Saturday, April 29, 2006

Malagos Garden Resort in Davao

It's only lately that I've broken out of the typical mold of being largely ignorant of the places of interest close to where one lives. So today, I took a tour of the Malagos Garden Resort.

Malagos is about an hour's drive away from downtown Davao on the road to Bukidnon. It's a bit past Calinan, one of the tributary towns to Davao City.

Malagos Garden Resort is a resort of a slightly different sort. It features guest rooms, restaurants, and convention halls, but breaking a bit out of type (for the Philippines, anyway), it's not situated in a beach. Instead, it sits in a 12-hectare park that's part orchid garden and part aviary.

According to the brochure, "it is the first property in the Philippines and the 39th in the world to be certified in the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Business and Properties of Audubon International, a worldwide environmental organization based in the USA."

All in all, it's a pretty decent experience. I only have two gripes. First, the entrance fee of P100 per adult (P75 on weekdays) is a little steep; and second, I missed the garden tour and the bird show. So my advice is: before one visits, one should make sure of the schedule of activities first so as to maximize on the entrance fee.


There are a number of sights to see, like this hawk.

And then there are the ostriches. The sign here says to be careful as they have a tendency to grab shiny objects like glasses and cameras.

I think these birds are used to having humans around, though. Not a sign of fear as I peered into their fence. I suppose I was the one who was a little apprehensive. Look at those feet!

And then there's also a nice-looking chicken. But that one's for Gerry Alanguilan.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dumaguete Writers' Workshop

This afternoon, I received a call. It was from Dr. Edith Tiempo's secretary. She told me that I was a fellow in the Dumaguete Writers' Workshop. This, while I was browsing toys at Gaisano Mall.

Strangely enough, I started out very calm about the whole thing, the only indication of excitement the big smile that was spreading on my face. It might have been because I didn't make it to the roster last year, so I had been steeling myself for another disappointment. Then, quite the opposite happens.

So it looks like three weeks of my life will be dedicated to literary...stuff, with what I think is my best work ripped to shreds in front of my very eyes. Gasp! And...I'm afraid I'm too polite to do any ripping of my own.

Now I'm getting apprehensive. Shudder. Should I back out?

Then again, this is something I had been hoping to be part of for a long while. And I won't feel complete as the Dumagueteno I could have been if I didn't participate in this venerable institution. So really, I wouldn't have it any other way.

To reward myself, or possibly because my judgment had been impaired by the suppressed giddiness, I bought this threesome:

Image from Big Bad Toy Store

The list of fellows, as texted to me by Ian:

Poetry:

Michellan Sarile
Andrea Teran
Darwin Chiong
Ana Neri

Essay:

Patricia Evangelista
Noel Pingoy

Story:

Antonio Habana
Erika Cabanawan
Douglas Candano
Larissa Suarez
Dominique Cimafranca

Countryside Wanderlust

Rational Technology for April 30, 2006

My countryside wanderlust started last year when I found myself in Olongapo with a few days to myself minus any definite plans. Consulting a guidebook, I hopped on a bus to Baguio and convinced a friend to travel with me to Bontoc, Banawe, and Sagada. We made no prior arrangements, took only public transportation, and sought lodging and food as we arrived in each destination. Needless to say, it was a glorious adventure.

Close to a year later, the urge was on me again. Personal business in Manila provided me with the opportunity; after a quick and satisfactory resolution, I hopped on a bus to Vigan. Like last year, this was to be a trip with no definite plan; but as my friends were all occupied, this would be a trip I would be making alone. Destination: the general direction of Vigan and other parts of Ilocos.


My journey started with the night bus to Vigan. The trip took eight hours, the bulk of which I spent sleeping sitting upright. Perhaps it was just as well, because at those odd moments that I groggily found myself awake, I could see that our driver was speeding on that dark highway at more than 100kph. It was always a good time to close my eyes and drift back to sleep. If I should die before I wake...and all that.

Daybreak, and Vigan. What can I say about the place? It was as if I had entered a time warp of sorts, back to the glory days of Spanish traders and administrators. Vigan's claim to fame is its history, and it is doing its best to preserve it and capitalize on it. Heritage houses double as inns and hotels; calesas ply the routes of Calle de Crisologo; and Plaza Burgos and the Cathedral of St. Paul continue to be the hub of activity. Strolling down the old streets and feeling the ancient walls is enough to soak in some history. Simply said, I loved it.

The following day, I headed on to Laoag, which provided a contrast of sorts. While the towns on the way to the capital of Ilocos Norte struggled and achieved some sort of vibrancy, Laoag itself felt a little old and stagnant. Laoag itself had only a few historical attractions, and seemed to lack for newer ones. There was no night life to speak of, and its commerce seemed no better than Dumaguete's. Could it be, I wondered, that it found itself stuck to the glory days under its most famous son some thirty years past?

It took a visit to the sturdy Boreador lighthouse, the magnificent Paoay Church and the eerie sand dunes of Suba to convince me of the wonders that Ilocos Norte had to offer. But all too quickly, my visit was over, and once more I was on a bus to Manila by way of Baguio.

