Friday, December 25, 2009

Being a Dissertation on Pirates, Closed-Societal Rank, and the Ideals of Democratic Progression

The other day, I got a call from a friend on a strange-looking logic problem that she had encountered on one of her exams. That this happened to be a corporate exam surprised me; I ran into a variant of this one some years ago, and it struck me as the kind of thing that takes a great leap of logic in order to solve.

I'll paraphrase it below, just for the telling. There are plenty of versions of this puzzle running around, so don't take this one as canon:

Five pirates have gathered on a deserted island to divide their booty: 1,000 gold coins in total. These 5 pirates are ranked by seniority (so there's a #1 pirate, a #2 pirate, and so forth, all the way down to a #5 pirate), and it's the job of the most senior pirate to decide how the loot should be divided among themselves.

There is, however, a catch: Whenever the most senior pirate gives a proposal on how to divide the loot, a vote is taken among all of the pirates. If the majority of the pirates agree with the proposal (or if the vote is tied), the coins are divided as stated. If the majority of the pirates disagree with the proposal, however, the most senior pirate is killed and the next most senior pirate must now come up with a proposal.

As mentioned, there are currently five pirates, and it is now the job of the pirate captain (pirate #1) to decide on how to divide the 1,000 coins. Each of the pirates is completely logical in nature, will never abstain from voting, and would like to keep as many of the coins as possible for him or herself. What division should the pirate captain propose so that he gets as much of the coins as possible, without risk of getting killed in the process?

The obvious concern here is that you can name virtually any division proposal, and the problem will simply throw it right back in your face. The pirate captain can, for example, suggest that the coins be divided equally among all five pirates (i.e. each of them gets 200 coins)... but then, how do you stop the other four pirates from thinking that they could just as easily get 201 coins each?

No, the real puzzle here involves coming up with a convincing argument: the solution involves devising a sound logical structure — sound enough, at least, to get the majority preference among the pirates. That happens to be the key to the problem, mind you — we can assume that each of the pirates is a completely logical, which means that we can presumably predict how they will think.

The worst-case scenario involves all of the first four pirates losing the vote on their respective proposals, in which case it will be Pirate #5's turn to make a proposal. In this case, the situation goes as follows:

Pirate #5: "Since I'm the only pirate remaining, I can simply propose that I get all 1,000 coins. When the vote comes, I'll be the only one voting, which means that I can just vote for myself and let the proposal pass! Whoo-hoo!"

Easy, right? This situation will obviously be the result if it comes down to Pirate #5 making the porposal... and Pirate #4 knows this. So what should Pirate #4's proposal be, assuming that only #4 and #5 are remaining?

Pirate #4: "Only me and Pirate #5 remain, but I just need to tie the vote in order for my proposal to pass. If that's the case, then what's stopping me from proposing that I get all 1,000 gold coins and Pirate #5 gets nothing? Pirate #5 will definitely vote against me, but he can't do anything about the tied vote, and I'll get the coins as proposed."

So the basic fact is that, if the first three pirates are killed and the proposal goes to Pirate #4, when Pirate #4 will certainly get all the coins. Pirate #3 must know this, and must therefore plan accordingly:

Pirate #3: "Pirate #5 knows that if I'm killed, then the proposal passes to Pirate #4, and #5 gets no coins at all. Therefore, I'll propose that Pirate #5 get one coin — because that's more than he'll ever get out of this deal, and he'll have to vote for my proposal — and I get the other 999 coins. Pirate #4 gets nothing at all, but I don't need his vote anyway."

And now, since Pirate #2 knows that he needs to get at least two votes for his proposal — his own vote, plus one of the other pirates' votes... the most economical solution is to offer Pirate #4 an incentive.

Pirate #2: "I'll propose that Pirate #4 get one coin — because he gets nothing at all if Pirate #3 is allowed to make a proposal — and that I get the other 999 coins. Pirate #3 and Pirate #5 will definitely vote against me, but they won't be enough for a majority."

As a result, the pirate captain (Pirate #1) must take all of the above into account. Noting that he only needs three votes — his own vote and at least two other pirates' — for his own proposal to pass, he must offer the minimum needed to two other pirates in order to "buy" their votes. This is this correct, and final answer:

Pirate #1: "If it falls to Pirate #2 to make a proposal, Pirate #3 and Pirate #5 both get nothing at all. So in order to get their votes, I'll offer that Pirate #3 get one coin, and that Pirate #5 gets two coins (so that he's not tempted to wait for Pirate #3's proposal). In the meantime, I get the other 997 coins via majority vote... and Pirate #2 and Pirate #4 both get nothing."

Questions like these are logical models: They assume that all involved entities follow a logical pattern, and then challenge you to follow that logical pattern to a correct resolution. Usually the best approach for each of these is to boil them down to a simpler scenario (usually a snapshot of the same situation in a future iteration) and then work your way back to the original complex scenario.

The earliest (and simplest) example of such a puzzle that I remember goes as follows. I'll use the "pirates" background again, because we might as well go all Jack-Sparrow today:

Three stowaways have been caught on the deck of a pirate ship. Now, normally, they'd be executed, but the pirate captain is feeling a little generous today, and decides to play a little game with them.

The stowaways are shown a total of five shirts: Three of the shirts have a black mark on the back, and two of the shirts have a red mark on the back. Then each of the three is blindfolded, and each made to wear a shirt with a black mark (although they don't know what color mark they're wearing). The two shirts with red marks are then hidden from sight, and the blindfolds removed.

The pirate captain then announces to the three: "Each of you is wearing one of the five shirts we showed you earlier — either a shirt with a black mark, or a shirt with a red mark. Each of you can see what colors the other two are wearing, but not your own. The first one among you who can tell us the color of the mark he is wearing will be freed, while the other two will be executed."

The stowaways are all completely logical, and none of them dares turn his own shirt around for fear of angering the pirates. After a few minutes of silence, however, one of the stowaways announces, "I'm wearing a shirt that has a black mark." How did he know this?

Assuming that the three stowaways are named #1, #2, and #3 — with Stowaway #1 being the lucky man who speaks first — we can boil down #1's thought process as follows:

Stowaway #1: "Let's simplify the situation first: Let's suppose that I'm wearing a red mark.

"If I'm wearing a red mark, then when Stowaway #2 looks at me, he sees that I'm wearing a red mark. And he must be thinking: If I'm wearing a red mark myself, then Stowaway #3 sees two red marks and should therefore immediately conclude that he's wearing a black mark.

"But Stowaway #3 doesn't say anything... and in that case, Stowaway #2 can only conclude that he's not wearing a shirt with a red mark. So Stowaway #2 should have concluded that he's wearing a black mark.

"But Stowaway #2 doesn't say anything, either. And if he doesn't say anything, then that can only mean that my original assumption is wrong. Stowaway #2 doesn't see a red mark on my shirt because I'm not wearing a red mark. I must therefore be wearing a shirt with a black mark."

I've seen quite a few other variants of these situations as well — I've seen grand viziers separated by walls, I've heard of leather-jacket-wearing scientists being locked up in rooms, and I've even read of costume-wearing kids sharing Halloween candy. Each of them happens to be a variant of the puzzles above, or of some unlikely logic-inducing scenario that's closely related to them. The method of solution happens to follow the same pattern, and that involves trying to simplify the situation to a point where the larger problem is solvable.

The strange part lies in the fact that, in order for the object of the puzzle (the "protagonist", if you will) to get out of his or her situation, they'll literally need to think in terms of the other characters' thoughts. It's like having some pseudo-logical encouragement to put yourself in somebody else's shoes.

That said, puzzles like this are actually somewhat rare — when all the variants are compressed into their original versions, you don't have much to go around. I suspect that the more popular logical models belong to a subset of puzzles — the liar- and truthteller-versions — if only because these can go through an infinite number of combinations and get a proportional amount of study.

Finding this puzzle in an exam for a corporate application, though... well, that's just odd. It's not the sort of thing that you can answer in a few sentences, after all. I'm actually more interested to find out if 1) said corporation offers any similar brainteasers in its application process, and 2) said corporation actually expects people to solve these things in one breath.

An even more pressing question, of course, lies in why a company would ask such things of their applicants. Let me see... darkened rooms, strange procedures, and threats of execution... perhaps these things are closer to the corporate scenario than I imagine.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Sound Bites

I established both a Twitter and a Facebook account last April, as part of preparations for what's now my current mode of work. "I want you to become an expert at both of these," one of our directors noted, and over the last few months, I've concluded that this was because they were both likely to figure into future initiatives.

