Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My own little Military-Industrial Complex

It's been a while since I've collected model airplanes. I never really was very good at putting them together, much less painting them. Then early last month, I picked up a MiG-29 Fulcrum by 4D Master and I've been hooked ever since.

Over the past few weeks, I've been putting together my own little military-industrial complex. Thus far, I've gotten a YF-22 Raptor, an F-14 Tomcat with VF-84 Jolly Roger colors, and an F-4E Phantom. I plan to track down a few more.

Yes, I could just say "squadron," but "military-industrial complex" just sounds a bit more Cheney-esque.

I've been in love with fighter jets since I was little. My parents joke that my first words were "e-plen." Our Compton's Encyclopedia ca. 1969 is all torn somewhere in the middle of the A volume because I was always at the pages with the military aircraft (and very careless, too.)

First ambition was to become a fighter pilot. Then I found out my eyes were bad. Such is the way childhood dies. Ah, well, nerd has a much nicer ring, I think.

Now that I'm a little bit older and a little more aware of political and historical realities, I view these fighter jets with a slightly different perspective. They're not the tools of democracy that I once thought they were.

Case in point: the F-4E Phantom. Looking at its sleek and sinister lines, I can't help but fall into the thrall of childhood fantasies. But at the same time, part of me wants to ask: "How many Viet farmers and babies did you burn with napalm bombs, O Phantom?"

Such is the way that childhood dies. A part of it, anyway.

Still, we can't go through life carrying these burdens all the time. And all the same, those are some damn fine lines.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Free Motorola advertising

Driving along Agdao this afternoon and caught sight of this jeepney. Despite the minor risk of accident, just had to snap a photo with my Nokia 6233i.

Ordinarily, jeepney art is a mish-mash of various pictures and logos, but the artist of this piece of work really had his thing together. It's Motorola through and through.

And the funny thing is: I don't think Motorola paid him a cent for this piece of advertising.

If you look closer, though, you'll see that the Motorola logo looks a little off. Other than that, it does look pretty convincing. From the corner of my eye, I saw the Motorola ad with people on the side of the jeepney, too.

Now, if for some reason some humorless Motorola pencil pusher wants to send a cease-and-desist letter: I'm sorry, I can't help you. I didn't stop to ask the jeepney driver his name and address.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wedding Day

No, not mine. My sister's.

The date had been fixed for a long while, and ever so slowly it's been creeping in on us. Now, finally, it's here. Not that I've been awaiting it with any great anticipation; in fact, I've been totally oblivious. It's been my sister's affair through and through. (I did offer to help, but it seemed that I'd only get in the way.)

It's only been in the last few days that there's been any sign of an increase of activity. Relatives from out-of-town have started pouring in, so there's that little familial chaos of getting everyone settled in properly. But with my parents taking charge and and several extra pairs of hands, I thought it best once more to just stay out of the way.

Thus far, no one has really noticed. I'm happy enough to let things stay that way.

Finally, W-Day is finally here. The women are all aflutter with activity, getting their hair and make-up done and fitting their shoes and dresses. Several vans have come and gone to pick up the relatives.

And I, with only a barong tagalog, a camiso de china, a pair of black pants, black socks, and shoes to think of, am simply curled up with the sci-fi book that's been occupying me the past few days. I'm comfortable as a cat, watching everyone rush about hither and thither.

Ah, bliss.

If there's any lesson that the events of these days are teaching me, it's this: elope.

Wedding day. Not mine. My sister's.

Thank God!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Review: The Lost Room

A door that opens to anywhere in the world. That's a staple plot device of many a hack churning out a Twilight Zone-type story. As a concept, it's so overused that the mere mention would probably send audiences groaning in boredom.

Quite an achievement, then, that The Lost Room takes this old cliche and manages to turn it into something new, thrilling, and eminently watchable.

The titular Lost Room is exactly that, a motel room that disappeared from our dimension in a reality-altering event some 45 years ago, specifically, May 4, 1961. Open any door in the world with the key to this room, and you end up in the Lost Room. Walk out of the Lost Room to any place you visualize.

What gives The Lost Room a refreshing twist are the Objects that used to be in the room and have made their way out into the world. The Objects are everyday, well, objects: a comb, a bus ticket, a deck of playing cards, a clock, a picture....

There are about a hundred Objects, and they are imbued with special powers. The comb, for example, can slow down time. The bus ticket can transport a person to any location. They key is itself one of those Objects, with the special property of opening the door to the Lost Room.

Different people and different groups seeking out these Objects. Some individuals want them for power or personal gain. The groups tend to be more sinister: one group, for example, thinks that the Objects are part of God. Another group has the more noble goal of hiding the objects because of the danger they pose.

It's this wide array of quirky characters whose lives revolve around the Objects that makes The Lost Room compelling viewing. These collectors are alternatively greedy, delusional, and at worst, fanatical. They're all a little insane. But they're actually drawn sympathetically so that, with the exception of a few, you can never really call them bad guys.

Compared to his supporting cast, the lead character, Joe Miller, plays it as a straight man. Joe is a detective who has lost his young daughter in the Room, and it becomes his mission to get her back. To make matters worse, he's also been framed for murder. This is what draws Joe into the world of the Room and the Objects.

And Joe is literally plays it straight. To get his daughter back, Joe has to cut deals with all the strange people in the shady underground of collectors. However, Joe is unwilling to compromise his strong moral principles. He willingly gives up a position of advantage because he gave his word. In fact, he's far too trusting when he shouldn't be; but this stance frequently leads to surprising and gratifying results.

Such an upright character is a refreshing change from the antiheroes that inhabit the world of TV.

Rounding out the appeal of The Lost Room are tight plotting, snappy dialogue, thrilling pacing, and quiet but creepy cinematography. The cinematography, in particular, stands out. For example, the scene where the hero descends into a vault brought back my fear of the dark; it actually had me in goosebumps.

For now, The Lost Room exists as a three-part miniseries from the Sci-Fi Channel. However, it's aspirations to become a full-fledged TV series are clearly evident. What differentiates The Lost Room from similar endeavors is that it actually comes to a satisfying ending. Oh, to be sure, there are still some loose plot threads, but when the end comes, you're quite willing to let them go.

All the same, I can hardly wait for The Lost Room to become a series.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Girl Genius, by Phil and Kaja Foglio

Girl Genius is a webcomic that follows the adventures of Agatha Heterodyne, the titular girl genius, in a Europe of an alternate timeline that's dominated by mad scientists, monsters, and massive machinery. Steampunk is possibly one way of describing it, although authors Phil and Kaja Foglio prefer to use the term of their own coinage, "gaslamp fantasy."

Girl Genius is old school fun. There's just the right amount of comedy, adventure, suspense, and romance. Although the story sometimes takes a dark turn every now and then, it's done with a humorous touch that never deviates from its lighthearted mood. Much of it owes to Phil Foglio's distinctive, cartoony art.

A brief background and quick synopsis of the storyline:

"Sparks" are people gifted (or cursed) with superscientific intellect and skills. Sparks can build complex robotic machinery -- "clanks" -- and breed monsters. Some sparks can even compel obedience through the use of the voice. "Mad scientist" is the easiest association with "spark," although they're not your stereotypical megalomaniac in a lab coat.

Because of the "sparks," the Industrial Revolution in Europe grew into an all-out war fought with zombie infantry, giant robots, and biological monstrosities. Finally, Baron Wulfenbach, a spark himself, conquered and united most of Europe and established peace under his iron hand.

