Saturday, September 30, 2006

Forces of Nature

Body of me: I have Internet access once again. I'm on a noisy generator that's humming in the background, but at least I'm online for the moment.

I don't believe that CNN or any non-local news services carried the story, so here's the skinny: Sometime on Thursday morning, a massive typhoon ("hurricane" to others) battered the Northern Philippines, including the major metropolitan areas. It was originally expected to have winds running at approximately 130 kilometers per hour (80 mph, more or less), but when it finally arrived on our doorstep, we found ourselves facing weather of double that strength and power. This put the storm on a level close to that of Hurricane Katrina, although not quite. And as we always did, we went about our daily business as though nothing was wrong.

Thursday morning, in fact, saw me meeting with a few people regarding independent publication guidelines and specifications. We figured well in advance that Thursday was the only time all of us could meet up, considering that I was still actively looking for a job, and that the others had their own weekday affairs to see through. I wasn't the only person doing business that Thursday, of course -- there were more than a few other people roaming the streets despite the high winds and constant rain, and the little Starbucks branch that served as our meeting-place was relatively full of students and business professionals already.

We see a lot of typhoons in the Philippines, and I daresay that they're little more than another fact of life to us. We usually don't put up such things as storm shutters or sandbags, we don't automatically suspend classes unless some government bureau goes through the formality, and we don't immediately panic at the thought of clogged sewers or power failures. Quite the contrary, in fact: I remember glancing at the swaying trees of last Thursday's experience and wondering what all the tourists were going to think.

I will not bother mentioning my thoughts on fallen trees and collapsed billboards right now, though. Suffice to say that not many people anticipated the idea of such bits and scraps flying around at the height of the storm. It strikes me as an oddly stupid quality, for a nation that finds itself so used to typhoons.

The power went out a little after lunch that Thursday, and it hasn't quite recovered yet. Our phones died a couple of hours later, and that was when we all agreed that our investment in an little eight-year-old diesel generator had been a good one, despite its constant noise. Since then, we've stayed in contact with friends and family via a succession of intermittent text messages -- life is good when you have the largest population of cellphone users in Southeast Asia, I suppose.

By Friday morning, we were all out and about once more. The streets were filled with fallen trees, collapsed telephone poles and dangling electrical wires, but that didn't stop anybody from heading to the malls as they normally did on a day without work. Based on what I've mentioned above between Filipinos and typhoons, it'll take more than a massive force of nature to keep us down.

I've spent most of the last couple of days reading newspapers (as well as a bunch of old magazines that I picked up outside). Even the news is the same, I think: The government still squabbles with itself, the local columnists still display much of their usual logical disconnects, and the sports page still trembles with the anticipation of the college basketball results. It's like the delivery guy who brings the papers to us every morning, typhoon or no typhoon: Same old, same old. It's as though we're the human equivalent of cockroaches or something -- I estimate that it'll take nothing less than sheer apocalypse to significantly dent our way of life.

Or I could simply be cranky tonight, simply because I haven't been able to get at the Internet for a while. I probably have about two hundred messages in my Inbox now.

This is probably why we didn't show up any of CNN's regular news bulletins, I think. Thailand's military coup is news -- they haven't had one in the last fifteen years, from what I know. The rumors of Bin Laden's demise are news -- it's not as though he's going to be tracked down for confirmation anytime soon. The notion of a tourist in space is news -- it'll definitely be a while before we see the next one stand next to the stars.

But a typhoon (née hurricane) hitting the Philippines, causing plenty of structural and environmental damage? A country-wide power failure with interrupted utility services? A population that merely waits the whole thing out for a day and then emerges to go shopping? That's not news, I figure. That's normal... perhaps everyday normal. We've seen it before, and we'll see it again. So we pick up the pieces and move on, just as we always have.

The cockroaches ain't got nothing on us, ladies and gentlemen. We wait out, we pick up, we move on. And that's a fact.

Seven Songs 7: The Lesson

(This is the last in a series of seven posts, written in response to a meme that asked me what seven songs I held in highest esteem. The first of these posts is noted here.)

We Didn't Start the Fire (Billy Joel)
- written by Billy Joel

Creative media has several goals that it usually wishes to attain. Among them lies the need to attract an audience (because these things aren't really as fulfilling when you're the only person admiring them), the need to provide enlightenment (because these things have to mean something on another level), and the need to be remembered (because these things don't like being conveniently discarded). In line with the latter is the fact that these creations usually wish to leave something with the audience, something that they'll be referencing for times to come.

This, of course, isn't very easy in the music industry, especially in light of the sheer volume of albums released each year. If we would ask ourselves what we like to remember in a song, for example, most of us would mention "tunes" or "lyrics". Those of us who go beyond the obvious would raise the idea of "theme" or "message". Sometimes we can't even identify a specific factor and simply go with "the song itself".

