Blood-curdling romance . . . unbelievable

This sounds silly, but, yes, I went out to see the blood-sucking vampires in Twilight.

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not such a waste of money, especially when you consider the low, low price you pay to watch it in this part of the country—a whopping Php 30!

I watched it with friends from UP SOX after our regional quiz show—which was a huge success, by the way. Now I can understand why it’s causing a fever, especially among people who don’t usually read. It’s simple, cheesy, melodramatic, and downright predictable.

But, to its credit, it’s new. Vampire stories are usually violent, erotic, and complicated. Twilight, however, doesn’t fit in any of these descriptions. It’s tailored-fit for the young. Parents need not worry when their kids go and see this.

I have a couple of friends who’ve read all the books in this series by Stephanie Meyer. (They didn’t actually buy them; I’m told you can download a softcopy in some dubious sites.) As is often the case, they report that the book is better than the movie.

Stories like these are helpful because, in a sense, they encourage people to read. I guess the love of reading always begins with a bang—a book that moves you or an author that has a unique writing style you want to copy or a story that changes your perspective. Twilight probably offers this spark.

I could say the same for Harry Potter. I have friends who only started reading when that book series came out. Later on, they progressed to the classics and came to appreciate the really good books of our time.

But the danger is that these people might be limited to these kinds of books—the simple, popular ones—so much so that they’d find reading, say, Steinbeck or Shakespeare, daunting. But that deserves a separate entry.

So, back to Twilight—did I enjoy it? Oh, I did. Very much.

We sleep on Christmas Eve

Yesterday I've been with my father to do Christmas grocery shopping at KCC Mall. As in Manila, the mall was packed with people rushing to buy fruit cocktails, pastas, and hams, just in time for the noche buena that night.

Tatay and I were on my mother's strict instructions to buy the tried and tested ingredients she'd use for her salad. My mother doesn't cook (and seriously, you don't want her to), but her salad is something we anticipate annually.

In my family, I can only remember a few instances when we stayed up late and actually celebrated Christmas Eve. We'd usually sleep on it. My mother gets migraines when her sleep is disturbed. My father spontaneously dozes off. And because sleep is infectious, we kids curl up in bed, too. I mean, what do we do? All the lights are out, and everything's quiet, except for the dogs who squeal when the neighbors' fireworks explode.

But that's not to say we don't, uhm, celebrate. We just do it earlier, the noche buena. Saves us a lot of hassle. You should try it, too.

Orhan Pamuk's The Black Book is a must-read

The Black Book

Orhan Pamuk doesn't mince with words; he plays with them.

In what many people call "his masterpiece," The Black Book weaves the story of young lawyer, Galip Bey, and the mysterious life of one newspaper columnist who happens to be his cousin and his wife's ex-husband.

Pamuk, among the best of Turkey's writers and winner of the 2006 Nobel Prize in Literature, employs rich imagery, unique story lines, and unheard-of plots. It's not an easy read, this book, because it is so overwhelming that many times I had to pause in between paragraphs to swallow what I had just read.

Galip Bey finds out that his wife, Ruya, had left him. Except for a short note written in green ink, Galip didn't see that coming. He searches for her, until he realizes Ruy a may have gone to Celal, her ex-husband.

The story is set in the backdrop of political chaos and financial instability, problems plaguing Turkey in the 1980's. Pamuk shows his ingenuity when he intersperses the novel with little stories from minor characters. Which is why my favorite is Chapter 15, Love Stories on a Snowy Evening, because this is where the people that Galip meets in a bar each tell their stories.

If only Pamuk's books were cheaper, I'd buy all of them.

Update Jan 13—It's Orhan, not Orham . . . and I needed Paul Balite to tell me that.

What I plan to do this Christmas

1. Rest. I resolve not to bring any academic-related materials at home. I wouldn't read them anyway.

2. Meditate. I have more to study and meditate on God.

3. Share the gospel to my classmates.

4. Party. The family is usually swamped with Christmas party invitations, so much so that at one point, we weren't eating dinner at home!

5. Read. In my reading list are The Black Book (Orhan Pamuk), Franny and Zooey (JD Salinger), The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge (Rainer Maria Rilke), and Why I Am A Christian (John Stott).

Connected again!

For a moment, I actually contemplated going back to Windows.

Last night I couldn't connect to the internet. New fiber optics cords were being installed in the dorm's internet facility. As part of this change, the administrators decided to change our IP addresses, as well.

For 99% of the Link Yakal subscribers, that wouldn't have been a problem. But for me, the lone Linux user in the corridor, it was a nightmare. Previously I had deleted the "Network Manager" icon in the upper panel because, well, it just didn't look nice. I figured I could always put it back.

I spent the entire morning tweaking with the codes, which looked more like an incoherent display of letters and numbers that the aliens emailed from outer space.

Now I'm glad I have it working, thanks to the great guys at Ubuntu Forums.

The reason I'm sticking it out with Ubuntu is that there are so many good people willing to help out.

So yes, I'm not deleting any of these icons any time soon.

Encapsulating Christmas



Lenny Magalit, recently diagnosed with breast cancer, sang at the YCF Christmas party at Kuya Dave's this evening.

Her song? A musical version of John 3:16, one of the verses that best encapsulate the meaning of Christmas.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

I'm thankful for Christ-centered Christmas parties. Yes, they still exist, but it's sad that not everyone gets to experience them.

With the popular unbiblical notions of Santa Claus and his reindeers, the celebration has lost its meaning.

Instead of proclaiming Christ's message of redemption to sinners, people highlight “giving” as the central theme. But it is God giving His only begotten Son for us that must be given the most importance, not us giving material gifts to others.

Christmas is a celebration of Christ. Take Jesus out of the picture and all these lights, trees, and carols lose their meaning.

(Photo: jonmatthew photography)

A monk's life. And death.

Among the best suspense novels I've read thus far, The Name of the Rose isn't just an ordinary detective story.

Set in the 14th century, in a rich Franciscan abbey in Italy, the novel is told from a viewpoint of an old Benedictine monk, Adso, whose memories of the past events form the backbone of this literary masterpiece.

For seven days, heinous crimes are committed in the monastery. But just as notorious as the crimes are the underlying motives for them—greed for knowledge and power, pride, and lust.

