Sunday, June 30, 2013

Comics this week

Justice League #21- I hadn’t been a fan of the Shazam back-up story thus far but this issue made me one. Writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank end the story on a total high with a marvelous issue (pun intended). This issue embraces the qualities that made Shazam great, making no apologies for the more goofier aspect of the character while making some needed changes to the character. Artist Gary Frank knocked this issue out of the park with some excellent work. The scene when the entire Shazam family first got their powers was just sweetness on paper and his detailed work throughout the issue was superb. Some of you may be like me, not a fan of the back-up, but if this emotional, action-packed issue does not make you one, you shouldn’t be reading comics. Pick this one up.

The Green Team: Teen Trillionaires #2- Teen Trillionaires has been a bit of a surprise pleasure since its debut last month. Writer Art Baltazar and Franco set up the team well in its debut issue and with #2, they decided to take some chances. Unlike the sincere Commodore, this issue spotlight on the less likeable Cecilia Sunbeam who is an image-obsessed female movie star clearly modeled on Hollywood starlets like Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears and gang. The diversity of the characters in the team is a welcome touch. The writers were also not afraid to show the odorous wealth the characters have. I love it when writers take chances and with artist Ig Guara on board, this series look like a winner.

Justice League Dark #21- With the story arc over, I have to ask this one simple question; why the hell was the Flash even in this story? He seriously did nothing throughout the 3 issues except running around like a headless chicken. With the Trinity crossover running through the 3 JL titles starting next month, this misuse of the Flash does not bode well. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Hello Kitty

As a collector of comics, I like to think I can understand the feelings of collectors. However, there are collectors and there are Singaporeans Hello Kitty collectors.

When McDonalds came out with their latest Hello Kitty promotion, Singaporeans were expecting overnight queues by desperate Singaporeans to getting these cute plushie but the reality is even worse than our worst expectations. With cameras everywhere nowadays, numerous videos had already been posted showing Singaporeans at their worst.

Sleepless Singaporeans inflicted by Hello Kitty madness has been hell on poor McDonald staff as they “need” to get their hands on extra Hello Kitty. So with that in mind, I call on McDonald to give their staff a raise in this period.

With the extra profits they got from mad Singaporeans, a little extra something should be given to their front-line staff member. From the videos I had seen, they fully deserved it. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Updates for Guild Wars 2

I know it’s almost unbecoming to complain about getting things but there is such a thing as too much. This is something ArenaNet need to understand as they attempt to update their MMO game, Guild Wars 2.

When Guild Wars 2 was first released, ArenaNet promised that there would be regular updates of the game. They have been good to their word but there’s such a thing as too much of a good thing. Their stated desire to have update on Guild Wars 2 twice a month is just too much.

The twice monthly updates will reportedly have new features, story content, new loot and achievements. I only have one question; do these mini-updates actually help the game?

Now I can understand why ArenaNet is doing this. They want gamers to play Guild Wars 2 and these updates are their way of making things fresh. However, I rather have a big update once a month than 2 smaller mini-updated once every 2 weeks. The last update in Guild Wars 2 added just 1 mission, a mission that would disappear in 2 weeks. What if gamers don’t have time to play the game for weeks?

Gamers, at least most of us, exactly has a life. Most of us don’t have time to play the game everyday! A big update will work far better for gamers than a series of small updates. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Out of Reach

When Edward Snowden gave classified information to newspapers to expose privacy violations by the U.S. government, he made the smart move of leaving America immediately. Snowden first went to Hong Kong, before hopping on a flight to Russia.

As expected, the U.S. wants to get their hands on him with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry threating action against countries that are helping Snowden. As expected, both China and Russia are ignoring calls from the U.S.

Seriously, I don’t understand all these threats issued by the U.S. Snowden was a former CIA employee who also worked the NSA. He has information about the U.S. government tapping the phones of Americans as well as hacking Chinese cellphone companies to steal their SMS data. Even if you discount the fact that Russia does not have an extradition agreement with Washington, there is no way Russia is going to hand Snowden over. Russian President Vladimir Putin has to be a bloody idiot to do that, and say what you want about Putin, he’s no fool.

