Monday, December 28

Film: Sherlock Holmes Click for more info

I never mind a challenge when watching a film - I like having to concentrate on every little detail and always strive to get to the ending before the story itself does. But this kind of challenge in film is only good if it pays off with a good reward, and unfortunately Sherlock Holmes doesn't quite deliver. After you've managed to decipher all the long words and fast paced and gag-filled script there isn't much of a deep plot; and all the really hard bits are explained away with things like "bribery" and "coat hooks".

Robert Downey Jr is ace, as he always is, and perfect for the super-aware and slightly autistic Holmes. Jude Law is less of a gem in this movie and the rest of the cast manage to keep up to a minimum level. The film manages to pull off the re-imagining of Holmes as a violent play boy rather than gentleman (there's plenty of token Guy Ritchie during the fight scenes) and it all fitted pretty well. Old London was represented okay in a fantastical way but was hardly authentic.

Overall the film was pretty enjoyable but nevertheless a bit of a wasted opportunity what with the lack of any real payload (Moriarty has been saved for a sequel it seems). If the plot had as much intelligence as Sherlock himself then this could have been a cracker; but the real irony is how Guy Ritchie's other films manage to be much more smarter using much less vocabulary.

Friday, December 25

Film: 3 Idiots Click for more info

Fabulously fun factor filled film about a college student (somehow miraculous pulled off by Aamir Khan) teaching his friends and teachers (and teachers' daughters) about life; how it's not about grades or money or success but love, friendship and passion. But despite being heavy on the live lessons, 3 Idiots is never a chore to watch; quite contrary as what resulted was by far the best Bollywood film I've had the pleasure of watching this year.

Yes the plot is predictable, and the punchlines seen from miles away - I was even second guessing the script at some points. But helped along by bags of charm, this familiarity just added to the whole credibility of the message - it being one we already knew. This film wasn't a stranger but as much a friend as those in it. I didn't even mind the various plot holes and loose ends; just like its main protagonist Rancho, 3 Idiots is a total hero: unbelievably bulletproof, always right and perfect while all the time keeping the arrogance to a minimum.

The almost-three-hours flies by, and unlike most other Bollywood films I can think of I can't think of what to cut out; it didn't even suffer from the usual post interval leap into farce.

If you haven't already guessed by my gushing I totally recommend it.

Thursday, December 24

Film: Planet 51 Click for more info

Amusing animation reversing the roles in a classic B-movie; here, it's the humans "invading" a planet, with the aliens, or rather natives, terrified for their lives. Unlike that other film about humans mixing it up with aliens the stress is less on White Guilt and more on local heroism, although there is a bit of the former anyway. I guess overall it's a decent way to introduce the dangers of seeing the unfamiliar as "The Other".

Well animated and scripted, it's actually the homages the film pays to the previous which brings the most entertainment. It'd be too spoilerific to list them all, but my favourite was in regards to what the natives keep as pets.

Apart from these references the film did seem quite adult to me; there was at least one phallic joke which although tame did raise an eyebrow. But still the film was pretty enjoyable, although mercifully short. Recommended, but maybe only on DVD.

Tuesday, December 22

The Need For Space

Amongst my many unrealistic expectations of marriage, one which gets a lot of attention from friends and rishta alike is how I won't require much space from the person I'll eventually marry. Or put in a more straightforward manner, how I would like to spend a good majority of my social and familial life with my other half. As well as being unrealistic it can even be harmful, since apparently all marriages and relationships need some space to remain healthy; almost as if spending too much time together would make you realise how rubbish your marriage actually is.

First of all I don't think space is as vital a component for a healthy marriage as many seem to make out. I know more than a few couples who will do as much as is practically possible together, and lament when they can't. In fact I'd say this need for space is a modern thing - in the old days it used to be about couple dating or dinner parties, while now its about joining "the boys" or "the girls" at the local shisha bar while the spouse takes care of the kids.

In my own various social groups I have friends (both male and female) who always leave their partners at home - as much as love them all for making the effort to spend time with the group I do find it a bit of a shame us being used as some kind of escape or distraction from their married life; I'd much rather they brought their other halves with them. And perhaps unreasonably I always find it a bit depressing seeing a bunch of girls or guys socialising around a shisha pipe when it's clear how much of an escape it is for them. On the other hand some bring their partners with them and I like how easily they're able to share; It's couples like these who show that space isn't necessarily a vital or inevitably realistic thing.

I do realise that practical realities exist and that each person in a relationship have their own responsibilities to fulfil at different times of the day - so just because I'm at work this doesn't mean I would expect my wife to suffer at home alone too. And even if a certain level of space is necessary I think it's more than covered by the time spent apart fulfilling these responsibilities - if you need space then why not just align it with the times you have to spend apart?

For my part I guess I've been brought and built to share my life in that way. So I'll take my dad with me and my mates to watch Avatar (even though he'll go home early because it's too cold to wait the two hours for the film to start), and regularly mix social circles instead of cherry picking friends for a particular occasion. I don't feel a need to insulate these respective aspects of my life and any space I need from my family (with whom I've been living with for the past 31 years) kinda comes naturally from us fulfilling our responsibilities, be that by going out to work or doing our own things within the home.

In a similar manner my interests have also been guided by whether or not they'll be something acceptable and even enjoyable by a future spouse. I avoided getting into football after hearing about so many women being made widows on a Sunday and I as much as I've been criticised for free mixing and not having exclusively-man-groups of friends one of the main reasons I've picked these groups is so that any wife can hang out with the same people. Most of my hobbies (cinema, volunteering, talks etc) are things which are enjoyed by men and women. This isn't to say that I'll be dictating everything we do together or the friends we keep, but more that if it was left to me than I'd want her to feel as comfortable as possible in my life; I'd hope that's mutual since I would want to be as accepted in her existing circles as she would be in mine.

And of course we shouldn't force people to do anything they don't really enjoy but then I figure this is less of an issue for those who believe that the company is more important the venue or activity and are open-minded enough to enjoy almost anything; I'd rather change my interests than do the things I do now alone.

Anecdotally I do see this as being more of a girl requirement than a guy one: increasingly I see (Muslim? Asian?) women reserving their right to have "girly time" in which to let their hair down. Perhaps it needs to be explicitly stated for women since it's a such a given for men, but then I've heard of how some wives say they have to force their husbands to go out and play with their guy mates without them. On the other hand there have been times when a bunch of us from a particular circle of friends tried to do the whole "guy thing". We failed terribly; something I feel had more to do with how much we appreciated the women in our group more than because we're a bunch of social inadequates.

So in conclusion this is more about being in sync and organising your day and interests around each other as a pair rather than intentionally aiming to do stuff alone in a vain attempt to hold on to the individuality you had in a past life. In this way this is something that goes back to what I said about co-dependency. But whatever the case it seems that I'm in the minority when it comes to thinking in this way, and I've always accepted and compromised upon the need for someone to have their alone time even if I don't require it in the same way.

That said, I must admit that a tiny alarm bell does ring each time a potential explicitly reserves the right to (exclusively) see her friends. I'm not against it per se, but it is something I don't think I'll fully understand especially if she'll be more than welcome to join me in the things I'd want to do - but it's more than that since I feel it'll be quite unlikely that I'd want to do much without her in the first place.

Monday, December 21

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Abstruse Goose, once again keeping it real:

Not that I'd ever admit to having ever had the same reaction myself of course. Ahem.

Sunday, December 20

Film: Avatar Click for more info

Avatar is a wonderful film. But before I get into why it's so wonderful, let me get the bad bit out of the way: it's long, and feels longer, especially with your eyeballs getting pummelled by the 3D visuals. But more about that later.

There was more than enough to make this an epic: we had the huge world, much of it at stake. We had the big and super powerful bad guy and the love story. We had the moral dilemmas and heroes and heroines.

But what got everyone talking about Avatar was the visuals. And amazing they were too: it was clear how much love and attention was spent building this world. The story had much to do with life and how it streams through the inhabitants of Pandora, something which called for some fantastic special effects, although I must admit being uneasy with some of the augmented scenes. On the 3D side of things this was by far the most impressive and effective use of the technology I've witnessed in the past ten films or so I've seen in 3D; that said I still had a bit of a headache and eye strain after leaving.

The story seems to be getting the bulk of the criticism from those who have been to see it, but I don't think it's as bad as has been made out. Don't get me wrong: it was definitely secondary to the mythology created and CGI used. Some bits did fall flat, like the ending, and the whole Evil Humans versus Good Natives was a bit too black and white and even patronising for me; this was something that was obviously designed to get us, the audience, to start cheer-leading (bashing capitalism is popular enough to sell stuff now) and a bit too much was done to labour the point of how much a dick humankind can be. We get it, okay?

But all that is easily ignored. Avatar is by far one of my most favourite films this year, and perhaps even for a long, long time. I think I may have enjoyed it a bit more if it had been split in two (a thinking episode and an action one maybe), or even had an interval, but as it stands a bit of physical and mental exhaustion is a small price to pay for such entertainment. Heavily recommended.

