Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Testing, One-Two-Three...

Don't mind these last few posts. I'm just testing the new scheduling feature over here.

If you haven't heard of this one yet, it's a feature that allows you to set up a blog post that will remain hidden until a specific date and time of your choice, after which it will presumably appear as your most recent post. Or maybe not; Blogger has been remarkably murky on the subject. I haven't exactly found much assistance in their "Help" area.

So what I'm doing here is the most logically intuitive (how's that for an oxymoron?) setup that I can think of -- I'm just going to set a specific time and date for this post, and see exactly when it's going to show up. If this piece shows up on the blog at precisely 11:59am on July 30, then I'll know that I did something right. If not, then either I've screwed up somewhere, or the Blogger technicians don't know what they're talking about. (That, or they really need to update their Helpfiles.)

Of course, you're probably wondering what use I could possibly have for such a feature. I mean, I normally don't plan my posts straight out -- I usually just sit down, log in, and write about whatever catches my fancy. (The little fiction pieces are probably the only exceptions here, as I usually spend up to three or four sessions writing them.)

There is one thing one this blog that comes out on a regular basis, though -- and those are the monthly disclaimers. As of late, I haven't been posting them on exactly the first day of each month... but if I could do so, then that would make things a little more convenient for me. No longer would I run into flashes of inspiration in the middle of the month, only to discard the idea because the next disclaimer post is quite a ways off.

Of course, this assumes that I could somehow find the time to write posts well in advance. That remains to be seen, I'll admit...

Testing, One-Two...

Yes, it's the same test. Pipe down... it's not over yet. Just wait up for the third part of this experiment, and I should have the entire explanation there.

Now there's the question of what I can do in the meantime. It's boring, waiting for Blogger to do something within a fairly long span of time.

I just know that that yo-yo's around here somewhere...

Testing, One...

Yes, I'm testing something on the blog right now. Just give it till around lunchtime tomorrow morning, and the purpose of this entire exercise should be revealed.

...That is, if it works as expected.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Change or Die

I first got the news on the way home last Thursday night. It seemed that one of the larger clients of my mother's bakeshop decided to "modernize" themselves and put together a new company-wide computer system (with a corresponding IT department). That meant that they were presumably moving any and all of their transactions to the digital world, post-haste.

That also meant that my mother landed in a meeting (along with the company's other suppliers) on Thursday. There, a young corporate hotshot told everyone, in no uncertain terms, that they were going to start placing their orders online starting on the first of August. Every supplier had to find the capacity to receive this client's orders via e-mail; otherwise they would get dropped.

I heard that there were quite a few complaints as a result; we are talking about a number of small-time suppliers here. In the end, however, everyone apparently left to their own devices, each one trying to figure out how to put together a full-blown IT setup in little more than a week.

In our case, however, the bakeshop only has one person who can vaguely be considered an IT consultant -- me. And when you're talking about pulling something like this together in a few days, there's very little time to bring anyone else in to help.

Fortunately, it looked like the whole thing wouldn't require more than a very basic setup. All that the accounts staff needed, I said, was a desktop computer and an Internet connection, and this would be far more efficient than getting someone to pass by an Internet café at least three times a day. Then there was the need for a printer (in order to maintain proper records), possibly a surge protector of some sort, and an increase in monthly expenses for both electricity and Internet. In short, we were looking at a total outlay of about fifty to sixty thousand pesos, with a little above a thousand pesos per month afterwards.

For a tiny bakeshop, this was much like prospecting for gold on the moon.

So if I've been doing anything for the past few days, I've been plotting out some cheaper alternatives. Getting a brand-new computer may now be out of the question, for instance, so I'm looking for relatives from whom we can beg or borrow the components. Assuming that we can find someone who's willing to give it away, an old laptop would be perfect for our purposes -- we wouldn't need to assemble the various bits and pieces from a sales warehouse, and it would be far easier to lock up at night for security reasons. In case we can't acquire such a laptop, I've found an old CPU that we can use, but it'll still need the other essentials -- a monitor, a bunch of cables and so forth -- in order to work.

