Saturday, December 31, 2011


cover story

It was a year of shakeups – political, economic, and even seismic. The last twelve months have reshaped the world we live in, while changing our lives, thoughts, and perspectives. As we bid adieu to 2011, we take a look at some of the significant events of the year:

- Arab Spring: From the very start of the year, it was fairly obvious that 2011 would not exactly be the best year to be a dictator. Sure enough, the uprising of the Arab people eventually led to many leaders stepping down or being ousted. Fuelled by a desire to seek change, the waves of protests resulted in the fall of the governments of Tunisia’s Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (January); Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak (February); Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi (August), who was overthrown and later killed in October; and Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, who signed an agreement in November to relinquish office the following month.
- Terrorist attacks: Terrorism continued to rear its ugly head periodically throughout the year. 2011’s major attacks included the bombing at the Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow (January) that claimed 37 lives; the twin attacks in Norway (July) that resulted in 77 casualties; and the bombing in Mogadishu, Somalia (October) that killed a 100 people; as well as attacks in various regions of Pakistan. Also terrorising us was an army of mosquitoes that cruelly spread dengue fever in Pakistan, which remained a threat throughout the year.

- Cricket spot-fixing scandal: Upholding the tradition of always being in the news for all the wrong reasons, Pakistani cricket continued to suffer due to the previous year’s spot-fixing allegations. The ICC tribunal found Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif, and Mohammad Amir guilty of corruption, and banned them (for terms of between five and ten years) in February; the cricketers, as well as agent Mazhar Majeed, were given jail sentences (of 30, 12, 6, and 32 months respectively) in November. Speaking of the sport, the tenth ICC Cricket World Cup tournament took place from February to April, but we couldn’t co-host it and we didn’t win it, so it can’t have been all that important anyway. What do you mean “sour grapes”?!

- Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami: Mother Nature refused to give humanity a break for yet another year. A 9.0 magnitude earthquake shook Japan and triggered powerful tsunami waves, wrecking havoc and resulting in the loss of over 15,000 lives. The most powerful known earthquake ever to have hit the country, the catastrophe caused widespread destruction and also damaged the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant. Later in the year (October), Turkey (Van) was also jolted by a magnitude 7.2 earthquake which took over 600 lives.

- Royal wedding: Prince William and Catherine Middleton tied the knot in a ceremony that became one of the most talked about and watched events of the year, because the Royal Family is not an outdated archaic institution with no relevance in an advanced modern society at all; besides, who wouldn’t want to encourage a parade of wealth at the expense of taxpayer funds? Now let’s all obsess over what Kate and Pippa Middleton wore today because that seems like a highly pertinent issue that requires our daily attention.

- Death of Osama Bin Laden: The US achieved a decade old milestone and solved all the problems of world terrorism by killing Osama Bin Laden in a Navy SEAL raid in Abbottabad. In doing so, they also debunked the myth that the US needs to even pretend that international conventions and laws should at least appear to be adhered to. This did not do wonders for the already-strained relationship between America and Pakistan, made worse because of the drone strikes and several incidents (like US CIA contractor Raymond Davis committing double murder in Lahore in January, and then being released in March after the families accepted blood money; and the NATO attack that killed Pakistani soldiers (see November).) In not entirely related news, somebody may or may not have sent someone a memo about something or the other; meanwhile, in a parallel universe, politicians were honest, no one was evasive, and everything made sense.
- The end of The Oprah Winfrey Show: The highest-rated talk show in American television history came to an end, leaving us with the question: what will we not watch now? We are certainly going to miss not watching it.
- Dominic Strauss Kahn’s resignation: Dominic Strauss Kahn stepped down as the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) after he was accused of assaulting a hotel housekeeper in New York; the charge was later dropped in August.
- Apocalypse prediction: The world failed to end yet again when the much anticipated Rapture was a no show. People wandered around disappointed as the May 21st deadline (professed by Harold Camping) came and went; similarly, the complete destruction of the world did not follow on the assigned date in October. Or well the end of the world stuff did come true for a couple of things, like OBL’s life, Oprah’s show, and Kahn’s career! We also saw an end to the idea that America has to follow international guidelines when it comes to things like recognising the sovereign rights of countries and other such trivial matters.

- French Open: Chinese tennis player Li Na became the first Grand Slam singles champion born in an Asian country by winning the French Open. Spain’s Rafael Nadal was the victor in the men’s tournament, but the overall year belonged to Serbia’s Novak Djokovic who won the Australian Open, US Open, and Wimbledon.
- Duke Nukem Forever released: Against all the laws of existence Duke Nukem Forever was finally released after being in development for 15 years. It may have taken forever to see the light of day, but it was totally worth the wait because the game was so well made and sophisticated and…wait, no it wasn’t. Instead, it was The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (released in November) that wowed critics and was named the ‘Game of the Year’ at the Spike VGAs (December), and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 which impressed gamers and made $1 billion a record 16 days after its release in November.

- NASA Space Shuttle program concluded: NASA retired its shuttle fleet after 30 years of service, with the final flight of Atlantis.
- British phone-hacking scandal: While the space program had been working to explore the stars, News of the World had been busy snooping on stars; the British tabloid, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation was at the centre of a phone-hacking scandal that purported that the paper had hacked not only the phones of celebrities, but also of deceased people and their families, thereby resulting in the closure of the publication and an inquiry into the scandal.
- South Sudan secession: After a referendum on independence in January, South Sudan seceded from Sudan, becoming an independent state and the world’s newest nation.
- Harry Potter finale: The Harry Potter film series came to an end with the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, which became the highest grossing movie of the year, squeezing out the (hopefully) final drops of cash from the franchise and making over US$1.3 billion. Now can we all finally move on? Please?
- Somalia famine: Following a severe drought in East Africa, the worst in decades, a famine was declared in southern Somalia; the crisis has taken tens of thousands of lives and left millions of people in need of assistance, and also affected parts of various neighbouring countries. Humanitarian agencies requested US$2.48 billion to address the crisis, and $1.12 billion were subsequently committed in the coming weeks, leaving them about $1.3 billion short…which also happens to be the amount that people spent on Harry Potter tickets; the number later come down to less than a billion with over 70% of the target met.

- Asia floods: Parts of Thailand suffered from some of the worst flooding to hit the country following heavy rains. Monsoon rains also caused floods in Pakistan’s Sindh, affecting the lives of millions of people.
- Steve Jobs stepped down as CEO: Apple Inc.’s game-changing visionary Steve Jobs resigned as the CEO of the company that he co-founded in 1976, ending the reign of one of the world’s most influential businessmen; he passed away less than two months later.

- The Occupy movement: Starting from Wall Street before spreading to “over 1,500 cities globally”, the Occupy movement saw “the 99 percent” stand up to “[fight] back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.” Well done for standing up for sanity, and good luck with trying to change the way the entire world works; should be easy.
- India-Bangladesh border pact: India and Bangladesh signed a pact to resolve the enclave situation in the countries.

- Seventh Rugby World Cup: The World Cup of that sport we don’t play was held in that country that we’re not. Somebody won. (Ok fine, it was held in New Zealand and won by New Zealand. There. Happy?)
- Seven billion population: The number of people in the world reached seven billion this year; according to reports, the most significant population increases since the last billion have been in China, India, and the house of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

- NATO cross-border attack: An attack by NATO forces on a Pakistani border check post killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in an incident that was universally condemned and further deteriorated the relationship between Pakistan and USA; the incident also resulted in the evacuation of Shamsi Airfield, closure of NATO supply routes, and Pakistan boycotting the Bonn Conference.
- European debt crisis: European countries continued to face financial woes, with the EU scrambling to get things under control through measures like a €78 billion rescue deal for Portugal (May), and a write-down of 50% of Greek bonds (October). The handling of the financial crisis also contributed towards the shuffling of some governments, with leaders stepping down following opposition; this included the resignation of the Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou (November), and Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi (November), who was forced out of office following private scandals and after losing political support.
- 11-11-11: That was kinda cool. Just sayin’.

- Most Earth-like planet discovered: The discovery of Kepler 22-b, an extrasolar planet orbiting around a distant Sun-like star’s habitable zone, was officially announced, giving humanity the hope that maybe someday we can move there and ruin that planet too.
- New Year’s Eve: No, not the horrific Garry Marshall film that came out a few weeks ago; the real thing. As the year reaches its end, it leaves us with many cliff-hangers: Will Barack Obama win re-election? Will Silvio Berlusconi stop embarrassing himself? And will the world finally end? Stay tuned – the next 366 days will reveal all the answers.

