Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Fingers Drumming on the Table

According to the Chinese calendar, New Year's has just come and gone. It's now the Year of the Dog, and depending on which Feng Shui experts you've consulted, we're either headed for a troublesome year or an optimistic outlook.

I believe that I'm Chinese enough to realize that you really can't phrase the traditional New Year greeting into Pinyin English without making it look really strange when read. So I'll just keep it simple: Happy New Year, everyone.

I'm still busy at work, so if you've got any stories I have to read, or pictures I have to see, or animations I have to watch, I'll have to ask that you wait a little longer. My schedule should free itself up somewhere in the middle of this week, I hope. Maybe I'll have enough time to get back to writing.

Of course, I'm horrible with schedules... they tend to sneak up and bite me on the leg whenever I'm not looking. But hey, an educated guess is usually better than no guess at all.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Absence Without Official Leave

Hmmm... interesting.

It's obvious that I haven't posted here for a while. In the interim, however, I've taken to analyzing the nature of blog visits as well as audience presence, and I'm surprised to see that most of my initial assumptions were correct.

For anyone who's been wondering why I haven't been around lately, you're welcome to select any or all of my excuses from the following list:
1. I've been busy at work. The new general manager hasn't come in yet, we're experiencing a staff exodus common to most companies at the start of each year, and I find myself doing everything at work that I really shouldn't be doing at all.

2. I've been coming home late. If it's not because of work, it's because of the planning sessions for my sister's 18th birthday. Hey, somebody's got to scare all the hormone-driven young men away. :)

3. I've been playing a lot of computer games. Sometimes when you're sitting in front of the computer late at night, there's nothing much else you feel like doing that doesn't involve stomping on rogue Koopa Troopas.

4. Er... my dog ate it.

Despite these reasons, however, part of me can't help but think that my ending of the Suman Latik posts may have precipitated this to some degree. I'll admit that I found the Suman posts to be refreshingly... regular. That is, whenever a Wednesday rolled around, I would find myself making a mental note to sit in front of the computer later that same evening, and write. Just write.

The Suman posts made me worry for my constant updates as well. How would you feel, for instance, if you placed a Wednesday post online, only to find that it was hovering directly above your previous consecutive Wednesday post? You'd be ashamed at not updating your blog more often, that's how you'd feel. It was probably more obvious on my part, seeing that I was using the same Suman Latik image week after week.

In a sense, therefore, it was the Suman posts that were getting me to write something at least three times a week. No kidding there.

That, I think, puts a certain idea into the realm of consideration: What could I write as a weekly feature for this blog? It would have to be vague enough to support multiple attempts at writing, yet curious enough to attract the attention of a multifaceted audience. I'd rather not have to write fiction every week (for fear of burnout), and I'm sure that those few readers I have would not appreciate me airing my vituperations on a regular schedule. On the other hand, I also want to make sure that I feature something totally different from what most other blogs are doing out there.

I suspect that I can't really just decide on something and proceed to do it. I find that the successful endeavors, the real deals, the great journeys, all often grow out of a completely unassuming routine. It could be that the key to a weekly feature lies somewhere in the stuff I'm already writing; It could also be that I'll find inspiration in somebody else's blog or web site. Who knows, really? Who knows?

All the same, however, I'll be looking around for a bit. There's probably something interesting that I can find somewhere...

Monday, January 23, 2006

Blog Theory

Sean's Note: The results of the 2005 Philippine Blog Awards have produced a bit of a controversy in the blogosphere. Some quarters have pointed out a number of needs for improvement in its process, particularly with regards to mechanics, marketing and general judging. Others have openly questioned the credibility of the awards, and have denounced the fact that no concrete criteria was established prior to the contest in the first place.

Despite the fact that I have no direct involvement in the organization that gives out the Philippine Blog Awards, and despite the fact that I'm more of a shifty-eyed weasel than I am a proper blogger, I feel as though I have to react to these recent developments. My words here do not intend to defend any honors I have received from such authoritarian entities, nor do I expect a greater audience to stop, listen, and take them to heart. I write what I write here because I feel that it should be said. I write what I write here because I think it makes sense, and frankly, that's all that matters to me.

