Wednesday, August 31, 2005

There is No Suman in This Post

Agh. It's Wednesday again.

I don't feel like writing about suman today. For some reason, I feel like writing about baby turtles. Why I suddenly feel like writing about baby turtles, I don't know.

Sometimes, however, a man has to swallow his pride and just write what he's supposed to write. Free inspiration and ideas are all well and good, but we shouldn't let ourselves dictate what to write all the time.

Looking back on everything, I realize that this marks my 15th post for the Suman Latik Web Ring. I've counted my previous articles just to make sure:
Three Panels
Scum and Villainy
Stop Looking at My Chest
...And Demons, Too!
Union Negotiations
Turning the Worm
Kicking the Bucket
The Suman Reunion
Rice Essay
The Art of Writing Without Writing
The Google Files
Building a Better... er... Something
Avenues of Description

In retrospect, that's a pretty motley collection of titles. I'm surprised that I've been coming up with combinations of words like these for fifteen weeks now.

This list of titles brings to mind other lists of titles, most notably those of television series whose storylines I follow. (I don't know why I do this either, really. I don't even watch TV regularly.) Here's the set of episode titles from the first season of The X-Files, for example:
The Pilot
Deep Throat
The Jersey Devil
Ghost in the Machine
Fallen Angel
Beyond the Sea
Young at Heart
Miracle Man
Darkness Falls
Born Again
The Erlenmeyer Flask

I don't know about you, but there's some sort of fascination in seeing all those titles clumped up in one place.

I have quite a bit of respect for the X-Files series, actually. You'll notice that most of the titles for their first season are composed of one word only; Those titles are a testament to their writers' ability to compress an entire episode's basic plotline into the shortest introduction possible. In addition, the multiple-word titles are fairly well-known dramatic phrases -- while they don't compress ideas as well as the single-word titles do, they give a sense of familiarity to anyone reading them for the first time.

Let's try this again, shall we? This time, let me grab something from The Simpsons:
Treehouse of Horror VII
You Only Move Twice
The Homer They Fall
Burns Baby Burns
Bart After Dark
A Milhouse Divided
Lisa's Date With Density
Hurricane Neddy
El Viaje Misterioso De Nuestro Homer (a.k.a. The Mysterious Voyage of Our Homer)
The Springfield Files
The Twisted World of Marge Simpson
Mountain of Madness
Simpsoncalifragilisticexpiala-(annoyed grunt)-cious
The Itchy & Scratchy & Poochie Show
Homer's Phobia
Brother From Another Series
My Sister, My Sitter
Homer vs. The 18th Amendment
Grade School Confidential
The Canine Mutiny
The Old Man and the Lisa
In Marge We Trust
Homer's Enemy
Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase
The Secret War of Lisa Simpson

One of the things about The Simpsons is that their titles seem to get more creative with every new season; This list is from their eighth. The Simpsons seems to take its cue from popular phrases, sayings, movie titles, book titles, even self-references (with my personal favorite being the Ned-Flanders-themed Alone Again, Nautra-Diddly.) That, and the series is pretty good, too. :)

Sometimes I wonder if the style is done deliberately. I mean, did the creative directors of the X-Files specifically target single-word titles? Did the producers of The Simpsons only approve names that poked fun at pop culture?

I don't know, really. But they had some interesting results, right? It's funny how one can get all of those titles from a single theme.

In the same way, I suppose, it's funny how we can get such a diverse range of topics that even so much as remotely touch on suman latik. It's as though the presence of a single set topic, even one that we may not feel like writing about, can inspire us to produce works that are beyond what we normally write.

If anything, we've come a long way from that day in the University of the Philippines where Dean Alfar raised an intriguing example about mundane blog posts. Yeah, I think we've made our point fairly clear in the course of the last three months.

So... can I write about baby turtles now?

Oh, good. Thanks.

Suman versus Latikman

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Antaria: The Thanatai

Although recognized as a legitimate sect of mages, the Thanatai suffer a very negative reputation for their research and practices. While they may be as scholarly or influential as they please, no ethical person would favor their ability to raise the dead.

The Thanatai, however, are a reserved and pragmatic sect. If the soul disappears upon death, they ask, then what use is there for the empty shell that it once called a body? The Thanatai thus see corpses as tools -- discarded husks that are obviously no longer needed by their owners. The undead that they raise are quite easily put to work as servants, valets, or even fodder for the outraged mobs that seek their destruction.

In their studies of death and its circumstances, the Thanatai have learned much beyond the raising of corpses as well. They have learned to replicate the aspects of death in beings, and they have learned magics that steal life and breath to sustain their own aging bodies. Their greatest achievement, however, lies in searching the barrier that falls between the tangible world and the abyssal void... and acquiring a sight that allows them to catch glimpses of future events.

Regardless of their achievements, the Thanatai are almost universally hunted and executed across Antaria. Their persecution has forced their mages to hide among the populace, and to take refuge in isolated strongholds for their own protection. Very few Thanatai live in the open, and those who do so are constantly suspected of the most vile crimes.

The Thanatai themselves remain reserved and pragmatic. In their own way, they have realized more of the forces around them. If their peers would choose to reject their findings on the basis of stereotypical belief, then perhaps they were not worthy of such knowledge in the first place.

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Persistence of the Tale

Long, long week.

Lots of work. Our accounts manager resigned a few days ago, and I have more than a few projects to wrap up, and we're preparing for a company merger next month, and, well... more work for me.

I've been reading a lot more as of late. I recently located my long-lost copies of Roald Dahl's My Uncle Oswald and Harry Lorayne's Memory Book, and spent a couple of convenient evenings devouring their contents. There's a certain attractive quality in reading a book that you haven't seen in a long time, really.

Occasionally I do the same with short stories. Every now and then, the title of an old favorite will come to mind, and I'll spend the next few minutes searching for a copy of that short story on the Internet. Sometimes I'm successful, and I spend the next thirty minutes perusing each and every word of the glorious past. Sometimes I don't find anything, in which case I either go through the stacks of cardboard and paper in my room, or sit down and wait for the silly thing to become a classic. It's tough, trying to find and reread the short stories you really liked.

Heck, we all have stories that we like. Short stories, anecdotes, parables, fables, fairy tales... they play inevitable parts in our lives, I think. If we don't have memories of our parents telling us bedtime stories, then we're listening to the practical lessons in priests' homilies or picking up the occasional long-winded joke on the late-night talk shows. Our whole lives are one huge collection of stories.

I'm going to be vain today and share a few of my favorites here. Most people will only recognize some of the titles, if they recognize any at all. This is probably because I tend to stay away from the really popular stuff and instead go for the underdogs; You can find quite a few hidden treasures when you pick through the stuff that most people overlook.

I've linked to readable online versions of the stories where they're available, but I've included a bit of exposition for everything anyway:

The Scorpion and the Frog (L5R version; Author Unknown)
People know this fable: A scorpion and a frog come to a river. The scorpion asks the frog to carry him across the river. The frog refuses, because he's afraid that the scorpion will sting him. Yadda yadda yadda... you've probably heard this story already.

