Making a difference

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The Sultanate of Oman was in the news across the globe, thanks to high profile personalities and events.

Abdulaziz wins prestigious Forbes Award
Abdulaziz al Balushi, CEO of ahlibank has been conferred the coveted Forbes award for “the Second Best CEO in the Arab World”. Receiving the prestigious recognition in the Forbes Award Ceremony for Top CEOs at Atlantis, The Palm Hotel & Resort Dubai, Al Balushi said, “This is a proud moment for me personally as a professional banker and more importantly, all of us at ahlibank. As the CEO, it is a wonderful feeling to receive this prestigious award from Forbes”. Abdulaziz was felicitated by Forbes Middle East for demonstrating great performance, strong vision and teamwork as the leader and CEO of ahlibank.

A total of 324 companies were anaylsed by Forbes magazine and Al Balushi was selected as the second best CEO from a list of 75 bank CEOs in the Arab World.

Al Balushi added “ I dedicate this recognition to all our ahlibankers who made this possible. As CEO, my job was to select the right people for the right job and support them in achieving their goals. We have invested in our people, products and technology. The results of these investments and our hardwork is reflected in our consistant performance for the last 5 years. Let me also take this opportunity to thank all our stakeholders – customers, shareholders, employees, regulators, board members and more particularly, our strategic partner, Ahli United Bank, for their support and guidance all along.”

Fund for development of SMEs
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has set up a new Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) Development Fund with an initial capital of RO100mn. This initiative is primarily targeted at Omani school and college students with the aim of inculcating in them an entrepreneurial spirit and encouraging them to pursue self-employment opportunities.

Raphael Parambi, CEO of National Company for Projects and Management (NCPM), which is expected to administer the fund, said the project would have hugely beneficial implications for the government’s SME development objectives.

The Fund’s seed capital of RO100mn is drawn from investments by private sector pension funds, financial institutions and a couple of large business groups.

Over the next 10 years, over 500,000 students will be trained and encouraged to start SMEs by training, nurturing, monitoring and legitimising services. The project has the potential to generate thousands of small and medium enterprises, as well as contribute around RO1bn in value addition to the economy.

This fund is expected to create around 7,500 successful entrepreneurs and contribute 50,000 jobs. Taking an average value addition of RO8,000 per month, the fund’s contribution to the economy is expected to be RO1bn of value addition.

Second Islamic bank launched
Alizz bank is the Sultanate’s second islamic bank and was launched this year. The bank is looking forward to hit the ground running thanks to the buzz it has begun to generate. The RO40mn IPO of the bank, which was opened in September, has received a fair amount of attraction and will be listed this month. The bank aims to capture a 20 per cent market share in Oman’s Islamic banking sector over the next five years.

The promoters have already contributed RO61.2mn, representing 60 per cent of bank’s share capital at 102bz per share. On completion of the IPO, the bank will have a paid-up share capital of RO100mn. Alizz bank is promoted by Huriah Company, an investment vehicle owned by HH Sayyid As’ad bin Tarik al Said, UAE-based Aabar Investments, Tasameem Real Estate Company and First Energy Oman, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Bahrain-based First Energy Bank. Ahmed al Khonji, speaking on behalf of Huriah Company, said, “The large unmet demand for Islamic banking means that alizz is uniquely placed to become a market leader for banking products.

“We are delighted to have Aabar, First Energy and Tasameem as our partners and the bank will benefit immensely from their considerable international experience.”

Role model for entrepreneurs
Dr Mohammed al Barwani, chairman of MB Holding Company was named Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year. This is the first time the awards have been held in Oman marking the 25th anniversary of the E&Y awards worldwide. The winners were selected by an independent panel of judges. The criteria on which the selection was based was entrepreneurial spirit, financial performance, service to the local community and international arena as well as personal integrity and influence.

Barwani, left his job with Petroleum Development Oman, 30 years ago, to set up his own company, the MB Holding Group. Today the group has 6,000 employees with operations in more than 20 countries. The MB Group chairman added that a good education is required for the next generation of Oman’s entrepreneurs to succeed, especially as the private sector is gaining importance as a provider of jobs and generator of economic activity.

Barwani said, “I am honoured to win such a prestigious award, and look forward to representing the Sultanate in the global competition. It will be fascinating to meet and interact with fellow entrepreneurs from all over the world.”

Oman’s influential banker
AbdulRazak Ali Issa, chief executive of bank muscat, was ranked in ‘Power 500 – the world’s most influential Arabs’ listing by Arabian Business magazine for the second consecutive year. He has earned this prominent position among the 500 world’s most influential Arabs in recognition of outstanding contributions to the banking and financial sector in Oman and the GCC region.

In recognition of outstanding contributions to the banking sector in Oman and the Arab region, AbdulRazak was also honoured as the Arab Banking Personality of 2012 by Arab Banking Union during the two-day International Arab Banking Summit 2012 in Berlin, Germany.

AbdulRazak, who has over 35 years of experience in the banking sector, assumed the role of chief executive of BankMuscat in 1994. A highly respected figure in the financial sector, AbdulRazak continues to lead BankMuscat from strength to strength as the flagship financial institution in the Sultanate.

Shouldering responsibilities with aplomb
HE Yahya bin Said al Jabri has been appointed chairman of the Capital Market Authority (CMA) in addition to being the chairman of the Duqm Special Economic Zone Authority with the rank of a minister. HE Jabri, who was formerly executive president of CMA, replaces HE Eng Ali bin Masoud bin Ali al Sunaidy, Minister of Commerce and Industry, as chief of the stock market watchdog.

HE Jabri has vast experience of global corporate and investment banking with academic qualifications from prestigious American schools including the Kellogg School of Management, Harvard Business School and Darden University wherein he attained degrees in advanced management programmes.

Apart from his current positions, he also holds senior positions in Oman’s leading business and financial sectors such as a member of the board of directors at the Central Bank of Oman, a board member of the Civil Service Pension Fund, chairman of Pak Oman Investment Company and chairman of Majan Electricity Company to name a few.

Air service to boost Duqm development
National carrier Oman Air started a direct charter service between Muscat and Jaaluni airport (near Duqm) in Al Wusta governorate. The three flights a week on charter basis for the Special Economic Zone Authority in Duqm, will help the authorities to cut short a six-hour journey by road from Muscat to one-and-a-half hours for their corporate clients, including potential investors.

This air link will assist citizens, businessmen and investors to save up to five hours of travel time. Currently, it takes about six hours to reach Jaaluni from Muscat by road while the flight between Muscat and Jaaluni takes approximately one hour and thirty minutes. Also, the current frequency of three flights a week to Jaaluni airport is adequate for the time being.

The air operations between Muscat and Jaaluni are part of the series of successful initiatives that are aimed at promoting and developing the infrastructure in the region. This will be followed by similar steps that will accelerate the completion of the infrastructural development of the Special Economic Zone of Duqm, as well as the rest of the Wilayats of Al Wusta governorate, not to mention the indirect impact of these initiatives on the various sectors of tourism, investment and industry, besides the direct positive effect on the lives of citizens of the Al Wusta governorate, as well as individuals, whose work and interests are associated with the governorate.

Contributing to Oman and India
Kiran Asher, founder partner and group managing director of Al Ansari Group of Companies, has been conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman award for his outstanding contribution in enhancing India’s image in the Sultanate of Oman. Pravasi Bharatiya Samman is the highest award conferred by the Indian government on NRIs and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) and institutions run by them. They are recognised for their contribution in serving the Indian Diaspora and enhancing India’s image in different parts of the world.

