Saturday, April 30, 2005

Mad Sat

I was insane to do it, but I did it anyway. I turned in a second entry to the 2005 Palancas, this time in the Futuristic Fiction category.

I started writing this morning, muddled through all 22 pages for most of the day, and wrote the final sentence just half an hour ago. I hope I beat the deadline which just happens to be in, oh, an hour or so.

Other than the cramming, the sore fingers, and the bleary eyes, I'm quite happy with the piece that I wrote, plot holes and all.

Oh, I am never going to do something this crazy again.

Cool City Address

I ghostwrote this for one of the more prominent Dumaguetenos to use as an opening address at a local book launching. The "cool city" concept is an idea broached by Jong Fortunato, based on similar initiatives in San Francisco.

Ladies and gentlemen, good afternoon.

I'd like to welcome you all to this book launching of our esteemed author and friend, ____________. At the same time, I would like to extend our heartfelt thanks for taking the time to be with us this afternoon.

A book launching is always a special event. More so if the author comes from our own ranks in our own city. It furthers the cultural life of our community, raises our standing among our sister cities, and, we hope, inspires other authors with the literary germ to follow suit.

Within the past year, Dumaguete and Oriental Negros have been in the news for our efforts to promote Information and Communications Technology. Those efforts have started to bear fruit. Just look at SPI Publisher Services which runs its copyediting operations in Bacong for prestigious science publications from Europe.

Understandably, there's still a lot of work that needs to be done in the field of ICT. But now that those wheels are set in motion, it's time to look at the other legs on which further growth of our city stands: research, culture, arts, literature, music, food, architecture. In short, all those things which comprise a “cool city.”

What do I mean by a “cool city?” It's a city that the upwardly mobile twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings would want to move to: to live in, to play in, and to work in. A “cool city” is one that approaches the perfect balance of working conditions and living conditions. Here, career does not have to override concerns for health, family, and leisure.

Friends, I really believe that Dumaguete has the seeds to become a “cool city.” No, no, we're not there yet. To get there, we have to honestly admit where we are in order to work to where we're going.

And what better way to start than at this book launching, which celebrates Dumaguete culture at its best: in our literature, and in our cuisine?

Thank you.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Northern Exposure, Part 2

A Rational Technology entry

Sometimes, you just have to leave your hometown in order to be able to appreciate it. It was with this frame of mind that I undertook my norther expedition. Ungrateful as I may sound, Dumaguete's charms were wearing a little thin, so I thought a change of scenery was in order. It turned out to be a most salutary decision.

The first leg of my journey through the Mountain Province ended in Bontoc, the capital city. Bontoc sits in a valley 900m above sea level in the middle of the Central Cordilleras. The city proper is quite small – smaller, in fact, than Dumaguete's. It consists of a few narrow streets. Only a few tricycles zoom by, most of the traffic being buses and jeepneys in transit to the other cities.

Bontoc's business endeavors center around farming. A local entrepreneur set up a satellite/cable TV company with nine channels and branched out into the tourist trade with a couple of buses. Other than that, the facilities were pretty basic, all of which added to its rustic charm.

If we had stayed a few nights there, we might have gotten a tour to the nearby Kalinga villages the following day. However, my friend and traveling companion Mario suggested that we head over to Banaue instead. Banaue was only 46 km away, he pointed out, and received far more press than Bontoc.

Two hours later, close to sunset, we reached Banaue a little worse for wear. If Halsema Road connecting Baguio to Bontoc was beautiful but deadly, the route from Bontoc to Banaue was more so! Halsema was lengths of paved winding road interrupted by rough paths, the Bontoc-Banaue road was lengths of rough paths interrupted by paved roads.

But what a view! The rice terraces made the trip so very worthwhile. While terraces literally littered the mountainside throughout the trip, Banaue's were far sweeping in scope and beautiful in their verdant regularity. As dusk was falling, we hurriedly snapped pictures before heading to the hotel.

Owing to the terrain, the Banaue town proper literally hangs along a cliffside. Facilities were far more basic than even Bontoc's. There was a school, a public market, a tourist information office, a fire department, and several inns, but not much else. By 7PM, the place was quiet, and by 9PM the town had gone to hibernation.

In keeping with our marathon pace, we struck out for Sagada the following morning. Once more we braved the Banaue-Bontoc road on the return trip. Back at Bontoc, we took a jeepney heading to Sagada, another hour's journey up more mountain roads.

Sitting higher up in the mountains, Sagada's main draws were its limestone caves, hanging coffins, trails, and waterfalls. I had expected it to be far more rustic than either Banaue or Bontoc, and in part, it was, but the overall atmosphere was quite pleasant.
Sagada was quite inured to tourists, and majority of the businesses catered to that industry. In our brief stay, we met college students on hiking vacation and backpacking Poles, Japanese, English, and Americans.