To be sure, there are quicker and more comfortable means of travel to these distant places, but there's no better way to appreciate the countryside than aboard a bus. There are cheaper and safer ways of finding decent accommodation, but there's no better way to appreciate your countrymen than to seek help from kind strangers. In the same way, there is no better way to appreciate your country than when you experience it firsthand.

And that was the reason behind my countryside wanderlust. Too often, our view of our country is limited to the towns and cities we live in, and further narrowed within the confines of broadsheets and small screens. Our intellectuals have denounced our Spanish heritage and our Catholic culture that we might "move forward" -- move forward to what exactly is never made clear. Our political leaders have put our country in hock for their own gain, and they have the gall to tell us to learn English so we can bring in the dollars. We've divested ourselves of our identities; that, I think, is why we feel so lost as a people.

That is why I hopped on that bus to an unknown destination and onto the mercies of strangers: that I might get lost, and in the process, find myself again.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Lies, Damned Lies, and Belinda Cunanan

Rizalist suggested an old-fashioned means of responding to Ms. Belinda Cunanan's column piece entitled "Nine million hits for Sigaw website". I'm responding to that challenge. Call it the online equivalent of heckling which, I believe, is the appropriate response to Mrs. Arroyo's antics.

Dear Editor:

Ms. Belinda Olivares-Cunanan's column piece entitled "Nine million hits for Sigaw website" gave me a much-needed laugh as I read through your opinion pages. Nine million hits indeed! It's a wonder that Raul Lambino and company aren't lending their expertise to search engine optimization; they could be earning seriously big money in Internet consulting.

But the truth is that such a claim is simply preposterous. Some simple poking into the the sigawngbayan.com domain name reveals that they are using Yahoo, and the professional hosting plan lists a maximum of 1.2 million visitors per month.

As per Ms. Cunanan's estimates, we have nine million Internet users in the Philippines? The CIA World Fact Book counts only 7.82 million users as of 2005. Ms. Cunanan erroneously equates a web site hit with a visitor.

It would have been more credible if the Sigaw ng Bayan web site had a legitimate measuring tool like Site Meter posted on their web site. Unfortunately, Mr. Lambino and company have conveniently ignored this and we are simply supposed to believe their claim of 326,119 total site visits -- not 9 million -- since April 8, 2006.

Even if Sigaw ng Bayan did have 9,000,000 hits, what of it? Does every visitor to the web site indicate assent to Charter Change? My goodness! Maybe I shouldn't have visited their web site at all! What of foreign visitors who may have stumbled onto their web site? Do we count their visit as a vote in favor of charter change?

A true test of the popularity of a web site is the number of other sites that link to it. You can do this on Google by typing in link:sigawngbayan.com in the search bar. The result for Sigaw ng Bayan is a resounding "zero." In this regard, Mr. Lambino and company flunk as search engine optimization consultants.

But they do succeed as comedians. They made me laugh.


Sincerely,
Dominique Gerald Cimafranca
villageidiotsavant.blogspot.com

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Attention Davao: Use Linux!


Alright, so the title of this post is a little misleading. But I thought I'd get that message out to all the people who attended my networking session this afternoon at the Marco Polo Hotel here in Davao. The seminar was organized by PC Magazine Philippines and sponsored by Intel and Microsoft. There's a small story here, so you'll have to bear with me.

I was in Baguio last Friday when I got a call from Art Ilano, editor-in-chief of PC Magazine Philippines. They were conducting the Davao leg of their IT roadshow for small- and medium-sized businesses. For some reason, Microsoft couldn't provide them with speakers for the sessions on security and networking, and could I please handle those topics?

Now, I was supposed to head back to Dumaguete on Monday but I hadn't been to Davao in months, so I readily acceded. Everything was all set. I got my plane ticket on Sunday, thanks to the valiant efforts of Aimee, one of the staff of Hinge Publications.

On Monday, I got a text message from Art that made me chuckle: Microsoft was one of the sponsors, and could I keep my talk "safe?" Ah, my reputation precedes me! Of course, I said, it's poor form to embarrass the sponsors. So no bashing of any sort; and I even resolved not to mention the L-word at all.

It's been a long time since I've been involved in any major seminar with lots of vendors. It was a pleasant experience to be sitting once more in the speakers' table and enjoying all the amenities afforded to speakers. I even made some new friends among the wonderful support staff of PC Magazine as well as with the folks from Intel and Microsoft.

It was just so liberating not to be having to sell anything, moreso because I could be completely honest and frank with the folks. I don't know, I always felt constrained to put the best foot forward when I was still working for IBM and Digital Equipment, and I think I sacrificed my flexibility and a bit of my honesty. Well, no more of that! All you get now is Dominique Cimafranca, unedited and unabridged. And if I don't know, I won't tell you "I'll get back to you" anymore; I'll just say "I don't know" and that's that.

My talk...well, let's just say I was pretty pleased with how it went. I spent most of yesterday afternoon, immediately after arriving from the airport, preparing my slides. I took a pattern-based approach and simplified things as much as I could. Audience response, I think, was quite positive.

I did promise not to mention the L-word, and I swear that I didn't. But I couldn't resist some publicity for open source anyway, and so I mentioned PHP, MySQL, and PostgreSQL.

And since I told everyone to visit this blog to download the presentation file, all those folks should be coming here soon. Maybe. And if they're reading all this, well, this is me, unedited and unabridged.