Have a great year, y’all!

  • Abdul Hameed (83) – Pakistani writer.
  • Amy Winehouse (27) – British singer.
  • Andy Rooney (92) – American television personality, appeared on 60 Minutes (1978 – 2011).
  • Andy Whitfield (39) – Welsh actor, best known for his leading role in the television series Spartacus: Blood and Sand (2010).
  • Anne McCaffrey (85) – Irish-American science fiction writer.
  • Dan Wheldon (33) – British racing driver and champion.
  • Dennis Ritchie (70) – American computer scientist, created the C programming language.
  • Elizabeth Taylor (79) – British-American actress, star of films such as Cat on a Hot Tin Roof (1958), BUtterfield 8 (1960), Cleopatra (1963), and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966).
  • Hakim Ali Zardari (81) – Pakistani politician, father of Asif Ali Zardari.
  • Harry Morgan (96) – American actor, star of series including Dragnet (1967–1970), and M*A*S*H (1975–1983).
  • Jamil Fakhri (65) – Pakistani actor, most remembered for his performance in the TV series Andhera Ujala.
  • Joe Frazier (67) – American boxer, heavyweight boxing champion.
  • Kim Jong-il (70) - Supreme leader of North Korea (1994–2011).
  • Moin Akhter (60) – Pakistani actor and comedian.
  • Munir Dar (76) – Pakistani field hockey player, member of Olympic gold and silver medal winning squads.
  • Nusrat Bhutto (82) – Iranian-born Pakistani First Lady, widow of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
  • Pete Postlethwaite (64) – British actor, appeared in movies including In the Name of the Father (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), and Inception (2010).
  • Peter Falk (83) – American actor, best known for playing the lead role in the television series Columbo.
  • Randy Savage (58) – American professional wrestler.
  • Salmaan Taseer (66) – Pakistani politician, 26th Governor of Punjab.
  • Shahbaz Bhatti (42) – Pakistani politician, Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs.
  • Steve Jobs (56) – American businessman, co-founder of Apple.
- By Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 30th December, 2011

Friday, December 30, 2011

Rewind (music in 2011)


A look back at music in 2011
  • R.E.M. released their fifteenth album, Collapse into Now, then disbanded and left us wondering if life was worth living anymore.
  • Adele kept us from giving up on the music-making segment of humanity by serenading us with her sophomore record 21, which yielded hits like Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You.
  • Blink-182 released Neighborhoods, their first new album since 2003. It was supposedly “ambitious” and “deep” and “dark”, and actually quite boring.
  • In news that we wish was made up, Katy Perry became the first female artist in history to achieve five number one singles – California Gurls, Teenage Dream, Firework, E.T., and Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.) – on the US charts from one album for the very atrocious Teenage Dream.
  • Global marketing construct and queen of shock tactics Lady Gaga unveiled her new album Born This Way, which became an instant contender for worst album cover of the year.
  • The White Stripes officially disbanded nearly four years after releasing their sixth and final album, Icky Thump (2007).
  • The music world saw a heartbreaking loss of talent as singer Amy Winehouse passed away at the age of 27 from alcohol poisoning. A posthumous compilation featuring some of her unreleased songs and demos was issued later in the year.
  • American Idol returned for a tenth season with Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez joining Randy Jackson on the judging panel. Scotty McCreery became the youngest male winner of the show, while Lauren Alaina finished as the runners up. Meanwhile, J.Lo tried to revive her music career with the predictably awful Love?, and separated from Marc Anthony (which would explain the ? after Love).
  • The X-Factor made its way to America, bringing Simon Cowell and Paula Abdul together again in a bid to find yet another mediocre pop singer. The season was won by Melanie Amaro (while pop group Little Mix won the UK version of the program). Cheryl Cole was first hired as a mentor for the US show, but then eventually replaced by Nicole Scherzinger.
  • Another reality show The Voice also set out to find singing talent. The winner? Some guy contestant. The real winners? Judges Adam Levine and Christina Aguilera, who were propelled to the top of global charts with one of the biggest hits of their careers in the form of the Maroon 5 and Xtina song Moves Like Jagger. The Maroon 5 singer also scored a hit with Stereo Hearts, his collaboration with Gym Class Heroes.
  • World’s most well-known cover band Westlife decided to part ways after drowning their listeners in a sea of saccharine ballads for 14 years. They will never be forgotten forgiven.
  • Girls Aloud member Nicola Roberts released her well-received debut solo album, Cinderella’s Eyes.
  • Musicians (including Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera, Cee Lo Green, Ne-Yo, Jamie Foxx, and Smokey Robinson) gathered to pay tribute to the late King of Pop at Michael Forever – The Tribute Concert in October, the same month in which Cirque du Soleil’s show Michael Jackson: The Immortal World Tour also debuted. The following month, MJ’s personal physician Conrad Murray was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, and sentenced to four years in prison.
  • Kim Kardashian got married. 72 days later, Kim Kardashian filed for divorce. If that wasn’t bad enough, the reality TV “star” made an ill-advised foray into music with her single Jam (Turn It Up); the results were just about as bad as you’d expect. The world went from not knowing whether she can sing, to knowing that she definitely can not. The saving grace: a portion of the proceeds went to charity.
  • Speaking of talent-challenged famous-for-being-famous celebrities, Paris Hilton’s second album failed to surface, although the prospect of it loomed eerily over the music-listening world like an impending catastrophe. She did, however, decide to torment us with yet another reality series, titled The World According to Paris, which was thankfully cancelled after one season.
  • Britney Spears churned out more auto-tuned dance-pop in Femme Fatale, which inevitably landed at the top of the charts.
  • Beyoncé told us who run the world (girls!), and released her fourth album, the very creatively titled 4.
  • Take That “progressed” as a five-piece, and recorded the theme songs for the movies X-Men: First Class (Love Love) and The Three Musketeers (When We Were Young).
  • Glee returned for a third season as The Glee Project winners made their way onto the show. The series continued to butcher pop songs and also continued to sell a boatload of records.
  • Death Cab for Cutie’s seventh album, Codes and Keys, hit the shelves, while the band’s front-man Ben Gibbard and his wife actress/singer Zooey Deschanel decided to part ways after two years of marriage, only days after the release of She & Him’s Christmas album.
  • The Grammy Awards went all cool on us, giving Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs the ‘Album of the Year’ award, making them the first indie act to win the accolade. The big winners of the ceremony, however, were country pop trio Lady Antebellum, who took home five honours including ‘Record of the Year’ and ‘Song of the Year’ for their single Need You Now.
  • Justin Bieber made millions with his documentary/concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, and then decided to ruin Christmas by releasing a Xmas album, titled Under the Mistletoe. The set included a cover/duet of Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas Is You which basically sounded like Bieber wailing over the original recording of the song.
  • Rebecca Black came under the spotlight when her vanity single Friday went viral on YouTube and became the most disliked video on the website. Suddenly Justin Bieber didn’t seem all that bad after all. Although it kinda was worth it just for the parodies!
  • But Friday’s status as the “worst song ever” was challenged when Design the Skyline’s Surrounded by Silence made its way to unsuspecting ears and then subsequently made them bleed.
  • Pop group Steps got back together, nearly ten years after breaking up, upon realizing that all their attempts at having solo careers had pretty much tanked. Other groups that reunited include The Darkness, Bloc Party, and Black Sabbath.
  • Nicki Minaj tried to tell us what the super bass sounds like (“boom-badoom boom, boom badoom-boom” apparently), and also saw success with her single Fly which featured Rihanna.
  • Rihanna released a new album, Talk That Talk, and about 348162 singles, and was all over the charts.
  • Swedish House Mafia tried to save the world.
  • Jessie J released her debut album. People liked it, for some strange reason.
  • The Stone Roses reunited 15 years after disbanding, proving that if you wish for something long enough, it happens!
  • Coldplay released their fifth studio record, Mylo Xyloto, which fell significantly short of being life-altering.
  • Roxette made their first new album in nearly a decade; after listening to it, we’re not quite sure why they bothered.
  • Panic! at the Disco came out with their first new album as a two piece, and also worked with fun. for the split single, C’mon.
  • Jay-Z and Kanye West joined forces to record the highly praised Watch the Throne.
  • Bruno Mars continued to exist.
  • The Streets gave us their final set of songs in Computers and Blues before ending the group.
  • Elbow, The Decemberists, Kasabian, Bon Iver, Arctic Monkeys, Fleet Foxes, and Radiohead wowed with fantastic new albums.
  • Lou Reed and Metallica collaborated to record Lulu, a project that was deemed as a “catastrophic failure on almost every level”.
  • James Blake conquered the post-dubstep arena with his self-titled debut.
  • Danger Mouse and Daniele Luppi unveiled their five-years-in-the-making album, Rome, which featured vocal contributions from Jack White and Norah Jones.
  • Following the destruction of Oasis, Liam Gallagher’s Beady Eye made their debut album Different Gear, Still Speeding, while Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds produced their self-titled debut set, with both receiving generally positive reviews.
  • And artists including Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Strokes, Evanescence, Beastie Boys, Daughtry, Nickelback, Eddie Vedder, Limp Bizkit, Incubus, Florence and the Machine, Kelly Clarkson, Chris Brown, Aqua, Selena Gomez & the Scene, Demi Lovato, and Lady Antebellum were among the many singers and musicians who returned to the charts with new albums.
- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 30th December, 2011 

