Tuesday, June 24, 2008

MV Princess of the Stars

The waters were calm last night when I boarded the overnight ferry from Dumaguete to Cebu. Crossing the gangplank, my eyes briefly glanced upward at the lifeboats on top of the boat. Slipping into my cot I saw the bright orange life vests right in front of me and let out a reflective sigh. I had planned to depart the previous night, but the weather was not good, and the news on TV was far worse.

The MV Princess of the Stars, an enormous ferry owned by Sulpicio Lines en route to Cebu from Manila with more than 800 people aboard, capsized off the shore of Romblon amidst the height of Typhoon Frank. The shore was just 600 meters away but there were very few survivors, and the death toll is more than I can really put into perspective.

An alphabetized list of passenger and crew names is available at the company's website. I looked through the list of names, perhaps checking if any were familiar (none were). The death toll is merely a number, but seeing the long list of names helps give a scope of the tragedy. You start to realize that the number of dead is staggering, and each name represents a lost human life, yet you haven't gotten a third of the way through the list.

These were people that did not expect and did not deserve to lose their lives as they did. People who put their lives into the hands of Sulpicio Lines and trusted, just as I would, that if the company lets the ferry set sail despite the typhoon warning, then surely they must know what they're doing. Sons who kissed their mothers goodbye in Manila, texted brothers to greet them upon their arrival at the port of Cebu, had plans for the coming weeks, and plans for the rest of their lives that will never come. I wonder if they had come to terms with their fate as the ship overturned amidst the monstrous waves and terrified screams of children, hoping to strike one clear chord to reach the ears of God as they slipped the bonds of earth.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Firefox 3.0

Firefox 3.0 makes it's triumphant debut today, with a hyped up attempt to break the world record for most downloads in a single day. They're expecting the number to easily surpass 5 million. Go get it.

The location of the download was actually leaked to me yesterday, but on their server was a friendly note politely asking people who stumbled upon this secret trove not to start downloading until they say that it's time. Being a considerate bloke, I complied with their wishes.

I like to think of Firefox as an example that successive improvements can bring software infinitely close to perfection. I've been using the browser since before version 1.0, when it was still called Firebird. With each successive version they've fixed bugs, closed memory leaks, corrected annoyances, and added features (while consciously avoiding adding too many features!) until it's arrived at the sleek, polished product it is today. Firefox 2.0 has the bar set so high that I could hardly see what could be changed with a new version without approaching feature bloat or having change for the sake of change.

So anyway, what's new in 3.0? The biggest noticeable change is to the new location bar, informally dubbed the awesome bar, which now lists page titles above their addresses in the pull down menu. It looks clunky compared to the old URL list, but it may just be something that takes some getting used to. More impressive was the improved auto-complete feature that suggests pages based on page title rather than just the address.

Other noticable changes from my first impressions:
  • The back button is strangely bigger than the forward button.
  • The rest of the buttons have slightly different icons, not necessarily better.
  • History opens in a window rather than a sidebar.
  • There's an extra seperator line in the Boomarks menu of the menubar, so two lines seperate my personal bookmarks from the rest of the menu
  • The icon for broken images is different.
  • The Firefox icon is exactly the same.
  • The "About Mozilla Firefox" says 3.0 instead of
Ok, that's all the changes there are in Firefox 3. At least that's what I could detect from a few minutes of using it. Well yeah I'm sure there are thousands of backend changes and improvements too.

Also, most of my Firefox extensions are incompatible with Firefox 3.0, with no currently available update. With that, I switched back to Firefox 2. *toink*

Friday, June 13, 2008


I go have my laundry done perhaps twice a month, going to the laundry place to drop off and pick up my clothes without saying much of a word, and yet the lady behind the counter greets me by my first name when I come in through the door. Or even when not greeting me out loud, she knows what name to write on the plastic bag, and which bag to give me when I come for pickup.

How could they remember me out of the hundreds of customers that pass through these doors? Did I do something to pique their attention? Could that be a shrewd, knowing smile that I detected?

I imagine them in the back room with all the washing machines, sorting out my dirty clothes and picking at my peculiarities. Noticing my bland taste in clothing, scrutinizing any unusual stains, calculating my underwear-to-pants ratio, noting my limited inventory of bedsheets, or perhaps that I don't send my towels to be washed often enough.

Sometimes I wish I was less aware.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

An attempt to manage the news

It's a special thing when the media honors a gentleman's agreement not to report on a particular story, even if it means withholding information from info-addicts like myself, for a good cause. An example of this was when the notoriously uncivil British press agreed not to expose Prince Harry's adventures of active combat in Afghanistan a couple of months ago. It's like if someone placed a juicy smoked sausage in front of a hungry rottweiler's nose, and the dog obeyed when told not to eat it. It's an awesome trick, and when it happens you can't help but stare and smile at the achievement.

