Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Thank you

For all the ups and downs of the past year, I did want to end it on a cheerful note and so I say:

Thank you for being a part of this blog: for laughing with me, for chiding me, for commiserating with me, for encouraging me, and above all, for being a friend.


I appreciate it more than you know.

You all know who you are. See ya tomorrow.

A Linux survey

As part of the prelim exam for my Open Source Technologies class, I included a short survey on Linux. Specifically, I asked:
  1. if they had used Linux before
  2. if they installed Linux after the class
  3. what distributions they had used
  4. what advantages they saw in Linux
  5. what disadvantages
The results of the survey from my class of 36 students:
  • 18 -- half the class -- had used Linux to some degree in the past
  • 17 have installed Linux since the class started
  • 7 students who had never before used Linux installed it on some system outside of class

On the distributions previously used:
  • the most common Linux distribution was Ubuntu (9), followed by Red Hat (6)
  • other distributions mentioned: Sabayon, Debian, CentOS, Kubuntu, and OpenSUSE
Advantages of Linux, by rank:
  • security from viruses (16)
  • free (cost) (13)
  • easy to install and manage the OS (10)
  • easy to install software (7)
  • minimal hardware requirements (5)
  • complete software on installation: (3)
  • other mentioned factors: speed (2), flexibility (2), good interface (2), fun to use (1), community (1), stability (1)
Disadvantages of Linux, by rank:
  • not used to it (13)
  • limited applications or difficult to install software (12)
  • no popular native games (5)
  • incompatible drivers (3)
  • command line difficulties (3)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Amanda Waller action figure

From Newsarama this news about an Amanda Waller action figure. Now, Waller isn't your ordinary whistlebait superheroine; far from it: as you can see from the action figure, she's a big-boned black woman, more along the lines of Big Momma. But she's also one of the most ruthless, amoral, and politically powerful characters in the DC Universe.

Oh, and with a figure like this -- pun intended -- it has to be a very unique body mold. This makes the action figure kind of cool in a weird sort of way.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

(Image found from Timothy Jones's blog.)


Merry Christmas to all! Despite the lack of any recent significant event, this Christmas feels quite special to me; I am happy. I hope you are, too.

Pax Christi vobis!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Taxi in a ditch


While driving out to work this morning, I came across this hapless scene. I just had to stop to take some photos.

No, the man surveying the, er, flotsam is not actually the driver of the taxi; like me, he's just another curious passerby. Would've been a more interesting story if it was, though.

Odd how the taxi seems to have fallen cleanly sideways into the ditch. We kibitzers surmised that it was parked on the curb, a little too close to the edge, and then another car hit it and pushed it over.

The damage on the front right side -- oh, make that top side -- lends credence to the theory.

We wanted to make sure no one was inside. One guy tried the doors but they were locked. Thank goodness! (Though it would have really been interesting if there was someone.)

Saturday, December 20, 2008

ThinkPad with two LCD screens

If I'm really really really really really REALLY good over the next year, would I get something like this in my Santa stocking? Oh, who am I kidding? Probably not.

Then again, just as well: the thing weighs 11 pounds and costs $3,600. Main article.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Surfeit

Help! I'm drowning in an overabundance of poems!
Love poems, breakup poems
Funny poems, sad poems
Maudlin poems, corny poems
Good poems, bad poems, atrocious poems!

Poems
  Poems
      Poems
           Poems   Poems
   Poems    PoemsPoems
 Poems  POems
     Poems  pOeMs
             Poems   PoemsPoems
                         Poems
         Poems  PoEmS
                          Poems
                                     Poems
                  Poems
  Poems              Poems
         Poems
              Poems PoemsPoems Poems
 PoemsPoemsPoemsPoems

   Poems POEMS!

   Poems   Phe-phe-phe-phe-phe-POEMS!

Because everyone wants to be a steeeeenkin' POET!

But

what I really want

is

    * * * prose * * *

Short stories, essays, creative nonfiction

A prose by any other name would smell as sweet
O, I would love some red, red prose
Proses red and proses white
I've a pretty Prose Tree



So, uhm, yes, I'm editing Dagmay this week and there's not enough prose in the queue.

Help?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Christmases Past

Scouring through my past posts, I rediscovered some old entries about the venerable Misa de Gallo tradition. Rather than write something new this year, I thought I'd highlight some of my past pieces.

