Sunday, July 31, 2005

Wishful Thinking

Well, that's it. I'm out of PinoyTopBlog's top 100 blogs. Time to sit back and wait for the August 1 reset to see exactly where I stand.

Not that I'm bitter, mind you. Hey, this blog's only been around for less than a year. The people who have been up for two or three years certainly have a greater amount of experience in this field and a larger accumulated audience. If I manage to last that long, perhaps I'll be able to head somewhere along those lines.

At the moment, I'm busy writing. I've got about two weeks left before the deadline to Dean Alfar's speculative fiction collection, and that doesn't give me a lot of time to shake off two years' worth of short short fiction. I find it ironic, somehow, that I've been working on compressing my stories down to the one-thousand-word level, and then find out that publishers usually want something along the lines of three thousand to six thousand words.

Somebody's also raised the idea of a pitch for a comic mini-series, and I'm desperately looking for the time to put that together as well. My inexperience is probably telling here, but I'm at least hoping to get a synopsis and a six-page script off the printer before the week is out.

That, and I'm playing Minesweeper. You haven't lived till you've managed to complete Intermediate level in 28 seconds. :)

In a stark contrast to my constant efforts at peoples' attention, it appears that my stalker is contacting me again. I've counted at least ten miscalls via cellphone since late this afternoon, and I can only conclude that she must have gotten a new load.

Honest, doc. I'm not making this up. :)

No, I'm not answering her back. I don't even know who the heck she is, after all.

Besides, I'd rather get peoples' attention through my writing. There's just something that feels really wrong about effortlessly drawing people without their knowledge of who you are and what you're like.

Yeah, I'm sure you know the feeling. We're on one side or another, I suppose.

Okay... enough distraction. Back to writing -- I've still got at least nine pages to go...

Friday, July 29, 2005

Seven Sins

There are a lot of collective concepts floating around at the moment: There are the Three Virtues (Faith, Hope and Charity), the Three R's (Reading, 'Riting, and 'Rithmetic -- a little forced, actually), the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (War, Famine, Pestilence, Death), and loads of others.

What's interesting about collective concepts is that they're crisp, clean, and well-adaptible towards any sort of creative venture. I've seen the Three R's posing as anthropomorphic characters in a children's video, for example. Terry Pratchett has parodied the Four Horsemen not once but twice (the second time with Neil Gaiman's cooperation), and even the obscure 1990 movie Nuns on the Run named its primary characters Faith, (Brian) Hope, and Charlie. :)

My personal favorite, however, is the concept of the Seven Deadly Sins: Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Lust, Pride, Envy, and Wrath. I find that these ideas encompass man's moral degeneracy quite well, and they're very open to interpretation (philosophical or literary) if you want to give it a go. They're relatively simple to understand, yet complex enough to discuss in creative executions.

And, of course, you just can't beat the number. Seven has a bit of an iconic feel, I think, because it looks like an anomaly in the counting system. You need at least seven riffle-shuffles to completely randomize a standard deck of cards. You can never produce an exact replica of a seven-sided polygon. And so forth. The number just feels so... arcane.

Anyone who's seen the movie Se7en (Brad Pitt, Morgan Freeman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kevin Spacey) will immediately tie it to any mention of the Seven Deadly Sins. In fact, it's my experiences with the movie that dictate the order in which they appear above. I've also caught mention of these seven in the Deadlands: Doomtown collectible card game, and the Full Metal Alchemist manga -- that's just how far-ranging the concept is.

At their deepest core, however, I feel that the Seven Deadly Sins can easily speak to every human being who sees, hears or thinks them -- probably because we all have approached each and every one in our own little ways:

Gluttony - Gluttony's actually a little narrow if we think about it with regards to food alone. But if we extend the definition of exactly what humans can consume in egregious amounts, then what's stopping us from intruding into Greed's territory?

On the other hand, that might just be the key word: Consume. Gluttony consumes, whereas Greed keeps for itself. It's probably the difference between having the cake and eating it, too.

Would this possibly extend to words? Those are probably the only things to which I would be remotely gluttonous. The more words I consume, the better I feel. :)

Greed - Now, Greed's a fairly general sin, if only because there are so many categories of material objects that we can hoard. Somehow, I think that Greed happens to be the least obvious and the most subtle of the seven; It's not immediately identifiable from a surface point of view. It'll take a good amount of introspection, after all, for us to even figure out exactly what we ourselves are greedy for.

Sloth - Should Apathy be considered part of Sloth? Sloth automatically assumes that we are slow to move or act on a given cause, but what if we have no intention of furthering such a cause to begin with?

Perhaps Apathy is more a neutral concept than a sin, really. I mean, it should all depend on exactly what we're supposed to be doing to begin with. Being apathetic about, say, the current political situation (in choosing not to take sides) may not necessarily fall under a deadly sin.

Lust - What's ironic about Lust is that many of its possible interpretations in the modern world may not necessarily apply to it. Stalking, for example, feels more like a sin of Pride -- the offender assumes that the target will willingly acquiesce to his or her own clumsy overtures, after all.

I have a feeling that Lust tends more towards inappropriate feelings towards objects of desire, though, as opposed to the more blatant offenses. Sexual harassment is an obvious Lust aspect, yes, but I would guess that the acts of dropping by strip bars, surfing Internet porn, and leafing through the local issues of FHM would qualify as well. The jury, however, is still out on whether the minor offenses do escalate to the major ones.

Pride - Pride holds a special place in my life, as it does for virtually every writer and artist out there. After all, we do have to put a certain amount of emotional and financial investment into our own works. (Yeah, the monthly disclaimers on this blog don't help much, especially when I openly threaten plagiarists every single time.)

I've discussed Vanity a couple of times, and it definitely should be classified under Pride. Where Pride usually represents the raising of one's identity to a level above others, Vanity notes a constant trumpeting of one's own self-worth. Where the proud will occasionally keep their egos to themselves, the vain will constantly let others know just how superior their skills are.

I'll go as far as to guess that Pride is more readily noticed by others than it is by the offender. That makes it an interesting case -- how can a proud man speak highly of himself when he cannot realize the level of pride that he utilizes?

Envy - Doesn't Envy imply Pride to begin with? After all, it's difficult to be envious of someone else without envisioning the fact that you're superior to him or her in some way.

Or better yet, is it possible to be envious without being proud? Or maybe we just act envious without realizing that we're giving in to our very own pride. Hmmm.

Wrath - Everybody gets angry, I suppose. Some of us will quake and seethe but don't really do anything about it, while some of us will let loose with the most violent means of retribution possible. Does Wrath cover both these extremes? I'd say yes.

Historically, I've found that angry people will fall into two segments: those who place an emotional investment in anger, and those who play it cool the whole time. The emotional people will shout, scream and release their general vituperations for a while, but will gradually settle down on the matter. The cool ones will look perfectly normal on the surface, and yet will loose their not-so-pleasant responses from a distance where they would be impossible to reach. I've always made it a point to watch out for the latter -- they're a lot more dangerous.

All in all, the Seven Deadly Sins represent plenty of what we like to see in a collective concept: they're far-ranging, attractively numbered, and extremely open to interpretation. Their best quality, however, probably lies in an empathic point of view.

Chances are that you probably attributed at least one or more of these Seven Sins to yourself; Heck, I know that I have. I feel that it is therefore fairly easy for anyone to identify with any representation of the Seven Deadly Sins, simply because they tread on familiar territory. We've probably been there, in one way or another.

Sometimes, though, I wonder if there is any collective concept out there that has a good connotation. I mean, is there a "Seven Saintly Acts" or something like that? And for that matter, why aren't we using them much?

Maybe there's just something about sin that catches the eye. But, much as I'd like to go over villainy once again, I'll just stick to the technicalities of collective concepts this time. :)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Rice Essay

I have found that one of the fascinating things about Oriental and Southeast Asian culture seems to involve the regular consumption of rice. Beef-and-potatoes foreigners, in particular, can never understand how we can stomach a good three bowls of the white grains every day of our lives.

Adding to this, of course, is the fact that we can prepare rice in so many different ways. The Chinese fry it in oil and mix in hints of every other ingredient in the book. The Japanese roll it around raw fish and cover it with seaweed. The Filipinos boil it down to a sticky consistency and serve it for dessert. For that matter, there is even a common greeting in Chinese that asks "Ni chaer fan mei?" -- "Have you eaten rice today?"

