Misophonia

Some people believe I have OCD, I always joke that I'm still two steps away. It's been years since I started using this line, I don't know if I've surpassed those two steps yet, does aligning my monitors at the office (and sometimes others, if I like them) using a ruler qualify for OCD? Does keeping the pens in a pencil case pointing in the same direction put me in the OCD group? An ex-colleague once told me that he thinks that I like to think that I have OCD, which I know is true. Not because I pretend, it's because I think it's part of who I am. I am (almost) obsessive compulsive and I really don't care what he or others think.

Misophonia is a different story. If you don't know what 'Misophonia' is, simply put it is the hatred of hearing certain sounds, especially produced by certain people or sources. A lot of people would hate to hear nail scratching on a board, that's not Misophonia, that's the visualisation of pain associated by imagining the nails ripped off by the friction. A misophoniac would hate to hear, as an example, the specific sound of feet tapping on the floor in a nervous tick, or the sound of chewing gum, my friend once failed an exam because the girl behind her was chewing gum and she could not ignore the existence of that sound, and she chose not to endure it by leaving an exam she was perfectly capable of passing.

I have noticed that my hatred of sounds has increased a lot over the years, the first sound I ever hated was the sound my roommate made when he ate, neighbours could hear him to say the least and I hated sitting for a meal with him, and I did hate meals in general for a while because that's all I could think of even if he wasn't around, I would anticipate others slurping or smacking away. I didn't mind him, I minded the sound, so much.

It grew from a sound many people hated to very specific sounds that I could pinpoint, and the list is growing by the day. I remember I was once sitting at a desk for few weeks in the office and the water cooler was nearby, and I would watch colleagues approach carrying their glasses and empty bottles to fill them from the damn cooler, and I would anticipate the fragile sound, the rise in pitch, the sound of drops hitting drops producing a sound that annoyed me to a point that I started hating that water cooler and its place in the office.

It could be that some of these sounds are linked in my brain with the person that originated them, although I doubt in the case of the water cooler because I didn't know who was filling their glass, i just knew somebody was causing me grief. However, in some cases I know it is the person who makes the noises that "triggers" my hatred of that sound.

The sounds of delicious keyboard clicks is a very happy sound for me. I grew up in the culture of the turning point to being familiar with "PC"s in homes, and the first machine we had was an ugly looking piece of shit that ran on DOS, I still remember wanting a Macintosh and wanting to go in that shop that had the glowing "rainbow" Apple logo the night we went to buy the computer, that was end of 1980s or 1990. The sounds of some quality keyboards of that era are still amazing, the thickness of plastic that muffles the mechanisms underneath every key, the kind of plastic, the mechanisms, I don't know what it is, I just know I would love to have a vintage keyboard with delicious clicks with the command button, or a keyboard from the future that produces zero clicks. For some time in that office, I endured a colleague who came in early like me and unleashed her email replies early in the morning, to my misfortune, her keyboard was a cheap specimen that had horrible nasty loud clicks, and she wasn't delicate at all when she typed, I hated her in the morning although she was a very nice person.

The letter "S" is a very sensitive letter to pronounce, some people pronounce it with a delicious lisp that takes away the edge of it, or the "icepick", some don't have the lisp but it comes out so naturally that you would want to hear them talk because of the clarity with which they say the word "superfluous" or "myself" or "sky". Few have what in my head sounds like the chirping of an insect or the sound of high pitch bird chick, and I imagine them marvelling at how well they can make their "S"s whistle and I hate them and the letter S even more. One of those engaged in a phone conversation is enough to drive me out of a building mid-day in July, in Dubai. Can't they just say S without the high pitch dog whistle?

Parallel Projection

I was listening to few recordings that I did over the last few months and there was one which I enjoyed listening to and thought I should share it with others. I do a lot of atmospheric ambient sounds because I play alone and it's not always the case where I'm focused. Sometimes, I just want to repeat two notes that decay, the sound of decay is just wonderful. I will post something later about "Decay" that Farah did, a series of photographs, and something by me as an entree. All in due time.

I decided to name the piece "Parallel Projection", if you could make up the similarities and the reasoning that would be interesting.

What's The Deal With Safa Park?

Safa park in Dubai is one of the old parks like Khazzan park and Jumeira. There's been a bit of a hype around it lately because of the canal project. Dubai Water Canal, as they've branded it, introduced a water canal that runs through the park and completed the loop of Dubai's creek by linking its end to the sea. The creek previously terminated at Ras Al Khor, which is currently a wildlife sanctuary consisting of mangroves and the whole ecosystem that they support. The effect this project will have on the sanctuary is to be found out.