Umberto Eco, the writer, weaves a powerful picture of these events. Instead of chapters, the book is divided into Days and Times: matins (2:30 – 3 am), lauds (5 – 6 am), prime (7:30), terce (9 am), sext (noon), nones (2 – 3 pm), vespers (4:30 pm, at sunset), and compline (6 pm, before the monks go to bed).

The book is a heavy read—it combines philosophy, logic, history, and language. Interspersed in Adso's narration is the conflict between the Emperor in Rome and the Pope in Avignon, sparked by the Franciscan debate against material wealth.

To fully grasp the story, one must have some knowledge of history (which I had very little of, so much so that I had to do some research of my own). I was often lost in many of the Latin phrases incorporated in the text, especially in the dialogue.

But overall, it was a fulfilling—more than a fun—experience.

I admit it—I read The Name of the Rose because I wanted to see if Umberto Eco is the writer people say he is.

They weren't exaggerating when they called him brilliant.

PS. There's a film adaptation of this book, starring Sean Connery and E. Murry Abraham, but I haven't seen it yet. Do lend me a copy if you have one.

MBBS wins first prize in College of Science Carolfest 2008

We won!

carolfest

We hardly mastered the dynamics, barely ran through the choreography—and here we are, bright and shining with our first place distinction.

carolfest

For three years, I've been joining the CS Carolfest. I've been a part of the UP MBBS Star Activity (a fancy name we call our org choir). MBBS placed second in 2006, third in 2007—and my batchmates and I felt that, before we graduate, we should at least win a gold.

carolfest

This year...

carolfest

... was an answer to our wish.

carolfest

We sang two songs: the standard piece, Ano'ng Gagawin Mo Ngayong Pasko (Ryan Cayabyab), and The Way You Look Tonight (Frank Sinatra), which we chose in line with the theme, romantic love this Christmas.

carolfest

Minutes before the contest, Jana Mier, our graceful and gracious conductor, reminded us to sing for greater purposes—not just for ourselves. I'm thankful for that searing reminder to offer the song to the Lord who is the reason for Christmas, to begin with.

carolfest

Our presentation probably went smoothly, but, on hindsight, we couldn't have pulled it off without Kristine Reyes who painstakingly taught us the right notes, timing, and dynamics when Jana was away.

carolfest

And of course, I have my kapwa tenors to thank for. I had fun singing and learning with all of them.

carolfest

This is my last Carolfest. I've learned that it's not just about winning—it is about singing, and singing for Someone infinitely greater than ourselves.

(Photos: Kino Aquino)

NaBloPoMo is almost over!

Old gasoline station

The National Blog Posting Month is almost over! The challenge to write at least one blog entry a day was daunting, but it was worth it.

November has taught me to value each day that comes my way. I thank God for each lesson and experience He's allowed me to go through. This month has been soaked with His mercies.

For the one last time, let me recap the entire month:

Nov 1
Lafug v.2--changed the blog layout
Visiting the dead--Undas entry

Nov 2
Eyes
Most frequently used words from September 18 to November 2--discovered a website that makes word clouds

Nov 3
A countdown of lasts--well, because graduation is the end of many things.

Nov 4
Obama vs McCain, and the great American debate--I got involved in politics

Nov 5
I tell people I know how to ride a bike

Nov 6
The new presidency will usher changes that are set to change the world upside down--again, politics

Nov 7
All because of God's grace--overwhelmed by the fact that this is to be my last sem in UP

Nov 8
Why I can't bring myself to read long e-books--my entry to Abraham Piper's challenge

Nov 9
Who'd be the first person in heaven you'd shake hands with?--remembered the Isabela missions

Nov 10
Sen. Miriam Santiago is here to stay

Nov 11
Joe and I had dinner with Hazel's mother

Nov 12
What will I do after graduation?--like any other graduating student, I asked the same question

Nov 13
What would you do if someone spat at you?--my most memorable jeepney ride, believe me

Nov 14
Handwritten

Nov 15
You have got to see Citizen Kane

Nov 16
Upgraded to Ubuntu 8.10!
Kalesa

Nov 17
Singing with the choir

Nov 18
Restful sleep

Nov 19
Chippy Leo, Chippy Leo--JP Leo Asong was in Manila for three days

Nov 20
Hearty laugh at a wedding

Nov 21
Books! Books!--the usual dose of books

Nov 22
Why I spend hours inside National Bookstore--I can't choose which notebooks to buy

Nov 23
Overheard by Boom--the batch's yearbook write up

Nov 24
Long walk to freedom--Nelson Mandela's a great leader

Nov 25
On toothbrushes and why I like photography

Nov 26
YM conversation during cramming time--with Titus Tan

Nov 27
Reminder for today--If you attend MBB 180, you should know.

Nov 28
Filthy Rich

Nov 29
Transforming ideas into real businesses
Pastor Bob--Again, a response to Abraham Piper's challenge

Nov 30
You're never too young

Tomorrow, they'll raffle off the blogs. The blogs that get picked win prizes. I'm not expecting to win, but who knows?

You're never too young

The Philippine Flag

“I came from my mother's womb” was his answer when we asked him where he came from. Adam Hussey, a young missionary affiliate with Action International, spoke yesterday at the Youth Fellowship in Higher Rock.

He first shared this life testimony—how he went to church only for the sake of attending it, how he broke his knee when he played tennis, and how he was called by the Lord to go to Uganda. I was amazed at God's miracle in preserving his life. While working in a remote town in that African country, he got sick with cerebral malaria—the deadlier form of the disease. And yet, by God's grace, he came back to America alive. Now he's in the Philippines for some work to be done at Action.

There's no age requirement in doing missions. All Christians, young and old, are called to spread the gospel. What a timely reminder.

Pastor Bob

Except for his tooth that perpetually shines when he is at the pulpit, my pastor looks like any other guy. But once he speaks, Pastor Bob Amigo of Higher Rock Christian Church speaks with authority.

I'm thankful for him because he has shown devotion to the study of God's word. He never preaches human wisdom but speaks truth from the Bible, even if it means hurting our egos, our self-esteem, and our pride.

He's serious about his job—and that is, to shepherd the flock of Christ entrusted to him. He does not tolerate errors in doctrine and teaching, and has never once lacked to remind us to obey Christ and follow Him wholeheartedly.

