Book Review: Secrets of a Family Album

This is way overdue. I’ve got a few more book and film reviews coming up, and hopefully this will be something you’ll see more regularly on the blog. If you want to the final rating on the book and can’t be bothered reading the whole post, scroll to the bottom.

I read this book while I was on holiday, and initially bought it because of the plot at the back- that’s usually how I decide on whether I’m going to buy a book or not. Anyways, this book, written by Isla Dewar, starts with the life of Lily, her mum- Mattie- and her sister Marie…

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It starts off talking about their lives- that’s actually the whole book- but as it progresses, you see how Lily’s life seems to look perfect on the outside (when it isn’t), and how she, Mattie and Marie judge each other- and themselves- as a result of all sorts of secrets they uncover about one another. The once-saucy Mattie, who became a housewife and somehow lost herself along the way; the rebellious Marie who married too young and faced consequences of one bad decision; and the goody-two-shoes Lily who’s got a fantastic job and fiance, but is obssessed about neatness and secretly wished she was like her younger sister.

It was interesting reading about their family dynamics and how each of the women changed as the story progressed. I’m sure each one of us can relate to their family dynamics in one way or another. I will sadly admit that I saw a lot of myself in Lily- yikes!

 

Rating: Read it for a bit of a change from what you usually pick up. I give it 3 Oi’s out of 5.

 

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Cinemoz- Hulu of the Middle East?

I had initially planned this blog post as a review of the site’s functionality, but after watching it develop over the past few months (v3 was released just before Arabnet), you’ll see that I’ve taken a different route.
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Those who have met me or follow me on Twitter (or see my Foursquare/Get Glue check-ins), know that I’m big on watching TV shows and films. I don’t have any favourite genres per se, but as long as it has a good storyline I’m up for watching it.

A few months ago, just before DIFF, Cinemoz was brought to my attention- a new website out of lebanon that streams films online. The overall concept of their product is not new, even on a regional level- with the likes of istikana.com in existence for some time now- but I was interested in it anyways and  signed up as a beta tester.
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The Cinemoz team…they look like a fun bunch, eh?

Whilst there were a few bugs here and there, as expected in a beta (try it out and give your feedback so they can keep improving it), I was impressed by the collection of films they had on their site. What bothered me though is that they’ve been dubbed as the “Hulu of the Middle East”, and they promote themselves as such. Don’t get me wrong; it’s great that they aspire to be as big and popular as Hulu, but I think they sell themselves short comparing their product to Hulu because what Cinemoz does for online video streaming is totally different.

What Hulu offers is mainstream television shows, with a tiered approach to accessing their product- a free service that gives you access to the latest episodes of shows, and a premium (paid) service that gives you access to entire seasons of shows. If we were to translate that on a regional level, that would- in a way- amount to MBC’s shahid.net and DMI’s similar offering for their set of channels. And this includes the mainstream English, Arabic and dubbed Turkish shows that are aired on TV. If that isn’t enough, istikana.com has partnered with ART for film content. The mainstream thing- yea it’s kind of covered.
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Now, when I checked out Cinemoz’s library when they launched, I found films that you can’t find anywhere else- films by up-and-coming directors, indie films and documentaries, and so on. I’ve noticed that more mainstream stuff is seeping in, but they’re still in a way films that you can’t find anywhere else…yet.

What’s missing in the online Arab world is variety of Arabic content. They’re hungry for it. I’m sure you’ve all noticed how the big TV networks have evolved their programming in the past couple of years: between dubbed Turkish shows (that’s when it really took off), Arab adaptations of game shows, and Arab-language selection for English-language shows on free-to-air channels. You can also see it through the huge amount of traffic YouTube gets from the region. It’s pretty clear that the Middle East is going nuts online and looking for new content there too. 

Cinemoz is almost like an online film festival in and of itself, and that’s how they should position themselves. It’ll set them apart from any other service out there, and  possibly gain a cult-like following if they focus on indie films and documentaries. I truly believe they have something special here.

That’s my personal take on it. Leave your thoughts in the comments (or tweet me).

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The Laundry War

For the past 6 months, I have been struggling to get all the laundry done. Every time I’d put a load in, 3 more would show up in the basket.??It just kept piling up! It got so bad, the laundry basket collapsed under its own legs. That’s when I knew that I had to put an end to this once and for all.??

