Saturday, December 31, 2005

Life as a Village Idiot Savant

It's the last day of 2005 and I thought I'd write a brief wrap-up.

This year has been unlike any other year.

It's the year I quit the rat race, a move that I've found very little reason to regret.

It's the year when I went travelling. Oh, sure, I covered 19 countries when I was still working for IBM but then I was an accidental tourist. This year, I got lost in Laguna, Olongapo, Baguio, Banaue, Bontoc, Sagada, and Negros Oriental. Now, this was fun.

Important people passed away. There was Pope John Paul II and Father Paul Chi. Everyone knows Pope John Paul II so there's no need to explain. On the opposite end of the spectrum was Fr. Chi, parish priest of Mary Immaculate Parish for 40 years. I managed to interview him and write out his story before he died.

Ah, writing. I didn't quite find the success that I was looking for in my literary ventures. I didn't see a penny from the craft this year. Worse is that I'm not a little disappointed in the local mainstream. But that won't stop me from trying again next year.

On the other hand, I did hit my 50,000-word target for Nanowrimo and ended up with three-quarters of a novel. And my weekly column, Rational Technology, went on for an unbroken stretch this year.

There was the animation class which I really enjoyed. I don't quite know what I'm going to do with it, but it was fun. That's what mattered.

This year, I described myself as an entrepreneur, though now I will honestly say that it wasn't true. I was managing the family pharmacy, an existing venture, and even then I really didn't have my heart in it. Maybe it'll grow on me over time.

It doesn't matter, though. This year I was supposed to be a bum. It may have been bad for the pocketbook, but it gave me a free hand to take care of important family matters.

This year, I discovered the pleasures of biking. I can now bike 14 kilometers uphill with some ease. Not quite ready for a triathlon yet, but I'm taking my goals nice and easy.

And, of course, the blog. It's an awkward addiction of sorts. In a way, I feel like I'm living my life in a fishbowl. Sometimes I wonder if I don't look like a self-important prig.

Then again, this blog isn't meant for self-promotion. What's there to promote anyway? This blog was meant for friends, a special friend in particular, so that we remain in touch. I'm lousy at maintaining correspondence so a blog is a wonderful substitute.

If I make new friends along the way, then I say it's a wonderful bonus.

So to all of you who have been following my stories: thank you very much. I'm glad I merit your readership. Looking forward to having you on board for the coming year.

Here's to a good year ahead!

Friday, December 30, 2005

A 2006 Wish List for Dumaguete

Rational Technology for the first day of 2006

A year ago, the country was reeling from the flash floods in Quezon. A year ago, the world was in grief from the tsunami that devastated several Asian countries. Fortunately for us, it looks to be a relatively quiet season this year. And thus we can spare turn our hopeful eyes to the future and hope for the best.

At this time, my thoughts turn towards the future of Dumaguete City. We all have our hopes for our fair city. It's only natural, of course: it's the place we live in, the place we work in, the place where we want our children to grow in. So here is my wish list for the city for this coming year:

1) A master plan for city development. I'm thankful for the concrete roads, but surely development means a lot more than that. Go beyond the central commercial district and see what other possibilities there are. Now would be a good time to designate residential, commercial, and even industrial zones. Now would be a good time to tear down the fire hazards before the fires do the job for us.

2) Improved recycling and waste management. We need better solutions that look beyond additional dump sites. This becomes all the more important as the city grows with the influx of business process outsourcing.

3) Cheaper and more reliable electricity. We are still paying much more than the average for our electricity. And we are still subject to the weekend brownouts.

4) A better public transportation system. Dumaguete cannot continue to hobble on the tricycle system that it has relied on for so many years. They are noisy, inefficient, and environmentally-unfriendly. And before the pedicab drivers rise up in arms against me, let me ask them: do you really want to be pedicab drivers forever?

5) Speedier and cheaper transportation to Cebu and Bohol. P800 from Dumaguete to Cebu and vice versa is just far too outrageous. And doesn't anyone else find it ironic that it's actually cheaper to go to Bohol via Cebu than to go direct from Dumaguete to Bohol?

6) A bigger and better airport. We need an airport that can accommodate bigger planes. We need a classier terminal preferably one with x-ray machines.

7) Better hospitals. Our hospitals, both private and public, could use significant improvements in their facilities and personnel. Treatment should be oriented towards the city's needs. What happened to the plan for a decompression chamber? What happened to the platelet machine for treating dengue patients? And what about the ratio of doctors and experienced nurses to patients?

8) More BPOs. We are grateful for SPI and Teletech, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. There's more business process outsourcing opportunities out there. we need more of them. And soon.

9) Better inter-university cooperation within Dumaguete. We pride ourselves on being a university town but there's hardly any palpable cooperation among the universities and colleges here. Each one prides itself on the quality of its education, and thus stands as islands unto themselves. Would that they discover the power of cooperation.

10) A mall. Oh, yes, a wonderful mall. With all the anchor shops: National Bookstore, McDonald's, Handyman or Ace Hardware, Toy Kingdom, multiplex theaters, and, yes, even overpriced coffee from Starbucks or Bo's.

So that's my list. What about you? What do you have in mind?

Happy new year!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

A Visit to Skull Island

Skull Island. That's where I want to go.

Okay, it's obvious that I just spent a mesmerizing three hours on Peter Jackson'sKing Kong. Outstanding movie, well worth the time and the money. Never mind that I paid P20 more than I would have in Dumaguete.

