Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Snare by Katherine Kerr

First off let me say that I have never read any books by Katherine Kerr before. I’ve heard of her as she’s a popular fantasy author but never read any books by her. This book I picked up due to its’ interesting premise.

Listen to this: Eight hundred years before the start of the novel, humans were left stranded on the planet Snare after their colonization ships were thrown off course and disabled. The humans were split between 3 camps with their own religions and beliefs, but most of them belong to a fanatical Islamic splinter cult. Islam that has been changed by the teachings of the Second and Third Prophets. However, Snare is home to its’ own indigenous life form, the Cha'Meech (Think of a giant size ET). As a result, the Cha'Meech and the technologically advanced humans reached an agreement to ensure both species' survival. 800 years is a long time however, and when the novel starts, the fanatical Islamic splinter cult has built a great empire, Kazrajistan, on Snare. However, most of them have long forgotten about the agreement with the Cha’Meech and there is growing political turmoil in Kazrajistan against their ruler, the Great Khan. Revolution is in the air.

Sounds interesting right? It got my interest. However you can ignore it because the book is very different.

For one thing, the story did not take place in Kazrajistan. Most of the story is on the plains, home of the horse tribes (think American Indians). Strange thing about the book is that outside the first 100 pages, we don’t see Kazrajistan till the very, very end of it. This was quite disappointing because Kazrajistan was far more interesting than the plains and the Cantons.

I don’t quite understand why but it seems that Kerr has some problems writing about Kazrajistan. At times she went out of the way to avoid mentioning the nation and its’ people. A good example for this was the lack of mention in the clothing of the people. Kerr mention how the people on the plains and Cantons were dressed but no mention about the people of Kazrajistan. All I got was that the women wore veils. There was no mention about what kind of veils (tudung, burqa etc), just an all-covering veil. That’s it!

The end was also disappointing. The pace in the last quarter of the book changed quite dramatically. I can’t help but think ‘rewrite’ as it felt that Kerr was rushing to finish the book. As usual, that’s not a good thing.

However, it’s not all bad. The pacing of the book (outside the end) make Snare was an easy read and I can see why Kerr has so many fans. The characters were interesting and most of them were quite memorable. Idres and Jezro Khan ate up the pages whenever they were together.

Problem was that the minuses outnumbered the plus. There were plenty of things that could have been exploited, like the political situation in Kazrajistan, but most of it were ignored for a trip though the world of Snare. Snare is a good, easy read but it’s also a book that could have been so much better. Overall, it was a disappointing book for me.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Very Necessary

The Singapore government says that it is prepared to do more to soften the impact of rising food prices in the next Budget…if necessary.

If necessary? Singapore’s inflation has just soared to 26-year highs, and the government is wondering if Singaporeans need help to cope with rising prices? Rising costs of housing and food has eaten into the budgets of most Singaporeans already, and prices are not coming down anytime soon. Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong himself has said that global food prices have spiked by 43 per cent since 2006 and he believe food prices will remain high in the next year or so. Surely those are indications that Singaporeans will need help. Where does “if necessary” come into it?

Singaporeans are already feeling the pinch with low income families being the most affected, so why not help them now? The government has steadily increased the Goods and Services Tax for the past few years; surely it’s not too much to ask for some extra help now. After all, with the good “co—operation” between employers, unions and government, it’s not like our pay is going to go up anytime soon.

To me, help is very necessary.

Friday, April 25, 2008

What took you so long?

It took them 2 months of unrest, weeks of pressure from world leaders, and a PR disaster of a Olympics torch relay, but finally the Chinese government is making plans to meet with representatives of the Dalai Lama.

China’s state-run media reported that Beijing is going to open a dialogue with the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader. There’s nothing “official” yet, but this is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, this is a smart PR move. The Dalai Lama has constantly called for talks and the Chinese government stubborn, almost irrational refusal to do this is part of the reason why the world is so firmly behind the Tibetans.

