Friday, May 28, 2010

Digital Signature

A story from my cousin Youson (whether true or not I leave up to you):

Election day in one of the barangays of Negros Oriental saw the board of inspectors, the poll monitors, the watchdogs, and various concerned citizens caught in a tizzy.  Well past seven o'clock, when voting was supposed to start, and they found that, because of the rules, they couldn't.

"The rules say it needs the digital signature of the BEI," cried one of the watchers. "We can't break the rules!"

"Where do you sign in your digital signature?"  cried another.  "They didn't teach us that in the briefing!"

It seemed that they had reached an impasse.  No one could say with any certainty what a digital signature was.  Outside the voters began to get restless.

Friday, May 21, 2010

With Miss Dumaguete 2010

Yes, yes, I know I have a bi-iiiiig smile.


Knockoff Devastator action figure bought from Lee Plaza. This actually came as seven different knockoff Constructicons, costing P24.95 each. I only managed to scrounge up six robots, hence Devastator here is missing one leg. Still, I'm pretty impressed how they all fit together.

Sorry, no more pictures; I gave the entire set to my nephew.



Rarely do we hear the S.O.B. word said out loud on local television.  As a curse word it's banned by broadcast regulations, but even then, it hardly gets much use in favor of native, er, color.  But there it was yesterday, not once, not twice, but three times in succession.  Screamed, not said, I might add, or perhaps spewed is the better word, issuing as it did with fire and venom from the mouth of Zeus-in-the-mountain Rep. Teddy Boy Locsin.  If you didn't catch it live, too bad: nothing quite like the total surprise of an unscripted uncensored outburst caught in the moment on national TV.

In a way, it was an explosion waiting to happen.  For the longest time, Locsin had been the staunchest advocate for poll automation.  He was at the forefront of assurances that automated elections were necessary and would go without a hitch.  But while the May 10 elections were not the catastrophe we feared they would be, neither were they the airtight exercises that COMELEC and SmartMatic/TIM promised.  Now every little bit of niggling doubt is just so much straw for clutch at.

All the questions now coming out at the House Committee hearing on poll fraud allegations show how little lawmakers really understood automation would work.  At long last, the questions they're asking have the semblance of intelligence, coherence, and relevance to IT; but remember, these are the questions that citizens' groups put  forward many months ago, questions the same lawmakers swept under the rug with the bluster of assurances.

The hearings drive home an important lesson in Information Technology: IT is not about the tools, it's about the processes.  Up until recently, the debates have centered on the PCOS machines, ignoring the procedures for security, control, and risk management.  Because of the lack of rigor in the processes, we end up with this mess.

Focusing on the PCOS machines allowed the general public to focus on a piece of technology that they can understand.  Because people handle cellphones and laptops and iPods every day, because they know how to use Facebook and Twitter, they think that they already understand technology.  But in comparison to the demands of Information Technology?  These are just toys and amusements.

Information Technology, to a great degree, is about risk management.  Expect machines to fail, people to foul up, processes to go awry.  Therefore, make plans and backup plans and backup plans to the backup plans.  Test, simulate, conduct dry runs, train; rinse and repeat.  From the looks of things, no such exercise of any rigor took place, or at least in any way that could be said to be transparent.

As an IT project, the May 2010 election is about as hairy as they come, a one-shot all-or-nothing hail-mary damn-the-torpedoes deal.

In a way, I pity the SmartMatic/TIM consultants as they squirm in their seats and nod yes sir yes sir yes sir.  The fact that they managed to pull together the semblance of an election at the last minute was, in itself, a monumental achievement albeit an imperfect one.  But it's also a cardinal rule of IT that It's Always The Vendor's Fault.  The vendor is low man on the totem pole, the one who always gets shat upon.

SmartMatic/TIM worked with specifications drawn by customers who didn't fully understand the processes or the technologies, and supervised by an agency notorious for its lack of credibility.  But there you go, you reap what you sow: whenever there were questions and objections, they just mowed them down with bluster.

I find the House Committee hearings all the more enjoyable because we finally get to see, on national TV, all the parties pushing for this project finally in the same room:  the COMELEC, SmartMatic/TIM, the sober whining ruling party losers, and best of all, Zeus-in-the-mountain Teddy Boy Locsin.  The drama couldn't have played out better if Sophocles had contrived it.

Hubris, ladies and gentlemen, the essential element of Greek tragedy.  Gotta love it.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Davao Writers Workshop 2010

A little late, but here's the group photo from the Davao Writers Workshop 2010.

Friday, May 14, 2010

How my blog helped deliver a message in a bottle

Some days I wonder if this blog means anything at all and whether I should keep it up. After all, the action is now all at Facebook and Twitter, right? And then, a story like this comes along: Entiat woman solves mystery of message in a bottle; and then I feel that it's all worthwhile.

With a Skeptical Eye

Disregard for a moment whether your candidate won or lost (or if you're the candidate, whether you won or lost): Were you happy with the conduct of the election last May 10?  Were you convinced of the results?  Was it, as they like to say, honest, credible, accurate, and efficient?