So what makes a good blog?

Let's be serious, now: There's got to be a number of worthwhile blogs on the Internet. Otherwise, you wouldn't be reading them regularly, now wouldn't you?

Of course there are a bunch of worthwhile blogs out there. Any Internet reader will probably be able to show you his or her collection of bookmarks and favorite links. The chances are good that there will be at least one or two regularly-visited online journals, or news feeds, or recipe books, or event handlers, or whatever in there.

Heck, most bloggers themselves have this handy little thing called a "blogroll" that tells you exactly what places the writer tends to visit. In a way, it's like a suggested reading list: If you liked this work, then you can try reading other works by authors of similar mind or interest.

But then, I shouldn't be explaining this to you, right? If you're reading this, then you're most likely aware of weblogs as a whole, what they're like, and how they work. I can probably take it in good faith that you either have a weblog yourself, or had one before, or are planning to establish one in the future.

Seeing that you're obviously qualified for rational discussion on the matter, I can sit back and ask you my question without any trace of discomfort: What makes a good blog?

...uh huh.


...yes, quite so.

...good point.

...uh huh.

All right, then. But we have to remember that you're not the only one reading this article. There's a whole multitude of people reading this as well; some, perhaps, at this very moment. We can't assume that you're the only one who answered my first question, after all.

So, I give you my second question: Do you think that your answer perfectly agrees with that of every other person reading this article?




Unequivocally, no.

Every person out there looks for different qualities in what he or she reads. Some look for friendship and fellowship. Some look for enlightening experiences. Some look for laughter and entertainment. Each and every one of us has his or her own preferences. There is no single specific group of characteristics that defines what a good piece of writing is. There is no single specific group of characteristics that defines what a good blog is like.

You can probably make such a case for every positive quality that we see in a blog. After all, while certain aspects may be important to some readers, these same aspects may mean little more than chicken scratches to others. It's obvious that each such quality does not have the same level of significance to each and every person out there!

Let's take popularity, for example. Popularity, you say? Hah! What does it mean, really, if a blog is popular? A site may draw a significant audience, but we must really ask ourselves how it's drawing them in. I could theoretically create a brand, spanking-new blog that shows nothing but pictures of naked women in hardcore sex positions, and it would obviously draw a large segment of the international male population. But would you nominate me for the Blog Awards simply because of my blog's popularity?

How about writing? Some people would make the argument that any blog with good writing deserves an award. But in truth, writing doesn't mean anything by itself. I mean, I could spin stories that make children laugh. I could write words that make men weep. I could read rhymes that espouse the beauty of life and bring fulfillment to the human soul. But what if I somehow manage to write all this, and yet decide to keep it all to myself? Do I deserve to be nominated for the Blog Awards despite the fact that I have no devout readers who can testify to my strengths?

So is it a question of influence, then? Is it a question of audience and regular readership? To that, I ask this: What's the difference between audience influence and popularity? You could make the argument that there must be something that the audience sees, something in the blogger's style, technique and presentation that allows him to exert influence over such a wide stable of readers -- but then you'd fall back to the questions of how and why. Could I then create a blog that caters to an existing audience (Philatelists? Musicians? Reality TV fans?) and cruise to a Blog Awards nomination on my newfound influence? Or what if I create a blog that just happens to promote blogs themselves, generating an audience through the many writers and RSS feeds with whom I come into contact? Should that automatically qualify me for a nomination?

Okay, then what about linkage? Can I theoretically whore out my blog's address to every single aggregator, place it on every journal collection I can think of, produce thousands and thousands of hits on Google, and expect myself to be nominated on the sheer number of links alone?

Hard-hitting commentary, perhaps? I mean, it draws readers, right? Sure, but does that mean that I can write a blog that insults every entity in existence and expect a nomination just for my plucky, balls-to-the-wall attitude?

Prolific writing, perhaps? Does that mean that I deserve to get nominated just because I happen to post something three times a day on a regular basis, regardless of the quality of my resulting work?

Layout and design? Please. Do you mean to tell me that I can have the prettiest-looking blog on the face of the earth and score a nomination for the Blog Awards regardless of whatever I've written inside?

