25 November 2007

Accountability, American football and forecasting

AS A Green Bay Packers fan, I frequent the Yahoo! Sports website a lot. In its NFL section, one finds a six-person panel of experts who predict outcomes of all games for the entire season.

Actually, the panel comprises of more than six because the sixth man represents the Yahoo! user, or more accurately, football enthusiasts all over the world who have an account with Yahoo! and have signed up for its Pro-Football Pick'em service.

And guess what? As of last Thursday's final game (Friday morning in the Philippines, as everyone here is anxiously waiting for 'Mina') between the Colts and the Falcons, the average football enthusiast is actually doing quite well compared to the five other *experts* that include Cris Carter, a former Minnesota Vikings star.

In fact, they have the same record as Carter (104-59 correct-incorrect picks), which is better than two of the other *experts* in the employ of Yahoo!

I have to mention this because this waiting game for 'Mina' has become one big football game -- where you have a veritable panel of international experts and enthusiasts on storm tracking (the JTWC of the U.S. Navy, the IFA of the University of Hawaii, the TCT of the University of Wisconsin, the TSR of the University College of London: they're all in Mike Padua's website), a Naga-based enthusiast who had been tracking typhoons for 10 years now, and of course, PAGASA, the official state weather agency.

With Bicol now safe from 'Mina', it is clear that PAGASA -- notwithstanding DOST Undersecretary Graciano Yumul's strained explanations -- bungled this one. This morning's Inquirer story asks correctly: What went wrong?

Of course, his boss -- Secretary Estrella Alabastro -- was correct in saying that PAGASA forecasters in fact mentioned two possible scenarios in regard to 'Mina': one running smack into Bicol and exiting via Mindoro (which brought us sleepless nights), and the current one, which spares the region and hits Northern Luzon and Cagayan Valley instead.

The problem is, they chose to play out the former, when all the other experts are saying otherwise. My two previous posts highlight this. Thus, massive preemptive evacuations had to be made in Albay and Camarines Sur, involving hundreds of thousands of residents, prompted by this Inquirer banner: "1 million Bicol folk told to flee".

If there is one thing I agree with Yumul, it is when he said that PAGASA forecasts are "accountable." Some accountability here would definitely help, because as Irvin Sto. Tomas, who has not been posting lately at Filipinayzd, pointed out, "In the end, you can't point the finger at the enthusiast."


23 November 2007

Now we wait, pray, prepare for the worst

IT APPEARS we will have to wait for Typhoon 'Mina' a little bit longer.

The latest tracking maps available as I write this show that the typhoon has slowed down, and will pass closest to Bicol mainland by around 8 am tomorrow.

But the bad news, according to Typhoon2000.com, is: Mina will gain more strength, with gustiness up to 260 kph when it passes north of Naga. That is dangerously close to that of Reming.

What path it will eventually take is still up in the air: the contrasting forecasts between PAGASA and the international meteorological entities that Typhoon2000 depend on, in fact persist.

From the top map above, the state agency is projecting Mina's eyewall to go through Albay Gulf -- with Rapu-Rapu and Legazpi City directly on its path -- towards Mindoro. On the other hand, Mike Padua's 11am storm track maintains a path that will barely graze Bicol mainland in the general direction of Baler, Aurora. That's a differential of about 250 kms!

This prompted Porfirio Rubirosa, a regular passerby of this weblog, to quip: "Apparently, different meteorological stations/weather report outfits have their own versions of tracking a typhoon. What does it tell us? That weather forecasting/typhoon tracking isn't really an exact science, it's all tentative."

When all of these is over, it will be interesting to see which one called it more accurately.


22 November 2007

A battle of forecasts

WHAT'S wrong with these graphics?

Well, they are contrasting forecasts as to the path that Typhoon 'Mina' (international name: Mitag) is supposed to take as it passes through the Philippines. Incidentally, they are what City Assessor Mon Albeus showed me this afternoon as we were lining to punch our timecards at the City Hall lobby.

The one on top came from the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), the state weather forecasting agency.

The one below came from Typhoon2000.com, a tropical cyclone tracking website -- the country's first, according to its tagline -- being maintained by Michael David "Mike" Padua, a Naga-based enthusiast who had been tracking storms since I can remember.

With Supertyphoon Reming's terrible force still fresh in our minds, we sighed with a measure of relief after waking up early in the morning to find that Mina's projected path has inched up upwards. Two days ago, the initial projection is that it will largely take the same destructive path that Reming took last November.