While the giant ape may have been the title character of the film and the main vehicle for the story, but what really caught my fancy was Skull Island. On Skull Island, everything grows to grotesque gigantic proportions. On Skull Island, everything has fangs.

On Skull Island, there are still mysteries waiting to be explored.

With Skull Island, Peter Jackson caught everything that I loved about the adventure fiction of Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. Rider Haggard, and Jules Verne. This could just as well have been the land that time forgot, or the city underneath the earth. Yes, it's fantastical; impossible, even. But a whole lot of fun.

Unfortunately, something like Skull Island cannot exist in fiction in the contemporary setting. Skull Island can only live between 1890-1939. The progeny of the Industrial Revolution clashed with the last remaining mysteries of the world. Optimism versus the unknown, in a time never more to return. (If I am wrong, please send me the appropriate counter-example.)

Skull Island and other such imaginary locations are what's missing from Philippine fiction. Fantasy doesn't have to be set in the world of dwarves and elves; science-fiction doesn't have to be set in the future; and the time frame in question doesn't have to be one of struggle against American colonialism.

Stretch the imagination a little bit and Skull Island could be one of the thousands of wild, untamed islands we had at the time. Just think: Siquijor with its sorcerers. Or Mindanao with its pirates. Even colonial Manila would make a fine setting for a seedy rendezvous.

Oh, I admit, it will all make for very bad fiction. But it makes for very enjoyable adventure fiction.

We definitely need more Skull Islands.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Harry Potter in Books and Movies

As it turns out, my sister has a copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I know I said I wouldn't read it, but since it was lying on the shelf, it proved too great a temptation.

I'm only halfway through it. Already I can say that it's much better than the preceding book. However, I still find it a little...ordinary...as far as juvenile literature goes. Still, it flows well enough to hold my interest so I'll probably see this book through.

One thing, though: I can't seem to read it without imagining the cast of the movies in their respective roles. Never mind Daniel Radcliffe and Harry Potter: the hero has been described to great detail and the actor was chosen to suit. I'm thinking more of the other characters who were only given a sentence or two in description.

Take for instance Severus Snape. In the first book, he hardly merits a description. All that is said of him is:

His eyes were black like Hagrid's, but they had none of Hagrid's warmth.

The second book is a bit more generous:

There, his black robes rippling in a cold breeze, stood Severus Snape. He was a thin man with sallow skin, a hooked nose, and greasy, shoulder-length black hair....

And jumping forward to the sixth book:

A sliver of a man could be seen looking out at them, a man with long black hair parted in curtains around a sallow face and black eyes.

Shades of Alan Rickman as Prof. Snape?

Oh, alright, I may be imagining these things. But as I've said, it's now kind of hard to visualize the characters apart from the actors who play them.

Which leads me to wonder what goes on through the mind of J.K. Rowling as she wrote the fifth and sixth installments. How much were the subsequent novels influenced by the movie versions of the preceding ones? How much of Emma Watson, Rupert Grint, and the Phelps twins made their way into Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley, and the Weasley twins? I wonder.

Lucky for J.K. Rowling, this is the age of strictly protected copyrights and so the movie versions are more or less faithful to her books. I daresay the movies themselves may be a bit more streamlined than some of the later additions. So more or less, the movies and the books are in harmony, leading up to the grand finale of the seventh book and the seventh movie.

What if they weren't? How would J.K. Rowling react, lawsuit aside? This wouldn't be the first time, though, that an author found himself reacting to runaway characters.

It happened 400 years ago with Miguel Cervantes and Don Quixote. Cervantes found his works on the errant knight so popular that ersatz fan fiction actually started blooming. In the end, he was forced to write a sequel to Don Quixote, taking his hero in the opposite direction than that of one of the more popular fanfics did. He even had Don Quixote reacting to rumors of the bogus literature.

To quell all further unauthorized stories, Cervantes killed off Don Quixote.

Of course, J.K. Rowling won't really have to take it to these extremes. This is the age of strong copyrights, after all.

Here's looking to the seventh book and the end of all this waiting.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

36

The Wikipedia has an interesting entry on the number 36.

36 is the natural number following 35 and preceding 37. But that, of course, is obvious. Unless you're a mathematician, in which case you need proof.

It is the square of 6 as well as a triangular number. As a square number, it can be arranged in the form of a, well, square. As a triangular number it can be arranged as an equilateral triangle.

Amazingly, it is also a 13-gonal number. That means it can be arranged it can be arranged in a polygon of 13 sides.

It is a highly composite number. It means that it is a positive integer which has more divisors than any positive integer below it.

It is a Harshad number. A Harshad number is an integer that is divisible by the sum of its digits in a given number base. In base 10, 36 is divisible by 9, which is the sum of its digits (3+6). Harshad is Sanskrit for "great joy."

It is the sum of a twin prime (17 + 19), and the sum of the cubes of the first three integers.

It is the smallest number with exactly 9 divisors.

It is the smallest number n with exactly 8 solutions to the equation φ(x) = n. This is Euler's phi function. This is the number of positive integers less or equal than n and coprime to n.

It is the largest numeric base that most computer systems support because it exhausts the numerals, 0 - 9, and the letters, A - Z.

It is the atomic number of krypton.

"36" is also the title of the song by System of a Down. The lyrics aren't particularly any good, but I do like a couple of stanzas:

Television in disgrace
Life you get old, it's the race,
Can you break out,
Can you break out,
Will you live at your own pace?


It is the number of living righteous people without whom, according Jewish tradition, the world would end.

