Friday, September 30

Book: How to Teach Quantum Physics to Your Dog, Chad Orzel Click for more info

The danger with being a smarter than the average cookie is not that it brings with it a certain arrogance, but more that it becomes difficult to relate to mere mortals (which is why I don't expect many of you to have realised what I did there).

Take quantum physics for example. Even the name itself sounds clever and so it's always going to be a tough task explaining it to the layman like me. But it's not impossible and there are many strategies available to transfer ideas and thoughts - most of which take time and effort to implement. Another way is to use analogy to relate and this is the approach Orzel takes in this book.

The problem is that almost by definition there are no analogies for quantum physics - Orzel explains as much in the first chapter. And yet he still tries to do this, using his dog Emmy, and her fondness for rabbits made out of cheese.

On the surface, this isn't really a problem; it's easy to ignore irrelevances like a talking dog after all. However the trouble here is that Orzel does this at the cost of the essential detail - he glosses over the important stuff and anaesthetises the reader with humour and theatre. Sure, some bits are funny, but for someone who is interested in the maths it's a little frustrating to be asked to suspend our disbelief instead of being made to understand.

The biggest show of Orzel's incapability of transmitting his ideas is toward the end - a whole chapter dedicated to slagging off and debunking other scientists (not that he would use that word to describe them). It's almost propaganda in style, and extremely ironic considering his book doesn't sound any more real and acceptable than those he criticises - I wouldn't be surprised if many more "con men" with a false understanding of quantum physics come about after reading this book. It actually reminded me of certain Islamic "scholarly" works, where the message essentially boils down to "believe me, not them". I don't expect that from science.

One of the themes of the book is to do with conservation of energy and an underlying natural order, but unfortunately it's Orzel who thinks we can get something out of nothing with his book. I've come away learning about some buzzwords but cannot say I have any kind of deeper understanding of the science. Which is a shame, since it means I can't really recommend this book.

Tuesday, September 27

Abstruse Goose Click for more info

Okay I admit it - tons of "grass is greener" syndrome here:

It's quite ironic actually since I realised the above way back in primary school; when clearing up after a particularly mess afternoon, Jodie suggested I slow down a bit and do it properly, like she was. Of course I ended up clearing my mess up in half the time she did.

But that was a unique example of how pragmatism won the day - generally I tend to follow the rules and advice that the consensus provides, but doesn't necessarily follow itself.

Which makes me wonder: is doing things the "right way" really the right way to do things? And if not, is it too late to change? I'm not saying I'm not already a complete douchebag, but if it's clear that some strategies do bring what you want, then maybe it's time for a change.

Saturday, September 24

Food: Pizzeria Pappagone Click for more info

In terms of food, Pappagone is a decent Italian joint just north of Finsbury Park. The portions were just right (that is, not especially generous), and the bill of 15 quid per head for mains, a drink and desserts pretty decent value. The menu is varied enough to have you coming back for a new experience for a couple of visits at least.

Where the place lost tons of points was for the atmosphere. The place was incredibly noisy and had us screaming at each other just to make conversation. There were even FIVE rounds of happy birthday (of which only one seemed particularly appreciated by the birthday guest it was played for). In short, this isn't really a place you should go for ambience or intimacy. Or, heck, even a birthday party.

Its a real shame because otherwise this place was excellent.

A quick note about the website - ignore the map because it's wrong. It's actually on the north side of Tollington Park, not south as indicated.

Wednesday, September 21

New Music

If you make it a point to read these music posts, make sure you check out the note at the end of this post.

Bewafa - AAG

AAG does Imran Khan cover? Not only that, but better (not that that would be that difficult - sorry Imran)? Well yes, it seems so.

Dil To Bachcha Hai - Ishqiya

Simple but sweet, almost folk like.

Rabba Main Toh Mar Gaya Oye - Mausam

I didn't really get this at first (oye rhymes with oye?), but now I really like it. But which version am I talking about? Well to be honest I don't think there's much in it between the Shahid Mallya and Rahat versions so I'm not quite sure.

As an aside this will be the last music post I make on this blog. I don't think it's been very useful for a while now, and any songs I really would want everyone to listen to will probably be made known via Twitter.

