Wednesday, December 29

The Isle of Man

Telling people you're planning to spend a week in the Isle of Man generally results in one of three reactions. The first is that of those who have heard of the place and would like to go themselves at some point. The second are also from those who have heard of it but then ask "what the hell are you going there for?". Finally there is the suggestion I should visit Southampton on the way. Quite.

The truth is that due to having relatives there I've regularly been visiting the Isle of Man for almost 25 years now. It was the first place I flew to without my parents and perhaps even totally on my own, and as such I have collected some pretty poignant memories over the years. I'm actually quite proud to be able to say I've been there multiple times, as a kind of temper to my more "exotic and adventurous" travels. And of course there is a certain kudos to visiting the home of Stuart Baggs.

Of course there's not really much to do there as a tourist and on this trip most of my time was spent just hanging with my cousins and vegging out in front of television Christmas movies. Still there are a few things on the Isle of Man which, in my mind, can only be found by travelling to the island. My top five (in no particular order) are:

  1. Getting there. It's like being part of an exclusive club flying to a special place, from the twin propeller planes that take you there (three to four seats wide) to the tiny airport on the other side, the whole deal is very quaint and unique.
  2. The Promenade in Douglas. Most Islanders don't get why, but I do love it there. Specifically I love the sweeping arch starting from the ferry terminal and curving all the way to the cliffs on the other end. In some peculiar ways it's very Monkey Islandish.
  3. Strand Street. Especially the Marks and Spencer at the end.
  4. Marcy's House. A bit of a personal one here, but if there's one thing an eight year old will always remember about a place it's an upside down house.
  5. Glen Maye. Although there's a lot to be said about the natural beauty of this and the other Glens on the Island, Glen Maye is of particular value to me – I'm almost compelled to drop by each time I visit the Island, walking along the stream until we hit the pebble beach and cove at the end. It's a magical place, if only for the memories it invokes when I get there.
I guess seeing the place every five years or so makes it easier to visualise certain fixed points in my own life, and ultimately that's why the place is so special to me. Which actually makes it quite sad when I consider that this may be one of my final visits there, as my relatives increasingly look to move away to the mainland.

Of course it turns out that the Island feels the same about me – or at least that's how I chose to read the two flight cancellations, the aborted take-off and aborted landing at City today. Although the Island is relatively close, the normally three hour transit took eight instead. It remains to be seen if that journey becomes another fond memory of another brilliant trip to the Isle of Man.

EDIT: But of course you already know this, seeing as I wrote about my last trip there in 2005. I'm glad to see that my sentiments are the same now as they were then.

Tuesday, December 21

Cyanide & Happiness Click for more info

Following on from the XKCD strip a couple of weeks ago, here's another perfectly valid reason to end relations:

Although this time I suspect it happens more often in the Muslim community than we'd like to think.

Sunday, December 19

Shak's Choice: Anushka Sharma

I'm going to start this post off by saying that I don't actually think Anushka is that stunning. She's not ugly of course, but she's not a raw beauty either.

But then it's precisely this well grounded vibe that makes her so compelling. She's oozes happiness, as demonstrated by that oft-worn cheeky smile, and dances in a way that screams how fun she is. She's talented too - she's obviously on the screen for her personality and acting skills more than her sex appeal.

Anushka just goes to show that positive energy and contentment can be just as attractive as anything physical. The lesson here is to just keep smiling and be happy!

Film: Band Baaja Baaraat Click for more info

You know, sometimes the only reason you want to go watch a Bollywood flick is to have some fun. Not drama, not emotion and not a freaking moral, but just plain and simple fun. Luckily, BBB happens to be an example of a film that delivers on this requirement in spades. Weddings are, of course, fun already, so it kind of goes without saying that a film about a couple of students who go into wedding planning would be too.

But still, kudos to both Anushka Sharma and Ranveer Singh for playing a pair of charming, sweet and, well, fun youngsters. It did take a while for me to warm up to Ranveer but once I got over his initial tomfoolery I was sold. Anushka, of course, had me from the get go.

I guess the beauty in the film is in its simplicity. There's no gimmicks here, no exotic locations or outrageous plot devices to spoil it all. Even ancillary stuff like the songs and costume are brilliantly down to earth. Sure, it's all very predictable and not much of it sticks once the film is over, but I couldn't help but smile throughout.

Masses of feel good factor to be had here. Recommended.

Saturday, December 18

Shoes Glorious Shoes, 2011 Edition

I had a mixed reaction the last time I gave my opinion on the state of ladies' footwear. Some found it quite insightful and even useful, while others considered it the end of any chance I would ever have with a willing woman. But hey, this blog has never been about me being on the pull, and if helping certain girl mates who clearly can't pick footwear means I have to live my life alone, well then that's a sacrifice I'm more than willing to make.

Considering how long ago I first wrote about this topic, I guess girlie shoe fashion hasn't changed that quickly. That said for some reason we've had a raft of new styles come in over the past year or so – and there's no doubt I'm noticing them more now that I'm on a commute.

Judging by the terrible quality of style and design I can only imagine that shoe designers everywhere are so bored that they had to invent anything. What's depressing is how so many are willing to part with their cash in order to justify what can only be described as a broken design decision making process.

But anyway, let's talk specifics shall we? Don't worry there is some good news, but I'll leave that till last.

First up lets revisit that particular bug bear of mine – peep toes. To be honest I've somewhat softened my stance on these, but that's more due to becoming familiar with them rather than liking them for what they are. But that original distaste has now returned after seeing what I suppose some consider to be the natural progression – peep toe boots. Putting aside the fact that these make no logical sense, they just plain look stupid too. It's quite simple really – if you're covering up most of your foot up to your ankle (or higher), then to show your toes is kind of absurd:

And of course, the more of your foot you show in a boot, the more absurd it looks. Fully open toes on a boot? The show of a heel even?

Like I said, absurd. But not as absurd as flip flop boots. I mean look, subject to the feet wearing them, I love flip flops. And of course, like any man, I love boots. However putting the two together is just insanity. I'm actually finding it hard to carry on talking about these bizarre creations of man; that's how much I despise them. They really are the biggest crime I'm going to talk about today:

More awful examples of these monstrosities here.

Next up are brogue shoes. Now I'm going to admit that I have mixed feelings about these than the above and although some are awesome, some do make me feel uneasy. I guess I see a lot of them as masculine and am put off my them in the same way I would be seeing a girl in a men's suit, with a shirt, tie and braces and bowler hat; and we all know that cross dressing is not sexy, even if you just restrict that to your shoes. So avoid these:

But even if you do decide to go for these, then please please please don't forget your socks. On the other hand, losing the laces, adding more colours and a heel make brogues awesome. In short, keep them feminine and we're all good:

But hey, let's end on a positive note. Although I'm normally not too fussed about military boots (see my aversion to masculinity, above), I absolutely love the zipped and deliberately unlaced style making the rounds at the moment:

There's just something totally hot about the comfort, casualness and carefreeness of these things – combine them with a pair of skinny jeans and baggy top (big hair optional) and you've pretty much made my day. The weird thing is that no one seems to know what I'm talking about when describing them - even the few girls (random or otherwise) I've seen wearing them didn't think the style of boot had a name when I asked them for one. Apparently they can be found in River Island and those independent shoe shops you find around Oxford Street or All Saints. I've also seen similar on Ebay. They're awesome and cheap so there's no reason not to buy yourself a pair; the best colours are anything dirty - dirty grey, dirty khaki or dirty black.

Till next time!

Wednesday, December 15

In Conversation with Akshay Kumar, Katrina Kaif and Farah Khan

The two headlining stars and director of Tees Maar Khan were in town today to promote their upcoming film. Much in the same way they recorded an interview with Aamir Khan, Raj and Pablo were once called upon to represent both the Asian Network and British Muslims to the visiting Bollywood stars. Sigh.

But still, I guess I'm used to Raj and Pablo's train wreck style of interviewing enough to ignore any misgivings I have - between them and the pre-fielded audience questions, the whole thing was pretty much a wasted opportunity. At this point I'll once again cast my vote for Sonia Deol to take over, well, any and all contact with the outside world. A special nod goes to the Asian audience - we represented ourselves fully in our lack of decency, respect and organisation. Forget trying to queue up or anything. Still I must admit I loved the guy in the audience who kept holding up a poster of Kaif each time her name was mentioned.

So now that I've got my various moaning about the state of the BBC Asian Network out of the way, what of Akshay, Katrina and Farah? Well first up it was clear that Farah may as well have not been there. In terms of popularity she was well in third place behind the other two, but respect to her for knowing what her place was.

