Monday, November 28, 2005

The One About the Camera

This story is going to sound mean. In a way, I suppose it is, especially that I'm posting it for general consumption. But aside from being marginally funny, it also presents an interesting case study for interface designers. Here goes:

So this person borrows a digital camera from me so she can take photos of a special event. I readily agree and give her my ancient 1.3-Megapixel Olympus D-150. I show her how to work turn it on and where the shutter button is. It's a reasonably simple camera so I don't give much by way of additional explanation.

Much later, she gives me back the camera.

"Were you able to take pictures?" I asked.

"Yes, but the viewfinder doesn't work. It's too dark," she said.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't teach you how to turn on the LCD viewer," I said. "It drains the batteries quicker. But you could use the regular viewfinder...."

"Yes, I did! But it doesn't show me the whole view! It only shows the central portion."

"Huh? How can that be? Of course it takes the whole field of the shot."

I turn on the camera and bring it close to my face so I can put my eye to the viewfinder. "Works fine!"

"But I was holding it like this!" And she proceeds to demonstrate, holding it an arms-length away from her and squinting from that distance through the little viewfinder lens.

"What?! Haven't you used a camera before?"

"Oh, you didn't tell me to do that!" She sounded very miffed. "I was holding it the way you're supposed to hold digital cameras...."

I don't know guys. Has our conception of cameras changed so much in the last five years? Have people really forgotten how to use old-style cameras already? Or is it something else? Or am I just being mean?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Valencia x4

Oh, my aching back! Well, I suppose that's what I get for going up to the Valencia town proper four times this week. Yep, that's right. Four times. I went up on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and this morning.

Okay, I'm boasting a little.

Since I biked mostly by myself this week, I took the Batinguel-Candauay route. It's a 14-km ride going up hilly asphalt road. Valencia is at an elevation of around 400m above sea level so that should give you an idea of the trip. The ride back is much easier.

So all in all, I've been biking 28 kilometers on each trip. And I did that four times this week. I am by no means ready for the triathlon and my gut is as big as ever; however, it's an achievement I'm proud of.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Review: Man of La Mancha

When Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra wrote 'Don Quixote', he meant it as a satire of the chivalric romances that were popular in his day. Those stories, featuring superhuman knights performing the most fantastic feats, are comparable to the most outrageous kung-fu films that we see in movies today. Consequently, Don Quixote was written as a crazed lunatic, the perfect channel by which to highlight the absurdities of the romances.

The Don Quixote that we associate with idealism came much later, and was probably best typified by Dale Wasserman's 1965 musical, "Man of La Mancha," later turned into a movie starring Peter O'Toole and Sophia Loren in 1972. This is the vehicle by which many of us know the story of Don Quixote. The centerpiece of his idealism is, of course, the song "The Impossible Dream."

Although I eagerly awaited the movie when it came out on TV, I confess I fell asleep because of the slow pacing. So it was with mixed emotions that I went to watch Silliman University's production of "Man of La Mancha." Excitement: finally, a chance to see the whole story through; and dread: would I fall asleep in the middle of the play? The horror!

I needn't have feared on the second account. The local production, directed by Evelyn Rose Aldecoa, succeeded on many levels and kept the entire audience, myself included, riveted throughout its entire performance. If any heads were nodding, it was simply because they were keeping time with the familiar songs.

What first captured my fancy was the meticulous set design. The entire play takes place in a prison and it would have been quite easy to put something together and leave it entirely to the imagination of the audience. But the production outdid itself with a well-executed pseudo-stonework that evoked the feeling of a communal prison. That certainly set the mood for the entire play.

Ultimately, though, it's the cast that really draws the audience in. There were many stellar performances throughout. Lead characters Rosbert Christian Salvoro (Sancho Panza), Jose Rene Oliva (Governor/Innkeeper), William Christopher Dichoso (Duke/Dr. Carrasco) had wonderful stage presence. Oliva was appropriately commanding, while Dichoso was skepticism and menace personified. Salvoro, though, captured the levity of Sancho to a tee; he need not have said a word to convey that he was Sancho.

This being a musical, the singers in the cast also had a chance to shine. Aldecoa chose well when she placed the cast members with the best vocal range in the more poignant songs. These were the parts played by Francis Mark Disocoro Fellizar (Padre), Rimar Donna Elesterio (Antonia) and Blanche C. Banot (Housekeeper). Their singing left a haunting touch to the songs "To Each His Dulcinea" and "Psalm", and a bit of comedy to "I'm Only Thinking of Him."

But the real star of the show was Earnest Hope Tinambacan, essaying the dual role of Miguel Cervantes and Don Quixote. It may have helped greatly that Tinambacan's build and profile approximates Peter O'Toole, whose image that comes to mind when we think of Don Quixote, but that alone would not have carried the play. As it was, it served merely to enhance his nuanced performance. Every gesture, every tone, convinced you that he was Don Quixote. Moreover, he had a voice that effortlessly rang clear through the auditorium whether he was speaking or singing.

And where would Don Quixote be without his inspiration Dulcinea? "Man of La Mancha," done right, is a play within a play within a play. You have the prison. You have the play acted out by Cervantes and the prisoners. And finally, you have the imaginary world of Don Quixote. The first two are plain enough to see, but the last one requires a sensitive performance to draw the audience in.

This can only works if the actress playing Alonza manages the subtle change into Dulcinea that comes over her as she is drawn into Don Quixote's wild imagination. Sheila Omaguing, playing Alonza, carries this wonderfully well. As Alonza the barmaid, she is loud, uncouth, ill-mannered, and vicious. But when Don Quixote sings his love songs, she becomes another woman entirely.

All in all, a magnificent production, the only shame being that it was planned for only two runs.

A final bit of trivia, Cervantes was never put on trial by the Inquisition, as portrayed in the play. He did go to prison but this was for irregularities in his accounts as purchasing agent for the Spanish armada. Then again, it doesn't matter. As Don Quixote says in the play "Facts are the enemy of the truth!"