The Internet connection is a little more difficult to iron out. The DSL services that I know of -- PLDT and Globelines -- normally have a waiting period; it'll take them some time before they can drop by and set up. The Bell Telecom connection that I use at home has a lot better service (as they're perfectly willing to put things together within one or two days of our call), but they remain the most expensive option on our list. I'm probably going to check and see if anyone still offers dial-up services out there, and even then that'll mean that I'll need to hunt down a modem that we can use. In any event, the resulting connection will definitely tie up one of the bakeshop's phone lines.

If my prices are the way I expect them to be, I don't expect that a printer will set us back too much. If anything, the prices for authentic ink cartridges are more likely to hit us harder than the printer itself. A surge protector shouldn't be too much of an issue, and there's already a budget for typewriting paper, so that's fine. I no longer advocate the use of diskettes as proper storage media at this point in time, but a low-end flashdisk shouldn't be too expensive either.

Then there's the incidentals: I'll need to check the bakeshop's electrical outlets to see if we have enough to run the computer; I've gotten a few contacts who can perform reformatting, reinstallation and repairs if needed; and I'll probably reserve my time for a couple of days to make sure that the accounts staff knows how to work the darn thing.

For a few minutes I also considered how much time and effort it would take to send that young corporate hotshot a viral bomb, to show him what I thought of his "modernization efforts". But I figure that it wasn't entirely his fault, and that it was the corporation itself that spent three years setting up its IT system only to let us know barely a week before its launch. It's unjust, and it's got horrible timing... but when we're up against twenty-odd suppliers who have to cope with the change, and I'd rather do something constructive rather than complain.

Besides, there'll be plenty of time for petty concerns after we finish the new IT setup. It'll give me something to look forward to, in any case.

We'll Be Right Back...

Yes, I know... my rate of posting has declined all of a sudden. That's because things are hectic right now -- I just spent a substantial amount of my Saturday running errands.

Now, exactly why I would spend a substantial amount of my Saturday running errands is an interesting story by itself. I'll put it up in a future post, if only because this is the sort of thing that can be told as either a strange anecdote, a step-by-step analysis, or a vituperative rant. In short, it'll probably be worth reading.

Yes, it involves technology. Yes, it involves my own style of shopping. Yes, it involves business in some way.

No, I'm not going to tell you the story now. It's almost three in the morning, for goodness' sakes. It'll still be in my head tomorrow, I hope.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Prophetic Blues

There seems to be an e-mail circulating around the local webgroups about some earthquake that's supposed to hit the Philippines on July 18. (Hey... that's today, isn't it?) It's purportedly been predicted by a Brazilian psychic named Jucelino Nobrega da Luz, right down to the intensity 8.1 measure.

As much as I'd like to post the transcript of the e-mail here, I don't have it. Maybe my mailing lists were sophisticated enough to take it from a rational point of view. Maybe word has gotten out that I don't like getting forwarded mail. Whatever the case, I can't denounce anything that doesn't exist in my book.

Instead, I'll note an interesting little web site that was brought to my attention by the esteemed Speaketh-ed Geeketh, one that contains a translated version of all of da Luz's predictions for 2008. That way, you can believe or disbelieve it as you will.. even if over half the year has passed without so much as ten percent of his predictions coming true. It's an interesting exercise in cold-reading and misdirection, although the stranger ones (such as an infestation of spiders in Brazil) imply that he can be creative at times.

What I find interesting about this particular "prediction" is that it has apparently made it to the news. I arrived home close to midnight tonight and turned on the TV to find a couple of stations featuring the ubiquitous e-mail. That, I suppose, proves one thing -- today was a very slow news day.

I've denounced similar "predictions" before, of course. One of them, in fact, made it to this blog a couple of years ago. My attitude towards them before was just as surly as my attitude towards them right now.

What surprises me, however, is the number of people who have raised their opinions in disbelief. The reason why I don't have an e-mail to show you right now is that I can't find one. Nothing has shown up for me in Google so far, for instance. All I can see is a few news articles on da Luz (including one that points him out as a fraud on Japanese television), plus a couple of blogs that have also voiced their skeptical opinions.

And that's interesting, because it implies that we're getting more mature when it comes to technology. We're no longer taking anonymous e-mails at face value. We're not exactly falling into the trap of mass hysteria. We're no longer getting taken in by just any statement that appears on our cellphones, or computer screens, or television sets.

