Sunday, January 30, 2005

Fishing

This morning, I joined my sister and her friends for an outing to a place called Sure-Catch. It's a fish hatchery that's been converted into a restaurant / recreation area. The idea is for you to catch the fish that you're going to eat.

Sure-Catch was a few kilometers away from the city proper so we had an early start. We got there a little after 8AM. The place was huge, with two large fishponds side-by-side. Off to the side was a swimming pool and a crocodile farm, but since there were entrance fees for those, we gave them wide berth.

We were given a selection of fishing poles, all of which really were just a long stick of bamboo, nylon string, a rubber floater, and a hook. Well....

I was expecting to use worms as bait, but I found out that it wasn't necessary. Bits of dough would do just fine. A young girl, resident of the area, did offer me worms, but at 10 pesos a piece, I declined.

So off we cast our lines. My sister had the first catch of the day. I had to try several times because the fish were quite crafty and kept getting away with the bait. Finally, I landed one as well.

Much heartened by my success, I turned back to the task of catching my lunch. Alas, all I gathered were near-captures. My sister's friend's employees, though, had plenty of luck but I was too proud to head over to their area.

I did manage another catch a little later on. However, the fish I caught was a little too small so I threw it back into the water.

Lunch was a sumptuous spread of tilapia (St. Peter's Fish) and hito (catfish). Luckily for me, you didn't really have to catch what you would eat. Incredibly, too, the lunch came out to just 100 pesos per person!


Master of Electricity

Alternate submission for Eggplant Magazine. It was fun writing this article, if only for the new information that I got on Nikola Tesla. Not Russian-born, as I originally thought, and with a far greater impact on the 20th century than anyone could have imagined. References at the end of the article.


Picture of Tesla from Complete Patents of Nikola Tesla

If you've ever played the Command and Conquer video games, you'll have to agree that one of the most interesting, if not the most powerful, units to play with are the Tesla Troopers, Tesla Tank, and the Tesla Coil. They all use electricity as their primary weapons to jolt their opponents into submission.

Now, we all know that Command and Conquer is just a game set in a fictional future world. But did you know that the person for whom they are named after, Nikola Tesla, is real? Not only that, he was a true master of electricity to whom we owe many important discoveries and inventions like radio, radar, x-rays, and the everyday electricity that powers our homes.

Nikola Tesla was born in July 10, 1856 in the town of Smiljian, which is located in modern Croatia. His father was a priest of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and his mother, like many women at that time, was a homemaker.

Young Nikola was a fragile, high-strung boy but he had a stroke of ingenuity within him that led him to inventing at an early age. Tesla probably inherited this inventiveness from his mother, Duka, who designed and built devices to help her with her housework.

Nikola did very well in school. He had an excellent memory and quickly learned six languages. He was also quite good in mathematics, physics, and mechanics.

He entered the Polytechnic College of Graz at the age of 19. He was an avid student. However, he was forced to stop before he could complete his second year for lack of finances. He left for Prague, where he educated himself in the university library there. The thing that fascinated him most was electricity which, in those days, was only beginning to be understood and harnessed. Nikola decided to make it his life's work.

Nikola was 24 when he started work at the Budapest Central Telephone Exchange. It was there that he first conceived of the induction motor, one of his earliest inventions. The induction motor was a great improvement over the motors and generators at that time. Because of his skills and knowledge, he earned quite a good reputation. Many power companies across Europe hired him to improve their generators.

But Nikola knew that more opportunities lay in America. With access to capital and rapidly-growing industries, American inventors like Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison were building their empires with their creations. Surely a man of his talents could make it there, too?

Nikola seized the opportunity and not long afterward, he arrived in America. He arrived in the new country with only four cents in his pocket, some mathematical computations, a rough drawing of a flying machine, and a letter of recommendation to Edison.

Edison, as most people know, invented the light bulb. He also devised a way of distributing electricity using direct current, or DC. DC power provides a constant level of current, similar to what we have in our modern dry cells. However, his system of electrical distribution was dangerous and inefficient.

Edison was dismissive of Nikola's ideas but hired him anyway. Nikola was given the difficult task of redesigning the Edison dynamo to make it more efficient. Edison promised him a substantial reward if he succeeded. Nikola completed the task set out for him, saving Edison a great deal of money but Edison reneged on their deal, saying he was only joking.

Angry at Edison's treachery, Nikola quit his job. He spent some time digging ditches to survive, until some investors gave him the financing to realize his ideas. His first product was an arc light, far more efficient than the light bulb.

Nikola's grand project, however, was an alternating current (AC) motor and generator. AC does not supply a steady current like DC. Instead the current changes over a cycle. Unlike DC, AC is easier and safer to distribute. AC is the electrical system we have in our homes today. He patented this in 1887.

George Westinghouse, a wealthy industrialist, heard about Nikola's invention and bought the patents. Westinghouse wanted to use it as a means of distributing power over long distances, something Edison's DC system could do only with great difficulty. In addition, Nikola would receive royalties for every horsepower of electric capacity sold.

With his newfound wealth, Nikola was able to set up a laboratory and do what he wanted to do best: experiment. With his newfound fame, many people consulted him on projects concerning electricity.

The most ambitious of these was the Niagara Falls Power Project. In 1893, Nikola was asked to design the hydroelectric plant that would be powered by the falling water. It was a huge project involving thousands of men and many years' work, but when they opened it in November 16, 1896, it worked perfectly! Niagara provided power for many cities, extending as far as New York City. Soon, more power plants were built based on Nikola's designs.

