Thursday, November 29, 2007

It's Almost Five in the Afternoon

It's almost five in the afternoon, and my digital calendar is blinking. It's telling me that I have a meeting coming up in less than fifteen minutes, which involves a final round of discussion over our IT setup in Asia. The resulting service contract and definitions will dictate the pace of our operations in the hemisphere for the next two years, and will most likely be a deciding factor between success and inconsistency for the largest market in the world.

But the meeting doesn't exist anymore, because somebody decided to walk out of a judicial hearing and break into the hotel down the street.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and my fingers are dancing across the keyboard. I have a search process running across two different applications in the background, because a contact in Europe asked me for some critical information two days ago. I've had to scan and scour my databases to answer her request; it turned out to be a high-level search, so I've been running processes each day in order to try and get her the data before our weekend deadline.

But my efforts are useless now, because somebody decided to arm a small cadre of supporters, whine about the state of the country, and take matters into their own hands.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and I'm preparing my reports for tomorrow. We have two meetings at the end of each month in order to go over our tasklists; we spend a grand total of four hours arguing over which items are important enough to get priority and which ones can be shunted aside for another month at possible expense to their managers. Projects live and die by meetings like these, and every time we have them, we realize that we make a difference in exactly how well the business functions.

But I won't be able to defend my projects tomorrow, because somebody decided that the public shared his exact same sentiments, and figured that he was to lead them like some modern messiah.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and I'm still in the office. Along with a bunch of other like-minded individuals, I'm trying to hold together a business that threatens to fall apart because somebody decided that planned instability was a whole lot better than seething impatience.

They can hold as many uprisings as they want, oh yes, but they don't know anything about holding things together. They don't care about international observers. They don't care about multinational investors. They don't care about the people who have to work and plead and convince that this country is a good place to do business in, that this is a safe and quiet environment where things can get done.

Of course, they'll never admit this. They'll say that they did it to 'liberate" us from a tyrant. They'll rant that the proper channels were too slow for their needs. They'll assume that their idealism is the most important thing in the world.

It's almost five in the afternoon, and somebody decided that people like me were not important enough to be considered at all.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

I Felt the Earth Move (Under My Feet)

Bloggers are funny sometimes. An explosion takes place in a high-class shopping mall and we immediately come through with a bunch of frenzied blog posts and digital photographs. An earthquake shakes the entire metropolis, though, and suddenly the Internet is a quiet place.

If anyone's curious, I was in the middle of a twelve-hour training session on the 20th floor of my office building. I distinctly felt the first tremors, but I didn't pay much attention to them because I assumed that it was the boredom kicking in. It was only when the class started buzzing (and our Indian trainer actually put one hand against a desk to keep his balance) that I realized that something big was going down.

The first thing that went through my mind was, hey... it's an earthquake. The second thing that went through my mind was, what floor am I on again? And the third thing that went through my mind was, that's cool... but now I've got to get back to work.

Yes, it has come to my attention that I may be working too hard.

I didn't feel an inch of apprehension as the floor shifted under my seat, to be honest. Either I was jaded at the prospect of twenty stories collapsing under me, or I had somehow resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't likely to be the first person out of the fire exits. So I merely stretched in my seat and relaxed, which got me quite a few stares.

I did expect a few aftershocks, though, and was sorely disappointed. This is not to scare anyone or convince myself of my overbearing masculinity, mind you; it's just that every earthquake I've ever experienced involved aftershocks in some way. I consider them to be one of nature's subtle little ways of reminding you who's boss.

In the five-minute break that followed, I was able to send off three or four text messages before the service died all of a sudden. I assume that this was because the shock finally wore off for the majority, and everybody decided to text everybody else at the same time.

I did a quick check of my work e-mail some hours later, and noted that nobody had decided to post anything on this interesting development yet. Maybe everybody else was jaded, too. I mean, after consecutive government scandals, a mall explosion, and three typhoons all joining up with each other above our heads, there's not much left that can get us to sit up and take notice.

Ah, well. Maybe there'll be one tomorrow.


Monday, November 26, 2007

The Proposition

I received an offer for collaboration the other day. This is quite common when a lot of the people you know happen to be writers and/or artists; you end up with a healthy respect for each others' works. Sooner or later one of you is bound to ask about the possibility of getting your writing and drawing styles in the same bed together, and seeing exactly how the love child will turn out.

Now, I've done quite a few things in my lifespan. In no particular order, I've written formal business proposals, pieces of fan fiction, pitches for comic series, video game scripts, one-act plays, bad poetry, preschool textbooks, and a few short stories here and there.

But with regards to this collaboration... I've never been asked for a webcomic before.

I'm of the opinion that comedy is hard. Oh, it's easy enough to crack a joke and get people laughing with you for all of fifteen seconds, I'm not denying that. But stretch those fifteen seconds into, say, fifteen days, and I'll have a hard time looking for material before the week is out. What more if, say, fifteen months are involved? It's bad enough for me to last fifteen minutes.

And yet that offer's still on the table. Write me a webcomic, Sean. Make it funny, will ya? And no, this is a take-it-or-leave-it affair. Do not pass Go, Sean. Do not collect $200.

I'm just a writer.

I've begun sifting through some basic plot ideas, mind you. I've got nothing solid enough to go on, so far... but I usually have nothing solid to use for my short stories anyway. Sooner or later I'm going to be able to squeeze a good idea out of my head, maybe two days before my partner's deadline and my mind is starting to go on overdrive.

Any second now.

