North, or some reflections on sitting and staring at things in my office

Whenever I listen to “North” by Phoenix, I’m reminded of sitting at my doctor’s office, the quietness only filled with an instrumental that builds and builds until a howl. Right now, I’m sitting listening to it and it’s on my “Upside Down” playlist created by Spotify. And at times like this, I think to myself, is there some feeling that is captured with these songs stitched together to create these moments? The song that comes on after North is “A Story You Won’t Believe” from the Witcher 3 soundtrack.

And thoughts linger in my head, I sit here looking away from the screen, there’s a spider who has built a web near my office right outside the door and it has been very successful in capturing prey, enough for it to breed spider babies which worries me, will they take over my house?

Instead of cleaning up my office, I look at the happenstances that create stories of things present in my office. Like the lota sitting there, having traveled thousands of miles, here sitting in a cardboard box waiting to be used and all I can think of is how the quality of goods has gone down since my childhood in Pakistan. People will justify brittle and uncomfortable things in favor of saving a few percentages.

As each inch becomes a hoarding ground for my mind’s lacking ability to clean up, I think more and more about what is stopping me from getting rid of so many things, maybe there’s a pattern here? I don’t really know. I think I just wanted to type out on my keyboard today and this is what was on my mind.

Dave Van Ronk Sings

A few days ago, I got the Van Ronk Sings the Blues record in the mail. It’s a collection of some of Dave Van Ronk songs that he covered.
These are just raw American folk songs sang in his unique style.

If you haven’t seen Inside Llewynn Davis, I highly recommend checking it out. It’s roughly based on Van Ronk’s life and career with some covers done by Oscar Isaac and others in the movie.

Some of my favorites below:

In the movie “Dink’s Song” also known as “Fare Thee Well” has different lyrics, most likely because it’s a traditional folk song with variations in the lyrics, I personally like Van Ronk’s lyrics.

10 years of Stuck

Today, more than 10 years ago, I was sitting at my desk working at BillFloat and it was past 6pm, almost everyone was gone from the office. I was sitting there and I heard a song coming from a coworker’s computer. I half got up and looked over and he saw me and apologized for playing music off his speakers, he thought nobody was in the office. I said it’s no big deal, I like the song. He told me what song it was. It was “Stuck” by Contriva (the superpitcher remix).

The next 10 years have been marked with me listening to this song in times of stress, joy, sorrow, and almost anything else that came to me.

From 2008 up until about 2014, I discovered almost 80-90% of the music I listen to. Whether it was older music I had never heard before my time or new music coming out. I will occasionally discover a new song or album today but back then, I was consuming music like air. I was listening to 5-10 new albums a week and listening to at least a thousand new songs a month.

This song stuck with me because it reminded me of that feeling of being in flow and being so immersed in work that I was caught completely off guard when I first heard it coming from my coworker’s speakers. I was sitting there, writing most likely some JS or CSS at the time. And it just gave me a sense of warmth and comfort I couldn’t describe at the time. Now I hear it and I’m reminded of the naïveté and hope I was filled with at the time, I didn’t really know what the future held and I didn’t care. I was happy where I was sitting and working.

I met some amazing friends there and I learned some important things that stuck with me throughout my career.

There’s not many other songs I know by Contriva or Superpitcher. I decided that finding a piece of art that will stick with me is enough. I don’t want anything else from the artists. Musicians are evolving people and realizing that one song or album can’t be all that they are and they will keep producing new music we might like or hate but it doesn’t change what they’ve given us already.

This feeling has become even more prevalent with some other indie folk rock artists I listen to especially Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver, and Sufjan Stevens.

I have been journaling in private about my dad’s passing recently. I have a hard time properly writing and honoring my dad’s life and I think it will be very hard and take a long time for me to write about him. I wanted to write this post because it sort of gives me a sense of hope, sense of semblance, something I have been missing the past month or so. I haven’t been able to cope fully yet and I’m struggling with that at the moment. I will hopefully find enough strength to write more in the near future.