All this, however, fails to adequately explain just how we can eat rice at every single meal and not raise such a big fuss about it.

My guess is that we've simply gotten used to eating rice. I suppose that we all probably got tired of eating the stuff at one point or another in our lives, but that we've still been eating it nonetheless. Technically, I think that we've reached the point where we're barely even conscious of the fact that we're eating rice.

You might as well ask an Englishman why he drinks tea, I think. The Chinese, who happen to be no slouches in the tea-drinking department either, would understand perfectly.

The Western world may not be able to consistently understand our eating habits, but I suppose that such a fact won't stop our edible daily allowance of rice.

I once sat in on a three-day seminar that was being conducted by an American trainer, and the entire experience was so self-sustaining that our meals (lunch and a mid-day snack) were wheeled in at noon, passed along at one to a student, and were collected again at the end of the hour. Like clockwork.

It took me until the third day to realize that our erstwhile American instructor hadn't touched his lunch in any of those three days. "It's always rice," he told me. "It was interesting for the first couple of months here, but right now I wouldn't mind if I never saw the stuff again."

"So you skip lunch every time you hold a seminar?"

"Yeah," he said sheepishly. "But don't worry. Usually the merienda makes up for it." (He pronounced the word fairly correctly, to his credit.)

When the day's merienda arrived a couple of hours later, we unwrapped the banana-leaf coverings and chewed our suman thoughtfully, all the while smiling at him as he rolled his eyes.

Male. Eyeglasses. Tall.
Male. Thin. Light.
Female. Eyeglasses. Short hair.
Er... I have no idea what she looks like.

Monday, July 25, 2005

A Question of Distinction

One more PinoyTopBlogs post. The following arrived in my inbox earlier today:

Hello Pinoy Bloggers!

Just sending out some more info and tips about the Pinoy Top Blogs as well as some pretty important reminders.


Not all Pinoy sites are pinoy blogs. Please do help me in combing the listing for entries that may not qualify as a blog. This could also be an opportunity for everyone to check out other blogs in the list as well. I always start at the bottom of the list everytime I visit.

Now that's an interesting point: Some of the sites on PinoyTopBlogs aren't blogs to begin with? That would be dirty pool, seeing that they would be using a blog-only system in order to advertise themselves. Especially when the rest of us bloggers work blood, toil, tears and sweat in order to make our thoughts available to a public that may not necessarily appreciate them to begin with.

That brings to mind a good question, though: What makes a weblog?

No, seriously -- what distinguishes a blog from all the other web sites out there? How do you know whether that nice site you're visiting is a blog or not? What makes us qualified to determine which sites should be rejected by PinoyTopBlogs, and which should remain?

Abe Olandres noted a number of characteristics of blogs back during his presentation at the iBlog Summit, and they're currently available on his recent post regarding this same subject. I feel that his listing of characteristics is a little too fundamental, though, and it's altogether possible to find more than a few loopholes in there.

Let's get some of the more technical concerns out of the way first: All blogs are obviously web sites. All blogs have a collection of chronological posts arranged by date. All blogs are run by some form of content management (automated or otherwise).

The above three factors may still describe any number of non-blog sites. Online newspapers and other publications fulfill the above requirements, after all. For that matter, so does any corporate site with a legible "News and Updates" section. Heck, so does that little Events calendar we get under Yahoo! Groups, too.

I would like to argue, then, that there are at least two other considerations that uniquely identify weblogs: Intent and Opinion.

Every true blogger out there should know about Intent; It's what drove most of us to put our stuff online to begin with. Blogs are an outlet by which one or more people can communicate with an open audience made up of just about everybody else on the Net. In that very sense, I believe that owning and maintaining a blog is tantamount to holding up a placard that says "I'm over here! Look at me!".

Much of this sentiment owes itself to writing, I think. We don't write to read our own pretty words; We write for other people. Blogs appeal to that part of ourselves that pleads for attention. We want to be one voice in an endless sea of faces.

I must point out here that there is a distinct difference between blogging for ourselves and blogging for an external entity. Corporate blogs, for example, are all well and good... but I feel that exactly whether or not they should be considered blogs in the first place depends on just who's writing them, and how.

A corporate blog that only releases statements approved by the Marketing department, for instance, is clearly not a blog. Its entries are copied, written, edited, proofread, and approved by a succession of workers, all for the sake of the company itself. I say that such a "blog" is not a blog at all because its voice has been diluted to the point of soullessness. The words belong to the company alone; It might as well be a corporate or marketing web site for all intents and purposes.

A blog needs to preserve a writer's voice. It needs to at least give the impression that the writer is expressing whatever he wishes to express online. Saying what one honestly thinks of certain aspects of the business is one thing; Regurgitating company taglines, promotional announcements or mission statements is another thing altogether.

In contrast, I find Opinion to be one of the least understood areas of blogging. Opinion should clearly cover the fact that, as long as we're the ones doing the talking, we're liable to say anything that we darn well want.

For that matter, it's obvious that most bloggers execute this approach with a great deal of creative license: We write political commentaries. We note what we like and what we dislike about certain people. We pick through our thoughts, and later proceed to wonder just why we think like we do. Heck, some of us write short stories or put up artistic masterpieces. Some of us even include home recipes in our online journals.

But do these diverse means of expression constitute Opinion by themselves? Heck, no. Anyone can write politcal commentaries, after all. Hey, just about anyone can write or draw, too. And each one of us obviously has recipes that we can potentially put up.

I say that the key to understanding Opinion lies in understanding that, while multiple people can write about the same thing, they will all have completely different takes on the subject. Some people will confess their unwavering support for President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, while others will bash her to bits. Some people will write childrens' stories, and some people will draw images of monsters and demons. Some people will include milk in a recipe for cheese omelette, and some won't.

An online newspaper, for that matter, does not constitute a blog in this regard. Journalism takes pride in its neutrality, after all: All parties involved in a story must be covered with the same amount of professional attention.

As much as the advocates may say otherwise, I figure that blogging is not journalism. Bloggers write to express their opinions, which will always lean in one direction or another. Blogs, by their very nature, are biased. Once we realize this fact, we should also realize that this is exactly why journalistic codes of ethics simply cannot apply to weblogs to begin with.

Interestingly enough, I've found similar questions to be present in other areas of writing. Literary critics, for example, have long debated the exact distinctions between prose and poetry. Comics creators themselves should be perfectly familiar with the age-old question of what separates an anti-hero from a villain. In both of these cases, we have to admit that there is a line that we cannot see clearly enough to pinpoint.

I will not pretend that I've located such a line with regards to the difference between weblogs and other non-blog sites, and this issue is likely to be hotly contested in the future. I figure, however, that the important thing to realize is that the line is blurred. It's perfectly blurred, and our perceptions of what makes a weblog can just as easily change once we get a hold of some of the more radical examples.

Then again, I'm just one writer in a sea of endless faces. One writer, with both a voice and an opinion that obviously leans in certain directions.

The truth will need all of us to chime in on the matter. That, I believe, will be regardless of whether we choose to express our opinions in weblogs, or otherwise.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

So... Ready to Take Over the World Yet?

That's the banner currently up on PinoyTopBlogs for this site. It's not very artistic, but then again, this isn't an artistic blog. I can think of a dozen other taglines that can be shown on a plain black background, though, so I might end up changing it from time to time.

As of the time of this writing, this blog is number 82 in the rankings, and that little Vanity-addled part of my brain is starting to worry. I'm hoping that PinoyTopBlogs doesn't get any more sites that are more popular than this one, or otherwise I won't even be on the first page when anyone drops by. :)

On the other hand, all this makes me wonder why I'm paying so much undue attention to this sort of thing. Perhaps the act of maintaining a blog increases one's need for readers, so much that I'm starting to watch those little numbers a lot more closely. While I'm sure that it's perfectly natural, I don't want to just go out and tell people to read this blog -- that would give the impression that I'm nothing but a sorry excuse of a human being who will do anything to get you to turn in my direction.

Or maybe I just want a group of thralls who I can easily hypnotize into taking over the world for me one day. That would be really nice.

Mwahahahaha! Go forth, my pretties! Kill! Kill!