Next up was Akshay, and once again I was impressed by the live appearance of a Bolywood actor. He was genuinely funny - even though ironically what he was saying wasn't. He's one of those people with the right sense of timing, voice and personality that would make even a serious point sound amusing. According to my friends he was also better looking in real life than on the big screen. Perhaps it was my cynicism (or hate, whatever), but I did detect a little chauvinism in him - he didn't let either of the other ladies complete any of their answers without having the need to cut in and elaborate on their behalf. Not cool.

Finally there was Katrina Kaif. From the distance I was seated (that was, right at the back) she looked absolutely stunning in her little black number. Quite interestingly I noticed that she kept her coat on - not only that but she was constantly adjusting it to cover up as much as possible (even as she was telling us about her concerns and with preparation for Sheila Ki Jawani). Content-wise there were no surprises here and although she was friendly and sensible I can't quite say I was amazed by what she had to say. I will admit to being interested in finding out she had sisters living in London. Still looking as she did she didn't really have to say much, although I have to admit I was slightly less impressed when I saw her a bit closer up as she left the studio.

Still, the whole thing was a lot of fun and I'm glad I had the chance to attend. It was good to see and hear both Akshay and Katrina in person, and of course for me to have the chance to publicly declare my love for Katrina during a quiet bit - her turning and waving toward me was well worth looking the fool. Swoon.

Monday, December 13

XKCD Click for more info

It's the attention to detail that counts:

I may or may not have declined rishta for lesser reasons.

Saturday, December 11

New Music

Tees Maar Khan OST - Tees Maar Khan

Hmm. Not much to hear here. Of course Sheila Ki Jawani gets a big nod (and much more), while I'm still undecided about Badey Dil Wala and Wallah Re Wallah. The rest can be safely ignored.

Kya Se Kya Ho Gaya - Raghav

This is the second Raghav pick in as many releases, and I'm starting to get worried now. It doesn't help how this is such a massive tune. I always knew he had it - I guess it takes a bombing and re-rise to really shine.

Sunday, December 5

Film: Break Ke Baad Click for more info

Despite being a Bollywood fan I think it's fair to say that I always watch a film of the genre from the "outside in". I see it for what it is - a guilty pleasure or classic form of escapism that has no real relevance to my life. But that was before I watched Break Ke Baad, a film that I personally related to so much that it's going to be difficult writing a review about it without making it personal. For that reason I'm going to split it into two.

As a film, I thought it was great. The plot was sensible and made sense, and there wasn't even any of the usual post-interval chaos we usually get. It was well paced and balanced, and at no point did I feel I was watching filler. I can't remember any silliness or scenes added purely for the sake of it.

The acting was standard fare, although the cast were hot - Deepika of course goes without saying, but I even really liked Imran Khan for once too. They had some wonderful support and ancillary characters too. The soundtrack wasn't all that as a soundtrack, but seemed to fit film perfectly as commentary or background music. The script was funny yet down to earth and charming, choosing not to ride on any cheap gags or gimmicks. I did scratch my head over the depiction of the Gold Coast, but that could have just been since I have such vivid memories of the place myself.

Overall the film was very well produced. From the embedded credits to the digital projection, the whole thing was very easy on the eye, smooth and lacking of any of the rough edges we've become accustomed to. So yes, even if you have no interest in the subject matter I'd say that this is still a film worth watching.

But of course I also had my personal interest and connection to what the film was asking and talking about: the whole independence versus co-dependence debate, whether a relationship should be an aside to ambition and if love and happiness really are such separate concerns. Take away Deepika's character Aaliyah (granted, a pivotal part of the film) and you're pretty much left with my story - I am Abhay Gulati. Or something. To be honest I don't think much is answered in the Bollywood world where everyone does manage to get their cake and eat it, but it was still nice to see Bollywood's take on the issue.

Overall I found Break Ke Baad a pleasure to watch and maybe even one of the best Bollywood flicks I've seen over the last twelve months. Much recommended.

Film: Megamind Click for more info

It always amuses me how these animated films almost always come in pairs. Bug's Life hit with Antz, The Wild was put up against Madagascar and now Megamind turns up mere weeks Despicable Me - because you know, villains-turn-good is such a reoccurring theme in film.

But hey, it's not like a lack of originality has ever caused me to complain about a movie. And in fact, despite the particular plot line, the two films are quite different on other levels; I found Megamind to be much more adult, mature and sophisticated than Despicable, both in terms of humour, story and theme. I didn't laugh out loud as much with this film, but it was just as awesome anyway.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the younger kids in the audience didn't seem to appreciate the lack of visual humour and directly told story though, so it's arguable that the film may not be as quite fit for use as the other options out there, but I don't think it's fair to knock it for that.

Otherwise the standard applies here and Megamind certainly delivers the goods: great animation, excellent voice acting and a package that will charm the pants off anyone over the age of seven or so. Much recommended.

Saturday, December 4

Film: Monsters Click for more info

Despite the title you shouldn't go into this film thinking it's some kind of science fiction or horror film; not that Monsters is a deliberate attempt to pull the wool over the eyes of the unexpectant - I knew that this was more a buddy-cum-romantic road movie than survival horror before deciding to watch it. It's safe to say that the Monsters of the title provide the context rather than focus here.

So yeah, in that sense there aren't many surprises - boy and girl are thrown together and forced to spend some serious time in each other's company, and finally grow to depend and fancy the pants off of each other. In fact I'd say this journey they took wasn't even that original - the guy's a prat with a heart, the girl devotes to him way too early, but it all works out in the end (excuse the spoiler).

But despite my lack of enthusiasm, I did enjoy the performances on show - enough to keep me engaged and interested throughout anyway. Still, that isn't quite enough to make this a film I can recommend, but if you have a chance to watch it on DVD with your other half then I guess it could provide some feel good factor for a Sunday night or something.

Saturday, November 27

Film: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 Click for more info

You've probably already heard how dark and serious and, from some people, boring the first part of the seventh and final film in the series is. Personally I would probably agree with the first assessment, partly agree with the second one and disagree with the last. I'm going to assume people have read the book (if you haven't, then you should) so consider this your spoiler warning.

So yes. It's dark. People die. Hormones rage. You get involved, feel the pain, hate the bad guys. This is more the fault of the book the film is based on than the film itself so in many ways was the be expected really

That said, I thought it had some very poignant light hearted and even funny moments. Most of these were borne out of the teen angst that is finally coming to a head, but even apart from that there was plenty of the wizardry and magic I thought might have been missing from a chapter not based in Hogwarts.

And so overall I didn't find the film boring at all. Yes, the acting was still painful to watch with some of the scenes as cringe-worthy as they come. But this was Harry Potter through and through and for fans an absolute treat. Recommended.

Book of the Dead Click for more info

The British Museum is currently hosting an exhibition outlining what can only be described as the death process of the Ancient Egyptians. Most of the gathered information was acquired from the study of their various Books of the Dead (there's more than one? How anti-climatic), a death manual upper class Egyptians were often buried with. The book was actually a collection of both instructions (for burial etc) and spells (for various protections and benefits in the after-life) which also itself served as a talisman for they who was being buried.

I guess the biggest issue I had with the exhibition was that of scope. Although death is morbidly exciting (of sorts), there isn't really much to talk about it once you've covered the basics, and as such I felt a lot of the points being made by the various exhibits were slightly laboured. My seven year old nephew certainly lost a lot of his initial interest by the first room. He certainly enjoyed his short time in the museum a lot more, and that despite being given the opportunity to collect spells and create his own Book of the Dead (which in hindsight is pretty scary).

Of course there were some gems which had to be seen, most of them the larger caskets, sarcophaguses and mummys, and in some ways it was worth going just to see those. However as my co-attendee pointed out, the museum itself already had multiple rooms dedicated to these things.

So in conclusion I guess my advice is to spend your time checking out the rest of the museum instead - if only the Egyptian bits if you like.

Wednesday, November 24

New Music

Chains - Tina Arena

Don't worry, I'm as shocked as you are. I think I actually fell for Tina Arena when she sung this. And also: 1995!

Monday, November 22

XKCD Click for more info

When I do this, it's called stalking. But semantics aside: Just Do It.

Sunday, November 21

Film: Skyline

Oh dear. I wanted to like this film, honestly I did. I like the whole humanity uniting to face the aliens thing, and so it doesn't take much to have me cheerleading the characters in such a film.

This time around, I actually wanted Man to lose. Anything to cut this film short - at times it was as if Skyline knew exactly how much pain it was inflicting and was getting some kind of perverse pleasure out of it.

