Wednesday, July 30

Game: Okami (Wii) Click for more info

As it was last game I had to play on the PS2, I was particularly happy to learn of Okami's port to the Wii. It was a bit of a no brainer for many: a major part of the game involves "painting" gestures on the screen, something perfectly suited to the Wii controller.

But gimmicky input methods aside, Okami is a pretty action adventure set in mythical Japan, where gods battle demons and all that. Think Zelda and you'll come close to what this game is about.

The two main draws of the game are the graphics and gameplay. The game is full of gorgeous painted on visuals that can be bother humours and serious when the situation calls for it. On the gameplay side you have some simple yet engaging puzzles as well as the all important physical "painting" which triggers the god-like powers of your canine character.

Despite the action adventure billing, Okami is pretty straightforward - an attraction for me as I look for games to enjoy rather than test, although there are enough side quests to provide depth if you so desire. But on the whole it's a nice little chill out game that allows you to flow like one of the many rivers you'll encounter in it.

Tuesday, July 29

Film Overload

Five films in six days is probably more excessive than impressive, especially since that would account for 10% of my annual movie going (which in itself is an above average figure). Whatever the case, it's certainly not normal. I blame my new lifestyle and, ahem, flexible working hours.

I remember when I used to watch films once a week, my parents warning me that even that amount was too much and I'll end up becoming addicted and going twice week or something equally crazy. They're wrong, but only in their underestimation!

But hey, this wasn't a typical week and most of the stuff I saw was awesome (Mission Istaanbul, I'm looking at you here), including one of the best films I've ever seen. Considering the last film I saw before Wall-e was Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic on the 12th, it seems that I had just come out of a lull and was catching up anyway; and looking ahead at the release schedule, I may be hitting one again too.

At least I can genuinely claim to be an avid movie goer - my only regret is that since everyone and their dog puts down "cinema" as one of their interests, it kinda undermines what I feel to be my more legitimate use.

Film: Mamma Mia! Click for more info

At its most basic, Mamma Mia! is just an excuse to showcase the more popular Abba songs. Unlike most other musicals there isn't much of a story or depth of characters here, and as such little emotion is felt while watching it. No one cheered at the inevitably happy ending, for instance.

Apart from when the songs were being sung, of course. For fans of the music there can be nothing better than seeing them performed in this manner - the film bits in the middle are an ignorable bonus if anything, and stuff like Angus beats this for feelgood hands down.

So, only worth watching if you're into Abba. And if not, well then you need to sort out your taste in music before worrying about what film to watch.

Monday, July 28

Film: The Dark Knight Click for more info

Look I'm just gonna ask it: is The Dark Knight and its main villain getting all the praise they are just because Heath Ledger decided to off himself? It's a difficult question to answer since there's no way of telling - even the most objective person will have heard of the news surrounding the making of this film. But everyone on the street was raving about this film too, surely a sign that it's good in its own right too?

To be honest I didn't see what all the fuss was about during the first 30 minutes or so. I found the story shallow (apart from a few bits), the acting hammy (until Heath Ledger raised the game for everyone else) and the editing and sound pretty poor. It's also (perhaps unfortunately) difficult to take a comic adaptation that seriously.

I'm not sure when it happened but it all changed at some point during the first half of the film, after which the whole thing was so perfectly weighted, such a joy to watch and so incredibly engaging that it can't be anything else but one of the best films ever to be made.

There are two main drivers behind this conclusion. The first is the brilliant screenplay, perfectly paced to both keep us breathlessly on our toes at all times but also accessible enough for no one to literally lose the plot at any time. I can't remember the last time I was so tested and rewarded by such a rich story; in fact in many ways The Dark Knight was two films in one and many other studios and producers would have found it very easy to have split and money spin it. Thankfully for us, it hadn't been.

The second gem of the movie was indeed Heath Ledger. His performance was so good that I would have been worried about his psyche in real life if it was still appropriate to do so. I won't bore you with words but it really must be seen to be appreciated. In a time when performances are seen because of the person acting them out, it's refreshing to see one where the character takes preference; this wasn't about Ledger or even the film itself but about The Joker - of course the make-up helped loads with this suspension of disbelief, as did the relative low profile of Ledger at the time itself, but otherwise it was pure casting genius.

For balance I have to mention some of the flaws too. These included some pretty shoddy editing, a soundtrack that I often failed to hear properly and some plot details that were quite unnecessary. But these are just minor points and to be honest you should just ignore this paragraph altogether.

And at 152 minutes The Dark Knight really is the film that just keeps on giving. I didn't even check the time once during its run time; and as much as the natural cynic within me tried to be contrary to popular opinion hate it, I'm totally glad to say that it was easily put to bed but the awesomeness that was The Dark Night.

EDIT: The morning after and the more I talk and think about it, the more wonderful I think the film was. This is as opposed to having your opinion reduced over time, and a good indication of just how magical this film is.

Motor Show

I can't believe that it's been two years since the last motor show at ExCeL. Once again I found it a bit disappointing: it seems to be thinning out more and more - there wasn't even a BMW stand this year.

In fact the only new thing I noticed today was the new presence of hijabis in attendance and, perhaps related to that, Asian booth babes. Motoring has become ethnically mainstream, it seems.

Car of the show? Well now I'm really struggling but if I had to pick it would probably be the Nissan Skyline GTR, although Alfa Romeo had some interesting new stuff too, and I wouldn't say no to a free Lotus Evora either.

Sunday, July 27

Film: Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging Click for more info

Although I'm always weary of a Gurinder Chadha flick, I also find myself equally curious. Between Bhaji, Beckham and Bride she's done enough to convince me she can make an interesting enough film, and since this was one with no Asian protagonist to be seen I was doubly eager to see it.

Angus is modern day fairytale set in the British seaside town of Eastbourne, about a 14 year old girl called Georgia. We follow her as she wrestles with boys, thongs and kisses, while desperately trying to grow up as her solution to all her problems.

It's Adrian Mole/Bridgette Jones stuff but on a Nickelodeon scale; not that this makes it any less deep or trivial. It's full of laughs and tears, the script is brilliant (totally from the valley of awesomeness) and Georgia Groome does a superb job as the love struck and angsty teen. It's just so perfectly weighted it's a pleasure to watch. And as an added bonus not a gay Asian best mate in sight either!

Definitely one to watch.


In the past month I've found my way into multiple unrelated forms of media. There's been two airings of Kids' Say on the Islam Channel hosted by me, the article in Emel and this morning I was on the BBC Asian Network reviewing Mission Istaanbul.

Quite why these opportunities have all come now, I'm not sure (although I feel that no longer having a 9-5 has had something to do with it!). That they're all so unrelated adds to the fact that this attention has less to do with celebrity and more to do with availability. As a friend has recently quipped I seem to have found myself on some kind of z-list!