Hee hee.


Friday, July 22, 2005

Volume Six, Final Page

No, I haven't read the new Harry Potter novel yet. I'm not a fan of the series.

I seem to know a lot of people who trooped to the bookstores last weekend and scrambled for their reserved copies, but even then, that really doesn't surprise me. We love our books, after all, and we all know that it's quite reasonable to expect large crowds for a Harry Potter release.

What surprises me, however, is the fact that I keep hearing about people who have sped through their copies. Iris plowed through the novel in seven hours flat. Claire didn't get a wink of sleep the night she bought it. And those are some of the tamer stories I've heard.

It's interesting, though, that right after all these people tore through the pages like a hot knife through butter, they breathlessly described how good the novel was, decided whether or not they were excited enough to reveal the most spoiling of spoilers, then went back to the beginning and started reading it again.

Now, if that doesn't immediately indicate that they're fans of the series, I find it to be at least a strong logical possibility.

Remember how, back when James Cameron's Titanic came out on the big screen, and everyone was shedding tears at the movie romance of Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet? I'm sure we've all heard anecdotes about people who sat through multiple consecutive showings of the movie. And each show must have been at least a three-hour affair, to boot.

We don't seem to notice many people keeping Titanic near and dear to their hearts nowadays, though. I wonder if those same people even bought the DVD when it finally came out. Perhaps they've had their fill already. (Interestingly enough, I do know of at least one former fan who will forever be haunted by Celine Dion's rendition of the theme song. :) )

Fanaticism is a funny thing. It doesn't necessarily have a negative meaning attached to it, but it occasionally makes its way into the "oh no, not again" aspects of modern life. Depending on who we are, we roll our eyes at the prospect of completing entire expansion playsets of Magic cards. Or we balk at the prospect of buying multiple versions of the Lord of the Rings trilogy DVDs. Or we act amused at the possibility of waiting in a 3,000-person line just to meet a favorite author.

That's, of course, depending on who we are. Everybody's a fanatic in some way, after all. For all I know, you buy Magic cards, watch The Lord of the Rings, or have a signed copy of Neil Gaiman's Smoke and Mirrors collection.

I should know. I play Legend of the Five Rings, catch Ghost in the Shell on the tube, and read Terry Pratchett whenever I can.

We all have things that we like, and chances are such that something, somewhere, is going to come around that we do not merely "like", but really, really love. It's probably part of the probability of the universe that we eventually come across something that we admire so much that we can do nothing else but hold it in a state of near-worship.

In hindsight, fanaticism isn't actually a question of the measure by which we can really love certain things, but more of a perception by others as to how much we love those things. Get a devout Harry Potter lover in a closed room and he won't necessarily think of himself as a fanatic. Lock up a neutral party in the same room, and that's inevitably when he's going to end up referring to the Rowling reader as "a Harry Potter fan".

In short, we're all fans. We're just not all fans of the same thing.

That, I figure, is why I keep running into Trekkies arguing over whether Kirk is better than Picard, or vice-versa.

I wonder if perhaps that's the same fuel that runs the argument over whether or not it's ethical to spoil the plot of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I've seen tempers flare simply because somebody could not keep the big secret to him- or herself.

Then again, it could merely be a case of the pro-spoilage / anti-spoilage argument this time. Or a case of overexcited readers who didn't see the bombshell that Rowling had coming.

Whatever the case, it's strictly between the fans. As long as they can leaf through something they love, then I suppose that they can have their fun.

Me? I'm still looking for that copy of Pratchett's Monstrous Regiment. :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Agent of The Man

Yup, the new button over there on the lower right area of this blog is for Abe Olandres's PinoyTopBlogs project. That effectively makes me a rebel, a traitor, and an agent of The Man.

Pinoy Top Blogs

That's not to say that Abe is The Man, though. In fact, he's about as far from The Man as possible. I only just met him yesterday, and it was via e-mail, too. He was remarkably straightforward regarding my questions; I would have expected The Man to be a lot more vague.

I'm probably starting to sound very confused at this point, so let me explain: It's been a loooooong day.

I try not to go through the effort of advertising this blog. I don't ask to get put on peoples' blogrolls, and I don't ask other people to link to me from their sites. I find the practice contemptuous, especially since I don't expect that everybody is going to find this blog worth reading.

In a sense, I would rather that people link to me on their own. I can assure you that getting an unsolicited referral feels even better than getting a good number of comments.

So, as you have probably guessed by now, signing myself up for a PinoyTopBlogs listing is a hugely uncharacteristic move for me. I've obviously gone nuts, wacko, and right off my rocker. Nothing, of course, is further than the truth -- which is that I was nuts, wacko and off my rocker to begin with. But that's beside the point.

Regardless of my personal beliefs, I have to give Abe Olandres some credit for spearheading this project. In the Philippines, the concept of a weblog is not quite as well-known as the concept of, say, a corporate website -- despite the fact that blogs are slowly being recognized as versatile online tools in other parts of the world. A blog can show insight into the lives of personalities, give credence to the day-to-day operations of a business, or provide both neutral and opinionated views of public and societal issues. It might even do all three.

That's where a centralized web site displaying what would literally be the most popular blogs would be helpful. It would show internet surfers exactly what people are reading and what people aren't. It would help identify and track trends in the Filipino internet environment. It would provide a scaleable venue for bloggers to meet and compare themselves to what other people are writing.

The only hitch I can think of at this time is that the popular blogs don't necessarily imply good reading. But then, I suppose that we need to drum up more user awareness more than we need to refine peoples' tastes.

That's why I've got that PinoyTopBlogs button down there. And if Abe Olandres's little experiment somehow results in more people reading my entries, then so much the better, I think. That'll mean that a lot of blogs out there are getting the increase in readership as well.

The only question, of course, is whether or not I'm continuing to be true to myself by pandering to the wishes of that great populist, The Man himself. I mean, I'm technically selling myself out, aren't I? Aren't I?

Aw, heck. Even The Man has to have his days sometimes.

Besides, his waiting room has a candy dish full of Gummi Bears. And you just can't say no to Gummi Bears. :)

The Suman Reunion

Dave just arrived home from a couple of days in his home province, so he and his four friends had to get together for a small reunion. For the event itself, Dave brought along something that they could all share: some of the best suman from his side of the world, forty-four pieces all in all.

The five of them met on a Saturday night, which meant that they were all rested up from their separate day jobs and ready to cut loose. The lawyer, for one, arrived wearing a green t-shirt, which got everyone remarking on how casual their meeting was. Rei wore a semi-formal blue dress for the evening, and the person wearing red got a lot of good-natured ribbing from the others on his choice of color.

There was a little discussion about their jobs at first. "I'm a programmer," Dave said as he ate, "and I'm content to stay where I am."

"You really need to aim higher, Dave," the manager said.

Dave's forty-four pieces of suman were all gone by the time the five friends finished their three-hour reunion. By then, everyone was stuffed - they had each eaten more than three pieces.

"I had two less pieces of suman than you did, right?" Celia asked the teacher.

"Yeah," said the person in the orange shirt, "but you had two more pieces than me."

Celia nodded. She hadn't eaten that much suman in one sitting before.

"Joe ate four times the the number of suman I ate," the person in the white shirt said. "He must be really hungry."

"Well, Sam only had six pieces," Dave said. "I was watching him."

Everyone was, of course, aware that the graphic artist among them had eaten the most pieces of suman. They had a good laugh over that.

The party broke up afterwards, as a number of people were looking to wake up early the next morning. They all noted that no two people had the same number of suman that evening, and that no one shared any single piece.


Yes, this is a puzzle, although there are no bragging rights or prizes associated with this one. I've actually adapted it from an existing logic puzzle, and I'm curious to see if it turns out to be more simple or more difficult than its source.

It might be interesting to identify a group of guidelines for logic puzzles in general. For instance, is there a minimum level of information that can be given to a reader yet still allow the puzzle to remain solveable? Does a solver derive more satisfaction from figuring out the entire setup, or should he only have to answer a single question? How complex can a logic puzzle be made without the reader losing interest and giving up?

While there are a lot of logic puzzles out there (heck, there are whole books on them), such guidelines might be worth considering when putting together an new breed of these stumpers. What if you had, say, a visual logic puzzle? Or a mental maze? Hmmm.

