Monday, September 29, 2008

Look! No more "Read more..."

If you read this post and compare it with the other posts before it, you might notice one difference: it doesn't have the "Read More..." tag.

It took a while but it's been something I've been wanting to do for a while. It's an improvement over the expandable posts trick I wrote up -- gasp! -- almost two years ago.

To get here I had to use a bit of Javascript. Things were made so-ooo much easier because of jQuery.

Look! No more "Read more..."

Friday, September 26, 2008

Too young

Found this bit of sad news via Tiara's blog: Rachelle Mae Palang (1986-2008). There's a long roundabout account below of what happened to this girl, but the crux of it is:

Mae-Mae was killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on September 18, 2008 in an alleged encounter with New People’s Army rebels. Her face was barely recognizable; she was shot at point-blank range. Her feet and legs were black and bruised, signs of torture evident elsewhere in her beaten body.


This happened in Zamboanguita, in Negros Oriental.

As is usual in situations like this, there are conflicting reports. Here's the story from Sun.Star Cebu and another one by the Visayan Daily Star.

That Rachelle Mae Palang is a member of the blog generation lends a bit more humanity to her story than if it were just carried in the papers. Here are a few:

  • Instead of a Eulogy

  • A friend of my sister

  • Is it real? I hope not


  • However the claims and counterclaims may go, in the end, it's yet another tragedy. Twenty-two...twenty-two...twenty-two.... Far too young.

    THE COLLEGE Editors Guild of the Philippines, in behalf of its National Office, regional formations and chapters, all member publications and affiliate organizations nationwide and across the globe, expresses its most heartfelt condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Rachelle Mae Palang (1986-2008).

    Rachelle, or Mae-Mae to her closest friends and colleagues, was beloved to the Guild for her bubbly, tongue-in-cheek demeanor. She graced the Guild’s gatherings with her easy banter and infectious smile, but was always brisk and business-like in her leadership. She has served as a valuable pillar and driving force in all of the conventions and gatherings she has attended and helped organize. To most Guilders, she was not only a colleague but a precious friend and confidante.

    Shock for her untimely demise are evident in her Friendster and Multiply accounts, riddled with comments ranging from disbelief, grief, and even anger - all directed at her, as if to attest that even at the time of her death her friends and colleagues still go to her for conciliation.

    Such was Mae-Mae’s legacy and brand of leadership. She has always been easy to approach, a rational adviser and generous in her time and efforts.

    Mae-Mae was also an outstanding student at the Velez College in Cebu City where she took up and finished her nursing degree. She became editor-in-chief of Vital Signs, the official campus publication. As campus journalist and student leader, she exemplified deep commitment to uphold press freedom, freedom of speech and students’ democratic rights and welfare. She is respected by her fellow campus journalists nationwide for her wit, intelligence and sharp grasp of issues.

    She was elected as Vice President for the Visayas during CEGP’s 67th National Student Press Convention and 33rd Biennial Student Press Congress held in Albay, Bicol in 2005. She served her term for three consecutive years before she finally relinquished her post May of this year. The CEGP will without end be honored and grateful to have had someone as dedicated as Mae-Mae as one of its leading officers.

    Mae-Mae worked hard to help re-open closed campus publications, establish student papers in universities who had none, and expose and fight campus press freedom violations as well as other forms of campus repression nationwide. She led, organized and participated in countless poetry readings, cultural nights, Writers’ Trips, journalist skills workshops and protest actions and activities. Even after her stint as VP for the Visayas, she proved instrumental in gathering and collating cases of campus press freedom violations in the region for CEGP’s quarterly digest.

    Mae-Mae had to cut short her attendance in CEGPs’ 68th National Student Press Convention and 34th Biennial Student Press Congress in Davao City for her scheduled nursing licensure exams in May 2008. She passed with flying colors and eventually became a registered nurse. Even before she left, she announced to the Guild her desire to pursue an alternative medical career, one that she would devote to the less-privileged. Mae-Mae also took and passed the National Medical Admission Test. She dreamt of becoming a doctor.

    It therefore did not come as a surprise to the Guild to learn that upon achieving her nursing license Mae-Mae immediately volunteered for a three-month medical mission to the hinterlands of Negros. Mae-Mae barely finished her volunteer work in Negros when her dreams died with her.

    Mae-Mae was killed by elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on September 18, 2008 in an alleged encounter with New People’s Army rebels. Her face was barely recognizable; she was shot at point-blank range. Her feet and legs were black and bruised, signs of torture evident elsewhere in her beaten body.

    Mae-Mae’s untimely demise reminds the Guild all too painfully of the same fate that another CEGP alumna suffered under the hands of the AFP.

    In April 2002, Benjaline ‘Beng’ Hernandez, former CEGP Vice-President for Mindanao and a human rights volunteer, was murdered by the military while conducting a fact-finding mission in Cotabato province. Investigations revealed that the AFP, after wounding Beng, raped and shot her at close range. The AFP later on insisted that Beng was an NPA rebel.