An introduction to music by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

This post was written in 2018 and has been sitting in my Drafts for over 3 years. I decided to write this after realizing it’s going to get deleted if I don’t get to it.

When I discover new music, I love to go the extra few steps of finding out more about the musician, songs I like, albums by the musician, and even related artists. I also love sharing music with people. In this post, I’ll talk about Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the greatest qawwal ever recorded.

But before we get into Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I’d like to introduce you to the art of “qawwali”. It’s the form of music that’s devotional and emotionally powerful, it has elements of religious worship, love, praise for Sufism, and many other explorations of the human condition. An important part of a qawwali is the repetitive but slightly altered parts of the lyrics. Qawwali originates from South Asia and Central Asia (India to Turkey) and each region has practiced qawwali in slightly different forms. When listening to qawwali, it’s important to remember that the musician or qawwal might be singing their own song or they might be reciting a poem, song, or ghazal from another qawwal. A qawwali will also include a group of musicians known as the party, thus it’s usually called a qawwali party. The main qawwal is considered the leader of the qawwali party, in this post that person is Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. A qawwali is often longer than a typical song, anywhere between 10-15 minutes for a short one and there are some that have gone up to an hour. You can read more about qawwalis on Wikipedia.

Since qawwalis are a type of a song, I will interchangeably use the words “song” and “qawwali” to mean the same thing. Once you listen to some qawwalis in this post and elsewhere, you’ll notice that there are some that will let you get lost within them and whether you’re listening to it while relaxing, driving, working, or emotionally trying to connect to the meaning of the qawwali, it’ll be easy to get lost within one.


I don’t remember the first song I heard by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (NFAK), it must’ve been before I could even walk or talk. I do remember there would always be some sort of music being played around the house that included NFAK’s music. As time went on, I noticed some songs and remembered their names and would occasionally look them up. When Youtube came around, I would look up just his name and listen to some music. When Spotify finally came to the US, that was one of the first time where I started collecting his songs I liked.

Over his career, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan recorded 125+ albums and released 30+ concert recordings. This is amazing but at the same time, it makes it a bit tough to find the greatest amongst the great. I’ll list some of my favorites below.

By the time I was able to remember songs I liked, a subculture of remixing NFAK’s music became popularized after his death and due to this phenomenon, I discovered one of my favorite songs, Jhoole Jhoole Lal:

When you listen to this song, you can hear a lot of post-editing and mixing to make the song sound modern, I didn’t have any options when I first heard this song to know that there were other versions of it and I became a fan. Eventually I discovered the original version:

The original features NFAK’s voice as the most important part of the song, it doesn’t have any additional sounds added on. This is an example of a song that’s poetic in a sense that a simple listen once in awhile will not let you hear the words and their meaning as easily. It’s a song about praising the savior who is unnamed in the song but there are many interpretations of who the savior is being referenced.

Next checkout one of the shorter songs on this list:

In this song, it’s a lamenting cry for a long lost lover. A story about a lover who might’ve died or gone away, but the world knows not the pain felt by the narrative’s subject. In this qawwali, the perspective from which the song is sang is unclear and that makes it so much better because it’s letting the listener determine who it’s for or from. The song is also a prayer in a form to say that nobody else should lose their love as the narrator has.

Below are some songs that I think you’ll just enjoy, not much description needed:

And if you’d really like to go deep on more of NFAK’s music, here’s a Spotify playlist you can listen to:

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (Discography)

“Carnival Jump” by Sandy Bull

I’ve been listening to Sandy Bull since I first discovered his music through a now defunct music service called Songza. It’s a tragedy that Google shut down Songza because their expertly curated playlists were top notch. The playlist I found Sandy Bull and similar artists was part of a genre called American Primitivism or “America primitive guitar” which was majorly influenced by John Fahey. Both, Sandy Bull and John Fahey, worked with Vanguard Records which sort of led me to hear a lot more music like this.

I’ve listened to this one song over 200 times since I first heard it and I wanted to share it here for everyone else to hear it:

Summer 2021 projects

The past few months have been a mix of productive and lazy days. Some days, I got up and was focused for most hours, got some work done and also some personal tasks done and others were a wash. But overall, I think the pandemic’s languishing feelings are starting to subside as I try to figure out a schedule for myself and a routine that works best for my mental health, physical health, and other factors that contribute to my well-being.