Oh, there's still quite a bit of naiveté out there, but I find this to be a good sign more often than not. We've got more important things to worry about, after all, than some spurious self-aggrandizing "prophecy" written by a man who doesn't even have much of a batting average.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

How the Other Half Lives

As of last night, unfortunately, we found that my brother wasn't able to take the Sony VAIO model spot. I'm not sure if we're allowed to reveal the winners yet, but I think it'll suffice to say that the winner for the blue line seemed like a very enthusiastic person. I'm sure that he'll do wonders for the product line.

On the other hand, I did end up more than a little disappointed last night. This was because Sony decided to hold a three-hour performance in order to wrap up the promotion. As a result, my tiny conservative family got to attend a closed event area down at the local promenade, along with what were presumably the families of the other contest finalists. The result was what seemed to be an indifferently-organized nightclub fete / fashion show that started late and left us wondering exactly what the point to the whole thing was.

Our evening started at about a quarter to seven, because the invite had told us that the event was starting at seven. When the hour came and went, the seats were only half-filled and we figured that maybe we were waiting for the other guests to arrive. Twenty minutes later, they began serving the hors d'oeuvres. Thirty minutes later, we had all received full helpings and they were reduced to playing and replaying an on-screen video sequence. The fact that a loud obnoxious voice kept announcing the various colors of the VAIO line -- five times in total! -- did not help much.

Finally, at about 8:20, Sony kicked off the event with a song. "And I'm Telling You (I'm Not Going)" is a fair favorite, and last night it was sung by a artist in a gold-colored dress. After a while, I began thinking that the event was going to be enjoyable after all. Then she started belting out a disco version of the song, which appalled me because -- the last time I checked -- its lyrics evoked tragedy and rejection. For the next ten minutes, all I could do was stare.

Then we were treated to some light banter from the show's hosts (Igi and Francesca from Monster Radio 93.1), a very brief speech from the head of Sony Philippines (who instantly became one of my favorite people), and a catwalk-type march from each of the twenty-four finalists (who included Camy Francisco, an artist/blogger acquaintance from way back). Mentally, I found myself taking a few bets on who was likely to make it.

Then Sandwich came on, and for me, the rock band represented every single thing that I felt about the evening. I'm not a fan of indie rock, much less punk rock or whatever people call it nowadays -- so their three songs didn't strike me as a good experience. The fact that their music had little in the way of actual melody, that the performance was loud enough to strike us deaf for the next hour, that at one point their lead singer threw an arrogant obscenity at the audience -- well, all I can say is that I'm not a fan. They have their own definition of music, I have mine, and the two of them just didn't intersect.

Looking out at the audience last night, though -- about half of whom I expect were parents and older businessmen -- I wondered exactly who planned the event, and what made them think it was a good idea to bring up new wave music. Maybe it's a normal occurrence for the f-word to get bandied around indie performances, but this didn't strike me as an appropriate venue. (Of course, Sandwich and their contemporaries would probably hardly care about this, but hey, it's just an opinion.)

The awarding ceremonies came immediately afterwards (shortly after another very brief speech from another Sony senior manager -- did I mention that these were some of my favorite people?), and with the main event done, Igi and Francesca closed off the night. I was so relieved afterwards that I offered to put up the family for dinner at a nearby restaurant, where we spent our time convalescing from the event.

I suppose that this is why I don't spend my time at nightclubs, much less in the company of alternative music. While I can probably imagine exactly how crowds of other interests can gather and congregate at venues like these, I just happen to be a quiet, sedate man who writes. And works technology. And plays games.

I'm thankful for the evening, though, despite the fact that I didn't have much of a good time. Sometimes it's useful to head outside your own comfort zones and see what the rest of the world is like, I think... even if it does involve iced tea, disco music and shouted obscenities.

That said, I was still deaf for at least an hour into dinner. You'll have to speak up a bit if you want to leave any comments. :)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Antaria: Rogue Business (Part 1)

Celestine ambled down one of Lorendheim's side streets, humming a little tune as she did so. She had heard it wafting from one of the smaller chapels scattered throughout the city, and the music stuck to her mind as much as any religious hymn did.

More than a few eyes watched her as she moved purposely down the alley. Under normal circumstances, this would have been a precursor to some heinous crime. At the very least, any observer would have immediately expected the sounds of a struggle, perhaps followed by the clatter of running feet and some screams for assistance.