Friday, December 18

Food: Touareg Grill Click for more info

Although I had originally been for an iftar this Ramadhan, I didn't think it was right to review it back then since it was so much of a rush job (oh and okay, I forgot). Luckily I had a chance to go their place in Leytonstone this evening with fifteen others (a good test of a restaurant's hospitality) and it turned out to be quite a nice place.

Avoiding the tangine I had last time (what with my meat-on-the-bone phobia) I stuck to their grill menu - I was glad that I did because my Algerian Sausage Sandwich Thing was actually quite good. My pastry starter was equally nice, if a bit small but overall there was no complaints on the food front. I was even allowed to swap my included drink for three chicken wings.

My whole meal cost less than six quid, a veritable bargain, but where Touareg really shone was vibe. Although we had exclusive use of both tables in the basement, the fifteen or so of us there managed to squeeze around just the one, quite cosily and comfortably, and most importantly in a circle so we could all see each other. It sounds simple but not many places allow for such accessibility and as such Touareg is the perfect place for impromptu and low maintenance dinner parties. It helps that the food isn't too bad too! Recommended.

Rebel Muzik Click for more info

As time goes on the vibrancy and, well specialness of Rebel diminishes. Perhaps it's just the end of year blues or maybe we've just now seen it all, but tonight's Rebel was definitely lacking something.

There must have been a girl no older than 7 or 8 on the open mic who although awwww-inspiring and super-cute raised questions in my head about what she was doing there in the first place. The rest of it was okay, with two slots filled by the girls from Poetic.

The main line up was interesting enough: The hit for me was most definitely Fidel, a super talented and funny soul artist; I'm kicking myself for forgetting to buy his CD. Raggo Zulu Rebel was also fun if a bit loud, while the usual Muslim Belal and Saffia rounded off the line up (well what I stuck around to see - for the first time I had left a Rebel early). As an aside it's interesting to see just how many artists are dropping myspace for facebook when self-advertising on stage.

So a so-so evening but at least Makan was nice. And I must admit it was worth coming out just to see Fidel.

Friday, December 11

Pyaar Hai Click for more info

Yet another Asian theatre production asking what love is? Anyone would have thought that's all we want (and hey, maybe it is?). However since it was only a tenner I decided that it was worth the punt and went to check it out tonight.

To be honest, the most striking thing about the play was the audience. The already small drama studio was only half full, of which there were only three guys, two of which from the same party, one of which was me. Around six (so a quarter) left during the interval. Large scale this was not.

Still, I quite liked the cosiness of the stage and indeed play itself. Sure, it was yet another tale of the loser Indian guy not being able to commit to the cute-as-a-button naive damsel Ash, but the script was funny and a bit too clever for me at times and there was a definite charm to the whole thing; even if a part of it was us giving the leads a metaphorical pat on the head each time they forgot their lines. A couple of the actors were ace though - Ash's big sister outstripping the rest by quite a bit. And I'm not just saying that because she gave me her number during the play (don't worry, it was fake).

Sophisticated this was not, amateurish it most certainly was. But I had gone in with low expectations and perhaps enjoyed Pyaar Hai more than I should have because of that. Or maybe it was due to just how cute-as-a-button Ash was...

Thursday, December 10

New Music

Bhangra/Bollywood special!

Unforgettable - Imran Khan

An album that everyone's been waiting for since Ni Nachleh, and it's not too bad. Although it has some unique tracks it does get a bit samey after a while. My picks of the fifteen tracks are Amplifier, Aaja We Mahiya, Peli Waar, Chak Glass, Pata Chalega and Bewafa, but I think there's something for everyone here. It's a shame the wrong version of Ni Nachleh is on it.

The Streets of Bollywood 3 - Various

The third instalment in a possibly tired series (one and two here. Gosh I feel old), once again the majority of tracks being produced by Kami K. I'm sure a couple more will grow on me but It Can Only Be Love is currently doing the rounds.

Rishte Naate - De Dana Dan

Another one of those romantic group hug songs you're supposed to listen to while all loved up. Yes, I love it.

Paisa - De Dana Dan

Luckily the above is balanced by this poptastic track.

Shukran Allah - Kurbaan

Is liking this blasphemous? But anyway here's my second Bolly ballad for today...

Kurbaan Hua - Kurbaan

...once again balanced by a less soppy song, this time rock.

Kya Karoon feat Blitzkrieg - Gunjan

A bit of fun with the mischievous Gunjan doing her thing. I don't hold much hope for her forthcoming album though.

Udhi Udhi Iteffaq Se - Paa

Although it reminds me something I'd hear while riding a lift it's pleasant enough. There's actually three versions on the OST, one of which is sung by a bloke.

Nai Jeena feat Reetu - Nirmal Sidhu

Classic ballad Punjabi duet.

Nachdi De feat Angrej Ali - Aman Hayer

I feel I owe Aman Hayer an eternal following due to Tharti Hilde, still one of my favourite tracks of this decade. The downside is that nothing seems to come close, but this isn't too disappointing. I'll be watching the rest of his album of the same name.

Nach Billo feat Rishi Rich & Mumzy Stranger - Malkit Singh

More classic bhangra, and featuring even more Mumzy (he gets around, eh?).

Saajanji Vaari Vaari - Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Ltd

Going a few years back now, here's that fun track from a film I never got to see.

Monday, December 7

Game: Left 4 Dead 2 (PC) Click for more info

An almost too-fast nine months after I played the first co-op zombie FPS comes its follow up. It's more of the same really: you and three other humans battle it out as a team to get through a horde of zombies to relative safety.

As its a sequel we have more guns, more bad guys, and bigger levels. We even have melee weapons now, the best of which is a limited fuelled chainsaw. Although these bring with them a new art to dispatching the undead it soon becomes clear that throwing bullets at them really fast is a much safer way of doing things.

But ultimately it seems that bigger isn't better as the simplicity which made the first game such a joy gets trodden upon. For example, I'm now not sure which weapon I like the best, what their relative merits are which to use in what situation; of course you're still limited in the same way (only one gun I'm afraid) so picking the right equipment becomes even more vital.

But at the end of the day what makes L4D2 a winner is that it brings new campaigns, each full of drama and fun (leaving your team mates in the lurch for the waiting boat/helicopter never gets old), and for that reason all the other superfluous additions can be forgiven. To be honest I still don't understand why this couldn't have been done with L4D, but hey, I only paid 16 quid with it in a recent Steam sale so I'm not too bummed out.

Sunday, December 6

Film: The Box Click for more info

I'm still not sure whether I liked Donnie Darko or not. I think I got it, or at least had my own interpretation of it, which I gather was part of the point. Whatever the case, there's no doubt that it was an engaging film which made you think instead of doing the thinking for you.

The Box has been brought to us by the same director and bears more than a few similarities to Donnie. It's weird yet engaging, both qualities increasing at an almost exponential rate throughout the film. Where it differs from Donnie is how a lot of it is explained away by a fairly rational plot, something paradoxically both adds and subtracts from the film. I reckon it'll will split audiences actually.

But weird plots aside the film was well made and well performed by those in it. I don't think I'll remember it past tonight so in terms of impact it didn't really, but while I was watching it I did enjoy it. Not essential, but recommended all the same.

Saturday, December 5

CRG: The Iqbal Sessions Click for more info

Before today I honestly didn't know much about Mohammed Iqbal. I knew he was a poet and possibly a homie of Jinnah and had some hand in the formation of Pakistan, but that was about it. So when a friend from the CRG (something I have unfortuantely much neglected since those first couple of sessions I had attended) told me they were going to devote a whole day to him I can't claim to have been particularly enthusiastic; but still I do think there's a need to support such things in order for bigger and better stuff to come out of it. So yeah, I wasn't planning to stay for very long.

On arriving I found that this wasn't an arty showcase on the life and talent of Iqbal but more of a series of lectures discussing the quite deep philosophical, religions and political themes he spoke about. I walked in on Dr Mahbub Gani's talk on divinity and was immediately captivated; this wasn't poetry but religious philosophy, you know, the abstract stuff I try to touch on here in this blog. Sure, a lot of it was contextual with respect to Iqbal, but Gani did a good job of extracting the essences and presenting them to us. After his talk had ended I cancelled my lunch plans and decided to stick around for the rest of the day.

After lunch Dr. Rabia Malik talked about Khudi, or the Human Ego, and how it can be defined and measured. AbdoolKarim Vakil took the final slot, talking about how we should consider how Iqbal was read; a discussion on meta-Iqbal if you will.

The plenary (don't worry, I didn't know what that was either - it's basically a Q&A where formal debate and conclusions might be drawn) took things way over my head as the day finally took its toll, although I did notice that it was of a higher quality than usual as the audience resisted making it more about them than Iqbal. And although the whole thing overran by an house I am glad that I hung around; in fact I actually regretted not joining in from the start, although I do hope I'll be able to catch what I missed via a recording or something. I guess if anything I've learned not to be so easily dismissive about stuff I actually don't really know much about of in the first place.