Although none of these were substantial, general feedback has been pretty good and further doors have been opened. Personally I feel that I'm handling these situations much better now than I have previously - I mean I've done the TV and radio thing before but I feel much more comfortable and confident this time around as I realise that the more professional people in the industry are just as human as the rest of us.

Will there be more TV/radio/publications? I'm not sure. I'm not saying I'm bored of the exposure and I'm certainly not ungrateful, but at the moment they've all been a bit of (unpaid!) fun and although I would love to continue doing so there comes a point where you have to ask yourself whether the experience is worth the time or not. Till then, watch this space.

Saturday, July 26

Yet More Halaliano's Karaoke

Another good banshee wailing session, with veteran karaoke-heads pushing the boundaries even further (two foolish guys even did Dus Bahane, dance moves and all), while people new to the game were also being sporting and getting up.

A smaller crowd than usually allowed us all to sing what we wanted - I managed to fit in some Britney along with my Spandau Ballet, but I may have totally destroyed Take That's Back For Good for many people; my throat had just given up the ghost by that point. Maybe next time? My duet partner and I decided to graduate from Summer Nights and tried Endless Love and The Time Of My Life... With mixed results.

One of the best bits for me was Bole Chudyan, totally proving me wrong about how Bollywood and karaoke don't mix. There was a bunch of us, boys and girls, and we all seemed to know the lyrics, rhythm and moves without prior practise or warning. Awesome.

Game: Street Fighter 4 (ARC)

I've written about my relationship with Street Fighter before, so I won't bore you with all the details about just how good I (think I) am. At the very least I think I'm qualified to give an informed opinion about any new releases in the wider 2D fighting genre.

Street Fighter 4 is an awesome game. Unlike 3 which I pretty much hated (although it was received by others as good evolution of the series), SF4 has delivered on its promise of being as accessible as possible to veteran SF2 heads. In fact if you really want to you can play it like you did SF2, and reuse all the same combos and strategies from the 17 year old game. Having said that, it does have a clear basis in EX - with big pauses during hits within which to link, cancel or pick whatever other direction you'd want to take the combo in.

But playing 4 like 2 won't get you very far really; there's too many new features that your opponents will be leveraging over you. We have new characters, focus breaks/parries, EX specials, and a new revenge bar fuelling super fancy Ultra Combos. Other trivial yet important changes include having to throw with two lights attacks, being able to cancel moves into supers, and a lack of counters (although the focus mechanism makes a good substitute).

Once I had got my three in a row winning streak with Ken, I decided to check out some of the other characters. Good work appears to have been done here too - for once I didn't hate them (T Hawk anyone?). C. Viper was cool, El Fuerte and Rufus hilarious. All were hugely accessible and fun to play with and I was pulling off their more complex moves pretty easily.

Which pretty much sums up the game for me as a whole - accessible enough to have immediate fun with but with more than enough depth to reward long term play. For instance although I managed to link in a few Ultras, I never once cancelled into one.

I'll definitely be buying this for the 360 once it's been released. In the meantime I'll go shopping for a Hori stick. Maybe.

Battle of Destiny Click for more info

A Saturday morning hanging out with a bunch of sweaty beat 'em up fans is something even I would avoid doing if I had the choice, except that this year's BOD promised a treat for guests so compelling that I just had to get there for 10am, and pay a tenner to just get in (entering actual tournaments is another ten quid a pop). I won't bother describing the competitive parts of the day since a) I didn't really follow any of it and b) you can follow the link for more details.

BOD's casual zone had tons of stuff to keep us busy. The most played game for me and my friend by far was a pre-release version of SSF2HD Remix on the 360 - five characters in total were available to play with, including Ryu, Ken and Akuma and I didn't seem to have become too upset at the retuning the game had gone through; in fact I seemed to fare worse while playing the unaltered mode.

The game looked great but not "1080p wow!!", if you get what I mean. It was also slightly unfinished - I'm pretty sure Ken had a few moves missing. I also got in some serious time on a Hori Fighting Stick, enough to almost convince me to shell out fifty quid or whatever it is to own one.

Soul Calibur 4 was also on show on both the 360 and PS3. I stuck to the 360 version, only to play as Yoda. I'm not really a fan of SC, so after one game we kinda left it alone for the rest of the day.

No, the real reason I had attended this morning was to play Street Fighter 4 - and be one of the first to play it on UK soil. And I wasn't at all disappointed. Thankfully the rush to play wasn't too bad and we managed to get in a fair number of goes each (winning streaks were capped to three - I managed to hit that magic number once). I'm really looking forward to the game now! But more of the game itself later.

So yes, it was all more worthwhile than I had imagined - I got some good time trying out Hori sticks, SF2HD and SF4, greasing up my old Streetfighting skills: I have to say I was on fire this morning; almost as good as I was in my prime, and from the little I saw of the tournament entrants I may have gotten further than I thought I would have. Maybe next year, eh?

Film: Mission Istaanbul Click for more info

Confused, muddled and to be frank pretty damned cheap, Mission Istaanbul shows that Bollywood still hasn't shaken off its ability to make a really really poor film.

It's almost as if they didn't even bother trying making anything good. The plot jumps around like its got ants in its pants and so fails to make any sense at all. The acting isn't too bad, but that's only because all on screen seem to know not to take any of it too seriously. The music is rubbish and the action poor - perhaps what they're showing is the stuff they cut out?

There are a few redeeming features though - the scenes aboard Air Force One (yes, that's right) are almost worth watching the whole film for, and there's an ace bit of totally unsubtle product placement that you really can't help but admire.

If you haven't figured it out yet, avoid this film at all costs. As an aside, I'll be reviewing Mission Istaanbul for the BBC Asian Network on Sunday morning's Love Bollywood show. I think I'll be on sometime after 10, full of enthusiasm, I'm sure.

Friday, July 25

Building A Case

One of the more lofty claims that I have is that if I ever find myself liking a girl then I would make no bones in doing something about it - I wouldn't rest on my laurels, assume she's psychic or have a fear of rejection. Not that I think I'm unrejectable of course, just that her more-than-likely reaction of telling me exactly which cliff to jump off won't put me off in revealing that I do indeed have the hotty hots for her.

And yet my track record betrays this. The truth is that I've never formally asked a lady out - although I may have told some that they are attractive, I've never gone further in action than that.

So have I once again proven myself to be a big fat liar? Or have I retaken my well used place sitting on that fence, hiding my real behaviour and opinion behind semantics? Well maybe.

There is a much simpler reason that explains the above though. Perhaps I've just vacuously not yet met anyone to say these things to? Sure, I've often found myself attracted to people I've just met (at BBQs, say) or randomly on the Tube, but how can one meeting or conversation or glance ever be enough to prompt further action? This is less about being let down by rejection, but more about making sure any outcome (be it positive or negative) is well founded.

