Friday, December 29, 2006

Antaria: Geography

With the Internet connection out-of-kilter this morning, I spent a few minutes sifting through my personal files. Interestingly enough, sitting among the old work assignments and lost fiction drafts, I found this:

Well... not quite this specific map, exactly. What I found was an old attempt at codifying the geography of the fictional Antaria setting, done via a few tutorials on cartography from the web. I noticed more than a few literary inconsistencies in the original version, so I spent a bit of time doing some corrections and filling in the colors. The result is what you see up there, but it's still far from complete -- mountains, rivers and forests should make up a great deal of importance in the final product.

The current map does give a fairly good impression of what the land looks like, though, so the general idea is already there. I still maintain a few notes, though:

- Lorendheim takes up the largest area of land, although most of it is only sparsely inhabited. It should have two main centers of population: the capital of Lorendheim (somewhere in the east near the Hadrian/Allandrian borders), and an area near the northern coastline known as the Northlands. The southern tip of Lorendheim is dominated by a massive mountain range, which discourages conflict with the Tajikar tribes.

- Hadrian is a relatively small country that owns a long stretch of coastline. This allows it to control the main shipping lanes (which must access both the northern and southern ends of the coast.)

- Allandria has a longish shape, stretching from the coast to the southern wastes. In a sense, it's in a position that arouses a lot of potential conflict -- it doesn't have much access to the sea, it shares borders with all the other countries, and most of the fertile ground lies close to Tajikar territory. Apart from that, however, Allandria should be heavily forested. Thorngarde Keep lies somewhere near its western border.

- Kun is a tiny buffer state sandwiched between Allandria and Vanarum, period. If anything, it should give people a "what's this doing here, of all places?" impression.

- Vanarum gets the longest coastline, but it's located on an outcropping at the tip of the continent. Vanarum is also mountainous for some reason, which implies a lot of seaside cliffs and such. The country claims a lot of islands and sizeable inlets, which is perfect for the national shipbuilding industry.

- The yellow area on the map represents the start of the Tajik Wastes, although in actuality the desert is so large that it couldn't possibly fit on the map. Most conflicts against the Tajikar tribes take place in this general area, so much that the southern borders of Allandria frequently shift and change. Lorendheim sees very few conflicts due to the fact that it maintains its southern border on the sides of an ancient mountain range.

Apart from the above, there are a few areas of moderate interest that I want to work into the map somehow:

- The Northlands is the name for a sizeable urban center somewhere in north Lorendheim, near the Hadrien border. This area is cordoned off from the rest of the kingdom by a series of hills, all blanketed by constant winter throughout the year.

- The Shroud is the label given to a large patch of land in northwest Lorendheim, next to the Northlands. It is characterized by a thick, everpresent mist that has persisted for as far as anyone can remember, and is theorized to be magical in origin. Explorers who walk into the Shroud, moreover, have an unsettling tendency to disappear without a trace.

- The fortress of Harangaard sits at the edge of Lorendheim's southern border, and is the country's only line of defense against a possible Tajikar incursion. No such incursion, however, has materialized in the last few generations.

- As mentioned, Thorngarde Keep lies somewhere near Allandria's western border. This landmark was once an important military outpost somewhere in Allandria's past, but its strategic value was neutralized once the borders between Lorendheim and Allandria became more stable. It's a favorite hangout of adventurers, having been extensively landscaped, constantly reconstructed, and excessively booby-trapped within its lifetime.

- Sanctuary, a massive complex that houses whole families of Thanatai mages, lies somewhere within Kun. As Kun is considered to be neutral ground for all sects and affiliations, the Thanatai find this to be an excellent arrangement.

- The Bay of Thrones sits off the southern cost of Vanarum, the primary construction and launch point for the country's merchant traders and advanced warships.

- The Maw -- the sea that prevents long-distance marine travel to the north and east -- extends for leagues in both directions, and is difficult to navigate even without the constant hurricanes, waterspouts and natural occurrences that usually take place there. Most Antarian seafarers stick to the general coastline, which has been dubbed "The Lesser Maw" for its own level of turbulence.

As a final note, I will point out that there is a combination of natural barriers that effectively cut off Antaria from the rest of its world -- there's the desert to the south, the mountains to the west, the Shroud to the northwest, and the Maw to the north and east. Theoretically, this concentrates a lot of arcane energy in the area, and has given rise to a population of mages as a result.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Bad Moves

The last few days have seen a remarkable level of bad news. So far, we've seen James Brown die, we've seen Gerald Ford die, we've had an earthquake disrupt communications to and from Taiwan, we've had a bunch of armed men divest an entire mall of its weekend sales... it's as though 2006 decided to spring its misfortune at us all at once.

If there was anything that raised my hackles about the year-end news, however, it was this little piece about how an Indian chess player was caught cheating with a wireless device. In an era where the game's traditionalists are grappling with the encroachment of technology upon their "sport", this is a particular slap to their collective faces. Having been all of a chess player, a chess technologist and a tournament organizer at various points in my life, I can see why.

The offense is just wrong on so many levels. For standard players both casual and professional, it represents the fringe attitude of using competition to promote personal superiority. Games are supposed to help you improve certain mental and social skills. They're not supposed to assist you in amassing wealth and fame, crushing your opponents, seeing them driven before you, and hearing the lamentations of their women. Sharma's move can be compared to consulting a dictionary in a game of Scrabble or opening up Wikipedia in the middle of Trivial Pursuit: It illustrates a desire to win, regardless of cost or consequences -- and it must be heavily discouraged.

For programmers and tech conceptualists, the offense represents nothing more than a perversion of their efforts. Technology is usually created to benefit society, not to provide advantages over others. Using the same technology for dubious areas implies that a certain amount of greed or want goes into the justification. Dynamite was not created to blow people up. Chatrooms were not conceptualized to cater to peoples' paedophiliac tendencies. And despite what some opportunists may think, wireless phone technology was not created so that they could cheat at chess.

And then there's the fact that such a practice is detrimental to the concept of tournaments as a whole. When you're trying to put together a safe venue for fair play, the last thing you want is for some idiot to walk in and muck everything up just so that they can steal a few more points from the community. It insults an organizer's efforts at security and offends each player's sensibilities. What's worse is that it's clearly an area where the player should police himself, as opposed to waiting for an official to tell him that he's doing something wrong.

Put all this together, and you can see why cheating offenses like these are tantamount to any criminal charge: You know perfectly well that it's wrong, you know perfectly well that it will affect multiple people on so many levels, and you do it regardless.

Sharma received a ten-year ban from competitive chess play as a result of his efforts; This was expected, in a way. Because you can't level much in the way of criminal charges against cheaters, most competitive bodies organize their own sanctions against erring players. Various ban lengths seem to be the norm, especially at higher offenses. It's a lot like suspending a student for plagiarism, if you want to look at it that way.

Ten years is usually the second-longest length of ban time that can get imposed as a sanction. On the one hand, it's not so long that an offender can carefully consider his crime and possibly return to the game after the period of censure is over. On the other hand, it's long enough to guarantee that the offender's presence won't darken any doorways in the near future. The highest penalty -- the lifetime ban -- is usually only reserved for people who bring actual criminal offenses to a tournament (graft, assault or anything beyond that, for instance), but cheating brings about its own stigma that won't easily be forgotten even after ten years. Sharma will find that he will have quite the long road uphill to climb, if he ever decides to return to the game after a decade's wait.

Seeing that this is chess, however, I figure that Umakant Sharma will likely run into more than a few problems in his life outside the game. This isn't some diversion like badminton or Magic: the Gathering where whatever you accomplish in the tournament scene will probably stay in the tournament scene. This is chess, ladies and gentlemen. This is the game that practically half the world plays, a game that is widely considered to rely on one's personal talents. Tell a person that you cheated your way into the World Poker Tour, and they might still forgive you for it; Tell that same person that you attempted to cheat your way into a national chess championship, and they'll close their doors to you. Chess is considered to be the utmost formality of all the games out there: If you can't conduct yourself properly when playing it, then what more can be done for you?

The most ironic aspect of this incident is that Sharma's offense will make the chess-playing community feel far less secure about their tournaments. Yes, the officials in his case were able to prosecute and penalize him properly, effectively handling the issue well. Despite that, however, it must be noted that the man was able to win a lot of games prior to his being found out. He was able to note an astronomical rise in his personal ranking. He was able to compete in tournaments without anyone knowing that he was up to no good at all.

Chess players and officials, I fear, will now be hard-pressed to prove that any person sitting across a black-and-white board isn't manipulating things in some way. What are we looking at here, really? Will officials end up banning all electronic devices at chess tournaments? Will they begin cordoning off entire audiences? Will they start setting up metal detectors?

One single cheater in a high-profile game may not necessarily have realized what he has done. But the repercussions are there, mind you. They've already sent the first ripples through a game community, unmindful of the deaths of entertainment pioneers and former presidents.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bah, Humbug

"This is offensive to both Christians and prunes."
-Lisa Simpson

That cold from last month is back with a vengeance, for some reason. If you subscribe to the concepts of viruses and antibodies, then I suppose that it's probably not the same cold; Rather than that, it's probably an elder sibling or close cousin that I'm experiencing here. Whatever the case, this Christmas has been the most medically-related one I've had since the year my sister landed in the hospital for dengue fever.