But when the Philippine media outfits received ABS-CBN's request to keep the story of news anchor Ces Drilon's kidnapping hush-hush, it was so unevenly implemented that it left ABS-CBN looking very exposed. Some outfits were accurately treating the story as Monday's big current thing, others treating the story like some small thing, and yet others acting as if there was nothing. If this was supposed to be a secret, it was very poorly kept. Once the information gets out there's just no stopping it, and those that try just end up looking a bit silly.

My reaction to this is... hmm, no, not hostility-- but there's at least a dash of pointed suspicion. What exactly does keeping the story quiet achieve, and would they do the same in other cases if the victim was not one of their own?

I first heard the news of the kidnapping on Tuesday morning with a small article tucked away at the side of the Inquirer's website. Ces Drilon kidnapped by the Abu Sayyaf! I don't even turn on the TV that much, and I still recognize the name. She's the news anchor of a program on ANC, isn't she? A story like this isn't normally tucked away at the side or ignored. The Inquirer eventually had the kidnapping as their top story with their issue on Wednesday, a full day late, with an accompanying article explaining that ABS-CBN requested a news blackout.

This is the same media that so insistently tells us of how important they are, with sweeping phrases like "freedom of the press", "the public has a right to know", and my personal pet peeve "the truth shall set you free" (cue the violins and choir of angels!). If there was an extraordinary benefit to be had from their attempt to cloak this particular kidnapping from the public, I'm not seeing it. A blackout lulls the people, especially the people of Sulu where the kidnapping took place, into a false sense of security.

It may seem like a natural move to try to control the flow of information when people's safety is at stake, but when the media gives itself the responsibility of deciding which facts we need to know, it puts stress in their bond of trust with the public.

Would the media agree not to report on a famous person's kidnapping if that person were not part of the media? When the government requests discretion in reporting on an issue are they going to take heed or cry suppression? What about information involving national security? Or damaging speculation on the economy?

I'm not going to pass judgment, but these are questions the media will have to reflect upon, lest they risk drifting into hypocrisy.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Siquijor, Siquijor

The island province of Siquijor is the third smallest province in the Philippines in terms of both land area (343.5 km²) and population (81,598), behind only tiny Camiguin and Batanes. Almost all travel to the island is through the port of Dumaguete City, where pump boats and fast ferries bring passengers to and from Siquijor almost hourly. A trip costs just 160 pesos. It takes just 30 minutes. And it's kind of weird that I've never been there until last weekend, making it the 13th island of the Philippines that I've had the pleasure of setting foot on.

I didn't realize I would be going to Siquijor until an invitation came on Saturday afternoon to go on an overnight vacation the next day. And why not... I didn't really have anything else planned, and there was no hurry to get back to work thanks to the Independence Day holiday being moved to Monday. It's a happy success story of the government's holiday economics policy working exactly as conceived.

We departed from Dumaguete on Sunday afternoon at 3:30PM.

In a 24-hour period I got to pass through the sea ports of Siquijor, Dumaguete, and Cebu-- it helps one to appreciate how much more pleasant a quiet port is. The port in Siquijor is clean and simple. The island province is significant enough for the government to have spent the resources to make a port that's clean and functional, but not nearly big enough for the hordes of people to stink it up.

We stayed at Villa Marmarine, a beach resort in the town of Siquijor not too far from the port. It didn't have a swimming pool, but it does what it can, and the cottages are nice enough.

The resort isn't the most luxurious, but it does what it can to give a pleasant experience, like this dining area on an elevated ledge with a view overlooking the sea.

The sand at the beach is light, fine, and powdery-- though speckled with corals and pebbles and seaweed. You'd need to wear slippers while swimming in the water to protect your feet from all the rocks and seaweed. The rock wall near the beach is kind of nice, helps give the feeling of being in a wild undeveloped place (in the good way).

For dinner on Sunday night we went to this cool dome thing high up on a hill overlooking the town of Larena. It's a bizarre sensation to suddenly encounter this awesome done when you expect to be on a quiet rural island. From up here you could look down at the town, and in the far distance the faint lights of Dumaguete's boulevard are visible. It must be a wondrous sight during the day, but at night all that's visible are the lights.

Umm... Mabuhay! ^_^

Hmm, not a bad set of pictures considering I didn't get to see much else aside from the pier, the resort, and the dome thing. It would have been better to get the chance to actually go exploring the island and seeing the sights.

They say that Siquijor is infamous as a hotbed of sorcery and witchcraft. I... don't really have anything to say about that, but it feels necessary to mention it.

Someday I really do need to go back there and actually see what there is to see.