Monday, December 31, 2007

Last post for 2007

Well, here we are: the last day of 2007. For all its ups and downs, it's already time to say goodbye. There's much to be thankful for, and -- what would life be without them? -- a dash of regret and disappointment.

The things I'm thankful for:

1) Safe delivery of Jerrard Luke. This has been the most anticipated family event this year. I have to hand it to my sister for making it look so easy.

2) Publication of two of my short stories, one in Philippine Genre Stories Christmas Special and the other in Philippine Speculative Fiction III. I've gotten positive feedback from these stories, so I'm mighty grateful and encouraged. More to come in the coming year.

3) Spro Coffee Shop, for giving me a gang to hang out and play games with. I don't get along easily with most people, so I'm thankful I melded well with the Spro gang. Sadly, Spro didn't quite make it through the year, but I'm hoping it will resurrect sometime soon.

4) The Usual Suspects, a.k.a., Mindanao Bloggers, another wonderful group of guys and gals to hang out with. Free food, too!

5) Ateneo de Davao University. It started out as a lark, just something to while the spare time away, but it's gotten semi-serious. AdDU has its share of shortcomings, true, but I'm taking all the good that I can get out of it, like-minded classmates among them (not to mention all the pretty ones.)

6) The 46th National Writers Workshop. The summer workshop was a remedial of sorts. I'm glad I was there. I made more friends, and I got to know some of the contemporary literary greats even better.

7) Davao, my home for the year. Biking hasn't been as good as in Dumaguete, but all things considered, it's not a bad place to be in.

8) Open source, for giving me my financial opportunities this year.

9) My Nintendo DS, for hours and hours of gaming goodness.

10) ...and of course, all you pals out there in the blogosphere. Thanks for following the stories here.


See you all in the New Year!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Jerrard Luke


What -- or rather, who -- has been keeping me busy all of last weekend.

Heh. I'm an uncle.

.38 Special

Image from Rossi USA

A .38 Special is not, as I thought, a type of pistol. Rather, it is a type of cartridge. A cartridge is what we mistakenly think of as a bullet; in fact, it's the package of bullet, jacket, and primer.

According to the Wikipedia:

...it is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge designed by Smith & Wesson. It is most commonly used in revolvers, although semi-automatic pistols and some carbines also use this round. The .38 Special was the standard service cartridge of most police departments in the United States from the 1920s to the 1980s. In other parts of the world, particularly Europe, it is known by its metric designation 9x29mmR.


Its caliber is actually .357-.358 inches in diameter. It gets its name from the diameter of its loaded brass case.

The .38 Special traces its history to the Philippine-American War. Its predecessor, the .38 Long Colt, the standard military cartridge, was found to have inadequate stopping power; hence, the development of the .38 Special.

To date, it is the most widely produced firearm cartridge in the world.


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Biking Samal

Family togetherness is overrated, especially if all everybody else wants to do is lie around and watch TV and dilly dally about when to go out (and other worse things which will not be mentioned here.) So what I did on Christmas day: brought out my bike and took a tour of Samal Island.

It was an unplanned trip. From past experience, this is the best kind. I left the house at 6:00am and found myself on the road to the old airport. Then it entered my head: why not go to Samal Island? I asked around and they told me to go to Onse, local slang for Kilometer 11 in Sasa. From there, I could catch a ferry to the island.

The car ferries are a sight to behold. There's several of them plying the Davao-Samal route. They take buses and cars and motorcycles. Fare was P60, a little pricey but worth at least one try. Besides, I didn't know of other options just yet.
The ride took fifteen minutes, showing just how close Samal Island is to the mainland. The ferry was full with holiday revelers taking a day trip to the beach resorts on Samal. There were also several Samal entrepreneurs heading back home with their morning's purchases. Favorite commodity: piglets.
Samal is best known for the overrated and overpriced Pearl Farm Beach Resort. I've never been there myself. Too expensive for a local like me. So far, I've been limited to Paradise Beach Resort which, while still pricey, is affordable enough for the occasional jaunt. Away from the pristine fantasy of the resorts, though, you get more authentic coastal scenery.
There's a circumferential road surrounding the island, a few hundred meters within the coastline. The highway near the ferry wharf is paved, but that soon gives way to rolling dirt roads. That said, the biking in Samal is largely unremarkable owing to the lack of interesting landmarks. There's supposed to be a bat cave somewhere up north, and waterfalls further down south, but they were too far for this trip.
Straight from the wharf, I headed down to Catagman. I wanted to hit the major town of PeƱaplata, but the lack of any interesting sights along the way discouraged me. Around 10am, I turned back for the municipality of Babak.