What you probably haven't heard, however, is a slightly revised version of the fable as only the Legend of the Five Rings setting can describe it. This retold tale only appeared in The Way of the Scorpion RPG book, but has quickly passed into player lore. In fact, some quarters will not even recognize you as an L5R player if you haven't read this story yet.

If you do manage to get your hands on a copy of the story, I strongly recommend that you read it to the end no matter what. The ending tends to raise quite a few eyebrows, and is a deep testament to the power of villainy in even the worst situations. What makes it all interesting is the fact that it all takes place in three little words...

The Monkey's Paw (W. W. Jacobs)
This short story dates all the way back to 1902, and seems to be a favorite of English teachers. I myself first encountered a copy of this story when I was 12; While the narrative has admittedly lost a bit of its charm for me since then, I still think that the main plotline is excellent. I have a long-standing dream of reading this story aloud to a small audience, in fact.

What I find interesting is that this story seems to be the forerunner of its own subgenre within the realms of suspense fiction: "Blessing becomes curse". Still, the original story maintains a good amount of dignity by itself. I learned quite a few things about mood from this story's approach alone.

The Jaunt (Stephen King)
Sadly, this story is only available in Stephen King's Skeleton Crew short story collection. But it happens to be one of the author's few science-fiction stories, and it's a very memorable one at that.

What The Jaunt really does is scare the crap out of you, and I know that few science-fiction stories can lay claim to that distinction. What makes this one unique is that it doesn't scare you by means of monsters, or by buckets of gore, or even by morbid atmosphere. It doesn't scare you with shock value, and it doesn't scare you with a look inside the heart of human evil. The Jaunt just gives you a setting -- a theoretically possible setting -- and lets you scare yourself.

Incredible stuff, once you think about it. Ask me to tell the story sometime. :)

Where Love Is, God Is (Leo Tolstoy)
Okay, okay... no more morbid tales. I know that Tolstoy happens to be one of the most long-winded writers in human history, but that doesn't stop me from enjoying some of his works. Darn you, Leo Tolstoy.

Tolstoy actually has other short stories that are more well-known. God Sees the Truth But Waits is a classic, and How Much Land Does a Man Need? frequently makes it to lessons on ethics. But although this short story tends to get overlooked in the face of the more popular ones, I find this to be an excellent treatise on man's better nature. If anything, it teaches a very beautiful lesson that many of us may have long forgotten.

The Last Question (Isaac Asimov)
I was first given a (xeroxed) copy of this short story by a friend in college, and I've kept the gift ever since. I will go as far as saying that this illustrates the pinnacle of science-fiction in a short-story format, and I am certain that a lot of familiar readers will agree with me.

For that matter, this seems to be a long-standing favorite of many science-fiction readers (including Asimov himself). The ending is as smooth and as remarkable as you can possibly get in a story, one that will immediately cause you to break into a smile at the very realization of the idea. In fact, the ending is so memorable that most readers actually forget the title in favor of remembering the climax.

I'm certain that I have a lot more than five favorites among the short stories I've read, but I have to admit that these are literally the first items that come to mind. And I figure that, if anything makes such a great impression that it tends to stick out in your head afterwards, then it's worth remembering when you're a little older, and it's worth sharing with the people you know.

For that matter, if I ever have kids, then I'm going to resolve to read them these stories sometime. One of the qualities of an excellent story, now that I think about it, is that you must fail to keep it to yourself. :)

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Avenues of Description

Suman is a suman is a suman, is a suman.

This marks the 14th consecutive post I've written for the Suman Latik webring, I think. I keep telling myself that I'll stop any day now, but as everyone can see, I'm still writing.

Sometimes I wonder if I'll ever run out of words to describe suman. Assuming that my posts run at an average of one thousand words each, then that effectively means that I have thirteen thousand words that I have to top for this week. A good chunk of that obviously goes into direct referrals towards the rice delicacy.

Back in high school, one of the first lessons I learned about writing was that you can't continually refer to the same subject multiple times using the same word or phrase. The narration becomes awkward in such a treatment, seeing that it's tantamount to driving the same word into the reader's head over and over again.

Imagine, for example, a paragraph that goes as follows:

I'm not sure whether or not suman latik is healthy to begin with. I mean, just the look of suman latik alone makes you wonder if it's going to clog your arteries or get stuck in your throat. Suman latik is made out of rice to begin with, which means that we're talking large amounts of carbohydrates whenever we ingest a suman latik meal. There's no scientific proof that suman latik has any immediate or long-term health benefits, so for all we know, suman latik may just be one of those many foods that shorten our life spans.

Ugh. I don't know about you, but that looks somewhat off-kilter to me. I'd rather drive concepts into the reader's head, as opposed to singular words or phrases.

Usually I have three different approaches to prevent this from happening. In hindsight, I figure that I've all of them extensively on this blog:

1. Straight description.
I tend to favor dialogue over straight description, but I still believe that this is probably the easiest approach. A good introductory description will get an image stuck to the reader's head regarding a specific object, and if it's done right, then I think that the impact of future continual references gets minimized. In fact, from the moment the image gets visualized, we can theoretically make vague or subtle references to the subject at hand:

The issue with most delicacies, I think, is that we choose to ignore any possible health ramifications in favor of cultural enjoyment. Let's take suman latik, for example. Suman latik, to begin with, is a tube or package of glutinous rice flavored with salt, pepper and/or sugar. It is usually eaten with a special coconut sauce ("latik"), and wrapped in banana leaves for storage.

I'm not sure whether or not suman latik is healthy to begin with. I mean, just the look of the column of rice alone makes you wonder if it's going to clog your arteries or get stuck in your throat. To be sure, we're talking large amounts of carbohydrates whenever we ingest one of those glutinous meals. There's no scientific proof that the banana-wrapped delicacy has any immediate or long-term health benefits, so for all we know, it may just be one of those many foods that shorten our life spans.

The problem with this approach is that straight description tends to lengthen a narrative. While I can see its virtues with regards to, say, a five-thousand-word requirement for literary submissions, there's always the possibility of driving more than a few readers mad with boredom.

2. Analogy.
I love analogy. Analogy -- similes, metaphors, personifications, what have you -- is similar to straight description in that it places an image in the reader's head. It may not be an altogether accurate image, but all that you need to do is access at least one aspect of comparison anyway. Once the reader has an inkling of what you're talking about, then they should be able to connect any future reference to that original comparison.

The issue with most delicacies, I think, is that we choose to ignore any possible health ramifications in favor of cultural enjoyment. Suman latik, that wholesome Filipino rice delicacy, is a lot like escargot in this way: It doesn't look very healthy to begin with, it's got a high amount of carbohydrates, and we have little or no idea as to what health benefits it might have. Yet the French elite continue to consume escargot, just as we continue to eat suman.

Yeah, escargot isn't the best of analogies, but it'll do for this example.

The issue with analogies, of course, is that they only touch on a few aspects of the subject. What's more, I think that it's too easy for the reader to look at the comparison itself, as opposed to looking at the subject to begin with. You're not looking at suman latik, in a way. You're looking at what suman latik has in common with escargot.