Nikola then turned his attention to high-frequency electric currents. It was in the course of his experiments that he invented what is now known as the Tesla coil, which transforms input voltages into very high voltage pulses. Working with high frequency electricity, he discovered the principles of flourescent lighting, x-rays, and most importantly, radio.

Radio and the wireless transmission of energy became his obsession, and he was quite prolific with his ideas. He created the first remote control, envisioning robots to help people with dangerous tasks. He talked about transmitting sound and pictures over the airwaves. His ultimate goal was free energy for people, all transmitted wirelessly.

Alas, Nikola was way ahead of his time. Many people could not understand the ideas that he was proposing. Edison, now his bitter rival, used all the means at his capacity to discredit him. Worse, Nikola was getting into financial trouble because he gallantly gave up the millions in royalties that Westinghouse owed him in order to save Westinghouse's company.

What infuriated Nikola most of all was credit to the invention of the radio went to Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor with connections to the British aristocracy. This meant Nikola lost out in millions in revenue from the invention. Worst of all, Marconi was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1909, an honor Nikola felt he deserved. It wasn't until 1943 that the United States Supreme Court overturned Marconi's claim in favor of Nikola.

Gradually, Nikola faded from the limelight, only occasionally taking on consulting work. Later in life, he became a bit of an eccentric. He died in January 7, 1943, at the age of 86, a poor and penniless man. Only in recent years has Nikola been recognized for the genius that he really was.

References:
Complete patents of Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla, Master of Lightning

Friday, January 28, 2005

Blogstorm, Part 1

Rational Technology column for January 30, 2005

This is the epilogue to my story last week: the Philippine Computer Society issued a press release to the effect that it had 'goofed' by sending out the wrong application form for their Digital Pinay 2005 competition. They then organized a press conference-slash-powwow with the protestors. In a gesture of inclusion, PCS also invited the protestors to be part of the committee for the contest as consultants. Previous criteria would be discounted, and new criteria, more appropriate to the IT profession, would be used. All in all, a satisfactory ending.

However, what fascinated me more about the Digital Pinay 2005 controversy was not so much the end result but how the entire story unfolded. It was the story of how a group of young, vocal, and online critics managed to force the issue on a stodgy organization. And what's more, it illustrates the power of the blogstorm.

It started with the application form, of course, sent out by the PCS through email and circulated in various electronic fora. Most people would have paid it no mind, but it just so happened to catch the attention of a young woman named Sacha Chua. She read through it, laughed at what she thought were oversights, and ultimately became incensed when she learned they weren't oversights at all. Thus prodded, the young lady wrote it up in her blog (that's a public web-based diary, for all you fogeys out there).

It helped, too, that Sacha Chua is a celebrity of sorts in the local hacker community. She's been featured in the Inq7.net and Mobile Philippines. The former teacher from Ateneo de Manila is well-known for her work on Linux, wearable computing, and advocacy for digital literacy. Sacha has an extensive social network of young, intelligent, and articulate students and IT professionals.

She wrote in her blog (http://sacha.free.net.ph): "I am horrified that this is the image that PCS is promoting to students and professionals. I have always held that women can learn anything they want to learn and do anything they want to do in IT of all fields, and this contest is a huge leap backward."

Though she wrote her scathing commentary from Japan where she is currently on training, several of her friends from the Philippines and elsewhere picked it up and posted comments on their blogs.

Clair Ching, librarian of a small college in Manila and also a blogger (http://eclair.bizhat.com/blog), weighed in on the issue: "I am offended by this competition because it seems to me that the organizers are looking for a trophy to show around. This contest seems to feed the culture of machismo that we seem to have in our country. If this kind of thing goes on, we would just perpetuate the idea that women are objects of beauty to behold."

In the span of a few days, many people had picked up the story and were discussing it in web fora. Joey Alarilla, writer for Philippine Daily Inquirer, published it as a breaking story in Inq7.Net. Wong Chin Wah of the Manila Times featured it in his column. All the while, Sacha Chua kept an index of articles at a web site (http://del.icio.us/sachac/digitalpinay/) for easy reference for other people just coming to know about the issue.

So here was the phenomenon of a blogstorm. Bloggers fix on an issue that they feel is very important, write about it, raise the awareness of other people, prompting them in turn to weigh in with their own opinions. And note that a blogstorm is not generally something you can fake, because bloggers tend to write in their genuine style and value their own independence.

This little episode highlights the growing importance of blogging as part of our culture. It's not just literature, it's a means of expression that rides on top of a social network all its own. It's an alternative media that's challenging traditional media like newspapers and radio. It's very personal, written as it is by ordinary people, and may thus circumvent the limitations of conventional journalism.

And what's more, it highlights the effectiveness of blogs as a means of bringing out the details of an issue that would otherwise be ignored, prompting an honest discussion of the pros and cons.

Next: Blogging for Dumaguete City

Special announcement: Calling all Dumaguete bloggers! Please drop me a note at dominique-dot-cimafranca-at-gmail-dot-com with the address of your blog. I would like to feature you in subsequent articles.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Connected

We now have DSL connectivity at home!

Yes, I am connected! Hooray! Happy! Happy! Joy! Joy!

My Mom said I usually have a heavy-footed walk, but today? Today, I was floating on air.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Elfwood Gallery

Whoopee! I've been published at Elfwood. Elfwood, in case you didn't know, is a gallery for fantasy art and literature. There's tons of great artwork there, many of which I hope to learn from.

And now I have my very own section. Of course, if you're a regular visitor to this blog, it's stuff you've already seen.

