Friday, July 30

Food: Hazev Click for more info

Essentially simply Tas with bells on, Hazev makes a nice enough place to retreat to on a Friday night. That's not to say it was run of the mill - the atmosphere and decor were all at a high enough standard to give the place a certain quality you wouldn't find in its sister restaurants.

The food, however, was pretty much the same as any other Turkish place I've been to (a comment on my palate more than the food), although there was plenty of it for a decent enough price and the fact that they hosted over 20 of us without blinking an eye made this place somewhat of a winner.

Sunday, July 25

New Music

A Whole New World - Peabo Bryson & Regina Belle

My nephews' Disney's Classics CD on random prompted me to finally add this to my play list - on so many levels the best of all the traditionally animated songs. I'd say this has pretty much been in my top ten singles list since I begun listening to music properly. Of course, the film version has been skipped by the single, but there's not much between them.

Film: Toy Story 3 Click for more info

Essentially all Toy Story movies are the same - a bunch of lost toys get lost and spend the rest of the film in a struggle to find their way back home. The reason why the makers have stuck to this formula is because it works on so many levels - you have the excuse for Mission Impossible shenanigans, you have the metaphor of losing and finding yourself, and then you have the underlying message about loyalty, family and friendship.

And that's exactly what is brought by this, the third instalment of the franchise where modern animated storytelling first started. Of course, it's all magnified by the finality of the situation Woody et al find themselves in, but that just adds to the involvement and emotion of the whole affair. Everything is multiplied by at least five this time around (I didn't cry, dammit) and unlike other second-sequels, Toy Story 3 manages to be a fitting end to the legacy it leverages.

Absolutely recommended.

Friday, July 23

XKCD Click for more info

You gotta wonder how many guys (and girls) are in this situation?

So many questions: is it better to love or be loved? Is it possible to even partner with someone if there's a better, albeit inaccessible option, elsewhere? Is it even possible to be in love with someone inaccessible, or is that why you love them in the first place?

Thursday, July 22

Living a Lie

In a past life I was quite the boring fellow (yes, even more boring than I am now). For example during university I would rather race home to watch Buffy than hang out with my mates after class. Most dinners would be had at home - I might have gone out to eat once every six weeks or so - and my idea of socialising with other people was to play videogames with my brother. International travel meant going to Pakistan with family, while "meeting with friends" meant an evening of chicken burgers and poker at one of their houses. I read simple books, watched popular films on telly and the idea of going to a talk or even a gallery was totally foreign to me. Music wasn't found in clubs but on MTV or B4UM, and most of the girls I was in contact with were related to either me or my friends (not that there were many of them). Heck I still don't go out for lunch - I've had the same packed lunch daily for over two decades and I'm still not bored of it.

I'm not entirely shure what changed, although I suspect it was partly due to people telling me to "get out there" if I wished to find a wife, as well as my brother moving out and my local mates moving on with their lives and getting married. My first foray was to join an Arabic class (after work, evening classes was the most popular place to find a partner). This then grew to City Circle (bless), and then ICSS, and before I knew it I was part of a vast social network that was providing thousands of opportunities to try new things with new people and "grow", whatever that means.

I must admit that I did enjoy it. It really did open doors to things I would never had experienced had I just stayed at home. I found new people to have semi-intelligent conversation, travel the world and eat at new restaurants with. The vast majority of my 500+ Facebook friends were made via this route.

But I never forgot the reason why I had done all this, and neither did the people I was meeting. "You know so many people Shak, and get on with them. Why aren't you married yet?". For a long while I had no answer - they certainly were amazing people and I did like them all and got on with them. What was the deal?

It's only more recently that I begun to realise what the problem was. To leverage a well used cliché, it wasn't them, it was me. Since I had to essentially change myself to access this wonderful new world, I wasn't finding anyone who matched up to the person I really was. In short, by looking in a place that wasn't me, I was looking in the wrong place.

And this all becomes evident each time one of my new friends shows surprise when I describe the type of marriage (and so, wife) I want: "But that's so boring Shak! You go out all the time and love to socialise and travel and do new things and achieve - why would you want to throw that all away for a life you don't lead now?". Of course the answer is that it wouldn't really be that different, not really. It would simply be returning to who I really was.

But just to be clear here, this isn't really about marriage, but more about defining who I am. If it's a boring and introverted guy who prefers to stay in than out then I should just accept, and more importantly, be that. No one should live life as someone they're not.

And so I find myself slowly regressing, even before any explicit acknowledgements of realising who or what I am. I fully expect to settle into a life of work-home-tv-pray-eat-family-sleep now that I have a job. And you know what? I can't wait.

