Sunday, January 28, 2007
To Whom It May Concern
It’s been a busy week. Yesterday alone was handful as it is.
The day began with me waking up early so that I can head to the office and manage the props and papers that were needed for that day’s photo shoot. Essential items for the day were the two cans full of disgusting insects—a plastic container full of worms (the vendor called them “super worms”) that constantly tried to climb out of its transparent prison and a can of Pik-Nik that was filled with at least a dozen live cockroaches (I had to warn off my co-employees the day before never to open it no matter how hungry they felt) that often made eerie scuttling sounds.
And then there was the photo shoot proper in a hidden location in Shaw Blvd. As expected, everyone was late and it took me an hour and a few phone calls to get the ball rolling, all the while juggling another of my duties as an editorial assistant for an upcoming shoot in the upcoming week. When nearly everyone arrived, I had to run back and forth, buying necessary props and water for the crew.
Sometime while all of this was taking place, an accident occurred not far from us. A huge garbage truck crashed into a home, tearing down an entire wall and leaving the residents open to the public and the polluted air. The garbage truck similarly collided with a jeepney from behind, not only blocking the entire street but trapping the truck driver as his legs were nearly squished into his dashboard. Thankfully, passersby were able to succesfully extract the driver an hour later. The remaining collateral damage when I left was the house itself wherein the residents continued their business as usual, even when neighbors peered into the house through the now non-existent wall.
The pictorial itself was a huge mess. Cockroaches, worms, spaghetti, and blood were all over the place. It was over by late afternoon, and I had to scurry over to a friend’s birthday party in Ortigas. It was a fun evening despite the fact that a few of us in the party was plagued by a cold (myself included).
I managed to get home shortly befre midnight, wanderlust striking me after the party and I ventured into parts unknown and dealt with lousy customer service.
Unfortunately my story does not end here, nor will the pressure from work lighten up in the next few days: a magazine to cram, shoots to manage, and the never-ending battle for my health. Oh and as always, political intrigue in the blogosphere.
Friday, January 26, 2007
The Poor Man’s Mac
1) Take it one step at a time. A project might seem unreachable at the beginning but if you break it down into little steps and focus on what’s ahead of you instead of the bigger picture, you’ll eventually get it done.
2) Stay calm. If there’s a solution, you’ll find it. If there’s none, there’s no point worrying yourself about it.
3) Pray, pray, pray—there’s nothing too trivial that you can’t offer up to the Lord.
Thursday, January 25, 2007
Hopefully in two weeks time, I can show you what we've cooked up...
Job Opening at AHON Foundation
Monday, January 22, 2007
Perhaps like most people, I first heard the term monopoly as a child, thinking it was simply the name of a board game. In retrospect, buying up all those properties started making sense—and why the name of the board game is titled as such. The biggest change from childhood to adulthood is perhaps one’s reaction to the term. Honestly, as a kid, I loved playing the game (even if I was losing most of the time) and looked forward to it. And while I’m still eager for any game, be it Monopoly or poker or Munchkin, the word monopoly isn’t something spoken on the dinner table in a positive light. People (especially Filipinos) have grown to fear the word as much as Communism.
Personally, I don’t have any problems with a monopoly in itself. The same goes for my views on Communism. What I do have a problem is how monopolies are used. In the hands of a responsible group, a monopoly could be a good thing (and the same goes for Communism). In practice, however, absolute power doesn’t make people innovative—it makes them lazier and complacent.
The Philippines is a country where monopolies are a way of life. Where we purchase electricity is not a choice. PLDT, while not the only landline phone company in the country, commands a good portion of the market. That’s not to say that monopolies exist solely in the Philippines. Diamond, for example, has a monopoly on the US comic distribution business. Microsoft in the past decade has drawn a lot of heat for its monopoly on the PC market. Monopolies aren’t a unique phenomenon—people just have an assumption that monopolies are innately evil.
And the fact of the matter is, monopolies aren’t. As a consumer, I wouldn’t have problems with monopolies if they were actually innovative, giving customers value for their money and continually improving their services. Look at Apple—it has a monopoly on most (if not all) Mac computers and it dominates the mp3 player market. But no one is making a huge public outcry at them (at least compared to the public outcry at Microsoft several years ago). I’d like to think it’s partly because Apple continues to improve (and has a great marketing arm).