I don't think that much more needs to be said at this point. The answer to each and every one of these questions is obvious. Can we -- should we -- do we even deserve to qualify for a set of Blog Awards nominations on the strength of a single one of the above qualities alone?




Hell, yes.

What makes a good blog, we wonder? What makes a good blog stand out from the rest? After all, we've already named more than a few positive qualities that can evidently not stand on their own.

That, however, does not automatically mean that we can discard them, either.

Good blogs do not depend on the weight of a single one of the above qualities, but are a consensus of all of them. That's what it is, really: a Consensus. It's all of the given factors taken together and judged with an equally significant weight for each.

A blog can be nominated for popularity, for example, and it can be acknowledged for such -- even if the blog in question is merely a glorified porn site.

A blog can be nominated for good writing, and be acknowledged for that. A blog can be nominated for its influence across a wide audience, and it will be acknowledged for that. A blog can be nominated for its sheer number of referring links, its spotlight on relevant issues, its prolificacy in updates, its awesome graphic design, and millions of other aspects... and it will be acknowledged for those.

But a blog will be judged on the sum of its combined qualities. Each of the factors will be given an equally significant weighing with regards to the whole.

That is what a consensus is, ladies and gentlemen. It is an agreement between multiple entities who each have different ideas as to what makes a good blog in the first place.

That, I believe, is the essence of a true Blog Awards. We may or may not agree with any final decision that comes forth, but we must never let it be said that we do not try to accomplish this despite the differences. We should not judge a blog on the basis of a single quality that we just happen to hold higher than the rest of the reader population, if only because of the presence of a reader population in the first place.

There are aspects of quality out there other than the ones we hold close to our hearts. We can rant and rave all we want about whether or not certain things fulfill what we like to see in a weblog, but when it comes right down to it, we have to look at the big picture. We have to take things in as a whole. We need to reach a consensus with those around us.

The question is not what you think makes a good weblog, but what we all think makes a good weblog.

In the end, I believe that that's what matters.


Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Few Little Tweaks

It's Wednesday night (Thursday morning, actually), and the deadline for the Draconic Fiction Anthology has just elapsed. I was fortunately able to attach something to an e-mail at around 11:45 pm and send it in as a submission, although at this point in time, I'm not quite sure how it's going to turn out. It'll come to be regarded as either a work of genius or an abomination of nature, I suppose.

I actually went on leave for the whole day today, slept until noon, and then spent the afternoon and the evening pounding out drafts on the computer. I went through five or six drafts before I came up with one that I finished, and so I tweaked that and sent it in. I'm not particularly satisfied with it, if anyone's wondering; it's probably workable, but I need at least one or two more days to find out what I did wrong and what I did right.

I've observed that I need a lot of "lead time" before I come up with a legible short story. Apart from the long process of figuring out the plots, the characters and the settings in my head, I need at least two or three days to come up with a succession of drafts. I don't think that this is a normal practice, mind you, but more of a personal thing -- it's akin to rattling away at a typewriter, occasionally tearing out old drafts and tossing them into the wastebasket.

Obsession-compulsion, perhaps? I doubt it. I like tweaking finished drafts, yes, but if I ever leave something unfinished, it's usually because I've lost interest in the work somehow. And if a work is so bad that I find myself losing interest right in the middle of the narrative, then I'll almost certainly leave it behind without looking back. I lose more drafts that way, yes.

And if you think that this is bad, must I remind you that the deadline for the Fully Booked writing contest is on the 28th of February? Once again, it's time to get cracking, guys.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006


I'm still trying to think up a Dragon story.

In the midst of heavy work, staff problems, independent projects, L5R, bedside reading, Photoshop wrangling and Super Metroid, I'm still trying to think up a Dragon story.

Writing a Dragon story is easy, really. Any writer can put together a nice Dragon story. It's the search for a different Dragon story that's taking up most of my time.

My deadline's on Wednesday, and I'm still trying to think up a Dragon story.

I just wanted to say that.