Friday, December 16, 2011

The (Celebrity) Bookshelf


Mustafa Zahid: I recently read Controversially Yours by Shoaib Akhtar and as much as a fan I was of his game in the past, I think he earned twice more respect after that. The book was a total feast and tells the bitter truth about what happens off the ground and in dressing rooms as well. What I liked about the book was that Shoaib emerges as a complete rock star even in the book and does not mind accepting the wrong side of him portrayed by media over the years, although he is a bit protective about it at the same time as well. What I disliked was that he blamed most of the seniors for his career as he claimed he was too young at that time, and at the same time he said he was always a rebel and never listened to anyone, so [I] found it a bit contradictory. Highly recommended to the youth.

Zeeshan Parwez: [I have read] very very few [books], because of the extensive workload. As recommended by friends, I’ve recently read Snow by Orhan Pamuk, The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time by Jeffrey Sachs, and The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie. It’s a big debate on what I thought about these books in general. I would however encourage everyone to read The End of Poverty. I like fact-driven information and it actually gives you a wider picture about the poverty in third world countries and what can be done to control it to some extent, at least that’s what the book states boldly; the eradication of poverty by 2030.

Haniya Aslam: The last books I read were Amitav Ghosh’s River of Smoke and Muhammad Hanif’s Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. Both of them were a treat to read.

Annie Khalid: I just finished reading Drop Dead Beautiful by Jackie Collins and I really love the book. She is one of my favourite authors. I don’t think there is anything I didn’t like about that book. I think everything was great. It was basically just like a movie in text form. The best thing about Jackie Collins is that her books are so glamorous and so Hollywood that they take you to a totally different world when you read them. I would definitely recommend it to other people.

Us Magazine, The News - 16th December, 2011

Faiza Mujahid: It’s been ages since I’ve read a good book! The last book I read was Never Let Me Go, five years back, and I LOVED it!! It’s a science fiction novel by Kazuo Ishiguro. You have to read it to know how good it is!

Us Magazine, The News - 21st October, 2011

Faakhir: I read Ford County by John Grisham. The detailing and suspense in most of these stories is compelling, very exciting; however unlike vintage Grisham that we are used to, there’s a certain degree of predictability about the endings – somehow the endings seem a little complacent, if you like. Nevertheless it offers a very interesting read.

Us Magazine, The News - 7th October, 2011

Haroon Rashid: Most recently I read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I thought it was engaging but I was really put off by the depravity and extreme depiction of violence. I thought the book didn’t deserve the hype it got and was more about sensationalism. Later I read that in Sweden the original title of the book is "Men Who Hate Women". That seemed to make more sense. It was changed in the English translation to be more commercial. I would only recommend it to adults over 21 who are not of a sensitive nature.

Us Magazine, The News - 26th August, 2011

Natasha Saleem: I read Animal Farm by George Orwell and I loved it!! It’s so pertinent to today’s situation in society, and I recommend everyone read it and switch over to individual anarchism ‘cause as we can see time and again through history that with absolute power comes absolute corruption.

Us Magazine, The News - 1st July, 2011 

- By Sameen Amer

Friday, December 02, 2011

Q&A: Mustafa Zahid (Roxen)


Us: How did the Dil Main Tum project come about?
Mustafa Zahid:
Dil Main Tum just happened out of nowhere. I woke up one day and realised I had this tune in the back of my mind and was humming it. We got together to jam and I told the band I think we shall do a cover of this song for one of our upcoming concerts. The moment we started jamming to it, the energy was electrifying. My friend Umer heard us doing the jam and told me he knew Bunny through someone, and that very moment we decided to take the cover to the next level. I called Bunny and told him we have done something different from what he has done before, and although I don’t think we can ever match the class of that song, but rock ‘n’ roll is what Roxen mostly does; this is what we have done, and if you like the sound we would love to have you on board for the song. He heard the song and loved every bit of it and agreed.

Us:  How was the experience of working with Bunny?
Working with Bunny was astounding. The energy, the vibe, the whole experience was just amazing and I think it was his attitude towards the music and collaboration which took it to some other level. He was so supportive and guided us all the way through the project. I remember the first time he had done his vocals and sent us the file from Karachi; we heard it in the studios and all of us had goose bumps.

Us: Please tell Us about the video.
The video has a pretty similar theme to what Roxen has done in the past. If you look at Sapnay, Toh Phir Aoo, Bujh Hai Gaya, and most of our videos, we prefer going all out as a pop rock boy band jamming and performing to the song, and to be honest this is what we love as well. Also, since this was Roxen’s second video that I directed by myself after Tera Mera Rishta, I wanted to have a unique element going in the video which initially was to have a lot of sports cars and stuff, but I think ultimately Bunny himself was enough to overshadow any other element.

Us: What can we expect from you in the coming months?
A lot of shows in and outside Pakistan. And we are back in Bollywood with Mahesh Bhatt’s Blood Money; all I can say for now is that in case you found two songs on the soundtrack of Awarapan not enough, wait for Blood Money.

- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 2nd December, 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Three useful web-based tools

geek guide

If you want to perform a quick task – like tweak an image, crunch some numbers, or edit a document – on the go, then the web offers some convenient and easy solutions in the form of web applications. These tools can be accessed anywhere over the internet, directly from your browser; no need to install an application, and no compulsion to register. Here are three such applications that you might find useful. Simply point your browser to these websites and make use of the nifty tools they have to offer.

1. Citrify
Want to quickly touch up a photograph? Then try Citrify, a free online photo editor that lets you modify and enhance your pictures. Simply launch the flash-based app in your browser, access the photo you want to edit, and choose the settings you want to modify. The tool is very easy to use and makes the editing process very simple. It takes only a mouse click to apply the effects. You can easily adjust the brightness, contrast, hue, saturation, size, sharpness, and orientation of the picture; reduce glare and wrinkles, remove red-eye and blemishes; and even air-brush for a smoother skin-tone. Also, you can apply effects such as making your photo look like a watercolour or pencil sketch. For a bit more fun, you can even add stickers such as wigs and sunglasses to your pictures.

2. TitanPad
If you want to quickly edit a document or share some text with a friend or colleague, then TitanPad might help. Based on the open-source release of the now-defunct EtherPad, TitanPad is a service that “lets people work on one document simultaneously”. Just go to the website, create a new pad, and start typing or import your existing (text, HTML, Word, or RTF) document; invite up to eight colleagues (each of whom will be assigned their own colour) to work on the pad, and the content will synchronize in real-time so that everyone sees the same text and can collaborate seamlessly on the document. You can also chat to the other users as you work. When you’re done working on the text, you can export the pad (as HTML, plain text, bookmark file, Microsoft Word, PDF, or OpenDocument). You also have the option to register and create private subdomains if you don’t want your work to be accessible to everyone who has the URL of the pad you have created.

3. InstaCalc
InstaCalc is a user-friendly, fast, and shareable web-based calculator. Just visit the website, enter your calculations, and get your answers; no login or installation required. The service facilitates many types of both simple and more complex calculations, including arithmetic, roots and powers, percentage, trigonometry, and logarithms, and lets you use notations, perform unit conversions, calculate factorials, do base conversions, and much more. The response time is fast as the results are generated as you type, and you can use natural equations and easily understandable notations. You can share your work with your friends, link to any calc from your blog, email or forum post, and even customize your calculator using themes.

