Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sem-end, Part 3: CE 180, 190 and 199

In our last semester, we were enrolled in the precursor of what are now two subjects, CE 190 and CE 199, comprising the undergraduate research program. CE 180 or Seminar was supposed to be what the title states, a seminar course. In the past, the course that was also previously CE 80 involved an instructor-in-charge who served as organizer or facilitator of special lectures by invited speakers. The latter usually came from industry including contractors and structural engineers who spoke about various topics like construction techniques and technology or designing structures to withstand earthquakes. After each lecture, the students would have to prepare a report on the topic presented and discussed in the seminar.

In some incarnations of CE 180, the faculty-in-charge may opt to ask students to work on a project. That was the case when we took CE 180. We were asked to propose a project that we could work on for the duration of the semester and then present it towards the end in what was practically the equivalent of a one-shot examination, where our instructor also gave us our grades right then and there after presentation of our accomplishments.

I remember that many of us opted to develop computer programs. After all, many of us could think of many types of programs that were supposed to facilitate computations for our civil engineering classes and many of us were dabbling into software development. Of course, each of us had different skill levels in programming. There were those who were able to come up with sophisticated and complex programs. These included a classmate who was engrossed with creating graphics but had trouble in coming up with substantial content for his program. Another classmate, and a good friend, was really good with computers and to this day is perhaps among the best in our class when it came to computers. He's still good with programming and nowadays also works on transport modelling, GIS and database systems. In my case, I would like to believe that I was a decent enough programmer and worked on a project that developed a tool for soil mechanics calculations. I did get a good grade for the program I developed so I think I did pretty well back then.

CE 180 was one-unit subject. It was retained after the initial round of revisions to the Civil Engineering curriculum of UP Diliman. One reason was to have a seminar course readily available in case the need arises for such a course to be offered, even if the course would just serve as an excess unit. CE 180 was eventually renamed CE 190 but was retained as a one-unit course. It was redefined to become a subject where undergraduate students developed research topics and proposed these at the end of the semester. CE 190 became the prerequisite of a new subject, CE 199, that was to be the course for the implementation of the research proposed in CE 190. The former is a 3 unit subject, with the increased number of units commensurate with the work expected of students for this terminal subject.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sem-end, Part 2: Last subjects enrolled

My last semester in my baccalaureate course was the Second Semester of the Academic Year 1992-1993. I remember I was enrolled in 19 units with the following subjects under the corresponding instructors:

CE 124: Engr. Jesus Matias
CE 143: Dr. Shigeru Morichi
CE 152: Prof. Alfredo B. Juinio, Jr.
CE 180: Prof. Fernando J. Germar
CE 198: Prof. Alfredo B. Juinio, Jr.
GE 198: Dr. Ian McCloy
STS: Prof. Agerico de Villa

I also took my last Physical Education (PE) class that sem, when my Form 5A was stamped "graduating." This allowed me to be prioritized in enlisting for a PE 2 class of my preference. I took Tennis and scheduled it in the morning so I could play twice a week prior to my lecture classes.

I remember that my last exam was the final exams given by Prof. Juinio in CE 152. It was a tough one and I remember us being given 5 problems. I only needed to pass the exam to pass the course so I had to make sure I got at least 3 problems right to have a pretty good chance to pass the subject. I was quite happy when I was able to solve those three problems and was confident enough that my solutions were correct so I could relax with the other 2 problems. Despite this, it still took me quite some time to complete my solutions. Many of my classmates also labored through the exam and were clearly not finished with their solutions when Prof. Juinio appeared at the door and announced that our time's up. At the time, he also jokingly threatened that he would be turning the room's light off in 5 minutes. That triggered a frenzy of calculating and writing for what was for many a last chance to put in whatever might merit a few points for unfinished solutions. We did pass our papers on time, with "we" referring to our barkada (Karl and Noriel among them). The others including some orgmates of mine had to suffer through Prof. Juinio playing with the light switch to remind everyone to pass their papers.