Finally, it is how old I am today.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Animation Files Online


Alrighty, I've uploaded my movie into my host. I put two versions: a small one (around 1MB) and a larger one (around 3MB).

Just warning you ahead: it's really bad.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Adeste Fideles
Laeti triumphantes
Venite, venite in Bethlehem
Natum videte
Regem angelorum
Venite adoremus
Dominum!


You gotta love ancient time-honored Christian traditions. Merry Christmas, all!

So this is how it feels to be in the 5%

"On time 95% of the time."

That's the tag line for Cebu Pacific, until recently my favorite local airline. Then yesterday I was stuck in the airport for five hours waiting for my flight to Davao.

My flight was supposed to be at 3:30PM. I checked in early because the lines are horrendous during the Christmas season. And I was right, though I'm happy to say that things were a bit more organized this year. Thankfully, Von also checked me in early so I got a good seat.

However, the flight got pushed back to 5:30PM. We were finally in the air at 6:30PM.

To be fair, Cebu Pacific has been true to its promise to be "on time 95% of the time." I just wish they wouldn't make up for all their punctuality in the 5% that they are late. Blah!

I'll chalk up the delays to growing pains with their new Airbus jets. Cebu Pacific, you still have a chance to make it all up. Please don't blow it.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Filipino Christmas

Rational Technology for Christmas Day, 2005

As I write this, I've completed seven of the nine Christmas Dawn Masses for this year. It's a habit that I picked up a little late in life, but it's something that's grown on me year after year. It's not such a challenge to get myself out of bed at 4:00am anymore; in fact, I look forward to starting the day early with the Misa de Gallo.

Owing to a somewhat erratic schedule, I usually end up fulfilling the cycle at different churches. This year was no exception. My first Mass was in the chapel of the Perpetual Succor Hospital Cebu, followed by five Masses in our own Mary Immaculate Parish, and the last three Masses (I hope) in the Sto. Nino Peace Chapel in the heart of Greenbelt, Makati.

One thing can be said for all these Dawn Masses: they are packed to the rafters with devotees. This holds true for the churches I've been to in Cebu, Dumaguete, and Makati. I suppose it holds true for churches throughout the rest of the country as well.

And these devotees are not the fanatical wailing old women so stereotypically painted by cynics and critics of the Catholic Church. These devotees are a healthy mix of young and old, all of them vigorous in spirit. What is most heartening is the sight of entire families in attendance. In this manner the celebration of Christmas becomes a true family affair.

Of all the countries in the world, we are truly unique in this. No other people celebrates Christmas quite like we do; and the hallmark is not in the months-early tunes of Christmas carols in the air nor in the Christmas shopping rush (because both, I think, are inventions of the universal brotherhood of desperate merchants) but in the Misa de Gallo.

The nine-day Misa de Gallo, as I understand it, began during the Spanish times. Mass was said early to allow the farmers to attend before they began the day's labors on the fields. It's quite a wonder, then, that in these days when few of us labor as farmers, this old tradition should continue to thrive.

It makes me believe that, yes, there is some special characteristic and special destiny that marks us as a people.

They cynic might laugh and ask whether the never-ending suffering that inflicts us is part of this special destiny? That if so, perhaps it would be better if we were a little less blessed? To this, I can only point out that the heralds of the Christ first announced His birth to poor and ignorant shepherds. And they were happy in spite of their poverty, even as we continue to be happy despite our own.

In any case, the answer will not emerge from biblical references nor from my own poor musings. One must see it with one's own eyes. So to the cynics, to all who do not feel Christmas, and to all those who have not yet ventured to a Misa de Gallo, I say: join us the nine-day Christmas Dawn Masses next year. As Philip said to Nathanael, I say to you: "Come and see!"

In the meantime, Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

That's a wrap!

Today was the last day of my animation classes at Foundation University. It's been close to two months since I started the program, and I tell you, it was a significant time investment. Every day I'd spend five hours or more in class. It's a good thing I set aside this year to be a bum.

As this was the final day, we were told to wrap up our group projects. There was last-minute rush. We had a good amount of drawings cleaned up and scanned in, but it was clear that there was no way we were going to meet our initial targets. What's more, only one or two scenes had been assembled. And we still had to put together the whole movie through the non-linear editor.

And so we slogged on. Come five o'clock, it was tools-down. We managed to get most of our scenes in so that the story made some sense. Never mind that some of the animations were just crude line tests. And we even got some rudimentary credits in.

Here are some screen captures from our project:







I'd post the clip, but it's over 26 Megabytes so I can't. On the other hand, I will gladly show the product to anyone who asks willingly. Or unwillingly.

Two weeks work yielded a total of 30 seconds of screen time. Whew! In our defense, all I can say is that we were learning the tools along the way. It was hard work, but quite enjoyable.

What did I get out of this whole venture?

1) A better understanding of the animation process. I now know what to look for, and I can appreciate all the hard work that goes in.

2) Somewhat improved linework. Still loads of practice to go through, especially since I slackened off from the pencil in favor of the computer the past two weeks.

3) Good grasp of the tools of the trade. I picked up a couple of tricks on Adobe Photoshop which will soon get translated to my excursions into the Gimp. I also learned CTP, Adobe Premier, and a bit more of Inkscape (the last one was extracurricular, but I used it extensively for cleaning up drawings by converting them to vector).

4) Lots of new ideas.

5) Friends.

The last two have made it really worthwhile.