To prevent another war, Baron Wulfenbach searches out and collects sparks. He brings them them to Castle Wulfenbach for training and evaluation, and in some cases, experimentation. (And by the way, Castle Wulfenbach is quite a sight to see.)

Despite his grip on Europe, Wulfenbach constantly worries the reappearance of the Heterodynes, the spark clan he defeated in the war for Europe.

Agatha, the heroine of the story, is the last remaining survivor of the Heterodyne clan. For years her spark abilities have been suppressed by a pendant given to her by her uncle. This also allowed her to avoid detection by Wulfenbach's agents.

The story kicks off when the pendant is stolen by two soldiers....

From here on out, there's a lot of intrigue as Agatha and the people around her discover her true heritage. Because of her lineage, a lot of nasty people are after Agatha. Along the way, she picks up a host of sympathetic characters that forms the larger cast of Girl Genius.

Girl Genius is well written, and the pacing is just perfect. The dialogue is spot on and there are several laugh out loud moments.

There are already over 500 pages worth of comics. These are divided into the Basic Class, the original Girl Genius graphic novel, and the Advanced Class, which continues the story after the graphic novel. At this point, the Basic Class is already about to catch up with the Advanced Class.

The Foglios are very diligent about their updates, coming up with a new page every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. As such, the reader isn't left hanging, and therefore it's a worthwhile story to get into.

Unfortunately, the site is a bit slow to download and slogging through almost four years worth of comics can be a bit of a chore. (I found a way around this but, er, I'm not quite sure the Foglios would be happy with me.)

Nevertheless, once you get into Girl Genius, you'll certainly be hooked.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Aubrey Miles to play Wonder Woman?

I don't know if this is a joke, but it's in the Wikipedia.

Stumbled upon this little tidbit while doing a bit of surfing on The Amazing Race Asia. (Mardy and Marsio were eliminated this week *sniff!* Not wholly unexpected, but they've come farther than anyone expected them to.) Didn't realize that Aubrey Miles had an entry on the Wikipedia, so off to click we go.

Half of the article talks about the dismal performance of her movies on the local box office.
Xerex flopped in the box-office making only P13.3 million on a budget of P24 million. Even with home videos accounted for, Regal lost a total of P18.1 million with Xerex. Since Xerex, Miles' movie career and ability to attract moviegoers got damaged and never recovered.

Her next movie, Sanib, further damaged her acting career as it grossed only 8.2 million PhP in the box office despite its P25 million budget and massive marketing by Regal Films.

But here's the kicker:

Very recently, movie scouts from Hollywood's Warner Bros. approached Miles and asked if she would be interested to play the lead role of comic book icon Wonder Woman in an upcoming film of the character. These scouts were sent to the Philippines by no less than producer Joel Silver, who made The Matrix film franchise.

Yeah, right.

Sounds like the work of a publicist. Gonna have to take the Wikipedia with a grain of salt on this one.

Looking for the Perfect Accounting Package on Linux

The past few weeks I've been scouring the Internet for open source business accounting packages on Linux. I wouldn't quite call it a dearth of choices, but for something that's so important for small business, there doesn't seem to be a whole lot of mature options, either.

It didn't help matters any that any search for accounting on Linux also includes system accounting tools. Not quite what I had in mind. Then there are also personal financial management software like GnuCash and KMyMoney. Yes, they're accounting packages, strictly speaking, but they're not what I had in mind, either.

I wouldn't quite call my search finished, but for now, I've settled my evaluation on two applications: SQL Ledger and Quasar.

SQL Ledger is a web-based application that uses Apache, Perl, and PostgreSQL for its backend. Its developers bill it as an enterprise resource planning package, and it does contain many of the critical functions that a small business needs. At the same time, it looks to be a very active project.

What it seems to lack for the moment is a workable point-of-sale component that's compatible with a cash register. It's also written in Perl -- not my most favorite language -- and therefore I'm slightly worried about the comprehensibility of the code.

While the SQL Ledger software itself is free, its manual is not. That, instead, is what you have to pay for. Not a very palatable option, in my view; and there seems to be some conflict with other developers resulting in the fork of SQL Ledger to Ledger SMB.

Still, if my accountant friends like SQL Ledger, its something I'll probably consider.

My second option is Quasar, a client-server business accounting package written in C and Qt. At first glance, it actually looks similar to Quickbooks and MYOB. Many of the critical small business functions are also supported. Best of all, there is a POS component which works with the present POS standards.

LinuxCanada, makers of Quasar, offer the single user version of their product for free. You only have to pay if you want to support multiple users. Using their POS client does qualify it as multiuser, though; on the other hand, the charges seem reasonable enough.

Quasar has two things going against it. First is the interface: it sacrifices simplicity for flexibility, and therefore, there's a lot of screens and detail to go through. It can get a bit confusing. It doesn't make it easier that you have to manually refresh a list every time you need to retrieve from the database.

Second, and more worrying, is that the last update of Quasar was in July 2005. It makes me worry about the future of the company.

On the other hand, the source is available, though. Drawbacks aside, Quasar does look to be a good product; I hope it survives through the open source community.

Others that I have yet to evaluate are:
* FibuSQL
* Ledger SMB

If there are other suggestions out there, I'd love to hear it.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


Far away from Dumaguete, I only heard about the fire that gutted the corner of Perdices Street and Silliman Avenue a few days after it happened. And now, deprived of my weekly dose of the Metro Post, I can only wonder whether the recriminations, excuses, and calls for greater vigilance are making their rounds in the community. Until another issue, quite likely political, overlaps those concerns, of course.

Fire is a seasonal event in Dumaguete. While one might consider that a comforting thought with regard to the flu, it should be cause for alarm when it comes to fire. Seasonal, after all, means that it happens with expected regularity. One cannot fight the virus, perhaps except, after the fact; one can take preventive measures against fire. A virus can put a person down for a week; a fire can eat up millions of pesos worth of property -- not to mention lives -- forever.

It doesn't take a genius to see why fire happens with disturbing regularity in Dumaguete. One only has to look around and see.

Look at the buildings around the city. Most are made of wood. Not just any wood, either, but wood that's turned brown and dry with age. Just perfect for the kindling. You just know that it will only take one spark is all it takes to turn it into a bonfire.

Look at the electrical wires overhead. See how they're stretched and tangled like thick strands of spaghetti. As you walk into Perdices Street, for example, cast your eyes a little above the horizon and note how black that stretch looks. This arrangement is ripe for a spark, like the match that sets fire to the kindling.

Look at the narrow crowded streets. How quickly do you think a firetruck can navigate into a burning area? How fast can you clear a zone for firefighting operations?

And finally: look at the Dumaguete City fire station. Or rather, more accurately, look at the building beside the Dumaguete City fire station. Or rather, more accurately still, look at the burnt remains of the building that used to stand beside the Dumaguete City fire station.

Will these things ever get fixed? The answer, then, by way of a joke:

There was once a couple whose roof was leaking. His wife nagged him to fix the leak. "Aw, honey," he said, "it's raining right now." The rain stopped, and his wife reminded him about the roof. "Aw, honey," he said this time, "it's not leaking now."

Aw, honey, Dumaguete's not burning now.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

CPRsouth: Blogging, Interrupted

As much of the CPRsouth's first conference was devoted to telecoms regulation and policy issues, content considerations didn't receive as much attention. Nevertheless, the one session that was devoted to content issues was fertile ground for lively discussion.