It was Celestine's robes that made the difference, though. The young woman wore blue and purple in a very distinct cut, enough for the many prying eyes to recognize a Metrian on sight. And as opportune as the situation was, no sane person -- thief or cutpurse alike -- relished the thought of having their eyebrows set on fire. Or worse.

Presently she began to sing. This grated on the humans who watched from the shadows, not just because Celestine couldn't carry a tune, but because it mocked the unlikelihood of the situation. A few hardened cutthroats slunk back into their dens, their minds unable to shake off the improbability.

Celestine turned a corner and saw light up ahead. This was such a nice day, she thought.

She passed a doorway, oblivious to the darkness that shifted about. After a second or two, a voice came to her ears. "Good afternoon," it said.

Celestine turned, the song suddenly disappearing from her head. When she didn't see anyone or anything that could have made the voice, she ventured a response.

"Good afternoon," she said. Then, as if this wasn't quite enough, she added: "It's a nice day, isn't it?"

"Yes," said the voice, as though it were leather baked into a wearable appearance. "It's a good day."

A slim, wiry figure emerged from the doorway. He was a man of medium height, with thick leather breeches and a dirty white shirt. His dry leather gloves clutched at the stone walls on either side of the alley, and his two silver teeth shone in what little light there was.

He smiled at her.

In her defense, Celestine was simply not used to this kind of situation. She smiled back.

"Now what would a young woman like you be doing in a place like this?" the man asked.

Celestine gave him a curious look. "You mean Lorendheim?" she asked.

The man laughed. "I mean, this street here. This alleyway."

"Oh," Celestine said. "Well... I'm a little late, you see. And I had to bring something back to the Guild because my mistress is expecting it, but the messengers at the Western Gate are always late, and my mistress says that she would rather not wait for a whole week again."

"Ah. And your mistress would be..."

"Mistress Imogen Stormbane, of the Metrian Guild," Celestine said without hesitation. "She's a grand old lady. She can bend lightning, you know."

"You don't say."

Celestine nodded enthusiastically. "She's been trying to teach me how to do the kind of magic that she does, only I'm just an apprentice and not as good as the others yet."

The man smiled. "So... this package that you were supposed to pick up... is it supposed to help you with your studies?"

Celestine laughed. "No, it's something for my mistress. She had to put a special order for it, from the Great Library in Allandria. I'm supposed to take good care of it on the way home. It's quite valuable."

"It is?"

"Yes," Celestine said. "It must be."

"I find that hard to believe," the leather-clad man said. "If it comes from a library, then it must be a book or a scroll. I have been to plenty of libraries, and I have already seen a great many of those. I have yet to see one that was truly valuable."

Celestine frowned. "This one is," she told her new friend. "Mistress Imogen says that it's a very rare copy, and that the Library has had it for years and years."

"Do you think so?"

"Yes," Celestine said. She reached into her robes and pulled out a small package wrapped in smooth cloth. "It's old," she said, "and some of the gold leaf is falling off, so we have to keep it wrapped up tight."

"May I see it?" the man asked, holding out a thinly-gloved hand. "I know a little about books, and if you say that it's quite valuable, then I'd like to have a look for myself."

Celestine thought nothing of it. She neatly deposited the cloth-wrapped bundle into the man's hand, then stepped back so that he could admire the work.

"It's a little heavy," the man said, weighing it in one hand.

"Mistress Imogen says that they made thicker parchment back in those days," Celestine said, helpfully.

"Ah," the man said. "That would explain why. Say, young lady... what does your mistress look like?"

"Mistress Imogen? She's tall, and she's quite handsome even though she's a little old. She has short white hair..."

"Really?" the man remarked. "Is that her, then?" he asked, beckoning towards the far side of the alley.

Surprised, Celestine turned. She didn't expect her mistress to be out and about at this time of day, much less crossing the alleyways as she did. Unable to catch a glimpse of her teacher in the shadows of the buildings, Celestine glanced around a few times, thoroughly confused.

"Your pardon, sir," Celestine said, turning back to her companion, "but I don't see her around. You must be mistaken."

But all she saw of him at that point was a lone figure running off into the distance. The leather-clad man was much faster than he looked; two leapfrogged barrels and a scaled fence later, Celestine realized that he was far beyond her line of sight.