Snowden is gone. He’s out of the reach of the U.S. government and as embarrassing as that is, the U.S. need to accept that fact. Tearing up your diplomatic relations with China and Russia is not going to change it. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

What's Next?

Just when Singaporeans got some relief from the haze, residents in western Singapore now report a hailstorm! Heavy rain along with gusty winds belted parts of Singapore today and bought along with it hail, which is not common in Singapore.

Now the rain is a welcome respite after the haze but talking about irony. Must we now wear a hardhat along with a N95 mask? After a week of haze, here comes hail! What is next? Snow? A sandstorm?

I wonder if bookies in Singapore have any odds on it? 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Joint Statement

As Singaporeans complain about on the haze which topped to 401 PSI, let’s all spare a thought for our neighbors in Malaysia. With the PSI reading topping 700, Malaysia has declared a state of emergency in two southern districts and basically closed down the coastal towns of Muar and Ledang.

With the haze reaching hazardous levels in both Malaysia and Singapore, perhaps it’s time for both Malaysia and Singapore to give a joint statement to Indonesia. The cause of the haze is the forest fires in Indonesia and despite numerous calls from ministers in Singapore and Malaysia, Indonesia has been unable (or unwilling) to put out the fires causing the haze.

Since private statements are not working, then the next diplomatic step would be a joint statement from both Singapore and Malaysia. Yes, I agree Indonesia would probably ignore a joint call as well but it wouldn't hurt and a joint statement has a better chance of reaching the ears of Indonesia than what we are doing now.

After all if talking doesn't work, you need to either shut up or use a bigger microphone. Since both the Malaysian and Singapore government can't keep quiet with the haze still around, it's time to use a bigger microphone. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

The End Of QE

Stock markets throughout the world went into a nosedive ever since Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke practically said that the central bank is preparing to wind down its stimulus policies this year.

Better known as quantitative easing (QE), the program is basically a massive bond buying program by the US government in an effort to dope the economy into recovery. Now Bernanke said that their bond buying may be stopped later this year and QE may end sometime in 2014.

The markets dived on the news but frankly I think ending the program now is a good thing. QE has to end sometime, you can't expect the Federal Reserve to keep on buying bonds forever, so with the US economy showing some signs of life, ending it now is more ideal than ending it later when the economy is under pressure. Also the results of QE had been decidedly mixed.

Although the US economy has been slowly recovering, it's growth has been at less than 2% even with all the money dumped into the market. Frankly, the QE has not very effective in stimulating the world economy, or even the US economy. So although the markets had reacted badly, I think Ben Bernake is doing the right thing here. This may be the right time to end QE.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Comics this week

Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time #35- It’s done! After 35 issues, the story for “Eye of The World” is done. With the lackluster sales, I admit there were times when I wondered if writer Chuck Dixon should be able to finish the book but here we are! I won't say this series was ever the best on the stands, but fans of the Wheel of Time would enjoy the beginning of the sprawling story of Rand, Mat, and Perrin. In some ways, this was the Achilles Heel of the series as it struck too true to the source material but for fans of the novels, it was a blast. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Haze...Again

As the haze cover Singapore in its smokey embrace, ministers in Indonesia, Singapore and Malaysia are playing political football with each other. Each country is trying deflect blame for the choking haze that has surrounded the region as they talk, I shall say what everyone knows; in the end, nothing will be done.

The haze is not something new. Every year when it's time for the farmers and land-owners in Indonesia to clear land for the upcoming planting season, the haze will come. It's just a matter of how serious it will be. This year, the haze is bad and that's why we have ministers in 3 countries going at it. No one want to be blamed for it but it's not a new thing. The haze has happened before, and it will come again because too much money is involved.