The problem is that each and every one of these points of reference can be overwritten by newer releases, in one way or another. Good music or lyrics can be superseded by works of better music or lyrics. Pieces that express a particular theme or message can be replaced by works that expound on the same theme, or provide the same message in better or more clearer terms. Even classic songs that are appreciated for what they are can sometimes be set aside in favor of new performances, or new artists, or simply by updated versions. (Can anyone remember the lyrics to Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" performance before Princess Diana's funeral, for example?)

And so, with all this in mind, we come to one question: Why is "We Didn't Start the Fire" on this list? It's not a particularly enlightening or meaningful song, and it probably wouldn't make many other peoples' lists, for that matter. In fact, there are more than a few people who vehemently hate the piece.

I figure that "We Didn't Start the Fire" is unique among most songs in that it doesn't strive to be remembered by its music, or its lyrics, or its theme, or its message, or even for itself. It's not the sort of thing that you memorize, much less the thing that you hum in the middle of the street. And yet, despite the fact that the song doesn't have much in itself that makes it memorable, it expresses a batch of concepts that simply sticks to our minds.

We know, for one, that the song is basically a collection of historical people, events, and places. For that matter, we find ourselves intimately familiar with some of the items mentioned in its lyrics: Television. Marilyn Monroe. Einstein. Punk Rock. But some of the other items are inherently unfamiliar to us, those little snippets of history that we inevitably miss or overlook: Rosenbergs. Syngman Rhee. Children of Thalidomide. Bernie Goetz. These people, events and places are all clearly a part of human history as evidenced by their inclusion in the song, and yet few of us know anything about them. Heck, some of us might even be hearing about them for the first time through this very entry.

And the funny thing is that, chances are, we'll probably find it in ourselves to look them up and find out who they are, where they are, or why they took place. It is man's nature to be curious, after all, and some of these things have interesting stories behind them.

Rarely, I think, do you find a song that doesn't call attention to itself as much as it calls attention to the factors behind it. "We Didn't Start the Fire", for all intents and purposes, is one of those rare songs. It's so mundane, I think, that we can barely argue that it attempts to be a memorable piece. But where it fails in terms of memory, it succeeds with regards to the many concepts of human history that it leaves us. That's why it inevitably comes to mind where historical relevance is concerned, that's why I found myself going through it more than once in the course of my readings, and that's why it's the last of the seven songs on my list.


And as a postscript to this seven-part entry, I would once again like to say that I don't make a habit of passing on memes like this. Neither do I, for that matter, recommend that anyone devote seven consecutive days and hours of analysis towards identifying the songs that they particularly like for certain reasons. If you'd like to put something like this up on your blog, though, then you're welcome to do so. I've surely missed a lot of admirable aspects of songs when putting together this list of favorites; Feel free to prove me wrong somehow. :)

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Seven Songs 6: The Metaphor

(This is the sixth in a series of seven posts, written in response to a meme that asked me what seven songs I held in highest esteem. The first of these posts is noted here.)

Mr. Jones (Counting Crows)
- written by Adam Duritz and David Bryson

This warning may come a little late, but the video above may not be the best representation of its song. In fact, if you somehow reach this point of my description without actually having depressed the "Play" button up there, then I highly recommend that you ignore the video completely, and listen to an audio recording instead.

Why, you ask? Because I believe that the essential element of this song lies in the fact that you can imagine it as it plays. While the video's good on its own, it partially deprives people of an ability to visualize everything. (This, I suppose, should be one of the main arguments for the existence of radio alongside TV and movies.)

The lyrics of "Mr. Jones" are such that they almost beg us to think about them carefully. Who is this 'Mr. Jones', for example? Why does the song center so much around him? What significance does the mention of color have? And why does the lead character make allusions to animals of the feline persuasion?

When one first reads through the song, it doesn't seem to make an inch of sense. The emotions are there, though: We get inklings of loneliness and a desire for popularity, and I think that most of us will suspect that the song's meaning has something to do with these. Eventually we begin equating its symbols and images with the way we look at the piece, and we finally get a pseudo-logical sense of what it means to us.

In layman's terms, ladies and gentlemen, the song makes us think. It makes us come up with our own interpretation of what it's trying to say. And when it does that, it goes beyond the catchy tune and points out that, yes, it holds a sense of awareness on its own. Its seemingly random lyrics don't make sense by themselves, and as a result, the song forces us to breathe its reason to life.

When a song attempts to travel beyond the listening experience like this, I feel that it's somehow special. I have my own understanding of "Mr. Jones", as sourced from countless listenings; Chances are that you'll probably have yours as well.

And yes, as I've mentioned on each and every one of the other posts so far: This is why it's the sixth item on my exclusive list. :)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Seven Songs 5: The Poem

(This is the fifth in a series of seven posts, written in response to a meme that asked me what seven songs I held in highest esteem. The first of these posts is noted here.)

Your Song (Moulin Rouge OST)
- written by Elton John and Bernie Taupin

Incredibly, there are no music videos of the original "Your Song", because it was written years before anyone even considered the concept of music television. I have the Moulin Rouge version up here because 1) It emphasizes the "love" part of what's arguably the only love song among these seven pieces, and 2) It's a nice change from the music video presentations, at least. (Elton John did record a 2002 version of this with Alessandro Safina, though, and it can be viewed here.)

