Friday, June 30, 2006

Kyomo yoroshiku onegai shimasu

Beyond the lectures on Java, one of the interesting aspects of this training program are the segments on inter-cultural appreciation and impromptu Japanese language lessons. The course, you see, is conducted by AcrossGate Global Software, a Japanese company, under the sponsorship of PhilNITS and JETRO.

Kyomo yoroshiku onegai shimasu is one such greeting that we've been introduced to. Literally, it means: "Let's do good work today. Please cooperate with me whatever happens." It also means, "I hope we have a good relationship." It's a standard greeting among Japanese co-workers, especially from superior to subordinate.

"Do you have an equivalent term in Bisaya?" our Japanese instructor asked. A dozen- and-a-half Cebuanos, myself included, scratched their heads. Hmmm, apparently one of those areas which we don't find important enough to come up a special greeting for.

Stock phrases are our crutch for ideas that we find important. There's that old saw about the Inuit having a hundred different words for snow. I suppose it applies to cultural identity, too. It's not so much to say that one culture is superior than the other, but more that there are things that one culture holds more important than the other.

The Japanese value cooperation and good work, and kyomo yoroshiku onegai shimasu emphasizes that concept.

What about us? What do we find important?

RIP: Thinkpad hard disk

Sorry for the brief absence. It's the second and last week of my Java training in Cebu, and things were a little more intense than I expected. I had planned on blogging briefly every other day, but the class was quite involved and the network slow.

One other reason, too: my Thinkpad's hard disk decided to go RIP on me.

I was wondering why things seemed to be running a bit slow on my Thinkpad recently. Sure, I had loaded it with Eclipse, Apache, and Tomcat. It was groaning with the load with only a 1.7GHz Celeron processor and 256MB RAM to help it by. But still, it was far slower.

The top output showed that the CPU was spending most of its time in wait. Not a good sign. I decided on a reinstall of Ubuntu and that revealed the source of the problem: the root file system failed to mount properly after booting.

Luckily, I have some friends at IBM Cebu. Doreen confirmed the problem. Now I just have to check on whether I still fall within the warranty grace period. Otherwise, I might have to spend P3,500 for a new notebook hard disk. Ouch!

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Tempura evening with three young extortionists


I took an after-dinner stroll at the boulevard to take in some fresh sea air. It was threatening to rain and so there weren't too many people around. Nevertheless, three young kids, all under seven years, popped by my side and started singing. It was all nonsense, in a seven-year old kind of way, but amusing enough. I told them I had no change on me.

"We've already sung for you!" the young girl reminded me.

"But I have no change on me," I said.

"You can buy us tempura."

I considered briefly. Tempura was cheap. I shrugged and told them we could head over to the end of the boardwalk where the tempura-and-tocino stalls congregated.

Bolstered by their success, the trio upped the ante: "How about balut instead?"

"How much does balut cost?"

"Ten pesos," said one young urchin.

"No, dummy, it's twelve pesos." And a noisy argument ensued. I started chuckling.

"It's ten pesos where it's nearer, and twelve pesos where it's further," they finally agreed.

"Look, it's a bit expensive," I said. "Can I just buy one balut for all three of you?"

"Ay! Ma-ot man." I don't think I need to translate.

So I vacillated between spending P36 as the price for my amusement and not spending on anything at all. We were about to approach a nearby itenerant balut vendor when I finally decided:

"Let's just get tempura instead. It's cheaper."

Yes, I know I am a regular Uncle Scrooge.

The girl and the younger boy eyed me reproachfully, disappointment etched in their faces. The other boy knew, though, that he would lose the deal completely if stood by balut.

"Sige, uncle, tempura na lang. It's cheaper."

So I started walking back to the tempura vendors, the boy following a few steps behind. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the other two were holding fast and did not follow. Not for a while anyway. They magically reappeared when I was already at the first tempura stall.

"Three tempuras," I told the cook, and pointed to the three urchins. Disappointment was still all over two faces. I'm a bit ashamed to say it, but it only added to my bemusement. It didn't help at all that their faces were covered in white powder and they were wearing cardboard hats, making them look like some modern-day manic goblins.

The cook handed over the tempuras to the kids.

"Aren't you going to say 'thank you?'" the cook's wife asked the kids.

Small heads with glum faces and downturned mouths shook no.

"They're upset because they wanted balut," I explained. And the woman and I had a good laugh together.

Just another evening on the boulevard.

Cebu trade shows and Supergirls...

However the public relations machines might spin it, InTourPreneur and COMDAP in Cebu were a bit of a drag. To be fair, I only managed one brief visit to both, but they were mild disappointments on opposite extremes.

InTourPreneur was noisy and labyrinthine. If that was their measure of success, good for them. It took me ten minutes to find the IBM booth, who just happened to be a major sponsor; and when I did get there, I couldn't get a decent conversation going because of the noise from the cultural show.

COMDAP, on the other hand, was very sedate, the only sounds coming from the quiz bowl. That would have been fine were it not for a very arrogant know-it-all quizmaster. At least it did give me time to browse around. Nothing really new, though.

Just about the only highlight of the Cebu trade shows I went to were these two Canon booth babes dressed as Supergirls.

Capes and red boots would have been nice accents, but I'm not complaining.

Dumaguete Boulevard by night

Some night shots of Rizal Boulevard. For Zaizee, members of NWW45, and all those who miss the early evening scene of the famous Dumaguete boardwalk.

The boulevard really isn't as full of people in the evenings as it is in the mornings, but it's no less interesting.

At night, it becomes the domain of peanut vendors, lovers, and casual strollers.

Shame about the lights they strung around on the acacias, though. It's killing the trees, but the local government and big business are too dense to put a stop to it. Sigh.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Death penalty abolished...yippee! (or maybe not)

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo signed the bill abolishing the death penalty today. Said she: "Today is good day to sign the death penalty abolition because it is the feast of St. John the Baptist who was a victim of death penalty in his time."

Need we add, though, that St. John the Baptist was also a victim of the political and personal expediency of the ruling family of Israel at the time? Ah, but I digress.

Of little comment in the blogosphere at large was a freak incident on this same week at the Bagong Buhay Rehabilitation Center (BBRC) in Cebu: a live wire killed five inmates in their sleep.

How did this happen? As with many of the Philippines' prisons, the BBRC is overcrowded. What was supposed to house 250 prisoners houses -- guess how many? -- 2,600. Ventilation is poor so the inmates take it upon themselves to install electric fans and unauthorized outlets. It didn't help that work on the new jail is much delayed by typical Cebuano political bickering.

Not a silya electrika anymore, observed one radio commentator, but a selda elektrika. (Not an electric chair, but an electric cell.)

Before death penalty opponents prematurely celebrate over their victory, it's well worth to pay a visit to any of the hundreds of nearby provincial or city jails in the country. For those looking for a soft introduction, I might recommend the Bulacan Provincial Jail; for those who are wanting a little tougher, try the Caloocan City Jail; for the truly hard-core, there's always Muntinlupa (though I haven't been to the last one.)