I wanted to recap some projects (of various kinds) that I’ve worked on in the past few months.

GMMK Pro keyboard

This project has been the most relaxing thing I’ve worked on in a long time. Taking apart the switches and the keyboard was new to me. Overall, I would probably build another board but not for awhile since this board is great for now.

Quotes project

I wanted a simple to use quote saving program, this does just that in the command line. I think I spent 2-3 days working on it in total.

House refinancing

Not a technical project but I spent a bunch of hours working on a house refinance. My original interest rate on the house was 3.75% and now it’s 2.5% which is a fairly nice reduction in interest. On top of that, my original loan to value ratio (LTV) was around 90% which required a PMI on that house, now that the value of the house has increased, the LTV ratio was below 80% (the mark which banks considered okay to not require PMI payments) so I’m saving an additional $175 a month on that.

Now Playing for Last.fm

This project is one of my favorite projects I have worked on. I originally built this as a way to learn Svelte and then it turned into a real useful project (I use it almost everyday now). I’ve marked this project as “done” on github because as it sits today, it works as intended and I don’t want to add more features to it.

Tracy – Mogwai

This song has stuck with me for awhile and this morning I really liked listening to it so I wanted to share it:

Mogwai has a good post rock sound and I love some other songs by them too.

The intro of this song really interests me.

And the name of the song is a nice reminder for me of my hometown of Tracy, CA.

The Sky naming scheme

Democritus Among the Abderitans by François-André Vincent (France, Paris, 1746-1816)
France, circa 1784 (?)

I wanted to share my naming scheme for my devices. I was bored by the basic “Muhammad’s iPhone” and “Muhammad’s 4th MacBook Pro” names so I wanted to come up with something a bit more interesting.

At first, I tried something like the names of planets but it became pretty limiting and was also very vague somehow. Like I had no idea what was “Saturn” and what was “Jupiter”. Then I tried colors (blue, black, white) and that was way too simple to remember anything.

So as I was listening to one of my favorite songs by A Tribe Called Quest, “Skypager” I thought to name my iPhone “Sky Pager”. The space is there to make sure devices like my Bluetooth headphones and Alexa pronounce it correctly.

Do you know the importance of a skypager?

Those who don’t believe, see you’re laid behind
Got our skypagers on all the time

“Skypager” by A Tribe Called Quest

For a song from 1991, it’s amazing that almost 30 years later, an iPhone is an important device you can dedicate a whole song to and possibly record the song on the iPhone as well. The lyrics in the Tribe song are just as applicable today as they were in 1991,

Moving on…

For awhile, it was just my iPhone that had the name with “Sky” in it. But then I realized, there are some other interesting names like Skynet that are futurist, interesting, and unique. Skynet became the name for my wifi setup and it fits nicely with the theme that it’s providing the internet for all my devices and carries the “Sky” prefix. There’s also my Chromecast which is “Skycast” which I’m very happy with 😊.

I also tried “Skypad” for my iPad but it didn’t sit right with me so I decided to go with Democritus.

The most made up name I have is “Skyphonics” that I gave to my headphones.

I still don’t know what to name my  Watch but I’m thinking of giving the MacBook the name “Skybook” but not 100% sold on that, yet.

Music trends, from 2010 to 2019

I wanted to share the music that I have found and loved over the past 10 years. In a trend form so less about a single artist and more about genres of music because that seemed be to the easiest way to summarize my music spanning over ten years. Each trend has an accompanying Spotify playlist (listen + read ☺️).

Stats

According to Last.fm I listened to 28,791 songs and a total of 129,107 times from January 2010 until end of 2019, that’s about 35 songs a day. I listened to 7,828 artists and 15,697 albums.
The year with the most music listened to was 2011 with 17,494 songs listened (not unique songs, total listens). And 2017 being the year with the least music listened at 8,351 songs which less than half of 2011! The reporting could be a bit off because Spotify and Last.fm don’t always play well together. The song with the most listens is “Crosses” by Jose Gonzalez at 269 plays. And Fleet Foxes with the most plays for a single artist at 3,464 listens (and so is their self-titled album, with 1,426 plays).

