Saturday, July 30, 2005

Home networking with Ubuntu

Sad to say but my Linux networking skills have grown rusty over the years. For the most part, I've either been working from behind a firewall, with a SOHO router, or direct broadband connection. So it's been a long time since I've had to configure DHCP, DNS, or IP masquerading.

And that's precisely what I needed to do with my present home network. In the past six months, I've accumulated three desktop PCs and a Thinkpad, ostensibly for my education, but otherwise not really doing anything. I thought I needed to get my much-delayed personal projects off the ground.

Primary problem: since I'm on Globe DSL, I'm using a Speedtouch 330 modem which only has a USB connection. That means hooking it up to a SOHO router from D-Link or Linksys is out. That means I'd have to use my primary PC as my firewall/router.

Activating the Speedtouch 330 for Linux wasn't really much of a problem. It's a fairly well-documented process, and there's even a nifty little script that does automates the configuration.

Next thing was configuring DHCP, DNS, and IP masquerading. In the old days, I would have installed the appropriate packages, dhcp-server, bind, and iptables, and configured each individually. What a hassle!

So I did a little searching in Ubuntu's packages and came upon a few nuggets which greatly eased my troubles.

First, there was dnsmasq, a lightweight DNS server with an integrated DHCP server. All I really needed was a DNS forwarder, which dnsmasq is. But dnsmasq also converts the host files and DHCP leases into DNS entries, clearly an added plus. The configuration file was clear and simple, too. That took care of two of my tasks straightaways.

Then, there was ipmasq which has the basic scripts and rules to turn netfilter/iptables into a NAT firewall. I didn't even have to twiddle with configuration files anymore. Post-installation, my routing was up and running.

And just to round things out, since I'm too cheap to buy additional monitors, I run the other PCs headless and use VNC as my virtual KVM. It's great that Ubuntu already has a terminal server client built-in.

Granted, the system I'm running may not be very secure, but as far as getting a home network up and running, well, now it's just an hour's work for a rusty old-timer.

Friday, July 29, 2005

All is well with the world

Watching the state of the nation address last Monday, one could almost believe that GMA is the savior that she claims to be. Like a cult welcoming its high priestess, the chamber rang loud with chants of her name. And all is well with the world.

Less a state of the nation than a statement of direction, the speech gave the world a preview of things to come: federalism, a nod and a wink to the governors and mayors who descended on Imperial Manila with threats of secession; and a parliamentary shift, a nod and a wink to the congress who, if they might have their way, can now enjoy lifetime terms. And all is well with the world.

Never mind that there's no clear vision as to how either tact will solve the problems we face. Never mind that there's not even a clear definition of the root causes of the problems that they would attempt to solve. What's clear is that this administration decides by divine fiat: this is the way to the promised land, the high priestess says. Never mind the details, for that is where the devil is. And all is well with the world.

All is well with the world. The sun will go on shining, and the cameras will go on rolling. Congressmen and senators will preen in the klieg lights, full of vigor and bombast. And thus the merry-go-round turns in its dance of forgetfulness.

All is well with the world. For isn't forgetfulness sweet? We'll cover our sins from the light, we'll sweep the dirt under the rug. We'll let bygones be bygones. Let the devils and the angels kiss and make up, for in the end, aren't we all one happy family? We'll stone the prophets and silence their tongues, for after all, who in this world is righteous?

So eat, drink, and be merry. For all is well with the world.

"But woe to you that are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger.
Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets."

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Comics day with Neo

I read my nephew Neo a story from a Batman comic book (DC Kids from PsiCom, not the mainstream version) today. Reading the comic at his pace made me appreciate the story a bit more. I had to point out the actions explicitly, telling him who was doing what. Some parts of dialogue were a bit complicated, in my opinion, so I had to paraphrase here and there. Every now and then, I would point to a particular character and ask him who that was. A little difficulty at first, but soon enough he got the hang of it.

After the story was done, I gave him some lessons in drawing. He still had some difficulty holding a pen. I may have to get him some crayons tomorrow so that they'll be easier for him to hold. Then, his parents and grandparents will have to watch out for their walls. He, he, he.

CSI Season Finale

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is one of the non-cartoon TV shows that I try to watch regularly. It's been a favorite since it first came out some years ago and has grown on me ever since. Neither CSI: Miami and CSI: New York, in my opinion, come close to the depth of character development that has taken place in the show.

At the same time, Quentin Tarantino is someone whose work I am always curious to see. I don't quite consider myself to be a fan but I can't deny that some of his work is compelling if only for the viciousness of the violence and the crispness of the dialogue.

So it was with some anticipation that I settled into the La-Z-Boy last night to watch the much-touted two-hour season finale to CSI. What dark and twisted situation would Hollywood's enfant terrible unleash on my favorite TV show?

Apparently, not much.

I won't be giving away any plot spoilers by pointing out the scenario facing the CSI crew in this episode. Nick Stokes is abducted by some unnamed villain and buried in a plexiglass coffin. Gil Grissom and the gang can view Nick by means of webcam. Can they find him in time to save him?

From the outset, the situation looked very contrived. Why go through the trouble of baiting the CSI team? I was hoping Tarantino et al. would find some compelling storyline to explain why Stokes is in the coffin. Perhaps some nemesis of Grissom's who had outwitted him in the past? I was actually quite hopeful when I saw that one of the guest stars was Frank Gorshin, who played The Riddler against Adam West's Batman.

