Thursday, November 30, 2006

Poll: Funniest Sci-Fi Films

A new poll over at the Sci-Fi Philippines web site: funniest sci-fi film. I've pared down the choices to four. I'm hoping that limiting options might encourage more participation.

Sorry if your favorite funny SF film isn't listed, but feel free to add it in the comments.

Box Office Mojo has a comprehensive list of comedy SF. The top 10, according to the box office chart:

Men in Black
Men in Black II
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids
The Nutty Professor
The Nutty Professor II
Galaxy Quest
The Stepford Wives
Honey, I Blew Up The Kid


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Core suggestions for HB5769

Sorry, folks, not too much time to blog. Just finished a mini-conference with civil society to present our positions on the CICT roadmap. Some juicy stuff, but none that I think I should blog about.

Anyway, here's what I've been working on, my suggestions for the FOSS Bill. Didn't find time to write more detailed explanations of the wherefores and whys, but I do hope there's enough here to provide a framework.

1) The Bill should lead to the definition of a reference operating system, built on FOSS, to be used as a benchmark for open standards interoperability in all government ICT projects. This is not FOSS for FOSS' sake. It is simply the means by which government can test whether an application -- FOSS or proprietary -- empirically complies with the standard computing environment that government has set.

No application should provide a feature that will not work with this reference operating system. Too often, vendors claim to comply with standards and yet provide "extras" that will work only with certain products; too often, these "extras" become specifications.

An application that does not completely interoperate with the reference operating system, even though provided for free by a vendor, should not be accepted.

All PC-based hardware acquisition, whether for CPU or peripherals, must be demonstrably compatible with the reference operating system.

The reference operating system must necessarily be FOSS because only a FOSS license will allow for examination, modification, use, and redistribution of the software. Government and interested vendors must be able to examine its code to make sure that it complies with open standards specifications. Government and interested vendors must be able to make modifications to the reference operating system as new standards are defined. Any vendor must be able to acquire the reference operating system for testing and benchmarking with their products.

In cases where a government agency or organization -- or any citizen for that matter -- cannot afford to license a proprietary operating system, the reference operating system can then be provided in its stead.

The Bill must appoint a government agency as custodian of this reference operating system. It must allocate funds by which the said government agency can maintain and support the reference operating system.

2) The Bill should provide stricter audit measures with regard to software license compliance and software acquisition. Government must lead by example.

Proprietary software insinuates itself into government systems by way of piracy. Finally faced with the prospect of proper licensing, pirated software becomes too deeply rooted in operations such that no other alternative can be sought.

Software license compliance within government should be transparent to the public. The Bill should provide for this. Only then can we be certain that there are no hidden accumulating costs within government information systems.

Software acquisition and maintenance costs must also be made public. No software cost should be bundled into hardware purchases. Only within a transparent environment can government properly gauge whether it is FOSS or proprietary solutions that is cost-effective.

3) The Bill should recognize and respect the licenses of shrink-wrapped or packaged software that it procures.

That said, The Bill must encourage government agencies to carefully evaluate the licenses for any hidden future costs. Software license costs must be predictable and transparent. They must be properly gauged throughout the projected lifetime of the system. This applies equally to both FOSS and proprietary products.

FOSS licenses must be respected, and The Bill should take pains to enforce this. FOSS products that government implements, whether implemented internally or by a vendor, must follow its intended license.

However, all software in which government agencies participate in the design and development should fall under a FOSS license, whether by heritage or origin. Vendors who participate in its development would be considered to be subcontractors, and government considered to be the primary owner. Corollary to this, no tool or library may be used that would prevent the complete working end product and its source code from falling under a FOSS license.

4) The success of FOSS depends greatly on the availability of support. The Bill should empower a government agency with the resources and the capabilities by which it can support FOSS initiatives. The said government agency should work with government research agencies and state universities and colleges in developing a FOSS support network that extends throughout the country.

SUCs and HEIs need not be compelled to offer FOSS-related courses. FOSS should simply be a logical extension of the government initiatives in which they participate.

The agency and its network must initially support the reference operating system. As its capabilities grow, it can add to its roster the library of replicable FOSS solutions previously implemented in other projects. The agency can certify these products to be compliant with open standards and with government procedures. Implementing these solutions will result in significant cost savings, reduce development time, and promote standardization of government systems.

Government need not be the agency to deploy these solutions; interested outside vendors can step forward to implement them.


Friday, November 24, 2006

A Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill

In this series: Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill, Desktops, Small Servers, and Large Integrated Systems

Where the FOSS Bill is weakest is, ironically, in its purported intent to mandate the use of FOSS in all government projects. The heart of this is Section 6.2: "Use of FOSS – The government shall apply only FOSS or FOSS solutions, as defined in section 4 of this Act, in all ICT projects and activities." Understandably, this point is the lightning rod for all the controversy surrounding the bill. That's unfortunate because it threatens the other important points that need to be addressed.

Just why is the FOSS bill so weak on this point? Because it attempts to achieve too much without understanding the practical considerations. Because it relies on a blanket generalization that all IT projects are created equal. Because it doesn't make any distinctions based on the types of IT projects.

Rather than an all-or-nothing proposition -- which it will most likely lose -- I'd much rather see the FOSS bill make those distinctions in which FOSS applies. The approach I propose is to classifying according to desktop, small servers, and large integrated systems. We need to take into account their characteristics and see how FOSS and open standards apply. Each category here is different enough so as to justify a different approach for each, FOSS or otherwise.

1) Desktops are individual units which could presumably stand alone or participate in a network; their primary application is for office productivity and communications.

2) Small servers, either as a single unit or working with a very limited number of other servers, provide a set of services to other computers.

3) Large integrated systems require copious amounts of storage and processing power (and correspondingly, special software) either as a single powerful unit or aggregate of several units.


FOSS Bill: Desktops

In this series: Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill, Desktops, Small Servers, and Large Integrated Systems

Are desktops practical targets for FOSS implementation? For the Philippine government, 99% of the time, yes. Usage profile for these desktops is mostly office productivity for which we do have strong FOSS alternatives. Similarly, there are strong FOSS candidates for email and instant messenger communications, too.

When we talk about custom applications, there's no reason why we need an application front-end that's tied in to a particular technology platform. Even the most sophisticated proprietary systems already use web browsers as interface.

In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a reason why one needs a specific desktop operating system in any government office. Too often, however, desktops are bundled with their operating systems (and when they are not, they are usually pirated software). This leaves the government with little flexibility of choice when they make their purchase.

As a practical approach for the desktop, then, I propose the following measures:

1) The bill should mandate strict enforcement of software licensing in all government offices, with strong penalties for offices that fail to comply.

