Monday, January 30, 2006

Puppy for Sale


Beagle, two months old, female. Price: P10,000 (in Davao; elsewhere, plus shipping and handling).

Please, get her out of our hands before we fall in love with her and refuse to let her go!

After the storm

Okay, I've had a night to sleep over it. I don't feel so upset anymore.

I have a lot of things to be thankful for from last night's near-mishap:

  1. I wasn't hurt.
  2. No one else was hurt.
  3. The car wasn't really damaged. Nothing that can't be buffed away with Wipeout. Quite surprising, really, considering the speed at which the bugger sideswiped me.
  4. I lost my temper enough to assert myself, but still had enough control not to deck him. That would just have made it worse for me.

But I'm still going to follow it up with his employer. Or if not, with the LTO.

For great justice!

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Car sideswiped

I was making a left along Silliman University Medical Center when a speeding multicab zoomed by my right. He stopped. I stopped. I glared at him. I got off. He got off.

Not my fault, he insisted. I was on the road when you made the left.

Why were you going so fast? You overtook me on my right!

Can we do this tomorrow? I'm in a bit of a hurry....

Friggin' idiot. Same story, over and over again.

I was so ready to deck him. Didn't, though.

Thankfully, no damage to the car, just a scratch on the front fender guard. Ordinarily, I'd let something like this pass. But something in this guys attitude reeks. There'll be heck to pay tomorrow.

I'll make sure of it.

An Evening of Ballet


Watched Lisa Macuja-Elizalde's Ballet Manila perform at the Luce Auditorium last night. I brought my Mom along, and she was pleased as punch. Moreso because she got invited to the after-performance cocktails, though she declined.

Ian Casocot has already written a comprehensive review so I'm not going to go into much detail. Suffice to say, the whole performance was quite a pleasant surprise to me.

Prior to the start of the show, I overheard a woman complaining that her husband didn't want to come along because "ballet is for sissies."

Nubile and graceful young women -- not to mention va-va-voom pretty -- in tights? I mean, in curve-fitting body-hugging tights? Contorting into positions that I didn't think were possible with the female form? Sissy? Uh-uh, I call that heavenly.

Sorry, you'll have to content yourselves with the sissy photo above. I'm keeping the good ones for myself.

Spring cleaning in January

All I really wanted was to see the top of our coffee table again. Over the past several months, several books, magazines, and assorted gadgets had piled up on top of it. And they were impossible to get rid off because I was out of bookshelf space.

So this afternoon I set out to do a spot of spring cleaning. I squared my comics away (a whole boxful accumulated over the years, not counting the hundreds already in Davao); and I trawled my library for books that I didn't mind parting with.

Now that I'm done, I can finally see the varnish of our coffee table. I am adorning them with -- what else? -- coffee table books. Not a whole lot. Just two tasteful ones: One Digital Day from Intel, and The Last Hero by Terry Pratchett and Paul Kidby. Okay, then, tasteful by my standards.

But now there's a whole pile of books and magazines that will most likely find a new home in the Dumaguete City Public Library or in Foundation University's IT Department. Ah, well, in life a little detachment is necessary.

If there's anyone from Dumaguete who would like first pick of the books, drop me a note. You know where to find me.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

At the Heart of the Vortex

At the Heart of the Vortex

Innovation, like any worthwhile human endeavor, needs the right environment and the right impetus to flourish. There needs to be room for instruction, interaction, and experimentation.

That's the thinking behind Vortex, the special program for the students in the College of Engineering of Silliman University that has been churning out innovative and practical applications of new technology. Its students have worked with radio frequency ID, robotics, LED imagery, and digital video surveillance systems. At the same time, they have also been regular participants in business plan competitions held locally and nationally.

The driving force behind Vortex is Yong Gyun Kim who initiated the program when he started teaching at Silliman in 2001. Vortex quickly became a training ground for the best and the brightest in Silliman's College of Engineering, with participating students chosen after a rigorous screening process.

It may sound surprising to some that the Kim came to Dumaguete primarily as a missionary for the campus ministry. He had earlier visited the city in 1998, liked the environment, and two years later, came here with his wife and two children.

Vortex was a natural progression for Kim stemming from his background in South Korea. He had been a researcher for the Korean Institute of Metals and Machinery. He had also worked for a venture company.

Kim likes to take a practical approach to the student projects. He understands the limitations imposed by financial and technical resources, and so would rather focus on real projects that solve real problems in the community. Much as he would like to expose his students to higher
technology, he feels it is more important work on problems presented by the unique situations and common concerns of the Philippines.

