Sunday, 20 April 2014

Report Card for Everyone Involved in the Missing MH370


Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) Director General Azharuddin Abdul Rahman
In the early days of the investigation, I believe it is this guy who brought tarnish and shame to Malaysia as the main spokesperson, confusing the media and the affected families with unclear answers, flip-flopping statements, contradictory reports and plain ridiculous comments.  Remember that the Iranians looked like Mario Balotelli?

Not being a politician, Azharuddin is actually the top civil servant of his department. And the lack of crises during his tenure greatly speaks to the seemingly poor crisis management. For instance, in response to questions, he simply blurts out what he thinks is mainly the truth instead of preparing all his facts before hand or even saying ‘I’ll get back to you’.

Another characteristic he exposes about most Malaysians is that, Malaysians in general have poor communication skills, irrespective of language spoken. A sentence once uttered, needs to be reviewed one over in your head, would the person you are talking to get the full picture that you have in your head?
But on the whole, I get the impression that the director general is not on top of everything, even in his department even with an engineering background.

Acting Minister of Transport cum Defence Minister Hishammuddin Hussein 
This is the minister that saved Malaysia from more harm that Azharuddin could have done if he remained the chief spokesperson at the press briefings. Instead of several chiefs speaking in contradiction with one another, Hishammuddin provided the press with a single united voice and with a carefully scripted announcement at the start of each briefing. As a seasoned politician, he knows when to even stop the DCA chief or the armed forces chief from talking just when they were about to incriminate themselves, going down the wrong rabbit hole during Q&A.
With that being said, Hishammuddin stance at the press briefings were one of over-arching caution, needing corroborative and verifiable evidence for the simplest issues. It makes Malaysia seem like it was hiding a lot of things, and that didn’t go down well with the families of those affected and the foreign press who were more accustomed to a ‘breaking news’ frequent updates.

A leopard cannot change its spots. Hishammuddin can’t stop being a politician even under the spotlight, but UMNO’s brand of politics is one the West is unaccustomed to. Phrases like 'There is only confusion if you want to see confusion' and ‘I think history will judge us well’ reveal the combative, over defensive, vague and never apologetic nature of Malaysian politicians. Malaysians know it all too well, but now the world has a sneak peek.

MAS CEO, Ahmad Jauhari (AJ)
Among all of the officials on stage, this MAS supremo impresses me most. He has sure made a few missteps dealing with the Chinese families like announcing the aircraft’s crashing into the Indian Ocean by text message. But when faced with the clamour of the press, he sure knows his stuff, down to the minutest detail when probed by reporters. He displayed intimate knowledge of plane systems, aircraft maintenance, operations, engineering specifics and the details of the case of the missing plane. An engineer himself, he surpasses Azharuddin when it comes to knowing the facts about the organisation that is helmed. MAS is lucky to have such an astute CEO at a time like this.

General Zulkifeli Mohd. Zin, Chief of Malaysian Armed Forces and RMAF chief General Rodzali Daud
With all due respect, when the top two military men spoke, finding the next word in the sentence is as difficult as finding for flight MH370 itself. It is a trait seen in many Malaysian top officials and politicians irrespective of the language spoken.

The Malaysian Military 
No surprises here, the military has failed to provide the immediate response that people expect. Not only did they not detect the ill-fated place flying illegally across the peninsula, but it needed days of consulting and verifying with foreign experts to interpret the radar data, which is something we expect the military to be expert at. Total fail for Malaysian military hardware and software.

CNN, and other American Media
When even no news is news itself. The level of fascination the American media has shown is unfathomable even when their viewers are fed up with the non-stop coverage of what is essentially very little news. The problem for Malaysia is that since she doesn’t fare well on the dissecting board. Each second Malaysia spends in the limelight, all her flaws show like being called incompetent in handling the search operations in the early days but was never forgiven despite officials improving the efforts later. In hindsight, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Najib Razak
While Tony Abbot has constantly given media briefings on his country’s work on the search and rescue operations, Najib has appeared only twice in connection with MH370 while all the time hiding behind his cousin. And in his two announcements, he made sure they were earth shaking pronouncements and never took any questions from the floor. For that he left it to Hishammuddin on the next day. No wonder people felt Malaysia was hiding things.

The Chinese Families
I sympathise with the families, losing your only child, or in one case, whole families can be devastating. And it’s true, the officials didn’t reveal everything, there are national secrets and a lot of unverified reports. But that should not give them the excuse to overreact, to the point of blaming MAS for bloody murder and demanding information of an ongoing investigation that they wouldn’t normally be privy to. Denial – Anger – Bargaining – Depression – Acceptance – the five stages of grief. Even after months, they’re still stuck in the first and maybe the second stage. Setting aside reason and logic for maniacal sentiment is inexcusable.

