Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Super Sandstorm


China is now widely known as a country with great pollution. There has been food scandals, undrinkable water, and heavy air pollution in it's cities. In Northern China however, the problem is dust and sand storms. 

Now I know that sand storms are so bad there that sometimes even the Chinese capital of Beijing suffer from the problem. However I can safely say I never realised how bad the problem is until I read this story.

Sand storms in Northern China are so bad that the storms can be seen from space!

One of NASA's satellites captured this image on April 23 which according to NASA show a sandstorm covering the city of Dunhuang in northern China. The storm forced residents to don masks, but that's almost underplaying the situation when seeing this image.

A sand storm that can be seen from space? We need a new name for that; any suggestion? 

Monday, April 28, 2014

Disney: The King of Star Wars



In a post on the official Star Wars site, Lucasfilm (or to be more exact, Disney) announced that only the six Star Wars films and the Clone Wars television show will be considered canon. Other stories of the Star Wars Universe, whether they are from the books, games, comics or short stories, are all not considered canon.

This means anything that belongs in the “The Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU)” like The Knights of the Old Republic, the Thrawn trilogy, Blood Ties etc; are all not part of the Star Wars Universe anymore. Basically, Disney is dumping everything of Star Wars that did not come from the movies or the Clone Wars television.

Naturally, more than a few Star Wars fans are unhappy about this. I’m not one of them.

I can understand why they are unhappy but this cannot come as a surprise. No matter how much the writers of the novels or the makers of the games "consult" with Lucasfilm, the bread-and-butter of the Star Wars Universe is the movies. Once Disney bought over Lucasfilm, this was always going to happen.

To me, that's OK. This ruling by Disney makes it easier for everyone, especially new fans, to follow the official story. I suspect this is something Disney is doing to get new fans. They don't want too many stories cluttering things up for newcomers. They want to make things simple. 

Not that it matter what their reasons are. This is a lot similar to what happen in “The Witcher”. It’s Polish writer Andrzej Sapkowski caused a furor when he said that only the story in “The Witcher” novels are canon, and the story in the PC games of “The Witcher” are not.

Some people were unhappy but they honestly have no right to feel that way. “The Witcher” was created by Sapkowski, so he has the right to rule what is canon and what is not. Same thing with Star Wars. Disney owns it. That makes them king. 

Friday, April 25, 2014

Stupid & Senseless Change

When it was announced that Peter Jackson would turn the short children story, The Hobbit, into a trilogy, I was surprised that he would be able to do this. For those who don't know, The Hobbit is a short book.

As surprised as I was, I had to agreed that the name for the final film, The Hobbit: There and Back Again, was perfect. It was the title of the book Bilbo was writing for Frodo in the very first Lord of The Rings movie. The title was perfect.

Now they are changing its name. The Hobbit: There and Back Again will now be The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies.

What the hell was wrong with There and Back Again? It was perfect! The Battle of the Five Armies? The title of the book is The Hobbit, not "How the Dwarves fought the Orcs". The title change is just stupid! Not just stupid, but dumb senseless stupidity that defy decent common sense!

Battle of the Five Armies makes it sound like the story is about the dwarves. IT IS NOT! The story is about Bilbo’s adventure!  Battle of the Five Armies? Sounds more like a battle plan thought up by the marketing people!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Kitty Craze Is Back


Yesterday was a busy day for me. Busy because I had to stay back at work for overtime. Still I thought it was understandable because there were 5 persons on MC and leave yesterday. Sometimes, it just can't be helped.  

Today I discovered that it can. 

The clouds parted and light shone on me when I discovered that yesterday was the day when Singaporeans can purchase the Hello Kitty toy from McDonald! Thousands of Singaporeans stayed home so that they can log into the McDonald’s website to purchase the Hello Kitty toy that was launched at 11 am yesterday.

I'm willing to bet at least some of the 5 missing person in my office yesterday was doing that. 

Honestly I never quite understood what the Hello Kitty craze was all about; it's just a toy people! I can only console myself that I wasn't along yesterday in doing overtime. 