Ultimately, the projects should hold the promise of a commercial implementation, an aspect that Kim emphasizes. He wants his students to become technology entrepreneurs because this is the best way to self-reliance. His challenge to the students is to start a business with what they have learned in school.

Kim can be quite demanding, as most of his students acknowledge, but they also realize that this works out to their benefit. Some of his students have gone on to start an electronics business; another was able to find a job at NCR because of his training experience under Kim. Yet another managed to achieve regular status at her job in the United States after only three months.

What suggestion does Kim have for the city with regard to innovation and technological entrepreneurship? "I would really recommend that the leaders of the city -- the businessmen, for example -- invest in an technology incubator facility. That way, young people with bright ideas
can have a place where they can start their business and make it grow. It would be the best productive investment for the young generation and bright future in this community."

Indeed, if the city needs this advice, they have no further to look for the model of a technology incubator than what Vortex already provides.

And does he plan to stay on in Dumaguete? "Nothing is clear yet but I will listen and follow His guidance," Kim says philosophically, "but I do like it here and I enjoy learning about the culture. Here, I came not just to teach but also to learn."

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Hoodwinked, Done in Manila

From my blog buddy, Tsinkoy, I found out that the sleeper hit Hoodwinked was done in the Philippines!

A visit to the official website gives the story:
To turn bits and bytes into the wolves and bears of Red’s “hood,” the filmmakers jetted off to a 5,000 square foot studio in the [capital] of the Philippines, Manila, where a team of top-notch animators was assembled. Lovegren and Montgomery chose Manila not only because it has a vast and experienced pool of animation talent but because most of the people there have grown up on American pop culture – and had a real appreciation for the sly humor and visual style that make HOODWINKED so distinctive.

In Manila, Lovegren and Montgomery worked together to establish cutting-edge procedures that significantly shrank the normal multi-year animation film schedule and turbo-charged the entire process. The break-neck pace was a constant challenge to the Manila artists, who fine-tuned and layered the characters and sets of HOODWINKED in the 3D world of Maya Software.


Wow!

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pacquiao KO's Morales in 10th


Sorry, I couldn't resist.

About half the blogging population of the Philippines has written about this. Who am I to do any different?

Snigger.

The Making of the African Queen

It never ceases to amaze me how the best of finds usually come from the bargain bin. I was at SM Baguio last week, and was immediately drawn to Book Sale like a moth to a flame.

Find of the week: the late Katherine Hepburn's The Making of the African Queen; or How I went to Africa with Bogart, Bacall, and Huston and almost lost my mind.

It's really a diary of that very specific point in her life which Ms. Hepburn says she remembers with vivid detail. Reading the book, it's hard to dispute that. Moreover, it's written in a very conversational manner. It's almost as if one were listening to the actress' recollections at an after-dinner get-together. Or reading her blog (if they had blogs then).

I'm taking this book slow because it's a very thin volume and I want to make it last. So far I like what I'm reading, though I find some of the then-prevailing attitudes shocking. That's understandable, though: this was written at a different time, a different culture, and a different mindset. Despite that, it's consistently amusing.

A funny excerpt to show what I mean:
...I had been put into a room on the ground floor on the street -- a dark, dismal room where everyone could look in the window. The Bogarts were up on the top floor with a lovely porch looking down the river.

I nearly fainted with rage and frustration. Who the hell had arranged the rooms! Wasn't I as good as Bogie!...Then I found out that the accountant and auditor, who had been there for some time, had a lovely room next to the Bogarts. Without a wasted step, without a thought of them or their rights of possession, and certainly with not a word to either of them -- I walked into their room...threw everything into suitcases and demoted them to my room on the first floor.


Prima donna? To a certain extent. But remember, this was Hollywood in the 1950s. Also, Ms. Hepburn had just arrived after a long journey by plane and by raft. And she does sound mildly apologetic in later passages.

Overall, it's a fun read. And there are tons of fantastic black-and-white photographs to go along with it.

At P70, it was literally a steal.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Exodus

I wanted to watch Underworld: Evolution while I was in Manila. I never got the chance. So this afternoon, when I arrived in Dumaguete, I watched Exodus instead.

Big mistake.

Yes, yes, this is going to be another of those Filipino-movies-suck rants but what makes it different is that I actually went to a theater and paid to watch it. I have the right to rant.

From the get-go, I was already snickering. Apparently, they wanted to kick things off with a big battle. You know, beleaguered humans versus the mystical Forces of Darkness(TM). The dark horde, riding a dark tide, was actually passable. But the humans? They looked like a ragtag band of extras. They had some makeshift armor and all, but underneath it, their clothes looked like they came from the local ukay-ukay. I mean, one guy had his shirt on inside out and you could see the manufacturer's tag sticking out.