It was quite a relief for us to get through that last exam. I guess it is the same feeling our students feel or would feel after hurdling their last tough exam. Actually, some had to re-take the exam later as they were caught cheating (Prof. Juinio had the knack for this as he knows from the solutions who copied from whom.). Prof. Juinio was kind enough to give them a last chance so they could prove themselves and be able to graduate after that semester.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sem-end, Part 1: Study groups and computers

As the second semester of the academic year nears its conclusion, I see familiar scenes that bring back memories of when we were students at this time of the year. We also referred to these days as "hell week," what with practically all the examinations being scheduled one after the other on successive days, or if you're unlucky, on the same day. It was difficult enough to study 15 to 20 years ago. I remember we had our own distractions then but it was not about Facebook or Twitter or others that seem to take much of one's time these days. One was chess and we were engrossed in playing the sport that sometimes we just had to finish a game such that we were late for some of our lectures. One time, one of our professors passed us by while heading to our classroom and joked about us becoming grandmasters instead of civil engineers.

Back in the day, we would be having study groups and had our choice of places where we could gather and help each other prepare for our exams. We didn't have notebook computers at our disposal then, unlike many students these days. If we needed to use a computer, we had few choices like renting one at the Computer Center or taking turns using the two computers at the Civil Engineering Department. One computer was an IBM and probably a first generation laptop. It was actually the size of a conventional desktop CPU unit these days but back then it was referred to as a portable computer. The more affluent among us students had their own personal computers back in their homes and would seldom mingle with us, assuming they had the advantage of having their own computers. Of course, some of them would eventually come to realize that it is not the computer but the user who mattered most. And machine problems are not solved by computers but by the programmer, the person in front of the screen typing code into the computer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Bruce Hornsby - Mandolin Rain

I've always loved the music of Bruce Hornsby as it always seems to induce me into reminiscing about times past and how it was during my childhood, and my high school and university days. I probably heard his music back in the 1980's as it enjoyed significant airtime in the popular radio stations back then including 89.9 and 97.1. His signature song is "The Way It Is" and features him playing the piano with such spontaneity and mastery that one cannot help but be mesmerized with the music. He is also responsible for the opening theme of the popular TV series Baywatch (yes, the one playing while the girls are seen running across the beach).

My personal favorite is a song that I couldn't quite catch the title of but loved to sing long with especially when driving in the car. Below is that song that evokes sweet, relaxing memories - Mandolin Rain.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

More prayers and concern for Japan

Conditions in Japan after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and the resulting tsunamis have deteriorated. This despite the inherent discipline of its people and the tremendous effort its government and various sectors of society to have things under control including trying to alleviate the misery now being experienced by people in the north eastern areas of Honshu. The devastation is just too immense even for a country that has prepared for the "big one" since the Great Kanto Earthquake destroyed much of Tokyo and its environs early in the last century. The destruction is just too much for a country that has the resources to supposedly allow them to deal with the aftermath of what is usually termed as an "act of god." Certainly, for believers, no kind god would be responsible for such event that is now compared to similar stories found in the Christian Bible.

I have seen the videos posted in YouTube from the various news agencies including NHK as well as the amateur ones taken by various people who probably were at the right place at the right time but only in terms of their being able to get footage. No one will probably dare claim that being in the path of a tsunami can be classified as being at in the right place at the right time. That will be true only if one was suicidal. All the videos say the same story but some are just so depressing to watch. I cannot imagine experiencing something like what the people in the coastal cities and towns of the Tohoku region had experienced and are continuing to experience now. And I say this from the point of view of someone who has survived many floods including those brought about by Ondoy (International name: Ketsana) in 2009. The destruction by Ondoy was also an extreme event but it was made worse because we were ill-prepared and its proportions could have been averted if the flood control infrastructure were in place at the time. And sadly, it still is not at this time. The tsunamis that ravaged northeastern Japan were different and arguably no one can prepare for something like that even in the light of lessons learned from other seismic events comparable in magnitude and impacts.

I am regularly updated of the situation in Japan thanks to Facebook posts by friends residing in the Tokyo area. It is unfortunate that they have to experience something like this while in a foreign land. I can only imagine that food and water supply are now becoming limited as resources are diverted to the Tohoku region. I do think, however, that this is temporary as resources from western Japan are eventually transported to alleviate conditions in the hard-hit areas. The cities of Kobe and Osaka certainly know how it felt when they were on the receiving end of a powerful earthquake in the 1990's and should contribute along with the rest of the country in bringing stability to the supply lines. Nevertheless, the news also mention other countries now planning to evacuate their citizens from the devastated area and even from Tokyo.