So come next year, the guys will be reporting for work to Entheos as in-betweeners, and later on, they become animators. I can't say that I'm not envious. Because to a large extent, I am.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Supernatural Crime

Trolling the web comics lists yesterday, I stumbled upon this gem: Supernatural Crime. The site borrows heavily from the crime pulps of the 1930s and the 1940s. Pretty fun reading.

I like the overall theme and coherence of the site. Creator Christopher Mills has built a dark but colorful alternate universe of shadowy figures, masked vigilantes, and mad scientists. The strips themselves occupy just the right amount of screen real estate and are a joy to read.

If I were to do a web comic, I would do it just like this.

An added bonus is that one of my favorite artists from way back, Joe Staton, does a lot of the strips.

And yeah, it's free, too. Check it out. Ditto for Mills' home site, Atomic Pulp, which leads to other fine works.

Penny Pinching

There was an old saw that asked whether it was hypothetically worth Bill Gates' time to pick up a hundred dollar bill should he come across one on the street. The story concluded that it wasn't. In comparison with how much his time was worth, he would lose more money in taking the 30 seconds off his agenda to pick up the c-note.

Now, I don't really know whether Bill would pick up the bill, but I think for the rest of us, it's a given that we would. I mean, it's a hundred dollars, after all.

But let's do a perspective shift here. Since we're not multibillionaires, let's drop the amount drastically. If it was ten centavos (a fifth of a penny), would you pick it up?

As for me, I would. In fact, I often do. Almost every other day I see a coin on the street which even the street kids seem to ignore. So I pick it up.

No, it hasn't made any significant impact on my bank account. Over the months I think I must have collected around five pesos worth of ten- and five-centavo coins. All told, it isn't much.

Why do I pick them up? Well, I like to think that it's good luck. Even if it's just a superstition, I think the fact that I found money on the streets for the taking is good luck in itself.

With this mindset, it was only a matter of time before one gets really lucky. One time, it wasn't five centavos, it wasn't ten centavos, it was fifty pesos! Heh, that paid for dinner and a movie.

Yeah!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

One Year Ago

Exactly one year ago today, I reported for work at IBM for the last time. I closed seven years, seven months, and seven weeks of service with the company. It was the office Christmas party that day and I was convinced to attend.

This is what I wrote about that day:
I spent [the day] writing goodbye letters to myfriends and colleagues at IBM. It took longer than I expected: there were so many people to thank, and similarly, just as many people to apologize to. I didn't quite manage to write notes to everyone that I wanted to. I'll certainly have to continue my letter-writing spree as soon as I've decompressed.

As the clock wore down, I declared a stop to all my writing activities. I backed up my files one last time. I turned in all my requirements and that was that.

Friday was also the day of the Christmas party. I initially did not plan on attending, but was convinced otherwise by my young friends from Team Blue. It was just as well, as I treated it as a despedida of sorts. People woud have wondered where I was.


There wasn't any apprehension in the decision. Despite the goodbye letters, there wasn't much sentimentality, either. To me, it was all matter-of-fact.

And now as I look back, there are no regrets, either. In all honesty, despite the day-to-day battles, I thought it was a good place to work. All in all, it was a fantastic learning experience.

So why leave? Because...it was just time to go.

My Foster Families

As is usual with me, I was staying with the Fortunatos when I visited Cebu two days ago. Since it was the first day of the Misa de Gallo last Friday, I joined them for that Mass at Perpetual Succor Hospital chapel.

It's been a few years since I've been doing the Christmas Dawn Masses and I have the Fortunatos to thank for that. Sometime during my third extended stay with them, Mrs. Fortunato invited me one morning and I've been at it ever since.

That got me thinking: I'm very lucky to have found a wonderful foster family. Because there's no other way to describe my relationship with them: leisurely breakfast conversations, wrangling Chammy, anecdotes, quotations, historical reminiscing, and so on and so forth. I've really known them for a very long time.

And the Fortunatos aren't my only foster family. There have been several others, too, necessitated by an vagabond life in Cebu and Manila.

My Uncle Vic and Auntie Liang when I first entered college.

The Fortunatos a little later on in college, and several years after that, when I moved back to Cebu.

The Reyeses, after I made that Fateful Decision eleven years ago found myself stuck all alone in Metro Manila with no money.

Auntie Anging and my other colorful relatives, lovable scoundrels all, with 13 of us cramped in a four bedroom townhouse.

So there: I've been part of several families throughout my life and in this regard, I think I'm luckier than most. I don't know how many of them will be reading this, but this Christmas season, I want to publicly thank all of them for all the loving and all the learning.

Something to be said for procrastination...

Just so you know: I made it to Cebu the other day but not quite as I expected.

I left off my last blog post when I had to pack for the trip. It was an overnighter, so I really didn't have to bring a lot. I just had to make sure I remembered the Christmas presents. I was done by 9:45am, with plenty of time to spare.

At 10:00am I was out on the street in front of our house waiting for the bus to pass by. The bus was scheduled to leave the terminal at 10:30am so I was way early. I whiled the time away reading a biography of Deng Xiaoping.

10:05am. A bus passes. Oh, it's for Kabankalan.

10:15am. Another bus. Oh, it's for Guihulngan.

10:30am. More buses. None of them are Ceres.

10:45am. Finally! I espy the Ceres bus bound for Cebu.

From the sidewalk I hop onto the street and start waving furiously. And what happens?

The frickin' driver doesn't stop.

The bus passes me by and there's no way I can catch it. I blew 45 minutes for nothing. Now if only I had procrastinated, I would have gotten more...stuff...done in that time frame. But, no-oooo! I had to be the early bird.