I'll have this on the back burner for the meantime, though. For now, I'll leave you with the scenario as given above. Who ate how many pieces of suman, wore which color clothes, and had which job?

The other suman post
The other other suman post
The other other other suman post
The other other other other suman post

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Antaria: Profile: Nesh'tuk of the Seeing Eye

Where the Tajikar tribes normally live in colonies concentrated around certain areas of the Antarian desert, the Seeing Eye shamans hold quite different arrangements. The more powerful Shamans live significantly far apart from each other, scattered across the Wastes, with their only companions being their apprentices and their personal servants.

Deep within the Tajik Wastes, isolated from even the more remote Tajikar settlements, lives Nesh'tuk -- chieftain of the Seeing Eye. While the Shamans do not have a formal grandmaster, no one would possibly dispute Nesh'tuk's hold on such a position.

Few outside the Seeing Eye tribe have actually seen Nesh'tuk. Those few that have seen her describe her as an impossibly old woman, twice bent over with the burden of years and the silver sheen of half-blind eyes. Those few that have seen her also describe the incredible power that lies within Nesh'tuk's form, a power only unleashed when the old chieftain battles the occasional monster nesting in the innermost part of the Wastes.

Nesh'tuk still accepts apprentices, although she is never seen teaching more than one would-be Shaman at a time. More than a few Seeing Eye tribesmen who come of age, in fact, cross the inner desert in the hopes of finding Nesh'tuk and coming under her tutelage. Few are successful, however, such that the ancient woman only receives one student every few years.

Nesh'tuk appears to have little regard for war or politics, and although many of her Seeing Eye brethren have joined the long-standing battles against the Allandrians, she herself will raise no hand in the conflict. It is obvious to most that she is not long for this world, though, and should Nesh'tuk one day take her last breath, her successor will mark his ascendance among the blood of the Tajikar's enemies.

Sunday, July 17, 2005


In all probability, there are few things more aggravating than having a perfectly-working computer and a busted keyboard to go along with it. I knew I should have picked up a model that was made somewhere other than China.

You might be wondering exactly how I'm typing this. Well, it turns out that Windows has this nice tool for mobility-challenged users: the On-Screen Keyboard. I'm actually clicking away at a little keyboard-like display on my screen in order to compose this entry.

That's not to say that the arrangement isn't problematic, though. I'm typ... er, clicking at about one-fourth of my normal speed. The "keyboard" takes up a good amount of space on screen, which means that I have to shift it around in order to see what I'm writing. And I can assure you that the inability to hold and press keys is more than a little inconvenient whenever I want to place certain things -- like capital letters.

At the moment, though, I'm being very thankful for my experience in touch-typing; Otherwise I would be hunting and pecking like an inexperienced user right now. I find it strange that such a skill has suddenly meant the difference between keeping silent and being able to write.

That's not to say that I won't be replacing the actual keyboard soon, though. My arm hasn't cramped this bad since the time I had that fourteen-hour exercise marathon. (Don't ask.)

If you're interested in trying out the On-Screen Keyboard, chances are that you'll find it under Accessories > Accessibility. That's only if you're using Windows, though; I have no idea as to whether or not other desktop interfaces have similar allowances.

In the meantime, I'm going to toy around with a keyboardless computer for a while. I wonder if I can still play a proper game of Warcraft, for example...

Thursday, July 14, 2005


One of the interesting things about blogging is that, if you do it just right for long enough, you're likely to gain a certain amount of influence and respect in the online world. Readers will leave comments. Writers will devote new articles to your posted meanderings. Sites will link to you, regardless of whether or not you're using those vanity-inducing RSS feeds.

But exactly whether or not you're able to maintain this degree of influence is another matter altogether. People will certainly offer you their attention as long as you keep posting your intelligent attempts at articles, yes -- but I don't care to assume that they will immediately offer you their respect just for those.

Respect, after all, is not given very easily. Respect has to be earned.

An online presence is not purely about logging into the Net and writing whatever you feel like writing. There is an additional factor that has to be considered, and that factor involves knowing that, even though you're logged on by yourself, there are about five hundred thousand people in the world who are just about as logged on as you are. You are not writing for the benefit of reading your own works or pandering to your own tastes. You are writing for other people.

You see that Comments option down there? The one underneath each and every article on this blog and others? Comments are the major form of reader attention: They show a writer that his works are being read, and that those works had enough impact to get statements from a member of the audience.

That is not to say, however, that all incoming comments are bound to be good. Readers are free to say whatever they darn well like in their notes, just as the blogger is free to say whatever he darn well wants in his posts. It is exactly how the writer deals with these comments, good or bad, subtle or direct, that formulates exactly how much respect he deserves.

Did you get a compliment? Then don't take it lying down; thank the reader. Did you get a piece of honest criticism? Then don't snap at it; give it a closer look and see if you can improve on that aspect. Did you get a stinging insult? Then don't go into full-blown retaliatory mode; sit down and bring things back to a rational discussion.

Writers don't earn respect by merely posting articles. They gain respect from the way they deal with people, from the way they associate with their readers, and from the way they handle a wide range of comments.

Some writers will not bother responding to readers' comments. Some writers will leap screaming, claws outstretched, at their supposed "critics". Some writers will even misrepresent themselves in order to create their own private world of self-praise. And sometimes these sad, sad people still dare to ask themselves why their reader base is constantly being eroded.

If you think that we're limiting ourselves to bloggers and comments, then think again. Regardless of what you do, people will look up to you based on your general behavior. They won't look up to you based on what you happen to scribble on some silly little internet journal, what you draw in some dumb comic, or what you write in some stupid little story. It'll get you their attention, yes, but you're going to have to work for their respect.

If an observant reader sends you an e-mail saying that he doesn't think much of your work, what do you do? Do you rip into him, claiming that you don't give a damn about his opinion because of how successful you are? Or do you just answer his statement peacefully, and acknowledge that he's perfectly welcome to have his own opinion?

If a newbie introduces himself in your group's discussion forum with a woefully illegible post, what do you do? Do you kick him out for utterly wasting your time? Or do you quietly guide him towards more substantial writings in the future?

If you hold a particular amount of dislike for a person you know, what do you do? Do you spread malicious rumors about them, hoping to get everyone on your side? Or do you willfully meet up with that person and attempt to sort things out?

Do you close yourself from other peoples' words, or do you acknowledge their ideas?

Do you wallow in your egocentrism, or do you reach into self-humility?

Do you insult, or do you apologize?

If you're going to want to earn some respect, then you have to start by respecting other people. You are not talking to hear the sound of your own voice. You are not writing for the privilege of being able to read your own work.

There is a saying that admonishes us to be nice to people on the way up, because they're the same people we'll be meeting on the way down.

But what I say is this: If you don't bother being civil to the people you meet, then for you, there is no other direction but down.

The Impending 14-Hour Difference

Sacha Chua -- geekette, model and writer -- is heading to the University of Toronto tomorrow morning, and she'll be settling there for two years in order to work on her graduate studies. Since that means that we won't be enjoying her physical presence till 2007, I'd like to say that we wish her all the best for the next twenty-four months.

That's not to say that I'm worried about her or our communication lines, though. There's always e-mail. There's always the chat clients. Heck, there's always the blogs.

You see, this blog owes its existence primarily to Sacha; particularly when she suggested it as a release for those writings that I never released for public consumption. Since then, I've found it to be an interesting tool for playing around with diverse concepts and meeting intelligent people. Technically, therefore, if you don't like this blog, you can blame her and not me. :)

Good luck, Sacha. Get over there and show 'em what we've got.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Kicking the Bucket

There is an interesting scene in the movie Patch Adams where Hunter Adams (Robin Williams) trades barbs with Bill Davis (Peter Coyote), an overly-hostile cancer patient. After a couple of tries where Adams regularly gets bedpans chucked at his head, he finally wins Davis over by inciting an exchange of death-related euphemisms. The scene got funny for a few seconds, if only because it revealed the wealth of creative expression that we have regarding certain subjects.