The Malaysian Public
Except for the highly unrealistic expectation of miracles, the Malaysians reacted appropriately to the issue of the missing plane.

The Twenty Six Nations involved
There was a time when the search areas covered two massive arcs with all the central Asian countries involved. It brought together many nations who were not on the friendliest terms, and with Malaysia at the centre of it, trying to coordinate everything on the whole. While superficially, all nations pledge their support and cooperation, the world can see how nations try to conceal their military capabilities or how China prevents internal dissatisfaction from the Chinese people by deploying enough ships and applying enough pressure on Malaysia.

I could say, Malaysia Airlines MH370 flying off the map, has put Malaysia on the map. It is unfortunate that Malaysia could only gain fame under such unlucky circumstances.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Strait of Malacca Bridge – A Bridge to Nowhere

Numerous non corrupt individuals commented that the Melaka –Dumai Bridge across the Straits of Melaka is a waste of money, a futile endeavour, and this is true. I will elaborate from a geo-economical standpoint.
Excerpt from the Star Online Newspaper October 16, 2013

The proposed bridge would be built by Malaysia over 48.7km of water, connecting to a mostly agricultural island of Rupat on the Indonesian side. Since the island is mostly uninhabited, the Indonesian side would have to construct a 70km highway semi circling the island to connect the bridge’s landing point with Dumai town. This highway would even need to include a minimum 5 km span bridge to cross the straits separating Sumatra from Rupat Island.
Excerpt from the Star Online Newspaper October 16, 2013

Have you noticed that when making a case for the construction project, the greedy eyed politicians or developers tend to give facts about Dumai alone, without mentioning the colossal fact that you are linking the island of Sumatra, the sixth largest island in the world and largest island in Indonesia, with mainland Asia via Malaysia. This fact is huge, but why did they leave it out? From a glance, it can bring incalculable dollars’ worth of investments and development to the Island of Sumatra. Puzzling indeed.

To understand, one must first look at Sumatra. Sumatra is home to roughly 50 million Indonesians and with land mass of over 1.5 times that of Malaysia (East and West). Sumatra is no Java. Java is Indonesia’s thriving nexus while Sumatra is an important peripheral island. Java’s contribution to Indonesia’s GDP is roughly 2 ½ that of Sumatra’s, reflecting a similar ratio between the two island’s population. Medan is in northern Sumatra is the island’s largest city with roughly 4 million residents. Palembang in the south is the second largest with 1.7 million. Sumatra is largely less developed than Java. But both these islands, account for approximately 80 percent of Indonesia's GDP.

Transportation in archipelagic Indonesia mostly revolves around sea travel via ferries and air travel via low cost airlines. It is due to this that road systems other than on the island of Java are mostly undeveloped. Take the trans-Sumatran highway for instance, it runs from north to south of the vast island but it single carriage way (one lane either direction) at parts, known to be pothole ridden, landslide prone, bumpy and at parts extremely congested. Compared to Malaysian highways, this main artery is no statelier than a federal trunk road.
From Wikipedia Commons

Driven out of necessity rather than grandiosity, ‘pemerintah’ or the Indonesian government has embarked on building the new Trans Sumatran Highway with toll booths! It roughly follows the same alignment as the old one, but this is planned to be a modern infrastructure like our North-South Expressway in Peninsular Malaysia. Expected to be completed in 2020, this would be the turning point for Sumatra on the path towards development. Most importantly, the new highway connects with Dumai directly. Perhaps very forward planning by the Indonesian government?


Nevertheless, Indonesian builders have a notorious reputation of not completing many major infrastructure projects, especially due to financing difficulties. But one such project mooted by Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, now in the planning stage, is the Sunda Straits Bridge. Annually, an average of about 20 million people cross the Sunda Strait. This bridge would relieve ferry traffic from the island of Sumatra to Java and effectively connect Jakarta to Bandar Lampung in South Sumatra. Twenty nine kilometres in length this 6 lane dual carriageway bridge accommodate both road and rail traffic. This bridge is key to the Trans Sumatran Highway’s success as it funnels traffic and prosperity from Java to Indonesia’s second most important island.

In my humble opinion, the bridge across the Straits of Melaka should not be built unless the Sunda Straits Bridge and the Trans Sumatran Tolled Highway are completed and a reasonable amount of prosperity is achieved by Sumatra. Until then, if they proceeded with constructing, it will truly be the proverbial bridge to nowhere.

