Saturday, March 31, 2007

Dumaguete, 100 years ago

Peering into a your hometown's long gone past is a mystifying experience. It's alien territory because the landscape you see is entirely different; and then a familiar landmark hits you, transposed to a different time and place. Case in point: Dumaguete's iconic bell tower, ca. 1907.

I got this picture from the Dumaguete chapter of a book entitled A Woman's Journey through the Philippines by Florence Kimball Russel, published in 1907. The link came by way of email from Danah Fortunato.

Yet another picture, this time the beach that is now the Dumaguete Boulevard.



Almost hard to recognize without the boulevard or the buildings, but look just behind it and you'll see a familiar mountain behind it.

What will someone a hundred years from now think of Dumaguete today?

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

This, my friends, is where I'm spending my vacation time this summer.

Don't be too surprised if you don't see me for a couple of months. It's a great game. One can really get lost in it.

I'll be honest: at first I thought I wouldn't like it. I've never been big with computer role-playing games. But somewhere in the first chapter, I got hooked.

Great story. Great pacing. Great cinematography. Endearing characters. Menacing villains. And a slowly unfolding mystery.

Pure entertainment.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

A Hostage Situation

DAVAO--As I write this post, there's a situation brewing near Manila City Hall. Though I'm in faraway Davao, I'm catching the whole shebang via AM radio. What's happened so far: a day care teacher and companions took an entire schoolbus with 26 preschool tots hostage. The ringleader has issued various demands, including one to meet with Senator Bong Revilla.

The whole affair is being captured live from the bus, complete with conversations, negotiations, threats, assurances, and asides, and supplemented with interviews from relatives and the authorities.

I tell you: it's the funniest, most entertaining thing I've ever heard on radio.

Please don't think that I'm callous. I just can't help being amused. In the background, you can hear the children laughing and playing, oblivious to the comings-and-goings around them.

While waiting for the good senator to arrive, you could tell that the fellow, a senior citizen, was already at wits' end. On the other end, you could hear radio announcer Ted Failon in panic, asking him to calm down. "Huminahon ka, konting pasensya na lang! (Calm down, a little more patience!)"

What do you know? Revilla did make an appearance. Against all common sense and crisis protocols, he went inside the bus to talk with the hostage-taker. At the height of the drama, he was saying: "Mahal kita, pare! (I love you, friend!)" Well, not quite what I expected from an action star, but forgivable under the circumstances. (Oh, I forgot he does mostly comedies now...on top of his duties as senator.)

So the story starts unfolding: the old fellow has a heart condition, he wants to see a doctor, the family is poor, etc. etc.

Once a radio or a camera is trained on the average Filipino, he turns into a drama queen. It's an instinctive, irresistible reaction, this urge to ham it up. We're well primed to play the against-all-odds underdog.

Revilla handed the hostage-taker his cellphone with a patch to national radio so he could air his demands. He starts off in self-conscious fits and stammers, but once he caught his groove, he was really rolling. He launched into a tirade against corruption, against politicians, against poverty. He called for the Filipino people to unite behind Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. And his demand: free education up to the college level for all his hostages.

The man is clearly deranged.

Then, we hear more background information about the fellow, peppered with interviews from his family and neighbors. This, apparently, is not his first hostage-taking incident. Previously, he had taken his parish priest hostage over a small-claims dispute.

Segue to interview with the ringleader's son:

Interviewer: "Sa tingin mo ba, may pagka-violente ang tatay mo? (Is your father a violent man?)"

Son: "Hindi naman. (Not particularly.)"

Interviewer: "Pero dati niyang hinostage ang pari gamit ang granada! (But he took your parish priest hostage with a grenade!)"

Son: "Peke naman iyong granada! (But the grenade was fake!)"


Segue to another interview, this time with a neighbor whose son is among the hostages in the bus.

Interviewer: "Kinakabahan ba kayo para sa anak ninyo? (Are you worried for your son?)"

Neighbor: "Hindi naman. (Not particularly.)"

Interview: "Bakit naman? (Why not?)"

Neighbor: "Kilalala namin siya. Mabait siyang tao. Matulungin. (Not really. We know him (the hostage-taker). He's a nice man. Very helpful.)"


So it goes on. There's method to the ringleader's madness: they have enough food on the bus to hold out for two days. Police generals and security advisers have started to mobilize. They've closed off Lawton. Revilla has bought ice cream for everyone on the bus. I can just imagine the crowds of kibitzers forming around the scene. The whole thing is turning into a circus.

When did we become such a madhouse?

*Photos from Inquirer.net

Monday, March 26, 2007

Whee! Wii Wiikend

To buy or not to buy? That was the dilemma I faced. My sister was on her last day in Hong Kong, and though I had told her not to bother, she texted me anyway. "Last chance," she said.

Oh, what the heck, I finally decided. "Buy it!" I texted her back.

And so last week, my brand new Wii arrived.

Coming in at around P18,000 for the base unit, it's P7,000 cheaper than the local equivalent selling at Toy Kingdom. Even after two additional games, an extra controller, and a 220V adaptor, it just barely hit the local selling price. A good buy, I'd like to think.

Setting it up was a breeze, with nary a glance at the manual. There's no mistaking the jacks to their sockets. Nintendo gets top points for user interface design.

For a moment, though, I was befuddled. Just where was I supposed to plug in the controller into the unit again? And then it hit me: I didn't need to. D'oh! Talk about sideswiped in a paradigm shift.

I've held off playing with the Wii until the weekend. The wait served to heighten the anticipation. Would you believe this is the first console I've bought in over five years? I skipped over the Playstation 2, X-Box, GameCube, and X-Box 360.

But the wait has certainly been worthwhile: the Wii is miles and miles ahead of other gaming platforms with its innovative use of wireless motion sensing controls. And even minus the games themselves, I still had fun setting up my Mii avatar and viewing photos from my digital camera memory card. How's that for an entertainment console?

Okay, must catch a few more rounds of boxing. Laterz.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Height and hunger

Walking through the mall today, it suddenly occurred to me: "Why is everyone so short?"

No, it wasn't an unexpected attack of vanity. At 5'8" (173cm), I'm slightly taller than the average Filipino, but I know that I'm typically not that much taller. It just seemed that everyone else I saw at the mall seemed so much shorter now.

Following this vector of thought, might it not be related to the much-vaunted issue of hunger in the Philippines?

Dean of Philippine Commentary tackles the issue of the SWS survey relating to hunger. Indeed, it's a flawed survey because of the loaded nature of the question. I don't deny that hunger does occur, but I've always been wary of Filipinos and surveys. We have a tendency to...exaggerate...and perhaps unconsciously veer towards the "right" answer expected by the interrogator.