I don’t know if there will be any results from these talks, but this is a wise move China has made. At the very least, it will lower feelings and tensions against the Beijing Olympic Games which is why I suspect they agree to the talks in the first place. Now the question is why it took them so long to come up with this agreement. If they did this at first, half the problem they faced now would have never happened. Better late than never I guess.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Comics this week

Countdown to Final Crisis #1- It's almost over! 52 was a work that shows how a weekly series could work; Countdown is a series that shows how a weekly would not. Take for example this issue: The new-look Challengers of the Beyond (Donna Troy, Ray Palmer etc) show up and told all the Monitors that they are the new broder-police of the 52 worlds. Tell me how in the bloody 52 worlds did the Challengers got so powerful that they can actually challenge even one Monitors, much less ALL The Monitors? When I read that, I was wondering :" Why aren't the Monitors laughing at these guys?" Wait, that will require a series that actually care that it is making sense. Sorry, my bad.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Odd Report

I was patient on this. I waited till both Lee Hsien Loong and Wong Kan Seng have their say before commenting on the Committee of Inquiry Findings on Mas Selamat's Escape. After hearing both men, I am afraid I still have a lot of questions about the escape.

After I listened to Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng's presentation of Mas Selamat's escape, I find certain facts about it to be incredible. For one thing, no grills at the toilet? Okay maybe that’s just a simple oversight, but I am amazed that they say that Mas Selamat had no help in his escape. According to the report, Mas Selamat only had 11 mins to make good his escape. 11 minutes was all Mas Selamat had to escape via the toilet's ventilation window, jumped over the fence and run into the forest. How far can a man with a limp run in 11mins?

The man has also evaded the manhunt for 2 months! 2 months of evading the biggest manhunt in Singapore without any help from anyone. Does that sound likely to you?

And the government still insists the man is still in Singapore! How did the Singapore government come out with that? Mas Selamat has been on the run for more than 7 weeks now, haven’t been found, having no help from anyone, and is still in Singapore. Doesn’t that sound odd to you?

It isn’t just Singaporeans who find the report strange. In fact when you look under yahoo news, you will find this report under “Odd News”. I’m afraid the report did not answer most of our questions on the escape, and may have in fact raise more.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A White Prince of Persia?

Super-producer Jerry Bruckheimer is planning for a new movie based on the videogame Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Big-screen adaptations of videogames are usually crap but as Sands of Time actually have a story in the game, I think this adaptation is worth to see.

Unfortunately, the rumored prince will be played by the very white Jake Gyllenhaal! Now I think Mr. Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, Rendition) is a pretty solid actor, but when the title is ‘Prince of Persia: Sands of Time’, surely an actor as white as Jake Gyllenhaal is not the guy you choose. The prince has to at least look Persian, right?

But then we are talking about Hollywood, where a big, black guy can play Kingpin (see Daredevil). Luckily the actor hasn’t accepted the offer yet. I hope he never will.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Report Time

It’s Monday! Usually a bad day for everyone as we all trod back to work, but today will be especially bad for Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng as today is the day he submit the findings of the Committee of Inquiry (COI) into the escape of Jemaah Islamiyah member Mas Selamat.

I state before that Singaporeans are more interested in knowing how Mas Selamat escaped than anything else, so maybe we will FINALLY be able to know something other than “went to the toilet”. Singaporeans has a lot of unanswered questions, so maybe this is the start of the answers. After all, the COI is suppose “to leave no stone unturned” to get to the bottom of the matter.

It took them 2 months, but better late than never I say.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

The Stupidity of the Chinese Protests against France

For the past few days, I read the reports of Chinese protests against France with disbelief. Disbelief because the protests are over Tibet and the Beijing Olympics. Surely the Chinese people knows the world is with Tibet in this?

I mean the world see this case as the 200-pound gorilla that is China against the tiny non-violent "we-want-to-talk-peace" monks of Tibet. Is there any questions who the world will more likely support?

Not to mention the sheer stupidity of the Chinese demonstrators. They are calling for a boycott of French superstore Carrefour. Only one problem, Carrefour make most of their products in China! So basically the Chinese demonstrators are calling for boycotts on products made in China. That make sense to you?