Story of the Cellphone

K. invited me to write for the kids' magazine they were putting together. I decided to write on the history of the cellphone. I did some research yesterday and put this together. Unfortunately, it reads very unevenly, so a major rewrite is in order. All the same, I did pick up some interesting facts.

Shhh! Stop and listen carefully. What's that musical tone that's ringing from somebody's pocket? Why, it's just a cellphone, of course. Everyone seems to have one, and one is breaking out into the latest melody every few minutes or so.

Cellphones are a marvel of the electronic age. You can do just about anything with them. With a cellphone, you can send messages, play video games, check your schedule, set an alarm, look up a friend's email address and surf the Internet. Inside a modern cellphone is a computer, and even though it's small, it is more powerful than the first computers which came out. That's why you can do all those marvelous things with it.

And what's more, you can even call someone with your cellphone! Yes, I know you know that; I was just trying to make you laugh. With all the things that a cellphone can do, it does seem easy to forget that that is what they were originally invented for.

Do you know why it's called a cellphone? When do you think the cellphone was first invented? And what were the other inventions necessary to create the cellphone? Well, read on to find out!

To begin with, a cellphone is really a radio. To be sure, it's a very sophisticated radio, but it works on the same principles as your FM radio. There are differences, of course. First of all, a regular radio and a cellphone will work on different channels (or frequencies, if you will). A regular radio is also only able to receive signals, whereas a cellphone is two-way, that is, able to send and receive signals.

The radio was invented in the 1880s by Russian-born Nikolai Tesla, but it was Guglielmo Marconi, an Italian inventor, who first unveiled it to the public in 1895. In the early days of radio, they still didn't use it to carry voice signals. Instead, they used it as a wireless telegraph, transmitting messages to each other in Morse code. Nevertheless, radio was a very useful tool for ships to communicate with the ports on shore and with each other.

No one really knows when voice was first carried over radio. What we do know is that speech was first transmitted from New York to San Francisco and from a navy station Virginia, United States to the Eiffel Tower in France in 1915. Radio conversations were again used first for ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore communications. It was only in 1929 high seas radiotelephone between ships was introduced.

Commercial radiotelephony between North America and Europe was opened a few years later in 1927. The first telephone call around the world, using a combination of the regular wire telephone and radio, was done in 1935. Developments around radio really grew during World War II, however, because it proved to be an indispensable communication tools for the military. These developments were eventually introduced to the public during peacetime. Only companies and wealthy folk were able to afford the first public radiotelephones.

In 1947, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company tested a radio telephones for cars travelling between Boston and New York. Unfortunately, the project was a big failure because the radios were interfering with each other. AT&T declared the project a failure.

It wasn't until 1956 when real car phones were introduced. These were big and bulky, but unlike their counterparts from nine years earlier, they worked well enough. However, they still needed a land-based operator to interconnect the calls. It was only in 1964 when customers could dial telephones directly from their car.

Thus far in our story, the radio telephones could only communicate with big antennas on towers. The radio telephones themselves had to be quite powerful in order for their signal to reach the antennas when they were far away. This led to another problem: there weren't enough frequencies available to radio telephones, so only few people could be talking at any time.

Why not just use more channels or frequencies? Radio frequencies are quite limited and are therefore the government decides who gets to use them. Some frequencies are used for AM radio, some for FM radio, some for television, and some for special purposes. Without this basic regulation, all the signals would be interfering with each other. So the radio telephone companies had to make use of the channels available to them.

Scientists and engineers at AT&T thought about this problem and came up with a solution. Instead of having a few big antennas and powerful radios covering a large area, they decided to use small antennas with smaller coverage area. But they would have several of these antennas throughout their area of coverage. The coverage area of each small antenna was called a cell. So does this begin to sound familiar?

Using a cell-based system presented several advantages. The channels used in one cell could be reused in another cell much farther away so there would be no interference. This allowed more people to use their radio telephones simultaneously. The phones did not need to be so powerful because they only communicated with the antenna that was closest to them, and so the phones could be much smaller.

Using these ideas, AT&T proposed this idea in 1971. It was only in 1977 when the first prototype cell system was actually set up in the city of Chicago. In 1979, cellular service was also introduced in Tokyo. But it was only in 1982 that commercial cellular services became available in the United States.

The invention of the cell phone can be credited to Dr. Martin Cooper of Motorola in 1973. It was called the Motorola Dyna-Tac, and it was the first mobile telephone designed for use outside of a car. Dr. Cooper showed off his invention in New York by calling his friendly rival in Bell Laboratories.

Although the technology for cellphones was available since the 1960s, it took a very long time for the service to become available. Why was this so? Unfortunately, it took the United States government a long time to authorize the use of more frequencies. Control of the limited radio channels was important to prevent the different services from interfering with each other; but too much control also prevented them from being adopted for commercial use. Therefore, there was no incentive for American companies to further develop the technology.

So it wasn't until 1987 that development of cellphones really came into full swing. It was that year that the US government opened up more channels for cellular service. The following year, many companies came together to create the Cellular Telephone Industy Association. They came up with the first international standard for cellphones. The first phones based on this standard came out in 1991.

As you can see, the modern cellphone grew out of the invention of the radio. Radio, in turn, came out of earlier work with the telegraph (invented in 1831) and the telephone (invented in 1876). Between the invention of the radio in 1895 and the first cellular networks in 1977 was a span of 82 years! Why did it take so long? Along the way, many other tools needed to be invented to such a point that cell phones became feasible. At the same time, government also needed to recognize the potential of the cell phone industry in order to change their regulations.