Monopolies in the Philippines, however, are adept at something else: killing competition. Instead of concentrating their resources in giving consumers additional services or benefits, a good chunk of effort is instead spent in draining other companies dry. If the rival company is lucky, they end up being bought. A lot of the monopolies have few rivals to struggle against (and that is by definition what a monopoly means). The only interesting phenomena as of late is the Telecom wars by Globe and Smart who have each other at a stalemate. And in a way, consumers are benefiting from that because both Globe and Smart are forced to innovate.
It’s not yet apparent but the monopolies won’t stop and it’ll continue to grow. What’s next in the Philippines a decade or two from now? A monopoly on malls? On real estate? Restaurants perhaps?
Of Comics, Of Horror
American comics is dominated by the superhero genre. One look at comic shelves shows that fact, even as independent and non-mainstream releases are starting to crop up (the wave of imported manga titles best addresses this shortage in the industry). However, it is not without its good points. One example of the synthesis of art and prose is opening a superhero comic and seeing a two-page spread full of heroes and villains clashing (Alex Ross’s work in Kingdom Come is a good example). Words aren’t even necessary in that huge panel. I could describe it in words but the experience is simply different. There’s this vastness, this sense of epic proportions that one feels when you come upon that page. I can’t mimic that feeling in a short story for example but that’s not to say one is better than the other: simply that they’re different mediums and each is capable of eliciting its own share of experiences.
I’ll be talking about manga now, not because other kinds of comics are inferior or don’t possess these same traits, but simply because it’s what I’m most familiar with. One title I’m currently impressed at is Death Note by Tsugumi Oba and Takeshi Obata. It’s an unbelievable story but it revolves around one concept that carries it throughout eleven volumes. The premise is simple: a boy finds a notebook that is capable of killing anyone, anywhere when you write their name down on it. The boy however is not a serial killer at the start but rather a genius who wants to do good—and so he begins his plan of creating an utopian world by killing criminals, whether proven guilty or not and without the consent of the government. His nemesis is another genius but he is working within the confines of the law and one mistake could cause his untimely death. It’s a complex cat-and-mouse-game that makes the rivalry of Holmes and Moliarty seem paltry. The title is graced with gorgeous art and an interesting pace that keeps you wanting to read the next chapter but as much praise as I can give it, it’s a story that does not need to be told in the medium of comics. A short story or novel following the same plot or sequence of events could similarly draw in the reader (of course it’s always a topic when it comes to comics is that a comic gives readers a view of what their characters look like while novels leave it up to the reader to form their own precise description of the character—and it becomes doubly relevant in manga where fandoms can form based solely on how beautifully a character is drawn).
And then there’s the horror manga Uzumaki by Junji Ito. For three volumes, readers are caught up in the bizarreness of it all. Later, the disgust and horror starts to sink in. The success of Uzumaki, however, can be attributed to its art direction. It’s simply not enough to read about Uzumaki but one has to see it—and Ito’s art style complements the mood he’s trying to achieve. Uzumaki is a town plagued by spirals and one day, it drives men and women to do crazy acts to perpetuate this cycle. It’s one thing to read about a man who has twirled himself into a spiral coffin but it’s another to see him actually in it, perpetuating the discomforting image of a spiral that Ito is aiming for. Here both art and text are at work. Text alone is insufficient to convey the horror while art alone does not give us the cohesion that text can give. It is when the two are combined that we realize that there is something more to it all, that it is a big story that has big implications and stretches more than to one isolated incident. Again, me talking about it is inadequate—one has to see it to understand what I mean.