His teaching is soaked with spiritual insights, jampacked with Biblical truths, replete with concrete applications—and all these balanced with a good sense of humor—so much so that every Sunday, it's always a feast for the soul.

He is patient in disciplining us, devoted in praying for us, earnest in leading us to Christ but never to himself, careful in giving God all the glory due His name.

What a blessing Pastor Bob has been to me and to Higher Rock.

I wrote this in response to Abraham Piper's entry about thanking our pastors. I hope you do, too.

Transforming ideas into real businesses

We pushed through with the business pitch at the Ayala TechnoBoot Camp, and I think we did quite well. We got the people interested and received pretty good comments from the mentors. Their advice: get patents and establish our own company. That was solid.

Aside from us, various teams—mostly from Engineering—presented their business concepts, too. I was amazed at the sophistication of the ideas, ranging from a machine that prevents laptop snatching to devices that predict landslides.

The mentors were insightful. They gladly shared their thoughts, keeping in mind that we—the people they were talking to—did not have a clue of how to run a business. They were generous in giving compliments but never harsh when they saw something wrong.

If there's one good lesson I learned from the TechnoBoot Camp, it is this: that scientists and engineers need to learn the skill of creating a link between their inventions and the market. That's lacking in UP. Undergrads cook up amazing ideas for their theses, but these end up in dusty shelves, never to be read again.

I'm happy that the University is taking pains to create something worthwhile—like start-up businesses, for example—from the intellectual fruits it steadily produces. I was particularly encouraged by what one of the mentors said: “Imagine what this can do to the country. When we keep the ideas from flowing out, we keep the money flowing in.”

It's about time.

Filthy rich

There is not a single business gene in my body.

This I realized while writing a business plan for the Ayala Technoboot Camp tomorrow. My team (Kino Aquino, Isabel Nabor, Zi Laqui, Ate Xy-Za Oro, and my thesis adviser) is pitching to a bunch of successful businessmen, and we're here trying to sound business-like.

Don't ask me how to market my product because my answer would be: "Oh, I'll hire someone to do it for me." But here I am, doing just that--thinking what my "competitive advantage" is, who my "target market" is, whatever that means.

I realize some people like doing these things. Hands up to them. To be in business, one must have the intestinal fortitude to overcome failure, to rise above one's self.

I'm even surprised because the speakers we've had so far do business not because they have to but because they want to. They derive a kind of satisfaction, probably of the same kind as, say, getting good experimental results.

This whole exercise of thinking like a businessman taught me to look at things differently. But it made me realize something as well: that I'm never going to get filthy rich in the future. No, sorry, I don't have it in me.

On toothbrushes and why I like photography

Because my mother is a dentist

I experimented with the camera's super macro settings one night when I should've been studying for Immunology. If you've fallen in love with photography, you know it's a worthwhile distraction. It takes your mind off things. The experience of capturing memories and images clears one's mind and offers a different perspective altogether.

When I still had my camera, I used to go out into the wilderness alone. Somehow, photography was a means of escaping, even momentarily, the pressures of student life. During those solitary walks, I would pray and marvel at the beauty of God's creation. It's always humbling to see that no matter how sophisticated our cameras have become, they still fall short of capturing the real things.

I don't shoot as often as before because I only borrow camera from my friends. And it's hard to squeeze my hobby into my usually tight schedule, which is mainly my fault because I didn't plan which subjects to take and when. But I still make time for it, like finding opportunities to read a good book or watch a movie.

That doesn't keep me from subscribing to photography websites and blogs. If you can spare time, do visit the following:

  • A Walk Through Durham Township by Kathleen Connaly -- The photos remind me so much of the province, where life is so laidback, where the stars shine more brightly and beautifully.
  • Daily Dose of Imagery -- You'll never look at buildings, roads, and benches the same way again!
  • Flickr Blog -- See the collection of Flickr's most interesting photos.
  • Firda Beka -- One of my favorite photographers, Firda Beka has eye for detail, color, and interesting-ness.
  • Des Poticar -- Des is an elementary schoolmate at Notre Dame and is talented in capturing detail you ordinarily would miss.
If you have other photoblogs to recommend, drop a comment right here.

Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom: lessons our country badly needs to learn

I RECALL watching that familiar video clip of Nelson Mandela coming out of prison after 27 years. I had no idea who he was, of course, but from the look on his face and the people's reaction, it wasn't that hard to think that he was a man who shook the world.

Since then I've heard his name mentioned everywhere—in Oprah, in CNN, in the papers. They always described him as a good man, someone who gave his life for the freedom of the African people.

I've read his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, recently. It is a detailed account of his life, starting with his childhood at the Transkei, his coming of age at Johannesburg, his joining the African National Congress (ANC), his battle against the oppresive apartheid system, and his eventual imprisonment for three decades.

The book, 800 pages thick, is dotted with lessons written by a old man ripened in experiences. Unlike the other autobiographies I've read, Nelson Mandela does not exaggerate—he even downplays his accomplishments and hardly mentions them. He is, however, generous in describing other people. He always has a good word to say about someone, even his worst opponents, believing that behind every cruel hatred is a loving heart.

The book is also a searing description of white supremacy in South Africa embodied in the apartheid system. In that policy, the Blacks were considered inferior compared to Whites. They were second-class citizens who were overthrown from their lands just because the Whites said so. Their basic human rights were taken away from them.

Mandela spent his life fighting this system, and the book details how he did just that. The reader would get a picture of how liberation movements work and why they do the things they do.

My favorite part was his imprisonment, and the ordeals he and his friends had gone through. He described his unwavering resolve to continue the fight for South African liberation even when he was in prison in Robben Island. His description of the books he read, the garden he tended, the tennis games he played, and the cherished visits of his wife gave a deeply human side to him. Freedom fighters aren't just flesh and blood coated with so much passion—they are humans, too.

Other than the Bible, this is the next book I'd recommend to our government leaders. Nelson Mandela makes it a point to emphasize the qualities of good leadership—the most memorable of which is when he pointed out that for a leader to rule his people effectively, he must know them.

Photo courtesy of Lex Loizides (@lexloiz), via Twitter

Readers might be overwhelmed by the effort Nelson Mandela has taken to include so many names in his accounts. While reading those parts, I often got lost in my thought—but this, in itself, is forgivable, because it shows that Mandela remembers the people who've helped him in his cause, helping shape the person that he is now.