Invaluable was the resulting window into the blogging situation in other parts of Southeast Asia, in particular, Malaysia and Singapore, and to a lesser extent, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka.

At first glance, what stood out for me was the impression that bloggers in the Philippines enjoy a much greater leeway in what we want to say and how we want to say it.

Dr. Sandra Smeltzer of the University of Western Ontario kicked off the presentations with a situationer on the blogging environment in Malaysia. Sandra took the unusual but effective track of using Malaysia's biotechnology policies to illustrate how sensitive issues concerning government and environment sometimes whiz by Malaysian bloggers.

In effect, Sandra indicated that Malaysia's biotech policies are playing it fast and loose, favoring foreign investment over safety. Quite alarming was a government brochure extolling the virtues of Malaysian citizens as subjects clinical trials.

With a controlled press, it's quite understandable that there's little mention of biosafety in the mainstream media. But what of the Malaysian blogosphere? There, too, is very little mention.

Much of it has to do with Malaysia's stringent information controls. The Malaysian government wields extensive powers by way of its Official Secrets Act, Internal Secrets Act, and the Anti-Defamation Act. As a result, Malaysian bloggers have to toe some government line. Crossing the line can mean a lawsuit and a midnight visit from a police car.

To punctuate this situation, on the very day we were holding the conference, two Malaysian bloggers were sued by the New Straits Times for defamation. Jeff Ooi, one of the two bloggers, gives a running account of his plight over at his blog.

To be continued...

Monday, January 22, 2007

CPRsouth: Docent for a Day

...or more accurately, half a day, which is how long I played tour guide to Intramuros and Fort Santiago for some CPRsouth delegates last Sunday.

Sunday was the end of the CPRsouth conference, and that left just half a day for many of the foreign visitors to take in the sights and shops of Manila. Some opted for a quick trip to Tagaytay and Taal volcano; a few others opted for a taste of Intramuros.

I overheard the plans being made on my table. Puree, a professor from Thailand, was poring over a map and I asked her if she wanted to go anywhere. It turned out that she and Hina, a researcher from Pakistan, wanted to visit the old walled city. Not wanting to leave two ladies -- and first-time visitors to Manila, at that! -- to the mercies of our taxi drivers and hucksters, I volunteered to play host.

You know how it is with groups, right? Someone hears of the plan, and wants to go, too. Others have made similar plans and decide to join up. Well, this was a textbook case.

Pretty soon, I had a small contingent of academics with me, a veritable United Nations from China, Canada, Pakistan, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Uruguay. We piled into two taxis, made contingency plans of where to meet, crossed our fingers, and headed off.

First stop was the Manila Cathedral, and that proved to be a fascinating visit. Weddings were afoot, successive ones at that, and it all was something new to my CPRsouth guests: the en grande Filipino kasal.

Escaping from the clutches of a pesky horse-drawn carriage touts (though it was something we briefly considered), we headed to Fort Santiago, the site of national hero Rizal's incarceration and final days.

We were unanimously dismayed that it should have been turned into a golf course, but we soldiered on. I took them for a walk along the battlements and into the tunnels. Along the way, I explained nuances of Filipino culture and history, running into short comparative exchanges of other countries.

Certainly the highlight of the tour was the Rizal museum. It was still well-maintained, I was pleasantly thrilled to discover. My CPRsouth guests were engrossed in the exhibits, in particular, of the various translations of the Mi Ultimo Adios.

I fielded questions about Rizal, his views, his accomplishments, and his effect on the Philippines. It greatly helped that I had read Leon Ma. Guerrero's well-written account, and greater still, it helped that I had my own strong opinions of historical events.

But really, I was just icing on the cake: the real attraction was Fort Santiago itself, which has never ever disappointed me or any of the people I brought there.

Alas, the time sped by so quickly. Four o'clock, and time for me to head back to the hotel and pick up my bags for my evening flight back to Davao. So we said our goodbyes, and I packed them off for their shopping trip to Greenhills.

After all, some pursuits truly are universal.

See also Amee's pictures

Lessons from Tonight's Deal or No Deal

While I don't follow ABS-CBN's "Deal or No Deal" contest regularly, my family does. As I am often outvoted on choice of program, I just go along and watch. What is interesting about the show is the range of human reactions and the decision making processes that go on.

Tonight's show was particularly gripping. A young single mom with a baby barely a year old, recently separated from her husband. Personal objective: win enough money for her baby's future.

Before we go on, perhaps a brief background on "Deal or No Deal." From the Wikipedia:
The basic format of Deal or No Deal consists of a number of cases (usually 26, but varies in some countries), each containing a different amount of money. Not knowing the sum of money in each case, the contestant picks one case which potentially contains the contestant's prize. The contestant then opens the remaining cases, one by one, revealing the money each contains. At predetermined intervals the contestant receives an offer from the bank (run by "The Banker") to purchase the originally chosen case from the contestant, the offer being based on the potential value of the contestant's case. The contestant must then decide whether to take the deal from the bank, or to continue opening cases.

Tonight's contestant opened the P2,000,000 and P1,000,000 briefcases early on. As it turned out, however, her luck continued to hold with the P4,000,000 briefcase. It was in none of the other briefcases she chose.

The banker offers grew progressively higher. The penultimate offer was P320,000, and with six cases left to go.

She chose one more briefcase. It revealed a low amount. The banker's offer went up to P500,000.

By this time, the contestant was crying. I can sympathize. It really was a stressful situation. Does she take the deal, or does she go on opening cases? Game show host Kris Aquino enumerated lessons from past players: the priest who said not to be too greedy, to the previous week's contestant who copped out at P600,000 in exchange for her P2,000,000 briefcase.

Ultimately, the contestant caved in. P500,000 it was. Enough for a college pre-need plan for her baby, host Kris Aquino reminded her.

Which, in hindsight, is not a bad choice. Dinner table conversation around the TV show often revolves around the contestant's greed. Our family consensus is: better cash in high than risk it all on greed.

Having made her choice, the contestant proceeded to select other briefcases to open. All low numbers. Progressively, the hypothetical banker offers went higher, too. The P500,000 offer became P820,000, then P1,200,000, and finally, P2,200,000.

Progressively, too, the contestant became upset. You could see the disappointment building up through her face.

Finally, they opened her briefcase. It held P4,000,000. Shes was the first contestant ever in the program to select the jackpot briefcase. And she traded it in for P500,000.

Quite interesting, though, this display of human psychology. It was probably pure torture for her as they opened one case after another, and each revealed a low amount, correspondingly driving the offer higher and higher.

Though she walked away with half a million pesos, I can't help but think that, for a moment, she was just as disappointed and dejected as those who walked away with ten pesos.

Ah, the curse of the what-if: what if I had chosen this instead of that? what if I had held on for a little bit longer? what if...? what if...?

In life, perhaps, we be happy with the choices that we've made, and leave the remaining briefcases unopened. Such is the way to live without regret.

At the same time, I can't help thinking how fortunate she might have been that she walked away with P500,000 instead of P4,000,000. That perhaps, she would have been happier with the lower amount than with the jackpot.

After all, she left her husband because he was abusive. Who knows if P4,000,000 might prove to be too much of a temptation?

In a more general sense, what would she have done with P4,000,000? With a windfall does not necessarily come wisdom, and fortune can sometimes turn to tragedy. There's many a tale of lottery winners whose lives have taken a turn for the worse because of their winnings.

Sometimes it's best to receive that little that we need than an abundance that we don't know what to do with.