Even though radio is central to the modern cellphone, you can also see that there are other significant inventions that also went into it: computers and memory, to do all the other things you do with it aside from calling; rechargeable battery technology which powers your cellphone without having to connect it to a plug; liquid crystal displays for their screens; and now digital camera technology for some selected units.

So when you make a call on your cellphone, take some time to appreciate all the history and the technology that went into it. It's really a modern marvel!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Fish

My good friend J. has been in the fish trading business for the past ten years. He's foregone the prestige and perks of life in a cushy office to take over the family business.

On a lark, I asked to accompany J. on one of his Sunday runs to Tagum, a small city north of Davao. There, J. meets with his customers and collects receivables.

J. likes to start out early, before the sun rises. That way, he beats traffic on the highway. It usually isn't so bad on Sundays, but between seven and ten, the highway tends to get crowded with people going to Church or to the market. So this Sunday, we're off on the trip at 5:20AM.

The drive is pretty pleasant. The highway runs smooth and traffic is sparse. J. was cruising at 80 kilometers per hour, apparently for my comfort; but I can imagine him gunning the engine at 120 kph. On a road this clear, I would be tempted to do the same.

We drive through a couple of checkpoints without being stopped. Mindanao isn't the wild country that it was twenty years ago, but NPA rebels do still operate in certain parts. Activities have been curtailed, but still, one can never be too careful.

We arrive in Tagum at around 6:15AM. J.'s first stop is with B., a good customer for the past six years. Here we stop for breakfast, as he usually does. Pan de sal, meat loaf, corned beef, mayonnaise, and coffee is the usual fare, or so I am told.

Chit-chat and gossip take up almost two hours of this leisurely breakfast. Along the way, I pick up a couple of additional details about the fish vending business up in the rural areas.

A fish vendor's life isn't easy. A typical day starts at 3:00AM, 4:00AM at the latest. Tagum is a farming town, and you keep time with the farmers' schedules. And the day doesn't end till 10:00PM.

They talk about some people who ate spoiled dried fish last week and were hospitalized. Dried fish will keep for a very long time, but if the fish spoils before it's dried, it's spoiled. And toxic, too. The poor fellow who eats it will turn red and start to choke.

Talk turns to guinamos, small fish mixed in salty goo to preserve it. It's a local delicacy for the downmarket crowd, and great for flavoring rice, and lots of it. B. tells J. that it's selling very well, and thanks him for the suggestion. But it's very hard work mixing it.

B.'s kids come down for breakfast. The elder child asks B. for permission to go watch Power Rangers at their neighbor's. She agrees then tells me the story of how he didn't speak until he was three years old. She was afraid he was autistic and brought him to a doctor. The recommendation: stop watching TV. After two months, he started speaking.

Conversation turns to me a couple of times. As usual, my friends oversell me, talking about how I was a hotshot manager for IBM. B. is surprised that I'm still not married.

Eventually, the small talk winds down and they get down to business. I turn to my pocketbook to give them some privacy. Thus engrossed, I miss out on the whole transaction, as should be the case.

We leave B.'s house and head over to the wet market, where J. meets up with more customers. Fish vendors are all lined up in a street. The stores are of various sizes, but they're all displaying their wares: long fish, flat round fish, small fish, big fish, some wet fish, mostly dried fish.

J. visits several customers and I take time to wander around the place. It's a sprawling market and everyone's selling everything. Fruit, vegetables, meats, fish, fowl, trinkets, and bootled videos.

It's been a long time since I've gone to a wet market, and I take it all in. This is a part of the world that I've been shielded from for the past ten years or so, having done my shopping in sanitized supermarkets. But yes, these places exist, and they will continue to exist for a while longer.

I wonder if I have been so lucky to have skipped all this for most of my life. In a way, I guess I am. At the same time, I can't help but wonder at this simple living. This is a world far removed from technology, from gadgets, from computers. People still get by.

J., fortunately, doesn't take too long with his customers in the wet market, and by 10:00AM, he's done with business there. We head back to B.'s place because he's giving her and her husband a ride to the city, where they plan to do some shopping.

Back on the road and heading home, and J. and B. and her husband are back at their gossip, with topics heading off in different tangents. I doze off for most of the ride, though, so I miss out on the juicy bits. Well, maybe next time.


DabaweGNU

It looks like I'm stuck in Davao City for the time being, with the prospect of setting foot in Dumaguete diminishing further. I was beginning to despair that I wouldn't find any Linux action here in Davao, but I realized that was entirely my fault. I simply was not looking hard enough.

If Cebu has the CE-GNU-LUG (Cebu GNU/Linux Users' Group), Davao in turn has DabaweGNU. DabaweGNU is a pun on the term for a native of Davao, which is DavaoeƱo. DabaweGNU is two years old now, and boasts of a hundred or so members.

I paid Holden Hao, president of DabaweGNU, a visit at his office to see what activities were going on and how I could help. I was pretty impressed with the activities they've put together.

For one thing, their community programs have produced some tangible results. Foremost, DabaweGNU set up a computer lab for Davao's oldest public high school, using donated computers from the UK, and all running Linux terminal services by way of the LTSP. Similarly, DabaweGNU also migrated the Davao City Chamber of Commerce to a mixed Linux/Windows environment.

In the past, DabaweGNU has held fee-based seminars in Davao. The seminars were well-attended, pointing to interest in Linux and other open source technologies. The seminar fees went into the DabaweGNU fund which in turn were used to buy monitors for the donated computers.

DabaweGNU currently holds regular bi-monthly get-togethers at their headquarters, which is unoccupied office space borrowed from Holden's family's building. I just missed their last meeting, which was on the Mozilla development frameworks using XUL.