I reckon that it's reasonable to be a bit of due diligence before proceeding further - you know, do a bit of research, gather some evidence or get a feeling as to how well a relationship will work out. I'm not talking about guaranteed indicators here; I don't think it's ever possible to find those. But there are obvious dealbreakers which you can find out before its too late, both tangible and otherwise.

Is your victim single? Are they looking for a relationship? Are they straight? Are they just a pretty face? All these can be found out pretty quickly and relatively easily. Then there are the more abstract things which may take a bit more time: do you both get on, complement and become friends with each other? Are your backgrounds compatible, or will things like ethnicity or caste be a problem (since even if it's not for you, it may be for them).

Of course many of you will already have a solution to determine all this - it's called dating. For many this isn't really an appropriate solution at all, partly due to our beliefs and principles but also because of the intrinsic emotional costs involved with the whole dating scene. The point is that you don't need to date in order to get basic and preliminary information about another person.

There are other reasons why one wouldn't want to give away their position before knowing more about a person they might like. No one likes to give themselves away too flippantly. By taking time beforehand you can also be sure you're serious about this person rather than only being interested in the chase as some who declare their feelings from the start appear to be.

And practically building a case could save you time and mental effort. Issues of reputation and face (if I asked out every girl I fancied I'd be no different from any other lech) disappear too. And you may be the type of person who just doesn't like to make glaring mistakes (not that a failed dating period is necessarily a mistake, of course).

So when do you know when you've built up a good enough case to move on? Well in an ideal you would. Just know, I mean. The chances are that you'd probably have slipped into coupledom already by that point anyway, and if not, the beauty of this method is that you can take as long as you want doing it - since it's a relatively cheap process it shouldn't impact your life or stop you from building other cases for other people in parallel.

And of course while you're building your case for this particular person you're also giving them the opportunity to build their own on you - it's likely that any rejection will be mutual since you'll probably come to the same conclusion anyway.

Of course it's easy to fall into the trap of perpetually building a case for someone - there's only so much you can learn about a potential victim before having to consciously and markedly change the nature of the relationship between the two of you to find out more about each other or just to move onwards. It's also (by definition perhaps) easier to find dealbreakers than dealmakers, especially if you look for them.

So yes, I think that I can indeed reconcile my promise to chase up a girl with how I've yet to actually do that, although even in the context above the fact remains that I've yet to build up a good enough case anyway. Ironically this could genuinely be because the principle has worked a bit too well and established enough negativity to write off a relationship before it'd even begun - the worrying thing of course is that I could have been totally wrong about that particular person.

And so ultimately this just reduces to another discussion about risk and reward, and how sometimes things might work out for the best if you only just give them a try, despite rationality and reason telling you otherwise. Optimists see failed relationships as successes anyway, so perhaps it's a bad thing to avoid the ones due to fail - but even more fundamental to that is the fact that you'll never get into a relationship (good or bad) unless you do something about it.

Thursday, July 24

Film: WALL·E Click for more info

A "Toy Story" beater eh? Well leaving aside the fact that I considered Toy Story to have been well and truly stomped on by the mighty Incredibles I must admit that I was quite looking forward to seeing exactly what Wall-e was about. I mean look, a Johnny-5 alike fancying another hot robot can only be cute for five minutes before an audience needs something else to go on.

I wasn't that disappointed either. Disney-Pixar have a seemingly limitless talent for telling a good story, and once again it was demonstrated during this film. Of course the main theme was about Wall-e's crush on Eve, and it was undoubtedly cute and endearing (and, okay, perhaps a bit familiar too), but there was plenty of other guff to be getting on with too.

A few things makes Wall-e stand out above its peers too - that it includes real life actors for one thing, and how the main protagonists don't have a voice for another. Still I can't bring myself to agree that Wall-e beats Incredibles, Ratatouille, Kung Fu Panda or even Toy Story - there is no doubt that it's good, but compared to the rest it unfortunately pales.

Wednesday, July 23

Using STRAIGHT_JOIN To Work Around The Optimiser

As explained in a previous post, I had an issue with an overzealous MySQL optimiser, which then decided to return incorrect results after I had chastised it. I was therefore stuck between incredibly slow (read: unusable) performance and unreliability and had no choice but to work my design around the behaviour.

I had already come across the STRAIGHT_JOIN keyword, but only as used as a replacement for a more regular JOIN. The idea is to tell the optimiser to join the tables in the order in which they appear in the query. On its own, JOIN is both commutative and associative, in that you can do them in any order. Left to its own devices the optimiser may choose to take what you have written and turn it upside down if it thinks the whole thing will be faster, but STRAIGHT_JOIN instructs it to stick to how it's written.

Outer joins, however, aren't commutative and you'd most likely get different result if you reversed one and for this reason the optimiser will never try to. Since the view that I was having difficulty with was made up of three outer joins, I didn't bother looking into STRAIGHT_JOIN much. Sure, I could have applied it to base views in order to cut short the work the optimiser had to do anyway, and this probably would have helped in this particular case too. But since the base views seemed to be working okay in other cases I chose to avoid doing this - I may as well take advantage of the optimiser when it works as it should do.

What I didn't realise was that you can selectively ask the optimiser to STRAIGHT_JOIN on demand. You do this by calling it during the select itself:

select STRAIGHT_JOIN a,b,c from rest-of-query;

This instructs the optimiser to STRAIGHT_JOIN as much as possible while evaluating the query. Since this implies one path, you don't have to adjust OPTIMIZER_SEARCH_DEPTH to restrict itself globally either - it can be left at 62 (or whatever you found it useful to be) and should, in theory, continue to optimise wheres and other parts of your query.

So my strategy is now the following - to write and use views as I am currently, with some consideration on what order to join the tables/views within them in. If ever, when consuming a view at a higher level (say, in a procedure or function), I find them to take more than a few seconds to complete, I will add the STRAIGHT_JOIN keyword to effectively disable join optimisation but only when that particular procedure or function is called.

Hopefully this will allow me to take advantage of the optimiser when I can, and tell it to bugger off when it can't quite handle the job it's supposed to. The only flaw in this plan is if STRAIGHT_JOINing results in a sub-optimal execution plan and makes a query slower than it could have been (albeit with a correctly functioning optimiser). That's something I'll have to leave to later, when I have a substantial amount of data to play around with.

Tuesday, July 22


xxxx says (10:42):
    so why is it that you dont find muslims attractive?
xxxx says (10:44):
Shak says (10:47):
    cos they mainly fail
    i guess i have high standards for them
Shak says (10:48):
    liberals fail cos they dont pray or use stick on nails
xxxx says (10:48):
    there is this
Shak says (10:48):
    fundies fail cos they dont appreciate film, music, the opposite sex, rude jokes
xxxx says (10:48):

Sunday, July 20

The ICSS BBQ, 2008

This is now the third time I'm writing about an ICSS BBQ and I find myself struggling to post anything original. I said last year about how we had improved on 2006, and the trend seems to have continued - 2008's really was awesome.