This time, we did stay long enough to see the sights in depth (and quite literally, too). The highlight of our journey was a short spelunking expedition into the Sumaging Cave, descending 500m below the surface. Quite an exciting time it was, too, because I nearly drowned in one of the pools (well, I like to exaggerate a bit).

The last leg of the journey was the return trip to Baguio, then onwards to Manila. Having traveled at this breakneck pace through the mountains, I decided to cap it off with the 400-km return journey in one day. A fool thing to do, but the miles and miles of road left a lot of room for thinking.

Banaue, Bontoc, and Sagada were as close to the edge of civilization as I had ever gone. Clear evidence of that was the merciful absence of fastfood joints like Jollibee and McDonald's. Nevertheless, these were thriving communities slowly and determinedly edging their way into the mainstream of society. Thus, set into motion, there is no turning back.

One of the things which bothered me, though, was the helter-skelter growth of the towns and cities. With the influx of tourists as a spur, you can sense their urgent need to modernize and grow, but it's clearly coming in at some cost to the environment. At a certain point, something is clearly going to give.

Ironically, while the draw of the Mountain Province is the beauty of its surroundings, the mountainside is overrun with buildings constructed mainly out of GI sheets, giving them a shantytown look. This might be excusable for a city or town just edging out of subsistence, but eventually, zoning and architectural harmony will have to come into the picture soon.

I think the same lessons also apply to Dumaguete and Oriental Negros. We're clearly ahead in many respects, and with our stately buildings, we can hardly be accused of looking like a shantytown. But if we continue to build as we please, without any clear architectural vision, we are ultimately doomed to an ugly patchwork existence.

In any case, I've traveled there and back. I've seen fantastic sights and I've met interesting people. The cool mountain air and the spectacular view of gigantic terrace steps were a most welcome respite, as, too, were the thrill of danger and the aroma of adventure. But it's good to be back to familiar surroundings, where I can smell the salty see air and see a clear night sky. Dumaguete's charms are again as I knew them.

It's good to be back.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Palanca attempt

I was cramming from morning to finish up my entry for the Palanca awards. Did I mention that I only started this morning, as well? No. Oh, well.... Talk about cramming.

Knowing how atrociously straightforward I can be, with not a bone of art in me, I seriously doubt I'll win. But I did promise myself to send in an entry this year. Thankfully, they don't post "The Worst of the Palancas." At least, I hope not.

I shall refrain from posting the entry until after I find out that I didn't win. After all, one can always hope.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Backdated Entries

Created some backdated entries of my trip to Olongapo, Baguio, Bontoc, Banaue, and Sagada, transcribing my handwritten notes from my journal. You can check them out in the entries below.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Sleeping in

Believe it or not, I didn't actually wake up till noontime today. I was feeling a little out of it last night, so I decided to sleep in. I got up at 4AM, then again at 8AM, and bam! 12PM. I should feel a little guilty, but then again, what's a bum's life for if not to sleep in late.

But I don't think I'll make a habit out of this.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Northern Exposure, Part 1

When I left my corporate job late last year, one of the things I promised to do was see more of my own country. I can claim to have set foot in over twenty countries, but so much of the Philippines was alien territory to me. This week I lifted the veil on the rugged Mountain Province.

The starting point of my journey was Olongapo where I spent the weekend with some friends. As Sunday winded down, they all returned to Manila but I opted to stay behind. Armed with a Lonely Planet guidebook circa 1997 and a general sense that I wanted to go North, I weighed my options: would I do Vigan, the Hundred Islands, or Sagada?

Ultimately, the frequent bus trips from Olongapo to Baguio closed the decision for me. I took the six hour journey to the summer capital where I could then make my way to Sagada and other nearby towns.

I stayed the night with my friend Mario in Baguio. As I spoke of my plans, he caught my enthusiasm and decided to come along. Despite a year and a half of teaching there, he had never been to Sagada either. On my part, I was glad for a companion on this journey to parts unknown.

The following day we set off. Our first destination was Bontoc, capital of the Mountain Province, which would give us the choice of moving onwards to Sagada or Banawe. Rickety buses plied the route every hour from 5AM to 4PM, and we simply took the one that was about to leave.

Our route took us on Halsema Road, the winding trail that crosses through the Cordilleras and connects the different towns. Our ascent opened a breathtaking panoramic vista of rolling hills, mountains, and gardens. In no way was the journey monotonous for every turn brought something new into view: staircase terraces, rivers, cliffs, gigantic boulders, and so on. Up and up we went, and at our highest point we were more than three kilometers above sea level.

There was also the underlying thrill of danger. Despite years of development, Halsema is not completely finished, and in several places the road would thin out to one lane with sheer hundred-meter drop on either side. Scars of past landslides broke the greenery of the mountainside. If the glorious beauty of the mountainside could not inspire one to prayer, then certainly the dangers would.