Any second now.

Darn it.

I haven't even decided what genre I should be pursuing for this one. Part of me thinks that I should be writing the fantasy / sci-i / horror / mystery that I normally use. The catch is that there seems to be a lot of those things floating around, and far less of the mundane, modern-world-lifestyle ones.

On the other hand, I'm terrible at writing about modern lifestyle. I barely get out of my house and meet people; how in the world could I possibly write up a digital equivalent of Friends?

Maybe a combination of the two? Let's see... a vampire, a werewolf, a patchwork Promethean, a succubus, and a disco dancer all move into the same apartment. Cue wacky social hijinks as they try to coexist without tearing each others' livers out. Ugh.

I warned you that I wasn't much good at these things. I do melodrama, subtle twists, and cohesive setting. I'm not the kind of writer who has much experience dealing with four meddling kids and an anthropomorphic canine.

At least I get to read webcomics non-stop for a while. It's research, darn it. The fact that a lot of these are already sitting among my "Favorites" links has absolutely nothing to do with it.

A rabbi, a monkey, and a sock puppet suddenly find themselves trapped on a derelict space shuttle? Naaah.

Sometimes I wonder how the established webcomic writers do it. Sometimes I wonder how they keep themselves from going nuts trying to think of new directions to take their creations.

But then again, maybe I should just stick to straight writing. At least there's a lot more certainty there. I'd rather know that I'm falling into insanity than imagine the risk.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Lost Copy

Well, this is embarrassing.

It seems that I can't finish my review of Philippine Genre Stories' third issue in the short time that I assumed, because I've misplaced my copy. I'm sure that I left it by the bookshelf in my room the other day. Considering the mess around here, however, it's unlikely that I'll find it for a while.

That means that I'll have to grab another copy tomorrow. I promised myself that I won't write any other new posts (apart from this one) until I finish the review.

So far, I've managed to get three reviews up. "Tuko" got written first because it was the first thing I read from the new issue. "Homer's Child" and "Muse" were the most striking pieces for me apart from Mr. Escano's work, so I was able to construct both of them from memory (save for their writers' e-mail addresses, so I haven't sent them the letters yet).

As for the others... I've already read "Twinspeak" and "The Devil is in the Details", but I'd like to go over them again in case I missed anything. I haven't read "Y" yet, and I saved Robert Frazier's piece for last, so if I really need to read anything badly, it's those two.

There's probably some logic to the order in which I read the stories in each new anthology. Maybe someday I'll explore that.

For now, though... I have the new copy to worry about, first.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Review: Philippine Genre Stories, Issue Three

The third issue of Philippine Genre Stories came out three months ago, in the middle of my busy season. While I was able to pick up a copy before mid-September was upon us, I've only been able to read bits and pieces of it between extended meetings, training sessions, and long periods of overtime. (Then again, every single month of the year would probably qualify as my "busy season" nowadays.)

This time, however, the news does not lie in what has changed since issue two -- rather, it lies in what hasn't changed. The cover layout is similar to that of the second issue, and the internal page format looks the same. That implies that the publication is starting to "get into its groove", so to speak -- it's adopting a look and feel that it will most likely have for a while.

As with the first two issues, I'm going to be reading through all the works inside and sending my comments to their respective authors. Issue three has an eclectic ensemble of writers, and ends up acting as a mixture of mystery, horror and personal introspection. For some reason, it seems to jettison the more traditional selections of high fantasy and hard sci-fi in favor of more modern-day settings. While I'm not saying that it's bad -- I welcome it, as a matter of fact -- it's a little surprising, and I wonder if this was a deliberate move on the part of the editor/s.

One thing that you'll notice with my reviews this time is a lack of additional comments at the end of each letter. I decided to leave these out and instead concentrate my reactions in each message itself; I mean, is there anything about each piece that I should keep from the authors? I'm still going to run the "personal correspondence" angle, though, despite the fact that Philippine Genre Stories has a forum for peoples' comments now.

For that matter, I'll also expect to finish this post over a number of days. It's not easy to read and review each of the seven stories in the magazine, much less write up the e-mails and copy them to this blog entry. So I'll take an alternative approach this time -- I'll re-read each of the stories in random order, then put up my comments once I've messaged their respective writers. You might want to catch up with this entry every now and then as a result; I'll be updating it until all my reviews are up.

And, as with both of my other reviews, my disclaimers still stand: I'm just a writer, I'm just a follower of the craft, and I'm just a part-time reader on the side. I'm not an award-winner, I'm not an authoritarian, and I'm not an official critic. But I do call them as I see them, I do try to see the good and the bad in each story, and I do believe that opinions shouldn't hide behind shyness, impudence or anonymity. If you agree or disagree with anything that I say, please feel free to discuss in my comment boxes; I'll try to be as civil as I can.

Oh, and... before you read, just remember: Here there be spoilers aplenty.

Twinspeak (by Elyss Punsalan)

Dear Ms. Punsalan:

I feel that your story uses a lot of elements that would normally be called "disparate": Fraternal twins who share a telepathic bond, a connection between dreams and real-world developments, and of course, the dragensik oombra. Moreover, it's told in an ambitious style that distinctly characterizes Ryan and Rina, who have little in common with each other despite their siblinghood.

For starters, I think that it's very original. I find myself wondering if the "night dragon with scholarly inclinations" is an actual mythological creature, or if its presence was spun from pure cloth. I also like the fact that the story takes place between two people with a supernatural bond -- and that an essential element involves one of them helping the other in the face of animosity. It gives the fantasy a very "human" look and feel.