Asher was among the 14 eminent overseas Indians who received the award at the valedictory session of the 10th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas in Jaipur at the hands of Indian President Pratibha Patil Asher became the fifth individual from Oman to win the coveted award. The previous winners from Oman include Kanaksi Gokaldas Khimji (Khimji Ramdas) in 2003; P Mohammed Ali (Galfar) in 2004; P N C Menon (The Sobha Group) in 2009; and Suresh K Virmani (Bahwan Engineering Company) in 2010. Asher is the founder-partner and group managing director of Al Ansari Group of Companies, which was established in 1975 and has 11 companies in Oman, the UAE and India.

In-country value keeps everything ‘inhouse’
In-Country Value (ICV) is defined as the total spend retained in country that benefits business development, contributes to human capability development and stimulates productivity in Oman’s economy. Towards this end, Petroleum Development Oman (PDO) set itself some significant stakes in the ground and began to spend in local service provision and local manufacturing out of its total capital investment, which is in excess of $4bn a year.

Raoul M Restucci, managing director, PDO, says that as per the company’s ICV proposition, the goal is to dramatically increase, to approximately 50 per cent at its manufacturing requirements and in excess of 75 per cent in services, up to 90 per cent in some cases, across the entire oil and gas value chain by 2020.

So in financial terms it equates to an annual increment of $100mn in manufacturing and $100mn in services, all targeted for local development. If we take the existing spend plus PDO’s annual targets, local spend will exceed $3bn by 2020, adding considerable value to the gross national product, on a direct and indirect basis.

Investment in improvement of living standards
Oman’s Haya Water is reportedly planning to invest up to $2.6bn into Oman’s sewage system over the next six years. The firm is looking at various schemes throughout the country that will be implemented by 2018.

Hussain Hassan Ali AbdulHussain, CEO, Haya Water stated that the company had so far invested around $1.8bn in projects such as sewage treatment plants and pipelines. Around 40,000 households in Muscat are currently connected to its sewage network, and there are plans to increase this to 200,000 homes or 80 per cent of the city by 2018.

Hussain reported that up to 12 projects are currently underway, including sewage treatment plants in Seeb and Darsait. The company has built 550km of the sewer network, and has plans to increase this to over 4,000km.

National strategy on intellectual property
The Sultanate of Oman is developing a National Strategy for Innovation and Intellectual Property, specifically in the educational arena, according to the Sultanate’s permanent representative to the UN and International Organisations in Geneva HE Abdullah Bin Nasser Al Rahbi. HE Rahbi said the Sultanate welcomes support of developing countries to build capacities to draft national strategies. Oman is seeking cooperation from Intellectual Property Organisation (Wipo) and others to prepare a national strategy in training and building capacities to develop the National Strategy for Innovation and Intellectual Property in the Sultanate, especially in the project to integrate concepts of innovation and intellectual property in basic and general education curricula. It will have a positive impact on the coming generations in a knowledge economy-based environment.

HSBC, OIB merger takes place
HSBC Bank Oman, the entity which has been formed after the merger of Oman International Bank and the Oman operations of HSBC Bank Middle East Limited, began its operations from June. In the combined entity, HSBC owns a 51 per cent stake.

HSBC Bank Oman has one of the largest branch networks in the country, serving the needs of retail, corporate and institutional customers. HSBC Bank Oman will feature the HSBC red hexagon logo and has begun refurbishing its branches, to improve their look and feel as well as the overall banking experience for customers. Trading on the Muscat Stock Market takes place using the ticker ‘HBMO’.

Simon Cooper, deputy chairman and CEO of HSBC Middle East & North Africa, has been appointed as chairman of HSBC Bank Oman’s seven-member board of directors, with each director serving an initial three-year term. Ewan Stirling has been appointed CEO of the combined entity.

Truly sensational campaign
Champion racing driver Ahmad al Harthy bagged the Porsche Carrera Cup GB Pro-Am 1 winner’s trophy in November. Ahmad, who memorably sealed the 2012 crown with one race meeting to spare after a truly sensational campaign, produced a near faultless season in Porsche Carrera Cup GB with an incredible tally of wins and podiums. Taking 12 Pro-Am 1 victories and 17 podiums in total from the championship’s 20 races, Ahmad truly was a star performer season-long. “It’s nice to finally get my hands on the big trophy, and what a fantastic trophy it is!,” said the 31-year-old. For Ahmad, his title success marked the first ever for an Omani driver at such a high level of motor racing and he also entered the history books as the first person of Arab origin to win a championship in a series of Porsche Carrera Cup GB’s stature. In addition to collecting his champion’s trophy, Ahmad also received the keys to a stunning brand new Porsche 911 Carrera 2 roadcar.

Rising stars of the corporate world
Murtadha Al Lawati, head of corporate communications, Ahlibank; Abbas Hassan Al Lawati, manager, equity group investment banking, BankMuscat; and Sami Mohsin Al Sheikh, general manager, human resources, Enhance, emerged winners of the 2012 NTI BizPro Awards. NTI BizPro Awards are now recognised as the benchmark for identifying talented young Omanis who have excelled in the corporate world and carved a niche for themselves by sheer dint of hard work, determination to succeed and a strong will to raise the bar for their goals. BizPro Awards 2012 got close to 100 nominations, out of which 10 candidates made it to the pre-final stage and five to the grand final. The nominees were judged on skills, decision making acumen, result orientation, presentation and communication skills. The three winners were presented with a trophy and a certificate in addition to a scholarship of RO2,500 from Renaissance Services.

Global Newsmakers

Triumphant leaders, sportsmen par excellence and disgraced heroes – a look at the people who made the headlines this year

Barack Obama
Winning a second term as the President of the US
President Barack Obama was re-elected to a second term, defeating Republican challenger Mitt Romney in November, 2012. Obama secured 332 electoral votes far more than the 270 votes in the electoral college needed to win. The president elect prevailed despite lingering dissatisfaction with the economy and a hard-fought challenge by Romney.

In his victory speech before supporters in Chicago, Obama said he was returning to the White House “more determined, and more inspired than ever about the work there is to do, and the future that lies ahead”. He pledged to work with Republican leaders in Congress to reduce the government’s budget deficit, fix the tax code and reform the immigration system. “We are an American family and we rise and fall together as one nation,” he said.

Queen Elizabeth II
60th year of accession to the throne
The Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II marking the 60th anniversary of her accession to the thrones of the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and the 60th anniversary of her becoming Head of the Commonwealth was celebrated across the world in June, 2012. The celebration was marked throughout the year. A stirring flotilla of a thousand boats on the river Thames, was the highlight of a four-day special celebration to celebrate the monarch’s diamond jubilee. The monarch, who is 86, and her husband, Prince Philip, 90 accepted the best wishes of people from the open deck of the royal barge as it made its way down the seven-mile course of the pageant, waving at crowds that shouted “God save the Queen” and hoisted a forest of Union Jacks. With a TV audience of tens of millions at home and abroad, commentators called it the greatest public spectacle of the queen’s reign.

