Sunday, May 31, 2009

All Pretty Things Must Go to Hell

Every few months, I go over Blogger's administration area to see if there are any stray or incomplete posts that I can fix up. Normally I'm able to squeeze out a few more entries this way; sometimes a single idle thought can provide fodder for further insight on this little corner of the web.

Earlier tonight, I noted that I had an occasional trail of unfinished posts that went all the way back to late last year. And then, in the middle of my casual search, I noticed the following:

In case you can't pick out the title from the cacophony of articles, I've blown it up for you here:

Only three words were appropriate for me at that moment of discovery: What. the. Hell?

I know that I've written some strange titles before, but I'm fairly certain that I would have remembered writing this one. As it stands, however... I don't. That clearly makes this another one of my "lost works" — stuff that I put together at some point in the past, only for me to set them aside and forget about them in the face of additional projects. (There are probably five or six more of these things crawling around in the bowels of my CD archives somewhere.)

That said, it's a heck of a title, and I wondered what I must have been drinking to have written it. Whatever it was, it probably involved an unwholesome mixture of Mountain Dew, peach syrup, blue Gatorade, and gummi bears.

By this time I was extremely curious as to what the story was supposedly about, how long it ran until I decided not to finish it, and what it had done to deserve such a title. The first thing I noticed was that it was extremely short — perhaps only about 350 words or so — and certainly not enough for me to discern the original plot. The second thing I noticed was that it included descriptions like this:

Skin parted like water before stainless steel. There was a scraping sound as she reached the upper part of the chest where both halves of the ribcage met; she grunted once, and then pulled to sever the stubborn strands of muscle there. The tip of the blade would have punctured the heart by now; she shut her eyes, expecting the blood to start flowing any second.

Don't worry — the victim lives. To be quite honest, it looks like he's supposed to live — the next few paragraphs have him outwardly wondering why his female companion would do such a thing. It gets even more cryptic towards the end, with the male character revealing a set of wings and the female character expressing her thoughts through a ceramic mask... I can only conclude that I must have been really drunk the night I wrote this.

The weird part is that I'm not sure if I can salvage this. Normally I only retain those works that have a clear vision in mind, something like a visible thread that connects a beginning and an end to the story. This one feels as though I started somewhere in the middle, and I can't for the life of me remember what this story's original targets were. Under normal circumstances, I would probably cannibalize a few good lines, and then throw the rest of the article into the recycle bin.

But this has such an interesting title, darn it. You just can't lay eyes on that title and not wonder what the story's about.

That said, I laid eyes on the three hundred words in the story as well, and I'm still wondering what it's about.

I'll probably keep it, of course. If anything, it's at least earned its way into my personal slush pile by virtue of its strange title. Maybe someday I'll remember what it was that I was had in mind when I wrote, and maybe then I'll actually go much farther than three hundred words.

I suspect, however, that such a day will not come until I find a way to recreate that foreign mixture of iced tea, strained carrots, Egyptian honey, tonic water and motor oil.

Man, that must have been one rough night.

Move It, Buster

Last Friday was moving day in my office. This was supposed to be our last day in our current building — we were moving to a new place somewhere in the next municipality, for the simple reason of "more space, less rent". I didn't record everything that happened to me on this day, of course, because I'm a busy man... so the following narrative is an approximation.

9:30am I arrive at the office to find boxes all over the place; some people apparently came in early just so that they would have enough time to pack. I switch on my lifeline to one of my technical teams (conveniently located about one-fourths of the way around the world) and start getting the usual routine stuff out of the way.

10:00am I'm just finished musing on how I don't seem to have much work at the moment, when our accounts manager drops by. She tells me that our primary client just asked for an emergency change. I look over the requirements and tell her that there's no way we can get everything done by the end of the day. She tells me why we have to. I grudgingly agree.

11:00am I recover from my panic attack to find that I entered some requests for the technical team in the midst of the lucidity. I step over a few boxes to brief my other technical team (the ones who hang around here in Manila) of our sudden requirements, and together we bring things down to the bare-bones action steps.

11:30am My offsite technical team comes online. I tell my management counterpart about what we're expected to provide by today, and he laughs. I then tell him that no, it's not a joke, and I'm met with incredulous silence. After a while, we start negotiating what needs to be done.

12:00nn With development underway, I begin rooting through my stuff to see if I need to pack anything. Having been in the company for less than a month, all I have is a roll of tissue paper and a couple of paper clips. I leave the paper clips at the foot of my makeshift shrine to Bubu, god of swivel chairs and mislabeled timecards.

12:30pm I head to lunch. Seeing that it's the last day we're going to spend in our building, I want to pick out a good restaurant in the lower floors, someplace whose refined tastes I can keep with me, even after we're gone. Because of the crowds, I pick out the place that serves budget Mongolian rice, which gives me gas for the rest of the day.

1:30pm Our accounts manager asks if our technical team can deliver the requirements by today. I do a quick check of the project status and tell her that we've got about a 60% chance at the moment. Fittingly enough, I find that the technical team is asking if their other deliverables can be moved; I do a quick check of the deadlines and offer to move those due dates to mid-next week. There are cheers all around.