Perhaps I'm being a little unfair though: there were a few - no wait, there were only two - quite enjoyable set pieces, but without a decent plot, context or even blummin' special effects (where was the money spent? Certainly not on the actors), those faded from memory as soon as they were over.

Anyway, I'm wasting time just writing about this. Not recommended.

Saturday, November 20

Food: Cafe at 104 Click for more info

Small and cosy, Cafe at 104 offers a decent Turkish menu for an equally decent price. It's local (in the geographical sense) food at its best, with good, fast and friendly service, a clean and intimate dining area and lots of choice on offer. Who needs to go into town when you have a place like this up the road?

Granted, you won't get more than the party of four we had in there, but with a bill not hitting a tenner a head (with starters but no drinks), this is pretty much something you want to keep a secret anyway.


Tuesday, November 16

Film: Due Date Click for more info

Following on from the surprise hit (well for me anyway) The Hangover, Due Date is pretty much more of the same bromance-road-movie lark that we saw over a year ago.

The farce this time is made up of the contrasting characters - the uptight and always correct Peter (played by the now legendary Robert Downey Jr.) and the irritating failure personified in the form of Ethan (played by the equally awesome Zach Galifianakis). Make no mistake, everyone else just plays bit-parts in the wake of these two.

Hilarious, crazy and yet all too real, Due Date manages to hit that spot of your funny bone where you're genuinely laughing out loud because you want to rather than because you feel that you have to. It's a refreshing brand of humour that you can't help but enjoy. The fact that it's polished too sets this film apart from that other brand of funny film from the likes of Rogen and all.

Absolutely genius. Recommended.

Saturday, November 13

Film: Action Replayy Click for more info

A bollywood flick involving time travel was never going to be taken too seriously, but just in case it needs to be said: yes, this film was pretty ludicrous. But stranger things have happened, and if there's enough love, fun and dance in an Indian film there is always a chance that it could get away with it.

Alas Action Replayy didn't quite manage it. I was certainly fun, and a few times I did laugh out loud (and then, with it rather than at it). The love story however was very weak and the songs a mixed bunch with some excellent tunes alongside some really dire ones.

Both Akshay Kumar and Aishwarya Rai led the way through the film, with the latter looking especially good despite the quality of the film she was in. Oh and a nod of the head to Sudeepa Singh for, well, just being there. Oh and it does get bonus points for that catchphrase.

So yes. Pretty much a waste of time really. Just download the music videos if that's your thing.

Thursday, November 11

New Music

Just The Way You Are - Bruno Mars

This is one of those songs that makes me want someone just so I can sing it to them. Or something like that anyway.

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Sometimes I use exactly this justification to console me when I realise I'm not actually as unique and special as I like to think I am:

Put in these terms, why does anyone deserve anything?

Wednesday, November 10

XKCD Click for more info

A comic which pretty much sums up the search:

I guess everyone wants someone who wants and needs them back - that's part of the point - but who goes first?

Friday, November 5

Food: Shinwari Click for more info

Although technically neither Persian nor Afghan, Shinwari provided the respective cuisines in spirit; we (all twenty odd of us) were made to eat on the floor, from communal bowls and with communal naans. It's a genius way to have a party, with the literal breaking of bread bringing us together as well as lack of obstructive things like tables and chairs getting in the way of group conversation.

The food itself was a mixed bag. We (over) ordered a variety of dishes, some of which were hits, many of which were misses. I liked the kebabs, the fruity rice and some of the meat dishes, but the rest were passable.

Still at 12 quid a head including drinks (consisting of a mango lassi), we couldn't really complain too much. The opportunity it gave to so many of us to engage and converse was worth the entry price alone - I'll have to go back in a smaller party to figure out whether it's any good as a restaurant though.

Wednesday, November 3

Game: God of War III Click for more info

I can't believe I have them both on my blog, but see here and here for the low down. Yes, once again this is more of the same, but multiplied by a gazillion.

The game starts where sequel left off, with Kratos climbing Mount Olympus to do in Zeus and company. The premise is as grand as the visuals and experience, with the FMV effortlessly blending with the realtime carnage. Awesome stuff.

Welcome gameplay tweaks have also been made, for example with the QTE button indicators now edging all sides of your screen (instead of just at the bottom). Overall though, I am still just button bashing my way through all the excellent cut scenes.

Mindless, sure, but oh so much fun. Recommended.

Game: Prince of Persia (360) Click for more info

It was my mistake really. You see the first rehash of Prince of Persia (of Sands of Time, the one that was adapted for film) was absolutely brilliant. It flowed, it was simple, the game mechanic was brilliant and the balance between platform puzzling and combat was genius. I never played the two sequels, but I assumed that they were more of the same; which is why I made it a point to get this, the second re-imagining of the franchise.

Despite being well received by the critics, I'm struggling to understand why. The biggest issue I have with it is the non-linearity of the maps - instead of having to get from A to B, you now have access to a multi-dimensional hub from which you can access various pseudo-sand-boxed worlds. The reason for this is because progress is no longer geographical, it's statistical. In short, the game is now a glorified collect-em-up. Yeh, that's right; GTA has a lot to answer for.

It's a fatal mistake in my opinion. There's only so much wall running you can do before the lack of progress makes it feel like a waste of time. What's worse is that you need to collect to open up new worlds, and the maps are so tight with collectibles that the whole thing becomes a bit of a chore to play. Which is a shame, since the non-collectable bits (ie the combat and puzzles) are quite good in their own right - it just sucks that they make up such a small part of the game.

It's such a pain that I'm considering writing the game off before completion, something I rarely do. I guess it goes without saying that I don't recommend POP.

New Music

Billo Rani - Dhan Dhana Dhan... Goal

This and the next track were added to my play list due to certain recent events. Lucky since it's such a tune.

Dus Bahane - Dus

I am ashamed to not have had this before now.

Anjaana Anjaani - Anjaana Anjaani

Namely Anjaana Anjaani Ki Kahani (super annoying, but hey), Tujhe Bhula Diya (awesome) and Aas Paas Khuda (Unplugged and excellent).

Zor Ka Jhatka - Action Replayy

I can't keep my shoulders still while listening to this. Lucky I no longer care about fellow commuters, eh?

Sunday, October 31

Food: Souk Restaurant Click for more info

Moroccan food again? Seems that's all us Muslims eat nowadays. Frankly there's only so much couscous and tagine a guy can eat. Still, an overload of the same kind of food shouldn't in itself reduce how good or bad it is. Unfortunately that at Souk wasn't all that.

But let's start with the positives first. Decor and atmosphere were pretty good - we (fifty or so) were downstairs for a birthday do, were relatively comfortable and serviced well, and for some reason I paid much more attention to the music (it seems I can't keep still when there's a beat around any more).

Price-wise we were treated quite well; our host had negotiated 50% off the a la carte menu, and with drinks we paid a good £12 per head, much of that for food we didn't manage to finish. For today at least, this place had value.

But ultimately we go to a restaurant to eat, and on that count Souk kinda failed. The food just wasn't special enough. I'll admit that due to the communal vibe of the night we didn't really get to order precisely what we wanted to and I'm sure the fact that we were there in numbers didn't help much either... But for whatever reason I wasn't impressed.

Perhaps going as a private individual in a smaller party would allow me to gain a better idea of what this place is like, but for now I'm unfortunately struggling to recommend the place.

Film: The Social Network Click for more info

Despite what those in the media have said about this film please make no mistake: The Social Network is only interesting because it deals with the phenomenon that is Facebook. It isn't particularly thrilling, well-acted or highly produced but nevertheless manages to grab your attention because - let's face it - we're all Facebook's bitches.

But that's by the by. At the end of the day the relevance of the film does make it and the story it tells compelling to watch, and the two hours fly by as we discover (or at least get an idea of) what happened during those early years. Ultimately the film is about betrayal and manipulation; it's actually quite refreshing to be told a story that didn't necessarily have a happy ending, but I guess that's what happens if you tell a true (and possibly ongoing) story.

Anyway if you have an inkling of an interest in Facebook (and since you're online you probably do), I think you may enjoy The Social Network. Recommended.

Saturday, October 30

Film: Paranormal Activity 2 Click for more info

Seeing as the first film came out less than a year ago, you'd be forgiven if you thought this was just a money spinning sequel.

And of course, that's exactly what it is. However considering how much I enjoyed the whole experience 11 months ago, I saw no reason to see this as a bad thing, instead deciding to hopefully go back for more of the same stuff I found so excellent the first time around.