But when all the stars line up, connecting the far flung island of Java to mainland Asia would be poetic victory over the country's geographical fate to say the least. Building it is not a matter of if but when. Just not now, not yet.

 
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Sunday, 15 September 2013

Bingeing on Fringe

I was delightfully blown away by the fifth and final season of Fringe. While the initial seasons were mapped out like X-files, monster-of-the-week format, the final and shortest season is an exciting suspenseful serial. It is more of a treat for fans of the earlier 4 seasons like me. I couldn’t stop right after the first episode and couldn’t get enough, I went on a Fringe Binge.

For those of you who don’t know about Fringe, let me explain a little. In Fringe universe, much like the X-Files universe, unusual and unexplained things seem to happen in the US, and that’s why the FBI forms a division, the Fringe Science division to investigate all the things that go bump in the night. Instead of monsters, Fringe frequently deals with some technology or other that brings out the monsters in men.

FBI agent Olivia Dunham recruits Dr. Walter Bishop from a sanitarium. He was once this great scientist who now the world thinks is mad. But Walter doesn’t go willingly, and Olivia hunts down Peter Bishop, Walters’s estranged son to persuade him as well as to legally release him from the mental institution.

Walter is one kooky scientist who insists on working from his old lab in Harvard. There he mingles with anything from candy, LSD to human blood. He keeps a cow in the lab, which he has to regularly feed and clean up after. Basically, Walter is source of scientific inspiration as well as quirky comedy.

In the early seasons, the show follows the procedural drama format, but with every episode, a continuing mystery builds and deepens. For example, the large sinister conglomerate Massive Dynamic was founded by Walter’s science partner, William Bell, before he was institutionalized. Massive Dynamic has conducted many experiments on test subject in the name of science and is the source of many fringe incidents.

A major subplot is the parallel world in which Peter was rescued from. You see, Walter’s original son died some time ago, but Walter jumped into another universe, and inadvertently stole the other Peter back to his universe. Of course all this crossing into parallel universes has its repercussions; as a result the other world experiences singularities like a black hole vortex. Soon such singularities would be formed on this side as well. To counter the singularities, the other side developed ‘Amber’. When a location is ambered, everything turns yellow and has somehow frozen in time and space, and thus preventing the singularities from destroying the place.

Now, the other side knows what Walter did. In fact, Walternate, the other side’s Walter is Secretary of Defense and is launching a war against our world. Among the soldiers are shape shifters who can take the shape, form and voice of someone they just killed. And of course Walternate has a sinister end game.

The other side is quite interesting really. There must be a point in time where they diverged from our universe. Many things are different, the have obsoleted the use of paper, forced everyone to carry IDs and just have an incredibly technologically advanced law enforcement. They still have New York’s Twin Towers because Sept 11 never happened and their statue of Liberty is bronze instead of the green rust we have on ours. Lastly, they have airships!

Another subplot is the Cortexiphan drug experiments Walter and William Bell conducted on children a long time ago. Turns out, Olivia happens to be just one of those children. The catch is that Cortexiphan can give children special abilities, like telekinesis, telepathy, power absorption and all kinds of weird. Among other powers, Olivia had developed the ability to detect and see objects from the parallel universe and well as the ability to cross over.

The third and most intriguing subplot is that of the Observers. Observers are pale, bald men who wear a full grey suits, matching fedoras and carry suitcases around with them. They show up at defining moments in history, hence, they ‘observe’ history. But one such observer took history into his own hands and changed history forever. It resulted in the survival of Peter (from the other side), whom otherwise would have drowned in a lake. The observers would be the basis of a horrible war that takes place in Season 5.

I hope I have whet your appetite for what is no doubt a very good sci-fi series. They don’t make them like these anymore. Many of them now are about a post-apocalyptic world and depict people trying to survive, so it hardly gets too philosophical nor science-y. Five delicious worthwhile seasons. Bon Appétit.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Hard Trivia Questions

Geography

1) What is the SECOND longest river in Malaysia?
A) Sungai Panjang
B) Sungai Rajang
C) Sungai Kinabatangan
D) Sungai Pahang

2) In the Klang Valley, there is no distinct dry season, but which period receives the most rainfall?
A) Northeast Monsoon (November-March)
B) Southwest Monsoon (May-September)
C) Inter-monsoon period (April & October)
D) What season? Rainfall is constant throughout

3) What is the newest country in the world (as of 2013)?
A) South Sudan
B) Timor Leste
C) Kosovo
D) Bangsamoro