Yes, that's right: This song is over thirty years old. And I will argue that it's still far better than the vast majority of love songs released in the last three decades.

What is it about "Your Song" that has allowed it to survive the ravages of time? Its tune is a relatively simple one that doesn't rely on rhythm or beat to get through to its audience, its performances tend to change depending on the whim or preference of its respective artists, and it hardly even has a visual presentation to speak of. The more we look at it, the more simple it looks, and it is difficult to believe that such a simple song can outlast almost everything else of its kind.

And that's probably the reason we're looking for, I think. The song is neat and simple. It's not thunderous, flashy, or pretentious; It's just a neat and simple song. And we appreciate it for that.

Somehow, "Your Song" manages to contain a startling message within its simple lyrics: The feeling of love is there. Love does not involve complex scenes where lover meets lover, or episodes from long, excruciating relationships, or lurid descriptions of what two people are going to do to each other in bed. "Your Song" illustrates a profound truth, that love is simply one's appreciation for another's mere presence. And if that wasn't enough, it doesn't just tell us this truth as much as it actually experiences it: "Your Song" is literally a love song about writing a love song.

"Your Song" is a remarkably simple song that carries a profound message. It is, I daresay, the love song that every love song wants to be. It conveys its sentiment in what few words it can muster, and it comes in a language that any lover or lovers can understand. It's an honest song, that's what it is. It's a pure and honest song that is literally sung from the heart, and that's also why it happens to be the fifth song on my list.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Seven Songs 4: The Essay

(This is the fourth in a series of seven posts, written in response to a meme that asked me what seven songs I held in highest esteem. The first of these posts is noted here.)

Superman (Five for Fighting)
- written by John Ondrasik

Halfway through this series of posts, I'm starting to run out of words to say. I suppose that there are only so many ways by which you can describe the quality of a song, much less enumerate your favorites among the pack.

For that matter, there are only so many things that can be expressed through song, as well. I remember once reading a hypothesis that states that the more complex a form of media is, the more restrictions it has with regards to its choice of subjects. There is a point, I think, where the artistic process suddenly becomes difficult to execute: You don't see many moviemakers tackling the concept of still-life paintings, for example. While I'm not saying that each form of art has its limits, of course, we do have to admit that certain topics pose more of a challenge than others, depending on the medium.

And that's where "Superman" comes in, because for all intents and purposes, out of all the available topics in the world, despite the fact that it's much easier to sing about love or hate or life or death or freedom or rapture, this song talks about Superman. Superman, of all people.

And strangely enough, it works.

I believe that "Superman" works because it decided to ignore the obvious angles to its subject. It brushes aside the things that are common knowledge about the superhero, and instead presents us with insights as to the possible nature of the character. As a result, the song is less about what occurs on the surface, and more about what the inside is like. It presents us with a different and very personal viewpoint, and it somehow does this through the most unlikeliest of forms: Music and lyrics.

This is the kind of topic that can be covered far more easily through writing alone. This is not the kind of thing that you place into the context of a song, because you risk too many things when you commit thoughts like these to music: You risk the lyrics sounding hokey, you risk the melody sounding like an practical joke, and at the very least, you risk the end product sounding really strange when you put it all together.

This didn't turn out that way. Quite the contrary, in fact: The end product is practically its own treatise on what one can do with the art form.

"Superman" may not be the best composition ever made, but it is almost unparalleled in that it makes a very deep point -- an almost philosophical one, I must say -- through a very unlikely form of media. It's really a plain, undecorated song that raises possibilities on the nature of a human icon, and by doing so, it causes us to question exactly who and what we are. I feel that it succeeds in a place where its art form normally fears to tread, and that's why I have it in the fourth spot on my list.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Seven Songs 3: The Melody

(This is the third in a series of seven posts, written in response to a meme that asked me what seven songs I held in highest esteem. The first of these posts is noted here.)

Mirage in Blue (Chemistry)
- written by Shinichi Asada and KAZUYA

Yes, this song is in Japanese. No, I have no idea what the lyrics mean, and I've almost torn my hair out trying to find a legible translation on the Net. (I'm not even sure if the writers I have listed above are the correct ones.)

But darn it, it sounds excellent. Somehow the significance of the lyrics pales in comparison to the more obvious entity here: I feel that the music is simply one of the best compositions I've ever heard. It's the kind of thing that you hum to yourself regardless of what business you're doing, it's the kind of tune that sticks to your head and won't let go, and it's the kind of performance that is just as home with an a-cappella engagement or a full-scale orchestra. If you don't understand a word of Japanese, then that makes the distinction even more obvious: It's the music that makes this song a clear winner.

It has been argued that modern songs are all about meaning nowadays. In order to be considered redeemable, a song has to provide a sense of deeper understanding, or must inspire certain feelings in its audience. Most artists succeed in this endeavor by writing relevant or thought-provoking lyrics. Some artists commercialize their songs in order to ingrain particular images into our minds whenever the song gets played. Others work real-world references into their pieces in order to give their performances some sense of audience familiarity.

