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February 29, 2012 / whyhansdantes

Naive

Without any hint of ridicule or insincerity, many students of the University of the Philippines Diliman would recommend a certain General Education course known as Physics 10.

Physics 10 is great, they say – it’s not your dreaded physics class back in the high school days, what with all the formulas, vector quantities and constants whose decimal values seem ever-changing and never-ending to the naked eye. Large class, lighter load, carefree flow, and, best of all, “unoable”.

The telling irony is that nobody’s just as positive about the other physics subjects, the words of tribulations we hear from the lips of engineering and physics students being enough to alienate the “soft sciences”, let alone those from the arts.

We could not relate. It’s too difficult, too complex, and just too unrelated.

And so it begins. Being relegated to things not of our concern, the hardest, if not the most fundamental, science gets one more step farther from the public perception. Physics becomes the realm of geniuses, mathematicians, engineers, and the like. Sometimes, distinguishing Physics 10 as Physics: The Easy Way widens the gap.

Yet, to my own astonishment, as well as that of my classmates in the less mathematical fields, the realm of physics may not be so far from us after all. My Physics 10 experience taught me this.

Although the first parts were no less connected from our most pedestrian of realities (the Earth in the grander scheme of the Universe, the Universe as one grand mechanism in itself), it is the last parts which effectively blurred the differences between physics and our hitherto unmathematical perception of the world around us.

Take Professor Rene Batac’s lecture on Complexity Science, for example. If avian flight patterns and neuron pathways wont cut it for us, imagine the internal shock when it’s applied to social media friend networks, annual subscription rates for telecommunication companies, and (this takes the cake) patterns of filing bills in Congress.

These were topics one would exclusively classify in the field of social statistics or media studies.

No longer. It is now up to us to deal with the improper stigma against the “hard sciences” stepping on the territory of the “soft sciences” or vice versa. Indeed, why bother to distinguish between the two at all?

Or, for that matter, consider the lecture of UP Diliman’s chancellor himself – Dr. Caesar Saloma. It took me quite a while to adjust to the change in atmosphere, the shift so sudden from physics to economics – besides, it’s not everyday that the average student gets to meet the chancellor, let alone lecture in the most basic of classes.

Among the six qualities that countries with good economies, an ordinary UP student may posit the commitment and credibility of government as the first. The day’s lesson said otherwise, as it placed first among them the importation of ideas and technologies. As a matter of fact, government credibility was last among the six.

The arrangement may be irrelevant, but it may be safe to say, at the very least, that research should be at the forefront of the development of the Philippine economy, and that, like Newton’s quote on the necessity of stepping on giants to see progress, we must not hesitate to borrow ideas applicable in other countries, whenever available and applicable to our country.

The chancellor’s lecture, transcending not only the bounds of disciplines but also the geographical boundaries between countries, should serve as a stern rebuke on those who would belittle the necessity and potential of young physicists by virtue of having less prospects for earning as, say, the doctors, lawyers or engineers.

These stereotypes against physicists will do us no good, especially when ingrained in the minds of most high school students. Instead of discouraging them to take up physics, this nation must give it the same standing as the other professions.

In this light, we should see Physics 10 as an important step, if not to improve the calculating abilities of those in fields other than physics, then at least, to increase awareness on the subject matter among other disciplines, and to bridge the gap between physics and society.

To think of physics as unrelated, let alone contradictory, to the other disciplines is the sort of naiveté an Iskolar ng Bayan could not afford to have.

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March 3, 2011 / whyhansdantes

Mount Samat, Bataan

Mt. Samat, Bataan

Mount Samat in Bataan seems to be the highest point I’ve ever been in my entire life.

And I mean literally – counting the massive memorial cross, it’s a total of 555 m above sea level, this place is the site of a last stand in the final days of the Battle of Bataan in 1942.

The fact that President Ferdinand Marcos, himself a veteran of World War II, pioneered the memorial in 1966 is a curious sideline. Cue today’s raging debate on whether to bury him or not in the Libingan ng mga Bayani.