So rather than tabulating subjective opinions, why not look at indisputable physical statistics? Like the average height of male and female Filipinos in different generations, for example? Are Filipinos getting taller? Shorter? Staying more or less the same?

To be sure, there are factors other than nutrition that affect height. Genes, certainly. Physical activity, too. Perhaps some other environmental contributors. But it can't be denied that proper nutrition does affect height.

Nutrition is a key word, I think. Hunger just sounds so melodramatic, especially in a survey. Nutrition, on the other hand, doesn't just look at the intake of food but the proper quality of vitamins, minerals, and proteins that someone receives.

"Hunger" brings up images of acute hunger or starvation, e.g., bone-thin children with bloated bellies in war-torn and drought-hit countries. But just as real is daily undernourishment. From the web site of the World Food Programme:

Malnutrition/Undernutrition:
defined as a state in which the physical function of an individual is impaired to the point where he or she can no longer maintain natural bodily capacities such as growth, pregnancy, lactation, learning abilities, physical work and resisting and recovering from disease.

The term covers a range of problems from being dangerously thin (see Underweight) or too short (see Stunting) for one's age to being deficient in vitamins and minerals or being too fat (obese)

Malnutrition is measured not by how much food is eaten but by physical measurements of the body - weight or height - and age.


Furthermore:

Stunting: reflects shortness-for-age; an indicator of chronic malnutrition and calculated by comparing the height-for-age of a child with a reference population of well nourished and healthy children


A Georgia Tech presentation explains further:

Stunting is failure to grow to normal height caused by chronic undernutrition during the formative years of childhood. Worldwide there are 215 million stunted children. Children from Asia make up about two-thirds of the stunted children worldwide. When these children emigrate to areas that are food-sufficient or that have food surpluses, they cannot "make up" their lost height, but they frequently have children who are much taller than they are because their children reach their genetic potentials.


So is there hunger in the Philippines or not? Are families getting enough to eat? Are children getting enough of the recommended daily allowance of vitamins? Should we start laying off McDonald's and Jollibee?

Don't put out a questionnaire. Take out a measuring tape.

One thing's for sure, though: you can't wish this away with a magic wand in the next six months.

Milestone



This is, I just realized, my 901st post. I was getting ready to do another blog entry when I saw the counter on my Blogger dashboard.

Whooweee.

See you at the 1000th.

Friday, March 23, 2007

I joke, therefore I am

I got this joke via email today:

Three contractors are bidding to fix the White House fence. One is from the Philippines, another from Mexico and an American. They go with a White House official to examine the fence. The American contractor takes out a tape measure and does some measuring, then works some figures with a pencil. "Well," he says. "I figure the job will run about $900: $400 for materials, $400 for my crew and $100 profit for me."

Mexican contractor also does some measuring and figuring, then says, "I can do $700: $300 for
materials, $300 for my crew and $100 profit for me."

The Filipino contractor doesn't measure or figure, but leans over to the White House official and whispers: "$2,700."

The official, incredulous, says, "What? You didn't even measure like the other guys! How did you come up with such a high figure?"

"Easy," the Pinoy explains, "$1,000 for you, $1,000 for me and we hire the guy from Mexico."


Did you have a good laugh? I'm sure you did. Pinoys are so smart, right? Wa-is, as we like to say. Wa-is to take the shortcut. Wa-is to take advantage of someone else. Wa-is to bank on relationships. Wa-is in the payoff. And wa-is to shrug off and laugh about the whole thing.

In other news: we're the most corrupt country in the region.

Be careful what you pretend to be, because you are what you pretend to be.
--Kurt Vonnegut, Mother Night

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Child Labor

DAVAO--Police swooped down on a private wharf in Tibungco, Davao City earlier this week. The raid netted 14 minors, some as young as twelve years, who worked in the pier as dockhands. What prompted this action was the death of a boy, run over and crushed by a forklift while he was sleeping.

Local authorities claim triumph in this "rescue." Meanwhile the dockyard operator simply said that no, they did not employ the children, they were only delivering food to their parents in the wharf. For all that, this there is a noticeable lack of public furor. Tragic, yes, but in this country all too routine.

Children, we know instinctively, should be at school or at play, under the guidance and protectiont of their parents. They should not be involved in hard and dangerous work which, in a pier with heavy machinery, clearly was what they were employed in. But this is yet another difficult reality in our midst: child labor in the Philippines is all too real.

There's plenty of blame to go around: to the shipping company, for employing underage workers, or at the very least, permitting them to run loose in the docks; to the city government, for overlooking such a dangerous practice until after the fact; to the parents, for their lack of oversight over their children; maybe even the boys themselves for neglecting school in favor of the wharf. Yet what looms large is the economic factor, under the circumstances too tempting to resist.

Working between 8PM and 2AM, the wharf boys would unload truckloads of bananas. For this they earn what a local paper described as a "measly" P200 per night. But to someone of their economic standing, P200 is a princely sum, certainly worth taking whatever the risk involved. Upong questioning, one of the boys spun out a typical sob story: with no money for school and a sick mother, what choice then but to work? The triteness takes the edge off the tragedy -- how many times have we heard this tale? -- but that belies the hard reality that he and other like him must live through, whatever the reasons.

Dumaguete would do well to learn from this incident and take preventive steps to ensure that a similar occurence does not take place in the city. While we cannot treat the root cause -- poverty -- immediately, we can address some of the symptoms.

First, we must acknowledge that child labor does exist in our surroundings. Too often, it's become invisible both because it's so unpleasant and because it's so common. Look around: it could be that boy pedalling a bike with a sidecar full of vegetables; or it could be someone picking scraps for the junkyard. These children and their families must be identified.

Second, we must also acknowledge that, despite our best efforts, these children will continue to work out of financial necessity. But we can at least take steps to make sure that their working conditions are safe and that they still have time to be children. There have to be alternative livelihood or skills programs that take these children out of a potentially dangerous element and into better and safer environment.

Third, local government has to be actively involved in education, especially in the primary levels. It's not sufficient to allocate funds for scholarships and improvement of public school facilities. Local government must look into the quality of education, reduce truancy, and determine specifically why children are unable to go to school. Give the children no reason not to go to school.

As of this writing, the boys have been remanded back to their guardians. Along with that are assurances of full scholarships and livelihood programs for their parents. For one boy though, it's already too late.

Let's make sure that it's not too late for any of the children in Dumaguete.

The IT Crowd

One of the things I came away with from the FOSS conference of two weeks ago was "The IT Crowd", a new British sitcom. It's all the rage in local geekdom, apparently. I finally had a chance to catch a couple of episodes and I tell you, it had me in tears...of laughter.