"Mirage in Blue", however, is virtually unique in that it doesn't need any of these to get our attention. The chances are that most of us are listening to the song for the first time, and that we're bereft of any cultural references, commercial associations or knowledge of the Japanese language in doing so. I believe that it can subsist purely on its musical score alone, and that happens to be a distinction that is shared by very few other songs. In fact, it's what makes this song highly accessible to all audiences regardless of social, cultural or language barriers: The quality of the music simply transcends everything. Words, gestures and beliefs can all be misinterpreted; Music cannot.

"Mirage in Blue" isn't a well-known song internationally, but I believe that it's in a position to attract a significant circle of listeners. Most of us probably don't understand the lyrics, but the beauty of it is that most of us don't need to understand the lyrics in order to enjoy the song. You find few examples of such openness nowadays, and that's why it's the third song on my list.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Seven Songs 2: The Crescendo

(This is the second in a series of seven posts, written in response to a meme that asked me what seven songs I held in highest esteem. The first of these posts is noted here.)

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through (Meatloaf)
- written by Jim Steinman

One thing that is common with most means of artistic media is that they're difficult to define. To begin with, we all have a pretty vague idea as to what a "story" is, or what a "drawing" is, or what a "song" is. The issue usually comes around with distinction: Could I, for example, write an entry full of verse-based metaphors and have it considered "fiction"? Could I haphazardly spread the remains of my lunch on a piece of plywood and call it "art"? Could I string a bunch of random notes together into some alien coherence and call it "music"?

Unfortunately, the nature of creative pursuit is such that we constantly try to present something new. We constantly push the boundaries of our chosen media, and make life hard for erstwhile analysts as a result. Inevitably the established notions fail, and we find ourselves falling back on gut instinct: This is a story because I say so. This is art because it feels that way. This is music because it can be absolutely nothing else.

It is on this basis that I argue on the importance of impact. A piece must be strong enough to hit you right where you stand. It must be powerful enough to leave you stock-still, realizing that what you just experienced could not have been anything else than what it claimed to be in the first place. A song should follow much the same logic: It must give you an experience.

"Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through" was a difficult choice, to be honest. You probably wouldn't be able to guess at the quality of the song just by reading the title; I mean, it actually sounds rather silly when you say it out loud. Its message is vague and a little questionable. Its artist (Meatloaf, in this case) is known for putting a lot of melodrama into his performances, and the video above can be seen as a prime example of showbiz campiness.

But the moment you start listening to it, it works. It doesn't just come together at the last second, mind you -- it works works. The tempo is carefully measured, the choral background is perfect, and the impact is unquestionable. Simply put, it hits you like a freight train. It leaves you more than a little shocked at its temerity, and you can do nothing more than admit that, yes, this is music. This is good stuff, although you'll definitely be muttering denials to yourself afterwards.

For the record, this song was what introduced me to the artist in question. In fact, it single-handedly initiated my search for its album, one that lasted about ten years before I finally found a copy in a second-hand music store half a world away. I still bear the marks of its impact even as I speak, and that's why it happens to be the second song on my list.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Seven Songs 1: The Beat

Yes, this is a meme, tossed onto my lap by Jac. It requires me to post what, in my opinion, are the seven best songs ever composed and developed.

Obviously, there would be some sort of problem with this little arrangement. For one, I'm hardly the sort of person who is best qualified to judge musical compositions, much less songs that have been released and ingrained into the public consciousness. Another problem lies in the fact that I can hardly find myself in the position to listen to every single song ever performed, and thus I can't assess each one of them accordingly.

With that said, I still have a list in mind. Regardless of my terrible qualifications, there are still some songs that I happen to like far more than others. My choices may not be the seven best songs ever created, but I still hold them in very high esteem.

Of course, it wouldn't be a standard entry for this blog if I didn't post some form of explanation for each of these choices. This, of course, means that I'll be splitting up this meme into seven separate posts, just so that I can present everything in a far more sane arrangement. I plan to reference videos from YouTube for assistance as well, and going through one performance a day should be much easier than having to play seven different songs in one sitting.

Now that I've described the circumstances for this little series of posts, I'll proceed to the first of my seven selections:

Smooth (Carlos Santana, featuring Rob Thomas)
- written by Rob Thomas and Itaal Shur

What's a song, really? From a physical point of view, it's simply a bunch of words written and set to coincide with accompanying music. I suppose that we can get into all sorts of technical description here, perhaps going into refrains and instrumentals and chorals and stuff like that, but physically, a song is simply words and music; It's nothing more.

The fact, however, is that we don't think of a song in such technical terms. When a song first enters our heads, the last thing that we do is try to analyze it. I figure that only the most jaded people, the ones most removed from humanity's efforts to make music, would try to break down a song into its molecular components. The first thing that almost all of us do, I feel, is listen. And the second thing we do, invariably, is react.

I loved "Smooth" from the first time I heard it on the radio, and I still love it now. I feel that it is the epitome of the song that you listen to. The chances are good that, if you catch it for more than a few seconds, the beat will spread right into your soul and send your outer extremities into motion. I have yet to find anyone who hates the song, much less anyone who doesn't start swaying to the rhythm the moment it starts playing.

