Thursday, June 30, 2005

To Cebu and Back

Cebu! Cebu!

After several postponements, I finally decided to hie off to the neighboring island and get all my appointments done. I was supposed to take the boat last night but decided to hold off a few hours more in favor of the bus.

Was I glad I did! The Ceres buses plying the Dumaguete-Cebu-Dumaguete routes were actually much more comfortable than the last George & Peter ship that I took, and just about as comfortable as the late unlamented Supercat. And they were cheaper, too!

I was up at three in the morning and made myself a decent breakfast. The nice thing about living in Piapi is that the buses pass right along the road. At 4:30am, I flagged the half-full bus and was on my way.



We hit Tampi, further north along the Eastern Negros coast, at 5:15am, where we loaded the bus onto a World War II vintage RORO (roll-on roll-off landing craft). The ride to Bato on the other side took another twenty minutes.



I chatted up the driver on the channel crossing. From him I gathered that there were 5 trips in total daily, back and forth, between Dumaguete and Cebu. The 4:30am was the earliest from Dumaguete, while the 2:30am was the earliest from Cebu. Last trip from Cebu was 3:00pm. I managed to pick up a couple other bits of useful information, like sending parcels terminal-to-terminal.

We stopped at Bato briefly for breakfast break. From then onwards, it was straight to Cebu. Of that leg of the trip there's really not much to say. It wasn't as scenic as Halcema Road in the Mountain Province, and it was one I had seen many times before. So Dalaguete, Argao, Sibonga, and Carcar whizzed by as I slept soundly.

We hit Cebu South Terminal at around 9:10am, altogether not too bad. This was about the same travelling time as on the catamaran ferries. At P255 going one way (P210 for the bus and P45 for the RORO), it was way cheaper than the current going rate of P700 for the seagoing fast craft.

Cebu went by in a blur: I transacted some business at Chong Hua, picked up my check from nearby Asirius, bought a Captain Scarlet book from Cagnaan Book Sale (another bargain at P240!), and met some friends and potential business associates for lunch. After that, I went shopping at SM, picked up a couple of computer items, and headed back to the terminal, arriving at around 2:40pm.

Just in time for the 3:00pm bus ride. And more on-the-road snoozing.

So that's it: Dumaguete to Cebu and back, all in the same day. Overall, not such a bad experience, and cheaper than my previous excursions.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Liham Galing Lihim na Pangkat ng Magsu-suman Latik

Gg. Presidente:

Kami'y nagmamalasakit sa inyo ukol sa kinararatnan ninyo ngayon. Hindi madaling magpakumbaba ng loob, lalo na na kayo ang pinakamataas na opisyal sa buong bansa. Paano, eh, nabisto kayo.... Ika nga, that's the way the suman -- este, cookie -- crumbles.

Kung kami sana ang kinuha ninyong tagapagpayo, maiiba ang takbo ng usapan ninyo ni G. Garci. Dahil ang cellphone nga ay napapakinggan ng mga hindi dapat na nakakaranig -- ito po'y nalaman niyo ngayong huli na ang lahat -- dapat ay magsasalita kayo ng padaplis. Para hindi maintindihan ng mga kalaban kung ano ang inyong pinag-uusapan.

Halimbawa, kung kami ang nasunod, ganito sana ang nangyaring usapan:

GMA: Hello...

Garci: Hello, ma'am, good morning. Okay, ma'am, mas mahaba iyong suman niya, per mag-compensate po sa Lanao yan. Mas masarap ang bigas doon.

GMA: So I will still lead by more than one...inch, overall?

Garci: More or less, it's the advantage ma'am. Parang ganun din ang luto.

GMA: It cannot be less than one...inch? At dapat, mabango, ha?

Garci: Pipilitin ma'am natin yan. Pero as of..the last cooking... point 982...inches.

GMA: Kaya nga, eh...

Garci: And then if we can get more bigas in Lanao.

GMA: Hind pa ba tapos?

Garci: Hindi pa ho, meron pa hong darating na suman sa seven municipalities.

GMA: Ah, ok, ok.


O, di ba? Kung may nakikinig man, akala pahabaan lang ng suman ang pinag-uusapan. Kunwari, nagpapaligsahan kayo ng kabilang kampo sa pagluluto ng suman.

Eh, hindi naman gago ang mga taong-bayan, kaya siguradong magdadalawang isip din sila ukol sa pinag-usapan ninyo. Pero may lusot kayo. Lalo na kung talagang naghanda kayo ng suman. Kung kayo'y natuklasan man, at least may pagtatawanan kami, di ba? Imbes na magalit kami, matatawa kami. Pero, huli na ang lahat.


--Lihim na Pangkat ng Magsu-suman Latik (Secret Society of Suman Latik)


Sean
Kat
Clair

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Sorry is not enough

Having seen GMA's address repeatedly replayed on the news channels, my thought fly back to Malcom Gladwell's book, Blink.

In one chapter, Gladwell writes about the Facial Action Coding System. According to one website dedicated to the subject, FACS categorizes facial behaviors based on the muscles that produce them. The subtle facial behaviors can be used by psychotherapists, interviewers, and other practitioners who must penetrate deeply into interpersonal communications. Colloquially, this is known as "face reading" because of all the non-verbal cues presented by the face: the twitch of an eyebrow, the curl of a lip, flaring of nostrils, etc.

While not an expert on FACS, what did I read from GMA's address? Exasperation is the first thing that comes to mind, and that, I think is genuine enough considering the circumstances under which she made the address. Conviction that she won the elections (whether by fair means or foul remains to be seen, though recent events cast much doubt on that) and deserves to sit where she sits.

Contrition I barely registered.

Admission of the act is clearly one thing, but the wording -- "lapse of judgment" -- is couched ambiguously. To me it means: I did it but I didn't mean to do it. I did it in a moment of weakness.

But the words in the tapes clearly indicate she knew what she was doing. That there was something previously arranged between her and Garcillano. The sinister import of some of the conversations, hinting at kidnapping, were quite chilling.

So, no, I'm afraid sorry is not enough.

I wonder if GMA, or any of our politicians for that matter, ever think of their legacy to history, if they care about what posterity will have to say of them. Sadly, our writers are not too big on the psychohistory of politicians. But if books like that were written, what would they write of the present Madame President?

A Dumaguete Morning

It's fun to watch the city come to bloom early in the morning. Before the hubbub of traffic starts, before the folks head on to the daily grind, there's that moment when the city shakes off the cloak of night and stretches in preparation for the day ahead. It's a moment of serenity, and you can't get it quite like you can in a small town like Dumaguete.

Foregoing my usual explorations of country roads, I biked downtown to grab something to eat. Having been some weeks deprived of budbod, I headed for the palengke to try out a hitherto untried painitan.

There's a whole row of them in the Dumaguete public market, and outwardly they all look alike. More or less, they serve the same things, too: puto maya, budbod, pan de sal and a dash of sikwate. The difference, I suppose, is in the personalities managing them and in their variations in recipe.

Each stall is 2m by 6m square. Inside, they have a small formica-top counter where the proprietor takes your money and her assistants wrap the puto maya or boil the sikwate. Surrounding the counter are bar stools where the morning denizens wait for their orders bleary-eyed. Right outside might be a couple of wooden tables and benches.

I decided to take a quick pre-breakfast snack on the first stall on the lively and cheerful invitation of the old lady who ran the place. The budbod kabog wasn't nearly as creamy as my suki Veling's, but it was passable. I had some puto maya with a dash of sikwate, too. Good enough to fuel me for the trip home where real breakfast awaited.

My mission now is to try each and every one of these painitan stalls.

This is all part of the local color of small town living and one, I hope, which doesn't get edged out by the entry of the bigger fast food chains.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Medabots!


Every night I come home and flip on the TV while I'm preparing dinner. It's either ABS-CBN News Channel or Cartoon Network for me, though, really the latter wins out.