Or maybe I'm just getting old. Every year leaves me less and less enthusiastic about Christmas and more and more jaded regarding the holiday season. I expect nothing much from the end-of-the-year occasions nowadays: Maybe a substantially increased workload, heavier crowds at the malls, a good bit of 13th-month pay, and maybe more than a few carbohydrate-laden foods at the table. I've long accepted the fact that I'm too old to anticipate opening my presents under the tree, and that I'm too scatterbrained to concentrate on the religious overtones of the season. The more I think about it nowadays, the more I'm certain as to how I feel: Christmas, I suppose, has become just another ordinary, humdrum, run-of-the-mill day.

On the plus side, I didn't get any underwear this year. Underwear is probably the modern equivalent of coal in one's stocking, the kind of present that you get when things go wrong and no one pays attention to your pleas of mercy. There are a lot of gifts along the same lines, mind you -- a shirt that's two sizes too small, a gift certificate to a store that you'll never visit, a really expensive brand-name ballpen -- but you can at least justify some form of lawful intent for them. As for underwear, though... try opening up a mysterious package of briefs in front of the rest of your family, and you'll see what I mean. God help you if they encourage you to try them on "just to make sure that they fit".

I remember getting a Gillette Mach 3 razor and a bottle of shaving cream last year, and that was actually fairly nice. The razor proved to be very good indeed, although I've since lost the shaving cream somewhere in the endless limbo that is my closet.

But I digress. What was I supposed to be talking about, again?

Ah, yes... Christmas.

As bad as it may sound, I've recently started associating the Christmas season with an endless succession of cheese.

I like cheese, mind you. I'm not the sort of person who merely likes eating the stuff with bread, wine, or whatever comes in handy at the moment. I'm the sort of person who just happens to really like cheese. And as it turns out, every year my family seems to think that they have license to trot out a few hundred slices of the processed milk product every available meal. Most families actually do this with ham already; Mine does it with cheese.

I strongly suspect that I am solely responsible for the massive hole that appears in our cheeseboard each year. But as long as it looks like people are consuming the stuff, then we're going to continue serving it... which is quite all right, in my book. So now I associate Christmas with a massive overdose of free-standing cheese, and that seems wrong on so many levels.


...Why am I talking about cheese, anyway?

I blame the cold. It's shutting down my ambiguity sensors, and screwing up my ability to make any sort of sense at all.

On the other hand, both of those have been off-kilter for some time now, so maybe I really shouldn't lay all the blame on the virus. What makes matters worse is that I'm still on a deadline for that computer studies textbook I'm writing, and I'm now wondering if I should go back and double-check everything that I've written over the past few days. It wouldn't do to have my editor think that the manuscript was put together by a drunken Martian.

So I'll leave you with this, ladies and gentlemen. It's not much of a Christmas post, but it's more accurate than a lot of other things I've written.

At least, kind of.

Well, sort of.

Maybe just a little.


*Scuffs foot on carpet*


(*Koff, koff*)



...Well, Merry Christmas, anyway.

Thursday, December 21, 2006


To begin with, it's obvious that I play a lot of games.

No, really. I'm involved with a lot of diversions of the card and board persuasion, up to the point that I can work off of these interests. Not only do I actively play these games, I also seek to understand the psychologies of their respective fans and apply a rigorous mathematical analysis to their respective systems. I believe that card and board games aid the development of the human thinking process, and I therefore treat them as both educational and intellectual stimulations.

There are some games that I don't touch, though. You'll probably be surprised to find out that chess is one of them.

I have a lot of respect for chess. It's an old game that has retained enough charm to be playable across centuries and generations, it transcends cultural boundaries despite the presence of an obvious western-medieval theme, and it's somehow managed to get recognized as a sport by various international entities. It has a lot of players and adherents, it's been translated into practically every computer platform ever released, and it's inspired its own litter of descendants in turn. There's not much more you can find in a game, really.

Unfortunately, that's probably where I've gotten jaded and ignorant. I feel that chess has been around for so long that it doesn't hold much of a sense of wonder for me anymore. You can be enthusiastic enough about the game, I suppose, but when everyone is carrying around the same black-and-white board, when every newspaper carries columns about its tournaments and championships, and when every bookstore has at least one entire shelf devoted to its many aspects and foibles... then everything gets tiresome far more quickly that you expect.

And I think that that's weird, actually. I used to play the game a lot during my high school days, for one. I spent entire evenings trying to find a way to beat my dad (an endeavor in which I never succeeded). I picked up books on strategy and proper gameplay. I solved a few chess puzzles. Heck, one of the first things I did on my first day in college involved walking across the street and buying a small chessboard for use between classes.

Nowadays, all I do is solve the puzzles when I find them. I still have the chessboard packed away in my room somewhere; I haven't used it in the last six years.

As you can see, I'm still trying to figure out why I avoid virtually all mention of chess nowadays.

I think that part of it is due to the way the gameplay has turned out. It's remarkably easy to learn how to play chess, yes, but the game takes a veritable lifetime to master. While that may sound like an excellent quality to have at first, I feel that it takes on a darker aspect when you have chess in mind.

The rules of chess have been around for an extremely long time... so long that the game can safely depend on a word-of-mouth teaching of the rules instead of having to enclose a small manual inside every manufactured set. The knights still move in an L-shape pattern, the pawns still move forward and capture diagonally, and the kings still move only one space at a time. Because these rules have remained unaltered for so long, people have had ample time to come up with strategies for the game. The problem, however, is that we've maintained these same strategies for so long that they've evolved into far more complex forms.

As a result, I'm not certain if I see chess as much of a game anymore. To me, it involves far more memorization of established tactical plans and tested countermoves than it does actual play. When people observe a common opening play and then note the twenty-nine different variations that can follow it up, then you get the feeling that something's wrong.

Whenever somebody publishes the transcript of a particularly interesting game, I raise an eyebrow whenever they make mention of things like "the Nimzo-Indian Defense", or "the Reti Opening", or whatnot. Whatever happened to simpler, edgier descriptions that compliment a sudden check, debate the timing of a castle, or bewail the loss of a pawn? It makes everything sound as though the game became an elitist pastime overnight, to be honest.

To be fair, however, I can just admit that I've been spoiled by the inclusion of a random element in most modern games. Many games nowadays ask you to roll a die or shuffle a deck of cards at some point, and this little bit of unpredictability helps their popularity -- because you can never play the same game twice. Thus every sequence of play tends to be a unique experience.

Chess, unfortunately, does not have any inherent random elements. That means that every game is a product of all the games that were played before it, and that every game will be used as reference for all the games that will be played after it. Considering that our minds will automatically look for patterns in this massive field of historical chaos, it's not surprising that we would inevitably come up with all these chess-based resources. It's also not surprising that we'd end up referring to them whenever we can.

I may not be much of a chess-playing man at the moment, but in a sense, it's not the fault of the game. You can't blame something for the consequences of its being long-lived, after all.

You won't see much of chess in this blog, I'm afraid. I just happen to like and play other games right now. It's as simple as that, I think.

Maybe the enthusiasm will come back someday. If there's anything about enthusiasm, I suppose, it's in how quickly it comes back on the heels of nostalgia. If I stay away from chess for long enough, I'll probably end up actively playing it when the time finally comes.

Till then, however, I'll be waiting right here.

Shah Mat.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

No News is Good News

The bad news: I'm still busy.

The good news: At least I'm getting paid for it. My current circumstances also leave a fairly good impression on people -- after all, I'm doing freelance work where most people would be lazing around spending money and watching porn.

The bad news: I'm going to have a regular job pretty soon. And when that happens, I'm going to have to find a way to fit all this together.

The good news: I'm not worried. I have experience juggling a lot of things. I've handled as many as twenty ongoing projects at certain points; This is actually a little more convenient than usual.

The bad news: Whenever I'm busy, I tend to set certain endeavors off to the side for inordinately long periods of time.

The good news: Said endeavors are almost always the ones of lowest priority. If it's not important, then I figure that it can wait. But I usually ask for deadline or milestone dates, just to be certain.

The bad news: Regardless of such a thing, I will probably cause a few people to worry... mostly about whether or not I can finish my obligations in time.

The good news: I do send them updates. Beyond that, though, I can't do anything about their apprehensiveness. It's one of those things that can only get resolved when you drop the finished product on their table.

The bad news: When these "busy" modes occur, I usually end up consuming too much of a certain stress reliever. Sometimes it's an assortment of junk food, other times it's a certain restaurant that serves fried foods. Whatever it is, it's usually unhealthy.

The good news: Not this time, it seems. I've had three bottles of milk tea in the last three days, and I have this strange urge to pick up another case or two tomorrow.

The bad news: Granted, it's not exactly unhealthy... but it's weird.

