Thursday, April 26, 2007

Anybody out there?

There's never been much of a question as to whether any of the stars out there have planets. Our sun alone has, umm, eight of them (sorry, Pluto), and there are billions of stars in the universe. I was surprised when the news came years ago that astronomers found a planet outside our solar system-- not surprised that they found one, but that they didn't find any sooner. Since then they've discovered lots more.

And the latest one is the best!

It orbits a comfortable distance from its sun, has a surface temperature that we would be comfortable with, and conceivably could have water. According to our earthbound cookbook, water and warmth are the first ingredients in the recipe for life.

Best of all, this New Earth only 20 light years away! This means that if we begin sending our signal at the speed of light right now, and they send their reply at the speed of light right away as soon as they get our message, humankind can make first contact in 2047, when I am in my 60s.

Then I can live out the rest of my days with the knowledge that we... are not alone...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The relationship between intelligence and wealth

Well, the bad news for us underachieving geniuses is that there is no relationship between intelligence and wealth, at least according to this recent US study. Apparently, people do not become rich because they are smart!

Naturally, this revelation is going to shake up some priorities. Being smart allows people to sail through high school without really trying, waddle through college while having a good time, and build up a sizable ego along the way. Sadly, it seems it's not going to help me make my millions.

When I saw the headline "Intelligence not linked to wealth", I was actually thinking that they were looking at wealth as the cause rather than the effect. Meaning, people being smart because they're rich, rather than being rich because they are smart. Either way, it doesn't seem totally crazy to assume that one goes along with the other. How else did rich people get to where they are? What sets them apart from the less-fortunate masses? There's got to be some kind of relationship between wealth and intelligence-- I can't bring myself to accept that the world doesn't reward smart people with any financial success. It's... not logical!

Of course, surely there are smart poor people who can't afford the quality education to reach their potential. Life can be sincerely unfair to good people like that. That is a fact of life, and it is very unfortunate. But totally discounting a link between intelligence and wealth is like saying there's no relationship between tall people and basketball. Tallest doesn't mean best, but it has to count for something. When poor people stay poor because they produce a large family they can't afford, or choose not to send their son to school so he could sell newspapers on the street... that is a sign of less intelligence, is it not?

Maybe it's just that the US has worked out such a high level of development that their system allows people to get rich anyway even with a total lack of intelligence. That doesn't seem to be the way things work here in the Philippines.

They should do another study checking out the relationship between poverty and dirtiness. Those two certainly have a relationship between them, and I see it on the streets every day. They seem to go hand in hand, and often with no good reason. Like the guy that pees on the wall beside a busy street... is he peeing on the wall because he's poor, or is he poor because he's peeing on on wall? Or maybe is there an external factor that causes both. Intelligence, perhaps? Aha..

Friday, April 20, 2007

It is hot in the Philippines

Last night I slept with an electric fan pointed in my direction, wearing nothing more than boxers, yet I still kept sweating onto my pillow enough to require me to shift positions every few minutes.

Perhaps worse than the heat is the constant sticky feeling in the air that makes even breathing a less pleasurable experience. Sometimes I begin to consider the possibility that the Philippines, much like the Sahara Desert or the South Pole, is simply not a suitable natural habitat for the human species.

Damn you, equator!

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Getting the grade

A few weeks ago I went through the two-page history reaction papers that I wrote in college to see if I could post any of them verbatim as lazy blog entries. It seemed like a good enough idea... I can be a really good writer if I put enough effort into it, and I know I put a lot of effort into the essays I wrote in Ateneo.

In the end, however, I ended up finding none of them really suitable to post as blog entries-- not because they weren't written well enough, but because a lot of the stuff I put into them doesn't actually reflect what I believe. They were assembled by my brain with the goal of getting a good grade, not truly poured from the heart as a reflection of what I actually felt. Whatever topic I was writing about at the time became the most important issue in the world, and I'd compromise my opinion in favor of constructing the essay that I thought the teacher wanted to read.

For the final paper in my first year English class, for instance, we were made to make a paper to debate one side of an argument. The first few topic proposals I submitted were rejected, so I ended up arguing for something I didn't really care about: Teaching the vernacular as a subject in provincial Philippine schools. This topic was proposed almost out of exasperation. Heck, looking back on it now, the position I argued for isn't even the position I agree with.

I fulfilled that teacher's requirements and put together a well-referenced and meticulously written paper. In the end it did turn out to be pretty good, and it did earn me the grade. Sure it would be ideal (idealistic?) to be able to look back at what I wrote years later and see my mind accurately reflected, but I got the job done, and I can't say I feel much regret.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Manila can actually be a pretty nice place

Last Thursday I found myself alone and with a full vacant afternoon ahead of me, so I treated myself to a walk through some of the landmarks of Manila. The city is so often scorned as a disorganized urban mess that it is easy to forget that there's much positive stuff to be seen.

In the late afternoon I found myself at the Cultural Center of the Philippines complex in Pasay, which is not really a tourist attraction in itself but I can appreciate the buildings and architecture. I saw the haunted Manila Film Center, the CCP Main Building, the Philippine International Convention Center, among other things. I'm sure most of these were criticized as white elephants when they were constructed, but I have to admit that they are at least impressive structures, and most of them are not totally useless.

I happened to come across this little place beside the CCP seaport called Harbour Square. It looked new, and probably was new since I never heard about it during my four years in college. There are some nice restaurants and coffee shops, a clean walkway by the sea, and best of all a spectacular view of the Manila skyline. It seems I happened to find this place at the perfect time... At sunset the buildings take on a golden orange color and they're reflected clearly in the sea. It's a pity this stretch of seaside in the reclamation area isn't better developed and promoted. If I had tourist relatives visiting Manila, this would be the one place I would not neglect to bring them for picture taking.