3. Subtle reference.
I use this a lot, and I find it strangely easy. It's just a question of finding multiple references to the subject at hand without discussing it to begin with. This places a heavier burden on the reader, since he or she is going to have to know what I'm talking about when it comes to the detailed explanation:

I'm not sure whether or not suman latik is healthy to begin with. I mean, just the look of the stuff alone makes you wonder if it's going to clog your arteries or get stuck in your throat. Suman latik is made out of rice to begin with, which means that we're talking large amounts of carbohydrates whenever we ingest one of those glutinous-rice meals. There's no scientific proof that glutinous rice has any immediate or long-term health benefits, so for all we know, suman latik may just be one of those many foods that shorten our life spans.

This works more, I think, with regards to well-known topics. It's best used sparingly, however, when few people know what you're talking about in the first place. It's not very descriptive, but it makes for a lot shorter text.

Occasionally I take things a step further and wonder if I'm explaining suman latik enough for the non-Filipinos to understand my writings. It's difficult to extrapolate on the aspects of a Filipino delicacy to an audience that mostly hasn't seen it, much less tasted it. In such cases, I do have a fourth method of getting the image to stick to their heads, so to speak:

Yeah, sometimes you just have to take the kid gloves off and show the darn picture. :)


Tuesday, August 23, 2005


Owing to the fact that spam comments don't seem to be letting up on other blogs (in fact, a lot of the blogs I read have been hit), I've chosen to disable anonymous comments once again. Besides that, I don't think I get many statements from unknown or hidden sources to begin with.

Tiborce, who runs a site on my blogroll, has had the unfortunate experience of landing on the extreme side of the spectrum: One of his most recent posts received no less than seventeen spam comments, all within the space of three hours. I'm wondering exactly what he did in order to warrant such attention.

I think that it's obviously a 'bot that's sending the spam. The usual way to confirm this is to check the times in which the comments were posted and see whether or not they all lie around the same period per 24-hour span. I wouldn't be surprised if I ran into two or three separate 'bots, though.

My major curiosity, however, lies in finding out just how the spammers are able to track the existence of other peoples' blogs. Are they spreading via blogrolls, for example? Personal searches? Template or article links? It would be useful to find out why some blogs have been hit and why some blogs haven't.

For that matter, what's Blogger doing about the issue, anyway? The existence of copious amounts of spam on their networks is bound to drive away more than a few potential users. The obvious solution, I think, is to allow writers to screen, edit or delete comments -- but I wouldn't agree to that because it compromises the readers' freedom of speech. Perhaps an automatic method of identifying and filtering comments with specific 'bot signatures would be better.

Sometimes I wonder why the crackers and script kiddies out there choose to vandalize legitimate web sites in the name of "freeing up the Net for everyone", yet choose to leave the spammers untouched. There goes all sense of justification, ladies and gentlemen. There goes all sense of justification for them.

In the meantime, I'm going to sit, wait, and observe. The spammers are bound to come for me eventually, and I'll need to prepare a suitable approach for when they finally arrive.


Update 1:20 pm: I've re-enabled anonymous comments in favor of trying out Blogger's word-verification system. Readers should now be required to interpret a graphic representation of characters whenever they post their thoughts.

It remains to be seen how effective this is, however, so I'll still be monitoring this for the next few weeks...

Monday, August 22, 2005

Antaria: Whispers

Tanala pulled her cloak more closely about her shoulders. Lorendheim was covered in mists, dropping the general temperature and chilling her to the bone.

That was not to say that the city was asleep, though. Citizens prowled the streets, calling out a single name by the light of burning torches. The Galenic knights, or at least those few who were willing to set aside their duties in the name of the common people, walked alongside them. All in all, it was a night fit for neither man, nor beast, nor idle necromancer.

The image tore through her mind again, and this time she slumped against the alley wall with the force of the thought. She brought one hand to her mouth and waited for the nausea to pass.

She caught a glimpse of coarse, slimy stone walls and the sound of rushing water before the vision passed. The sewers, she thought. If there was any place where anyone could get lost, much less a child, it was the sewers underneath the city streets.

The problem, of course was that Lorendheim was literally... well, awash in sewers. Tanala most definitely did not have time to walk their entire length and breadth.

A fat old innkeeper accompanied by a young Galenic initiate walked down the street past her hidden form, both calling the child's name. Perhaps this wasn't such a big deal, after all. Tanala guessed that there were thirty or so people who were searching for the missing boy now, and if that were the case, then they hardly needed her anyway.

If the boy really were in the sewers, however, then that would be the last place they would search. Tanala wouldn't have given two coppers for the child's chances of survival by then.

She moved from her spot, staying close to the shadows formed by Lorendheim's crowded buildings. It was not quite a wise move, but then, there were few wise moves in her situation.


She emerged from one of the larger streets onto the city square, leaning against the walls and gasping for air at the force of her most recent clairvoyance.

Fortunately for her, the square was empty at the moment. She gazed upon the broad avenue covered in flagstones; On a normal day it would be covered with merchants' stalls, fruit sellers and itinerant peddlers. It was past midnight, however, and all that remained to mark their passing was the chill wind and the dust of a thousand soles.

She expected the square to hold at least one or two Galenic patrols, but all that she could see at the moment was a hobbled old figure resting by the marbled fountain at the center of the site. Sona the Leper was a common sight in this area of the city, and she gave him a welcome wave.

"Hello, Sona," she said to the old man, who was swathed in gray-white wrappings as a consequence of his unfortunate condition.

"Greetings, Tanala Stillborn," the leper said. "What brings your kind to Lorendheim at night?"

"There's a missing child somewhere," Tanala said. "The visions tell me that he's in the sewers, somewhere underneath us."

"That's not good," Sona said, touching the fevered skin on his face. "Few outlets or entrances here. Nobles want to keep the smell away from the merchants."

"There are grates, right? I just want to have a look."

Sona cackled. "Suit yourself," he said.

It was only on her fifth sewer grate, however, that Tanala finally found what she was looking for. The missing child slumped against the wall of a long, slimy, waterlogged tunnel. She wondered how he had gotten there.

The child was not moving, but he did not register when Tanala used her magic to sense the dead. The boy was unconscious, but at least he was still breathing.

Sona peered into the grate as well. "So you've found him," the old man whispered.

"We've still got to get him out," Tanala said.

"How? The grate's barely big enough for you to stick your arm through."

"There's something down in the water," Tanala told him. "It's old, but it'll serve our purposes."

Sona nodded. "Do what you will," he said. "The Galenics might be nearby, but we can divert them if it comes to that."

Tanala nodded, and then closed her eyes.

After a few minutes, there was a slight stirring in the sewer water near the boy. The murky liquid began to churn with increased agitation. Then a single skeletal hand emerged, reached for the slate-tiled floor of the sewer passageway, and pulled its owner up.

The corpse was old, although the moist air of the sewers had delayed its decomposition significantly. Bits of flesh still clung to the long-dead body, and what remained of its leather clothes hung in tatters from its bony limbs.

"A peddler," Sona sniffed. "Probably dumped down there after he died. People can be so unhygenic sometimes."