February 3, 2011 / whyhansdantes

Free Online Photo Editor

When in a tight spot and with the PC sporting nothing but MS Paint and an internet connection, online picture editors might save the day – especially if your photo needs simple but way beyond basic editing capabilities.

Take this Free Online Photo Editor from Zygomatic, for example.  It’s my first time looking up online editors, but a whiff of googling and clicking can get you there.

On getting started: a photo editor is useless without a photo to edit. Free Online Photo Editor allows for immediate upload from both the computer and from a URL – the latter is not usually evident, if ever present in “offline” editors. Online editors, on the other hand, offer this feature on-the-go; internet photos are downloaded in an instant by  direct upload instead of more cumbersome saving processes offline.

Editing the photo can also be achieved with a few clicks. Aside from the basic resizing and brightness manipulation, the Free Online Photo Editor also has built-in special effects, such as Posterize, Emboss, Charcoal and Sepia (see below) – features just like in more advanced softwares like Adobe Photoshop.

If you’re not in possession of such softwares, or if you’re not quite satisfied with built-in basic services, you can always try these online editors. After all, it’s free stuff.

On second thought, however, free stuff come with their own limitations. This editor, for example, automatically resizes the final pictures to 800 x 600 resolution. While this isn’t much of an issue, some people get baffled when some pictures are as huge as they expected. (The free editor has a link to a more advanced version, but it requires users to register, which in itself may also be a hassle – at least to some.)

Furthermore, its online nature makes it very dependent on the internet connection – laggard networks would spell doom for every effect you add.

Despite this, free online photo editors have the potential to provide users with decent and immediate assistance, as aptly demonstrated by my background change  below.

 BEFORE:                                                      AFTER:

October 11, 2010 / whyhansdantes

State U’s cheerdance victory at the UAAP: A home view

*This article has been published on Asian Correspondent, September 19, 2010. This is a feature on the University of the Philippines Athletic Association Season 73 Cheerdance competition – but from a different angle: the audiences, and in particular those who rooted for the victors, the Universtiy of the Philippines, to whom the ‘State U’ tag was referring to. Despite that, it must be remembered that it is not the only State University in the Philippines – only that it is the only one in the UAAP. But for the purpose of avoiding undue offense, I made the UAAP distinction clear in the revised title.

 

The Araneta Coliseum (http://hoopedia.nba.com/)

 

State U’s cheerdance victory at the UAAP: A home view
By Hans Joshua Dantes

Just last week, September 12, 2010, the shouts and screams of around 20,000 spectators filled the Araneta Coliseum, dubbed the Mecca of Philippine Sports and Entertainment. The event: the Cheerdance Competition for the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) Season 73.

The first place was bagged by the University of the Philippines (UP), followed by Far Eastern University (FEU) and the University of Santo Tomas (UST). Needless to say, the UP Pep Squad was most ecstatic in receiving this year’s championship. But while they have their own stories of tears and sweat to tell, there’s always another lens with which to look at the state university’s well-received victory.

If sports becomes the battlefield, you find an image of the cheering squads as heroes of their respective universities. But behind the glory of it all lay the average spectator – students and alumni alike who literally stood by rooting for State U. And, coming back to the image of the battlefield, they would be your average GI, looking up to heroes but no less doing their part on that fateful day.

The Crowd

The competition was set at 2 in the afternoon, but even the early birds found high noon to be a wee bit late, as most of the seats near the UP Pep Squad in the upper levels were already taken.

“As early as 12, people were already filling the place,” said Ian Imperial, a 3rd year Journalism student. “I was in the aisle back then looking for seats at Upper Box B but all were taken, so I decided to just stand in my place.”

He later transferred to a better area, but it didn’t spare him the heat brought by the inflow of more spectators, let alone the latecomers.

“Our spot was okay, but the heat was getting to us; I was quite sweaty by the time the cheerdance was over,” said Imperial.

