Friday, March 21, 2014

Opera in Al Quoz with Clare and David Lesser

I found out about it literally a few hours before it was to start, but after two foiled attempts to attend in the last couple of years, I decided to do some schedule tightening and make Clare and David Lesser's opera recital at Art Sawa's Al Quoz space this time. It was worth it, for the concert was lovely. David Lesser's piano playing and Clare Lesser's soprano singing made a great combination, and clearly had been through many hours together. The songs for the evening were also selected well, with some nice German compositions among them. I would have preferred the Crumb to have been placed right after the interval, so the recital could have ended on a more classic note, but it was a great performance nonetheless.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Palestinian-American comedy night

Due to the flu and other commitments, I was only able to catch the stand-up comedy night of the Dubai Palestinian community's cultural week, "This is Palestine", hosted by Dubomedy's Mina Liccione. Not too tragic, as comedy is quite relevant to my interests.

Maysoon Zayid is an inspiring woman, but I guess I needed to brush up on my Palestinian-dialect Arabic to understand much of her act. I probably should have expected a little 3rabiya at a Palestinian event, though. I did like her bit about flying with her symptoms combined with her father's send-off antics; I guess most of the rest of the funnies were in Arabic.

I had no trouble understanding Amer Zahr, though; he didn't use a whole lot of Arabic, and used gestures or repetition to translate where he did. And his set was a riot; in retrospect, I really should not have come to his show with the wheezes, as I was soon struggling for breath. I loved his Dad jokes and the hilarious account of his trip to rural Palestine, and how he was able to bring back earlier jokes for a smashing finale dash.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Backstage passes Exam

I watched the matinee show of Backstage's theatrical version of the film Exam today. The play, directed by Ahmed Rabieh, is cast in the mold of Cube and such, with a therefore somewhat predictable ending for those acquainted with this genre. Even so, there are plenty of twists throughout to keep the audience interested, starting from mere minutes into the play. One thing I liked about the writing is the world in which the play is set, which is gradually revealed later in the play, to much impact.

The character's archetypes and motivations, and the nature of the test are also slowly unraveled throughout. The acting quality and flow improved as the play picked up momentum; Amod Munga and Meera Almidfa were especially impressive. Costumes, set and props were good, and the play was executed commendably for all its technical demands.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mind the Gag

Omar Kazim killing

Named aptly for a venue that is built to resemble London's subterranean rapid transit infrastructure (minus, as one comedian put it, the smell of piss), "Mind The Gag" is Dubai Laughing's valiant attempt at running Dubai's first weekly stand-up comedy night -- on Thursday nights, no less. At the far end of the cavernous network of drinking halls comprising the Habtoor Grand's "Underground", six stand-up comedians made opening night, with Omar Kazim blowing the roof off the house with one of his most hilarious performances yet.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Dark matter explored at NYUAD

Dark matter is a physics concept that's as complicated as it is fascinating. Fortunately, NYU Abu Dhabi brought it NYU cosmology/astrophysics researcher, Professor Glennys Farrar, to explain it to us, with the added bonus of her infectious enthusiasm. In the course of the public talk, she expounded the background physics and presented the astrophysicist's case for dark matter's existence, as well as what she considers an "equally exciting" alternative: that current theories of physics are themselves in need of modification.

Piquing interest with a really cool video of dark matter in cosmic collisions way out in the Bullet Cluster (almost like a ballistics video, except over billions of years instead of fractions of seconds), she spoke about the challenges in detecting, as well as theoretically describing and modeling dark matter; she mentioned the Large Hadron Collider in this regard. She also spoke about contemporary hypotheses for explaining dark matter, such as the WIMPs and the H-dibaryon, and touched upon both dark energy and baryon asymmetry (topics deserving separate talks, it would seem).

Masdar Institute launches innovation-entreprenurship lab and scholarship with BP


The institute's recent reorganization into area-specific research centres (putting me in "iSmart") resulted in a new centre for innovation and entrepreneurship, called "iInnovation". Many of us from the university, as well as corporation delegates and faculty from other universities today gathered at iInnovation for an open house marking the launch of the centre's innovation lab, "iLab".

Dr Bruce Walker Ferguson

Centre head Dr Bruce Walker Ferguson, who was commended in an opening address by institute president Dr Fred Moavenzadeh, delivered a presentation on the entrepreneurial ecosystem and policy issues, highlighting the educational value to students of seeing real world processes of innovation and company setup in action. The open house also marked the launch of a new entrepreneurial scholarship that would encourage students to develop business plans and possibly even set up companies while at the university. Dr Katherine Moortgat and BP Ventures' Dr Issam Dairanieh were present and presenting, BP being involved with both the centre and the scholarship.

One of our projects

After the talks, an outdoor lunch and informal poster session shone light on some existing institute research projects with entrepreneurial potential, including one of our lab's newest projects.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Science, history, and food at Dubai LitFest

With balmy weather outside and excited readers buzzing about the Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City, this year's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature, seems to have attracted far more people than in previous years; I had to park at the lower level on all three days, for one thing.

