Sunday, August 31

Nokia E71 Click for more info

I know I've said it before, but I truly believe that my good ol' Sony Ericsson K750i was the best phone ever made. It was fast, functional and had very little annoying bits to it. However it's important to recognise that this ace phone was from an age where a phone didn't really have to do that much - make calls, manage contacts and perhaps take a decent photo and you were done really. Personally I need a few other bits and bobs including a candybar form factor (moving parts equals wearing out in my opinion) and REAL BUTTONS™ instead of this touch screen nonsense - how else are you supposed to use your phone without looking?

But now you need a phone to do much more than that - mainly because of the Internet factor and being able to communicate and remain connected at all times. Although for many this means a fast data connection and ability to run fancy photo-geotagging applications, for me it means one thing - and that's a QWERTY keyboard. This was the silver bullet for me: no more struggling with crappy T9 implementations placing "of" instead of "me" (or vice versa at times when you needed the opposite), or having to delete and respell garbage that the "intelligent" system thought you meant to write.

In fact my perfect phone would have simply been a faster K800i with a hard keyboard - I just don't need any of that smart Symbian/Winmob/OSX/Android stuff to send emails and text messages. Unfortunately the market for dumb QWERTY phones just doesn't exist, even though you can get dumb touch screen ones.

But even if I did open myself up to considering a smart phone, there still weren't any that cut the mustard - there were either major omissions (like a camera, no matter how poor), or a lack of cutting edge technology (which I realise contradicts the above, but if I'm getting a new phone I may as well have one with HSPDA and GPS, right?).

But then Nokia went and released the E71. A candybar QWERTY phone (already repeatedly mistaken for a Blackberry by some friends) with an okay camera (which appears to be slightly worse than my K800's) and all the bells and whistles I could want? Yes please.

Okay, so I would have to convert to the church of Nokia and their weird way of doing things (what? Still no abstract connection pools? I have to set each application?) but the cost should be worth it. And besides, it's not like I'm going to be using it to do anything but text, mail, surf, instant message, track my running, use Google Maps, blog on the go, take random notes... Hmm, wait a minute. Perhaps this will change the way I do things after all?

Anyway it's fast (no more waiting for menus to catch up with me!), slick and does the job so far. And I can finally type what I want and when I want to without relying on some dumbass typing aid getting in the way. Hooray.

Saturday, August 30

Film: Babylon A.D. Click for more info

Run of the mill cyberpunk wannabe about a refugee smuggler (Diesel) attempting to deliver a "package" to New York.

Not terribly impressive but not a total waste of time either, there is enough packed in the 90 minutes of running time to make it all feel much longer; in fact the pace is sometimes a bit too fast and before you know it a good action scene is over.

I wouldn't go as far as recommending it for a watch in cinema, but as something on DVD there's not much to complain about.

Friday, August 29

On Free Will and Destiny

A confusing issue for many people, particularly Muslims, is that of Written Destiny and our own Free Will and how to reconcile the two. We're taught that certain, if not all, things are written down and how if they're not then they won't happen at all. Events that are predetermined in this way, and there's no way of changing or prompting them to happen sooner or later (the classic example in my case being the time, date and details of my wedding day).

The simple implication which follows from all this is to see ourselves as nothing more than robots following a program written specifically for us. Some people go on to conclude that, since we're not really in control of our actions we no longer need to bear responsibility for them - or at the very least it would be unfair to receive reward or punishment for something we didn't have a choice in doing. In short: what, then, is the point of it all?

Some propose what I like to call the big-small idea: that the "big" things are set in stone and written, while the "small" things aren't and can be changed or done in a different way. I don't really buy this for many reasons: firstly what exactly is big and what exactly is small, and where are these things defined? Secondly, since life's events are all intertwined and related then the small things have an effect on the big and vice versa, and so their importance collapses into one level anyway. Finally, and most importantly I think, by saying that the small things are undefined we're actually claiming that God has no knowledge of them, which could actually be bordering on some kind of blasphemy.

Others try to create a composite idea that subsumes the two concepts - that either we freely choose to follow our destinies or it's our destiny to have free will. I don't think either really make sense though. Still, there's plenty that's been written about this apparent paradox already and I'm both not qualified or inclined to tackle it on a philosophical level at any real depth.

Personally though I see the concept of destiny as a recognition of God's ultimate ability to see all that there is. For us humans, who usually see time as flowing in one direction with ordered causes and effects, it's sometimes difficult to appreciate that from His viewpoint God is able to see it all happening at the same time; it's not like he's waiting patiently for us to live out our lives only to say "I told you so!" at the end of them. Unfortunately we just have to be boring, follow things through and find out what happens in a linear fashion.