That's how I discovered Medabots. Golly gee whiz! I'm getting addicted to the show.

Yes, it follows the trite anime format of kids competing with their toys, this time with fighting robots instead of cars, cards, or tops. But what's different about it is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. There isn't the fate of the world hanging in the balance, just the spirit of competition.

There's a lot of humor as well. Their main nemeses, the Rubberobo Gang, a group of weirdos in black suits with yellow horns, declare their intention to rule the world...by setting up flower shops, interior decoration services, and other crazy schemes (shades of ETC channel!). The referee pops up everytime there's a robattle, never mind how implausible the situation.

But it's really a well-written show within the confines of its silly little world. The stories are about friendship, sportsmanship, and perseverance. The adults are neither treated as skeptics or critics, and instead as understanding advisers. And above all, the dialogue is true to the characterization.

Go Medabots!

Oops! I did it....

There. She finally said it. Hers was the voice on the tapes.

It's a good feeling to know that you've stared the highest-ranking official of the land in the eye and made her blink. Kudos to PCIJ, Inq7, and TXTpower for leading the online fight for truth and transparency. It's a fantastic case study of how technology at work in politics.

On the flip side, it's also a fascinating case study in how to mismanage a crisis situation. Two weeks of stonewalling, prevarication, ambiguity, and double-talk simply added fuel to the fire. What did GMA et al. hope to achieve from it? That the problem would simply go away? That we would forget about it and "focus on the economy"?

The two weeks of silence, I think, did the most harm, far more than any accusation the opposition could throw in their direction. The silence meant (1) they were hiding something (2) they were not in control of the situation (3) they were biding their time to come up with an acceptable spin. Not a good approach when your citizens, i.e., your customers, want answers NOW.

In any case, the damage has been done. Not that there was much trust to begin with, but this simply brings it several levels lower.

And really, we're hardly at the truth of the matter. This is just the first step.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Lure of Nethack

I confess: I've been playing a lot of Nethack lately. It's a burgeoning addiction that I'd do well to nip in the bud, but...just...one...more...round....

And I ask myself why? Take a look at the screenshot below, and I'm sure you'd also ask the question why?

Nethack ain't pretty, nosirree. Zero polygon count for the characters. No particle effects. No 3D scenery. No Dolby surround sound. Nada. Zip.

But darn it all, it's a great game! And here are my reasons why:

1) Nethack has surprisingly great depth. From the very beginning, you're given a choice of 13 character classes to choose from, each one with their own special abilities. Each class actually plays differently. And as you progress through the dungeon, you'll find so many things to explore and experiment with.

2) Nethack has great tongue-in-cheek humor. The character class I usually play as is...Tourist. The Tourist, of course, is armed with a camera (great for blinding enemies) and a credit card (great for picking locks). Oh, yes, the whole aim of the game is to find the Amulet of Yendor. Now, spell it backwards. Deep within, there are several other satirical nods to fantasy lore.

3) Nethack has great balance. Oh, sure, you'll die a lot the first few times so it's useful to look up a few tips online. But Nethack is never cheap in that it overwhelms you by sheer force of enemies. There's usually a way out, and if you died, it's because you were being stupid and didn't take it.

4) Nethack is cheap. The game itself is freely downloadable, and since it doesn't require the latest 3D accelerator and kaboodles of CPU speed, it's actually playable on ancient computers. You can't get any cheaper than that.

5) In Nethack, YOU are the hero. There are graphical interfaces to Nethack, such as Falcon's Eye and Nethack-qt. But for some reason, I always find the ASCII map more appealing. Why? I think we can find the answer in Scott McCloud's Understanding Comics.

McCloud says: "The ability of cartoons to focus our attention on an idea is, I think, an important part of their special power, both in comics and in drawing generally. Another is the universality of cartoon imagery. The more cartoony a face is, for instance, the more people it could be said to describe." McCloud goes further to say that cartoons are iconic in nature.

Nethack represents the hero as a simple @. What could be more iconic than that? In that total absence of detail, your imagination fills the gap. Voila! Total immersion. You are the hero.

It's these reasons, I think, that make Nethack such a great game. Either that, or I'm just a real geek.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a dungeon to explore.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Country roads, take me home....

After being laid low with a bad cough for over a week, I felt well enough to take my bike out for a longer ride. Ah! What a great feeling to be back in the saddle!

One of the sights that greeted me this morning

This morning's trip took me to Camanjac where there was supposed to be a road leading to Sibulan. I took the Claytown route, riding up to Pulantubig, and onwards to Camanjac. I wasn't quite sure where to turn and when I finally asked some people, they told me I had already overshot it by a kilometer.

Said road was actually near the Camanjac Elementary School which by itself can be very hard to miss. However, there were no signs pointing in the direction of Sibulan, so perhaps I can be forgiven for my mistake. Lesson: when travelling in unknown territory, ask for directions.

The road to Sibulan alternated between asphalt and dirt road. Fortunately, it didn't rain for the past couple of days so the rough paths were dry and not at all muddy. The dirt roads, however, made for a somewhat shaky ride.

Coconut groves dominated the scenery. There were a few large houses along the way, as apparently Camanjac is transitioning to suburbia, but I dread to think of travelling these roads at night. I have this primal fear of sprawling unlit coconut plantations. Go figure.

Coming at a fork in the road, I saw that I could either go straight ahead or turn right. A check on my watch told me that it was getting close to 7AM, so I went right where I knew I would somehow end up on the Dumaguete National Highway.

It was a few kilometers more till I hit my target. Along the way, I saw a wooded clearing that would be perfect for a picnic. I also ran across the compound of the Philippine Benevolent Missionaries Association -- a cult that is anything but -- and that sent shivers up my spine. Further down was the Joyville subdivision, and finally, the Highway.

At the highway, I saw that I exited right at the Dumaguete-Sibulan city limits. So I did reach Sibulan, after all, though not as far as I had hoped. Ah, well, time to head back.

I travelled south down the Highway for a while then turned into East Rovira drive. I noticed that someone had opened a tuna grill/dimsum joint along East Rovira, so that should probably be worth a visit soon.

From East Rovira onwards, I was back in familiar territory. I went to the city, bought rice, and came home for breakfast.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Rational Technology: Blink


In his bestselling book 'Blink', New Yorker columnist and author Malcolm Gladwell tackles the phenomenon of rapid cognition, the process by which we make snap judgments in the absence of complete information. Snap judgments happen within the blink of an eye (hence the book's title). They're not always right, but neither are they always wrong. What Gladwell is trying to emphasize is that snap judgments cannot be ignored: despite the admonition to not judge a book by its cover, we often do; moreover, we often act based on thiis 'gut instinct' or 'intuition.'

Gladwell's first example is that of a recently unearthed ancient Greek sculpture which a museum was planning to purchase. The museum considered the sculpture to be an important find, mainly because it was the first intact specimen ever found. A chemical expert's detailed analysis revealed that, yes, the material was indeed quite ancient, as far as his tests allowed. The museum closed the transaction based on this scientific scrutiny.

However, during the piece's unveiling, another expert, this time on Greek sculptures of the period, felt deeply disturbed. Within seconds of seeing it, he intuitively knew that something was wrong. While the statue conformed to the work of the time, it just did not feel right. His doubt prompted a more complete analysis of the sculpture. Ultimately, the museum was never able to determine the authenticity of their purchase. It still went on display, but with the open caveat that it might really just have been a clever fake.

Gladwell touches on a host of other fascinating topics surrounding the 'blink' moment: how police officers react, sometimes with disastrous consequences, because of a person's appearance; reading a person's underlying emotions based on his facial expressions; and the errors people make when presented Oh,with too much or too little information.

Gladwell's book comes to mind because the blink factor seems to be the only recourse of the ordinary Filipino citizen in this season of untruth.