I wasn't disappointed. In fact I was in some ways even more entertained, which is pretty ironic considering how absolutely similar the two films are. Once again the rational part of me knew exactly how I was being manipulated and once again the rational part of me was ignored as expertly placed bangs, wallops and (most importantly) silences made me a believer. This was genius stuff.

The best bit about the film was how it was actually a prequel and not a sequel. Nto only are we given a context leading up to the events in the first film, we even get to say hello once again to Katie and Micah, both unaware of what would unfold.

Anyway, I guess my review can be summed up with just that - this is more of the same, so if you liked the first film then you're sure to like this one too. Recommended.

Friday, October 29

Film: Red Click for more info

I've said it before: sometimes it's the simple films which are the best. Red is about a bunch of retired CIA assassins, a genius premise since it provides scope for both comedy and action in spades.

Bruce Willis is still super cool, Mary-Louise Parker is super hot, and the rest of the cast complement the film well. Yes, the plot is very predictable (hint: good trumps evil), but the way in which it develops is very entertaining.

If you want a film with a healthy mix of fun, action and laughs, you can't go much wrong with Red. Recommended.

Wednesday, October 27

These Hips Don't Lie

I love dance, possibly even more than singing. Since I can't dance (never been clubbing, innit?) this usually means watching others do it, but it's always something I wished I had the ability to do myself (and I bet I would have if I was a girl). I'd also love to have a dance floor at any wedding I might eventually have, but that of course depends on other factors. But like with most extra-curricular things like these it's a bit too much for a guy like me to learn just for the sake of it - I would need a legitimate excuse at least. You know, like a reality show Bollywood Star (don't worry, I crashed and burned).

So when a friend asked me around two weeks ago to join him in performing something for his sister's mehndi, I pretty much jumped at the chance. I wouldn't know anyone there so if it all went badly wrong it wouldn't harm my street cred that much.

Of course me being me, what should have been a bit of fun became a bit of a project, involving research, planning and even a spreadsheet. The general formula went something like this:

  1. Pick some music, hopefully tracks with some obvious choreography.
  2. Arrange the music by cutting, shifting and joining all the tracks into one.
  3. Analyse the final track by marking each section into packets.
  4. Go through each packet and choose what move to fill it with.
This all took a couple of days, after which it was just a matter of practising what we had decided on. Since we now had it all written down, we didn't even need to be in the same place at the same time.

With regard to practising, 90% of it was just going over it again and again. We must have done the routine at least 30 times. In terms of other tips, as usual it's the obvious ones which hold true - recording ourselves and playing back to see how we looked (a mirror would have been even better for immediate feedback), while we were amazed at how pumping up the volume pumped us up too.

Audacity on the PC was used to cut and edit the tracks, but it was also handy to A-B (or loops sections of) the music. We also had fun practising at slower (to give us time to recall what we were doing) and faster speeds (to test that we knew what we were doing), but that was really just to mix it up a bit.

As expected I became a bit obsessed with it all. The cut track was all I was listening to over the past couple of weeks (my playcount indicates I played it back around 80 times). I also found that it was difficult to just listen to the music, and so fellow commuters must have thought I was pretty crazy bopping my head and smiling to myself as I went through the moves in my mind.

With respect to the final performance, rehearsals were by far technically better. We each made so many mistakes, but I'm guessing (hoping) only we really noticed the major ones. Aside from that, the whole experience was very different to that we had when we practised; the energy was different as was how much we enjoyed the whole thing. To be honest I kinda blacked out for most of it; the music did actually take over.

The guests seemed to have enjoyed it too (although I'm still not sure if they were laughing with us or at us), and we seemed to have increased our popularity slightly with the chicks. Although when I say chicks, I mean the auntie jees. Whatever the case, in terms of entertainment it seemed to have been a success, especially seeing as a planned response from the girls was pulled after they saw ours. Whether this was due to them realising the potential embarrassment for themselves or that they were scared of being outdone by a couple of boys I don't know (I suspect the former).

The only thing left to do now is for me to pass on my gratitude to those concerned, since we did get quite a bit of help. First up comes Ish for actually asking me in the first place. Then there's Asma for the initial tips and pointers (basically who on YouTube to rip off), Ash Kabir (for allowing us to actually rip him off - click here to see how it should be done). Oh and a big thanks to my parents for putting up with the noise and boy smell during practice, and for the support on the day (I like to think they were proud as they recorded us doing our thing); I guess I really am the daughter they didn't have.

Of course there is a YouTube video, but it's unlisted at the moment as we gather the courage to, well, pretty much socially destroy ourselves on the Internet (I'm not quite sure how this affects my value on the marriage market). It will probably become public at some point as we get over ourselves (at which point I'll also update this post), but I'm sure those interested in viewing it would have by then. Perhaps I'll stage some kind of PR leak.

Overall though I had lots of fun both during practise and on the night itself. I still wish I could dance properly... but in the meantime at least I know I'm willing to give it a good shot. If only there was somewhere I could go, maybe with friends, I dunno, where they play loud music just so we can dance?

EDIT: I've disabled comments for now - please direct any feedback to the YouTube page itself.

Sunday, October 24

Film: Despicable Me Click for more info

Shallow story aside, Despicable Me deserves an award for being so damn laugh out loud funny. It's essentially a collection of set pieces, some heavy, some light, some cute and some emotional - but all funny.

If you're looking for a full package... well go watch Toy Story 1, 2 or 3 again. If you want to laugh uncontrollably on a Sunday morning, you could do worse than to check out Despicable Me. Recommended.

Saturday, October 23

Cherry Picking

More and more of us become interested in religion and making it more of our lives. This, of course, can only always be a good thing, and is an essential part of Islam (and other religions). However due to the quick pace and overtness of this change, There seems to be an increasing tendency to ignore the other ideologies and mindsets that we may already have built up within us via other sources. As a result it seems that sometimes we end up using Islam to these reinforce fundamental thoughts, a kind of subtle post-justification. In that sense we're not really changing at all, but merely re-dressing what we already hold as true.

Let me give some examples. Recently more and more single Muslim women are insisting on the right to not change their surname after marriage, and without fail they would always punctuate this desire with a "there is nothing in Islam that says we have to" or "in Saudi they don't", the implication being that either it's virtuous and an Islamic duty to keep a surname, or worst still that they reason they hold such an opinion is because scripture and "authentic" Islamic tradition (you know, because we've all been culturally corrupted for the past 200 years) dictates that we should.

Let's make no mistake here. This is a progressive and feminist idea first and foremost, and the west is precisely where it first entered our heads from. I'm not denying any Islamic opinion on this matter, but the emphasis placed is clearly from an external source (possibly due to the self-serving nature). Other (possibly easier to swallow) examples include men using scripture to beat their wives or marry mulitple times, or why a suicide bomber finds it so easy to blow themselves up amongst innocents.

So now the question is what came first, the opinion or the evidence? It's human nature to be attracted to those who already agree with you, and so it's not surprising that many of us will read the books and listen to the scholars who only tell us what we want to hear. How often are we challenged by what we learn? Most of the times someone tells me about a talk or book they enjoyed I often get the impression they only did because they were able to nod in agreement throughout.

The flip side of this is that we'll reject an opinion as false if it contradicts our own. Reducing this to the basics results in an argument not saying much more than "I'm right because I say I am".

If you look closely at my Islamic posts, I rarely quote scripture or a scholar when putting forward any of my ideas, be they secular or otherwise. I recognise that I think the way I do for a variety of reasons of which my Islamic exposure is but one (albeit a major one at that). As such, there's plenty with traditional Islamic teaching that I disagree with.

This is why I tend to glaze over when someone punctuates a point with "Islamically we should..." or "according to Islam we...". Tagging what you say with "Islam" doesn't make your subjective view objective, and since I'm hardly the best Muslim it's a bit presumptuous to expect it to carry any weight anyway. Would the same argument be put to a non-Muslim? Would it be expected for them to take it seriously? If not, then it's probably not an argument in the first place (which explains why we're generally so bad at dawah at the moment).

But my point isn't that we need to discard our original ideas in order to pave the way for a purer and non-subjective Islam, but more to be honest about where our ideas actually come from. If you're a feminist or chauvinist or socialist or whatever, then why not just accept that? Why the incessant need to justify it with Islam? If anything it's cheapening the religion, but aside from that you should be secure enough in your opinion to not have to reinforce it. But perhaps that's what the actual cause is; that we're so unsure of our own real opinions that we need to prop them up - not in an attempt to convince others but mainly in an attempt to convince ourselves.

Friday, October 22

Food: Needoo Grill Click for more info

Poor Maedah Grill. There's not much doubt over it's role as where people go if they can't get into Tayyab's. Not that the food was that of anyone's second choice, but nevertheless I suspect a lot of its business came from the overflow. Which was fine... Unless of course what you really wanted was Tayyab's.