Gah, who wants worms anyway?

I did make it on the 12:50pm trip. Not wanting to take any chances, I went to the terminal. Better safe than sorry.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Structured Procrastination, Frickin A, and a Rejection Letter

Last night I was reading Jute's lament regarding her nasty habit of procrastination. So, Jute, I just want to say that you're not alone in this. In fact, some people have made a science out of structured procrastination. In fact, we could all take lessons from the Mistress of Structured Procrastination herself.

This blog entry, in fact, is just me another instance of my own procrastination. In an hour's time, I'll be on a bus headed for Cebu. That's the plan anyway, unless I get delayed because of my...procrastination. I really should be packing. But instead, I'm banging out this nonsense.

On the other hand, I'm hoping this nonsense makes some people happy.

Oh, and also I was listening to sky.fm and heard this remake of Jesse's Girl by Frickin A. It's a little less angsty than Rick Springfield's original, and a little more in-your-face. I like it.

Oh, and I also got a rejection letter from the company I was applying for. Here's the text:

We received your resume and would like to thank you for your interest in ----. After carefully reviewing your experience and qualifications, we have determined that we do not have a position available which is a strong match at this time.

Thanks again for considering ----. We wish you well in your endeavors and hope you might consider us again in the future.

Company name struck out, of course. But those who have been through the process should know who this company is. Now, now, shhhh, don't give the secret away.

Okay, really gotta get packing.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Homegrown Outsourcing

Rational Technology for December 18, 2005

While we've been looking at outsourcing firms from outside the province to set up shop in Dumaguete, an interesting phenomenon was occuring alongside it but below almost everyone else's radar (mine included): the rise of homegrown outsourcing businesses. This is an interesting development and one that's equally exciting. True, it may not generate as much employment or as much revenue as a well-established company coming to town, but it's just as important in laying the foundations for entrepreneurship.

A case in point is OriginalCodeWeavers, LLC, a small web development shop. The company develops community and e-commerce portals for clients. These are essentially web sites but done on a much larger and more complex scale. Their e-commerce projects, for example, incorporate modules to Paypal and Authorize.net, so these are far from just your catalog of products with no means of payment or fulfillment.

So what geographical area do OriginalCodeWeavers' clients come from? Los Angeles and other parts of the western United States. And where does OriginalCodeWeavers hold office? Daro in Dumaguete City. Now, think of the possibilities for other types of businesses that can be set up in this fashion.

Let's look at the factors that makes a company like OriginalCodeWeavers possible. To understand this, let's look at the story behind the company and the people behind it.

The idea for OriginalCodeWeavers started out when Neil Yee, originally of Bacong but now working as a system administrator in LA, scoped out some web development opportunities for small businesses in his area. Knowing that some of his friends and contacts back in Dumaguete had the necessary skills to build these sites, he sought them out and formed the business. In this fashion, OriginalCodeWeavers had its start in August this year.

The local OriginalCodeWeavers is a small office, consisting of four developers and an office manager. The lead software developer for this group is Wilan Bigay, supported by Mark Villahermosa, another software developer. Graphical web design is done by Lo Uan King Rebotiaco and content is managed by Emanuel Dejaresco. Office manager Charles Yee makes sure that the other functions essential to running the business are taken care of.

This local team is composed of native Dumaguetenos, all products of the university system in the city. Wilan and Mark finished from Silliman University, Lo Uan from Foundation University.

Their skill sets are varied, and all contribute to the process of web development. The company has a big focus on Microsoft technologies, particularly ASP, ASP.NET, and MS SQL Server, but they build it using an open source content management system called DotNetNuke. However, they are seeing more requirements for projects built using PHP and MySQL, so they are planning to hire additional developers with these skill sets.

An important factor in the formation of this company is Wilan and Mark's exposure to real-world projects while working with Rolf Reierskog's Nestwood CDS. Rolf Reierskog is a Norwegian technopreneur who relocated to Dumaguete and set up some ventures, among of which is Nestwood.

OriginalCodeWeavers is a fledgling company but it shows a lot of promise. Since its inception in August, the company has completed two large projects and a number of smaller ones. At the same time, it is looking to grow its developer base to meet the demand imposed by additional projects.

So what are the factors in a homegrown outsourcing business like OriginalCodeWeavers? Let me give you my thoughts:

1) A commercial impetus. Without customers, it's fairly hard to establish a business. In this case, it was Neil who first spotted the opportunities from LA. While there's no reason a company cannot form first and look for customers later, this customer-driven approach does provide a lot of incentive.

There are a number of people from the province who have found employment abroad. Shouldn't they now be encouraged, like Neil, to turn their hand at entrepreneurship?

2) Local talent. This goes almost without saying (but I'll say it anyway, lest some people think I missed out on it). What OriginalCodeWeavers has shown is that the talent can be built from within Dumaguete, given the right learning environment and the right resources.

3) Industry exposure. Academic learning is one thing, but nothing beats the confidence of having completed real projects for paying customers. In this regard, it was quite fortunate that the key developers had exposure under Rolf Reierskog's company. This exposure they obtained without having to leave Dumaguete.

Extending this argument, it becomes important for the local universities to establish extension programs by which their graduates can find initial employment with real companies. Not just an OJT program, mind you, because these lack the seriousness of a real work environment; nor unpaid work for school system projects, because this is just academic inbreeding. Real work with real responsibilities.