Said line of work, however, ended up eating into my writing time for most of the year. When you're juggling multiple projects each day, and generally waiting on a client who can toss you a last-minute business-oriented task at any time... well, you usually don't have that much time left to think of other things. Like, say, metaplots and characterization.

The strange part is that Twitter, Facebook and their ilk have provided adequate replacement within this time. With their character limits and such, I originally thought it difficult to place one's thoughts in a single post... unlike, say, Blogger and/or Multiply, which allow you to write however length you wish. You can't, for example, tell an entire story on Twitter. You can't write an entire treatise on Facebook. You simply don't get enough characters to be able to tell it like it is.

One of the keys, as I've found so far, is injecting a little mystery into the whole affair.

I can't write a classic seven-hundred word blog article into any of these shorter posts... and after a while, I realized what the bother was. A venue that's made for 140 characters is made for 140 characters, after all — it just means that I've had to fundamentally alter my way of thinking in order to adjust. You don't think "how do I fit seven hundred words into 140 characters", but "what thoughts do I have that can be expressed in 140 characters".

In short: Twitter's for those short snatches of conversation. Facebook is for those anecdotes you tell over a glass of wine. Blogger and Multiply are for those all-out, full-blown stories that you wouldn't mind reading in the tabloids. (If you want those massive novel-length treatises, you can still go out and buy a, well, novel... or something.)

That, and I find that you don't necessarily have to say everything. I usually come with the assumption that every person I talk to needs absolutely all the facts with regards to every story. Twitter and Facebook don't just put a cap on that sort of thinking on my side; so far, they've convinced me that not every bit and piece needs telling. The result so far has been a string of subtle posts... perhaps even too subtle in some cases. (I've had to explain quite a few things to some of my contacts, particularly the one about the feminine hygiene wash.)

In fact, my only concern right now is that I seem to sound snarkier than usual when it comes to these things. I'm not exactly a photo or a video person, and I'm only a passable web-gamer at best, so what most people see from me are direct quotes like "Bubu, the god of monitor screens and speakerphone conferences, is amused." I get a lot of raised eyebrows that way.

To be honest, it seems less like adjustment and more like attempted mastery of a different medium. It's an accessible medium, mind you, especially to anyone who's been writing on the Internet for a while now — but it's one of those things that you can't quite put your finger on within the first few days. Think 700 words in 140 characters here.

Over the last few months, my Facebook posts have greatly outnumbered my Blogger and Multiply posts, and that's because it's simply a lot easier to come up with a snarky backhand comment sometime in the middle of the day. That doesn't mean that I'll completely ignore my "proper" blogging yet, but it does mean that I might have to reassess my targets. I can't exactly expect to have time for each and every one of these accounts, of course.

I've got a two-week break coming, and I suppose that I'll try to play some catch-up then. As much as the two services have been quite useful this year, I'm not sure how much sanity I should really invest in reading those feeds all afternoon long. I mean, there are longer stories to write.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Disclaimer: December 2009

I've been following a recent issue as of late, which involves the acquisition of content from a local author and blogger. Roch Chua runs Hearty's Haven as a personal site, and she has been very active regarding events and developments in the technology and social sectors within the last year.

Last week, she reported an upcoming revamp of the Friendster web site, which was promptly picked up and posted in its entirety by a moderator on

Once the news was broken, this resulted in some mild outrage on Facebook. Roch had been following the Friendster change for a while, to the point of being in contact with them and signing a nondisclosure agreement until the news could be broken. When the article emerged, however, two things were certain: First, the entire text had been copied word-for-word from her blog (including the images and their placement); and second, it was this article that was getting all of the hits from the international search engines. The article was cited and attributed to her, but the lost site visits were another matter altogether.

Roch's attempts at communication with resulted in a negative response (if not outrightly insulting) from the moderators and the forum-goers, which filtered into other channels as well. Fortunately, the moderator who originally posted the article elected to remove it; As of this writing, however, said article has already been copied and has appeared in other venues.

On my discussion with Roch, she advised me that the matter is closed. The offending post is gone, the work is lost, and the fallout has already been scattered across local connections. If anything, the experience inspired her to put up better security practices and measures for her posts; Time will tell if they're effective.

I've advocated an anti-plagiaristic stance from the first post of this blog, so saying that this case piques my interest is little more than an understatement.

In the first place, despite the persistence of Roch's proponents, I must point out that this is not a case of plagiarism. Plagiarism is, in informal terms, the act of taking the work of another creator and passing it off as your own original output. It is the scourge of authors, artists, teachers and governing bodies alike, because it implies that anybody can put his name on somebody else's creation and gain the benefits from doing so. The fact that the moderator at fault here distinctly placed the author's name on the copied article notes that there was no motivation for him/her to acquire the work for him/herself.

This is, however, a case of copyright infringement — the act of subverting the right of the author to determine how his work should be reproduced (among others). While the original article was produced with the intent that it be published on the complainant's blog, the same permission did not apply to its appearance on the Sulit forums. I assume that the same situation applies to the question of site visits and search hits. disavows any legal action to be taken against posts on its site, but I must point out that this has not prevented similar lawsuits from taking place (and succeeding in compulsory action). There's a clear party at fault here, mind you — the moderator — but the company can be called to task for the actions of one of their representatives. With that said, the moderator has complied with the required action ("Please remove the post"), and the complainant has already closed the issue.

What I find regrettable about the issue is that there was little netiquette involved, and that both parties seemed to want to force a resolution rather than ask for one. I believe that there's a way to resolve such issues in a decent manner, and it goes both ways.


So what does this mean for this monthly disclaimer of mine? Not much, really — but it's another real-world incident in a long list of items that have to be constantly monitored. Stuff like this needs to have its lessons realized and applied. While I'd like to say that this is the last time it will happen... it won't.

This disclaimer, like all disclaimers, focuses on the plagiaristic aspect. For starters, I am obligated to mention that everything written on this blog is an original work of this site's creator and administrator. Yes, that's right — I performed research, discussion, and hours of keyboard-tapping to write each and every one of these posts. There are exceptions in that I will occasionally quote or reference other sources in these articles; these articles are never quoted in full, mostly because I try to provide links and/or attributions for every one of these.

If you feel that I have used something that was created by a different person, and that I have not provided the correct acknowledgments to that source, please inform me. I like to think that I'm a reasonable person, which means that I'm willing to negotiate over the use of the material.

Similarly, if you would like to use the material on this blog, my base requirement is that you ask me first. That's it, really — you can contact me via email, or simply leave a comment here. I usually don't set forth a lot of conditions other than a link and an attribution of some sort.

Do not take my stuff with the intention of claiming that you wrote it. This includes any situations where you post it without any acknowledgments, and most certainly in areas where it gets used in a harmful, offensive, or out-of-context manner.

In the event that any of these tenets are broken, I will be hospitable in my attempts to contact the parties at fault. I feel that these situations can be resolved in a decent manner in accordance with everyone's wishes, and I will assume that any such parties feel the same way. I will assume legal action as a last recourse (because that should really be the case). That said, in cases of extreme offense, I also reserve any and all rights to beat the aforementioned parties to death and feed their remains to the orangutans at the zoo.

I am registered via a Creative Commons License, and you can view its terms and conditions via the the link on the bottom right sidebar at my main blog site.

Be careful about what you do, everyone, and be careful about what you say. I'll also recommend my footnotes below; they make for good reading after the issue at hand.

Essential material for the post was taken from the following sources:
— Chua, Rochelle S.; The New Friendster is Finally Coming!;
— Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; Plagiarism;

— Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia; Copyright Infringement;
Intellectual Property Code of the Philippines; Chan Robles Virtual Law Library

Monday, November 30, 2009

The P10,000 Question, of course, "Could I borrow P10,000?"

Lest you think otherwise, this is not chump change we're talking about. That's ten thousand in Philippine pesos, which makes it a little more than two hundred US dollars, and a good chunk of my post-tax salary. It's not the kind of amount that you can casually carry in your wallet, and I'm far more likely to talk to a bank manager about it than I am to have it processed by the local ATM.

And speaking of which, I was conveniently given this statement by my mother on a Friday night, when all the banks were likely to be closed for the long weekend. To make matters worse, I forgot to drop by a cash machine last Saturday, so I found myself stuck at home late Saturday night, wondering how I was going to come up with the money by nine the next morning.

The solution, of course, was to start scrounging. My pack-rat tendencies mean that I hoard the strangest things from time to time — money among them — and even if I couldn't come up with the entire amount, then I could at least provide a substantial contribution. Besides, wouldn't you be curious to see if you had ten thousand pesos stashed around the house somewhere?