I am, however, not certain if it works as a whole. I felt as though the result was a patchwork of ideas that ended up reading as a story. The night dragon, for example, didn't get a lot of background; Ryan's misfortunes could have been caused by any otherworldly creature, as far as I was concerned. The notion that one twin's "luck" could have somehow been transferred to the other is a little hard for me to believe. And I'm not very receptive towards the story's opening -- I feel that the notion of a dead cat produced some very morbid undertones that may have affected the rest of the tale.

All in all, however, it's a worthy effort from somebody who hadn't written for a while. I'm expecting a lot from your story in the Dragon anthology, and possibly some more details on a certain night dragon with scholarly inclinations...

Homer's Child (by Paolo Chikiamco)

Dear Mr. Chikiamco:

I felt that "Homer's Child" had a very interesting premise, and I felt that it was a very interesting story. On one end of the spectrum, I was a little tickled that somebody would actually try writing about animated stuffed toys. On the other end, I was surprised that the resulting story turned out so well.

To start with, I liked Basil. I felt that he was a character who I wouldn't mind reading about in further installments; I saw him as somebody who had the curiosity and the perception to investigate cases like these on a regular basis, yet who could somehow make short quips inside his head, primp himself in front of prospective girlfriends, and generally think outside the box. Ironically, I ended up liking him more than Muppet -- although it made me wish that the stuffed cheetah had a better part in the story.

Beyond characterization, though, I felt that it was a good mystery. The way I saw things, the story didn't present me with a lineup of possible suspects and slowly reveal who it was; instead, it gave me a good idea as to the actual culprit and forced me to wonder just how the deed was done. There should really be some style points involved when people realize that the fantastic premise had little or nothing to do with the physical crime at all.

I had a huge problem with the exposition, however. The story tends to ramble at odd points -- sometimes the action comes at a reasonable pace, and sometimes everything slows down just so that a little background material can be explained. Despite the fact that your piece concentrates on the concept of the Homeridae, I couldn't see it as important to the story at all. I think that you could literally cut away every single reference to them, go with the concept of an investigative reporter who solves cases with his stuffed toy companion (seriously speaking), and end up with a much stronger story. But I suppose that that's your call.

Of everything that I've read in Philippine Genre Stories so far, yours is the only story or which I would really want to see a sequel. That says something, I think.

Y (by Sharmaine Galve)

Dear Ms. Galve:

If there was anything that amused me about "Y", it was the implication that it belonged in the science-fiction genre. I don't dispute that assumption, mind you -- in fact, I fully support it. It still amuses me, though, as the story doesn't have much of the technological discussion that is normally found in a lot of sci-fi.

I love "Y" for its subtlety. If you don't mind my saying so, I feel that your story should be packaged in a textbook so that writers can somehow get educated about how to do this right. It somehow manages to throw the reader a lot of details without sacrificing the consistency of the narrative: We know that the protagonist's name is, we know what he does inside a locked room all day, and we know what his marital relationship is like. It brought all this to the point where I was able to clearly imagine how Alfred's world looked. That, I think, is quite an achievement for a story that consists of little more than his ravings.

In a way, it's actually kind of sad that Alfred would look upon life and human relativity from a purely clinical standpoint. He strikes me as the sort who believes that he can manufacture love and emotion from scratch. I get the feeling that all this is meant to touch a few nerves and make readers angry. I didn't feel anything beyond sadness, though, right up to the point where he ends up feeling an unnatural, ironic attraction towards a physical brain.

On the flip side of the coin, I feel that the story has a distinct weakness in Alfred's tendency to ramble. The style is subtle, yes, but the catch is that it seems to take forever for the story to get to the point. I felt that the whole thing was a setup to emphasize the twist at the end -- that is, the location of the second Grade A mind and Alfred's morbid fixation with it -- but its brevity was a bit of a letdown for me. I mean, I had to slog through ten pages' worth of exposition before I arrived at anything even remotely resembling a climax. It feels odd having to listed to a continual flow of statements, only to run into the break at the end.

In your write-up, you mentioned that this story was a bit of a hodgepodge of ideas. I say that you managed to blend these ideas well, but that I think you came to a bit of a bump at the end. I still think that it was a good read, though.

Tuko (by Miguel Escaño)

Dear Mr. Escaño:

A few months before the third issue of Philippine Genre Stories came out, it was "Tuko" that sold it for me. I liked the excerpt that was posted on the PGS blog, and I liked the look of the cover illustration. And now that I'm writing you this letter, I have to say that I liked the story as well.

I've only heard of the "tuko" superstition once or twice, and I feel that it deserved some fleshing out. What I got from your story was an excellent take on this, something that came neatly wrapped in creepiness and suspense without any cheesy shock value. For a horror story, it didn't scare me much... but for a story, it did keep me glued to the pages. I felt that it was compelling, and that the slow succession of events was very effective. It was, in a way, like watching a man move towards his own self-inflicted doom, knowing that he only had a mere skin-crawling sensation of the forces at work.

If there was a flaw in your work, I felt that it lay in the exposition. I just think that there could have been a more subtle way to explain some background elements in the story. When entire sections are needed just to explain why the tuko's call is so significant, or to fill in the background behind the main character's job, then I feel that it's more boring than efficient. I think it distracts from the action, and I think that it prevented me from getting the full impact of the story. I just feel that the exposition could have been done is a far more subtle manner.