Alas, we didn't get any of that. It was a typical clockwork CSI investigation, only with one of the team members as the victim. In fact, there were a number of plot points that just didn't work for me. However, I don't want to spoil your viewing pleasure so I'll practice forbearance and keep them to myself.

There were a couple of Tarantino-esque touches to the episode. The first one, very early in the story, involved a double murder. That alone would have made for a good half of the usual episode but it was just plain wasted. The autopsy sequence near the end was shocking and funny.

However, neither of these really gives the story that zip I expected.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Resistance is Futile

If ever there was a sexy suman, it would have to be Seven of Nine from Star Trek: Voyager. I mean, she's dressed in a way that Filipinos would call balot-suman, for crying out loud.

So anyway, I was reading her September 1999 Playboy interview (never mind how I got the copy, and no, she doesn't get nekkid in it), and I get to one part which has always bugged me.

Resistance is futile. How do you say "futile?" Here's the answer:

PLAYBOY: Speaking of the Borg, is resistance "few-tile" or "few-tul"?
RYAN: Good question. When my character was introduced, I had to say, "Resistance is futile." The producers had shown me the movie First Contact so I'd at least know what a Borg is, and every time a Borg speaks the line it's "Resistance is few-tile." Few-tile, few-tile, few-tile. So I asked your question: "Few-tile? Is that a Borg thing? Or is it few-tul?" They said, "No, no, no, it's few-tul. You don't say few-tile. Patrick Stewart says few-tile because he has an English accent." I said, "Well, what about the voice of the Collective? It says few-tile, doesn't it?" "No, no, no. We recorded the voice of the Collective and it says few-tul." I said, "All right, but I don't want to take the flak if we start getting mail because I said the wrong thing." Sure enough, the show airs and the voice of the Collective says few-tile, and I'm the only Borg in the history of Star Trek, apparently, who has ever said few-tul. It has no zip. It's depressing.


Ah, so desuka.


Sean
Clair
Marcelle
Kat

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Some Links of Note

I was reading some political commentary from Manolo Quezon, fast becoming my favorite columnist and blogger, and I came across a link to GMA Komiks by Bulletproof Vest.

The comic itself was funny, but Bulletproof Vest had a link to another great site: virtual reality chalk art.

Check it out. Fantastic!

Thinkpad R50e Model 1834TA6

Just a couple of months after I got my IBM Thinkpad R50e Model 1834-MA4, Lenovo releases the follow-up 1834-TA6. The ad came out in the papers, and I found out because Arthur Chua sauntered over to the store to ask my opinion about it.

Specs-wise, it looks to be exactly the same as the MA4: Celeron M processor, 256MB RAM, 40 GB hard disk, and Intel Wireless B/G. One difference, though, is that the processor runs at 1.3MHz instead of my 1,5MHz. There wasn't enough in the ad to go deeper, though.

Price-wise, the TA6 is cheaper at P39,450 vs the MA4's P42,500.

If it's anything like the MA4, I'd rate it as a good buy. Better hurry, though, because the distributors ran out of the MA4 in just ten days.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Hmmm....

Got this email from my editor at Metro Post:


> From: "Romy C"
> To: Irma Faith Pal
> Subject: RE: column of Dominique Cimafranca
> Date: Sat, 23 Jul 2005 13:26:14 +1000

> viva visayas! let's have more of this enlightening "modest proposal" from
> dominique. or is it from jonathan swift?


So is this a good thing?

Disabilities Awareness Month

Somewhat delayed post, this, but still worthwhile mentioning.

Last Saturday, Danah invited me to Jufer's presentation for the Disabilities Awareness Month. They had the talk at Quezon Park, fronting the Dumaguete Cathedral. I came a little late, but still managed to catch the salient points.

The lesson which struck me most was the People First approach. Sometimes, we view the disability as the essence of the person, prompting us to limit our view of what the person can and cannot do. And we can be so unthinking about it. People First views them as such: people.

Another good point: sometimes we speak as if we have to redesign and rebuild our existing buildings to accommodate people with disabilities. Hassle? Yes. But what if we designed and built the buildings following universal standards of access, getting it right in the first place?

Ironically, the stage where we had the talk didn't have wheelchair access.

After the talk, the participants, mostly from the Great Physician Rehabilitation Foundation (GPRF), had a game of kickball. It was ebullient chaos. Players ran the bases on wheelchairs, crutches, and sneakers, and the basemen didn't really try too hard to tag. I think the final score must have ended at an even 200 for each side.



More details from the TVB blog.

Reprieve

Well, it looks like La Presidente has gotten herself a reprieve. I am obviously not a fan, but I must admit the execution of the State of the Nation Address was masterfully done. The pressures will probably ease off for a while.

However, let's not be lulled into thinking that all's-well-that-ends-well. I still have several reasons to mistrust this administration and its supporters (and on the flip side, the opposition as well.)

The new battlecry seems to be "federalism." Though it sounds good at the outset, we have to be careful how this is actually going to play out: from definition up to execution. Tuso ang politikong Pinoy, and someone will find some way to screw it.

We'll be watching.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A Visayan Joke

This featured in a homily at Mass last week. I just had to write it down because it's so typical of a Visayan joke: silly but cute.

Sila Pedro, Pablo, ug Juan tulo ka mga trabahante. Kay amigo man sila, pirmi sila nga magdungan ug pani-udto. Usa ka adlaw, gi-abrehan ni Pedro ang iyang balon. "Ay, ginoo!" ingon ni Pedro, "bulad na pud. Gipul-an na giyod ko! Kung bulad pa gihiyapon ni ugma, maghikog giyod ko!"