But apart from being an interesting yet academic topic to discuss with mates on a boring evening, I don't think "destiny vs free will" is a particularly relevant question to ask really; not on any kind of practical level anyway. But since simply dismissing something as being irrelevant is always a bit of a cop out let me go on and explain what I actually mean. There are two issues here, first of choice and secondly of value.

Let's start with choice. Say I'm standing at the edge of a cliff. The choice is mine to jump or not (even though many of you are currently wishing I would), and unless I'm schizophrenic I won't feel that anyone else is influencing that decision - it would take a weird kind of self reference to convince myself to jump because my destiny is telling me to. Best to just cut the whole thing out.

Another example is how one can definitely say that they won't have kids if they remain celibate - and yes, there are famous precedents of God doing what he wills, but I think that's a different concept to destiny; I don't take direct action of this sort as a correction to our potential ability to decide on our own destinies or anything, but more of a way of God demonstrating his power. But anyway the same analogies can be widened to cover the choosing of what's good and what's bad and what's in between during our everyday lives.

But what of the value of our actions? Well, if we take destiny as a simple way to say that God knows all outcomes, then we can say this knowledge doesn't really matter - in a similar way to a director knowing the ending to his own film not affecting our viewing of it for the first time. Or how using unwittingly loaded dice will not affect your bet, even though the person who gave it to you knows you'll throw sixes.

Or more subtly, how if a couple know each other so well as to predict with great accuracy how the other will act, then this still won't undermine the value of those actions. Just because someone knows what you'll do, that doesn't mean you don't have to do it - the only difference with destiny is that God knows with perfect accuracy and totality what's going to happen (although as I touched on above it's not "going to happen" for God).

But if all that has made your head explode anyway and you find yourself still needing to pick a side, well I find myself more comfortable with the idea that I'm in control of my own actions and so will be rewarded for them in kind at some point. I think stressing this stance for yourself isn't necessarily rejecting the notion of destiny, but more acknowledging what will help you live your life in the best possible manner. If you do that much, well then at the end of the day does it really matter whether it was you or someone else who made you do it?

As always, IANAS.

Thursday, August 28

Film: Get Smart Click for more info

I remember how morning telly during the summer holidays sometimes meant Get Smart - I don't really remember much of the show itself but I loved the opening scene with the telephone booth and laughing my little socks off at the goofiness of it all. I just had to watch the remake, perhaps out of some kind of tribute to those times.

But the film version of Get Smart was pretty good in its own right too - most importantly it is seriously funny and I was caught many times laughing out loud at the countless one liners, slapstick and punchlines throughout. The plot is kinda irrelevant in such a film, but there was enough going on in the world of Control to keep those who need a story busy too. The characters were adequately brought to to life too, with both Steve Carell and the increasingly hot Anne Hathaway filling the classic roles well, while the makers didn't slack in their production values either.

In a time where comedy seems synonymous with smut, it's nice to find some good clean and hilarious fun. Recommended.

Wednesday, August 27

Shoes Glorious Shoes

Although many may question this, the public disclosing of my interest in ladies' shoes, it's not exactly a secret to many of you anyway; and hey, it's not like it's something I'm particularly ashamed of either.

I must admit that an eyebrow or two are raised by those women whose shoes I complement or comment on. Soon enough however this suspicion makes way for genuine appreciation of my interest and feedback, and many choose to ignore the possibility of me having a seriously unhealthy problem in the form of a shoe fetish. As well they should, of course.

Perhaps a post like this will encourage others to admit to their interest in the topic while simultaneously perhaps we can save those girls who just can't seem to get their footwear right from making further mistakes - I've spent many an evening shoe shopping with friends who respect my opinion in these matters. Well, kind of anyway. It's okay guys (you know who you are): no need to thank me.

As is the norm with ladies fashion, the biggest issue with shoes for the fairer sex is the dazzling array of choice on offer. Having said that, it's easy enough to discount whole lines based on their fundamental wrongness and after this has been done the decision making becomes a fair bit more manageable.

First up, chuck out the wedges. I've mentioned before how I just don't buy the argument about stability, and I realise that I'm still no structural engineer but I still don't. If you really want height, but can't manage a thin heel, then stick to a wide one.

On the other hand, shoes are so easy to get right too. Two words girls: Mary Janes. Mary Janes are always awesome, whether flat or heeled. And while we're on the subject of elevation most flats are automatically a brilliant pick too; although many use them for a height boost, heels are really only used to make legs look better and so if you're not wearing a skirt then they're not really relevant. That said, a decent pair of platforms (see here) would work, even if your calves aren't on show.