Regardless of my quibbles, I felt that "Tuko" was well worth the attention I gave it. I'm happy to feel justified over a story that I wanted to read well before it was actually published.

The Devil is in the Details (by Charles Tan)

Dear Mr. Tan:

As much as it pains me to say so, I didn't think of "The Devil is in the Details" as comedic. It had a few good quips scattered around the story, yes, but I didn't come away thinking of it as a comedy. Instead, it gave me the impression of an essay that was disguised as a piece of literary writing.

That's not to say that it isn't good, though. I found it to be an interesting read -- for something as straightforward as your style was, I felt that it questioned a lot of stereotypical assumptions. I'm pretty sure that most people have asked themselves at one point or another as to what they would do if they ever met the devil face to face, and most of us have probably already come up with "solid" excuses to avoid eternal damnation. Your story gives the devil a hell of a rebuttal (so to speak), and turns the situation
completely on its ear: Did we honestly think that the devil couldn't grant us true love? Did we honestly expect the devil not to offer a straight contract devoid of the fine print? Did we honestly expect that it would be offered to us in a quiet manner with some very obvious digs at time pressure?

In short, I felt that the story was quite sharp. It doesn't ask us for permission to sign the contract in blood -- it slits the nearest vein and pushes the quill into our hand.

I have my differences with the ending, if only because I could never actually figure out whether or not the man decided to accept the devil's offer. He went for true love, sure enough... but did he ask the devil for a chance to earn it? Was his ex-wife's appearance, his wedding ring's showing up, and his impending reconciliation all a part of the deal? I'm not sure exactly what happened in the end.

And finally, I did come away with the notion that this was an essay in literary format. I feel that it's meant to make us think, more than it means to tell us a story. From an essayist's point of view, I believe that the work is successful -- I mean, it made
me think for a bit -- but from a storyteller's point of view I'm not so sure. The events felt a little vague for me, especially when it came to the ending.

Dreamtigers (by Robert Frazier)

Dear Mr. Frazier:

If I read my introductions right, "Dreamtigers" was first published over twenty years ago. For something that's over two decades old, I feel that it still retains a certain "freshness"... as though the subject matter and treatment haven't changed much over the intervening years.

I felt that the atmosphere was the best part of the story. The narration gave me enough details to imagine the setting and the characters, but I feel that it never gave away so much as to clue me in on exactly what was happening to Tou. I think that this resulted in a rather creepy sensation -- it implied that I was seeing a dead man walking here, and that a protagonist armed with the modern medical sciences could do little to help him. There is a constant image at work in the story -- that of a tiger on the hunt -- and this makes for some morbid moments.

I was also somewhat amused at the ending, where the protagonist takes refuge in the African lands of his memory. Does he know that there are no tigers in Africa? Does he wonder if he's truly secure in such a dream?

I did have one concern with the story, which involved the "field-journal" style of narration. I felt that the gap between entries was often too wide; it was difficult for me to read the protagonist's observations over one day, only to pick up on the next entry after a week had passed (and other events had presumably taken place in the interim). As a result I felt as though some background details had been left vague for me -- I find it difficult to identify the members of Tou's family, for example, or figure out the capacity in which Fenneman and the protagonist are involved with the refugees.

Ultimately, however, I felt that the story was beneficial in that it gave a very nice treatment for a strange, more-or-less supernatural subject. It also explored the fact that the nightmare syndrome is by no means limited to the Philippine context, and I feel that it added to the mythology surrounding the condition. In short, I felt that it was an effective story, and that the fifteen minutes I spent reading it made for a worthwhile experience. Thank you.

Muse (by John Philip Corpuz)

Dear Mr. Corpuz:

When I first saw the illustration for the writing contest in issue number two, I wondered what kind of twisted mind could possibly come up with a story for such a picture.

When the "almost accepted" entries went up on the PGS blog, I marveled at their creativity, and wondered just what the winning writer submitted in order to best those works.

Then I went through your entry, and I wondered how five hundred words could make for such a hell of a read.

I think that it was the subtlety that made it good. It didn't waste time trying to explain its setting; instead, it opted to throw the details into our faces and let us figure everything out. I ended up imagining a world where inquisitors existed, where artists could bind their own muse and leave dying words in return, and it all added up very well. The slight twist at the end was just gravy. I would have liked to see some more explanation of the habits and foibles of muses (and how they can kill under the right circumstances), but everything was already all right as it was. Simply put, it was a good read.

Now, of course, I wonder what you could possibly do with higher word limits. But that will have to wait.

The Digest of Philippine Genre Stories, Issue Three

As of 3:19pm SGT on November 25, 2007, I've completed all seven reviews for this issue and submitted them via e-mail to the corresponding authors.

I've mentioned before that this issue takes on a new angle -- every story in PGS3 concerns a pseudo-modern setting in some way. There are no magical universes here (save for Corpuz's work), no high technologies, no cat-girls frolicking in sugar-sweet animé-type surrounds. I'm wondering if this was a conscious decision on the part of the editor, or if this was mere coincidence.

I feel, however, that this is the strongest selection of stories in a PGS issue so far. Every entry here was of quality material in one way or another. I initially had doubts that Robert Frazier's work would either thin out the "Philippine" aspect of the publication or stick out like a sore thumb, but it doesn't. Instead, I find that it provides a remarkable counterpoint -- I'm going to be constantly comparing it against Miguel Escaño's "Tuko" for the foreseeable future.