The Chinese people need to understand one important thing. The Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has claim several times that he want to talk peacefully with the Chinese government, and he has been publicly rejected by the Chinese government who has called the Dalai Lama everything from a traitor to a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Why all these protest against France? The protests in China followed noisy anti-China demonstrations in London, Paris and San Francisco that have marred the international Beijing Olympic torch relay. Why not protest against the US and UK as well? If you want to be stupid, at least be fair in your stupidity!

This lead people (including me) to believe that Chinese government officials has a hand in the Carrefour protests. France OK, but not against US and UK. I know it's nothing but speculation, but if it's true, the Chinese government better think twice about it. The protests are just making China look worse than they already are.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Comics this week

Countdown to Final Crisis #2- NO!!!!!!!! Jimmy Olsen is still alive. What's wrong with you Darkseid? Can't you even kill a annoying wimp like Olsen. You deserve to DIE! Now die Jimmy Olsen, die!

Annihilation Conquest #6- Generally, I'm not as impressed with Conquest as I was with Annihilation but I will say Conquest #6 is a good finale. Nova finally came into the picture, but I strongly suggest you pick up his monthly series or you're going to spend time wondering why the hell Warlock and Tyro are here. Overall, this is a decent conclusion similar to the original Annihilation's; Full of big, pitch battles with losses on all sides of the battle. I especially like the cameos from the other cosmic empires. A whole tally of them were outside Kree space trying to get in, I like that as it FINALLY gave Conquest the feel of a true epic. Having said that, Marvel need to do better with it's next cosmic epic event or the Marvel cosmic revival might be a short-live one.

Avengers: The Initiative #11- I am very surprised. There's very few deaths in this issue! As this issue is the conclusion of the KIA arc, I thought writer Dan Slott will use the chance to off some of the minor characters in this series. No can do! Instead he use this chance to up our love for several characters like Hardball, Cloud 9 and Komodo. I still think there's too many characters in the series but's working so far.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A plan...17 years later

Now most people know I'm not US President George W. Bush's biggest fan, but even I am surprise at the sheer stupidity of the man now. Bush has finally called for cuts in US greenhouse gas emissions. A good thing, but he only want it to be curtailed from 2025!

Let me's 2008, so 2025 is 17 years later! Now people are saying that Bush's actions are too little, too late; I think that's being kind to the man. Bush has over 8 years to act against climate change but did nothing. He abandoned the Kyoto treaty on global warming, after it's was signed by the Clinton's White House, the moment he took office and NOW he want to reduce greenhouse emissions? 8 years of doing nothing and action 6-7 months before he leave office?

And don't get me started on his plan. 17 years? So the man is saying it's okay for America to polluted the world for the next 17 years? Thank God the man is leaving office soon. Let's hope the next US President has a better plan.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Great Singapore Fire-sale

The Great Singapore Sale is coming early this year as Singapore’s Temasek is expected to sell, sell, and sell in the coming days. That’s what you get when you make bad investments in the tune of around $1.2 billion. Bye, bye $1.2 billion of our money.

Temasek’s investments in the ailing Merrill Lynch is making life hard for the fund as the investment has caused Temasek to suffer part of the $1.2 billion loss. Already, it had to sell off an Indonesian bank to offset its exposure and more sales are expected. Merrill shares have fallen 11 percent since Temasek invested $4.4 billion in the firm and chances are its’ shares will continue to fall. A good way to see this is Temasek’s decision NOT to exercise its option to buy another $600 million worth of Merrill shares last month after the Wall Street bank's shares fell below the option price of $48. This clearly means that Temasek believe the price will come down some more.

Reports now say that Temasek will have to sell one of their banks in China to offset any potential problems they may face in the future as the sub-prime problems in America are still ongoing. Add this to GIC (Government of Singapore Investment Corp) bad investment (of $10 billion) in Swiss bank UBS; this look like a bad, bad year for Singapore.

I’m afraid its’ a little too late to ask questions on why we were so eager to invest in the West when the US are on the verge of a recession, and it’s a little useless to ask as well. After all, it’s not as if anyone is going to bother answering question from ordinary Singaporeans why they are wasting our public money.

