Category Archives: soapbox

Mob?

Sean Uy wrote:

Congratulations, everyone. We put a stop to an issue that 'insulted' the dignity of women in the IT industry.

And we did it as one big unruly mob.

Are we a mob?

I don't know. I don't think so.

We stand on our individual pulpits or post in our individual columns and we simply speak our mind, letting other people decide what they think and how they feel about the issue. Even my http://del.icio.us/sachac/digitalpinay links feels like a shopping-list of other people who wrote about the issue, and I'm sure there are other blogs out there I hadn't seen.

Nowhere on those blogs did I see anything even remotely close to a physical threat. People joked about having "Digital Pinoy", a male version of the contest. People suggested flooding the mailbox with fake application forms or complaints, or calling them up to register their protest. In fact, some people suggested just promoting it as a beauty pageant instead of something different. I did not see a single thing directed toward the potential contestants. I don't work that way, and chances are, neither do you. I do not know anyone who'd make such a threat. As a rule, the geeks I know prefer the pen over the sword. This is not to say, of course, that no one out there can make that kind of threat. All I'm saying is that there are many, many of us who are more moderate than the press release implies.

I was outraged enough to want to raise hell about it. I didn't want this to be an issue that quietly slipped by. I wanted them to know that I thought what they were doing was wrong. They were perfectly capable of continuing with the original plan, I knew, but maybe they'd listen to the points I raised. I helped spread the word to other people because it was something far bigger than my little corner of the Internet or my little perspective on life, and I was not disappointed by the variety of insights I gained.

I am not against PCS, and I am certainly not against promoting technology. This was not some master plan to bring down PCS nor was it a symptom of crab mentality. I sincerely want to promote computer science in our country, and I spoke out because I strongly felt that the contest I heard about would do more damage than good. I pointed out flaws and offered suggestions. I knew they wouldn't be able to remove the 'beauty pageant' stigma from the event if they continued with their criteria, so I suggested other things they might do instead.

Was it really all the outrage from blogs? Companies have sponsored highly-criticized events before. The Miss Universe contest has legions of detractors. No, I don't think it was sheer outrage. I'd like to think that the sponsors pulled out not because the contest attracted lots of bad publicity but because the sponsors listened to our thoughts and thought we made sense. Money speaks, and it took the sponsors to make PCS consider other ideas. We argued as well as we could, and that resulted in slight modifications of the event. PCS thought it could deal with the other objections, but it took sponsors to really drive the point home.

It's a pity that PCS focused on extreme reactions in their press conference. Instead of making bloggers feel respected and listened to, they polarized the issue, turning it into an us-versus-them fight. That wasn't the best way to deal with this kind of issue. I would have respected them more if they calmly outlined the issues and thanked everyone involved, but I understand why they said those things. They are also human, and it is hard to be calm when you see a pet project fall apart. Other critics are also human, and it's hard to accept someone's words as face value when you see it more as a cover-up. There must have been better ways to deal with the whole mess, but it's done now, and all that is left to do is to reflect on the whole matter.

I must confess being guilty of taking pot shots at PCS when I think what they say doesn't make sense. For example, I think their cancellation is yet another example of bad PR, and I'm half-tempted to volunteer to edit their press releases from now on. I'm allowed to have and express opinions. I'm not a journalist, just a geek. I care not only about my work but also the culture and environment I work in.

That said, they're fine, and they did have good intentions. I can't imagine Leo Querubin waking up and saying "I think I'd like to have a sexist contest," and I believe them when they say they weren't thinking of making it a beauty contest. They just didn't think about it hard enough. Who here hasn't made mistakes like that before? Who here hasn't been defensive about mistakes, trying to rationalize them as long as possible before realizing they were wrong? I appreciate how they invited us to join the press conference, although the timing was bad for practically everyone. (A Saturday would've been better, really, or they could've just held it online. That would've been much more fun!) I appreciate how they asked someone who understood the other side to serve as a consultant. (Hi, Ranulf!) I appreciate how, to the very end, their intentions were sincere. I don't think they were in this just to make money. I think they just picked the wrong way to achieve a goal, and then a wrong way to save face.