Another no-brainer is the wearing of boots. These alone have many subtypes and styles, but as long as you avoid anything that reminds you of a hooker you should be fine. Also bear in mind that they should be knee-high only - ankle high boots are a big no-no even if worn under trousers.

Open toes are very risky. Provided your dinky digits are up to the task, sandals and strappies can work, but it's up to you to be honest and objective about your own little piggies (and judging by what goes on out there many aren't honest at all). I really don't see the point in the half-way houses that are peep/peek toes so I wouldn't even bother with those.

Finally, and probably most importantly, always always always remember function over form. Trainers are better than dress shoes if you're happier in them: on the whole watching a lady struggle to walk while dislocating a toe (or three) isn't aesthetically pleasing no matter how fancy her shoes are. On the other hand, I reckon that allowing yourself to walk with confidence and comfort would do wonders for your well being, literally both inside and out.

Saturday, August 23

48 Months, 208 Weeks, 1425 Days

Or in other words, four years.

To be honest I'm struggling as to what to choose for the theme of this, the post dedicated to Radio Shak's fourth birthday. I've done the whole favourites thing and I've also written about why I write what I write. After that there's little to be retrospective about; maybe I should just stick to the typical "I never thought I'd last this long" mantra. Meh, let's see how it goes anyway.

This time last year I was blogging as a way to pass time at work - there, I've finally said it. And so it's not entirely ironic that my output has reduced since I quit; I've actually got better things to do now, plus there's the hard hitting fact that I'm no longer actually getting paid while taking time out from a hard day's slog for a few minutes in which to write.

But whether I have a good reason or not, the content within Radio Shak has suffered somewhat over the past six months. It feels a bit weird to apologise because a) I'm sure you don't care enough, b) I'm sure I don't care enough and c) it's not that important anyway.

The level of quality here has also had its ups and downs - on the one hand I'm always shocked at how bad my writing has been in the earlier years, but then judging by the number of corrective emails I've been receiving after posting lately, it doesn't seem to have improved much really either.

On the other hand, I'm now a fully fledged published writer, so perhaps I've outgrown the whole entire blogosphere? I don't think so - and as it's traditional to mention my ever growing drafts folder during my birthday posts I do so now as proof of my need of this place as an output for my brain.

So no, there'll be no apologies or justifications here, but instead a recognition of the ongoing metamorphosis of this place. I don't think I'll ever truly stop blogging as some of my peers have sensationally (or at least claimed to have) done - there's far too many benefits in keeping this for me to do that, including the all important one of making new friends and relating to people.

At the very least there should be enough here for you to read as a lazy Friday afternoon work time-pass. It's okay, I know where I stand with you guys.

Here's to the next 8766 hours then!

Monday, August 18

Full Circle

Someone in my family told me a joke over the weekend. It's probably well heard, but it went something like this:

Some guy was being given a tour of Satan's pit. The first thing he noticed was the angels standing at the mouth of the pit, throwing those trying to escape back into the fiery depths.

However there was one part of the area where there were no angels, and further, no-one trying to get out. When asked about this state of affairs, the tour guide replied: "Oh, there? That's where the Pakistanis are. We don't need any guards with them because as soon as anyone tries to get out, we know there'll always be one of their countrymen pulling them back in".

I won't claim to know much about Pakistani politics, but I have been around long enough to observe that a sudden and atypical change in power is something that happens every ten years or so; there were no surprises today, and there probably won't be anymore in the years upcoming.

Whether Musharraf was good or bad for Pakistan, with no common figure to fight and scapegoat I don't see any reason for a coalition government created for mainly that one reason to exist any more. I'm not questioning the intent of any of the people left in power, but there comes a point when even a layman realises that what Pakistan needs is a good 20 years or so of stability, be it under good or bad leadership.

See you all in ten years time then.

Sunday, August 17

Kamran and Aneeqa

Although I like to think that I can relate to a wide range of people, this is usually on a limited and narrow basis and on things like religion, age, sense of humour, background, mindset or perviness. The fact is that those I can relate to on a wider range are few and far between, something that may have arisen from how extremely balanced (read: screwed up and contradictory) I like to think I am.

I've not known Kamran for that long. Despite that I found that we formed an immediate affinity with one another based on a variety of things (like religion, age, sense of humour, background, mindset or perviness) resulting in a friendship that felt older than it was. There is no less indication of this than going away on holiday together (albeit as part of a group of four) to Israel, hardly the least stressful of places but a brilliant and successful holiday nonetheless. Not bad for a Northerner, eh?

