Tuesday, August 31, 2010

License To Eavesdrop

Article III, Section 3 of our 1987 Constitution emphatically mandates that the “privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law”; but despite nearly a decade already having lapsed, the raging tide of post-9/11 paranoia persists and has deplorably given governments worldwide, perhaps including ours, a pervasive and enduring justification premised on national security concerns, to stifle the right guaranteed above. Movies like “Rendition” and “Unthinkable” reflect the grim facets of such licentious state action, although hopefully done with good intention.

Without meaning to dismiss the legitimacy of state action based on emergency in certain cases that present actual and imminent threats to national or public security, the terrorism paranoia, however, has opened Pandora’s Box to indiscriminate state action in which supposedly inalienable rights are increasingly being reduced to mere paper privileges. Now, the more furtive and insidious aspects of such state action are surfacing:

In the East, for example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others, have threatened to ban the Blackberry Messenger function, and also its Internet and e-mail services, because Saudi’s government cannot access information exchanged over this service (ITP.net. http://www.itp.net/581281-saudi-bans-blackberry-messenger-service). India too, has taken issue with BlackBerry’s “tough encryption standards, which make it impossible to monitor communications for threats like terrorist attacks”; and sadly, rumor is that RIM, Blackberry’s developer, has succumbed to the pressure and “agreed to provide reasonable access to user data to governments who demanded it.” (Blogote.com. http://blogote.com/2010/blackberry-2/rims-blackberry-pressure-user-data.html) This situation is deplorable not only because this contradicts Blackberry’s principal selling point of “complete encryption and security to users” (ibid.), but more significantly, because it steps on individuals’ right to privacy for the sake of a government’s license to eavesdrop.

On the other half of the globe, the European community struggles with tapping Internet calls over such channels as Skype. “While the police can get a court order to tap a suspect’s land line and mobile phone, it is currently impossible to get a similar order for Internet call on both sides of the Atlantic.” “Police officers in Milan say organized crime, arms and drugs traffickers, and prostitution rings are turning to Skype and other systems of VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephony in order to frustrate investigators.” (PCWorld. http://www.pcworld.com/businesscenter/article/159896/skype_calls_immunity_to_police_phone_tapping_threatened.html)

These sought-after derogations on individual rights should not be countenanced. RIM should not be cowered into permitting government access to RIM resources and VoIP telephony should not be tampered with. In the balancing of interests between protecting individual rights and ensuring national security or public safety, government, as agent, fails its principal in fudging its duty to faithfully serve the principal’s interests. In the final analysis, governments must seek recourse to police measures, which, while adequately addressing security concerns, do not, as far as practicable, interfere with the citizenry’s robust enjoyment of human rights. Anyhow, an eavesdropped world does not guarantee a safer one.

Raul S. Grapilon

Entry No. 9

Monday, August 30, 2010

Let this game be a warning

Two months into his presidency and PNoy 's much celebrated political capital seems to be dwindling.

Still well within what is supposedly his honeymoon period, President Aquino's administration has been marked by a defective (and subsequently recalled) first memorandum circular, an obvious reneging on his promise to not impose new taxes as shown by a stubborn insistence to impose VAT on toll fees (despite objections by his own partymates, even by the very author of the R-VAT Law, and slyly justified by claims that it's an old but hitherto uncollected tax), sounding (in his first SONA) more like he's still on the campaign trail by focusing on lambasting his predecessor rather than on laying out a detailed plan of government and in having overlooked key pieces of legislation like the Freedom of Information Bill, and a seeming failure to lead by example with the dismal state of affairs in Hacienda Luisita.

As though his domestic woes were not enough, PNoy's credibility is now severely tarnished, even internationally, with last Monday's hostage crisis. And, in a seemingly kidding but ultimately mocking twist, PNoy now finds himself as the object of (virtual) aggression in the online game Bus Hostage by Policeman: Smiling President Edition. Rightly or wrongly, presidential blunder is seen as having contributed to and having aggravated last Monday's turn of events. What's more, his failures seem to resound more clearly at home than they do abroad. As of this writing, six of the top ten scorers in shooting the 'smiling President' are supposedly Filipinos.

Now, a paltry online game is by no means a substitute for a scientifically conducted survey to gauge PNoy's trust rating. But I'm inclined to think that the creation of a mocking game (even if it may have been by foreigners) and its (apparent) appeal to Filipinos is something that should seriously concern this administration. After all, while it is but a game, that it entails the virtual shooting of a disliked personality makes it a cathartic exercise; and it being a cathartic exercise, clearly, there are ill feelings that are simmering and in need of venting - ill feelings that, while innocuous today, could fan the flames of future troubles for this administration.

As Rep. Walden Bello (in a Facebook status message) put it, "The administration must realize that if there's anything citizens hate more than corruption, it's incompetence." Thus, lest President Aquino is courting the same rebuke that his predecessor has earned (or perhaps worse), it's time to shape up.

Entry No. 12

Hard Mode 5: An Electronic Meeting of the Minds

"If legal negotiations are made by email, when is the contract said to be formed? Is it when the email is sent by the offeree? Or when it arrives at the recipient's/offeror's mailbox? Or when the recipient/offeror reads the acceptance?"

An excerpt from the article "Email contracts -- When is the contract formed?" by Simone Hill, in the Journal of Law and Information Science.

It's a perfectly valid question, unless we live in a Ghost in the Shell-like world where electronically-readable minds literally meet in the Internet. But for now, we should all be content with making contracts via email, "I Agree" tickboxes, and even through SMS or Facebook Chat.

We are (or should be) familiar with the Civil Code rules on offer and acceptance. The magic phrase to please law professors is "article thirteen-nineteen." One party makes an offer, and if the other party accepts it, the contract is formed. And when the acceptance is made by letter or telegram, it becomes binding only when the acceptance is made known to the offeror.

Hill, the author of the article, tries to apply these rules in an email contract scenario. But what if the offeror, intentionally or negligently forgets to check her mailbox for the acceptance email? She suggests the application of the old, common-law "Postal Acceptance Rule" (PAR).