The art is really starting to grow on me -- I look forward to seeing Elbert Or's interior work from every issue onwards, and I feel that the cover art for PGS3 is as "saleable" as it gets; this is the kind of art that makes me want to open the book and see what's inside.

I'll say that this is the best issue so far, if only because all the managing decisions seemed to have come together on this one: The art makes the book attractive to readers. The inclusion of "Dreamtigers" provides open ground for discussion. The focus on modern settings brings about the impression that one doesn't have to concentrate on the traditional sci-fi/fantasy universes in order to write for those genres.

The only catch, I think, is that it none of the entries haven't yet dislodged my clear favorite among all the stories published in PGS. But then, that's a tough act to follow.

It's been three months since this issue came out, and the next one is probably around the corner. So... while the bookstores still have copies to burn, you should pick one up and give it a good read. You owe it to yourself, I think.

The Top Shelf

I was over at the local Japanese animé-themed novelty store the other day when I noticed something interesting on one of the shelves. Well... about three hundred or so interesting things, to be exact.

By now, it should be automatically assumed that children and Pokémon products go together like magnets and iron filings. This was, in a way, what I realized when confronted with an entire set of display shelves full of tiny Pokémon figurines, each about one inch high. There were enough figurines lined up across four shelves to make your average kid convulse with glee.

I mention four shelves, however, because that number happens to be relevant to my narrative. You see, these shelves weren't stacked in such a way as to display all the figurines at equal height -- instead, they were stacked in a straight vertical formation, one shelf on top of another shelf and so forth.

As you might expect, the top shelf contained what I assumed were the most popular Pokémon creatures, uncovered and shining directly into the eyes of prospective buyers. Pikachu was obviously there, for example, but I also noticed quite a few samples of the local fan-favorites: Squirtle the turtle, Bulbasaur the plant-thingy, and Jigglypuff the weird-looking-round- thing-with-the-incredibly-massive-eyes. A forlorn sign with "Charmander" on it stood beside an empty row, so I guess the fire-elemental dinosaur was a huge seller. I actually went as far as to pick up a few figurines and shake my head at the shoddy paint jobs -- one Pikachu was actually missing an eye, for instance.

In short, it seemed that only the best sellers could possibly make it to the top shelf. For that matter, you could probably put a half-finished, colorblindly-painted representation of Pikachu up there, and it would still get snatched up in less than a minute.

As expected, the second shelf held all the hopefuls -- the creatures that were most likely fringe favorites, or which were most likely awaiting their shot at the big time. I recognized Meowth there, for one -- he's a mainstay in the cartoon, but he's in cahoots with the villains, which probably hurts his street cred. I noticed such characters as Scyther and Abra as well -- both not so popular as to sell in significant numbers, but with enough of a fanbase to bring in the money.

I had to bend over in order to glance at the selection that lined the third shelf. This one was only about two feet off the floor, and it was difficult to see the whole selection. Koffing and Ekans were there -- they're a smog pokémon and a snake pokémon between them -- and I only imagined that they happened to sell only because they were also cartoon mainstays; there was nothing cute about them at all. Also on this shelf: Torchic (a cute bird pokémon that had the misfortune of appearing when the series was already on the decline), and Geodude (er... a floating rock.)

I had to crouch just to see what was on the last shelf. This one didn't even have the figurines lined up in neat rows, much less dusted and cleaned. Instead, it looked as though somebody had thrown all the unsaleable creatures together into a single pile in order to fend for themselves.

You could make a case for any of the creatures you found here: There was Unown, for example, whose figurine could barely stand up on its own. There was Muk, who looked like a living blob of something purple and unmentionable (although I'm sure it wasn't his fault). And there was Porygon, who will forever be tied to the cartoon's seizure episode. It was a little sad seeing all of them stacked up in a messy little pile, wondering if anyone was even going to bother picking them up and dragging them to the cashier. Somehow I doubted it.

I can't help but think that there was a lesson in all that, mind you.

After observing this arrangement for a few minutes, I then proceeded to look for Psyduck. I've always felt an affinity for Psyduck, especially since his special powers all seem to involve going around having headaches at the other pocket monsters. As you can probably expect, he's not universally loved.

I didn't find a Psyduck figurine anywhere, not even on the dirty bottom shelf after a bit of digging. This didn't surprise me at all -- somehow I expected that the psychic yellow duck was a free agent of some sort, running through the cartoon universe with a perpetually bewildered expression on its face. Either that, or he was having a headache somewhere in one of the back rooms, wondering if there were any other shelves that could possibly be lower than his...

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Between Blinks

Went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep again.

The good news is that I'm beginning to settle in at work. The bad news is that it's affecting my sleeping habits significantly.

Went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep again.

The fact is that I usually do my writing late at night. So, given a situation where I report to work by 8:30 each morning and time out somewhere around 7:00 each night, you can see where I would normally need my rest. Technically, I should be sleeping a little before midnight, more or less.

Went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep again.

But I'm not doing that. Instead, I made the bad mistake of sleeping at two in the morning in order to get some writing done, then going sleepy for the whole day just to get a bit more writing or leisure in at night. It killed my productivity for a while, so I did what any normal guy would do -- I resolved to sleep early.

Went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep again.

So now I doze off for a few hours, then wake up in the wee hours of the morning with an urge to do something -- have a midnight snack, read a few more pages of some paperback novel, try a bit more graphic design -- before dropping off to sleep again. At first I thought that the feeling would pass, but a week later, it's become quite irritating.

Went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep again.