The skeletal corpse gently picked up the unconscious boy, and then turned in Tanala's direction for further instructions.

"How're you going to get it out of there?" Sona asked, curious.

"We're in Lorendheim Square," Tanala said. "I'll just ask it to find us, and hope it knows its way out of the sewers." The corpse seemed to agree with this, and slunk into the shadows with its passenger in tow.

"Go ahead and search for it," Sona said, stepping back from the sewer grate. "If you run into any trouble, though, then I'll be right here to lend you a hand."


Tanala rounded the corner, and saw something shift in one of the larger storm drains.

The young necromancer crouched beside the sewer opening. It was a little small, but it was probably large enough to fit a young child. The undead corpse waited patiently underneath it, still cradling the boy in its arms.

The only thing she didn't like was the fact that the storm drain was located on one of the major avenues of the city. Most of the surroundings were illuminated by storefront lanterns and street lights - perfect marching grounds for the evening patrols. To make things more dangerous for her, there were more than a few lighted torches guiding various people in their search. She could even see a few from where she was standing.

She reached one hand into the drain, towards the animated corpse. "Over here," she whispered, trying to get its attention.

Meekly, the undead figure hoisted the boy's body into her hands. She caught the folds of the child's sodden clothing, wrinkled her nose at the smell, and then pulled him onto the cobblestones. Thankfully, he was still breathing.

Tanala turned back to the corpse. It still watched her from where it stood underneath the sewer opening, and its eyeless visage was more than a little unnerving. "Thank you," she said, and it collapsed back into a pile of bones and withered flesh.

She knelt over the child once again, checking his breath and the rhythmic beating of his heart. Satisfied that he was going to survive, she figured that she only had one thing left to do.

"Over here!" she called towards one of the torches in the distance. "The boy is over here!"

The lights began coming closer. Tanala wiped a lock of the boy's hair from his eyes, and then ran back in the direction of the city square. It wouldn't do for her to be around when the searchers finally arrived; They would probably thank her at first, but then they would probably start asking her questions. Tanala didn't like the idea of answering questions, especially when they involved the city sewers and the raising of dead bodies.

With a final look at the child's sleeping form, Tanala Stillborn crossed back into the silence of the night.

Friday, August 19, 2005


Sadly, most of this reference will go over peoples' heads. I usually don't write for the technical audience, after all.

The more astute observers will probably have noticed that a conflict between Microsoft and open-source advocates has been brewing for some time. Much of it is due to the endless argument between designing whackjob operating systems for public convenience, or using more secure operating systems for a more specialist crowd. If you're in an IT-related field or industry, chances are that you either use a bug-riddled system like the rest of the general public, or you invest in a stable system that relatively few others run.

About three years ago, a company named SpecOps announced that it had a means by which it could make Windows (the lynchpin of Microsoft's fortune) run on Linux (the darling of the open-source world). This was no mean feat, considering that putting the two together was a lot like mixing kerosene and Evian. Still, the company was optimistic about its chances, turning towards the Philippines as a source for quality programmers and consultants.

Strangely, however, SpecOps released its position through a babble of marketing-speak -- that language that we only see during annual stockholders' meetings and Dilbert comic strips. And if there's anything that a technical person hates, it's seeing an open-source initiative reduced to a bunch of corporate buzzwords. Sure, the words are pretty and all, but they don't tell the techies what the silly thing does. They don't tell anyone what the silly thing does, in fact.

That SpecOps was accused of ripping off the code from another Windows-Linux project didn't help their situation much (although the company revealed part of their existing architecture in order to prove otherwise). Local open-source programmers literally took one look at the project pitch, and then backed away.

As of last week, however, SpecOps finally chose to resolve the many issues with regards to their operation. Unfortunately, their answer yet defied logic: they announced their departure from their Philippine initiative in favor of India and Vietnam. The reason? Because they allegedly could not find enough local talent for their project.

Frankly, I'm not surprised. The problem was not that we had few open-source experts to begin with, but because SpecOps chose to insult the local programming community with its marketing hype and non-transparency. That it decided to cover everything up by shifting the blame from themselves was just one last, unsubtle dig at us.

I suppose that it's altogether possible that SpecOps has something great on their hands. It may be a tool that will revolutionize the way we work and play. It could be something whose value we don't see quite yet; something that might bring resolution to the Windows-Linux conflict. It might even turn out to be one of the better inventions of our time.

Until SpecOps wises up and starts looking at itself for flaws, however, then I probably won't hold my breath. It's kind of difficult to build something of great value when an entire open-source community sees through your methods for what they really are.

Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses Yearning to Breathe Free

I'm not an acknowledged literary critic. Heck, I haven't been published as often as some of the better-known names in the field.

However, I do find it easy to call a spade a spade. That's not to say that my opinions are entirely objective -- in fact some of them cross the line into near-incomprehensible -- but I find it easy to call a spade a spade.

If you have a piece of short fiction that seeks honest criticism from someone who's familiar with writing, then I invite you to send it over to me. Via e-mail, preferably in plain text format so that the viruses don't shut down my poor, forlorn computer. My e-mail address is at the bottom of this article.

I don't expect you to trust me with that statement alone, so I'm willing to offer a bunch of credentials here:

I've been writing for almost 14 years, ever since I sat watching the New Years' fireworks on the eve of my ascension to high school, thinking how nice it would be if I knew how to tell stories. I had my first hackjob published when I was 14, a six-page story in the school literary folio that is so dated now that I never show it to anyone.

I wrote regularly until I graduated from high school, and spent three years of my college life trying to break into an established literary culture with my themes of fantasy, science fiction, and talking mice. I went on hiatus for two or three years afterwards, choosing to concentrate on corporate culture rather than the intricacies of writing. I threw my hat back into the ring last year, once it became obvious that there were too many plots in my head for me to sleep at night.

I specialize in characters and settings, and I reserve a great deal of respect for people who can somehow get both of these aspects right without compromising the story. I've been taught the fundamentals of literary criticism, both for prose and for poetry, and I use them well.

I give honest opinions. I bring both praise and ridicule, both admiration and revilement to every story I read. I make sure to see both sides as much as I can. I don't think that there are ever any bad pieces of fiction... just elements that make them bad pieces of fiction.

I try to give concrete explanations whenever possible. I've seen writers I've critiqued go on to create masterpieces, and I've seen writers I've critiqued give up the field entirely. I don't consciously encourage the latter when it's really their choice to begin with; Getting into writing without being able to take criticism is a lot like going to the beach and expecting not to get sand in the crack of your ass.

I have my own bunch of published works (mostly high school and college works) as well as a good-sized pile of rejection slips (from a lot of places). I've written under pen names. I've tried multiple approaches to multiple genres.

I haven't written a novel, nor have I written any poetry in a long time. I'm stuck using English, because I have a horrible aptitude for other languages.

I don't have any writing awards to my credit, no.

I've critiqued a good number of short stories in the past year, so I'm settling into the groove at the moment. My reviews tend to be consistent with other reviews from other writers, so I think I have a good chance of pegging the issues with anyone's piece.