Take, for instance, the raging case of the "Hello, Garci" tapes. Lawyers can quibble about the admissibility of the tapes as evidence in impeachment, spokespersons can deny any wrongdoing in the nature of such a call, but the ordinary Filipino citizen (well, me, anyway) wants to know: Is it GMA on the tapes? (Wink, wink.) And are they really talking about rigging the electionsi? (Wink, wink.)

This is a case where we have too little information and too much information at the same time. Too little information because the implicated parties who are at the heart of the controversy are keeping mum, presumably to avoid self-incrimination; and too much information because of all the alleged 'original' and 'altered' versions that are coming out of the woodwork, along with the associated gobbledygook.

Take, for example, the technical views on the authenticity. In most stories about the matter, the news programs invariably like to feature a computer with the waveform analysis of the voices on the tapes. This is the expert's approach, looking at the unique frequencies that a person's speech pattern generates, and trying to match the signatures of those recorded voices against the known signatures of GMA's own voice. Software for this type of generating the waveforms is readily available. The crux of the matter, however, is in the process of analysis.

If you can analyze a waveform, you can also alter the waveform to make it sound like somebody else's. A guest editorial of another local paper boldly suggests that voices could be faked using programs downloaded from the Internet. Quite so: in fact, you don't have to look further than the toy store to find such a gadget like the Darth Vader voice-changing mask.

However, it's not really as simple as that: if it were, George Lucas would not have had to hire James Earl Jones to do Darth Vader's voice. Changing the voice by varying the pitch or the frequency is only one part of the process. Other things to consider are the speech patterns (e.g., pronunciation of certain words, cadence in speaking), vocabulary and sentence construction (choice of words), and background noise. Background noise, in particular, can be essential in determining whether the conversation has been spliced. Taken together, the process of creating a plausible fake can be very tedious, indeed.

To create a plausible fake from scratch, one would need (1) a very talented impersonators, and (2) a very talented scriptwriter with an ear for dialogue. The only GMA impersonator that I know of is 'Ate Glow' who, though amusing, does not come close to the original; as to Garci impersonators, well.... And if we had such brilliant scriptwriters, why does our movie industry tank?

With all the information and all the possibilities and all the vested interests on hand, it's impossible to get the experts to agree. In a situation where we cannot trust the experts, we can take a cue from Gladwell and rely on the collective wisdom of our ordinary selves. Do you want to know if the tapes are authentic? Don't listen to the contradictory opinions of the so-called experts; listen to the tapes themselves.

The real marvel of modern technology today is not that we can possibly alter our voices, but that such potentially damning evidence can no longer be repressed by the establishment. And we can take advantage of technology to listen to these recordings: either from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, from the various mirror sites, or -- heck! -- even from cellphone ringtones. I say: Let's listen and trust our collective judgment.

Rapid cognition catches us at our barest, most honest moment. Before we can sway it to the conclusion that our vested interests want it to sway. The perfect illustration: Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye, unveiling the tapes to the Malacanang Press Corps. There, in his 'blink moment', he confidently announces: "This is the President's voice."

Blink.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Chai's artwork

I'm quite fortunate to have met a great digital artist here in Dumaguete. Chai, a transplant to the city from Thailand, is an optometrist by training, and runs the Santillan Optical shop together with his wife. His real passion, however, is art.



Chai uses Corel Painter to create dazzling oil and watercolor effects for his characters. Much of his art is self-learned through experimentation. But he's really a natural at his craft. See more of his work at DeviantArt.

Chai holds Korean artist Kim Hyung Tae as one of his inspirations.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Canon LIDE20 on Ubuntu


Yes, I know I just did another bad pun for my suman latik entry. And I just dissed a ranking official of the land. And I'm planning to do more of both.

All the same, I'm feeling angelic right now. Feel my halo?

Although I've had Ubuntu installed on my second PC for some time now, I've really still been working with SuSE. However, due to hardware problems on my first PC, where I have to boot twice to get the mouse working smoothly, I've decided to just run things on my alternate for the meantime.

One reason I was delaying the switch was because I wasn't so sure my Canon LIDE20 scanner would work right off the bat with Ubuntu. And I had it running just so on SuSE.

But obviously my fears were unfounded. The scanner works perfectly under Ubuntu. Installation was much faster than with SuSE. And the xsane settings are just perfect! I scanned my angel sketch and got it right without having to fiddle around with the contrast-brightness controls.

So that's the real reason I'm feeling angelic. Because Someone's watching over me.

The suman meme

It's a scary thing, these memes. How does an idea find resonance with a person, let alone a group of people? Take for example this meme that's been going around with my group of friends: the suman conspiracy. What started out as a random example from a talk on blogging turned into a joke and into...a weekly obsession?

This recurring theme has become a writing prompt of sorts, and I think it's produced some pretty excellent work (my top pick being Sean for his creativity, profundity and regularity).

But guess what? It's taken a life of its own. It's exciting. It's scary.

In its current common usage, a meme is a "language as a virus," hopping from one mind to another. Certainly the suman conspiracy qualifies.

The question is why? There are several possible reasons, but the only one that I can put forward is:

Because it sticks.



Sean
Clair
Kat
Body Electric

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Information Ministers and Press Secretaries

In today's inquiry on the alleged wiretapping and electoral fraud, Press Secretary Bunye claimed that he was forced by the Malacanang Press Corps into playing the recorded conversations.

Oh, come on!

Isn't it ironic that the existence of the tapes were first confirmed and presented by the Press Secretary? And that he initially claimed that the conversations -- albeit edited -- were that of GMA?

After that revelation, of course, was much backtracking.

Love 'im or hate 'im -- and I think, mostly, it's hate 'im -- you simply have to give due credit to the press secretary for his unswerving loyalty.

Which brings back to mind another kindred soul, Mohammad Saheed al-Sahaff, otherwise known as "Baghdad Bob" and "Comical Ali", or quite simply, the beloved Iraqi Information Minister. Despite the M-1 tanks clearly visible in the background, the Information Minister kept insisting that the invading American troops were being slaughtered.

Which all makes for great comedy.

Except, in the Philippine case, the joke is on the Filipino people.

Introduction to Wikis for Bloggers

I put together a small presentation to introduce wikis vis-a-vis blogging. This is the first for a planned series of tutorials on wikis.

This is my core argument:


The presentation can be downloaded from www.sketches.kom.ph.

Feedback is much appreciated.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Free PmWiki Hosting!

I've become such a strong believer in the Wiki concept, and with PmWiki in the particular, I'm willing to host other blog authors / artists who want their own PmWiki-driven sites up.

Why would you want to do this? You might be feeling constrained by the reverse-chronological nature of blogs, what with your posts ending all over. If you want to group all your content by category for easier access by your audience (e.g., your online novel in chapter order), you might be better served by a Wiki.

You can get a .kom.ph subdomain and the basic PmWiki site. My only conditions are:

  1. You have to have sufficient content to put up on the Wiki (chapters of novels, short story collections, poems, webcomics, etc.)
  2. All images and multimedia files have to be hosted at your respective sites.
  3. Open to Filipino bloggers and artists only.
  4. And, er, no objectionable content. Unfortunately, I have to be the arbiter of this.


No charge for hosting this. Well, okay, I will ask for a free pizza dinner with your interesting friends whenever we're in the same location.

You'll maintain ownership of all your content, so don't worry about me appropriating them.

Drop me a gmail at dominique.cimafranca and tell me what you want to do.

Still in sketch mode...and my Wiki is up!


I'm essentially still in sketch mode. Now that I'm better, though, I am planning to write a couple more of longer essays. Ah, well, we'll see.

On another note, I've updated my old site to use PmWiki instead of my custom PHP scripts.

PmWiki is really great because I get a lot more flexibility as to how I create pages, but without having to do any funky HTML or my more constrained text file uploads from before. You can try out the Sandbox at the PmWiki site if you want to know how it's done.

The old site hasn't been completely redone. I still have to move some of my content over to the new format (and I'll need to think of some automated way of doing it), but I think what I have works.