Best to leave some briefcases unopened.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Don't Mess with My Dad, You Ugly American!

Here's a funny if infuriating incident at the airport today involving my Dad.

Dad was in Manila this week, at the same time I was, though he was flying back to Dumaguete and I to Davao. His flight was earlier, around noon, and mine was much later in the evening, so he left for the airport ahead.

So Dad lined up at the Cebu Pacific counter marked Dumaguete. He was a tad surprised that the queue was short. (I'm reconstructing the event from his story.)

As it turned out, the American guy ahead of him shooed him away. "We're on a medical mission to Dumaguete, and there are 59 of us," the American guy said. "Go to the other line." And he pointed to the Tagbilaran queue.

Apparently, the medical mission wanted the queue to themselves.

Dad's response: "Why? I'm going to Dumaguete. This is my line. Why are you telling me to go to Tagbilaran?"

If you don't know my Dad, you don't know how much noise he can make. Oh, yeah. He made noise.

The rebuke shut the ugly American up. But Dad wasn't finished. Dad started calling other passengers to the line. "Dumaguete! Dumaguete! This line for Dumaguete!" And pretty soon, there was a long snaking line. The medical mission could kiss their privacy goodbye.

It was only then that two Filipino doctors accompanying the medical mission apologized to Dad.

Sigh. What Dad did shouldn't have been remarkable. By now we have to be able to stand up for our right to decent treatment in our country. But it took my Dad to stand up to the ugly American; all the other Filipinos meekly followed the American's instructions.

Why? Because he spoke English? Because he was blonde and white?

In our own minds, we are still second class citizens in our own country.

Defiance is the only response. Way to go, Dad!

And Mr. Ugly American: you can medical mission all you want, but if you're going to be all superior and rude about it, you know where to stick your medical mission.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

At the CPRsouth conference

I'm still not quite sure why I was invited as a delegate to the CPRsouth conference, but I'm certainly learned a lot and had a good time in the process.

As I've mentioned in a previous entry, CPRsouth is a regional group of economists and government regulators studying the effects of ICT policy. There's a lot of emphasis on the young scholars conducting research on specific countries. But there's also the sage advice of established professors and officials in regulating bodies. The interaction is fertile training ground for the up-and-coming policymakers in Asia.

This is an international gathering, with representatives coming from the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea, India, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Samoa, Nepal, Thailand, Laos, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, and the United States.

And, of course, the lowly representative of Davao and Dumaguete.

It was a full two-and-a-half days of discussions and presentations. I was afraid I would keel over from the details of the research methodologies. Nevertheless, the conference was lively and accessible, and from it, I came away with more germs of ideas for further development.

I took as many notes as I could of the CPRsouth presentations, and over the course of the coming week, I'll try to put down the key learning points. In the meantime, though, I'll have to leave off with some high-level summaries of the conference itself.

The telecom regulatory environment (TRE) was the major focus area of the conference. How does a country regulate its telecoms sector? What are the effects of competition? What is the impact of foreign direct investments (FDIs)? These were the main questions, and for which there were no easy answers, given the unique situation of each country.

What was most valuable to me, though, were the comparative situations of the telecoms sector of various countries, specifically, China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Indonesia, and India. (Unfortunately, the Philippines was not represented.) Across these six countries you already cover a wide combination of telecom policies in varying degrees of liberalization or control. Of these, you end up with a wide spectrum of results.

All of which really makes for fascinating study. My preliminary personal conclusion is that the Philippines has actually done quite well in comparison with other countries, especially in the mobile area. There are several benefits that we also enjoy in fixed line market. Theoretically, then, what if alternative paths had been taken? More practical still, what could be improved?

But of greatest interest to me was the area of content, specifically in blogs Coming from a contentious free-for-all environment of the Philippine blogosphere, it's a real eye-opener to see how other countries were dealing with the blogging phenomenon. Control is still comparatively tight in many countries across Asia, and some topics are considered out-of-bounds (OOB). Significantly, too, at the conference, we learned that a Malaysian blogger had just gagged by the government.

There were other topics, too, for consideration in CPRsouth: e-governance, competition, community WiFi, bridging the digital divide. Really, the most important result, at least for me, are seeds for ideas for action. But more on that later this week.

Deserving of special mention is the dinner presentation of Dr. Ashok Jhunjhunwala, who's doing work to bring ICT benefits to rural India. Several possibilities for emulation here in the Philippines, such as telemedicine, agriculture, and education.

In hindsight, its probably because of my experiences with ICT initiatives in rural Dumaguete over the past two years that I was able to contribute most to the CPRsouth discussions. Policymakers and academics can sometimes take a 20,000-foot view of things, missing several details and the human touch in the process. Never mind that not all the initiatives I've involved in were successes, I do have ground-level experience, and that's just as valuable, too.

He he. Now I can really say that I come from the school of hard knocks.

Blogging hiccup

It was my resolution earlier on to write a blog post every day, no matter how short. Unfortunately, the first month of the year isn't over yet and already that plan has hit a little hiccup. And that's partly my fault, too.

Two days ago I arrived in Manila for the CPRsouth conference. I was thrilled that I'd be staying at ACCEED, which has free Internet access to the rooms. But for some strange reason, I couldn't get into my Blogger account!

It turns out that I had forgotten to set the proxy of my Firefox browser to include SSL requests. Silly me. I was thinking that there was a problem with the Blogger servers, or that the network was blocking access. Well, it turns out that second conjecture was partly correct.

Internet access isn't all that fast, but it's tolerable. I just find it not a little strange and annoying that in this day and age a hotel should still demand its guests go through a proxy server.

A Microsoft proxy server, at that!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I don't quite know what the Philippine Daily Inquirer editors were thinking when they published this for the front page. This is quite possibly Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's most unflattering picture in existence.

It just screams: "Ee-heee-heee-heee-heee!"


Witch Hazel - Traditional hag of a witch with green skin, warted nosed and a shrill, explosive laugh (EE-HEE-HEE- HEE-HEE-HEE!!!!!!!) featured in a number of Warner Brothers cartoons. Witch Hazel first appeared in the cartoon short Bewitched Bunny released July 24, 1954.

Jolly Roger

A little drawing fun, inspired by Madame Chiang's comment on a previous post.

I drew this mostly from memory, so understandably there's a lack of accurate detail. Also, my drawing hand is rusty.

I've always found skeletons to be good fun to draw. Posed in any number of zany positions, my bony ghouls usually come out kooky and not menacing.

An old incident from childhood: my sister and I used to draw on the walls of our old house. We draw a lot. One time, I drew a skeleton and I made my sister cry when I told her it would come alive later that night. Yes, I am such a meanie.

The other reason you're seeing this now is that, at long last, I got my old Plustek scanner working with Linux. The wonderful folks of the SANE project have finally come up with a working back-end for it.

News like that, I could dance, too.

(Oh, and I got my model skeleton's leg changed at the toy shop.)

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Communication Policy Research south (CPRsouth) 2007

I'll be in Manila from January 18 to 21 to attend the "Communication Policy Research south (CPRsouth) 2007: Research for Improving ICT governance in the Asia-Pacific Conference." It'll be held at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center.

From the invitation:
The conference shall form part of the inaugural events of the CPRsouth, a project led by LIRNEAsia, which aims to build world-class human capacity for improving information and communication technology (ICT) governance in the Asia-Pacific. The conference intends to provide a foundational knowledge for scholars working on ICT policy and regulation in the region and help build a network among them.