Another way for me to illustrate my point is not to mention just one comic but two manga titles: Tetsuwan Atom by Osamu Tezuka and Pluto by Naoki Urusawa. The first is an icon many people are familiar with: Tetsuwan Atom is the Japanese name for Astro Boy. Anyone who’s watched the cartoon or read the comic knows what Astro Boy is all about: Astro Boy is the story of a human-like robot trying to do good in a world that has lots of problems, some caused by humans, others caused by robots. At its heart, it seems like it is a children’s story, especially with the protagonist’s iconic look (with his spiky hair and all). Pluto, on the other hand, revolves around a specific Astro Boy story wherein the most powerful robots are being murdered. It’s still the same Astro Boy story but it is given its own unique twist and viewed from a different perspective, the same way the King Arthur or Grendel story has been rehashed to give it a new narrative. Unlike Tezuka, Urusawa takes a more complex perspective at the story and makes it distinctly adult: personal motivations are explored, the human-robot paranoia is heightened, and the tone is simply more serious. He accomplishes this through a variety of ways but the most notable distinction is the art. If I take Tezuka’s Astro Boy and I place him side by side with Urusawa’s Tetsuwan Atom, an unfamiliar reader won’t realize that they’re one and the same person. Suffice to say, the former passes the silhouette test (transform the character’s body into a silhouette and see if people will recognize the character) while the latter won’t. Perhaps an even more effective method of heightening the tension between the anti-robot humans is the art direction of Urusawa: robots are drawn realistically and they look all too human. Gone are the caricatures where kids could identify which is the robot and which is the human. Astro Boy does away with his shirtless appearance and looks like a normal schoolboy complete with clothes and jacket (when it was raining) as do the other humanlike robots in the series. The art, to simply put it, changes the tone of the series. But as much as a lot can be attributed to the art, the prose plays a good part as well. Urusawa chooses the point of view of a lesser known character and this places the story in an entirely different perspective. What’s more, Pluto elicits horror from the reader for completely the opposite reason why Uzumaki is effective: the subtle horror of Pluto isn’t in the art but in the prose as characters realize that the greatest horror doesn’t stem from an external source but from within.
Comics is a medium that is full of potential yet has strangely not found worldwide acceptance. It’s certainly a credible medium in Europe and the market is huge in Japan but in other places, it seems that the only time comics get into the limelight is when they’re adapted to other mediums such as film or TV. For me there’s something distinctive about horror because it’s one of those primal emotions that’s difficult to coax out of people, irregardless of what medium you’re using (radio, on a side note, has an interesting history when it comes to horror). If comics can conquer this territory, then how much more the other genres?
The First Law of Robotics
I won’t bore you with the details on the laws of robotics or its implications. What’s important for most people to know is the most important rule that governs their programming: robots can’t harm humans. To the uninitiated, it’s not supposed to make an impact. We’ve seen the rule broken after all numerous times: in books, in TV, and in movies (especially in the movie adaptation of Asimov’s book I, Robot). Recently, I was reading the manga series of Naoki Urasawa entitled Pluto, which is a modern adaptation of Osamu Tezuka’s Tetsuwan Atom (Astro Boy). I’m sure most of us know who Astro Boy is (Atom is his original Japanese name) and perhaps he is one of the best models for the Asimov robot—kind, loving, and while he possesses ability to do great harm, he never hurts people (it is even interesting that the fates of Asimov’s Danee and Tezuka’s Atom evolve to be more humanlike as their story progresses). It is here that I begin to catch a glimpse of the significance of Asimov’s contribution.
Asimov’s take on robots isn’t the first nor will it be the last. As years pass by, even our very definition of robots will change—perhaps cyborgs will soon be considered robots or non-intelligent machines will only be given that term. What robots have in store in fiction—and the real world—remains to be seen. The laws of robotics, however, are important in the same way Descartes made a big impact in philosophy: it gives us a starting ground to mutually talk about the idea. Whether robots obediently follow their programming or run rampant and wreak havoc, those conclusions are derivations of the laws of robotics, whether they are followed to the letter or completely corrupted.
Perhaps in the end, we must also remember that books are dependent on their creators and programmers in the same way books are dependent on their authors and their readers. Asimov may have not physically built the first fully functional robot but it is his vision that has paved the way for such ideas to come to fruition and made reading such tales an enjoyable experience.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
The Ice Dragon by George R. R. Martin and Yvonne Gilbert
Friday, January 19, 2007
Rockwell is the Place to Be
It's also surprising how many chains Fully Booked has. Nine (counting Bibliarch, Sketchbooks, and Montage) is listed on their web page. If it's just books you're looking for, however, the Rockwell branch is the place to go. It's huge and has a wide selection. It's like if I combine all the other branches, I'll end up with the selection of the Rockwell branch.
