About Me

When not at work with students, I spend my time in my room either reading, calculating something using pen and paper, or using a computer. I read almost anything: from the pornographic to the profound, although my main interests are mathematics and physics. "When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes." -Erasmus

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Red Night Sky

I usually leave my office at around 8 or 9 pm. My  habit is to listen to music while taking a bicycle ride home. Home is an hour away, so that gives me plenty of time to listen and let my mind wander. Even though I shouldn't have, I happened to look up at the sky and could only see the moon and a star or two. The rest of the sky was reddish from the street lights and pollution.

This is actually an old problem connected with urbanization-- as cities get larger, city lights eventually obscure the night sky so that only the brightest stars are the only ones visible at night. And if we want the stars and the Milky Way back in the sky, the solution is simple: make sure that the outdoor lighting you use is appropriate. There is a movement called the Dark Sky Initiative, and it is all about making sure that future generations can enjoy a starry night sky.

One of the things I miss in my home town is the night sky. For example, the sight of the Milky Way has given me much pleasure. Here in Metro Manila, you can see only the brightest stars, and you can't even see the Milky Way because of light pollution. And that would be too bad, especially for children who grow up seeing nothing else. If you have never seen the starry sky, in some ways you are made less human, since you will not be able to fully appreciate poetry that evokes the feeling of being under the stars. (Such as, for example, Neruda's Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche.)

Which makes me wonder: how will future poets describe walking with their beloved under the moonlight?  "Under the red night sky, we walked, my beloved and I"?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Apple as the New Big Bad Guy?

I recently read an article (reposted on Facebook by a friend) entitled "Apple to Make Billions on Google's Android" and I'm troubled at the way Apple is vigorously pursuing litigation all over the planet.

Consider what Apple is doing to other smartphone makers (such as Samsung),  and developers of smartphone operating systems (such as Google). What it ultimately amounts to, I think, is the stifling of competition and innovation. Although swipe to unlock is a clever solution, does it really make sense to patent it? Or proximity detectors, so that the phone doesn't get mixed instructions when your face is near the touchscreen?

Probably my biggest gripe is the Apple patent on the use of a touchscreen.  When you look at how the patent is written, it covers almost everything we want to do on a smartphone or tablet with a touchscreen display. It looks like Apple wants to be the only one to make touchscreen devices, or get all the royalties for touchscreens. (Remember the way Apple fans have been painting IBM and Microsoft in the past? Ironic, isn't it?)

At issue, of course, is what exactly is patentable, and how long patent protection should last.

The idea behind patents is to give inventors some time to get some return on their effort, and not to give a permanent monopoly. For example, medicine is patented and the discoverer has the right to restrict who can manufacture a drug so that the money spent on research and clinical trials will be recovered, and some profit is made as a reward for taking the risk of developing new technology.

The years of protection allotted to inventors (20 years) reflect a different age, when there weren't that many people, and the rate of advancement of technology was slow. When consumer devices last only for two to three years, the number of consumers much much larger (7 Billion?) , and product development cycles much shorter, the old twenty year lifespan doesn't seem to make much sense anymore. I think copyright and patent law during our times needs an overhaul.

Given the stakes, I'll be keeping an eye on how the patent battles play out. And I do plan not to buy Apple.

Friday, November 4, 2011

All Saints Day

Although I was planning to spend the day at home on November 1, I ended up visiting Daranak falls with my brothers and their families. A visit to google maps and a keyword search for "Daranak Falls" should provide you with directions. To show how lovely it was, I took a photograph using my phone:

I've been to Hinulugang Taktak (another waterfall in Rizal) and was struck by how polluted the water there was. The water was bubbly with detergent, and there was a lot of litter lying around. Not so here. The water was clean, and even though I had no plans to go swimming, the water looked so inviting that I borrowed a pair of shorts from my brother so that I could swim as well. To show how clean the water was, I took this photo downstream:
The entrance fee was reasonable (my understatement of the day) : PhP 20 or about 0.50 USD. We were able to get one of the picnic huts for PhP 200. Although there was a store there, it's better to bring your own food since the choices are limited. But it was alright since a more extensive store would also be accompanied by litter. Since we went there on All Saints Day, when most people are found at memorial parks visiting their dead, I can't gauge how crowded it would have been on other holidays. 

Ironically, my younger brother (the one who organized the trip) got sick on the day itself. Although he was able to drive us there, he spent most of the time asleep, and wasn't able to swim at all. He did, however, walk around and take a few photos of his own. His wife was the one who drove us to Dimple Star terminal to pick up some stuff my father sent us. After that, I switched cars, and my youngest brother drove me home.