Not fully satisfied with the skins at the Pmwiki site, I slapped one together. As a first attempt, I'm pretty happy with the results, though I'm willing to take suggestions with the color schemes and backgrounds.

What's surprising to me is the amount of essays I've written over the past three years. Yes, I know my collection pales in comparison to more prolific authors, but even then, I'm impressed with how much I've written. I just didn't think I could write that much.

I must have over a hundred Rational Technology articles now, and over fifty Linux Links articles. That's why I'm having a heck of a time moving them.

Monster Cat Redux

I seem to have hit my drawing phase in the past couple of days. Here's another Monster Cat image:


And a warrior-heroine type that came out fairly well, in my opinion:

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Monster Cat


I haven't drawn anything in a while, so I thought I might give it a shot. Here's the result. I wanted to something to scare my nephew Neo with the next time he visits the store. Mwa ha ha ha!

This was drawn in ball point pen, traced with black marker, and scanned and colored in Gimp.

Heh, I need more practice.

Other than this wonderful piece of work, I've done nothing the whole day. I've realized that my cough and cold is not going to go away unless I sleep it off and drown it, so I stayed home the whole day.

It's not nice being sick.

Okay, back to sleep. And dreams of more monsters.

Friday, June 17, 2005

God writes straight with crooked lines

Still feeling a bit under the weather, I wasn't so sure I wanted to go to Fr. Chi's funeral mass. But towards 3PM today, I was feeling a bit chipper, and so I went.

It was a concelebrated Mass with Bishop Du as the primary celebrant. Priests from all around, including the aging Fr. Sun, Fr. Chi's contemporary, were there.

They asked me to say some words about our old parish priest. I was to come in third and last.

The first speaker was Fr. Rey, who spoke about endearingly about his relationship with Fr. Chi. At first, it was difficult to get along with Fr. Chi so he went away for a couple of years to China. There he finally understood what Fr. Chi was all about. Since then, on his trips back to Dumaguete, they would spend hours talking about China. He said Fr. Chi was a "true Chinese, a true priest, and a true son of God."

The second speaker was Gilbert Uymatiao, who gave a very good explanation of Fr. Chi's character. Fr. Chi, it turned out, was a fourth generation Catholic. His community in China had been a Jesuit mission, and his great grandfather one of the first converts. It had always been his dream to recreate that ideal community here in Dumaguete. Of course, it just wasn't the same; hence the frustrations on both sides. But Gilbert thought he had come to accept it in recent years.

Gilbert and Fr. Rey were one in saying that Fr. Chi was never very expressive when it came to affection. But that did not mean he did not feel it; he just expressed it in different ways.

And me: after Gilbert's exposition, there really wasn't much else to add. I told them how I had spent the last week Fr. Chi was still active talking with him in the hospital. I highlighted the escape from China, and how difficult it must have been to leave, not knowing he would never come back and see his family again.

But such was his faithfulness and perseverance that, if you look around the church, you could see that was his legacy. God writes straight with crooked lines. Unfortunately, that line did not occur to me until after the Mass.

Then I spoke about the transformation Fr. Chi undertook whenever he heard confession. Yes, he was tough as a person, but he became very gentle when he heard your confession. At this, not a few people nodded their heads vigorously in silent assent.

And finally, I shared with them one of my moments with Fr. Chi when I was showing him the Bible on my Thinkpad. He was looking for a passage in Ecclesiasticus. We had no luck finding it, and I didn't have the patience or the foresight to bring it up during my eulogy.

But here it is:


For kindness to a father will not be forgotten, and will be credited to you against your sins; in the day of your distress it will be remembered in your favor; like frost in fair weather, your sins will melt away.


I was forced to paraphrase, but I told everyone I thought that was his way of thanking us.

And so, my friends, here ends the saga of a remarkable priest.

Rizal Remembered

In the Philippine calendar of holidays, there's nothing particularly significant about June 19. The day will pass like any other, without cause for sorrow or celebration. Not too many people will remember that June 19 is the birth anniversary of Dr. Jose Rizal, our national hero.

I have been wrestling with Rizal for not a few years now. What, I wondered, was so significant about what he had done? He did not lead the revolution like Andres Bonifacio. He did not declare independence as did Emilio Aguinaldo. Though he was a doctor, he was really best known as a novelist, and to be brutally frank about it, I did not think his novels to be very good. After college, Rizal was conveniently forgotten for more practical things.

My opinions changed when, in one of my unplanned wanderings, I ended up in Calamba, Laguna. I took a jeepney to the town proper, got off and walked a bit, rounded a corner, and voila! I was standing in front of the carefully preserved house of his birth. I toured the house (admission was free, by the way) and the garden, trying to get in touch with a bit of history. On the way out, I bought Leon Ma. Guerrero's excellent book, "The First Filipino: A Biography of Jose Rizal."

Ambassador Guerrero's book undid what two years and one semester of Rizal courses in high school and college had done. Unlike the brilliant, noble, and immaculate hero portrayed by well-meaning teachers, the Rizal in this biography was tinged throughout with Rizal's humanity: ambitious and hopeful, mildly arrogant and somewhat hot-tempered, struggling on despite family tragedies, treacherous 'friends', and failed relationships. This was the portrait of a genius in all his flawed glory.

Rizal's significance was, first and foremost, as a visionary and propagandist. His vision was of a common Filipino people with political freedoms and recognition; his weapon, as journalist and novelist, was his pen, sharper than any sword. Although he did not openly call out for revolution, he was certainly its light and inspiration. And for that they killed him.

I sometimes wonder what Rizal would be if he were transplanted to the present and thrust into the milieu that is Philippine politics today. Disappointed? Perhaps. Discouraged? Probably not. He was a writer at heart, and in all likelihood, he would take up his pen and carry on the fight once more.

Just think of all the possibilities he would have with today's modern media at his disposal. Someone rightfully said that Rizal was the first Filipino blogger. He was certainly a prolific writer, both in publication and in private correspondence. In the 1880s his message was hampered by the limitations of the print medium. Today, who knows?

The following passage is not Rizal's, but Graciano Lopez Jaena's. See how far we've come since Rizal's time:

One or two days before the election, the principalia and the outgoing mayor have a meeting to agree on the designation of candidates on election day... [The parish priest] presents his candidate, and like it or not, he imposes him on the principalia with the supremacy that he takes for law, so that they may vote for him on the set date.

...From all this it may be deduced: that the candidate favored...is almost always elected; the fictitious nature of elections made on the basis of suffrage limited to the principalia and the local headsmen...


The political power of friars and parish priests has been long broken, of course. Sadly, only to be replaced by a new theocracy. These are the self-anointed who utter, "The Lord chose me..." and then proceed to impose their will on the people based on the fictitious nature of elections. After all, it's axiomatic that God helps those who help themselves, right?

So Rizal would feel right at home in these modern times. Right down to the sedition charges they would certainly file against him.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

There are days...

It's no fun being sick.

I thought I was on my way to recovery from my cough, sans antibiotics, but I think I had a relapse last night.

It's even less fun when you have to report for work the following day. For the whole day.

There's no impetus to get anything done. I think I'm just going to sleep early.

Sigh. Some budbod kabog would be nice just about now.


Suman Latiks

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Cat outside a cafe


Dawn. Dumaguete is just shaking off its cloak of sleep. Some denizens are already waiting for their first cup of coffee.

Taken while biking around the city in the morning. This is outside Cafe Memento, by the way, the favorite hangout for the art crowd.

Gone Home

Fr. Paul Chi passed away quietly at 8:45am today. Please pray for his soul.

Monday, June 13, 2005

More childhood memories

More childhood memories, care of Angie. Now that she's set off the triggers in my head, some of it is starting to come back.

We're in first grade. We have a school dance to be held on the school grounds. Filipiniana - girls get to have umbrellas and wear bakya (I loved them! Huwag mong apihin!). You get to be my partner! That happened because our heights matched. Since I'm tall, there were not enough guys taller than I am. And also since we're taller than everybody, except maybe 2 or 3 other couples, we get to dance at the end and corner of the whole choreography.