"The IT Crowd" follows the (mis)adventures of the tech support team of a small company in London. There's Roy, who charms callers with his winning personality (not!); there's Moss, a nerd who still lives with his Mum; and there's Jen, who knows nothing about IT but got the job because "she said she had extensive experience of computers like using mices, clicking, double-clicking, and that thing that goes on the floor... the er hard-drive?" Guess who's the manager.

Despite it's name, "The IT Crowd" really isn't about geek humor. Rather, it's a non-geek's look at a very geeky world. For example, when Moss explains what he's doing in what is obviously a stream of technobabble, his voice is replaced by hissing static. What little tech-related humor there is is purely incidental and exaggerated, intended to make fun of stereotypes, both geek and management. The laughs come mainly from the insecurities and social ineptness of the characters.

"The IT Crowd" does give one very important piece of technical advice as part of it's running gag. When calling tech support for any problem whatsoever, the first two questions you are most likely to get are:

"Have you tried turning it off and on again?"


and

"Are you sure it's plugged in?"

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Love of Living

Quite a number of things I wanted to say, but it's one of those moments when there's no zest in writing. So instead there's only the discipline of schedule. Hence, I borrow the words from another, this time Swinburne:

From too much love of living,
From hope and fear set free,
We thank with brief thanksgiving
Whatever gods may be
That no life lives forever;
That dead men rise up never;
That even the weariest river
Winds somewhere safe to sea.


No, no, I'm not feeling suicidal. Nothing like that at all. The day was simply...unproductive...but even then we should learn to relish those moments of ennui.

After all, there's only one life to live, eh?

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Gas-powered boots

Over at Cnet is a story about Soviet-era gas-powered boots. The invention itself is really only a red herring for the main point about how the Cold War military bureaucracy stifled the culture of innovation in Russia.

Coincidentally, I picked up a reprint of an old Iron Man comic, "Tales of Suspense" No. 40. Iron Man vs. Gargantus. And the lead-in involved multimillionaire arms dealer Tony Stark selling demonstrating, ahem, "transistor-powered roller skates."

So once again, science fiction precedes fact. Minus one or two matters of detail, of course.

Here's the full page from the Iron Man story:

Don't ask for the rest, it's rather forgettable.

Here's how the Russian boots work:
Taking a step down will compress air in the shoe--as in a typical sneaker, said Enikeev, who was a designer on the project. But then, a tiny carburetor injects gasoline into the compressed air and a spark plug fires it off. Instead of fastening a seat belt, the institute's test runner, Marat D. Garipov, an assistant professor of engineering, strapped on shin belts at a recent demonstration. Then he flicked an ignition switch.

Before running down a university corridor, he jumped in place a few times to warm up the engine. Garipov then ran laps for about 10 minutes, going about 12 miles per hour, with the two-stroke boots emitting small puffs of exhaust.

A test runner once topped out at 21.7 miles per hour, despite the risk of being sent off-balance.

The tanks in the shoes hold a third of a cup of gasoline each and will take the runner three miles; that means the boots get about 70 miles per gallon.

"The worst situation is when the spark fires as the runner just lands, and the force of the blast is absorbed by his body," Garipov explains flatly.

Davao Blog Party


So here I am, gloating over the Google loot that I brought home from the 1st Davao Blog Party. The shirt I won in the Googleympics Contest, being the first to find the complete list of Archbishops of Davao. The cup I won for being the, er, Most Eccentric Blog. I wonder why.

The details and stories will probably be all over the local blogosphere starting tomorrow so I'll just wait for them to come out. Instead, I'll let the pictures speak for the event:









Suffice to say, in cliché: much fun was had by all.

More photos at on Flickr.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Calamba, Los Baños, and Tagaytay

On this, our last full day in Manila, My Two Senior Citizens decided to go on a short day trip to Tagaytay and other points South. Thanks largely to my previous excursion with my friend Noel Pasilan, I more or less knew which places to go and which sights to see. So we rented a van and off we went.

Our first stop was Festival Mall in Alabang. That was about as uneventful and unexciting as it could get. Still, it's a good pit stop for bathroom and brunch.

Next, we headed for Calamba, rapidly becoming one of my favorite destinations south of Metro Manila. My Two Senior Citizens didn't feel like going into the Rizal Shrine, so we ambled along San Juan Bautista Church.

I never did take walk around the church grounds before, so it was a pleasant surprise to find their garden with statues and gigantic reliefs of the Stations of the Cross. What first caught my eye was this life-size diorama of the conversation between Jesus and the Sinful Woman at the Well of Sichar.All tastefully done. I'm glad the parish community did not adopt the typical candy colored figures so common in Philippine church surroundings.

After Calamba, we headed to Los Baños. Along the way, we came upon a very colorful parade of dancing women. It must have been a town fiesta of some sort; and silly me, I forgot to ask what the event was.

I asked the driver to let me off so I could take pictures. And what should greet me first was the sight of one of the barangay marshals sideswiped by an oncoming bus! The picture below is the immediate aftermath of the accident.

The poor fellow was sprawled on the ground. His companions picked him up. Some of the other marshals signalled for the bus driver to pull over. I was worried they would beat him up. But then they took a look at the victim, saw that he wasn't too badly hurt, and eventually waved the bus driver on.

Important rule in the Philippine countryside: no blood, no foul. Gah!

UP Los Baños was a very pleasant experience. I had been to the town proper a couple of years back but I didn't have time to visit the campus. Sprawling is one way to describe it; but it's idyllic academic calm has to be seen to be believed.

Senior Citizen Dad commented that the palm-lined streets reminded him of Beverly Hills. Can't say that I could disagree.


The picture at the topmost of this post was also from UPLB. What first caught my eye was the concrete dome cabana; and when I saw the magnificent tree behind it, outstretched branches and all, I was totally blown away. It was a scene straight out of Middle Earth. Just don't mind the graffiti that insensitive philistines scrawled all over the cabana posts.

After that, t'was Tagaytay and home. Nothing more to write about, except that the Two Senior Citizens were quite pleased with the trip.

More photos in my Flickr set. You might also want to take a look at the Way of the Cross reliefs.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Divisoria Day


Of late, I can deem no visit to Manila complete without a pilgrimage to the shrine of shrewd (and smelly) shopping that is Divisoria. I have no particular attraction to the place; in fact, it repels me. I much prefer someplace quiet where I can work and reflect.

But personal preferences go out the window when financial opportunities rear their lucrative heads. Let's just say I've struck a thin vein of gold in Divisoria (the details of which are laughably silly and hence will remain secret.) While I don't depend on it to keep me in comfort, my compulsive self won't let the occasion pass. So off to market I go.