So the first thing that I did was check my wallet. My miserly habits meant that I usually had about P1,500 in there — which turned out to be correct — so it was a start.

Then I checked my "emergency fund". Call me paranoid, but most of my money is tied up in various insubstantial venues: closed-investment accounts, savings accounts, antique teddy bear collections... but I figured that I wanted a failsafe in case I couldn't access these for any reason. Thus, I maintain a home-based "emergency fund" in a secure location, which means that it's a wad of bills stuffed into an old sock that's wire-threaded to the back of my CD cabinet.

Said "emergency fund" held only two thousand in dusty old bills. I made a mental note to increase the allocation in the future, then folded everything together. That was P3,500 so far.

Then I raided the envelope stash. This happens to be a mishmash of old form letters on my desk — bills, solicitations, bank reports — stuff that I get over the mail, and set aside after reading. There were two fortunate things about this stash: The first is that it includes the money and gift certificates that I receive from relatives over the past few months; The second is that I hadn't gotten around to my yearly cleanup yet.

Here, for example, was the two thousand and four hundred pesos that I got in a red envelope on my last birthday. Sitting in a different sealed package was the two hundred that I won during October's mooncake dice game. Then there was the neatly-folded stack of hundred-peso bills (all new) that I had left over from a previous vacation, and on top of that, there were also remnants of my fee from a earlier freelancing engagement.

When the dust cleared, I was at the P8,300 mark. I was a little surprised at that point; I'm clearly in the territory of bachelor living here.

Interestingly enough, I still had one more place to look: My slush file, hidden in the deepest recesses of my bookshelves. This was where I held my long-term storage, the stuff that I put away without the intention of opening up until it was needed. It contained sealed envelopes with some of my older story ideas (which is a great way to prove copyright claims, by the way), old calling cards, and memorabilia from bygone years... among other nastier things.

It apparently also contained stuff that I had completely forgotten about. One of the things I fished out, for example, was a bank check for an amount that I'm not at liberty to disclose here... which captured my brother's attention almost immediately:

Brother: "Why do you have a check in there?"

Sean: "I don't know. I haven't seen this stuff in years."

B: "Why is it for [insert significant amount here]?"

S: "I don't know. I don't even remember why I have it."

B: "Why is it dated December 2005?"

S: "Uhhh..."

Crazily enough, I scraped together another P1,600 from the slush file... along with a Starbucks gift certificate (valid until December 2002); a collection of ten-, five-, and two-peso bills; and half-a-dozen membership cards for commercial services that no longer exist.

That brought my grand total to a staggering P9,900... and I was only too happy to add another P100 from my wallet to bring it to the intended ten thousand. It is not, strictly speaking, the easiest way to get a quick shot of funds. Moreover, it doesn't speak very well about my hoardish tendencies, which probably got the last cleaning lady running away and screaming.

My mother was surprised that I had somehow come up with the money without an ATM in sight. She also mentioned that it wasn't an urgent need, that she could just pass by an ATM herself early the next morning, which gave me my regular dose of irony for the week.

She did wonder where I got all the gift certificates, though. I mean, it's not as though they were just lying around the house or anything...

Friday, November 27, 2009

That Could Have Been You

That could have been you, seeing the flash of the muzzle and feeling the bullets puncturing your skin. That could have been you, staggering back and smelling the gunsmoke as it fights its way across your breath. That could have been you, your legs giving out from the sheer dead weight of your body. That could have been you, feeling the dull black pain as your face strikes the earth.

That could have been you, fighting every rising shred of remorse in your conscience as you follow your orders. That could have been you, signalling the men with the shovels to start their work. That could have been you, mopping your brow with a dirty piece of cloth before you throw it to the next person. That could have been you, scenting the air and wondering if anyone's going to know, if anyone's going to find out, if anyone's even watching you at the moment of your damnation.

That could have been you, sitting comfortably in the station without a care in the world. That could have been you, ignoring that cancer that festers in the region you call home. That could have been you, knowing that there were people who needed your protection against other people with guns and power and money. That could have been you, hearing the faint roar of gunfire in the distance for years upon years and doing absolutely nothing about it.

That could have been you, looking over the sea of corpses wrapped in clods of earth. That could have been you, identifying the bodies by features that were no longer there — a favorite t-shirt instead of a face, an ID card instead of a spoken greeting, a wedding ring instead of a smile. That could have been you, remembering how this one was a father to seven children, knowing that these four staffed a newspaper all by themselves. That could have been you, thinking of colleagues and friends, knowing that this had happened many times before and would almost certainly happen again.

That could have been you, sitting hundreds of miles away in the middle of the metropolis. That could have been you, trusting the other regions to handle themselves well enough despite the political controversy your party once generated. That could have been you, counting people as allies in exchange for a blind eye towards their engagements. That could have been you, gathering the remnants of your authority in closer and closer circles, praying that nothing happens to separate you before the year is out.

That could have been you, sequestering yourself in your majestic mansion, surrounded by relatives and close friends who you've groomed over the years. That could have been you, surrendering yourself with the knowledge that all the eyes of the world are upon your back, knowing that the killing hasn't finished yet, wondering if you or anyone else will hang as high as Haman before it's over. That could have been you, calling for your legal counsel, insisting with every sharp breath that you didn't do it, that you didn't give the orders, that it was a different group of people with no motive as obvious as yours.

That could have been you.

That could have been you.

That could have been you.




Never forget.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Blue Period

It has recently struck me that most of the stuff I wear is blue.

I'm not sure why, really. It's possible that I've come up with a surplus of blue clothing in the last few years. It's also possible that blue happens to be one of the more neutral colors to wear to one's office, where I spend most of my waking life nowadays. Whatever the case, I seem to have more than my fair share of blue polo shirts, blue t-shirts, and even blue underwear.

Now, I have to admit that blue is my favorite color. In fact, I tend to pinpoint a specific shade of blue — some sort of darkish navy blue that I can somehow identify only on sight — although not an inch of it is ever reflected in my wardrobe. What's weird is that I remember liking red a lot as a ten-year-old kid, which automatically raised the question in my mind: How do we choose certain colors to be our favorites, anyway?

I remember that my brother likes yellow, for example. My sister has long staked out a claim on blue. My friends and associates, moreover, have chosen an eclectic bunch of shades over the years: purple, gray, maroon, white, tweed... and at the moment, it's making me wonder if there was any rhyme or reason to the choice. Heck, I'm particularly curious about tweed. Who chooses tweed as a favorite color, for goodness' sakes?

Having dipped certain fingers into the design industry, I'm fully aware that certain colors produce certain subtle impressions, and have certain associations. Red, for example, is an "attention" color — it implies passion and anxiety, and is used to get us to focus on a specific item. It's why stop signs are red, it's why fire engines are red, and it's why most lipsticks are red.

If I remember correctly, blue is a "serene" color. It's used to denote a sense of coolness and relaxation, and usually gets associated with the elements of air and water. Blue just puts us at ease, more often than not. I obviously agree with this sentiment, although I still wonder if this connotation explains my attraction to blue, or if I'm only holding onto this as a convenient excuse.

That said, there's still the matter of different shades for a single color. Red and pink lie around the same area of the spectrum, for example, but modern society has ascribed different roles to those two. I would imagine that dark blue and light blue are distinct enough from each other to have different connotations as well, although that's where my knowledge runs out.

The jury, however, remains undecided on the difference in impression between, say, Navy Blue and Prussian Blue. The question of significance between, say, Scarlet, Vermilion, Rose, Blood Red and Fuchsia is probably enough to drive graphic artists to madness. And that doesn't even cover the debate between Ebony, Midnight, Raven Black, Mummy Black, and Soot.

Then again, my tendency could simply mean that I just happen to like blue. Whether or not that denotes serenity in some way is probably outside the bounds of opinion — maybe I just like the way it looks.

Besides, my closet doors are painted blue as well. For that matter, so are my venetian blinds, my wallpaper, my bedsheets... heck, something's got to match my underwear, after all.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Disclaimer: November 2009

I've been doing these disclaimers for a long time now, and the legalese is always a common element. If you've been skipping out on these monthly posts, you'll know that I outline the following bases each time. Now is no exception:

1. I conceptualized and wrote everything on this blog, with the sole exceptions given in #2.

2. Some of the items on this blog were acquired from external sources, either as the material with which I create my posts, or as the references with which I write. These items are always acknowledged, and provided with a link where possible.

3. Anyone who feels that I've used something that they own without acknowledgment is welcome to contact me for discussion. Assuming that the material is truly theirs, I'm prepared to accede to their demands as long as they are within reason.

