Monday, February 27, 2006

Survey Response

AlterNation101 asks:

I want to know if people would support a boycott of businesses and products who place their advertisements on media entities and programs that play partisan politics.

I would also like to know if people would support a boycott of the same businesses and products who place their ads on programs that glorifies distorted values as if they are normal and "realities" (such as ABS-CBN's Pinoy Big Brother).

Gee now, let's see.

I cut my subscription to cable TV last year. Now, I only average 30 minutes a month of broadcast TV, and even then there's only drivel.

I buy only one magazine regularly, and that's W.I.T.C.H., but the series is starting to suck so I'll end it after the current story arc.

I don't buy newspapers, preferring to mooch them off my relatives.

My regular staple of groceries is Mountain Dew, Ariel, and Downy. I get my stuff from Lee Plaza, which doesn't advertise, period.

There's no Starbucks or Seattle's Best where I live, but there is a nice coffee shop operated by an old lady in the Valencia public market where my biker gang goes every morning. And I mooch off my friends for coffee.

My biggest monthly expense, after my electric bill, is my broadband connection.

So...there's really not much for me to boycott.

And that leads me to my next suggestion: anyone who's serious about this boycott idea should just come to Dumaguete (or any underdeveloped part of the country) and live like me!

A shaggy dog story

...a shaggy dog story is an extremely long-winded tale featuring extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents that usually results in a pointless or absurd punchline

For all the hoopla going on in Manila, Dumaguete was as quiet as could be over the past three days. I would have wanted to monitor the news both in the mainstream media and in the blogosphere, but I was stuck in the store for most of Saturday and all of Sunday.

My mother called me up late Sunday afternoon to tell me that Col. Querubin was holed up in Marine headquarters in protest over his commandant's relief. Members of civil society were heading to Fort Bonifacio. The beginnings of another People Power? Hmmm. When I finally got home and checked the Internet, the whole affair had fizzled out with Querubin appearing in a press conference with the new commandant. Chain of command blah blah gentleman's agreement blah blah. You figure it out.

Honestly, I was disappointed. Then I felt guilty about being disappointed. Then I finally said there was no reason to feel guilty at all.

I was afraid that I was disappointed that shooting didn't happen, and that no blood had been spilled.

But no, it wasn't that at all. It was something else. It was a feeling with which I was already familiar with, as I'm sure countless others are. It was the same feeling one gets when one is told a shaggy dog story. I mean, after all the drama and the brouhaha...what was the point?

I just felt really annoyed.

Friday, February 24, 2006

War stories and pictures

I met the guy who shot the picture you see above. The photographer's name is Luis "Lee" Sinco, brother to my biking buddy Dean. And yes, he's from Dumaguete.

Lee had some interesting stories about Iraq, El Salvador gangs, forest fires, and life as a photographer in general. His account of the battle of Fallujah was riveting, to say the least.

See also this story
from his wife's point of view.

Building a Linux Community

Rational Technology for February 26, 2006

As you might have already guessed, I have a long-running love affair with Linux. It was the topic of the first installment of this column some years back, and it's a subject that I return to with great frequency. While some might say that I'm fighting a losing battle against Windows, which seems to be the only operating system for a lot of people in Dumaguete, it's a spirited fight that I'm not ready to give up too quickly.

First of all, I like the Linux operating system. It has a geekiness factor that brings the excitement of computers back all over again. With Linux, I often feel the same way I did when I got my first computer some 20 years ago. There are so many things to discover about it, and over time, it's actually gotten much easier to use.

Second, I like the ideals behind Linux. Linux is a free operating system, the term meaning that you're free to use it, to study it, to change it, and to give it to other people. Some versions of Linux you do have to pay for, but there are some very nice versions that you can actually get for free.

Third, I like the worldwide community that's congregated around Linux. There's a whole culture of sharing around Linux where people exchange ideas and produce better software. Not only can you get Linux for free, you can also get a lot of the software for everyday use (and some a bit more specialized) for free as well.

Just about the only thing that keeps people away from Linux is the perceived lack of support. It's not that there are no people skilled in Linux in Dumaguete, it's just that they're not very visible and they stay in their own little silos. This can get a little discouraging for people who are just beginning to learn Linux but can't seem to find people to help them. (And no, I don't know everything about Linux so you can't expect me to fix your Linux problems.)

This week, we're taking another stab at changing that situatuon. Linux will be a prominent feature in Silliman University's Engineering Week and in Foundation University's Digital Dumaguete 2006. Digital Dumaguete will feature several Linux seminars, all given for free. Apart from the lectures, this also gives people the chance to meet other like-minded enthusiasts and experts.

I'm also advocating the formation of a Linux users' group in Dumaguete, one that will meet on a regular basis and have free lectures on various technical topics. The organizing meeting will be held at Foundation University on March 3 at 5:00PM. Please be there if you're interested in participating. Linux knowledge not required.

Somebody loves me...

It's close to the end of February but it seems the month of Valentine's still held one more surprise for me. Sacha said she had sent me something, but I wasn't quite sure what it was. Today I found out.

She made me promise to take a video of myself opening the package, but lacking a video camera, I opted for stills instead.

The contents...well...they're really special. Very special. And one comic book, in particular. Nope, can't share it here. But trust me, I'm very happy to read it, and I'll be rereading it many many more times.

Awww, I feel so loved. I can't wipe the smile off my face.

Hay, na-coup!

Nope, no State of Emergency coverage here. Nothing on coups d'etat and other bullshit.

Because that's what this whole thing is about: more bullshit from a fucking drama queen.

And that's that.


Chamindra de Silva, team leader for the Sahana open source disaster management software, is looking for partners in the Philippines who can help with deployment for the mud slides disaster.

Sahana means "Relief" in Sinhalese. As the name itself implies, Sahana is a free and open source disaster management system. It mainly facilitates management of Missing people, disaster victims, managing and administrating various organizations, managing camps and managing requests and assistance in the proper distribution of resources. Sahana was successfully used during the Asian Tsunami and the Indo-Pakistan earthquake.

For more information, go to

Thursday, February 23, 2006

'Barefoot in the Park'

Student productions are usually a mixed bag. Sometimes you get something very good, and sometimes you get something in the opposite end of the spectrum. Barefoot in the Park, the Neil Simon 3-act comedy put up by the Silliman University College of Arts and Sciences and Speech and Theatre Arts Department, fell somewhere closer to the latter.

The choice of material presented the first difficulty. Barefoot tackles the trials and tribulations of a newly married odd couple. While the situation is staple for modenr comedies, New York in the 1960s is about as far removed from the Dumaguete experience as you can get.