Yes, I promised to not to mention Linux so as not to embarrass the sponsor, but this is my blog you're viewing now.


Let me take this opportunity to say what I couldn't say earlier: use Linux! It's cheaper, safer, more flexible, and it's open! You might have a hard time getting used to it at first, but it's well worth the effort. And you won't have Microsoft and the Business Software Alliance breathing down your neck about your licenses.

Use Linux! It's good for you!

There, I've gotten that out of my system.


Now, back to our regularly scheduled program. Here's the link to my presentation in PDF format: Keeping Your Organization Connected: Networking for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses.

Enjoy!

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Baguio...and civilization!

The fellow at the Partas bus station told me that the trip from Laoag to Baguio would take about six hours. In reality, it was closer to eight. And that really threw my plans out of whack: the reason I wanted to swing by Baguio was to break what was a long 11-hour trip into two and decompress for a few hours in the City of Pines. As it turned out, I arrived at around 5:30pm, leaving not much time for taking in the sights.

Fortunately, my friends Mario and Mantha had a warm welcome for me in the form of stir-fried pork-and-pineapple and java rice (picture to follow later). Simply delicious. Not satisfied with that, Mario and I headed off to Volante for pizza after dropping off Mantha.



I couldn't get a bus back to Manila earlier than 12:40am, so Mario and I whiled away the time at Nevada Square, the popular hangout for yuppies and students in Baguio. Young people and...lechers. Mwa ha ha.
Nevertheless, the experience was worthwhile. It gave me some ideas for Dumaguete....

Paraiso ni Juan

Or literally, the Paradise of Juan. The time I alloted myself for catching what sights I could around Laoag was up, and so I caught the bus to Baguio. I thought I was done with wonder for the moment, and then I came upon this beach a few kilometers south of Vigan. The water was clear, and the beach was dotted with huge volcanic rocks.

Several people were bathing. And there were these two young innocents exploring the beach.

I really couldn't make it out but it looked like someone had set up a shrine on top of a large rock formation further out into the water.

Paoay Lake and Suba Beach

After Paoay Church, I hired a tricycle to take me to Paoay Lake and Suba. First stop was the lake, a large body of water that retained some level of vibrancy. Proof of vibrancy on the lake was this fisherman making his morning rounds.

After the lake, my driver and I headed over to Suba. I was unimpressed with the beach until I rounded the bend and came upon the sand dunes. It was yet another jaw-dropping experience: a huge expanse of rolling dunes, desolate save for some patches of hardy vegetation. It felt like it was a piece of desert magically transported to Ilocos.

Paoay Church


I was a tad disappointed with Laoag City itself. There simply wasn't anything to do, and the city just seemed stagnant. I was all set to leave for Baguio on the first available bus on Friday morning. However, a couple of text exchanges with Kathy, Sacha's sister, convinced me to at least give a couple of sights in the nearby area a quick look.

That's exactly what I did. I took an early morning jeepney to Paoay. 'Twas a long ride, and all the while, I had misgivings about the time.
Then I saw it, and my jaw fairly dropped: Paoay Church.

The architecture of Paoay Church follows what they call "earthquake baroque", and it is truly massive. The informational plate reads:

Parish founded by Augustinian Missionaries, 1593. Cornerstone of church laid 1704; of convent, 1707; of bell tower, 1793. Used before completion and kept in repair by the people under the joint auspices of the Church and the town officials. Inauguration ceremonies 28 February 1896. Church damaged by earthquake 1706 and 1927. Tower used as observation post by Katipuneros during the Revolution, by guerrillas during the Japanese occupation.


This photo should give an idea of the scale. It was just stunning.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Pagudpod


After the lighthouse, on to Pagudpod! Pagudpod is a sleepy town whose claim to fame is Saud, a white sand beach with pristine waters. From the town proper, it was another tricycle ride to the beach.

Saud Beach was picture perfect. Just look at the windswept coconut trees and the expansive curve of the cove. However, water really isn't just my thing, so after taking a few pictures, I decided to head back.


The electric windmills of Bangui, which we passed along the way, were a sight to see, though. I wish I could have gone down for a closer look. But maybe next time.

Tomorrow, Baguio!

Borregidor Lighthouse



The ride to Laoag was a rustic vista of ricefields and mountains, but I'm afraid I'm a little disappointed with the city itself. I suppose it might be because of the historic euphoria I'm still feeling from Vigan.

In any case, I decided to skip exploration of the city and head directly for Pagudpod. I checked into a very low-end but passable hotel, The Texicana, and made a beeline for the minibus station. I told the conductor to drop me off at Burgos, specifically, Borregidor, where my friend Angeli recommended a stop at a lighthouse.

What a sight it was! Jutting out of the Borregidor hillside and standing majestically tall was the lighthouse. I eagerly made the climb on the well-paved road going up to the structure, half-wishing I had my bike with me. But really, it wasn't that much of a climb, though the midday heat was intense.

I almost missed the caretaker, who it turns out was also Coast Guard, and whose job it was was to turn on the light every night. Luckily, I did catch him on my way out, and so he opened the door for me and I got to the top of the lighthouse.
The view from above was spectacular!