Today I decided to surreptitiously snap some pics. Not hard to do with a cellphone camera (though one has to be careful when and where to let the camera out, unless one looks like a goon...)

To go to Divisoria, I take the MRT to Araneta Center. There, I switch to the LRT which goes all the way to Recto. And what should meet me as I descend the terminal, but this sight?
Ah, yes, did you know that you can have any sort of document processed in Recto while you wait? Need an International Drivers License? Or a birth certificate? How about a land title? And while you're at it, round it off with a double PhD from Harvard University and MIT! You can get it all here!

From Recto station, it's a short jeepney ride to Divisoria. One would think that this transport is the monopoly of fish-smelling market women, but no! The occasional beauty deigns to descend once in a while. Now that I think about it, my hit rate to sit across a pretty girl in Divisoria jeepneys has been better than half.

And once at Divisoria, what else would you expect to see?

Today, though, brought an unexpected surprise. Police were conducting a surprise clearing operation. Illegal sidewalk vendors (which account for, oh, all the trade along the sidewalks) scampered for safety with their wares. In but a few moments, the streets were eerily clear.

I suppose I could have sympathized with their plight. But by then, I was too laden with my own purchases (albeit not running) to be anything other than grumpy.

Ah, Divisoria!

Halalang Marangal

MANILA--Running within a hair's breadth of the campaign season, the COMELEC decreed with finality that, as in previous years, there would be no computerized elections this year. And with that decision goes up in smoke the hope for speedy and -- we hope -- accurate resolutions to hotly contested positions. Well, there's always 2010.

Even as the COMELEC must resort to manual methods for tallying votes, there's no reason that citizen-run poll watching bodies can't adopt decidedly more modern means to guard the ballot. And that's the tack that Robert "Obet" Verzola is taking.

Verzola, already prominent within the free and open source software community and civil rights circles, came briefly into the national limelight at the height of the Garci scandal. In an interview with ANC, he pointed out the statistical anomalies in the regions where cheating -- ahem! make that alleged cheating -- took place. No simple innuendo on his part, Verzola backed up his claims with data from both the COMELEC and NAMFREL, indicating where large discrepancies took place.

Alas, all that drudge work came to naught. What chicanery took place in the halls of Congress we already know all too well. The heat of the moment forgotten, we've buried it in the final resting place of so many other inconvenient truths.

But not so Verzola. Verzola has formed Halalang Marangal, a group whose aim is not only honest elections but also truthful statistics. HALAL, as it is called, focuses on the auditing aspect of this political exercise. HALAL volunteers will transmit precinct reports to a central database using SMS, MMS photos, email, courier, etc. as the tallies come to a close. These tallies will be made public via SMS, web sites, and CDs. The purpose is to give anyone the capability to perform an independent audit.

One component of this operation is the NoCHEATS SMS system. Poll watch volunteers register their cellphone numbers with the system. One cellphone can only be associated with one precinct. On election day, volunteers will transmit via SMS results from publicly posted copies of the Election Returns or Certificate of Votes. Alternatively, they can also use email or the web to upload results.

What if a volunteer makes a mistake in his transmission? Or what if saboteurs are in the ranks sending false information? These are indeed possibilities, but NoCHEATS makes use of corroborating evidence to determine the most reliable results. Election results from a single precinct which match are deemed the most credible. With several volunteers operating in a single precinct, it becomes easier to weed out errors and false information.

If the Garci election scandal of 2004 has taught us anything, it's that election cheats no longer need rely on individual vote buying. They've gone one step up in the electoral chain, manipulating the election returns to yield maximum effect. This often takes place in that cumbersome physical transmission between precinct to polling center.

The deception can be so deft as to be undetectable; but only in the rarest of cases. Many times, the method is so crude as to result in discrepancies: for example, when the number of votes exceeds the number of voters, or when the poll watch tallies exceed the COMELEC count. Hence the need for a auditable results. It's HALAL's aim to catch these discrepancies early and publicly so as to bring attention to them immediately.

To find out more about HALAL and NoCHEATS, visit http://halal.interdoc.org or email Obet Verzola at rverzola-at-gn-dot-apc-dot-org.

The past few days....


The past few days have just been chock full of FOSS-related goodness and other forms of geekery. As you might already know from previous posts, I came to Manila to attend a conference on FOSS and e-governance. And since my Two Senior Citizens were also in town, I decided to extend my visit to match theirs. Which is all well and good because it's afforded me some time to catch up with old friends and meet new ones.

Pictures probably capture best what happened.

Here's an abbreviated timeline of the past week:

March 6: arrived from Davao; took the same flight as Councillor Peter Laviña; checked in to EDSA Shangri-La; met Eloy, Francis, Yolynne, and other guys from IOSN; got reacquainte with Myra; dinner with speakers at Gloria Maris; met Pi, Bobby, and Jess from IPD, Johan from Joomla! development team and Rey from Joomla! local team.

March 7: start of conference; breakfast with Yolynne and Myra, unfortunately forgetting about Francis because of the wide selection of food (sorry, Francis!); babbled a lot during the Q&A portion, questioning government's stance towards FOSS; bought a gamepad from CD-R King to show off my stuff; met Calen, Clair, JM, Dong, Paolo, Zak, Rage Callao, Obet Verzola; PLUG board meeting with Dong, Paolo, JM; FOSS Fiesta in the evening, capturing Zak's duet with Noel Cabangon; met Vladimir "Kaladan" Petkov; late-night drinks with Pi, Bobby, Yolynne, Myra, Kaladan, and Johan at Shangri-La Strip.

March 8: second day of conference; last minute touches to my presentation, revised the previous evening owing to my misunderstanding of audience requirements; more goofing off with the FOSS guys; lots of pictures taken; then my presentation; and more goofing off; goodbyes; late-night drinks at Metro Walk.

March 9:breakfast with Yolynne; goodbyes to the guys (premature, it seems); checked out of EDSA Shangri-La; checked into AIM Conference Center; writing, followed lots of slacking off; watched 300 with Krisette, Herbz, and Kathy; bumped into Veneeth and Von.

March 10: checked out of ACCEED; lunch with Myra, Yolynne, husband Ronald, Bobby, Johan and Kaladan at Market! Market!; shopping and video games; Two Senior Citizens arrived; Heroes musical launch with New Worlds Alliance guys; bumped into Myra, Bobby, Johan and Kaladan.

March 11: slow Sunday with Two Senior Citizens; last-minute rush to purchase P1 tickets at a cybercafe; coffee with Louella and Mirell.