2:00pm The whole office shuttles downstairs for a pep talk from the company CEO. As I'm still in discussion with my technical team contact at this time, I spend the whole meeting with my laptop open. Inwardly, I wonder if I'm going to be seen as a dedicated employee, or as a loathsome ingrate.

3:00pm With the pep talk over, I return to our upstairs office to find that the ID card reader has been torn out of the wall, and everyone can now enter and exit as they please. Plus, the phones are offline — although the wireless Internet connection remains online by some miraculous quirk.

3:30pm The local technical team wraps up their work — mostly because they need to pull out of their room already. The other team looks like they're in QA phase, which prompts me to tell our account manager that we're 80% sure that we can make the client's delivery requirement. There are more cheers all around.

4:00pm I find out that the movers haven't packed up the water dispenser yet. I fill up my little plastic mug and thank Bubu, the god of status meetings and wireframe wastebaskets, for his small blessings.

4:30pm The technical team reports that their QA is finished. If Cousin Larry and Cousin Balky were here, they'd be doing the Dance of Joy at this moment.

5:00pm I approve the work and ask them to publish all changes to a live version. Our account manager is thrilled. I cover my chair when an ignorant janitor tries to swipe it out from under me.

5:30pm I confirm that all of our client's changes are completed and working fine.

6:00pm The client tells us that they've made a mistake and ask us to undo everything that we've done today.

6:30pm I come down from my second panic attack, stare at the remains of an office that's half-packed up for the move, and wonder if I'll be prosecuted for homicide if the victim really, really deserves it. Technical team does not take the news well, but they push forward regardless. I remind myself to write a nice thank-you note for them sometime.

7:00pm Just when the work has begun, the Internet connection finally blinks out. I spend the next two hours looking for an alternative connection that doesn't involve my spending money for overpriced coffee.

9:30pm The last requirement is packed up, and everything's been reverted back to what it was. I am amazed at the fact that we could be busy the whole day and go absolutely nowhere at all.

On the way home, I find a stray paper clip on the floor. Bubu, god of columnar notebooks and empty conference rooms, is probably amused.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Name that Toon?

I'm a little startled to find that my original post found few takers. Are these cartoons all that narrow or obscure? Am I the only person who remembers these? (The latter would be rather disconcerting, I'll have to say.)

Given that, I'll push the game a little further. Once again, I've noted each of the ten excerpts below; Each one is a single line from the opening theme of a cartoon series that was first released sometime from the early 80s to the mid-90s. They may not necessarily be popular cartoons, although I'm aware that they all came out on local TV at one time or another.

The difference this time is that I've posted some additional hints for each and every one of these shows. Much like the lyrics, these are elusive bits drawn from whatever facts and histories I've gathered for these. I reserve the option to give further hints in yet another post; otherwise I'll have the answers up in a couple of weeks.

And now...

1. ...And you know there's a long long way ahead of you...
— A lot of cartoon series had a single annoying little character whose purpose involved either comic relief or constant irritation (often both). This series had such a character; strangely enough, he wore armor.

2. ...But bad guys are out of luck...
— This was the most recent cartoon on the list to be released, and was created by Walt Disney Studios.

3. ...High in the mountains, or deep in the sea...
— The archenemy of this series was a man named Scarab, who led an extremely motley crew of villains.

4. ...Let's watch the clouds go far below...
— This series was the TV companion to a revolutionary toy for its time: A combination audio tape player / stuffed doll.

5. ...No one knows what lies behind the masquerade...
— The tagline for this series (and its corresponding toy line) was "Illusion is the Ultimate Weapon."

6. ...Powers of mind, strength, skill and speed...
— The setting for this series was a world where technology was rendered useless; the cause of the phenomenon was never explained in the show's short lifespan.

7. ...Soaring through the highway of the heavens in their flight...
— Two of the hero characters in this series happened to be fraternal twins.

8. ...The music's contagious...
— The three most distinctive antagonists in this series were named Phyllis Gabor, Roxanne Pelligrini, and Mary Philips.

9. ...Two times the fun, wrapped up and rolled into one...
— This show holds the dubious honor of being the shortest-running animated series ever created by its studio.

10. ...You're the only one who can scratch our wrists...
— Unlike most other cartoon shows, this series was spun-off from a live-action TV sitcom.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Headline

My family normally subscribes to the Philippine Daily Inquirer as our newspaper of choice, although I'm not sure if it's really out of any personal preference. I like to think that it's because of the entertainment value — I feel that the Inquirer has a tendency to be too sensationalist sometimes, which fits my general view of the local news.

Every now and then, however, our paperboy will leave the wrong paper in our mailbox. This doesn't stop us from reading it, though, and occasions like these do give us an opportunity to see how the other publications are treating their news. There's been talk of shifting to either the Philippine Star (too religious), the Manila Bulletin (too wordy), or the Manila Times (too off base), but we've stayed with the Inquirer for the most part.

That said, today's issue of the Philippine Star amused me greatly. It happened to arrive in our mailbox in lieu of the Inquirer's Sunday edition, and we tore through it to see how it was treating its headlines nowadays.

The local buzz nowadays seems to center around the sex video controversy involving a certain young man, a young model with a history of revealing photoshoots, and a trail of unsuspecting lovers that includes a well-known cosmetic and dermatological surgeon. I'm certain that everyone out there has read about the issue from one source or another, so I won't go into the salacious details. It was an article about the controversy that caught my attention today, however, if only because it reduced me to hysterics.