Puh-leeze!

I would have been willing to let the whole thing pass. We don't have big Hollywood budgets, after all. But once I got to the story....

Well, there was no story.

Okay, there was, but very little. Here it is:

Exodus is a Mysterious Warrior(TM) hired by the humans to fight off the Forces of Darkness(TM). There's a big battle (see above) and...we don't really know who wins or loses. The humans are shown in retreat in the next scene, but the Forces of Darkness(TM) are also worried about this Mysterious Warrior(TM).

The humans decide that the only way to beat the Forces of Darkness(TM) is to send Mysterious Warrior(TM) to capture Four Mystical Beings Representing the Elements of Earth, Wind, Fire, and Water(TM). Mysterious Warrior(TM) says "I am not your champion" but in the next scene he is going after the FMBREEWFW(TM).

See? What little story there is isn't very original. Again, I would let that pass. After all, scriptwriters are paid peanuts in this country. And you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. But...but...but...the scenes just don't make sense!

I mean, how can you botch a cliche?!!

What makes the whole thing much, much worse is that Mysterious Warrior(TM) captures FMBREEWFW(TM) without even breaking a sweat. He fights each one briefly, but captures them just like that. There's nothing to show how clever he is, nothing to show that he discovers anything within himself. Heck, there's not even any witty repartee! And they all follow him meekly, except with the water fairy Romantic Interest(TM) who then proceeds to give him some of the usual Filipina sass.

I really wanted to like this movie. I even paid to see it. And there were some genuinely good character concepts going for it: the creepy king of the Forces of Darkness(TM) in his doll-like masks, the equally creepy three-as-one leader of the humans, and the tarot reader with the floating cards. The Tagalog voice-overs, pure and unadulterated, just flowed beautifully, showing that it can be the language of fantasy.

But darn it! If I'm not even getting a passable story, it just ain't worth watching.

If I had paid a hundred bucks for the ticket in Manila, I might have borne through it just to get my money's worth. Luckily, I paid only P35 (they raised prices recently), so I had the satisfaction of walking out of the theater in mid-movie.

Yes, ladies and gents, I made my exodus from Exodus. That was sooooo satisfying.

Should I have asked for my money back? H'wag na! Bigay ko na lang. Mukhang mas kailangan nila yung treinta'y singko kaysa sa akin. Pwe!

Friday, January 20, 2006

One Candle Schoolhouse

Rational Technology for January 22, 2006

Oriental Negros plays host to many visitors but none may be so unique as those who come to the province by yacht. Cruisers, as they have come to be known, are an enviable class of international travellers. They can risk all to travel around the world by sea on a small boat on a journey that can take as much as ten years.

Cruisers are drawn to the province by the charms of Port Bonbonon, a popular anchorage that has made its way into the charts of many sailors. Bonbonon is a serene harbor bounded on both sides by lush mountain greenery, seemingly untouched by the hand of modernity. Some cruisers like it so much they decide to extend their visit.

Bill and Diane Pool are two such sailors. The American couple sailed from California in 1991 on their yacht Pilar. They came to the Philippines by way of the Pacific, dropping anchor in Bonbonon in 2000. Charmed by the place, they decided to stay.

However, instead of living a life of leisure in easy retirement, the couple is making a significant difference in the lives of the children of Tambobo, the fishing village in Bonbonon. Bill and Diane did this -- and continue to do so -- with their project, One Candle Schoolhouse.

The school started by accident in April 2002. Having befriended the townsfolk of the area, Bill and Diane would occasionally find young visitors in their house. One time, to entertain a young guest, they read with him a children's book entitled The Little Penguin's Adventure. Since the young fellow had some difficulty understanding English, they decided to translate the story into Bisaya. That sparked in the couple the idea of helping other kids with their communication skills.

One Candle Schoolhouse is not a school with the formal structure as we ordinarily understand it. It runs out of Bill and Diane's home, a small two-story house with a spacious attelier. Due to space and funding considerations, they currently only have 17 students, boys and girls aged 5 to 17. The students go to public schools during the week but drop into One Candle Schoolhouse during the weekends to augment their education.

The school's main draw is the computer training that Bill, Diane, and a handful of volunteers provide. They teach basic skills in word processing, computer art, and presentations; but for the children of this small fishing village, it is all very new and very exciting. What's more, it greatly enhances their self-esteem as something they once thought was out of their reach turns out to be easy and accessible.

But One Candle Schoolhouse's main value is in the other informal training that it provides. Here, students learn to express themselves better in oral and written communications by means of stories, essays, and artwork. They also learn the basics of entrepreneurship by means of craftwork and cooking. On occasion, they go on field trips to Dumaguete and other nearby areas to expand their horizons.