Philippine jails are not a good experience. I've written about them before, here, here, here, here, here, and here, with some additional pictures here. Cells are overcrowded, prisoners have to pay (either through cash or service) for the privilege of sleeping on a mattress, and the less fortunate have to sleep on the floor cheek-to-cheek. The food is barely fit for dogs, forcing the creation of an underground economy of instant noodles and outside meals brought in. It's a parody of society, complete with a hierarchy of mayors, lieutenants, underlings...and I'm just talking about the prisoners here.

Of course, this being a Filipino creation, the festive atmosphere is never absent. Relatives come to visit, some daily; others even have the privilege of staying overnight. Remember the 2,600-figure I mentioned earlier? On a weekend night, it's probably higher.

One would think that the inmates deserved what they had coming to them. How many times, after all, have we heard the term "rule of law" bandied about by this administration? Yes, some of them do deserve to be in jail, but what about these fellows:

* One inmate I met was a near-quadraplegic. He couldn't use his feet, and his hand were too weak to hold anything. The first time I saw him, he was being carted out of the toilet and back into his wheelchair. What do you think he was in for? Rape, they charged.

* Another inmate had just been released one day. It was late in the afternoon, and he was afraid he would get beaten up some thugs waiting outside. He asked the prison guards if he could stay the night. They beat him up instead. He crawled under a motorcycle. They charged him with grand theft auto.

And I haven't even gotten to the minors who were mixed in with the adult offenders.

There are many more stories like these, repeated all throughout the country. And that really points out the real problem.

It's not the death penalty.

It's the prevailing system of injustice.

Just like the one that killed St. John the Baptist.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Spam from Cebu

Somebody posted the following comment to my post A Fortnight in Cebu:

No doubt about it. This is the one play that anyone who cares about the theater should see. “Doubt,” the Tony Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning play will be staged here in Cebu on June 30 – July 2 at Onstage! Ayala Cinema 1, with movie and television star Cherie Gil headlining the cast.

After which it extols the virtue of said play for another two paragraphs and another two dozen lines.

Spam? You bet!

Normally, stuff like this merits the delete button posthaste, but I'm amused enough to keep it on my blog. Hey, I'm even blogging about it!

So what is this? Is this the work of some poor underpaid minimum-wage earner in what passes for Ayala's marketing department? Perhaps they haven't drummed up enough reservations or interest for said play, and now they've had to resort to storming new media avenues?

Sigh. I guess this just brings home the point of how pathetic spam can really be. It would have been more palatable if it hadn't sounded so much like a press -- er, excuse me, "praise" -- release.

No doubt about it. This is the one play that anyone who cares about the theater should see.

Sheesh.

Next time, please try to sound like a real person.

Just because of your spam, I am NOT going to go see the play.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Ask Dom: Research paper topic

Got this note from a friend:

Got myself enrolled in a writing class and I don't have the slightest idea of what my research paper would be. The instructor gave some areas like history, technology, and international issues but nothing at all. He mention about a Christian movement to retake Portugal by the Moors or something after a major shakeup that devastated the Catholics due to a big earthquake that destroyed a good number of cathedrals and killed lots of devout Catholics in the process.

A good topic would be something that made an impact or contributed to major shift in how we have progressed as a whole. I think you got the idea, if you have a few ideas and I can tackle it, then I would make a paper on it.


And my response...

Glad to hear you've entrolled in some self-improvement classes. Is this part of a community college program? Sometimes I envy the opportunities in the States. But anyway....

Topic? I guess it really depends on what the scope of the research paper is and how long your teacher wants it to be. These are the practical considerations. Too broad, and you'll never finish it on time; too narrow, and you won't have enough material. You should also consider your teacher's background (as well as yours). If you choose a topic like the Philippines, he might not appreciate it enough. I leave it up to you to gauge.

If you're looking for a historical topic, might I suggest a quick read of "The Ancient Engineers" by L. Sprague de Camp. I'm sure you can find that in your library. It traces the development of engineering technology from its military/religious roots up to the rise of civil engineering during the Roman period. Then you can select a narrower topic from there. Another good book is "Guns, Germs, and Steel."

On more contemporary topics, you might want to look at the outsourcing phenomenon. Read through Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat." You'll actually have some good insight here, having come from the Philippines and yet now living in the United States. Maybe a little of your own experiences as well, adjusting to life there. Do try to gauge your teacher, though; outsourcing and offshoring are sensitive topics.

Other issues of contemporary interest: genetics, stem cell research, space tourism, the clash of civilizations. Try looking at Slashdot for hot-off-the-press geeky topics.

I hope this helps.


Not enough time to blog so just posting bits of neutral correspondence. Any other interesting ideas?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

A Fortnight in Cebu

Blog-absent the past few days as I'm in Cebu and adjusting to a new albeit temporary schedule. I'm here for two weeks, attending a Java programming class of the Association for Overseas Technical Scholarship (AOTS) of Japan.

No, I'm not the instructor, thank goodness. I'm attending as a good ol'-fashioned student, and in the process giving the instructors a lot of headaches. Well, no, not really. I'm a good boy.

The program is called Java Application Development Oriented to Japanese Enterprise. It's organized by the Philippine National IT Standards Foundation (PhilNITS). I'll be posting a longer review pretty soon, but suffice to say, it's very good and I'm very happy with it. It's geared primarily towards experienced programmers new to Java, so it assumes knowledge of basic programming concepts. However, the organization and the explanations are very well done. It uses Eclipse as the working IDE in all of the examples, another bonus.

The class is being held in the DTI office in downtown Cebu. We're actually in the historic part of the city, flanked by the Cathedral Church and the Sto. Nino Basilica. Very nice.

Class starting. More later.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

All I ask is a tall ship...

This model ship costs P5,000. Unpainted ones sell for P1,300. Not a bad price, actually. And we haven't even started haggling yet.

Some itinerant vendors were peddling these galleons last week. I thought they were part of the Visayas Area Business Conference, but it turns out they were here just by coincidence. Not even locals, they came all the way from Guimaras, next door to Iloilo. Hmmm...one other place to visit. I sure would like to see how they build 'em.

Additional tidbit: it takes them around two weeks to finish building a ship.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Flat tire

Well, it had to happen. I finally got a flat tire in one of the rocky paths up in the hills of Valencia. It was somewhere in Gahong, which was not too far to be disastrous but not so near as to be convenient. No damage to the bike or to myself, but my pride is terribly wounded.Wah! The ignominy of having my bike lifted into the tricycle carrying platform!

Fortunately, I was travelling with Jong Fortunato when it happend. We were heading back from Valencia to Dumaguete and we chose a slightly more adventurous road than the highway. I was pedalling hard on an uphill climb and when I stopped, Jong pointed out that I had a flat. After a fruitless search for an air pump among the nearby houses, we decided to walk back to the highway. Jong was gracious enough to accompany me on foot, a good reminder of why travelling companions are necessary on long trips.

That, and a spare inner tube, or at the very least, a patch kit, and a portable hand pump. I shall have to get one of those necessities soon.

