Sunday, December 30, 2007

Screeech, or what would MacGyver do?

So, about a week and a half ago in Milwaukee, I was warming up my car when I started my windshield wipers to wipe off some snow and ice. The driver-side wiper was apparently frozen in place with ice and eventually broke free but with a loud crack and as the wiper started moving across the windshield, it made a scratching sound, so I stopped the wipers and manually scraped off the remaining ice and snow.

I was running late for work, so I hopped back into the car with the thought, in the back of my mind, that I should replace the wiper soon. Time passed, without much snow, rain or ice, and the wiper never got replaced. This past Friday, it started to snow heavily in Milwaukee, with about 3 or 4 inches of accumulation and there was a lot of snow slush being thrown up from the road as well as falling from the sky.

I switched on the wipers, and upon hearing the back-curling screeching of the wiper on the windshield, added yet another reason, to my already long list, of why procrastination was evil and made my way to the post office by only occasionally switching on the wipers.

When I left the post office, I realized that I had a long drive to Chicago ahead of me and I couldn't possibly drive safely without a functioning set of wipers. It was too late to get it replaced at an auto shop and I didn't much feel like replacing it myself since it was night and cold.

So I looked around my car and thought to myself, "What would MacGyver do?" Surely, I could jerry rig a solution out of the random odds and ends in my car. I surveyed the interior of my car and saw that I had a small roll of floss. I instantly realized that I could use the floss to tie down the ends of the wiper so the rubber edge of the wiper would make contact with the windshield and the exposed metal part of the blade would be kept safely out of the way.

I tied the ends of the wiper blade down using surgical knots I learned during medical school - after all, if they are good enough to hold organs and blood vessels together, they should be able to hold a wiper down - and jumped back in the car to see if my little experiment would work.

Snick-slop, snick-slop the smooth sound of success - the wipers worked perfectly all the way home and the knots never came loose. Floss, not just for your teeth anymore...

Thursday, December 27, 2007

It pays to be good

Muslim Funds Are Rewarded for Their Faith
By Lawrence Carrel Senior Writer
12/24/2007 6:13 AM EST

While the S&P 500 remained up 4.9% for the year through Friday, a number of funds that invest according to the Koran have significantly outperformed the benchmark. The Amana Trust Income Fund (AMANX) return of 13.3% through Dec. 21, beating the S&P 500 by 8.4 percentage points, while its sibling, the Amana Trust Growth Fund (AMAGX), gained 11.7%.

The Amana funds, managed by Saturna Capital of Bellingham, Wash., are also ahead of the S&P 500's annualized return for the past three and five years, earning them five-star ratings from Morningstar.

The Amana Trust Income Fund, with $339 million in assets, posted the fourth highest return this year of large-cap value funds tracked by Morningstar, helped by its large holdings of technology, healthcare, and commodity stocks.

Investing the Muslim way

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Muslim Scholars send Christmas Greetings

A group of Muslim scholars from around the world wrote a letter, via the website A Common Word, wishing Christians "a joyous and peaceful Christmas Holiday Season commemorating the birth of Jesus Christ [peace be upon him]."

Surprisingly little coverage of this story, other than an article in the International Herald Tribune. A Common Word was launched in an effort to build dialog between Muslims and Christians, in the hopes of using values common to both religions to promote peace and understanding.

Skiles' skadoodle

In a surprise move, a surprise to me at least, Scott Skiles got fired as the head coach of the Chicago Bulls. Although his overall win-loss record as head coach isn't particularly impressive, he did lead the team to multiple consecutive playoff appearances, which usually allows you to keep your job....

It could just be time for something new, as neither the players nor Skiles have had much passion this season given their anemic play thus far...I'm just not sure who they're going to go to next for the job. We're hungry for a championship in Chicago...

Some reactions in the sports media:

Skiles took over a proud franchise in a sorry state, and he brought it back to respectability. That wasn't enough, though. His teams never made it out of the second round, and this year has to be judged a miserable failure.
Bulls Coach Skiles Fired from Chicago Sun Times
‘‘I don’t have a long-term solution as of today,’’ Paxson said. ‘‘I’m disappointed in the way we’re playing, the way we’re competing. The energy or lack thereof that we’re playing with on the floor. I know expectations coming into the year were really, really high and we’re not even close to those."
Bull's-eye on Paxon now from ESPN
The Bulls' players and coaching staff simply weren't family anymore … if they ever were. It wasn't just Ben Wallace and Tyrus Thomas constantly clashing with Skiles; Bulls sources say that two of the foreigners we don't hear much from in the domestic media -- Andres Nocioni and Thabo Sefolosha -- were equally miserable with Skiles always grinding on them, just to name two.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Big Brother gets high tech

Thankfully, my only run-ins with the law involve speeding tickets...

Highly accurate face-scanning cameras are being developed.
FBI Prepares Vast Database Of Biometrics
$1 Billion Project to Include Images of Irises and Faces

By Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 22, 2007; Page A01

CLARKSBURG, W. Va. -- The FBI is embarking on a $1 billion effort to build the world's largest computer database of peoples' physical characteristics, a project that would give the government unprecedented abilities to identify individuals in the United States and abroad.