Bye, bye $1.2 billion. You could have done so much good. Get ready guys to part with our CPF money to pay for Temasek's and GIC's mistakes.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Rising Prices Combat

Sometimes I just don’t understand the Singapore government. Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Sunday recent monetary adjustments made by Singapore's central bank are NOT made in response to inflationary pressures.

Why not? I know the Singapore government got this obsession about not having welfare for Singaporeans, but surely admitting that the Singapore government is doing something for its’ cizitens is a good thing, right? The Singapore dollar hit 1.36 against the US dollar last week after the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) allow the Singapore dollar to appreciate at a faster pace.

Clearly, this is the MAS way to curb rising inflation, which hit a high of 6.6 per cent earlier this year. Now I understand some business people worry that a stronger Singapore dollar will hurt their exports to other countries, but too bad for them. With food riots in other countries, surely it’s advisable for the Singapore government to show that it is taking steps to ensure food prices in Singapore stay low.

Why not admit it? Not only should they admit it, I think the government ought to shout it out loud. Forgot what the business people say, curbing inflation and keeping prices low is important to normal Singaporeans. Be proud of it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Successor Question

Recently I spoke to a friend who asked about what Singaporeans feel when their Prime Minister says that he is looking for his 14 years time!

Ha. He found it to be very, very funny. The background for this is our Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's stated wish to find and field those who can take over from him before he turns 70. Thing is, the man is just 56 now. My friend found it hilarious that a political party like the PAP would just assume they will still be in power in 14-15 years time, and funny that every Singaporean he met felt the same way! As you can tell, he's a foreigner.

I told him this is just the way it is. Thinking back now, I have to say he do have a point. I think most foreigners in Singapore feel the same as my friend. It is funny that Singaporeans just assume the PAP will be in power in 14 years time; I mean I do as well. With the power the PAP has over...well, everything in Singapore, that's not a bad assumption, but why do we feel that there's no other party in Singapore but the PAP.

My friend says that if Singapore is not careful, we could go down the road of Malaysia. When the ruling party get weak (which will happen sooner or later), but there's no other opposition party strong enough around to take over.

That I did not argue. It's not a bad assumption as well.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Comics this week

Countdown to Final Crisis #3- Darkseid beating Superman…ok. Black Mary beating both Donna Troy and Green Lantern…ok. Darkseid claiming back the energies stored in Jimmy Olsen's body… good. Jimmy Olsen turning into a giant that is going to beat the crap out of Darkseid next issue…are you kidding me? Who is writing this stuff?

Nova #12- Writers Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning must be comic geeks! They must be as again and again, they have shown a knack of giving new life to long-forgotten characters in the Marvel U. To do this requires sizable knowledge of Marvel history and love for these forgotten characters. The latest character to get their loving is the forgotten New Mutants Warlock. As with the past 2 issues, Nova is still on the Technarcy homeworld of Kvch, trying to find a way to shut down the Phalanx. He found it after a fight with a massive Siredam, wait that’s wrong. Warlock and his kid Tyro found the key, Nova was just along for the ride. But it didn’t really matter as the fight was good. The action was well-paced, with the welcome return of Worldmind telling Nova one thing and Nova doing the direct opposite. I tell you those two got a yin-yang thing going. The conclusion is a little bit of a let-off, but I’ll be here next issue for Nova’s return to Kree-space. Be here as well for a thrilling ride.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The world is dead

565 billion dollars. That’s the amount the world’s markets have lost due to the U.S subprime mortgage crisis. To give you a clearer idea of the loss; here it is in numbers form: 565,000,000,000.

Did I get that right?

Sorry, but I have never written such a big number before. Wait, there’s more! The International Monetary Fund (IMF) said that worldwide losses stemming from the crisis could hit 945 billion dollars as panic spreads in the global economy. To give you a clearer idea of the loss; here it is in numbers form: 945,000,000,000.

I did get that right…right?

My head is spinning just writing down the number. The crisis has without doubt spread beyond the U.S and Singapore has already been hit (look at the cooling property prices for an example). In the past they say when the U.S sneeze, the world get a cold. Now the U.S got a cold; I guess the world is dead.