After flipping through the last pages, I wished I could shake hands with him.

Overheard by Boom

BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology Class of 2009

Arielle asks, “We have quiz today?”
Gelo grins, has nothing to say.
Polo shouts, “No! Please, I pray!”
Yeyen thinks, “Do we have to stay?”
“Ang chaka naman!” Cheeze complains.
“Di ko 'to nagets!” Angeli exclaims.
Monchi looks up and feels his tummy.
As Wegs cries out, “Oh, help me mommy!”
Richard confesses, “Man, this is scary.”
Agz wonders, “What's happening to me?”
Carlo says, “Quiz daw? 'Di tuloy 'yan, pare.”
Dianne, unimpressed, answers with “Anubeh!”
Jean stands up, “Guys, huwag masyadong i-internalize.”
Isabel panics, “Di ko 'to memorize!”
Patrick blurts out, “Oh, what the hell.”
As Tin, in a corner, wishes everyone well.
“Kasama pa ba 'to?” asks worried Jana
Melay replies, “Hindi—oo—ay, teka!”
Titus explains, “Nakatulog ako kagabi.”
Anna relates, “Ako, pagod, mouse duty kasi.”
“Whaaaat?” is Hazel's helpless cry,
While Kino claims her brain is dry.
As Juanchi scratches his shiny scalp,
Jaimar tears the blank paper pulp.
Lance looks for his notes, “It's now or never.”
Joe swears, “This is the worst day ever!”
Then out of the blue, Coy's phone starts beeping
“Wala daw si Ma'am; let's start sleeping!”

This is the batch's (BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology 2009, University of the Philippines Diliman) yearbook write-up. Took me a long time to encapsulate everyone in one-liners. But thanks, Wegs, for making me write this. Pleasure's mine. Oh, and I dearly miss Boom. If she were here, she'd be laughing so hard she'd burst into tears.

Books! Books!

Next book to read

My impulse is to start a book, read the first five chapters, leave it unfinished, only to start reading another book. I guess I don't have to rush things.

I'm finishing Nelson Mandela's A Long Walk to Freedom. Still on my To Read list are:

  • The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco)
  • The Black Book (Orham Pamuk)
  • Night (Ellie Wiesel)
What books have you been reading these days?

Chippy Leo, Chippy Leo!

Myself and JP Leo Asong

JP Asong is in town, arranging his papers to resume his studies in UP. He's currently teaching at Ateneo de Davao, his students just about the same age as he is. He's flying back to Davao tomorrow and will return here next year.

JP is one of those who made dorm life more exciting that what it actually is. I couldn't imagine Kalayaan without him. We had so many things in common—books, movies, food, and friends. It was because of him that I got more interested in the classics. I borrowed his copy of Bram Stoker's Dracula which I never returned. He introduced me to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, lending me his copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude. And he liked old movies, having watched To Kill A Mockingbird ahead of me.

When I had nothing else to do, my default was to go to his room or Jef's. I'd bother him with my kakulitan, and he'd igladly indulge me. Many times he's crazier than I am.

Tonight he treated me to dinner at Chocolate Kiss. If there's something I miss being with JP, it's the fact that we never hesitate to dine in slightly expensive places because, come on, it's not everyday that we can eat these fancy things—like blueberry cheesecake, for example.

I'll miss dear old Chippy Leo. See ya soon, old pal.

Restful sleep

From my private journal which I felt like sharing:

Lord, thank you for this day! I've had a restful sleep last night; thank you for the rest. Not everyone has a bed to lie on, a blanket to keep them warm, and a roof to protect them. Thank you, Lord, that nothing troubles me--I have no problems to wrestle with. Thank you, Lord, for the peace that transcends all understanding. And thank you for the bright sunshine that greeted me this morning. Not everyone is given a new day to live.

Singing with the choir

As far as I can remember I've always been in a choir.

In Sunday School at Marbel Baptist Church, I'd join my brother Ralph in practices for the Christmas cantata during Saturday afternoons. I was about five. The youngest among all the kids, I simply tagged along.

During the actual performance, my brother sang (lip-synched being the more appropriate term) one solo part—was it Silent Night?—while I stood in the background, mumbling words I didn't really understand. But I think Ma'am Dorcas, the Sunday School teacher, liked me because I smiled a lot, especially on-stage.

In grade school, I joined the Graders' Choir. It would become the Graders' Theater Guild soon after. I sang soprano because little boys sound like girls—and I think I was exceptional because I'd even beat some girls at singing the higher notes.

At the Theater Guild, I learned a lot from Teacher Perlyn Enriquez, my favorite music teacher at Notre Dame. She taught me how to use facial expressions, sing with the diaphragm, and speak the words clearly. She would become my voice coach for the next years to come, and a lot of what I've learned from singing I owe to her.

I wasn't involved in any singing group in high school, except for the Math Jingle Contests we had during the Math Week. A shame, really, because I didn't develop my voice at the time when my voice was beginning to evolve—thanks to puberty and all that.

In college, I qualified for the first round of auditions for the world-famous UP Singing Ambassadors when the group came to Kalayaan Dorm. I didn't bother going to the succeeding rounds because I was warned it would take a lot of my time.

I figured it would be better to join a small-time choir, so I became part of the MBB Star Activity. “Star activity” actually refers to the unpredictability of restriction enzymes when they're used at sub-optimal conditions. For a choral group, that means it's impossible to predict what we're going to do next.

For the past years, the choir has joined the Carolfest, College of Science's most prestigious competition. We've been winning medals ever since.

The Carolfest is scheduled on December 5, and we're wrestling with the practice sessions after our classes. Jana Mier, who's gifted in music, is patient in training us. The contest piece is Anong Gagawin Mo Ngayong Pasko? (What Will You Do This Christmas?) by Ryan Cayabyab.

Oh, I hope we win!

Upgraded to Ubuntu 8.10!

nablopomo

I'm weeks late, but it's better late than never. I've upgraded my OS to Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid Ibex. So far, so good. Ubuntu has exceeded my expectations.

The new features include:

  • 3G Support
  • Writing and Installing Ubuntu using a USB stick (instead of the more laborious CD method)
  • Guest Sessions (this one's for added security. If a friend wants to borrow my computer, I can just click on "Guest," and I'm automatically protected from anything he might do to my system.)
  • And many more.