X-Factors

Rational Technology for November 25, 2005

If you're investing your money someplace, there are two ways to go about deciding where. You can play it safe and take it to where everyone else has already invested. In this way, you can't go too far wrong with your decision. On the downside, the returns are likely to be lower precisely because costs are generally higher.

On the other hand, you can take a calculated risk and invest in a place where the market isn't quite ready yet and beat everyone else to the punch. It's a risk because it might happen, or it might not. The trick is to find the place with all the right factors which can converge given the right impetus.

Which is the right decision? Well, they both are. It's primarily a matter of understanding what your strengths are and how much risk you can absorb. Savvy investors with enough latitude will probably attempt for a mix of both: one for stability, and the other for its promise of higher returns.

These decisions run along the same lines that outsourcing companies are trying to make. The safe, established choices are Metro Manila and Cebu. The risky choices are all the other cities vying for a piece of the outsourcing pie, Dumaguete included.

At first glance, it's a terrible mismatch. How can a small town like Dumaguete compete with a big metropolis like Metro Manila? The answers to this is oft-repeated in our marketing campaigns. In summary: that we are a university town, that we have the fiber-optic capacity, that our cost of doing business is lower, and that our quality of life is good.

But is this all there is? We bank on our uniqueness as a university town, but when you get to the numbers, what we really have to offer in this regard is the density of a student population versus the population at large. Realize that our college student population is dwarfed by other bigger cities. In the end, the absolute number, not the density, is what outsourcing companies look for. Furthermore, most would only be too happy to be able to hire our graduates for employment in their existing facilities, without having to commit to an actual investment in the city.

In the same manner, lower cost of business and quality of life are relative and transient measures. There are cities which measure better than Dumaguete in these criteria. Likewise, as demand picks up, our own metrics will also change.

Our fiber-optic capacity is probably our main differentiator from the other runners-up in the outsourcing survey rankings. This is thanks primarily to Mr. Fred Dael's fortuitous decisions to land the cables here during his tenure as president of Islacom. Other cities are not likely to catch up in this regard, because this is capability that takes time and money to build.

So again, the question: is this all there is? If it is, then our window of opportunity is very small, and it won't be long before other cities start to catch up. On the other hand, I think this may not yet be the complete picture. There are three other factors that can be made to work in our favor. Allow me to explain briefly:

1) A returning talent pool. Outsourcing companies place Metro Manila and Cebu head over shoulders above other cities partly because of their extremely large populations from which they can select candidates. But this is very static thinking. One might ask: of the thousands of employees that they hire, how many hail from the provinces? How many will return to the provinces once the first movers present the opportunity? Remember that hometown connections run deep in the Philippines and the lure of returning is strong. Is this a significant factor? It certainly bears some looking into.

2) Old money. Contrary to the impressions painted by the contrast of conspicuous consumption in the metropolises against the no-nonsense laid-back attitude of the provinces, it's not true that there's no money here. There is, it's just that people here are a bit more cautious when it comes spending. Dumaguete, for example, boasts of large family enterprises in construction, transportation, and trading, not to mention the landed gentry. I would like to believe that they would rather invest their profits back into the city once the catalysts are in place.

3) Expanding horizons with neighboring towns and cities. I confess, being based in Dumaguete, my language tends to be a bit Dumaguete-centric. But deep down, I know that Dumaguete alone doesn't complete the picture once outsourcing goes into full swing. Given our infrastructure, it's not hard to expand outwards to include Valencia, Sibulan, Bais, Bacong, Dauin, and all other towns in between.

Even if it's not for outsourcing as yet, there are essential services that they can provide, such as housing, recreation, as well as an expanded population base from which to get candidates.

And really, why limit it to towns in Negros Oriental alone? If Siquijor and Santander (technically part of Cebu but closer to Negros) have something to contribute, then they should be part of the bigger picture.

These factors don't necessarily make a good fit into the capsulize marketing message that we send out, but I do believe that they play an important role nonetheless.

Can you think of more? Drop me a note!

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Nanowrimo Finish Line

There. I'm done. Total: 50,020 words today. Technically, I've reached the finish line.

Am I happy? You bet! When I set out to do this in November, I didn't quite know whether I would hit the goal. I had a good start on the first week, and I sort of tapered off in the second week, just as the NanoWriMo people predicted. At that point, I was starting to get discouraged: my outline was shot, and my writing was in a bad way. Then, I sort of just picked things up again and trudged on. And now, I'm actually a day earlier than my projected deadline. Hooray for me!

The last leg was a bit anticlimactic, though. When I hit 45,000 last Sunday, I knew I was sure to finish already. Well, 90% certain anyway. At close to 47,000, I sort of borked again. But I said to myself: tonight, finish it tonight.

But the fact is, the novel really isn't finished yet. I'm only three-quarters of the way in the story of Diego Amistad, a member of the Magellan expedition who got stranded in the Archipelago of San Lazaro after Magellan's death in Mactan and Humabon's treachery a few days later. The plot is more or less complete in my mind, but...I've decided to stop for now.

I've reached the original goal of exceeding 50,000 words. I'll celebrate in the meantime, and probably rewrite what I've done when I don't feel so bummed out anymore.

With sincerest apologies to Diego Amistad, I must leave him stranded in Samar, just before his fortuitous meeting with Panday Pira. In the same manner, I must leave Friar Geronimo in the islands a little longer before he can return to his beloved Mexico.

Some time in the future, gentlemen, I will complete your story in publish-worthy format so that I can share it with the world. For now, let me thank you, Fernando de Magallanes, Enrique de Malacca, Antonio Pigafetta, Humabon, Kulambu, Zulah, Lapu-Lapu, Duarte Barbosa, and the cast of thousands for the tale as it has been written so far. And thank you all for the exciting trip through history.

Other Filipino finishers as of this writing:


And as to the others, especially Mana Angel, Tina Mats, and Denise, keep on writing. You can do it!

And thanks, too, to Chris Baty for organizing this wonderful competition.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 22

Word count today: 46,490. I didn't get to write as much as I had hoped to, but at this stage, I think I can take things easy now.