I was only able to talk with my Ninang Mila last Monday. I had tried to contact them since I got news about the earthquake and wasn't successful probably because of the volume of calls to and from Japan this past weekend. I was glad to be able to talk to her and know first-hand that she and her family are okay. They live in Kanagawa Prefecture, which is south of Tokyo, in the Yokosuka peninsula. I wasn't worried about them being victims of a tsunami because I knew that they lived inland and quite far from the coast. I only worried that maybe their home was damaged by the quake considering how it shook Tokyo and Yokohama. From the sound of her voice I could tell she was happy we were able to talk. It has been some time now since we've seen each other as I have not visited Japan for about 3 years now and I haven't had the chance to visit their home since 2001. Since then we've only managed to exchange postcards and have the occasional conversation via telephone. Events such as the earthquake remind us how important it is for us to keep in touch with persons close to our hearts and yet are often just assumed to be there. To some now, it is a painful reminder because those people would probably be gone.

My prayers and sincerest concerns to those affected by the March 11 quake and tsunami in Japan. May God bless and comfort you all in this time.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Unwell abroad

It's difficult enough to live in a foreign country where one has to adjust to the culture and the laws. One has to adjust to how people deal with each other and that includes socializing whether in the office, in school or just about anywhere except your own home. I lived abroad for 3 years so I should know. However, I believe things would be easier if there were no language barriers. Thus, I would like to believe that if one was staying abroad legitimately and had the skills or tools for him or her to have a decent job or post at school then being an English speaking country like the United States or Britain would beat staying in, say China or Saudi Arabai. It also helps if there were people like relatives or friends that one could consider as one's support group. These are supposed to help one cope with living abroad and possibly with limited comforts of home.

I state the above as I also wanted to articulate further that it is difficult to get sick while one is abroad and living by him/herself. There is the tendency to become depressed when one is sick and the lack of a support system would probably make it worse since there won't be anyone to provide assistance and one is left to fend for him/herself including getting medical attention if the sickness seems to be becoming more serious. Different countries will have different medical systems or set-ups. In Japan, there are many local clinics including those that are capable of handling maternity cases. There are also many big hospitals and most have state of the art equipment for diagnostics, out-patient and other services. However, since Japan has a comprehensive medical care system preventive care is widely practiced and it seems that relatively few have serious ailments like what one would find in developing countries and even developed countries that have comparable systems and technologies to their disposal.

I was lucky I didn't get sick when I was in Japan. The most serious ailment I had was conjunctivitis (sore eyes), which I had one summer and was able to shake off thanks to eye drops and constantly washing my eyes with cool clean water. It also happened during the summer break so I was able to take a few days off from going to our laboratory. Others were minor like the usual headaches or colds that sometimes were contracted during the change in seasons.

The Clairvoyant had not learn first hand how to deal with sickness in a foreign land. Fortunately for her, there is no language barrier in Singapore where English is a primary language. Further, there were many clinics that were accredited by her health care provider and she didn't have to go to a hospital. I felt bad not being able to be with her in her time of need as I knew it was so difficult to be at home and nursing yourself back to health. It didn't help that the weather was also gloomy last week and she had to go to a clinic while it was raining. What did work for us was that we both had good internet access and were able to talk via Skype and exchange messages via Black Berry messenger, tools that were not available years ago that now allow for easier communications.

I keep reminding the Clairvoyant to eat healthy and to get here exercise. She probably doesn't need to schedule the latter considering she regularly commutes to and from her office, and part of her routine requires her to walk a good distance every day. Our home also happens to be on the fourth floor of our building so she also has to climb the stairs, or the "stairmaster" as we call it. Still, a healthy diet is important especially since what we eat would help us resist sickness or infection. It's actually nice to be abroad and have a different perspective of things - as long as one doesn't get sick.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Prayers and concern for family and friends in Japan

A magnitude 8.9 earthquake hit Japan yesterday unleashing tsunamis and causing powerful aftershocks that devastated the northeastern coast of that country. I cringed at seeing the tsunamis wiping out buildings, ships, cars, farms and practically everything it its path. Sendai airport was inundated and images of vehicles strewn everywhere like toys in a toddlers room brought back painful memories of Ondoy, a disaster that we personally experienced just over a year ago.

I have lived in Japan and I could not remember experiencing an earthquake that is even half as strong as this recent one. Perhaps my only memory of a powerful tremor is the one that rocked Baguio and Central Luzon including Metro Manila in 1990. That one killed so many people and caused liquefaction in many cities that damaged a lot of buildings. It took years to recover from that earthquake; not even mentioning that it could have been the event the woke up Mt. Pinatubo, which erupted the following year and causing much more destruction.

