Monday, January 30, 2012

Ghost Lanterns

Oops, looks like I've been remiss with my blogging, what ought to have been one of my habits for the year.  With some good reason: work, masteral classes, a bad cough (all better now), and a mining conference.  Time to begin again!


Took the shot above of some leftover Chinese New Year lanterns at a local hotel.  The colored version looked quite mundane, but when I switched to black and white, the end result was otherworldly.  Taken using Camera Zoom FX on my Samsung Galaxy SII, and using the Holga filter.

Monday, January 23, 2012

With the power of my brain I will control the computer!

...or not.

Our brethren from Ateneo de Manila University came down last weekend to conduct a workshop on the research on affect computing, which means getting the computer to read the behavior of the user and having it react accordingly. One of the gadget that came with the research was the OCZ Neural Impulse Actuator. The NIA reads brainwaves and inputs those into the computer. Control is still coarse, but it works...after a fashion.

Much fun was had by all.

Thoughts on Speculative Fiction

Part of the talk that I gave at USEP a couple of weeks ago. This is an older version, so some things have changed a bit, but the content is largely the same.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Ateneo Student Elections

Ateneo de Davao's SAMAHAN student government elections are ongoing. This year is the first time that they've computerized the process, thanks to the efforts of our students from the Computer Studies Division (sadly unacknowledged by the student body at large.)

Midmorning Musing

Our aged newspaper delivery man takes a midmorning break.

Friday, January 13, 2012

At USEP

This afternoon I gave a talk entitled "Myth Conceptions: Understanding Cultural Identity Through Fantasy."  It's the continuing evolution of my thoughts on fantasy and speculative fiction as it relates to our Filipino-ness.  At some point, I'll probably write it out as a paper.  Real soon now.

Emily took this shot of me, which I quite like.

With USEP and Ateneo Students

Some of Emily's photos of me at the event.

Speaking with some USEP students after the talk.


My charges from the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors.  Yes, I am their club moderator, believe it or not.

USEP Students

Some faces from the University of Southeastern Philippines. My talk this afternoon had an audience of some 200 students, all of them from AB Literature. It turns out that that wasn't even everyone, as there were another 200 to 300 students attending night school.
I like how I caught this girl, and just this girl, looking at my camera the moment I took the shot.  She later led the national anthem.

A charming USEP student in her hijab.

Karlo David

My student and friend, the very prolific writer Karlo David.  Taken at my talk at University of Southeastern Philippines this afternoon.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Review: A Mother's Story

Emily wanted to watch "A Mother's Story", and since she's been kind enough to go along with my sometimes odd choices, I agreed. From the title alone you already know it's going to be a maudlin-fest, but what the hey, Pokwang is an intriguing character, and I was impressed by her dramatic turn in 100 Days to Heaven. (To see Xyriel Manabat in action again was an added bonus.)

So did A Mother's Story redeem my views of mainstream Philippine cinema? In a word: no. It wasn't nearly as bad as some of the stinkers I've had to go through (Bong Revilla, I'm looking at you), but there were still plenty of cringe-worthy moments, and midway through the film, I found myself zoning out.

The main weakness of the film is the script. The story itself is paper thin: Medy (Pokwang) becomes an illegal alien in the United States in order to support her family. She works as a housekeeper but is a virtual prisoner of the couple she works for. She endures nonetheless because she has to send money home. She eventually escapes and returns home seven years later, but finds her son resentful and her husband with another woman. Paint by the numbers, one-two-three. Hijinks ensue.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Epiphanies

Back in the time when I still traveled, I found myself in a business meeting in a small town outside of Nice in the South of France. The meeting lasted a few days, over which time I met colleagues from other parts of the world. That being my first (and so far, only) time in Europe, I decided to extend my stay for just one more day to see the sights that I could take in.

What can you do with just one extra day? If you're along the main train lines in Europe, plenty. I headed down to the station, took a look at the map, readied my coins, and journeyed as far as I could to both ends of the line. On one terminal point was Cannes, the same city famed for its movie festival; on the other end was the small Italian city of Ventimiglia. In between was the city of Nice and...wait for it...the principality of Monaco.