I've read wonderful reviews about the new Ubuntu release. Here's one from Lifehacker who writes:

Ubuntu 8.10 leaves all previous releases standing in the dirt.

Most applications that come with the package have also been updated. A notable improvement is on GIMP, now upgraded to the 2.6 release, which uses a single taskbar for all its windows:


It features a dedicated document window (the layer, brushes etc. windows are now referred to as docks). To be blunt, I never thought I'd see the day when this happened. I thought pigs would have to fly, or that something crazy would have to happen—like the Dow dropping below 10,000 in a single day.


Finally, IT Cast Channel enumerates some reasons for giving Ubuntu a try:

  • It boots in less than 30 seconds.
  • It shuts down in less than 10 seconds.
  • In four months, it has never crashed.
  • Everything, and I mean everything is faster.
  • Canonical releases major updates every 6 months, not every 6 years.
  • It’s free.

You have got to see Citizen Kane

I'm a big fan of old movies, especially those in black and white, with special effects that kids my age now like to make fun of. They have an enduring quality, a timeless message, and a deep portrayal of humanity—things that are hard to find in today's Hollywood flicks.

Citizen Kane (
1941) is one of these movies. Directed by Orson Welles, it ranks number 1 in the American Film Institute's (AFI) list of 100 Greatest Movies of All Time. And unquestionably so.

The feature film details the life and career of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper tycoon who wanted to change the world. At the opening scene, he struggles with death and utters the word, “Rosebud,” before he breathes his last.

But who or what is “Rosebud”?

The answer is ultimately the key in unlocking the mysterious person of Mr. Kane, a larger than life figure of American society in his time. The movie centers on finding that answer. It traces his beginnings, his rise to power, his ruthlessness, and his death.

Mr. Kane's character depicts how one's past can influence one's future, how experiences can shape character, and how power can corrupt.

Citizen Kane is officially on my List of Favorite Movies. I'm not kidding. Go see it.

Handwritten

nablopomo

Nothing beats a handwritten letter.

My friend, Paul Velasco, sent me this postcard from Wellington, New Zealand about a month ago. It bore his familiar handwriting--strong, calculated, and shaky strokes--that gave it more personality, something an email can never accomplish.

When it comes to letters, I prefer analog to digital. Call me a tree-destroyer, but I'd rather have them in paper and pen. Don't you?

My blockmates are bound for Baguio City. I'm not going because my parents didn't give me permission. I should take a rest.

If Paul were there, he'd tour me around, even cook something for me in his amazing kitchen, which, I imagine, is just a couple of minutes away from where I'd be standing.

What would you do if someone spat at you?

the beginning

I hailed a jeep on my way to a church meeting. Just as I was about to alight, I heard a spewing sound, followed almost instantly by a warm oozing feeling on my right hand. Yep, someone from the jeep spat at me -- unintentionally, of course, so I never took it against the boy.

That started movies of bacteria and viruses playing in my head. Later I learned it wasn't just my hand; my Bible -- at least, the denim cover -- was also partly . . . wet.

I was amazed at how I reacted. "Yuch! Yuch!" were the only ones I said. I didn't get mad, just a bit irritated at why people find the need -- and pleasure -- to spit in public places. I mean, they could swallow "it" for the meantime, until they could find a decent lavatory.

Throughout the ride, I thought of two things: first, handwashing; and second, Christ.

I was reminded that sinning is like spitting on Jesus' face. It's a mockery of what He has done on the cross. So I thought, when I looked at my right hand, "What is this compared to what Jesus had to endure?"

What will I do after graduation?

The only time I didn't want to be a scientist was when I dreamt of being a doctor. Now I want to be both.

Will I do research? Will I proceed to medical school? Where will I study after?

These are the questions bugging me these days. College graduation, after all, is just a couple of months away.

But instead of being overwhelmed, what I should be praying for is God's will for me.

I'm encouraged because although the future is unclear, the Lord never confuses. Instead, He gently directs, guides, and leads His children to the paths that are best for them.

Joe and I had dinner with Hazel's mother

Hazel's mother invited us -- Joe and I -- to dinner tonight at the Mall of Asia. We had a great time. Her mother was very animated and didn't run out of topics to discuss. I can't forget the funny moments when she talked about her childhood experiences in Cebu.

Here are a few things I was reminded of:

1. Do not covet other's properties. Be thankful for what you have.
2. Strive hard to reach your dreams.
3. Live within your means.

It was a night to remember.

Sen. Miriam Santiago is here to stay

I recall going to the marketplace with Tita Ging when Miriam Defensor-Santiago emerged out of a van and waved her hand at us. It was the first time she was running for a senate seat, and she spoke of the Philippines of our dreams—aside, of course, from cursing President Ramos who she has since claimed to have cheated her in the 1992 presidential election. She has since been in the country’s political limelight, and people have followed her with unwavering interest. Either you like her or you don’t.

Since then I’ve looked up to Miriam as a larger-than-life personality more than a political figure—someone you don’t mess around with . . . but someone you’d want other people to mess with. I hope I’m making sense.

Her statements—in senate speeches or interview excerpts—are extraordinarily quotable, with words that you thought were non-existent until after she blurted them out. Her outbursts of anger merit news stories in prime time TV. It’s because of people like her that Philippine politics is unmatched in terms of color and excitement—better than movies, even.

Consider the recent Senate proceedings, for example, where she grilled top-ranking policemen for alleged corruption. The media called it the Euro Scandal, and Miriam, presiding over the Senate inquiry, lambasted them all, Secretary Puno included. From how it looks, she has negligible tolerance for lies, especially at a forum she presides.

No one can pull those things off better than Miriam, which is why I’m saddened that she didn’t get the post at the UN International Court of Justice. She was short of three votes from the Security Council. I’m confident she’d do a great job there, with her brilliant academic record and her accomplishments here and abroad.

But, in a way, I’m relieved that Miriam—our Miriam—is here to stay.

Who'd be the first person in heaven you'd shake hands with?

During the Isabela missions trip, we frequently had time to kill -- especially after a heavy dinner when it was hard to walk around.