    Beng, like Mae-Mae, was also only 22 years old when she died.

    The CEGP condemns in strongest terms accusations and insinuations by the AFP that Mae-Mae was armed and a combatant. She was in Negros in her capacity as a registered nurse and circumstances surrounding her brutal killing should be independently investigated.

    The CEGP, in this regard, welcomes initiatives by the Commission on Human Rights Regional Office to conduct an investigation on Mae-Mae’s case.

    The CEGP is also reviled at the AFP’s gall to celebrate Mae-Mae’s death by bestowing incentives and acclaim to her killers. It is an awful and terrible reminder of the state and characteristic of our security forces. They who are supposed to protect civilians are the main enemies of human rights defenders and social workers.

    The CEGP also condemns in strongest terms the AFP’s malicious attempts to malign the Guild’s name through red-tagging and nasty insinuations. It is precisely this kind of twisted mentality that gives license to the military to repress, harass, silence and kill with impunity. Journalists are easily treated and branded as rebels simply because they are exposed to the ills of society.

    The CEGP calls on all its member publications and fellow journalist organizations nationwide and abroad to collectively wield their pens and raise their voices to denounce Mae-Mae’s killers.

    The CEGP regards the likes of Beng and Mae-Mae as heroes of the present generation, young martyrs who have chosen to exchange their lives of comfort for their noble convictions.

    VIJAE AQUISOLA
    National President, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP)

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    PETA: Human milk for ice cream

    Ah, PETA, PETA, PETA. What ever would we do without you? Without you, we wouldn't have free pictures of naked celebrities and supermodels. (To be specific, anorexic vegetarian naked celebrities and supermodels. Or to be even more specific, self-righteous anorexic vegetarian naked celebrities and supermodels.)

    And now:

    This morning, PETA dispatched a letter to Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, cofounders of ice cream icon Ben & Jerry's Homemade Inc., urging them to replace the cow's milk in their products with human breast milk. PETA's request comes in the wake of news reports that a Swiss restaurant owner will begin purchasing breast milk from nursing mothers and substituting breast milk for 75 percent of the cow's milk in the food he serves. PETA points out to Cohen and Greenfield that such a move on their part would lessen the suffering of dairy cows and their babies on factory farms and benefit human health at the same time.


    Truth be told, I'm a little upset because it practically mirrors a scifi story I submitted.

    The letter conjures images of a factory of women being milked. You know, tubes and suctions, Matrix-style. Then the tubes run out to this big vat of cream. Ewww.

    That, and a particularly creepy episode of CSI. Double ewww.

    Now I'm just grossed out. Maybe that's what the PETA folks were thinking.

    Would you stay at this hotel?

    While doing some research for a travel article, I stumbled on the following hotel listing in the WOW Philippines' web site.



    No photoshop here, folks; you can check out the original page.

    The WOW Philippines website is actually fairly useful as far as event schedules are concerned. However, it seems geared too much to foreign travelers. Oh, well. I suppose as you bring in the almighty dollar....


    Wednesday, September 24, 2008

    Urgent Business Relationship

    I found this on Catholic and Enjoying It! It's spot-on humor for the times.

    SUBJECT: REQUEST FOR URGENT BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP

    DEAR AMERICAN:

    I NEED TO ASK YOU TO SUPPORT AN URGENT SECRET BUSINESS RELATIONSHIP WITH A TRANSFER OF FUNDS OF GREAT MAGNITUDE.

    I AM MINISTRY OF THE TREASURY OF THE REPUBLIC OF AMERICA. MY COUNTRY HAS HAD CRISIS THAT HAS CAUSED THE NEED FOR LARGE TRANSFER OF FUNDS OF 800 BILLION DOLLARS US. IF YOU WOULD ASSIST ME IN THIS TRANSFER, IT WOULD BE MOST PROFITABLE TO YOU.
    I AM WORKING WITH MR. PHIL GRAM, LOBBYIST FOR UBS, WHO WILL BE MY REPLACEMENT AS MINISTRY OF THE TREASURY IN JANUARY. AS A SENATOR, YOU MAY KNOW HIM AS THE LEADER OF THE AMERICAN BANKING DEREGULATION MOVEMENT IN THE 1990S. THIS TRANSACTIN IS 100% SAFE.
    THIS IS A MATTER OF GREAT URGENCY. WE NEED A BLANK CHECK. WE NEED THE FUNDS AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE. WE CANNOT DIRECTLY TRANSFER THESE FUNDS IN THE NAMES OF OUR CLOSE FRIENDS BECAUSE WE ARE CONSTANTLY UNDER SURVEILLANCE. MY FAMILY LAWYER ADVISED ME THAT I SHOULD LOOK FOR A RELIABLE AND TRUSTWORTHY PERSON WHO WILL ACT AS A NEXT OF KIN SO THE FUNDS CAN BE TRANSFERRED.