Gah! Just a few more days.... Finish line, must think finish line.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 21

I biked up to Valencia this morning. I was a little surprised to find that the 15-kilometer uphill climb wasn't as hard as it used to be. Oh, alright, the weather was quite cooperative, and despite that I still had some trouble, but I did make good time and without feeling overly tired. I suppose I simply must be getting used to the climb.

In a way, novel-writing is a bit like riding up to Valencia. It gets easier as you get more used to it. I'm not saying I don't have any more difficulty writing, but it's not as hard as it used to be. Whatever will I do when Nanowrimo is over and done with.

Alright, enough philosophizing. Word count for today: 45,000. It doesn't look so nice to have a nice round number for the count, but that's what both the Nanowrimo verifier and the wc say. So I'll let it be.

Totally pooped now. Going to bed. Good night all.

I was a mark

The nice thing about working in a home office is that when the task doesn't require much concentration, you can have the TV running in the background. (Yes, yes, I know, Sacha would disapprove.)

Anyway, I have Jack TV is playing as I write this and they were running a brief retrospective teaser on The Undertaker. The Undertaker has become one of my favorite characters on WWE, but when he first came out he really scared me. And when he beat Hulk Hogan, I remember getting really upset.

Yep, no doubt about it. I was a mark. So there.

These days, I'm not a mark anymore. But I can't help thinking that things were much more fun when I was one.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Man of La Mancha

I just came from a Silliman University production of "Man of La Mancha." Ordinarily, we're very deprived of culture down here, but when it does come, it comes!

The show was fantastic. All in all, a solid performance from the cast, but props to the lead actor who had the role of Miguel de Cervantes and Don Quixote de la Mancha down pat.

I'll probably write a view later this week.

Nanowrimo Day 20

Today I broke the 40,000-mark, and I just kept on writing. Word count for today: 42,609. Today's increment has been the highest so far, with an output of over 4,500 words.

Finally. The end is in sight. Just a little bit more.

I took yet another detour from my outline and added a hallucination sequence. I had not planned on writing it at all but it sort of just happened. It was logical to place it in there. It turns out that it was also one of the easiest chapters to write because I just let my imagination rip.

Here's an excerpt:


At the head of the gathering, I saw Humabon. He was examining a musket, turning it this way and that. He aimed it at a coconut, imitating our marines, and pulled the trigger. There was that distinctive click which I could make out above the laughing natives, but it did not fire. How should it? It wasn't loaded properly. Should I help him, I wonder? The old captain had expressly forbidden the natives from touching our weapons. It seemed wrong. But wait! Maybe he had become such close friends with Humabon that he presented him with the musket? Yes, perhaps that was it. It certainly was.

I ran my fingers through my hair, furrowing it deeply. I felt very confused. How could the old captain have given his permission to Humabon when he was dead? Didn't I see him on the beach last month (or was it last week? yesterday? I wasn't sure anymore), holding off a thousand natives with his musket? Yes, every time he fired, a hundred natives fell. He reloaded so quickly that in a span of seconds the thousand natives fell dead at his feet. Yes, that was it! He had slain all his enemies. The great Captain-General Fernando de Magallanes had conquered all. He hadn't died at all. That's how he gave permission to Humabon to hold his gun.

Oh, hold a moment. Yes, he did die after all, didn't he? The natives were all dead, shot by him while we made our escape. But they did not stay dead for long. They rose again, from the water and from the beach where he had shot them. They were dancing this way and that, daring him to shoot them again. Which he did, and they all fell down. Only this time, a giant grouper came in from behind him (Lapu-Lapu was his name. Ha! Ha! Isn't that funny? How odd that we should have been afraid of him when he wasn't a great king or a warrior and just a fish.) Anyway, Lapu-Lapu the giant grouper sneaked up from behind the old captain and walloped him with a club. The sneaky devil.

With that blow, the old captain fell into the water. He was bleeding very badly. It would have had to have been a very strong grouper to draw that much blood with a blow? (But didn't groupers have no hands? How was he able to hold the club? I don't know. I wish I knew. That was just the way it was).

Then Lapu-Lapu's warriors danced their way to where the old captain had fallen. Yes, that's the way it was, the underhanded cheaters. They rushed to the captain, and they started pricking him with their spears. It was awfully nice of them to fall in line, though. I didn't know they could be so orderly about those things here.

There were so many of them that the line extended all the way to the mountain. There seemed to be no end to the men waiting for their turn at the old captain. Since there were so many, they each got only one stroke at the old captain. Each man jabbed his spear at Magallanes, and he would obligingly howl out long and loud and his feet would kick in the air with a flourish, just like the street actor I once saw in Barrameda (Barrameda? Where was that? It seems so familiar. I don't know. I don't care.)

Humabon was there. That's right. I remember clearly. He was waiting at the head of the line, just where the old captain was lying. Every man who wanted a turn at the old captain had to pay Humabon five pesetas (did they use pesetas here? what where pesetas again? I don't know. I don't care.) When a man paid, Humabon would give him a ticket.

Greedy old Humabon! If the man paid an extra three pesetas, Humabon gave him two strokes instead, much to the chagrin of the people waiting behind. Humabon would pocket the extra three pesetas for himself, and this he did so gleefully. The people in line didn't complain, though, because they knew Humabon too well, and knew he would just make excuses, and it would make their wait longer.

Where was I? Oh, yes, Humabon, collecting money from the natives so they could have a turn at the old captain. Then, I remember Lapu-Lapu getting very impatient, and so he swam up to the old captain in the same sneaky way and gobbled him up. Not completely, though, because the old captain still had a head an arm sticking out of Lapu-Lapu's mouth. Then Lapu-Lapu swam away with the old captain. There was a collective groan of disappointment from the warriors who never got their turn. So they all went back to their houses, dancing their peculiar little dance every step of the way.