So if you're looking for some honest criticism, then I'm laying my offerings on the table. Send me your short stories, and I'll tell you what I think. If you believe that I'm just tooting my own horn here, then you can always choose not to hand over anything.

saito_ichikawa (at) yahoo (dot) com.

I make no obligations to answer you within a set period of time, but I will definitely keep your story to myself. That is, unless it's good, in which case I might not be able to stop myself raving about it.


Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Building a Better... er... Something

I arrived home last night to find my mother fussing over a piece of pepperoni.

Let me explain: My mother runs a small bakeshop out in the middle of the San Juan / Mandaluyong area. The bakeshop's been around for over twenty-five years -- she started it up a little after I was born, if I remember correctly. Technically, I think of it as the sibling that's closest to my age.

Lately, the bakeshop has been trying out a bunch of new products. I've recently had the benefit of taste-testing such things as capuccino-flavored cookies, chocolate-banana bread, and two revised formulae for brownies. My officemates themselves can testify to the Easter Egg samples I brought along last April, in fact. If anything, it all gives me a convenient explanation as to why I'm slowly gaining weight. :)

For the last week, however, their experimentation has revolved around Pizza Bread -- specifically, the possibility of coming out with a cheap bread-loaf product that would replicate the sensation of pizza without drastically raising the price. By some coincidence, her suppliers were offering discounted prices on certain identifiable ingredients, so it was an easy matter of purchasing the right samples.

The question that was being batted around last night, however, involved what exactly gave pizzas their taste. Bread based on pepperoni pizza, for example, would theoretically only need cheese and pepperoni to make a similar taste. But what about the standard supreme pizzas, the ones with everything on them? What ingredients are essential to creating their taste, and which items can be left out? For that matter, how close can one get to replicating their taste with a loaf of bread without massively driving the price up?

Now, because this is not the "Pizza Webring", I'll stop talking about pizza.

I'm sure that most urban Filipinos are aware that there is a chocolate-laced suman variant making the rounds. Personally, I think that it's natural: Suman is a sweet and sticky dessert or snack, and chocolate goes in much the same categories. It was only a matter of time before somebody put the two together.

That raises a question, though: Is it therefore possible to come out with other "flavors" of suman? And if it is, then why hasn't anyone done that yet?

If you're looking for a more concrete hypothesis, then here's one: What about mint suman, i.e. suman with a hint of peppermint to its taste? I'm sure that there's no shortage of mint lovers out there... would they be interested at the thought of mint suman?

If we can consider the possibility of making a better meal out of suman, then what about working meat into the equation somewhere? There's a Chinese delicacy, ma chang, that does pretty much the same thing on a larger scale. Can we work, say, bits of beef, pork and/or fish into a piece of suman in order to give it those corresponding flavors? What about vegetables? What about egg? Heck, I can imagine a fried-glutinous-rice variant here.

Okay, so the meat-and-vegetables are a long shot. But then, what if we stick to the dessert option? Has anyone ever thought of flavoring suman with sweet purple yam? Or mixing in some vanilla extract? At the moment, I'm wondering if it would be viable to work in certain types of fruits - say, banana or jackfruit. Perhaps mango might even work.

I'm aware that I probably need to have an in-depth understanding of the process by which suman is made in order to see if any of these are possible to begin with. But I'm certain that, in the process by which suman is made, there is always a point where the ingredients have to be mixed into the rice, and that's what we can use to our advantage. There's got to be a way by which the sugar goes in. There's got to be a way by which the salt goes in. There's got to be a way by which everything else can go in.

I mean, we do have to agree that, with fourteen regions and seven thousand islands, you can go anywhere in the Philippines and try out a different version of the rice treat no matter where you end up. If we have this kind of innovation on a country-wide, culture-wide scale, then why haven't we taken advantage of it yet?

Think about it, especially when you're chewing that next piece of suman.


Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Five Thousand Words (part two)

It had been a marvelous Tale, one that the fathers would find worthy to tell their children at night, one that the scribes would never weary of reading in their libraries, one that the bards would never tire of weaving into song. It had all the classic elements: a fallen ruler, a young unknown prince, a group of faithful comrades, a false lord who held the kingdom in his very grasp...

Sarazen always loved a good Tale.
- "The Final Tale"

Sometime in late July, Dean Alfar let his adoring public know that he had already begun reading through the mountain of submissions for his Speculative Fiction Anthology. Surprisingly, he noted, the majority of the pieces so far were of a science-fictionesque approach; One would normally expect a large number of fantasy-genre entries from Filipino writers.

This was bad news for me. I personally find it easier to write redeemable science fiction, and I've always assumed that the genre is inaccessible enough around here for me to have a clearer shot at good reviews. But all things change, I suppose.

I wonder if there's some mental link between Speculative Fiction and Science Fiction. The phrase "Speculative Fiction" implies an experimentation with literary style, approach, and voice -- and the science fiction genre is more unexplored territory around here than anything else. We've seen elements of Filipino fantasy in artsy novels, urban legends, and video games; but so far, we've held Filipino science fiction to the realm of the comics creators. Sci-fi is still more of a novelty around here.

Whatever the case, I ended up spending the last two weeks hunting for a good fantasy story. The trouble with fantasy, you see, is that it doesn't seem to have much in the way of redeemable themes.

Science fiction has at least one redeemable theme, and it's a big one: Humanity in the face of change. Sci-fi, more often than not, compares human characteristics to the world around them and singles them out for their day in the sun. The rampant technologism that is a staple of science fiction stories only heightens the contrast and makes these qualities easier to pick out. As a result, you get James T. Kirk's high-stakes attitude in an exploratory space expedition. You get Lin Minmei's love song used to defeat two warring alien races. You get Darth Vader destroying the Emperor in order to save the life of his only son.

Isaac Asimov, I think, was the epitome of the science fiction writer in this way. The vast majority of his stories seem to deal with the humanity inherent in technological constructs, e.g. robots. His body of work, for that matter, shows us that science fiction doesn't even need human characters to showcase human qualities.

Fantasy, on the other hand, is oversaturated with human references. Part of the problem, I think, has to do with the fact that fantasy is akin to an open creative exercise: You can do anything you want with it. A world where an all-seeing power attempts to dominate the races of men, elves, dwarves and hobbits? Done. A realm where metal is scarce and the land has to be defiled in order to cast magic? Done. A setting with random Frenchmen, knights who say "Nih!" and the occasional killer rabbit? Also done.

Open fantasy, it appears, sets few boundaries on what authors can and can't write. The problem is that, if you're busy constructing a world from scratch, it's difficult to build insight and redeemability into the project.

Let's take The Lord of the Rings -- a powerful epic of heroism, duty, and the battle to keep one's soul against an overwhelming tide of corruption. It's a very good story, and one of the few redeemables in the Fantasy genre. Even then, however, it's easy to see that the setting had to be thoroughly established before any insights could be mixed in. For us to realize the heroism in Eowyn's battle with the Witch-King, we had to realize just who the Witch-King was and how powerful he could be. For us to realize the weight of the burden that Frodo carried, we had to understand exactly what the One Ring was, and why only he could carry it.