Of course many will accuse me of simply having had my fill, or even being disingenuously selective in saying what I like. And in many ways these accusations are essentially correct - perhaps I'm just bored of what life has to offer or over-emphasising what I want? Maybe I'm just taking for granted a lifestyle many would sacrifice their first-born for[1].

To be sure: I won't sit at home all the time, certainly not to the extent I was doing so before, but I will be more discerning and less reluctant to just stay in - a balance if you will? The point is that I won't miss the lifestyle I've enjoyed over the past few years and certainly won't be chasing or maintaining it. Whatever the case, this transition does actually feel like a return to the place I've always known and wanted to be in.

[1]excuse the in-joke

Wednesday, July 21

Shak's Rules of Twitter

I love Twitter. I like the immediacy, the API and content orientation, the fact that it forces me and those I follow not to waffle. In fact I'd say one of the major reasons I'm no longer outputting stuff here like I used to is because most of that content has moved to Twitter.

However, as with most things the popularity of Twitter seems to have come around and bitten it in the behind. That's right, I'm talking about those people who don't quite realise the point of the technology, those who see it as merely typing into a box or simply clicking a retweet button without thinking of the meaning and power behind those actions.

The main thing people forget is that their content on Twitter should be always be follower-centric rather than anything else. Your content should be about your audience as a whole, and not just one person in particular or even yourself. In this way, it's very much like a blog and very different to email or IM. If you still don't get it, allow me to just list some fundamental rules that, if you choose to follow, will automatically bring you into harmony with Twitter and what it actually stands for.

  1. Don't extend tweets. If you're finding that 160 characters are too few for you to get your message across, then write a blog post.
  2. Similarly, do not follow up or reply to your own tweets. Write a blog instead.
  3. Don't converse. It's extremely unlikely that anyone cares what you and another tweeter is talking about past the first witty @reply to an original tweet. And unlike with FB and gBuzz, everyone becomes part of your conversation whether they like it or not (why hasn't anyone released a Twitter-conversation application yet?). My rule of thumb? Never @reply to an @reply. If you really must, consider using DM, email, IM or even the phone instead. Crazy, I know.
  4. Don't make up hashtags to convey sarcasm. The power of hashtags is in how everyone uses the same ones - unique and disposable hashtags are useless. Try to actually, you know, say what you mean instead of implying it.
  5. Don't abuse retweet. RT stuff you think your followers will find interesting, not what you alone do because of a particular context. Definitely do NOT RT the requests of other people - this is pretty tantamount to spamming your followers.
  6. Don't announce small talk in order to absolve yourself of responsibility. Twitter is NOT for wishing people a good morning, each and every morning. Set up an automated scheduled email if you want to do that. Better still, wish whom you want to a good morning personally. Yes that would take time... but then they're worth the effort, aren't they?
  7. Don't use Twitter as a glorified distribution list. If you want to tell five people that a meeting is about to start, try emailing them instead.
  8. Don't use Twitter to create plausible deniability. You obviously want a single person to know it's them (and only them) you're talking about with your generic messages, so stop being a pussy, save the rest of us some embarrassment and just tell them directly
  9. Don't fish for random conversation. If you're bored, go post on 4chan.
  10. Don't announce new blog posts, photos, music trends, running times, gamerscores etc, and don't let third parties do it for you either. These things should have been made publicly available in their own right, and interested parties will already know about them via rss or some other delivery mechanism. Tweets regarding how to initially find stuff are okay, but not each and every time.
  11. Don't me-too. You wouldn't go out of your way in real life to publicly congratulate, thank or best wish someone, and you look equally naff when you do it online.
  12. Don't use Twitter to disseminate common knowledge. We already know what day it is, and can figure out how many weeks it is till Christmas; we don't need you to remind us.
There's probably more, so I'll be updating this as time goes on.

As always feel free to ignore me or accuse me of being uptight and a spoilsport. You see, the other great thing about Twitter is that you can easily unfollow people with a click of a button; but when Twitter eventually implements karma you'll all see how right I am anyway.

New Music

Keep On Loving You - REO Speedwagon

As heard on Ghosts of Girlfriends Past, this is one of those power ballads that we all know, but can't quite remember who performed it.

Tuesday, July 20

Back To The Grind

After a whopping two and a half years, I am now back in gainful employment. Yes it sucks that I'm starting a new job just as the summer holidays kick in, moreso that after spending two Ramadhans at home, I'll imminently be doing the whole work-and-fasting thing with the rest of you. But alas there comes a point where reality hits, especially in the credibility stakes.

