Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Psychic Paul (The Octopus)

Horrible news today! Paul the Psychic Octopus, who correctly predicted all the FIFA 2010 World Cup South Africa results, has been found dead in his tank. The aquarium staff announced that his death was "peaceful" and "natural".

RIP Paul. You gave us and the media something really fun to talk about. Your short two year life on this planet helped entertain us.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps (2010)

After some deliberation, I finally caught the film Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. I've been holding it off because I keep thinking it would depress me too much since it is all about crashing markets and bursting bubbles. Considering what I had to deal with when the world's financial markets imploded last year, and the aftermath continuing through this year, I wasn't sure if I could take a 2 hour movie about this exact thing.

Well, since options were limited, I decided to give it a shot and see how it would turn out. Not bad, is what I would say. As opposed to what I feared, it did not drive me to further depression about the current climate in world economics and what it means to us all. It actually put quite an interesting spin on the whole thing - this is not the first time it's happened to us, it will keep coming so we just all have to make sure we know what we want out of life. The question, and it relates to what I wrote in my Korean GP review, has always been: are you a risk taker or someone who plays it safe.

Those who take risks can potentially gain more out of it in the short to medium term. However, for the really unfortunate risk takers, the long term future isn't quite so bright - like Michael Douglas' character in this movie. He ended up in jail serving eight years for what he calls a "victimless crime" by playing with people's hard earned money and assets in a massive global game of chance. However, he managed to get a break by cheating his way through family (which is not uncommon to say the least) and managed to turn his situation around. This is someone who managed to crawl past the "long term" and went further.

The movie is pretty long, and I've seen some critical reviews which marked this movie down for this specific fact. But the way it was filmed, the photography and the innovative use of graphics is really quite something. It does feel long, but it doesn't feel long. I know it doesn't make sense, but I'll try put it simply.

When watching Avatar, if you don't have an intermission in the middle of the film (like they do at Kinepolis in Brussels), you simply do not feel the length. Your entire being is drawn and concentrating on what is happening on the big screen. Especially with the 3D aspect, it really uses all your senses and keeps them occupied. In this Wall Street film, you can feel the time passing by. But it doesn't mean it was boring in any way. It just felt long and quite drawn out in a pretty OK way.

The movie really isn't very bad at all, and it really gets you thinking. Some people have made it their profession and their mark to take risks. On the face of it, these people are taking risks with other people's futures (back to the "victimless crime" aspect). But that isn't entirely true. There are still ways in which people on this kind of level can still be deeply affected. Even if they don't seem to have emotions or hearts at all, everyone has a price. Some, or most, will pay for it while they are on this planet. Others, well... who knows? Maybe if here is a hell, they will pay for it on the other side.

It all comes down to our choices in what we want to be, what we want to do, and what we want our mark is on this planet. Or am I reading too much into this? Hmm...

Korean Grand Prix Latest

So I woke up at 7 AM to watch the first ever Formula 1 race hosted by South Korea especially as it was shaping up to be quite an interesting race. At this moment, we have 5 drivers who can still win the Championship. The race track looked a bit odd in 2D map form when I checked it out earlier this year before the track was actually finally completed, but it turns out to be a great flowing race track and looks quite interesting.

What's happening now though... 1.5 hours into my early morning, nothing. The race "started" under Safety Car conditions and after 4 short laps, it was Red Flagged. The race has now stopped due to weather conditions. It's pouring with rain with standing water all over the place, but that's not really the biggest issue. It seems that due to the really new track surface, it makes the race impossible.

Let's see how it goes.

09:54 CET: So the race actually started after 18 laps behind the Safety Car. It was very interesting after the restart especially as the Mercedes GP drivers of Rosberg and Schumi took full advantage and managed to make their way up. Then it all suddenly ended again with Webber (Championship leader) running slightly wide and ramming against the wall and taking Rosberg out with him. So Safety Car back out for a few more laps, and it's about to go back in again after the carnage from Webber is cleared out.

10:59 CET: What an eventful and absolutely fun race eventually. With the light completely gone, and everyone driving blind Alonso finishes 1st followed by Hamilton, Massa and Schumi. Vettel's engine blows up near the end of the race. And guess what? Alonso is laughing madly in his cockpit because he is now leading the World Championship! Amazing! Great race!

It's been great that the FIA decided to go ahead with the race. It was a great shot in the arm for decision making by the governing body. If they decided to "wuss" out of the race today, it would have been detrimental to the credibility of the sport.

Also very interesting to see how after 42 laps, Vettel said the light is terrible and the race should stop whereas Hamilton - who spent all day asking why the race is postponed or behind the Safety Car - wanted to race to keep going and get going. It just shows who wants to take risks and which driver wants to keep it safe and make sure the corporate business end of things are being taken care of.

Look how dark it is! Goodness me!
 Image source: Screen capture from FOM World Feed.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I'm in a rather miserable mood in the past few days. Apart from having a lot to do by end of next week, I've spent too many hours in traffic jams every night. It started off about 2-3 weeks ago now and it's just been terrible. The distance I need to cover is less than 12 km but it's taking me more than 1 hour to complete that journey every night.

Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that, coupled with the deteriorating traffic situation, the temperature has taken a turn for the worse. The last weekend that we had good weather, we were hitting 28°C on a Sunday afternoon a couple of weeks ago but suddenly, Monday brought about less than 5°C. Since then it has become colder and colder progressively until now, which is freezing point at night.

All of this is making me a bit fed up and rather grumpy. I guess this is pretty normal for this time of the year. Weather goes the direction of terrible and the sun rises too late and goes down too early which will get worse by the end of next week with the changing of the Daylight Savings Time again. You just don't see natural light anymore!

Still, nothing annoys me more by the massive coverage on all news channels of the latest classified documents published or "leaked" by WikiLeaks. I have no doubt that the information they have published is important, and can be important to some people who were previously not privy to this information. However, I'm not sure how useful this is for the average citizen.

The first point of note is that no Average Joe will pour through nearly 400 000 pieces of documents online. I got tired and bored reading 5 "notable" extracts on the BBC News website this morning before I even moved past the second entry - and this was sort of summarised by BBC already.

Secondly, the most amazing revelation, apparently, is that lots of civilians were killed. We know this already. The only thing we didn't know was how many civilians were killed. But do we need to know this? The fact that we already know civilians were being mowed down by US (or any one of its allies) armed forces in a very unpopular war should be enough for the public to go up-in-arms.

Of course, we also should acknowledge the fact that this kind of "war" which is basically house-to-house combat in the streets is more guerrilla than conventional combat. The natural result of this is civilian casualties, and a lot of them not because the US forces are aiming to eradicate civilians, but they just get in the way.

For me, this all looks like two children fighting in the public domain. WikiLeaks' Assange takes a whack at the US government which is then retaliated by a government sponsored smear campaign. Then some potentially unrelated incident occurs which saw Assange being publicly wanted by the Swedish authorities for rape charges. Some further accusations of governmental secret goings-on and then we have this 400k document leak.

Getting really bored now... Have you guys tried growing up yet? And maybe the world's media could drop this and stop providing fuel for this petty argument?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Weird News...

I've just woken up on another cold and brisk morning. Apparently it feels like 1°C outside, according to my weather report. It's cold, not just for October, but in general I think. Man...

When I got up from my bed, I did what I normally do: turned on my laptop and checked the news. On the BBC News website, I got a bit of a shock because the normal layout with a series of key news items did not show up. I thought I was on the wrong page when I saw this:

As it is the morning, and it's about 07:00, you can probably understand why it did take me a few minutes to finally get my head around it. But then I switched to CNN after finding no news of importance to me and saw this:

What on earth is going on? How can this Chilean miners thing possibly be the biggest news story today? Even if it the biggest, what makes it the most important news of the day? Why are all the media outlets changing their presentation to focus on this? Look at that stupid graphic on CNN. It's like a post-election report.

I don't know about you, but I have no interest in these miners at all. Yes, I do feel extremely sorry for them and I am very sympathetic. But they have had so much coverage and it's nothing extraordinary. The mine collapsed and they got trapped. They keep getting food and water from the outside on a regular basis. They were even given cameras and signed soccer shirts to keep their morale up. NASA has offered to jump in with some method of keeping these people sane, as did everyone else when they realised what kind of publicity this would do for them.

There is simply nothing of interest. It's not even human interest story anymore. Once again, we have a case where all the media just jumped in without really thinking about it. What a waste of time, especially mine!

Image sources: BBC News, CNN.com International

Monday, October 11, 2010

Japanese GP

Formula 1 is a very structured sport. Everything is planned in advance to the minute starting from what the FIA and FOM requires of the drivers and teams down to what the sponsors requires of the drivers and teams. All the various side-show events are prepared and planned, and everything normally goes very smoothly.

Well, on Saturday, all of that changed. The rain clouds above Suzuka chucked so much torrential downpour down onto the track that the FIA had to delay and postpone the Qualifying sessions until it was so dark that the session was called off. I don't remember seeing anything like this for some time now. Eventually it was decided that Quali will take place on Sunday morning shortly before the race.

Something like 5 cars were out before the race got anywhere at the start. Then it all calmed down a bit as the race started to settle after a rather strange weekend for everyone. Kobayashi had some really amazing "banzai" manoeuvres through the hairpin to overtake the likes of Barrichello and Heidfeld, in front of his home crowd. Nico Rosberg had a sudden scary moment as his right rear tyre seemed to have failed sending him out of control into the barriers while leading team mater Schumi.

Anyways, the race wasn't too boring in the end, but once again the Red Bulls took the top spots. I'm really not a big fan of them, but they are really doing well so "good for them".

What I did find annoying is that on the BBC broadcast, first there was a lull of no sound just before Rosberg's accident. Then just before the accident, they switched broadcast, I think, to Radio 5 Live. This was really funny as one of the commentators, while commenting on Kobayashi's various brave overtaking moves, quoted the hugely famous internet phenomenon of Leeroy Jenkins. So it wasn't so bad, at least the commentary changed to something quite funny and very much more up-to-date than what it is normally.