    PLEASE REPLY WITH ALL OF YOUR BANK ACCOUNT, IRA AND COLLEGE FUND ACCOUNT NUMBERS AND THOSE OF YOUR CHILDREN AND GRANDCHILDREN TO WALLSTREETBAILOUT@TREASURY.GOV SO THAT WE MAY TRANSFER YOUR COMMISSION FOR THIS TRANSACTION. AFTER I RECEIVE THAT INFORMATION, I WILL RESPOND WITH DETAILED INFORMATION ABOUT SAFEGUARDS THAT WILL BE USED TO PROTECT THE FUNDS.

    YOURS FAITHFULLY MINISTER OF TREASURY PAULSON

    Sunday, September 21, 2008

    September 21, 1972

    A little ditty I used as a mnemonic device back in grade school:

    September twenty-one, nineteen seventy two-oooo!
    President Marcos declared the Martial L-ooooo!
    The people were afraid because of the cur-few
    And that was the beginning: uli na'g sayo...


    The song was attributed to the late Yoyoy Villame. It's sung roughly to the tune of his Magellan.

    I didn't realize until checking his Wikipedia entry that Yoyoy only died last year. He was an integral part of growing up in the provinces back in the 1970s. An excerpt:

    Before getting his break in the music industry, Villame was at one point a jeepney driver and at another, an army draftee who fought in the government’s anti-insurgency campaign in Central Luzon. He went back to Bohol to become a bus driver, and there he formed a rondalla combo with his fellow bus drivers as band mates. The owner of the bus company took notice of Villame’s efforts, setting up a music studio named Kinamay Records just for him. Villame's first recording was in 1972 and entitled Magellan. It was the beginning of a long list of albums and recordings of his politically inspired songs in Sugboanon, Tagalog and English.

    Friday, September 19, 2008

    The Amazing Race Asia 3

    I find it difficult to get as excited about the third season of The Amazing Race Asia as the previous two seasons. The problem, I think, is the cast. To be sure, there's the usual eye candy, maybe more so, what with the inclusion of two beauty queens. But in a show such as this, empathy is key, and with the past two episodes, I can't find much to empathize with.

    To begin with, almost all the contestants are celebrities in their respective countries. Chosen, no doubt, for their looks and their personalities and, yes, their "angle." Quite likely that they turned in highly-polished audition videos. But here's the thing: what ever happened to the Average Joes?

    Probably the most obvious way to divide the fan base of the TARA racers is by country of origin. It's built into the game from the start, assigning the teams per country. And we're supposed to root for the local guys and gals.

    But I've never actually quite seen it that way. I tend to see TARA along class lines. I have had more sympathy for Mardy/Marsio and Adrian/Collin than for Aubrey Miles and Marc Nelson. The only reason I would root for Henry/Terry was not because they proudly carried the Philippine flag but because they were more "real" (though, I hope, not representative of Filipino-American intermarriages.)

    This season, the only team that fits the Average Joe category is AD/Fuzzie. Okay, make that Average Jane. I'm hoping they make it to the finals.

    Okay, if I had to pick two more, it would be Niroo/Kapil and Henry/Bernie.

    Even though they are Bollywood actors, I like the father-son dynamic between Niroo/Kapil; and it's an added bonus, I like the angle that they've never travelled outside of India. I want to see how that brash Indian self-confidence stands up to the rest of the journey.

    And as for Henry/Bernie, the brother-sister team seems quite authentic, and their celebrity personas don't get in the way of the performance.

    My take on the rest:

    Pailin/Natalie - Pailin is actually quite likeable, but Natalie's whining gets in the way

    Mai/Oliver - oh, boy, it's just too painful to watch and listen. The guy is an emotional masochist, and the girl seems only too happy to oblige.

    Sam/Vince - too bland, though I don't know why

    Ida/Tania - again, bland

    And as for the Philippine team (actually composed of a Canadian and a Kiwi?) What can I say? It's a rude bully and a wallflower.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Judging a book by its cover


    Should you judge a book by its cover? Apparently one librarian and her friends do, and the result is a hilarious blog called, well, Judge a Book by its Cover. The image above is just one of the many they feature, tagged with some witty commentary. Don't worry, they're not all that "ewww."

    Considering the sometimes horrid book cover designs over here, I wonder if it's high time somebody came up with something similar for the local publishing industry.

    Dagmay


    If you haven't had a chance to visit it recently, do take a look at the Dagmay web site. Currently featured is "Sapay Koma", the 3rd Prize winner for Essay in English during the last Palanca awards. "Sapay Koma" was written by Jhoanna Lynn Cruz and is a heartfelt account of her marriage.

    Appearing this Sunday will be an excerpt of Mac Tiu's "Tsuru", which won 1st Prize in Short Story in Cebuano, also during the last Palanca awards.

    I put up the Dagmay web site for the Davao Writers Guild last May, and since then it's been growing steadily. There are now over 150 entries in poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction (plus the occasional play and review) written by authors with some association to Mindanao.

    The archives stretch back to last year, and while there are still some missing months (owing to lost electronic manuscripts), Dagmay is now a fairly accurate record of everything we've put out since May.