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Comics this week


Red Lantern #30- With the meeting with Superman now out of the way, Red Lantern is back on track as the team grapples with the news that Atrocitus is still alive. This issue is filled with character moments; the betrayal of Sheko; the always entertaining duo of Skallox and Zilius Zox; the talk between Bleez and Kara; were all golden moments. However I have say I agree with Bleez. The new red, Sheko, looks like a powerhouse but why would Guy want to get into an arms race with Atrocitus when he already outnumbered him? And he already has Supergirl! Take Bleez, go get Rankorr, and defeat Atrocitus. It’s the simple logical thing to do and writer Charles Soule just couldn’t come up with a convincing argument otherwise. It’s too bad because the rest of the issue rocks!  

Supergirl #30- Having Supergirl join the Red Lantern Corps is a good idea and writer Tony Bedard continue to show why as Kara and her Red Lantern teammates go on a cosmic beatdown of the Diasporans. The addition of the Red Lanterns give Supergirl a very strong supporting cast and that in itself is worth her joining the Reds. It was funny as hell seeing Guy face-palm himself when he hears how excited Kara is at being able to show her rage. He now knows how Hal felt all these years.

Sinestro #1- When it was announced that Sinestro, the thought that went through my mind was, “It’s about bloody time!” As the primary arch-nemesis to the Green Lantern Corps, a complex and formidable villain, Sinestro is long overdue a series of his own. This debut series by writer Cullen Bunn and artist Dale Eaglesham is pretty by-the-book with Lyssa Dark coming to warn Sinestro of an impending disaster and his role in averting it. As he is a villain, Sinestro refused to just jump back into things so Dark raised the personal stakes by telling him that the few remaining Korugarians are at risk. That got him going. That is also why Sinestro is such a great antihero. He has noble aims but is so driven that he do not care about the things he has to do to achieve his goals. This debut issue isn’t great, but the character has amazing potential.  

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Panic In Manchester


10 months after replacing the most successful manager in their history, Manchester United has sacked his successor. Manager David Moyes has been given the sack by Manchester United after a very disappointing season.

I can understand why the board of Manchester United made this decision. Manchester United failed to win the Premier League, and will fail to enter the Champions League next season. Also as respected as Moyes is for his work at Everton, he never looked at ease in Manchester. His stifling defensive tactics was at odds with the players at the club and he himself admitted to be taken aback by the sheer scale of the media interest in the club.

The big problem I have is in the timing of the dismissal. Why the hell did they do it now? Manchester United currently lies seventh in the table with only four games remaining. What good will sacking David Moyes do now? If the club was going to sack Moyes, they should do it either weeks ago or at the end of the season when everyone can part ways quietly. What good will it does Manchester United to sack their manger with just 4 games to go in the season? 

Nothing! 

Monday, April 21, 2014

Why Does This Surprise People?

A Facebook post by the Philippine Independence Day Committee 2014 (PIDC) inviting Filipinos to celebrate their national day in Ngee Ann City on June 8 has drawn a backlash from some Singaporeans. Singaporeans have gone on to PIDC's Facebook page to demand that they cancel the celebration.

These Singaporeans who call for the cancellation of the celebration are now being accused of being racist and xenophobic. I don’t see it this way at all.

At the risk of being called racist and xenophobic myself, I can fully understand where these Singaporeans are coming from. I find it very strange that anyone thinks that celebrating a national/independence day in public on foreign soil is an okay thing to do. I mean it's one thing to celebrate the day at the embassy, a private gathering, or even at a party at home; but a public celebration in public? Come on, does it comes as a surprise some people will be unhappy about that?

Now I'm sure the people at the PIDC meant no harm but to say their proposal is foolish is an understatement. I have no problem with Filipinos celebrating their national days, even doing it in Singapore, but doing it along Orchard Road is just asking for trouble.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Comics this week


Bad Ass #4- Criminally overlooked, Bad Ass ended the same way it had been all along; with a crazy out-of-this-world issue that makes you wonder about the sanity of writer Herik Hanna. I mean just look at his JL-like superhero group, the AJF. A cartoon-like character named Eddy Looter beside normal superheroes? That idea (and character design by artist Bruno Bessadi) is just zany fun. We probably won’t see a sequel to Bad Ass but we should. Comics stand need more series like this.