Science fiction has it a lot easier. For us to consider the definition of humanity, we just have to be shown a talking, thinking, feeling robot. That's it.

Looking at things from this view, it's perhaps more difficult to write a good fantasy story than it is to write a good science fiction story. It's technically easier to write for the fantasy genre, as fan-fiction advocates have probably found out. In the long run, however, I think that the technophiles simply have an easier time making their point.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Five Thousand Words (part one)

It's three in the morning, and I've just wrapped up my submission to Dean Alfar's Speculative Fiction Anthology. Now I just have to wait for either an approval or a rejection notice.

I'll place more updates on the second part of this entry, so for the moment, I'll amuse you with the titles of all ten of my rejected drafts. (Yes, ten.)

Blood and Bone
Second Hand
The Writer

The Dead
The Sorcerer
The Last Lesson
The Final Tale
Lost Souls
One of Our Corpses is Missing

I particularly liked the last one, despite the fact that I wasn't able to wrap up the draft properly. Maybe I'll rewrite it someday...

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

The Google Files

Google should now be considered one of the most useful tools known to man, I think. It's a search engine that may technically be seen as a knowledge resource; Whenever we need to find out more about a person, place or thing, we can usually trust in Google (or other similar search engines) to pony up the goods.

So what happens if we enter the word "suman" into the Google search engine?

Interestingly enough, Google notes around 813,000 results for "suman". Are there this many glutinous rice enthusiasts in the world?

Actually, no. It turns out that "Suman" is a common first name in India -- it means "well-disposed, and having a good mind". Apparently there are a lot of people named "Suman" in India who happen to get mentioned in web sites.

The first Google result for "suman", for that matter, is a weblog. Suman Palit is written by an Indian programmer based in Illinois, and centers on commentary regarding Indian political affairs. In almost four years of blogging, Suman Palit appears to have gained a significant level of influence among the online yuppie community, and his skill becomes evident upon reading any one of his essays. I particularly like Mr. Palit's argument on arming India's women, a piece written in the aftermath of the 2002 Gujarat riots -- it illustrates certain realities that hit us much closer than we think.

On a lighter note, I dropped by a site that claimed to be "The Official Web Site of Suman", and found that Suman also happens to be the name of an Indian actor. As I'm not a devout follower of Bollywood, I must regretfully say that I know little of Mr. Suman's filmography or appearances. His official site, however, carefully notes that he has a black belt in karate, and is consequently one of India's prominent stuntmen and action heroes. That, I think, would put him on par with Chuck Norris, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and other actor-stuntpersons we've seen over the years.

The first entry I found that concerned suman of the edible type was, interestingly enough, a reference to Is My Blog Burning, a food blog run by a European administrator yet populated by food hobbyists throughout the world. The article, entitled Something Sticky and Sweet: Suman, details a Hawaii-based Filipina's attempt to recreate one of her native delicacies. What surprised me -- aside from the fact that it was easier to make suman than I originally thought -- was the response that her article received from international foodies. More than a few people across the globe have apparently tried and liked Filipino suman, and I was surprised when someone commented that it was readily available in San Francisco's Chinatown.

Google's 40th result came up with more familiar territory: Clair's Radioactive Sago Project Parody for the Suman Latik Web Ring. Number 40 is pretty high up in a list of eight hundred thousand, so Clair should be happy about that. :)

For that matter, you might be interested to know that this blog comprises the top two results when you run a search for "suman latik": The original Dean Alfar-centered joke, and curiously enough, the Interactive suman story. Were we that bored, ladies and gentlemen? :)

Clair shouldn't worry, though... she's number three on the list, at least. :)

Over Sea, Under Stone
The Dark is Rising

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


Anyone ever realize that the word "Blogroll" sounds remarkably close to "Bogroll", a slang British-European term that refers to toilet paper?


It's recently occurred to me that it might be time to clean up my blogroll. I don't have such a thing on this site, yes, but I do maintain a good-sized list among my "Favorites" links. I find myself starving for reading material every now and then, you see.

Then again, maybe "good-sized" isn't the way to describe my blogroll. "Long" is more like it -- I've got about 32 entries in there.

Yeah, some of the more established or more popular people have lists that are longer than that. The difference is that I actually go through mine. Every single site. Twice a day. In the middle of work. (Although I make sure I'm on break first.)

Exactly how or why a blog makes it to my list has always been a complete mystery to me. Weblogs hardly strike me as centers of personal interest, so it's altogether possible that I just have a stake in one blog or another. But that doesn't really take into account the blogs run by people I don't know, or for that matter, people who have known me through my visits.

I'm going through the list right now, actually -- artist's blogs, tech blogs... you name it, and I've probably got it somewhere here. Maybe it's best to break things down into statistics in this case, despite the constant threat of overlap:

Artists' Blogs / Comics Blogs: 6
I've observed before that artists' blogs tend to be popular. Maybe it's the argument of effort -- it's a lot easier to look at great art than it is to read rambling text. I believe that writing serves as a more comprehensive indicator of a person's true self, but it is the art that gets people reading to begin with.

Comics blogs are more of a mixed bag, I think. Much of the webcomic audience reads online strips for the pleasure of it -- the comics are more of a stress reliever in that regard. Couple this with the fact that comic strips are, as a whole, not quite fine art, and you get a blog that people will read but not necessarily leave comments on. I imagine that a similar situation exists for blogging fiction -- what else can one say, other than the usual short compliments or criticism?

Writing Blogs: 7
In my mind, the difference between a writer's blog and an online journal is that the writer's blog will carry entries that specifically cater to an audience. Their existence may be a singular release from the mind of the author, but more often than not, these articles simply exist to be read by others. Pieces of short fiction, novel excerpts, essays, formal political commentary, features... there's a wealth of information out there that we're perfectly welcome to read for little expense.

Online Journals: 13
Most blogs, of course, are still online journals that just happen to be accessible to the public.

With the advent of self-publishing, open performances and reality TV, one of the questions being asked by modern society involves exactly why we read or watch this kind of stuff. Explanations range from the curious and voyeuristic ("We just like looking at other peoples' lives") to the literary and dissociative ("We think of it as a story to which we have no direct bearing").

I find it strange, though, that we hardly ever ask ourselves why people attempt such methods of self-expression in the first place. Is it because we constantly crave for attention no matter who we are? That would be funny, really, because I never thought of personal acknowledgement as being high on our list of needs...

Tech Blogs: 4
The techie people have long used blogging as a method of operation throughout the Net, and although I'm not much of a technical person, I still retain some of their sensibilities.

Besides, the chances are good that, if you're bloghopping, then you have some interest in the Internet and at least a passing fancy to technology as a whole.

Blogs under surveillance: 4
Hey, let's be honest: The Internet is a bastion of secrets. In a place where any person can create multiple identities for themselves and where any person can pose as anyone else, it is all too easy to hide in its alleyways and dark passages.