So when you need something free and easy to access, and yet still powerful enough to let you quickly get things done, the three apps mentioned above can really help you out. Bookmark them now and you’ll be glad you did!

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 26th November, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Igniting the fire: Amazon unveils Kindle Fire


Amazon is set to launch its new tablet, Kindle Fire, by the end of this year

When Apple announced the impending launch of its tablet computer early last year, the naysayers were out in force, rushing to judgement on how the device would never catch on. Less than two years later, it is plain to see that not only is the iPad a massive success, but it has also generated more interest in tablet computers, rejuvenating the portable computing genre and incentivizing other companies to venture into the tablet market.

Now entering this hugely competitive arena is Amazon, the “world’s largest online retailer” and the developer of the immensely popular Kindle e-book reader. Built around the company’s core competencies, their new device, the Kindle Fire, will hope to leverage the success of the Kindle brand while further benefiting from their content providing abilities.

Launching soon
A step up from the black and white e-readers the company is known for, the new 7-inch colour tablet has a dual-core processor, and 8GB internal storage (“enough,” Amazon claims, “for 80 apps, plus 10 movies or 800 songs or 6,000 books”); the Kindle Fire has up to eight hours of battery life, makes use of Wi-Fi connectivity, and runs on a customized Android-based platform.

The device will let users connect to the Amazon Appstore as well as allowing them access to the company’s treasure-trove of digital content (at least if they reside in the States; it remains to be seen whether Amazon will pay attention to the market outside the U.S. when it comes to their services) including ebooks, movies, television shows, and music, and facilitate free cloud storage for all Amazon digital content. But perhaps the most talked about feature of the Kindle Fire is the “cloud-accelerated browser” called Amazon Silk, that “uses a "split browser" architecture to leverage the computing speed and power of the Amazon Web Services cloud”; the browser aims to optimize traffic flows, using techniques like prefetching pages and caching content.

Facing the competition
When the Kindle Fire goes on sale on the 15th of November in the US (global release dates are currently not available), a lot of interest will go into how well it fares in the fiercely competitive tablet market, especially keeping in mind that it is not only going up against other Android-based tablets and various other devices (like the Nook Color and Blackberry PlayBook, for instance), but it will also be competing against the dominating force that is the iPad. A closer look at the specs, however, suggests that Amazon is playing a slightly different game than Apple.

The Kindle Fire is smaller and has fewer features than the iPad, but it does have one substantial selling point: it is considerably cheaper. The pricing could make Kindle Fire attractive to some customers – its price tag (US$199) is significantly less than that of the entry-point iPad (US$499). The lower price predictably has a value trade-off, and the tablet clearly has its limitations; unlike the iPad, Fire lacks camera, microphone and 3G capabilities, and has a smaller screen compared to the current market leader (9.7-inches).

Overall, Kindle Fire’s focus seems to be on offering fewer features at a lower cost, and the gadget is perhaps best suited for simple content consumption, especially if the content comes from Amazon’s own services. The company will be hoping that their strong brand name will make the Kindle Fire a contender in the race for tablet market share, while also using the tablet craze to help them further capitalize on their content-rich ecosphere.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 22nd October, 2011

Friday, October 14, 2011

So long, Steve, and thanks for the future

In remembrance of Apple Inc.’s visionary leader
Steven Paul Jobs (1955 – 2011)

As far as technology goes, the last ten years have definitely been the decade of Apple. With the release of each of their iProducts, the company has revolutionized the tech industry, pushing the limits of popular technology and what it can do. None of this would have been possible without Steve Jobs, Apple’s then-CEO, who was not only at the helm of the renaissance of the company that he co-founded, but of an entire industry that would not have been the same without him.

In the wake of the announcement of his death, it feels almost surreal that the man in the black turtleneck will not deliver any more keynote speeches and will not be present at the launch of Apple’s future products. “It’s like Superman died,” someone has commented on a forum, and that sentiment seems remarkably apt. For the generation that has been lucky enough to witness the evolution of computing, the importance of Steve Jobs has been evident throughout these decades. His passion was palpable, his vision revolutionary, and his enthusiasm for technology contagious. And “the world,” as the official Apple statement reads, “is immeasurably better” because of him.

The person
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else's life.”
Born on the 24th of February 1955 and given up for adoption by his biological parents (Syrian father and American mother), Steve Jobs was raised by his adoptive parents in the Silicon Valley; he wouldn’t get to meet his biological sister, Mona Simpson, until they were both adults (in 1986). After finishing high school, he enrolled at Reed College before famously dropping out after only one semester. A visit to India led him to embrace Buddhism, and he would eventually marry his wife Laurene Powell (in 1991) in a ceremony presided by a Zen Buddhist monk; the couple would have three children – a son and two daughters – and he also had a daughter from a previous relationship. His health waned in recent years following his 2004 battle with pancreatic cancer, and ultimately forced him to step down from the position of his company’s CEO in August 2011.

The entrepreneur
“The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.”
After co-founding Apple (1976), then being ousted from his own company (1985), before eventually returning (1996), Steve Jobs become one of the most influential and celebrated people in the industry, building a global business empire and amassing an estimated $8.3 billion fortune. In between, he also founded NeXT, Inc. (1985), which was subsequently purchased by Apple (1996), and created Pixar (1986), which not only revitalized the animated film industry, but also made him Disney’s largest shareholder after it was purchased by the media conglomerate (2006).
Along the way, he used his almost uncanny ability to know what the consumers wanted, even before they knew it themselves, to create a vast array of products; most notably, he help popularize personal computers with the creation of the Apple II (1977) and Macintosh (1984), and then transformed the world of gadgets with the launch of devices like the iPod portable media player (2001) (and the accompanying iTunes digital media application (2001) and store (2003)), the iPhone smartphone (2007), and the iPad tablet computer (2010). His journey may have had its ups and down, but it ultimately transformed him into one of the most fascinating business executives of all time, as the company that he started in his parents’ garage went on to change the world.

The legacy
“You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Irrespective of ones stance on Apple and its products, no one can deny the impact Steve Jobs has had on technology. From his contribution to fonts and GUI to popularizing sleek and powerful gadgets, Steve Jobs masterfully combined innovation with strong branding. He took ideas, transformed them into attractive products, and then sold the concepts to the world. His keynote (or "Stevenote") speeches were events that attracted massive attention. He transformed nerdy into hip, unleashing the geek in all of us. The Mac created a legion of fans with, as Douglas Adams put it, an “almost fanatical devotion to their machines”. And then the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad…each device had a ripple effect on the gadget industry as a whole, that not only created waves in his lifetime, but will continue to do so for many, many years to come.

In memoriam
  • “The world rarely sees someone who made such a profound impact. For those of us lucky enough to get to work with Steve, it’s been an insanely great honor. I will miss Steve immensely.” – Bill Gates
  • “He was a great man with incredible achievements and amazing brilliance. He always seemed to be able to say in very few words what you actually should have been thinking before you thought it. His focus on the user experience above all else has always been an inspiration to me.” – Larry Page
  • “Steve, thank you for being a mentor and a friend. Thanks for showing that what you build can change the world. I will miss you.” – Mark Zuckerberg
  • “No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve's death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.” – Tim Cook
  • “We've lost something we won't get back. The way I see it, though, the way people love products he put so much into creating means he brought a lot of life to the world." – Steve Wozniak
- Sameen Amer

Us Magazine, The News - 14th October, 2011

Friday, October 07, 2011

Exploring new dimensions - Atif Aslam

cover story

Since the release of Aadat, Atif Aslam has gone on to become a well known name in the sub-continent. His albums – Jal Pari (2004), Doorie (2006), and Meri Kahani (2008) – have met with success, his vocals have been heard in films, and he has even been awarded the Tamgha-e-Imtiaz for his contributions to music. The 28-year-old artist has now made his acting debut in the film Bol, which was released recently. We caught up with the singer/actor to talk about his latest ventures:


Us: Could you please tell Us a bit about the movie Bol?
Atif Aslam:
Bol - the movie - is a reflection of our society and its shades. The movie has emotions, drama, and a very strong and bold message for the audiences.

Us: How did the Bol project come about? How did you get the role in the film?
Shoaib Mansoor approached me in 2009 and offered me this role of a doctor/singer in the movie. The role sounded interesting, and I signed on to do the movie after some formalities.