I had occasion to visit One Candle Schoolhouse last December at a Christmas party for them organized by the local DTI office. I could see for myself the tremendous impact that Bill, Diane, and the other volunteers have made. It was clearly evident in the children themselves, who comported themselves with much grace and confidence, and were very happy and cheerful. They look at you straight in the eye when you talk to them, and they smile a lot.

Quite exciting was the development of their communication skills. I flipped through their works in the annual scrapbooks that Diane meticulously kept. Over three years, I could see the progress they were making through their poems, essays, puzzles, artwork, and stories. Short, tentative sentences gradually grow into more descriptive and more heartfelt narrative.

These kids still have a long way to go, but they're certainly better equipped to handle the future. All this thanks to the selfless efforts of a cruiser couple.

Notes: While Diane would like to expand One Candle Schoolhouse to accommodate more students, resources are the limiting factor. If you would like to help, please send an email to Danah Fortunato (danah dot fortunato at gmail dot com) of the TVB Group.

Additional information on One Candle Schoolhouse can be found at http://www.gotouring.com/razzledazzle/articles/school.html.

Dakota Wolf

Today was my first time on a horse. I picked him off the lineup at Mines View Park in Baguio: a tall, handsome, dark-colored colt that was half-thoroughbred. His name was Dakota Wolf, and he sported the number 36 on his saddle.

At the time that I did it, it seemed like a silly frivolous thing to do. P150 for a half-hour on a horse? Expensive! Daft! But my sister insisted, and I thought to myself: this is one of the things I haven't done yet, so I might as well get it over with.

The taciturn handler gave me a few instructions (Walk Forward, Turn Left, Turn Right, Gallop, and most mportantly, Stop!) and escorted me around the track. After a while, he let me go and I was on my own.

Dakota Wolf was remarkably well-behaved. I could feel that he wanted to go off on a gallop and the long stretches, and I'm afraid I had to hold him back a little. This was my first time.

When I let him have his way, he rode off on a trot and I went up-down-up-down. Oooh, I should have worn supporters!

After several laps, I brought him to the side of the track where my parents and other sister were. My sister sent off her horse, who was behaving badly, and had a turn with Dakota Wolf. Unable to resist, my other sister took a turn. My Dad also got up on him, but did not go around.

Lots of pictures with the horse, but mostly of my sisters. Coming soon!

Friday, January 13, 2006

The Changing Face of Dumaguete

Rational Technology for January 15, 2006

A couple of weeks ago, I had my driver's license renewed. Among the people waiting to have their pictures taken were two Americans from Calvary Chapel Training Center and a middle-aged Japanese woman, elegant and respectable despite her blue jeans and shirt.

To many Dumaguetenos, all this is par for the course. On the whole, it's nothing out of the ordinary anymore. So what's the big deal?

What set my mind on this track is the nature of a driver's license. A driver's license implies some sense of permanence. A person applying for a local driver's license is no longer just a tourist or a visitor. That person is part of the community for the long haul.

It doesn't take a driver's license to tell this story, though. Just look around. It is just as likely that your student, teacher, classmate, neighbor, customer, vendor, or friend will be Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Indian, Persian, American, European as he or she will be a full-blooded Filipino.

While I cannot speak authoritatively on the demographics of other parts of the Philippines, I would like to think that in no other city are people of other nationalities as well integrated as they are in Dumaguete and Oriental Negros. We need to understand this phenomenon and take its effects into consideration as we forge our way forward.

To begin with, do we understand why Dumaguete is so attractive to people from other countries? We can come up with our usual long list of factors: our status as University Town, our low cost of living, our friendly people, our beautiful surroundings. And yet, even then, these factors would only scratch at the surface. Some may have come for business opportunities, not a few would have come looking for love, and still others would have come from a sense of altruism.

Don't look to me for answers, though; I am just a writer. Instead, ask your student, teacher, classmate, neighbor, etc. They know why they came.

Then, we need to understand what role immigrants will play in the development of Dumaguete City. Some will stay only a year or two and some will stay until they finish their program of studies. But some would like to build a life here in Oriental Negros, effectively creating a lasting link between their home countries and ours.

It's not enough to say that they be given the same opportunities for education, business, and employment as other Filipinos. They have much to teach us from their own cultures, and these will hopefully provide an antidote for some of the ills which afflict us. They also bring with them opportunities from their home countries. Their virtues, married with ours, can also lead to new strengths not possible individually.

For example: wouldn't it be great if our immigrants could promote Dumaguete tourism in their home countries? Perhaps they can offer personal guided tours for travellers?