The man whose turn it had been when Lapu-Lapu snatched away the old captain did not go home, however. He got very upset because he had already paid Humabon eight shiny pesetas when the fish gobbled up the old captain. But Humabon was adamant. "No refunds! It's not my fault that your chief spirited him away when he did." And when the man insisted, Humabon gave him a thick sheaf of papers telling him that he had to have it signed and notarized and taken back to Humabon's village where he could get a refund after six months. So the man went away disgusted. (I would have, too, you know. I didn't know they had notaries in these islands. Apparently they do.)

And just as Humabon was about to go home, he saw the old captain's musket lying in the water, and so he bent down to pick it up. (Ah, yes, maybe that's how he came by it. He picked it up in the water.) But then I suddenly remembered: the old captain, though he was very dead, opened his eyes and boomed out to me: "Diego! Don't let that filthy heathen touch my musket! It was my mother's."

"I am not a heathen," Humabon shot back. "You had me baptized, remember, godfather?"


Good fun.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 19

I was really hoping to break 40,000 today, but that didn't happen. Too many distractions, I guess, and not enough focus on the task at hand. Still, I did manage another 2,000 words so that brings my count up to 38,089. Maybe tomorrow, I will break the 40-K barrier, and then some.

Sandurot parade today so the streets were packed. I was heading to the store at 3:45PM and I found that the main roads were either closed, or mobbed with rubberneckers, or both. So I spent a long time dodging the crowds and the parades, looking for a route to Lee Plaza. Took me long enough.

Gah! Parades.

Nanowrimo Day 18

Another 2,000 words today, despite a very late start and an even later finish -- mind the timestamp on this entry -- so that brings my total to 36,058.

Why not just get a good night's rest tonight and wait till tomorrow to write this? Because if I don't, I'll lose today and I'll only have more to write tomorrow. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but it's 1AM and I am allowed to be incoherent at this time.

I could have written this earlier but I spent part of the morning at a presidential candidate presentation at Silliman University. They're on the search for the next president, now that Dr. Pulido is retiring. I am not a Silliman alumnus and I don't care much whomever they install as president, but I went anyway because I wanted to see what issues concerned Sillimanians. If nothing else, it was instructive.

Okay, time for bed. Biking tomorrow, I mean, later at 5:30am.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Surveys

Rational Technology for November 20, 2005

Over dinner with friends last Thursday night, someone brought up the topic of a recent report ranking provinces throughout the Philippines according to livability. The surprise of the evening was that Siquijor was at a fantastically high number three in the rankings while Dumaguete came in the dismal sixties. What was going on?

Now, I don't mean to denigrate Siquijor in any way. If some people find Siquijor a better place to live in than Dumaguete, then a higher ranking might certainly justified. However, if the report places Dumaguete and Siquijor at such a huge variance, then something is terribly wrong.

Unfortunately, no one at dinner had any clue as to what criteria were used to produce such a ranking. We didn't even know whether the report itself was serious or not, so for the moment it remains in the realm of hearsay. If the report was in earnest, I certainly would like to know what the people writing it were smoking, because I want some, too. Happy times, man!

The whole episode brings to mind one of the chapters of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink, which I wrote about in this column some months ago. Gladwell talks about thin slicing, a fancy name for the way people make decisions based on very little data. Gladwell is a little ambiguous as to whether thin slicing is good or not; he simply points out that it is there.

Thin slicing works fairly well at times, most especially when people have the proper prior training relevant to the subject of the decision. A case in point would be soldiers making combat decisions based on gut feel in the absence of complete battlefield information. But thin slicing can also have disastrous results when the factors used as criteria for judgment are taken out of the context of the matter at hand.

So perhaps the people conducting that survey were simply overzealous in applying their narrow criteria that they lost the forest for the trees. In any case, we probably won't hear about it anymore until the headlines of the local papers scream warnings of the decreasing competitiveness of Dumaguete City to our faces.

Interestingly enough, that same night, I received a copy of a white paper from a consulting company called NeoIT. NeoIT publishes reports on the outsourcing and offshoring industry. The particular report I received was entitled "Outsourcing to the Philippines: Metro Manila and Beyond", and it gave potential outsourcers recommendations on where they could take their business.

I might as well give you the bad news now: Dumaguete is the runt of the litter among the different cities surveyed. Yes, that's right, in a destination pool that also includes Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, Clark, Cagayan de Oro, Iloilo, Bacolod, and Baguio, we come in last.

Unlike they mysterious survey that placed Siquijor on top and Dumaguete way below, NeoIT's report actually had a comprehensive and reasonable set of criteria for making their judgment. They examined four factors and several sub-factors under each. These are:

  • People: size of labor pool, number of tertiary schools, English language proficiency, and labor quality
  • Infrastructure: telecommunications, power, airports, transportation
  • Financial: cost of living, availability and cost of real estate
  • Catalysts: government support and initiatives, presence of similar companies, social and political stability, climate, and key developments catering to the ICT industry

I won't go into the details of the report. Suffice to say, that after the preliminary ranking, NeoIT then proceeds to recommend Metro Manila, Cebu, Davao, and Clark as the places to go to for setting up outsourcing facilities, dismissing the other also-rans. Well...duh!

Should we be discouraged that we rank so low in this survey? Should we be discouraged that we will rank low in other outsourcing surveys? Perhaps all this talk of outsourcing in Dumaguete is just smoke and mirrors purveyed by charlatans like me? I will tell you: no, no, and no. A hundred times no. A million times no.

The fact of the matter is, these consulting companies are probably scratching their heads wondering what Dumaguete is doing in their surveys in the first place. We simply don't fit the profile that conventional wisdom dictates. We have a very small population of 50,000 (and NeoIT was even generous enough to assign us double that number), we don't have an international airport, and we don't have a five-star hotel.

But the fact that we're the anomaly in their lists just means that we're doing something right. We already host SPI Publisher Services. We already host Entheos medical transcription. Soon we will also host a Teletech contact center and an animation company. And believe it or not, there are already a number of small outsourcing companies operating in Dumaguete but below the survey radars. We are doing something right, we're just not doing in the conventional manner that the expert surveys expect.