This is from 2006:
It never ceases to amaze me how, year after year, the churches are always full for the Misa de Gallo.

It's not an easy tradition to carry out, mind you. The Masses typically start at half past four in the morning. The sky is still deep velvety black and the air still retains its nippy bite. And yet never have I gone to a church or chapel that was not packed to the rafters and overflowing with devotees. Not in Manila, not in Cebu, not in Davao, and certainly not in Dumaguete.

Oh, to be sure, not everyone has pure and high motives of worship for going to the pre-dawn Masses. For some, it's the superstition of a sought-after wish. For others, it's the pull of their peers. And still for others, because that's the way it's always been. My own reasons incorporate a little of each.


From 2005:
As I write this, I've completed seven of the nine Christmas Dawn Masses for this year. It's a habit that I picked up a little late in life, but it's something that's grown on me year after year. It's not such a challenge to get myself out of bed at 4:00am anymore; in fact, I look forward to starting the day early with the Misa de Gallo.

Owing to a somewhat erratic schedule, I usually end up fulfilling the cycle at different churches. This year was no exception. My first Mass was in the chapel of the Perpetual Succor Hospital Cebu, followed by five Masses in our own Mary Immaculate Parish, and the last three Masses (I hope) in the Sto. Nino Peace Chapel in the heart of Greenbelt, Makati.

One thing can be said for all these Dawn Masses: they are packed to the rafters with devotees. This holds true for the churches I've been to in Cebu, Dumaguete, and Makati. I suppose it holds true for churches throughout the rest of the country as well.


From 2005 yet again:
It's been a few years since I've been doing the Christmas Dawn Masses and I have the Fortunatos to thank for that. Sometime during my third extended stay with them, Mrs. Fortunato invited me one morning and I've been at it ever since.

That got me thinking: I'm very lucky to have found a wonderful foster family. Because there's no other way to describe my relationship with them: leisurely breakfast conversations, wrangling Chammy, anecdotes, quotations, historical reminiscing, and so on and so forth. I've really known them for a very long time.


From 2004:
As I write this, it is the second day of the Misa de Gallo. I sigh with relief because finally, Christmas is really here. The carols no longer sound grating, the ornaments no longer seem out of place.

You can't being to imagine what a wait it's been. They say that if times are bad, Christmas comes earlier. I don't know if this statement is universally true, but my experience says that it generally holds for the Philippines. This year was no exception: I first heard the strains of Christmas carols in Manila as early as October.


My, my, I've become self-referential all of a sudden. Does this mean I'm getting old?

Misa de Gallo

First day of Misa de Gallo at Sacred Heart Parish in Obrero. Pictures taken around 4:45am.




Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

Pokémania!

For my Open Source Technologies class, I was showing off scriptlets in Perl, Python, and Ruby. My last example involved connection to a MySQL database. In the name of fun, I made a very basic Pokédex. The program was very simple: just plug in the Pokédex number and return the name of the Pokémon; and for authenticity, I used the complete list. This is how the conversation in class went:

Me: "...so you can see the code is straightforward and easy to understand. Here you create a database object, and in the next line you invoke its query method. Then it returns the result set. Plugging in 20 into the Pokédex number gives us...Raticate."

Class: (ho-hum)

Me: "Alright, let's see how good you are with Pokémon. What's the Pokédex number for...Pikachu?"

Class: "25!"

Me: "Eh? Are you sure?"

I type the number in. And out comes...Pikachu.

Me: "Well, I'll be.... Care to try another one?"

Class: "Yes! 150!"

Me: "150? What's that?"

Class: "Mewtwo!"

And so we go on for a few more numbers and all the name associations are spot-on. Whowouldathunk?

Darned kids these days.... I think I might get further if I drew up program specs for a Pokémon game. Now if I could only get the actual character database.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Signs of Life

If in my last entry I gave a too pessimistic view of students today, let me now swing the other way and point to some signs of life. While it does take time and perseverance to uncover these bright spots, the rewards can be well worth the effort.

What's key to meeting the challenge is an effective classroom dynamic. Simply, it means finding the right hook with which to bait the students. It could either be points of interest, or new delivery tactics, or even just a change of pace.

For instance, my Information Security laboratory class now runs without any close supervision. I merely set the general objectives at the start of the session (or some days before, via email); how they meet the goals is up to them. I tell them which tools to use and what tests to run; I only pipe in from time to time with contextual information, or when they've wandered off far afield.