The PAR simply deems the acceptance via letter to be constructively known to the offeror, at the time when the letter is taken out of the control of the sender -- i.e., when the letter is taken by the postman for delivery to the post office. Hill defeats the PAR through common sense. It was created during the old days of Snail Mail, and it is therefore not applicable to email, which travels at the speed of light.

But now, with the passage of the E-Commerce Act, all of this is a moot point. Chapter III thereof now provides various rules regarding the time, place and manner of formation of electronic contracts.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Cure for the Common Shoe

Wired reports that Nike has filed a patent for auto-lacing sneakers. The design, which sports a lighting system in addition to an automatic lacing scheme, is reminiscent of Marty McFly’s high tech footwear from Back to the Future 2.

The lighting system, while faintly ridiculous, is nothing new. I remember begging my parents for those spiffy LA Gears, which lit up every time the person wearing them took a step (or was jostled in a particularly violent manner).

While the self-lacing scheme may have been inspired by the 1989 time travel caper, the US Patent Office found it original enough to be eligible for patent registration. I find the idea amusing, but I have to ask, what is it for? Is it meant to be a novelty? Or is it intended to simplify something that doesn’t need simplification. I mean, there's convenience, and then there's appealing to preternatural laziness.

Isn’t Velcro simple enough? Have people gotten so lazy that the act of tying one’s shoelaces needs to be automated? The answer, it seems, is yes. And based on this video, which shows a robot that has been programmed to fold socks, no task is so simple that it can’t be automated, and given to a robot to perform.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Cruel and Unusual

Public transportation around Metro Manila is cruel and unusual punishment. This from a 6-year old commuter who has taken just about any type of public commute in this city.

Tonight, it took me two hours, via the UP Campus Pantranco jeepney, to get from UP to the MRT Quezon Avenue station, which is like what, less than 10 kilometers away? A total waste of good time, energy, and most importantly, diesel. (That's according to the jeepney driver who kept muttering every now and then.) Guess who, or what, the culprits are? Those mystical U-turn slots. I say mystical for while it has been the butt of criticism from the public, environmentalists and highway engineers alike since its conception, it continues to sprout everywhere as if MMDA is thoroughly sold on its efficiency. 

Another good subject of mine, the MRT. The way I see it, the MRT is a jungle. In order to ride the MRT everyday successfully, one has to learn how to push and shove people, completely forgetting the concept of personal space. The polite ones are left eating dust and unable to ride the trains. Every time a jam-packed train would arrive and I have to fight my way through hoards of people just to get inside, I can only think: Damn MRT Administration, why'd you have to make us this way? 

I love the commute, don't get me wrong. But this is one instance perhaps when economics (and stress) won, thus forcing me, FINALLY, to move to an apartment unit closer to UP. No more one-hour daily commutes. No more misadventures riding the jeepney and the MRT. No more cruel and unusual punishment.

Living in the Rurals

My Tito passed away this morning and the news about his death has reached my relatives living in the U.S. even before it reached my relatives living in Bicol. My parents had to send an LBC just to get the news to them. I’ve always thought anything is possible in a blink of an eye with our technology today but the truth is it isn’t. Our relatives in Bicol have cellphones but they say that the signal of cell sites in the area where they live is very weak that most of the time, there’s no signal at all. They even have to improvise an antenna and attach it to their phones if they want to text or call us, who are in Manila. They don’t have internet service in their place too. They own a desktop computer but it’s used mainly for school papers and projects.
The difference in the way of living of people from the far flung rural areas and the urban areas is striking. However, those in the urban areas remain oblivious to the current condition of those in the rurals – to the extent that they’d be utterly surprised to find out that there are actually still a lot of Filipinos who have never been acquainted with Yahoo, Google, or Facebook. I for one haven’t thought about this until today when we were having difficulty reaching our relatives in Bicol. Maybe if people were made aware of the conditions of those in the rurals, then they would be more empathetic. And perhaps, they would think and consider doing something to help out bring technology closer to our fellow Filipinos.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Technology-Assisted Experience-ing

While my friends were in Araneta cheering on Team Ateneo against UE at yesterday's basketball game, I was at a meeting. It was sad that I wasn't able to go, but technology was there to save the day. I received tweets real-time, straight from Araneta. When my internet connection fluctuated, I received text messages. Unfortunately, Ateneo lost, and I got the news real-time.

One of the issues raised as to technology and its effects is that it has made a society of couch potatoes. Instead of going out and experiencing things personally, we have technology to give us at-home substitutes. We have televised games and matches, online updates that we receive real-time, and even simulation games on our computers. Children don't even come out to play anymore because they have all these game consoles, and even online games which they can play with their friends from anywhere in the world.

With all the advantages technology has given us, sometimes we don't realize that we miss out experiencing things in the flesh. In that game, for instance, despite all the updates I received, there is nothing watching games live. There, you can actually feel the tension with all the screaming, the cheering, even the taunting. A tweet cannot compare to the experience of actually seeing your favorite player make a near-impossible shot. Y!M and text cannot compare to face-to-face conversations with friends. The challenge therefore is to be able to maximize the use of technology in allowing us to experience things vicariously, while still wanting to experience things for ourselves and still maintaining personal relationships.

A Comment on Mr. Wagner’s Post (medyo mahaba to)

Backgrounder: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-wagner/the-philippine-bus-and-mi_b_694544.html

I could not agree more.

However, I have to say something in defense and in fairness to the Filipinos and the Philippines. This is not to provide more excuses. Rather, this is to put in my two cents’ worth of explanation.

As to the hostage-taking incident, I agree with him that the police’s priorities were misaligned. In addition to their lack of foresight, they were also ill-equipped with both the training and the sense of urgency for the duty at hand. It must be because they are so used to the culture of impunity, power and complacency that they think that they could still work their way out of the situation without going out of their comfort zones. They may have this concept that since the Philippines is a third world country, then the chances of some high profile incident catapulting them into international stardom is nil. Again this boils down to low common denominator argument, and being resigned to a system which is totally wrong and entrenched. But can they really help it? Can we? Yes, we can and we should. In fact, I think this is the bitter pill that the police must take in order to reform the system. Is this an excuse or an explanation? It does not matter.