4) Broadband. Without a doubt, broadband links are making this homegrown outsourcing business possible. Without fast connections, OriginalCodeWeavers would find it difficult to send their work to clients or upload them to servers. Broadband links also makes it possible for the developers to access the tons of material on the Internet so they can upgrade their skills.

There are other factors but these are top of mind at the moment. Take these factors together and apply them to another skill category that can be done remotely, let's say accounting, editing, graphics, or photography. It could work as well.

Now think of the possibilities.

Monday, December 12, 2005

'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire' at Ever

Ah, you gotta hand it to Dumaguete. We may not have the plush amenities of Greenbelt, Eastwood, or the newly rehabilitated Greenhills or Cubao, but we make do with what we have and we get it on the cheap.

Take for instance a movie. Tonight I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire at Ever Theater. So how much do you think I paid?

Well, let's start with how much you paid.

How much did you pay? P100 at Greenbelt 1? P150 at Greenbelt 3? P200 at Greenhills? P300 at Gateway Mall in Cubao? Am I right? Am I right?

So guess how much I paid.

Thirty-one bucks. Yes, that's right. Thirty-frelling-one bucks. And that's only because I was too cheap to go for the balcony seats at forty-frelling-one bucks. Ha! Beat that, you slave of the Ayalas!

Sure, the seats were a little cramped, but the movie starts 20 minutes ahead of schedule. I mean, that has to be a plus. And I do get it in wonderful widescreen. Sound might not be so good but then again I'm a little deaf so it doesn't really make a difference whether it's Dolby Surround or Dolphy Surround.

And yes, I still enjoyed the same movie that you did.

I think it's such a bargain if it was actually a movie I didn't want to see. Then I could run out of the theater screaming and not think too much of the thirty-frelling-one bucks that I plunked down the drain.

Not that I wanted to run out of 'Goblet of Fire.' As movies go, it was pretty entertaining. A thousand and one reviews have already been written about it so I won't clutter cyberspace with yet another.

I only have three things to say:

1) The movie was better than the book. Much tighter, without the pretentious fluff that bloated the book to 734 pages. In fact, I liked it so much that I probably will just skip on the remaining books.

2) The best scene was the aftermath of the Christmas dance ball. It was a disposable scene but I'm glad they kept it. It perfectly captured the hormonally-charged crash that follows any pubescent party. You know, raging emotions coming out to the fore after all the giddy highs.

3) I paid thirty-frelling-one bucks for the movie. I know I said it before. But I like rubbing it in.

Yeah!

Tomboy

I just found what I think is going to be my default text editor for the next couple of years: Tomboy. Tomboy is a neat Gnome application that does a couple of things better than the typical notepad.

The most distinguishing feature is a wiki-like system which allows you to create links on the fly and creates new notes out of them. This is great for taking notes in index-card fashion.

Then there's the search facility which allows you to sift through the contents of your notes.

It's also integrated with the Gnome desktop so you can call it with just a custom keypress combination.

There's a built-in spellchecker which I don't really like having turned on by default. There are supposed to be other plugins but I haven't seen a whole lot of them yet. And one quirk is the lack of a proper printing facility as of the moment, but that doesn't bother me because I don't print anymore.

Files are in XML form so they should be easy enough to convert.

The whole thing is written in C# and uses the Mono runtime, by the way.

Give it a spin and see if you like it.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

'Never give up, never surrender'

No, I don't want this to seem like a self-help post. That's not the intent. But I couldn't help but be a little inspired by this interview with children's book illustrator Jarret J Krosoczka.

This young illustrator sent out copies of his work and got rejection after rejection. After a couple of years of struggling, he finally hit pay dirt with a major book publisher. Now, there are several lessons in this story but I'll leave you to read the interview to pick them up.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Animation class update

I am enjoying my animation class tremendously. The instructor is a bit disorganized, as I said, but our groups are humming along with our projects. We've already done the storyboards and the layouts and are preparing the backgrounds for scanning and coloring.

Since my clean-up skills are atrocious, I've decided to go ahead and prepare the key frames for the main animations. This is more up my alley as I like drawing characters in various poses. Thankfully, my teammates are very meticulous artists and do the cleanups wonderfully.

So far, I've done the walking and running sequences, and I left it off at the falling sequence. I was very happy with my output that I would bug my teammates with a "Look! Look! Look what I did!" every now and then. Yes, very annoying, I know, but I couldn't help it.

Deadline is in a couple of weeks. I'm really excited as to how this will turn out.

Community Health Informatics

Rational Technology for December 11, 2005. This is the version that's going to see print in the Metro Post, but I've also posted it in PLUG for corrections and additions. Updated version, if it so warrants, to follow.

This year, the Philippine open source community had good reason to take more than a passing interest in the Ten Outstanding Young Men awards. That reason was Dr. Alvin Marcelo of the UP College of Medicine. Dr. Marcelo is a staunch advocate of open source and has led efforts to apply it in medical informatics. A core component of the work for which he was selected for the TOYM award this year was the Community Health Information Tracking System (CHITS).

What is medical informatics and why is it so important for the country? Medical informatics is the application of information technology to health care. At the heart of it, health care is very much an information-driven practice. Health care professionals have to diagnose conditions and administer treatment based on symptoms and case histories. Medical informatics gives practitioners easier access to relevant information so they can be more effective in their work.

In a country where the ratio of doctors and nurses to the population at large is steadily on the decline, medical informatics becomes an essential tool to augment thinly-stretched resources. Nowhere is this more apparent than in community health centers which serves people who need quality health care most but are ironically the least able to afford it.