It took about a month, with loads of washing going into the machine whenever I had the chance. No slacking; I was determined.

The last load literally just finished drying.??

The Laundry War of 2011-2012 is finally over. I hope there’ll no retaliation; but if there is, I’ll be ready.
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My Earth Hour Challenge

Those who know me and follow me on Twitter know that I’m kind of a ‘tree hugger’: I do my best to recycle; all light bulbs at home are energy-efficient ones; I’ve been buying more local produce instead of the imported stuff; I’ve been doing paperless banking for years; I’ve stopped buying plants (because I keep killing them); and I’m constantly trying to see what else I can do my part for the environment. 

This year, Earth Hour has launched the “I Will If You Will” campaign this year to encourage more and more people to commit to sustainable actions in their daily lives. I’ve been trying to think of a good dare to do- the first one I had was “if 300 people switch to reusable coffee cups, I will not have coffee for a month”, but I kind of got a vibe that people wouldn’t accept the challenge…something about me being cranky without coffee (ha!).

So on the drive home yesterday, I started thinking again about it. I figured my dare should be something that only I would have to pull through, and not make others suffer as a result of it. After much wondering, it hit me: 

I will pretend I am 14 years old and blog that way. Eight hours of torture- that’s what I’m willing to do to save the planet. I think that’s a fair deal, don’t you?  Accept the challenge and get your friends (and their friends) to accept it too. Y’all have 3 weeks!

My friend also created a dare, which I found to be hilarious. Please, please, please accept her challenge– I really want to see her bike around in that panda suit!

And don’t forget to switch off your lights for an hour 31 March, 8.30pm!

BTW: I am working on this campaign, but I would’ve supported it anyways because I really believe in what the Earth Hour movement is trying to do (which is why I asked to work on it in the first place). 
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MAKE the most of it

If you follow me on Twitter then you know that I’m pretty much glued to my computer most of the day, and that I’m a bit (ok maybe more than a bit) of a workaholic. So that means getting stuff done in the evening (when you’re in meetings most of the day, the real work only starts after 6pm) and sometimes on weekends too. And whilst our office space is really nice, sometimes I do need that change in surrounding to get that light bulb over my head to light up. So on a typical day where I really needed to get work done after hours I’d head to Pavilion, which is a great place but is pretty far from where I work or live. And I don’t like to take my work home with me either- my seat of choice to type away tends to be the couch, which results in me getting nothing done most of the time (it’s really comfortable; I’ve dozed off so many times…). So when I was invited to check out during its soft launch MAKE Business Hub in JBR a few weeks ago, I went along secretly hoping that it would be my new ‘light bulb moment’ space.
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And I have to say, I was impressed. Because the idea is being an urban space catering to freelancers, mobile professionals, and entreprenuers, the layout is really designed for people to get work done. So far I’ve tried the desks with the lamps and the big tables by the windows, and each suited my mood on that day.
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Another thing I loved is the food: it truly is superb (all-day breakfast ftw!)! When it comes to getting stuff done, we all need fuel (i.e. food) to keep us going, yet we tend to get into the habit of eating junk while working, which is such a crap way of getting energized. So I totally loved how Leith (the founder) recognises the need for and appreciates really good food. I had a chat with him about the menu- how the dishes were so uncommon to me yet a refreshing change from all the stuff one tends to find at cafes- and he went on to describe the types of ingredients they use: from organic eggs to fresh herbs to(now) their own baked bread. And it really does make all the difference- my favourites so far are the sage scrambled eggs, lemon souffle hot cakes, and the coconut bread with lime marmalade. 
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The coffee is amazing as well (finally I can stop whining about bad coffee on Twitter!), and I couldn’t be happier to find a place in Dubai that knows what a chai latte should taste like. Also the cups are super duper awesome- they look like crinkled plastic cups, but they’re actually glass. So many wins!

MAKE is officially open as of Monday, kicking off their launch with an event in geek chic style, including a live band, dress up photobooth, and cards you can write on what you want to make happen this year (you can easily guess which one is @MaliZomg’s yea…).
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Everything has been really well thought out- from space layout to food to desk and chair designs- and it’s really refreshing to see. Of course the challenge now is to see if the quality of service (and food) will stand the test of time, as a lot of places in Dubai tend to start off great and then you just see a steady, saddening decline. I have a lot of faith in this place though and I’ll definitely be a regular. Hope to see you there!