2) All new desktop purchases, whether individual units or part of a larger project, should unbundle the operating system and applications from the hardware. Operating systems and applications should be evaluated separately for its intended function and corresponding price. Cost comparisons must include any licensing and support fees applied for the duration of the lifetime of the machines.

3) All new hardware intended for desktop use, including the printers, scanners, and other peripheral devices, must have officially supported drivers for FOSS operating systems.

4) Agencies with desktops running unlicensed software must procure licensed software, purchase to be made against their budget for 2007. Failure to do so means replacing said desktop OS and applications with a FOSS alternative.

5) At a stretch: All hardware vendors must propose a FOSS desktop operating system alongside any proprietary desktop operating system.


FOSS Bill: Small Servers

In this series: Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill, Desktops, Small Servers, and Large Integrated Systems

Small servers either run some small custom application or some auxiliary service. They are typically deployed as small projects. For auxiliary services, typical functions are: file server; print server; firewall; authentication server; name server; web server; proxy server; load balancing server; email server; and data backup server.

They can also be slightly more complex as a database-backed application. But we'll talk about application in the context of source code and development in another post.

Most small servers run as independent units; where the service is a composite of multiple servers, there should be, as a rule-of-thumb, no more than five separate units (whether physical machines or virtual machines) working together. Small servers, if they follow open standards, should be able to interoperate with any other server or desktop.

There's a greater variety of functions for small servers than for desktops, and therefore a great degree of features and flexibility. Typically, hardware and software for small servers will typically come separately. An exception: small servers can come as appliances where the integration between hardware and software is so tight that they are sold as a unit and in no other form than as a unit.

So where does FOSS come in? For the auxiliary functions mentioned (file server, print server, etc.), FOSS software are generally available, and are in fact, the preferred choice for some functions. The problem arises when a vendor introduces a server with proprietary extensions that make it work only with specific servers. This reduces the customer to a narrower set of choices, usually other products sold by the same vendor. Result: lock-in.

What provisions then are required?

As with desktops, hardware and software prices must be unbundled when not purchased as an appliance. This affords the decision-makers and auditors a clear view of the cost of the software. Just as important, all server hardware must have officially supported drivers for FOSS operating systems.

To which I propose we add the following:

1) All servers must interoperate with a FOSS-only reference server. In operation, no server must take advantage of a feature that it cannot support for the FOSS-based reference server. Likewise, the server must operate with the services being provided by the FOSS-based reference server. Candidate services for this reference server would be authentication, web, and mail forwarding.

2) Services provided by new servers must be available to a FOSS-only reference client desktop. Moreover, the services provided to the FOSS-only reference client must be exactly the same as any other client.

3) At a stretch: existing servers that cannot interoperate with the FOSS-only reference client desktop must provide the means for doing so. If the existing server cannot provide this means, no new client desktop that must use this service can be purchased.


FOSS Bill: Large integrated systems

In this series: Practical Framework for the FOSS Bill, Desktops, Small Servers, and Large Integrated Systems

Things become more interesting and more complicated when we get to large integrated systems. This is the realm of "big iron", the mainframes and the UNIX servers of this world. And if you have to ask: in this PC-dominated world, are they still necessary? the answer is yes.

These systems are needed when there's a tremendous amount of data that needs to be processed, or when the processing is complex, or when several processes take place simultaneously. Some data services are so critical they need "hot sites", and sometimes these require such large systems. Finally, these systems may be employed in server consolidation efforts -- when there are too many small servers, it may be cheaper to run them as virtual machines within large servers.

Clearly, large servers represent the major exception in government IT systems. The good news: many of them can run FOSS OSes, either natively or as virtual machines. The bad news: the FOSS OSes running on these systems may not work as well as their native OSes. The good news: the OS might not really matter as these systems can run FOSS software.

It's also in these large integrated systems that applications tend to matter most. These are either complex packaged applications or heavily customized applications. We'll tackle these issues when we talk about source code and applications.

If these systems are so different, then how should they be approached in the context of the bill? First and foremost, without exception, open standards. Regardless of how they are built, these systems provide services. Their internal complexity matters not so much so long as they communicate with external systems using open standard format, without any prejudice to the nature of the client.

So again, we fall back to the FOSS-only reference implementations: The services must be accessible by the FOSS-only reference desktop. Any interaction with external servers must be tested against the FOSS-only reference server.

Finally, if any existing systems fail the FOSS-only reference test, the owning agencies must provide some form of gateway by which the systems can pass.


Some thoughts on HB5769

House Bill 5769, otherwise known as the Philippine FOSS Bill, has been making the rounds of both the legal and technical for a few weeks now. As it steps up to its final reading in congress, discussions around it are heating up for both pro and con.

Thus far, I've been sitting on the sidelines watching the arguments fly. Not a very good position to take, I know. The fact is, so far, I've been ambivalent about the matter. It's a stance partly borne out of cynicism. Recognition of FOSS is a good thing, but in practical terms, there are many ways around the proposed provisions. And I'm not sure that the proposals will not introduce more problems than solve them.

Nevertheless, sitting on the fence is never good. Albeit belatedly, here are my thoughts on the bill.

Definition and Recognition of FOSS licenses
To me, this is the highlight of the bill. It's a positive step in the recognition of FOSS licenses as valid contracts in the country. Section 5, in particular, says: "The government shall recognize the validity and legitimacy of FOSS and FOSS licenses, subject to the provisions of existing laws, rules and regulations."

This, I think, is one of the fundamental components of the bill. That said, the bill has to go into the particulars as to which FOSS licenses to recognize. Is it a blanket approval of FOSS licenses? Whose definition of FOSS should we use? Should any license claiming to conform to FOSS be considered as such? As I write, there are 58 open source licenses listed by the Open Source Initiative.

We need not cover all FOSS licenses, just the key ones in use by fundamental open source products. These would be GPL, Apache, and FreeBSD. The rest can be provisional components.

Mandating the use of open standards
This is another key provision, and one which should brook no exception. Section 6.1 says: "The Government shall use only ICT goods and services that are, support, and are interoperable with open standards, protocols and specifications." Some rewording here may be necessary. I like Bong Dizon's proposal: "The Government shall only use, adopt, procure, fund and support ICT goods and services that are, support and / or interoperable with open standards, protocols or specifications."

That said, open standards are a motherhood statement in the industry. Microsoft, for example, can claim that they use open standards even though they often add extensions. Therefore, the bill needs a stricter definition of open standards. Bong Dizon proposes the definitions proposed by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society as well as the International Open Source Network.

Open standards, in particular, should refer to document formats used in Government in all its transactions. That is, they should be readable and editable in the same form by any software, whether open source or proprietary. This definition should include documents displayed on web browsers.