Friday, December 4


xxxx says (10:45):
    What is your nerdiest one liner / pickup line?
    Would you like to see the exponential growth of my natural log?
Shak says (10:45):
    oh dear
xxxx says (10:45):
    If you were cosine squared and I was sine squared, we would be one.
    i thought you'd appreciate these
    if you met a girl who found these funny
    woudl you be attracted to her
Shak says (10:46):
    if she was hot


Shak says (10:46):
    in fact... even if she didnt get them and was hot id still be attracted
xxxx says (10:46):
    so shallow
Shak says (10:48):
    nah seriously. if she understood those... i'd be impressed and attracted. unfortunately i doubt she's be hot so it wouldnt go any further.
xxxx says (10:48):
    hey man ... there are some hot geeks
    woudl you marry a woman who could whup your ass at sf
Shak says (10:48):
    its funny... i say to my girl mates "looks times personality equals a constant" and they all giggle and say its true... but dont realise im calling them either stupid or ugly.


Shak says (10:49):
    its funny... i say to my girl mates "looks times personality equals a constant" and they all giggle and say its true... but dont realise it means theyre either stupid or ugly.
xxxx says (10:49):
    wher you c&p that from
Shak says (10:49):
    its mine...


Shak says (10:50):
    im gonna put this on my blog so thought i'd put something a bit less offensive :D


Shak says (10:50):
    anyway yeh. i'd marry a girl who could beat me at sf. yet to find one since im so damn good at it

Link of the Day Click for more info

The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars

Another day and yet another chart ranking people on their physical beauty. Or is it? I've often said that hotness doesn't require physical beauty (Rihanna for instance is pretty ugly, but hot as heck), something which a lot of people, particularly girls, don't understand. And they say I'm shallow.

Anyway it's a stance that's vindicated by this list as we see various not-so-pretty people topping it. Take Scarlett Johansson (4) for instance. Now I'm not a fan in the first place but nevertheless I'd say that she's not that pretty and doesn't have that much of a hot bod either. But even so I totally understand why she's placed so high in the chart. She just has it.

Personally I'm happy to see that a few of my choices have made the chart: Eva Green (31), Kristen Bell (29), Kate Beckinsale (19), Sarah Michelle Gellar (11!), Zoe Saldana (5), Angelina Jolie (2). I definitely appreciate the rest of the chart too though; I'm particularly happy to see Mila Kunis (8) placed so high. Unfortunately the whole chart fails massively with its Number 1, but I won't reveal who that is here. In a word though: shudder.

Oh and for all my female readers who are seeing this as yet further evidence that I'm just a typical pervy guy... well the link leads you to the 50 sexiest men too (although I've not really spent much time on that). Don't say I never do anything for you. Not that I've ever denied being a typical pervy guy anyway.

Thursday, December 3


Shak says (09:49):
    i prefer staying in nowadays too
    although amybe i shouldnt say that to potentials
xxxx says (09:51):
    if she's the type who likes that
    just say it
    i dunnpo what you say to these girls when you meet them
    but let's be frank here
xxxx says (09:52):
    you wanna get married ...
    if you gotta be a little dishonest
    so be it
Shak says (09:52):
xxxx says (09:52):
    you think yyyy woudl have married me .. if i told her i was ***CENSORED***?
Shak says (09:52):
    well tbh... i dont tell them about that until the third meeting
xxxx says (09:52):
Shak says (09:52):
    oh crap
xxxx says (09:53):
    wait till they in a legally binding relationship!
    man .... no wonder you crashing and burning on the 3rd date!
    keep the sweet talking till sh'es said YES"
Shak says (09:54):
    hey man... nowadays... even that's too early. divorces are too damn easy
xxxx says (09:54):
    nah man ...
    all you gotta do .. is introduce her to one of your 'crazy' relatives
xxxx says (09:55):
    who always says in front of her how he'd kill anyone who betrays the family
Shak says (09:55):
    omg. it all makes sense. wait. let me write all this down...
xxxx says (09:56):
    it's not easy finding a wife .. you gotta do what you can to tip t he blance in your favour!
Shak says (09:57):
    i went on a PR training course the other weekend. maybe i should use some of the stuff i learned in that....

Wednesday, December 2

The Good and The Bad

Can a good deed ever be bad? Or a bad deed good? I guess the first answer which comes to mind is "no", but after a few examples it becomes clear that the question is not so straightforward after all.

First up let's take the classic smoking hijabi. Judging by the passing comments of many, the hijab (which can otherwise normally be considered a good thing) somehow becomes a bad act if accompanied by certain other habits, like smoking or wearing relatively tight clothes. The implicit course of action advised (from a distance, naturally) is for her to remove the hijab since the person in question clearly isn't good enough to wear it; she or the world is worse off by her wearing it. Sometimes the advice given is for the person to stop smoking, but since this is just given to hijabis who smoke (as opposed to anyone), again it seems that the hijab is bad for somehow "amplifying" an already bad act.

Or how about stealing money to feed your (albeit secret) charity habit? This is a good one since we're now discussing whether it's a noble act in its own right or just something to justify ill gotten gains. So it depends on the intention and context.

So we've established that ambiguously good and bad deeds to exist; or at least are perceived to exist by us, even if it takes a bit of consideration to recognise them as such. But who cares? Does it matter as long as we're all trying our best? And if it is an issue, how should we address it? If indeed at all? Is Shak just going off on one again?

Well it's only important if you want to reduce any bad you might be doing, or to help others focus on theirs. Sometimes we don't even realise we're doing something bad (or indeed good), so it could be a form of discouragement or encouragement. But like we saw above determining whether or not it's good-bad or bad-good is quite tricky. In formal terms the main thing to determine is whether there's a causal relationship between various actions or if they're merely correlated or even related at all.

It's unlikely that the hijabi is smoking just because she covers her hair, so it's difficult to argue that it's caused by it. There may be a correlation though - perhaps some new bout of confidence or independence enabled her to both don the hijab and take up smoking. It's probably likely that they're not linked at all though, that she was smoking before or as an aside to her headdress, so in this case I don't really see an issue with her continuing to smoke while wearing a hijab (well not any more than I would with anyone else smoking - this is coming from someone who even hates sisha).

But let's not pick on the poor hijabi, not when the charity example is a better example of why context matters. Let's say that a guy already generously donates £500 a month, funded by his job. Now let's say that he loses his job, and turns to stealing in order to keep up his payments. This can be described as a causal relationship, and since the paying of charity is directly causing the theft, I'd say that it's now a bad act. The guy should stop paying the charity and so stop stealing.

But now let's say that a guy is already a thief and has been for a while. Putting aside the fact that he's a bad person already, what if he then decides to pay a bit of charity with these ill-gotten gains? Does that make his charity a bad act? I'd argue not; the money has already been stolen and charity seems a better use for it than blowing it all on booze and hookers. Of course the guy should stop stealing full stop, and the hijabi should stop smoking full stop, but we're more interested in the relationships between various acts here rather than what an ideal person would do.

We're probably not thieves so that example is probably a bit extreme. But this juxtapositioning of acts does happen a quite lot, especially now as Muslims become increasingly practising or worldly or both. In all our respective and wonderful multidimensionality there's plenty of more subtle and everyday examples of this tug of war between good and bad, many of which are generally accepted.

So to recap, I count four kinds of relationship between good and bad deeds:

  1. No dependency, where the bad would be done regardless of the good and the good regardless of the bad, and there's no impact on the quality of the good act. Smoking and wearing a hijab falls in this category.
  2. A correlation, like the above except that both the good and bad both came about at the same time via a single source (not necessarily good or bad). Since they're still independent there's still no impact on the quality of the good act, although there is a danger that addressing the bad act via that source could mean stopping the good one too.
  3. A good-bad relationship, where someone does a bad deed only to do a good one, like stealing only to pay it all to charity. I'd say that the quality of the good act has been diminished in this case and this person should stop both acts.
  4. A bad-good relationship, where someone uses a good act to justify a later bad one. Someone who becomes proud now that they pray five times a day could fall into this category. Although the quality of the good act does diminish, it should be simple (!) enough to stop doing the bad while keeping the good.
And this is why this analysis is important. A lot of the time we allow our bad habits to dictate our good ones, or allow our good acts to justify our bad ones. In other cases we refrain from doing good at all because of non-dependant bad actions, or remove the good because we incorrectly think that doing so will help us with the bad.

So the hijabi will remove her head-covering because she thinks as a smoker she'll be in a better position without it, or the thief will stop helping others (but carry on stealing anyway) because he's told his money is haraam, or the everyday Joe will not go on Hajj because he listens to too much music and isn't Islamic enough. Knowing the respective position of all your good and bad acts can help you figure out how to increase the former and decrease the latter in the most efficient and non-impactive way possible.

In closing I think what's important is to try and figure out why we do what we do, and what the downstream implications are. If a good action directly means you do a bad one, then I'd rethink your strategy of doing that good action. And if you're already doing something you consider bad then although you should make an effort to stop doing it, it shouldn't be an obstacle to doing other good things. If anything the good will influence you to stop doing the bad (provided there's no dependency between them).

This self assessment might be hard at first but I figure it's important and will become easier over time both as we accept that we're just human and then learn to be honest with ourselves. Once we get the ball rolling I reckon the balance will swing towards the good all by itself anyway.