March 12: Joomla! and Ubuntu workshop at UP Diliman; big and heavy lunch at Whamburger with Mario Carreon; second lunch at Mang Jimmy's; more geekery with Joomla! workflow; final goodbyes with Kaladan and Johan (no more bumping into each other in the near term).

March 13: Two Senior Citizens' stuff; sat in Mario's SciFi and Fantasy class.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The blogging mirror

I'm on my second week in Manila, away from the comfort of the usual routine of home. As always, when I'm away, and despite the availability of a network, my blogging usually takes a hit. It's not that the facilities aren't there -- goodness knows I tried working offline, but it just doesn't take.

And as usual, it takes a post about blogging to get my writing gears back in working order.

As you might already know, one of my resolutions this year has been to blog daily. I've been fairly consistent, I think, barring some hiccups like what I'm going through now. And I think that tells me something about myself:

I'm a creature of habit that depends on a familiar environment to get any work done.

I suppose that's both a good thing and a bad thing. It's good because I'm conscious now of when and how I work; it's good because I can take advantage of that when I really need to buckle down. But it's not quite so good from the point of view of flexibility.

Which probably means that I have some new habits to learn.

Another realization: I meander when I 'work.' That means I give in to so many distractions, usually before I actually get to writing; and in some cases when I come to a point where I'm stuck. I visit other blogs, I go to Slashdot or to News.com, I pull up a webcomic, or I revisit some other problem that I'm working on.

And if I can't get my distractions? Then I can't work. Groan.

Now I wonder if I can chalk this up as part of the creative process? One thing for certain, though: it's a habit that I have to break.


Friday, March 09, 2007

Announcement: Joomla and Ubuntu Workshops

Announcement.

The parallel Workshops on Joomla and Ubuntu/FOSS Migration are definitely happening this March 12, 2007. The workshops will be held at Seminar Rooms A and B of the National Engineering Center, University of the Philippines (Diliman), Quezon City.

The workshops will run from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm, with a lunch break from 12:00 to 1:30 pm. Registration is free.

The workshops are organised by the Institute for Popular Democracy, and hosted by the College of Engineering, University of the Philippines.

Post-Conference FOSS Workshops on Joomla, Ubuntu and FOSS Migration

Freedom and community sharing are values at the heart of free software/open source. Conference resource speakers, Johan Janssens of the Joomla Development Team and Vladimir "Kaladan" Petkov of E-Rider and the InterSpace Media Art Center (Bulgaria) will be holding parallel workshops on March 12, 2007 from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. The workshops are designed to stimulate productive exchange between and among FOSS users and developers.

1. Joomla Workshop
FOSS developers, web editors, Joomla users and advocates, and anybody with an interest in getting their organisation's offline content on online and managing their Web content will benefit from this workshop. Know about what's next in Joomla development, tell Johan Janssens -- lead developer of Joomla -- your experiences with the famed content management system, ask that tough Joomla tech question the answer to which still eludes you, meet other Joomla people. And even if you're just curious about what Joomla is, this workshop is still open to you.

2. Ubuntu + FOSS Migration
Ubuntu users will be interested to attend this workshop, and exchange notes and ideas with Vladimir "Kaladan" Petkov who is actively involved in localisation of Ubuntu in Bulgaria. This year's e-Rider's Dirk Awardee, Kaladan has extensive
experience in assisting various types of communities in FOSS migration. His model for migrating to FOSS has been used successfully by many Bulgarian NGOs and many e-Rider teams abroad. FOSS advocates, Linux users and system administrators interested in FOSS migration
issues and strategies will benefit from this workshop.

The post-Conference workshops are free of charge. No free lunch though, and you have to pre-register via email to secure a seat.

For pre-registration to the Workshop on Joomla, Ubuntu and FOSS Migration, please write to: events | at | lgu.flossp.net

with the appropriate Subject header:

* Joomla Workshop (if you're attending the Joomla workshop)

* Ubuntu + FOSS Migration (if you're attending the Ubuntu and FOSS migration workshop)

More Women (Still) Prefer Ubuntu


In case you didn't know it, yesterday was Women's Day. In the spirit of fun, we got the hardcore tech gals together for some group shots. Above is Myra, Clair, Johanna, Diane, and Yolynne. Yes, more women prefer Ubuntu!



Johanna is also an expert in Asterisk. She's done installations in Japan.


Myra works for UP Diliman and she's involved in podcast production. Apart from Ubuntu, she also does Macs.


Yolynne, based out of Zamboanga, is with Ubuntu PH, a volunteer for the International Open Source Network, and is an active organizer for local FOSS activities.


Joomla lead developer Johann Janssens, who flew in for the event, is swamped by the Ubuntu angels.

So, while Microsoft may be able to hire booth babes for events, the real women of IT are over at FOSS.

FOSS and e-Governance

MANILA--At first glance, it looks like a match made in heaven. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) is all about community-developed software that is flexible, robust, and unhampered by onerous licensing restrictions. e-Governance is all about the use of information and communications technology to improve the way government delivers services to the people. So that begs the question: why isn't the self-confessed cash-strapped Philippine government making use of FOSS to enhance its processes?

That's the issue that's brought several hundred participants from government, NGOs, private sector, and the FOSS community to the 1st Philippine Conference on Free and Open Source and e-governance over March 7 and 8 in EDSA Shangri-La Hotel. The event seminar was the culminating event of a one-year project run by the Institute for Popular Democracy (IPD), a non-profit organization devoted to promoting good governance.

Over the course of a year, the IPD, with the support of the European Union Philippine Delegation under its Small Projects Facilities, conducted pilot e-governance projects in ten LGUs across the country. These LGUs were: Roxas, El Nido, and Coron in Palawan; Daraga, Albay; Jagna, Bohol; San Jose de Buenavista, Antique; Guiuan, Eastern Samar; Iligan City; Digos City; and Davao City.

The projects covered market stall management, business permits and licensing, GIS for tax mapping, barangay business registry and city hospital management. The projects all made use of open source software like BSD, Linux, PHP, and PostgreSQL. All of them cost lest then P500,000 to implement. The bulk of the expenses went to hardware and programming services.

All the LGU officials -- councillors, city officers, and even mayors -- gave glowing reports on the progress and impact of the project in their cities and municipalities. Many expressed the hope for an extension of the grants so that they might pursue other e-government projects.

And there you have it: FOSS in e-government projects work; they're cost effective; and they've been met by LGU officials with warm welcome. So to reiterate the question: why isn't government adopting more FOSS applications to improve local processes?