However, it admits a blanket exception in Section 6.3.1: "Where there is no reasonably available ICT good or services supporting open standards in the field, area or activity that the Government intends to enter or participate." This is simply unacceptable.

And what about existing systems? Again, there is a loophole. Section 6.3.2 says: "Where a particular government agency or office has an existing, widely-used and widely implemented proprietary ICT system and there are no reasonably available technology using open standards that can be used with the said proprietary system."

The section on open standards is significant enough that it should probably be given as a separate section. It should not be confused with FOSS.

Provisions against Software Patents
Section 11 seems to go in that direction, but it doesn't go far enough. Section 22.7, for example, proposes to protect FOSS-licensed software from patents: "ANY STANDARD, PROTOCOL, SPECIFICATION, AND COMPUTER PROGRAM / SOFTWARE, WHICH HAD GENERALLY BEEN KNOWN AS FREE/OPEN SOURCE SOFTWARE OR FORM PART OF EXISTING OPEN STANDARDS, OR ANY OF THEIR DERIVATIVES.

Why not extend the same to all software, including algorithms?

To be continued.


Born into Misfortune

Quite a sad sight. As a rule I don't give to beggars anymore, but I couldn't help myself. I knew, though, out of sight, the girl's mother or sister was eyeing her carefully. Probably to make sure she didn't run away with the money.

Sad, really.


Chess Huckster

"White to move, mate in two."
Also taken along Perdices Street. As Christmas approaches, we seem to have more and more hucksters and salesmen on the streets.


Peripatetic Jewelry Salesman

Taken along Perdices St. in Dumaguete City. The display table is a shallow basin of mild acid, usually lemon. The chains and metalwork are dipped into the mix to show that the plating withstands corrosion.

Would you like to buy a bridge in Brooklyn, too?


The State of Philippine ICT

I wanted to write some commentary to this picture. Then I realized it was enough commentary by itself.


The State of Philippine ICT...again

Yet another view.


The State of Philippine ICT

Biking up Camanjac early this morning, I came across this scene. Sigh. So much for ICT in this country.


Thursday, November 23, 2006

Which "Heroes" superpower would you want?

"Heroes" is undoubtedly the most popular show among my friends these days. Is it just some common geekery that's in tune with our personalities, or is the show really just that good?

Just past its 9th episode (yes, I've seen it, thank you very much), the threads of the story are coming together. Not completely, not yet, just enough to leave me wanting for more.

In any case, the powers of the lead heroes are already out in the fore. Poll time, then: which "Heroes" superpower would you want? Vote here!

Quick summary of characters and their powers:

  • Claire Bennet, the cheerleader: spontaneous regeneration
  • Isaac Mendez, the artist: precognition
  • Niki / Jessica Sanders, the webcam stripper: super strength (as Jessica)
  • D.L. Hawkins, Niki's estranged husband: intangibility
  • Micah Sanders, son of D.L. and Niki: technomancy
  • Hiro Nakamura, who needs no introduction: ability to bend time and space
  • Matt Parkman, police officer: mindreader
  • Nathan Petrelli, congressional candidate: flight
  • Peter Petrelli, Nathan's younger brother: mimicry
  • Charlie, the waitress: eidetic memory

    I'd put in Sylar, too, but he's just way too creepy.

    Vote now!

  • Review: A Scanner Darkly

    "A Scanner Darkly" follows the story of Bob Arctor, narcotics undercover agent, as he traces the source of Substance D. Substance D is a highly addictive drug, its ultimate effect akin to schizophrenia. The "D" stands for Death. Therein lies the MacGuffin of the novel.

    Written by science fiction master Philip K. Dick, "A Scanner Darkly" has several sci-fi elements to keep fans happy. For example, undercover agents wear a scrambler suit when reporting to their superiors. Then there are the advanced surveillance devices, the titular scanners, employed by the narcs. The plot around Substance D is engagingly sci-fi, too, presaging the X-Files by several years. But as with other PKD novels, these elements simply provide atmosphere. They take a backseat to the larger story taking place.

    You see, "A Scanner Darkly", though disguised as a sci-fi novel, isn't about the sci-fi at all. It's about life in the hazy drug subculture of 1970's America.

    "A Scanner Darkly's" characters muddle through a perpetual fog of paranoia, confusion, and aimlessness. Something as simple as getting a car repaired becomes a major adventure. Bills and trinkets become sources of conflict. Ambitions go no further than kooky plans of making it big someday. In the background is the constant worry of where the next hit is going to come from.

    And whether your most trusted friend is an undercover agent who's spying on you.

    The problem is especially acute for Bob Arctor, who's both narc and junkie. He even has to spy on himself. That's right: his identity as agent is kept secret even from his superior, so he has to report on his alter ego to allay any suspicions. Things get comically worse when he becomes the primary suspect in his own investigation.

    It's this double life that takes its toll on Arctor. As the story progresses, he comes unhinged. Who's the real personality? The agent, or the addict? Or maybe they're both equally real. As Arctor views himself through the scanner, it looks like he's spying on a totally different person. Hence, the title.

    PKD is at his best when he's writing about cognitive dissonance. He writes it so well that even the reader is kept off balance. The story becomes a game of perception. Viewed through Arctor, slowly coming apart, the reader is pulled into the disorientation. In this novel, it's not used as a plot gimmick. It becomes a vehicle by which the reader steps into the shoes of a drug addict, lost and confused.

    As a novel about drugs, "A Scanner Darkly" is gently sympathetic and never judging. It doesn't condone or promote the use of drugs, not by any means. But it doesn't label its drug users as bad people, either. True, some atrocities take place -- stated, rather than described -- but never by the main characters.

    Instead, they're portrayed as lost children who have fallen off the edge. The sense of responsibility is gone. The drugs have taken that faculty away.

    Writing as he does, one feels that the novel is almost autobiographical. It's a feeling confirmed once you hit the afterword. PKD did spend time in drug rehab, as he admits. The very end of the book is the most heart-wrenching. It's a list of friends suffering or lost through drugs.

    And, as a touch of honesty one would be hard-pressed to find in another author, last of all he includes himself.

    "A Scanner Darkly" is available from National Bookstore.


    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Sci-Fi Philippines Website

    I'm mostly done with the Sci-Fi Philippines website. More than just a mere frivolity, it was also an exercise in flexing my PmWiki coding muscles. Plus the fact that I had already referred to it in my upcoming article in PC Magazine Philippines.

    The site still isn't fully populated with articles. I'm hoping to add one per day until I get a decent number. Submitted stories would be most welcome, too.

    Coding-wise, I think I still got it. That besides, PmWiki is a really great tool, one that's designed the way a hacker thinks. It's quite flexible despite its simplicity, has a number of cookbook solutions, and has great community support.