Mark Zuckerburg
Facebook IPO and a billion dollars
Facebook Inc’s $16bn initial public offering (IPO) on May 18, 2012 made its 28-year-old founder Mark Zuckerberg the 29th richest person on Earth. Facebook, the world’s most popular social networking company, sold 421.2 million shares for $38 each. At that price, the 503.6 million shares and options that Zuckerberg owns were valued at $19.1bn, making him wealthier than Google Inc. co- founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Facebook’s CEO started the Menlo Park, California-based company for Harvard University classmates as a 19-year-old in his dorm room. It now has more than 900 million monthly users and generated $3.7 bn in revenue in 2011. Zuckerberg sold 30.2 million shares for $1.15 billion during the offering.

Francois Hollande
France’s first left-wing President in 20 years
François Hollande of the Socialist Party defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in the French presidential elections held in May 2012 to become the first leftwing president in almost 20 years. Hollande is the first Socialist president to win a French election since François Mitterrand’s re-election in 1988. Hours before the official announcement, hordes of cheering supporters began gathering at Paris’s Place de la Bastille, a flashpoint of the 1789 French revolution, where the left had celebrated Mitterrand’s first historic victory in 1981.

The right has held the French presidency since Jacques Chirac’s victory in 1995. The defeat of the most unpopular French president ever to run for re-election was not simply the result of the global financial crisis or eurozone debt turmoil. It was also down to the intense public dislike of the man viewed by many as the “president of the rich” who had swept to victory in 2007 with a huge mandate to change France. The majority of French people felt he had failed to deliver on his promises, and was criticised for his ostentatious display of wealth, favouring the rich and leaving behind over 2.8 million unemployed. Political analysts said anti-Sarkozy sentiment had become a cultural phenomenon in France.

Rupert Murdoch
Shuts down News of the World
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch closed News of the World in a shock move in July 2012 as a spiralling scandal over phone hacking at the British tabloid threatened to infect the rest of his empire.

In a sensational finale, the 168-year-old paper printed its last edition on July 8, 2012 after claims that it hacked the phones of a murdered girl and the families of dead soldiers, and that it paid police for stories. “Having consulted senior colleagues, I have decided that we must take further decisive action with respect to the paper,” said Murdoch’s son James, chairman of News International, the British newspaper wing of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. The closure sparked immediate speculation that Rupert Murdoch was offering the paper as a sacrificial victim to save his $14bn bid for control of pay-TV giant BSkyB, as a government decision on its ownership was pending. British Prime Minister David Cameron – who has himself faced pressure for his ties to Rupert Murdoch – said the closure of the News of the World should not distract from an ongoing police investigation into the hacking.

Aung San Suu Kyi
Harbinger of change in Myanmar
Aung San Suu Kyi led her party, the National League for Democracy to a sweeping victory in Myanmar’s crucial elections on April 1, 2012 winning 43 of the 45 open parliamentary seats. Calling the results a “a triumph of the people” Suu Kyi’s party won a victory that marks an important turn for her political career and for her nation as it emerges from a half-century of military rule.

Change in Myanmar began in November 2010, when then-new President Thein Sein instituted a set of national reforms. One important element of these reforms included engaging in a dialogue with Nobel Prize winning opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and releasing her from a nearly decade-long house arrest. These election results will not, however, alter the balance of Mynamar’s parliament given that only a small number of seats were contested. Regardless, the vote is seen as a harbinger of potential social change and as a key indicator of the current ruling general’s commitment to continuing reforms.

Lance Armstrong
Stripped of seven Tour de France titles
The International Cycling Union announced on October 22, 2012 that it would not appeal the US Anti-Doping Agency’s ruling to bar Lance Armstrong for life from Olympic sports for doping and for playing an instrumental role in the team-organised doping on his Tour de France-winning cycling squads. The decision to waive the right to take Armstrong’s case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the highest court in sports, formally stripped Armstrong of the seven Tour titles he won from 1999 to 2005. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling; he deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” Pat McQuaid, the president of the cycling union, known as UCI, said in a news conference in Switzerland. Armstrong, who has vehemently denied doping, has said in the past that he, his teammates and those riders who competed against him would always know he won those seven Tours.

Michael Phelps
The greatest Olympian
Michael Fred Phelps II, won four golds and two silver medals at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, making the American swimmer the most decorated Olympian of all time, with a total haul of 22 medals. When Phelps won his 19th medal he eclipsed the previous record of 18 established by Soviet gymnast Larysa Latynina in the 1950s and ‘60s.
His six medals at the London Olympics also makes him the most successful athlete of the games for the third Olympics in a row. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double the second highest record holders), Olympic gold medals in individual events (11), and Olympic medals in individual events for a male (13). In winning eight gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games, Phelps took the record for the most first-place finishes at any single Olympic Games.

Felix Baumgartner
Breaking the sound barrier
Extreme athlete Felix Baumgartner landed a death-defying free fall from 38.6 kilometres above the Earth in a daring feat that marked the world’s first supersonic skydive on October 14, 2012. Baumgartner landed safely in New Mexico after reaching a maximum speed of 1,324 kilometres an hour, or Mach 1.24, which is faster than the speed of sound.
The jump broke a number of records, including the highest free-fall jump ever by a human, the fastest free-fall ever and the highest manned balloon flight by a human. The Austrian native fell from more than three times the height of the average cruising altitude for jetliners and experienced a reported four-minute and 19-second free fall. However, he was short of achieving the longest free fall record, set in 1960 by Col. Joe Kittinger.

Mohammed Mursi
Egypt’s first civilian elected president
Mohammed Mursi was sworn in as Egypt’s first civilian, democratically elected president on June 30, 2012 at a historic ceremony in Cairo. Hours after the ceremony, he was saluted by Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, leader of the military council which handed over power. The field marshal also decorated the new president with the Shield of the Armed Forces, the country’s highest honour. In his speech at Cairo University, Mursi said, “The army is now returning to its original role, protecting the nation and its borders.” Parliament, the new president insisted in his speech, had been elected in a free and fair ballot and had been entrusted with drafting a new, democratic constitution. A US-educated engineering professor, Mursi was a professor at the Zagazig University.

Quotable Quotes

A look at some of the best quotes of 2012

“I believe we can seize this future together because we are not as divided as our politics suggests. We’re not as cynical as the pundits believe. We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions, and we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America.”
Barack Obama’s victory speech in Chicago on November 7, 2012

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down to your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”
Professor Stephen Hawking on his 70th birthday

“My mother used to tell us, ‘Carl, put on your shoes. Oscar, put on your prosthetic legs.’ So I grew up not thinking I had a disability. I grew up thinking I had different shoes.”
Oscar Pistorius, South African sprinter, who on
Aug 4 in London became the first double amputee to compete in the Olympic Games; he finished eighth in the 400-meter semi-final

“We need more Europe, not less.”
Angela Merkel, German Chancellor, on tackling the European debt crisis

“I’ve actually never liked sports, and I never understood how I became an athlete.”
Serena Williams, four times Wimbledon champion

“Well, we’ve spent 9.3 billion on it, so I guess we better go and watch now.”
Ron Cooper, a British boxing legend (and 1948 Olympian) who carried the Olympic torch, speaking before the opening ceremonies

“My maternity leave will be a few weeks long, and I’ll work throughout it.”
Marissa Mayer, new Yahoo CEO, believed to be first woman to helm Fortune 500 company while pregnant