The good news: It's weird, and that means that it's right up my alley.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

I Know What You Did Last, er... Week

There seem to be a lot of people who are either wondering why I haven't talked to them lately, or why I haven't been able to attend a few of their recent meetings, or why my last few posts have actually been pretty boring. This is because I've been extremely busy in the last few days despite not maintaining a regular job. Even when the only work you have on hand happens to be of the freelance nature, work is still work.

Sunday, December 10
I spent lunch with members of the paternal side of the family, various denizens of whom engineered my textbook project as well as a few of my job applications in the past six months. Trisha had earlier asked for my assistance in proofreading the draft for a home-school communication notebook; I received the sample copy at this luncheon, began making corrections, and promised that I would have everything finished by Tuesday.

At around 4:00, I left the house to attend the wedding of a misunderstood person, who happens to be a good friend. Said wedding took place at Fernwood Gardens, which meant that the lucky couple received a ceremony and reception with all the trimmings: the bride arrived in a vintage Bentley, the newlyweds were ushered to dinner in a rustic horse-drawn carriage, and the audience got treated to a round of well-thought-out post-ceremonial activities.

The only problem was that it rained the whole time, which was a strange sort of portent for the bride and groom. Both of them were diving enthusiasts who went through a pre-ceremony underwater marriage before the actual Sunday itself, and in a way, it was probably only appropriate that everyone got a little wet.

It was a good wedding, though. They showed a great deal of footage on the underwater marriage, too, and that was the highlight of the day.

Monday, December 11
I spent most of this Monday doing backbreaking labor.

Okay, so maybe it wasn't exactly backbreaking. But I can assure you that it involved more sweat than three bottles of Gatorade could ever hope to replace.

We were replacing the carpeting in one of our bedrooms, so I got up early to move out all the sensitive furniture before the carpetlayer arrived. The computer and cable modem were easy enough to unplug and move out, and the TV didn't cause too many problems either. Virtually every other furnishing in the room was a veritable antique, however, and had apparently been created at a time when wheels hadn't existed yet. As a result, we spent a solid few hours involved in grunting, heavy lifting, and cries of "That doesn't fit there!"

In sharp contrast, it took the carpetlayer less than two hours to finish his part of the job; He never broke so much as a light sweat.

I spent the afternoon dragging everything back inside the room (on top of the still-grungy new carpet), and then went through a couple of hours working the many plugs and outlets involved. I made certain that the phone was functioning properly, then did the same for the TV, then did the same for the cable connection, and then the VCD player, and then the computer, and then the printer, and then the Internet connection.

The phrase "dog tired" didn't even begin to explain how I felt afterwards. The next time anyone asks me to do something like this, I'm asking for some financial gratuity.

Tuesday, December 12
I met up with cstiu for breakfast somewhere in the Greenhills area. She was back from Hong Kong for a cousin's wedding; I try to see her whenever I can nowadays, ever since her new job prevented us from talking to each other via Yahoo! Messenger.

We discussed a lot of things: Breakfast, muesli, gym memberships, the ongoing development of Greenhills, business in the Filipino-Chinese community, Tom Kyte, project managers, job applications, the Tintin books, macaroons, cheese omelets and money issues only begin to scratch the surface. We parted ways a little before noon, as someone was treating her to lunch in the Tomas Morato area. If there's one thing about the denizens of the Philippines, we love stuffing out balikbayan visitors with the local cuisine. :)

I then spent the afternoon hanging around the Fully Booked branch in Greenhills, taking some time out to catch Happy Feet in an almost-empty theater. While I thought that the movie was cute, I ended up agreeing with a couple of critiques that I had read the previous week: It felt as though the producers had smashed together two completely different plots and tossed Robin Williams into the resulting mix. It's hard not to like the concept of dancing penguins, though, as compared to delinquent cows, naive bears or burping squirrels.

Later in the evening, I wrapped up my corrections to the sample publication I had received the previous Sunday. I pity the person who has to make all the changes...

Wednesday, December 13
I spent Wednesday in The Podium, one of the most upscale of upscale malls in the Metropolis, awaiting my shot at a job interview.

The circumstances of the interview were odd, to say the least. The company in question had tried to acquire my services some years before for what seemed like the exact same job; In fact, some of its staff members had previously worked under my management. It was, moreover, the first job interview I ever had that took place inside a Starbucks branch. I had to admit, however, that everything goes a little easier when you have a Vanilla Cream Frappuccino close to hand.

I then spent the rest of the afternoon trying to do some work with the only Internet connection I found -- inside the local video arcade. I can therefore confirm that it is almost impossible to get any work done against significant amounts of background noise, as a result. After a while, I gave up, went to the nearest bookstore, and spent the rest of my stay wallowing in unwrapped comics and trade paperbacks.

Thursday, December 14
I had a proposal for web development that definitely needed finishing by this time, so I made certain to wrap it up and send it over by this day. The client in question is a company that I've been working with for the last three or four years, and I wanted them to have something to have in the works before 2007 came along.

Making a web development proposal isn't easy when you're coming from my sort of background. You have to look at multiple examples across the web, check the feasibility of what the client wants, analyze the resources you have available to you, and then decide the best course of action from there. A lesser developer would probably just start putting everything together without regard for long-term plans; Nowadays, I try not to fall back on such tactics.

I actually still have to meet with the client for a face-to-face discussion on this, so that automatically puts something on my plate next week. The work won't be easy, I suppose -- nothing ever is -- but it does feel nice to be involved in web site production again.

Friday, December 15
For those who aren't in the know yet: I'm currently writing a computer studies textbook that's aimed at pre-schoolers. That is to say, I'm writing a book that should help four- or five-year-olds stray into the territories of fragile, expensive technology. Parents beware.

My personal, self-imposed deadline for the textbook happens to be the end of this year, so I locked myself inside the room with the new carpet and slogged through at least twenty solid pages of chaptery goodness. This meant that, by the time the sun was setting, I had finally finished the third chapter of the book (out of a pre-planned four). An excerpt from this chapter goes as follows:
Page 57

Other programs in the computer can be opened through the icons you see on the desktop screen. Each icon opens a different program, and different programs do different things.

(Upper left illustration: Screenshot of Microsoft Word, with a few lines of text written.)
Some programs let you write letters and words.

(Upper right illustration: Screenshot of Microsoft Paint, with a simple drawing.)
Some programs let you draw and paint things.

(Lower left illustration: Screenshot of Windows Media Player, with a movie playing.)
Some programs let you watch movies… or even make them!

(Lower right illustration: Screenshot of Microsoft Excel, with numbers and graphs.)
And some programs… do some really complicated stuff.

As you can see, I was starting to get really tired after only seven straight hours of writing. Heck, after seven straight hours of writing, I was starting to see a bunch of pink elephants floating in front of my eyes. This cued the heavy migraine that lasted for the rest of my evening; In retrospect, watching Ed Wood on the movie channel probably made the headache worse.

So that was my week, ladies and gentlemen. Everything's laid out here for everyone to see. This is why I haven't talked to many people, yes -- although like any true masochist would, I've made certain to put up a couple of notes on the blog for the sake of maintaining a regular posting schedule.

And just think: I don't even have a regular job yet. :)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Post Alpha Beta

I should be on Blogger Beta as of this post, I think. I'm still trying to figure out the difference, and in some cases, I'm still trying to see how I can take advantage of the new features.

One concern that has cropped up has been that of retroactive updates. Should I, for example, go over the past two years' worth of posts just so that I can insert a set of labels into each of them? I'd normally say no, but I have to consider the fact that I'll be skimming over them anyway, just to see if any of the coding has gone out of whack. If I'm going to have a look at everything, then I might as well do everything I want to do at the same time.

On the other hand, I won't be checking the past two years' worth of posts for a while. My schedule's been incredibly busy as of late (which is interesting, once you consider that I'm not holding a regular job at the moment), and right now I'm more concerned about putting up new posts than I am about revisiting old ones.

Now that I'm working with Blogger Beta, however, and now that I can't return to the older version of the system, there's the prospect of worrying myself with fixing the blog. I have almost four hundred posts to my name over here, and people still visit some of the older ones for any number of reasons. I don't know why, mind you. I only know that I still have to wash the drapes and clean the carpets around here.

Oooh, you can use the new system to filter all of your unpublished draft posts now. Maybe I can find something to resurrect among the 28 unfinished entries I have. It's always nice to have some blocks to build on.

In the meantime, if anyone notices anything amiss with the blog, feel free to notify me so that I can patch into the beta system and curse to my heart's content. There's nothing like the smell of burning copper wire in the morning...

Monday, December 11, 2006

Feed Me

No, this has nothing to do with RSS at all.

I've just noticed that quite a few people have been moving to Multiply lately. This is rather understandable, as Multiply holds packages for blog, photo, music and video displays where Blogger mostly concentrates on its namesake. Some stalwarts remain with their blogspot addresses, however, and that's where I'm encountering my current mode of indecision.