As to the Miss Universe pageant, what if Miss Raj just could not of anything responsive at that time? That she just had to say anything to kill the dead air and save herself (and her country) the embarrassment of taking 40 years to answer the question (and move forward)? What if she was telling the truth? Should we take it against her just to win the crown? That would then put the thrust of the pageant in a different light altogether. Now, would that again constitute excuse or explanation? How about a defense? Again, it does not matter.

Whether a response is an excuse or an explanation does not really matter. What matters is how such response becomes tangible. If it be an excuse, then it should be valid enough to merit pardon, forgiveness or acceptance. If it be an explanation, then it should be reasonable enough to be welcomed, conceded to or accepted. In any case, acceptance should be the end goal of whatever response there it. It is the only way that both the giver and receiver of the response can mutually come to terms with a situation, deal with it and move forward together.

Hence, dear Mr. Wagner, I thank you for the insights and the reality check. However, the romantic and confused people that we are, I would want to think that we really do our best to not settle with a low common denominator. We may seem to be an apathetic people but it is just our defense mechanism against losing all our eggs of hope in one basket. Yes, we did not demand enough of ourselves and of our government. It is not because we are selfish, but because we try to be independent and self-sufficient. It is also because our government has yet to prove itself to us as our champion. With our colonial past and neo-colonial present, it is an effort on our part to insulate ourselves from a government which we do not have much faith in. We nudge our country to progress individually because as of this stage in our nationhood and in face of our poverty, the likelihood of having a constant collective mass of vigilant volunteers is low. I do not believe that the Filipino people should be solely blamed for this peculiar coping mechanism, nor should this be mechanism be deemed a mistake. If it is not too far an argument and too lame an excuse, we have not yet fully broken away with our difficult past. I believe that is the greatest reason for our handicapped psyche. All I plea for is for the world to give us a chance at taking our time in figuring things out. This is our country anyway.

-Michelle P. M. Sabitsana

How iPhone Changed My Life

Last night I saw on the news that an iPhone application helped this man stop burglars from robbing his home. For $4, he was able to monitor and view his house through webcams installed in every room, which transmit a live feed to his iPhone. While vacationing in his parents' house in a different state, he was able to call 911 after a live view of two hoodlums throwing stones at his glass door. Nothing this groundbreaking has ever happened to me and my iPhone. But ever since I switched to it, I knew I'm permanently hooked. With thousands of applications (including Plants v. Zombies!), boredom is a thing of the past. Browsing has never been easier, albeit costly sometimes (Globe's fault!). Last minute reasearch of cases and laws is now possible. Spirituality may also be nurtured through the pocket Bible and prayer book. Creativity may be expressed through photography and music apps. My mom always scolds me, my siblings and my dad for being so obsessed with our phones. She has this litany about how 20 years from now, we will regret the time lost in playing games instead of doing worthwhile things. I don't know if this is true, but all I know is that the feeling of beheading that last zombie is surely worth it.

Intersection 11: Common sense

Like kids proudly brandishing their new toys, broadcast giants ABS CBN and GMA unleashed their brand new and spanking technological acquisitions as they competed in covering the elections last summer. I remember distinctly how one news anchor giddily and over-enthusiastically announced to their ka-whatever their hologram technology. Of course, they had different ways of telling the world about their new acquisitions, but they did say something in common: their news delivery service has just been greatly enhanced.

Clearly, that much is true, and easy enough to comprehend. As technology gets better and better, so does the manner in which the media fulfills its role as the fourth estate. Technology improves the gathering and dissemination of news and information that the people require to effectively participate in public affairs.

But any amount of technological advancement becomes utterly useless if the journalists who use these lack one very fundamental thing: common sense. In journalism school, our professors always reminded us that the power media wields is immense, and that the exercise of this power demands a good deal of wise judgment, a good deal of common sense.

Something I personally did not see that much during last Monday’s hostage-taking tragedy.

Technology allowed media to cover the tragedy blow-by-blow. From its tension-filled start, to its promising developments, and ultimately, to its downward spiral. Everywhere one looks—television, radio, internet—one is kept apprised of the developments. And the coverage was not simply a one-location, one-reporter, one-anchor setup. Reporters were reporting from everywhere; at least one reporter was even hanging out with a strategically located sniper. Field reporters were connected to the studios, allowing the anchors to immediately tap any reporter with any new development to report.

Though no hologram was used that day, the confluence of busy bodies and any available technology (and the very story itself) kept those who had been monitoring the news since the first hour or those who chanced upon the same during the day glued to their seats. For about 11 hours, we laid witness to the tragedy and learned, among others, about the ineptitude of our police force

It is indeed pretty amazing to note how we, the public, were fed information real-time. And it is also pretty amazing to note how the hostage-taker was similarly fed with information real-time.

Because the bus had both radio and TV.

You have to be really, really stupid to not exploit the advantages presented by a radio and TV set on board that bus. True enough, reports over the last few days showed that the hostage-taker indeed noticed this advantage, and that media appeared to have played a significant role in escalating the tension and marshalling it towards the tragic ending.

As with their conduct last May, the media (again) tripped over each other to get that shot, sound byte, or detail to “exclusively” report on air. Ironically, there was nothing exclusive about such reportage; everybody was reporting and everybody was watching.

Including the hostage-taker.

Media appeared to have forgotten that it can act as gatekeepers of information. As such gatekeeper in a volatile situation, the media people should have exercised good judgment in deciding what to and what not to air. Such acts are not contrary to free speech and press; it is consistent with responsible journalism. And common sense.

But I suppose what they say is true. Common sense may not really be that common after all.

-- William G. Ragamat

Intersection 10: P1N0CCH10

The gamer in me has been dormant ever since I was compelled to sell my Xbox years ago (a necessary recourse, among many, to increase the chances of survival in law school). I haven’t really engaged in any serious or leisurely gameplay, the kind that deprives one of sleep and other human activities. No regrets here, but the kid in me wants to play every now and then. Thank God, then, for that game about the undead and herbs; it stops the craving, albeit temporarily.

I do, however, try to keep up with the developments in the gaming world as much as I can. And one development last year, which resurfaced in July this year at the TED Conference in London, puts forward an intriguing proposition.