With not much time to plan, I just went wherever the train and my feet took me. In that one day, I covered ampitheaters, plazas, roadside cafes, restaurants, museums, and churches.

I don't think I had planned on covering the churches. When I set out, I had the idea that I could catch some movie stars in Cannes. The time I was there was also the time of the festival. But in my eagerness I went there first, early in the morning. Stars, it turn out, whether of the celestial or the fleeting, artificial sort, only come out at night. Somewhat disappointed, yes, but in its place I found the Notre Dame de Bon Voyage, where Napoleon Bonaparte passed by before his exile to Elba. I was just in time, so I attended Mass in that Church.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

First Friday Mass at San Pedro Church

Yesterday after my consulting engagement, I decided to attend Mass at San Pedro Church instead of the Ateneo de Davao chapel. I was in for a pleasant surprise: though it was a weekday, the church was packed. Alright, it was a First Friday, to be sure, but still.... I felt very happy because, in a way, being part of this large community brought an affirmation of my faith.

While I'm wary of triumphalism, I think our Catholic faith, in its uniquely Filipino flavor, is what will ultimately make us endure and prosper. No adversity, whether personal, national, or global, can take away the joy that stems from this faith. And this is the message that we have to offer to the world.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Random thoughts

If you've been following my blog, it should be obvious by now what I'm trying to do: I've been posting daily, if possible first thing in the morning. How long this project will last I don't know, but I'll try to keep it going for as long as I can. I haven't done much writing in the past year, and I really want to get back into the writing groove, never mind the genre. I'm still experimenting with various modes, but the point is to churn out the words.

In the news today: landslide in Compostela Valley kills 25, and there may be more dead as they unearth the site. The rains from the previous month may have loosened the soil, possibly aggravating damage caused by mining. Most of the dead are miners and their families who make their homes in makeshift shanties near the mountain. Blame is sure to fly soon, but as with many other things Pinoy, it will go back to the question of why people were living there in the first place. The area had been evacuated once before precisely for the same reason.

To be honest, I'd hate to be a government official in areas such as these. In my information security classes, I tell my students that "responsibility without authority equals scapegoat", meaning if someone gives you a job, but not the necessary powers to do it, then you're sure to fail. When it comes to dealing with large numbers of people, there's really very little that government can do. They might try to enforce safety measures, but they're going to see plenty of resistance from cause-oriented groups. When the inevitable tragedy strikes, they go back to government seeking aid.

In other news: the Arroyo telenovela continues. Now she has a rift with her main hatchetman in Congress, Edcel Lagman. Or is it the other way around? With these pols, I can never really tell. One thing's for sure: Arroyo sure has a way of alienating her friends.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Eight hours, and worn out

I'm very tired right now, so please let me whine a little. You see, my working day started at eight in the morning, for which I gave an hour-long lecture class. After that, I rushed off to a client for whom I was doing consulting work, where I held another two hour class. Back to school for Mass, then a quick lunch, and another hour-long lecture starting at half-past one, followed by another hour-and-a-half of laboratory work. Another lecture at four o'clock, and another laboratory class at six.

All in all, I spent eight hours teaching today. Except...except...I finished around nine in the evening last night, so I don't think I've really quite fully recovered.

I'm tired.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Crackers

So it seems that the smoke residue from the firecrackers in Metro Manila last New Years Day was so thick that a plane had to divert its landing from NAIA to Clark. When it gets to be that bad, you just have to see that something is wrong; but why can't we see it?

I've never quite understood the Filipino fetish behind firecrackers. In my younger days, I'd throw a stick or two, but I never got the thrill. Dad wanted to start that New Year tradition in our household with a moderate amount of pyrotechnics. That plan got nipped in the bud when our neighbors on either side brought out arsenals enough to kick off World War III. After that, well, Dad reasoned that we'd just ride along with their racket. All the evil spirits would have been scared out of the neighborhood from the noise both houses made.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Can we please get back to two weeks ago?