Desert rock

This is not really the genre most of this music fits in but I discovered it as such because the prime artists of this category are the groups like Tinariwen, Bombino, and other Malian musicians. Half of Tinariwen’s music is somehow about the desert, so, feeling like you’re experiencing the most out of your own world sort of music experience is completely expected.
But mostly, I think of this as desert music because of the instrumentation and much less about where the artist is from. There are many different artists on this list but a few interesting highlights would be Souad Massi who has the softest song I’ve heard with so much depth behind it. A summer obsession of “Raoui” led me to include the song on here and on many other playlists. It all began with Tinariwen’s “Asuf D Alwa” somewhere in 2014, over the last 6 years, I’ve heard countless new music because of that one accidental pandora recommendation. In 2017, there was a good few months where I would listen to “Kothiboro” by Ayub Ogada while I was in the shower. The song is a good wake up song, doesn’t hype you up but slowly wakes you up. I don’t even know what the song is about and it sounds great to me. I’m sure there are songs on this list that might not mean something I hear them to mean but that’s music, to one person it might mean everything and to another nothing at all, and to some, just something.

Pakistani, Bollywood, and Junoon

This second list of music is something I have listened to for as long as I can remember, it’s not really a new trend for the past decade but instead a reintroduction. I put Junoon in the name of this trend because I don’t know how else to describe the rock music that Junoon makes. This category of music has really resurged in the last few years as I found it to be helpful in concentrating while working and especially during writing code. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s a different language and my brain is not easily distracted. Same would go for the desert music as well I suppose. This list contains a lot of different music but I think most of it I listened to together so that’s why I’m including it as one list.

Electronic, various genres

I can’t keep up with all the different subgeneres of electronic music, maybe I’m ignorant but I’m happy collecting and listening to music without much knowledge of genre names. So in the trend, maybe I am thinking of individual artists. The overall trend here has been more instrumental, similar sounding music so working for a decent period of time can be done with one 10-15 song playlist. I don’t like to listen to too much music of the same genre in more than one sittings in the same day. So, idk if others have this but I don’t have “grunge days” or “rap days”. But here and there, I will listen to a specific genre more than a couple of hours. There’s one particular song that sticks out more than others, “Stuck – Superpitcher Remix” by Contriva, I listened to that song a lot when I first started writing code at work. There are so many artists on this list that I had no idea existed 10 years ago! Well…here’s the list.

Folk and American Primitivism

If there’s one thing that was pretty hectic in the 2010s, it was the number of so many different music curation services that came and went. Rdio and Songza were two I used quite a bit. Rdio was just to tide me over until Spotify became available in the US and after that, I stopped using that too. Songza introduced me to a genre I had never heard of before called American Primitivism, which is a folksy sort of instrumental guitar music as far as I can tell and it has a very calming sound. I started listening to this when I was working at Outbound and then the songs I discovered stuck around. Artists from this genre include John Fahey, Sandy Bull, and Bert Jansch (his music might not all fit in this genre). Then there are the folk artists like Cat Stevens, Fleet Foxes, Jose Gonzalez, and so many others who have been about a quarter to a third of my music over the past ten or more years, these artists range from me liking one or two songs all the way to every song released by them. I think it started with Fleet Foxes in 2008 and now, 12ish years later, there’s still so much more indie folk and classic folk that I’m discovering. Singer-songwriters are also in this category.

The Witcher

Ok fine, this is not a category and I’m explicitly calling out an album but I guess it does have a sound that’s unique, the game brought me lots of joy and the music has stuck around afterwards.

Top 20 songs of the 2010s

At first I was reluctant to put this list on here but really wanted to keep a list of the songs I liked out of so much music I had heard.

With love from Novigrad

Novigrad docks

This is not a game review but more of a collection of thoughts about a game in a very subjective and personal way. This contains spoilers about the game!