The PAGASA forecast -- which came out late in the afternoon -- was a downer and cast a pall of gloom. It has not veered from the projected track two days back. That it was broadcast over the 6:30 pm primetime news by the two leading TV channels surely kicked up our people's worries several notches higher.

Locally, Mike has become the favorite whipping boy of several radio broadcasters with a political agenda who can't reconcile themselves with the fact that in this age of the internet, weather forecasting -- albeit unofficially -- is no longer the exclusive domain of central state agencies like the PAGASA.

Now, which one do we believe? Mon asked me. That, I think, is the uneasy dilemma facing most city residents today as we prepare for Typhoon Mina.

I said I will stick to Mike's projection. Somebody from the City ENRO agreed, saying other meteorological websites linked to by Typhoon2000 carried largely the same path.

Just to show you, I also uploaded here the forecasts of the Honolulu-based Joint Typhoon Warning Center (JTWC), the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA), and the University College of London-based Tropical Storm Risk (TSR), in that order.

But then again, the best position should be to prepare for the worst. Which, incidentally, was the message emphasized by Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado when he presided over a meeting of the City Disaster Council just before lunchtime.

Tomorrow morning, Mayor Robredo will preside over an emergency meeting of the city government Management Committee (ManCom) to finetune local preparations before Mina will start lashing Naga beginning Friday midnight.


20 November 2007

Gutsy Gibbon rocks!

UPDATE (4:00 pm): I have also resolved the VCD issue by installing MPlayer, as suggested by the blog Only Ubuntu Linux.

WELL, WHAT can I say, except that Ubuntu 7.10, also known as Gutsy Gibbon, far exceeded my expectations.

Dom's package (together with a nice blogger's t-shirt - thanks, Dom!) came in at around 9 am yesterday, and I wasted no time to get the upgrade up and running.

By around lunchtime, I was all set -- meaning, my Konica Minolta laserjet is hooked up, and painlessly at that; my wireless internet connection to the access point at the office worked seamlessly; and my VLC media player played most everything I threw its way: DVDs, my Windows Media video files, and even my Welcome to the Black Parade Divx file.

More importantly, I can now see all my files in my Windows hard drives -- something I couldn't do under Dapper Drake and XP. And software upgrades are both painless and seamless, especially if you get the hang of Ubuntu's synaptic packages.

The only drawbacks remain to be the office network winprinter (the Canon LBP-800), its inability to play VCDs (not a major issue in these DVD days, but inexcusable because XP handles it so well), and my internal Conexant modem (which prevents me from logging on at home using Blast dial-up). But what the heck! One cannot have it all.

Which means there is still a place for Windows in my computing life -- at home where it is the only OS that my wife and kids know about. But even that may change, especially if I convert the home desktop into another dual-boot system.

Maray nang dai ka maestoryahan!

But why am I only writing this a full day later? Well, I had to do a clean reinstall to totally remove Dapper Drake from my system, as the first install actually yielded a triple-boot machine. And manually configuring the resulting partitions was a pain in the ass.:)


16 November 2007

My (difficult) Ubuntu life so far

WHILE awaiting the Ubuntu Gutsy Gibbon installer that Dom Cimafranca offered, I deliberately spent most of the week logging into my Dapper Drake system, eschewing the Windows I knew practically all my computing life.

For instance, early today, I composed my Vox Bikol column for the week in OpenOffice Writer, emailed it through my Gmail account via Firefox, and uploaded it to my Blogger site.

I have also resolved my printing problem -- in fact, I let out a loud, triumphant cry when I finally did so -- with my Konica Minolta PagePro 1400W laserjet after tracking down Manuel Schiller's PagePro 12xxW printer printer drivers for Linux, downloading and finally installing it -- but not after overcoming side issues related to the absence of a compiler and make commands in my system.

But I still have problems with the Canon LBP-800 network printer in the office. The appropriate PPD driver -- courtesy of Massimo Del Fedele -- has been installed, which means I will be able to use it as a local printer. But network printing appears to be impossible, as this note from the Open Printing database of the Linux Foundation shows.

The driver issue I mentioned previously involving my Conexant modem remains unresolved to my satisfaction: after finally tracking down the correct driver, the modem has been detected, the process of logging in and out takes place quite seamlessly, but it is mostly an exercise in futility with connection speed capped at 14.4 kbps. Linuxant, the outfit which developed the driver, will only remove the restricted if one coughs up $20 for the license.

But what currently stumps me is my inability to play a simple VCD movie, notwithstanding the updates I made on the VLC Media Player that I downloaded, either as a synaptic package or through the Terminal. The same holds true with the WMV videos I have in my hard drive, which are practically useless in an Ubuntu environment.