Don’t believe me? See if you write out 945 billion dollars in numbers form.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Review of Heroes of Might and Magic 5: Gold Edition

After buying Heroes of Might and Magic 5: Gold Edition somewhere in August 2007, I have finally just finished it! Yes, the game lasted me 8 months! I grant you it’s 3 games in one (Heroes of Might and Magic V, Hammers of Fate Expansion Pack & Tribes of the East Expansion Pack) but you can’t beat it in value for money. It did last 8 months.

Even without the value for money, HOMMV is still a good game, especially if you like strategy games. Anyone who had play the earlier Might and Magic games will know what to expect. Gameplay hasn’t change much, meaning it’s as addictive as ever. Remember a game when you just had to have "one last turn”, followed by another "one last turn”…HOMMV is one of those games.

However there are differences. The greatest difference from all the previous HOMM games is the graphics, this time in 3d. The graphics are impressive with some solid environments. Also when you switch to the tactical map during a battle, the tactical map will take into account the location of the main map. Once I met an enemy along a cliff, and ho-and-behold the tactical map showed a long drop-off at the side. Compare to the older games, this is a breakthrough.
Another difference is a story. Might and Magic games had always treated the story as nothing but background, but that’s not the case here. Yes, the campaigns actually make sense now. Not only that, there is an epic feel to it. The story is about a demon invasion and it go through the 3 games. Heroes show up at various points of the 3 games to move the story along. There is victory, loss, betrayal, double-cross and everything in between. One thing I do like is that you play the main campaign through the various characters. You get to play the hero, the villain, the mad and the conflicted at various points and most of the characters are pretty memorable.

However, it’s not a perfect game. Get ready for massive cheating by the AI. The sheer troops and resources it has can get pretty ridiculous at times. At the very last map of each game, the enemy hero is a super cheater. Your special abilities all but disappeared while theirs come out most of the time. Also be ready to be outnumbered 2, 3 to 1 at times. However, most players of the old HOMM games will know this as well. It’s not really new.

HOMMV is a solid, long, old-fashion game. Pick it up for an enjoyable time.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

There are no women; So what?

There’s been a lot of moaning about the latest Cabinet reshuffle last week by the Singapore government. People are still talking about it as if a grave injustice has been done to the womenfolk of Singapore.

I for one don’t think so! To me, the government’s decision not to appoint a female full Minister is kind of expected. I mean how many women MPs are there in Parliament in the first place. Compare to the number of men in Parliament, I don’t understand why this decision has disappointed so many people.

I don’ care about Confucian values, how many women there are in leadership position in the Workers’ Party or The Singapore Democratic Party, but in sheer numbers chances are that men will get the most positions in the government. Surely Singaporeans are not thinking of following Norway where at least half of a company’s directors must be women. Whether of not these women are capable or suitable for the job, the law does not care.

Is that what you want?

Friday, April 4, 2008

EPL this Month

March is done and dusted. A time for another review of the teams this month.

Top Teams this month
Manchester United –Cristiano Ronaldo just can’t stop scoring. What’s there to say? The man has been a one-man scoring machine this month, so much so that Man Utd has almost become a one man team. If Ronaldo play well, they play well. In a team that has the likes of Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, that is impressive.

Liverpool- By design or accident, manager Rafael Benitez has hit a winning combation with Steven Gerrard playing just behind Fernando Torres as an attacking midfielder. The result is a winning run which has steered Liverpool 5 points clear of Everton in the race for that all important fourth place in the EPL. Mind you, if not for the bad form of goalkeeper Pepe Reina and the red mist of Javier Mascherano they could have been further ahead. David Moyes has to wait for next season I guess.

Surprise Team this month
Tottenham Hotspur- Win a title and the season go to hell. After the Carling Cup win, Spurs seems to have taken their foot off the pedal and no one seems to mind! This is a good thing as they just lost Ledley King for the whole season but Juande Ramos did his job already getting the Carling Cup, so Spurs’ fans will just have to wait for next season.

Disappointing Teams this month
Aston Villa- The wheels have really come off for Aston Villa. Manager Martin O'Neill has put together a relative young team and the youth of the team is showing at the business end of the season. Constant injuries to big man John Carew are also not helping their cause. Unless they pull themselves together fast, Villa can say good-bye to Europe next year.