Microsoft has unveiled Milo—a virtual human. In line with the intended release of a hands-free, motion-controlled Xbox controller, Milo literally interacts with the gamer. Milo reads the gamer’s emotions, voice, and movements; processes the same; and then reacts to the same. As this exchange of reactions progress, so does the relationship with the virtual human. Peter Molyneux, the Geppetto to Milo’s Pinocchio, says that no two Milo’s would be the same.

You have to see the video demo to fully appreciate Milo. And once you do, you would probably arrive at the same reaction that I had. This is freaky.

It’s as if Asimov’s Bicentennial Man, Star Trek’s Data, and other artificial intelligence characters are moving away from science fiction and edging closer to science fact. I used to believe that androids, cyborgs, holograms, or other similar—uhm—things can acquire sentience; I just didn’t believe it could happen in my lifetime. But Milo made me reexamine this. It just might happen in my lifetime.

Assuming that artificial intelligence and the technology that makes it possible make great strides in the next few years, will this result in a new lifeform, and will human society recognize such as a lifeform? Legally speaking, aside from natural and juridical, will we have a third category of persons? What rights and obligations would we be willing to give them? Do we even have that power to give such rights and obligations? If not persons, are these property? How will their existence impact legal principles?

Though purely and highly speculative at this point, the legal ramifications of this possibility are, at least to this blogger, quite interesting. Perhaps even groundbreaking, or paradigm-shifting. Revolutionary, possibly.

This may not be the scenario he had in mind, but Carlo Collodi must be smiling, in delight, in his grave. Pinocchio is no longer made of wood, but of 0s and 1s.

Cue binary solo, Bret.

-- William G. Ragamat

Big Brother Insecure Mother

Internet Cameras. What are they? The price is a dead give-away that these devices are not your usual web cams. Like web cams, Internet cameras are... well they're “cameras” capable of capturing photos and videos but the similarity stops there. While a web cam needs an attached computer to function, an internet camera does not. With its built-in video stream encoder and the capability to function as a stand-alone web server it can function by itself. When connected to a wire or wireless network it can transmit the pictures and video it captures to any computer on the network or, if the network is itself connected to the internet, to any computer that has an internet connection outside of the network.

So really what’s so special about it, you ask? Well it makes for one excellent monitoring device. Picture this: you’re a proud over-protective parent of a two year old baby girl named Krissy and you had to let your previous yaya, let’s call her Ten-Ten, go because Ten-Ten unexpectedly found the “boy” next door a little bit too interesting. Feelings, as it turned out, were mutual and an “accident” occurred prompting you to seek new help. Suddenly yaya no. 2, let’s call this one Manang, walks to your door step and offers her services. You don’t know her, but you also can’t find any other person able to fill in for Ten-Ten and your boss has extended one too many sick leaves for your benefit.

What do you do?

Before internet cameras came along you either took a very large leap of faith with Manang hoping against hope she doesn’t turn out to be one of those maids from hell you read about in your Crim 2 cases or you hire someone to install a several hundred thousand pesos CCTV system in your home in the hope that at the end of the day you could watch either your faith rewarded or the evidence recorded for future criminal prosecution. In either case it was hard to keep an eye on what Manang was doing at home with you in the office all day. With an internet camera set up in your home together with a router and a reliable internet connection you can affordably keep reasonable tabs on Manang, watching her remotely through the camera from your office PC, hopefully catching her early enough to call the neighbors or the police if it ever comes to that.

Another feature which calls for another imagine scenario is motion detection. Imagine again if you please: You decide to bring the entire household for a week’s getaway in Cebu, with no one left except your chuwawa - Chewy to guard the house. An internet camera, in security mode, can keep tabs on your home by sending you an email with an attached photo or video clip in case someone unexpectedly enters your home. The camera does this by detecting motion in its field of vision. So if someone decides to rob you while you’re away in the far-flung island of Cebu you get the honor of finding out first, assuming you check your email often enough, and watch them haul away everything you own while your chuwawa barks helplessly in the background. Hopefully you regain your momentum, call the police and shout enough sense into them to send a dispatch early enough to catch the thieves before they can make a quick getaway.

This device can also have applications in places of business as well as the home. Having a few cameras pointed at key places (cashiers, places of entrance and exit) can go a long way to preventing loss of property from theft or robbery by acting as a deterrent.

Of course not everything that happens in the home or even in places of business may be desirably recorded. If people regularly visit you to talk about confidential matters, they may be turned off by the fact that cameras are pointed at them. It may even be a problem if you happen to forget to turn off the cameras and record a sensitive conversation, without the consent of the other party. This might even open you up to criminal liability down the line. I guess that’s probably the reason why these devices have such bright blue lights that turn on whenever they’re activated. Bright blue neon lights do not blend into backgrounds that well.

Another concern is that, when enabled, the ability to view the camera remotely (from a PC outside your network) opens up the possibility of someone else gaining access to the cameras after having successfully hacked your security measures. As a spying tool this technology presents an ethical problem. Undoubtly there are areas in the home and workplace where the employment of these devices violates a person’s right to privacy. The temptation is always great to monitor each and every aspect of business or the home to the point of near omni-presence but not everything that can be seen should be seen. It may be useful to remember that at least at one point in time in the Garden of Eden even God chose to be blind. Like a doubled edged sword this technology, which opens up amazing possibilities for over-protective parents and obsessive compulsive businessmen, is fraught with technological and ethical pit holes which one must learn to navigate around for it to be utilized it to its full potential.