Which is why Needoo's is so important. I'm not sure of the particulars of its history (apparently it's run by an ex-partner) but this place is essentially a clone of Tayyab's and offers an almost identical menu at an almost identical price (a mixed grill, four curries and a jug of Mango Lassi cost a tenner a head). It's essentially extra capacity for Tayyab's.

Decor is slightly under par when compared to the other two places, but who cares about that? The food is just as good as Tayyab's, the service is much better and best of all: you don't have to queue up for over an hour on a Friday night to get a table. In that sense I don't see any reason whatsoever to even aim for Tayyab's any more, since Needoo's offers the exact same thing without the increasing level of pretentiousness that has come with the former's popularity.

Tuesday, October 19

XKCD Click for more info

And we have a double bill this time. First up, every frustrated call centre user's biggest fantasy:

The fantasy is to find someone who doesn't know less about the product you're calling about than you do. Although if it was a hottie then I guess that'd be a bonus.

Next up we have another love-related comic:

But as much as the cynic in me wants to agree with Randall, I can't quite bring myself to. On a semi-serious note, perhaps it's precisely the omission of having had any "young love" that's making it so hard for so many of us to proceed with a more practical mindset? Anyway.

Wednesday, October 13

Shak's Choice: Sandeesh Samra

Sure she was always going to be an obvious pick, but even I'm surprised at how quickly I've become a fan of Sandeesh. We've not even seen much of her yet.

As with all the Apprentice girls, she's smart, sassy and has tons of class. Oh and of course she could end up with a six-figure job. Cha ching. And she started in the place most the hotties are found: in retail.

Okay, I admit that I have less of a business case for Sandeesh than I had for Ghazal and Sara when they made Shak's Choice, but based on what little we have seen I'm sure she'll do us proud when her first featured episode airs. Not that she's made it here solely on her looks or anything, but oh my: those eyes.

On a technical note I may have somehow scored a high enough pagerank to place this post on the front page of a Google search on her name. My last two Asian-Apprentice-Girl-related-posts were both read by their respective Asian-Apprentice-Girls, each time before I had the pleasure to meet them in person. In short, if you do happen to read this Sandeesh, well, then I look forward to congratulating you on your success in person. That's the power of Shak's Choice.

Monday, October 11


On discussing the pay gap between men and women as highlighted by the recent EHRC report:

wel .. it's like the whole wimbeldon thing. I still dont see why they should get paid the same as men. they play less hours, the tennis itself is not as exciting to watch. the only way i tihnk it woudl be worth it is if both the finalists were fit and waering skimpy clothes, but seeing as it's always the wiliams sisters .... i'll give that a miss

Saturday, October 9

Film: The Town Click for more info

I don't like Ben Affleck. I think he's a prat. He seems to only write and direct films that make him look good, which then makes him a bigger prat. The Town is one such film, and seems created just for Ben to get a shag, be an anti-hero, pout a bit and then reform. Like I said: prat.

Putting aside my deep hatred for Ben, we're left with an okayish crime thriller. Nothing unusual happens in this story about a bunch of bank robbers (they rob banks), with the film choosing to be character rather than plot-driven. This proves to be a bit of a mistake since it's actually the action bits which prove to be the best parts, with the romance angle and serious acting kinda superfluous to it all.

So yes. Wait for the DVD and forward all the quiet bits and you'll be sure to enjoy it.

Saturday, October 2

Film: Back to the Future Click for more info

Listing your most favourite film ever is a recurring debate amongst friends. And where others always name a classic - Das Boot, Star Wars, The Godfather, Schindlers and Shawshanks - I've always considered Back to the Future to be mine, although I would only have admitted to this relatively recently; for some reason it never seemed as epic as the other options presented.

But I finally realised that, for me, BTTF was more than just a film. It was more a marker in my memory of a childhood I loved. From the freebie BTTF paraphernalia found in my Shreddies (which totally worked - I've had Shreddies for breakfast ever since), to watching a preview of the film on breakfast television, to going to watch movies with my dad and brother.

But aside from personal reasons to love the film, it was also a throwback to a period of time when films were fun to watch. It wasn't just the Spielberg touch, although he did have a lot to do with it. Heroes, romance, action, coolness, fun were what these films were about. Watching BTTF was when I first realised that science was cool, that it's okay and even cool to think about weird stuff like time travel and paradoxes.

Which is why I was almost dumbstruck when I saw the poster for the impending re-release of BTTF. I didn't care about digital remastering; this was the chance to watch one of my most loved films on the big screen. Although we've definitely watched the last two on the big screen, I can't quite remember if we went to watch the original, but either way I knew I had to watch it.

I never thought I'd be writing about the film here. It also makes it difficult to review with any kind of objectivity, so I probably won't bother too much. The acting is wonderful, the script fabulous (I often quote the film), the plot magnificent, the direction amazing and even the score is brilliant (walking down streets, I still randomly hum it while imagining myself on a skateboard). The lessons taught and the morals presented are all spot on.

Watching it on the big screen didn't uncover the new details I expected the experience to. There were a few new nuances I hadn't picked up before, but nothing more than what usually happens during a rewatch. I still fancy the original Wells' Jennifer (well as much as Shue anyway), Marty is still my hero (I want to skateboard and play the guitar too!) and the whole Lorraine fancying her kid still messes with my head. And yes, I still cheered when George takes out Biff. I still fantasize about meeting my future missus like that (yes, yes, I know I'd probably get a broken nose instead).

I was grinning throughout and merely recommending this would be doing it an injustice.

Friday, October 1

New Music

Bandslam - Bandslam

Although not strictly a musical there is plenty of themes on Bandslam OST. My picks include the cover of Everything I Own, Someone to Fall Back On, Amphetamine (all by the made up band I Can't Go On, I'll Go On) and Where Are You Now (by Honor Society).

Monday, September 27

Video of the Day Click for more info

How tough can climbing a tower be?

From what I can tell there's no line or anything. Thrilling stuff. I wouldn't mind giving it a go actually...

Sunday, September 26

Some Music Statistics

I hate Apple. Or more precisely I hate the misplaced value so many place on Apple products. I won't go into a fully fledged rant right now, suffice to say most Apple fans are wrong for liking Apple products.

Which makes my love for my iPod quite ironic. I've only ever owned the one - a 1st generation nano, now over five years old, a length of time which kinda reinforces how much its changed the way I listen to music.

How so you ask? The sound quality? The size? Well in a nutshell it's all to do with the whole iPod/iTunes ecosystem I was forced to use, or more technically the meta data that is synchronised alongside the music its associated with. Ratings, artists and release dates are one thing, but when this iPod specific metadata is combined with smart or dynamic playlists, all sorts of conveniences become possible.

The three on which I particularly rely upon are Add Date, Last Played Date and Playcount. The first allows me to listen to my latest music, while the last two allow me to track the stuff I've not heard for a while, and what tracks I really like (as opposed to the ones I think I do via manual ratings). All these metrics come in handy when I'm listening to my collection on a device that can't hold it all.

Due to my hatred of Apple I have tried to move away, but the plain fact is that no other player keeps track of playcounts and playdates (and if they do, they aren't able to store them universally). I still don't understand how any real music listener can manage the whole process via Mass Storage "drag and drop"; sure you can just hit shuffle but I prefer my weighted and structured randomness. That said I have managed to move away from one half of the equation, having used MediaMonkey for a while as my exclusive music manager. This is able to talk to iPods, as well as making it super easy to figure out what meta data is missing from your collection, as well as allowing you to fill any gaps using Amazon or the like. As yet there is no replacement on the hardware side of things, but you can't have it all.