The main reason, it seems, is the lack of awareness. Government, in particular at the LGU level, has traditionally shunned the implementation of IT. The reasons vary: there's the perception of high cost, perpetuated by the expensive offerings of big vendors; IT is placed at a lower priority than social projects (never mind that IT, properly applied, can improve the the delivery of social projects); and sometimes, IT is outright dismissed as irrelevant in government. As such, many of them are unaware of the transformative possibilities of IT.

On the other hand, the FOSS community has not done much work at promoting the application of their software to government. FOSS has traditionally been the domain of computer geeks, self-absorbed in their own technical pursuits and unwilling to be bothered by the concerns of mainstream society.

As a result, this gap has given big hardware and software vendors the opportunity to push their own agenda in government. Commercial vendors have always had their financial bottom line as their driving force. These corporate mechanisms have driven up the cost of e-governance into the unreachable millions lost in complex IT monstrosities. While large IT projects have their place, simple but effective FOSS alternatives do exist for the needs of LGUs.

So it's fallen to NGOs like IPD to bring the FOSS and government together to make headway into e-governance. It's a promising first step. LGUs have proven receptive to the idea of using FOSS in government; FOSS advocates in turn are beginning to find their social conscience and turn their skills towards solving their country's problems. A promising beginning, but still at its preliminary first steps.

Between the FOSS community and government, the large burden is on government to think of ways in which they can use IT. It requires a shift in thinking that takes LGUs out of their comfort zone but nevertheless redounds to more efficient processes. Several things must happen:

1) LGUs must snap out of their passive stance towards IT. This is a habit formed by years and years of commercial software vendors dictating the agenda. LGUs must first of all know where IT can benefit the business of governance; and if they do not, they must educate themselves.

2) LGUs must learn to tap the resources of their own local communities in deploying their IT solutions. For too long, LGUs have been dependent on the dictates of national government and corporate vendors for their IT support. But FOSS has managed to commoditize software to the extent that even within a small city like Dumaguete already has local homegrown skills that LGUs can and should utilize.

3) LGUs should learn to be self-reliant for their IT initiatives. Grants such as that provided by the EU are all well and good, but again it gives way to dependency that breeds passivity. LGUs can start implementing IT projects by using local resources; and they do not have to be big nor expensive.

4) LGUs should learn from the best practices of other LGUs in the country. While the priorities of LGUs may vary, there are common areas from which they can adopt proven workable solutions.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Meanwhile in Manila

Just when I had my Nokia cellphone working with my Ubuntu laptop, I had to lose the Bluetooth dongle that enables the connection between the two. So here I am in Manila, a very eventful day to blog about, and with neither GPRS connection nor a free Wi-Fi hotspot to blog it with. Ah, well, this post will have to wait until tomorrow.

A few feet from me, coiled in silent temptation, is the hotel Internet connection. But at $5 per hour, I had better well resist. Yes, those are the rates that EDSA Shangri-La is charging. Highway robbery, to be sure.

All the same, I shouldn't complain. I am here as a guest, and I've paid not a penny to be here. I'm speaking on Thursday at a FOSS conference on e-Government organized by the IDP. Between now and my talk there's several presentations that I'm looking forward to sitting in and many old friends to meet.

I flew in this afternoon from Davao. It's been ages since I've taken Philippine Airlines. Characteristically, the plane was late (PAL is supposed to stand for Plane Always Late); but the swanky ambience and absence of in-flight "fun" games (which usually has me bristling in irritation) made it a refreshing change from my usual Cebu Pacific.

On the same flight was Councillor Peter Lavina. I recognized him immediately from his blog and introduced myself (and in case you're wondering, he hasn't yet heard of the Village Idiot Savant -- harrumph, harrumph). We're speaking at the same conference, you see; and we had a chance to get better acquainted over the meet-and-greet dinner.

In another stroke of serendipity, on the same flight was my old grade school classmate, Dr. Odette Angliongto-Ramos. Not until we were side by side rolling our carts out the terminal did we espy each other. And then there was that niggling moment between recognition and retreat, that nether second when one wonders: "Is she or isn't she?"

"Odette?"

"Dominique?"

Well, what a small world indeed!

I caught a ride with her, her husband, and her brother-in-law; and along the way we talked about old classmates we were in touch and had lost touch with, about how she was, about how I was, and the hundred and one other things that rediscovered friends awkwardly catch up on.

Arriving at EDSA Shangri-La immediately caught me in a whirlwind reunion. In the car ahead of me were Eloy Marcelo, Francis Sarmiento, and Yolynne Medina.

More tomorrow!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Ubuntu Life

My Ubuntu life is coming along swimmingly, thank you very much; and it's coming from various pleasantly unexpected sources.

Last Saturday, for instance, I had my first meeting with DabaweGNU. What was supposed to have been a simple kapihan turned into a planning session for Software Freedom Day in Davao. And to think that's still in far September.

Leading the agenda was Nathaniel Jayme, and in attendance were Erwin Diansay, Andrew Abogado, Charles Piño, Dennis Agulo, Jose Catubigan, Atty. Sam Matunog, and moi. No, I don't mean to make it sound so formal, it was more of a free flowing discussion. (And I added to the chaos by having Nat's kids play on my Ubuntu-based Gameboy emulator.) But things are shaping up, and I'm excited to see what the coming months will bring. (Side note: it's at this meeting that I discovered my new guilty pleasure, Fita Spreadz Spicy Tuna Flavor.)

On another note, I volunteered to help Christer Edwards of Ubuntu Tutorials transfer some of his documents to the Ubuntu community help pages. And -- surprise! surprise! -- this 6'2" redheaded Utah native can speak fluent Bisaya!

It turns out that Chris spent a couple of years in Cebu and Negros Oriental -- ding! another coincidence -- for the Latter Day Saints.

Small world! Or perhaps I should say: small Ubuntu world!

And tomorrow: Manila, for the Philippine Conference on FOSS and e-Governance.

Letter to Boo Chanco

Sir:

Like you, I was surprised to read of Rosalie Cabinan, the woman from Baseco with 14 children. But where you find cause for chagrin, I find cause for awe. Bearing, birthing, and breeding 14 children is quite a feat, don't you think?

Granted, Ms. Cabinan may not fit your vision of responsible parenthood, but you haven't asked the essential question: is she happy? The answer to that, I'm afraid, we cannot divine from numbers alone.

One can have a baby by accident. Or two babies. Or even three. But when you have fourteen children (not counting the four who died), they cannot all be accidents. In an article in The Economist some years back, it was said that poorer families tend to have more children as a form of social security. That may be what is at work here.

Regardless, would you be able to tell Ms. Cabinan that she could have had Abigail, Berting, and Caloy but she shouldn't have had Dexter, Edith, Frances, Gary, Helen, Ida, Jane, Kristine, Leonor, Maria, and Baby Nora? Against that Iron Woman, not I!