This is not to say that we are doing everything perfectly. There are so many more things to improve, so many more steps to take. So let's improve on what we can, but all the while move forward to our destination.

With all due respect to consulting companies like NeoIT, I say they are victims of the thin slicing trap and overly conventional thinking. A small city like Dumaguete can never be on the outsourcing map by any conventional means.

So the only way there is by unconventional means. By all means, let's do it. And damn the surveys.

Nanowrimo Day 17

Word count today: 34,233. It's past midnight as I write this, the reason being that we had the Thursday Night Club get-together at the Pals.

I'm surprised I managed to get in my 2,000 words today. The day was packed -- I had a meeting with Mr. Kim of the Mechanical Engineering department in the morning, and animation classes for the whole of the afternoon -- but I managed to squeeze in 700 words after dinner. I guess I'm coming to the exciting parts and the story is just getting easier to write. I hope I keep this streak up.

Inez Ponce de Leon, veteran Wrimo, is already past 120,000 words. Grrrr! She's making the rest of us look bad. But then again, she does show the extent of what's possible.

Maybe next year, if I decide to go through this madness all over again, I'll be an early finisher. This year, I'll be just happy to finish.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 16

Word count as of today: 32,067. Finally, I've broken the 30,000-word limit! Now for the home stretch.

I figure I should do fine by just turning in 1,500 words per day now. Yes, should be more manageable. I'll sprint when I can.

Here is my chapter breakdown so far:

2949 04 - Diego Amistad.txt
3384 05 - Enrique de Malacca.txt
2995 06 - Journey to the West.txt
2573 07 - To the Other Side of the World.txt
2142 08 - The Savage Seas.txt
3133 09 - Kulambu.txt
2649 10 - Humabon.txt
5134 11 - Alliances.txt
2788 12 - Lapu-Lapu.txt
4297 13 - The Battle of Mactan.txt
0000 14 - Treachery.txt
0023 15 - Oripun.txt

I originally set out on this project with an outline. As the days wore on, I just threw the outline away and went with the flow of the story. That may or may not have been a good idea. Oh, well, I'm beyond that already.

Gah! Another 14 days to go.

Animation Class at Foundation University


I'm in my second week of animation classes at Foundation University. I've jumped in midstream so I have a lot of catching up to do, but otherwise, I'm quite happy with my progress. I have a bit of an advantage because of all my attempts at making comics; my disadvantage is my heavy hand, which is ill-suited for the freehand tracing work.

Animation is a very exacting job, as I've come to learn. The slightest mistake in a line can turn your work off-model (as they call it when your drawing doesn't quite match the model sheet). It isn't rote work, as I misjudged it to be, because you're forever trying to match your drawing to the original. On the other hand, it can be quite relaxing, especially when you enter the zone and just sort of blank out: just you, your pencil, the sheet of paper, and the model sheet.

Most of my classmates are shooting for work as animators come January. I doubt this is something I will do for a living: I might not have the patience to do this full-time. But I am learning the things I want to, and so far, it's definitely been worth it.

The improvements in my pencilwork in just this week-and-a-half has been tremendous. The samples I've posted here are of my own composition (after a couple of corrections from my ever-patient instructor, Carl of Top Peg Animation) based on model sheets. There's Stitch in a lazy pose (although one might also say he has heartburn after eating too much); and there's an action anime character named Jessalyn, pushing something heavy.

Could I have learned to draw like this on my own? Probably, but only with so much more difficulty. I've been trying to draw well for years and I couldn't reach this level! There's something to be said for the classroom environment, after all. I guess this all goes back to John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid's The Social Life of Information: we learn better when learning is a social activity.

Well, back to the drawing board!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 15

My word count as of yesterday is 28,218. The novel is coming along, though not as well as would have liked in terms of speed and quality. But I think I should hit the 50,000 mark well before the deadline.

I had hoped to do 3,000 words per day, but what with my new commitments in this past month, that just wasn't possible. If I sprint a little over the coming days, I think I can cruise along at 1,000 words per day in the remaining two weeks.

As it is, I doubt if this novel will ever get published. The exercise has not been totally wasted, though. It's given me some insight into the historical events surrounding Magellan's arrival into the country. Some things are plausible, I've learned, and some things are not. As students, we just take too many things for granted.

More of that in the future. In the meantime, more words to write.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, and Other Leraning Disroders

I doubt if anoyne has really noitced but I have a patricularly bad streak with numbers in the Metro Post. Whenever there are figures that appear in any of my aritcles, more often than not I will botch the reproting. Cases in point: some months ago, in writing about the population of Dumaguete City and when it would double, I mitsakenly wrote 2045 instead of 2025. Last week, in the article about the 30-day novel (at which I am doing badly, in case you're interested), I wrote 19 days instead of 24 days.

I shoot off an email to the editors after realizing my goof and give them the amended figures. However, for some inexplicable reason (and through no fault of the editors), fate intecrepts the message and the correction never makes it to print. But of course, that is simply the gremlins in the system mucking up the works.

The incdients made me ask myself whether or not I was afflicted with a mild form of dyscalculia. Perhaps my writing brain is so intent in forming out the words of my article on my computer that the calculating brain is momentarily depirved of oxygen. Hence, all those unfortunate errors of calculation. Then again, you didn't notice, did you?

But what about dyscalculia, or dysnumeria, as it is sometimes called? It's not a condition that I'm making up. Dyscalculia is a neurological disorder which affects a person's capacity with one or more basic numerical skills. People with this disroder can learn to understand complex mathematical concepts but they might have difficulty processing fomrulas, or even simple addition and subtraction.

Dyscalculia is closely related to dyslexia, which more people are no doubt more familiar with. Dyslexia affects a person's ability to read and write, despite a nomral level of intelligence. A general misconception is that dyslexics cannot read at all. A dyslexic can still read and write, but may exhibit difficulty in doing so.

Like dyscalculia, dyslexia has its roots in the miswiring of a person's brain. It's a disability with roots in biochemical and genetic markers. Which parts of the brain are affected is still subject to much debate. Some studies point to short-term memory. Others point to the ability of the eyes to focus. Still others correlate this with sound and visual processing.