PCS still serves a valuable purpose. They have other projects and they don't need to be replaced or destroyed. Besides, there is no organization ready to step into the gap. I hope that the lesson they carry away from all of this is not that the public does not understand them, but that we understand their objectives too well to let them quietly make mistakes. We speak because we care.

Are we a mob? A thousand voices exploding on the Internet may seem like a chaotic mess, but if you listen carefully you would be able to discern the clear, calm tones of people like Dominique, Joey, and Sean. You would hear people who spoke from their hearts _and_ their minds, like Clair and Xenia. You would even hear non-IT people with a clear understanding of the issues, like Marcelle. We are not a mob. We are simply people who know what we believe in and who care too much to be silent.

I will reflect some more on this if other people have interesting posts, but in the meantime, I would like to thank the bloggers who shared their thoughts, the journalists who helped us raise awareness of the problem, and the rest of the gang for listening in.

Although it could have gone better, it was good that we did this.

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If imitation is the highest form of flattery, I must be very boring

sassylawyer has been plagiarized. That got me to thinking about plagiarism, and you know? I don't think I've ever been badly plagiarized. Probably not a single line maliciously lifted from my Ph104 or JapanTraining notes. No one reposts me to get +5 Insightful or to increase post count on some bulletin board. I saw a number of Google queries poking around my notebook directory back when I still had files from college, but those were probably people who would've copied netlists or programs from elsewhere on the Net, anyway.

Conclusion: I must be really boring. ;)

I suppose it also helps that the only things I post on my blog are random code snippets, bad short stories, business ideas, and my TODO list, all of which can be freely reposted anywhere you want. (In fact, please steal my TODO list!)

The only people who read my blog are geeks, my family and my friends. They're all smarter than I am and have no problems coming up with insightful posts on their own.

I'm not concerned about plagiarism. I trust that if my thoughts are being posted to a forum by someone who's too lazy to think up cool stuff, the mere fact that the poster would think other people would find such things interesting means that some of the readers might've stumbled across my blog before. Then they laugh at the poster, completely destroying the poster's reputation. Mwahaha.

Even if I never get attributed, it's nice that the ideas are out there. My ideas are more important than my byline. I don't care who eventually makes stuff happen as long as the stuff happens. I learn by writing, and I lose nothing if people copy me. If people go to the trouble of stripping out my identity, then they'll just have to deal with questions and bugs themselves.

I don't care if people stumbling upon my work never bother to find out who I am. If they find something in my braindump useful, well and good. If they copy-and-paste what I've written into something they need to submit for class or work, they've lost the opportunity to exercise their mind.

If someone ever accuses me of plagiarizing my own work, I'll simply laugh and point to the other stuff I've written or to the things I've done. People know I'm real.

So there. I trust you, reader. I'll never use Javascript hacks to make it difficult for you to save data from my website. I'll never make it difficult for you to syndicate my blog (RSS feed) or copy it whole-sale. Heck, if you want an archive of my planner, either wget -r http://sacha.free.net.ph/notebook/plans/ or e-mail me for an archive.

Go ahead and steal my thoughts. Add your insights. Make them better.

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On disabling right-click

http://www.houseonahill.net/ disables right-click on its pages. I suppose it's to stop people from saving webpages to their hard disk, but it's not a very effective way of stopping people from copying things because people can always highlight text and then copy the text normally.

Disabling right-click punishes power users, though. I can't easily bookmark pages using my del.icio.us. I can't copy a link without visiting it, which means I have to click on the permalink page, move over to the address bar, and copy the address from there if I'm going to cite something in my blog. I can't easily subscribe via http://www.bloglines.com .

I've seen a Mozilla extension for disabling pesky right-click disablers, and I think I'll go install that right now. I could also always browse the website in w3m or some other text browser.

Disabling right-click is a technological attempt at solving a social problem, and although it discourages casual users, I don't think it's worth the cost.

UPDATE: The right-click script sassylawyer uses also results in an error when I middle-click on a link in order to open it in a new tab. The page loads, but I have to click through a "Sorry, right-click is disabled." message. Mrph.