Presented with such an alien material, the tendency of inexperienced actors would be to overact. And that's precisely what happens here, without exception. Fortunately, the exaggerations work well enough within the context of the absurdities of Neil Simon's script, so it isn't nearly as jarring.

The heaviest load is placed on Chantal Marie Thiel, who plays Corie. Very good enunciation, very good projection, a fantastic singing voice, and has the knack for physical comedy. But she often falls back on cutesy tactics to get the laughs, and she can get irritating at times.

Edward Cham plays Paul, the harassed husband, with a bit more viciousness than one would have expected of Corie's polar opposite. The role could have been more effective if he had played a more weary straight man slowly being pushed over the edge.

There were times when the rapid-fire exchange these two clicked, and those were the moments that got genuine laughs from the audience. However, for the most part, they seemed to lack the chemistry required to play newlyweds. Cham, especially, looked uncomfortable.

Tara de Leon, playing Corie's mother, fit the image quite nicely, but her execution was a little ill-defined. Was she worried about herself? Was she supposed to be meddlesome? Was she weary? She was particularly painful to watch when she was slumped between the two actors in exhaustion from climbing the stairs. I was actually afraid that she would pull a muscle. Only towards the end does she come alive with a bit of spark.

To his credit, Rosbert Salburo, playing the eccentric Victor Velasco, uses his gift for physical comedy to great effect. But he doesn't quite deliver his lines with the right zing, and this is a shame because the role could have been much funnier. And really, couldn't he have differentiated his portrayal from his last role of Sancho Panza?

While there were some good scenes, I think the number was overshadowed by several dragging moments which elicited yawns and distracted glances from the audience. The denouement between Corie and Paul, particularly, was too abrupt and could have been played out better.

Still, it's a student production and so the small deficiencies are forgivable. I am looking forward to a better show next time.

Twenty years ago...

...I was a weird kid with a weird sense of humor and weird friends. (It stands to reason that I should grow up to be a weird adult...or maybe I didn't.)

...I was in Davao, as far away as possible from the political melee brewing in Manila. Granting that, it was still a fearful time because it seemed that the worst military action would always take place in Davao. Ah, memories of martial law still fresh: when military men barged into our house one early morning, aiming long rifles at my Mom and Dad, over some small infraction committed by our househelp. was hard to express my political views because the Catholic school I was in was extremely conservative, with exception of certain teachers who encouraged discussion in their classes (I mean you, Mrs. Helene de Castro-Bello. Thank you very much.) We had a fascistic Boy Scouts organization (I mean you, Mr. Feliciano Puno), so that should give you some idea. It was a very frustrating time.

...we were driving one night, and a bunch of kids were shouting "Marcos! Marcos! Marcos pa rin!" and I stuck my head out and shouted back "Sobra na! Tama na! Palitan na!" Mom and I would check the newspapers for accounts of what was happening in Manila. We both hated Bulletin Today. We both lapped up Malaya and Philippine Daily Inquirer.

...they called off classes on account of the trouble brewing in Manila. I remember waking up to the sound of the TV, and there was the Old Man himself, presenting someone who had blown the whistle on the plans of a coup attempt. He looked very confident, every bit the strongman. I didn't know what it meant, but Mom and Dad were riveted.

...I woke up one morning, very disappointed that there would be classes that day. Apparently, the First Family had flown the coop the night before and Things Were Going to Be Okay.

Twenty years ago, I slept through the whole thing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rise of the Macapagals

My original post associating a recent tragedy with the Philippine caste system is still generating some feedback, it seems. Torn and Frayed and {caffeine_sparks} have their respective comments, for which I am very grateful.

I was planning on writing a long response to assessing the reactions, but given the things on my plate, I have to put it off for a while. An interesting fact came up in the course of my research, though. A commenter by the name of Jamby pointed me to the Spanish system of polo and vandala, and not familiar with those terms, I looked them up.

Here's what I found, an excerpt from a text entitled From Datus Descended, the second chapter of the book The Pampangans by Prof. John Larkin.

Observing the changes in native society during the 194 years of Spanish control from 1571 to 1765, one cannot fail to note their continuity with pre-Spanish patterns or their slow evolution. This gradual adjustment of the Pampangs to the new regime over the course of nearly two centuries was possible because, the Spanish, deeply involved in the galleon trade, brought no social or economic revolution and were more than content to allow native political power to remain with the old ruling class. The province was merely an outpost of an empire which had already begun to stagnate in a near-medieval framework, and Spain, suffering from limited resources and vision, simply did not possess the personnel to plan a new course of development for Pampanga or to administer it properly. To convert the natives to Catholicism and have them remain loyal to the government in Manila was sufficient. The Pampangans expressed loyalty by supplying rice, lumber, and soldiers for the disposition of the colonial establishment and, once these obligations had been fulfilled, were left free to manage their domestic affairs.

This, I believe, merits further inquiry. I think it supports my supposition regarding caste systems.

But wait! It gets more interesting:

Pampanga was subject to three different taxes in the seventeenth century: the polo, the vandala, and the head tax (tribute). The polo was a system of corvée used primarily to build and maintain the Spanish defense fleet and harbor installations. Pampanga supplied woodcutters, shipbuilders, and various other laborers in fulfillment of the polo. The vandala was in essence a tax exaction of rice to feed the Spanish army and navy. Both the polo and the vandala were imposed extensively during the Dutch wars from 1608 but less and less frequently thereafter. There was no such abatement of the head tax because Manila continued to need rice and the head tax, usually paid in rice, was the city's main source of supply. In addition, there were continual demands for lumber. In 1707, for example, when the seminary of St. Clement was established in Manila, the Pampangans were called upon to supply the lumber. Moreover, many Manila galleons of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries were also constructed of Pampangan lumber.

Only once did anything happen to mar the Pampangans' record of loyal and valuable service to the Spanish up to 1896. In 1660 one group of woodcutters protested the polo, but a brief display of force by the Spaniards, government promises of amelioration, and the lack of support from most Pampangan leaders ended the unrest without a single battle or death. The Pampangan chief most instrumental in suppressing the woodcutters' revolt, Don Juan Macapagal, earned Spanish praise and trust and was called by them to lead (as Master of the Camp) a Pampangan contingent against the threatened invasion of the Chinese pirate Koxinga in 1662. Later he was awarded an encomienda by the king for his long and faithful service.

What do you think?

Monday, February 20, 2006

Text messages from under 30 feet of mud

The news carried stories of a schoolteacher buried in the mudslide sending text messages calling for help. The messages finally stopped at Friday 7PM.

It's a poignant story, but I'm wondering: is it possible? I would have thought that under all that mud, about 30 feet of it, you couldn't get a signal.

Just thinking.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Build your own Tux penguin

I got the outline from somewhere at

Like my shirts?