4. I don't like plagiarists, who I define as people who take others' works with the intent of claiming these as their own. People who manipulate this work in a harmful or out-of-context manner fall under the same classification. I discourage this activity, particularly when it comes to my own stuff.

5. Apart from any monthly disclaimers that I have, this blog is part of the terms and conditions set forth by the Creative Commons license, which is at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar on my main blog site.

There's usually a threat of grievous physical, psychological or legal harm involved, but not always.

I've noticed that it's a little difficult to come up with a brand-new disclaimer post every month, and I think that that's because I like putting little spins on the silly things. I don't want to simply repeat a single post as the first item of every month, so I try to work them into short posts. The only things that should bore people, or turn them off from reading these like any other entry, are the titles — and I find myself wishing that I don't have to call them "Disclaimer" all the time.

Normally I have three different approaches with regards to creating disclaimer posts:

1. Graphics — If one picture is worth a thousand words, then my personal volume must be substantial. The primary benefit of using graphics is that they will immediately catch peoples' attention, despite the stodgy legalese. The fact that I have a few Photoshop skills means that I can put these together by myself... which is fortunate when you realize that these things usually take a couple of hours.

2. Text Styling — This covers the various text formats, layouts, genres and so forth. It's the most common approach that I use, simply because tapping away at a keyboard happens to be my forté. Sometimes I'll incorporate the legalese into a short story, sometimes I'll try a line or two of poetry, and sometimes I'll just try putting it up like one of Letterman's top ten lists.

3. Straight Play — And sometimes, if I don't have much time to come up with a post, I'll just play it straight. These are probably the most boring of the disclaimer posts that I write, but they do act as a bit of a refresher. I'll emphasize the fact that these don't necessarily mean that I don't have any idea for a post. Instead, they simply mean that I'm in a hurry at the time.

I don't think that I've really run out of ideas for a disclaimer post yet, so you're still likely to get these from me in the future. Whether that's good news or bad news depends on which side of the fence you're sitting on.

Then again, I'm assuming that we're all bloggers ourselves, and that we're capable of coming up with our own content. There are millions of words out there, after all... wouldn't you like to see what interesting combinations you can come up with? :)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Nothing to See Here

I just wanted to note that I've had almost a month of extensive workdays and rush deadlines, which have taken their toll on my personal life and sanity.

That said, I'll be vegetating for this weekend.

So for the next couple of days, no one is to call me. No one is to email me, or send me a text message, or write me a letter on nice stationery and send it via carrier pigeon. No one is to smuggle a video message into my little corner of the earth, roll a tattered message into a bottle and drop it into my bathwater, or inscribe a coded message into a bunch of religious monuments for me to find. And finally, no one is to ever, ever summon me by murmuring Shakespeare's Sonnet 18 backwards while standing in a bucket of cream cheese in an inscribed circle of green marker pens by the light of the full moon... if only because it won't work. (The markers have to be blue, after all.)

Hopefully the storm won't be a huge factor in my plans. But then again, I'll be asleep for most of the time, so it probably won't.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Rizal's Head

The Inquirer had an interesting headline today, which helps support my belief that truth is stranger than fiction: It seems that a bunch of doctors recently petitioned the National Historical Institute (NHI) for access to Jose Rizal's skull, apparently because they want to figure out the reason for his intelligence. (This link redirects to the FT Chronicle web site instead of its original authors at the Inquirer, because the newspaper's site seems to be down right now.)

This just... puzzles me, to say the least. For starters, NHI chairman Ambeth Ocampo didn't exactly describe the petitioners' method as being quite optimal:

[Ocampo] said the doctors intended to pierce a hole on top of the skull and load it with mongo beans. “When full, they plan to transfer the mongo beans to a beaker and measure its volume,” he said. Through that, they will be able to tell us the size of Rizal’s cranial wall.

As much as I applaud the use of Filipino ingenuity here, I'm not entirely sure that mongo beans would be the best method of presenting one's findings to the scientific community at large. In fact, I'd question it — aren't there better methods of measuring cranial capacity? Wouldn't a liquid medium be far better than mongo beans, for example? And it's not as though you need the original skull in the first place — why not just make a plaster cast of the cranial area and then use that for experimentation? It would give scientific teams a great resource for future trials, and it would certainly be a far better option than drilling the silly thing full of holes in the first place.

This is, of course, not to say that I think that it's a stupid idea. I'm willing to assume that this is a serious scientific study, and that it can't just be boiled down to Ocampo's mongo-bean statement (which could easily be a mere exaggeration). Besides, black-comedy scenarios aside, why else would somebody want to exhume the skull of our country's national hero?

One thing that I'd like to point out is that it's been done before. Paleontologists normally cover this sort of thing in evolutionary study, for instance: If man did evolve from early primates, then there must have been some gradual development on the mental front. There's even a term for this measurement — cranial capacity — that comes with its own Wikipedia entry.

Moreover, there have been historical instances where the brains of noteworthy individuals were removed after their deaths and preserved for study. Albert Einstein would be the most obvious example, and in fact, did happen to have this type of research visited upon him. The study of cranial capacity in these cases doesn't seem to be too far a stretch... after all, if you're capable of going as far as to investigate the folds in brain matter, wouldn't you go knocking around inside the skull as well?

If I have an issue here, mind you, then it's with the subject of the study himself. Jose Rizal, for all the honors granted to him as the national hero of the Republic of the Philippines, never struck me as a supremely gifted and intelligent individual. I can assume that he was a scholar, yes, and that he can be perceived as a very smart man. But I don't see him as a particularly sterling example of Filipino intelligence.

Now, again, don't get me wrong — Rizal does have some value and relevance to us. I respect Rizal because of his perception and capacity to put such thoughts into writing. His two seminal novels, after all, were revelations of the injustice and inequality that existed during the colonial era. I respect Rizal further because it felt as though he was advocating dialogue as opposed to revolution: To him, it was possible that the status quo could improve — the youth just had to recognize what was wrong with their environment and find a way to challenge these traditional assumptions. Rizal came up with a rallying cry that clearly applies even to our contemporary situation.

But I would simply stop short of calling Rizal "intelligent". His writings may fall within the level of "profound insight", but to me, they fall short of "genius breakthrough".

And that's the root of the whole thing, really. Why bother measuring Rizal's cranial capacity if he's not necessarily the best example of Filipino intelligence? You can make your argument for creativity, mind you, and you can make your argument for insight. But those two things are different from intelligence... and well, if you're really after artistic quality, then you've got loads of modern examples to choose from. I'm fairly certain that making plaster casts of Amorsolo's, Joaquin's, and Kasilag's skulls would be a lot easier than prying open that monument in the middle of the Luneta. (I don't mean to disparage the families of the deceased here, but a point is a point.)

I suppose that the NHI can refuse any requests to borrow Rizal's skull, if only for reasons of impracticality. However, I maintain questions of my own — questions that appeal to the motive and scientific nature of the intended study — and these will maddeningly remain unanswered. We have this very strange tendency to expect the excessive from the personalities in our lives — politicians, movie stars, sports celebrities — and now it seems that even the dead are not immune.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

End of an Era

A little more than a week after I post this, Geocities will be gone.

To be honest, this won't hold a lot of significance to people out there. The vast majority of netizens right now, I must admit, are those without a solid technical background: You're probably okay with things like Facebook and Twitter and Google and eBay, mind you, and you probably know your way around an email account... but you probably haven't written a lot of HTML tags or interfaced with servers, much less studied the occasional database query. I'm not saying that that's bad, of course — it takes all kinds to coexist on the World Wide Web — but I must point out that Geocities' name may only be remembered by a relative handful of us.

What Geocities did for the longest time was to provide a sandbox for web programmers. Any creative person, for example, cannot produce works based solely on his creativity alone — he or she would need any amount of material in order to do so: Paint, pencils, paper, canvas, crayons... and more than a little personal space, obviously. On the Internet front, there were only a few online services that catered to this need for budding programmers, and Geocities was one of these.

The interactivity and interface wasn't the best of things, mind you. Back then, we had to write lines upon lines of code entirely by hand, upload one file and/or image at a time against slow dial-up access, and generally spend hours putting together one site or another. But what resulted was a slew of personal markers on the World Wide Web, places where we could write journals to the rest of the world. Some of these markers are still available today, although they've long been overshadowed by further generations.