For this past Christmas, Kristen surprised me with an Xbox One X and I also got The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt gifted to me.

At first, I was really excited to play Battlefield V on the Xbox, since the specs are better than PS4 and videos of the gameplay looked very nice on Xbox compared to PS4. But this excitement quickly died down as I realized that BFV isn’t what I expected it to be. For the month or so I toiled through BFV, I didn’t even touch The Witcher 3.

I had gotten the recommendation to play the Witcher series from my brother and a couple of friends. I even listened to the soundtrack before I played the game because I didn’t buy into the hype.

Well, the hype had died down a long time ago, since I started playing at the beginning of 2019 and the game had come out in 2015. If you read any game reviews between 2015 and 2017, you would’ve seen The Witcher 3 mentioned and still I didn’t care for what it was. This is mostly because the last major game like this that was hyped for me was The Last of Us which is a great game but I didn’t like it.

Well, on to the actual game and what this post is about. I am now about 3+ months into playing the game and there have been a couple of weekends where I spent most of the weekend in front of my TV playing Witcher and if I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about it.

The game has such a rich gameplay and story that I couldn’t get my mind off of it. There are tons of characters that are developed so well, you start to miss them if they’re not in the game for some time.

Geralt is the best developed game hero I’ve ever played with (Master Chief is second). His personality is dynamic yet deep and interesting. The concept of a witcher in general is great, I didn’t know before the game about the word witcher but essentially it means a male witch (even though that’s a wizard). A witcher is like a superhuman because early on in their life, they go through training to “transformed” or changed into a witcher. Witchers are also longer living than regular humans so Geralt is estimated at somewhere between 90-95 in the game.

The game is based off of books and the whole of the witcher world is set in the 12th century. It feels very medieval and in a very accurate way, in my opinion. The world isn’t the brightest or happiest places, there is war, disease, witchcraft, many different kinds of monsters, haunted places, dark swamps, evil spirits, madmen, power hungry kings, and many other things that go very well with a medieval world.

There are times when you’re so entrenched in something you forget all that’s around you and for the witcher, there are many elements that play with this. Perfect game engine, game play, and obstacles are one thing. The graphics are great for being an almost 4 year old game but the very uniquely amazing thing that this game has is the coupled music. The soundtrack is a work of art on its own but within the game, at the perfect moment, the music just adds to the overall game play so much more. There are some songs that come on when you’re in the swamps and dark forests, the long lonely caves, and the elven ruins that will haunt me for awhile. I won’t share those as there are a lot of those from the official soundtrack.

Before I go on, the game is focused on finding a girl named Ciri who is like Geralt’s goddaughter and also a very important person to the world of witcher. With her, the end of the world is coming. She is being hunted by group of evil “people” (idk what they really are) called the Wild Hunt (where the name of the game comes from).

Gwent

There is one thing to say that the Witcher universe is rich in jokes, jibes, natural dialogue, deep cultural expressions, and many other things that aren’t required of a typical game but it goes a step farther by introducing a card game within the overall game. This card is called Gwent and you can read more about its rules here: https://gwent.fandom.com/wiki/Rules.

At first, I was aversive to playing Gwent as I wanted to get through the main story quests as quickly as possible but this all changed with the Kaer Morhen quest. More on the quest later. Gwent is a simple card game where there are unit cards and special cards, unit cards have strength that helps you fight against your opponent’s unit cards, special cards change the weather or strength of your unit cards. At first, I was really bad at the game but I quickly started realizing the basic strategies until I got to a point where I was winning almost every game if I tried to be strategic about it.

Kaer Morhen, Novigrad, Velen, et al.

Geralt and Vesemir in Velen (image credit)

You start the game in Velen aka “no man’s land” which is a large rural area filled with various kinds of monsters, most pretty weak (since its where you’re starting out). Velen is my least favorite since it’s so depressing, scary, and dark all around. When I started out, I didn’t know about Novigrad or any other places so I went along with it and as most games go, you kind of have to get through the first few levels and quests to make sense of the world you’re in. After I found other places, I didn’t like going back to Velen. There were a few days when I played primarily in Velen, doing the contracts and going through the swamps, dark forests, and empty villages. It’s so well done that I still get goosebumps thinking about some of the weird wraiths that would pop up when I would be going through an abandoned village.