Now, you too can look like me! Ubuntu shirt available in cream and tan; Tux t-shirt available in cream, tan, ash gray, and blue.

Order page coming up soon!

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Linux Talk at Silliman

I gave a talk this morning to the instructors of the Department of Physics of Silliman University. It came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

Actually, it was supposed to be for the different departments, too. Sadly, the only person outside of the Physics department who came was from biology. I was really hoping for a broader audience. And to think that my contact at Silliman shooed away his students from the talk because he thought we would be full. Bugger!

Anyway, there was a funny exchange with the biology guy. He was asking about GIS systems, and I said there was GRASS. Available for free.

"For free?" he said, astounded.

"Yes," I confirmed.

"But GIS packages cost $15,000!" he cried out.

"Well, you can give me the $15,000."

"We don't have $15,000."

"Okay, I'll take what you have on you."

He he he.

I showed them how to use kalzium, kstars, kplot, and kig. I also showed them Mario's cool Celestia video. That really whetted their appetite.

And I demanded payment for the presentation, d*rnit! Enough of this "thank you very much and let me shake your hand and can we do this again next time" schtick. I told them that if they enjoyed the presentation, in payment they should conduct at least one similar lecture, preferrably to high school teachers.

Pay it forward, man.

...and just like that...

Over 3,000 of my countrymen are swallowed up into the earth. I don't know what to say, except that I am very sad.

I wish my surviving countrymen would learn sadness, too, and maybe out of that sadness will rise compassion.

Update: Visit your local parish or Red Cross office to see how you can help. See mlq3's blog for more information.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Lessons from ONIA 2005-2006

Rational Technology for Feb 19, 2006

With the presentation finals and awarding ceremonies held at Foundation University on February 17, Oriental Negros Innovation Awards 2005-2006 drew to a close. From an initial 28 entries in October last year, the pool of qualifying teams in the business plan competition narrowed down to the five.

The competing business plans were: a mosquito trap, an automated rice seedbed, charcoal briquettes, a prepaid Internet purchase card, and a sensor system with SMS-based notification.

In front of a panel of distinguished judges from the Asian Institute of Management and Teletech, as well as a broad audience from Dumaguete, the contenders made their last push for the prize. Each team had a member present a 90-second elevator pitch; thereafter, the business plan presentation and an intense round of question-and-answer with the judges.

Adjuged best business plan for this year was the automated rice seedbed, designed by students from the Asian College of Science and Technology. The seedbed would maintain the correct level of irrigation for a seedbed thereby maximizing grain yield.

Despite having been part of the Innovation Awards since its inception, this is actually the first year that I was able to sit in during the presentation finals. I was hopeful, but not quite sure what I was going to see. Would the contestants falter? Would they carry through with flying colors? Or something else?

The presentations are really an exercise in salesmanship. Essentially, the team is presenting their case for an investor to put money into their project. Therefore, the presentation has to be very convincing, with a lot of preparation and supporting material. A good business idea with a bad presentation will most likely fail to secure the funding; and a bad business plan will be...well, let's just say it'll be found out for what it is.

So how did this year's batch of innovators fare? Some did very well, the end result of clear thinking and good preparation. Some did not do so well. The judges certainly did not treat the contestants with kid gloves, and they asked all the probing questions which tested the validity of the contestants' statements and assumptions. I am happy to report that many of the contestants did not take it lying down and fought back with all the strength and smarts that they could muster.

Business plan discussion goes on, even after the contest.

Nevertheless, I think the learning experience was valuable for everybody, and I hope this year's contestants will have another go at it next year, bearing with them the lessons from this event. On my part, I did note some points which may be worthwhile considering for the next ONIA:

1) The main deficiency I've seen in the business plans was in the aspect of marketing. Marketing -- figuring out the best way to sell the product -- seems to be an afterthought and is thus the Achilles' heel during the presentation. Understandable enough since most of the participants were engineers and inventors. Now I wish the students taking up marketing would team up with the inventors next year so as to gain for themselves the valuable experience of rolling out a new product.

2) Related to the first point, the contestants also seem to have glossed over talking to customers to understand their requirements. As such, the product specifications were built on guesstimate assumptions. This lack clearly and consistently showed up in the judges' pointed questioning. Talking to potential customers, understanding what they want, is key to coming up with the right product.

3) The need to look outside of the confines of Dumaguete. I am not just talking about the target market for the products, but on the overall thinking in the formulation of the products and the business plans. Too often, the business plans start with Dumaguete assumptions, work with a Dumaguete deployment plan, and think in the metrics of Dumaguete. As a result, while the idea may be exciting, the vision and correspondingly the execution often becomes small and limited.

Now, some may object that this is a regional business plan competition. Indeed it is, but only in terms of its origin and base. One must still dream grand dreams.

These lessons apply not only to the contestants but also to us who organize and run the competition. Clearly something to remember for future Innovation Awards.

And really, I do hope there is another round of the Innovation Awards. The ideas were great, not your run-of-the-mill in-the-box thinking. Here you had people thinking about real problems, and finding innovative ways with which to solve them. Most of all, we've planted the seeds of what we can be.

Here's to the Oriental Negros Innovation Awards 2006-2007!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


She came into our lives in October 2005 to replace the void left by the passing away of our German shepherd Riley. She had been returned to the pet store by the previous owner because she wasn't eating. My sister took her anyway. With a little attention and affection, she grew healthy again.

It wasn't hard to love her. She was a sweet, intelligent puppy. She never bit, she could sense our moods, she always wanted to play. She never pooed or pissed in the house, she always pawed at the door when she needed to go. Her greatest joy was to bounce up to bed and snuggle up with my sister or my Dad.

And now...she's gone. Reese, we hardly knew ye. You will be sorely missed.

Inhuman behavior on TV

I got so upset watching TV last night that I just had to write this letter that I am sending to major newspapers. If you feel the same way, please help me get the word out.

I am not a regular television viewer, preferring instead to read books or surf the Internet for my recreation, but on occasion I do flip through the channels to see what's going on. Yesterday, I had the misfortune of watching a truly execrable scene of deliberate humiliation incompatible with basic human decency.

A young woman, as punishment for some trivial infraction, was ordered to break a raw egg on her own face. This she did so. Repeatedly. The others around her watched in smug satisfaction.

This scene, if you don't already know it, was played out on GMA's "Extra Challenge: Ang Tagapag-Mana." The program is a serial offender to morals and sensibility, having gone as far as to offend Muslims with their Dubai episodes. The scene played out yesterday represents a new low in the history of public television programming.