Something's got to give, I think. Either I change my writing schedule, or I stop staying too late at work, or I find a way to get all the sleep I want between those times. I don't think I can carry on with my current arrangement... life's hard enough without the fact that I'm the one interrupting my own sleep.

Went to sleep. Woke up. Went to sleep again.

Back to bed I go.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Political Questions

I try to avoid talk of current events on this blog. This is for quite a few reasons: First, there are a ton of other sites out there that already offer sterling commentary on such issues (professional or otherwise). Second, I don't see my discussion of current events as providing anything beyond mad rantings from a writer who is often ill-informed about them. And third, I feel that I risk eliciting controversy from my comments -- if I want to get people buzzing about what I said or did about a certain subject, then I'd rather that it involve the literary field instead of the political arena.

For that matter, I don't read blogs with a political bent either. I figure that personal opinions on the issue/s of the week are a dime a dozen, and unless I have some solid stake in the affair, I'm usually not interested in what these people have to say. If I want a political opinion, I can come up with one myself. If I want to get the facts straight, I can read a newspaper. I only dwell on independent editorials if there's a good reason for me to do so.

Regardless of that, I'm still a citizen of the state with access to newspapers, radio, TV and other forms of media. Beyond that, I'm still a denizen of the world at large; with access to Internet, e-mail and notes from the fine people who actually take time to put messages into my comments box. I still hold opinions, beliefs and modes of thinking for the issues of the day; I just don't put them up very often.

Lest you think that I would prefer to be a solitary recluse who remains ignorant of current events, however, I might as well do a round of statements here. I don't pretend to be a political expert, much less a yahoo who goes around foisting his version of governance on other people, but everything that follows is what's circling my head at the moment. I'm not willing to debate people on any of this, either -- if you want to post a scathing rebuttal to my beliefs, then feel free to post something on your own site.

1. So... this Estrada guy... do you think he's guilty?
My personal assessment on Joseph Estrada, former president of the Philippines, involves the phrases "incredibly naive", "egotistically unrealistic" and "barely tolerable". I've seen him at parties, and I've lived under his rule as mayor of my little municipality; this may or may not change depending on how much more I learn about him. For now, however, I figure that he was simply too stupid to have planned and executed an elaborate plot to gain money from illegal gambling receipts.

2. Was it a bomb that exploded in the Glorietta 2 mall last month, or was it some tragedy involving negligence and large amounts of methane gas?
I'm firmly in the "methane gas" camp. The investigative teams surprised me here -- they came up with an explanation (diagrams and live tests included) that sounded plausible to me. They'll still need to come up with some hard evidence, though.

3. Did the President of the Philippines really authorize the giving of bribe money to local congressmen over the ZTE Broadband issue?
I don't think so, and while I believe that Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is a highly incompetent president, I think that giving out sacks of money during House sessions would have been an extremely obvious mistake. She goes back on her words, she ignores the blindingly obvious, and she has an almost comic sense of timing... but even she would have seen this coming.

4. Did the American television networks really insult Filipinos?
The American television networks insult everybody. These were statements that were represented as the beliefs of a fictional character. Jon Stewart probably came closest to the level of "irresponsible remark", and even his presentation was clearly planned to get a rise out of people... which I feel is a far cry from Don Camus and Howard Stern's offhand talk.

5. Was the suicide of an 11-year-old girl indicative of the Philippines' state of poverty and desperation?
It's tragic, yes... but I really don't see the difference between this issue and that of the homeless who sleep on cardboard boxes in the sidewalks. Or that of the group of women who die at a stampede for a popular game show. Or that of the scavengers who get buried under a mountain of trash. Every day there is a new social anomaly that draws our attention. We can blame our feeble efforts against poverty all we want, but I don't see anybody coming up with a solution. Or, for that matter, if one even exists. Is this suicide really all that special just because the victim happens to be younger than we expected?

6. What is your take on the Burma junta's recent violent crackdown on demonstrators?
When your government has faced public complaints for decades with no sign of acceptance for your rule, then you should know that something's wrong. When your country's religious sect actually starts marching in protest of your actions, then you should know that something's really wrong. And when your solution to the problem involves killing your critics, maiming innocent bystanders, and generally thumbing your nose at the checks and balances... then you should know that you really don't care about doing a good job with the governance bit.

7. The death penalty... yes or no?
Once I was a "yes"... now I'm a "no". The spectre of a death penalty has hung over Philippine heads for about a decade now... and amazingly enough, we have shown no propensity towards committing less crimes.

8. Did La Salle deserve to win the UAAP title this year?
Why not? They beat a team that had taken fourteen straight victories this season, didn't they? Now if only our college basketball players wouldn't start so many fights on the court...

9. What did you think of Robert Redford's "Lions for Lambs" and its message on the War on Terror?
I felt that the movie was preachy and talkative, with little in the way of actual plot movement or action. While that's passable for an essay, it's not what I like to see in a movie. I actually advise people to avoid it like the plague. Go see "30 Days of Night" instead.

10. What is your take on the recent breakup between young sweethearts Christian Bautista and Rachel Ann Go?
You know, regardless of what I mentioned at the beginning of this article... there are some things that even I wouldn't touch with a ten-foot pole.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

What's the Score?

For the last few weeks now, the concept of applying numbers to deeds has somehow bothered me.

I'm not a huge advocate of scoring things. I wasn't exactly the best student in college, but I'm still doing fanatical experiments in probability despite getting a B (that's a 3.0 out of 4) in the class. I may not necessarily be the best writer in the world, but getting rated a 21 out of 40 in a small literary event somehow seems off. I'm aware that I still have quite a few gaps in my English skills to fill out, but an 83% ranking in my last intelligence test feels... unreal.