It was quite fascinating to see people making their living along the 130-km winding trail that we followed. Not the best of places to make a living despite the wonderful view, yet people persisted. Several of the men were construction workers, either pouring concrete or erecting barriers; many more were truck drivers and machine operators. The women ran the roadside rest stops high up the mountain, and some were peddlers. And a great majority were farmers tilling their terraces for rice, fruits, and vegetables.

But it would be a mistake to attribute theirs to a life of simple subsistence. Elementary and high schools operated in those remote locations. Many of the folks we spoke to had a good command of English as well as a thoughtful cultured demeanor. I strongly suspect that they held fast to the land of their births simply because that is what men and women do.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Sagada-Baguio-Manila

Roads, roads, more roads. That's what characterized this day.

We got up at 4:30AM, expecting to take the 5:30AM bus to Baguio. It turned out we were misinformed. The first bus actually left at 5:00AM. We had to wait for the 6:00AM trip.

The journey from Sagada to Baguio took a little over six hours. We arrived in Baguio at 1:00PM, snarled as we were in traffic in the last leg.

We had lunch at Tokyo Tokyo, and sent Mike on his way to Angeles. I then got the rest of my gear from Mario's and took the 2:30PM bus.

I met Mike once more at a rest stop. The rest of the trip was uneventful but inordinately long.

I hit Manila at 9:00PM.

I had travelled over 400km today.

Thus ends my Northern Expedition.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Sagada

I never expected to go down a cave today, but I did. With hissing kerosene lamps providing the only light, the thrill of danger of was very real.

This is how it happened.

We woke up fairly early this morning and we had a decent breakfast at the inn. We then took a walk around the Banaue town proper. We crossed the rickety bridge that spanned the river, and tried our best not to look down as the drop was quite high.

We then took a jeepney back to Bontoc. On the jeepney, we met two Polish backpackers, Rafel and Mike. They also came from Banaue and were headed towards Sagada. At Bontoc, we took a bus going to Sagada, another hour's ride.

Rafel wanted to head back to Angeles that day but Mike was a bit more game to explore Sagada.

We had lunch, after which Mario, Mike, and I went to look for lodgings. We checked out a couple of places but eventually decided on the Sagada Inn. Pretty good place and a good price, too -- P600 for a twin bedroom with private bathroom.

We decided to go on a cave exploration tour. Price was P430 for all three of us.

We went to a limestone cave. Our guide was very reticent, which suited me just fine.

He said we would get a little wet, and asked if it would be all right if we did. That wasn't a big deal, I said. Oh, boy!

We thought we would get damp wet. We didn't know we would get wet wet.

The descent was fairly okay, just an ordinary hike along rocky stairs.

Eventually, the rock turned to flow stone. The guide asked us to take our shoes off. O-kay....

A little further ahead, we already had to start wading through pools of water.

I sensed that this was not the expedition I expected when the guide told us to empty our pockets. Mario and Mike decided to strip to their skivvies. I simply rolled up my pant legs.

Pretty soon, the water reached up to our calves, then to our hips, then to waist level. The water was very cold.

At that point, though, I could not think of going back. I had gone so far forward I simply had to see the whole exploration through.

I was weighed down by my backpack, containing not only my things but Mario and Mike's belongings as well. As we clambered through a narrow hole, my backpack got caught on the overhanging rock, and I fell waist-deep into the water. That wa the first close call.

Further on, we had to hold on to a rope while we traversed a rock face with no handholds. I was the last to cross, and I lost my footing! I held on to the ropes with my hands alone, and I could not feel anything beneath my feet, only water.

I don't know where I got the strength to pull myself up, but I did. I suppose my guardian angel was looking out for me.

Not long after, we got back to the fork at which we turned, having travelled in a loop. By then, the journey was drawing to a close. We dound our shoes, slipped them on, and began our ascent.

We had gone down 500 ft.

The rest fo the trip back to the hotel, we took things easy. We took photos of the spectacular vista below. A little further on, we parted ways with our guide. I tipped him an extra P50 in addition to the agreed-upon fee.

We took one more detour down a rocky path to a nearby cave where they stacked the hanging coffins. There were several college students already there, giggling away without a care. That annoyed me. This was a resting place for the dead, after all. I said a prayer before moving on.

We had snacks at Yoghurt House. What I've learned from this trip is that restaurants in the mountain province take their sweet time to prepare. The concept of customer service is nonexistent. Our food took over an hour to arrive! I was simply too tired to complain.

We ended the day with dinner, beer, and conversation.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Banaue

I'm writing this entry from Banaue, and I didn't mean to. But let me start from the beginning of the story.

Mario and I started out from his apartment at 7:00AM. We went to the Magsaysay Terminal to board a Bontoc-bound bus. For a brief moment, we considered going straight to Sagada, but we thought better of it.

The bus we took was rickety, old, and did not have airconditioning. Nonetheless, we were comfortable. It was a full trip, by the way.