I think it comes down to the maturity of the event - the one thing I was impressed with was how we had all learned from previous mistakes and fixed them this time around. So for example we didn't try to cram in too much fun and games today - there was just the one activity going on at any one time. We also made sure that the volunteers and kids had been well fed before any external guests arrived. We had also managed to clear up in record time at the end.

All this made for a much smoother ride than the previous years. Everyone helping out (and there were quite a few) took their role and responsibility in their strides and we were never once chasing our tails. Food flowed faster than ever, with the maximum waiting time only being a couple of minutes - we once again seemed to hit the 300-350 mark of mouths fed so the fact not many went hungry is a sign that the cooking seems to have gotten better.

The main event this time around was a talk by a the local police-community engagement team - they spent fifteen minutes or so talking about what the job of the police is and why targeted stop and search was a good idea (I held my peace). They even brought a portable metal detector; the kids were more than eager to walk through it!

As usual, the best thing for us was the feedback. A large proportion of the guests were just dropping by, and didn't really have an association with ICSS before they had come; they now have an idea of who we are and what we're trying to achieve, many choosing to sign up as further volunteers. The rest had nothing to say but compliments and how impressed they were with how such a small organisation could host such an event.

I hoped/predicted last year that the annual ICSS BBQ would outgrow the organisation itself and become an event in its own right, and from what I saw today this almost seems to have been the case. Of course it's important for us as an organisation to leverage the popularity of the BBQ for the benefit of ICSS, but in the meantime I have to say that I'm pretty proud to be part of the team that owns such an occasion.

Saturday, July 19

New Music

Lazy Lamhe - Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic

It's been slim pickings lately on the Bollywood music scene. Take Lazy Lamhe for instance: it's alright but nothing fancy. Still, it exudes sultriness.

Warwick Avenue - Duffy

The song Mercy should have been really. Not the most powerful of ballads but it'll do in today's chart.

Friday, July 18

Food: Kazan Click for more info

Another Turkish, but this time closer to the top of the middle than otherwise, Kazan served ten of us delightful food in a nice and clean environment.

A good time was had by all for the hours we spent there (although a lot of that was waiting for food, which was disappointing), and despite being seated at a long table (which usually kills any chance of a group discussion) the atmosphere was so conducive to having a good time we didn't even notice.

So what's not to like? Well for one thing, the price. Although we had taken advantage of a Top Table 50% thing, the bill still hit a whopping £20 per head after all the bell and whistles had been added on. Still we had slightly over ordered (particularly on the overpriced cocktails) but I think more careful ordering could have prevented this - those of us who stuck to the excellent mezze were more than happy with our meal.

Something to consider when you want to splash out, especially if halalness and conversation are paramount to your enjoyment of a meal.

No Asians In The British Olympic Team

Apparently, although I can't seem to find a link to back that up. There are around 300 Brits going to China and not one of them are of subcontinental descent. Not sure whether that surprising or not, but it is a bit disappointing either way.

Still at least we can do medicine and engineering, eh?

Thursday, July 17

The Standard Chartered Great City Race 2008, London Click for more info

5k is an interesting distance. The elitist runner in me pours scorn on such an amount; everyone I know should be able to run this distance and it definitely should NOT be a once in a lifetime thing for them to do. As such, those who ask me to sponsor them for a 5k race usually find nothing but disappointment.

On the other hand since it's not long or even mid distance it does have its own challenges regarding pace and speed; and since I had missed this year's Roding half marathon and wasn't about to enter this year's JP Corporate Challenge I jumped at the chance to run under some kind of race conditions.

Training was okay, if only because it underlined exactly how unfit I've become. Although I still regularly run my pace has dropped considerably as I find myself with nothing to run for; the 3.1 miles were taking me around 25 minutes to complete, a far cry from the 7.5 minute miles I was running during my marathon training prime. Back then such a distance would have been done without breaking a sweat, although 3 miles when aiming for 26 isn't really that much.

My aim for the race was to pace 8 minute miles and so any time under 24 minutes would have left me happy enough. And although I had to run my arse off to do it, my chest giving way long before my legs, surprised at exactly how much of a struggle it was. Still I managed to get a time of 23:51, a personal best (at least in recent times) and the fastest in the company team (I managed to hijack the one my dad works for).

Although it's not a patch on how I used to run five years ago (particularly because I was half dead by the end of it), it was good enough for me, especially now, during a time I'm increasingly feeling like I'm getting on a bit.

On Misyar And Marriage Contracts Click for more info

After a friend quite facetiously suggested misyar as a solution to the "marriage problem" many of us are apparently facing today, he quite understandably got quite an animated response back. For those of you who can't be bothered to click on the wikipedia link this is basically a wedding contract with specific rights given up by the female regarding any or all of polygamy, co-habitation, maintenance and housing.

The criticism was on two fronts, curiously divided on gender lines. The girls mainly shot down the idea as a whole, saying that there was no way anyone except the most bastard of men would want to be a part of it. Needless to say this was easily refuted by giving various legitimate examples of when it would be a good thing and even more so when one of the ladies present actually said it was worth considering.

The guys on the other hand saw the usefulness of such a precedent in some situations, including that in which the man trivially didn't want to fulfill his rights (the bastard). However what we were united on was how it was little solution to our own afflictions of singledom - it's not like offering a misyar to prospective partners would suddenly open the doors to a marriage (especially when we consider the initial reaction of the fairer sex in our group).

I call misyar a precedent in the last paragraph since it's not really something that has directly come out of the Quran or Sunnah. It is in fact just a specific extension of seeing a nikkah as a legal contract that all parties concerned have deliberated and agreed on. This means that you can pretty much ask for anything you desire and stipulate any foregone conclusion for a potential future situation (with the notable exception of a fixed duration for the marriage), be it the number of kids you'll have together, whether a wife is allowed to leave the kitchen ever or whether a husband is allowed to marry further without the permission of his first wife[1].

The point is, of course, that both sides have to agree to that which is written down and so it's subject to the negotiation, redrawing and rejection that all contracts go through. This is in line with one of my own principles regarding the validity of unequal requirements (or in short: how it's perfectly acceptable for a non-virgin guy to insist on marrying a virgin girl just as it's perfectly acceptable for her to tell him to bugger off). It's fine to request whatever you want of a partner and your marriage to them, provided they know and agree to these requests before they commit.