I truly don't know what message GMA is trying to impart with this program. The premise seems to be that several would-be heiresses are vying for the approval of a cruel matron with the view of receiving their inheritance. What is it trying to say? That it is acceptable to undergo humiliation of the worst sort just for money? That it is fitting that one should subject another human being to torture just to prove their love and loyalty?

What I do know is programming likes this contributes to the further degradation of our morals and the corruption of our psyche.

We have just experienced a national tragedy involving a so-called entertainment program. At the very least, the networks should have undergone a period of reflection on how they contributed to the events leading to that.

It seems that the lessons have not been learned, and that those 79 people died in vain. That is the real tragedy.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Virtual Valentine's Day

It's a tad difficult to celebrate Valentine's Day with your sweetheart when she's halfway around the world and there's a 12-hour time difference in between. But I suppose we manage as best as we can. Thank Heavens for GAIM, Skype, and the Internet!

Virtual roses:

Virtual breakfast-in-bed:

(That's hot chocolate, if you didn't know.)

And for virtual romantic tomfoolery...well, you'll just have to find what it's all about.

Invitation image was cropped and modified from Blogwaybaby.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Ifugao feet

I took this shot a year ago, on a rickety jeepney ride from Bontoc to Sagada. They belonged to an Ifugao woman. She was ferrying two bags of cement from the city to her place somewhere up in that mountain road.

What a sturdy pair of feet! I thought. How many miles might they have travelled? Up and down, up and down, through rocky, dusty paths, and always bare. I thought they were beautiful feet, a little like mine, though mine are not as wide.

The Ifugao woman had a beautiful smile, too. Very sweet.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Another 15 minutes of fame...and epiphanies

Philippine A-list blogger Manolo Quezon had some kind words to say for my long essay on the Filipino caste system. Thanks, sir!

This whole event actually got me to thinking about What's Wrong with the System and what I can do to help fix it. I think I finally have some answers.

Too long to lay out right now, but it involves all the things I like doing: Linux, libraries, literature, and maybe even a little bit of comics and art. Hmmm....

And that reminds me of an oft-quoted poem:
As I walked along the seashore, this young boy greeted me. He was tossing stranded starfish back to the deep blue sea. I said, "Tell me why you bother, why you waste your time this way. There's a million stranded starfish, does it matter anyway?"

And he said, "It matters to this one. It deserves a chance to grow. It matters to this one, I can't save them all I know. But it matters to this one, I'll return it to the sea. It matters to this one, and it matters to me."

I walked into the classroom, The teacher greeted me. She was helping Johnny study, he was struggling I could see. I said, "Tell me why you bother, why waste your time this way. Johnny's only one of millions, does it matter anyway?"

And she said, "It matters to this one, he deserves a chance to grow. It matters to this one, I can't save them all I know. But it matters to this one, I'll help him be what he can be. It matters to this one, and it matters to me."

Friday, February 10, 2006

The Last Wowowee Post

Rational Technology for Feb 12, 2006

In keeping with the season, I ought to write something about romance and technology, something I had been saving specifically for Valentine's week. Or I ought to write about street food culture, a topic which popped up in a conversation with a friend. Or, really, just about technology, of which this column is supposed to be about.

Instead, I find myself compelled to weigh in once more on the Wowowee tragedy. I've written about it twice already in my blog. And with the amount of eloquent commentary on the event, surely it's a waste of pixels and column space to flog the issue any further.

But I can't help it.

I find myself wondering why it has struck such a chord in my thinking. Not just me, apparently, as half the Filipino blogosphere has mentioned it one way or another.

It's not as if it's the first fatal stampede to happen in the Philippines. It's not as if we had a higher death toll than other stampedes elsewhere. It's just's the first stampede to involve a game show. Only in the Philippines, as they say.

It would be so comical if it weren't tragic. Thirty-thousand people, camped outside a stadium for days -- for days! -- leaving behind their occupations, just for a sliver of a chance at game show prizes. And in that merry atmosphere, a whisper of a rumor, a thoughtless announcement, a deluge of humanity, and then, death.

It rankles at the conscience because, for all the promise of call center careers, of the strengthening peso, of increased investor confidence, there's a slice of humanity for whom all these means nothing and will continue to mean nothing. The mirror of truth has been thrust at our faces, and we see that we're really not all that we thought ourselves to be.

It's easy enough to meet one of the Wowowee crowd and chalk up their misfortunes and misplaced hopes to laziness, to poverty, to misinformed choices, or to just plain bad luck. It's easy enough to chalk them up as an anomaly. It's easy enough to scoff at the statistics as the error of fudged numbers. But then to be suddenly faced with the reality of Wowowee? You know that something is terribly wrong.

The obvious and unimaginative reason behind Wowowee is desperation born out of poverty. These people, they say, were there because they wanted just a little bit of hope in an economic situation that was hopeless.

I will argue that this thinking is superficial and wrong.

Wowowee shows the fault lines along which our society is divided. To be sure, wealth and poverty are the primary distinctions, but these are merely symptoms and not the cause. I believe it is more than that: the very way of thinking, living, and acting between one side and the other has become so alien as to be near-irreconcilable.

Curse me as you will for being an insensitive and elitist clod, but I will say that there was nothing normal or decent about the crowd before, during, and after the Wowowee incident. Normal people do not spend a week waiting in line for a game show. Normal people do not fall over themselves over tickets. Normal people will not demand that the show go on over the bodies of the fallen. Normal people will not seek guaranteed participation in the contest as amends for their injuries.

This goes well beyond a simple case of poverty. People do not abandon decency just because they are poor. Rather, it's a way of thinking that has become so deeply ingrained in this section of society that it must have taken generations to form; that, in fact, it might have some historical basis, something heretofore ignored and unrecognized in the Malay distinctions of maharlikas, timawas, and alipins on which our customs and traditions are really founded. For what is the Wowowee crowd if not the ancient alipin cast forward in time? Endowed they may be with modern trappings, yet they still think like slaves.

Yet if there is nothing decent about the way the Wowowee crowd acted on that fateful Saturday morning, neither is there anything decent with their puppet masters acted before and after the tragedy. There is nothing decent in playing on the hopes of the desperate, simple folk; there is nothing decent in compensating the bereaved with P10,000 worth of cellphone load. There is nothing decent in which the blame is cast hither and thither; and there is nothing decent in the way they hope this will dissipate (as it surely will). But isn't that the way of kings? Endowed they may be with modern trappings, yet they are still disdainful of the dignity of those beneath them.

What of us who are neither maharlika nor alipin, but caught somewhere in between? Can we call ourselves normal and decent if we disclaim responsibility, laugh off this incident, and live our lives as we lead them?

Wealth and prosperity alone, I'm afraid, will not solve the problems of the Wowowee caste. Really, what is a million pesos if you still think and act like a slave? Only a brief respite in a vicious cycle of poverty.