Tuesday, December 1

Film: Paranormal Activity Click for more info

Like many red blooded up-themselves bonehead males I claim not to be scared of much. I pride myself in my rationality: roller coasters are designed to be safe and therefore can't be that bad, and my faith reassures me regarding most spooky occurrences. In this case I know that they're only actors in a scary movie, and in that way I tend not to be affected by them too much. Quite controversially however I did find Blair Witch a bit disturbing, but only for the last 30 seconds or so.

Although done as well as any other shaky handy cam "real footage" film, Paranormal is just another scary flick. You know exactly what they're trying to do and how they're trying to do it and a lot of the time it's difficult to get sucked in. In fact some of the set-pieces are a bit too well designed, shattering any illusion that this is genuine footage. Yes, there are scenes that make you jump (but not scream of course), but hey, you can get over that. Although I must say my hand went to my mouth more than a few times.

In fact it's the non-scary bits which have been done the most well. Katie is a real sweetheart, her boyfriend Micah a red blooded up-himself bonehead who claims not to be scared of anything. It's this, the focus on their everyday like which gets you to relate to what happens to them during the night. You're scared for them, not yourself, and in some ways the makers get to creep you out via the back door.

And by the end of the film there does indeed seem to be a cumulative effect on you, in my case one that lasted way after the film had finished. All of a sudden the streets of Ilford were emptier, darker and longer than usual. My shoelace came undone while walking to my car. Did I stop to tie it back up again? Hell no.

So yes, I guess I was well and truly creeped out after all. Even now as I look back the rational part of me sees the actors, the scripts and the director setting us all up for a fall. But all that is helplessly pushed out by anything irrational I might have subconsciously picked up. To be affected by a film in such a way is pretty unique, and in fact refreshing, even if I doubt that's a feeling that will last past the night.


Link of the Day Click for more info

The Story of Stuff

Here's an insightful, and more importantly, an accessible take on why our consumption based society is so wrong, not just on a principle level but on a practical one too. I must admit that I got annoyed with some of the politics and sensationalism in it ("think of the babies and their toxic breast milk!") but despite that it's a pretty compelling watch.

I especially loved the Consumption episode, but not just because it vindicates my own tightness and resistance to having to have the latest and greatest (something which apparently used to be called thriftiness and was something to be respected).

Anyway, enjoy. Thanks to Fuad for the link.

Sunday, November 29

Shak's Choice: Gursharonjit Grewal

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (and perhaps the rest of you who know me too) will probably wonder why this has come so late. Well the truth is that I wanted to see just how genuine her portrayal on Channel 4's The Family actually was; and after four episodes and numerous radio and television appearances I think we all know who Gursharonjit, or Shay, really is.

I have to (respectfully of course) admit that she's not super stunning in the celebrity sense, but then she's hardly ugly. I'd say she has a more "real and practical" good looks, you know, the type that doesn't need an airbrush to pass our now high standards. But regardless of her looks she's actually made the illustrious status of Shak's Choice for much more important reasons: she's really here because of her ace personality and character.

Every Wednesday we see how devoted she is to her family. She finds happiness and contentment in the simple things: whether it's in playing simple games of noughts and crosses with her soon-to-be husband, wordsearches with aunty or messing around with Tindy. She's responsible and gladly so, making sure the dogs are fed even though she's late for her own hen party and finding it an honour to massage her in-laws head/feet or even thread uncle's nose - she both allows everyone to rely on her but equally doesn't find it weak to rely on others. She's smart in a real, experienced way, yet wonderfully simple: she won't feel that she's wasted her life if she doesn't get to publish a book or influence government policy.

Genuinely nice and friendly, undemanding and never a headache; her happiness stems from that of those around her, a selflessness which is depressingly rare nowadays. Shay just goes to show that you don't need to be a tarted up celeb or popstar to be uniquely, yet massively, attractive. I just hope that Sunny doesn't track me down and kick my arse.

Things That Pee Me Off #4: Literary Hypocrisy

  • If a guy offers a girl his coat or scarf, then he's patronising or, even worse, only after one thing.
  • If a guy walks or drives a girl (friend or otherwise) home, right up to her door and waits till she gets in, then he's a creepy stalker.
  • If a guy insists on paying, then he's controlling and repressive.
  • If a guy looks ahead while walking with a girl, or makes sure he walks on her roadside or between her and a rowdy crowd of people, or behind her while climbing up stairs and in front of her while climbing down, then he's obstructive and irritating.
  • If a guy wants to make a girl his main focus, much more than any job or social life, then he's misguided and unambitious.
  • If a guy shows an interest in what a girl likes and wants, then he's either faking it or is too boring to have his own interests.
  • If a guy wants to spend all his free time with a girl, then he's clingy and suffocating.
  • If a guy wants to just talk, then he talks too much.
  • If a guy shows genuine concern about a girl's well-being, then he's over-protective or under-estimating.
  • If a guy says how he feels then he's a metrosexual and unmanly.
All this, unless the guy has a marble-like chest which glitters in the sun and lists blood as his all time favourite beverage.

You all know I'm right.

Saturday, November 28

Link of the Day Click for more info

Eid al-Adha and the Hajj, 2009 does it once again with their big picture, uniquely covering the diversity and massiveness of the global Islamic festival of Eid-ul-Adha.

My picks? 4 (possibly predictably), 5 ('cos of the memories), 19 (due to the contrast) and any piccie that shows thousands of people praying together.

Film: A Serious Man Click for more info

The now traditional Eid film has to be pretty special. After a long exhausting day it doesn't take much to allow me to drop off, and only the most gripping and engaging movie can really do that.

Unfortunately this time, A Serious Man wasn't quite that film. To be fair I kinda knew that it wouldn't be, what with it being a Coen Brothers' flick and all, but even I was surprised at the effect the sheer randomness and lack-of-a-beginning-and-end had on me.

To be fair I enjoyed what I did get to see. The humour was dark and, at times, farcical while all the performances were top notch in their glib depiction of reality and the film as a whole was well put together. I can't really tell you what happened toward the end since I wasn't conscious.

But at the end of the day despite my already-existing state of sleepiness it was a film that had put me to sleep and for that reason I can't really recommend it, unless of course you're into this kinda stuff.

Oh the other hand there's something unique about the sleep you get in the cinema.

Thursday, November 26

Game: New Super Mario Bros. Wii Click for more info

It's a new Mario game! Always cause for celebration eh? To be honest though this, the Wii incarnation of the now not so new DS refresh doesn't really add much to what we've seen before on the handheld. We still have all the moves and grooves (although we now have a propeller hat and penguin suit), the lovely platformer puzzle action that only Nintendo do best and even the graphics look the same. In fact, as it stands I reckon it could have easily been played on the DS.

Except we now have simultaneous multi-player action.

That means up to four players on the screen at the same time, each getting in each others way, and equally helping and stitching each other up. There's no point in me describing exactly what this part of the game is like, if you're a Mario fan then you'd have always wondered what it would be like to play with Luigi at the same time. And it's exactly how you wanted it to be.

There are slight issues though, my main of which is the insistence on using motion controls, in this case to both spin jump and pick up certain items. Maybe I'm just a more animated player but there has already been times when I've jumped or left Yoshi by accident, and in each case it was game-spoilingly annoying.

But once I learned to keep my hands still (!) I was able to more fully appreciate the antics of multi-player Mario. Since lives aren't an issue (in typical Mario style), there's no guilt in throwing someone off a ledge just after you helped them up it. Or being a total git and nicking all the mushrooms even if you don't need them. This kinda stuff never gets boring.

Anyway it was probably a foregone conclusion but I love this game. Very much recommended and one of the rare reasons to turn on your Wii this Christmas.

Wednesday, November 25

Film: 2012 Click for more info

Now infamous over the top disaster movie where for once its not us humans who are the cause of our own demise (it's that damn Sun instead).

Otherwise it's pretty much as you would expect: big bangs, huge crashes and lots of edge-of-your-seat will-they-escape moments.

And I quite liked it! The film progressed, what were quite separate story arcs combined and diverged, and there were some truly awesome set-pieces (despite their slightly sub-par special effects). John Cusack is of course the man, but the supporting cast weren't dummies either.

I don't think it'll win any oscars but I certainly didn't hate it as much as I should have. Recommended!

Sunday, November 22

Alliance of Civilizations Media Training Click for more info

To be honest I still don't know why a good friend had put me forward for this, a UN-funded media training weekend for Muslim opinion makers. I mean hey, I do think that I'm a passable writer who might sometimes talk about religion on his hobby-blog, but that's a far cry from being an influential opinion maker or leader. So despite my paranoia telling me I was just being sent to make a fool of myself I went along anyway: after all, I had never been a delegate or sent on a business trip or like (expenses and all) so it would be something new for me at least. Plus it was quite flattering that I was invited in the first place so would have been rude not to attend, and I was sure it would broaden my horizons in more than a few ways anyway. And hey, it's not like I'd ever get a paid trip to Bristol ever again.

The United Nations Alliance of Civilizations is an organisation set up by some important people in order to directly address the problems various cultures and communities around the world have in communicating with each other. For us, this meant some media training this weekend. The pitch given to me was that we would get the opportunity to add value with our existing opinions and form new ones based on the eclectic mix of Islamic personalities. Yay, a weekend of some serious brainstorming and debate, I thought.