 

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Arabic is what brings us together

I’m a big fan of Google- I use everything from Gmail to Google Docs, Calendar Translate, Reader, Google Maps (saved me so many times), Blogger, Scholar, Chrome; I even used to use Wave (and I’m still upset that they shut it down- the world just wasn’t ready yfor it I suppose), and used to have an Android phone (I got a good deal on the iPhone 4, I couldn’t resist!).

So you can imagine my delight when I was invited to attend a press conference at UAE G-day, and lunching with??Nelson Mattos??afterwards (he was nice enough to make time for my questions!). It’s the first event of its kind by Google in the UAE, with lots of sessions throughout the two-day event for uni students and developers to make the most of Google products. It’s really great to see this kind of support from The Big Guys here in the Middle East- I only wish this kind of support existed in 2005 when I was a computer science graduate…perhaps my career path would’ve taken a totally different direction!

One thing that stood out to me at the??press conference, was the level of Arabic localization- not translation, there’s a difference-??Google was working on for the region (starting with the UAE). From map maker, to map directions in Arabic (btw, have you noticed that you can get around Dubai’s bizarre road layout with proper routes on Google Maps? Yep, these guys have been working on it! You can opt to avoid highways and Salik!), we’re starting to see more and more content that caters to this region- something that is seriously lacking (less than 1% of online content is in Arabic!).

Whilst I’ve tried to improve my Arabic over the years (I’ve come a long way in the past decade or so, but it still needs work), my language interests have always lied in learning Italian. I studied Italian for 5 years (but that was ages ago; my skills are beyond rusty), and I’ve been working on making time to sign up and attend classes.

Meeting and chatting with Fayeq Oweis*- Google’s Arabic localization manager- however, rekindled my interest in the Arabic language. When I asked asked him about Arabic dialects and if they’re going to be incorporated into Google products, he mentioned that they’re working on something very exciting along those lines for voice search (awesome!), but not for any of the other products (i.e. choosing Arabic- lebanon, Arabic- egypt etc. as a ‘language’) as he believes that the Arabic language needs to be preserved in its classical form because it’s “what brings Arabs together”. That last statement really struck a chord within me- for the first time I really understood the value of knowing Arabic, and felt proud of it.His passion for the language and the way he spoke about the localization project was inspiring as well, so I’m definitely looking forward to the rollout of other parts of the Arabic localization project!

*Fayeq Oweis manages the Arabic Localization team at Google. He works on Google’s localized Arabic products, performs linguistic QA, manages terminology and style guide, and collaborates with different teams on the Arabization of Google products and services.????Fayeq holds a Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies with Concentration on Arabic and Islamic Studies. Before joining Google, Fayeq worked for many years as an Arabic language specialist and consultant for technology companies in the Silicon Valley. He was also a professor of Arabic Language and Culture at Santa Clara University in California.

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Catching waves

I’m the worst surfer ever. Even for a beginner, I suck…

For the last leg of my Bali trip, I headed south to Kuta. Whilst Ubud is very peaceful and spiritual, Kuta is the opposite- loud and congested.  It reminded me a lot of Surfer’s Paradise on the Gold Coast. Kuta, like the Gold Coast, is also one of the best places in the world to learn how to surf so yesterday I went to my first surfing lesson at the Pro Surf School.

Update 1: Here are some pics of the School and Kuta Beach
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How it works is you start at Beginner 1, and work your way up to Beginner 2 and Beginner 3, then you move to Intermediate 1,2,3 where you end up taking surf trips and stuff. For the beginner stages, if you’re not quite ready to move to the next level, they stick you in ‘sessions’ to practice more of what you learned in the last level (so S1 for B1, S2 for B2, S3 for B3).

Day 1

Beginner 1 started off with a theory lesson, where they told us about the boards (materials, length, width, thickness, names of the different areas of a board), the waves (white, green), how to get on the board, catch a wave (look behind you for the wave, paddle, paddle then get up) and control the speed. From what I understood, it’s all in the knees and upper body: to get up you put your arms behind your shoulders and push up locking elbows with chin up; to go faster you lean forward; slower you lean back; balance by bending knees lower; lose balance take the knee of the back leg down. They also explained how currents work and how surfers use them to gain speed and catch waves, and safety stuff like what to do if you lose your balance (back knee down on board or worst case fall on your stomach) or if you get caught in a current (don’t panic and go with it, then swim parallel to the beach and then back to shore), and how to avoid collisions with other surfers. It was a very interesting session, and I definitely learned a lot. We practiced a bit on board-shaped mats on the sand then it was time to hit the beach and catch some waves!