The next big project is LPI certification for interested, slated for sometime February or March, and the organization is setting up study groups to help everyone prepare. I volunteered my time and materials for this project.

Well, finally, an outlet for my technical inclinations!

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Other Digital Divide

Rational Technology column for January 23, 2005.

Over the past week, there was minor tempest in the local IT community. It stemmed from the Philippine Computer Society's "Digital Pinay 2005" competition. The promotional description for the contest promised to "search for the woman who best exemplifies the qualities expected of future women leaders of the Philippine Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry."

Such a search would otherwise be considered exemplary of enlightened thinking were it not for the entry form that asked for candidates' height, weight, bust, waist, and hip sizes. Further reading of the criteria of the contest revealed that participants would be judged 40% for intelligence and 60% for popularity, beauty, and personality.

It didn't take too long for people in local IT -- both men and women -- to raise a hue and cry over the competition. What, they asked, did a woman's vital statistics have to do with her qualifications as a leader in the IT industry? As of this writing, the organizers of the contest beat a hasty retreat, admitting that someone had goofed on the criteria.

Why were the objections so strenuous? People working deep in technology generally pride themselves on egalitarianism and a meritocracy based on skill and intellect. Sex, race, creed, and financial status ought not to matter, and by and large, in the technology community, they don't. Holding a beauty contest and representing the winner as a paragon of the IT professional runs contrary to these ideals, and is in fact a great step backwards.

Having been in the IT industry for over a decade, I've interacted with women working on technical and managerial roles. Among them: systems engineers, network architects, kernel module developers, applications programmers, support engineers, and technical managers. On the whole, they have been as competent as their male counterparts, and sometimes more so.

Of course, it would be wrong to say that they were the same as men; our brains are wired differently, and correspondingly, our responses and perspectives are also different. But that only made my working experience all the richer.

Yet it's also true that the gender ratio in the technology industry is skewed towards men. Unfortunately, there are no Philippine-specific studies that validate this, so I can only base it on personal experience. Discounting positions in sales, management and education, men outnumber women 3-to-1. Why is this so?

There was an old saw about boys being geared early on towards engineering and the sciences and girls towards softer disciplines, and that this affects the education they pursue. With the ubiquity and accessibility to technology over the past ten years , this is largely irrelevant for the budding generation of engineers and scientists. But if it was true in the past, then this would have some effect on the ratio of the current crop of mid-level and senior technical executives.

A more tangible hurdle are the issues which continue to affect women in the workplace. Extraneous demands on women are different from the men, and sometimes more stringent. Somewhere along the line, women are confronted with the choice between career and family. The decisions sometimes affect the prospects for advancement. This is a very real problem, but it doesn't have to be.

With the proper support structures in place and with technology as an enabler, it's entirely possible to stave off the false dilemma that is thrust upon them. For example, a network architect or test engineer, using the Internet to collaborate with her colleagues, could benefit from a work-at-home program, thus allowing her balance her work with family duties.

A more insiduous problem, I think, are the misconceptions around technical careers. Complexity breeds specialization and it's quite likely that gender division will once again rear its ugly head here. Justified under the label of a technical career, women could in fact be locked into the fringes of the technology industry. Call center agent comes foremost to mind here.

All these factors lead to precious few positive role models for women in the technology, thus making it more difficult to attract more women into technical careers. I say the industry is the poorer for this. It's a vicious cycle that needs to be broken and soon. To do this requires positive action at the core of the problem: in education, in career management, and in visibility.

And that's more than what a beauty contest or the cover of a technology magazine can provide.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Fire Nymph


And lo, her righteous fury burst into an unquenchable flame, white hot as the sun. With a wave of her hand she laid waste to all the fools who dared defy her, leaving naught but ashes.

I was feeling particularly inspired tonight. Sacha's indignation over Digital Pinay 2005 mobilized several of her friends and caught the attention of the Philippine Computer Society organizers. They promptly reviewed their beauty contest. He, he, never get in the way of a woman on a mission.

Anyway, the little incident gave me the idea of drawing a fire nymph, the results of which I am very pleased with. Oil pastels, turpentine, and colored pencils. Backgrounds were done with turpentine mixed with bits of oil pastel.

I took intermediate scans of my work as well, so here's its evolution.


Rough pencils


Colored pencil outline

Hey, I'm making progress!

Sprites

I am still slogging through Pygame, and the concepts are starting to sink in. But I'm also learning that making games isn't all that easy. Here's some sprite artwork that I'm using for some animation.

I am going back to the 1980s!

Digital Pinay 2005

Sacha and I had a lively discussion about this contest that the Philippine Computer Society was holding. Ordinarily, it was something that I would have laughed off and forgotten, but Sacha was very passionate about the matter, and thinking about it some more, she was absolutely right.

Hence, this letter to the editor.


Dear Editor,

I chanced upon a call for candidates for the Search for DIGITAL PINAY 2005 in one of the newsgroups I frequent. DIGITAL PINAY 2005 is sponsored by the Philippine Computer Society (PCS) and Media G8way Corporation, the publisher of your magazine. The tagline for the competition promised to select the "woman who best exemplifies the qualities expected of future women leaders of the Philippine Information and Communications Technology (ICT) industry."

At first glance, I was much heartened. Finally, here was a medium by which the hard-working women of Philippine IT and their achievements could be recognized. Finally, here was a competition whose participants could inspire young women to venture into challenging world of information technology.

Whatever pleasure I derived from this seemingly forward-looking competition soon turned into mirth, however, when I scrolled through the rest of the invitation.