In reality it was actually more of a classroom based formal PR and media training: you know, how to give press releases, deal with a crisis and write opinion pieces for newspapers. A team from Fenton Communications were running the sessions and it was immediately clear that they really knew their stuff; more importantly though they also knew how most effectively to get us to understand it all. In terms of the training itself the whole weekend was pretty slick; in fact we were well looked after throughout the whole weekend.

The first day was pretty hard and perhaps even a bit boring, as we were told what seemed like the obvious things about how Muslims were currently being misrepresented in the media. Quite predictably this paved the way for us to rant and moan about how bad we have it and how the world should change. What I saw as digressions made me switch off a bit; after all, if I had wanted to hear this stuff I'd have just picked any random Muslim blog in the comfort of my own home. Having said that it was clear that most of the group found it relevant and engaging, something which added to my increasing suspicion of how I shouldn't have actually have been there in the first place.

The technical training in the afternoon was much more interesting as we found out about controlling an interview, the use of emotion and emotive words, some basic cognitive theory and other PR tips and tricks. Again most of this was obvious once we heard it, but often things have to be said in order for them to be registered and put into practise so I was happy to hear what was being said.

The evening was more fun as I hung out with the rest of the delegates, all smart and with a clear stake in British Islam. We had Imams and chaplains, charity workers, Islamic human rights people, student young ambassadors, lawyers, councillors, mosque trustees, Islamic bloggers and webwasters, authors and journalists - clear leaders in the making. Despite the lack of my own set of credentials (I got used to the polite "oh really"s after telling those who asked that I was a software developer) we did connect on a social level and had fun, even if that was by playing silly games of charades, word association and something called Zip Zap Boing outside on a bit of Bristol University's green. Further still I realised that although my colleagues each had an overt Islamic brand, that I was being unfair in assuming that that was all they were each about, and they didn't wear their Muslim hats (topis?) all the time. Oh and as an aside it seems that there's a bit of a clothes shortage in Bristol on Saturday nights. Particularly for women.

After a night's rest (single hotel rooms are pretty lonely I reckon) I decided to approach the remainder of the weekend in a different way. I'm not really a media person, not in the way the session wanted me to be anyway, and once I realised this the whole thing became a lot less forced - and ironically now that it was of passing and academic interest to me it became quite a bit more fun and interesting. We also began the practical work which helped: video interview workshops (in which I was pleasantly torn apart by a UN representative) and another in which we had our opinion writing critiqued by Fenton. Unfortunately just as we were getting into the swing of things it was all over: a fun coach ride back to London and a brief meeting with others on the programme (whom had been sent to Spain instead) and we were done.

I guess figuring out what you aren't is just as important as figuring out what you are, and for that reason I'm glad that I went to Bristol this weekend. I now know that I don't want to be a "face of Islam", not with respect to the media in the UK anyway, be it via TV, an affiliation with an organisation or even writing. On the other hand it's encouraging to see that there are bright people out there willing to take on that role, do it well and even enjoy themselves while they're doing it. And finally the weekend reinforced my opinion that it's actually okay (and even helpful) to resist Islamic™ branding and that being "subtly always Muslim" can be just as powerful as being "overtly Muslim first".

That's not to say that I didn't learn loads or will take absolutely nothing away; I now have a more formal understanding of how the media functions and will definitely apply some of the things I learned in my writings and even social interactions. And if I'm honest I am excited to by a part of something so important going forward (maybe I'll buy a UN t-shirt or something) even if I'm not going to be the most participatory of the bunch. I did some classic networking and met some ace and inspiring people which is always a good thing as the possible opportunities and doors open up... and hey, the food wasn't that shabby either.

Tuesday, November 17

Film: Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani Click for more info

Passable film about a guy who falls for a girl who is more interested in friendship than getting jiggy. Ranbir Kapoor is pretty neat as the poor sod in question and while Katrina Kaif isn't as hot as she usually is she's cute enough throughout.

There's plenty of laughs and even more sophisticated in-jokes; I didn't even mind the Salman Khan cameo that much. The film and plot were quite simple, if anything spoiled post-interval by irrelevance and distraction. Music-wise I was really looking forward to seeing and hearing those two Atif tracks in the flesh, except those in charge decided to butcher them both.

Nothing really unmissable then, but then not that shabby either; APKGK seems to be pretty much time-pass and nothing more.

Monday, November 16

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Not that I'd condone chasing the chase (or even what's being implied at the end of it), but I gotta admit I relate to the following on some level:

It'll be a good test of my blagging skills anyway.

Wednesday, November 11

New Music

Sugarless - Swami

The guys who brought us "Hey Hey" are back with this smacker of a tune. To be honest I didn't like it at first, but now? Wowzer.

Sunday, November 8

Film: The Men Who Stare at Goats Click for more info

Disappointing "true story" about a US Army drive to explore psychic warfare over the last few decades. Despite solid acting and a decent premise it's just not as funny or entertaining as it should have been and whether it's true or not becomes irrelevant as the film repeatedly fails to deliver anything zany enough to make you care.

It's certainly well made and scripted and when the rare laughs come you do appreciate them. I guess there just wasn't enough substance or story to carry the film off as a whole, which is a shame as the potential was certainly there.

All in all a bit of a waste, especially of talent. Leave it to DVD I'd say.

Thursday, November 5

New Music

Tu Jaane Na - Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani
Tera Hone Laga Hun - Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani

A pair of tracks from the upcoming Ajab Prem Ki Ghazab Kahani, both dropped by Atif Aslam. They're both very different but I think I prefer the latter due to it having Alisha Chinoy on it. It seems that Bollywood is finally delivering on both the film and music fronts after a lengthy lull.

Credit to Humaira for naming the tracks.

Wednesday, November 4

The Family Click for more info

Well... It certainly wasn't the car-crash telly I was expecting. On the contrary in fact: I was quite impressed. Tonight we saw in close-up a traditional Indian family, and totally secure and unashamed in being one, not putting on any pretences or pretending to be open minded (even though they actually were).

As a show it was well made: quite "pure" and with no obvious signs of manipulation or rating boosting sleaziness. The mix of reality and interview was well paced, even though I noticed a bunch of continuity blips (Sunny's beard being one of them). Still, the programme as a whole had bags of real moments.

But for me the real talent of the show was in the Grewals. The mum (I can't help but call her auntie) is the star of course, and absolutely the rock she was described as being in the intro; she knows that making the tea doesn't make her a slave or repressed being. The dad makes a wonderful partner (if not, husband): someone who is strong in his opinion and full of honour (the good type) while making them. This quality has obviously been passed down to their kids who, although not intelligent in the obvious and classical sense (i.e. they're not the lawyers or doctors we all seem to want) know exactly where they're at more so than any "professional". Tindy although outgoing has apparently never had a girlfriend, is still a virgin and obviously proud of who he is. Sunny isn't the bragging idiot rudeboy we would automatically assign to someone who looks like that, but instead is a strong and responsible husband-to-be. Shay is just plain hot, but not at the cost of any personality; I loved little things about her like the ease with which she referred to her in-laws as mum and dad; or played with her future brother-in-law; or even stepped up when it came to dying her mum's hair or doing the dishes - all with a smile on her face, despite the situation she found herself to be in.

Maybe it's early days yet but I just can't see anything about the Grewals to cause me to even raise an eyebrow. They're real, they know what's important and are happy to stick to their principles. Most of all it's clear how content they are with their simple lives - there's no chasing status or money or careers or Status-Update-worthy social activities here. It's a rare thing being this content in my opinion.

In fact I actually miss them all a bit now. I can't wait for the next seven episodes!

Building an HTPC: A Second Go

It was last May when a friend and I first tried our hand at building an HTPC. And it wasn't that bad of a project: for £225 we built a pretty solid machine on which to watch stuff as well as manage media and the like. However over a year of use a fair few issues have arisen, both early on and more recently. These include:

  • The Antec NSK2480 case being WAY too big, especially for an MATX motherboard.
  • As something which is really a desktop, the whole build sucks up a lot of power.
  • The 250GB HD quite unsurprisingly not being nowhere near enough space in practice.
  • A change in the codec BBC use for their HD broadcasts resulting in the ATI chipset of the 780G crapping out - I had added a digital satellite card since the original build in order to watch HD satellite. Generally ATI seems a bit flaky when it comes to video decoding.
But to be honest none of these really warranted any fix other than buying a new HD and maybe a cheap Nvidia video card. However when a friend (yes, the same one as last time) pointed me to a new Nvidia ION-based ITX motherboard I must admit that I raised an eyebrow. However since at that point any new build would have to be funded by the reselling of the existing HTPC or its bits (it was too new to merely write off) it wasn't going to happen. The real deciding factor was my dad requiring a new desktop PC - a worthy use for the current components.