    The site makes use of a number of PmWiki features. PageLists, I've found, are extremely useful. They work great when you're trying to emulate blog behavior. Page include directives came in handy, too. I've also made use of RSS reader module to reproduce traffic from our mailing list. The clincher was a voting system that I inserted in under an hour.

    Do drop by and give it a spin.

    Next up: the small Philippine communities blog aggregator.


    The Hero that is Hiro

    Thanks to my buddies at Sci-Fi Philippines, I've discovered the joys of the new TV series Heroes. Thanks to the Internet, I actually get to enjoy it without waiting for a local programming exec to pick it up. Hooray for the Nissan Versa!

    The story may be taking its own sweet time in coming together. All the better because it never fails to surprise with a character twist or two each episode.

    Now we have quite an ensemble of, well, heroes. There's the cheerleader with a healing factor. There's the precog junkie artist. There's the mimic and his brother the flying congressman. There's the mindreader. There's the persuader. Each character is turning out to have a superpower of his or her own.

    So who's the best character so far? Hands down winner: Hiro Nakamura!

    Oh, sure, Hiro's powers are just about the coolest there is. "I bend space and time," he says, and how. He can freeze a moment. He can teleport (and to the ladies' washroom, too!). He can go forward and back in time. And his future self carries a samurai.

    But all that barely just skims the surface of why Hiro is by far the best of the lot.

    Of all the heroes in the show, only Hiro thus far deserves the label.

    Everyone else seems intent on hiding their powers (Claire, Nathan), fearing them (Nikki), using them for personal gain (DL) or for self-validation (Peter, Isaac). When they do something heroic, it's done simply at the spur of a moment. Only Matt the mindreading police officer comes close, but he's still nowhere near Hiro's stature.

    Only Hiro is driven by selfless altruism, making the sacrifice of travelling halfway around the world to prevent a cataclysm. Only Hiro embraces his powers wholeheartedly. Only Hiro wants to make something of himself as a hero.

    Hiro is the first of the heroes to experience guilt, inadequacy, and doubt. It's this desire to be a hero that shows him his limitations. "Why couldn't I have saved them?" he asks, talking about the gamblers who would have had no compunctions about killing him and his friend Ando.

    It's clear that Hiro's motivations come from an education in comic books. He explains his powers via X-Men and Star Trek. He and Ando resolve a moral argument by referring to Spider-Man. And while it looks like it's played for comic relief (pun intended), it's tremendously more important:

    It provides us, the comics lovers, with our true connection with the show.

    No doubt about it, "Heroes" is a show for people who grew up with comics. Without Hiro Nakamura, it might still be interesting. But our depth of empathy with the characters would still be one or two steps removed: because we're not cheerleaders, congressmen, Internet strippers, nurses, or painters.

    With Hiro, it's a different matter entirely. Salarymen we might not be, but we immediately feel the kinship in a way that we can't with the other characters. Hiro is the nerd, out of place in the world, yet heroically trying to set it right. Hiro is the heroic soul of the show.

    And that is why Hiro Nakamura is so cool. Because we are Hiro Nakamura.


    Tuesday, November 21, 2006

    Study shows more women prefer Ubuntu

    Informal study shows: more women prefer Ubuntu.

    Alright, so the evidence is purely anecdotal for now, and the study was by authoritative ol' me, but I really am meeting more women using Ubuntu. Quite a ways from the old days when female Linux users were few and far between.

    These days, I'm seeing women with Ubuntu stickers emblazoned across their laptop covers. Or acquaintances who see my Ubuntu shirt and say, "Oh! You use Ubuntu! I use Ubuntu, too." (Whoever thought my fashion sense would turn me into a chick magnet?)

    Perhaps it's got something to do with Ubuntu's slick design? That might be part of the reason, but only a small part. The reasons they put out are more substantial: of the women I've asked, many have said that they find Ubuntu faster and that it takes away the headache of viruses.

    Yay, Ubuntu!


    Monday, November 20, 2006

    I've lost my mojo!

    Well, no not really. Or I should say, I hope not. It feels that way, though, as I haven't written anything since last Wednesday.

    It's just been difficult posting as I've had only short periods of Internet since Wednesday. More's the pity as a lot has happened since then. Some backblogging tomorrow should fill in the gaps.

    My other excuse: I've also had my hands full with the Science Fiction Philippines wiki. Still not perfect, but it's finally taking shape. I have to hurry the site as I used it as an example in an upcoming article for PC Magazine Philippines.

    As a result, my Nanowrimo novel has not moved past the 2,000 words I've put in. Really, I don't think I'll make it. I do plan to give it a push this coming weekend, though. I might not hit the 50,000-word mark, but I at least want a short yarn to come out of it.

    Other things that have happened since:

  • My SLAX presentation was well-received. The audience was quite attentive. Having two projectors and two computers helped a lot. At the end, several people requested copies of the CDs.
  • Ubuntu-PH launch party for Edgy Eft, and several new friends.
  • A discovery: more women prefer Ubuntu!

  • Bum stomach. No, you didn't need to know that.

  • Meeting with DTI Undersecretary Carissa Cruz
  • Presented my customized SLAX CD to DTI Director Dita Maralit
  • Shopping in Divisoria
  • Casino Royale, the best James Bond movie I've seen in a while. Free running is the bomb!
  • Cheesecake and chocolate with three stunning women from Ateneo de Manila. Oooh.

  • Business errands
  • Sci-Fi Philippines Marathon (Black Hole, Tron, The Last Starfighter, and Heroes)
  • Late night / early morning coffee with the Sci-Fi geeks

  • Fly back to Dumaguete
  • Sleep

    Like, whew.
  • Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    "Poor can help..."

    "Poor can help, but lazy cannot help."

    More than any of the technical discussions, that's the most important takeaway I got from this morning's session here at FOSS-at-Work. That quote came from Shoung Noy, the leading proponent for free and open source software in Cambodia.

    Noy's focus was on localization efforts in the Khmer language. Localization is important to Cambodia because it removes a significant barrier to IT. Many Cambodians do not speak English, and the localization allows them to use computers quickly and with more confidence. Unlike other Southeast Asian nations which use Romanized letters, Cambodia uses Khmer.

    Khmer script is unique. It is an Indic-based script, but made more complicated by additional vowels and split matras (vowel signs).

    Cambodia approached Microsoft and asked them for localized versions of MS Office and Windows. The cost: $30 million. So instead, the Cambodian government turned to open source, finding their solution in OpenSUSE and

    Microsoft came back to them with a revised offer of $1 per user. By then, it was too late. "One dollar compared to zero dollars, which do I choose?" Noy said. Obvious.

    Localization work on open source software took four years: two years to assemble the team and do the preliminary work, another two years for the actual translation work. First targets were, Firefox, and the email client, then followed by OpenSUSE and Kaffeine.