So after the long and luscious break, I've had my first taste of work today. Feh. Don't like.

I thought I'd go into the week feeling energized and refreshed, and when I went in the morning, I was. It was good to see my colleagues and students again, what with the chirpy "Happy New Years!" But as the day wore on, so did my zest.

The computer in the classroom lost its network connection, and that threw my lecture plans askew. I gave what I thought would be a simple lab exercise to my students, and roughly three-quarters of them struggled without much headway. And now, I realize that I may have bitten off more than I can chew as far as commitments go...

But please don't mind me. I've just come from a two-week vacation. If ever there was a case of the Monday blues (on a Tuesday, no less), this has got to be it.

Expanding my brain

Probably for the same reason that I stopped craving for processed meats and started developing a taste for fruits and vegetables, I've lost my appetite for comics, movies, and television series. It used to be that I'd, er, procure my entertainment fare religiously on a weekly basis: Chuck, Doctor Who, Numb3rs.... Nowadays I just don't have the patience for them anymore. If I'm intrigued by some story line, I'd much rather read the plot from summaries on Wikipedia. The same goes for fiction novels.

These days, my entertainment is mixed in with education. Most times, it happens when I'm in the car or out for a walk. I listen to netcasts and lectures. Here's a list of what's been on my playlist recently:

  1. In Our Time from BBC4, hosted by Melvyn Bragg. Each week, Bragg and some very erudite guests gather to discuss topics on culture, history, philosophy, religion, and science. Topics are diverse, but always engaging, even if the British tones are rather dry. What amazes me is how much they're able to cover in 45 minutes, and exactly 45 minutes!
  2. The Tolkien Professor, lectures and discussions by Dr. Corey Olsen, a professor of Medieval literature from the University of Washington. Dr. Olsen started out with an analysis of The Hobbit, which I quite liked, and now features recordings of his classes on other topics. It's rekindled my interest in fantasy literature by giving me new insights into its history and framework. Dr. Olsen is a really lively speaker.
  3. Youtube EDU, with lectures and presentations from all over. It's through Youtube EDU that I found other great series like Justice with Michael Sandel. Other worthwhile channels are MIT, University of Michigan, and Chemical and Engineering News.

Monday, January 02, 2012

One More Day...

Unlike other sad sacks who must troop back to work today, I, as an underpaid and underappreciated teacher get...one more day of vacation. School doesn't start till tomorrow, and even then, I'll probably be going on low gear for a while. Not that I'll be doing nothing: there's lessons for the week to put together and contracts for a small project to draw up. No sweat de-dah! The entire break hasn't exactly been unproductive either: I've computed the grades and I've almost got my book under wraps.

For all the times that I look back with some regret at leaving my corporate job, I have to remember that what I'm getting back in return is the gift of time. I don't stress as much as I did before. These are things that don't sit well with neck ties, customer calls, and sales quotas.

And you know what the best part is? Because I've front-loaded all my teaching load in the first two semesters of the year, I get the summer off. Yep, two whole months of a break like this. Beat that, suckah!

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Playing with (Kindle) Fire

My sister and I each ordered a Kindle Fire two months ago. As it came by way of an aunt coming in from the States, I only got hold of mine yesterday. What's to do on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day? Why, rooting it, of course.

The Kindle Fire generated a lot of hype when it was announced. Because of its low price-point, the industry rags dubbed it an "Apple killer." After playing with it for a couple of hours, I don't think that moniker is warranted. It's nifty, yes, and it's cheap, definitely, but it's way too limited in functionality to compete in the same space as the iPad (which, in my humble opinion, is also limited.) As shipped, it's really nothing more than an additional channel for media sales for Amazon.

The downsides, easily: no Bluetooth, no camera, no external media slots. I don't mind so much that it doesn't have a camera, but Bluetooth would have been nice so I can hook it up with a keyboard, and an SD card for would have been great for viewing photos. The real showstopper, though, was that the lack of access to the Android Market; instead, the stock Kindle Fire only gives you the Amazon App Store.