By the time the competition began, those from the other schools were just coming in. Some, like the FEU and UST, both clad in yellow, had numerous cheerers, but by no means uncomfortable. But any space or isle for UP, still playing the microcosm of Philippine society, was clogged to the brim by standing audiences, the way train rides are during rush hours.

Many who came to the said area were members of UP’s cheerleading classes, who, despite the saddening losses at the basketball games (the season saw a winless UP Fighting Maroons basketball team), still rushed to the Araneta determined to see UP bounce back at the cheerdance.

“It’s just nice to see the entire UP community supporting the Pep Squad – it was very fun,” said Fatima Davila, a 2nd year Education student and a member of the cheerleading classes.

Notwithstanding the requirements to be fulfilled for their classes, Davila found the freebies and paraphernalia fueling the excitement.

“Everytime somebody gives out the cheering materials, everyone just wants to get a hold of one,” said Davila.

The Circumstances

True enough, the performance of the different universities made the UP crowd feel formidable obstacles.

As Imperial observed: “I could say that the performances of all schools stepped up compared to previous seasons. Although there are occasional lapses, the excellent performers just stand out.”

Inevitably, the UP crowd took special notice of their close rivals, the UST Salinggawi Dance Troupe, who holds the most number of championships in the competition’s history.  The UP Pep Squad, whose record follows UST, held the latest winning streak from 2007-2008 until it was snatched by the FEU Cheering Squad the previous year, hence gaining UP’s extra attention.

Needless to say, when UP got their turn on the turf, the home crowd was all cheers and screams. Small trash talks also flutter here and there, as with many other contests, but the spirit of sportsmanship seems to have remained. Going up (or down) amidst the ecstatic audience was something only braved by few, including some vendors bringing iced tea or hotdogs and popcorn – business as usual, of course.

“Some of us get stuck in the middle; we bring our products full-packed because going through that crowd could get us either with no way in, or no way out,” said Lea Juarez, a snack vendor at the Araneta.

Worthwhile

The ordeal was done by 5pm; suspense kept the commotions down and the drums silent as Boom Gonzalez announced the winners. UST’s name was first on the list – third place – and in the spirit of fair fun, the UP audience joined the “Go USTe” cheer of the Salinggawi, hotdog balloons alongside UP fiesta flags. UST seemed to have returned the favor when it was UP’s turn in the championships, drums and all. Meanwhile, the FEU cheerers were disappointed, but by no means broken with their cheers still resounding for the prestige of 2nd place.

For the spectators standing for hours, the train ride is over. And sure enough, it was a worthwhile trip.

October 11, 2010 / whyhansdantes

Postal workers in the Philippines protest allowance delays

*This article has been published on UPIU, September 13, 2010. This is a news feature concerning the plight of the employees of the Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost), particularly on their delayed allowances. The lead was changed in compliance with the suggestion from the UPIU mentor, and some dangling or unclear words and statements were also revised due to some comments of classmates. Nevertheless, the story seems to have been well-received.

A steadfast statue of a mailman stands in front of the Manila Central Post Office, headquarters of the Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost)

Postal workers in the Philippines protest allowance delays

 

By Hans Joshua Dantes

Ronnie Oliveros has been working in the Marikina Central Post Office for 15 years. As a casual employee, he earns less than the average mailman, leaving his family of five to make do with so little.

Yet, with his gasoline allowance running out, how does he keep the vehicle running? He ends up borrowing money, if not spending from his own earnings for fuel.

“We do it everytime; it’s just too lacking, and we’re only trying to make ends meet,” said Oliveros.

Kids whining for their allowances is one thing – but the analogy seems inappropriate for Oliveros, one of the more than 12,000 employees of the Philippine Postal Corporation, a Government-Owned and Controlled Corporation (GOCC).

In spite of the controversies concerning the many allegedly overpaid executives of several GOCC’s, including Philpost, members of the Postal Employees Union of the Philippines (PEUP) still find difficulty in getting their demands met by the corporation, particularly on the issue of their delayed benefits and allowances, such as for clothing, rice, productivity, and gasoline, amounting to more than Php 6,000 per employee.