We'd gather in one corner and muse about things. To make the conversations more edifying and useful, we'd play games. This time, the drill was that one person would ask a question; the rest should answer. It was an unstructured getting-to-know you game, and I learned many things about my old and new-found friends.

As far as I can remember, the questions and my answers were:

What is your favorite verse in the Bible?

Galatians 2:20 -- "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live but Christ lives in me. And the life I live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me."

That's from the New King James Version.

What is your favorite book in the Bible?

All of them, of course, but I like reading the book of Philippians best. It's a book of joy -- an irony, really, because the apostle Paul was in prison when he wrote that. He was also about to be executed. Philippians is a reminder that true joy springs from Jesus.

Who'd be the first person in heaven you'd shake hands with?

Of course, I'd love to meet the Lord Himself first, but other than Him, I'd like to shake hands with Paul. I've always thought of Him as a stern-looking man, someone you can't mess or joke around with, someone serious and focused. But deep inside, he is so full of love, humility, and grace. I'd like to hear how his voice sounds like. Maybe I'd like to have him rewrite some of his epistles, so I'd have a specimen of his handwriting.

The new presidency will usher changes that are set to turn the world upside-down

Barack Obama is the 44th president of the United States. His election is set to usher changes in policies that will turn the world upside-down.

After all the excitement of the recent election, it is sobering to read Albert Mohler's thoughts:

Given the scale of the Democratic victory, the political landscape will be completely reshaped. The fight for the dignity and sanctity of unborn human beings has been set back by a great loss, and by the election of a President who has announced his intention to sign the Freedom of Choice Act into law. The struggle to protect marriage against its destruction by redefinition is now complicated by the election of a President who has declared his aim to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act. On issue after issue, we face a longer, harder, and more protracted struggle than ever before.


So much was at stake in the recent election, including how the issue of abortion must be dealt with. In this, Albert Mohler urges Christians to come to God in prayer:

We must pray that God would change President-Elect Obama's mind and heart on issues of our crucial concern. May God change his heart and open his eyes to see abortion as the murder of the innocent unborn, to see marriage as an institution to be defended, and to see a host of issues in a new light.

Obama vs McCain, and the great abortion debate

nablopomo

It's the height of the American presidential elections, by far a landmark in democratic history because, for the first time, a colored man is vying for the most powerful seat in the land.

So far, Barrack Obama is leading John McCain in the Gallup Polls, and political analysts, at least those I've heard, are almost unanimous in declaring a landslide victory for the Democratic candidate.

In recent history, I've never seen people express support for a political candidate with the an overflow of hope and love as they have for Senator Obama. That's understandable because he not only has the brains, he has charisma.

American election should serve as an example

In this election, it is an encouragement to see that people have finally transcended their racist biases. America, a mature democracy, should serve as an example to the Philippines in terms of how an election must be carried out: policies first before personalities. That's hardly the case in the country where a majority of people are voting for candidates on the basis of their popularity, not knowing their candidates' platforms and stands of certain issues.

My qualms with Obama: the abortion debate

Justin Taylor
calls this a watershed election with regard to abortion:

Barack Obama has promised to make signing the Freedom of Choice Act his first order of business in the White House--and with a Democratic Congress, he will be able to make this happen.

Taylor further explains what the Freedom of Choice Act entails, quoting David Feddoso:
His bill would effectively cancel every state, federal, and local regulation of abortion, no matter how modest or reasonable. It would even, according to the National Organization of Women, abolish all state restrictions on government funding for abortions. If Obama becomes president and lives up to this promise, then everyone who pays income tax will be paying an abortionist to perform an abortion.
The right perspective

It is God who ultimately appoints kings and every kind of leader on earth. Whoever will get that seat has been ordained by God to rule over the land.

We must be prayerful, as well, thanking the Lord for the freedom He's given to choose our own leaders. We must be insightful, evaluating carefully the policies of the candidates, keeping in mind Biblical principles and truths.

Finally, we must realize that while we are in this world, we are not of it.

I suggest you watch John Piper's thoughts on the election:



I also encourage you to read John Piper's prayer for the upcoming election and pray it, too.

In all things, including politics, the Church, and our daily lives, we must pray, "Thy will be done."

A countdown of lasts

nablopomo

Today is the last time I’m enrolling as an undergrad in UP.

As I look back at some five years ago and the years that would follow, I see a miracle—my shifting to MBB, CRS’ extraordinary kindness, and the lessons God has taught me in the process.

The easiest thing to do in UP is getting there. After the UPCAT, one has to contend with exams, papers, and, yes, horribly long queues of people waiting for their turn—earning the timeless joke that UP is actually “University of Pila.

I can’t agree more. You haven’t experienced UP if you haven’t lined up for hours.

Visiting the dead

nablopomo

Here's my first entry for the NaBloPoMo. For each post, I'll be posting my sketches, scanned using HP 1315. I was highly inspired by Austin Kleon.


Around this time, the family would be off to Banga, some 15-minute drive away from Koronadal, to visit my mother’s side of the family—my grandmother, a number of my aunts and uncles, and my noisy cousins.

November 1 has always been a mini-reunion. It’s not an elaborately organized party, as some families are prone to doing, but it usually comes in the form of a simple lunch, coupled with hours of talking and laughing at Lola’s backyard.

Auntie Cecille would slaughter native chicken from her collection of poultry animals. Uncle Dotdot would order and arrange flowers for Lolo Mauro’s grave site, while my mother would whine at why Lola decided to cut this or that tree down. “You need the shade; it’s too hot these days.”

Later in the afternoon, when there’s not too many people, Auntie Netnet would accompany us to the cemetery to visit Lolo’s grave, freshly painted, bursting with colors and candles. Along the way, we’d meet family friends, distant relatives (although in the province, there are no distant relatives), even former classmates.

Exhausted after all the walking, we’d be treated to food, games, and a lot of other fun things—like making our younger cousins cry.

I wish I were home.

Isabela

Sunset

The trip to Isabela was 12 hours long, and I embarked on it with a bag loaded with clothes, a thick study Bible, and a pair of shoes.

The goal

I was part of the UP DCF Missions Team. The missions exposure trip is an annual event of the DCF to spread the gospel of Christ, and to equip the local churches, especially the youth. This was to be my second exposure to the mission field, after having gone to Sibalom, Antique last year.