Today, for example, they managed to demonstrate intrusion detection with Snort. We've been building up to this point over the past few weeks with forays into scanning tools like Nessus and Nmap; and now they're seeing it for themselves. What's most significant to me is that they're demonstrating it to themselves, not to me.

Getting to this point took a bit of planning -- and quite a bit of luck. The foundation for all this was Ubuntu. Once I showed them how to install and configure software in this flavor of Linux, most of my heavy work was done. From then on, I would then just plan out the general activities for each session, building on the sessions that had come before. What really drives them now are the results they see.

As for my New Journalism class, I've adopted mind maps as a teaching tool, and it's showing good results. All those difficulties with grammar were symptomatic of a deeper problem: mental organization. The mind maps help them focus on the core concepts of their subject, and more importantly, paints the big picture of what they're trying to say.

Storytelling is another tool I'm trying out Today I had them tell a story in class, as naturally as they could. (From time to time, I would point out highlights of the story or move it along to the next point; but the stories were all theirs.) Then I had them compare their oral accounts with their written accounts -- differences starkly apparent now, I hope they learn to adopt a more relaxed approach to their narrative technique.

These won't solve the problems with basic composition, I know. Eventually we will have to go back to those; but if I can just help them tell a cohesive and engaging story, the class will have been a success.

In both cases, their small class sizes were a great help to my flexibility. My Information Security class only has thirteen students; my New Journalism class, only five. I can't say the same of my Open Source class, which has close to 40; it's as unwieldy and unruly as ever. A breakthrough will take longer because the approach cannot be as personal as I would like.

More updates to follow soon.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Interview with Stroustrup

Datamation has an interview with Bjarne Stroustrup. Stroustrup, the inventor of C++, retired from Bell Labs and moved to academia. He has some choice comments on the state of computer science education today. Some excerpts:
The US industry could absorb more good developers than there are currently students enrolled in IT-related programs – but not all of those programs and all of those students would qualify as “good” in this context.

Take a simple example: A friend of mine looked at the final projects of a class of third-year CS students from a famous university. Essentially all had their code littered with “magic constants.” They had never been taught that was bad style – in fact they had never been taught about programming style because the department “taught computer science; not programming.” That is, programming was seen as a lowly skill that students either did not need or could easily pick up on their own.

I have seen the result of that attitude in new graduate students: It is rare that anyone thinks about the structure of their code or the implications for scaling and maintenance – those are not academic subjects. Students are taught good practical and essential topics, such as algorithms, data structures, machine architecture, programming languages, and “systems,” but only rarely do they “connect the dots” to see how it all fits together in a maintainable program.


Stroustrup on kids entering university these days:
What should high schools do to prepare students for university-level software development? When I entered a Math course as a 1st year student, the department head said something like this in his welcoming lecture: “I don’t care if you know math – we’ll teach you that from scratch – but I hope you know how to work hard and to read & write English, because you’ll need that to keep up.” I think he had an important point: current freshmen appear to have been spoon fed and many find it hard to adjust to independent work and to shake the impression that you work only to improve your grades.

High schools could teach students to work hard at something (just about anything), to search out information as needed, and learn to express their ideas in writing and orally. Project-based work is good for that. Exactly which programming language is used for software is less important, but the aim should not be to make tasks as simple as possible but to challenge students.


On education:
Education should prepare people to face new challenges; that’s what makes education different from training. In computing, that means knowing your basic algorithms, data structures, system issues, etc., and the languages needed to apply that knowledge. It also means having the high-level skills to analyze a system and to experiment with alternative solutions to problems. Going beyond the simple library-user level of programming is especially important when we consider the need to build new industries, rather than just improving older ones.


Advice to CS students:
Learn another programming language; choose any language that’s quite different from what you are best acquainted with. You can’t be a professional in the IT world knowing only one language. No one language is the best for everyone and for everything.

Don’t just do programming. Computing is always computing something. Become acquainted with something that requires your software development skills: Mediaeval history, car engine design, rocket science, medical blood analysis, image processing, computational geometry, biological modeling, whatever seems interesting. Yes, all of these examples are real, from my personal experience.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Living on Borrowed Time

I'd like to ask your prayers for a friend of the family's. She has a five-year old son who's been in and out of the hospital since last year. The prognosis isn't good.

The son suffered a bad bout of tonsilitis. The infection was not treated early enough and spread to his chest. Though he managed to recover from that, it left his heart severely weakened. He's been confined several times in the ICU.