Linus Madamba

Deviously yours

I have a Deviantart account but that’s not because I’m an artist but because I collect artworks, digital drawings mostly chibis or animes and I use my account to arthunt and stalk my favorite cousins who are both awesome graphic designers. One of the artworks I’ve purchased before was “stolen” from me when someone used it to design her webpage she calls herself “Princess” which is the name of my virtual pet and I had the Japanese translation of that name “Hime” stamped on the artwork so she thought it was made for her. There are so many misconceptions about using art posted in DA. Creative Commons license options are integrated into the system and it’s one of the things which I love about DA, just the other day I was able to download this Photoshop starlight brush set for free and use it to create a background for one of my artwork collection see image left. Whenever you post an artwork in DA you can control the settings depending on how much “sharing” you want and the least is “all rights reserved” but even so they only put a watermark on the thumbnail version and you have to manually add your own watermark to guard your artwork. The copyright information is only displayed if you choose the creative commons license option and this really gives the wrong notion that if the art doesn’t have any watermark or copyright information then it is free for usage and copying. Another criticism about the system is that there is no way to review the artwork for copyright infringement upon uploading, so unless you catch someone stealing your art by chance like what happened to me, then the artwork uploaded would not be reported and it will not be taken down. And most of the time the art is stolen to make money out of it like the case of Deb Walker who later on found out that her artworks were being auctioned off in Las Vegas or in eBay. It really is a great platform which encourages creativity, I began to be interested in Photoshop editing after I found those brushes ^^, but it can also be abused and therefore if you don’t really want your works stolen you have to put safeguards like watermarks on your artwork.

*Drawing is a gift from lilrain

Looking into renting MY OWN island

As soon as I read that CNN.com article about renting your own island as low as a hundred dollars a week, I made it a point to scrutinize one of the websites mentioned therein: www.privateislandsonline.com. There was something fishy about it. I mean, how could you lease something you can’t own? Legal thinking aside, the whole idea of renting (more so, owning) a private island seems to be an exclusive thing for multimillionaires. Afterall, you have to have the moolah in order to spend a fortune to get off to a tropical paradise -- may it be in the South Pacific or the Caribbean or wherever. But with this website, it appears that you don’t have to be filthy rich to rent your own island. You just have to make sacrifices. You have to scrimp on the options and (obviously) luxurious accommodations. You may have to settle for the Adam and Eve aka. Survivor vacation style.

As advertised, the nearest island for rent is Pandan Island. It is a 50-acre virgin island in Mindoro, Philippines. For a super low rate of $84/week (Php 4,200/week or Php600/night), vacationists get to stay in a 16-room resthouse made from native materials. The downside is that there is no electricity nor generator in the island. So, there’s no aircon, electric fan, cable television or even an outlet where you could charge your phone in. Still, the lights are solar-powered. You also get your own toilet and shower, a private terrace, … and mosquito nets.

But one of the islands I’d like to rent is in Maldives: Soneva Gili Island Resort. It is claimed to be Maldives’ first all-water villa. Each of its’ 44 stilted accommodations has roof-top and over-water sundecks, open air bathrooms (WOAH!), and a personal entertainment centre. There, you can choose to bask under the sun or snorkel and find Nemo or take diving or other water sport lessons or simply gaze off into the amazing blue horizon. Cool, right? It will be worth every penny of the $4,010/week you'll spend. :D

But as I mentioned earlier, are the islands promoted in www.privateislandsonline.com really rentable?

Net Neutrality

I didn’t realize how controversial “Net Neutrality” was until I read this article Why You Should Care About Net Neutrality in dire search for a topic to blog about for this class.

I found myself nodding to the first sentence, “You've probably heard the term or read it online and simply skipped past it without a second thought. Maybe it seemed abstract, arcane or a bit geeky, not something you as an Internet user needed to worry about.” By the time I finished reading the article, I was actually more confused with all the politics behind the issue albeit agreeing with one thing – that the Internet should remain an open and neutral network as it was intended to be. After all, if regulation would actually mean having “gatekeepers” that would monitor content and restrict access to the Internet in favor of certain companies then we might as well have given them a hand in making “social classes” out of us users.

article described the scenario as a “cabin of an airplane where there is first-class content for those willing to pay a premium and basic services for everyone else.” I have yet to scrutinize the arguments of both sides though. Until then, my position would be to defend today’s greatest equalizer which is the Internet.


We live in an electronic world – so much so that doing things manually is increasingly becoming less and less the standard. We converse through email or instant messaging, conduct meetings via video conferencing, and cast our votes in a machine.

Apparently, even smoking has jumped in on the bandwagon. Technology has introduced yet another addition to the mix: electronic cigarettes. They look and apparently taste like tobacco cigarettes, and are used in the same way -- the LED top even lights up when inhaled. When exhaled, a vapor-like substance is emitted, simulating smoke. Thus, unlike the regular tobacco stick, there is no unpleasant cigarette smoke that will stick to the hair, clothes or fingers. No ashes too. Harmful effects attributed to second-hand smoke are likewise avoided. Also, the e-cigarette consists of a cartridge, an atomization chamber, and lithium battery[1], instead of the usual tobacco leaves, tar, and the host of harmful chemicals said to be found in traditional cigarettes. The concept is that upon inhalation, a device is switched on and sends an electronic signal to a heating element inside the atomizer, which heats up quickly and vaporizes the e-liquid nicotine into a fine, water-based mist that replicates the look and feel of actual smoke.[2]

Photo courtesy of www. yourecigarette.com

The question then arises: does it fall within the provisions of the Tobacco Regulation Act of 2003 (R.A. 9211) which prohibits smoking in certain public places?

The law defines smoking as the act of carrying a lighted cigarette or other tobacco products, whether or not it is being inhaled or smoked. A cigarette, on the other hand, refers to any roll or tubular construction, which contains tobacco or its derivatives and is intended to be burned or heated under ordinary conditions of use. Taking into account that the e-cigarette contains no tobacco or any of its derivatives, and that it is neither burned nor heated when used, it appears that the e-cigarette does not come within the definition of smoking as provided under the law. Using the e-cigarette in a public place, therefore, is not an act punishable under R.A. 9211.

Maybe there’s a legitimate way around the UP system-wide smoking ban after all :)

[1] www.ecigaretteschoice.com

[2] www.yourecigarette.com


It seems as though Apple has done it again.

Integration is the name of the game. As can be observed, almost everything that comes out nowadays can do almost anything and everything. One single device can have several functions, whether built-in or a downloadable application. For example, cellular phones now have camera and video functions, besides the usual call and text. Many mp3 players don’t just play music. They can also store pictures and play videos. Many also serve as an external hard drive. Everything is so accessible nowadays. Perhaps it is because wireless technology, once a dream, is now the present. And I think that it’s here to stay. At least until new developments come along.