One last look at Vigan


The night I spent at Villa Angela would have been very comfortable if it weren't for the mosquitos that were munched on my leg occasionally throughout the night. Thank goodness for Sanitary Balm! That said, the bed was comfortable and there were no ghosts that interrupted my sleep.

I woke up early and took another walk down Calle de Crisologo, which I know I am going to miss. It was just a little after dawn and so the street was quiet, with just a few folk on their morning errands. I think this is what it might have been like a hundred years ago. It was just lovely.

I got as far as the plaza and took a few more pictures.
Then, it was back to Villa Angela for a hearty breakfast. I got a few travel tips for my journey to Laoag from the caretaker. Then, I was off.


Well, one last look for now. I do plan on coming back.

iBlog2

Rational Technology for April 23, 2006. Apologies for the lack of completeness, as I am writing this in a cybercafe in Laoag, hoping to catch my Metro Post deadline.

Of last year's first iBlog conference, I wrote: "You know that a movement has come of age when the first major conference is announced. Such is the case for blogging in the Philippines with iBlog: The 1st Philippine Blogging Summit." A little less than a year later, just last April 18, we have the sequel, iBlog2.

If iBlog was about coming of age, iBlog2 is about the quest for maturity of this new communications medium. That much was evident in the content of this conference. Instead of one main hall session, the organizers opted to divide it into breakout sessions to accommodate the different interest groups. These, too, were reflective of the state of blogging over the past year.

Mirroring the rise of blogs as alternative means for exchange of political commentary, there was a Political Blogging Panel with Inquirer columnist Manolo Quezon III and Davao City councilor Peter Lavinia. MLQ3 spoke about respect for ideas, blogging personalities, and the perils of groupthink. Councilor Lavinia talked about blogs as a means for participative government (and I hope our own councilors are reading this).

Equally significant was the track on the legal aspects of blogging. Now that blogs have gained some measure of credibility, it has now caught the eye of the mainstream personalities. The downside, of course, is that the possibilities of libel cases loom larger than before; as such, bloggers have to take care to traverse this minefield. Similarly, issues on intellectual property rights also become more relevant.

And the financial aspect of blogging also matures. The problogging track discussed the ways and means by which people can earn money from blogs. Working either as syndicated writers for blog networks or as independent bloggers, bloggers can actually make serious money from their passion. Some bloggers, I found out, earn as much as P85,000 per month just from ad revenues alone. Clearly something to think about for the bloggers of Dumaguete.

Other tracks at iBlog: Personal Blogging, Media Blogging and Podcasting, and Art and Literary Blogging.

Particularly significant for this conference was the keynote delivered by Rebecca McKinnon, former reporter for CNN who set up Global Voices. Ms. McKinnon pointed out to blogs as the nascent voice of democracy in Southeast Asia, a topic that is becoming increasingly relevant in these times.

Also happening at the time of this writing is the Free Expression in Asian Cyberspace conference.


For more information on the proceedings of iBlog2, please go to http://www.iblogph.org.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More of Vigan

After lunch, I headed up to the Spanish-American Friendship Park. Things could have been in better condition, but on the whole, the facilities were passable.

I wasn't planning on staying long, but it was pleasant and quiet, so I stayed to nap a bit and read a book afterwards. There were a few other people, but we all stayed in our own kiosks at a distance from each other.
After the park, I dropped by the jar factories. Not really my thing, but I did like the geometric patterns formed by the stacked jars.

I passed through the Crisologo Museum. Lots of interesting memorabilia, but I just couldn't help but fall back to my distrust of Great Men. Yes, the late congressman was a real achiever, but...I don't know, I just don't like Old-Time Politics.
Then, once more through Calle de Crisologo, where I caught some guys practicing their fancy drills. This street, I think, accounts for much of the charm of the Heritage Center. I wonder if we can't do something similar in Dumaguete.

And, of course, after a long walk, you just have to sit down.

More tomorrow.

Getting Lost in Vigan


Yup, I'm in Vigan today. I took the midnight bus last night and arrived here at a little before 8:00am.

Last night was a little adventure in itself. After dinner with the gang post-iBlog2, I rushed to Makati to shower, get my gear ready, and headed back to Cubao to the Dominion Lines station. I got there well before 10:30pm, when I thought the bus was supposed to leave, and then I learned that the actual schedule for departure was 11:30pm. I was close to calling it off, but I persisted.

Eventually, I did get a ticket (P540) and I did get on. I slept through most of the way, banging my head against the window sill in the process. But no permanent damage done.

First order upon arrival was to find lodgings. Upon some friends' recommendations, I opted for Villa Angela. I realize it was pricier than other hotels for the quality of room I was getting -- no airconditioning and a common bathroom -- but it's ambience couldn't be beat. Ah, never mind, it's just a night, after all.

Strangely, I feel very comfortable in Vigan's surroundings. It must be my small-town mindset. I absolutely love it here! Even Villa Angela, which some of my friends might describe as spooky, has a certain familiar allure.

So far, I've visited the St. Paul's Cathedral, the adjoining museum, and the Burgos museum. I've also had the requisite empanada at food court near the plaza.