You see, Multiply has a small feature that allows people to reflect their Blogger posts on their Multiply web site. From what I understand, the feature can access your Blogger account as long as you hand over your username and password: All you have to do is open up the Cross-Posting option, and suddenly you have an alternate weblog.

The catch is, I keep asking myself if I need an alternate weblog. It's bad enough worrying about how to update one web site -- so why torture yourself by establishing a second one, even if it does give you better access to photos and such? I don't even have photos to put up online, for that matter. (That's 'cause it might traumatize the kids, of course.)

I know that my posts have grown in terms of complexity over the last couple of years, for one. While I'm sure that Multiply won't roll over and die from a few snippets of HTML code, having my posts reflected there will require me to double-check two sites for layout consistency. There's also the matter of the right-hand sidebar here, which can't really be fed into Multiply; If I do set up a Blogger feed, then I'm going to have to customize the sidebar from scratch.

And then there's the primary readership issue that comes by having two sites with the same content. I'm more than a little concerned at dividing what little audience I have into two different areas: Will this increase the number of readers I get? Cut it down further? Open the door to spam and other minor irritations? Split my already-fractured mind into two distinct personalities? While I don't intend to prioritize reader traffic at the moment, practical considerations still require that I take note of the possibility.

But if people are mirroring their writings on Multiply, then there's probably some overwhelming advantage to it that I'm not seeing right now. It's most likely something that hasn't entered my mind at the moment; In fact, I'm betting that it'll probably come up at the last moment in some idle, friendly dinner somewhere.

Or, failing that, it'll hit me a little too late to take advantage of it. Such is life, I figure.

In the meantime, all I have up on my Multiply site is a familiar-looking profile picture, an empty home page, and a weird-looking apology letter. In a sense, that's pretty much the same thing I have up on my LiveJournal account -- and I ended up forgetting about the latter for about a year or so. That's not a good sign.

What's next, anyway? Xanga? PmWiki? There are a lot of personal toolsets out there on the World Wide Web, and I get the feeling that most of them will be hating me before the end of next year comes up.

On the other hand, I could always show them a picture. That always gets them running away. :)

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Fiction: Ballad of the Forgotten Sentry

'Fore wooden bridge, on stony ridge
An old knight takes his stand
Commanded there by sire's glare
And duty's fateful hand.

With sword of rust, forsaken trust
Forgotten there by most
Yet there he guards, past deadly wards,
A kingdom's stately ghost.

His shoulders bent, their vigor spent
The weight of all the years
Falls on his cowl. Mere blackened scowl
Remains of mortal fears.

No strength remains. The knight retains
The challenge he has wrought,
Past slivered age the destined wage
Of wars that once were fought.

His gauntlet-hand blasted by sand
Still lies on ancient hilt,
Unmarred by death nor precious breath
A lost land's unknown guilt.

What winds bewail, the heart did fail
The valiance of the sigh.
Raised up in trust, the spirit must
Fall down from up on high.

Yet duty's cost before the lost
Demands a bitter tithe.
An honored vow both here and now
Persists past winter's scythe.

The ghosts of all that ancient call
Now slumber in the next
Save lonely knight, forgotten might
Of sins held long and vexed.

'Fore wooden bridge, on stony ridge
By borders close to land
He yet stands there by sunlit stare
And duty's fateful hand.

Though man forgets, the vow still sets
The precepts of his quest.
Of honor borne, the spirit sworn
Yet keeps him from his rest.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Wax On, Wax Off

That's funny... the Internet connection over here has been on the fritz for a few hours now. Sometimes it's on, sometimes it's off, but most of the time it seems as though it can't make up its mind.

Not that it's much of a concern, mind you. To start with, my current connection is far faster than the dial-up I was using for the longest time. In addition to that, the ISP has a habit of calling me up after every connection problem just to make sure that I haven't been inconvenienced in any way. (To be honest, the intermittent connection has broken a few of my downloads every now and then, but where else do you find an ISP that actually apologizes for it?)

At any rate, it's much better than PLDT. It's also much more expensive than PLDT, yes, but I'd gladly pay double the normal rate just to avoid the grief.

I'd also gladly recommend the company to anyone who's interested. The iCable web site can be found here, and although I've heard that there's supposed to be some sort of referral program going on, I can't find any official statement about it. I suppose that I can bite the bullet for this one, though.

Now, with that said... let's see if the connection's active enough for this post to publish properly...

Wednesday, December 06, 2006


My family was part of an audience watching this cantata last Sunday night, you see. But I think that I'm getting ahead of myself here.

What I mean to say is that I find Christian Rock to be a very strange animal. This was, in a sense, what we encountered in an indifferently crowded theater on an ordinary Sunday night, three weeks before Christmas.

Normally, cantata are something of a formal affair. If I'm reading my sources right, they're a set of organized musical performances that usually take place during the Christmas season: You get a bunch of trained singers and instrumentalists together to perform some really good Christmas songs, and you have a cantata. That's that, I think.

Except that I hesitate to call last Sunday's performance a cantata. It was, for lack of a better word, more of a Praise concert.

In general, Christians don't have very good reputations when it comes to musical criticism. Historically, Christians are usually the first people to denounce any development that causes a profound shift in human perception... up to and including new styles of music. As far as I know, we've denounced certain areas of classical music, some operas, the entire jazz movement, American Blues, Goth, Punk, Heavy Metal of all kinds, and Rap of any color.

Rock'n'Roll, however, seems to hold the most ambiguous position among Christian sensibilities. The genre has been derisively termed "the Devil's Music" at certain points, and there are more than a few conservative communities that don't hold truck with this most 'infernal' of noises. Despite this, however, a number of religious communities have actually embraced the genre; For that matter, some of them have even taken it on to the level of developing a "Christian Rock" platform.

That was, in all probability, what we experienced last Sunday night. And as if the realm of leather clothing, screaming lyrics and mad guitar riffs didn't feel strange enough on its own, this single cantata added its own brand of weirdness to the mix.

Sunday night did seem as though it was able to capture the essence of a Rock concert, mind you. There was a lead vocalist cavorting with a few backup singers on stage, an entire keyboard and drums section in the back, and a substantial crowd that was on its feet for the majority of the performance. The only difference was that said lead vocalist was exhorting said crowd to stand up and Worship Him With Song, and that most of said crowd ended up Milling Around Trying To Sing Songs That They Did Not Know.

Again, however, I digress. Once again, I must dip into observational background here.

I get the feeling that Christians are somewhat inexperienced when it comes to Rock. There's just something, I think, about denouncing a musical genre for the longest time, and then doing a complete about-face and deciding that you can use it for your own religious purposes. I don't think that most Christian composers have been able to enlighten themselves beyond the surface aspects of Rock, which chiefly involves high volumes and a lot of cultural misunderstanding.

In other words: To most anti-Rock advocates, Rock is simply a loud and nonsensical brand of music. I figure, therefore, that most anti-Rock advocates who attempt to appropriate it for their own use tend to focus on the "loud" aspect over everything else.

The catch is that Christians don't have much to be "loud" about. Christianity, mind you, is a religion that likes to sit down and discuss things. Never mind the occasional hellfire-and-brimstone homilies you hear in church, or the old conversion-by-the-sword techniques of ancient times: For the most part, Christians like congregating together and discussing the finer aspects of their faith. That's why we have such things as prayer groups and religious retreats.

From every indication, a Christian Rock Band holds about as much sense as the complacent vest-wearing, pipe-smoking parent who one day decides to dye his hair red-violet, wear leather pants and scream into a microphone just because he ends up liking his son's brand of music. Such a parent would probably get the respect of a lot of people ("It's nice to see that you take such an interest in your children"), but you really wouldn't want to know how the son feels.

And then you have Praise.

Yes, that's right: Praise.

Last Sunday's cantata wasn't a cantata as much as it was a Praise concert. While Christian Rock is not exclusively Praise and vice-versa, Sunday Night was probably a testament as to how the two sub-genres are intertwined.

Christians are no stranger to celebration, of course. Every culture has its own religious holidays and observances; I'll venture that Christians and Moslems and Buddhists and Hinduists each have their own respective days to sing, dance and generally have a good time. In the bible, King David is noted as having enthusiastically danced to the Ark of the Covenant's return to Israel -- so modern Christians do have a bit of precedence in this case.

It just strikes me that, if you're a Christian who's trying to promote the surface aspects of Rock (i.e. loud volume), then you'll inevitably turn to Praise. Praise is one of the few things that Christians will unabashedly shout to the heavens -- if you're this enthusiastic about your faith, after all, then you're bound to express it in celebration.

Thus you have Praise. Or, to be precise: You have an entire Sunday evening's worth of Praise.

While I have no argument against Praise music -- it is fair subject matter for songs, after all -- I do have a problem with too much Praise music. I mean, you could be the biggest Rock fan in history, but when the various bands decide to take over your house, rip up the furniture and empty the refrigerator, you'll have to admit that you'll get tired of the stuff very, very quickly.