Of course along with the good news is the bad news. I honestly don't know how Fully Booked sustains itself. National Bookstore I can understand--it's being subsidized by its school supplies. Powerbooks, while its main income is really through books (as far as I can observe without being part of the industry itself), it is partially subsidized by National Bookstore in the sense that its shipment of books arrives with National's. And as most importing businesses will tell you, shipping costs can either make or break you. The second reason for Powerbooks's sustainability is sheer volume. Honestly, Powerbooks doesn't have a lot of variety. What it has are multiple copies of several best-selling books. I don't like it but if I were running their business, I'd probably do the same.
Now Fully Booked has a diverse selection. I applaud them for that and it's the reason why I keep coming back. They don't have volume though (at least for a book patron like me who roves around the SF&F section). With the exception of certain books (i.e. the mainstream and popular ones), most likely the copies I see on the shelves are the only copies they have (which I'm assuming by then has been distributed to their other branches as well). If I'm lucky, a few more are hidden in what I call the "stock shelf". But that's it. That's why I have a must-buy-now mentality when it comes to those rare SF&F books (and why finding the Elric series of Michael Moorcock for example is rare). It just hit me at how long Fully Booked can sustain this, especially with the previous "failure" of its short existence as Page One (which is another story). Unless there's a change in the way they do business (which probably means less diverse books and is a shame for book lovers like me), I don't see how it'll continue to be profitable in the next two years.
Of course sometimes, sound business principles isn't needed. If you have the money to throw away, you can thrive by the sheer face of outliving your competition. We're in the Philippines, we should be familiar with it by now.
P.S. I forgot the original reason for this post. No more Moleskine notebooks! At least the functional ones. No more ruled notebooks that are oriented horizontally (there's still a few copies left of the squared notebooks and the reporter variant).
Thursday, January 18, 2007
Miscellaneous Dragonalance Feature Film Tidbits
Song of Ice and Fire... on HBO
While many of Martin's fans know him today for his work in his epic series A Song of Ice and Fire or his super-hero fiction Wild Cards, Martin has done work for TV before, namely The New Twilight Zone and Beauty and the Beast (yes, the one with Ron Perlman as Vincent and Linda Hamilton as Catherine). Martin will be co-exec producing his series along with others.
Interestingly enough, the article states that A Song of Ice and Fire is a seven book cycle and that the target date for all of it to be finished is 2011. Of course using Murphy's Law, I predict it'll actually finish in book eight (it's an even number), and will be done by 2018 (adding one year delay for each book plus two extra years for the 8th book).
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
You Don't Need to Re-Invent the Wheel
has an article on game design and game systems, and why the d20 system may or may not be for you.
Apple iPhone Philippine Predictions
Some people like the Apple iPhone, others are skeptical about it. I think one of the problems is that people are expecting Steve Jobs to replicate the the iPod phenomena. Thankfully, Apple's eyeing a more realistic piece of the pie, at least for 2007. One percent market share is a modest goal (but achieving it is no mean feat) and I honestly do think they have a shot at it.
It's just not happening in the Philippines.
The most difficult part about Apple iPhone predictions for this country is that I'm not making one for 2007--I'm making one for 2008. And a lot of things can happen in between that time. In fact the weakest chink in Apple's armor is its delayed release date. Hopefully the FCC gives it approval and perhaps even more hopefully, Apple can enforce its patents. In the meantime, competing brands should step up on their game and innovate.
The Good: OS X. I never thought I'd see OS X as an operating system on a mobile phone. If it's as efficient and reliable as it is running on the Mac Mini I'm using to type this, then it's a winner. Another plus is widgets.