Earlier this year, I learned of a few bloggers who were taking advantage of this consideration and were going around passing themselves off as other personas. While this isn't a bad practice per se, it can turn offensive really quickly. I've seen people assaulted by the wrath of multiple users, and I've seen people given effusive praise by multiple sources -- with the multiple identities in question all coming from the same person. It's a disgusting practice, and I'd rather see it muzzled, if not stopped outright.

One's writing skills come into interesting use in this regard, though. It's easy enough to identify whether or not multiple pieces of writing come from the same person, and it's even easier to point out pretend-authorship blogs that are actually written by more than one entity. And that doesn't even consider the more technical means of identification.

For now, though, I'll just stick to observing peoples' writing style. Sometimes it's even fun.

Sex blogs: 1
Yup... that might be a controversial one. I don't read this one for the sex, though. It doesn't have much in the way of detail to begin with.

I found this particular blog through a single comment posted for one of my earlier articles, and it grabbed at my curiosity. It doesn't get updated often, but its author appears to be a very articulate person (if it's a real, single author to begin with, that is). She would make an excellent writer for more mundane articles, I think.

That, incidentally, is what intrigues me: If she's such a good writer, then why does she choose to blog exclusively about sex than other things? Different strokes for different folks, I presume.

But the blog's still bookmarked as part of my list, and I'm still reading it. One finds literary potential in the strangest places...


Yes, I'm fully aware that that makes a total of 35, when there are only 32 blogs in my roll. It's difficult to classify these things, really. Some sites were inevitably lumped into more than one category as a result.

Ultimately, exactly what weblogs we choose to read or monitor is up to us. Some are just good for a passing interest, while some are worth reading even when you're smack in the middle of work. The practice of bloghopping has been a boon in this regard. I visit blogs based on the comments placed in peoples' articles (another reason why I balk at allowing Anonymous responses), through other peoples' blogrolls, and through the occasional direct reference handed to me by a friend or fellow blogger.

I've implied earlier in this article that we, as humans, tend to seek the acknowledgement of others. What interests me now, however, is that a good number of us are more than willing to give others the acknowledgement they so sorely want -- simply by looking for and reading their respective weblogs. That's good, right?

It means more reading material for us, in any case. That, I am certain, is always good.

Friday, August 05, 2005

How Blue Can You Get?

Now... less of the profound, and more of the entertaining.

I've mentioned the Blues Brothers on Clair's blog recently, in the middle of a discussion on movie celebrities and their surprising crossovers into music. (Steven Seagal was the primary topic of conversation there.)

Image hosted by

For those not in the know, the Blues Brothers are made up of Elwood Blues and Jake Blues -- in actuality, Dan Aykroyd and the late John Belushi -- as well as a band made up of some of the finest blues musicians in history: Tom "Bones" Malone, Steve Cropper, Donald "Duck" Dunn, and Matt "Guitar" Murphy, among others. They are perhaps most well-known for two feature-length movies: 1980's The Blues Brothers, and 2000's Blues Brothers 2000.

While the movie productions themselves are not known for their writing or technical achievement, the Blues Brothers carry a heavy amount of respect in the American Blues scene. The original The Blues Brothers movie capped off a musical career that had already seen highlight performances in various venues (including Saturday Night Live). Despite the band's post-production breakup and John Belushi's subsequent death in 1982, their music has simply refused to die.

At present, the Blues Brothers band continues to put out albums, some based on archived recordings and some based on sessions with guest artists. The Blues Brothers 2000 movie introduced three new members of the family to the fold: Mighty Mack Blues (John Goodman), Cab Blues (Joe Morton), and Buster Blues (J. Evan Bonifant). Even now, Dan Aykroyd runs a chain of performance spots known as "The House of Blues", and the Blues Brothers band always gets the privilege of performing on opening nights.

The Blues Brothers' music, for the most part, is unique. The band has this uncanny ability to take standard performance songs (blues or otherwise) and let them out in their own style. For the moment, it is one of the few examples of a musical legacy that has turned into an urban legend, something that has long outlived its creators, and something that will keep us tapping the soles of our feet long after the last note has sounded.

Their original composition Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, from the original The Blues Brothers soundtrack:

We're so glad to see so many of you lovely people here tonight, and we would especially like to welcome all the representatives of Illinois' Law Enforcement Community who have chosen to join us here in the Palace Hotel Ballroom at this time. We do sincerely hope you'll all enjoy the show, and please remember people, that no matter who you are, and what you do to live, thrive and survive, there are still some things that make us all the same.

Them... everybody.

Everybody needs somebody
Everybody needs somebody to love (someone to love)
Someone to love (someone to love)
Sweetheart to miss (sweetheart to miss)
Sugar to kiss (sugar to kiss)
I need you you you
I need you you you
I need you you you In the morning
I need you you you When my soul's on fire

Sometimes I feel
I feel a little sad inside
When my baby mistreats me
I never never never have a place to hide
I need you you you
I need you you you
I need you you you
I need you you you
I need you

You know, people, when you do find that somebody
Hold that woman, hold that man
Love him, hold him, squeeze her, please her, hold her
Squeeze and please that person, give 'em all your love
Signify your feelings with every gentle caress
Because it's so important to have that special somebody
to hold, kiss, miss, squeeze and please

Everybody needs somebody
Everybody needs somebody to love
Someone to love
Sweetheart to miss
Sugar to kiss
I need you you you
I need you you you
I need you you you... (fade)

* Blues Brothers image from "Everybody Needs Somebody to Love" lyrics from The Blues Brothers Links Archive. Don't sue me, please; I'm on a mission from God.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

The Art of Writing Without Writing

Blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah. Blah blah blah blah suman latik blah blah, blah blah blah blah blah.

There it is, everyone: My Suman Latik post for today.




Yeah, I can imagine that you were probably looking for something more, er... substantial.

Quite frankly, this post really isn't about suman latik. It probably pushes creativity, but it doesn't directly concern suman latik's latent properties, its tribe structure, or its mating habits. I just find it vaguely interesting that we can literally write anything we want, and then turn it into a "suman latik" post merely by tacking a reference to the glutinous rice delicacy somewhere. Heck, now that I think about it, we can do this with practically any piece of subject matter that comes to mind.

Blah blah blah blah suman latik.

Blah blah blah blah American Idol.

Blah blah blah blah economic degradation of society as a whole.

Blah blah blah blah bah weep granah weep ninni bong.

Not very filling, is it?

I have a strong suspicion that this has more to do with our sense of practicality than it does with our general laziness. We can't necessarily come up with articles that focus on a given topic all the time, so we merely create articles as normal and just find a way to stuff the topic right into them. It's kind of like observing ourselves trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

Yes, we're technically cheating. But in a way, we're also making attempts at working an otherwise unusable topic into a coherent essay. It may not be a pretty sight sometimes, but we're getting the hang of it.

Now, with that said, I've really got to find better ways to write about suman latik...


What You Will

As of yesterday, I've opened up this blog's comments to users without Blogger accounts. That means that you can now place whatever you want to say on this site regardless of what service you use.

I have three concerns about this, actually. The first is that I don't know how one should properly deal with comments from anonymous sources. For that matter, I find it funny that some people go through all the trouble of posting their remarks, only to sign themselves with a name that discourages us from tracking them back. It's weird.