She took a single step forward. Then, as though trying to convince herself that the whole encounter was a figment of her imagination, she reached into her robes and felt to see if her mistress's book was there. It was not.

She stared for a few more seconds. The silence of the alley seemed to be laughing at her.

Finally, Celestine's fragile mind settled on a single course of action, which seemed only too appropriate for the situation. She paused, drew a single long breath, and screamed her lungs out.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Parallel Lines

Just in case you were wondering, I spent three or four hours at the AEGIS Open Gaming Meet this afternoon. I haven't passed by in a long time, and I've started to miss the thrill of sitting down and playing a few board games. So, over the course of those two hours, I attempted a grand total of two games -- a chess-like miniatures game called Navia Dratp, and an auction-based game called Modern Art (by the popular designer Reiner Knizia).

I could go on and on about the subtleties of both games and the sheer number of people at the meet, but I won't. Instead, I observed that there was a Dungeons & Dragons contingent gathered in a corner of the venue. They were excitedly hollering and shouting for much of my stay, and I could only conclude that they were having a great bit of fun.

It made me wonder how I got started writing for the fantasy genre. I mean, a lot of the fantasy writers I meet seem to have gotten their start setting up unexplored tombs and rolling up random encounters, or perhaps exploring and fighting them in an imaginary setting. Not so with me -- I've hardly played anything in the way of tabletop role-playing games. In fact, the first genre that I really concentrated on was science fiction; the fantasy stuff came later on, once David Eddings fired up my imagination.

I still write sci-fi, just so that you know. Finding and using a genre is just like opening your closet to decide what jacket you're going to wear for the day. Sometimes it's a science-fiction day. Sometimes it's a fantasy day. Maybe at some point, it'll be a ninjas-versus-pirates day.

I admit that I get curious sometimes. I pick up some RPG-based writings every now and then, and I find myself fascinated at the elaborate setups that people write for a bunch of players. Dungeon magazine, for instance -- which showcased custom scenarios for a D&D audience -- was regular reading material for me. Sometimes I wonder how, say, Antaria would play out... if it were a game. Sometimes I just wonder.

I feel that it's too late for me to get into RPGs now, though. Oh, a bunch of people will probably shove me into a session at some point... but it's probably far too late for me to get more than a passing interest in the hobby. For one, I'm less than a year away from my third decade, and I've got all the workaday concerns of a man my age. I find it difficult to budget my time for large-scale events, much less hour-long sessions at an average rate of once a week. Sometimes I chafe at the thought of playing in somebody else's universe, which implies that I might not be a storyteller's best friend.

But more than anything else, I already have an existing writing habit. Placing your creativity into a bunch of stories and organizing it into a game are just two completely different things. As a gamer, I imagine that I would be immersed in a world of setting details, party dynamics and stat blocks. As a writer, however, I find myself already dealing with the question of plotlines and the struggle to put the human condition in simple words and phrases. In short, it will have to be one or the other.

And I write fantasy (or any other arguable genre) as a result.

Maybe somebody will do me the honor of converting one of my universes into a viable game setting one day (which hasn't been done since Anito). I just know, deep within that twisted lump of carbon that is my weather-beaten soul, that it probably won't be me.

I'm good with that. I suppose that I would have been proud to have delved into one path or the other.

Till then, the RPG gamers can enjoy themselves as much as they want. I'll be sitting at the nearby table, smiling, as somebody puts my king in check.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Disclaimer: July 2008

The effort to write
Is sometimes a thankless task;
Thoughts are shared with all.

All thoughts are power
And all memory a dream
The screen is a slate.

Because words are free
Some men seek to read and steal
Work finished and lost.

I write that which shines
On paper that is not there
For eyes that can see.

Should you find your work
In brittle paths where I tread
And feel this is wrong,

You must tell me this,
That I may recross roads, and
Put things as they should.

And right here you must
Enter a promise with me
You must read, not steal.

But you are welcome
To clutch these words to your heart
And bring them to light...

...So long as you ask.
I seek no money nor pay
Beyond simple link.

Should these verses
Fall outside your greater sense,
There lies more detail;

License of Commons
Flits thoughtfully on sidebar
Where it waits for you.

And if you ask me
What I learned from this post, note:
"Writing haiku is hard."