Tuesday, December 31, 2013

A Retrospective of 2013

Once again, it's the last day of the year, the time when I put out my retrospective blog post of all that has gone before in the past twelve months.

I didn't write as much as I should have. Part of it was by design: I thought I'd scale back my blogging, limiting myself to one post a week. As with many resolutions, it stuck for a while but gradually came apart, so much so that I missed the month of October entirely.

As a result of my slack, I missed out recording many events of the year. Then again, there have been plenty of memorable moments that aren't too hard to recall.

I started out the year mildly pleased by the fact that I was still alive. The world was supposed to have ended in 2012, according to New Age neo-Mayan apocalyptists, but they missed their December 31 deadline. I suppose it's back to the basics with crystals and what-not.

Over at school, we had a visit from Silicon Valley demi-god and overall big shot Dado Banatao. So overwhelming was his presence that the presidents and administrators from the five Ateneos flew down to Davao just to hear him speak. I didn't much like what he had to say, however -- his model of success is patterned after, well, Dado Banatao -- and I doubt there were really any changes that came of his visit. La-de-dah!

Over in the real world, the rest of us had to deal with the usual research project proposals.

More pleasantly, we met and had dinner with writer Tim Tomlinson.

In February, Emily and I took a trip to Cebu to get my transcript of records from the University of San Carlos. I thought the matter had been settled by the time I enrolled in my Masteral program, but no, the Ateneo registrar told me Something Was Missing. So off to Cebu we went, only to be told that I was after the wrong document. What a waste of money!

Nevertheless, the trip was a chance to sneak off to Dumaguete where we caught the 2013 Taboan literary festival. I wasn't an official delegate, but they got me to speak about my workshop experiences and memories of Mom Edith. I attended a few panels, and caught the evil eye from some writers from Ateneo de Manila because of what happened the year before. La-de-dah!

Over in Rome, Pope Benedict resigned. It was unprecedented, but strangely, it did not rock my faith but reinforced it.

Just when I was preparing to get back into shape, I experienced the beginnings of severe neck and shoulder pain. It turns out it was cervical spondylosis and for that I had to undergo physical therapy and wear a neck brace.

I had one perfect day in March where everything just came together. The rest of the month was pretty shitty: my neck pain was getting worse, Emily and I were stressed in putting together the finishing touches to our house, and I was thinking of quitting Ateneo.

Don't get me wrong: I love to teach and I love the people that I work with -- my mates from the Computer Studies Cluster, the Humanities Cluster, the University Research Council, and the University Publication Office (yes, that is how busy I am.) Our Human Resources and Registrar, less so.

After the earlier debacle with my transcript documents, I put my foot down and told the Registrar to process the documents school-to-school, the way it should have been done. I had passed my masteral thesis in June of the previous year and I was supposed to graduate this year. But their processes were mucking things up.

Since I officially hadn't graduated, my regularization papers were also on hold. Moreover, I refused, on principle, to comply with some HR requirements. As a matter of course, they wanted me to take a computer proficiency test (when I had been teaching advanced computer subjects in school for the past four years AND had passed my masteral thesis), an English proficiency test (when I had been teaching creative writing in school for the past three years), and an NBI and police clearance (when I had been holding sensitive administrative posts for the past two years.)

Ultimately, they relented and let me off with a psychological exam.

Emily and I were supposed to move into our new house at the end of the month, but during Holy Week, I had a severe pinch on my nerves. The pain was so intense I couldn't move and I couldn't sleep. We put off the move till sometime April.

April turned out better. We were finally able to move to our new house. Initially we were only supposed to stay three nights because not everything had been wired and it was only to meet some old superstition; but everything felt so comfortable and so right we stayed on for good.

I finally and officially graduated from my masteral program.

After several weeks of traction, I recovered some flexibility in my neck. The pain finally went away (though it would come back later in the year.)

On the downside, our car got bumped yet again. While parked.

Elsewhere, there was the Boston Marathon bombing which left me pretty affected. We were also preparing for midterm senatorial and mayoral elections. No contest in Davao, though, as the Dutertes ran unopposed. I took part in a pre-election survey research project in Ateneo.

Elections in May were fairly peaceful, boring even, but also not the catalyst for social change that we wanted. Dynasties seemed to cement their hold on Philippine politics.

I finally eased out of the writing workshops. The mantle of the Ateneo workshop passed on to Dr. Rhodora Ranalan and Hazel Megan Hamile. (Julian de la Cerna had taken over my role in the Davao Writers Workshop since the year before.) I did organize a book launch for Visayan writer Merlie Alunan, and she was very pleased with the turnout and reception in Davao.

Our neighbor of some twenty years, Mr. Alejandro "Bandoy" Luy, died. He was a very good man, and we all mourned his passing.

I finally took my psychological exam as prerequisite for enrollment.

So, I didn't end up leaving Ateneo after all. They made me a regular employee. Emily and I spent another week in Dumaguete before the start of classes. The new school year came around and life went on.

The Computer Studies Cluster gave me new teaching loads, Systems Analysis and Design and Technopreneurship, presumably because I had been complaining about the way we were teaching these subjects. I was very happy with how my stint with these subjects turned out and I like to think the changes I effected made for a difference.

Our technopreneurship classes became more in-tune with startup culture. I introduced Shark Tank to our students and they loved it! Likewise with Indie Game: The Movie and Revolution OS. We moved up our business pitch sessions so as not to conflict with thesis defense.