Ms. Marvel #3- One thing about superhero comics is that outside having superpowers, the main character is well…heroic. After a successful rescue last issue, that’s the case for Kamala Khan as well. On a high after the rescue, Kamala is now trying to come to grips with her powers while facing down the problems of school, family, and culture. Then disaster strikes as her inexperience tell. I give writer G. Willow Wilson and artist Adrian Alphona credit; they successfully showcased the struggle Kamala faced and they do not dumb down or avoid the problems faced by Kamala. There is just something refreshing about that. This is a very promising series with only two caveats; 1) I still say they need a new codename for Kamala outside being called Ms. Marvel and 2) I hope the costume on the cover is not permanent. It’s terrible.

Superman/Wonder Woman #7- This issue is weak. In the aftermath of the nuclear blast last issue, we see both Superman and Wonder Woman severely injured. Both tried desperately to save each other and in the end succeeded. Now I was sure they would succeed in saving each other but any potential tension in the issue was destroy on its opening page where we see a healthy Clark and Diana going on a date. Yes, the entire aftermath of the nuclear blast was told as a flashback! Talk about stupid planning. Writer Charles Soule really drop the ball on this one.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Useless FFP Rule

In Europe, the top clubs spent money like water to get the best players in the world. To combat this financial dropping (as stated by Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger), the European footballing body UEFA has a Financial Fair Play (FFP) rule.

The basic concept behind FFP is that clubs can't make more than a certain amount of losses over several seasons or UEFA will punish them by not awarding them a license to play in the Champions League or Europa League. The UEFA’s Club Financial Control Body say around 20 clubs may be prosecuted for breach of rules and top of the list are English Premier League title contenders Manchester City and reigning Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint Germain (PSG).

I will say this; I'll believe the rule has bite when UEFA start banning clubs from the Champions League. 

I don't believe they will. I mean just look at Manchester City. They posted losses of  £149 million during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 seasons! What's there to talk about? They are clearly in violation of the FFP rules but so what? They have some of the best players in the world like Yaya Toure, Sergio Ag├╝ero, Samir Nasri, and Vincent Kompany. UEFA is going to stop these players from playing in their cash cow, The Champions League? 

I don't believe it and it's obvious Manchester City owner Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al Nahyan do not either. Until UEFA start banning top clubs from the Champions League, the FFP rule is not worth the paper it is written on. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Eventual Winner?


"This is a turning point in the crisis, both militarily in terms of the army's achievements in the war against terror, and socially in terms of national reconciliation processes and growing awareness of the truth behind the [attacks] targeting the country."

These words were uttered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad who believed that after 3 years, the Syrian civil war is now at a turning point. He is right and it is turning in his favor!

This is an analysis most observers, including Western diplomats who wish to topple al-Assad, agrees with. The reason is simple. The West insistence that moderate Syrian rebels like the Frees Syrian Army (FSA) turn their backs on the extreme rebel group, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), have split the Syrian rebels and al-Assad has waste no time in taking advantage of the situation.

Not only that, the Syrian government is steadily taking territory from FSA, using the age-old tactics of trying to wipe out the weaker force first before going after the stronger ISIS. After suffering attacks from their follow rebels, ISIS has been consolidating their presence in eastern Syria, basically abandoning the rest of Syria to the Syrian government and FSA. A straight fight the Syrian government is winning handily.

So after scoring a succession of military victories, President Assad will be forgiven for gloating about the future. The chances of him ultimately winning the Syrian civil war is a very possible possibility. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

Review of Captain America: Winter Soldier



First off, let me admit one thing; I didn’t like Captain America: The First Avenger. It’s an okay action war movie but it didn’t resonate with me. Honestly, I just have no interest in watching a superhero fighting in WWII.

Captain America: Winter Soldier however is a movie I like.

Sequel to 2011's Captain America: The First Avenger, the film is also the ninth installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and as such, the movie got most of its’ cast back with Chris Evans (Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (Bucky), Cobie Smulders (Maria Hill), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury) all back in action.