    Noy works for the National ICT Development Authority (NiDA). Their goals: in the short run, raise awareness and promote FOSS, developing the capacity to use OSS and start shifting from proprietary software and piracy software; and in the medium and long run, aim to establish FOSS production capabilities and produce more skilled individual for the development of FOSS.

    Noy's view: it doesn't matter that Cambodia is a poor country, but with the willingness to make things work, they can with FOSS.

    "Poor can help, but lazy cannot help."

    More info at the Cambodian wiki of IOSN.



    Funny introductions. Dr. Alvin Marcelo introduced me to Khairil Yousof, one of the lead technical guys of IOSN, as Village Idiot Savant.

    "Oh, you're THE Village Idiot Savant."

    "Uh...yes..." So what did I do this time? "How do you know?"

    "We've been getting a lot of page referrals from, that's why."

    My blog precedes me.


    FOSS at Work

    I'm back in Manila, currently attending the FOSS-at-Work event organized by the local node of the International Open Source Network. I'll have a talk tomorrow on SLAX.

    Not a very big conference, as far as size goes, but one thing it has over the typical vendor-driven events is the large international contingents. There are participants from Thailand, Viet Nam, Indonesia, and other parts of Southeast Asia. The event is funded by InWent, BMZ, and the UN-APDIP

    Focus of this conference is for open source for small- and medium-sized businesses. Topics covered include content management, Voice over IP, localization, and business applications.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Rice, Rice, Baby

    A comment by Corey on the last entry got me thinking. What was the longest time I went without rice?

    I remember clearly. I was on an eight-week residency in North Carolina. I was confident I could weather the whole two months on bread and ham and cheese and the occasional jam. Boy, was I wrong. Two weeks later, I was craving for rice. Badly.

    Luckily, the local Kroger and Food Lion stores carried rice in 1-kilo bags. Not that they came cheap. Darn it, I didn't care. I needed my rice fix. Yes, I am Filipino.

    Not having cooked rice for a long, long while, I of course burned my first attempt. But I got better at it.

    When the next residency came around, I made sure I brought rice in my luggage. Three kilos worth. The security lady at the Dumaguete airport raised an eyebrow. Why was I bringing rice from Dumaguete to Manila? Long story, I chuckled.

    Rice, rice, baby.

    Saturday, November 11, 2006

    Rice Cooker, Out-of-the-Box

    A rice cooker is staple appliance for any modern Filipino family. Ours doesn't get as much use, though, as I'm alone most of the time. On occasion, when I get tired of Jollibee meals, I muster it back into service.

    It was my Dad who first showed me how to use it to boil corn. A tad unconventional, but then again, why not? It's just a big pot with an electric coil, right? So you should be able to use it like any old pot.

    Pretty quick, too. Yummy, golden boiled Valencia corn from the ACSAT farm in under 15 minutes.

    Today, I used it to cook spaghetti noodles. Quite handy it was, and very neat, too. I don't think I've had as little trouble making spaghetti as today. A 100g pack cooked in under 10 minutes. Getting the water to boil took a bit longer.

    You know what they say: a watched pot never boils.

    Next time I'll boil water in the water heater first.

    Any other unconventional rice cooker suggestions out there?


    Friday, November 10, 2006

    City of Gentle People

    This is the story as I heard it: Death came during an early evening meal. The gunman, it was said, came from behind, pulled out his pistol, and pumped several bullets into the young man. No greeting, no warning, no threat. One shot to the head splattered blood all over the food. The murder took place in a restaurant -- an eatery, as they like to call it in these parts -- in full view of spectators.

    Then the killer, no older than his victim, walked over to his partner on a motorcycle. They rode away. Thus, on a Friday evening, Death came and went. It took place just a block away from the police station.

    That's the story that I heard, a story that happened last week in this City of Gentle People.

    There are other stories, too. On Halloween night, a young woman was stabbed in a dark alley. By a drug addict, they said. Not too far away, because places are never too far in this City of Gentle People, another young man was killed. A drive-by shooting it was, and it wounded three others. A few days later, a gun deal took place in broad daylight at the corner of a hotel.

    And still there are more stories from this City of Gentle People. Six, if you count only the bloody Halloween week. Twenty-two, if you count from the last two months. Many more, if you count farther back.

    Dumaguete, some would like to say, is no longer the City of Gentle People. And they would be wrong.

    Because Dumaguete is still very much the City of Gentle People. This is its problem. It is too gentle.

    There are two greatly different kinds of gentleness. One kind stems from wisdom and understanding. Out of this gentleness comes equanimity in the face of adversity; from this equanimity comes resolution; and from this resolution, perseverance and fortitude. This is a gentleness that springs into action with grace and quiet dignity.

    And there is the other kind of gentleness, a gentleness in the extreme. It is the gentleness of affected gentility, aspiring merely to pretentious politeness and elegance. In the face of adversity and threat, a gracious swoon is the appropriate response. If it could, it would retreat into a cocoon of comfort, for its supreme virtue is its own gentleness and therefore, ignorance is bliss.
    "Ay, wala man mi kahibalo ana."

    "Wala man mi labot ana. Sila-sila ra man na."

    "Di mi manghilabot ana."

    "Unsa-on ta man...?"

    "Ing-ana man gyud na."

    "Wala man tay mahimo."

    Welcome to the City of Gentle People.


    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    PCPS Lite version on customized SLAX

    A friend of mine doing tech support for the PCs for Public Schools program complained that their PC file systems were often corrupted. Reason: unstable power supply. This is the sad result of a rushed and politicized programs. Wanting to serve their 'constituents' some congressmen (one, in particular) demanded that the PCs be installed in schools without electricity. Solution: hurriedly lay out a long electric cable.

    But that's a story for another time.

    In any case, I put together a PCPS lite version using SLAX. I've tried to make it as close to the original version as possible. Of course, some things just weren't possible, so I've had to make some changes.

    One requirement was for a local copy of Britannica 2004 Concise Edition on local disk. Unfortunately, Britannica has got to have the most brain-dead installation process for Linux. It's just so...stupid. Frankly, I don't know how the original PCPS team managed to get it to work.

    So instead I loaded the stripped down Wikipedia edited by SOS Childrens' Village. At under 200MB, it fit in nicely with the rest of SLAX, plus additional applications.

    I also loaded in selections from Gutenberg Philippines, GK Chesterton (my favorite author and for whom I have works handy), and Andrew Loomis' "Fun with a Pencil." I had wanted to load in tutorials, but there wasn't any more room.

    Other stuff: Inkscape, The GIMP,, View Your Mind, and KDE Edutainment Package.

    And, of course, a campaign visit this blog. Mwa ha ha ha!