“You have to have a great work ethic. Have a strong mind, be motivated. There are so many things that come into it.”
Michael Phelps, most decorated Olympic athlete in history, on how he became biggest name in swimming

“I have never doped, and, unlike many of my accusers, I have competed as an endurance athlete for 25 years with no spike in performance, passed more than 500 drug tests and never failed one.”
US cyclist Lance Armstrong denies charges of doping brought by US Anti-Doping Agency

“You can’t turn the wind, so turn the sail.”
Kofi Annan, former U.N. Secretary-General and current UN-Arab League peace envoy, repeating an African proverb to Syrian President Bashar Assad during talks to end months of violence throughout the country

Bidding Adieu

A list of 10 most important people who passed away in 2012 after striving in their own unique ways to make the world different

HE Mohammed Bin Ahmed Al Busaidi, who died on November 21, 2012, was the advisor of His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said for Religious and Historical Affairs. He was one of the most iconic figures who played a pioneering role in the building of modern Oman since the embryonic period of the Blessed Renaissance. An eminent religious scholar, jurisprudent, historian and educationist, HE Al Busaidi served the nation in different capacities such as the Wali, the Mufti, the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Foreign Affairs.

He will be remembered for his lifelong dedication to knowledge and his exemplary services for the development of science and education in the country. An enthusiastic reader and bibliophile, HE Al Busaidi set up one of the best reference libraries in Oman which is now frequented by university students, researchers and historians. Situated in the Wilayat of Seeb, his library has some of the rarest collections of books and over 4000 manuscripts shedding light on Oman’s ancient history and civilisation. He was also the founder of ‘Risalatul Masjid’ magazine which was first published in 1979.

Neil Alden Armstrong (1930-2012) was an American astronaut and the first person to walk on the Moon. He was also an aerospace engineer, naval aviator, test pilot, and university professor. Before becoming an astronaut, Armstrong was an officer in the US Navy and served in the Korean War. After the war, he earned his bachelor’s degree at Purdue University and served as a test pilot at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics High-Speed Flight Station, now known as the Dryden Flight Research Center, where he logged over 900 flights.

He later completed graduate studies at the University of Southern California. A participant in the US Air Force’s Man in Space Soonest and X-20 Dyna-Soar human spaceflight programmes, Armstrong joined the NASA Astronaut Corps in 1962. He made his first space flight, as command pilot of Gemini 8, in 1966, becoming NASA’s first civilian astronaut to fly in space.

Norodom Sihanouk (1922-2012) was the King of Cambodia from 1941 to 1955 and again from 1993 to 2004. He was the effective ruler of Cambodia from 1953 to 1970. After his second abdication in 2004, he was known as “The King-Father of Cambodia”, a position which he retained many of his former responsibilities as constitutional monarch. The son of King Norodom Suramarit and Queen Sisowath Kossamak, Sihanouk held so many positions since 1941 that the Guinness Book of World Records identifies him as the politician who has served the world’s greatest variety of political offices. These included two terms as king, two as sovereign prince, one as president, two as prime minister, as well as numerous positions as leader of various governments-in-exile. He served as puppet head of state for the Khmer Rouge government in 1975-1976.

Eric John Ernest Hobsbawm, (1917-2012) was a British historian of the rise of industrial capitalism, socialism, and nationalism. His best-known works include his trilogy about the long 19th century The Age of Revolution: Europe 1789-1848, The Age of Capital: 1848-1875; The Age of Empire: 1875-1914, The Age of Extremes on the short 20th century, and an edited volume which introduced the influential idea of “invented traditions”. Hobsbawm was President of Birkbeck, University of London for ten years until his death. In 1998 he was appointed to the Order of the Companions of Honour, a UK national honour bestowed for outstanding achievement in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry or religion. In 2003 he was the recipient of the Balzan Prize for European History since 1900, For his brilliant analysis of the troubled history of twentieth-century Europe and for his ability to combine in-depth historical research with great literary talent.

Whitney Elizabeth Houston (1963-2012) was an American recording artist, actress, producer, and model. In 2009, the Guinness World Records cited her as the most awarded female actor of all time. Houston was one of the world’s best-selling music artists, having sold over 170 million albums, singles and videos worldwide. She released six studio albums, one holiday album and three movie soundtrack albums, all of which have diamond, multi-platinum, platinum or gold certification. Houston’s crossover appeal on the popular music charts, as well as her prominence on MTV, starting with her video for “How Will I Know”, influenced several African American female artists to follow in her footsteps.

Houston is the only artist to chart seven consecutive No 1 Billboard Hot 100 hits. She is the second artist behind Elton John and the only female artist to have two number-one Billboard 200Album awards (formerly “Top Pop Album”) on the Billboard magazine year-end charts.

Wisława Szymborska-Włodek (1923-2012) was a Polish poet, essayist, translator and recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. In Poland, where she was called “Mozart of Poetry”, Szymborska’s books have reached sales rivaling prominent prose authors. Szymborska was awarded the Nobel prize “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”.

Her works have been translated into English and many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese. Szymborska frequently employed literary devices such as ironic precision, paradox, contradiction and understatement, to illuminate philosophical themes and obsessions. Many of her poems feature war and terrorism. In Calling out to the Yeti (1957), she compared Joseph Stalin to the abominable snowman.

Carlos Fuentes Macías (1928-2012) was a Mexican novelist and essayist. Among his works are The Death of Artemio Cruz (1962), Aura (1962), The Old Gringo (1985) and Christopher Unborn (1987). One of the most admired writers in the Spanish-speaking world, Macías had an important influence on the Latin American Boom, the explosion of Latin American literature in the 1960s and ‘70s. His many literary honours include the Miguel de Cervantes Prize as well as Mexico’s highest award, theBelisario Domínguez Medal of Honour. He was often named as a likely candidate for the Nobel Prize in Literature, though he never won. Fuentes served as Mexico’s ambassador to France from 1975 to 1977, resigning in protest of former President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz’s appointment as ambassador to Spain. He also taught at Brown, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth, and Cornell.

Verghese Kurien (1921-2012) was an Indian engineer and renowned social entrepreneur, best known as the “Father of the White Revolution”, for his ‘billion-litre idea’ or Operation Flood – the world’s biggest agricultural development programme. The operation took India from being a milk-deficient nation, to the largest milk producer in the world, surpassing the USA in 1998, with about 17 percent of global output in 2010-11, which in 30 years doubled the milk available to every person. Dairy farming became India’s largest self-sustaining industry. He made the country self-sufficient in edible oils too later on, taking head-on the powerful and entrenched oil supplying lobby. One of the greatest proponents of the cooperative movement in the world, his work has alleviated millions out of poverty not only in India but also outside. Hailed as the “Milkman of India”, Kurien won several awards including the Padma Vibhushan (India’s second-highest civilian honour), the World Food Prize and the Magsaysay Award for community leadership.

Hans Werner Henze (1926-2012) was a German composer of prodigious output best known for “his consistent cultivation of music for the theatre throughout his life”. His music is extremely varied in style, having been influenced by serialism, atonality, Stravinsky, Italian music, Arabic music and jazz, as well as traditional schools of German composition.