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Advice to Workshop Applicants, Part 4

And now comes the hard part: rejection.

Out of all the hundreds of applications to the workshop, only a handful will be chosen. Conversely, many will be rejected. Yours could be one of them. So how do you deal with it?

In the first place, get the right perspective. It's your application that's being rejected, not you personally. Oh, I know, you've invested so much in your work that it's almost part of yourself; but learn a bit of detachment. Trust me, it's healthier.

Rejection could mean that your work isn't ready for a workshop yet. It may need a bit more polish or a bit more of maturity, in which case it's back to the word processor for you. Think of it as a favor: workshops can be quite merciless, and if your work isn't ready for it just yet, you've just been saved from the emotional turmoil.

Rejection could mean that your work isn't up to the tastes of the screening committee. I know it's tough, but that's the way it goes. The screening committee is experienced and accomplished, yes, but in a way they also have their own preferences and predispositions. I've already given you some clues as to what they are. If you want to get a better feel of their tastes, look up the works of the workshop panelists.

Rejection could mean that there were 15 (or 10) others whose work was better than yours At This Time. Your work could be ready, it could be up to the tastes of the committee, but due to the logistical nature of the universe, they just couldn't accommodate you At This Time, much as they might have wanted to take you.

Here's a fact: it's taken some folks several attempts to get into the workshop. Some have gotten in only after their second, third, or fourth tries. One tale I heard tells of a heroine who got in after ten (a paragon of persistence I'm sure not many can match.)

If you're rejected, you're in good company. Sulk for a day and curse the gods, if you must, but get back to living and writing afterwards.

Remember: it's your application that's being rejected. Not you.

(And even if your application is rejected, come visit Dumaguete anyway. It's still a great place, workshop or not; and at today's promo rates, affordable, too.)

Advice to Workshop Applicants, Part 3

So now you have some idea of the format of your submissions and how to prepare them. But what actually makes a good workshop piece? A hard question to answer as there are many X-factors involved: plot, structure, dialogue, form, balance, etc. And it all has to come together cohesively.

However, from my workshop experience last year, there are three criteria which stuck most in my mind: Imagery, Metaphor, and Meaning.

Imagery is vividness. How well can you make your characters, your emotions, and your settings come alive? Can someone reading your story capture in her mind's eye the detail and the atmosphere of what you want to evoke? Don't just write out what's happening, but engage the memory of the senses. Color. Sound. Smell. Texture. Taste. Be sensual, be lush.

Metaphor is subtlety. Don't force the emotion or idea that you want to convey down the throat of the reader. Tell it sideways, with a slant. Let the images you paint carry your message. Like a classy burlesque stripper, you have to hint and tease and tickle. You are under no obligation to reveal all; the pleasure to the reader is in the discovery.

Meaning is, well,....meaning. What is it that you want to say? What essential truth are you trying to convey? What you write should foremost have meaning for yourself, though obscured through the lenses of imagery and metaphor. While you may not explicitly have meaning in mind when you set out to write, meaning should become apparent during your subsequent reading.

The dual pleasure in a workshop is to see others discover this meaning and to discover the meaning others see that you may not have intended.

So there you have it: imagery, metaphor, and meaning. If it sounds too much like poetry, then you're right: these qualities are at their peak for that writing form. However, they also heighten the appeal of short stories and essays. It helps if you apply poetic techniques to all your work.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Advice to Workshop Applicants, Part 2

Much of the activity in the workshop revolves around the dissection and discussion of the work that you submit. Yes, the panelists and your peers will tear your work apart -- whether gently or savagely depends on their personalities and yours, but tear it apart they will. Only then can you see what the strengths and weaknesses of your work are.

It's important that you polish your pieces as best as you can manage before submitting them. These pieces are your key to getting into the workshop. It's also these pieces which will be bound into the collection of workshop readings. Your co-fellows and you will be carrying this book for three weeks (after which it makes a wonderful keepsake) -- so you want to be at your best here.

Therefore: edit your pieces before turning them in. Correct any errors in grammar and spelling as best as you can, both as a courtesy to your co-fellows and the panelists and as a favor to yourself.

Before submitting, do give your pieces a second or even a third reading. Try to improve it a bit. But don't be too harsh on yourself, either: it's a rare workshop piece that's perfect from the get-go.

Last year's workshop was my first and -- thus far --only workshop that I've attended. Neither am I a published author (unless you count technical journals). So, it's a leap of presumption for me to purport to give you any advice on how to fashion the work that you submit. Nevertheless, here are my observations:

Short stories should be about 5,000 to 7,000 words. I believe this is the sweet spot, both for the screening committee and for the workshop itself. This is not a hard and fast rule, in fact, it's not a written rule at all. But this is my gut feel from most of the short stories in the workshop last year.

Essays and creative nonfiction works are about 1,000 to 1,500 words. Again, not a hard and fast rule, just an observation from last year. Keep in mind, the accepted definition for creative non-fiction is "a non-fiction written using the techniques of fiction." So make your settings and characters come alive and give them color.

Poems are typically very short, only about a page or two. Here, length doesn't matter so much as the content. During the workshop, I've seen a short three stanza poem discussed animatedly for over three hours.

Advice to Workshop Applicants, Part 1

As an adjunct to my earlier post inviting applicants for the 46th Dumaguete National Writers Workshop, I thought I'd give some advice to prospective participants. This is based on my experiences from being a fellow last year and from being a reject the year before that.

Most of this is meant for workshop virgins (like I was). Workshop veterans probably already know the drill, and so can skip on to Dumaguete-specific tips.

So, newbies, listen up. First: read the requirements carefully.

The applicant must submit original manuscripts consisting of at least:
* three to five short (3-5) stories; OR
* three to five (3-5) essays/creative non-fiction; OR
* two (2) one-act plays; OR
* seven to ten (7-10) poems


Therefore: Do not mix and match categories, e.g., sending in two short stories and a poem. Do not send works not in the categories above, e.g., a novel. The workshop revolves around the short story, the poem, the essay, and -- this year, apparently -- the one-act play. As a fellow, it is your work in one particular area that will be critiqued.

Don't send in more than the required number of works. The reviewers will not have time to read them all. In fact, just send in the minimum number, e.g., three stories or three essays or seven poems. Just make sure they're your best.

(It is possible to have one of your works in another category critiqued in the workshop, but this is arranged with the panelists during the workshop itself.)

Also:

Only unpublished manuscripts are accepted. Works which have previously won in literary contests will not be accepted.


This is because the purpose of the workshop is to improve one of your unpublished works, not an exercise in additional ego-stoking.