Us: Is there a specific reason you chose to do this project?
The specific reason was that my singing career started from Pakistan, so I wanted to start my acting career from here as well. Also, the film was being directed by Shoaib Mansoor, so I considered it a safe debut.

Us: This was your first experience as a film actor – how did it feel? Was it how you expected it to be? Did you face any difficulties?
Acting is more challenging than singing. We have to control our expressions and stretch our limits to a whole new level. I was having difficulties in the beginning as some of my colleagues in the movie said that my acting was still stiff, but Alhamdulillah it improved with time, and I was able to perform well enough to earn appreciation.

Us: How was the experience of working with the director and your co-stars?
It was great, we had a blast! And Shoaib sahib is very artistic and very professional.

Us: What did you feel when you were watching the final product?
Well, I was satisfied. Shoaib sahib knows his job really well. A few scenes were not included in the film which I understand the director didn’t consider adding.

Us: How do you feel about the response the film has received so far?
The response has been tremendous. Alhamdulillah, the movie has broken all the box office records in the history of Pakistan, and I am glad to be a part of the movie which has done so well. In fact, it has been highly praised across the border, too. I came across some great reviews from their critics admiring Shoaib sahib’s vision and actors’ hard work. People are enjoying it. Some people think that my role is short in the movie, but I believe it’s the impact that matters, not the duration.

Us: In your opinion, what makes Bol stand out?
Shoaib Mansoor, plus it is a great effort to revive the cinema culture and it will provoke thoughts of a lot of people.


Us: How did you become interested in acting?
I think it is a part of being in the showbiz, and I believe in exploring new dimensions of my talents and personality.

Us: Do you wish to continue acting? And would you consider doing Bollywood movies? Are there any projects in the pipeline?
Yeah, InshAllah, I will continue it provided I get a good response from people for my movie Bol. If there is a right script and team, then I will definitely do movies no matter what place it is.

Us: Now that you’ve taken up acting, do you feel like there has been a shift in priority from music to acting? Or is music still your main focus?
Acting is not a priority so far. Music is, and it will continue as it is, InshAllah.

Us: What do you think about the current state of the Pakistani film industry? And what can be done to improve it?
I believe there is no Pakistani film industry, whatever is being done was done on a personal effort by Shoaib Mansoor sahib. The government should make it a proper industry and announce competitions for the young filmmakers to establish it.

Us: Is there any director you would like to work with in the future? And any actor and actress?
No one in particular; [I would like to work with] anybody with a good idea and better approach towards work.


Us: What is it about being a musician that you enjoy the most? And what inspires you to make music?
My environment is my inspiration, and I take inspiration from everything around me – the people, the happenings, travelling, etcetera. The best thing about being a musician is that you have a productive and fruitful outlet to express your feelings and fulfil your passions. And love of the people is a bonus that you get along the way!

Us: You were working on a project that was meant to be in collaboration with international musicians. How is that coming along?
Alhamdulillah, I am working on it. A lot of tracks are almost done, and I will release it at the appropriate time.

Us: What do you think of the current music landscape of the country?
I see the positive side of it and I believe that this is the only good thing happening to the nation nowadays. We should respect our artists more and promote them. God bless our nation!

Us: How soon can we expect another album from you? Is there anything you can tell Us about it? And are there any other upcoming music related projects?
I’m still working on the album. Many tracks are done, and I’ll release it at the appropriate time. I am not hurrying things up for me. Right now, let the people enjoy Bol.


Us: How do you define success?
Eternal fruitfulness in this life and hereafter.

Us: How has your life changed in the past decade? Do you feel like you’ve changed as a person?
Life has gone fast and productive. Patience has also increased as Allah has been very kind.

Us: How do you deal with rumours? Is there any rumour that you’ve found particularly hard to deal with?
Normally I don’t care about them, but if there is something serious we normally clear it on our website or Facebook.

Us: What is the one achievement so far that you’re most proud of?
Alhamdulillah the love and prayers of people are the biggest achievements.

Us: Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t done so far?
I would like to explore more dimensions of music internationally, plus I wish to be more beneficial to the people of Pakistan.

Us: Any message for the readers?
Don’t let your passions die for ordinary reasons and regret afterwards.


Us: Who was the last person you called? And what did you talk about?
I dialled my friend after so long and her mother picked up saying it’s a wrong number, don’t disturb me, haha.

Us: What do you have in your pockets right now?
A lot of boarding passes, a dollar, and a SIM card to earn a few more.

Us: Which book did you read most recently?
I was reading the Holy Quran. I am loving every bit of it – the history, the sayings and words, the Prophet, oneness of Allah, faith, zakat, Ramazan, Hajj, and everything.

Us: Would you ever consider getting a tattoo? If yes, what would the tattoo be/depict?
Well I am not a tattoo person, but if I decide to get one then it’s going to be some animal; a fox maybe.

Us: When was the last time you used a pen (or pencil) to write something down? What did you write?
I have been using it for the past six days to fill up the immigration forms; that tells you a lot about my tour. Before that I wrote a song about composing myself.

Us: Do you have any pet(s)? Have you had any pets in the past? Would you consider getting a pet in the future?
I don’t have any pets, never had them, and not planning to have any in the future as well.

Atif says…
  • I love… my mom.
  • I dislike… people who keep poking their noses in others’ work.
  • I want… to explore everything.
  • I wish… peace and prosperity for my country.
  • I fear… living an unproductive life.
  • I hope… I shall never be hopeless.
  • I am grateful for… everything Allah has blessed me with.



Starring: Humaima Malick, Atif Aslam, Iman Ali, Mahira Khan, Shafqat Cheema, Manzar Sehbai, Zaib Rehman, Sagar, and Amr Kashmiri
Director: Shoaib Mansoor
Tagline: Bolne ke liye ijazat nahin, himmat chahye

- Drama; a woman (Humaima Malick) who has been sentenced to death tells her story.
- Written and directed by Shoaib Mansoor; his second film, following his big screen debut Khuda Ke Liye (2007).
- Released on the 24th of June.
- Broke the box office record for the ‘highest gross in the first week of release’ by making over Rs. 22 million in six days.
- Has received a generally positive critical and commercial reception.
- Is the big screen debut for Humaima Malick, Atif Aslam and Mahira Khan.
- Soundtrack includes vocals by Atif Aslam, Hadiqa Kiyani, Sajjad Ali, Shabnam Majeed, Ahmed Jahanzeb, and Shuja Haider.

- S.A.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

A Little Bit Wicked

book review

Book: A Little Bit Wicked: Life, Love, and Faith in Stages
Author: Kristin Chenoweth with Joni Rodgers
Genre: Non-fiction, (auto)biography
Publisher: Touchstone
Excerpt: “People keep reminding me that billions — with a b as in bombastic and boy howdy! — yes, billions of people all over the world will be tuned in. …
I make my way backstage in my Jimmy Choos. I'm getting nervous. This doesn't happen to me much anymore. Like everyone around me, I'm a seasoned pro. Stage fright is a thing of the past. But tonight, as I prepare to step onstage, a hollow, little ice cube of doubt forms in the pit of my touchy stomach. I close my eyes. Heavenly Father...
I don't have to say anything else. He knows.
Adding one last dash of adorable to the Enchanted number is Vanessa Williams’s little daughter Sasha, so Vanessa is here, helping her get ready. She gives me a good-luck scrunch and tells me, "Sasha's going to be right there when you look at her."
It's good to have another Broadway girl backstage. There's no unnerving a woman who's conquered the pageant circuit and delivered eight shows a week. She's a glam-cat paragon of strength and calm. Sasha's learning early what it took me years to understand. Crew hands hustle out the set pieces. The hunks and I brace ourselves for places.”

She has competed in beauty pageants, performed on Broadway, acted in films and television shows, released albums, and won accolades along the way (including a Tony and an Emmy award). Her talent and impressive resume has made Kristin Chenoweth a star, and her book, A Little Bit Wicked, offers a peek at how she became the person she is today. The diminutive diva takes a light-hearted look at her life in the memoir, which, as she states, is not “a proper “tell-all” autobiography”, but a “completely biased “tell-a-little” slice of life, which reflects my personal recollections and opinions”.