Si Pablo pud, ni-abre sa iyang balon. "Sus!" ingon ni Pablo. "Ginamos na sad! Gipul-an na giyod ko! Kung ginamos pa gihiyapon ni ugma, maghikog giyod ko!"

Human, si Juan na pud. "Pastilan!" ingon ni Juan. "Sardinas na pud. Gipul-an na giyod ko! Kung sardinas gihiyapon ni ugma, maghikog giyod ko!"

Sa mo-sunod nga adlaw, nagkita na pud sila pag-paniudto. Gipang-abre nila ilang mga balon. Kay Pedro, bulad. Kay Pablo, ginamos. Kay Juan, sardinas. Sa kagu-ol, nisaka sila sa atop sa ilang gusali ug nilayat. Naghikog giyod sila, sama sa ilang gisa-ad.

Sa ilang lamay, nagkita-kita ang ilang mga biyuda.

"Kung nahibalo lang ko nga gipul-an na si Pedro sa bulad," sulti sa biyuda ni Pedro, "lain unta akong gi-andam nga pagkaon para kaniya. Buhi pa unta siya karon."

Sulti sab sa biyuda ni Pablo: "Kung nahibalo lang ko nga gipul-an na si Pablo sa ginamos, lain unta akong gi-andam nga pagkaon para sa kaniya. Wala pa unta siya naghikog."

Human, ang biyuda ni Juan: "Kung nahibalo lang ko nga gipul-an na si Juan sa sardinas, dili na unta nako siya gipa-andam sa iyang kaugalingong balong pani-udto."


If I get enough requests to translate it, I will. Have a good laugh!

Friday, July 22, 2005

How to Secede

Rational Technology for July 23, 2005

There's nothing particularly new about the idea of a separate Visayas Republic. It's an idea that I've frequently discussed with my friends from Cebu. Invariably, the discussion starts with how much of a mess Metro Manila is, especially with dem grubby politicians. We talk about how much better Cebu and the other provinces would be if, instead of directing our taxes to the national, presumably lining bottomless pockets of congressmen, they could be channeled into local development instead. And on we rant, all the while chugging our beer and downing our sisig. Come the end of it all, we drink one last toast to our motherland the Visayas and stagger on home.

Enlightened by the same otherworldly inspiration that prompted our beloved President to go back on her word -- este, change her mind -- about forswearing electoral ambitions two Christmases past, a group of esteemed governors have banded together and promptly adopted the idea of the Visayas Republic. What can I say? In vino veritas!

Since it is the finest legal minds and elected leaders of the united provinces who are bandying the idea and not a group of drunken friends, we should look at the mechanics of secession in earnest. And who better to be your guide than yours truly who has concocted the perfect plan over several years of besotted frustration?

At the heart of it, the act of secession necessarily involves the creation of a new state. So the first step is also necessarily the creation and ratification of a new constitution. Now, constitutions, as we all know, are notoriously difficult to write, involving a lot of legal ledgerdemain, public consultations, correspondence with international law, and other what-not. Ordinarily, it would take at least two years to put together this new constitution, but hey! we're from the Visayas, so it should take us no more than a fortnight to draft and pass it. In fact, it should take less than a week, assuming that all the constituents imbibe in the process liberally.

Thus written, we will then serve notice to the standing government of the Republic of the Philippines of our intention, backed up by our new constitution. Simultaneously, we should also inform the appropriate agencies and representatives of the United Nations of the formation of our new state. Naturally they will take none too kindly to this brazen deed, and understandably so: the democratic world is notoriously averse to secession. Their lawyers will throw up high-faluting concepts like remedial rights and primary rights and ascriptivist and plebiscitary theories. A few drinks here and there, though, and we should smooth those details over quickly.

New states can be quite fragile so we will also need to prepare for our defense both from external threats as well as internal threats. External threats might come from our future next-door neighbor, the Republic of the Philippines, who will belatedly realize that they should not have cast a jewel such as the Visayas aside. Internal threats might come from the unenlightened citizens who scoff at the idea of secession and who foolishly cling to the fictional notion of the Philippine Islands.

As such, the Visayas Republic should form as quickly as possible a standing army to protect our borders and maintain internal security. The Armed Forces of the Philippines by then would be considered an occupational force and must be removed as quickly as possible, with the exception of progressive officers and troops who resign their commissions. Initially, this will be a transitional army -- and for this, I propose the name Field Army and Navy of the Treaty of Independence to reflect its nature -- composed of reservists, volunteers, and conscripts. Eventually, this will give way to the Visayas Regular Army in due time. Our native security experts, armed with swizzle sticks to assiduously inspect the bags of all travellers crossing our borders, will defend the hundreds of kilometers of coastal waters that will then comprise the islands of the Visayas Republic.

Ah, and the economy. I could write volumes about the conduct of the economy in the newly-formed Visayas Republic which will then be so vibrant without the excess baggage posed by Imperial Manila. While we can wax poetic about the can-do spirit of the people of the Visayas, we would have to face the practical realities of the first stages of the transition. Critical infrastructure such as banks, telecommunications, and manufacturing would have to be nationalized. As much of the gross domestic product will come from export processing zone, it would behoove the new administration to form trade treaties with as quickly as possible. Understandably, the parent companies, based in the possibly hostile Republic of the Philippines, will not take too kindly to this; but that's what we have the VRA for.