Henze was also known for his political convictions. He left Germany for Italy in 1953 because of a perceived intolerance towards his leftist politics and homosexuality. Late in life he lived in the village of Marino in the central Italian region of Lazio, and in his final years still travelled extensively, in particular to Britain and Germany, as part of his work. An avowed Marxist and member of the Communist Party of Italy, Henze produced compositions honouring Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara. The librettist of his requiem for Che Guevara, titled Das Floß der Medusa (The Raft of Medusa), was among several people arrested at the 1968 Hamburg premiere in the riot that followed the placing of a red flag on the stage. Henze spent a year teaching in Cuba, though he later became disillusioned with Castro.

Lakshmi Sahgal (1914-2012) was a revolutionist of the Indian independence movement, an officer of the Indian National Army, and the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Azad Hind government. Sahgal is commonly referred to in India as Captain Lakshmi, a reference to her rank when taken prisoner in Burma.In 1940, she left for Singapore where she met the members of Netaji’s Indian National Army. She established a clinic for the poor, most of whom were migrant labourers from India. It was at this time that she began to play an active role in the India Independence League. Captain Lakshmi was arrested by the British army in May 1945, remaining in Burma until March 1946, when she was sent to India – at a time when the INA trials in Delhi heightened popular discontent with and hastened the end of colonial rule.

Notable reads

OER’s pick of the books published in 2012 consists of four non-fictions and six fictions which also include a graphic novel

The Yellow Birds’
By Kevin Powers

The Yellow Birds, a novel by Kevin Powers is a superb, moving and insightful book about war and its effects on the men and women who take part in it. The author, Kevin Powers, is a veteran of Iraq in 2004 where this book is set and is now a poet. This combination of first-hand experience and ability with language coupled with great insight and honesty creates something quite remarkable. The book is narrated in the first person by private John Bartle on his first tour of duty in Iraq. The language is heightened throughout, often poetic and sometimes almost hallucinatory. The story is really that of Bartle’s psychological journey and is quite stunning in its evocation of the war itself and of the state of mind of the young man who went through it.

Arcadia
By Lauren Groff
Arcadia, Lauren Groff’s poignant and gorgeously written novel, is about a young man who is raised on a failing commune in New York. In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this romantic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday. Arcadia’s inhabitants include Handy, the charismatic leader; his wife, Astrid, a midwife; Abe, a master carpenter; Hannah, a baker and historian; and Abe and Hannah’s only child, Bit. While Arcadia rises and falls, Bit, too, ages and changes. He falls in love with Helle, Handy’s lovely, troubled daughter.

Canada
By Richard Ford,

Canada, by Richard Ford, is a magnificent work of Montana gothic told by the son of two inept bank robbers. Ford has polished the plain-spoken lines of this wise novel to an arresting sheen. This is a brilliant and engrossing portrait of a fragile American family and the fragile consciousness of a teenage boy. It is also fascinating in the way it reveals the plot in the opening page and then winds backwards, offering a more and more intimate version of the story. A true masterwork of haunting and spectacular vision from one of our greatest writers, Canada is a profound novel of boundaries traversed, innocence lost and reconciled, and the mysterious and consoling bonds of family.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty
By Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson. This racing, wildly ambitious masterpiece answers the question that has stumped the experts for centuries: Why are some nations rich and others poor, divided by wealth and poverty, health and sickness, food and famine? Is it culture, the weather, geography? Perhaps ignorance of what the right policies are? Simply, no. None of these factors are either definitive or destiny. Acemoglu and Robinson conclusively show that it is man-made institutions that underlie economic success .

Bring Up the Bodies
By Hilary Mantel
Bring Up the Bodies, the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times bestseller, Wolf Hall, delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn. This darkly magnificent sequel covers Thomas Cromwell’s brutal efforts to end the failing marriage between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. The action of Bring UpThe Bodies occupies only nine months, and within that nine months it concentrates on the three weeks in which Henry’s second wife is arrested, tried and executed.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk
By Ben Fountain

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, by Ben Fountain, is a darkly comic gut-punch of a war novel – Catch-22 updated for a new era. Billy Lynn and his Bravo squad mates have become heroes thanks to an embedded Fox News crew’s footage of their firefight against Iraqi insurgents. During one day of their bizarre Victory Tour, set mostly at a Thanksgiving Day football game at Texas Stadium, they’re wooed by Hollywood producers, smitten by Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders, and share a stage at halftime with Beyonce.

Behind the Beautiful Forevers
By Katherine Boo

Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity, by Katherine Boo, is an astonishing tale of squatters living in a tiny slum in India’s largest city as they wend their way through corruption and governmental indifference. Katherine Boo unearths stories both tragic and poignant–about residents’ efforts to raise families, earn a living, or simply survive. These unforgettable characters all nurture far-fetched dreams of a better life.

House of Stone
By Anthony Shadid

House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East, by Anthony Shadid. This humorous and wonderful memoir explores how Shadid devoted to restoring his great-grandfather’s home in Lebanon shortly before he died, at 43, on assignment in Syria. House of Stone is not a work of Middle East reportage; it is a memoir, devoted to Shadid’s deeply personal quest to uncover his heritage in war-torn Lebanon. Shadid’s great skill as a journalist was that of a master storyteller, and he’s never been more effective than in his final book.

Building Stories
By Chris Ware

Building Stories is a graphic novel by Chris Ware. Neighbours share walls of deep melancholy in this masterful book-in-a-box of 14 “easily misplaced elements” that are as readily lost as a life. Unabashedly rooted in the pre-digital age, Ware’s new work is really 14 individually bound books, ranging from gorgeous hardbacks to thin pamphlets, housed in an oversized box. With his trademark obsessive precision, Ware presents the grind and folly of everyday life in the most exhilarating fashion.

Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery
By Bill Clegg

Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery by Bill Clegg is raw, honest and very well-written tale of alcoholism and drug abuse by a big-name literary agent. The goal is ninety. Just ninety clean and sober days to loosen the hold of the addiction that caused Bill Clegg to lose everything. With six weeks of his most recent rehab behind him he returns to New York and attends two or three meetings each day.

Outstanding Cars

Global automobile demand will continue to rise despite marked disparities between regions. Auto sales volumes will likely climb 6 per cent year-over-year in 2013. OER draws up a list of 10 best cars in 2012

Audi A7
In 2012, Audi’s A7 debuted with an exterior that elicits stares. The new A7 embodies what good a car design professes to achieve: solid proportions, silky lines and a little surprise to feed our curiosity. The A7 does all of this with a beautiful touch that satisfies both sedan and sport enthusiasts. The grille is a brand signature for Audi. The angle of this grille has a rake to it, giving the front end an aggressive appearance. Same goes for the lights and the sweep of the break line in the fender. You have aggression in the front of the car and aggression in the back. There is a lot of definition and volume in the body around the wheels and through the doors. Consumers get a sense of how well-built and solid the car is based on this visual weight. This is very important in making the car feel like it’s an Audi.

BMW 1M Coupe
It’s the least expensive of BMW’s mighty high-po M cars and also the least pretty. The flared fenders and gaping mouth tacked onto the base 1 Series make it even chunkier, not sleek and lithe like a typical sports car. There’s a surplus of performance – a turbocharged 335-hp straight-six engine, mammoth tires and brakes, and stiffer suspension – but speed is not the main thrill. The other subjective measures, such as perfectly linear brake action, steering that feels hard-wired to your brain, delicate road signals communicated through the seat, and the creamy six-speed manual transmission, all combine for a dynamic delight. And it’s those traits that separate simply fast cars from the truly rewarding ones.