Here's the fun part... We gave the teachers a dilemma...Now, DO YOU REMEMBER this one? ;)

I danced so well that the teachers want to put me in the CENTER of the line. BUT ..... YOU danced so bad they COULDN'T put YOU in the center!!!!

So they tried matching me with the rest of the taller guys who could - y'know - ahem - dance better - but then our heights just don't match. So they put us back together as partners and that they have to settle with you to be at the center!!! Oooh, I can still see you in my head - trying sooo hard!!!


I might deny it, but I can't. I have always been such a bad dancer. Every time we had a public performance, I would end up in a panic.

Oh, the horror....

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Childhood Memories

Earlier this year I used Friendster to look up an old grade school classmate with whom I had lost touch. Friendster is good for doing this, apparently. And so I did, with some surprisingly positive results!

My old friend, Angie, now works in the US. It was her birthday the other day and I sent her an email. She answered back and told me of a childhood recollection.

Do you remember when we climbed those scaffoldings in Stella Maris Church to see that big steeple bell? You told me in class before recess that there's this big bell.... I wouldn't believe you so you sought out to prove it to me. You challenged me that by recess time we could make a run for it, cross the school fence climb up, then come back in time for the class bell. We just barely made it back to class.... I couldn't forget this incident coz it was my first time to see a huge bell like that - bigger than life! Of course for a 6 yr old!

If you remember it wasn't hung yet...it was just there on the scaffolding that's why we could touch it and measure it with our heights! I could still clearly see you in my memory... :)


Like, wow! It's somewhere in my memory, but I just can't point a finger at it. But it's good to get this reminder.

Thanks, Angie.

Friday, June 10, 2005

Wiki/Blogging Workshop

Wiki/blogging workshop at Foundation University today.

I'm happy to announce that, despite a worsening cough, I've managed to assist in the birthing of a few more blogs today: Dessa's Tapestry, Dumaguete Artists, Chona's Gang, and Kengkoy123, among them. You won't find much on these blogs yet because they just started today, but give them a few weeks and who knows?

Reception of the blogging tools was quite warm. After I took them through the first few steps of Blogger, I knew I had lost the audience already. I managed to draw their attention back just enough to introduce them to additional tools like Hello.com. Other than that, they were off and running.

I had planned on introducing them to Wikis later in the workshop, but they were far too engrossed in what they were doing and my throat was giving up. The Internet connection wasn't cooperating, either.

In any case, I think Wikis are still in fairly early stages to be fully appreciated. As Sacha suggested, I should wait for them to build up enough content through their blogs before introducing the topical structure of Wikis. And any introduction to Wikis should make use of a partially completed superstructure.

Ah, well, lessons for next time.

Rational Technology: A Man of Another Age

This story has been long time in brewing, and the only reason it has taken me this long to write it is because I'm not sure that I can do the subject justice. It's not easy to write someone's biography, much less someone reasonably close to you. Even less so if the subject is still living.

It's not easy to get close to Fr. Chi, that much is certain. In the sunset of his life, all we might see if we don't make the effort is a crochety old man, grumpy and irritable. It helps little that he doesn't speak the vernacular and that, although his command and comprehension of English is excellent, it takes an effort to understand what he is saying.

For many, that effort might not be worth the bother. And that's simply a great shame.

Fr. Chi has been a priest for over fifty-three years, the last forty of which he has served in Dumaguete City. His small but sturdy frame has been through an extraordinary history that few in this pampered age can appreciate much less imagine going through. Fr. Chi is a man of another age, one which is steadily passing into the misty memories of history.

His health had been in decline over the past several years but tough men like him do not keel over easily. Had he been of a lesser constitution, he might have given in many years ago. But the tough gentleman has held on for this long.

Thus it was with some optimism that I visited him in the hospital two weeks ago. He had decided to undergo a procedure and it seemed to have done him some good. He could sit up in bed and hold an extended conversation with visitors.

His disposition had also taken a turn for the better, quite possibly because now he was in less pain. I took the opportunity to review with him some of the milestones of his life, some of which I was familiar but had forgotten, and some of which I was only probing for the first time.

One of the things which marks Fr. Chi is his intense hatred of communism. It doesn't take much to wind him up and get him going on the subject. As with many native-born Chinese of his generation, it was a scar that marked him for life.

In a way, Fr. Chi was lucky to have escaped the persecution that began when the communists took over China in 1949. But in place of that fate came another, one that eventually led him to Dumaguete.


The Last Plane From Beijing
In December of 1948, under cover of the darkness of night and using forged documents, a young Paul Chi and his other fellow seminarians boarded a plane in the makeshift airport west of Beijing. It was a hurried departure, with no time to inform their family or close relatives where they were going.

It was a tumultuous time, filled with much uncertainty. China had just been through a period of long and intense suffering under an almost decade-long Japanese occupation. Now, it was civil war between the Nationalists and the communists, and it looked as if the tide was turning in favor of the latter.

At 24 years of age, the young Paul Chi had spent almost his entire life in the Jesuit-run Tian Xian seminary. He entered the seminary's grade school when he was six years old and stayed there through its six-year course. He went on to its high school where he began life as a full-fledged seminarian, which would take another six years.

It was quite a strict school with a regimented lifestyle. Students boarded at the school and were only let out during holidays and special occasions. Paul, the youngest of seven children, was the only one in his family to attend that school; his elder brother attended a different one run by lay brothers of another order.

Paul had just entered the seminary high school when the Japanese forces took over Beijing in 1937. From then on, it was martial law, and the young seminarian underwent several traumatic experiences.

The occupying forces were never very friendly with the Catholic church in China. The same rules of retribution applied to the Church as it did with many others. In one incident, communist guerrillas killed a Japanese officer and left the body in the church. The following day, the Japanese commander ordered nine priests and seminarians executed in reprisal.

After that, they had to move to other premises. Even during those times their seminary education continued without letup. But neither did the threat of persecution. In another incident, Japanese soldiers saw flashlights shining from their school windows after curfew, and the seminarians were suspected of signalling to communist guerrillas. Thirty-seven seminarians, some of them just a day short of ordination, were dragged out and shot.

Fortunately, the young Paul was spared from this fate. A distinguishing mark that the Japanese looked for in communist guerrillas were rough hands. Though his father was a farmer, the young Paul Chi had spent his entire life within the walls of the school as a student, and so his hands were smooth and soft.

The persecution only came to a halt when the Jesuit brothers wrote to a German priest in Japan, asking for assistance. The German priest talked to the commander of the Beijing garrison and extracted a promise that the seminary would be spared from such purges. As a sign of goodwill, they accepted a Japanese offer for an officer to come to the seminary to teach Nihonggo.

All throughout, the classes continued. Paul finished high school and proceeded to another three years of Philosophy. After finishing Philosophy, he spent some time teaching in Inner Mongolia, before proceeding to the requisite Theology.

It was somewhere near the start of his course in Theology that the decision to leave Beijing was made by his superiors. It looked like there might be trouble from the communists so it was decided to continue their education in Hong Kong. In their class of over a hundred seminarians, Paul Chi and two other companions were the first to take the flight from Beijing.

From Beijing the plane would go to Tsingtao, and then onwards to Shanghai. From Shanghai, they would take a boat to Hong Kong, a trip that would last a week. Characteristic of optimistic estimates in such times, the seminarians thought they would be back in their country after a while when things had quieted down.

Three days after, the Nationalists surrendered Beijing to the communists.

It was the last flight from Beijing. The other seminarians would have to make the journey by land.

Fr. Chi would not see his homeland again until some forty years later. By then, the family whom he had never even said goodbye to on that fateful night would be no more.


Manila and Other Parts
I try to imagine what the young Paul Chi and his companions must have felt when they learned of the fall of Beijing, and that there would be no return, but I simply can't. They belonged to another age when men were tempered by circumstance into sterner stuff.

