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.