The guiding principle of the Conference is to encourage communication and discussion of ideas at the frontiers of research on ICT policy and regulatory reform. We are putting together a program that will fulfill this goal with an outstanding collection of speakers and discussants on ICT governance from all over the Asia-Pacific.

Four Stages of a Writer's Development

One of the books I'm reading right now is Damon Knight's Creating Short Fiction. Knight is one of the acknowledged masters of the science fiction short story. His style may be a bit too old-school for the recent crop of writers but that's precisely the style I'm looking to emulate.

Early on in the book, Knight talks about the four stages of a writer's development. It's an analysis that's worthwhile sharing:

Stage 1. You are writing for yourself, and your stories are essentially daydreams. They please you in a sort of narcissistic way, but they are not stories that communicate to other people.

Stage 2. You are trying to break out of the shell, trying to communicate, but your stories are what editors call "trivial." You are not yet ready to write a completely developed story, and you're trying to get away from half-formed ones. The rejection slips tell you that you're not succeeding.

Stage 3. You are writing complete stories, or reasonable imitations, but you are being held back by technical problems, usually weaknesses in structure or character.

Stage 4. You have solved these problems, at least well enough to get by, and now you are working on a professional level.

Knight acknowledges that there are other stages but by then the author no longer needs any help.

To all this, Knight has an amusing addendum:

People who start writing late in life often seem to skip stage 1 and sometimes stage 2 as well. I would almost be tempted to recommend that you leave writing alone until you are in your early thirties....

But of course, sometimes the Muse cannot be denied.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Blogger Help: Removing the "Older Posts" and "Newer Posts" labels

Today, a question about Blogger templates, by way of Willy Priles, Jr.:

Do you know how I can eliminate the "Newer Posts" and "Older Posts" type at the bottom of my posts from appearing on the screen?

To do this, some minor Blogger template surgery is required. It's a good idea to save your existing template, in case something goes wrong.

Go to your Blogger template's Edit HTML tab.

Make sure the checkbox labelled "Expand Widget Templates" is checked. See the screenshot above.

Now here's the slightly tricky part. You need to wade through the code a little bit. Look for the following two lines. These lines will place the "Older Posts" and "Newer Posts" labels on your blog. Erase these two lines.

<!-- navigation -->
<b:include name='nextprev'/>

Save your template.

I hope this helps!

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Mutant Skeleton

At some point, I really will have to stop buying toys. For the moment, though, I can't help it. Every visit to an SM Mall draws me to Toy Kingdom like a moth to a flame; and on some occasions, I am actually compelled to buy something.

My purchases this Sunday: a Mig-29 Fulcrum and a 1/12th scale human skeleton model, both from 4D Master.

Now these toys, while falling under the "educational" category, are actually pretty nifty. They're fun to assemble, moreso without the aid of a manual. Once completed, they're display-ready, too.

The Mig-29 was nice enough, and worthy of a few imaginary flights (complete with whooshing sound effects); but it was the skeleton that had me, well, puzzled. Look at the picture closely.

I bought the skeleton because I thought it would make a good artist's reference. It's anatomically correct and evenly proportioned. And, darn it, it just looks cool.

Buff intellectual that I am, I eschewed the manual in putting the skeleton together. With my X-rays and MRI scans still fresh in memory, I knew enough of skeletal anatomy to know which bone connected to which. And what do you know, I managed to put the thing together in under 10 minutes.

Until I got to the legs.

Fresh out of the box, I thought something was odd with my skeleton's legs. Assembly confirmed my suspicions as I put the bones together. The left femur fit in like it was supposed to, but the right femur...well, there was no right femur.

My skeleton had two left feet.

I guess this skeleton is just right for me, because I can't dance worth a d*mn. I just had to appreciate the aptness of the metaphor.

Then again, I'll probably go back to Toy Kingdom and have this traded for something else. And maybe pick up something new, too.

At some point, I will have to stop buying toys. I'll do that when I'm 80.

Or not.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Folding clothes

There I was, faced with a small pile of recently-washed laundry. My shirt-folding skills are rudimentary at best, but I was getting tired of my messy, inconsistent method.

What's a geek to do? Look it up on Youtube, of course.

My friend Mario demonstrated this technique to me a couple of years ago. It seemed like a neat trick but I had forgotten all about it. It took this little episode to remind me of this method. And what do you know, it works!

Friday, January 12, 2007

High School Batch Web Site

One of the recent projects that I've attacked with much gusto was our high school batch web site. If you want to know what I looked like so many years ago, you now know where to look.

It was an idea that came out of our 20th anniversary reunion last December. (Yes, folks, I am 20 years out of high school.) Over the years, many of us have drifted apart, and so our little gathering was an opportunity to rekindle those relationships.

What was obviously needed was a directory of sorts. Unfortunately, the general idea behind this was for everyone to write down their cellphone numbers in a notebook. I had to be the one to suggest getting everyone's email addresses, too; and out of that, I volunteered to put together a wiki.

Using PmWiki, I managed to put the site together over the weekend. I spent two more nights uploading a ton of pictures that my friend Jameson had scanned. And, ta-dah! instant web site.

So far, the wiki has been a moderate success. People have started logging in and updating their own contact information. It still needs a bit more publicity and coaxing to get people online, but I'm pretty sure we'll actually have a fairly complete list in a couple of months.

Arguably, the more successful section has been the photo gallery. Thanks to my classmates' collections, I had scads and scads of pictures to put up. These were hundreds of pictures from high school, back when we were young and stupid and dressed funny.

Ye cats! were we ever so young?

And now I look at the reunion photos. There we are: old, fat, and respectable. In boring clothes. How did we get this way?

Look at the pictures yourself, and have a good laugh. Bonus points for spotting me in the photos.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

"Twilight Jedi", a Filipino Star Wars fan film

And now, courtesy of Youtube: "Twilight Jedi", a fan film from Star Wars Philippines.

Set some ten years after "Revenge of the Sith," "Twilight Jedi" tells of a brief footnote in the Star Wars universe. Jedi Master Shard Khali, now leader of a resistance group against the empire, attempts to enlist the aid of another Jedi master, Oniron Kurrian.

While this little encounter has little impact on the main storyline, it does give some perspective on the internal conflicts that faced the surviving Jedi.

"Twilight Jedi" is a quiet piece, revolving around a conversation between two people. The acting and cinematography, while not stellar, are adequate and unaffected. There's just enough to move the story forward without either getting in the way.

What carries this short film is the script. It knows what it wants to say. It builds up the tension just so, until it reaches the boiling point when things simmer, and then explode. The end is a bit melodramatic, but it does leave the viewer thinking about the plight of remaining Jedi.

To top if off, there are several nods to Star Wars tradition. It can't be a Star Wars film unless someone says: "I have a bad feeling about this."

This being Star Wars, it ends with an action sequence, a lightsaber duel between the two protagonists. Again, nothing too elaborate, just enough to get the job done. The sequence makes use of cinematic cuts and other storytelling tricks to build up the tension. For a fan film, it's actually pretty good.

Deserving of kudos are the special effects involved in the lightsaber fight. They painstakingly rotoscoped the lightsabers to get an effect that's close enough to provoke suspension of disbelief. Not only that, the crew also took care of the sound effects, and that positively added to the experience.

Finally, there are the other special effects involving TIE fighters and a guest appearance by The Executor. While not essential to the film, their presence nevertheless contributed to the mood.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Silicone rubber molding and resin casting

Today I joined a silicone rubber molding and resin casting workshop. My very first output, in all its manly hues, is pictured on the left. If you have to ask, yes, I'm very proud of it.