But anyway, this is where we come to the more interesting part of this post. Since I've got a relatively detailed account of my listening habits over the past five years I can figure out all sorts of statistics surrounding my music taste. For example, after some filtering (I tend to listen to new tracks a lot when I first add them), my top ten artists by number of tracks available are:

  1. Michael Jackson (25)
  2. Bon Jovi (12)
  3. Outlandish (10)
  4. Avenue Q (8)
  5. Alyssia (7)
  6. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (7)
  7. The Rishi Rich Project (6)
  8. Jay-Z (6)
  9. Savage Garden (6)
  10. High School Musical 3 (6)
Ah, HSM, the bane of my life. Anyway, my top ten artists by times played are:
  1. Bon Jovi (583)
  2. Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan! (334)
  3. Savage Garden (322)
  4. Outlandish (268)
  5. Aaliyah (232)
  6. Kelly Clarkson (232)
  7. DJ Sanj (210)
  8. Stereophonics (196)
  9. The Rishi Rich Project (191)
  10. Maroon 5 (182)
So then to normalise this we get rid of those artists I have a single instance of and then divide by tracks available:
  1. Atif Aslam (58)
  2. Savage Garden (53.67)
  3. Salaam Namaste (53.5)
  4. DJ Sanj (52.5)
  5. Bunty Aur Babli (50.5)
  6. Hunterz (50.5)
  7. Spandau Ballet (50)
  8. Foxy Brown (49.5)
  9. Stereophonics (49)
  10. Allure (49)
  11. Bon Jovi (12)
I'm sure Bon Jovi should place higher than that, but hey. However if we look at things on a per-track basis a different picture emerges:
  1. Atif Aslam - Bheegi Yaadein (75)
  2. Yaraan Naal Baharaan - Le Mein Teri (69)
  3. Chocolate - Halka Halka Sa Yeh Sama (65)
  4. Jal - Lamhe (62)
  5. Mr. Big - To Be With You (62)
  6. Savage Garden - Affirmation (62)
  7. Ahmed Jahanzeb - Kaho Ek Din (61)
  8. Bon Jovi - Keep the Faith (60)
  9. Will Young - Your Game (60)
  10. Avril Lavigne - I'm With You (60)
  11. The Rishi Rich Project - Aj Kal (60)
Some super random picks there. But even this picture is a little skewed, since it doesn't take into account how long the tracks have, uh, been tracked for. So, finally, dividing by age gives the following:
  1. James Morrison - Broken Strings (feat. Nelly Furtado)
  2. Atif Aslam - Bheegi Yaadein
  3. Yaraan Naal Baharaan - Le Mein Teri
  4. Chocolate - Halka Halka Sa Yeh Sama
  5. Waisa Bhi Hota Hai - Sajna Aa Bhi Jaa
  6. Jal - Lamhe
  7. Savage Garden - Affirmation
  8. Mr. Big - To Be With You
  9. Ahmed Jahanzeb - Kaho Ek Din
  10. Will Young - Your Game
  11. The Rishi Rich Project - Aj Kal
Which is more like it. I had to include Aj Kal since it's such a tune.

Book: Al-Muhasibi's Treatise For The Seekers of Guidance, Zaid Shakir Click for more info

You know, it's always difficult reviewing a book about Islam. You see, a lot of them have a built in protection mechanism - criticise or reject what they say and be labelled an ignorant, blind and misled fool who has a hard heart, for whom there is no hope anyway. Still, seeing as I'm hardly the best of Muslims in the first place I don't think I have much to lose.

Despite the title of the book, what we actually have here is more of a commentary on a commentary, or an opinion of an opinion. Al-Muhasibi's treatise itself doesn't seem to be that long, but after translation and tasfir-like analysis can commentary by Zaid Shakir, we end up with a 200 page volume of moral guidance and advice, most of which is presented in a pretty dry manner. I would say that I only really comprehended 60-70% of the book, with the rest passing over my head (despite multiple attempts at re-reading the passages in question).

Aside from that, I did find the book to be a little too preachy for my liking. Of course, this could have been because I have a lot to correct about myself, but still there is something about the delivery of advice which may give it a greater power to it's recipients. A large deal of this advise is also presented in the form of metaphor (of the aforementioned "hard heart" type), no doubt evidence of the Sufi roots of the original author. Although very useful for many, I tend to be less receptive to the non-literal - but this is a personal preference more than a criticism of the book.

And so the biggest value I drew from the book was the more obvious and direct advice it had on offer. Snippets like suggesting we keep our anger in check, that we guard our tongues (and fingers?) from talking rubbish and bickering, and to continuously question your intent all served as excellent reminders to enable us to live our lives in a better way. I felt that most of this could also be seen as secular advice - and so useful for everyone, be they Muslim or even religious or not - which in my view increases its value even more as it reaches a more universal level.

And it's actually these bits which, ultimately, made the book a good read for me. Although sparse, the value I extracted was and will genuinely be useful in changing how I choose to live my life on a day to day basis, and that alone is enough for me to recommend this book to others.

Wednesday, September 22

Fall Season 2010

Is it sad that I'm more excited about the return of television than any long-lost friend? Having said that I seem to be less enthused about my serials now than I have been in past years. What's ironic is that I fully expect it to be my main source of entertainment once I'm married and having babies, so perhaps I should just archive everything for that?

But I digress. What's certain is that, yes, it's September and that means the return of the US television schedule. As usual, let's start with a review of the year gone by - a lot has happened actually.

First up, I'm still mourning the loss of the two great heavyweights of Lost and 24. Probably my most anticipated shows in recent times, I do think that the loss of both is one of the reasons why I'm not that hot about television this year. Also fallen by the wayside is Little Mosque, a show that was never the same past its Season 3. It was a crime to replace Magee. Still-born this year were 10 Things, Flash Forward (as they got axed) and V (as it was rubbish).

In place of all this loss is a whole bunch of sitcoms, most of which I've not even begun to catch up on. The full list includes Gavin & Stacey (which I did watch some of), Parks and Recreation (Aziz Ansari FTW), Modern Family ("Why the face?"), The Inbetweeners, Community, 30 Rock and Cougar Town. Phew. Oh, and I also intend on catching up on Scrubs at some point. And in terms of regular drama there is, of course, Glee, which although mediocre otherwise is a must see for the song and dance.

Which leaves us with the regulars. Both One Tree Hill and Smallville refuse to die, although we have been told that it really is the final season of the latter (I may throw a party if so). Doctor Who is weird post-Tennant. Family Guy is, believe it or not, becoming a little boring and staid. House is surprisingly enough pretty much the best show I watch now. Overall though, I've quite confident that I'll actually be able to watch all my shows on time this year. How refreshing.

So there you have it. 2010 seems to be the year I transition from engaging drama to not so distracting sitcom. Is this something that reflects a deeper change regarding a change in my own priorities? Don't be absurd; after all it's only television we're talking about here.

Video of the Day

Here's a cute one which I'm sure a few will relate to:

A while back I decided to stop talking myself out from doing stuff. I have had partial success, but am now known in some circles as the guy who doesn't think before he talks/emails/tweets/sings. I've not been in as much trouble as I should, although my current experiment of complimenting random people on the Tube isn't going as well as I thought it would.

Thanks to Humaira for the link.

Sunday, September 19

New Music

Wouldn't Change A Thing - Camp Rock 2: The Final Jam

The only decent song from the OST of a really dire Original Disney Movie sequel. I'd be ashamed to admit to having an opinion on this if I hadn't already given a similar one. Now, where's that cliff again?

Your Song - Elton John

It's good because it's so real, you know?

Saturday, September 18

Film: Devil Click for more info

I don't get M. Night Shyamalan. I mean I do understand his films (and that usually before the half way mark), I just don't get how he's become such a big brand. I don't think his films are bad, just not that great. I certainly don't think that The Sixth Sense's ending was the best thing to ever happen in film. Perhaps if his stuff wasn't all so long and dry I'd have a different opinion.

Anyway, Devil. I guess it's already quite clear what I think about this one - it's the same old Shyamalan, although perhaps one that is mercifully short this time around. Everything else is pretty derivative, from the acting to the plot, although I did feel a bit cheated by the unsubstantiated twist; although a lack of guess-ability is usually a good thing, it's not when it's random and as a result of an arbitrary event. But anyway.

Not bad, but not great, I guess I can mildly recommend Devil for those with nothing else better to do.

Wednesday, September 15

An Audience With Aamir Khan

True to my secret desire to be a girlie Bollywood groupie, I spent a couple of hours around noon in the audience of a live recording of Aamir Khan being interviewed by the Asian Network's Raj and Pablo. I almost didn't make it - between it being during work hours and friends and family not actually caring I was struggling to find someone to go with me, even resorting to asking random people I had just met at work (they were busy). But I didn't have to go alone after all and I finally managed to find someone sad enough (that is, as sad as me) to tag along.

Even though we arrived there early we were still pushed to the balcony; not a bad thing seeing as we has a clear and fine view of the intimate setting from which Aamir and the boys would do their thing. After the standard BBC boilerplate Rablo came out to waste more of our time before - finally - Aamir came out.

I'll say it straight up: I was impressed. He was grounded, well spoken and entertaining. Even when he was singing his own praises it was, paradoxically, with humility. He was always consistent, but funny, animated and serious when he had to be. To be honest he made his counterparts in Rablo look like total amateurs.