But with the way things are now, it is believed that certain devices are rapidly becoming extinct. The top 6 such devices are the digital camera, video game consoles, navigation devices, tablets, netbooks, and e-readers. The culprit – Apple. With the development of their various products, and with the introduction of their iPad, Apple has entered into markets other than the typical computer market. They have downloadable applications that can do almost anything.

I guess you CAN have the world in your pocket.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The not-so transparent Page of the President

Last weekend, our professor in Public Officers and Election Law assigned a homework, which asked the students to comment on the webpage of the President of the Philippines (http://www.president.gov.ph)

At the start, I was very amazed that one, he has his own webpage, and two, we can comment on his page. The page includes several tabs on the top of the page including: News Desk, Panata sa Pagbabago, My Cabinet, Photos, Videos, Tito Noy, Contact Us. While on the lower part of the page, there is a site search, another My cabinet and Panata sa Pagbabago links, and a Transparency Link.

Well, according to the President, this is suppose to be one of the ways to be transparent and accountable. Through the transparency page, visitors of the page can make comments, which is very commendable, UNTIL after submitting your comment and not seeing it on the page! Instead, one will just receive a "Your message has been sent and will be posted soon. Thank You!".

So much for transparency, when they will be screening your messages first before finally posting it in the webpage. This suddenly sounds more like another medium for good publicity for the President.

And so, I have yet to see the comment I posted there this week, because as of now, it only shows comments from last week.

Online Banking Tran(suck)tion

Recently, I decided to activate the online banking feature of my ATM card. What prompted me to avail of the said service was the fact that I had to monitor certain transactions in real time. Since I cannot wait for the monthly bank statement to arrive, this provided a way for me to be updated. And considering how paranoid I am when it comes to online transactions, this decision was a big step for me.

So I log on the bank's website and started filling out the form. From the onset, I had a bad feeling about the decision I'm making. The apprehension was not because the site was not secure (it was) but because I was being asked to give an eight character minimum-sixteen character maximum alphanumeric user name and password. Knowing how my memory works, remembering the user name and/or password I chose was a problem waiting to happen. But I really needed to have real time access to my bank statements so I continued answering the form.

When I finally filled in all the information that was asked of me, I pressed the submit button and was shocked. A message was displayed congratulating me that my application has been completed and that I now had to go to the bank to have it activated! It was at this point that I became confused. Wasn't the point of having an online banking feature to save time and effort for the customer? Had I known that I would still be required to physically go to the bank, I would have just gone there in the first place and save myself the trouble of answering the online form. So much for making life a bit simpler.

So as of this writing, I have yet to got to the bank and avail of the online banking services of the bank. And yes, I have forgotten the user name I chose.

- Gino Paulo O. Uy

Plagiarism, You Say? Blame It On Inception

Yep, this contains reference to the movie starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and directed by Christopher Nolan. From the movie, inception is the process of planting an idea into someone's head through dreams.

Earlier today I attended Dean Leonen's talk on plagiarism, and why people should stand up against intellectual dishonesty in our courts (the Supreme Court in particular). The Vinuya decision "written" by Justice Del Castillo has stirred quite a commotion in the law community, to the extent of pitting UP against Ateneo and others. While UP Law is demanding accountability through resignation, Del Castillo supporters are looking to due process and the application of law in determining the ponente's fate.

The Dean pointed out that the trickiest form of plagiarism is when one person is exposed to an idea, which then takes root in that person's head. Repeated and hazy bombardment of the idea leads the person to entertain the thought that 'hey, I can't get this idea off my mind, it's probably mine." That person then appropriates the idea as his own, without acknowledging the source of the idea. An unintentional case of plagiarism? Maybe. Or probably it's just too complicated for the person to trace down the origin of the thought.

So, is anyone really safe from 'inception' (or infiltration)? The first question in the movie is, 'is inception even possible?' On the premise that it is, we have never been exposed to so much information, until the Internet happened. Data instantly invades our consciousness the moment we access the internet. With people eager to give their two-cent's worth, comments and opinions flood our social network pages. We may be unconscious of the effects of information sharing, but every bit attaches to our minds I suppose.

Are there safeguards? Just like in the movie, I think there are. It helps to be discerning of the information available on the Net. Also, plagiarism can be avoided by simply being honest. Yes, despite the pressures of publishing something or coming up with an awesome idea, being humble enough to acknowledge another person's work adds to the credibility of the borrower-person. I believe values still go a long way even at a time of ever-changing technology and viewpoints.

Angry Birds

My favorite app is the game Angry Birds. It’s so impressive that it has managed to sell 6.5 million units without spending anything on advertising, but it’s not surprising considering how well thought out this game is.

The catapult-style game is not new, but the makers of Angry Birds managed to make it more appealing. The principle that design is key was taken to heart by its creators as the characters in the game were made to look and function in interesting ways. There are also plenty of levels to overcome and even if you finish all the levels, there are still so many ways to win at the game. Remove Formatting from selectionMost importantly, I think it appeals to more consumers because it relies more on skills such as knowledge of geometry (but in a non-geeky way). With this as a main factor, Angry Birds has gained so many fans who would think it’s worth it to pay continuously for upgrades for such a fun game. This is something, considering some people don’t even want to pay for games at all. Now, there’s also talk of turning it into a movie and merchandising is now beginning to flourish. Soon the game will be available to other non-Apple products.

It’s nice to see how something can rely on quality rather than paid publicity to gain recognition. Well played, Angry Birds. Well played.

Who Widened Our Perspective?

Just a couple of years ago, all our TV's, monitors, laptops, cellphones all operated under an aspect ratio of 4:3. Basically, we were all squares (or close to them, at least).

Then all of a sudden, we find that all our TV's, monitors, laptops, cellphones, etc. now operate at 16:9 or 16:10, or a close variant of what everyone knows as "widescreen." No one really protested against the "swift orderly change" (Ben Gibbard, yet again). I guess our perspectives just all widened (zing!).

Someone, some people, some group out there decided it. It's probably the same group that decided NTSC-format VHS would govern here and PAL for various parts of Europe. Yes, the
same ones who decided the hard copy of your pictures ought to be in 3R, 4R, and 5R while your soft copies at at least 1366 x 768 resolution for that crisp desktop background. The same ones who dictated that your monitor's refresh rate is better set at 75Hz or higher. The ones who made Blu-ray win the High Definition Optical Disc Format War of '08...