    Traffic isn't all that great, but we're averaging around 60 visitors per day. Not bad, I think, for a small literary web site.

    Oh, by the way, I'm also semi-permanent editor now, covering for the weeks when there is no assigned editor.

    Monday, September 15, 2008

    Only 3 of 8 new Academicians are scientists

    Received this in my mailbox this afternoon. I'm not in the habit of reposting such messages but this piqued my interest because of its subject, its provenance, and its content.

    The subject, of course, are the newly inducted Academicians of the National Academy of Science and Technology, which I didn't know we had. That I didn't know already signals the sorry state of science promotion in the country.

    The message was sent by Flor Lacanilao, who is herself a scientist and a sometime contributor to the national dailies.

    And it's content is mildly controversial as it points to a lack of qualification in some of the people elevated to the position.

    Here's the message:

    The Philippine Star reports yesterday (11 Sept) the 8 new members of NAST. It says, "Academician is a title given to Filipino scientists whose significant scientific works have considerably contributed to the progress of the country and the Filipino people."

    Six are from UP and the two others, from the Department of Agriculture (Philippine Carabao Center) and De La Salle University. Those from UP are Arsenio Balisacan, Carmencita Padilla, Jaime Montoya, Jose Maria Balmaceda, Gavino Trono, and Gisela Concepcion.


    The two others are DA/PCC executive director Libertado Cruz and Alvin Culaba of DSLU.

    See the full report.

    To find out if there was an improvement in electing new members to NAST, I made a search of their publications through the Google Scholar and selected only publications in journals indexed by Science Citation Index (SCI) and Social Sciences Citation Index.

    Only 3 of the 8 new NAST members are scientists -- Balisacan, Trono, and Concepcion (see attached Table 1). Of the other five, my search showed that two have only 3 publications each and the last three have no publication each as sole or lead author in SCI-indexed journals. As I have mentioned elsewhere, in 2007, only two of the four elected to NAST membership are scientists.

    For comparison, I also attached Table 2 to show a partial list of our leading biologists, who are non-NAST members, and their publications. You will note that the top 3 of the 8 new Academicians have publication performance comparable to the lower third of the 18 non-NAST biologists. All these clearly show the continuing problems with electing new members to NAST discussed in my UP Centennial paper (note importance of Science Citation Index to developing countries) posted here and here.

    They again emphasize why it is important for our science administrators and media people to know the relation between scientific work and national progress. This requires understanding how scientific work leads to national progress. Crucial is technology development, the capability for which is determined by the state of science, and this in turn is measured by the number of scientific publications, the output of research if properly done. Hence, the important role of SCI as an objective indicator in measuring research performance, especially in poor and developing countries.

    Let me close this by quoting again Bruce Alberts, former president of US National Academy of Sciences and now editor-in-chief of Science, "Membership in the NAS is a widely recognized sign of excellence in scientific research" and where "each member should serve as a role model for defining excellence in science for the next generation of scientists in his or her field" (PNAS 102: 7405-7406, 2005).


    Which leads me to another point, I suppose: I have wanted to pursue further studies in a science field (though some might say that, at 38, I'm too old) but what's kept me from doing so are the lack of information on what's available locally, the costs involved without a scholarship, and my transcript of records being stuck somewhere in the limbo called the University of San Carlos.

    Oh, yes, and if the scholarship involves any hassle in processing travel documents later on, then forget it. (You will not believe the *ss-brained policies concerning travel for scholarship recipients in the Philippines.)

    Six Unspectacular Quirks

    Not usually one to do blog memes anymore but since it was a pretty girl who asked, here are six of my unspectacular quirks (just quirks, not deepest darkest secrets.)

    Before that, the rules:

    1. Link to the person who tagged you.
    2. Mention the rules.
    3. Tell six unspectacular quirks of yours.
    4. Tag six bloggers by linking.
    5. Leave a comment for each blogger.

    And the quirks...

  • I will check the door at least twice, but usually three times, to see if I've locked it properly. Otherwise I won't feel comfortable that I did.
  • When stuck at a task I don't like, I knock off with a round of Freecell.
  • I peek at my gym mates' treadmill stats to see how fast they're running.
  • I reset a video game if I don't like how it's going.
  • I will almost always pass by the toy store and the book store when at the mall.
  • I curse in German so I don't offend other people.

    Tagging six other people:
    Sean
    Robert
    Joque
    Paige
    Roy
    Marianne

  • Friday, September 12, 2008

    Yo, Joe!


    That's right, Joe fans, the "Real American Hero" is coming to the big screen next year in a live-action adaptation entitled G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

    Stephen Sommers (of "The Mummy" and "Van Helsing" fame) directs. Dennis Quaid will play General Hawk, Christopher Eccleston will play Destro, Arnold Vosloo will play Zartan, and Brendan Fraser will play...Gung Ho? Other than a cameo by Jonathan Pryce, all the other characters will be played by young and relatively unknown (to me, anyway) actors. So, yeah, there's a good chance this movie will suck, but I'm going to watch it anyway.