Or: wouldn't it be great if our immigrants could introduce our products and services to their home markets? Be it native handicrafts or outsourcing, every little bit helps.

Or: perhaps a new business process outsourcing company would come into Dumaguete, one attracted by the large number of Mandarin or Korean or Japanese speakers available in the city?

Granted, not every visitor or immigrant who comes into the city comes with noble intentions or has something positive to contribute. We certainly have had our share of blights, be they sexual predators or homicidal reckless drivers. Still, our experience has largely been positive, and this is something we need to capitalize on.

When it all comes down to it, we aren't really just Chinese, Koreans, Japanese, Thais, Indians, Persians, Americans, Europeans, or Filipinos.

We are Dumaguetenos. This is our city.

On technorati: .

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Writing difficulties

A couple of days ago, Jute de la Calzada wrote in her blog:
Writing is but one way of playing connect-the-dots. Sometimes you get lucky and your ideas take form. Sometimes you fail and you fail so terribly.

Sean has his own addendum:
Writing is connecting the dots...without the numbers.

These sentiments express how I've been feeling with my own little side project right now. It's a non-revenue-generating writing challenge which I feel I just have to try to meet, though it'll likely get shot down again.

I have the plot in mind, but getting the approach was a bit hard to pin down. After several false starts, I ended up with the following:
Bartok the One-Eyed was, by and large, a simple and good-natured fellow. However, there were two things that he hated with a fierce passion.

First on the list were dragons. Bartok and dragons did not mix well, yet it seemed that they had been fated by the stars to cross paths again and again.

It started early on in Bartok's life: Bartok's mother and father, settlers on the frontier, were killed by a green dragon while they were tilling their fields. His uncle, who took him in, was eaten by a ferocious pack of brown dragons while hunting in the forest.

With this run of bad luck, it came as no surprise that Bartok felt about dragons the way he did. If he had his way, he would have left the frontier and been done with dragons forever. But an orphan in the frontier did not have too many options and he soon found himself indentured to a band of dragon hunters. Still, he took to his new career as a dragon hunter quite well, because it allowed him to vent all his frustration and anger on the creatures themselves.

In time, Bartok became a dragon hunter of some renown. His knowledge of dragon lore was without peer. He devised various tricks to lure the beasts. He led other hunters on expeditions to seek out the bigger dragons. And he knew well enough when to leave them alone. In a profession notorious for pitifully short life spans, Bartok thus became one of the rare exceptions.


However, after rambling on for a few more paragraphs without getting to the meat of the story, I decided to abandon the that beginning. Ultimately, I ended up with the following:
As everyone knows, the only thing a brown swamp dragon likes better than corn beetles is roasted corn beetles coated in honey. A swamp dragon can single out its sickly sweet aroma over the effluvium of its natural habitat and come bolting out of its nest.

That was the case with one such swamp dragon. Having caught a whiff, it dashed towards the treat, taking only a cursory look at its surroundings to see that no other predators were about. It snapped the caramelized insect into its mouth and munched greedily, unmindful of the steel trap that dropped over it.

"That about makes it an even dozen, Master Bartok," said the lanky youth. "Look at the size of her. She'll probably fetch five dinaari at the fair, don't you think?"

The young hunter reached into the cage and held the swamp dragon by its neck. The dragon stared dumbly at its captor, made a feeble attempt at a puff of methane, and promptly gave up. Its eyes rolled stupidly. Swamp dragons were about the size of a turkey but only half as smart. Catching them was easy.

"Time enough for a couple more, Pelias," the grizzled old master grunted at his apprentice.

"Awww, master! We've had a good run with the fat ones all day. We're laden enough, we'll have a hard time bringing them out of the swamp. Besides, we'll miss the opening of the fair."

Bartok relented with a gruff nod, and Pelias gleefully began disassembling the trap. Having finished that, the master and the apprentice lifted their respective loads of captured swamp dragons. The dragons were strung upside-down by their feet, wings bound so they wouldn't struggle, and mouths clamped so they wouldn't belch their smelly emissions.

The trip to the village would ordinarily have been filled with the excited chatter of Pelias, but his enthusiasm this time around was severely dampened by heavy thoughts. Bartok, unused to the silence, finally brought to surface the matter that weighed heavily on his apprentice.

"So is it final?" Bartok said. "Ye'll be taking your leave after the fair?"

"Aye, sir," Pelias said heavily. "Father's been more vocal in his objections. Says dragon hunters are a joke nowadays. So he'll be apprenticin' me to Marius the Blacksmith. Says I need to learn a proper trade."

"Can't say I blame him," Bartok said darkly. "No respect bein' a dragon hunter anymore. Not like the old days when the giant beasts roamed free. Now they're mostly dead, and so are we."