Prominently situated in the entry form were the boxes for height (cm), weight (kg), bust (cm), waist (cm), and hip (cm). Gadzooks! Since when have feminine curves become the measure for a woman's competence in information technology?

Impressing this further are the criteria for selection for DIGITAL PINAY. The contest makes a nod to intelligence by giving it a weight of 40%; but beauty/presentability and poise/personality, to be rated by a panel of judges on coronation night, hold another 40%; and the remaining 20% to be selected via text voting. Clearly, the criteria is skewed against intelligence and achievements from the get-go.

And what of the competitions on coronation night? Smart casual wear/sportswear, corporate wear competition, and formal wear competitions take up three-quarters of the activities. Apparently, clothes do make the woman.

So this is what DIGITAL PINAY 2005 is really all about: just another beauty contest. No doubt, some worthies will come forward nonetheless to pit their assets against each other. But what is the message that DIGITAL PINAY 2005 reinforces? That appearances matter above all else? Perhaps it's attempting to tell us what Filipino women really need to do to get ahead in IT?

I have nothing against the celebration of the beauty that is woman provided that it is put in its proper place. But in a competition purportedly seeking exemplars of "future women leaders of Philippine ICT industry", the tests should not be on beauty, popularity, poise, and personality but on intelligence, competence, and achievements in IT.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Prey

I am green with envy at Michael Crichton. Here's a writer who regularly churns out books that are guaranteed bestsellers. If you scan the bibliography at the end of his books, you'll see that the background for his stories is meticulously-researched. This is clearly a fellow who regularly rubs elbows with the movers and shakers of the high-tech industry. Not a bad occupation, not bad at all.

In the course of my sabbatical thus far, I've already gone through two of his recent books: Timeline and just this afternoon, Prey. Crichton paints a good background owing to his research, but the stories really fall into a predictable pattern. His underlying theme for his recent novels is the folly of placing faith in science and technology. There's the cautious, practical, and well-grounded hero on one side; a grubby, reckless high-tech startup on the other; and in between them, technology gone awry.

Timeline, about archaeology students travelling back to the past to rescue their professor, was utter drivel. I read it through just to see if it ended the way I thought it would end. Truth be told, I've seen better executed time-travel stories; 'Timeline' was just far too confused in the background of the technology on one hand, and the medieval adventures on the other. The startup's motivation was far too fuzzy.

Prey was somewhat better in execution. To begin with, the background technology was more plausible: genetically-assembled nanotechnology evolves beyond the boundaries set by its creators and gains a life of its own. Plausible, up to a point. Then, Crichton starts ascribing an increasingly malevolent intelligence to the nanobots, and from there, it just goes downhill. It's 'Jurassic Park' all over again, only this time with miniscule miscreants instead of deranged dinosaurs.

Crichton does pull together a tight thriller, and it's good brain candy for an afternoon's light reading. After a while, you feel that he's just stretching the tale and belaboring the point. And you just know from the pacing of the book that he's writing it with the end in mind of optioning it for another blockbuster movie.

Oh, I don't know: maybe I'm just getting too old for this sort of thing.

Malling

If I ever have to enter a mall again, it'll be too soon.

There are better ways to spend a wonderful Sunday afternoon, but the family is out in full force this weekend -- as we have been over the past several days -- and I am woefully outgunned in the voting decision. My sisters are certified mall rats and Mom doesn't want Dad to unduly exert himself. And besides, today is Mom and Dad's wedding anniversary, and the first time the whole family's been together in oh-so-many years.

So to the mall we go.

After a sumptuous lunch of Pizza Hut's Super Supreme with Cheesy Crust(tm), we all hit the shops. Now, I easily feel restless in the big malls of Metro Manila, so how much more restless would I be in the ultra-scaled down mall that is SM City Davao? Answer: Very, very restless.

There are no comics shops and hobby shops. National Bookstore is three-quarters office supplies and only one-quarter books. The selection in the computer shops is decidedly anemic. And I can only go round Toy Kingdom so many times.

I would have hit the movie theaters or the Internet cafe, but the family schedule is predictable only in its unpredictability. Mid-term commitments are definitely out, though if this keeps up, I will have to adjust my own patterns accordingly.

Thankfully, I had Michael Crichton's Prey to keep me company through most of the afternoon. And when I finished that, I hied over to National Bookstore and read Breaking the Da Vinci Code.

And as the sun set, we ended up in Kenny Rogers' for a chicken dinner. I spent seven hours in the mall.

Seven hours.

Seven hours.

Seven hours.

Up till now, I can't get over it.

Oh, don't get me wrong: I really appreciate being able to spend time with the family. I just wish we didn't have to spend it all in the mall.

If I ever have to enter a mall again, it'll be too soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Free 10GB storage

From an article on news.com: Company offers 10GB of Net storage, for free.

A company called Streamload is offering consumers a free 10-gigabyte online storage locker for multimedia files, potentially raising the stakes for larger companies like Yahoo and America Online.

People who sign up for the free 10-gigabyte service can only download 100 megabytes a month and can only upload files of 100 megabytes at a time. Customers who pay about $10 a month have much looser restrictions.


Yup, signed up for this.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Experiments with Pygame

Holidays are over, Dad is out of the hospital, and life is returning to some semblance of normalcy. I really have to settle down on a regular schedule of learning now as I originally intended before I took the Great Leap to Freedom.

Setting one's own agenda isn't as easy as it looks, however, what with the plethora of interests that I have. Should I start working towards certifications now? Or should I develop my interests in game development first?