But really, what will keep the Visayas Republic afloat, as it does the Republic of the Philippines now, are dollar remittances from Overseas Foreign Workers. And we very well can't have them remitting to the Republic of the Philippines, can we? Cut loose from the tyrannical Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, we will have to form our own central bank bolstered by independent dollar reserves. As a symbol of our new independence (with due respect to our cultural heritage), we can call our new currency, pegged to the dollar, the "pisong tinuod."

And now, one final issue. Who would lead the new country? By now, we would have seen that elections are costly, ineffective, divisive, and just plain more trouble than they are worth. So we will do away with elections altogether and install a monarchy. After all, we already have the living exemplar of a true leader, one who demonstrates elegant statesmanship, steadfast resolution in the face of overwhelming odds, economic acumen, anointed by otherworldly powers, yet at the same time with imbued with the utmost sincerity to say "I'm sorry." So popular is this leader that in the last elections she won by a landslide margin of over one million votes, and that the governors of the Visayas would willingly secede if she were unconstitutionally removed. In her, the Visayas Republic would have a leader that it truly deserved.

Yes, I know, all this sounds fantastic. But who knows? If we leave our fate in the able hands of our present political leaders, this may yet be our future.

Let's all drink to that!

Friday Run

It's been a long time since I've taken my bike out for a morning spin. Oh, to be sure, I'm still getting my daily road quota since I usually ride it to work nowadays, but I've been getting up a little late in the mornings -- 6:45am instead of 5:45am -- so I've been depriving myself of the early Dumaguete calm.

So this morning I took a stab at returning to the old routine. And a pleasant morning it was, too. The rains last night left a cool blanket over the city. Though there was the threat of a slight shower, it didn't follow through. Perfect for a morning bike run.

I took my alternate route to the city center, through Claytown and down San Jose Extension. The concreting project along a stretch of San Jose Extension had just finished, and so I had a nice wide road devoid of any traffic to glide through.

A quick pass at the Boulevard where I made sure Radio Man and Patchwork Man were at their usual places, after which I went for a quick break of puto maya and sikwate at the tiangge.

Just perfect.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

In Memoriam: Beam Me Up, Scotty


James Doohan, who played Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery 'Scotty' Scott on the original Star Trek series, passed away yesterday due to complications in pneumonia. He was 85.

Star Trek has been a big part of my life, and more than any other character in Star Trek, Scotty was my inspiration for my career. Though I originally set out to become a writer, I got pushed into engineering. And when it seemed that I was going to be stuck there, well, I naturally started looking up to the only full-fledged engineer in science fiction that I knew off: Scotty.

And the engineering advice he gave was solid. What was it he said to Geordi LaForge in "Relics"?

"Starship captains are like children. They want everything right now and they want it their way. The secret is to give them what they need, not what they want."

That advice served me in good stead with my customers and my managers.

So long, old friend.

George Foreman USB iGrill

Speaking of the George Foreman grill, a quick search on Google netted this little gem. The George Foreman USB iGrill.

According to the site description:

Using the USB current to directly charge high voltage capacitors, the iGrill does not require any additional power supply, making it perfect for dorm or office cooking.

Gee whiz! Are they serious?

Cook or Die, Philippine Edition

While My Girlfriend(tm) is resuming her Cook or Die project in Canada, I think I'll draw the curtain on my own experiments here.

Living alone, sans family members or househelp, is a challenge in many ways, and that extends to the daily nutritional needs. Back in Manila I would default to the fast food joints of Robinson's Galleria or Megamall. Here in Dumaguete, it might have been the same.

Except, with more limited choices, things understandably got old pretty quickly. After all, I don't want a replay of Supersize Me the Jollibee Edition with me in the starring role.

That left me only one option: cook or die. But what's a bachelor to do?

To solve my problem, I started to troll the meats section of Lee Plaza. Now, the selections at Lee aren't all that great either, but they're passable enough. Chicken cuts, sides of beef, tocino, and pre-marinated barbecue and porkchops. It's a comfortable middle ground between the fast food restaurants and the wet market.

This week it was the pre-marinated kabobed pork barbecue. At P150 per kilo, it seemed slightly expensive. I bought four sticks which came to a half kilo. It turned out each stick was quite hefty. Back home, I popped them into my George Foreman personal griller and voila! Fifteen minutes later I came out with perfectly cooked barbecue. Mmmmm!

So I've had barbecue two straight nights now. In hindsight, one stick should've been enough for dinner, but my eyes were bigger than my stomach, so I took two each.

Tomorrow, tenderloin!

Harry Potter, in the style of...

By now it should come as no surprise that a major character in Harry Potter series kicks the bucket in book 6. Fairly obvious, really, but I won't be guilty of posting any spoilers.

For those who've read the book, or for those who really don't care much (I fall in the latter category), you can read variations on this theme at The Guardian web site. Harry Potter written in the style of various authors.

Here's one done in the style of my favorite author, GK Chesterton:
"But I knew before that, of course," he went on. "I had a long talk with this man you call Voldemort last night, when I found him up to some devilry in my churchyard. He's a wretched soul, of course - this magic of yours does so twist things out of their true form and purpose - but I fancy I found some good in him."

He got up, cast about helplessly for his umbrella, found it under the table and went to the door. There he turned, and the twinkling lights of the room were reflected in his little round spectacles like the stars of heaven.

"Your wizarding world could really do with some priests," he said, smiling. "It really could, you know."

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Vignette: Sam the Shark

A little darker than I'm used to, but I thought this would make an interesting character study. I know nothing about trading, so I could make this a little more convincing. But anyways....