    But we all know who we're really waiting for in this movie: Snake Eyes, to be played by Ray Park (Darth Maul in "Star Wars Episode 1.") More pictures after the jump, including a very bad-*ss Snake Eyes.

    Yo, Joe!



    More on the movie from the MTV Films web site, from where these photos were taken.

    Yo, Joe!

    Warcraft II on Ubuntu

    Now here's a blast from the past: I found a copy of Warcraft II: Battle.Net Edition on sale at Data Blitz in SM City Davao. How much? P200. Yup, that's right: P200. I was sorely tempted to buy it. After much vacillation over several visits (did I really have time to play), I finally caved in.

    And you know the best part? It works great in Ubuntu under Wine!



    Hmmm...and there's still a Baldur's Gate two-pack over there, too. A bit pricier at P800, but that's for both the original Baldur's Gate and Tales of the Sword Coast. Tempting, tempting....

    Sure, sure, it's not World of Warcraft or even Warcraft III, but it's still one of the best games ever.



    Wednesday, September 10, 2008

    It's not the end of the world (not yet anyway)


    Whaddya know? We're still here.

    The CERN guys switched on the LHC not too long ago. The proton beams completed the first circuit at around 930BST (two hours ago, as I write this.)

    From the CERN press release:

    Geneva, 10 September 2008. The first beam in the Large Hadron Collider at CERN1 was successfully steered around the full 27 kilometres of the world’s most powerful particle accelerator at 10h28 this morning. This historic event marks a key moment in the transition from over two decades of preparation to a new era of scientific discovery.

    “It’s a fantastic moment,” said LHC project leader Lyn Evans, “we can now look forward to a new era of understanding about the origins and evolution of the universe.”

    Starting up a major new particle accelerator takes much more than flipping a switch. Thousands of individual elements have to work in harmony, timings have to be synchronized to under a billionth of a second, and beams finer than a human hair have to be brought into head-on collision. Today’s success puts a tick next to the first of those steps, and over the next few weeks, as the LHC’s operators gain experience and confidence with the new machine, the machine’s acceleration systems will be brought into play, and the beams will be brought into collision to allow the research programme to begin.

    Once colliding beams have been established, there will be a period of measurement and calibration for the LHC’s four major experiments, and new results could start to appear in around a year. Experiments at the LHC will allow physicists to complete a journey that started with Newton's description of gravity. Gravity acts on mass, but so far science is unable to explain the mechanism that generates mass. Experiments at the LHC will provide the answer. LHC experiments will also try to probe the mysterious dark matter of the universe – visible matter seems to account for just 5% of what must exist, while about a quarter is believed to be dark matter. They will investigate the reason for nature's preference for matter over antimatter, and they will probe matter as it existed at the very beginning of time.

    “The LHC is a discovery machine,” said CERN Director General Robert Aymar, “its research programme has the potential to change our view of the Universe profoundly, continuing a tradition of human curiosity that’s as old as mankind itself.”

    Tributes have been coming in from laboratories around the world that have contributed to today’s success.

    “The completion of the LHC marks the start of a revolution in particle physics,” said Pier Oddone, Director of the US Fermilab. “We commend CERN and its member countries for creating the foundation for many nations to come together in this magnificent enterprise. We appreciate the support that DOE and NSF have provided throughout the LHC's construction. We in the US are proud to have contributed to the accelerator and detectors at the LHC, together with thousands of colleagues around the world with whom we share this quest.”

    “I congratulate you on the start-up of the Large Hadron Collider,” said Atsuto Suzuki, Director of Japan’s KEK laboratory, “This is a historical moment.”

    “It has been a fascinating and rewarding experience for us,” said Vinod C. Sahni, Director of India’s Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology, “I extend our best wishes to CERN for a productive run with the LHC machine in the years to come.”

    “As some might say: ‘One short trip for a proton, but one giant leap for mankind!’ TRIUMF, and indeed all of Canada, is delighted to bear witness to this amazing feat,” said Nigel S. Lockyer, Director of Canada’s TRIUMF laboratory. “Everyone has been involved but CERN is to be especially congratulated for bringing the world together to embark on such an incredible adventure.”

    In a visit to CERN shortly before the LHC’s start-up United Nations Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon said: “I am very honored to visit CERN, an invaluable scientific institution and a shining example what international community can achieve through joint efforts and contribution. I convey my deepest admiration to all the scientists and wish them all the success for their research for peaceful development of scientific progress.”


    Either that, or the world did end, and all this -- me writing this blog, you reading it -- is just some sort of psychic resonance. We're dead already and we don't know it.

    Morbid thoughts aside, this really is quite historic. Congratulations to the CERN folk. Now, please please please please please can we finally have antigravity and warp drive?