Marriage contracts are becoming pretty popular nowadays, both as a way to ensure fairness and justice in a marriage as well as to promote the deep discussion of important topics before anything legal is signed. I'd always suggest that people consider them if only to get to know their opposite better during a time when romance may drown out sensible conversations about the future; the mere process of discussing such a contract may highlight the fact that you're not as suited to each other as you may have thought.

Ideally speaking, however, there should not be a need for such contracts in the first place. Level headed brides and grooms should be transparent, willing and able to have serious discussions about what they feel is important in a marriage and trust not to have to write it all down formally. And everyone involved should have a high regard for justice and fairness at all times, even if it's at the cost of their own well being.

There are other downsides to contracts too. A badly written one (one that predicts doom and gloom) can do more damage than good. Also a legal document is hardly the most romantic thing on which to base a marriage. And what about the times when you hit an issue not covered by an existing contract? You're going to have to wing it then anyway.

Of course in real life people aren't level headed or just. Situations and stakeholders also change over time, and so a fixed contract acts as insurance against this unknown world be it regarding a marriage or anything else, as well as providing answers to many situations yet to be encountered.

So yes, I think misyar or any agreed contract detailing unconventional choices good things - provided of course everyone involved in one thinks they are too. Who am I to tell a person what they will or won't want or need? We all should know what we want and need from a marriage and should have the gumption to ask of these things from a potential partner - in a time when marriages are falling apart because people weren't to know the opinion of their partners, finding out before it's too late can only be a good thing.


[1] Many people, particularly women, mistakenly believe that the first wife has the right to refuse her husband a further marriage by default. This isn't really the case (in fact one understanding is that he doesn't even have to tell her about it), since this right has been granted to the guy by God already, and no wife, no matter how pretty, can override that. What brides can (and probably should) do is ask for this specific right in their contracts (or at the very least give a clear and unambiguous indication before they marry that they would have a major, divorce inducing, problem with sharing their husband) at which point the groom will bind himself if he chooses to sign it.

Whether it's fair or not to assume no wife in this day and age would ever agree to the polygamy of their husband is beside the point in the legality of these things. That said, a just and honourable guy would always consider the feelings of those most close to himself when considering something so important (if at all), whether they have a contract hanging over their head or not. Best to just skip all the above and bag yourself one of those, innit?

Tuesday, July 15

Error Code : 2013

Another day and another issue with joining complex views. However where I solved the previous problem of slow queries by instructing MySQL to not spend too much time looking for an optimal execution plan, this latest issue seems much more grave.

When trying to execute a join I immediately get returned an Error 2013, "Lost connection to MySQL server during query". This occurs whether I run it on a client or server. Changing the query slightly to omit part of a where clause (simply an is null check) causes the query to run correctly. I have a hunch that this is related to my complex views once again. The fact that even the EXPLAIN returns this error is pretty worrying.

Checking the syslog on the server, it appears that MySQL is immediately crashing out. Unfortunately I don't have much more to go on since the promised stack backtrace (used to understand where in code MySQL was when it went titsup) doesn't appear in the log.

No answers in the community - although since I suspect that this a unique error I wasn't expecting much. It seems my only real option is to debug MySQL. However since this requires recompiling the whole thing from source, this solution is probably best left for a time when I'm not as tied up developing (so probably never). Again my confidence in MySQL is such that I'm sure I'll have to face this issue sooner rather than later so I'll have to do the recompilation eventually.

In the meantime I've managed to come across some pretty interesting behaviour regarding optimizer_search_depth. Setting this back to 4 (from 0) does allow the same query to complete, albeit with an incorrect result set (I'm left joining a table with one row on its own and end up with zero results). 62 may work better, but since that still makes the query unbearably long, I've not checked this. Recompiling the view also changes the behaviour of the query. It's all terribly inconsistent and bizarre.

So as it stands I have a choice between crashing the server, completing with incorrect results, or spending an hour waiting for correct results. I'm certainly not impressed and for the first time am wondering if MySQL is the best choice for this job (or indeed any other that requires a database!). I'm even considering switching to MSSQL (and so Windows with it), something I never hear other people having to do.

For the time being though, I've decided to become a bit more pragmatic about MySQL and its features. I now accept that the ONLY reason I'm now using it is because it's free: I've certainly never managed to crash MSSQL, and I've definitely found the community support for it to be better than what I've seen of MySQL's.

So now, instead of complaining about how rubbish MySQL is, I'm going to accept its flaws, use the workarounds given to me and create my own. Yes, my database's design may suffer for it, and yes code written against it may have to be ugly, but I'm guessing that this is the MySQL/OSS way of getting things done.

This isn't all as fatal as I'm making it sound though. The way MySQL works has also forced me to reassess the bad parts of my design and so has prompted more positive changes. For example, there doesn't seem to be way to pass around table results in MySQL, be it via selecting the results of a proc or allowing a function to return variables (in fact there's no table variables at all here). I've had to use scalar functions in a more creative manner instead, which in turn highlighted some inefficiencies in my code that once I saw was able to massage out.

In short, I'm hoping that the progress I make will distract me from the irritations the platform is bringing me.

Game: Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney Click for more info

My poor DS really doesn't get much use, now that I don't have a commute. This is fortunate, since there hasn't been much I wanted to play on it anyway - although I did have this, the fourth in the Phoenix Wright series.

But Apollo Justice isn't really the fourth game, is it? After all, we now have a brand new attorney to take over where the much loved Wright left off, one who is just as annoying and irritating as Wright himself appeared to be way back in his first game.

Gameplay remains the same, although since this is the first Ace Attorney game made especially for the DS (the others were localised GBA ports) it does have some extra elements suited to the more advanced format. Many of these were seen in the bonus case present in the first cart - things like being able to view and manipulate evidence in 3D. As usual a new power has also been introduced - Apollo is now able to perceive when people are lying, but I'm yet to see exactly how this affects gameplay.

But despite the adjustments, this is classic Phoenix Wright (or should that be Ace Attorney now?) stuff, and as such received exactly the same recomendation that the previous three got.


Sunday, July 13

New Music

Don't Stop Me Now - Queen

A firm favourite if The Collective since playing it on Donkey Konga, I finally had an excuse to get this ace tune after it became the theme for our recent trip to Wales. Quite possibly my topmost Queen track.

Saturday, July 12

Film: Thoda Pyaar Thoda Magic Click for more info

Why they didn't spell Thoda with an R I don't know - it took me ages to figure out what this film was called and even then it had to be explained to me.

Anyway, Mary Poppins meets Bollywood in this, a film about the successful but not-really-as-grumpy-as-he-should-be Ranbeer having to look after the cute but not-really-as-naughty-as-they-should-be kids of the couple he killed in a car accident. On the way he is helped by Geeta, who manages to bring all involved together into one big happy family.