Everything in the theory lesson went out the window when I hit the water. My balance was so off and as soon as I stood up (for a whole second) I kept forgetting to bend my knees and ended up falling backwards three times. Then they changed my board to a wider one to help with my balance; yea that didn’t work, I just kept falling. The one time I did fall forward I lost my balance on the sand and heard my ankle crack. Two hours of practice later, I was not able to stand up so I was stuck into S1 for my second lesson (and a lost bet with my teacher- I have to buy ice-cream).

Day 2

Today was my second lesson, and my ankle still hurt a bit so I had to be careful when I was out there. It turned out that I wasn’t the only one who’s been put into S1 from my batch- there were two other people- so I didn’t feel like a complete loser…until they didn’t show up. Quitters! 

Before going to the beach, my teacher made me practice in the pool- paddling (I kept hitting the edges and forgetting the direction of paddling to turn), sitting (i fell off twice), turning (fell once), and standing (lost count of the times I fell). After heading to the beach and kept trying to get up and standing on the board for about 30 minutes, I finally managed to stand up and stay there- knees bent, arms up and not looking down to stay balanced. What a feeling that was! 
After that first time I managed to stand up a few more times, but there wasn’t enough consistency to move to Beginner 2 (I still kept slipping off and falling, or not getting up at all- weeeeeee!), so my third lesson will be another S1. My teacher say that I don’t trust myself, and that’s why I keep falling off. I say the waves have it in for me. Either way I will not give up!

So at the end of two lessons, I’m still very much a beginner- so I’m a slow learner, bite me- with sore muscles, a bruise on my backside, a twisted wrist and an ankle nearing the size of a golf ball now (I am taking care of it: ice packs, keeping it elevated etc. I’ve been through worse before). 

Can’t wait for tomorrow’s lesson!

Update 2 (2 Oct): Lesson 3 (or S1 x 2) was much better; I managed to stand up alot more today, and even got my board to turn once! I only fell a couple of times, and the palms of my hands are scratched up, but whatever- I’m just glad I’m out of S1! Tomorrow’s my last lesson: level B2. Woohoo!
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Legong & Ramayana

On Tuesday, I went to Ubud Palace to see one of the traditional dances. Each night there’s a different one, so I was curious to see what it was all about.

It started off with instrumental music, followed by the Legong Dance, then the Ramayana Dance. Each dance has a story, which I tried really hard to understand and failed miserably. According to the brochure, the Legong Dance is based on two brothers, Kings Subali and Sugriwa, who are turned into monkeys and fight with each other until they recognise each other and realise they’re both monkeys and become very sad (!).

The Ramayana is a very long tale and the dance we saw covers only a part of it, when Rama, Sita and her brother Laksamana enter the jungle of Dandaka. The demonic minister, Maricha of Alengka, finds out about their trip and discusses the possibility of kidnapping Sita with King Rahwana. Marcha transforms into a deer to get Sita’s attention…like I said, it’s a long story.

Here are some pics (sorry for the blurry ones). I absolutely loved the costumes- they’re so bright and colorful. The movements are very precise and you need to be totally fit to do this (videos are coming up soon check out the videos below)!

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The whole performance was about 90 minutes, which went by really fast given how slow time goes by in Bali!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WDX56ua_Nuw?wmode=transparent]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsfAX3Im-gI?wmode=transparent]

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Monkey Forest

After my yoga class yesterday, I visited Monkey Forest. As the name suggests, it is a forest, with monkeys. I thought it would be huge, but it took me about 10 minutes to walk through it:

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It’s on the corner of Monkey Forest Road (go figure), which is also lined up with many lovely shops, galleries and cafes, and is the quickest route to get to The Yoga Barn (had to learn that the hard way!):
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Afterwards, I went to Three Monkeys, an art cafe, and tried some local food for lunch- Nasi Goreng and a Tamarind Soda- with a stunning view of the rice fields. Totally loved this place:

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