    Take that, congressman!

    Customized LiveDistro for IOSN

    Screenshot at the left is the result of further mucking around with SLAX, the aim of which is to produce a customized LiveDistro for an event. I'm speaking at the IOSN conference next week. My topic is on "Customizing SLAX," similar to what I did for PhilOSC. This time around, there's a bit more focus as the participants have requested for specific applications.

    SLAX 5.1.8 forms the base distribution. I'm happy to report that it's quite stable and very usable. Then again, it's not like the previous incarnations weren't.

    This time around, I've taken greater care of the user experience. I didn't really customize all that much, but I did change some of the icons.

    I've also loaded my favorite applications into the CD:

    • Inkscape
    • The GIMP
    • KDE Edutainment
    • View Your Mind
    • Mplayer
    • Wink

    There's also, which I've decided I'm not a fan of, but which made the cut by popular demand.

    Finally, some tutorials and presentations.

    Total CD size: 450MB, thereabouts.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    "They Call Me Naughty Lola"

    New book out, entitled The "London Review of Books" Personal Ads - A Reader

    Being a British publication, this one is right up Madame Chiang's alley -- in fact, she was the first person I thought of when I read this Reuters wire in the Philippine Daily Inquirer this morning. But it's just too funny to pass up.
    According to the wire report:
    Taken together, the ads provide a curious kaleidoscopic view of Britain, its capital and the unusual lives of its denizens.

    This one, in particular, had me in stifled giggles at Jollibee (where I get to read papers for free):
    Woman, 32, needful of the finer things in life seeks stinking rich bloke, 80-100, Must be willing to fibrillate his ventricles when he becomes tiresome or bankrupt or both. Also interesting thirtysomethings for illicit, immoral affair to be conducted concurrently with the above.

    A few others:

    “Medication free after all these years! Join me (anxious, overweight, self-harming flautist, F, 34) for congratulatory drink (or seven) in side ward of nation’s finest.”

    “Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53 seeks short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite.”

    “67-year-old disaffiliated flaneur picking my toothless way through the urban sprawl, self-destructive, sliding toward pathos, jacked up on Viagra and on the lookout for a contortionist who plays the trumpet.”

    Here's a somewhat touching one:
    “You were reading the BBC in-house magazine on the Jubilee Line (12 November). I was coughing hot tea through my nostrils. Surely you can’t have forgotten? Write now to smitten, weak-kneed, severely burned, bumbling F (32, but normally I look younger). I’ll be quite a catch when my top lip has healed. And this brace isn’t forever.”

    Some others, from a South African news site:

    "They call me naughty Lola. Run-of-the-mill beardy physicist (M, 46)."

    "I've divorced better men than you. And worn more expensive shoes than these. So don't think placing this ad is the biggest comedown I've ever had to make. Sensitive F, 34."

    "List your ten favourite albums... I just want to know if there's anything worth keeping when we finally break up. Practical, forward thinking man, 35."

    "Employed in publishing? Me too. Stay the hell away. Man on the inside seeks woman on the outside who likes milling around hospitals guessing the illnesses of out-patients. 30-35. Leeds."

    "I like my women the way I like my kebab. Found by surprise after a drunken night out and covered in too much tahini. Before long I'll have discarded you on the pavement of life, but until then you're the perfect complement to a perfect evening. Man, 32, rarely produces winning metaphors."

    "Your buying me dinner doesn't mean I'll have sex with you. I probably will have sex with you, though. Honesty not an issue with opportunistic male, 38."

    "Not everyone appearing in this column is a deranged cross-dressing sociopath. Let me know if you find one and I'll strangle him with my bra. Man, 56."

    "Are you Kate Bush? Write to obsessive man, 36. Note, people who aren't Kate Bush need not respond."

    "Stroganoff. Boysenberry. Frangipani. Words with their origins in people's names. If your name has produced its own entry in the OED then I'll make love to you. If it hasn't, I probably will anyway, but I'll only want you for your body. Man of too few distractions, 32."

    "Ploughing the loneliest furrow. Nineteen personal ads and counting. Only one reply. It was my mother telling me not to forget the bread on my way home from B&Q. Man, 51."

    "Mature gentleman, 62, aged well, noble grey looks, fit and active, sound mind and unfazed by the fickle demands of modern society seeks...damn it, I have to pee again."

    "Slut in the kitchen, chef in the bedroom. Woman with mixed priorities, 37, seeks man who can toss a good salad."

    "Bald, short, fat and ugly male, 53, seeks short-sighted woman with tremendous sexual appetite."

    "Romance is dead. So is my mother. Man, 42, inherited wealth.' -


    In God we trust...Filipino style

    This one ought to have gone to my photoblog but what the heck! I found it mildly amusing. This was taken over the front entrance of a rickety old boat that I took in crossing from Sibulan to Lilo-an.

    What is it about Filipino culture that makes us invoke God each and every turn? For all our supposed religiosity, it's seems like mere superstition at each and every turn. Whatever happened to "Thou shalt not use the name of the Lord thy God in vain?"

    In the fine print, by the way, too small to be made out in the picture, is "Isaiah 41:10." I checked out the actual passage
    So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

    Taken with a sign that says "Fire Escape", it's very reassuring, indeed.


    Multimedia Cards and Secure Digital Cards

    I was about to purchase a multi-card reader from CD-R King, one of those cheap numbers going for P300. The prices sure have dropped a lot since I bought my last one just a year and a half ago. I figure a 75% slash in price overall. Cheapskate that I am, I had some regrets.

    Then my eye caught an even lower figure: P90 just for a MMC/SD card reader. Pricewise there was no comparison, but could I live without being able to read the other card formats?

    The answer, it turns out, is "yes." An inventory of the electronic gadgets I'm currently using shows that they all use either Multimedia Cards (in their various incarnations) and Secure Digital Cards.

    So far I have:

    * a regular 16MB MMC card for my PowerShot A540
    * a 1GB MMC mobile memory card (half-size) for the same camera
    * a 64MB MicroSD card (with adapter) for my Nokia 6233
    * a 128MB SD card for my Palm Zire 31

    So it was the P90 card reader for me.

    Where did all the other cards go? The memory sticks and the SmartMedia cards? Who knows? Who cares.

    Ah, well, good riddance.

    You just gotta love standardization.


    Monday, November 06, 2006


    Title shamelessly ripped off from Jon.

    The Philippine Daily Inquirer has a new darling, and her name is Luli Arroyo. And here you have, once again, a commentary on Philippine society in the making.

    It's not so much about Luli who's as low-key and as unassuming as can be for a First Daughter. (And yes, I have met her a couple of times, thank you very much.)