Last Sunday night, I welcomed the first Praise song with all the standard expectations of a man watching a Christmas cantata. I turned an unsuspecting glance at the second Praise song, then raised the proverbial eyebrow when a third one came on over the sound system. By the time the singers seamlessly lapsed into a fourth tune, my expression had been reduced to a single confused stare. The tunes in question were not even Christmas songs in the slightest sense, and I began asking myself what kind of cantata I had gotten myself into.

Fortunately, that was when the performers lapsed into a solemn rendition of "O Holy Night", one of my favorite carols. Unfortunately, that was when I found that they had inexplicably substituted most of the lyrics for words of their own writing. So once again the crowd was subjected to a never-ending wall of Praise music, one that continued on for a good hour or so. By the time the performance ended, I was all too eager to high-tail it all the way home.

I still have no argument against Praise music, for the reasons I've stated above. People have the right to prefer or make their own compositions or means of celebration, I suppose.

What puzzles me, however, is how Christians can tolerate this sort of thing. While I'm all for exhorting God's majesty and grace, it seems to me that eight straight songs doing the same thing in one evening is far too much. Yes, God definitely deserves the accolades... but I have to assert that there is a fine line between Praise and Sycophancy. I see God as a benevolent father-type being; I don't want to go around hallelujahing his every move and figuratively licking His divine boots.

Of course, I'm probably wrong here. I'm just one man with a distinctly un-Christian opinion, who could barely be called 'devout' in the first place. You could call me blasphemous if you like, I suppose, and therefore ignore me completely. I get the feeling that I've crossed that line quite a few times already.

Yes, I'm probably wrong about the whole thing. Maybe I'm just not used to the practice, and maybe one day I'll do a complete turnaround and be able to enjoy mounds of Praise music just like the Christian multitudes do.

...Just like the relationship between Christians and Rock, I think.


It's amazing what time can do to certain opinions that we have of each other.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Disclaimer: December 2006

I'm aware that this is supposed to be the season of giving, but there's a fine line between giving things away and leaving yourself wide open to theft. As with all disclaimer posts, I have two reasons for writing this entry: One, I wish to uphold a consistent front against plagiarism every month; Two, I started doing these posts more than two years ago, and it seems a shame to stop writing the only regular feature on this site.

With these disclaimer posts, I testify that everything as written on this web site is completely original, having been sourced from the diseased mind of the author whose profile appears on the right-hand sidebar. Any items posted here that come from other sources are labeled clearly and linked when applicable -- if anyone has a problem with how I do these acknowledgements, they're free to contact me for discussion. There has to be a certain mutual respect between every human being in this manner, I suppose.

Anyone is welcome to use any content posted on this site, as long as the similar and proper acknowledgements are used as well. I reserve the right to add another caveat to this, in that anyone using any of my writings must ask for my permission to do so. I do not do this for purposes of greed or self-promotion, but only to ensure that I am never quoted out of context; Rumor and innuendo do more damage to a man than a fine bullet to the head.

The permission process is simple enough: Just post something in any Comments section, or send me an e-mail. Do that, and I will respect you forever. Honest.

I promise to incur litigatory wrath on any person who misquotes me in this regard, misrepresents me, or -- God forbid -- uses my writings with the intent of claiming them under any other person's name. This is the essence of plagiarism, a sin borne of sloth and human disdain, and I will not tolerate it in this little corner of the World Wide Web. While I would prefer to educate people on the nature and vices of the matter, I still have to note any means of penalty for anyone who actually has the gall to do this.

You'd probably expect me to growl at this point, but audio doesn't carry over very well when you're writing.

For further information, please consult the Creative Commons License as noted at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. That should be as well-defined as it gets around here.

And, because it's December already: Have a Merry Christmas.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Tentative Schedule

Thursday, November 30
Lay out a bunch of gift card proposals for the family bakeshop. Brainstorm regarding a "Crimes of Passion" short story for a local publication. Continue sprite manipulation for the next installment for Web Comic Wars (and its brand of organized insanity). Progress in writing Chapter Two of computer studies textbook. Contact Neutral Grounds on setup for Pokémon tournament. Await results of recent job interviews. Decide whether or not to attend the Fully Booked sale at Gateway Mall despite the coming typhoon.

Friday, December 01
Write December 2006 Disclaimer for weblog. Double-check application for tournament organizer with Pokémon Organized Play. Produce corrections to gift card proposals. Write draft of "Crimes of Passion" short story. Continue sprite manipulation for Web Comic Wars. Contact Rodriguez regarding recent AK-47 shipment to Cuba. Pick up supply of index cards for weekend tournaments. Prepare sample Legend of the Five Rings decks for demo. Charge laptop.

Saturday, December 02
Xavier School Wish Bazaar from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Demo Legend of the Five Rings CCG. Oversee handling of Heroclix tournament. Demo board game (to be chosen at random from bazaar supply). Schmooze and mingle.

Sunday, December 03
Xavier School Wish Bazaar from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. Meet on status of Philippine Pokémon community. Suggest promotional activities for Neutral Grounds' sponsorship. Oversee and observe handling of Pokémon tournament. More schmoozing and mingling.

For any HR representatives who are checking up on this weblog due to the reference on my resumé: I assure you that I am currently jobless at the moment. Yes, I'm a busy man. No, I'm not making any of this up.

...Except for the Cuban connection, that is. The courier's real name is Kobayashi.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Antaria: What Lies Beneath

(Author's Note: This piece is chronologically preceded by the works "Amalthea" and "Of Memories Beyond".)

she said to herself. My name is Amalthea, and I'm a dungeoneer.

She had to admit that that sounded wrong. She wasn't sure if "dungeoneer" was an actual word, but she could think of no other way to describe her habit of exploring the dark and abandoned places of the local environment.

Thorngarde Keep wasn't just one of those dark and abandoned places, of course. Thorngarde was a... dungeoneer's dungeon, if there ever was one. It was a centuries-old fortress, depopulated by time and embraced by decay. Amalthea had read that it once stood on a major crossroads of the land, and had therefore been designed by some enterprising Allandrian warlord to repel invaders. When the borders moved, however, the kingdoms concluded that Thorngarde's strategic value was sorely misplaced... and thus it now stood alone, a moldering monument to conflicts best forgotten.

Despite having most of its rooms stripped of valuables and furnishings, rumors persisted that Thorngarde Keep still held a few more treasures of note. One of those stories, an ale-fed tale about how an entire vault of gold crowns had been inadvertently left behind by the Keep's last occupants, still proved popular enough to draw the occasional... dungeoneer to the place.

This was not to say that Amalthea was after the money; the Metrian Guild provided her with everything that she needed, after all. She only wanted to see if such stories were actually true.

She inched one foot forward, cautiously reaching towards a subtle indentation on the floor beyond. Flagstones, she realized, were more a compromise than anything else: On the one hand, they covered stone passageways in a clean and even manner. On the other hand, they made obvious covers for traps.

She touched one corner of the raised flagstone with her toes, heard a clicking sound, and immediately scrambled back behind a small pile of debris. Just as she did, a small area of the ceiling opened... only to cough up nothing more than two inches of dust and plaster.

Amalthea waited. A few seconds later, a frayed length of rope emerged from the opening in the ceiling and swung forlornly towards the floor. It looked as though it had been part of some lethal diversion at one point in time; whether or not it had been successful in its task would probably never be known.

That was the problem with the Keep being a popular destination for... for... dungeoneers (she was starting to hate that word): Sooner or later, someone was bound to have triggered the last trap. Someone was bound to have searched the last room. Someone was bound to have carried off the last bit of gold, or brass, or iron... or even tallow, when it came to that.

It did mean that she was free to move about, though. Part of the fun in poking around old ruins lay in finding things that weren't supposed to be there.


Kharandon Greybane's robes chafed. They always chafed against the black-hewn rock of the Galenic Academies. It was as though the circumstances were always trying to make him feel as uncomfortable as possible.

The Academies, like many other high-ranking Lorend institutions, were built on the foundations of the once-proud Obsidian Palaces. Centuries ago, the Palaces were the center of what historians termed "The Obsidian Empire" -- a massive state that spanned the whole of Antaria from the northern seas to the southern deserts.

Some four hundred years previously, something happened that reduced the so-called Obsidian Empire to mere remnants strewn across the continental landscape. No one knew exactly what that "something" was, and Kharandon's historians tended to go all to pieces just arguing over it. But the lost empire's ruins were more than adequate for habitation, and the Galenics had just naturally settled in. Virtually every citizen of Lorendheim had done the same.

Kharandon pushed himself away from the wall and straightened into a standing position. This was not how he had expected to spend his afternoon.

A few feet away from him, a radiant young woman engaged in animated conversation with one of the young paladins. Satine Whitestone was a few years younger than Kharandon, her features unmarked by the cares or worries of leadership. Her youth made her instantly popular among the newer generations, whereas the traditionalist elders were impressed by both her honesty and potential.

Kharandon did not consider himself to be a part of either group, however. As far as he was concerned, she needed far more improvement if she was to lead the Galenics effectively.

He cleared his throat at her. It was a very obvious gesture, but one that she conveniently chose to ignore.