Indonesian farmer and giant palm oil companies use the “slash and burn” method of clearing land as its the cheapest way to do so. In their goal for maximum profits, does anyone truly believe they will stop doing it next year or the year after? No, it's just not going to happen.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review of Man of Steel

The much anticipated "Man of Steel" is the reboot of Superman. After the slightly disappointing "Superman Returns" in 2006 with Brandon Routh as Superman, I cannot fault Warner Bros. for rebooting the franchise. Whether "Man of Steel" works or not however is another question.

"Man of Steel" is directed by Zack Snyder (director of 300), produced by Christopher Nolan (director of The Dark Knight Trilogy), and written by David S.Goyer. It stars Henry Cavill as Superman, Amy Adams as Lois Lane, Michael Shannon as General Zod, Kevin Costner as Jonathan Kent, Diane Lane as Martha Kent, Laurence Fishurne as Perry White, and Russell Crowe as Jor-El. That's a laundry list of some of the best acting, directing and writing talent in Hollywood with Oscars, Emmys and everything in between everywhere.

So it no surprise that for most of the film, the talent shows.

The film starts on the planet Krypton where General Zod and Jor-El both tried in their own ways to save the planet. Both failed and they became enemies in the process. As the planet  faced imminent destruction, Jor-El and his wife Lara (played by Ayelet Zurer) sent their newborn so Kal-El to safety on a spacecraft to Earth. After Zod killed Jor-El, he and his followers were captured by Kryptonian soldiers and banished to the Phamtom Zone

Kal-El was raised as the adopted son of Jonathan and Martha Kent, who named him Clark Kent. Clark's Kryptonian heritage gave him superhuman abilities and after the death of Jonathan, he wandered around the world. He eventually discovered that an alien object was found buried in the ice of the Arctic and after infiltrating a military science project, he found that the alien object was a Kryptonian spaceship. Clark enters the alien ship and communicates with the consciousness of Jor-El via an alien chip left to him by his parents. Lois Lane, a journalist from the Daily Planet sneaked into the ship while following Clark but had to be rescued by him when she triggered and was injured by the ship's automated defenses system.

After rescuing Lois, Clarke piloted the ship away further into the Arctic, away from human eyes.  He learned from Jor-El the history of Krypton and why he was sent away to Earth. Following Jor-El's tutorage, he gradually learned how to harness his powers to its full potential.  Meanwhile Lois's editor Perry White rejected Lois' story of the alien ship, forcing her to start tracking Clark. She managed to trace him back to Kansas where Clarke confronted her with his story. After hearing it, she decided not to reveal his secret.

Soon after, Earth got paid a visit by General Zod who had been freed from the Phantom Zone when Krypton exploded. With their world and all their people dead, Zod and his men seek to terraform Earth into a new Krypton. The process however would  eradicated the human population, and Clark (now known as Superman) battled Zod to stop him.

Now despite my misgivings stated earlier, I found "Man of Steel" to be a good film. The action scenes within the film were great and CGI guys were working overtime on this film. The film was also packed with strong performances from the cast. Henry Cavill and Amy Adams are very competent professionals and despite the less than convincing tacked-on love-story, their abilities shone in this film. Even actors in supporting roles like Russell Crowe, Diane Lane and Christopher Meloni (as Colonel Hardy) were extremely good.

However special praise need to be given to Michael Shannon. His General Zod was easily the best Zod I had ever seen on screen. A warrior who was trying to save the last slim hope of his people, his desperation was such that you can't help but sympathized with him. It says a lot of his performance when some people do realized that from the Kryptonian point-of-view, Superman is a traitor to his people!

Despite the strong performance of the cast however, the film never went from good to great. There were parts of the story that never set well for me. Remember what I said about the love story between Superman and Lois? To me, their kiss just did not make sense. Okay, they just had a life-or-death situation and survived it but where did their love and that kiss came from? I mean this is going to be a franchise right? What? Can't Hollywood wait for the sequel before getting them to kiss?

Also I hate the ending. Not because of what Superman did, but because after destroying at least half of Metropolis, with skyscrapers dropping like tin cans left, right and centre, suddenly Superman felt conflicted when a family was in danger from Zod? That was just so stupid it almost ruined the whole film for me!