Whatever thoughts of discomfort we may have entertained were quickly dispelled by the panoramic vista of the mountain roads. It was an explosion of mountainside greenery, carved into gigantic steps of fruit and vegetable farmland. As we ascended higher and higher, the air became cooler. The scent of pine wafted in the air.

It was a thrilling ride, to be sure. Many times, it felt like the bus was trailing too close to the precipice and at any moment we would fall into the beautiful but deadly ravines below. Marks of past landslides were testament to the real dangers we faced.

Fortunately, this was the dry season and the chances of mudslides were remote.

At 2:30PM, we reached Bontoc, a sleepy town whose main street was the main business district. Not a Jollibee in sight! There were several inns to stay in, but we had our minds set on Sagada.

We took a guick lunch, at which Mario proposed that we head over to Banaue instead. It was, he reasoned, only 46 km. away. I agreed.

We found an airconditioned bus heading to Manila by way of Banaue, but we would have to stand all the way. No big deal, as it was only two hours.

Whereas the Baguio-Bontoc road was well-paved in most sections, the Bontoc-Banaue route was just the opposite. Most of it was rough going, and for long sections it ran with only one lane so much so that we would have to stop to let vehicles going in the opposite direction through.

Among the interesting places on the route was a telecom station with a gigantic statue of the Blessed Virgin.

Finally, we hit Banaue at around 5:00PM. It was a fantastic view! The Banaue rice terraces were much more evenly spaced than the Baguio-Bontoc terraces, and they were far greener. Unfortunately, we couldn't take any pictures from the bus as we were enclosed and standing in the aisles.

Sadly, the beauty of the rice terraces is marred by a hodge-podge of ugly construction. The residents seem to favor GI sheets for roofs and walls, giving it all a shantytown look.

The Banaue town proper is a small area relatively flat land that interrupts a cliff leading into a valley.

Daylight was fast fading, so Mario and I ran off to get a few good shots of the rice terraces from the viewing decks. We hailed a tricycle who agreed to take us to one spot for P35. Later, we asked him if he could take us round-trip, and he agreed for P50. I tipped him P20, anyway. A good thing we took the tricycle because the decks were a long way off.

Happily, we managed to catch just enough light to snap several good pics.

We got lodgings at Stairway Lodge. Facilities were very basic but quite cheap at P450.

We had dinner at the neighboring Las Vegas Restaurant. Though it sounds fancy, Banaue's digs are really quite basic and rustic.

That's part of the charm, I guess.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Baguio

I took the 8AM airconditioned bus to Baguio after breakfast and a visit to the church. Bus fare was P350, which told me I was in for a long ride. Except for our conductor almost getting into a fight in Dau and an accident we saw along the way, the trip was uneventful.

The trip was long, though, longer than I expected. I was in the bus from 8:00AM till 2:30PM. No matter, the view was great.

I had a late lunch at SM Baguio, after which I went down to see Mario. SM Baguio was an impressive edifice. UP Baguio, where Mario taught, was cozy.

I decided to spend the night at Mario's. We left my things at his place, then went to Mines View Park to shop and see the sights.

We then checked out the bus trips to Bontoc. Eight hours, so they say; well, I didn't come this far to turn back! Mario's going with me tomorrow.

We met Clair briefly at Don Henrico's along Session Road. We then went for dinner at this small pizza joint called Volante. The pizza was great.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Wandering around Olongapo

Refreshed from taking a bath, I started to wander around Olongapo. The city really isn't much to speak of, at least the parts I've seen.

Deciding there wasn't much to see in town, I took a yellow jeep marked "Sta. Rita-Gate" and went back to Subic. There I wandered around, trying to make my way back to the boardwalk.

It was a long walk and as it was dark, I had to hurry. I did make it to the boardwalk, but I had to head back quickly.

A Place to Stay

I asked a fellow where I could go spend tjhe night. He pointed me to a lodging house. I went for it, but found that it was a real dive. The price was cheap at P300 for an airconditioned room, but yuck! When the surly receptionist handed out a ratty towel and a sliver of soap to a guest, I changed my mind. All the towels were ratty, mind you.

I asked another fellow where I might put up for the night. He pointed me to a decent inn. P1000 per night for a twin room but it was passably clean. I took it.

Mass in Olongapo

I sent off the guys at the bus terminal and went looking for a church. I found St. Joseph's Parish, very near the bus terminal, quite easily. I had my bags with me, but I decided to sit there to let the shock of the afternoon wear off.

So glad I got to go to Mass. This was quite an adventure. The people at Club Morocoo were just terribly unhelpful. They had no idea when Mass was. They did not even offer to call the church.

It's kind of sad. I've never missed Mass, not even in a Muslim country, and I almost miss it in Catholic Philippines!

As a consolation, I found three churches in my wanderings around Subic and Olongapo this afternoon.