In a selfish way then Kamran's marriage to Aneeqa is encouraging to me since it means that someone with a similar character and make-up can find another who can understand them enough to marry them. Not that this is a one way relationship - although I've not spent a great deal of time with her it is clear that Aneeqa is a great woman in her own right and that Kamran is extremely lucky to have her. Their union is also an excellent example of how a clear and directed introduction between two people with the same intention can have such brilliant results; and if I say they made it all look so easy and textbook I'm in no way undermining the bond they clearly have between them.

Saturday, August 16

Film: Bachna Ae Haseeno Click for more info

With a 3:1 ratio of girls to boys, there was no chance that I wouldn't enjoy Bachna Ae Haseeno. The film tells of Raj (Ranbir Kapoor) and his various relationships as he goes on through life, learning lessons as he goes.

Well made and produced there isn't much to complain about here. BAH is as funny, cute and sassy as the three women who lead it - and I can't even knock the endearing Kapoor as he charmed his way through the 3 hours or so and it's been a while since I wasn't totally annoyed by a leading male. Major props also go to Bipasha and Minissha Lamba, but I have to say both take a massive second place behind the magnificent Deepika Padukone, whom I seem to have fallen brutally hard for. Hey look, it's real this time okay?

It was great to see more of Australia (this time, Sydney including Bondi Beach) and Switzerland, but even better to have a film of this stature taking place in Mumbai too. Music-wise the film does better than the dross we've been seeing lately, with the track list being both fun and apt to the respective situation at hand.

I would say that the film isn't as deep as it could have been - the cost of developing three different relationships when other films struggle with just the one. But still as long as you're not expecting anything more than a good time pass you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, August 10

Food: Thai Thai Click for more info

I'm not a particularly big fan of Thai food, but I was impressed by the spread offered by Thai Thai, perfect for a lazy Sunday dinner. The place was quiet and easily accommodated the twelve of us who were there, allowing us to all chat and have (often loud) fun easily.

The food was better than average, all of us content with the generous portions provided. In fact despite my order not even making the kitchen there was enough to go around. The place was clean too, but although polite the service left much to be desired (I'm still a bit upset that I didn't get my prawns).

A 50% Top Table offer sealed the deal and we ended up paying around 14 quid a head. A nice place, and inevitably the place we'll be returning to for a cheap and cheerful Thai.

Saturday, August 9

Shak's Choice: Katrina Kaif

Okay, I'll confess. I wasn't a big fan of Katrina during her earlier big hitters. I personally blame her for starring alongside (and later dating) Salman Khan, somehow disliking her by association. Still the fact is my opinion of her has gone from "meh" to "hmmm, maybe", finally landing firmly on "OMFG UGUGUGGU" and her performance in Singh is Kinng just went on to cement that:

And to top it all off she's a Londoner! Not that's, uh, surprising or anything. I know lots of Asian Londonettes who are just as pretty if not more so. Uh... I'll be off now...

Film: Singh is Kinng Click for more info

Massively hilarious flick about a Sikh chap named Happy Singh, sent to Australia to pick up his misbehaving gang leader cou... you know what? The details don't matter much. Just know that this is one of the funniest films I've seen in the past couple of years, be it from Bolly or Hollywood. I honestly can't remember the last time I laughed so hard.

The film was all about Akshay Kumar, and adds to a series of films that have just been increasing the respect I have for him as an actor. His acting, timing and fun factor were all just spot on, and it was pretty clear from the start that Singh just wouldn't have been the same without him. A nod also goes to Katrina Kaif, but only 'cos she seems to be becoming more and more attractive each time I watch a film with her in it.

The film was well produced too; we were laughing with the script rather than at it and the makers didn't lose the plot too much towards the end. It was good to see them not letting the film fail in other respects after they had clearly nailed the comedy. It was also nice to see Brisbane and the Gold Coast making an appearance in a Bolly flick.

But how meaningful was it all? A lot has been said in the media about how a film like this will bring the Sikh religion and culture to the forefront (this, despite the film clearly stating that it's not making any statement on religion). Unfortunately I have to agree with the sentiment; there's no way one can take a film like this seriously and a part of me wonders even if it could have been offensive.

Still judging by the reaction of the audience, a number of whom were clearly of the faith, Singh was universally accepted as comic gold. Definitely recommended.

Friday, August 8

Considering Unwants

I once met a guy quite a while back and since we were both single at the time the conversation inevitably turned to marriage (not to each other, of course).

We were similar in quite a few ways. We had the same expectations and strategies, the same reasons for notbeingmarriedyet. There was one big difference though: where I was complaining about a lack of opportunities back then, he was complaining about how there were were just too many for him to choose from.