Standalone solutions seem to have progressed since last year - the WDTV springs to mind as a decent no-hassle media player. However I've since become used to the flexibility a Windows based HTPC affords me - time-stretching, episode and film management and watching and recording HD digital satellite

So I bought the following bits for the new build:
  • £103.24 for an ASUS AT3N7A-I NVIDIA ION with Intel Atom N330 Dual Core Processor HDMI Mini ITX Motherboard
  • £71.89 for a Samsung EcoGreen F2 1.5TB Hard Drive SATAII 32MB Cache
While I currently have on order:
  • £34.98 for a Piano Black Mini ITX Cube Case - With 300W PSU
  • £3.09 for a Xilence Red Wing 80mm Quiet Fan
The RAM I'm recycling from the old build, but 2x1GB of the cheap stuff can be had for around 25 quid (indeed that's what I bought for my dad's new build). The motherboard is now the most expensive part, but since it includes the Atom processor I wasn't too bothered. I also decided to go for a cheap-o case this time since the Antec from last time was seen to be a big (both literally and metaphorically) mistake. The cube case is bigger than it has to be - I needed something which would accommodate my digital satellite card, but without this requirement other options were available, including slimline cases and external (and hence silent) power supplies.

All the above were bought from eBuyer with the total (including RAM) coming up to a princely £237.20, although this includes a specification changing 1.5TB HD. Replacing this with the cheapest 250GB HD from eBuyer (£30) brings the total down to just under £200, so we've actually made a saving on last time.

Building was once again straightforward; even more so since the CPU was already mounted on the motherboard. The Atom itself is a step backward from the "real, grown-up" Athlon processor - it's clocked lower and is generally touted as a lightweight by design. The Nvidia ION is what makes this board ideal for HTPC usage, although this does mean that any playback software would HAVE to use assisted video card decoding (the Athlon alone was able to handle 1080p).

In practice this wasn't much of a problem. Almost every player has solutions for assisted decoding, especially since Windows 7 now comes with a codec to do this out of the box. Mediaportal and Windows 7 Media Centre (including BBC HD) each performed wonderfully with not much CPU load. Even the picture looked better putting the ATI based set up to shame.

There are still some issues though. The poor little Atom processor does show it's lack of oomph as certain points - mainly with UI usage so it's not that much of a big deal. The Asus board is pretty loud too; this despite reviews saying it would ship with a quieter fan. I suspect this is fixable with an aftermarket solution so we'll see what happens. On the whole I think I've profited from the build.

Overall I'm quite impressed by my second build. In a stroke I've managed to solve all the issues I had with my last build and at a cheaper cost (like for like). And as a bonus my dad gets a new PC... But that's probably not relevant to most of you reading.

Sunday, November 1

Film: Fantastic Mr. Fox Click for more info

In a world where CGI rules the animation roost, it's quite refreshing to see stop motion given such a platform as this. Of course there's something about Roald Dahl which makes his stories lend themselves to such a format and on the whole the film was pretty spot on in portraying the sense of dark, yet musical, fun he's most famous for.

Having said that I watched this with a bit of trepidation, mainly due to what I had seen in the trailers. But I was pleasantly surprised to see that this wasn't yet another American shallowing of a well loved book, but something which did it justice on all fronts; the plot and story were lovely and well paced, the voice-acting genius and the humour spot on. The direction - particularly when leveraging the animation style, just made the whole thing that much more perfect.

I really liked this film; it was simple and accessible, yet engaging and deep. I totally recommend it.

Saturday, October 31

Food: Tinseltown Click for more info

"But this is old news!" I hear you cry. "Tinseltown has been around for ages, I'm so cool 'cos I go there really late!". Well yes maybe, but what you might not know is that they've only gone and opened up a new bar down the road in Gants Hill.

It is a bit of a weird location to be honest. I'm guessing it was the cheapest place from which to serve an increasingly trendy (and no, that's not a compliment) Ilford massive, but still there's something about having it so far from a more central location that makes it feel a little out of place.

But despite the location it's still the same ol' Tinseltown we've grown to love (and hate). The food is still pretty good if very pricey: I don't think anyone around here will be paying a tenner for a burger and fries more than once a year. The service is okay, but only once you get a seat: for some reason they wouldn't let us sit down until ALL of our party arrived, which was a bit stupid seeing as how some were going to join us afterwards. It's clean and hip - oh and yes, it's still overrun with annoying students who should really be doing their homework or something.

So despite the quality, I don't think I'll be going back. Unlike in Farringdon or Hampstead there's way too many options around here, some within a two minute walk of Tinseltown, each offering better value and attracting a less annoying crowd. In fact that's one reason why I hope it does stick around; hopefully it'll serve to keep the other, much better, places chav-free.

Friday, October 30

Film: Up Click for more info

Up is a pretty sad film. It's even quite dark at some points. This doesn't make it a failure though; quite the opposite in fact, as the film goes a long way to show that Disney-Pixar doesn't have to always be about the happy-happy-joy-joy.

So it's different then, an evolution on the typical stuff these two studios produce? Well yes, although I don't think Disney-Pixar have ever had trouble with being original. Of course we still have the solid (and for me largely unexpected) plot, the funnies and the bits that make you cry (unless you're manly like me). I'd actually say that there's more poignancy in this than there usually is in this genre. This quality follows through to the presentation; the level of animation, although not leaps and bounds over what we've seen previously, certainly shows how CGI is coming into its own. On a related note, the 3D was of the most subtle and effective I've yet seen; I didn't notice my glasses at all, and had no problems with eye-strain like I usually do with the technology.

So yes, once again top marks to Disney-Pixar. Up is brilliant and thoroughly recommended.

Wednesday, October 28

Link of the Day Click for more info

Conflict in Pakistan

Despite being accused of being not very patriotic toward the place I consider "back home", I do like to think I have some sort of connection to Pakistan. I won't argue my case here, but I will admit to feeling a pang of sadness after seeing Boston's current Big Picture.

Monday, October 26

Link of the Day Click for more info

'Younger wife' for marital bliss

In short age (the guy should be at least 5 years older) and intelligence (the girl should be smarter) are factors which contribute to a happy family.

Of course this puts me in a bit of a quandary. Although the age thing is easy enough, finding a 26 year old PhD is less so.

Tuesday, October 20

New Music

Aahun Aahun - Love Aaj Kal

Not sure how I missed this one, but it's so modern filmi I'm happy to have it now.

Kise De Naal Pyar - Miss Pooja

I've been so off the bhangra scene I'm not even sure whether I like this or not. It does the job and I'm sure Rishi Rich knew what he was doing.

Sunday, October 18

Faruk and Fazila

"I can't believe..." has been the most commonly used phrase over the past week or so, albeit in different contexts. First it was "I don't believe you" when Faruk announced his engagement, then it was a "I can't believe Faruk is getting married" which then transformed into a "I can't believe I'm at Faruk's wedding". And to be honest, I can't believe I'm here writing an ode to Faruk and his new wife Fazila.

Faruk is one of my oldest friends. And since I've only known him for four years or so, I mean that in the age sense. But that's not why none of us were taken aback by his awesome news; no it was more to do with his till then attitude towards the whole game of marriage. In short, he was quite cynical about the whole thing and pretty much dead set against it. Well, for himself at least: for the rest of us marriage was something to be pursued (even though he presented it as a rite of passage more than anything else).

But Faruk wasn't (isn't?) just wise with regards to marriage. His words, behaviour and manner all reveal a lifetime of experience in many areas; the most important being when dealing with other people. He'll listen, he'll respond and yes, he'll even manipulate (for good and evil) with an ease many others struggle with. In short Faruk is a people person and in many ways the lynch-pin that binds this particular group of friends together.

We've only known that Faruk was even getting married for a week so I can't say I know too much about Fazila. Initial impressions are that she's an attractive and friendly girl; someone who complements Faruk both in personality and temperament as well as in the practical. Without making it sound too clinical it's clear that they both have the same idea about what a marriage is as well as what their respective roles are in achieving that.

But at the end of the day it's the fact that Faruk is getting married at all that is still the biggest shock to the system. After all: if Faruk can get married then pretty much anyone can.

Food: Zaika Click for more info

A classy Indian right at the start of High Street Kensington, Zaika also made the perfect wedding venue for the 100 or so guests today.

Of course this probably means that this review is a bit invalid; the food was a fixed set menu so I can't really comment on the choice on offer. What we got was superb though with the various curries bursting with flavour and the side naans and rice of a similar high standard. It was all a bit heavy though - it was impossible for me to eat as much as I usually did and even hours later you can still feel it in your belly.

The service was top-notch and the decoration fabulous, although I get the feeling that the place has a somewhat muted vibe under normal circumstances.

All in all a very nice place to dine in - other than that I can't really comment on price or anything... But I guess that just means I'll have to go back one day in order to complete this review.

Muslim Weddings: A Dress Code

Now I would never call myself an expert at wedding planning. Yes, I seem to go to many, but then it's not like I've organised my own or anything. Sigh, moan etc.

There is one thing that I am clear about though, and that's what people should wear to Muslim weddings, particularly those here in the UK.

Muslims are quite lucky when it comes to weddings. Almost by religious dictation they're forced to have two discrete events: the wedding ceremony and on a later day (more often than not the day after), the valima. This natural splitting of the nuptials allows for various logistical practicalities; for example it's usually the girl's side who pays for and hosts the wedding, while the guy deals with the valima. Both groups therefore get to have their own party in the style (and with the cost) they find to be most appropriate.