I've also walked along Crisologo Street, famous for its antique shops. I really like how the city has preserved its Spanish-era atmosphere. I can just walk the streets and suck in the history.

I should be exploring the city more, but the heat is just unbearable. That's why I decided to duck into the cafe to post some of these articles. But the speed here is just atrocious!

Tomorrow, Laoag!

At the iBlog2 Conference

Tuesday was a very busy day. My dad, sister, and I had a morning appointment with the US embassy for our visa renewal interviews. I wish there was something significant to write about it but, as anyone who has gone through it knows, it's really just queues and lines and waiting...until that dreaded moment of verdict.

We came in prepared with financial records and business documents, but really, all the interviewer did with us was dig up the photos from our earliest passports. "See that?" he said to my sister, pointing to her picture at eight years old: "that's what your father sees everytime he talks to you."

Needless to say, we got our visas.

Then I rushed to UP for the iBlog2 Conference. I arrived very late, just in time for Jonas Diego's final spiel of his talk. I snuck in the back, and who should I find myself seated beside but Dean Jorge Bocobo! We chatted away like two schoolkids at the back of the class, earning dirty looks from a middle-aged lady seated close to us. He he, but really, what did you expect?

It was good to see Sean, Marcelle, Clair, Cathy, and Charo again. Sean had to leave early, but Ealden and Gelo joined us later. I also got to meet Annalyn Jusay, Jove Francisco, and Punzi but sadly, I wasn't able to catch MLQ3 and Ellen Tordesillas. Other folks I met up with: Janette Toral, Von Totanes, JJ Disini, Emer Banzon, and several other old friends. (I'm writing this in a Vigan cybercafe, so links to follow).

Next, I attended the blog monetization talk, of which Charo was part. The talk gave me good ideas for a future Rational Technology article. I'm not quite sure if I'm ready to be a problogger, though.

After the event, Clair, Marcell, Charo, Gelo, and I sauntered over to one of UP's grill joints for dinner.
Heated conversation about the conduct of the iBlog 2 conference devolved into a forkfight...inevitably.

Of course, we were able to patch things up for a friendlier group shot later on.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

iBlog 2


Yup! I'm going to iBlog2. It might not have been possible if it hadn't coincided with my US tourist visa interview, but it so happened that it did. Sadly, I will have to miss the morning session.

The timing is just perfect, too, as I just rolled out my new Blogger.com template that I am so proud of. Some more tweaks coming up, but I think I'll leave it as it is right now.

And after that: Vigan!

See you all soon!

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Good Friday Mischief: Return to Casaroro

Still on Good Friday....

I offered to take my visiting friends up to Forest Camp in Valencia. They were planning to head on to Casaroro Falls, though how they would get there wasn't as yet clear. I had firmly made up my mind: if they were going to walk, I would just wait in Forest Camp...for all of the 10 minutes it would take them to come back and find another way.


Fortunately, these were sensible folk, and they opted to take the easy way up: the Forest Camp jungle truck.


I think you will not find a more macho looking truck anywhere else in Dumaguete. Its very design cries out "The Phantom" and "Indiana Jones." The engine hood opens up wing-style. And look at the macho-looking axe and shovel on the side!

So it didn't take us long to hit Casaroro Falls. I didn't realize the way going up was so dusty, though, and our macho jungle jeep was raising up clouds and clouds of dust.

And at Casaroro, down we went. Our driver told us there were exactly 335 steps from the entrance to the bottom of the valley, a fact confirmed by one of my friends when she counted each step coming back up.


It was so much more fun to be at the falls with some company. They were a boisterous bunch, stopping to take pictures everywhere, like on the suspension bridge. More daring than I, my friends took a dip in the pool.



As for me, I was content with hopping from rock to rock and meditating by taking in the soothing sussuration of the waterfalls. You really didn't think I was just going to stay home this Good Friday, did you?

Good Friday Mischief: Biking to Sibulan

After my parish's Way of the Cross, I found myself with a big chunk of time with nothing to do. And I was on a bike. Mmmmm, dangerous combination.

Not quite feeling like going up to Valencia, I opted to go to Sibulan, the next town up north. It was close by, but I had never gone there on bicycle because I didn't like taking the highway. Since it was Good Friday, I thought traffic wouldn't be as heavy.

Travelling to Sibulan y was good exercise, just enough to make me sweat, but nothing overly strenuous. I got as far as the port where all the boats going to and coming from Santander in Cebu would dock.


For a moment, I was very tempted to cross over to Cebu island, but the man at the ticketing office said they weren't sure if there were any boats coming back. I was raring for an adventure, but I thought that the price I might pay would be just too high. So I just opted for some photos.

On the way back, I didn't take the highway. Instead, I took an alternate road going through Barangay Magatas (yes, that is it's name, and I think it means "milky") and Camanjac. Very rough road, but at least level all the way.

I was happy.

Good Friday Goodness: Processions


Having decided to join the community Via Crucis of our parish this year, I was feeling a little proud that I was already biking my way to our church at 5:30am. Yup, I was up pretty early!

And then I got to Hibbard Avenue.

Over in the distance, I could see what looked to be a throng of people. Yes, some people had already started their Way of the Cross. From the time, it looked like this was the contingent from the Cathedral. They covered a section of Hibbard like one big mass. I should have turned back then and there, but I was enthralled. I just had to go for a closer look.