The Bad: Programs. Based from what's been released so far, the Apple iPhone is a glorified iPod Video and a mobile phone. Sure, I have OS X but the question is what applications run on it? Quicktime and iTunes is all and good but an iPod Video does that too. iCal and Address Book is a step in the right direction but what I'm asking are the other applications a PDA is known for. Hopefully Apple manages to throw in a word processor (even if it's something as simple as TextEdit) and I hope to see Preview as an application (so I can browse through PDFs among other things). Just because there's a possibility that there'll be widgets doesn't mean that it'll actually be full of widgets.
The Good: Safari web browser. For me it's far from the best web browser ever but it's certainly good enough for the most part (I wouldn't mind getting stranded on a deserted island with Safari as my only web browser) and is superior to the bundled Internet Explorer in WindowsXP. And based from what was demonstrated, it seems like the Apple iPhone is going to change the way we browse the web on our PDA's and mobile phones (and none of that WAP thing).
The Bad: How do I connect to the Internet? Perhaps if I were in the US, in Singapore, or even in Korea this wouldn't be a problem. But the fact of the matter is, as much as the WiFi hotspots in the country are increasing, will I be able to access the Internet from virtually anywhere? In this, Apple's delayed release date in Asia is a positive note for the Philippines. Hopefully by the time the iPhone is available here, there'll be more venues to connect to the Internet via WiFi. Another problem is which TeleCom Apple will pick when (if?) they export it to the Philippines. Will they be able to provide a reliable Internet connection and at what price?
The Good: Touchscreen, innovative features. If there's anything that'll set the iPhone apart, it's the User Interface. Touch screen is a plus too and is probably the wave of the future.
The Bad: Can it live up to its hype? The question with most technologies isn't how it should work but how it is working. In theory, the Apple iPhone's great. In practice, we have yet to see if Apple manages to deliver what it promises. The other question is how "smart" the Apple iPhone is. Is it really as touch sensitive as they say? Will the on-screen pad disappear when I place the phone to my ear?
The Good: Flash memory. A big plus since it's supposed to be mobile. And none of that "if my battery goes dead I lose all my data" that plagues the O2 PDA-phone hybrids.
The Bad: 8 GB. Not that I blame Apple of course. Current technology limits flash memory to 16 GB at most for something of that size. And it's more memory than most phones have. But if the iPhone is going to be a truly interactive device, it simply needs more memory. 8 GB will seem paltry when you start wanting to have your video collection on the screen (and perhaps the biggest plus of the device is its horizon widescreen), especially when you factor in the fact that you're sharing that space with your mp3s, pictures, and other applications.
The Good: Long battery life. The reason why I'm skeptical about most hybrid phones/PDAs/mp3 players is its battery life. Five hours of video and sixteen hours of music is comparable tot existing mp4 players on the market.
The Bad: Irreplaceable battery. Actually, it's bad if you're the consumer, good if you're Apple since it means that if the battery goes dead, consumers will have to go back to Apple for a replacement... or a new phone. Then again, it's not as bad as some make it out to be. By the time the battery life of your Apple iPhone has shortened to a mere hour, it's probably time to buy a new phone, or the 2nd or 3rd generation Apple iPhone should have been released by then.
The Good: Sleek design and Apple's great marketing arm. Not only does the iPhone look pretty, your socialite friends will agree too. People can underestimate the power of marketing. The one who dominates the market isn't necessarily the one who gives the most value for their products but the one who can promote their products better (and this is especially true in the Philippines).
The Bad: How fragile is it? Flash memory's all and good for ensuring data stability but if your screen blacks out because you dropped the phone, the Apple iPhone's reduced to a really expensive paperweight. The fact that it's a touch screen also limits the third party protective gear that can be issued to it (you can't block the screen with plastic for example).
Others: Lack of 3G isn't much of a factor in this country. While we do have the "legs" for 3G it's far from the norm. The two megapixel camera might look meager at the end of the year but if it's simply uploading photos on the web (as most phone cameras are used anyway), the Apple iPhone is sufficient. I'm skeptical about how Google Maps can successfully integrate/adapt itself for the Philippines but Google keeps on surprising people. Perhaps my biggest qualm will be how successful the Apple iPhone will synchronize with PCs (or even Windows XP and Vista).