Most Muslims in the UK have a "home" culture as well as their western one, and the two events also allows us to demonstrate that too, which is where my point about dress comes in. Due to the serene and religious nature of the wedding ceremony it makes sense to make this event more of a traditional affair where guests wear clothes which either demonstrate where they or the couple getting married come from. For most of us from the sub-continent, this means saris, shalwar kameez, sherwanis, lenghas... You get the picture. Men should NOT wear suits.

The valima on the other hand allows guests to show their other side. For men this now does indeed mean a suit; for women it's slightly trickier since not many tend to feel comfortable in dresses. Having said that saris still go with suits so it's less of an issue for them.

Why is this so important? Surely everyone should wear what they're comfortable in? Well put simply it's all about consistency. No matter how hot everyone looks individually, there's something really odd and off-putting about having a photo with some guys wearing suits while the others wear traditional - especially if they're wearing the opposite to what the groom is. But further than that it's also about vibe and appropriateness; trying to establish what particular facet of the marriage we're trying to celebrate. You're supposed to nick the groom's chappal, not his shoes.

Before you write me off as being a total nutcase it's worth mentioning that this has never been a problem at any of the non-Muslim Asian weddings I go to. Unless you're not brown (and therefore excused, but even then not really since you should have been briefed already) you would always - without question - wear traditional at the religious ceremony, and be sombre and muted while you're at it. On the other hand at the reception the men would then be in suits, with the women in dresses (or traditional if that's not an option) and there'll be dancing and music and the rest of it too.

I get that us Muslims are a reserved bunch and I'm not saying that valimas should have dancefloors, but the fact that we can't get something as simple as a dress code right disappoints me - but not as much as the fact that we don't even care about these things. Perhaps it's laziness or selfishness; personally I think it's just yet another indication of how we, as Muslims, uniquely manage to struggle with expressing and consolidating the various identities we own.

My rule of thumb guys? Wear traditional to the wedding and leave your suits for the valima.

Saturday, October 17

Film: Couples Retreat Click for more info

After what seems like laboured attempts at keeping up the film-going, you would have thought I would be a bit more discerning over what I'd watch at the cinema nowadays. Couples Retreat is hardly the best looking flick currently on offer, but seeing as it has both Kristen Bell and Kristin Davis I pretty much had no choice but to check it out.

Call it well deserved, but I did end up suffering for my shallowness. Despite a promising start (one worth watching for the brilliant Colin Baiocchi alone) the film ironically falls flat once all the respective couples land at Eden Resort.

Despite a couple of laughs (most of which are actually following on from previously funnier films by the some of the same crew) the acting is poor and the production and editing flimsy. Definitely one to miss, even if you are a big fan of Kristen and Kristin.

Friday, October 16

Family Orientation

It goes without saying that different people are orientated in different ways. Be it work, friends, some hobby or religion, there is at least one thing which determines the decisions we make and the general way in which we live our lives. Most will know what's important to them and what priorities these various orientations take.

Most people, however, will always describe themselves as being family orientated. In fact I'm not sure I know anyone who wouldn't claim this about themselves. On the other hand the same people would disagree that being family orientated is something as vacuous, latent and so easily shared by everyone. Which in turn leads me to ask: are people as family orientated as they think they are? Is it a case of everyone being too scared of appearing inhuman if they didn't make such a claim? Perhaps being family orientated is something seen as universally good and desirable (when in actual fact it doesn't have to be)? It's be interesting to see how many of us, whether we have have families or not, actually allow family to impress on our decisions. But how do we figure out if someone is family orientated or not?

There are obvious indicators. For example they will spend a lot of time with their own families and treat them as friends as well as relatives and it's also clear where their priorities lie. But I reckon some people can be family orientated without necessarily demonstrating these qualities; perhaps they don't actually have a family, or you don't get to see them all together? What follows is a list of the qualities which I think a family orientated person has:

  1. Need. Being family orientated implies a non-trivial level of co-dependency on others. This means feeling comfortable with leaning on others as well as freely allowing others to rely on you too. This rules out independent people.
  2. Tolerance. Being family orientated means putting up with the bad, letting things slide and not bailing after a disagreement. Preferring your own company to that of others probably means that you're not family orientated.
  3. Consideration. Realising that almost everything you do, no matter how small, has a direct or indirect effect on your family. This means making sure your family is financially and emotionally secure, as well as trivial gestures like making an effort to eat together, keeping the noise down after hours or indeed synchronising your sleeping habits with the rest of the house.
  4. Sharing values. Someone who is family orientated is likely to agree with a lot their family has to say on matters. Likewise they will make an effort to represent them in the best way possible as well as recognise that there is a collective reputation to uphold.
  5. Priorities and focus. Someone who is family orientated will make everything to the benefit of their family. So a man would get qualified and get a good job, but only to provide for his family rather than some personal sense of achievement or gain.
  6. Simpleness. Someone who is family orientated will be content and happy with the simple things in life, especially in a world where there are sexier things on offer. They don't need adventure and excitement to feel fulfilled and neither do they need to be particularly outgoing. In fact they probably prefer nights in than out.
Bear in mind that not having any or all of the above doesn't imply that someone doesn't care of love their families. This is less of an emotional assessment and more of an analysis of how someone who can be considered family orientated behaves and what makes them tick. As I stated at the start being family orientated (at least how I describe it above) isn't necessarily a universal right way of behaving and in my opinion there is nothing wrong with being otherwise.

However I do think that some who claim to be family orientated aren't as mush as they think they are. But rather than accuse them of having misplaced and incorrect priorities, the only real comment I have is that they may be misrepresenting who they truly are both to themselves and others.

Thursday, October 15

New Music

Down - Jay Sean feat. Lil' Wayne

Just to be clear: I'm only listening to represent and support our home boy. Down down down.

Tuesday, October 13

The Lion King Click for more info

The Lion King is a definitive Disney classic. Packed with originality, story, colour song and dance, it's exactly what makes a Disney film a Disney film. It's also what makes it ripe for theatre adaptation, and it was with high expectations that I went to see the live show this evening.

In terms of spirit, they seemed to have pulled it off. Using a combination of acting and puppetry, much like Avenue Q in fact, they portrayed both the animal and human qualities which the Disney characters had in spades. The story was also still there, if a bit extended to fill the time a theatre production needs to. Quite fittingly there was more cultural dance and singing than there would be in other productions of this type, and at times it felt like a bit of a variety show (think Afrika! Afrika!) if not of that particular quality.

The stage was a mixed bag - not in terms of entertainment and imagery, but more in how simple and sparse, yet clever it was. There was no set per se, with most backgrounds either simply hanging from the ceiling or smartly being represented by more actors. The more dramatic times were implemented with an almost magically morphing stage that seemed to have hundreds of sliding floors, hidden panels and structures popping out of the ground. I was quite impressed by the technical achievement.

Overall though I felt that something was missing. Perhaps it's because I'm used to the cartoon but I didn't find the human-animals as likeable as their animated counterparts, and neither did I find myself becoming endeared to the dancing and even, shockingly, the songs. If I'm being honest I'm not quite sure the singing and music were of a high enough standard for any production let alone The Lion King.

But as a technical achievement, what with the puppetry and transforming stage, I liked The Lion King. It didn't quite hit the spot like the cartoon did, but certainly wasn't a bad thing to see on stage. Ultimately though, I do go to the theatre for magic and awesomeness, and in those terms The Lion King was kinda lacking, especially when faced with the myriad of choices London offers.

Monday, October 12

Film: DeenTight Click for more info

I managed to catch the London screening of DeenTight at RichMix, Bethnal Green this evening. The director was there, as was Amir Sulaiman and other faces from the faith music scene.

The film itself was okay: it documented what current Muslim hip-hop stars thought of their practise of the genre, and whether it conflicted with their religion or not. At 74 minutes it wasn't that long and I didn't nod off during any part of it (a good sign I think). The aim of the film was not to provide any formal scripture-backed fatwa on whether hip-hop (or even music in general) was halal or haraam, but to record whether or not the artists themselves were conflicted. A surprising amount were so this was quite an eye-opener, however I felt a bit let down by the shallowness of both the probing of the film-makers and the responses they received. For instance, although music in general (as opposed to hip-hop in particular) was considered by some to be impermissible, we never actually left the realm of hip-hop. I felt this was a bit limiting since the permissibility itself was always tied to the (sometimes anecdotal) effects of hip-hop rather than anything more fundamental.

But on the whole it was a good way to open the debate on Islamic hip-hop if not Islamic music in general, something which seems well overdue if the numerous claims of Islam being fundamentally a part of hip-hop from its inception are to be believed.

Sunday, October 11

Zainab and Mobashir

I like how everyone is different. It's our differences that what makes us interesting and so if we were all the same things would get very boring, fast.

That said, I do wish that there were more women around like Zainab. She seems to come from a time when acting like a woman (you know: polite, understanding, tolerant, giving and patient) wasn't something to be ashamed of or a sign of weakness. It seems that these qualities have no place in this day and age, so it's always refreshing to see them in a person.

But her rare qualities were reflected in the tough time she was having finding a guy worthy enough to receive them. None seemed willing to give back, but worse than that never seemed to appreciate the girl they were interviewing for who she was. But instead of giving in and changing herself, she kept her patience. And you know what? That patience paid off eventually. In spades.