4) What is the capital of Papua New Guinea?
A) Honiara
B) Port Moresby
C) Suva
D) Port Vila

5) What island is comprised of mainly Greek and Turkish populations?
A) Crete
B) Corsica
C) Malta
d) Cyprus

6) The Suez Canal links the Mediterranean Sea with which body of water?
A) Atlantic Ocean
B) Red Sea
C) Black Sea
D) Persian Gulf

7) The Spratly Islands are an archipelago located in the middle of the South China Sea and its sovereignty is disputed among several countries. Which among these are not among those countries?
A) Taiwan
B) Brunei
C) Singapore
D) Vietnam


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Mortal Instruments is a Tool

I was warned that is a twilight copycat. But for three dudes who after a failed attempt at EscapeRoom, were looking for more fulfilling entertainment after being locked in for 45 futile minutes. And we chose this, just because the rating on IMDB was higher than the Purge.

What a mistake that was. Over two hours I’ll never get back. The movie which was based on a teenage girl novel series of the same name, is about a girl, Clary who find out she’s a half angel through another half angel called Jace, who is narcissistic to the core. I won’t even humour you by telling you the ridiculous names the author has come up with to label her characters. Simon, a human, is interested in Clary, but she falls in love with Jace instead. Does this love triangle seem familiars? Team Jace vs Team Simon anyone? But fret not, this love triangle soon becomes a love quadrangle when some other half angel guy takes a fancy to Jace.

The script oozes buffoonery, as you not only get half angels but vampires, werewolves, warlocks, witches, demons and everything magical that has been written in the past 100 years. And all this in the first book/movie of the series. It’s a complete mess of characters, folklore, scripting, clichés and acting. There was a moment when it even parodied borrowed a plotline from Star Wars. I detected the Luke, Leia and Han Solo love triangle, as well as “Jace I am Your FATHER’ and not forgetting the incestuous romance.

I could only conjecture that the high IMDB rating was due to the thousands of Twilight loving teen girls suffering from withdrawal syndrome. Please save your sanity and money and stay away. I have to give this 2/10.

Friday, 6 September 2013

We're the Millers

A good comedy’s battle over the audience is half won with its premise alone. That’s how the Millers slayed the theatre. I mean what can go wrong with a 30-something-yo drug dealer named David smuggling drugs from Mexico accompanied by a rented family consisting of a stripper, a runaway punk girl and a naïve dork using a rented RV as a Trojan horse? Everything. That’s why this comedy has this writer in stitches from beginning to end.

This comedy in this movie is raunchy but not exclusively raunchy. We see how this family cleans up, polish their lines, look and sound the part of an honest, no-cussing American Bible Belt family to get through customs with no questions asked. Unfortunately, they run into a Mexican drug lord and a DEA officer (Drug Enforcement Agency) and his vacationing family; the border patrol guards was the easy part.

The make-believe mother of this family is actually a stripper who live named Rose played by Jennifer Aniston. For all Jennifer fans, look forward to a striptease treat. She doesn’t look a day over 35 with those curves. (She is 44.) But in all seriousness, Jennifer played the funny bone to the right tune.

Everyone is talking about William Poulter who plays the nerdy kid, Kenny. He was that small kid in The Chronicles of Narnia 3. This upcoming star can pull off the self- confessing nerd persona as easily as singing TLC’s Waterfalls. His fake sister could casually infer him a loser, and without batting an eyelid accepts it:

“Even this loser wants fireworks”, referring to Kenny.
“Yeah”, Kenny whole heartedly supports.

Another joke goes like this:

Stripper Mom: You’re getting five hundred thousand dollars for this, and only paying me 30 thousand?
Fake Sis: I’m only getting a thousand.
Kenny: You’re getting paid?!

Look out for ‘the’ joke of the movie involving Pictionary, Kenny’s poor drawing and extremely age inappropriate guesses. What rhymes with ‘Black Hawk Down’?

I dare say this is the wittiest comedy I’ve seen from America in the last 5 years. Although it’s meant for an older crowd, deep down, it’s a family comedy; it doesn’t matter if the family’s biological or rented. 9/10

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Elysium

In 2154, Elysium is a space station orbiting Earth inhabited by the Earth’s richest, while the poor inherit a dirty, over populated, ravaged surface. Los Angeles, even downtown has been relegated to a massive favela.

To deal with a weary underprivileged population, the powers that be have robotized most of the public services work staff. Every people-facing civil servant is an android whether it’s the Department of Paroles’ counter-person or the patrolling police officer. Smart enough to detect the slightest ounce of sarcasm, they will prosecute any chance they get.