Three of the phrases that somehow got involved in their exchange were "Kick the Bucket", "Cash in One's Chips", and "Buy the Farm"; and they all have interesting origins:

Kick the Bucket - Pigs that were bled for slaughtering were often mounted (hanging upside-down by their hind legs) from a wooden crossbeam known as a buque. Eventually the term "buque" evolved into the slaughterhouse term "bucket", which meant that whenever the pigs struck the crossbeam during their death throes, they were effectively "kicking the bucket".

Cash in One's Chips - Casino setups are such that players must convert their money into chips or other similar tokens in order to gamble, and that they must exchange any remaining (and possibly excessive) chips for money once they are finished. To "cash in one's chips" therefore refers to the end of a gambling run, or may simply refer to a player giving up in order to cut his losses.

Buy the Farm - During the Second World War, each soldier in the United States Armed Forces was given a life insurance policy. Many of these soldiers came from country families who had mortgaged their farms as part of the struggle to survive the Great Depression, so whenever a soldier died in battle, his family would consequently spend the proceeds of the insurance payment in order to pay their mortgage - "buying the farm," so to speak.

The common theme between these three examples of phraseology (aside from the fact that they all refer to death) is that they came about as a result of creative observation, and eventually found their way into public usage while losing much of the story behind their origins.

Now, if we could apply the same principle to create some suman-centered expressions:

Eat it With the Wrapper On - Impatience, e.g. "Think clearly and take your time. Don't eat it when the wrapper's still on." No sane person, after all, would eat a piece of suman with the banana-leaf wrapper still tied.

Chocolate Suman - Luxury, e.g. "You could buy a lot of chocolate suman with that much money." While chocolate suman is not necessarily an expensive or high-profile delicacy, it represents the combination of traditional food (glutinous rice suman) with a semi-Western blend (yes, chocolate).

Swallow the Suman Whole - Taking too much at once, e.g. "When he showed up with an expensive set of golf clubs the day before he was to first set foot on the course, I knew he was swallowing the suman whole." It's possible to gulp down suman, I suppose, much as it's possible to gulp down hot dogs. The problem is that suman is sticky -- it doesn't go down as easily, and anyone who attempts to swallow it whole is likely to choke.

Suman Without Latik - Simple and plain, e.g. "As an uncomplicated man, he likes his suman without latik." There are a surprising number of people who prefer to eat their suman plain. Frankly, it's all about the taste, I suppose. You don't need garlic dip to eat potato chips.

To Write of Suman - The act of taking a relatively uninteresting topic and make it interesting, much like this little webring does:

A deer, a female deer
A drop of golden sun
A name I call myself

I dream, and I write of suman.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Antaria: the Shamans

Southern Antaria is home to two entities: A vast expanse of desert known as the Tajik Wastes, and the Tajik peoples who have roamed the dunes even before the fall of the Obsidian Empire. The Tajikar -- as they are known -- are divided into four tribes: the Savage Tooth, the Searing Claw, the Severed Ear, and the Seeing Eye.

Out of these four, only those Tajikar educated by the Seeing Eye tribe practice sorcery, although the presence of such Shamans was not known until they began traveling among the more "civilized" nations. Shaman magic itself is versatile in its applications, and startling in its effect. Its practitioners have been reported as being able to run at blinding speed, bore holes in stone walls, and withstand sword blows to their naked chests. There have even been stories of Seeing Eye tribesmen parting the waters of the sea, and of sixty-foot-tall Shamans building mountains, but these are almost certainly apocryphal.

While the Shamans are almost universally recognized as a sect of mages, their loyalty lies first and foremost with the Seeing Eye tribe and the Tajikar. Accomplished Shamans are accorded a great deal of respect by any tribesman, and many a Seeing Eye wanderer will return to their home in the Wastes only to find the trappings of socio-religious duty being imposed upon them.

Few among the general Antarian populace, for that matter, have actually met a Shaman. Many peasants look upon the Shamans as barbaric savages, which reflects an overly fabricated notion of the Tajikar tribes. Those who have dealt with Shamans outside the Wastes find them to be possessed of endless curiosity as well as a code of honor that, sadly, does not translate well to the more "civilized" norms.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Antaria: Prayers

Usha flew across the sands, watching as the ground beneath her melted into the scrubby underbrush that marked the start of the borderlands. Crystals of dust, quartz and bone whispered in waves alongside her body; Her spell was as graceful as it was effective.

Some distance from her, a small column of Tajikar warriors was engaged in that pinnacle of human existence, that bloody spectacle of might: Battle, and lots of it.

The border skirmishes had been going on for generations. Vast tracts of fertile ground dotted the area where Allandria and the Tajik Wastes met, and they were the primary source of what meager foods the Tajikar could coax from the barren earth. The Allandrians, for all their extensive forests, had little in the way of actual farmland to till, and were more than willing to spill blood over the same ground.

Usha spotted her fellow tribesmen easily. A small number of them stood apart from the main battle, kneeling over the wounded and the dead, and tearing the air with their cries to the Ancestors. She curved gracefully across the earth, landing near a large boulder and sprinting towards them to lend a hand.

"What news?" she asked the nearest one, an older woman in harsh tanned cloth.

"Scouts," Arach'ta answered, sweat beading on her forehead as she concentrated on her casting. "A small group. They gaze on us as vultures yet fight as devils."

"Surely Da'ar Moa'ggor would not occupy himself with a small band of scouts."

"Da'ar Moa'ggor is not here, little Usha," one of the other shamans interjected. "The Searing Claw tribe fights this battle, and they leave no enemies alive."

"The Searing Claw are fools, Maj'hrek," Arach'ta hissed, "To corner a man is to give him death's cold eyes."

As if to prove her point, a young man in the light armor of an Allandrian suddenly broke through the line of warriors nearest them. His face was bloodied in the red of both Allandrian and Tajikar, and he howled as he charged at the gathering of shamans.

Maj'hrek cursed, breaking the spell he was casting. He took one fearful step back, and stumbled upon a small mound of corpses. Before he could recover, the Allandrian was upon him.

The Allandrian scout aimed for the older shaman's chest, his blood-streaked blade whistling through the air. Usha, faster than the others, whispered a single prayer to the Ancestors, and the Allandrian's sword suddenly shattered against Maj'hrek's skin.

The Allandrian staggered back, shocked at what had just happened -- and that was all that Arach'ta needed. She lunged, bone dagger in hand.

"Arach'ta!" Usha cried, but by then it had already been done. The young Allandrian raised one wounded arm to attempt to ward off the blow, but Arach'ta easily tore the man's chest open with a single slash, and watched him die in agony.

"Maj'hrek," Arach'ta calmly said, as though her comrade were but an afterthought.

"I... am still whole," Maj'hrek said, getting to his feet. "Thank you, Usha."

Usha said nothing, listening as the sounds of nearby battle faded. The Searing Claw were true to their word about leaving no survivors. Here and there, however, more than a few of the shamans' fellow warriors lay in the dirt, their glazed eyes telling tales of their stunted lives.

"You would pity them, Usha?" Arach'ta asked. "They died well. They were worthy of the Ancestors' calling."

Usha nodded, although Arach'ta's words did not come clearly to heart. She tried to avoid looking at the dead Allandrian scout as she did so.

"Da'ar Moa'ggor marches this way," she finally said. "He brings reinforcements -- the runners, the siege-riders, and the children of the Savage Tooth."

"We know that Da'ar Sagarak shall be here in two days," Maj'hrek said, rubbing his chest, "and with his arrival, the four tribes shall be together once again."

Usha knew what that meant. The inward borderlands were dotted with makeshift fortresses constructed by the Allandrians. While a single Tajikar tribe was a force to behold, a gathering of the four tribes could sunder mountains... and just as easily storm one fortress after another.

The image of the dead Allandrian remained in Usha's mind, however. Would any of their crops yet grow on bloodied...

"You would rejoin them soon?" Arach'ta asked, almost startling her.

"Yes," Usha said, composing herself quickly. "Da'ar Moa'ggor only seeks words from the front."

"Tell Da'ar Moa'ggor that we have set a place for him," Arach'ta decided. "A place among the blood of his enemies."

Usha nodded. "Praise to the Ancestors, then."

"Praise to the Ancestors, Usha."

Usha walked away from them, away from the tribesmen picking through the dead and wounded, and broke into a run. She felt the arcane energies surge around her as she leapt into the air, and soon she was flying across the sands once again, leaving the blood, the corpses, and the loathsome specters of bone behind her.