It started innocently enough by noting that the aforementioned surgeon had been the target of extortion tries by an unknown party:

MANILA, Philippines - A lawyer representing cosmetic surgeon Vicki Belo yesterday revealed efforts to blackmail her and former lover Dr. Hayden Kho over another sex video.

According to Adel Tamano, a group is demanding P4 million from Belo and Kho for not releasing their sex video to the public.1

It was a simple enough summary, and it does make sense. Assuming that a sex video between Kho and Belo does exist, it's likely that someone would try to get money from them under the threat of releasing the video the the general public.

Reading further, however, a few more details emerged:

In an interview with “Startalk” on GMA-7 television yesterday, Tamano suggested that the video was among those retrieved from Kho’s computer.1

This filled a significant gap in my perception of the issue — I had been wondering how the original videos had been acquired and disseminated online. Given that the source apparently involves the young man's computer, it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to conclude that somebody must have gotten access to it, picked up the videos, and then put them up.

The article then proceeded to name a possible suspect, as identified by lawyers representing the unfortunate pair:

Kho’s lawyer, Lorna Kapunan, also accused [Eric Chua, a mutual friend of the two] of stealing the racy videos from Kho’s computer.

Kapunan alleged Chua had access to Kho’s laptop and made copies of the videos showing her client’s sexual escapades with Halili and several other women.1

This laid out the entire sordid story for me: Young man takes videos. Young man stores videos in computer. Friend of young man accesses computer and finds videos. Friend of young man makes copies of videos. Hilarity and hijinks ensue.

The lawyers did their job perfectly up to that point, I think — they raised a complicating factor in the case, clarified something that was a likely origin for the videos, and identified a suspect. I assume, of course, that they mentioned all this in the relevant PR-legalese; You really couldn't ask for anything more.

But that's when it got surreal.

Kapunan said that Chua, known for his computer skills, was the person who allegedly uploaded the video on the Internet.1

This statement puzzled me, because you obviously don't have to have above-average technical knowledge in order to upload videos to the Internet. Speaking as a writer, I felt that you could leave out all mention of the computer skills and simply state that the man was the one who uploaded the stuff. I'm not sure if this strange slip of the tongue could be attributed to Kapunan the lawyer or Clapano the reporter, but it struck me as out of place here.

Kapunan said when Kho and Belo broke up some two years ago, Belo asked Chua to get Kho’s computer and retrieve the videos from the hard drive.

Kapunan stressed Belo merely wanted to erase sexual encounters with Kho.1

Wait, so he was asked to remove the videos from the guy's computer? That just... raises so many questions — such as, why didn't she just ask her (former) lover to remove the videos himself? (I mean, it was his computer, after all.) For that matter, does this imply that our erstwhile suspect knew where the videos were located? That's a bit... icky, no matter how you want to look at it.

But Belo, according to Kapunan, was told by Chua that he gave the task of retrieving the videos to another computer technician.

Kapunan also clarified that her client was not even aware that his computer was taken from his home.1

And this made even far less sense. So a friend asks you to remove some very private and racy videos that are in your ex-lover and mutual acquaintance's computer. What do you do then? You remove it from the guy's home, take it to an anonymous technician outside, and get him to find the stuff. This is... brilliant, really. It's the only way I can possibly describe it.

It raised another question, though: Why on earth would you take the computer to an outside resource just to remove a bunch of videos that are inside? The last time I checked, you could just get in there yourself, find the files, punch the Delete button a few times, and then empty the Trash / Recycle Bin. I mean, we are assuming that the "expert" had access to the computer itself, or could at least find a way to get in.

I must also point out that Clapano cites Kapunan in virtually every line here — most likely this exchange was taken directly from the interview; the Star's reporter probably isn't injecting speculation at any point. That just makes things stranger, in my opinion.

Fortunately, Belo's lawyer had a ready explanation for that:

Kapunan said the files in Kho’s computer had a complicated encrypting system, making it difficult to access.

This prompted Belo to ask Chua, whom she trusted, to retrieve the files.1

That bold text is most definitely mine. The computer had a complicated encrypting system? Really, now? Like what, a username-and-password requirement?

Visions of science fiction just swam through my head at that point, and I began to laugh. I imagined the young man organizing his videos into a single folder, then running some incredibly-complicated program that would do nothing but translate those videos into incomprehensible dots and bytes. The image didn't fit at all. The psychology didn't fit at all. And darn it, if I had software like that, I could probably make a financial killing on the international celebrity market.

I'm not sure as to who was the source of the unexpected comedy here: Either our noble dermatologist has no idea how a computer works, or our esteemed lawyer has no idea what she's talking about. Or maybe they were trying to simplify the explanation for greater public consumption — I don't know, but the result was an absurd summary in a serious news article, and I couldn't help but laugh at it.

I do also wonder if the mutual friend, the so-called "man with computer skills" who suddenly finds himself at the center of the issue, is still around. I wonder how he felt when he was asked to intervene in the middle of something that didn't demand his involvement. I wonder if he knows that he was asked to perform a relatively simple computer-related operation (Find videos. Delete videos. Have lunch.), and that he somehow screwed that up completely.