There are probably a number of better songs out there, I think. Some compositions may have far more enlightening lyrics, while some performances might be far more extravagant and complex. "Smooth" probably pales in comparison to these others, the ones that we feel have mastered their respective genres.

Where "Smooth" excels, however, lies in the fact that it simply gets you listening. It draws you in without your even noticing it. I feel that it is, quite literally, a testament to man's tendency towards music. For a single creation, it speaks very well for itself. And that's why it's the first of the seven songs on my little meme-inspired list.

Monday, September 18, 2006


I've just realized that I've been remembering that wrong date for the last couple of years. It seems that the first post I ever made on this blog took place on September 13, 2004, not September 18 as I originally assumed. That, of course, effectively makes this blog two years and five days old as of the time of this writing.

Blogger tells me that I've written a grand total of 352 posts (completed or otherwise) over the last two years, and much like the guy who's been out drinking for half the night, I don't remember writing any of them during my contemporary waking moments. In sharp contrast to my total of 191 posts during the first year of operation, I spent my second year scribbling out 135 articles in one form or another. That's far less than my original output and a little less than one post every two days, but it's still kind of substantial.

For the statisticians out there, of course, I did have the following posts per month over the last year:

September: 5 (out of 16 total)
October: 13
November: 15
December: 17
January: 11
February: 8
March: 6
April: 7
May: 10
June: 9
July: 13
August: 12
September: 9

The drop in entries was most obvious around the February-March-April quarter, primarily because my workload had increased substantially around that time. After our staffing needs had been addressed in the latter part of that quarter, I started recovering in regular numbers once more.

The statistics above, however, don't reflect those posts that I never finished, and thus never published. These include the following:

- Six (yes, six) drafts for Antaria stories;
- One piece of independent fiction, which was tragically cut short by a bum Internet connection;
- A hypothesis on the natures of "who", "where", "when", "how" and "why" types of people;
- An essay on our fascination with discussion fora and mailing lists;
- Two attempts at trying to explain why so many blog posts reference song lyrics;
- A short dissertation on what puts the "Philippine" into "Philippine Science-Fiction".

Yes, that's a lot of rakings from the wastebasket up there. And it all came about in this blog's second year.

The funniest thing about all this is that I didn't exactly expect to stick around for two full years, much less two years and five days. Yet you see me here now, writing up a bunch of words on numbers and statistics. And as far as I'm concerned, I'm not going anywhere just yet.

Of course, I don't know exactly what you people think of this blog. Maybe you like it, and maybe you're just passing through because you don't think it's worth reading. Maybe you find me to be a really sexy person, and maybe you want nothing more than for me to be mauled by a polar bear. Whatever the case, your feedback is always appreciated, and it's invariably considered whenever I make the occasional shift in articles (or apologies, or such).

So I've been around for two years now. With any luck, I can make it to a third. And with even more luck, I'll be able to retain your attention along the way.


Saturday, September 16, 2006

The Sidebar

Sharp-eyed people will probably have noticed that I've made some changes to this blog's sidebar recently. I don't expect to change the background design and basic layout of this blog anytime soon, seeing that it tends to distract people from the horrible quality of my writing, but the sidebar is a different consideration altogether.

Now, I have a tendency to write long entries. They don't seem very long in Blogger's Preview window, but they always seem to turn out longer than usual nonetheless. Couple that with the fact that I've set Blogger to display entries from the last eight posted days, however, and you get a long blog.

That is, you get a really, physically, indubitably long blog.

As it stands, this site is probably the Chile of blogs, and that's even considering that I post very few images on it to begin with. This is why I worry about the sidebar every now and then: It peters out near the lower half of the page, unable to catch up with the content over the last couple of weeks.

As a result, I've recently added two new features that should help populate the area. The first is a listing of Fiction entries that I've posted so far, and while it's only a small subsection at the moment, I expect to fill it out with idle spare-time writings every now and then. If anything, its presence in the Sidebar might at least push me to write more independent short stories.

The second new feature is a listing of Recent Comments, and I'm rather proud of that one. I originally found the same feature on a Friendster blog or two, spent some weeks assessing their usefulness, and eventually decided to implement it over here. While Blogger does have a set of customized codes that you can insert into your web template for the Recent Comments to appear, they didn't give me very good results the first time I tried them. Therefore, the current code I'm using comes from BloggerHacks, a very useful journal that helps people customize their own sites. (It required a little programming knowledge, though.)

The strangest part about the whole thing was the revelation that, while it's possible to retrieve and collate the most recent comments posted for a certain blog, the Blogger system has a habit of outputting this list in earliest-to-latest order. That is to say, if you wanted to check what the most recent comment was, you had to scroll down to the end of the list just to find out. The BloggerHacks code literally has to break this behavior apart and reconstruct the list in latest-to-earliest format, and that's why it's actually much more complex than usual. (That's just a critical note, really, in case you want to try out the feature yourself.)