Pastor Ollie and Ate Telling

Pink house

When we arrived on October 22 after a bus ride that seemed like eternity, we were hosted to delicious brunch at the house of Pastor Ollie and Ate Telling, his wife. We would live in their home for the next week or so.

Pastor Ollie

Pastor Ollie is the senior pastor of Sta. Maria Bible Community Church. Gifted in music, he has composed and translated Christian songs in Ibanag, the local language. His preaching is God-centered, and he's not hesitant to talk about Biblical truths, even those that are hard to understand and swallow.

Ate Telling is working closely with him. Her dedication to the work of the Lord, her extraordinary insight and encouragement have been instrumental in the success of the mission trip.

Later in the trip, they would recount to us how they met each other. Their love story is dotted with scenes shot for movies. Their parents and seniors were against their relationship, yet they chose to listen to God and obey what He commanded. When they had to choose between their parents and the clear command of God, they chose to follow Him.

The past years have seen them though thick and thin. Pastor Ollie's kidneys failed him. In those hard times, Ate Telling had been with him, pleading with the Lord and seeking His will. Theirs is a story of the Lord's faithfulness.

Cabagan and Sta. Maria

Cagayan River

Pastor Ollie and Ate Telling live in Cabagan, but it takes 15 minutes to reach SMBCC, their local church in the neighboring Sta. Maria town. The road becomes unforgiving during heavy rains where rising waters of Cagayan River would cover the bridge, making it impossible for any land-based transportation to pass through.

Cabagan is more developed than Sta. Maria, but in both places, the heat is sweltering. Every time I stood under direct sunlight, it felt as if the sun pierced through my skin. That partly explains Jaylord's bungang araw, and Kuya Jordie and Arnold's excessive sweating (yay to DryChlor!).

Much of the livelihood in the area is farming and pottery, and there are no malls. Interestingly most of the sari-sari stores I visited didn't even sell Coke.

It's certainly not a rich area. The houses are small, mostly made by nipa, and life is simple.

The people

Sharing time with Rashel

I've never seen a group of people so accommodating and hospitable, exceeding my Ilonggo standards.

I've also never seen people love their vernacular as they did. They spoke, wrote, and sang in Ibanag. Being the first time I have been exposed to the language, I had difficulty piecing the words together. But it was always a blessing hearing them call out the name of the Lord in their native tongue.

Together we joined them in singing Ibanag songs, praising the Lord in different languages. Kemuel, in our sharing later that night, called that scene "a vision of heaven."

Lafug-er, etc

Kids

We eventually understood a few Ibanag words/phrases, among them my favorites:

komang - rice fields
uvovug na Dios - the word of God
so si Lance - I'm Lance
yayya si Jet - That person is Jet.
lafug - joke (from which I derived lafug-er, which means joker)
Dios ta nikamu ngaming - Good afternoon everyone.

Just before Antonina, Jobelle, and I were about to enter the sixth grade class for the classroom evangelism, I asked them to teach me some Ibanag statements. Here's what I practiced:

Dios ta nikamu ngaming. So si Lance. Yayya si Antonina. Yayya si Jobelle. We are here to share uvovug na Dios.

But I didn't dare. It sounded, too...off. "It doesn't sound Ibanag to me, but more like French," my friends joked.

Mga lafugers talaga.

Ate Trining

I spoke with Ate Trining, a full-time church worker who supervised the food preparations during the plenary sessions. Taking a break from washing the dishes, she told me, excitedly, that she had been able to share the gospel to all her neighbors, 60 of them. In her little house, she holds Bible studies, exhorting the people to know and follow God.

I recall this one instant when she passed by a cottage outside the church building. Out of the blue, she asked three girls in Ibanag (Luther translated them for me), "Si Hesus ba nasa puso niyo na?" They said yes, and then...well, she said goodbye. That came out naturally, like me asking my friends how their exams went.

Conversations with Luther

A few minutes after I had unpacked my things on Day One, I got a text telling me to come back to Manila for a 10-minute presentation for a competition. Luther got a similar text two hours after I did.

We took the bus to Cubao on Thursday night with Kuya Caloy and Oslec who accompanied him. Luther and I were decided that after the presentation, we would immediately hurry back to Isabela.

During the trip, we found ourselves talking about anything and everything under the sun. What lessons has God taught you so far? What do you think of this or that?

Luther has grown so much in the faith. He has remained humble, steadfast, and available for the work of God in UP, and it has been an encouragement having known him.

House-to-house evangelism

Mikmik reminds me of childhood

I've never done house-to-house evangelism before, the kind where we knock on each household and tell the people inside the good news, if ever they allow us. I was partnered with Ate Shii who, at that time, did not have a clue we were in Cagayan Valley, with mountain ranges surrounding us on all sides.

Funny things happened. We were assigned to a block of houses beside the solar drier. In Brgy. Valbuena, Ate Shii cluelessly searched for a techie-looking tower with a solar dish on top. Imagine her disappointment when, after sensing her confusion, I told her, "Ate, that's what a solar drier looks like." I pointed to a flat, cemented area near a basketball ring, a far cry from the solar panels she had been imagining.

We went to two houses that afternoon. It broke my heart to learn that the people did not have any assurance of going to heaven if they died. They thought that they had to do good things, so they can earn they way to God's kingdom. They were shocked to learn that they did not have to. Salvation, after all, is only by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Good works are a result of one's salvation and are not the means towards it.

The next day I was assigned to Brgy. Poblacion where I got inside the smallest houses I've been to. I was encouraged when the mothers told me their children were attending Sunday school. The local church there is creating whirlpools for the expansion of God's kingdom.

Kallao Cave

At Kallao Cave, Cagayan

After more than a week of ministry, we went to Kallao Cave for our time of rest and recreation. The youth from SMBCC went with us. We had a great time together.

Just as we were about to end, we formed a big circle beside the quiet river and sang songs to the Lord. During sharing time, Pastor Ollie took out his guitar and sang a song he composed for us. The song had all our names in it. I recall the words, "Salamat at mahal ko kayo" which he sang with all his heart.

When we all said our goodbyes, our newfound friends burst into tears. What did we do that should merit this overflow of thanksgiving? We then received letters from them, telling of how much they praise God for our lives.

And we praise God for theirs.

Oh, it was the Lord who did those wonders in Isabela. It was the Lord. It was all because of Him.