Whatever this Jedi Council is, I want in.

-Leo Rafael L. Quesada, Entry #11

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

As real as it gets

I have to admit that I was not able to keep myself abreast of yesterday’s hostage drama. It was, after all, a busy day – having to come to school (on what was otherwise my rest day) to iron out Graduation Committee concerns, then having to rush to Century Park Hotel for the last round of payments for this year’s bar operations, I didn’t even make it back to school in time for the opening ceremonies of the evening students week (and the free food they had to offer).

As I rushed from one appointment to another, all I knew (from having checked inquirer.net earlier in the day) was that a busload of people had been hostaged somewhere in Manila – something which didn’t quite alarm me, as it wasn’t even a new stunt (recall how, back in 2007, Jun Ducat did the same thing to a busload of pre-school children, just blocks away from where Rolando Mendoza pulled his own frenzied stunt). So, home I went, not even bothering to turn the TV on to check on the news, straight to the bed for a much needed nap.

A couple of hours later, I got up and, not having anything to read for the next day (as I had finished with my PubOff readings a week early), nonchalantly logged into Facebook, just looking forward to surfing and hoping to sloth the night off. It was then that I was jolted into awakenness at how events had taken a turn for the tragic. First was a friend’s status message announcing that two hostages had died. Then there were the countless expressions of dismay at Manila’s finest – they who seem to be fine at nothing but torture and human rights violations – the government and the media, for their ‘superbly prudent’ coverage of the crisis. There were those who warned of ramifications, most notably for tourism. Others had preferred to joke, claiming how Leon Guerrero could have mounted a better rescue effort, or wondering how Venus Raj could still viably banner world peace. Still later, Manolo Quezon, posted a status message declaring that four had been confirmed dead, the first statement that, in the confusion, had a tinge of being official.

But whether it be by way of clever sarcasm, concerned lamentation or virtual outburst, it was clear and palpable how, at that very moment, on Facebook, Filipinos were grieving; strikingly afflicted at how a nation already reeling from poverty, corruption, disrespect for basic liberties and diaspora, could not even catch a break from the utter embarrassment of a law enforcer going on a murderous rampage directed at guests who were supposedly the object of the Filipino’s world-renowned hospitality. As another Facebook user astutely put it, even the skies were shedding tears for a people mired in melancholy; as indeed last night, a torrent came just as bullets were being planted in our guests heads. Yet another, in exasperation, looked to God for answers, asking how we as a people must endure yet another crisis.

As I sat there, I watched as ordinary Filipinos expressed their lamentations – something that no award winning news coverage could ever capture. That night, a people wept, and that weeping was far from virtual.

Entry No. 11

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Philippines Should Be an IT Hub

I once had a conversation with a high school friend who graduated from Univserity of San Carlos, Cebu. He told me a lot of research and development in the field of information and technology in the Philippines. At one point, he mentioned that there's this big time project being made by a laboratory to create a chip which would be able to run a computer. Imagine - no motherboard, videocard, soundcard, lan card, etc. - just a chip the size of a ten peso coin! 

With all these technological advancements being made in our own backyard, why is it that the Philippines is not positioning itself as an IT hub in Southeast Asia?

Look, I believe we are not short of people who are passionate with technology. The mere fact that we repeatedly find ourselves in the top-ten list of technology-crazed citizens is a proof. We are a nation that can easily adapt to technological changes. If that's the case, why are we mere users? Why can't we produce them ourselves?

We Filipinos consume a lot. We produce little. Why is that? Simple - there is very little incentive. Haven't we heard of countless Filipino inventors who sold their inventions to other countries because the Philippine government does not give them enough support. More often, they are not even given any form of attention.

Governmental policies should change if we are to compete in this fast paced and technology-driven global economy. We cannot continue the practice. Otherwise, we become an economy dependent on other nations and not self-sustaining as mandated by the Philippine Constitution.


18 Aug 2010 ... "A cell-phone video, showing a suspected robber screaming in pain as an alleged police chief yanks on a rope tied to the victim's genitals."

That's some shocking stuff.

After the police force was made popular by having this most wanted list on facebook, they get placed under the microscope for these shocking exposures. What an irony how technology can on one day be your friend, and on the next day be the biggest pain in the a__. No doubt this whole torture video scandal will make pinoy identity global once more. The way it is now, this country is looking like some real land of the outlaw. I mean, this is some serious scandal, not like some Hayden Kho amateur porn stuff.

The things that a video phone can expose; the things that the internet can proliferate; the amount of public opinion it can generate; the impact of a simple act of voyeurism in this fast-tracked digital galaxy - is just staggering.

This is how news spreads now, citizens taking videos and uploading them for the mediamen. Back then correspondents have to be everywhere all the time, now all they have to do is encourage responsible people to shoot these videos and then upload. The events that impact your society can now be viewed from multiple perspectives, mostly unedited and uncut.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Take it Easy and Observe Netiquette


Dork. Where's your Netiquette? You have violated RFC 1855.2.1.1, 16th bullet point: Use mixed caps!


Netiquette is the minimum rules for civilized "behavior" when doing something "public" on the Internet, the mixed-cap "rule" being one of them.

Public means emailing, blogging, commenting, posting, publishing, status-messaging, twittering, MMORPG-ing, whatever.

However, Googling is private. A second party is not involved, so you can ask Google whatever you want. Emailing yourself is private. Fapping is also private.

That big Wiki teaches us that Netiquette was born simultaneously with the first ever newsgroups and BBS's during the late 70s and early 80s, but it was only sort-of "codified" by the IETF (an independent body of geeks and wizards devoted to making Internet standards) in 1995, in RFC 1855.

The full, original text of RFC 1855 can be found here.

Netiquette assumes that there's another "person" who will be affected by your combination of keystrokes. Might as well, unless IBM finally makes the computer that passes the Turing Test. But looking at a webpage simply, it's all just a collection of words, images, hyperlinks, and now videos.