And as I met more single people, it became clear that my new friend above wasn't alone in this complaint. Although still in a minority there seemed to be a lot of people (mostly male, although there were women too) who seemed stuck in the face of overwhelming choice. It's the classic candy shop syndrome where although you want everything (or more accurately bits of everything), you can't. A couple of these people even had that mythical spreadsheet we sometimes hear about, used to keep track of the pros and cons of each potential partner they meet.

It appeared that, ironically, the more people a person met the larger number of general qualities they discover that they want in their partner - even if many of these qualities are diametrically opposed to each other. Thus it becomes almost impossible to have it all (well not in one single person anyway), and unreasonable to expect it.

On the face of it, this can be reduced to plain ol' fussiness - to the external observer there are plenty of pairs who meet the minimum requirements of each other and yet do not hook up. The sad fact is that often someone is not good enough because there are other people who are better. The problem with this is that there'll always be someone "better" and the list of your wants becomes infinitely long. As an aside some people handle this by drawing on other people for the bits missing from their partners - but whether this is something acceptable or not is out of the scope of this post.

Anyway the result is complaining about too many boys or girls and not being able to choose between them because they're all relevant and great in their own way. In some strange way the problem isn't finding different things wrong with them, it's repeatedly finding nothing wrong with them at all. I'd draw a Venn diagram at this point but that may push those of you who got this far over the edge.

So how about considering your unwants over your wants instead? As in, making sure you don't have the things that you most definitely DON'T want? I mean they can be shallow or deep criteria with objective or subjective reasonings: from whether they will annoy the hell out of you, or them not practising religion or them just not being attractive enough.

The point isn't whether one has the right to have these restrictions but whether they know for sure that are true dealbreakers. And although, as with requirements, these anti-requirements can change over time and from person to person (so for example you may only expect someone to be practising if they follow the same religion as you do), they don't grow indefinitely like the previous list did. And eventually if you meet someone who doesn't have any of these unwants perhaps they should be seriously considered?

And finally there is something that the use of spreadsheets, lists of wants and unwants and cost-benefit analysis totally misses, and that's considering the feeling of a situation. There's nothing wrong with not liking huge amounts of potentials - the only person this really affects is yourself. The danger is declining out of habit, 'cos you might just accidentally throw someone you actually like out with the bathwater. And in that sense perhaps the actual numbers don't matter and those of us who complain about a lack of potentials are just as guilty as those who complain about the opposite.

Originally drafted 14th March 2007.


xxxx says (08:07):
    ****** *****
    lottery site is down
    i wanted to buy my tickets at 08:08:08
Shak says (08:07):
Shak says (08:08):
    youre a mate
    but youre also a ****** idiot
xxxx says (08:08):
    hey man
    it's all about the lottery!
    when i make 30m youll be sorry!
Shak says (08:08):
    youre right. i will be
    but youll still be a ****** idiot :D
Shak says (08:09):
    what happened to makingyour own luck?!?!


xxxx says (08:09):
    hey man .... this is making my own luck
Shak says (08:09):
    you sincerely beleive that buying a ticket at 8/8/8/8/8 would get you something?


xxxx says (08:09):
    it's the luckiest day of the year


xxxx says (08:13):
    it's like going to vega!
    I'm no card counter
    just haivng a bit of fun
    it's like
Shak says (08:13):
    do you get some hot blonde to blow on yur dice?
xxxx says (08:13):
    getting some hot chick to kiss the dice
Shak says (08:13):
    i wanna do that :D
xxxx says (08:13):
    is it blow?
    i tohght they kis it
Shak says (08:13):
    who cares
    as longas they talk to me :D


xxxx says (08:14):
    but then they'll get all the nasty bacterai from the dice on their lips
    when you make your millions ... go to vegas and flaunt your cash


xxxx says (08:14):
    you';l have a line of fit chicks waiting to 'blow' your dice

Tuesday, August 5

Film: Hellboy II: The Golden Army Click for more info

After learning that Pan's Labyrinth's Guillermo del Toro was to direct Hellboy II I suddenly begun to look forward to the sequel of the 2004 anti-superhero flick. I didn't think much of Hellboy and figured that del Toro's grim yet fantastic imagination would add much needed excitement to the series. What I didn't realise at the time was that he also directed the first film too.

And in fact not much has changed with Hellboy II. Sure there is a lot more fantasy, with weird demons and creatures abound, but the film still manages to merely tick along, generating a few scraps of genuine interest along the way. For example, look out for the breaking of the fourth wall during the auction house scene.

I did enjoy it more than the last film, but since it fails for the same reason I can't bring myself to recommend it other than as part of an evenings DVD viewing. Disappointing.