However, something really got me riled up. The BBC decided to send Jake Humphrey off to Delhi to broadcast the Commonwealth Games ahead of the Grand Prix leaving a gap in the anchor role to stand alongside Coulthard and Eddie Jordan. They decided to bring pit lane reporter Lee McKenzie into the midst as anchor for this race.

It was a massive disaster. She was not sufficiently prepared and sounded horribly amateurish. At some point during the post-race segment, she introduced Martin Whimarsh from McLaren as "Martin Whitaker". During the same segment, while reporting the Constructors Championships' current tally (which was on the screen), she exclaimed over the air to her colleagues to check if she reported the correct scores. Shortly afterwards, she had to recant following a calculation error on her side of the difference between the top two teams at the moment.

I'm sorry, I never thought Lee was really very good in the pit lane when BBC took over. I always, and still, think Louise Goodman was much better. In the beginning I also didn't like Jake very much at all either, but that has changed because he is doing what all good commentators in F1 does - he prepares himself. He does his homework and jots things down (albeit on his iPad - showoff!) and ensures that he doesn't say anything more than what he knows or has to say.

Here's the key point then...

On TV, if you don't know something for sure, if you cannot be 100% confident it is correct, rather not say it at all. Give it a few extra seconds to confirm before going on air. It shows you to be unprepared and unprofessional if you get something wrong and you can immediately lose credibility.

Image source: Krypton Zone (c) 2010 Entertainment

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday Republic of China - 中華民國 生日快樂

Today is Double Ten Day (雙十國慶) or the National Day of the Republic of China (中華民國). Apart from celebrating the beginnings of our great democratic nation, this year also marks the start of the 100th year of our people breaking the bondage of a corrupt and slowly decaying empire towards a bright new democratic and free future.

Long Live the Republic of China!
中華民國 萬歲!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Memory of Mr Ince

Dear Readers,

Someone very special to me, and thousands of others scattered all over the world, passed away yesterday morning at 11:30 - Mr John Ince.

He was truly the embodiment of the principles of a True SACS Man, an icon, and a legend in every respect. His compassion was without bounds and he would happily give, give, and give.

He made the world a better place, and he definitely made a significant impact on my life and my path in the long road in life. The same can be said to thousands of students present and past who ever passed through SACS, and even non-students.

Mr Ince was really a special man. History will look upon him as one of the greatest ever to walk in our Great Halls.

Thank you, sir. Your memories and guidance will continue to live in all of us. You will never, ever be forgotten.

Monday, October 4, 2010

How to Train Your Dragon (2010)

I've been staying away from my blog for some time now due to my ill health. It's been a couple of days now that I've been really under the weather. Then again... The weather here seems to change from 8°C to 28°C within a few hours, no wonder I'm feeling a bit off-colour. With all the other people around me also a bit coldish means that even standing in a lift is a chance to catch some ugly germ floating around in the thin and processed air.

What a wonderful change it was, then, when I happened across one of the latest animated movies from Dreamworks - How to Train Your Dragon.

I caught the trailer some time ago before another movie started. I'm not quite sure which one, but I thought the movie it trailed would be great. The dialogues featured in that trailer was dry, witty and rather sarcastic which suited my taste pretty well.

After seeing some film stills, I kept off watching it however. How can I ever watch an animated film after Avatar. Everything just seems boring and cheap in comparison. James Cameron's hit film is the pinnacle of silver screen technology, and whoever else not using that tech is not worthy for the big screen anymore - so I thought.

On one of those rare occasions I do want to point out that I'm pretty happy that I was very, very wrong. Yes, the graphics aren't as realistic as Avatar. The world is not as nice as Pandora. The characters did not move as they did through motion capturing of Sam Worthington.

So what...?

The story is fantastic and it's just fun to watch. There is a deep storyline which is somewhat lost through the film, but just the dialogue is hilarious to listen to.

"Thank you for nothing, you useless reptile."

I really enjoyed the movie even after a second watch. It doesn't have that tear-jerking ability Disney and Pixar seems to have, but it's close. I'm glad some of the other animators are now trying to come up with animations that are not just funny for the sake of funny. Pixar normally has some deeper meaning even when it is funny. It's that special something that connects with you deep down whether it's something of interest to you, or some kind of emotion that they help you rekindle with.

It's a great surprise that the movie is based on a series of children's books. I was getting pretty happy and excited about trying to sneak my way into my local English bookstore and ask for the set of these books written for 6-year olds by lying to them that it's for a nephew or something. But if I read correctly, the movie didn't really follow the book much at all. They had to alter it to match what the target demographic would be interested in, citing that the original story was too "sweet." Oh well... Pity then... Could still keep it in mind for when I have kids one day.

Definitely worth a watch anyways, and definitely got my mood back up enough to fight off this horrible cold!