The doctors have told the parents that his only chance is to have a heart transplant. It's not a procedure they can perform here; it has to be done in the States. Add to that, the parents are not well-off, just plain folk.

We're hoping for a miracle; that's about all we can do.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Chuck

My new guilty pleasure. Yeah, sure, Chuck is contrived and clichéd, and yeah, it's got plot holes so big you could drive a Nerd Herder through it; but on the other hand:
  • It's what 40-Year Old Virgin might be like as a TV series.
  • For the Firefly fans, Jayne Cobb lives!
  • Lots of geek references
  • Great soundtrack.
  • Yvonne Strahovski (though Sarah Lancaster, Julia Ling, and other guest stars aren't bad, either)
But what I like best about Chuck is its earnestness and light-hearted mood. Great escapist fare!

The name's Carmichael. Charles Carmichael.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Oh very young, Part 2

What is a university? The idealist in me wants to say that it's a place of learning where, insulated from the material concerns of the world, one lays one's philosophical grounding and sets one's direction; that it is in university that one asks the question Why. The cynic, on the other hand, whispers that it's a four-year speed bump on the entrance ramp to the freeway known as the rat race; at best you learn the How (and sometimes not even that.)

The reality, as with most other human endeavors, is that you only get as much out of it as you're willing to put in. That's why some of the best universities can still manage to put out some stinkers, and some of the worst can still manage to eke out a few winners. University life offers a lot of leeway to make out of it what you will, bureaucracy and bad teachers notwithstanding.

But what if you enter the university defeated even before you begin?

Story #3. I surveyed my AB English class as to what prompted them to take that particular program. I was hoping to find glimmers of inspiration, that they were attracted by this work of literature, or that. What did I get?

"...because I wasn't any good at Math. Or Science..."

"...I would have taken up _______, but I got scared off by a subject in Taxation..."

"...I would have gone into _______, but there were two semesters of Accounting..."

With these answers, I truly felt sad. It's a sign of my old age but I had to go off into a brief sermon. I reminded them that they shouldn't let this negativity drive their lives. Eventually they'll box themselves into an unhappy corner existence. Goals should be positive -- "I want to be a _________" instead of simply "I'm not good enough to be _______ or _______."

Just how do you manage to squeeze out all the joy and enthusiasm out of these young souls? It's a process as completely unnatural as it is criminal. As children we start out with an innate curiosity; we burst with possibility; so how do you get from that to this? When do doubt and disillusionment creep in?

By the time our students enter college or university, the damage has already been done. It's nothing new, of course; how many generations have passed through university halls in the same haze of dismal aimlessness, frightfully uncertain of life? Is this part of the heritage of smallness that Nick Joaquin decried?

Yet pity the young man and woman of today, with all its inescapable influences. It's in the expectations, it's in the environment, it's in society's hallmarks of success. After graduation, we expect them to be economically productive. Fulfillment is to be found in the latest gadget and the most exotic vacation. Success is glamor, money, and the largest following on a social network. Get it all, and get it as quickly as you can. For goals such as these, a four-year university education is irrelevant and extraneous.

Is this damage reversible? I hope so. Part of the youth's strength comes from resiliency. Eventually these young men and women will find their feet and set their own directions; or at the very least, find their own niche in the world.

It's that hope that colors my own decision to return to teaching. I hope that these students will realize that self-worth isn't tied to economics; that there's fulfillment beyond lifestyle; and that success is something they'll have to define for themselves.

Too idealistic? Well, hope can only live in idealism, never in cynicism.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Oh very young, Part 1

Oh very young, what will you leave us this time?
You're only dancing on this earth for a short while...
--Cat Stevens


Less than a month since I returned to teaching and already I've collected several stories and points for reflection. No, it's not so much that I've slammed into the harsh hard wall of reality; rather, I've stepped on the flaccid whoopee cushion of disappointment. That's how it goes.

A quick update for those who don't know the story: I applied for a part-time teaching position at the Ateneo de Davao University. The Computer Studies Division hired me to teach a course on Information Security; a week after I started, they also gave me Open Source Technologies. Last week, the Humanities Division asked me to cover Feature Stories for a teacher on leave. An unusual arrangement, I know, but I relish the left brain / right brain balancing act.