This is where a program like CHITS comes in. CHITS is the brainchild of Dr. Herman Tolentino, Dr. Cito Maramba, and Dr. Marcelo, along with other doctors at the UP College of Medicine Medical Informatics Unit. The CHITS program fulfills an important role in community health services. CHITS, first rolled out in a pilot program in Pasay City, gives doctors, nurses, midwives and barangay health workers access to data for critical decision-making.

On the level of individual patients, this means quick access to medical records and related information. CHITS stores treatment history, immunization records, consultation appointments, and Philhealth membership for easy organization and retrieval. It also gives an integrated view for their program frontliners, particularly those involved in tuberculosis, vaccination, maternal care, and child care.

On the level of the community, it is even more valuable. CHITS forms part of the stream of information that begins with data collection by midwives and health workers, traverses the provincial and regional health offices, and ends with the Department of Health. It helps with policy development and decision-making processes as to what programs to roll out and what resources to allocate.

Although CHITS is still in its pilot stage in Pasay City, there are still several capabilities that UP College of Medicine plans to add. Future directions include the use of cellphones as data entry and retrieval, integration with geographic information system for mapping, and data mining for identifying trends and policy-making. Most importantly, the UP College of Medicine also plans to establish relationships with the over 1,700 local government units to roll out CHITS nationwide.

CHITS, funded by IDRC/Panasia of Canada, was developed entirely on Linux using open source tools. As an open source success story, CHITS shows that open source is an enabler for projects happening at the community level.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Anniversary

So tell me: what kind of idiot invites a beautiful girl out on a date and, in mild desperation at having run out of things to talk about, asks her to fix his computer?

I'll tell you: a very lucky idiot, because the beautiful girl says "Yes" and blazes through his machine like lightning.

Or more specifically: a village idiot savant.

Happy anniversary, Geekette.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Visayan humor

If it hasn't been done already, some crackerjack sociologist should tackle the nature of Visayan humor. I think it might go a long way in gaining an understanding of the Filipino psyche of which it is a large part of.

Now, before you think that I am going to explain Visayan humor to you, I am not. All I can do is make some generalizations based on some musty examples already lost in the memories of my childhood. Perhaps a pattern will emerge. Or perhaps not.

Anyway, what brought the subject to mind was my animation class. We've already hit the more advanced stages of animation production and now we're supposed to come out with a 10 sec. short. That's the idea, anyway. The instructor is a bit disorganized so we're really making things up as we go along.

So my teammates and I are bandying about some ideas and we're exchanging some old jokes. They were mostly lame: one was about two hunters trying to see who could shoot down the biggest bird; another one was about a less-than-bright kung-fu disciple; and what we finally decided on was a slightly R-rated skit involving a dirty old man on a treadmill in a gym.

I know, I know. In our defense, all I can say is that it's supposed to be a short cartoon so we can't go for subtlety.

What was more interesting to me was the nature of the jokes which we came up with, examples as given above.

Now, my generalizations:

1) A lot of our jokes seem to center on one-upmanship. You know, the kind which goes "your grandpa has nothing on my grandpa..." and usually has a very lame punchline. A very popular variation involves a Filipino and two other people of different nationalities. Granted, this is not unique to Visayan humor, or Filipino humor at large, but we seem to have more than our fair share of this.

2) Visayan humor has a very earthy quality, many times crossing over into the green. Again, not unique, but we seem to have more than our fair share.

3) Finally, we have a lot of self-deprecating jokes which make light of our own shortcomings, taking them for a virtue over the people who stand in the right (and are therefore perceived as uptight.)

4) Puns and wordplay are nonexistent.

On the whole, there's not a lot of subtlety in our jokes. These are the types which make for the life of the party. All flash and bluster and at the end we wonder what it was all about. That's the impression that comes to mind right now anyway.

What this all means I really don't know. There are fuzzy thoughts forming toward a conclusion but I can't articulate it just yet. Then again, I'm not a sociologist so I won't be bothered too much about it.

Agree with the observations? Or not? Let me know!

The One About the Puto

The story below will not be understandable to anyone who doesn't read Filipino and doesn't know about the general idiosyncracies of Filipino pronunciation. More's the pity, because it's mildly amusing. I got this tale second-hand, so it might be an urban legend. Who knows?

So a fellow is applying for a loan at the Development Bank of the Philippines and the loans officer tells him:

"Okay na sana 'tong mga requirements niyo, pero may kulang pa kayong mga papeles. Bukas, magdala po kayo ng sedula, income tax return, nakumpletong porm, at huwag kalimutan ang puto."

The innocent soul wonders what it is about the puto but decides to comply. The following day, he comes back with the documents and the puto. The loan officer sees the puto and, thinking this is a bribe, exclaims:

"Ano iyan? Ba't kayo nagdala niyan?"

"Ha? Di ba sabi n'yo magdala ako ng puto?"

"Hinde! Hinde puto ang sinabi ko. Iyong puto! Iyong pektyur!"


All right, you can all groan now. This is not a suman post.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Updating my resume

I finally found a job I would want to take, possibly even move back to Manila for. It's a sideways move from what I was doing before but not entirely unrelated. Given my run of luck with headhunters, job ads, and resumes -- which matches Richard Bolles' published hit rates -- I'd say it's a long shot. But what the hey: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

So I spent the morning polishing my resume to make it more attractive, content-wise. I listed my top achievements over the last ten years of working. (I have to laugh as I write this: ten years! Has it been that long? And a lot of the people I hang out with are just starting out.)