Rather than give myself intellectual indigestion, I decided on taking the fun route first. I've always been dreaming about writing my own games, and with the availability of different toolsets, writing games is easier than ever. My weapon of choice: Pygame.

Pygame is a set of libraries that interfaces the Python programming language with the Simple DirectMedia Layer, or SDL. It has calls for managing graphics screens, sprites, and sounds. You can write games for both Linux and Windows. Though Pygame won't be as fast as C/C++, it does seem fast enough for simple arcade games, and moreso the card games that I'm gravitating to.

On the other hand, I am realizing the veracity of the old saw about the inverse proportionality of age to programming skills. Non sum qualis eram sum, unfortunately. I am beating my head against new concepts, and they are trickling in ever so slo-oooooooowly.

I'll keep at this for a week, and see how much progress I make. It is very interesting.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Free at last

Dad got discharged from the hospital yesterday. Last night was my first night to sleep in my own bed, for more than a week.

Except that I still got up at 2:00am and at 4:30am, the times at which Dad was supposed to take his medicine.

Still, it's a start.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Sacha cartoons

Sacha asked me to draw her in cartoon and I gladly accepted the challenge. I wanted to do it manga-style, so here was my original pencil sketch:

The cat ears are a running joke between Sacha and myself.

Now, here begins my problem. My pencils are passable, but I am terrible at inking, and moreso with digital inking. Which is a shame, because I've got this nice Wacom tablet. Anyway, I did give it a try, and here is the result:

Coloring needs some work, because I should be introducing shading and all that, but I'll leave that for when I get better at it.

Inking and coloring were done on Gimp, by the way.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Alignment quiz

Not usually my style to take personality quizzes, but I couldn't quite resist this one.

You scored as Neutral Good. A Neutral Good person tries to do the 'goodest' thing possible. These people are willing to work with the law to accomplish their goal, but if the law is corrupt they are just as willing to tear it down. To these people, doing what's right is the most important thing, regardless of rules, customs, or laws.

Neutral Good

90%

Lawful Good

90%

Chaotic Good

65%

Lawful Neutral

40%

Chaotic Neutral

35%

True Neutral

35%

Lawful Evil

30%

Chaotic Evil

20%

Neutral Evil

15%

What is your Alignment?
created with QuizFarm.com

Oil pastel studies

Oil pastels and I have not exactly been on good terms over the past couple of days. I don't know, maybe I should switch brands or something, or perhaps increase my color palette. Then again, a good workman shouldn't blame his tools.

So I decided to try something new: oil pastel studies, using the sticks as I would a sketching pencil.

This was my first attempt, a monotone sketch using my favorite orange-brown color.

For my second attempt, I used two colors, orange-brown and light brown for the sketch, and rounded out the details with a colored pencil.

And finally, a study in black-and-red, which lent a decidedly sinister atmosphere to the subject.

Sigh. I think I've gotten as good as I'm going to get on my own. It's really time for some classes.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Wakeboarder


Wakeboarding looks to be a conio sport, and correspondingly, one that I would shy away from. The picture by uber-conio Bianca Araneta in yesterday's Inquirer came out very well, though, so I couldn't help but try to paint it.

Oil pastel with turpentine wash.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

Night Shift

I'm running a week now at the hospital, working the night shift with Dad, and my sleep patterns have been altered. This is not good.

Every 12 hours, Dad gets a intravenous dose of an antibiotic, and the drip is supposed to last for anywhere from an hour to an hour-and-a-half. In this case, it's administered around 2 AM, so I have to watch it carefully so that the bottle doesn't empty.

Last night, Dad and I stayed up for two hours watching "Jakob the Liar." He followed this with another one that I slept through. It's a positive sign that he took in two whole movies.

On the whole, Dad is getting better. He's back to his jolly self. But this will take a few more days.

In the meantime, I take in a few hours of interrupted sleep every night. In the morning, I go home and just crash for a few hours of solid sleep. Then, back again in the evening for yet another cycle.

I take in as much sleep so as to keep my immune system running. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave much room for anything else.

Not exactly what I bargained for, but we all have to do what we all have to do.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Dwarf Lord

I'm going to lay off the oil pastels for awhile, simply because I haven't been getting the results that I've been trying to get. Maybe I need more practice, but I thought going back to pencil sketches would be a refreshing change.

This is my take of a Dwarf Lord, supreme commander of dwarven forces. I like the way the fierceness in the eyes came out, though that may have been accented by the horned helmet and the braided beard. The nose guard may have been subconsciously influenced by the helmet of Gimli from the LOTR films. The standard was a necessary touch to give him the look of a commander.

What's a standard without a standard bearer? This sketch was meant to portray a younger dwarf, hence, the smaller beard. It turned out more like a pikeman, though, so I'll probably redraw the bearer as a younger and beardless dwarf.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Day Four

It's Dad's fourth day at the hospital, and the place is beginning to feel like home.

Obviously, that is not a good thing.

I just can't help think that way because that's where I've been sleeping since Sunday night. The only other time I've slept in my own bed is when I would go back to the house in the mornings.

So this is now my routine: sleep the night in the hospital, open the store first thing in the morning, head back home to take care of the dogs (unless my sister's already done so), sleep a bit in my own bed, then head back to the hospital.

It's taking a toll on my own plans, but then again, this is part of the flexibility that I was looking for. I'm happy I don't have customer issues at the back of my mind, happy that I don't have to schedule any more presentations. That said, I do begin to appreciate the need of having portable computer so I can get work done.

In lieu of banging away on a keyboard, I am pushing buttons on a Gameboy Advance. Oh! I am so pathetic now.