Digital images of faces, fingerprints and palm patterns are already flowing into FBI systems in a climate-controlled, secure basement here. Next month, the FBI intends to award a 10-year contract that would significantly expand the amount and kinds of biometric information it receives. And in the coming years, law enforcement authorities around the world will be able to rely on iris patterns, face-shape data, scars and perhaps even the unique ways people walk and talk, to solve crimes and identify criminals and terrorists. The FBI will also retain, upon request by employers, the fingerprints of employees who have undergone criminal background checks so the employers can be notified if employees have brushes with the law.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Eid Mubarak!

I hope you have all had a blessed Eid and pray for a safe return of all those who made the pilgrimmage to Mecca. I am recovering from the happy mayhem of visiting relatives and nursing both my ego back to health (after Taha beat me in an ESPN NBA basketball video game) and my knee, after carrying Taha upside-down down the stairs, picking up Taseen (no easy feat) and sustaining multiple random tackles from Taseen, often without warning, in some Punjabi alpha-male attempt to prove that he's stronger than me (we came to the conclusion that I'm stronger than him...for now...)

I even went for a walk today in the abnormally warm weather, the snow has all melted, it's been raining with temperatures in the 40s and the grass looking as green as it does in the spring. Really quite a gift, this many days into December. Guess global warming isn't such a bad deal for the Midwest...

...well, it'll be back to work on Monday, until next time...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Barak Yalad, ya heard?

Barak Yalad is a hip-hop artist that's got some jams with lyrics that make you notice, going back to the roots of hip hop as music of political dissidence and awareness. His latest album, Loss for Words, is being released by Rawkus Records, the same label from which Talib Kweli and Mos Def got their start. Barak's got the requisite myspace page and a great interview on From Da Bricks which gives you a sense of his career, collaborations and influences up to this point. He's actually being managed by my boy Tareq, so if you want to book him, let him know I sent ya.

You can download the song, Music, from the album Loss for Words, here (explicit). Enjoy!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Religious freedom in unexpected places...

Putin Opens Mecca Path for Muslims

Barred by the Soviets for decades from carrying out Islam’s most sacred rite, such pilgrims were among the tens of thousands of Russian Muslims traveling to Saudi Arabia to join the masses in Mecca for the annual pilgrimage, or hajj, to one of Islam’s holiest sites. Their numbers have swelled in the last several years thanks largely to Russia’s growing wealth and increasing stability in the predominantly Muslim North Caucasus region, including in Chechnya, where the effects of nearly a decade of war have begun to fade.

More Chinese Muslims to join Hajj to Mecca
Ningxia is home to 1.8 million Muslims of the Hui minority group, who worship in more than 3,000 mosques. The nine million Hui across China are the descendants of Arab traders who started to arrive in China in the 7th Century.

After hundreds of years of inter-marriage they are indistinguishable from the majority Han Chinese population, apart from their adherence to Islam. Now more are re-discovering their roots by learning Arabic and adopting Islamic customs.

It's nice to see that after years of suppression of all religions, China and Russia are opening the doors to religious freedom and expression. Hopefully, the start of something good for both countries and its religious minorities.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

So, do you like Shakespeare?

First, I just want to say I have respect for any chick whose pickup line is, "Do you like Shakespeare?"

Second, one of the things I remember most about a trip I took to NYC was the subway culture, and a key part of that would be random musicians with full bands setting up and just playing for the people...and maybe a chunk of your leftover subway fare...

Susan Cagle is one of the better ones, apparently she just signed with Columbia Records...

Friday, December 07, 2007

Brilliant! ...or yes, water still freezes at 32 degrees...

So earlier this week, I drove into work and had a ton of snow sludge thrown onto my windshield thanks to the horrific job of snow clearing in the greater Milwaukee area. People here are so laid back and in touch with nature that the municipalities feel no need to clear the snow when it falls. I imagine the contingency plan is for everyone to take their dogs, hitch them up to sleds and just mush their way around... anyway, by the time I get to the parking lot of the VA, I realize that I am all out of windshield wiper fluid and that my windshield is just filthy. I was wondering what I would do when I realized that if I kept wondering any longer I'd be late for work...

Around lunchtime, I bought some bottled juice, I think it was Nantucket Nectars, pomegranate pear. I was about to throw out the bottle when I thought - hey, why don't I save it, fill it up with some warm water and clean off my windshield at the end of the day...

So the end of the day comes, I grab the empty glass bottle and try to fill it up with hot water. Of course, at the VA, the water only comes out lukewarm, if that. I still think it's warm enough, grab my coat and head off to the parking lot.

I should mention, it takes at least 3 minutes to walk out to your car at the VA, by which time my lukewarm bottle of water wasn't so lukewarm. I, of course, being warm in my coat didn't think that the bottle of water should be any less warm and just poured the water all over my windshield and watched it run down.

I ran into my car, started the engine, and by the time I looked up at the windshield, realized the water wasn't running down the windshield, washing off the snow sludge, it was frozen, forming a layer of liquid ice all across the windshield...

Wow, I, thought to myself, I guess water still freezes at 32 degrees, and, for that matter, temperatures colder than 32, I spent the next few minutes scraping the ice off of my windshield, covered with snow sludge and wondering how in the world it is that people trust me with anything more than taking out the garbage...