The actress and singer talks about her adoption, not knowing her birth parents, and her love for her “real” family; as she explains, “family has never been restricted by genetics or paperwork” for her. Kristin also shares anecdotes from her life, revolving around friends, colleagues, fans, and even a stalker, while charting her road to showbiz success. She reminisces about finishing as the second runner-up one too many times in beauty pageants, and discusses what it was like to work on Broadway musicals such as You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown and Wicked, and TV series including The West Wing and Pushing Daisies (and, of course, her “huge hit sitcom” – “Huge hit. Puccini high-note huge. Ask either of the people who saw it.” – titled Kristin, which was cancelled during its first season). The actress makes several references to her faith and religious views, and also touches up on her experience with Ménière's disease, and her on-again-off-again relationship with Aaron Sorkin; the character of Harriet Hayes on his show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was inspired by her, and “the Kristin-to-Harriet correlation” is detailed in the book.

The Southern belle repeatedly displays her sunny personality and folksy charm in her memoir. But it is evident that the actress/singer could have delved a lot deeper on various experiences and issues – not just with respect to herself but also about the workings of Broadway and Hollywood – which would have made the book more interesting and revelatory, but she clearly chose not to. Also, Kristin’s (or perhaps Joni Rodgers’) writing style is at times bright and breezy, at others disjoint, overly-cutesy, and self-indulgent, while her perkiness, positivity, and religious views swing between being impressive and endearing to dichotomous and contradictory. Still, her energy is palpable throughout A Little Bit Wicked, and there are enough bits and pieces of information here to make the book appealing to her fans; if you want to take a look at a lively snapshot of the life of a showbiz star, then this short, quick read will serve the purpose.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 1st October, 2011

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Odd couples

book review

Book: Unlikely Friendships: 47 Remarkable Stories from the Animal Kingdom
Author: Jennifer S. Holland
Genre: Non-fiction
Publisher: Workman Publishing Company
Excerpt: “Still, the attempt to pair the two species didn’t start out well. When first introduced, Themba [the elephant] chased Albert [the sheep] around the watering hole, flapping his ears and lifting his tail to look as large and threatening as possible. Albert fled, as sheep instinct demands, and hid for hours. Over three days of wary gestures and tentative touches, the pair finally accepted each other, and the result proved well worth the stressful beginning. ...
Once the bond took hold, elephant and sheep were inseparable. They’d nap in tandem, horse around together, and Themba would rest his trunk on Albert’s woolly back as they explored their enclosure or went in search of snacks. Though keepers expected Themba to imitate the elder Albert, instead the sheep became the copycat, even learning to feed on Themba’s favorite leaves—from a thorny acacia plant not typically part of a sheep’s diet.”

National Geographic magazine writer Jennifer Holland compiles tales of interspecies companionships in Unlikely Friendships, a collection of heart-warming stories about different animals that have unexpectedly found a friend in each other.

A treat for animal lovers, the book shares touching stories and charming pictures of disparate creatures that were willing to accept and befriend each other; even a few that are natural enemies put aside their differences to give the world a fascinating spectacle. In some stories the animals are brought together by fate, in others by human intervention; some are reluctant, others spontaneous; some temporary, others lifelong; but all of them are touching and inspiring in their own ways.

There are tales of a stray cat that regularly visits and spends time with an Asiatic black bear at the Berlin zoo; a mare that protected a newborn fawn from predatory coyotes; a leopard’s nightly visits to a cow in a village in India; an iguana that gets along with housecats; the affectionate, albeit fleeting, bond between the macaque and the dove that grace the book’s cover; as well as stories of camaraderie between dogs and owls, cats and primates, and even a snake and a hamster, among many others. You can also see genealogical information in boxes along with each account, and get to learn a little about some of the species as you try to understand the connections between these unusual pairings.

The accounts of these relationships that seem to defy the laws of nature are uplifting, although at times heartbreak seeps into some of the episodes (like the lioness who adopted a baby oryx that was unfortunately snatched up by another lion). On the whole, Unlikely Friendships is a charming collection of anomalous interspecies friendships, and it is inspiring to see these animals bond with each other, because if a cat and a rat can get along, then there must be some hope for the rest of us after all!

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 24th September, 2011

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Thank you … Jimmy Fallon, for milking an idea for all it’s worth

book review

Book: Thank You Notes
Author: Jimmy Fallon with the Writers of Late Night
Genre: Humour
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Excerpt: “Thank you … Real Housewives of Atlanta, for demonstrating a universal truth: Idiots like me will always watch idiots like you fight on TV. You will forever be in my TiVo.
Thank you … ants around my kitchen sink, for allowing every day to start with murder. Every day you take the paper towel express to Toiletville, and yet more of you arrive the next morning. I don’t get it, ants. But thank you.
Thank you … DVR remote control, for your incredibly confusing response time. I push rewind five times and nothing happens, so I push it again and suddenly I’m all the way back to the beginning of the show, so I have to fast-forward again. Why won’t you just work, DVR remote? You’re so confusing. Thank you.
Thank you … Dog Snuggie®, for allowing us to embarrass animals in a way I never imagined possible. You did it. Thanks for that.
Thank you … slow-walking family walking in front of me on the sidewalk. No, please, take your time. And definitely spread out, too, so you create a barricade of idiots. I am so thankful that you forced me to walk into the street and risk getting hit by a car in order to pass you so I could resume walking at a normal human pace.”

Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon takes pen in hand and expresses gratitude for an assortment of things in Thank You Notes, a collection of tongue in cheek lines that turn Late Night’s “thank you notes” segment into a booklet. Joined by the writers of Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, the comedian churns out a set of sarcastic notes in appreciation of a variety of items, people, and places.

With roughly a note and a corresponding image per page, the very short book offers a compilation of witticisms, many of which Late Night viewers will already have heard on the television show. The faux thank you notes variously make fun of the little annoyances in life and quip about everyday aggravators. Fallon and his crew thank everything from haters (“for giving rappers so much to talk about”) and the F12 key (for its lack of functionality), to vegan food (“for tasting like microwaved paper towels”) and Apple (for adding a camera to the iPod Nano; “now it’s just like the iPhone except it can’t make calls. So basically, it’s just like the iPhone.”).

The entries are witty, and the humour is pretty much in keeping with the segment that spawned the book. However, if you do want to purchase Thank You Notes, keep in mind that it is very sparse. The book is a quick read – with only a line or two on each page, you’ll be done reading it in a matter of minutes, so if you’re unsure whether you’ll enjoy the humour or if it’ll be worth your money, then it might be a better idea to borrow it instead. That said, this little coffee table book is quite amusing, and while it may be too short and could have come with more artistic images and artwork, fans of Jimmy Fallon, especially of the thank you note segment of his show, will certainly enjoy it.

- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 17th September, 2011

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away...

book review

Book: Wishful Drinking
Author: Carrie Fisher
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Excerpt: “When I was younger, starting at about four, other children would ask me what it was like to be a movie star’s daughter. Once I was a little older and understood, to a certain extent, the nature of what celebrity meant, I would say, compared to what? When I wasn’t a movie star’s daughter? When I lived with my normal, non-show business family, the Regulars (Patty and Lowell Regular of Scottsdale, Arizona)? All I’ve ever known is this sort of hot-house-plant existence, and I could tell from watching how normal people lived — normal people as depicted by Hollywood and burned into our consciousness — I understood that my life was unusual. … It was the only reality I knew, but compared to other folks—both on television and off — it eventually struck me as a little surreal, too. And eventually, too, I understood that my version of reality had a tendency to set me apart from others. And when you’re young you want to fit in. (Hell, I still want to fit in with certain humans, but as you get older you get a little more discriminating.) Well, my parents were professionally committed to sticking out, so all too frequently I found myself sticking out right along with them.”

“My entire existence could be summed up in one phrase, and that is: if my life wasn’t funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable,” writes actress Carrie Fisher, capturing the gist of Wishful Drinking, her memoir that sees her take a witty look at the people and incidents that shaped her life.

Based on her one-woman stage show, the book offers the post-electroshock therapy recollection of the actress’s journey, from being the product of “Hollywood inbreeding” — she is the daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher (who left his wife for his best friend Mike Todd’s widow Elizabeth Taylor) — “think of Eddie as Brad Pitt and Debbie as Jennifer Aniston and Elizabeth as Angelina Jolie,” Carrie states helpfully), to her role in Star Wars and its repercussions — the immense success of the film assured that she would forever be identified as Princess Leia — and beyond.