Before and now, there are still many friends and people I consider family who are in Japan. Come to think of it, there are family there because the Clairvoyant's aunt, nephew and niece are somewhere in northern Tokyo. Friends include professors in different universities and churchmates at Yamate Catholic Church. I also have many former students who are now taking graduate studies there.

Closest to me are my Ninang and Ninong, Mila and Hiroshi Takashima, who live in the Yokosuka area. I used to spend Christmas and New Year's with them while I was still studying in Yokohama. They were my second parents and I love these people. As of today, I have not been successful at contacting them just to know how they are doing. I do believe that they are safe especially from the tsunamis, considering that their home is located in an elevated area and kilometers away from the coast.

For now, we are one with the people of Japan in prayers and concern over those who were and are affected by this disaster. Prayers and concern are also extended to friends and people in vulnerable areas touched by the Pacific Ocean including the eastern coast of the Philippines. If Japan was a country that was supposed to be prepared for such disasters and still came out like this, we can only imagine how it could have been for our country if an earthquake of that magnitude was to hit nearby and also unleash tsunamis like yesterday's. Indeed, we were lucky that the Philippines was spared from the high waves that the Japanese experienced.

We can only hope that the worst is over and that life will go on. We pray that those affected are able to recover even considering the effects of such events on their psychology. We hope that their faith will be strong enough while the Almighty comforts them through friends and acquaintances who empathize with them in this time of need and reflection.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Hard currency

News of the exodus of Filipino workers from Libya often include segments featuring the difficulties experience by our repatriated countrymen in exchanging hard-earned Libyan currency into their equivalent in Philippine Pesos. The Libyan Dinar is supposed to be equivalent to about 34 pesos and yet there are no banks that accept the former for exchange. They, along with the Central Bank, explain that the Philippines does not keep and does not have enough foreign reserves in the form of the Libyan Dinar to allow for the exchange of a significant if not all the Libyan Dinars that our OFWs brought home with them. The Central Bank officials further explain that this is due to our not having significant trade with Libya in addition, of course, to the uncertainties brought about by the current conflict in that country.

What we do have in terms of hard currency - an allusion to the stability of certain currencies that are recognized and honored by banks in most if not all countries - are sufficient foreign reserves in the form of the US Dollar and the Euro. Add to these hard currencies those of our major trade partners like Japan (Yen), Korea (Won), Taiwan (Dollar), China (Yuan) and Australia (Dollar), and our ASEAN neighbors Singapore (Dollar), Thailand (Baht), Malaysia (Dollar/Ringgit), and Indonesia (Rupiah). Of course, the list includes the Canadian Dollar and the U.K. Pound. Then there are also the currencies of Middle Eastern countries where there are significant presence of Filipino workers like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain and the U.A.E.

I am not aware of how difficult it was or is to exchange Libyan Dinars into US Dollars or Euros while our countrymen were still in Libya. I would assume that when there were no conflicts yet, it was very possible to exchange their savings into currencies that are more stable and that they can easily bring anywhere where these hard currencies will be honored by most banks. Libya, for example, had European countries as major trade partners. Historically, Libyan oil is purchased by the British, the Germans, the Italians and the French. These countries have even fought wars in North Africa in order to seize control of Libya and her vast oil resources. It is here where Field Marshals Erwin Rommel, Bernard Law Montgomery and General George Patton displayed their strategic talents in tank warfare during the Second World War.

Perhaps our OFWs should be mindful of the risks involved when holding on to savings in the form of a rather odd currency. It is also understood and appreciated, however, that there may be losses incurred when purchasing dollars or Euros. But one should probably weigh the pros and cons in cases when one would suddenly need to go home for one reason or another and end up not being able to exchange one's hard earned savings simply because the currency is not acceptable for exchange in large amounts. Perhaps that is a much bigger loss than what is lost in exchanging for hard currency.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Weekend break

The Clarivoyant flew in from Singapore early in the morning of last Saturday. I fetched her at Terminal 1 and was pleasantly surprised that her plane arrived ahead of schedule. It was also pleasant that there seemed to be only a few flights arriving that morning as the usually full parking lot was practically empty. It was a full contrast to my usual forays into fetching at Terminal 1 when I usually had to arrive early enough to be able to park the car in a convenient spot near the waiting area for arrivals.