I've been wanting to join a class like this for some time. Davao is one of the few places where they offer it, and at very reasonable rates, too.

The outfit that offers this class is the Pangkabuhayan Seminar Center. Apart from figurine making, they also offer T-shirt printing, baking, beadmaking, breadmaking, candlemaking, catering, cosmetology, and many many others. The fellow who runs this shop, Gil Sagulili, is a very affable gent; and he just happens to be my instructor for the class, too.

Not only do they teach you how the craft, they also tell you where to buy the materials and instruct you on the cost estimates and pricing.

Three types of molding and casting taught in the class: flat mold, one-piece molds (hollow and solid), and two-piece molding. Tomorrow, we move on to painting.

So why, you ask, am I taking up something like this?

Action figures, of course.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Burning ISO files in Windows XP

Yes, this is another Windows rant. I can't help it. Windows is just so schtufid!

As I write this, I am doing remote tech support for a friend in New York. He downloaded an ISO file and wants to burn it to CD. And -- gasp! -- he's using Windows XP.

One would have thought that something so simple as this would be intuitive on an OS that touts itself on usability. Double click on the ISO file, and either expand it or open a CD burning dialog. Or right click it and see a CD writing option.

But, oh no-oooo...something as basic as this just HAS to be turned into a little adventure.

According to a Microsoft article ironically named CD Burning Becomes Routine in Windows XP:

The integrated CD burning capabilities in Windows XP do not perform every task the third–party applications do, only the most commonly needed ones. There are still certain tasks such as full CD duplication for bootable CDs and creating CDs from images (such as an .ISO file) that will require a third–party tool. I know I'll be installing my favorite tool, but I'm also finding it delightfully refreshing to use the integrated CD recording for most of my recording tasks.

That is just so schtufid!

So now we have to run off and get a third-party utility, as listed in a page like How to Write ISO Files to CD in Windows XP For what it's worth, Alex Feinman's ISOrecorder did the trick.

But still: Windows is schtufid!

Monday, January 08, 2007

Site stats last week

Ladies and gentlemen, over on the left, exhibit A: my site stats for last week. You will immediately note the anomalous spike that registered on Thursday with some effects on Wednesday and Friday traffic.

The spike is equivalent to around 3,300 unique visits.

How did that happen, you ask?

This prosaic little blog that you're currently reading averages around 100 unique visits per day. On some days, it's actually much lower, around 70. No surprise, given the scattered topics I have all over.

Stats like these don't make me an A-lister. Not even a B-lister. Try C-lister, instead. Maybe even D.

Now, I've been fooling around with recently, trying to see what the impact is on site traffic. And *koff* I've submitted some of my own stories to Digg. Apparently, there are some ethical discussions around this that I've only recently come across, but that's beside the point for the moment. (I promise never to do it again.)

Sadly, my site doesn't really seem to cater to the Digg crowd. My stories have gotten only 15 Diggs at most.

Thursday's entry, though, was a slightly inflammatory piece on why I couldn't switch to Vista. Surely a provocative title like that would warrant a few more Diggs?

Last I checked, it only garnered 18. Ah, well. My writing style is just not Internet-friendly. Oh, well.

However, that same story got picked by LinuxToday and TuxMachines. And, well, that's when the hits really started coming in. A few came by way of Stumbleupon and Digg, too, but most came from the first two.

Okay, so folks like Rickey and Bryanboy get 2,200 hits before breakfast.

On the other hand, it was an interesting, if scary, experiment. And there really just might be a nice niche here.

For the moment, though, I'm back to my usual boring numbers.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Three Wise Men

"Happy Three Kings!" as we like to say in the Philippines. Of course, it's more properly called the Feast of the Epiphany.

The subject of the Three Kings is open to much debate. Were there actually three? The exact number isn't specified in the Bible. Were they actually kings? More likely they were priests and astrologers. Did they actually give presents of gold, frankincense, and myrrh? If so, why not something more useful?

The details of the Three Wise Men are lively fare for discussion, but ultimately, the important event is the Epiphany itself, the revelation of God in human form to all of mankind.

The Wikipedia has a long and detailed dissection of the subject of the Magi. It's actually very fascinating stuff. (And for those interested, there, too is an entry on the Epiphany. Another good description comes from the New Advent Catholic encyclopedia.)

Then there's the various stories of more recent origin about the Fourth Magi. Henry van Dyke wrote the short story in 1896. It tells of the tardy Wise Man, Artiban, who gets left behind by his more famous brethren. Fiction it may have been, but it's still an inspirational story that tugs at the heartstrings. The story is available from the Gutenberg library.

It was later made into a TV-movie, "The Fourth Wise Man", starring Martin Sheen and Alan Arkin.

Finally, there's the carol We Three Kings, written by John Henry Hopkins, Jr. in 1863. I love the song for its juxtaposition of quiet, almost meditative, melody with a stirring refrain.

We three kings of Orient are
Bearing gifts we traverse afar
Field and fountains, moor and mountains
Following yonder star

Born a King on Bethlehem's plain
Gold I bring to crown Him again
King forever, ceasing never
Over us all to reign

Frankincense to offer have I;
Incense owns a Deity nigh;
Prayer and praising, all men raising,
Worship Him, God most high.

Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes a life of gathering gloom;
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying,
Sealed in the stone cold tomb.

Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice
Alleluia, Alleluia
Sounds through the earth and sky

O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to thy Perfect Light

Happy Three Kings!

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Business of Begging

Here's a little thought experiment.

Consider a beggar, dressed in rags, hair gussied up, face smeared in grime, cracked hands outstretched in supplication. How much would you give him? P5? P2? P1? None at all? Whether you give or not depends on your mood, of course; but at some point or other, we've all taken pity and given in.

Consider, too, how long your encounter with the beggar takes. Ten seconds? Thirty seconds? A minute? It's a fleeting encounter, perhaps tinged with a little guilt but brushed quickly from the mind. After all, what can we really do?

Now consider it from the beggar's perspective.

In an hour, a beggar can appeal to anywhere from 60 to 100 benefactors. Some will be stingy, some will be generous. So let's assume a "hit" rate of fifty percent: one out of every two people approached will give alms.

In an hour, therefore, a beggar will receive something from at least 30 people.

If the average dole-out is P2, then a beggar, in an hour, can earn something like P60.

If a beggar is assiduous in his line of work, then he will, like the rest of us, put in a solid eight hours on the streets. P60 per hour for eight hours of "work" nets about P480. Not bad for a day's work, don't you think?

In the Sherlock Holmes short story "The Man with the Twisted Lip," the detective investigates the disappearance of a country gentleman. The gentleman's belongings eventually turn up with a beggar; of the gentleman himself there is no trace. Holmes solves the case by applying sponge and bathwater to the beggar to reveal...the missing country gentleman.

The fellow had apparently been living a double life. Given the choice between his salary in his prior occupation as newspaperman and his high beggar earnings, he eventually became a professional beggar. His takings were large enough that he was able to establish himself as a country gentleman, marry well, and begin a respectable family.

Of course, that's just a fictional short story, and the preceding was just a thought experiment. By no means am I discouraging you from supporting mendicants. I just thought it would be something interesting to think about the next time you give to these poor victims of society.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Breaking Out

With one or two rare exceptions, every year-end holiday stretch has brought me to Davao. No surprise there. Davao is my original hometown, after all, and here I have roots. But looking back over the past two decades, I realize I haven't really spent a great deal of time in this Mindanaoan city. A visit of a week at most, usually whizzing by so quickly, and then back to wherever I'm supposed to go.