From there I walked over to Roxas Boulevard and traveled the entire stretch of the Manila baywalk along the sea. It surprised me... it's a pretty nice place. It has open air bars, live bands, public art, and-- if my sources are trustworthy-- hundreds of thousands of people soaking in the sunset ambiance. I've heard much about this place and how it was redeveloped while I was in college, but never visited it before since it seemed so far away. Whenever I hear it mentioned, Mayor Lito Atienza's name isn't far behind, so I guess he deserves the credit for it all. In that case, well done, sir.

Eventually I reached the end of the baywalk, passed the US Embassy, and reached the Philippines' kilometer zero: Rizal Park. From here I could look one way and see the Quirino Grandstand and the huge parade grounds in front of it, and I could look the other way and see perhaps the most well-known sculptural landmark in the country, the Rizal Monument. Unfortunately by this time it was a bit dark for taking good pictures, so I just found a nice place to sit down and allow the sky to change color.

After the sun set completely and the sky turned dark, I took a walk through Luneta where hundreds of families were having picnics and sitting in the grass. It was never developed into the grand civic district that Daniel Burnham envisioned, and it doesn't hold a candle to the urban oasis that is New York's Central Park, but measured on its own merits Luneta is a perfectly respectable and decent public park.

Walking through the park at the end of the day, passing by happy Filipino families relaxing in the grass and impressive civic statues on both sides, it's easy to forget that the Metro Manila I am surrounded by is so often disparaged as a sprawling anarchic gallimaufry without a soul. Right then I felt very positive and proud of the Philippines. If you give it a chance, Manila can turn out to be quite a nice place indeed.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

People will be pushy when they need to be

In the past couple of days I have been on enough adventures to fill up dozens of potential blog entries. I have gone from Cebu to Manila to Dumaguete and back to Cebu in the course of just a little over a week. But I am currently extremely tired and sleepy so for the moment I'm just going to focus on today.

I wasn't able to take the overnight boat from Dumaguete back to Cebu last night because the tickets were all sold out. Apparently I underestimated the post-Easter exodus of people traveling to and from the big city. On usual days, and even on weekends, there are tons of extra vacant cots on the boat so it was easy for me to assume that these accommodations could handle the massive holiday crowds. That assumption was, most unfortunately, very incorrect.

So the only other option for me (and for the doubtless dozens of other people who were unable to get a boat ticket) to get to Cebu on Tuesday was to take the bus. And since I have a scheduled time to get into office in the morning, I planned to take the bus at the ungodly pre-dawn hour of 4AM.

There was already a small crowd waiting when I got to the bus terminal 30 minutes early, when the bus to Cebu had not even come to the loading area yet. As the minutes ticked by, more people arrived and the small crowd became a rather large one. We could all tell what the outcome of this was going to be: The bus can seat only around 45 people, and the waiting crowd was growing steadily larger than that. The procedure for loading the bus was simply first-come first-serve, and if you wanted a seat on this bus you will need to fight for it.

The crowd, myself included, immediately stood up when the bus started to arrive. When the bus door opened, what ensued was a gentle stampede. People are generally civilized around here-- there was no shouting, no outright shoving-- nobody wants chaos, but in the absence of an alternative people will push and squeeze their way through the mass of bodies to get where they want to go. There's something really stupefying and degrading about being forced to resort to such uncivil behavior. I'm sure everyone in that crowd knew that this was not the most appropriate or efficient way to go about things, but what can we do.

I am normally one of the most accommodating people in the world, but dammit, I will do what it takes to get what I need. Amidst the squeeze of the crowd, I pressed myself forward to urge along a guy in front of me that seemed hesitant to intercept the flow and get into the bus. I only barely made it in there in time to get a seat at the very back. If I was an ounce more hesitant I would be stuck sitting on a stool in the center aisle.

This chaos could be avoided, of course, if they would just sell bus tickets ahead of time instead of letting everyone push their way in. I guess it makes no difference to them though... a full bus is a full bus, no matter how inconvenient it is for people to get on. Even in the City of Gentle People, people will be pushy when they need to be.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

It's a camera

After looking at a bunch of reviews and comparing store prices over the past week, I got myself a digital camera, a Canon PowerShot A460.

The camera I originally had my eyes set on was the Canon PowerShot A640, a much more high-end beast. A workmate of mine had one a few weeks ago on our Malapascua outing, and the results were spectacular-- it's like every picture he took was a radiant work of art. But upon more consideration, I realized that I don't need to be spending twice as much money for a bunch of camera features I don't know how to use. "Point-and-shoot" does seem like a somewhat pejorative term for a camera that panders to newbies, but it exactly describes what I know how to do.

The PowerShot A460 takes pictures just as good as any other Canon camera I've known, so there's nothing to complain about in terms of picture quality. It feels very "solid", has a nice brushed metal body, and it's small enough to fit in my pocket. Plus, the store bundled in a 1 GB memory card.

My only gripe is that it uses 2 AA batteries rather than the rechargeable lithium-ions that I've grown accustomed to and love so dearly. This may be more of a psychological liability than anything... I just like the idea that I won't have to buy batteries at the store. By my calculations, I could replace the disposable batteries a hundred times before it would reach the cost of getting rechargable NiMH batteries. I have not yet exhausted the batteries that came with the camera. If it turns out battery life is unacceptably short, I'll just go ahead and get rechargeables.

This camera will come in handy this week as I'll be spending most of Holy Week in Manila. I'll be flying from Cebu to Manila tomorrow (Monday) morning and meeting my family there. Not sure what the itinerary is, aside from general "vacation". I shall fly back to Dumaguete on Saturday, spend my birthday (April 9) at my real home, and be back in Cebu for work the next Tuesday.