"Do you wish for the old days back?" asked Pelias innocently.

"No, no, no!" Bartok said vehemently. "Hunting dragons was dead serious business then, more danger than you can imagine. I'd rather be safe in my old age. Though I can't say that I wish for a little more respect and gratitude from folks."

"All the same, I'd much rather be with you, Master Bartok," Pelias said. "You've taught me a lot. Lessons I'm not likely to forget. I...thank you."

Still in search for the right one, though. Back to the keyboard.

On technorati: writing.

Bringing the magic back

What would you think about a 22-page comic extended to 224 pages of a coffee table-sized book? That's what's been done with Maximum FF.

The comic in question is the first issue of Fantastic Four, released in August 1961, written by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby. The story essays the origin of the Fantastic Four and their battle with the Mole Man.

Why this comic in particular? Many consider it to be landmark because it was the first in the modern stable of Marvel Comics, preceding other greats like Spider-Man, Daredevil, and the Incredible Hulk. If nothing else, it must have been chosen for sentimental reasons by the book's organizer, Walter Mosley.

Whatever your sentiments, the whole idea of an oversized version of an old comic seems absurd. Here it's taken to extremes. One panel, one entire page, on the average. Some panels were even stretched out to four pages by means of foldouts.

Flipping through the enlarged panels, something clicked in my brain. Given my modern sensibilities, the works of Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, and other early masters already seemed childish in comparison. But now, the magic was back.

Mosley explains it best:
When I saw each frame as a unit I remembered something from my youth: as a young person I could completely concentrate on each frame of the comic book. I could see every line and gesture as if it were part of a sole painting hanging in the center of a blank wall. This, I thought, might be what separates me from my younger self. Now I look at the whole page, read far too quickly, and move on before seeing what Jack Kirby saw when he set down his images forty years ago.


I understood completely what Mosely meant. The oversized panels meant, one to a page, brought my attention to every detail. I was no longer reading the comic in a hurry; I was savoring it.

Perhaps it has something to do with our psychology, a shift in our perceptions. As children, our attention moves panel-by-panel; it is as adults that we begin to view pages as a whole. Neither view is approach is more correct than the other, but it does affect how we read our comics. This oversized comic book brings home that point.

Maximum FF has brought the magic back.

Unfortunately, Maximum FF is priced outside of my budget. I flipped through it at Powerbooks instead. I definitely wouldn't mind getting it as a Christmas present. If you can afford it, get it.

For more analysis, read this review by Derik Badman at Comic Book Galaxy.

On Technorati: .

Monday, January 09, 2006

Sky Rider of the Spaceways

By some fortuitous event, a copy of The Essential Silver Surfer Vol. 1 came into my hands a couple of days ago. The thick book compiles the 18 issues of the first run of the Silver Surfer comic by Stan Lee and John Buscema.

Written between 1968 and 1970, the stories look and sound a bit dated. It shows in the campiness of the plot devices and the language. Nevertheless, it has a charm all its own.

For an old comic, Silver Surfer was actually difficult to get into. Stan Lee used it as a vehicle for his philosophical musings. Prejudice, rejection, and man's inhumanity to his fellow man form a common theme through all the stories. True, this is staple fare for Stan Lee ca. mid-1960's, but nowhere is this more fully distilled than in Silver Surfer.

After a while, though, the character grows on you. Silver Surfer is a noble soul who indentured himself to Galactus, a world-eating entity, in order to save his planet. Arriving on Earth, he turned against his master to prevent its destruction. As punishment, Galactus bound him to the planet, never to return to his home world.

In between the physical struggles with madmen, dictators, superheroes, prejudiced everymen, and the devil, Silver Surfer also struggles morally with loneliness and the search for acceptance. Along the way, he comments on the human condition, wondering why men must ever be in conflict with each other. Despite the amazing cosmic powers that he wields, Silver Surfer is helpless against these forces. Seen from innocent alien eyes, the observation achieves a certain poignancy.

What's valuable about the comic is the insight that it gives into pop culture and the prevalent philosophical themes of the 1960s. It was a period of great uncertainty and brewing global conflict, heightened by paranoia and prejudice. The Silver Surfer served as a vehicle to question the direction that humanity was taking.

Sad to say, those problems haven't been resolved yet. So the Silver Surfer must ever wander on.

On Technorati: .

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Microsoft Challenges Linux Legacy Claims

eWeek, via News.com reports in a story that Microsoft tested different modern distributions of Linux and Windows against older hardware. The reason, they said, was to dispel myths that only Linux can run well on older hardware.