I suppose that there are some people who will argue that this is a practice in humility, something akin to the "my two cents" statements I discussed yesterday. I've observed, however, that it compromises one's credibility to a certain degree -- it's difficult to take unsolicited advice seriously if you have no idea who the source is, after all.

Besides that, there is also the possibility that an anonymous post implies a case of misrepresentation. What's stopping a construction worker from dispensing advanced medical advice, for example? Or, for that matter, what should we make of an anonymous comment that's supposed to be from somebody with an existing Blogger account? We can't invest the same amount of trust in messages like these.

A second concern would be the emergence of flames -- direct insults, personal attacks and disparaging remarks. I'm not worried about the general dissatisfaction, mind you, but a constant stream of these comments would be extremely irritating. It's actually easy enough to confirm a user's identity despite the anonymous nametag, and I'm perfectly willing to pass by a flamer's living quarters and proceed to wail on him. The catch is that I would prefer that things not come to that.

I believe that everything should be wide open on this blog, though, and therefore any person who wants to start trouble is still welcome to post as he wishes. These people have to realize that posting insults on a man's personal site really won't get them anywhere, but I suppose that it's their skin.

Finally, I've noticed a rise in "spam comments" in blogs recently. These are comments similar to what we see in our Bulk Mail folders: send-to-everyone forwards, crass advertisements, and random messages from oiks who really don't know any better. Unlike most comments, these things are simply not worth reading, and are definitely worth removing.

The problem with spam, as most people will probably attest, is not that it arrives in the first place. The problem with spam is that, once it starts coming in, it's hard to stop.

I suppose that, if worst comes to worst and I get inundated with spam, I can just institute the old comment controls all over again. At that point, it would probably a small price to pay for the sake of filtering our reading material.

On the other hand, I might only just be paranoid here. What's the possibility that I would actually be affected by all these concerns when I'm merely opening things up to a large circle of readers? Will the presence of more unknown comments change anything? Or am I just feeling high-and-mighty again?

I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


My two cents. :)

Now, where in the world did this turn of expression come from? It seems as though it crops up a lot on mailing lists and comment boxes, alongside non-argumentative opinions and viewpoints regarding specific subject matter.

Oddly enough, indicating a message with the "my two cents" expression automatically gets me thinking about the humility of its author. It's as though they feel as if they're butting into a closed subject in order to score their rare opinions. You don't see the really outspoken people placing phrases like "my two cents" in the bodies of their messages, after all.

The full expression appears to be "to put in two cents' worth", as opposed to the common "my two cents" that we see on blogs, discussion forums and other Internet sites. Its origin is somewhat dubious, but can most likely be traced to the point in time when the United States issued two-cent stamps -- sometime in the late 19th century, I've read. Two cents was an amount that was considered to be of little value, so a letter with a two-cent stamp could have been seen as an expression of its writer's humble contributions.

I find an interesting parallel here. There is a biblical story that actually also involves two coins as a symbol of a humble offering (Luke 21: 1-4). "The Widow's Coins", as this story is known in some quarters, is a fairly well-known Christian teaching regarding the relationship between wealth and humility. A contribution of one's "two cents" may mirror this, in that a single tiny opinion may hold more insight than that of the many voices that have already spoken.

That's not to say that a "two-cent" contribution is usually written with this in mind. I figure that anyone who usually attaches a "my two cents" note to his or her comments only wants to slip something in -- some innocuous little piece of insight that is designed to get people thinking or looking at some alternative means of thought.

"My two cents" contributors, I figure, belong to a contextual classification. They're invariably the lurkers in a mailing list, or the not-so-active members of a bulletin board, or the relative strangers to an Internet weblog. Close friends, for example, have little or no motivation to raise their "two cents' worth" to each other because they know that their advice will always be taken seriously. The opposite would be true for the unfamiliar, though; They, after all, don't have the same guarantee that their opinions will take root.

On the other hand, it's entirely possible that humility plays a much larger role. Anyone who's hotly contesting or vigorously defending an opinion will almost certainly not have "my two cents" tacked onto their responses; They're taking a solid stance, after all. The people who stay on the sidelines watching the proceedings, however, will almost certainly post their "two cents' worth" -- because it's not their argument, and they just want to point out certain things. They don't want to butt in on the main participants.

Personally, I usually don't give a "my two cents" notice in my writings, but I think that that's because I write a lot. I have a penchant for calling a spade a spade (albeit in a very subtle manner sometimes), and I like to think that any response I write will be read with a mind that is open enough to consider it. Some people have remarked that I phrase my statements in a very personal manner, and I've told them that that's deliberate. I try to make sure that people realize that everything I tell them is my opinion and my opinion alone. They're welcome to take it or leave it as they wish.

I believe that it's unrealistic to expect that everyone out there is an open-minded person, though. In that sense, leaving a notice as to one's "two cents' worth" would merely be a subtle method of getting one's message across. That little phrase, I think, would be tantamount to saying "this is just a small opinion that you may or may not choose to consider". The wise would take even the smallest messages into account, yes. But the key, however, involves appealing for the close-minded to stop and listen for a while.

For that matter, we should always be welcome to throw in whatever comments we please (just as long as we maintain certain modicums of respect). We may think that they're worth only two cents, but in truth, they might just mean a whole lot more than that.

Just my two cents' worth, everyone. :)

Monday, August 01, 2005

Disclaimer: August 2005

I've made a few changes to this weblog's basic template over the last month, some of which are more obvious than others. Two of them are relevant to my copyright situation, though, so I'll explain them here.

First, I've placed a Note of Ownership among the right-hand headings. While this note isn't quite legal text, it more or less illustrates the points that I make with each monthly disclaimer. A few international bloggers have been hit by plagiarism issues recently, you see, and a quick look through the Philippines' provisions for Intellectual Copyright Law have shown me that it really needs to be updated for the Internet era.

The thorniest issue probably involves the definition of "public accessibility" as stated by the current law: Does placing one's writings on the Internet immediately imply that they are free for the general public to use as they see fit? The obvious answer would be "no", but such a case would be arguable under current legal bounds, I think.

Second, I've applied for a Creative Commons License, as indicated by the little medallion on the lower right-hand column. While it's not an official, proper copyright per se, it at least allows for the acknowledgement of ownership of existing web-published material, in exchange for freeing it up for use across the Net. That is to say, you're welcome to use my words as long as you ask me first. I'm usually a nice guy anyway... I think.

So, in the spirit of the monthly disclaimers, I'll tell you this: Everything as written on this weblog is entirely original, as concepted and executed from the twisted mind of Sean. Exceptions exist for those items that are excerpted, quoted or referenced from other works, and the rightful authors of these pieces will always be attributed in the same article/s. The entries in this blog, literary or otherwise, are the properties of Sean. These entries are open for use by anyone with the condition that Sean's permission is requested and acquired prior to the actual use of the work. Try anything funny, gentlemen, and I'll play polo with your head. I haven't played polo before, incidentally, which means that you really don't want me knocking your cranium around with an oversized mallet.