In a way, I'm lucky I didn't encounter this flat in either the hills of Siquijor or even in Panglao. That would have been much more inconvenient. Nevertheless, my default course of action -- which was to call a tricycle -- seems to have worked out. That's one of the advantages of travelling in Philippine roads. There are always itinerant tricycles, multicabs, and trucks willing to help out for a reasonable amount.

Along the way, Jong and I talked about the recently concluded Visayas Business Conference, public schools, private schools, and sports. Nothing like some downtime to cement friendships.

Friday, June 16, 2006

A little sex...

I'm not usually one to post skin pics on my blog, but this was just way too sexy to pass up.
Of course, you know what it is I'm looking at, right? Unix rocks!

Now, if only she were reading something truly geeky....

Photo from Flickr.

...and a little violence

Today I used the threat of violence against another person. I'm not proud of it. I wish I didn't have to do it. Perhaps there might have been another way around it. However, I've thought about it a lot and each time I come to the conclusion that it was the most effective resolution. In fact it was, because it got the desired result.

The nature of the dispute is not important, suffice to say it was a recurrent longstanding one and involved a person of a different social standing. Repeated appeals came to naught as this person merely feigned acquiescence or cited various extenuating circumstances or motioned for delay or simply ignored our pleas altogether. Today, I hit my limits.

I'm ashamed of the things I did and the things I said. I hope to never have to repeat them. Unfortunately, our society has come to the point where the threat of violence has become a necessary means of communication. Or perhaps this is where we've always been because we've never progressed beyond it. The fact is: some people will not take you seriously, will not respect you, unless you speak that language.

Perhaps I could have called on the barangay captain to mediate but I suspect I'm none too popular. Then it would have taken longer and would have been interpreted as a sign of weakness. Then what? We revert to another cycle of fruitless diplomacy. Worse still, it would have devolved into cliches of class oppression. No, better to have spoken the message clearly in a language clear to the listener then and there, on the same footing as the listener.

Oh, I realize that footing can never be equal. Nevertheless, I was there, no proxy and no backup. Just me. Foolish? Yes. But that gesture, I think, the other person understood and respected.

Let me clarify: I didn't actually use violence, only the threat of it. At the same time, I don't think I can threaten violence and not mean it. If push came to shove, I was prepared to back it up, as well as suffer the consequences. Thankfully, it didn't come to that.

Sigh. Not a path I'd recommend at all, certainly not a path I would have wanted to travel, but sometimes necessary.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Dumaguete in 2011

Rational Technology for June 18 and June 22, 2006. This was actually done on request (well, more like demand) from Danah and Injong as one of the outputs of the visioning exercise we did with Dondi Mapa on June 1. The situations described herein were the joint efforts of several members of the Dumaguete community. I only embellished in my own inimitable style.

Then again, why would anyone want to imitate me? Yuck.


* * *


Owing to a freak incident involving the high energy particle accelerator at Fermilab this week, certain portions of the Internet experienced a momentary temporal displacement of +/-5 years. Web sites, emails, and even entire conversations from the past and the future manifested themselves in the presence. I managed to retrieve a fragment of an article about Dumaguete from the year 2011. Of course, the Fermilab incident could just have been a prank, so the article's veracity is in doubt. Nevertheless I present what little I've recovered:

June 13, 2011--If you're looking for the history of change in the sixth most competitive city in the Philippines, you need look no further than the permanent photograph exhibit of the Dumaguete City Museum. Pictures dating back to the late 1800's chronicle the city's evolution from a sleepy agricultural village to a bustling university town and finally to the acknowledged technology services hub in Western Visayas that it is today.

Looking at the pictures, you'll note a curious thing. Through most of its hundred year history, the changes in Dumaguete have been most evident its architecture: nipa-thatched roofs of the Spanish period giving way to art deco structures of the American period, finally in turn giving way to the modern glass-and-steel buildings today. Yet in the last ten years there's been a more subtle change that's not reflected in the city's edifices. The Dumaguete in the pictures is not quite the Dumaguete that you experience in the streets, and you can't tell why.

And then it hits you: it's the people that have changed.

The pictures depict scenes indistinguishable from small-town Filipiniana: laid back people in perpetual summer wear, mismatched t-shirts, tight-fitting jeans or beach shorts or pedal pushers, and loose-fitting flip-flops, whose monthly highlight perhaps is the next town fiesta. Even the still shots convey the unmistakable feeling of unhurried langour.

All this is a marked change from the Dumaguete that you see today, or from other small towns its size. Dumaguete is clearly a young person's city now, and they move with confidence and determination. To be sure, they're still a friendly bunch -- after all, Dumaguete is still the City of Gentle People -- but beneath this cheer is an undercurrent of urgency and responsibility. These are young people going somewhere to do something important.

So meet the 'Duppies', Dumaguete's own brand of young professionals. They are the driving force behind the emergence of Dumaguete as the center for e-services in the Visayas, outpacing Bacolod and going head to head with Cebu. It's a workforce 7,000 strong, and one with a global reach. They work in professional tasks as varied as customer contact, software design, electronic publishing, system administration, and legal and financial consultation for customers from the United States to Europe to the Middle East to Korea and Japan.

It's amazing to see how Duppy culture has penetrated and transformed the city over the past few years. Take the bustling 24-hour entertainment centers, for example. Though their shiny offices are evenly distributed along Dumaguete, Valencia, Sibulan, and Bacong, Duppies congregate in hip places like Claytown Central, Calindagan Metro, and the Rizal Boulevard Baywalk in between shifts to unwind. Such places, old-timers say, would have been unthinkable five years ago when the city shut down as early as eight o'clock.

Lest the thriving entertainment centers be dismissed as a frivolous concession to Duppy tastes, think again: tourism to Dumaguete has actually shown a 30% year-on-year increase over the past three years because of the appeal of the barhop row. Roughly 75% of tourism is of domestic origins, and most importantly, about 40% of those local tourists -- young Filipino professionals and artists -- eventually decide to relocate to the city and find jobs among the seven big e-services companies here.

The upshot of all this is a professionalization of local services within the Dumaguete area. Housing, hotels, health care, security, sanitation, telecommunications, and other local infrastructure are already ranked among the best in the country, yet another reason for the influx of new talent into the city. Admittedly, housing costs have become steep in the areas nearby offices, but that's being addressed by real estate development in Dauin and Tanjay.

Roughly three quarters of these support services in Dumaguete have come from entrepreneurial ventures and franchises originating outside of Dumaguete. Sadly, the casualties of the rapid development of the city have been local businesses left in a daze by the sudden demand for competent, customer-oriented, and professional services.

For a while it almost seemed that this local services bottleneck would leave Dumaguete in the lurch, were it not for the timely entrance of opportunity-hungry entrepreneurs from outside the city. Poor performers eventually found themselves culled from the market, and the survivors learned to adjust to the new vagaries of a customer-oriented culture. Go to any local establishment now and you'll be treated to first-class customer service from cheerful, confident, and intelligent sales people eager to please. As they say, you can't get better service than Dumaguete service.