Above all, however, I wonder if the total explanation above makes sense as a whole. I mean, it starts out fine, but then it starts piling the blame on a Mr. Eric Chua and his l33t skillz to find an outside technician. It's no better than a wild story for me, fresh with little touches of speculation and exaggeration, and it entertained me greatly this morning.

After all, isn't that what the news is for?

Tamano, meanwhile, said Belo cannot be blamed for her effort to retrieve the racy videos.

“The biggest victim here is Dr. Belo. She and Hayden had a consensual agreement. The video was taken, but they agreed that after watching it they would delete it. I think she felt there is a breach of agreement,” Tamano said.1

1 Clapano, JR. (2009, May 24). Belo's lawyer bares P4-million extort try. The Philippine Star. Retrieved from

* I don't look to criticize the article in question, only to bring up some insights that came to mind after reading it. As you may surmise from the footnote above, I'd like to make the proper acknowledgements and attributions here. If you are connected with the Philippine Star, which is the proper owner of the original article for all intents and purposes, please contact me with regards to any issues you may find; This will allow me to improve my writing further. Cordial contact will, of course, get a better response. Don't sue me.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Argentum Metallica

I keep dreaming about machines.

These are not your father's machines, mind you. These are machines, constructs of the imagination with no specific purpose. They look like a cross-bred nightmare of Rube Goldberg's inventions and Hollywood special effects. Put them on the floor and they'll waddle around like drunken probes, tearing small squares off the carpet every now and then.

Sometimes I don't dream of the smaller machines. Sometimes I get a glimpse of the bigger ones, as though I were some astute observer trapped within their inner workings. These are not the cog-and-gear affairs of the local clock towers, but more of stout cables covered by steel tubing, all flexing and extending by means of spherical joints that could hypothetically guide their moves in any direction. In these dreams, the purpose of the greater machine is unknown; sometimes I feel as though it were only around to intimidate me.

This is not an uncommon sensation. I think of metal and machines from a conceptualist background, tempered with the occasional flashes of an IT-based upbringing. As a result, my literary perception of machines tends to focus on what's possible with them... and sometimes the potential applications scare me. The fact that I dream of machines that seem to have no inherent purpose other than as objects of observation is a very strange thing. It's as though my subconscious is trying to blow my mind, so to speak.

There is most likely a story in here somewhere. Strange concepts like this are fertile ground for such outlines. I just don't see any form, sense or structure in it yet... or perhaps I haven't thought about it enough in order to put some together. Time is short for me nowadays, after all.

What strikes me the most is the lack of a human element, I think. Normally I feel as though people can relate to science fiction (or any other genre that features technology in a prominent manner) because they can directly compare such aspects to a convenient human counterpart. With these dreams, however, there's not much of a human element apart from my anonymous presence... ergo, a situation where I cannot identify the purpose of the hunk of spare parts in question... ergo, a perfectly mystifying dream.

If I subscribed to metaphors in interpretation, I would immediately point out a link between the complexity of my mind-constructs and my everyday life. It's a terribly obvious link, however, and it doesn't offer anything of assistance. It's not a satisfactory explanation to me, so I'm doomed to think about it further and dream of more machines while I'm at it.

I'm fortunate that the only fear inherent in the dreams lies in the fact that I don't know what they stand for. I haven't encountered such things as spinning blades, tooth-filled compactors, or any similar industrial nightmares yet. That probably implies that whatever their significance is, it's not a manifest threat yet. It could be that that little voice in the back of my head, the one whose sardonic laughter I've suppressed over the years, has probably broken free of at least a few restraints and is now taunting me again.

Sometimes they're so close that I can hear them. The sound of metal scraping against metal chills my ears, perhaps accompanied by the twisting of steel and the pounding of iron pistons. A Techno-genre soundtrack would find a good home in there, more than anything else.

There are times when I wonder why I don't dream of things like grass and flowers and light puffy clouds like normal people do. But then again, if I ever did dream of those things, I'd probably curl up into a ball in the middle of the imaginary fields, wondering when the monsters would show up.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Neither Rain, nor Snow, nor Sleet, nor Wind, nor Errant Bike...

I think I've mentioned Dominique Cimafranca on this blog at least once before, and I suppose that one more time won't hurt.

Details seem to be sketchy at the moment, but it looks like Dominique was in a biking accident sometime on Monday this week. I'm not quite sure what happened, or how bad it was, but the pictures aren't pretty to look at.

Yes, I mentioned pictures. I don't know how he's doing it or who's holding the camera, but he's somehow giving us an in-depth look at his current condition right on his blog. And even if you have a slow connection or simply can't stomach the sight of broken skin, you can always follow his Plurk account — yes, he's maintaining that, too, despite how he looks right now.

His circumstances tear at me. Half of me wants to fly south and see how he is (despite the fact that my bosses would fire me if I took even a couple of days off, that I have no idea where he's confined right now, or that I can't even find Dumaguete on a map). On the other hand, my other half wants to sit here and marvel at just how hardcore a blogger he is to have continued his posts.