Ostensibly, the best marker for the progress in our technopreneurship classes was our students' strong performance in the Davao Startup Weekend, where they bagged first and third place.

Though the results weren't so dramatic, I like to think I also made some changes in the Systems Analysis and Design class. With more slant on Agile techniques, the class had less a focus on "documentation" and more on standard models and prototyping. And...we actually went through the whole textbook.

Humanities gave me Creative Writing again. However, this turned out to be my biggest writing class ever, with 28 students!

My Creative Writing class turned out to be the most difficult one to teach, and not simply because of its size. It felt like I was in writing hell. But still, we soldier on. Eventually, my students did turn in good work. One of them would squeak through to the Davao Writers Workshop in October, and a few are lined up for publication in Dagmay.

In Davao, we had a shootout at a bank. Near Ateneo. In broad daylight. It turns out it was a sting operation to rescue a kidnapped Manila businesswoman.

We had our house blessing on July 6. On the last week of July we had our annual mandated faculty retreat which I mostly slept through. Hey, "blessed are they who sleep in the Lord", right?

I was also becoming more occupied with my duties as OIC for the University Publication Office. In May, we had reprinted Mac Tiu's "Davao History" and we held a sort-of book relaunch at the Museo Dabawenyo. I had also started work on another book of Mindanao history for Dr. Heidi Gloria and I got another manuscript proposal from a Filipino lawyer in Australia.

I found time to renew my PRC license as Electronics Engineer.

Slipping into the habits of old age, I made a game of shushing overly loud students.

Nothing much else in August except the daily grind. It is a dead month, after all.

And then, extreme disappointment with my writing class as I caught two students submitting plagiarized work. I should have failed them right then and there, but I didn't. One just dropped out of school of his own volition; the other eked through but not after much drama and (self-inflicted) humiliation.

Small events throughout the month: a talk by Ken Spillman at UP Mindanao, Open Data Forum with the Foundation for Media Alternatives in school, and me teaching an Operating Systems class at the masteral level.

My cervical spondylosis came back. Fortunately, the physical therapy headed it off before it could get worse.

Elsewhere, Zamboanga City became a war zone when the MNLF attempted to raise their flag at city hall.

And just like that, the end of the semester. October went by as a blur, so much so that I didn't post any blog entries at all.

The other book I was working on, "Rethinking the Bangsamoro" by Michael Henry Yusingco, progressed much faster than Dr. Gloria's book so it came out earlier this month.

Emily and I went to Singapore for a few days at the end of the month. We went to Legoland Malaysia, Universal Studios, and Malacca. The rest of the time we spent at hawker centers. The only nonconsumable item we bought was an outlet adaptor plug so I could charge my cellphone / camera. Because of the trip, I discovered the pleasure and convenience of Agoda.

After we got back from Singapore, Emily and I brought my nephew Jerry trick-or-treating. He went as Mario, and won first place in a subdivision contest.

In the middle of October, a huge earthquake struck the Visayas, in particular, Bohol and parts of Cebu. Many old churches were destroyed in its wake, but surprisingly, less than 300 dead. It may have been because the quake happened during a holiday, and a non-Christian one, at that.

We kind of hoped the earthquake would be the last disaster to hit us during the year, but no. In early November, superstorm Haiyan/Yolanda struck the country, leaving many cities and towns in the Visayas in ruins. Up to now, they still haven't fully recovered.

I purposely didn't write about Haiyan or Zamboanga or Bohol or even Napoles while they were hot in news and social media because, well, what would I have to add to the discourse? What I know I only know from the newspapers, TV, and the Internet, and to throw in an opinion would be to add to the noise. So I stayed silent.

After Haiyan, we stood in fear of another incoming typhoon, Zoraida. Zoraida turned out to be surprisingly mild. Nevertheless, in a fit of overreaction, local government cancelled work and classes. It all worked out very well for me because my niece Jelly was born that day.

Second semester started, and this time I'm teaching four classes -- two Open Source classes and one Web Systems class at the undergraduate level, and a Web Systems class at the masteral level. I am supplementing my classes with Udacity courses in an experiment in blended learning; so far it's working out pretty well.

In other news: I gave a talk at Apo View Hotel (and brought my entire class there), I ran a book quiz at Ateneo for our library days (which the Engineering team topped), and we had a book launch for "Rethinking the Bangsamoro." Mike and Menchie Yusingco were good company and I was happy to have made new friends.

Also: I bought a new laptop, a Lenovo S210. It's pretty nice and light, but I can't use it right now because it has a problem with its video connector and the repair shop doesn't have the parts.

I'm being a grouch, so I'm turning down all requests to be a research project mentor.

No university Christmas parties this year, but the Computer Studies Cluster did spend a morning with the pediatric cancer ward at Davao Medical Center. Get-togethers with friends, a chance to reconnect, and the sad realization that Facebook can tear relationships apart. Heh, that's a story for another time (and since I don't have Facebook, I'll tell you ahead that I'm just a bystander.)

I turned 44 and got a nice robot cake from my wife. And a Hexbug Nano Habitat set.

Completed another cycle of Misas de Gallo. Had an anniversary dinner at White House. Overall, this has been a largely stress-free Christmas, and I'm glad for it.

And with that, I bring 2013 to a close.