Yet another aspect of this transformation is the dynamic between the burgeoning e-services empire and the school system. Dumaguete, as the residents like to remind visitors, still has its roots as the Philippines' only university town, and it's a crown they're not planning on relinquishing anytime soon.

As would be expected in locations where industry and academe are in close proximity, industry relies on schools to turn out the graduates that it eventually absorbs; the schools, in turn, rely on grants and research exchange programs provided by the industry to keep its programs relevant. To a large extent, this symbiosis is happening within Dumaguete.

But whereas you'd expect the primary interaction to occur between universities and industry, Dumaguete's model is unique. For one thing, the influence of industry can be seen in the city's high schools and even as early as grade school. IT literacy among teens and pre-teens in Dumaguete is the highest in the country, as is their English, math, and science proficiency.

In the last couple of years, the city has seen the rise of professional trade schools that run side by side with the more traditional universities. The trade schools are a finishing school focused on one thing: getting their students employed in the e-services industry. This model has been successful in supplying people for low-level outsourcing work such as application programming, transcription, contact centers, and copyediting. The professional schools have become the avenue of choice for lower-income youths eager for their first job.

Where the professional trade schools hit their limit, and where the universities come in, are for the outsourcing jobs that require a higher degree of analytical work and industry-specific proficiency, such as software engineering, electronic design, human resources, industrial design, and legal and financial consulting. These positions require a considerable amount of training, expertise, and even research work, something that falls squarely in the purview of the universities. Industry partners have been more than willing to provide grants and mentors for these programs.

At first glance, this delineation between professional schools and universities might seem disadvantageous to the local universities. Why would people opt for the longer and more intensive university programs when they already find faster employment with the professional schools? Surprisingly, that isn't the case. Statistics have shown that roughly half of professional school graduates eventually opt for a full degree with the universities with the expectation of more serious responsibilities and higher pay. As a result, enrollment in the universities here showed a 15% increase for undergraduate programs and 10% in graduate programs last year, the highest in recent memory. University officials are optimistic with the trend.

A curious but happy side effect of this industry-focused approach in the universities is the artistic backlash. Too much focus on business process outsourcing, cried the different faculties of the arts not more than three years ago. Jarred from their complacency, the colleges set about upgrading their programs and inviting prominent artists to professorial chairs, going so far as to establish inter-university programs dedicated to the resurgence of literature, music, dance, and the visual arts. The result has been a renaissance of the arts in the city and a friendly ongoing rivalry with the more practical disciplines.

Even then, it's a rivalry with positive consequences. Studies have shown that graduates exposed to literature and philosophy become better legal consultants; similar correlations have been made between music and engineering and between visual arts and industrial design. Industry and the arts may be competing on the surface, but at least two e-services companies have provided generous grants to several arts programs.

Ultimately, none of this would have been possible without the astute vision and active participation of the local city governments of what comprise Metro Dumaguete, the governments that the Duppies helped elect. Pivotal for Dumaguete was the hotly contested 2007 mayoral election, the year when the then 2,000-strong BPO workforce in the city was a crucial player. Despite opposition from the solid bloc of pedicab drivers, what is called the BPO vote carried the win for Mayor ----

At this point, my Internet connection timed out as the temporal glitch corrected itself like a stretched rubber band suddenly released from tension. I hit the reload button several times, unfortunately coming up with a 404 error each time. Sadly, this is all that I've managed to download.

I advise caution against too much credulity on this report; the events narrated herein are too fantastic to be believed. Dumaguete, after all, is a small town too set in its ways to change so much in ten years, much less five. Am I right?

Duppies, indeed!

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Where are the 'bad guys'?

Toy soldiers have been around for as long as we've had kids and war; given our propensities, they'll be around for a longer while still. These days they come as action figures, extremely detailed from the uniforms down to the weapons. Walk into any toy store and you'll see the kings of the line: Elite Force, Elite Operations, the high-end McFarlanes, and the undying GI Joes.

The lineup is impressive: you'll get Navy Seals, Desert Storm infantry, snipers, marines, rangers, and paratroopers. There's even a flight suit George Bush to commemorate his landing on an aircraft carrier. In a tribute to multiculturalism, you can also choose from African-American, Asian, and Hispanic ethnicities. One could say that there's an obsession for completism.

Except...where are the bad guys?

The death of al-Zarqawi last June 7 reminded me of a long-standing problem with the lineup of military toys being sold today. There are no 'bad guys,' so to speak. There are no adversaries to play against the uniformed, well-armed, and well-armed soldier figures. There's no darkness against the light, there's no evil against the good, and that's, well, a little boring.

Oh, sure, you have the Cobra troops to play against GI Joe, but Cobra is about as real as GI Joe. There's nothing and no one to match the gritty realism that's portrayed by a miniature squad of desert rangers. I mean, where are the action figures of Republican Guards? Where are the North Korean infantry? Where is the People' Liberation Army? Where are the Afghan mujahedeen? In the old days you could at least get German infantry or Viet Cong guerrillas, but not anymore. Why?

Worse still, there are no 'evil leader' action figures in the same way that we have Darth Vader or Emperor Palpatine. There's no bin-Laden action figure, there's no al-Zarqawi, there's no Milosevic, there's not even a Kim Jong-Il. Even the doll from Team America would have been a welcome addition. Why?

At the root of it all, today's line of toy soldiers primarily carry American sensibilities. These speak volumes about the state of affairs today. So here are some theories:

1) Forget good and evil. There's no such thing. The ultimate sin according to today's American sensibilities is cultural intolerance. Everything is relative, so by the new American credo, we cannot put down any culture. Therefore, portraying soldiers of another culture to play against American soldiers is bad. Ergo, no bad guys, and especially no bad guys in turbans and robes.

2) Despite all the tough talk, bin-Laden, Kim Jong-Il, and even the late unlamented al-Zarqawi and Milosevic still scare the bejeezus out of American adults. They automatically extend these fears to their children. Ergo, no 'evil leader' action figures.

3) America's enemies today do not wear military uniforms. They wear ragged t-shirts, torn blue jeans, and ratty sneakers. They will be haggard and malnourished. From one perspective, these make for boring action figures; and for another, it simply goes to show the mismatch in firepower -- this, of course, will offend children's sensibilities, because how can you call with such ano obvious underdog fair?

On the other hand, this does provide the seed of an idea. Just get any old action figure in street clothes and put a rifle on him. Ta-da! Instant enemy.

4) American toy manufacturers are afraid that the 'bad guy' action figures might be more popular in countries outside of America, where these are actually considered 'good guys.' Worse, they are afraid that these would elicit sympathy among American kids (see number theory number 3).

Or maybe the military toys today really just reflective of the actual state of affairs. America against an invisible enemy forced into holes and shadows. That's why you have soldiers posed with their guns aiming at...nothing.

However you want to view it, the end result is the same: America refuses to dignify its enemies by giving them a face, credo of multiculturalism be damned. Ultimately, this approach is more damaging: unless you give form to your enemy -- a form that you can confront, punch, shoot, befriend, or forgive -- you will perpetually be afraid of him.