This time around, I've decided to stay a while longer. It just so happens that this trip coincided with the beginning of my biennial itch: I've learned that I need a change every two years, otherwise a little madness starts creeping in. It seems that Davao fits the bill.

Faced with the prospect of a long haul, one digs in, learns the ropes, soaks in the atmosphere, and tries one's best to find new friends and new opportunities. When one comes as a potential resident and not as a transient visitor, the perspectives are different.

And foremost on my mind is That's it. Davao has space.

Though that might sound like a pretty strange thing to say, it's been a repeating mantra since I arrived a month ago. It feels, finally, that I can breath again.

The sentiment, I suppose, is understandable when you hold Davao in comparison to Manila and Cebu. Davao was built over a larger area and has gradually developed outwards instead of upwards. The roads are wider, and new commercial districts outside of established centers are emerging. There' opportunity, and room to grow.

In contrast, Manila and Cebu are both thick, crowded places, choked by their highrises and their narrow veins of roads. That's the unfortunate price of development, when one builds on top of zones made in Spanish times. Hemmed in, that's how one feels.

Yet I must confess that I've started feeling hemmed in within Dumaguete, too, these last few months. Ironic, isn't it, because over the East is a wide expanse of sea and to the West are the freedom of mountain roads. But I'm not talking just about physical enclosures, but spiritual ones, too.

Part of Dumaguete's charm is its smallness, but taken in excess, that, too, can be a curse. One sees the same people, moves within the same circles, eats in the same places, travels in the same roads, thinks the same thoughts. A comfort, perhaps, to some, but understandably maddenning to most: spun too long in a groove, the needle eventually wears down.

The solution, then, is simple, logical, and inevitable: strike out, break out, set the sights to new horizons.

Sometimes, one must leave home in order to find it once more.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Spoiled on Synaptic

Thinking a bit more about my post yesterday on why I can't ever think of switching to Vista, one reason genuinely comes up tops in my list: Synaptic. I don't just mean the Synaptic interface, though, but the whole infrastructure to which it is a front-end to. That includes Ubuntu and Debian repositories and the Advanced Packaging Tool.

With Synaptic, almost all the essential applications that I need are just a click away. There's hardly any need for me to search through the web for appropriate packages or the required libraries. Synaptic takes care of downloading and configuring the software. After that, the software is ready for use, no reboots necessary.

Synaptic is to Ubuntu/Debian as iTunes is to the iPod.

This seems to be the most sensible way of managing software. Before, I'd have to get the software on CD and run the installer (whether Redhat Package Manager or InstallShield, it doesn't matter). Inevitably, something breaks.

Synaptic is by no means perfect, but it works for me 99% of the time.

Even Microsoft ought to be able to pick up a thing or two from Synaptic. Instead of distributing the software via CD or individual Internet downloads, why not retrieve all the necessary software from secure servers and manage everything from one single console?

More on the $1.50 Manga Pile

I spoke with my friend from National Bookstore. It seems they still have a couple more batches of the Tokyopop manga.

Please post in the comments below which branches you'd like to see these manga shipped to. I'll pass the info on to her.

Some interesting titles I've picked up:

* Planetes (of course)
* Cowboy Bebop
* Doll

And plenty more that I've seen:

* Initial D
* Getbackers
* Cyborg 009
* Lupin III
* Gundam Wing
* Ragnarok

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

The Gigantic $1.50 Manga Pile

Dear Jute:

You asked me earlier where you could buy manga. I thought I'd show you my source.

Yes, each copy is only P75.

I'm sorry to hear you don't have similar facilities in Cebu. Then again, maybe I'm not. More for me. Mwa ha ha ha!

Seriously, now: they just unloaded another container, apparently. The pile, much diminished over the holidays, has now been replenished.

Best of all, I finally completed all five volumes of Planetes!

Let me know if you're looking for any title in particular and I'll try to find it. You can get a reasonably complete catalog at the TokyoPop web site.

Why I can't switch to Windows Vista...ever!

It just occurred to me how alien Windows has become to my way of working. The trigger for this realization: Windows Vista Ultimate, A Hands On Diary by Barry Gerber over at Tom's Hardware Guide.

Barry was one of the fortunate few to receive an Acer Ferrari laptop preloaded with Windows Vista Ultimate from Microsoft. If the Ultimate tag still isn't enough to clue you in, it's the version of Vista that has every feature of the OS loaded in.

As a Linux bigot, it's in my interest to see what the competition is doing. As it is highly unlikely that I will ever get my hands on a similar rig, I can only experience Vista vicariously through reviews like Barry's.

But as I read through the article, I was already thinking: "What the heck is this guy talking about?"

I'm not quite sure I still know my way around Windows anymore. After switching my home computers over to Linux seven years ago, I haven't really looked back. Oh, sure, I can still work my around its desktop, fire up a web browser, even type up simple documents on Office. But when you get down to the nitty-gritty system admin stuff, I already feel lost. Worse, a lot of things would just bother me.

For instance, Barry says:

The first thing that struck me was the way Vista's User Account Control dialog box asked me for permission to continue each time I ran any code, such as when I tried to install Adobe Acrobat Reader v.8. It's trying to protect me and my computer from an evil doer attempting to mess up my computer. The dialog box tells me that, if I started the program, I can comfortably click Continue.


Isn't that a rather annoying, er, feature? On Ubuntu, I'm prompted for my password when I run Synaptic, not for each and every time I install a package. That's about as reasonable as it gets. The prompt is important for security, but prompt me too many times, and it just becomes an irritant.

Next, Barry talks about the Services applet, and how he likes it better on Vista than on previous versions. I'm happy for him, but looking at the screenshot of the applet gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I'm not unfamiliar with the Services applet. It has just been such a long time since I've seen it. And...good golly! were there really that many services that Windows needs to run? It looks like it's got over a hundred services, most of them unfamiliar to me.

To be fair, the top command on my Xubuntu machine shows 87 running processes. But that at least looks familiar. More than that, it's more useful as I know which processes are eating up the most memory and CPU time.

And then Barry talks about networking. I'm sure something like that is as easy as pie to someone who's already well-versed with Windows. But...even Barry has some trouble, apparently:

Follow along on the three screen captures below. After floundering around for a while, I went to the Vista Welcome Center, which by default opens when Windows starts up. I clicked on Control Panel near the top left side of the Welcome Center Window. This took me to the Vista Control Panel Home window. Clicking on Network and Internet took me to the Network and Sharing Center where, after clicking Connect to a network, I was able to set up my wireless connection pretty much as with XP.

Actually, I'm more concerned with the fact that it takes three screenfuls of information to set up networking. On Ubuntu, it's only two successive dialog boxes, initiated from the System menu on the task bar.

It becomes more apparent to me that this complexity is unnecessary when Barry attempts to install his screen capture program:

Everything was fine until the Snagit installation program tried to install a printer driver, UNIDRV.DLL. It wanted me to browse the Vista CD, which I didn't have, the essentials needed for a Vista re-install being on a hidden partition on the Ferrari's hard disk drive.

Is this normal procedure for installation of Windows applications? After two years of one-touch installations via Synaptic, the Windows installation process just sounds so tedious and daunting. What's more, Barry goes on for another two paragraphs talking about DLL files and folders with names like C:\Windows\System32\DriverStore\FileRepository\ ntprint.inf_d8dddb2bf.