"We expect great things from you, Sir Dannik," Satine said.

The young paladin gave her a florid bow. "I shall fulfill them to the best of my ability," he answered.

If Kharandon thought that the Galenic grandmaster was ready to move on, however, then he was sorely mistaken. Satine gave her fellow conversationalist a faint smile. "Tell me," she asked, "how is Lady Sylia?"

The paladin's calm demeanor turned bright red at her question. "Well, ah..."

"Have you met her parents yet?"

Dannik opened his mouth to answer, then closed it again in embarrassment. From the cleric's viewpoint, the young man was doing his best impression of a fish out of water. Kharandon was beyond all sense of amusement by this point, however.

He cleared his throat again. This gesture was much louder than his first attempt, and this time -- almost mercifully -- Satine Whitestone decided to give in.

"We shall speak later, Sir Dannik," she told the embarrassed young man.

"Y... yes, Lady Satine," Dannik said, almost relieved that their conversation was coming to an end.


The wall looked funny, Amalthea concluded. If there was anything vaguely interesting about funny-looking walls, it lay in how many of them would suddenly open up and surprise people with what they had inside.

Amalthea had seen quite a few secret passages before. The building that housed the Metrian Guild, for example, held six or seven of the silly things. Atharus, of course, was the sort of person who believed that secret passages were made secret for good reason, and thus prohibited Amalthea from exploring anything that the Guild wanted to hide. Amalthea, on the other hand, was the sort of person who could be trusted to do something if you had told her -- in very explicit terms -- precisely not to do it.

She probed some of the cracks in the nearby foundations. No wall would stick out as badly as it did without actually harboring something inside. There was bound to be a switch somewhere.

Her efforts were rewarded a few minutes later; A brick on one of the lower layers pushed itself in, under the weight of her staff. She stepped back at the sound of grinding stone, and within moments the entire section of wall had moved aside for her.

The corridor beyond was dry and dusty, lit only by the occasional shaft of light. Some of the cobwebs surmounting it had been broken, and it was obvious that someone had already passed through the place. From the unbroken layer of dust on the floor, however, Amalthea concluded that they had not been back for some time.

She smiled. This was a good sign -- she was walking into some of the less-explored areas of the Keep.

Heedless of her own safety, she stepped into the new corridor, listening with grim satisfaction as the stone wall automatically closed behind her.


If Satine was impatient with Kharandon, she gave no indication of such a thing. It happened to be one of her better qualities.

"I humbly apologize for my impertinence, Lady Satine," Kharandon told her, hoping that this would smooth things over in a satisfactory manner.

"Kharandon," Satine said.

"Yes, my lady?"

"It's not very polite to offer an apology when you don't mean it," she said, smiling at him.

He stared at her expression for a moment, wondering what sort of game she was playing. She was either being genuinely nice, or deliberately making him regret what he had just said. Whatever the case, Kharandon Greybane immediately backed down.

"Well said, my lady."

Satine continued smiling. "Sir Dannik is a very accomplished young man, is he not?"

Kharandon answered her as though his thoughts had turned distant. "Yes... I suppose so."

"What do you think of him, Kharandon?"

The cleric and advisor thought for a while. "He is young," he said, "and naive. He has the resources to solve the land's problems at his feet, yet he believes that he can yet stand back and wait for the world to resolve itself."

Satine's expression turned to disapproval. "That's very... judgemental of you, Kharandon."

"It's also an honest opinion, my lady," Kharandon said, noting that such a description could also apply to his present company.

"Surely you were young once."

"For about two seconds, I fear," Kharandon laughed.

"Besides," Satine added, "Sir Dannik is a man in love."

"Is he, now? I hardly noticed."

Satine smiled this time. "The healers gossip like fishwives sometimes. I take it that you have met the object of his affection?"

"Lady Sylia?" Kharandon asked. "Of course. She's not a very exceptional student, but she should graduate with the rest of her colleagues later this year."

"I mean, what's she like as a person, Kharandon? I'm hardly interested in her academic performance."

"I... well, I honestly haven't met her personally, my lady."

Satine sighed in exasperation. "You could make an effort, Lord Kharandon. Human beings are little more than figures who walk and talk, you know."

"I'll see about that," Kharandon said, waving her words away with a single gesture.


As much as she liked secret passages, Amalthea knew exactly where the limits of her patience were. Whoever designed Thorngarde Keep, on the other hand, must have lapsed into one-track thinking at some point.

She had to admit that the secret passage within the secret passage was a creative touch. In addition, the presence of a third entrance hidden within the second reflected a very unique mind. However, by the time she went through the fourth and fifth ones, walked down the concealed flight of stairs, found the sixth hidden entrance, descended below the stone trapdoor and opened the seventh and eighth walls, she was ready to collapse and throw up.

Her only consolation was the fact that the cobwebs and dust had gotten much thicker with each passage she navigated. She was walking around in the deepest recesses of the Keep now, in places that people had probably not even known about, much less explored. Still, she hadn't found anything worth a copper crown.

She turned the corner and stopped short at a massive stone wall. It was clearly a dead end, and Amalthea hated dead ends. There was also the possibility that it housed yet another secret passage that led deeper into the Keep's foundations... although now Amalthea hated that, too.

Strangely enough, there was a rusted, cobwebbed iron level set into the stone wall. Amalthea glared at it as though it had personally offended her; The architect obviously decided to stop trying at this point.

"All right," Amalthea said, rubbing her hands together, "Let's see where the door opens now."

She tucked into the lever and gave it a good hard pull. In retrospect, she should have wondered why it moved so easily when it should have clearly rusted in place.

The floor dropped open. Amalthea suddenly found herself kicking at dead air, mere moments before she fell into the gaping hole beyond.

Her form disappeared into the darkness of the Keep's cellars. And for the entire duration of her journey to the floor below, all that she did was unleash a stream of foul epithets against the dungeon that had deceived her so well.

Korea, Korea

I was thinking of writing a bit of fiction here today, only there seems to be something wrong with the Windows version that this Internet café is using. Every now and then, the window I'm working on will automatically minimize itself, as though the computer is deliberately winking at me.

In addition to that, whoever registered this copy of Windows decided to install a Korean-language option for no apparent reason at all. This means that I'm literally writing this post against a backdrop of Korean characters: It's a beautiful language, I'm sure, but it makes absolutely no sense to an English-speaking mind.

I often wonder if I'm clicking on the right buttons. Fortunately, two years of using Blogger has allowed me to note exactly where each and every function is located.

And now... and now, I have this urgent need to go home and play StarCraft.

Weird, huh?

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Ooooh, Pictures!

Last night, I uploaded a temporary image to serve as a profile photo reference:

Yes, it's a penguin.

No, it has absolutely nothing to do with the "Happy Feet" movie, showing in theaters now. In fact, we've owned him long before advertising for the movie even started. My brother and sister picked him up in Hong Kong, where he had to pass through an airport x-ray machine and ended up reducing an entire troop of security technicians to uncontrollable laughter.

I decided to put up a photo reference of some sort after visiting my LiveJournal and Multiply accounts earlier this week. While Livejournal doesn't place much of a premium on images, Multiply is a photograph-based web site at its core... and, in any case, my postings were starting to feel a little devoid of graphic aesthetics.

Adding to everything was the fact that I have a story being optioned by Philippine Genre Stories, and that they've asked me to submit a picture of myself for publication alongside the work. While they're graciously allowing me to hand in a picture of anything I want, I find that I'd rather not submit a non-Sean image this time. The new periodical plans to encourage direct feedback from its readers, and I'd feel like a literary cop-out if I didn't stand beside my own story.

The fact that few people in the blogosphere know what I look like hasn't been lost on me. I've had to resort to other means of identification when meeting people (mostly involving a large black umbrella), and I've developed a habit of joking about the perils of a secret identity. From a personal point of view, I think of myself as a "word"-based person, and this usually doesn't translate all that well to a world that places emphasis on visual imagery.

Interestingly enough, a photo of myself actually does exist online. It showed up in Jonas Diego's blog, after my trip to the 2005 Philippine Toys and Games Convention:

That's me, the weird-looking guy in the blue shirt standing beside the always-lovely Cathy delos Santos. Hopefully Jonas won't mind my leeching off his Photobucket bandwidth. (Er... right, Jonas? Hello?)

Apart from that, however, the last photos I've ever had taken for public viewing involved a corporate office advertisement (back when the dark and mysterious look was "in"), and my university's literary folio (where a photo was shown of me with my back to the camera). As you can see, I'm not much of a camera person. I don't even like having pictures taken at vacations.

With all that said, it'll still be a cold day in hell before I let a "straight" photo of myself make the rounds. I have this incredible urge to fiddle with pictures of my face, albeit not in a destructive, self-defacing way. I seem to think that I look too much like an ordinary person, and I therefore have to play with the graphics a bit. Does this count as inherent insecurity? Does this express a deep-seated need for attention? Does this imply an internal psychosis that will probably manifest later in life, through some random mixture of guns, chickens and honey-mustard sauce?

I don't know, but whatever it is, I hope that it's not contagious.