It's obvious, of course, as to why Geocities is closing. Simply put, few people need a free ground-up site-generation service any more. Nowadays, if you want to have your own home on the Internet, you're either 1) a formal entity that's willing to spend a pittance for an exclusive domain name and hosting service; or 2) an average Joe or a plain Jane who's willing to settle for a Facebook account, a Multiply album, or a Wordpress blog. You don't spend days scribbling code and frantically testing pages to see if you managed to do the fonts right, not if you have this kind of convenience at your fingertips.

Simply put, things have moved on, and Geocities has found itself staring at obsolescence for some time now. I imagine that it was only a matter of time.

I logged into my Geocities account a few weeks ago to clean house, and it turned out to be the first visit I'd made in years. I apparently have more than a few files there: Some storage archives for a few forgotten initiatives, a couple of short story excerpts, an old web site for the family bakeshop... it was like looking into a personal time capsule. Heck, some of the downloadable files for more than a few of my earlier blog posts — most notably the two puzzle events — were hosted on Geocities; I'm going to have to see what I should do with them now.

Having established myself in the modern Internet — I have accounts for Gmail, Blogger, Facebook, Multiply and many others, after all — I must say that I have no further need for Geocities and its brothers. But regardless of whether they're now obsolete or not, I feel that they were an important part of my formative years. In that sense, I'm sad to see them go, much as I would be sad when seeing the tattered state of any favorite childhood book.

Time, unfortunately, has the terrible side effect of leaving certain things by the wayside. Sometimes it's the objects that populated your past, sometimes it's the influences that shaped your present. I'll still hold all my contact with this little thing called this internet, mind you, but it'll be difficult for me to forget roots like these.

Monday, September 28, 2009


Manila was the subject of a massive deluge yesterday.

The rain started sometime in the wee hours of the morning on the 26th. From there, buckets of water filled the streets for what turned out to be the entire day, as though some divine entity turned on the bathtub faucet and let the whole thing run. In my corner of the woods, even the wind got into the act from time to time: sometimes it tore off a few pieces of the local flora, just for sport.

My brother and I were up at about 7:30 in the morning, deciding that our badminton gathering was not going to push through: One of our members had mentioned the threat of floodwaters; we stopped our other esteemed guest just as she was about to leave her house, a fact for which I was extremely thankful a few hours later.

At around ten in the morning, I was wondering if the rest of my Saturday schedule was going to push through. The torrents were falling, the wind was howling, and the Facebook posters were putting up evidence of just how bad it was out there. The streets outside my old university were practically submerged; someone put up a photo of how his own car had been half-flooded... while it was sitting in his garage.

A little after lunch, the power went out. That erased any doubt that this was more serious than your average storm, and cut us off from most of the news. None of us had charged our cellphones, and a subsequent search of the house noted that we didn't have much in the way of emergency lights available. Food, oddly enough, wasn't a concern — for some strange reason, my family stockpiles instant noodles like no tomorrow. Along with the fact that we live on a hill and thus have no issues with flooding whatsoever, we ended up having a comfortable time riding out the storm.

At about five in the afternoon, my brother elected to drop by the nearest supermarket and pick up some flashlights and a supply of batteries. My sister decided to come along, while I figured that I would hold the fort at home. It took them about an hour-and-a-half for a trip that would normally take fifteen minutes; in addition to the fact that the roads weren't as clear of vehicles as could be expected, it took them a while to fight the weather.

From there, it was dinner and bed. I slept before ten o'clock for the first time in ages, wondering exactly what was going on out there. We had some contact with some relatives and our closest friends, but had to hold off on extensive contact due to low battery levels; Fiber-optic landlines may be the latest thing in communications technology, but turn out to be utterly useless when it comes to power outages.

The cloudburst only ended at about two-thirty in the morning on the 27th. I know this because I was up at that time, listening to the rain as it got weaker and weaker.

Yes, world. That means that, for about twenty-four hours, we got non-stop rain.

We were out early the next morning, and noted that most of our neighborhood was unaffected. (It's the same set of hills, after all.) The nearest city hall, which was in a low-lying area, was still flooded in ankle-deep waters, and I felt that that somehow said something about our style of local government. The Pasig River had a remarkably high water level, and was rushing along at a rate of speed that would have made a good exercise in fluid mechanics. And most of the houses that we passed along the way were filled with people, all bailing out the accumulated water or cleaning the last vestiges of mud.

I talked to a few friends and acquaintances. Almost all of them either stayed home, or were out at one point or another the previous day... although each of them did get home safely the previous evening. They told stories of other people, however, who got the worst of it: Some ended up overnighting in offices. Others only reached home after midnight or early the same morning. One unfortunate fellow hitched a ride on a dump truck and went the rest of his journey — about twenty kilometers — on foot. In the rain, even.

And yet there are apparently still others, as evidenced by my walls on Facebook and Twitter. There are more than a few families still stuck on their roofs in the Pasig area, more than a few individuals who lost businesses and personal possessions, more than a few people who are sleeping somewhere other than their own beds tonight. There are so many places accepting donations and assistance right now that I'm wondering where to start.

Tomorrow is a workday, of course, and I figure that the right course of action involves holding the fort and mollifying the clients while allowing the rest of the office to recover. Alternatively, it might also involve leaving a message with our eminent clientele, and then moving on to the more humanitarian efforts. The second option sounds a lot better. But that still raises the question of where to start... which I'll probably ask by tomorrow morning.

It's difficult to read the updates that are being posted by the minute. It's even more difficult to look through the photos that people have uploaded regarding one remarkable rainy situation after another; these are photographic times, after all.

Years from now, I figure, we'll be telling stories of the record-breaking rainfall, the massive flooding that ensued, and the question of exactly what we were doing both during and after all this took place.

I suppose I should be preparing for that time, I think. You all take care now, and you all do what you can.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Please Leave Your Cellphones Off

"My phone isn't working," she said.

I glanced at my mother. She was going to be on a flight to Singapore the next morning, and off for a good portion of the week. That her cellphone would break down now — now, of all times — was just Murphy's Law at work.

Fortunately, part of my job involves testing mobile devices. I'm still a digital producer, mind you, but someone's got to test out the hundreds of tips and tricks that the cellphone companies offer to their user bases. Such a task just happens to fall within the fine print on my contract; I've gone over six or seven devices so far, and I try to finish them up at the rate of one each week.

Not that I'm experienced with mobile devices, mind you, but I approach them with a fairly strong technical background. I can set up technical components, clean computers of viruses, and make small fixes to household appliances. If there was anyone in the house who could solve a cellphone problem, it was likely to be me.

"So what's wrong?" I asked.

"It won't turn off."

I did a double take. "It won't turn off?"

She demonstrated it for me. It was a fairly common phone model, I must add, which was little different from the devices I had been testing for the last few months. She was pressing the Power button on the top of the phone and was getting the Shutdown menu... but nothing beyond that.

In short, the phone just wouldn't turn off.

"That's what I said," she insisted.

I inspected the phone for a bit. It seemed as though it was in perfect working order, and a number of tests with the standard functions proved that. When I tried to turn it off, however... nothing. Nada. Zilch. It stubbornly refused to shut down.

I tried pressing down on the Power button as hard as I could, thinking that maybe she just wasn't pushing it hard enough. All I got for my trouble was a very familiar imprint on the flesh of my thumb.

Eventually I set the phone aside. "You don't have to turn it off, you know. I mean, you can just leave it on to receive calls and messages, like the rest of us do."

"I know that," she said, "but what am I supposed to do with it on the plane? They might ask me to shut it off."

I raised an eyebrow. They were going to tell her to shut it off, obviously. And darn it, the plane trip in question was the next day. Either she was going to have to do without a phone for the duration of her trip, or we were going to have to solve it the same night.

Two hours and more than a few Internet guides later, I was no closer to solving the problem. I had the feeling that I had read all that there was to know about a handy-sized cellphone, except for the simple, incredibly elusive ability to turn it off.

We decided to settle on a workaround: She was going to borrow a cellphone the next morning, and in the meantime, we were going to take down a few of the more important numbers so that she could still make her calls abroad. That would give me a few days to drag her device to the nearest service location and get it fixed.

And that was when my brother showed up, picked up the phone, and asked: "Did you try opening it up?"

I raised another eyebrow. "No," I admitted.

He flipped open the casing, pulled off the battery, and had a look inside. "Seems okay," he said, putting everything back together and flicking on the Power button. The phone lit up.

He pressed down on the Power button. The phone went off.

"You've got to be kidding me," I said.

He turned it on again, then turned it off.

"You've really got to be kidding me."

"You mean it wasn't working like this before?" he asked.