If nothing else, they were there because their imagination failed them. They could not think of a dignity that goes beyond dependency on a smiling benefactor. They could not imagine a destiny which they could chart on their own. They could not write a story of their lives beyond what the untalented scriptwriters write for them. They do not have the capacity for self-expression beyond "mabait", "masama", "tulong", and "awa."

To lift them out of their malaise, we need to give them -- no, rather, they need to acquire -- that capacity for dignity, imagination, and self-expression. These are the gifts that are worth more, much more, than a million pesos. These are the gifts that people like Bill and Diane Pool of One Candle Schoolhouse, Anna Lou Suan and Sven Erich of GP Rehab, Yong Gyun Kim of Vortex, and so many others bring. We in the middle, these are the people we need to become.

And what of our modern-day maharlikas? They need to find a heart, and that, I'm afraid, is not nearly so easy.

A blast from the past

I was digging up some old posts to submit as samples for a regular writing proposal for a magazine. This is one of those which I selected, written circa 2001 at the height of the Microsoft FUD campaign against open source.

A Microsoft spokesman had just given a press conference dissing Linux. Joey Alarilla, my editor, asked me for a response. I was so fired up I wrote the entire thing in an hour, research and all. Actually, it wasn't that difficult. It really sort of wrote itself. I enjoyed writing it.

So now this unnamed executive is still making kaboodles of money selling licenses and stuff, and I'm sitting out here in this tropical island leading an idyllic existence and just blogging. Hmmm...who do you think made the right choice?

Ah, who cares about that? I got him, and I got him good.

Chasing Aristotle
Aristotle stands as one of the greatest thinkers in the annals of philosophy. Aristotle lived in ancient Greece more than two thousand years ago, around 300BC. He first studied under Plato, and later on went to establish his own school, the Lyceum. At a time when philosophy was synonymous with the sciences, Aristotle made great contributions in physics and biology. But that wasn't all: Aristotle also invented Metaphysics, systematized the study of Ethics, and advanced thought in Politics.

One of the contributions of Aristotle that still stands today is Logic. Logic is the science of thought, and Aristotle systematized it so thoroughly that the principles he outlined influenced the entire body of work of Western philosophy. It is from this intellectual heritage and discipline that we inherit the principles which we use in computer programming.

Far from being a dry and boring topic, Logic can be great fun, especially when you come to Fallacies. Fallacies are false conclusions stemming from incorrect reasoning, false premises, or misunderstanding of terms. The word fallacy itself comes from 'falla cia', the Latin term for deceit.

Logic seeks to uncover and avoid fallacies by means of well-formulated steps in reasoning. Starting from true beliefs and following the steps of Logic will always lead to a correct conclusion. In today' world of sound bites, emotional appeal, and industry analysts, a dose of Logic is sometimes the only way to cut through the fallacies to get to the truth.

Fallacies are best illustrated by example, as I will attempt to show you in the paragraphs that follow. Rather than lifting some well-used examples from the textbooks, I thought I would give it a more contemporary spin by using a news article that came out on the INQ7 web site not more than a week ago. The title of the piece is "Software Company Exec Says: Open Source may stop growth of local software industry" (, and it concerns a briefing given by executives given to local reporters.

An Alarming Conclusion
The reasoning that led to this alarming conclusion -- that open source may stop the growth of the local software industry -- was never clearly delineated in the article, but it seems to be premised on the fact that commercial software is responsible for creating millions of jobs. Thus, in syllogistic form:

Premise: Commercial software is responsible for creating millions of jobs
Premise: Open source software is not commercial software
Conclusion: Open source software will stop the growth of the local software industry

The conclusion above is false because it implies that commercial software alone has been responsible for creating those jobs; in fact there are several other factors that contributed to employment, e.g., government policy, venture capitalist funding, strong consumer purchasing power, etc.; this is the case of a Complex Cause, when the cause identified is only part of the entire cause of the effect. This false premise already invalidates the conclusion.

The commercial software-or-open source question that is being forced upon the audience is a fallacy of distraction, specifically, a False Dilemma, because only two choices are presented when in fact there may be three or more. For example, some companies may choose to employ both commercial and open source software as the need arises.

Furthermore, the argument appeals to motive in place of support, in particular, the fallacy of Consequences. The executive appeals to our fears, that if we support open source, the local software industry will die. It ignores the possibility that open source can actually create new jobs, for example, in the areas of education, support, and consulting.

Of course, I am being a bit unfair here because I am criticizing my summary of the article. To be fair, why don't we examine the statements of the executives themselves to test for fallacies. Diligent readers who wish to follow along can fire up their browser and use the Index of Fallacies ( as a guide. Ready?

With much passion, [the executive] argued that 'Commercial software model has an intrinsic value, and has been responsible for millions of jobs over the years.'

As discussed previously, this is a fallacy of Complex Cause. The executive also commits the fallacy of Ambiguity by Accent. The statement itself is true, but the emphasis on the phrase is used to suggest a meaning different from the content of the statement. No one is arguing that commercial software is one of the causes of employment, but by his passionate argument, he is implying that it is the only one.

Another...official went further, arguing that countries like Ireland, India and Israel have become software powerhouses because of the successful use of commercial software.

Again, another fallacy by Complex Cause, because other factors could have contributed to the prosperity of these countries. Also, it suffers from the fallacy of Hasty Generalization, because the representative sample consists of only three countries. The official does not make it clear: three countries out of how many?

Commercial software, particularly from said software company, has been around longer than open source software in the Philippines. Shouldn't we by now be a software powerhouse ourselves? If we have not been successful in their use, should not then part of the blame fall on the said software company who has had such a dominant presence in the country?

There are myriad reasons for the success or failure of a software industry in a country, and not all of them have to do with the type of software being used.

'If a government bets on open source alone it is dangerous,' [the director] for South Asia region, declared.'

Again, the fallacy of Consequences. Also implied in this statement is that the Philippine government is planning to bet on open source alone, when in fact no such move has been declared. What we have here is a Straw Man fallacy, because the speaker is attacking a non-existent position.

The official said "people get a little bit fixated on open source" that they fail to realize that certain studies have shown that the total cost of ownership of [his company's software] is lower than Linux.

The condescending bit -- that open source people are fixated -- is the fallacy called Argumentum ad hominem (argument against a person), because the speaker is assailing the judgment of people who are involved in open source. The next phrase is another fallacy, well, three fallacies in fact: Hasty Generalization, because it has not been proven that the TCO of commercial software is lower in all cases; Anonymous Authority, because the studies to support his argument have not been named; and Slothful Induction, because he concludes that the TCO of commercial software is lower in spite of the fact Linux imposes no license fees.