I'll be watching his progress online, and at the rate at which he's going, I'll probably start biting my nails the moment he fails to update for a few hours or so. That's the wonder of the modern world right there: You get to monitor a friend's convalescence even though you may be just a hundred miles away (although it doesn't do much for the concern after all).

Get yourself stitched back up, Dominique. We'll catch you as soon as we can, but hopefully you'll be on the mend well before we even get there.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Fiction: Engine

Slowly, Menar removed his tunic. It was cool, almost perfect inside the serene chamber, but underneath, his skin sweltered as though the young man had been placed under the gaze of the sacred floodlights.

There were three acolytes before him. One of them was female, and Menar found himself unnerved by her presence. He continued to strip down to his baser clothes, and when he stood before them in nothing but loincloth and breeches, he felt the first strings of embarrassment cross his face.

One of the elder acolytes noticed his discomfort, and placed an earthly hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Rest easy, my son," he said, "for here, we are all sanctified in the light of Sun."

Menar nodded, his apprehension melting away under the reassurance. At a nod from the elder acolyte, the other male began wrapping a loose chemise about Menar's waist. When that was done, the female garbed him in a loose gray undershirt, and then both the man and the woman slipped a pale brown cloak about his entire form.

The ceremonial robes were far more comfortable than Menar expected. For some reason he expected them to be rough and constrictive, perhaps indicative of his worldly impressions. Perhaps the great Sun had chosen this moment to enlighten the young man, perhaps free him of those human concerns that he still held, all the more so that his ascendance would be complete.

"Let the faithful behold the vessel of Sun," the elder acolyte intoned.

Together, the male and the female assistants bowed.

"Let the great Sun welcome his chosen Menar," the elder acolyte declared, "he who was deemed worthy to ascend by the grand college of peers, he who has passed the trials of wind and fire and mind, and he who has been garbed of man and woman under the light of the serene chamber."

"May the great Sun grant us life forever," Menar said.

"And now the rite is complete," the elder acolyte smiled. "How do you feel?"

"I'm all right," Menar said.

"No thoughts of regret?"

Menar held his head even higher. "I am the chosen of Sun, Essar Illus," he said. "To hold regret now would be a sin against His will."

Illus gave the young man a wide smile. At first the elder acolyte looked as though he was going to say something else, but then something caused the priest's attention to wander. Illus glanced up in surprise, then held his head a little to one side, as though he was listening to a voice that only he could hear.

"Yes," Illus said, his tone grave. "Yes. Yes, I am aware. We shall come soon enough. All thanks to the benevolent Sun."

He turned back to Menar, his expression softening at the sight of the young man. "It is time," he said.


Together they walked, and the floor changed with the distance. First it was the smooth granite floors of the serene chamber, then the rough stone floors of the outer corridors. From there the stone only became darker and more polished, until they reached the beginnings of the metal halls, where their feet padded down steel panels and titanium bracings. Every now and then they would meet a fellow acolyte in these corridors, perhaps a seminarian or a servant, and they all bowed respectfully as the two men passed.

"Your predecessor weakens," Illus said, after a while.

"Yes," Menar said. He had been preparing for the news for quite some time.

Illus nodded. "It does not come as a surprise, for the faithful would not have appointed you otherwise. Solaris Viya has been displaying signs of inconsistency for a week now. We have had to endure occasional failures in sectors three, seven and eighteen as a result."

"I know the signs, noble Essar."

"Sun has seen to your training," Illus said. "Bless him for providing your presence in our time of need. I fear that if we had waited but a week longer, then we may have had worse matters in hand."

Above them, the lights flickered. Both the older and the younger man stopped, aware of the implications that now stared them sharply in the face.

"I do not think we have much time," Illus said.

"No," Menar said.

The elder acolyte turned away once again, listening hard at the voice that Menar could not hear. All Essars, Illus foremost among them, had been granted the means to communicate with both Sun and their fellows, that they would be able to monitor the signs and portents as they came. Menar knew that such a blessing manifested as a voice in the mind, something that only Illus was destined to hear, and thus a message that spared his involvement.

Illus glanced at the younger man, now standing calm upon the floor's translucent surface. "We are almost there," the elder acolyte said, his face shifting between emotions, his eyes remaining in a constant stream of sorrow.

With a pause, Illus finally turned back to Menar. The younger man nodded, as though knowing exactly what had just happened.

"May Sun grant us wings," Illus said.

Both men hurried down the metal corridor, their feet moving faster with each step.


They arrived in the inner sanctum just as the decision was being made. The great Vault stood before them, its metal expanse filling the whole of the chamber and extending as far as the eye could see. No one present would doubt that it was a testament to the might and omnipotence of the great Sun.

Two Essars stood in front of the lone opening to the great Vault. Before them were three more acolytes — Salhi, by the looks of their robes — two of whom were performing the Rite of the Unsealed Gate.

The Essars took notice as Menar and Illus entered the chamber. None of them moved, although the taller of the two merely intoned the ritual greeting: "Who is this that entreats entry into the house of Sun?"

Menar genuflected. "It is Menar," he said, "a humble servant."

"Enter, Menar," the taller Essar said, "and behold His works."

Menar could see the rest of the chamber now. At the back of the chamber, raised a good two stories above the floor, was a platform sixty feet wide and perhaps a hundred feet long. Even now it thronged with Essars, all of whom had likely heard the same news that Illus had accepted, and all of whom were now moving to watch the chamber of the Vault.