It's been an interesting and enlightening retrospective trip. In hindsight, I don't think I did too badly at all, despite memories of kicking myself over the many apparent blunders I committed. I think I may have lost sight of the forest for the trees there; or rather, I lost sight of the career over the crises.

I suppose it takes some distance to put some proper perspective on the things we've done. I don't quite know if I'll view these things in the same rosy way another ten years from now. I am happy I am viewing them positively now.

So, to all my friends just starting out or in the thick of things: don't lose hope.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A Stroll Down Silliman Beach

The other day I got an invite from my cousin Youman to an open house of Maribago Bluewater Beach Resort at Sumilon Island just off Dumaguete. The affair was set for Saturday, and I was scheduled to leave on the 11:00 am boat.

However, fate and the tides intervened. I was at Silliman Beach, our launching point, at 10:45 am, and the 10:00 am boat was just leaving. It turns out that the tides weren't favorable for departure, hence the delays. Ultimately, I never got to go because the boat had just arrived at Sumilon at 11:30.

Instead, I took a stroll down Silliman Beach. It's open to the public and is populated by a small fishing community. I chanced upon some folks pushing a fishing boat to fix it.

The beach isn't much to speak of and, honestly, I'm a little afraid to go into the water because it looks so dirty. Some folks didn't mind, though, and were frolicking the weekend away with a game of tug-of-war.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Tyranny of the Unforgiving Line

I find it hard to believe but it's been four weeks since I started the animation class at Foundation University. Every day for the past four weeks I have been at my drawing station, pencil in hand, wrestling with the assignment for the week for five hours.

The amazing thing is that those five hours fly by so quickly. This type of work is so relaxing that the only time I peer from my tracing disk is when my forearm starts to cramp.

Animation is by no means an easy job, at least as far as traditional methods are concerned. The character in each frame has to look exactly the same, something that we call "on-model". And you have to do it over and over and over again. Not that I should complain: after all, the most I've had to do so far was only 19 frames, a little less than two seconds of animation.

As such, there's what I call the tyranny of the unforgiving line. If you're off by a millimeter, then the drawing comes out all wrong. Then it's time to reach for the eraser and start rubbing away. There's no point in thinking that the other folks won't notice the slight error: if you see it, then the others will certainly see it, too. That's why I admire the professional animators who do this for a living: it's something that takes a lot of skill, patience, and practice.

So am I any good? I'm not quite there yet, but I can honestly say I've improved tremendously over the past few weeks. I've become more critical of my work and I know where my mistakes are. Most importantly, I know how to improve my work. That alone is worth a lot to me.

While I can't see myself doing this professionally, it's certainly been worth the time and effort. Onward!

Personal Broadband

Rational Technology for December 4, 2005

Having worked for two IT multinationals over a span of ten years, I had been spoiled rotten with the company broadband Internet. There's nothing quite like having an always-on Internet connection with web pages loading up within the time frame of your attention span. It gives you a feeling of empowerment and of, well, connectedness.

In hindsight, I think that was why I stayed on in IT longer than I thought I would: because of the broadband. When it finally came for me to withdraw from that life, though, it was fortuitous that personal broadband packages had already become quite common and affordable. And thank goodness it rolled out in Dumaguete this year, otherwise I would really have gone antsy.

So what's the big deal with having a personal broadband connection? Is it just a matter of having the pages load up quickly? To a large extent it is, though that's not the only reason. While you might be saving money with dial-up Internet, ultimately you're saving yourself time. You can be done checking your mail in five minutes instead of waiting for five minutes for the first message to load up.

File exchange is another thing. These days, aside from business documents, we normally send photos to friends and family. A typical photo would be close to a megabyte, something that a dial-up connection would choke on. More so then with presentation files and other documents that normally bloat up to five megabytes or more.

It's not just that, however. One of the biggest incentives for a personal broadband connection is the advent of new Voice-over-IP technologies. Imagine being able to call friends and business associates worldwide with no long distance charges! For people like my mother, who has forever been resisting the email, this is the application that's finally prompting the move to the Internet.

The biggest splash in this arena, thus far, has been Skype with its excellent sound quality. Since this is such a hot growth area, other companies are coming up with new offerings or repackaging their old ones. These are Gizmo, Googletalk, and Yahoo Messenger.

On the entertainment side, one of my recently rediscovered pleasures enabled by broadband is Internet radio. If, like me, you're not too happy with the programs of local radio, you can now turn to the Internet for your music. Radio Locator lists hundreds of radio stations that broadcast over the Internet and which you can listen to on your computer. My personal favorite, though, is Sky FM with its good selection of channels, including a jazz station that's up to my tastes.

Broadband also opens up a whole new world of games. I'm not just talking about the popular games like Ragnarok, Gunbound, or TS Online, but free, simple, and short online games that you can play to take away your stress. Free Online Games has a huge selection that covers several genres. You might never need to spend for bootleg games anymore.

Just to round it all off, because I'm a comics fan, there's free comics from The Web Comic List.

What are your broadband options in Dumaguete? I've been a Globelines Broadband user for some months now and I've been fairly happy with the service. Don't go for their 30-hour package because that's simply far too limited and can get pretty expensive once you exceed the allocation. Instead, try to get their P995 unlimited promo, if it's still available.

Smart also has their "WiFi" service for under P1000. It's not nearly as fast as DSL but it is faster than dial-up. Pretty soon, Bayantel is also supposed to offer their service as well.

Broadband is becoming quite affordable in Dumaguete, and with new applications coming out, both for business and for entertainment, there's never been a better time to get on board.