[The executive] argued that Linux is an "accumulation of various technologies" which does not have an organized support service.

The first part is another case of Ambiguity by Accent. No one is denying that Linux is an accumulation of various technologies; all operating systems are. But by his emphasis, he makes it out that being an "accumulation of various technologies" is a bad thing. The operating system manufactured by his company is also an accumulation of technologies: the IBM PC architecture, the Intel processor, video drivers, networking protocols, disk interfaces, etc.

The second part is a fallacy of explanation, that of Subverted Support (no pun intended) because the reason he claims -- that Linux does not have an organized support service -- is not true. Many companies offer Linux support: IBM, Red Hat, SuSE, and other smaller consulting companies.

The difference that a billion makes
He also pointed out that commercial software has been developed by companies which spend billions on research and development. Linux, on other hand, has grown out of the efforts of various developers all over the world and "people have to spend a lot of time in making the open source plumbing work."

At first, this looks like another fallacy of distraction by Consequence: again, he threatens the audience that they will spend a lot of effort trying to get Linux to work. It is also a case of Argumentum ad hominem, because he is questioning the quality of Linux simply because it grew out of the efforts of developers around the world.

The implications run much deeper, though. Let's deconstruct his argument. The executive is saying that software is only good and reliable if the company making it has spent billions (of dollars, presumably) on research and development. Let's assume that this is true. Where does this lead us?

There is no software company in the Philippines with a billion dollars to spend on R&D. Therefore, no matter it best efforts, no Philippine company will ever be able to make a product that is any good, because it didn't spend a billion dollars on research and development. So what difference does it make for us to have a software industry at all? We would only be able to participate in areas where the big software company didn't play; and if the big software company decided it wanted to enter that particular market, that's it for us. Perhaps the title of the original news article should then be "Commercial software may stop growth of the local software industry!"

The big contradiction
To me, the big contradiction is all the time, effort, and words that are being spent on discrediting Linux and open source. If these executives really and truly believe that open source is a disorganized movement, why all the fuss? If open source is as disorganized as they claim, then it should collapse in a few years, with or without their help.

On the flip side, if they can spend the time for a press conference to attempt to discredit open source, it might mean that there is something to open source after all. As we say in Bisaya: "Ang puno-ang ga-bunga ma-o ang gina-bato. (The tree that bears fruit is the one that is stoned.)"

I have only scratched the surface of the fallacious statements peppered throughout the article. There are several more that a close examination will reveal. I'm such a nice fellow that I won't deprive you of the pleasure of finding them yourself. Fire up a browser, follow the links, and enjoy. As they say in mathematics textbooks, "the proof is left as an exercise to the reader."

If you would like to know more about fallacies, I would like to point you out to a short story, "Love is a Fallacy," by Max Shulman. It was written in 1951, but it holds up pretty well and is still an enjoyable, witty, and elegant tale. You can do a search on Google, or you can find it at

Live long and prosper.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Flunk Mrs. Arroyo in geography

Philippine Daily Inquirer today carries a story about militant teachers and students complaining about Mrs. Arroyo's one-off stint as a grade school teacher. Rightly so, as the whole event was yet another useless photo-op with the sole intent of showing off. I would have liked to see her pull the same stunt at, say, UP.

However, my beef isn't really with the photo-op. She's playing president, and it's her prerogative. My beef is with the topic she was teaching.

I heard the whole thing on TV. Mrs. Arroyo was teaching geography. And she was gleefully asking the hapless kids: "Can anyone name me a country in the West? Malaysia? No, no, that's a country in the East. I need a country in the West."

I had to hand it to the kids. They were rising up to the challenge, spitting out names like China, Indonesia, and Thailand. Not bad for first graders. Mrs. Arroyo, of course, was swatting down their answers.

And you know what? She's wrong in her geography.

Just so you know, Mrs. Arroyo, Malaysia is west of the Philippines. And so are China and Indonesia (certain parts of it, anyway). By our reckoning, the United States is to the east, and Europe and Africa are to the west.

The East-West distinction you were trying to elicit is colonial, Eurocentric, and old. Ah, well, what can we expect from someone who's colonial-minded and old.

Picking on first-graders. Really, now! For shame!

I don't do Windows

I was taking advantage of the free WiFi at Robinson's Galleria last week. Cheapskate that I am, I didn't buy any of the overpriced coffee or cinnamon rolls that the shops were offering. Instead, I just parked myself at the tables of the food court near Yellow Cab Pizza. Several people have the same idea, too, so there's no shame in doing so.

I'm happily surfing away on my Thinkpad when a young couple comes to me and asks for help in setting up their WiFi.

"Anong gamit ninyo?" I ask them. "Windows ba?" (Well, d-uh! What answer was I expecting. Silly me.)


"Sorry, di ko alam ang Windows. Linux kasi ang gamit ko."

Yes, yes, so snooty, but at the same time so satisfying. Nevertheless, I did manage to help them out. And at the end, a final dig:

"Switch na kayo to Linux!"

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Filipino caste system and the Wowowee tragedy

I have a theory, but I don't think that you're going to like hearing it. Heck, I don't want to have to be the one to say it, but since no one else is saying it, I might as well be the one to voice it out.

Here goes.

All the pundits who say that the Wowowee tragedy is the result of the extreme poverty in the Philippines is wrong.

Rather, extreme poverty in the Philippines is the result of a Wowowee state of mind.

We have got the whole thing backwards. It's an ugly truth but the sooner we come to grips with this, the sooner we'll fix things.

But whatever do I mean?

Take a look at the buildup to the event itself. For three whole days, you had people camped out like refugees outside the gates of the Ultra stadium. No proper lodgings, no proper sanitation, no proper breathing space; and yet they persisted.

Alright, you may say, but isn't that a sign of how desperate people are? Kapit sa patalim, as the old Filipino saying goes.

I disagree.

The people who massed at Ultra had alternatives. To be sure, not very attractive ones, but they had alternatives nonetheless. Hungry people do not sit around for three days in a festive atmosphere waiting for a ticket to a game show; they go out looking for food.

Yet they chose to sit it out.

They were people of some means, otherwise they would not have made it there at all. They would not have lasted three days without some form of provisions. Again, I agree with you if you say they didn't have much; but I will disagree with you if you insist that they had nothing at all.

They chose to sit it out.

What kind of insane value system prompts such behavior? It is one that banks on patronage and entitlement, that thrives on false hopes and dependency, and that feeds on the simple, immature sense of good and evil in the universe at the same time disregarding the nature of actions and consequences.

This is the world of the alipin, the lowest class of the heretofore conveniently ignored caste system of the Philippines.