Below and to the left of the platform was an enormous window. Behind it labored men and women of the Salhus colors, amongst the tools and equipment that had been provided to them by the divine Sun. As with the Essars on the metal platform, these Salhi now watched the proceedings with their expressions of constant readiness. Now that the vessel of Sun stood before the opening of the great Vault, the transitory rites could proceed in earnest.

Menar watched as the door to the Vault gave an audible groaning sound, and at that point a collective sigh went up from the gathering of Essars. Menar glanced at Illus then, and realized that a single drop of sweat had emerged from the priest's forehead and was now running down his temples.

"For disturbing your vessel's slumber," the taller Essar intoned, "we beg your forgiveness, great Sun."

Illus's expression became distant again, and Menar could almost hear the voices speaking. The last vessel had to be removed from the Sun chamber beyond, he knew, and it was for this purpose that the Salhi had been trained and prepared... just as he was for his own role.

Above him, the lights flickered. A second sigh went up from the assembled Essars.

Illus placed one gentle hand on the younger man's shoulder. "Come," Illus said, and began to walk.

There was no ritual when they reached the door to the Vault. The two Essars there merely nodded their greetings, and he responded in kind. They both looked impossibly old under the light of ancient metal and rivets — even Illus seemed incapable of supporting his own weight. The three Salhi had long entered through the open door and into the sacred room beyond; Menar could see the dark opening before him, and could hear the indiscriminate sounds that issued from it.

Then there was a flicker of movement, and the first of the Salhi emerged into the open air of the inner sanctum.

The man (or woman, as it turned out) bore the front end of a simple stretcher, lined in silk and silver carvings of the holy symbols of Sun. Behind it, bearing the other end of that same stretcher, came the second Salhus custodian.

Lying on the stretcher was the emaciated figure of a woman, gaunt and aged with the passing of years. Her skin was slate-gray and shot through with hundreds of veins and wires, and her breaths became more and more shallow with each passing second. Menar flinched unconsciously; she was wearing the same ceremonial robes as he was, only tattered and stained with the inexorable weight of time.

At the sight of her, a song went up from the assembled Essars, and Menar recognized it as the Ritual of Transition, the gathering of voices that sounded throughout the caverns whenever a new vessel of Sun would take the place of a predecessor. Behind their window, the Salhi continued to watch impassively, even as the forlorn old woman finally drew her last breath.

There was a moment of silence. Menar could not remember when or where the chambers had been so quiet.

"Solaris Menar," the taller Essar finally said, his words echoing throughout the Vault.

"I am here, revered one," Menar answered.

"Our divine Sun desires a new vessel, one who shall bring light and life to our world. Solaris Viya has given her life to continue the great Sun's residence among us, as have countless others before her. Will you now accept this task for which you have been chosen, by the grace of the Life-giver and the audience of His faith?"

"I do."

"Then enter the Sun chamber, Solaris Menar, and may He guide you for the rest of your days."

"May the great Sun grant us life forever," Menar said.

The Essars stood aside to let him past, and Menar slowly stepped into the Vault's darkened entrance. Illus remained beside him until the younger man had crossed the threshold; from there, the elder acolyte could only watch from beyond the doorway, even as the song of the gathered Essars swelled around them.


There, the third Salhus was waiting for him.

The inside of the Sun chamber smelled strange and musty, as though it had been sealed from the outside for many years. Before him lay banks upon banks of the metal equipment that resembled those of Salhi use, all switches and monitors and random colored lights. A chair sat among the jumble of metal components, and this one was also padded and fitted with all manner of items.

The Salhus bowed, and assisted Menar as he eased himself into the chair. At that moment, some of the nearby displays lighted up; Menar almost started at the strange reaction. The Salhus laid one hand on his shoulder, almost as Illus once did, in an effort to calm him down.

When Menar was comfortable, the Salhus strapped an odd-looking visor to Menar's head; numbers and codes began their readout displays almost immediately. One by one, Menar's hands and feet were fastened in place by stainless steel manacles; almost automatically, a number of wires snaked their way into predetermined openings and bloodlessly fastened themselves to his circulatory system.

Then the Salhus picked up a thick, coiled metal tube with a needle on its end, and shoved it through the back of the chair and directly into Menar's brain stem. The younger man's eyes opened, his pupils completely dilated, as the entirety of the life-support system was revealed to his consciousness.

Menar could see everything: the agriculture colonies, the filtration systems, the aquatic recycling vats that would supply clean water to his fellow inhabitants. He could see the turbine fusion generators, the sensory apparati, even slight twinges of the desolation aboveground. The only thing he could not see for his distraction was the lone Salhus custodian, who bowed once to the chosen vessel of Sun before exiting the chamber and sealing him inside.

Menar concentrated, lost in his newfound responsibilities. The great Sun had need of him now, and he was at the service of the divine.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Euler One

I first heard of the Project Euler web site a couple of months ago, and it remains obscure among a public that isn't receptive to math problems outside of the classroom. The site has no practical reason to exist, mind you, apart from providing some curious fodder among intellectuals: Simply put, it posts math problems on a regular basis, then challenges people to solve them.