Delayed and Inadequate Gasoline Allowance

Many from the lower ranks – those who deliver the mail – find the gasoline allowance to be one of the most problematic, given the rampant oil price hikes in the Philippines. Compared to other allowances, the gasoline allowance of Php 1,200 a month is an urgent need in carrying out their tasks.

In practice, however, the allowance is given on a “staggered” basis, with delay gaps ranging from one to four months. Employees began receiving allowances early in September, though it was supposedly just the compensation for July. The last time they had their hands on allowances was on June, some even receiving only half of what was the delayed due – or less.

“We received one last June, but it was very inadequate – only around Php 400,” said Oliveros

The assumption in Philpost is a regular spending of two liters of gasoline per day for every mailman. But Efimaco Maminta, a regular in the same post office, doesn’t even consider the full allowance as adequate.

“Even if we assume using up only 1 ½ liters, you’ll have to multiply the Php 43 per liter for 22 days. Our 1,200 pesos will not suffice. Sometimes, the costs would even increase to Php 44 per liter,” said Maminta.

Like Oliveros, Maminta also borrows for his fuel money from time to time. As a regular, Maminta earns only slightly more than Oliveros.

Said Maminta: “Of course, by the time the delayed allowance comes, we’ll have to pay for the debt plus interest.”

Philpost answers that they can and will release compensations only as soon as sufficient funds come in.

“It is not denied; we will still give it to them – only that it is delayed because of lack of funds. It is the obligation of the corporation to its employees,” said Philpost Director Numeriano Dayrit.

The decline in the corporation’s profits is attributed to many factors, including the franking privilege of government offices and congressmen. As a government corporation, Philpost also has a mandate of “missionary service,” operating at prices lower than private competitors and continuing service even to remote and unprofitable places. Finally, the advent of new technologies such as the internet and cellphones lessened the need for postal mail, further reducing Philpost’s earnings.

“80 percent of the total revenue goes to salaries and wages. Then there’s the other 20 percent left for operations, which is not enough to modernize the postal system,” said Alvin Fidelson, Philpost Media Office.

Rationalization

One solution eyed by Philpost administrators is a rationalization program which will trim the number of employees, thereby reducing the number of salaries shouldered by the corporation.

Both parties acknowledge the facts, though the union heaves the blame on the higher-ups.

“We both know that the corporation’s revenues are falling, but we don’t see from them any initiative or new projects for income generation,” said Quirino Collada, PEUP Metro Manila Chariman.

Collada also believes that should rationalization push through, the weight will fall not on the rank-and-file but rather on the allegedly overpaid postmaster generals and assistants, as well as the directors. Such offices earn as much as Php 90,000, and many have held the posts for so long a time.

Last September 8, President Benigno Aquino III has issued Executive Order No. 7, suspending all allowances, bonuses and other incentives of executives in government corporations until the year’s end. The order has also created a task force for reviewing compensation in the corporations.

For now, while systems are being fixed and GOCC heads are being investigated, these postal workers will still have to deal with the delays. For now, as they put it, they will still have to make ends meet.

September 30, 2010 / whyhansdantes

Fighting Impunity: The 2010 Multimedia Competition to Mark the First Year of the Ampatuan Massacre

 

It has been almost a year after the unfortunate Maguindanao Massacre last November 23, 2009 that involved the deaths of 32 journalists and media workers. The Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists (FFFJ), through the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), and in coordination with the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication  launches this multimedia competition in commemoration of the incident.

The contest, which seeks the best posters, radio plugs and videos, aims to aid in making the people aware of the culture of impunity that poses a dangerous threat to media and its commitment to public service.

This competition is open to tertiary-level students/ teams of students from Philippine universities, colleges and schools. A total of Php 120,000 in prizes are in store.

Deadlines for submission of entries are set on October 11, 20 and 29 for posters, radio plugs and videos, respectively. The announcements of winners in ceremony will be on November 22.