Poolside and Away

I went down to the beach and Sacha and Diane followed. They briefly considered getting into the water but the mud dissuaded them.

Instead, they decided for the pool, a good choice, in my opinion. I joined them after a while, as did Ron.

Marcelle and Jac, though, were totally out of it. I woke Marcelle but he was too late to take a dip. We had breakfast instead.

At 10:30AM, we finished packing up. We went down to check out. We went to the restaurant to order lunch, but the wait was interminably long. By noon, we had had enough. We cancelled our order. Sacha spoke with the manager to explain why we were cancelling. The manager's reason: the microwave ovenb broke down!

We headed to Subic and had pizza at Little Caesar's, instead.

The Bikini Contest

One thing I found out today is that bikini contests and other like activities are most certainly not in my DNA.

The thought of scantily-clad women parading onstage ought to excite, in theory; instead, I was bored stiff. I suppose there are other things in women that attract me now. Being seated way at the back certainly didn't help matters any.

Sacha and Diane were equally bored. They spend the evening practicing Japanese instead. This, while the contest was in full swing.

We snuck out before the end of the competition and wandered around the boardwalk. We only went back in when they announced the winners.

Jac did not make it to the top ten, but she did win texter's choice. We met her family after the contest. She went back to the hotel with us.

We had pizza for dinner. We didn't sleep until 2AM. I took the cushions and made myself comfortable on the floor.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Olongapo, and Sand Cats

The bus trip went well, and I met Sacha, Ron, Marcelle, and Diane at Chow King in Olongapo. We then took a cab to our hotel, Club Morocco, which was by one of the beaches along Subic Bay.

Sacha made sand cats.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Dinner

Dinner at the business class lounge. I was planning on the cheaper food court, but the lines were extraordinarily long.

The food wasn't so bad - P120, pricey, but at least I didn't have to rub elbows with the hoi polloi.

Ha! I am so snooty.

Slow Going

It's close to 6:00PM and the day has gone by well, albeit slowly. I slept for two hours earlier this morning, then spent the rest of the time exploring the ship. I also played a round of video games, then decided I've lost my taste for them.

The only bit of excitement to break the monotony was a fire drill for the benefit of merchant marine students who are having classes on the ship. It was worth a few laughs.

My provisions are all gone. I should just get dinner later.

Dumaguete-Manila: Superferry 19

I'm suffering from a variant of writer's block -- I'm able to write but the words are not what I want to express exactly -- so this is not exactly a good time to be starting a journal.

On the other hand, I am going on my firs extended road trip as a "full-time bum." I'm not travelling on company expense; I'm travelling on my own money. It's painful to the wallet, but liberating, and refreshingly so.

Destination: Manila, Subic, and other parts North.

Instead of taking the plane, I'm taking a boat. The trip will take longer, much longer, about 22 hours or so, but it's something I've been wanting to experience.

I'm writing this on the SuperFerry 19, a stately cargo/passenger ship plying the Philippine sealanes. It leaves Dumaguete for Manila on Monday and Fridays, arriving on the day following. The return trips are on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

There are different accommodations for this ship, ranging from economy class to full-sized suites. Way cheaper than taking the plane, and I got a 25% discount by way of my GenTXT membership.

I got a cabin accommodation, normally good for four, but I am the sole occupant. I have my own toilet and bath, so it's very convenient. And I also get satellite TV. Cool!

I packed food and water and other provisions but this apparently was unnecessary. The ship has a business class restaurant and a food court, though prices are a bit on the high side. Soft drinks are a real rip-off at P35 per can. The budget meals of P40 are a good deal, though.

Other amenities: convenience store, souvenir shop, salon, and video games.

Christianity and Animals

Two weeks back, Ms Hoffman raised a challenge as to whether there was a Christian view towards animals. The question may have been posed rhetorically, nevertheless it raised a good point: does Christianity prescribe a particular view towards how animals should be treated? If so, what is this view?

A quick look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church, points 2415 to 2418, reveals the following:

2415 The seventh commandment enjoins respect for the integrity of creation. Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man's dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.

2416 Animals are God's creatures. He surrounds them with his providential care. By their mere existence they bless him and give him glory. Thus men owe them kindness. We should recall the gentleness with which saints like St. Francis of Assisi or St. Philip Neri treated animals.

2417 God entrusted animals to the stewardship of those whom he created in his own image. Hence it is legitimate to use animals for food and clothing. They may be domesticated to help man in his work and leisure. Medical and scientific experimentation on animals is a morally acceptable practice if it remains within reasonable limits and contributes to caring for or saving human lives.

2418 It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly. It is likewise unworthy to spend money on them that should as a priority go to the relief of human misery. One can love animals; one should not direct to them the affection due only to persons.

Rational Technology: ICT Highlights: Foundation University

Not my best piece of writing, because I have writer's block and I have to rush this anyway because I'm leaving for a long break tomorrow. Oh, well...who reads me anyway?