Sam the Shark. That's how he liked to call himself. And that's how everyone in the pit called him, too, behind his back with green-envy eyes and hushed whispers: Sam the Shark. His ocean was the trading floor and he preyed relentlessly and ruthlessly. He was born for it. At 19 he was the youngest trader at Goldman. At 21 he engineered "The Coup of the Century," grossing Goldman $350M and a handsome ten percent for himself. Sam the Shark he was, and his teeth were sharp, indeed.

But even mighty sharks get eaten from time to time, and for Samuel Rothstein that time came with Lippincot, a sweet deal that went sour. So he had used a few of his "connections" to tip the trade in Goldman's favor. So what? That was the way it was always done. It was just his bad luck that the Feds were on Goldman's case and as the company's superstar he stood out like a blade of grass waiting to be mown. They came down hard. Real hard. Goldman went south faster than you could say "Milken."

Sam Rothstein, shark that he was, survived by the skin of his teeth. He turned state's witness and brought down the whole board of Goldman. Many of them didn't even have a clue. And Old Man Goldman? Dead by his own hand, a bullet to his head. Sam the Shark, though, lived to prey another day.

Today wasn't that day, though. He stood on The Street eyeing the young, fresh-faced traders as they left the floor. Someday, someday, he mumbled to himself. He hadn't come out completely unscathed from Lippincot; all his assets had been seized. And after Lippincot, his was the kiss of death. No self-respecting shop would take him, the bastards. So like any good shark, he bided his time, sniffing the prey out.

"Sam?"

He turned, squinted. The voice belonged to a rosy-cheeked baby face, ill-matched with the austere black suit on which it rested. Sam the Shark snarled. This was the Street, and no one had a right to be that happy and smiling.

"Who?"

"It's me, Jack! Jack La Fleur. We interned together at, ah, Goldman." At the name, La Fleur's voice tapered off and he broke into a wan smile. Goldman was like the Flying Dutchman now, bad luck just at the mention.

Shark teeth grinned back. "Oy. Jack." he sniffed. "Been a long time." Jack La Fleur. Jack the Flower. Jack the Loser. What was he bringing in these days? Seventy? Eighty thousand? He had Jack marked out a long time ago. Jack and his kind. They were the safe traders, always working in the shoals where it was safe, bringing in the pitifully small deals. They didn't have the killer instinct, they didn't have what it took to bring a big deal down.

"Yeah, hey, it's good to see you." Behind the bland pleasantries were the unspoken condolences: "I'm sorry about what happened at Goldman. It shouldn't have happened to a superstar like you. Yadda-yadda-yadda." They made him want to puke, the hypocrites!

"I'm just out for some coffee," Jack ventured, trying to change the subject. "Pit break, you know."

"Yeah, gotta keep the engines running," Sam the Shark said, with mock jollity.

"Listen, can I get you something?"

He paused oh-so-briefly. At his peak he was earning a hundred times, a thousand times, the Flower was making today. It riled him to no end that he had to accept this bit of unintended charity. He looked at the baby face, wanted to slap the smile off it. The Loser. But not today. Today wasn't the day yet.

"Yeah. Some. And latte, 'kay?"



Sean
Clair
Marcelle

Monday, July 18, 2005

Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars



Some years back, I chanced upon a quirky sci-fi show that soon became one of my most anticipated Wednesday night events. At first, I thought Farscape would be the cliched lost-man-tries-to-find-his-way-home, but it quickly turned out to be a lot of things that I wasn't expecting. It was strange, funny, thought-provoking, and dramatic. It was everything I thought a sci-fi show should be.

Somewhere in the third season, though, AXN quietly dropped the show. Possibly it might have had something to do with broadcast rights. So my interest waned somewhat, and it didn't help that the storyline was so strange and so involved that missing a few episodes would throw someone off track. Ultimately, the series also met an untimely death.

But, it's back for one last curtain call. "Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars" is showing this month on the Hallmark Channel. Here's the synopsis:

When a full-scale war is engaged by the evil Scarran Empire the Peacekeeper Alliance has but one hope: reassemble human astronaut John Crichton, once sucked into the Peacekeeper galaxy through a wormhole. Crichton’s task: recreate the invaluable wormhole weapon and flush the entire Peacekeeper race to safety before the last war of an era brings an end to the universe.


I caught it last night, but I was so tired I couldn't keep my eyes open. Fortunately, there's an encore presentation tonight. Yay!

Harry Potter Book 6

I picked up on the Harry Potter series some four years ago, just when it was starting to be popular but before it had reached the height of the frenzy. I think I must have read a review on Time Magazine, and that's what prompted me to give it a shot. The books weren't available locally as yet, so I bought "Philosopher's Stone" and "Chamber of Secrets" in Hong Kong, read them on the plane, and finished them in a hotel in Jakarta.

I thought the first two books were an engrossing albeit short read. In my opinion, they passed the Tolkien test for fantasy stories, that is, that they should contain an element of universal truth. (See "On Fairy Stories"). So gladly I waited for the subsequent books in the saga.

"Prisoner of Azkaban" was alright, but did not really surpass its predecessors. I think, after that point, the series' success may have started working against itself. Was it pressure? Was it the onset of a mechanical mindset? Did Rowling change? Or did I?

Either way, I just didn't feel the magic was there anymore. I read "Goblet of Fire" and "Order of the Phoenix" out of an obsessive desire for completeness. But even that, I think, will not be enough to persuade me to pick up "Half-Blood Prince" anytime soon.

In any case, I have already read the synopsis of book six. The Internet is a wonderful place. Heresy, you say? Ah, chalk it up to impatience.