New Music

No Air - Jordin Sparks feat. Chris Brown

It was only a matter of time before I cracked. Yes, this is a track from that current slew of teen artists with increasingly crap lyrics whom we seem to be awash with nowadays. My only consolation is that Chris Brown is merely featuring in this one, and that I still don't have any of his music proper in my collection.

Monday, August 4

Going Back To Java

I wrote some Java today. A whopping seven years after I last did so.

Java was pretty much what I cut my programming teeth on (well in a production sense at least - good ol' Haskell was what I had really lost my virginity to), it being the academic flavour of the month during the 90s. Dotnet was it its infancy, C# some theoretical beta language that Microsoft were planning to take over the world with.

Java was a wonderful language to work with back then, despite the awkward graphical user interfaces (does Swing still exist?) and runtime considerations. It was one of the first mainstream languages to place as much importance on a complementary framework as it did the language itself - for many it wasn't the portability that made it so popular but the brilliant and complete class library. Conversely C++ is often closed off to newcomers not because of its syntax or memory semantics but due to a lack of any real standard way of using it.

I wrote my final year project in the language and had a paper published based on that work. I thought Java would be my future and threw myself at it. But it wasn't really meant to be.

Since both my jobs were total Microsoft houses, my commercial programming experience to date amounts to around seven years C# and dotnet, apparently an impressive amount given the age of the language. Still, that rich experience cost me any proficiency in Java I had and although I sincerely believe that a good programmer can code in any language, I did find it a shame that I didn't ever have a commercial use for it.

Until now of course. My insistence on making this project as cheap, open and standard as possible means no Windows; and no Windows means no dotnet.

Frankly after so much exposure to dotnet I was expecting to be thrown back into the stone ages with anything else, but seven years is a long time in the land of computing and I was shocked to see how far Java has come. The scene is now awash with a frankly confusing number of swanky IDEs, application frameworks and servers, many open source and free. Community support, opinion and mindshare is also high, at least as much as with the equivalent Microsoft technologies.

In fact I spent most of today not coding but getting my head around the dazzling range of options that comes with the platform (and if anyone is interested for now I've settled on Glassfish for an application server and am looking at the usefulness of the Spring framework in my work). And I've not even looked at any of the new language features. Dependency injection? Oh yes please.

I'm actually pretty excited, especially after the underwhelming experience I had with MySQL. Even the obligatory "Hello World!" application I just had to write had me grinning like a kid.

XKCD Click for more info

Okay, I can't say I've ever contributed to this telling stat, but there's a point in there somewhere anyway:

So yes boys and girls, ignore what I say and just GO FOR IT!

Sunday, August 3

Being Misunderstood

As some of you may know, I'm a very literal person. I try my best not to be ambiguous, and don't assume those I'm talking to have an innate psychic ability. I also try to be as accurate and clear when making a point. Ironically however, it seems to precisely be this attitude that results in my being so misunderstood. Some examples you ask? Well okay then.

Take a recent invitation I received to an Islamic course. After reading the brief yet clearly spammed message (I've written about the abuse of BCC before) and considering both the course and school I replied with an admittedly short but (in my opinion) appreciative:

cheers! but ill pass....
I'm hoping the individual in this particular case doesn't mind me cutting and pasting the above, but I feel it's important to be accurate here. Apologies if this and what follows violates personal emails but I'm trying to make a point about me, not anyone else.

Fast forward to a week later, and after meeting the original emailer in person and I suddenly find myself being verbally kicked in the nuts for being terse, blunt, and, ultimately, rude. On asking how I was supposed to have replied, I was told that I should have wrapped the declination with smalltalk and things: so, a "how are you" here and a "how's life" there - pretty rhetorical if you ask me. On asking how many people actually replied and further thanked her for the message it turned out that I was the only one. In effect, I would have been better off just ignoring the email altogether.

But my friend here wasn't alone in this assessment of my tone. Another present gave their own example of my feeble use of communication, and this time I was being blunt for offering the following after being asked for some travelling tips in a country I had recently visited:
not really - XXX is pretty neat and easy to travel in. do you want the number of the driver we had there?
I was even more surprised this time, partly because I couldn't quite remember the occasion anyway, but mostly because I had such a brill time in this place that it would have been my pleasure helping someone else experience the same. And looking at the context of the email there wasn't any indication that I had offended anyone at the time either.

So how come I'm so out of touch? So misunderstood? Are my attempts at being straight-up, transparent and answering exactly what's being asked of me inappropriate in a world where people expect something much more?

Interestingly enough my "cheers! but ill pass" above became a "NO THANKS" (capitals and all) when I was being told off for it, so some kind of miscommunication is happening somehow. Should I always assume the things I say will be transmitted so erroneously? But if so what hope do I have in saying anything accurately? I really don't know and don't usually find out until its too late. Perhaps the issue is me not giving the right rather than how I'm saying it; but unless I should be developing an ability to read the minds of others, I don't see how I can fix that without them telling me what they actually want (you know, using words).