One of the key success factors in our quest to bringing more outsourcing business into Oriental Negros is the quality of ICT education offered by our local academic institutions. With the breadth of the ICT field today, our colleges and universities must seriously consider investing in a few specific areas that they can excel in. Correspondingly, they should also promote themselves in these areas in order to gain recognition.

What then are the highlights of ICT education for the universities in Oriental Negros? Unfortunately, I have not seen any one document that assesses these highlights, so I humbly propose to cover this over the next few weeks on staggered basis. If I am wrong, well, please do let me know and I will gladly feature that report instead.

My first stop for this inquiry was Foundation University. Foundation, as many would know, has undergone a remarkable resurgence over the past couple of years with their ambitious and innovative programs. If there are any remaining doubts, we can easily dispel them by pointing to the school's recent victory in the 2nd Innovation Awards as well as to the province's first medical transcription facility.

Foundation University currently offers three degree programs related to ICT: BS in Business Computing Applications, BS in Computer Science, and BS in Information Technology. The programs have some commonalities but they ultimately differ in focus in the fields of study for their students.

BS in Business Computing Applications looks at the practical applications of ICT in the business environment; as such, the students in this track are trained more as power users of commonly used software packages. BS in Computer Science has a greater orientation towards programming and application development, and its students are trained in various commercial and open-source languages. Finally, BS in Information Technology is oriented towards management of ICT infrastructure and as such are drilled in networking technologies and system administration.

The strongest common threads across these three degree programs are Java and Cisco networking. Linux also looks to be a strong suit of the university though isn't as yet ingrained in the programs. In addition, there's significant emphasis on developing web-based applications.

Foundation's ICT students are ingrained with Java in the first two years of their programs. It's a safe and practical choice. Java is a language in extensive use in business environments. Java is also the language of choice for the leading commercial vendors such as Sun, Oracle, and IBM. Armed with skill in this language, graduates can easily adapt to the demands of the typical programming environments.

In order to boost their Java capabilities, Foundation enlisted the help of a Japanese volunteer, contracted through the Japan International Cooperation Agency. The Japanese volunteer, a Java expert, worked with Foundation University's faculty over a period of two years in developing and refining their program around Java, in particular, the Java 2 Enterprise Environment.

Another highlight of the university is its Cisco certification training, consisting of four modules. Foundation began offering the program to professionals in 2001. Capitalizing on this strength, Foundation also incorporated the program into its core curriculum. Thus far, over 400 students have gone through the Cisco training.

As with Java, Cisco training is something an ICT graduate would definitely like to have in the arsenal. Cisco is the de facto network equipment today and is ubiquitous in the enterprise. Cisco-certified professionals are in great demand in the industry, and are correspondingly well-paid.

Finally, Linux and other open source technologies are prevalent in Foundation University. Foundation uses Linux extensively in its production systems, and with good practical results. Using Linux, for example, Foundation is able to reuse older and underpowered computer systems as diskless terminals for its libraries yet without sacrificing functionality.

In the curriculum, open source plays a role in their electives. The PHP web scripting language and the MySQL database feature prominently in their elective programs.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Feeling Blue


Exactly what the title says, because I miss My Girlfriend(tm).

A Trip to the Twin Lakes


John Don and Ipe posing on the landing to Lake Danao
Last Sunday found me at the Twin Lakes of Sibulan, one of the nature spots that I had been promising myself to visit. At long last it was a promise fulfilled.

The Twin Lakes are touted as "The Philippines' Best-Kept Secret." Now with a tagline like that, I think a change in label is in order pretty soon, but I wouldn't split hairs with the provincial marketing folks just now.

Getting to the Twin Lakes is easy enough, what with the initiative of the local governor to develop it as an eco-tourism site. Taking the Negros Oriental North National Highway through Sibulan, you turn off at a clearly marked path going up to Mt. Talinis.

Going up the path is a steep climb, with grades of 40 degrees or more in some sections. Newly-paved roads alternate with dirt paths so using a 4x4 would be well-advised. The more adventurous locals do take a motorcycle known as a "habal-habal" but I think it's every bit as dangerous as it looks. On the other hand, going up with a mountain bike is a very tempting prospect as I've seen some people do.

Rough riding notwithstanding, the trip up the mountain is breathtaking. On either side of the road are deep valleys covered with dense forest greenery. It does go a fair bit up, about 1500 meters above sea level at the highest point of the trip. My softdrink bottle was proof of the pressure change.

The Twin Lakes are a bit lower down, around 1,047 meters above sea level. We arrived at the bigger lake, Lake Balinsasayaw, after a 45-minute drive through the winding paths. We parked our van at a wooded area and walked the rest of the way down.

Lake Balinsasayaw is small as far as lakes go, but it still boasts of a respectable 76-hectare surface and an impressive depth of 150 meters. The waters are serene and surrounded on all sides by mountains and hills. There's no outlet to the sea, I am told.