Luckily, it didn't. The film on the whole did a competent job of rebooting the Superman franchise and with the box-office on fire, a sequel is already in the works.  "Man of Steel" is a good film and while I'm disappointed it never became great despite its promise, it is good enough that I'll be there for the sequel. Ultimately, for fans and Hollywood, that's good enough. 

Monday, June 17, 2013

Expected Anger

Just last month, I blogged about several Singapore government ministers publicly commenting that have an university degree is no necessary for a good life in Singapore. I also commented how Singaporean parents will ignore the comments and still make their kids strive for that (still) all-important degree.

Several people commented on my post on 26/5 (totally-ignored) on how angry Singaporeans are about the comments by the ministers. Now I may agree with the notion that there’s no need of that many Singaporeans degrees holders (due to the influx of foreigners with degrees coming into Singapore), I do understand why so many Singaporeans are angry.

Anyone who don’t just need to look at the latest Ministry of Education/Singapore Airlines Youth Scholarship for Indian Students. A Singapore government ministry and a Singapore linked-company are offering a scholarship for Indian-born youths to study in Singapore. Just to sweeten the pie, the scholarship offers an annual allowance of S$2,400 with hostel accommodation, a one-off "settling-in allowance" of S$500, coverage of school fees, coverage of GCE ‘A’ Level examination fees, and even  a return economy class air ticket! 

Oh, and in an expensive healthcare country like Singapore, the scholarship also offers subsidized medical benefits and even accident insurance cover! All these on a scholarship offered to foriegners when, at the same time, Singaporean ministers are trying to discourage Singaporean students from ITE and Polytechnics from local universities.

If the government had tried to do one of these two things, then maybe there could be some leeway for them. However they did both of them together and when you do that, needless to say, the anger of Singaporeans is something that should be expected.

Friday, June 14, 2013

For Real?

Crime is actually a funny thing. What is considered legal in one country might not be considered so in another. What is considered taboo in one country might be totally allowed in another.

Case in point: Sweden

It would seem that next year, Sweden will introduce a total ban on bestiality. Bestiality means a sexual act between a human and an animal and it would seem in Sweden, right nor it is legal unless cruelty to the animal could be proven!

Seriously? Bestiality is only an offence if it can be proven that it is cruel to the animal? For real? Man, that’s hilarious. I would thought that the every act of bestiality would be enough proof of cruelty to the poor animal but evidently, it's not enough for the Swedes! I wonder if any people in Sweden ever got off on that technicality. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Comics this week

Demon Knights #21- Oh, another one of my series is been cancelled! Ever since Paul Cornell and Diogenes Neves were taken off the series, I had feared this and although writer Robert Venditti and artist Bernard Chang did their best, the difference between the two team’s works was too great. However with a few more issues to go and the Holy Grail storyline coming to a close, hopefully Venditti will wrap things up nicely. Demon Knights is a series that deserved that at least.

Threshold #6- Oh, another one of my series is been cancelled! I know; it’s a trend this week. However unlike Demon Knights which was given a good run, Threshold was never given a chance. The news that Threshold was been cancelled came from DC a week after #5 came out. This meant the decision to cancel the series came within 4 issues of the debut. A new series starting mainly new characters and writer Keith Griffen was given just 4 issues? That is why I say this series was never given a chance. If it had, this series had the potential to be great.

Constantine #4- After having Constantine running around the world chasing magical artifacts, writers Jeff Lemire & Ray Fawkes slowed things down by showing John Constantine on his day off. Of course a typical day in the life of John Constantine consists of getting beaten by thugs, warning an angry ex that her childhood friend is now a murderer, and allying himself with the meanest, bloodiest, most brutal magical player in New York in order to fight an even greater threat. Yes, this is the typical day of John Constantine and this is why this was a bloody good issue.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Where's the Starhub's EPL Program?