Babak turned out to be a small sleepy township. Again, not much to see. There was the branch of the Holy Cross college in the town and some small shops. There was also a big church, the Virgen Dolorosa, but it was too new and too modern to be of any interest to me.
The decision to hit Babak turned out to be fortuitous one, though, as there was another wharf with smaller boats and cheaper fare heading back to Davao. Fare: P9 for me and P9 for my bike. I headed back around lunchtime as there didn't seem to be any good restaurants in the place.

Total distance travelled: 22km on the Davao side (round trip) and 18 km on the Samal side.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Bloggers night at Zakoya

Photo lifted from Christian's blog, tianxproject.blogspot.com
It's been a while since I've had a wasabi buzz. You know the feeling, the way it clears your sinuses and tears your eyes as only genuine wasabi can. As I was saying, it's been a while, and that probably owes more to the cheap substitutes that faux Japanese restaurants put on your plate.

Well, last night broke the dry spell. It came by way of a light coating on roll of onimaki. After that bite, I was in tears...tears of joy. Genuine wasabi at last! And, of course, I went back for more...and more...and more.

The place where all this happened was at Zakoya, a Japanese restaurant that's as close to the real thing as you can get in Davao City. It was my first time to eat there. A round of thanks goes to Blogie for arranging the dinner and to Yakoya-san, Master of Zakoya, for being such a gracious host.

Now, one thing about Zakoya is that it's a Japanese buffet. There's no menu to speak of, but you are guaranteed the typical Japanese restaurant staples: sushi, maki, sashimi, onigiri, onimiyaki, gyoza, and, of course, fried rice. There were also a couple of pleasant surprises, like a dish of kimchi, wakame, and Chicken teriyaki. The wakame was an instant favorite, and the Chicken teriyaki was just splendid!

There were so many dishes to choose from that I ended up loading my plate (mind you, they have big heavy plates, and that's before you put any food on it) to the max on my first pass. And I still didn't get a sampling of all the dishes! I was so full from the first plate alone that I had to pace myself on the sushi and maki in smaller helpings during my second, third, and, er, fourth passes.

One thing deserves comment: even after round after round of savory dishes, I did not end up with any greasy, queasy feeling as sometimes happens with other buffet dinners. I don't know what their cooking secret is, but it works! No wonder I was able to pack it away.

The restaurant layout is quite tasteful, and the ambience is perfect for business meetings with clients. Acoustics are arranged so that you only hear a slight unintelligible buzz from the other tables. There are conventional tables as well as traditional low Japanese tables. The traditional tables, though, have a recessed pit where you can hang your legs and sit normally. It's a thoughtful concession for those not used to sitting that way.

All in all, an enoyable evening!

Zakoya is along F. Torres Street, Davao's food street. Buffet is P375 per head (and worth every centavo.)


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Philippine school sues Microsoft

Heard this on TV a couple of days ago and now it's receiving coverage from the major newspapers.

Short summary: Southeastern College, a school in Pasay City, is suing Microsoft Philippines for P100-M (USD2.5-M) for distributing the school's self-developed Microsoft Office training manuals on CD without permission.

At the heart of the lawsuit is a 379-page Microsoft Office training manual that Southeastern College developed for its teachers and students way back in 1999. In 2004, Microsoft bought the rights to print 10,000 copies of the manual to distribute via its Partners in Learning program.

However, in October 2006, Microsoft was alleged to have given away CDs containing PDF copies of the manual as part of its second Innovative Teachers Leadership Awards in the Philippines without permission from SEC.

SEC's statement reads: “By illegally copying and distributing Innovate in digital format, Microsoft has enabled easy access and reproduction to an effective learning tool that promotes Microsoft products."

Local Microsoft representatives have not directly commented on the case, except to say to point out that the program has trained nearly 19,000 public school teachers and reached more than 1.7 million Filipino students.

“We worked with SEC over the years to provide this curriculum to these teachers free of charge, including 10,000 hard copies that we provided to public school teachers and that SEC does not dispute,” the statement continued.

Southeastern College is a Microsoft IT Academy. How this affects the relationship is not yet known at this time.

A roundup of the coverage:

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Pasay school sues Microsoft for P100M and the followup story Microsoft says it tried to resolve copyright dispute.

From the Manila Standard Today, Pasay college sues Microsoft.

From ZDNet Asia, Philippine school sues Microsoft over copyright.

Personally, I'm of two minds about this.

On one hand, it's good to see that what's good for the goose is good for the gander -- payback time for the bullying that Microsoft has done all these years.

On the other hand, the lawsuit and the claim seem frivolous and disproportionate. I might feel differently if it's code, but a training manual of a well-established program?

The matter reeks of publicity-hunting: I had not heard of Southeastern College up until today. The fact that it the school is also a Microsoft training partner also gives me pause: with enough goodwill, some compromise could have been reached. The way it sounds, it feels someone was really determined to file a case.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Odometer reading

Ordinarily, our car's odometer doesn't merit more than a single glance from me. A couple of days ago, though, I had to do a double-take.Yes, yes, I'm a nerd.