UPDATE: The same site blacklists http://del.icio.us . ARGH.

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Horrible customer service

I took a taxi just to make it to my 4:00 appointment at DermLink, a small dermatology clinic along Arnaiz Ave. near Park Square 1. I made it there by 4:05. The receptionist retrieved my record, which indeed had "Tuesday 4:00" written on it. However, there was no available slot, so they asked me to wait.

After finishing an entire magazine (cover to cover, including articles on swimsuits and makeup and all of these things I'd ordinarily not even glance at) and sketching a stool (complete with shadows from two light sources), I looked up at the clock. Thirty minutes had passed without a word, an apology, or even an estimate of how much longer I would need to wait.

Eventually the middle bay cleared and I was asked to recline on the elevated bed. I had scarcely settled in when the assistant was told to transfer the person in the far bay to the bed I was in the process of occupying, so I put my glasses back on, gathered my things, and moved to the next bay.

As the assistant smeared cream on my face and wiped it off with a sponge, she kept asking me: "Are your meds complete?" It took me a while to realize that she was asking about my medication. I said yes. Not that I would know if it was complete or not, but hey, we sat through the song-and-dance yesterday and my mom bought whatever the dermatologist was pushing. A short while later, she (or another assistant) asked again, "Are your meds complete?" I was starting to get really annoyed about the hard sell, but I decided that it wouldn't be wise to piss off people who are working on your face.

So I patiently waited... and waited... and waited... I even fell asleep at some point. When I woke up, I heard the whir of machinery from the next unit. After a short pause, I heard the dermatologist's voice from the unit near the door, giving another consultation. It was probably the exact pitch she'd used on us last week; no questions, but rather just a high-speed rattling-off of things one needs to buy.

I turned my head and affixed the assistant with an impatient glare. That netted me nothing more than a perfunctory "Please wait a while." I tried to settle back down, but I simply couldn't stand that kind of service. I got up, pulled the towel headband off my hair, and stormed off, telling them I really couldn't wait any longer and that their customer service could _really_ be improved. Then I left. Looking back, I wish I'd said something stronger, but disappointment choked my voice and I still haven't gotten over that innate dislike of making a scene.

I stalked through Glorietta searching for some place that would make me feel like they valued my business. I was annoyed. No, I was more than annoyed—I was aggravated. I felt terrible wasting all that time at DermLink. I thought going to a regular dermatologist would be better than just going to a skin clinic and having a facial, but that place just sucked. This wasn't the first time I'd had to wait without explanation, and I should've clued in that first day and refused to go for any more treatment there. Sheesh.

I ended up going for a really painful facial at Let's Face It, but at least people there smiled, attended to me promptly, and explained what they were doing.

If I'm going to go for this entire dermatology thing, I'd like to have a dermatologist who'll ask me about what I eat and how I live; who'll find a way for me to keep eating chocolate, who'll tell me what to do when I have pimples the day before I expect pictures to be taken... If I can't have that, then I'd rather not have clear skin than put up with customer service as bad as DermLink's.

Moral lesson: Customer service is very important. Keep your customers in the loop. Don't let them feel neglected. Care about them; make them feel special instead of just another source of income for you.

ARGH.

I was thinking of heading back to DermLink and really giving them a piece of my mind, but then I passed by National Bookstore and I got sucked in. Still.

Oh, well. Good lesson in how personally annoying bad service can be.

この写真の猫を見かけたら、お電話ください。 Please call us when you see the cat in this picture.

Warren also grips:

I don't think companies in Manila understand the meaning of "customer service". A very good example is PLDT :). Another one is one of the biggest bank in Manila; METROBANK. They have like 40 clients in queue and they only have 1 teller serving them. My GOD!!! I don't know where the Managers/Supervisors of these organizations obtained their degree.

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On computer science education

In response to Neil Santos' rant about computer science education:

What a pity it is that you've never had a good teacher. A good teacher can help you grow immensely. I've had great teachers, and they really changed my life. Let me share with you some things I've learned from them and why I'm crazy about computer science.