Or maybe there is no enemy, after all, and it's really just make-believe.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Unity of Life

Amee follows up her post on life between jobs with another short piece on online personas, specifically, how these can undermine resumes, following a New York Times article. I'm not quite sure if I'm still in the target demographic, but I couldn't agree more.

In a nutshell: recruiters are more and more turning to blogs and social networking sites to perform background checks and prospective employees and interns. Sometimes, what they find out about the applicants are less than edifying. Drug use? Check. Sexual escapades? Check. Violent tendencies? Check. Alright, I think I'll pass on this applicant.

What I find funny about the article is the tone it takes. Yes, the United States is big on privacy, but it puts the moral burden on the recruiters. The implication is that it is somehow wrong on the part of the prospective employers to use the information that applicants posted about themselves on the social networking sites. And that's just plain silly. It is voluntarily provided information, and therefore fair game for search engines.

It's not so much just about the information itself, but the information that they volunteer, i.e., the image that they want to project socially as opposed to professionally. Despite a freewheeling morality, there's still a dichotomy between how young people want to want to be perceived among their peers and among other people. Apparently, you can't have both.

So what's the solution? Establish a totally separate online persona that can't be associated with the real person? It's workable, but only to a certain extent. Ultimately, secrets like this will still leak out, through carelessness or hubris. What's more, anonymity provides the illusion of invincibility, and that leads to recklessness. All the more damaging once the truth is outed.

A better approach, I think, is to have unity of life, and conviction in what one believes in. Rather than establish multiple personas to suit different sectors of society, why not just have one -- the true one -- and stick by it? It can't be faulted for its sheer simplicity, and it's easier to keep things straight. If some people don't like it, then tough. It's a much better prescription than the prevailing schizophrenia.

Which leads me to my own self-examination on this blog. I'd like to think that this blog is a reflection of my personality, or rather, the development of my personality. Therefore, I have nothing to be ashamed of. Sometimes I'm naive. Sometimes I get mad. Sometimes I say the wrong thing (and when I do realize it, I apologize). But in what I do write, I do aim for honesty tempered with prudence. If some people don't like it, tough. These are folks I don't think I want to work for anyway.

So there you have it, folks. My blog. Me. What you see is what you get.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tagged: Life's Simple Pleasures

Clair tagged me with the question about ten of life's
simple pleasures.
So, without much ado, here are mine:

10) Early morning jog along Rizal Boulevard, just in time to watch the sun rise.

9) Coffee with the Valencia Breakfast Club, after a 10-km bike run.

8) Reading a book under the acacia trees of Silliman Church on a lazy Sunday afternoon.

7) Staged battles with my action figures.

6) Rereading old journals, and laughing at how silly I was back then.

5) Going through the bargain bin, and finding a book I forgot I was looking for.

4) A slingshot, and a pouchful of pellets.

3) Uncovering a stash of old comics.

2) Chance meetings with old friends.

1) My mountain bike beneath me, and an untravelled road in front of me.

And as to whom to tag...anyone who comes across this blog.

Early retirement

Coffee with Amee muses about A Life Between Jobs. According to Amee's source, a New York Times article, it's a phenomenon among younger people where they choose to quit their jobs and use that time as a long vacation. I can so relate.

My own philosophy on this was greatly influenced by an article or book I read some time ago. Was it Charles Handy, or some other writer, I wonder? The conventional way of approaching life is to work until you're 65 and retire. But that's a model that's breaking down. In fact, it's been broken for quite a while.

With the present medical state of the art, life spans have increased to a high average of 80 years of age; on the other hand, our bodies start breaking down at about 60, if not earlier, owing to lifestyle diseases. So what does the old model give you? About fifteen years to twenty years of medical bills and aches.

Really, why should a person retire at the age of 65? It might have been a valid assumption two generations ago when people worked with more their hands and less with their brains; these days it's the other way around. A mentally sharp 65-year old can do just as much work as a younger person, and that senior citizen would have the benefit of experience and insight. Indeed, we might even argue that senior citizens need to work in order to keep their minds sharp.

So why not turn it around? Retire at some point in mid-life, say two to five years, and subtract that balance from the twenty years of retirement that would have come at the tail end of life.

In my case, I'm taking an early retirement, a privilege afforded by frugal living in my twenties. Will I go back to join the workforce? Eventually. That means I'll be working well beyond 70 years of age, but so what? When I do, it'll be with the benefit of additional life experiences ...and several hundred kilometers of bike trips.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Last Fling of Summer: Panglao Circuit

I'm back in Dumaguete as I write this. I spent a little less than 24 hours in Tagbilaran and Panglao, and I really would have wanted to stay longer, but I have a party later tonight and I'm heading to Cebu tomorrow. Ah, well, the other sights will have to wait till next time. The trip was well worth it, though.

I started off at 5:30am as I knew this would be a much longer trip than yesterday's. The Dauis-Panglao road was about 18km end-to-end. The circumferential road around the island would be a little upwards of 50km.

I opted for a counterclockwise circuit as my first target stop was Hinagdanan Cave. I got there at around 6:15am. It had been turned into a full-blown tourist trap, complete with souvenirs and t-shirts. Since I was early, the shops were closed. Thankfully, the caretaker was already up and about, and after collecting my P15, she showed me to the entrance.
Hinagdanan is none too impressive but a worthwhile stop if it's along your way. It's really an underground chamber, around 1000 square meters. Limestone stalactites hang from the ceiling, and the chirping of birds that have made their home there completes the eerie effect. There's a pool of stagnant water in the main chamber. I took a few shots, but the cave was muggy and damp, so none of the pictures came out right. The guide will probably ask you, like she did with me, if you want to take a dip. Word of advice: refuse. The water is icky.

Afterwards, I stopped briefly at Momo Beach. The water was crystal clear but I resisted the temptation as I knew I still had a ways to go. The sand was powdery fine, though not very white. Typical of Panglao, though, is the relatively short beachfront area, and so it detracted a little from its appeal.

And then, once more San Agustin Parish, which told me I had hit the town of Panglao and the central part of the island.

I was glad I made it back to the church. I arrived a little late yesterday and so I really wasn't able to good shots. Today, I made up for it, from a very good angle, too.

On the plus side, I also found the clip for my helmet strap, which I had lost yesterday. A minor miracle! I found it inside the church, just underneath the kneeler. Now, why didn't I think of looking there yesterday?

The Spanish established the parish in late 1700s. The original baroque church was destroyed, and so the existing church is a little newer. Behind the church is a five-story belltower, supposedly the tallest in the country. It badly needs repairs.

Moving on, I hit the Alona beach area. The resorts along Alona tend to be on the pricey side. Fortunately, there are some public beachfronts that ask for no entrance fees. And the facilities are just as nice. More fine sand, more crystal clear water. Unfortunately, I was running low on time so I had to pass on any ideas of taking a swim. Maybe next time, when I have company. Moments like this I realize there are drawbacks to travelling alone.

Around 9:30am, I stopped by a roadside carinderia for some breakfast. There was one other customer there, a pretty Swiss backpacker named Krista. She had been in Panglao for four weeks (darn these lucky Europeans!) and was leaving in a few days. I told her about my biking adventures and that got her enthused. So she's going biking tomorrow, if she can rent a bike. Sadly, no pictures.