Caste system, you say? There is no caste system in the Philippines!

Ah, and that's where you're wrong. As you read these words you are probably sitting in a nice office or a condominium. As you look outside, you'll see the skyline of Makati or the glitzy lights of Greenbelt or Eastwood or Ayala Center or Matina Town Square. The harsh reality of the alipin is several times removed from your own, the product of sordid telenovelas and government mismanagement.

But think back to the time that you personally encountered the worst in your fellow Filipino. What did you see?

My own happened several months ago during a fire in downtown Dumaguete. The blaze was strong, but thankfully, by mid-afternoon, the flames were extinguished and the embers in control.

I stopped by to see how things were going. Already, people were leaving the area, some with disappointed looks on their faces.

I would have chalked that up to my imagination if I had not heard one of them grumble out loud:

"Ay, pota--! Wala nadayon!

Aw, son-of-a---. The fire didn't come through!

I don't know what was going through his mind. Was he disappointed because he wouldn't see the spectacle he was expecting? Was he expecting to come away from the tragedy with some loot? I don't really know.

I am reasonably sure, though, that this is exactly the type of person who would line up outside the Ultra for three days, push the crowd forward in the stampede, and cry foul when they cancelled the show on account of the deaths because that meant he wouldn't get his tickets.

This is not the normal behavior of people we, the more privileged ones, deal with on a daily basis.

Perhaps I should mention some more.

Last Christmas, the squatters' area beside a friend's house burned down. My friend's family was spared, thankfully, but the squatters' houses were totally gutted. Hours after the fire, when the embers had cooled down, they started rebuilding. Nothing wrong with that, just your everyday Filipino resiliency. Indeed, nothing wrong.

What got me was that they actually had the will and the money to spend for fireworks and drinks on New Year's eve. Tuloy ang ligaya! Life goes on.

I don't know about you. For me, the normal behavior would be to take stock of what I still had and what I had lost, perhaps be a little more reflective of life, and start saving up for rebuilding.

Revelry-as-usual, after such a disaster, is not normal for me.

Several years ago, I was having my hair cut in a barber shop near a squatters' area. For some reason, the barber had become my regular one. Though I would sit the session out in silence, I couldn't help but be shocked at the conversation I overheard.

"That Pedro is so hardheaded. He insists on going to the beach with his friends! What if he drowns? It would be better if he were run over by a car; that way we might be able to get some money!"

I don't know if it was a joke or not. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But even if it was a joke, I don't think money would be the foremost consideration in such an eventuality. That is not normal behavior.

Let's face it: these people are not like you and me. We live in one world, they live in another.

No, they're not bad per se. In fact, they are capable of suprising displays of tenderness and childlike simplicity at times. They just have a grossly distorted value system.

It's that value system that places material well-being ahead of everything else. It's that value system that defines a benefactor as "mabait, kasi tinulungan niya kami" (he's good because he helped us) on countless TV interviews. It's that value system which looks to immediate benefits, sacrifice for the future be damned!

You object: isn't this sort of thinking the result of extreme poverty?

Perhaps. But to this argument, I would add the element of time.

If every material possession were taken from you today, would you revert to such an existence tomorrow? How about next week? How about next month? How about next year? Would you find yourself lining up at the Ultra? Would you insist on getting your ticket as you stepped over the bodies of dead people?

Ask yourself -- sincerely! -- what you would be doing? Would you be demanding for that ticket?

Ah, you say -- maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next week, maybe not next month, maybe not next year -- but maybe after years and years of poverty and neglect, with no clear way out, such an action would be understandable. Maybe even I might find myself crying out for that ticket as I stood over a dead body.

And really, what have we just described -- years and years of poverty and neglect, with no hope, with no clear way out, living an existence that goes from hand to mouth -- but the lowest state in a system of castes?

It's easy to point out to the ineptitude of the government, the greed of businessmen, and the false hopes offered by the Church as the root causes of poverty. It's obvious!

What doesn't quite fit into the pattern is the fatalistic reaction to ineptitude, greed, and false hopes. Adding up years and years of oppression, the normal reaction would have been a bloody revolution. But where is that?

The revolution hasn't happened because the people who have cause to revolt have been inured to think that there is no hope, that the future does not rest in their hands, and that whatever change happens, things will still remain the same. So, indeed, why bother?

It's easy to point out to the Spanish administrators and the friars of the Catholic Church as the cause of this mentality. It's obvious! After all, weren't we enslaved by the Spanish?

Ah, but that's an erroneous fiction. Well before the Spanish came to the Philippines, slavery had been abolished in Europe. The friars, in fact, expressly forbade slavery. The closest that came to slavery was the encomienda system, which was really more of conscription as a defense against the Dutch invasion.

You might not believe me in this regard, but let me ask: if the Philippines was enslaved in the terms that we normally understand it, would Rizal have been able to travel to Europe? Would the ilustrado class have been able to exist?

Of course, this might be open to some debate. What is less so is whether or not slavery existed in the Philippines, because it did.

Slavery existed in the Philippines well before the Spanish came.

It wasn't quite the slavery that we normally associate with American slavery, possibly the nearest conception to the word we have today. It was a system of economic servitude whereby a person in debt would be required to render service to his debtor.

There was the aliping namamahay, who had his own house and who rendered service a few days in a week, a sort of a common laborer. And there was the more uniquely Filipino alipin sa gigilid (hearth slave) who stayed in with his master, a phenomenon which persists to this day with live-in househelp.

And what do you know, it was a class system that in structure was very similar to a caste system. To be sure, it was economic in nature rather than religious, but those divisions were all too real, and an integral part of Malay society then.

So, then, the question: aren't the people at the Wowowee tragedy just your modern-day equivalents of alipin?

Or maybe we shouldn't say modern-day equivalents? Maybe they still are alipin, with all the mental shackles and resulting economic disadvantages entailed therein.

It's not such an encouraging thought. We like to think of ourselves as a modern, liberal, and equitable society that gives everybody a fair shake at things. To a great degree, we are. We might like to think that we left these things behind in 2001, in 1985, in 1946, or even in 1898.

But did we, really? Take a good look. Isn't the pre-Hispanic class system still with us?

The problem, I think, is that we were never really able to address the class issue. The Spanish came and abolished its practice, but those ways of thinking never really left us. The monumental failure of the Spanish and the Church hierarchy was not that they introduced slavery, nor that they failed to abolish it, but because they failed to provide the proper closure to it.

The old class system was resolved by executive fiat, not through a gradual yet complete resolution.

The Spanish are gone, so now that failure lies with us.

The modern alipin class is filthy, disgusting, and does not at all fit within the pristine vision of what we want the Philippines to be. They are lazy, they are dishonest, they are drunkards, they are children of incest, and they breed like rats. They are every sort of disagreeable thing that we can think of. But they are convenient.