Thanks for reading!

Book: The Alchemy of Happiness, Al-Ghazali Click for more info

Before you ask: no, I haven't suddenly become a fan of classical Muslim literature and scholarly works; I'm still way too lazy for that. This slim book was actually given away at a wedding I attended in South Africa last year - a neat alternative to the party favours we usually would have received. It even had a dedication inside the front cover! Neato.

I don't think this is actually the full Alchemy of Happiness but just a few chapters from it. In fact the book feels more like an extended pamphlet than a volume, although that's not to say that it doesn't cover some relatively deep topics. Still I didn't find it as useful as the last (and only) Ghazali book I read; this seems a little more abstract and fluffy and so, for me at least, not as engaging.

Particularly amusing is the chapter on marriage and discussion on wives and how to pick one. I won't go into too much detail except to say that I would think most women I know would probably have a problem with it. The "editor's note" goes on to blame the translator, accusing Claud Field of being an Orientalist, but whether the editor himself is being objective or a feminist is open to debate. Either way, this little conflict is actually the most interesting part of the book.

As much as I appreciated the book as a party favour, I can't say it compels me to read any of the full version or even Ghazali's other stuff. As such, I'm not quite sure I can recommend it.

Saturday, September 17

Arabick Roots Click for more info

The Royal Society are currently running an exhibition on the historical Arabic and Muslim sources of inspiration that the organisation has. Since this weekend was one of the two that they exhibition was open to the non-guided public, a friend and I decided to check it out.

It was a very personal show, both in terms of content and presentation. The Royal Society isn't a gallery or museum, and so the artefacts and show-pieces were dotted around the building in a kind of ad-hoc fashion; this may have made it a little difficult to follow but looking at the free guide we were handed I don't think we missed much. The themes covered included pharmacy, chemistry and alchemy amongst others - all stuff that many may already know originated from an older Muslim world - but the whole personal touch, about how members of the Royal Society itself were the ones to form these relationships made it all very intimate and even more striking.

On the flip side it's probably this personal slant that made the whole thing so limited. We had covered most of the material on offer (as well as checking out the Royal Society itself) within 45 minutes or so. In those terms it's difficult for me to recommend the exhibition for those who have no other business in the area, but if you happen to be passing this weekend or that of the 1st-2nd October then it a nice enough way to kill an hour or so.

Friday, September 16

WharfMA: Eid in the Wharf Click for more info

It's hard to believe that it's been a whopping three years since I last attended a WharfMA Eid in the Wharf event. Personally I had found that I had kinda grown out of the whole Muslim Professional Networking thing a couple of years ago - so it's quite ironic that I find myself in the thick of the scene working where I do now.

And if I'm honest I would have given this year a miss too. But this year the organisation I volunteer for, ICSS, decided to make a well organised push to recruit at the event. In other words tonight was more about work than socialising. Ahem.

Of course that didn't mean I wasn't going to enjoy the entertainment on offer. The WharfMA decided to take a distinctly arty yet eclectic turn this year, with a whole bunch of weird and wonderful artists performing alongside the more regular ones. First up was David J, a spoken word artist who may have even been my favourite performer of the night. This wasn't the flippant and rhetorical stuff I was expecting but actually multi-dimensional and entertaining on an obvious (ie funny) level.

Daniel Waples managed to stun the audience with his Hang Drum skills, and I was really impressed by the sound that he was able to create on his own. The next act was pretty much pure fan-service for the girls - Sound of Reason had popped over from Canada to do a few sets. Now I really don't like the whole Nasheed thing but these guys were more on the Outlandish side of the scale so I was able to enjoy it more than I would have otherwise. Well until the girls in the audience regressed to teenagers. No, I'm not hating. What was really ironic is how uninvolved the audience was otherwise - come on guys, are we so uptight that we can't even wave our arms in the air to a beat?

I have a theory about Islamic (or rather, brown) Comedy: that it doesn't exist. Aman Ali didn't disprove this idea, although there were two times that I did actually laugh out loud. Still the audience seemed to love it more than I did, so I will put it down to me being a grouch (either that or Muslims just don't get out much).