Life's a picnic

Gone fishin'
Sitting on the banks are two rudimentary picnic sheds, but they are adequate if you want to rough it out. Over the past few years, workmen in the area have covered the picnic area with flat rocks so it's clean and not muddy. The rocks also form rudimentary landing points for the bancas -- outrigger canoes -- that ferry visitors to the other parts of the lake.

Kayaking fun
Balinsasayaw's twin sister, Lake Danao, lies across a hill some distance away. There are two ways to get there: a rough rocky trail hugging the surrouding hillside, and a banca ride to another landing point. I managed to try both.

Trail going from Balinsasayaw to Danao
The rocky trail winds its way through dense jungle foliage. You have to climb at several points, dodge a tree branch here and there, walk down at other points, and be careful not to slip (well, I did, once). It's a half-hour walk, good for cardiac exercise, but all told not too difficult. You walk your way to the small port where the bancas land and there wonder if it wouldn't have been easier to row over.

Easier to row over
From the landing point, you walk up another hill and down again to where Danao lies. Danao is smaller at 30 hectares but deeper at 200 meters. Like Balinsasayaw, it too is surrounded by mountains on all sides.

On the banks of Danao
Along the same path is another route going higher up to a platform on the side of the mountain. The platform really isn't more than a dirt clearing surrounded by rocks but it commands a magnificent view of both lakes. From there you can shout out your conquest to the world.

Surprisingly, people do actually live around the area. They are mostly fisherfolk, as both lakes have an adequate supply of tilapia. You can see the fish swimming near the banks of the lake.

But just as surprisingly, the lakes are also volcanic. Last year, the waters turned red owing to an increase in temperature and release of sulfur from underwater springs. The same thing happened four years prior to the last event. Thankfully, there hasn't been significant activity so the area should remain safe.

Worn out from my exertions and explorations, I spent the rest of the day lounging around the picnic area with friends and family. At the lake's elevation, the weather was cool, so much so that I got sunburnt without really noticing it.

All in all, a worthwhile trip, and highly recommended to adventurous souls.

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Rational Technology: Remembering Pope John Paul II

The last image I saw of him was at the window of his balcony, gallanty waving his branch to the jubilant crowd on Palm Sunday of 2005. He had just returned home from the hospital after another bout with illness. Along with countless others, I hoped he would pull through, but in less than a week we were once again in vigil as he fell prey to another infection.

Somehow I knew he would go on the 2nd of April. It was a Saturday, you see, and the First Saturday of the month at that. He loved Our Lady dearly, and it seemed right that he should depart on the day of the month dedicated to her. And so he did.

As the tributes started pouring in, we saw glimpses of his earlier life. As a young student in Poland, then as priest and then bishop and then Pope. He had wanted to become an actor but found his vocation after two mishaps. Yet priestly duties did not keep him from an active life.

He entered his papacy in the prime of his life, a vibrant man of fifty-eight. His spoke clearly, firmly, with a fiery passion unseen in his predecessors. When he touched down from his many flights, he would kiss the ground, at once a gesture of humility and thankfulness and a papal blessing.

I was eight years old when he became pope. At the time I wondered what the hoopla was all about. My irreligion at that time was simply a reflection of the times. The world was divided between East and West, between Communism and Democracy. We sacrificed our liberties and our human dignity in the altar of the Cold War. And elsewhere: hedonism. From the "Me" Generation of the 70's to the "Gimme" Generation of the 80's.

In the midst of all this, he spoke with unwavering clarity and conviction in the name of Justice, Human Dignity, and Faith. Oh, it took years, but in a little over a decade the unthinkable happened: the Berlin Wall fell and Communism collapsed. Little by little, the petty dictatorships propped up by the superpowers began to crumble.

Far from being a political player, he was a man of prayer. He showed us that a life of prayer was not incompatible with a life in the world, that our Faith did not have to be confined in some dark and dusty corner of the Church. We could be active in the world and yet remain prayerful...because we needed to be. And he put forward several examples, canonizing more saints than all other popes before him.

Above all, he spoke to us, the young people, and gave voice and direction to our meandering hopes and erstwhile frustrations. He did not pander to us, for his message was uncompromising. But that was what we needed: a guiding light through all this confusion. Small wonder we flocked to him; for he was our kindred spirit and spoke our aspirations though we hardly knew them.

And though he passes from this world, his spirit and his message lives on. I will remember him with great affection.

Note: Pope John Paul II's apostolic letters, encyclicals, homilies and other writings are available online at http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Cebu

I'm in Cebu today and tomorrow, hoping to get some computer shopping done.

Staying at Casa Rosario near Redemptorist Church, and I am very much impressed with the development around this area. It looks like some snazzy strip mall has cropped up, complete with Starbucks knockoff and -- wonder of wonders! -- a decent, well-lit cybercafe.