I considered a few other possibilities, but ended up shelving them because of various issues. Time was a significant factor when I made these recent changes to the sidebar, particularly because Dean Alfar's Speculative Fiction deadline was on at the time. I don't see much of a use for a Tagboard at the moment, I don't think I'm sensitive enough to require the services of an IP Tracker right now, and I have certain ethical issues with regards to the possibility of an online blogroll. These seem to be staples in a lot of weblogs, however, so I'm not completely closed to these options just yet. There's probably a good reason for why people use them on their sites, although those reasons continue to escape me right now.

Finally, before I regained my period of lucidity, I considered giving the sidebar a weird feature of some sort. I catch glimpses of these every now and then in other peoples' blogs, everything from "Word of the Day" feeds to little Temperature Icons and Thermographs. I didn't like the idea of having to connect to external sources for these, however, so I spent a solid thirty minutes dreaming up the sickest, most perverse imaginings available. When I finally concluded that nobody was likely to be interested in what song was playing in my head at any specific time, however, that single rejection finally allowed me to kill the idea completely.

It's altogether possible that I'll be making more changes to the sidebar as time goes on, of course. I write new posts at a rate of about two or three each week, and every new article that comes in shrinks the sidebar's role to an even smaller length of space. I suppose that it's about time it started making the most of what it had, and giving me a bit of diversion in doing so.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Three O'Clock and All's Well

It's a little after three in the morning, and I've just finished the first draft of my submission to Dean Alfar's Speculative Fiction Anthology, Volume 2.

Frankly, it's been a wild ride. I juggled four different plot ideas since the anthology was originally announced some months ago, and it took until this week for me to realize that at least one of them was worth completing. The other plots are probably healthy enough to support stories on their own, but my conclusion of this entry should allow me to put them on the back burner for further development.

I'd try writing up one of those others right now, only the deadline for submissions is tomorrow (today?) already, and my attention will most likely be fixated on getting the finished copy in on time. Besides, I've been writing non-stop for the last five hours, and before dinner I had been stuck on the computer for six. I need my sleep at the moment.

What worries me the most, actually, is the fact that I'm worrying about this submission in the first place. You could argue that I have nothing to prove since my entry made it to the first volume; I'd argue that I have everything to prove to myself now, since I can't sleep unless I get some indication that I'm a consistent author, rather than an insanely lucky one.

I'm not certain as to whether or not this entry is good; My mind tends to be blurry at three in the morning. You could say that all the story got wrung out of my head like water from a wet dishrag, and that wouldn't be very far from the truth. The only thing I can hope to do now is file it away and give it a cursory read in the forthcoming early afternoon. Then, God willing, I'll have enough strength left to toss it into Mr. Alfar's inbox.

If you're still awake out there for any reason, at least you get to know that I share your pain. This is the kind of insomnia that people don't care to write about, really -- the kind that gets fueled by blind panic, mostly because your favorite far-off deadline now happens to be standing on your doorstep like a rogue IRS agent. And he's not there to give you a rebate.

What do I have planned next, now that this is practically over and done with? Well, I hear that the Philippine PEN is looking for submissions...

Monday, September 11, 2006

Fifty Things About Sean (Only Twenty of Which are Absolutely True)

No, this is not a meme... although you could make it one, if you like. I'm just busy at the moment because the deadline for the second Speculative Fiction Anthology is coming up this Friday. I'm aware that I want to post something on this blog before a week passes by, however, and that's why I'm writing this right now. (My vanity might also have something to do with this. Go figure.)

I have a list of fifty factual assertions below, only twenty of which are absolutely, positively true. I will leave it up to you to figure out which are which. I may or may not confirm any of these in the future. I reserve the right to be as silly as I darn well want. I have no idea why I'm doing this, truth be told.

Maybe I'm just weird. Maybe I'm going nuts. Maybe it's time you had a look below.

Just remember: Everybody loves a good list. :)

(only twenty of which are absolutely true)

1. Asks people what their shoe sizes are.
2. Attempted to get struck by lightning… once.
3. Borrows a lot of money.
4. Can speak in Klingon.
5. Can whistle the national anthem.
6. Cosplays.
7. Does algebra problems in his head.
8. Does jigsaw puzzles.
9. Doesn't drink.
10. Doesn't smoke.
11. Habitually asks questions during lectures.
12. Habitually mixes softdrinks together.
13. Has a fetish for bladed weapons.
14. Has a minor medical skin condition.
15. Has a preference for the Verdana font.
16. Has a scar above his right eyebrow.
17. Has acidic saliva.
18. Has been to Africa.
19. Has been to Russia.
20. Has invented a minor electronic component.
21. Has memorized the value of π (pi) to one hundred decimal places.
22. Has six toes on one foot.
23. Hates getting wet.
24. Is (was) a professional arcade player.
25. Is a conspiracy theorist.
26. Is a Michael Jackson fan.
27. Is a pack rat (i.e. keeps everything he acquires).
28. Is ambidextrous.
29. Is an expert chess player.
30. Is fond of history.
31. Is fond of mathematics.
32. Is fond of sociology.
33. Knows how to do needlepoint.
34. Knows how to program in COBOL.
35. Knows how to program in GWBASIC.
36. Knows how to work a telescope.
37. Once destroyed a rubber ball by sitting on it.
38. Once drank cleaning fluid to see how it would taste.
39. Once gambled P5000.00 ($100.00) on a single coin toss… and won.
40. Once stabbed someone with a pencil.
41. Once won a contest for his artwork.
42. Owns a pet cat.
43. Owns a pet dog.
44. Owns a pet Siberian tiger.
45. Picks up coins on the street.
46. Played soccer for a school team.
47. Played table tennis for a school team.
48. Plays Dungeons & Dragons.
49. Records episodes of "Malcolm in the Middle".
50. Tried to learn ice sculpture… once.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Internet