The writer uses her caustic wit to discuss topics like being raised in the midst of the celebrity lifestyle, her marriage to Paul Simon and relationship with Bryan Lourd (with whom she has a daughter), and her struggle with bipolar disorder and drug addiction. Anecdotes from her life are weaved into the narrative, but while the book touches up on a lot of areas, it does not provide a detailed discussion of many (if not most) of them, and the focus is more on relaying the events in an amusing manner than on coming up with a proper, full-length memoir. Additionally, the book reads like stand-up comedy, and at times what seems missing is the delivery; some of the humour must’ve surely translated better in the show it is adapted from.

Overall, Wishful Drinking is an offbeat look at the life of someone who was born into Hollywood royalty, went on to portray an iconic character, and is trying to deal with her many issues. It’s irreverent, self-deprecating, and humorous, albeit with an underlying sadness. Is it candid? Yes. Is it revelatory? Not particularly. Still, the book makes for a quick, mostly fun read, and you’re likely to enjoy it, especially if you’re a Carrie Fisher fan, although those expecting a thorough, full-length autobiography are likely to be disappointed.
- Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 10th September, 2011

Friday, September 09, 2011

Catching up with Chaar Payee

cover story

It was just a couple of months back that we covered Chaar Payee in Us for being selected as the best freestyle drumming band in Pakistan and taking us on an international platform. They were nervous, yet excited. They knew they had a tough competition ahead, yet they were hopeful. They knew it wouldn’t be easy, yet they were determined to show the world what they could do. And they sure managed to pull it off really well.

After winning the national qualifiers, Chaar Payee were off to Rio de Janeiro to represent their country in the World Finals of Red Bull Tum Tum Pa, the freestyle drumming competition for students. The team from Pakistan eventually finished fourth, and were the top team from Asia. Whoa! Now that’s an achievement. So we celebrate this achievement with them, as we caught up with Ahmer, Usman, Nabeel, and Talha - Chaar Payee - to ask them about the competition:

Us: How was the experience of participating in the World Finals?
Chaar Payee:
The experience was exhilarating and an extremely unforgettable one. Everything from the travelling, sightseeing, interaction, the event itself, parties, till the outcome of the competition was unbelievable. Rio de Janeiro is a beautiful city and each one of us had the time of our lives. The World Final was a big stage, a big occasion, and a magnanimous platform for amateur and professional drummers alike so we felt really overwhelmed to be a part of that crowd.

Us: How do you guys feel about finishing fourth?
Finishing fourth? Awesome. Since it was a unique and somewhat alien concept here in Pakistan, we can presume that there weren’t many high expectations from us since we were pitting against the likes of Brazil, Jamaica, the United States and other teams where drumming/freestyle drumming is practiced at large. However, creativity also played a major chunk in your overall result and that’s where we feel we tapped the most points. Coming fourth out of 32 countries from all over the world, getting the exposure that most musicians yearn for, and above all, getting such stupendous recognition upon returning home makes us feel like winners already. We thank Allah Almighty for giving us this stature.

Us: Do you feel you should/could have done anything differently?
Oh, definitely. The thing is that up till the time that we were here we had a set idea and a routine to follow. Once we went there, met with the other people and exchanged ideas, there were some moments when we were all in for making last-minute changes to our composition and layout. There were a couple of hindrances regarding allowed materials that made life difficult for a number of competitors but thankfully, not for us. However, given the provision of using all the materials that we’d thought of using, we most certainly would have done something different than what we played. However, we’re all pretty content with what we did and the standing just goes on to testify that.

Us: How did you get along with your competitors?
Each individual from every country was awesome. Simply awesome. Everyone got along really well and made good friends. The Brazilians themselves were very welcoming and friendly. Since we arrived a night earlier, we were present when the majority of the teams were checking in to the hotel, so we got to meet almost everyone on the day of their arrival. So, by the time the World Finals started, we had a formidable fan base that cheered for us and really egged us on. The boys from Qatar, especially took a great liking to us as well as the Urdu language. We’d specially like to mention Andrew and Vinay, the guys from Belmont, USA, who in our opinion were the most talented individuals out of the lot, no doubt. We’ve made great friends during this trip and we really cherish the fantastic memories.

Us: Did anything interesting/memorable happen during the competition/trip that you can tell Us about?
A lot of interesting things happened but the highlight of the trip undoubtedly has to be Usman’s injury. He sliced his thumb open with a paper cutter and all looked in pretty bad shape since this happened just two hours prior to the start of the event. We all panicked and really were in sixes and sevens before Usman himself managed to stem the blood flow, patch himself up and make his way to the venue for the performance. We really didn’t think he could use his hand since it had been messed up pretty badly but all credit to him, he remained adamant upon performing and really came through on stage. Since the rest of us mainly provide the baseline for the track, it’s usually Usman’s antics that provide the top layer and that special visual element in our performances. We knew that if we took that out, we’d be bringing our overall performance several notches down. Fortunately for us, Usman realised that too and made sure that he wouldn’t bail out on us, even in that condition. Cheetah!
Don’t put down the rest of us for being selfish though; we all took him to the clinic to get his thumb stitched up afterwards. =P

Us: How did you like the trip to Rio? And Ahmer, how was the Ipanema Beach?
As mentioned, Rio de Janeiro is an absolutely beautiful city with great sightseeing spots and a comfy ambience overall. The Hanging Forest in Tijuca, the Flower Gardens, the Gávea Stone Mountain, Corcovado (Christ the Redeemer), etcetera, are all places with breath-taking scenic views. And if all that is STILL not pleasing to the eye, we always have Ipanema Beach and its beautiful people. (Haha, I’m glad you remember this). We’d like to specifically thank Mr. Ali Haider, who accompanied us throughout the journey and who really took care of us with regards to everything and made sure that we ran into no trouble at all. We really enjoyed Rio in the fullest in the two days after the competition since we were free from that tension afterwards.
Note to fellow future passengers in Rio: Taxis are expensive. Oh yes. And PLEASE! Do not have Pizza in Rio de Janeiro. They do not know how to make it and it’s a complete waste of your precious money. Kasam se!

Us: What do you take away from the whole experience?
It was a great experience for all of us individually as well as a team. Not only did it give us the exposure that each of us could never have gotten separately, it also instilled a team spirit within the four of us and we realised that our synchronisation, harmony, and tandem was all that was going to make us successful here. We may have kept our name “Chaar Payee” out of sheer spontaneity and wit over here but we do believe that over the course of the entire competition [from the College Rounds to the World Finals], we have developed the “payee” factor.
It also gave us the opportunity to marvel at Allah’s benevolence and how he can shift anyone’s entire paradigm within the blink of an eye. Before the 12th of April, we didn’t even have an idea about such a competition, and the grand prize, etcetera. All that happened in the coming couple of months is now in front of you.
One other thing that we would like to mention is that this competition also gave us the chance to change the mindset of a lot of people who had misconceptions about Pakistan, its people and its culture. We really had people exclaiming as to how they had found us to be exceptionally nice, friendly and humble. Nearly everyone had the wrong impression in their minds, thanks to their respective media but we took it upon us to make sure that Pakistan gets the respect and dignity that it deserves. Sure, it was 2-300 odd people only, but we played our part to the best of our abilities.

Us: Will you participate again if you get a similar opportunity in the future?
After Pakistan’s success at this year’s inaugural World Finals, we’re pretty sure that the organisers would want Pakistan to be a regular part of this competition. We await their decision on whether they plan to host it again next year or not. If it’s in the affirmative, you can bet that Chaar Payee’s going to be there, with a lot more tricks up their sleeves. Who knows … we might end up going to another corner of the globe, and hopefully, with your prayers and wishes, go all the way next year and bring the title home.
Much love to all of you for supporting us throughout the entire tenure of the competition, and even afterwards.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 9th September, 2011

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Eid - Celebrity Q&A


The question: What is the most exciting/amusing/memorable thing you’ve ever done on Eid?

The answers:

Faiza Mujahid
Well, no specific memory as such. But when I was a kid I loved going to everyone for eidi and I had a little purse which was BRIGHT gold (it was so bright that it could actually make anyone blind!), but now all we get is “ab to tum log baray ho gaye ho”, so yeah, being old is no fun!

Rubina Ashraf
The most exciting part is that we travel to be with family, and we do this every Eid.