The Clairvoyant flew in via Tiger Airways, a discount airline affiliated with Singapore Airlines. It is the dominant airline flying out of Changi's budget terminal but it berths at NAIA's Terminal 1. Previously, it only flew between Singapore and the Philippines via the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport (DMIA) in Clark, Pampanga. Tiger is also a cheap and reliable airline but its flight schedule is quite limited for now, making it probably the third choice behind Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines in as far as convenience and expense is concerned. The Clairvoyant also mentioned that they have a policy prohibiting the consumption of food and drinks not purchased from the airline inflight. While legal considering that one is practically on Singapore while aboard the aircraft, it seems to be an unusual policy considering the passengers' own rights. It is, though, an ingenious strategy for selling snacks or meals.

Our entire Saturday went, quite literally, to the dogs. Or maybe the correct term is "to The Dog," referring to our Labrador Retriever who at 7 years still think of himself as a puppy. Our lab was injured last week as he played with our other dog, a terrier mix. And so we ended up at the U.P. Veterinary Hospital where our lab met other dogs of his kind and started behaving as if he wasn't injured at all. It was a complete reversal from the night before when he complained so much on the way up to our room and practically kept me awake all night leaving me lacking of sleep prior to my trip to the airport. Credit to the "miraculous healing" goes to the two labs being examined in two adjacent rooms at the hospital including one female whom our dog seemed to be trying to impress. Add to that a cute Golden Retriever puppy, a companion of the female lab, who was also very friendly. I guess these labs are just being true to their published temperament, which probably makes their breed most attractive to many people including those with kids.

Sunday was spent visiting parents including surprising the Clairvoyant's as they didn't have a clue that their daughter would be coming home for the weekend. We had lunch out and had a great time at Rack's over at a branch of a major mall chain nearby. In the afternoon we visited my parents' home and enjoyed the afternoon and dinner with our niece and nephew who were quite eager and excited to see their Auntie after some time. They kept asking me the previous Sundays where she was and when she'll be back. So finally their questions were answered and they got to play and show stuff learned at school.

This morning I drove the Clairvoyant to the airport for her flight back to Singapore. She'll be back soon again for another break. It's her turn to travel this March so I won't be going to Singapore soon. My turn comes up in April and during the University's summer break. I must admit it looks like a hectic schedule but it is also an exciting one and allows us to have a bigger and hopefully more wiser perspective of things.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Name Game

I just hate it when people misspell or mispronounce names in communications. I believe the only times these may be excused would be for exotic cases like when dealing with names of people from other countries especially those from countries like Thailand, France, China or those from Africa or Eastern Europe. Still, I would expect that many educated or well-traveled people should be able to at least have a good enough attempt to pronunciation. This, of course, assumes that the person has been exposed enough and gives a decent effort in learning how to pronounce names. A case in point would be flight attendants announcing arrival at Bangkok's new international airport, Suvarnabhumi, which, in the correct pronunciations sounds like "suwanapum."

In my case, I was engrossed with chess and its players during my younger days. This hobby led me to an honest effort to determine the correct pronunciations for Russian and Eastern European names. Simply, I found that "v's" were pronounced as "f''s" such that Kasparov would be Kasparoff and Sokolov would be Sokoloff. The use of "j" would be similar to "y" and names ending in "c" were pronounced as "ch." Thus, Ljubojevic is pronounced "lyuboyevich." I think French names are also quite challenging to pronounce particularly due to the their tongue twisting or unconventional characteristics.

The problem is when names are not along the lines of the above examples. It is not uncommon for me to receive letters that incorrectly spells my first and last names despite my staff providing such correctly and these appearing in official websites. Even during roll calls in occasions such as seminars and workshops, I often hear my name savaged into something else. Misspelled or mispronounced names in such cases show me that the person or agency in-charge does not care or cares less about whoever he or she is communicating to.

In most cases, we are gracious and kind enough to correct these mistakes even going to the extent of calling the attention of the offender. In some cases, like when the offense has been repeated once too many, we don't respond to the letter or to the call; even stating that there is no one in the office by the name they wrote or stated. In the latter case, it is a tough way to respond (or snub) if only to teach a lesson that is probably not learned or taken well enough. This is especially true for people who do not care or are insensitive about these things. And that is the tragedy in this situation.