There's no mistaking that TPTM has charm. It's cute and funny when it needs to be, and Rani Mukherjee's infectiously cheerful Geeta is upstaged only by the (somewhat generic) orphan kids. It's also well put together - although superfluous, the special effects aren't all that shabby, and there aren't any major problems with the filming or direction.

My biggest issue is with the characters themselves. There just seems to be zero development with them all. Take the shirt-button challenged Ranbeer for example. Any other film would follow him as he transformed from a wicked step dad into a loving father, but since he's not that bad from the start this doesn't quite happen. The same goes for the relationships between all the characters - they accept their situation all too easily in my opinion and there was no friction, tension and so, interest.

Which is a shame, since in spite of the absolutely barmy (and wholly unnecessary) context in which the story is told, TPTM could have been something much bigger. As it stand it's all a bit shallow and uninteresting, and if it wasn't for Rani's fun performance I would have found watching it a big waste of time.

Friday, July 11

My Initial Impressions Of MySQL

Ah. MySQL. The M in the almost ubiquitous LAMP stack that the Internet seems to be running on nowadays. Apparently the fact that it's free is supposed to be a bonus to how it's a kick-arse database system. I'm sure some of you already know what I think about that - for the rest let me list some of the things I've found with MySQL.

First up, it's how MyISAM tables don't support foreign keys. That, in my eyes, immediately discounts MyISAM as a choice for any kind of RDBMS (that R stands for relational by the way). Luckily MySQL allows tables of different types like the InnoDB tables I'm using which do support foreign keys. The fact that MySQL supports different tables is a good thing even though it exposes the inner workings of the RDBMS to the developer.

As I explained in a previous post, MySQL doesn't seem comfortable dealing with views, something that has already severely bitten me in the bum. It also doesn't support optional or default parameters in procedures, which means the developer has to be a bit clever in how they write procs in order to not end up with a whole bunch of overloaded ones.

But there are some good things too. Procedure calls can now be nested, which is superace. Statements are delimited which is a nice cosmetic feature. It offers AUTO_INCREMENTING columns as a typical primary key, and I've made heavy use of them while raising my DB to 6NF. Joins can be written using the USING keyword to join on similarly named keys. Oh and you can now increment variables inside a select list - useful for counts or groupings.

I do miss MSSQL quite a bit though, especially the Query Analyser. And that's something I never thought I'd admit to! SQLyog is pretty neat, but it does have its annoyances: poor tab support for one, and a total lack of file drag and drop for another. There seems to be a few bugs when scripting the database, although this seems to be a problem with the server rather than the client itself. Intellisense is nice (when it works!).

So a bit of a mixed reaction then? Well yes. To be fair the only thing that's really annoyed me is the pitiful support for views and the fact that I've come across it so early in my work; I can imagine it and other other similar operational issues rearing their ugly heads later on. The rest is just MySQL's way of doing things and something I'll just have to get used to.

Thursday, July 10

Why Open Source Software Sucks

Most of us should have used open source software by now. Firefox, for example, is pretty huge and used by loads of people, most possibly not even aware that it's OSS. And I'd say that a great deal of software I use has been downloaded from SourceForge, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) repositories of OSS. It's not about it being free either - Internet Explorer is just as free as Firefox and yet it's the latter that's proving to be comparably popular. It's clear that OSS is a good thing for obvious reasons.

Or so I thought. Around 60% of my time on this project so far has been wrestling with the quirks of the major bits of OSS that I've been trying to use and I like to believe that this isn't just because I'm not accustomed to it ("you just need to get used to it" is the top reason given for my pain). Although most of my troubles have been with MySQL (enough to warrant a whole new post after this one), I've also had some issues with Ubuntu.

First up, it's all so poorly supported. I've found that the "community" that people often rave about to be a bit of a myth. The community doesn't "just" answer your questions for a variety of reasons: either they're too easy, too obscure or not sexy enough. Either way it's a bit of a struggle to get a direct solution to any problem you may have - you have to find your own answer by piecing together scraps you find all over the place. Still, I've found newsgroups to be more helpful than web forums, although only just.

Related to this is the poor documentation. So much knowledge, often basic, seems to be assumed. This means you can't even get started since you're unable to equip yourself with the fundamentals. For example, even after installing quite a few applications on to my Ubuntu build I'm still buggered if I know where a particular application has been installed, keeps its config, or what the heck the etc folder is for. And I can't even find these things out.

Other things seem to be hallmarks of some OSS. Its incomplete (you sometimes have to resort to a text file to edit something because a config screen hasn't been updated), inconsistent (file and configuration locations) and arbitrary (for the same application some things will be in a start menu while others will have to be sudo'd in a terminal).

On the other hand Ubuntu and MySQL at least seem to be just as stable and responsive as anything commercial I've used, sometimes even less so - for all its criticisms I've had to reboot my Vista install less than my Ubuntu, while applications take just as long to start up on each.

Okay, I'll admit that a lot of this does indeed have to do with my not being familiar with the tools I'm trying to use. Maybe I've forgotten the pain I went through learning to use Windows or MySQL. But then on the other hand I have to learn something new each time I use a new application - there was no esoteric quirkiness when using Firefox for the first time, for example. And learning isn't free, it costs time, and I expect some kind of return for that time. So far I've not seen any with Ubuntu or MySQL.

No, the only real benefit I see is with cost - the lack of commercial licences for OSS makes it a very appealing base on which to build a technology business. It's just a shame that the general principle of getting what you pay for seems to hold fully with OSS too.

Wednesday, July 9

Hitting Developer Traction

I finally feel that I've found some kind of "developer traction", that state of mind in a project where you know where you want to be and so can more easily code toward it. You see, good code mostly writes itself as the demands of a system become more clear and defined - formally we're even taught to write code from a pre-considered and thought out design. In practice however, time and interest usually makes us jump the gun a bit code blindly.

The start of a project when everything is so abstract and fuzzy in your head can be a hard time, especially for someone like me who needs all the answers to all possible questions before he sets out on a task. Those that know me will see this overbearing delay in getting anything started as one of my general characteristics/flaws and perhaps I need to get over this fear of making mistakes, trying things multiple times or throwing away first goes. Perhaps two steps back is sometimes the fastest way to move one step forward?

At this point I reckon I've spent way too much time on planning things, both technical and business-wise. I'm sure this planning was useful, particularly the technical specifications and designs I created, but even with those I've had to change as I code quite a bit as the process of development forced me to consider situations I never would have at a theoretical level.

Getting on with things also, perhaps obviously, helps with progression itself. For example I was struggling to think of what access procs I'd need for an API I had yet to write - I mean how can you possibly figure out what functionality a client would need? Well it is possible, just a bit difficult, especially when working alone. The answer is to write a client yourself and and create an API "on demand", that is to work on the hierarchy vertically rather than horizontally. What usually happens is that a single high level requirement sparks off the creation of a library that would be useful for other higher level requirements. From now on I'm going to try to keep as high level as possible when describing goals and targets, and leave the details to be determined practically. I wonder how long I'll last?