I completely agree with Barry when he says:

With so many third party applications yet to be tested and, if necessary, modified for Vista, installing some apps on Microsoft's new Windows OS is going to be a bit nerve-wracking.

Nerve-wracking, indeed! No Vista for me, thank you very much.

In IT, complexity is quite often a matter of perception. It might simply be that I've been sitting on the Linux side of the operating system divide for too long. God knows I have plenty of my own blind spots when dealing with new user ("Oh, that? It's so easy! You just do steps one, two, three, and four, and you're done!").

Yet here you have a strangely similar case of a Windows-savvy tech writer blithely ascribing his difficulties with Vista as par for the course.

As a Linux user, these complications are simply unacceptable. As I said, Windows has become far too alien.

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,
Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat!

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

One froggy evening

We came home tonight to find a huge toad sitting in our puppies' food bowl. It was a huge toad, about two fistful's worth.

Dad brought out a broom and dust pan, and we all escorted it out into the street. I couldn't quite resist, and I just had to take a couple of shots. My sister provided lighting via a flashlight.

Somehow, the Michigan Rag came to mind. What? You don't know the Michigan Rag? Of course you do.

Hello, my baby / hello, my honey / hello, my ragtime gal. / Send me a kiss by wire / baby, my hearts on fire / if you refuse me / honey, you'll lose me / then you'll be left alone / Oh baby, telephone and tell me I'm your own.

See? Now you remember.

So anyway, the frog was out on the street and my sister and I were heading back to our yard. The silly frog starts heading back to the house as well! We tried scaring it back to the other side of the street...

...and a passing car ran over it.

Oh, well.

In the distance, I could hear the refrain:

Everybody do the Michigan Rag / everybody likes the Michigan Rag / every Mame and Jane and Ruth / from Weehawken to Duluth / slide, ride, glide the Michigan / stomp, romp, pomp the Michigan / jump, clump, pump the Michigan Rag / that lovin' rag


You never quite know what you'll find in the bookstore bargain bin. Most times, it's really marked down overruns that nobody wants; and on that rare occasion, you get a little gem whose value outshines its full price counterparts.

Case in point: Planetes by Makoto Yukimura.

Over Christmas, the National Bookstore Branch in Gaisano Mall had piles and piles of manga selling for P75. These were TokyoPop imports, hence already translated into English. Compulsively, I bought a few. Well, more than a few. Most were the kind of trashy juvenalia that insinuates itself into Japanese comics.

But not Planetes.

Planetes paints a near future when mankind is just starting to blossom into its Golden Age for outer space exploration. Much of it is driven by the dwindling natural resources on earth. While that premise in itself may sound cliche, it avoids that trap by using it only as a backdrop for the new space race instead of the central plot.

In Planetes' future, there are no faster-than-light drives. People are just starting to explore the solar system, establishing space stations and a moonbase. It's a hard future, but not bleak and hopeless. Everday joes work in outer space under mundane conditions that reflect our own; but they have dreams.

All that is typified in the lead characters of the story. At the center of it all is Hachirota "Hachimaki" Hoshino, a debris collector on sanitation/cargo ship. Yes, you heard that right: Hachimaki is a trash collector. The premise here, all too real, is that there are all sorts of junk floating out there that pose a threat to space activities. Something as small as a bolt, travelling at high speeds, can cause a catastrophic impact.

But Hachimaki has big dreams. He tells anyone who cares to hear (and many more who don't) that he plans to captain his own ship one day. Such a longshot for a lowly trashman. His stepping stone to that goal is to get on the first manned mission to Jupiter. His stint as space garbage collector serves to rack up his extra-vehicular activity (EVA) hours meant to qualify him for the program.

In lesser hands, Hachimaki's tale would become just another space adventure story, with one obstacle after another overcome with ease. Not so in Yukimura's treatment. Planetes becomes a journey for transformation for Hachimaki. Space becomes a dark mirror for his ambitions, his longings, and ultimately, his emptiness and his inadequacies.

The underlying lesson here: space is vast, too vast to take in, and it can drive one mad. As it almost does with Hachimaki.

From this abyss, though, Hachimaki is ultimately saved not by his own heroism but by his friends. It is these who keep him grounded, reeling him back into sanity when he would otherwise have been lost. Their dreams aren't nearly as big as his, but they become his beacons into reality.

A large part of the appeal of Planetes is the strong supporting cast. Major players have their own backstory, sometimes tragic, sometimes comical, but all fully fleshed out.

There are Hachimaki's teammates on the garbage ship: Yuri, who lost his wife in a debris accident and has spent all these years looking for that last memento of hers floating in space. There's Fee, commander of the crew, whose nicotine addiction drives her to an act of extreme and hilarious optimism.

And there are others, too: Hachimaki's father, a famous astronaut, who provides plenty of comedy relief; the obsessive lead scientist for the space program; terrorists who oppose the colonization of space; and most importantly, the family waiting for them back home. They all have their own motivations, but they're all sympathetically portrayed.

Planetes is told as a series of interconnecting short stories, twenty-six in all. Each story could stand on its own. Taken as a whole, it becomes a touching tapestry of ambitions, fears, loves, tragedies, heroism, and friendships. In short, it's a very human story.

For my money, it's the one of the best science fiction stories ever told.

Planetes is available as a five-volume manga (of which I managed to snag four, including the last volume). Planetes is heavily researched, and each volume includes a generous helping of backstory.

Planetes also been turned into a 26-episode anime by Bandai.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Visual Anatomy of the Blogger Post Widget

A little something that I came up with in the process of upgrading this blog's template to the new Blogger: a visual anatomy of the default Blogger post widget.

The new Blogger makes use of widgets to hide much of the internal complexity of the code. Widget types come in standard formats, and they all make use of common CSS classes and IDs. This allows the designer to focus on the look of the template using CSS and Blogger's sections.

One of the most complex widgets, and certainly the most critical, is the Post widget. This is the widget that displays the actual blog post. This includes date headers, titles, post footers, and comments. The new Blogger provides a standard Post widget so that designers don't have to design this from scratch.

However, the question arises: what visual elements does the Post widget make use of? And what names does it use? I slogged through the widget code to come up with this simplified map.

Understanding this map requires some rudimentary understanding of CSS. However, the elements should be already be fairly obvious at first glance. Essentially, it's just a series of classes and IDs.

You can use this map to manage the look of the elements of the Post widget when you're designing your own template but still want to make use of the default widgets.

Of course, if you're looking to do something really unique, there's no choice but to get your hands dirty in the actual widget code.

Have fun!

First Post for 2007

So this is what the first day of 2007 feels like: quiet, a little drizzly, a little cool, and overall, very pleasant. Here's hoping the rest of the year feels much like the same.

I'm not much for resolutions, but now is as good a time as any to make some general plans for the year. So here they are:

  • * Stay in Davao until March. It's a welcome change of pace from Dumaguete. All the urban accoutrements of a decent metropolis are here, but without the hassle and traffic of Manila, or even Cebu. Who knows? If I like it a lot, I might even stay longer.
  • * Use all those air miles that I've been reserving. I have enough for two round-trips to anywhere in the world. I was saving them for something special but I suppose there's no point in waiting now. Maybe the United States for a spell. I've always wanted to go cross-country.
  • * Start something of my own. Dumaguete was difficult because I was always getting pulled hither and thither. But with a fresh start someplace else, a lot of things are possible.

And as for the rest, que sera sera.