If you have to wonder what it's all about, then you're obviously not a computer geek.

Can't wait till it hits 33,600km.

About time for a tune-up, though.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Published stories

Just a quick plug for the recently released book and magazine where my stories are coming out.

First, we have the Philippine Speculative Fiction III anthology published and edited by Dean and Nikki Alfar. The book should already be available in Fully Booked and Powerbooks.

If you're in Dumaguete, I'm selling copies at Vitafresh Pharmacy in Lee Plaza. Price is P300. I also have a couple of copies left here in Davao City.

My story in this collection is "Facester", a romantic comedy with a touch of sci-fi and a dash of social commentary. I've already posted an excerpt on this blog.


Over at Philippine Genre Stories, I have "Twilight of the Magi", an action-adventure fantasy involving Melchor, Gaspar, and Baltazar. You'll never look at the Three Wise Men in the same way again.

Philippine Genre Stories should be available in bookstores everywhere, and soon via LBC. Details as they're announced by Ken Yu, the editor and publisher.

So...Go! Buy! Now!

Friday, December 14, 2007

After the Money Chase

What would you do if you already had all that you needed?

It seems impolitic to ask, especially for us. We have been primed to think that ours is a poor country and will forever be so. Will we ever really have everything that we need? Even if not our own, there's a whole web of social and familial obligations that must be fulfilled. All our needs will never be met, so we're caught in that eternal money chase that takes us to faroff lands and through various contortions. We are Sisyphus; money is our rock.

But...what if? What would you do?

Would you escape every year to Europe and the United States? Would you strut about in your Jimmy Choos with a Fendi slung around your shoulders? Would you zoom about in a BMW with a pretty young thing in the passenger seat? Would you party every night with the socialites?

And then...what? After you've visited every country and bought every trinket and driven every sportster and shagged every tease: what next?

For a great many, the answer is in religion, the refuge for the weariness of old age and atonement for transgressions committed in youth. For others, it's social work among the less-privileged, a secular alternative for those wary of the church.

And then...what? After you've worn your knees out on the altar and your hands grow callouses from the shovel: what next?

Would you sit in the house doing nothing (and then rest afterwards?) Would you loll about the mall watching people go by? Would you tan yourself brown at the beach listening to the surf against rocks? Would you spy on your neighbor to add to his list of shortcomings?

And then...what?

The question, if you haven't given it enough thought beforehand, does not lend itself to easy answers. If it hits you unprepared, you'll quite likely go off the deep end. Alzheimer's comes to mind; that, or the muzzle of a gun to the temple. It's probably God's small mercy, then, that we have just enough needs that go unmet to keep us from facing such ignominious ends. But even that just barely dodges the issue.

Really, now: what would you do if you already had all that you needed?

WebHosting Choice

The following is a sponsored post.

As an occasional IT consultant and general tech go-to guy for family and friends, I get lots of queries about web hosting. On the whole, the questions are of a simple and practical nature: how to put up a site, how much it would cost, and how quickly it can be done. The answers are rarely as simple, though, as one detail begets another: domain names, email, databases, bandwidth, disk space, etc. And most important of all, which company to sign up for hosting.

This is where a site like WebHosting Choice comes in handy. WebHosting Choice is comprehensive enough to answer the range of questions web hosting newbies ask. At the same time, there's enough depth for even more experienced hands to learn a thing or two.

Possibly the most useful aspect of WebHosting Choice is its Learning Center. There's the usual FAQ but there's also a nice Quick Start page and another on Cheap Hosting. Going into more detail, there's coverage of domains, bandwidth, and collocation. Then there are other considerations I didn't think about, such as scams.

Take, for example, the Frequently Asked Questions. It really does cover the typical set of questions thrown at me. My personal favorite: "I have a fast Internet connection -- can't I just host my own site?" The answer is pretty much the way I would have responded.

A tad disappointing, though, is the main feature of the site, which is supposed to be a web hosting directory. The data just isn't very well organized. There's some attempt to categorize the hosters according to features they offer, but as you drill down, there's not much differentiation that's made. The design of this catalog really needs to highlight the differences.

Equally disappointing is the search engine. It doesn't really turn up the results you expect. For example, I did a search for hosting plans under $5 with zero setup cost, but the returned results still list those outside of that range. This certainly needs a bit more work.

As a rudimentary directory, though, WebHosting Choice works well enough. The report on the offerings provided by each company has enough detail for a webhost shopper make some quick comparisons. The tutorial sectionm, as mentioned, is quite comprehensive and detailed, and should help newbies sort through the mess of options out there.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Stripping line breaks with Python

I've been snatching lots of files from Project Gutenberg lately. Gutenberg is a great resource!