My biggest issue with the site is that most of its problems require the use of some programming know-how. While I do have the appropriate background needed for this, it doesn't feel right for me, somehow. There are any number of things that I can do with a monitor, a keyboard, a hard drive and six feet of LAN cable... it's just that solving math problems is something that I normally associate with paper and pen.

Setting that aside, one of the things I noted was that the first problem on the site could at least be solved without having to go into Java or C++:

If we list all the natural numbers below 10 that are multiples of 3 or 5, we get 3, 5, 6 and 9. The sum of these multiples is 23.

Find the sum of all the multiples of 3 or 5 below 1000.

The problem brings up a cute story that I heard many years ago. You see, one day in the late 18th century, there was a math class being held at a primary school somewhere in Germany. There, the teacher gave his students an exercise: He asked them to write down all the numbers from 1 to 100, then add them up and give him the result.

Within seconds, one of the children stood up and gave him the correct answer — 5,050 — without having written anything on his paper. When the astonished teacher asked him how he was able to come up with the result so fast, the boy explained his method:

The problem involved adding up the numbers such that: 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 97 + 98 + 99 + 100. However, the boy had realized that this series was basically the same as: (1+ 100) + (2 + 99) + (3 + 98) + (4 + 97) + ... and so forth — it was all just a matter of pairing them up. The result was, of course, (101) + (101) + (101) + (101) + ... and there were fifty such numbers. From there, the boy just needed to find the product of 50 and 101, which was 5,050.

The boy would grow up to become Carl Friedrich Gauss, one of the most prominent contributors to modern mathematics, and the subject of a rather nice story. But for the purpose of this blog post, I think that his method can be applied to this problem from Project Euler.

For starters, we're obviously looking for a value, X, where:

X = A + B - C


A = Sum of the multiples of 3 below 1000;

B = Sum of the multiples of 5 below 1000; and

C = Sum of the multiples of 15 below 1000.

We need to subtract C from the sum of A and B because any multiples of 15 (which would be divisible by both 3 and 5) would otherwise be counted twice in our total. Equation-wise:

A = 3 + 6 + 9 + 12 + ... + 999

B = 5 + 10 + 15 + 20 + ... + 995

C = 15 + 30 + 45 + 60 + ... + 990

Due to the nature of divisibles, each of the above three equations can be rephrased as follows:

A = 3 * (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 333)

B = 5 * (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 199)

C = 15 * (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 66)

Then, using the young Gauss's method on each one:

A = 3 * (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 333)
A = 3 * [(1 + 333) + (2 + 332) + (3 + 331) + ... + (166 + 168) + (167)]
A = 3 * [(334) + (334) + (334) + ... + (334) + (167)]
A = 3 * [(166 * 334) + (167)]
A = 3 * [(55444) + (167)]
A = 3 * (55611)
A = 166833

B = 5 * (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 199)
B = 5 * [(1 + 199) + (2 + 198) + (3 + 197) + ... + (99 + 101) + (100)]
B = 5 * [(200) + (200) + (200) + ... + (200) + (100)]
B = 5 * [(99 * 200) + (100)]
B = 5 * [(19800) + (100)]
B = 5 * (19900)
B = 99500

C = 15 * (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 + ... + 66)
C = 15 * [(1 + 66) + (2 + 65) + (3 + 64) + ... + (33 + 34)]
C = 15 * [(67) + (67) + (67) + ... + (67)]
C = 15 * [(67 * 33)]
C = 15 * (2211)
C = 33165

Therefore, the sum of all multiples of 3 or 5 below 1000 is:

X = A + B - C

X = 166833 + 99500 - 33165

X = 233,168

I thank Carl Friedrich Gauss for his wonderful logic, of course.

Unfortunately, quite a few of the other problems posted on the Project Euler site involve prime numbers, or otherwise need a lot of trial-and-error attempts when done on paper. These are squarely within the bounds of programmers, although I'm still perusing the list for anything that catches my fancy. If I find anything that I feel is worth solving here, I'll solve it here.

But then again, most of the people reading this have probably gotten bored by the time. Maybe I should just get back to the sex, violence and politika.


Friday, May 08, 2009

Signal Number Three

The story of the Great Book Blockade was probably revealed sometime within March and April of this year by writer Robin Hemley, and eventually picked up by a few sources (which included the everpresent Philippine Genre Stories) as an obvious affront to Filipino readers. The issue received some measure of journalistic coverage mere days afterwards, when Manuel L. Quezon III's recent column appeared in the pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

At the moment, things seem to be rapidly coming to a head. The fledgling Bahay Talinhaga web site has emerged as the primary source for non-biased information regarding the issue, and actually features the result of correspondences with some of the major government players. The Book Development Association of the Philippines has gone as far as to release a strongly-worded statement on its side of the matter, and Customs Undersecretary Espele Sales now finds herself slowly being drawn towards the center of what's starting to look like another nasty blogstorm. Given such previous examples as Malu Fernandez and DJ Montano, this is not one of the most eviable positions in the world.

As I've arrived rather late to the party, I won't cover the situation proper in this blog. If you want a summary of the entire issue, I strongly recommend that you drop by any or all of the links above. If you must read one, go for the Bahay Talinhaga link — it makes for an excellent few minutes. But suffice to say that it's all about the price of books, and how it's starting to seem as though Philippine Customs unwisely decided to grab a stick and starting poking at the hornet's nest. (Strangely enough, Stephanie Meyer is indirectly involved.)