The cable internet connection should be up now, although I'm starting to run into a bunch of problems that beset first-time setups. The major issue I've got at the moment is that I'm running at a speed comparable to that of my old dial-up connection, and I'll raise the point when I contact iCable tomorrow morning.

I mention the above concerns because they're affecting strange portions of my Internet life: My connection currently encounters problems when loading blogs, pop-up windows, or even icons for that matter. In fact, this happens to be my third attempt at a blog post today, and I'm doing this without the benefit of Blogger's "Preview" feature, to boot. Commenting on peoples' entries is more a chore than anything else tonight, seeing as I can't even see the word-verification requirements.

This thing will probably lift within the next few days, though. I've actually gone through three or four similar episodes during my work life, so I can most likely hoof it for a while. These problems had better clear up, however, or else I'm going to be stuck paying three times the amount for the same measure of speed... and that's not considering the government's Value-Added Tax that's kicking me in the shins.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Eulogy: Steve Irwin

It's been a while since I've written a eulogical essay, and I think I'm not the only person who didn't expect Steve Irwin to be the subject in question.

I first encountered reports of Steve Irwin's death yesterday morning as I was checking my mail. Around that time, it was difficult to conceive of the reports as being true. Despite the fact that he engaged in very dangerous antics during his exploratory documentaries, he was a constant presence on television (to the point of being irritating sometimes), and he was still relatively young. Besides that, I had seen a number of false reports on his "death" some years back, and I was unlikely to believe any of the initial rumors unless they got picked up and confirmed by a larger news agency.

Little by little, however, the story got fleshed out. It was a stingray, we were told, in a rare attack that had previously claimed only two other lives in Australian history. Irwin was filming a nature documentary when it happened, and the wound penetrated his heart to the point where they couldn't determine whether he died from the cardiac rupture or the creature's poison. He was gone within the hour.

Funny thing, really. Most of us probably assumed that one of his namesake crocodiles would get him one day. It was practically a long-running joke, the last time I checked.

I guess you never see this sort of thing coming.

And you don't hear many people laughing about it, right now.

From what we saw of him, Steve Irwin was a man who liked to laugh. It was clearly a curiosity, especially in his line of work. What sort of man laughs about the prospect of exploring the wild places on earth and dealing with loads of unpredictable animals, much less wrangling crocodiles in front of a camera practically every month? What sort of person could possibly stomach doing this for over ten years, bringing a sense of zoological (albeit not cultural) awareness to our homes, and lending his image to various wildlife conservation initiatives?

Steve Irwin, that's who.

There are few other people who would fit the same bill, and it's unlikely that there would be anyone else who could possibly step into his muddy shoes.

I remember an image that was plastered across some of the major networks not too long ago. It consisted of Steve Irwin, the Crocodile Hunter, playfully navigating a pen full of his namesake animals. Then there was an image of his carrying around his infant son while still walking inside that same pen, and getting just a little too close to the creatures besides. The act sparked perhaps the only controversy in Irwin's career, although I'm not aware as to whether or not he apologized afterwards. (Or, for that matter, held any more babies inside any more crocodile pens.)

Was it a metaphor, you think? Was he somehow trying to tell us, if not a little unconsciously, that we had to swallow our fears and take a closer look at these animals? Or was it just another laugh, another spectacle to show us exactly how fearful people we all were, and how we sometimes do absolutely nothing beyond watching and waiting to see if anything happens.

Steve Irwin didn't just watch. He was the sort of person who got right into the thick of things, brought us down into the mouths of danger, and laughed in relief and exhilaration afterwards. He loved his job, he loved his animals, he loved his family, and it showed in everything he did.

You seldom see people so willing to rush into the unknown like that, and share their experiences with the rest of us.

And now Steve Irwin lies in that greatest of unknowns, that which we do not know and from where he cannot speak to us with his usual expressions and funny catch-phrases.

He will be sorely missed.

Until I Understand

I'd like to take this opportunity to extend apologies to Reiji, as well as anyone else who may have been offended by "Straining to See", one of my previous posts.

I wrote "Straining to See" after a bout of bloghopping, which brought me into contact with a few new blogs. After almost two years of maintaining this site, I don't know if I've become a jaded, cigar-smoking elitist in the intervening months. I do know, however, that I ended up characterizing these blogs as "shallow", or otherwise without the particular meaningfulness that I like to see in personal entries.