Above all other reasons I took on this job because it gives me a chance to observe and interact with young people. I believe that I'm at a point where I can positively influence others, and a university is the ideal place to effect this goal. But as I said, it hasn't been without its surprises and disappointments.

Story #1. In the middle of a spirited exposition of Gene Weingarten's "Pearls Before Breakfast", I paused at the line, "Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money..." Then I asked my 3rd Year and 4th Year AB English students: "What does this tell us about the character of the person?"

After a long silence, someone piped: "That he has money...?"

"No! What does it say about his character?"

"Ummm...that he can play the violin?"

"No, no, no! There's already a clue in the sentence itself. He gives it away in his adverb."

Another long silence. Finally I break in: "Where's the adverb in the sentence?"

Heads bent low over the handouts, they pored over the lines, only breaking occasionally to mutter to each other.

"Class! What's an adverb? What does it modify?"

Yet more silence. Then finally a brave soul meekly said: "A verb, sir?"

"Very good! What else?"

"Ummm...ummm...verbs?"

At that moment I deeply wanted to channel Ian Casocot. What would Ian do? Alas, I was far too amused to be upset.

"Don't you know the parts of a sentence? Didn't you take up the structure of the English language?"

"That was last year, sir..."

Story #2. The week before, I gave my Open Source Technologies class a ten-point quiz. Very simple, actually: straightforward identification with all items having been covered in the lecture and assigned reading materials. Result: only six people passed.

The week after, I gave the exact same quiz. Same questions, same order. Good news: 14 people passed; bad news: that was still less than half the class; worse news: two people managed to score lower than they did before.

What exactly was the matter? Why couldn't these young men and women, already pushing out of their teens, be bothered to check where they went wrong the week before? Then again, why not? This is the same class that, when I chided them for not knowing their computer history, excused themselves in this way:

"That was in first year, sir..."

Last week or last year or three years ago: does it make any difference? From these anecdotes you can form any number of conclusions about these students. My own view tends towards the utter lack of intellectual curiosity. This is not to say that they are lazy or stupid, because that is not what I see when I look into their eyes. Instead, what I do see is the absence of any joy of discovery.

A far more insiduous defect in outlook, this; more than any inherent defects in character or in cognition: without any pleasure, they cannot really own what they've learned. Lessons become mere rote exercise, to be remembered only insofar as they are useful. Discard at earliest opportunity.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Life so far

My editor wasn't happy with my brief bio because it was too brief; rewrite, he asked, hence, this unexpected run of egotism. I hope this does the trick so we can go back to our regularly scheduled program.

Who is Dominique Cimafranca?

The short answer is: I'm Davao City born and bred, with a smattering of Dumaguete summers thrown in for variety. I spent my five years of college in Cebu City, after which I wandered, a little dazed, into Metro Manila. Such a footloose life left me confused, and so I spent the next ten years bouncing around these cities. Jobs with two IT multinationals sent me careening to other countries and other continents, but home base has always been the Philippines. After twelve years, I grew bemused with the burlesque of Big IT and decided to retire: first to Dumaguete, where I ran a pharmacy, and then to Davao, where I now teach at the Ateneo de Davao University.

That, of course, is a quick account of the places I've lived in, not who I am. Let me try again.
The long answer is: I was a computer nerd before the term came into vogue. I took my first computer programming class when I was 12, and I got my first computer, an Apple ][, when I was 14. My parents mistook my love for computer games for a desire to be a computer engineer, so they shipped me off to the University of San Carlos where I received my degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering with honors. What I really wanted to be was a journalist.

As detours go, it was most fortuitous. I enjoyed the math and the degree and the subsequent license afforded me the chance for a stable job. I taught at the University of Asia and the Pacific for a time, and there I helped to start their IT program. Tiring of academe, I
shifted to the industry when I joined Digital Equipment Corporation in 1995. I did so at the right time as the Internet was just getting started in Asia. I set up web servers, firewalls, and ISP networks in Manila, Hong Kong, Jakarta, Dhakka, Karachi, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen.
In my first and only attempt at industry musical chairs, I moved to IBM in 1997.

With its size, IBM afforded me new frontiers. I went through several positions: e-Business consultant, technical sales for Emerging and Competitive Markets, and IT architect and technical lead for the Systems and Technology Group. I have seen customers froth, proposals implode, and projects collapse. On other occasions, we manage to save the day...and we go back into the fray the very next.