They tested Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Pro 9.2, Mandrake 10, Linspire 4.5, Xandros Desktop 3.0, Fedora Core 3, Slackware 10.1, Knoppix 3.7, Windows XP and Windows Server 2003. All were installed out-of-the-box on older hardware to see what happened.

How underpowered was the box?
Microsoft found that most modern commercial Linux distributions could be installed successfully on systems with a Pentium processor, with 64MB of RAM and a minimum of 2GB of hard disk space.

However,
Minimum requirements for office productivity performance on a Linux system were any Pentium II (PII) system with at least 64MB of RAM, he said, adding that playback of sound and video would typically require a PII 400 or better.

This is all well and good. But out here in the developing countries, where the developed nations routinely dump their e-waste in favor of tax write-offs, these are hardly the configurations that we work with.

Why not really stretch the envelope and try running Linux on a 486 with 16MB of RAM? I know I have. I didn't run any of the distributions mentioned above, because I couldn't. But then again, the totality of Linux is not covered by those distributions alone.

Agreed, it's not cost-effective based on power alone, but when you don't have a choice, you don't have a choice. Besides, it's a nonsensical argument to try to save an old hardware using Microsoft software. There's something wrong with the equation when your software costs are easily greater than your hardware costs.

Now, I'd like to see Microsoft try diskless LTSP-type configuration using Windows clients. And for the next challenge, I'd like to see them boot a complete OS off a CD or a USB flash drive on a computer with no hard disk.

Oriental Negros as a shining example

Today's editorial of The Philippine Daily Inquirer talks about the power of local government units. In a nutshell: there is real political power at the level of local government. The strongest case for this was the way governors and mayors saved Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo from the near-certain resignation last July.

Thankfully, the editorial does not dwell simply on that. It also gives several shining examples of initiatives happening among local government units. Naga and Bohol were mentioned, as was Oriental Negros.

Excerpts:
Oriental Negros received recognition from the foundation, in part, for a simple but effective back-to-basics program.

Oriental Negros Governor George Arnaiz pointed to his province's Gulayan at Palaisdaan Alay sa Kabataan (Vegetable Farm and Fish Pond for the Youth) program, chosen as one of the Top 10 outstanding local government programs for 2005, as a continuing effort to improve nutrition among grade school children.

The children, he said, were given garden tools, fertilizers and vegetable seeds for planting in school plots. In 2002, the first year of the program, the provincial government invested P2 million to train some 700 teachers in the art and science of gardening.

The statistics are heartening: In three years, the program added almost 140 hectares of vegetable-producing land; and the malnutrition rate fell from 39 percent in 2002 to 23 percent in 2005.

Bravo, indeed! Now, I wish the governor would put to more use his political clout for additional programs. After all, who does Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo come crying to everytime the political heat gets too much in Manila?

Whatever the political stripe, it's undeniable that the real work does take place at the local level, and never mind the smokescreen schtick about federalism. At the local level, you have less hot air and greater cultural cohesion, and that gets more work done.

So, hooray for the probinsyanos!

Chronicles of Narnia

It's been ages since I've read the book, but Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe brought everything to the surface with surprising clarity. The movie was quite faithful to the book (or at least to my recollection of it).

Georgie Henley, the actress who played the youngest of the Pevensy children, was a real joy to watch. The look of wonder on her face was infectious and sincere, not at all forced as in Spielbergian fashion.

The Ice Queen wasn't quite what I envisioned her to be. I thought she would be slinky and seductive. As the movie progressed, I realized that the portrayal of the Witch of Narnia as a raw, elemental force was better done.

The effects of the battle sequences were well-executed, but I think it could have done with a bit more of build-up and suspense. But this is a minor nit. The battle, after all, was not at the heart of the movie.

Six books to go!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

New driver's license

Another advantage to living in Dumaguete: getting your driver's license in a little over an hour. Oh, sure, Singapore might do it better but that's Singapore. We're talking about the Philippines here. This has got to be a record of sorts.

I had the farce of a medical and drug test this morning. I am free of amphetamines and cannabis, as the urinalysis reveals. Whoop-de-doo. At least the test center bothered to give me an eye test, unlike last time.

Things could have gone smoother at the Land Transportation Office if the cashier hadn't gone for an inordinately long break. Did I want to take issue with that? No sirree! As a rule, all government employees in the Philippines are S-C-A-R-Y, and this lady was no exception.

At least I had a good laugh with the photographer. The accompanying picture should tell you why.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Searching Flickr using sketches


From Drawn: The Illustration Blog, I got the link to Retrievr, an experimental site for searching photos from Flickr using sketches. The screenshot above shows my query and its results.

It's a neat concept, though right now I'd say the results are still hit-and-miss. I don't know if it has more to do with the size of the database available to it or with the algorithm.