Identity panel; Arabizi debate

I went to more Arabic and bilingual events this year, one being "A Question of Identity", a discussion on identity among Arab emigrants and mixed-nationality parentage. The two half-Emirati panelists had especially interesting stories to tell, and one screened a nice documentary on mixed ancestry Emiratis.

Right after, I attended a rather heated debate on "Arabizi", the Arabic chat alphabet that uses Roman letters and numbers to represent Arabic phonology. It started well, but soon descended into a verbal brawl that went off into tangents about spoken Arabic, and sucked in even the moderator.

My last event at the festival was also bi-lingual, with three authors and one representative from the National Media Council discussing censorship in the UAE.

Amish; Sitwell

A couple of other events I really enjoyed had to do with one of my great passions: history. One was the chat with Amish, the author of The Shiva Trilogy, which is a semi-euhemeristic treatment of Indian mythology, set in the ancient Indus Valley civilization. I read the first book of the trilogy, Immortals of Meluha, way back in 2010; it was a pretty decent read, and still revolutionary in the subject it covers. I was anyway mesmerized by Amish's recounting of the role of the mythology in the culture in which he grew up, how he planned and then un-planned his writing process and the development of the story, and his struggles to get the book published. He also spoke at length about he upcoming film adaptation of his trilogy (much-anticipated), and his views on freedom of expression (particularly relevant, given the subject matter of his books).

Another had to do with both history and cooking (another passion of mine): William Sitwell's flip-through presentation of his book, A History of Food in 100 Recipes, in which he reproduces and explores historical recipes from their original sources.

Being a Sinophile of sorts, I also attended the China Panel. Unfortunately, it did not deliver as much as I had hoped it would; I thought the discussion was somewhat scattered, telling me a lot of what I already knew.

(clockwise from top left) Golden Age talk; Golden Age talk Q&A; With him at the book-signing; In the panel discussion

As a science researcher and science enthusiast, I naturally attended every single event featuring the modern giant of science and rationality: Jim Al-Khalili. These also segued nicely from SciFest Dubai the week before. Al-Khalili's talk about the Golden Age of Arabic Science (with a very good justification for calling it "Arabic" science, as opposed to "Islamic" or "Arab" science) was full of very interesting scientific and historical facts, including trivia like the origins of the word "jibberish" and the decimal point, as well as biographical details and anecdotes about some of the important figures from that era, including some of the lesser-known ones. He also did a great job representing science and science literature in a panel discussion about Big Ideas and in a closing ceremony address, respectively, with his characteristic charisma.

(clockwise from top left) Penguin Fringe word magic; A young performer beatboxing; LiTTLe MACHiNe; The play DNA from Short+Sweet Dubai

As usual, there were plenty of cultural shows at the Penguin Fringe and in the programme to fill in the time between events, including one of my favorite plays from Short+Sweet Dubai. I also loved the LiTTLe MACHiNe concert on Friday night; the very energetic trio using famous poems, from Sappho to Tennyson, as lyrics to their music was, for me, one of the surprise highlights of the festival.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Craig Perry Band rocks up The Fridge

Thanks to The Fridge, I finally got to hear the music of singer-songwriter Craig Perry, in the last concert of this season of the Fridge Concert Series.

I'd been hearing quite a bit of praise for his music, and I think it's entirely deserved. The band made music like nothing I've heard from a local group: a rock sound reminiscent of earlier decades, augmented with excellent inter-guitar and percussion composition (great drummer too), and some creative pacing and chords. While it's not my most preferred genre, it's clearly very good music.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Yum Yum Room

Filip Ranebo; Laura Quirke; Bryan Mackenie

Despite my weekend schedule being filled with science, I managed to make it to the last show of The Yum Yum Room, staged at the Courtyard Playhouse. The coming-of-age play, written by Stephen House and directed by Sarah Dufayard, is set in a town in the playwright's home country of Australia, and touches upon subjects such as bullying, teen rebellion, growing up, and social stigma.

Filip Ranebo; Sol Abiad

The story is kind of open-ended; I'm guessing the titular room itself is a metaphor for escaping within when faced with the real world. Filip Ranebo plays the angst-ridden main character, Tom, who is portrayed as retaining a childish demeanor into adolescence. Major plot elements are his tempestuous relationship with his father, played by Bryan Mackenzie, ridicule from his peer group, and a naive fling with a schoolmate, played by Laura Quirke. Tom deals with these issues with the help of an elderly confidante, Mrs Mac, who is played extremely well by Sol Abiad with an age makeover. 

Office colors at Mottahedan Projects

The colors and lines in these works leapt out of the brightly-lit Mottahedan Projects gallery at the bend of of Al Joud Center in Al Quoz, grabbing attention across the intersection -- an intersection I had swung through numerous times to get to The Courtyard, I realized, without knowing the gallery existed. Well, I now do.