On the bright side, Dad is getting better.

In the beginning was the command line

From Sacha's wiki: an annotated re-visitation of Neal Stephenson's "In the Beginning was the Command Line". I gave it a cursory look and was pretty impressed by the analogies.

Definitely worth a closer read.

Warp Spawn games

I found yet another great site for card- and board-based wargames: Warp Spawn games. The selection is a little more varied than Dvorak, but it's also so much richer. Warp Spawn covers fantasy, sci-fi, and historical wargames.

Of particular note are the fan games built around popular TV shows and movies like Farscape, Star Wars, Star Trek, and the Matrix. I was particularly impressed with Matrix: Replay as it looked like it would play like SpyCraft.

There were a number of solo games, too, and something that's important as I can't find anyone to play the card games with. I built a deck according to their instructions for Heroes and Hordes although I have yet to finish a complete game.

Properly inspired by Heroes and Hordes, I have started drawing characters based on their descriptions. Postings tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Neptune Rising


I copied this from the cover of "Swords Against Death". Original art was by Jeff Jones. I am getting the hang of blending colors for body figures (even blue ones!) but I still have problems doing backgrounds.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Dvorak Games

Marcelle, Peppy, and Ron got me interested in collectible card games late in my last stint in Manila to the point where I actually bought a starter set. Ever since then, I have been tempted to get into Magic: The Gathering as well.

Except, of course, I am too cheap, and the whole business of overpriced booster cards and the artificial economy just doesn't sound right to me.

All the same, I found the customized card game concept very intriguing. Cheapskate that I am, I scoured the net for free CCG games and found a close alternative: Dvorak card games.

Here's a description of the Dvorak system:

Dvorak is a card game where all of the cards start out blank; players choose a theme, make up enough cards to get started, shuffle and deal, then add further cards to the game as the game progresses. It provides you with enough rules to start a game, but leaves the theme and the depth up to you.

You can use it as a skeleton for making a solid and standalone card game, you can play it as an experimental or cut-throat Nomic, you can use it to kill half an hour drawing silly pictures and forcing your friends to make drinks, you can throw together an amusing card game based on your favourite film or sport or in-joke - it's blank cardboard, it's fairly multipurpose.


The games written under Dvorak are pretty light. One of the latest ones to get published is Magical Battle Girl. Marcelle should be pretty pleased with that.

You can play Dvorak via a MUSH engine, but there's also a Windows-based engine for playing some of the games.

Best of all, they're free!

The Days Fly On

It's early afternoon, and I am pleasantly alert and awake. Dad was feeling much better last night, which was lucky for me as I was playing private nurse once more. I managed to clock in a decent number of hours of sleep, interrupted only by nurses sneaking in to take a blood pressure reading or to administer an injection.

I got home early in the morning, and promptly went back to bed. I was up again by 11AM and surfing the Net.

It does look like Dad will be in the hospital until the end of the week. That's when the run of the antibiotics ends. I hope that a few days after, I'll be able to head back to Dumaguete.

That said, there's really no reason not to get back into the swing of things. I realize I'm now starting to use this occasion as a crutch for procrastinating. It's really time to get started on the program of study I set for myself.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Tracing the Fiasco

I spent the night at the hospital to watch over Dad so Mom could get some rest. Dad's been showing significant improvement since yesterday. His blood pressure has gone up to normal levels, and his temperature is more or less steady, if a bit high.

I wish I could say that I stayed up the whole night, but I was drifting in and out of sleep, interrupted every half hour or so. Either the nurses would come in, or Dad would get up to take a leak. This sleep debt I paid off this morning and early afternoon.

This is how things came down to this: Dad was given some pretty strong antibiotics after his biopsy two weeks ago, but the drugs made him puke. The doctor asked my Dad if he was having a fever, and my Dad lied and told him "No." All the same, he ought to have prescribed other antibiotics.

The descent started when Dad decided to stop the antibiotics before full term.

The whole incident reminds me of working in IT, when the consultant recommends a solution that doesn't wholly address the problem, and the user decides to take unilateral steps to fix things but instead makes it just worse.

Sigh.

Dagger of the Mind



Sean's blog is a veritable treasure trove of illustration ideas coming from his fantasy stories. This oil pastel painting was inspired by his blog entry of the same title.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Hospital

Sigh. Looks like I spoke too soon. Dad had an infection last night and because of that, went into a sky-high fever. He went into shock, so we rushed him to the hospital at around 10:30PM Quite an ordeal, though in hindsight, we were all very calm about the matter.

We got reinforcements in the form of my visiting aunt, an R.N. from the US. She had a fight with the resident to get my Dad antibiotics earlier.

Dad stabilized around midnight and regained consciousness. He said he didn't recall us bringing him to the hospital. That brought some comedy relief, though we were somewhat shaken.

We spent the night in the hospital. I felt guilty for sleeping through most of it, but I felt we needed someone in reserve. Anyway, Mom, my sister, and my aunt were doing a fairly good job.

I'm postponing my trip to Dumaguete. I hope this all turns out well.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

New Year

It's been a fine, pleasant day all throughout, and that's certainly an auspicious way to start the new year. Spending the time in relative quiet is exactly how I want things to be, and this first day of the year hit the spot quite nicely.

I'm certainly thankful of the blessings from the past year. For all the tumultuous events, the pluses, I think, far exceeded the minuses. I've made some very good friends, I cast off on a new adventure, and, best of all, there's Sacha.

And I'm looking forward to the coming year. This will be the time to explore new things and make new friends.

There's no plan, but that's the beauty of it.