Sunday, October 29, 2006

For Edo Rex and P

Can we climb this mountain
I don't know
Higher now than ever before
I know we can make it if we take it slow
Let's take it easy
Easy now, watch it go!!!

P.S. The Thin White Duke and Lindbergh Palace Dubs are gonna leave you guys in pieces, as will their respective remixes. Sample here:

When You Were Young (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Mix)
When You Were Young (The Lindbergh Palace Remix)
When You Were Young (Jacques Lu Cont's Thin White Duke Dub)
When You Were Young (The Lindbergh Palace Dub)

(I prefer the Lindbergh Palace remix over the JCL one, but I haven't decided between the dubs because they're quite similar.)

Wires and Gadgets

I've realized that our lives are completely run by electrical wires. It's unbelievable how many wires I have around my flat. Let's take a look around - and I'll link to pictures of the different electronic gadgets I use in my daily life, just for fun!

At my desk I have my Philips cordless landline phone with two wires - one to the power socket and one to the jack. Then I have my broadband modem plugged into the wall, with another wire coming into my PowerBook. Then there's my PowerBook charger. And the power cord to my HP printer. That takes us to my printer table. In the top drawer there are four USB/firewire cables ready to be connected to my PowerBook: printer, Canon camera, iPod, and LaCie portable harddrive.

Next, over to the TV area. Now here we have all sorts of stuff, so I'm going to eliminate the interconnecting wires and just go straight to the ones with power-supply cables. Sony TV, Sky satellite receiver, Telewest cable receiver (comes free with my landline and modem) - those three are plugged in by default. Then I have four other cables ready in waiting: Aiwa CD/DVD player, subwoofer for surround speakers, white Pro-Ject Audio turntable, and Pro-ject Audio phono pre-amplifier (which is only about the size of my hand). My CD/DVD player is currently out-of-order but I have to plug it in when I play my turntable because it connects to the amplifier, so whenever I want to listen to my vinyls I unplug the three TV/satellite/cable plugs and put in the four others. I guess I could do all seven at once but it just freaks me out having that many things plugged into only two wall sockets at once!

Anyway, let's move around my flat to the corner of my kitchen counter that overlooks the "dining room" (the far end of the counter that I don't use for cooking purposes) - that's where I keep my iPod and Canon chargers, tucked away in the corner. Then turn around to the countertop near the stove. Three plugs there: Russell Hobbs toaster and kettle, and a generic sandwich maker (although the latter I usually keep inside the cupboard). Then of course, down by the floor are the fridge and washer/dryer plugs. On to the bedroom. (But on the way if you peek behind the living room door which is always kept open by a doorstop, you'll see a vacuum cleaner hidden away in the corner with another plug in waiting. And if you peek under the bed you'll find the iron also waiting. Not worth pictures!)

Then by my nightstand there are three plugs: my bedside lamp, Sony Ericsson charger, and Tivoli Audio radio A/C adapter. Then there's also one last little wire in the drawer - to connect my iPod to my Tivoli Audio.

And let's not forget the wire that travels with me daily - from my headphones to my iPod! Depending on the day, where I'm going, and how big/full my bag is, it'll either be my Sennheisers, or my Panasonics (silver, not blue - and I know these are quite old and outdated but I love them).

That's a helluva lot of wires! And I'm not even any sort of techie-geek. I can only imagine how many cables you guys have, and I certainly can't imagine what it would be like if P and I lived together. As for my gadgets, I need a few upgrades, as you can see. First is my mobile (which I've had for over two years and currently looks like a dog chewed it), and my iPod (which recently died and was resuscitated but is ready for a replacement). Then something needs to be done about my CD/DVD player. Some audio-techie guys I know have offered to try fixing it for me for free. Hopefully that will work because, although it is a few years old, it is really compact and sleek-looking, and I'd hate to give it up. Finally, I also want a much more advanced camera but I'm not going to worry about that until I move back to Kuwait next year - for now I love this one because it's so compact and the quality is great.