Viral occurrences like this seem to sweep the local blogging community every few months or so, to the point where they should really be taken into account by the larger institutions. You may be the most respected organization on this side of the Pacific, or you may be the most unassuming individual among our seven-thousand-plus islands... but once online opinion becomes completely polarized against you, then you might as well get ready for the worst ride of your life.

Blogstorms are an interesting phenomenon. They combine the virality of Internet media with the force of public opinion, with a little bit of armchair activism in the mix. They're easy to underestimate, and can nonetheless hit you with the force of a Mack Semi. In some cases, they can herald incredible popularity. In other cases, they can ruin lives... at least until the next controversy comes along.

I suspect that blogstorms are indicative of a human mentality that we used to see only in the newspapers: The media brings up a public scandal of some sort, the public eats it up for as long as it remains on the front pages, and eventually we all get bored with the news and move on to the next one. If it's not a collapsing pre-need firm, it's a failed pyramid scheme. If it's not a case of political corruption, it's a case of government incompetency. If it's not a basketball rivalry, it's a boxing championship.

If there's any distinction that comes with the blogstorm, it's the fact that we don't need the media to whip us into a frenzy. All that we need is a substantial story, a ripe set of circumstances, and a well-written article to pull us in. From there, it becomes a question of how many people post comments, how many people write responses, and how many people Twitter about it to an audience of followers. Google placement usually goes through the roof after only the first hundred links or so... and all this can possibly happen within the first few days.

The strangest bit is that we probably don't know what sort of article can possibly trigger such a massive response. I'm fairly certain, for example, that Hemley didn't expect his post to start the domino effect. Any number of marketing agents have tried — and failed — to harness the power of online opinion, which only implies that this sort of thing needs further study. I mean, it's not like we can explain it as a mere meeting between warm and cold fronts.

Today, it's books. Yesterday, it was Gucci. Last week, it was OFWs. It's funny how our minds can flit from topic to topic, and open up the absurdities of human behavior in the meantime.

That said, this is the sort of thing that probably passes for entertainment in my side of the world. In a sense, this is why some people watch news programs with a reverence that borders on, say, the latest season of CSI. This is interesting stuff, no matter how uncomfortable Ms. Sales probably feels whenever she approaches a computer nowadays.

Now, don't get me wrong — the "Great Book Blockade", as McSweeneys.Net has so dramatically dubbed it, is a serious issue. After all, the reputation of our "respectable" government agencies is at stake, not to mention the future of our reading public (which turns out to be a very sizeable lobby).

But that doesn't mean that we can't watch how this controversy unfolds and apply its lessons to countless other blogstorms that we're likely to see. I mean... even writers have to be scholars sometimes.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Disclaimer: May 2009

No, I have not been on hiatus for the last week. Instead, the reason for my sparse postings is far more mundane: I've been having problems with my home internet connection. As I spend a good portion of each day at work (or outside), I usually have to write in the evenings... and coincidentially enough, this is about the same time that the connection is not working.

This is actually a rare bit of downtime for the issue, and I'm not sure when the internet's going to cut out again. As a result, I'm going to have to make this a quick post — I come in, lay my cards out on the table, and then leave. I mean, the last thing that I want is to write about two thousand words, and then realize that I can't commit them to the Blogger database.

Fortunately, this is supposed to be a disclaimer post, and after any number of months doing this sort of thing, I like to think that I have my terms down pat.

First of all, everything written on this blog is the product of my efforts. I suppose that there's not much of a distinction between the coolly rational and absolutely insane bits, but I've literally written each and every word here. If you're looking for a nice ballpark figure, my best estimate would be somewhere in the area of three hundred thousand words as of this post.

That said, I occasionally pick up stuff that was written or developed by other creators. It's inevitable, I think — sometimes these other works can emphasize a point better than I can. Whenever I use another author's work or works, I try to enclose the proper acknowledgements within the same post; in this way, I recognize that all rights to such works revert to these creators. In the event that I fail to do this, these creators are welcome to contact me so that I can rectify the issue. I reserve the right to negotiate for these works, and I assure you that I try not to bite.

I ask a similar favor from anyone who would use any of my works outlined here: Please ask me for permission before using anything that you see, read, save or download from this blog. While I am not the kind of person who usually asks for compensation (unless the work is being appropriated for commercial purposes), I'd like to make sure that my words are not reflected in anything aside from their proper context. I would rather see that these articles are left free from harmful misinterpretation, if you don't mind.

I've made various threats and blusters over the years for people who may violate my requests, pervert my standards, or even so much as grossly offend my sensibilities. I won't repeat them here, but I do keep a lawyer in mind for any such issues, and these things do have a habit of getting around. Let's just say that preparations have been made, and leave it at that.

And now I must leave you again. Maybe this post will actually... well, post, and I won't have to worry about saving this in Notepad until the next time I catch a working connection. I'm going to see this setup fixed someday, even if it means switching ISPs or tangling the cords together with my bare hands. Silence, after all, is a terrible thing to behold.

You all take care now. See you soon.