Otherwise the event flowed smoothly enough; Mohammed Ali hosted and engaged the audience well while the ancillary speakers did their part (although I do think that the majority of those twenty who were donating £1000 a piece didn't actually realise it. Hopefully I'm wrong). The food before and after was adequate enough, and there was plenty of time to mingle - sorry, I mean "network" - after the entertainment had finished.

We even managed to drum up a record level of interest in the schools, so in our eyes it was a massive success; but even aside from that it was a decent enough way to spend a Friday night too.

Thursday, September 15

Fall Season 2011

This last year has pretty much been a failure for me in terms of TV watching. The truth is that between a full time job (sigh) and a years' Sky Movies subscription I had totally no time to watch much in terms of serials. But the Sky subscription is now over and I'm slowly becoming a hermit which means things should come back on track. For example in the past month I had already cleared the last season of Smallville and House.

Smallville has finally ended, and it's quite difficult for me to express how glad I am of that. It was like a dead weight around my viewing schedule, a kind of punishment for being a fan of the time pass that is television. House kind of made up for it this year, even though I felt some of the main story arc was a little against what I was expecting. I'm currently making my way through One Tree Hill, which has now officially taken the place of Smallville as Bane of My Life. Please let it end soon; the next season has been said to be last (and is only 13 episodes to boot), but we've all heard that before.

Otherwise I don't have much else to say regarding last year. Although I had plans to, I decided not to watch An Ordinary Family, Hellcats and Camelot - all three have been axed so I'm glad I didn't invest any time in them. My official backlog now consists of Doctor Who, Family Guy, Glee, Little Mosque and Torchwood. Oh and I've decided to jump on Entourage, The Big Bang Theory and The Wire too, so you can add those to the lists of shows I've yet to start (30 Rock, Community, Dexter, Modern Family and Parks and Recreation).

The new shows I'm looking forward to this year are Archer, Falling Skies, Game of Thrones, Ringer (Sarah Michelle Gellar FTW!), The Event (yes, even though it's been axed), The Killing and The Walking Dead.

And this isn't even a comprehensive list: I have a ton load of BBC documentaries to watch with my dad (Planet Earth, Human Planet and Planet Dinosaur), as well as short stuff like Sherlock and The Inbetweeners to watch. And to top it all off I just decided this morning that I had a craving for Quantum Leap.

Crazy? Well yes, although it's quite interesting how many of these shows are either really old or just started. As such there's no real rush to watch any of them immediately so if anything paradoxically there'll be less for me to watch on a regular basis. Maybe I'll even save the shows I've yet to begin to watch for a later date (if you'll excuse the pun).

Book: The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli

There comes a point in one's cynical life where you consider the question of whether it's okay to manage people. Of course it's easy enough to argue that it's impossible not to, and in fact that's all that communication is, so I guess the real question is whether or not it's okay to exploit people for their own good.

Leaving that wider question aside, I think most people would regard The Prince as a good discussion of the topic - I say discussion but it's not really seeing how prescriptive Machiavelli is in it. His themes and advice isn't hard to understand or even implement, but his justification is where the interesting stuff lies, and it's clear that he's a great believer in "the greater good" and "means being to an end". And since morality is subjective it's hard to argue against his methods that have been shown over the years to be quite effective.

It's not a long read although can be hard to follow at times, particularly if you don't know much about Italian political history. Oh and as an aside, the copy I was loaned was a pretty little book.

So I guess this isn't really a book that one learns from - if you're reading this then you probably know how to manipulate and represent yourself to others. But as a test of your own moral code - essentially whether you protest or embrace the book - it's quite a good read. And no, I won't tell you my own reaction in that much depth. That would only give the game away.

Wednesday, September 14

Video of the Day Click for more info

Mario is 30?!? THIRTY! Cripes. I'm so speechless at this fact that I'm just going to post the video and get on with it.

Yes it's 18 minutes long, but if you're anything like me you'll love every single one.

Saturday, September 3

HP TouchPad

So it seems that the tablet effect is in fact real.

I was one of those who didn't quite see a use for a dumbed down portable and keyboard-less slab that could at best only be used to check mail and web. But after HP's discontinuation of WebOS hardware and subsequent firesale, I couldn't resist picking up a TouchPad. For 90 quid, it was an easy punt.