    It's the circumstances around the headline that I'm thinking of. Unveiling of a Filipino artist's sculpture in Germany is newsworthy fluff, yes, but it belongs in the Lifestyle section. Regardless, focus should be on the artist and her work, not on the celebrity who's doing the unveiling.

    Now, would this have made front page news if it hadn't been for the NAIA flap last week?

    Unlike another First Daughter that I can think of, Luli has substance. Rather than running for a post, she instead works for a foundation promoting digital literacy. If there's any young leader who deserves to be on the front page of the paper, it's her.

    But rather than celebrate Luli for her other achievements, we instead lionize her for a mere triviality. A cheer-worthy triviality, perhaps, because she was clearly in the right when she questioned the immigration officer who allowed a foreigner to jump the line, but a triviality nonetheless. Struck a blow she might have for all of us who have been put down by high-handed functionaries, but that is going to affect this country how?

    Already the Palace minds might be a-whir. With the First Daughter riding this high in the public opinion, and elections just around the corner, could a bid for candidacy be far behind?

    I should hope not. We've had far too many good people exploited and ruined for their transient celebrity.


    Sunday, November 05, 2006

    Bound by blog

    A couple of months ago, John Nery wrote about our chance encounter at the Manila Book Fair. I recognized him through his recent TV appearance; and he recognized me through my blog. Bound by blog, he called it.

    So now it's my turn with some similar stories which rightly fall under the same heading.

    At one time during my six-week software engineering class in Manila, I got a pleasant surprise from Madame Chiang. One of my blog entries had a familiar photo, she said: and it turned out it was taken where she worked. We set up an appointment to meet, and so we did. We spent a chatty hour talking about Philippine customs, Dr. Who, "The Kumars at No. 42", local destinations, and tarsiers (though I think I disappointed her with the reality somewhat.)

    Now, I've been feed-delinquent for the past few weeks, so it was a good thing I chanced upon Caffeine Sparks' blog. Some disaster had befallen her hard disk. Being no stranger to such disasters, I surmised a data recovery might be possible. As I was out in Dumaguete, I had to enlist a geek girl friend, Charo to help her out. The end result was a happy one as three years' worth of data were promptly recovered over coffee and tea at Greenbelt. Now if only I was there.

    So here we are, friends who've never really met but who share a connection through a social life made possible by technology. I hesitate to call us strangers because we're not; perhaps we know more about each other, or rather, know our way around each other, than people whom we meet but don't blog. I was about to call those connections virtual, but they're not. Only presence is virtual, but the relationships are quite real.

    Sparks writes about the experience:
    This new social space of the immaterial has helped me in the past seven years to create material relationships unhampered by human faults and biases. This new social space has forced me to unlearn cultural norms hinged on appearances. In this network of human beings there is only shared interests, values and goals. Communication and information dissemination is immediate because virtuality and reality unfold the same.

    Indeed, these social spaces allows us to connect with people with whom our paths might not have converged, either through barriers of geography or culture or even prejudice. And to that I might add, it also prepares us for that wonderful chance occasion when we see each others' faces for the first time.

    And so I wonder, who will I meet next? Willy? Oliver? Corey? Amee? Tobey? Jon? Surely the time isn't far off when we can say, "Hail, friend, and well last!"



    Fresh out of the house, I saw this young girl struggling with her stubborn goat. It took a while, but she finally got him to go her way.

    Photo taken with my Nokia 6233 at 2 megapixels. Not bad, actually.

    Friday, November 03, 2006

    Linking offer

    Finally! I've started populating my wiki. First on the agenda was the blogroll that's been missing for the past few days.

    My blogroll has grown in the past two years. On occasion, I try to trim it so as to take out the inactive blogs. That said, I may have been a little too, umm, overzealous (and careless) in my housecleaning and taken out what I shouldn't have.

    Please leave a comment below if you'd like to be included in my blogroll.

    I do try my best to include people who've commented in my blogs. It was such a chore to do before, especially when I was relying exclusively on Blogger, but now that I have a wiki to organize things, life should be much easier.

    I don't ask for a link in return, but it would be nice if you did.


    Cursor-tracking robot

    Got this in the email this morning: a cursor-tracking Qui-gon Jin robot. This robot follows the cursor across four screens (yes, some folks are into that much geekery.) The user can immediately tell which screen the cursor is on. It really is something quite nifty to have. If you had four screens worth to work with

    What was more interesting to me was how its creator, Russ Nelson, built the robot. Apparently, he used a microcontroller from MakingThings, and wrote his own driver which interfaced it to X.




    It's half past midnight and I've just rediscovered the joys of getting into the groove. The first 864 words of my NaNoWriMo 2006 novel are up. Admittedly, a late start, but I think I'm back in the swing of things.

    Now, if I can just last till the end of the month. And pick up more steam along the way. And schedule blocks of time to really do this. Oh, well.

    Oh, and I've started another blog just to house it.


    Thursday, November 02, 2006

    Generational Gap in leadership

    Compelling reading today, even more so than usual, from MLQ3 with his Inquirer column entitled Four Points for Discussion. One of the points is positive regionalism, something of interest to me because of where I'm situated (as I'm sure is the case with Willy and Oli).

    However, it was the first point that caught my eye: the generational gap in leadership that occured during Marcos' extended rule from 1972 to 1984.

    From his article:
    1969 to 1973 were watershed years, when the generation that reached maturity under the Japanese occupation was due to bow out. There should have been further transitions in 1973 and in 1977...1981 and 1985.... But the transition was postponed from 1972 to 1986. Since then, we have been 20 years behind in terms of leadership.

    MLQ3 provides strong examples for each of the cases above (ellipsis mine for brevity).

    Where I have questions is in the comparative exercise when looking at our situation in relation to other neighboring countries. A twenty year vacuum of potential leadership material is a serious thing indeed. However, dictators and military rule seem to have been the norm more than the exception during those years.

  • Since 1973, Thailand has been marked by a series of coup d'etats. Thai elections did not produce any credible leader, and the military installed their own premier. Not until Prem Tinsulanonda in the mid-1980s did the transition to democracy begin to happen.

  • Some years earlier, Malaysia had just come from a state of national emergency sparked by the May 13, 1969 riots. After parliament reconvened in 1971, UMNO has largely been the single dominant party in the country. Mahathir held power for 22 years since taking over the reins of government in 1976.

  • Suharto, during his New Order era, controlled Indonesia from 1967 to 1998, a reign far longer than Marcos'. Suharto was a former army general who took control in the wake of predecessor Sukarno's left-leaning policies.

  • In Singapore, the People's Action Party held a 15-year monopoly on parliament from 1966 to 1981. Lee Kuan Yew himself was prime minister from 1959 to 1990. Since 2004, BG Lee, his son, has been prime minister.