The story takes place about 2 years after the Battle of New York (as shown in the Avengers movie), and Steve Rogers is now living in Washington, D.C. Working for S.H.I.E.L.D, he and Black Widow are sent on a mission to free hostages aboard a S.H.I.E.L.D. vessel from pirates led by mercenary Georges Batroc (Georges St-Pierre). Unknown to Rogers, the Black Widow has another mission of her own and the two conflicting missions allow Batroc to escape. Something Rogers then confront Fury on.

An unapologetic Fury shows Rogers the extent he’s willing to go to eliminate threats to the safety of the world; three next-gen Helicarriers linked to spy satellites and designed to preemptively kill enemies from afar. Fury is then ambushed and injured by a mysterious assassin called the Winter Soldier, but not before warning Rogers that S.H.I.E.L.D. has been compromised.

From there, the movie becomes an old-school conspiracy thriller as Captain America and his allies try to uncover who has infiltrated S.H.I.E.L.D. and what their agenda is.

Just this plot alone makes this a better movie than The First Avenger! Captain America: Winter Soldier is an edgier, more complex movie that embraced the question of the trade-off the world has made post 9/11. Back by a sharp script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, directors Anthony and Joe Russo put together a movie that feels almost Bourne-like at times.

A well-balanced film, there are some powerful scenes in this film not least of which is the confrontation between Nick Fury and Alexander Pierce. Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford (as Pierce) knocked the scene out of the park as they try to convince each other on the righteousness of their cause. I found Robert Redford to be an extremely convincing, compelling villain and hope he’ll return in some form to the role (hint, hint).

Chris Evans also did a fine job here as he grows into the Steve Rogers role. Vastly more comfortable now, Evans play Rogers as the character he is; a man out of time who’s unsure of his role in the modern world but is still going to fight because as the ultimate soldier, that’s the only thing he knows how to do. Evans Rogers’ vulnerability in this film, while still being a kick-ass name-taking super-soldier, is brilliantly portrayed by Evans. 

I also liked the name-dropping of various Marvel characters throughout the movie. You got Stark, Banner, and Doctor Strange and outside them, Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, the Scarlet Witch, and Quicksilver at the very end. As the saying goes, a hero is only as good as his villains and in this movie, the villains were very impressive. Outside Pierce, both Batroc the Leaper and Crossbones were great. Frank Grillo’s Brock Rumlow (Crossbones) is a bad-ass who pretty much beat up everyone in the movie not named Steve Rogers.

Of course there are some sore points.

I give the film credit for trying but I just can’t buy the link between Steve Rogers and Bucky. If you did not see the first movie, the friendship between the two would make little sense and even if you did, you’ll have a hard time understanding why their friendship is so important to Rogers that he’ll risked the safety of the world for it.  

Also, I felt the performance of Scarlett Johansson stuck up like a sore thumb in this movie. I don’t know if it’s because of the great performances here by other people (Evans, Redford etc) but Scarlett Johansson look bored in this movie. Her Black Widow in Avengers and Iron Man 2 were much, much better.

However this second Captain America installment is without doubt one of the better
film in the MCU and even if you are not into superhero movies, Captain America: Winter Soldier also works as an espionage thriller. In short, Captain America: Winter Soldier isn’t just a good superhero movie; it’s a good movie period!

Friday, April 11, 2014

No Idea What They're Doing

With the search for the missing MH370 narrowed to an area within the Indian Ocean, the question on how the plane went missing has still not been answered. There had been many conspiracy theories on this since the plane vanished on March 8 and it seem one thought is that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is to blame.

A newspaper owned by the ruling Barisan Nasional party, Utusan Malaysia, is alleging that the US intelligence agency was behind the disappearance of MH370. The allegations were printed on Sunday and till now, no government official has come out to deny it.

That is just plain stupidity on the part of the Malaysian government.