Truth to tell, I am being frustrated by twists and turns of my Ubuntu experience thus far in trying to duplicate what I can do, and actually do and enjoy with Windows. Which actually makes me pine for the ease and simplicity of XP, its bugs, worms and viruses notwithstanding.

I am not exactly a techie, and I am not conversant at all with Linux. But having used a lot of DOS line commands and the WordStar word processor before Windows 3.1 came about, I can follow basic instructions on how to go about with Linux line commands in the Ubuntu Terminal.

I can only imagine how a total newbie will manage in the face of these difficulties.

But I have not given up yet: I love my "Dawn of Ubuntu" wallpaper, and I only hope Gutsy will live up to expectations.


JoeBar does us a great service

IN MY column during the Independence Day week last June, I mentioned the generation and information gaps behind our weak sense of local history. The former stems from the fact that only around 2% of the city population as of 2000 had a clear recollection of World War II. The latter refers to our “skewed, if not lack of total, appreciation of what happened during those fateful years” -- arising from the absence of information magnified by a dumbing down of local history in the DepEd curriculum.

Historian Jose V. Barrameda, Jr., popularly known hereabouts as JoeBar, performed the city and Bikolanos in general a tremendous service with the recent publication, under a grant from the National Historical Institute, of his opus entitled In the crucible of an asymmetrical war in Camarines Sur 1942-1945 – The story of the Tancong Vaca Guerilla Unit. My friend and colleague Joe Perez of the Bicol Mail lent me his copy for two days and it proved to be a gripping well researched read.

Focusing on the exploits of the Tancong Vaca guerillas (named after a watershed in Libmanan and Pasacao, also known as Mt. Bernacci in U.S. maps) against the Japanese invaders, Barrameda -- whose father fought and died during the war -- debunks the conventional belief that Bicol had the least organized resistance movement against the invaders.

To the contrary, what stands out from the entire account is a tough, stubborn, durable and well organized force that refused to lay down their arms like other guerilla units in the aftermath of General Wainwright's surrender on May 6, 1942; survived the best shots unleashed by the Japanese Imperial Forces and their local cohorts; and outlasted them during the four-year period notwithstanding losses it sustained along the way.

Moreover, the guerillas -- led by the triumvirate of Juan Miranda, commanding officer, who would later become a congressman of the 2nd District after the war; Leon Aureus, executive officer, who would later become Naga's first postwar city mayor and Bicol Mail founder; and Elias Madrid, finance officer who actually founded the unit -- can lay claim to two key victories over the Japs.

One is the successful assault on Naga City in partnership with other guerilla units and Agta bowmen in Camarines Sur and Norte in May 1942, two months after the invaders arrived in Bicol. It led to the short-lived recapture of the provincial capital and the release of American prisoners, a feat emblazoned in the book cover itself.

The other is the ambush at Taguilid Pass in Pasacao, which is said to have netted a Japanese general and hero from the just concluded Bataan campaign that ultimately led to Wainwright's surrender.

Along the way, it also sheds light on a key controversy that hounds Nagueños up to this day: the brutal death of then Gov. Mariano Villafuerte and companions, who fled Naga in the aftermath of the May 1942 attack in the company of Japanese forces. Belying Aureus's account, which Barrameda dismissed as propaganda, he attributed the murder of Villafuerte, his wife and son and a Japanese officer to remnants of the Camarines Norte-based Traveling Vinzons Guerillas (TVG) headed by Francisco “Turko” Boayes.

The Boayes partisans were in Vito, Siruma during that fateful day arranging a sanctuary for their compatriots who have also launched a failed attack on Daet, Camarines Norte, which took place simultaneous with the one on Naga. The Notes to the main text, which could have been improved with better chaptering, actually reveal far more details about the tragic incident, which Barrameda categorized as a war crime given its context.

Boayes himself would later figure in many other sordid episodes, including a conflict with Miranda over the latter's bride Constancia Estrada that stretched from the camp of guerilla leader Teofilo Padua in Mt. Isarog -- Miranda was there for a unification talk, only to be wounded after a surprise Japanese attack -- to the coastal towns of Lagonoy and Parubcan (now Presentacion), where he withdrew to recuperate. It culminated with a potentially bloody confrontation between Miranda and Boayes in the shores of Catanduanes that was only averted by the former's quick hands, enabling him and his two other companions to disarm their opponents.