I've not met Mobashir myself, but from what I hear he's pretty perfect and that not in a sleazy dishonest way. But aside from mutual personalities the match up seems pretty spot on, them coming from the same part of the world even though they'll be making their home elsewhere (where they get to walk on beaches of all things. Jeez). I suspect that it's a coupling single people won't help but aspire to.

I'll say it again; if there were more women around like Zainab, particularly in London or even the UK, I'd be snapping one up straight away (provided she'd have me, of course). Damn Atlantic Ocean and all that.

Saturday, October 10

Food: Maramia Cafe Click for more info

Maramia seems to be grabbing a lot of mindshare lately. It's the place to go for authentic Palestinian food, and if not that then for the meat at least. They cater for large parties and are said to be relatively well priced.

Personally I found it to be a bit of a let down. Yes it is cosy: they hosted around 20 of us last night and although we were seated on a long straight table, the layout of the place is such that it's easy to move around and switch crowds. The service is pretty incredible, although something that becomes more of a necessity than favour once the food comes: although the starter of our set meal was buffet the main, a whole lamb roast in rice, pretty much needed someone to carve it for us.

I'm not a big meat eater myself. Well technically I just don't like meat off the bone let along a carcass, so I didn't really see past the initial gimmick of the way the food was presented to us. It was okay but hardly one of the best meals I've had, although the savoury meat pastries were all kinds of awesome. Thinking back I would have been happier just sticking to that.

The biggest disappointment was the price, the whole thing coming to fifteen per head for the starters, main and a soft drink. This is brilliant value for those with big appetites (there was plenty of food left) but for someone who eats a normal amount it's difficult to justify the price.

So I guess I'm one of the few (the only?) who hasn't become an instant fan of the place. That said, as a place to party it's a pretty good place to hang out.

Friday, October 9

New Music

The Blueprint 3 - Jay-Z

I pretty much had to check out the whole album after hearing Empire State of Mind (feat. Alicia Keys), but it gave me a chance to grab Run This Town (feat. Rihanna and Kanye West) too.

Knock You Down - Keri Hilson feat. Kanye West and Ne-yo

Despite vowing never to add Ne-Yo to my tracklist this track is so good I decided to allow it. Keri Hilson hasn't been the big hit I thought she'd be but Knock Me Down is more than enough. I love the change of pace.

Mauja Hi Mauja - Jab We Met

Since Bollywood/Desi music is so dire at the moment I thought I'd take the opportunity to look back to any tracks I might have missed over the past few years. The first is this all the way from 2007, a fun track from an OST I had already checked out when the film came out.

Om Shanti Om - Om Shanti Om

Specifically Ajab Si, Dhoom Taana and Deewangi Deewagni. I'm actually surprised I didn't get them back in 2007(!).

Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi - Rab Ne Bana Di Jodi

Dance Pe Chance (of course) and Phir Milenge Chalte Chalte. Bollytastic.

Desi Girl - Dostana

Super cheesy but again fun stuff from the hit 2008 comedy.

Marjani Marjani - Billu Barber

Although I didn't get to watch this myself this year, I've heard it at least twenty times at weddings and mendhis throughout the season. A definite floor filler.

Thursday, October 8

Film: Zombieland Click for more info

Hilarious and sometimes scary coming-of-age zombie movie about a boy who meets a guy who then go on to meet a girl (and her sister). Yes it's action-packed with all the ingredients that make a good zombie flick, but where this film really shines is in the laughs and, to a lesser extent, the teen angst (with a totally relate-to-able main character).

It's done with quality too; there's no cheapness or tackiness here, or at least none that I could notice. The script and execution are fantastic, with the two guys Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson pretty much stealing the show.

Anyway there's not much more I can say about the film except that I totally recommend you all go watch it.

Link of the Day Click for more info

The 10 Hottest Muslim Women

First let me thank Mash for the link. Mash sent me this link a few weeks ago, but I've been sitting on it for a while. I told Mash that I would credit him once I got around to posting it here though.

To be fair it's not a very good list both in presentation or content. Some of them are definite eyebrow raisers (in terms of bizarreness rather than anything else), and the fact that they posted a picture of Naomi Campbell instead of Iman kinda says a lot about how quality this list is. Still, there are some surprises: I had no idea Eve was a Muslim for instance. Otherwise the only entries of interest are Fawzia Mohamed (at 5), Yasmeen Ghauri (at 4) and Noureen Dewulf (at 2). My personal pick from the list is Queen Rania (at numero uno), but it's pretty slim pickings all round.

Actually the fact that they seem to have missed out anyone from the Indian subcontinent (Katrina Kaif? Hello?) shows how blinkered and misguided the list is. Perhaps next time they should concentrate more on the respective lifestyles of these women instead of how exotic their name sounds? Give me The 10 Hottest Practising Muslim Women (something like this maybe? Thanks to Mash for that link too) over this tripe any day.

Oh and thanks to Mash for the link. I can honestly say that I would not have seen this link if Mash hadn't sent me it.

Wednesday, October 7

Integrating Islam

As Muslims, we're often told that the fundamental difference between ours and that of more "regular" faiths is that Islam isn't merely a religion but a way of life. Personally I've never really understood in what particular way Islam is more life-encompassing than Christianity (say). In terms of being visibly led by scripture this can (and often is) demonstrated by other religions too; perhaps not as much but I'd say that's more to do with the relative age and exposure to secular influences than any fundamental differences. Generally the separation of religion and state is a subjective decision made in spite of religious teachings rather than because of it.

Regardless of whether Islam is unique or not in this way, I think it's worth discussing the ways in which Islam (or any religion) can be integrated into our lives. As with anything there are different depths and views on what integration actually entails, and I offer these not in any particular order of correctness or iman/faith (although possibly in terms of increasing complexity). Oh, and look: I even have pictures.

Let's say that a normal irreligious life looks something like the following:

It's a massive simplification both in terms of number of boxes and how they relate to each other, but generally we're able to split our lives into boxes like those ones above.

The simplest way to introduce Islam to such a set up is to simply make it another box, in a horizontal manner:

Someone with the above approach would pray and go to the mosque (perhaps regularly), fast during Ramadhan and the rest of it. However when making decisions about work or socialising they wouldn't really consider Islam or allow their practise of it to influence them - so they may miss a prayer if they're busy playing football or watching a film say. Religion is for a certain time and place, although since those times and places could be pretty often and big this isn't necessarily about side-lining Islam.

Next, consider the person who "attaches" Islam to each of these boxes in a more vertical manner:

For those in this group, they try to consciously adapt their lives and surroundings to what their understanding of Islam dictates. So they'll cancel a meeting at work if it means missing Asr, or delay going out till they're done praying. A social event means something visibly Islamic - a talk or Eid gathering say. They're always asking themselves "what would Islam want me to do", and try to answer that question based on knowledge and possibly general acceptability - so for example even if they don't smoke (and find it impermissible) they won't mind having a puff of shisha since their local alcohol-free (and so, halal) hang-out offers it. They're also a pretty visible bunch - they'll dress in a way which might uniquely identify them as Muslim and they'll continually mind their Islamic Ps and Qs and qualify all their interactions with fellow brothers and sisters with pre and post ASA/3As, jazaks and iAs and never forget to text all their Muslim pals with a Eid text on the two big days, and their hobbies almost exclusively include Islamic activities (or secular activities which have been "islamified") with almost exclusively Muslim friends, while their biggest factor in choosing a country to visit on holiday is whether or not they serve halal food or not.

The third group are similar to the above but slightly different in a very important way. For them, Islam is a pervasive force which influences their lives in subtle, yet just as strong manner:

The biggest difference between these guys and that of the previous group is the level of explicitness of God awareness. In this sense any changes made to their lives due to Islam is latent and even subconscious; they don't explicitly ask themselves what's islamically right or wrong but already know based on some kind of internal abstract and finely honed compass guiding them. They won't subscribe to an islamic mortgage just because it's been rubber-stamped by a mufti, and although they'll enjoy the company of their Muslim community that would be just as much as other more secular activities. When they pray they don't necessarily make a point of it - for them it's a standard daily chore just like having three meals a day is and as such they won't allow scheduled prayer to stop them from living their lives but rather find a way to do both in conjunction (by simply and discreetly praying on the street for example). Reading in congregation isn't something restricted to fancy and special occasions but something quite normal and everyday. They may not offer you a literal peace greeting when seeing you but would offer you the stuff in their kind words and conversation anyway. And finally for them pervasiveness works both ways and where their Islam can influence their policies and opinions, they will also allow what would appear to be secular opinion and philosophy (presented by their non-Muslim friends) to influence their Islam, but only within the bounds they understand there to be.

In reality Muslims are probably a mix of all three depending on the need and context:

So perhaps at work Islam takes a more explicit and formal approach, while at home and with friends it's more pervasive and transparent. Nonetheless I think it's important for us to know exactly what kind of influence Islam has in our respective lives, perhaps to know whether or not we're practising in the way we wish to but more importantly so that we're aware of just how much the religion does dictate who and what we are in order for us to make any of the changes if it's not in the way we first thought it was.

EDIT: Although I think most of the above is observation rather than advise, I'll qualify this with IANAS anyway.