Anyway, since I'm not worrying about progress as much as I was before (I'm even playing MGS4 while working!), I can start talking a bit about what I've found so far. I can already sense the eyes glazing over for the majority of you and I apologise in advance for that. But I think it'll be helpful for me to put it all down (as well as the two other people who actually read and enjoy my computing posts), and I'll try to make them vaguely interesting to read if I can.

Monday, July 7

Game: Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots Click for more info

I'm pretty lucky to play MGS4, it being a PS3 exclusive. I was actually going to buy the system just for this game alone, me being that much of a fan, but Sony's decision not to release a limited edition PS3 in this country prompted a feeling of rebellion much stronger than my want. I decided to hold off; after all I had waited three years to play MGS3 too. But I managed to get a copy of the game, and more importantly a PS3 to play it on, after all.

And as a game it's pretty ace. It looks and sounds brilliant, both in game and during the now expected cut-scenes. Not that the two can be separated - although cut scenes have always been rendered in real time in past games, in MGS4 they actually flow into a playable state. It's just another of those little bits of quality that you can't help gasping at.

Gameplay-wise, It's definitely Metal Gear - you need to sneak around as much as before, procuring weapons and items as you go along. There are differences though, some major - the game is definitely more arcadey than before with the controls now taking on more of a FPS scheme, and the consequences of Alert Status not as grave as it used to be.

Not that it's difficult not to avoid getting spotted: although enemies are smarter over all, the level design is such that there are specific set pieces or methods to get from one checkpoint to another without getting caught. Of course, those of us less patient (or unable to figure out the preplanned route) can just fight our way through. Although this flexibility has always been a requirement of the MGS gameplay, it's never been as refined as it is now. A perfectly balanced difficulty tops it all off.

Other gameplay elements I find to be a bit distracting. We still have the battery and stamina to manage although like in MGS3 they don't seem to impact the game too much if you ignore them. Quite bizarrely, there is now also a shop from which you can buy weapons and ammo. Although this is a good idea for those times when you find yourself low on bullets (hasn't happened to me yet), having to buy weapons instead of picking them up in the field as before kinda takes away from the flow of the game.

Finally you also have access to Metal Gear v2, a tiny robot that you can use for recon as well as to stun remote enemies. I've yet to use it past the initial toying around stage. The beauty of MGS however is that if you don't like a particular element then you can ignore it - the game is robust enough for you to play it however you want.

MGS4 really is a superb game. I'm only three and a half hours into it, so can't really decide whether it's the best MGS yet, but I'm already enjoying it as much as I did MGS1 and 2. I have a hunch that its real depth and enjoyment is yet to come.

Sunday, July 6

The Best Tennis Match Ever?

I'll freely admit it - I'm not a major major tennis fan. I can barely sit through the minimum of two straight winning sets of a Ladies' match without getting a bit bored. But a combination of having free access to a television and going Wimbledon myself this year made me more interested in this year's competition than usual.

Despite this I still preferred watching Ladies' tennis over Gentlemen's (although possibly for the wrong reasons). However today's Gentleman's final totally blew me away and is not just the best match this year, but possibly the best I've ever seen. And it seems that a lot of other people agree.

It was epic. A saga lasting almost half a day, causing even the most neutral audience to choose sides. I was gunning for Federer myself; there was something compelling about having him win six in a row and I really do want him to eventually wipe Sampras out of the record books.

Nadal was impressive though and equally responsible for providing us all with such an awesome match. It was going to and fro, with an unbelievable number of break points being lost by Federer and won by Nadal. The bittersweetness of tennis comes out of its scoring system where you can still lose even if you win the most games. In this way it's such a big shame that Federer lost after beating his way back in after finding himself down after two sets.

I won't bother giving the low down of the match - you can get that somewhere else. I'm just here to record that when one of the greatest matches in tennis history was being played, I had the pleasure of watching it live.

Saturday, July 5

Confusing The Hell Out Of The MySQL Optimiser

Since I'm more academic and theorist than implementer, I made the decision to use as many good principles as possible whilst designing the database underlying my new project.

"Good" is subjective of course, but in this case, amongst other things, it meant placing the database in as high normal form as possible (although since that's all terribly confusing I'm not entirely sure how high I currently am; somewhere between 5th and 6th I reckon), to not access any tables directly and instead use views-on-views and to only allow updates via stored procedure calls.

Most of this, although time consuming, is easy. Normalising data is trivial if you really know the data you're trying to represent, and writing update procs is as simple as writing the update statement itself. However it was the use of views which proved to be the biggest pain for me so far.

Now I must admit that I never took this approach in any of the work I did using MSSQL. For one thing I wasn't using a database of my own design: it wasn't completely normalised and so views weren't used. Secondly, it wasn't insisted upon in my place of work and so I never got into the habit. Still, I suspect that MSSQL would have no problem in the use of nested views.

MySQL, the database system I've used for the back end of this project seems to have big problems dealing with views, most of them to do with optimisation. Take my most recent problem for example. I have a complex view (where "complex" means it's been defined on further views) which for my test data returns a single row in 16ms. If I try to join this on itself using a single join criteria, I'll have to wait over an hour for any results to come back.

My first thought was that the join was occurring inefficiently - that table scans were happening recursively or something. Indeed the EXPLAIN for the query (used to display the execution plan for a query) indicated that keys were sometimes not being used in any of the joins (remember, the view itself had many joins within it).

This was a bit of a red herring though. For one thing, the EXPLAIN itself was taking an hour to return. For another, my test data was trivial with no table containing more than 10 rows. Even the slowest look up shouldn't take an hour to complete. Further research revealed that the optimiser was clever enough to skip using keys if table data is small, hence the results of my EXPLAIN.

So I turned to the server itself. According to its connection status screen, my query was stuck in the STATISTICS state for the bulk of the time which it was stalled. A quick search revealed this to be the stage where the optimiser tries to determine the best execution plan to follow. In short, MySQL spent an hour thinking of the best way of running my query, and then spent 16ms (or whatever) actually running it.

I'm not sure of the details, but it seems that some queries can confuse the optimiser so much that it ends up considering every possible order of any joins in them. I reckon that there were over 10 joins in all within my views, resulting in over 10! or 10000000000 possible execution plans. In a normal optimisation process, many of these would be rejected as being obviously slow, but just not in this case - most probably due to the number of views involved.

You can force MySQL to stop looking after a bit by setting optimizer_search_depth to a value lower than its (incredibly high in my opinion) default of 62. Setting it to 4 allowed my query to complete in 20ms or so. The down side is that the truly optimal path could be missed, something that could be a major issue once my data grows sufficiently. For now I'll leave it on its "auto" setting of 0.