    It's the end of the world as we know it (maybe)


    In less than 24 hours, CERN is going to flip the switch on the Large Hadron Collider, inarguably the world's largest and most expensive science experiment. Built at a cost of $5.3B from an international collaboration, the bulk of the LHC consists of a gigantic ring of magnets about 25 km in circumference. It will accelerate protons to almost the speed of light...and then smash them into each other. Each beam of protons will have the combined energy of an aircraft carrier moving at 60 km/hr. And they're not just going to do this once: they're going to do this 600 million times per second for several months.

    The purpose of this experiment is to find the elusive Higgs boson, otherwise known as "the God particle", a particle that may have been present at the creation of the universe.

    Of course, all this is raising concerns that the end of the world is nigh: in the imaginative worst case scenario, the LHC could create a black hole that would destroy the earth and everything in it. If this fear is true, the next few hours could spell the end of the world.

    And you know what? I feel fine about it.

    In the scheme of things, the end of the world wouldn't be so bad, considering how badly things are already going. It's not just the politics or the poverty or the prejudice. Most days, I look out the window and ask: is this all there is?

    Maybe I've hit a philosophical midlife crisis, but it's getting harder and harder to think of goals that are worthwhile. Right now, the pinnacle of what the world is able to offer is wealth and recognition, and really, that's not a whole lot. But that's just me.

    Given the choice, I would have said knowledge, but even that's tied up in an academes that are philosophically stagnant and politically hamstrung.

    So maybe the end of the world -- ultimately egalitarian -- wouldn't be so bad.

    On the bright side, maybe with the LHC we'll finally be able to build spaceships and warp drives and antigravity. Now that's worth sticking around for.

    Who knows, we may even finally get our own superhero.



    But seriously, if I had to place any bets, I would say that the world will still be crummy tomorrow. That ain't fine.

    Monday, September 08, 2008

    Simple templates for Blogger


    Set up a blog for my custom-made blog templates: simpleblogskins.blogspot.com. You can download the template that I'm using now (and a few more in the near future) through that site.

    This site is (or rather, will be) a collection of templates and skins for Blogger. There are hundreds of other sites like these, and definitely more popular, but I haven't really been happy with the designs. I prefer a more minimalistic approach. Since
    I like to thinker around with HTML and CSS, I thought I'd produce my own. Now I'm sharing them to the world at large.

    Feel free to customize, but I would appreciate a link back to this site.

    Happy Birthday, Milady


    I'll try to be extra good today.

    Some details about this feastday:

    The origin of this Feast is sought in Palestine. It goes back to the consecration of a church in Jerusalem, which tradition identifies as that of the present basilica of St. Ann.

    At Rome the Feast began to be kept toward the end of the 7th century, brought there by Eastern monks. Gradually and in varied ways it spread to the other parts of the West in the centuries that followed. From the 13th century on, the celebration assumed notable importance, becoming a Solemnity with a major Octave and preceded by a Vigil calling for a fast. The Octave was reduced to a simple one during the reform of St. Pius X and was abolished altogether under the reform of Pius XII in 1955.

    The present Calendar characterizes the Birth of Mary as a "Feast," placing it on the same plane as the Visitation.

    For some centuries now, the Birth has been assigned to September 8 both in the East and in the West, but in ancient times it was celebrated on different dates from place to place. However, when the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which has a later origin than that of the Birth) was extended to the whole Church, the Birth little by little became assigned everywhere to September 8: nine months after the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.


    And as to the painting above, it is "Madonna dell Granduca" by Raphael. It is by far one of my favorite representations. A bit about it, from the Wikipedia:

    The Madonna del Granduca is a painting by the Italian renaissance artist Raphael. It was probably painted in 1505, shortly after Raphael had arrived in Florence. The influence of Leonardo da Vinci, whose works he got to know there, can be seen in the use of sfumato. The painting belonged to Ferdinand III, Grand Duke of Tuscany, from whom it got its name.


    Sfumato, by the way, is a painting technique achieved by layering translucent colors to achieve an effect of depth.

    Some more about the painting from "The Story of Art":

    A painting like Raphael's 'Madonna dell Granduca', is truly 'classical' in the sense that it has served countless generations as a standard of perfection in the same way as the works of Pheidias and Praxiteles. It needs no explanation. In this respect it is indeed 'obvious'. But, if we compare it with the countless representations of the same theme which preceded it, we feel that they have all been groping for the very simplicity that Raphael has attained.


    Saturday, September 06, 2008

    Mangyan Exhibit at Davao Museum



    The Davao Museum is hosting a Mangyan exhibit for the whole month of September. Featured are examples of Mangyan script and poetry, craftwork, and artifacts.

    The Mangyan are the indigenous peoples of Mindoro. Mangyan is actually the generic term for the tribes living in the area, eight groups in all. They are notable for their syllabic script which predates the arrival of the Spanish by at least 300 years.

    The oldest written artifact found in the Philippines was a copper plate with Mangyan script discovered in Laguna in 1989.

    I attended the opening of the exhibit last Thursday, thanks to an invite from my fellow Davao Reader Chi. It felt a little odd to be rubbing elbows with the alta sociedad of Davao, and me in my everyday work clothes. But what the hey, right?