Of Open Source, Flashcarts and Homebrews

I bought my Nintendo DS to play the then-new Version of Pokemon (Diamond and Pearl). And for a while, knowing that one original game card of the NDS costs quite a lot, I thought those would be the only games I'd be able to play... until I learned about flashcarts.

A flashcart is a device similar to an original game card, but instead having a built in memory, it runs with an external microSD card, wherein you can put in, as originally intended, unofficial, user- and community-created, usually-free NDS softwares (homebrews): from media players (Moonshell), to comic book readers (ComicBook DS) and to organizers-slash-web browsers (DSOrganize).

However, while flashcarts were originally intended to the development of a self-sustaining homebrew industry, they are now more commonly used to play commercial games via downloaded ROMs, free of charge. These ROMs have been the source of Nintendo's (and other gaming companies') intensified battle against piracy, even going as far as placing Anti-Piracy (AP) features in their titles.

After learning about open source last Friday, I can't help but relate this practice with my flashcart experience. Indeed, the flashcart industry, may be considered as an underground society of (illegal?) open source enthusiasts.

What was termed as Linus' Law provides that, "given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow".

The bug-solving prowess of the flashcart community has helped detect and solve numerous bugs not only in homebrew apps, but also in commercial titles. The community, however, has also learned how to bring down several AP measures of these games, thus successfully making these AP-infested ROMs playable in flashcarts. Flashcart programmers have also developed tools in editing and recreating these ROMs. Cheat code programmers have also joined in on the fun of testing and developing a whole new gaming experience. A lot of community-created translation (localization) projects of Japan-only games have also fluorished over time.

As I've said, the gaming companies are starting to notice the threat that flashcarts pose unto their market, but I am doubtful as to the practicability of Intellectual Property Rights discourse in this phenomenon, given that a huge part of this community involves the internet. But knowing the capitalists that they are, they will not take this matter lightly.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

TV vs. Net

I just realized how disconnected I am to our TV already.

I remember the times when I had to finish my assignments at school so that I could just stay at home, relax and watch my favorite anime series at that time (BT' X, Ghost Fighter, Hunter X Hunter, etc.) I'd get mad at my cousins when they try to change the channel whenever my eyes are glued unto the screen. I know the exact times when my favorite shows are shown and I always act as if I have a vested right to watch these shows, as a reward for my being a "good" student.

But now, I rarely watch the TV. Aside from the snippets I see from the teleseryes my mom's fond of, I only watch the TV whenever I feel like I need to watch the news to remain "in the know".

And now that I thought about it, me getting over the tube-box may have been caused by my now-full-blown internet addiction:

  1. My daily morning news from Inquirer.net and Yahoo! News;

  2. My weekly dose of anime and manga from various torrent and streaming sites (I don't need to be at home at a specific time just to watch a TV show anymore);

  3. My daily mail;

  4. My daily fix of Facebook and its games;

  5. My occassional Wikipedia trips.

Even my mom, who has been religiously following her seryes 'til almost midnight has discovered the existence of Youtube, ever so thankful that she won't need to stay up late just to watch Villainess A slap the face of Protagonist B.

Indeed, the Internet has changed the way people entertain themselves and it probably will continue to make TV less and less relevant in the future (thus resulting in a lot stronger presence of the TV networks on the Net)

If video did kill the radio star, then the net will, someday, kill the TV star.

Going Paperless

A couple of weeks ago, my friend called and asked if he could use my credit card to purchase something online. I, of course, hesitated, what with all those ICT lectures involving phishing. Before agreeing to give him my card number, I had to check the site, and all the security measures I was vaguely familiar with were there (although I really wasn’t sure what I was looking for). I then clicked on the purchase page, and to my surprise, all it asked for was my credit card number and its CVV code. This was new to me because the last time I bought anything online (airline tickets, I think), it asked for so much information, like my name, billing address, telephone, and even mobile phone numbers. I was surprised as to how, now, only numbers are necessary to complete transactions. While it is true that, in reality, the same thing happens when I use my credit card for “personal” transactions, the seller is still better enabled to verify if the one using the card is really that card’s owner. Some establishments even ask for IDs, on top of the usual signature on the charge slip. I still think this kind of practice protects both the seller and the buyer-slash-card owner. On the one hand, the seller can verify that the one using the card is the actual cardholder, and that they will get paid. On the other, the buyer has a semblance of security that in case his or her card get stolen, it will not be that easy to use that card. Call me traditional, but I still prefer this to blind online transactions. However, one must adapt to the changing times, and I expect that in the coming days, I will have no choice but to engage in more and more online transactions.

On North Korea’s Presence in Twitter and Youtube

I just read from BBC.com that North Korea already has its presence in Twitter and in Youtube. It has @uriminzok for its Twitter account and hosts close to 80 videos in Youtube. I think that this is a very big step, not only for North Korea, but also for the world.

First, I think that this is a big step for North Korea because it shows that it is abreast with the trends in cyberworld. It tells me that despite its backward economic performance, it still is able to enjoy internet services and even manages to utilize it for its propaganda. At least I can not now say that its communist image is fraught with illiteracy of the internet, at the very least.

Second and last, I think that this is also a big step for the world because it gives a glimpse of the thoughts and opinions of the secretive North Korean government. By following it on Twitter and watching its videos on Youtube, the world can somehow get an idea of what it is up to, or what agenda or propaganda it is currently promoting.

I know that I am not very familiar with the history and politics surrounding North Korea. However, I have this general impression that North Korea has its own set of formidable and unyielding mindset and agenda, wrapped in a cloak of secrecy. This is the reason why I truly welcome its presence in popular internet sites because it tells me that somewhere, somehow, underneath that cloak, there is that human aspect.

-Michelle P. M. Sabitsana

Dry Run Woes

Logistical problems can run any brilliant plan aground even before any part of it is executed.

Until now we haven't been able to confirm a final schedule for the dry run at the venue for the Saturday night lectures livestream (props to Gino Uy for all his efforts coordinating with Banquet!). I'm almost afraid that this project won't push through because of the time constraints.

The days to September are dwindling. There's so much more to do, and so little time to do it all.

I still hope there will be enough time to get things set up in time for the Bar Exam Weekends.