Word Problems

There are 55 bags in front of you. Each bag is of a different color -- either red, blue and yellow -- and there is a number of stones inside each bag. The average number of stones per bag is 30 7/11 (i.e. thirty and seven-elevenths).

If you consider only the red and blue bags, they have an average of 27 stones per bag. If you consider only the blue and yellow bags, you have an average of 29 2/3 (i.e. twenty-nine and two-thirds) stones per bag. If you consider only the red and yellow bags, you have an average of 35 stones per bag.

If you add 21 stones to each red bag, the average number of stones for red and blue bags is 7 stones higher, and the average number of stones for red and yellow bags becomes 6 stones higher.

Given only this information, how many bags of each color are there? What is the average number of stones in the red bags alone? The blue bags alone? The yellow bags alone?

The above problem was paraphrased from a graduate-level refresher course. Let's get to work.

Define our variables as follows:

x = number of red bags
y = number of blue bags
z = number of yellow bags

a = total number of stones in all red bags
b = total number of stones in all blue bags
c = total number of stones in all yellow bags

Solving a set of equations in six variables tends to be a long and tedious process, so what we should really do is assign the variables now and try to cut them down through simplification.

We know that the total number of bags is 55:

x + y + z = 55

And we know that the average number of stones among all bags is 30 7/11:

(Total number of stones in all bags) / (Total number of bags) = 30 7/11 = 337/11
>> (a + b + c) / (x + y + z) = 337/11
>> (a + b + c) / 55 = 337/11
>> (a + b + c) = 1685

Okay, now the average number of stones among all red and blue bags is 27:

(Total number of stones in red and blue bags) / (Total red and blue bags) = 27
>> (a + b) / (x + y) = 27
>> (a + b) = 27 * (x + y)

Similarly, the average number of stones among all blue and yellow bags is 29 2/3:

(Total number of stones in blue and yellow bags) / (Total blue and yellow bags) = 29 2/3
>> (b + c) / (y + z) = 29 2/3 = 89/3
>> (b + c) = (89/3) * (y + z)

And the average number of stones among all red and yellow bags is 35:

(Total number of stones in red and yellow bags) / (Total red and yellow bags) = 35
>> (a + c) / (x + z) = 35
>> (a + c) = 35 * (x + z)

Adding all resultant equations gets us:

(a + b) + (b + c) + (a + c) = [27 * (x + y)] + [(89/3) * (y + z)] + [35 * (x + z)]
>> 2 * (a + b + c) = 27x + 27y + (89y/3) + (89z/3) + 35x + 35z
>> 2 * (1685) = (27 + 35)x + [27 + (89/3)]y + [(89/3) + 35]z
>> 3370 = 62x + (170/3)y + (194/3)z

Now if we added 21 stones to each red bag, then:

Total number of additional stones in red bags = 21x, where x is the number of red bags.
Total number of stones in red bags now = a + 21x

So now the average number of stones among all red and blue bags is 27 + 7 = 34:

(New total number of stones in red and blue bags) / (Total red and blue bags) = 34
>> (a + 21x + b) / (x + y) = 34
>> (a + 21x + b) = 34 * (x + y)
>> (a + b) = [34 * (x + y)] - 21x

And the new average number of stones among all red and yellow bags is 35 + 6 = 41:

(New total number of stones in red and yellow bags) / (Total red and yellow bags) = 41
>> (a + 21x + c) / (x + z) = 41
>> (a + 21x + c) = 41 * (x + z)
>> (a + c) = [41 * (x + z)] - 21x

The average number of stones among all blue and yellow bags remains the same as above, which results in the equation:
(b + c) = (89/3) * (y + z)

Adding all resultant equations gets us:

(a + b) + (b + c) + (a + c) = [34 * (x + y)] - 21x + [(89/3) * (y + z)] + [41 * (x + z)] - 21x
>> 2 * (a + b + c) = 34x + 34y - 21x + (89y/3) + (89z/3) + 41x + 41z - 21x
>> 2 * (1685) = (34 + 41 - 21 - 21)x + [34 + (89/3)]y + [(89/3) + 41]z
>> 3370 = 33x + (191/3)y + (212/3)z

This gives us the following three equations in three variables:

I: 55 = x + y + z
II: 3370 = 62x + (170/3)y + (194/3)z
III: 3370 = 33x + (191/3)y + (212/3)z

Eliminating x from equations I and II:

I: 55 = x + y + z
>> 3410 = 62x + 62y + 62z
>> 3410 = 62x + (186/3)y + (186/3)z
Subtracting II: 3370 = 62x + (170/3)y + (194/3)z:
>> 40 = (16/3)y - (8/3)z
>> 120 = 16y - 8z

Eliminating x from equations I and III:

I: 55 = x + y + z
>> 1815 = 33x + 33y + 33z
>> 1815 = 33x + (99/3)y + (99/3)z
Subtracting from III: 3370 = 33x + (191/3)y + (212/3)z:
>> 1555 = (92/3)y + (113/3)z
>> 4665 = 92y + 113z

This results in the following two equations in two variables:

IV: 120 = 16y - 8z
V: 4665 = 92y + 113z

Eliminating z:

IV: 120 = 16y - 8z
>> 13560 = 1808y - 904z
V: 4665 = 92y + 113z
>> 37320 = 736y + 904z
Adding IV and V together:
>> 50880 = 2544y
>> y = 20

Now that we know that y = 20, we can solve for z:

IV: 120 = 16y - 8z
>> 120 = 320 - 8z
>> 8z = 200
>> z = 25

And we can solve for x:

I: 55 = x + y + z
>> 55 = x + 20 + 25
>> x = 10

Now we need to find a, b, and c. Based on previous equations:

(a + b) = 27 * (x + y)
>> (a + b) = 27 * (10 + 20)
>> (a + b) = 810

(b + c) = (89/3) * (y + z)
>> (b + c) = (89/3) * (20 + 25)
>> (b + c) = (89/3) * (45)
>> (b + c) = 1335

(a + c) = 35 * (x + z)
>> (a + c) = 35 * (10 + 25)
>> (a + c) = 1225

Thus three variables in three equations once more:

I: 810 = (a + b)
II: 1335 = (b + c)
III: 1225 = (a + c)

We can eliminate c by subtracting III from II:

110 = b - a

Then eliminate a by adding this with equation I:

920 = 2b
>> b = 460

Now that we know that b = 460, we can solve for a:

I: 810 = (a + b)
>> 810 = (a + 460)
>> a = 350

And we can solve for c:

II: 1335 = (b + c)
>> 1335 = (460 + c)
>> c = 875

Therefore, there are 10 red bags, 20 blue bags, and 25 yellow bags.

The average among red bags is (a/x) = (350/10) = 35 stones.
The average among blue bags is (b/y) = (460/20) = 23 stones.
The average among yellow bags in (c/z) = (875/25) = 35 stones.



I still remember how to do all this, it seems. :)

Friday, July 08, 2005


Dear Sir (or Madam):

Despite the urgency of our pre-arranged schedule, I regret to say that we cannot provide our agreed requirements this evening. It appears that there is a large rally taking place in our immediate vicinity, and in the interests of safety, I am currently recommending that all our staff members return home.

We have, however, uploaded a number of pages for your review this weekend. This should include a sample of your display, content and animation requirements. In addition to these, I shall be testing the site's load time on a dial-up connection once I arrive at a secure location.

We shall resume work on Monday next week, and shall have the full site up by evening on the same day for your full review.

I apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause. Please inform me if you have any issues with the staging site so that we may resolve these on Monday as well.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Thanks for the Memories

Ever seen those cheap mechanical pencils that come in bright colors of plastic, and which retail for about 40 to 60 pesos (about USD 1.00) over here? Well, I had been carrying one around for almost two years now.

Last night, as I was hurrying to a little gathering with Clair, Marcelle and JM, the end-cap of my mechanical pencil came off. You know -- it's that little plastic thing that covers the cheap eraser stuck to the non-writing end of the device. The problem was that I was coming out of an ATM partition at the time, and in the two seconds I needed to realize that I had lost the cap, the wind and the rain had already claimed it. I cursed.