Dyslexia affects anywhere from five to 15 percent of the population (don't worry, I checked the figures). It's important to recognize this disability early on, especially in children, who may unfairly be called stupid or lazy by their teachers and peers. Dyslexia and the other learning disabilities can be treated with therapy. Some dyslexics have in fact gone on to write books and perform other marvelous intellectual achievements. One web site which collects these stories is www.ldonline.org, a web site on learning disabilities.

Other related disabilities include:


  • semantic dyslexia, or inability to attach words to their meanings in reading and in speech;
  • scotopic sensitivity syndrome, a form of dyslexia which makes it very difficult for a person to read black text on white paper, particularly when the paper is slightly shiny;
  • dyspraxia, characterized by difficulty in carrying out routine tasks involving balance, fine-motor control, and kinesthetic coordination;
  • verbal dyspraxia, marked by difficulty in the use of speech sounds, which is the result of an immaturity in the speech production area of the brain.
  • dysgraphia, a neurological disorder characterised by distorted and incorrect writing


Did you have trouble reading this article? If so, you may have dyslexia. Or maybe you don't. I just intenionally peppered this essay with typos. Snigger.

(And with that out of the way, did you hear the one about the dyslexic devil-worshipper? He sold his soul to Santa.)

References: Wikipedia entry on dyslexia

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 8

Ooh, I really don't feel very well. I'm dreading the fact that another cold might be setting upon me. I really should have gone to bed early. But I don't want to slacken off. So the new word count today is 21,507.

In my semi-conscious state, the words that came out were absolute drivel. Well, everything I write is drivel, so let's just say that it was worse than usual. I had to resort to a stream-of-consciousness approach. Maybe I'll feel better tomorrow.

Anyway, in the spirit of Nanowrimo, all those bad lines stay. Hooray!

That's it, I'm really going to bed now.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 7

At 19,222 words, I'm a few hundred shy of the 20-K mark. I chose to end it where I did because, as a matter of discipline, I've decided to write only in the evenings and only up till 11pm.

The novel has taken turns I did not expect. That's what happens when you don't follow your original outline, I guess, and let the story flow on its own. I suppose more experienced writers do not have this problem, but I am not of that caliber. Oh, well.

Now, if I weren't writing under the Nanowrimo contest, I would just go back, rip the pages I didn't like, and start all over again. But that would set me back by a few thousand words so I guess I'll just have to live with what I've written and work my way out of that. In a way this barrel-on approach works very well because I am forced to write and accept what I have written, whether I think they're any good or not.

Then again, if I weren't writing under the Nanowrimo contest, I don't think I'd be writing at all.

Masochist that I am, I also began with the animation class that Foundation University is offering together with Top Peg Animation. This will effectively keep me busy from 1PM to 5PM every day. I have no intention of becoming an animator, but I value the discipline in art that this training promises to provide. I'm also looking forward to making new friends.

That said, the animation class hasn't really significantly affected my output. By taking away a good chunk of the time that would otherwise be spent on distractions, I think I've actually improved my focus on the project.

Excerpt for today:

The natives did not understand a whit of what the priest was saying. Come to think of it, neither did I nor any of my companions, save perhaps for the old captain and the writer Antonio, who looked to be men of some education. But the natives did appreciate the solemnity, and they kept respectful silence and followed along with us on all our movements. At the end of the Mass, the priest was in tears, no doubt of thankfulness, and likewise the natives cried.

Seeing this, the old captain was swept away with thoughts of grandeur. Imagine that! Converting a whole tribe of heathens to Our Lord, ensuring their salvation. Through Enrique, he asked the king if he and his subjects might like to embrace the religion we had brought. Now, I did not understand fully Enrique's native tongue then, though I had spent some time under his tutelage, but it sounded suspiciously to me that that was not what he said. Instead, he told Kulambu: "It would please the old man very much if you embraced his religion and were baptized."

Sighing deeply, Kulambu acceded. On that day, the entire tribe of Kulambu was converted to Christianity. The old captain was overjoyed and seemed to have found a new purpose as well as a new weapon. After the ceremony, he ordered a cross to be erected in the center of the village.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 6

Word count today is 16,397. I've slowed down to 2,500 words per day. Even then, I'm not too unhappy with that. I'll sprint when I can but I won't force myself anymore, just so long as I can hit the 50,000 mark before November 30.

Today has been a very strange and eventful day. First, I woke up at 6:00am, still feeling very groggy. I found myself wondering whether this was a Sunday or a Monday. I concluded that it was a Monday and snoozed a bit more. Only when I woke again at 7:00am did I realize that it was actually a Sunday! (Reason being: I usually have to start off early on Sunday because I have to go to Mass and man the store the whole day).

Things were taking their normal course for a Sunday and then it happened. Around 11am, someone reported a fire near Lee Plaza. I asked one of the girls to check it out, and it turned out it was in the same block. Thankfully, the store management did not panic. Instead, they told the guards not to let anyone in anymore, and just to let the shoppers finish with their purchases and leave. Slowly, though, the cashiers were tallying up and packing the cash.

My first thought was to move the car to someplace safer, lest it get bumped by the fire truck. It was a good decision, it turned out, because soon, fire trucks were all over the place. I did not think the fire would hit us, owing to the huge firewall of the Lee Plaza building. Nonetheless, I told the girls to pack up the most valuable of what we could in three boxes and leave with that. And with that, we left the store.

Just in the nick of time, too, as the Lee Plaza management decided to close down the store for the day.

Really, the oddest thing to come to mind during this whole incident was: "How wonderful! Now I can go home and sleep on a Sunday afternoon."

I think I should be looking for alternative occupations for next year.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 5

Today's count is 14,043. I'm 4,000 words ahead of the sum total of my daily minimum word rate, but I'm 1,000 words behind my stretch target.

I thought I was doing pretty well, but then I looked at the list of writers from the Philippines with updated word counts and, whoa! I'm somewhere in the lead, but I'm nowhere near Yami Neko Tenshi's count of 30,757! And there are a few others ahead of me, too.