"No," I said, taking the phone from him and checking the settings. "The battery must have been on too tight. Or maybe the casing was loose, so the Power button wasn't connecting to its own switch. Whatever it is, I have no idea."

We gave the phone back to Mom, who returned to her last-minute packing. Now she had her own cellphone to bring along, so that the nice friendly stewardesses could remind her to turn it off just before the plane left the airport.

Walking back to our room, my brother gave me a curious look.

"I thought you tested cellphones at work?" he asked.

"Yeah, well," I said, "it's not like... what I mean is... well, obviously..."

He smiled out of the corner of his mouth.

"Oh, shut up," I said.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Law of Urinals

Bear with me; this is something that came to mind while I was walking around the malls this afternoon. I freely admit that I was relieving myself in an empty bathroom at the time, if only because it's relevant to my process of reasoning.

It was a little before four in the afternoon in this case, and the place was empty. Beside the rows of sinks and across from the toilet cubicles, there was a line of exactly four urinals set against the granite-tiled walls. I had all the time in the world (or about five to ten minutes, at least) to choose one of those four urinals.

It suddenly struck me that there was supposed to be some method to this choice.

When faced with this kind of situation, I normally relieve myself in the second-to-last urinal. I'm not quite sure why, really. Elementary logic dictates that I don't want to do it in the first urinal (or else I'd be the first thing that people see whenever they wash themselves up by the bathroom sinks), and I don't want to do it in the last urinal (because the presence of the bathroom wall would give me less space to do my business). But to me, that raises the question: Why not just use the second urinal? Or, in the case of more than four urinals in a single bathroom, why not use use any of the urinals in between?

I can only imagine that masculine comparison plays a role here. (And if you have no idea what "masculine comparison" is, take a good guess.) This is less perverted than one may think — while I'm not in the habit of checking out other guys at the urinals, I do live in mortal fear that someone, somewhere, is going to be checking me out at the urinals one day. I'd personally like to minimize those chances, regardless of how amused you might feel at such a predicament. Guys — it ain't cool to do this sort of thing. The thought alone just gives me nightmares.

This, I think, is probably the reason why two guys standing at the urinals will almost always stand exactly one urinal apart — that is to say, they position themselves so that there's exactly one urinal between them at all times. It's a physical manifestation, I think of a certain statement: "You don't check out my package, I don't check out yours, and maybe some neurotic writer out there will sleep well tonight."

Masculine comparison, then, implies that I relieve myself in the second-to-last urinal for a sense of security: It puts me far enough down the bathroom corridor that I won't be bothered by unnecessary interlopers, yet also places me in a position where I still hold valuable non-claustrophobic space.

This, I figure, is not a shared opinion. Some guys will probably take on the plain second urinal in the same situation — perhaps this implies a more overt personality. Others will prefer either the one that's closest to the wall or the one that's closest to the sinks; I leave the reasoning to them in this case. And there is always that small sub-group of people who simply don't care as to which urinal to choose if they had such a choice; I've always wondered if this means that they don't use their heads as often as they should, or if people like me are overthinking situations like these.

Being on the well-traveled end, I've been in restrooms where the designers apparently chose to do away with urinals altogether — possibly because they didn't want me to wrestle with any more stupid questions. In those places, all you get is a stainless steel "gutter" where you're presumably supposed to stand and do your business alongside your fellow man. In such cases, however, I still gravitate towards a point near the end of the gutter, not quite at the wall but fairly close to it — proving once and for all that the logic has somehow been ingrained into my pointy little head.

That, or I enter the nearest toilet stall. I'd still like to avoid the masculine comparison issue if possible, after all.

* The wonderful bathroom fixtures graphic is from, a web site that provides educational pictograms for open use. I've attempted to follow all the conditions of their Creative Commons licensing agreement. Don't sue me, please... or at least allow me the courtesy of zipping up first.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What's the Best Bit of Local Speculative Fiction You've Read, Sean?

The esteemed Mr. Chikiamco saw fit to ask me this question the other day, in commemoration of his opening of the brand-new Rocket Kapre web site. (Which, by the way, proves once and for all that you can make an interesting name by smashing two completely random words together.)

To be honest, it took me a few minutes to come up with an answer to this one. This is not to say that I don't have any favorites among the local works of Speculative Fiction, mind you — it's just that I've read a fair portion of our efforts here. As a result, there are quite a few stories that make it onto my "like" list... but which I would hesitate at touting as a "favorite" of mine.

I don't want to waste too much of your time on what amounts to a personal choice, so I'll put it straight: the work at the top of my list right now is Vlad Gonzales's Lunes, Alas Diyes ng Umaga. To my knowledge, it only came out in a cheap anthology called "Pinoy Amazing Adventures", which I picked up and reviewed way back in 2007.

You'll want a short explanation, of course.

Lunes, Alas Diyes ng Umaga is a remarkable combination for me: I feel that it's a piece of science fiction that touches on the less obvious aspects of the genre. Surprisingly, the story lacks the advanced technology that marks your traditional sci-fi. Instead, it places the reader in a very familiar contemporary situation, paces you through some very strange events involving parallel universes/timelines, and throws in a subtle twist that reflects a clear — and regrettable — facet of human behavior.

I cite Lunes as my favorite local work of speculative fiction so far because I feel that it's gone well beyond the other attempts that I've seen. It carries a central message that can only be effectively communicated via speculative literature, it ruminates on that knowledge, and it delivers without benefit of the usual trappings on which we poor amateurs usually depend. It's easy enough for the man on the street to read and identify with, and it points out that some things about culture and humanity will never change, even when the potential of the entire universe lies at our fingertips.

More importantly for me, however — and I've been chewing on this fact for the last couple of years — it represents the kind of story that I'd like to write someday. To me, it's that nasty piece of writing that hits you right where it hurts, that work that makes you slap yourself on the forehead and wonder why you didn't put it together yourself.

In short, I wish I'd written it.

Heck, I wish I'd simply thought of it. That's a huge bit of estimation in my book.

There are, of course, quite a few works on my personal list that I've read, watched, felt, and loved so far. There are a few short stories in there, a couple of comics, perhaps even a work of art or two. Those, however, are narrations for a different day, because I'm open enough to recognize that Lunes won't always be at the top of my list. In fact, I hope that Gonzales's work doesn't stay there for at least a few more years — the local speculative fiction scene is young enough that I'd like to see someone top it very soon.

For now, however, Lunes sets the bar for me. I'll even go as far as to say that it sets the bar for everything else... or at least, that's how my personal opinion puts it. Everyone has a few favorites, after all. This one just happens to be mine.

i'm not dead yet

"No you're not, you'll be stone dead in a moment."
—Man with Dead Body, Monty Python and the Holy Grail

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Disclaimer: September 2009

The Lexicomancer
LN Medium humanoid
Init +2; Senses Listen +4, Spot +4

AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 18 (+6 armor, +2 Dex)
HP 65
Fort +8, Ref +4, Will +20
Immune fear

Spd 30 ft.
Melee +3 blade of biting words +14/+9 (2d4+6)
Spells Prepared (CL 11th, ranged attack +9)
  • 6th—mind trick, war of wordsD (DC 20)
  • 5th—hypnotic suggestion, extended procrastinateD, scrying (DC 19)
  • 4th—backlash, extended Kyu's greater ward, tall taleD (DC 18), underwrite, venomtongue
  • 3rd—burning desire, captive audienceD (DC 16), denouement, lost lore, swarm of speech, yammer
  • 2nd—calm emotionsD (DC 16), edgewise speech, misplaced word, silence (DC 16), stern command, tenebrophilia
  • 1st—bluster (2), comprehend languages, confinement, protection from wordsD, windgathering
  • 0—clarion call, light (2), ministrate (2), temporary sustenance
D - domain spell; Domains - Literature, Debate

Before Combat The Lexicomancer is aware that all of the contents of this weblog are the original works and property of her austere master, and makes a comprehensive study of any who would defy this ownership. She immediately places her attention on any who would steal from her lord's repository of words, shadows them carefully, and waits for the right time to strike. In anticipation of combat, she prepares by casting protection from words and edgewise speech as needed, and resorting to burning desire in expectation of protracted battles.
During Combat The Lexicomancer acknowledges the presence of any authors whose works are used in her master's weblog, as these creators are always mentioned in writing; otherwise, she may request for such permissions during confrontation. Against opponents who plan to "borrow" her master's content, she demands that they ask proper permission, and immediately engages against those who use this content for malicious purposes. The Lexicomancer uses ranged spells and engages in melee as required; Common practices involve keeping opponents off-balance from a combination of hypnotic suggestion, misplaced word, procrastinate and tall tale, backed up by more than a few subtle taunts.
Morale The Lexicomancer immediately ends combat if she receives the acknowledgement or permission needed. If her hit points fall below 15, she uses clarion call to summon authoritative reinforcements, then uses her leave the last word ability or scroll of unerring flight to escape into the immediate vicinity. She then prepares for a second encounter with her target, and continues to do so until the target has been brought to submission. No one is safe from the wrath of a fictional construct.