Every now and then we get attached to a little personal item that we seem to use all the time. Maybe it's a worn notebook or a sketch pad. Maybe it's a cellphone, or a wristwatch. Maybe it's that digital camera you bring around to interesting events, or your three-year-old rubber shoes. For me, it happened to be this cheap mechanical pencil. We'd been through a lot together, after all.

While the pencil was still usable even without the cap, the eraser at the end was now exposed to the elements. I knew that the tiny sliver of rubber would be rotting away within a couple of months, preventing me from ever refilling the pencil lead again. So whether I liked it or not, my favorite little pencil was now effectively useless.

It was an easy matter to trot over to the nearest bookstore and purchase a new mechanical pencil. (43 pesos, for anyone who's interested.) I made sure to pick a model where the end-cap looked as though it had been tightly screwed on.

But then there was the matter of how to retire the previous pencil properly. I believe that most people are more practical in this regard, because it's easy enough to just throw the old thing away. It would probably make even better sense to sell or hand down such old favorites so that they can live out their last days in the tranquility of usefulness.

This was a mechanical pencil, though. It made little sense for me to hand it down to people who had access to even better writing or drawing implements, and it made even less sense for me to sell it and expect more than two paper clips and a bit of used gum in return. The only way to resolve the situation was to simply throw it away.

Unfortunately, I seem to become an impractical person in the worst of circumstances, because I actually wrapped it up in a small package of paper and let it rest on one of the shelves in my room. The mechanical pencil had served me well for almost two years, and there are some memories that should really be repaid, I think.

Besides, it's got a lot of stuff up there that can keep it company. My old college notebooks are there, for one, and my completed sketch pads, and all the old books I have with the pages torn out.

Right now, I've got a brand-new mechanical pencil resting in my pocket. I'm expecting it to last about as long as its predecessors, or at least long enough to give me some good memories. One day, years from now, this pencil will also fail and die like much everything does, and I'll be putting it to rest with full honors.


I'm such a sappy romantic sometimes.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005


1. There's a piece of suman in front of you. If you eat it, go to 14. If you inspect it first, go to 6.

2. You manage to find a clean spoon lying around somewhere, but no fork. Oh, well... a spoon is just as good anyway... or is it?If you still want to look for a fork, go to 12. If you think that a spoon will do just as well, head to 4 instead.

3. You grab what's left of the sticky banana-leaf wrapper, now lying forlorn and discarded next to your plate. You can't remember where the wastebasket is, though; Seems that you have to hunt for it. Walk around and find one first before you head to 13.

4. Now it's time to eat! You dig your spoon into the sticky surface of the suman, feeling a little apprehensive and a lot anxious at the same time. But all of that disappears once you get the first bite in your mouth. Hmmmmm... go to 25.

5. After only a few thoughtful bites, the suman is half gone, and the initial feeling of exultation has passed. The glutinous rice is starting to feel heavy in the pit of your stomach, and you wonder if perhaps there was too much sweetness in it when you started. If you would prefer to leave the rest of the suman untouched, go to 17. If you think you should just finish eating it, go to 24.

6. You run one hand along the shiny banana-leaf wrapping and caress the sticky treat within. Your mouth waters at the thought of the sweet, sumptuous meal before you. If you unwrap the suman, go to 8. If you continue to admire the suman from where you stand, go to 11.

7. Well, at least you're content. You savor the fact that you did just have a nice meal. Go to 21.

8. You unwrap the suman, being careful to keep it intact. (There's just something dissatisfying about having to eat a piece of suman that's in two pieces.) Go to 16.

9. First you pour the sauce, dropping just enough for the thick, syrupy liquid to form a small pool around the mass of glutinous rice. Naturally that's not enough for you, so you sprinkle a little bit of sugar on top... and a little more... and a little more... oops. Go to20.

10. You stare at the empty plate for the longest time. Maybe you shouldn't have gone through that piece of suman so fast. I mean, it's not that you feel sorry for the poor suman, but now you feel so... empty. Go to 22 and see if you feel better there.

11. You run your hands along the smooth surface of the suman latik once more, although without actually unwrapping it further, there's not much else to observe. Jump to 16.

12. You pull out a couple of kitchen drawers before you find a fork. Who keeps hiding all the forks, anyway? There's never one around when you need it. Now head back to the table at 13.

13. You finally return to the table, sit before your nice little plate, and... the suman is gone! The suman is gone! Now what kind of rat fink would... oh, wait, it's your older brother. And he's lots bigger than you, too. Aw, he can have it; It's not worth getting wedgied over. You might as well go back to 1 and get another piece...

14. You grip the piece of suman in one hand like one of the primitives, and take a huge bite. You take a few chews before you realize that you haven't unwrapped it from its banana-leaf cover yet, and almost choke on that fact. Start all over again at 1.

15. Err... go to 26.

16. Now the suman before you is unwrapped, and you lay it upon the plate, ready to eat. You feel like you're missing something... but what? If you think you need a fork, go to 18. If you'd like to have some sauce, go to 9. If you think you should clean up the mess first, go to 3. Or you could just ignore everything and eat the darn thing by heading to 23.

17. Aw, come on. Children are starving in Africa, and you leave a piece of suman on the table like that? Shame on you... go to 24!

18. Well, if you're going to eat this piece of suman, you might as well do it right. You hunt around for a table fork, and... where is that table fork, anyway? Go to 2.

19. You finally finish, slumping back into your chair in mild contentment. The plate is now empty, and grains of glutinous rice are everywhere. In a daze, you wonder if you should clean up, but you're too contented to do so. But maybe contented isn't the right word... perhaps you should head to 10.

20. Well, you've overdone it a little, but at least the suman still looks pretty mouth-watering. Of course, with all the sauce and the sugar, eating your meal without a fork is going to be a rather messy affair. If you'd prefer a fork at this point, go to 18. If you think that you've delayed enough and you just want to eat the darn thing, go to 23.

21. So now here you are, staring at an empty plate, secure in your contentment. But you do make a mental note to look for a fork next time. Go to 27.

22. Nope. You still feel empty. Go to 15.

23. Aw, who cares about the sauce? And who needs a fork, for that matter? You pounce on the tiny piece of suman, rending and tearing at it like a wild animal. Loose grains of rice fill the air amidst sounds of barbaric chomping and chewing. You only barely stop yourself from biting into the plate. Go to 19.

24. You slog through the rest of the suman latik, and once the last piece goes down your throat and into your stomach, you lean back in your chair and sigh in contentment. Go to 21.

25. You chew thoughtfully, savoring the sweetness. You probably won't be eating this again for some time, so you might as well make the moment last. Soon enough the first bite feels like sawdust in your mouth, and that only tells you that it's time for the next spoonful. Go to 5.

26. No, nothing yet. It's your fault, after all -- why'd you have to eat that piece of suman so fast, anyway? Go to 7.

27. Too bad the suman latik's gone now. You'd really like another piece right now. Go to 28.

28. Oh, what the hey. You reach for another bundle. Go to 1.


Monday, July 04, 2005

When You Look Into the Abyss

This'll be my last word on the subject for a while; It's not exactly a topic that one should dwell on for too long.

I ran into the Alignment Quiz somewhere around January this year. Seeing that I don't usually take casual psychological tests like these, I contented myself with observing how other people handled the quiz, and what results they got for themselves. You're welcome to give it a try yourself -- just click on the link above. It'll probably take only five to ten minutes of your precious time.

What result did you get? Lawful Good? Neutral Good? Chaotic Good? Perhaps Lawful Neutral?

I don't suppose that you got an Evil alignment, did you?

No, I suppose not.

That, I figure, is a fundamental flaw in the psychology of the test: The questions aren't quite neutral by themselves. Let's take question number 12 on the quiz, for example: "I don't mind using people to hurt others." Would you agree or disagree with this one?

I'm betting that you'd probably immediately disagree with it to some level. Does the question imply that you would be willing to hurt others, or does the question imply that you would be willing to use others for your own malicious purposes? On the surface, there is no positive way by which the question can be interpreted. Thus you disagree. You're not that kind of person.

Now, here's an additional wrinkle: Why?

Throw "Why?" into the equation, and you get something different. You get a fuller range of understanding, a method by which you can explain your tendencies with regards to the question itself. I mean, why would you use people to hurt others?

Maybe it's because you don't think much of using those people to begin with.