Overall Conclusion: I'm honestly impressed with the phone. For me the biggest drawback is its late release date. Other mobile phone companies can put up a good fight if they can get their act together during this time frame: a lot can happen in one year. The greatest innovation for the product won't necessarily be the features but the user interface, at how it makes communicating much much easier and maybe completely doing away with a numeric keypad is the wave of the future.
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Wikiversity, Career in Gaming
Anyway, for those in the area for the GAMA Trade Show, Matt Forbeck will be giving two seminars:
Monday, 11 am–Noon:
Getting Your Game Published
Come learn how to submit your games to publishers and get them published. Discover the obstacles you may face in getting your game on shelves, and discuss strategies for overcoming them. Explore the option of self-publishing your game instead.
Monday, 2–3 p.m.:
Getting your first game, book, or article published is only the first step. To keep from being a flash in the pan, you need to educate yourself about how to turn your hobby into a business. Learn how to set up your business, act professionally, pay taxes, and get that next gig—and the next and the next and the next.
From: Matt Forbeck
Ink and Stone Year End Sale
Year-End 2006 Sale, 15% off, additional 5% off discount holders. Jan. 13 - Feb. 15; Great and exciting titles.
Chinese Restaurant for Sale
Something I saw near the office:
Up to 95% Off!
Friday, Jan. 19, 2007 Here! From 9 am
Chinese Restaurant Auction!
Monday, January 15, 2007
Danse Macabre by Stephen King
What's Your Porn Name?
Slightly off-tangent, someone should also make a formula for creating Filipino-Chinese names. There's thousands of Kenneth See's ("cannot see", get it?), Henry Sy's, Charles Tan's (I've personally met one of my namesake doppelgangers), etc. So far the only unique sounding names I've heard in a long time is that of my friend Elbert Or or my classmate Sherwin O (the latter mainly due to his unique last name), but that's the exception rather than the norm.
Of course some Filipinos aren't better off. I mean we are the country that had a Catholic cardinal whose last name was Sin (God bless his soul). And somehow I suspect that the "Mari-mar" (the title and protagonist of a Mexican soap opera) generation isn't an urban legend and there are thousands of Filipinos out there named after the soap opera heroine (and that's not counting the Meteor Garden generation among other things) although I have yet to actually meet someone named Marimar.
Yes the beginning of 2007 will forever be immortalized as the post-Taiwan earthquake which paralyzed the Internet connections of Asia. In retrospect, making Taiwan the hub of telecommunication was a bad idea. Actually, any country near the equator belt is a bad idea. Between typhoons and earthquakes, it’s honestly a disaster waiting to happen (and like the old age when it comes to combat, we only need to be unlucky once…).
Believe in all things Google! Except in times of an Internet-crippling earthquake.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
2007 is a Busy Year
I honestly don't know what's in store for me. The last few weeks of 2006 has been abysmal. I got sick for one thing. I didn't make my sixty-book-a-year quota (by my last count, I was almost at three quarters of that). And I can't call myself a writer if I don't do some actual writing.
In the past ten days, something strange has happened. I found my muse and new writing habits. I'm trying to meet a one thousand word quota each day (in one form or another), whether the Internet works or it doesn't. Guerilla writing at work is the name of the game--and so far in the lull moments of January, I've actually managed to write not one but a few short stories (but alas, they're not yet print worthy and have to go through the torturous machinery we call 'editing').
Anyway, here are my plugs for the start of the year:
Stipends for Playing RPGs - how I wish I was still a student...
Read or Die Convention Needs Funds - Donate, volunteer, participate... it's all for a good cause.
Apple's iPhone - Still far from my ideal phone but for a moment there, I was tempted to save up for a new mobile phone. At least all the Mac Rumors have been confirmed.
Edited: Removed the quotation marks in the word good in the event that some people (and someone did get offended) misinterpret it.
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Sneaking into Toei Philippines
Anyway, yesterday's misadventures involved sneaking into Toei Philippines's not-so-secret headquarters. Toei, by the way, is the Japanese studio known for classics such as Dragonball and Dragonball Z, as well as some of the newer anime such as Digimon, DoReMi, and One Piece.
Twenty years has to count for something...
Dragonball's infamous Shen Long...
Various stills from Dragonball.