Eventually I grew tired of the game and seized an option unthinkable to most: I retired early from IT. I moved back to Dumaguete and there I ran a pharmacy; on the side, my friends and I worked to bring in the first major call center into the city. In my spare time, I wrote for the weekly newspaper, I joined the National Writing Workshop under Mom Edith Tiempo, and I rode my mountain bike to the waterfalls and beaches of Negros and Bohol. It's not a bad way to live; everyone should try it sometime.

At some point, even an earthly paradise can get tedious. Partly by accident and partly by family need, I found myself back in Davao. Again, as life detours go, it wasn't bad at all: Davao's urban pace is midway between the easygoing amble of Dumaguete and the frenetic dash of Cebu and Manila. While in Davao, I consulted for the International Open Source Network, co-edited the weekly literary journal of the Davao Writers Guild, and wrote fantasy and science fiction stories for Manila genre rags. Is Davao the place to settle down? Maybe.

This semester I began teaching at the Ateneo de Davao University. I started with a class on Information Security for the Computer Studies Division; then they added a class on Open Source Technologies. And then the Humanities Division called, and now I also teach New Journalism. Strange, I know, but that's how life and its detours go.

More detailed, yes, but does it really answer the question? Okay, one more time.

The short short answer: I am Dominique Cimafranca. I am a geek and a nerd.

Hello. A pleasure to meet you.

The Open Source Exam Experiment

Email to my students:

Thank you all for subscribing to this mailing list. I hope you've found it to be a helpful tool rather than a frivolous plaything.

Since this is an open source class, I want to try an open source experiment -- an "open source exam", if you will.

Here's how it will work:

You will each send me, as a response to this email, at least 20 questions (and answers) that you've gleaned from the lectures, presentations, laboratory exercises, and supplementary reading material. I will use these questions in your prelim exam. However, I will have veto power on which questions will make it to the exam; I also reserve the right to add more questions.

I will only accept entries with at least 20 questions. Subsequent sets must not include questions already given.

You have the right to circulate the questions and answers among your friends; in fact, I encourage it.

The exam, of course, will be closed notes, and I will randomize the order in which the questions are given.

Let the questions come rolling in.

Hat tip to my teachers

If I am where I am today, it's because I was fortunate to have excellent teachers in grade school and high school. Two subjects formed me more than all the others: English and World History. It was essential that they came at the time they did, with my mind still fresh and impressionable. All the rest could have followed as a matter of course.

And so without further ado, the teachers with the greatest influence on me:

Flor Saracanlao: the grade school teacher who drilled in me the fundamentals of the English language. She was strict, yes, but she was also funny, although I didn't realize it at that time. She left Stella Maris not long after I moved to high school. She now teaches at Davao Central High School.

Dionisio Balagat: my high school English teacher, who continued the work of Ms. Saracanlao. By contrast, he was patient and encouraging; but that was also the personality I needed at that time. Last I heard, he was in Norway.

Helene de Castro: World History was most memorable under her charge that I don't quite remember taking it at any time before her. She made it come alive. She was another encouraging figure in my early life. She's now Helene Bello, and she still teaches at my alma mater.

I've had many other teachers, all of whom I hold in high esteem, but these three have been the most influential.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Jørn Utzon

In light of recent events, his passing is probably lost upon the rest of the world -- barring Australia -- so I'd like to take a few moments to tip my proverbial hat and bow my head in memory of Jørn Utzon.

Utzon is best known as the architect of the Sydney Opera House, one of the most amazing organic designs for a building in the world. It's a little surprising but Utzon was not Australian but Danish: his design won the worldwide competition held in 1957.

There are several amazing facets of the Sydney Opera House, but to me what stands out is how well it blends in with the surrounding harbor. One doesn't need to be an architect or an artist to know that it feels...just right. That was the hallmark of Utzon's work: for his buildings to blend in with the natural landscape.

Sadly, Utzon never fully realized his work with his magnum opus. Politics soon got in the way of the project, and the newly elected government of 1965 cut his budget, ultimately ceasing all payments to the architect. As a consequence of this, the interior of the Sydney Opera House was not built according to Utzon's specifications.

Utzon left the country in 1966. He was not even invited to the building's opening in 1973.

Rapprochement in 2002 saw the Australian government reestablish ties with Utzon who, together with his son, was commissioned to restore the interior of the Opera House according to the original design. Utzon's son continued the work, but Utzon himself never got lived to see it.