For now, however, I'm using the penguin. I'm not using it because of any particular affinity I have for penguins, mind you. I'm just using it because it happened to be the most convenient household object to photograph.

That, and I'm hoping for a number of "Cuuuute!" reactions. A few of those should soften up the audience for the appearance of my ugly mug early next year.


Monday, November 20, 2006


I am experiencing the mother of all colds at the moment.

Of course, this writing can't possibly express my little piece of reality. Right now, I'm lumbering around the house in a half-daze, slurring my words and occasionally blowing my nose with a piece of sodden tissue paper. It's not good for my disposition in any way.

It hasn't been good for my writing, for that matter: Seeing that I have to grab at the tissue box around once every fifteen minutes, I tend to lose my concentration very often. That makes this a bad time for fiction and essay pieces, and an even worse time for computer games.

I remember being a very sickly kid, actually. I was one of those third-graders who constantly ran into every casual disease in the medical books. This has had interesting consequences on my adult life, in that I find myself almost invulnerable to a lot of the stuff going around. When the viruses do manage to strike home, though, they hit pretty hard -- just like they're doing right now, I suppose.

Of course, knowing all this doesn't do anything for my current situation. Seeing that mankind has never been able to develop a sure-fire cure for the common cold, I doubt that there's anything that can be done for my current situation. A cold is just one of those things that you have to grin and bear. (And sniffle all the way through.)

For some reason, there's a small part of me that demands that I go out and socialize. That way, if I get to suffer the wrath of this virus, at least I'll know that there are a lot of other people going through the exact same experience.

But I won't do that, of course. The way I feel, I'd rather lie in bed and vegetate.

...And use up boxes after boxes of tissue paper, I suppose.


Friday, November 17, 2006

Reverse Atrophy

I shuffled out of bed at around eight-forty-five this morning, switched on the computer, and began my scheduled task for the day. This might sound odd for a man who's been out of work for the last three months, but that's how I usually spend my time nowadays -- executing one freelance project after another. While the level of income for these usually doesn't bring as much satisfaction as a regular job, the work at least keeps me from going mad with boredom.

This morning's task wasn't originally supposed to take place, to be honest. You see, it all started when my mother's bakeshop came out with their Christmas offerings for this year. After their designers approve and finalize the packaging for each of these products, we take photos of them and place the results inside an album for showcasing to clients.

Recent years have made this marketing method impractical, though. The problem with showcasing your product lines via photo album, you see, is that you still have to get it to the client somehow. This means that you'll either have to bring it over to the client's place, or have the client come over to your place, or set up any sort of potentially inconvenient arrangement. We first remedied this by simply printing out, photocopying and then distributing the photos -- but this year, we finally decided that such an option was a tad too expensive for us.

The final straw came about when one of my uncles asked for a copy of this year's Christmas offerings. This presented a problem: The products were housed in a 13mb Microsoft Word file, which was too large to be uploaded all in one go, much less enclosed as an e-mail attachment. File compression apps (such as WinZip and WinRAR) couldn't slice it into increments smaller than 3mb each, and would make for an additional problem in case my uncle wanted to send the file to anybody else. And the idea of snail mail was out of the question -- this is the Christmas season, after all, and what would happen if we had to change anything at short notice?

In the end, this left us only one viable solution: We had to make a web site.

Despite my five-year stint as project manager of a web development company, I actually don't have that much experience in web design and programming. This is primarily because I'm one of the old-school amateurs: I learned the basics of HTML programming in college, just before the millenium rolled around. While I did put such knowledge to good use, I didn't move on to the more advanced aspects like so many of my classmates did.

Under normal circumstances, I would have thought that I'd lost these skills over six years of atrophy. My tenure in web development, however, provided me with significant practice in updating sites, patching code, and tightening loose ends. Maintaining a blog also provides a lot of opportunities for programming as well. What this means, in case you're wondering, is that I'm still perfectly capable of putting together a (very amateurish) web site all by myself. It's funny how things work out sometimes.

That also means that I was sitting at the computer early this morning, working things out. I was an old boy playing with new technologies, I think -- an old boy who felt much more comfortable writing HTML code in Notepad when he could just as easily have been working the rounds of Macromedia Dreamweaver in some cushy office somewhere.

It took me about an hour to cobble together the first page from scratch, which told me one thing: Amateurish programming skills and obsessive-compulsive perfectionism shouldn't go hand-in-hand with each other. Everything did get easier once I had established the first few lines of code, and although I still encountered the occasional misstep once in a while, I was doing my final tests on the site about three-and-a-half hours later.

For anyone who's curious, the final product is over here. Seeing that the search engines were likely to bring a lot of unintended visitors to the site, I laid everything out in order to allow for a varied audience. The site itself also doesn't offer as much information as I normally like to see, but I suppose that I can remedy that later on... if the bakeshop cares to provide the information. (I'll tell you that the pastries are good, though. Honest.)

Seeing that the web site is already up, I'll probably end up maintaining the thing for the next month or so, and then archiving it for possible re-use next year. Maintenance, of course, is a remarkably tiresome task... but it feels a little better when you're taking care of something that's your own creation. At best, there's nothing better than working the rust out of your joints and setting out to make the most of what you have.

I just hope that my uncle's satisfied with all this. We're not prepared for, say, e-commerce at the moment. :)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Of Dice and Mooncakes (An Addendum)

I just realized something.

Does anyone remember the post I had about a month ago, where I discussed the Mooncake Dice Game? If so, you'll remember that I noted a particularly rare result with an interesting prize pot:

As with most dice games, this one also maintains the concept of an "ultimate throw" -- in other words, the best configuration possible. This is composed of either six fours, or six ones:

If you somehow manage to throw this configuration on your Mooncake festival dice, you get all the prizes in the game.

A few minutes after putting up the blog entry, I posited the scenario to a couple of the Mensa Philippines mailing lists. Afterwards, I asked a couple of questions that had been floating around my head for some time:

1. Given a single throw, what is the chance that it will come up as any of these two "ultimate" configurations?

2. As rare as these configurations may be, they're bound to come up sooner or later. How many throws will I most likely have to make before I can expect any of the two "ultimate" configurations to come up?

Yes, this is going to be a mathematical post. I only ask that you bear with me on this; I'm extremely prone to such eccentricities.

To probability freaks, the answer to the first question is actually pretty obvious. With six six-sided dice, one throw will get you any one result out of 66 (i.e. 6 raised to the 6th power, or 46,656) different combinations. Your chances of getting any of the two "ultimate" throws are therefore 2 in 46,656... or 1 in 23,328. Assuming that one gets around 50 such throws each year, this means that you'll need over four centuries before you can guarantee having thrown any of the given combinations at least once.

The second question, on the other hand, is quite a different story. Instead of asking you what you're likely to get in a single throw of the dice, it asks you to forecast the likelihood of throwing any of the two specific combinations. It's different from the first question in that it asks for a reasonable chance: Four centuries may enable me to guarantee being able to throw any of the two combinations, but I'm not asking for a guarantee here. Anything slightly greater than, say, a 50% chance will do.

Based on the responses I received from a Mensa Philippines-affiliated mailing list (okay, one response), the original assumption was that you'd only need half the total throwing opportunities of the first scenario. That is to say, you'd need 1/2 of 23,328 = 11,664 throws, which would still make for a good 200+ years.

At this point, however, I'm not quite so sure about that answer. The reason for this is because I've recently referenced an old math problem that goes as follows:

Let's say that you have a number of people gathered in a single room. You bet someone that at least two people in the room share the same birthday. How many people would you need to have in the room so that you have greater than a 50% chance of winning your bet?

The really interesting part here is that you'd only need a minimum of 23 people in the room to make for a good bet. (This doesn't consider leap years, mind you, but even with those in mind, the numbers should still fall around this figure.)

Why only 23 people? Because the probability calculations for this problem follow a choice pattern, you see. To start with, we must consider that the chances of finding two or more people with the same birthday (N) is equivalent to 100% minus the chances of everyone having different birthdays (Nnot):

N = 1 - Nnot

To illustrate this, let's say that there are only two people in the room: You, and somebody else. The chances of your acquaintance having the same birthday as you is obviously 1 out of 365. (It'll only happen if his birthday occurs on one day out of the 365 possibilities, that is.)

N = 1/365

On the other hand, your acquaintance doesn't have the same birthday as you if he was born on any of the other 364 days of the year. That is to say, the chances of you not sharing the same birthday is obviously 364 out of 365.

Nnot = 364/365

1/365 = 1 - 364/365

See how it fits neatly together in that latter equation?

What this means is that the chances of something occurring are obviously equivalent to 100% minus the chances of it not occurring. It doesn't take a genius to figure that one out, I suppose.

So now let's say that there are three people in the room: You, and two acquaintances. The chances of your first acquaintance not sharing the same birthday as you is 364/365. But the chances of your second acquaintance not sharing the same birthday as either of you is 363/365, as his birthday should be on a date other than yours or the first guy's.