With the fall of Beijing, the directives changed. They would have to find new locations to settle the seminarians. Paul stayed in Hong Kong for three months while his superiors sought out their contacts. In the meantime, their studies in Theology continued as they joined the ongoing classes in the seminary there.

Finally, it was decided that they should come to Manila, and so they did. They joined the Jesuit seminary there. Classes resumed. The other seminarians from Beijing would also follow.

Paul finished his Theology in Manila, picking up some French along the way. He was ordained priest in 1952.

In retrospect, this itself was an amazing feat. Between their escape in late 1948 and his ordination was only a period of four years. Despite the duress of the times, there was no letup in their studies. Even their three months in Hong Kong counted towards their preparation.

After his ordination, Fr. Chi spent time in various parts of the country. He spent a year in Vigan, then moved on to Quezon Province. He also spent three years in Tarlac before finally heading South. He spent another three years in Capiz and Kalibo, as well as another year in Cagayan de Oro. All travel was done by boat.


Dumaguete
Fr. Chi finally landed in Dumaguete in 1962. At that time, the Chinese community of Dumaguete was under a Catholic mission headed by Bishop Juan Velasco. Fr. Chi stayed in Holy Cross School, where they stayed in a two story wood-and-nipa building. The first floor was the chapel, and the second floor was their apartment.

There was no parish church to speak of. That would be his job to put it up.

Sometimes it's easy to forget that churches take a lot of time, money, and effort to build. Mary Immaculate Parish has stood where it stands for over 40 years now, a veritable institution and landmark of Dumaguete City, filled to overflowing on Sundays and feastdays. Sometimes it's easy to forget that it wasn't always so.

Forty years ago, the lot on which it stands was bare land. There were other candidates, for example, a lot in Claytown, but its present site was ultimately chosen because it was the only one which the Chinese mission could afford. The price: P25/sq.m. (As a point of comparison, the entire lot on which Lee Plaza stands was priced at about P130,000. Cement was priced at P4.50 per sack.)

Construction of the parish church started in 1963. Money was hard to come by. Fr. Chi sought donations, sent letters, held benefits, and organized Christmas carolling expeditions to fund the building. Later, Fr. Chi moved to the apartment next to the church.

The first Mass in Mary Immaculate was held in 1964 by Bishop Surban. The Chinese mission in Dumaguete officially became a parish in 1965. (The first wedding, my parents', was held in 1966.) Mary Immaculate Church was finally completed in 1968.

Some interesting facts about the parish church came up in my interview with Fr. Chi.

The present crucifix, for instance, was the original one installed in the church. The corpus was brought in from Manila by boat, but the cross was made by local carpenters using hardwood from Zamboanga.

The altar is made of one entire piece of marble. It is 3m. long, 1.5m. wide, and 8cm. thick.

In contrast to the overflowing parishioners that we normally see on Sundays and holidays, attendance at Mass in the early days was sparse. The Chinese community was still predominantly non-Catholic. Mostly it would be the Matiao sisters and other students who studied in St. Paul's College who would go.


Some Final Commentary
This account was based on half-hour sessions with Fr. Chi over a period of a week. Though I would have wanted to write a more thorough history with exact dates, quotes, and background information, all supplemented by secondary sources and interviews, I thought it best to publish the broad strokes of Fr. Chi's story. Perhaps someone with more experience in writing history can pick up and expand on this tale or expand on it within the context of Dumaguete's history.

Factual or temporal inaccuracies may be attributed to failing memory or my own poor hearing. Speculations as to what he or other players in the story may have felt are entirely my own opinion.

If you've read this far, please bear with me on just a little more speculation and commentary.

Sometimes, I wonder what Fr. Chi would have become if he did not become a priest. Over the years that I've known him, he's demonstrated remarkable interest in mechanical gadgets, so much so that I think, if the events in China had not overtaken him, he might have become an engineer.

What stands out more are the words from Jn.21:18: "Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go."

Wrested from his home in China, following after his vocation, to only God knows where, these words ring so true.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Veling's Painitan

I asked my friends who sold the best budbod (suman) in Dumaguete. They pointed me out to Veling's Painitan (roughly translated, Veling's Breakfast / Snack Place.)

Veling's sits in an unassuming stall in the Dumaguete Public Market, with nothing to physically distinguish it from all the other food joints in the area. If this were Singapore or Malaysia, this would be known as a hawker place.

Now, I'm not really much of a budbod connoisseur, and my interest in suman only sparked because of the webring. But I can just as easily say that Veling's is the best budbod I've ever tasted.

Veling's daughter runs the place now, and it has a loyal group of customers who flock there every morning. All the budbod is prepared the night before, but they do pack in another rice delicacy known as puto maya on the shop itself.

I usually get two kinds of budbod from Veling's. One is the budbod tsokolate, with the chocolate stripe. The other is budbod kabog, which is made of millet, a kind of birdseed.

Kabog is by far my favorite because of its ultra-creamy texture. Like no other suman I've ever tasted.


Suman Latiks

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

'Jueteng'-gate and the tale of the tape

Out here in the boondocks of Dumaguete, we're about as apolitical as we can get. Life has its own pace, so why should we get too worked up with all the shenanigans of Metro Manila?

All the same, I'm wondering about the pace of things in the new round of jueteng exposes. I'm wondering why it's not nearly as big a thing as it ought to be.

Erap, if you recall, was brought down because of alleged involvement in jueteng. So where's the moral outrage that blazed so strongly three years ago?

Have we gotten so jaded? Are we so complacent with this administration? Are we being fooled again?

It's quite funny how this thing developed. When the allegations first cropped up, you had the administration daring the witnesses to step forward.

Now that the witnesses have testified, it's become a destabilization plot?

And now there's this supposed tape of Arroyo's conversation with a Comelec officer. Is it real? Is it a fake? What's annoying and damning is that they're trying to catch it on a technicality.

Sigh. My poor country: when will you -- we! -- be free from all this foolishness?

Coding Day

No, I don't mean that I couldn't take my car out today. That's a bizarre phenomenon that's only unique to Manila.

Besides, I don't drive. I bike.

I spent the morning creating a new skin for PmWiki, learning a few more things about it in the process. Wikis are getting to be quite popular, and it's a good time to update my skills.

PmWiki doesn't really have all the bells and whistles of other database-backed Wikis, but for what I need, it's perfect.

Anyway, here's the output of my work: the Dumageuetepedia.

Oh, please don't be fooled, there's really nothing there. I aim to fill it up over the coming days, just in time for my workshop on Friday.

I also got the syndication working, thanks to the cookbooks.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Speaker for the Dead

Right now, Fr. Chi is hooked up to a respirator in the intensive care unit. His blood pressure is very low, and he's barely conscious. He might not make it through the week.

At this point in my life, I'm no stranger to scenes like this. I've seen my grandfather, my aunt, and an old friend pass away in this manner. But I don't think I'll ever get used to this.

I'm sad because Fr. Chi looked like he was going to pull through last week. He was sitting up in bed and his complexion was looking a little better. His disposition was good. We talked about the important events in his life.

When he got out of the hospital, I said, we would have a photo portrait taken. He agreed quite heartily.

Last weekend, they were going to connect the dialysis tube to his arm. He had to undergo an operation. It looked like there was some complication, but I thought they managed to fix it. They were going to move him back to his room.

On Sunday, he had a cardiac arrest.

At the conclusion of "Ender's Game", the hero Ender Wiggin leaves the military and becomes a Speaker for the Dead. As the title suggests, a Speaker studies a dead person's life and, well, speaks for that person: history, hopes, dreams, regrets, sins, heroism....

I feel I might have to take on this task for Fr. Chi.

I'm sad because we never got to talk about the little details of his life. All I had were the broad strokes. I am such a poor first-time biographer I don't think I'll be able to do him justice.