Anyway, I guess I should mention that the reason I was thinking about all this tonight was because I spent the better part of my evening re-organising all the wires and cables around my TV area. Just another Saturday night. I guess I am a geek after all!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Why? - II

Last week I decided that once a week I would post old pictures of Kuwait that I have come across in various books, to open up the discussion as to why our country has changed so much, and not for the better. Here is my post for this week:

Why, or rather how, did our once cosmopolitan and open-minded culture turn into a two-part society battling between strip-mall-Vegas-style-consumerism, on the one hand, and ultra-religious fanaticism on the other?

(I apologize in advance for the quality of these photos - they are quite old and didn't scan well so I had to resort to taking pictures of them with my Canon.)

Here is a copy of the original plan used to design the inside of the Kuwait Towers, specifically the largest sphere containing the restaurant. (I've zoomed in so you can get a better view.) I think these pictures are self-explanatory.

Here is an old picture taken in the seventies of the indoor garden of the main sphere.

And here is an old picture of the seafront just outside the Kuwait Towers...

...the same seafront which now consists of:

I rest my case.

Friday, October 20, 2006

They've done it again

Sony Bravia has launched their new advert this week (I suggest you watch it before reading on). The ad, directed by Jonathan Glazer, shows tens of thousands of liters of coloured paint exploding over and around large apartment complexes in Glasgow. You can see close-up images of how it was done here.

I've been waiting for this ad to come out for a while. I had seen some home videos on YouTube that people who watched the paint explosions live in Glasgow had taken. The concept is just fantastic - real paint exploding over a city...can't get any better than that! I love the fact that the people behind Sony Bravia's ads have been thinking way outside the box and love to take risks with these one-chance-to-get-it-right ideas. But, while I think it's an amazing ad, it still doesn't beat their last "bouncing balls" ad, which was just amazing. I was totally awe-struck when I first saw it - it gave me such a warm and happy feeling inside. This new ad has a totally different feel to it, which I wasn't really expecting. While the earlier ad was more gentle and emotional, this one is more grand and even slightly comical. But it's still great. The paint looks so inviting - I want to just swim in it, especially the blue and green. My favourite part is when the paint comes gushing down the graffiti-covered stairwells. Again, what an ingenious idea.

Make sure to watch the behind the scenes video too!

Sunday, October 15, 2006


I have read more books on Kuwait than I think the majority of people even realize exist...ones written as early as the 1800s, and as late as 2006...on every possible topic you can imagine. And in reading these always fascinating studies on our little country, I regularly come across such a huge range of photographs taken of Kuwait through the ages. Not the stereotypical ones we're all used to, but really interesting, unique ones that make you raise an eyebrow and, at least in my case, think: how, why, did things go so unbelievably wrong? The other day I was sitting in a café reading a book I picked up that was published in the early 1980s, and it had such great pictures of Kuwait from the pre-oil days through to when it was published. There were pictures that just broke my heart. I don't know whether anyone else out there gets as emotional as I do when looking at old pictures of Kuwait, and I know this is going to sound really schmaltzy and pathetic, but at one point while flipping through the book with my iPod on, I actually started crying ever so slightly. There were pictures of a Kuwait I never knew through first-hand experience, but that I know so well in my mind that I actually miss it. And then there were pictures of Kuwait that I remember from when I was a kid...a Kuwait that has thoroughly disappeared. This book was published at a time when Kuwait was still on the path to being something really incredible. And now, I can't help feeling as though we took so many turns in so many wrong directions, and it really makes me feel sad.

So anyway, I thought that from now on I would share some of these pictures that I come across with you. Every Sunday evening, I will post a new photograph under the general heading of "Why?" Why did we let things change so much? Why did we let go and fall so hard? Why did we make so many mistakes, when we were on such a right path? And so on. And after the picture of Kuwait in the past, I will juxtapose it with something similar or fitting from Kuwait today, to emphasize how drastically things have changed, and usually not for the better. So here is my first "Why?" post for you to enjoy, and (if you're anything like me) for you to cry over.

Why are all the nicest spots in Kuwait taken over by the worst franchises?

Here is a picture of an old Kuwaiti coffee shop called "Qahwa Nuwaiydr" in 1939.

I will never understand why 99% of the old Kuwait Town was torn down with the advent of oil urbanization. But what I fail to understand even more, is why we have handed over the few buildings that still remain to globalization.