Ras Al Khor Wildlife Sanctuary. PHOTO: Mario Guarneros

I'm particularly interested in Safa Park. Some of you who know me know that I'm quite interested in matters of land use and population growth. In fact, I wanted to write my ongoing thesis on a land use planning problem, however that did not materialise so I turned my attention to another problem in this part of the world which is public realm protection.

In a lot of places in the world with strict municipal mechanisms and public integration, dealing with public realm can be a very grueling and a long process. Projects have to be made public and the public gets to participate in deciding the fate of those projects. Some of them never see the light of day and some make it after years of lobbying and negotiation and charrettes and focus groups trying to make everybody happy. In this part of the world, the public is a kind welcoming public, one who believes in the wisdom of the government, they entrust them with the fate of their lives and the lives of their children and their children, and the fate of their cities. The Safa park project was made public in 2012, the canal project, previously called Arabian Canal, was being masterplanned in the quiet as early as 2003.

First, what's the deal with Safa Park? What is happening?

PHOTO: Source and Source

This is how Safa Park looked like before 2014. When I started working at Woods Bagot, the office was a 5-minute walk from Safa Park and I used to park my car under the trees edging it, free parking spaces on the perimeter of the park. A few months in and the trees were getting chopped, orange cones were blocking off the free parking spaces, I used to park in one particular space everyday where the curb on the pavement was slightly bulged because of the tree's roots. That's how old the place was, you don't see curbs bulge because of trees much in Dubai.

The park is (strike that) was 1.2 kilometers long and 600 meters wide. The southern short side is border by Sheikh Zayed Road, Dubai's arterial main road, Golden Avenue in marketing lingo. The district it's in is called Al Wasl, adjacent to the Jumeira district which is Dubai's beach ultra posh neighborhood, white villas with tall palm trees is what comes to mind. Around Safa Park, a recent development by Wasl (Wasl Asset Management Group) is Wasl Square, right opposite the park on Wasl Road providing attached townhouses and low-rise residential apartment buildings on top of active retail frontages buffering both Wasl road and Al Hadiqa Street (translating to the Park street, formerly known as Safa street). When the canal project was announced there was a whole lot of infrastructure work to accompany the drastic changes the canal would cause, the Sheikh Zayed Road bridges were what a lot of people who pass by there on their route to work would notice, and the construction pace was unprecedented, they lifted a 75-meter 16-lane highway in months. Another bridge was on Wasl Road which as it went up the retail frontage on Hadeeqa Street suffered a reduction on pedestrian and motorised traffic. According to few shops there that I asked, traffic on their shops went down by 80%, some shops already shut down.

From a commercial point of view one would believe it's a bold project. It will activate water transport in Dubai in a way seen in many great cities where one can get on a boat from Business Bay and cruise down to Deira, retail shops and land value will soar on the banks of the new waterfront, hotels, apartments, villas, new bridges, everybody will benefit. The part of the project my thesis is concerned with is Safa Park, and I think from an academic point of view, everybody won except for one loser which is 'Public Space'.

I could be wrong.

Farewell Rosetta

This is the last photo we will see from Rosetta, taken from only 20 meters above the surface of comet 67P on its way to crash land into the duck. 

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PHOTO: ESA

Black Hole Cleaner

I have this idea, it's called the Black Hole Cleaner. It's doable, and it's going to be big. It sounds stupid and impossible now but my optimistic side is positive this is going to be a reality soon, maybe in a few thousand years.

Now, the concept is a simple one. Basically, what we need to do is to create a small black hole that exists under our control, then use the power of this black hole to do the cleaning for us. It is not far fetched, the vacuum cleaner similarly harnesses a physical condition that is embedded in the rules of the universe we occupy which is rejection of vacuum. It basically pushes out the air in a compartment, creating a vacuum, which has to be replaced by air that carries whatever we need to sit inside the cleaner rather than our floors.

My idea is to create an automatic cleaner in the form of a timid black hole that you just release around the house, and it would gently suck out whatever needs not to be there. When done, a simple tap on a screen would kill its singularity and whatever atoms became one with it.

Schuey

August 25th, 25 years ago, Schumacher set off to make history.

Rusafa

My first musical composition has finally left the confines of my hard drive and into inter-web-land. It's a piece called Rusafa.

If you'd like to listen to it on SoundCloud it is available here.

Violence, Is It Innate In Us?

I am usually proud to announce in any social setting, whenever there's a discussion of this sort, that I am anti-violence and anti-war. I usually get the phrase that irritates me: "violence is in our animal nature, you can't get rid of it!", and I strongly disagree.