I'm going to have to try.

But right now, Fr. Chi is still hanging on, and if I might trouble you for a moment or two of prayer, it would very much be appreciated.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Mini-Review: Ender's Game

I've been down with a bad chest cold since yesterday, and when that happens, there's really nothing else to do but drink plenty of water, lie down in bed, and read a good book.

Flipping through my library, I picked up a book that I hadn't read yet. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. I thought I'd read myself to sleep.

Bad choice. I couldn't put the book down.

The book tells the tale of Ender Wiggins, a military genius on whom the fate of humankind rests. Having just survived two near-invasions by an insect-like ancient race, the humans are beefing up their defenses for the inevitable third invasion. But they need a strong commander.

Ender goes through a rigorous training programme in the Battle Academy, a space station dedicated solely for that purpose. The centerpiece of the academy is the battle room, where teams of cadets engage in zero-g tactical manuevers. It's only a game, but it's an intense game.

Oh, and here's the catch: Ender Wiggins is only six years old.

Yes, it's military sci-fi, and it's great military sci-fi, but in no way does it glorify war. War is a necessity, and Ender Wiggins is a reluctant tool.

More than anything else, the book is a close examination of the pschology of war. Orson Scott Card pulls it of masterfully.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Girl's Story

Yes, it's comic. But it's more than a comic. It's a heartfelt depiction of how a rape victim copes with the tragedy.

Confusion.

Anger.

Grief.

Jonas Diego's online strip A Girl's Story captures all the raw emotion of the victim.

Thanks, Jonas, for this wonderful piece of work.

Grandfather's Birth Anniversary

It's Grandfather's birth anniversary today. I went to Church this morning on my bike. My uncle and aunts were there, too. Afterwards, we headed to the cemetery to pay Grandma and him a visit.

As far as I can remember, celebrating his birthday has really been a funny affair. It's the equivalent of a moveable feast. Since he uses the Chinese calendar, we'd always have it somewhere within the vicinity of the first two weeks of June.

I miss Grandpa.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Sean interviews me

Following after Dean Alfar's interview game, Sean sent me a list of five questions. I've answered as honestly as I could, and with a little less levity than I thought I would have.

What it reveals of me, I leave to the readers to decide.

1. What, in your opinion, is the most difficult lesson to get anyone to learn? (Academic or otherwise.)

Humility. Pride is too much a part of our fallen nature that it rebels against any intimations of humility. And humility, unfortunately, is not a state that you can just decide be in; frequently, real humility comes from extraneous events beyond our control.

2. You've just been approached about the possibility of constructing a monument to yourself, in a public area where it will potentially be seen by a lot of people of various nationalities. You can have any area of land that you need, and have any amount of material, type of material, and skilled workforce that you want. What sort of monument would you construct? What would it look like? Why?

I've always had a certain fascination for the Face on Mars. Imagine that, baffling an audience a million miles away. Yes, I know, the scientific explanation is that it's really just a play of shadows on some naturally-formed hills and valleys, but still....

So that's what I think monuments for truly great people (or truly vain ones) should be. So big that you can't see them from up close. You have to go very high up to appreciate them.

But a monument to myself? Non sum dignus. Non nobis, Domine, non nobis, sed nomine tuo da gloriam.

3. What was your weakest class back when you were in school? Do you think that you've been able to improve on your skills in that academic class since then?

Math. I was pretty dismal at figures back in grade school, and that didn't really improve in high school. But once I was forced into engineering, I learned to love it. Calculus became puzzle exercises. Numerical methods lending themselves to computer implementation opened up new vistas.

Unfortunately, I don't get to use them much nowadays, so I've regressed somewhat.

4. What do you think is currently our best alternative to gasoline-powered vehicles? Why this option, above all other available options?

Bicycles! Bicycles! Bicycles!

Bicycles are efficient, non-polluting, and healthy. They're the fastest way around short of using a gasoline-powered vehicle. They can go places where cars can't. They're cheap. They can carry a load.

If it were up to me, we'd have generous bicycle lanes throughout the country. Islands would be connected to each other by bridges accessible to bicycles. We'd have bicycle hostels everywhere. Everyone would get a free bike, so there would never be any reason to steal one.

5. One day, you cut yourself off from your previous life and create a new identity for yourself: You delete all your previous e-mail accounts, you forge a new birth certificate, you cut up your credit cards, you get some new diplomas made. What's the new name you create for yourself, and why that name specifically?

Nic Snide. Mainly because it has a nice ring to it.

Nic Snide was my fictional alter ego back in high school and college. He first started as a cartoon character called "The not-so-great Nic." Later, he got the surname Snide, after Dee "Twisted Sister" Snyder (of "We're Not Gonna Take It" fame). Snide seemed like a fitting monicker for my naturally sarcastic manner.

Later, Nic Snide became a idiosyncratic janitor at a top-secret research lab. He just happened to have lost his memory but he would become super smart whenever a dangerous situation posed itself. He was the star of an unpublished novelette entitled "The Creature from the Toilet Bowl." (And with a title like that, no wonder it didn't get published.)

That ultimately gave way to "village idiot savant."



So... how does The Interview Game work?

1. If you want to participate, leave a comment below saying “interview me.”
2. I will respond by asking you five questions - each person’s will be different.
3. You will update your journal/blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview others in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.

Rational Technology: Blogs, Wikis, and Podcasts

Some weeks back, I wrote about the blogging phenomenon. To recap, a blog is an online journal where you can share your thoughts about a particular subject. For many, a blog takes the form of a diary; for a growing number, it is also becoming a tool for promotion, whether for a business or a cause.

Blogs are essentially time-stamped entries, presented in reverse chronological order, with the latest information coming out first. The entries themselves can take any form. We can usually think of them as essays, but they can also be poetry, comics, or photographs.

Blogs are easy to publish because many of the tools are available for free. Arguably the most popular blogging engine is Blogger, and you can sign up for your site in a matter of minutes at www.blogger.com. Blogs can be maintained by a single person, or a group of people.

For some purposes, though, the chronological bent of blogs can be a bit limiting. Time is only one of the ways in which we organize information, and sometimes it's not the most efficient.

Another method of instant publishing, one that's only starting to get popular, is the wiki.

Wikis organize information per topic, and each topic can itself point to additional related topics, much as would be done on a traditional web site. The difference of a wiki from a traditional web site is its easy publishing mechanism and collaborative nature.

Unlike a regular web site which would have to be handcoded in cryptic HTML or written using special web editors, pages in wikis can be written in plain text, almost as if one were writing an email on Yahoo or Hotmail. The wiki software takes care of the formatting. There's some bit of special tagging that may be required, but at most only five are essential.

Since the wiki software takes care of all the connecting pages, there's no such thing as a broken link. As-yet unwritten topics are simply highlighted with a question mark to remind the author to fill it in.

Wikis are also collaborative in nature. Several people can post information and modify pages created by their colleagues. It's a somewhat chaotic method of publishing, but it's chaos with a purpose, and it actually works.

The best-known example of a wiki is the Wikipedia, the Internet's largest encyclopedia. It's a radical concept, but the Wikipedia allows anyone and everyone to edit the information on its pages. So far, it has 1.5 million entries in 76 languages. Is it reliable? To a certain extent, it is.

The June 6, 2005 issue of TIME Magazine devotes an entire article to the subject of wikis and the Wikipedia.

On the downside, hosting services for wikis are not yet as popular in the mainstream as their blogging counterparts. People who want to set up personal wikis will have to resort to some paid hosting services (which, at the going rate of USD5 to USD10 per month, aren't that expensive.) Either that, or create entries in the Wikipedia.

Not satisfied with online publishing? How about online broadcasting instead? Another growing trend is podcasting. Podcasting takes its name from the Apple iPod, the portable music player. With the prevalence of MP3-capable devices, it's possible now for people to record their speeches, dialogues, or performances in MP3 format. Interested listeners can download these recordings into their portable devices.