Of course, I could just really be more average than I thought at mathematics, or not as good at writing as I'd like to be, or really mediocre in English. Maybe I just have too high an opinion of myself, and I just don't realize the reality. It's your call there.

And yet I'll still cringe when somebody decides to rate a movie as "3 out of 5", or adds up the figure-skating totals to make an 89.7, or distinguishes basketball players according to the number of minutes they played.

Hard numbers are good enough, I suppose; I like records. You can say that you consume a dozen eggs every morning and I'd be impressed at your stamina. (For that matter, I'd wonder if the chickens ever complain.) But the moment you attempt to tie your one dozen eggs to how strong or fit or healthy you are, then I'll start getting skeptical.

That's because ratings are relative. One man's "1" is another man's "10." And often, those numbers will change with time, experience or opportunity.

As a project manager in my previous job, I was once called upon to rate my employees every year. Now, lest you think that this task was easy, it was actually more ominous than it looked -- the idea was that, if the company would ever hit a bad patch and we found that we couldn't support multiple programmers, then the person with the lowest cumulative record would be singled out for possible termination.

Was it brutal? Yes -- there was the possibility that somebody would find themselves out on the streets because of a few numbers. Was it easy? No -- it gave me the impression that I was figuratively choosing among my children.

But was it justified? In both a technical and statistical sense... yes.

That's because the scores were there. I mean, the logic looks good on paper: If a person consistently gets bad results, then by conclusion, that person should be the most disposable of the group. It was like throwing somebody to the wolves in order to get the other passengers to safety, or drawing lots among shipwrecked sailors to see who would get eaten first.

But the system did not take into account a lot of things. It did not take into account, say, any programmer who was perpetually stuck with demanding clients or unrealistic deadlines. It did not consider extended absences due to valid leave (during which the employee in question could obviously contribute little to the company). It did not consider people who may have needed more training, or people who may have needed more experience, or people who may have just needed someone to give them a hand when they had to burn the midnight oil. You cannot allocate a score to such things.

But you could attribute a number to how many deadlines they hit, or how many client submissions they completed. And somehow this was taken as a measure of how well they could contribute to the company as a whole.

I'm glad that the company never hit a patch as rough as we had foreseen, and I'm glad that the program was discontinued after a couple of years. Otherwise I probably would have resigned from the guilt.

And yet that still does not allow me to sleep well on some nights, knowing that in some way I'm being looked at in my current job. Maybe they're counting the number of projects I finish. Maybe they're counting the number of complaining customers I field. Maybe they're counting the number of times I take a coffee break, or the number of times I pass by the bathroom to take a leak.

When the numbers are blindingly obvious, then we're talking about hard data that's presumably easier to justify. When the numbers are relative or subject to circumstances, however, then we're talking about something that doesn't necessarily sum up everything about a person or object. They're just numbers, and We. Are. Not. Numbers.

We take such ratings way too seriously. Somewhere along the line, we figured that we couldn't be bothered to actually observe people inside and out, and we figured that giving them relative scores would do just as well. Somewhere along the line, we decided that it was okay for ourselves to be branded as a five or a six or a two or an eight, never imagining how it would end up twisting our perceptions.

We're all people, darn it. We each have different takes on life, on love, on struggle and death and all things in between. We have opinions and habits and vices and prejudices. We have wants and needs and fears and fetishes. Surely we can't collapse all that into a single set of numbers. Heck, we have a hard enough time finding the right words to describe ourselves.

A number is a number is a number is a number. It is utter bull to say that it encapsulates who you are, who you were, and who you wish to be in one tight little package. Don't delude yourself into thinking otherwise.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fiction: The Morning After

Delores collapsed into a chair, her hat falling from her head to land in an untidy heap. Whether she liked it or not, the Sabbat was over. Dawn was less than an hour away.

It had been an excellent event, all things considered. Miranda and Jacinda's impromptu seminar on charms and talismans had turned out far more interesting than anyone had anticipated. The Western Lunar Coven had reported significant progress for their research into modern curse analogies. And the servings of poached newt salad and stuffed toadstools had been delicious, despite the fact that Delores could never stand the aftertaste of amphibian. She was almost certain that she would never see another one like it in the next few decades.

She opened her eyes, stared at the ceiling for a moment, and stretched out one arm in a vague direction. "Broom," she said.

Something long and splintery tucked itself in between her fingers. It was getting old, she knew. She had to have it sanded and varnished one day.

She groaned, eventually mustering enough strength to stand up and walk in the direction of the closet. She turned her broom this way and that, trying to get a feel for the weight; after playing with it for a few minutes, she finally opened the closet door and leaned it against the back corner, picking up a pair of black shoes on her way out.

Delores crossed to the other side of the apartment and neatly deposited the shoes near the bathroom door. They needed a little polishing after the long weekend, but she figured that they could last a couple more days. She had laid out her clothes in a neat pile on top of the laundry hamper just before she had left for the gathering, and now she could see them waiting for her.

It was too late for a bath, she decided. Instead, she placed a single facetowel underneath the cold-water faucet and wiped the sleep away from her eyes. Then she unzipped the back of her black robes, shimmied out of them, and kicked the heavy mound of cloth away. She would dump it in the wash later.