Str 10, Dex 12, Con 12, Int 16, Wis 16, Cha 14
Base Atk +7; Grp +6
Feats Extend Spell, Get to the Point, Inscrutable, Righteous Indignation, Sharp Tongue, Third Person, Voice
Skills Concentration +12, Diplomacy +14, Knowledge (Literature) +10, Knowledge (Law) +4, Sense Motive +12
Languages Common, Critic
SQ construct aspect, creative commons, mastery of the word, mouthpiece, plagiarist sense, think on your feet
Combat Gear wand of prosaic expression (23 charges), ring of dire threat (16 charges), ring of mind shielding, scroll of abject fallacies, scroll of mental fortitude, scroll of unerring flight
Other Gear +1 chainletter shirt, +2 blade of biting words, bracers of compelling argument, editor's manuscript

Creative Commons The Lexicomancer is bound to her master by means of a Creative Commons License, which is reflected on the lower right portion of her master's sidebar.
Mouthpiece As a fictional construct, the Lexicomancer reflects the views of her master, and can willingly serve as a conduit for his speech, as per the bestow words spell.
Plagiarist Sense The Lexicomancer is supernaturally aware of attempts to steal content from her master's weblog, and immediately hunts down the perpetrators involved.
Think on Your Feet The Lexicomancer receives no penalties to her domain spells due to combat.

* No, you don't get a cookie if you recognize the template used here, because it's fairly obvious. And if you're curious, this took me more than a few hours to transcribe. But it does look somewhat authentic, and that amuses me greatly.

** No, Charles, I still have no idea how to play the game.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Spawn of the Giant Stuffed Penguin

Sometime this afternoon, the conversation turned to kids. Not just kids kids, mind you, but real live in-the-flesh kind of children, the ones who constantly bump into your knees and marvel at how much taller you are than them.

I don't have such a good record with kids. Personally, I do like them (particularly with a little barbecue sauce and some grated cheese), but they don't seem to like me for some reason. It might be because the voice scares them, or it could be because my eyebrows give them nightmares. Whatever the case, I'm okay with kids, and the real question is whether or not they're okay with me.

For these occasions, I carry around a nice "children" anecdote. I won't tell it now because it loses something in the writing, but suffice to say that it involved a one-year-old child and a Snoopy doll. Said incident, by the way, ended with the head of said Snoopy doll being thrown in my general direction... and that confession alone should give you an idea of how I am with kids.

Despite the anecdote, however, someone dared to throw the question over to my side of the table: "So what about you, Sean? How many kids would you want to have?"

I figured that the "barbecue-sauce-and-grated-cheese" comment would have gotten me run out of town at that point, so I threw back the only response I could think of:


"That is," my friend said, "if you want to have kids. Do you want to have kids?"

I thought for a moment. This was an interesting question, if only because I hadn't quite thought about it yet. I'm still a young man, after all. I'm not exactly about to shackle mysel... er, settle down to family life just yet.

"Well... yeah," I said. "I'd like to have kids someday. I mean, it'll probably be a while by the time I have them, but I wouldn't mind the wait.

"Thinking about it a little further, I'd say that two or three of them would be nice. The issue when you have only one child is that he or she usually has nobody to play with, which puts some undue pressure on either the parents or any outside friends. Having two kids would probably resolve this, but then you get the question of an elder/younger relationship, and I'm not sure how healthy that would be.

"So if it's possible, I'd rather have three kids. That would raise the possible conflict of an elder-middle-younger relationship, but I figure that the internal dynamics would balance it out — you can have a majority clique at any point, I imagine. That, and the middle child would inevitably be a bridge or a mediator between the other two.

"The only question that remains, I think, is the matter of age. I'd prefer the kids to be spaced about two or three years apart, so that they can share knowledge and contacts within similar generations. It takes quite a bit of pressure off the other factors, I think, when their constant contact with each other helps ensure that the older ones can literally help train and educate the younger ones. I find that siblings usually tend to take different paths in life, so three children would probably imply different interests and specializations of some sort.

"I'll throw the question back, by the way," I said. "What do you think?"

This brought some silence over the table for a few minutes.

"I think," my friend finally said, "I'd like three kids."

"Any reason why?"

"Uh... no. I'd just like three kids."

And somewhere in the world, a mother is asking her child about a decapitated Snoopy doll.

If Titles Could Talk

After thirty years' worth of reading, I've come to a fateful conclusion: It's possible to determine the base contents of a literary or artistic work merely by reading its title.

I imagine that this discovery will change our way of life as we know it: Soon enough, we'll be able flip through literary collections in a heartbeat, finish poetry readings in a fraction of a second, and sleep through movie screenings that would otherwise steal a good two hours of our lives. From there, it shouldn't be a great leap towards coming up with a mutual cure for AIDS, SARS, H1N1 and all forms of cancer; generating renewable fuel resources; solving world hunger; and determining the true meaning of life as we know it.

That, or it was those baked mushrooms I had for dinner. Whatever it is, it doesn't matter, because you're getting the list whether you like it or not:


...the title of the work has a colon in it, or a number at the end — "I am part of a series that everybody has since stopped reading."

...the title is a common phrase — "My title was the first thing that came to mind after the last chapter was finished."

...the title has only one word — "My writer couldn't think of an interesting title."

...the title has five words or more — "My writer couldn't think of an interesting article."

...the title mentions a specific historical or contemporary figure — "I have absolutely nothing to do with said historical or contemporary figure."

...the title summarizes the story in its entirety — "My writer just wasted two thousand words and three hours of effort."

...the title has a typographical error — "My proofreader is checking the want ads right now."

...the title is a word that doesn't exist — "Your only motivation for reading this article is to find out what the heck the word means."

...the title has a subtitle that involves the word "God" and multiple exclamation points — "I was created by the Philippines' newest National Artist!"

...the title is "Untitled" — "Please kill me."

Fire for Fighting

Something's been wrong with my desktop computer over the past couple of days, and all of the symptoms were there. For one, the system wouldn't shut down properly — something would always interrupt the shutdown and ask me to terminate a running process. On top of that, anything that I downloaded — however small it was — would inevitably run into connection issues. But when I realized that my Google searches were being redirected to completely different (and ad-laden) sites, I realized that I had a problem.

My ability to make completely useless distinctions automatically told me that I was dealing with some malware here. There was something in the system, all right, but it wasn't necessarily a virus — a virus, after all, implies a payload of some sort; it's supposed to do something bad to your computer. Plain old adware normally puts a lot of pop-up ads on your computer, which wasn't the case, so I figured that whatever was in my system had been created for far more insidious purposes. Like, say, password thievery or backdoor hacking.

The first thing I did, then, was to enter my symptoms into a search engine (watching out for the redirection, of course) and figure out what I was dealing with. Yes, it was malware. Yes, it was a password stealer, with security compromisation on the side. Yes, it was a strain that was difficult to remove, which I was to find out later.

Most of the sites I visited recommended a single piece of free software which I could download, install, and run... and that's what I did. So I just sat back, waited patiently for the slower-than-usual download to finish, then double-clicked the handy little Windows icon and watched it do its stuff.

Except that it didn't. The silly thing wouldn't install.

I hit the internet forums again and noted that some of the more recent strains of malware were advanced enough to prevent corrective software from functioning... which was just great, really. I've run into enough malicious code in my life to know that this thing wouldn't be deleted easily; I just had to find the right combination of moves that would defeat it.

After a few attempts at booting and rebooting, I found out that I could run the antivirus installation as long as 1) I changed the name of the installation file, and 2) I performed the installation shortly after I booted up the computer. (I can only assume that it took the malware a while to figure out what I was doing.) The installation turned out successful, although it ran into a problem near the end... which I took as a sign that my digital interloper was trying to fight back.

Chortling to myself, I got the software to scan my computer, and after an hour's work, it easily identified the source of all my woes. Gotcha, sucker.

Cleaning it took all of ten minutes, after which I did what I normally do after a good cleaning session — I restarted the computer and ran the scan again. At this point, however, I ran into the bad news: The second scan indicated that the files were still there... which meant that the bad code was either resisting removal, or reconstituting itself in some way.