When you meet a lot of brilliant people, you'll quickly realize that technical skills do not guarantee people skills and vice versa. One of the best ways to meet brilliant people is through open source. Look at Richard Stallman: undoubtedly a genius, but his personality rubs a lot of people the wrong way. (He's really cool, though.) On the other hand, there are people who combine both technical know-how with passion and great communication skills; these are the teachers who can change your life.

I owe so much to the teachers I've learned from inside and outside the classroom. The best teachers I've had taught me that I'm not limited to the classroom. They helped me gain the confidence to try things on my own. They showed me things I didn't know about and might not have discovered on my own. They questioned my assumptions and challenged me to do better. I remember when I was in first year college and I was slacking off in subjects like English; it was my computer science teacher who told me that I should pay attention to details!

My teachers really helped me deal with my insecurities about our curriculum. I always kept my eye on schools abroad, and because I was already working on open source in college, I could see how people my age were doing really fantastic things like maintaining the Linux kernel or writing their own operating systems. My teachers helped me take advanced classes and get into extracurricular projects and competitions. When I started working on things on my own, they gave me encouragement and great recommendations.

I've heard many, many stories about teachers who aren't as good as the ones I had, though. Most teachers don't seem to care about their students or their subjects. I want to help change that.

Computer science changes every day. The accelerating pace may make you think that it's impossible to keep up. The truth is, as things get faster and faster, a strong foundation becomes more and more important.

That's what I'd like to think I teach. I do not teach how to program in Java or C++ or Perl. I teach people how to _think_, how to break a problem down into solvable parts, how to learn more and more and more. My job is not to pour information into passive students, but rather I am here to show them the basics and then challenge them, make them hungry for more, guide them through questions and hints. I don't know everything, but I love sharing whatever I know, and I love learning new things from students and the world.

I messed up a lot as a beginning teacher, too. There were days when the explanations I prepared the night before didn't work and everyone was just confused. There were days when I'd just get so frustrated with my inability to express something or to convince people that copying isn't going to teach them as much as actually sticking it out and solving the problem. But still, there were days when I'd see students get that Aha! moment, and that made things worthwhile.

I enjoy computer science so much that I cannot think of _not_ teaching it. I want to get other people hooked. I want people to fall in love with learning and problem-solving. I want people to discover that they too are capable of mental wizardry; that they too can make the computer dance to their tune. I want to be a fantastic teacher. In order to do that, I'm working on not only getting the theoretical and practical background to share with my students, but also learning how to teach and teach well.

Let me tell you that computer science education doesn't have to be like what you're suffering. I know it can be good, and I want to make it even better.

What does this mean for you, now, while you're taking up your degree at Adamson University?

Well, if you can't do anything about your teachers right now, you have many ways of coping. Open source gives you an opportunity to test your knowledge and make a difference world-wide. Even as a student, you can work on really cool things! Come hang out with us, too. We can challenge you. We can help you stay enthusiastic and passionate about computers. When are you usually free?

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On teaching programming

why do I have to write all this syntactic sugar to just do the canonical "Hello, world"?

I firmly believe that the canonical "Hello, world" program is one of the worst ways to introduce Java, or even programming in general.

I like BlueJ. It's a nice, clean, object-oriented environment that immediately visualizes the difference between objects and classes and allows students to interact with objects before they even see Java code. I like the way BlueJ lets you interact with complex systems, learning about control structures and logic along the way.

A popular Python tutorial starts with using Python as a calculator instead of just getting it to print strings. Isn't that a great way for people to see how immediately useful a programming language can be?

I wouldn't start an Emacs Lisp tutorial with (print "Hello, world!"). I would start it by taking a look at an existing function and modifying it.

Languages should not all be taught the same way. Just because we might have learned with "Hello, world" doesn't mean that "Hello, world" is the best way to learn how to program. I think there are better ways to teach computer science, and I want to spend a fairly significant chunk of my life looking for them.

You can, too. Just remember that you can improve on the way things have always been done.

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彼女は娘のためにパソコンを買ってやった。 She got her daughter a personal computer.

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