    Anya Postma, daughter of Dutch archaeologist Anton Postma, was the special guest at the opening. She recited Mangyan poetry and taught the guests how to write their names in Mangyan script.

    Some words about her father: Anton Postma is the acknowledged authority on the Mangyan, having spent several years of research in the area. He went back to the Netherlands once, then returned to Mindoro for good. Anya was born in Mindoro and lived there her whole life.

    This map shows the distribution of the tribal areas in Mindoro.

    Mangyan musical instruments.



    Weaving occupies a special place in Mangyan culture. Only married women are allowed to weave, and when they do so, they weave using a special back plate which connects them to the loom. This makes them one with their work.

    An example of Mangyan poetry. All Mangyans participate in this art form. Of the specimens I read, what they had in common were nature motifs with themes of arrival, departure, friendship, love, and day-to-day activities.

    There is a Mangyan web site, www.mangyan.org, which goes into more detail about Mangyan culture. But, of course, a visit to the museum to see the exhibit would enhance your experience. Catch it while it's there.

    Davao Museum is at the Zonta Bldg., Insular Village Phase I, Lanang, Davao City. It is open from Monday to Saturday, 9:00am - 5:00pm.



    Friday, September 05, 2008

    Baby

    I have a new job title to add to my resumé: babysitter. Or as they call it in these egalitarian times, a "manny." It's not a role I thought I would play, but when a new member of the family arrives, life takes turns that you might not otherwise have expected.

    My charge is my nephew Jerry, still so new in this world that we count his age in weeks and in months. Three weeks shy of nine months, to be exact. He came last December, by way of my sister, after seventeen hours of labor. Eight pounds then and bald, so small you could hold him in one hand but so delicate you couldn't afford to; nowadays, much heavier that you need both arms to hold him up for any long periods of time. Still not much hair, though, but he's getting there.

    He's now at a stage where his unique personality is more apparent. He's observant and thoughtful, oftentimes so focused as to seem lost in his own little world when left alone in his crib. But if he spies you from the corner, he breaks out into a gummy grin that shows off his two lower front teeth -- so far his only teeth. He's not given to much crying, and when he does, it seems to be more for show because it's easy to make him laugh again.

    Jerry doesn't have a stay-in yaya, though that's more from circumstance than from choice. As they say, it's hard to get good help these days. Though he lives with the in-laws, he spends most of the day with us.

    And this is where my job as "manny" comes in. We take turns with various duties, and mine is to get him to sleep. (The little fellow, you see, won't drink his milk unless he's in a light snooze.) It's not as hard as it sounds: the trick is to rock him in your arms while singing The Police's "Every Breath You Take" until he falls asleep. But it's not as easy as it sounds, either: because you have to be able to carry the baby as well as carry the tune. So far I'm the only one willing to do it.

    Without a full-time yaya life is a little more hectic, but with many hands helping out, it's all quite manageable, even enjoyable. There's more time for bonding with the baby, we don't worry whether the yaya is really keeping an eye on him instead of texting, and, of course, we make sure that he's not growing up on Wowowee or the afternoon soaps.

    And, best of all, I'm there to see him smile.

    Thursday, September 04, 2008

    Just chillin'


    Chillin' out with my nephew Jerry. Who knew baby duty could be so much fun?

    And some more pics...





    Wednesday, September 03, 2008

    Tigh and Roslin


    Gasp! Life imitating art!


    And if that wasn't enough:



    Yes, the web site does exist.

    I have to admit, this really tickled me. The McCain-Tigh connection has been made before, but the Palin-Roslin link just about completes the picture.

    It might have been more fun, though, if the GOP found an Adama look-alike.

    I'm still not a fan of BSG's politics or its story line since the previous season, but that's another matter.

    Original photo from Nick Milne's blog, found via Mark Shea's Catholic and Loving It!


    Tuesday, September 02, 2008

    Putting the short in short fiction

    Because of baby duty, time has been at a premium these past couple of days. Regardless, at the expense of other writing assignments, I opted to wrap up a short story that I started last night. Its deadline isn't for another two weeks but I wanted to catch the muse while I could (and whether it's finally accepted or not is another matter.)

    The final word count for this story is around 1,600 words. I'm actually proud of it because I managed to hit a low figure on the first pass.

    This is my fifth written short story for the year (just to be clear: written, not published). As with anything involving art, the learning is in the doing, or to paraphrase Butch Dalisay, the knowing is in the writing.

    And taking it a step further, the more you know, the more you know that you don't know.

    So here's what I do know now: my short stories, as I started them out, took them on a trajectory that was way too long. The fault, I think, was that I took a linear plotting path, one that started from the beginning and sequentially built the story up to its end.

    Wait a minute, you might say, isn't that how stories are supposed to go? Not exactly.

    Two of my stories started out in that fashion, and in the end, I had to abandon the initial drafts and start all over again. One story was particularly problematic, needing three reboots. The main problem: as I saw the number of scenes that I had to write, I got bored and tired and discouraged.