The main question on everyone's mind is how the hell did the plane managed to fly across Malaysia without been detected and stopped by the Malaysians. The plane was picked up by the Thai Air Force and it looped around Indonesia to avoid their radar, but it managed to go straight across Malaysia. How it managed to do that? The Malay government has not managed to answer this question thus far and now their newspaper is saying the CIA are the ones to blame?

That's just giving ammunition to their opponents that they have no idea what the hell they're doing. Already the Malaysian opposition is using these allegations to attack the Malaysian government. Taking up time and resources better used to help finding the missing plane...and the Malaysian government has no one to blame but themselves.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Comics this week

Astro City #11- After the Samaritan/Confessor/Winged Victory arc, writer Kurt Busiek gets back to what he does best. A small story about the everyday man living in a city pack with superheroes. Raitha is the overworked personal assistant to an overworked superhero, The Silver Adept, and this issue showcase a day in her life as she tried to juggle her boss's packed schedule. This include something as mundane as doing as doing her email to arranging her travel planes as The Silver Adept goes another the world (and other planes) to preventing a war breaking out between clans of alien magicians on her boss's behalf. Another typical day for the little guy in Astro City, and this is why I love this series.

Bad Ass #3- After a two weeks delay, I finally got my hands on this issue. If you've been reading this series till now, nothing here would surprise you as writer Herik Hanna and artist Bruno Bessadi do more of the same. Of course this is not a bad thing as they are clearly having fun in this Batman homage/satire series. Blacksnake comes with his own Black Copter, Black Boat, Black Motorcycle, BlackMobile, and even a stuffy black butler. It was hilarious! 1 more issue till the end. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Singaporeans will be Singaporeans


Singapore’s top local university, the National University of Singapore (NUS), is currently ranked 22nd in the 2013 World Reputation Rankings published by the Times Higher Education (THE). However, there’ve been reports of unhappiness at NUS due to the disproportionately high number of foreign faculty members over there.

While the main complain seems to be discriminatory hiring (when a foreign recruiter hires people from his homeland), I have a far simpler and better explanation on why there are so few Singaporean academics. Singaporeans don't want to pursue the path of academia.

It's that simple. We Singaporeans just don't care about such things. We care about making money; doing research and writing papers...not so much. Forget about the universities, even in companies, you will see few Singaporeans in their R&D departments. 

Generally speaking, Singaporeans are just not interested in such things. The fact that this happens at a famous university makes no difference. Singaporeans will be Singaporeans. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Another Sequel

Just months after J. K. Rowling announced that she will write 3 books set in the world of Harry Potter, now we have another piece of news about an author going back to the series that made him famous.

Most people do not know who Tad Williams is but he is a very successful and prolific fantasy and sci-fi writer. Now Tad Williams has confirmed  that his next project will be a new fantasy trilogy that is a direct sequel to his "Memory, Sorrow and Thorn" trilogy.

As a reader of fantasy books, I have to question all these sequels. I can understand why writers and their publishers want to do them as there's a ready fanbase for these books (if there's a sequel to Jig the Goblin, I'll be first in line to buy the book) but I have to worry that the book publishing business is taking a page out of the movie business with sequels all over the place. Do we need that?

No. Hopefully these sequels (or prequels in Rowling's case) are one-off event. What's next; a sequel to Lord of the Rings? Good god, I hope not.

Monday, April 7, 2014

STOMP

What is “citizen journalism”? In Singapore, that's STOMP. A website run by Singapore’s largest newspaper, The Straits Times, STOMP is a website which allows normal Singaporeans to contribute stories.

Now, I read that many Singaporeans are against the website with an online petition calling for its shutdown. The petition has been gaining momentum on social media and has currently 8,013 supporters. The main complain they have seems to be fabricated content posted by contributors to the STOMP website.

Now I'm not a big fan of STOMP but I don't get this petition at all. Yes, there's wrong stories posted there but there's wrong things posted on Wikipedia also and I do see any online petition to shut that down. I mean that's what you're going to get if you allow anyone to post things online. I post anything I want on my blog and though I try, I'm sure I got things wrong before. It comes with the territory when you do things as a hobby (even if it's a serious hobby) with no editor hovering above you.