It works primarily, I think, by matching colors rather than outlines. I first tried it with some simple black-and-white sketches and all I got were black-and-white photos. The colored drawing above resulted in color results, more or less matching the colors of my sketch.

Definitely worth a try, though.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

From Davao to Dumaguete

Just last night I was in Davao and now I'm writing this entry from Dumaguete. What a difference a day makes!

Unlike the Christmas chaos at the Manila airport, the atmosphere at the Davao International Airport was serene. Total check-in time took under ten minutes, from the entrance to the X-ray machine to getting my ticket.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the terminal fee at the Davao airport was still at P40. It's been so long since I travelled from Davao that I've forgotten a lot of the details.

Compared with other local airports, the New Davao International Airport is by far the spiffiest and the best. I'm happy to see that its status hasn't deteriorated. It certainly makes coming and going a pleasant experience.

My Cebu Pacific flight was slightly delayed, thankfully, not as much as it was during Christmas Eve. I sincerely hope this does not become a habit with the airline.

Cebu was mostly smooth, all the way up the South Terminal where I was to take the Ceres bus to Dumaguete. The terminal is nothing to boast about unless you're looking for local color. It's crowded, smelly, and noisy. Most annoying are all the "helpful" hawkers who will lead you to your bus and carry your luggage, whether you want any help or not.

From then on, it was five hours on the bus, following the eastern coast of Cebu island. Unlike past trips, I was alert and looking about. Nothing that I haven't already seen, really, but it brought to mind again how much development the countryside really needs.

Ah, well. We must all hope.

Portrait by Hersley

This is just about the best present I got over the Christmas holidays: a portrait of me by Foundation University's resident artist, Hersley. My editors at Metro Post, Irma and Alex Pal, commissioned it.

Taken from the canonical photo that I've been using on web sites and publications.

Thanks, Irma, Alex, and Hersley!

Monday, January 02, 2006

Hope and hopelessness

Reading Oli Mercado's requiem for the slain Judge Gingoyon brought back yesterday's conversation with friends at a coffee shop.

For some reason, the topic switched briefly to politics. I swear, my Davao friends are the worst people to speak with on the matter, especially for one with views as my own. Their views are cynicism mixed with expedient accommodation.

I say: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should go.

They say: who are you going to replace her with? Noli?

Further, they add: better keep a thief who has had his fill, than to replace him with a thief who is hungry.

The latter argument only works if you believe there is a limit to greed. I don't think there is. My friends say that Mike Arroyo earns as much as P30-M per day just from cargo fees on the docks alone. True? False? I don't know. My friend thinks that this would be enough. If it were so, wouldn't Mr. Arroyo have retired by now? As I said, greed knows no bounds.

The no-better-alternative option has been tried and found wanting. Fidel Ramos found as much to his regret. He supported Mrs. Arroyo during her darkest hours, hoping for accommodation for his vision of charter change. And what did he get?

Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo and her minions have a long track record of cutting down anyone who shows any promise of leading the country. Remember Roco? Well, that's politics, they say. Why, I ask, shouldn't it change? Why can't we make it change?

If we follow this argument, that there is no better alternative than Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo, then we will forever be spinning our wheels in this mud. If she stays, there will never be any better alternative.

Not that it matters, they say. Her stint as prime minister is fait accompli. Once congress railroads the charter change, it won't matter anymore. Even if they bring charter change to a plebiscite, would we really have an honest outcome? Why does Mr. Abalos cling on resolutely to his post in the Commission on Elections?

It's only hopeless if we say it is. It's hopeless if we sneer and say, let things be. As for me, I'd rather be tilting at the windmills. There's more to this life than...this life.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Quiet New Year

For the past several years, I've been saying the same thing every first day of the year: I love spending New Year's Eve in Davao. It's just about the quietest New Year that you can find anywhere in the Philippines.

Everywhere else, firecrackers and fireworks are the norm. It's an old Chinese custom, using the sparks and the noise to drive away the evil spirits. Unfortunately, it's been taken to ridiculous extremes in the Philippines. Where else can you find, year after year, televised footage of bloodied fingerless hands of hapless merrymakers?

Not so in Davao City. By executive fiat, cowboy mayor Rodrigo Duterte has decreed that fireworks, firecrackers, and all sorts of pyrotechnics are banned in the city. Violators are promptly arrested and prosecuted. I may not like some of his policies, but this is certainly one that I can agree with.

The result: a clean, quiet New Year. Not a trace of cordite in the air. Nary a spot of shredded paper in the streets. Not a hand with one finger less.

A clean, quiet, and safe January 1st. Just the way I like it.