Heroism. Betrayal. Tragedy. Love. Self-sacrifice. JoeBar's Tancong Vaca account has it all -- elements of a movie, or even a TV series, that can surpass Cesar Montano's The Great Raid.


10 November 2007

A first-timer's travails with Ubuntu

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

ABOUT a month ago, my aging notebook PC was waylaid by a worm called Brontok that skipped past the defenses of my otherwise reliable antivirus AVG. To make the story short, I had to move all my data files to a secondary drive, reformat my primary drive where Windows XP is installed to snuff out Brontok, and install a new copy of the operating system.

I wrote an entry about that experience in my weblog, and it attracted a number of comments. Some suggested a superior antivirus software, which I eventually did; Maryanne Moll and Dominique Cimafranca, alumni of the prestigious Silliman writers conference, on the other hand suggested something else -- abandoning the virus-prone Windows for Apple and Ubuntu, respectively.

Now, a Mac -- which I understand is the preferred weapon of choice by artists -- would be fantastic, except that a new laptop is out of the question these days. Much of my salary have already been “obligated” -- to borrow the language of a budget guy like City Administrator Frank Mendoza who doubles as acting budget officer of the Naga City government.

That left me with Ubuntu -- which claims to be “the Linux for humans -- as the other fallback. Which is not exactly a hard choice to make, as I happen to believe in the open-source paradigm.

Taking away the part which had me backing up my files into another hard drive, and clearing enough space to allow a dual-boot system on a my 40-GB hard disk, installing Ubuntu actually was quite seamless and painless. Well, I have to qualify that “painless” part: it was so with my laptop but not the office desktop which I used as guinea pig the first time around last Thursday.
The relatively old desktop, powered by a first-generation AMD Sempron processor, appeared to have hit a blank wall when the installation progress bar hit 84%. So I cancelled the entire thing, and ended messing it up -- and the Windows XP system already in place. So I had to reinstall XP, and Ubuntu after that, and a little patience eventually paid dividends because for one reason or another, it is able to read even the partitions containing the Windows system.

The version I had working right now is the so-called “Dapper Drake,” and its interface and stability certainly gives Windows XP -- and come to think of it, even Apple -- a run for its money. And it had everything the office needs mostly to get its job done: the OpenOffice suite that handles its Microsoft counterpart with aplomb, and more because of its capability to save documents in PDF format; as well as the Firefox browser, which is superior to the Apple Safari for Windows Beta that I have also been trying.

Unfortunately, Ubuntu remains hampered by Windows' tremendous edge in third-party support. For instance, the Konica Minolta laser printer I am using is unsupported. And so is the onboard Conexant-made modem of my laptop. (I will have to shell out $20 to download a fully functional driver file.) Which is why on my first day of using Ubuntu, I am writing this piece in OpenOffice Writer and will save it on my flash drive. But once done, I switch it off and go back to my good old virus-prone Windows XP so that I will be able to log on to the internet and email it to May France, who is already laying out this issue.

I guess this dual-boot scheme will be staying on with me for quite some time.


07 November 2007

"Dark night" comes to Naga

THE ONLINE version of Vox Bikol is not yet updated, but columnist Fr. Andrew Recepcion has penned a gem entitled "Dark night in the Philippines."

The expression "dark night" is traced to St. Teresa of Avila's Interior Castle which is characterized as "a period of intense purification in which the soul seems to feel abandoned by God." The same is true with the Philippines, he argued. But let me zoom in on the following paragraph:

One of my foreigner friends who have been living here in the Philippines for the past fifteen years sent me a text message a couple of weeks ago about the most organized criminal organizations in the world. The text message enumerated a long list of criminal organizations by country, including the Italian and Chinese mafia, etc. I was about to delete the message but my attention was caught by the last item on the list of the world's criminal organizations -- Philippines: Government! I was amused but I thought that from a foreigner the Philippine government could be perceived as the most organized criminal organization in the Philippines today.
Juxtapose that with the open letter written by the leading lights of the Naga City society to President Arroyo -- which appears on page 8 of today's issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer -- and what do you get?

Clearly, the "dark night" has come to the "Maogmang Lugar" itself, with the PNP regional leadership -- whose officer-in-charge is backed by Rep. Luis R. Villafuerte -- not only doing nothing, but authoring the breakdown of peace and order itself!

Two days ago, the "dark night's" latest manifestation came at high noon. The incident described in the letter's post script is still fresh in our minds -- the robbery of Jollibee Panganiban in broad daylight, which claimed two lives in the process.

That foreigner's text message was probably originally intended as a joke, but this cruel joke is clearly on us.