Realizing that I would miss the boat if I dallied further, I pedalled for Tagbilaran as fast as I could. There was a moment of panic as I thought I had taken a wrong turn and missed the bridge back to the city. Thankfully, that wasn't the case. It was just farther than I expected. I made it back to the hotel at 10:40am, checked out, and arrived at the port not long after that.

But I'm definitely going back. Aside from Panglao, there are several other great biking spots on Bohol island itself. That'll have to be for another time. Besides, how can I not go back? They take biking so seriously in Bohol. They even named one barangay after it.
Just kidding. It's actually Barangay Biking (pronounced 'bee-king'.)

PC Magazine water bottle

I got this cool-looking water bottle last month, courtesy of Art Ilano, as a token for presenting at the PC Magazine Roadshow in Davao. By far it's the best speaker's token I've ever received. Thanks, Art.

Unfortunately, it received a severe beating on my biking trip around Panglao. It fell once, and the rest of time it was jarred and shaken and scratched. It's a little worse for wear, but I still love it.

I also now realize the importance of bringing a water bottle on the bike. It's just so handy to have around. And the way it's designed forces me to drink in little sips instead of taking it all in at once.

Additional lesson: putting Coke in a bike-mounted water bottle is a bad idea. Duh, what was I thinking? But then again, I'm just exercising the "village idiot" part of my monicker.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Last Fling of Summer: Biking Panglao

I'm writing this post from a cybercafe in Tagbilaran City. I'd been planning on one last summer fling, and I had my eyes set towards Bohol. I was supposed to travel last Monday, but I postponed it because of a lingering cough. Tuesday came and went. And today, I got on the boat.

I took the 1:30PM Weesam fastcraft to Tagbilaran. A little pricey at P550 (P450 for the fare, and P100 for my bike), but otherwise quite comfortable. I arrived at 3:30PM, a little later than I expected, though not too late. After checking into a decent little inn called Sun Avenue Pension House, I headed straight for Panglao Island.

My ultimate goal is to do the circuit of the island. Owing to the time constraints, I had to content myself with the central road from Dauis to Panglao. Follow the red line in the picture below.
Map from asiatravel.com
The road was remarkable in its unremarkability. It was a gently rolling road, but generally flat. It cut a straight path across the island. There wasn't much traffic. On either side were pastoral scenes out of generic Filipino provincial life: farm land, sari-sari stores, schools, and not much else. But the air was clear and so the ride was refreshing. I ended right at the doorstep of old San Agustin Church.

It was an 20km ride going one way. Owing to the flatness of the road, there was no downhill coasting just straight pedalling forwards and back. So all in all, a good 40 km. No pictures as yet, though, because I didn't bring my card reader.

Tomorrow: island circuit, with stops at Hagdanan Cave and Alona Beach. Yeah! Gonna squeeze this summer for all it's worth!

Feminism is destroying the planet!

Popular Science points to a tongue-in-cheek "study" by Sean Carroll of Cosmic Variance (a group blog by five physicists): it's feminism, not greenhouse gas, that's causing global warming. Carroll used Google's Gapminder World to generate the correlating graph.

Conclusion, from Carroll's study:
"The correlation is clear as the Los Angeles haze — countries that educate women are dumping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, unless you’re crazy enough to think that it’s the CO2 that is causing all those girls to go get themselves an education, I think the implication is obvious: feminism is destroying the planet."

As clear as the Los Angeles haze...get it? And hey, an article that calls Al Gore a tree-hugger and a girly man can't be that bad, right? It's a gas.

As Mario would say: "You fool! You have doomed us all!"

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Sympathy for the devil

Since it's June 6, 2006 -- or another way of putting it: 06/06/06 -- I thought I'd put in a little word on the devil.

Our common conception of the devil is a fallen angel who, in a fit of pride, rebelled against God. Interestingly enough, this story doesn't actually exist as a prologue to the Fall of Man in the Bible. Instead, the references to the devil's fall from grace are scattered and hinted at in the Old Testament, specifically Isaiah, and the New Testament, in the 2nd Letter of Peter (2 Pt 2:4), in the 1st Letter of John (1 Jn 3:8), and of course, Revelations (Rev 12:9).

Still, the story of a once-favored angel who fell away from God has been part of a long-standing Christian tradition. This was established as Church teaching in the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215. All this was immortalized in Dante Alighieri's Inferno and John Milton's Paradise Lost.

Aside from the connotation of evil, the word 'devil' also means accuser or slanderer. In the Book of Job, the devil acted not so much a tempter as a prosecutor. In this role, the devil has my sympathies: he keeps us honest. After all, what is virtue that is not tested?

Not that we need a whole lot of prodding ourselves. There was the tale of the devil who was crying by the roadside. When people asked him why he was crying, he said that it was because people were blaming him for all the things they had done wrong, even the ones he hadn't caused.

Sometimes I feel like that very devil myself. Blamed for things I didn't do. Shunned because my behavior is a silent accusation against the people around me. What can I do? I am a devil, too. And also, echoing Chesterton's Father Brown, “I am a man, and therefore I have all devils in my heart."

Nevertheless, the devil's essential fault still remains one of pride, a virtue taken to the extreme. The devil held his dignity to be worth more than his loyalty to his Creator, and thus, the fall. I doubt the devil would cry as the story or my cartoon portrays him. No, too proud for that.

Let that pride not be my fault.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Contrast

Not long after I wrote my little diatribe against the prevailing attitudes in my own part of the world, I come upon this piece from the New York Times (also posted on CNET):
In the last few years, even as [IBM] has laid off thousands of workers in the United States and Europe, the growth in IBM's work force in India has been remarkable. From 9,000 employees in early 2004, the number has grown to 43,000 (out of 329,000 worldwide), making IBM the country's largest multinational employer.

That growth has not come just from taking advantage of the country's pool of low-cost talent. In recent months, the technology hub of Bangalore has become the center of IBM's efforts to combine high-value, cutting-edge services with its low-cost model.

For instance, the IBM India Research Lab, with units in Bangalore and New Delhi and a hundred employees with doctoral degrees, has created crucial products like a container tracking system for global shipping companies and a warranty management system for automakers in the United States. Out of the second project, IBM researchers have fashioned a predictable modeling system that helps track the failure of components inside a vehicle, a potentially important tool.


Distressing? To say the least. It's not so much a matter of IBM's corporate decisions but a case of cultural contrasts. On the one hand, you have a whole culture that's gung-ho about themselves (sometimes to the point of excess); and on the other, you have a culture that's simply complacent.

Some months ago, some friends emailed me asking why IBM wasn't investing into research activities in the country. The same scenario occured again in a mailing list. Why people ask me this is beyond me. I haven't been connected with IBM for over a year now.

In both cases, I got mildly upset. Why, in the first place, would IBM put research facilities into the Philippines? Are we doing any work that is of interest to IBM? Where IBM says Java, people say Visual Basic and .NET. Where IBM says DB2, people say Oracle. Where IBM says Linux, people say Windows. Well, why not go begging to Microsoft and Oracle for research investments, then?