Oh, yes, it was the Cathedral contingent alright. They had just done one station and were already heading my way. I parked my bike to politely give way to the devotees; after all, one does not argue with a crowd.

One minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Eight minutes. The number of people marching through had not thinned out at all, so I wiggled my way through so I could head on over to my own Way of the Cross.

Still, I was a little bit in shock at the number of people that were passing through. There were thousands, and they had been up since 4:00am! And there I was already feeling pretty good that I was ready with my own early participation in the Good Friday devotions.

One thought did cross my mind: this is why the atheists are not going to win. Never mind all the rational reasons (or what one thinks to be rational reasons) one might put forward: there are just too many believers. In this case, I am going to have to go with the wisdom of the crowds.

And while my own parish's Via Crucis was a tiny fraction of the Cathedral contingent, it wasn't something to sneeze at, either. We just did a small tour of the city center, though. On one occasion, we caught a glimpse of the Redemptorist contingent, too.

Later in the evening, I went downtown again to watch the traditional Burial Procession. The statues of the saints are loaded up on carromata and paraded around the city with flocks of devotees following. It's been a tradition here in Dumaguete for as long as I can remember, probably dating back to the Spanish era. As with the Via Crucis earlier in the morning, the crowd was enormous!

I was just going to watch, like I do every year. However, I saw my friends in the crowd and I said, "Ah, what the heck! I'll join in the fun." And so I did. I was a little fearful being in such a gigantic mass of people, but on the whole, it was orderly and my fears were assuaged.

I had expected the procession to be dreary, but no, it seems not. People were talking and joking in hushed tones every now and then, but without detracting from the over solemnity of the procession. It was...fun.

Yet another reason the atheists won't win.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Ateneo team places 6th in ACM Programming Contest

Via Roy Patrick Tan's blog:

The Ateneo Team "Linden BoyZ" bagged 6th place in the 2006 World Finals of the ACM International Collegiate Programming Contest (ICPC) Java Challenge held April 11 in San Antonio, Texas, USA.

The Ateneo contingent to the ACM ICPC consists of students Allan Espinosa, Mark Punzalan, Christopher Rigor, and faculty members Dr. Pablo Manalastas and Dr. John Paul Vergara as coaches, and Dr. Rafael Saldana as Regional Contest Director for Asia-Manila.

The first place in the ICPC Java Challenge went to KTH - Royal Institute of Technology (Sweden). The Ateneo team Linden BoyZ beat the other top universities participating in the Java Challenge portion of the 2006 ACM ICPC World Finals including Massachussets Institute of Technology (MIT), California Institute of Technology (CIT), and Princeton University.


Congratulations, guys! This is a real honor for the country.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

My new Blogger template



Ta-daaa! My very own personally customized hand-crafted Blogger template!

Doug Bowman's
Minima, which I had been using for over a year, had that element of simplicity which attracted me from the very start. However, it was sort of generic in its ubiquity in the Blogspot universe. I had been itching to create my very own design for a long while now, and it was only in the last couple of days that I finally got my act together.

In my old age, I've become a slow learner so it took me a while to get the hang of all the special Blogger template tags, not to mention the various tricks involving CSS with which to manipulate the final output. And since I didn't want to start with a whole lot of clutter, I had to do everything from scratch. In any case, the Blogger help pages were very helpful in this regard.

The color scheme looks a little too blue, but that's my own preference. Besides, I wanted something that matched my Blogger toolbar's color. I used Wellstyled.com's color picker robot to choose the appropriate colors. I got there by way of Photoshopsupport.com's blog template tutorial.

I initially wanted a cartoon avatar to grace the identity column, but then I realized a stylized logo would do just as well. I used Nate Piekos' Village Idiot font (naturally), manipulating the logo in Inkscape and The GIMP.

The Chinese characters were an added touch that happened by accident. I was looking for the Chinese character for "home" to use as the link image for the item pages. Jun Shan's Chinese Culture section at About.com was most helpful. Along the way, I found the phrase for "follow your dreams," so that's what I added to the logo. I hope that's what it really means.

For the blogrolls, I decided to just use Bloglines service, and never mind the linkback. This ties the blogrolls to the blogs that I actually read.

One dilemma: optimize for 1024x768 or 800x600? Ultimately, I opted for the higher resolution, at least for the front page. Viewers using 800x600 might need to scroll left-to-right at the main page, but should manage quite nicely in the Archive and Item pages. Besides, I like the four-column layout and there's really no way to fit that in 800x600.

Also: the return of the Google ads. I have so far earned a grand total of $11.02 in all my two years, which tells you not to come to me for blog monetization advice. But I thought I'd give it another go. I even fixed up the color scheme to fit more closely with mine. Who knows, a few people might accidentally click on them. Snigger.

The feature which I like best is the truncated summary of the entries on the front page, which leads to the full entries on the item pages. I think this will make my blog easier to read, especially since I have the occasional kilometric post. I had some trouble getting it to work despite following instructions to the letter, but it turns out I placed a comment line in the style section of my header when I shouldn't have.

I also added a summary of recent comments at the bottom of the main page. I think this gives the blog a bit more variety and interaction.