So this is where I'm composing this brief entry.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Home at 3:37AM

At 3:37AM today, Karol Wotyla went home to the Heavenly Father.

No words can express my grief. This is a man who cut a swath through history and changed its course as no other man has in the the last fifty years. His unswerving moral stance, coupled with gentle kindness, has been a guiding light. A man among men.

Goodbye, Holy Father. You will be sorely missed.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Waiting, Watching, Praying

Mr. No-Pants

That's me.

Well, not really. Actually, what I mean to say is that ever since I came to Dumaguete, I've really not been wearing long pants anymore. Only for Church and the rare occasion when some local government dignitary flies into town and I have to meet them.

Ninety-percent of the time, I'm already wearing short pants.

Man, it feels good.

My legs are getting a nice tan, and...it feels airy down there. Awright, you really didn't need to hear that.

Back to work.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Running on LTSP

I'm writing this blog entry from my ancient Pentium III-350 computer, running as an LTSP client. Yes, it finally works!

Unfortunately, there's a couple of weird things going on. The past few days I've really been scratching my head as to why my keyboard and mouse wouldn't work at the XDM login. Finally, tonight, I decided to swap my PS/2 keyboard and mouse with a USB keyboard and a serial mouse.

And...it works?

I surmise the problem is with the X configuration of the LTSP client. Will post this to the mailing list tomorrow.

Rational Technology: The Ryte Stuff

Tucked away in a small office in the ABS-CBN Building along Perdices Road, nine programmers are putting together business applications. This is a young team, composed of graduates of schools from Dumaguete City and headed by a lead veteran programmer. This is Ryte Solutions, Inc., and
it's representative of one of Oriental Negros' possible futures in outsourcing.

Ryte Solutions is a startup company, put together by Youson Uymatiao, Lindon Seediet, Benjie Calderon, Alex Aguel and John Villanueva. It had been an idea long in gestation and with several aborted attempts. In February this year, things finally came together.

The team has several systems lined up. In the advanced stages are a general warehouse management system, a hospital billing system, and point-of-sale terminals for department stores and restaurants. These are being developed for Ryte's first customers but could very well form the
backbone of systems for other companies.

While these general business systems may be regular fare for software development houses, one aspect that's truly exciting is Ryte's use of Linux as their deployment platform. Linux is virus-free and has substantially lower costs than the corresponding Windows operating system. Overall, costs for customers should be lower.

Instead of deploying a web-based interface, Ryte chose to use Borland Kylix, a rapid application development tool. running Pascal underneath.

Using Kylix, Ryte's developers have put together very professional looking and visually-pleasing interfaces for their applications. This is a boon to users who will barely, if at all, notice the underlying operating system. I saw the results myself and was suitably impressed.

As of this writing, Ryte is on track to deploy their applications to Friendly Mart in
Dipolog City, Southern Negros Doctors Hospital in Kabangkalan, and Cebu Tristar Corporation, an electrical parts distribution network in Cebu City.

Being a startup, Ryte's success is by no means guaranteed, but there's a very good chance that it will, and we can hope other ventures will soon follow.

Underneath this story are some important lessons worth expanding on.

Starting a software development company is no easy task, as Youson explained in our chat. Prospective customers usually look for a track record of successful implementation, either by the company itself, or if not that, then key people within the company. One of Ryte's primary aims is to establish the company track record and gain a foothold in the market.

The linchpin in the Ryte business plan is veteran application developer Alex Aguel, a graduate of Silliman University and formerly head programmer at Ingram in Cebu. Alex brings to Ryte the programming skills and business experience, both of which he is imparting to his young proteges.

Attracting native talent back into Oriental Negros is a key component into further development of the province. India and China have demonstrated the ripple effect of repatriated specialists; there's reason to believe that this also works on province-level. People like Alex bring back the experience and the stature of their achievements, fuel for the province's dreams of outsourcing glory.

Attracting young local talent is also key. Ryte pays its young programmers rates which are competitive with the Cebu software development market (and correspondingly above par for the Dumaguete market). Apart from the working experience, this provides them with added incentive to
stay in Dumaguete, thus becoming the future core of experts in the province.

Who knows? Perhaps one day, Ryte will become a large company, but despite its size will become too small for young and big dreams. And perhaps this current crop of developers will become technopreneurs themselves and attract the next generation of people with the right stuff.

A Visit to Ryte Solutions

This afternoon had me at Youson's software development shop. I had planned on interviewing him about it, and he went the extra mile and gave me the grand tour.

Their work really centers on business application development. Currently, they're doing systems for warehouse inventory, hospital billing, and point-of-sale. And they're doing it on Linux.

Whatever vague notions I had of the capabilities of Kylix became crystal clear with the demo his young team presented. The interface design of their products was just beautiful.

I really have high hopes for this small organization. If it takes off, we'll be looking at the first successful software development startup in Dumaguete. The Linux angle is also added mileage.