The problem is that the files have all their line breaks hard coded, instead of just paragraph breaks. This messes up the output from a PDA e-book reader (my Nintendo DS, actually) or from the printer. I did a quick search for small scripts to do this, but couldn't find any so I wrote my own.

The program takes an input filename and an output filename. This adds a bit more to the code, but this way, I can use it in a batch program that will loop across several files for conversion.

Code follows.



#!/usr/bin/python

import sys

if len(sys.argv) < 2:
print "Oops, need a filename to open."
sys.exit()
elif len(sys.argv) < 3:
print "Oops, need a filename to write to."
sys.exit()

filename1=sys.argv[1]
filename2=sys.argv[2]

fp1=open(filename1,"r")
fp2=open(filename2,"w")

while 1:
line=fp1.readline()
if line == "":
break
if len(line)==2:
fp2.writelines("\n\n")
else:
fp2.writelines(line[:-2])
fp2.writelines(" ")



Of course, if anyone has something shorter out there, I wouldn't mind using that instead.

T-shirt printing day

Outside my doorstep is an ongoing transport strike, or what's supposed to be a transport strike, anyway (I still see jeepneys running around). Taking advantage of the cancelled classes, I set to work on a couple of t-shirt orders. Here are a couple of designs I worked on. (I may be violating a copyright somewhere, but I'm going to err on the side of recklessness.)

This is the second incarnation of the Ubuntu OS-tan, as designed by Italian artist Juzo-kun. More OS-tans can be found at the OS-tan Collections web site.

First saw this on the cover of BusinessWeek and it's been floating around ever since. I've always wanted to do a shirt of this design. Don't quite know who drew it, though.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Philippine Speculative Fiction 3

From Dean:

Nikki and I would like to you invite you to the book launch of Philippine Speculative Fiction III. It will be on December 8 at 4PM at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street - just head on down the basement theater.

The anthology, third in an annual series, showcases the literature of the imagination from Filipino writers living in the Philippines and abroad. We made sure to select wonderful pieces of fantasy, science fiction, horror and other things in between, and are certain you will find something to your taste.


PSF III's roster of writers includes first time authors as well as more established ones - and we had the toughest time determining the final table of contents (and had to pass on a number of excellent pieces which we are sure will have no problem finding a home in a magazine or another anthology).


And, yes, I will be there. Be seein' ya!

Drought

Egad! Only a dozen posts for November? I must be losing my touch.

The fact is: most of my writing is focused on schoolwork now, and I've been distracted by other things. What things? Well...you know. Things. School. Business. Projects.

I must confess, I haven't had time to read other blogs, either.

My posts will probably slow down to a trickle over the coming months, most likely just one entry per week to coincide with my column in the Dumaguete Metro Post.

Thanks all for following the stories.

Second Courser

One semester consisting of Creative Writing and Short Story ought to have been enough, but no, I just had to go back this semester for additional units. Now I have the dubious distinction of being Ateneo de Davao University's oldest AB English undergraduate.

If things had gone as Originally Planned, this would have been a Master's degree program. However, my own credentials go against me. Ateneo only offers a MA in Education, major in Teaching English. A BS in Electronics and Communications Engineering and 15 years' work experience in the IT industry doesn't really help. I had to enrol in back subjects, so they said.

In local parlance, I am now a "second courser."

"Second courser" is yet another unique though unimaginative Filipino mangling of the English language. Obviously, it means someone who's going back to school for a second course. That second course, however, is almost invariably nursing. Anything else just raises eyebrows and puzzled looks.

If you follow conventional wisdom, there are really only four programs for a Filipino adult who decides to pursue higher education: a Master's in one's present field, an MBA, law, or nursing. All these are commonly viewed as a means to get ahead in the world. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, but: is that all there is?

What about new horizons? What about breaking out of one's mold? What about the cross-disciplinary possibilities? What about passion? What about the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake?

If one feels strongly enough about all these, then one should be willing to sit in a room full of young and fresh-faced students, half one's age, and take quizzes with them, and do assignments with them.

Not that I'm complaining, though. My classmates, all just coming out of their teens, give me a perspective I wouldn't normally find in other environments. Many of them are in their senior years, just about to take that wild leap into the working world. Apprehensive? Rightly so, what with the graduation in March looming large.

Truth be told, I feel a little sorry that they can't enjoy the material as much as I do. Many of the topics are new even for me, but I am not fettered by worries about grades (though I make sure to be conscientious about my work, just to show there's no favoritism.) On top of that, I have the advantage of several years of life experience with which to frame the subjects.

While I could have researched the subjects on my own, there's nothing quite like the learning environment that a classroom provides. It's a different experience when you have teachers and classmates to interact with. All in all, the novelty is quite refreshing.

I may be the oldest AB English undergrad in Ateneo de Davao (quite possibly the Philippines), but I feel young. Very young.