This reaction, however, surprised me. While I certainly can tell the difference between introspective and non-introspective writing, I'm usually accepting of any material regardless of what it is. I'm supposed to hold the idea that any piece of writing will have some redeeming value to it, and that quality or quantity or reputation or other such inconvenient impressions have little or nothing to do with anything. I was surprised by the fact that I had characterized something as "shallow" without giving much thought to the matter, and the question ended up gnawing at my soul for a while.

These thoughts formed the basis of "Straining to See", a disorganized jumble of words that noted how I felt at the moment. I questioned why I was falling back on first impressions; attempted to point out that any person had the right to post anything they wanted; and approached the realization that, to a blog writer, any entry has some meaning in itself to begin with. It is this meaning, for that matter, that may or may not be obvious to the writer's audience.

What I did wrong, I believe, is that I didn't bother trying to look for meaning. I just took the big black stamp that read "Shallow" and pounded it all over the place.

And for that, I'm sorry.

I've been tracing the blogs in question since last night, looking at everything all over again, and giving them the bit of attention that every blog deserves. I was surprised to find that none of them were as "shallow" as I assumed, but then, considering what I've written about so far here, it wasn't much of a surprise.

Now that all that's out in the open, I must reiterate that I'm perfectly open to any comments that anyone might have. I tend to take justified criticism seriously, whether that goes for my writing or for my personality.

If you feel that I need improvement in any departments, feel free to post something. At this point, I'll guarantee that I'll at least give it some serious thought. :)

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pencils on Paper

The following landed in my inbox the other day:

I'm told that this poster is part of a web campaign to build hype for the upcoming event, and maybe entice a few people to drop by the Komikon as well. This is, of course, not to say that I'm much of an artist... but some of the people who pass by this blog might be interested to join.

This is not to say that I'm much of a comics man, either. (Darn it, Jim, I'm a writer, not a komikero.) I own a few trade paperbacks, know quite a few bits of trivia and make the occasional doodle on a restaurant placemat, but I'm hardly a comics man at the moment.

My superficial engagement in comics does cover two basic areas, though: First of all, I find myself constantly analyzing the differences between a text-and-art-based medium and a text-only approach. One of the things about writing speculative fiction (fantasy, sci-fi, and all that jazz) lies in the fact that you're bringing the products of your imagination to life. If you're not describing the contents of your deranged mind to people, then odds are that you're probably drawing them instead. There are plenty of differences to explore between the two crafts, particularly in the areas of presentation, pacing and visual stimuli.

The second point lies in the fact that I like to look at art. I don't look at the old-school, impressionist/cubist/pointilist/whatever stuff that the museums hold, however. I look at straightforward contemporary art instead -- what we call comic art, fantasy art, manga, and so forth -- and I tend to lose myself in its dynamic folds.

As you might expect, I look in on a lot of artists' blogs.

As you might expect, I keep quite a number of DeviantArt web sites on my Favorites list.

As you might expect, I hold about as much respect for skilled artists as the next person. Where'd they learn how to draw so well, anyway?

Despite the fact that I indulge in few web campaigns nowadays, you can already see why this contest announcement has picked up a bit of interest from me. A few competitions on comic book art have floated around over the past couple of years, but nothing has really taken place close to home apart from the one sponsored by Fully Booked. I'm aware that there are probably a lot of talented artists out there, but I figure that few of them have enough faith or dedication to come up with a full-blown publication. And even then, around half of those who do so are probably in need of complementary writers. Good complementary writers.

Yes, I'm of the belief that writing skills and drawing skills are mutually exclusive. Just because you know how to draw well doesn't necessarily mean that you can write well, too, and vice-versa. But I digress.

I'll most likely be around during the Komikon, although it won't just be for the Lead-Slinger Challenge. I'll be walking around looking at all the pretty pictures. I'll be keeping my eyes open for little keepsakes that look as though they're worth a few hard-earned bucks from my wallet. I'll be greeting a few people. I'll be cursing a few people. But inevitably, I'll be watching developments.

That's not to say that I might not enter the Challenge myself. I have to warn people, however, that my drawing skills are a little rusty:

Don't say I didn't warn you. :)

Friday, September 01, 2006

Disclaimer: September 2006

Let's see if I can get my point across in as few words and concepts as possible. I've got around twenty-four other monthly disclaimers floating around on this blog as well as a Note of Ownership in the sidebar, so anyone who won't quite get the message will have plenty of other references to check.


Sean's blog here.

Everything here original.

Anything not original, referenced. Linked. Acknowledged.

Source not like Sean's use, contact Sean. Sean corrects.

Person wants use Sean's stuff, reference. Link. Acknowledge.

Person not use Sean's stuff in different context. Lies bad.

Person not take Sean's stuff as their own. Stealing bad.

Sean not like offenders.

Sean not like puny offenders!

Sean turn big. Sean turn green. Sean put on purple pants. Sean SMASH!



That's all, people. Back to your work now.