These and other tools are at hand. They're either free or inexpensive. They're not complicated to use. So there's no reason not to get published.

Now, go: write about what's good about our city!

Announcement: TVB Group, in cooperation with Foundation University, is holding a wiki/blogging workshop at Foundation University on June 10, 2005 from 2 PM to 5 PM. Participants will have hands-on access to blog and wiki tools. Only five seats are still available, so please email me at dominique-dot-cimafranca-at-gmail.com if you want to attend. Subsequent workshops will have a fee of P300.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Biking to Candau-ay

I thought I stayed in bed later than I should have. When I finally opened my eyes and checked my watch, it was still only 6:00AM. Ah, well, nothing to do except get out of bed, right?

My nose was stuffy and I briefly considered taking it easy. But the call of my bicycle was just too strong to resist. I grabbed my helmet, guided my bike out of the garage, and headed off to discover a new route around the city.

This time around, I headed in the general direction of the public market and turned off into the Locsin St., leading to Foundation University. I headed further inland and found my way to the Dumaguete Palinpinon Road.

It was a low-grade climb, not too hard on the legs, and easily manageable with steady shift increments of my gears. Pretty soon, the tightly packed buildings gave way to coconut groves and widely-spaced houses.

What a treat to find some honest-to-goodness nipa houses! Along Batinguel and Candau-ay, people still actually used the native material. The houses were not shoddy at all, as I expected, but rather quite elegant and stately.

There were several routes that opened up to me on this trip, ones which I could not explore today for lack of time. One road led up to a Japanese-Filipino Amity Shrine, supposedly some 5 km. uphill. Another path would take me to the hill city of Valencia.

I checked my watch, though, and I learned I had already been away for about an hour. Reluctantly, I turned back to the city.

I dropped by the public market to buy some highly-recommended budbod (suman). But that's a story for next week.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Jaunt to Malatapay

Malatapay is a small market in Zamboangita, 22 km south of Dumaguete. There's really not much there by way of amenities, just a few houses and an outdoor market. Most of the traffic on normal days would really be from divers heading over to awaiting motorized outriggers that would take them to Apo Island, one of the premier dive spots in the country.

On Wednesdays, though, the Malatapay really comes alive as farmers, ranchers, and hawkers from nearby towns descend on the area to do business. The main attraction is the cattle auction that takes place in a large coconut grove. Not just cattle gets traded, but also horses, goats, and pigs. This is a long-standing tradition that dates back to just after World War II.

Such was the sight that greeted my friends Jong and Danah and I as we approached the market from the highway at 11am. The crowd had actually spilled over into the main road, and everyone was oblivious to oncoming traffic.

The parking area was further in and the narrow road could only accommodate one car going in each direction. I had to drive carefully, honking my horn every now and then, but everyone ignored me until the last moment. Worse, there were trucks and tricycles carrying livestock going in both directions.

Having parked the car and gone out on foot, the going was much better. Now I could be like everyone else and wander around without a care for all the honking horns.

Jong and I headed for the auction area where all the cattle were put up for display. By the time we arrived, most transactions had already concluded and the merchandise were being loaded into the trucks.

It wasn't actually an auction per se with bidding wars and sniping. Buyers would eye the merchandise and approach the sellers, haggling privately over the price. At any moment, there would be dozens of transactions going on.

Jong approached one of the traders and asked about how purchases were arranged. Full-grown cattle would be weighed on scales, but yearlings were just guesstimated. A year-old cow, around 100 kilos, would normally fetch around P12,000.

It was a lively affair, and we had to deftly sidestep cows being led along by their masters. The smell of dirt, dust, and cow dung lent further flavor to the proceedings.

Having had our fill of the auction, we then proceeded to survey the merchandise on the makeshift stalls. It was a chaotic affair, with hawkers calling out buyers and touting the benefit of their wares.

Loudest of all were quacks and witch doctors selling charms and cures for various ailments. Most popular seemed to be treatments for irregular monthly periods. Go figure.

Fortunately, there were more practical items on sale. Rope, woven mats, hats, farming implements, along with fish and meats. I ended up buying three hats.

Out on the beach, the clear blue waters beckoned. Apo Island stood majestically in the distance, and further on in the hazy distance, we could already see Mindanao.

We capped our stay in Malatapay with a leisurely lunch in the main restaurant in the area, which was really nothing more than a grass roof and four posts. Furniture consisted of rough wooden benches and tables covered with laminated plastic. But the food was good and the place was packed with tourists.

On our way back from Malatapay, we made two more stops.

Our first stop was at Bahura Resort, recently bought over and reopened by Scubaworld. Bahura boasts of 24 large rooms and a conference center that can accommodate over a hundred participants. Some construction was still ongoing, but for the most part, the resort was already operational.

Our second stop proved to be more interesting. Jong had gotten hold of a brochure for the recently-concluded Terra Cotta festival in Dumaguete, and it announced the opening of the Luneta Art Gallery. Since it was along the way, we decided to drop by.

The art gallery was actually the beach-side residential compound of Richard and Lori Raymundo. There they displayed their paintings and clay sculptures. They also opened up their place to visiting artists from Bacolod and other parts.

Richard's expertise turned out to be clay sculptures, and several pieces of his were on display on their lawn. He had a three-foot butane-fired kiln in his backyard, allowing him to fire jars of up to two feet. His kiln in the US, he said, was actually 6-feet high allowing him to bake much bigger pieces.

Richard has done extensive research on the clay from various parts of the country. Sadly, the red clay of Daro and Zamboangita isn't really suitable for firing at high temperatures so he has to mix it with white clay from Thailand.

Our conversation turned out to be much longer than we had planned. He also showed us around his house which he constructed himself. The walls and beams were constructed of 100-year old coconut lumber, good enough to last him another hundred years, he boasted. The tiles of his floor he baked himself.

Lori, on the other hand, recognized me immediately as soon as we stepped through their gates. She's a regular customer of our store and kept calling me by my Dad's name.

Quite a couple, those two.

All in all, a worthwhile visit.

Flash Fiction: The Horde Meeting

Tuareg the Terrible was a stickler for punctuality. Just because you were the bloodthirsty leader of the most feared barbarian horde in the Southern Steppes, he always said, should be no excuse for not meeting your appointments.

So it was that when he said he would take a city on such a month and day, on that date it fell. Or when he said he would cut off a captured noble's nose for failure to pay ransom on a particular hour, such it was. And so was Tuareg the Terrible feared among all the kingdoms.

Tuareg the Terrible held meetings every Thursday with his sub-commanders to plan out their next stage of plunder. They met at seven o'clock in his tent, without fail. Tardiness by even a minute was met with...well, let's just say that tardiness was dealt with harshly.

It so happened that on the Wednesday night of that particular week the horde held a wild carousing.

Still, at seven the following day, all the sub-commanders were at their places.

Except for one.

Eldred the Unready came stumbling into Tuareg's tent fifteen minutes past the appointed time. The barbarian chief was not pleased. Eldred was summarily...dealt with.

Thereafter, hushed whispers spread throughout the band.

"Someone late? Ick!"

I know, I know, it's painful, but that's all that I could come up with on short notice.


Suman Latiks

Hello, Ubuntu


I'm posting this note using my spanking new Ubuntu 5.04 machine. I started my installation about an hour ago, and wrapped it all up with the Speedtouch 330 driver. Whoopee! I'm online now.

I was having some doubts as to whether it was my old hardware or my SuSE installation or the Speedtouch modem that was flaky. Luckily, I had another computer lying around from my aborted cybercafe project, so I decided to give Ubuntu a spin.

My copy of Ubuntu was courtesy of Miguel Arguelles, who just happened to be carrying two sets at the time that I met him last week.

With the speed of the install and the minimal Gnome interface, I'd say Ubuntu got a lot of things right. I'll be working with Ubuntu in the meantime to try to get a better feel of it.

Look! I'm using Debian now.