Maybe it's because those others hurt you in some way, and you want to hurt them right back.

Maybe it's because you've realized that it's the most efficient, or the most appropriate way by which you can hurt those "others".

Throw "Why?" into your line of thought, and more than a few people will realize that perhaps they agree with the statement after all.

Sadly, not many test-takers seem to have long enough attention spans to pursue this line of thought... and I believe that that flaws the test to begin with. We know for sure that there must be good and evil people in the world, and yet the immediate results we get from this test seem to be lopsided in favor of the Good alignments.

A man can -- and will -- perform evil acts as long as he believes that these are justified. What is perhaps even more terrifying about this idea is that the same man can still consider himself to be perfectly good on the surface.

We humans can be funny sometimes. No matter who we are or how others think of us, we like to see ourselves as justified. Maybe not moral, maybe not ethical, but justified.

A man will take a gun and kill a four-year-old boy because he thinks he's justified in doing so. The noisy kite-flying boy, after all, woke him up from what would have been a good nap.

A woman will accuse an innocent co-worker of embezzling office funds because she thinks she's justified in doing so. The co-worker, after all, was recently promoted to the position that was supposed to be hers.

A man will harass a young woman with lewd remarks and then force her into violent, nonconsensual sex because he thinks he's justified in doing so. The young woman usually dresses in provocative clothes, after all, so she must have been asking for it.

Justification does not imply morality, but we continue to exchange the two as though it were nothing at all. "The end justifies the means," some say. Exitus acta probat.

Quotable hogwash.

Look into yourselves. Look at who you are, what you do, how you act. Look at why.

The quiz says that you're Good. People say that you're Good. You think that you're Good.

But are you really?

Friday, July 01, 2005

Of Rallies and Revolutions

Yes, yes, I know: No political commentary here. There are plenty of other blogs that offer it, after all. (Some of them are pretty good. You should read them.)

Bearing in mind the current political state of the Philippines, I would be amiss if I refused to mention these matters in this blog. I would prefer not to lapse into political discussion here, though, no matter how strongly I may feel about what's going on.

So I'll just tell a story.

You see, in mid-January 2001, the state of the Philippines was at a distinct low. The country's economy had been adversely affected by political corruption, ineffective government policy and the recent Asian Currency Crisis. To make matters worse, various sources accused Joseph Estrada, then President of the Philippines, as the source of a number of these corruptive elements -- in particular an illegal numbers game that operated in many provinces.

Then-President Estrada was eventually called to trial, a massive televised event that became a regular spectacle for any Filipino with access to a TV. The prosecution and the defense literally represented some of the finest government lawyers in the country, and the case was heard by the Philippines' own gathering of senators. This trial, however, was flawed by the associations of the esteemed senators for one side or another; When the erstwhile "judges" voted not to open what many viewed as a critical piece of evidence, the prosecution lawyers walked out of the courtroom and the people took to the streets.

Around the third week of January, I had been working for less than three months as the project manager of a small web development company. The street demonstrations were more of an irritation to me than they were a serious consideration; With a company that was less than a year old, after all, the quality and consistency of our work was going to determine whether or not we were going to survive in the coming months.

The employees had a constant habit of leaving earlier than usual then. They either wanted to join the rallies, or they had relatives or friends who had joined the rallies, or they just wanted to get home before the traffic became unbearable because of the rallies. My boss and I agreed to these requests on the condition that the staff file them well in advance, and thus we continued our work in the face of growing political instability. Eventually my boss himself would join the rallies, leaving me to 'hold the fort' for the waning hours of each day, as it was.

On the morning of January 18, I woke up early, got dressed, and went to work. I noticed a good-sized wall of people walking along the main EDSA thoroughfare, although I didn't think much of it at the time. (Yes, I was sleepy.)

I found the office empty when I arrived at 8:00 am, when there should have already been at least one or two people hanging around at that time. Having nothing to do, I pulled up an online newspaper, read about how the rallies had suddenly grown in terms of size and ferocity after the walkout, and waited for the other staff members to arrive.

By 10:00 am, I was still the only person in the office. The phone rang, and I answered it to find one of our web designers on the other end:

"Sean, you went to work?"

"Yeah. I mean, it's still a weekday, right?"

"But everyone's in the streets!"

I told him that he didn't have to come to work if he felt threatened by the crowds. Then I put the phone down and settled back in my chair for what looked to be a looooong day of waiting.

The phone rang only one more time that day, at around 11:00 am. It was our France-Hong Kong client, and he was calling to ask if we could submit any studies for his current project on that same day:

"'Allo? Sèan? Could you submit today?"

I took a look out the window and saw only the empty street in front of my office. "Er... I don't think we can submit anything today, sir. No one's in the office right now."

"'Allo? Why? Is it a holiday?"

"Ah... not really, sir."

"So... why is it you cannot submit anything today, Sèan?"

"Ah... we're kind of in the middle of a revolution at the moment, sir."

He laughed and told me that it was okay... he would be expecting something by the end of the week instead.

Sometimes I still wonder if he believed me.

If you happened to be out in the streets on the morning of that same day, you'll probably remember that Estrada finally acceded to the peoples' wishes and left the Presidential Palace somewhere around midday. At that time, I was kicking my heels in my solitary workspace, reloading websites every two minutes and just hoping that the strangest workday of my life would finally end.

That's my story, everyone. On the day that the people raised their voices in the streets and toppled a president, I went to work.

Just like that, yes: I went to work.

The small web development company I work in is still a small web development company, only we've survived long enough to get the big clients now. In fact, I've been its project manager for almost five years, and most of the colleagues I've worked with on that cold day in January have since up and left. Joseph Estrada still languishes in privileged imprisonment, still saying that he was cheated of his presidency.

This afternoon, it took me almost an hour to walk to a client's office and almost an hour to get back. Some of the major streets were cordoned off, and the major underpasses closed. Somewhere in the distance, a throng of people gathered to chant slogans against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the way that she had allegedly cheated them of their votes last year.

I'm told that these current rallies continue long into the evening, and make the traffic particularly unbearable. My staff, though, is perfectly welcome to leave the office earlier than usual -- as long as they notify me well in advance, of course.

Perhaps these rallies will soon gather enough people to topple the presidency once again. Perhaps these rallies will eventually peter out, and we'll all return to our previous existences. I don't know, and I don't presume to know right now.

All I know is that, when that change comes, I'll be going to work.

You'll find me there. You can always just put down your banner, stop by, and say hello. We'll have a nice cup of tea, and we'll talk about the weather or something like that.

After all, somebody's got to hold the fort.

Disclaimer: July 2005


What, is it the first of July already?

We just barely got past June, after all. It's been a nasty, emotional month for a lot of people, what with both personal and political situations flying around. (Maybe not as much for me, because it's probably a common fact that Sean doesn't access the wide range of emotions to begin with. Ain't it nice judging books by their covers?)


I've been accessing a lot of artists' sites recently. Artists seem to get excellent return for their effort: In addition to the fact that it's a lot easier for people to look at art than it is for them to read an overly long piece of writing, it's a lot more difficult to plagiarize art than it is to steal somebody else's words.

Somebody passes off a piece of art as their own, and it's easy to call them on it. Somebody passes off a piece of writing as their own, and elders everywhere have to admit that there is even the slightest possibility that the composition is authentic. Sometimes the elders turn out not to care, as events in the last year have shown a number of international writers. It's only writing, after all -- how much effort could these people possibly put into it?

But we writers know exactly when somebody steals one of our babies. We're not quite grizzly about it, but we can come pretty close; You do not want to see an angry writer when you have stolen one of his children.

To all readers of this blog, I give my assurance that everything written here is a completely original work. Works from outside sources may be quoted, referenced or parodied in certain instances, in which case the appropriate notes and sources are always attached. In the event that a dispute arises regarding the reference to an already-written item, I am only too happy to negotiate for its presence in this blog.

My posting of these articles in a public forum legally constitutes informal copyright, which means that anyone who steals any of these and passes them off as their own gives me license to come over to their house and tar-and-feather them. Well, maybe not the tarring-and-feathering, but I do get to sic the lawyers on them, which will make them wish they were running around with the chicken look.

In short, plagiarists: You take my words, I take your eyes.

Have a nice day.