But I am happy with my overall progress. The discipline is slowly starting to take hold. In fact, today, I thought I wouldn't break 14,000 owing to my late start. I just have to make sure this doesn't become an obsession.

The trick, I think, is to make sure I have a life outside of this project. I think that is happening, and I'm happy for that. This afternoon, I attended the opening of a painting exhibit at Foundation University. The artist was Robin Riley, an architect from Boston who has spent the last ten years travelling on a yacht with her husband. They started from their home port of Boston and made their way down to Tambobo Bay in Dumaguete by way of the Panama Canal and the South Pacific islands. Quite an inspiration for me to write my story which is very closely related.

And there was an added bonus as well. After the introductions and the press conference, and prior to the ribbon cutting, students from Foundation performed a native dance of offering and sacrifice, complete in native dress. Perfect, just perfect. It's going to make its way into one of my scenes.

Excerpt for today:

Enrique did not let up his lively greeting. To a great degree, I think it lightened the mood considerably between our two parties. But now there was a shift in the look of our own men, as perhaps I was in mine. We looked from the men in the boat, and over to Enrique, and back to the men in the boat.

How strange it was! We had had Enrique for our comrade for the two years of our journey. He looked different, true, but in time we had grown to accept him and to look beyond appearances. He was a constant source of laughter with his tomfoolery. At the same time, we had learned to appreciate his valor for he had shown much of it when the situation demanded it. He was one of us. We were proud to have him as one of us.

But now in the presence of these men, he became different once more. His features were their features: his build was their build, his eyes looked very much like theirs, the flat shape of his nose, the contour of his lips, and the same dark complexion. Strip away his shirt and his trousers, dress him in the garments of these men and mark him with the same tattooes. He would belong there with them. Not with us.

"Indian," one of the marines close to me said to his companion. He was not referring to the men in the boat. He was pointing to Enrique. A chill travelled down my spine, a premonition of things to come.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 4

Last night I was afraid I wouldn't get any writing done today. I really felt I was already squeezed for words as I wrapped up at around midnight.

This morning, I felt reasonably better and had an angle by which I could continue the previous chapter. However, I had a biking run with Dean Sinco, Alex Pal, and their biking buddies at 5:30am. This being my first long trip in a while, and the first with a large group, I definitely did not want to miss it. So off I went.

Where I decided to get a large chunk of writing time in mid-morning, I found Sacha my girlfriend online. I did not want to miss that either. So we talked for a while. And then it was time to go back to the store.

I finally got started at 2:30PM, continuing where I left off last night. Clackety-clackety-clack, went the keyboard of my Thinkpad for a good solid 2 hours, a feat of which I am proud of, and out comes 1,800 words. Slowly and painfully, yes, but I did get there.
So now I'm at 11,191 words, 800 words short of my target for the day. Could I have hit 12,000? Sure. Except that I had a dinner with friends and a guest, and a suddenly-remembered deadline for the Dumaguete Metro Post tomorrow.

I did get the article done first, but now I really am dead tired and severely wanting for sleep. So I'm not going to push myself anymore. I'll make up for lost time tomorrow. I hope.

The nice thing about this foolish undertaking is it has significantly reduced my writing time. For that I'm glad. I banged out the Rational Technology piece in half the time it took me before. And here it is:


Rational Technology for November 6, 2005

What does it take to write a novel? Try 50,000 words. Well, no, really, the answer is a little more complicated than that. There's the plot, there's character development, there's the pacing of the story, and the dozens of other things that make a novel a novel. But if you're taking the traditional route, then you'll most definitely need to work your way up to at least 50,000 words (at which point, it might be called a novella, but literature is not really my field so I won't quibble further.)

The 50,000 words of story is no laughing matter, mind you. This column is roughly 400 to 500 words, so by the count definition you would expect the novel to be 100 times longer. And this is where the task of writing a novel becomes daunting: because it's a lot of work that requires discipline. To be sure, talent and inspiration are equally important, but what separates the dreamers from the doers is the drive to hunker down and actually write it.

By this same token, a novel is also what they call a "one day" project. As in: "one day, I'm going to write a novel." More often than not, that novel never gets written.

This is where the NaNoWriMo Project steps in. NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month. It's a bit of a misnomer, really, because the project has already gone beyond the boundaries of its home country, the United States. But conceptually it's the same as when it first started out. Starting at the stroke of midnight of November 1, participating authors take to their computers, typewriters, or pens, and start writing their novel. Not a day before, mind you. The work has to start on November 1st (though there's nothing in the rules that says you can start later.)

The goal is to have a 50,000-word novel before the end of November 30. It sounds a little extreme, but it has been done several times before. The threat of a deadline is actually an effective spur for some people to get cracking on the project. It helps greatly to know that you're undertaking your project with several other folks of the same persuasion.

There's no guarantee of the quality of work that results from such a mad rush, of course. The goal is to get that novel out. This is not to say that publish-worthy works cannot come out from this endeavor because they have. One of the participants from last year's NaNoWriMo submitted his work to the Palanca Awards and won the Grand Prize. Other international participants have had the same golden experience. What's important is to actually get it out.

So am I participating in this year's NaNoWriMo. You bet I am. It's my first time to do so, and though I sometimes wonder at the practical and monetary value of such an undertaking (I don't expect my output to be publish-worthy, so there), a big part of me is saying that I should do this now before it turns out to be one of my "could've beens." I'm at 11,000 words so far, and I hope to carry this through the end.

If you've been itching to write that novel in your head but just never found the time to do it, why not join me and the thousands of other writers, both aspiring and accomplished, who are going through this mad dash this November? Sign up at www.nanowrimo.org and break out that word processor.

Better hurry, though. You only have 24 days left....

Nanowrimo Day 3

Today's word count is 9,313. Unfortunately, for some reason, I cannot update my Nanowrimo page so you will have to trust me on this. Whew, it's been a long day.