Or is it the old sense of self-entitlement kicking into gear again?

More to the point, where are our computer science PhDs? It's not that we don't have any, it's just that we don't have enough in numbers to form the critical mass for crucial research. We have precious few "pure" computer science students to begin with; most of our schools seem to be more interested in "teaching skills that guarantee jobs." That usually equates to classes that teach Visual Basic, Visual Foxpro, and Microsoft Office. Or worse yet, Turbo C.

Sigh. Such a long way to go. Such a long, long way to go.

Wanted: Attitudinal Change

Rational Technology for June 11, 2006. Thanks to Danah Fortunato for acting out such convincing Bisaya dialogue.
"Hoy, Inday. Asa man ka mo-adto? Mag-alas diyes na sa gabi-i, dili na angay ing-gawas sa mga babayeng buhat."

"Excuse me, young lady. Where do you think you're going? It's almost 10 o'clock in the evening, you know. It's not proper for young ladies to be out anymore."

It's an accusation straight out of a cheap telenovela, but as with many things in this world, life imitates art. Yes, in this day and age, we can still hear that guilt-stirring admonition of a parent to a young lady. It might be a cautionary warning to some wayward offspring, but you'd be surprised. That's actually the mother castigating her daughter who's just about to go to work as an agent for a BPO.

Negros Oriental is now home to an international copyediting facility, two medical transcription companies, an animation company, and soon, a major call center operation. In just a span of two years, we've seen business process outsourcing (BPO) take root. Well beyond simple hype, the nascent BPO industry is producing those much needed jobs. By next year, we will have close to 2,000 employees working in the various BPO operations in the province.

While we can point to our superlative fiber-optic capacity, our high quality of life, our low cost of doing business, and an excellent educational system as the conditions that attracted BPOs into Negros Oriental, we have to address another factor that could bring all this crashing down. This factor is one of attitude.

For the first time in its history, Negros Oriental is seeing the arrival of 24-hours-a-day seven-days-a-week business operations. For a work culture that's built around an nine-to-five schedule, this comes as a bit of a shock. Going out to work at ten in the evening? Unthinkable! Unprecedented! Unconscionable! What will the neighbors think?

Amusedly, we might chalk it up to the old habits of the previous generation, but it's much more endemic and much deeper-rooted than that. It's quite visible in the work attitudes of the young BPO agents themselves. The manager of one of our local BPOs highlighted two incidents: first, the bulk of their agents absent themselves from work on account of rain (justifiable perhaps in Manila where they have floods, but not here where we don't); and second, their work schedule was thrown off on account of 'pista.'

Incidents like these are, well, more than a little embarrassing. Indeed, what will our neighbors think, not to mention our customers and investors? It would be the ultimate shame if our BPO industry collapsed owing to a lack of urgency and professionalism. We need a change of attitude.

But wait! We're not done yet. It's not just the parents and it's not just the employees, either. The problem can also be said to extend to the support services required to sustain a 24/7 BPO operation. Surprisingly, BPO woes are not alien from ours. The BPOs that have set up shop here also complain about the lack of stable and consistent power supply. They also complain about the inadequate interconnection between Cruztelco and Globe ("....sorry, all circuits are busy now...please try your call later....") They complain about the lack of adequate lighting along the highway.

Like a broken record that's played on too long, we already know the stock responses. "It's not NORECO2's fault; it's GenCo's fault; it's TransCo's fault." "It's not Globe's fault; it's Cruztelco's." "It's not Cruztelco's fault; it's Globe's." "It's not the city's fault; it's the province's." "It's not the province's fault; it's the city's." Blah. Blah. Blah. But you know what? It doesn't matter whose fault it is. It still boils down to a lack of professionalism and urgency. We need a change of attitude.

But wait! We're not done yet. It's not just the parents and it's not just the employees and it's not just the support services. The problem extends to our local government leaders whose job it is to set a vision for the province and work towards that vision. Yet how many local administrators are aware of the provisions and incentives granted by PEZA whose benefits some BPOs enjoy? When one of the BPOs invited LGU officials to an open forum on their operations, only two showed up.

Really, it doesn't help at all when the leaders of the Negros Oriental continue to show a marked lack of understanding of the BPO phenomenon that's happening in the province. At the IT workshop where these revelations came to light, Gov. George Arnaiz (in a speech read by Provincial Board Member Arturo Umbac, as the governor could not make it) disingenuously began: "I admit I know nothing of IT...I have only recently acquired an email account..." While the governor should be commended for his candor, his continued ignorance of IT bespeaks something else. Sir, it's the 21st centure. This is not an image to project to constituents or investors. We need a change of attitude.

In contrast, Vice Mayor William Ablong shows a bit more savvy when he talks about the capabilities of IT. However, he approaches it from its negative effects, such as its use for criminal purposes. As with any tool, it's essential to have an understanding of its potential for good and evil; but we should not start from a foothold of fear, but from hope. We need a change of attitude.

Possibly the most distressing report, though, concerns the reason for attrition in the local BPO positions. In Manila, BPO employees quit their company in favor of another one that offers a premium in salary or better working conditions. In Negros Oriental, BPO employees quit their company because:

* "La-ay na man. Pahuway sa ko." (I'm tired. I think I'll just take a break first.)

* "Mag-eskwela na lang ko ug caregiver para maka-abroad." (I'll study to be a caregiver so I can go abroad.)

* "Dili gusto si Mama nga mag-trabaho ko didto." (Mom doesn't want me to work here.)

And really, that's just so sad. Understandable enough that someone quit because the salary is low or because the conditions are intolerable. But to quit because of a lack of ambition? We need a change of attitude.
"Ah! Ing-ana ba di-ay? Hala! Sige. Pag-resign na lang ka anang trabaho-a kaysa madaot atong pangalan sa atong mga silingan. Magpuyo na lang ka dinhi sa balay. Mientras na-a pa ko'y kusog, mas ma-ayo pa nga palamunon na lang tika kaysa magtrabaho ka ni-anang call center."

"Oh? Is that so? Alright, fine. Resign your job. I don't want our family name ruined among our neighbors. Just stay at home. While I have the strength, I'll be the one to feed you. Rather than have you work at that...at that...call center!"

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Lenovo shuns Linux

Thanks to Charo for pointing out this story.

CRN reports that Lenovo will not install or support the Linux operating system on any of its PCs, including ThinkPads and a series of new notebooks. The company is positioning itself as an exclusive partner of Microsoft, several weeks after the companies announced they were "reaffirming" global market development and cooperation agreements.

It's a bit of a shame, considering that the Thinkpad is one of the notebooks which generally work and play well with Linux. Heck, I even own one. But I suppose the marketing gods have to be appeased, heritage notwithstanding.

This statement is a bit funny in its categorical denial.
"We will not have models available for Linux, and we do not have custom order, either," said Frank Kardonski, Lenovo's worldwide product manager for Lenovo 3000 offerings. "What you see is what you get. And at this point, it's Windows."