Visit the CMFR website for more details

September 6, 2010 / whyhansdantes

Philippine police: to “serve and protect”

*This article has been published on Asian Correspondent, August 29, 2010. This article was intended to be a column article concerning the events last August 23 at the Quirino Grandstand, where the Manila Hostage Crisis resulted in the deaths of  eight hostages. However, this article was criticized for being at some parts difficult to understand, bordering on being “esoterical.”

 

 

Philippine police: to “serve and protect”

By Hans Joshua Dantes

“We serve and protect” is the motto of the Philippine National Police (PNP). Yet to some, the credibility seems to have been marred by the events of these past few days. The hostage-taking incident involving former Senior Inspector Rolando Mendoza last August 23 that resulted in the deaths of eight Hong Kong nationals and the gravity of the repercussions that followed – the investigations, the feared backlash against Filipinos in Hong Kong, the stained international reputation of the Philippines – were heavy not only for the victims and their families, but also for the governments of both countries involved, and of course, the police, who is being primarily held responsible for what many have assessed to be a bad and bloody end.

Needless to say, when something ends bad and bloody, there’s always the inevitability of a hot-blooded blame game. Again, as indisputable as many would tell, the police force is number one on the list, with all the inadequacies in the incident that they’ve been accused of, some of which they have admitted. Enough may have been said for the PNP as far as performance is concerned, though some might beg to differ, and most likely more will be said. By extension, the Aquino administration is also facing criticism, within the country as well as abroad.

There is, of course, a different angle where some would justify cop action on the matter by conveniently pointing fingers on the blow-by-blow account of the incident’s media coverage. Detailing parts of the operation, let alone the assault team’s positions from time to time, and other ethical issues are being brought up. Even the mere presence of media was (and is) being questioned. Whether it was showing the arrest of the hostage-taker’s brother on grounds of being an accomplice live on TV that agitated him or it was the shooting of the bus tires that’s the last straw, news organizations have since come to claim its share of mistakes, though in no way absolving the PNP from its failure.

Still, a more unreasonable prospect remains, as with the fears of possible retaliation and discrimination by some Hong Kong citizens – this time on Filipino workers and residents there.

Blame Mendoza, blame his family, blame the cops, blame the government, blame the President, blame the journalists, blame the audience, blame the Filipinos, blame the discriminators, et cetera. In the chaos of it all, I am not here to discuss the varying distributions of each factor’s piece of the pie, or whether this or that side has a part of it at all. Neither am I saying that nobody is to blame, or everyone is to blame. But sure enough, someone is to blame. After all, that lies at the end of the fourteen-letter word that is ‘responsibility’.

Yet, accountability in the face of failure is but merely half the proper definition of responsibility. Nonetheless, it is one reason why many of us shy away from taking responsibility. It is due to the fear of righteous punishment, the chastisement for misgivings, many of which we have to admit are products of human nature. Then we tend to cling to the shallow notion of a go-to man, the guy to point fingers at, when everything is over.

It is this kind of mindset where responsibility is tantamount to nothing more than knowing who’s to blame. This was never the first crisis the country ever had, and the question of who will be held accountable was always the star of the show, sometimes at the expense of the what, why and how we will fare better for future scenarios. It is this kind of thinking that somehow shifts our attention to a vital definition, that responsibility also means, first and foremost, ‘getting the job done’.

People have been looking at responsibility more as a burden than as a duty, some even getting rather proficient at dodging every risk, as if by reducing their duties, they keep themselves safe from any responsibility. Such naiveté missed the fact that the essence of responsibility is not just the blame but, more importantly, doing your best in making the blame unnecessary – that is, by keeping things in order, and by delivering a job well done, whether it’s the daily mundane scene or a dangerous crisis.

Idealistic, one might say, but that is the point of all the training and hardwork that every citizen pours out in search of a good day’s work. That is also the point of learning from past mistakes and improving on previous actions. Learning from the past is responsibility. A good day’s work is responsibility, the very fulfillment of it. Such a basic mindset should be enough to widen a view narrowed down by the blame game. Such a basic mindset is in fact capable to “serve” and “protect”.