Perhaps, with some distance, I can re-read and enjoy the series at some time in the future. In the meantime, I'd rather be reading some good ol'-fashioned space opera.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Rational Technology: Plug and Pray

This week found me in Manila, teaching a class for IBM business partners and customers. Though I am no longer officially connected with the company, the opportunity for some odd jobs sometimes presents itself and who am I to turn away such a generous gift?

The class was a combination of lectures and laboratory exercises. Having taught the class before, I was fairly well-versed with the procedures. Indeed, things went well until the last day. Then we hit a snag that had me scratching my head.

I won't bore you with the technical details. Suffice to say, I had two computers hooked up the way the laboratory manuals said they should be hooked up, the way I had done countless other times. It just so happened that the connection didn't work the way I thought it should.

After several tries, I took the only reasonable course of action. I disconnected the servers from each other, replaced the cables, and reset the machines. With great deliberation, I reconnected the computers, testing them at every step. Ultimately, I arrived at the same set of connections that I started out with. Only this time, it worked.

I did not bother to hide my puzzlement from my students. There was nothing substantially different in how we set up the machines. We guessed at several possibilities: that the cables might have been loose, that the software didn't start up correctly, that there were conflicting addresses, and so on and so forth. Being seasoned professionals themselves, they did not come down too hard on me.

In fact, the occasion prompted us to share war stories with each other during the afternoon break. One fellow recalled that they had a problem with one of their computers. All the engineers in their company attempted a fix, and all invariably failed. Just when they were about to give up in frustration, one fellow volunteered one more try after the weekend. "Make sure you go to Mass," they jokingly told him; he did, and come Monday, after he gave it another go, the machine just worked.

My own story was a little extreme. Some years back, we had a very problematic machine with a customer. It would go down every other day, and this went on for a couple of weeks. All our attempts led to dead ends. Finally, at the end of my rope, I decided to light a candle at Church after Mass. And somehow, the situation seemed to resolve itself.

When I started my career in IT, I assumed that it would be a logical and scientific work environment that I would be entering. Cause led to effect: you flicked a switch and something came on; you changed a line of code and a program behaved differently; and all this was supposed to work consistently. That was the theory anyway. But in practice, IT systems nowadays are so complex that you never really know that one change you make could lead to an invisible chain reaction.

So really, you have no choice: you plug it, and then you pray it works.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Tsoko.Nut Suman sa Latik


Tsoko.Nut is a small cafe in the second floor of SM Makati. They serve some wickedly good native Filipino delicacies with a classy urban twist. Somewhat pricier than what I would find a good tiangge back in the provinces, but given the location, ambience, and taste of the products, I would say it's well worth it.

I met with Sacha and friends at the cafe last Monday, so I was finally able to try out the place. Of course I ordered the suman sa latik!

The suman didn't come in the usual elongated form; rather, it looked like the cylindrical cross-section of a gigantic suman. Very sticky rice, plus a generous heaping of latik.

Mmmm, ang sarap ng suman sa latik!

Highly recommended!

Monday, July 11, 2005

Coming back / Never going back

Wow, the nice thing about AIM ACCEED Conference Center is free broadband access from the rooms. So yes, it may not be as nice as New World Renaissance, but I'd gladly take this hotel any day. It's good to be back here.

My class went well today owing to my greater confidence with the material. I hope my streak continues tomorrow up until Friday. I have more students this time around, and several people sitting in my lectures. This type of short-term engagement I would gladly do any day. So in this regard, it's also good to be back at IBM to see my old friends.

The class broke for lunch at 12 noon, and it just so happened that the IBMers were having a sales rally in the pantry. I sauntered over and listened in. No one stopped me, and I got several hello-how-do-you-do's. I couldn't help but snigger at the huge targets being bandied around. The business unit managers put on such brave and optimistic miens, yet somehow there's an undercurrent of apprehension when they talk about what they have to do.

Many of them are my friends, of course, and I hope they all do well. I clapped when they clap. It was good to recapture some of the feeling.

But...I am never going back.

Manila, Manila

I'm in Manila this week, so I will have to forego for the nonce my bum's life and biking escapades. I'm teaching a class for IBM, and it just so happens that my girlfriend Sacha is also leaving for Canada at the end of the week. It's going to be quite busy.

Sigh. Other than my friends, it's really Not Fun to be in this city. Money flows like water through the hands here, and I've gotten so used to my thrifty lifestyle back in the provinces.

I miss Dumaguete.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Awakening from Slumber

Rational Technology for July 10, 2005

Up until recently, I have always thought of myself as an apolitical person. It didn't really matter, I opined, as to who occupied the highest post in the land because things would more or less be the same: whoever sat in power, they would always find a way to raise one issue or another; whoever was president would bow to business interests, the real powers behind the country; whoever led the country would not really lead at all, but simply angled for a bigger share of the pie for himself (or herself). In a word: ennui.

So what did it matter to me that the wiretapped conversations swirled around as rumors and finally came out in the open? Another trick of the 'opposition'? A ploy to distract the people from the brewing storm that was Jueteng-gate? Perhaps, after all, it was an elaborate bit of fakery. Couldn't we have gone on with business as usual? No, it oughtn't have bothered me at all. Except that it did. Deeply. The tapes were the proverbial straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

That there was cheating in the elections should not have come as a surprise. It's a fact that every Filipino knows (and sadly, that not too many of us did anything about--I am guilty in this regard). But until the tapes came out, this was a fact that was mostly couched in theory, with no clear admission or evidence to prove it either way. And now here is evidence clearly staring us in the face.