Kaer Morhen is the place where witchers used to train, it’s a fortified castle with not much going on in it. Think of Winterfell from Game of Thrones with a lot less people. You’re taken to Kaer Morhen once when you start the game (basically a tutorial) and again when you find Ciri. Without getting too much into the actual story of the game, Kaer Morhen to me is like an old home of Geralt that is now long abandoned by most people. The world of the Witcher is an empty and lonely place but Kaer Morhen has an atmosphere of long forgotten mightiness. Vesemir is probably the person who trained Geralt and he’s also the caretaker of Kaer Morhen. Spoiler ahead, skip to next paragraph if you don’t want to see the spoiler. When the battle of Kaer Morhen happens after finding Ciri, this is about 3/4th of the way into the main quests of the story, you are fighting the Wild Hunt and amidst the fighting, you’re surrounded by most of Geralt’s companions from the rest of the game like Yennefer, Triss, Zalton, etc. Amongst these is Vesemir who isn’t a major part of the fight until the end when Ciri is almost caught by the Wild Hunt. At this point, some guy from the Wild Hunt proceeds to kill Vesemir and Ciri is outraged, and so was I. I was very saddened by this. It was so unexpected since Vesemir is an all around good guy!

My favorite place of them all is Novigrad, a medieval city full of many different characters. Merchants, thugs, beggars, and drunks all around! The city has a perfect Kings Landing feel to it and especially since it’s the city part you get to experience more than the palaces and grand buildings of any kind. Novigrad is a big city (according to medieval standards), it has tons of peoples and a lot of things happening in it. About half the story missions are here. You meet up with previously met friends like Zalton and Dandelion. Dandelion is a flamboyant and funny guy who runs an inn, I loved going in here just for the music. In Novigrad, you also can find the best weapons blacksmith. There’s the Hierarch Square in which you can find the people of the Eternal Fire preaching to city dwellers.
Whenever I did a mission that required me to be in the swamps of Velen or the caves of Skillege, after finishing the mission, I would fast travel to Novigrad’s Hierarch Square to just feel “safe” even though it’s all a game, the music, people walking around, and some times the sunny sights would be so much better than wherever I had just left.
Geralt can get a haircut, drink some beer, buy food to eat, play gwent, and so many more things in Novigrad, I never wanted to leave it.

The last place you visit is Skillege. A group of islands that reminds me of the roughness of Viking era settlements and superstition to match the time period. It’s a desolate place with a lot of cloudy, rainy, and snowy days. Geralt travels to Skillege in search for Ciri and ends up meeting a lot of interesting characters along the way, like the future queen of the isles who ends up befriending Geralt and eventually helps me out here and there. There are different traditions on Skillege, there are clans that only abide by rules set on the islands and not on the mainland. I liked playing here for a bit but then I would resign back to the mainland as traveling from one small island to another was a depressing experience since most islands were nearly abandoned with tales of ghosts, wraiths, and other creatures haunting each new place.

Aftermath

After you find Ciri, there is a little of the game left in regards to the main quests and as I wound down the game, I felt a bit nostalgic and a connection I’ve never really felt with another game before. It’s an insanely well develop game that contains intuitive controls, beautiful environments, amazing storyline, and so many small details I couldn’t get over it. This game was release almost 4 years ago (May 2015) and I’m raving about it in 2019! That’s an amazing feat for a game released in the current gaming world. Most games will have a long lifecycle but will require constant updates and DLCs while The Witcher 3 only had some initial expansions, not much to keep people coming back and still there’s a strong follower base.

I would recommend playing this game if you’re looking for a casual yet fun game that requires some time, because you can’t finish it in one day. I played over 60 hours in total by the time I had finished the game. That’s a lot for me. The only other game I’ve played more hours on is Battlefield 1 with about 200 hours.

There’s a new Netflix series coming out so be sure to check that out too!