Ah, well. Back to work now.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Who Watches

Dominique was nice enough to inform me yesterday afternoon that the local Powerbooks was selling copies of Watchmen again. Seeing as it's one of the items on my list that I hoped I'd get for Christmas (but didn't), I dropped by later that same evening to pick it up. Dominique, for that matter, was nice enough to let me borrow his discount card for the duration of the sale.

Watchmen, for the non-readers out there, is one of the greater works of the last century. Time Magazine has it in their list of the 100 Greatest Novels of all Time (circa October 2005), in fact. It is an utterly fantastic read that covers an alternate version of our modern world, and it offers us glimpses into the flawed and often disjointed personalities that human heroism often wears. It's a comic, but it can definitely not be judged by the fact that it's "just" a comic.

I first read the book back in college and loved it then. Seven years later, I apparently still love it enough to shell out a good chunk of cash for a copy. And seven years later, the book still holds the power to keep me turning the pages -- I went to bed at 4:30 am last night, just going through the story.

Good books are like that, I think. You don't just read them once and put them away; you read them, remember them, and when that memory sparks in your mind one cold day seven years later, you wish that they were in your hands once again.

You can always tell whether or not a book is loved. These books are invariably scratched, folded, dogeared, marked and stained. Their spines are broken in more than once place. Their covers are long gone, torn completely off their pages by the mere passage of time. Their words are smudged or crumbling in particularly favored passages.

This could be why I don't like people who have private libraries. I think you know the type -- the rich, dapper ones who manage to have an entire room dedicated to shelves and shelves of formal hardcovers. I spend hours in those places. I look at the glass displays, frown in dismay at the fact that they're locked shut, and generally give people a look that says, But does he actually read these?

Strangely enough, there's even a Feng Shui tenet that advises people to fill rooms with books in order to subconsciously absorb the knowledge within. Sad, but true.

Of course, Watchmen isn't the only item on my list of good reading. I've covered a small selection before, and even that doesn't scratch the surface of what I read, like and love. The best part about good books, of course, is that barring a catastrophic occurrence that affects the universe as we know it, books like these will continue to be written.

All that remains, then, is for us to find the time to drop by the nearest place and pick them up. They may cost us only two bits, or they may cost us a whole roll of bills, but if they stand out in our memories so well, then at least we know that they're well worth the experience.

In my opinion, everyone out there should have a book that they're constantly looking for.

Here's to more of their kind. In both ways, yes.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Monday, January 09, 2006

"We're Not Bad People."

He was about six inches shorter than me, his hair had considerably thinned, and his tiny eyeglasses did little to dispel the effect of his age. As the traffic moved around us, I noticed that he was wearing a blue shirt... although I could merely have been mistaken about the color. It was dark, after all.

"We're not bad people," he told me, and I realized that a little girl -- presumably his daughter -- was hugging him about the knees. A tall woman, close enough to look like his wife, hovered in the background. All three of them were watching me intently.

"You see, sir," he said, "we thought that you were a Chinese or a Japanese."

"No," I said, "I understand what you're saying."

He breathed what seemed to be a sigh of relief. They had been walking around since 4:30 in the afternoon, he explained, because they wanted to drop by the church across the street. The pastor there was a friend, he said. By the time they arrived, however, they found out that he had left work early, and so they decided to go home.

It was only when they reached the station, however, that they realized that they were out of money. "This is the first time it's happened," the old man said, "and we should have checked before we left. We went back to the church to ask the pastor's secretary for fare, but by the time we got there, she was already gone."

The little girl was still staring at me, as though I was some foreign ogre to be feared.

"So...?" I asked.

He told me that they lived somewhere in Bataan or something like that. In truth, I wasn't really listening. Chances were good that, in the encroaching evening of the business district, there would inevitably be one or two people who find themselves trapped by the lack of funds.

My mother used to tell me this story: Once, many years ago, there was this beggar who came to their front door to ask for money to buy food. My mother was only a young married woman then, and she felt sorry for the poor man. So she told him to wait there, and went back inside for her purse.

On the way back out, she ran into my father, who asked her what she was doing. "There's a beggar at the front door," she told him, "and he's asking for a little money so that he can buy food."

"Don't give him anything," my father said. "He's just going to take advantage of you."