    If I felt that way, how much more the reader?

    Short stories, at least the kind I aim to write, rely on an emotional core. This core is usually a pivotal scene which all the other scenes lead up to and from which the denouement descends from.

    The longer it takes to reach the scene, the more tedious and boring the work is.

    The ideal in a short story, I think, is to start as close to the scene as possible. If necessary, swing back to supporting scenes using flashbacks. The flashbacks don't even need to be sequential; so long as it makes sense and builds up suspense, the order doesn't matter.

    Sometimes even the flashback technique doesn't work. This is where the other tools in the writer's arsenal -- setting, characterization, mood, dialogue -- come into play. And if some things take too long to explain, well, maybe they don't need to be explained at all.

    A good thing did emerge from overwriting the first drafts. It helped me flesh out the background for the characters and the story. Even the scenes I deleted had a subtle effect on the scenes that remained. Besides, it wasn't a total loss as I still salvaged some scenes into the final output.

    Anyway, just some thoughts from an amateur writer. If those two stories I mentioned ever see the light of day, I'll post the drafts so you can see the process.

    Monday, September 01, 2008

    Sarah Palin as Lightning Rod

    Since I've already started on the upcoming US presidential elections, I might as well touch on McCain's choice of the hitherto-unknown Sarah Palin as running mate. From what I've seen thus far, I can summarize in one word: inspired. So utterly, utterly inspired.

    It's not simply what Palin brings to the table for the conservative Republicans, its also what she accomplishes for the liberal Democrats.

    Palin attracts the conservatives because of her fierce anti-abortion stand and (as I can gather from the news) her reform-minded independence. For those already on her side of the fence, her story as "hockey mom", gun advocate, and parent to a child with Down's Syndrome makes her even more compelling.

    And for the liberals? Let's face it, why should the Republicans have to pander to their choices? It's not like any other candidate for vice president is going to make them change their minds, especially for those on the extreme.

    For the liberal crowd, Palin is the perfect lightning rod. Being a virtual unknown, they have practically nothing to throw at her except for ad hominem attacks: "go-go boots", "beehive hair", "too pretty", "gun-loving", "trample on pro-abortion rights". Not that the Republican campaign is pulling any punches in their dirty ads department vis-a-vis Barack Obama; however, the liberal reaction against Palin thus far feels very much like a hissy fit.

    Ultimately, the liberals make themselves look bad.

    Palin a woman? Courting the spurned Hillary voters, no doubt, but hey, all's fair in love and war, right? Again, it's hard for a liberal to attack the gender without seeming hypocritical.

    And let's face it, Palin does look a bit like Geena Davis. Will life imitate art?

    Anyway, that's a view from a non-voter.

    On John McCain


    I caught the John McCain special on CNN, and I came away pretty impressed. McCain certainly deserves his John "Wayne" McCain monicker, having led a very colorful navy life prior to politics. Definitely movie material.

    But the one thing that, if I had a vote, would swing it in his favor: he is a voracious reader. He opted to go through Gibbons' "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire" rather than read the cockpit ejection manual of his plane.

    More substantially, because of his background, McCain may just be the man to navigate the war footing that the United States has been on to more sensible stance. And, of course, there's the strong pro-life stance which is, to me, better than what Obama offers.

    On a related note: while Hurricane Gustav will lead to a more somber national convention, this will probably work in favor of the Republicans. Sure, they'll earn less in donations than the Democrats may have raised, but after the flamboyant Democratic National Convention, it may swing things their way in the end. Talk about timing.

    A Town Called Eureka


    This blog has gotten too serious of late, so I'm going to take positive steps to lighten things up.

    First up: my current favorite sci-fi show, Eureka (also known as "A Town Called Eureka"), which is in itself a generally lighthearted show. Since Doctor Who is on hiatus until 2010, and everything is else just requires significant emotional and time commitment, I'm happy enough to stay in Eurekaland.

    Quick summary of the show: Eureka is a town populated by all the top scientists of the US government. Its main industry is research, conducted within the massive laboratories of the town's primary employer, Globodynamics.

    The scientists' research brings about all sorts of patent weirdness: alchemical transformations, artificial humans, amnesia devices, killer pheromones, and recently, time loops.

    Caught up in the middle of all this is Sheriff Jack Carter, possibly the only average person in town (even his daughter is a budding genius.) Carter is a former US marshal who wandered into Eureka by accident, and was eventually assigned the post of sheriff by the US government.

    Despite his average-ness, Carter is usually the one who comes up with practical solutions to the problems facing them each week.

    By situating the science fictional elements in a contemporary setting, Eureka manages to skirt the problems of unrealistic ethical dilemmas amidst unbelievable social structures. The show is not about human commentary dressed up in latex masks and riding in spaceships; it's about the here-and-now. And by using a small northwestern town as its backdrop, Eureka keeps the stories in a small and manageable arcs.

    All in all, a very watchable show.