More importantly, if you shut down STOMP...where else is there for Singaporeans to post their stories? STOMP isn't just a website for “citizen journalism” in Singapore, it's the ONLY website for “citizen journalism” in Singapore! If not STOMP, where else is there?

Netizens supporting the petition to shut STOMP down should ask that question too. STOMP is by no means perfect but in Singapore, there’s nowhere else to go.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Modern Organized Crime


Nowadays you can use the internet for anything. Watch TV, buy goods, see the news, recruit gangster, any…wait, what? That’s right; Japan’s most notorious yakuza, Yamaguchi-gumi, have setup a homepage in a bid to improve their image and gain more members.

Now I know that membership in the yakuza is not illegal in Japan and that much like the Italian mob and Chinese triads, they have a glamorous image, but an organized crime syndicate with a homepage? Are you kidding me? That has to be one of the funniest thing I read this year.

What’s next; a magazine for their members? What? The Yamaguchi-gumi group already has that? Well…ok. Talk about a modern organized crime organization.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Comics this week


Green Lantern #30- One of the pivotal moments of this current story arc happened when a Durlan shape-shifted into Hal Jordan and broadcasted an ultimatum to the rest of the galaxy. In the broadcast, the Durlan told the galaxy that even though every time they use their green rings, they are draining the galaxy of energy; the GL Corps will still keep on using the rings for “the good of the galaxy” and anyone who oppose them will be an enemy of the Corps. The best thing about this ultimatum? The Durlan did not lie! He didn’t say anything Hal didn’t say before. He used Hal’s own words against him. Another incident like this happen this issue as once again we see why so many species and worlds are now aligned against the Corps. The best thing about the whole episode is how these enemies of the Corps could be right. When the immortal Guardians were in charge, the rest of the galaxy can stomach the Corps as the Guardians were powerful, experienced and due to their age, had seen it all. Hal Jordon as the leader of the Green Lantern Corps? Why the hell should the galaxy listen to him? Writer Robert Venditti is hitting it out of the park with this arc. 

Moon Knight #2- After the stellar debut issue, writer Warren Ellis was always going to have a hard time living up to it. Unfortunately, as expected, #2 did not manage to reach the highs of #1. This is still a good issue as Moon Knight chased after a sniper who is killing some seemingly normal people. Ellis was clearly trying to show the similarities between the sniper and Marc Spector and how the horror of the past can catch up to someone even if you have move on to a new life. It’s gripping stuff, just too bad there’s no way but down after #1.

Magneto #2- I found #1 of Magneto underwhelming despite the fact that writer Cullen Bunn did a fine job showing the complexity of Magneto’s character. In this issue, it’s more of the same but what was underwhelming in the debut issue works beautifully here. The flashback works to show us how and why Magneto is the man he is and what happened at the camp site shows us why sometimes the world needs people like Erik. An excellent character study on the master of magnetism; this series has promise. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Totally Bizarre


With the inability to find the missing MH370, the Malaysian government has been under constant criticism from the world for it’s clumsy handling of the crisis. With all 239 people onboard MH370 suspected to have perished in the incident, the high emotions are understandable.

However, I have to say Malaysia need to do a better job of defending itself. Now the Malaysian government has been saying that the MH370 crisis is perhaps the most bizarre incident in Asian civil aviation history and they are right. Chiefly, they need to explain clearly how the plane managed to fly across the whole of Malaysia without their air force doing anything about it! That’s totally bizarre.

Saying that their air force didn’t do anything because the plane is not hostile makes no sense because “friendly” or “hostile”, you should still get into contact with the plane. I mean it’s a Boeing 777 and you allowed a Boeing 777 to fly right cross your country without doing anything? What if the plane had been from Vietnam, Thailand or Indonesia? Can a foreign plane fly across the whole of Malaysia as long as it is not “hostile”?

That’s not just bizarre but totally unbelievable unless there’s a major screw-up somewhere. The Malaysian government needs to explain how MH370 managed to fly cross Malaysia and they could do themself a world of favor by doing it yesterday. Till they do so, the constant criticism they’ve been under will just continue.