Ever since SingTel’s mio TV struck an exclusive deal with the Football Association Premier League (FAPL) for the screening of the Barclays Premier League (BPL), I have been without English football. So when the Media Development Authority (MDA) ruled that SingNet will have to share its BPL content with rival StarHub over the next three seasons, starting from August 2013, I was delighted. 

This ruling by MDA was recently affirmed by the courts when they ruled against SingTel’s “exclusive negotiation period” with FAPL that would have locked out Starhub for months. So with all the hurdles (except the appeal) been cleared, I was awaiting Starhub’s package for the new EPL season. 

I’m still waiting.

I must say I’m kind of surprised by the lack of movement from Starhub. Ever since SingNet got the deal for the EPL, the expectation was that Starhub would try to get program back. Now they got it…and nothing happened! There hasn't been a word about how they would show the EPL in the coming season! What channel would it be on? How much do we have to pay? All these questions are currently unanswered.  

I know it’s still mid-June so Starhub has about 2 months to get their plans ready but considering how hard they fought against Singtel to get the EPL rights, you would think they would have had some sort of plan in place already. That doesn’t seem to be the case, and I find that both strange and worrying. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

AoC & Steam

Recently, I got advertisement/mail from Funcom on the anniversary of Age of Conan (AoC). With a bagful of goodies, the mail was to get former players back into AoC. Frankly, it worked because the goodies on offer were very good.

However I faced a problem in that I just got a new PC earlier this year and AoC is not installed. I still have the original disc but here in Singapore, the full update of the game could take days (AoC has a lot of patches) and frankly I wasn’t interested in waiting that long.

Now since last year, I had known that AoC is among Steam's free-to-play offerings. Since the update on Steam is usually quicker, I was willing to try it out. So I went into Steam’s free-to-play section and…there’s no AoC!

Am I missing something? The forums clearly state AoC is on Steam but on Steam, the game isn’t there. I even tried searching for it via Steam's search function and still can’t find it. So…is AoC on Steam? 

Monday, June 10, 2013

Not Well Thought-Out

Recently, the Media Development Authority's (MDA) issued a licensing scheme for online news sites in Singapore. Angered by the new ruling, a five-hour demonstration took place on Saturday afternoon at the Speaker's Corner.

Organized by a group of popular social-political bloggers, over 1,500 protestors turned up at the “Free My Internet” rally. I wasn’t one of them. I wasn’t there because…well, I have no idea what this new licensing scheme is for. 

And I’m not the only one. Now if the MDA is saying that there need to be rules for internet websites like those for mainstream media; fine. I don't like it but I can understand it. However this new licensing scheme is not the solution. 

Take for example the regulation that state that websites with at least 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore every month and publish at least one local news article per week over a period of two months are required to obtain an individual license, renewable annually.

How in the world would bloggers like me know if we have 50,000 unique visitors from Singapore every month? More to the point, how would the MDA knows? This ruling is not for news websites or bloggers in Singapore, but for all and everyone that publish news about Singapore! They can’t track every news website in the world, much less every blogger in the world.   

This ruling is just both insane and unworkable unless they cherry-pick which websites they want to go after. If the MDA do cherry-pick, then questions will need to be asked about the criteria of how they do that and which websites will be under scrutiny. The questions would be endless!

So main thing about the new licensing scheme is that I just don’t think it’s very well thought out. The fact that it was passed without any public consultation isn’t a problem for me, this is Singapore after all, but the vagueness of the new scheme is one that gets me. The rulings are so broad even government ministers are having a hard time explaining it.

In short, the MDA and the Singapore government need to either get rid of the new licensing scheme or explained it better. Leaving it as it is now serves no one. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Comics this week

Earth 2 #13- When DC announced that there will be an Earth 2 Batman, I was worried about it. I thought a Batman was not necessary for the title and so far, I am right. Writer James Robinson is currently splitting his story between 2 teams; the World Government and the magic-users (Doctor Fate, Flash etc). There’s not enough pages as it is between the two, so having and adding new characters to the mix with their own agendas dilute the focus even more. With Robinson suddenly announcing he is leaving DC, I can’t help but wonder if the introduction of the new Batman is another case of editorial inference at the company. That will make some sense because story-wise, this character is not needed.