Within were displayed several paintings by Andrzej Zieliński, along with a couple of sculptures, under the title You Are Disconnected, Would You Like To Proceed?. The bold colors and the hint of Cubism in the projection of the familiar machines depicted in the paintings speak to a somewhat retro aesthetic, with the paintings standing out thanks to an often multi-hued and furrowed texture (from the scraping of thick paint layers), and the occasional inclusion of actual 3D objects on their surfaces.

His sculptures extend these techniques to the third dimension of edges and interior surfaces. His use of a rough-hewn rock tile base to support sheet plexi and machined metal technologically-themed structures is particularly intriguing there.

This exhibition will apparently only run for another couple of weeks (I'm guessing this means until the beginning of Art Season), so I would highly recommend checking it out before then.

A peer review of the first Dubai Science Festival

First heard of as an idea whispered about during a Cafe Sci Dubai session last year, Dubai's first grassroots public science festival snowballed into a months-long endeavor that culminated this weekend in a pan-cultural four-day celebration of science for all. The festival, organized by the people behind Cafe Sci Dubai, included not just presentations and screenings, but dance, music, and poetry too, proving that science is not just a subject, but a culture as well.

(clockwise from top left) Rohan Roberts; Steven Pinker; Raya Bidshahri; Lara Matossian

The opening event, themed "Critical Wonder" was held at the Meydan Theatre, a main sponsor of the event with GEMS Education, and the venue for the remainder of the festival. It consisted of a sequence of short fact-, paradox-, trivia-, prediction-, and motivation-filled talks introducing various scientific/futurist topics, such as the exponential growth of knowledge and technology, astronomy and cosmology, disruptive technologies, and the human brain.

The speakers included festival director Rohan Roberts, lead coordinator Lara Matossian, youth coordinator Raya Bidshahri, and numerous student presenters (if even 10% of the gender ratio survived into professional life, we may not have a STEM gender imbalance in the next generation). My personal favorite talks were those of Bahar Ferdousi on brain malfunctions, and Sasha Nanda on the Hubble space telescope, commendable for their specificity and substance. Recorded shout-outs to the festival from the likes of Steven Pinker and David Deutsch were also played.

(clockwise from top left) Chris Hadfield; Stacy Locquiao; Monu Singh; Upslide

A night of music followed, made possible by the participation of numerous local acts like When Night Comes, Stacy Locquiao, Monu Singh, Candy Flippers and Upslide, performing songs referencing rocketry, comets, and other sci/tech concepts in a variety of musical genres. Intervals had us entertained with viral science music videos, such as Chris Hadfield's famous orbital rendition of "Space Oddity", Tim Minchin's statistically-correct love song "If I Didn't Have You", A Capella Science's "Bohemian Gravity", and Symphony of Science's auto-tuned opus "The Quantum World".

I had not been to a planetarium since over a decade ago. The inflatable mobile planetarium is not as awe-inspiring as the real deal, but it's a fun experience nonetheless. Besides, the show was about the historical development of astronomy, so it aligned quite nicely with my interests.

Out in the lobbies, relevant companies were promoting their services, students were demonstrating science projects, and a huge gallery was set up to exhibit local and international science-related paintings, graphics and photography. I even spotted a neighborhood attraction: the Moving Image Museum.

I also attended a local science enthusiasts' panel discussion, hosted by 103.8 FM presenter Suzanne Radford, during which science media pioneer Dr Majid al Qassimi, tech entrepreneur Mahmoud Abu Wardeh and science enthusiast Adam Griffin discussed local and global issues in scientific advancement and awareness, together with Rohan and Raya.

One of the surprise highlights of the event was the screening of Hubble 3D. I was only able to attend because of a change in the programme, but was happy to discover that Hubble 3D is a mind-blowing show, especially when viewed in the gigantic IMAX theatre.

The festival then took a cultural turn, starting with models in presumably futuristic makeup strutting a catwalk, professionally choreographed and wearing Imaginary Foundation clothing.

A series of dances from different cultures around the world followed, interspersed with (much to my delight) Dance Your PhD clips.

(clockwise from top left) Ana Rancic; Toby Masson; Taher Kathwala; Jason Silva

"Science is the poetry of reality" is a quote by one "Clinton R D", who joined Aldous Huxley, Tim Minchin, and other authors honored with in-character, prop-aided recitations (performances, rather). Jason Silva's science-passionate odes popped up from time to time too. Toby Masson's character performance of Minchin's viral skeptic classic "Storm" and Jamal Iqbal's performance of his original "When Hadrons Collide" were especially outstanding, in my opinion, as was Taher Kathawala's amazing slam performance of Steve Sanders' "Sky".

The programme ended with the staging of Lauren Gunderson's Leap, in which Ben Franklin shone as a young Isaac Newton meeting his muses for the first time.

In the closing ceremony, the people who saw the festival through to that moment were honored, including the commendable army of volunteers. I already can't wait for the next one; this festival was executed very well for a first-time experiment, and application of the scientific method will surely result in an even better one next year.