Still a couple more features I plan to add involving categorization and del.icio.us links. Tomorrow, for sure.

In the meantime, I'm happy.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Biking Lessons

Rational Technology for April 16, 2006

So there I was: pushing my mountain bike up the steep road to Basak, which lies midway between the municipalities of Maria and Larena. It was past midday, and the sun shone mercilessly through the blue cloudless sky. Too steep to ride up, even on the lowest gear, step by ever shortening step attempted to cover what seemed to be endless road snaking up the desolate hillside.

One question only: what was I doing here?

Ever since I bought my mountain bike last year, I had always looked to Siquijor Island as a cycling challenge. For the better part of a year now, I was biking up to the Valencia town proper every other day. Slower as compared with my biking companions, but no longer as winded as I was before.

Was I ready for Siquijor? Experience tells me that we never really know if we are ready for something. Not until we go ahead and do it, anyway.

It all started pleasantly enough. I arrived at the municipality of Siquijor by fastcraft before 7:00am and headed in counterclockwise loop. I made good time, reaching San Juan in a little over an hour. Then, onwards to Lazi, which was a little more arduous, and by the time I hit Maria, I knew I had better hurry lest I miss the boat back to Dumaguete.

One of the people I met on this trip, a schoolteacher named Othello, asked me why I was travelling alone. I suppose he was looking for a profound answer, like finding comfort in solitude or seeking out a purpose on the journey. And as honestly as I could tell him, I said that it was simply a matter of logistics, that I was too lazy to organize a biking group. And besides, I really preferred travelling at my own pace, not trailing behind anyone nor waiting for anyone.

Still, it was a fairly stupid thing to be doing, biking all by myself in unfamiliar and sparsely populated territory. There are all sorts of grim possibilities: I might fall and break something! I might get robbed! I might be bewitched by sorcerers! Or more realistically, I might collapse from heatstroke and exhaustion.

But what the heck, eh? I had done the exact same thing just the week before in Valencia, covering Casaroro Falls and the Japanese Shrine in a little over six hours, and falling over twice in the process. Which really just makes me some kind of stupid two weeks in a row. Fortunately, none of the scenarios I envisioned happened to me: Siquijodnons are really very nice and friendly people.

Would you believe that I was actually thinking about this column as I was riding down the highway. All sorts of cliched platitudes crossed my mind: about how an uphill climb is usually followed by a downhill cruise, about how much closer you feel to the land when you travel under your own power, and about how you have to set your mind to actually doing something. Generally, about how riding is a metaphor for life.

All of which is crap when you're struggling to put one foot in front of the other and hoping that somehow the road is going to slope down pretty soon.

Yet out of all this, I did discover an ugly truth about myself, and along with that one important lesson, one which my newfound friend Othello might like to read about.

You see, in the middle of that climb, when the road ahead seemed endless, my baser human instincts kicked in like reflex. Whose fault is this? I demanded to know. Yes, in that moment of misery, I was lashing out and seeking someone to blame.

And in that moment, the answer came crystal clear: no one to blame but myself; and no one to get myself out of it but myself.

All my life I've carried that psychological reflex, a defense mechanism for my ego that refuses to take full responsibility for my actions (and inactions) and their consequences. But here, standing stark naked in my purpose, reality was holding a mirror to my face and I could see myself for what I was.

And at that moment, it felt so...liberating. The truth, indeed, shall set you free.

So there you go, my friends. Biking is a metaphor for life. Et cetera, et cetera.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Dolphin watching in Tanon Strait



We are not the only creatures on this planet; it's a fact that we ought to be reminded of every now and then. Only then can we truly marvel at creation. And nowhere does this become more apparent than when we come face to face with the denizens of the sea.

Believe it or not, I had never before gone dolphin watching. It's one of those idiosyncratic human phenomena: we never visit the attractions that are close to where we live.

Now, it just so happened that a couple of weeks ago, someone buzzed me on Yahoo Messenger to ask for advice on places to stay and things to do in and around Dumaguete. She and her friends were coming over for a vacation. I helped them out and got them in touch with the folks at Dumaguete Outdoors, who seemed to be the most competent inland tour operator in the city.

I found out last Sunday that they were pushing through with their plans, starting with whale watching today. So I joined in.

Our starting point was Bais, and we arrived there at around 8:30am. We set off not long afterwards in one of their dolphin-watching boats. It took a while to reach the middle of the Tanon Strait, where dolphins and whales would pass through.

Part of me was afraid we would be disappointed. These dolphins, after all, are not paid performers and they don't have to oblige hopeful tourists. In a little while, though, all those fears were laid to rest as we saw dorsal fins streaking above the waves.

We spent about an hour going round and round the straits. The dolphins were wild, but it didn't seem that they were leery of humans. We saw several pods, sometimes in pairs, sometimes in threes.

I headed to the front of the boat to take pictures. I clicked off several shots, but alas, dolphins are fairly fast and my camera was old and slow. These were about the best I could manage.

These photos, in any case, don't really capture the grace and beauty with which they swim through the water. It's a thing that's best experienced firsthand.