The effect wasn't quite immediate. But taking this week for example, I've left my main PC off for two evenings because the tablet served any purpose I wanted on those particular days. In fact I was quite surprised that there were in fact days when all I wanted to do on a PC was check email. I guess I'm a consumer after all.

And strangely using the tablet is actually more efficient than the PC. Perhaps it's ironically how its hard to type that I don't want to that much, or maybe it's the change of environment - it's easier to tear yourself away when you're lounging on a sofa rather than at a desk. Whatever the reason, for those two days I spent less time plugged in.

Although the future of WebOS is uncertain, there is already a lot that the TouchPad does already. It has mail, a calendar, a browser, Gtalk and Skype already loaded. It has an (admittedly quiet) app store and can play flash videos off YouTube and the like. Sure, it will never do everything my Android phone does, but that's okay - that's why I have my phone. And as has been said elsewhere the paradigm of using cards to represent multitasking is pretty much genius - I'm left wondering why Android and iOS settled on such respectively archaic ways of doing more than one thing at a time.

There are niggles though - the much talked about contact management, or Synergy, doesn't quite work as well as advertised, and there are a fair few UI issues where buttons or inputs lock up. Oh and the platform performs incredibly slowly.

Hardware wise there's not much to say. I miss a hardware back button, and the slab is a little heavy but other than that it's quite sleek (until your fingerprints destroy it). I'm a little annoyed that I can't charge it via my PC, but I'm sure there's a workaround for that.

Of course this isn't a fair review - tablets like this don't usually retail for under a ton. And even knowing what I know now, I still wouldn't pay more than £150 for one. But pricing aside I have to say I'm both surprised and impressed by the utility of such a device, and can even see how some are describing it as the future of computing.

Game: Heavy Rain (PS3) Click for more info

What? A game full of QTEs? That can't be good. After all, we all hated Dragon's Lair and those countless lame MegaCD games, right? The creators must have been crazy to even bother with this.

But it turns out that armed with a great story and characters you can actually get away with the lowest form of interactive entertainment. The game itself describes this as "interactive drama", and is placed firmly between film or TV drama and videogames. So a lot of it is passive, but yet active enough to make you feel involved in the story. As someone who is increasingly complaining about how demanding games have become, this is actually a good thing. Graphics, music and the rest of the presentation are good, with few niggles to complain about.

So yes, it turns out that a game full of QTEs can actually be rather good. Recommended.

Friday, September 2

Food: Chimichanga Click for more info

You see, if it wasn't for Wahaca, Chimichanga might have actually been better received. I mean there's nothing wrong with the place; the South Woodford branch at least is clean and well serviced. The food was generous if a little bland, and at 17 quid per head for shared starters and dessert, a main and a drink, the value wasn't too bad.

But then seeing as Wahaca beats Chimichanga on all those fronts, there's really no point in going to Chimichanga if you specifically want Mexican. Although I guess the location is pretty handy for us locals.

Thursday, September 1

Slice: Lahore - London Click for more info

I spent a few hours after work checking out the Slice exhibition at Rich Mix. To be honest I wasn't quite sure what it was about - a dysfunctional and unclear website didn't help with that. I thought it was one of many related exhibitions being held across London, but it turned out that the whole thing was there. Which was a pleasant surprise I guess.

So the premise then? Well this was a series of video and audio art related to places plotted on a line traced from London to Lahore. The way in which they were presented was interesting: each country had a monitor that was controlled by a arrow shaped "puck" that was to be placed on a table map below it. Although this excited the geek in me, it did make viewings a little frustrating as you had to share the platform with other viewers.

What I did get to see was, as expected, a mixed bag. I mean I'm hardly the most likely to appreciate this kind of stuff so my opinion probably doesn't mean much in this situation, but I didn't quite get a lot of it. I did like Conrad the Scoundral's and another artist whose name I can't remember. Oh and there was free food courtesy of Tayyab's, not that I got to eat any. Darned Shawwal.

Although I can't quite recommend people go out of their way to view this exhibition, it's a free event so if you happen to be passing (I dunno, while grabbing a bagel or something) then it might be worth a quick look.