In the end, it might really be just a case of support strategy, but this seems to buck the trend among hardware vendors to pre-install and support Linux. HP already does it, as does Acer.

A wet blanket on Google

ForeignPolicy.com features a story that reexamines (mis)conceptions of Google. "Think Again: Google", written by David Vise, questions whether Google can really be called a truly global company, the next Microsoft, and the most inventive force in the world, among other things.

The article tackles sensitive issues which have hounded Google in past months, including its forced cooperation with Chinese authorities for censorship and its mishandling of a CNET reporter who wrote a story on Eric Schmidt using information from...you guessed it, the Google search engine.

Of substantial interest were the obstacles to Google's quest for global ubiquity. In China, not only did it have to accede to censorship, it also has to compete with the government-backed Baidu.com. In Japan, Google is second to the dominant Yahoo! And Google has become so desperate in South Korea that it has had to do something it has never done before: spend money on brand promotion.

Of Google's perceived invincibility, it says: "Clearly, the honeymoon is over for Google. Not only has the darling of search been subject to close government scrutiny, its finances are taking a hit, too.... Google’s absolute refusal to provide Wall Street analysts with any forward-looking financial guidance only compounds the risk, uncertainty, and volatility involved in investing in the company.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

More on the $100 Laptop

Whoops, looks like Slashdot accepted my submission on Ethan Zuckerman's story regarding the One Laptop Per Child project.

Hot on its heels is another story by CNET News.com, this time featuring OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte. Negroponte says: "If I am annoying Microsoft and Intel then I figure I am doing something right." Amen to that.

I heard it first from Mark Shuttleworth about turning Moore's Law on its head. For the past twenty years, Moore's Law has been a self-fulfilling prophecy for the commodity PC industry. Keep the price of PCs constant, increase the capacity, and generate demand with new applications and savvy marketing. But what if all I really want are some basic functions just to get some work done? Can't we turn Moore's Law on its head, establish a baseline for functionality, and lower the price?

That's the thinking behind the OLPC project. Sure, it's looking more like the $150 laptop than the $100 laptop, but following the trends and the volumes that OLPC is talking about, the target price will certainly be achievable by the time OLPC rolls out.

Will the market beat OLPC to the punch by coming out with similarly-priced laptops? No. It is anathema to the current Wintel hegemony. The $100 price tag doesn't even begin to cover the Windows software license!

Furthermore, you have to think of its impact in terms of developing nations than plain old consumer sales. Distributing 100,000 standard PCs to underprivileged schools just won't do. The key to its success is its ubiquity and its individual throwaway price. The key to its success is putting it in the hands of children.

Just a couple of days ago, at the Negros Oriental IT Workshop, I heard an anecdote from a government official regarding computerization in Philippine public schools. Apparently, some generous company had donated PCs to this school he visited. But the PCs were all wrapped in plastic.

"Why are these computers wrapped in plastic?" he asked the teachers.

"Sir, so the children can't destroy the computers."

And there's the rub. Despite being 'free', these poor souls still think of a standard computer in terms of its actual market value, around P30,000 ($550), which is equivalent to three months' salary of a teacher in the Philippines. And the computers go unused.

On the other hand, no one has the same qualms about low-end cellphones. Kids use them. Even teachers use them. So really, we need the computer equivalent of a low-end cellphone. It should be cheap. It should be durable. And it should be placed in kids' hands. The OLPC is it.

Trail Fever

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
--John Masefield, "Sea Fever"

I must down to the road again, to the lonely trail and the sky
And all I ask is a ten-speed and a chain to pedal by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and handlebar's shaking,
A grey cloud on my grimy face, and no hint of braking.
--Dominique Cimafranca, "Trail Fever"

Yes, I've just bastardized a classic poem, but I hope I haven't done too bad a job of it. I've retained the rhyme and the meter. At the very least, I hope I demonstrate kinship with the spirit of Mr. Masefield.

And I needed to write that. In retrospect, this May has been one of the cruellest summers in recent memory. Sadly, some things break along the way. Better now than later, I suppose. Nothing to do but move on.

I survive. I thrive. I ride.

Always, the freedom of the open road beckons.

Oh, yeah, baby.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Broken cup

Just to mark an event.

Ethan Zuckerman on the OLPC


Ethan Zuckerman has been very kind to post links to my blog every now and then, and I thought I'd return the favor by pointing out his detailed update on the One Laptop per Child project. His story covers a lot of the technical details of the OLPC, now nearing its final prototype.

I particularly like the little anecdote about why the power crank, one of the early features of the OLPC laptop, was ultimately left out.
The one feature missing from the prototype I saw - the crank. It’s been clear - even before Kofi Annan broke the crank off an early laptop prototype - that a power-generating crank attached to the machine, like cranks are incorporated into FreePlay radios, might not work. Jim, who has designed the motherboard of the machine and has been focused on power consumption helped me understand why.

Contrary to what you learned in The Matrix, human beings are lousy at generating electric power. Small children are capable of generating between five and ten watts, for short periods of time. Since conventional laptops draw about 6 to 8 watts with their screens turned on, that’s a real problem for a child-powered laptop. The laptop needs to get much less power-hungry, and power generation needs to maximize the output a child is capable of.


Anyway, a Slashdot-worthy article.

Installation done!


Alright, folks, check the timestamp on this post and compare it with the previous one. That's roughly the time it took to install Ubuntu 6.06 onto my hard disk and reboot so I could work on the disk copy instead of the LiveCD.

Man! How slick is that?

Thanks to some foresight in partitioning my previous Ubuntu installation, I managed to save all my configuration settings. Wallpaper, desktop, and other files transferred without a hitch to Dapper Drake.

A cursory look at the main menu shows a couple of new applications: the Alacarte menu editor and the Ekiga Soft Phone. The other staples are still there, of course, but in upgraded form. OpenOffice.org is version 2.0.2 and Firefox is 1.5.0.3.

Some more installation screenshots below:





Installing Dapper Drake


I am installing Ubuntu 6.06, the Dapper Drake, as I write this blog entry...on the same machine that I am using to log on to Blogger and write this blog. That sounds a little mind-boggling, but yes, the same machine that I am installing on is already fully usable. Firefox? Check. GAIM? Check. The GIMP? Check. And let me repeat: I am installing on this machine as I write this blog entry. How cool is that?

No more waiting for hours and hours as the installer copies temporary files to disk. Just boot using in LiveCD mode and click on Install. So now, the installer is working on the background while I have a browser window open. I doubt I'll want to fire up OpenOffice.org, but yes, I could probably do that.

Darn it! This is the way operating system installations should be. Take that, Microsoft Vista!

Dapper Drake was released yesterday and throughout the day I was fidgeting, checking on the Ubuntu website to see if the download page had been updated to reflect 6.06 instead of 5.10. And finally, I get a message from Charo's blog pointing out the download site. So I left the computer on the whole night while I downloaded the ISO image via Bittorrent. And this morning, voila!

Pretty slick, man. Kudos to the Ubuntu team. More on this as I play around with it.