People, impoverished people are still exploited to work in factories. And when they get home, only their broken down dilapidated shacks await them. There are those who are wealthier than others, naturally, but they live in fear of losing their wealth or even their lives. So they invest heavily in security to protect themselves against murderers, robbers, smugglers and outlaws in general who seem to comprise about half the population on Earth.

And as a projection of what’s to come, Los Angeles’s population has turned predominantly Hispanic. Spanish has taken the English language’s place on the tongues of most Angelenos (citizens of the city). Realization of every red-neck’s nightmare.

Matt Damon’s character Max is just a white dude, a minority now, in the almost lawless city of Los Angeles. Turning his back away from a life of crime, Max now seeks an honest living working as a technician in a factory. But in true commentary on extreme capitalism’s demerits, where profit trumps employee well-being, Max’s fate would take the wrong fork in the road.

One day, in the factory, the production line came to a halt due to a malfunction in a radioactive chamber. Max was challenged by his supervisor to enter into that chamber to unjam the chamber door from the inside. As it usually happens, the jammed door came unstuck, Max gets trapped, and the radioactive process thing continues, baking Max alive.

After being dragged out by a medical android, he was only given 5 days to live after being exposed to a lethal amount of radiation. Max, who was trying to play it straight, had been betrayed by the system, the Man, unregulated capitalism. So no more Mr. Nice Guy.

While healthcare on Earth is limited to crammed hospital wards and 21st century technology (and human doctors), in Elysium all it takes to cure cancer or perform facial reconstruction is to lie on a bed for a few minutes, and let the wonder machine diagnose and heal to perfection. Such a powerful machine is installed in every Elysium home, but none to be found on Earth.

Elysium, why is it so special? Far removed from the realities of The International Space Station currently in orbit, Elysium is paradise orbiting Earth. Elysium is a large doughnut-shaped spinning wheel modelled after the Stanford Torus. By spinning around an axle connected by 4 architectural spokes, artificial gravity could be produced allowing residents to live with near to Earth’s gravity.

If you were to cut a cross section of the wheel, you would find several stories. However, the top story is the most interesting. It resembles a curved inverted surface of the world, the world of a luxurious gated community replete with manicured lawns and wading pools. Most fascinatingly Elysium torus has a contained atmosphere which opens into space. I was looking for some kind of membrane or ‘force field’ but it doesn’t seem to be featured in the show. Because without it, there’s no possible way atmospheric pressure can be contained in Elysium.

Instead of having docking bays, spaceships can supposedly just glide right into the fake atmosphere. While Elysium seems to have been around for some time, an advanced space station such as this didn’t seem to have any predecessors i.e. Elysium 2.0, 3.0 etc.

The rich and famous of Elysium include the elected President of a United Earth, the fiendish Secretary of Defense, Mdm Delacourt played by Jodie Foster with a bad French accent (but excellent French though) and many filthy rich oligarchs whose businesses are primarily headquartered on Earth. And to ferry them back and forth, all it takes is a 20-minute ride on a one-seater shuttle craft. Earthlings are absolutely banned from entering Elysium.

After Max’s exposure to the radiation, his only hope to outlive his 5 day impending death sentence is to smuggle himself on an illicit flight to Elysium, break into a home and use that cure-all wonder machine. But before that, he has to collude with his former gang boss and have a mech suit surgically attached to his body. Gruesome stuff.

The plot thickens when he is reconciled with his old female childhood friend who is now a nurse and has a sick daughter which can only be cured on Elysium, duh. Without revealing too much, I should only say that it smells of a typical popcorn summer movie plot riddled with Swiss cheese sized holes.

Mostly unsatisfying and a major disappointment when compared to director Blomkamp’s maiden outfit in District 9. Elysium’s plot tends to over-generalize and stereotype the different characters but never giving them enough depth even Max, the protagonist. The sci-fi is also unbelievable. A do-it-all wonder machine that heals people? Does it mean that Elysium citizens are immortal? That’s a more intriguing story right there.

In this post Dark Knight Era of very artfully crafted villains, Elysium would surely have the worst antagonist ever written. Kruger was supposed to be Delacourt’s black ops agent on Earth. When he first appeared, he seemed no more imposing than an extra on the set. Slowly but surely, Kruger’s character got bigger until he became the primary villain, seizing the role from Delacourt, his former employer. It’s not like he has a great back story or anything, he just got angrier. This isn’t the way to write in a villain.

Elysium barely makes the grade, and is saved by its passable action scenes, but sci-fi wise, an outright reject. 5/10.