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.