Dodge Durango
The Durango is a vehicle that provides nearly limitless opportunities. It seats seven in a cleanly designed interior, can tow up to 7400 pounds and has the mechanical hardware—a robust center differential rather than a light-duty clutch pack—to traverse terrain that would humble most sport utes. But the Durango is not simply a talented off-roader. There’s no on-road penalty for its capabilities. It drives with a sharpness that belies its 2.5 tonnes and its commodious interior. On the highway, drivers can luxuriate in the rich materials, throne-like seats and an abundance of available features, including a 360-hp V8 and adaptive cruise control.

Jeep Wrangler
The constant struggle for Jeep is civilising the Wrangler without killing its off-road prowess. After all, no matter how capable it may be on the Rubicon Trail, a scant few customers are willing to endure a choppy on-road ride or an interior racket that sounds like a snare drum in an oilcan. In the past 18 months, the Wrangler has nearly been upended. The designers ditched the granite-hard interior for one with softer materials and gentler curves. They redesigned and thickened the soft top to reduce wind noise. A more powerful and efficient driveline replaced the ancient 3.8-liter V6 and four-speed automatic. The new Wrangler, which is available with two or four doors, is the most livable ever. And it still has the steep approach and departure angles, stout running gear and hardware – skidplates and locking differentials – that make it the most capable off-roader available.

Infiniti M Hybrid
The Infiniti’s 67-hp electric motor complements the 3.5-litre V6 with nearly 200 lb-ft of instantaneous electric torque at liftoff. This hybrid zings, bolting to 60 mph in a little over five seconds. Yet speed is not the sole goal of a luxury car. “Luxury” is loosely defined as something you don’t need but want anyway. And the extra performance of the hybrid system has only increased our desire for this sedan. The gas – electric powertrain is nearly transparent in its operation. At speeds of up to 62 mph it can silently draw on the lithium-ion battery pack and electrically glide for more than a mile. The brakes – which have the tough task of integrating the standard hydraulic system with energy regeneration – feel, well, normal. Plus, the system delivers 29 combined EPA mpg, a 28 per cent improvement over the nonhybrid M.

Ford Mustang Boss 302
The 2012 Ford Mustang Boss 302 is the kind of fully realised, perfectly crafted performance car that comes along only once in a decade. The C-stripe graphics and cue-ball shifter; legendary Trans Am racing names like Bud Moore, Parnelli Jones and Kar Kraft were all connected to the Boss. It gives you chills. Side-exit exhausts with removable sound baffles are standard. They make a crackly, intoxicating howl just three feet beneath your ears. The no-cost-option Recaro sport seats feel every bit as mission critical as the naturally aspirated 444-hp 7500-rpm 5.0-liter V8 under the hood. The oiling system is capable of withstanding cornering loads greater than 1.0 g’s. In other words, Ford wants you to hit a racetrack, mount some sticky tires and put the smack down.

Toyota Camry Hybrid
There was a time when airbags existed solely to protect the driver, but as technology improves, it’s now possible to help protect every passenger in the car. That’s why the 2012 Camry is the first in its class to offer ten airbags standard. With its 2012 redesign, the Camry Hybrid jumped to the top of the family-sedan category. One eye-opener for a car of this size is its impressive 38 mpg overall fuel economy, the best in class and even better than some smaller hybrids that lack the Camry’s performance. Other high points include a comfortable ride; a roomy, quiet cabin; fairly quick acceleration; and for 2012, a nicer interior and somewhat crisper handling (although the Camry is still no sports sedan).

Honda Accord 2012
The four-cylinder 2012 Accord proves that when Honda plays to its strengths, it is better than anyone at producing vehicles with a supernaturally fine balance of attributes. That this is still true while Honda is widely acknowledged to have lost some of its product magic puts the all-around excellence of the four-cylinder Accord in stark relief. This is a big sedan (without a sunroof, roomy enough to reside in the EPA’s Large Sedan category) that’s lighter on its feet than many sports coupes you could mention. The primary controls are so perfectly matched to each other that this not-exactly-sporty-looking sedan can traipse along the tightrope of your favourite back road with precision and utter predictability. It will return 33 mpg on the highway; a well-equipped EX version costs just one nice dinner more than $25,000 (a little more for the coupe); and it’s a more natural heel-and-toe enabler than most sports cars.

Nissan NV
Nissan’s new NV full-size van (offered in three weight ratings: base 1500, 2500 HD and 3500 HD) brings fresh and handy ideas to the rarely changed van segment. Nissan started with a passenger cabin more like that of a pickup truck for additional room and easier access – both to the cab and underhood. Stout, durable hinges let the cargo doors swing back beside the body (243 degrees, with a stop at 90 degrees. A tall-body version accommodates walk-through access for tradesmen or taller cargo; a standard-height one suits those who need their 20-foot-long vans to fit under overhead garage doors. Add a best-in-class turning circle of 45.2 feet, plenty of threaded holes in the interior that make mounting racks a snap, and a relatively subdued interior, and it’s a tool that doesn’t feel like work to use.

Porsche Boxster / Cayman
A sports car should be transportation for the spirit as well as the body, and few sports cars offer a more transcendent driving experience than these mid-engined fraternal twins. In either roadster or hatchback form, they’re distinguished by exceptional balance, eager responses, and a link between car and driver that’s free of excessive filtration. Over the years, the sinews of Porsche’s entry-level twosome have grown stronger and more flexible; the output of their flat-six engines has climbed as high as 330 horsepower in the new Cayman R; and their styling has become less 911-derivative. Another trait that upstages the 911 is the twins’ practicality: Yes, they give up two only grocery- or small-dog-appropriate seats to their big brother but in return offer covered storage fore and aft.

No biz as showbiz

Comic book heroes, sequels and animation movies continue to rule the box office, as studios and film-makers target a younger demographic

Marvel’s The Avengers
Theatrical release: May 4, 2012
Box office: $1.51bn
Starring: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth,
Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Mark Ruffalo,
Scarlett Johansson, Clark Gregg, Samuel L Jackson
Studio: Buena Vista
Director: Joss Whedon
Marvel’s The Avengers, or simply The Avengers is an American superhero film produced by Marvel Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures, based on the Marvel Comics superhero team of the same name. It is the sixth installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In The Avengers, Nick Fury, director of the peacekeeping organisation SHIELD, recruits Iron Man, Captain America, the Hulk, and Thor to form a team that must stop Thor’s adoptive brother Loki from subjugating Earth. Development of The Avengers began when Marvel Studios received a loan from Merrill Lynch in April 2005. After the success of the film Iron Man in May 2008, Marvel announced that The Avengers would be released in July 2011. With the signing of Johansson in March 2009, the film was pushed back for a 2012 release. Whedon was brought on board in April 2010 and rewrote the screenplay originally written by Zak Penn. Production began in April 2011 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, before moving to Cleveland, Ohio, in August and New York City in September. The film was converted to 3D in post-production. The Avengers premiered on April 11, 2012, at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, California and received positive reviews from most film critics and set numerous box office records, including the biggest opening weekend in North America and the fastest film to gross $1 billion. The Avengers grossed $1.51bn worldwide, and became the third highest-grossing film of all time.