But my mother ignored him then, and gave the beggar some money. And the man thanked her and went off.

The next day, the man appeared at the front door again. Once again, he asked for money to buy food, and once again, my mother went inside to get her purse.

This time, however, my father was waiting. "Why not," he ventured, "just give him some food to begin with? We have some bread left over." And my mother agreed that this was a good idea, and gave the beggar some pieces of bread from the kitchen. But when she returned, my father beckoned her to the nearest window, and said, "Watch carefully."

And as they both watched, they saw the beggar spill the bread onto the street, curse a couple of times, and walk away.

My mother never forgot that lesson, and neither shall I.

It was foremost on my mind when the old man finished his story. "All we need is a little money," he said, "just so that we can get home. We've been here since 4:30."

The woman behind him remained silent. The child at his feet remained silent. All three of them were still staring at me.

"How much do you need?" I asked.

"We only need 82 pesos," the man said. "We're not bad people. We just want to go home."

I didn't want to spend more than a few minutes thinking about my decision, so I pulled out my wallet and offered a rumpled 100-peso bill.

"Thank you," the man said, taking it from my hand. "Thank you," the woman said.

The child said nothing. She just walked back to her mother.

"Go home," I told them, and listened to the old man thank me one last time before we parted ways.

Ten minutes later, I'm now sitting in an internet cafe among the dozens of gamers, trying to decide what I learned on this ubiquitous day. I find myself wondering who they were, and where they are now.

Perhaps they're on a bus back to their home in Bataan or someplace like that. Perhaps they're simply having dinner somewhere. Perhaps the man is playing the Lotto with my one hundred pesos while his two companions wait patiently for him to finish.

I can't decide how I should feel. Maybe I should have ignored them and kept on walking, and maybe I should have given them a bit more than just one hundred pesos so that I could be sure that they could make it back to their place.

The chances are good that, on any given evening in the traditional business district of the Philippines, there would be at least one person unable to return home due to a sudden lack of funds. The chances are just as equally good that we've met some already, or that we'll be meeting some soon enough.

The man told me that they weren't bad people. I'm not sure as to whether that's true or not; I just gave him some money.

What do you do when someone stops you in the middle of the street and asks you for money so that he can get home? You have to assess the situation, of course. You have to figure out whether his story's believable or not.

Have we fallen to the point, then, where we must be suspicious of each other's intentions? Or, at the very least, suspicious of our own actions in this regard?

Are we bad people?



I don't know.



My monitor's been laid low by what appears to be a technical problem. The good news is that it's still under warranty and the shop was perfectly willing to replace it with a new model. The bad news is that the old monitor has to get sent back to their supplier for thorough checking, and the model's not likely to appear until they're satisfied with what they find.

What this all means, ladies and gentlemen, is that I don't have a computer for the next week or so. I find that kind of ironic, actually, seeing that I'm effectively half-paralyzed despite the fact that my PC is working perfectly on its own. This'll definitely stunt my development for the Dragon Anthology (deadline on January 18), will ensure that I'll be away from computer games for a while, and will affect my blog postings as well.

As I've already told some people, I'm still wandering around a bunch of workable plots for both the anthology and the Fully Booked contest. I haven't written anything yet; In fact, I'm waiting for a couple of two-hour gaps within my schedule so that I can write each of the stories in one sitting. The work pileup at my office, of course, doesn't help much.

It just goes to show you that when life gives you lemons, it's time to stand around the sidewalk wondering how to make your lemonade.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Looking Back (Part 3)

Looking back on things, it's been a great run.

It's possible that suman latik may be a strange topic. It's possible that it may be an unworkable topic. But at least I can say that I took it and ran with it.

In addition, I know that it's had at least two beneficial effects on my blogging habits:

First, it's allowed me to write at least three posts per week. Writing at a regular pace is important for both a writer and his blog; it keeps the writer in good practice, and it makes sure that any regular readers of the blog remain regular readers. People don't bookmark sites that tend to become uninteresting and/or stagnant, after all.