She squeezed a bit of Amanita's special flouride-frogskin concoction onto a brush and began cleaning her teeth. Then, impatient with her morning rituals, she crossed over to the pile of clothes, yanked out her underwear, and pulled it on before rinsing with mouthwash.

Ten minutes later she was fastening her skirt. Delores felt that it was a bit of a squeeze this morning -- perhaps the diet wasn't working at all. That would teach her to pick up cheap books from the Sisters of the Glowing Embers' monthly rummage sales. Maybe she should have followed Jacinda's advice about the salmon entrails instead.

Now she reached under her bed, reached past the garlic and the charms and the discarded bangles, and pulled out her laptop. She fished around a little more, looking for the WiFi installer she had meant to use the previous week, and tucked it all inside a black knapsack with an inverted five-pointed star artfully drawn on the bottom in red marker.

Delores pulled the bag over both shoulders, looking over the room one more time to see if she had missed anything. Satisfied at first, she began putting on the shoes that she had originally deposited near the front door. Then she realized something, almost slapped her forehead in self-frustration, and reached into the bathroom for her discarded black robes.

It took her a few minutes to find her keys. The thing about black robes, Delores mused, was that you could never tell which side was inside and which was outside. After that embarrassing moment last year when she had told her landlord that the ensemble was all merely for a costume party, she wasn't about to lock herself out of her own apartment again.

She dropped her keys into a pocket of her knapsack and turned out the lights. Then she stepped out of the apartment, waited until the door had closed behind her, and finally walked towards the bank of elevators in the middle of her floor.

She was going to have to do something for next year, Delores mused. But in the meantime the night had already ended, and it was now time for her morning commute.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Disclaimer: November 2007

So let's say that you're a plagiarist of sorts.

Pipe down. I didn't say that you actually were a plagiarist. And even if you came here looking to be one, I'm willing to give you the benefit of a doubt at first. So stay a while and listen.

If you were a plagiarist, then that's the first thing you should notice. Plagiarism has a definite stigma attached to it. It's like lying, in the sense that one little lie will cause everybody around you to start taking your words with a grain of salt. But lest you think that you can recover from this one little lie that you tell with words or attributions, I must tell you that plagiarism is a far higher offense than what you might think.

What's plagiarism, really? Plagiarism involves the taking of somebody else's ideas, works or creations and releasing them under your own name for expected compensation. There are quite a few hee-haws about the offense, but I can break down the basics into three parts:

1. You take somebody else's stuff.
This can be for any number of reasons. Sometimes you need to write something for academic purposes. Sometimes you need to submit something to a contest or an event by a specific deadline. Sometimes you just want to put something together for a creative or technical endeavor. Whatever the case, you end up lifting the text or work that you need from an established source, and using that instead of making your own. If you feel guilty enough about it, or if you fear that you'll be found out, then you might alter or adjust the copy a little bit. It'll still come out the same in the end.

2. You release them for yourself.
By this, I mean that you effectively put your name on the acquired work. Big bold letters and small subtle ones are technically the same in this regard -- you're still passing off somebody else's stuff as your own. Pen names and anonymous attributions don't soften the blow any more than cotton balls will stop a silver bullet; you're still putting a name on something that you didn't make by yourself.

Item-sharing falls into this category as well, as do misquotes and out-of-context references. For these, you put another person's work to use in some forum where it was clearly not meant to be placed. Commercially-released items should not necessarily be opened up for public distribution without alignment from their authors; quotations and arguments should not be used or twisted in order to bludgeon others' opinions. You can give your proper acknowledgments here, yes, but you'd still be releasing them for yourself.

3. You get compensated for this.
Most plagiarists don't do it for the money. Some do, yes, but most don't; recognition is a far more common factor. People will "acquire" the research papers of others in order to get good grades or the admiration of scientific panels. Writers will "borrow" narratives from established books in order to produce illusions of skill or consistency. Unscrupulous operators will sneak out copyrights or registered names in order to gain influence within the corresponding circles. Plagiarists do it because they will certainly get something from doing almost nothing at all.

I mentioned earlier that plagiarism is like telling a lie. To put it in a better way, plagiarism is like telling a huge lie -- something that people will believe, based on your life and reputation. But the problem with lies is that they eventually get found out... and when that happens, you end up with a lot of people on your hands who will place absolutely no trust in you for the rest of your life. I mean, if you are so perfectly willing to steal somebody else's work and delude people into thinking that you placed significant effort into your own proceedings... how are they going to believe you afterwards?

I try not to fall into these traps. I learned a long time ago that I am perfectly capable of coming up with my own literary and analytical works (as compared to taking others'), and I've tried to reflect this belief in my blog.

As a result, I have personally written and executed everything on this blog. Sometimes I will post something that was originated by some other person; whenever that happens, I make sure to place proper acknowledgments as needed. I also have a standing rule around here -- if anyone so much as complains about my inclusion of their stuff here, then I take it down and return it to the owner. I try not to quote people out of their original context, and I don't post statements that are meant to mislead the general audience.

If you wish to use anything on this blog for your own purposes, you just have to ask. I am no more than a single comment or e-mail away. I reserve the right to refuse you for any reason, but you'll find -- more often than not -- that I'm the agreeable sort. I usually only ask for a link back to this site, or a fair percentage of profits in the event that you expect financial proceeds to come.

For some legal background on my rights to this work, please see the Creative Commons License at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. We can also have a friendly discussion with my lawyer on these, but I prefer to leave that to the people who actually think that they can steal from me and get away with it. Not that that's happened before, of course. But you never know...