Actually, few contradicting arguments are always cited for justifying many issues. The pop-song among which is "man is the only violent being, nothing in nature does what man does". Many embrace what it implies at face value, but when confronted they change their stance and claim they know it's untrue, like a pop song. The acts of violence that exist in other life forms are staggering, for example, many think corals are a thing of beauty and natural harmony supporting a complete ecosystem, in fact they fight for territory just like every other species we observe. When two corals fight, they extrude their stomachs and digest the rival coral, alive. That is violent.

When we observe the animal kingdom, there are proven cases of homosexuality. It exists among dolphins, cats, chimps, penguins, and even worms. Often the argument against gay people is that what they do is unnatural. Confront them with the fact that it exists in nature widely and that genetic research is finding that many gay people are gay by their nature, they reject the entire argument because they believe that we simply are above animals because we control our behavior.

Which is it, are we violent animals? Or are we outside the animal kingdom and no pattern in their world could apply to us? There's a podcast I listened to a while back by Radiolab titled New Normal discusses this very topic. They observed a family of baboons in Kenya that lived in violence to control territory over food, and when a tourist lodge was erected nearby, food leftovers were abundant and the violence grew because every baboon in the area wanted in on the bounty. But after a sickness spread, the majority of the "alpha" male baboons died. This epidemic in this community caused a new order of "anti-violence". The violence was gone and the battles between males were replaced by a humane and caring "nature".

There's an interesting article on Scientific American on Obama's statement that war started with the first man. Obama is for sure a very intelligent man and might very well know it isn't entirely true, but he's a politician. I think he simply cannot not justify ongoing violence that many stakeholders are involved in, the bounty is just too much to let go of now.

My Ibanez

Well, it's a bit guitar geeky so.. My mom gave me the money to buy it when I was in college so it's more sentimental that anything. I bought it in 2004, in some way it's what I learned to play on and I'm so used to where everything is. Now that I've had it completed and it turned mostly like I wanted, I figured that I could share what makes noise in my corner.

It's a Japanese Ibanez RG 470, in Black Pearl. I've had it completely redone, new pickups, new Emerson Pro switching system, new Emerson Pro pots and a new Switchcraft jack. It's now what it should've been when it left the factory in Japan. The craftsmanship is great, not J.Custom great (Ibanez's Japan Custom Shop) but it is very well crafted. But Ibanez is a company that builds a lot of guitars, some are one-off pieces of art and the rest are production line. Production line has to hit a certain price point determined by marketing gurus in any company, and where Ibanez skimped on this guitar was obviously readily available timbers as opposed to exotic timbers, polyurethane finish paint as opposed to the fabled nitrocellulose, and shoddy electronics, the neck is fantastic though, overall it always felt that it could "sing" a lot better.

The time I took to decide on pickups (the golden bits, basically the microphones) was a long one, if one doesn't play in a band to hear a "context" they would rely solely on fancy marketing words. Those words are very repetitive and designed to fit into any description; tight bottom end; loads of low end; focused mids; warm mids; shimmering high end; sparkling highs; great vintage tones for the modern player, whatever that means.. A market based on irrational musicians that will play whatever their favorite guitar player is playing, even if he/she played with a can of dog food. A lot of gear will sell folds and folds higher than their original price because (fill name here please) played it on (fill name here please) album. Well, I don't really subscribe to that as I believe there's two categories of musical instruments, a good one that a good musician can sing with, or a piece of junk that maybe some musician will find a hint of musicality in, which will elevate it instantly to the first category.

I finally settled on a set of Porter Pickups, I was told they make magic, and so we got in touch with Brian Porter, with a set list of songs that I thought had beautiful tones, and Brian came back with a recommendation. After few weeks of waiting, I was disappointed at first because of the new "noise", it wasn't the familiar noise I learned to play with for years. After few weeks, I think magic started to come out, the guitar sings now with honesty, no marketing words bullshit, it just sings.

By the way, the two mini toggle switches were added to open up possibilities of sounds, these added eight extra sounds to the guitar where it originally had only five, they were a great five but now I can have those and many more on top, basically anything from a single coil to all pickups on. The first one near the volume toggle engages the bridge pickup in whatever position the pickup selector is in, the second one splits the humbuckers into single coils. A lot of sounds that I've yet to explore.

The wooden knobs were changed too, they're made of cocobolo wood with brass marker inserts, they just removed all the "metal" from a supposedly metal guitar, what's more "unmetal" than wood?