Naukhez Javed (Inteha)
Last year I spent my Eid with the flood victims in Mahmood Kot as the brand ambassador of the Foundation for Poor Souls where we distributed clothes and eidi amongst children. It was a very touching and emotional phase of my life and I consider it as the most memorable Eid to date.

Annie Khalid
I never do anything exciting on Eid. It’s just a good day with family and friends. I wear nice new clothes, and usually eat and socialise with family, and then spend the day sleeping.

Junaid Khan (Call)
I remember those early school days when we used to get eidi. I was so fond of action figures, so I used to buy WWE original action figures from eidi savings. I still have them all.
Adnan (Soch)
My most memorable Eid was eight years ago when my cousins and I got firecrackers (machis bomb) on Eid. I remember it was chaand raat and we were playing with them on our roof. All the guests and our parents were sleeping downstairs, and we dropped a cracker by mistake; everyone woke up with that tiny blast. It was so funny, but then we got scolded by our parents. Eid is always fun when your family is around.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 31st August, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011


book review

Book: A Stolen Life: A Memoir
Author: Jaycee Dugard
Genre: Non-fiction, memoir
Publisher: Simon & Schuster (2011)
Excerpt: “When we are inside the strange house, he takes off the blanket and instructs me to sit on the wicker sofa. He is a very tall man. He has very light blue eyes and brown hair that is thinning on the top a bit. His nose is kind of long and his skin is a bronze color. It looks like he spent too much time in the sun. He does not look like a bad guy. He looks like a normal guy. Like any ordinary guy you would see in everyday life. But he is not! He couldn’t be … could he? He shows me a black thing with metal ends that look sharp. He calls it a “stun gun” and he says he will use it again if I try to get away. He turns it on and I hear the strange zapping sound I heard before when my body would not work. The sofa I’m sitting on has a lot of cat hair. I look up and I see a cat sitting on a washing machine. The cat looks like a Himalayan Persian tortoiseshell and there is another one that looks like a very fat, tabby torty. I ask if I can pet them. He says if they come to me, then I can. One comes over and I give it a pet. Its hair feels silky and real. I think this cat is the only thing that feels real right now; everything else feels like a nightmare but this is too real to be a dream. The man says to follow him.”

While on her way to school on the morning of June 10th 1991, 11-year-old Jaycee Dugard was abducted by Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy Garrido. She would remain missing for the next 18 years – a time she would largely spend as a captive, while being physically and mentally abused by her kidnappers – and give birth to two children, before being discovered and rescued in 2009. Now a 31-year-old woman, Jaycee shares her story in A Stolen Life, a book that details the period she spent in captivity and how she is learning to rebuild her life following the traumatic events that stole her childhood.

The memoir sees the kidnap victim look back at everything that happened to her during the last two decades, starting from the day she was taken and winding up to her present-day life. Jaycee reveals the harrowing details of her life with Phillip Garrido and the abuse she was subjected to, presenting her thoughts, feelings, and confusion as she tries to survive the ordeal. She talks about living under daunting conditions in a concealed area in the backyard of the Garrido house, the births of her daughters, missing her family, the actions and behaviours of her kidnappers (including Nancy’s jealousy, and Phillip’s religious views and ideas), and helping them run a printing business; the book goes on to explain how she was discovered (after “two Berkeley cops saw something amiss” when Phillip took them all “to the parole office”), and reunited with her family, and culminates in her efforts to heal and move on. Also included are entries from her journal written between 1998 and 2007, as well as pages from Eclipse’s Journal, a diary she wrote about her cat Eclipse in 1993; being fond of animals, the writer mentions her pets in various parts of the book and discusses some of them in considerable detail.

The content of A Stolen Life, as you can imagine, is very difficult to read. All the horrific things that she endured at the hands of her deranged captor have been described in graphic detail, so the book is not for the faint of heart. It is a tale of hope and survival, but the details of all that was inflicted on her are explicit and disturbing, and hard to read. And while the author clearly isn’t a master of prose, this doesn’t take away from the interestingness of the book; the memoir gives the readers a chance to hear Jaycee’s actual voice, which is why the grammatical missteps seem almost inconsequential.

Overall, A Stolen Life offers a unique look at the nightmare that a kidnap victim had to endure, and the physical and psychological abuse she suffered, and how she is now working to “unravel the damage that was done to me and my family”. Her story is shocking and riveting, and it provides a voice not only to her but possibly many others like her.

- By Sameen Amer

The Express Tribune - 20th August, 2011

Friday, August 12, 2011

Independence Day - Celebrity Q&A


The questions:

- What does independence mean to you?
- What do you think is the best way of celebrating Independence Day? And how do you plan to celebrate it?
- What is your favourite national/patriotic song?

The answers:

Sajid Ghafoor
- Independence: From an individual perspective, having the right to speak what I want to speak about, and do what I feel like doing and socialise with whomever I want to. Having said that, where there are rights there are duties too, so I know my limits are to speak but responsibly, act but in a fair manner and socialise but with the ones who won’t get me in trouble. So what I am saying is, everyone has the right to be independent and we should fight for it wherever these rights suffer, but still in a responsible manner, while being civil about it, as the rights we seek are based on the very same principles of responsibility.
- Independence Day: The best way is to go out on the streets, join in with other people, share smiles, raise flags and be happy. That’s the lighter side of it and we all watch it on our respective TV channels.  Though I am sure all those who created this country, if were present today, would not be happy at all. We got our independence in 1947 and at the expense of a lot of bloodshed on both sides. We should’ve learnt our major lesson right there. These days we are suffering politically, economically, and security-wise too. So where is that independence our forefathers fought for? Who is responsible for taking it all away from us? I think the Independence Day is a day to reflect upon how independent we actually are, and if not, what are the reasons and how can we move in the right direction without any major stops like we have been facing since 1947. Having said all this, long live Pakistan!
- Song: Dil Dil Pakistan by Vital Signs.

Junaid Khan
- Independence: Independence for me is freedom of speech and expression. I feel very proud of being a Pakistani as we are free to express our feelings, and as a musician I feel luckier as I can express my emotions through my voice and lyrics.
-  Independence Day: Ideally if you ask me, I would like to celebrate it by writing something for my country and sharing it with my fellow countrymen to show my love for the country.
- Song: My favourite would by Jazba-e-Junoon. I just love the expression and the feel the song has. It simply touches your soul.

Haroon Rashid
- Independence: It is a day of joy and celebration. A day when Pakistanis got the right to self determination. Muslims were no longer a minority.
- Independence Day: The best way to celebrate Independence Day is to wear the national dress, play patriotic songs loudly from your home stereo or car. Also it is a time to reflect on the state of the country and to see what each one of us as individuals can do.
- Song: Dil Se Main Ne Dekha Pakistan.

- Independence: Independence means that I safely and happily enjoy the freedom I have been given by the people who sacrificed their lives for giving us this chance of being free. It means to honour and understand the motive of the people because of which we actually call ourselves an independent, free nation.
- Independence Day: To reflect upon the immense struggle of the people who made independence possible, and try to comprehend the thought behind this struggle. And finally, trying to better my personality and become a stronger willed person by understanding this thought, this struggle and this motive.
-  Song: Kal Hamara Hai…because this is the spirit we need to build our today into the tomorrow we aim for.

Annie Khalid
- Independence: Independence and Independence Day is all about celebrating being Pakistani and it’s all the more fun when I’m abroad because when you see so many Pakistanis in a different country besides Pakistan uniting together, it’s just the best feeling in the world.
-  Independence Day: The best way to celebrate Independence Day is to completely cover yourself in green and white, and get together with friends, and go do something crazy. In England we used to paint our face and parade the streets dressed in our flag. So I think the best way is to flaunt Pakistan and flaunt your Pakistani-ness by going out.
- Song: I like Vital Sign’s Dil Dil Pakistan first and foremost. Then I like Junoon’s anthem; and recently it’s Call’s Hum Say Hai Yeh Zamana; that’s a really nice song too.

Atif Aslam
- Independence: Independence is a blessing and if you want to ask its real value, ask the people who are in war, who are in slavery, who do not have any right to follow their free will.
- Independence Day: The best way I believe is to live free and let others live freely. We should complete our tasks and duties rather than criticising others and limiting their freedom. I celebrate my independence the same way.
- Song: My favourite patriot songs are Hum Mustafavi Hain by Mehdi Zaheer, and Mera Paigham Pakistan by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan sahib.

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 12th August, 2011