It's almost as if some think I go out of my way to craft such deeply double-speaking messages, or that I have the ability to encode reams of meaning in so few words. I certainly don't think that I do - the verbosity of some of my posts here kinda suggests that if I'm short of anything, words it ain't.

I'm reminded of Captain Subtext, a gag character from the BBC's Coupling (one of my favourite sitcoms) demonstrating how easily the "simple" things men say can be interpreted as something much more deep and meaningful by those of the opposite sex. But although the above examples both involve girls I've had the same criticism made of me by guys too so it's definitely an asexual problem in this case. Furthermore it doesn't just happen over email - I've had problems in one on one situations and can't use the phone to save my life (but more on that in a further post). I've also have a habit of lamenting how misunderstood I am (here and here).

Still, I'm lucky in that most of the time my verbal faux pas aren't taken too seriously - in the examples given above I don't think I had offended those involved too much and I've yet to lose friends over my inability to communicate with them properly (or at least manage to catch and rectify myself before it's too late). However, a more serious issue is when I have someone take me aside to "make their peace" over an incident I've either totally forgotten about or, worse still, totally passed me by altogether. I'm not saying I'm immune to getting into serious rows with my friends, but it's quite worrying when I'm not even aware that I'm smack in the middle of one.

But I am open to making adjustments in my style if necessary - yet even my relatively recent use of smilies doesn't seem to get me off the hook. I read somewhere about how the best communicators consider the people they intend on communicating with - this certainly goes for the method in which they do so (so they won't text someone if they suspect the recipient would prefer other means), but perhaps it counts for the actual style and language used too? Perhaps being efficient and to-the-point isn't the best thing to do if it's not wanted? And if I know someone prefers a particular style of writing then maybe I should stick to it no matter how superfluous, patronising or rhetorical I feel it is.

In short maybe empathy and and consideration is more important than what I think is most appropriate at the time?

And finally for those of you who will inevitably be offended by what I've written please don't be. Just put it down to my inability to say what I mean in a way everyone can understand it.

Saturday, August 2

Me Time

Digging through my draft posts I came across one I was half way through way back in 2006. I had just visited the London Motor Show on my own, and was going to write about how I had begun to appreciate my exclusive company. The Motor Show was one of many activities I had been going alone to, from films and talks to museums and galleries. I was going to say how liberating and fulfilling it all was and how everyone should try it.

For some reason I never got to finish that post - luckily (and sometimes not so luckily) I've had the pleasure of company in most of my leisurely pursuits since that time. Although it would be terrible to complain about something that, I have recently wanted to start doing things on my own again, especially after what seems like a recent stint of heavy communal partying, socialising and general hanging out.

And so I made a point of watching today's film on my own; although I did invite others to join (documentaries aren't popular on a sunny Saturday afternoon it seems) I didn't push any of them to actually come.

I had forgotten how valuable spending time dossing out and about on your own actually is. It was nice being left to my own devices and thoughts, and made it clear how sometimes you forget who you really are as you become accustomed to defining yourself by bouncing off those around you.

So just like I was going to write two years ago, here are some good reasons why it's healthy to proactively try to do fun things on your own:

  1. You may miss out on good things while waiting for others to join you.
  2. There may be a time when you don't have a choice and have to do things on your own, and so it's a good idea to become comfortable with yourself now.
  3. You may find yourself alone in a room full of people, reluctant to have yourself defined by those around you. It's good to know how to bring the person you want out in these situations.
  4. It's helpful to really know yourself and who you are, and this is sometimes difficult to do in the exclusive company of others.
  5. It's nice to be able to exist when no one else is around to appreciate you.
Nevertheless it (hopefully) goes without saying that I do absolutely enjoy the company of others, and definitely more so than when being alone - there's nothing like sharing a brilliant experience with friends, family and even otherwise. In fact it's telling how today's film had been suffixed by two parties (I crashed the second if you're wondering just exactly how popular I am) both of which were awesome purely because of the company present.

Still, I was glad to have some time on my own too - after all who wants to exist solely in the company of other people? Apart from during one specific situation (no prizes for guessing which), I don't think I do.

Film: Man on Wire Click for more info

Inspiring and humorous film about Philippe Petit and his team of international co-conspirators who broke into the World Trade Center, rigged a tightrope across them, and then danced across the hanging wire.