    A look at the recent history of many other Asian countries would probably show the same environment that might breed gaps in transitions of leadership within the same period.

    Granted, Marcos did severe damage to the growth of potential leaders in the country; but I think his 20-year rule simply put us on par with our other neighbors. Therefore, we probably need to look at other contributing factors to this dearth of leaders than the dictatorship.

    MLQ3 continues:
    A frustrated generation went abroad, depriving the country of an entire generation of intellectuals; those who stayed retreated to academe and engaged in an embittered effort to discredit everything that came before them, the result being a complete breakdown in a sense of identity and idealism.

    True enough, but why didn't the exodus happen in the same degree in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia?

  • Tallest FHM model

    I'm supposed to be busy at work preparing my customized SLAX CD for the FOSS@Work conference. However, I just a had a very bloggable moment.

    While searching for icons and graphics for the CD on Google images, I stumbled across It's the website of Caroline Welz, a German model. Now, my German isn't so good, but I can loosely translate 'Grosse Frau' to 'Big Woman.'

    Look at the picture: you can tell she's not kidding.

    Caroline is 20 years old and stands at 6ft. and 9 inches tall. (That's 2.06m for those of us who use the metric system.) According to her web site, she's been featured in the June 2006 issue of FHM UK (though they got her name wrong.)

    And, she's quite pretty, too.

    Just in case you were wondering, my search terms were: "one world germany." What I was looking for was this.


    Lessons from the Day of the Dead

    Several lessons came to mind, all arising from the local Dia de los Muertes. Top of mind: family and novel-writing do not mix. Yes, it's November again, time for National Novel Writing Month. While I thought it was a one-time exercise that I had done and left behind last year, peer pressure won't let me drop it just like that. So here I go again.

    Except that my word count on Day One was a dismal zero. Well, perhaps I'll do better today. Besides, I have 29 days left to make up for it.

    Inconducive to novel-writing as it might have been, it also turned out to be a day for reunions for family and friends. All Saint's Day (and the slightly less popular All Soul's) are hallowed events for Filipinos. Everyone troops to the cemeteries to pay their respects to the beloved departed. Hence, you're bound to meet everyone, too.

    So, second lesson: the Day of the Dead is still very much the Day of the Living. While we do commemorate our dead, the rituals we play out are still ultimately for our benefit. They're quite simple, really, even neighborly. Armed with an ammunition of candles, we hop from one tombstone to another, visiting the graves of friends we once knew. Short prayers said, and then it's off to the "How-do-you-do's" and "Won't-you-have-some-tea's" with their relatives. Thus are old friendships rekindled.

    The Dead don't really have much need for candles and flowers and Hell Money. Apparently, it's we the Living who do. It's a balm for our own spirits as we attempt to do them just one more kindness in their afterlife. Joined in common ritual, it becomes a social event. No one knows this better than Filipinos (and perhaps, our cultural brethren, the Mexicans). Thus, our festivities.

    Which makes me sad to see the pictures of columbaries that are all the rage in metropolitan cities. Columbaries, the Philippine Daily Inquirer assures us, is The Way to Go (literally) for this modern millennium. Cremation is neat, cheap, and convenient; after which, the ashes are stuck into a safety deposit box (or what looks like one.)

    It just looks so clinical, and therefore, very sad. Gone is the festive atmosphere that marks days like these. Instead, it feels like the visit to the bank. I wonder: do relatives check out the ashes from their cabinet that they might celebrate briefly with their dead in a small conference room? Or do they just hang miniature wreaths -- corsages, really -- on the cabinet door?

    Years ago, just after my Grandmother died, my Grandfather insisted on building a mausoleum to house her remains. Following his practical design sense, the mausoleum turned out to be quite breezy, reminiscent more of a modern apartment than a creepy crypt. Thank goodness for that. Never mind the cost, he said, he wanted to show her how much he loved her.

    Grandfather passed away four years ago, and we laid his body right beside Grandmother's. Thanks to his foresight, we now have a solid roof to shelter under whenever we pay them a visit. I'd like to think we're the envy of our neighbors. It's a little joke that brings a chuckle underneath my breath as I say my prayers. After all, what's a social affair without a little bit of one-upmanship?

    Final lesson, this time from Grandfather: let your love not be pusillanimous.


    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Blog layout philosophy

    Call it an obsessive compulsion, but the reason I really wanted a blog redesign can be summed up in two words: white space.

    Ever since I started blogging, the problem of white space is one that's been nagging me. Take a look at the picture on the left to see what I'm talking about: long blog posts often leave plenty of hanging white space on the side.

    The graphical layout of most blogs only take into account the top half of the browser. Here the main post column lives harmoniously with the title, sidebars, and other navigational elements. Lower down, the posts are orphaned.

    White space by design can be a beautiful thing, but unintended white space often is not.

    The problem is much worse when a long sidebar is orphaned by a short post. This usually happens in older blogs when the blogger has put a lot of thingamabobs into the sidebar, or even when the blogroll has grown somewhat unwieldy.

    This leaves a lot of white space on the page with a narrow sliver of auxiliary data. Not very pretty to look at.

    Blogs, more than other types of web media, seem more susceptible to the orphan / white space phenomenon. Because of the linear nature of blogs, where posts can just pile upon posts. It just so happens that most blog designs, taking off from earlier corporate web designs, have opted for two- or three-column layouts. Unfortunately, long main posts and short sidebars do not mix visually.

    On the first problem -- that of longer main posts and shorter sidebars -- here are some possible solutions:

    1) Adjust the number of posts to fit the length of the sidebar. This only works with the front page and can be quite tedious to do over and over.

    2) Use expandable post summaries to limit the overall length of posts on the main page. Wordpress, I'm told, implements it as part of its standard functionality. On Blogger, it's a minor hack that's simple enough to implement.

    3) Limit the lengths of posts by breaking up long posts into shorter pieces.

    The second problem -- shorter main posts and longer sidebars -- is really just a problem of restraint.

    My alternative solution has been to incorporate floating title and sidebar elements into the blog layout. That way, the blog maintains its intended look all throughout. I got this idea from Basang Panaginip and Brass Buddha Machine. I've taken their ideas a bit further and decided to keep my main navigational elements always in view.

    Of course, this has another consequence: drastically reduced real estate. Whereas before, I could still use some real estate on the sidebar for other things, now that opportunity appears to be gone. I'm left with the same size of sidebar throughout.

    I say "appears" because it's not really gone. Those sidebar elements could just as easily go to the bottom of the main page (or in another viewport window). The page still maintains its overall visual cohesion. This is the solution that I prefer over that of uncontrolled white space.

    What do you think?


    Stray Kitten

    My folks came across this kitten while they were touring Siquijor. Dad nicknamed him "Garfield." Photo taken by my sister.