So an unlucky bug then? Perhaps. It's worrying though, since I don't believe that what I'm doing is that advanced or undocumented - someone should have had this problem before, and it should have been fixed then. More scary is the advice I was originally given when asking for possible solutions to my problem; that was to get rid of my views and access the base tables directly. Such advice totally misses the point, and I'm hoping bad design won't be a prerequisite for using MySQL.

Film: Kung Fu Panda Click for more info

I'm not quite sure how to write this review without making Kung Fu Panda sound like any other animated film released this side of the year 2000.

It's inevitably funny, romantic, action-packed, looks wonderful and manages to suck you right in throughout. The voice acting (supplied by what now seem like old hands Jack Black, Angelina Jolie and others) is brilliant too.

I would say that it's all a bit short lived - I counted around three or four phases to the film in total - but what is there is very good. Otherwise there's not much left to say really; I'll place Kung Fu Panda in my top five of films from this genre, and although it's not quite an Incredibles or Ratatouille, but is wholeheartedly recommended nonetheless.

Thursday, July 3

Film: Hancock Click for more info

Will Smith stars as a loser superhero, saving lives but being reckless, irresponsible and a bit of a dick while doing so. One saved soul, who happens to be a publicist, decides to help Hancock out by advising him on how to change his image in order to "interface" with the public in a more positive way.

Well, that's different enough to make this a somewhat original film, I guess. But originality alone doesn't make a good film. That's not to say Hancock is bad, it's just not that great.

Not a lot happens for a start; this is not surprising given the films 90 minute runtime. Sure, the actual superhero scenes are pretty impressive, with lots of flash, bang and whallop, and you really engage with all the characters as they laugh and cry.

What the film fails to deliver on is the plot. There just isn't enough of it, and what little there is really doesn't make much sense. This is a shame since the film doesn't quite manage to survive on its looks alone.

Hancock is a cute little disposable movie that's worth watching provided you're not looking for anything too deep, but will disappoint if you need more than that. That said I can't quite bring myself to not recommend it either.

A Writer For Real Click for more info

I'm pleased to announce that I've had an article published in the July 2008 issue of Emel Magazine. It's s 2000 word travel piece on my time in Andalucia and I must admit that it looks quite swish on glossy paper.

To be honest I was a bit reluctant to do the article after a friend suggested to the guys at Emel that I could write a bit. It was more nerves and a lack of confidence than anything else, I guess; suppose it turned out rubbish? But I managed to get something out to them anyway (not that it's not rubbish, of course).

And I'm glad I did. I mean hey: Emel isn't the biggest magazine and I didn't get paid to write this particular article, but it is read by people all over the place and you can buy it in WH Smiths (possibly the best £3.50 I've spent on a mag) so it's some kind of achievement, and possibly more importantly, a start.

Even though it's a simple thing to see your name in print, the effect is pretty amazing and I can't stop grinning as I repeatedly leaf through the article. Reading it back there's so many changes I'd like to make (alas there's no edit button here) but I guess that's the curse of having something published on paper.

Anyway for those of you who want to have a look, the article starts on page 74 of the July 2008 issue. Unfortunately there is no online link (click through to see the cover and contents) but if you really want to read it and yet don't manage to grab an issue, drop me a line. And if you do end up reading it, I'd love to know what you thought about it too.

Wednesday, July 2

Food: Red Dragon Click for more info

Halal Chinese! Yay!

Just in case you missed it, that's a bit of a sarcastic celebration up there; I've not really been impressed with previous attempts at Halal Chinese food (namely Shere Khan's, Fusion and TKC), so I wasn't really expecting much from Red Dragon either. That could actually be why I was so pleasantly surprised, since the place wasn't all that bad after all.

Yes the food is greasy (I expect to still feel greasy in a couple of days), but there's plenty of it available in the wide ranging and varying buffet. It all tasted pretty well too, particularly the more simple dishes like the satay, deep fried prawns and spring rolls, all of which I could probably eat all day.

Best of all is the price - I'm not sure how much the buffet itself was but we got charged nine quid for it with drinks. That's pretty amazing value, even if you consider the quality of the food! There wasn't much else to complain about either - the place was clean and conducive to us having a good time (although they did refuse to serve tap water, which I'm certain is illegal or something).

If you're passing you could do worse. My only regret is that it would be way too unhealthy to visit Red Dragon more than once or twice a year!

Shak's Choice: Angelina Jolie

Yes, it's an obvious one - but then I've never claimed to be anti-establishment about these things. Angelina is currently playing the assassin Fox in Wanted, where she demonstrates exactly what makes her so alluring:

More than the looks, it's the attitude. Shame about the tats though.

Tuesday, July 1

Film: Wanted Click for more info

There isn't much wrong with Wanted. It's funny, action-packed and has an engaging premise about a guild of assassins. It lacks any fat or filler, the acting is good and the actors pretty. In fact it's amongst the best couple of hours I've watched this year.

I would say that the ending isn't quite up to the standard as the rest of the film, but since I can't quite say why I don't think it took away anything from my enjoyment of the film. Oh and, unusually for me I found Angelina Jolie to be totally hot - this is the assassin she should have been in Mr and Mrs Smith.

It's pretty much as simple as that - go watch.


Shak says (15:48):
    oh man
    carzy town on bbc2
xxxx says (15:50):
    dont wathc it!
    it'll kill your brain
Shak says (15:50):
    i was mesmerised for a bit
Shak says (15:51):
    but luckliy it was the end
    and the credits rolled
xxxx says (15:51):
    those kids things are too freacky
Shak says (15:52):
    the whole prog is screwed
    grown men dancing with little girls?

Film: Adulthood Click for more info

I loved Kidulthood, the 2005 film which Adulthood follows on from. It's six years later as we join Sam in his first day after being released from prison, and we see how his freedom affects him and those around him.

Having such a firm basis to go on, Adulthood had most of its premise already made for it. We're still in gritty West London, where crime seems to pay pretty well and the place is full of kids that would keep The Daily Mail busy for years. There's still the same violence, sex and foul language we saw before although in my opinion it was used in a less real and authentic way.

But that's not the least of the problems this film has. There was definitely something missing throughout - I blame the shallow, single minded plot as it desperately tried to get through to the end. The film end up being just a roll call really, and fails even in that as some of the characters have changed in the last six years.

Gone are the layers and side arcs that made the previous film so ace; there's no romance, there's no comedy and there's no realism. The acting is also not up to par, although since that was hardly the compelling reason to watch the previous film either that's more an observation than a criticism.

So a bit of a let down then? It's hard to imagine anything from the stables that brought us Kidulthood to be a cash in, yet that's exactly what Adulthood feels like. That's pretty unfortunate actually.