Not to labour a point about ambition and career focus, it sometimes feels that I'm the only one who feels that work is quite the distraction in life, that it's a job that stagnates the mind, not unemployment. I like to think that's only because I've not found (or feel I have the freedom to find) something I love doing which also pays. That said, I am making a concerted effort to embrace my new job as something I like doing too - I've even promised myself not to use Messenger at work. Crazy stuff. Oh and for those of you who were looking forward to an increase in content (amusingly my activity on this blog decreased as I left employment), I can confirm that there is no Blogger access where I am now.

I always said that I missed the commute to work and judging by this morning I wasn't far wrong - having good music in your ears while reading a book is for a me a perfect start to the day. Falling in love with a couple of hotties on the way was a not-so-unexpected bonus.

Although I've listed a few already on Twitter, the things I'll miss from the past two years are: my twice-daily dose of Friends, my daily visit to QMT, making my own lunch, the ability to adapt (or in my case, abuse) a working day to visit the cinema or friends, tea-time, masses of holidays and, last but not least, having the company of my mum for the whole day.

But it is nice having a regular and fixed income and unlike in previous jobs I actually have to dress the part too, so it all feels like I'm growing up - perhaps this will have a more profound effect? Who knows... But despite my public moaning I am embracing this change for the better. Like most things in my life, work and career always seem to pan out for me - although thinking about it now, perhaps it's exactly the fact that I don't expect much from it that means I'm more accepting of and adapting to whatever situation I'm placed in? Hmm.

Saturday, July 17

Film: Shrek Forever After Click for more info

After my disappointment with Shrek The Third, I was happy to come out of the fourth (and final?) instalment feeling much better about the franchise. To be honest I still think the series is being rinsed more than anything else, but at least this time around it managed to provide some entertainment along the way.

I guess the biggest problem with the film is how its context is. It seems that Shrek himself unlearns all the lessons he was taught in the first three films, only to set himself up for yet another load of coming-of-age discovery. This patronisation of the audience is only forgiven once you laugh and cry at the story as it unfolds.

So I guess that's the key here; to consider this not of epic proportions as the first (and possibly the second) film was, but as an entertaining timepass it certainly hits the spot. Eddie Murphy's Donkey was especially on top form.

We chose to skip 3D this time around - a first for us and personally I didn't miss it at all. The swooping scenes were still swooping, but without the eyestrain. Otherwise the film looked and sounded great.

A recommended fun-filled romp.

Friday, July 16

Film: Inception Click for more info

The most wonderful thing about Inception is how it holds your hand throughout the whole film. This is a good thing since it does get quite hectic at times, deliberately leading you down blind alleys and twisty paths only to pull the carpet from under you. It's this manipulative relationship with the audience that allows Inception to totally play with it; quite ironically it's planting ideas in the minds of the viewers just as the characters are doing to others in the film.

And that's pretty much the main selling point of this film. Despite the acting (with Ellen Page suddenly becoming very fanciable), special effects and plot all being to a decent standard, they are all incidental to the mindgames being played. As long as you're aware of this connection you have with what's going on, then it's all very enjoyable and fun to play along; although I suspect many might overlook the depth this film has to offer.

Totally recommended, just make sure you concentrate if you decide to go watch it.

Thursday, July 15

The Standard Chartered Great City Race 2010, London Click for more info

I like to think that it's reasonable to expect much less from my races now that I've stopped running. I started this year's Great City race after doing zero training; needless to say I was quite worried about how it would go. On the other hand, this lack of self-expectation made the whole thing more approachable and less daunting, and I think I enjoyed the actual run more than I usually do.

My official time came in as 26:41, a whopping three minutes down on last year's time, but still placing third in the company. If there's any evidence that I'm getting old... it's my ever decreasing fitness and speed around a course.

Wednesday, July 14

Pakistan Vs Australia, First Test, Second Day

Seeing as it was my last week to doss, I thought it was worthy to spend a whole day at Lord's to watch Pakistan play in the second day of their first test against Australia. This was actually a Pakistani home match, not that you would have known; apart from a small vocal crowd at the nursery end there were no indications of a real Pakistani following at the pitch.

Just as well really - my regret at missing some quality Pakistani bowling was quickly forgotten as Australia bowled them out before the end of the second session. This didn't seem to bother Afridi, who scored a deceptively useful 30 odd off half the number of balls. Still, at least I got to see both sides being played, and the clutch of wickets Pakistan took before time ran out at 7pm were exciting to have seen, if a bit sparse.

The rain came and went, but not enough to ruin the day. It was actually all rather pleasant, and once again I was surprised at how much fun I could have at a single day of a test match.