Second, it's allowed me to explore multiple angles to a single topic. As far as I know, I've attempted to write suman latik into the comic strip, interactive fiction, and comedic biblio-religious formats, and that's among the many other expository and introspective essays I've turned out. Strangely enough, I've hardly written any suman fiction for this exercise, although I've somehow managed to segue between suman and literary writing every now and then. I can tell you that, once you start running out of ideas, you start looking at a lot of fringe approaches, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. :)

With all that said, and with all the curiosity that goes into both writing and reading posts like these, I have to say that even great runs have to end sometime.

No, this isn't the last suman latik post you'll see from me. That'll probably come next week or so. If anything, that should allow you and me to savor the moment when it comes.

The last bite of suman always works like that, I think. You chew your way through the rice, taste the sweetness of the sauce, perhaps crunch your way through the remaining bits of sugar. Sometimes the last bite is gone before you realize it; you pop it into your mouth distractedly, never knowing that it's no longer there until you reach for that empty plate.

Sometimes, however, you know that the last bite is there. You know that once you consume that final piece, the taste will linger only as a memory. And you pause and think, wondering whether or not it happened to be a good piece of suman. Sometimes you think it was. Sometimes you don't, and just look forward to the next piece.

Whatever the case, once you're aware of the presence of that last bite, you savor the moment.

It's all unconscious, really. But it's fitting, after all, that after you savored an entire piece of suman, then you get to savor your knowledge of the entire experience afterwards.

In that sense, it's quite filling after all.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Disclaimer: January 2006

I find it ironic that I have to start the new year off with a warning like this. I feel that it's probably necessary, though, seeing that a spate of minor plagiarism-related offenses occurred around the Internet for the last quarter of the previous year. As a concession to the fact that 2006 has only just begun, however, I'll leave out the threats this time.

Plagiarism's a huge issue for writers, artists, sculptors, conceptualists, animators and other people who work within the bounds of creativity. Everyone knows that it's not an easy task to be creative, and these people know it much more intimately than the rest of the population. These people take great pains to ensure their continued creativity and organization even with a number of set limitations hanging over their heads. Sometimes it's their job. Sometimes it's their dream. But for the vast majority of them, their ideas are their life.

Every creative person therefore lives in constant fear that their works might be appropriated by a public with no appreciation of the effort that has gone into them. Or even worse, that an unfamiliar name may one day be planted on their many hours of hard labor simply because somebody was too lazy or too stupid to come up with his own work. Every such work is an extension of its maker; Sever any such extension and you will hear the screams of pain.

No matter how easy or convenient plagiarism is, it tends to compromise the position of the affected author. When the acknowledgement for a given work is shifted towards an undeserving person who is unlikely to produce future pieces of the same or better quality, then the public suffers in the long run. The author begins to question the worth of her effort, and the plagiarist begins realizing the ease at which he can continue his theft. We grow up learning that rewards should be given only to those deserving of them, to those who are willing to put in the time and patience to produce quality works. Plagiarism perverts such a lesson, and damages our capacity to recognize the creators for what they have given to us.

Virtually everything written in this blog is an original work as produced from the mind of Sean, with the exception of a few items referenced from external sources. These sources are invariably noted, usually in tandem with the references themselves; Should you find that this blog does not recognize one of these sources in any way, just leave a comment and I'll correct the entry as soon as possible.

Should you wish to use, link or reference anything in this blog for your own use, please leave a comment and I will gladly assist you as much as I can. In the event that you do not contact me in this manner, you are obligated to reference this weblog as one of your sources. Otherwise, I will be compelled to contact you regarding my interests of copyright. (There's more to this, but I promised that I'd leave out the threats this month.)

Finally, all of the entries in this blog are purely the opinion of Sean, and are not connected with any external entities unless otherwise noted. I will be happy to discuss matters of a legal, moral or rhetorical nature concerning the articles in this blog with you, as long as we do it in a mature and cordial manner.

I'm fully aware that very, very few people have bothered to use any aspect of this blog's entries as of this point in time. Whether or not it means that my writing isn't fit to be used is not my concern; At the moment, I only wish to institute some form of protection for my writings. No one quotes me at the moment, but I'd rather be prepared in case someone does.

Besides, how do we not know that maybe the disclaimers are simply working the way they're supposed to be working, hmmm? :)