UPDATE: More photos.

Off to Isabela

At 10 pm tonight I’m leaving for Isabela. God has been so gracious as to give me an opportunity to be part of the DCF missions team this year.

I’m excited to see how the Lord will do wonders there. He always has, and it has left us all amazed, our lips overflowing with praises.

Please pray:

1. That the people there be responsive to the gospel.
2. That Christ’s name be ultimately exalted and lifted up.
3. That we in the missions team be filled with the Spirit as we speak God’s truth.
4. That we may not lack in anything, for the Lord will surely provide.

My next update will be in, what, 10 or so days. Isabela, here we come!

Morning snapshots

Manong's law readings clutter much of the floor's surface area.

Paper clutter


Here's his trusted Macbook that I borrow once in a while, especially when I have presentations to do.

Mac(hine)

Ate Pie Sobrepena is Renan Laruan's niece who regularly visits the apartment, usually with a meal idea in mind. Here she's reviewing for the board exam this Thursday.

Ate Pie

Kuya John Dasmarinas is on his way to an art exhibit in UP. Later in the day, he's buying a kiwi drink. It's a weekly ritual.

Kuya John

My brother. You won't miss the nose.

Studying

This break I plan to finish these books:

1. The Journals of Jim Elliot, given to me by Kuya Caloy. I've started reading the first few pages, and it's already been a blessing. What an encouragement Mr. Elliot is. Each page is just soaked with God's truth reflected in man's thoughts and prayers.

Jim Elliot

2. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I have no idea what it's about, but I hear it's really good.

Fahrenheit 541

A time to rest

Trusted notebook

It’s the stillness after the storm.

As far as I know, yesterday marked the end of my sem. A lot of friends, especially in MBB, think this has been the hardest. And it’s been hard, considering our academic load, lab internships, and org responsibilities. I’m just relieved that, at least for the moment, I won’t be thinking much of them.

Right now there are awkward moments when I feel I should be doing something but in reality there isn’t. All these sleepless months have conditioned my body to a state of unrest, so imagine the weird-ness of it all when I found myself alone last night in my brother’s apartment, without an exam or a meeting or a deadline in mind.

Rest is a precious gift. Thank you, Lord, for the chance to get hold of that.


Good morning

The troubles of losing something

To declare someone (or something) is missing, 24 hours should've passed since the time that person (or object) was last seen. The last time I saw my personal journal was Sunday afternoon. It doesn't take a genius to understand that it's been more than 24 hours.

I remember leaving it on my desk beside my mug when I went out of the dorm. I didn't bother bringing it—it was a matter of great importance. Private things should remain in their private places.

Now I'm having second thoughts if I'm remembering things rightly. Memory—at least mine—has its way of messing things up. I've looked at my bed and under it, I've asked my roommates, I've created a mental movie of what I did that Sunday afternoon.

It's still missing. Otherwise, I wouldn't be so desperate writing this.

What if someone reads my journal?

Well, it's personal, for one—and it shouldn't be read. At least, not by everyone. There are many things I've written there that I wouldn't normally talk about. They're not embarassing blackmail entries, so don't count on ever reading something like that in case you pick up my journal after I'm dead.

I don't think it was stolen, though. My gut feeling is that it's just somewhere, hidden in a corner, waiting for the right time to be found.

UPDATE (October 14, 2008): Calvin saw it, tucked neatly between the bed sheet and the wall. Thanks Calv.

Death

Two days ago Shean texted me the news that Herman's father is dead. Herman was our high school classmate who's now teaching part-time at Ateneo de Davao while taking up his Law degree.

I called him this morning to express my condolences, but I was at a loss for words.

This was history repeating itself. Reinier's father died last year, too, and I had nothing else to say, except for a text message telling him I would be praying for their family in the time of grief.

Why do words desert us when we need them most?

Jogging reminded me of my heavenly home

Today was the first time I jogged in a long time. It felt good—the first few hours after my first and last round—and right now I'm not too sure if, with all the lactic fermentation going on, I'd still be able to walk tomorrow.

Jason knocked at my door at 6 am. Coming from Yakal, we (Jason, Jaylord, Remrick, and myself) walked to the Grandstand where we met Luther and Arnold. Rashel and Steffi arrived soon after. We warmed up—not with stretching, as Rem so vehemently insisted against—but with taho and a good dose of laughter.

Then we ran.

O, it was fanstastic: seeing all those people in jogging pants, sweat pouring down their faces.

At the last quarter of the distance before finish line, I had a panoramic view of the crowd, running, never looking back.

And then I remembered what Paul said in Philippians 3:13b-14, “But one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead; I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

I wondered if heaven was like like the view I was seeing. People rushing to the finish line, excited about meeting God face to face, dressed in white robes because all their sins have been washed away.

If only for the reminder of heaven, I might consider jogging as a hobby.

UPDATE (October 13, 2008): My legs hurt, but I'm not going to need that wheelchair, thank you.

Lakbay-aral sa Bundok Banahaw

After more than two weeks, I still wish I were in Banahaw, in that crazy field trip we had for our PI class.

Most of the time, we didn't ride inside the jeepney; we rode on top of it. Imagine the thrill of getting slapped by tree branches. The three Americans with us had the time of their lives.

On top of the world

After we arrived at the ministry center of the Rizalistas, we toured along the compound. Just when I thought I had escaped from all the academic pressures in school, I saw "MBB" written on top of the Teachings of Jesus.

MBB?

The place was full of candles. In that trip, we lit more than a hundred. Maybe we should consider getting a candle-making company to sponsor the trips in the future.



I saw this beautiful gasoline station just outside the Santoyo compound.

Gasoline station

After a day of hiking on mossy rocks, the prospect of getting to the end of the journey excited us all.



Here's our PI 100 class. I'll miss those guys.

The Class

Here's Rochelle, about to take a dive. I tried this, too, and it scared me at first. But it was fulfilling, and you should absolutely try it when you go there.

Ready for the jump

Cool streams

If you're planning to take PI 100, don't ever forget to sign up for Dr. Nilo Ocampo's class. Half of the fun was because our professor was the wackiest there is. You won't believe he wrote all those amazing books when you hear him sing the Pinoy version of Rihanna's Umbrella.

Dr. Nilo Ocampo

And here I was, still alive and breathing after that trip.