If you must know, I voted for Noynoy Aquino and Mar Roxas.  Why?  Basta!  I've had my say, as you all have (unless you were one of those unfortunates who were not able to vote.)  This choice I don't need to justify to anyone.  Batting one-for-two, I should just let things lie.  My instinct, anyhow, tells me that the outcome reflects how the country as whole feels.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

PPCRV operations center at Ateneo de Davao

Ateneo de Davao student volunteers encoding election returns.  The CS Department is providing the backbone of the labor here, with the bulk of the students coming from our merry group.  Information is coming in trickles, though, so really not too hectic (if you examine the picture closely, you might see a Facebook page or two); I decided to call it a night as they had enough hands and eyes.

When I left, the Dutertes were leading the race, though, way ahead of Nograles-De Guzman.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Election Day

All in all, I must have spent two hours at the polling precinct.  The lines were long, the movement turtle-paced, the air a cocktail of tension and annoyance.  But overall, the experience proved pleasant because, after all, there are still angels on earth.

Humble Indie Bundle

Just a short plug for an offer that's worthwhile every which way for gamers: Wolfire Games, publisher of small independent games, has put together the Humble Indie Bundle, a collection of five top-selling games.  The games are

* World of Goo
* Aquaria
* Gish
* Lugaru
* Penumbra Overture

This will sound crazy but you get to choose how much you want to pay for the games.  Proceeds of this sale are split between charity and the developers (and you also get to choose how to split.)

As if that wasn't crazy enough, they've also added Samorost 2 into the collection.

What are you waiting for?  Check it out now!

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Liquor Ban

And Gaisano Mall flunks their spelling exam. Or perhaps they had one too many beers.

Cosplay in Davao

Various toy and hobby groups in Davao put together the 1st Mindanao Toys, Hobbies, and Collectibles Convention (MTHACC, if you will). Of course they had a cosplay competition as well. You'll probably find more pictures elsewhere, but here I just post my two favorites.
Above is Xiao and friend cosplaying as...well, you already know. Pretty nice costume. They were very popular on the floor.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Sick and tired of hearing 'Compact Flash Card'

To all news media: can you please stop saying 'Compact Flash Card' already?  We get it, we get it: because you like to sound techie and because you like to sound like you know what you're talking about, you've seized this thingamajig and say its name over and over again.

Flash fact: this is just a bone that SmartMatic has thrown you.  They know you like to sound so techie and so authoritative.  Convenient scapegoat, that because, apparently, you've never really seen the memory card for a digital camera.

Bottom line: the problem isn't with the card itself, it's with the data that SmartMatic put in it.  SmartMatic goofed with the programming and data encoding.  As simple as that.  It doesn't satisfy your need to sound techie, but that's closer to the truth.

Sa totoo lang, inuuto kayo. First, they told you that the CF cards couldn't be hacked because they were super special and custom made. Then, when the problems popped up last Monday, they said they would destroy the cards.

Later in the week, they said they would order more CF cards from China, Hong Kong, etc., in fact, some 50,000 units. At that quantity and turnaround time, you still think it's super special and custom made? Uto-uto!

And even later, they said they would reuse and reformat the cards. Ano nga ba talaga, ate?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

May Bilog na Hugis Itlog

May bilog, may bilog na hugis itlog
May bilog, may bilog na hugis itlog
Ang kailangan sa bilog
ay simpleng-simple lang
Itiman, i-shade loob ng bilog

Watching James Jimenez spar (yet again) with Gus Lagman on TV this morning brought to mind a couple of things:

First: perhaps in true Filipino fashion, we've written the jingles and brought out the nubile dancers to wiggle their booties to the tune, but we haven't done the real grunt work of testing the machines. But hey, just so long as we have the sexy babes, everything will be all right, eh?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010


Would you believe me if I told you that up to now, just a few days shy of elections, I am still unsure of whom to vote for?  That really is how I stand at the moment.  I have certain preferences, of course, but I have long accepted that up until that very last moment when I put my pen to the ballot, I still might change my mind.  That's why I haven't actively campaigned for any one candidate.  Instead, I've been content to sit on the sidelines and watch.  With so many to choose? how to choose?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

PCOS shenanigans

Each day the election looms closer, my confidence in COMELEC and SmartMatic wanes further.  Bugs shouldn't have to be uncovered and fixed this close to the big date.  But there you have it: several PCOS machines failed in test runs held today. 

SmartMatic, COMELEC, and CICT point to CF cards as the problem, but I think what they really mean is that they programmed the PCOS machines incorrectly. 

Compact Flash cards only act as storage for programs and data.  If the cards fail, they won't be read at all; they won't cause the PCOS machines to count the votes incorrectly.  The error discovered today is pretty consistent: due to poor coding, the PCOS machines fail to read double-spaced listings for local candidates.

The CICT commissioner calls it a "silver lining" having been discovered in time six days before the election.  I call it bad project management and a very hairy situation.  I call it stupid, stupid, stupid.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Sunset at Liloan

I'm back in Davao now.  Forgot that I had these pictures in my camera, taken on the trip to Dumaguete via Liloan and Sibulan.

Around the Park

Pics from around Quezon Park in Dumaguete City.  The park doesn't get as much coverage as the Rizal Boulevard because it's less picturesque.  It's still worth a stroll, though.  The layout is typical of colonial Spanish urban planning, the church (cathedral), the park, and the government hall forming the city center.

City of Motorbikes

It's been said that Dumaguete has the highest density of motorcycles in the Philippines.  I don't doubt that's true.