Astro City #1- Oh, oh, oh! Astro City is back in an ongoing series from DC/Vertigo. Of course, this is Astro City so "ongoing" is a relative term but I am glad it is back and this issue showed why. After such a long absence, it’s nice to see that writer Kurt Busiek has not lost the inherent weirdness of Astro City. Breaking the fourth wall, a heroine called American Chibi, or even using a character from years ago that most people would have forgotten by now; it’s all here in one issue. Welcome (back) to Astro City!

Green Lantern #21- With writer Geoff Johns leaving Green Lantern after a 9 year run, there’s a lot of interest on how writer Robert Venditti would do as the GL writer. If this issue is any indication, the GL title seems to be in good hands. Venditti has Hal Jordon’s character down and showed humor when moving his pieces around. It wasn't perfect, Carol’s mini-breakup with Hal was too forced, but in the grand scheme of things, this issue wasn’t the total reboot everyone feared.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The "Fables" Movie

I don’t know about this. As a fan of comics, I’m always interested when a comic series get turned into a movie or a TV series. Having said that, I find myself wondering if plans to turn DC/Vertigo’s “Fables” into a movie is a good idea.

Now there had been rumors that the long-running series would have a film or television series adaption for a long time now. In 2004 (almost 10 years ago), Warner Bros. tried to develop a “Fables” film. In 2008, a television version was planned. Both plans were abandoned and “Fables” continued on in comics only.

Now a new movie project on “Fables” is being floated and while good news for fans; I have to wonder if it’s such a good idea. The problem is that “Fables” is a story of fairytale characters like Snow White, Prince Charming, Big Bad Wolf being ousted from their magic homelands and being forced to take refuge in New York City.

If you think it sounds suspiciously like the TV show “Once Upon A Time”, you’re not wrong. When “Once Upon A Time” was showed, a lot of comic fans accused it of being a rip-off of “Fables”. However if a movie of Fables is made now, non-comic fans would probably accused “Fables” of being the rip-off!

Although created by Bill Willingham in 2002 (well before “Once Upon A Time” was made), “Fables” is practically unknown to the general public. Unless you follow comics, you probably never even heard of the series. If the movie in 2004 or the TV series in 2008 were made, then I would say they were great ideas but not now. As a comic fan, I would rather “Fables” be a comics only then be perceived as rip-off of a TV show. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Great Prize

For those who didn’t know, there is (or was) an iOS game called Curiosity. A puzzle game created by Peter Molyneux (Black & White, Fables) and his studio, 22Cans, it’s an online game where people tried to destroy cubes to reveal a prize in the middle of the puzzle.

Molyneux had promised that the person who solved the puzzle would win for himself a great mystery prize and when Bryan Henderson from Scotland destroyed the final cubes, the prize was announced. Henderson won the ability to be God over everyone else in 22Cans' next game, Godus! In simple terms, Henderson will intrinsically decide on the rules that the new game, Godus, is played on!

No doubt this was a marketing ploy, but to beat a game and then becomes God in another game? That’s a great idea! Sounds like the perfect prize for gamers everywhere. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

Win Everything

Now when Manchester City fired Roberto Mancini last month, I said on this blog it was a stupid decision. As manager of the team, the man had his team finishing first and second in his two full seasons. He also got them into the Champions League for 3 straight years and got them a FA Cup.

Despite all this, he was still fired.

I still say it was an unjust firing but at least now we know why. With Malaga manager Manuel Pellegrini almost certain to take over, Manchester City Arab owners have gave his his job description. Win Everything!

Yes, that's the job description! Pellegrini needs to win everything. Now the man may be a respected coach, but to win everything? Champions League, English Premiership, FA Cup and...well, everything else? Man, I almost feel sorry for the man. Mancini may be the lucky man just for getting out of that crazy club.