loses formatting and date time information, the latter isn't official and you may lose thread structure or state (whether it's a sent or received mail, for instance). Needless to say, I refrained from using these, hoping that, one day, there'll be a better way.

And now that Gmail supports IMAP, there is. IMAP is a messaging protocol which basically allows you to access your mail remotely (it's much more than that, but for the purposes of this article we'll leave it there). It's kind of like using Hotmail or Gmail outside of the browser and in a normal mail client like Outlook Express or the like.

This remote access means that your folders can follow you around as well as state of your mails - read or unread, flagged, whether it's been sent or not - that kinda thing. All this is fantastic but not relevant for those who simply want to archive mail; until you realise that, by implication of the above, IMAP also allows you to push existing mails up to the IMAP server - in this case Gmail.

Despite its criticisms, Outlook Express remains my email client of choice mainly because it allows native GUI access to Hotmail (via WebDav). It also supports IMAP pretty well too, and so now Gmail, and after setting up both accounts in parallel this "pushing" of mails becomes a simple matter of dragging and dropping mail items between the two accounts.

And it all works brilliantly. I now have Hotmail mails sitting in my Gmail inbox as if they were sent and received using the latter; they are all searchable and threaded, and I've also found that Gmail knows which were sent by me and so automatically places them in the Sent Mail view, found by adding is:sent in a search. More than that, it even merges relevant mails that were sent via Gmail (if I had manually switched providers mid conversation).

It really is magical. And here are some further notes:

  • IMAP Folders are implemented in Gmail by labels. This has both benefits and drawbacks. It's nice to have a more visual feel of labels, but things become complicated when you apply multiple labels to a conversation since they start appearing in two places. Another implication is that you may lose track of whether you've deleted an item or not (deleting from a folder deletes it's label, not the message itself).
  • Flagging a message in your client will star it in Gmail.
  • Authenticating your Hotmail address within Gmail will help the latter to determine the correct to and from addresses when rendering mail items. You can add addresses via the Settings->Accounts->Send mail as screen.
  • Outlook Express has an option to allow you to store special folders on your IMAP server, namely ones for your sent items and drafts. Due to the folder-label mapping Gmail uses, these do not directly map to the equivalent in Gmail. Sent mail gets automatically saved to your Sent Mail view in Gmail anyway, so if you do use this feature they'll end up being stored twice. My advice is to turn off the two folders altogether - you'll only lose the ability to store drafts on the server, but that's a small issue compared to what you do get. You can always move mail items to the [Gmail]/Drafts folder manually (which does map to the Gmail equivalent) if you want to move an unfinished mail around.
Anyway, I'm a happy bunny. At last I've managed to consolidate all my mail in a single, easy to access place. Now all I need to figure out is how to upload all my chat logs since 1997 and I'll be set with respect to archiving my electronic communications.

Thursday, November 1

Britz Click for more info

Well, I was wrong. Substandard acting and a confused plot were the orders of the day for this, the latest topical Muslim drama from Channel 4. Although I was never expecting this to present a new and shiny opinion I did want it to be entertaining in its own right, but alas it was never to be. Or was it?

Part One, Sohail's Story seemed to only offer us a day in the life of a Muslim spy; although that sounds hella interesting in theory the producers here didn't quite manage to pull it off. Cliched and irrelevant, it didn't really offer any new views or substantial points to the existing debate - heck it didn't even offer old ones.

As a film it was hard to watch as well. The mixed up and speedy plot made the viewer work way too hard; I had trouble following exactly what was going on or who they happened to be tailing/bugging/torturing at any one time. I finally gave up trying to follow the story and just let it slide over me.

So no, I wasn't sure what the point of Part One was. As a drama it was mildly entertaining at best, although I did find myself being drawn in a few times (and at least Priya Kalidas was in it). In fact, I was so discouraged I was contemplating skipping Part Two altogether. Of course my obsession with completeness didn't allow that to happen, and you know what? I'm glad I carried on with it.

Part Two, or Nasima's Story was way more interesting. Much of this was due to the bravery of the script - again, there was nothing new with respect to what was being said, but to present "the other argument" in a prime time drama is pretty unprecedented. I imagine that a lot of viewers may not have been aware of some of the legislation and behaviour demonstrated over the two hours tonight and for this Channel 4 should be acknowledged.

As a drama it was also well done. The obvious story led itself, but as a result there was less of the false "manufacturing" that the first part had severely suffered from. I was totally sucked in by Manjinder Virk, more so than I was by Riz Ahmed yesterday. This was the entertainment I was looking for previously.

Although Part One had set the stage for Part Two, I reckon that the latter could have survived on its own. In fact, I suspect that the main reason Part One was made was to "dilute" or soften the impact of the conclusion - I would have expected much more criticism and accusations of sympathising with suicide bombers directed toward the drama if it was just about Nasima.

So all in all a mixed reception. Better than the usual stuff, Britz managed to do pretty well by the end. It's encouraging to see boundaries being pushed in this particular way for once and I'm totally looking forward to the fallout from this, the latest topical Muslim drama from Channel 4.