Fulham- They really had to win that game against Derby. They did not and look certain to join the Rams in the Championship next year. The biggest problem is that Fulham just can’t seem to buy a win at the moment. They have been playing well but they are drawing their games instead of winning. Outside a win against Everton, they have not been winning and unless they turn that around in a hurry, they are going down. .

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Comics this week

Countdown to Final Crisis #4- I know a lot of people having being knocking down the series over the internet, and I have to say this, “This series deserve it!” I mean what else can you say after turning powerless Mary to Black Mary to Mary Marvel and now back to Black Mary? It made no sense to me (or anyone reading the book) when Black Mary turned to Mary Marvel, but that was almost logical compare to this week’s nonsense. Darkseid showed up, gave a pep talk and behold, Black Mary again. Not for the first time I have to ask, “What the hell were the writers thinking?”

Secret Invasion #1- This is it, “the Marvel event of the year”. I give you that a secret invasion from shape-shifting Skrulls is a good idea, but after the “World War Hulk” event last year, I don’t know why everyone is looking forward to this. The main idea is that Skrulls have infiltrated Earth, kidnapping important figures in the superhuman community and replaced them. Good idea, but if all the heroes that came out of the Skrull ship at the end of this issue are real, I will be one unhappy reader. Because this means that the writers can just rewrite all the heroes from before Civil War. None of their actions during the past matters because they were all done by Skrulls! Hopefully writer Brian Michael Bendis isn’t going for such a cop-out, but somehow I get a bad feeling on this.

Project Superpowers #2- Alex Ross is a big name in comics and when his name is associated with Project Superpowers, a lot of fans will pick up the series just on his name. This is a good thing as this series is on a group of public domain characters which almost no one has heard of. The series remade them for our time and so far…it’s good. Surprising good as I don’t know almost any character on show here. However good art by Carlos Paul and solid writing by Alex Ross & Jim Krueger make me car for the characters more than I thought I would. Look out for a scene of the Black Terror crying on the mountain top. They also managed to get me interested in the rest of the cast, not an easy thing to do as characters (like Samson) only showed up for all of 4 pages. Pick this one up for an interesting ride.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Bad Investment by GIC

As you may recall, about 2 months ago the GIC (Government of Singapore Investment Corp) invested $10 billion into Swiss bank UBS. It looks like a very bad investment now.

Switzerland's biggest bank UBS unveiled another round of writedowns to the tune of 19 billion dollars! This is on top of the 18.4 billion they writedown last year. In total, UBS has lost more than 37 billion dollars due to the US subprime mortgage crisis. Over 37 billion!

UBS has tried to limit the damage by saying that it's current chairman, Marcel Ospel, would step down this year but I doubt that will help much. Afterall, the writedowns at UBS are far greater than those of American banks Citigroup and Merrill Lynch, which made UBS the biggest losers since the sub-prime crisis. The rescue by GIC (with an unnamed investor in the Middle East) was always risky, but now it seems that it a bad bet.

And to think, they turned down an offer of a seat on the board of UBS on top of this! What did Singapore actually gain from this risky investment? Nothing. What will Singapore gain from this risky investment in the future? Hopefully some oversight in the future.

Hey, a man can dream.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Bull is Dead

The Singapore housing bull-market seems to be finally over. Singapore private home prices rose to their slowest growth since 2006, in line with property sales which has also slowed.

It seems that the global economic fears has hit Singapore, keeping buyers at bay. With property analysts saying that private home prices will be flat for the whole of 2008, developers are now considering delaying new launches to wait out the market turmoil.

Not a moment too soon I say. The property market in Singapore was just insane last year, and I for one will be more than happy to see prices coming down to a level where normal Singaporeans can afford. When I mean 'can afford', it means that we do not have to take a 30 year loan just to buy a house. Of course with property developers' resistance to cutting prices that may still happen, but at least the prices are coming down and not up.

Maybe now, we just have to take a 25 year loan to buy that house we want. 25 year compare to 30 year uhm...I hope prices can still come down.