At around 11:00am, we got tired of following the dolphins. Time for lunch! We headed to the Manjuyod sandbar. It's a sandbar that's sitting in the middle of the ocean, formed by the tides and currents. White sand, covering a fairly large area. Quite a sight to see. Apparently, it's a common stop for dolphin watching trips.

The dolphin watching boats are equipped with a grill, and our chef, Dumaguete Outdoors' Ruem Villanueva, prepared a good spread for us.

Lunch was very satisfying. On the menu: grilled lapu-lapu wrapped in banana leaves, native kebabs, vegetable salad, and fruits.

After lunch, we all took a dip in the sandbar waters. I hadn't planned on getting wet, but the water was just too inviting. Look at the pictures, and you'll see why.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Radio Interview


Forget podcasts, old time radio is where it's at.

Well, not really. But it was a pleasant experience to be part of a radio panel interview. A couple of weeks ago, Dr. Alice Lavinia popped up at my store, introduced herself, and invited me to guest in her program on DYSR.

Dr. Lavinia is running a series on education and career development, and she uses her radio program to reach the rural areas where access to new technology isn't as prevalent. She had a good list of questions which we were unfortunately not able to cover. They do make good starting points for future entries for my Rational Technology column, so I'll tackle them in the future.

With me on the panel were Rovel and Jenjen, young professionals starting their careers in Dumaguete's business process outsourcing industry.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Biking Siquijor

Oops, I did it again. After last weekend's escapade, I just felt that I had to do Siquijor Island this weekend.

I told myself that I wouldn't fall into the same trap that I fell into last week. I would just do a couple of hours in one direction and turn back. Did I listen to myself? No. The same demons were egging me on: just a little bit more....

So in the end, I did over 70 kilometers today. In some ways, it was better as I was travelling on asphalt road. In other ways, it was worse, because this trip included a 7-kilometer trek up a mountain (thankfully followed by a steep descent on good, smooth road).

The map below should give you some idea.

I took the 6:00am ferry from Dumaguete and landed in the town of Siquijor, Siquijor at 6:45am. I dropped by the church briefly, then tried to figure out where to go from there.


There's a circumferential road that rings Siquijor Island. From Siquijor, I could either head over to Larena in the east, or San Juan in the west. I opted for the latter, taking a counterclockwise route.

The westerly route is deceptively easy as it starts out with gentle climbs and descents, all the way up to San Juan. I came upon the church of San Juan, incongruous because of the old bell tower paired with a modern church.


Next to the church is a little plaza where they have a crystal spring that was turned into a public pool.

At the plaza, the lady operating the concessionaire called to me, inviting me for some breakfast. "It's our opening today," she said, "and we want to celebrate." I was grateful for the offer as I had only had one chicken sandwich for breakfast. Without much hesitation, I settled down for their fare of biko, all the while making conversation with the owner, Irene, and her schoolteacher friend, Othello.

I didn't linger too long as I wanted to cover more road. The ride from San Juan was getting a little difficult because there was a long upward slope. But that soon gave way to another easy descent, so things were fine for a while.

I came upon this sign, and it brought to mind a humorous essay written by a Brit on Filipino names.

San Juan gave way to Lazi, and now the ride became difficult. I had to get off the bike and push because the grade was getting steep.

I came upon this large balete tree. It impressed me enough to take a picture. I later found out there was a giant and ancient balete tree that was a tourist attraction on the island. I thought this might have been it, but I think I was wrong. (Balete trees are said to be the dwelling place of spirits. Woo-ooooo....)

I would stop for pictures often. Sometimes, I would have to use the self-timer, but that produces less than stellar results. Sometimes, though, I would get lucky and make friends with the locals (who are really very friendly) and I would ask them to take my photo. As it turns out, the picture of the kids I asked to take my shot turned out better, so....

I finally hit the Lazi town proper, dominated by the old Lazi church. The church was really old, and still maintained its old furnishings. The floors were made of wood instead of cement or marble. And it still had those old style pulpits which priests of that time would ascend to give their sermon.


It fronted huge convent, apparently the largest in Asia, which had been turned into a museum. The museum housed statues, furniture, and decor from the church. No pictures because the National Heritage Foundation disallows it. Sadly, it wasn't very impressive, a common lament among Philippine museums. Still, it's worth a visit if you're passing through the area. They have a web site.

After Lazi was the town of Maria. The church there was huge! It was hard to get a good shot because it was blocked by trees all around.


After Maria, I had the option of going through the town of Enrique Villanueva on the coast, or of taking the mountain path through Basak. The coastal road was 22 kilometers, so I opted for the shorter mountain path which was only 11 kilometers. Big mistake. It turned out that while it was shorter, the first 7 kilometers were a steep climb. I had to push all the way.

I hit Larena at around 2:30 pm, expecting to take a boat back to Dumaguete from there. It turned out I was wrong. The boat docking there only made one trip a day, in the morning! So I had to bike back to the town of Siquijor, another 11 kilometers away.

I missed the 3:00 pm trip, so I had to settle for the 5:30 pm ferry. Fortunately, there was a decent cafe near the port where I could get a good meal. Food prices were very reasonable, although the room rates were a little upscale.

After my very late lunch, I took some more photos, and still found time to give love advice to a stranger I met.

Now, that was another record for me.


Note: See also Ivan Henares' account of his visit to Siquijor.