The Dark Knight Rises
Theatrical release: July 20, 2012
Box office: $1.08bn
Starring: Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway,
Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman
Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Christopher Nolan
The Dark Knight Rises is a superhero film directed by Christopher Nolan, who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Jonathan Nolan and the story with David S Goyer. Featuring the DC Comics character Batman, the film is the third and final installment in Nolan’s Batman film trilogy, and it is the sequel to The Dark Knight (2w 008). Christian Bale reprises the lead role of Bruce Wayne/Batman, with a returning cast of Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, Gary Oldman as James Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Cillian Murphy as Dr Jonathan Crane. The film introduces two main characters to Nolan’s series: Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), a cat burglar whose appearance in Gotham City sets in motion a chain of events that leads Batman to come out of retirement; and Bane (Tom Hardy), a mercenary whose objective is to destroy Gotham with a thermonuclear weapon. Christopher Nolan was initially hesitant about returning to the series for a second time, but agreed to come back after developing a story with his brother and Goyer that he felt would conclude the series on a satisfactory note. Nolan drew inspiration from Bane’s comic book debut in the 1993 Knightfall storyline, the 1986 series The Dark Knight Returns, and the 1999 storyline No Man’s Land. The Dark Knight Rises is currently the seventh-highest-grossing film of all time, the second-highest-grossing film of 2012, and the second highest grossing superhero film of all time.

Ice Age: Continental Drift
Theatrical release: July 13, 2012
Box office: $874.28mn
Starring: Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, Denis Leary,
John Leguizamo, Jennifer Lopez
Studio: Fox
Director: John Powell
Ice Age: Continental Drift, also known internationally as Ice Age 4 is a 3-D computer-animated adventure/comedy film directed by Steve Martino and Mike Thurmeier. It was written by Jason Fuchs and Michael Berg, and features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Jennifer Lopez, Keke Palmer and Queen Latifah . It is the fourth installment of the Ice Age series, produced by Blue Sky Studios and distributed by 20th Century Fox. It is the first sequel in the series not directed by Carlos Saldanha, and the second Ice Age installment that utilises Digital 3D. It was released in the US on July 13, 2012, three to six years after its predecessors, The Meltdown and Dawn of the Dinosaurs, and ten years after the release of the original Ice Age. Despite receiving mixed reviews from critics, the film became a huge box office success, with a worldwide gross of $874 million.

The Amazing Spider-Man
Theatrical release: July 3, 2012
Box office: $752.21mn
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Emma Stone, Rhys Ifans, Denis Leary, Martin Sheen, Sally Field, Irrfan Khan
Studio: Sony/Columbia
Director: Marc Webb
The Amazing Spider-Man is a superhero film directed by Marc Webb, based on the Marvel Comics character Spider-Man. It is a reboot of the Spider-Man film series, portraying the character’s origin story and his development into a superhero while a high school student. The film stars Andrew Garfield in the title role, with Emma Stone as Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as Dr Curt Connors. Development of the film began with the cancellation of Spider-Man 4 in 2010, ending director Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man film series that had starred Tobey Maguire, Kirsten Dunst and James Franco. Opting to reboot the franchise with the same production team, Sony Pictures Entertainment announced a July 2012 release date for The Amazing Spider-Man. James Vanderbilt was hired to write the script while Alvin Sargent and Steve Kloves helped fine-tune it.

Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted
Theatrical release: June 8, 2012
Box office: $737.59 mn
Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer,
Jada Pinkett-Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen,
Cedric the Entertainer, Andy Richter
Studio: Paramount (DreamWorks)
Director: Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath, Conrad Vernon
Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted is a 3D computer-animated comedy film, produced by DreamWorks Animation and distributed by Paramount Pictures. It is the third installment of the Madagascar series, and it is the first in the series to be released in 3D. The film is directed by Eric Darnell, Tom McGrath and Conrad Vernon. The film’s world premiere was at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival on May 18, 2012. Alex, Marty, Melman, and Gloria are still struggling to get home to New York. This time, their journey takes them to Europe where they are relentlessly pursued by the fanatical Monaco-based French Animal Control officer Captain Chantel DuBois (Frances McDormand). As a means of getting passage to North America, the zoo animals purchase a failing travelling circus as they become close friends with the staff like Vitaly (Bryan Cranston), Gia (Jessica Chastain), and Stefano (Martin Short). Together, they spectacularly revitalise the business and along the way find themselves reconsidering where their true home really is.

The Hunger Games
Theatrical release: March 23, 2012
Box office: $686.53mn
Starring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson,
Liam Hemsworth, Elizabeth Banks, Wes Bentley
Director: Gary Ross
Studio: Lionsgate
Based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games is a science fiction action thriller directed by Gary Ross. The film was produced by Nina Jacobson and Jon Kilik, with a screenplay by Ross, Collins, and Billy Ray. It stars Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, and Donald Sutherland. The story takes place in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future in the nation of Panem, where boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 must participate in the Hunger Games, a televised annual event in which the “tributes” are required to fight to the death until there is one remaining victor. The protagonist, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence), volunteers to take her younger sister’s place in the games. Joined by her district’s male tribute Peeta Mellark (Hutcherson), Katniss travels to the Capitol to train for the Hunger Games under the guidance of former victor Haymitch Abernathy (Harrelson). The Hunger Games received positive reviews, with praise for its themes and messages, as well as Lawrence’s performance as Katniss.

Skyfall
Theatrical release: November 9, 2012
Box office: $678.49mn
Starring: Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem,
Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Berenice Marlohe
Studio: Sony/Columbia
Director: Sam Mendes
Skyfall is the twenty-third in the James Bond series of spy films, produced by Eon Productions and distributed by MGM and Sony Pictures Entertainment. It features Daniel Craig’s third performance as James Bond, and Javier Bardem as Raoul Silva, the film’s antagonist. The film was directed by Sam Mendes and written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan. In the film, Bond investigates an attack on MI6; it transpires that it is part of an attack on M by former MI6 operative Raoul Silva. The film sees the return of two recurring characters after an absence of two films: Q, played by Ben Whishaw, and Eve Moneypenny, played by Naomie Harris. Skyfall is the last film of the series for Judi Dench, who played M, a role which she had played in the previous six films. The position is subsequently filled by Ralph Fiennes’ character, Gareth Mallory. The film was positively received by critics and at the box office, becoming the highest-grossing James Bond film.

MIB 3
Theatrical release: May 25, 2012
Box office: $624.02mn
Starring: Will Smith, Josh Brolin, Tommy Lee Jones, Alice Eve,
Emma Thompson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jemaine Clement
Studio: Sony/Columbia
Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Men in Black 3 (stylised as MIB3 and alternatively spelled Men in Black III) is a science fiction comedy film. Principal photography on the movie began in New York City on November 16, 2010, taking place ten years after its predecessor Men in Black II and fifteen years after the release of the original Men in Black. Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg returned as director and executive producer respectively. It is the third installment in the Men in Black film series based on Lowell Cunningham’s The Men in Black comic book series. Men in Black 3 received generally positive reviews from critics and became a box office success with a worldwide gross of over $624mn.

Brave
Theatrical release: June 22, 2012
Box office: $534.71mn
Starring: Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly,
Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Robbie Coltrane, Craig Ferguson
Studio: Buena Vista
Director: Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Brave is a computer-animated fantasy adventure film produced by Pixar Animation Studios and distributed by Walt Disney Pictures. It was written by Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Brenda Chapman, Irene Mecchi and directed by Andrews and Chapman while Purcell co-directed the movie. The film’s voice cast features Kelly Macdonald, Julie Walters, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Kevin McKidd, Craig Ferguson, and Robbie Coltrane. To make the most complex visuals possible, Pixar completely rewrote their animation system for the first time in 25 years. It is the first film to use the Dolby Atmos sound format.