Ah, Raj and Pablo. Even though I do like these guys (I've been on their show a couple of times), I don't think they quite have what it takes to maximise an opportunity like the one they had today. If you contrast it with, I dunno, Sonia Deol's recent interview with Dev Anand, it becomes quite clear how lacking the AN is in raw radio interviewing talent. There was minimal chemistry and rapport built with Aamir, but luckily he was able to manage the flow of conversation better than his hosts were.

The audience itself wasn't as bad as it could have been. Yes, there were the swooning sycophants all declaring how honoured they were to be in the presence of someone they clearly thought came from heaven, followed by inane questions asking how he handled being so utterly awesome. And these were just the guys talking. Oh and although I knew I shouldn't have been, I was a little amused by the two pairs of topi'd and bearded guys with their hijabi wives. So cute. Everyone else was more or less split into girls-in-black, girls-in-shalwar-kameez and typical-Asian-bloke. As usual, there were no prizes for originality at an Asian event such as this one.

Still, there were a few good questions; the one I liked the most was from a girl asking who Aamir's favourite acting Khan was. After some to and fro-ing he eventually answered "Yusuf Khan" (aka Dilip Kumar). Very cool. Unfortunately all these questions were pre-fielded, which I always thought was a sucky way of holding a live interview; I wanted to ask him how his Eid was.

Overall it was good enough interview to have been in the audience of, and as I mentioned before I did come away impressed with Aamir, someone who potentially could have been a great fat let down in person. And in classic Shak style I expressed this sentiment by shouting "Aamir I love you!" toward the silent end of the interview.

Girlie Bollywood groupie I am then.

Tuesday, September 14

Link of the Day Click for more info

What stole happiness away from Chinese people?

Although I've recently been getting a lot of links and forwards apparently vindicating the attitude of life I've been preaching on my blog, I've found most of them to be quite long and boring (and so often missing the point). But this one is quite short and accessible, and refrains from getting out of hand by avoiding talking too much about metaphorical paths to enlightenment and all that jazz.

Thanks to Steve for the link.

Sunday, September 12

Film: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Click for more info

In many ways Scott Pilgrim is a couple of years too late - geek has been cool for a good while now. Still, that doesn't quite stop Scott Pilgrim to be a fair homage to pop culture (videogames in particular), and we do end up with a half decent movie as a result. I especially loved the No More Heroes references. I really must go back to that game at some point.

Yes there is a love story in there somewhere and perhaps even some moral lesson, but really this film is only about the specials and the imagery, the fan service and the geeky dialogue. That said, I reckon the film was more accessible than it could have been.

Michael Cera was brilliant as usual, this time flanked by a equally cool cast. Mary Elizabeth Winstead did well as the sassy yet down to Earth Ramona. Still I can't help but feel that Scott pilgrim wasn't as totally awesome as it could have been; it's nearly there, but desperately missing that extra something to have made it a venerable classic. Still as it stands I heartily give it a recommendation.

Video of the Day Click for more info

Even if you're not into hot women you might appreciate some of the geek references below. Or maybe just Seth Green.

Geek and Gamer Girls Song

Milynn's my favourite.

EDIT: If the video isn't working for you, try downloading it from here.

Saturday, September 11

Shak's Choice: Malaika Arora

Just two words really: Munni Badnaam.

It's just a crying shame that she's married to a Khan, and another example of how crazy this world can be.

As an aside, can you believe it's been ten months since my last Choice? I must be getting old.

New Music

Yup, it's the Post-Ramadhan binge!

Love The Way You Lie - Eminem feat. Rihanna

Classic Eminem at last; this duet with Rihanna just seems like a no-brainer. Yes, it's formulaic, but who cares?

So Much (Desi Remix) - Raghav feat. H-Dhami

And there I thought Raghav's music career was dead in the water. Tune.

Bin Tere (Reprise) - I Hate Luv Storys

I revisited this OST specifically for this song, which I think just about edges out the normal version (although both will make my playlist).

Bahara - I Hate Luv Storys

And I picked this up too. It's one of the fluffy songs I typically tend to enjoy and skip to.

Hard To Say I'm Sorry - Chicago

A classic 80's power ballad? Of course it belongs in my play list! Shame about the second half though.

Dafa Hoja - Foji feat. Miss Pooja

Yes, super super old, but essential to bolster the Bahgra resurgence I seem to be going through.

There You'll Be - Faith Hill

Picked up from my recently renewed subscription to Magic (and you blame Noreen Khan for that). Regular movie soundtrack ballady type.

Suno Aisha - Aisha

I actually hate this song. But regular play and exposure means I MUST HAVE IT. Yes, I'm weak and easily influenced. On the other hand I don't think it'll be around for long.

Tere Mast Mast Do Nain - Dabangg

This type of track seems to be becoming quite the regular occurrence now - I must have listed it at least five or six times this year (and one other time in this very post). Still, I guess I can't get enough of the man-singing-to-woman-in-a-husky-voice thing.

Munni Badnaam - Dabangg

Give me a second while I take a another look at the video for this. OMGMALAIKAARORA. Expect a new Shak's Choice coming along soon. But yes, the song is fun too.

F**k You - Cee Lo Green

I just had to get this after seeing the video. Predictably censored to "Forget You" for the masses, the original is still makes the only sense.

This Ain't A Love Song - Scouting For Girls

Well what do you know? My second Scouting For Girls track. Cynical, painful and real... I just love their stuff.

Game: Metroid: Other M Click for more info

The SNES version of Metroid was a masterpiece. It was superbly balanced between action and exploration, and the way in which the 2d-side scrolling map folded in on itself is still an example of some unbeatable game design. And best of all, it was fun to play.

There were three Metroid games released on the Game Cube: Prime, Echoes and Corruption, only the first of which I played and enjoyed fully. The thing about Metroid games are they they require quite a bit of investment to play properly, and what with work and life the time just wasn't there, especially as the switch to a FPS view seemed to increase the chore:fun ratio.

Which brings us to Other M on the Wii, in many ways a rejection of the last three reimages, and something that is much more of a throwback to Super - in fact it actually picks up directly where the SNES left Samus.

Although the graphics are in 3D, the map and design seem faithful to 2D, and this manages to bring back the fun in exploring. Baddies are disposed of quite easily with Samaus's auto aim, while I only had to refer to a FAQ a couple of times before realising what I have to do to proceed (feeling like a fool each time I did so). Quite amusingly instead of powering up by collecting abilities, Samus is now politically stunted by her commanding officer Adam, who insists on her not using her full power till he says so. My kind of guy.

The biggest flaw (and unlike others, it is a bit of a game spoiler), are the controls. In many ways, Other M is a prime example of how horrid the control system on the Wii is - the horizontal remote's d-pad is an ugly beast and one of Nintendo's biggest shames, while your ability and necessity to switch to FPS mode by switching positions and pointing the remote seems to be the most ill-thought out gaming mechanism I've had the misfortune to play with. It's extremely clumsy and is one of those things that holds you back.

So yes, a brilliant game in theory that fails on a fundamental point. Still, it's a game I will play to completion seeing as how much fun making progress is. I guess I'll have to give it a reluctant recommendation for that.

Film: Salt Click for more info

Essentially Bourne with a bird, Salt follows a CIA agent after she is accused of being a bad guy, as she struggles to clear her name. As with most spy thrillers, there are plenty of twists and turns, mostly guessable in this case, but nevertheless enough to keep an audience going.

Jolie is still amazing despite looking like she's getting on a bit, while on the technical side the film seems well built, barring a few moments where real life physics seems to be thrown out of the window.

But overall Salt is an enjoyable, straightforward and easy going romp that made perfect fodder for a long Eid day. Recommended.

Friday, September 10

Link of the Day Click for more info

Ramadan 2010 - The Big Picture

As usual, represents with a collection of Ramadhan images from across the world, this time contributed by readers.

Thursday, September 9

Burn Baby Burn

I'm finding thi whole Quran burning thing quite amusing. However I'm not laughing at the irrelevant actions of some guy, but at the reaction us as Muslims are giving him. This tweet is a prime example of what I'm talking about. It's not the tweet itself - I found it funny enough to retweet - but more how everyone else also laughed at it and then in the same breath went on to chastise Rev. Terry Jones in the same breath. For me that totally misses the point (or at least what I understood to be the point) of what was being said.

This could be because of my formal education in Computing. There we were taught to look at information and data as completely abstract things, all of which are merely manifested in media using an alphabet placed in a particular order to represent these abstract things. In short, the physical wasn't important, it was the idea.

Expanding on this idea and you find that every idea can be represented in an infinite amount of ways. So the Quran can be printed, it can be recorded as audio, it can be memorised. The latter two don't contain any "script" or paper even if you can imagine that it does. And even some ink on some paper can be reduced to a bunch of atoms that happen to lie in a certain way. In this sense nothing physical is sacred.