At the heart of it all, the Gloriagate scandal points to a violation of so many of the basic principles of decency and justice. In the first place, you have a woman who views the presidency as lost heritage reclaimed from her father, who views it as divine right conferred upon her by the Most High, who says that "The Lord put me here..." This arrogance might be forgivable if she were truly a woman of high virtue, yet the truth behind this power is simply an intricate web of shadowy dealings, of political accommodation, and ultimately, a sham and a lie.

There is not a shred of decency in this pursuit of power. Nothing is sacred: not a vote, not a person's principled stand, not a person's family. They plumbed the depths of depravity when they plotted one of the worst of crimes -- kidnapping -- in order to silence a potential witness. I shudder to think what other unspoken deeds may have transpired. Something is terribly wrong here, and no amount of legalistic chicanery can change that opinion.

What rankles further is the continued messianic delusion played out not only by the president but supported by some members of the business community that she is the only one capable enough to lead the country, that no other option is acceptable. Therefore, continued complicity with a corrupt presidency is the only available solution. That, above all else, the economy is supreme and all else expendible.

And that is just so very wrong. How many more crimes will be committed for the good of the economy? How long can we continue to look away from these crimes as we sit, fixated on our own bowls? How much longer till we ourselves become the grist for the mill of the gods of economic supremacy?

If we have come to this state of affairs, where the corrupt and incompetent ascend to power, where the government can run roughshod on people who voice out their opinions, it is because of apolitical people like me, who have been steeped so long in the drug of ennui. For too long, people like me have let others have the run of things, and here we see the result. We--you and I--are paying for these crimes now.

It's not true that the problem in this country is that there are too many people involved politics; the problem is that there is so few. It's time to awake from slumber. It's time to let our voices be heard.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Suman Attack!

Emboldened by Ka Eddie's masterful speech of martial conquest, the Suman Horde built themselves up to a frothing frenzy. Taking up their arms, they rushed forward as one...



...not knowing that fateful forky finish that awaited them at the end. And that, my friends, was the brief sad life of the Suman Horde.




No, it's not feeble...
Yes, I think it fits...
Sneaky, sneaky, dude!
Hey! Don't break your streak, dude!

Appointment with the Barangay Captain

Many, many years ago, when I was still in grade school, we had a subject called Social Studies, included in the curriculum ostensibly to teach all of us to be fine upstanding citizens of the community. This being the era of Marcos' New Society, Social Studies was also the classroom mouthpiece of the government, and thus it extolled the new local government mechanisms that were being put into play. The most basic element, of course, was the barangay, which we were told was the traditional form of government in the pre-Hispanic Malay societies.

Needless to say, I lapped all this up to get a good grade. Then, as with many things, I forgot all about it.

My reintroduction to the concept of the barangay came last week when we had a small problem with squatters on one of our lots. These folks decided our lot was a good place to sell their clay pots and so they appropriated it. Over several visits we got mixed receptions: if we sent our employees, they would go snarling saying that they owned the land (with the deed conveniently being in Zamboanga or Davao); if my parents went, they would be meek as lambs, profuse with reassurances that they would move their merchandise. The end result, though, was that they were still there.

My aunt finally recommended that we take this to the barangay captain. What a novel idea? Why didn't I think of that?

Having worked most of my life in the corporate setting, the idea of settling the issue at the barangay level was really quite alien to me. Yes, I was supposed to know it -- in theory -- but I left all that knowledge in grade school. In the corporate world, it was about contracts and lawyers mostly.

This morning the respondents and I met at the barangay hall to iron out the matter. For insurance, I brought my uncle with me. It was a great comfort, too, that the barangay captain was my uncle-in-law (though thankfully I did not have to resort to special favors).

We were early, so my uncle and uncle-in-law chit-chatted about sundry matters of no great import. Then the respondents came.

I'm glad I brought my uncle because I tend to get uptight in situations like this. Poor interpersonal skills in potentially confrontational situations. My uncle handled it all like a pro, getting straight to the point yet defusing it with a bit of humor.

What was interesting was the defense: "There are several other folks also using the lot. We know they're not paying. So how come we're being singled out."

"No, no," my uncle said, "you're not being singled out. It's just that we happened to call you first. Their turn will come."

My uncle was right: these folk tend to be pilosopo -- sophists, so to speak -- so it was essential to cut it then and there rather than to go on an extended discussion. I don't think I would have fared as well.

So in the end they agreed to move their merchandise out of the lot. The barangay secretary duly noted it in a logbook, scribbling the minutes of the meeting. The respondents and I signed our agreement in the logbook. And that, for the moment, was that.

Good lesson in the workings of the Real World.

The Radio Man of Rizal Boulevard

For some reason or other, Rizal Boulevard attracts some eccentrics in the early hours of dawn. Over the years, they've actually become staples of the morning scene in the boulevard. Quite harmless, really, and they all add to the local color.

Radio Man, as I like to call him, is one of those regulars. His wrinkled face is set to a serious mask and his mouth is perpetually pursed downwards. Eccentric he may be, but there's a spark of intelligence in those steely gray eyes.

But I call him Radio Man because he's always wearing a radio around his neck. Not a Walkman, mind you, and not even a handheld radio, but a portable desktop radio. Neither a Walkman nor a handheld would be loud enough, you see, and Radio Man likes his news loud and clear.

Invariably, the frequency would be set to an AM news station. In these days of juicy political infighting, that's just what the morning denizens of the Dumaguete boulevard need as they take a break from their constitutionals.