Ted
Theatrical release: June 29, 2012
Box office:$500.66 mn
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis,
Seth MacFarlane, Joel McHale, Giovanni Ribisi
Studio: Universal
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Ted (stylised as ted) is a comedy film, directed, co-produced and co-written by Seth MacFarlane, starring Mark Wahlberg, Mila Kunis and Seth MacFarlane in leading roles. The supporting cast includes Joel McHale and Giovanni Ribisi. The film is the feature-length directorial debut of MacFarlane, produced by Media Rights Capital and distributed by Universal Pictures. The movie got critical and commercial success, becoming the 10th highest-grossing film of the year, the highest-grossing R-rated film of the year, and the highest-grossing original R-rated comedy of all time.

On the cutting edge

A list of the best gadgets of 2012 reflects shrinking product life cycles as companies vie to upgrade their wares to offer the latest innovations

Samsung Galaxy S III
The Samsung Galaxy S III is one of the most coveted consumer electronic devices in the world. And there is a good reason for that. The Galaxy S III is unbelievably light and has a great 8 mega-pixel camera with a flash and a choice between auto and manual focus, that can also take Full HD 1080p videos. The internal memory of either 16 GB, 32 GB or 64GB can be expanded by a 32 GB MicroSDHC memory card, making it possible to have up to 96 GB storage. Its ultra fast Quad-core 1.4 GHz Cortex-A9 processor provides a wonderful mobile experience and snappy responsiveness. The 4.8 inch HD Super AMOLED display is probably the best on the market and is a pleasure to look at. In short, this is one of the best smart phones of 2012.

iPhone 5
The iPhone 5 is a touchscreen-based smartphone developed by Apple. It is the sixth generation of the iPhone and succeeds the iPhone 4S. The phone is a slimmer, lighter model that introduces a higher-resolution, 4-inch screen to the series with 16:9 widescreen aspect ratio support. The phone also includes a custom-designed ARMv7 processor called the Apple A6, an update to Apple’s mobile operating system known as iOS 6, and support for LTE. Apple held an event to formally introduce the phone on September 12 . After Apple began taking pre-orders on September 14 , over two million were received within 24 hours.

Microsoft Surface
Microsoft Surface is a series of tablets designed and marketed by Microsoft. The Surface comes in two versions: one with Windows RT and another with Windows 8 Pro. The Windows RT model uses an ARM CPU, while the Windows 8 Pro model will use an Intel CPU. Both models can install new applications via the Windows Store, however only the Windows 8 Pro model allows the installation of traditional third-party desktop programmes. The Microsoft Surface line features VaporMg, a moulded magnesium casing that houses Surface’s components paired with a PVD finish.

Amazon Kindle Fire 2
The successor to Amazon’s flagship tablet — the Kindle Fire 2, comes with an upgraded processor, memory and battery but otherwise identical to the original model. New model, same design as before — that pretty much sums up the Amazon Kindle Fire 2, as it’s an exact facsimile to its predecessor in every aspect – both in its construction and choice of materials. Analysing its body meticulously from head-to-toe, it’s safe to say that it has one clean appearance – with only its two speakers, power button, 3.5mm headset jack, and microUSB port occupying its sides. Employing the same 7” IPS LCD display as the first generation, it’s effective enough for most things – such as reading a book or surfing the web.

Canon EOS 5D Mark III
In 1987 Canon unveiled the EOS 650 to the world. It was the Japanese manufacturer’s first 35mm autofocus SLR and the start of the EOS system. With its fully-electronic lens mount, in-lens aperture and focus motors, and reliance on electronic button and dial operation, Canon’s EOS system established a blueprint that all successive camera systems have followed. Now, 25 years later, the Canon EOS 5D Mark III is the latest model in the line. The 5D Mark III has a 22MP full frame sensor in a body that’s based on the EOS 7D design, and with a 61-point AF system borrowed from the flagship EOS-1D X. Indeed the 5D name itself is almost misleading; compared to its predecessor the Mark III is essentially a completely new model, with every major system upgraded and updated. In a way it’s better seen as a full-frame 7D, with that camera’s control layout, extensive customisability and 63-zone metering sensor.

Microsoft Windows 8
Though technically not a gadget, Windows 8 has been one of the most anticipated technology launches of the year. Windows 8 introduces significant changes to the operating system’s platform, primarily focused towards improving its user experience on mobile devices such as tablets to rival other mobile operating systems (such as Android and iOS), taking advantage of new or emerging technologies (such as USB 3.0, UEFI firmware, near field communications, cloud computing and the low-power ARM architecture), new security features (such as malware filtering, built-in antivirus software, and support for secure boot (a UEFI feature which allows operating systems to be digitally signed to prevent malware from altering the boot process), along with other changes and performance improvements.

Panasonic TX-P50VT50
The Panasonic TX-P50VT50 is the flagship plasma TV in Panasonic’s 2012 Viera range. One of the unique features on the VT50 range is an Infinite Black Ultra filter, which aims to deliver better than ever black levels. On the outside, the VT50 has a single-sheet-of-glass-design, and there are minor differences in the styling compared with the GT model. You also get two pairs of active-shutter 3D glasses in the box – Bluetooth-powered and rechargeable – and a Viera Touch Pad Controller remote control. All the other features found elsewhere in the Viera 2012 range are present.

Nikon D4
The Nikon D4, 16MP full-frame professional DSLR is capable of shooting at 10 frames per second with full autofocus. In addition to a host of ergonomic improvements, the D4 also sees the expansion of its video capabilities, to the extent that Nikon is describing it as a ‘multi-media DSLR.’ The cameras gain an Ethernet port, a 91,000 pixel metering sensor and an uprated AF sensor that can work in lower light and with smaller aperture lenses. Its sensitivity range can be expanded to the equivalent of ISO 204,800 and adds illuminated controls to make it easier to work in the low-light situations in which such a setting becomes useful. The D4 also becomes the first camera to make use of the XQD memory card format.

Nintendo Wii U
Wii U is a video game console from Nintendo and the successor to the Wii. The system was unveiled during Nintendo’s press conference at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 on June 7, 2011, and was released on November 18, 2012 in North America. It is the first entry in the eighth generation of video game home consoles. The Wii U is the first Nintendo console to support high-definition graphics, capable of producing video output up to 1080p, and has 2 GB of memory with half dedicated to the console’s operating system. The console was released in two versions: a ‘Basic’ white-coloured version with 8 GB of internal Flash storage; and a ‘Deluxe’ black-coloured version with 32 GB of Flash storage.

Samsung Galaxy Note II
The Samsung Galaxy Note II is a smartphone–tablet computer hybrid designed, developed and marketed by Samsung. It is the successor to the Samsung Galaxy Note, and is the second device in the company’s Note series, which places emphasis on the use of a stylus. Employing a 1.6 GHz quad-core processor, the device sports a 5.55-inch (141 mm) diagonal display with 720p resolution, 2 GB of RAM, and a maximum of 128 GB storage (by using a 64 GB microSD card with the 64 GB model). Upon its launch, it was the first Samsung phone to come with Android version 4.1 “Jelly Bean” as standard.


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