All posts by mercuryseven

Physicist/writer. My research area is on black holes and General Relativity. I also write fiction and make video games. Find me on Twitter at @LimYenKheng

The Mamak Shop (short fiction)

I didn’t know why I should be surprised. But Shrey’s Corner was not just a name, but it was actually a corner shop at the end of a block, with a narrow alleyway separating it from the next one. There aren’t many people in the shop at the moment. Which was probably why I was invited here at 3pm on a Tuesday afternoon, so that I could interview the owner, Uncle Nav, who would otherwise be busy during peak hours.

I managed to find a space at the end of the next block to park my rental car. It took me a few minutes to fumble with with the parking coupon and figure out which bubbles to scrape off before placing it on the dashboard. Unlike Singapore, everything is still low-tech here. And not knowing how to read Malay makes it harder. Nevertheless, I got out of the car and locked it manually with the keys – something I realised I never actually did with my own car back in Singapore. Low tech indeed. It was a 15-year-old Proton Saga, the cheapest rental.

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Review: Never Alone (Kisima Inŋitchuŋa)

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It is surprisingly refreshing to play a game where we just relax and immerse ourselves in a folk tale of another culture. Especially so when every single time a game features a non-white-male protagonist reactionaries and Gamergaters would cry foul over “misandry” and “white genocide”. Fortunately for us, this game seem to have escape the attention of these nutjobs, and we can just play the game without the distraction of external controversies.

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The problem with these “physics of [video game]” articles

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Super Mario Bros is a popular case study in discussions of physics and gravity. The acceleration of gravity in the Mario universe has been studied extensively in relation to fan theories in Youtube videos by Game Theory and PBS Spacetime, articles in Wired, Business Insider, and Techradar. It has even been frequently used to teach physics in actual classrooms, some of which has resulted in publications in education journals.

The results obtained by all these studies give us something that is hardly surprising. The gravitational acceleration in the Mario universe is not the same as in the real world, which should be 9.8 m/s^2. The obvious answer to this is that video games are not supposed to represent the real world. If we apply real-world laws of physics to a video game, it is inevitable we will get non-sensical results. So why do physicists keep trying to apply Newtonian mechanics to 2D platformers?

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52 of #52FilmsByWomen: Kajarya

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Kajarya (2013, written and directed by Madhureeta Anand)

[No. 52 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

This one is a gripping, and perhaps disturbing story about a village in India where female infanticide is practiced.

Kajarya refers to a woman (Meenu Hooda) whom the villagers believe is the embodiment of a goddess Kali. Unwanted female babies were given up to her and her lover Banwari (Kuldeep Ruhil), where they kill and bury them. Meera is an investigative reporter determined to uncover the truths behind the village as she struggles with the uncooperative villagers wanting to protect themselves and their practices. Ridhima Sud wonderfully portrays her as someone who tries to balance her ambition, life, and her own sense of justice and morality as she makes hard choices in reporting the story.

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(Brief aside: She has a striking resemblance to Stefanie Joosten from Metal Gear Solid.)

The disturbing topic aside, we get to see the different cultural sides of India between its highly religious villagers and Meera, who lives a more liberal city-life. Meenu Hooda is excellent as Kajarya as she portrays her with much depth and complexity, especially for someone complicit in infanticide. In any lesser film, she would easily be a one-dimensional “evil witch” archetype, but this film manages to convey the cultural context where such a real-life practice exist to this day.

If anything, this movie has been a great way to bring awareness to female infanticide. When told through complicated human characters, it helps give a better understanding than just a detached reading of a news article.

 

Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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As one of the new Star Wars movie released after Disney bought the rights to the franchise, the prospect of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is definitely more bold and interesting than The Force Awakens. Right from the early press releases, Rogue One is presented as a heist movie with no Jedis or any of the Skywalker characters. This might sound unthinkable as a concept of a Star Wars movie. The short version of what I think is basically this: Rogue One has a better plot, The Force Awakens has better characters. But Rogue One‘s ensemble cast has pretty good characters among them, so overall I had a better time watching Rogue One.

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51 of #52FilmsByWomen: Sand Storm

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Sand Storm (2016, written and directed by Elite Zexer)

[No. 51 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

This movie is about Layla, played by Lamis Ammar who lives with parents and three younger sisters in a Bedouin village. Like in many other places, their culture and traditions are still highly patriarchal and important life decisions are completely in the control of men.

Sand Storm has an interesting take on the lives of women in such a society. Indeed, we have our female characters wants and desires constantly being constantly subverted. But even the male characters is shown not to really benefit here. Layla’s father Suliman (Hitham Omari) is initially introduced to be ostensibly progressive, as he encourages her to excel at her studies and teaches her to drive. But still,  he marries a second wife and arranges a marriage for Layla against her wishes; showing that he still embraces all the male privilege that such a tradition provides.

Also interesting is how this film points out the differences between patriarchy and masculinity. Layla’s mother Jalila (Ruba Blal) chides Suliman for always doing things because ‘he had to’, and almost never asserting himself among his peers. All he could do is to impose his will on his less powerful women in his family.

The direction of this movie is great and immersive. The house Layla lives in feels very real and seem to have its own personality. Even a bunch of laundry seem to have its own arc!

50 of #52FilmsByWomen: The Lesser Blessed

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The Lesser Blessed (2012, written and directed by Anita Doron)

[No. 50 of 52 in #52FilmsByWomen]

Being a teenager is hard, especially when navigating the complicated ecosystem of high school social hierarchies. Larry (Joel Evans) is a pretty typical one as most teenage boys go. He has a crush on a girl in class, he gets bullied, he’s awkward. But on top of all that, he is struggling with something bad that happened in his recent past.

The Lesser Blessed stands out among the other teenage coming-of-age dramas in that our protagonist is a Native American from a tribe called Dogrib. Although his ethnicity isn’t an important part of the story, some of the cultural practices and wisdom can be seen as a part of Larry’s life. In particular, the folk tales told by his mother’s boyfriend Jed (Benjamin Bratt).