For politicians, they are a convenient and malleable source of votes, happy enough to exchange the future of their nation for a doleout here and a fiesta there once every three years. For the entertainment industry, they are a convenient and malleable source of ratings, happy enough to line up in droves at the promise of a prize or a glimpse of their favorite artista. For the well-meaning well-heeled, they are convenient balms to the conscience, ecstatic and smiling at receiving donations. And so we erect structures, consciously or not, to make sure that this alipin class persists.

Well-meaning members of society will forever be wondering why such a situation exists. After all, haven't they given enough values education? Haven't they handed out the contraceptive pills? Haven't they given this alipin class sufficient opportunities?

I say: you can't fix this problem until you understand its historical roots. You can't fix this problem until you recognize it for what it is: a persistent caste system that hangs on to our society like an overgrown cancer.

Like I said, this is just a theory. Like I said, you won't like hearing it. I don't like saying it myself, but I think it has to be said.

If you think all that I'm saying is pure baloney, you're welcome to send in your opinion. The comment button awaits.

But do try to think of what I'm saying the next time you read of some sordid tale in the tabloids. Is it really the product of economic desperation? Or is it something more deeply ingrained?

See also: The Last Wowowee Post

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Bread and Circuses

This morning's news broadcasts brought the grim story of a stampede at the Ultra Stadium in Manila. People were lining up for tickets at 6:00am and -- either someone pulled a prank about a bomb or the crowd just surged forward -- the stampede occured. Death toll as of tonight was at 79.

The story is tragic enough but it would not have been nearly so tragic if the reason behind it weren't so pitifully absurd.

The 30,000 people in the stampede were lining up for a popular noontime game show. They had been camped out at the stadium gates for days, just waiting for tickets. All for a chance at winning a million pesos.


Of course, the reactions in the aftermath are all too predictable. Government will call for an investigation. ABS-CBN, the television station that runs the game show, will pledge assistance to the victims. Showing their total lack of decorum, they will nonetheless proceed with show but dedicate the proceeds to the dead and the injured. Wowowee, indeed.

The media giant will most likely disclaim responsibility for the accident. This, despite the fact that their guards are poorly trained at crowd control. This was an accident that was waiting to happen.

Whatever they might claim, ABS-CBN is responsible; and so is GMA. So are all their organizers and their sponsors. In fact, we all are, because we've allowed something like this to fester and grow.

The matter goes beyond simple crowd control measures. It has to do with noontime game shows in general and the weakenesses that they prey on and perpetuate in the Filipino psyche. The noon time game shows promise the chance of a big bucks for one chosen from among the crowd. All this without any supposed effort, with the simple expedient of fun and games at the expense of their dignity.

These shows are deliberately cruel. For entertainment, they inflict psychological terror on the final contestant. Would you choose this sure P80,000? Or would you choose X, which could either be P1,000,000 or P100? Back and forth, back and forth it goes, the hosts threatening to reveal the prize then withdrawing it at the last moment. And the poor contestant, probably earning no more than P60,000 in a year, is placed in a moral vise and wrung out for all to see.

The game used to be fun, back when it was played for fun. Then the networks upped the ante, and the advertisers followed suit.

Sometimes, the shows can be physically cruel, too. Once, I saw a show where they encouraged the audience to toss around a big box containing numbers. A prankster tried to run off with the box. The studio guards swooped down on him, beating him down with sticks. No one complained. Wowowee, so much for human dignity.

ABS-CBN and GMA have become masters at arranging these mass spectacles, drawing crowds in the tens of thousands. In fact, they revel in it, using it as ammunition in their network war. And the nation whoops along gleefully, enjoying the spectacle.

No wonder we can't get our act together: we're too busy waiting for that golden ticket; we're too busy savoring the suffering of others. All in the name of entertainment.

Wowowee, indeed.

It's high time we put a stop to these game shows. Not just for the physical danger that they present, but for the moral decay that they purvey.

Ban game shows now!

Also read Oli Mercado's comments.


Let's say that you had a business idea that was so good that someone bought it from you for $600-M. What would you do for an encore?

Mark Shuttleworth, in tie. Picture courtesy of Charo Nuguid
The situation and the amount seems highly improbable, like something out of a novel, that the question itself seems absurd. Encore, indeed! As if you would need one!

But that, in fact, is what happened to Mark Shuttleworth, a young South African technopreneur. Barely out of the University of Cape Town in 1995, Shuttleworth started, Thawte Consulting, an Internet security company in his native country. Thawte soon focused on digital certificates, what e-commerce web servers and browsers use to secure transactions. Thawte was the leading digital certificate authority outside of the United States and was certainly the fastest growing one until it was acquired by Verisign in 1999 for the cool figure of $575-M.

All this when Shuttleworth was all of 25 years old.

Since that achievement, Shuttleworth has gone on to do two other projects for which his worldwide renown has grown.

The first is the more spectacular. In April of 2001, after several months of training, he joined the Russian Soyuz TM-34 mission to the International Space Station. Passage for the trip set him back by $20-M. While it may seem frivolous at first glance, Shuttleworth became the first South African in space, a fact which did his country proud. While in the space station, Shuttleworth also performed experiments designed by South African scientists.

The second is more low-key but has a far-ranging global effect. In the 1990s, Shuttleworth had been involved in Linux development. In 2004, through his company Canonical Ltd., he funded the development of Ubuntu, a user-friendly version of the Linux operating system. This endeavor takes up 95% of Shuttleworth's time as he is deeply involved in several aspects of the project.

While he admits that he has yet to turn a profit for his investment in Ubuntu, it does look like it has the beginnings of a new and successful business model. That change is, in fact, already happening: Ubuntu has won several awards and is one of the fastest growing distributions of Linux today.

These aren't the only things that Shuttleworth has done for his encores, though. Decidedly low-key, but no less effective, is his work back in South Africa. Shortly after his windfall, Shuttleworth set up HBD Venture Capital, which seeks out and funds innovative ideas in South Africa. His Shuttleworth Foundation is focused on improving education in South Africa. On the side, there is HIP2B2 (pronounced "hip to be square"), a branding effort to make science and math cool among the younger set.

For all this, Shuttleworth remains soft-spoken, idealistic, and a genuinely nice fellow. I had a chance to meet him last week in Manila as part of his blitz tour of Manila, and I asked him about the life-changing event that was Thawte. "I was very lucky," he said simply, "I was at the right place at the right time."

Switching to fanboy mode, I had him autograph a couple of CDs. Message: "Follow your dreams."

When you have that much class, you don't really need to think about encores. It sort of naturally flows.