Saturday, July 10

New Music

Almost Everything I Wish I'd Said The Last Time I Saw You - Wakey!Wakey!

Angsty rock baby! And I bet you can't guess where I lifted it from...

Tuesday, July 6

New Music

Jab Mila Tu - I Hate Luv Storys

I know I like this song by the way I'm constantly humming it to myself (or perhaps actually to someone I've not met yet?). I think it's how the track manages to be both fun and romantic at the same time which does it for me - and when I go back to falling in love with random girls on the train again (more on that later), I expect this to be the soundtrack playing in my head at the time.

Monday, July 5

Game: Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros' Treasure Click for more info

Zack & Wiki is a game where you have to think. Its cerebral dominoes for the casual gamer, where reaction time is less important than being able to think logically and rationally. It's joy to play, especially each time you manage to figure a play out, or have a well thought out planned executed to perfection. It's also fun to play, with lots of colour and humour to distract you each time you become unstuck with a problem.

But despite the general goodness of the game, there are also a couple of major flaws which if not managed properly can actually wreck the whole thing for you.

The first is how final some decisions can be. Unlike other games in the genre, it's possible to paint yourself into a corner with a wrong decision - or indeed even die - resulting in a complete restart of a level. Coupled with the inability to save mid-level, this sometimes makes experimental trial and error (something which is pretty vital in some of the levels) a time-expensive activity and I've become frustrated more than once with having to do 90% of a level all over again just because I messed up at the end. Yes, there is a hint and rewind system, but it's not implemented very well and is a bit useless in this type of game.

Secondly we have the controls. Being an early Wii game, Zack & Wiki used motion controls at its core - you point and click to get Zack to walk to places and pick things up and operate stuff. This coupled with a bouncy camera and inaccurate pointer (and people say HD doesn't matter on the Wii...) means it's sometimes impossible to make Zack do what you want him to do the first time - something fatal during some of the more active scenes. Object interaction (rotating, pushing, pulling etc) fares better, but still isn't perfect.

Although I'll maintain that these are pretty critical flaws, they are things that a gamer can either adjust around or live with. I'll still recommend Zack & Wiki, and at ten hours it won't take up too much gaming time either.

Sunday, July 4

Film: I Hate Luv Storys Click for more info

First of all let me just make it clear that I actually rather quite like love stories myself. Yes: they're farcical, unrealistic, misleading and essentially meaningless. But they're also fun, sweet, gooey and despite the common sense part of my brain screaming otherwise, a part of me does want to be the centre of a Bollywood number at least once in my life (if not for all of it. It's possible, dammit). And if that makes me a big girl, then so be it; the point is that I'm not going to hate on IHLS just because it's soppy.

It takes a brave film-maker to name his film something like "I Hate Luv Storys", since they're essentially saying that they're going to be something different, unusual or even original. The first disappointment with IHLS is that it's not that unique after all, and personally it took me a while to get over that deception.

There was hints of redemption with the couple of twists that unfolded, but these were quickly erased when things did turn out like you would expect (i.e. happily). Acting was a bit of a let down too; Sonam, with whom I was totally ready to fall in love with, severely disappointed with Imran not too far behind (honestly ladies: this guy? Really? It's Salman Khan all over again... you'll be sorry), the two of them showing as much personality as a pair of wet fishes, and with the chemistry of an inert gas.

There were flashes of inspiration, with the film leveraging its context in order to analyse itself - it just didn't go quite far enough. The funny bits were funny though, the emotional bits emotional and the charmful bits charmful... there just wasn't that specific magic present that the film itself says we needed so much. And what's with this latest trend of butchering songs? Sure the music wasn't that great to begin with... but please give us back our set pieces Bollywood.

But despite the trashing I've given IHLS, it was just about fun enough it to redeem itself and I wouldn't say that it was a waste of time for me to go watch it; I'll even admit that it was amusing trying to spot the various dialogues borrowed from previous Bollywood classics. As such, although I can't really recommend it fully, it is worth watching via DVD on a lazy Sunday afternoon - just don't expect it to linger in your mind much afterwards.

Friday, July 2

XKCD Click for more info

I have (well I guess I can't really claim any insightful credit here) a theory about how those who regularly casually dated etc are usually in a better standing to pick a long term partner than those who didn't or stuck to a few longer term relationships. I'll leave it to XKCD to express this mathematically:

Don't forget to hover over the image to see the title. If you think about it, it's actually quite obvious.

Thursday, July 1

Video of the Day Click for more info

This single video manages to nail the whole iPhone thing right on its head:

But still I have to admit: the screen on the iPhone 4 is damn fine.