As to the format:

a diskette or CD containing the various submitted literary works encoded in Microsoft Word; a recommendation letter from a renowned writer or literature teacher; two 2x2 pictures; and a brief biodata or résumé.


Not specifically mentioned, but it would help if you include hardcopies of your work (sans byline). This will save Dr. Tiempo's staff the trouble of printing them out, and it will increase the chances of your work actually being read.

Call for Submissions to the 46th Dumaguete National Writers Workshop

Attention: writers.

National Artist for Literature Edith L. Tiempo has announced a March 31 deadline for applications for fellowships to the 46th National Writers Workshop to be held in Dumaguete City from May 7 to 25.

Panelists this year are Gemino Abad, Alfred Yuson, Susan Lara, Anthony Tan, DM Reyes, Marjorie Evasco, and others. They will compose the revolving panel of writers together with National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo, and resident panelists César Ruìz Aquino, Bobby Flores Villasis, and Ernesto Superal Yee.

Fifteen (15) fellowships are open for young writers all over the country.

The first screening panel, composed of the workshop's resident writers, selects the writing fellows for the summer based on the manuscripts submitted by the applicants. These selected manuscripts are forwarded to the Director of the Workshop, who does the final screening and formally approves the final lineup of writing fellows.

The writing fellowship covers lodging for the full 22 days of the duration of the entire workshop, a modest stipend, one-way fare reimbursement, and workshop manuscripts and reading materials.

The applicant must submit original manuscripts consisting of at least three to five short (3-5) stories, or three to five (3-5) essays/creative non-fiction, or two (2) one-act plays, or seven to ten (7-10) poems. Stories, poems, plays, and essays in English are preferred. Only unpublished manuscripts are accepted. Works which have previously won in literary contests will not be accepted.

Other requirements include an application letter addressed to Workshop Director Dr. Edith Tiempo; a diskette or CD containing the various submitted literary works encoded in Microsoft Word; a recommendation letter from a renowned writer or literature teacher; two 2x2 pictures; and a brief biodata or résumé.

These must be sent before the 31 March 2007 deadline to Dr. Edith Lopez Tiempo, National Writers Workshop Director, c/o College Assurance Plan, 2nd Floor, CAP Building, Rizal Boulevard, 6200 Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, Philippines.

Accepted fellows are usually notified by postal mail, or email, or by phone call, although the announcement is usually published by major Philippine dailies.

Interested parties may also apply for sit-in or auditing privileges.

The National Writers Workshop was established by Edith and Edilberto Tiempo in 1962, making it the longest-running creative writing workshop in Asia. The 2007 edition is sponsored by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, Silliman University, and College Assurance Plan, in coordination with the Creative Writing Foundation Inc. and the Dumaguete Literary Arts Service Group, Inc. Donors to the fellowship program include Senators Edgardo J. Angara and Mar Roxas as well as former NCCA Chairman Jaime Laya and Ms. Erlinda Panlilio.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

A Taste of Bohol Tourism

Two things I learned from my visit to Bohol and Panglao last week: first, Bohol can be an expensive place for a tourist; and second, as far as tourism is concerned, Bohol seems to have its act together. I suspect that one follows the other, that the cost is at least justified by the level of organization. Of course, I couldn't help but make comparisons with tourism in Dumaguete.

First, the cost. It's cheap enough to get to Bohol from Cebu. Ferry companies are striving to outdo each other in price reduction. Right now, the lowest price stands at P400 for a round trip ticket. Compare this with a P400 one-way ticket from Dumaguete to Bohol and, well, perhaps you'll wonder whether there's anything amiss. I do believe it actually costs the same to get to from Dumaguete to Bohol via Cebu as it does to go directly to Bohol. Why is that, I wonder?

But the gouging starts once you get to Bohol. From Bohol to Panglao, taxis will charge an exorbitant P400 one-way. Tricycles aren't much better, with one-way rates anywhere from P150 to P300. If the transportation rates are that high, can the hotel room rates be far behind? Fortunately for us, we had reasonable rooms at only P750 per person. Food, well, food came to around P200 to P300 per person per meal. Ouch, talk about tourist traps!

On our last day we went through the usual Bohol tourist route. Chocolate Hills, Loboc River, Baclayon Church, the Legaspi-Sikatuna monument, the hanging bridge, the man-made forest, and, of course, the tarsiers. My friend negotiated for a car to take us around for eight hours at a cost of P2,000. Still a little pricey, though not too much. All the same, I was fairly impressed that the driver had the sightseeing routine down pat. Not just him, too, but several others like him as I eavesdropped on other tour guides over the ooh'ing and ah'ing of Korean tourists.

Which brings me to the second point, organization. Bohol might be expensive but it boasts of some degree of organization, and that, perhaps, is why they can charge so much. Our driver struck me as fairly ordinary and none-too-bright, but he knew where to take us and what bits of information to highlight. When I complimented him on his knowledge, he said that he was part of a tourism association and they had to know about the usual sights. New drivers had to go through an orientation course until they got it right. And so they take tourists through all the usual.

Now isn't that a sensible idea? I wonder if their Dumaguete counterparts can say the same.

It's not just the tourist associations, though. All of Bohol seems geared towards tourism. The Tagbilaran terminal has a tourism information desk (though it seems oddly misplaced inside the predeparture area); and the city has a prominent tourism office right across its biggest mall. The tourism information desk gives out large and colorful maps and brochures identifying the things to see and do around Bohol. And Bohol is expanding its museum, prior to handing over the reins to the National Museum.

It's not perfect, mind you, but it does give a sense of preparedness and welcome to tourists. Now if only the locals wouldn't bilk the visitors so much.

Let's run this quick checklist against Dumaguete and Negros Oriental: (1) Do we have a prominent tourism desk stationed at the port of entry? (2) Do we have integrated maps and brochures that tell the tourists where to go? (3) Do we have a standard itinerary to present to our guests? These are simple enough to put together, but it seems they can go a long way to promoting tourism in our own province.

Old Skool Gaming

Oh, is it March already? My how time flies.

This morning, I woke up with a serious need for a serious craving for gaming. It's been a while since I've played on a console, and so I did some searching on Google and on the Ubuntu repositories and found...ta-daaa! Visual Boy Advance.

Visual Boy Advance is an emulator that plays Game Boy Advance ROMs. While there are some ethical dimensions to this -- nu-ni-nu-ni-nu-ni-nu! -- there are some public domain games available (or so I'm told.) I found a decent ROM that had some old Nintendo Famicon/NES games like 1943, Ghosts N' Goblins, Super Mario Bros., and Excitebike.

Anyway, I wrote it up on my other blog. It also works with a USB gamepad.

Oh, joy!