This means that, for three people in the room:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (364/365)x(363/365)

N = 1 - (0.99726)x(0.99452)

N = 1 - 0.9918
N = 0.0082

And the chances of any of you three sharing the same birthday is 0.0082, or less than one percent.

But if we extend this, we find that for 23 people, the calculations go as follows:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (364/365)x(363/365)x(362/365)x...x(343/365)
N = 0.5073

And thus having 23 people in a room gives you better than a 50% chance of finding two or more of them with the same birthday. That's an odd development there.

By now, you're probably wondering what all this has to do with the Mooncake Dice Game. (Or you're probably asleep. In any case, I don't have much farther to go.)

Hypothetically, the Mooncake Dice Game can use a similar formula in answering its second question. We can, for example, note that the chances of throwing any of the "ultimate" combinations is simply 100% minus the chances of not throwing any of them at all:

N = 1 - Nnot
2/46656 = 1 - 46654/46656

Let's suppose that you have two throws, then. Your chances of getting any of the "ultimate" combinations at least once is therefore equivalent to 100% minus your chances of not getting any of them at all:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (46654/46656)*(46654/46656)
N = 1 - 0.999914268
N = 0.000085732

We can extend this formula for any number of throws, I suppose. For every K times you throw the dice, your chances of getting any of the ultimate combinations should therefore be:

N = 1 - Nnot
N = 1 - (46654/46656)K

And with this in mind, we'd just need to find the smallest number K that would give us an N that is greater than 50%.

It is at this point that my computer breaks down with regards to the calculation. If my creative bookkeeping is correct, however, than K should be somewhere around 2,356 throws, give or take a few rolls. That's a far cry from the original estimate of 11,664 attempts.

What that also means is that, assuming that every game is comprised of 20 family members, each of whom makes about 20 throws each year, then we should see the combinations come up, say, every once in six years. And I don't know about you, but I think that that definitely accounts for the modern frequency of these occurrences. More experienced mathematicians and Mooncake Dice players are welcome to dispute the veracity of these hypotheses, though.

And now, it's time for me to give the matter a rest. The only thing that this entire exercise has brought me, after all, is yet another good-sized headache.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Ripley's Nightmare

The title of this post can just as easily be "Mulder's Nightmare", I think. Or "Ironhorse's Nightmare", if War of the Worlds is more of your thing.

I first read about "Alien Encounter" puzzles on Clifford Pickover's web site, you see. Pickover is known as a writer and inventor who has this penchant for strange and interesting solvers, but that probably only barely scratches the surface of his description. In any case, while I don't think that he was the first person to develop this category of puzzle, he's definitely popularized it to the point of giving it a name.

The puzzle actually has a relatively simple premise: Aliens have landed on earth, perhaps in your own backyard. They can only stay for a few minutes, and you happen to be the first (and only) person they meet. They ask you to give them a single gift that they can take home to the rest of their race. With this in mind, you walk into the nearest house/barn/building/whatever and find yourself in a situation where you have to choose from among a set of random items.

When I say "random", however, I don't mean that the items are haphazardly shortlisted by some strange search engine with a bad hiccup. By "random", I mean that your selection is composed of any items that exist as human or earthly artifacts, representative of a variety of cultures or fields. Every "Alien Encounter" puzzle features a different such selection, and every single time, you find yourself in the task of choosing one of those items to give to the aliens as a gift (as well as to justify your decision).

I'll cite an example from The Alien IQ Test -- one of Pickover's books -- for the purpose of this post. So, in this case, you walk into the nearest house/barn/building/whatever and find the following objects:
  • The Bible (Old Testament)
  • Physician's Desk Reference (PDR), 1990, edition 44 (lists drugs and drug interactions)
  • Mobil 1997 Travel Guide to the North East (lists hotels, restaurants, family activities, towns, parks, and colorful maps of the Northeastern United States)
  • One jar of Peter Pan-brand creamy peanut butter
  • Starry Night (an original oil painting by Vincent Van Gogh)
  • Sheet music for Johann Sebastian Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D-minor
  • ChapStick lip balm
  • A Pentium computer
  • A severed human finger
You should have a good enough idea of the puzzle by now, I think. Now that I've planted the entire scenario in your heads, however, I must tell you that the heart of the puzzle does not necessarily lie in choosing something to give away.

Sharp-eyed solvers will probably have realized that there are no correct solutions for this type of puzzle, if only because we poor earthlings have yet to deal with alien beings in such a quick and open fashion. This is more of a speculative puzzle -- one that asks you to make a move for a hypothetical scenario. In order to get anything close to an answer on this one, we have to survey a multitude of responses and collate the results.

So it turns out that your true task is not to choose one item and justify your decision. Your secondary question with regards to an "Alien Encounter" puzzle lies more along the lines of: Which object do you think was chosen the most frequently? And for goodness' sake... why?

This wrinkle, I feel, makes the puzzle remarkably democratic. It is a collation of multiple answers to the first question -- with all their biases and preferences -- that determines the answer to the second question. You will have to set most of your personal preferences aside for the purposes of the latter query, yet still be aware of the fact that the "answer" is composed of personal preferences of all kinds, made by all other people who attempted to resolve the scenario before you did. That, and one's answer to the former question may very well cause a radical shift in responses for the latter.

This eventually places a premium on logic, I think: Logical answers to the first question are far more believable when the time comes to check on one's answer to the second question. I believe that the puzzle therefore rewards level-headedness and a sense of justifiable thought. (But then, this would still raise the question of whether or not the proceeding correspondents are logical enough to begin with.)

For that matter, "Alien Encounter" puzzles are not necessarily limited to "Alien Encounter" scenarios. You could theoretically insert any hypothetical situation into the problem, and then give potential solvers a distinct choice in order to see how their minds work. The common getting-to-know-you question of what five things one would bring to a stint on a deserted island comes to mind, for example. (You'd need to inject some form of logic into the item selection base in order for such things to work, mind you, but you'd still have the makings of a good mental exercise there.) On the flip side of the coin, I don't think that this would work as a blog meme -- you'd have no reliable method of collating your surveyed results.

Regardless of the analysis, however, this is one of those puzzles that's interesting to read up on, if only to see what everyone else thinks of the question. It's sort of like a more critical version of "Family Feud", if you go about thinking in terms of old game shows.

And, like most hypothetical questions, we'll probably shirk and hide if it ever comes true, leaving us little or no opportunity to see how things will really turn out. There's not much more you can ask from a puzzle, to be honest. :)

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

About the Author

One of the nice aspects of getting a story published is that you usually get to write a short "About the Author"-type intro. Most writers use this to summarize a short repertoire of works, or reveal little bits of background about themselves. Others use it to joke around, figuring that if a reader bothers to look over this sort of stuff, then he might as well get entertained while he's at it.

I get the feeling that I probably hate these write-ups for a strange reason: I never really know what to say when I'm asked to write them, much less how to be funny or how to impress people. Some authors can somehow compress profound lines of thought into a few short words; I usually find myself forced to hoard entire sentences just to describe a single idea.

In Dean Alfar's Philippine Speculative Fiction (Volume 1) anthology, for example, my write-up went as follows:
Sean Uy has been writing since he was 12 years old, and has explored a broad selection of genres in the span of a largely unheralded writing career. He has been published in Singapore's Eggplant magazine, and has done work with characters and settings for Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, the first entirely Filipino-made computer game. As a contextual moralist, critical thinker and self-proclaimed literary hack, Sean currently pounds out insights on his weblog at He has, to the best of his memory, never owned a monkey.
This, of course, was not the best way to present myself. It's an awkward write-up, mind you. It's the knobby-kneed girl in your sixth-grade class who might just turn into a beautiful fashion model one day, but who -- in all probability -- will probably just remain largely unremarkable.

It even has a factual inaccuracy in there, although I didn't learn about the fate of Eggplant magazine's literary division until after I had seen the write-up in print. What's to be shared is that the story that I submitted to them never actually got published, which I took as another shred of proof that the universe hates me.

Apart from that, the write-up contains a reference to this blog, which can be construed as a shameless attempt at self-promotion. (In reality, this is one of the few avenues where I write regularly in a public context.) It also contains a reference to monkeys, which I put in there simply because monkeys improve everything (and because I couldn't think of anything else besides).

All in all, you can probably see why I'd like to put together a better summary of myself for next time. This is not the sort of masochism that a writer should inflict upon himself.

The problem is that I don't know exactly what I should put into a write-up, or exactly how I need to express it. It's like putting a show at a childrens' party: Whenever I try to be funny, I always end up making kids cry. But I digress.

For the moment, I just have to grin and bear it. I suppose that I'll probably get better at this sort of thing the more times I get published. But then, that'll mean that I'll need to write a lot more publishable works, and then consequently get embarrassed for at least the next few write-ups. I still lose when I win, then.

For a ten-minute exercise, the author write-up tends to be a remarkably excruciating experience. You'll have to forgive me if I grit my teeth for a while.

Perhaps I should look at things from the bright side: No one's asked me to send over a picture yet. The last time I had one taken, I had to pay for the broken camera lens...