Despite being a documentary there seemed to be plenty of drama and fantasy involved during the telling of the story. The 70's had been recreated more than well enough and the characters were larger than life, clearly demonstrating that the same type of people who would take part in such a stunt are also amazing face to face here on earth too. In fact I'd say the actual wire walking was upstaged by Philippe et al and their passion for the cause.

Although my mind wandered more than a few times (probably due to my level of concentration rather than the film itself) Man on Wire is full of impossible-is-nothing stuff and recommended for those currently needing a bit of encouragement while facing a seemingly insurmountable task.

Friday, August 1

New Music

Viva La Vida - Coldplay

Well I guess you can officially call me a fan of Coldplay's new album then? Personally I reckon this is a bit of a christmassy song (probably the bells), but who cares if we got it a bit early?

Islamic Creativity

How do you know that you're being a good Muslim? Excuse the rhetorical vibe of the question, but I'm serious. How do you know that you're praying in the right way, or fasting correctly? I mean sure the question isn't trivial when we consider differences of opinion between madhabs or schools of thought, but I don't think it's that simple even if we consider it with reference to a single person's opinion either.

What I really want to talk about here is a possibly shallower level of practise than that of madhabs, and consider the actual rituals we put ourselves through.

Since that's not really clear, let me present an example. Take whudu, the ceremonial washing each Muslim who wishes to perform salaat (formal prayer) has to do before starting. Many of us were taught the procedure step-by-step, with meticulous detail put into where fingers should be as you wipe your hands over whichever part of the body you're cleaning.

Some of us are given a further, deeper insight and are taught a specific list of which parts of the washing are optional, and which are obligatory - the point being that the ceremony is good enough even if you just stick to the latter. These people have a better feeling about which bits of the whudu have more importance or meaning over the others.

However what many of us miss is the actual scriptural source used to establish these important bits. Generally, it's the Quran that establishes the minimum obligations (they being direct commandments from God) and the Hadith that establishes the rest. But apart from that distinction it's interesting to read exactly what's being asked of us.

Sticking to whudu (don't worry, there'll be a juicer example later on), the Quran may[1] only say to "wash your hands, face, hair and feet before prayer" and nothing more. From this quote we seem to have established pages and pages of precise instructions on how to do whudu, probably after a lengthy distillation process by those in the know in order to make rulings more accessible to the rest of us.

But what if I manage to get my hands, face, hair and feet washed in heavy rain? Or I take a dip in a lake or other pure water source without any intention of doing whudu before I did so? Practically suppose I'm in a rush and only have a 300ml bottle of mineral water on me - is it possible to do whudu with that?

Some will say no and that for varying reasons. The main ones are that it isn't appropriate, that the intent wasn't solely there or trivially that it wasn't done in the way the good ol' Taaleem-ul-Haq told us to do it. However from the Quranic quote it sounds like these are indeed all valid methods of doing whudu and personally it's the stance I take too.

Now I'm not saying we should trash non-Quranic instruction and reestablish Islam from the holy book - the Hadith and other scholarly advances made since the time of the Prophet are all supremely important and have immense value to those who wish to practise the religion fully. However I do think its worth knowing exactly why we're told to do what we are, and how important each particular bit is.

But why bother? Surely it's easier to just follow a list of pre-prepared instructions in order to fulfill your obligations to the religion? Well yes, in most cases I guess it is. I don't think knowing why necessarily adds depth to the things we do, but I don't think there's harm in doing a bit of background research anyway. But no, the main benefit I find in looking past a ruling is in the creativity and flexibility doing so can arm you with.

So I can do whudu in the rain, or a river, or using a bottle of mineral water. I can pray in places that aren't mosques or Muslim homes. I can consider the situations that existing rulings may not cover in their one-size-fits-all manner of doing things. And in my opinion it's sometimes better to be flexible and creative than miss out on something altogether due to not being able to fulfill narrower criteria, however useful they may be under normal circumstances.

However there are caveats. Confusion and difference can arise if you focus too much on a single verse or source - not that these are bad things in themselves and they're certainly not reasons to remain in ignorance. But the handful of verses talking about the hijab, none actually specifying an actual headcovering, have been the source of many a debate on whether a woman in Islam is obligated to cover her hair.

In any case there are times when this going back to basics approach may not be available, either due to the weight of the situation (I wouldn't run an Islamic state so flippantly) or a lack of knowledge and context (which can be fixed with further research), and I'm definitely not suggesting a free for all stance either. I even think its okay to stick to regular instruction if you're comfortable with doing so since it arrives at the same conclusion really - the only thing I'm really saying is to not be mindless when doing so.

I mean surely there must be more meaning to something if you know the manner in which you've been asked to do it? As always, IANAS.

[1] I'm paraphrasing here to make the point, so please don't take any quotes as verbatim.