Today I learned the dangers of procrastination and distraction. I had already written close a thousand words this morning, but I spent the rest of the day doing various other things. By late afternoon, I was only up to 1,700. I would fall way short of my target of 3,000 words per day.

Could I have just left it at 1,700? Or at 2,300, once I had reached that number and was feeling very tired? Surely I could! After all, aren't I more than two thousand words ahead of my initial target. Maybe I could take things a little easy.

The 3,000 figure has become a bit of an obsession for me, and I'm afraid to let up lest I lose momentum. So I forced myself to struggle till midnight, where I stopped somewhere at 2,980. Yes, I was stretching it a bit. Perhaps I shouldn't have done it, because now I don't know if I have energy for tomorrow. But it's done, man, it's done.

Excerpt for today:

The battle began in earnest. We had an exchange of artillery fire, each side attempting to soften the other. The captain directed the firing of the mortars from the rear flank of our troop. The exchange lasted for nearly an hour, and at the interval between shots, we would inch our way forward, trying to gain as much ground and loose our cannons before the enemy could fire theirs.

Either the captain miscalculated, or the enemy commander was exceptionally canny. Their next barrage sailed well over the forward troops and into the ranks of our own cannons. One shot landed close to my master (and by a stroke of luck, I was on the other side.) His steed, normally calm in the face of cannonfire, was suddenly took fright. The horse reared on its hind legs, came down again, and straddled sideways. Afraid that the horse would topple on top of me, I took several steps back. And fall down she did, my master still in the saddle.

The horse was on its side, struggling wildly to stand. My master's leg was pinned underneath, twisted at an odd angle at the knee. He grit his teeth but did not cry out. His horse, it turned out, was badly mauled by shrapnel and could not get up. The captain took his pistol from his belt and fired it at the poor animal. "Enrique!" he called me, "assist me! We must fire our cannons before they do."

I lifted the carcass of the horse as best as I could, and the master wrenched himself free. Supporting himself on my shoulder, he barked new orders to the remaining gun crew. They recalibrated their guns, and let loose another barrage. This time, luck was on our side as the guns decimated the front ranks of the enemy line.

Our infantry commander seized the opening afforded by the the last artillery barrage. Knowing full well that the enemy mortar was angled high, he ordered a charge that brought the main body of our troops well underneath their trajectory. Reeling from the blasts and faced with the charge of our own soldiers, their lines broke and their men fled into the hills.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 2

I added another 3,200 words to my novel today, bringing my count to 6,219.

So far so good. I hope I can keep up this pace.

All in all, I must have spent about two hours on the story today. I spent various hours today, and I got two solid chunks so I'm happy. I am struck with the realization that I am naturally verbose in my writing.

So at a little over 6,000 words, I am already locked in to this story. There's no way to back out and write that other story that I was thinking of.

In a way it is almost writing itself. The nice thing about working in the historical genre is that the framework for the story is already set up. And usually, the stories are already quite rich. As they say: fact is stranger than fiction.

With historical novels, mostly a matter of exploring the character's motivations and developing threads of stories beyond that. Even if this story fizzles out somewhere in between now and 50,000 words, I can say I've already learned a great deal about history and developed some theories as to the reasons behind some of the historical events.

An excerpt for today:

Anyway, my old master said that the captain was in search of a slave who could speak Portuguese and Arabic. And indeed, he had come to the right man, for he owned the slave with such abilities. The old wretch began praising my talents to the highest heavens, a full reversal from all the cursing and beating he had given me for the better part of six months. No doubt he was trying to increase the price at which he would sell me.

The master asked me a few questions in Portuguese and in Arabic, and I think I acquitted myself quite well. He turned to the Chinaman and said only: "He will do." Ha! ha! "He will do." That is so like him. The proud bastard, but I love him all the more for it. And so they signed on the paper that had been drawn up before, and he dropped some a sum in silver that quite rightly made my eyes pop. I did not know I was worth so much!

So as he is leading me through the alleyways, and I am following him in awe, he suddenly stops and turns to ask me, as if it had just occured to me then. "What is your name?"

"My name?" I stuttered. "Limangawa, sir. But I am often called Awang."

"Limangawa? Awang?" he blurted. "What sort of name is that? That is not a proper Christian name!" And so we turn back and go to the church where he demands to see the priest. The master was obviously in a hurry, because he suppressed the priest's objections with a couple of silver coins. In short order, he has me christened. Enrique was the name he chose for me. Enrique de Malacca, after the place where I was from. He stood as my godfather, did the master. And as we headed back to his ship, he explains that he does not want the burden of the damnation of my soul on his conscience should he beat me to death for disobeying him. But that is the master for you, because his wit can be sharp when he wants it so.

That, my young friend, is how Limangawa became Enrique de Malacca. So it is he who speaks to you now.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Nanowrimo Day 1

It's the first day of National Novel Writing Month and I'm off to a running start.

My word count today is 2949, as verified in my profile.

I figure that if I stick to 1,700 words per day for 30 days, it won't leave much margin for error. A more appropriate target would be 2,000 words per day for a total of 25 days of writing.

Since today was a holiday, I thought I would get a lot more writing done. I harken back to a few months ago when I typed up 7,000 words for an entry to the Palancas, submitted on the day of the deadline. That, of course, did not win. But it did set my personal benchmark for most number of words written in a day.

But that is also a foolish target, because I would burn up far too quickly. So I'll stick to 2,000 words a day for now, which already leaves me ahead by close to a 1,000.

I did half of my writing in the cemetery, sitting beside my late Grandma and Grandpa, in between entertaining visitors and visiting graves. Today, you see, is All-Saints' Days, when Filipinos traditionally pay their respects to the dear departed. Well, we are a hopeful, optimistic nation after.

I spent most of the morning drafting my outline, using a couple of textbooks as basis. I'm writing an historical novel, believe it or not, set in the timeframe of 1521-1545. Students of Philippine history would already know the gist, of course. ("Ah, so that's what the last two entries were about!")

Oh, and the title is "Oripun." Drop me an email if you want to read the outline and the work I've done so far.

No congratulations yet, please. I have 29 more days to go.