This picture is of the Starbucks at Behbehani Complex. Granted, the Behbehani buildings are not technically classified under the original old Kuwaiti architecture of the town - which were simple mudbrick houses that rarely had a second level. The Behbehani neighbourhood was built in the 1940s, but was certainly inspired by the traditional courtyard houses of the old town. In any event, today it is one of the oldest and most unique pre-1960s buildings that wasn't torn down to make way for the poor planning that was to plague Kuwait City for the second half of the 20th century. So why, oh why, have we given such a beautiful and rare piece of Kuwait's heritage to Starbucks?! Why is Kuwait so franchise-obsessed? I am all for turning Behbehani Complex and the other few old buildings that remain into areas that the general public can enjoy. But why not turn this into a more traditional style coffee shop? Unfortunately, Kuwait hasn't fully grasped the ability to fuse traditional with modern. For example, if this was turned into a regular "gahwa", chances are it would be like the coffee shop you might have never noticed located on the extreme other end of the same complex (just after Casper & Gambini's), humourously named "Gahwat Ghazal". A sketchy, seedy, questionable meeting ground for greasy men and niqab-clad women. But anyway, my point is, they could have turned this into a beautiful old-style coffee shop that "normal" men and women could enjoy. I'm not saying that everything has to be "traditional". A few places in Kuwait did a good job mixing traditional architecture with modern design concepts. Gusto was a good example, although unfortunately it closed down. Some of the other parts of Behbehani Complex are nice too. But I'm just saying, if you're going to open a coffee shop in an old Kuwaiti house, why does it have to be a Starbucks? It just breaks my heart.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Academic Update

I officially started my PhD programme today. We had our first methodology seminar, and I was surprised to see that there are about 20 people doing the history PhD (I was expecting much less). I absolutely love the professor who is conducting the seminar - he is everything a research student could ever ask for in a professor: academically fantastic, friendly, open, funny, easy-going, unbelievably caring, and very approachable. Between him and my research supervisor, I count myself as incredibly lucky as far as my committee goes (we still have to choose number 3). Yes, I am very excited about this year. Tomorrow I sink back into the archives at the British Library. Aahhh, heaven.

I will also be starting French classes next week at the Institut Français in South Kensington. I haven't taken French in nearly 15 years. As an undergrad I studied Italian for two years and for a while there I was practically fluent in it - and it thoroughly wiped out my French. But after I moved back to Kuwait I barely had a chance to practice my Italian at all, and in time I began to lose it. Five years on, I decided to take advantage of my time in London to work on a language again - and the choices I gave myself were to either re-do Italian since I'm more advanced in it, or start over with French. I chose French. If I do Italian, the same thing will happen all over again - once I move back to Kuwait I'll have no one to practice with (other than our friend G, but we always seem to speak in English when we're with the rest of the group!), and so I'll end up losing it again. On the other hand, I'll be able to speak French daily and so have a much better chance of becoming relatively fluent in it, on a permanent basis. Plus, I come across French more in my research than I do Italian (of course there is scholarly work written in both languages in my field, but unlike Italian there are also some French primary sources I could look into). Anyway, back to my point. So I had originally planned on starting from the very beginning with French, but the institute advised me to first take a placement test (yesterday). I ended up in Level 2, which I was quite pleased about considering how long it's been! I did much better than I expected on the written test. As for the oral interview, I started off fine with the first question. But when she started asking much more open-ended questions, I started to feel blocked because every time I'd open my mouth to speak my instinct would go straight to Italian and I'd freeze. I still managed to get a bit out in French, but I explained my dilemma to her and we laughed it off. She said not to worry, that it was normal for someone who has studied more than one Romance language, and she was still going to put me in Level 2 because with a bit of practice my instincts will change again. I'm taking the fast-paced course, so hopefully I'll be able to get through several levels before I move back to Kuwait.

So that's the latest on the academic front. It's all happening...

P.S. Spent some time in Paperchase this morning getting my new set of notebooks (of course, a supply for the next three years, to ensure continuity). Got different sizes from the same series for different purposes (seminar notes, reading notes, supervisor meeting notes, archive notes, French notes, etc.). My sisters will understand and appreciate this side of me! I also got a new Filofax (a brand I haven't used in years) - they have some cool new styles and the one you see in this picture just jumped off the shelf into my arms.