Of course some orderings of arbitrary things have an intrinsic value. I'll still cleanse myself before touching a paper Quran for instance, since we've been told to do so. But nevertheless, this doesn't mean that this value is lost if the physical is destroyed, and neither does it mean it cannot be recreated. The exception is if what is being destroyed is unique, like art or something, but the Quran is in no way unique (in terms of copies), and even if you burned every single copy there'll be millions of people who have learned it by heart willing to regurgitate it.

Growing up (and even now), I was always told not to put the Quran on the floor. Although I respect this out of a sense of tradition, I can't quite say I understand it. This audio CD I have, can I put that on the floor? If I can, is that because it's not the Quran until I play it? If so, can a person for whom Arabic is a bunch of squiggles put a Quran on the floor while he's alone in his room? Can he rip it up, or even (gasp) burn it?

The fact is we disrespect the Quran as an idea much more each time we neglect or ignore it.

But I'm not being fair here. Perhaps our reaction isn't really about a book being burned, but more about the symbolic gesture of doing so. But if that's the case the wholly makes it our emotional problem, not his. And as it's our problem, we don't need anyone else to do anything on our behalf to solve it.

Link of the Day Click for more info

WARNING: Sankaku Complex may be a little rude for some.

Top 10 Types of Guy You’d Like to Date

So it seems that (Japanese) women mainly like Carnivorous guys and "would like to be hunted down and ravaged like lambs". And people keep telling me that stalking is a bad thing, when now it's obvious that women love the attention provided it's from someone they find attractive first. Which probably doesn't really help me after all.

Anyway, here's that chart in full:

  1. Carnivorous guys (5124 votes) (the opposite of a herbivorous man)
  2. Sporty guys (2398 votes)
  3. Bespectacled guys (1627 votes)
  4. Herbivorous guys (1377 votes) [a detailed description can be found here]
  5. “Iku-men” (1217 votes) [men who take an active and equal interest in childcare - the "iku" is a pun on the character for "rearing," "育" or "iku," and the long established slang "ikemen," meaning a handsome man]
  6. Science guys (1176 votes)
  7. Sweet-tooth guys (977 votes) [men with an enthusiastic liking for sweet things]
  8. Bento guys (968 votes)
  9. Other guys (913 votes)
  10. Otaku guys (381 votes)
Thanks to Steve for the link.

Oh and it may be worth checking out Top 10 Traits That’d Turn You Off a Girl too, although once again I'm going to have to WARN YOU of some possibly offensive images. To save you that embarrassment, again, here's the chart in full:
  1. She can’t cook
  2. She’s has a sharp tongue
  3. She’s timid
  4. She’s restrictive
  5. She’s loose with her time
  6. She’s negative
  7. She’s forgetful
  8. She’s bothersome
  9. She’s got bad dress sense
  10. She’s a miser
I guess I should be heading to Japan then.

Wednesday, September 8

If I Were A Girl

People often talk about wanting to find someone they share values with. I'm no different, and one of the thoughts I always walk away with when talking to someone is how different we must have each been brought up.

The trouble is that, as with many things, values are difficult to qualify. Everyone will claim to have A++ values and even if it turns out that they're not lying to themselves and they actually do, since values are so subjective theirs could still be vastly different to yours. So then, how does one determine someone else has had a similar upbringing to them?

I guess you could do what we're classically told to do - you know, look at respective families and all that. And sure that could work to some extent, but I don't really have any sisters to use as a point of reference, so I have no idea how a girl would have been raised in this family of mine. But if we take the thought experiment to the next logical step, I could go on by asking what I would be like if I was a girl. I mean hey, if Beyonce can do the equivalent for a song then it shouldn't be that difficult for me to do it in a blog post.

As an aside, this may not be that theoretical anyway. Due to some cross-wired international telephone call some in Pakistan did think I was a girl at some point, and I'm sure I've been told before how it was wished for me to have been born with two X chromosomes. Heck, that might even explain a whole bunch of things. But anyway. Oh and bear in mind that like I said above I'm not making a list of what I think are absolutely and universally good qualities for a girl to have, I'm just extrapolating from my own particular upbringing. So yeh, let's go on and meet Shakila shall we?

First the easy bits: I would still be practising in the traditional praying-fine-times-a-day sense. I'd also still be living at home, and most probably wouldn't have left for university or work or anything like that.

Vocationally I think I would have studied something creative and fun like Art, English or even Media instead of something practical or professional. I wouldn't have been looking to make a career out of it, and neither would I have been particularly interested in academic success. Oh and of course, I'd have known how to cook (but not very well if my overbearing mother had anything to do with it) and take care of a home.

Regarding boys, I know for a fact that I wouldn't have dated before marriage. I'd probably also keep my distance from them in general and most certainly not meet or talk with fellas in private. Regarding friends in general, I don't think I'd have a set of best friends as an aside to my family, but since I think I'd be somewhat friendly I'll admit that that's a tough call to make.

I'd avoid going to the gym and I doubt I'd be sporty; although perhaps I'd run instead to keep my slim figure. I'd probably be anal about what I eat to help with that. Oh and unlike most girls who like to think they can dance, I actually would, perhaps having had taken a class or something. I would have never been clubbing, drunk or smoked - no, not even shisha.

I don't think I'd be wearing a hijab, and that despite seeing my mum wear one from the age of 10 or so. On the other hand, I wouldn't have plucked my eyebrows either; no, not even subtly. I'd have steered clear of make-up too, choosing instead to accessorise to compensate. I'd have shopped at Primark rather than Gucci and worn flats over heels. Oh but I'd have definitely owned at least one LBD.

Personality wise: I'd be a bit of a girl really. Quiet rather than mouthy, and looking to be led rather than be opinionated. I don't think I'd have sworn or used bad language or been brash. I'd have choosen to be silent and let things go rather than let my ego get the better of me.

Perhaps really strikingly (and quite possibly the most useful bit of information here) I would have wanted to marry by 22 or so, and would have mainly stuck to the introduction (via parents or very trusted friends) route to do so.

Oh and I'd have totally been hot (and known that too).

It would be incorrect to describe this as a requirements list - I wouldn't care if my eventual partner could actually dance, was really brainy or wore a hijab for instance, and I gave up on the eyebrow thing a long time ago. I will admit that I would probably see these things as attractive in other people, but then that just goes back to the whole theory about the wanting someone with values that match.

So there you have it. Probably the most strangest post I've ever written here. And yes, I'm sure there's a specific name for thought experiments like these (and no, I don't mean virtual cross-dressing).

Monday, September 6

Live and Let Live

Despite the numerous rantings on my blog, I do tend to generally accept how others choose to live their lives. My opinions here are more abstract and generic rather than aimed at any person in particular, and I gave up trying to save the world one-person-at-a-time ages ago. However rather than this being a sign of my tremendous level of tolerance and understanding, the truth is I just stopped caring. If people wanted to burn then who was I to stop them? Why should I bother inciting change in others; and more to the point what gave me the right to anyway? I'd probably just make things worse.

Of course I will take action if their behaviour affects me directly, in which case family and close friends will feel the brunt of my well-intended self-righteousness. But even then I'll only say it once or twice before giving up and will instead change myself or our relationship so that they don't affect me on this particular issue any more. It's just easier that way.

So what's the marriage angle? Well rishta are no different, and so I'm quite easily able to dismiss someone if I see us having critically different ways of thinking. It's a less holistic and more brutal approach really, since it doesn't really look at the potential of a person or their willingness to change (be that driven by myself or my opposite), with this stance assuming that no changes are needed on my side either. But generally I find it much easier to simply let them get on with their lives than to even consider taking on the quite difficult job of tolerating them, essentially choosing to move on to find someone who I feel won't need fixing instead. And like with my friends above, I'm convinced that they're better off for it too.

The all kind of breaks down when people (mostly women) tell me how their sisters are actually highly adaptable and willing to change, even if they don't actually appear so at first (or second, or third) glance. Add to this that most are confused (again, these are my lady friends talking about their own here), and it seems that avoiding the change process is actually quite the silly thing for me to do.

I guess ultimately it comes down to finding someone you care about enough that you're willing to put in this effort with in order to change each other, and that as a unit; you know, that whole "marriage is hard work" jazz newlyweds talk about. For me though, it seems I'll only ever find those attractive who come ready made, those who won't require this initial and ongoing mutual effort.

Maybe I'm just lazy, but I do honestly hope that with the right person it should all just be easy and obvious.