No wonder Radio Man has quite a following.

Breakfast at JP's

For the longest time, my friends Injong and Veneeth have been raving about JP's Eatery, one of the less well-known restaurants in Dumaguete City. Being of the sort who prefers company when trying out new places, I held off the experience until this morning when the fans were also having breakfast there.

JP's, as you will gather from the photo, won't win any points for swanky facilities. The ceiling is low; the tables, though sturdy, are made of unfinished wood; tabletops are covered in laminated plastic; and they cook and serve the food from the pots along the entrance. But hey, it's a classic carinderia, and it has a charm all its own.

This morning's fare for me was sinugbang baboy and tinolang isda soup. I arrived slightly late and Injong, Veneeth, and Jufer were already midway through their meal. Not to worry, though, as JP's serves food fairly fast.

The sinugbang baboy and tinolang isda were excellent! Further accentuating the taste was the fragrant fresh-from-the-pot rice.

I am told that JP's Eatery has quite a following in Dumaguete City, attracting a wide spectrum of clientele. Mayors have been known to take the occasional meal in the joint. JP's, though, is only open for breakfast and lunch, with the latter seeing the highest volume of people.

Total bill for the four of us was P159. Shows you how far you can stretch money in Dumaguete.

JP's Eatery is along Libertad St., one of the small streets fronting the public market.

No reservations necessary.

Monday, July 04, 2005

More on the Lost Posts

Whew! Thanks to Chaz's tip, I realized that the posts are still in my blog, but they're just not showing up for some strange reason. Anyway, I managed to find them so here they are:

Breakfast at JP's
Radio Man of Rizal Boulevard

Just to be sure, I'll keep copies of these files. I'll repost them tomorrow if they don't reappear.

Lost!

I posted two entries this morning, and I verified that they were indeed publishd, but for some reason they're not appearing anymore this afternoon. I wonder what the reason could be? Oh, well, no biggie: luckily I have a backup on my other hard disk.

I'm waiting for an announcement from the Blogger people.

Fret. Fume.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Science Magazine's Top 125 Questions

Science Magazine, for its 125th anniversary, presented a feature on the Top 125 Questions of Science. I've taken a cursory look at the top 25 on their list, and it looks to be very interesting reading, leading to several tangents and avenues of inquiry.



Half of the top twenty-five questions pertain to life sciences, and much of it covering medical interests. This is the trend of this century, it seems: how to extend and enrich human life. Still prominent, though fewer in number, are questions about the physical nature of the universe.

I guess it will take a while before humanity as a race will start looking outwards to the stars...where we belong.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

121 Essays...and counting

Ever since I started blogging, I've sort of neglected my old web site at www,sketches.kom.ph. It used to hold my pictures, drawings, and essays for Linux Links and Rational Technology. Then when I shifted to Blogger, the updates there became more infrequent.

A couple of weeks ago, I transitioned the old site into a wiki in the hopes that it would be easier to maintain. And in fact it has. But one problem I didn't count on was the difficulty in moving all my old Rational Technology essays and tracking down the newer ones which didn't make it into the web site.

After two weeks, on and off, of moving the content, I've finally completed the transformation of the Rational Technology articles. Just how many? Oh, around 121, including the latest one this week. That represents over two years of weekly columns, including a brief hiatus.

So, no, it's not as voluminous as other writers and bloggers, but I like to think of it as a personal achievement.

If you want to see how I've developed as a writer over the past couple of years, check out my Rational Technology archive. Not all are gems, but you might find a couple of decent ones there.

Help Desk Operator

I helped Clair with her problem today: She called me up just a bit before lunch asking for help transferring files from her friend's old computer with DSL.

DSL? I wondered. What did Internet connectivity have to do with transferring files? It turns out she was referring to D*mn Small Linux, which was the only distro which would run on the antiquated machine.

We fiddled around with it for a while, looking at various files. I was actually just on the phone the whole while. After a couple of false starts, we managed to get it to work.

So, I think I may have a future as a help desk call center operator.

Rational Technology: Nethack in the Season of Distrust

Well, yes, a rehash of my previous post, embellished with a topical framing device, for my weekly column in the local paper. I'm feeling a bit dumb this week. Must be part of my biorhythm cycle. Go figger...

Deep in the midst of this brewing political storm, it's easy to get carried away in the rush of emotions. It's hard to escape from the commentary and opinions bandied about. And yes, I have been guilty of adding my own bit of fuel to the fire, I'll admit as much.

Then again, the reason I'm uncharacteristically vocal about the situation is because I feel so...violated: by GMA and unnamed Comelec chairmen whose judgments lapse; by warring factions in the military who release wiretaps at inopportune moments; by opportunistic oppositionists coming out of the woodwork; and by a civil society that for the moment no longer looks so civil.

So I'll do what I always do when I'm aggravated: play video games.

One game that's caught much of my time and imagination these days is Nethack. It's free, it's addictive, and it's ancient, dating back to as early as 1987.

Nethack's plot is as ancient as they come. You, the hero (or the heroine) travel through several levels of a dungeon in search of treasure and the ultimate prize, the Amulet of Yendor. So what's to differentiate it from the countless other dungeon games in the market today?

Well, Nethack is text-based. 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, remember that 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, including Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett's Discworld.

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. Well, yes I am.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a dungeon to explore to get my mind off this political madness.

To get Nethack, go to http://www.nethack.org. Versions are available for almost all operating systems, including Windows and DOS.