I cleared the harmful files again and ran the scan without rebooting. This one told me that the threat had been removed. After a skeptical restart-and-rescan, however, I was told that the malware was still present in my system. I guess there was some sort of method by which it was rebuilding itself, then.

Fortunately, by this time, I was able to put a name to my imaginary little opponent. I could identify a couple of primary component files, as well as three or four supplementary files that were written in random ten-character filename strings, presumably to evade detection. In short, I had a fair idea of where the problem was coming from, and the only question involved killing the stupid thing.

At that point, I fell back on my recovery console — this little backup tool that allows me to get into the operating system without running any of the files there. A few nerve-wracking minutes later, I was looking at the obnoxious little buggers from the safety of my digital crawlspace, and manually zapping them one by one.

From there, I restarted the computer and ran one final scan. This one gave me no issues whatsoever.

I don't remember when I started fighting these sorts of things, but I feel as though I've done a whole lot for someone who doesn't even have in-depth experience in this sort of firefighting. I figure that it's because of the wide range of tools that we have available for our convenience nowadays — any person with at least half a brain for technical analysis would probably be able to combat these things in their spare time.

In that sense, it brings to mind a question that someone asked me once... something about why I never seemed to write about things like computer viruses in my few sci-fi stories. If only that person knew about what strange, real-world experiences I've had in that regard...

Saturday, August 29, 2009


If you're wondering exactly what I do in order to cool off after a day's work, I can give you the regular suite of answers: I read books. I walk around malls. I sleep till noon. And I play games.

It's probably the latter item that distracts me on the Internet nowadays. While I do spend a bit of time in the evenings chasing my email and doing one bit of writing or another, I'm usually too tired to conceptualize and execute entire blog posts in one sitting. Thus, I play games.

And lately, the most prominent of those games has been Grid.

Grid is a remarkable Flash game of the puzzle persuasion, something that immediately caught my mind from the clean execution to the strange gameplay. What the game does is that it gives you a layout of various glyphs, each one contained within a given cell. One of the glyphs is a power source, which means that any other glyph connected to it can therefore supply that power to other glyphs that are similarly connected. Your task, should you choose to accept it, is to rotate each of the glyphs such that power is supplied to the entire grid.

There are, of course, some hitches: You can't change or swap any of the glyphs, which means that you can only rotate each of them in their current positions and figure out how each one of them fits in the final configuration. You can only rotate a glyph is power is being supplied to it, which makes for quite a bit of frustration and fine-tuning. And you can't have any "loose" connections in the final grid, which means that every glyph must be clearly connected in all available connections.

Take the configuration below, for example.

Rotating each of the glyphs correctly gives us the following correct solution:

On each level, you're given a limited number of moves (rotations); it's often plenty for you to finish the level, but completing a grid within a smaller number of rotations gives you a higher score.

The games gives you 35 such grids to solve, and they gradually escalate in difficulty. The previous grid, for example, is one of the earlier ones — the first grid that you get to do for yourself after the tutorial's completed. Further grids tend to be head-scratchers...

And after a while, of course, the grids get more and more confusing. Whoever put this thing together tested the level design quite well.

And if you get far enough (the game saves your progress via unique ID), you can graduate up to the malevolent, labyrinthine jigsaw-like conundrums. You run into stuff that requires you to plan your moves well in advance, stuff that forces you to double back and redo old configurations, and stuff that just plain takes up the whole screen. In the later levels, you might even run into all of them at once.

That grid above is level 31 out of the 35, which is the most recent one that I've managed to solve. It's the first one that's taken me more than one session to finish, which means that yes, I was working on it for a week.

I imagine that my time on this game will end fairly soon, seeing that I'm only three or four grids away from completing everything. I'm going to miss it when I finally finish; it's one of the better games that I've come across, and I've recommended it to a few people so far so that they can suffer as I do.

Sure, it has some significant mental requirements to begin with... but I do look for those games. Otherwise, well, I'd have to fall back on my other online diversion, which involves untangling a bit of string...

I'll probably leave that for another time and another discussion, though. I just need to get to that 32nd grid right now...

* Grid, of course, is the property of, which offers "the sweetest games online". Seriously, they have some pretty good stuff on their site. Don't sue me over the free publicity, guys, or at least not until I manage to complete all 35 grids first.

* Planarity is the work of John Tantalo, and is an insidious time-waster if I ever saw one. Who would ever think that untangling string would be so addictive? Don't sue me either; I'm all tied up at the moment.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Lowest Output Yet

No, I'm not dead yet. Just busy... I've got a slew of marketing promotions to prepare for the next couple of months, and on top of that, I've got a few device tests to run through. The new manager also reported for her first day of work last week, so I'm allocating a small portion of my time towards making sure that picks up on her tasks and duties.

To make a long story short, I've been getting home by about nine or ten every evening, sitting down to a late dinner, then taking a quick bath and dozing off with a shock of wet hair. My barber's probably going to have a field day next month, but that's not the point here. The point is that I'm usually rather drained by the time I sit down in front of the computer.

I find it a little strange, really, that I'm unable to come up with much in the way of good ideas whenever I'm dog tired. Hypothetically, I don't think that it's really possible for my mind to "tire out" (although it does get migraines from time to time), so psychological fatigue is the only reason I have left: In a sense, between paper and bedsheets, I invariably choose the bedsheets.

The irony is that I don't even sleep early most of the time; I spend a couple of hours reading in bed. In the last month, I've gone through four Lillian Jackson Braun novels, Alan Moore's The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a six-hundred-page book of ghost stories, and a little more than half of Guy Gavriel Kay's Tigana. If anything, I've at least caught up on some of my reading.

Of course, I still want to catch up with this month's output, which will certainly mean trying to write at least six blog posts by the time Monday comes around. We have a long weekend going on at the moment, so that should make things a little easier. It'll still be about two posts per day, however, when my expected rate goes at about one-thirds of a post per day. (Sometimes I wonder if I should just go and complain about the government; I'd probably have a lot of writing fodder in that case.)

That'll be a good resolution, I think: "Write more." I should take a more proactive stance on this, perhaps, and expend more willpower to write as opposed to flopping onto the mattress whenever I get home from work. It's not mental block after all... it's just psychological fatigue.

That said... I'll start tomorrow. The bed feels too good to leave right now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ask a Silly Question...

For the record, I work for a marketing agency right now. I'm a Digital Producer, which means that I do the following things:

1) I manage any changes that need to be made to clients' web sites, and

2) I set up any online or email-based requirements that my clients need.

In short, if my clients need anything that has to do with the local Internet technologies, I'm the person responsible for planning them out and making sure that they work. It's harder than it sounds, particularly when you take into account the fact that most people don't have much Net savvy to begin with. I often have to advise clients as to what's possible (e.g. tracking peoples' browsing history on a single click), and what's not (e.g. setting up a Google search for colored text).

That said, it's a little complicated to explain, particularly to the previous generation of adults. Most of them have heard of the Internet well enough, but their eyes tend to glaze over the moment I go into specifics. On top of that, there's the occasional acquaintance, store proprietor or barista who asks me what I do for a living — and if anything, I usually don't have enough time to discuss the whole thing.

Nowadays, whenever somebody asks me about my job, I usually make up something on the spot. Sometimes it's reasonably accurate and sometimes it's not, but it's usually satisfactory enough for people to smile, nod, and let me get on with my day. The strange thing is that I'm not even sure if they're even listening.

I have to admit, however, that it was fun to come up with some of these, which were all mentioned at one time or another:

— "I'm the office slavedriver. I have my own official bullwhip and everything!"

— "You know how they need somebody to do the voice samples for commercials? That's me."

— "I'm the babysitter for my boss's dog."

— "Oh... something that involves squids, diamonds, and asphalt."

— "I have a job? I guess that would explain the building I enter each morning."

— "I'm in charge of training the office slackers. They just finished my introduction to Bejeweled last week; I've got plans to start them on Zuma next, but not before they pass that exam on Tetris that I prepared yesterday."

— "I'm the James Earl Jones impersonator."

— "I park peoples' cars, shine their shoes, and put vinegar into the coffee cup when no one's looking."

— "Let me put it this way: Bubu, the god of vacation leave forms and missed deadlines, needs an unfortunate patsy to do his divine bidding."

— "I'm the guy who writes all those neat little taglines on those movie posters."

— "Yes, I work in radio. I'm the guy who screams into the mike whenever they have a caller who they want to go away."

— "I'm the guy they call in whenever the underwear models don't show up."

Oddly enough, most of the people I know still don't know what I do for a living. You'd think that they'd know by now.